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Beginnings: Chapter 1 of Alonso Darlington’s Story: Landscapes

I’m doing a shameless selfie today. No, you’re eyes have not deceived you. There is no picture of me in soggy walking clothes or me with a gorgeous Scottish landscape behind me. I’m shamelessly promoting britboysonboys cover imageone of my own stories — well one of my own characters, actually — Alonso Darlington. I’m promoting Alonso or several reasons. First, he’s a fascinating character and I love to write about him. Second his novella, Landscapes, is a part of the Brit Boys: On Boys Book Bundle, which is now being promoted in conjunction with the new Brit Boys release, Brit Boys with Toys. And finally, Alonso Darlington has a staring role in my online serial, In The Flesh. The bloke gets around. Thought you might enjoy a little sneak peek of his story, from Landscapes.

 

Brit Boys: On Boys Bundle blurb:

From east to west and north to south, these British boys are having a blast in and out of the bedroom with the men of their dreams. They’re topping and bottoming from London to Cardiff, living out fantasies in the wildest fells and hooking up while serving HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

With passion and lust the name of the game, nothing is off limits. Throw in honed muscles, high-strength testosterone and an accent to die for and there is nothing they can’t do and no one they can’t get in this world or another.

Don’t miss Brit Boys: On Boys—a smokin’ hot box set, containing 147,000 words/440 pages of unforgettable M/M erotic romance from eight popular British authors.

 

Landscapes Blurb:

Alonso Darlington has a disturbing method of keeping landscaper, Reese Chambers, both safe from and oblivious to his dangerous lust for the man. But Reese isn’t easy to keep secrets from, and Alonso wants way more than to admire the man from afar. Can he risk a real relationship without risking Reese’s life?

 

Chapter 1 Back on British Soil

It wasn’t that Reese Chambers made my cock hard – though he did. It wasn’t that he was beautiful in a rugged, leather and stone sort of way – though he was. It was that Reese Chambers moved me in ways I had not been moved in a very long time, in ways that I, who never lacked just the right words to express myself, found my vocabulary inadequate to the task. Talia would call it an obsession, and maybe it was; from my first sight of him mantling his sketchpad like a bird of prey over a fresh kill, alone in the midst of the crowded pub, I could think of nothing else. It was my first night back on British soil. It is said that you can never go back home, and it had been a very long time for me. But the need to come home was in my blood like fever these past years, as were so many needs that never left me, but only sharpened with the passing of time.

Next to me, Talia droned on about suitable residences in Cumbria, about the leasing of a car and the Brit Boys: With Toysmaking of necessary renovations. The Twa Dogs was busy for a Monday night with tourist season past, but being invisible was sometimes easier in a crowd. As Talia talked business in softly accented English, the men at the bar gave her admiring glances. Along with the permeating waft of warm bodies and fermented barley, I smelled the subtle spice of curiosity and the yeasty bread scent of simmering lust from men who knew the woman they admired was out of their league. Besides being excellent at her job, Talia was good for keeping attention off me. But there was little less than a lightning bolt that would have taken my attention off Reese Chambers.

He sat at a table near the exit, sketching in an open pad, his pint gone wanting as he lost himself in his work. I admire people of focus; people whose work is also their calling. They seem to exist on a different plane from the rest of us, and no one or nothing outside can touch them. I very much wanted to touch Reese, to draw his attention away, to hear his voice, to perhaps solicit a smile from him, to know that for a moment his attention was on me. But I’m a cautious man, and time is always on my side. The anticipation of knowing Reese Chambers in itself was to be savoured, not unlike just that right amount of intoxication, when warmth and relaxation take one to the boarders of euphoria, but no further.

‘There are three places that might be suitable.’ I returned my attention to Talia. ‘One in the Borrowdale Valley and two near Ullswater. But perhaps you should consider going back to High View, after all it is your –’

‘Find out who he is.’ I nodded in Reese’s direction. Before Talia could protest, I continued. ‘I have a roof over my head, and I’ve fed. There’s nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow.’

Talia’s cheekbones flushed with the rush of blood, and heaven knew how beautiful she was in such a state, porcelain pale skin, midnight blue eyes and hair, which was so close to black that no one but I would have noticed all of the other colours in her silken tresses. She knew what it was I asked of her, and she knew the delicate line she tread on the rare occasion when I did ask. A tremor passed up her long, straight spine, and a bloom of tiny goose bumps textured her bare arms. It would not be painless, what I asked, and I knew she feared it as much as she longed for it. I could hear the thud thud of her pulse in the thin, silken skin of her throat as she swallowed the sudden dryness of fear. ‘What do you want to know?’

I leaned forward to rake the tip of my thumb against the pulse point in her temple. ‘Everything, Talia. I want to know all of it. And when you know, come directly to me. I don’t care what time it is when you return.’

Only her eyelids fluttered her acknowledgment, for an anxious moment shuttering the brilliance of her eyes before she drank back her Merlot and excused herself to the ladies to freshen up.

I took little notice of her leave, but like a child left alone with the candy jar he couldn’t reach, I sat teasertemplate_BBoBKDtaking the object of my lust into my hungry senses, watching the muscles of his arms move beneath fine bronze skin as he sketched, watching the rapid rise and fall of his chest, as though what he sketched excited him, as though he were breathless from his engagement with it. His hair, unkempt and in need of a cut, was the colour of newly-forged bronze and the rapid shudder of his pulse against his throat made my lips tingle with the need to be pressed there where the life force flowed so close to the surface, there with his excitement, there with his passion. I licked my lips tasting the copper salt of my own sweat, and opened my mouth just slightly, just enough to take in the scent of him — the heat of his body, the cinnamon bite of his intense focus, and my cock shuddered heavily against my trousers. For a brief moment the sound of my own blood rushing through my body drown out the dart game behind me, the low drone of a football match on the big screen TV, the clink of glasses, the shuffle of feet. I heard only the rising of my blood and the scratching of his pencil against the rough-textured paper. For a moment, I sensed his own lust, harnessed tightly and focused through a needle’s eye on his creation and, God, I wanted that focus on me.

Before Talia returned, I stood to leave, and as I brushed passed him I smelled damp earth and verdant growth, I smelled a spark freshly kindled, and at the back of my throat I could taste his essence, as though passion itself had been distilled from the lusting creative force of the human soul. I inhaled once, then again, then I left the pub, having no idea just how powerful my lust for Reese Chambers really was, nor the sequence of events it would set off.

 

It was nearing dawn when Talia returned to our accommodations smelling of sex, as I knew she would if In The Flesh 2 12006311_1476805985954344_6570546160088833292_nshe were to obtain for me what I wanted. By then my blood burned in my veins, and my body felt too close to me, as though the flesh that I dwelt in suddenly conspired to crush me with its demands. And though I knew that Reese Chambers could not have refused her even if she had come to him as a toothless, foul-smelling hag, I hated her that he had poured himself into her body while I had been left with only my fantasies kindling my lust to an inferno.

Though my need was such that my flesh was fevered and my cock an insistent throb, until she returned, I held myself contained within skin that felt too thin. When she saw the state that I was in, she pulled the heavy drapes with an efficient tug, then with a nod of her head, motioned me to follow her down into the basement room that had been prepared for me. When she turned to me at the foot of the bed, before she could opened her kiss-bruised lips to speak, I took her mouth, starving for the first taste of him, the taste of his saliva, the taste of his blood, mixed with hers. She’d bitten him; he’d bitten her back. He was rough, and he liked to be treated rough, but he kept that to himself. He was embarrassed by it. His lips were slightly chapped from so much time in the sun and wind, and they’d slid against hers, suckling and stroking and pressing until her mouth opened to his. With ravenous laps of my tongue, I tasted him in her mouth, and she held back the moan of response, so I could hear the echoes of his groans, heavy with need he’d not satisfied in awhile, and I felt kinship in my own unsatisfied needs. Images of him flashed through my head. Christ, his eyes were green, dark green like the evergreen forests of the north, and he kept them open when he kissed her, taking her in with his eyes.

I shoved aside the silk of her low bodice exposing her breasts, breasts that his hands had cupped. My nipples peeked to sharp aching points at the feel of his calloused thumbs raking, pressing and releasing. I breathed in his scent on her breasts, burying my face in her cleavage, licking the taste of salty, slightly picante maleness, sniffing and tasting until I could stand it no more. In one violent jerk, I tore the dress all the way down and shoved it off her shoulders, away from the flesh he had licked and kissed and mounted. I cried out at the feel of him, weight on one elbow, knee spreading her thighs, fingers opening her heaviness, anxious to penetrate, anxious to relieve his need. And then, with Talia free of clothing, Reese Chambers’ essence filled the room. Talia’s panties were still wet with his semen mixed with her humid desire, and I tore them from her and forced her onto her stomach, onto her hands and knees, so that it was not her face I saw, but his that I imagined. With hands on her hips, I raised her bottom in the air and spread her still swollen, still slippery folds with fingers made awkward by my arousal, letting the scent of his hot bread and honey release intoxicate me. Then I buried my face in her snatch and, as I ate his lust from her, I knew him.

He was Cumbrian born and bred, and his accent was the soft lilting sound of the fells. He was a landscaper and a gardener by trade. His hands held the magic of the earth and his mind conceived ideas for beautiful outdoor spaces; those he liked best were patterned after Renaissance and medieval gardens. He was homesick and heartsick. He’d gone to Surrey to work with his father because the money was good. But his father had died recently and he had returned home to Cumbria. He didn’t care if he had to work in a pub or muck stables. He wanted to be home. He missed the people and he missed the fells. He missed the simpler, more honest rhythms of life. He was shy, even a bit reclusive. He read voraciously and widely, he liked astronomy and he was afraid of snakes, though it embarrassed him to admit it. He hadn’t had sex in a long time, and found it better to have a wank session than a meaningless encounter. The facts of him, the details of his life raced at me in a flood I consumed ravenously with each lap of my tongue.

As I ate Talia I felt the shape of his face, the curve of his chin, the rise and fall of his chest as he had done the same. I felt the soft tuft of bronze curls nestled between the hard rise of his pecs and the courser, deeper curls that caressed his testicles and his cock when it was at rest, but it hadn’t been at rest. How many times had he taken her? He was thick enough to fill her and the friction of him inside was delicious and maddening. The shape of him – I wanted to caress the shape of him, with my hands, with my mouth, and the taking of his essence from Talia was an act of ripping away something that should have been mine. As I bruised her arse with kneading fingers and, as I licked the last of his release from her, she managed a breathless moan. ‘Take the rest. God, Alonso, take the rest, and release me.’

I could hold back no longer. I rose on my knees behind him, and now it was truly him I saw as clearly as if Talia had brought him to me physically. With one hand wrestling at my fly, the other fondled his tender opening, careful as he lay there beneath me, legs parted, bottom exposed. In my mind’s eye, I would be gentle. He had not been with a man before. That I would be his first excited far more than just my cock. In my mind’s eye, I would make it good for him. I would make love to him as not even Talia could do. But in reality I was once removed, ripping vicariously the love I wanted from a succubus, and I was unable to do so graciously or without malice. When my cock was free, I took her ruthlessly, the sound of her closely entwined pain and pleasure far away. And once I had penetrated her depths, I took the rest of what I wanted, a connection, a connection that I could hold on to. I ripped it from her as surely as if I had ripped her skin from her flesh, fisting her hair and yanking her head back, bruising her hips, biting her shoulders.

And when I had savaged her for having him, and yet blessed her that she had done such for me, when I In the Flesh 11880534_1463650103936599_545702979581425574_nhad ripped a release from her, then I felt him rising up, erect and needing to come, I felt him penetrating, deep and hard, varying his pace, torturing himself, torturing me as he had tortured her, as my own balls ached under their weight. The muscles of his buttocks clenched and released with each thrust and the look on his face as he came was pain and pleasure and vulnerability, and then distance. I took Talia cruelly, as she knew I would, punishing her for the betrayal that I had forced upon her even as every thrust, every bite, every bruising of her delicate skin, skin that smelled of his sweat, of his breath, of his semen, brought the reality of Reese Chambers, his pain, his dreams, his passion into me, deep into me. As she fucked him, I fucked her, by the very act, taking back from her what she had taken from him, every detail of who he was, alive with each thrust, with each bite, with each bruise that I dealt her.

And when I had used her up, taking from her every memory, every nuance of Reece Chambers, when she collapsed beneath me with a sob, I felt the brush of my own guilt, my own shame, as I always did when I used her so. I spoke gently to her, thanking her, calming her as I bathed her and gently cleaned the aftermath of me from her body. Then I lifted her in my arms and took her to her room. She was weakened from the experience, as she always was, and when she nuzzled in against my chest, I opened the small incision above my left nipple, and when the blood beaded up, I pulled her close so that she could feed and heal. I stroked her hair and watched, imagining that it were him feeding from me, and feeling myself hardening again at the thought.

When she was sated and sleeping peacefully, I watched her for a moment. She would need all of her strength in the days to come, for she would be my conduit. She would be my connection to Reese Chambers. I knew that above ground it was now full daylight, and I could now sleep with the essence of him against my flesh, in my flesh. And tomorrow, we would begin plans to move back to High View, where I would most definitely have need of a landscaper.

 

Reading in the Sunshine! The Executive Decision Box Set: A Solstice Bargain!

086Here comes the sun! Happy Solstice everyone! And here’s a little something to fill those long extra hours of sunshine. Sunshine and long days and heat … oh so much heat! The good news keeps getting better! Not only is the Executive Decision Box Set still a bargain for a scorching summer reading binge, but it’s climbing the Amazon erotic romance chart as well!
If you like romance with a twist of suspense and a whole lot of sizzle, then you’ll want to grab up The Executive Decision Box Set now!

The Executive Decision Box Set includes the first three novels of the series. That’s three full-length novels to heat up your UK summer at 99 pence, or to make you US summer sizzle at $1.54.  Go ahead and treat yourself to a steamy Solstice read-a-thin!

 

 

And today, to celebrate Summer Solstice with all those extra hours of reading time, I’m going to tempt and tease you Exec Box setever further by offering up the first chapter of the first novel as a tasty appetiser.

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon AU
Amazon CA

Happy Solstice! Enjoy!

The Executive Decision Box Set is a binge reading must for those who like an intense, fast-paced story with hot romance between characters who are more than up for the task.

 

 

An Executive Decision – Book One in The Executive Decision Series

AED new coverOverworked CEO Ellison Thorne has no time for sex, let alone romance. The only answer, at least where his retiring business partner Beverly is concerned, is a no-strings sex clause in her replacement’s contract, designed to make Ellis’ busy life easier – and hotter. But she’s joking, right?

When Dee Henning takes over Beverly’s job, sparks fly between her and Ellis, but work takes priority in driven Dee’s life too. Can one night of passion in a Paris hotel room prove Beverly’s Sex Clause is their secret to success in the boardroom and the bedroom, and what will happen if that private clause becomes public knowledge?

 

Identity Crisis – Book Two in The Executive Decision Series

This romantic suspense novel is recommended to hopeless romantics who know love triumphs over all.

IC new coverTess Delaney is the hottest property in romantic fiction, but the reclusive Tess has a secret – she’s really the alter ego of Garrett Thorne, bad boy brother of business tycoon Ellison Thorne. When Tess is nominated for the Golden Kiss Award, Garrett recruits PR specialist, Kendra Davis, to keep his secret and be Tess for the awards despite their mutual animosity.

Hatred turns to scorching passion, but when Tess is stalked by a rabid fan, an identity crisis is eclipsed by a battle for survival. It seems Tess, the woman who doesn’t exist, just might understand Kendra and Garrett’s hearts better than they do.

 

The Exhibition – Book Three in The Executive Decision Series

TE new coverSuccessful NYC gallery owner, Stacie Emerson, is ex-fiancée to one Thorne brother and ex-wife to the other. Though the three have made peace, Ellison Thorne’s friend, wildlife photographer, Harris Walker, still doesn’t like her. When Stacie convinces Harris to exhibit his work for the opening of her new gallery she never intended to include him in her other more hazardous plans. But when those plans draw the attention of dangerous business tycoon, Terrance Jamison, Harris comes to her aid. In the shadow of a threat only Stacie understands, can she dare let Harris into her life and make room for love?

 An Executive Decision Chapter 1

Dee gave herself one last inspection in the mirrored walls of the elevator. No tell-tale trembling or sweating; the stage was fright all hidden beneath a well-polished exterior. How could she be this tense? She’d been in business with the big boys long enough to have nerves of steel. But this was Ellison Thorne she was meeting. The man was in a league of his own. She’d waited three years for this opportunity, and she was determined he wouldn’t see the mass of quavering jelly beneath the calm.

When she reached the executive suites, Beverly Neumann beckoned Dee into her office. ‘Ellis is stuck in traffic. He figures it’ll be at least another half hour.’

‘That’s too bad.’ Dee tried to mask her disappointment. She had a meeting with a potential head of marketing for Sportwide Extreme Adventure immediately after this, so there’d be no lingering if Ellis didn’t arrive before her hour was up.

‘I know he’ll do his best to get here,’ Beverly said. ‘He’s dying to meet the woman who threw a drink in Terrance Jamison’s face at Jasper and McDowell’s big New Year bash last year.’

Dee blushed. ‘Not funny, Beverly. I nearly lost my job over that.’ She still couldn’t figure why the man hadn’t sued her ass off or ruined her career or had henchmen break the legs of her family and close friends. Even now it made her nervous that he’d taken it so graciously.

‘And if you had, there’d have been ten companies in line to hire you, including Pneuma Inc,’ Beverly said. ‘It was so worth it. If only I’d had the presence of mind to record it all on my iPhone, you’d have been the queen of YouTube. You seldom get that caliber of entertainment at a corporate New Years party.’

Dee glanced at the front page of The Oregonian lying on Beverly’s desk. There was a photo of Ellis shaking hands with the governor. The caption read, Ellison Thorne, a force of nature working for nature. She studied the image, one of many she’d seen of him. Though there was a warmth about him in the photos, it was never blatant, always slightly distant. She was familiar with that distance. She’d been accused of it herself by colleagues who just didn’t understand her sense of focus.

She lingered over the photo admiring again the short brown hair with its patina of bronze, which laid bare the strong geography of his face. The well-defined jaw and firm brow created a fortress, of sorts, keeping his emotions and thoughts from the prying hordes. From it, he looked out on the world through dark amber eyes that never missed anything and never gave anything away. Heroes were like that, she thought, and she had idolized him and his company for a long time.

It was through Beverly that Dee occasionally caught more intimate glimpses of Ellison Thorne. No doubt he’d be appalled if he knew. But that was a part of her meetings with the woman that Dee always looked forward to.

Beverly nodded to the seat in front of her desk. ‘Might as well relax. He’ll get here when he gets here.’ She turned her attention to the forest of plants behind her desk and began misting the broad leaves of something that must have come straight from The Little Shop of Horrors. Thanks to Beverly’s insistence that a green work place actually be green, the whole ten-story cantilevered edifice that was the Pneuma building was one colossal hanging garden. It was healthier that way, she’d said.

Dee sat down a safe distance from the sinister-looking foliage. ‘You don’t need to go to the rainforest. You’ve got a AED_teaserjungle right here in your office.’

‘You sound like Ellis,’ Beverly said.

‘Is he still giving you a hard time about your trip to Brazil?’

‘One minute he’s treating me like an old lady, saying it’s too dangerous for someone my age to go trekking through the jungle, and the next he’s telling me I’m too young to retire and he absolutely can’t run the place without me for at least five more years.’ She brushed pollen from the jacket of her power suit. ‘Five more years! Do you have any idea how much life a person can miss out on in five years?’

‘So what will you do?’ Dee asked.

‘Well,’ Beverly rearranged the leaves of a large fern as though it were her favorite child, ‘first I’m going to Brazil. I haven’t had a real vacation in longer than I care to remember. And when I get back, if he doesn’t find someone to replace me while I’m still here to help train them, that’s just too damned bad, because in exactly one year, I’m out of here.’

‘Good for you. Life’s too short not to go for it when you get the chance.’

‘Yes it is, isn’t it? And speaking of going for it,’ Beverly sat down in her chair and leaned conspiratorially across her desk, ‘I hear the accountant over at Ab Con – what’s his name, the one with the dark hair that always looks like someone’s been running their fingers through it, I hear he sent you flowers.’

‘I recruited the best finance manager in the history of finance managers for Ab Con, Beverly. I earned every one of those flowers.’

‘Earned the flowers?’ Beverly frowned at her and clucked her tongue. ‘What part about the man being hot for you did you not get, sweetie?’ Before Dee could cut her off at the pass, Beverly was on a roll. ‘Honestly you’re hopeless, Dee Henning. I understand your focus, your drive to succeed, really I do, but I gotta wonder how you even call it success when you’re so wrapped up in your work that the only way you’ll ever get laid is if they put it in the job description. And frankly, if I had my way and I were running the business world, sex would be a contract requirement.’

Dee rolled her eyes, but Beverly clasped her hands on top of her desk, doing a fair imitation of a psychoanalyst. ‘I worry about you, Dee. I really do. Not having time for sex just isn’t healthy.’

‘You’re probably right, it probably isn’t –’ Dee change the subject by shoving a half a dozen files across the desk at Beverly. ‘– but it’s also not healthy for Ellis not to have a replacement for his retiring executive assistant.’ The title, executive assistant, was entirely misleading. Dee knew that Beverly, not Ellis, had chosen it. And though technically she was his equal in the business the two of them, along with Wade Crittenden, had begun thirteen years ago, Beverly preferred to work quietly with no pompous moniker to live up to. She wore the title proudly and carried the incredible burden it entailed with panache and enthusiasm. Dee was certain that whoever took up Beverly’s weighty mantle would inherit the humble title as well as its prodigious responsibilities.

Just then Beverly’s Blackberry buzzed. ‘Damn!’ She punched in a quick reply. ‘Ellis says the traffic’s at a standstill. I was really hoping the two of you would finally meet before I head off to Brazil.’

Dee buried her disappointment. Meeting Ellison Thorne was not the real reason she was here, she reminded herself. IC_teaser2She still had work to do. She nodded down at the files of resumes of Beverly’s perspective replacements. ‘Best get to it then, hadn’t we?’

But Beverly pushed the files to one side and picked up right where she’d left of. God, the woman was tenacious! ‘Seems to me the obvious solution is to include sex in certain job descriptions, like for an executive assistant, or a secretary, or any position where two people work closely. That’d be a good start, don’t you think?’

‘Great idea. Maybe I’ll find myself a nice male secretary.’ Dee gave the door a quick glance, certain she’d heard someone approaching. There was no one, but in any case, she was sure that wouldn’t have stopped Beverly.

‘I think that would be a wise decision for a busy executive. And I doubt you’d have any shortage of applicants. Ellis wouldn’t either, and the benefits to both of you – well, I think you’d be amazed. I’ve given it a lot of thought and I personally can’t see a down side.’ Beverly continued her speculations. ‘Just think of how much more relaxed the two of you would be if you and Ellis had a reliable source of stress-free sex available when you needed it. Imagine how much more focused you’d both be if your junk wasn’t interfering with your brain.’

Dee straightened in her chair. ‘My … junk does not interfere with my brain.’

Beverly leaned over the desk like an accusing lawyer. ‘Ah, but how do you really know that, since you’re not getting any?’

‘Beverly –’

‘The Executive Sex Clause could reduce sick days.

‘I’m never sick.’

Beverly came around the desk and laid an unsolicited hand on her forehead. ‘I’ve been thinking you look a little pale, and you feel a bit warm to me.’

Dee brushed her hand aside. ‘I’m fine. I don’t need the sick days I’ve got, and I bet Ellis doesn’t either.’

‘A good thing, since you wouldn’t have time to take them if you did. Forget sick days, think of the increase in productivity, the boost to creativity. Think of the serenity in the work place. That’s gotta be worth something. The possibilities are endless.’

‘My productivity’s fine and I’m very creative. And I work at Jasper and McDowell. Serenity isn’t part of the package.’ This conversation had gone far enough, farther than Dee wanted, and she really didn’t have time to wait any longer for Ellis. It looked like the long awaited meeting with the force of nature would have to wait for yet another time. Dee nodded to the folders on Beverly’s desk. ‘As interesting as the idea of a Sex Clause might be, if you insist on deserting Ellis, I need to do my job and find someone who can take your place, which won’t be an easy task.’

When the meeting finished, Beverly walked her to the door, glancing down at her watch. ‘Sorry you missed Ellis. But you know how it is with busy executives, it’s catch as catch can, isn’t it?’

Dee had the distinct feeling the woman wasn’t talking about work. She said her good-byes and promised they’d get together when Beverly returned from Brazil.

‘I missed her again didn’t I? She’s going to think I’m avoiding her.’ Ellis dropped into the chair in front of Beverly’s desk and flipped absently through the files Dee Henning had just left. ‘It’s not her that I’m avoiding; I’m avoiding your silly retirement plans.’

‘You won’t be laughing when you come in here some morning and find my desk empty. You’ll be SOL big time, boy.’

Ellis pulled one of the files from the stack and handed it to her. ‘Here. Here’s my choice. Why not Tally Barnes? She’s about as qualified as anyone, I guess.’

She shoved the folder back at him. ‘You know why not Tally Barnes, now stop being a smart ass.’

He offered her an amused chuckle. ‘Who are you kidding, Beverly? You love this place and you know it. You’re not going to retire. How many false alarms have there been now, three? Four? I’ve lost count. Face it; you’ll work here until you drop dead.’

‘Believe what you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.’ She pulled a manila envelope from the top drawer of her desk and handed it to him.

‘What’s this?’

‘My replacement. Since you won’t help, I’ve taken matters into my own hands. She’s been right under our noses all along.’ She rubbed her hands together with a shiver of anticipation. ‘Come on, humor me.’

Still holding her in a disapproving gaze, he took the envelope as though he half expected it to be booby trapped. He opened the clasp then slid the contents from inside and gave it a glance. ‘Wait a minute. This is a file on Dee Henning. You can’t be serious. You want a head hunter to take over running half of Pneuma Inc?’

‘Don’t be such a snob, Ellis. It’s not like she’ll be taking over tomorrow. I’ll be here to train her up to suit your persnickety standards.’

‘Then why not promote Tally Barnes? I don’t see what you have against her. She always seems fine to me.’ He nodded to the top file in the stack Dee had brought in. ‘She already works for Pneuma Inc, and she’s a lot more qualified. You could train her up.’

‘Oh she’s already convinced she’s a shoo-in. Hell she’s already planning to redecorate my office. Wouldn’t be too TE_teasersurprised if she has plans for you too. Don’t give me that snooty smirk. She’s a trouble-maker, Ellis. Oh she’s great at ass-kissing, and that’s why Tally Barnes always seems fine to you. I don’t like her and I don’t trust her. You know I’m a good judge of character. Trust me on this; she’s not right for my job no matter what her resume says.’

‘Suit yourself.’ He returned his attention to Dee Henning’s details. ‘How did you get this information anyway?’ The file was too thick for a simple resume, and some of the pages looked like hand-written notes photocopied. Others were odd sizes, some were written on post-it notes, and the whole packaged smacked of Beverly’s scheming.

‘Portland’s a small city.’ Suddenly she seemed particularly interested in the leaves of a thriving Christmas cactus sitting on the edge of her desk.

‘Beverly?’

‘I’m friends with Irv McDowell, okay? At least I think we’re still friends.’ The look of driven-snow innocence gave way to something just slightly this side of devious.

‘You’ve been head-hunting from the head head hunter? Dee Henning’s Jasper and McDowell’s star recruiter. Surely Irv didn’t give you this willingly.’

Beverly ignored the question and nodded at the photo he now held in his hand.

‘She’s exactly what you need on all counts. Though it’s true she’s only a few years out of grad school, what impresses me is her accomplishments during that time. She reminds me of you back in the early days – young, hungry, dedicated… And pretty. Don’t give me that look, Ellis, you’d blush if you heard some of the juicy conversations about you I overhear in the ladies’ room.’

He pretended to ignore the photo. ‘Your delusions aside, it doesn’t matter — that she’s good looking, I mean.’

‘And that’s why you’re drooling over the photo? I may be old, Ellis, but there’s nothing wrong with my eyesight.’

He put the picture of Dee aside and flipped through the file. ‘What all do you have in here anyway?’ He read out loud from the photocopied pages. ‘Classically trained, voice and piano? Oh, that’ll come in really handy here at Pneuma Inc. In fact, I was just thinking of requiring it for all new employees.’

‘Stop being an asshole. It’s just background information, just stuff that’s good to know.’

A hand-written note stated that both of Dee’s parents were musicians. Her father had sung in the chorus for the Paris Opera. Her mother was a soprano, who went to Paris on some summer program, and nine months later Dee came along. Ellis suddenly felt like a voyeur. ‘This is none of our business.’ He tried to shove the file back at Beverly, but she refused it.

‘Oh for chrissake, Ellis, there’s nothing in there I haven’t already wheedled out of the girl over coffee or drinks. Don’t be such a wuss.’

‘I’m sure she didn’t give you the copy of her finances over coffee and drinks.’

‘Oh that. Just tells us that we can’t appeal to her with money alone.’

‘Clearly she doesn’t need it,’ he said. He was surprised to find someone so young had such a good portfolio. She obviously knew how to make money work for her. She wasn’t exactly rich, but give her a few more years, and she would be.

‘My point exactly. Musicians tend to be poor, and I think our Dee has taken it upon herself not to follow in her parents’ footsteps.’

‘If the need ever actually arises for me to interview her, what makes you think she’s even interested in working for me? She’s got a growing career with Jasper and McDowell, and as you said, she’s making very good money.’

Beverly frowned. ‘Jasper and McDowell is a means to an end. Surely you don’t expect someone with her talent to settle in there permanently, do you? It’s the experience of working here with you that’ll appeal to her. She’s a perfectionist, never does anything half-assed. She’s always striving to be the best. She’s driven, just like you are. Remember that when you interview her.’

He shuffled pages. ‘What did you have to do to get this stuff, tie Irv to a chair and beat him with a tire iron?’

‘It’s amazing what a man will tell you over a couple of drinks.’

‘You got him drunk.’

‘It wasn’t that hard. He never could hold his booze. I can’t believe I didn’t figure it out sooner. She’s perfect for my job.’

Ellis looked down at the resume. ‘She’s not perfect for your job, Beverly. She’s too young, too inexperienced, and this is not even her area of expertise.’

‘The woman’s a head hunter, Ellis. She has to be competent in lots of areas. Besides, we’ve always been risk-takers at Pneuma Inc, and those risks have always paid off. I’ll train her myself, and you’ll see, within a few months she’ll be able to run this place on her own.’

‘An opportunity she’ll never get because you’ll never retire.’

‘Forget about my retirement, Ellis. It’s time. You know it is. We need someone in training for when the inevitable happens.’172

He gave up pretending to ignore the photo, which was definitely the nicest thing he’d looked at all day. Short, dark hair framed blue eyes, a straight Roman nose, and a full-lipped smile that suggested competence, with a touch of mischief. So this was what Dee Henning looked like. He’d often wondered.

‘Hire her, Ellis. It’s not just that I’m retiring, but I’m old. Hell I could drop dead anytime, then what?’

‘Oh for chrissakes, Beverly, we both know you’re too damned ornery to die. You’ll outlive me. But I tell you what, if and when you do drop dead, I’ll hire her. Hell, when you drop dead, I’ll give her your job on a silver platter and train her myself, I promise. Now can we get back to running the business here?’
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© 2017 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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