In the Heat of the Spotlight

By: Kate Hewitt

CHAPTER ONE

LUKE BRYANT stared at his watch for the sixth time in the last four minutes and felt his temper, already on a steady simmer, start a low boil.

She was late. He glanced enquiringly at Jenna, his Head of PR, who made useless and apologetic flapping motions with her hands. All around him the crowd that filled Bryant’s elegant crystal and marble lobby began to shift restlessly. They’d already been waiting fifteen minutes for Aurelie to make an appearance before the historic store’s grand reopening and so far she was a no-show.

Luke gritted his teeth and wished, futilely, that he could wash his hands of this whole wretched thing. He’d been busy putting out corporate fires at the Los Angeles office and had left the schedule of events for today’s reopening to his team here in New York. If he’d been on site, he wouldn’t be here waiting for someone he didn’t even want to see. What had Jenna been thinking, booking a washed-up C-list celebrity like Aurelie?

He glanced at his Head of PR again, watched as she bit her lip and made another apologetic face. Feeling not one shred of sympathy, Luke strode towards her.

‘Where is she, Jenna?’

‘Upstairs—’

‘What is she doing?’

‘Getting ready—’

Luke curbed his skyrocketing temper with some effort. ‘And does she realise she’s fifteen—’ he checked his watch ‘—sixteen and a half minutes late for the one song she’s meant to perform?’

‘I think she does,’ Jenna admitted.

Luke stared at her hard. He was getting annoyed with the wrong person, he knew. Jenna was ambitious and hardworking and, all right, she’d booked a complete has-been like Aurelie to boost the opening of the store, but at least she had a ream of market research to back up her choice. Jenna had been very firm about the fact that Aurelie appealed to their target group of eighteen to twenty-five-year-olds, she’d sung three chart-topping and apparently iconic songs of their generation, and was only twenty-six herself.

Apparently Aurelie still held the public’s interest—the same way a train wreck did, Luke thought sourly. You just couldn’t look away from the unfolding disaster.

Still, he understood the bottom line. Jenna had booked Aurelie, the advertising had gone out, and a significant number of people were here to see the former pop princess sing one of her insipid numbers before the store officially reopened. As CEO of Bryant Stores, the buck stopped with him. It always stopped with him.

‘Where is she exactly?’

‘Aurelie?’

As if they’d been talking about anyone else. ‘Yes. Aurelie.’ Even her name was ridiculous. Her real name was probably Gertrude or Millicent. Or even worse, something with an unnecessary i like Kitti or Jenni. Either way, absurd.

‘She’s in the staff break room—’

Luke nodded grimly and headed upstairs. Aurelie had been contracted to sing and, damn it, she was going to sing. Like a canary.

Upstairs, Bryant’s women’s department was silent and empty, the racks of clothes and ghostly faceless mannequins seeming to accuse him silently. Today had to be a success. Bryant Stores had been slowly and steadily declining for the last five years, along with the economy. No one wanted overpriced luxuries, which was what Bryant’s had smugly specialised in for the last century. Luke had been trying to change things for years but his older brother, Aaron, had insisted on having the final say and he hadn’t been interested in doing something that, in his opinion, diminished the Bryant name.

When the latest dismal reports had come in, Aaron had finally agreed to an overhaul, and Luke just prayed it wasn’t too late. If it was, he knew who would be blamed.

And it would be his fault, he told himself grimly. He was the CEO of Bryant Stores, even if Aaron still initialled many major decisions. Luke took responsibility for what happened in his branch of Bryant Enterprises, including booking Aurelie as today’s entertainment.

He knocked sharply on the door to the break room. ‘Hello? Miss...Aurelie?’ Why didn’t the woman have a last name? ‘We’re waiting for you—’ He tried the knob. The door was locked. He knocked again. No answer.

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