Chapter 8

Helen Jacobs was a smart, capable business woman as well as a senior editor at Heartland Books. She had started there years ago when they were just a vanity press for a single author, and she had watched it grow into a power house. (Though admittedly a powerhouse in what was a niche market.) She had gone from a little storeroom slash office in their original building to her current luxurious office with big desk and fake leather chair in a Vancouver office tower. She had seen a lot of authors over the years, and only a few of them had become her friends.

Frowning Helen studied the story that had just come in from one of those author friends, Allison Kane. Allison was 40 something and seemed depressingly suburban when they were first introduced, but that bland outer appearance hid a lot. She was well read and remarkably smart, able to talk knowledgeably on many subjects, and if she didn't know it she could fake convincingly.

Allison was a somewhat established author before Helen met her, but the slightly pudgy editor had been astonished at how GOOD she was. She felt certain that if Allison didn't write for such a small market, she would be a best selling author. That knowledge, of course, had created a ethical problem for her: encourage Allison and possibly loose her as a author, or keep her and stunt her growth? In the end Helen had encouraged Allison to use pseudonyms to break into other markets, and each time she saw one of her friend's other names on a hot selling book, she smiled.

Today Helen wasn't smiling, however, and it was mostly because of the story she had just read. Allison had sent it to her asking her opinion and wondering if it might be good for a short story collection that she was editing. It was a vivid, erotic piece about two women taking a day out to the beach. The younger, feminine girl teased and flirted with the older, until the other woman finally had enough. Taking her home and laying the younger girl out the older woman pleasured her relentlessly, both of them collapsing onto the couch.

It was a erotic, well written piece and she'd be happy finding room for it in any one of her yearly anthologies, so that wasn't the problem. What was bothering Helen was that it read almost too vividly, almost like someone infatuated with a real person. And since Allison had mentioned she was watching over her daughter in law while the hubby was away, Helen was getting worried about her long time celibate friend.

"Is Allison falling for the girl?' she wondered, Helen tapping the top of her messy desk. In her emails Allison had mentioned she was spending a great deal of time with the young woman, and worse she specifically mentioned how bright and attractive the girl was.

There was a knock on the door and her secretary Naomi Wilson walked in, carrying a steaming cup of tea in one hand and a bundle of papers in the other, her little black dress sexily hugging each and every curve. "Hey boss," Naomi smiled warmly as she told her, "courier arrived with the latest from various agents."

Helen often wondered why Naomi hadn't gone into television or movies, the lady certainly had the looks for it. In looks she compared the woman to a black haired Marilyn Monroe, except she was even better stacked. She even had the smoky, sexy voice that made people get weak in the knees. Helen blatently took advantage of her sexiness, noting how straight men and gay women were all effected by her to various degrees.

"Have we heard back from the Barracuda yet?" Helen asked wryly, using her pet name for a certain agent they both knew.

Naomi laughed merrily at that as she neatly set the stack of papers down on the desk. "Yes, we're gotten a response from Jenny," she said as she tapped the papers meaningfully, "for the Ali Jones book. A standard contract plus ten percent."

Helen winced slightly as she looked over the contract, but she couldn't really blame the agent. Normally they would have dickered over the contract in advance and hashed everything out, but this was such a rush job it was all put off till later. It was bad business practice, Helen knew, but she trusted Allison to produce and Allison trusted her to pay up.

Taking a moment Helen looked over the contract then nodded, confirming it was their usual contract with the bonus. She dashed off her signature and passed it to Naomi as she said, "Call accounting to cut the check, then send it and the contract to the Barracuda."

Naomi took the papers back as she calmly noted, "You really shouldn't call her that, Jenny is a perfectly nice woman."

"When she isn't gnawing bits out of my hide," Helen grumbled as Naomi left. She caaylled out before the door closed, "Hey Naomi?"

"Yes?" Naomi asked patiently.

"I'm going to email you a short story," Helen decided as she said it, "read it over and give me your opinion, okay? It's by Allison."

"Got it," Naomi waved as she headed out.

Helen had rather suspected that her secretary and Allison's agent were becoming friends, and this conversation seemed to confirm it. Not that it was bad, exactly, but Helen wondered what had drawn the two very different women together. Still, it wasn't exactly any of her business.

Picking up her cup of tea Helen sipped as she sorted through the rest of the contracts and other business, her mind half on what she was doing and half toying with what was going on with her friend Allison. Not that there was much she could actually do about that situation, but it was still nagging at the back of her mind.

'Or maybe there is something I can do,' Helen thought, sitting up in her chair. Checking through saved emails she confirmed that Allison was not working on any projects for them, and that she didn't have any pressing deadlines.

Working with Allison Helen had learned the other woman practically obsessive about deadlines. She would not take off or slack off at all with a looming deadline, working through the night if needed to make it. Not that Helen minded when it was one of her projects being done, but she sometimes thought Allison took it a little TOO far. Even when a novel was well in hand, she still refused to take breaks or go out and have fun.

'Good,' Helen thought as she got up, finishing off her tepid tea and walking across the thick carpet that lined the floors of their offices. It had come with the building, or her eco-friendly side would have probably protested. She often consoled herself with the knowledge that ripping it up and replacing it with environmentally sound materials would do more damage than just leaving the carpet alone.

"Hey, boss," Naomi looked up guiltily from her computer screen as Helen exited her office. Her cheeks were flushed and her impressive bosom was rising and falling a bit faster than normal, what looked to Helen like sexual excitement.

Helen looked at the view screen, noticed that Allison's story was there and hid a smirk. 'Well, well,' she mused, 'it seems that story flips at least some of my secretary's switches.' Clearing her throat she asked, "How's the discretionary fund this month?"

Naomi raised her eyebrows, faintly surprised. The fund was provided by their bosses for wining and dining authors, agents and occassionally movie folk. They regularly dumped a set amount into the account each month, and it accumulated when they didn't need it. At the end of the year Helen and Naomi dipped into it for Christmas gifts for their authors, too.

"Other than taking a few movie prats out we haven't dipped into it much the past few months, why?" Naomi asked curiously.

Distracted Helen asked, "The movie guys weren't that bad, were they?"

"That one woman seemed to think I was available just because I was your secretary," Naomi noted dryly. "I repeat, why?"

"I was thinking we could give Allison a break from dealing with the daughter-in-law for a

night," Helen said, "w hat do you think?"

Naomi looked at her boss fondly, "You're being a mother hen. And Allison is way too old for

you to be mothering too."

"I am not," Helen protested. She hesitated, "Besides, from her mails I'm worried she might be getting a bit too close to the girl."

Naomi was not slow on the uptake, no matter what some people might assume. "The short story," she noted thoughtfully.

"It's a bit of a coincidence she'd write this kind of story now," Helen agreed. Curiously she asked, "What did you think of it?"

Naomi actually blushed at thinking about the story, something that the normally cool and composed young woman almost never did. "It was pretty hot," she admitted, "I don't normally react to stories, but this one...."

"Yeah," Helen agreed, knowing just what she meant.

Naomi considered taking Allison out again for a moment then said, "If you're going to do this, you need a pretty good excuse. If you just invite Allison to dinner out of the blue she'll suspect something." She smirked, "Or think it's a pity date."

"You're right," Helen conceded as she frowned slightly. "Have we got anything business related we could use as a excuse?"

"Giving her the bonus for the Ali Jones novel?" Naomi suggested. "We'd have to ask Jenny along too, though."

"I could live with that," Helen said, nodding. "For all I know Jenny might cooperate with us in getting Allison out of the house."

"Want me to talk to her?" Naomi offered.

"Do it," Helen nodded, "and check into reservations while you're at it."

Intelligently Naomi asked, "What sort of places does Allison usually like, anyway? Usually when she hits the offices you two just tromp off together."

Helen chuckled, "Yeah, Allison usually likes more low end stuff. Maybe we'll just head over to White Spot or the Keg, or something."

"Nice, but low key," Naomi decided, nodding as Helen returned to her office and got back to her her actual job, editing books.

As Helen plowed through a derivative romance she often wondered how some of these writers kept employed. It was such repetitive, formulaic crap that she wanted to toss the manuscript aside in disgust. Yet the readers devoured the damn things, which was why the woman was employed by them. Red pen flying she made corrections on the printout, wishing the woman would get with the twenty-first century and accept corrections via email.

"You're swearing under your breath again," Naomi noted as she carried in another cup of tea, "I could hear you out in my office."

"I swear, this may be the worst tripe yet," Helen shook her head ruefully as she picked up the tea and took a gulp.

"Go look at the slush pile," Naomi offered, "you'll feel better."

Helen snorted in amusement, but she had to concede the woman probably had a point. The slush pile was the bane of any publisher: the unsolicited and usually unwanted attempts by amature authors to write a novel. They ranged from bad fanfiction to plagarism to third rate 'Moby Dick' attempts, but the publisher still had to sort through them. Why? Because every now and them in the piles of garbage you found a excellent piece of writing. It wasn't often, admittedly, but it did happen.

"Thank god the assistant editors deal with it now," Helen muttered. She looked at Naomi curiously, "Did you call the Barracuda?"

"Yes, I called Jenny," Naomi put a certain emphasis on the name, smiling, "she thinks you're nuts, but she'll go along with it."

"Oh, good," Helen rolled her eyes.

"Uhm," Naomi hesitated a moment, "she did suggest something."

"Yeah?" Helen looked curious.

"Book a hotel for a night for her too," Naomi said, "that'd really give her a break, if you think Allison needs it."

Helen blinked, not having thought of that idea. "Yeah," she nodded, "that's not a bad idea at all." She gave Naomi a smile,. "And I'm pretty sure we can afford it."

"Not a problem," Naomi agreed. She smiled slightly and asked, "Would you mind if I tagged along for the dinner too?"

"Sure," Helen said, a bit surprised. "When can we get us, Jenny and Allison together?"

"She's thinking later in the week, Thursday or Friday," Naomi supplied calmly, "it's going to take some talking on her part."

"Allison is too damn stubborn for her own good," Helen muttered darkly. She smiled slightly, "Then again, so is Barra.. I mean, Jenny."

Naomi grinned, "See, didn't hurt a bit."

Helen stuck her tongue out at her secretary, "Yeah, yeah. Look into booking a nice hotel for Allison, somewhere downtown."

"Will do," Naomi laughed.

By the next day Naomi had produced a plan for their night out, which appeared on Helen's desk. A hotel room was booked, a private room reserved at the restaurant and Allison had confirmed she would come. Reluctantly, it seemed, and with much efforts on Jenny's part, but she would be joining them for dinner on Friday.

The rest of the week dragged as they waited for Friday. It wasn't rare that Helen went out with authors for various reasons, but this was the first time she had done so with Allison. At least, not like their informal lunches where they sat down and gossiped. This was a real dinner date, even if it was only sort of business.

'I'm actually nervous,' Helen thought that Friday morning as she and Naomi closed up the office early, collecting the contract and bonus check before they left. It was like a date but not, which threw her off a little. 'Thank god I'm not Allison's type,' she noted.

"Should I call a few of my friends, see if I can round up a date for Allison?" Naomi asked curiously as they left work. Both of them would go home and change, dressing in something nice but still informal.

"Not without warning her first," Helen laughed as she said, "springing a blind date on someone is never a good idea."

"Fair enough," Naomi agreed, the two women parting before meeting again in a few hours.

Helen went to her townhouse, one not far from the expo lands on the east end of the downtown core. She went inside and collected her mail, then went upstairs to her living room. Dropping the mail on her coffee table she went into her bedroom, stripping off her business wear and looking in the closet for something casual. Picking out a sweatshirt and trousers she laid them out, then went off to shower.

After washing up Helen put on a fluffy robe and watched TV for a bit, relaxing before going out that evening. Deciding she had dawdled long enough she put on a fresh set of bra and panties, then dressed herself.

'I can't believe I'm dressing this casual for a business dinner,' Helen thought ruefully as she pulled the sweatshirt on, then shimmied into the trousers. Straightening the cuffs she decided she looked as neat as she was going to get. Sitting down she put her socks and shoes on then got up, walking down the stairs and outside before locking her doors.

Helen, like many Vancouverites, used a mix of public transit and her car to get around. The reasons she used each method of transport varied depending on what she was doing, of course. It was a short trip by bus, and with parking at a premium downtown she often preferred the bus. However, on days she was dealing with clients or taking people out, a car was a must.

Reluctantly Helen got her Toyota out of the garage, pausing to check the electronic oil gauge and gas levels, then climbed in and started her up. She drove over to Main then took a left, going along Pender to the downtown core. She had to quickly check the directions to the White Spot, but she was soon pulling into the nearby parking lot.

The streets of Vancouver were as busy as ever, and Helen saw a steady stream of people going to the nearby central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. She crossed the street and smiled as she saw Naomi waiting by the curb, then frowned as she realized her secretary was frowning.

"Let me guess," Helen said as they walked to the doors of the restaurant together, "Allison cancelled at the last minute?"

"That would probably be simpler," Naomi said as they went into the busy establishment.

"Do you have a reservation?" the woman at the front desk asked charmingly.

"The Heartland reservation," Helen told the woman, then looked over at Naomi, "So what's going on?"

The two walked into the dining room they had booked as Naomi wryly told her boss, "Allison brought a date along."

Sitting at the table talking with Allison and Jesse was a attractive young woman, talking with both quite cheerfully. Almost as soon as Helen saw her she realized this was probably the wife they had been plotting to give Allison a break from!

"The best laid plans of mice and men," Helen muttered, then had to laugh. "Come on," she said with a wry smile, "let's go introduce ourselves."

"You're not mad?" Nicole sounded surprised.

"Nah," Helen smiled, "that's life for you."

Allison's smile was warm as they reached the table, the black haired older woman rising gracefully. "Diane Kane," she nodded to the pretty woman, "this is my editor Helen Jacobs and her aide de camp, Nicole. Don't annoy them, they pay my bills."

Helen laughed as she shook Diane's hand, "Charmed."

Naomi's smile to Jesse was more than friendly, and helen had to bite back a chuckle. She elbowed Naomi gently and the other woman yelped. "Nice to meet you, Diane," she gave her usual sultry smile, and Diane blushed.

'Well, isn't that interesting,' Helen noted thoughtfully. "All right," she said, sitting down, "where's the drinks?"

To be continued....