Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Cover Reveal - Twist!

Happy WIP Wednesday, everyone! 

My participation has left something to be desired, but I promise you, it's because I've been absolutely snowed under, with about a million balls I'm juggling at the same time. 

Balls, ha ha. I've the sense of humour of a teenage boy. 

Anyhoo, less about what I find funny and more about Twist - the next Erotic Collective anthology! If you like plot twists and all-around unexpectedness, you'll love this bundle. It's filled with sexy and smutty and completely unpredictable goodness. 

My story in this collection is called A Touch of Blackmail. It features a dominant guy and a woman who's blackmailing him for sex. Ahem. Of course, things aren't quite what they seem... 

(Side note: Tone-wise, this story is light and fun, and a lot closer to Storm's tone than say, Assassin's Revenge, which is darker. It's a little confection of a story and I had a blast writing it.)  

So let's jump to the excerpt, shall we? Here's the full Chapter 1. 

A Touch of Blackmail by Tara Crescent

Chapter 1

“Change of plans,” my friend Anna chirps into the phone. “We can’t meet at The Friendly Drinker.”
Oh thank heavens, I want to say. The Friendly Drinker is constantly on the brink of being shut down by the health department. Every time I eat there, I feel like I’m one forkful away from food poisoning. Or from spending the night kneeling next to the toilet, puking my guts out.
Though that might also be the drinking. Anna, Beth, Joan and I can pound it back, or we think we can. In our minds, we are trying to deny that adulthood is slowly encroaching, and our days of carefree drinking adventures are over.
“Why not?” I ask absently. An email has appeared in my inbox from Ted Ashburn. I sigh and look at the time. Almost seven on a Friday evening, and Theodore Philip Ashburn is sending me email. Jackass.
I ignore it and listen to Anna. “The place got shut down,” she says. “They found rats in the kitchen.”
Ugh. I shudder at that. I know some people have rats as pets. My brother Steve is one of them. He can never stop gushing about how intelligent they are. But I can never see them as anything but disease-carrying vermin, no matter how many times I watch Ratatouille.
“There’s a bar at the street corner,” I tell Anna. “How about there? My treat.”
I make sure to mention I’m paying. Anna is a struggling actress. Off-Broadway, walk-on parts, that kind of thing. Beth writes for a small magazine in Brooklyn. Money is always tight for these two. Hence the dirt-cheap pitchers at the Friendly Drinker.
“How expensive is it?” she asks directly. The four of us are open about money. Joan’s a lawyer and I’m an investment banker and we don’t struggle financially. Beth and Anna, on the other hand, live paycheck to paycheck. There’s an old Friends episode about this kind of thing – Ross and Monica and Chandler always want to go to expensive places, while Rachel, Phoebe and Joey can’t afford it. Us, we deal with it by being honest about our financial situations. We’ve been friends for a very, very long time. We aren’t going to let money come between us.
“Fifteen bucks for a mixed drink,” I reply. “Ten for a pint.”
“Well, fuck me,” she replies.
A beep sounds; I have yet another email from the infuriating Mr. Ashburn. I ignore it as well. “Anna,” I beg my friend. “I have another hour of work here before I can leave. Can we please go to the bar downstairs, and I will owe you for life?”
“Okay,” she agrees. “See you at eight?”
I look at the waiting emails. “Make it eight thirty,” I respond.
Ted Ashburn. Transferred from the London office; he’s been assigned to work with me on the due diligence for the Hartland bank merger project. In three short months, he’s become the bane of my work existence.
I want to say that I hate working with him, but it’s more complicated than that. Part of it is that he is ridiculously hot, almost to the point of farce. He’s got this young Colin Firth thing going on, except with stubble and these slightly nerdy glasses that just make me want to rip them off, along with the rest of his clothes, then do nasty, sweaty things to him.
Pertinent side-note - the investment banking firm of Statham, Brown and Clarkson has a zero-tolerance policy on employees dating each other.
I scan Ted’s email briefly, something about numbers and projections and other such nonsense. Then I ignore it. He’s welcome to be all gung-ho about work on a fucking Friday night. Me, I’m going to go drink some pitchers of beer with my girls.
I’m about to grab my jacket and head out the door when I’m intercepted by John Clarkson. He’s one of the named partners. He’s a big deal.
“Natalie,” he leans against the doorway of my tiny office. “Still here?”
Damn it. Had he been just three minutes later, I would have left. Now, I’m going to have to endure a prolonged work conversation on Friday evening when all I want to do is go downstairs and drink the pint of beer that’s waiting for me. No, scratch that. The pitcher of beer that’s waiting for me.
Kill me now. End the agony.
“I was just leaving,” I tell him but he ignores the hint.
“Great job on the Hartland bank merger,” he says. “I was talking to Jamie earlier today. He can’t stop singing your praises. And I hear Ted’s doing excellent work as well.”
I can’t lie. Ted is doing fantastic work, mostly because unlike me, Ted actually gives a damn. It’s one of the things that makes him annoying. “Thank you,” I reply. “Yes, Ted’s been really helpful.” I’m never sure how to address John Clarkson. Mr. Clarkson seems really formal. Sir is a word I reserve only for bedroom games, but calling him John makes him sound like he’s my buddy. So I avoid calling him anything. A proper grown-up, that’s me.
“We are lucky to steal him from the London office,” he confides. “Anyway, I don’t want to keep you. Just saw your light on and I thought I’d congratulate you. And Natalie, I think I’m going to have both you and Ted work on the Brannon account next.”
The Brannon account is prestigious, so I smile brightly and thank him again. Inside, I roll my eyes. In the batshit crazy world of investment banking, dumping a buttload of work on me is considered a reward. Delightful.
Ted will be thrilled though. He’s just the sort. Still, I can’t complain too much. Every project is useful on my resume.
It’s late. The office is almost empty and I’m eager to get out of there and get my weekend started. When I head to the bar downstairs, I’m the second one there. Beth’s already nursing a pitcher and chatting up the guy behind the bar.
When she sees me, she ceases the casual flirting and we slide over into an open booth. “I didn’t mean to interrupt,” I incline my head towards the bartender. He’s got that hipster thing going on – flannel shirt, sideburns and square glasses. Cute if you like the type.
“You didn’t,” she replies. “He’s a bartender. He’s only flirting for the tip. How was your week?”
In response, I pour myself a glassful of beer and down half of it in one gulp. “That bad?” she asks sympathetically.
“Worse.” My reply is succinct. “I’ve worked till midnight every single day this week.” I frown. “I’m in my fourth year. It feels like it should get easier, but it doesn’t. It’s the treadmill that goes faster every year and there’s no way to get off.”
“Have you applied for that job at that environmental firm you talked about last week?” she asks me.
I wince and shake my head. McQuade and Perlman is a small boutique firm that invests in early stage environmental startups. Once upon a time, I used to work for nonprofits that wanted to save the world. Then I grew up and realized money talked and companies needed to be well-funded to accomplish their mission. Now, I dream about being the one to choose which environment-saving company to invest in.
McQuade and Perlman is the place to be if you want to make a difference and still pay rent. I’ve wanted to work there for the longest time, but I’ve been procrastinating on doing anything about it. Mostly because if they say no, I don’t have another good option other than to keep working at SB&C, and the idea of that makes me want to curl up in a tight ball and cry. And drink and maybe even scream a little.
“Natalie,” Beth uses the same nagging voice that my mother would use. “Why not?”
“Because…” My voice trails off. “It’s complicated.”
Her expression is a perfect mix of understanding and severity. Beth would make a great parent.  “Get it done, Nat,” she tells me firmly. “I dare you.”
“Mmm-hmm.” My reply is non-committal. I pour myself another pint and we talk about other things.
Two hours later, I’m well and truly buzzed. My thoughts drift all over the place and I’m barely paying attention to the conversation at the table. The place is crowded and service is slow. Empty pitchers litter our table. A few solitary French fries, now cold and soggy, sit on a platter in the center. Used as we are to the similar charms of the Friendly Drinker, we aren’t particularly fussed.
“Earth to Natalie,” I hear a voice say. “Are you in?”
I give myself a little shake and turn my attention back to my friends. “What?”
Anna rolls her eyes. “Cole is doing this live art thing at Beltline Park,” she says. Cole’s her boyfriend. He’s another flannel wearing, sideburn possessing hipster. Could be the bartender’s twin, honestly. His art is actually quite introspective and interesting, but I’d be damned if I’m telling him that. I find him pompous, narcissistic and insufferable. “Reclaimed spaces, Reclaimed bodies, remember? He’s looking for volunteers. Men, women, all shapes, all sizes. You in?”
Cole wants us to strip off our clothes in Beltline Park. Artists. “Cole’s nuts,” I say flatly, not bothering to mince my words. “We’d all get arrested in ten minutes. No thanks.”
Joan smirks openly and Anna hands her twenty bucks. I frown at them, wondering what’s going on.
“We had a bet,” Joan explains. “Anna thought you might do it. I didn’t.” She shakes her head. “This from the girl who once streaked across NYU’s quad shouting something about saving the sharks.”
“The movie Jaws made sharks appear as predators when they really weren’t,” I start hotly, then their words sinks in. They think I’m a goodie-goodie two shoes. “That’s not fair. I still do crazy stuff.”
In case you need reminding, there’s four empty pitchers on the table, and the fifth one is half-full. And there’s four of us at the table. I’m going to use this as an excuse for what happens next.
“Please,” Anna mocks. “Face it, Nat, the bank has taken over. You dress like them,” she waves at my neat charcoal grey suit with the crisp cotton blue shirt from Brooks Brothers, “…you drink in their bars. You have become one of them.”
“I’m not one of them.” Not at heart. I just have to play the role, right? There’s more to me than the banker.
“You haven’t applied for the job you really want,” Beth points out. Traitor. “Maybe you really are content with your job, Nat. It’s okay to like the money. Fuck, I’d kill to make as much coin as you.”
What she’s telling me is that it’s fine to sell out. But it’s not. I’m not okay with this. “I’m still who I am,” I say weakly. I tell myself I’m trying to convince them, but I’m really trying to convince myself.
“Prove it.” Beth is often quiet, but she’s the craziest one of the bunch. It comes from spending too much time on the internet. When you spend your days researching mothers who insist on breast-feeding their eight-year old children, kids who will undoubtedly spend thousands of dollars and much of their future lives in therapy as a result, you lose your real world filter. “Do something crazy.”
Anna leans forward, her eyes gleaming. “Something better than crazy. Something illegal.”
“I can pee in the alley behind this place,” I suggest.
Joan, the lawyer, rolls her eyes at that. “Please,” she scoffs. “At the worst, that’s a misdemeanor and a fifty dollar fine. If you are going to do something, do something good. That is not a professional opinion, by the way,” she adds hastily.
I’m assuming that encouraging your friends to break the law for kicks and giggles is kind of the thing that the New York Bar Association would frown on. “How do you know?” I challenge her, hoping to get them distracted. “Did you pee in the streets, Joanie?”
She blushes and I know I’ve got this. I can feel it. Everyone’s going to focus on Joan and bam! No more talk of Natalie doing something illegal.
Except right then, all three of their heads swivel to the entrance. I follow their gazes and groan silently. Theodore fucking Ashburn has just walked into the bar.
“That guy,” Beth sighs. Her expression is dreamy. “Do something with that guy. Something horribly, deliciously illegal. Have sex with him in public.”
Alcohol does not make you smarter, people. It makes you do stupid shit.
“What?” My voice comes out in a high-pitched squeak. “You guys, I work with him. That’s Ted Ashburn.”
Everyone instantly zooms in on me. “That’s the pain in the ass, brown-nosing co-worker you’ve been bitching about? Umm, Natalie, are you blind? Have you noticed that he’s as hot as all fuck?”
Yes, I’ve noticed. Trust me, Ted Ashburn’s hotness is hard to conceal.
Beth grins. There’s a devil-may-care gleam in her eyes. “That’s it, then. Something illegal involving that guy. Not citation-illegal, Natalie. Properly illegal. Jail-time illegal.”
Joan covers her ears with her hands. “Plausible deniability,” she says in explanation. “Don’t do it, Natalie. Don’t be stupid.”
About the only excuse I have for this entire conversation is the pitchers of beer. We are on the sixth pitcher now. Just in case anyone’s keeping count.
“I don’t want to rot in jail,” I protest.  
Beth rolls her eyes at me. “Would the Natalie who boarded that Japanese whaler have said that?”
No. I used to do a bunch of crazy stunts to try to draw attention to the environmental devastation that confronts us. I boarded whaling ships. I wrote messages on my breasts. I was very young once, and very naïve.
Anna is watching this back-and-forth with an intrigued look. “You want to,” she guesses. “I can tell, Nat. You think the guy’s hot.”
“Of course I think the guy’s hot,” I say, exasperated. “I mean, come on. I have eyes.” Ted’s now seated at the bar, with a glass of red wine in front of him. A beer’s evidently too good for Theodore Philip Ashburn. Pretentious idiot.
“I’d do sexual assault myself,” Beth says dreamily. Then she wilts under our collective glares. “Fine, fine, rape is a serious subject and I shouldn’t joke.”
“You bet your ass it is,” says Joan. “Natalie, as the only person here with her head on straight, I have to dissuade you from this crazy plan.” She glares at the other two, who are completely unabashed.
“Joan, stop it. Let Natalie have some fun.” Anna leans forward and voices the words that spell my doom, “Do we have a dare? An official dare, Nat. Something illegal and sexual with that guy.”
Most of the trouble I get into can be traced to one simple truth. I don’t know how to turn down a dare. No matter how stupid, no matter how inadvisable. You just add the words’ I dare you’, and some inner demon in me takes over, obliterating common sense.
And tonight, there’s seven empty pitchers at the table. Any kind of good sense has left the building. 

And look, it's not just me. There's eight of us in all & eight amazing stories. Get your twitchy little one-click fingers ready, lovely readers! The book comes out Friday! 

The other authors in this anthology: Livia Grant | Jennifer Bene | Sophie Kisker | Christine Hart | Alice Schermer | Richard North | Livnah A. Eden


And the other WIP participants are here...


  1. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear... someone is about to do something deliciously stupid and naughty with a hot guy. How wonderful ;) Those three little words 'I dare you' are responsible for so much LOL

  2. Such a scene :) you've been busy :)