Just The Sexiest Man Alive

By: Julie James

Acknowledgments

First and foremost, I would like to thank my film agent, Dick Shepherd, who believed in this story, and me, from the very beginning, and without whom none of this would have happened.



I would also like to express my deepest appreciation to all my family and friends for their love and continuing encouragement.



I am forever grateful to my earliest readers who took the time to read this story back when it was calledThe Andrews Project , and especially to Ami Wynne, Brian Guarraci, Brendan Carroll, and Karen Schmidt for their thoughtful input, and to Mason Novick for his advice on the value of conflict in romantic comedies.



A special thanks to my literary agent, Susan Crawford, whose passion and enthusiasm are truly inspiring, and also to my wonderfully supportive editor, Wendy McCurdy; her assistant, Allison Brandau; and everyone at Berkley.



Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank my husband, Brian, for tirelessly reading every draft, being my toughest critic, and making it all possible.





One

TAYLOR DONOVAN MAY have been new to Los Angeles, but she certainly recognized a line of bullshit when she heard one.

It was 8:15 on a Monday morning—frankly, a bit early, in Taylor’s mind anyway, to be dealing with this latest round of nonsense coming from her opposing counsel, Frank Siedlecki of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But hey, it was a gorgeous sunny morning in Southern California and her Starbucks had already begun to kick in, so she was willing to play nice.

Frank’s call had come in just as Taylor had pulled into the parking garage of her downtown L.A. office building. After answering, she had let her opposing counsel go on for several minutes—without interruption, she might add—about the righteousness of his clients’ position and how Taylor and her utterly nonrighteous client should consider themselves lucky to be given the chance to make the whole lawsuit go away for a paltry $30 million. But at a certain point, one could only take so much nonsense in one Monday-morning phone call. Luscious Starbucks or not.

So Taylor had no choice but to cut Frank off mid-rant, praying she didn’t lose the signal to her cell phone as she stepped into the lobby elevator.

“Frank, Frank,” she said in a firm but professional tone, “there’s no way we’re going to settle at those numbers. You want all that money, just because your clients heard a few four-letter words in the workplace?”

She noticed then that an elderly couple had gotten into the elevator with her. She smiled politely at them as she continued her phone conversation.

“You know, if the EEOC’s going to ask for thirty million dollars in a sexual harassment case,” she told Frank, “at least tell me somebody was called a ‘slut’ or a ‘whore.’ ”

Out of the corner of her eye, Taylor saw the elderly woman—seventy-five years old if she was a day—send her husband a disapproving look. But then Frank began rattling on further about the so-called merits of the plaintiffs’ position.

“I have to be honest, I’m not exactly impressed with your case,” she said, cutting him off. “All you’ve got is a sporadic string of some very minor incidents. It’s not as if anyone slapped an ass or grabbed a boob.”

Taylor noticed that the elderly couple was now subtly but quickly moving away from her, to the opposite end of the elevator.

“Of course I’m not taking you seriously,” she said in response to her opposing counsel’s question. “We’re talking about thirty million dollars here!” Instead of shouting, her voice had a laughing tone, which experience had proven to be far more infuriating to her opponents.

Not seeing any reason to waste another minute, she summarized her position with a few simple parting thoughts.

“Frank, this case is a publicity stunt and a shakedown. My clients did nothing illegal, and you and I both know I’ll have no problem proving that to a jury. So there’s no reason to discuss your ridiculous settlement offer any further. Call me when somebody sees a penis.”

Taylor slammed her cell phone shut for emphasis. She slipped the phone into her briefcase and smiled apologetically at the elderly couple. They had their backs pressed against the elevator wall and were staring at her, mouths agape.

“Sorry about the whole ‘penis’ thing,” she said, trying to make amends. “I guess I get desensitized to it.” She shrugged innocently as the elevator announced its arrival at the twenty-third floor with a high-pitched ding. She glanced over at her grandparently co-riders one last time.

“It’s an occupational hazard.”

Taylor winked.

And with that, the elevator doors opened and she stepped out onto the busy office floor that awaited her.



TAYLOR LOVED THE sounds of a bustling law office. The phones ringing off the hook, the furiously righteous conversations that spilled out behind closed doors, the printers busily shooting out fifty-page briefs, the mail carts wheeling by as they dropped off court orders—this was all music to her ears. They were the sounds of people working hard.

And no associate—or so Taylor hoped the senior partners agreed—worked harder than she did. From the moment, now seven years ago, she had first set foot in the Chicago office of Gray & Dallas, she had done her best to make sure everyone knew she was an associate who was going places. And now the firm had sent her to Los Angeles to litigate a highly publicized class-action sexual harassment case involving one of the nation’s most upscale department stores. She was fully aware it was a test to see exactly what she was capable of.

And she was more than ready.

That morning, Taylor strolled through the hallway to her office, gliding by her secretary’s desk just as she had done every morning for the past two weeks since coming to Los Angeles.

“Good morning, Linda. Any messages?”

Linda sprung to attention at her desk. There was something about Taylor that apparently made others around her feel as though they needed to look busy.

“Good morning, Ms. Donovan,” Linda replied efficiently. “You do have one message—Mr. Blakely would like to see you in his office as soon as you’re available.”

Taylor paused briefly. That was odd—she hadn’t planned to meet with Sam that morning.

“Did he say what it’s about?”

“Sorry, no, Ms. Donovan.”

Taylor headed into her office as she called back a message to Linda. “Call Sam’s secretary and let him know I’ll be there in five minutes.”

Then she poked her head back out the door and smiled at her new assistant.

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