I came to the meeting at Leaf Press dressed for murder. Black pencil skirt, black pinstriped shirt, glossy black pumps, sheer black stockings with a Cuban heel. To quote the greatest rapper alive—all black everything. Even my hair, parted in the middle and straight enough to cut a bitch, looked darker than it’s usual brown. I might be overreacting, but this armor felt very necessary. My suit was the embodiment of the woman who wrote The Lust Diaries—assertive, professional, and sexy. I must have nailed it, because the look Elijah gave me when I entered the conference room said that he approved.
Many cigarettes were consumed and much sleep was lost in preparation for my meeting with the acquisitions team. As the acquiring editor, Elijah knew all the details of my contract. We had debated discussing it but decided it would be best to keep our professional careers out of the bedroom. Or rather, he decided it would be best. I hated that he wouldn’t talk shop with me now that we were fucking. When I got especially petulant about it, he reminded me that I wrote an amazing book. A book a step beyond my Lust Diaries blog that revealed a more intimate layer of myself. He reminded me that I deserved a chance to see it published and he refused to do anything to jeopardize that. When he put it like that, how could I disagree? But it was also a good reason for me to be armed and prepared to fight for my interests. There was no room for error. This blog was my life’s blood and I wanted to get it right the first time.
“Ms. Santiago,” he said, greeting me with a warm smile.
“Mr. Weinstein,” I answered evenly. I had to bite my cheek to keep from grinning. Pretending not to be intimate felt like drawn-out foreplay, the intensity of which was heightened by the fact that I wore his bruises and a rug burn under my clothes. Elijah had paid me an early- morning visit, though we’d agreed it was probably best if I slept at my place. Not that I slept much. Apparently he hadn’t either, because he banged down my door at six-thirty in the morning and fucked me into a screaming orgasm right there on my hall steps.
After introducing me around, Elijah guided me to the nearest empty seat. His hand slid over my bottom discreetly before I sat down, waking the bruises I had acquired in our early-morning tussle. That was bold. We’d agreed to be careful, and that groping hand on my ass was anything but. Was it the skirt? My ass did look amazing in it. He wasn’t used to seeing me all buttoned up and professional. Clearly, this was something I needed to do more often.
“Hello, Ms. Santiago. May I call you Yves?” Helena, the woman Elijah had introduced as editor-in-chief, greeted me. Not pronounced Hel-lay-nuh but Hell-in-uh like hell in a handbasket, hell in a black Gucci suit, hell in six-inch Gucci heels. Her legs were long, firm, and coltish—runners legs. They were gorgeous and she knew it. She sat at the head of the table with her legs angled toward Elijah. He told me she’d been trying to seduce him with those getaway sticks since the day he’d started working at Leaf Press. A lesser man would’ve fallen prey to her charms long ago. I knew he never would. Elijah was an ass man. I had the marks to prove it.
“Of course…as long as I can call you Helena.”
“Yes, please do. It’s so wonderful to finally meet you, Yves.”
“Thank you. It’s wonderful to meet all of you as well,” I said, acknowledging the rest of the table with a nod and a smile.
“You have written an amazing book,” she said with measured praise.
“I’m glad you think so, but it’s still so hard to believe that any of this is happening.”
Helena smiled. “Understandable. Especially considering the fact that you had such a modest readership. We would never have known who you were if it weren’t for Mr. Weinstein. I guess we can credit him with discovering you early on.”
Even a socially illiterate person could feel the shade she threw with that comment. She thought she was doing me a favor.
“I was searching for ways to monetize my blog before Mr. Weinstein got in contact with me, but he should be credited with encouraging me to do so.”
“Oh, we definitely acknowledge his diligence in pursuing you.” She smiled. “I’m sure this will be a mutually beneficial relationship.”
“I certainly hope so. I may not have thought of publishing my blog as a book before, but I do know what I’m worth.”
The EIC’s mouth twisted into a smirk. “Good to know. Maybe we should go ahead and review the contract?” She lifted a questioning eyebrow at Elijah and he pushed the contract in front of me.
“This is a pretty standard contract for first-time authors,” he explained. “I’ve tabbed the pages that require your signature. You are more than welcome to take the contract with you and review it with a lawyer.”
“That won’t be necessary. I’ve read several contracts.” I picked up the ream of paper. It was thick enough to be a short novel. I tried not to let that intimidate me as I scanned the portions on the grant of rights and searched for the ever-tricky noncompete clause. I found no major issues. Standard author representation, warranties, and indemnification of the publisher were sited. I had three months from the date of this contract to complete the edits. Barring any major issues, when the flowers bloomed, Lust Diaries would be hitting stores. It seemed too poetic to be real. A little shiver of excitement rushed through me. I stifled it down, making a professional mask of my face. “This all seems to be in order,” I murmured. “Except for one thing.”
“What’s that?” Helena asked.
“I’d like to have it written in that I own the Lust Diaries brand. That it will be considered separate from the copyright you hold on this book. I would also like final approval of the book cover.”
The room fell quiet. Elijah looked stunned. I hadn’t discussed this with him and now he was blindsided by my request.
“Ms. Santiago…this is a very uncharacteristic,” Helena said, an irritable edge to her voice.
“I understand, but this book is an extension of a brand that has taken me years to create. I want to make sure that it remains true to that. Also, I want to ensure that I am the sole owner of that brand.”
Helena glared at Elijah, but he didn’t notice because he was too busy glaring at me.
“Leaf Press is not prepared to—”
“Save whatever legal mumbo jumbo you’re about to feed me. I want to retain the trademark licensing. I refuse to wake up one morning to discover that my book has been made into some lukewarm cable TV show that will offend everyone in the free world and die in three seasons. I won’t sign the contract without this addendum. It’s too important to me.”
The editor-in-chief tapped her ink pen on the table and regarded me with intense scrutiny. I met her gaze with a boldness I didn’t really feel. I’d practiced these words in my bathroom mirror before I left, but it was entirely different to say them to her face. Rejection was what I expected. Condescension. I had deeper arguments if she chose that route, though I hoped she didn’t. This was not the time to be weak or ingratiating. This was my livelihood.
“We will do all that we can to make sure your requests are met.” Helena stood and extended her hand to me. “Welcome to Leaf Press. We are honored to include you amongst our illustrious authorship.”
I shook her hand and smiled. “Thank you,” I said. Though I knew she didn’t mean a word of that.
She stepped around me and exited the room on a gust of agitated wind.
“Yves, can I see you in my office?” Elijah asked.
“Of course.” I smirked, though a tiny sliver of fear snaked through me. He was pissed and I would catch all of that the moment we were alone.
Elijah led me out of the conference room on the main floor of the building, across the lobby to the stairs. His office was two flights up and at the end of a short hallway. The walls were frosted glass and didn’t offer much privacy, but the moment we were inside with the door closed he rounded on me and hauled me into his arms. I suppressed a surprised giggle and returned his hug. I’d expected a completely different reaction.
“I really want to be upset with you, but I have to admit…I’m extremely turned on by what just happened in that conference room.”
“What? Me protecting my interests?”
“Yes. Did you know you were going to do this all along or did you decide it this morning?”
“I’ve been thinking about this all along.”
“It was smart and bold and I’m ashamed of how much I underestimated you. But aren’t you concerned? Everything is up in the air now. It really could go either way.”
“I think it’ll go my way.”
“You don’t know that. You could lose this contract. I really wish we could’ve discussed this first.”
I rolled my eyes. “This was your rule, Elijah.”
“Yes, it was my rule and probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done,” he said ruefully. His full lips stretched into a slow smile. “I really loved the way you handled her though.”
“Who Hell-in-uh?” I asked, drawing out the pronunciation of her name. “I had to let her know she couldn’t kick me around. Women like that need boundaries.”
“They do, huh? What about you? What do women like you need?”
“To never be caged in.”
“Yup. I’d just gnaw myself free anyway.”
He grunted then kissed me. I gave a surprised complaint, concerned about the red lipstick I had meticulously applied, but he didn’t give a damn about my lipstick. His hand slid up my back to cradle my neck and the other palmed my ass, pulling me flush against him. I sighed, parting my lips to accept his tongue. God, would I ever get used to kissing this mouth? His mouth had claimed mine so many times, but it still caught me off guard. How his tongue slid over mine. How his hand gripped my ass so that I felt each individual finger imprinting my flesh. He owned me. With his kiss and his touch, he owned me.
“Can you go out for lunch?” I asked, when he finally pulled away long enough for me to catch my breath.
“Bad form, sir. I feel like I never see you anymore.”
“I feel the same way. Which is why I broke down your door this morning.” He pulled away a bit to survey what damage he’d done to my makeup with the kiss. He smoothed the smudged edges with his thumb. It must not have been too bad. “Let’s go out to celebrate.”
A tiny shiver rushed through me. More than a month had passed since he took me to the swanky lounge that doubled as a BDSM bar. When I asked, he couldn’t rightly say what kept him away. Maybe it was an innate need to keep me to himself with things being so new between us.
“I want you all dolled up.”
I grinned. “I’m gonna get all dolled up to watch a bunch of perverts flog and fuck each other?”
“We’re gonna do more than watch.”
My smile faltered a little, but I swallowed down that fear, gripped his arm, and pulled him closer. When my mouth aligned with his ear I whispered. “I’m ready for more.”
He growled deep in his chest and sought my mouth for another kiss.
“When?” I asked.
* * * *
After a few more lingering kisses, I left Elijah to head back home. I was dazed and feeling unsure of the ballsy move I’d made in the conference room earlier but still proud of myself for asking for what I wanted. All they could do was say no.
“Ms. Santiago! Can I see you for a moment, please?” a voice called out to me, just as I reached the elevator.
I’d never met her before today, but I was already oddly familiar with the crisp, abrupt tones of Helena Davidson’s voice. As much as I wanted to avoid her, I knew it wouldn’t be proper, so I took a deep breath, turned around, and headed back to Helena’s office. With clenched teeth, I rapped twice on the frosted glass of the slightly ajar door. Ambient music filled the space beyond and I could see Helena at her desk.
“Come in, Yves.”
I pushed the door open and stepped inside.
“Have a seat,” she murmured and gestured toward the chair opposite her desk.
I lowered myself into the chair. “Is there something more you need from me?”
Helena held up a finger and continued to read the document in front of her for what felt like an eternity. I understood what was happening here. She felt disrespected by my demands during the contract negotiation and was paying me back for that. It still pissed me off.
After a few moments she set aside the manuscript and took off her glasses. “So…” She angled her legs under the glass desk to create an enticing view. The woman did have great legs.” You gave us a run for our money this morning? Was it always your intention to make those demands?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Of course. I did a bit of my own research. Investigated the careers of a few bloggers who came by their book deals the same way. I wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same mistakes.”
Helena nodded. “Smart. Reckless, but smart. And did you discuss this with Elijah prior to the meeting?”
“No. Believe it or not, I have friends in the publishing business to advise me. I didn’t tell Elijah because he works for you. Not me.”
“Are you fucking him?”
I smirked. “So now we get to the real reason why you called me in here.” The question hung between us, tainting the air along with Helena’s underlying reason for pulling me in here: she wanted him. And if her reaction to me was any indication, he had exactly zero interest in her.
“If you’re fucking him,” she continued. “I have to inform you that this company has very strict policies on fraternization between authors and editors. This sort of transference is common between authors and editors of the opposite sex, but is strongly discouraged as it can muddy the waters in the relationship with our authors. If you are fucking him, you would be reassigned to another editor and he would be fired.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I stood and smoothed my pencil skirt over my hips. “Are we done?”
The corners of her mouth pulled down, as though the words on her tongue were so vile she couldn’t stand the taste of them. Surprisingly, she managed to swallow them back. I gave her a curt nod and then turned to leave her office.
“One thing you might also want to consider,” she said as my hand closed around the doorknob. “An accusation of preferential treatment based on a sexual relationship with your editor could be damaging to your career. All those feminist ideals would tank at a hint of a rumor about your involvement with Elijah. No self-respecting feminist would take you seriously after that. I mean, the man is beautiful, but is he worth ruining everything you’ve worked for?”
She was baiting me. Digging around in my psyche trying to find my hot button and goddamn if she hadn’t hit it. Even knowing this, it took everything in me not to round on her and unleash every expletive I knew in both the English and Spanish languages. Instead I nodded curtly and said, “You have a good afternoon, Helena,” and left, barely resisting the urge to slam her office door so hard that it shattered.
I should’ve seen this coming. Should have recognized it in every cutting look Helena cast my way during the meeting. It still made me furious. How dare she threaten me! But even knowing that her threats came from jealousy, her parting words nagged at me as I made my way back to the elevators. Had I fucked my way into this book deal? It was true that Elijah found and read my blog in totality before we ever met. But had our instant attraction improved my chances somehow?
No. That couldn’t be true. Elijah had been nothing but honest and transparent with me.
I hated that a single vindictive word from his jealous boss could put the thought in my head so easily. It didn’t escape me that the if the thought was so easily planted in mine, just a hint of a rumor would get potential readers there just as easily. I refused to let my first book—the compilation of every experience, everything that made me the woman I am—to be discredited by something as simple and private as who I chose to sleep with. Nor would I let it push us apart.
“Fuck,” I cursed under my breath. Elijah and I needed to talk about this. Hopefully he could come up with a solution that would keep us together and keep Helena off of his back.