ONE

Arms crossed, legs braced shoulder width apart, Hunter Philips stood in the Green Room at Miami’s WTDU TV station and studied the woman on the monitor, mentally preparing for the upcoming clash. On screen Carly Wolfe smiled at the talk-show host and the audience. The little troublemaker was prettier than he’d imagined, with long, glossy brown hair pulled forward over one shoulder and elegant legs crossed. Her leopard print slip dress was flirty and seductively short, matching a pair of killer heels. An outfit perfect for the host’s live midnight show, but mostly for visually seducing a guy into a stupor of compliance. Every man in the viewing area with a functioning libido was quite likely licking their TV screen about now.

Clearly smitten, the blond talk-show host leaned back in his chair, his mahogany desk catty-corner to the leather love seat where Carly Wolfe sat. “I enjoyed your daily blog accounts of your...shall we say...” Brian O’Connor’s smile grew bigger “...creative attempts to obtain Hunter Philips’s comment before running your story in the Miami Insider. Owning a network security consultant business must leave him little time for the press.”

Her smile was warm and genuine. “I was told he’s a very busy man.”

“How many times did you contact him?”

“I called his secretary six times.” The woman laced her fingers, hooking them at the end of her knee, and sent the host a delightfully mischievous look. “Seven if you count my attempt to hire his company to help with my social networking security settings.”

The wave of laughter from the audience blended with the host’s chuckle. He was clearly charmed by his guest, and Hunter’s lips twisted in a humorless smile. Carly Wolfe’s fun-loving nature had the audience firmly twined around her delicate pinky finger, which meant Hunter was in some serious trouble.

“I don’t know for sure,” Brian O’Connor said, oozing the easy sarcasm that made him so popular with the heavily sought-after twenty-to-thirty-five-year-old demographic, “but I imagine Hunter Philips’s company usually deals with more complicated accounts than simple social networking settings.”

A playful twinkle appeared in her gaze. “That’s the impression I got from his secretary.”

Hunter stared at Carly’s captivating amber-colored eyes and creamy skin, his body appreciating the entire package. Physical attraction he’d learned to ignore, but these last few weeks he’d grown intrigued and amused as Carly Wolfe’s attempts to get his comment had proved increasingly more ingenious. Unfortunately the sassy sex appeal and the spirited sense of fun was an irresistible combination.

No doubt she’d learned to use her charms to her advantage.

Despite the need to pace, the urge to move, Hunter remained still, mentally running through his options for handling the journalist as he assessed her on the monitor. Years ago he’d undergone extensive training, learning how to wait patiently and ignore the chaotic pump of adrenaline surging through his body—no matter the danger. And what did it say about the sad state of his life when danger now came in the form of a pretty reporter?

Hunter forced himself to listen as the host went on.

“Ms. Wolfe,” Brian O’Connor said. “For those few Miamians who haven’t read your article, tell us about the program Hunter Philips created that has you so upset with him.”

“It’s a break-up app called ‘The Ditchinator,’” she said. There was a second ripple of laughter from the audience, and Hunter’s lips twisted wryly. Leave it to Pete Booker, his partner, to choose an insulting name. “Voicemail, text messages, even email,” she went on. “We’ve all been dumped coldheartedly before.” She turned to the audience with an inviting smile that called for solidarity among the rejected. “Am I right?”

A rousing round of applause and whistles broke out from the crowd, and Hunter grimaced. His reason for designing apps on the side was to fight his growing restlessness—an uneasy edginess he couldn’t explain—not to bring about a potential PR problem for his company. Especially with a program he’d created eight years ago during a moment of weakness. He never should have given his partner the go-ahead to rework the idea.

Forcing his attention back to the monitor, Hunter listened as the host addressed Carly. “Are you still interested in speaking with Mr. Philips?”

“I’m more than interested, Brian,” Carly Wolfe said. “I’m dying to talk to him—if only for a minute.” She turned her winning expression toward the audience, and her beguiling charm reached through the television screen and tugged hard on Hunter’s libido. “What do you guys think?” she said. “Should I keep pursuing Mr. Philips to hear what he has to say for himself?”

It was clear from the whoops and cheers that the audience was ready to string Hunter up, and his muscles tightened with tension, like rubber bands stretched to the max.

Long ago he’d been secretly tried, convicted, before being metaphorically hung for being the bad guy—all thanks to another beautiful reporter who had needed her story. This time he had every intention of fighting back...with any means necessary.

“Mr. Philips?” a crew member said as he entered the room. “You’re on in one minute.”

* * *

With the announcement of a commercial break, Carly relaxed in the love seat arranged diagonally to the host. She hoped Hunter Philips was watching the show and saw that the audience was as fired up about his insulting app as she was.

She was no stranger to humiliation—was becoming quite the expert, in fact. And who hadn’t experienced an impersonal break-up these days? But the memory of Jeremy’s insensitive Ditchinator message boiled Carly’s blood. If he’d simply broken it off with a quick text message she would have been over him in about forty-eight hours. Okay, probably less. The way she’d learned Thomas had dumped her—via a newspaper article and, worse, to save his financial bottom line—had been a theme park ride of embarrassment, minus the thrills and fun. The Ditchinator took the experience in a different direction. It was heartless, for sure. But the worst part? It was so...so...flippant.

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