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Authors: Cindy Dees

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BOOK: High-Stakes Playboy
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“For good reason. No rational pilot would ever do what we did today.”

“What happened up there?”

Right. Like he was going to talk with her about it. No way was he giving her the satisfaction of watching the aftereffects of her handiwork. He was not going to admit that she’d scared the bejeebers out of him, or that he was now genuinely worried about the future of this movie. Was she a nut ball operating alone? Or was she working for someone who’d hired her to do this? “No clue what happened, babe.”

“Oh.”

Yeah. Oh.
“Hey, I’ve got to put Minerva to bed. After I’m done buttoning her up, though, do you want to get a beer or something? I could meet you back at the motel in a few hours.”

He could already see it coming now. Steve’s next assignment for him was going to be to get close to Marley. Win her trust. Hell, maybe even to convince her he was hot for her. Not that something like that would be too much of a stretch for him. She really was an attractive woman. But he couldn’t take her to bed for a little out-of-school pillow talk. Even he had his limits. He would have to find another way to make her talk.

He was startled out of his grim thoughts by her unsure answer to his invitation. “A beer? Um. I guess so. Yeah. Sure.”

She was cute when she got flustered. “Great,” he replied, a little startled to realize he really meant it. She was about as far from his usual type as a girl could get. And yet, there was something about her...

* * *

Marley watched Archer stride away. She figured she’d earned the right to admire the hot ass she’d just saved. Truth be told, she wasn’t that worried about the director’s reaction to their unscheduled filming. Turnow was going to love the footage she’d shot, or she wasn’t half the photographer she thought she was, and he wasn’t half the visionary everyone said he was.

“That man has one fine caboose.”

She looked up sharply at the tall, lean, African-American man who’d stopped beside her to ogle Archer. “Hi. I’m Marley. Camerawoman.”

“Tyrone. Makeup. Damn, girl, you got good taste. Everyone on the crew’s talking about the new, hot-stick helicopter pilot. Did I hear him invite you out for drinks?”

“It’s just a beer. A guy like him would never be really interested in a girl like me.”

The makeup artist threw her a withering glare. “Why the hell not?”

“Look at me. I’m as plain as mud and he’s...he’s...godlike.”

Tyrone studied her critically. Reached out to grasp her chin and turn her face side to side. “Good bones. Great skin. Best features are your sweet eyes and those divine lips. With a little Tyrone magic, you’d be pretty smokin’ hot, yourself. You’ve got a Marilyn Monroe quality to you.”

She didn’t know whether to laugh aloud or snort in disbelief. She settled for asking, “Are you high?”

“Did you just diss my artistic mojo?”

She wrinkled her nose. “C’mon. A guy like him would go for one of the lead actresses. Or a high-fashion model. Someone sexy and spectacular.”

“You ain’t never gonna be tall enough for the runway, sweetie. But you could definitely give any model a run for her money in the sexy-thang department. My room—number 208. Six o’clock. Be there.” With a snap of his fingers, the makeup artist turned and strode away.

Was Tyrone right? Did she maybe have a shot at Archer, after all? But then reality slammed back into her. She was a cat-lady-in-training. She wore baggy sweatpants and played computer games in her free time. Every guy she knew thought of her as a little-sister surrogate. She had no social life, heck, no social skills. She watched life through her cameras, she didn’t actually live it.

Mina was the adventurous sister. The one who grabbed life by the horns and wrestled it into submission—for better or worse. As for her, she was the...other...sister, as quiet as Mina was loud, as shy as Mina was brash.

A psychologist would probably have a field day analyzing her and Mina. He would probably say she was compensating for her out-of-control sibling.

Marley shrugged. After all her bad luck with guys, she was seriously starting to wonder if
she
was the sister with something wrong going on.

Six o’clock came and went, and she sat on the bed in her motel room, morosely munching on chocolate-covered raisins. The crew would be gathering at the buffet downstairs to eat dinner—the production company had rented out the entire motel for the next two months—and then most of them would adjourn to the motel’s sports bar. It was the only drinking hole in this godforsaken corner of nowhere. Only the folks with early showtimes or those handling explosives would skip what had become the daily happy-hour routine.

No way did she need Archer buying her a beer in front of the whole crew. They would rib her about it forever, and there was no need to embarrass him, either. With her luck, he’d keel over dead from an aneurism as soon as she got near him.

No, she would just stay in her room. Some hot actress would move in on him this evening, and by tomorrow he’d have forgotten his offer. It was for the best this way.

Angry pounding exploded against her door and she leaped about a foot straight up in the air. “Girl, you in there? Open up, you scrawny little white-meat chicken!”

Tyrone.
Crap.

* * *

“Tell me again why you think this girl is your saboteur?” Archer asked Steve skeptically.

“Our security guys have gone over the footage from the security cameras. Every single time there’s an accident, she was seen immediately before the accident in the exact place the sabotage occurs. What are the odds that it’s a coincidence six—no, seven times now, if you count your helicopter today?”

Archer frowned. It just didn’t feel right. She was pleasant, struck him as a little naive, if anything, and didn’t seem to be the type to be hiding a thing. Either he was right, or she was one
hell
of an actress.

“What about someone high up in the movie’s production? If this film shuts down, the insurance company would have to make a hefty payout to the producers. Isn’t Adrian Turnow the executive producer on this project?”

Steve frowned. “He doesn’t strike me as the type.”

“What? And this girl strikes you as a vicious saboteur? Have you done a background check on Turnow? Or Marley for that matter? Found anything that would explain why either of them would do all this stuff?”

“She’s got a juvie record,” Steve replied.

“What did she do?”

“No idea. It’s sealed.”

Archer shrugged. “I’ve got a sealed juvie record. After Mom died, I had a pretty wild stretch there for a few months.”

Steve pulled a face. “Yeah, I remember, little brother. I did everything I could to straighten you out.”

“Is that what you called pounding on me like your own personal punching bag?”

“We all had anger issues to work out.”

“You just figured out yours faster than the rest of us.”

His brother snorted. “Nah. I was just told by a justice of the peace to join the Marines or go to jail sooner than the rest of you.”

“Yeah, well, Shyanne and Lyra turned out okay.” Not that his younger sisters didn’t still drive him crazy, of course.

“They were too little when Mom died to be messed up by her choosing drugs over her own kids.”

Archer didn’t want to talk about his mother. He’d put her in a mental drawer and slammed it shut a long, long time ago. Locked it and thrown away the key, too.

Had his grandmother not taken in the five young Prescott children, there was no telling how badly they all would have turned out. As it was, with the help of her fierce love, they’d all gotten their lives together. The oldest Prescott, Jackson, was a movie star and part owner of the studio producing this movie. Brother number two, Steve, was a retired Marine officer and stunt coordinator in the movie business now.

In an effort to get out from under Steve’s long shadow, Archer had joined the Army and become a search-and-rescue pilot. It satisfied his need for reckless living. Channeled his wilder impulses into a profession where they were an asset and not a problem. Hell, somewhere along the way, he’d grown up, too.

Archer took a pull from the cold beer Steve had served him. “Okay, so she’s got a past. That doesn’t necessarily make her our saboteur.”

Steve commented, “I’ve got a guy looking into peeking into that sealed record. I want to know if she has a violent past or not.”

Archer had a very hard time picturing sweet, innocent-seeming Marley Stringer hurting a fly, let alone another human being.

“Are you interested in this girl?” Steve demanded.

“No!” he lied.

“Then why are you defending her so damned hard?”

“Hey, bro. I’m not defending her. I’m just not declaring her guilty and convicting her in my mind before I hear her side of the story.”

Steve stared at him long and hard. “You willing to make a run at gaining her trust?”

Ha. Steve
did
want him to get close to her and see what he could learn about her. “You want me to sleep with her and get her to pillow-talk with me?”

“Jeez, no. I just meant you should make friends with her. Put yourself in a position to keep a close eye on her. But I need you to take a suspicious mind-set into the project. Keep your head in the game. This girl could not only be dangerous, but
very
dangerous.”

“How about I agree to keep an open mind about her guilt or innocence?”

“Fine. Just keep your zipper closed, eh?”

Archer raised his beer bottle to his brother. “I dunno, dude. She’s not a horrible-looking girl.”

“This is important, Archer. Serendipity Studios is a young company, and they’ve invested a crap-ton of money in this movie. If it fails, the studio could go under. We’ve got to find out who’s screwing with this film. And fast.”

“Yeah, yeah. I got it. She’s not as innocent as she seems, and we’ve got to nail her if she’s behind the accidents.”

* * *

Marley threw open her door, indignant, to admit Tyrone. “Who are you calling chicken? I about died today, I’ll have you know, and I didn’t even pee my pants!”

The makeup artist was pulling a rolling suitcase behind him and barged into her room without invitation. “Sit your butt down on that chair, and don’t give me sass. And get that nasty sweatshirt off. Put on the shirt you’re gonna wear on your date so you don’t smear my art.”

Overwhelmed and out-attituded, she headed for her closet. And froze. What to wear? “It’s not a date,” she mumbled as she stared at her horrible clothes.

Tyrone peered into the closet over her shoulder and, tsking, eventually pulled out a simple white, oxford button-down blouse. “Here. Wear this. I’ve got a scarf that’ll make it less dreadful.”

She went into her bathroom and slipped on the shirt. She peered at herself in the mirror, and a plain, mousy, faintly academic woman stared back at her.
This was crazy.
Archer would never give her the time of day, let alone seriously consider dating her. Who would ever be interested in that unexciting girl in the mirror? She emerged reluctantly, only because she was convinced Tyrone would bust down the door and drag her out if she didn’t come out voluntarily.

“Sit. Close your eyes and no talking. I’m an
artiste
and I need to concentrate on my work,” he announced.

Never in her life had anyone applied makeup to her, and it was a strange sensation. Tyrone sprayed some sort of defrizzer on her hair and put it up in hot rollers—a first for her—and kept up a running commentary under his breath, discussing with himself how not to overwhelm her fragile coloring, how to pull together the gold tones in her hair with the pink tones in her skin and how best to highlight her eyes. It must have taken him close to an hour to finally be satisfied with his work. He alarmed her mightily for most of the last half of it with his patter about channeling Marilyn Monroe, how Marley was a retro flashback to fifties pinup girls and the possibility of her being the reincarnation of the sexiest woman in movie history.

Marley tried to get a word in edgewise and make an argument for Elizabeth Taylor as the sexiest actress ever, but Tyrone silenced her so he could outline her lips with an outrageously red liner pencil. The man did not fight fair.

Finally, he announced, “There. Done. Observe my masterpiece.”

Marley opened her eyes and looked in the mirror.

Who. Was. That?

She stared at the stranger before her in complete incomprehension. Tyrone wasn’t kidding. She
did
look like Marilyn Monroe. Her blond hair fell in the same soft waves around her face, and with that dramatic eyeliner, light eye shadow and scarlet lipstick, she totally looked like a poster child for the 1950s. There really was something of the wide-eyed, sex-kitten innocence of Marilyn Monroe about her. Freaky. She even had dimples like the movie icon.

She gestured a hand at her reflection and declared in shock, “But I don’t look like that.”

“Girl, I didn’t transplant a new face onto you. That’s you. All I did was decorate your assets.”

“But...”

“But you look fantastic. Get over it. I’ll teach you how to do it for yourself, and then you can always look like this.”

Her entire being cringed at the idea of walking around looking like a sexpot all the time. Mina did that. Not her. Although Mina went more for the leather-and-lace look.

Everyone—okay,
men
—would pay far too much attention to her like this. Attention that made her acutely uncomfortable, thank you very much. Because...well, because of the whole virginity thing. But a little voice at the back of her head whispered that it had nothing to do with her virginity. Her dirty little secret was that she wasn’t even the least bit interesting or lovable.

“Now put on the shortest skirt you’ve got and go get you that flyboy. If you don’t have screaming-hot sex with that man tonight, I’m going to be deeply disappointed.”

The idea of screaming-hot sex with Archer sent her brain into blank, blue-screen-of-doom overload.

Was it possible? Could she once and for all ditch her damned virginity and shut up that nasty little voice in her head? Goodness knew, Archer was the hottest prospect for doing the deed that she’d ever run across. Much hotter than she’d dared hope for, truth be told.

BOOK: High-Stakes Playboy
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