On a gray January day in Chicago, Lucie Rizzo shoved her shop’s door closed, blocking out the frigid wind as Coco Barknell’s potential future headed down the sidewalk. At her feet, Jimmy Two-Toes’ mangy Jack Russell terrier, Sonny, licked his chops.
“Did you see this dog devour that food? Look at him. He’d sell his soul for another shot at that marinated chicken. We should jump on this.”
Lucie’s business partner and all-around BFF, Roseanne, sat at her desk, her sexy-librarian reading glasses perched on her nose.
“That dog,” she said, eyes still on her monitor, “was a half-starved stray when Jimmy found him. He’d sell his soul for gruel. Not a good barometer.”
The clunk of the furnace echoed through the large room that had once been Carlucci’s shoe store. For years, Lucie’s mom had bought their shoes in this very place. Now it housed Lucie’s growing dog-walking and upscale pet accessory business.
Lucie waved Ro off. “Please. Jimmy found him a year ago. He's over that starving, desperate dog phase. And have you seen what he eats? Raw steak. Filets for crying out loud. He’s evolved.”
“Vafanculo!” Felix squawked and Lucie let out a long sigh.
She’d rescued the feisty parrot after his owner died, and her mob-boss father’s cronies enjoyed teaching the little guy Italian swear words. Words Lucie and Ro had to hear all day.
“Pipe down, Felix.”
“Pipe down, Felix,” the bird repeated.
Ro snorted and rolled her eyes, but Lucie didn’t have time for arguing. No sir. She marched back to her desk, swiveled her chair, and dropped into it.
Instinct, in Lucie’s twenty-seven years, had served her well. Right now, every nerve ending tingled and that normally quiet voice in her head boomed like a Bruce Springsteen concert.
In front of her sat a jar of Jo-Jo’s Pride, the dog food sample that Sonny, a street-hardened warrior, would chew off Lucie’s arm for. Sonny leaped straight up, his head clearing the top of the desk.
But Sonny, as evolved as his palate might be, like his owner, didn’t take orders well. Did he just swing his snout to that jar?
Lucie pointed. “Did you see that?”
“He pointed at the jar with his snout.”
Ro laughed and flipped her long sable hair over her shoulder, the fat thank-you-curling-iron curls flying. How was it that beautiful women pulled that move off so effortlessly, while women like Lucie—petite, Mary Average women—looked like idiots?
“He did not,” Ro said. “You’re just saying that to get me to agree to this crazy partnership idea.”
“Ro, we have to get in on this deal.”
“We don’t know diddly about manufacturing dog food. And, hello, Jo-Jo Flowers? She was a space cadet in high school. What does she know about creating a dog food line?”
“She knows enough to make $100,000 in eighteen months.” Lucie picked up the jar. “With the right partners and marketing, this stuff is a gold mine.”
Ro slid her glasses to the edge of her nose and stared at Lucie over the rim. “It’s way—way—outside our comfort zone.”
Pfft. Whatever. “Ten months ago, so was doggie apparel. Look at us now? We have a major department store account—thanks to you—and our own e-commerce website. In less than a year we’re seeing a profit. A small one, sure, but still. And, hello, I was an investment banker. I can hook us up with the right people. This is a no-brainer.”
Ro went back to her computer. “It takes us from our core business.”
“That’s what you’re worried about?”
“Darned straight. We’re building a brand and you want to deviate from that.”
“Our brand is high-end dog items. You don’t think a dog food company that lets you custom order your own mix of flavors is high-end?”
Lucie scooped up the jar and walked to Ro’s desk with Sonny doing that crazy leap as he followed her. She set the jar down and Sonny bounced up again.
“That jumping makes me nuts,” Ro said.
“It’s a Jack Russell thing. Jimmy said he can clear a five-foot fence.”
Lucie glanced down at him and he bared his teeth. Smiling. At least Jimmy called it smiling. Lucie wasn’t quite sure. Every time he did it though, Jimmy tossed him a piece of beef jerky. Whatever this teeth-baring thing was, the dog meant no harm. He was just jonesing for a treat.
She bent down and tickled him under the chin. “You’re a scroungey looking thing, but you’re cute.”
He nudged his head toward the desk and shifted his eyes back to her.
“Look at him. Total man-slut for this food right now.” She leaned in, offered up her cheek, and Sonny swiped his tongue over it. “Good boy. And since I’m a sucker, I’ll give you the rest of this food. Just don’t tell your daddy. You know he’s watching your calories.”
Ro pushed out of her chair, straightened her silk blouse, and did that strutting walk of hers to retrieve the bowl Sonny cleaned on his first round.
Before the remaining chicken and lamb hit the bowl, Sonny was in motion, shoving his snout right under Lucie’s hand.
Ro stood by, tapping one stiletto clad foot. “I don’t know, Luce. This scares me.”
She gestured to the garment rack holding her latest design samples, all handmade for various sizes of dogs. Everything from Chihuahuas to Great Danes. “What we do, we can produce ourselves. We have a team of seamstresses that help us, yes, but it doesn’t take a huge distribution plant. What you’re talking about is a food product. The standards will be different. We’d have to partner with a large-scale processing plant. Which is exactly why Jo-Jo hasn’t been able to grow this business. She said it herself.”
“That’s not what she said. The small factories can’t handle the demand, but the bigger ones require more orders than she currently has. Without additional capital, she simply can’t afford to expand. She’s needs a backer. With my banking contacts, that’s a problem I can fix—for a cut of the profits. It’s a win-win.”
Ro tossed her glasses on the desk and peered down at Sonny, who licked the bowl clean. “It’s your company.”
Really, it wasn’t. Not anymore. The papers were still with the lawyer, but based on Ro’s performance over the past year, Lucie had decided to give her BFF a fifteen percent share of Coco Barknell.
“Actually,” Lucie said, “I need to talk to you about that.”
“Uh-oh. I swear, Lucie Rizzo, if you tell me you’ve sold this company I will kill you where you stand. I will bury your body where it’ll never be found.”