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By´╝ÜGlenna Sinclair

I brushed a hand over my jaw. “Ricki mentioned you’d probably do that.”

It all seemed like too much fuss. It wasn’t the first time I’d gotten death threats since starting Cumming’s Treasure, but Ricki freaked out when she saw one of the emails on my phone earlier in the week when we met for dinner. I had to admit, this one was creepier than any of the others were, and this person was more persistent than any of the others were. However, it still felt like overreacting to have all this going on, especially having this super-hot guy staying with me at my apartment.

What had I gotten myself into?

“Mabel?” Carrie called from the door. “They’re waiting for you in the conference room.”

“Oh, yeah,” I muttered, climbing to my feet again. “I have a meeting with one of our video distributors,” I said to Kirkland.

“Lead the way.”

I glanced at him, a little uneasy about having him watch me do my job. I’d never been observed doing my job, at least not since I became my own boss almost two years ago. Before that, of course there were supervisors, which is part of the reason I went in search of a profitable business I could run on my own. Who wants someone looking over his or her shoulder all the time? Especially for just a bit more than minimum wage.

I was able to stay on my feet as we walked down the hall. I have this habit of tripping over things other people manage to walk over without an issue. John Callum stood as we walked through the door, greeting me.

“Mabel, it’s always a pleasure.”

It was a lie he spoke every time he came here. John Callum was the kind of guy who gave pornography the sleazy reputation it’d had all these years. I didn’t like dealing with him, but he ran the biggest studio in the state. If a website wanted to sell videos, they had to deal with John Callum, and videos were our biggest seller.

“I’m so glad you could make it out today, John.”

“No problem.”

He gestured for me to take my seat so that he could the gentleman and tuck me in. What he was really doing was patronizing me. However, I let him get away with it because it made him easier to handle.

“I realize we have a month left on our contract,” I began, “but I was hoping we could go ahead and renegotiate the new one.”

“Of course,” John said, leaning back in his chair.

I rested my hands on the table and studied my fingers, trying to look as subservient as I could. I wanted a fifteen video deal. Fifteen full-length, original videos every month that I could advertise and sell on my website. That was up five from our last contract. However, I didn’t want to pay more. The trick was going to be in convincing John that it was all his idea.

And that would have been hard enough without Kirkland Parish leaning against the wall beside the door, watching the men sitting around the table as if they were all potential threats. I could feel the weight of his presence—even though I couldn’t see him, and it was making my thoughts do funny things. I wasn’t sure I liked it.

“The last deal we worked out was really a work of art.”

John smiled. “Of course it was. I was the author.”

“You were. And you’re brilliant.”

He sat back and smiled, his eyes moving to his companions as though he was saying, “Told you I was brilliant.”

“I’m sure you can help me hammer out something just as brilliant this time.”

John’s eyebrows rose. “We were thinking we’d leave things just the way they are. Maybe up the cost by fifteen percent because the cost of living has gone up in the past year. We have to pay our actors.”

“Of course. And everyone knows how generous you are.”

John’s smile was even wider this time.

“The thing is, we’d like fifteen films a month instead of ten.”

“We can do that.”

“And the kick back to you, as always, will be thirty percent.”

John’s assistant leaned close to him and whispered something in his ear.

“Isn’t that what you’re paying now?”

“Well, yes. But our users know your name, and most of them go from our website to yours, so you’re getting twice as much traffic as we are.”

“Yes, but…”

“We generate more business for your website than I can imagine most of your advertising budget can do. We make sure that your name is prominent on the pages where your movies appear. And, I suppose you know this as well, your movies are the hottest sellers on our website. If it weren’t for you…”

I let the words fall, my voice growing more and more demure as I spoke. It worked like a charm. John’s face lit up, as if he bought every word I said. And he did. I could see that. But the truth was far different. His videos sold well on my website, but they weren’t the biggest seller. And we’d probably survive without him, if it had to come to that. The only reason we used him was because he was a God in this industry and the other, smaller distributors I preferred working with—and whose movies sold much better—wouldn’t work with me if I didn’t pay homage to the king. So this was how I did that.