Authors: Ashleigh Royce
By Ashleigh Royce
Copyright © 2013 by Ashleigh Royce. All rights reserved.
First Print Edition:
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
To all readers who like to read simple stories involving love at first sight and who like happy endings.
Table of Contents
She was commonly referred to as the “Book Bitch” because she was the most relentless literary and media agent in Manhattan. There wasn’t a publisher that wouldn’t give her what she wanted. They all knew how arduous and persistent she could be. She’d stop at nothing to make sure the deal was what she wanted. Authors dreamed of being represented by her. Her colleagues revered and respected her. Everyone in the industry feared her. Her employees dreaded her demand for perfection and disconnect from the human condition. And now I was moving up in the ranks to learn how to be just like her.
I stood in the vestibule just outside of her office.
“Are you ready to learn from the world’s greatest literary agent?” Rose, the secretary, asked. Subtle strands of grey streaked her blonde hair. A warm smile offered a hint of comfort. She reminded me, somewhat, of my mother.
“I guess so,” I said with apprehension.
The edges of her mouth stretched. “Don’t be so nervous. She’s not that bad.” She walked out from behind her desk.
“If you say so.” I wasn’t overly
convinced, knowing how the industry viewed my boss, but I guess she wasn’t as bad as the rumors made her out to be, really. In the past weeks, she even attempted to show a softer side. Frequent visits to the staff break room hinted that she was trying to associate with the employees more, attempting to make small talk and feign interest in our common lives. As if there was a need for her to be liked. She was making an effort. I wanted to help her. And, I wanted to learn what made her tick so I could be just as successful; I was willing to do whatever grunt work I had to. It was a surprise that I had been chosen out of the three who applied for the apprenticeship.
Rose put her hand on my ar
m. “Don’t believe everything you hear, Alex. She’s human, with human needs.” She grabbed the doorknob that separated me from my new destiny. “Besides, you’re easy on the eyes. She likes handsome men. With your dark, wavy hair and electric blue eyes, you could probably commit murder in her office and she’d overlook it.” She turned the handle and opened the door. Her hand swept across the threshold, indicating I should enter.
Stratford was a no-nonsense agent, power negotiator, and all around bitch, if you listened to the buzz in the industry. Flowing chestnut curls hung over one designer-dressed shoulder. Large eyes the color of burnt umber glanced over some paperwork as she barked into the phone behind her chrome and glass desk. No doubt it was some multi-million dollar contract or manuscript that was surely in a bidding war between publishers. A long, manicured finger indicated that I should be patient.
I tried not to eavesdrop on her conversation and pretended to take in the décor.
The office was very large. Several notable accommodations decorated the wall above an expansive credenza along the left side. The opposite end of the office housed a line of short file cabinets under a row of large picture windows, which displayed some of the city’s more beautiful old buildings. Across from the desk, next to the door at my back, stood a tall bookcase filled with completed works from the authors she agented. On the other side of the door, stood a smaller chrome and glass desk.
recalled only having been in her office three times before. The first time was when I was hired. I thought I had hit the jackpot to work for not only an intelligent and well-respected agent but an incredibly beautiful woman as well. The other two times were to personally deliver two specialized reports on certain up-and-coming authors, complete with my recommendations, when Rose was out ill. I always had to steady my breath before the monthly staff meetings she’d chair, and hid behind a notepad so she wouldn’t single me out in one of her finger-pointing tirades. Now, being in the office to accept my promotion, I couldn’t let her see me staring at her full lips as she spoke, or let her know that I was thinking of mine on them rather than what she was actually talking about. I admit, there had been a few times I thought of actually talking to her when I saw her in the hallway, but I knew a woman as powerful as Rebecca Stratford wouldn’t even be aware that I existed. It helped me secure one of my personal rules to never get involved with a co-worker. Still, I never called out a day sick because I wanted to make her proud of me, even though she didn’t even know who I was. Well, up until now. Now she was my mentor. That meant I’d be in her office more often. When my scan of her space was complete, I looked back at her. Her full attention was on me. My cheeks got warm.
Mr. Ryan. Alex? That’s your first name, isn’t it? Congratulations. You’ve been promoted.” Her voice was smoother than I remembered from the weekly staff meetings she ran.
“Yes, Ms. Stratford.” I swallowed hard.
The lines of her face were soft. Large, brown eyes focused on me as I walked toward her. Bouncing, chocolate waves rested on her shoulders. Her full lips were nicely shaped. Her demeanor was pleasant. She was pretty, feminine and sexy in a take-charge kind of way. I found her very attractive. Obviously, a woman who knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to go after it. Not at all what you’d expect from a bitch. For a moment, I couldn’t understand why the industry labeled her in such a negative way.
Rose explain what your new responsibilities would be?”
scles in my neck tensed. “Um, I’ll be your personal assistant?”
Her shoulders dropped. “
Protégé. You’ll learn from me. You expressed interest in the position I posted on the staff corkboard. I’m going to groom you to be the second greatest literary agent in this city.” She smiled. I was drawn in. “That way there will be two of us and our company will surpass Donovan Richards as the world’s leading literary agency.”
“Please have a seat.” She extended a hand toward the two black upholstered chairs in front of her desk. I lowered myself into one, but sat forward on the edge of the smooth leather. She opened a folder that had been resting on her desk. A few moments passed as she reviewed the contents. “Your file says you’ve worked here as an agent and junior editor.”
“Yes. I’ve been with Stratford Literary for four years.”
“From the list of authors you’ve signed, I’d say you’ve been quite successful.” Her eyes fixed on me.
bobbed nervously as I struggled to recall the names of the authors I had offered contracts to over the past four years. I took a deep breath and summoned a handful of names that I managed to make household entities. I swallowed hard to lubricate my now dry mouth. “Thank you.”
Her stare intensified. “That’s very impressive, Alex.”
“Thank you, Ms. Stratford.”
The tension in my chest increased and I held my breath.
She smiled. It wasn’t a smile with ill intent; it was genuine. “Relax. I’m not going to bite you.” She waited until I released my breath and nodded I was more comfortable. “Okay, so here’s how this is going to work. You will now be my protégé. That means you’ll be included in everything I do, all the time. You’ll be incorporated in all aspects of what I read and who I interact with, which includes phone calls, meetings, traveling, and decision making regarding who gets a contract and which publishers we woo. In essence, you’ll be my shadow. And it goes without saying that everything I allow you to be privy to will require your utmost confidentiality. That means you’ll be spending a great deal of time with me. From this point forward you do everything I tell you to. Got it?”
I nodded again.
“Good. Go get the things from your desk. You’ll be moving.” She pointed to the corner behind my left shoulder. I turned toward the chrome and glass desk in the corner. Aside from a computer, telephone, and desk blotter, there was nothing on the desk. “We’ll start tomorrow, bright and early. That should give you enough time to move all of your personals and things you’ll need. Until then, I’ll be out to a business lunch.” She hesitated.
bright lipstick contrasted with her alabaster skin. A soft jawline stretched down to an elongated, statuesque neck. She stood and flattened out her maroon dress. It showed off her curves, but didn’t exploit her figure. Why did everyone think she was so hard? She was a businesswoman. How could she run a literary agency if she wasn’t assertive? She reached into a desk drawer and produced a small purse.
“I’ll see you in the morning. Until then, let Rose know if there’s anything you need.” She hooked her purse
with her arm and walked passed her desk, then me, but stopped at the door and turned. “Oh, and since we’ll be working so closely, you should call me Rebecca.” She turned again and walked out the door. The elevator door opened, almost as if it had been waiting just for her. It closed and she was gone.
“How’d it go?” Rose asked as I emerged from my soon-to-be new, shared office.
“I have to transfer my stuff.”
Rose smiled. “Good. I’ll see you in a little while.” She handed me an empty box.
The metal chair groaned as I flopped into it. I looked at the desk I had spent the better part of the last four years sitting at, remembering all of the times I had been hunched over it, reading query letters and manuscripts – some good, some bad, some worse than bad. Was this really happening? Why was I chosen? I mean I wanted it, I wouldn’t have applied to the internal job posting if I didn’t want to advance, but why me and not the other candidates, who were equally, if not more, qualified than I was?
Deciding that speculat
ing was a waste of time, I thought I should just accept it and do my best to prove that I was what the company needed to catapult us past the neck-and-neck standing with Donovan Richards’ agency. I opened my bottom drawer and began plucking out my files. After emptying the other drawers, I collected the few personal items that I kept on the top of my desk: pencil cup, coffee mug, and Magic 8 Ball, the ultimate in decision making on whether or not I should accept a full manuscript from authors I was undecided about. I stood and took one more look at where I had spent so many late nights, early mornings, non-lunches, and hours between, remembering both the good and bad moments.
Although I recognized it, the voice jolted me back into the present.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle
turned to find Lindsey behind me. Her straight blonde hair was pulled into a ponytail. Thin, black-rimmed glasses were pushed high up on the bridge of her nose. She’s pretty, in a simple way. We worked side by side for two years working through lunch and bringing in Chinese take out for dinner as we struggled to meet deadlines with edits and getting authors to make good on promises to alter their work.
“I was just remembering the first time I sat at this desk
,” I said with nostalgia. “I was so eager and nervous. I spilled my coffee on the first submission I was given to review. Not a very good beginning to my career.”
Lindsey smiled. “Yeah, but look at you now.
She chose you from the three of us who applied for the position. You’re going to learn from Rebecca Stratford, agent extraordinaire, ultimate Book Bitch. She already knows how fantastic you are. Think of what you’ll gain from her; the people she’ll expose you to; the secrets of success she’ll share. It’s a pretty impressive step up, Alex.”
Kent, the other junior agent,
had only applied for the promotion because Lindsey told him to. I’m sure her encouragement came from the guilt she felt by applying herself when she knew Kent had been with the agency for a year more than she had been. He was actually quite happy doing the bare minimum for his flimsy paycheck.
“Yeah, but why me, Lindsey? I mean
you and Kent are talented agents in this company. We all have the same experience. What makes me stand out that I’ve been offered this opportunity?”
“Oh Alex, why are you so hard on yourself? Look at all the names you’ve signed over the short time you’ve been here
. You have quite an impressive record. It’s like you have a sixth sense for discovering written talent. Plus, you are one mean editor. You can take a good sentence and make it great; a great sentence and make it incredible; transform an incredible sentence into phenomenal.”
Lindsey always knew how to pull me out of the pit of despair. “Thanks, Linds.”
She hooked her arm through mine, which was supporting the box of things I’d collected from my desk. “Come on, I’ll walk you to your new digs.”
t was a short walk across the eleventh floor. We stopped in front of Rose’s desk.
the pep talk,” I said to Lindsey.
“Hey, what are friends for? Besides, it’s good to know someone high up on the food chain.” She laughed. Rose tried to hide a smile behind her computer screen. “You know you’ll be fine, Alex. Just relax. Do what you were born to do. You’re good at it.”
Lindsey looked over her shoulder as she walked back the way we had come. “Just don’t forget us plebeians on your rise to stardom.” And then she was gone.
Rose stood and walked to the door that would be my new office. She opened it and stood aside. “Let me know if there’s anything I can get you, Mr. Ryan.”