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Authors: Louise Bagshawe

Tags: #Romance, #Chick Lit

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BOOK: A Kept Woman
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But he knew Ernie Foxton’s reputation.

All he had to do was wow the toughest cookie in the business.

 

41

 

Ernie relaxed in his burgundy leather Eames chair and assessed the decor of his office. He liked the floor-to ceiling sheer glass walls that gave him such a wonderful, vertigo-inducing view of midtown. The traffic crawled seventeen storeys below him, peaceful from his perspective, dotted all over with the tiny yellow bugs that were the New York taxis. He was an East End boy, and he was ” still trying to get used to the size of everything over here.

The buildings, the billboards, the tits on the women… everything was bigger. The feng shui expert had been round yesterday … was that trickling Zen fountain in the left-hand corner there to help wealth go in or bad vibes go out? Ernie didn’t care. He had a rockery in his bloody office, designed by Zaban’s, the most expensive firm on the West Side. The rumour was they had a commission for the renovation of the Kravis wing at the Metropolitan Museum. He would drop the name at his next dinner party, for sure.

Diana told him that, as usual, everybody had accepted. He, Ernie Foxton, would host a gathering including two fi;aanciers, one famous Vanity Fair writer, the Yankees’ third base coach - he hated baseball, but anything Yankees was golden in New York - a supermodel and … who else? A novelist or two? Whatever. Diana was doing a wonderful job as hostess. Hopefully, she wouldn’t bat an eyelid when he turned up with Mira Chen.

Ernie’s groin stirred a little. Mira. He loved the way she dressed, in those mean power suits and the three-inch spike heels. He knew there was nothing above the holdup stockings, either. It was so easy to imagine her in a little Domino mask with a whip in her hand. Mmm hmm. She’d be really cruel. She wore those heels to advertise it. Even on a warm spring day, it was always spikes for Mira, never slides or sandals. And waist wrenching, tiny corsets under her tight iackets.

 

47.

 

It was indescribably thrilling. She gave him orders. Ernie’s cock was as hard as her smile. She took him out to a dark, damp little club on East Thirty-Sixth Street, where a succession of strict girls in black leather hmiliated, leashed and aroused him. He wore a mask. He was no longer the terror of his industry, the feared hatchet man. He was just a slave grovelling around their cruel, contemptuous, anonymous spikes. It was dirty and sordid, and it aroused him in a way Diana had never managed to do.

Sure, she was the perfect arm ornament. He wasn’t complaining. And as long as he could still see Mira …

He’d had a headhunter poach her from her firm and given her a commissioning editor’s job over in popular fiction. If there was any talk, he hadn’t heard about it. A smile curled round Ernie’s lips. Frankly, he didn’t think anybody Xvould dare.

His phone blinked. He let it flicker for a few.seconds

before he picked it up.

‘Yes, Marcia?’

‘You asked for a reminder at ten fifteen, Mr Foxton.’ Ernie scratched his head. ‘What is it this time?’ ‘Mr Michael Cicero. He’s already waiting in the outer lobby.’

‘Let him wait.’ Ernie loved to keep the little people hanging. It reminded him of his power and impressed on them how lucky they were to see him at all. He flipped through his monogrammed leather day-planner. Oh, right, of course - the Green Eggs guy, the possible corner. Well, Blakely’s - and himself - had courted the kid assiduously. Now it was time to remind him just who the big boys were in this scenario. He wanted Cicero on board - but only on his terms.

‘When it turns quarter to, you can send him in,’ he told Marcia.

Let him cool his heels for thirty minutes. Time for th4

 

43

 

poor man to appreciate the Degas in the lobby, and the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee and imported French petits-fours that they would be serving him. That was what Blakely’s could offer. He liked dangling the carrot, to soften up his prey a little. And making him wait. It was important to show the little people who was boss.

 

44

Chapter 6

‘Show them in,’ Ernie said, finally. He liked saying that. It made him feel like a king granting an audience and that was really what he was, in a way.

Marcia ushered in the courtiers. First came Peter Davits, known as the Russian, an excellent number cruncher, head of the business affairs department. Ernie gave him his job so he could slash the jobs of others. No point in carrying lots of fat. Close behind him, Janet Jensen, a’n all-American girl and his closest ally in restructuring the Blakely’s list. Who needed to carry poetry titles that never sold, to invest in young authors and take silly risks with literary fiction? Nobody could say that he, Ernie, carried no literary fiction. He did. He carried authors that sold, just the same as he invested in pulp romances that sold. He didn’t believe in catering to long and loyal readerships. To Ernie, a loyal readership was one that-bought about three-quarters of a million copies per title - and anything upwards of that.

The screams of pain and anguish that had rattled about his ears in London were being unleashed in New York, but, ensconced in his glass palace up in the rarefied air of the steel and concrete Manhattan canyons, Ernie did not hear them. The PR department of Blakely’s had their orders. They issued nice blanket statements about modernising the firm and not being fettered by the last millennium’s traditions. Ernie thought that last millennium bit was a nice touch. He’d written it himself.

He cultivated the opinion makers with the chic parties;

 

45

 

lunches and dinners that Diana threw, and he was getting pretty popular. Everybody wanted to come to his dinners. Gradually the printed articles were tapering off. The Neu York Times and the Village Voice still shouted inky columns of protest, but really, who cared? - old readers he was no longer selling to, authors that he’d dropped, and a few stickin-the-mud journalists.

Ernie smiled at Peter and Janet and the flunkies they’d brought along with them. He was retrieving the data about Michael Cicero he’d stored away from the inner filing drawer of his brain. A natural salesman with a nice little list. Sometimes illustrations were all it took to make a difference. Look at Dorling Kindersley. Zero to 90 million pounds in about five years, and still resistant to imitators.

His kids’ deprtment had being trying to copy Cicero’s style, without marked success. They kept coming up with bright, friendly, Disneyfied illustrations whereas Cicero’s style was real old-fashioned … it had a touch of da.rkness, what his (now fired) children’s commissioning head had called ‘the tangled forest’. Personally, Ernie thought Blakely’s own were just fine, and told them to ‘make it a bit more evil’. But the villains still looked like they walked out of Sesame Street. Ernie liked them, but the buyers didn’t.

Whatever Michael Cicero had, he wanted to get. And he thought the other guys, offering him a salary, were missing the big picture. Who wanted a salaried employee who could walk out? What you wanted was the company. That was where the big money was. Owning.

Of course, he wasn’t about to tell Cicero that, nor spend any serious money. As yet, the gUY just had potential. But if he fulfilled that potential, Ernie Foxton wanted to own him, to get him in so deep he could never break the golden handcuffs.

‘Everybody settled? Great.’ He gave his little g.roup a

 

46

 

warm, conspiratorial grin. ‘Let’s bring him in. Softly softly catchee monkey, remember.’

 

Michael flipped through his brief statistics - he only had a year’s worth - his blown-up illustrations, and his customer lists. He told himself that getting angry would serve no purpose. Maybe something urgent had come up. Maybe this was how it always was in the big firms. Possibly, even, Susan had gotten the time of the appointment wrong. He told himself he knew he had a temper and now was a good time to practise that control he’d been meaning to get to.

His watch tick-ticked. He studied the painting. He went over his presentation in his mind.

By the time he’d been kept waiting for ten minutes he was very aggravated. By the time he’d been kept waiting for twenty minutes he was angry.

At twenty-eight minutes, the president’s .secretary emerged from the outer office. Her office was bigger than his entire firm. What Ernie Foxton’s office was like he could only imagine.

Cicero’s gaze flickered lightly over the woman. She was slender with a tiny waist and a very flat butt, which he found unattractive. Her pantsuit was tan, with a matching, tiny cashmere cardigan, neutral make-up, glossy hair and a classic strand of.pearls. She was a pretty trophy, the kind he could only dream about right now.

‘Mr Cicero? Mr Foxton is ready for you now,’ she said, condescendingly.

She smiled down at him with a fake smile, and her eyes swept over his suit. Cicero realised she was judging him by it. He dressed off the peg; this wasn’t designer, just a

plain suit. And the shoes, ditto.

He stood.

‘It’s eleven. Our appointment was for ten thirty.’ ‘Yes, I know. Mr Foxton had some other business he

 

47

 

had to take care of first. I’m sorry you had to wait.’ She snapped him another frosty smile.

‘Thanks for the explanation. Good morning,’ Michael

said. He gathered his materials together and turned around, towards the elevators.

The fancy secretary was confused.

‘Mr Foxton’s office is that way.’

Michael glanced at her. ‘I’m not going to Mr Foxton’s office.’

The girl panicked. Nobody had ever walked out of a meeting with Ernie Foxton. Was he really going to leave? ‘But - your meeting - sir,’ she blurted, ‘they’re all waiting for you.’

‘Sorry. I have some other business to take care of, Michael said.

The elevator doors hissed open, and he stepped inside

and pressed the button, ignoring her flustered cries of protest.

He rode down and out into the street. Seventh Avenue

was a beeping, swarming madhouse, with glass and coiacrete towers jabbing their long fingers into the sky. Michael was immune to the delights of the scenery, however. He clenched and unclenched his fingers as he strode along. What had Blakely’s been going to suggest? Maybe he would never know. But one thing was for sure. You didn’t get respect by lying down and tattooing a big ‘Welcome’ on your back.

If they want me that bad, they’ll call back, Michael thought. He wasn’t sure if that was true.or not. Maybe he was insane. Maybe he’d just blown the biggest opportunity of his young life.

He hit the nearest bar he could find and ordered an

early lunch. It was fifteen bucks for a burger and fries, but they would serve him up a Jack Daniels on the rocks, cold, fiery and nerve-settling.

 

48

 

Marcia had a fierce, whispered conference with her assistant. It was not a pleasant conversation. Then she had to push open the door to Ernie’s office. He was lounging around with Mr Davits and Ms Jensen and several other big-shots she recognised. She dreaded having to give him this news in front of them. Ernie

Foxton did not take kindly to public humiliation. ‘Here he is,’ Ernie said.

Marcia stammered, ‘No sir. He just left.’

Ernie stared at her. ‘What?’

‘He said the appointment was at ten thirty,’ Marcia quavered.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw a couple of the lower-level execs bite their lips and look downwards. They seemed highly amused, but they were hiding it real carefully. Good idea. Mocking Ernie Foxton wasn’t the

shortest’route to career advancement.

‘Yes, it was. So what?’

‘Jennifer explained to him that you had been detained by business, sir, and he said he had business too, and he got on the elevator, and—’

‘OK. Right. That’s enough.’ Ernie held up one hand, red-faced with annoyance. Everybody took his waiting game treatment lying down. Who was this little prick, exactly? Some .broke chancer from downtown? And he was showing Ernie up in front of half the staff? He swallowed hard. An unpleasant thought came into his head - Michael Cicero making a deal with one of the other big houses, and producing serious numbers, and the story of how he, Foxton, had let him get away, spreading right around the New York scene. Whispered little jokes at his dinner parties. A snide remark from the Blakely’s chairman. An unfavourable line in one of the Wall Street company analysts’ reports. ‘Has he got a cell phone? Go look it up.’

‘Yes, sir.’

 

49

 

‘Hurry up.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Marcia blurted, and fled to her desk. Nobody in the office dared look at him; for a moment, the only sound was Marcia tapping frantically on her keyboard. She ran back in. ‘It’s 97 555 455.’

‘Get him for me. No, wait. I’ll do it myself.’

Foxton punched in the number and forced himself to smile, like this was just par for the course.

The waiter had just brought Michael’s burger and drink when the phone buzzed. He dipped a thick, chunky French fry in mustard, bit down on it, and then picked the phone up.

‘Cicero,’ he said.

‘Hey, Mikey,’ said a man’s voice.

‘It’s Michael.’

The guy laughed warmly. ‘Of course it is. Stupid of me. Michael, this is Ernie Foxton. I’m really sorry I was delayed earlier.’

‘That’s OK,’ Michael said. He felt the adrenaline crackle through him. He took a sip of JD.

‘I was wondering if we could get you back in and see if we can still swing this meeting. I think Blakely’s has some very exciting things to offer you. I have a good number of our people here waiting to have a little chat with you.’

Michael glanced down at his burger. It was rare and nicely bloody. The fries were home-cut, too, with sharp

mustard. And besides, he’d paid for it.

‘That would be good,’ he said.

‘So we’ll see you in ten minutes,’ Foxton told him.

‘No can do, Ernie. I’m having lunch. How about a half hour?’ Michael said easily.

There was a momentary silence on the other end.

BOOK: A Kept Woman
8.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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