Though it hated to admit it, it had been years since Harlequin Books had felt desirable. At a still sexy, yet admittedly outdated 65 years old, Harlequin had come to believe its only brushes with new romance would be in the novels it itself published, to be read with the same distant yearning by women its age. Oh sure, it tried to stay vital—maintaining an active imaginary sex life by publishing more than 110 bodice-rippers and other tales of erotically rough copulation every month. But since 1981, it had been locked in a faithful, if somewhat dull marriage to the Torstar Corporation, long ago settling in Toronto. The fires that had once burned deep within its descriptions of loins had been cooled considerably by time. Not even in Harlequin’s wildest fantasies could it remember what it felt like to be with a new partner.
“Well, hello there,” a man’s voice said. It was thick with an Australian accent—how exotic!—and phlegm. “My name is Rupert Murdoch. I couldn’t help but notice you standing over here in Canada. You look cold. And solvent.”
Harlequin’s heart skipped a beat as it turned and faced the deep-set eyes of the stranger before it—murky and brown, like two stagnant pools of sewer water. The roguish twinkle of his eyeglasses sent hot flashes all throughout Harlequin. The soft folds of his jowls rippled sensuously as he gave Harlequin his most dashing frown.
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re attractive to foreign markets?” Murdoch said, as Harlequin felt itself growing flush with embarrassment. Harlequin realized it was staring at his thick, undulating neck skin, straining against the knot of his necktie.
“I… I do generate approximately 40 percent of my profits from foreign-language editions,” Harlequin stammered, adding a girlish laugh that it hoped was coquettish. Don’t blow this! Harlequin said to itself. This is the first man who’s been interested in your assets in… Harlequin couldn’t even remember how long.
Murdoch leaned in, close enough for his aftershave to waft over Harlequin. It was slightly nauseating. “I have a substantial holding company called News Corp. It’s a very strong holding company. I suspect it could hold you all night long,” he whispered. At the corner of his mouth, a string of spittle stretched and flexed teasingly, in and out, in and out.
Harlequin felt a sudden quivering down low, in the belly of its accounting department. How often it had fantasized about this? Being swept off its feet, clasped safely in the bulging arms of a global media company, then spirited away to new and exciting areas of publishing? And now here it was, all happening so fast. Harlequin’s veins of revenue thrummed.
“Why, Mr. Murdoch…. I’m very flattered. But I am a strong and independent brand. These days, a modern publishing company simply has to be able to stand on its own two feet, don’t you agree?” Harlequin said. And yet, it knew that Rupert Murdoch could sense the hunger in its eyes. The longing for something… big.
“Oh, but of course,” Murdoch said in that voice, with its hint of Australian outback it was far too wealthy to ever bother with. “And I like my publishing companies independent. I just want to show you the world, my dear. I want to push you into positions you’ve never dared. And I must say… my digital reach is quite impressive.” With that, he gave Harlequin a saucy wink, or maybe it was just the folds over his eyebrow drooping.
Suddenly, thrillingly, Murdoch reached into his pants. And without so much as a word, he pulled out his bulging wallet. It looked so large and thick in his spindly hands. Harlequin let out a soft moan as Murdoch gripped the slick, buttery exterior and roughly spread it wide, plunging into its waiting crevice.
Again and again Rupert Murdoch thrust himself inside, grabbing fistful after fistful. Harlequin screamed in ecstasy and in counteroffers as Murdoch gave it more and more, until at last, shuddering, they both came… to an agreement that News Corp would fold Harlequin into its impressively sized HarperCollins unit for around $415 million in cash, with Harlequin operating as a distinct brand within it.
“Oh my God,” Harlequin murmured, dizzy with the afterglow of merging so quickly.
Only later, as the hot blush of excitement faded, would it begin to wonder if it was being used—if Rupert Murdoch didn’t go around putting himself inside every media company that struck his passing fancy, only to move on when he got bored. Sure, Harlequin had to admit it was sort of romantic not knowing where its corporate body ended and Rupert Murdoch’s began. But would this feeling last forever? Or was Harlequin just a fool?
“Well, see ya,” Rupert Murdoch said and got on his big, throbbing jet.
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