It’s a pleasure to introduce my doppelgänger, Grace Marshall. Grace is no good at keeping a secret, and neither is our husband. Him I can’t lock in his room. Her however, I finally had to until Xcite made the announcement of her new Executive Decisions trilogy official. Now that she’s been unleashed onto the world, along with her soon to be published hot romance novel, An Executive Decision, I’m very pleased to be the first to have her as my guest.
KD: Grace, you and I have known each other all our lives, and you’ve always been happy to collaberate and make sure that I didn’t leave romance out of my smut. What made you decide to strike out on your own?
GM: Well, you know I’ve always been the true romantic between the two of us, KD, and as much as I love writing smut with you, I just thought it was time for me to go in search of my own Happy Ever After.
KD: Good for you! I think everyone should have a Happy Ever After. And wow! Are you going at it in a big way, a hot new trilogy with Xcite Romance right out of the blocks. Hon, you’re really hard core.’
GM: It takes one to know one, Sweetie.
KD: Thanks Grace. I’ll take that as a compliment. I’m really curious. You’re new trilogy, is it an effort to catch the Fifty Shades wave?
GM: KD, there was an Ellison Thorne way before there was a Christian Grey, and at the time Ellison Thorne made editors and agents nervous because he was just a little too hot, a little too risqué. He was ahead of his time, as was his outrageously competent and sexy new business partner, Dee Henning. I guess you could say that Fifty Shades was the coming of age novel that brought truly sexy romance into the mainstream all grown up and seductive. Hats off to Christian Grey for that. At last, romance for adults!
KD: You mean romance with hot sex? Well exactly! I’ve been saying that all along. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to see what goes on behind closed doors and in the back of limos and in elevators and … well you get the picture.
GM: You always were a bit of a voyeur, Hon.
KD: So tell my readers about Ellis and Dee. What makes their story so special?
GM: What makes their story so special? Four words, KD, four words, The Executive Sex Clause?’
KD: The Executive Sex Clause?
GM: It’s what happens when you’ve got two busy executives ready, willing and able to conquer the world and everything in it … but totally unable to find time for a love life.
KD: Hold on a minute, you mean sex is a part of the contract? Sounds pretty kinky to me.
GM: Oh, I don’t know, I think it’s actually quite practical. Think about it, a source of strings-free, on-demand sex would boost productivity and creativity, relieve stress, even reduce sick days. And who knows how much more two top-notch businessy types could accomplish if their junk wasn’t interfering with their brains.
KD: Wait a minute, Grace, that sound more like something I’d write. Where’s the romance? Where are the hearts and flowers? Where’s the staring longingly into each other’s eyes?’
GM: Oh, I promise there’s PLENTY of romance, KD. Because though Dee and Ellis might be able to work sex into their business arrangement, you and I both know the heart has its own agenda, and a secret like The Executive Sex Clause, a secret business strategy that cutting edge and that kinky is not going to stay secret for long. I’m sure you can imagine, there’ll be … consequences.
KD: Okay, I’m intrigued. I want to know more about Dee and Ellis and their Executive Sex Clause. Could we have an excerpt, please.
GM; I thought you’d never ask. Here’s a sneak peek.
Over drinks one night after too many hours at the office, Ellison Thorne’s business partner, Beverly Neumann and his brother Garrett jokingly scheme the Executive Sex Clause, an innovative cure for Ellis’s lack of a love life. They speculate a source of no-strings, stress-free sex in certain employee contracts would raise productivity, minimize stress, and boost creativity for a busy CEO like Ellis. But they were joking, weren’t they?
Enter Dee Henning. Young, hungry, gifted, what Dee lacks in experience, she makes up for in ambition and hard work. Dee is the queen of no-time-for-sex.
When stressful negotiations over a huge project break down, driving Dee and Ellis into each other’s arms, the aftermath is a deal even sweeter than they imagined. Suddenly the Executive Sex Clause no longer seems like a joke. Could it be the ultimate secret weapon for success? And why not, if no one else knows? But secrets seldom remain secret, and Dee and Ellis find out the hard way that there’s no such thing as no strings where the heart is concerned.
‘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 I’m avoiding, actually, it’s 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.’
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.
‘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.’
‘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, 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.
‘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. She may be only a few years out of grad school, but 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.’
The hand-written notes 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 will 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, 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.’
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 fuck sake, 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?’
Two weeks later, Beverly had sent him an email from the airport. The last email he got from her before she flew off to Brazil.
Just an addendum to the conversation we had earlier about Dee Henning. I want to make it clear how I feel. I’ve already told you she’s perfect for the position. And if you were ever going to implement the ESC, she’d be the one to do it with – that is if you’ve got the balls.
Dee’s exactly what you need on all counts. I know you think she lacks experience, but trust me, with the right training, given half a chance, she’ll be brilliant. Hire her, Ellis. Implement the ESC. Trust me, it’s the perfect strategy, a secret weapon that could make Pneuma Inc even more successful than it already is. And if anyone could do it, you could. Do this for me and I can retire and enjoy my dotage.
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