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Authors: Shirley Jump

Really Something (8 page)

BOOK: Really Something
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Once again, the Duncan Henry of today and the one she remembered appeared to be complete opposites. Either he had a split personality, or maybe…

Duncan was no longer the boy who had stood her up at the prom? Whose family had ruined hers and so many others in this town?

Allie would not soften her stance where Duncan Henry was concerned. He was still a Henry, and regardless of what Earl might have said, she knew better than to trust a man with that last name.

She'd get Duncan's signature on this agreement and stay away from him.

No one answered her knock, even though Duncan's car sat in the driveway. Allie went down the porch steps and around to the back, a path she had followed once when Vanessa and she had tried spying on Duncan while he swam in his backyard pool.

She paused, closed her eyes, seeing that day again so clearly she could almost smell the suntan lotion on her skin, hear the soft lap of the water in the pool as Duncan swam laps. Even at fifteen, he'd had a body that would have made Brad Pitt's pale in comparison.

She'd stood there, agape, staring at the flash of pale skin that showed along his waist when he did a turn at the end of the pool, sending Allie's adolescent hormones into over-drive. She and Vanessa had erupted in a nervous fit of giggles and ended up scrambling out of his yard before they'd been caught spying.

After that, Coppertone-laced fantasies haunted her dreams for a year straight. She'd never looked at a tan line the same way again.

The pool had been closed up, but Duncan was still this evening's main attraction. For a second, she watched as he worked a garden plot in the back of the Henry land. She forced her pulse to slow, her body not to react—business only—but she'd already lost the battle.

She might as well have asked time to stop. Her body didn't give a damn what his last name was. Didn't bother with past history. With the ramifications of attraction.

He'd taken off his shirt, and a fine sheen of sweat glistened on his chest, the droplets running a skinny river down the center of his back and disappearing at the edge of his dark blue shorts. He had a spade in his hands, and he was turning over the soil with a vengeance, leaving behind a wide ten-foot long swath of freshly turned dirt.

He dug in, biceps flexing, chest muscles bunching, thighs hardening as he bent, then flipped the huge hunk of dark, rich earth to the side. He moved to repeat the whole process, then caught sight of her and shoved the spade down.

Damn. Just when she'd been enjoying the view, too.

Duncan leaned an arm over the spade and smiled, his eyes unreadable behind dark sunglasses. “Are you here to tell me the answer to my question?”

“What question was that?”

“What'll it take to get into your bed?”

“Are we bargaining now?” She inhaled and forced her mind back to the reason she was here, not the Coppertone fantasies running rampant inside her. “Because I want your farmhouse and I'm prepared to pay for it.” She held up the contract from Jerry. “Four thousand a day.”

He scowled. “I don't care if you offer me
forty
thousand an
hour
. I said no.” He went back to his digging.

“Why? The place is only collecting dust.”

“As it should.” Another hunk of dirt, with the hunk in front of her ignoring her presence.

She kicked off her heels, then stepped barefoot into the fresh earth, stopping in front of him. “What's a girl got to do to get your attention?”

He didn't pause, didn't look up. “Strip? It worked pretty well before.”

She let out a gust of frustration, then put her foot down on the clod of earth caught in the spade's belly. “I'm trying to negotiate with you, Duncan.”

“What you want is nonnegotiable.”

“I'm from Hollywood. Everything there is negotiable.”

“Everything?”

She thrust her fists on her hips. “What's your price?”

“You.”

“I'm not for sale.”

“Then neither is my property.”

“Listen, if this is some scheme to get sex—” and a part of her wished that were true, because after his kiss, every ounce of her
did
—and always had—want to have sex with Duncan Henry, “—then you can forget it. I'll give you a check. Not my body.”

“Pity.” The lazy grin she'd seen him give a hundred other girls spilled across his face. When she'd been seventeen, she would have sacrificed an entire Oreo cookie factory to see that smile on his face when he looked at her.

Two days ago, she'd fallen for that smile. She'd let herself be distracted by the fulfillment of that adolescent fantasy and nearly become another page in the Duncan Henry legend. She was already a footnote, an aside entitled H
OW TO
D
ITCH
Y
OUR
P
ROM
D
ATE AND
S
TILL
G
ET
H
ER
N
OTES ON
T
RIG
.

Stupid. Even rats in a maze learned from their mistakes.

A burst of unresolved anger surged anew in her chest at that grin. And at its continued power over her.

“Duncan, you are the same—” She cut off her words before she finished the sentence and undid her careful cover.

“The same what?”

Damn.
“The same as…” She glanced down at her feet, sinking into the soft earth. A squiggly pink line slimed across the surface. “This earthworm. Low and dirty.”

He laughed, a deep sound that came from somewhere far inside him. “Thanks.”

She'd expected outrage, upset. Anything but laughter.

Damn this man. He kept tossing her plans upside down. “For comparing you to an earthworm?”

“No. For making me laugh. I needed that today.”

“Did you give a bad forecast and now everyone hates you? Nicolas Cage already made that movie, you know.”

Duncan glanced toward the house, then back at her. “Something like that.” He paused a moment, then released the spade. Set deep in the dirt, it stayed upright. “I've had a hell of a day and I'd like to end it on a nice note. Would you like to go to dinner? You and me. No strings.”

She considered him. Considered playing with fire a second time. “Will you let me plead my case about your property?”

“Only if you let me plead my case about kissing you again.”

One corner of her mouth turned up. Traitorous hormones, staging a mutiny. He was the enemy. To her family, her goals. But every time she tried to remember that—

Well, she forgot.

Was that Coppertone she smelled, too?

Work. Concentrate on work. She'd get the job done, then leave Duncan in the Tempest dust.

“Dinner?” Duncan asked again. He grinned at her, and she lost the battle with sound reasoning.

“Okay. I'll pick you up at seven.”

He arched a brow. “You're picking
me
up?”

She took a step closer to him and ran a finger down his chest. Her pelvis tightened at the feel of his hard, hot skin, but she refused to acknowledge the twinge. The way everything within her ached with want, and a bone-deep need to have more of him. Once she had what she wanted from him, she was dumping Duncan. Just as he had done to her years ago.

“When I negotiate kissing, Duncan Henry,” Allie said, watching his reaction, ignoring her own answering rise, “I like to be the one driving. So wear your seat belt tonight because it might just get dangerous.”

Then she picked up her shoes and left him. The scent of Coppertone hanging in the air, and reminding her that he wasn't the only one who better remember to wear a seat belt tonight.

Chapter 9

After leaving Duncan's house, Allie headed downtown. Which meant traveling exactly half a mile, past one four-way stop and three cross streets. She parallel-parked outside the offices of the
Tempest Weekly
. One way or another, she would convince Duncan to let Chicken Flicks use his property.

She didn't get it. If the farm was unused and vacant, why did he have such an aversion to the production company using it? Maybe he worried Jerry's crew would tear the place up, like that Thai island where
The Beach
was filmed. If she could reassure Duncan nothing bad would happen, and find a price he would agree to, then she'd have her location.

And then be one step closer to the producer job she'd dreamed of when she left Indiana for California. She wanted to make movies that mattered. Movies that spoke to women like her. That didn't paint some idealized picture of a size-one woman who found true love in an e-mail.

Love didn't work that way. Men who said one thing usually meant another as soon as the sheets cooled. Geoff had taught her that—and taught her well.

The only way to avoid a bad rerun of her past was to keep her mind on work, not men. Especially one particular weatherman who looked amazing without a shirt.

The sign outside the offices of the
Tempest Weekly
said Ira Levine, son of founder Marvin Levine, now presided over the small-town paper. Ira, she remembered, had sat beside her in English class and cheated off her vocabulary tests. Apparently his synonym handicap hadn't hindered his ability to take over the floundering family paper.

A well-thumbed copy of
Roget's
lay on Ira's cluttered, paper-strewn desk. His “Editors Stet with Style” coffee cup anchored a stack of files, the coffee within it long gone solid and green.

“Ira?”

Ira swiveled in his leather office chair, lowered his glasses, and studied her. He was still tall and thin, a stick of a man whose hair had gone wispy and nearly bald.

In school, they'd been friends. Well, not friends, exactly, more allies in an environment hostile to them both. Ira, the nerdy science whiz who'd been hated for his grades, his tiny size, his glasses. He'd been relegated to the end of the line, the back of the room. As the two exiles, she and he had talked often, even been lab partners more than once. She'd helped him with vocab words, and in return he'd helped her memorize the Periodic Table of Elements.

“May I help you?” he said.

“I'd like to place an ad.”

He nodded, grabbed a pad of paper from beside him, then glanced at her again. His gaze narrowed and his copper-rimmed glassed slipped down the bridge of his nose. “You look awfully familiar. Have we met before?”

Allie's breath caught in her throat. “Uh—”

Ira laughed. “Sorry. That sounds like the world's worst pickup line, doesn't it? Trust me, I didn't mean it that way. Not that you're not…well…stunning.” He reddened, fumbled with his glasses, cleared his throat. She wanted to reach out and ease his embarrassment, but instead she tightened her grip on the strap of her purse. “As my father would say, yours is a portrait I've glimpsed before in the museum.”

Same old Ira. Full of odd sayings and a tendency to overexplain. “I arrived in Tempest recently,” Allie said. Not a total lie, which made it far easier to pull off.

“Oh, okay.” But his sharp, analytical gaze stayed on hers. Allie's pulse ratcheted up, her heart hammering so hard in her chest, she was sure Ira could hear it. If her identity was exposed too soon, the whole plan for the movie would fall apart.

And, if people found out who she was, what kind of respect would she get around town? How many people would listen to her?

None. Allison Gray had been a nobody. A big piece of trash to circumvent in the halls. Lithe, blond Allie Dean, however, commanded attention. She'd seen that in the gas station kid's gaping, in Ira's stammer. In Duncan's kiss.

Allie Dean could—and did—get things done.

“I never forget a face,” Ira said, still looking at her. “And though it may sound crazy, I know I've seen yours in the
Tempest Weekly
. Not lately, but…sometime.”

The image catapulted through Allie's mind, frame by frame. Her, running from her graduation ceremony, tears streaming down her face, the extra-large navy-colored gown too small to fit her girth, the parted panels of fabric flying out behind her like blue wings. She couldn't remember the photographer's name—probably one of the suck-up kids from the Photography Club who worked for the paper in exchange for a college reference—but she remembered the headline: V
ALEDICTORIAN
D
ITCHES IN
M
ASSIVE
C
ASE OF
N
ERVES
.

“No,” Allie said quickly, stuffing the memory down, down, down. Away with the Thanksgiving dinners, the too-small cafeteria chairs, the continual hum of whispers. “I was never in the paper.”

“Huh.” Ira shrugged. He rubbed at his eyes, then slipped his glasses back on. “My apologies. After too many hours in front of a computer screen, everyone starts to look like a celebrity.” He unearthed a pen from somewhere on his desk. “All right, what can I do you for?”

She handed him the classified ad she'd composed last night, handwritten on the Ramada's stationery. “Can you get this into next week's issue?”

“Nice handwriting,” Ira said. “My dad always said good penmanship is the mark of good personship.” He glanced up at Allie, flashed her a smile, then bent down to read the words. “Extras sought, for movie set in Tempest. Seeking males and females, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. Acting experience not required but a definite plus.” He glanced up at her, surprise in his features. “A movie? Filmed
here
?”

She nodded. “We start shooting in two weeks. I'd like to round up the extras before the director and the producer arrive. There are several shots we can get out of the way before we bring in the talent.”

“You get permission from Earl yet?” Ira asked.

“Earl? As in Earl Hickey? The
mailman?

Ira chuckled. “He's the mayor, too. No one wanted the job and Earl won on a write-in vote a couple of years ago. He's the resident complainer, and I guess all his carping finally paid off because they made him the guy in charge.”


He's
the mayor?” Oh hell, that really screwed things up. She'd never get permission from that man to film within the Tempest city limits. The last thing Earl would want was more strangers traipsing all over Tempest, disturbing the peace. “I'll be sure to talk to him.”

Ira's chuckle became heartier. “Good luck. He's not exactly a fan of tourism.”

“I'm sure once Earl sees the money something like this can bring to the town, he'll change his mind.” She hoped.

Once again, Ira gave an unconvinced shrug. He tapped the ad. “Okay if I cover this for the paper?”

She hesitated, then chided herself. The chances of Ira connecting the thin, blond Allie with the fat brunette girl who had sat in front of him in Mrs. Anderson's English class were slim. And if she refused to cooperate, she'd lose her chance at some decent prepromo. The only thing Jerry found sexier than a stripper on a pole was free publicity. “Sure. I'm Allie Dean, the location scout for Chicken Flicks.”

“Allie.” Ira noted the information on his pad. “Is that short for Allison?”

Panic rushed through her. Of course someone would connect her nickname with her given name. How could she have been so stupid? She'd never even thought about using a different first name. She glanced at Ira's pen, perched over the pad. To his right sat a camera, the Nikon's lens seeming to wink at her. If Ira ran her picture, how long would it be before someone else put the pieces together?

Someone like Ira, who was still watching her intently, wheels turning behind his glasses. “It is Allison, isn't it?”

Allie dug in her purse, fished out a twenty, and dropped it on his desk. “I'm sorry. I really don't have time for an interview right now. Here's the payment for the ad.”

She turned away, hurrying toward the door.

“Wait!” Ira called. “Don't you want a receipt? And what about the interview?”

“Later,” Allie said over her shoulder, then bolted from the office.

Ira Levine may not have been able to figure out the meaning of “pseudonym” if his life depended on it, but there was nothing the former Sleuth Club president loved more than a good mystery.

That was the last thing Allie needed to add to her growing mountain of problems—a homegrown Columbo.

 

Duncan was back at work and sat behind his desk, a remote control in his hands, replaying the video from last Friday night's Litter Box Dance report over and over again. He'd smiled too much. Came off as too glib. He looked about as much like a serious reporter as a Fluffernutter looked like gourmet food.

At this point, given how slow Tempest moved, he was going to have to generate some major national news of his own. Or—

Wait. He didn't need to pull a single news rabbit out of the Tempest hat. He already had his story. He shut off the TV, then crossed into Steve's office. “You got a second?”

“Sure,” Steve said without looking up from his computer. “Let me just say good-bye to my Russian love.”

Duncan chuckled. “Don't tell me you're still looking for true love in a chat room.”

“Hey, these women are in dire straits. Natasha just escaped an abusive marriage and is looking for a man who likes long walks on the beach and piña coladas.”

Duncan laughed. “Uh-huh. And that's exactly why you're chatting with her, to share rum recipes?”

“Hell no. I like her because she has an awesome set of 36Ds. She showed them to me last night. I'm hoping to see what's below them later today.” Steve's brows went up and down.

“You're a hound.”

Steve pointed at Duncan. “You run in the same pack, so I wouldn't say anything.”

Not anymore. Duncan hadn't dated anyone in ages. The few times he had gone out with a woman had been a disaster. Katie inevitably had a crisis, which meant calling him a half dozen times between the appetizer and the entrée.

Duncan hadn't gotten to dessert—or anything more—in over a year.

The image of Allie Dean appeared in his mind, all legs and breasts and attitude. Standing there in his garden, confronting him with that fire in her eyes, making him wish he hadn't closed up the pool years ago so he could have thrown her and him into the clear blue water—sans swimsuits. The woman drove him crazy—

In so many ways, he'd lost count. What would it be like to have dessert with her?

Or even better, to make
her
dessert? Take a little whipped cream and smear it all over that lithe, sweet body, then see how long he lasted licking it off.

Definitely not the kind of thoughts Duncan needed in a meeting with his boss. He cleared his head, then refocused on his reason for being there. “I have a story idea.”

Steve, still busy typing, nodded. “Run it by Klein, see if he's interested. He might have something similar in the hopper.”

“I don't want to give it to Klein or Jane,” Duncan said. “I want to cover it myself.”

Steve stopped typing with a jerk. “
You
? After that Litter Box Dance thing, I thought you'd give up on the reporter idea.”

Duncan cringed. “The piece wasn't that bad.”

“Jeremiah Parson's cat decides to sneak a little feline bowel activity into the middle of the litter-scooping contest and you don't think that's
bad?
” Steve snorted. “We were
live,
Dunk. I damned near had a heart attack. John's been reaming my ass all morning about it.” Steve shook his head. Half the station had heard the advertising manager's furious rant earlier today. “Listen, Dunk, you're great at the weather. Why not stick to your strengths?”

Because reporting the weather
wasn't
his strength. He didn't leap out of bed, excited to get to the Doppler radar and cloud patterns. He wanted a job that earned him respect, not perfumed fan letters packaged with lacy panties. “I want to do
real
news, Steve. I've been doing weather for five years. I want out of that box. Let me cover this piece.”

Steve leaned back in his chair and balanced a knee against the edge of his desk. “All right. What's the scoop?” He chuckled. “Pun intended.”

“A production company is looking at shooting a movie in Tempest.”

Steve's mouth made a little O of impressed. “Now
that's
a scoop. Tell me the Ws.”

The What, When, Where, and Why. “I'm working on those.” Duncan realized he knew very little beyond what Allie had told him. “Give me a couple days, and I'll get an interview together.”

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