Read Calling All the Shots Online

Authors: Katherine Garbera

Calling All the Shots

Candid Camera

The irony of working on a matchmaking reality TV show hosted
by the guy who broke her heart in high school has producer Willow Stead tied in
knots. Not only that, but Jack Crown even has the nerve to ask her out. Should
she risk taking him up on his offer?

The girl can’t help it!

Jack sees Willow Stead all grown up and has to have her. Soon
passions erupt that rival the drama on the show. But does Willow have a trick up
her sleeve that will throw the celebrity pitchman a major curveball?

He Lifted His Head, And She Felt Cold Without His Mouth Pressed
Against Hers.

“One kiss…I thought it would be enough, but I want more,” he
said.

She did, too, but this was Jack. And now that his mouth
wasn’t on hers… She pushed away from him and he let her go, his hands trailing
over her hips until they fell to his sides.

“That got out of hand,” she said.

“I don’t think so, but I guess you’re not ready for anything
more,” he said.

She sensed the frustration behind his words and she felt it,
too, but she wasn’t going to rush things with Jack. She still didn’t know how
she felt about him, and instead of making matters clearer, this night had only
served to muddle them.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t rush into this. I thought you were a
shallow guy when I came here tonight,” she admitted.

“And now?”

“I’m not sure,” she said.

She wasn’t sure about anything anymore.

Dear Reader,

I hope you enjoy this installment of the Matchmakers, Inc.
series. Willow was the spark for the entire series. I had this image in my head,
inspired in part by a production assistant I’d met when auditioning for TLC’s
Four Weddings,
of a woman who was clearly single
but liked seeing other people get together. I started thinking about what had
damaged her—relationship-wise.

I really wanted Jack to be the golden boy who seemed to have
just the perfect life and always got everything he desired. So that from the
outside, his life seemed the opposite of behind-the-scenes Willow, who was more
comfortable talking to the world through her shows.

And as I slowly created the characters over their four
stories, they really developed to me as people. I hope they have for you,
too!

Happy reading!
Katherine

Katherine Garbera

Calling All the Shots

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Other titles by this author available in ebook
format

KATHERINE GARBERA

is a
USA TODAY
bestselling
author of more than forty books who has always believed in happy endings. She
lives in England with her husband, children and their pampered pet, Godiva.
Visit Katherine on the web at
www.katherinegarbera.com
, or catch up with
her on Facebook and Twitter.

This book is dedicated to my family. I know that I thank them a
lot, but without them I don’t think I’d want to tell stories with happy endings.
So a big thank-you to Rob, Courtney, Lucas, Mom and Dad.

Acknowledgments

It feels wrong not to mention once again how wonderful my
editor Charles Griemsman is and how much fun I have chatting with him about
stories! Thank you for your guidance and insight.

One

M
ost days Willow Stead loved her job. She
felt very lucky to be pretty much her own boss. But not today.

The problem had actually started months ago, when the network
bigwigs had pulled some strings and gotten the second most popular television
host in America to work on her show. Great, right?

Not if that man was Jack Crown.

Sure, he was good-looking and charming. But beneath that toothy
grin and effervescent personality beat the heart of a rogue. While his type of
bad boy could be redeemed on TV or on the pages of a romance novel, in real life
he couldn’t. Which was something Willow knew firsthand, having had her heart
broken by this very man at the tender age of sixteen.

“Drinks, Willow, that’s all I’m suggesting,” Jack was saying
with that sexy smile of his.

There was no doubting why he’d been named one of
People’s
Sexiest Men Alive for the past four years.
But she was resistant to his appeal.
Yeah, right.
If
only the callousness she remembered—he’d stood her up on prom night, for Pete’s
sake—was enough to keep her from falling for him.

She’d done her best to keep her distance from him over the past
six months as they’d worked together on
Sexy &
Single,
the New York–based reality TV matchmaking show she was
producing. But she couldn’t deny she wanted to accept his invitation for
drinks.

“Um…you haven’t said no yet, so I guess you need me to talk you
into it,” he said, his voice dropping to an intimate whisper. “Is that what you
want?”

“What I want is for you to stop acting like I’m one of your
rotating harem,” she said, trying for disdain. “I’m not like all the other women
that fall at your feet.”

“Ah, you’ve wounded me,” he said, clutching at where his heart
should be.

“Doubtful,” she said. “But since we do need to discuss the
show, I’ll accept.”

“Geez, Willow, don’t sound so eager,” he said. “There was a
time when you used to enjoy being with me.”

She wrinkled her nose at him. She didn’t like being reminded of
her past infatuation. God, could she have been more obvious back then? If she
could write a letter to her sixteen-year-old self, she’d start it with STOP
MOONING OVER JACK CROWN! and be done with it.

“I’m not that girl anymore,” she said.

“I don’t believe that,” he said. “I still see shades of her in
how you act with everyone but me. Why is that? Clearly I’ve done something to
rub you the wrong way.”

“Just because I’m not buying your public image doesn’t mean
anything,” she said. “Gail has told me enough about PR for me to know that you
can’t be America’s Sweetheart in real life.”

Gail Little was one of Willow’s best friends and had been the
reason Willow had pitched the idea of this show to her bosses at the network.
Gail’s personal matchmaking experience had been captured on the first episodes
of
Sexy & Single
—her dates with New Zealand
billionaire playboy Russell Holloway had really brought in the viewers. The
quiet, sophisticated Gail taming the wild Russell had been ratings gold.

“Forget image. You know me,” he said. “What do you
believe?”

He didn’t want to know, and there was no way she was opening
that can of worms. “I don’t know you. Not really. You spend more time flying
cross-country to host your other shows than here on the set with me. But that
doesn’t matter. So what about those drinks?”

He rolled his eyes. “I’ll buy you dinner
and
drinks if you stop evading the question and tell me what’s going
on. We’ve been working together for six months and I keep getting the cold
shoulder from you. I must be remembering our high school years differently
because I thought we’d been friends.”

“You must be,” she said. “Can we eat out without your legions
of fans finding us?”

“No,” he said. “But I have an apartment that’s a short walk
from here. What do you say? Want to come back to my place?”

She started to shake her head but then stopped. She did want to
have dinner with him. A part of her was hoping he’d be interested in her so she
could date and dump him the way he’d dumped her the night of prom. She knew it
was petty and she didn’t like that about herself but she’d never been a
turn-the-other-cheek person.
Never.

She’d waited for the perfect moment to get her revenge. And it
looked like it had arrived a mere fourteen years later… Who said that patience
wasn’t rewarded?

“Okay, I’ll do it,” Willow said. Maybe she could include a
little anecdote about how Jack got his comeuppance in that letter to her
sixteen-year-old self.

“Good. How long until you’re done here?” he asked.

“About twenty minutes. I have to talk to the camera crew. They
had a problem on the shoot last night. Why don’t you leave me the address and
I’ll meet you there,” she said.

“You’re not going to back out, are you?”

“That’s not my plan. I said I’d be there.”

“Good. I thought I remembered you as a girl of your word,” he
said. There was a natural confidence about him that was so attractive—too bad
that she hated it. She wanted to see some cracks in the facade of America’s
Sweetheart. She wanted to see that life threw him curveballs once in a
while.

“Jack?”

“Hmm?”

“Women don’t like to be referred to as girls,” she said.

“My bad,” he said with a wink.

“You’re about to have an epic fail if you do it again.”

He laughed as he turned to walk away. She couldn’t help staring
at his fine backside until he disappeared through the door.

“Looks like hell might be in danger of freezing over,” Nichole
Reynolds said as she approached Willow.

“Shut up,” Willow said to her other best friend. Nichole was
the pop culture reporter for
America Today,
the
national newspaper, and wrote a behind-the-scenes blog for the show. And she was
one of the few people who knew the truth about Jack.

“Just saying. And you should be nicer to me, I’m about to be a
mommy,” Nichole said, patting her baby bump.

She had recently married Conner MacAfee, the owner of the
matchmaking service featured on the show, and was expecting her first child.
Nichole was truly happy with Conner, and Willow was glad for her friend.

“I have to be nice because you’re pregnant?” Willow asked. The
truth was there were two people in the world that Willow really cared about, and
Nichole was one of them.

“It wouldn’t hurt. So did I hear correctly—you’re having dinner
with Jack Crown? What happened to wanting revenge on him?” Nichole asked.

“I still do,” Willow admitted. “It’s just dinner. Even I’m not
so irresistible to make a man fall for me that quickly.”

Oh, God, where had that come from? She wasn’t that girl
anymore. The one who’d been so happy that a popular boy had smiled at her.

“Oh, Willow, don’t sell yourself short,” Nichole said with a
cheeky grin. “He is definitely interested in you.”

“For now. It’s just because I’ve been ignoring him. I bet if I
let him woo me tonight, he’d lose interest,” Willow said.

“I’ll take that bet,” Nichole said.

“What?”

“I bet he won’t lose interest in you,” Nichole said. “What do
you want to wager?”

“Nothing. I’m not really betting on Jack,” Willow said.

“Why not? You said he was shallow. What have you got to lose?”
Nichole asked.

Her pride.
What if she fell for him
a second time and had to watch him walk away again? She didn’t want to be the
loser in a relationship with him—twice. “I was being flip.”

“No, you weren’t. Come on, I’ll bet you a spa day at Elizabeth
Arden Red Door,” Nichole said.

“No fair, you know I love that place,” Willow said. “Why are
you insisting on this?”

Nichole wrapped her arm around Willow’s shoulder. “You can’t
trust any man because of that one incident with Jack so long ago. I want to see
you healed from that so you can find a guy and settle down like Gail and I did.
We’re happy and we want you to be, too.”

She hugged her friend back. A part of her wanted that, too. “I
just want him to feel the pain I felt.”

“I don’t care what the outcome is as long as you can move on,”
Nichole said.

“Okay, I’ll take the bet. But you’re going to lose and I’m
going to gloat,” Willow said.

“Fine by me, but if he stays interested in you, then I win, and
I’m going to save my spa day until after the baby comes.”

“Fair enough,” Willow said. “But they’ll be ice skating in hell
before I fall for Jack Crown.”

“You keep telling yourself that,” Nichole said. “It will make
my victory that much sweeter.”

* * *

November in New York had a certain excitement to it. Not
that the City ever lacked energy but there was something about this time of year
when everyone and everything seemed to be gearing up for Christmas.

For Jack, it was the beginning of one of his busiest times of
the year. He had three holiday specials that needed to be filmed—they were all
live tapings. Plus a year-end recap show of
Extreme
Careers,
his series that was otherwise already in the can. His agent
was on him about his next big gig and Jack knew he was moving into another phase
of his career. Finally he didn’t have to drum up work—producers and networks
were coming to him.

Since he was so busy it didn’t surprise him that this was when
Willow finally accepted a date with him. It was just like her to make his life a
little crazier. But then maybe that was why he’d been asking her out.

Jack looked around his apartment, making sure every detail was
perfect. It wasn’t so much that he was nervous—hey, he was Jack Crown and every
woman wanted to be with him—but this was Willow. He couldn’t say for sure when
he’d become so obsessed with her.

He suspected it was because unlike every other girl he met, she
just…treated him like he was part of her crew. No special smiles, no attempts to
get him alone. He knew that shouldn’t bother him. But it did.

He had faint memories of her from high school when she’d
tutored him in language arts so he wouldn’t fail the state test and could
continue to play football. But that was all. Just flashes of a younger Willow
interspersed with his football-playing days.

Back then football was his life. Considering he’d grown up in
Texas on the poorer side of town, there was only one real ticket out of poverty
for him—sports. He’d gone on to be a Heisman Trophy–winning wide receiver and
then a first-round draft pick for the New York Giants. Unfortunately, his first
time-out he’d been brought down by a career-ending tackle. He’d learned after
his injury that he was going to have to find something else to do and quick.
Luckily he’d always had an affinity for being on camera and had been able to
segue into a broadcasting gig.

The buzzer rang and he hurried over to answer it. His converted
loft building had a state-of-the-art security system. When he hit a button, a
small black-and-white screen showed Willow standing at the outside door.

He buzzed her in and then glanced around the apartment to make
sure everything was in order. He didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know
that Willow wasn’t going to give him another chance at getting this right. This
working date had to be perfect.

There was a knock on the door and he smiled to himself as he
crossed to open it. He planned on knocking her socks off and ensuring that when
she left his apartment—preferably in the morning—she’d be dying to see him
again.

Willow had an earthy sensuality about her that made him more
aware of her sexually each time they met. At first, he’d just wanted to rekindle
their old friendship, but as she’d continued to ignore him, she’d awakened
something primal inside of him. He suspected an affair with Willow would affect
their working relationship, but at this point he knew his ego would settle for
nothing less than having her. He needed to prove to both of them that she’d made
a mistake by ignoring him.

He opened the door and Willow scowled up at him. She looked
tired and thin, something he hadn’t noticed when they were on the set or even in
the editing booth. She always moved with so much energy, but tonight she seemed
worn out.

Not exactly the right mood he needed her in. But he’d grown up
with a single mom and had learned early on how to cheer her up with a lot of
attention. So he shifted gears in his head.

He pulled her close for a hug, rubbing her back. But she wedged
her arms between them. “What are you doing?”

“You looked like you needed a hug,” he said, stepping back and
leading her into his apartment. It wasn’t overly luxurious like the apartment
they’d photographed him at for
Architectural Digest
a few months back. He couldn’t live like that. He supposed it was the small-town
Texas boy in him but that kind of opulence made him feel out of place.

His loft was an open floor plan with a kitchen at one end and a
huge entertainment area on the other. That was one thing he didn’t mind
splurging on. There were large comfortable couches as well as a nicely appointed
dining area.

“I could use a drink,” Willow said.

“Wine, beer or something stronger?” he asked. He had a fully
stocked bar, even though he wasn’t much of a drinker. He didn’t like feeling out
of control. He’d learned that after a brief stint of stupidity when he’d been
recovering from his knee injury and had had no job prospects.

“What kind of wine do you have?” she asked.

“Just about every kind. I endorse a vineyard and they send me a
case of everything they make,” he said with a wry grin.

“That’s right. You’re everyone’s favorite ad man. I like dry
white wine,” she said.

“Coming right up. Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes. Do
you want to go out on the balcony?” he asked.

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