Authors: Julie Kenner
“Iâ” Lisa couldn't get the words out when Ken's hand snaked down her back, under the waistband of her skirt. He was crossing the line, and she stood up straighter, almost unwilling to believe Ken was seducing her in a semipublic place. “Ken, not here.”
“Yes, here.” His fingers teased her, dipping beneath the band of her bikini panties. “You said everything and everything, remember?” he reminded her in a husky tone as he cupped her backside more intimately, stroking her, tempting her. Lisa's knees went weak and she had to grab the handrail for support. “Did you lie?” he asked.
“N-no.” Someone else's voice. Unfamiliar and raspy. But Lisa didn't care. Whatever Ken's game was, he was winning.
He thrust his hips forward and she writhed shamelessly against his hard body, silently begging for more. Lost in an erotic haze, she rested her head against the cool glass walls of the elevator.
? Her eyes flew open. “Ken!” She tried to wriggle free. “This is a glass elevator!”
A slow grin spread across his face. “That's what makes it so much funâ¦.”
I love big cities. The thrum of energy, the sensual beatâ¦the infinite possibilities around every corner. I lived in Los Angeles for four years and loved every minute of it. Setting my first Blaze novel in that fabulous city was a huge thrill for me. Since it was a Blaze title, I needed to find characters with an extremely sensual story to tell. And since it was set in L.A., I wanted characters with jobs that represented the two things the city is known forâfood and film.
Lisa and Ken's story is one of lost love and reconciliationâ¦along with a fair bit of sensual revenge! These two are professionals whose passion for their career is almost as strong as the passion in their personal lives. So when Lisa returns to Ken needing a favorâfive years after she walked out on himâthe tension under the surface is undeniableâ¦and the chemistry between them is inescapable. He agrees to helpâ¦for a price. And I assure you, it's a price that will leave you breathless!
I'd love to hear what you think of my contribution to the SEXY CITY NIGHTS miniseries. Write to me at P.O. Box 151417, Austin, TX 78715-1417. Or you can visit my Web site at www.juliekenner.com to see what else I've got in the works! And don't forget to check out www.tryblaze.com!
772âNOBODY DOES IT BETTER
For Timâ¦who makes a mean plate of migas.
ARK MY WORDS
,” Lisa Neal heard the bartender say. “Within five years, everyone in Los Angeles will be falling all over themselves to get a table at a Kenneth Harper restaurant.”
Lisa had been sitting with her back leaning against the mahogany bar, her eyes scanning the crowd for Ken, but now she twisted her stool around. Behind the bar, Chris was shaking a martini and talking to a polished-looking redhead who seemed both fascinated and slightly intoxicated.
“Seriously,” Chris said, “for someone from a hick town in Texas, the man's a marvel. He knows exactly where he wants to be, and he'll get there, too.”
Lisa couldn't help but smile. After dating Ken for close to a year, she had no doubt that what Chris said was true. Still, she couldn't resist teasing the bartender, and she leaned closer. “Chris, I'm shocked. Five years? Awfully disloyal, don't you think? Three seems much more likely.”
“He's not you, Lisa,” he said dryly. “I figure you'll be getting your first Academy Award this week.”
She laughed. Sadly, seven days was a little fast even for the career schedule she'd worked out in her head. “Considering I just finished shooting my thesis film this morning, maybe we should make that a month.”
She made a face and tapped her wineglass, which he topped off before turning back to the redhead. Lisa genuinely liked Chris. For that matter, she liked all the people Ken had recruited to work in Oxygen, his very first restaurant. From what she could tell, he'd chosen his people well. Tonight's opening gala had been
event of the summer, and it was going over without a hitch. The place was hopping with minor celebrities and celebrity wanna-bes. Cameras were flashing, the crowd was buzzing, and the smell of celebrationânot to mention exceptional foodâfilled the air.
Earlier, a restaurant critic from the
Los Angeles Times
had come to their table and personally congratulated Ken. Of course, Lisa hadn't expected anything less. After all, Ken's talent and drive was one of the things that had attracted her in the first place. Ken Harper's ambition equaled her own, and that was a rare trait indeed.
Not that she was interested in settling down, but if she were, it would be with a man like Ken. She took a long sip of wine, realizing with a start how completely happy she'd been over the past eleven months.
Ken had snuck up on her, and for the first time in her life, she didn't mind feeling committed to a man. Not that she intended to get all mushy. Not now, when her career was about to take off. In the real world, what mattered was success, and Lisa had been just as prag
matic in choosing a relationship as she had in choosing a graduate school.
Her whole life she'd accomplished whatever she set her mind to. Valedictorian of her high school class. Editor of the yearbook. The state essay contest. She knew from watching her own family how important goals were. Her mom had given up a legal career on Wall Street to live in Idaho with her dad, and then he'd up and left after Lisa and her sister, Ellen, started high school. A single mom with two kids, Lisa's mother wasn't exactly up to going back to New York, so she'd ended up trappedâand resenting the hell out of Lisa's father. And all because she'd sacrificed her career for a man.
Lisa's sister didn't have it much better. Ellen had married a nice enough guy, but she was trapped in that same small town just because her husband owned a local hardware store. So instead of traveling the world and shooting photos of exotic locales for fancy magazines as could have been her fate, Ellen worked part-time at a department store, shooting portraits of kids who really didn't want to be there.
Maybe Ellen was happyâshe said she wasâbut Lisa didn't ever intend to do that to herself. She'd had her life mapped out from day one, and she intended to follow through. That's who she was, and she never intended to lose sight of that fact.
Still, Ken was as close to a soul mate as she'd ever foundâcould ever imagine finding, for that matter. And every day they spent together drew them a little bit closer. For a loner like Lisa that was scary, but it was exciting, as well.
She shifted on the stool, scanning the crowd without success to find him. For a moment she wondered if he'd
disappeared into the kitchen. Then a man in a dark blue suit moved aside, and suddenly there Ken was. She took a deep breath, her pulse quickening when he caught her eye and the corner of his mouth turned up in a secret smile meant only for her.
Two years older than Lisa, Ken had just turned twenty-six. Even so, he commanded the room. His clear blue eyes looked every guest in the face, his firm handshake making each feel welcome and comfortable. Lisa knew from experience that those hands were callused and rough, but that would only serve to endear him to the public. Though his classic good looks might suggest otherwise, Ken wasn't a man who shied away from hard work.
His tailored silk suit wasn't pretentious, but neither was it off the rack, and the ensemble gave him a cultured yet accessible quality that Lisa was sure would attract the clientele in droves. As Ken was fond of saying, in the restaurant industry, the food had to be perfect. And everything elseâthe space, the service, the ambienceâhad to live up to that standard.
His eyes never left hers as he moved easily through the crowd until he was by her side, his hand warm against her bare back as he dipped his head to kiss her cheek. “Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?” His feather-soft whisper teased her senses.
Pressing her forefinger to her lip, she pretended to consider. “Mmm. Let's seeâ¦gorgeous, stunning, amazing. But no, not beautiful.”
He moved behind her, his hands resting on her shoulders as he leaned close. “You're beautiful.”
She grinned. “And you're a charmer.”
“True,” he said, sliding onto the stool next to her. “But I'm an honest charmer.”
He signaled to Chris, who brought him a sparkling water with lime, and then Ken started asking the bartender's opinion of how the opening was going. She watched as the two men talked, impressed once again with the life that was hers since she'd moved to Los Angeles.
She'd shocked everyone in her small Idaho hometown when she'd applied for early admission to U.C.L.A. and moved to the big, bad city right after her junior year of high school. Of course, the move hadn't come as any huge surprise for her mother. After all, Lisa'd spent her entire life with her face behind a lensâfirst her grandfather's ancient Super 8, and then the school's video camera. Still, her mom had been nervous about her firstborn moving to California at seventeen.
She'd done them proud, though. She finished her undergrad work in a little under three years and was immediately accepted into the graduate film program. Long hours, intense competition, relentless professorsâ¦and she'd loved every minute of it. In fact, her life would have been nothing
school if she hadn't met Ken.
They'd met at a party, and so far their lives meshed perfectly. Ken was as involved with his restaurant as she was with her films. Their rare free time they spent together, and Lisa had become accustomed to sitting at one of the empty tables at Oxygen studying or annotating a script while Ken worked out details with the construction crew or his staff.
They'd become comfortable together, and she liked the feeling. In so many ways the relationship was different than what she'd had with her past boyfriends. For
one thing, he insisted that he didn't want to have sex until after marriage, although they'd done everything but.
Lisa found it hard to believe that a man as sexy and alluring as Ken was a virgin, but she'd never asked him outright if that was the case. Rather, she'd agreed with his parameters. She adored Ken, but she didn't intend to let anythingâincluding thoughts of marriageâget between her and her goal of making it in the movie business. And if that meant keeping some tiny modicum of distance between them, well, so be it.
She took another sip of wine, watching as Ken finished chatting with Chris. Then he turned back to her and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear, the simple gesture somehow more intimate that a kiss.
“Beautiful,” he whispered, as she fought a blush. She usually pulled her annoyingly thick hair back in a pony-tail, but for tonight, she'd gone all out and had it done up in a chignon by the hotel's stylist. She had to admit, it looked great. “How are you holding up?” he asked. “Tired?”
“Not at all.”
He raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “You haven't slept in days. Are you sure you're not a tiny bit tired?”
While Ken had been readying for his opening, she'd been awake for two solid days shooting the last few scenes of her thesis film. She'd pushed her actors and crew hard, but they'd delivered.
Maybe it was simply a student film, but she was producing and directing it, and that was more than just a baby step. It was a giant leap toward the one thing she'd wanted for her whole lifeâproducing real, honest-to-goodness Hollywood movies. “I'm operating on
adrenaline. My film, your restaurant. I've got energy to burn.”
“Glad to hear it.” He looked away for a moment to wave at someone across the room, and when he looked back, his stormy-blue eyes were dark with undisguised passion. “I was hoping you'd have some energy left over after this is through.” He pressed a card key into her hand. “The hotel put me in the penthouse for the night. If you get tired, head on up and I'll meet you there.”
She nodded, clutching the key in her hand as he bent and kissed her. He tasted of champagne, and she trembled as she pulled his head closer to her own, deepening their kiss even as she fought the sudden prick of tears at her eyes. Ken worked some mysterious alchemy on her soul, and she knew that if she let him get too close, he was the one person in the world for whom she'd consider abandoning her dreams.
In a way, the knowledge was warm and reassuring. But, mostly, it terrified her.
He pulled away, one finger under her chin tilting her head up. “You okay?”
“Fine.” She smiled. “I'm terrific.”
“I need to go mingle.” He presented his arm. “Care to join me?”
“You go on. I guess I am a little tired. I just want to sit here and watch everyone fawn over you.”
The corner of his mouth twitched. “I'll see you in a bit, then.”
As soon as he moved away, the crowd engulfed him. Yes, Chris was right. In five years, Ken Harper was going to be the uncontested king of the Los Angeles restaurant scene.
She turned back to the bar, then took an idle sip of wine.
She looked into Chris's concerned face, then realized she was frowning. “No. I'm fine. Just tired.”
He looked dubious, but one of the waitresses came to the service area, and he left to fill her orders. In truth, she wasn't fine. Ken was firmly on his path to success, but she was on the verge of graduating and still hadn't found decent work. She'd had offers, of course, but mostly the jobs had involved working long hours as part of the crew for a low-budget film. Not bad for starting out, but Lisa wanted to be a development executive at one of the major studios before she was thirtyâand with a goal like that, she needed to land a stellar, high-profile job right out of the gate.
Unfortunately, she hadn't yet found one.
Determined to pull herself out of her funk, she twisted back around to watch the crowd. She tried to find Ken, but instead found herself sucking in a startled breath when she saw Drake Tyrellâone of the country's hottest independent producersâheading right toward her.
“Miss Neal.” He slipped onto the empty stool next to her, then signaled to Chris to freshen his drink. Through the whole process, she just sat there gaping, awed that he even remembered who she was. “It's good to see you again.”
She swallowed. “Thank you. Sir. I meanâ¦it's good to see you, too.” She fought a cringe, knowing she sounded like a tongue-tied fool. “I'm surprised you remember me.” He'd taught a weekend seminar, and she'd been
one of two hundred students crammed into a small auditorium. Hardly the opportunity to stand out.
“Of course I remember.” Chris brought him a fresh drink and he raised the glass in toast. “To successfully getting through film school. Hell of an accomplishment.”
They clinked glasses, and he leaned back, eyeing her speculatively. Her nerves were about to shift into overdrive when he said, “I read your script.”
When he nodded, her stomach twisted. She wondered not only why he'd read the thing, but what he'd thought of it. She'd written it more than a year ago and entered it in a contest at her professor's urging.
“I'm one of the sponsors of the fellowship program,” he said, answering one of her unasked questions. “You have a flair for comedy. The script was charming.”
Her smile felt as watery as her knees, and she kept a firm hold on the back of the bar stool. “I'm glad you thought so,” she said, thrilled to find her voice was functioning. “It didn't win,” she added, then immediately kicked herself for sounding petty.
He laughed, and she felt even smaller, at least until he said, “Not the fellowship, no.” He leaned closer, in front of her to grab a napkin off the bar. “But it just may have won you a job.”
At that, she almost lost her balance, and she grabbed onto the solid mahogany of the bar. “Excuse me?”
“I've been talking with your professors, looking over your work. I've got a job for you, if you want it.”
“A job?” she repeated stupidly. “Working with you?”
His grin was slowâprobably he was used to people
being in utter awe of him. “Of course. That is, if you think you're up for it.”
Up for it? Of course she was up for it. The one thing she wanted most in the world had just been dropped in her lap.
A real career working with