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"Okay then," Rachel Adler said, keeping her voice pitched to be heard over the thumping of running feet and the hum of the treadmill. "I've got you booked for dinner with Tawny Mason tonight at eight."
"At Une Nuit?" Shane Elliott asked, reaching for his water bottle, tucked beneath the cord at the head of the machine.
"Where else?" Rachel muttered with a little shake of her head. Why in heaven would he even ask? she wondered. Hadn't she been taking care of every detail of Shane's life for four years now?
"Good." Shane took a long drink of water and Rachel's gaze locked on the bobbing motion of his Adam's apple. Seriously, even the man's neck was sexy.
When he'd finished off the last of the water, he wiped sweat from his face with the towel looped around his neck and tossed Rachel the empty bottle. "And call ahead. Have Stash order in some flowers for, um..." He waved one hand in a silent attempt for help.
"Tawny," Rachel provided dryly as she set the empty bottle down on the floor beside her. For heaven's sake, the man couldn't even remember his date's name.
Plus, he knew as well as she did that Stash Martin, manager of Une Nuit, never missed a beat when getting the Elliott family table ready. There would, she knew, be flowers, champagne and some delicious appetizers just waiting for Shane and Tawny.
What kind of woman named her daughter Tawny? A stage mother, hoping for a starlet daughter? Or had the woman taken one look at her newborn baby girl and decided...future bimbo?
"Right." Shane nodded. "Tawny. She says her mother named her for the color of her eyes."
Rachel rolled her own green eyes.
Shane grinned at her and Rachel's stomach did a quick dip and spin.
If she could have managed it without looking like a complete idiot, she'd have kicked her own ass. Honestly. Why was it Shane Elliott who could turn her insides to mush with a simple smile?
The first three years she'd worked with the man, everything had been fine between them. They'd had a good working relationship and Shane even appreciated Rachel's sometimes quirky sense of humor, when most of her previous employers hadn't. Then she'd had to go and ruin the whole thing by falling for him.
For the last year she'd suffered silently, wanting him every day, dreaming about him at night, all the while knowing that he thought of her only as Good ol' Rachel.
Idiot. "What do you think?" he asked, clearly oblivious to her thoughts. "Roses?"
"Huh?" She blinked, shook her head and reminded herself to concentrate on the moment.
"Right. Flowers. Roses are boring."
"I always do," he said, giving her another of those smiles that had the power to zap an unwary female at twenty paces.
She couldn't do this much longer, she thought. Couldn't keep working with him every day and dying a little more every day. Couldn't set up his dates with other women and imagine him in bed with every one of them. Couldn't keep wasting her life away waiting for the wrong man to wake up and stumble on her.
Sighing, Rachel flipped through her memo book, scanned the notes she kept on the legions of Shane's women and found what she was looking for. "Tawny prefers daisies."
"Sure, I remember now. Such a simple girl."
"Simpleton, you mean," she muttered again, keeping her voice low enough that her boss's running feet would drown out the comment.
"What was that?"
"Nothing." She automatically handed him the second bottle of water she'd brought with her to the executive area of the company gym on the fifth floor.
"Rachel, what would I do without you?" he mused, not really expecting an answer.
But oh boy, could she give him one. Rachel was Shane's right hand at The Buzz, one of the magazines in the Elliott family empire. As a weekly entertainment magazine, The Buzz covered all the new movies, did interviews with up-and-coming directors and fawned over whichever actor or actress was the current hot topic. And as editor in chief of The Buzz, Shane did his best to keep on top of everything going on around him.
Of course, when she'd first come to work for him, he hadn't been so involved. Instead he'd tried to avoid the office as much as humanly possible. But slowly, Rachel had convinced him to enjoy his job more.
Back then, he'd resented being pulled into the family business. But Rachel had seen just how good he was at not only handling the day-to-day running of the magazine but at dealing with people and managing disasters. She'd eventually convinced him that he was meant to run this business.
And he'd really come into his own over the last several months—ever since his father, Patrick, had kicked off a competition among his children.
Old man Elliott had determined that the best way to name a new CEO of Elliott Publication Holdings was to see who was willing to work hardest to earn it. At the end of the year the editor in chief of whichever one of the magazines showed the most proportional profit growth would become Top Dog.
And The Buzz was the front-runner.
Shane's father was due to announce the winner any day now.
Patrick was a sneaky old man, in Rachel's opinion. Nice, sure, but sneaky. He'd found a way to make his grown children admit just how much they wanted to succeed. By pitting them against each other, he'd been able to sit back all year and watch them discover themselves.
And there had been plenty of discoveries, she thought, remembering all of the turmoil over the last year.
"Did you put that call in to Fin for me?" Shane asked, breathing hard as he picked up the pace on the treadmill.
"Yes," Rachel said, flipping back a page in her memo book. Smiling, she read off, "Fin says and I quote, "Tell Shane he needs to get away from the city and smell some fresh air. Come to Colorado and I'll teach him to ride a horse."
Shane laughed. "A month on a ranch and she's Annie Oakley?"
Rachel chuckled along with him. She couldn't help it. Shane's twin sister had been sad for so long, it was good knowing that she was finally happy. She'd reconciled with Jessie, the daughter she was forced to give up for adoption so many years ago. She was married to a man she was clearly nuts about and her newly discovered pregnancy was the icing on the cake. "She's happy."
"Yeah," Shane said, his running steps slowing a little as he thought about the sister he was so close to. "She really is. But damn, I miss having her around."
His eyes narrowed thoughtfully as he stared straight ahead, out the bank of windows overlooking Park Avenue.
"I know," Rachel said. "But she'll probably come back home for Christmas."
"Christmas." He shut off the treadmill, stepped neatly to one side and used his towel to wipe his face again. "It's December, isn't it?"
"All month," she agreed.
"Have I started shopping yet?"
"Damn." Grabbing the second bottle of water, he chugged down the liquid, then handed off the empty bottle. "No time to worry about it now, though. I'm gonna grab a shower, then I'll see you back in the office in half an hour. I'd like to take a look at the new copy for the magazine before it heads out to production."
"Right." Rachel winced as she thought about one column in particular that he'd be going over.
As if reading her mind, he turned and called back, "The new Tess Tells All column was turned in on time, right?"
"Oh, yeah. She's very dependable."
From across the room, Shane winked at her. "Just like you, Rachel."
She watched him disappear into the men's locker room and as the door swung shut behind him, she whispered, "You have no idea."
A few hours later, Shane listened with half an ear as his art director, Jonathon Taylor, laid out plans for next summer's Fourth of July edition even as snow flurries dusted the windows. On a weekly magazine, they usually operated months in advance. And the specialty editions required even more in-depth planning.
Jonathon really thrived on the rush of trying to outdo himself with every holiday issue. And damned if he didn't pull it off most of the time. Right now Jon was in the midst of describing, with wildly waving hands, his salute to patriotism, centering on celebrities dressed in red, white and blue. Not original, but knowing Jon, it would be great.
Sandy Hall, the managing editor, was practically frothing at the mouth. No doubt she had a complaint or two about the money Jonathon was budgeting for his blowout edition.
And Shane would have to listen to both sides and make a decision. Used to be that he hated being here, listening to all of the day-to-day drama of the magazine's inner circles. Now, though, he was enjoying himself.
Amazed him to admit it, but there it was. He'd been getting a charge out of running The Buzz for months now. Surprisingly enough, Shane realized he was pleased. Proud, even, of how well The Buzz was doing. He'd gone into this contest with halfhearted enthusiasm. But as the months had worn on, Shane had found himself being swept up into the competitive spirit. Nothing an Elliott liked better than a contest.
"So—" Jonathon was wrapping up his speech
"—I figure if we shell out top dollar to a few of the biggest celebrities, the rest of 'em will come along, too. Nobody wants to feel left out."
Before Shane could respond, Sandy stood up, brushed her short blond hair back from her eyes and narrowed her gaze on Jon. "And if we pay top dollar for a handful of celebs, who's going to offset that expenditure?"
"You have to pay to play," Jon said smugly, shooting a glance at Shane as if knowing he'd back him up.
And he did. "Jon's right, Sandy," he said, holding up one hand to keep his managing editor's temper in check. "We get the right people into that issue, the advertisers will line up to be a part of it. Plus, we'll sell more copies."
"The budget's already stretched pretty thin, Shane," Sandy said, sneering at Jon's gleeful chortle.
"Bull." Shane stood up behind his desk, swept the edges of his jacket back and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "You know as well as I do that the profit margins are way up. We're beating the pants off the rest of the Elliott magazines. And we're going to keep doing it. And the way we're going to keep doing it is by not cutting corners."