Zachary Cullen has ignored Josette Patrice’s overtures for years, but she agrees to take on his latest protégé-slash-arm-candy Meghan Keenan in her off-Broadway workshop theater. Though the girl has incredible talent, Josie would stake her reputation on that little thing being a switch-hitter, like herself, and she doesn’t want Zach to be duped. Josie sets out to seduce Meg and expose her for what she is, but all bets are off when Meg turns the tables on Josie to hook her up with Zach.
“Your latest protégé does show promise, Zach.” Josette Patrice focused on the group of actors rehearsing onstage and avoided looking at Zachary Cullen as they stood shoulder to shoulder in the back of the small, semi-darkened playhouse.
Josie smiled. Was he pondering Meghan Keenan’s thespian talents, or her bedroom talents? Josie was certain the petite twenty-one-year-old would excel in both venues.
Not for the first time, Josie wondered why the highly successful fifty-something entrepreneur invested so much time and money trying to find the next Broadway star. Was it his ego, his desire to take young, struggling actresses and help them make their way to New York City—specifically, to her? Or was it the side benefit of sex with gorgeous young women that kept Zach on the lookout for talent as he traveled from one business interest to the next? Meghan was the third young woman he’d brought her over the past ten years.
“She seems more wooden, less natural than when I first saw her in that little community playhouse back in Wisconsin,” Zach said, breaking the silence.
Lost in her own thoughts, Josie startled at the gravelly sound of Zach’s deep voice. It was that slow, strong drawl that had appealed to her since the first time they’d met. That, and his burning eyes that seemed capable of peering into her soul.
Josie wet her lips, watching the stage lights bounce off the girl’s auburn hair, as if setting her afire. Had Meg been caught up in Zach’s vision for her, or in his nearly overwhelming air of masculinity? She had to admit his broad shoulders and tapered hips triggered her own lusty imagination. Damn. She hated the fact that she had difficulty ignoring his manliness, and he never even looked at her as a woman. Apparently, he only saw her as a conduit for helping his protégés advance their careers.
Josie squared her shoulders. At forty-three, she was hardly over the hill. She’d had her share of lovers. Given Zach’s lack of interest, she’d flaunted her female lovers before him. She felt her nipples pebble—maybe that had been a mistake. Zachary Cullen was not a man to be toyed with. Certainly he must know by now that she wasn’t simply into women. Evidently he didn’t give a whit about her sexual appetites.
“Well? Is she regressing?” Zach made no effort to conceal his annoyance at Josie’s lack of response.
Josie winced and glanced at him. The backlighting highlighted his furrowed brow and graying temples. “Sorry. What Meg is going through seems quite typical. She’s only been here a few months. It’s a huge leap from small town mid-America to New York City. Don’t you remember that?”
“I suppose. Does seem like a long time ago. What else?”
“Are you ever patient?”
Her heartbeat quickened at the sudden thought that he must be both a demanding and patient lover. She shook her head to clear it. Why couldn’t she stay focused? Was it her French blood? Raging hormones? Or a sign of early menopause?
“Between taking a couple of acting classes and trying to meet my expectations in this workshop, Meg is probably overthinking. Her natural talent will reemerge. Sometimes that takes time.”
“You mean it requires patience.” This time she heard a touch of humor in Zach’s voice.
“That’s right. Plus, she’s used to being the star. Here, she’s a supporting actress—she can shine, but not too brightly. I’ll bet she hasn’t had a supporting role since she reached puberty.”
“You’re probably right about that. Thanks again for taking her under your wing.”
“I like to think this is a step toward Broadway, or at least off-Broadway.” Josie chuckled. “Some of our critics believe even that’s too generous. But she earned this chance. You only got me to look at her—which is huge, as you know—but you also know I didn’t take her on because of you.”
“Wouldn’t want you to. She has to earn her way. I just want to make sure she gets a shot.”
“She’ll get that.” Josie hesitated only slightly before forging ahead. “Plus, she’s probably worried about you.”
“What?” Zach snapped his head to glare at her. “Now what are you talking about, woman? You do come up with some of the damnedest notions. No one needs to worry about me.”
She didn’t think that was true, but managed to keep that opinion to herself. “Nevertheless, Meg must have some ambivalence about you. She’s a young woman, Zach. She’s hardly going to want to be tied for long to a man more than twice her age.”
“I don’t have her tied up,” Zach protested. “I don’t expect her to last. You know that.”
“But does she?” Josie folded her arms under her breasts, directing her full attention at Zach. “You travel so much. It must be hard for her to develop a network of friends in a new place where it would appear she’s a highly successful older man’s mistress.”
“Shh. I didn’t say that’s how you look at her. But you did set her up in a Brooklyn walk-up, right?”
“Only because she wouldn’t accept the Manhattan apartment,” he growled. “Too expensive—she complained.”
“A stab at some modicum of independence, no doubt. And other lovers?” Even in the shadows of the theater, Josie could see the cords of Zach’s neck stand out. She might have pressed him too far.
“Not until I say so,” he snapped. “I don’t expect much, but I won’t be cuckolded.”
Josie smirked. “What an old-fashioned word. Perhaps you are showing your age.”