Finding Camille by C.L. Donley Genre: Historical BWWM Interracial Romance
It's ten years after the end of WWII when Camille Winters accepts a position as the only colored secretary in the office at Hargrove and Chase, an advertising agency on Madison Avenue in the mid-1950's. When the owner and senior partner Kenneth Hargrove takes a professional liking to Camille after seeing her potential, Camille thinks she's finally found her niche, vindicated after pursuing her career rather than settling down. Mr. Hargrove uses his influence to find an old acquaintance from the war as a favor to Camille. But instead of the gesture bringing closure, the ghosts from the past suddenly come back to haunt her, putting her hard-won successful career in jeopardy.
For her first day at Hargrove & Chase, Camille wanted to exude professionalism, rather than power. Her simple black fit and flair Dior dress with matching purse and gloves would do the trick. It was pressed and already hanging on the open closet door of her bedroom.
She placed the last of the rollers in her freshly pressed hair and laid gingerly on her pillow that night. It was only 7:30, but she knew she would toss and turn, and she needed her rest if she was going to be fresh tomorrow.
She waited patiently outside the offices the next morning, 30 minutes before her first day of work was to begin. She scanned the wall of artwork hanging in the lobby.
Artwork that was their previous campaigns, numerous and instantly recognizable. Name brands of household items, clothing, and hotel chains.
Just then a young woman approached the receptionist’s desk. She looked over at Camille sitting patiently in the lobby.
“Miss Winters?” she asked, sounding surprised.
“Miss Caldwell,” Camille assumed in a mature voice, a deep velvety contrast to Christy’s cheerful squeak. She stood, ready to meet her open hand.
Christy Caldwell was to be her supervisor on this job. She was short and compact, blonde and blue-eyed. Her eyes perfectly matched her peacock blue dress, her blonde hair like a perfect pastry sitting atop her shoulders.
“Please, call me Christy,” she smiled. “You’re early!” she added, verbatim of every first meeting she’d ever had.
“If you’re on time, you’re late, Miss Caldwell,” Camille said without a smile. It was customary for Camille to comply with a supervisor’s request to use her first name only after the third ask and not before.
Camille followed Christy through the glass doors of the office and past the receptionist, who she could see out of the corner of her eye following their every move.
The front lobby at Hargrove and Chase hid from view the largest open office space she’d ever been in. The entire floor was theirs, an endless rectangle of corners and office doors.
“I trust you understand that this will be a temporary placement? Until the work is done?”
“Temporary placements are the only kind I take, Miss Caldwell.”
“Perfect. Let me show you to your office,” Christy said politely.
“I presume you mean my desk, Miss Caldwell.”
“Christy, please,” she blushed. “You’ve been at this longer than I have. I was told you have managerial experience. And some accounting.”
“Of course, but I’m used to proving myself. I’m certainly not here to replace anyone.”
“Nonsense, this is advertising,” Christy scoffed. “Everyone loves the madness, but no one’s competing to make sense of it. You won’t be in anyone’s way, I assure you.”
They followed one of two carpeted walkways down the middle of the lobby where there was an ocean of desks, mostly occupied. Nearly everyone stopped to look at the pair of them as though she were a well-dressed giraffe.
Nothing Camille hadn’t dealt with before. Her honey-toned skin in the context of white society created a mental puzzle that had to be solved right away.
She pretended not to notice as she followed closely behind Christy until they got to a narrow hallway that diverted into three other directions. Christy brought her to an abandoned windowless room with papers stacked to the ceiling on top of two desks shaped like an L.
A typewriter with its cover collected dust in the corner. There were two doors on either side to make it accessible from two separate hallways.
Her very own office?? What was going on.
“This… is what we like to call A-L. Job bags, logo files, film, and negatives from all of our campaigns from 1935 to the present, up to L. And occasionally the supply closet for those secretaries too lazy to go beyond the front lobby.
“We waste hundreds of billable hours simply looking for previous work. Creative calls it the landfill. I endure it. I’ve even started to learn my way around.”
“And you need someone to organize it.”
“More than that. We need a liaison. Someone between Creative and Accounts to keep it all straight. So that all I have to worry about is Mr. Hargrove.”
“You’re Mr. Hargrove’s girl?”
“Correct. I report directly to him and you’ll report directly to me. Ideally, all the girls will come to you for all their daily needs, eventually. So? What do you think?”
“Well, Miss Caldwell…”
“Well, Christy… I must tell you I can’t wait to get started.”
“Perfect. Your references were outstanding. They tell me you work just as hard as the boys.”
“Harder, I assure you.”
“Very well,” Christy laughed. “I usually take my lunch at my desk, so ring me anytime if you need me.”
“I take it Mr. Hargrove is rarely seen in the office?”
“Only for quarterly meetings or if he’s bringing clients to the conference room, of course. Rarely on this side of the building. Nothing you’ll need to be worried about. You’ll have a good view on the way to the Creative Director’s office, but other than that, no.”
Christy sighed, adopting an air of confidence. “You’ve been at this for some time, Camille, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you. Only speak when spoken to and all that. And that includes clientele. Refer guests to one of the girls and come directly to me with questions. The girls are easy to overwhelm.”
“Also, I have to say you’re a bit overdressed. Surely they didn’t put you out front at Cadillac?”
Camille brushed off the backward-facing insult. She wasn’t sure, but she was confident Christy was referring to her being colored.
“The men were a bit more out front than the girls were, I’m afraid. They liked to see a potential sale before the door chimed.”
“I see. Well here, there’s no need to worry about… first impressions,” Christy smiled. “I’d feel awfully guilty if something happened to that beautiful dress, where on Earth did you get it?”
“Dior. One of my bosses’ wives handed it down to me,” Camille lied. “You needn’t worry about me, Miss Caldwell. As you said, I’ve been at this some time. I know how to blend in.”
“Thank goodness,” Christy sighed. “I’ve never had to have such a conversation before. I must say, I was dreading it. I had no idea how this was going to go. We don’t get a lot of negroes on the 16th floor who aren’t working the elevator.”
Camille let out a breath unconsciously when her suspicions were openly confirmed.
“I can imagine. But I’ve been doing temp work in the city for five years. I know how to be seen little and heard even less.”
Christy put out her hand for Camille to shake, equal parts guilt and respect.
“Welcome to Hargrove and Chase, Miss Winters.”
“Thank you, Christy.”
C.L. Donley is a future New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of multicultural and interracial romance, who believes romance novels that are impossible to put down are the only kind that should exist! Armed with a B.A. in English and M.A. in Writing, she is new to the romance game, having written her first novel, Amara's Calling, after discovering the romance genre in September 2017. Donley writes in a style she calls "romantic realism" that is sophisticated yet simple, grounded yet unaplogetically escapist, and character-driven rather than plot-driven. This style creates a unique, modern reading experience ideal for book club discussions, personal epiphanies, satisfying re-reads, and the occasional spiraling reviewer! Love it or hate it, fans and critics alike can't deny her talent, and always find themselves coming back for more!
What inspired you to write this book?
I got the idea from a few places. It usually starts out as a scenario: what if these two people got together? And I really was drawn to that idea. And I might start thinking up a few scenes. But when I come up with a great conflict, or a twist, or a surprise reveal that I think fans would love, that’s when it moves from an idea to the start of a draft. So in this case, I came up with this really great plot, especially for the time period, and I sort of wrote the story around making that final resolution happen in the most satisfying way. Also, along the way I got the idea to use letter as part of the storytelling and that was really fun and added some dimension to the book.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie? I’m very visual in my approach to writing, so I imagine all of my books as movies, down to the trailer and score, haha.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
I came up with Camille’s name pretty early. As soon as I did, her character really came alive in my imagination and on the page. Ken, I struggled with a little. I used Mad Men as inspiration for the setting and for the hero, so I was using “Roger Sterling” as a placeholder. I didn’t feel comfortable using either the first or last name of one of the main characters of that show, but I re-watched the entire series as part of my research (very scientific, lol) and one of the characters is a writer who uses a pseudonym. So I combined that characters “real” name and his pseudonym to make Kenneth Hargrove.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead? I really wanted to use an era appropriate leading man for this, and I settled on Jimmy Stewart, because he doesn’t strike anyone as dashing probably, but he pretty much was. It’s a good fit for the character. I really wanted to cast him with a contemporary female in my mind, just to amuse myself. I started with Jada Pinkett Smith, moved to Tessa Thompson, and finally I gave up on that and found an era appropriate heroine to pair him with, because I just couldn’t make it gel. I had this old picture of Ruby Dee and it’s very classic and stunning and understated, and that became Camille in my mind. I spend a lot of time finding real-life inspirations for the physical descriptions of my characters, and sometimes to inspire their personalities. I use Pinterest to find visual inspiration for places and people. You can check some of them out at pinterest.com/cldonleyauthor/book-inspirations.
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