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By Nicole Helm, Libby Murphy
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Nicole Helm
All rights reserved.
Vivvy Marsh stepped out of the car and saw nothing but flat, barren land and sky. So, this was Kansas. It looked about like she'd imagined. Setting would go in the negative column. She couldn't see people getting excited about shots of flat farmland unless a little Wizard of Oz twister action was involved.
She snapped a few pictures with her phone. Her bosses wanted the full picture of what a TV show at Harrington Airfield & Mechanics might look like. Without eighteen kids or bizarro hygiene habits, Vivvy didn't think another show about a family repairing and building machines was going to shoot Tyson Media to the top. Certainly not with the deserted Kansas backdrop.
And tiny little airplanes? The niche was too small. Tons of people dreamed about owning motorcycles — not very many people thought planes were a plausible acquisition.
She needed an acquisition. Too many of the really good show possibilities were going to Deanna, the newest squeaky-voiced associate, and it was making Vivvy nervous. She either had to find something amazing about this place or get the hell out as soon as possible.
If Deanna usurped her, Vivvy was well and truly screwed. Her reputation was on the line after the last four ideas she'd worked on had fizzled out. No amount of talent had been able to keep the ideas from imploding after so-so pilots had led to no network interest. She'd done her best, but she could only control so much.
Twenty-seven years on this planet had taught her that the only thing her cool, detached personality was suited for was work. By her calculations, she had about two more chances before she got fired.
Not for the first time, she wondered if she wouldn't do better on her own, following her own production ideas with no one to answer to. Right, if you want to end up broke and homeless.
No, she had to focus on the task at hand, and if things were already not going as planned, she may as well give up. Call Lee and Gerry and tell them the place was empty. She could be back in LA by tomorrow morning, ready to dive into the next show idea.
Vivvy straightened her shoulders. Lee and Gerry wouldn't like that, and she couldn't afford to piss them off. Not with Deanna lurking in the wings.
The rumble of an engine cut through the Kansas quiet. She tipped her head up to the blue sky and spotted the plane coming closer. It was almost pretty. Not the big jumbo jets she was used to. No, this red-and-white plane wouldn't hold more than a few passengers, but it would look good on camera.
She'd made an appointment with the owner, Millard Harrington. The name would make good TV if his personality matched it. Vivvy crossed the small concrete parking lot, careful to avoid the menacing cracks that might catch a heel. Aside from the plane, the place seemed eerie, practically deserted in the midday sun. Eerier still when the office building door was locked and no one answered her knocks.
There was a sidewalk leading away from the office building toward where the plane had disappeared, so she followed, humming "We're Off to See the Wizard." She laughed at her private joke.
All laughing, humming and walking stopped when she rounded the corner to a very picture-worthy sight.
In the middle of a large slab of concrete was a man hopping out of the plane. His hair was tousled as if there were a wind machine somewhere out of sight. He wore a white T-shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots, and he looked like he belonged on a Hollywood set for a modern Western.
Broad shoulders tapered to a long, lean body. Hard muscles moved under tanned skin as he pushed one hand through his light brown hair and squinted toward her. When he began to walk in her direction, a warm sensation started at her toes and rose to the top of her head.
Uh-oh. The last thing she needed was a case of lust at first sight. Drooling did not mesh with the confident businesswoman aura she was going for.
She expected a Kansas drawl when he spoke, but his words were casual and flat, very Midwestern. "Ms. Marsh?"
"Yes." She took his outstretched hand, shook it, and tried to focus on his dark green eyes. But that didn't dilute any of the warm feelings simmering through her, or the not-so-professional images assaulting her mind.
His smile was slow and lethal, setting off rocketing sparks in her chest. She couldn't remember the last time the mere look of a guy had her thinking about sex, but this guy oozed sex. Sweaty, passionate sex. He had a sharp face — all angles and edges — and muscled forearms that flexed as he shook her hand, and his T-shirt clung to abs she wouldn't mind running her —
Whoa, girl. Control thy hormones. Focus.
He had a name. Millard. A very unfortunate name for such a fortunate male specimen. "Millard Harrington?"
"No, ma'am. I'm Nate Harrington. Millard's my grandfather. I know he had an appointment with you this morning, but some things came up."
"Oh." Vivvy considered herself a sharp-witted woman, but somehow this man made her tongue feel heavy and her brain not function. She knew Millard Harrington was in his eighties. This man definitely was not. "So, you'll be taking his place today?"
"Yes, ma'am." His eyes traveled from her face all the way down to her toes. He took his sweet time, and she frowned.
She didn't like the way his smile turned slightly wicked. Almost as if he were ogling her. Except she'd been doing the exact same thing to him, so maybe she shouldn't be that annoyed. Especially since he seemed to enjoy his perusal just as much as she had enjoyed hers.
"Why don't we head into the office?" He gestured toward the tiny building. "How was your drive from Wichita?"
Long, flat, boring as all hell. "Easy enough."
"It would have been no trouble to fly out and pick you up."
Vivvy looked at the small plane behind her dubiously. "I'm a bit claustrophobic."
That fear might have increased if he'd been her pilot. Not just a space issue, but an issue of breathing room. He seemed to take up a lot of it, even outdoors.
Once they entered the dingy building he called an office, it was definitely a little difficult to breathe. But it wasn't claustrophobia that had her nerve ends tingling.
Hot men were everywhere in LA, and usually had one thing in common: neediness. Vivvy had no interest in, or the ability to nurture, the fragile egos that came from good looks. Every boyfriend she'd ever had wanted something more than she'd been able to give. So, it made absolutely no sense that some hot guy in the middle of nowhere could arouse this kind of lust when she knew the pitfalls that went with it.
And, since it made no sense, Vivvy turned her focus to work. Work always made sense.
* * *
Nate studied the lush brunette as she asked him questions about Harrington Airfield & Mechanics. The answers he rattled off were rote, memorized. Harrington rented hangar space, fixed small craft planes old and new, did custom modifications, and when time allowed, Nate acted as pilot for hire.
He'd managed to accumulate quite a nest egg for himself off the modifications and piloting, since those were contracted through him rather than Harrington. With Bob Henry renting out ninety percent of his hangar space for a pretty penny, he'd secured his own financial security along with Harrington's. He knew it didn't look it, but Harrington was on solid footing. Better than solid, really. Still, this TV show idea his dad had engineered was enticing. The exposure was hard to resist.
And then he remembered what he'd be giving up for that exposure and that possibility, and it just wasn't an option.
"Do you have a lot of demand here?"
"On occasion." Nate had anticipated these questions, prepared for them, and now they were unimportant.
What seemed far more important was the woman sitting across from him. She was the sexiest woman to ever walk onto Harrington Airfield. Of course, that wasn't saying much.
Demo, Kansas, wasn't crawling with women. Certainly not women who looked like this one. Finding a woman with sweet curves and long shapely legs required a bit of a drive or flight.
Her LA polish was a nice touch. The skirt and blazer, the straight hair. Her skin was a little fair for a California girl. No muss, no ruffle.
"Your grandfather runs the operation?"
"More or less." Less and less every day with his mind descending into dementia, but Ms. Marsh didn't need to know that. There were a lot of things Ms. Marsh didn't need to know, which was why he needed to stop thinking with his dick.
"When it's less, you're in charge?"
His short, nondescript answers didn't seem to faze her. "What about Jed Harrington?"
Nate kept his expression blank even though his thoughts darkened considerably. "My father? He does his share." When he wasn't running around with women who were not his wife or disappearing for days at a time, leaving Nate to shoulder the burden. But what else was new? Nate was a pro at shouldering family burdens. "He's who you originally talked to about this whole thing." From what Nate could tell, his father had campaigned for it for weeks, keeping him and Grandpa in the dark.
Nate wished he could be surprised that Jed had disappeared despite orchestrating this whole thing, but that was Jed Harrington for you.
"Are you opposed to this TV show, Mr. Harrington?" Apparently she sensed the bitterness he'd been trying to hide, but there was no accusation in her tone as Nate might have expected. No, he'd call it curiosity.
"Call me Nate. Too many Mr. Harringtons around here. Things might get confusing."
"All right, Nate. Are you opposed to this TV show? That is information I would need to relay to my bosses if you weren't planning on being cooperative."
He flashed a charming smile, figuring it was only polite when he was about to make her whole trip a waste of time. "Ms ... what's your first name?"
She paused for a moment as if thinking about giving him the answer. She crossed her legs again, held her gaze steady on him. "Vivvy."
He tried the name out. "Vivvy." Hell, even her name was sexy. "Unique. It suits you."
She winged one thin eyebrow upward, quite a trick. "Thank you." She looked down at the notes she'd been typing into her phone. "If my company decides to pursue this, would you want to be involved?"
He had zero interest in being a part of some three-ring circus that would show his family at its worst. He'd meant to tell her that the minute she'd shown up. Run her off at the pass. But she'd been a little too pretty to send packing without at least some courtesy.
Then there was the fact this wasn't the worst idea in the world. The businessman in him knew to say no offhand was shortsighted, especially if he wanted to keep Harrington thriving. But the man who knew his family knew that, while this might bring in money, it could threaten his and Harrington's reputation long after TV was done with them.
Between Jed's philandering and drinking, and Mom being unable to censor any nasty thought from spewing out of her mouth, TV would make the Harringtons look like a caricature of uneducated, redneck jackasses.
Nate couldn't let that happen, no matter what he might get in return. Business was about determining if a risk was worth the reward. In this case, it wasn't even close.
"No, ma'am, I wouldn't want to be part of this show."
She cocked her head. "So, why let me come all the way out here if you're not interested?"
He expected more of a reaction out of her, not a calm, reasonable question. "This is my dad's deal. If I'd known about it sooner, I would have nipped it in the bud before you made your trip." Nothing like dear old Dad doing anything to earn a buck, no matter what long-term shitstorm it might stir up.
"Then maybe I should talk to your father."
"He's not available." Nate cringed — he hadn't hidden his bitterness that time.
She tapped a nail to her bare knee, drawing his gaze to her legs. Really too bad they couldn't meet under different circumstances. "Can I ask why you aren't interested in something that could help you and your family financially?"
Nate crossed his arms over his chest. "These reality shows always try to make people look stupid. I imagine most of you LA types consider us Midwesterners a bunch of dumb hicks. I'm not interested in being made to look like what you people think I am."
"First of all, I'd have to disagree with you. Admittedly, reality television can be used to bring out the worst in people, but if you've watched any of the shows Tyson has created, they aren't the crazy dating shows or extreme anything." She said it like a well-practiced speech, leaving her phone balanced on her knees as she folded her fingers together.
"We portray families. Likable families. People don't watch our shows for train wrecks. They watch our shows because they see something of themselves in the people we're profiling. It's human interest, not exploitation." She smiled as if she expected him to fall in a drooling puddle at her feet.
He might be drooling, but he wasn't going to be a damn puddle. He tried her raise-one-eyebrow trick, and she chuckled.
"All right, I'll amend that with a mostly. Still, Tyson's goal with a show like this would be to highlight a family unit. Yes, they wouldn't show you as perfectly behaved saints, but I imagine you're not. Are you?" Her hair covered her face and she shook it behind her shoulders.
Nate couldn't resist taking a good, long look. "No, ma'am. I'm no saint."
"I didn't think so." Her voice was low and husky as she leaned forward a little bit. Though the button-up shirt she wore under the blazer gave no hint of cleavage, it's where his eyes were drawn and what his mind was fantasizing about. Practical, conservative bra to match the outside image, or would she have something sexier? Maybe black lace?
Then, as if she'd flipped a switch, she sat back and her businesslike demeanor was in place. Visions of black lace scattered. "If Tyson and your family decide you want to make this show, we will want to market you as a likable family, realistic — highs and lows of course — all the while doing something unique and interesting. That's where the main viewership would come in."
"Is your job to convince us?"
"Not exactly. My job is to determine if this is a viable idea and report back to my bosses. If it's a positive recommendation, then I'll just note you and your family's willingness to cooperate."
"Why send you? Why don't they come out here?"
"That's not their job. It's mine." Her smile widened, not in an overtly sexual way, but in a way that said she was proud of her work.
Well, that he could relate to. Harrington Airfield & Mechanics was his lifeblood. Not just a job, but the place that made him whole and happy. His grandfather had built this, and it was where he belonged. It didn't matter how crazy his family was here, because crazy and aviation went hand in hand.
People had tried to buy him out along the way, form partnerships, join associations, but Nate had always refused. He'd kept Grandpa's dream going, and since he was now the only one in the family capable of doing that, he couldn't turn over their reputation to anyone else. Not for money, not for exposure. Not another larger airport, and certainly not some gorgeous woman with a lot of LA polish.
"Look, Vivvy, you can do whatever you want, but I won't be agreeing to anything and neither will the rest of my family if I have anything to say about it." And since he was the only one who could be counted on to follow through with anything, his word was the final word.
That word would be no.
But Vivvy grinned. "I guess I'll just have to work at changing your mind."
"You can try, but my mind isn't easily changed."
"Challenge accepted." She pulled a tablet computer out of her bag. "I have a few more questions, then would you mind giving me a tour? I'd like to take some pictures, get the lay of the land."
Bad idea. He should wash his hands of the whole thing, but if he was the one to answer her questions and show her around, he controlled the information she got. Which meant he could skew things so she wouldn't want to consider doing a TV show here. Then Dad couldn't try this trick of his again.
For the next thirty minutes Vivvy continued to ask questions, and Nate continued to answer them. She continued to make little provocative movements — touching his knee, toying with her top button — and he continued to picture her naked.
Excerpted from Seven-Night Stand by Nicole Helm, Libby Murphy. Copyright © 2013 Nicole Helm. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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