Brenda Novak‘s Frugal Find Under Nine:
Description of When Lightning Strikes (Whiskey Creek):
Simon O’Neal’s causing trouble again. And it’s up to Gail DeMarco to stop him.
Gail DeMarco left Whiskey Creek, California, to make a name for herself in Los Angeles. Her PR firm has accumulated a roster of A-list clients, including the biggest box office hit of all—sexy and unpredictable Simon O’Neal. But Simon, who’s just been through a turbulent divorce, is so busy self-destructing he won’t listen to anything she says. She drops him from her list—and he retaliates by taking the rest of her clients with him.
Desperate to save her company, Gail has to humble herself by making a deal with Simon. The one thing he wants is custody of his son, but that’s going to require a whole new image. He needs to marry some squeaky-clean girl who’ll drag him off to some small, obscure place like Whiskey Creek….
Gail’s the only one he can trust. She agrees to become his wife—reluctantly. But she isn’t reluctant because he’s too hard to like. It’s because he’s too hard not to love!
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When Lightning Strikes (Whiskey Creek) is available for purchase at:
Excerpt from Of When Lightning Strikes (Whiskey Creek):
Simon spotted Gail almost immediately. In a sea of silicone, Botox and spray tans, she stood out. Maybe it was her chest, flat by L.A. standards, the severe cut of her business suit with its starched white shirt or the stubborn set to her jaw. Or maybe it was her general disdain for the Hollywood crowd and her unwillingness to dress up and join the fun.
Regardless, Simon had always liked the fact that she wasn’t an adoring fan—almost as much as he hated it. One would think she’d at least try to blend in, if she was going to crash the party. He was fairly certain she hadn’t received an invitation.
He jerked his gaze back to the stunning blonde sitting in the booth next to him. A “hot yoga” instructor he’d met through a friend, her name was Sunny Something and she was smarter than the stereotype her short skirt and low-cut blouse brought to mind. She was a nice person, too. But he was bored. These days the women he socialized with seemed almost interchangeable.
“Nothing.” He tossed back the rest of his drink. “Why?”
She angled her head to be able to see where he’d been looking but skimmed right over Gail. She probably couldn’t imagine such a nondescript woman being of any consequence to him. If not for the guilt that plagued him, he probably wouldn’t have given Gail a second thought. When he’d told Ian Callister, his business manager, that he wished she’d go broke and return to the small town she called home, he hadn’t meant it literally. He’d been drunk when he made that statement. But Ian had decided to take revenge for the damage her defection had caused, and Simon had been preoccupied and angry enough to turn a blind eye to it. He hadn’t even asked what Ian was up to. Part of him figured Gail DeMarco deserved whatever she got. The other part didn’t see why Ian would go to too much trouble.
But just yesterday he’d learned that Ian had stripped her of almost every client.
“You were frowning,” Sunny said. “Is there someone here you’re not happy to see?”
“No,” he lied.
“What did you say?”
She couldn’t hear him for the music. He raised his voice. “Just getting tired, that’s all.”
“Tired? Already?” She offered him a pout. “It’s barely ten o’clock.”
His lack of interest was an insult to such a sought-after woman. He understood that. If he were a better man he’d pretend to be entertained, but he simply couldn’t fake it. Not tonight. He did enough acting when the cameras were rolling. Besides, he didn’t care if she moved on to someone more attentive. He’d been telling the truth when he said he was tired. He’d been tired since before he came, hadn’t slept in days. Every time his mind grew quiet, the regret that tortured him constantly swallowed him whole.
“Would you like another drink?” he asked.
She didn’t get a chance to answer. When Gail started making her way over, his attention shifted. She’d located him, as he knew she would. She was nothing if not focused. And it wasn’t as if he could disappear into the crowd. He was always the center of attention whether he wanted to be or not.
What would happen from here, however, was anyone’s guess. He’d never dreamed his ex-PR agent would have the moxie to show up at such an event, where he’d be surrounded by friends and supporters, not to mention the regular contingent of hangers on–people who were willing to kiss his ass regardless of what he did.
The girl had guts. He had to give her that.
He gazed up at her from beneath his eyelashes, as if he was too lazy or intoxicated to move. Maybe his temper had sparked the conflagration that’d consumed her business, but he hadn’t intended for Ian to be quite so vindictive and didn’t want to take responsibility for it. Barring a few minor faults, Ian was a good manager. He’d certainly never done anything like this before. She could call Ian if she wanted to talk. It wasn’t as if she was entirely innocent; she’d vented her fury by making a series of unflattering statements that’d wound up in the press.
Maybe when Simon O’Neal grows up, he’ll realize that women are good for more than one thing….
Simon O’Neal is his own worst enemy. He hates himself in direct proportion to everyone else’s admiration. Why, is anyone’s guess. The guy’s had it all. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no excuse for his actions….
Maybe some people find him attractive. But I wouldn’t sleep with him if he were the last man on earth. There’s no telling what kind of disease he’s carrying….
There were others he couldn’t remember verbatim. A comment about him needing more therapy than even a fortune like his could support, as well another about him being a waste of God-given talent, a man without decency, a charming Dr. Jekyll on screen and an evil Mr. Hyde off….
“What can I do for you?” he replied, using the same overly polite tone with which she’d addressed him.
She lifted her chin. “Could I have a word with you, please?”
Was she crazy? He had no interest in walking off with her. “’Fraid not. Maybe you don’t remember, but we don’t have anything to discuss these days. And in case you haven’t noticed, I’m with someone.” He could feel Sunny’s interest in their exchange; she watched them but didn’t say anything.
Gail ignored her completely. “It’ll just take a minute.”
He flicked his hand, hoping she’d interpret the gesture for what it was—an indication that she should take herself off. “I’m busy.”
Unfortunately, she didn’t go anywhere. With a decisive tug on her tailored jacket, she cleared her throat. “Fine. We’ll talk here. I-I’d like to offer you an apology.”
He didn’t want an apology. People were beginning to stare, to realize she was the PR lady who’d dissed him so badly. Everyone would want to hear what she had to say; he should get rid of her as soon as possible. But she’d just offered him an opportunity to challenge the integrity she clung to like a battle shield, and he couldn’t resist.
“Are you saying you didn’t mean all the terrible things you said about me?” he drawled.
She couldn’t go quite that far. She hesitated while searching for words, eventually coming up with a response designed to placate without being overtly untruthful. “I shouldn’t have said them.”
Damn right she shouldn’t have said them! She’d drawn first blood. She’d been so sanctimonious while sitting on the throne of her PR empire that Ian had shown her just how vulnerable she was. It’d been tit for tat, no big deal. And as far as Simon was concerned, their little…disagreement was over.
“No problem. I’m willing to let bygones be bygones if you are,” he said. “Have a nice night.”
“That’s it?” Her blue eyes widened.
He slung an arm around his date, slouching into her so he’d look comfortable and cozy and unlikely to go anywhere. “Were you hoping for more?”
Her bottom lip quivered as tears filled her eyes.
“I was hoping that maybe you might—”
Jerry Russell, the director of his latest project, interrupted by walking up and bending to see into her face. “What’s going on here? You making the ladies cry already, Simon?”
“You got trouble, Simon?” someone else piped up, and that was all it took to send a murmur through the crowd that made everyone turn toward him.
Tears rolled down Gail’s cheeks. He could tell she was trying to hold back but that only seemed to make matters worse. She was emotionally strung out and under scrutiny….
He had to get her out of here before he wound up on the front page of the tabloids yet again. One picture of her sorrowful face and some stupid paparazzi would report that he’d purposely and vengefully acted to destroy her: Box Office Hit Simon O’Neal Sends Small Town PR Girl Packing. Which, thanks to Ian, was close enough to the truth that he wouldn’t even be able to fight it.
He couldn’t afford to give his ex-wife any more fodder for the bitter war she was waging. If he didn’t clean up his act he’d never gain custody of his son. The judge had been very firm about that.
“No trouble,” he said with a reassuring smile and, telling Sunny he’d be right back, slid out of the booth. “It’s damn hot in here. I think we’ll get some air.”
Taking Gail’s hand, to throw any curious onlookers off the scent of a possible disagreement, he led her at a measured pace, nodding and exchanging greetings as they passed through the crowd to an expensively appointed back room, one that’d been designated for his use. No one ever specified what such a room was for because it was for anything he wanted. He could do drugs in here, have sex, throw a smaller, more private party…whatever.
He’d never been more grateful for it than now.
“What were you thinking coming here?” he growled as soon as he closed the door securely behind them. “And for the love of God would you stop crying?”
She dashed a hand across her face. “I’m sorry. I…I’m embarrassed, but…I can’t seem to help it.”
Tears made him feel inadequate. Especially coming from her. She’d always been so composed. “Try harder.”
“Thanks for the empathy,” she ground out.
Partially so he wouldn’t have to look at her, he crossed the room and poured a glass of champagne from the bottle that’d been left on ice, then pressed it into her hands. “Here, maybe this will help.”
“I don’t drink.”
He grimaced. “One of the many reasons I don’t like you. Drink it anyway.”
She downed it as if it was mere water and the resulting coughing fit distracted her enough that she was able to shut off the waterworks.
“So what is it you want from me?” he asked. “How do I make this…go away?”
The shrewdness in her eyes returned. “You mean me? How do you make me go away?”
After taking a second to think about it, he shrugged. “Basically, yeah.”
“You can say that so nonchalantly after destroying my business?”
He considered explaining that he hadn’t been as actively involved as she might imagine, but didn’t bother. He doubted she’d believe him, anyway. “You need money, is that it?”
“No! I want my old clients back. And not for my sake–well, not entirely. The way things sit right now, I’ll have to let my employees go, and…they need their jobs.”
Her situation was that dire? Already? He was going to kill Ian. Why’d he have to take it so damn far? “Fine. I’ll see what I can do to reverse the damage. Call me next week. Good enough? Will you go home now and…watch TV or reorganize your cupboards or whatever exciting thing such a fastidious person does in her spare time? Maybe you can go online and look for a dress that would be appropriate for a party such as this.”
He could tell she was tempted to land a good jab of her own. He knew she was capable of it. But held her tongue. With a sniff and a nod, she handed him the glass he’d provided and started to leave.
She glanced over her shoulder.
“I don’t have a disease, sexually transmitted or otherwise.”
At least she had the decency to blush. “Sorry,” she muttered and slipped out.
When Lightning Strikes (Whiskey Creek) is available for purchase at:
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