Monday, August 30, 2021

Blog Tour: DIRTY DIANA by January James

Dirty Diana, an all-new billionaire bully romance from January James, is available now! 

My name is Diana.

I’m a small-town English girl in Manhattan, being eaten alive by an all-consuming job in a city that never sleeps.

Everything I once loved now suffocates me, but long-kept secrets mean I can’t go home.

The day I was invited to join the exclusive Decadence Club was the day my life was saved. Finally, I could be anonymous; I could be anyone I wanted for one night only; I could live out my fantasies without anyone knowing.

There were only three rules:

Don’t reveal your real name

Don’t give out personal information

Never meet the same member twice

I broke all three. Then he turned up at my office.

The best lay of my life is otherwise known as Jude Peyton-Harris, notorious ball-breaking business ‘fixer’, and my new CEO. He knows my secret and he wants my job gone.

But I can’t go home.

I can only stay and fight.

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My appetite had vanished and, without sleep, I felt light-headed as I walked along the corridor to Jude’s office. I’d been in that office hundreds of times to meet with Alex, the former CEO. We’d all been told he resigned, but now I suspected he’d been pushed—that hiring Jude had been a calculated and premeditated move on the part of the board and shareholders. 

I still couldn’t believe Jude—the man whose body I knew intimately—was sitting behind that door. My heart thumped as I approached it. I knew how my body would react as soon as I saw him. I would melt into a pool of lust, right there on the floor, while my brain battled to realign itself to the new reality—a reality in which he and I would be enemies. Because we wanted two very different things. He wanted me out, and I wanted nothing of the kind.

            I hesitated at the door, hoping I might summon some inner strength from somewhere, but my heart still thumped, loudly and erratically. He’d said six pm prompt, and it was six pm. I had to go in. I knocked twice and waited. After a long pause I heard, “Come in”.

            I pushed the door and held my breath as he came into view. It helped, holding my breath. I considered, in that moment, making it the basis of my coping strategy. I could just stop breathing. Then I realized that nothing was going to help, not even self-imposed suffocation. 

My heart racketed around my chest the moment I set eyes on his dirty blonde hair softly curled around his ears; his dark blue eyes staring back at me, warily; his large form standing rigid behind his desk. It reminded me of when I’d emerged from the room during my first night at the club. He was tense all over, as though he was trying to repel something.

            “Take a seat,” he said, his voice hollow and sounding nothing like it had when he’d stroked the contours of my thigh less than twenty-four hours earlier.

            I did as he instructed, swallowing my nerves. He slowly sat down himself, in the seat opposite me; the same seat I’d seen my previous CEO sit in many times before. The air in the room was different to how I remembered it. It was cold—the air con had been cranked right up—and it smelled of fresh body odor and worn leather, as though there had been a lot of pacing around. 

            “I understand you have some concerns about my appointment,” he said, sitting back in his chair, the full width of his cotton-covered chest exposed as his jacket fell open. My breath hitched. 

            “That’s an understatement,” I replied, getting straight to the point. If he thought I was going to go along with this, without even acknowledging our relationship, he was sorely mistaken. “Did you know I worked here?” I knew the answer would be no; he would never have made any of those plans to see me if he had. But I wanted answers—any answers.

            “No, of course not.”

            “Do they know about your role at the club?”

            “Yes. I’m on the board of several organizations and I disclosed all of them.”

            “You’re still on the board of Decadence, then?”

            “Resigning from a board takes time, Miss Delaney.”

            I baulked at his use of my surname. He’d already been through our employee records, I guessed.

            “And that’s still your plan?”

            He took a measured breath. “I can’t discuss that with you.”

            His robotic dryness was beginning to get on my nerves.

“Can I ask you one thing?” 

He didn’t reply, but the tick of his jaw suggested he knew what was coming.

“Did it mean anything to you? What we had?”

Had. I was already speaking about our relationship in past tense and it made a little piece of my heart ache. He stared at me, almost incredulous. His voice was quiet, and more akin to the Jude I thought I knew.

“Of course it did,” he replied. “Don’t you think I’m in as much shock as you are? You were the last person I expected to see in that room.”

“You acted as though I was nobody.”

“I had to,” he said. “You have to be no different to anyone else here. I have to treat all of you the same, no favors.”

“I’m not a child,” I grimaced. “I know how these things work and I don’t expect any favors. Why did you keep me waiting until six to meet?”

He dropped his head.

“I wasn’t sure what to say to you,” he said, quietly. “I still don’t know. It wasn’t even yesterday when I had everything planned out—how you and I might be able to start seeing each other.” He stretched his arms up and behind his head and faced out of the window, then he gave a small, hollow laugh. “Fuck. I was even planning where to take you at the weekend.”

My stomach plummeted another inch as it hit me again what was being ripped away. It was like someone was pulling a table cloth, leaving everything intact on the foundation beneath. Only, in my case, even that was turning to rubble. 

As he stared out the window, something to my left caught my attention. The usually pristine white, unscathed wall of Alex’s old office had a massive dent in it, right across from where Jude was sitting. I looked back to the hands resting at the back of his head, the head I had held when we kissed for what I hadn’t realized would be the last time. The knuckle of his right hand was purple.

I stood and walked around the desk, his eyes following me nervously.

“When did this happen?” I asked, taking hold of his battered hand. In one glance I knew he couldn’t lie about it. We were in bed together only hours earlier and this bruise had not been there then. And while I’d been immersed too deeply in shock in the boardroom to have looked at his hands, I somehow knew the injury had happened since, and that dent in the wall had something to do with it. 

“Nine twenty-three,” he replied, in a whisper.

I mentally rewound. He’d walked out of the boardroom at exactly nine twenty and it would have taken him three minutes to walk back up the stairs and along the corridor to here, his office. I raised his hand to my lips and gently kissed his bruised knuckle. Tears pricked my eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“You haven’t done anything wrong,” he said, his voice cracking.

“I know. But that’s how I feel,” I closed my eyes to focus on the broken skin of his hand against my lips. “I just feel sorry; about all of this.”

He turned his chair towards me and pushed himself to his feet. His hand turned over in mine, then it cupped my face.

“Diana…” he started. I looked up into his eyes and saw liquid. He tilted my chin up towards his and brought his lips down to mine. The metallic taste of dried blood gave way to the sweet tang of his mouth and I allowed myself to drown in him. I knew it could never happen again. He moved deliberately and meaningfully around my mouth, stroking my tongue with his, teasing it across my lips. It was no ordinary kiss; he was leaving his mark on me, because he knew he could never return.

I reached my hands up and pushed my fingers through his soft curls, tugging him further into me. In turn, he wrapped his arms around me, pulling me into his body. I felt him thick and firm between us and almost cried knowing I would never feel him inside me again. A sob passed from my throat to his and it seemed to remind him where he was.

“Fuck, fuck!” He groaned, dropping his hands and pulling away. He turned his back to me and rubbed his bruised hand across his face, wincing slightly.

“Diana… you have to forget that happened. It can’t happen again.”

“I know,” I whispered behind him. “Don’t worry. I won’t expect it again, but I can’t promise I’ll forget.”

He hit his forehead with the heel of his palm. Then again, and again. I reached forward and held his arm. “Stop it, please...”

He turned to face me and his eyes were ringed red.

“I wish I hadn’t been their only option,” he whispered, almost to himself.

“What do you mean?”

“The board. Your board.”

“Why were you?” I didn’t follow; surely there were plenty of people available who did the kind of job Jude had been hired for.

“This,” he waved his arm, referring, I presumed, to Empirical Records, “is a much-loved brand. The acts are international darlings. The choices I’m going to have to make will be deeply unpopular. I’m expecting the usual—hate mail, death threats, broken windows, the lot. Not many people are willing to walk into a situation like that.”

“So, why you?” I frowned. 

“Because…” he laughed again, bitterly, “I don’t care. I have no fucking feelings.”

He scrubbed his face again. “Supposedly.”

“I don’t get it,” I said, shaking my head. Because I didn’t. The Jude I knew had feelings. Feelings of lust, desire, need. 

“All my life I’ve been numb,” he said, bitterness on the edge of his tongue. “I’ve had no problem walking into a business like this and shredding it to pieces. I can make any company a lot of money, by doing the work they’re too soft to do themselves. I’ve never known any of the employees I’ve had to fire, let alone slept with them several times or agreed to start up a relationship with them.”

He walked to the other side of the room, shaking his head.

“This is justice, it has to be. I deserve this. I’ve been ruthless until now, and this is payback. No one gets away with being such an asshole for so long.”

“That’s rubbish,” I said, understanding he wasn’t actually talking to me; he was having this conversation with himself and I was simply witness to it.

“I deserve it,” he said, quietly, facing out of the window.

I stood there, at a loss for what I could say to make him understand it wasn’t his fault—none of this was. Then, as though a switch had been flicked inside him, he seemed to transform into the Jude I saw in the boardroom—blank, callous and abrupt. He turned sharply from the window and strode purposefully towards me.

“I can’t continue this conversation,” he said, suddenly business-like. “It stops now. And I have a job to do.”

I stepped back in surprise at the sudden change in his tone. 

“You’re going to try and force me out, aren’t you?”

The least he could do was tell me the truth; what I could expect.

“Yes. Your division is a drain on the business.”

I almost choked. The way he said it, so blunt, so matter-of-fact; it threw me off balance. 

“It makes no financial sense to keep it,” he continued, twisting the knife. “And your acts are peanuts compared to big hitters elsewhere in the group. If anything, Phoenix Music is a distraction, an indulgence. It’s the music industry equivalent of those little hobby shops set up by rich housewives as something to do with their time.”

I gasped. His sentiment was venomous but his tone was even, and deadpan, like his face.

“I’m not going to roll over for you,” I spat at him. “You can’t get me out that easily.”

He smiled, thinly, almost regretfully. “That’s what they all say.”

I straightened, now hating this man with every fiber of my being. “I will fight you tooth and nail, all the way, Jude Peyton-Harris.”

He reached out once more and curled his bruised fingers around the curve of my chin. He closed his eyes and shook his head, lightly.

“You have no idea who you are fighting, Diana Delaney. They all lose. And so will you.”

Meet January

January James lives in the smallest cottage in East Sussex with her husband, daughter and imaginary cockapoo (she will get one, one day!)

Until recently, she inhabited the fast-paced, adrenalin-fuelled workplaces she writes about as a communications professional. Now she spends her days dreaming up new characters and stories and trying her best to avoid indoor soft play.

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