The Good, the Bad, and the Sexy

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9780553582840: The Good, the Bad, and the Sexy
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The spotlight doesn’t get any hotter than this...

Rachel Marsh doesn’t have time to think about the pampered lives of Hollywood stars. She’s too busy running her family’s Lazy M Ranch in Arizona. But even Rachel has heard of Jackson Stone, the green-eyed movie megahunk known for his sexual prowess both on- and offscreen. Jackson is the last person Rachel would expect to show up looking for work as a cowboy. But that’s exactly what happens . . . and now Rachel has her hands full keeping her mind on the Lazy M--and off Jackson!

After a nasty tabloid scandal, Jackson has decided it would be best to spend a little time out of the public eye. When he stumbles across the Lazy M Ranch, he hatches a brilliant plan: to convince its pretty owner to let him go undercover as a cowboy until things blow over. Jackson sees nothing wrong with spending a little time incognito--especially with a woman like Rachel, who looks as good roping cattle as she does by the light of an intimate campfire. Now, far from inquiring eyes, these two slightly cynical lovers are going to discover just how good they are at being bad . . . and the outcome may be more than downright sexy. It may be true love.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Emily Carmichael, award-winning author of twenty-one novels and novellas, has won praise for both her historical and contemporary romances. She currently lives in her native state of Arizona with her husband and a houseful of dogs.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Jackson Stone was a mess. Blood was everywhere. And the oozing wound on his leg wasn't exactly appetizing.

Maybe he should wash off the gore before lunch. But after a morning chasing drug runners through the southern Arizona desert, not to mention being beaten to a pulp by said drug runners, his tanks were on empty. If he took time to shower, all the salami sandwiches would be gone. He'd be stuck with ham, or worse, bologna. You would think a big film company working in the back of beyond would fly in enough salami so that everyone who wanted salami could have salami.

Right then the thought of any kind of a sandwich made his mouth water. For the fifth time in the last hour he lay down in the scorching sand, supposedly unconscious, while his partner awaited his cue to leap to the rescue. When this take was finally in the can, he decided, salami first, then a shower.

"Cut!" Dave Goldman yelled. "Dammit, Rick! You missed your goddamned cue again! What do you want? An engraved invitation?"

Jackson opened his eyes in time to see Rick Carroll step onto the set and pull a grimace.

"Sorry."

"Sorry," Goldman whined, dripping sarcasm. He was short, rotund, and resembled a bald teddy bear, but his unimpressive stature didn't keep him from being one of the most intimidating directors in the film industry. In his day he'd chewed up and spit out the likes of Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood. A pipsqueak rock star turned movie actor didn't even make him blink. "He's sorry!" he snarled. "How many times do we have to shoot this scene to get a take? Goddamned amateurs!"

The female lead tossed her tousled blond hair and a sinister-looking drug lord leaned against a dusty Lincoln Navigator, watching with a smile as one of the "good guys" got his butt chewed. Reluctantly surrendering his visions of salami, Jackson sprang up, carefully preserving the fake blood splashed about his leg, chest, and shoulder. "How about some water over here? I've got enough dirt in my mouth to plant potatoes."

He and the director exchanged looks, and The Goldman reluctantly abandoned his tirade.

"Ten minute break, everybody, and then we're going to shoot this again. And I swear anyone who flubs a line or ruins this take is going to get his ass fired. That's a promise!" As a production assistant handed out cold bottles of Aquafina, he growled, "Water! Dammit, where's a bottle of whiskey when I need it?"

Jackson chuckled. "On the wagon again, Dave? That why you're such a bear?"

"Watch it, Stone. The mood I'm in, I might even fire your ass."

The production assistant looked horrified. Jackson smiled and gave her a good-natured wink. No film director, not even David Goldman, was going to fire Jackson Stone, and Jackson knew it.

"Take it easy on Carroll, Dave. This film's his big break. He's nervous."

"The kid's stupid."

"Rick Carroll has teenage hearts throbbing all over America and Europe. Do you know how much money teenagers spend on movies?"

"He's still stupid."

"I suppose you were never young and stupid?"

"Damned right I wasn't. Not that stupid."

Jackson smiled dryly. "Right. I wasn't, either."

Dave cast his eyes toward the sky, as if seeking help from on high. "Two more days of good shooting. Just give me two more days, and we'll wrap this puppy up on time and only slightly over budget. Is that so much to ask?" He looked sideways at Jackson and changed the subject abruptly. "The scuttlebutt is, your wife is going to get an Oscar for her Queen Elizabeth."

"Ex-wife, Dave. Very important. Ex-wife. Melanie was a natural for that part. QE I was one of her former lives, according to her."

"Whatever. It was a dynamite performance."

"I never said she doesn't have talent."

"So I would count it a favor if you'd put in a good word with her for the script Dreamworks just sent her. I'm directing."

"Mel doesn't listen to a thing I say, Dave."

"Ah, c'mon, Jackson. What about the rumor of you two getting back together after all this time? What's it been? Five years since the divorce?"

"Six. Been reading Josh Digby's column in the Star, have you? Don't you know that son of a bitch makes up stories out of thin air?"

Goldman grunted. "You and Mel are seen together a lot."

"We're friends. Sometimes. And sometimes we're not friends. Right now, Mel would rather annoy me than do me favors."

"Just employ a little of that famous Stone charm."

Jackson chuckled. "All right, Dave. For you, I'll try."

"That's my man. Now, you ready to get beat up again?"

"Bring it on."

Forty minutes later Dave had his take, and Jackson headed for a cold beer and air-conditioning in his trailer. Late July was hell in the southern Arizona desert.

His young co-star fell into step beside him. "Hey, Jackson. Thanks, man. I overhead what you said to Deadly Dave back there when I screwed up."

"Everyone screws up, Rick."

"Well, yeah, but I appreciate it, man. It was big of you. You know, some guys would've taken the chance to stab me in the back. Competition, you know. Not wanting to share the spotlight."

Jackson grinned. "Didn't think of that. Maybe I'll go back and tell Dave to toss you off the set."

Rick's baby blues widened for just a moment, then he grinned. "Right." He gave Jackson a manly punch on the shoulder and laughed. "I'm headed for the roach coach. Wanna come?"

Somehow, that salami sandwich just wouldn't have the same flavor eaten in Rick's company. "Not today. Got business."

"Yeah. I see you do."

A statuesque assistant to the assistant to the assistant producer intercepted them.

"Nice business," Rick gibed. "Hey, Carrie."

"Hey, Ricky." The twenty-something redhead gave the younger man a friendly smile, but when that smile settled on Jackson, it heated up. "I have a pitcher of margaritas in the motel freezer," she told Jackson. "Call me after shooting if you're interested."

She gave him a simmering smile as she left. Jackson and Rick both followed her retreating figure with appreciative eyes.

"Man, how do you do that?"

"Do what?" Jackson asked as they came up to his trailer.

"Handle babes like that? Every one of the hot ladies on this set has eyes for you, man. And not one of them seems to mind that you spread yourself around like butter on toast. They all know you're stepping out with everything female in a ten-mile radius."

Jackson raised a brow. "I'm not quite that active."

"Don't get me wrong, man. I'm in awe. Abject admiration."

Jackson resigned himself. If he wanted his beer and air-conditioning, he was obviously going to have to invite the kid in for a few minutes. Rick accepted the invitation with alacrity. Jackson popped two cold ones and handed one to his guest.

"I wish I had your moves," Rick said. "You've got Carrie, Kendra, and Shirley all drooling over you. And didn't you take Sara Byron to the Golden Globe Awards? She is hot. Absolutely volcanic."

"From what I've seen, you don't do too bad yourself, Rick."

"Oh, yeah. No complaints. But last time I tried playing the field, I nearly got my eyes scratched out."

"There's a lesson there."

"What?"

"If you just want to have fun, go with women who want the same thing. Stay away from the ladies who want commitment until you're ready to commit. Simple as that. Be honest. Be direct. Don't promise what you're not going to deliver."

"Sounds right."

Jackson took a long pull on his Michelob. "The women I go out with are terrific. They're fun. They like good company and a good time but want to keep their independence. And they let me keep mine."

"And they stay friendly after you dump them."

"I've never dumped a woman."

"Well, for sure no woman is going to dump Jackson Stone."

"We reach a friendly mutual agreement." That was the way he and Mel had broken up-friendly mutual agreement. They agreed they weren't good for each other. Most of the time they managed to stay on friendly terms. The tabloids made a big deal of their occasionally going to dinner or showing up together at a party, but then, the tabloids tried to make a big deal of everything.

" 'Friendly mutual agreement,' " Rick echoed. "I like that. Maybe I should give it a try," Rick said. "It might limit the fireworks. But it seems like a dude your age would be looking for a permanent lady. You know"-his eyes crinkled puckishly-"someone to enjoy retirement with once I totally eclipse you on the big screen."

Jackson laughed. "Dream on, kid. You're not ready for my parts or my ladies. And you'll learn sooner or later that permanent relationships don't mix well with celebrity. It's one of the prices you pay. Most of us learn the hard way."

"That's a fact!" Rick grinned and tossed his beer bottle into the recycling can, a perfect shot. "Gotta go, man. Thanks for the beer."

"Anytime."

Alone at last, Jackson breathed in a welcome drag of air-conditioning and considered his options. Salami or shower?

Shower, he decided. Then sandwich. And another beer. He peeled off his shirt and tossed it in the laundry basket, but before he could turn on the shower, Harvey Mathias, his personal assistant, banged through the trailer door without knocking and slammed a newspaper down on the table.

Once a linebacker for the Nebraska Huskers, Harvey looked ready to tackle someone. "Did you read the garbage Helen Gordon wrote in the Times today?"

Helen Gordon was one of L.A.'s foremost critics. She criticized films, plays, actors, producers, directors, screenwriters, the mayor and city council, and just about anyone else who wandered within range. And all too frequently, The Powers That Be in the film industry listened to what she said.

"If it was about me," Jackson said, "I doubt it was anything good. She thinks I have about as much talent as a piece of white bread."

"Read!" Harvey invited.

Jackson picked up the paper, which was folded to Helen's column. He scanned through the paragraphs concerning other unfortunates who had merited the woman's attention and found the speculation that Touchstone was talking to him about taking the lead in a gritty, Steinbeck-like story set among struggling farm families in 1950s Kansas. Her speculation, as usual, was right on target. Touchstone was talking, and he was listening. The role would be a departure from his usual thrillers and gunpowder-stained westerns-a departure his career needed, if he was to keep making films once the public discovered a newer, younger action hero to root for.

He read:

Touchstone will insure the film's mediocrity if they cast Stone, whose box-office draw is considerably more substantial than his versatility. Despite Stone's nod from the academy for Second Sight, this role calls for someone with more grit than good looks, and if Stone has grit, he certainly hasn't shown it so far. I doubt the man has ever seen the business end of a shovel or has a pair of work gloves in his wardrobe. Director Howard doesn't need a manicured mannequin for this role; he needs someone who knows what it's like to get his hands dirty and blistered in the real world, where doubles don't stand in for the hard parts.

"The bitch," Harvey spat.

Jackson merely chuckled. "Don't worry about it. Helen thinks actors need to pay their dues by suffering through years of manual labor and poverty before getting a break. Teaching English Lit in community college doesn't qualify. Besides, she doesn't like me. Never has."

"Trouble is, Touchstone might listen."

"If they do, it's their loss. Don't lose sleep over it."

Harvey snorted. "Have you had lunch?"

"You just squashed my appetite. Why don't you get out of here? I'm going to take a shower."

Harvey got up.

"And take Ms. Gordon with you."

When the trailer door shut behind Harvey and the poison pen column, Jackson grimaced. "Damned old biddy," he grumbled. "I'd like to see Helen Gordon with a few well-placed blisters of her own."

Jackson had just stepped out of the shower when his cell phone tweedled. Dripping a puddle onto the tile, he sighed. "What now?"

The voice of his ex-wife crackled in his ear.

"Melanie, I can't understand a thing you're saying." Not all that unusual, he mused sourly. "Slow down."

"Jackson, darling, where are you? I called the beach house, and you weren't there. I was hoping you'd take me to the Queen Elizabeth opening."

So they could start yet another set of rumors, Jackson thought. Mel did love publicity of any kind. "I'm still on location."

"Running late? Dave must be in a fit."

"Yeah. He's not real happy."

"I warned him that he started shooting on exactly the wrong date! Jupiter was in retrograde. Ignore the stars and you always end up sorry."

"Dave has a long history of ignoring stars, Mel. You and me included."

She missed a beat, then hmphed. "You are so not funny, as always, bonehead."

Jackson had to grin. Annoying Mel had once been a specialty of his.

"Anyway, Jackie, that's not why I called, exactly."

Jackie? Mel was good at annoyance also.

"All right, Mel, why did you call?"

"Well . . ."

Jackson suffered an evil premonition. "Well what?"

"It's Cherie."

His heart skipped a beat. "Is she all right?"

"Of course she's all right. I am her mother, Jackson. I'm a perfectly responsible parent on the rare occasions you allow her to visit me."

"Then, what?"

"You always jump to conclusions. That's so typical of you, Jackie. And that's why I called to warn you ahead of time, so you could center yourself and be cool when you see Cherie."

His eyes narrowed. "And why would I need to be cool?"

"Because when it comes to fatherhood you are so nineteenth century, truly you are. You would lock my child up and let her experience nothing and no one until she's thirty. I know how you are."

"This from the woman who'd wanted to take our daughter for training in spiritualism when she was five years old. Spit it out, Mel."

"Don't use that tone with me, Jackson."

"Now!"

"It's no huge deal, so don't get melodramatic. Cherie went shopping with her friends Deanna and Cyndie. Now I find out it was a prank, and the friends were in on it. She's gone on an adventure with Jimmy Toledo, that rocker from Boy Toys. He's the one-"

"I know who the hell he is. For crissakes, Melanie, how long have they been gone?"

"I'd say they've been on the road a couple of hours."

"Christ! Get the police on them. Cherie's only thirteen!"

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