Producer Victoria Calhoun couldn't care less that famous cowboy Clint Griffin doesn't even remember it. The kiss meant that much to her, too. And all that baggage doesn't mean she has to like working with himif you can call it work, watching him parade around on her reality TV show. She won't fall for his charms again, even if Clint is trying to convince her he's much more than his swagger. Even if the way he looks at her makes her want to believe him. She'll do her job and get out with her heart intact. Her heart, though, seems to have its own ideas .
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
This was a bad idea on so many levels.
Victoria Calhoun stared up at the swanky stone-faced McMansion and wondered why she somehow managed to get all the fun jobs. Did she really want to march up to those giant glass doors and ring the bell? Or should she run away while she still had the chance? She really hated dealing with cowboys.
Especially the rhinestone kind.
Especially the kind that got drunk in a bar and kissed a very sober, very wallflowertype of girl and didn't even remember it later.
Yeah, that kind.
But it had been a few years since that night in downtown Fort Worth. He hadn't remembered her then and he wouldn't remember her now. They'd danced, had some laughs and shared some hot kisses in a corner booth and then, poof, he'd moved on. Like two minutes later.
I've moved on, too. Enough that I don't have to stoop to this just because some sexy, sloshed cowboy kissed me and left me in a bar.
Victoria decided she was pathetic and she needed to leave. She'd have to make some excuse to Samuel but her boss would understand. Wouldn't he?
In the next minute, the decision was made for her. The doors burst open and a leggy blonde woman spilled out onto the porch while she also spilled out of the tight jeans and low-cut blouse she was wearing. The blonde giggled then started down the steps to the curving driveway, but turned and giggled her way back to the man who stood at the door watching her.
The man wore a black Stetson-of course-a bathrobe and black cowboy boots with the Griffin brand, the winged protector, inlaid in deep rich tan across the shafts. It looked like that might be all he was wearing.
Guess if you lived on a five-thousand-acre spread west of Dallas, you could pretty much wear what you wanted.
Victoria wanted to turn and leave but the sound of her producer's voice in her head held her back. "V.C., we need this one," he'd said. "The network's not doing so great. The ratings are down and that means the revenues are, too. Sponsors are pulling away left and right on other shows and soon the bigwigs will be cutting shows. The ratings will go off the charts if we nab Clint Griffin. He's the hottest thing since Red Bull. Go out there and get me some footage to show our sponsors, while I keep pushing things with his manager and all the bothersome lawyers."
So Samuel wanted some good footage? After trying to make an appointment by leaving several voice messages, Victoria had decided to do her job the old-fashioned way-by using the element of surprise. Since this was just a little recon trip and not the real deal, she could have some fun with it. She lifted the tiny handheld camcorder and hit the on button. And got a sweet, sloppy goodbye kiss between Blondie and Cowboy Casanova that should make Samuel and the sponsors, not to mention red-blooded women all over the world, sit up and take notice.
She remembered those lips and the way he pulled a woman toward him with a daring look in his enticing eyes. Remembered and now, filmed it. Revenge could be so sweet.
Blondie giggled her way to her convertible, completely ignoring Victoria as she breezed by. Clint Griffin stood with a grin on his handsome face. He waved to Blondie and didn't notice Victoria standing underneath a towering, twisted live oak.
"You come back anytime now, darlin', okay!"
Victoria rolled her eyes and kept filming. Until she got closer and saw that the cowboy in the bathrobe was staring down at her.
"Hello, there, sweetheart," he said, his steel-gray eyes centered on his close-up. "Who are you? TMZ, Extra, Entertainment Tonight? Oh, wait, CMT, right?"
Victoria stopped recording and held out her hand, both relief and disappointment filtering through her sigh. "I'm Victoria Calhoun. I'm from the television show Cowboys, Cadillacs and Cattle Drives. We're part of the Reality Network."
Clint Griffin lifted his hat to reveal a head full of light brown curls streaked with gold and then took her hand and held it too long. "TRN? Get outta here. Did my manager send you as some kind of joke? 'Cause I'm pretty sure I told that fellow on the phone the other day that I'm not interested."
Obviously, he didn't have an inkling of ever being around her or kissing her in a bar long ago. Or maybe his whiskey-soaked brain had lost those particular memory cells. Good. That would make this a lot more fun and a whole lot easier.
Yanking back her hand, Victoria wanted to shout that he was the joke, but she needed this job to pay for her single-and-so-glad lifestyle. "No joke, Mr. Griffin. My producers want to do a few episodes about you. But then, you obviously already know that, since our people have been trying to negotiate with your people for weeks now."
"So I hear," he replied, his quicksilver eyes sliding over her with the slowness of mercury. Probably just as lethal, too.
Forever grateful that he'd tightened the belt on his robe, Victoria waited while he put his hat back on his head and walked down another step and stared right into her eyes. "Honey, you're too pretty to be on that side of the camera." He reached for her recorder. "Why don't you let me film you?"
His teeth glistened a perfect white against the springtime sunshine while his gray eyes looked like weathered wood. His thick brown-gold hair curled along his neck and twisted out around the big cowboy hat. The man had the looks. She'd give him that. Even in an old bathrobe and just out of bed, he oozed testosterone from every pore. And his biceps bulged nicely against that frayed terry cloth.
Angry that he looked even better with that bit of wear surrounding him like hot red-pepper seasoning, Victoria tried to compare this man to the young cowboy who'd messed with her head all those years ago. Young or old, Clint Griffin still had it.
But she didn't come here to gawk.
"No, no." She pulled her hand and the camcorder away before he could grab it. "That's not how this works, Mr. Griffin."
"Call me Clint and come on in."
Victoria wondered at the sanity of entering this house without her crew, the sanity of making any kind of deal with this man, verbal or otherwise. Would she come out later, all giggly and dazed like the woman who'd just left?
A forbidden image shot through her sensibilities.
Job, Victoria. You need this job, remember? Her boss had hinted at a nice salary change if she nabbed Clint Griffin.
"I'll wait for you to uh get dressed so we can talk."
He looked down and let out a laugh. "Mercy me, I am half-nekked. Sorry about that."
He didn't look sorry, not the least little bit.
His cowboy charm grated on her big-city nerves like barbed wire hitting against a skyscraper window. "It's okay. I did kind of sneak up on you. But I did try to call first. Several times."
"Did you? I'll have to find my phone and check my messages. Been kind of out of commission for a few weeks." He grinned at that. "That's me, I mean, out of commission. The phone works just fine. If I can keep up with it."
She knew all about him being out of commission but she figured he had his phone nearby at all times. His life was in all the tabloids. Rodeo hero parties too hard and gets arrested after a brawl in a Fort Worth nightclub. A brawl that involved a woman, of course. Apparently, his phone wasn't the only thing he didn't bother to check. Rumor had it if he didn't check his temper and his bad attitude, he'd lose out on a lot of things. One of them being this ranch.
What a clich of a cowboy.
He motioned her inside. The foyer was as expected-as tall as a mountain peak, as vast as a field of wheat. But the paintings that graced the walls were surprising. A mixture of quirky modern art along with what looked to be serious masterpieces. And here she'd thought the man didn't know art from a postcard.
Maybe someone else had picked these out.
Victoria pictured a smartly dressed, brunette interior-design person. A female. She imagined that most of the people in Clint Griffin's entourage were females. Or at least she'd gathered that from all the tabloid stories she'd read about the man. He'd probably seduced the designer into bringing in the best art that money could buy to show he had some class.
Victoria wasn't buying that. She'd researched her subject thoroughly. Part of the job but one of the most fascinating things about her work. She loved getting background information on her subjects but this had been an especially interesting one. When Clint's name had come up in a production meeting, she'd immediately raised her hand to get first dibs on researching him. That, after trying to forget him for over two years.
Rodeo star. Hotshot bull rider, and all-around purebred cowboy who'd been born into the famous Griffin dynasty. Born with a silver brand in his mouth, so to speak. Money wasn't a problem until recently but that rumor had not been substantiated. Credibility however, had become a big deal. Former rodeo star, since he'd retired three years ago after a broken leg and one too many run-ins with a real bull. Country crooner. Shaky there, even if he could play a guitar with the same flare as
James Burton and sing with all the soul of Elvis himself, he only had one or two hit songs to his credit. Rancher. She'd seen the vastness of this place driving in. Longhorns marking the pastures, Thoroughbred horses racing behind a fence right along beside her car, and a whole slew of hired hands taking care of business.
While he lolled around in boots and a bathrobe.
But his r sum did impress.
Endorsement contracts. For everything from tractors to cars to ice cream and the next president. His face shined on several billboards around the Metroplex. Nothing like having one of your favorite fantasies grinning down at you on your morning drive.
Women. Every kind, from cheerleaders to teachers to divorced socialites to giggly, leggy blondes. He'd tried marriage once and apparently that had not worked.
And again, Victoria wondered why she was here.
"Come in. Sit a spell." He pointed toward the big, open living room that overlooked the big, open porch and pool. "Give me five minutes to get dressed. Would you like something to drink while you wait? Coffee or water?"
"I'm fine," Victoria replied. "I'll be right here waiting."
"Make yourself at home," he called, his boots hitting the winding wooden stairs. He stopped at the curve and leaned down to wink at her. "I'll be back soon."
Victoria wondered about that. He'd probably just gotten out of bed.
Clint got in the shower and did a quick wash then hopped out and grabbed a clean T-shirt and fresh jeans. He combed his hair and eyed himself in the mirror while he yanked his boots back on.
"No hangover." That was good. He at least didn't look like death warmed over. The tabloids loved to catch him at his worst.
But he'd had a good night's sleep for once.
The determined blonde named Sasha had obviously given up on him taking things any further than a movie and some stolen kisses in the media room and had fallen asleep sitting straight up.
She'd probably never be back, but she'd be happy to tell everyone she'd been here. Since he'd had the house to himself all weekend, he'd expected her to stay. But.. they almost never stayed.
And now another woman at his door-this one all business and different except for the fact that she wanted him for something. They almost always did.
He thought of that Eagles song about having seven women on his mind and wondered what they all expected of him.
What did Victoria Calhoun expect of him?
This was intriguing and since he was bored The woman waiting downstairs struck him as a no-nonsense, let's-get-down-to-business type. She didn't seem all that impressed with the juggernaut that was Clint Griffin, Inc. He didn't blame her. He wasn't all that impressed with him, either, these days.
But the executives and the suits had sent her for a reason. Did they think sending a pretty woman would sway him?
Well, that had happened in the past. And would probably happen again in the future.
It wouldn't kill him to pretend to be interested.
So after he'd dressed, he called down to his housekeeper and ordered strong coffee, scrambled eggs and bacon and wheat toast. Women always went for the wheat toast. He added biscuits for himself.
When he got downstairs Victoria wasn't sitting. She was standing in front of one of his favorite pieces of art, a lone black stallion standing on a rocky, burnished mountainside, his nostrils flaring, his hoofs beating into the dust, his dark eyes reflecting everything while the big horse held everything back.
"I know this artist," she said, turning at the sound of his boots hitting marble. "I covered one of his shows long ago. Impressive."
Clint settled a foot away from her and took in the massive portrait. "I had to outbid some highbrows down in Austin to get it, but I knew I wanted to see this every day of my life."
She gave him a skeptical stare. "Seriously?"
It rankled that she already had him pegged as a joke. "I can be serious, yes, ma'am."
She turned her moss-green eyes back to the painting. "You surprise me, Mr. Griffin."
"Clint," he said, taking her by the arm and leading her out onto the big covered patio. "I ordered breakfast."
"I'm not hungry," she said, glancing around. "Nice view."
Clint ushered her to the hefty rectangular oak table by the massive stone outdoor fireplace, then stopped to take in the rolling, grass-covered hills and scattered oaks, pines and mesquite trees spreading out around the big pond behind the house. This view always brought him a sense of peace. "It'll do in a pinch."
She sank down in an oak-bottomed, cushioned chair with wrought-iron trim. "Or anytime, I'd think."
Clint knew all about the view. "I inherited the Sunset Star from my daddy. He died about six years ago."
She gave him a quick sympathetic look then cleared her pretty little throat. "I know I read up on you. Sorry for your loss."
Her cliched response dripped with sincerity, at least.
"Thank you." He sat down across from her and eyed the pastureland out beyond the pool and backyard. "This ranch has been in my family for four generations. I'm the last Griffin standing."
"Maybe you'll live up to the symbol I saw on the main gate."
"Oh, you mean a real griffin?" He leaned forward in his chair and laughed. "Strange creature. Kind of conflicted, don't you think?"
Before she could answer, Tessa brought a rolling cart out the open doors from the kitchen. Clint stood to help her. "Tessa, this is Victoria Calhoun. She's with that show you love to watch every Tuesday night on TRN. You know the one about cowboys and cars and cattle, or something like that."
Tessa, sixty-five and still a spry little thing in a bun and a colorful tunic over jeans, giggled as she poured coffee and replied to him in rapid Spanish. "She's not your usual breakfast companion, chico."
Clint eyed Victoria for a reaction and saw her trying to hide a smile. "Comprender?"
"Understand and speak it."
Okay, this one was different. "Coffee?" Clint shot a glance at Tessa and saw her grin.