With his lean, hard body and sexy slouch, Kyle Fox is as handsome as the movie stars he covers on his television show, Theatre Talk.
After first mistaking the uptight Miss Amanda Butterworth for the network censor, Kyle is less than happy to learn she is actually being foisted on him as a new co-host. But their surprising chemistry raises more than the ratings, and Amanda counters his dirty tricks with anonymous steamy letters of invitation.
All bets are off when Kyle begins to suspect his seemingly prudish co-host is behind the sexy letters that he can’t get out of his mind—which leads to a tantalizing game of seduction both on and off air . . .
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"YOU DO REALIZE, Miss Butterworth, that Kyle Fox is going to want a cohost about as much as a Texas oilman wants a Yankee son-in-law?" Noah Trent, the bald station manager of KCNX television, asked, leveling a considering stare at the young woman sitting before him.
Amanda Butterworth had heard all the rumors about Kyle Fox. Had heard all about his hotshot personality and heart-stopping good looks. No doubt the perks of hosting Theater Talk suited him just fine: he didn't have to work too hard, he made lots of money and he was crotch-deep in female fans.
Still, Theater Talk's ratings had begun to slip, or Noah Trent wouldn't be entertaining the idea of hiring her.
She slid her elegantly manicured hands back and forth in her lap. Her palms were clammy and she was as pale as her pastel hose. "Yes sir, but ..." she began in a voice whispering of her attendance at a fancy eastern girls' school.
Noah held up his large hand to halt her as he flipped open the folder she'd handed him containing the scripts of her on-screen movie reviews.
While she waited for him to finish scanning them, her heart pounded in her ears. The deep calming breath she took didn't relax her as she'd hoped. Nervously, she reached to toy with a tawny tendril escaping from her sleek French braid. Her terrible shyness was the reason she'd forced herself into a career in front of the camera. The camera had since become her friend, and she'd conquered her shyness. She was only nervous now because she so desperately wanted the job.
The station manager finally closed the folder on his desk and looked up to study the young woman in front of him. The room was silent except for the drum of his fingers on the top of the folder. "You do good work, Miss Butterworth," he finally said.
Amanda's padded shoulders relaxed a fraction at his compliment, but her posture remained straight and proper.
"However ..." Noah began, pushing back his scarred swivel chair to get up.
Amanda's breathing stopped. He'd changed his mind! He wasn't going to give her the job.
But he didn't offer her his hand. Instead, he turned his back to her and walked over to the window and looked out at the dark clouds scuddering across the gray sky above the riverfront. She let out her breath on a tremble of relief. Maybe she could still persuade him.
Before she got the chance, there was a rap on the office door, and a young intern came in on Noah's bellowed invitation.
"Yes, Toby, what is it?" he asked, turning to the curly haired young man who'd knocked.
"Uh ... sir ... Mr. Fox just called in," Toby answered, clearing his throat nervously. "He said he won't be able to make the staff meeting you called for this afternoon."
Noah glowered at the intern. "Did he say why he doesn't deem it necessary to honor us with his presence?"
"Uh ... he mentioned something about being tired ... and needing some time off for relaxation. ..." The intern's voice trailed off, and he took an unconscious step backward.
Noah turned back to the window and gazed longingly at a barge working its way upriver as he rubbed his stomach with two fingers.
Amanda suspected an ulcer. As station manager of KCNX television, he dealt with a lot of egos.
She had been elated when Noah had called her and asked her to come in to discuss a staff addition he was considering. He'd mentioned liking what he'd seen of her movie-review segment on the local news when he'd been in her city on business.
It would be a great career opportunity for her to move to the larger market at KCNX. She was sure she could do the job. She hadn't been sure how Kyle Fox would take to the idea of a partner. Noah had just made that more than plain.
She wasn't going to let him ruin this golden opportunity she was being offered. Plainly, Noah thought Kyle needed someone to shake up his complacency, or he wouldn't have contacted her.
"Get hold of Kyle and tell him I want to see him in my office, now," Noah commanded.
"Yes sir," the intern answered, hurrying off to make the call.
Deep in thought, Noah Trent continued staring out the window, seeming to have forgotten Amanda was still in his office.
Taking a deep breath, Amanda seized the initiative. "I really want this job, Mr. Trent."
Noah turned and looked at her doubtfully. Sliding his hand over his smooth bald head, he began voicing his concerns. "I know you're good at handling your job," he said, "but how good are you at handling men?"
Amanda's hand went to tug at the cameo pinned on the frothy white lace jabot at the collar of her ivory linen blouse. "Excuse me?" she asked, taken aback by his question until she realized Noah was judging her by her professional attire. He was assuming she was as prim and proper as she appeared, incorrectly assuming she'd never had a lover and was inexperienced when it came to men.
Returning to his chair and leveling his gaze directly on her, Noah said, "To be perfectly frank, Miss Butterworth, doing this job means you'll have to handle working with Kyle Fox. Kyle is a man who likes to get his way, and he'll cajole you with his charm or romance you with his looks to get it."
"I assure you I can handle Mr. Fox," Amanda vowed. If he thought she'd be putty in Kyle Fox's hands, he was wrong.
Noah considered her. A fire had flashed briefly in her eyes. So there was more to Miss Butterworth than the prim and proper facade would indicate. "You know," he said, a bit amazed, "I'm beginning to believe you could."
Amanda took a deep breath. "Then I have the job?"
Noah reached for the dish of hard candy on his desk. Taking a peppermint for himself, he offered the dish of candy to Amanda.
"No, thank you," she declined, growing increasingly impatient as he took his time uncrinkling the cellophane wrapping around the candy.
"I just quit smoking," Noah said, plopping the sweet into his mouth.
Amanda tried to smile through gritted teeth, afraid she was going to scream if he didn't answer her question soon.
"If I give you the job of cohosting Theater Talk with Kyle, how would you go about raising the ratings?" Noah hedged, moving the peppermint to one side with his tongue.
There was no hesitation in Amanda's voice. "By giving you something Mr. Fox can't give you working alone."
Noah steepled his fingers. "I hesitate to ask. Alone he's given me ulcers and indigestion."
Amanda jumped into the opening Noah gave her. "Controversy, Mr. Trent. You put Mr. Fox and me together, reviewing the same movies, and I guarantee you'll have controversy."
"Controversy...." Noah toyed with the idea.
Amanda pushed the sale. "Controversy sparks interest. Interest sparks viewers. The more controversy, the more viewers. The more viewers, the higher the ratings. You mentioned you'd gotten the idea for two movie reviewers from the success of Siskel and Ebert. They often disagree over films but not as much as a man and a woman would, or at least not as much as Mr. Fox and I will."
As Noah leaned forward in his chair, its springs seemed to squeak in relief. Staring hard at Amanda, he asked, "What makes you so sure?"
Amanda was waiting for him, her nervousness at bay when caught up in the business of discussing her career. When it came to having faith in her opinions and feelings in her personal life, she was less confident. Her career, however, was another matter. When talking about her work, she could back up her opinions cold. It was her area of real strength. It was why it was so important for her to succeed.
"After you called, I made it my business to preview tapes of Theater Talk. If you'll excuse me for saying so, your Mr. Fox is the closest thing to a Neanderthal walking upright today. I can assure you, sir, there is little, if anything, Mr. Fox and I agree on," she promised, her green eyes flashing.
Noah massaged his stomach again. "I don't know, Miss Butterworth...."
Amanda wasn't having any of it. No way was he going to deny her this chance to move into a larger market from the small station where she currently worked. Her argument was on target. She knew it and he knew it. She pressed her advantage. "Besides, Mr. Trent, with me as backup, you'll have something to hold over Mr. Fox's attitude."
Noah nodded, but he still played hardball. "Okay, you've got yourself a shot, Miss Butterworth — thirteen weeks. But if at the end of thirteen weeks, you haven't shown me a ratings gain, you're out."
"You won't be sorry, sir," Amanda promised, allowing herself a smile for the first time since the interview had begun. She knew smiles put women at a disadvantage in business dealings with men.
"Maybe," Noah commented, noncommittal about her promise. "I am sure about one thing, though," he added, his eyes alive with anticipation. "It's going to be worth risking the thirteen weeks just to see the look on Kyle's face when I tell him he's going to have a cohost."
After discussing station policy briefly, Noah penciled in a set of figures on a standard thirteen-week contract. Amanda reached for the paper he slid across his desk for her approval. The penciled sum was enough to cover her expenses for thirteen weeks, though she was certain it wouldn't even cover Kyle's florist bill.
It wasn't the money that annoyed her. It was Kyle's reputation. Industry rumor indicated he went through women like a debutante goes through party dresses — and with about as much attachment. Evidently the word relationship wasn't in his vocabulary. How was she going to form a working relationship with a man like him? It was his problem, she decided finally. She was his cohost whether he liked it or not.
Amanda nodded her agreement to Noah's penciled sum.
There was a knock at the door again. "Come in," Noah called out.
It was the intern who had interrupted earlier. "There's a call from your wife on line three, sir."
Noah snapped his fingers. "That's right, she's at some clothing designer's trunk showing at the mall."
Turning to the intern, Noah said, "Toby, Miss Butterworth is going to be joining KCNX as a movie reviewer for Theater Talk. Show her the studio where the show is taped and give her the usual employment forms to fill out."
As an aside to Amanda, he added, "I'll have the contract typed up for you as soon as I take this call from my wife. Oh, and Toby — I almost forgot. Did you get hold of Mr. Fox?"
"Yes. He's on his way in, sir." The curiosity alive in the young intern's eyes asked the question he didn't dare to: Is he also on his way out?
Noah took mercy on the kid and satisfied his curiosity. It was going to be common knowledge shortly, anyway. "Miss Butterworth and Mr. Fox are going to be working together as partners on Theater Talk."
Amanda watched a glowing anticipation replace the curiosity in Toby's eyes. It was obvious he thought things were going to get real interesting around KCNX. Toby, however, refrained from commenting.
He followed Noah's instructions and gave Amanda a quick tour of the studio. That done, he then settled her at a vacant desk outside Noah's office with a sheaf of forms to fill out and the typed contract needing her signature.
Amanda bent her head to search through the plastic cards in her wallet for her driver's license. She hated filling out forms. For some reason she had a mental block and could never remember the sequence of the last four numbers on her social security card.
Her head was still bent at her task when she heard a door open in the corridor, then slam shut, followed by the sound of determined footsteps. She didn't look up, but she had a limited view from the corner of her eye.
Flat-heeled, soft white leather boots with tooled silver at the toe and heel marched by. Her field of vision extended to the hem of a long, white denim cowboy duster swirling out behind the wearer, trailing the alluring scent of a freshly showered man. When he'd gone several feet past her, she glanced up to also see the wearer had the rangy height and breadth of shoulders to carry off the duster coat. Her glance moved up to take in his trademark moussed and precision-cut longish dark blond hair. Even from the back, there was no mistaking Kyle Fox. He'd finally made it into the television station.
Turning the knob, he marched right into Noah Trent's office unannounced.
Amanda wished she had Kyle's easy confidence. Only a man who had enormous self-assurance dressed the way he pleased, even when it made him stand out in a crowd. Amanda would love to wear the kind of contemporary, sexy clothes Kyle wore so effortlessly. Instead, she worried about what people would think and settled for safe.
For the next ten minutes the muffled sounds coming from Noah Trent's office unnerved Amanda. An argument was plainly raging between Noah and Kyle. The door to Noah's office rattled with all the yelling. Amanda hated yelling. Her father had yelled. He had been a demanding man, and her mother had been devoted to pleasing him. Her parents had been so absorbed with each other, she'd always felt like the odd one out.
To compensate, she'd lived in the fantasy world she'd invented from the movies that were her escape. She'd spent much of her childhood watching and wishing, leaving her shy and unsure of her feelings and opinions in the real world.
The muffled noises coming from Noah's office stopped finally, and as she waited with her hands folded on top of her completed employment forms, the door opened and Noah leaned out.
"Miss Butterworth, would you come into my office, please? Oh, and bring those forms with you."
When Amanda rose, she was a nervous wreck. She hadn't counted on being present when Kyle Fox found out he had to share Theater Talk with a cohost.
She laid the forms on Noah's desk. Her legs felt like jelly, and there was a faint buzzing in her head. She quickly took the nearest chair.
Noah began studying the forms, giving Kyle and Amanda a chance to study each other. Except they didn't.
Kyle continued to lounge at the window, his weight on one leg, his hands braced on the soffit above his head as he stared out across the river.
Amanda didn't have to look at him to know he was there. His sexual charisma was a living force in the room. To her dismay, her body was responding to it.
After a few long moments, Noah looked up. Smiling, he put Amanda's signed contract and employment forms in an interoffice envelope and placed them in the Out basket on the corner of his cluttered desk. "I'm sorry. Where are my manners? Miss Butterworth, the gentleman over by the window, contemplating jumping, is Kyle Fox."
Amanda couldn't escape turning to look at Kyle without being impolite. While she never let anyone take advantage of her, she was hardly ever impolite. Her green eyes moved past the white denim duster Kyle had discarded on the old tweed sofa against the wall and came to rest on his profile. He had the kind of sexy slouch that was the staple of cigarette and motorcycle ads.
The right knee was out of his well-worn jeans, and the waistband stood out a bit from his starched white tuxedo shirt, evidencing a belly that was as lean and flat as a boxer's.
Any thought of her new job disappeared from her mind to be replaced by thoughts that were carnal and lascivious. She wanted to unbutton his starchy white shirt and explore what her mind imagined. She wanted to feel ... No, enough of this, she scolded.
Still, despite her stab at control, she couldn't resist a few seconds more of perusal. Nice, long, muscular thighs and tight buns. There was nothing loose about his jeans there, or for that matter — Noah coughed.
With a start, Amanda realized she'd drifted into intimate scrutiny. All those long hours in darkened movie theaters had made her prone to fantasizing. Even though Noah couldn't have seen her visual survey, she was mortified. What if Kyle had turned his attention from the view outside the window and caught her?
"Kyle, I want you to meet Amanda Butterworth," Noah said.
Kyle turned. Surely Noah wasn't serious! he thought. She looked so ... so repressed. That prim and proper suit of hers was positively disgusting. At least Noah could have given him a sexy cohost.
Amanda was distressed to find his masculine appeal was easily double in person as he ambled toward her. He had the easy walk of a man who rides astride-motorcycles, horses, whatever.
Amanda rose to take his offered hand. His touch, though he did nothing overt, was alarmingly intimate. Instinctively she tried to pull back. Pulling back from her feelings was second nature to her.
Giving way was obviously not second nature to him. His grip tightened and so did her stomach.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Open Invitation"
Copyright © 1989 Anna Eberhardt.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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