LENI STEELE ENDED the call to her favorite Thai restaurant, musing about how the people who worked there probably thought she lived in her Manhattan office. The fact that working on a Friday night gave her more satisfaction than the last several dates she’d been on had to say something about the male species. Or did it say something about her? She’d never had much patience for bullshit and putting on airs, but she didn’t let that hinder her love for her job as a marketing and public relations manager for Steele Marketing & Media Solutions. She’d simply honed her ability to be hardnosed and to cut to the chase, and she excelled at it.
Her thoughts were interrupted as her cousin and boss, Shea Steele, walked into her office looking as sharp as ever. Her blond hair fell like spun gold over the shoulders of her fitted white blouse, a Chanel tote hung from her arm, and her cell phone was glued to her hand, as usual. Leni’s mentor had built her business on sheer determination and grace, the latter of which was not in Leni’s repertoire. Leni eyed her curiously. Her cousin’s smile told her she was excited about wherever she was going, but that could mean business or pleasure. “Where are you off to?”
“I’m meeting Hawk for a drink. Do you want to come?” Hawk Pennington was a highly-sought-after photographer who worked with many of their clients. He also happened to be a tall, tattooed, motorcycle-riding glass of champagne.
“I don’t think I’m the Steele Hawk wants coming tonight.”
“That’s a tasty thought, but you know I won’t cross that line. We’re going over details for Jules’s wedding. Come with me. Take a night off. It’ll be fun, and you never know who you’ll meet.” Jules was Leni’s youngest sister. She was getting married in December, and as a wedding gift, Shea had hired Hawk to photograph her big day.
“You and I both know what’s out there, and none of it equates to a bigger temptation than the Thai food I just ordered for delivery and the Mets game I’m going to watch while I’m working.” Leni was done with wishy-washy men who didn’t know how to handle a strong woman in or out of the bedroom or men who couldn’t hold a conversation unless it was about themselves.
“I hear you, but I’m not giving up on finding my Mr. Right,” Shea said cheerily. “If you change your mind, we’ll be at NightCaps.”
As Shea left her office, Leni went back to work. A few minutes later she heard Shea stomping back down the hall, tension rising in her voice. The life of a marketing and PR rep was riddled with urgency, and they both thrived on it.
Shea stormed in, poking at her phone. “It turns out you do need to work tonight.” She put her phone to her ear. “You need to go to the ARTS gala with Raz.”
Leni’s head snapped up. She was not going anywhere with Shea’s most difficult client, A-list actor Duncan “Raz” Raznick, who went by the stage name Duncan Raz, or simply Raz. “You can’t be serious.”
Shea held up her finger and spoke into her phone. “Yes, this is Shea Steele. I need to change the pickup for the ARTS gala tonight.” She gave them the office address.
Leni pushed to her feet, fuming as Shea ended the call. “What is going on?”
“You know how the paparazzi are all over Raz again now that Jacinda and Rafe have signed on to make another movie together and pictures of them making out are all over social media.” Raz had dated actress Jacinda Carr for several months. They broke up right before summer, after she cheated on him with her costar Rafe Jenson. “You’ve seen the stories about how Raz isn’t over her. That one photographer, Ken Singer, is always stalking him. I’m worried about the bad press he’s getting, so I set him up with an actress for the gala to give them something else to write about, but she broke her tooth and can’t go.”
“Can’t he go alone?” Leni knew arguing was pointless. If Raz was her client, she’d make damn sure he had a woman on his arm, but that didn’t lessen her hatred of the idea of going to a gala, much less going to one with an arrogant actor.
“That’s not going to help the media see that he’s over Jacinda.”
“You’re asking me to help the guy who royally screwed over my client for a big cologne campaign. Rugged for Men? Remember that? You were right there in the office when he told me to schedule it with his assistant, and then the week before the shoot, he claimed the timing didn’t work. And let’s not forget that he went through two other PR companies after leaving the one that repped him for years. He’s become a problem child, Shea, and you know it.”
“So what? He’s not the first difficult client we’ve worked with, and he won’t be the last.”
“But he’s the first you’re asking me to go out with. You know I hate being in the spotlight. Why don’t you go as his PR rep and make a statement?”
“I can’t. It’ll look planned and manipulative.”
Leni deadpanned. “I work for you. Isn’t that the same thing?”
“No. You guys are going on a fake date, not making a statement.”
“So now you’re pimping me out?” Leni arched a brow. “Sorry, Shea, but I can’t go. I’m working on marketing plans for the launch of Sterling Silver’s new jewelry line and for Alyssa Braden, the director of the Sweet ’n Savory Dessert Festival. I’m trying to close those deals in the next four weeks.”
“I’ll work on them while you’re with Raz if you go.”
“You’re meeting Hawk, remember? Can’t Raz just no-show? Celebs do it all the time.”
“Shit. Hawk.” She began thumbing out a text. “Raz won’t no-show. It’s a fundraiser he believes in. He goes every year, and the guest list has been out there for weeks. His presence carries weight and helps the foundation get more donations.” The ARTS foundation helped fund arts programs in New York City schools.
A cocky asshole with a heart. How unique.
“Please.” Shea’s brow knitted. “I know he’s not easy, and I hate asking you to do this, but I’m out of options. The gala starts in an hour and a half, and the media will eat him alive if he crosses that red carpet alone.”
Leni huffed out a breath. “It’s a good thing I love you, but we still have a problem. I don’t have a dress fancy enough for a gala.”
“You know I do!” Shea didn’t have an office. She had a suite, complete with a full bath and a closet loaded with outfits, from casual to black-tie, accessories, and heels.
“You are annoyingly overprepared for everything.”
“Thank God I am,” Shea said excitedly. “I owe you one.”
“You owe me a hell of a lot more than one.” Leni pushed to her feet. “Wait. What am I supposed to tell my family? They’ll see the pictures, and you know how Jules is.” Jules was a bundle of unending optimism and the unofficial spreader of good cheer on Silver Island, where Leni and her five siblings had grown up.
“Well, you can’t tell them it’s a setup. If someone slipped and word got out, it would be even worse for Raz. Just say you went on one date and decided there were no sparks.”
“I hate lying.”
“It’s not really lying. It is one date. It just happens to be a fake date, and with how difficult Raz is, if there are sparks, they’ll be of the hateful kind. Come on. We’re running out of time.” She took Leni by the wrist, pulling her down the hall toward her office. “If anyone asks, you met Raz in the office and hit it off, so he asked you to go with him. Easy peasy.”
“You mean I can’t say I’m there against my will and would rather be shot out of a cannon than walk down a red carpet?”
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