BUILDING A BAD BOY
Excerpt . . .
Kimberly Logan pushed open the polished mahogany door
with the stenciled words “Life Mates…where
you’re coached along the path to love.”
The buzz of Las Vegas traffic faded as she stepped inside
and clicked the door shut behind her. She paused to
catch her breath while eying the recent renovation of
her waiting room from cheery yellow to seductive dusty
rose. The new color scheme was infinitely more stimulating,
exciting…precisely the environment Kimberly wanted
for her clientele who came seeking love ever-after and
The air-conditioning seemed a tad cool, though. Even
though it was February, she liked to keep it humming
on a low setting. Most dating service first-timers were
anxious. Cool air helped soothe them. Too chilly, however,
would only add to their nervousness.
I’ll ask Maurice to adjust the temperature
ASAP. Kimberly headed to his desk, her high heels
clicking across the polished parquet floor until she
stepped onto the thick Oriental rug and halted at a
Behind which sat Maurice, his tan face creased with
his I’m-not-happy-with-you look. Despite his attitude,
he looked natty as usual. Tan khaki pants, pink polo
shirt. Gay men sure knew how to dress.
She glanced at her office door, which was closed. “I
know,” she demurred, meeting her office manager’s
gaze. “I’m late.”
“Kimberly,” he said crisply, “you
must stop making appointments for nine a.m.
and not showing up until…” With a flourish
of his wrist, he checked the time. “Nine-thirty-eight.
Worse, this guy showed up fifteen minutes early, so
he’s been cooling his heels in your office for
almost an hour. Fortunately he has the patience of a
saint, unlike that guy two weeks ago who copped a ‘tude
and used your Waterford bowl for an ashtray--”
“It’s those weekly Chamber of Commerce
breakfast meetings,” she said on a release of
breath. “People arrive late, speakers talk too
long. I’m on time for all my other meetings.”
“When you’re here, not cavorting
about in your Beemer, doing networking things.”
“You’re right. I’m still reacting
to Great Dates opening up one of their national offices
two blocks away. I keep thinking if I don’t do
everything to promote Life Mates, they’ll cut
into our business.”
“Kimberly, what you offer is unique. No global
dating agency can begin to cater to Vegas clients the
way you do. They’re like Hershey chocolate, you’re
like Francine’s Gourmet Bon-Bons.”
Francine, a local high-end chocolatier, had a loyal
following who thought nothing of shelling out twenty-four
dollars for a dozen homemade, hand-dipped bon-bons.
“Thanks,” Kimberly murmured.
It offered some comfort that Life Mates was the most
successful dating agency in Vegas, although she had
a lot on her plate running the business as well as being
its resident “success coach”--a marketing
term she’d coined four years ago when she opened
the doors of Life Mates. As a success coach, she didn’t
just play the same boring connect-the-dots and match
up person A with B, like Great Dates, she personally
coached her clients—-from picking out
their clothes to helping them practice the fine art
of dating and, ultimately, seduction.
“If it makes you feel any better,” said
Maurice, “I set up a meeting next week with Barnet
“The advertising agency?”
“Yes. They’re going to pitch a local TV
campaign idea for Life Mates.”
“Great idea.” She plucked a jelly bean
from the jar on his desk.
“You didn’t eat at the breakfast meeting,
He handed her a clipboard with a form secured underneath
a silver clamp. “Here’s his application.”
She quickly scanned it. “His first name’s
“So Noel Coward, isn’t it? You
know, I should fill that candy bowl with soy nuts instead
of sugar. No wonder you’re always motoring a thousand
miles an hour.”
“A little English, a little French.” Maurice
lowered his voice. “Shame he’s straight.”
She peeked at Maurice over the clipboard.
He raised a hand in mock protest. “I’d
never flirt with any of your clientele.” He feigned
a shudder. “I might be gay, but I’m no masochist.”
Kimberly offered a small smile.
“It’s good to see you smile,” he
said warmly. “Someday I’ll even get you
to laugh out loud.”
She returned to the application. “Wrestler?”
“Former. Plus he’s bald, thirty-four, wants
the picket fence, wife, kids.”
She looked up and frowned. “Bald?”
“Retro-Yul Brynner. Very in right now.”
“Hairless heads are making a comeback?”
she murmured, nudging a strand of her blond hair back
into her chignon.
“Darling, you might run the chic-est
dating service this side of the Rockies, but you must
get out more! Go see a Vin Diesel flick.”
Vin who? “No time.” She checked
her reflection in the gold-veined mirror over the guest
couch. Making a quick adjustment to her jacket, she
murmured, “I’ll go in and meet Nigel now.”
“I’ll bring in your coffee.”
“I know. Black. Two packets Skinny Sweet.”
She headed to her office. “And by the way,”
she whispered over her shoulder. “I laugh out
“I Love Lucy reruns.”
Maurice tossed her a “really?” look as
he sauntered back to the kitchenette.
Until he came along, she’d been through nearly
a dozen office assistants. It wasn’t that Kimberly
was overly demanding or intense—-despite what
several of them had huffed—-she just wanted her
business to be run right.
Which, finally, Maurice did. After almost a year working
together, she didn’t know what she’d do
without him. Even his nagging. The guy had her best
interests at heart.
Unlike the other men she’d had in her life.
She placed her hand on the brass knob of her office
door, took a calming breath, then opened it and stepped
“Mr. Durand, I’m so very sorry.”
Kimberly swept into the room as she had a hundred times
before, shoulders back, chin high, exuding conviction.
She’d learned long ago that no matter what the
circumstances, people responded favorably to grand displays
“I had an emergency meeting this morning that
was impossible to break,” she continued, putting
on her best I’m-so-sorry look. “I apologize
for your having to wait.”
Nigel Durand rose from the guest chair. And kept rising
until he’d unfolded into a towering mass of bulk
that loomed over her.
A towering mass of bulk with a shiny dome on top.
She eased in a stream of air and stared heavenward,
getting the giddy sense she was standing at the foot
of a mountain. And for a moment, she felt small, overwhelmed.
Things Kimberly Logan never felt.
“That’s all right, ma’am,”
said a deep voice that reverberated like thunder from
the mountain top.
She felt like telling him she was only twenty-eight.
Call her Miss or Ms., but please not ma’am.
She blinked at the mountain top, recalling Maurice’s
reference to a retro-Yul Brynner. A distant memory of
the movie The King and I flitted through her
mind. As the king of Siam, Yul had swaggered across
his palace, oozing arrogance and testosterone out of
Maurice was right. Bald heads were sexy. She
wondered how it would feel to run her fingers over Nigel’s
An unexpected shiver of anticipation ran down her spine.
“Please, Mr. Durand,” she said, surprised
how breathy her voice suddenly sounded, “have
As the mountain descended, she crossed behind her chrome
and glass desk. “Let’s talk about how Life
Mates can help you find the woman of your dreams.”
As she sat down in her high-back, ergonomic chair, she
set the clipboard on the desk and hoped Maurice showed
up soon with the coffee—-her energy was flagging.
Nigel settled back into the guest chair facing her,
and she locked on his eyes. Such a rich blue.
Like the irises that grew rampant in her neighbor’s
field back in Sterling, Colorado. As a child, she loved
to pick armfuls and arrange them in her favorite vase.
The vibrant colors brightened a home dominated by her
serious, hard-working father.
“So, Mr. Durand,” Kimberly said, folding
her hands neatly in front of her. “You were a
She nodded, waiting for him to say more. Nothing. Finally,
she broke the silence. “Where did you practice
“A fledging career as a college football star
segued into wrestling. Started out touring the circuits,
got invited into the Showcase of the Immortals. Eventually
made the grade into the WWE, settled in Vegas.”
“WWE stands for…”
“World Wrestling Entertainment. Retired from
the ring a year ago.” He shifted in his seat,
which would be a small movement on anyone else. But
on Nigel, muscles bulged and strained before the mass
She eased in a calming breath, which had absolutely
zero calming effect. “How about I put on some
music,” she suddenly said, her voice doing that
breathy thing again. Good thing she forgot to ask Maurice
to turn down the air-conditioning. Right now her overheated
body needed every blast of chill she could get.
“Yes, music,” she answered herself a bit
too enthusiastically, “let’s put on some
She got up and headed to the CD player that sat on
a carved walnut bookcase in the corner. Music helped
people relax. It better help her relax, anyway. She
began flipping through the discs. “Tony Bennett?
Lyle Lovett? Disco Divas?” Disco Divas?
Had to be a recent Maurice addition.
“Got any Celine Dion?”
She glanced over her shoulder at Nigel. “You’re
kidding--” She stopped, seeing the serious look
on his face. “Uh, let me look…I’m
sure we have something here…” She’d
just broken one of her cardinal rules about never insulting
a client. Today was not starting out well.
“Here’s one!” she finally announced.
“The Colour of My Love” she read off the
front of the CD.
“Yeah, that one’s cool.”
Not too many men admitted to being Celine Dion fans.
It was like admitting they cried at sad movies. Or loved
to go shopping.
After sliding the disc into the player, Kimberly headed
back to her desk. Celine’s clear, vibrant voice
filled the room, singing about always being there for
Kimberly sat down, remembering a time she believed
that. She still believed in true love for others,
just not for herself. It was a good philosophy, though,
because not being romantically enmeshed kept her focused
on her priorities. Number one being her independence—-financial,
personal, professional. Number two being…well,
she hadn’t gotten that far yet.
She glanced at the door. Where was Maurice
and her coffee?
She grabbed a pencil out of her ceramic cup and fiddled
with it, feeling jittery, wishing Nigel wouldn’t
stare at her like that. Those big blue eyes had a way
of boring into her, as though they saw more than she
was willing to let on. Probably a technique he used
in his wrestling days, a psychological tactic to unnerve
“So,” she said, determined to not
be unnerved. I should ask him something about wrestling.
Like what? All she knew about wrestling was big, muscled
bodies and bone-crunching antics.
Her gaze dropped to Nigel’s T-shirt decorated
with the faded image of a…
“Rooster?” she blurted.
The corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled. “Foghorn
“Foghorn--? Was that…your wrestling name?”
He did a double take, then laughed. His lips were so
full, his teeth so big.
“Didn’t you watch cartoons when you were
a kid?” he asked.
“Not even on Saturday mornings?”
Saturday mornings were like any other morning in her
house. They had to be quiet because her mother was sick.
Rather than watch TV, Kimberly would sit on the porch
and read. Or hang out at her neighbor’s, helping
feed or groom the horses.
“No,” she answered softly.
“Really? I thought all kids knew Foghorn Leghorn.
He’s a cartoon character. My kid sisters decided,
years ago, that I was like him because I’m so
big and my voice is so deep.”
Yes, you are big. Mountain-size big. A woman
probably got lost in those arms, cocooned within all
those muscles and warmth. “So,” she whispered,
“what was your professional name?”
She sucked in a breath of surprise. “The Phantom
who pitched trucks a few years back?”
When he nodded yes her heartbeat pounded so hard, she
feared it’d overpower Celine. Kimberly clutched
the pencil, recalling the series of television commercials
starring The Phantom. She’d catch them late at
night while catching up on paperwork. She’d never
been all that hooked on TV, but whenever The Phantom
had appeared, she’d been riveted. He exuded strength
and mystery…and was one hell of a piece of eye
No wonder she didn’t recognize him. In those
ads, he wore a black mask a la Zorro. His only other
body covering had been a pair of leather briefs that
covered the essentials but left the rest of his massive,
muscled body deliciously exposed. He’d been a
mouth-watering mound of chiseled, oiled brown…
She looked down at the pencil she’d just snapped
copyright 2005 Colleen Collins
back to top