Annabelle Jordan and her two sisters were orphans in frilly dresses when they went to live with their sports-lawyer uncle in his world of locker rooms, bookies and gambling.
Now the girls are publicists in their uncle's firm, The Hot Zone. Despite her upbringing, Annabelle is all woman. She's naturally drawn to real men--like her latest client, businessman and former football legend Brandon Vaughn.
The chemistry is potent, undeniable, irresistible. Annabelle soon realizes that Brandon is much more than just another jock. And that she'd better hold on tight if she doesn't want to lose her heart.
Phillips (Under the Boardwalk, etc.) kicks off Harlequin's new single-title romance line, HQN, with a sizzling but somewhat insubstantial tale, the first in her new trilogy involving three orphaned sisters left in the care of their tough-talking uncle Yank Morgan. A ladies' man with a penchant for gambling, Uncle Yank hasn't a clue what to do with three little girls, so he trains them to become major players at his Manhattan sports agency. Annabelle, the eldest, has become a powerhouse in the PR department, but her attraction to egocentric bad boys has proven to be a problem. After her latest boyfriend dumps her for an actress, Annabelle takes a personal vow of celibacy that lasts about as long as an ice cube in August when she meets her newest client, ex-football star Brandon Vaughn. Annabelle initially writes Brandon off as another handsome jock, but she soon discovers that he's different than the rest. He's building a lodge for kids with learning disabilities and, since someone seems intent on sabotaging his efforts, he needs positive publicity fast. The bland mystery doesn't add much zest to Phillips's predictable plot line, but this breezy book will likely score a touchdown with readers looking for sexy thrills and instant gratification.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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December 28, 2009
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Excerpt from Hot Stuff by Carly Phillips
"The meeting will come to order." Yank Morgan slammed the gavel against the rubber plate, calling The Hot Zone weekly meeting to order. His dark, wiry hair liberally sprinkled with gray was full and shaggy on a normal day, but after continually running his hands through it in frustration while he waited for his nieces to settle down, it was considerably more disheveled.
As president of their sports agency/PR firm located in a high-rise in midtown Manhattan, Uncle Yank liked to assert his authority. He used the gavel, an engraved birthday gift given to him by Judge Judy, often and with zeal. Unfortunately the gavel didn't change the fact that he was a man outnumbered by three women. Four if he counted Lola, his personal assistant, who liked to tell him what to do and when to do it.
Annabelle Jordan glanced at her sisters who also studied their uncle with fond amusement. As teenagers, they'd paid little attention to Uncle Yank's rules, mainly because he didn't have any. The older the girls became, the more their uncle searched for a way to pretend he hadn't let his personal and professional life go to hell in a handbasket, as he liked to say. The gavel seemed to give him a measure of pride and confidence, and was a small price to pay for him to feel in control with his new partners.
He'd continued the sports agency, but on Anna-belle's graduation from business school, he'd allowed her to make her dream of a family business into reality. None of the sisters wanted to be sports agents, but they'd all desired to get into public relations. It was An-nabelle who'd seen a means to tie the agency to PR and expand the reach of Uncle Yank's clients beyond their limited career on the field.
Her vision had been a success. The PR side of The Hot Zone specialized in handling professional athletes both in the prime of their careers and into retirement, forced or otherwise. And as each niece had graduated business school, Uncle Yank had rewarded them with a position and piece of his firm. Together they'd created a family business which fed Annabelle's need to keep her siblings and small family together.
"So let's go through today's agenda," Lola said, pen in hand to document the meeting. As usual, her attitude indicated she was ready to do business, even if her longing gazes toward Yank spoke of something entirely more personal. Lola, with her business demeanor, buttoned-up dress and raven hair pulled into a bun, was in love with Uncle Yank. Everyone knew it.
Everyone except Uncle Yank. Neither was over the hill and Annabelle felt bad for Lola. After all, the other woman had wasted most of her life waiting for the ultimate bachelor to notice her as something more than a prize assistant and a surrogate mother for his nieces.
"First order of business. Our annual summer party is scheduled for the third Saturday in July. Does everyone have it on their calendar?" Lola asked.
All nodded. Annabelle already had the date jotted on her agenda. The annual Hot Zone party was as much a family event as a business one.
"Okay then. On to the clients," Lola said.
"Micki? What's going on with Roper?" Uncle Yank asked of their star baseball player. Even when he was questioning the girls about their social lives, Uncle Yank always started with Micki, the youngest and worked his way up to Annabelle, the oldest.
Her youngest sister rolled the pen between her palms. "I'm trying to counter some bad media. He'll be fine. He just needs to watch what he says to the press," she said in a soothing voice. With her blond, curly hair and deliberately casual dress, Micki always presented the epitome of relaxed confidence.
"Admitting to having his nails done and a full body wrap at St. Lauren's spa on his day off will definitely put a kink in his reputation as a ladies' man," Annabelle murmured.
"He isn't gay, he just likes the finer things. He needs to learn discretion," Micki insisted. "I'll stick by his side for a few weeks and he'll learn how to handle the media. We'll spin things in his favor," she assured them.
"He'd be better off pulling a Hugh Grant than acting the part of a sissy boy," Uncle Yank said. "Handle him, Mick."
Sophie snickered and Micki shot her a dirty look. "Don't worry. I will."
Annabelle had no doubt her sister would accomplish her goal. All three of them usually did. Although each took on a client as their own, they worked as a team, brainstorming and formulating a PR plan together. The only division occurred in how they assigned clients.
As every guy's friend, Micki preferred to tackle the difficult athletes. She enjoyed cultivating trust, smoothing ruffled feathers and keeping an athlete looking good to the media. Sophie, the brains in the family, thought, dressed and acted above it all. Her hair was always perfectly set, either professionally blown-dried or pulled into a conservative updo and her designer suits complemented the appearance she sought to present. Not surprisingly, photo shoots and an athlete's upscale ventures were more her terrain.
Annabelle preferred the guy's guy. The sweat-soaked, masculine football player who made a female look and feel feminine in comparison to his size, bulk and scent. She enjoyed being on the field and in the company of jocks, a weakness that tended to land her in trouble, starting with the high school captain of the football team who'd dated her, but then broken her heart when he'd cheated on her with her best friend.
Her bad luck with men had continued with the star quarterback at the University of Miami, who it turned out had only screwed her in order to have a pretty woman on his arm and get closer to her uncle Yank at the same time. After her first real broken heart, she'd decided since men desired arm candy, she'd darn well give them arm candy and enjoy herself at the same time. With her emotional walls firmly in place, she'd graduated with honors, received her MBA and come home to New York. Expanding the agency had been a real accomplishment and she took pride in working in its luxury offices with views of the East River, located in the heart of Manhattan.
Life had been great until Randy Dalton, linebacker for the N.Y. Giants, had slipped past her defenses. For the first time since college she'd allowed herself to think a man could care for more than what he saw on the outside, more than what her family business connections could bring. She'd indulged in an affair, knowing her heart would likely follow, and it had.
Since Randy was one of the wealthiest, most eligible bachelors in New York City, their romance had played out in public, dominating the media. When he'd moved on to a younger actress, Annabelle had been left behind, her heart hurt once more and the gossip rags only too eager to report the story in their unique way. In the six months since, Annabelle sometimes wondered if her ego had taken the bigger hit, but the end result was the same. She was finished with men. She was going to focus on her job, period.
"Sophie?" Uncle Yank barked, snapping Annabelle out of her daydreaming, philosophical funk.
"What's on your agenda?" he asked, moving along to the middle sister.
All the information was on the pages in his hands, but since he seemed to want more frequent face-to-face meetings, the sisters agreed to humor him.
"I'm just trying to keep the peace between Dalton and O'Keefe," Sophie said, of Annabelle's ex and the Giants' new owner.
Randy was the type of jock client Sophie would normally avoid, but after Annabelle's public breakup, Micki had been tied up so Sophie had been all too willing to take over representing Randy Dalton. Anna-belle didn't envy Randy.
"Like I told Dalton, he's too stupid to understand discretion and the fact that he's got contract negotiations coming up," Sophie said, confirming Annabelle's hunch that her middle sister enjoyed making the man feel like an ass day in and day out. "He's also too much of a jerk-off to remember that he broke Annie's heart and nobody in this family cares about anything more than the bottom line," Sophie said, defending her sister.
"Mouth, Sophie," Uncle Yank muttered. "Watch the mouth."
All three sisters rolled their eyes. "We learned our words from you," Annabelle reminded him. "And thanks for treating Dalton like the jerk he is, Soph." Still, Annabelle understood that business held sway and The Hot Zone would continue to represent the louse until either Dalton fired them or they could contractually cut him loose.
"Annabelle? What's going on in your end of things?" her uncle asked.
Annabelle looked forward to the twinkle in his eye when he glanced at her. Despite his grumbling, Annabelle knew just how much he adored her. "I just wrapped up overseeing Ernesto Mendoza's Nike commercial and put him on a plane back to Dallas. Last night I accompanied the chairman of NYCT's son to a charity gala. I made sure they know we've got the stars they want to support their cause. They'll turn to us before they look to Atkins for sponsors," she said, winking at her uncle.
Despite his long-standing friendship with Spencer Atkins, they were business rivals of the deepest sort, Annabelle knew. And she always looked out for Uncle Yank's best interest.
"That's my girl," Yank said in a voice infused with warmth and pride.
"Did you wear the Louis Vuitton dress?" Sophie asked, referring to Annabelle's newest acquisition.
Annabelle grinned. "You know it, sister." The dress, with its low vee in the back was perfect for keeping a man's attention on her, especially when his hand lay on the small of her bare back.
The banging gavel startled Annabelle and she jumped in her seat.
"Back to business," Uncle Yank grumbled and all three sisters laughed.
"Well besides all that, I've got the usual insanity waiting for me in my office," Annabelle said, wrapping up her summary.
"Micki?" Uncle Yank asked. "Got any openings for a new client?"
Micki shot her uncle a regretful glance. "Not right away. My schedule's booked. Armando's got the United Way shoot coming up and he made me promise I'd be there myself. And until the Post backs off the gossip and innuendo on Roper, I'm busy 24/7."
Uncle Yank rolled his eyes. "Hire him a hooker and book a photographer to take pictures of him in the act," he muttered. "Sophie?" Uncle Yank asked.
She spread her hands wide, also indicating there wasn't much she could do. "My schedule's pretty tight, too. Besides I'm not sure I can deal with another dumb jock ogling my boobs and trying to get into my pants while I'm attempting to book him for charity work."
"You need to lighten up," Micki said, offering her usual refrain. "You're such a stick in the mud, it's no wonder you haven't had a decent date in ages." She ribbed her sister and Annabelle awaited the fallout.
Sophie scowled. "I've dated plenty. Just not someone who rather smack another guy's behind than a woman's."
Micki let out an exaggerated sigh. "There's no way I'll ever buy that those intellectual types you go for do anything for you," she said as the two sisters launched into their typical bickering.
"Would you two save the personal stuff for after work?" Annabelle asked.
"Annie's right." The sound of the gavel broke the argument. "No sex talk in the boardroom," Yank said, his face beet-red as it always was when his nieces got on a roll.
The problem was, the girls never took him seriously. Not about the opposite sex, anyway. How could they when he'd never married and never tried to hide his string of women from them as they'd grown up?
From the time they'd moved in with their bachelor uncle, he'd used them to pick up women--until Lola had gotten wind of his chick-magnet scheme and taken over, joining them on trips to the park, the mall, and the playground, making them appear to be one big happy family. And putting a serious dent in Uncle Yank's social life in the process. The sisters loved Lola as their surrogate mom and Uncle Yank couldn't function a day in his life without her. He was just too stubborn to see how much he needed and loved her, too.
"Lola and I can handle whatever business comes up until Micki and Sophie's schedules clear," Annabelle said, returning them to the discussion at hand.
"But I think we should consider bringing in new publicists," Micki said. "We've discussed expanding before and I think we're getting close to having no choice."
Sophie and Annabelle murmured in agreement. They were getting too successful to handle everything themselves.
"We'll talk about it," Yank promised.
"Next meeting?" Annabelle insisted, knowing he'd avoid it otherwise. She would, too, for much the same reasons. Annabelle hated to lose the family atmosphere that now dominated The Hot Zone.
"Next meeting," he agreed. "You always did know how to lead this group," Uncle Yank said, chuckling.
"That's my job." Annabelle forced a laugh but his words sobered her as the past came back all too clearly. Little did Uncle Yank know, she'd had to take on the role of leader and peacekeeper.
As the oldest sibling when their parents died, the fear of being separated from her sisters lived in Annabelle's heart. She was the only one who'd heard the social worker's threat to the lawyer. If Uncle Yank, the bachelor, balked at taking the girls or if he screwed up in any way, they'd end up in foster care. Nobody would have wanted to adopt kids their age, especially all three of them. Keeping the family together had become Annabelle's obsession. So any time Sophie and Micki argued, those words came back to haunt Annabelle.
"So, on to discussing the potential new client?" Lola asked.
Annabelle was grateful for the subject change. "Who?" she asked.
Sophie and Micki exchanged looks, a sure sign they already knew.
"Brandon Vaughn," Micki said, practically jumping out of her seat to be the first to tell.
"The Heisman winner and Dallas's franchise player until he blew out his knee," Sophie said, proud of her ability to spout from memory.
"A Hall of Famer and Uncle Yank's prize client until the guy bailed on him after his injury," Lola continued to enlighten them.
As if Annabelle could forget. She'd been away at school at the time of his departure. But that hadn't been the end of Brandon Vaughn.
"We were introduced at a charity event a few years ago," Annabelle murmured aloud. His blue eyes were mesmerizing and when he'd looked at her, it was as if no other woman existed. Not even the bimbo on his arm.