FAKING MR. RIGHT
He was six feet, two inches of raw masculine perfection. Dark, wide-set eyes hinted at the promise of untold passion in their murky depths. A secret smile curved his wide, seductive mouth, the very sight of which was enough to set her heart pounding. It was the kind of mouth that made a woman wonder why she was looking at it instead of kissing it that very moment. His body was perfectly toned—long, lean and muscular. He had the soul of a poet, the rugged air of a real man’s man, and a magnetic quality that practically dared her to look away. He was Melissa Brock’s perfect man.
And he wanted to be a woman.
“So much for Mr. Right,” Mel sighed, staring at the man whose picture she held in her hand. Her former Mr. Right who had become her worst nightmare.
Her assistant calmly plucked the headshot from her fingers and set it to the side. “Relax. We’re going to find him.”
“Oh, sure. How hard can it be to find the perfect man?” Mel cast a reluctant eye toward the towering pile of photographs on the conference room table and pressed a hand to her temple, rapidly sensing a migraine coming on. “We might as well be searching for leprechauns. Or a pot of gold. At least those exist.”
Casey merely smiled. “Mr. Right is out there. You just have to believe.”
Mel scowled in the face of the younger woman’s boundless optimism. It made her feel so very old. “That didn’t pay off with Santa Claus. I don’t think it’s going to work any better now.”
Especially when they were so pressed for time, she thought dismally. In four weeks, L’Monique Cosmetics would announce the identity of Mr. Right, the cornerstone of their new advertising campaign. He was supposed to be perfect—rugged, manly, and romantic. The man any woman could get—if she wore L’Monique products.
And as the C&B Advertising executive in charge of this campaign, it was her job to find him.
“How can I find him when I don’t even believe in him?” she murmured under her breath.
Hating the feeling of futility that overwhelmed her, Mel made a half-hearted attempt at flipping through the stack of photos again, even though she was fairly sure the perfect man was not contained within it. Not that she was likely to notice if he was. All the flawless teeth and chiseled features were starting to blur together.
If only L’Monique hadn’t gone ahead with the teaser campaign. Just over a month ago, billboards and ads had gone up across the U.S., bearing the L’Monique logo, the silhouette of a man, and the question, “Who is Mr. Right?”
At the time, she’d thought she knew the answer. After an arduous search, they’d settled on Alex Everett, a beautiful actor and model who was undeniably masculine, yet also very sensitive, with a unique way of tapping into a woman’s feelings. L’Monique had loved him, Mel had signed him, and they’d designed the whole campaign around him.
And then, six weeks before the campaign was set to begin, he’d announced that he wanted to transition to become a woman.
If this recent development hadn’t left them in such dire straits, Mel would have appreciated the addition to her files. More proof that there is no such thing as a perfect man. The old adage was right. All the good ones were married, or gay, or women trapped in men’s bodies. Which explained a great deal, when it came right down to it.
“How is Alex anyway?”
“Last I heard she had started wearing dresses.”
“Then I guess I should be glad she made her decision before we unveiled her—or him—to the public.” Considering how tenuous their position was with the L’Monique people right now, she could only imagine how they would have reacted if Alex began making personal appearances in a skirt and a nice top.
The cross-dressing Mr. Right. That would have been perfect, indeed.
So now they were back at square one, trying to condense a process that had taken them three months the first time into two weeks, in search of the one man who could salvage a multi-million dollar campaign. And then after that, they only had another two weeks to prep their Mr. Right before he was unveiled to the world. It wasn’t nearly enough lead time. Too bad they were flat out of options.
The fact that none of the executives from L’Monique were sitting in on this session of their model search was also telling. They’d been active participants in every step of the process thus far. That they’d chosen to sit out this late in the game was hardly a good sign. The writing was on the wall. They didn’t expect to be able to find anyone. Unless she came up with a new Mr. Right in the next twenty-four hours, they were going to pull the plug on the campaign—and their association with C&B.
The sense of impending doom loomed larger than ever before.
“How about this one?” Casey asked with a trace of excitement. “He looks like James Dean.”
Mel lifted her gaze to the photograph Casey held in the air. Sure enough, the model bore a striking resemblance to the late actor. “Judging from his expression, he can’t decide whether he’s supposed to look smoldering or constipated.”
Casey waved the comment away. “We can work on that. What do you think of his overall look?”
Mel squinted, searching for something in his flawless visage that made him so compelling. She found none. Like all of the candidates they’d seen over the last three days, he was beautiful. And from the confident gleam in his eye, he knew it. As she stared into that arrogant gaze, Mel felt a roiling in her stomach. Never had perfection been so nauseating.
She rubbed a hand over her weary eyes and sighed. There was something very wrong when the sight of a beautiful man inspired nothing but a faint queasiness in her.
Mourning the death of her sex drive, Mel shrugged.
Casey flipped the photo over to the résumé on the back. “Ooooh. He’s got a lot of experience. He just did a hemorrhoid commercial.”
“That’s all I needed to hear.” Mel plucked the sheet out of her hands and neatly tore it into a half dozen pieces. “So much for James, Junior.” The remnants landed in the trash with a satisfying clunk.
“The last thing we need is for our Mr. Right to show up talking about his…personal problems on nationwide television. I don’t think ‘chronic hemorrhoid sufferer’ is what comes to mind when most women picture their perfect man.” She cringed. That thought was almost as disastrous as the cross-dressing Mr. Right. “Remember, we don’t want someone with a lot of big credits. An exclusivity agreement won’t mean much if he’s already been seen in a million ad campaigns.”
Casey nodded her understanding. “Yeah, I always hate it when the doctor selling aspirin in one ad shows up hawking soda in another. Like I’m going to buy medicine from a guy who dances with soft drinks in his spare time.”
She sounded so sincere, Mel was worried for a moment. Casey was new in this business, but she wasn’t that naïve, was she? “Er, something like that. In any case, the search for the mythical Mr. Right continues. And later, we can go after the Easter Bunny.”
Casey leveled a sardonic gaze on her. “You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d say your break-up with Mark left you jaded.”
Mark. There was a name she hadn’t wanted to hear again. Ever. “No, the break-up left me relieved,” Mel grimaced, meaning every word. Especially considering the arduous task of getting him out of her life. “As far as I’m concerned, Mark was just one more pit stop on the way to true love.”
“Considering how may pit stops you’ve been making, I’m not sure you’re ever going to get to the real thing.”
“Thank you for that reassuring thought.” Her emaciated love life. Now there was a topic to brighten her day. “So glad we have the kind of working relationship where you feel free to bring that up.”
Casey’s expression softened. “I’m sure it won’t last. You just need someone to sweep you off your feet.”
“I’d settle for someone to sweep my floors,” she quipped. “But let’s take one impossible dream at a time.” She began scooping the discarded headshots into a definite no pile. “Although now that you’ve mentioned it, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth the hassle. Especially after all of this.”
“If what’s worth it?”
“Finding a man. What do I need a man for anyway?”
Casey’s eyebrows shot up. “If you need me to remind you, you really do have problems.”
Casey recoiled in feigned shock. “There’s more besides that?!”
“Not that I’ve discovered. That’s the problem.” Mel sat back in her chair and folded her arms over her chest. “Seriously. I like my job”—she glanced down at the stacks of photographs—”Usually, anyway. I’m satisfied with my personal life—”
“You don’t have a personal life.”
“And I’m satisfied with that. Believe me, there are worse things than not having a personal life.”
“Having one. Especially one that includes Mark and all those who came before him. Considering the alternative, I have a good thing going.” Mel lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “Maybe I should just get some cats and be done with it.”
Casey frowned. “Some? As in two?”
“As in twelve.” Her grin was wry. “Might as well get a head start on the inevitable.”
“Oh, yeah. Cap’n would love that.” Her assistant rolled her eyes, reminding Mel just how young she was. Though Casey had moments when she sounded wiser than her years—the result of a degree in psychology that had proven useless when it came to finding employment, yet led some startling insights to come popping out of her mouth when least expected—she was barely out of college. Mel never thought she’d feel over-the-hill at the age of twenty-nine, but the perky redheaded twenty-two-year-old constantly made her feel on the brink of middle age. Mel couldn’t remember ever being that young, even when she was that young. Compared with Casey, she’d already gone over the hill and rolled into the bottom of the next valley, where she now lay. Dormant. Inert. Dead.
Grimacing, she glanced at her watch. Three o’clock. And the day wasn’t even close to over.
“I need coffee,” she groaned, pushing herself up from the chair. “You want some?”
“No, thanks.” Casey had already dived back into her pile of headshots and résumés with renewed gusto. At least someone was still enthusiastic about the task they had in front of them.
“Okay, but remember, we’ve got that other group of models coming in a little while. And Jeff’s bringing in that old friend of his, the one that just got out of the Army, to meet us for some reason.” She sighed, not looking forward to either meeting. Her partner would probably want to know if they’d found anybody, and Mel had the distinct feeling her answer would still be no.
“We are going to find him,” Casey repeated behind her as Mel tromped to the door.
“You’ve been saying that for four months. I’ll believe it when I see him.”
She’d barely opened the door when she noticed the note taped to it. Apparently, their receptionist, Debbie, had an audition and had to leave early.
“So naturally, she leaves a note instead of telling me,” Mel grumbled. Smart thinking, actually, since Mel would have made her stay. They needed someone manning the front desk when the models arrived.
The models. She’d better go to the front door and make sure none of them had gotten lost on the way to the building. Not a very nice thought, but Mel wasn’t in the mood to take any chances.
The problem, Mel reflected as she headed down the hall toward the reception area, was that they couldn’t just find a man who looked the part. That would have been a piece of cake. Male models were a depressingly common breed, all with their perfect smiles and perfect bodies, perfect pecs leading down to perfect rock-hard abs and all that. Worst of all, most of them had bigger chests than she did.
The thought did nothing to improve her mood. Not for the first time, she cursed Jeff for putting her in charge of this account when the whole mess had been his idea. Being faced with these pretty boys was hardly helping her self-esteem.
Mel hadn’t been crazy about the concept to begin with. Of all the bad ideas Jeff had ever had, this one took the cake. Her idea was giving away free exfoliant or something. If given a choice between a glorified slab of beef and exfoliant, she would have gone for the clean pores. Hands down.
But Jeff had sold the concept to L’Monique by taking it a step further. Not only would their Mr. Right be the face of L’Monique’s ads, but the campaign would kick off with a contest, offering women the chance for a dream date with Mr. Right. They’d organized a tour of the country so the public could meet the man himself. Which meant Mel didn’t just have to find someone who looked like Mr. Right. She had to find Mr. Right.
Of course, they’d chosen the person with the worst track record for the job. She couldn’t find her own perfect man, and she was supposed to find one for the women of America? Between Barry the nose picker and Luke, the urban cowboy whose belt buckle was twice his body weight despite his never having traveled west of Pittsburgh, Mel wasn’t sure she’d know Mr. Right if he vacuumed her right out of her shoes.
What they needed was someone who not only looked the part, but who could act it and be believable. At first, she’d wanted guys who meant what they said, but she’d abandoned that idea early on. Considering how many smooth-talking, utterly insincere charmers littered her past, she’d thought it would be easier this way. Unfortunately, personal experience had made her more adept at knowing when she was being fed a line. More than one potential Mr. Right had managed to charm Casey in an interview, only to have Mel deem him a loser in ten seconds flat. And if she didn’t buy his routine, the guy wasn’t getting the job.
Which meant, at T-minus two weeks and counting, the search continued.
“Forget Mr. Right,” Mel breathed. “I need a miracle.”
She rounded the corner to the reception area, then came to an abrupt stop.
A man stood at Debbie’s deserted workstation, his back to her. Her gaze did an automatic sweep from head to toe. Her heart dropped to the pit of her stomach.
Ask and ye shall receive.
Mel didn’t need to see his front to know this guy had just moved to the top of her list. One look and her stomach did a reassuring flip-flop in her belly. If he looked this good from behind, she didn’t know if she would survive if he turned around.
She took her time checking him out—strictly for professional reasons, of course—appreciating every inch of masculine splendor. Massive shoulders stretched a faded gray T-shirt to its limits, the sleeves cut high on rounded biceps. His back rippled with muscles, each one outlined beneath the strained cotton, then tapered to a narrow waist. There, the worn fabric was tucked into a pair of jeans that had seen better days, though she doubted they ever could have looked as good on anyone else. It was an odd wardrobe choice for a model, but Mel had a hard time caring. He had a marvelously supple behind, she noted, outlined as perfectly as a pair of melons in a plastic shopping bag. Barely managing to stifle a reflexive sigh, she let her gaze linger before drifting down his strong thighs and long legs.
Mel didn’t know if this was Mr. Right, but she was having an awfully hard time finding anything wrong with this picture. By the time they reached a scuffed pair of black work boots, her mouth had gone dry and her stomach had done a few more of those flips. She gave a silent cheer. By God, she wasn’t dead yet.
If only she could see his face….
Her eyes gravitated toward to his head.
And then she saw her mistake. Her heartbeat came to a screeching halt.
He was staring into the C&B logo behind Debbie’s desk, the polished black surface acting as a mirror, watching her look at him.
Copyright © 2012 by Kerry Connor. All Rights Reserved.