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"You came a damn long way just to see me."
His words were harsh, terribly uncaring and might have made a lesser woman cry.
Perhaps if she had been some lovesick fan his reaction might have brought tears to her eyes. But Summer wasn't a fan and she was more than capable of dealing with his type without losing her head. She couldn't have cared less about his pretty face, celebrity status, gold records or millions of dollars. There was only one thing she wanted from Anthony Phoenix and it wasn't an autograph. "Let's make it worth the trip then."
She didn't bother to wait for an invitation as she took a seat beside him in the adjoining armchair.
In the shadowed corner of the dimly lit café a half-drawn velvet curtain shielded him from public view. It created a deceptive sense of privacy and solitude amidst the chaos. It muffled the chatter of other patrons, the hiss of the espresso machine, even the clatter of dishes. The curtain created a barrier between their world and his.
Rumor had it that this was his favorite hangout whenever he was back in his hometown. Her sources, damn secretive sources that had been almost impossible to crack, had told her he always made it a point to stop in for a cup of coffee.
Though he'd managed to escape the notice of the other patrons in the quiet Seattle café, he hadn't escaped Summer, and he certainly wasn't happy to see her.
"You want an interview you'll have to contact my agent. I don't get friendly with the media and I don't like reporters."
"So they tell me." That was just fine by her. She sure as hell wasn't looking to get friendly with him either--his reputation as a womanizer had made him asfamous as his chart-topping records.
Despite her repugnance for celebrity womanizers Summer forced a smile. She might not have been interested in seducing the man, but she had every intention of putting his story to bed. The story they told her was impossible to get. The story that would make her career and prove once and for all to her prick of a boss that Summer Staite was worthy of her own byline. "This isn't your typical interview, darling."
"Really? What is it then?"
"A bedtime story." A hint of a smile curved her ruby-painted lips. "I don't do celebrity weddings. I don't do dirty gossip. I don't give a damn where you grew up, who you're dating or when your next album is dropping. Stripped Magazine is all about the sex. We're the best magazine to expose it all without ever exposing a thing."
It was a spiel she had given countless times before. A smirk, a smile, sometimes laughter, that was the standard response. But Anthony stared blankly. Her words, fraught with danger and sensuality hadn't cracked even the tiniest layer in his stone-cold façade.
"What's your name?"
She reached across the table and offered her hand. "Summer Staite, Stripped Magazine."
He took her hand in his. As his thumb grazed the back of her knuckles it ignited a trail of heat that flamed across her skin. "You're not exactly playing by the rules, Summer Staite."
She watched him slip a single cigarette out of the pack of Camels sitting on table. The pack was rumbled, no doubt having been shoved into the pocket of his jeans one time too many. She stared longingly at it. It had been two years since she'd quit but she couldn't deny the subtle and thankfully fleeting urge to light up. "Well, you know what they say about rules."
"They're meant to be broken." He put the tip between his lips and touched the lighter's flame to it.
"There's no smoking in here." Summer nodded to the signs posted near the back door.
"Yeah well, they make an exception for me." His words were cool and confident giving her the impression that he really wouldn't have given a damn if they didn't. If she had to wager a bet she'd say the exception was made simply because he was the Anthony Phoenix. Apparently that afforded him a complete lack of manners.
Even as he puffed away on the cigarette, Anthony's gaze drew up to her mouth. Whether he was measuring her up or admiring the curve of her lips she couldn't be sure. As a journalist Summer had prided herself on being able to read people, but Anthony's expression revealed no insight into his character. He remained hard, dark and unyielding. It had her wondering if anything, or anyone, had ever managed to slip beneath that rock-hard exterior.
He blew out a breath laced with smoke that fanned across the table between them and made her wince in response. Her reaction sent the hint of smile to toy on his lips. A crack in the wall he had built around him. She wasn't sure what that said about him, after all she couldn't seem to read him and that, more than the second-hand smoke, unnerved her. It made her feel ill-prepared and out of control. Those were two things Summer never was.
"What does Stripped want with me?"
Summer bit down on her lower lip. How was she supposed to answer that? She could have told him plain and simple that Stripped was after a story. But she doubted very much that simple truth would make an impression on him. She needed some way to get past that barrier, to slip beyond the wall he'd built around himself and invoke a reaction. Any reaction at that point would have done. Laugh in her face, spit on the floor, hell, call her a nosey-bitch and walk away. Anything would have been better than his dark, silent stare.
"A lyrical lay."