Sunny Bates held her breath as Jackson Maise unfolded all six feet, three inches of his body from the limo. Of course, she knew he was over six feet. She knew all his pertinent info: number one country song in the USA six weeks and counting, a worldwide summer tour that broke stats as soon as ticket sales opened, and a new album in the works, reportedly better than his groundbreaking first. Still, she hadn't expected him to be so...so tall.
On this Saturday morning, he stood to his full height on the curb outside the network offices, and Sunny had to look up. At five eleven, she wasn't used to looking up to many people. Dimples punctuated both sides of those firm lips...when he chose to smile. But most of the time he wore a slight frown that made those brown eyes seem as if they could look right through a person. Brown hair with touchable, sweet caramel highlights peeked out from beneath his black cowboy hat.
Whoa. Where had those thoughts come from? They weren't the pertinent details she needed to focus on and certainly not the ones that had convinced her that Jackson needed to be the next new judge on Rising Stars. It had taken Sunny's team almost a year to convince him to join the judging panel of the popular singing talent show, and she was blowing their first face-to-face meeting with her unprofessional attitude. She held out her hand. "Welcome to Hollywood, Jackson. It's good to finally meet you in person."
"Sunny, it's my pleasure."
There it was. The trademark smile that broke hearts and probably had as much to do with Jackson's popularity as his songs. That grin brought out his dimples and made Sunny's stomach do funny twists. "Pleasure" took on new meaning when Jackson Maise said it with a smile.
He grasped her hand. Long fingers wrapped all the way around her hand. His was warm and strong and...calloused from work on his family's thoroughbred ranch. Definitely different from the hands of most of the male performers she encountered.
Sunny, be a smart girl and focus on the ranch, his family, the important info. Not the package.
She released his hand—even if the motion was a bit reluctant—and gestured toward the door of the building. "I hope you’re enjoying your hotel. It's one of our iconic spots, close to the Hollywood sign, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and the Walk of Stars. You mentioned you liked visiting historical spots, so I thought you might enjoy the Gable-Lombard penthouse."
"It's fine. Thank you."
His tone didn't sound as if everything was fine. Sunny halted. "If the hotel isn't to your liking we can move you to another place."
He shook his head. "No, that's not necessary. The hotel’s great. It's just that I spend a lot of time on the road. Hotels are not my favorite places. I'd like to get settled into my own place as soon as possible."
Relief swept through Sunny. "That's no problem. My team has already picked out three locations. All we need is for you to choose which you would prefer. We can do that as soon as you like."
"Great. The sooner the better."
"Well, your addition to the program's panel is one of the studio's best kept secrets. They'd like it to stay that way until the press conference in..." she checked her phone, "exactly one hour. As soon as that's over, I’ll make arrangements for you to visit the places we've picked out...unless of course, you want to rest. I mean jetlag..."
He shook his head with a ghost of a smile, and Sunny wished he'd flash the real thing. She wanted to see it again.
"I'm fine. You got me here in plenty of time to prepare." He grasped her arm and halted her forward movement. "Sunny, I just want you to know I really appreciate all that you and your team have done for me. All the planning and preparation, even to the point of getting me here early for the press conference. Not many folks would take care of those details.”
And that was another reason Jackson Maise continued to be a fan favorite. Fame hadn't gone to his head.
"Thank you," she said. "Some people in our business expect these things. It's really nice you noticed."
He touched his fingers to the brim of his hat, tipped his head, then motioned toward the door for her to go first. Even though she appreciated his gentlemanly gesture, she couldn't help wishing he'd flash that hundred-watt grin. There was something addictive about those firm lips, about the way those dark eyes pierced and made her feel as if she was the only person in the room.
They crossed the lobby and headed toward the elevators.
"By the way," he said as the doors closed and they whooshed up to the executive offices, "my mom wanted me to thank you once again for the flowers. She says she's still having a hard time believing she's sixty. The flowers eased her path."
Sunny laughed. "Well, you can tell her for me, she's my hero. I only hope to be as active and look so good when I'm her age."
He tilted his head. A slight frown creased his brow, and his gaze took in her physique and face without any hint of leering. "I don't think that's going to be a problem."
A wash of unexpected pleasure swept through Sunny. Her breath caught, and her cheeks heated up. Thankfully, the doors opened, and Jackson stepped out. Sunny blinked and followed him, feeling as if she were escaping a heated cage. Thank goodness there are only seven floors on this building. That brooding half-frown can be as devastating as his smile.
The elevator opened onto another smaller lobby. This one boasted floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over a small park across the street.
Jackson strolled to the window and looked down, giving Sunny a few moments to catch her breath. She needed it.
She was used to men making comments on her appearance. Tall, long-haired blondes with green eyes tended to garner lots of attention, especially in an industry based on pretty faces and muscled torsos. But most of those comments slipped off men's tongues like coconut oil. Jackson's words packed a punch because they seemed sincere. More importantly, he didn't press his advantage or try to score more points. That caught Sunny off guard.
He stood with his back to her, his black cowboy hat pulled low, his lean torso wrapped in a tight blue shirt, and his fingers tucked into the pockets of his snug jeans. His hips were cocked, one foot slightly in front of the other. He seemed confident, sure of himself, but at the same time, a little unsure, out of place.
Sunny wanted to wrap her arms around him and give him a hug...all six foot three inches. She stepped beside him at the window and looked at the small park across the street. "That place will be lovely in a few more weeks."
"That's a lot more green than I'm used to seeing back home this time of year." A hint of his Tennessee accent slipped out.