Authors: Elizabeth Lennox
Lana stared at her editor in horror. “You want me to change what?” she asked, her body tense and almost shivering with the revulsion she was feeling. The bland cream walls receded and all she could see was the red glare of humiliation, that sickening feeling of dread and horror as the painful memories came back to haunt her.
“Sex,” Nancy Kirkpatrick, Lana’s editor replied succinctly, a grin forming on her face as she watched her favorite writer’s shocked reaction. “We need sultry, exciting, passionate sex scenes,” she went on to clarify.
Lana blinked and stared. Had her friend and mentor just said the one word in the English language which could horrify her more than any other? Spiders, sharks, snakes….ick. Public speaking…terrifying. But sex? Oh no! That one word sent her mind into a tailspin of painful memories.
Lana suspected that her mouth had fallen open but she couldn’t do anything to change her stunned reaction. That word hadn’t really just been uttered, she told herself. It was impossible. Lana tried to convince herself that Nancy had said something else, something that probably rhymed with the word “sex”, all the while wondering if it was possible to spontaneously explode from anger and frustration.
Snapping her mouth closed, Lana shook her head, as if she were trying to clear it. “Could you repeat what you just said?” Lana asked as politely as possible, ignoring the trembling that had started in her stomach and was quickly spreading outward.
Nancy chuckled, misunderstanding Lana’s expression but she was genuinely amused at her stunned features. “It isn’t like I just said you need to murder the hero, Lana. The stories just need more sex, more ‘oomph’,” Nancy replied encouragingly. “Just add a few sex scenes and everything will be perfect!”
It hadn’t been a bad dream, Lana realized. Nancy really had said
. Multiple times, actually. It was a word, a concept that Lana had done her best to banish from her mind for the past couple of years. Just hearing it made Lana feel queasy. She shook her head, trying to dispel the nausea that was threatening to overwhelm her.
Closing her eyes, she counted to three before opening them again. Nancy was still watching her curiously and Lana dropped her gaze to her hands which were folded demurely in her lap. Taking a deep breath, she accepted that her next statement was potentially life altering, but she just couldn’t change that. “I can’t do it. It’s just not possible.”
Nancy laughed, not understanding the depth of Lana’s fears. “Of course it’s possible. I’m sure you have a boyfriend,” she replied, eying Lana’s long blond hair, almond shaped blue eyes and full pouty lips. If Nancy had to name one person who was genuinely beautiful inside and out, it would be this gorgeous woman sitting in her office. She lifted one shoulder casually and said, “Just ask him to help you come up with some new ideas. I doubt he’ll mind reading about his sexual prowess in a romance novel in a couple of months.”
Lana licked her dry lips and shifted uncomfortably. She didn’t have a boyfriend and what’s more, her husband had considered her impossibly frigid in bed. So even if Lana were to go out right now and find a man, the experience would be doomed to failure. She just wasn’t a sexual creature. She’d never been interested in sex in any way and would be completely okay if she never had to deal with the issue again in her life. Unless it meant being homeless, she thought, looking at her editor with rising panic.
Lana’s huge blue eyes pleaded with her editor. “But why?” she asked, needing to understand this new change in policy. “Why, all of a sudden, do I need to add sex to my novels?” She stood up and walked to the window of the office, wishing it were big enough to pace in. Unfortunately, the stacks of manuals, plus desk and chairs took up most of the available space so nervous pacing wasn’t an option. Getting a window office in New York was a prime deal. Only the extremely well paid executives rated large offices. “I thought my stories were good just the way they are, without the sex scenes.” She frantically looked around but salvation didn’t magically appear in the office while her hands waved in the air helplessly, “I mean, isn’t just the implication of sex good enough? It always has been in the past.” She crossed her arms over her chest in a defensive move as she looked back at Nancy. “Don’t women want to imagine things instead of being told outright what is going on?”
Nancy’s eyes slid away and she sighed. “Apparently, sales have been dropping for the past year so we’ve all been ordered to pull in more sex scenes.” Nancy grimaced as she sat back in her chair, obviously resigned. “You know the old line; sex, money and murder sell.”
Economics? Finally, this was something she could understand; something she could sink her teeth into. Having been broke before, desperate for her next meal and a way to pay her rent, she could easily understand money. “Yes, but the economy will pick up. I don’t see why an entire company needs to alter its established practices just on an economic whim which will be over soon anyway. Where’s the integrity? Will the readers who like subtlety want to follow us back when we switch to the non-sexual, but wonderfully romantic plots again?” She sank into the chair she’d just vacated since pacing was useless.
Nancy shook her head, sighing with sadness and frustration. “It isn’t just the economy, Lana. We’ve been bought out because of our diminishing sales,” Nancy explained painfully. “I’ve seen how the sales figures had been slipping over the past several months but I hadn’t thought much about it. Just like you, I thought it was only because of the economy and things would pick up soon. But the rest of the industry isn’t feeling the same trend. In fact, the publishing world is flourishing. It’s just us and we’ve now been bought out by one of the big corporations with huge resources that could really help us out with advertising and other expenses. Our line is going away and only those authors who can produce romances with hot, steamy sex will be published in the future.”
Lana felt as if a steel band were wrapping around her chest. It was difficult to breathe and she wanted to scream out or cry, she wasn’t sure which. Looking at her editor, she knew that this wasn’t a battle she was going to win. She had to deal with this latest obstacle, no matter how overwhelming it appeared right at the moment. How she was going to deal with it, well, she wasn’t exactly sure. Her mind wanted screaming and arguing but logic told her that she’d get no where. Nancy had mentioned that a big corporation had bought out the publishing company and that meant one thing to Lana; profit won out over loyalty.
Instead of screaming about the unfairness of the situation, she pasted a smile on her face and stood up. Forcing a bright, optimistic expression to remain even though it felt as if her cheeks were going to fall off with the pain of the exercise, she maintained the attitude, not wanting Nancy to see inside too easily. “Okay, then I think I have some more work to do, don’t I?” She took Nancy’s hand and shook it. “Thanks for your advice,” she said and turned to leave the office.
Lana could feel Nancy’s worried eyes on her back but she lifted her chin and walked out of the room with as much dignity as possible. The hallways were teeming with traffic as people moved busily from one task to another. Everyone looked so harried that she didn’t want to break down in front of them. With a stiff upper lip, she moved along the carpet, praying in her mind to just reach the elevators and she could relax. It became a mantra in her head, echoing with each step she took.
She made it all the way to the outer hallway which was empty, thankfully, before the tears started. She hurried her footsteps to the lobby, then out to the bank of elevators, hiding her face with her head bowed low, praying that no one would stop and question her.
She bumped into something big and solid, then quickly shifted her path to go around the mountain. “Excuse me,” she mumbled as an apology, then hurried onto the elevator.
It was blissfully empty for a moment and Lana hoped that she’d have the elevator to herself for the descent. She wasn’t sure how long she could keep the tears at bay and she desperately didn’t want to cry in front of someone who might know her, even as an acquaintance or writer.
Unfortunately, as days go, this one continued to roll out poorly and her wish for a solitary elevator was not granted. A large shadow entered and Lana bowed her head once again, closing her eyes in an effort to stifle the tears that were threatening. The elevator dinged as the doors closed and she took deep, cleansing breaths in the hope that she would be able to hold off on the tears that were threatening.
She tried. She really tried hard but it was no use. All the old insecurities, the hateful feelings of inadequacy, all the anger and resentment exploded inside her and she couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. The sobs broke through and she turned her body toward the wall of the elevator cab, desperate to maintain some sort of dignity but the effort was failing. Her shoulders shook as the sobs overwhelmed her and she couldn’t stop the flow anymore.
Digging in her purse, she searched fruitlessly for a tissue. Nothing but an old receipt, she thought angrily and wiped her wet cheeks with the back of her hand. Unfortunately, the tears continued to fall and the back of her hand was completely useless.
She took it with shaking fingers. “Thank you,” she said as politely as possible under the circumstances. She pretended to glance at the kind stranger but she only saw a large chest where someone’s head should have been. She turned back toward the wall and used the handkerchief to wipe away the tears. Thankfully, she wasn’t wearing much makeup so at least she wasn’t getting powder and foundation all over the man’s immaculate linen square. The tears continued to flow no matter how hard she tried to stop them. It was just too much, she thought to herself. It wasn’t fair. She’d picked herself up once and come out ahead. Now she was being asked to do something completely impossible!
She even hated her pity party, wishing she was stronger and could roll more with the punches. For a while there, she’d imagined herself to be a strong, confident woman and now, here she was, sobbing her frustration out in an elevator. How humiliating!
She’d fought so hard for so long and now, to be dumped with this….well, it was all too much to take in so suddenly. Those thoughts only made her cry harder and she lost a sense of where she was. She tried to look around and get her bearings, but her eyes were so clouded with tears, she couldn’t focus on the world around her.
“Please,” she tried to say and pull back but the man’s hand was relentless and she was carried out of the elevator and onto the busy streets with his momentum. “Please, I’m okay, really,” she finally said, twisting around and getting away from the hand that seemed to burn through her red cardigan sweater and white turtleneck shirt. She looked up, then up again. And up some more still so she could see the face of the man who was now directing her out of the stream of impatient body traffic on the busy sidewalk. Her eyes widened at the man’s enormous size but she still couldn’t focus on anything and she didn’t want to talk to anyone. All she wanted to do was to rush home and bury her face in a pillow and have a genuine pity party until she’d worked this latest wrinkle out.
Taking a deep breath in an effort to stem the tide of tears, she blinked her eyes and sniffled slightly. “Thank you very much for the use of your handkerchief but I’m okay now,” she lied. If she only could have made it a few more minutes without more crying, she might have gotten away. But instead, her eyes did that irritating weepy thing and the man shook his dark head.
“You need more than a handkerchief,” he said. “Come along.” He put his hand back to the small of her back and Lana was just too upset to stop him. Besides, she couldn’t see since the tears were blurring her vision once again.
She had no idea where he was leading her but this section of New York City was busy so she wasn’t concerned about crime. And he seemed gentle enough. The hand on her back was lightly insistent, but he wasn’t causing her any pain, except for a sensation of awareness, something she didn’t really understand since she’d never felt it before.
If she weren’t feeling so miserable, she might have laughed at the idea of a man so large being this gentle. She couldn’t see much from underneath his suit but anyone this tall probably couldn’t be considered gentle. Even with her low heeled shoes, her head didn’t reach his shoulder so he quite literally, towered over her. And he certainly wasn’t taking no for an answer, she thought with a slight frown.
Suddenly, the noise from the cabs and the masses of people walking along the streets of the early afternoon were gone. He’d pulled her into a restaurant, one of those expensive places that let a patron watch the chaos outside while enjoying absolute peace and tranquility inside. Her mind barely registered the crisp, white linen table cloths and dark, expensive wood as he guided her through the main dining room to a table tucked away in the back. He pulled out a chair for her and ordered her to sit and Lana was just too grateful for the relative privacy and the ability to simply release the emotions she couldn’t contain any longer.