Home > Our Italian Summer

Our Italian Summer
Author: Jennifer Probst

CHAPTER ONE


   Francesca


   “No, I said the deadline is Wednesday. That gives you two days to give me a decent hook or I’m pulling you off the account.”

   I ignored the glint of resentment in the young man’s green eyes, wondering if he thought his charm and good looks trumped talent. In many places, they did. But not in my company.

   I gave him credit for smothering the emotion immediately and forcing a smile. “Got it. I’ll get it done.”

   I nodded. “I know you will.”

   He left my office with his shoulders squared, and I wondered what would eventually triumph—pride or the drive for success. He was young and had promise, so I hoped the latter for him. Pride was good in some cases, but working on a team to retain high-powered advertising accounts required the ability to do what it took, whether it was working with someone you didn’t care for or swallowing the innate instinct to push back at the boss you hated.

   Of course, he didn’t hate me. At least not yet. It was hard to take orders from a woman who was blind to looks, charisma, or flattery. I’d learned that lesson early—and ran my F&F Advertising with a ruthless efficiency and cold-mannered sharpness that made me one of the best in the business. I’d even managed to snag a spot on the Top Ten Women to Watch in Business list from Fortune magazine.

   Too bad I had no time to enjoy it.

   I glanced at my watch, my mind furiously clicking over the day’s crammed schedule. I’d have to work late again, but it’d be worth it once I nailed this new account. I headed to the conference room for a meeting with my team, my sensible low-heeled shoes clicking on the hardwood floor. Layla and Kate were already perched at the polished table, laptops fired up and endless papers strewn around.

   “Morning, boss,” Kate said, motioning toward the chair next to her. “Figured we’d be eating lunch in again, so I had Jessica get your usual.”

   “Thanks.” I took a sip of my Voss water as I sat beside them. I lived on water and grilled chicken salads, which was the easiest fuel to shove into my body on limited time. “Where’s Adam?”

   “Running late,” Layla said, shooting me a smile. “But I don’t think we need him for the brainstorming session. Better to get his feedback on the social media after we have a few solid concepts.”

   “True. He didn’t look too thrilled with our new product.”

   Kate quirked a brow. “He’s been begging to sell something sexier than kids’ lemonade.”

   Layla snorted. “I told him anyone can sell sex—it’s not even a challenge. If he makes this work, he’s a genius.”

   I laughed. “You always did know how to motivate him, Layla.”

   My valued art director preened. “Plenty of practice in the ranks of hell. At least it was good for something.”

   Layla had graduated at the top of her class and planned to take Manhattan by storm. Unfortunately, like me, she ended up with a slew of crap jobs, and being a black woman in the industry meant encountering prejudices to overcome. We’d worked together for a few years before I ventured out to create my own company, and I knew she’d be the perfect art director for F&F Advertising.

   I trusted her with both my business and my personal shit. It was the best decision I ever made.

   Kate was my advertising manager and my other right hand. She wore tailored designer suits, and her blond hair was pulled back tight in a chignon, emphasizing her classic bone structure. I had to admit, when I first met Kate, I thought she was too beautiful and quiet to be successful in such a cutthroat business, but she soon proved me wrong, and now I never discriminate based on looks. I made sure I hired a diverse, multicultural team, treated them like royalty, and offered enough incentives for promotion. It proved a good move, since I had low turnover and a core of hard-won talent.

   Lately, I’d been thinking of offering them both a full partnership. My little boutique company was finally on the verge of exploding, and I needed people I trusted by my side. I had been intent on not bringing in partners, but now I saw that if I wanted to really grow, it was time I took the leap. Plus, I considered these women friends. They’d proven their loyalty, and we worked well together.

   But that tiny sliver of doubt still crept through me. I’d gotten here by relying on my own drive, talent, and gut instincts to give clients what they need, twenty-four seven. I was the final say on everything for my company. Giving up that type of control made my skin prickle, like I was about to break out into hives. I’d heard horror stories of being pushed out by once-trusted partners and overruled on important decisions by lack of majority. What if Kate and Layla decided to team up and I found myself the odd woman out? Power sometimes had a funny effect on relationships. Did I really want to take such a chance? Even with these women I trusted and called friends?

   I needed more time to think it through. Until then, I’d just push forward.

   I shook my head and refocused. “Let’s get to work. We only have two weeks until the presentation. I’ve been looking over all the reports from the research department and there’s a few things we need to zone in on.”

   Layla jumped in. “Lexi’s Lemonade is organic. That’s the main buzzword.”

   “Exactly. Statistics show kids drive popular drink sales by pushing their parents to buy. We need to find a way to bridge the gap and get the children to beg mom to buy it.”

   “And the moms need to feel good about giving in,” Kate added.

   I brought up a picture of the label on my screen and tapped it with my fingernail. “Packaging is huge. The recycled box is earth-friendly and colorful. It needs to compete on the shelves with Capri Sun, Honest Kids, and the endless others. We need to find a unique inroad.”

   “At least it tastes good,” Layla said. She pursed her red-painted lips. “Can you believe Kool-Aid still sells a shitload? Man, I loved that stuff growing up. And what a mascot. Genius.”

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