Authors: Angelina Jenoire Hamilton
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright 2012 A
Hamilton. All rights reserved.
Red Rose Bound, a division of Inception
The Billionaire’s Contract Series
Kirsty Moore sat in the back of the London cab, watching rain form blurry streaks on the windows and trying to calm herself down. She would feel better when she saw Jane, her agent. For now, she just had to endure this taxi ride to the headquarters of Inception Publishing and keep breathing.
It was bloody hard, though. As if being summoned to meet with the new owner of the publishing company wasn't bad enough, she still hadn't heard from the company about her latest novel, Highlander's Harlot. Jane had sent the manuscript to them weeks ago. They normally didn't take this long to make a decision. Kirsty had expected t hear from them sooner, especially after the success of her last novel, At The Officer's Pleasure. That book had exceeded everyone's expectations, especially Kirsty's, by earning out its advance and going to second printing. So why hadn't she heard about Highlander? Being summoned to this meeting with Inception Publishing's owner had made her certain there was something wrong with the book. They didn't like it. They were 'letting her go'. Through the streaky windows she saw the office buildings of Clerkenwell Green, big imposing buildings that spoke of power. Their solid structures pointing at the stormy sky made Kirsty realise she was just a very tiny cog in a huge machine which formed the foundations of these temples to business.
'Just here,' she told the cabbie as they reached the Inception Publishing building. She saw Jane standing beneath the stone porch, waterproof Mac down to her ankles and black umbrella over her head. Jane saw Kirsty in the cab and waved.
Kirsty paid the driver, clutching the money in hands which she tried to stop from shaking, and she climbed out into the maelstrom, put her head down to shield her make-up from the rain and rushed to join Jane in the safety of the porch.
'What a day,' Jane observed as Kirsty reached her. Despite the weather, Jane looked dry and composed beneath her umbrella. Her blonde hair was neat and looked as if it had been arranged on the dry shoulders of her Mac just so. Her make-up was immaculate and her appearance made Kirsty feel even more like a drowned rat. The short run from the taxi to the building had plastered her long red hair to her face and neck and she was sure her mascara was streaming down her cheeks.
'Have I got panda eyes?' she asked Jane.
'No, my love, you look lovely. Now let's get inside before we catch our death of cold.' She pulled open the big glass door and they entered the spacious, marble-floored foyer. A pretty, slim brunette behind the desk looked at them from behind her glasses and smiled dutifully. Her smile dropped slightly when she the state of Kirsty's hair.
Oh God, Kirsty thought, I look bloody awful. And I'm going to meet the boss looking like this. So much for first impressions.
'Jane Johnson and Kirsty Moore to see Tyler Blake,' Jane said.
The woman checked her computer and nodded. 'Just take the elevator up to the seventh floor and Mr Blake's secretary will greet you.'
'Thanks,' Jane replied. 'We're just going to freshen up in the bathroom first.' She headed for a door marked 'Ladies'.
The woman looked at Kirsty over her glasses and said, 'Of course.'
Jane dropped her handbag on the counter by the sink and fished out a lipstick. 'Let's get you sorted out, love, your lippy got a bit smeared in the rain.'
Kirsty looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. Her long red hair, usually unruly and needing to be tied back to be controllable, lay limp on her face as if she were a redhead medusa whose snakes had all died. Her mascara was miraculously still applied to her eyes and not running down her cheeks but her lipstick traced down to her chin from the corners of her mouth like two rivers of blood. She dabbed at it with a paper towel from the dispenser and took Jane's offered lipstick, applying it as she let her eyes wander down her reflected body. Even her heavy Mac couldn't disguise the fact that she was fat. No amount of lipstick could fix that, and even if she had neon pink lips with an outline of silver glitter, it wouldn't be enough to distract attention from her plus size curves.
'What's the matter?' Jane asked, catching her eyes in the mirror.
'I don't know.' Kirsty shrugged. 'Look at the state of me. It's not like I don't go to the gym. I'm there at least twice a week. I just like food too much.'
'Hey, you look fine. In fact, I was going to suggest you take that coat off when we go up to see Blake. You're curvy. Some men like that.'
'So you think I have to flaunt my curves in this meeting? Is it that bad?'
Jane laughed. 'I'm sure it's nothing to worry about. All his secretary said on the phone was that he wanted to meet us and discuss a new line they're launching. See, that can't be bad.'
'I guess not.' Kirsty returned the lipstick and Jane squirreled it away in her handbag.
The elevator took them to the seventh floor and on the way up, Kirsty told herself to relax. If Tyler Blake wanted to talk about a new publishing line, at least he thought she had a future with the company. She had been afraid of her manuscript being rejected and Inception ejecting her from their list of authors. She didn't want to have her manuscripts shopped around again like they were before Inception gave her a contract; she had collected enough rejections and couldn't take any more. She would feel better once this meeting was over and she was on the train back to Nottingham.
The lighted floor numbers reached '7' and the doors slid open with a dinging sound that was probably supposed to sound friendly but sounded to Kirsty like dinner bell had just been rung and she was on the menu.
'Hello, ladies,' Ruth Masterson said, getting up from her desk and coming to greet them with hugs and air kisses, Ruth had been the PA to Inception Publishing's owner for more years than anyone knew. Her tweed suits, white hair and gold-rimmed glasses had been a familiar sight to the many authors who had crossed this threshold over the years.
'Go right in, ladies,' Ruth said, bustling about them like a mother hen. 'Mr Blake is waiting for you.'
'What's he like?' Jane whispered.
Ruth grinned and Kirsty was sure she saw a blush creep up the old woman's cheeks. 'He's just lovely, Dear. Now in you go. I'll bring tea in shortly.' She opened the door to Blake's office and announced their arrival before bustling off to make drinks.
Jane and Kirsty entered the office and the first thing Kirsty thought as she looked around at the book-lined walls was that nothing much had changed here since Susie Garroway had been in charge. But then she saw the modern dark glass and steel desk occupying the place where Susie's old oak one had once been and the big Apple Mac screen displaying the Home page of Inception's website fixed to the wall where Susie had once had a promotional poster of Kirsty's book At The Officer's Pleasure, and she could almost feel the broom sweeping changes through the company prodding at her back.
'Good morning, ladies. I'm Tyler Blake.' The voice came from near the large window and as Kirsty turned to see the man it belonged to, her over-active imagination imagined him saying 'good morning' to her in a totally different situation; rolling over in bed to look down at her with those steel grey eyes and wrapping a well-muscled arm around her naked body. Get a hold of yourself, she chastised herself mentally.
Tyler Blake wore a dark blue suit but it would be more accurate to say he filled it with muscle. The well-tailored jacket sleeves hugged the strong shape of his shoulders and upper arms. The trousers hung expertly-creased from his black leather belt but the way they hung hinted at powerful quads and calves developed either in a gym or doing some manual labour. The crisp white shirt seemed to mould itself to his broad chest and flat stomach, the whiteness broken by the hypnotic swing of a dark blue silk tie. Rising solidly from the collar, Blake's neck had the thick corded look of a lumberjack's and his face, all angular lines arranged in a most pleasing manner, held two intense grey eyes that regarded Kirsty with a look of a predator. If the elevator had rung the dinner bell here was the man who was going to eat her. She felt a pleasurable tingle between her legs at that thought.
He shook hands with them and his grip was like tempered steel. Gesturing to the seats opposite his at the desk with a flick of his wrist, he sat to face them across the dark glass. 'I'm sure you're wondering why you're here,' he said in a voice like rich crushed silk.
Kirsty remained quiet. She usually let Jane speak for her in these kinds of meetings and at the moment, she wasn't sure she would be able to talk properly anyway.
'Well we hope you're going to tell us how much you like Highlander's Harlot,' Jane said. 'And Ruth mentioned something about a new line.'
He laced his fingers together and Kirsty noticed his wristwatch. It looked liked it probably cost more than she would ever make in her lifetime. She read the maker's name on the gold face, expecting to see Rolex or Tag Heuer, but the name Vacheron Constantin was unfamiliar to her. She also noticed he wasn't wearing a wedding band. Doesn't mean he's not married, she told herself. Some married men don't wear them. What was she thinking? She tried to bring herself back to reality.
'Ah, yes...the new imprint,' he said. He looked at Kirsty and she felt uncomfortable under his gaze. She felt like he was mentally undressing her and thinking about doing wicked things to her but that, of course, was ridiculous. A man like this could have any woman he wanted; he wouldn't be interested in a plus-sized Romance novelist. Anyway, he was a million miles away from the type of man Kirsty usually ended up with. Her boyfriend, Simon, wasn’t dashing or rich, or even adventurous But he was reliable. Comfortable and reliable. She had to realise that all she was to a man like Tyler Blake was an overweight author in his stable who contributed a to the business. She was a commodity.
'Kirsty, I read Highlander's Harlot and we will be releasing it on your usual contractual terms.' Kirsty felt an airy sense of relief. 'However,' he continued and she felt her earlier wariness return like a heavy weight in her stomach. 'I want you to focus your efforts on our new line. We're offering you more than the normal terms because we have high hopes for this line. We need authors who can write quickly and deliver the goods. Judging by your past performance and some of the scenes in Highlander's Harlot, I'm sure you are right for our Red Rose Bound imprint.'
'Red Rose Bound?' Jane asked, leaning forward.
Blake nodded and pointed to the screen on the wall, typing on a small silver and white keyboard on his desk to bring up a sales chart. Kirsty looked for her own titles on the chart, as she always did when she saw book stats, but the books on the screen weren't any of Inception Publishing's titles.
'You can see the trend here from the past few months,' Blake said. 'We are being outsold by other publishers because they are releasing titles in new ranges containing more sex, particularly BDSM. The face of the Romance market is changing. Who knows how long it will last? But for now, we need to get on board this trend and ride it as long as it makes money.'
'Are you saying you want Kirsty to switch to writing erotica?'
He nodded. 'In particular, BDSM.'
Jane pursed her lips. 'It's not like Inception Publishing to go chasing the latest trends.'
He stood up and looked out over the stormy London skyline. 'True. But when I bought the company, it was already failing. The recent changes in the industry have hit everyone hard, Inception included. I didn't purchase this company expecting it to fail. But until we can get back on our feet, we need to produce some books which will speak to the readers who are buying the latest trends and keeping that market afloat.'