He might be the sexiest man in London, according to his fan site (which he definitely writes himself), but he’s also the most arrogant man she’s ever met.
She might have the longest legs he’s ever seen, but she also has the sharpest tongue.
For years, rival TV presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have traded barbs on their respective shows. The public can’t get enough of their feud, but after Nick airs Sabrina’s family scandals to all of Britain, the gloves are off. They can barely be in the same room together—but these longtime enemies are about to become the unlikeliest of cohosts.
With their reputations on the rocks, Sabrina and Nick have one last chance to save their careers. If they can resurrect a sinking morning show, they’ll still have a future in television. But with ratings at an all-time low and a Christmas Eve deadline to win back the nation’s favor, the clock is ticking—and someone on their staff doesn’t want them to succeed.
Small mishaps on set start adding up, and Sabrina and Nick find themselves—quelle horreur—working together to hunt down the saboteur…and discovering they might have more in common than they thought. When a fiery encounter is caught on camera, the public is convinced that the reluctant cohosts are secretly lusting after one another.
The public might not be wrong.
Their chemistry has always been explosive, but with hate turning to love, the stakes are rising and everything is on the line. Neither is sure if they can trust these new feelings…or if they’ll still have a job in the New Year.
This book is approximately 96,000 words
One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!
About the Author
Her interest in romantic fiction began with a pre-teen viewing of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (Firth-style), which prompted her to read the book as well, and the rest was history.
Read an Excerpt
October. A dark day in October.
There were scenes in life so gut-punchingly beautiful, they were impossible to do justice with words.
Like the final rays of the falling sun, glittering across the Thames as the river turned dark and impenetrable, a silken blanket of shadows.
The infinite wonder of the night sky, a stretch of potentially endless stars, the scope beyond human comprehension.
Or the video footage of the biggest wanker on British television single-handedly cannonballing his career in less than three minutes.
Life: just when you seemed to be heading down a path of total bullshit, the light would return, birds would sing, and your greatest professional rival would walk the social-media plank for the viewing pleasure of — Sabrina Carlton leaned forward to check the stats — over one million people.
It was the number-two trending video in London.
Joy upon joy.
On the laptop screen, even the grainy resolution of the phone recording couldn't disguise the sculpted angles of Nick Davenport's face. The man had a jawline that could slice a diamond. Scores of people across the country regularly voted him into the Most Eligible lists, because they'd never met him in person, and an elderly woman had once tossed a pair of knickers at him, like he was the lost fucking Beatle. The camera loved him, and he had the regular paparazzi snaps to prove it. He probably painstakingly pasted them onto his main fan site every evening. She would not be swayed in her opinion that he'd created Nick's Chicks himself.
However, she doubted that he'd be saving this video to his hard drive.
"The man has the charisma of a boiled egg." Nick's voice was hard-edged with scorn as the words came clearly through the computer speaker, dropping one by one into the heavy silence in the room. "And he inherited most of his fortune from family members who didn't make decisions with their dick."
Crossing her legs, Sabrina propped her chin on her knuckles and slid her glance sideways to where present, in-the-flesh Nick sat in the chair farthest from her own. His spine was a rigid straight line, and his usual plastic charm had iced over into a mask of imperturbability. The only sign of life on his face was the muscle moving in his jaw. If the footage of this spectacular error of judgment went on for much longer, he was going to grind his teeth into shiny white dust.
Without moving anything but his dark eyes, his gaze suddenly locked on hers.
His jaw started to tic to a faster beat.
On the laptop, the camera angle did a hasty swoop as the eavesdropping staffer holding the phone was forced to step farther back from the door of Nick's dressing room in The Davenport Report studios. Sabrina's stomach copied the flip-flopping motion. The sudden rolling blurriness was making her feel seasick, which really distracted from the epic vindication of this moment.
Unfortunately for Nick, the audio remained crystal clear.
"He's a short-sighted, selfish ballsack masquerading as a human being," past Nick continued curtly, and current Nick shifted slightly in his chair. His long fingers curled into a fist against the fine grey wool of his trousers.
"At the rate he's going, he'll strip the network to a bare-bones framework, devoid of either originality or quality. The morning show is already a ratings wasteland; now he wants to screw up the evening programming, as well. I'd have more faith in the bloody goldfish at reception to head up the organisation proper —"
Hania Aronofsky, the executive head of programming, reached out and tapped the control pad, finally muting Nick mid-sentence. Something Sabrina would frequently like to do herself.
For long, fraught seconds, nobody said a word. Then, moving her hand to her mouth, Sabrina coughed. "Slow clap, Davenport." With studious care, she smoothed down her leather pencil skirt. "Verbally eviscerating the big boss while on company premises, and without bothering to even close the door first. If you felt it was time for a career change, it might have been more politic to just type a letter of resignation."
For the first time since they'd all been summoned into Hania's office, Nick produced an actual expression. Which lowered the temperature of the already chilly room by another few degrees.
As it happened, she agreed with every scathing word he'd uttered about Lionel Grimes. The billionaire had thrown both their careers into stressful upheaval this year, after he'd acquired and merged their respective networks. Shortly thereafter, he'd confirmed his intention to streamline the two evening news-commentary shows into one, and do at least one of them out of a job. Their CEO was bumptious, rude, and intolerant, and he had a track record of using his media outlets to promote whoever was currently hanging off his arm.
However, regardless of the brutal truth in Nick's commentary, there was a place to express that opinion in such colourful terms. In one's head.
At every turn, Nick was determined to prove himself an arse.
Likely for the first time in his life, he had now become as silent as his frozen image on the screen. There wasn't much he could say; the phrase "didn't have a leg to stand on" had been invented specifically for this situation.
Hania was turning a pen in circles between her fingers. On each rotation, she tapped the end of it against the desk, and the rhythmic sound was like a clock ticking down. Possibly on Nick's continued employment. "Not the wisest move in your career, Nick."
When he spoke at last, his words were a stiff staccato, not the usual velvety voice that was one of his greatest assets. When he wielded it like a weapon, it could bite deep and dark; if he wanted something, it glided along nerve endings like a cascade of warm honey. "I've already apologised to Grimes."
That must have been an uncomfortable conversation. Grimes was rabidly conscious of his public image. Sabrina suspected he put a lot of money in influential pockets to control his media profile, since even the press he didn't own tended to near canonise him in print.
"It was unprofessional to speak like that on the clock, in this building." Nick made a faint, derisive noise in the back of his throat and again shifted his weight. With jerky movements, he pushed up his shirt-sleeves. A painful-looking scar on his right forearm wound across smooth brown skin and compact muscle in a jagged line. "And I will admit that not closing the door when the hallway was crawling with interns was ... ill-judged."
If that was how he'd phrased his official grovel, she was surprised his job had survived this long.
Hania arched strong black brows at him. "Just a touch unfortunate." She suddenly smacked her pen down. "Within twenty minutes of that video going live, he was on the phone to legal, requesting a copy of your contract."
Several of the management team in the room moved abruptly, with a rustle of clothing and the squeak of leather cushions. Nick didn't flinch, and Sabrina had to reluctantly admire his calm as he said, evenly, "Which expires very shortly anyway."
Her contract was also up for renewal. She'd been hoping it would be replaced with a thicker one, for the new show, but that was looking increasingly doubtful. She'd thought it would be a tight race to the headline contract, until Nick had pulled a stunt a few months ago that still made her want to pick up the stapler on Hania's desk and go to town on his treacherous bastard face. However, Grimes didn't like bad press for his staff any more than he accepted it for himself, and her reputation had taken a battering.
If Grimes weren't such a dickhead, they could cofound a support group for all the people roasted online because of Loose Lips over there.
Once more, Nick's eyes briefly met hers, but she couldn't read his expression. "I assume that the Friday episode of The Davenport Report will be the last."
Sabrina was conscious of a surprisingly mixed emotion in her gut. A ribbon of anger wound tighter around her insides every time she thought about him. If he ended up on the front of the Media Times, advertising the new show, she suspected that her temper — which tended to be explosive when it came to the boil — would just about send her fizzing around the room like a rogue Roman candle. But within that, buried very, very deep, and very, very weak, was a tinge of empathy.
She couldn't stand Nick Davenport. They'd been trading barbs for a long time; as far as she could remember, the inciting incident had been Nick's arrogant behaviour at her first TV Awards. The jabs and jibes at each other on their current respective shows had started off relatively lighthearted, encouraged by both their teams, since the public had been immediately on board with the rivalry. They were the subject of dozens of memes on social media, and people tweeted her with Nick's subtle insults on an almost daily basis. She assumed they did the same to him. As time had gone on, however, things between them had taken on a sharper edge, and what had begun as contemptuous amusement had soured into actual antipathy, coming to a head with his vile actions last summer.
If someone gave her a voodoo doll of Nick, she would happily insert a very large pin into a very sensitive place.
She had worked like a busy little demon to get where she was. It had taken years to earn a lead presenter contract. Television was a brutal, competitive industry, with a lot of people jostling for a small number of places. Nick, for all his smarm and insincerity and back-stabbing, would have put in hard yards and overcome a lot of obstacles to have secured his own show in his thirties.
They'd devoted hundreds of evenings to their work, sacrificed a certain amount of social life, and invested heavily in many of the guests they interviewed and the stories they told.
The fact that all of that could be taken away in seconds, on the decision of one person, bloody sucked.
She was having a moment of one-sided, near mateyness with Nick.
Fortunately, Hania's next words sent any budding charitable feelings veering back into the more familiar territory of "Eh, just fire the prick."
"Lionel has made it clear that he doesn't want two evening shows splitting the ratings and would rather focus on launching one strong competitor for the market. With a senior presenter who can pull in a majority audience share. In every research poll until recently, the two of you topped the popularity vote." Hania's tone turned desert-dry as she eyed each of them in turn. "Commonly used descriptors included sexy,charming, likeable. Honest. Trustworthy."
A dark flush started to heat Sabrina's cheeks. No prizes guessing where this was going. She turned away from Nick, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of seeing her expression.
Everyone else had been sitting in such a funereal silence that she was getting a very ominous feeling about the outcome of this meeting, but Hania's second-in-command offered up a wry "I don't think anybody can accuse Nick of lacking honesty, at least."
But as for the trustworthy label —
As her younger sister, Freddy, had once put it: "Fit as fuck, but slipperier than a wet bar of soap."
"No," she said now, and was surprised that her own voice was so level. "It's my forehead that's received the big red Liar stamp."
And Freddy's. The sudden memory of her sister's face on that summer night, as they'd stood together holding an iPad, watching their family scandals being splashed across blog after blog, tightened Sabrina's hands into fists.
It had been Nick's choice — his deliberate, personal choice — to break the news on his show, in the most damaging way possible, that her famous playwright grandmother had actually been one of the most blatant plagiarisers of the past century. Sabrina's family had profited for decades on Henrietta Carlton's massive literary fraud, entirely unknowingly by Freddy and herself, wilfully in the case of their father.
Nick had jumped on the opportunity to whack her out of the running for the plum job, like a scheming mouse strutting around with a choice bit of cheese. He'd thrown all of them to the tabloid wolves, and many people, hungry to believe the worst, had vocally turned against them. Deceit and shame were always more interesting than simple ignorance.
Bad enough, the blow to her own career, but when it came to Freddy getting shit in the press — Sabrina had no desire for an actual baby at any time ever, but she was prepared to go full-on Mama Bear where her sister was concerned.
Nick had gone taut about the mouth now, his usual expression when the plagiarism fiasco raised its ugly head.
"The situation with your grandmother is also unfortunate." Hania was the queen of understatement today. She pushed back from the desk a little and steepled her fingers in front of her chest. She was a full-figured and strikingly beautiful black woman in her fifties, with very snazzy taste in suits and long-lashed eyes that missed nothing. "There's nothing quite like misbegotten wealth to rile up the British public."
Sabrina's father had controlled the finances from Henrietta's estate since her death, and Sabrina hadn't taken a single pound from him since she'd turned eighteen.
When it came to PR, mud spattered easily and stuck indelibly, but it was still a bloody joke that her own career was taking the hit for a piss-poor decision her grandma had made decades ago.
"Our polls indicate a statistically significant decline in your popularity with the public," another member of the team chipped in, sounding apologetic. "You've lost some viewers in the past months."
Judging by the tone of comments on her Instagram, Sabrina suspected "some" was putting it kindly.
"Nor did it help matters when you decided to punch an A-list actor in the face in front of the press," Hania said more severely, although there was definite empathy as well as censure in her expression. "Whatever the provocation."
To add another understatement to the pile, that had not been a good night. The discovery about her grandmother, closely followed by the revelation on a live TV broadcast that Joe Ferren — her long-time, on-and-off, film-star boyfriend — had graduated from charmingly unreliable to unfaithful dick-sack.
However, despite his despicable behaviour — "I apologised, sincerely, to Ferren, and issued a public statement." The flush was rising in her cheeks again. "I shouldn't have hit him. I've always spoken out against violence on the show, and I stand by that. It's never okay, and I strongly regret it."
She was lucky he hadn't pressed charges, and suspected he'd exercised his influence to make sure the matter went no further.
She was relieved.
She still never wanted to see him again. Fortunately, he'd at last stopped with the guilt flowers. Swallowing hard, Sabrina gritted her teeth for a moment to keep her expression cool.
"To sum up, then," Nick said, and the timbre of his voice still sounded ... wrong. Mister Smooth a bit off his game. "Grimes wants a crowd-puller in the hot seat but is probably emailing my headshot to an assassin, and a number of sad sacks with TV licences think Sabrina is the most corrupt personality to grace their screens since Palpatine." Had she just been compared in a work conversation to the Star Wars Dark Lord? "Job prospects at the network aren't looking too flash for either of us."
He was still unnaturally calm, but if they were both out on their backsides here, there was no way he'd take it that easily. She'd already had a front-row seat to the lengths Nick would go for his career prospects.
And while she might not sacrifice all fair play and human decency to score a contract, she wasn't prepared to just sit back and let her work be yanked away from her, either, and she'd come to this meeting prepared to fight.
Almost unconsciously, she folded her arms, and Hania looked thoughtfully between their faces. There was a curious speculative quality in that look. Sabrina would go so far as to call it calculating.
"You're both on shaky ground." Like Nick, Hania's composed response seemed to resonate with meaningful undercurrents. "But fortunately, the key word is 'crowd-puller.' The bottom line is the ratings, and where there's bad publicity, there are also people tuning in."
"Hoping for an even bigger crash and burn," Sabrina muttered.
Hania looked over her shoulder and nodded, and a staffer by the door went out quietly.
As Sabrina watched him go, suspiciously, her gaze collided with Nick's again, and again she pointedly turned away.
"Well?" A shade of exasperation was creeping into Nick's demeanour as Hania dragged out the suspense.
Their boss started turning her pen in circles again. "You are correct in that you've both knocked your selves out of contention for the evening show. That position will be offered elsewhere."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Headliners"
Copyright © 2019 Lucy Parker.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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