April 24, 2008
The True Match -- Out now from Avalon
Ruby Lattingly, the high-maintenance bride left at the altar in The Write Match, is back as the host of a television talk show that helps troubled couples either patch things up or break up. More often the latter proves to be the case. Naturally, as far as successful relationships go, Ruby gives rather bad advice.
As Ruby receives unwanted pointers on the male mind from the show's macho cameraman, Hutch, sparks fly as the diva from New York's Upper East Side and the "Cowboy Cameraman" spar over how best to counsel couples in crisis, even though neither is particularly lucky in love.
But as a secret from Hutch's romantic past comes to light and turmoil erupts, the pair must face their own commitment phobias and resolve their affections for each other, all while the cameras roll.
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Hutch the cameraman was tough, and from Texas to boot, so Ruby was as shocked as everyone else when he keeled over.
The Waterford crystal vase that had just sailed across the room and bounced off his head landed on the carpet with a heavy thud.
Ruby winced. "Ooh!"
The vase rolled to a stop. It was in one piece. That was something.
Hutch was lying very still on Ruby's hand-stitched Persian rug from Bloomingdale's.
At least he wasn't bleeding. But maybe using props from Ruby's apartment for the show wasn't such a good idea.
"Somebody, do something! Call 911!" Wild-eyed, Ruby looked around the set.
But nobody was paying attention. Not the woman who had hurled the vase and stormed out. Not the woman's boyfriend, the intended target of the vase, who moments earlier had confessed to cheating on her. Not Colin, the production assistant, who was pleading with them to finish taping.
Which left only Hutch, and he wasn't moving at all.
Ruby frowned. "Darn!" She dropped to her knees at Hutch's side. Even lying down, the man was massive, one large hand still wrapped around his High Eight video camera. His lashes lay dark like ebony against his cheeks. His face had turned a scary shade of white.
Ruby's frown deepened. "Hutch!" she called.
She clapped her hands so her David Yurman bracelets jangled in Hutch's ear, and her scent (Thierry Muglier's Angel) enveloped him.
His nose twitched but that was all.
Ruby clapped her hands again. Once, twice, three times.
A sliver of fear trickled down her spine, like the first drop of rain preceding a monsoon.
Outside, Ruby's talk show guests were arguing with each other in a foreign language.
Colin tried to calm them.
Ruby placed one manicured hand on Hutch's chest, which was as rock-hard as it looked and cut-through with angles like a Calder mobile. Unlike a steel sculpture, however, Hutch's chest was warm, and covered in the unmistakable soft folds of fine Italian cashmere.
Cashmere was an unlikely choice for a man whose main hobbies involved dangling from helicopters under enemy fire and swilling beer.
Ruby sniffed. Keeping her hand in place she spread her fingers, exploring the tiniest bit.
She noticed something odd.
His chest wasn't moving.
"Oh, no," she whispered. "Help!" she yelled.
But an elevator arrived and the group in the hall stepped aboard and left, their shouts fading away behind them.
Which left Ruby alone with Hutch.
The set was now terribly silent.
Ruby gave the cameraman a doubtful look.
"Hutch," she whispered.
Ruby was motionless for a few seconds, wondering what to do. Until memories of her high school lifeguard training course came flooding back. Not being the sort of girl to sit around and do nothing, she decided some basic lifesaving moves couldn't hurt. Cradling Hutch's head in one hand, she grasped his chin in her other, the way she remembered. More or less.
She took a deep breath, leaned over and covered Hutch's mouth with hers.
He smelled good, faintly of soap and shaving cream. His lips were firm and warm. His day-old beard felt good on her face, if you liked that Miami Vice, Don Johnson sort of thing. Which, Ruby reminded herself, she did not. She blew out a lungful of air with all her might.
The air escaped through Hutch's nose, which she had neglected to pinch shut, a mistake she didn't notice because she was busy straightening her ponytail. She flicked it back, drew in another breath and got ready to try again.
She blew another breath and waited, sliding her hand down his long throat and onto his chest for balance. Yup. Those pecs managed to be both warm and rock-hard at the same time. Now his lips felt firmer, like they had taken on a life of their own.
Before she knew it, Ruby's lips were moving in response, soft and yielding against his.
She felt Hutch move his free hand, the one without the camera, make its way up Ruby's back, gathering her close against him.
Ruby caught her breath.
These were not the final throes of a dying man.
He was coming out of it. In fact, he was making out with her. Charles Begley Hutchinson IV. Ruby's playboy cameraman. Her employee, for Heaven's sake.
Ruby pulled back, forgetting the way his mouth had felt on hers, no longer caring whether her ponytail got mussed or not.
Hutch licked his lips like a hungry wolf. His nose twitched. He coughed once, his eyes fluttered open, and his gaze focused on Ruby. He let out a groan and closed them again.
"Well," she snapped, rocking back onto her Kate Spade mules. She gave his shoulder a shake. "Wake up."
Hutch opened one eye and scowled. "It is you, isn't it? For a minute I dreamt I was making love to a beautiful mermaid." His deep baritone voice was husky with pain, which only amplified the effect of his Texas drawl.
Ruby wasn't falling for it. They were now hopelessly behind on their production schedule. She gave him her chilliest glare. "You are hallucinating," she said evenly. "Now, get up."
His lips twitched, calling to mind the term sardonic grin. "I liked it better when I was dreaming."
She scowled and offered her hand.
Ignoring it, he tried to rise. And fell back down, wincing in pain.
Ruby's eyes widened in alarm. Hutch, a.k.a. the Cowboy Cameraman, was renowned for his willingness to dodge a bullet even in Iraq to get the angle he wanted. The man who was so macho his picture could be found in the dictionary under the letter ‘M,' was now writhing in pain on her wool rug. "Stay there," she ordered. "I'm calling an ambulance."
"Oh, no, you don't. Just give me a couple aspirin and I'll be fine." Hutch tried to sit up again and groaned. He sank back down and closed his eyes.
Ruby scrambled for the phone.
"I don't need a dang ambulance," Hutch protested. "I don't want a bunch of doctors making a fuss over a little bump on my head."
Ruby held up one hand. "No arguments. I'm your boss."
Hutch groaned again. "No chance I'd forget that. You remind us all every five minutes."
The smart-alecky smirk on his face told Ruby he didn't care much about network org charts. He was annoying, no doubt about it. Tough to manage. But she was his boss, after all. So she tightened her lips and mustered her very sternest face, what her father called her Clear-the-Decks look. But "Well, well," was all she could come up with.
A flicker of something lit Hutch's hazel eyes, and his lips twitched all the way from the ends of his muscular jaw in to the dimple at the center of his chin.
He was laughing.
At her. The host of cable's newest reality T.V. show, Ruby's Relationship Rx. Obviously, he didn't care one teeny iota that she was his boss. She'd show him. Ruby picked up the red phone that connected directly with the security command post in the lobby. "Hello, operator," she said smoothly. "I need an ambulance right away on Sound Stage Three. Somebody has been hurt." She glared at Hutch. "A man who works for me."