Book Promo Feature – CHRISTMAS ASSORTMENT BOX – Holiday Stories for Everyone!

Indie Book Promo is happy to welcome all the authors of the Christmas Assortment Box – Holiday Stories for Everyone! They are here to share about their stories. If this box set sounds like something you would be interested in reading, please find a buy link below and pick up a copy or two.



Cowboys, Babies, Family, Steamy Romance and Edgy Young Adult!

Once, Joanie Russell’s dearest wish was to be a wife and mother. After years devoting herself as a nurse, Joanie still dreams of having a family of her own. Only, being unmarried with no prospects…surely that time has passed.
But as Christmas Eve 1966 comes to a close, Joanie is drawn on a search that makes her question what tomorrow might bring. What is the sound echoing through the hospital’s corridors and grounds? Whispers from the past…or a prayer being answered on this holiest of nights?

All Nicole Drummond wants for Christmas is to take her mom away from her abusive drug-running step father. Like that’s going to happen anytime soon. He totally controls their lives.
But when her step father threatens to stop paying for her mom’s life-saving meds if Nicole doesn’t run drugs for him, she knows time has run out. And her options are few.

Recently widowed Rodger de Jonge feels lost. He fears that he’s losing his bond with his daughters, Peta and Courtney. He’s a man of the African bush, and coping with ‘girlie feelings’ was always Helene’s department, not his. When an orphaned baby elephant is found during the Christmas holidays, Rodger sees an opportunity that might help him reconnect with his children. But interfering with the orphan goes against conservation methods he’s familiar with. It will require a new approach to save both the baby and his family.

Selena MacShaw’s presidential mother might have been murdered on Christmas day by Middle East extremists, but Selena has never been scared to live her own life. She loves the Australian Outback. She wants to settle there and stop running from her mother’s enemies.
Dallas Anderson grew up on a working cattle station, but made a career in the military’s Special Forces Unit. When he witnesses his army buddies die in a mission gone wrong, he retires young and accepts an offer from Selena’s father. Dallas will be Selena’s undercover bodyguard in the guise of a head stockman.
But when Dallas’ secret is exposed, will Selena love him for his valour or hate him for his lies?

Laurel Ashwood needs a miracle. All her six-week old daughter wants for Christmas is a daddy…just for the holidays while Nana visits from Montana. Laurel and her former boss, construction tycoon Nick St. John, used to share a chemistry. But will Nick want to cooperate? Six months ago, she’d left him without a word.
Nick can’t believe Laurel is back. Now he can finish what they’d begun months before. But he won’t accept a “couple of days.” If Laurel wants him to play along with a fake engagement, he’s got his own naughty and nice list. A kiss under the mistletoe is just the beginning.

Christmas Assortment Box is available from Amazon


My books have since featured regularly on bestsellers lists and at award ceremonies, including The National Readers Choice, The Booksellers Best, Cataromance Reviewers Choice and Australia’s prestigious Romantic Book of the Year (R*BY).
I live on Australia’s gorgeous Sunshine Coast where I met, and married, my real-life hero. When I’m not tapping out my next story, I enjoy my three rapidly growing daughters, going to the theatre, reading on the beach (bliss!) and dreaming about bumping into Stephen King during a month-long Mediterranean cruise.

Robyn can be found on her blog, Facebook, Twitter



Silent Night
Chapter 1
A BOOK about Saint Nick and Father Time had Joanie Russell in its Yuletide grip until a noise pulled her off the page…a high-pitched tinkling followed by a clattering smash. From her nurses’ station, Joanie flung a ready glance around. Nothing odd or out of place…rare for any evening at Crest Haven Psychiatric Hospital―particularly tonight.
This common area accommodated all ninety-seven patients from Wards C and D with room to spare. A plump spruce held court over the space, its branches packed with glittering new ornaments, courtesy Massachusetts State. The crowning piece, an angel with silver wings open wide, gazed benevolently down.
Silent night. Holy night. All is calm…
Other than that clatter a few seconds ago, like a china cup rolling around on its saucer before playing catch with the floor. Somewhere nearby a mess needed cleaning up because, sure as Elvis could sing, something was busted. Setting her book aside, Joanie set off.
Comfortable in her wheelchair, Margo Elliot sat stroking rosary beads while a knee beneath her chanille dressing gown bounced low and fast. On another Christmas Eve ten years ago, Margo had walked in on her husband playing hide the pickle with her best friend since first communion. Doctors labelled her reaction a “break with reality.”
Joanie examined Margo’s distant yet satisfied grin. One person whirling a chicken coop axe at another was hardly a sane act, however, given her cheating husband’s gruesome end, Margo’s behavior was as real as it got.
Straightening her starched white cap, Joanie found Cyril Pinter working on his own decoration. Joanie squeezed the young man’s shoulder (good job!) before scooping up his Superman mug emptied of its cocoa. (Unlike some staff, she never commented on the red superhero boxer-briefs he wore outside of his pants.) In another time, Cyril had been a respected member of society, a devoted son. An underground mining accident in ’59, and the subsequent lack of oxygen to his brain, had left him “dim-witted”…”feeble-minded”.
Mean, rotten, horrible words, Joanie thought, as Cyril plied gold-flecked yarn around four cotton-reel tacks; he’d vowed to make this French-knit tail as long as his arm before draping it over an earmarked branch and, bless him, he was almost done. Dedicated was a term that still fit dear Cyril. If he wasn’t helping to mop floors or make beds, he was teaching his golden retriever, Blondie, new tricks. When Joanie had told Cyril’s mother during a visit about his imaginary dog, Mrs. Pinter had broken down and cried. Santa had brought him a pup by that name the Christmas he’d turned six.
Standing by a soaring arched window, Joanie found Laura Beal. Fragile and still pretty as a chickadee, Laura had led a contented life with her well-to-do bookkeeper husband and three children until a lit candle, left unattended by a lace curtain, had changed her fate. After the blaze, authorities had found her coiled beneath a neighbor’s dappled willow shrub, clutching one of her daughter’s porcelain dolls.
If ever she heard Laura weeping, softly into a thread-bare monogrammed handkerchief as she did, Joanie hurried to the record player and a cheery song; Gene Audrey’s Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer of late, the same song playing now. Sometimes Laura even sang along.
But Laura wasn’t crying, or singing, tonight. She was peering out at the night sky, hands clasped, waiting, as if the holy star had promised to make an appearance just for her. Her cup, its tea gone cold, sat intact on a side table, right beside that soot-stained porcelain doll Laura had kept all these years.
Joanie bent to collect the cup but froze as a chill whipped up her spine. Her Lustre-Crème shampooed hair stood on end. Out the corner of her eye, she’d caught a darting movement―something, or someone, had scuttled past the nurses’ station and up the main corridor. Too big for a cat, although strays did sneak in from time to time. Maybe a shadow…a trick on the eyes caused by twinkling tree lights.
“Did you see that?” Joanie asked, not that she expected an answer; Laura only spoke to her deceased family. Now, however, Laura turned toward the corridor, too. Her grey flapper-bob hung to one side as she cocked her head.
“They want us to follow.”
Another chill swept up Joanie’s backbone. “They? Who are they? Follow where?”
“I’ll go with you,” she said. “It’s time I went to sleep.”
Joanie shook herself. Delusions. Hallucinations. Of course no one had told poor Laura to follow. Joanie reassumed her smooth nurse’s air.
“It’s not bedtime yet. Don’t you want to see the carollers when they call?” Soon, occupants from the other wards would gather outside of this building, the Haven’s largest, to enjoy the once a year treat.
Laura’s eyes were as pale as moonbeams. Now they widened as she smiled. Then she began to sing. Not Rudolf. Rather a carol about a babe in a manger, and with such a clear flawless voice, Joanie found herself knuckling a tear away.
Other nurses were rostered on this evening. Pauline and Nora were playing cards with a couple of residents who couldn’t get enough Old Maid. Regina and Meg were checking medication charts. “Lysol Betty”, as she was teasingly known, was busy cleaning. A svelte black women originally from Dorchester Boston, Betty lived to disinfect. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, one doctor called it…“a defense mechanism against superstitious thinking.”
Superstition had a lot to answer for.
No need to take Betty away from her germs or interrupt the others, Joanie decided, heading for that corridor. She’d investigate herself.
While the place was tidy, and plumbing and electrical more or less up to date, Crest Haven couldn’t hide its age. Built in 1882, the same year Charles Darwin met his maker, the stone walls were still impenetrable and cold, its windows mostly high and barred. Every room had tales to tell…whispered stories about selfless deeds as well as acts that reeked of pure evil. Many believed lost and hopeless souls wondered these halls at night.
As her rubber-soled shoes squeaked along the cement floor, Joanie listened closely―but not for ghosts. She was after a clue.
Who had stolen up this corridor a moment ago? What had caused that tinkling crash she had heard?
She entered the big main bathroom and flicked on every naked bulb. As light bounced off the white walls into Joanie’s eyes, she flinched then blinked around. Pad-locked cupboards housed towels, soap, and ever more disinfectant. Marybelle Annaheim’s beloved rubber duck with its red bowtie had been left under the benches again. In one high cornice where ceiling met wall, a spider stopped spinning a doily. Other than a showerhead dripping on some tiles, everything was quiet.
That wasn’t quite right.
Joanie focused on the very back wall and three yellowed claw-foot tubs. Once, hydrotherapy was routine for treating insomnia, aggression, depression. Sometimes a “bath” went on for days. Joanie could still hear the screams and piteous moans in between bouts of eerie, steamy quiet. During her first week here, so many years ago, Joanie had confronted Matron over the so called remedy.
“The water’s too hot,” a younger Joanie had proclaimed. “Hot enough to scald.”
Behind a heavy desk, Matron Flynn had pushed to her feet. At four foot eleven, she smelled of Camel cigarettes and spoke in a ravaged voice Beelzebub would envy. If ever she played board games with the patients, she never lost. In Matron’s books, competition was therapeutic. Losing, she said, built the character.
“Nurse Russell,” Matron had rasped through nicotine-yellowed teeth, “your position here is one of help and reinforcement. It is neither your job, nor mine, to question long established treatments or, might I add, those who endorse them.”
“If I had to lay forever strapped in one of those tubs, I’d end up mad, too.” Joanie had lifted her chin. “So would you.”
“Perhaps you’re better suited to a less unsettling line of work.” Matron’s close-set eyes had shone like dark marbles as thin lips twitched. “More than one member of our staff has come to call this asylum home rather than a place of employ.”
Then, like now, Matron was a bitch.
Joanie was about to flick off the bathroom lights when a breeze fanned the back of her neck, stirring the curls she set at each temple every night. She caught the scent of fresh snow fallen on earth outside and then the feeling of another’s presence.
Carefully, she angled back around. At the far end of the vast room, one window was indeed cracked open.
And then it came. A distinct, here and now sound. A click, click, clink upon tiles coming from one of the toilet stalls. Joanie grinned even as she stiffened. I knew it.
Edging forward, she passed by the benches then began to check each stall. With every step, her stomach wound tighter and the clicking grew louder. When she finally reached the last stall, she slumped and let out that pent up breath. Nothing nefarious or “otherworldly”. Only a young girl, dressed in typical Haven garb, playing Jacks on the floor.
Hunkering down, Joanie spoke softly…gently. “I didn’t expect to find you here. Have you come from the Farm?”
The Farm was Haven shorthand for Farm Village where the littlies were housed. Cognitively deficient, mongoloid, clubbed feet, bent spines… Most staff were good with the children, even loving. More than once, Joanie had thought of adopting an orphaned Farm child herself. But a forty-year-old spinster with next to no savings? Pie in the sky. Unmarried women in Massachusetts still hadn’t won the right to take the contraceptive pill, for Pete’s sake. Not that she’d ever need that.
When the girl didn’t respond, not a glance or a sound, Joanie tried again.
“Everyone will be gathered outside to hear the carollers when the call. Did you wander away from your group…slip in that window and then down the hall?”
The girl only focused on the game. She was up to ‘fouries’.
And crouched there, Joanie became engrossed too. ‘Through the arch’ and then ‘reverse dumps’―the girl’s actions were quick and practised. As a child, Joanie had loved Jacks, too. Now, her fingers itched to join in.
Perhaps another time. If this girl hadn’t been missed already, she would be soon enough. What then? Restraints?
Maybe worse.
Setting her jaw, Joanie got on with it.
“I need to get you back. We don’t want to cause a stir.”
The girl played on…’over the line’…’through the needle’… her actions becoming faster and defter. So swift and sure, Joanie’s eyes began darting from side to side. She was getting giddy.
“I’m sorry, little love, but we need to get you back.” Joanie tried a different tack. “Santa won’t know where to leave your present.”
Everyone at Crest Haven got a gift Christmas morning, either from a relative or charity. But even the promise of a surprise wouldn’t sway this girl. Perhaps she was deaf or, more likely, autistic, locked away in her own little world. Autistic kids usually had special interests…like numbers, music, drawing. Jacks. They could shut themselves off for hours.
Joanie was about to lean across and try to physically coax the girl to her feet when she stood of her own accord, jacks suddenly forgotten. Throwing off her coat, she dashed to the middle of the room and eased up on tiptoe. Her heels came together and knees bent out before thin arms, draped in grey cardigan sleeves, lifted above her head in an elegant pose. In one graceful fluid movement, she extended one leg and leapt through the air, as agile as a deer. Then she began to dance, and so amazingly well, Joanie was mesmerized.
A voice rang up the corridor.
“Joanie? You up here, hon?”
Joanie froze at the same time the girl fell in a heap on the floor, like a pinprick had burst her balloon. That voice, Lysol Betty’s, rang out again.
“The carollers are in the yard. You’ll miss all the fun.”
Joanie and Lysol shared some interests. The time they spent dissecting General Hospital’s romantic affairs while doing dishes was nobody’s business. But Betty was cut and dried; germs were germs and rules were rules. If she found Joanie’s ballerina, Betty would haul her straight back to the Farm, hooting about it every inch of the way, upsetting everyone in the process.
That wouldn’t do.
Joanie had stood tall, ready to take charge, when the girl tugged her uniform skirt and put a shh-ing finger to her lips. Her whispered plea made Joanie’s hair stand on end.
“Help me leave.” Then, “Time to go.”
Next second, the girl was sweeping up her overcoat. She flew to the back wall and slipped inside one of those wretched old tubs. A trail of blond disappeared beneath the canvas top at the same moment Betty steamrolled in. Setting fists on her slender hips, the nurse scowled.
“Whatz wrong with you, Joanie? Didn’t you hear me call?”
“I thought I saw a cat,” Joanie said, hiding a grin. Her ballerina wasn’t deaf or autistic. She knew precisely what was what.
“Cat?” Betty muttered, “Leaving hair and flees all over the dang place. Ja find him?”
“Not a whisker.”
Still, Betty cast curious glances at every corner, picking her way forward bit by bit, ever closer to those tubs.
Joanie put some grit in her voice. “There’s no cat. I already checked.”
“I’m checking, too. Feline urine smells likes granny’s armpits. Stains like armpits, too.”
“Like the stains around the common room radiator.”
Betty snapped a look over one shoulder and keen eyes narrowed. “What stains?”
“More red than yellow. Like someone spilled cranberry juice and let it soak in. It’ll need bleach. Lots of scrubbing.”
Betty sniffed but didn’t take the bait.
Edging nearer the back wall, she eyeballed every crevice, ready to pounce. Joanie’s heart was pounding, throat was knotting. She imagined the girl huddled away in that dank, dark space, eyes wide, lower lip clamped between her teeth.
Her little ballerina ought to be putting cookies out for Santa. Listening to her mother read the poem all children longed to hear on Christmas Eve. She should be anticipating a laughter-filled, magical day with her family. The kind of holiday Joanie had spent as a child. The kind she had always wanted to share as a mother with her own.
Joanie strode forward. She was ready to drag the other nurse out of the room when Betty spun around, and so fast, Joanie jumped out of her shoes.
“Ja see that?” Betty exclaimed, wagging a finger at the toilet stalls.
Joanie’s stomach dropped like a weight. She’d forgotten about the jacks. Cue a full scale Lysol investigation.
“You did find something, Joanie Russell,” Betty said, striding forward. “No use saying you didn’t.”
But Betty didn’t make it to the final stall. Instead she stopped this side of the benches. With a fluid, victorious sweep, she scooped up Marybelle’s yellow rubber duck.
“Is this why you’re sneaking around?” Betty asked. “You want to steal Marybelle’s baby duck away for yourself?” Her playful grin slipped and pencil-drawn brows dipped together. “Whoa. Joanie, you okay? You look strange, like you need to lay an egg or somethin’.”
Joanie didn’t know about an egg, but her palms were sweating enough to drip. She needed Betty out of here.
“I don’t want to miss the carollers,” Joanie said. “Deck the Halls…Silent Night…”
“I like Blue Christmas. You’ll do all right with your Christmas of white, but I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas.”
A thump came from the tubs.
Betty stopped swivelling her hips and swung around, a bloodhound on the scent again. “What waz that?”
“Ghosts.” Joanie grabbed the other nurse’s arm and dragged her out the room. “Now hurry up!”

Interview with Ana Spoke, author of Shizzle, Inc

Indie Book Promo is happy to welcome Ana Spoke to the blog. She’s here to answer some of our questions and to share about her book, Shizzle. If this book sounds like something you would be interested in reading, please find  a buy link below and pick up a copy or two.


IBP – Try to describe your book in one sentence.

Ana – Community college did not adequately prepare Isa Maxwell for the world of corporate intrigue and constant looming bodily harm.


IBP – Tell me a little about yourself

Ana – I’m a Russian-born Australian, but I’ve spent over a decade living in the US – which is probably why my novel is set there. I have a very serious day job – which is probably why everything I attempt to write in my spare time ends up being comedic, even an unfinished attempt at a dystopian YA novel.


IBP – State a random fact about yourself that would surprise your readers.

Ana – Growing up in the Soviet Union, I was taught to shoot guns as part of my high school curriculum – in fact, the shooting range was in the basement of the high school building.


IBP – Do you have any advice for unpublished authors?

Ana – Don’t give up, and don’t waste too much time trying to bombard agents with your query letters – publish you first book yourself, build a social media platform, and then approach agents and publishers with your “proof of concept”.


IBP – How long did it taken you to write your current book ?

Ana From the concept to publishing, it took about two-and-a-half years. I spent the first six months just playing around with the concept and characters, writing “pantzy” disjointed scenes. Once I decided to get serious, I deleted half of what I had and finished my first, ‘vomit” draft in about three months. From there, I kept editing, at the same time looking for agents, for over a year. I’ve sent queries to over 70 agents and publishers – now I wish I spent that time writing the second book! Once I’d decided to self-publish, it was three more months of professional editing, formatting, and cover design. Shizzle, Inc was released on 4 September and made it to #72 on Amazon’s Humor Bestseller list within a few days.


IBP – What were the challenges in bringing this book to life?

Ana – I started with a joke to my sister – writing a novel was not part of the plan. Because I had to learn the writing craft as I was writing the actual novel, and because I initially did not have a plan, I had to go back and do major structural edits – like inserting a significant support character, or changing personalities of some of the characters. For the second novel, I have a better plan and have written backstories for all the characters – hopefully writing it will be easier.


IBP – Why did you choose the genre you write in?

Ana – I didn’t – humor genre literally chose me. For some reason, I can’t write a story, a poem, or even a birthday card without joking around. I had a blast writing Shizzle, Inc – I am so happy to read in the reviews that people were laughing out loud when reading it!


IBP – What inspired you to write, you took any ideas from other books, movies etc?

Ana – Shizzle, Inc started as a one-joke spoof of the now famous scene from “50 Shades of Grey”. No, not that one, the one where the protagonist falls in the doorway of the billionaire’s office! I wrote it as an email to my sister, and she loved it so much, she asked for more. I obliged, and she kept asking, until I had enough funny scenes to get the idea “there could be a novel in there”.

Shizzle, Inc is also a spoof of the current culture of obsession with entertainment and celebrity, so Google was indispensable in digging up what celebrities are up to, and what people think about them. I couldn’t have written this novel without an Internet connection.


IBP – Do you have an all time favorite book?

Ana – It would have to be “12 Chairs” by Ilf and Petrov – a Soviet comedy classic. I’m not sure if it is available in English translation, and even if it is, it is likely that only older Russians could appreciate the absurd, hilarious, yet accurate portrayal of early Soviet Russia.


IBP – How important do you find the communication between you and your readers? Do you reply to their messages or read their reviews?

Ana – I adore the fact that people not only take time to read my book, but also take time to leave reviews or comments on my blog! I respond to all comments on the blog, correspond with Twitter followers when I can, and I read and re-read the reviews.


IBP – If you could write outside your genre what would that be?

Ana – Motivational or self-help books – it’s now the main reason why I regularly update my blog. I hope that after reading my self-published success story, people can be inspired to try things they thought were not possible. I’ve not only written and published a novel – I’ve acted in short films, lived in four countries, changed careers several times, got too much education, participated in extreme sports (ok, just one extreme sport!) and in general treated life like an adventure. I wasn’t always this positive and capable, though – I’ve learned this attitude overtime, like any skill. I would love to convince others that they can, in fact, do anything they can set their minds to.


IBP – Are you working on anything new and if so when can we expect to see it?

Ana – I’ve started working on a sequel to Shizzle, Inc – I am aiming to release it in June, just in time for the vacations and some light pool-side reading!



FINAL-COVER-September-5Isa Maxwell is an average busty blond, a recent graduate of a community college, and rap-loving, gun-toting, self-proclaimed badass. More than anything else, Isa wants to be discovered, so that she can solve her financial woes and win back Brad, the love of her life.
Thanks to her clumsiness, street smarts, and an unbelievable bit of luck, Isa lands a dream job at Shizzle, Inc. Things start to look up when Mr. Hue, the playboy billionaire owner of Shizzle, Inc takes Isa under his wing. Isa even gets a number of new love interests, but all is not what it seems. In fact, absolutely nothing is what it seems.
Can Isa survive the tough world of corporate intrigue and constant looming bodily harm? Or will her efforts be the end of Shizzle, Inc and possibly her life?

Shizzle, Inc. can be purchased from Amazon


AnaSpokeAna Spoke is the author of Shizzle, Inc, which has been prominently featured in Top 100 Amazon bestseller lists since its release in September 2015. She is currently working on the second instalment of the Isa Maxwell series. Ana lives in Australia with her fiancé.

Ana can be found on her blog, Twitter and Goodreads



Beats getting sued for slippery floors.

Debt is always negative, no matter how positively you try to look at it. The “minus” sign in front of your bank balance is a dead giveaway, despite what you might think about leveraging or whatever. It’s even worse when it’s a credit card or a student loan, and you can’t even remember what you’ve bought or learned with it. Sure, the minimum repayments will eventually cancel it out, but by that time you will most likely have dentures and be peeing anywhere you damn well please.
That’s what I usually thought about my student loans and extensive collection of overdue credit card bills. Yet on that hot, fated May afternoon I was in high spirits, not because I was on depression meds, but because I had a plan. Squirming in high heels and trying to discreetly pull sweaty polyester out of my butt I, Isabella Maxwell, was about to meet my destiny. It was as clear as the big blue sky above me that I was destined to be discovered.
Being discovered was my long-cherished dream. I didn’t care what exactly I would be discovered for, as long as it meant a lot of money and at least fifteen minutes of fame. I’d always imagined it happening at the mall, or maybe a coffee shop. There I would be, laughing with my friends, young and carefree, throwing back my blond locks, when someone from “the industry” would happen to walk by. Something about me would stop them dead in their tracks and, after some small talk, they would offer me a contract for something amazing, definitely involving TV. They would say that I’m unique and special right in front of everybody, including Brad.
That dream became even more urgent after Brad broke up with me in February. We were high school sweethearts and had been dating for almost four years, so naturally I thought we were going to be together forever. I actually thought he was about to propose because he started to act all weird and nervous around me. Once, he went down on his knee in the parking lot and I screamed with excitement, but it turned out that his laces were loose, and I had to invent a story about a huge spider. Then a few days later, just before Valentine’s Day, he messaged me “changed Facebook status”. It wasn’t how I imagined a proposal, a bit too modern for me, but a bad proposal is still better than no proposal.
I logged onto Facebook with shaky fingers.
“Single.” Brad had changed his status to “single”.
I didn’t get it at first. I tried refreshing the screen a few times, until the tears turned the page into a swirl of blue and white. There had to be an explanation. Still crying, I pushed blindly at the phone buttons until I managed to dial his number.
“Sorry, babe,” Brad said. “It’s just that I’m about to graduate and get drafted by the NFL. You know that’s my dream.”
Brad was a football player in the same community college where I was studying for my liberal arts degree. He wasn’t quite quarterback material, but he was tall and fit, and had amazing cheekbones.
“But, but,” I cried. “It’s my dream too!”
“Look, babe, once I’m in the League, I’ll be dating actresses and supermodels. A girl next door just won’t cut it in celebrity circles, you know. I’m doing you a favor.”
It was over, but there was one more straw I had to grab. “But tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day!”
“Well, that’s the thing. Your birthday’s in a couple of weeks too. What’s the point of buying you two presents when we’re going to break up anyway?”
In hindsight, I have to admit that it was the most logical argument he’s ever made. Still, at the time it didn’t make sense to me.
“How can you do that, after all I’ve done for you? I did all your math homework for years!”
“Yeah,” he said, “and all I got was a C-plus average!”
The breakup cut me hard, so hard that I could barely concentrate on my own schoolwork. All I could think about was that I had to become famous so Brad would come crawling back to me, begging me to take him back. In my daydreams, I tormented him with rejection but inevitably took him back. What can I say, I was in love.
Unfortunately, time kept passing by and still no agents or directors came out of the blue to offer me any contracts. I couldn’t understand why, because I kept going to the mall and the campus, and even the trendiest, artsiest coffee shops, and I kept on laughing, maybe just a touch hysterical. I should have probably spent that time trying to develop some kind of talent, like acting or singing, but it didn’t occur to me that talent was a necessary component of being discovered. None of the people from Jersey Shore had any talent, and yet Snooki was on every magazine stand, sporting either a massive engagement ring, or a baby, or both. Plus, I was already an awesome writer – every story I wrote got published in the school paper and my friends and family loved them. Sure, I was the editor-in-chief of that paper, but back then I had no clue about conflict of interest. I also kept a personal journal and planned to turn my notes into a novel one day, kind of like a new Bridget Jones. It was guaranteed to be a huge hit.
Looking back, I was probably depressed. I spent most of my time wallowing and ate very little, sustaining myself mostly with Red Bulls. When I wasn’t dreaming of fame and fortune, I was stalking Brad on Facebook and Twitter, and Googling every possible combination of his name, nicknames, football team, and hometown. I also started obsessing over celebrity engagements and bump watches. It didn’t even matter whether I knew who the particular famous woman was, or why she was famous. I wanted to know whether she was engaged or pregnant, how many carats or how far along, whether it was a flawless diamond, a boy or a girl, and just how delighted was the fiancée or the expectant father. I stayed up late every night, unable to tear myself from promises that Jennifer Aniston had finally confirmed a pregnancy.
With all that drama in my life, it was only a matter of time before I lost my job waitressing at Applebee’s. My boss was a nice enough guy and ignored my tardiness for a while. He even bought my excuses of “horrible gastro” whenever I was late and “really horrible gastro” whenever I forgot to show up for my shift altogether. He finally had no choice when I dumped a bowl of French onion soup into a customer’s lap while trying to check my phone for updates. I had no excuse – the customer was expecting a Caesar salad.
So it was sometime in late May when, unemployed, half-starved and depressed, I glimpsed a sign of hope. I just found out that despite my best self-destruction efforts, I managed to graduate from Capitol Community College, so I was celebrating the news with a sixteen-hour TV marathon and a family-sized bag of Cheetos. It was then, somewhere between the reruns of Buffy and MASH, that I saw the commercial that would change my life forever.
It started with a stock-standard montage of an office skyscraper and a boardroom business meeting. I was about to flip the channel, when the boardroom window exploded, as three men clad in unidentifiable black uniforms and armor swung inside, sending the unsuspecting business folk into screaming fits.
The camera cut to the leader of the SWAT team, who took off his uniform and helmet, revealing a business suit and a perfectly coifed head of graying hair. I immediately recognized him as Mr. Hue, the famous playboy billionaire. The businessmen and women stopped screaming and started laughing, shaking his hand and exclaiming, “Mr. Hue!” and “You rascal!” The other two militants continued to stand guard.
Mr. Hue turned to the camera, which moved in for a close-up.
“I’m Mr. Hue,” he said. “You know me as the eccentric billionaire famous for crazy stunts, like going over the Victoria Falls in a barrel or hand feeding barracudas around my private island in the Caribbean.” There was a rapid and spectacular montage of the hooting Mr. Hue jumping out of planes, off bridges, and into oceans of every shade of blue and turquoise.
“But did you know,” said Mr. Hue, back in the shattered boardroom, “that I technically have a job as the CEO of Shizzle, Inc?” The montage resumed, now showing Mr. Hue surrounded by enthusiastic employees, talking and pointing awkwardly at business-looking documents.
“This job is very demanding,” Mr. Hue’s voice continued over footage of him in a hard hat, shaking hands with factory workers and pointing awkwardly at large blueprints. “It is only possible thanks to a dedicated team of personal assistants.”
A team of nearly identical beautiful blond women smiled together for the camera. The montage continued with them running to and fro with business-looking documents and large blueprints.
“As Shizzle, Inc continues to grow, so does my team,” said Mr. Hue, back in the boardroom, “and I am excited to announce the search for the ultimate Shizzle assistant!”
My pulse quickened, and my hand froze in the bottom of the Cheetos bag, where it was searching for crumbs.
“This nation-wide search will uncover the individual most deserving of making my coffee and answering my phone calls. Are you that special and talented person?”
“Yes!” I yelled at the screen and tossed the Cheetos bag.
“Are you ready to take on the world alongside the coolest and richest man in the southeastern states?”
“Yes!” I yelled with even more fervor.
He went on talking, something about terms and conditions, but I was no longer listening. I knew what I had to do.
Getting discovered would have been a lot cooler and easier than getting a job, but beggars can’t be choosers, I thought. That was my plan, by the way – I was going to beg Mr. Hue, beg like he’d never been begged before. The way I figured, once I became a personal assistant to the guy who is constantly on TV and surrounded by celebrities, I would get discovered in no time. I didn’t sleep until very late that night, updating my résumé, trying to put together a presentable outfit from my cheap and haphazard clothing collection, and grooming within an inch of my life.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who had the same bright idea. Somebody famous once said that most of success is simply showing up, and the next morning it looked like the whole southeastern US had done just that. When I arrived at Shizzle, Inc headquarters bright and early at ten am, a line of thousands of wannabes snaked all the way from the parking lot, along the building facade, up the massive front stairs, and into the gaping mouth of the entrance. I took my spot at the end and tried to estimate how long it would take Mr. Hue to interview all those people, but gave up after I realized that it would be a very, very long time.
To my surprise, however, the line started to move relatively quickly and after a couple of hours I was already out of the parking lot. The sun reached its zenith, mercilessly smothering me and other global warming non-believers. I took off my jacket and draped it carefully over my head, trying to protect my fair skin without messing up my attempt at an elegant French twist. I was thirsty and exhausted, but my heart was full of stupid, unwarranted hope.
It was a beautiful day. Nearby, birds were busy plucking bits of cheerfully pink insulation from the dumpster and carrying them off to make cozy homes for their young. They seemed committed to family life even without the engagement rings.
“Can you imagine a pigeon announcing to his pigeon girlfriend that he was going to fly off and start screwing pedigreed white doves?” I asked a pretty redhead in front of me. The redhead looked at me like I was crazy and returned to studying her notes. I didn’t have any notes, so I returned to studying my copy of Star.
The line slowed down around lunchtime. The redhead took a carefully wrapped sandwich from her insulated lunch bag, and I searched for loose M&Ms in the bottom of my purse. Then the line started moving again, even faster. When I finally reached the front doors, I saw why. Blocking the entry was a formidable group consisting of several security guards and an elegant middle-aged woman with a clipboard. The woman looked cool and sophisticated despite the heat, her dark hair arranged in a nest of wavy snake-like locks. The feminine look, however, did little to soften the steel edge in her eyes.
I watched in alarm as the middle-aged Medusa turned away most of the applicants on the spot. It seemed that only about one in fifty made it through the coveted doors. Coming closer, I could hear some of the exchanges.
“You can’t reject me just because I’m a man!” protested a skinny and very unmanly youth. “It’s unlawful discrimination!”
“It’s only discrimination if you are a woman,” Medusa said in a slight accent I couldn’t place, as the guards dragged the skinny youth away. “Next!”
Other wannabes just burst into tears after being told that they were too fat, too short, too ginger, or too “eww” to fetch Mr. Hue’s coffee. Suddenly I was no longer sure that coming down to Shizzle, Inc was a great or even a decent idea. I put my jacket back on and surveyed myself with the help of the phone camera. It was hopeless. My hair had defected despite the dozen pins and half can of hair spray. All my attempts at fixing the mess just made it look even more like a pigeon’s nest. My makeup was practically gone, washed away by the hours of sun and stress-induced sweating. When it came to my turn to be judged by Medusa, I’d already turned to stone from fear and dehydration.
She looked me over like I was a heifer at a state fair. I desperately tried to think of something smart to say, to show how special and talented I was, but it was hopeless. We stared at each other in silence.
“Okay,” she said finally and asked for my driver’s license.
Still speechless, I handed it to her. I could hear a low rumble of shock behind me. Medusa gave me back my license and waved me in. I stepped towards the doors and was almost knocked over by a pretty blond girl rushing out in tears. I recognized her as one of the candidates who managed to get in just minutes before. The sea of rejected and still waiting hopefuls engulfed her. Everyone was asking if she got the job, but the poor girl just wailed. She probably didn’t get it, I thought and walked inside.
It was the most impressive office lobby I’d ever seen, quite possibly the most impressive office lobby ever built. To start with, it was huge, easily large enough to park a mid-size passenger jet. It had a cathedral-like ceiling made entirely of glass panels in a spiraling design. The bright sunlight cascaded down onto the polished marble floors and reflected onto equally polished walls. Despite its humongous size, it contained hardly anything other than the reception desk and a few sculptures and plants.
“May I help you?” A woman’s voice snapped me from my reverie.
I approached the sleek reception desk. Behind it was an elegant logo of Shizzle, Inc and two impeccably groomed secretaries.
“I’m here for the interview. Isabella Maxwell,” I said and heard my voice echo in the background.
“Please have a seat,” one of the secretaries said and went over to the full-length double doors off to the side. I looked around. It was not clear exactly where I could sit, as the only items nearby appeared to be abstract art pieces supporting vases of white flowers. I took a chance and perched on the edge of what looked like a huge stretching cat.
The secretary reappeared from behind the massive doors.
“Mr. Hue will see you now.”
I jumped up and dropped my briefcase, reached down to pick it up, dropped my phone, then my sunglasses, and finally knocked over a vase. The heady scent of white gardenias filled the lobby. I shoved the phone and glasses into the briefcase and rushed towards the doors, mumbling “I’m so sorry!” over and over. I didn’t yet know that the water from the broken vase had already spread in the same direction.
I slipped on the puddle, my feet sliding forward, followed by the rest of my useless body. The secretary jumped aside with a surprised shriek as I skidded through the door and across the office, crashing into an impressive desk.
There was a grunt of what could have been either amusement or disapproval. I scrambled onto my knees and peeked over the huge mahogany slab. Mr. Hue was lounging back on a throne-like chair, his feet crossed on top of the desk, a very large Cuban cigar clamped between his perfectly white teeth. There was not a single crease in his gray Italian wool suit. He looked every bit the dazzling playboy billionaire, the owner of Shizzle, Inc.
“Hi,” I spoke in a barely audible whisper, rendered nearly speechless by the opulence of the office, his mere presence, and my comparative mousiness and general denseness. I felt behind me for a chair, unable to tear my gaze away from him.
“Fell me, me Miff Mawel, hot aches you infrared in a gob a whistle ink?” The cigar was obviously far too large to let him speak properly. He must have realized it as well, because he spat it on the floor and tried again, “Tell me, Ms. Maxwell, what makes you interested in a job at Shizzle, Inc?” He held onto his chin and fixed me with his gaze.
I did not expect this question, not in an interview. “Ahm, well, you know…” I looked around and blurted, “Your office looks amazing!”
He seemed pleased with my answer. “Yes. Indeed, it is the largest Shizzle office in the world.” He slowly recrossed his legs, giving me a close-up view of the gray wooly crotch of his trousers. Then, suddenly, he swung his legs off the desk and leaned forward. “What makes you think you are qualified to work here?”
I certainly did not expect that. I froze, like a deer in headlights. Or a cucumber that gets shoved all the way back in the fridge and then you find it a week later, and it’s all hard and gross. I tried to think of something, but the only thing that came to my jumbled and dehydrated brain was that he must’ve had his teeth professionally whitened, because you just can’t get results like that at home. I looked down and noticed that I was still clutching my briefcase. The résumé! I reached in and pulled out a single page of double-spaced Arial 14 text. I held it out to him with a shaky hand. He took it, and without so much as a glance threw it down on the floor, where it promptly caught fire from the still-lit cigar.
I froze again, unsure of what to do. Luckily, the secretary rushed in with an extinguisher and a mop and cleared away the mess. By the looks of it, that kind of thing happened regularly here.
“I don’t believe in formal qualifications,” Mr. Hue said finally. “I got none, but I got billions.”
I had nothing to say to that.
“What I want to know,” Mr. Hue continued, “is whether you have what I call character. Are you clever? Savvy? Have you graduated from a School of Hard Knocks?”
I thought back to my community college honors classes and the Harvard law degree that I did in my spare time. None of my qualifications came from the School of Hard Knocks. Also, I don’t actually have a law degree from Harvard. I mean, I do, but I printed it myself from a web template. But, like, on really nice paper, and I put it in a frame, so it looks all legit. Still, I had to admit to myself that I was indeed not qualified to work at Shizzle, Inc. My eyes welled with tears. I had to run away, as far away as I could from this perfection of rich mahogany and fine Italian clothing.
I jumped up, tripped over the leg of my chair and fell over for the second time in less than five minutes. This time, I did not have the strength to get up and just lay there until Mr. Hue walked over and stood above me.
“You seem to have a real knack for things.” He looked down at me, deep in thought, and then appeared to make a decision. “You’re hired!”
“What?” I couldn’t believe my ears. I scrambled up to face him, but he was already back on his throne.
“Beats getting sued for slippery floors,” he said to no one in particular. With that, he picked up a fluorescent pink marker from the desk, flicked off the top, and inhaled deeply.
“You start tomorrow.”

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