November 27, Monday
Avery Burton was a little surprised that her boss was here in Whiskey River. Paparazzi had caught him coming out of pop star Sunny Hemmings’s Las Vegas penthouse in the very early hours of Sunday morning. Given that Sunny was engaged to legendary music producer Tommy Eno it was safe to say that Logan Calloway’s reputation as a bad boy from the Barrels was intact.
“I’m surprised to see you,” Avery said without looking up. They’d talked on the phone numerous times and she’d had a Skype interview before he’d hired her, but those devices had muted the effect of being the in the same room as one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive.
He wore a pair of faded denim jeans that hugged his lean hips and thighs. Like any son of Whiskey River he wore a pair of hand-tooled Kelly boots. His were made of blood-red leather and had a series of stars sewn onto them.
She skimmed her gaze up his body noticing the demure leather belt, sans large buckle. Logan wasn’t a cowboy and never pretended to be. He had on a designer blazer and a Sunny Hemmings concert T-shirt that clung to his lean abdomen and pecs like it had been tailor-made for him.
She finally glanced at his face. He had a strong jaw with a bit of stubble as was fashionable these days but Avery was willing to bet that Logan’s was more due to his lifestyle than a nod to fashion. Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses covered his eyes but she knew they were electric blue and his thick dark hair was mussed as if he’d just crawled out of bed.
He oozed sex appeal and he was standing in her office waiting for something from her. She arched one eyebrow at him. She was known for being a bit of a smartass so she really had to bite her tongue. Logan might be a celebrity and he might be the gossip sites’ favorite person to chronicle, but he was also her boss.
“Figured I’d lay low for a little while and you did sign me up to be co-chair of this Felicity’s Ball on Saturday,” he said. His voice was a low gravelly sound that sent a shiver down her spine.
“Good idea on the laying low. I have a meeting with the WOWR charitable society this morning and I believe that Eli and Harlan are expecting you later in the week about the winery.”
“Thanks for your approval on my actions,” he said sardonically, stepping into the room and removing his glasses. As he leaned one hip on the edge of her desk, she noticed that his cologne was spicy, woodsy and very understated.
Honestly, the man was one big ball of sexual attraction, rolling into her office on Monday morning. How was a girl to cope when she hadn’t even had her peppermint mocha?
“I believe in giving credit where it’s due,” she said.
“What else do you believe?” he asked. “I haven’t had a chance to get to know the real Avery.”
“I’m pretty much as promised on the label,” she said. She’d heard that on a British TV show and thought it made her sound more sophisticated than she was.
He threw his head back and laughed. “I think you are anything but, Avery Burton. Do we have a coffee machine?”
Avery realized he’d never been to the office. She’d worked for him for three years and he’d never once come back to Whiskey River. “We do. Would you like the office tour?”
“Nah. Just point me to the coffee machine,” he said.
She gestured to the hallway. “Second door on the right. The first one is the bathroom.”
Even though she was the assistant/manager of the Logan Calloway Foundation she wasn’t sure what he expected of her now that he was here. She had a few appointments for the day but most of her time this week was focused on the ball. She had been using Logan’s celebrity status and connections to get items for the silent auction.
So far she had a round of golf with the PGA’s player of the year Murray Tomlinson, box seats at the Dallas Cowboys game for next Thanksgiving, and of course a date with Logan. She had also used his connections to reach out to all of the products he endorsed and had high-end gift baskets from most of them. And a twenty-four-hour loan of a Lincoln MKC.
The ball would raise money for the Whiskey River Children’s Home. She’d taken on the head of the committee role because she knew that she had resources that the other women didn’t have and she liked organizing parties.
“Uh, do you need me to do anything for you?” she asked following him down the hall. He was standing in front of the Nespresso machine and staring at it.
“Embarrassingly I need you to show me how to use this thing,” he said. “What happened to the Mr. Coffee machine?”
“You did that commercial for Nespresso and they sent this, so I thought you’d prefer it. I believe you said you like a dark, spicy roast.” She walked into the room and went to the cabinet where the pods were stored and took down the sampler pack that they had sent. She had no idea which one was dark and spicy, since she stopped at Riva’s Java every morning on her way to the office and got whatever seasonal latte she had on special.
“Are you going to spout back every ad I’ve ever done?” he asked.
“Maybe. Are you going to pretend you like every product you’ve ever hawked?” she asked.
“Nope. Where’s my automatic drip pot?” he asked.
“Sorry we donated it. But Riva’s Java makes a really nice latte if you don’t want this,” she said.
He shook his head. “Just show me how to use this.”
She showed him, making a cup of coffee for him and handing it to him.
“Will that be all?”
“For now,” he said, sauntering out of the break room and down the hall to his office where he closed the door.
What did that mean?
Drinking whiskey and partying in Vegas hadn’t been his best idea but the thought of coming back to Whiskey River always made his skin feel too tight, as guilt wrapped him in that familiar embrace. He’d left a long time ago, running from the stain on his family name and from his own demons. Luck had favored him when he’d taken a job as a stunt driver for a low-budget action flick and the lead actor hadn’t shown up for work. The director had asked him if he could act and Logan, knowing he had nothing to lose and that acting paid more than stunt work, had said yes.
That movie had struck a chord with viewers and launched his career. Unbelievably his face—which he’d always looked at in the mirror and seen as a reflection of his old man—was considered attractive and Logan had made more money than Midas simply standing still and letting people photograph him. Between acting and modeling he’d made enough money to take care of his maternal great-aunt Jane, who’d been named guardian of his younger brothers, and he’d ensured that Sully and Finn had been able to go to college. Sully of course was a fighter like their old man and had dropped out of high school two weeks before he graduated and gone to Mexico to fight in the lucha libre league, which he’d segued into a career in the UFC when he’d come back to the US. Finn was scary smart and worked for a think-tank back east.
Aunt Jane had passed away three years ago—that had been the last time Logan had been here.
And to be honest he wished he wasn’t here now.
Except Avery had asked him to co-chair this charity ball and then the women’s league or whatever they called themselves had the hot idea that he and Avery should lead off the ball with a dance together. So he’d had to come back. But he’d planned to land on Saturday morning and then leave on Sunday afternoon. Before Sunny had meddled in his life—all because she’d wanted to make her fiancé jealous.
To be fair they’d necked a bit but sleeping with another man’s woman wasn’t his way. And while he had nothing against a one-night stand, they were starting to lose their charm.
He looked around the office, which had a framed poster from his first movie on one wall with two leather chairs underneath it. There was a credenza on one side of the room that held a silver tray with two bottles of whiskey on it and some highball glasses. There were framed letters of thanks for the charity work he’d done as well.
He looked at the desk. What the hell was he doing here? He should have just gone into town to the bar and tried to rustle up a game of pool but the truth was Whiskey River was his hair shirt. He couldn’t walk through the square without feeling the eyes of the good citizens on him. Without wondering if they were seeing Logan the movie star or Logan the son of Danny Calloway, the town drunk who’d killed four of their own while taking his own life.
There was a knock on his door and Logan set the coffee mug on his desk to go and answer it.
Avery was right there as he opened the door and he noticed she flushed a little before taking a step back from him. She had on a black dress that ended at her knee and a pair of riding boots that came up to the top of her calf. The dress was fitted at the top and she’d worn a belt around her waist. She had on a thick cardigan that was really a little too much for late November Texas weather.
Her long blonde hair looked silky as it fell in straight strands to her shoulders. She reached up and tucked a strand behind her ear and then tipped her head to the side.
“Um…I have to go to a committee meeting. As co-chair it might be a good idea if you attend,” she said. “I’m sure the ladies of the WOWR will have a lot of questions for you. They were pretty much salivating when I mentioned you were the co-chair.”
“How did that happen?” he asked. “I remember saying I’d help out but not that I’d be co-chair.”
“Seemed like you could use a little good PR. Of course, this was before the whole award buzz that’s surrounding you now.”
“I’ll go with you. I was just looking at my desk and realizing I had no idea what to do in here.”
She smiled in that way he noticed people did when they weren’t sure what to say to him.
“You don’t have to hold your tongue,” he said.
“Yes, I do,” she retorted. “I’ve been told that it’s not good manners to just blurt out whatever comes into my head.”
“Who told you that?” he asked, following her down the hall and out of the office. “I’ll drive.”
“Rachel. Rachel Wood,” she said. She locked the office door behind them and then shifted the strap of her shoulder bag before looking at him. “I was going to walk—it’s not that far from here.”
“I can’t walk through town,” he said. “If you want to walk I’ll meet you over there.”
“Afraid you’ll be mobbed by fans or paparazzi?” she asked. “I think you might be flattering yourself a bit.”
“I thought you weren’t going to just say whatever popped into your head,” he teased. “We can walk but if I am mobbed I expect you to take the heat for me.”
She shook her head. “I will protect you if it comes down to it. I’ll walk in front of you like a bodyguard.”
“That means so much to me,” he said.
“Stop it or your fake praise will go to my head and then how will I be able to enter the community center?”
He followed her as she led the way toward town center and he realized that he liked Avery. She was feisty and funny. Just the kind of woman who could distract him from the ghosts of the past and the ennui that Christmas always seemed to bring with it.
She glanced over her shoulder. “I was joking. You can walk with me.”
“Maybe I like the view back here.”
She stopped walking and stepped to the side, taking his arm and drawing him with her. “I appreciate that you’re known for your hot body and gorgeous face and that women are probably throwing themselves at you 24/7, but you’re my boss and I like my job and this town, so we’re not going to flirt. Got it?”
It took all his effort not to smile. “I meant watching the way everyone in town moves aside for you,” he said. “But sure, no flirting.”
End of Excerpt