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Authors: Tiffany Ashley

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BOOK: Beyond the Velvet Rope
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“You’re serious?” she gasped in disbelief.

“No photos. It’s a club policy.”

“Who would make such an absurd policy?”

“I did.”

“But this is for promotion,” she stammered. “How can we motivate people to come to the club if you aren’t willing to show your establishment?”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Shaw, but I’m quite firm on the matter. Guests come to Babylon for privacy, and I will not break promises just to sell a few silly fashion magazines and cheap tabloids.”

“Those cheap tabloids define for many people who’s hot and who’s not,” she said. “They set the mode for mainstream society. And if it weren’t for those silly fashion magazines marketing their products, it’s doubtful you would know that Purple Label suit you’re wearing is the center point of Ralph Lauren’s spring line.”

“Versed as you are in ways of fashion, my decision hasn’t changed. No photos. And if you don’t like it, you can always quit. There are plenty of qualified and more...appropriate promoters who would love to be in your position right now.” One dark, arched brow lifted. “The choice is yours, Ms. Shaw.”

Thandie’s jaw clenched closed. “It’s going to take a lot more than outlandish requests to make me quit.”

His handsome face split into a wicked grin. “Well then, I will have to work a little harder.”

The waiter reappeared holding platters of food. How the chef ever managed to prepare the two steak dinners that quickly was beyond Thandie. She’d never been much of a beef eater, but the scent wafting from the plates was divine. The steak was thick, lean and still sizzling. She was too much of a novice to even know what cut of meat it was, but it really didn’t matter. She was beginning to salivate. Painstakingly, she waited for the waiter to place their meals on the table and depart.

Elliot smiled down at his plate and, with fluid motions, he cut a small piece of his steak. He did not eat it himself. Instead, he held it up to her lips. “Please, have a bite,” he said. “I promise you won’t regret it.”

Thandie took in his low tone and wondered if the serpent had said something very similar to Eve in the Garden of Eden. His proposal seemed to offer she take a bite of him as well as the meat. It was tempting. Very tempting. Especially when his eyes glowed a captivating hue of hypnotic silver and he wore that wicked grin of his. Thandie tore her eyes away from his lips and focused on the gleaming fork with the proffered steak nestled on its prongs. Nervously, she leaned forward and opened her mouth, aware Elliot was watching her.

The moment the meat touched her tongue, she didn’t care who was looking. She was in heaven. It was the sweetest, most tender beef she’d ever tasted. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the flavors that filled her mouth. Only when she swallowed, did she remember herself. Her eyes slung open and found Elliot watching her. He did not say a word. He didn’t have to. She could tell from his smug expression, he’d enjoyed watching her reaction.

Breaking the intimate moment, Elliot pulled away from her and reached for the wine bottle. Lifting the tip, he poured more of the ruby red liquid into her glass. He smiled when she eagerly grasped her goblet and took a sip. “Let’s talk specifics, shall we?” He replaced the bottle and claimed his own glass. “As I mentioned before, you’ll host a series of events for Babylon, leading up to our grand reopening this summer. You will be responsible for managing approximately three functions and will be paid upon the completion of each event. Your success will be measured on press coverage and sales revenue. I will communicate those objectives to you at a later date.

“Your proposed theme must be presented to me no less than seven days before the date. It will be your responsibility to communicate with my staff, to let them know your strategy. It is very important no one be left in the dark. To ensure transparency, you will present your blueprint during the managers’ meeting at the beginning of every week.

“Each event will be executed on a monthly basis, performed on the premises, and must generate sales. You will be given a strict budget which must cover all entertainment, setup and travel expenses. A detailed financial log and all associated receipts must be submitted after each event. As an added incentive, at the end of your assignment, whatever has not been spent from your budget, will be presented to you in the form of a bonus check.

“In addition to these responsibilities, you will be expected to initiate and escort special guests to the club. Requests for any resources needed to ensure the comfort of these select guests must be made in advance, either to either myself or—”

Thandie held up her hand to stop him. “Exactly when am I supposed to have time to coordinate the arrival of these special guests?” she asked. “Managing three events in three months doesn’t allow me time to do much else.”

“How you manage your time, will be up to you,” he said matter-of-factly. “But manage it, you will.” As if to make clear he had nothing more to say on the issue, he calmly took another bite of his meal.

Thandie stared at him in disbelief. Escorting guests was a nearly impossible feat. She would be pressed for time organizing the events, not to mention working with a tight budget. There would be little time to do anything else, particularly haggling with celebrity publicists.

In response to her look of incredulity, Elliot flashed her one of his perfect wicked grins. Thandie was beginning to loathe that expression.

“If at any time,” he continued smoothly, “I decide to terminate our agreement, you will be compensated for hours worked on all successfully completed projects. If at any time you decide to terminate our agreement, any financial advancements issued to you must be paid in full upon notice of your resignation. As such, you surrender your eligibility to receive the bonus incentive.” Elliot paused to pull out an envelope from his breast pocket and hand it to her. “Inside, you will find a contract stating the points we have just discussed. In addition, you will see a confidentiality agreement, as well as your proposed salary.”

Thandie unfolded the pages, looking briefly over each item until she located the one stating her salary. When she found it, she blinked. Previously, she and Warren had discussed a few numbers, but the amount on the offer letter was nearly fifteen thousand dollars more.

“I trust you find my offer satisfactory?” Elliot asked.

“Very,” she agreed. There was no need in her playing coy. They both knew she would accept the offer.

For the remainder of dinner, Elliot stated his expectations and answered her questions fully. It had not gone unnoticed by Thandie that every item worked in his favor. Specifically the termination clause. However, every club owner she’d ever known only made agreements that worked to their benefit. The only difference was, Elliot had every item clearly stated in the contract. By the time their meals were completed, Thandie was feeling significantly better about their working relationship. Elliot was an astute businessman, leaving no detail unexplored. He was brilliant in his element. Perhaps she’d wrongly prejudged him. What she’d taken as sexual overtones might just have been awkward attempts, on his part, to be more personable. It would not be the first time she’d experienced odd behavior from a clever mind.

When the check was presented, Elliot continued talking while he reviewed the bill. He pulled out his billfold and handed the waiter a Centurion Card.

After Elliot’s credit card was returned, he helped Thandie to her feet and escorted her toward the restaurant’s exit. Outside, Elliot approached the valet attendant and requested her car be delivered. He stood with her while someone retrieved her vehicle. A lull fell between them while they waited. Elliot glanced at his watch, apparently anticipating his next appointment.

Conversationally, Thandie said, quite clumsily, “I have to admit, you’ve changed my mind about you, Elliot. Now that’s we’ve talked, I have a better feeling about my being here. Earlier, I thought you were trying to—uh—”

“Seduce you,” Elliot supplied with a rakish smile.

“Yes,” she breathed, relieved she hadn’t had to say the words.

“Oh, but I am,” he said simply. “In fact, I have every intention of seducing you, and putting you in every imaginable position.”

Thandie stared at him, too astonished to speak. This was such a radical transformation compared to the no-nonsense businessman he’d portrayed minutes before.

Elliot leaned closer, pressing his lips against the sensitive flesh just below her earlobe. “Good night, Ms. Shaw,” he whispered.

Thandie vaguely recalled the attendant parking her SUV at the curb, and walking around her vehicle on numb legs. Buckling up, she took a deep breath, and slowly eased into traffic. Unable to help herself, she glanced into the rearview mirror. She could see Elliot getting into a black Aston Martin parked on the sidewalk, directly in front of the Peppers restaurant. For fear of being caught staring, she quickly looked away. This was going to be a very long assignment.

Chapter Six

Miami International Airport

T
handie parked the SUV at the curb just outside the terminal. She’d given up searching for a spot in the crowded one-hour lot. Besides, she’d rather take the risk of getting a ticket than attempt to navigate her newly rented vehicle into one of the slim parking spots.

She sent a text message to Len, letting her know where she’d parked and hoped it would not take them long to locate her before airport security insisted she move her vehicle. She killed the engine and tapped on the steering wheel impatiently. She did not have to wait long. Thandie could hear the loud laughter of her assistants well before she could actually see them. The pale beauty of Len Harris and the dark elegance of Raja Travis split through the crowd. They looked more like supermodels than public relations assistants. Both tall and slender, Len had bleached blond hair with bright green eyes, whereas Raja possessed the mysterious exotic loveliness that was common of her Indian heritage. Thandie got out of the SUV to greet them. Like excited teenagers, both girls ran to hug her. As usual, they were making a scene.

“I can’t believe we’re in Miami!” Len exclaimed. “This is so cool!”

Raja, typically the quiet one, agreed enthusiastically. “Miami is definitely the place to be this summer. You know the Shay Thomas concert will be here soon. Do you think we can get tickets, Thandie?”

Len gasped loudly. “I totally forgot his tour included a stop in Miami. I
love
Shay,” she finished dreamily.

“I heard Samara is his opening act,” Raja said.

“I can hardly tolerate her,” Len groaned.

“I bet if she gave you tickets to the concert you would tolerate her,” Raja taunted.

“If Samara gave me tickets to see Shay Thomas, I would sleep with her.”

“Calm down, girls,” Thandie chided. “We’re not on vacation. Let’s figure out how we’re going to manage the Babylon project first, and afterward all three of us can drool over seventeen-year-old rappers.”

“Shay Thomas is not seventeen,” Len corrected. “He just celebrated his twenty-first birthday.”

“And he’s a hip-hop star,” Raja informed. “Not a rapper.”

“Who cares?” Thandie sighed.

Raja and Len looked at each other before saying in unison, “We do!”

Thandie shook her head, no longer interested. She looked around and noticed each young woman was pulling along two oversize suitcases on rollers. It was enough luggage for five people. “Are those all your bags?” she asked.

“Oh, goodness, no,” Raja said with a wave of her hand. “That’s only half of it. We had to leave three of our bags in New York.”

“Can you believe they have a limit on luggage?” Len said sulkily as she checked her reflection in the tinted window of the SUV.

“We had to spend a small fortune mailing them to the office,” Raja said. “Amanda promised to send them to us once we got settled.”

“Great,” Thandie said under her breath. She unlocked the trunk, and helped them load their luggage into the vehicle. Afterward, she slid into the driver’s seat and waited until everyone was settled before putting the car into drive. At the same time, the girls pulled notepads out of their purses and were ready to take notes. They were used to Thandie delegating assignments while they were en route to one place or another.

“Okay, girls, promoting Club Babylon will be far from easy,” Thandie began. “It’s gorgeous, and huge. It’s four stories high.” Len and Raja took a sharp intake of breath at this, but Thandie talked over them. “Filling up a place with that much square footage will be difficult. We’ll have to work every contact we have. The good news is the club already generates a sizable crowd. Our job is to build the club’s reputation on the strip by hosting a series of promo events. In addition, we’ve also been tasked with coordinating the arrival of special guests. The next few weeks are going to be busy, but it’s nothing we haven’t handled before. We have to be organized and disciplined. Len, I want you to find out who are the big gossip columnists here. I want radio and newspaper contacts as well. Raja, I want you to work the agents of local celebrities. There are tons of stars in Miami. I want all of them to be talking about Club Babylon. I will be gathering information on every major event that is being hosted in Miami for the next three months.”

“When can we see the club?” Len asked.

“I’ll take you there tonight, and introduce you to the staff.”

“Including the owner?” Len asked hopefully.

Thandie gave a long sigh. “Yes, including Elliot.”

“Elliot Richards,” Len repeated dreamily. “Even his name sounds sexy.”

“I looked him up on Google this morning,” Raja supplied. “There wasn’t much to find. He doesn’t court the press. I could only locate a handful of pictures. Most of them were taken from afar. But from what I could see, he seems delightful on the eyes. Have you met him yet?”

Thandie didn’t want to talk about Elliot. In fact, she wished she had not mentioned him at all. Try as she might, what had occurred last night after dinner would not soon be forgotten. She remembered all too well the warmth of his breath on her neck and press of his lips against her skin. Even the thought of it made her shift in her seat uncomfortably. Suddenly realizing the girls were still waiting for her response, she answered in a guarded tone, “Yes, I’ve met him.”

“So...?” Raja urged.

“He is a sharp businessman,” Thandie said lamely.

Len laughed. “That’s not what we want to know, and you know it.”

Thandie gritted her teeth together. “Ladies, I really need you to concentrate on the project at hand. We’re going to have to work ten times as hard if we intend to finish on schedule.”

“Fine, fine. Be mysterious if you must,” Len said with a wave of her hand. “Where are we staying?”

“With Warren Radcliffe,” Thandie answered.

“Cool!” they chorused.

Thandie cast a nervous glance in the rearview mirror at them. “Please don’t tell me Warren has tried to come on to either of you.” Both Raja and Len were in their early twenties, Warren’s preferred age range.

“No,” Len huffed, “although I can’t say I would stop him. Warren is a cool old guy.”

Thandie pinched the bridge of her nose. “Len,” she said, “Warren is old enough to be your grandfather.”

“Yeah, but he’s fun,” Len reasoned.

Raja agreed. “He’s a barrel of laughs, Thandie. I hate that he left the city. He was my favorite VIP.”

Thandie stopped at a red light and turned around to face the girls. Though she was, at best, only seven years older than they, she knew they looked up to her as a role model. “Raja. Len.” Fixing each girl with a serious look, she said, “I want you two to enjoy yourselves while you’re here, but you’re going to work. Our sole purpose for being in Miami is to promote Club Babylon. You will remain focused at all times. I won’t tolerate any of your usual shenanigans. Is that understood?”

They nodded solemnly.

“And another thing,” Thandie soldiered on, “the management staff is predominantly male.”

Len and Raja turned to look at each other, mischievous expressions on their faces.

Thandie snapped her fingers at them. “Don’t even think about it,” she warned. “There will be absolutely no funny business between yourselves and the staff. I expect you to be professional, but keep your distance. If I suspect there is a trace of inappropriate behavior from either of you, I will send you back to New York. Are we clear?”

The girls grimaced before nodding their heads.

Pacified by their response, Thandie refocused her attention on the road. She knew she was being hard on them, but hopefully she had spoken just sternly enough to make herself heed her own warnings.

Warren was gone by the time they arrived at his home. The girls squealed and laughed when they walked into the grand entrance hall. Tossing their bags aside, they took a tour of Warren’s house. Thandie could hear their laughter throughout. She tolerated it for a short while, before insisting they get to work. Len came up with the idea that they should sit by the pool while they worked. Not wanting to be a wet blanket, Thandie agreed to join them. They put on swimsuits and carried their paperwork onto the stone terrace leading to the pool. Len and Raja quickly entered the water, sitting on the steps of the shallow end. Len got busy calling Miami affiliates of the
New York Post
while Raja made a list of agents representing celebrities who resided in Florida.

While the girls worked on making contacts, Thandie made a list of possible event themes. It was slow going, since she was not familiar with Miami’s nightlife scene just yet. She placed a call to Rex Barrington, Elliot’s director of marketing. Rex was surprised to hear from her but was happy to answer her questions about previous club themes and press releases. They spoke at length and by the time she hung up, Thandie suffered from information overload.

After that, she helped the girls with making calls. She started by dialing her California contacts, making a list of celebrities who had press junket tours scheduled in the near future. She got a few hours of furious work out of the girls before they found their way to lounge chairs and stretched out like lazy feline cats. Len was sunbathing and well on her way to a much needed tan while Raja retreated to the shade to prevent getting any darker.

Thandie was still on the phone when Warren joined them. Raja and Len ran to him as if he was Santa Claus. Donned in their bikinis, Thandie could tell Warren loved their attention. He listened to them ramble on about their flight. He made the unfortunate mistake of offering to take the girls shopping on Sunday, an offer Thandie knew he would quickly regret. Raja and Len kissed him on his reddened cheeks and jumped up and down with excitement. Thandie could only roll her eyes heavenward. Deciding she’d witnessed enough, she stood and gathered her things.

“Where are you going?” Len called out to her.

“I’m going to lie down for an hour or so. You girls might want to do the same.”

“No way,” Len laughed. “We’re in freakin’ Miami! We’re too excited to sleep.”

Thandie shrugged. “All right, but don’t come crying to me when you can barely keep your eyes open tonight.”

Raja’s brow perked. “What are our hours, Thandie?”

“Ten to two.”

“Same rules?” Len asked.

“Of course,” Thandie nodded. “No drinking, always work the room and always keep your cool.”

The girls laughed as she made her way inside. Thandie gave the same rules every night before working. It had become redundant to say the words anymore, but she said them out of habit.

Thandie stretched out on her bed and prayed Warren wouldn’t try anything with the girls during her absence. The last thing she needed was Len and Raja competing for the cushy position of Wife Number Six. Thandie yawned deeply and reflected back on the past few hours. The day had been productive thus far. She saw no reason why she couldn’t pull together an action plan within a fairly short amount of time. Formalizing a proposal Elliot would agree to might require some persuasion. She only hoped the cost of gaining his cooperation was a price she was willing to pay.

* * *

It had taken forever to get Len and Raja to decide what to wear. Finally, they were in the car and headed toward the strip. Thandie gave them a quick rundown on the club’s structure, disclosing information she’d learned from Adam, and mentioning a handful of employee names she was able to remember. After finishing, Thandie had the nagging sensation she had forgotten something important.

As Thandie drove, she and the girls went over their findings from earlier that evening. Raja had located several agents who sounded promising, and Len confirmed radio contacts and a reputable gossip columnist who lived in the area. They spent the remainder of the trip haggling over how to best utilize their new found information.

As their SUV turned onto the main street, they could see a line of cars waiting for Club Babylon’s valet service. Thandie called a number Adam had given her which gave her direct access to the valet stand. After announcing her name, they directed her to drive ahead of the other cars. The attendants were all smiles when they greeted her.

“Hi, Thandie,” one man said. “Have a good time tonight.”

Tiny, the bouncer she’d met the previous night, made a path for them with his huge body. They ignored the curious gazes shot in their direction, aware they were the envy of everyone waiting patiently in line. Thandie heard the girls gasp in wonder as soon as they entered the club. Tonight Babylon was bathed in vibrant green lighting, and the arena took on the appearance of a tropical garden. Thandie looked skyward and was delighted to see the hanging gardens were on display. It was otherworldly, giving the heady sense of being dropped into a mystical lush garden.

Fixing a controlled smile on her face, Thandie guided the girls up the staircase that led to Elliot’s office. She introduced them to the unsmiling bodyguard, Michelle, as he held the door open. When they walked inside, the men who made up Elliot’s management staff turned their heads in unison. Just as before, all conversation stopped.

Thandie stepped forward. “Hello, gentlemen,” she said pleasantly. “Sorry for interrupting, but I wanted to introduce my assistants to you. This is Raja Travis and Len Harris. Len. Raja. This is Rex, Markie, Eddie, Adam and Tom.” She paused before turning toward the handsome creature leaning casually against his large gleaming desk. “And this is the owner, Elliot Richards.” She couldn’t bear to look into his stormy silver eyes for longer than a few seconds. “Len and Raja will be helping me with the promotion plans,” she said to no one in particular. “They’ve worked with me for years. You should find them very helpful.”

Again, silence. Thandie was beginning to wonder if she was doing something wrong, but when she looked up at the men, she could see their eyes were trained on the girls’ bodies. Meanwhile, Len and Raja were openly ogling Elliot. She could only imagine what he was looking at.

Clearing her throat, Thandie turned to the men. “Are we interrupting something important?”

Adam and Rex suddenly jumped to their feet and smiled broadly. They lightly kissed Thandie on the cheek and shook Raja and Len’s hands. Tom, Eddie and Markie quickly stood and started introducing themselves. Thandie positioned herself as far away from Elliot as she could possibly manage without seeming rude.

BOOK: Beyond the Velvet Rope
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