Chapter 11

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Calliope squirms in my arms as I carry her through the front doors of GEH for her very first day of daycare. There are no tears, like I expected there to be, no screams of torture. She’s simply too interested in the men and women hurrying through the lobby around us to stay still. Taylor is outside, still idling on the curb with Woods while they wait to take me to work, so it’s just Christian and I dropping her off. He walks by my side, juggling her diaper bag, stroller, and the three different stuffed animals that Calliope couldn’t bear to be parted from this morning, all while trying to guide us to the nursery and answer emails on his phone. We get several strange looks as we make our way to the elevator, like people are genuinely shocked to see a ten month old baby being paraded through the epicenter of Seattle business and commerce. But I soon realize the questioning stares aren’t being directed at Calliope. They’re all gaping at Christian, who I suppose looks odd to his employees with a baby pink blanket draped over the shoulder of his bespoke Brioni suit and the plastic end of an escaped pacifier clenched between his teeth.

“Seventh floor,” he mumbles distractedly, once we step into the elevator. I move to the panel and lean over to press the round button labelled ‘7’, but when Calliope sees the small glass sphere light up, she shrieks with excitement and thrusts her tiny hands out for as many buttons as she can reach.

“No, no, no!” I say, trying to pull her hands away, but the damage is done. We’re stopping at every floor except three on our journey up to her daycare. Christian sighs, unable to do anything but accept each and every stop. The patience he’s trying to summon, however, vanishes in an instant when a tiny woman manages to worm her way through the doors before they fully close.

“Mr. Grey,” she pants in relief.

“Jacqueline,” Christian replies. “What can I do for you?”

“The optics on this tax issue with your father aren’t good. He’s coming off as a strong leader, bent on eliminating corruption, even when it means standing up to his own family, and you’re kind of being perceived as a holding the city ransom while demanding handouts from the Seattle tax payers. Your brand is about exceptionalism. You’re a self-made billionaire running a successful multinational corporation that breaks profit records nearly every year and pushes the boundaries of innovation in every industry you touch. This battle with your father is counteracting all that good publicity and I’m afraid it’s bringing up questions about how safe of an investment Grey technologies are to those who’re helping bankroll this big project you’re trying to get off the ground.”

“Well if I lose this battle against my father and GEH doesn’t get enough in tax incentives this quarter, they won’t have questions, they’ll have proof. I’m not letting this project fail, Jacqueline, no matter who I have to fight to make it happen.”

“Then perhaps we should focus on changing the narrative. Give the media something to print besides this political war you’re fighting with the city that you helped transform. We need a win, Mr. Grey. Something big that we can get out to the press this week. Otherwise, your funding is going to be pulled and you’re going to be fighting over tax breaks to fund a project that’s DOA.”

He sighs. “Fine. I’ll take a look at what I’ve got in the pipeline and send you some numbers this afternoon.”

“Perfect. Thank you, Mr. Grey.”

“Mhm,” he mumbles over the sound over the elevator opening on the fourth floor. “Now get out.”

Jacqueline smiles and turns to face Calliope and I. “She really is such a beautiful baby, Mrs. Grey. I’m telling you, that’s a face for PixC if I’ve ever seen one.”

“Jacqueline,” Christian says, more firmly this time. “Go.”

She lets out a soft, disappointed sound and winks at my baby before ducking out of the elevator again and leaving us alone. I swallow, preparing myself for what I want to say, and face my husband.

“Christian, I don’t like that you’re going after your dad like this. Family is more important than anything, even your supercars.”

“It’s not about the cars, Ana. It’s about creating clean, unlimited energy. Do you have any idea what that would mean? How that would change the world?” I stare back at him, unblinking and unimpressed, and he sighs. “My dad is the highest ranking government official in this city, Anastasia. Sometimes that is going to put us at odds. But it’s not personal. It’s business, and I can separate the two.”

“Can he?”

The doors ping open on the seventh floor and Christian quickly ushers me out of the elevator without answering. We wind our way through several hallways, past a few departments I’m unfamiliar with, until we finally make it to a desk sitting outside a locked door that is guarded by a security officer.

“Mr. Grey,” the friendly looking woman behind the desk greets us. Her smile is bright and her eyes are friendly, a contradiction to the steel and bulletproof glass door she watches over. “This must be little Calliope.”

“Can you say, hi?” I ask, gently pinching Calliope’s toes through her socks. She blinks at the woman smiling back at her, then turns and buries her face in my blouse.

“Awh,” the woman says, her expression alight with sympathy. “It’s okay to be nervous on your first day, sweetheart. But there’s lots of fun toys in there and other kids that want to play with you. Doesn’t that sound fun?”

Calliope turns her face just the smallest degree so she can get a peak at the woman beaming at her, encouraging her, and after assessing the situation and finding nothing to scare her away from the promise of free toys, she slowly pulls away from me and looks through the glass to the children playing inside.

“Kensie’s in there,” I say encouragingly. “Do you want to go play with Kensie?”

She does her best to nod and then reaches for the door. “Ki-ki, Mama. Ki-ki.”

“Okay, Calli-lily. Let’s go find Ki-ki.” She coos with delight while Christian thanks the woman behind the desk, and after she’s pressed the button that causes the heavy metal locks to open with a loud, high pitched clink, the security guard opens the door for us and we step inside. I look back at him questioningly and then turn to Christian. “Isn’t that the same security guard I fired in Vegas for letting Mia and her friend sneak into a nightclub?”

“Yeah, his name is James. Alan James, I think.”

“And that’s the man you put in charge of watching over our daughter all day, every day? The man who couldn’t keep track of two seventeen year olds when they were his only responsibility?”

Christian rolls his eyes. “Calliope isn’t Mia, Anastasia.”

“No. She’s my daughter so she’s probably going to be even worse! Do you know how many times I’ve ditched Luke over the years, Christian? And that was Luke. Not generic security guard number three.”

“And I didn’t fire Sawyer for losing you, either. There are four teachers who work here, plus Mackensie, and she’s going to be behind locked doors that are under constant video surveillance. She’s perfectly safe. You know that I wouldn’t leave her here if she wasn’t.”

“I’d still feel better with a more senior member of your security team watching over her.”

“Well, I just reassigned Harrison to Mia, at your request, and since Sawyer left, that makes James the most senior member I have available.”

I frown. “That’s not true. What does Taylor do all day? Can’t we get him?”

Christian laughs, then leads me through the small sitting room and past a gate with a latch too high for anyone under the age of six to reach. From there, we find several rooms, organized by the age of the children inside, surrounding one large play area.

“She’s in the caterpillar room,” Christian says, motioning to the door farthest to the left. I hitch the baby higher up on my hip and follow him inside. It’s a larger space than I imagined, with fewer children inside. There are small wooden cubbies all along one wall, and cribs against the other. The majority of the floor is covered in brightly colored pieces of rubber that fit together like puzzle pieces and every toy you could possibly imagine.

“There she is!” Mackensie cries, locking eyes with Calliope the moment she spots us.

“Ki-ki! Ki-ki!” My baby throws her body in the direction of our nanny, making it difficult for me to hang onto her, but the excited squeals she makes trying to get away from me hurt more than her little feet kicking fervently against my chest ever could.

Kensie grunts as she takes the baby out of my arms and carries her across the room. I stand there, watching her being introduced to the other children and handed toys before Christian finally pulls me away to speak with the teachers. They give me an overview of the kinds of activities she’ll be doing during the day and what her schedule is going to be like going forward. Christian’s hired a speech expert to help her expand her vocabulary more quickly and efficiently, and there’s a dietician on staff to prepare healthy meals that both provide optimal nutrition and are loved by even the pickiest eaters. She’ll be exposed to art and music, and there’s a reading corner filled with books the staff read to the children every afternoon. It’s the perfect place to care for my baby while I’m at work all day, but that doesn’t make it any easier to leave her here.

“She’s going to be fine,” Christian promises me. “And I’m just upstairs if she needs something. Even if it’s just to come sit with me awhile.”

“I know.” I watch her gaping at a child next to her, who is playing with a toy, with complete and utter fascination. Part of me expects her to try and rip it out of his hands, but she doesn’t. Kensie encourages her to share and she does without complaint.

“We should go,” Christian says. “It’ll be better for her if she doesn’t have to watch us leave.”

My bottom lip trembles as he wraps an arm around me and leads me out of the room. By the time we make it back out to the hallway, I break down completely.

“Hey… baby. She’s going to be fine. She was having fun.”

“I know, that’s the problem! She doesn’t even care that we’re leaving her.”

“You wanted her to cry?”

“No! And… yes. A little. I don’t want her to be sad but I want her to want me around. She didn’t even notice that we left. This is how it happens, Christian. One day, she’s going to leave us and this is where it starts.”

He laughs at my melodrama and pulls me into him. “She’s not even a year old yet, Ana.”

“Yeah, well you’re going to blink and she’s going to be eighteen.”

“Then I’ll try not to blink.” He kisses my forehead and tugs me away from the daycare, towards the elevators, and then walks me back out to the car to send me off on my first day. Woods is there to open the door for me, but before I climb back into the SUV, I pause and take a moment to find my zen. Trauma from leaving Calliope behind aside, taking this job isn’t the same as accepting my internship with SIP, and that’s been playing on my nerves all morning. Greenwich isn’t a new player in the industry, they’ve been established in this city for over seven years. And while sales have suffered, the name still carries weight. I am now responsible for every piece of literature this publishing house produces going forward. It’s going to be my job to lead, to give the company vision, and to re-carve out our place in an overcrowded, highly competitive industry. Yesterday, that prospect had me dancing around the house with excitement. Now, I’m mostly nauseated.

“I can do this, right?” I ask, looking up at Christian with pleading eyes, and to my surprise, he looks taken aback.

“Of course you can.”

“But… what I’m a disaster? What if SIP was a fluke and I’m about to go run this publishing house into the ground?”

He laughs. “Then I’ll buy up the authors’ contracts cheap and have one less competitor to worry about. It’s a win/win, really.”

I glare, but he simply leans down and presses his lips softly into mine. “Anastasia, you’ve earned this. No one gave you special favors or pushed you ahead because you have my name. You worked your ass off for years to gain the experience that got you here. This is because of your talent, and your mind. Yes, you’ll make mistakes, that’s unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to fail. Elizabeth is at the top of her field and she didn’t graduate from Harvard. She isn’t a New York Times bestselling author. And she didn’t build her first publishing house at 21. You did. You are going to be incredible, Anastasia. I just can’t wait to see what you’re going to do.”

I take a breath and smile. “Thank you. I really do love you, you know that?”  

“I do.” He releases me, but swipes his thumb across my cheek affectionately before fully letting me go. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“I won’t,” I say with a laugh, only realizing after he’s shut me inside the car and we begin to pull away what sage advice that really is. Christian knows what it takes to be successful. He takes risks, he follows his instincts, and he always manages to do the impossible. I’ll get through this, as long as I don’t do anything Christian wouldn’t do.

Much as I did the last time I arrived at GSP, I take the time to appreciate the art deco feel of the building before going inside. It’s a stark contrast to Christian’s ultra modern skyscraper a few blocks down the road. There are no digital keypads in hidden panels or walls entirely comprised of ultra high definition screens. This office is industrial in the purest sense of the word: brick walls, wood floors, and exposed beams. I think I prefer it this way. Christian’s office is beautiful, a architectural feat that is sure to one day be considered one of the crowning jewels of this city, but there’s something about the loud echo of my footsteps inside the poorly insulated halls and the faint smell of age and dust that brings me right back to the halls of Harvard. There’s comfort in that. Like Christian’s reassurances this morning, it reminds me who I am and why I’m here.

“Last chance,” Woods says, a slightly teasing tone in his voice as his hand pauses on the handle of the door to the GSP lobby.

I smile and reach up to touch his arm. “Awh, there’s no reason to be nervous, Woods. I’m going to be with you the whole day. Everyone is going to love you.”

He laughs, then pulls open the door, and I walk up to the receptionist feeling the levity of my joke propelling me forward. “Good morning.”

“Mrs. Grey,” the petite redhead behind the counter greets me. “Welcome to Greenwich Small Press.”

“Thank you. Penny, right?”

“Uh, yeah.” She looks taken aback. “I’m surprised you remembered.”

“I try.” I smile, then wait as she picks up the receiver to her phone.

“Mr. Wallace, Mrs. Grey has arrived. Yes, sir.” She hangs up and turns back me. “Can I take your coffee order now, Mrs. Grey? I’ll be going out around 09:30.”

“Coffee order?”

“Mr. Wallace isn’t partial to brewed coffee, he has me make a Starbucks run every morning before his afternoon meetings.”

“Does he?”

“Yes, ma’am. He says this country runs on caffeine. I’d be happy to pick something up for you as well.”

“Thank you, Penny, but I don’t think that…”

“Anastasia!” a voice interrupts me from across the room. I turn and see Scott Wallace approaching, a grin stretched wide across his face and his hand held out for mine. “Welcome to Greenwich.”

“Thank you, Scott,” I reply, accepting his handshake. Once he releases me, he reaches into his jacket, pulls out his wallet, and takes out a twenty.

“Grab me some lunch on your way back, sweetheart,” he says to Penny. “I expect our department meeting will go long this afternoon and I’m going to need to eat by eleven if I’m going to meet my protein macros today.”

Sweetheart?

“Yes, Mr. Wallace.”

“And, no gluten.”  

“No, sir.”

“You’re a doll, Penny. You’re a doll.” He winks at her, making a clicking sound with his cheek as he points at her with his fingers in the shape of a pistol. She blushes and quickly settles back into her chair, but I don’t think the flush in her cheeks is from bashfulness. I think it’s embarrassment, or maybe anger she’s unable to express to a superior.

“You know, Scott,” I say defensively. “I’d really prefer our receptionist not spend any unnecessary time away from her desk. Her job is to answer the phones and to greet anyone who comes through that door. It seems to me running errands to coffee shops prevents her from doing that.”

He gives me a placating smile. “We’re not a busy office, Ana. We don’t have many appointments, and the phones hardly ever ring.” I raise an eyebrow and, as if in direct contradiction to what he just told me, a call comes through the phone on Penny’s desk. She smirks as she picks it up and I look back at Scott.

“Perhaps it would be better if your PA took care of your errands from here on out.”

His face falls. “My PA has her hands full with actual work, Anastasia, reviewing submissions for my approval. I know you’re new here, so perhaps you don’t understand how much is about to fall onto your plate, but I assure you, having Penny run down the street for a coffee and a cobb salad is a much better use of company resources.”

“Mr. Wallace,” Penny interrupts. “Ms. Gallagher is on line one for you.”

“I’ll take it in my office,” he says, then looks back to me. “I’m sorry, I’ll take it in Ana’s office.”

He turns and disappears into the back office I had my interview in, while I sigh and face the receptionist again. “Penny, this is Evan Woods, my personal security. Will you help find a place for him?”

“Of course, Mrs. Grey.”

“And Woods, I hate to ask but would you mind running down the block to Starbucks when it’s time? I’d really prefer reception not be left uncovered.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Thank you.” Penny gets up to show Woods to an empty desk near the back office, and I take  the opportunity alone to get acquainted with the office. The open floor space is covered with small clusters of desks that belong to each department – the editors, agents, creative team, marketing and advertising, and web design. I saunter between each division, trying to subtly observe my new employees at work without disturbing them, until Wallace finally pokes his head out of the back office.

“Ana.” It’s a summons, so I excuse myself from the introductions I’d been making with Mrs. Thompson, the head of HR, and make my way back to him. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to have you here,” he says, as he closes the door behind us. “This travelling back and forth from New York twice a week is killing me.”

“Well, I’m excited to get started.”

“Good, have a seat.” There’s a small sofa and coffee table to the right of the desk that he gestures for, so I settle down on the leather cushion and wait expectantly. He picks up a sheet of paper from the printer, which looks as though it may also serve as a fax machine, and places it on the table in front of me.

“Carmen just sent this over for you,” he explains. “It’s a non-compete agreement.”

“Non-compete?”

“It simply states that if you choose to resign, you will not take employment with one of our competitors or start a competing business, nor will you disclose any confidential information about company practices to any other players in the industry.”

“You mean to say that it’s a contract to prevent me from stealing all of your trade secrets and taking them to Grey Publishing.”

“I’m afraid Ms. Gallagher insists. She’s asked to have this document faxed back to her the moment you’ve signed.”

“So, I can assume she won’t be making a trip to Seattle any time soon?”

“GSP is more of a side line for Gallagher Industries, so Carmen tends to be fairly hands off. I’ll be your main point of contact until you get on your feet here, then you’ll mostly be on your own.”

“I see.” I reach over to pick up the document he’s brought to me and begin to read. It looks fairly standard, almost identical to the non-disclosure agreement I signed for my internship at GEH two summers ago, except for the restriction on taking other employment in the industry or starting a competing publishing house of my own. I see the merit in that. Greenwich is making a huge gamble by hiring someone who has such close ties to their largest industry competitor, no matter how qualified I am. And since I really do want to launch my career separate from my husband’s name and company, it’s not necessarily that which gives me pause. What keeps me from simply scrolling my signature across the line on the bottom of the page is my currently unpublished manuscript. I have no idea how that will play into my responsibilities to Greenwich under this contract, and I’m not prepared to sign the rights to my own work away without even having the choice to review my options.

“One moment please.” I stand and go to the door, then call for Woods to join us in the office. Scott looks slightly perplexed as to what I’m doing, but I keep my attention focused on my CPO to keep arguments and questions at a minimum.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey?”

“I’m going to need my lawyer to look over this,” I tell him, holding out the non-compete agreement. “Would you please get a copy of this to Astor Harrington and let him know that it’s urgent. I’ll need it back as soon as possible.”

“Uh, Ana, this isn’t really negotiable,” Scott says. “I need a signature on that document or there’s nothing more we can do here.”

“Then this should have been sent to me last week when I signed the rest of my contracts.” He blinks as Woods pulls the non-compete from my hands and turns back towards reception. I watch him hand the document to Penny and when she gets up to place it in the fax machine, Woods pulls out his cell phone to make a call.

“Well,” I say, turning back to Scott. “Since this means we won’t be able to go over our current workload, I suggest we take the time to discuss expectations. Tell me what I need to know to succeed here.”

He sighs in frustration, but nods and moves across the couch to make room for me. We spend a good hour and a half discussing the structure of the company and how our roles play together. While he’ll be here help me get settled in and ease my transition with our employees, he really is just my New York counterpart. I’ll report directly to Carmen Gallagher, though he’s clear that I shouldn’t involve our CEO unless “the place is burning down.”

“I have utter confidence that you’re going to navigate your way through this position flawlessly, Anastasia. But I’ve been here a long time. If you have questions or need to talk something out, call me. If we can’t figure it out together, then we’ll talk to Carmen.”

I nod. “Okay.”

“Mr. Wallace,” Penny says, knocking on the office door and poking her head inside. “They’re ready for you in the conference room.”

“Have we received Mrs. Grey’s non-compete yet?” Scott asks.

“Mr. Harrington is holding on line one.”

“Thank you, Penny.” I get up, move to the desk that’s now mine, and pick up the receiver, but I don’t actually answer the holding call until Scott has left the room with our receptionist. Once the door is closed, I push my finger into the button next to the blinking light.

“Hi, Astor. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“No problem, Ana. I looked the agreement over and it seems fairly standard. I wouldn’t caution against you signing it.”

“Would this have any affect on my work independent from GSP? I have a novel that’s finished but unpublished and I’m not sure I’m willing to limit my distribution rights to Greenwich. I’ve previously worked for large publishers and I don’t believe GSP has the production capability I would expect.”

“I’d feel comfortable defending your rights to pursue outside opportunities for publishing under this contract,” he says. “But if you’d like me to draft an addendum making those rights clear, I’d be more than happy to do so.”

“That’s alright. If your comfortable, I’m comfortable.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence. Make sure they send me a copy of the agreement once you’ve signed. I want the signed version on file should any issues arise.”

“Will do. Thank you, Astor.”

“My pleasure, Ana. Have a good afternoon.”

“You too, bye.” I hang up, feeling a little more confident, and head out into the main office. Several faces have disappeared, assumedly for the meeting Scott is attending. I pick up the satchel bag Christian gifted to me before my interview from Wood’s desk, remove my laptop so I can take notes, and then make my way up to reception.

“Penny, did Woods give you a fax number for Mr. Harrington?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good.” I pick up the non-compete agreement from her desk, sign the line next to the one that already bears Carmen’s signature, and hand it back to her. “Will you please send this to Ms. Gallagher and Mr. Harrington as soon as possible.”

“Of course, Mrs. Grey.” She takes the paper from me and goes to the fax machine, and I turn back for the conference room for my first official meetings as head of this branch.

Despite the fact that the meeting has started by the time I enter the room, it doesn’t appear that I’ve missed much. Scott is distracted, typing on his phone, while Mrs. Thompson shares baby pictures she received in her email this morning from an employee who is currently out on maternity leave. I apologize for being late, open my laptop on the table, and wait expectantly, but the casual chatter around the table has stopped now that I’m seated at the table and the other department heads look at each other uncertainly.

“Alright,”  Scott says, setting his phone on the table. “First thing’s first. Team, this is Anastasia Grey. I’m sure you’re aware, but she’s been brought on to head this branch going forward.”

“And in six months we’ll all get pink slips and our authors will be sold to Grey Publishing,” someone across from me hisses. I glance up from my laptop and notice a few agreeing nods around the table that take me a little by surprise.

“Today,” Scott continues, ignoring the remark but speaking more firmly, “is her first day. So, let’s get her up to speed. Stevens, since you’re so eager for attention this morning, why don’t we start with you?”

The man across the table, who had interrupted him earlier, stiffens and hastily reaches for the papers in front of him. I start at him, feeling conflicted. Should I have addressed what he just said? Christian would have… wouldn’t he?

“Okay,” Stevens begins. “Brooks has decided on EHar-Money: The Business of Online Dating for his title on the examination of the internet dating industry, so that’s finally going to the printers the afternoon. We’re on schedule for a May 1st publication. We’ve got Angela Rowe’s contract in the can, so Mrs. Weatherbaffle’s Wishing Tree is going into the first round of editing this week. And we’ve got the numbers in for Pineheart’s latest mystery. They’re not as strong as his previous titles, but I’m not worried yet.”

“Fine,” Scott says. “Keep an eye on Pineheart. I’m sure Mrs. Grey here will want another review of his numbers before we option his next book.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can I just…” I hold up a finger at Scott and turn a confused look on Stevens. “I’m sorry, I just want to make sure I understand our frontlist here… Your currently representing a non-fiction title, a children’s book, and a crime drama?”

“Yes, Mrs. Grey.”

I frown. “Is that common? That you all work with authors in multiple genres?”

“Yeah,” Stevens replies. “Genre plays very little into our process here. Once our agents find a manuscript their interested in, they’ll send it to you, you’ll approve it for representation and have a contract drafted. Then it’s given to one of us.”

“At random?”

“There’s an order,” a woman a few spots down clarifies. “The agents are on a rotation, and submissions get assigned as the come in. Once the contract is signed, whichever one of us is available takes it.”

I frown. At SIP, our copy and acquisition editors were divided into departments based on the genres they felt passionate about – fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, high fantasy, sci-fi… It’s how we ensured each author had absolutely the best person available to help them through their journey. I wouldn’t expect someone with a thirst for horror stories to provide the same level of dedication they’d give to Stephen King as they would someone like Danielle Steel.

“I suppose I just don’t understand why we would take the stance that any of us are better serving an author at random than we would when their work was hand selected based on mutual interest in the subject matter.”

“It’s how we keep the workload even,” Scott answers. “We find an agent’s time is the most valuable asset they can give to an author and that’s impossible if they’re juggling a disproportionate amount of titles compared to the rest of their department.”

“It’s called teamwork, Mrs. Grey,” someone says from the other side of the table, as if they expect I’ve never heard the word before. I narrow my eyes.

“Right. I just hadn’t considered we were dealing with volume so high that the number of hours we have to spend with each of our authors has been commoditized. Personally, I think I’d trade quantity for quality any day.”

The room falls silent and every pair of eyes around the table turns to Scott. He smiles, but his fingertips are white against the table. “Of course, we do the best with what we have, Ana. But as the number of titles being self-published rises and saturates the market, we’re forced to keep up. We’re a business, first and foremost.”

“And wouldn’t it be better for business if we were publishing ten titles that sold 50,000 copies instead of 100 titles that sold 1,000?”

“It would. And that’s why you’re here, Ana. You’ve got your eyes set on the great white whale, go reel him in.” While encouraging on the surface, I can tell that his words are a placation. A way to get me to drop it. But I shouldn’t. I won’t. This isn’t a disagreement over whether or not the receptionist should be used to run personal errands, this is high level, business strategy. And while I’m not going to compromise when the numbers clearly show his model is failing, this is not a debate I intend to have with Scott in front of every department head before I’ve even earned their trust.

So instead, I spend the rest of the meeting trying to get everything on the frontlist down. What we’ve signed, what’s currently out to print, and what we’re actively searching out for future publication. It seems our bottom line this year is relying heavily on the work of one author, who has proven successful to GSP in the past, and a hail mary that we haven’t even discovered yet. That’s the note Scott leaves the group with, to get all of their best manuscripts to me for review so I can approve GSP’s next best seller. Then he dismisses everyone and reaches out the door to take the lunch Woods brought back for him before he has the same meeting again, on video conference, with the New York branch.

With Scott out of commission for the next few hours, there’s nothing for me to really do but go back to my office and begin sorting through the submissions the agents on staff immediately begin to flood my inbox with. It’s adequate to fill the rest of my afternoon, and a good chunk of my week for that matter, but as I skim through the best of the best that we currently have in the pipeline, I can’t find a single sample that I would even want to request more pages of. There’s a lack of vision. Direction. And as I reply ‘no’ to the eighth first chapter I’ve read, I remember that all of that falls to me now. I am now responsible for every piece of literature this publishing house produces going forward. Gallagher, Wallace… they’re expecting me to work miracles to get them back to the top of the Seattle publishing food chain, but with what I’m being given, not even a miracle is going to be able to save us.

“Mrs. Grey?” I turn in the direction of the voice and look down at the speaker on my phone.

“Yes, Penny?”

“There’s a Miss Palermo here to see you.”

“Here?”

“Yes, ma’am. Should I tell her you’re unavailable?”

“No. No, send her back.” I give a cursory glance over my desk, racking my brain for something I might have forgotten that would be urgent enough for my literary agent to track me down at work, then stand and straighten my skirt as my door opens.

“Greenwich Small Press?” Lydia demands the moment she steps into my office. Small. Press?! This is what you’ve put your next book on hold for, Anastasia? For this I turned away Random House?”

“That’s right. So if you’re here to harass me for chapters, you’ve wasted a trip.”

She sighs. “Not entirely. While I was hoping I’d get here and be able to talk some sense into you, I mostly stopped by to give you this. It arrived for you at my office on Friday.”

She holds out a manila envelope, which I take with a real degree of confusion until I rip away the seal and pull out a manuscript with a note taped to the front.

 

Dear Ms. Steele,

Thank you again for giving me the courage to achieve this dream that I never knew I had. Because of you, I’ve finally found who I’m meant to be. This novel is dedicated to you.

Hailey Lewis

 

The girl I met at my book signing. I asked her to send her manuscript to my agent so I could look over it and give her my feedback.

“Oh, great. Thank you, Lydia.”

She waves me off. “No thank you necessary. A copy of your manuscript is plenty thanks enough.” She holds out her hand expectantly, like I would be able to materialize a printed copy of my draft out of thin air even if I did want to give it to her. My expression twists with irritation.

“Like I said, you’re wasting your time. My second title is on hold until I’m ready to share it with the world. I’m not going to be pressured into publishing any sooner than that.”

She deflates. “Fine. Call me when that happens. In the meantime, if there’s anything you need, let me know.”

“I wouldn’t say no if you wanted to some authors my way.”

“Greenwich Small Press, Anastasia.” She grimaces. “What about your experience with me leads you to believe I do anything small?”

I smile and shake my head. “Goodbye, Lydia.”

“Goodbye, Anastasia. I hope you find whatever it is that will make you publish soon. I’ve been eyeing a condo in the Dominican Republic and I need your commission checks to get me there. You’re gonna be big!”

She waves over her shoulder as she saunters out of my office, and I roll my eyes before collapsing back into my chair. The manuscript she left feels meaty, too much so for me to start while I’ve still got an inbox full of submissions to wade through, so I slip it into my bag and half forget it’s there as I settle in and turn my attention back to my work. Work that feels as impossible as the search for the holy grail.

Next Chapter

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