If you want me, I’m not a piece of ass, a one night stand, a storage shed
I think you better walk by, tonight
If you want me, then stop begging I don’t put out for charity
If you want me there’s no discount price tonight
You Can’t Afford Me – Katy Perry
“Jesus, that is going to need so much work.” Ethan slid the fader up trying to work out if there was anything he could do to quickly adjust the tone coming through the speakers. Elena’s pacing was making him nervous. She kept sucking in air and letting it out with a hiss. Meanwhile that little prissy fucker Hyde was standing there looking like he’d sucked on a lemon. God, he hated these people. He sighed before pushing the comms button.
“Jack, darling, that was great but there seemed to be a click on the track. Can we go again?”
“Why should I completely root my voice just because you’re having technical issues?” There was a possibility that Jack was glaring at Ethan’s incompetence but it was a little difficult to see through the Ray Bans. Ethan had long ago decided that only the truly stupid or hungover wore sunglasses inside studios. He knew which category Jack fit into.
“I think it might be your necklace hitting your pecs. Maybe you could take it off for the next take?” One thing Ethan knew how to do, was stroke the fragile egos of temperamental divas like Jack Hyde. No matter how crap their ability or the material. In Jack’s case, it seemed to be the magical combination of both. Now that he was a solo artist he didn’t have Elliot Grey to cover up his dodgy pitch and questionable rhythm. That honor would belong to Ethan who had been flown in at great expense from London to work on Jack’s new album. That’s what being the industry’s uber-producer and Dr Fixit meant. Big fees, long flights, crap hotel food and temperamental artists. He needed to finish this album fast and get back to Notting Hill for some media. He had two weeks before Ibiza.
Jack was slow to remove his jewelery, obviously stalling for time. Ethan looked at Elena, Jack’s minder (and God-knows-what-the-fuck-else), and shrugged. It was no skin off his nose, he was getting paid by the hour whether Jack sang a note or not. Elena, regardless of that superior Mrs Robinson-vibe, might have some explaining to do to her bosses. She really didn’t need another budget blow out like her last project. The boy-band that plummeted into oblivion on the strength of the crap Lincoln studios had produced, had gone down in industry history as both the biggest coup and an even bigger disaster. Ethan tried to hide his grin as she stormed out of the control booth and through the heavy door into the studio.
“Jack, darling, we need to get this done quickly. Time is money.” She had stopped in the middle of the floor not wanting to get too close to Jack and his hideous spray tan. Ethan averted his gaze as she stared down her little Oompa Loompa like the dominatrix she was. In every way, Jack should be the perfect pop idol. Tall-ish (with the aid of platforms), muscular (the record company funded his personal trainer), and good looking (constant botox kept everything plump and in the right place). Yes, Ethan suspected that Elena kept all of Jack’s beauty secrets to herself. And, if the rumors were true, his more sordid sexual proclivities.
“Jack, baby. We really need to keep this moving along. Ethan is only in the country for another couple of days.”
“Ethan Kavanagh will be here as long as I need him to be.” Jack’s whining was getting on Ethan’s last nerve. Nothing was going to stop him getting on that plane and heading home. Certainly no little wannabe Bieber pissant. Jack Hyde could take a flying fuck at the moon.
Just when it seemed that Elena was going to stroke his ego a little more, Ethan was completely surprised when she stopped directly in front of Jack, pulled her hand back and slapped him hard across the face. There was a whimpering cry and then Jack clutched his face with his head bowed down before her. The body language was all wrong and the voices too far off the mic for him to pick up the rest of their discussion. Within a few minutes Elena had turned on her heel and walked out of the studio leaving Jack looking completely downtrodden. Ethan was about ready to call time on the session when Jack walked over the mic and put his headphones back on. Tentatively he pushed the comms button.
“Jack? You wanna go again?”
“Sure, can we drop in at the bridge.” Ethan queued up the track and let it play back as he tried not to read into whatever shit had just gone on between his artist and their agent.
Outside the building Christian was wearing a track in the pavement as he waited for his 2pm appointment. Tension created a scarring frown on an otherwise perfect face and he was tempted to bite his own expensively manicured fingernails. This was not his normal MO. A man who maintained a quiet and calm control in all things does not allow emotions to enter into his frame when it comes to business but ever since he had jumped into bed with Ms Anastasia Steele he had an almost fatalistic sense that karma was about to bite him hard upon the ass. They had discussed business at least half a dozen times face to face and each and every time she had left him waiting. The woman seemed to have no sense of business etiquette. Just as he was about to wear a hole in his own shoes she came striding toward him.
The first thing he always noticed were the legs that seemed to go on forever. She wore unreasonably high heels that defined her ankles and calves in a way that made him want to throw them over his shoulder. Her skirts were always just above the knee. Not short enough to make her a skank but certainly a length to make any red-blooded man take a second look. Her body was trim and taut and she moved with the kind of confidence that had him itching to sweep her around a dance floor. She flicked her hair over her shoulder and glanced at her phone while biting her lip. Fuck! At that same moment her heel caught in the pavement and she was thrown forward by the force of her own momentum. His hands reached out immediately to catch her, stopping her from traveling face first into the pavement. She was tall in those fuck-me heels but still only came up to his nose. Her body fit perfectly against his and he had to yell at himself to let her go.
The phone was the casualty in all of this, as it went sailing through the air, smashing on the pavement to their left before sliding into the gutter. Christian and Ana glanced down at the same moment, simultaneously thinking that they might be able to rescue it, when a black SUV slid into the vacant car park, effectively crushing Ana’s Samsung smart phone into small indistinguishable pieces. Christian flinched as Ana cried out.
“Fuck!” Christian blinked at the language. She kept doing this. She shattered his illusions of the girl he perceived her to be. His mother would be mortified at her expletive. He was torn between being offended and turned on.
“I’ll buy you another one.”
“Don’t be stupid. It isn’t your fault that it broke.” She seemed really irritated at his suggestion when he was just trying to be a good Samaritan. “Besides I can probably claim it on insurance.”
Shit, even her self-sufficiency was turning him on. He let go of her and stepped back so that she could get her balance back. He was tempted to reach out and brush her off but suspected that would net him a slap. He was so used to dating vacuous socialites who were bred to find rich husbands that this fireball with the smart mouth was somewhat refreshing. She was also about to become a business partner so he had to keep his dick in his pants at least long enough to get the deal signed and sealed.
“Are you ready to do this?” He kept his face impassive, his voice controlled and his movements to the minimum while she brushed herself off and attempted to rescue her heel.
“As ready as I’ll ever be. Are you sure about the finance side?” It was a stupid question, one of only a few she would ever permit herself, he was sure. Christian was independently wealthy thanks to some very good investments in and electronics development. That and the fact that he came from an insanely wealthy family and his grandfather had bankrolled his first foray into the stock market when he was sixteen. The truth was, Christian didn’t need to make partner at the law firm. He could give it all up tomorrow and live a life of leisure, but that wasn’t in his nature. A trait he inherited from his father. Business excited him and this next venture had him more orgasmic than most. The opportunity to develop his own name on the creative side of the music industry had him salivating into his coffee every day since Ana had walked into his life. Or he had walked into hers. But ultimately, he had secured investors within hours of talking with her. He would put his own money into the mix but he wasn’t stupid enough to sink more of his personal wealth than was needed. However, so much of it depended on what magic might happen if he could get his brother clean and her sister cooperated.
“Let’s go do this.” He stood back for her as she entered the building, partly because of the old school manners instilled since birth by his grandfather and partly because he delighted in watching the curve of her ass as she walked away from him. He had a feeling that might happen often.
Jose Rodriguez kept a very modest office in the front of the studio. His mother, Carla, was the receptionist and font of all knowledge. Jose was no slouch himself but only when it came to contacts and logistics. He was an operational man, knew the best in the business and was always ahead in terms of changes in technology. He was, however, not a businessman nor a creative visionary so his business had somewhat stalled. Just when they should have been advancing to the next level, Jose was cutting back staff and failing to pay himself in an effort to keep things afloat. People didn’t require studios when they could do everything from their bedrooms on a laptop computer. Only the big studios survived and Jose wasn’t playing in the big leagues. He needed investors but he hadn’t banked on the Steele-Grey proposal. That one had come out of left field.
Carla walked into his office unannounced. As was her habit. He found himself thinking that if he ever got himself anything like a steady girlfriend, they might need renegotiate that behavior. Right now, he needed his mother and the low salary that she drew. She could enter unannounced while doing the can can on that basis alone.
“They’re here.” Carla placed the latest financial statements in front of him. His eyes scanned the document knowing that it looked bad and would drive the price down on this deal. He was going to miss his independence, but if he didn’t do something his staff would end up on the streets. While anyone else might have been focused on the bottom line, Jose was more concerned about negotiating that the staff get to retain their positions. In the end he was hoping that history would work in his favor.
“Send them in.” Carla bent over and kissed her son’s forehead before exiting the room. A few moments later she was holding the door for his guests.
As the power couple entered, Jose was grateful that he was wearing a clean pair of jeans. A nervous swipe of his hand across his t-shirt later and he was shaking hands the only girl who had ever taken his breath away, Ana Steele.
“Jose, it’s good to see you again.” Ana’s smile was genuine and Jose was transported straight back to high school, complete with the requisite semi. As juniors they had been friends. As seniors they had been lovers. Hers was a quiet unassuming beauty that he had taken for granted.
“You, too, Ana. How’s your dad?” She was even more stunning eight years down the track and Jose mentally kicked himself for ever letting her go. Not that she had ever given him a choice.
“He’s good. Still running the shop and fishing every weekend. Your Mom looks great.”
“Yeah, she recovered really well. It’s been six years and she’s still clear.” The only time that Jose had seen Ana in all that time was when his Mom had been treated for breast cancer. It had been a challenging time and everyone had been a little fragile. Not a great time to rekindle an old flame. Ana had phoned his Mom every day for three months and then suddenly disappeared as they got to the end of the chemo. He’d thought about finding her, asking her why but between the business and his mother’s illness there just wasn’t enough reason or time. Now she was here and he had this overwhelming need to not let go.
For his part, Christian was feeling a little territorial himself. He watched as they stood in the middle of the room and that handshake traveled just a fraction past comfortable. Christian felt the need to clear his throat. One, because he didn’t like standing there like a spare prick at a wedding. Two, because whatever this sexual tension was between Ana and Jose was starting to piss him off. He held his body in check, an exercise in conservation and cool, while his mind screamed out unreasonably, “Mine”!
“Oh, Jose Rodriquez, Christian Grey.” Thankfully, Ana released Jose’s hand before Christian gave into his need to punch him. Jose’s eyes were screaming deer in the headlights but then he seemed to get his shit together long enough to shake Christian’s hand. At least it wasn’t a limp dick handshake. Then he would have seriously had to reconsider punching the little prick.
“Mr Grey, welcome to TI Studios.” Christian held his gaze for a moment, trying to read any intent. The guy wasn’t giving much away but he must be nervous. Christian had studied the numbers and TI Studios was doing well. Jose Rodriguez had a solid reputation in the industry so there was no end of good will. From what Christian could see, the problem was that Jose Rodriguez was TI Studios and that wasn’t sustainable in the long run. His business had grown exponentially in the past four years and to take it to the next level he would need help. The issue would be his willingness to hand over the management and marketing reigns to Christian and Ana respectively.
“Thank you, Mr Rodriguez.” Christian glanced around the office at the worn furnishings and ancient technology. He hoped that the rest of the studios were in better condition. If not, he would have some questions about the asset register.
“Please, call me Jose.” Not if my life depended on it. He glared at Jose who stared defiantly back. They were both still caught in their silent pissing contest when Ana stepped between them.
“Perhaps we should sit and get on with this.” Christian kept his focus on Jose who had turned to watch Ana lower herself into a seat and cross her long slender legs. He wouldn’t have looked away from his new nemesis except her skirt split open at the thigh, showing a glimpse of black lace stocking and garter belt. Jose, who had been on his way back around to his seat, stopped mid-stride, and stared like a horny school boy. Christian’s whole body tightened with combined lust and and a desire to thump the crap out of Jose but he took a deep breath and lowered himself into the seat next to Ana.
“Jose, we’ve gone through the financials. We have some questions about the projections.” Ana’s clear voice and sense of purpose pulled them all back into the room. They poured over spreadsheets and charts for the next hour, talking through the issues that Ana and Christian had already identified. Christian developed a grudging respect for Jose’s operational knowledge. After a quick tour of the facilities they would throw out their offer and talk about the contracts that Christian already had drawn up. He looked at his watch briefly, hoping that they would soon be able to get away. He had plans for getting Ana into a bar for a drink, a meal and then perhaps back to his apartment for some post-negotiation negotiations.
His mind was wandering to his latest favorite fantasy when Jose ushered them through to a rehearsal studio. Ana was walking a little way ahead of him, her firm ass creating a vision of loveliness.
“This is the main studio.” Jose was busy showing off his baby, obviously proud of both the facilities and the small but skilled staff. “We’ve got two on staff techs. That’s not a lot for a studio this size.”
“The schedule is booked out for the next three months?” Christian had very little interest in a major restructure as he and Ana had already determined where the money was to be saved and made. They hadn’t let Jose know that though.
“Yeah. Two major projects for local bands and Darius M is bringing in a small chamber orchestra to record the soundtrack for an independent film out of Vancouver.”
They walked through the large main studio into another room that was easily the same size but with a significant difference. It was a freakin’ Aladdin’s cave for musos. Two walls were lined with shelves housing hundreds of amplifiers and speakers. Some that looked like they might have come off the ark. The two remaining walls were covered with approximately 180 different varieties of guitars. Two large mobile units were draped rolled cables and beyond that was a windowed cabinet that displayed row upon row of every conceivable design of microphone. Christian had read all of this on the asset register but the reality of seeing it all caused his jaw to drop. Nobody in a million years was going to need all of this shit. Surely.
“I can see what you’re thinking but the idea is simple. We’ve collected as many pieces of equipment that were used on the most famous rock recordings ever created. If you want the sound that Mark Knopfler created on Sultans of Swing then we have both the amplifier and the guitar that he used. If you want to sound like Les Paul on How High The Moon or Jimmy Page on Stairway to Heaven, we can recreate that sound too.”
“And this is cost effective?” Christian wanted to hear the justification for this musical hoarding.
“A lot of this was put together before the studio was up and running. It was a hobby of my father’s. Some of it has been donated as our reputation grew. Courtney Love sold a couple of guitars to us last year. However, it has become a marketing edge for us.” Jose obviously wasn’t going to be intimidated.
“So you need the techs to maintain all of this stuff?”
“In part, but my guys have been selected for their extensive encyclopedic musical knowledge. Barney and Luke might look like normal technogeeks but between them they can answer any musical and technical question you might have. I haven’t been able to stump them yet.”
“It’s a truckload of asset to carry. You’re paying a small fortune in insurance.” Christian didn’t give him an opportunity to respond to that comment. “You’ve just hired a new engineer?”
“Yeah, come through, I’ll introduce you. I think you’ll like this surprise.” Jose placed a hand on Ana’s back causing Christian to have to restrain himself. While he wanted to kick Jose’s ass, right now he had to bring these unruly emotions to heel. At least until the contracts were signed. Jose might need Christian and Ana’s investment but he was far from the managerial incompetent that Christian had been expecting. It was starting to piss him off.
Christian was therefore preoccupied with his thoughts as they stepped into the small engineering booth. Ana once more was in front of him creating a distraction and Jose was rabbiting on about this Lee who had emerged in the past two years on the Seattle club circuit and was taking the world by storm. Before he was aware of what was happening there were squeals and hugs as Ana realized that she, Lee and Jose had all gone to high school together. Ana stepped away from this new intruder and as she did Christian felt the bottom drop out of his world.
“Christian, can I introduce a very dear friend. Leila Williams.” Ana was all smiles as she turned to glimpse the shocked look on Christian’s face. Leila, at first bounced forward with a smile before stopping in her tracks. She dropped her eyes and held out her hand.
“Very nice to see you again, Sir.” The words were a whisper. Christian’s eyes narrowed as he extended his hand and took hers. Ana gaped from one to the other, while Jose just grinned. Prick.
“Miss Williams.” Could this deal get any more fucking complicated.