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Killer Cowboy Charm
By Vicki Thompson
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"HERE THEY ARE, your Meg and Mel in the Morning co-hosts, Meg Delancy and Mel Harrison!"
Beaming at the wildly applauding studio audience, Meg bounced onto the set followed by a suave and smiling Mel. Meg had to act as if she hadn't seen the ratings and didn't know their number-one rank was in danger.
Nobody seemed to know why, either.
But rumors flew, including the one implying that the chemistry wasn't right between her and Mel. If a studio exec believed that for a minute, Meg would be the one to go. Mel had established the show eight years ago and nobody would be looking to replace silver-haired Mel Harrison.
She would not lose this job.
At a tender age, sitting spellbound by Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers, she'd announced that someday she'd have her own television show. Her parents had laughed.
When she'd insisted on turning their Brooklyn living room into a studio and interviewing the neighbors in front of whatever audience she could drag in, her family had thought it was cute. But they'd never taken her seriously.
As she'd persisted in her goal through high school and even college, their indulgence had turned to alarm. Nobody they knew had ever succeeded in the entertainment field. They predicted she'd fail andsuggested nursing, teaching, banking, anything but her crazy notion. Even her best friends had advised her to try something less ambitious. At their warnings, she'd become even more determined.
Then she'd landed a gofer job on what was then Marnie and Mel in the Morning. Working tirelessly, she'd eventually made it to the tech crew, but she considered it only a step on her way to the co-host chair. Marnie's emergency appendectomy gave Meg a chance to substitute for the star, and Marnie's decision to leave the show for a role in a feature film left the spot open. Meg convinced Mel to give it to her.
Her family and friends still didn't quite believe it. Meg knew they expected her newfound fame to evaporate any minute. She'd be damned if she'd let that happen.
As the applause from the studio audience continued, pumped up off-camera by executive producer Sharon Dempsey, Meg and Mel settled into their cushy seats and picked up the mugs waiting for them on the low coffee table.
Mel took a sip from his mug of water colored to look like coffee and turned to Meg. "Great weekend in Manhattan, huh?" he said. By custom, he usually had the opening line of the show. "Halloween parties galore, and it was actually warm for a change. Here it is November first, and no snow. So, did you have a good weekend?"
"Friday night I went out with my girlfriends, but the fish weren't biting, if you know what I mean."
"Too bad. What about Saturday?"
"I watched my DVD of The Mummy. Alone." She took a swallow of her watered-down diet cola, pretending to savor something that tasted like mouthwash. Her lack of a social life was a running gag on the show, but she was getting sick of it. She had no one to blame but herself, though. Focusing on this job had left no time for cultivating a relationship.
"I thought you watched that movie last weekend."
"So I have a crush on Brendan Fraser." But she would rather have spent the night with a guy who wasn't an image on her TV screen. Ironically, now that she'd reached her goal, she'd discovered that being Mel's co-host came with certain restrictions.
Despite the sexual banter they occasionally shared on the show, Mel was a conservative guy. A torrid affair that scorched the pages of The Enquirer could get her fired. To keep her girl-next-door image, she'd have to zoom from first date to safely married.
In truth, she didn't want to marry anyone until she'd established herself as a TV personality, which could take several years. Only then might she be in the market. A husband and kids would be nice - if she could juggle a family and work. A husband would have to know going in that she wasn't giving up her career.
Mel clucked his tongue and looked fatherly. "I don't know what's wrong with the eligible bachelors around here. A gorgeous redhead like you, they should be lined up outside your apartment door."
"Maybe all the good ones are taken. I'm guessing you went to a Halloween party?" In contrast to Meg with her nonexistent social life, Mel and his wife never seemed to stay home.
"Evie and I went to a great costume party at the Starlight Room. And I have to tell you, the hit of the night was a guy who came as a cowboy, all duded up. He even did rope tricks. The women swooned."
Meg put a hand to her heart and sighed. "I love cowboys, especially when they wear those tight jeans that show off their terrific ... personalities." She waggled her eyebrows and the audience laughed.
In truth she did have a real crush on cowboy types. Her dad had tuned in everything Western on TV, from reruns of Gunsmoke to all the Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns, and with only one TV set in the house, she'd watched with him. The heroes had seemed exotic and so removed from her life that they'd become a secret fantasy.
"Unfortunately, turns out this cowboy was gay."
"You see? See what I mean? Taken or gay. At least that's the way it seems in New York." Meg decided to ad-lib.
"Maybe I need to go out West and find myself a rope-twirling, spur-jingling, heterosexual-to-the-core cowboy."
Mel shook his perfectly coifed head. "No such thing anymore. That's all Hollywood stuff."
"I don't believe it. I'll bet the West is still chock-full of sexy cowboys, swaggering around in snug denim with their thumbs hooked through their belt loops. Yum."
"I'm afraid that dream cowboy is a myth," Mel said.
"But speaking of myths and cowboys, we have the perfect guest today. Lord of the Rings and Hidalgo star Viggo Mortensen is here to talk about his next project. Now there's a fantasy cowboy for you, Meg. I assume you saw Viggo in Hidalgo?"
"Thought so. We also have Snoop Dogg paying us a long-overdue visit, plus we've discovered a magician who's performing street shows all over town. If you haven't seen him yet, he'll truly astound you. We'll be back, right after this."
The moment the commercial break started, Sharon hurried over clutching her earphones to her head as if she couldn't believe the info coming through them. "You guys, the phones are lighting up! Everyone wants to see Meg go out West and look for her cowboy!"
Meg laughed. "Oh, sure, that's gonna happen. It was just a joke. I've never been out West, and I have no intention of -"
"Think again," Sharon said. "We need a shot in the arm, and this could be it!"
"You know, it's not a bad idea," Mel said. "Not bad at all."
"It's a great idea!" Sharon glowed with excitement.
"How about this - we call it the search for the Hottest Cowboy in the West."
Mel nodded. "I like it already."
Excerpted from Killer Cowboy Charm by Vicki Thompson Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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