All's Fair in Love and Advertising
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by Lenore Black
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica
Description: The life of a creative genius isn't all it's cracked up to be, not when said genius is Max Tomlin, hotshot creative director of his own New York ad agency and slightly neurotic headcase. Still reeling after a painful divorce, he's been taking a walk on the gay side, but that hasn't gone much better. At least his agency is in the running for a new account--even if the prospective client is from rural, backward Montana! Max's big-city prejudices go by the wayside when he meets Joe Bennett, aviation innovator and self-made businessman. Joe is smart, passionate, good-looking in a Marlboro Man way, and Max is hopelessly smitten. But business comes first, and Max can't afford any distractions, not when he has an account to win and Joe's legacy to protect. It's going to take all of Max's quick thinking, fast talking and sheer determination to win the account, save Joe's company--and keep their budding relationship from becoming a casualty of corporate warfare.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2010 2009
eBookwise Release Date: December 2009
47 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [195 KB]
Reading time: 119-166 min.
This well written story is filled with humor, quirky and interesting characters and has a plot that is simple yet has a nice twist towards the end. 5 of 5 stars Lily @ Rainbow Reviews
The problem with being a creative genius, a veritable advertising legend, Max Tomlin had found, was that everyone was out to get you. The list of people bent on his own personal destruction grew longer by the day: his ex-wife and former business partner, his current business partner and relentless taskmaster, all the pretty boys buzzing around like temptation, and, worst of all, the industry critics who kept predicting his demise with each new campaign, only to be proven utterly wrong by the sheer force of his brilliance.
Today, even the sun was persecuting him, blazing into his bedroom window at the outrageous hour of half past seven, slanting across the bed, hunting him down as he tried to huddle in what was left of the merciful darkness.
At last, he lifted his head. "Marco! Close the damned curtains."
Marco was his latest dalliance, a would-be actor who'd been born Dwayne or Darryl or something like that before taking a stage name in a fit of optimism. He didn't particularly resemble a "Marco," at least not in Max's opinion. He was slight and fair-haired with huge, fluttery blue eyes and soft creamy skin. When people pointed out that Marco bore an uncanny resemblance to Max's ex-wife, Christine Hunter, he waved them off impatiently. It was all purely a coincidence, he insisted.
"Marco!" Max called out more desperately. "Curtains!"
Then he remembered. Frederico, his interior designer, had talked him out of curtains. "Heavy folds of fabric," Frederico had scoffed. "How 2008!"
What Max had ended up with instead was more of a sail, a swoop of canvas that canted out from the top of the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows as if his bedroom were a three-masted schooner. A complicated pulley system anchored the sail, a true feat of window treatment engineering, and no doubt it would have been impressive if it hadn't been completely useless at keeping out the light. Frederico was so very fired.
Max reached out sleepily for Marco and got an armful of nothing. He pried one eye open, hardly worth the effort when his reward was a splitting pain in his temple. There was no sign of Marco anywhere, just a note left on the pillow. Max peered at it blearily. You fall sleep on me agin!!!
Here was reason number one hundred fourteen why this relationship was never going to last: functional illiteracy.
After several false starts, Max managed to crawl out of bed. One of the hallmarks of genius was learning from your mistakes, and he kept his eyes firmly shut to avoid the brutalities of glaring sunlight. He felt his way toward the kitchen, doing his best to avoid the furniture and a stubbed toe.
Last night had been the Advertising Society of America dinner, an annual nuisance, and Max had gone armed with a plan to minimize the tedious waste of his time. He was all set to put in the obligatory appearance, have a drink or two, and then slip out early and spend the rest of the evening at home in more satisfying pursuits, preferably in bed with Marco beneath him.
The plan had been going so well too. He'd shaken some hands, made some jokes, and endured the fawning attention of second-rate creatives who foolishly believed a little transparent ass-kissing was all it took to land a job at Tomlin Foster Worldwide. He'd finished his Scotch and made a break for the exit when he'd had the bad luck to get waylaid by Christine.
"Off so early?"
He'd turned slowly at the sound of her voice, and honestly, did the woman never age? At thirty-eight, Christine was no less a knockout than she had been in her twenties when they'd first met. Her blond hair was cut short to show off her cheekbones, her dress cut low to show off everything else. Not that Max noticed such things as a recently converted gay man, naturally. Christine had Max's replacement in tow, a blustering windbag with perfect hair and disturbingly white teeth.
"Christine. How lovely to see you." Max's mouth pulled down at the corners, as if his muscles were rebelling against his effort to look cheerfully unconcerned. "And... Phil, is it?"
"Bill," Christine corrected. "Campbell. Which you know perfectly well."
"Tomlin." Bill pumped Max's hand so hard that Max feared a dislocated shoulder. "You've probably heard the news already about the merger."
"Yes, yes, Hunter & Campbell, quite the ring to it."
The first time Max had seen the new nameplate on the building that had formerly been home to Hunter & Tomlin, he'd sincerely considered buying some spray paint and taking up vandalism.
"That's old news, buddy." Bill clapped Max on the back, nearly knocking him off his feet. "This is straight off the presses."
"We're getting married, Max," Christine said, cutting right to the chase.
Max could only stare. "You--" He flicked a glance over at Bill, who was smiling with all the telegenic vacuity of a politician. "Him."
Christine slipped her arm through Bill's and made embarrassing cow eyes at him. "The next time you see me, I'll be Mrs. Bill Campbell." She turned a smile on Max that felt suspiciously like a punch to the gut. "Have a nice night, Tomlin."
She swept away with Bill plastered to her side. Max glanced at the exit and then back over at the bar. It was no contest. The next thing he remembered was stumbling through the door of his apartment many hours--and he was guessing many Scotches--later.
Now he suffered a serious case of the morning after, his stomach lurching, his head pounding. He courageously persevered in his quest to make it to the kitchen. When his feet hit the cool slate tile, he took a shaky breath and braved opening his eyes again only to be greeted by a monstrous perversion. An oversized vase sat on the counter, the colored glass beads that usually filled it replaced by what looked to be every variety of tree nut known to man. Nuts! Marco knew perfectly well that Max was deathly allergic to them. He'd certainly never passed up any opportunity to remind him of that fact.
Another note sat propped up against the vase, scrawled in what looked like strawberry jam. How's this for decorashun?
"Huh," Max said aloud.
Apparently, he and Marco had broken up.
Oh well, Max told himself. This mismatch of a relationship had already dragged on longer than it probably should have, and if Marco couldn't see what a catch he had in Max, then that was his problem. Max was, after all, a man in his prime, that rarest of all creatures, a successful entrepreneur who still had all his hair. Dark brown hair, too, thank you very much, without a hint of gray anywhere. His blue eyes had been called "penetrating" on more than one occasion, and if he didn't get to the gym quite as often as he meant to, at least he hadn't gone pudgy in his late thirties the way so many of his colleagues had.
Max opened the fridge and took out the coffee tin, carefully checking that there were no nuts in his beans before grinding them. He wouldn't have put it past Marco to go in for a little anaphylactic vengeance. People were always threatening to kill Max. Somebody was actually going to attempt it one of these days.
Happily, though, the coffee was untampered with, and Max made a pot and drank it down, the whole thing, black and scalding. Afterward, he didn't feel exactly human, but at least he had enough strength to make it to the shower. Half an hour later, he was dressed and out the door.
Tomlin Foster Worldwide was a quick ten-block walk from Max's TriBeCa loft. He stopped off at his usual coffee place on the way, because that first pot was only a jumping-off point as far as he was concerned. The girl behind the counter smiled and handed him his cup. "Extra large, no cream or sugar, just the way you like it."
He fished out some cash and took a big, greedy gulp. "You're an angel of mercy."
They went through this same ritual every morning, down to the syllable, and the girl still blushed and giggled when she handed him his change.
Max turned the corner, and the gleaming glass tower that housed Tomlin Foster came into sight. All Max's senses sharpened. Even his hangover retreated a bit. He jogged up the steps and through the doors into the satisfyingly minimalist lobby, all glass and metal and clean lines. His spirits lifted even more.
He nodded to Carl, the security guard, who tipped his cap, and took the elevator up to the top floor. He was actually whistling as he stepped off the car. Work cured pretty much everything, in Max's opinion, even an ex-wife with unfathomable taste in second husbands and an illiterate ingrate of a boyfriend.
Of course, work was more of a salvation when his business partner, Judith Foster, or "The Barracuda," as he liked to call her behind her back, wasn't waiting to harangue him before he'd even had his tenth cup of coffee.
She met him at the glass doors that led to the agency's executive offices. "I thought we agreed you were going to let me deal with the conference room."
Judith was tall and dark-haired, attractive in a prim, schoolmarm kind of way. When she was unhappy with him, the way she was now, her eyebrows pinched together and her mouth pulled into a flat line. Max half expected her to point her finger and send him to the principal's office.
"What were you thinking, Max?" Judith demanded.
He shrugged. "Frederico was available, so I had him take a look. He had a vision."
Judith grabbed him by the sleeve and dragged him into the conference room. She was surprisingly strong.
"Hey! Watch it. That's English tailoring you're manhandling."
"Just look at this." Judith threw up her arms in exasperation. "We have a conference table the size of an ark."
"Ooh, coromandel ebony." Max shined the wood with his sleeve.
"We could fit two of every animal on this thing and still have room for your ego."
"Can you believe this patina? I can actually see my reflection in it."
"It's too big!" Judith shouted. "It's practically touching the walls. You have to suck in your breath to get around it."
"We'll just," Max waved his hand carelessly, "knock down some walls or something." He admired himself in the table's shiny surface, smoothing a hand over his hair.
"It's pretentious," Judith said, crossing her arms over her chest, "and it makes us look ridiculous."
Max lifted his chin. "Wrong, and I'll tell you why. This isn't just a table. It's a metaphor. All day, every day, our clients scratch and claw their way through an overcrowded marketplace. They have to live with compressed profit margins and shrinking budgets and spoiled consumers who are always demanding more, more, more. Then they come here to Tomlin Foster," he flung his arms out, "and they finally have some breathing room."
"Uh-huh," Judith said skeptically. She squeezed around the table, making her way to the far side of the room, and shouted, her voice echoing faintly. "How are people even supposed to hear each other?"
"Did I mention the sound system I ordered?" he shouted back.
She glared at him. "And just how much is that going to cost?"
"You can't put a price tag on making a good first impression," he said blithely, before heading off to his office.
He stopped in his tracks when he reached it. Sitting in the cubicle outside his door where his assistant should be--Gretchen, or Gretel, or maybe her name was Heather--was a complete stranger who looked to be all of twelve years old.
"Who are you?" he snapped impatiently.
The kid stood up and just kept unfolding and unfolding and unfolding. At a little over six feet tall, Max was no slouch in the height department, but he had to crane his neck to look this boy in the face. In his very, very pretty face. What was their personnel department trying to do to him?
"I'm Troy. It's such an honor to meet you, Mr. Tomlin." The very pretty boy fumbled with Max's hand, squeezing a little too tightly, his palm sweaty. There was a decidedly starry glint in young Troy's eyes.
"Oh, no, no, no," Max said. "This is wrong. All wrong."
He left Troy standing there looking rather bewildered and went to make an emergency call to their personnel director.
Kate Hoffman picked up on the first ring, as if she'd been expecting him. "Good morning, Max."
Max ignored her blatant attempt to derail him with common courtesy. "You know perfectly well I insist on female assistants. Why have you sent me a man-child with the looks of an Abercrombie and Fitch model? Are you just hoping I'll be able to avoid temptation? Because a gay man like myself is not made of stone."
"How long have you been gay now? Eight months, is it? Since about the time your ex-wife took up with her new business partner, if I remember correctly."
"Not the point!" Max huffed. "I need an assistant, not eye candy. Are you trying to give me a lawsuit? Or a bad case of blue balls? Or both? Just send back what's her name."
"Greta," Kate supplied. "And she quit, remember?"
"Greta. Right. I knew it was something like that. And just when did this quitting occur?"
"On Friday? The same day she started? There were tears? Ring any bells?"
"What about that other girl? What's-her-face. The one with the French name."
"Martine," Kate said in her deliberately patient voice. "She's out on disability for stress-related illnesses, which I've told you before. Illnesses, Max. As in more than one. When she comes back, I'm not reassigning her to you, so don't even ask me. I might as well hold a gun to the poor woman's head."
"Well, you can't stick me with Troy the centerfold," Max said sullenly.
"Just keep your hands to yourself, and it will all work out just fine."
"Kate, I don't think you understand what it's like to be a gay man who's just discovered his--"
"Max, you don't understand what it's like to be the personnel director who has to keep you in assistants." Apparently, Kate's store of patience had been exhausted, because she was kind of shouting. "This is it. Make it work with Troy or go without. I'm tired of sending perfectly good administrative help up there only to have you run them off before they can even finish the day. I've spoken to Judith about it, and she's backing me up all the way."
Kate hung up with a determined click before Max could get out so much as "But--"
He replaced the phone thoughtfully. Kate was giving him ultimatums now, was she? They'd just see about that. He got up from his desk and went out to speak with Troy.
"I'm sorry." He did his best to sound as if he meant it. "We're facing some budget cuts, and I'm afraid we've had to eliminate your position."
Troy blinked at him. "But Ms. Hoffman didn't mention anything about--"
"It just happened, I'm sorry to say." Max shook his head sadly.
"Oh. So, I guess--"
"Yes, yes, time to be on your way." Max tugged at Troy's elbow, urging him to his feet. "Here's a little something in the way of severance." He pulled out his wallet and shoved all the cash he had on him into Troy's hand.
Troy stared at the money bug-eyed. "Wow. Thanks, Mr. Tomlin. That's really cool of you. I mean, I've only worked here the half hour and all."
"My pleasure." Max hustled him down the hall to the elevator and pushed the button at least ten times before the doors finally dinged open. "Don't be a stranger." He shoved Troy inside.
"If you ever get the budget straightened out and need--" The doors closed, cutting off the rest of the sentence.
Max breathed out a sigh of relief. Lawsuit averted. He headed to the kitchen to fetch his own coffee. How complicated could it possibly be to hire a new assistant? So Kate wouldn't help him. He was perfectly capable of doing it himself. He just needed to advertise somewhere. He snapped his fingers. Craigslist, of course.
He went back to his office and hunkered down in front of his computer. "So, you think you can keep up with a genius?" he started typing and went from there. After some edits--because he was a perfectionist naturally--he spent a few minutes signing up for a craigslist account, and voila! He was well on his way to being properly staffed once more. Who needed Kate Hoffman anyway? He certainly didn't.
He was smiling smugly when Judith swooped into his office, closing the door behind her, which meant she'd come to discuss "important business" for the second time that day already, and it wasn't even.... Max checked his watch. Ten o'clock. How fair was that?
Judith leaned against the credenza. She never sat down for these little discussions of theirs, a blatant power play if Max had ever seen one.
"Why do you look so sneaky?" Judith narrowed her eyes at him. "What have you been up to?"
Max surreptitiously closed his browser. "Nothing. I have no idea what you mean."
For a moment, she looked as if she might argue the point, but then she apparently decided she had better things to do with her time. "We've been invited to pitch for a new account."
Max perked up at the news. He loved nothing more than the thrill of the chase. "Tell me everything."
Judith smiled. "I thought that would get your attention." She handed over a file. "The company is called Avionics, small but up-and-coming. They pioneered technology that helps prevent midair collisions, and they're looking to raise their profile with a corporate image campaign. It's a chance for us to beef up our technology portfolio."
Max started to flip through the materials in the file: brochures, news clippings, a printout of the Avionics web site.
"Joe Bennett is the CEO. I spoke with him on the phone at some length. He's very interested in getting a feel for the people he'd be working with if our agency is selected. I get the impression he's the old-fashioned sort who likes to do business with a handshake. Anyway, he specifically asked to meet you. So I had Sharon make a reservation at La Galou for the two of you at eight o'clock tonight."
"Wait. Wait just a minute." He frowned at the page he was reading. "It says here that this Bennett is ex-Air Force."
Judith raised an eyebrow. "So?"
"And the company's main headquarters is in Montana!"
"I repeat: So?"
Max stared at her. "Are you simple-minded? I'm not having dinner with some paramilitary yokel. Do you have any idea what they do to gay men out there in the middle of nowhere?"
"I highly doubt Joe Bennett is going to gay bash you in the middle of La Galou," Judith said dryly.
"But nothing." She got the steely look in her eyes that Max had rightfully learned to fear. "You will have dinner with him, and you won't screw it up." She took a step toward the door and then smiled back at him sweetly. "We have a conference table to pay for, after all."
She strode off just as Lisa Sanderson, head of Account Services, or "The Snake," as Max preferred to call her, came slithering in.
"Oh, now what?" he demanded.
"Good morning to you, too, Tomlin. I'm just dandy, thanks. How are you?" She sauntered over to his desk, her blond ponytail bouncing with every step. She'd been a cheerleader in high school--a fact she was quick to tell anyone who would listen--and she reminded Max of all the girls who hadn't given him the time of day back when he was a teenage word geek.
He glared at her. "What do you want?"
She plopped down onto the edge of his desk, although he'd told her time and again not to get her posterior all over his workspace. "I came to remind you we have the casting for Little Miss Wisconsin Dairy this afternoon."
"I'm perfectly aware of that," Max snapped, although really he hadn't given it much thought one way or the other. The Wisconsin Dairy account was hardly his favorite. "Isabel and Jason will be there. They can handle it."
They were his top creative team. They knew what to do. He had more important things to focus on than cheese. Besides, he really wasn't any good with kids. Just ask his sister Jennifer and his eight-year-old niece Chelsea.
"The client is paying for the great Max Tomlin," Sanderson persisted. "They specifically asked if you'd be there."
He crossed his arms over his chest stubbornly. "And you told them no, naturally."
Sanderson broke into a big, infuriating smile. "I said, 'Of course! Where else would our worldwide creative director be but right there, giving this very important business his own personal touch?'"
"I can't possibly--"
"I talked to Judith. She agreed it would be good for client relations."
Apparently, at the top of Judith's agenda for the day was ganging up on him with every last person at the agency. She'd inherit the whole thing if Max prematurely shuffled off this mortal coil. Sometimes, he thought she was trying to give him a stroke.
"Maybe I can make it to callbacks," he hedged, planning to be very, very busy that day.
Sanderson rolled her eyes. "These are the callbacks, Tomlin. Glad to know you're on top of things. I'll see you at the casting office at two." She headed for the door.
"I hate you. You know that, right?" he called after her.
She laughed. "You're creative. I'm accounts. If you didn't hate me, it would be a sure sign of the apocalypse."