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Mr. Fixer Upper

Chapter 1

Paige crossed her long legs restlessly under the glossy wood of the conference table. She wasn’t cut out for marathon meetings with multi-page agendas. The longer the suit with the receding hairline and the PowerPoint presentation droned on, the antsier she felt. She had things to do, and listening to a bunch of network drones salivate over how to milk more ratings out of an already hit show didn’t get her any farther down her to-do list.

“What we really need is to see some emotion out of Gannon,” the suit announced. The next slide appeared with Gannon King’s sex god face and a bar graph. Paige was pretty sure none of the handful of women in the room were looking at the graph. “That’s what the female demographic is clamoring for.”

“To be clear, you’re not talking about his usual emotion. Correct?” Eddie Garraza, the man on her right, was the executive producer and ringleader of the three-ring circus known as the reality show Kings of Construction. In a room full of designer suits and shoes that cost more than most people’s first cars, Eddie was wearing his trademark khakis and rumpled button down. His trusty moccasins tapped an incessant beat under the table.

Paige hid her snicker behind a cough.

Gannon King’s usual emotion was fiery temper that singed anyone within a forty-foot radius. A builder by trade, he was an artist with woodwork, producing furniture pieces that were one-of-a-kind works of art. The female viewership worshipped Gannon’s shirtless physique, but Paige saved her lust for the furniture, not the man. With that talent came a passionate, argumentative, stubborn attitude that often held up shoots and pissed Paige off.

“We want to see the human side of him. Cat plays great in the ratings, but Gannon needs to soften up a little. Viewers will eat it up.”

Cat King was Gannon’s equally attractive and talented twin sister. Younger by two minutes, she shared Gannon’s long lashed hazel eyes but had miles of California blonde tresses where her brother had dark hair usually worn shaved short. Where he was abrasive, Cat was smooth. Where Gannon argued, she orchestrated compromise. Without their uncanny family resemblance, it would be difficult to make the familial connection by behavior alone.

“Paige.” The man in the too tight Hugo Boss—Raymond? Ralph? —gestured at her with the presentation remote. “You’ve gotten into a few skirmishes with Gannon. We’re looking to you to rile him up and catch him on camera. You know he’s a softie for kids. See if you can push him over the edge there. There’s a $5,000 bonus in it for you if there’s tears from him.”

She gave a nod, acknowledging that she’d heard the man without actually agreeing to anything. It was true. There had been more than a few on-set arguments between them in season one of the home renovation reality show. Gannon seemed to instinctively know what buttons to push to send her into an internal maelstrom. Given the instant success the show had been, the network had ordered a twelve-episode second season, which would give her plenty of time to get into it with the brash host.

If she were that kind of field producer.

But, as much as she needed an extra $5,000, she wasn’t going to set up Gannon and push him over the edge or stir up his emotions for fun. He might be an asshole, but he was an extremely talented asshole. And in her heart of hearts, his open hatred of “network bullshit” was something that she could respect.

Not that she’d ever tell him that.

Eddie jabbed her under the table with the capped end of his ballpoint pen. “We’ll do our best,” Eddie told Raymond-Ralph, his face a perfect poker mask while Paige’s fingers flew over the laptop making notes.

Behind the same wire-rimmed glasses he’d worn since the mid-nineties, Eddie never gave up what he was thinking with unnecessary facial expressions or body language. He spoke plainly and knew when a battle wasn’t worth fighting. That’s why, in an industry of perpetual youth-chasers, Eddie rocked a head of silver fluffy hair and had never been near a Botox needle.

The presentation moved on, and Paige’s gaze wandered to the view of New York through the wall of glass. They were downtown, six floors up at the production company’s headquarters. Summit-Wingenroth Productions sounded like a company with a long, respectable history, but it was founded five years prior by a former reality star and made its profits churning out dozens of barely unscripted shows for the networks.

Kings was the only show in the company’s lengthy credits that Paige could stomach. They helped people, and that—to her—was the end game. For Summit-Wingenroth it was a schmaltzy hook to reel in an audience and sell advertising.

The double doors to the conference room opened drawing everyone’s attention. Gannon King, larger than life, strode into the room. Cat breezed in behind her brother smiling warmly at everyone gathered. Smoothly, Raymond or Ralph clicked onto the next slide, and Gannon’s face disappeared behind another chart of audience demographics. Paige turned her attention back to the laptop screen in front of her and refused to stare.

Gannon was the kind of man who wrestled your attention from you as soon as he walked into a room. Built like a Norse god, his broad shoulders and muscled pecs gave way to a taut abdomen that had Twitter lighting up every time he took his shirt off on camera. The gray Henley he wore today stretched across his chest and molded to his impressive physique. A trio of leather cords wrapped around his left wrist.

Disheveled as usual but in the careless, confident way, his hair was a little longer on top than last season. Paige bit her lip. She was a field producer, not some love-struck teenage fan. And he was the narcissistic bane of her professional existence.

“There are our rising stars.” The suit’s tone had an extra layer of phony to it that had Paige barely controlling an eye roll.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Cat said, without a hint of apology in her tone. “But we were in the neighborhood and thought we’d stop in.”

“You’re welcome to join us. We were just going over the demographics.”

And ways to break your brother on camera, Paige added silently.

Gannon ignored the pleasantries and stalked to the coffee station. He poured himself a mug— black—and leaned against the counter. Cat took a seat near the head of the table and stared raptly at the presenter until he turned a bright shade of fuchsia and fumbled over the word “ratings.”

Paige grinned. Cat was a master of manipulating men. What looked like a pretty smile and keen interest was actually a calculated move to disarm the enemy and get her what she wanted. The more she was underestimated, the more she was able to get away with before her victims realized they’d been victimized. Paige wondered what Cat was after this time.

Still smiling, she glanced in Gannon’s direction and cursed herself when she found him watching her. He must have taken her expression as an invitation because he rounded the table to take the empty seat next to her.

The denim of his worn, ripped jeans brushed her forearm as he took his seat. Paige immediately yanked her arm off the armrest and put her hand in her lap. Once seated, he shoved his long sleeves up, revealing a hint of new tattoo on his forearm, and settled in leaning on the arm closest to her.

She could smell sawdust and noted he was wearing his scarred work boots. He had probably spent most of the morning in his workshop in Brooklyn before Cat dragged him here for whatever scheme she was cooking up.

Why did he have to be so drop dead gorgeous and so profoundly talented? It wasn’t fair.

He leaned in closer. “What’s not fair?” he whispered. His breath was warm on her neck. Paige turned to look at him, finding him entirely too close. Was he a mind reader now?

He nodded toward her screen.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair.

Crap. Her subconscious was trying to make itself public. Paige bit the inside of her cheek. She shrugged. “Carpal tunnel exercise.” She wiggled her fingers, committing to the lie.

“Sure it is, princess.”

His smirk made it clear that he wasn’t fooled. And the “princess” pushed just the right buttons with her. He’d called her that ever since an unexpected downpour last season had soaked her to the bone. One of the volunteers happened to have her daughter’s gym bag with her, and Paige had spent the rest of the day into the night in a pair of volleyball shorts and a bedazzled too tight t-shirt that said Princess across the chest. As soon as Gannon found out the nickname irked her, he became steadfast in his regular use of it.

Paige deleted the lines and tried to tune back in to the speaker, who was finally approaching the important part of the meeting. The families that would be featured on the show this season.

“Our first family for the season is the Russes.” A slide showing an older couple surrounded by kids of all ages filled the screen. “Phil and Delia Russe have three kids and nine grandkids.”

He clicked to the next slide showing the exterior of a non-descript commercial building. “Twenty years ago, they opened a soup kitchen in town and have served up something like one million meals. The entire family still volunteers there.”

Another slide. This one showing a shabby-chic office with the Russes accepting a giant check from two men in suits. “Five years ago, they added a job placement service to the operation. So we’ve got former homeless ready to volunteer, all of the kids and grandkids will be on hand, and the rest of the community is on board. It’ll be a schmaltz-fest. Perfect season opener.”

Paige purposely left “schmaltz-fest” out of her notes.

“We don’t have an update on exactly how extensive the renovation will be. I’ll send out a complete project scope when I have it,” Paige volunteered.

Gannon cleared his throat, and every gaze turned to him.

Kicking back in his chair, he swiveled toward the screen. “My guys touched base with the local crews and the township zoning board. There’s enough room in the back to add an addition for a first-floor master, and then we can reconfigure the front for an open concept. The areas of concern are the roof and the forty-year-old electric. Both are going to need to be replaced. The permits shouldn’t be an issue.”

Gannon King was speaking in a meeting. Willingly. And helpfully. Wonders never ceased. Of course, he was also making her look like an out-of-touch idiot.

The three women around the table were hanging on his every word. The half-dozen men were nodding thoughtfully as if he had just delivered the Gettysburg address. Paige spared a glance at Gannon, who cocked an eyebrow and opened his hands. “I can play nice, princess,” he said quietly.

“I didn’t say you couldn’t.”

“I can hear you judging me.”

Ass. She bet he didn’t hear that.

“I’ll admit to judging you if you stop calling me princess for the season.”

Gannon leaned in. Again, too close. There were flecks of gold in his eyes that caught the light. The scar through his eyebrow made him look dangerous, rakish. “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”

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