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Easy Come(Plaything #1)

By:Tess Oliver



Chapter One





Georgie





Kyla, my coworker and one true friend, cast me a sympathetic smile over the top of her computer monitor as I walked past her desk. "Good luck."

"Said the executioner to Anne Boleyn as she knelt down to the chopping block." I stopped to grab a handful of M&Ms from the bowl on her desk. I popped the candy in my mouth for some sugar fortification.

"I'm sure she just wants to talk about topics for next month's issue. You're always so good at developing those."

I reached for some more candy, but Kyla covered the bowl with her hand. "Georgie, you are going to give yourself the usual case of nervous hiccoughs with the way you're gobbling those down. Now, go in there, and face the executioner."

"Thanks for the moral support, buddy." I headed down the long hallway that led to the editor's office. It was one of those cold, characterless passages, and I could always swear it got narrower, almost suffocating, as you neared Meredith's office. Or maybe that was just stress pressing down on my chest and pushing air from my lungs. Meredith Vee, editor-in-chief of Contemporary Life magazine, had not earned the top spot in the company. She had been born into it. Her dad, Michael Vee, had been a well-loved and highly-respected journalist, and the people at the magazine adored him. When Michael was running it, Contemporary Life had been a periodical I was proud to work for. But after a stroke had forced Michael into early retirement, his eldest daughter, Meredith stepped into his shoes. It only took those of us on the writing staff one dreadful day to know that she would never come close to filling those brown leather loafers. And now, Meredith had taken a perfectly respectable news magazine and turned it into a rambling, almost salacious tabloid. I knew my articles weren't cutting it anymore because I was still writing about things like girls in Africa fighting for the right to go to school instead of juicy stories about the latest movie mogul and his torrid affair with the nanny. I had been trying hard to keep my writer's page filled with relevant world news. I was still getting away with it only because under Michael, I had won a few prestigious awards for my stories and high praise for the magazine. But I knew Meredith was unhappy with my subject matter.

I knocked and waited in front of the door where Meredith had replaced her dad's understated name plate with one three times the size and plated with gold. I could hear her voice as she finished up a phone call. Even through the thick door, it was impossible to miss the angry edge in her tone. She was always angry.

I stood there, alone in the hallway, trying to keep down those hiccoughs Kyla had warned me about, when Meredith barked an order for me to come inside.

I swallowed to keep away the stomach chirps and pushed my glasses back on my nose, as if they might shield me from the death rays shooting from my boss's eyes.

Meredith was a woman who, on first impression, was very beautiful. But once you got to know her, the beauty shrank behind a wretched personality. She'd recently had her lips done, making her look like a crazy circus clown. It was hard not to focus them. And as bulbous as they looked, she still managed to pull them in a tight mean line.

She waved imperiously at the chair in front of her desk. She'd had her dad's comfy office chairs replaced by hard, straight backed torture seats.

"Georgie, I was just reading your story about the refugees for the next issue, and I'm afraid we can't use it. I know my father gave you a lot of leeway because you were his—" Her long red fingernails curled in air quotes. "Star reporter. But I'm in charge now, and the magazine is going in a different direction. I need you to get on board with that journey. No more of this oozing with empathy, dripping with sentimentality, thought provoking dribble. Nobody wants to read that shit. We need to appeal to the masses, and the masses want sex. They want scandal."

I chirruped with a hiccough and quickly pressed my arm against my stomach to staunch the flow of more embarrassing noises.

Meredith tried to lift a judgmental brow at the sound, but Botox had made her face as stiff as a stone statue's.

"I put a lot of work into that piece. Couldn't we just use it this month and next month—"

"Nope. Here's your assignment." She tossed a paper across the desk. It fluttered off the side and down to my feet.

I leaned over and picked it up. The word Plaything was written above a city address.

I looked up from the paper. "Plaything?"

"Yes, it's a multi-million dollar company. They have a monthly subscription service where the subscribers get a box of erotic toys, lingerie, adult movies and other crap. It's a wildly popular company. I want you to go in there and get the dirt on them. It's run by four men, a bunch of notorious playboys."

"Dirt? Why do you assume there's dirt?"

She rolled her eyes, but her stiff face made it look more like a seizure. "God, you are naive for such a smart woman, Georgiana. A place like that has to be ripe with sexual harassment and disgruntled employees. I've got you an interview this afternoon with Chase England, one of the owners."

"Chase England? Wasn't that someone you were dating?" It was an unusual enough name that it was easy to recognize, especially because she had bragged about it for weeks. For those few weeks, she'd almost had a cheery glow about her. But the relationship must have ended abruptly, and not from her side, because the cheery glow became an icy, shadowy aura. For at least a month afterward, we all worked hard to avoid her . . . even more than usual.

Meredith blinked her fake lashes at me. "What's your point?"

I shook my head and folded up the paper. "Nothing. That's fine. I will head over there and see what I can find out." I waited to see if there were any other commands, but she went back to work on her computer and pretended that I was no longer there.

"O.K. then, I'll just be on my way." I hurried out of the door. I stopped in the hallway and took a deep breath.

It was time to look for a new job.





Chapter Two





Trey





Chase strolled into the office as he was knocking on the door. In high school, Chase was that guy, the one who, at the end of the year, had the girls lined up in the hallway to write their phone numbers and a flirty note in his yearbook. And he had always been pretty damn cocky about it.

I turned the volume down on the music. I always worked best when I had tunes blaring. Especially when I was crunching budget numbers and preparing charts for investors. "Normally, the knock comes before you enter."

"Since when?" Chase stretched his neck up to get a look past my desk. "Why, are you getting a blow job or something?"

"Probably the only thing that would make these charts less boring." I leaned back in the chair. It was the kind of luxury, scientifically designed desk chair that made it feel as if you were sitting on a fucking cloud while getting an ass massage. They were expensive but we'd purchased one for every employee at Plaything. "Now that you stopped my train of thought, what do you need?"

"Big favor. Somehow, I doubled booked my afternoon."

"Two lunch dates?"

"Funny. And two lunch dates wouldn't be a problem. It would be a threesome." Chase plunked down on the chair in front of my desk. "I'm meeting with the investors from Australia at one, and a reporter from Contemporary Life magazine is coming for an interview to check out the nuts and bolts of Plaything.”

"Wait. Contemporary Life. Weren't you dating the owner of that magazine? Shit, what was her name?"

Chase rested his arm along the curved edge of the chair. It seemed he'd added another tattoo to his arm. It was still pink and swollen, but from my vantage point, it seemed to be some kind of a skull.

"Meredith Vee. Yes Vee, capital V. And let me tell you it fits her. I ghosted her after two months."

"Ghosted? So, you took the coward's way out. Smooth."

"Hey, I rarely ever ghost. I always let down gently, with flowers and a nice note, but it was different with her. Meredith Vee is a ball twisting psycho."

I snorted a laugh.

Chase sat forward. "Really, I'm not kidding. If you look in her freezer, she's got Ziploc bags filled with balls, each one labeled with the victim's name and the date she yanked the nuts out from under the tree. I got out with my sac in place . . . barely."

"Why is she sending a reporter?" It was my turn to sit forward. "Fuck, Chase, what the hell? You said her magazine was big on printing scandalous shit about people. Is she looking for some kind of revenge?"

Chase shrugged. "Could be. But, what are they going to find?" He waved his arm around. "A well-oiled, finely tuned company that's closing in on its first billion and where the employees are deliriously happy?" He hopped up. "I've got to get ready for my meeting. So you'll do the interview?"

I pointed up at him. "Yes, but I want your Aspen house for a week and no fucking blackout dates."

"Fine, a week in Aspen." Chase headed for the door.

"What time is he coming?" I asked.

"Who?"

I shook my head. "It's a good thing you are pretty, because you are damn thick in the head. The reporter? What time is he coming?"

"Oh, that him. It's a she. Her name is Georgie Dempsey, and she's already here." He shot me his pearly white grin.

"Asshole. Just remember if there's three feet of fresh powder, I'm heading to Aspen."

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