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Authors: Christine Rimmer

Bravo Unwrapped

BOOK: Bravo Unwrapped
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What a night. Face-to-face with Buck Bravo again.

And now she'd be expected to eat.

So B.J. faked drinking her wine. She even managed to get a little food down. On the polite conversation front, she nodded and made interested noises when spoken to. And she scrupulously avoided looking directly at Buck. No point in going there, nosiree.

Buck was, in all honesty, the man of the hour. There was talk that he'd get a Pulitzer for his last book. And the tabloids…to read what they wrote about him, you'd think every unattached woman in America longed to claim him for her very own.

Every woman except B.J. She didn't long to claim him. She only longed for him to go away.

And soon he
would
go away. He'd go off and write his story and leave her alone to come to grips with the fact that she was going to have his baby….

Dear Reader,

The editors at Harlequin and Silhouette are thrilled to be able to bring you a brand-new featured author program for 2005! Signature Select aims to single out outstanding stories, contemporary themes and oft-requested classics by some of your favorite series authors and present them to you in a variety of formats bound by truly striking covers.

We want to provide several different types of reading experiences in the new Signature Select program. The Spotlight books offer a single “big read” by a talented series author, the Collections present three novellas on a selected theme in one volume, the Sagas contain sprawling, sometimes multi-generational family tales (often related to a favorite family first introduced in series) and the Miniseries feature requested previously published books, with two or, occasionally, three complete stories in one volume. The Signature Select program offers one book in each of these categories per month, and fans of limited continuity series will also find these continuing stories under the Signature Select umbrella.

In addition, these volumes bring you bonus features…different in every single book! You may learn more about the author in an extended interview, more about the setting or inspiration for the book, more about subjects related to the theme and, often, a bonus short read will be included. Authors and editors have been outdoing themselves in originating creative material for our bonus features—we're sure you'll be surprised and pleased with the results!

The Signature Select program strives to bring you a variety of reading experiences by authors you've come to love, as well as by rising stars you'll be glad you've discovered. Watch for new stories from Janelle Denison, Donna Kauffman, Leslie Kelly, Marie Ferrarella, Suzanne Forster, Stephanie Bond, Christine Rimmer and scores more of the brightest talents in romance fiction!

The excitement continues!

Warm wishes for happy reading,

Marsha Zinberg

Executive Editor

The Signature Select Program

CHRISTINE RIMMER
BRAVO UNWRAPPED

Dear Reader,

Strong women. You gotta love 'em. I do. I like to think that I
am
a strong woman. And I like to write about strong heroines, women who know what they want and aren't afraid to go out and get it.

Such a woman is B. J. Carlyle, the heroine of
Bravo Unwrapped
. B.J. is brilliant and, okay, she's more than a little domineering. She loves pricey designer shoes and she's a New Yorker through and through. She also happens to be pregnant,
and
she's just decided that she's no good at the man/woman thing. Her relationships somehow never work out. She's giving up men.

I know what you're thinking: Not going to happen. You are so right. Because, of course, there's the father of her baby, Buck Bravo, the one man she's never been able to forget.

Buck can't forget her, either—and he doesn't even know there's a baby involved. Buck has decided he's getting himself another chance with B.J., whether B.J. wants that chance or not. From New York to California and back again, Buck is determined to lay claim to the woman he knows is meant for him.

Happy holidays everyone,

Christine Rimmer

For my dad, who always believed I could do anything I set out to do—and who made sure that I believed it, too.

One

F
or B. J. Carlyle, features editor at
Alpha
magazine, that fateful day in late October started out in abject wretchedness—and went downhill from there.

B.J. was not someone who hit the snooze button as a rule, but that morning she did. She hit it. And she kept hitting it every five minutes for over an hour. Eventually, she realized it was either get up—or admit she was taking a sick day. B. J. Carlyle did not take sick days.

So she crawled out of bed groaning and headed straight for the bathroom, where she dropped to her knees, banged the seat lid back and threw up. Repeatedly.

By the time she finally stopped gagging and staggered upright, it was much too late for her usual session on the Stairmaster, let alone her blenderized breakfast cocktail of fruit juice and vitamin-packed protein powder.

Okay, she told herself. Fine. Tomorrow for the Stairmaster.

And the protein drink? Skipping it was not a problem, considering that the thought of gulping it down had her queasy stomach threatening to bring her to her knees again.

B.J. ate three saltine crackers and grabbed a quick shower. Precious extra minutes went into her makeup. She troweled on the concealer in a mostly failed effort to hide the ravages incurred by five virtually sleepless nights in a row. Finally, she put on her favorite short black pencil skirt and that cute pink Donna Karan silk blouse with the opera-glove sleeves and the wild spill of ruffles at the neck
and
the black snub-toed Pradas with the four-inch heels. Though she was a tall woman—five-eight in flats—on a day like this, she could use all the extra height she could get. She pulled on a short, snug pink leather blazer over the blouse, grabbed her big black alligator bag and her briefcase, and went out the door without so much as glancing at her message machine.

That little red light was blinking and she knew it. It had been blinking when she came in the night before. She knew who'd called. She'd checked the display.

Buck.

She wasn't talking to him—she wasn't even going to listen to his deep, sexy recorded voice. Uh-uh. Not a chance.

Downstairs, she waited, trying not to tap her toe, while sweet old Melvin, the doorman, got her a cab. Traffic on Broadway was a zoo—no surprise. The cab smelled of garlic and wet shoes. Her cell rang twice. Probably Giles, her right-hand man at
Alpha.
By now, Giles would be wondering where the hell she was.

B.J. ignored the calls. She stared out the side window at the sea of scurrying pedestrians and honking vehicles and told herself she was not going to vomit—garlic and stinky-shoe smell be damned. She was keeping down her three measly crackers and that was that.

At West 58th, she got out of the cab and sucked in a deep breath of lovely exhaust-rich, garlic-free air. She paid the cabbie. She tugged on her blazer and brushed at her skirt. Then she yanked her shoulders back, stuck her chin in the air and strode purposefully toward the black-marble-and-glass building that housed the offices of
Alpha
magazine. B.J.'s father, L.T. Carlyle, owned the building.
Alpha
had the fifteenth floor.

B.J. spent the ride up to the offices trying not to look at her own reflection in the elevator's mirrored walls and ignoring her cell, which was ringing again. She had that Bride of Chucky look around the eyes. Scary. Very scary. And she really should have used a little more blusher….

The doors slid wide and she was facing the
Alpha
reception desk, complete with stunning receptionist Melanie, who had exotic slanted eyes and preternaturally large lips—lips that went with her breasts, as a matter of fact. Melanie automatically beamed her blinding big-lipped smile, as she'd been trained to do whenever the elevator doors opened.

Then she realized it was B.J. “Oh! B.J. You're…late.” Melanie stated the obvious with a look of pure bewilderment. B.J., after all, was never late. And beyond the bewilderment, didn't Melanie seem a little…guilty? She had a magazine open in front of her. She flipped it closed, folded her slim French-manicured hands on top of it and blinked three times in rapid succession.

Even with Melanie's tightly clasped hands in the way, B.J. could see enough of the cover to make a positive identification:
TopMale
magazine. Apparently, Melanie felt guilty for checking out
Alpha
's competition. Did B.J. care what the receptionist read while she was supposed to be working?

Not today, she didn't. “Good morning, Melanie,” B.J. announced vehemently, and headed for the hallway to the left of the desk.

Melanie called after her. “Uh. Giles says he needs to talk to you. He's been trying to reach you….”

B.J. stopped, pivoted on her mean black heels, and gave the receptionist her most terrifying smile. “And I'm headed his way as we speak, now aren't I? Or I was, until you stopped me.”

“Uh. Well,” said Melanie, coloring prettily. “Yeah. Okay. That's right….”

B.J. proceeded down the hall, sprinkling tight greetings at random colleagues as she went, careful not to make eye contact, which would encourage further communication. She was so not up for anything beyond “Hi,” right then—not that anyone tried to get her talking. In fact, they all seemed a little…strange, didn't they? A little sheepish, their grins of greeting bordering on smarmy.

Or was she only being paranoid due to sleep deprivation, unremitting nausea and raging hormones?

Hmm. Could be.

Giles had the office next to hers. His door was open. She had to walk past it to get to her own. She was tempted to try that—zip right by, pop into her own office and shut the door. Silently.

Which was absurd. No point in coming to work just to hide in her office.

She stepped boldly into the doorway of Giles's narrow cubicle, which only achieved the designation of “office” because it had actual walls and a door he could shut. “What?” she demanded.

Giles tossed his head as he looked up. His sleek blond hair flew back out of his eyes. “God. I thought you must have
died.
” People assumed that Giles had to be gay, he was so pretty. He let them assume it. Women adored him. They felt
safe
with him, even though they weren't. He loved to gossip and he cared about fashion. His last name was CynSyr, pronounced
sincere
—which he actually was, on occasion. Giles spotted her shoes. “Darling. I love those. All you need is a whip.”

“Is there a problem or not?”

“Unfortunately, there is.” He peered at her more closely. “Are you…all right?”

She stood straighter and lied—aggressively. “Fabulous.”

“Did you, ah, see the new issue of
TopMale,
by any chance?”

She scowled. “What is it with that? Melanie was reading it just now, when I came in.”

“You haven't seen it.”

“No. Why?”

“Ah—first, the good news.” He grabbed the Starbucks cup at his elbow and held it out to her. “Decaf mocha almond. Venti. One packet of Splenda. Just the way you like it.” His golden brows drew together and he wrinkled his aquiline nose. “Sorry, but it's lukewarm by now.”

She stepped into the room and took the latte from him. “Thanks. You do have your uses.”

“I figured you'd need it.”

“I do.” Assuming she could get it down without hurling. She gestured with the covered cardboard cup. “Okay. Let me have it.”

“Disaster, that's all.”

Her stomach lurched. She swallowed. Hard. “I'm listening.”

“The Wise Brothers just broke up,” Giles said. “Their manager called Mike yesterday. They're not going to be available for the Christmas cover story.”

The Wise Brothers were the biggest thing to hit popular music since…comparisons failed her. And this was not good. Very, very not good.

B.J. shoved a stack of back issues off Giles's lone extra chair and sank into it, dropping her briefcase to the floor, letting her bag slide off her shoulder. “Tell me you're joking.”

Giles did nothing of the kind. “I'm as serious as a cheap tie. Trust me. ‘Christmas with the Three Wise Men' is history.”

“But…a different slant, maybe? Their new solo careers? Their, uh…”

Giles was shaking his golden head. “They don't want to do it. They are all, and I'm quoting Mike quoting the manager, ‘devastated.' They're also all in seclusion, or some such crap. Mike tried all day yesterday to get through to at least one of them. No luck. And we both know that if Mike can't get to them, nobody can.” Mike Gallato, one of the best, was
Alpha
's top contributing editor.

And B. J. Carlyle never gave up a major story without a fight. She shouldered her bag again, grabbed up her briefcase and shot to her feet. “I'll make a few calls.”

“Been done. It's hopeless.”

“Never use that word around me.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“Hah.” She started to turn.

Gingerly, from behind her, Giles suggested, “Just…a point or two more.”

She whirled back to him. “Speak. Fast.”

“Arnie wants a meeting at eleven to discuss your plans.” Arnie Dale was the managing editor. In recent years, Arnie pretty much ran things at
Alpha,
though B.J.'s father, who had created
Alpha
on their kitchen table back when B.J. was in diapers, had never relinquished his twin titles of publisher and editor-in-chief.

B.J. prompted, “My plans for…?”

Giles looked at her patiently. “The new Christmas-issue cover feature.”

She blew out a gusty breath. “Fine. Meeting at eleven.” She looked at her watch. Nine-thirty-two. She needed to get going on those calls. “Anything else?”

“Ah. Yes.” Giles wore the strangest expression, suddenly. Pitying? Worried? She couldn't read it. B.J. made an awkward wrap-it-up gesture with the hand that held her briefcase, after which Giles clucked his tongue and tossed his golden locks again. Then, at last, the perfect line of his square jaw hardened. His fine nostrils flared. He yanked open his pencil drawer and whipped out the latest issue of
TopMale
magazine—the one Melanie had been reading so furtively a few minutes before.

“Oh, please,” B.J. said. “As if I've got time to read
that
rag with my December cover feature dead at my feet.”

Giles stood—or sat, in this case—firm. “Darling. You
need
to read this.”

“Just give me the salient points.”

Giles only shook his head and shoved the magazine toward her. “I marked the page. Go in your office, sit down, drink your lukewarm latte and then deal with that. And when you do, keep in mind that it's nothing but meaningless drivel written by a dickless ass.”

 

In her office, with the door firmly shut, B.J. set down her bag and briefcase, tossed the November issue of
TopMale
to the side of her desk, hung her jacket on the coat rack in the corner, booted up her computer, and made those calls.

Giles had been right, of course. She got nowhere. The Wise Brothers had called it quits, they weren't talking to anybody and she had no cover story for the issue that would hit the stands in twenty-eight days.

There would definitely be meetings. Several.

Her head pounded and her stomach churned. Still, gamely, she picked up her latte and removed the lid. She sniffed. Waited.

And didn't gag.

Carefully, she sipped.

Oh, yes. Excellent. It was almost cold, but it went down fine.

Sipping some more, she considered. She had a half an hour until the meeting with Arnie. So? E-mail, phone messages—there had been several new ones while she was making all those hopeless calls—or
TopMale?

She picked up the phone and punched the code for message pick-up.

Big mistake. The first one was from Buck. She heard his voice—so deep, so sexy, so gallingly tempting. “B.J. Give it up. Give me a damn call.”

She slammed the phone down. Later for messages.

With a heavy sigh, she slid
TopMale
—by a corner—
from the side of her desk to right under her nose. She sneered down at the eye-candy guy on the cover. A winning smile and six-pack abs. Not terribly imaginative, but effective.

TopMale
didn't have
Alpha
's market share, or its cachet. After all,
Alpha
managed to be all things to a wide cross-section of men. From bon vivants to backwoods survivalists to your everyday Joe with a beer in one hand and the remote in the other, they all bought
Alpha.
Still, the upstart
TopMale
did have a solid readership, a readership that kept growing….

B.J. flipped the magazine open to the page Giles had marked for her. She drank her cold latte and began reading.

Manhattan Man-Eater

Well, okay. A reasonably catchy title. Then she read the byline: by Wyatt Epperstall.

The last time she'd seen Wyatt was the day four months ago when she'd told him she
wouldn't
be seeing him anymore.

Her hand began to shake. Cool milk and espresso sloshed on her wrist and stained her pink blouse.

He wouldn't.

He
couldn't….

Oh, but he had.

You know her when you see her. She's tall and she's smart and she has great legs. Great legs and killer shoes on her narrow, perfect feet. You know the kind of shoes I mean. Shoes with fancy Italian names and price tags to match, shoes with high, pointed heels that have you dreaming of what it might be like if she wore them and took a walk on your chest.

If you're lucky, she might do just that.

She makes the rules. And she makes sure you live by them. That is, until she's through with you—which, believe me, will be sooner than you think.

Okay, big guy. I know what you're muttering right about now. No driven, focused, powerful steamroller career woman for you. You don't go for that type.

Let me tell you. You would. You could. In the dark heart of every man lies a yearning for a dangerous woman he cannot control. She is that woman. She could have you if she wanted you. One glance from those frosty gray-blue eyes and you are her slave.

In bed, she—

BOOK: Bravo Unwrapped
8.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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