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Charlie All Night
By Jennifer Crusie
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAllie McGuffey knew a yuppie bar was a lousy place to find a hero, but she was desperate, so she had to make do with what she had on hand.
Unfortunately, what she had on hand was pretty pathetic.
She shoved her horn-rimmed glasses back up the bridge of her nose with one finger and peered at the row of stools at the bar. Businessman. Businessman. Empty seat. Businessman. Businesswoman. Empty seat. Empty seat. Thug. Businessman.
She swallowed the lump that had been in her throat for the past fifteen minutes. Okay, fine, if that's what she had to work with, she'd work with it. But it was going to have to be the thug, because she was never going to have a relationship with a suit again as long as she lived. Even a relationship that was only going to last five minutes.
And he really wasn't a thug. Allie tried to drum up some enthusiasm before she made her move. His dark blond hair was shaggy over his collar, and his brown leather jacket had seen better days, and his jeans were authentic grunge, but he was big and clean and most important of all, he made a nice contrast to all the charcoal suits that looked like Mark. And what Allie wanted more than anything right then was a not-Mark.
She knew she was behaving like an idiot, but given the bomb thathad just exploded in her face, the fact that she was not sitting in a trance was a step in the right direction.
It had not been a good day.
Allie had hit the radio-station doors that afternoon at her usual clip, banging them open like saloon doors. If they ever locked those doors, she was going to seriously hurt herself, but they never did since everyone had to be buzzed in from the street level four floors below. So she'd gone charging through as usual, happy to be there. As usual, what seemed like forty people converged on her.
Allie beamed as they pounced, loving the feeling that WBBB couldn't run without her, that without her there would be dead air and dust. This was who she was, Allie-the-producer, Allie-the-brains-behind-The-Mark-King-Show, Allie-the-savior. She knew she was probably a little whacked to depend on a radio station for her identity, but compared to all the other psychological problems running loose at the station, she was in relatively good mental health, so she didn't dwell on it.
At first it was just Karen, the receptionist, who called out "Allie!," but that alerted Lisa, her former student intern, who popped out of the hall looking miserable and said, "Allie, I -" and who was promptly pushed aside by Albert the financial manager, who said, "Allie, the ratings -" and who was overrun by Marcia, the two-to-six-time-slot barracuda, who said, "Allie, I heard -" and who was shouldered aside by Mark, Allie's ex-lover and present boss, who said, "I need to see you in your office. Now."
Allie pushed her glasses back up her nose so she could see him better. The silence that settled over the reception area was a tribute to how bizarrely Mark was behaving. Usually, he made his presence known through talking too loudly, dropping names and laughing heartily in the wrong places. Allie had once felt sorry for him, but she didn't now, having been dumped as his lover two months ago when he decided he'd look better standing next to Lisa than he did with her. He was right, of course, but it still hurt to look at him now. He stood in the entrance to the hallway, quietly superior, and it was such a change that everybody shut up and she followed him to her office without question.
Once inside, he closed the door behind her, went around to her desk chair and sat.
Allie fought back a snarl. All right, she wasn't territorial, but this was her office, no matter how tiny and cluttered, and her desk, and that was her desk chair, and he was making her a visitor in her own domain. So she scowled at him and said, "What is this?"
Mark crossed his arms and leaned back in her chair, which tilted so that he was almost horizontal to her vertical, and then he said, "There's no good way to tell you this, Allie, so I'll just say it. I know it's going to be hard, but I also know you're an adult and you realize that things change. People grow. Change is good." He let his head fall back and addressed the ceiling as he began to wax philosophic. While Allie waited for him to get to the point, assuming he had one, she considered how amazingly good-looking he was, and how mad she was at him, and how much she wanted him back.
This was the great mystery of her life. He was an insecure twit. So why had she fallen for him and why was she still hung up on him? Why did she miss going to dinner with him and lying in bed with him, all the while listening to him talk about himself? Of course, that had been research for the show, but still ... As he droned on and she automatically began to edit his speech for broadcast purposes, the possibility dawned on her that what she'd fallen for was the edited Mark King she'd created on the radio, not the real Mark King who sat in front of her now, boring her to tears. And that what she was most mad about was that she'd created him, and then he'd taken her work to another woman.
Mark was still waxing. "So that's why -"
Allie cut in, more exasperated with herself than with Mark. "Look, I've got things to do here, so if you'll just cut to the chase, I'll get back to keeping you a hit." Okay, that was below the belt, but he'd started the fight by sitting in her chair, the louse. Not to mention dumping her for a younger woman.
Mark sat up straight and put his palms flat on her desk. "All right, here it is. You're not going to be working on my show anymore."
The room spun. Allie dropped into the remaining chair in the room and said, "What?"
"I've sensed a certain hostility since our breakup, and it's affecting my performance. So Bill and I have decided it's best to put Lisa in your place since you've trained her. That way, the show won't suffer at all."
Allie sat stunned.
Mark smiled at her and spread his hands, fait accompli. "Lisa is producing the show, starting now. It'll be better for all of us."
"All of us who?" She took a deep breath. "Not all of us me. You have the drive-time show. I'm the drive-time producer. Unless I get the slot while you and Lisa move someplace cozy, this is not better for me."
"Well, of course I'm not moving." Mark sat up straighter in the chair. "I'm the talent."
He was the talent? Then what was she?
"And you're not fired or anything like that. We do appreciate what you've done," he went on, and Allie jerked her head up, anger finally evicting her panic.
"Of course I'm not fired. Why would I be fired? This makes no sense."
He plowed on through her anger. "And Bill's going to give you another show to produce. I made sure of that."
Excerpted from Charlie All Night by Jennifer Crusie Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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