Authors: Jennifer Crusie
He lifted his eyebrows at her again.
“So I went back, and thanks to Mr. Parker’s good advice, I found the perfect vehicle.”
She took a deep breath. This was the gamble.
“It’s a low-budget film made by a man just out of UCLA. But he’s a genius. This film could be the next
Sex, Lies, and Videotape.
It could sweep Cannes. And our product will be in it. When the press starts obsessing over every detail in the film, Sizzle will be in every magazine in the country—free.”
Henry was shaking his head. “A little art movie. It could do nothing.”
“Then it does nothing.” Emily smiled confidently. “Life is a gamble. We gambled on Paradise. And I
this is going to work.”
Henry frowned. “I don’t like gambles. Where did the money for this come from, Richard?”
“We trimmed some of the other areas,” Richard said.
Emily said with her eyes. Even though she’d sandbagged him, he’d come through for her. In fact, he was lying through his teeth for her.
“If you’ll look at this rough budget,” Richard said, passing around sheets of figures, “you can see how we can afford the placement by cutting back on the print media. If the placement comes through for us, we won’t need that much, anyway. The rubies are actually a capital investment and should be purchased through investment funds, not advertising.”
Emily looked at the sheet he handed her. It wasn’t a lie. He’d really tried. In the hour before the meeting. This time, he’d listened and tried and done it.
She loved him so much she ached with it.
Henry nodded. “Still, a movie with an unknown director and unknown actors...” He shook his head.
“But this movie is going to rewrite the cinema history books on eroticism.” Emily picked up the ball from Richard. “Of course, I don’t expect you to take my word for that.” She nodded to Jane, who pushed the play button on the VCR at the front of the room and turned off the lights.
“They’re shooting the scene with Sizzle this week,” Emily said, as the two actors on the screen began to move toward each other. “Therefore, I can’t show you the actual product placement, but this scene should give you an idea of the movie’s potential.”
She moved around the table and sat down beside Richard as the two actors embraced. The scene still had an amazing erotic effect on Emily, even the second time around. Midway through, Richard put his hand on her knee and ran it slowly up her thigh, pushing her skirt up as he stroked her.
Richard and I have got to keep this tape,
It’s an instant aphrodisiac. Not that we need one. But you never know...
When the clip was over, Jane turned the lights back on and the VCR off, and Richard moved his hand away.
Richard and I have got to have a meeting after this,
A very intense private meeting. Immediately.
The executives around the table had slightly glazed looks.
Henry cleared his throat and straightened in his seat. “I’m not happy about cutting back on print, but this budget Richard has proposed is obviously still a very tight one. And the movie will certainly be, uh, stirring. Although not pornographic,” he added quickly.
The rest of the executives mumbled their assent.
Henry straightened his tie and continued. “And if Emily feels strongly about the product placement, we will, of course, go with it.” He smiled tightly at Richard. “We don’t know how she does it, but we’ve learned that when it comes to marketing, the best thing we can do is listen to Emily and do exactly what she wants.”
“Yes.” Richard smiled. “I’ve learned that, too.”
“Good.” Henry leaned back, satisfied. “You make a good team. Sizzle, huh?” He looked at Emily and forced an offhand voice. “Have you an extra bottle? I’d like to take some to my wife. She’s, uh, interested in our new products.”
“Certainly.” Emily picked up the prototype. “Take this one.”
Jane hummed the theme from
very faintly behind her.
* * *
in the conference room after everyone had left.
“Very neatly done.” Jane stretched. “We are incredible. The three musketeers. We had them eating out of our hands.”
Richard looked at her. “You’re very generous. The two of you made the brilliant decisions.”
“And you made them possible with the budget.” Jane beamed at him. “We’re not dummies. We know when somebody’s saved our bacon, don’t we, Em?”
“Go away,” Emily said. “Two of the musketeers have something to finish.”
Jane grinned good-naturedly. “Only if I can take the videotape and go see Ben. We never did watch this. Our mistake.”
“Take the afternoon off,” Emily said. “I’m going to be busy.”
When Jane left, ostentatiously locking the door behind her, Richard looked at Emily.
“I’m wearing Sizzle,” Emily said. “It makes strong men putty in my hands. You’re a strong man.” She got up and sat on the table in front of him and put her hands on his shoulders. He immediately pulled her onto his lap. “See? I told you it was good stuff.”
“From now on, I’m listening to everything you tell me.”
“You already did. You fixed the budget.”
“Not just the budget.” He ran his hands up her back. “This was really a one-two punch you gave me, first last night and then this morning with Jane, but I think I’ve finally gotten the message.” He pulled her blouse out of her skirt and slipped his hand under it, cupping her lace-covered breast. “From now on, I’m listening,” he repeated.
“The hook is in the front,” Emily said, and he unfastened it.
“Anything else you want to tell me?” Richard asked as he lifted her onto the table. “I’m listening.”
“Yes,” Emily said, pulling him down on top of her. “I love you. Make me sizzle.”
* * * * *
TOO FAST TO FALL
For my uncle, who loved fast cars.
larger in Jenny’s side mirror as he approached, his sunglasses glinting ominous light as she considered whether or not to make a run for it.
She might be able to escape. The highway was a nice, straight run here, and a gorgeous 350 V-8 engine purred beneath the hood of her 1978 Camaro, just waiting for her to punch the accelerator. The deputy would have to get all the way back to his SUV before he could even consider chasing her down. By then, she’d be a speck of bright yellow a mile down the asphalt. And hell, with the snow still five feet deep on either side of the road, she could just pull off onto any old trail and he might pass right by her.
Jenny flexed her fingers against the thin circle of the steering wheel. She was tempted. She knew how to run. It had always been her first instinct, and she’d pulled it off many times. But as she watched the cop’s hard-hewn jaw begin to tic in anger, she sighed and slumped in her seat. Deputy Hendricks knew very well where she lived. He’d written her address down on three separate speeding tickets, not to mention two terse warnings.
“Good Morning, Deputy Hendricks!” she said brightly, as if she weren’t easing her foot from a tempted hover above the gas pedal.
He didn’t return her greeting. He didn’t say anything at all. He just...
his sharp cheekbones and hard-edged jaw a warning of danger. His lean body a threat of strength. The mountains looked small behind him.
Jenny made a valiant attempt not to squirm. “I thought I had a few more days on my tags.”
His hands were loose by his sides in a pose she recognized from the other five times he’d pulled her over. One hand near his gun. One near his baton. He’d never reached for either, thank God, but this time, both his hands spasmed into brief fists before relaxing into readiness again.
“End of the month, right?” she squeaked. She’d found him pretty cute on previous stops. Now she only felt nervous.
His hands closed one more time, and then he eased them open with deliberate slowness. “Ms. Stone,” he said, grinding out her name.
She aimed a big smile up at him, though her lips felt stiff. “That’s me.”
“Unfortunately, I’m well aware of that.”
“Just as I assume you’re well aware of why I’ve stopped you today.”
” he barked. “It has nothing to do with your damn tags.”
She flinched at the way his voice filled her car.
In response, he cleared his throat and rolled his neck. “Excuse me,” he said in a much quieter tone, though the ends of the words were clipped enough to sound razor-sharp. “While I run your information to see if you’ve acquired any warrants for your arrest since the last time I stopped you.”
His heel scraped against the asphalt. Jenny leaned out. “Don’t you need my license and—?”
He threw a hand up to stop her words and muttered something she didn’t quite catch. Apparently he had no trouble recalling her name and birth date.
“Shit,” she groaned as she ducked back into her seat. He’d been lenient in the past, but last time he’d clocked her going eighty in a fifty-five, he’d been clear that his tolerance had worn thin.
One more ticket, Ms. Stone, and you’ll be called before a judge. You’ll lose your license for thirty days, at best. At worst, you’ll be charged with reckless endangerment.
“Of what?” she muttered to her steering wheel. “Chipmunks?” It had been November. Too cold for Yellowstone tourists and not snowy enough for skiers. She rolled her eyes as she heard the door of his truck open, but immediately after he slammed it, his footsteps sounded again. She watched him approach in her mirror, just as he had a few minutes before, but this time, she sank down a little in defense.
“Do you know how dangerous this is?” he growled before he even reached her window. “It’s the middle of winter, damn it! You could hit a patch of ice! You could—”
“It hasn’t snowed in two weeks,” she argued. “The roads have been bone-dry for days!”
“Are you kidding me? There’s snowmelt streaming across the road everywhere! And what if you’d suddenly come up on an elk? Or some stupid tourist stopped in the road to take a picture of a stupid elk? Are you...just...are you...?”
“Stupid?” she volunteered, hunching farther down in her seat. If she lost her license, she’d go mad. She couldn’t live without her car. Or rather, she couldn’t live without driving. It felt like flying to her. It felt like freedom. And it had been, three times now.
“Yes!” Deputy Hendricks yelled. “Stupid!”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. He’d never, ever lost his temper before.
He was silent for a long moment. A gas tanker drove past them, sucking the air through her open window, then hurling it back in.
Jenny shook her head. “I’m really sorry.” She meant it. He’d been kind to her and she’d promised not to speed again. And now here she was.
He took a deep breath. His clenched teeth looked very white against his tan skin. “Jenny,” he said, the only time he’d used her first name since she’d invited him to three tickets ago. She glanced up but couldn’t puzzle out his expression behind his sunglasses. She’d never seen him with his glasses off. She worked at the saloon at night, so all her joyrides occurred during daylight hours. All she knew of him was his dark skin and sculpted jaw and wide mouth. Under his hat, his hair looked deep brown. The wide shoulders beneath his uniform jacket eased the insult of the tickets, and the cheekbones didn’t hurt, either, but for all she knew he had bug eyes that wandered in different directions and brows like a twitchy mad scientist.
But probably not.
He stared steadily down at her. Jenny’s heart fell. “It’s okay,” she said softly. “Just write the ticket. It’s my own fault, and I know you’ve tried to help.”
He watched her for a long moment, then cleared his throat and shifted. “Ms. Stone, you’re not some eighteen-year-old punk with too much testosterone and too little intelligence. Why can’t you just go the speed limit and save us both some pain? Why is that so hard? Even five miles per hour over and I’d be able to shrug it off. Just...why?”
She couldn’t tell him, because she had no idea. Driving made her happy. The feel of the power at her fingertips. The rush of the wind past her open window when the weather cooperated. And the faster she drove, the freer she felt. Fifty-five miles per hour wasn’t happiness. It was just more constriction. “I don’t know,” she said honestly. “But it makes me feel better that giving me tickets is painful for you. After all this time, we’re practically friends now, aren’t we?”
His flat mouth didn’t budge in the slightest. “I meant that writing another ticket will be painful for me because I’ll lose a whole morning in court testifying against you.”
Her heart sank and bleated an ugly curse on its way down. She was mad at herself, and terrified about the consequences, and just a tiny bit hurt that Deputy Hendricks didn’t feel some small affection for her. She’d always been polite to him. Cheerful, even as he wrote her a ticket. She wasn’t a bad person.
“I warned you last time.”
“I know.” She felt tears prick her eyes, and blinked them furiously away. If he was going to be mean, she didn’t want him to see her cry. “It’s okay,” she said again.
He walked away, thank God, because a tear had managed to escape and slip down her cheek. She swiped at her jaw and sniffed hard. She wouldn’t cry. It was her own fault, and even if Deputy Hendricks was being particularly hard-nosed, she wouldn’t cry. She wouldn’t. She deserved this, and he’d cut her enough slack. She sniffed again and scrubbed at her eyes.
The deputy cleared his throat from right beside her.
She froze in horror. He’d walked away to write her a ticket. What was he doing back so quickly?
When she snuck a glance out the window, she saw him holding out a business card instead of the thin paper of a ticket. “What’s that?” she asked, thinking it was a card for the attorney she was going to need.
“Take it,” he said gruffly.
She took it gingerly, barely touching the edges of the card.
“It’s information about a local driving class. I want you to promise to sign up. One, you need it. And two, it’ll help your case the next time I pull you over. Because I will give you a ticket next time, Ms. Stone. No questions. No leniency.”
“What?” she breathed.
“I’m serious. This is getting ridiculous. You’re too old for this crap, and you make a fool out of me every time I let you off.”
“I don’t mean to! I’m sorry! It’s not like I drive away thinking, ‘Yeah! I fooled the Man!’ I mean...Um...” She felt her face flame. His sunglasses stared down at her in unwavering judgment. Her attempt at a smile felt like a grimace as she held up the card. “I’ll take the class. I really appreciate this. I do every time.”
“Every time,” he muttered. “Right.”
“Each time,” she tried. “Both times. Well, this is maybe the third...”
“Yes,” he said. “It is the third. The third warning. The
“I just get lost in thought. I don’t realize I’m going so fast. It’s kind of hard to keep her under sixty.”
His head turned slightly toward the hood of the car. “Maybe it’s time to buy a nice sedan.”
A tiny, horrified whimper escaped from her mouth.
“I bet you’d save a hell of a lot of money on gas. And it would have airbags.”
“I’ll slow down,” she croaked.
“You’d better. Or you’ll find out how easy it is to keep her under sixty when you’re not allowed out of the garage.”
His face tipped toward her again at her hoarse whisper. He stared for a moment. She could see her own tiny face looking pitiful and pale in the black lenses.
“Go on,” he finally said. “I’m not giving you an official warning because I don’t want any record of this. It’s an embarrassment. Drive safely, Ms. Stone. And
Please? For the love of whatever it is you value?”
“Yes, sir,” she whispered again.
He stepped back. She waited, but he finally shook his head. “Just go before I change my mind.”
Jenny started the car, wincing at the roar of the engine. Normally, she loved that sound, but right now it seemed a little much. “Thank you,” she said again. “Really. Come in for a free beer sometime, okay?”
Maybe not the right thing to say to a deputy who seemed obsessed with road safety. Shoot. Jenny released the brake and pulled away. In her nervousness, she hit the gas too hard and as she pulled off the shoulder, the tires squealed. Just a little. Just enough to make her wish she was dead.
“Oh, God,” she groaned, eyes flashing to the rearview mirror as she left Deputy Hendricks behind in an unfortunate cloud of dust. Well, not a cloud. More like a tiny, harmless puff.
Heart pounding hard, Jenny drove back to town safely. And very slowly, keeping her eye on the speedometer the whole way. It didn’t feel very much like flying, but it was better than being grounded.
It might be time to make a run for it, after all.
* * *
lot of the Crooked R Saloon, and his gaze was immediately drawn to the yellow Camaro parked in the far corner. He felt his left eye twitch at the sight. That woman and her damned menace of a car.
He should’ve given her the ticket. He’d sworn to himself that he would. After issuing that last warning, he’d ordered himself to have a steel will the next time she flew past him.
In fact, each time he stopped her, each time she drove away, he told himself that was it. He wouldn’t be lenient again. If she deserved jail time, the judge would give it to her. It wasn’t Nate’s responsibility to decide. She was a repeat offender. She deserved whatever she got, even if she was always cheerful and sweet and apologetic.
But yesterday he’d seen her flying by again, a bright flash of yellow that shot adrenaline straight into his heart, and despite his rage and frustration and impatience, his resolve had been as weak as paper. She’d flashed that slightly crooked smile and called him “Deputy Hendricks” as if it were a private joke they shared, and...
“Fuck,” he growled as he made himself turn away from her car and walk toward the front porch of the saloon.
What the hell was he doing here?
His brain had snuck up on him to issue a reminder that whatever excuse he had to be at the Crooked R, it was flimsy as hell. But he
have an excuse. His cousin had needed to meet with him, so why not here? It had been thirty-two hours since Nate had pulled Jenny Stone over, so it was time for a reminder about that driving class.
Sure, she’d promised. She’d even shed grateful tears. But he didn’t think for one minute that she’d called about the class yet. Why would she, when she had yet another chance to push him toward insanity? Instead of doing what he’d ordered, she’d probably attach floating neon lights to the undercarriage of her car and get her windows tinted before adding a sticker about pigs to taunt him the next time she flashed her bumper.
He was just another cop fooled by a pretty face. Hardly a rare breed. And now here he was, at her workplace like a hormone-addled fool.
Nate slid off his sunglasses and walked into the saloon, cursing himself every step of the way.
The place was packed. Five-dollar pitcher night, he realized belatedly. Not the ideal place to have a serious talk with his cousin. Then again, considering how worried Luis had sounded, maybe he’d appreciate the roar of background noise. Whatever it was, he’d made it clear that he couldn’t invite Nate over to his own house.
Nate glanced around, meaning to look for his cousin, but somehow searching out a blond ponytail at the same time. And there she was, out from behind the bar, delivering a tray of pitchers. He’d never seen her outside her car. He’d never made her walk the shoulder to check for any telltale signs of inebriation. Reckless as her speeds were, her car always followed every curve of the road perfectly. Even when she spotted his lights, she eased into the stop, edging just far enough over to be safe, and never far enough to veer too deeply into the soft slope next to the highway. Jenny Stone was dangerous, but not in that way.