Friday, September 15, 2006

EXCERPT 06 - The Seduction of Mr. Bradley

The Seduction of Mr. Bradley

By Minnie E. Miller

"Determined to find a solution to his dilemma, Bill Bradley reveals his duel sexuality to Jina Cook, hoping she will give clarity and stability to his life, which results in a heartache both struggle to heal. Their lives turn upside down."

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Chapter One

Publicist Bill Bradley first met Jina Cook at a book launch party for one of his clients. The event, held in one of the smaller ballrooms in the Chicago Regency Hyatt Hotel, boasted intimate ice cream-parlor-size tables draped in white and scattered in no particular order around the room. Each table had a single pink carnation and sprig of baby’s breath in a small vase; ashtrays were absent. A stage nestled in an out-of-the-way corner intimately accommodated three musicians and a singer. There were two bars, compliments of cognac and champagne companies. Modest lighting comforted those who might overindulge. No doubt, it was a warmer than usual August 2002.

Bill went for the champagne. He glanced around the room, observed the crowd as it grew in size, and was content with the turnout. Although the air conditioner blew gusts of cool air, the crowd absorbed it, his liquor burned up the rest. He sipped his drink and stood in the middle of the crowd, slowly scanning faces in the room. He wanted to monitor reactions to his client’s book.
Freeze-framing his mental camera, he glimpsed a woman who arrested his attention. Empirically, as a publicist, I’d say she has all the makings of a star. She’s a beauty, elegant in her black satin pantsuit. Hair’s up-to-date, long and relaxed. Those semi-dark sunglasses radiate an air of mystery, yet allow the curious a peek at those busy eyes. Makes one wonder what’s going on behind them. Nice fashion statement. Yeah, you’ve accomplished it, Ms. Lady. And even more striking, you look sincere! Humm. Is that an oxymoron—a fashion plate with a look of sincerity? Don’t see much of that in the big city. I she alone? He mused. He looked near her but saw no one in close proximity.

Bill prided himself in being observant, yet he had not realized that Jina had already inspected him. He had been too busy admiring the other lovely ladies.
Jina’s estimate of him was categorically on-point. Sipping champagne and peeping over her dark glasses, she made a wide circle around Bill and his crowd of admirers. She muttered, “Unh-unh. Nice braids—sexy, neat, clean—against his clean-shaven face. Honey? Naw, too light. Maple syrup? Yeah, that’s his color. Easy, girlfriend, that’s not why you’re here. Oh, but it’s been sooo long! Okay, back to the issue at hand. He doesn’t look like a Chicagoan. Maybe from the Islands. I’d say he’s mid-thirties, and more than six feet of handsome. A tall, cool drink of water. Steel gray silk shirt with Nehru collar and matching pants. Nice. Attitude? Yeah. Carries his shoulders with an air of self-confidence. More importantly, he could hold a crowd in the palm of his hands, especially the ladies. He could sell anything. What’s his role here?”

Jina had a reason to be there. She had been looking for a publicist to help promote her novel. Her target date was six months, but she knew the devil was in the details. She had come to the book party hoping to meet someone in the industry. Jina assumed most of the people in the room were involved in the book market one way or another.

Their eyes met and connected in nonverbal communication. Using her smile as compass, Bill wove his way toward her through the center of a group of people.

A trio of well-dressed ladies in the crowd stopped him along the way. One with a long wiglet attached sideways with attitude reached out and gently touched him. What he saw on his shoulder out of the corner of his eye was a long red, perfectly manicured fingernail. “Hi,” she purred. “I know your face, but can’t remember your name, my brother.”

“Hello, darlin’. Name’s Bill. Bill Bradley,” he said pulling a card from his pocket and pressing it into her palm. “Give me a call if you need a publicist.” Moving on, he smiled at her pick-up line. He too had used it to get a lady’s attention. Yeah, it’s cool.
The ladies laughed, eyed him appreciatively and whispered to one another.
Bill bumped into another young lady, eyeing her up and down as he passed. “Hmmm, jail-bait,” he murmured and slowly strutted on, continuing his mission—to talk to the lady he had recorded in his mental camera. Reaching his destination, he changed his smile from confident to modest. With a baritone voice that resonated from his gut, he inquired, “Hi, are you an author as well?”
“I hope so. I truly hope so.” She looked up at him and smiled. “And you?”
Bill took that as a green light to flirt a little. “Who wants to know?”
He’s confident and even more handsome up close.
“Cute,” she said, extending her hand. “Jina. I’m a writer.”
Ah, a connection and she knows how to flirt. “Cute remarks break the ice, don’t you think?” Bill raised an eyebrow and gazed into her soft brown eyes. She melted under his gaze. She couldn’t keep a smile from escaping. The crowd all but disappeared, or so it seemed to the lady.
“Jina, you said? What’s the rest?” Come on, keep it going, lovely.
“The name’s Jina Cook,” she said. “Are you responsible for this event?”
He noted that she didn’t mind his monopolizing her attention and so continued to pay amorous attention of his own. “Yes, ma’am, I am.” Feeling in control of the situation, torso inflated, he stood firmly on strapping legs that strained against his pants. It was obvious that he took good care of his muscular body. He squared his shoulders and threw a couple of braids behind his head. He offered his hand, appraising her appearance in one fell swoop. “How’d you know?”
“You’re animated, engaging the crowd.”
“And you’re very observant. Bill Bradley, publicist,” he said. “It’s my client’s book party.” Easy, man. Don’t stop the dance. The lady’s genteel, treat her as such.
They were face to face in the middle of the room. The crowd moved around them. Most failed to notice them; however, not all. He had drawn the attention of some ladies who glanced over their shoulders admiringly.
Observing Jina’s body language, he cleared his throat. “Ms. Cook, what’ve you published? Tell me about yourself—your bio, if you will.”
“I’m finishing up my manuscript and shopping for an agent. They seem to be hard to come by.” She turned to go toward the bar for another glass of champagne. Bill followed. As she stood in line waiting for service, she gazed over her sunglasses at him and said, “You ask a lot of questions for a stranger, sir. I’m not sure I’m ready to tell you my ‘bio.’”
She’s a bit hifalutin’; still genteel, though. A lady in every sense of the word.
Conversations in the ballroom had grown louder. After she received her second drink, he touched her without forethought. Cupping his hand under her elbow, he maneuvered her to a floor-to-ceiling window away from the center of the room. The cool window felt good against his sweaty back. And too, he was content that it was a space they didn’t have to share with others. She pulled away, feeling slightly manipulated.
Feeling her resistance, Bill gave her his warmest smile. “Please allow me to apologize; I didn’t mean to offend you. What I meant was I’d like to know more about your writing accomplishments. I didn’t mean to come off as arrogant. There, is that better?”
Jina smiled and said, “Apology accepted. Somewhat better. But still, arrogance forces doors open, no doubt.
She watched him as he returned her smile. He pulled a small fuchsia-colored card from his pants pocket and handed it to her. Now that he had her full attention, his confidence rose.
“Naturally, I’d be happy to discuss my publicist package with you. By all means, give me a call.”
Again flirting with her eyes, she took his card. “I’ll be in touch. It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Bradley, so long.” She discarded her empty glass on a nearby table, looked back over her shoulder to upload his face into her memory, and left the party. Well, the party wasn’t a total bore. Although arrogant, Bill Bradley seems interesting.
He smiled and watched her move toward the door. He said to no one in particular, “Vanessa Williams, 2002 style: the face, the color, the body, the hair. Cool lady.”
* * * * *
Bill Bradley never knew his father, or bonded with any male in his family. His father left when he was very young. Yet, what stuck in his mind was how his father’s abandoning the family had affected his mother. He repeatedly saw sadness in her face and would ask, “What’s the matter, Mommy, you hurt?”
Refusing to admit the pain, she would attempt a smile and say to her young son, “Mommy doesn’t hurt, baby. She’s just got a lot on her mind.” What was on her mind was, why? Why did her husband leave? Where did he go?
As a teenager Bill watched his mother descend into nothingness, the result of a broken heart. He never understood why his father did not return from wherever he went when he left their home on that fateful day. Thinking back, he couldn’t remember seeing his parents express love for one another, not even their kissing in his presence. For years Bill assumed it to be how married people acted with each other. Later, in adulthood, he learned this was not the norm; people in love did kiss. As an only child young Billy developed a fierce desire to excel in the world. He supported himself doing odd jobs all through high school. Nonetheless, his childhood memories left a gaping hole in his heart.
At seventeen, in his high school senior year, Bill came to Ted Grassley’s attention when he won a scholarship from the Grassley Advertising Agency. Ted was already eighteen years his senior when they met. Bill continued his association with the agency. He first gained an internship and eventually blended in with the staff. Ted shifted Bill’s name to William, feeling that it was more professional. Even early on he exhibited a magnetic personality, the kind needed to make it in advertising. Ted recognized it and told his young protégé he’d make a great assistant-in-training, and promised him a fruitful future with the agency. Impressed with Bill’s aggressive style, he even went so far as to finance his college education. After Bill received his degree, Ted was quick to offer him a job.
That wasn’t all that Ted Grassley, the clever, elegant godfather and mentor, gave to young Bill. He awoke in him a different kind of emotion. Ted introduced him to same sex love. He turned him out on his twenty-first birthday—a day that still haunted him even now at thirty-five.
In spite of the offer, Bill had other plans for his future, and working at the agency in New York wasn’t part of them. He wanted a public relations agency in Chicago—wanted to work one-on-one with his own clients. Although he had faith in his ability to hold his own, he left in considerable distress because of all Ted had done for him. He felt guilty about refusing his mentor, the man responsible for his education. In many respects Ted had come to replace his absentee father, and Bill and Ted were both aware of this father-son connection. Even so, Bill was determined to leave New York, but he didn’t leave empty-handed. Ted Grassley gave him a loan to start his business as well as a promise of a monthly stipend—what he called “good faith money”—until his business was up and running on its own. He also took back the name his momma gave him—Bill. He didn’t like the name William. Felt it sounded too hifalutin’.
* * * * *
According to some plan beyond the control of either Bill Bradley or Jina Cook, they met. They had no idea how their young lives resembled each other’s. Jina, also thirty-five and a neophyte writer, was Catherine and Henry’s only child. She lost her mother to cancer when she was a teenager. The remaining extended family surrounded her with support, seen and unseen. Before Jina’s mother passed, the parents agreed that her maternal grandmother, Nana, would step into her life, which she did immediately with seamless support. That was the last she heard from her father. So in a brief moment in time, she in fact lost both parents. She learned later that her father did keep in touch with Nana from time to time.
* * * * *
Over the next several days, Bill checked his voice mail often and hoped, to no avail, that Jina’s call would be there.
Nothing yet. Damn. I need a new client. Money’s gettin’ low. It’s been a full seven days since we met. She appeared to know what she wanted, ready to move with the promotion of her book. Let’s hope so. A little over a week later, Tuesday morning, Jina called.
He answered the phone. Hmmm, a one-man show. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, she said, “Hello, Bill Bradley, please, Jina Cook calling.”
“Jina Cook? Oh, yeah, I remember. We met at the book party. How could I forget such a gorgeous woman?” Damn right I remember, Ms. Lady. “I take it you’re ready to talk about our working together?”
“Yes, I need to tell you about my novel. I’m nearly finished with the revisions.”
Her voice is coming through a bit shaky and unsure. Bill was concerned. He listened without interrupting, giving her a change to pull her thoughts together. She finally got the words out. “I want to talk about your handling my publicity and giving me a little direction. I guess we need to meet.”
She’s more of a novice than I originally thought. Not dumb though—probably just shy with men. We’ll have to work on that. She’s gotta learn that it’s essential to be forthcoming in this business. “You’re right; you need publicity, and you need to start now. So, when can we meet and talk? Your place, mine, a restaurant, whatever makes you comfortable. Would dinner be a problem for you, say tomorrow evening?”
“Not at all,” she said forthright.
Ah, now we’re cookin’. “I like The Seasons on Delaware. We can talk without having to scream above the noise. I’ll make reservations for seven. Does that work for you?”
“I’ll meet you there.”
“A cautious young lady, I see. No problem.” Jina was not ready for him to come to her apartment and pick her up. It was fine with him. The meeting was to talk about money. He didn’t want any bruised feelings to interfere with business.
Jina arrived by taxi a little before seven. She entered the restaurant and gave Bill’s name, but he hadn’t arrived yet. The hostess took her to his reserved table. Already seated, Jina watched Bill rush into the restaurant and remarked, “Ah ha, I see you believe in being on time.”
He laughed, a bit embarrassed and blushed almost crimson. “Does the restaurant meet with your approval?”
“Yes, it’s beautiful. I’ve never been here...Posh, but...comfortable. Is this part of your public relations package?” She smiled teasingly but wondered about his expensive taste.
With a gentle smile he took the chair across from her, allowing him to look directly at her face. “Of course! Kidding aside, you should expect the best from anyone working for you or with you in your quest to sell.”
The waitress arrived. Bill read the wine menu and asked Jina, “May I take the liberty of ordering wine?”
She smiled, please at his pursuit and said, “Please, and thank you. I know nothing about wines.”
“Two glasses of Gamay Beaujolais.” He pointed at the menu and laughed. “It says here, ‘mischievous, impish and charming.’ Fun, huh?” They both laughed. Bill returned the menu to the waitress stating, “We’ll order food in a few.”
Jina was getting the picture. He is such a flirt, so sure of himself. Or not.
The waitress smiled, left, and, in a special effort to please Bill, returned immediately with two glasses of wine on a silver tray. She reached around the right side of Jina, setting her glass before her while lightly brushing Bill’s shoulder. Then lingering a bit more than necessary, she placed the second glass.
“My, my, Mr. Bradley, I’m impressed. And,” she leaned forward and whispered, “if I didn’t know better, I’d say our waitress is flirting with you.”
“You may be right. Her loss, your gain.” He gave Jina one of his smiles he knew was a sure winner with most ladies. “Now, back to business. Darlin’, try to make it a point to be seen in first-class places. Oh, and get used to my calling you darlin’. It’s classy,” Bill said with a wave of his hand.
“Darlin’ is classy? You make me feel antiquated, behind the times.” Jina frowned.
“No, you’re not behind the times, and you’re surely not antiquated. You’re just new to the marketing business. You’ll learn.” He openly appraised her. She’s fresh, promising, the kind of personality I can work with. But can she write? “What’re your taste buds saying? We can order now and discuss a plan while waiting for the food.” Without looking at the menu, Bill said, “May I suggest the crab meat-stuffed sole. I’ve had it before. It’s delicious and light.”
“Okay, Mr. Bradley, I’ll have the sole and a small salad.”
“A lady who knows what she wants. I like that. I’ll have the same,” he said still drawing her in.
She sat back in her chair, smiled and sipped her wine. “Mmmm, nice, light, pleasant. Good choice.”
Bill reminded himself that the lady was a potential client and to keep his mind on business. “That’s part of my job too. I serve at the pleasure of my clients, Madam.” He bowed his head and lowered his eyes. Then he smiled up at her and said, “And, my darlin’, in my opinion, which is mixed with experience, you’ll do fine on the circuit. I need to read your manuscript.”
He was a picture of confidence in his tan sport coat and pale blue shirt. It was too hot in the city to wear a tie, but he knew the coat was the dress code in this particular restaurant.
The aromas that came from the kitchen sharpened his appetite. His day had consisted of running from the Loop to the South Side and back visiting clients. He hadn’t had time to eat since his breakfast of bagel and coffee. Becoming anxious, he looked around for the waitress, not realizing she had been standing at his elbow for several seconds. Embarrassed, he cleared his throat and gave her their order.
Jina looked at the waitress, then at Bill, and smiled sending him a telepathic message. Yeah, she thinks you’re attractive too, Mr. Bradley.
He mentally received her message, blushed, and, needing something to do with his hands, pushed his sleeves up a bit. He then took a sip of wine and moved on to business. “I’ve prepared a publicist package. Understand,” he said, “you don’t have to accept all the items listed. Just select what you think you can handle this first time around. Keep in mind that the important thing is to get your name out to the media. And they will get your name out to a targeted readership. I’ll set up a book launch party like the one you attended when we first met.”
“My head is spinning. I’m so excited!” she said, head tilted to her right with a coy smile.
Bill sat back in his chair and smiled with satisfaction. He was clearly aware that the lady was not so great at handling alcohol.
She gushed on as she sipped her wine. “I’ve dreamed of publishing my book for three years. This is the first step toward my goal, toward it becoming a reality. Do I sound like a neophyte?” She giggled. “I do. I am. This is all so wonderful!”
He joined into her exuberance. “Celebrate! You deserve it. Anyone who’s been writing a novel for years has earned the right to get excited. Did you like that setup at the book party the other night? That’s what I’m thinking for you. I’ll have placards printed, big ones, with your picture. I’ll arrange for the photographer. I have a special lady. You’ll be fine, just put yourself in my hands, darlin’.”
“I am in your hands, Mr. Bradley. You set it up; I’ll be there.” Again, that coy smile.
“Cool! Now, here’s what I need from you. I like to know my client well. As I see it, I’m putting myself out there to promote you and should know just what I’m gettin’ into. I want to become your best friend in business. Oh, yeah, you got any lovers lurking around out there that may be the jealous type? If so, I need to know that. No doubt, I don’t want to be blindsided by a nut case.”
“No,” she said, ending the conversation with a laugh. She felt it unnecessary that he know about her breakup with her ex-lover. He was glad to get out of the relationship, too much pressure to commit. Besides he was not the type to want in on publicity. Most of all, she don’t want her celibacy out in public. Jina often wondered if being celibate made her asexual. It was nobody’s business if she was.
Bill raised an eyebrow and said, “That’s pretty straightforward, ma’am.”
Hmmm. No boyfriend? “Okay. We’re on the same page. Must protect myself from embarrassing situations...lawsuits, etc. My reputation is on the line, too.”
“No, Mr. Bradley, as far as I know, I’m clean.” She returned his facial expression.
He raised his glass, reached across the table and tapped hers gently. “To us,” he said. “You have to excite the public. While you do have the looks, you also must have a blockbuster book. I know how to write the publicity. We’ll do fine. I believe we understand each other’s ideas and share the same goals.” I must say, she’s pleasant company. But no boyfriend?
“Wonderful. I’ll take your proposal home and go through it before asking questions. I brought along a copy of my manuscript as it stands now,” Jina said, handing it over.
The food had arrived, and he wasted no time getting to it. “Wonderful idea, now let’s eat.”
After dinner, she allowed Bill to drive her home. He reminded her as she exited his car, “Darlin’, you’re in my hands. I won’t let ya down. We’ll both make money if we play this right. Get some rest, gather your thoughts and we’ll talk again later in the week.” He stood at the curb and watched her enter her apartment building. After she looked back and smiled, he drove off, satisfied that she was safely inside, and smugly satisfied with his new client. During the drive home Bill reviewed the events of the evening and what stuck in his mind was the remark Jina made about not having a boyfriend. He mumbled aloud, “Good Start. boyfriend? Well,” he said, drawing his shoulders up, “that’s not my concern.”

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