Rescue Me, страница 1
Copyright© 2013 Teri Fowler
Cover Artist: Sour Cherry Designs
Editor: Karyn White
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Shades of Love, 2
Copyright © 2013
He was losing her.
The stunning TV show producer, half hidden by an enormous maple desk in the middle of a stiflingly hot LA studio, dropped Seth Coulter's gaze and frowned down at her lap. Seth swallowed a groan and hoped that damned phone she couldn’t seem to keep her eyes or hands off for more than a few seconds at a stretch hadn't just sealed the fate of his family's ranch. He'd much prefer it if she couldn’t keep her eyes off him, especially with so little time to make an impression.
The woman, who he now knew to be Maya Franklin, spoke without looking at him, her attention still firmly fixed on her phone. "I'm sorry about this. My boss doesn't like to be kept waiting."
Seth tried to guess her age. She looked to be about thirty years old and only a couple of years younger than he was, but right now he felt like a kid who'd been called to stand in front of the teacher's desk for being a bad boy.
He stared at the top of her sleek, dark head, tension building in his gut. Under normal circumstances, Seth would have appreciated an unguarded moment to gaze at someone so beautiful, but what this woman could do for him and his family was far more important than some fleeting attraction.
The slim yet still somehow voluptuous female with a pair of killer legs had strolled through the reception area at the start of the auditions, and every man waiting had craned their necks to follow her progress across the room. Her thin cotton T-shirt and beige slacks might have seemed a sedate choice of clothing when compared to the attire—or lack of it—of the other women Seth had seen wandering around the studio lot, but they clung to her in all the important places and made her far sexier than her half-naked colleagues could ever hope to be. He'd dragged his gaze away from her deliciously pert behind, annoyed that a woman, albeit a stunning one, had made him lose focus. But his eyes searched her out again when the sound of a soft husky voice caressed his ears. Seth turned, just in time to watch with rigid fascination as she threw her head back to laugh at a colleague's joke, exposing her long, coffee colored neck. Her lush, cherry red lips parted to reveal a wide, dazzling smile, and her eyes danced with mischief as a glow spread across her smooth, brown cheeks. A hard pulse in his groin had him catching his breath, and he tore his eyes away again, acutely aware that he would need to regain control of his body before he got any closer to her.
But ten minutes in the room with her had cooled his ardor some. The producer might look like the kind of woman that fantasies were made of, but standing before her while she eyed him like a piece of horseflesh had been a harsh and much needed dose of reality. As cold as her fleeting assessment of his physical attributes might have been, it was still preferable to her losing interest altogether.
"Am I boring you?"
The producer jerked upright in her seat and dragged her ebony eyes away from the smart phone in her hand. A hot flash of temper put fire in her already intense gaze until she blinked it away and blew out a tense breath. Maya placed her phone on the desk and sent him a brittle smile that might have chilled the blood of a less irritated man. But in his current frame of mind, Seth just got a deep and perverse satisfaction out of rattling her cage, so he smiled right back at her. She cocked a dark eyebrow, and her sinfully plump mouth curved into a genuine grin before she bit on her lip to smother it.
"So, Mr..." Maya stopped to take a look at the sheet of paper in her hand, making a good job of pretending she'd forgotten his name. "Ah yes, Mr. Coulter. In your opinion, what makes you stand out amongst the many contestants auditioning for 'Rescue Me'?"
Ignoring the way her voice turned every word into a caress, Seth fixed her with a direct gaze, determined to make the most of having her full attention again. "Well, I'm a volunteer fireman in Oak Ridge, Texas—my home town. I grew up there, helping my family to run the ranch we've owned for a couple hundred years. I'm also involved in a local charity, and I hope to raise the public's awareness over the issue of drought affected farmers and ranchers."
The shutters closed over her eyes, and Seth knew he wasn't going to get the job before she spoke. "As you probably already know, Mr. Coulter—"
"Call me Seth."
She smiled. "Well, Seth ... as I was saying, there are more fire fighters auditioning for this show than anything else. 'Rescue Me' will be made up of a mixture of the emergency services—police officers, fire fighters, EMTs—all competing for the chance to win the five million dollar prize."
"I know, I read the information pack your assistant gave me," Seth said, forcing a tight smile to hide his irritation. Surely the production staff had known he didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell when they'd called him a month ago to tell him he'd made it through to the first round of auditions? Almost every other person he'd met in the waiting area had been a fire fighter. Why had they agreed to audition so many? He'd wasted time he could ill afford to lose to come to LA, leaving his father to try to cope alone with the ranch. If he'd been lucky enough to get selected, his financial worries would be over, at least in the short term, because the studio would give the contestants a generous living wage as well as accommodation for the duration of the show. Seth had planned to send the money home.
"Help me out here. Is there more you can tell me—something that makes you unique?"
Maya's eyes crawled over him as she waited for his reply, and she sucked her bottom lip between her teeth again in a gesture Seth was becoming familiar with. Her gaze lingered on his jaw, and then slid over his neck and down to his chest. Seth wished he'd chosen to wear the long, loose blue shirt he’d bought specially for the audition rather than the tight white T-shirt he'd ultimately chosen, because the second her dark brown eyes landed on his groin, he wouldn't be able to hide his reaction to the caress of her gaze. Seth cleared his throat, and Maya's eyes snapped up to his face, a tell-tale blush on her cheeks as if she'd realized what she'd been doing.
"I'm a rancher and a mentor to a local orphanage, as well as a volunteer at the ranchers’ charity I already mentioned. I hoped to use the show to raise awareness, and I planned to share the money with the charity."
To his surprise, Maya grimaced and glanced down at the application form she held in her hand, her brow creasing. She lifted the pen in her hand to her glistening red lips and sucked the tip between her teeth. Seth dragged his gaze away from her mouth, fighting to suppress a surge of heat from imagining that luscious mouth doing the same thing to him.
"In real life, your charitable work is an admirable asset, but for a TV audience, it's a reminder that life is very hard and very cruel, which is exactly what they are trying to escape by watching a few hours of mindless TV. They want to forget their problems, not be reminded of them. If you were to be offered a part in the show, it would be on condition that you didn't mention the charity. The orphanage might be okay. It will tug on the viewers’ heart-strings."
Seth knew Hollywood was tough, but in his naiveté he'd assumed that starving kids would matter to them. To hear a pretty woman say such
Maya's cheeks flamed. "Don't make assumptions about me, Mr. Coulter. You have no idea of my personal feelings about these issues. I might have chosen the wrong words, but I was simply stating what the studio would want." She held his stare for a second, and he watched the anger drain out of her gaze until she glanced down at her hands, shielding her eyes from him with her long, dark lashes. "But none of that matters now because, as I said, Mr. Coulter—"
Seth took a step towards her and placed his palms on her desk. The gentle scent of warm orchids swirled around him as he leaned close enough to be able to see that the glow on her skin wasn't created with cosmetics, it was all her. "So it's Mr. Coulter again now? I'll spare you the discomfort of reminding me one more time, Ms. Franklin, that I'm just a nobody with a cause."
He turned and walked out of the audition, cursing his own stupidity. The last chance to save the ranch as it was had gone. They were just gonna have to sell the top forty acres, and his dad would have to understand. Times were different now, and very few ranches survived without making some drastic changes to their set-ups. Seth planned to ask his father about the dude ranch idea again. The old man was just gonna have to accept that things couldn't stay as they were. If the Coulters didn't do something about their debts, then the bank sure as hell would.
Seth burst through the door and back out into a waiting area still full of excited young men and women, all waiting for their chance to impress the beautiful Maya. He regretted his harsh words to her. Making her feel guilty about something that wasn't her fault hadn't been fair.
He shrugged off the thought of her as he pushed on a glass door and stepped out into the hazy LA afternoon. A zebra print Cadillac cruised to a stop in front of the building, and Seth watched in amazement as a middle-aged guy, dressed from head to toe in the same pattern, got out of the car.
Seth ducked his head and put his Stetson on to hide his grin as the guy walked past him. It was time to get back to Texas. He sure as hell wasn't cut out for Hollywood!
Maya walked into Larry's Bar and out of the stifling heat of the Los Angeles night, sure that her nerves were only slightly less frazzled than her hair. Dumping her bag on the counter, she kicked off her shoes and lifted the dark mass of curls off her neck, fanning at her heated flesh with an ineffectual hand.
Looking around to see how many people Larry had in for the night, her gaze was drawn to a large guy sitting at the end of the bar. Her body reacted to hunk of gorgeous male staring back at her a split second before recognition slammed through her. Seth Coulter.
Hundreds of people had worked their way through her line of vision during the auditions, dimming her memory of his handsome face for a moment, but she hadn't forgotten his words. He stared right back, the beer bottle dwarfed by his huge hand and suspended halfway to his mouth, like he'd forgotten what he was supposed to be doing with it. Maya smiled, and he blinked a couple of times before taking a long pull on his beer, his throat convulsing as he swallowed, his light blue eyes barely visible through slit eyelids but still fixed on her. She watched him drain his drink and held his gaze until he wiped the moisture from his lips with the back of a tanned fist and grinned, revealing dimples she hadn't noticed earlier. She smiled back, happy to see he wasn't holding a grudge over what she'd said earlier.
"Down, girl," someone whispered beside her.
She turned to find Larry, the owner of the cocktail lounge and her best friend since the day she set foot in LA, grinning with barely restrained glee. He put a drink down for her on the bar, taking care of her without being asked, as usual. "You look like you're gonna eat that boy alive."
"Well, I am pretty hungry..." She laughed as she left the words hanging, aware that Larry knew as well as she did how long it had been since she'd even looked at a guy, never mind touched one.
"I think you might find this one a little rustic for your tastes." Larry swiped a cloth across the counter, trying to hide the fact he was gossiping. "He's a cowboy to the core and, unfortunately for me, as straight as an arrow."
"Oh my God ... you didn't?" Larry didn't usually flirt with the trade, but maybe he'd made an exception? Considering the fact that the man in question was six feet four of gorgeous blond Texan, Maya couldn't blame her friend for breaking a personal rule.
Larry raised his eyebrows. "Girl, please! That guy wouldn't ping my gaydar if he walked in wearing a Dolly Parton wig."
She snorted, covering her nose with her hand as she remembered how unattractive that looked and cast a glance towards Seth just as he rose from his seat. Damn! Is he leaving already?
But he didn't leave. He left his jacket on the chair and his hat on the bar and headed for the bathroom, walking past her towards the back of the room. Maya watched him go, letting her eyes roam over his tousled blond head, to the T-shirt stretched taut across his broad shoulders and down past his torso to finally land on his denim clad ass. He had dimples there, too.
Larry sucked in a ragged breath, and she turned to find him staring after the cowboy in slack jawed admiration.
"What? I get hungry, too." Larry tried to look innocent but gave up on that and leaned in close, as if ready to compare notes, but a customer approached the bar right at that very moment. "Fix your hair," he muttered as he walked away.
Casting her gaze to the mirror lining the back wall, she groaned when she saw the carnage that used to be a sleek curtain of dark satin tresses. The humidity brought out every bit of kink and wave she'd inherited from her parents, and Maya could do no more than smooth away the strands sticking to her face and neck. She'd learned from experience not to play with her hair once it started to frizz. Her eyeliner hadn't fared much better, and she swiped at the dark smudges under her brown eyes.
A sudden tingle down her spine made her scan the room behind her in the mirror, and she found Seth approaching. Her eyes locked with his, and awareness slammed through her again, as if the hours away from him had done nothing to lessen the way her body had reacted earlier when the two of them were in the studio. Seth dropped her gaze as she turned to face him when he drew level with her.
"Maya, I owe you an apology."
She shook her head. "No, you don't. It's I who should apologize. I've been in the TV industry so long I forget that the people I am talking to have lives, you know? I really didn't mean to imply that I don't respect what you do."
"Don't make me feel any worse than I do already." Seth placed his hand on her shoulder, adding to the heat building in her groin since the second he'd groaned out her name in that sexy drawl. "Can I get you a drink?"
She nodded her agreement, unable to speak while his touch lingered. Maya watched as Seth summoned an unusually discreet Larry with a flick of his finger. Larry's poker face gave nothing away as he took Seth's order of a beer for himself and the martini she'd requested.
Seth's hand slid from her shoulder, the slightly calloused tips of his fingers caressing her skin with a feather light touch as he let his hand drop to the bar. His attention seemed to be fixed on the mirror, and she cast a glance that way to see what he was looking at, only to find his blue eyed gaze blazing back at her. The smoky glass muted the color of his eyes, making them dark and full of promise, and the shadows cast from the overhead light did wonderful things to his bone structure. The firm line of his lips was slightly exaggerated in his reflection, and she found herself staring, left almost breathless by the thought of them following the path his fingertips had blazed across her skin.
Maya felt a tightening in the pit of her stomach, and she dropped Seth's gaze, a little frightened by the blatant invitation in his eyes. He turned away from the mirror and smiled at her again, seemingly unaffected by her nervous reaction. His demeanor was so different from what it had been earlier in the day that she
Realization dawned just as Larry arrived with the drinks. Seth wasn't interested in her. He was just trying to make sure he got on the show!
She waited until Larry had served them and couldn't help but smile, despite her irritation, when her friend moved no more than two feet away, probably so he could overhear their conversation. If Larry was expecting to hear something juicy, he was about to be disappointed.
She turned to speak to Seth. "Look, this drink is on me, okay? I'll pick up the tab. I hope you don't mind, but I've had a hell of a day and I need a few minutes to relax before I head home."
Maya picked up her bag and her shoes and took her drink to a booth in a dark, secluded corner of the bar, disappointment eating at her gut. Okay, so she wasn't surprised that Seth thought he might influence the outcome of the auditions by flirting with the show's producer. Maya had seen it a million times before. But for once, she' was actually attracted to the guy—before she knew what he was up to, of course.
Clasping her hands around her glass, Maya kept her gaze cast downwards, fighting the urge to look over at Seth and gauge his reaction to being dismissed. His would just be another of the hundreds of disappointed faces she'd already seen today.
Annoyed as she was at Seth's attempt to seduce his way into the show, certain parts of the job had never been easy for her. Shattering people's dreams was hard work. She indulged in a little acting herself at those times, putting on a cold, uncaring mask so she could deliver the bad news. Maya often cried when they left the room, haunted by the desolation etched into their features. Despite the advice of Larry and her colleagues at Real Studios, she'd never quite managed to shut down her emotions over the whole process.