Cattle rancher Tony Young was seeing stars. Movie idol Maggie McShaneAmerica's Sweethearthad just asked him to marry her! It was a strictly temporary business arrangement. But ever since they shared a dance and a night of incredible lovemaking, Tony wanted the pleasure of something a little more permanent.
From the moment she met the sexy cowboy, Maggie knew he was the answer to her wedding woes. But when the charade ended, would they have to call the whole thing off? Or, with the Taka-Hanson Hotel throwing them the biggest wedding ever, could Maggie and Tony turn their sham marriage into a forever kind of love?
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Maggie McShane blamed her lifelong weakness for cowboys on John Wayne movie marathons, a New Year's Day family tradition. Those happy childhood memories pierced Maggie as she watched a cowboy mosey onto her Arizona movie set. He rivaled the Duke in looks, from his thick brown hair and blue eyes to his looming height. She felt caught in his crosshairs, the way his gaze zeroed in on her, and it was everything she could do to turn away from him, and prepare for her next take outside a rustic old barn on a working cattle ranch.
"Take your mark, please, Maggie," the director said.
"Quiet on the set!"
The take was a different angle of an earlier shot, a sweeping arc that would end on a close-up of her face. Her expression was supposed to convey determination, but also a little insecurity.
"Cut! Let's do it again. A little more grit this time, Maggie."
"Right." Maggie wondered who the cowboy was. Why was he on the set? Who gave him
"Cut! Where's your head, Maggie?" the director, Mac Iverson, asked.
Startled, she met his gaze, seeing more than curiosity there. Maggie was always prepared, always on cue. Darn cowboy. "Sorry, Mac."
"All right. Once more. Action!"
The cowboy stuck his hat back on his head, covering that beautiful hair that curled down his neck a little
"Cut!" Mac came up to her. "Do you need a break or water or something?"
"It's the heat," she said, lying, embarrassed at not being her usual professional self. "This time. I promise."
After two more takes, Mac said, "Good job, thanks." Noise and activity picked up again. They were winding down for the day. Only two shots left, neither requiring her presence.
Leesa Post, Maggie's longtime personal assistant, approached, her ever-present notebook in hand. "Looks like we're getting out of here early tonight, Mags. What do you want to do about dinner?"
"Room service, but first a long, hot shower. I've got dust in every pore."
"Arizona in September. Pretty dry stuff."
"I'm learning that." Maggie lowered her voice. "Who's the cowboy talking to Mac?"
"I dunno. Want me to find out?"
Did she? He'd already brought back too many memoriesand distracted her in other ways, too. Not a good thing. And yet, she wanted to know. "If you can, discreetly."
Leesa cocked her head and grinned. "You're an engaged woman."
Maggie rubbed her left ring finger, but the diamond-and-platinum engagement band Scott Gibson had given her three weeks ago was in her bodyguard's pocket for safekeeping. "I'm not looking for a date, Leesa. I'm just curious. Mac doesn't allow many strangers onto his set."
"Probably a money guy. I'll be right back."
Leesa was the queen of efficiency. She'd been an extra on a TV sitcom Maggie had starred in as a child. They'd become fast friends at the age of six, twenty-five years ago. When Maggie had needed a full-time assistant, Leesa jumped on the bandwagon, deciding she hated being on that side of the camera, and wanted a shot at helping take care of Maggie's skyrocketing career.
"His name is Tony Young. He owns this ranch," Leesa announced quietly when she returned, holding up her tablet as if taking notes from Maggie.
"Is he as tall as he seems?"
"Ninety-five percent of the world's adult population can see the top of my head. Everyone is tall to me."
"Yeah, I've been meaning to tell you it's time to get your roots done."
"Ha, ha. Mac says you can go7:00 a.m. call tomorrow. I've got your pages, and Dino's getting the car."
Maggie would have to walk past Tony Young, ranch owner, the Duke personified, to get to her trailer to change into street clothes. Manners dictated that she stop and introduce herself, but there was something about him, even from this distance, that made her hesitate. Definitely the John Wayne connection, she decided, therefore the emotional link to her parents and their time spent watching old Westerns. Even though they had died a long time ago, the loss was still raw sometimes. It was the reason she'd waited so long to do a Western. She'd thought she was finally ready for it. Maybe she was wrong.
"Hey, Maggie," one of the cameraman said, coming up to her. "A few of us are headed to the Red Rock Saloon, outside of Sedona. We checked it out a couple of nights ago. Wanna come?"
"Thanks, Pete, but I'm wiped out. Another time, though, okay?"
"You got it."
She started to head to her trailer, then turned around. "Is it a real cowboy bar?"
"It's nothin'fancy, that's for sure. Got pool tables, though." He grinned, knowing how much she loved to play the game.
"Then you'd better save some of your hard-earned cash for when I do come." She waved and walked away, noting that the cowboy had left during the exchange. So. The decision was taken out of her hands. He was gone. She hadn't even heard his voice to know if he sounded like John Wayne, too.
In the car a half hour later, Leesa said to Maggie, "You want a laugh?"
Leesa placed a copy of Meteor in Maggie's lap. The gossip weekly's cover photo had Maggie resting her hand on her abdomen and a wistful expression on her face. "‘Twins on board? The real reason for Maggie and Scott's quick wedding.'"
Knowing Leesa expected her to smile, Maggie did, but something twisted inside her, too. Twins. She should be so lucky. She craved a family. After being orphaned at ten, she'd been raised by her maternal grandparents, the paternal set having died before she was born. Now her beloved Gram and Gramp who'd raised her were gone, too. She knew she shouldn't complainafter all, a lot of people loved herbut she wanted someone who was hers. Scott would be that, then before too long, children, she hoped. Family. Stability. She would prove it could be done successfully in Hollywood.
"So, seven weeks now constitutes a quick wedding?" Maggie asked, handing the magazine back to Leesa.
"For you. In the public's minds, anyway. Your fans would've expected a long engagement from you, and a ceremony to rival royalty."
"Which is pretty much what's happening, isn't it? I've been promised it'll be the wedding of the year." Even though she would've preferred a small ceremony with her closest friends, she'd agreed to a big, elegant, star-studded event as a favor to an old friend, Jenny Warren, who'd convinced her to hold the wedding at a brand-new hotel, The Taka San Francisco. More important, Jenny was counting on Maggie, and Maggie never let her friends down. Regret had dogged Maggie ever since she'd said yes. She should've trusted her instincts and done the intimate, surprise wedding. Now it was too late. She couldn't let down Jenny and her family. They were counting on the publicity.
Even more important, Scott had admitted to wanting the big splashy affair, too. And Maggie wanted to make him happy.
Maggie's car pulled into the Desert Canyon Resort and Spa parking lot a while later. She followed her bodyguard/driver, Dino, as they climbed to her room on the upper level. He'd been with her as long as Leesa. Sometimes Maggie had to keep a team of bodyguards with her, but the production company had private security on set, and she was keeping a low profile in Sedona, not in need of an entourage, hotel security doing extra duty there, too.
"You've been quiet, even for you," Maggie said to Dino as she toyed with her engagement ring. He'd handed it to her as she'd climbed into the car.
"Yep," Dino said, hands clasped, legs spread and planted, staring straight ahead after he unlocked the room door and stepped aside.
A few seconds passed. "You, too, actually," she said to Leesa. "For you."
Leesa grinned. "Yep."
Maggie pointed a finger at her. "You've got a secret. You're both in on it."
Dino and Leesa exchanged looks then said, "Yep," just as Maggie opened the door directly into the living room of the elegant suite. A tall, blond man rose from the sofa. Blond? She almost didn't recognize Scott, her fiancé of three weeks. His hair had been dark brown two weeks ago. On the other hand, she'd been blond instead of her current auburn. Such was the nature of film roles.
Funnyher heart didn't skip a beat at seeing him. But she put that thought from her mind, telling herself she was very glad he'd come, and wondering why she was trying to convince herself this should be so.
"We'll leave you two lovebirds alone," Leesa said. "Let me know if you need anything. Have fun." She winked at Maggie, then she and Dino headed to their adjoining private suites.
"Well." Maggie hurried toward Scott, smiling. "No warning? No fanfare? Just you?" When he didn't answer, she wondered if she'd said something wrong, and she tried to laugh it off.
"This is a wonderful surprise, Scott, although I think it means our publicists are falling down on the job. Usually events like these are orchestrated for maximum press. Which reminds me, did you see the latest issue of Meteor? Apparently I'm pregnant with twins, which is why we're getting married so quickly." She laughed again, then put her arms around him. When he didn't hug her in return, she leaned back, realizing that not only had he not smiled at her yet, but he hadn't even spoken a word. "What's going on? Why aren't you on location?"
"It's a quick trip, just for tonight. Maggie "
She didn't like how he said her name. She let her arms fall to her sides. "Should I be sitting down?" she asked.
After a moment he took her hand and led her to the sofa. His head bent, he ran his thumb over her diamond.
Her stomach churned as realization hit her. "You're breaking our engagement," she said, pulling free.
Maggie swallowed around the hot lump forming in her throat. Abandoned. Again. "Another woman?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry."
"Someone I know? Someone you're working with on the movie?"
He rubbed his face with his hands. "You'll find out soon enough. Gennifer Bodine."
Gennifer? She stared at him, speechless, until she gathered her senses. "Are you crazy? The woman sleeps with all her leading men. And then some."
"Oh, maybe she skipped Charles Jansek. He's seventy-two, after all." Then it hit her. "You've slept with her already."
He finally met her gaze. "I'm in love with her. I'm really sorry, Maggie."
She shoved herself up and walked across the room. Tears burned her eyes and throat. Not now, she thought, pressing her fingers to her eyes. She'd known all along that their "romance" was one-sided. She just hadn't wanted to admit it. And he wasn't worth tears
Calm down. Just calm down. Think this through.
She stood at the picture window staring at the glorious view of the red rocks of Sedona, feeling feeling what? She wasn't sure. A mix of confusion, hurt and relief? How could she feel relief?
"So, how do you want to handle things?" Scott asked. "I'll take all the heat, of course, but do you want the announcement to come from your team or mine?"
Maggie made herself focus on the situation. The breakup had to be dealt with carefully in the press. She would have time for her emotions to surface later, to figure out how she felt and how she would deal with it. She'd gotten way too good at keeping her feelings at bay.
"I have to think about it," she said. "And talk to my agent and my manager. And Garnet. Can't make a move without my publicist's input, right? You know the drill." Anger began to take center stage, but she didn't want to give him the satisfaction of seeing her reaction. "What I need at the moment is for you to keep it to yourself for a while so that I can figure out the next step."
He crossed his arms. "Two days, Maggie. That's plenty of time. I want to move forward."
"Go public, you mean." Just as he had three weeks ago when they'd announced their engagement to the world. He'd been in a hurry to make their relationship public then, too. "I'll be in touch. You can go now."
"I'm really sor"
"Just get out."
He got to the door, put his hand on the knob.
"Wait." She yanked off her engagement ring and tossed it. He caught it on the fly. "I've heard Gennifer doesn't mind secondhand goods."
He looked at her with the puppy-dog gaze that made women everywhere swoon. "Someday you'll be glad about this."
"That would ease your conscience, wouldn't it?" She watched the door close then latched it behind him. She didn't want any more surprises.
No wonder she'd barely heard from him. His movies, all hard-driving, nonstop action, took longer and were more physically exhausting than hers, so she'd believed him when he said he hadn't had any free time.
What a joke.
They'd had a deal. A commitment.
Maggie clenched her fists. Her jaw hurt. She couldn't stay in the hotel, couldn't spend the evening as if it was like every other evening. Her gaze landed on the envelope with the script pages she was supposed to learn for tomorrow.
"Later," she muttered. She wouldn't sleep tonight, anyway. She headed to the shower, tried to wash off Scott's betrayal along with the ranch dirt.
The ranch. She turned off the water, reached for a towel. The cowboy. The cowboy bar.
That's what she could do. She could meet the crew at the Red Rock Saloon.