THE problem with being a creative genius, a veritable advertising legend, Max Tomlin had found, was that everyone was out to get you. The list of people bent on his own personal destruction grew longer by the day: his ex-wife and former business partner, his current business partner and relentless taskmaster, all the pretty boys buzzing around like temptation, and, worst of all, the industry critics who kept predicting his demise with each new campaign, only to be proven utterly wrong by the sheer force of his brilliance.
Today, even the sun was persecuting him, blazing into his bedroom window at the outrageous hour of half past seven, slanting across the bed, hunting him down as he tried to huddle in what was left of the merciful darkness.
At last, he lifted his head. “Marco! Close the damned curtains.”
Marco was his latest dalliance, a would-be actor who’d been born Dwayne or Darryl or something like that before taking a stage name in a fit of optimism. He didn’t particularly resemble a “Marco,” at least not in Max’s opinion. He was slight and fair-haired with huge, fluttery blue eyes and soft creamy skin. When people pointed out that Marco bore an uncanny resemblance to Max’s ex-wife, Christine Hunter, he waved them off impatiently. It was all purely a coincidence, he insisted.
“Marco!” Max called out more desperately. “Curtains!”
Then he remembered. Frederico, his interior designer, had talked him out of curtains. “Heavy folds of fabric,” Frederico had scoffed. “How 2008!”
What Max had ended up with instead was more of a sail, a swoop of canvas that canted out from the top of the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows as if his bedroom were a three-masted schooner. A complicated pulley system anchored the sail, a true feat of window treatment engineering, and no doubt it would have been impressive if it hadn’t been completely useless at keeping out the light. Frederico was so very fired.
Max reached out sleepily for Marco and got an armful of nothing. He pried one eye open, hardly worth the effort when his reward was a splitting pain in his temple. There was no sign of Marco anywhere, just a note left on the pillow. Max peered at it blearily.
You fall sleep on me agin!!!
Here was reason number one hundred fourteen why this relationship was never going to last: functional illiteracy.
After several false starts, Max managed to crawl out of bed. One of the hallmarks of genius was learning from your mistakes, and he kept his eyes firmly shut to avoid the brutalities of glaring sunlight. He felt his way toward the kitchen, doing his best to avoid the furniture and a stubbed toe.
Last night had been the Advertising Society of America dinner, an annual nuisance, and Max had gone armed with a plan to minimize the tedious waste of his time. He was all set to put in the obligatory appearance, have a drink or two, and then slip out early and spend the rest of the evening at home in more satisfying pursuits, preferably in bed with Marco beneath him.
The plan had been going so well too. He’d shaken some hands, made some jokes, and endured the fawning attention of second-rate creatives who foolishly believed a little transparent ass-kissing was all it took to land a job at Tomlin Foster Worldwide. He’d finished his Scotch and made a break for the exit when he’d had the bad luck to get waylaid by Christine.
“Off so early?”
He’d turned slowly at the sound of her voice, and honestly, did the woman never age? At thirty-eight, Christine was no less a knockout than she had been in her twenties when they’d first met. Her blond hair was cut short to show off her cheekbones, her dress cut low to show off everything else. Not that Max noticed such things as a recently converted gay man, naturally. Christine had Max’s replacement in tow, a blustering windbag with perfect hair and disturbingly white teeth.
“Christine. How lovely to see you.” Max’s mouth pulled down at the corners, as if his muscles were rebelling against his effort to look cheerfully unconcerned. “And… Phil, is it?”
“Bill,” Christine corrected. “Campbell. Which you know perfectly well.”
“Tomlin.” Bill pumped Max’s hand so hard that Max feared a dislocated shoulder. “You’ve probably heard the news already about the merger.”
“Yes, yes, Hunter & Campbell, quite the ring to it.”
The first time Max had seen the new nameplate on the building that had formerly been home to Hunter & Tomlin, he’d sincerely considered buying some spray paint and taking up vandalism.
“That’s old news, buddy.” Bill clapped Max on the back, nearly knocking him off his feet. “This is straight off the presses.”
“We’re getting married, Max,” Christine said, cutting right to the chase.
Max could only stare. “You—” He flicked a glance over at Bill, who was smiling with all the telegenic vacuity of a politician. “Him.”
Christine slipped her arm through Bill’s and made embarrassing cow eyes at him. “The next time you see me, I’ll be Mrs. Bill Campbell.” She turned a smile on Max that felt suspiciously like a punch to the gut. “Have a nice night, Tomlin.”
She swept away with Bill plastered to her side. Max glanced at the exit and then back over at the bar. It was no contest. The next thing he remembered was stumbling through the door of his apartment many hours—and he was guessing many Scotches—later.
Now he suffered a serious case of the morning after, his stomach lurching, his head pounding. He courageously persevered in his quest to make it to the kitchen. When his feet hit the cool slate tile, he took a shaky breath and braved opening his eyes again only to be greeted by a monstrous perversion. An oversized vase sat on the counter, the colored glass beads that usually filled it replaced by what looked to be every variety of tree nut known to man. Nuts! Marco knew perfectly well that Max was deathly allergic to them. He’d certainly never passed up any opportunity to remind him of that fact.
Another note sat propped up against the vase, scrawled in what looked like strawberry jam.
How’s this for decorashun?
“Huh,” Max said aloud.
Apparently, he and Marco had broken up.