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Emma Harris was part Hollywood business shark, part Ohio farm girl, and though that might seem like an odd combination, it had always worked for her. Until now.
Now she was a twenty-seven-year-old TV producer facing her last chance in this business. If she blew it, then goodbye job, goodbye career, goodbye to it all because she'd be washed up. Done, finished, finito, before she'd even hit the big three-oh.
But she was too determined, too stubborn, to allow that to happen. Of course, it didn't help that everyone at the production company she worked for thought her luck had run out, including her own assistant, who'd quit last week to go to work as a grip at an NBC sitcom. But Em would never give up.
Nope, she was made of sterner stuff than that. She'd grown up in Ohio, on a thriving family farm, which she'd left to go to college and then produce television shows. Her parents were still horrified, certain that a girl like her, with strong morals and ethics, couldn't possibly make a go of it in Hollywood, but she was dead set on proving them wrong.
She loved this job. She simply wouldn't believe she couldn't make it work, her way.
But she'd been summoned by the boss.reminding her that determination was not enough, not in Hollywood. Drawing a deep breath, she made the long walk from her office to his. Outside his closed door, she smoothed her skirt, decided there was no hope for her hair so she didn't even try and, after pasting a smile over her worried frown, knocked with every ounce of confidence and authority she had.
Em opened the door. From the big leather chair behind his big, fancy network desk, Nathan Bennett scowled.
Em locked her smile in place. "You wanted to see me?"
"Emmaline Harris. Sit."
Great, her full name. Never a good sign. She entered and sat where he indicateda smaller, far less comfortable-looking chair, which was there, she knew, to make people feel inferior.
She wouldn't let it work. After all, she'd been raised with her mother's words ringing in her ears. "Em," she'd say, hands on her hips, her jeans dirty from hard work. "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
A quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, of course, and Em had always believed it. She was tough enough for this town!
Nathan looked at her for a long moment, as if measuring his words carefully. "Do you know why you're here today?"
To be fired. Unless she could fast-talk her way back. Which she could do, she told herself. She could fast-talk with the best of them. It was lying and manipulation she had trouble with. "I'm pretty certain."
Nathan nodded, looking stern and unhappy, and Em felt as if she was sitting in front of the principal, only this was worse, far worse, because being ousted here meant so much more than a few days suspension without homework. It meant bye-bye paycheck.
But she would not be saying bye-bye to her self-respect. Nope, if she was going down, then she'd go down with pride intact.
Nathan steepled his fingers. "We hired you, Emmaline, in spite of your utter lack of experience in this business, because we thought you were a bright star on the horizon, just waiting to make her mark."
"We thought you'd do great things for our production company."
"And I hope I'm just getting started." She tried the smile again.
It still wasn't returned.
Instead, Nathan rearranged his already perfectly arranged pencil and pen set to the right of his spotless blotter. "Emmaline, can you explain the last three shows you produced here?"
"And why each failed?"
Her smile faltered. Yes, she could. But she wouldn't. Because that would mean hurting others. When she'd first come to town, she hadn't understood the rulesor, rather, that there were no rules. She got it now, the challenge being to make that work to her benefit without compromising herself. "I'm sure everyone here has had some trouble at one time or another," she said. "Three failures in the whole, big scheme of things"
"These were your only shows, Em. You're batting zero here."
They both knew she was a hard worker, that wasn't the problem. In fact, she'd been throwing herself headlong into every project from her first set of LEGO at age three, and had been told time and time again by her family and teachers that she was made of pure tenacity and grit.
Unfortunately she had a soft heart to go with that drive, which often threw a wrench into being the best of the best. Because she wouldn't lie, nor would she hurt anyone or anything on her way to the top. She couldn't live with herself if she did.
Which was why she couldn't explain to Nathan about the failures of her three shows. "I know my record looks bad, but I can do this, Nathan. Please, just give me another shot. If I could just have the reins of a show from the very beginning"
Already shaking his head, he leaned back in his chair. His hair was black, devoid of any gray, and with a similar comb-over style to Donald Trump's. His face was tanned from his last vacation in the Bahamas with the third wife, and he wore diamond studs in his ears that could pay Em's salary for at least five years. He'd probably never been fired in his life. "You've had your shot," he said firmly. "Three of them."
Sure. First up had been the exciting reality show involving two brothers, both sweet and adorable inventors, with IQs off the map. Em had thought Ty and Todd so wonderful, and because they'd been struggling to make ends meet, too, she'd made it her personal mission to get the word out on them. Only as it turned out, Ty and Todd had failed to mention the word had been out once before, and that they were in court for patent infringements. By the time the first episode aired, both the network and Nathan had been sued.
With failure ringing in her ears, Em's second attempt had been her chance to prove the previous disaster had been an unlucky break. But right from the beginning, the crew on the safari-adventure-themed reality show had fought viciously amongst themselves, backstabbing and sabotaging at will. Because Em hadn't been allowed to hire them in the first place, she'd been left in the position of being unable to control them. That, coupled with the fact that not one of them could read a map, and it had been a "lost" cause before they'd even begun.
Em's third and last effort had been a talk show where, not-so-coincidentally, the host had been Nathan's niece by marriage. A lovely, funny, sharp woman making her way up the ranks in the comic circuit, a woman who'd had an incredibly unlucky streak in life culminating in a horrific car accident the year before and was now, secretly and unfortunately, addicted to her prescription meds. A secret, of course, that could ruin her. When Em had discovered it, the woman had begged and cried and pleaded for Em not to tell.
Of course Em didn't tell, it wasn't in her genetic makeup to do such a thing, but when the comic had self-destructedon live TVthe decision had cost Em the show, garnering her the knowledge that she didn't want to work with relatives of her boss ever again.
Now she had three failures like balls on a chain around her neck. Each had occurred, Em was certain, not because she was a bad producer, but because she'd been handed the cast and crew instead of picking them herself.
The stakes had never been higher, she knew this. But she also knew anything was possible, including making it in this business. Her way. "I can do this, Nathan," she said again. "I know I can. You just have to give me a real chance to do so."
"A real chance." She stood, putting her hands on his desk, leaning in, desperate to make him see how badly she wanted this. "If I could pick the crew and the host this time"
"You don't have any experience in that area."
True enough. Until college, she'd driven a tractor, she'd run a hay barn and she'd managed the books for the dairy division of her family's farm.
Having graduated from college with a business degree in TV development, she knew it was time to hold down a job in her field, not a hay field. And she wanted it to be this job. "You saw something in me, you just said it. Please, let me try again, just one more time."
Nathan twirled a mechanical pencil in his fingers and did that long silent pause that always made Em want to squirm. Finally he let out a long sigh. "I know I'm going to be sorry, but yeah."
"Yeah?" In shock, she laughed. "Really?"
Looking unhappy about it, he nodded.
"Oh, my God, thank you thank you thank you," she cried, running around his desk to throw her arms around him.
Awkwardly, he patted her on the back. "Okay now."
"I'm sorry." She dropped her arms and stepped back, but she still couldn't swipe the wide grin off her face. "You won't regret this, not for a minute."
"Just promise me you're really going to make this work," he said solemnly to her face-splitting smile, though if she wasn't mistaken, his eyes did actually twinkle. "Because, trust me, Em, if you screw this up, you're done in this business for good."
"Oh, I'm going to make this work." She inhaled deeply to keep from hugging him again. "So tell me. what kind of show is it going to be?"
She envisioned another talk show, or maybe a well-written, sharp, witty sitcom. Yeah, that would be so perfect, something that would make people laugh"We want a cooking thing."
Em stared at him, some of her elation fading. "A cooking thing."
"With a dynamic chef who can really entertain. You know, juggle knives, toss the ingredients around. Like those chefs at the Japanese restaurants, only without the ethnicity. You'll cook everything across the board on this show, from burgers to beef tartare."
Tartare? She didn't even know what that was. "A cooking show," she repeated, thoughts racing. Unfortunately, she didn't know the inner workings of a kitchen any more than she understood the aerodynamics of a plane.
"Cooking shows are hot right now," Nathan said.
A cooking show, when Em could burn water without trying.
"You should start with the chef. He'll be the key to your success. I actually have one in mind"
"But you just said I could hire"
"The staff to support the show."
She fixed her smile back in place, adding an easy nod that she hoped covered up the panic hurtling through her veins instead of blood. Cooking show "I was hoping you'd trust me to hire everyone for the show."
"I do. Just go check out the chef I have in mind. He has charisma in spades. He'd draw the audience right in. Women think he's sexy as hell, too."
"Who is he?"
"Chef Jacob Hill, currently running Amuse Bouche, the world-class restaurant inside Hush, an equally world-class hotel in New York."
"You mean that new hotel that's themed for."
"Sex? Yep, that's the one. You can leave ASAP." Nathan stopped and looked at her. "Oh, one more thing."
She was still reeling from the fact that she wasn't fired, that she was doing a cooking show and that she was headed to a hotel that specialized in sexual exploration and adventure.
"I know your potential, Em. It's why I'm doing this. But listen to me. You're going to have to "
He sighed. "Harden that ridiculously soft heart of yours. Toughen up."
"I'm plenty tough."
"Not in the way I'm talking. It'd help if you learned to conform to the way we do things around here."
"You mean like lie and cheat?"
He offered her a smile, his first. "Exactly. If that chef won't come willingly? Hire someone to find a hair on their plate at Amuse Bouche. In a place like that, he'd be ruined instantly. He'll be begging to do the show."
She stared at him. "That's despicable."
He shrugged. "That's life."
"I would never do something like that."
"Yeah." His smile faded and he scrubbed his hands over his face. "Here comes number four."
"I am not failing a fourth time."
He didn't look convinced, but to his credit, he didn't say so. "You've got yourself one month to get this show off the ground. Go break a leg."
She moved to the door when he opened it for her, feeling a little stunned, a little overwhelmed, a little excited and a lot sick.
"Good luck," Nathan said wryly. No doubt, she was going to need it.
Three days later Em stood in the gorgeous lobby of Hotel Hush, looking around in marvel. The carpet beneath her feet was a pattern of blacks, greens, grays and pinks, and felt so thick it was like walking on air. The grand furniture and artwork on the vast walls brought to mind the great old salons of the roaring twenties.
She knew from Hush's Web site that the place catered to the young, wealthy and daring. It was eighty guest rooms of fun, flirty sophistication and excitement, with additional offerings such as designer penthouse suites complete with personal butlers, an "it" bar named Erotique that attracted the glitterati of New York, a luxurious spa, a rooftop swimming pool
And every available amenity was geared toward Hush's hook: erotic fun. Guests could use their room's private video camera complete with blank tapes, or any of the "toys" in each armoire. And downstairs in the basement was a discreet entertainment parlor where couples could engage in semiprivate exhibition fantasies, and more.
"More" being sensual pleasures that only those with an extremely open, worldly point of view would dare experience. According to the info Em had gotten online, anything could be obtained here, tried here, seen here. Anything at all.
Em couldn't even imagine the half of it.