Her stance and face tell me everything. Being liked has never been that important to me. You realize early that when you have to make tough choices, you can’t please everyone. I’ve always been okay with that.

But this woman? I want her to like me. Hell, I think I need her to love me. And that means I need to earn her respect. To be a man she can admire. And I have no fucking idea how to even begin.

Being the weekend, we ran into more traffic than I expected. Even leaving early as we had, we still ran into congestion around both Greenville and Spartanburg. The drive I thought would take less than three hours actually was more than four. That gave me time to learn more about this woman.

I read all her blog posts over the last six months or so. I now know far more about cooking on a budget, growing your own, and even how to preserve the things you grow than I ever thought necessary. Yet, I couldn’t stop reading. Her passion came through in each word. The problem is how to get Amanda Joiner to turn some of that passion my way.

The frown on her face and those arms crossed over her chest tell me it will be far from easy even before she opens her mouth. “What can I do for you, Mr. Millner?”

The way she says my name is almost like a cuss word. I’m usually pretty good at diffusing tense situations. Another of the reasons that Grandfather choose me over that ‘hot head’ Paul. Something tells me I’m going to need all those skills and more to win over this woman.

And I will win Amanda over. That’s the thing; every single one of the words I read seemed to draw me closer to her. They wormed their way inside parts of me I never realized existed. Hell, acquiring this woman may be more important to me than winning out over Paul in the contest for Grandfather’s respect and control of Millner Textiles.

I plaster on my winning smile and extend my hand, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Amanda.”

Unfortunately, my fail-safe smile falls short. “Let’s just cut to the chase, Mr. Millner. I carefully worded that blog. I made it clear I was not directly accusing your company of anything. That it was simply my thoughts, feelings, and suppositions. That does not rise to the legal standard of libel or slander.”

She shifts her weight to the other foot and looks away for a moment. I follow her gaze. The old house is pretty much the same as others that I know my grandfather built. She hasn’t upgraded it much. Or as I know, many homeowners are tearing these old things down and replacing them with more modern brick structures. Still, there’s something peaceful and inviting about the lush green garden surrounding the house itself.

“But I’ll take that post down. Hell, I’ll write a retraction. Will that be enough to satisfy you?”

Far from it. As shocked as even I am by it, a lifetime with this woman won’t satisfy me. And for a man who has never allowed his emotions or any woman the upper hand, I’m almost beginning to question my own sanity. Even worse, being sane doesn’t matter as much to me as Amanda Joiner’s opinion of me. Yeah, I’m in deep shit here, and I know it.

“How about we go inside and discuss matters more?” I’m just trying to buy time now. I’ve driven four hours, and I’m not tucking tail and running after five minutes. I might be a fool, but I can still apply some of my business skills to whatever the hell this insanity is. Skills like negotiating.

But it seems to have backfired on me. Amanda stands taller, squares her shoulders, and locks eyes with me. “Listen, you interrupted an important conversation. I have things that I need to do and people I need to talk to. Maybe those things are important by your standards, Mr. Millner. They’re only about human lives, not making money.”

Her words sting. I don’t know what I expected. But this type of disdain and verbal attack wasn’t it. I know I’m not the first rich man she’s met. Hell, her dead husband wasn’t exactly poor. Though nowhere near my league. Still, Amanda Joiner has an impeccable resume of charity work. So she worked with plenty of wealthy donors. I would have expected a bit more tact.

“Please, Amanda, I just wanted to see the work you are doing here. It’s impressive. Perhaps there is some way that Millner Textiles could partner with you….”

She doesn’t even allow me to continue. I see the color rising in her cheeks as she holds up her hand. I know that I’m not going to like whatever she says next. Perhaps this trip was a bad idea. Maybe I should have done more research before making contact. Dug deeper and find out more about what motivates the woman.

But one thing is for sure, this woman is the real deal. Any thoughts I might have had about her being just another guilty upper-class do-gooder fly out the window. And that only makes me fall harder.

I’m more determined than ever. She might not know it yet. But Amanda Joiner will be mine. I just have to figure out how to make that happen. Because this woman is the most important project of my life.

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