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Authors: Grace Marshall

Identity Crisis

BOOK: Identity Crisis
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IDENTITY CRISIS
Book Two in the Executive Decisions trilogy

An erotic novel

Grace Marshall

Published by Xcite Books Ltd – 2013

ISBN 9781908917836

Copyright © Grace Marshall 2013

The right of Grace Marshall to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be copied, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers: Xcite Books, Suite 11769, 2nd Floor, 145-157 St John Street, London EC1V 4PY

Chapter One

‘Excuse me.’ The man sidled in next to Kendra at the bar all casual-like. ‘I couldn’t help noticing you sitting here all by yourself, and I was wondering if I could I buy you a drink?’

Kendra lifted her barely touched rum and Diet Pepsi. ‘Thanks, but I already have one,’ she said without looking up from her novel. ‘And I’m not alone.’ She nodded down to her Kindle. She was just getting to the good part. All she wanted the man to do was go away and leave her alone.

Honestly, she was so engrossed in her novel that she thought he’d done just that until he cleared his throat loudly and sat down on the stool next to her. ‘So, whatcha reading that has you so enthralled?’

‘Tess Delaney’s latest,
Learning the Business
.’ She kept reading. Surely eventually he’d figure out she didn’t want to be disturbed. There was a time it would have embarrassed her to say that she was reading a romance novel, but now she didn’t think too much about it, not when it was a Tess Delaney novel.

But apparently the man wasn’t very bright. He scooted slightly closer, as though he might read over her shoulder. ‘It must be really good. I mean, this is the Boiling Point. Most people don’t come here to read.’

She heaved an irritated sigh and closed her Kindle. ‘Yes the book’s very good. Tess Delaney’s best so far. And no, most people don’t come here to read.’ She downed her drink in one go and jammed the Kindle into her bag, making no efforts to hide her irritation. It barely registered as she slid off the stool and headed out the door past the mountain-sized bouncer that the man hadn’t been bad looking. He was in a nice suit like he’d just come from some office somewhere, and if it wasn’t for Tess Delaney, Kendra probably could have had him in the park on that little secluded bench behind the shrubbery if she’d wanted to. That would have been a nice kinky beginning to the weekend. That was what she’d come to the Boiling Point for, wasn’t it? She figured she’d dance a little, flirt a little and, with a little luck, get nicely laid. She hadn’t done that in a while. Was she losing her touch?

She cursed under her breath. Whoever this reclusive Tess Delaney was, her novels were ruining Kendra’s sex life with her damn romance and love and not settling for just having a tumble and a handshake. What the hell was the matter with her? A fantasy, that’s all it was, just a fantasy. Nobody really got a happy ever after!

But when the man at the Boiling Point so rudely interrupted her, she’d left Lisa and David with the sexual tension sizzling between them, and she was pretty sure they were going to get laid even if she wasn’t. That being the case, she sure as hell didn’t want to miss out on their fun. She felt like a damned voyeur. She headed out across the park at a quick pace. It was a short walk back to Dee’s. She’d order herself some nice Chinese and curl up with Lisa and David for their boardroom romp. God, what was getting into her? Was she just getting old? Harris never let her forget she was the oldest of the Three Musketeers. By two months, she reminded herself. And Harris was joking. It wasn’t that she wasn’t horny. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to start out the weekend with a sweaty romp with some hot guy. It was just that, well, she knew it would never feel like it felt when David and Lisa’s anger gave way to lust and they ended up humping each other’s brains out on the floor of his office. Oh, it wasn’t that Tess Delaney didn’t write good love scenes; they were fabulous, in fact, hot and steamy and pulse-racing. But that was just it; Tess Delaney wrote love scenes, not sex scenes. Lisa would have never had a one-night stand with some guy she just met at a bar, and David would have never gone looking. There was chemistry, real chemistry in a Tess Delaney novel, and though Kendra seriously doubted if such chemistry, such romantic feelings really existed, Tess Delaney had drawn her in and made her wish like hell that they did.

As she often did, she was housesitting for her best friend, Dee Henning, who had been in New York on business. Well she was probably back home now, but she’d be having a very steamy romp of her own with Ellis Thorne over at his place. Against all odds, Dee and Ellis were a couple almost straight from a Tess Delaney novel. In fact, if she didn’t know better, Kendra would swear that Tess Delaney had been hiding in the closet or under Ellis’s desk taking notes for this novel. Wow! If this was what it felt like for Dee and Ellis, if this is what they experienced when they were together, then she was damn well jealous. She’d never admit it, of course. And as the Chinese food arrived and she scrounged in the fridge for the Diet Pepsi Dee always kept on hand for her, she found herself wondering if maybe she should stop reading those novels. It was pretty stupid, really. It only made her want what she knew she couldn’t have. Dee was Dee. Dee had a way of pushing through, of never giving up, of never settling until she got what she wanted in the relationship department, or any other department. Sadly, Kendra wasn’t like that. She wasn’t an optimist where love was concerned. She never had been, even as a child. She knew better. But since her return from California, she’d found it really difficult to get back into the clubbing scene. That meant the only sex Kendra was getting these days was sex for one.

Dee’s two red tabbies, McAlister and O’Kelly, heard the rattling of the bag from the Chinese food and came to investigate. Kendra handed over the bag to the felines and settled onto the floor in front of the coffee table to eat her spring rolls and kung pow chicken with cheap wooden chopsticks.

Just as David and Lisa clawed their way to the mother of all simultaneous orgasms, Kendra’s iPhone rang, and she dropped a spring roll into her lap, then grabbed it up with her fingers while David and Lisa quickly dressed, embarrassed by all the feelings they shouldn’t be having. It was Harris on the phone.

‘Hi, Ken. Surprised I caught you.’ She could hear the concern in his voice. ‘Weren’t you going to the Boiling Point? Are you all right?’

‘Fine,’ she said. ‘I’m fine, just having some Chinese before I head over,’ she lied. ‘What’s up?’

‘Just wondering if you can pick up some extra beer for tomorrow, maybe some soft drinks. It’s supposed to be hot. Plus, with the guest list being what it is, well, I don’t want to run out of lubricant.’

‘In that case, better get some hard stuff too,’ she said. Harris, Dee and Kendra had been best friends from high school and the bond had grown stronger during university and beyond. After all those years, they were still the Three Musketeers. Tomorrow Harris was throwing a little bar-B-Q out at his lake cabin, sort of an informal engagement party for Dee and Ellis. She’d work up a lot more enthusiasm for that little soirée if Ellis’s jerk of a brother wasn’t going to be there along with that Stacie chick, with whom it sounded like the two Thorne brothers had quite a history. Kendra liked Ellis. She liked him a lot, and she’d never seen Dee so happy. However, Ellis’s brother and Stacie, well, they were both trouble. The two of them had bumbled about until they’d nearly destroyed the relationship between Ellis and Dee before it happened. Though that had not been their intention and they had both been very contrite, Kendra didn’t place much stock in good intentions. It didn’t matter, though, Garrett was still Ellis’s brother, and apparently he was coming with Stacie as his date, even though she was his ex-wife. A perfectly good bar-B-Q ruined. But she supposed if Dee and Ellis could forgive the two, she would have to at least try.

After she hung up she made a quick note to herself to pick up drinks and returned her attention to Lisa, who was now coming clean with her best friend about sleeping with her boss.

Pale morning light filtered through the bedroom window, illuminating the delicate curve of Amanda’s shoulder and the swell of her breasts, which rose and fell in the even breathing of sleep. For a second he wondered if he was dreaming, but then he reached out and ran a finger along her cheekbone and watched the twitch of muscles and heard the soft moan escape her lips. It was no dream and, as memories of the past night flooded back to him, he wanted her all over again.

‘Damn it. It’s not right. It just doesn’t feel right.’ For the third time in the last half hour, Garrett Thorne shoved back the chair from his desk and moved to pace in front of the French doors that led onto the balcony. It had not been a stellar day for writing, and there were deadlines looming. He was prolific. Tess Delaney was prolific. He could whip out the novels almost as fast as his publisher wanted a new one, but for some reason, there was just no flow, no chemistry between Jessie and Amanda, and fuck if he cared, to be honest! The last thing he really wanted to write was another billionaire story. But this one was an oil tycoon in Texas, his editor said. A unique approach, his editor said.

‘Think kinky
Dallas
all wrapped up in a black and grey book cover,’ Garrett grumbled out loud. ‘Yep, that’s unique all right.’ He’d been joking when he brought up the idea, just joking. But hell, he didn’t have any other ideas at the moment, and that was very unusual for Tess Delaney.

At the moment he just wasn’t thinking like Tess, that was the problem. He was thinking like Garrett Thorne, and Garrett Thorne wanted to kick back, have a couple of beers in front of the television and … Well, actually, Garrett Thorne wanted to get laid. But he’d only been in Portland just long enough to get settled into his new house. He didn’t know anyone here, and the truth was, he wasn’t into one-night-stands, and he certainly wasn’t anxious to put his heart out there again after what happened with him and Amy. She’d sent him a free ticket to watch her dance the lead role in
Sleeping Beauty
in New York, but of course he wouldn’t go. He just couldn’t ride that roller coaster again. Not for the first time, he found himself thinking that if he really were Tess Delaney, if there was such a person, she would just get on with it.

He sat back down at the desk and took a sip of the neglected glass of cabernet. Out of the stack of waste paper he saved up from read-throughs, he took a piece and began to write on the back with a fountain pen.

I’ve never really thought about what Tess might look like, other than to notice how deliciously comfortable she is in her own skin. And that makes her outrageously sexy. Tess doesn’t really think much about romance and love and struggles of the heart. She just gets on with it. Tess is more practical than Garrett is. Tess knows that sometimes you just need to get laid, that sometimes you just want it to be easy for a little while.

He chuckled to himself and drained his glass of wine.

Tess isn’t really my secret, so much as I’m hers. She can cover for me, and she does. She knows I’m the twit who wears his heart on his sleeve, and that I write all about it. Tess covers for me in a way that’s far more elegant and natural than I could ever be.

Sometimes I wish she were real. I suppose this is a testament to how neurotic I am, but sometimes I wish
she
was my lover, tough and strong and comfortable in herself and able to slap me around a bit when I need it. Jesus, what am I writing here: Tess Delaney, Bad-Ass Dom? No denying that thought gets my attention, even if it makes me a bit uncomfortable.

Still, I suppose Tess’s fans see her as far more straight-laced than that. She’s hardly the kind who would fuck the lesser Thorne brother, is she? Though she might beat me into submission from time to time, she’d definitely go for the hero at the end of the day. And when she catches the public eye, she’s the paragon of virtue, the teller of tales of the heart. Ah! Tess Delaney! Where the hell are you when I need you?

Beneath it, he scribbled a heart with an arrow through it, then stood to pace again. He was just ready to sit down and try once more with Amanda and Jessie when his BlackBerry rang.

It was his publicist. ‘Damn it, Garrett, don’t you ever read your emails?’

Garrett plopped down at his desk and pulled up his Gmail account. ‘Why should I, Don? I can always count on you to call me in a panic if I need to know something.’

Don cursed, not quite under his breath. He’d been Garrett’s publicist long enough not to be required to be polite, and certainly Garrett wasn’t at times … Most of the time, actually. ‘Tess Delaney has just been nominated for the Golden Kiss Award.’ He didn’t wait for Garrett’s reply, but ploughed on, as he usually did, trying to get as much said as quickly as possible before Garrett hung up on him. ‘You do know what that means, don’t you? You do know what a big deal that is, what a coup? And if Tess wins, well, it could very well eclipse anything else she’s done up until now, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what it would do for sales.’

‘The Golden Kiss? Tess was nominated for the Golden Kiss?’ Garrett almost managed to let the excitement of such an honor sink in before Don was off and ranting again.

‘This year, the awards banquet’s in Portland. Well, that’s right there for you, isn’t it? And frankly, Garrett, your agent, your editor and I, well, we all think it’s the perfect opportunity to out Tess Delaney as a local boy gone romantic. And I think –’

‘No!’ Garrett said, feeling as though the bottom had just dropped out of his stomach. ‘There’ll be no outing Tess.’

‘Calm down, Garrett. Don’t hang up. Just listen to me, and I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s well worth considering. Outing Tess Delaney can’t do anything but help sales and if you win, well, it would be –’

‘I said no,’ Garrett repeated, no longer listening to Don’s long litany of reasons. ‘I won’t out her, and you can’t make me. And that’s final.’

He was just ready to hang up when Don said, ‘Well, actually, we can. We can make you. Your publisher is riding your editor who’s riding me, and unless you’re dead or dying, Garrett, they want you at that award ceremony. I suppose you could go in drag, but then to be honest, I think you’d make a very ugly woman, and I don’t think you’d be keen on the chest waxing beforehand either.’

‘Goddamn it, Don, I don’t want Tess outed! I’ve told you before, I write better when no one knows, when everyone thinks I’m just Ellison Thorne’s worthless brother. I don’t mind going. But not as Tess. There has to be another way, or I’m warning you there’ll be trouble. You know I don’t have to write for Romancine.’

BOOK: Identity Crisis
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