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In a Cowboy's Bed
By CAT JOHNSON, VONNA HARPER, LYNN LaFLEUR
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All rights reserved.
Heather stalked into the ground-floor office and flung open the door hard enough it hit and bounced off the wall. Heart pounding, she ignored the fact that her mother was on the phone and launched right into her tirade. "You told them no?"
"I'll have to call you back." Mariah London replaced the receiver and folded her hands on the desk in front of her. "Of course, I told them no."
She hadn't even asked what Heather was talking about, which meant her mother had known the decision would make her this upset. "I'm an adult. You can't tell me what to do."
"You're twenty-two. I'd hardly call that an adult. But you're right. You're over eighteen, so as your mother, I may not be able to tell you what to do, but as your manager, I sure as hell can." Her mother's smug expression raised Heather's blood pressure.
"I can't believe you." Heather tangled her hands in her curls. She drew in a breath to calm her frustration and regrouped, coming up with a new defense. "You'd really have me give up a featured center spread in one of the most respected magazines in the world?"
"A nude spread." Her mother raised one thin, perfectly plucked brow.
"A tasteful, artistic, nude photo shoot with the most famous photographer alive today." Heather's voice rose higher.
"There's no such thing as tastefully nude. You're the Heather London. We've built your career—a very successful one, I might add—on your wholesome, girl-next-door image. I'm not going to undo twenty-two years of molding that image. So the answer is no." Her mother reached for the desk phone and began to dial.
Apparently, she'd been dismissed.
Oh, no. She didn't think so. Heather folded her arms across her chest. "Marilyn Monroe was the girl next door once."
"Marilyn Monroe killed herself." Her mother put the receiver to her ear and donned a smile. "Hello, again. It's Mariah London. I'm so sorry about that little interruption. Where were we?"
That little interruption. That's what she was to the woman who'd given birth to her? Heather's career had supported her family, and paid her mother's salary, for two decades. Yet it seemed her manager-slash-mother didn't trust her to make even one decision regarding it. She spun on one heel and stalked out of the room.
"Fuck this." The curse went unheard in the empty hallway of the obscenely large house Heather's hard-earned dollars had paid for in this overpriced Chicago suburb.
Even where they lived had been her mother's choice. They'd moved here after her parents divorced. The reason had been that besides the extremely active film community in Chicago, they were near a major airport hub and could get to the East Coast or the West Coast in a matter of hours, all while still being insulated from the evil New York and Los Angeles influences her mother wanted to protect her from.
God forbid Heather have a social life or—gasp—a boyfriend.
She pulled her cell phone out of the front pocket of her jeans—her Heather London designer label jeans from the spring collection. They were embroidered with peace signs and butterflies, and were available only in Junior sizes. All because her mother refused to admit she was a woman now, not a child, and that she'd be able to cultivate adult fans if she were allowed to take adult roles.
Things were going to change. She scrolled through her contact list to her agent's number and dialed.
He answered, "Heather. Good morning. What can I do for you?"
"You can call back Vanity Fair and tell them I'm taking the spread." If it wasn't too late and they hadn't already booked someone else.
"But your mother—"
"I know what my mother said, but it's my earnings that pay your commission, so I would think you'd listen to me." Keeping her voice low, which was an effort, she climbed the wide stairs. The farther she got from her mother's office, the better, for both her mood and her deception.
"Heather." There was a tone to his voice that endowed the one word he spoke with concern. How could her agent sound more fatherly than her actual father?
"Mark, please. It'll be good for my career. You know it as well as I do. How much longer can I continue to play the cute little high-school girl? I'm twenty-two. My last role was so sickeningly sweet, even I wanted to vomit from the script. How the hell are my fans supposed to feel?" She'd grown up in real life, and it was about time she did so on-screen as well.
He sighed. The sound gave her hope.
"You think I'm right." She smiled. One ally in her corner was all she needed.
"Yes, I do. The fans that started with you years ago are older now, too. And it won't be long before you're too old for the younger demographic, the new fans, to relate to you."
"So book me this magazine spread. Please, Mark."
He blew out a breath loud enough she had to pull the phone away from her ear. She smiled. He was giving in.
"All right. I'll book it, but you have to work things out with your mother. Just explain it to her the way you did to me."
"No problem. I will." When the magazine was on the stands in six months or so. "But until I do, I think it's best we keep this between us."
Mark laughed. "Believe me. I'm not going to be the one to tell her. That honor belongs all to you. Oh, one more thing. Annie's only in Chicago for another day. She wanted to shoot the spread tomorrow morning. Can you make that work?"
"Yeah, I'll make it work." For this, the first step in reclaiming her life and her independence, she'd move heaven and earth.
"There's something else."
She didn't like the turn his tone had taken. "What? What's wrong?"
"I had a script cross my desk. They'd specifically asked for you, but when I sent it to your mother, she rejected it."
Her stomach churned. "What kind of role?"
"Eighteen-year-old runaway turned prostitute meets a troubled, bad-boy, rich kid. They fall in love. She makes him a better person, and he helps her turn her life around. Very Eliza Doolittle. Basically a younger retake on Pretty Woman."
Heather's chest tightened. "She said no because the character was a prostitute."
"Yup, and because there were a few sex scenes."
"How long ago was this?"
"A few weeks."
"Did they cast it already?" She asked the question, but feared the answer.
Heather was twice the actress that girl was. Hell, Miley wasn't even an actress, just a singer playing at acting. But her parents had let her do a nude shoot a few years ago. And now she had Heather's role.
She swallowed to rid her mouth of the taste of acid. "Okay. Go call about the shoot. Call me back if they've already got someone else."
"Will do. You go tell your mother."
"Bye, Mark." She disconnected the call and lowered herself into the chair next to her bed. A teenage retake on Pretty Woman. That movie made Julia Roberts's career. This role could have remade Heather's, but her mother had said no. Because of a few sex scenes.
Maybe she should tell her mother she'd already had sex in real life. That might knock her out of trying to keep Heather a virgin on-screen for the rest of her career. Not that it had been good sex, but that didn't matter. She and Kienan, her costar on her last movie, had both been too young and too inexperienced to enjoy the few times they'd done it, on top of being afraid someone would walk into the trailer on set and catch them. But perhaps the knowledge her little girl was no longer virginal would put her mother in the hospital with some sort of aneurysm. Then she could hire a new manager. One who did what she wanted. Her mother sure as hell had never done that.
The sound of blood rushing through her veins filled her ears, making her feel as if she were in a tunnel. Closed in. Trapped. Trapped in Chicago. It would make a good movie, if it weren't, tragically, her real life. She was stuck in this rut and would be until she got out from under her mother's thumb.
But where could she go? What could she do? All she had in the world was in her mother's control. Her bank accounts. Her investments. Even the title to this house was in both their names since it had been purchased while she was a minor. It wouldn't be easy to break free. It would be even harder to convince her mother she was right about changing her image.
With her resolve set, Heather decided doing this photo shoot would be step one. She'd think of step two later.
"Missy, come here!" Ben Townsend whistled to the dog, but the Australian shepherd had a mind of her own. She continued toward the barn, black and white tail wagging the entire way.
After driving to the far field to check on the herd, he'd been headed from his truck to the house. At the end of a long day, he needed to grab a shower and some grub, possibly not in that order. Now, both would have to wait. He redirected his path and followed the dog to find out what the hell she was after in the barn.
The first thing he saw when he neared the outbuilding was that the lights were on, which they shouldn't be. Fucking Ned knew better than to leave lights turned on. Their electric bill was high enough as it was. Pissed, he headed inside to hit the switch ... and saw the second thing to raise his blood pressure in the past two minutes: Ned, his jeans wide open, pounding into a female who wore nothing below the waist at all. Yet another thing Ned knew better than to do.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Ben stopped dead in the doorway, near enough that Ned had no choice but to hear him, but not too close to the sight he'd rather not be seeing.
His business partner, until Ben strangled him, broke into a grin and said, "Fucking."
The woman bent over the hay bale—and, God, did Ben hope she was a woman and not an underage girl—giggled at Ned's joke. That only encouraged Ned to grin wider and pump harder.
Ben shook his head. "Do you want to go back to jail?"
"I won't. No worries." Ned ran his palm down the woman's side. "That bother you, darlin'? That I've been to jail?"
She glanced over her shoulder and let out a snort. "No, I've spent the night there a few times myself."
"I knew I liked you." Ned raised a brow and shot Ben a look that had I-told-you-so written all over it.
Ben tried to concentrate on staring into the dark corner of the barn rather than watching his best friend—possibly former best friend after this—have sex right in front of him. "You're not even going to stop what you're doing so we can discuss the situation?"
"Nope. Can't. She's paid by the hour. Aren't you, sweetheart?"
"Yup, though for a little extra, I'll extend your time and let your friend here join in, too." She sent Ben a sultry glance. Meanwhile, he couldn't keep his gaze from how her ass jiggled every time Ned slapped into her from behind.
Ned turned his head to look at Ben. "You want in?"
"No, I don't want in!" He wanted Ned out.
Ned had been arrested for having sex with a drunk seventeen-year-old a month ago. The damn charges were still pending as they awaited a court date, and he was fucking more women? And at their place of business, too? Ben had worked too damn hard to make B&N Ranch a reality to have Ned fuck it all away. Literally.
"Suit yourself." Ned shrugged. "How much longer I got, love?"
"About thirty. What're you worried about? You can't last that long."
"Oh, really?" Ned laughed. "Maybe not, but I have other plans for you after I'm done here." As if to illustrate the point, Ned ran a palm over the fleshy part of the hooker's ass before delivering a slap hard enough to make the sound echo off the walls.
Jaw clenched, Ben spun on the heel of one boot and strode out of the barn.
"Take the damn dog with you," Ned called after him.
Pissed off now, as well as tired, hungry, and dirty, Ben whistled and the dog bounded after him. With Missy at his heels, following him this time instead of the other way around, he headed through the fading light of evening toward the house. If he didn't get away from Ned now, he might take a whip to him.
How dumb could the man be? He'd sent that seventeen-year-old home with a bruised ass, too. That was the other part of the charges against him.
Couldn't the man just be happy to get laid? He had to get into kinky shit, too? Ben had gone into the barn too many mornings and found things lying around that shouldn't be. Ropes. Strips of leather. Whips. Veterinary lube.
Thinking about that last item and what Ned had likely used it for with those women had him starting to get hard. Crap. He'd been too long without sex with a woman instead of his own hand. Trying to keep an eye on Ned and run this business was a full-time job that didn't leave much time for a social life. Or a sex life.
Since both he and his clothes were covered in a day's worth of dirt and sweat, Ben strode directly to the bathroom, his long legs eating up the distance quickly. Inside, as he stripped, Ben caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror above the sink. His blue eyes peered back at him from a face streaked with dirt. His already dark hair looked even blacker where his hatband had made it damp with sweat. Stepping beneath the hot stream of water, he grabbed the soap and used it to scrub himself clean from head to toe. Meanwhile, his cock still wouldn't go down. The image of that scene in the barn continued to play in his head no matter what he did. It was disturbing. Seeing Ned with that hooker was not on his top ten list of things to do tonight. Not even in the top hundred, yet now he was hard as a rock.
Fuck it. He gave up trying. He grabbed his cock with one soapy fist and pumped.
He hated it with every fiber of his being, but he was so primed and ready it didn't even seem to take two minutes before he shot off into the stream of water pounding over him. Maybe he should have accepted the woman's offer. If Ned and his perversions were going to rub off on him anyway, Ben might as well get something out of it.
"Bend your knee just a bit more."
Heather did as told, feeling the cool air of the room hit places that normally weren't exposed. Her face heated at the thought.
"Perfect." The shutter snapped a few more times.
Nothing would show in the photos. The photographer promised her that, and she was a professional, not to mention a woman. Even the crew, the few there, were all women. It wasn't like Heather was lying facedown on a sheepskin totally nude with her ass in the air and her legs spread for a man. So why did she feel so sexual?
It didn't matter who was behind the camera, Heather's insides still twisted with the knowledge she was being bad, and she wanted to be badder. She could totally see how girls let their boyfriends take pictures of them like this. Pictures that more often than not ended up on the Internet. But the lure of feeling naughty, sexy, like a woman was strong, and it was totally doing it for her.
Her mind went to bad places. What if Kienan were here? If he were the one taking the photos? She craved him now, even as awkward and unsatisfying as their few attempts at sex had been. How good would it be to feel so aroused and have him plunge into her from behind? Grab her hips and—
"Eyes on me."
She'd begun to drift in her own thoughts. Heather raised her gaze again and concentrated on the lens. Kienan wasn't here. No man was, because she had no man in her life because she had no life. No life other than working, and then only at what her mother decided she could do.
The memory of the role she'd missed out on because of her mother had her getting angry all over again. What could she do? She was under the power that woman wielded. The power Heather had given her years ago.
She needed to get away. Have an adventure all on her own. God, had she ever truly been alone? If she could get away, she might be able to find a man who made her feel like the woman she was inside.
"Sit up and cross your arms in front of your chest, and fold your right leg over the left one."
Heather covered the hard peaks of her nipples, hoping the crew would assume it was from the air-conditioning and not because she was aroused imagining what she could do with a man if she ever got away from her mother. What would it feel like to have someone treat her like a beautiful woman, not like a spoiled star or a child actress?
"Chin down. Eyes up."
She raised her eyes and made a decision. The one way to get free was to run away, and there was no better time than the present.
"That's it. I think we've got it." The photographer lowered the camera and smiled. "A few of these shots ... Heather, they're cover worthy."
"Really?" With her heart beating faster just at the thought of a cover, Heather pulled the robe an assistant had dropped on her shoulders around her. Kristen Stewart had been on the cover of Vanity Fair. This was huge.
"Really. Absolutely unbelievable. I'm so happy you changed your mind."
Excerpted from In a Cowboy's Bed by CAT JOHNSON. Copyright © 2013 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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