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Authors: Jennifer Cruise

Charlie All Night

BOOK: Charlie All Night
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Jennifer Crusie began reading
romances for a research project—and enjoyed them so much, she decided
to try writing one. She not only tried but succeeded!
Charlie All Night
is Jennifer's
sixth published book. Recently this talented author also received a
RITA Award from the Romance Writers of America for an earlier
Temptation,
Getting Rid of Bradley
.
Jennifer's next book,
Anyone But You
,
will be part of the launch for Harlequin's new series, Love &
Laughter, in September.
CHARLIE ALL NIGHT
Jennifer Crusie
ISBN 0-373-25670-1
Copyright © 1996 by Jennifer Crusie.

 

For Valerie
Taylor,
who has the eye of an editor and the heart of a reader,
and for Brenna Todd,
whose big hair is only exceeded by her big heart,
because they got me through this book.
1
Allie McGuffey knew a yuppie bar was a lousy place to find a hero, but
she was desperate. So she
had to make do with what she had on hand.
Unfortunately, what she had on hand was pretty pathetic.
She shoved her horn-rimmed glasses back up the bridge of her nose with
one finger and peered at
the row of stools at the bar. Businessman. Businessman. Empty seat.
Businessman. Businesswoman. Empty seat. Empty seat. Thug. Businessman.
She swallowed the lump that had been in her throat for the past fifteen
minutes. Okay, fine, if that's
what she had to work with, she'd work with it. But it was going to have
to be the thug, because she
was never going to have a relationship with a suit again as long as she
lived. Even a relationship that
was only going to last five minutes.
And he really wasn't a thug. Allie tried to drum up some enthusiasm
before she made her move. His
dark blond hair was shaggy over his collar, and his brown leather
jacket had seen better days, and
his jeans were authentic grunge, but he was big and clean and most
important of all, he made a nice contrast to all the charcoal suits
that looked like Mark. And what Allie wanted more than anything
right then was a not-Mark.
She knew she was behaving like an idiot, but given the bomb that had
just exploded in her face, the
fact that she was not sitting in a trance was a step in the right
direction.
It had not been a good day.
Allie had hit the radio-station doors that afternoon at her usual clip,
banging them open like saloon
doors. If they ever locked those doors, she was going to seriously hurt
herself, but they never did
since everyone had to be buzzed in from the
street level four floors below. So she'd gone charging through as
usual, happy to be there. As usual, what seemed like forty people
converged on her.
Allie beamed as they pounced, loving the feeling that WBBB couldn't run
without her, that without
her there would be dead air and dust. This
was who she was, Allie-the-producer,
Allie-the-brains-behind-The-Mark-King-Show, Allie-the-savior. She knew
she was probably a little whacked to depend on a radio station for her
identity, but compared to all the other psychological problems running
loose at the station, she was in relatively good mental health, so she
didn't dwell on it.
At first it was just Karen, the receptionist, who called out "Allie!,"
but that alerted Lisa, her former
student intern, who popped out of the
hall looking miserable and said, "Allie, I—" and who was
promptly
pushed aside by Albert the financial manager, who said, "Allie, the
ratings—" and who
was overrun by Marcia, the two-to-six-time-slot
barracuda, who said, "Allie, I heard—" and who
was shouldered aside by
Mark, Allie's ex-lover and present boss, who said, "I need to see you
in
your office. Now."
Allie pushed her glasses back up her nose so she could see him better.
The silence that settled over
the reception area was a tribute to how
bizarrely Mark was behaving. Usually, he made his presence known
through talking too loudly, dropping names and laughing heartily in the
wrong places, all
because he was insecure. Allie had once felt sorry
for him, but she didn't now, having been dumped
as his lover two months
ago when he decided he'd look better standing next to Lisa than he did
with
her. He was right, of course, but it still
hurt.
Now he stood in the entrance to the hallway, quietly superior, and it
was such a change that
everybody shut up. She followed him to her
office without question.
Once inside, he closed the door behind her, went around to her desk
chair and sat.
Allie fought back a snarl. All right, she wasn't territorial, but this
was her office, no matter how tiny
and cluttered, and her desk, and
that was her desk chair, and he was making her a visitor in her own
domain. So she scowled at him and said, "What is this?"
Mark crossed his arms and leaned back in her chair, which tilted so
that he was almost horizontal to
her vertical, and then he said,
"There's no good way to tell you this, Allie, so I'll just say it. I
know
it's going to be hard, but I also know you're an adult and you
realize that things change. People grow.
Change is good." He let his
head fall back and addressed the ceiling as he began to wax
philosophic.
While she waited for him to get to the point, assuming he
had one, she considered how amazingly good-looking he was, and how mad
she was at him, and how much she wanted him back.
This was the great mystery of her life. He was an insecure twit. So why
had she fallen for him and why was she still hung up on him? Why did
she miss going to dinner with him and lying in bed with him, all the
while listening to him talk about himself? Of course, that had been
research for the show, but still... As he droned on and she
automatically began to edit his speech for broadcast purposes, the
possibility dawned on her that what she'd fallen for was the edited
Mark King she'd created on the radio, not the
real Mark King who sat in
front of her now, boring her to tears. And that what she was most mad
about was that she'd created him, and then he'd taken her work to
another woman.
Mark was still waxing. "So that's why—"
Allie cut in, more exasperated with herself than with Mark. "Look, I've
got things to do here, so if
you'll just cut to the chase, I'll get
back to keeping you a hit." Okay, that was below the belt, but he'd
started the fight by sitting in her chair, die louse. Not to mention
dumping her for a younger woman.
Mark sat up straight and put his palms flat on her desk. "All right,
here it is. You're not going to be working on my show anymore."
The room spun. Allie dropped into the remaining chair in the room and
said, "What?"
"I've sensed a certain hostility since our breakup, and it's affecting
my performance. So Bill and I
have decided it's best to put lisa in
your place since you've trained her. That way, the show won't
suffer at
all."
Allie sat stunned.
Mark smiled at her and spread his hands, fait accompli, "Lisa is
producing the show, starting now.
It'll be better for all of us,"
"All of us who?" She took a deep breath. "Not all of us me. You have
the prime-time show. I'm the prime-time producer. Unless I get the slot
while you and Lisa move someplace cozy, this is not better
for me."
"Well, of course I'm not moving." Mark sat up straighter in the chair.
"I'm the talent."
He was the talent? Then what was she?
"And you're not fired or anything like that. We do appreciate what
you've done," he went on, and
Allie jerked her head up, anger finally
evicting her panic.
"Of course I'm not fired. Why would I be fired? This makes no sense."
He plowed on through her anger. "And Bill's going to give you another
show to produce. I made
sure of that."
Good old Mark. Taking care of her. What a pal. She stood up, refraining
from killing him where he
sat only by Herculian effort. "Well, gee,
Mark, thanks for the support and good luck in the future.
Now get out of
my chair."
He stood, doing what she'd said as if by instinct. After two ears of
doing everything she said, it was probably a hard labit to break. He
moved toward the door, brimming with patronizing goodwill.
"Look, why
don't we go out for a drink? Just to show there are no hard feelings."
She wanted to scream at him,
Of
course, there are hard feelings, you
jerk. If I could, I'd beat you senseless with one right now
. But
she was
too adult for that, and too rattled, so she lied instead.
Mark might
have kicked her in the teeth, but she still had her incisors.
"Sorry, I've already got a date. In fact, I have to go now. Maybe some
other time." She ducked out
into the hall in front if him, trying not
to cry. That would be a real mistake because she never cried.
If she
did, people would probably assume somebody had died. And then she'd
have to tell them that, tragically, Mark still lived.
Mark followed her, so she speeded up.
Karen yelled "Allie" again as she went past the receptionist's counter,
and this time shoved an
envelope at her. Bill-"
Allie took the envelope without slowing down, flashing the best
smile she could under the
circumstances, and bolted for he elevator
with Mark still in pursuit.
Then Karen called out to him, too, and stopped him, and Alllie caught
the elevator and escaped
to the street.
She'd been fired. She still had a job, but her career was gone with
Mark. Allie stuck her chin out and
tried to fake defiance—well, big
deal, she'd just build another great show— But it was no good. She'd
spent two years making Mark's how a hit, taking surveys, researching
topics, devising contests, doing everything she knew to showcase Mark's
strengths. She'd
majored in Mark King, and now he'd
expelled
her.                                                     
For a moment, outside the restaurant across from the station, Allie
felt a moment of pure fear. What
if she couldn't do it again? What if
Mark was right and he was the talent? What if she really was a
loser?
Nobody coming to her for help, nobody relying on
her.   
No. She'd find a way back. She gritted her teeth and went into the
restaurant.
The hallway divided the restaurant from the bar, a sort of DMZ that
separated the eating yuppies
from the drinking yuppies. Allie stopped
there and opened the envelope Karen had thrust at her.
She found the
kind of note the station owner was famous for: short, tactless and to
the point:
I'm
taking you off Mark's show and giving you to Charles Tenniel, the
man taking
over for Waldo Hancock. Meet him tomorrow, Tuesday, five
o'clock, my office.
Bill
Weird Waldo had the 10:00 to 2:00 a.m. spot, the dead zone of radio.
She'd just been demoted
rom producing the radio equivalent of "Oprah"
to the radio equivalent of of an info-mercial.
And her roommate Joe who was supposed to meet her wasn't there to
comfort her. The hell with it.
She was going home.
She turned around to go back into the street, but outside the door was
Mark, greeting people who
greeted him back as if he were a celebrity.
Which, of course, he was.
And he was going to come into the bar and find her alone after her big
talk about a date because Joe
was late again. Not that Joe would have been very impressive as a date,
but he would have
been
more impressive than no date at all.
So she went into the bar to find a date, and there were all hose suits
and the thug. She couldn't face another suit, and it least the thug
looked like a change of pace, so she went over :o the thug and said,
"Hi!" as vivaciously as she could. She wasn't vivacious by nature, so
she sounded as if she'd been
lucking helium, but he turned and looked
at her anyway,
Allie didn't know what she'd been expecting. Maybe some Fantasy guy who
was even better-looking
than Mark, which, in all fairness to Mark,
would be impossible, but this guy wasn't even in the running. He had
the kind of face that the big, good-natured kids in the back of
high-school English classes
always have, slightly dopey and comfortable.
He looked nice. That was about it, but after Mark, it was pretty good.
Allie plopped her bag down on the bar. "So! You meeting someone?" she
asked, still on helium, and looked over her shoulder to check on the
Mark situation. All she had to do was keep the thug in conversation
until Mark walked in, saw she was with him and left.
Mark didn't like competition.
"So, are you?" Allie smiled like a telemarketer. "Meeting someone?" She
sat down beside him,
praying Mark wouldn't come in.
And he said, "No. What are you doing?"
*  *  *
Charlie Tenniel had been contemplating his future when she picked him
up. His immediate future
looked complicated and possibly dangerous, so
his best plan was to lay low, not make waves, do the
job and get out.
Investigating the source of an incriminating anonymous letter to a
radio station in
Tuttle, Ohio, couldn't be that hard. The station
wasn't that big. Hell, the
town
wasn't
that big. His
biggest problem was going to be pretending to be a disc jockey, and how
hard could that
be? If his
brother had done it stoned, he could certainly do it
straight. And he'd made it clear to everybody concerned that he was
only around for six weeks, tops. He had things to do, he'd told them,
places
he had to be in November.
He hadn't decided yet exactly what place he had to be in November, but
he was positive it was somewhere uncomplicated and remote. Especially
remote from his father who had taken to asking
weird favors lately.
like "Check into this radio station for my old friend Bill..." This was
what came
of going home for his father's birthday. From now on, he'd
just send a card. And as soon as he was
done, he was out of here and
someplace else. Someplace where he could do something simple for a
while, like raise pigs. No, too complicated. He'd raise carrots. You
didn't have to feed carrots.
He stopped thinking when she squeaked, "Hi!"
Charlie blinked at her, mildly surprised. She didn't look like the
vivacious pick-up-a-guy-in-a-bar type. Her sharp brown eyes gleamed
behind huge, round, horn-rimmed glasses, and her glossy gold-brown
hair
swung in a tangled Dutch-boy bob. There was nothing wrong with her nose
or mouth, either;
good standard-issue all-American-woman features. She
just seemed sort of scrubbed to be trolling
for guys. The long flowered
skirt and oversize vest weren't right for a pickup, either. She looked
like
a nice, clean kid. Well, she was no kid. Early thirties easy.
She raised her eyebrows so high they disappeared under her bangs and
batted her eyelashes. "So!
You meeting someone?" She looked over her
shoulder and flopped her bag down on the bar. It looked
as if it was
made from very old blue flowered carpet. Charlie had never seen
anything quite like it so
he poked his finger into it. It was fuzzy.
"Are you?" She smiled at him again, a sort of strained, too-nany-teeth,
trying-too-hard smile.
"Meeting someone?" She sat on the stool beside
him
"No." Charlie looked at her with interest. "What are you doing?"
"Picking you up?"
Charlie shook his head. "I don't think so. What are you really doing?"
The artificial smile morphed into a genuine scowl, and her jerky voice
dropped an octave.
"I don't believe this. Can't you even pretend on the
hope you'll get lucky?"
"I never pretend. I'm the natural, open type." Charlie considered
moving away from her and then
rejected the idea. If he left her, he'd
never find out what she was up to. And besides, when she'd
scowled at
him, her voice had gone husky. She had a great low voice. He smiled
down at her, trying
to make her talk again. "Why don't you just give me
the drift, and then we can take it from there."
She lowered her head a little and stared at him over the rims of her
glasses. "Look, the drift will take
too long, and besides, it makes me
look pathetic. All I ask is that you pretend to be having a drink
with me." He must have looked skeptical because she
added, "I swear that's it."
Right. Charlie had been wandering through the world long enough to
know that wouldn't be it, that
there would be implications. There were
always complications, which was why Charlie had spent
his thirty-four
years learning to be light on his feet and fast out the door.
On the other hand, she wasn't part of his current problem so there
weren't likely to be long-term complications. He had a free evening
before he had to go poking around in other people's
business,
so he might as well poke around in hers for a while. At the
very least, he'd get to listen to her talk.
He shrugged. "Hell, it's worth one drink just to find out what happens
next." He motioned to the bartender.
"I'm quite sure he won't come over here." She looked back over her
shoulder again.
The bartender came and Charlie said, "The lady would like..." He turned
back to her.
"The lady would like to pay for her own amaretto and cream, Max." She
took a couple of bills
out of her carpet bag and handed them to the
bartender as she looked over her shoulder again.
"You got it, Allie," the bartender said and moved away.
"Amaretto and cream?" Charlie frowned. "That's disgusting."
"At least the cream part is good for me." She turned back to him.
"Well, it should be skim milk,
but bars never have skim milk."
"That's true." Charlie drew back a little. "You know, you have the
weirdest pickup line in North America."
"Pickup line?" She swiveled on the stool and faced him. Her eyes
sparked at him and her cheeks
glowed rosy with outrage. Outrage
looked very good on her. "This isn't a pickup line. The pickup line
was before, the one that didn't work." She swiveled again to keep
lookout. "Oh, great." She swiveled
to face him again. "There he is.
Okay, here's the deal. We're together. Try to look like you haven't
just insulted me."
"I didn't insult you. I made an observation."
"Well, stop." She looked back over her shoulder again. "Oh, no." She
closed her eyes. Charlie saw
her lips moving and leaned closer to hear
her, but she wasn't talking to him. "He's going to go by.
I'm sure he's
going to go by. I'm sure..."
A male-model type stopped on the other side of her. "Allie! There you
are. I—"
She jerked as if she'd been shot. "Mark! What a surprise. To see you.
Again. So soon." She looked
at Charlie and said, very softly, "Oh,
hell."
Then she stuck her chin out and turned to smile at Mark.
She was doing pretty good, Charlie thought. Good smile. Pretty lame
answer, but the smile and the
chin would probably make up for it. He
looked at the guy. Tall, dark and handsome, if you liked really pretty
men. Very expensive suit. Toothpaste grin. And the jerk was smiling
that grin at her as if he
knew she was in agony. Charlie shook his head
at the situation and finished his drink. Good thing he wasn't involved
in this one. It was a mess.
"Let me buy you a drink, Al. It's the least I can do." Mark the jerk
motioned for the bartender.
Max wandered back and put Allie's amaretto in front of her.
"No, no." Allie's mouth went lipless with stress. "I have one. Thanks,
Max."
"Amaretto and cream." Mark laughed. "Good old Allie." He sat down
beside her at the bar and patted
her on the back.
"Grrrrr." It was a very faint low growl, locked behind her teeth,
almost indiscernible in the babble of
the bar, but Charlie heard it
because she'd turned to him as she made it. "I'm sorry about this,"
Allie whispered to him.
Charlie leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "Try not to look like
a wounded basset hound."
Allie flashed Mark a brilliant smile over her shoulder.
"I didn't realize the two of you were together." Mark paused for an
introduction.
Allie kept on smiling like a half-wit, so Charlie took pity on her and
extended his hand past her nose. "Charlie Tenniel."
Allie started, but Mark took his hand with enthusiasm, gripping it in a
he-man clasp. Charlie let his
hand go limp. Mark smirked.
What an idiot
, Charlie thought.
Mark was positivdy jovial. "Well, this is a coincidence. I'm ' Mark
King.
You've inherited my producer,
you lucky dog. I've taught her everything
there is to know about radio. You're in good hands."
Allie made that low growling sound in her throat again, and Charlie
blinked at them both and then let Mark babble on about his own many
successes, ignoring him for heavier thoughts. So much for
diverting
himself with Allie. Allie worked at the station with Mark the jerk.
They were probably both
in trouble up to their necks.
Allie certainly looked as if she was in trouble. She turned bleak,
questioning eyes on him. "Is this true?" she whispered. "You're my new
DJ?" He nodded at her and she closed her eyes. "We were just discussing
that," she lied as she turned back to Mark.
Charlie picked up her glass of cream and handed it to her. "Here you
go, boss. Glad to meet you,
Mark. This the place everybody at the
station hangs
out?"   
"Pretty much. Convenient. Right across the street, you I know." Mark
smiled broadly while he sized Charlie up with obvious confidence. "Have
you two known each other long?"
Allie put down her newly empty glass. "Oh, it seems like it."
Charlie brought his mind back to the problem at hand. "Don't chug cream
like that." He took the
empty glass from her. "This isn't skim milk,
you know. This is the real thing, the hard stuff. Max,
another amaretto
and cream for the lady. In fact, just bring over the bottle and drive
in the cow."
"A comedian." Allie nodded her head. "Five guys sitting at a bar, and I
pick the comedian."
"What?" Mark leaned closer to catch what she was saying.
"She thinks I'm funny." Charlie put his arm around Allie and gave her
an affectionate squeeze. She
was a lot softer than he was prepared for,
so he left his arm where it was for a while. "Funny is the
basis for
any good relationship."
"Maybe that's what was wrong with us, huh, Allie?" Mark looked
soulfully at her.
What a goof.
"You two were once..." Charlie wiggled his eyebrows at Allie. "You
never told me that."
"It never came up." Allie glared at him from the curve of his arm.
"You're a lucky man, Tenniel." Mark was still trying to recapture
Allie's attention, but she missed
his meaningful looks because she was
busy glaring at Charlie.
Charlie beamed at them both, enjoying the situation. "That's what
everybody keeps telling me.
Actually, it's not luck, it's skill."
Mark tried again. "So how did you two meet?"
"In a bar," Charlie said. "She picked me up."
"Allie did?" Mark looked astounded.
"She begged me to buy her a drink."
"Allie did?"
Charlie nodded. "Happens to me all the time. Animal magnetism."
"Oh, a joke." Mark looked relieved. "How did you two really meet?"
"I picked him up." Allie took a deep breath. "The truth is..."
Charlie pulled her tighter, momentarily shutting down her lungs. He
could see no good reason for
Mark to know she was vulnerable. "The
truth is, she sat down next to me, and I looked at her and thought,
"This is a good-looking woman and we
started to talk, and we've been together ever since."
Allie jerked her head up and stared at him. Then she smiled, and
Charlie smiled back by reflex,
caught by the intelligence in her eyes
and the warmth in her wide, soft mouth. She leaned toward
him and he
bent to hear what she said.
She was almost nose to nose with him. "You are a good person. I forgive
you for insulting me." She patted his sleeve and then disengaged
herself from his arm.
Charlie missed her warmth. "I didn't insult you."
"How long have you two known each other?" Mark asked.
"Eternity," Charlie said.
"But it seems like only a few short minutes." Allie glared at him again
and then she leaned back, her attention caught by something over
Charlie's shoulder. She signaled someone away, and Charlie turned just
in time to get the impression that someone was doing a fade from the
doorway into the hall.
So, Allie had a secret. Life just got more interesting all the time.
And of course that meant that he
was going to have to stick with her
until he discovered her secret. He'd been hired to find all the secrets
at the station. It was his job. It was his duty. He looked at Allie,
her hair shining like old, dark brass in
the warm light of the bar.
It was his pleasure.
"So, where's Lisa tonight?" Allie leaned on the bar in an attempt at
languid unconcern. "What a
shame she's not with you. We could all have
dinner together."
Careful, Allie
, Charlie
thought.
"Lisa's at the station." Mark frowned. "You're right. It is a shame.
This would be a great chance to
meet Charlie."
"There'll be other chances." Charlie finished his drink. "I'm not going
anyplace. Except to the top of
the ratings."
Mark decided that was a joke, too. "Heh, heh, heh."
Mark had a laugh like an asthmatic horse, and Charlie wondered if that
was why Allie had left him. listening to that laugh would certainly be
reason enough for anybody to leave him. Which brought an
ugly thought.
He'd have to be very careful because if Mark was any indication of his
radio competition, he
would
go to the top of the ratings. That would be
bad. One of the basic tenets of undercover investigation was not
becoming a household word.
"Well!" Allie slid off the stool. "We've got to be getting in to
dinner. Wonderful seeing you again, Mark."
Mark leaned forward to kiss her goodbye, and she tripped backward to
get away from him.
Charlie caught her. "Falling for me all over again, huh?" He tightened
his arm around her automatically. Allie was soft and round against his
shoulder, and she smelled like flowers. He was in no hurry to let go.
"Try to restrain yourself," he told her. "We're in public."
She looked into his eyes and swallowed hard. "It's your animal
magnetism. I'm restrained now. You
can let go."
"I don't think so," he said, and kissed her.
He'd only meant to kiss her quickly and let her go, mostly to annoy
Mark and, all right, because she
had a great mouth. But she clutched at
him in surprise and fell into his arms so the kiss was a lot more than
he'd planned, a lot more warmth and softness and weight, and her mouth
was cool and sweet
from the cream. He was a little dizzy by the time he
remembered where he was and came up for air.
"What are you doing?" Allie sounded more breathless than annoyed when
she pulled away from him.
"Making my move. Come back here." Charlie reached for her, and she
stepped back.
Mark looked disgruntled. "Well, really, Allie, you're in public."
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