1) Hit the NYT bestseller list with latest novel
2) Find a great guy and start living a perfect life
3) Try to stay in her own bed!
When author Becky Stone's horoscope predicted that the New Year would bring her great things, she never expected the first thing she'd experience would be great sex! But after the crushing news that the only way to save her career is to coauthor a book with chauvinistic Adam Maxwell, Becky needs something to go right. And what could be more right than spending an incredible New Year's Eve in the arms of a seriously sexy stranger?Only, the man in her bed isn't going to be a stranger much longer...
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November 30, 2007
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Excerpt from Strokes of Midnight by Hope Tarr
"Turnabout is fair play, Falco, or hadn't you heard? Now where are the bloody plans?"
Dressed in dominatrix black leather down to her spiked heels, Angelina trained the subcompact Beretta on the silver-haired man lying in the center of the mussed bed. Red silk scarves lashed his wrists to the bedposts, and sweat from the long, rough ride she'd just given him rolled down his taut neck and leanly muscled torso.
The year before, the double agent had seduced her and then stolen the missile plans from her flat while she lay wrapped in silken sheets and the afterglow of his expert lovemaking. To add insult to injury, he had then turned over the plans to a twenty-two-year-old blonde for a ridiculously small sum. Rumor had it the plans were once again for sale on the black market--and that Falco knew exactly who the latest purchaser was.
Falco's deep-set dark eyes met hers from across the room. "Angelina, love, you wouldn't shoot me, not after that incredible shag we just shared. Now be a good girl and let me loose."
His cocky self-assurance made her palms itch to slap his handsome lying face--again. "Don't flatter yourself. I would have shot you when I first spotted you at the embassy ball earlier tonight, only my gown was vintage Valentino and I hated to ruin it with the splatter."
"The book tanked, Becky. I'm sorry."
Pat punctuated her pronouncement by upending the bottle of ketchup over her burger. The bright red glob landing atop the plump, midrare patty might as well have been Becky's career lifeblood.
Eyes watering, Becky took a moment to recover from the sip of champagne she'd just aspirated. Hearing the word tanked in the context of her hoped-for bestseller was like watching the New Year's ball drop over Times Square--and then detonate. "I'm uh...sorry, I must have misheard you. It sounded like you said--"
"Tanked, bit the dust, bought the big one--take your pick." Pat slapped the top of her bun back on, picked up the burger and sank her teeth in for a sloppy bite. "Publishing is a tough business and, as the saying goes, 'them's the breaks.'"
Oh, God. Becky felt as though the Grinch had stolen her Christmas, not just the tree but all the trimmings, including her favorite Christmas carols and her goodwill toward men. "B-but...the sales on the launch book were solid and the reviews on this book were all--"
"Raves," Pat finished for her, ketchup dribbling down the side of her mouth. The senior editor slid her side plate of crispy thin fries toward Becky. "Try a pomme frite. They're delish with this Dijon mayonnaise."
Becky resisted the urge to slap a hand over her forehead, which had begun pounding like a bad hip-hop beat. As if a strip of deep-fried potato with a fancy French name could possibly make her feel better. "Thanks, but I'll pass."
Pat picked up a fry and stabbed it into the space between them. "Know what differentiates my star authors from midlist schmucks? It's not talent, though sure, talent helps. It's not looks, though those don't hurt, either. It's moxie, balls, perseverance--take your pick. Today's bestsellers, Becky, are all writers who've persevered, who've done whatever it took to claw their way back to the top of the industry heap. You have to reinvent yourself. Who was that silent film actress who said 'failure isn't the falling down but the staying down.' It's time to make like the Nike ads and just do it."
The slogan-packed pep talk had Becky feeling more panicked than inspired. "Okay, I'll reinvent myself, but how? I mean, I thought that's what I was doing by blending romantic erotica with a mystery element."
Pat nodded, her sprayed-in-place platinum hair reminiscent of Meryl Streep's in The Devil Wore Prada. "And it was high-concept, very high-concept--for its time."
For...its...time. The gale force of those three chilling words knocked Becky back against the booth seat. The point was, she was dated, she was done. Pat might as well pull a miniature bugle out of her Fendi shoulder bag, play some taps and make it official.
"The problem is the mainstream market for genre fiction has been shrinking steadily. It's only the established star authors who've managed to hold on to their spots. Midlist up-and-comers like you are getting squeezed out. You came on the scene a few years too late to break in. Under the circumstances, I can't offer you another multibook contract. The fact is, I can't offer you a contract at all."
So much for those forecasted fresh starts and dazzling opportunities. With no regular paycheck to fall back on, she'd been counting on her advance to pay the bills for the coming year. "But I thought you said--"
"That was before the feedback from the reader poll we ran from our Web site rolled in. Readers are burned out on Angelina's bed-hopping lifestyle."
Feeling queasy, Becky pushed her salad entr�e away. "But I thought her willingness to put herself out there sexually was what they liked about her?"
Pat passed a bright-pink thumbnail over her front teeth and shook her head. "Not anymore they don't. They want to see her meet her match and settle down with a sexy male counterpart."
Becky couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Are you saying readers want Angelina to be monogamous?"
Pat frowned, the deep crease in her brow hinting it must be time for her next Botox treatment. Ordinarily the fifty-something's face was as tight as a twenty-year-old's and as immobile as a mannequin's. "Don't say it like it's a four-letter word. Monogamy is very hip right now. Even if it's serial monogamy, readers like to see one guy and one girl at a time."
Becky laid a hand alongside her temple where the pounding had segued into thousands of tiny needles jabbing away. "But Angelina doesn't stay in any one place long enough to form long-term relationships, romantic or otherwise. That's the glamour of her job as a crime-solving secret agent. She's always on the go."
"And she can still be on the go, only instead of just designer luggage she'll travel with a sexy partner." Pat dusted crumbs from her fingers and leaned in as though to share a confidence. "Angelina needs a man who's not just another pretty face but who's her match in every way. A man's man but not a Neanderthal, an American version of James Bond sans the tuxedo and the shaken-not-stirred martini, a guy's guy who's also sexy, gutsy, smart and sophisticated--but not so sophisticated he comes off as a wimp."
Relief flooded Becky. Her editor hadn't written her off. Pat was still on her side, still in there pitching for her. Her career wasn't dead. She was just experiencing one of those annoying setbacks most writers cycled through at some point in their careers. Like a bad menstrual period or a zit that took extra-extra long to clear, eventually this, too, would pass.
"Gotcha!" Buzzing on adrenaline, she nodded profusely and slipped to the edge of her seat. "I'll get to work on writing him ASAP. You'll have the revised proposal early next week."
Was it her admittedly overactive imagination at work or did Pat suddenly look the tiniest bit uncomfortable? "That's the best part. You don't have to create him. He's, uh...already created."
Becky was feeling more confused by the minute. "Already created? But how..."
Dropping her gaze, Pat played with the lone fry left on her plate. "Ever read any of Adam Maxwell's 'Drake's Adventures' books?"
The sucker punch hit Becky dead-on, a direct shot to the solar plexus that again had her choking on her champagne. "Adam Maxwell. The Adam Maxwell! If you're suggesting what I think you are, my answer is no, no way. Not on your life--or mine."
Of all the writers to propose teaming her with, Adam Maxwell was the very worst Pat could have come up with. The reclusive author rarely ventured forth from his home in New Hampshire's White Mountains, but Becky couldn't fault him for that. Introversion was a forgivable failing, particularly among writers. When you spent the majority of your waking hours creating splendid, larger-than-life fictional characters, finding real flesh-and-blood human beings to measure up was no small feat. Occupation aside, Maxwell was a native New Englander and New Englanders had a reputation for keeping to themselves. No, ifAdam Maxwell had stuck with banging out his bestsellers from behind bolted cabin doors, Becky would have no beef with him.
her blood boiling. In the interview he'd given just after his second book hit the bestseller lists, he'd shown himself to be a chauvinistic jerk. A year later, his remark likening romance novels to "housewife porn" still stuck in Becky's craw. Ever since reading that quote in the NewYorker, she and her fellow romance writer buddies had voted Maxwell the still-living white male novelist they could feel good about hating. Who was he to judge another writer's work, anyway? He penned action-adventure novels. It's not like he was friggin' Hemingway.
Pat dropped the fry and looked up. "I love your writing, Becky, you know I do, but with these disappointing numbers, I can't sell you It was the outlandish things he said when he did venture out into the public eye that set upstairs. Teaming you with Adam Maxwell would be a way to keep you in the game, maybe even boost you into the bestseller league. What do you say?"