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Los Angeles, California
Camille Nelson felt a shiver of fear snake its way up her spine when a shadow fell across her desk. She was well aware of the company rule for not eating, reading anything not related to Slow Wyne Records, and other infractions like styling hair, repairing makeup or gum chewing while at her desk. Personal telephone calls were relegated to lunch hours, and only when not seated at the desk. She'd heard that an accounting clerk had been placed on probation for talking to her mother when she'd called to check on her sick preschooler during a staff meeting.
Her head popped up and she forced a smile when she saw her boss glaring down at her. "Good morning, Mr. Irvine."
A frown marred the forehead of the CEO of Slow Wyne Records when he saw the magazine spread out on his executive assistant's desk. Earlier that morning he'd read and reread every word of the Rolling Stone magazine article on Justin Glover and he had to admit the reporter had hit the mark when he declared the young singing sensation was the second coming of the late King of Pop Michael Jackson.
"Put that away and come with me," he barked at Camille. "And bring your tools." Basil Irvine strode toward the carved double doors leading to his office, expecting her to follow him like an obedient child.
Camille gathered her steno pad and three pencils. Although her boss was only forty-three, he still hadn't come into the twenty-first century where executive assistants no longer took dictation, but transcribed their boss's notes from tape recorders. She didn't question her boss, because she needed the job. After a contentious and costly divorce Camille couldn't afford to do anything wherein she would lose her position at Slow Wyne Records. Even sleeping with Basil Irvine wasn't a guarantee that he wouldn't eventually give her a pink slip. She wasn't the first woman at the company to sleep with Basil, and she knew she wouldn't be the last.
She sat at the round table in an alcove of an office that was larger than her studio apartment, while Basil folded his stocky body down into a leather executive chair. Sunlight poured into the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows behind him, reflecting off his shaved gold-brown freckled pate.
"I want you to send a letter to Ana Cole, CEO of Serenity Records. It's in Boca Raton, Florida." He waited for Camille to jot down her shorthand symbols. "Dear Ms. Cole. Everyone at Slow Wyne would like to congratulate Serenity Records for the successful launch of Justin Glover's first album. Mr. Glover's musical talent and success impacts the entire industry, and I'm certain it will usher in a new era with a fusion of musical genres." He paused, his gray eyes narrowing. "Use my usual closing." Unlocking a drawer, Basil handed her a flash drive when she approached his desk. "And Camille," he added when she turned to leave, "don't forget office rules apply to you, too."
Smiling, she nodded. "Yes, Mr. Irvine. It won't happen again."
Leaning back in his chair, Basil glared at her. "I know it won'tthat is if you want to continue to work here."
Camille nodded as she walked out of the opulent office, softly closing the door behind her. What her boss didn't know was that she would've handed in her resignation a week after he'd hired her if she didn't need the money. Working for and sleeping with a record executive was a lot better than swinging around a pole in a gentlemen's club, where she'd had to put up with men pawing her just because they'd slipped her a few dollars. And when she'd finally made it to the champagne room where she had to give lap dances, she found herself more times than not holding her breath for fear she'd lose the contents of her stomach from their alcohol-soured breaths. Basil had become her temporary savior and her loyalty to him was limitless.
She didn't know about the other women who'd slept with Basil Irvine, but he'd disclosed things to her that she could use to bring down the man who ran his company like a maximum-security prison. He'd become the warden and his employees were the inmates.
She also knew his letter to Serenity Records was a ruse for a trap he had yet to spring. Basil's ego was as large as the Pacific Ocean and the one thing he refused to accept was failure. He'd failed to sign Justin to Slow Wyne, and had sworn he would make Serenity Records pay for what he deemed an act of betrayal. Basil had been the first to hear Justin's demo record, but after Slow Wyne offered the young twenty-year-old a deal that had him indebted to the company for the first two years of his contract, Justin's agent went to Serenity. Basil knew he needed to change the terms of the contract or he would lose Justin. Then it had become a bidding war with Serenity as the winner even though their last bid was lower than Slow Wyne's. Basil had sworn he would make the singer and Ana Cole pay for their deception.
Camille could care less about an East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry reminiscent of the 1990s hostility between Death Row and Bad Boys Records. She was being paid a salary that exceeded her qualifications when she'd first come to work for the company. However, she'd made good use of the steady paycheck. She rented a small apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood and had enrolled in a secretarial school where she'd taken the courses needed to become an efficient executive assistant.
She took care of Basil's needs in and out of the boardroom. In the throes of passion he'd admitted she was the best "lay" he'd ever had. Camille didn't mind the epithet, because she'd been called worse. She'd planned to use everything in her feminine arsenal to get whatever she needed from Basil before his reign of terror came to an abrupt end. And she knew it would end. She'd started hustling at an early age, and now at twenty-six she knew it was just a matter of time before her face and body would fail to attract men who were willing to trade money for sex.
Sitting at the desk outside her boss's office, she inserted the flash drive into a port and began transcribing the letter. After saving what she'd typed and printing it out, Camille returned the drive to a locked drawer in her desk. At the end of the workday she returned the flash drive to Basil, who locked it in his desk. There were documents on the drive that could incriminate the executives of Slow Wyne and could send them to jail for either life or for very lengthy sentences. She could care less about the inner workings of the record company. She was just an employee following orders.
Camille read and reread what she'd typed, tapped slightly on Basil's door and walked into his office when he told her to enter. She left the letter and envelope in his inbox and turned to leave.
"I'll see you later tonight." It wasn't a request, but a command.
She nodded, smiling. It was her birthday and Camille had hinted to Basil there was a bracelet in a Beverly Hills jewelry store she wanted. If he didn't get her the bracelet, then she was certain he would give her something comparable.
Boca Raton, Florida
Ana Cole sat across the table for two in her favorite Boca Raton restaurant, smiling at her cousin. She usually interacted with Tyler Cole twice a yearat Thanksgiving and the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day, but that was never enough for her. Of all of her many male cousins, Tyler was her favorite. He was like an older brother and father-figure rolled into one. And it wasn't that she wasn't able to talk to her father, but Tyler was usually more objective than David Coleespecially when it came to her relationships.
The first time she'd fallen in love and confessed to her father that her boyfriend had cheated on her, David Cole's response was that he would hunt him down and break his legs. Then it was her brother Gabriel who'd insinuated himself into her love life, monitoring and intimidating the men whose lifestyles were diametrically opposed to the way they were raised. Years later, after her first and only serious relationship ended, Ana lied to her father for the first time in her life. The man with whom she believed was her soul mate had also cheated on her. This time she confided in Tyler, who told her to regard every man who showed an interest in her as a potential husband. If she couldn't see herself spending the next fifty years with him, then she should not go beyond a third date. Ana had taken his advice and now at thirty-three she felt secure in her career and her personal life.
Her dimpled smile matched Tyler's. "How's the family?"
Picking up the napkin at his place setting, Tyler spread it over his lap. "They're wonderful. The boys are growing like weeds and Astra is the indisputable boss of the house."
Ana speared a forkful of the Cesar salad with grilled shrimp. "Don't you want another daughter, Tyler?"
Tyler's dark eyes met a pair in amber with gold glints. Ana reminded him of a delicate raven-haired doll. Her short hair was always coiffed, her olive-brown skin flawless and her delicate features, dimpled smile and petite figure had most men giving her a second glance.
"Are you certain you're not clairvoyant?"
Ana's fork paused in midair. "No. Am I missing something primo?"
"Dana's pregnant, and this time it's a girl."
A tiny shriek slipped past her lips and Ana glanced around the crowded restaurant to see if anyone had heard her. It appeared as if the other diners were too engrossed in their food or their dining companions. "That's incredible news! When is she due?"
She did the mental calculation. Her cousin's wife was five months pregnant, and this was her first time hearing about it. "Is Dana all right?" she asked.
Tyler expressive black eyebrows lifted a fraction. "She's good. We decided not to say anything until all tests indicated the baby is normal." He smiled. "I called my mom and dad earlier this morning to give them the good news."
Leaning back in her chair, Ana stared at Tyler. Like so many men in her family, he had begun graying in his thirties. The brilliant ob-gyn was now in his late forties and was to become a father for the fourth time. He'd named his first son after his father and the second one after his paternal grandfather, while he and Dana adopted their daughter after the infant's orphaned mother died in childbirth. Now Astra was about to become a big sister.
"I know you're here for a conference, but do you think you'll have time to go up to West Palm to see your folks?"
Tyler took a sip of sparkling water. "They're driving down tonight. I'm scheduled to chair one panel and sit on one, both on the same day. I'm not flying back to Mississippi until Friday. I told Dana I was going to stay an extra day to reconnect with my sister, but when I called Arianna her housekeeper said she, Silah and their kids had just left for Paris."
The Kadirs lived in Fort Lauderdale when their children were in school and in their fashion designer father's native Morocco during the summer months. The Kadir children spoke English, Spanish and French. Tyler shook his head. "My sisters are gypsies," he continued. "The only time I get to see Arianna is during Thanksgiving and the week of Christmas."
Reaching across the table, Ana placed her hand on Tyler's. "You're turning into your father, complaining that he doesn't see his children or grandchildren enough."
"Wait until you have children, Ana, and then you'll realize what it is to have your children spread out all over the world. My kids are still young, but I miss my sisters. Regina lives in Brazil, but she only comes to the States once or twice a year. Arianna divides her time between Florida and North Africa or Europe. At least your father has his children and grandchildren within a couple of hours of a car or plane ride." He reversed their hands. "Enough talk about the family. What about you? How are you doing?"
A smile parted Ana's lips. "Life is good for Serenity Records. Justin Gloveraka O'Quan Gee's debut album is number one on the Billboard chart."
Tyler angled his head and laughed, attractive lines fanning out around his large eyes. Anyone looking at him and Ana would've taken them for brother and sister. The first cousins had inherited their paternal grandmother's olive coloring, delicate features and dimpled smile.
"I wasn't talking about rappers and hip-hop artists, Ana. I'm talking about you. Are you seeing anyone?"
She averted her gaze. "Not right now." Her eyes met and fused with Tyler's. "To tell you the truth it has been a while since I've been involved with a man. I have male friends I can call if I don't want to go a social function by myself, but most times I attend the award ceremonies with Jason."
"You can't marry your brother, Ana."
She laughed quietly. "I know that, Tyler, but he's the only man, other than those in my family, that I can trust." Without warning, Ana sobered. "Can you answer one question for me?"
"Why do men cheat?"