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Making Over Mike
by Lisa Plumley

Category: Romance
Description: Amanda Connor is a life coach-not a magician! Granted, as a televised publicity stunt for her new business, the savvy entrepreneur has promised to transform some poor slob into a perfectly balanced example of modern manhood. But Mike Cavaco gives "raw material" new meaning. With her future at stake, what can Amanda do but roll up her sleeves, get down to work ... and pray for a miracle? In a city crawling with hot restaurants and hotter women, culinary whiz and contented bachelor Mike has been in his glory-until now. Simultaneously jobless and dateless, he's forced to trade his sweatpants, poker games, and pay-per-view sports to spend 24/7 with a hyper-enthusiastic mentor who happens to be easy on the eyes-but impossible in every other way. Unwilling Mike never suspects that he's about to become the man of Amanda's dreams-or that she might just turn out to be the woman of his...
eBook Publisher: E-Reads, 2004
eBookwise Release Date: April 2004

eBookeBook

10 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [450 KB]
Words: 95063
Reading time: 271-380 min.


Chapter One

If there ever was a day that called for the get-a-promotion suit, Amanda Connor figured, Monday was it. Especially this Monday. Unfortunately, at the moment she didn't have it. And at this rate, it looked as if she wouldn't be getting it anytime soon, either.

"Melanie, if you're there, please pick up." Scrunching her cell phone between her ear and shoulder, Amanda steered one-handed through the crawl of cars surrounding her. Phoenix rush-hour traffic. At this time of morning, a few minutes before nine o'clock, it could more aptly be called rush-hour all-you-want parking.

Ahead, sunlight sparked from the bumper of a commuter-packed SUV, forcing her to squint. She groped in the console of her cluttered Tercel for her sunglasses, still listening to the chirpy sound of her friend's answering machine message.

"So at the sound of the beep . . . "

"C'mon, Mel," Amanda muttered, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel. "Please be home. C'mon, c'mon—"

" 'Lo?" came her friend's sleep-shuttered voice.

"You're there! Great. Listen, I need the Suit. The get-a-promotion suit. I meant to stop by last night, but there was a crisis with one of my clients —something about a glued-on seaweed facial and a misaligned chakra —and I didn't have time to —"

"Hold on, hold on," Melanie interrupted. "Give me a sec." There was a thump —probably the sound of one of her two cats being "encouraged" from the bed onto the floor —and then the whine of the radio being tuned to the alternative-rock station Melanie used to wake up to. "As usual, I'm four steps behind you and halfway in dreamland. What's the matter?"

Amanda decided to cut to the chase. "I need the Suit. The get-a-promotion suit."

"What for?" Melanie yawned. "You own the company, kiddo. If you want a promotion, just give yourself one."

Sure. And then she'd snap her fingers, send her struggling start-up company, Aspirations, Inc., straight to the top of the most-successful-Phoenix-companies list, and retire in six short years at thirty-five, at which time she and the three assistants she employed would spend their days surfboarding in Maui.

As if.

Especially without the proven help of the Suit.

"Sure, I could give myself a promotion, but money can't buy the kind of publicity I can get if everything works out today. The Lotto, remember?"

A gasp. "Oh, Amanda, I'm so sorry! I completely forgot."

"That's okay." Her heart sank a little lower. "But my appointment with the Channel Six news execs is in" —Amanda braked to avoid a maniacal lane-changer in a dented Buick, then glanced at her wristwatch —"approximately forty-four minutes, and I'd really feel better if the Suit was on my side."

"Today's really the day? The Life Coach Lotto day? I can't believe I spaced on remembering it."

Melanie sounded repentant. Amanda felt that way, halfway into mourning for her soon-to-be-failed business. If even her best friend couldn't keep track of the publicity stunt she'd dreamed up to bolster business, how was the rest of the Valley of the Sun supposed to remember it?

She nudged the cell phone with her chin, trying to alleviate the knot of tension that had begun forming in her shoulder. Her stomach tightened, as though protesting the whole doomed venture —that, or protesting the dry half-bagel, scrambled egg white, and three-quarters of a cup of grapefruit juice Amanda had tried to pass off as breakfast this morning.

Ugh. She shuddered at the memory alone. Clearly, women's magazine diets had been invented by a bunch of masochists with antiflavor fixations. And with, obviously, no stock invested in either of the mighty double Gs: Godiva and Ghirardelli.

"Yes, today's the day," she said, shoving aside a sudden chocolate-doughnut fantasy, "and I really, really, really need the get-a-promotion suit. I'm only a couple of miles from your house right now. I can be there in less than —"

"I'm sorry, Amanda," Mel interrupted, probably recognizing the note of panic in her friend's voice and wanting to nip it in the bud. "I can't give it to you."

"It's just a loan, for Pete's sake! I'll trade you the meet-a-man miniskirt if you want, but I've got to have that suit." She glanced down at the black-on-black pants, slim-cut shirt, and slide-on mules that comprised her late-to-work emergency wardrobe. Plain and moderately fashionable as the ensemble was, it just wouldn't do when meeting the press for her one big break. "Please!"

"No, I mean, I don't have it," Melanie explained. "I loaned it to Gemma to wear to dinner with Tom's boss last week. We figured any good karma that could help Tom's chances —"

"Sure. You're right." As a longtime believer in the powers of the expensive Prada pantsuit she and her two best friends had pooled their money to purchase —and loaned among themselves, depending on whose need was the greatest —Amanda nodded. "I hope it helped. Really, I do."

Shoving back a renewed sense of panic, she mentally recalculated her route. If she merged onto the eastbound freeway and encountered nothing worse than the usual gridlock, she could get to Gemma's, retrieve the suit, and still make it to the downtown Channel Six offices in time for her ten o'clock meeting.

"Actually," Melanie said, "Tom did get a raise, a promotion, and some new stock options. So the power of the suit" —she lowered her voice into a dramatic, newscaster-worthy delivery —"remains unbroken."

Relieved, Amanda laughed. If she'd dieted like a crazy woman, living a nonfat, non-fun, mostly-air-and-eight-glasses-of-water-a-day existence to fit into that suit, only to discover it had somehow quit working . . . well, there was a reason temporary insanity was an accepted criminal defense.

"Okay, I'm off to Gemma's, then," she told Mel, using her knee to help steer onto the merge ramp without spilling her double latte. "Meet me tonight at Boondoggle's for a post-news postmortem?"

"Come on, it won't be that bad. The Life Coach Lotto was a stellar idea. Besides, has the Suit failed any of us yet?"

Amanda thought of the business loan she'd secured, the excellent assistants she'd hired for Aspirations, Inc., the newly-renovated office space she'd gotten at a discounted rate —all while dressed in the butter-colored, perfectly tailored Prada —and grinned.

"Nope," she admitted. "And so long as Gemma had a chance to dry-clean the thing and put it into high-security storage before the twins could get ahold of it and use it for tree-house curtains again, it won't fail me today, either." I hope.

" 'Atta girl. See you tonight."

"Okay. Boondoggle's at seven."

With that, Amanda signed off and tossed her cell phone onto the passenger-side seat. It rolled among her briefcase, her spilling-over purse, a clipboarded Life Coach Lotto checklist dotted with Post-it notes, and the lonely, decidedly non-double-G, two-and-three-quarter-inch-diameter apple her new diet allocated her for a midmorning snack, then came to rest atop the gimmicky "coach's" baseball cap she'd brought along to wear while greeting her newest client —the winner of the Lotto.

Everything really was going to be okay, she reminded herself. She was skilled, resourceful, and determined. Those qualities had brought Amanda pretty far already, and they were about to bring her and Aspirations, Inc., even further. Just so long as fate played fair and didn't hand her some kind of loser for her first winning client, things would be absolutely perfect.

She hoped.

"Look at you! Since when did you become some kind of loser? I barely recognized you!"

The statement, issued in a strident, take-no-prisoners tone that Mike Cavaco recognized only too well, boomed inside the rolled-down window of his taxicab and straight into his brain.

"Since when," the voice's owner went on, "did you take to sleeping on the streets like this? For shame, Mike."

He winced and shoved the brim of his battered Suns cap high enough to see Myrna Winchester, his elderly next-door neighbor, tsk-tsking from the shopping-center space beside his cab. Behind her, crookedly parked and looking as new as the day it rolled off the assembly line in 1967, waited her turquoise-colored Ford Mustang convertible, complete with fuzzy dice swinging from the rearview mirror.

"I'm not sleeping in the streets," he pointed out, trying on a grin. "I'm sleeping behind the wheel." In demonstration, he yawned and stretched, like a man straight out of bed —a man groggy with the effects of too many celebratory post-game beers from last night, too little shut-eye, and more time on his hands than he wanted.

"At least you're not driving in that condition," Myrna said.

"No, I'm parked."

"I can see that. Mike, Mike, Mike. What's happened to you? You're not even a successful taxi driver."

She looked sad to realize that fact, and the disappointment in her face got to him more than Mike wanted. Either that or the root beer and nachos he'd downed for breakfast weren't sitting well with him.

"Have you had any fares at all today?"

Myrna's frown said she already knew he hadn't. Semi-affronted at her obvious lack of faith in the neighbor she'd known for the past four years, Mike tried to work his way into some righteous indignation on his own behalf. Nothing happened. He ran a hand thoughtfully over his dark, three-week-old beard, remembered all that had happened to him since April Fools' Day, and tried again.

Zilch.

"Geez, Myrna, cut me some slack here, will ya? I'm only filling in with the taxicab gig. It's not like it's permanent or anything."

"Luckily for you." She sniffed, shifting her sack of groceries against her hip. Her blue-shadowed gaze swept over the jumbled interior of his assigned taxi, at the papers strewn on the floor of the backseat, the licorice whips slung over the two-way dispatcher's radio, and the stack of résumés and reference letters Mike unsuccessfully tried to hide beneath his elbow, then came to rest on his face.

Something in her expression, something tender and uncomfortably mushy, instantly put his guard up. But it was too late.

"Open the door, sonny," Myrtle said. "You've got a paying customer."

Mike raised his eyebrows. He nodded toward her pristine parked convertible. "You've got a perfectly good car right there."

"Pshaw. I fancy a ride, and you're here to give it. Now put those muscles of yours to good use before I break my fingernails on this door."

"Yes, ma'am." Trying to match his demeanor to her no-nonsense one, Mike eased his way out from behind the taxi's steering wheel and stepped past Myrtle to open the driver's-side rear door. He held out his hands for her grocery sack and then propped his knee on the taxi's rear bench seat while bending over to slide the groceries inside for her.

Another "tsk-tsk" from his neighbor alerted him to the fact that she'd spotted the butt-hugging rip in the rear of his favorite blue jeans. She'd probably lasered in on the insignificant mustard stain on the sleeve of his old gray T-shirt, too. Sheesh. For some people, nothing was ever perfect enough.

He levered himself back out and tipped his baseball cap. "Your chariot awaits," Mike said, indicating the cracked vinyl seat just beyond his outswept arm.

Myrtle didn't duck her head fast enough to hide the smile that, for the briefest nanosecond, displaced her disapproving frown. But even if he hadn't glimpsed that smile, Mike would have known she cared. Because in the space of the next hour and a half, his convertible-loving neighbor somehow managed to find excuses for two trips downtown and one leisurely drive to a nearby park to feed the ducks —"Leave the meter running, sonny!" —before coming back to retrieve her car, and that was all he really needed to know that someone was in his corner.

It was nice. Really nice.

Especially considering how pathetically real his latest April Fools' Day joke had turned out to be.

And despite his best efforts to hide the fact behind monosyllabic grunted answers, grouchy tugs at his Suns cap, and a final, brief good-bye to Myrtle just before lunchtime, Mike appreciated it. If Myrtle had only been a restaurant owner needing to employ about a half-dozen of Phoenix's best former foodservice workers, things would have been just about perfect.

As it was, things were just about as imperfect as you'd expect on an everyday, ordinary Monday.

* * *

Copyright © 2001 by Lisa Plumley


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