Sometimes an author starts on the wrong foot. I certainly did with the Makeover Mistake. The voice was right, the funny was perfect, and the set up was right there. Except…we never scene the woman in this scene again. So it had to go. But you get to read it right here, right now! And then tell me if I should spin off those two characters…
Chapter 1 — DELETED — From The Makeover Mistake by Kathy Lyons
Michael Chang pushed opened his condo’s front door and walked straight into a piano. And not just a tiny upright, but a full sized grand hitting him in the belly as he dragged his luggage into the foyer.
He’d just been on the world’s worst flight from Japan, his head was pounding, and he wanted his bed in his serene Manhattan suite. Instead, he got a piano in his gut and…soft snores from his bedroom?
Jesus. He knew that snore. He’d slept next to it for the first half of his life. His brother. In his bed. And why the hell had the man brought a piano with him?
Michael maneuvered himself and his luggage into the penthouse. He made sure to sneak in quietly because he sure as hell didn’t want to wake his brother before he was ready. Then he toed off his shoes and grabbed his nunchucks out of the closet.
In truth, Jonathan was the better martial arts fighter. He was broader and spent more time working out. The jerk had that luxury because he wasn’t flying all over the globe every damn week like Michael was. But in terms of weapons, Michael had the gift of the nunchucks. Actually, it was a boyhood fascination with Indiana Jones translated into whips, ropes, chains, and nunchucks. Whatever was flexible and had reach. And tonight, Jonathan was going to be on the smarting end of it.
He edged past the piano and silently pushed opened his bedroom door. The snoring was louder in here, naturally, and yup—there was his brother sprawled across a beautiful woman.
He crept in. Naturally his brother had left the curtains open—not a modest bone in the man’s body—and so the lights from the city easily illuminated the scene in a rainbow of colors. He wondered if the woman was a model, then carefully aimed for the part of his brother that wasn’t draped in gorgeous female.
Bam bam bam! He whacked his brother about the ass and back with the nunchucks. Not hard enough to cause damage, but enough to wake the man on a scream. And there would probably be a bruise or two.
Jonathan came alive with a bellow. He was up and striking back with lightning swiftness. If his feet hadn’t gotten tangled up in the sheets, he might have gotten the better of the situation. But Michael had the advantage of height, surprise, and the nunchucks.
The fight took a few moments but in the end, Michael had the chucks about his brother’s throat and was squeezing enough to make his point.
“Put it down or you’re dead,” came a cold female voice.
Michael looked up, startled to see the babe standing there naked and with a gun in her hand.
“Uh…this isn’t what it seems,” he said.
“It seems like you’re choking the life out of my date.”
Ah, well, yes. He slowly eased off his hold. He was about to explain when Jonathan exploded off the bed, tossing the nunchucks aside, then whipping Michael onto the mattress. Michael didn’t struggle. The barrel of woman’s 45 loomed large in his thoughts. Meanwhile, Jonathan got him down and pressed an elbow hard into his sternum.
Ugh. Jesus, that was going to bruise.
Then his brother just grinned down at him. “Got ya,” he said in a soft undertone.
“What the hell is it with you and redheads?” Michael groused. “And get the fuck off.”
“She’s not a real redhead,” his brother retorted with a grin. “Didn’t you notice?”
No, he’d been looking at the barrel of the 45.
“Gentlemen,” she interrupted coldly. “I’m dialing 911 here. You might want—”
“What?” Jonathan exclaimed. “No!”
Michael just groaned. Just what he needed. Cops, building security, and a damned piano in his living room. Jesus, he just wanted to go to bed. In clean sheets.
“He’s my brother,” Jonathan was saying. “It’s okay.”
“He was beating you with—”
“It’s how he says hello. Honest, Christine. Can you put down the phone please?”
Michael thought the gun might be the bigger concern, but he didn’t say anything. He’d learned young that he just had to ride out his brother’s escapades and then pick up the pieces afterwards. So he lay there, thinking of ways he would punish his brother after this was all done.
Meanwhile, the woman was showing that she had some real sense. She didn’t dial, but she didn’t relax, either. Her finger was poised to hit send and the gun–-handily reflected in the dresser mirror–-was rock steady. Boy, his brother sure could pick ’em. Leggy, muscular, and a tumble of short red curls about her shoulders. Definitely Jonathan’s type. Sadly, the woman just made Michael yawn. Or shrink in terror given that she clearly knew her way around a 45.
“It’s safe, Christine,” his brother was saying. “Really, it’s okay. He’s a little pissed at me.”
“A little?” Michael grunted as he tapped the elbow still digging into his chest. “Get the hell off me bro.”
“Don’t move!” the woman barked.
He didn’t. But his brother slowly straightened up. “Really, Christine, it’s okay.”
“Why is your brother breaking into your house and attacking you in the middle of the night?”
Michael answered, his voice a low threatening growl. “Because it’s my house and my bed. And why the hell did you put a piano in it?”
Jonathan looked down. “I’ve got a good explanation. For the piano at least.”
Michael closed his eyes and sighed. Fortunately, it was accompanied by the sound of the woman clicking the safety back in place.
“Why are we in your brother’s place?” she asked.
“Um, I didn’t think he was coming back until tomorrow—”
“Caught an earlier flight.”
“And I needed to be here to explain the piano. So—”
“So,” the woman picked up the tale. “You picked me up at the bar and brought me here and pretended to own a penthouse suite in Manhattan.”
“I…uh, um. My apartment isn’t—”
“It’s in Brooklyn,” Michael said. Then he shot the woman an apologetic look. After all, it wasn’t her fault she’d been seduced by his charming, charismatic, not-always-completely-truthful brother. Many a woman had fallen under his spell. “Can I get up now?”
She took a moment to think. “So actually, we’re the interlopers.”
She grimaced, then shifted her weapon to aim at Jonathan. “Want me to shoot him for you?”
“Yes,” Michael said.
“Oh wait,” Michael continued. “Then we’d have security and cops and all.”
The woman lowered the gun. “I hate paperwork.” Then she shrugged as she looked to Michael. “Sorry. I’ll be out of here in two seconds.”
“Take your time,” he answered as she reached for her clothes. Hell, he might not get off on her body type, but he wasn’t dead. And she was beautiful.
Meanwhile, Jonathan was pulling on his jeans. “I’ll walk you down—”
“Save it,” she snapped as she wriggled her way into a skin-tight dress that barely covered her bottom. “And lose my phone number, too. I’ve decided we don’t suit.”
Jonathan opened his mouth to argue, but then stopped. He always seemed to know when it was time to cut his losses, and so he shoved his hands into his pocket and sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said. He sounded like he meant it.
She looked back, her expression sad as she pulled up the side zipper. “My advice? Figure out your redhead issue and clean up your life. Because this bullshit sucks.”
Jonathan didn’t answer. He just looked guilty and ashamed. Meanwhile, the woman turned to Michael.
“Is he really Jonathan Chang, CEO of Chang Smart Publishing?”
Michael nodded. “I’m his brother and partner Michael. I handle all the overseas stuff, watch the books, and occasionally, I beat the crap out of him.” He extended his hand to her.
“I’m sorry I stopped you.” She took it in a firm grip while simultaneously slipping into her shoes.
“Hey!” Jonathan exclaimed.
“Good bye,” she said before he started talking again. Then she grabbed her purse and sashayed out. If she added a little extra attitude to her step, who could blame her?
Both men watched her leave—she was worth the extra viewing time—and then they held the silence until the front door clicked shut behind her. Jonathan dropped onto the dresser with a loud exhale. “What a woman,” he huffed, admiration in his tone.
“Get the hell out of my home.”
“I, um, it’s too late to go back to Brooklyn.”
“I don’t care.”
“And I’ve got an early meeting tomorrow—”
“I don’t care.”
“And there isn’t room for the pull out with the piano in the way.”
“I. Don’t. Care.”
“Don’t you want to know about the piano?”
“Fine,” his brother huffed. “By the way, you don’t have to come in tomorrow.”
Yes, he did. “Great. Go away.”
“And don’t unpack. You’re leaving for Vegas in…um…32 hours.”
Michael didn’t say anything. He was trying to think of a reason—any reason—for him to be in Vegas. Nope. Couldn’t think of a single one.
“That’s when you’ll be playing the piano.” Jonathan grinned at him, clearly thinking he was about to say something exciting. “You’re going undercover.”
“As a piano player?”
“But I don’t play the piano.”
“You’re better at piano than the sax.”
“Plus, you don’t have a bartending license.”
No argument there.
There was a long silence, and then finally, Michael rubbed his face and sat up. “Okay, I’ll bite. Why am I going undercover in Vegas as a bartender.”
“Piano player. Because Chucklehead has been bringing in a lot of good money.”
That did it. Michael’s temper got the better of him. He bunched up his fist and punched his brother–-bam–-as hard as he could. Right in the solar plexus. His brother went down on his ass.
“What the hell was that for?”
Michael didn’t even answer, but gave his brother a furious look.
“Fine, fine,” the man groused as he rubbed his chest. “Here’s the deal. Charles Dixon, editor in the fiction department, has been doing really well lately.”
“Charles is Chuckles, right? That jerk you hired because Mom begged you to? Just try him out, she said.”
His brother nodded. “He’s been coming up with some really innovative campaigns, grabbing some first class talent and doing some great stuff with them.”
“That’s a good thing, right?”
His brother sighed and let his hand drop to the carpet. “Yeah, it is, but he’s an ass. A major ass. Remember I said I was just going to keep him for six months, long enough for him to prove himself or fail?”
“Sounds like he proved himself.”
“Yeah, but I don’t trust it. He’s an ass, but the authors he’s bringing in are women. Not generally in his wheelhouse.”
“Except he brought them in.”
“But something’s wrong. Something’s off, but I can’t figure out what.”
Michael took that in. His brother’s instincts were rarely wrong. If Jonathan thought something was hinky, then something probably was. “Okay. So how does me being a piano player fit into this?”
“There’s a big conference in Vegas. Publishing ///. You know how it happens. People hang out at the piano bar afterwards. They talk, they schmooze, they drop industry gossip.”
“You can’t seriously expect me to pretend to be a Vegas piano man.”
“Charles is a big drinker. I know he’s going to be there. Chat him up. Play songs just for him. Buy him something with vodka in it. A lot of vodka. See if—”
“Except I’m his boss. Even a Chucklehead will know who I am.”
His brother pushed off the dresser, his eyes alight with excitement. “But that’s just it! He doesn’t know you. You’re traveling all the time. He knows me. You’re the—”
“The backstage guy. Yeah, I get it.” And in truth, Jonathan was probably right. Their company was big enough that maybe Chuckles didn’t know him. Not on sight. Not if he wore something out of character.
Jonathan grinned. “So you’ll do it?”
His brother cursed. “Why the hell not?”
“Because I don’t play the piano.”
“Sure you do. I remember hours of it every day for years.”
Their mom had insisted. Jonathan had gotten out of it by breaking two fingers while playing football in the peewee league. Michael hadn’t been so lucky.
“I hated it.”
Jonathan grinned. “I know. That’s why I got you a special piano.”