Read an Excerpt
OMG I'm going to kill this client!
Ali Flores laughed as she looked at the text message from her best friend, Elisa. Apparently some guy had hired Elisa's modeling agency to find an actress for him but he couldn't verbalize what he was looking for. Go figure. A guy who didn't know what he wanted in a woman. What were the odds? Ali was smiling as she texted back.
I'm still coming for lunch. Have to get out of here!
She'd just hit Send when her boss popped his head into her cubicle.
"Hey, Ali, did you proofread that brochure?"
"Right here," she said as she handed over the document. "But I really think the photos could be better"
"Great. I'm having a terrible time getting those promotional pens out of China. Can you call their customs department for me and get it worked out?"
"Because I speak such good Chinese?" Not.
"Because you're the best. Thanks!" And off he went with a wave. She wanted to scream. How the heck was she supposed to navigate Chinese customs? But she didn't say a word. Instead, she grabbed her phone and typed out another quick text to Elisa.
My boss knows exactly what he wants: me, chained to my desk. Until I DIE!
She had to get a new job. Truthfully, she had to get a new life, but what? And how? She dropped her chin on her hand and stared at her computer screen. And as she glared at the blinking cursor, she imagined a knight in shining armor stepping up to her desk to rescue her. He'd take her away to his castle, he'd shower her with jewels, and and he'd probably ask her to mother his seven screaming brats from a previous marriage.
Ali groaned and started pulling up all the correspondence with the Chinese factory. But as she worked, her mind kept churning on her own life problems.
Ali believed in happily ever after. Perhaps that was the problem. She didn't just believe in it, she ached for it. She obsessed about it. She wanted it with a hunger that filled her fantasy life to overflowing.
But she needed some way to shape her dreams. It wasn't like knights in shining armor were wandering around Houston looking for her. And she wasn't really a damsel in distress. Truth was, she didn't know who or what she was.
She'd been a quiet child growing up, buried in books because that's what she liked. She and her single mom had been happy up until she was ten. Then suddenly her mom up and married a guy with two sons, both younger than Ali. And if that weren't enough, Mom got pregnant just a few months later.
Ali went from the girl who liked to read to the girl who changed diapers, did laundry and screamed at the boys to stay out of her room. In the end, she escaped to college only to quit when the money ran out.
She'd got this job as a secretary to the head of PR in a hospital. Talk about being unimportant. The hospital saved lives. Her boss kept the hospital looking good so it could save lives. And what did she do? She made sure their booth at a health fair was well stocked with promotional pens. Sure, she wasn't screaming at toddlers anymore, but she was working just as hard screaming at customs or tracking UPS shipments or doing whatever menial task her boss threw at her. Other people had passions, they had goals and a purpose. She had fantasies about handsome pirates not because she liked pirates but because she didn't know what she did like. And she wasn't going to find out sitting here filling out customs forms.
It was time to make a change. So she whipped out her phone and texted Elisa.
Lunch NOW. We're going to find me a new life.
Ken Johnson was searching for a queen. And for some ridiculous reason, he couldn't find one. Maybe because Queen Guinevere didn't exist in Houston. Still, he was determined to try. He was now at his seventeenth modeling agency praying that the woman he sought walked through the door. But so far, he'd been sorely disappointed.
Ken was CEO of Quirky Games, Inc., and he was about to launch a new adventure game that he hoped would take the geek world by storm. But in order to do that, he had to throw a huge publicity campaign that included gaming conventions, comic conventions and even a theme-park opening. And after years of experience in the geek gaming world, he knew that every event hinged on one thing: the actors who played the characters.
Any model could strap on a corset and a sword. Put a babe in a brass bra and kids would look, but they wouldn't necessarily buy. These days, players needed more than a hot chick before they invested the hours to get fluent in a game. They needed a goal, a challenge and, most of all a queen.
His queen needed to be divinely beautiful but so approachable that boys would immediately want to talk to her, be with her, play the game for hours just to spend more time around her. She needed to be reserved enough to seem mysterious, and yet so warm that you believed she could strap on an apron and serve chocolate-chip cookies. Sex goddess and Betty Crocker, all rolled into one.
That was the queen he wanted, and damn it, she was nowhere to be found.
"I need a break," he said, shoving up from his chair. He was in the primary conference room of the last modeling agency on his list: OMG Action! But just as all the others, every woman who'd strutted, shimmied or swaggered in front of him had left him cold. Not just cold, but vaguely nauseated. They were certainly beautiful, but the personalities beneath the flawless skin and high cheekbones were arrogant or just plain over-the-top.
The agency owner, Marilyn Madison, pushed out of her chair and teetered on her ultra-high heels. "Mr. Johnson!" she cried, panic in her voice.
Then her assistanta very sweet young woman named Elisaoffered him yet another folder of pictures. "If you could just tell me what look you're going for, perhaps in this pile"
"I don't care about a look," he said for what felt like the billionth time. "I need the woman to feel right, and these girls just don't." And with that he stomped out the door. He didn't stop until he'd pushed through the doors of the elegant glass foyer, but as the office was on the thirty-seventh floor, he ended up standing in the hallway near the elevator bank.
He toyed with the idea of just leaving the building. He could be at his favorite comic-book store in twenty minutes. Except, of course, he was an adult today. He had a company andmore importanttwenty employees who needed him to make Winning Guinevere into a multimillion-dollar success. Their jobs and his life savings depended on it.
Eight years ago, he'd been fresh out of college with a computer-science degree and a hunger to make it rich. He had a cool game written, and he and his best friend, Paul, had marketed the heck out of it and sold a zillion copies. Quirky Games, Inc. was born. But that was eight years ago. Since then, they'd launched one game after another to only middling success. Winning Guinevere was their last hope, and Ken was pouring everything he had into it. Which meant he had to find the right Guinevere. Without her, he might as well declare bankruptcy now.
He took a deep breath and tried to think. Maybe there was a compromise somewhere. He ran through different scenarios in his mind, but every one just made him sigh. Everything hinged on the woman. He couldn't compromise there. It would compromise everything.
He was on the verge of muttering curse words in Klingon when the elevator doors dinged. He didn't look out of curiosityhis eyes were just focused in that direction. But since his eyes were aimed at the elevator door, he could hardly fail to notice when she walked out. Normal height, nice curves and thick dark hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. He caught a flash of flawless skin, high cheekbones and enticing legs that had enough muscle to be strong and enough softness to be sexy. She wore a dress of muted blue and a sweater that covered her curves but didn't hide them.
And none of that made him leap off the wall until he heard her chuckle. Low, throaty and so damn sexy, he felt his jaw drop in shock. It seemed to fill the air and vibrate in his soul. Sexy and warm. Chocolate-chip-cookie warm. Oh my God, had he just found his queen?
He pulled himself togethera lot harder to do than it should have beenand scrambled for a way to introduce himself. Meanwhile, she turned out of the elevator alcove and headed down the hall toward him. Her eyes were trained on her cell phone. That was apparently what had made her laugh because a second later, she did it again.
Wow. He felt this one in his spine, and every part of him leaped to follow her. The words were out of his mouth before he could think twice.
"Excuse me, miss." he began, but then his voice trailed away. What could he say to this woman?
She looked up, her eyes going wide as she realized she'd been so focused on her phone that she hadn't seen him there. "Oh!" she gasped. "I'm sorry. I should look where I'm going, huh?" She immediately folded up her phone.
"No, no. My fault. I uh " He tried his best smile, his mind scrambling. The problem was that as smart as he wasand frankly, he was considered very smarthe'd never been very good at communicating with girls. He wanted to be suave and ended up just looking like a tongue-tied geek. Which was exactly what he was. "I was just admiring your phone."
She blinked and looked down at the cell in her hand. Ken noted with dismay that it wasn't a cool phone. It wasn't even a smartphone, which made it a virtual dinosaur.
"This phone?" she asked.
"Um, no. Actually I was just looking for a way to talk to you."
She smiled. "Bad luck then, choosing to talk about my phone. I'm just grateful it can handle text messages."
He stared at her, lost in her face. Flawless skin was right: like the smoothest latte ever, only with a dusting of gold. She seemed to be of Polynesian descent, which made her look exotic. But what really caught him were her meltingly chocolate-brown eyes. And, best of all, each of her cheeks sported a dimple.
She was perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Meanwhile, she put away her big clunker of a phone while he grabbed for something more to say. "So you must not be one of those ultra-plugged-in people. Internet, social media, a zillion apps just to get coffee?"
She shook her head, but didn't laugh. In truth, she seemed almost shy the way she ducked her head. But her eyes sparkled when she spoke. "Not me. Whenever I check my email, I get junk or more things to do from my boss."
He gave a mock shudder. "Hate that." Even though he was technically the boss, every time he opened his email he ended up with ten more things on his to-do list. Meanwhile, he tried to cover his ultra-slick phone with his elbow. She noticed of course, and gestured to where it was hanging like a lead weight on his belt.
"You seem kinda plugged in, though."
"Um, yeah. You never know when the urge to get a triple mocha latte will hit."
She lifted her chin, her eyes dropping to a sexy half mast as she murmured a long, appreciative, "Yummmm."
His blood went straight south. Not only did she sound sexy, but suddenly her expression sparked all sorts of dark things in his imagination. Meanwhile, she had straightened and was looking down the hall. Hell, he was about to lose her, so he scrambled for another way to keep her with him for just a moment longer.
"Um, really, I was just looking for a way to talk to you." Lord, was there ever a more lame way to approach a girl? Especially since he now realized he'd already said that.
"Talk to me?" she echoed. Then she flushed slightly and smiled back at him. "I mean, hello. Nice to meet you."
He held out his hand, but out of habit, he wiped it first on his pants. He'd spent so much of his adolescence with sweaty, gross hands that it was just an automatic gesture. Then he cursed himself for being an idiot. He was in a suit, for God's sake. And now she was wondering what had been on his hands when it had been nothing!
Mentally he sighed and tried even harder to be charming. He grabbed her hand and shook it too hard. "My name is Ken. Ken Johnson."
"I'm Ali," she said, as she glanced beyond his left shoulder. "And, um, I have a meeting."
"Oh, right!" He stepped aside, his thoughts whirling. Could she possibly be going into the agency? Was God smiling on him? Could she maybe be a model?
She stepped past him, and he tried not to look like a creepy stalker. But that was harder than it seemed given that he was loitering in the hallway for no reason at all. Then it didn't matter because, yes, she pushed through the doorway of the agency.
She was a model and she was hired!
He stumbled after her, nearly tripping over himself in his excitement. He made it through the doors right on her heels. She turned at his noisy entrance, her eyes going wide and her lips parting on a sweet gasp of surprise. In the background, Elisa came forward, talking to the newcomer.
"There you are! I'm so sorry"
"Don't apologize, Miss " What was her name? All he could remember was Elisa. "Look, Elisa, this girl right here, I want her." Belatedly he realized he couldn't afford to pay exorbitant rates, and he ought to be negotiating. "I mean, assuming she's a reasonable price."
Both women gaped at him. It took him a moment to realize that Elisa had been talking to the newcomer, not him. Meanwhile, Elisa recovered first, her skin flushing a dark red. "Oh, no, Mr. Johnson. I'm sorry. She's not for sale."