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In full knowledge that she was unlikely to get what she needed, Kay Aaronson drove her hands through her cropped hair - yet another mistake, getting it chopped off last winter. At first, she'd tried to grow it out, but exasperation had gotten the better of her. So she'd cut it shorter, into something with a modicum of style which, her mother had relentlessly pointed out, it had lacked after the initial shearing.
Last winter's impulsive dive into a chain salon -"A chain? A chain?!" her mother had cried - had been because of a man, too. And because of a man, she would be homeless when she returned to New York in a couple of days. Men - they were nothing but trouble.
Kay cupped her hands over her face, wishing the world would go away. At least the male half of it.
"What kind of man would you like, dear?"
The cultured voice, with its twang of Wisconsin, made Kay drop her hands and open her eyes.
Trudi Bliss -"call me Miss Trudi, dear" - looked back at her with a faint smile that deepened the lines of her seventy-plus years, and with patient eyes, rather like those of an excellent waiter poised to take Kay's order for a man.
One Homo sapiens, male, please. Reasonably attractive, mentally stable, unattached yet capable of attachment, served in a thick sauce of humor. Better make it to go, since she'd be returning to New York as soon as she got this last phase of filming done.
If she got this last phase of filming done, which brought her back to her current problem. And the reason she truly did need a man.
Well, not exactly a man - an actor.
"One to replace the jerk who just walked out," she told Miss Trudi. "That's what I need."
As if there were spare actors littering the wide, tree-roofed streets of Tobias. In the forty-eight hours since she'd arrived here, Kay had seen plenty of strange sights, but nothing that resembled an actor, except the ones she'd imported from New York.
She should have listened to that little voice in the back of her head two days ago. The little voice that had a hissy fit when the well-appointed minibus she'd hired at Chicago's O'Hare Airport had headed northwest into the wilds of Wisconsin.
Better yet, she shouldn't have listened to Dora in the first place.
Why on earth had she accepted the idea of doing this shoot in her grandmother's hometown? Dora had talked about Tobias so often when Kay was little that she had dreamed about the lake, the woods, the house where her grandmother had grown up. But Dora had never gotten around to bringing her only grandchild here before the rift between Dora and Kay's father had separated Kay from her grandmother.
For sixteen years she hadn't talked to Dora, not until a few months ago.
"Yes, I gathered that a replacement would be required," Miss Trudi said. "Although I must say, no other member of the company appears distressed by his departure."
No other member of the company's career hung in the balance, Kay thought.
Well, career was a little strong. Better make it: No other member of the company's shot at possibly opening the door to beginning what could someday turn out to be a career hung in the balance.
"No one's going to miss Brice's personality," she agreed. "But without him, we can't finish. I can just hear me telling Serge," Oops, sorry, I can't give you B-roll on an 1899 wedding after all. Even though you're counting on it for pop-diva Donna Ravelle's next music video. Even though you gambled on an unknown. Even though this is an opportunity of a lifetime. Even though it's the first step in my plan. Even though I promised ...""
"Nonsense, Kay. There is no benefit in looking at the most dire outcome. You said you require a man, so you must have a contingency plan that will allow you to proceed. What is most essential in a replacement man?"
As if this sweet elderly lady who'd been her grandmother's first art teacher could do anything about replacing the jackass actor who had stomped off the shoot.
"One who'd fit in Brice's wardrobe," she said.
He had waited until they had sunk so much time and money into the project with him playing the groom that starting over was impossible. And then he'd tried to stick her up for more money.
She should have folded. Should have forgotten how much she abhorred blackmail and extortion, and said yes. She would have found the money somewhere, even if she'd had to - no, she wouldn't borrow from her parents. The strings attached to such a loan would tie her up tighter than the Lilliputians had strapped down Gulliver.
"Anything else?" Miss Trudi asked as she absently reeled in a length of peach chiffon scarf that had fluttered loose.
What the hell, Kay thought, she might as well dream big.
"To fit the wardrobe, he'd have to be about Brice's size and build. Same coloring would be good, though we could dye his hair and there's always makeup. We're only going to see him from the back. If he could act, even a little, it would be a big improvement on Brice."
"I make no representation about his acting, but I know someone who fits your other requirements, dear."
Kay blinked. The woman sounded sane. And certain.
On the other hand, Miss Trudi was the one who had gotten them to come to Tobias, Wisconsin, in the first place. No, not the one, Kay corrected herself. One of the two.
Dora had been absolutely certain that Bliss House would provide the best backdrop for Kay's film shoot. Dora had explained that Miss Trudi's family home was being converted to a crafts center to draw visitors to To-bias. Not only did the house provide an ideal background for an 1899 wedding, but including it in a video might give business a boost when the center opened this fall. Hating to risk the new, tenuous bond with her grandmother, Kay had agreed to bring the shoot here.
It had been a pain to get the cast and crew to Wisconsin, but Bliss House was perfect - as long as they avoided scaffolding, power tools and construction workers.
With Bliss House as the background, she knew they had great footage. All she needed were a few over-the-groom's-shoulder shots, and she would have a piece of work that would start her on a new career path. Sure, she'd started on a number of other careers in the past, but this time she had a plan. A few more shots ...
"You find the right man, Miss Trudi," Kay said, "and I'll do anything you want."
"Anything, my dear?"
Whatever this sweet old lady wanted would be a snap.
Excerpted from Least Likely Wedding? by Patricia McLinn Copyright © 2005 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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