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One Night with the Wrong Brother -- Linda Steinberg

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One Night with the Wrong Brother
Unforgettable Nights (Book 8)

Sometimes the wrong date turns out to be the right man.

When a handsome TV star walks into the diner where she’s working and invites her to be his date to a Hollywood awards show, Annie Lawrence is awed and amazed. Recently laid off from her PR job, she’s more than ready for her luck to change. But the night of the date, the actor is a no-show, and his manager Ben takes her to the awards. Hiding her disappointment, Annie’s determined to make the best of it. But as the evening develops, politeness grows into interest, then attraction. And as she gets to know Ben Granger better, she realizes that being stood up by a Hollywood star is the best thing that ever happened to her.

Ben Granger has been responsible for his little brother since he was born, helping him out of scrapes and rescuing him from trouble. Now that Kyle has landed a lead in a hit TV show, Ben, as his manager, is still cleaning up after him. Kyle’s been using and dumping every Hollywood starlet who comes under his spell, so Ben runs a contest to restore his brother’s image and chooses a sweet wholesome girl for the publicity date. When Kyle bails on Annie, Ben escorts her himself and discovers that she’s no hayseed, but a poised, accomplished young woman with a background in public relations. As Annie helps him manage his brother’s public persona, Ben realizes he wants her as his partner, professionally and personally. But when Annie challenges him to become his own person rather than his brother’s keeper, Ben must choose between obligation and love.

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excerpt

“Oh my god, is that really him?”

“Him who?”Annie Lawrence handed her customer his latte and glanced out the deli’s window. A shiny red Porsche convertible had pulled up in front and idled at the curb in the clearly marked No Parking zone.

“Kyle Granger.” Her co-worker’s voice, pitched an octave higher than usual, breathed the name as if it were a prayer. Cindy was the very epitome of star struck. “Cyril, the vampire?”

What was a hot, hunky TV star doing at a west side deli? Annie took another customer’s order, her heart suddenly pounding in her chest. The contest.

“He’s getting out of the Porsche. He’s walking this way.” Marta, the other waitress, squealed.

Customers at the tables and booths craned their necks toward the window. Some stared with anticipation at the door. Annie tried to keep her hand steady as she poured coffee into a ceramic cup.

A bell jingled as the door to the casual eatery opened. Even if he weren’t famous, it would be impossible not to notice the man who entered. Towering over Cindy, who’d rushed to greet him, Kyle Granger looked even taller than he did on television. The strands of his golden blond hair looked like they’d been painted by the southern California sun.

Adjusting the neckline on her peasant blouse, Cindy presented the actor with a seductive smile and a bared shoulder. “Welcome to Rico’s Deli, Mr. Granger.”

The actor’s smile was so bright it outshone the glow of a dozen cell phone cameras flashing his picture. “Call me Kyle--” He glanced at her name tag. “--Cindy.” Then he bowed, lifted Cindy’s hand, and brought it to his lips.

That had to make Cindy’s day. And probably the next six months. She was such a fan girl she checked Kyle Granger’s Twitter feed several times a day, and she kept episodes of Bite Me on the DVR for weeks. Seriously, vampires?

Marta rushed to join Cindy, her face pale except for an outbreak of freckles. “I’m a big fan, Mr.—Kyle. What can we do for you today?”

The TV star glanced at Marta’s name tag as well, then smiled and waved at all the patrons hunched forward at their tables or recording with their phones. “I’ve heard this place serves the best coffee in west L.A.”

“Oh, we do.” Cindy grabbed Kyle Granger’s arm and steered him toward the coffee station. Annie’s station. Every few feet he stopped to pose for selfies with the customers. His presence took over the room. He was everywhere at once, and yet, nowhere, like a butterfly flitting from branch to flower without lighting long enough for one to catch.

Finally Cindy led him in front of Annie. She smoothed her apron. Up close, his eyes were even bluer than they appeared onscreen. When they met Annie’s, her breath froze in her throat and her voice quavered like a star-struck teenager’s. “Can I…may I…?”

The TV star’s gaze passed over the half a dozen people waiting for Annie to take their order. “Oh, I don’t want to cut in line.” He started to move toward the end.  “I’ll just wait my--”

Like the Red Sea magically parting, the line disappeared as all the customers stepped aside to give him their place. And once again Kyle Granger stood directly in front of Annie.  He smiled. “Cappuccino, please.”

Her mouth suddenly dry, Annie prepared his order with shaking hands. Don’t spill it on him.

His fingers didn’t quite brush hers as he took the cup from her hand, but Annie vowed she’d tell the story that way to her future grandchildren. “Thank you so much…Annie.” He stared at her name tag, his gaze lingering on her chest even after he’d read it, then lifted his eyes once again to her face. “Annie Lawrence?”

She forced in a deep breath. “Yes, sir.”

Another heart-bursting smile. “Well, then, Miss Annie Lawrence, I’d be honored if you’d accompany me as my date to the Silver Screen Awards ceremony next Saturday.”

Her pounding heart totally stopped. Annie swallowed but no words came out.

“That is, if you’re not working that night.” He cast an eye at the kitchen behind her. “Perhaps I could talk to your manager…”

“No need. Saturday’s her day off.” Marta bounded over and winked. Annie was scheduled to work that night, but Marta, bless her heart, was apparently volunteering to take her shift.

“It’s a date then.” The TV star set down his coffee and pushed open the Employees Only half-door that separated her from the customers. And there was his hand reaching for hers. As if drawn by a magnet, she took it, and found herself twirling out into the center of the deli.

After she caught her breath, he wound his arm around her waist and pointed her toward the front door. “Smile,” he whispered through a toothy grin.

A bright flash nearly blinded Annie as she tried not to blink. A professional photographer standing in the entry captured the moment. As did a dozen patrons with their cell phone cameras. Please God, don’ let me have lettuce stuck between my teeth.

Kyle Granger gave Annie a quick peck on the cheek, then made his way through the cheering patrons to the front door, shaking hands and kissing female cheeks as he went. Before exiting, he turned to another man standing near the door who Annie hadn’t noticed. “Ben, see that anyone who wants one gets an autographed picture.”

And then he was gone, roaring off in the Porsche as suddenly as he’d appeared, like an image superimposed on a screen and then deleted in a puff of smoke. Several of the customers raced outside to take more photos. Annie stared after him, her feet barely touching the ground.

Marta and Cindy rushed to Annie’s side. “Oh my god, girl, you won.” Cindy’s voice resonated with excitement. “Maybe that’s a sign your luck is changing.”

Annie felt guilty for winning this date instead of Super Fan Cindy, but not guilty enough to give it up. The Silver Screen awards! When she’d worked at the public relations firm, Annie had followed many of today’s most popular movie stars. Now she’d get to see them up close!

Marta shifted excitedly from one foot to the other. “What are you going to wear?”

“I have no idea.” Annie blinked several times to assure herself she wasn’t dreaming. The awards ceremony was in five days! She didn’t have the money to buy a new dress. And she didn’t own one glamorous enough for an evening with the cream of Hollywood society. The ‘little black dress’ she wore to weddings, funerals and special occasions had been dry-cleaned so many times it was almost threadbare. And her maid of honor dress from her brother’s recent wedding was too…well, orange.

“I can help with that.” The man the movie star had spoken to before his hasty departure spoke up from the corner where he still stood. “I’m Kyle’s manager.” He held out a business card.

Still floating on air, Annie glided to him. The man had brown hair, brown eyes, and scruffy wisps of dark beard shadowing his face. He even wore a brown tee shirt over his dark jeans. If Kyle Granger was a butterfly, his manager was a solid, unwavering tree. He reminded Annie of a cypress in a Louisiana swamp, strong, permanent, and impervious to uprooting.

“Don’t worry about a thing, Miss Lawrence.” The voice matched his serious expression, crisp and professional. “Our staff will take care of everything. A car will pick you up at your home Wednesday and take you to Rodeo drive to select a suitable outfit. Paid for by us, of course.”

Annie slipped the business card into her apron pocket and pinched herself. She had to be dreaming. “But my job…”

“It’s all been cleared with your employer.” Kyle Granger’s manager barely looked at her, his eyes intently scanning the I-Pad in his hand. “The morning of the event, you’ll have your hair and makeup done at the studio. Later you and Kyle will be transported by limo to the ceremony and to dinner at Carlotti’s.” The man finally looked up and met her gaze with serious brown eyes. “Do you have any questions?”

A thousandjumped into her mind but her mouth couldn’t form words. Rodeo Drive? She’d seen it once, on a bus tour of Hollywood when she’d first arrived in Los Angeles. She was actually going to shop there and buy a dress? And Carlotti’s was one of the hottest restaurants in Los Angeles

“Miss Lawrence?”

She realized that she hadn’t spoken and that he was still staring at her. Brown eyes with flecks of gray caught her attention. “Annie,” she said, recovering her voice and her manners.

“Annie.” His hard, all-business voice seemed to soften when he said her name. He held out his hand. “I’m Ben.”

His handshake was interview-firm—confident but not bone-crushing. “Well, if you have no further questions,” he said, withdrawing his hand, “we’ll continue this Wednesday.” Ben shut down his tablet and stashed it in his back pocket, revealing the hint of a tattoo under his sleeve. “Call me if you think of something later.” He turned on his heel as if about to leave, but took a last look from the top of her head to the pockets of her apron. And frowned.

“Don’t worry, I won’t wear my Rico’s Deli uniform to Rodeo Drive.”

That twisted expression on his face might have been a smile, but probably not. Nodding, Kyle Granger’s manager strode to the door, his back military-straight, his bearing purposeful.

After he left, Annie reached into her pocket for the card he’d given her. Kyle Granger Entertainment, bold letters stated. And in smaller print, Ben Granger, Manager.

Granger?