The best Christmas present ever!
Photographer Sammy Thompson has learned the hard way to protect herself. After surviving cancer, she's not about to risk her emotions on just anyone! But meeting buttoned-up barrister Nick Kennedy at a charity calendar shoot, and feeling the sparks between them, makes Sammy wonder what she's been missing out on...
Sammy's never dreamed of forever, but as she gets to know the man behind the pinstripes, dare she hope Nick will make it a Christmas to remember with the most magical gift of all—his heart?
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Kate Hardy always loved books and could read before she went to school. She discovered Harlequin books when she was twelve and decided this was what she wanted to do. When she isn't writing Kate enjoys reading, cinema, ballroom dancing and the gym. You can contact her via her website: www.katehardy.comExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Sammy laughed as the penny finally dropped. 'So you want me to photograph naked men for you?'
Ayesha, who chaired the Friends of the London Victoria Hospital, squirmed and stared into her latte. 'Put like that, it sounds terrible!'
'I know what you meant. Do it artistically,' Sammy said, still smiling. 'A calendar of hot men to raise funds for the cancer ward. It's a great idea. So do you have a bunch of sexy doctors lined up to pose for me?'
'A couple,' Mari, the vice-chair, said. 'But we were thinking maybe we can include other people who've been involved with the ward.'
'Cured patients, so you can say that this is what a cancer survivor looks like? That could work well.' And, for a cause like that, Sammy would seriously think about going public and baring her own leg, if they couldn't get enough models.
'We were thinking relatives of patients,' Ayesha said. 'Ones with high profiles locally. We've got an actor, a musician, a chef, a gardener...'
'So I could maybe shoot them in their own locations, doing their job. That'd work really well,' Sammy said. 'And they're all happy about posing naked—provided I preserve their modesty?'
'Ye—es,' Ayesha said.
The hesitation told her everything. 'You didn't actually tell them it meant posing naked, did you?' Sammy asked.
'We're going to,' Mari said. 'We can talk them into it.'
'As I'll need signed model release forms before I can let you use the photographs, I'm afraid you'll have to do that.' Sammy looked at her diary. 'If you're using the hospital as a location, I could shoot the whole lot in a day, but if I need to go to different places then I'll have to work out a schedule based on the locations and the availability of the models.' She scribbled some notes down on a pad. 'These are the best times for me to do it, but I can also work round a couple of other things if you need me to. Talk to your models and let me know where and when you want me to do the shoots.'
'Sammy, you're a star. Thank you so much,' Ayesha said.
Sammy shrugged off the praise. 'It's the least I can do. If it wasn't for the treatment I had here when I was a teen—' and again two years ago '—then I wouldn't be here. And this means I can give something back.' She smiled. 'This is going to be fun. And we're going to raise a ton of money for the ward.'
Nick folded his arms and looked at his sister.
'All right, Mandy. Out with it.'
'Out with what?' she deadpanned.
'Amanda Kennedy, I've known you for thirty-five years.'
'At least one year of which you wouldn't remember, because you were a baby at the time,' she retorted.
'Agreed,' he said, 'but I can always read your expression. So don't ever take up playing poker, will you?'
She sighed. 'I guess.'
Nick had known that tonight wasn't just about his sister giving him an update on his nephew's cancer treatment. Despite going through a messy divorce, Mandy still believed in love and happy endings. And all too often she tried to fix him up with someone she thought would be his perfect date. Nick had stopped believing in love years ago, and he'd learned the hard way that you couldn't be successful both in love and in your career. So after the break-up of his marriage he'd gone for the safe option and concentrated on his career.
No doubt this was another of Mandy's friends who really needed a plus-one for a dinner party and he'd fit the bill perfectly. OK. He'd help out, but he'd make it clear that he wasn't looking for a relationship. Nowadays he didn't do anything deeper than casual dating.
Then his sister said something he really hadn't expected. 'The Friends of the Hospital are doing a calendar to raise funds for the ward.'
He didn't need to ask which ward. The cancer ward. The one that had treated his nephew Xander for osteosarcoma. Well, he could do something to help there, too. 'If they're looking for a sponsor to cover production costs, count me in.'
Mandy reached across the table and squeezed his hand. 'Aww, Nick. I knew you'd offer to help before I could ask you. But they already have a sponsor for printing costs.'
'OK. What else do they need to cover? Distribution? Warehouse? Paying the photographer?'
'Um—not that, either. The photographer's doing it for nothing.' 'Then what?'
She took a deep breath. 'They want you to be one of the models.'
'Me?' He looked at her, totally shocked. He knew his sister had been under a lot of stress recently, but had she gone temporarily insane? 'Why?'
Mandy raised her eyebrows. 'Need I remind you that you actually got approached by a model agency when you were seventeen?'
'And I didn't take up their offer.' He might have considered it, to fund his way through university; but a couple of weeks later their parents had split up and life had disintegrated into chaos. Nick had forgotten all about the modelling offer and retreated into his studies. Concentrating on his books was what had got him through all the upheaval of his parents' divorce. Just as concentrating on his job had got him through the misery of his own divorce.
'Seriously, Nick—will you do it? They're looking for people who are connected with the ward.'
As Xander's uncle, he definitely had that connection.
'And they want people with interesting jobs.'
'A barrister isn't that exciting,' he said.
'Yes, it is. You look like a film star in your wig and gown.'
He rolled his eyes. 'Mandy, I'm just an ordinary guy.'
'Like hell you are. Apart from the fact that you're my little brother, which would make you special in any case, can I remind you that you're one of the youngest ever barristers appointed to being a QC?'
He grimaced. 'Why would anyone be interested in that?' About the only people who would even know what a QC was were people who had needed to brief one. Or maybe fans of certain types of TV crime drama.
'And you'd be helping raise money for the ward. Money they really need for new equipment.'
That was an unbeatable argument, and they both knew it. How could he possibly say no? This was to help other kids who were in Xander's position. And a little voice in his head added selfishly that maybe if he did it, then that would persuade Fate to give Xander a break and keep him in remission. And for that Nick would do almost anything.
'Will you do it?' she asked.
He closed his eyes briefly. 'All right.'
She smiled. 'Good. Thank you. I'll give your phone number and email to them, then— I'll do that now, if you don't mind, because they're waiting on my answer.'
'OK.' But Mandy was still hiding something, he was sure. 'And the rest of it?' he asked.
She blinked. 'What do you mean?' 'You're holding something back.' She shrugged and tapped a message into her phone.
'Just save us both the time and tell me the rest of it, Mandy,' he said, leaning back and eyeing her over his glass of water.
'OK.' She sat back in her own chair and looked at him straight. 'Since you ask, you're going to be naked.'
'What?' He'd just taken a sip of water and he nearly choked on it. Naked? He must've misheard. No way would his sister have done this to him.
'You won't be showing anything,' she said.
'Define naked,' he said grimly.
'In court. Wearing your wig and robe.'
He shook his head. 'I'm afraid I can't do that, Mandy. The Head of Chambers would never agree to it.'
'Um, he already has.'
He blinked hard. Was he hearing things? Leo had already said yes? But—how? 'You what?'
'I talked to your clerk this morning,' she said. 'And he thinks it's a great idea.'
Now Nick was beginning to understand all the knowing smiles that had greeted him all afternoon. The news must've gone round chambers in ten seconds flat—gossip that juicy would never be ignored. And they'd all known that he didn't have a clue what was going on, making it even more fun for them.
'So what exactly did Gary say?' he asked, keeping his voice low and even and meanwhile planning how he was going to make his clerk grovel hugely in the morning.
'He put me through to your Head of Chambers. Then I told Leo all about it and he said he thought it was really a good idea, too. And he's getting clearance for us so you can do the shoot in the local court. He says he'll cover any photographic permission costs at the court himself.'
'Oh, good God.' With his boss on side, there was no way Nick could get out of it. He covered his face with his hands. 'Please tell me this is some weird, surreal dream. Please tell me it's a nightmare and I'm going to wake up. Preferably right now.'
'Nick, I've already told them you said yes,' Mandy said plaintively.
'That was before I knew I was going to be naked. This is a seriously bad idea, Mandy,' he said softly. 'I'm a senior barrister. I have to respect the dignity of the court. Which doesn't mean posing naked—or near-naked—for a calendar shoot, no matter how noble the cause is.'
'But Leo said it would be OK. And... Nick, we need you,' Mandy pleaded. 'And it's not as if you're the only one with a responsible job. One of the surgeons at the hospital is doing it.'
'Which is publicity for his own place of work.'
'And I think there's an actor and a musician on their list. And a chef.'
'All of whom would get a career boost from the publicity,' he pointed out.
'Please, Nick. For me. And for Xander.'
'It doesn't look as if I've got much choice,' he said grimly. 'But promise me you'll never, ever pitch a stunt like this again.'
'I promise. I'm sorry, Nick.' She bit her lip. 'But the ward needs the money.'
Lack of money meant lack of equipment. Which in turn meant that some kids wouldn't get the treatment they so badly needed. And that meant that those kids might even die.
Which was Nick's worst nightmare regarding his nephew.
And he was in a position to change that. To give more kids a chance of life—the same amazing chance that Xander had been given. All he had to do was pose for one little picture that would help to publicise the cause and encourage people to donate.
One little naked picture.
It really went against the grain. But far worse was the thought of his nephew dying and the way it would shatter all their lives and devastate his elder sister.
'All right,' he said, blowing out a breath. 'But I need to double-check this with Leo myself, first, and make sure that he's absolutely clear on all the details. And if he changes his mind and says that I can't do it, then I'll sell calendars by hand for you—and I'm very persuasive, so I'll sell tons of them to everyone in the whole of Inner Temple and Middle Temple. Plus I'll also give a personal donation to match those sales. Double.' Time and money. They'd be a good alternative to posing naked for a calendar, wouldn't they?
And hopefully he'd be able to persuade his Head of Chambers that having one of his barristers naked and in the focus of the press might not be such a good idea...
* * *
And of course Leo still said yes. Even when Nick pointed out exactly what was involved.
So, two weeks later, Nick found himself heading to the local Crown court. Leo had arranged for Court Number Two to be used outside the normal court working hours, though there was still a chance that Nick might bump into someone he knew who'd want to know what he was doing hanging round the court building when he wasn't in a trial—especially when he looked as scruffy as he did right now.
S. J. Thompson, the photographer, had sent him a couple of very business-like texts to arrange the photo shoot and explain that Nick needed to dress casually and remove anything that might cause a mark on his skin—socks, collars, waistbands and the like—at least two hours before the shoot.
For putting him through something as embarrassing as this—not to mention the teasing he knew he'd get from his colleagues when the calendar actually came out—Fate had better keep Xander safe, Nick thought grimly.
When he got to the court, carrying his court attire in its usual boxes, there was nobody waiting outside. The only person he could see in the lobby was a woman who looked to be in her late twenties or so, wearing black trousers, a black silky short-sleeved top and black shoes. Her blonde hair was cropped so short as to be almost a military cut. She didn't look remotely like the man Nick was here to meet.
She looked up from her book, then closed it, stood up and walked towards him. 'Nick Kennedy, I presume?'
He blinked. Was she the photographer's assistant or something? 'Yes.'
'Thank you for being on time. I'm S. J. Thompson—though you can call me Sammy, if you like.' She held out her hand for him to shake.
'You're S. J. Thompson?' Even as the words came out, he realised how dim they sounded. And how stupid of him to assume that the use of initials meant that the photographer was male.
She gave him a slight smile. 'I'm afraid so.'
Clearly he wasn't the first to have made that mistake. 'I—er—nice to meet you,' he said, feeling totally wrong-footed.
And, when he shook her hand, awareness zinged through every pore. Sammy Thompson was the most striking woman he'd met in a long time. And that severe haircut only served to highlight how pretty and feminine her face was. There was nothing masculine at all about her. Her mouth was a perfect rosebud, and he found himself wanting to trace her lower lip with his fingertip. Worse still, he could picture himself doing that before leaning in and kissing her. Lightly at first, a touch as light as a butterfly's wing, and then deepening the kiss as she responded.
He shook himself mentally. Oh, for pity's sake. This was business. OK, maybe not the normal kind of business he'd conduct here in the court, but it was still business. And he wasn't exactly known for having ridiculous flights of fancy.
But he did feel uncomfortable right now.
It was nothing to do with sexism—as far as he was concerned, it was how you did your job that mattered, not what your gender or your sexual orientation or your religion was—but Sammy's gender made this situation a little more difficult. Because it meant that now he was going to be stripping off in front of a woman he'd never met before.
Either his doubts showed on his face or she was used to this reaction from the people she photographed, because she said softly, 'It's not going to be as bad as you think. And, if it helps, remember that I'll be seeing you simply as a life model rather than as an actual person. I don't tend to hit on my models.'
'I—yes. Of course. Sorry.' How long had it been since he'd felt in a whirl, like this? He was never this pathetic and woolly. And he really hoped he didn't look as if he was staring at her. He forced himself to look away. 'I believe we have Court Number Two booked.'
'My equipment's already in there, though I haven't set it up fully yet,' she said. 'Once we've decided precisely where you're going to stand, it won't take me long. Oh, and we really ought to cover the legal details now.'
Legal details? That got his attention.
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Book Description Harlequin, 2015. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. New item. May have light shelf wear. Bookseller Inventory # 170418130
Book Description Harlequin, 2015. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110373743572
Book Description Harlequin, 2015. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0373743572