Read Starstruck Online

Authors: Anne McAllister

Tags: #Movie Industry, #Celebrity, #Journalism, #Child





Anne McAllister


How could she resist a man who ate his peas?

Any man who attempted to turn an interview into a seduction, then had the nerve to invite himself to dinner, deserved exactly what he got. Liv James couldn't help feeling that actor Joe Harrington, America's heartthrob, deserved a good dose of reality

Liv's kind of reality. That included a hyperactive rabbit cavorting in the back of her van, a slightly charred casserole and, of course, the children.

Five of them. If the casserole didn't poison him, the
commotion would deafen him…
It must have been the novelty he loved, Liv decided. But as time passed and Joe began to talk of settling in Madison, Liv prayed the novelty would wear off before she got in too deep!





Chapter One



e? Interview Joe Harrington? You must be out of your mind!” Liv James stared across her messy desk with a mixture of exasperation and incredulity at her fellow reporter who had just ruined a perfectly lovely, sunny May afternoon by offering this astonishing rumor. “I’d rather cover the Kennel Club finals,” she added with the distaste of a woman allergic to dogs.

“You may well get to if you don’t show a little more enthusiasm for one of
the world’s more famous actor-
directors,” Frances Slade cautioned her, excitement wreathing her usually imperturbable, grandmotherly face. “Me, I’d interview him in a minute. Who knows where it might lead?” she went on dreamily.

“To bed,” Liv said flatly. “With Joe Harrington, I hear that’s where it always leads.”

“Ah, but what a night,” Frances sighed with a gleeful chuckle.

“Whatever would George say?” Liv teased. George and Frances had been married well over thirty years, which Liv was beginning to think was some kind of record in this day and age.

“That could be a problem,” Frances agreed. “And you’re more his type, anyway. He seems to go for tall, slender blondes. You see him with them all the time.” She eyed Liv’s upswept ash-blond hair and slim figure as if she were actually assessing their potential.

“You see Joe Harrington with anything in skirts,” Liv retorted.

“Besides,” Frances went on as if she hadn’t heard, “you’re uncommitted.”

“And damned well going to stay that way.”

“Touchy, touchy,” Frances chided her. “
thought you were well over Tom.”

“I am. And I have no intention of interviewing Joe Harrington because he’s just another Tom James to the nth degree. It’s men like him who give idiots like Tom their ideas.” Her dentist ex-husband had decided after ten years of marriage that he needed to “feel free.” Currently he was experiencing that freedom in the arms of a twenty-four year old graduate student who had come to him for a root canal and had stayed to help him “fulfill” himself. Her name was Trudy, but there had been Janice and Patty and Di and several others before her, and Liv was not impressed. Except by the irresponsibility of it all.

“I’m not sure it’s quite fair to blame Joe Harrington for all of Tom’s sins,” Frances objected. “After all, Joe wasn’t ever married with five kids.”

“Maybe not,” Liv admitted grudgingly, “but he is certainly a source of inspiration.” She began straightening her desk, lining up pencils, sorting paper clips, anything to take her mind off the irritation she felt at Frances’s even having suggested such an outrageous idea. “Anyway,” she said as an afterthought, “I’m off early today. Marv’s given me a break because it’s my birthday.”

“Maybe that’s why you get to do the interview,” Frances laughed. “Mmmmmm, what a present!”

“Cut that out,” Liv said, grinning in spite of herself. “What I am getting for my birthday is a casserole I made on the weekend, if Noel remembers to put it in the oven, and a cake that Ben, Stephen and Theo are baking with a little help from their
friends and an original water-
color by Jennifer
All far superior gifts to an interview with the playboy of the western world.”

“Don’t be surprised if you get that, too,” Frances said and jerked her head in the direction of the editor making his way across the busy newspaper office toward them. “Here comes Marv.”

“Have I got a job for you!” Marv Ketchum boomed with the same heartiness that he once used when he sent Liv off to write a story on ice fishing. She was glad it was not December.

“Oh?” Liv looked up, the hairs on the back of her neck standing up as she anticipated the ax about to fall.

“Story of the year,” he went on jovially, “and
get to cover it. What do you say to that?”

“That I hope it’s tomorrow, because I’m leaving at three-thirty today.”

Marv sighed, losing his heartiness. “I was afraid of that.”

“It isn’t?”

“No.” Then, apparently deciding that his best tactic was a strong offense, he said abruptly, “I want you to be at the Sheraton at five o’clock to interview Joe Harrington.”

Frances beamed, her existence justified. Liv’s teeth snapped together so hard they hurt.

“He’s agreed to an interview—” Marv began.

for him,” Liv muttered. “Why me? I thought the national desk guys would cover him. I mean, he’s in Madison to speak for that world peace organization, isn’t he? That’s their area, not mine.”

“Well,” Marv said, ticking them off on his fingers, “Fitz went to Chicago for a story, Daly is in M
inneapolis, Holt has the flu…”

“Fitz went to Chicago? But I saw him twenty minutes ago.

“Leaving,” Marv said with satisfaction. “So that means you’re it. Have
it on my desk by ten o’clock to
morrow morning.”

“Wait a minute,” Liv said as he moved away. “What about Frances? Can’t Frances do it?” Surely George
wouldn't really mind if she sacrificed his wife on the altar of America’s favorite heartthrob.

Marv shook his head. "Come along to my office,” he said and nearly dragged her with him, shutting the door behind her. “Sit,” he commanded.

“I’ll stand.”

“Look, be reasonable,” he said, trying to moderate his tone and not wholly succeeding. “Think how many women would like to be in your shoes. How many would give everything they own to interview Joe Harrington?”

“They’re welcome,” Liv said tartly, gray eyes flashing. “All
want is a nice, hectic evening alone with my kids.”

“You like your Job, don’t you?” Marv said silkily, suddenly looking every inch the tough boss.

Liv stared. “You wouldn’t?” she gasped. He knew how much she needed this job. He had given it to her on very slim reasons and very great faith when she was newly divorced three years before and had presented him with a resume that said, “Twenty-nine years old, five children, no experience.” Surely he wouldn’t snatch it away now—not because of someone like Joe Harrington!

“I probably wouldn’t,” Marv said heavily as he lit a cigar and took several
short puffs. “But I need to im
press you with how very much I want this interview. Joe Harrington gives damned few of
them. And if he’s suddenly willing to talk to
Madison Times’
feature writer, Olivia James, you’re going to listen!”

“But why me?” Liv demanded again. “Surely you could send someone else.”

“I could,” Marv agreed. “But he won’t talk to anyone else. It’s you he wants.”

“Me?” She was incredulous. “He doesn’t even know me!”

Marv shrugged. “He must know
of yo
then. His secretary, some guy named Gates, called me this afternoon and said Harrington would talk to you. No one else.”

“That’s absurd.” Liv turned and put her hand on the doorknob.

“Olivia.” Marv’s voice was like steel. “I wrote Harrington’s agent about an interview weeks ago when we first knew he was coming to Madison to give this speech. ‘No interviews,’ the agent said. ‘Everything he wants to say he’ll say in his speech.’ Fitz contacted him again about a week ago on the off-chance he’d changed his mind. He hadn’t. Then today I get a call from Harrington’s secretary and he says, ‘You have a reporter named Olivia James, right?’ and I say, ‘Right,’ and he says, ‘Mr. Harrington says if you still want the interview, he’ll talk to her.’
” Marv lifted his shoulders eloquently. “Think what you like,” he told her. “Just be there at five o’clock.”

“And if I’m not?” Liv didn’t like the sound of this one bit. Joe Harrington sounded even worse than she had imagined.

“You will be, Liv,” Marv said softly, cigar smoke puffing out of his lips like smoke from a fire-breathing dragon. “Because you know how much an interview like this would mean to the paper. To me. To you. You’re a professional, Liv. You don’t have to like him, for heaven’s sake. You’ve only got to listen!”

Liv sagged against the door frame, seeing mortgage payments and outgrown shoes. Weighed against them, a personal dislike of men like Joe Harrington seemed petty indeed. She was thirty-two years old and the mother of five children ranging in age from twelve to five. Surely she could put her personal feelings aside and be professional enough to handle a simple interview. Marv was right. Besides, after Tom she ought to have plenty of natural immunity to the type. “All right,” she said. “You win.”

“That’s my girl.” Marv beamed at her, and Liv gave him a wry smile as she went out.

“Are you going to do it, then?” Frances pounced on her the moment she returned to her desk.

Liv made a face. “What do you think? Now all I’ve got to do is figure out how to fit him in. If I stop by the vet’s for the rabbit
go to the cleaners, and then I—

“I almost forgot,” Frances interrupted. “Noel just called and said he had baseball practice, so he can’t put in the casserole. And the nurse at Ben’s school phoned and said he cut his lip. I asked her if it needed stitches and she said no, so I told her you’d wait to see it till he got home.” Frances’s children were grown, but she hadn’t forgotten what it was like.

“Wonderful,” Liv said absently, mentally calculating how long it would take her to dash home and put the casserole in the oven before she got the rabbit, picked up the cleaning and arrived at the Sheraton. Darn Joe Harrington anyway. And, oh, hell, Stephen had a cello lesson. She would have to call Tom to take him to that. “If I leave now,” she told Frances, glancing at her watch, “I just might make it.”

“Give ’im a kiss for me.” Frances grinned, making smacking sounds with her lips.

Liv rolled her e
es. “A punch in the nose is more like it.”



ot tonight, sweetheart. No. Tomorrow at the earliest.” Joe Harrington ran a hand through his thick brown hair, which needed cutting, and rued its tendency to curl. Scowling he rubbed his eyes wearily. “Yeah, yeah. I miss you, too,” he mumbled. It was a lie—he could scarcely remember what she looked like. Luscious. Buxom, no doubt. They all were. Brain like a pea. He slipped off his shirt and tossed it onto the bed, rummaging through his suitcase and pulling out a pair of faded jeans and a gray sweat shirt that had seen better days. He felt as though his entire body had seen better days. Of course one glance in the full-length mirror against the closet door showed that he was still trim and fit. Who, at thirty-six, wouldn’t be if he spent days riding elephants and swinging through
trees, chasing bandits and diamond smugglers through God’s and Hollywood’s best obstacle courses?

“But, Joe, I don’t want to go to the party without you,” the sexily husky voice on the other end of the line nagged him.

“Linda, if you don’t want to go, don’t go,” he snapped, stepping out of his slacks and pulling on the jeans, the phone tucked under his ear. “I gotta run. Talk to you later.”

“You’ll call first thing when you get back, won’t you?” she begged.

“Sure, sure.” Joe dropped the receiver on the bed as her voice went on whiningly and tugged the sweat shirt over his head. Then he picked the receiver up and said, “Bye,” hanging up before she could continue. A little Linda Lucas went a long way. How had she known where he was staying, anyway? He wadded up his shirt and slacks and stuffed them into the suitcase, slamming it shut. Then he collapsed onto the bed with a groan. Maybe he could catch forty winks before he had to be on the road again.

A breakfast speech in St. Louis, a luncheon speech in Chicago and a meeting with the cardinal, another speech in Milwaukee just finished, and now two hours in a car before he would give his last speech of the day in Madison. “Why do you do it?” Linda had railed at him when she wasn’t cooing and batting her eyelashes. Joe grimaced. Why indeed? Except that he had a conscience; he felt obliged to speak out for the things that he believed in such as a need for world peace and communications between nations—and, oddly enough, people seemed willing to listen. “Because the name Joe Harrington commands respect,” his agent told him. But, Joe thought grimly, at least he wasn’t quite fool enough to believe that. They came because he was a sex symbol, a turn-on. A slight smile touched his face at the thought. Would he turn
on tonight? Olivia, Tim had said her name was.

“You have an interview with her at five o’clock,” Tim had told him. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing? I mean, she’s not exactly your type.”

“I didn’t know I had a type.” Joe grinned and demonstrated his best leer.

Tim shrugged, still dubious. “You know what I mean. Small town girls are not quite your speed.”

“Oh, but you’re wrong,” Joe replied. “Madison is a veritable metropolis compared to the Sioux City of my youth.” He raised his shoulders indolently. “Besides, a fresh face is what I need right now.”

“Whatever you say,” Tim agreed, and did as he was told. Anyway, the interview was set up, although Tim’s tone implied that he still thought Joe was slightly mad to want it.

Obviously he hadn’t felt what Joe had when he’d seen that grainy newspaper photo from the
Madison Times
that someone handed him. He didn’t exactly know what he felt either—a quickening, a sense of recognition, an instant attraction to the slender woman with the fair hair and wide eyes, who was caught in the act of backing down a zoning commissioner in a nose-to-nose shouting match. The caption had said simply, “Local reporter battles official,” and Joe had stared at it all the way from St. Louis to Chicago. In Chicago he had told Tim Gates he would consider an interview with this reporter if Tim could track her down.

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