Read When Lightning Strikes Online

Authors: Brenda Novak

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When Lightning Strikes

Welcome to Whiskey Creek—Heart of the Gold Country!

Simon O’Neal’s causing trouble again.

And it’s up to Gail DeMarco to stop him.

Gail DeMarco left Whiskey Creek, California, to make a name
for herself in Los Angeles. Her PR firm has accumulated a roster of A-list
clients, including the biggest box office hit of all—sexy and unpredictable
Simon O’Neal. But Simon, who’s just been through a turbulent divorce, is so busy
self-destructing he won’t listen to anything she says. She drops him from her
list—and he retaliates by taking the rest of her clients with him.

Desperate to save her company, Gail has to humble herself by
making a deal with Simon. The one thing he wants is custody of his son, but
that’s going to require a whole new image. He needs to marry some squeaky-clean
girl who’ll drag him off to some small, obscure place like Whiskey Creek….

Gail’s the only one he can trust. She agrees to become his
wife—reluctantly. But she isn’t reluctant because he’s too hard to like. It’s
because he’s too hard
not
to love!

Praise for Brenda Novak

“Whenever I see a new Brenda Novak book, I buy it and read it,
pronto. I can always count on her for a solid, exciting story, full of adventure
and romance.”
—Linda Lael Miller, #1
New York
Times
bestselling author

“Any book by Brenda Novak is a must-buy for me.”

Reader to Reader Reviews

“Brenda Novak’s seamless plotting, emotional intensity and
true-to-life characters who jump off the page make her books completely
satisfying. Novak is simply a great storyteller.”
—Allison Brennan,
New York Times
bestselling author

“Novak’s smooth plotting makes for a great read.”

Publishers Weekly
on
Dead
Right

“Novak is an expert at creating emotionally driven romances
full of heat, sensual tension and conflict that not only satisfy her characters
but her readers as well.”

Writers
Unlimited

“Believable characters and gripping action.”
—Carla
Neggers,
New York Times
bestselling author

“I suggest Brenda Novak be added to your ‘to buy’ list today.
You won’t be disappointed.”

Romance Readers
Connection

“Strongly defined characters, sizzling sexual tension and a
tautly constructed plot…blend brilliantly together in Novak’s exceptionally
intense, powerfully emotional novel.”

Booklist
on
Every Waking Moment

Also by Brenda Novak

IN CLOSE
IN SECONDS
INSIDE
KILLER HEAT
BODY
HEAT
WHITE HEAT
THE PERFECT MURDER
THE PERFECT LIAR
THE
PERFECT COUPLE
WATCH ME
STOP ME
TRUST ME
DEAD
RIGHT
DEAD GIVEAWAY
DEAD SILENCE
COLD FEET
TAKING THE
HEAT
EVERY WAKING MOMENT

Look for Brenda Novak’s next novel
WHEN SNOW
FALLS
available November 2012

To Pierce Rohrmann.

Your many talents and drive never cease to amaze me. Thanks for
your hard work on my behalf, your brilliant ideas, your endless support, your
wit and generosity—and last but not least, thanks for picking me up, dusting me
off and shoving me back into the fight whenever I try to escape. LOL You make
one heck of a BFF!

Dear Reader,

I have had so much fun creating this new series—maybe because
I live fairly close to Gold Country and have always been enchanted by it. My
husband and I enjoy visiting Jackson, where we have dinner or stay over in a B
and B. We’ve gone rappelling and spelunking at Moaning Caverns and driven the
kids over to Coloma to pan for gold. But we’ve probably spent the most time
mountain biking in the foothills. Even if we’re not doing something special, we
like just investigating the area. The history here in Northern California is as
rich as the soil.

I love writing stories set in small towns, because of the
depth of the relationships that so often exists there. A lack of anonymity
affects behavior in interesting ways. A close-knit community can be a blessing;
it can also be a curse. I think you’ll find examples of both in Whiskey
Creek—but for a movie star like Simon O’Neal, who needs a quiet place to get
away and pull himself together, Whiskey Creek is just what the doctor
ordered.

I love hearing from my readers. Please feel free to visit me
on Facebook (search for Author Brenda Novak to “like” my page) or stop by my
website at brendanovak.com, where you can sign up for my mailing list, enter my
various giveaways or learn about other books in this series. There, you can also
sign up for my annual online auction for diabetes research, which occurs every
May. So far, we’ve raised more than $1.5 million for research!

I hope you enjoy
When Lightning
Strikes!

Brenda Novak

1

S
he was ruined. She’d become anathema—the
Jerry Maguire of the Los Angeles public-relations biz. And it’d happened almost
overnight.

“You don’t look so good.”

Gail DeMarco turned away from the phone she’d just hung up to
focus on Joshua Blaylock. Dressed in a pair of skinny black jeans with long-toed
shoes, a designer jacket and rectangular-shaped glasses, her personal assistant
hovered at the corner of her desk, a hopeful yet worried expression on his face.
Like her, he’d been hoping they could pull out of the nosedive she’d caused by
making one impetuous call, and then a number of thoughtless statements, three
weeks earlier. But she could tell Joshua had overheard enough to understand what
her other employees didn’t grasp quite yet. They hadn’t just lost a few
important clients, like Maddox Gill and Emery Villere; they’d lost them all. Big
Hit Public Relations had fallen from its lofty perch at the top of the PR food
chain to crash and burn at the bottom. And it was all thanks to one man. Simon
O’Neal, the hottest male lead in the movie business, had flexed his superstar
muscles and brought down her company so quickly and easily Gail could hardly
believe it. She kept thinking she’d wake up to find that their feud was all a
bad dream—or that others would see Simon as the train wreck she knew him to be
and side with her instead. But America loved him. He was their new James Dean.
He was screwing up right and left, but he had the most loyal fans in the world,
fans who were as fascinated by his self-destruction as his talent.

She should never have told him she’d no longer work for him.
One client after another had deserted her ever since.

But any self-respecting public-relations professional would’ve
grown tired of Simon’s antics. He’d done everything she’d specifically asked him
not
to, created so many media nightmares, and
that made her, as his personal publicist, look as bad as he did. How was she
supposed to represent someone like that?

“Hello?” His smile gone, Joshua snapped his fingers in front of
her eyes.

Gail forced back her tears. For more than a decade, ever since
she’d graduated with a degree in advertising and public relations, then interned
for Rodger Brown and Associates, she’d devoted herself to building her company.
She had no husband, no kids and very few friends, at least in the L.A. area. Her
ambition hadn’t allowed time for that. There was only the group of childhood
friends in Whiskey Creek six hours north. She saw them every couple of months.
But by and large she’d left both family and friends to make her mark in the big
city. Here, her employees were closer to her than anyone else. And now she’d
have to let them all go. Even Joshua.

“That was Clint Pierleoni.” She groomed her voice into a
careful monotone to keep it from cracking.

He blinked rapidly, as if he was tempted to cry himself. It
wouldn’t be the first time he’d broken down in her office. He was always getting
upset over one man or another. She usually consoled him, actually enjoyed living
vicariously through him since it’d been so long since
she’d
had a love life. But today she had no words of comfort because
his pain was her pain, too.

“Don’t tell me—” he started.

She broke in before he could get the words out. “He said it’s
time for him to find another PR company.”

“But…Clint’s been with us from the beginning. I’ve
slept
with Clint—after signing that form agreeing not
to reveal he’s gay, of course.”

Gail ignored the last part of what Joshua had said. She didn’t
condone her employees having sex with the firm’s clients. But she’d already
written Josh up for his inappropriate relationship with Clint. It seemed
pointless to go over her objections again, especially at this late date. What
Joshua said about Clint was true. He’d been the first up-and-coming actor to
take a risk on her. And she’d done a hell of a job for him at a steal of a
price.

She’d expected more loyalty. They’d come so far together. He
was bigger now than he’d ever been, and she’d helped make that happen. “He tried
to explain—”

Joshua broke in. “Explain what? That he was caving in to the
pressure of the Hollywood heavyweights who’ve joined Simon O’Neal and turned
against us?”

“He’s afraid staying with us will adversely affect his career.
Simon promised him a part in his next movie, and he’s positive it will disappear
if he doesn’t kowtow.”

“Simon’s a bastard! An
alcoholic
bastard!”

She narrowed her eyes. “You haven’t slept with
him,
have you?” For just a moment, she allowed herself
to imagine what it would do to the almighty Simon’s career to leak
that
information. He’d never be able to play a
romantic male lead again. But she knew what Joshua was going to say before he
said it.

“He’s yummy enough that I’d sleep with him if I had the chance.
I don’t know many people who wouldn’t, except you,” he added as an afterthought.
“But…he’s not gay.”

“Right.” She attempted a shrug, even though she’d had her
fantasies about Simon, too. Who hadn’t? “Too bad.”

He leaned on his knuckles as if he was planning to reveal a big
secret. “He
is
a womanizer, though. I bet we could
come up with all kinds of dirt—”

She waved him to silence. “Not the kind that’ll surprise
anyone. His wife left him because he couldn’t keep his pants zipped. His
exploits in
that
area are second only to Tiger
Woods’s.” Even if she had the goods, she doubted she could bring herself to
destroy him. She was hurt and angry, but she didn’t believe in creating bad
karma.

“So what do we do?” Josh asked.

“What
can
we do?” Drawing a deep
breath, she tried to sit tall in her chair, like she was used to doing when
barking out orders and handling calls in rapid succession. She thrived on the
adrenaline that sustained her on any given day. But her groove was gone, along
with her clients.

Sagging against her expensive leather chair, she thought about
calling the actors who’d fired her. If only she could talk them into coming
back…

But it was no use. She’d already tried that. No one would cross
Simon, except a few inconsequential clients who didn’t care enough about him to
follow his lead, and three of them were charities she repped
pro bono.

“He’s going with Chelsea Seagate at Pierce Mattie,” she added
dully.

“No!” Joshua punched the air. “That bitch has everyone!”

Also thanks to Simon. He’d been with Big Hit for three years,
knew they were rivals, so he’d gone to Chelsea and taken almost fifty of Gail’s
sixty-four other clients there, too. “Pierce will regret letting Chelsea sign
him. Simon will ruin them. There isn’t a PR firm in America, or anywhere else,
that can protect the image of a client so bent on self-destruction. Since his
wife left, he’s worse than Charlie Sheen ever was.”

“At least PM will die a slow death,” Joshua said, dropping into
the chair across from her. “How long before we have to close our doors?”

She pursed her lips as she glanced around her swanky office.
There’d been days when she’d been unable to believe her own success. Now it all
seemed to have been an illusion. “Two months?” Could she even hold out that
long?

He rocked forward. “That’s it?”

“Our overhead is huge, Josh. Rent alone is fifteen thousand.
Together with salaries for twenty people…the money will dry up fast.”

His next words were muffled; he’d buried his face in the
stylish scarf he wore under the collar of his too-cool jacket. “When do we tell
the others?”

She couldn’t bear to see him slumped over like that. He’d told
her not to cast Simon aside but she’d done it, anyway. Simon had deserved to be
cut from her client roster—he’d been asking for it—but he wasn’t anyone to mess
with, and he’d proven that.

Struggling under the weight of her responsibility, she got up
and walked to the interior window overlooking the expansive lobby designed to
impress visitors. The staff cubicles and three other offices branched off to the
right. They couldn’t be seen from where she stood, but she could make out the
back of Savannah Barton’s dark head as she lounged in the doorway of Serge
Trusso’s office. Savannah was a single mom with two kids. Where would she go?
Serge would land on his feet. He saved money, never took anything for granted.
But what about Vince Shroeder, one cubicle over? He had a disabled wife. Then
there was Constance Moreno, barely twenty years old. She’d come from New York
two months ago and signed a year’s lease on her apartment. How would she pay the
rent?

These people depended on her. Why had she been so determined to
punish Simon, to see that he received some type of backlash?

Gail tapped her forehead on the cool glass. “You’d better call
a meeting. I’m sure they already know trouble’s brewing. It’s been dead around
here. They’re out there throwing spitballs at one another.”

“You want me to get them now?”

She thought of Simon’s movie premiere tonight and the fact that
he’d be at the after-party, probably roaring drunk but enjoying the fame and
fortune that followed him everywhere. He shouldn’t get away with what he’d done.
She’d been in the right, damn it. But…if she wanted to save her employees, she
was going to have to humble herself and apologize, maybe even
beg.

She’d rather throw herself in front of a bus, but there was
more at stake here than pride. She had a good team; they didn’t deserve to lose
their jobs. “No, wait.”

“You think something’s going to change?” he said with a
telltale sniff.

She didn’t dare hope. But she had to make one last-ditch effort
to save the firm, just in case it was still possible. “Give me until
tomorrow.”

He toyed with the expensive pen set he and the rest of her
staff had bought her for Christmas. “For what?”

She turned to face him. “A Hail Mary.”

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