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Authors: Felicity Sparrow

All He Asks 1

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Contents

Title

About

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

All He Asks

Episode One

Felicity Sparrow

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All He Asks - Episode One

Christine is more than your average author’s assistant. She’s the unappreciated literary genius who’s been secretly ghostwriting Sylvia Stone’s worldwide bestsellers for the last five years, and Sylvia wants Christine to keep writing for her…forever.

But Erik Duke, bestselling horror author, thinks Christine can do better than ghostwriting women’s fiction. He’s been secretly tutoring her as she works as his assistant, and Christine’s talent is flourishing. He sees a big career ahead for Christine. More than that, he sees a partnership between himself and Christine that goes beyond the written word to somewhere much more intimate…

The intensity of Erik’s obsession with Christine frightens her, yet she can’t resist digging into the secrets this broken, tortured man is harboring. What is Erik hiding behind the mask of his emotions? What’s in his basement? And why is he so bent on controlling Christine’s career?

One

I could be somewhere else right now—
anywhere
else—and it would be better than this.

A traffic jam on the Jersey Turnpike. Jogging at the gym while some meathead keeps grunting and dropping his weights. My grandmother’s house when she’s ranting about the President reading her mind…again.

In fact, I could be running from an erupting volcano and it would still be better than this.

“I won’t write it,” Sylvia says.

Being caught by the aforementioned volcano’s magma flow might not be as miserable, either.

Sylvia Stone, multimillionaire mega-bestselling author whose books you’ve seen at every grocery store and airport for the last twenty years, is trying to stand her ground again.

In theory, she’s defending her principles as an author and artist.

In reality, she has no principles.

This is about ego.

But Sylvia Stone is the author of novels guaranteed to inspire, titillate, and touch your heart. Her appeal ranges from swooning college girls to religious book clubs and everything in between. Her market is huge.

She can afford to have an ego.

“Sylvia,
Sylvia
, darling. What’s the problem? You loved this concept at our last meeting.” This comes from Grosvenor Lateen, from the board of directors at Durand-Price Publishing. He runs the Moonlight Sonata imprint. Essentially, all they publish is Sylvia Stone. An entire imprint dedicated to the care and feeding of the diva.

His title looks good on paper, and I’m sure that he banks a fair chunk of Sylvia’s earnings, but ninety percent of his job is keeping Sylvia happy. I don’t envy him.

“It’s not the concept,” Sylvia says, flapping her sausage fingers at him. “The
concept
is fine. It’s the execution of it all. It’s so…” She takes a delicate sniff that makes her jowls wobble. “Plebeian.”

“There’s no edge to it,” adds Mario Stone. He’s Sylvia’s literary agent, husband, and aspiring hot air balloon. If Sylvia is ninety percent of Grosvenor’s job, the other ten percent is keeping Mario out of the way.

“Edge isn’t Sylvia’s brand.”

The cool tones of Violetta Kilshaw’s English accent make the room fall silent. She’s in charge of the marketing department and the real brains behind Durand-Price. She’s also the Terminator.

If anyone can silence Sylvia, it’s Violetta.

But not today.

“My brand is whatever I say my brand is,” Sylvia hisses.

Grosvenor massages his eyes with his fingers. He’s looking old today. Having an impromptu developmental meeting when the deadline for the book in question is two weeks away will do that to you.

“Coffee,” he says.

I’m on my feet in an instant. I’m grateful for the order, terse as it may be. The espresso machine is in the kitchen, so he’s unintentionally given me an excuse to leave the room and breathe.

The kitchen in Sylvia Stone’s house is exactly what you would expect from an author of her stature. Everything looks like it belongs in a Martha Stewart country kitchen catalog. I’ll admit that the numerous nautical touches are cute. She has seashells and model ships and even a telescope by the bay window.

That said, I’m not sure if Sylvia actually likes these things or if she only likes the idea of having them. I know she thinks they make her look “worldly.”

Everything is picture-perfect until you open the refrigerator and discover how much Sylvia likes to eat ice cream. (Hint: A lot.) She denies the addiction, of course; ever since her type-II diabetes bombed her Weight Losers advertising deal, discussion of carbohydrates isn’t allowed within these hallowed walls.

The espresso machine has a position of honor on her marble countertops, though. Sylvia has been trying to cut back on caffeine for the sake of her blood pressure, but these lengthy Durand-Price Publishing meetings keep it in frequent use.

While the water steams, I sit on one of the driftwood barstools and gaze outside. Her wall of windows overlooks the ocean and the surrounding beach is private. Her private yacht bobs at the end of her private dock. Yes, it’s the same yacht that’s in the background of her author photo. It’s even nicer in person.

The espresso machine is bubbling, but I can still hear them arguing in the foyer.

“This book needs more sex,” Sylvia announces.

Grosvenor splutters. “Excuse me?”

“Sex. Sex! The book needs more sex! Are you deaf?”

“Sex sells,” says Violetta. “Sex does not, however, sell
your
books.”

Sylvia is outraged. “How do you know?”

“But Sylvia…you’ve never written an explicit sex scene in your books before,” Grosvenor says. “Your numerous readers would be surprised.”

Surprised? They would be horrified. The pearl-clutching would know no bounds.

The fact we’re even having this conversation would stun them.

I smile faintly at the thought.

This is only the first of many battles to come. I know. I’ve been to every one of Sylvia’s meetings with the publisher for the last five years. And oh my goodness, this woman needs a lot of meetings.

The contract negotiations. The plot concept meetings. The developmental meetings. Editing and marketing meetings. An endless parade of meetings, which prevent dear Sylvia from doing any real work but make her feel incredibly important.

As I’m getting to be old hat at this, I already know exactly how this will fall out.

Sylvia will make increasingly ridiculous demands.

The publisher will try to talk her out of it.

Sylvia will threaten to break her contract.

The publisher will concede enough small things to appeal to her sense of self-importance and add another zero to her next contract.

Sylvia, pleased, will leave me to write the book and eat more ice cream.

It’s been the same story for five years.
Five years.
Nothing will change until Sylvia finally vanishes off the end of the earth on that darn yacht of hers, staffed entirely by muscular young men who have been forbidden to wear shirts in her presence.

I know the story so well that I could write it with my eyes closed.

You’ve never heard of me, though. I’m Christine Durand. My name’s over the door of Durand-Price because my father, bless his eternal soul, helped found the corporation. Various corporate maneuverings and stock buyouts took the company from my family well before I hit adulthood, so my employment there is more of a courtesy than anything they write press releases about.

The cast of characters is like this:

These days, the Durand name has been reduced to author’s assistant, publishing roadkill, Invisible Woman.

Sufferer of Sylvia Stone’s excessive parade of meetings.

If someone were to bomb Sylvia Stone’s foyer right at that moment, they would cost the publishing industry at least a billion dollars. That’s how much all of these people are worth.

The bomber would also spare the world some of the ugliest egos that have ever graced New York.

I’m nothing compared to these people. Less than nothing. I consider a meeting successful if I take enough notes to make sure a book gets written to specifications and nobody looks at me twice.

Two dainty cups have filled with espresso. They’re tiny, but more than adequate.

Violetta prefers hers black; she is unsurprisingly practical in her tastes, as if you couldn’t tell by her timeless, tailored black suits, tightly-woven bun, and last season’s Louboutins.

Grosvenor will want enough milk and sugar that he can’t taste the coffee. I froth some milk for him, add the syrup, and mix in the espresso.

Mario doesn’t need his own cup. He’ll just want to look at my butt as I bend over to serve the espresso.

In the other room, Sylvia is blustering.

She wants sex in her books. She wants a cover that involves a naked man with a chest that has been waxed and greased. She wants to write something with bondage, because bondage
sells
, you idiots. “I can’t believe you don’t trust my judgment,” she says tearfully.

Oh, she’s broken out the tears. The meeting approaches its climax. I only need to sit through another half an hour of this.

“I do trust your judgment.” Grosvenor sounds utterly sincere.

Luckily, the milk frother is loud enough to mask my laugh.

Sylvia’s “judgment.” Now there’s a thought.

When the kitchen falls silent again, the conversation has moved on. It’s impossible to tell if Grosvenor has actually satisfied Sylvia or if she’s biding her time for another strike.

“Who is this new editor?” Sylvia asks. “I want to talk to him. I want to share my concepts with him. If he’s worth his salt, he’ll recognize my genius.”

I don’t catch the name over the clinking of cups, but my heart falls anyway.
 

Another new editor. I’ve seen many editors trying to kiss Sylvia’s plump buns in my years as her assistant; they all end up kowtowing to her demands, and none of them last very long at Moonlight Sonata. Or Durand-Price, for that matter.

A new editor, however short-lived he or she might be, means having to deal with new rules, new egos, new drama. It’s guaranteed that I’ll find myself between Sylvia and this editor at some point soon.

“He’s supposed to attend this meeting,” Grosvenor says. “I’m not sure why he’s running late.”

Sylvia scoffs. For once, I completely agree with her.

I don’t make eye contact with anyone as I return to the foyer and serve the espresso. I’m also sure to angle myself away from Mario Stone before reaching across the table to serve Violetta, hoping that he won’t attempt to get an eyeful of my butt. His wife is in the room, after all; no matter their relationship’s fondness for infidelity, even he must be slightly more subtle than that.

Nevertheless, I catch him leaning to the left, twisting so that he can see my slacks tighten.

Oh dear
.

They are relentless, these Stones.

“Thank you, dear,” Grosvenor says when he takes his drink. That brief praise is rare enough that it warms me.

Sylvia is offended that someone acknowledged my presence.

“Thank you, dear,” she repeats in a mocking tone. She rolls her eyes so hard that there’s a chance they might roll right out of her head. “First your ungratefulness in regards to my ideas, and now your obviously nepotistic—”

Grosvenor interrupts. “Sylvia, I love your ideas. I want to incorporate them all. We only have to determine how to do so without compromising the integrity of the brand. You must understand.”

I take my usual seat to the side, out of the way, and keep my head down. I watch the conversation through the fall of blond curls over my eyes.

“No,
you
need to understand. You’ll let me write this book my way or I’ll walk!” Sylvia’s chin is raised imperiously; her wattle is shivering. She has drawn a line in the sand.

This is the point in the meeting where Grosvenor will make some kind of concession. He will order Violetta to design new covers for Sylvia’s approval. He will delay the promotional tour to give Sylvia more time to develop her concepts. He will make a phone call to his lawyer.

That’s how it
always
goes.

I’m shocked when he says, “You’re already under contract for this book. Payments have been made, dates have been set. The deadline cannot be moved, nor can the tour. We’ve already had promotional material produced! It’s simply too late to make such significant changes.”

Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor.

Even Violetta is shocked. Her cup of espresso tinkles against the tray as the tremor moves through her body. She doesn’t speak.

Sylvia is about to explode, hands clutched to her ample bosom.

Mario stands. “Now see here—”

“Excuse me,” I interrupt.

Everyone looks at me simultaneously as though choreographed.

I’m just as surprised to have spoken up as they are to hear from me. My cheeks burn. I focus all my attention on the cups of espresso on the table, watching the spirals of steam, trying not to think about the mistake I’m making.

BOOK: All He Asks 1
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