"I want to explain why I was reading Fifty Shades of Grey in the parking lot." Not that I have to, she thought, but this conversation needed to happen, whether she – or Matt – liked it or not. For the past three months, Lydia had been working on a pitch for an advertising and social media campaign that would help boost her department's profits. She felt like Peggy from Mad Men, trying out her lipstick slogan, swimming against the tide of an impossible current.Matt didn't help. Job stealer.
Her resentment was understandable, though undeserved. He looked up from the cup of coffee he'd been nursing and those bright green eyes caught her off guard. They seemed surreal. Fake? No, not really. Just a little too good to be true.
"You don't have to explain." A sly smile stretched across his face, the angular nose widening, dimples forming where she would never have imagined they could peek out. "I'm sure you are just reading it for...pleasure." He was classically handsome, in a Regency-era kind of way, but with a touch of firefighter. Lumberjack.
"I do, actually." Ignoring that maddening tone, the absolute fury it sparked in her, the intense arousal it also ignited in her – infuriatingly! – Lydia struggled to maintain her sense of professionalism. Now? Really? When she needed it most, her career on the line. Leaving home had been hard. Getting into grad school difficult. Finding a job at Bournham had been damn near impossible. Blowing it all because her new, cocky boss was teasing her about her work research for a project of her own making made the universe seem petty and unfair.
She spread a series of graphics on his desk, shoving aside a pile of folders, his travel mug, a smart phone with Angry Birds open on the screen, and a paper clip holder. "Angry Birds? Seriously?"
He just shrugged. "It's my Christian Grey." The way he said it made her blush, and she did not want to blush. Not now. Not today. This was her big chance and if it didn't go well, she had to reckon with failing on her own. Failure might not be an option as a slogan, but in the real life it was all too common, and she didn't want to taste one drop of it today.
"Oh, please," she said in a clipped, no-nonsense voice, though as he leaned closer to her, from the other side of the desk, she caught a whiff of his scent again, a spicy soap and a musk that made her swallow, hard. Her eyes couldn't stop looking at his hands as she organized her graphics. Strong, tanned, no ring and perfectly buffed fingernails. A little dandified, until he turned one over, retrieving the phone and slipping it in his pocket. Calloused and a bit worn. A man who had used his hands, but who now worked in an office. That spoke to a past quite different from this middle-management life, or a side hobby. Pulling in the reins of her wandering mind, she shook her head a bit, nipples beading as she inhaled and stretched her neck slightly, trying to distract herself.
She didn't want to like him. Her body couldn't seem to help it, though.
Mind over matter. Mind over matter. Career over clit. Career over clit.
"Fifty Shades of Grey isn't just smut. It represents an enormous sea change in the publishing world, and we're idiots if we don't do some pitches to reach out and grab market share in advertising and social media pushes." His grin shifted from one of sensual teasing to intrigued business, his hands picking up the first graphic.
"That's just a fad."
"Random House earned more than $70 million from that 'fad,' enough to give every employee, from top management to mail worker, a $5,000 bonus. You know what I got this year from this place?"
He cringed, which seemed odd. As if he were prepared for some sort of blow. If he was going to work here, though, he might as well know the truth about cheap old Michael Bournham. "What?"
"A coffee mug with Bournham Industries' logo on it. And a thumb drive on a logo key chain. Give me Fifty Shades any day."
Sputtering, he seemed to defend Bourham. "I'm sure there was a perfectly logical reason for that."
She nodded. "Yep. The logic is that Bournham's a cheap ass."
He frowned. "What does this have to do with Fifty Shades?"
"We can target that emerging market and use Fifty Shades to leverage buying patterns and marketing campaigns for existing and new clients. Have you looked at the New York Times' bestseller lists lately? Sylvia Day. The menage series by Shayla – "
In the middle of taking a sip of coffee, he did a spit take, turning his head at the last second to avoid hitting her papers. "Did you say 'menage'?"
"Yes. It's a word. Get over it."
"Two girls, one cup?"
"Two guys, one well-loved woman."
"That's no fun, is it?" His eyes lit up with mischief and her body began to tingle. What did he consider fun in bed? Ah, how she needed to know. As he held her gaze a little too long, with a ferocious heat that made her simultaneously hunger for his touch and recoil in horror at her own pliability, she broke the look and gave her head a quick shake, resuming her professional stance.
The twitch of his lips, a seductive look on his face that he respectfully turned away from her, told her the feeling was mutual.
Damn it. She didn't need actual romance to interfere with the business of romance.
"Depends on who your target demographic is. For women 26-44, with bachelor's degrees, earning $70,000 or more per year and buying the majority of romance novels, MFM is where it's at."
"MFM? Is that like LOLcats?"
She closed her eyes in frustration, taking a deep breath to center herself. "If you have to ask, then never mind."
"BDSM as the wave of the future?" His voice was skeptical. Winning him over was her goal, and if she could convince him, then maybe – just maybe – she could convince their boss, Dave. The Director of Communications. The gateway to promotions.
"BDSM as a paradigm shift in popular culture, especially among the 26-44 crowd." Confident now, she used her extensive research and market analysis to push aside the attraction that keep slithering back in and undermining her goal: to win his respect and to be an ally in what she knew would be a battle later.
"They're not the big spenders – go down an age group." The words "go down" nearly made her gasp, heat pouring into her belly, her clit beginning to tickle and throb. Even he looked a little uncomfortable at the hint of a double entendre, but quickly covered it up. "Eighteen to twenty-five is where the big money is in social media and pop culture."
She nodded, knowing that already after countless hours of research. "Yes -- and that's precisely why Fifty Shades is such an enormous shift. Because the buying dynamics for everything from eBooks to print to magazines to personal aids – "
"You mean sex toys. Don't sugar coat it." The command in his voice sent a thrilling tingle up her spine.
"Fine." Reaching across the desk for her fourth graphic, she came a little too close to him, brushing against his arm. It was intentional. He pulled back, as if burned. "Here's a fact: sales of vibrators shot up 414 percent when suggested to readers of the Fifty Shades trilogy." Locking eyes with his, she held steady, waiting for him to flinch. When he didn't, she felt her cheeks burning, the implication prickling her skin, a thin sheen of sweat popping up between her breasts. Her throat clicked as she swallowed, the air crackling with sex.
The look he gave her made her toes curl, a combination of smoke and smolder and amusement and questions. Then his eyes went neutral, as if he flipped a switch and pulled himself back. Whatever edge he had just been standing on, she wanted to join him, grab his hand, and jump together.