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Dream Guy
By Candy Halliday

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 Dream Guy

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Dream Guy
By Candy Halliday
ISBN: 0446614556
Genre: Romance

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Chapter Excerpt from: Dream Guy , by Candy Halliday

Chapter 1

Annie Long could trace her problems with men back to her first high school dance. Billy Ray Smith begged her to put her sweet lips where her sweet lips didn't want to go. Annie gagged at the thought, and vomited bright red punch all over the white leather interior of his rich daddy's brand-new Cadillac.

Even for a naïve sixteen-year-old with a weak stomach, that should have been Annie's first clue that more often than not relationships basically do suck. But instead of heeding that warning, Annie bravely continued lily pad hopping her way through life, fully convinced she would eventually find a prince among the usual suspects milling around in society's frog-filled pond.

Hop. Hop. Hop. Zip past successful entrepreneur Ben, who claimed he was a leg man instead of a boob man-Annie's milelong legs really were her best feature. Dirty liar Ben dumped her at twenty-two for a waitress from Hooters with fake boobs the size of Annie's beloved state of Georgia.

Zoom past independent moviemaker Dan, whom Annie met at the popular Atlanta Film Festival when she was twenty-four. Slightly perverted Dan dumped Annie when she refused to star in his upcoming documentary Women Making Love to Women.

And skip past handsome pharmaceutical salesman Ron altogether. Amazingly, idiot Ron somehow got it into his hypochondria-impaired mind that some evasive mineral in Annie's twenty-six-year-old saliva was responsible for his excruciating migraine headaches.

It wasn't until promising young advertising executive Dave came along when she was twenty-nine that Annie thought she'd finally found her Mr. Potential. Dave claimed he loved Annie's small perky breasts just as much as he loved her long silky legs. He had no apparent lesbian sex fantasies as far as she could tell. And he didn't even mind swapping saliva on a regular basis.

Dave, in fact, was the reason Annie was humming happily to herself during Thank-God-It's-Friday earlymorning rush hour. Black lace teddy. Candles galore. Dom Perignon and Russian caviar. She ticked the items off in her mind, ignoring the downtown Atlanta traffic that was a total bitch as usual.

Music? The red light caught her, giving her a minute to ponder. Dave was a huge jazz fan, Annie knew that. But jazz really didn't fit the mood she had in mind. She'd have to give it more thought when she reached her office. Go with something more Motown maybe. Something slow and sexy.

A pushy SUV the size of a tank cut her off, which usually catapulted Annie close to the road-rage edge. She didn't even honk her horn. Clean sheets. Fresh towels. The new Hilfiger terry cloth robe as a surprise gift for Dave. She smiled. He would complain she was spoiling him, of course. Tell her she shouldn't spend her hard- earned money on him. But he'd love it. She knew he would.

Finally, she inched her way to the Bank of America Plaza-not as tall as buildings in Chicago and New York City, but a skyscraper nonetheless with fifty-five stories of prime office space. She parked her vintage 1975 Volkswagen convertible in the underground parking garage, unconcerned that her bright purple bug looked like a giant Easter egg sitting between a shiny Lexus and a sporty BMW. Trendy had never been at the top of her tobe list.

Still thinking about the special night she'd carefully planned for Dave, Annie reached the parking garage elevator with a cheerful smile. "Have you ever seen such a glorious June morning?"

She'd made the comment to no one in particular as she and fifteen other people crammed themselves into the elevator. But a heavyset man standing beside her mopped his moist brow with a handkerchief, looked over at her, and said, "It's the Prozac, right? That's the only explanation for anyone calling seventy-two degrees at eight a.m. a glorious June morning."

Annie ignored him. Everyone else laughed.

She hopped off the elevator on the thirty-second floor and entered the offices of Paragon Technology, one of the nation's major interactive software developers and second to none in the video game industry. Today Annie didn't even give in to that crestfallen I'll-never-be-anything- but-the-token-female-of-the-creative-department feeling.

Not today.

After a monthlong business trip to San Francisco, Dave was finally coming home.

Nothing was going to rain on Annie's parade today. "Wow. Annie. You look wonderful." Annie smiled appreciatively.

Kathy Welborn, her only true gal-pal at Paragon, was pretty and blonde. A dead ringer for Helen Hunt, most people said, but Annie thought Kathy was prettier. Like most receptionists, Kathy always had the inside scoop on everyone in the company. In other words, a good friend to have.

Annie made an exaggerated curtsy in front of Kathy's desk. "I thank you. The academy thanks you. My mother thanks you."

And yes, she had gone a bit overboard today. The Anna Sui floral sundress fit her like a second skin. And her sexy Manolo sandals had a price tag that still made her shudder. She'd bought the shoes partly because they matched the periwinkle blue flowers in the dress perfectly. But mainly she'd bought them because she wanted to see what all the Manolo Blahnik hype was about. Sadly, three hundred and fifty dollars poorer she still hadn't figured it out.

She'd even managed to restrain her stringy mop rather neatly in a poofy strawberry blonde swoop on top of her head. And she'd applied a little makeup, which she rarely ever wore. Because today, dammit, called for one of those sundress, Manolos, and makeup kind of moods. "You really do look great, Annie," Kathy said. "What time did you say you were picking Dave up from the airport this afternoon?"

"Four o'clock sharp," Annie said, beaming. "And does the poor guy have any idea about the deliciously sinful agenda you have planned for him the entire weekend?"

"Not a clue," Annie said with a wink. She headed off down the hallway to the large corner office reserved for the creative department, complete with a coveted window and a breathtaking view of the city of Atlanta. For once, she was the first one to arrive.

Annie stopped at her desk, which had Nerdette on her nameplate. She had just stuffed her purse into the desk's bottom drawer when Collin Adair rushed into the office, two large paper cups deftly clasped in each manicured hand.

He came to a screeching halt the second he saw her. And the first words out of Collin's mouth were, "Well, aren't you a sight for my queer eye. You look fabulous, Annie. Absolutely fabulous."

Annie twirled around for inspection, pleased. Any compliment coming from Mr. Buff-to-the-Cuff (one of Collin's favorite expressions) was one Annie didn't take lightly. The man had a designer-filled closet himself that would make a grown woman weep. The double-box pleat tan Geneva pants, pale yellow Cacella silk shirt, and the Pelagio linen oxford shoes he was wearing today were Collin's idea of "casual" wear. He tossed his Brad Pittish dirty-blond locks back away from his forehead and looked her up and down again with eyes ten times bluer than any color-enhanced contacts could make them. "If Dave doesn't throw you down and ravish you the second he steps off that plane, the man's a complete buffoon."

Annie laughed. "No, I'm the buffoon. For letting you talk me into blowing an entire week's salary on Dave's homecoming dinner." She shook her head and sighed, thinking about the catastrophe that used to be her checking account. "I still can't believe I paid eighty-five dollars for a teaspoon of caviar."

"And your idea of Domino's pizza or Chinese take-out was better?"

Annie stuck her tongue out at him. "I'm not that clueless when it comes to entertaining."

Collin raised an eyebrow to challenge her statement. "Here," he said, thrusting one of the steaming cups in her direction. "You can't risk having too much blood in your caffeine system today. I brought you a transfusion." When Annie took the cup, he said, "This is Latte Land's early-morning special. Triple-mocha latte. Fully leaded.

A dash of cherry flavor. And with yummy cinnamon sprinkles amidst a rich whipped cream topping." He tapped his cup against hers. "Here's to homecomings. And then to multiple comings and comings, and . . ." Annie rolled her eyes. "Forget caffeine. What I need is a Valium smoothie." She held a shaking hand out as proof.

Collin shook his know-it-all head. "Wrong again, sweetums. Excitement masked as anxiety does incredible things to the libido. A little anxiety will give you the energy and stamina you need later in the bedroom." Annie groaned.

Collin leaned against his desk-his nameplate boasting Queer Nerd since he had been responsible for the silly titles. "Listen, lovey," he said. "Forget the nervous jitters. Just clear your mind and focus on nothing but how wonderful it's going to be after you pick Dave up at the airport. You're going to spirit him away to your apartment for a scrumptious five-star meal, already prepared exclusively by moi." He polished his nails proudly against his expensive silk shirt. "And then you're going to render that boy senseless with a multimega lovefest he'll never forget."

Annie managed a weak smile. "You're right. You've helped me plan everything perfectly." "Right down to the designer condoms waiting on his pillow," Collin chirped.

"I know," Annie said. "I'm just nervous. Dave and I haven't seen each other in four long weeks. There's also the blasted time difference. And Dave's e-mails are strictly one-liners. Plus-"

"Stop it." Collin took Annie gently by the shoulders and forced her to look at him. "Now. Stand up straight. And take one long, deep, cleansing breath to calm yourself."

Annie only made it as far as standing up straight before Kathy's voice rang through the intercom. "Haz-Matt's on line one. And he wants to talk to you, Annie."

Annie automatically glanced across the room. The vacant desk hogging the window in the place of authority had Neanderthal Nerd on the nameplate for obvious reasons. "Haz-Matt" was the head of the creative department, Matt Abbington. The nickname, like his nameplate, was self-explanatory. Matt's tall, dark, and deadly good looks could be hazardous to a woman's better judgment, not to mention her heart.

Annie looked back at the blinking line and frowned. She'd had her own lapse in judgment where Matt was concerned shortly after she'd first joined Paragon a year earlier. It wasn't something she was proud of. It was just one of those situations where the beauty of the moment had been strictly in the eye of the beer holder, for lack of a better explanation. To date, they'd both had the good sense to pretend that night never happened. "You'd better answer that, Annie."

Annie glanced in Collin's direction. He looked anxious, playing the role of peacemaker as usual for his old college roommate. It was no secret that Matt had taken Collin right up the corporate ladder with him after designing a successful video sports game that immediately made him Paragon's wonder boy extraordinaire.

Gratitude and a close friendship kept Collin in check. But for her part, Annie was growing tired of Matt expecting his creative team to continually take a backseat to his own brilliance. Lately she and Matt had been clashing at every turn. Especially since no one had the power to jerk her chain faster than Matt Abbington.

Rattle. Rattle. Rattle. Clang. Clang. Clang.

"Annie. Pick up the phone. You know Matt hates to be kept waiting."

"I know," Annie said, staring at the blinking line. But, dammit, he was going to ruin her good mood. Annie knew he would. Matt always did.

For the first time during her glorious June morning, Annie sensed black clouds slowly gathering above her head.

If Matt hated anything, it was being left on "ignore." Annie knew it. Collin knew it. So where the hell were they?

They had their heads together oohing and aahing over some fashion magazine, most likely. Or discussing what they were going to wear to the next big function on their social calendar.

Well, screw that. He needed to talk to Annie and he needed to talk to her now.

He disconnected the call and hit speed dial. "It's Matt again, Kathy," he said the second the receptionist answered. "Do I suddenly need a special password to get someone to answer the phone in my own department?" He groaned when the shut-up-and-wait music kicked in.

Matt shook his head disgustedly. He deserved a gold medal for putting up with Collin and with Annie. In fact, most of the time he felt like he was living one long PMS nightmare. He, of course, was always the bad guy because he had no interest whatsoever in getting in touch with his feminine side.

Like that was going to happen in this lifetime. Besides, Collin and Annie were the ones who always seemed miserable with their ultra-feminine selves. Not him. Annie, for instance, had been moping around for weeks over dickhead Dave, with whom she was supposedly having a "meaningful" relationship. As opposed to the meaningless overnight relationship she'd had with him.

Sure, he'd been sore at first when Annie pretended their night together never happened. As her boss, he could have used his authority to get back at her. He hadn't done that, at least not intentionally. In fact, Annie had actually done both of them a huge favor by giving him the brush-off. She was looking for happily-ever-after. He wasn't looking, period.

Now, he never let himself dwell on that near disaster. Just as he refused to dwell on Annie's little-girl grin and her body made for sin. Or her down-her-back reddish gold hair that was sexy as hell. Or those saucer-size eyes so blue a man could get lost in them. He'd had one weak moment, that was all. Miss Meaningful Relationship was strictly off-limits. Because the last thing this homeboy wanted was any type of relationship.

Relationship. Even the word made him queasy. Mainly because he just didn't get it.

Women claimed they wanted to be treated as equals. They demanded equal billing in the boardroom and in the bedroom. They even insisted they wanted carefree single lives and successful careers first, and families later. But was that enough? Nope. They just had to pull out the old relationship trump card that quickly pushed going out and having a great time together into the No-win Zone. For a guy, that is.

Because the rules constantly changed. Call a woman up during the day just to say hello, and you could guarantee she'd be (a) hurt, (b) confused, or (c) just mad as hell (take your pick) because you didn't call her the evening before to say goodnight. Take her to an outdoor concert on Saturday, then brace yourself for the (a) whining, (b) crying, or (c) screaming fit (again, take your pick) she'd wage on Sunday because you wanted to play golf and she assumed you would want to (a) drop by her parents' house for lunch, (b) walk through the mall looking into jewelry store windows, or (c) just spend some quality time alone with her (you get the idea).

Yup, that was just the tip of the relationship iceberg. At least from a heterosexual male point of view. And that's exactly why Matt intended to bob and weave his way around the No-win Zone for as long as he could hold on to his wonderfully happy single-guy life.

"Annie Long," his nemesis said brightly, as if she hadn't kept him waiting for five full minutes. "Glad you could pull yourself away from your morning gab session with Collin to answer the phone." "Yeah, thanks for waiting," she said right back. "We only had a few sips left of our triple-mocha lattes. It would have been a real shame to let them get cold." "Cut the crap, Annie," Matt said. "I'm in pain. And I'm definitely not in any mood for your twisted brand of humor this morning."

"Poor baby. Hungover, are we?" Matt didn't miss the facetious tone in her voice. "Worse," he said. "And I swear I'll fire you, Annie, if you make one smart remark. Laughing isn't an option, either." When she didn't have a comeback, Matt took a deep breath and said, "I won't be in the office today. I pulled a groin muscle."

The instant peal of laughter told him exactly what Annie thought about his threat to fire her. "Matt pulled a groin muscle," he heard her call out to Collin between cackles. "Twenty bucks says it was that dental hygienist you told me about who likes to tie him up with her dental floss."

"Put me on speakerphone," Matt yelled. Damn Collin. His diarrhea of the mouth was going to get him punched out someday. And Matt was going to be first in line.

When the laughter died down long enough for Annie to switch him to the speaker, Matt said, "I hope you took that twenty-dollar bet from Miss Delusional As Usual, Collin. Not that either of you seem to care that I'm in excruciating pain, but I injured myself last night playing racquetball."

"Sure, Matt. We believe you," Annie said, but her giggle told him that she didn't.

"We do believe you and we are sorry, Matt. Honest," Collin said. "Are you okay? Is there anything we can do?" Collin's genuine show of concern appeased Matt for the moment. He tried maneuvering into a more comfortable position on the bed. Finally, he gave up. His head flopped back against the pillow with an exasperated sigh. "There are several things you can do," he said. "Collin, I want you to get the notes on the new daredevil game we've been working on in order. And Annie, you need to attend the monthly production meeting in my place at four o'clock this afternoon."

Annie gasped. Collin sent a terrified look in her direction. "Excuse me?" Annie said. "You've obviously confused me with someone who doesn't have the afternoon off. You gave me the afternoon off two weeks ago, Matt. I'm picking Dave up at the airport at four o'clock this afternoon."

"Well, I'm sorry," Matt said. "But two weeks ago I wasn't lying flat on my back with ice between my legs."

"What about Collin?" Annie was not going to let Matt take back her time off without putting up a fight. "Why can't Collin attend the meeting in your place?" Matt's dramatic sigh echoed through the speaker. "Because Collin can't handle the pressure of being in the same room with the CEO. He'll start acting . . ." There was a long pause before he said, "giddy." Collin sent Annie a sheepish look. "He means I turn into a flaming, babbling queen under pressure, Annie. Matt's just trying to be tactful."

"Collin's right, Annie. I was trying to be tactful," Matt said. "But now that we've crossed that hurdle, I think even you will agree we can't risk Collin getting nervous and describing lying in a coffin filled with poisonous snakes as a rather slithery experience with a dash of imminent death."

"Ha. Ha. Ha," Collin said, but his smile reminded Annie how close the two of them really were.

"I've already called J.B. and told him about my accident," Matt said, referring to J.B. Duncan, founder and CEO of Paragon. "J.B. knows you'll be sitting in for me, Annie. And he doesn't expect a full design document. Just get the notes in some kind of order. Type them up. Make seven copies as usual. And focus on the main objective. We want to get J.B. and the other department heads excited about the game. Any questions?"

Annie still wasn't giving up. Yet. "Any idea how I'm going to keep everyone awake while I'm making this boring presentation, Matt? Collin and I have both been telling you for weeks the daredevil idea is overdone. You were the one who insisted you could sell snow to an Eskimo, if I remember your analogy correctly."

"Do either of you have a better game idea?" Matt challenged. "If you do, then pitch it with my blessing." You know we don't have a better idea. Annie didn't even bother to comment.

"But I have to say I'm a little confused," Matt added. "I thought you'd jump at the chance to attend a monthly production meeting, Annie. You sure give me enough hell about always keeping you and Collin in the background." Annie blushed at the truth. "And normally I would jump at the chance," she said in her own defense. "But today-"

Matt cut her off. "Let's make this simple, okay? You attend the meeting. Collin can meet loverboy at the airport. And the guy will be waiting for you with bated breath when you get home. End of story." Matt hung up before Annie could argue. "Arrogant ass," she mumbled. She had no sooner pushed the button to eliminate the annoying buzz of the dead phone line when someone from their office doorway called her name.

She turned around. "I'm Annie Long." Adeliveryman walked across the room and handed her a vase filled with a dozen long-stemmed red roses and a Tyvek envelope with her name typed on the front. Annie was so surprised, it took her a second to realize the guy was patiently waiting for a tip. By the time she rummaged through her purse and handed him a couple of dollars, Collin had his nose buried in the velvet-soft scarlet petals.

"See?" Collin said with a wide grin. "Dave is obviously just as excited about him coming home as you are. So you have nothing to worry about. I'll pick Dave up at the airport and take him back to your place for one of my famous martinis." He paused for a second. "In fact, attending the meeting might be a blessing in disguise, Annie. By the time you get home, Dave will have had a chance to wind down from his trip."

Always making excuses for Matt, Annie thought as she took her own turn inhaling the scent of the fragrant bouquet. But all thoughts of Matt Abbington were erased from her mind when she said, "Don't you just love a romantic man?"

Collin grinned. "Every chance I get." He pointed to the envelope. "Well? Aren't you going to open it?" Annie tore open the envelope. When she held up a videotape, Collin got a hopeful twinkle in his eye. "Hurry, let's watch it. Maybe it's X-rated." "You wish," Annie said, but she didn't waste any time walking across the room.

One entire wall of their office housed every type of state-of-the-art electronic equipment known to modern man, used daily for the development of their game ideas. Within seconds, her adorable Dave came to life on the forty-six-inch flat plasma screen.

Annie and Collin both squealed like schoolgirls. Dave was standing against a railing, with a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the blue waters of the San Francisco Bay as his backdrop. He was dressed casually, and a gentle wind blew his sandy blond hair slightly back off his handsome forehead. "Hey there, Annie," Dave said.

Collin whispered, "The man is gorgeous." Annie shushed him, her eyes glued to the screen. Dave smiled slightly. "The roses are just a small token of my appreciation for the wonderful six months we've spent together."

"My hero," Annie said with a sigh. But then Dave added, "I hope you won't hate me, Annie, but I'm not coming back to Atlanta. I've been offered the opportunity of a lifetime here in San Francisco and I can't pass it up. A long-distance relationship wouldn't have worked for either of us."

The camera was still running when Dave pushed off from the railing. But just before the screen went blank, a distinctly female voice came through loud and clear:

"She'll understand, sweetie. How do I turn this thing off?"

Collin's hand flew to his mouth in total shock. It took two full minutes before Annie could say a word. "Oh. My. God" came out as a whisper. But her voice recovered fully when she screamed, "That bastard just dumped me on a video. And his new girlfriend made the fucking tape!"

Collin ran across the room and slammed their office door. He hurried back in her direction in a total state of panic. "Now, Annie, we hate the F-word, remember?" He put an arm around her shoulder, trying to console her. "We think that word is lewd, crude, and totally offensive."

Annie pushed him away. "Well, excuse me for forgetting my language manners. But sometimes the F-word is the only appropriate word for the situation."

"You're right," Collin said, wringing his hands. "Getting dumped on a videotape that the new girlfriend made is definitely one of those situations. You have every right to be angry."

"Oh, I'm not angry," Annie said, pacing back and forth like a woman possessed. "I. Am. Wayyyy. Beyond. Angry. I'm stomp-a-mud-hole-in-Dave's-ass livid, is what I am."

"And a mud hole is exactly what Dave deserves in his ass," Collin said, following right along behind her with every step she took.

He actually bumped into Annie when she whirled around to face him. She pushed him out of the way, stomped to her desk, and picked up the phone. Collin reached her before she finished punching in the number for information. He finally wrestled the phone out of her hand and placed it back in the cradle.

"Annie, please. You don't want to do anything rash. Especially not while you're still so upset." "Like what?" Annie clenched both fists at her sides. "Like flying out to San Francisco, maybe? So I can personally dangle the worthless son of a bitch upside down by his heels and drop him off his opportunity-of-alifetime Golden Gate Bridge?"

"Exactly like that." Collin grabbed her hand and held on tight. "I know this hurts, Annie. You feel betrayed. You feel used. You probably even feel yourself slipping into a deep, dark, dangerous state of depression." Annie jerked her hand away. "I'm not suicidal, Collin. I'm homicidal, dammit."

She glared at him for a second longer. And then she collapsed onto her chair and burst into tears. "It's okay," Collin kept saying, standing above her, patting her back supportively as she cried. Annie only sobbed harder.

"I just can't believe I've been so stupid," she said, crying into her hands.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Maybe we should move in together when I get back stupid. I'm miserable when I'm away from you stupid. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me stupid. I'll be back as soon as possible stupid.

"You aren't stupid," Collin said, still delivering reassuring pats to her back. "Your prince just turned out to be not so F-wording charming, that's all." "And your two-hundred-dollar gourmet meal?" Annie sniffed few times. "Who's going to eat that crap? Because you were right, Mr. Galloping Gay Gourmet. I'll take Domino's pizza and Chinese take-out any day of the week over high-priced rotten fish eggs."

"Not to worry," Collin assured her. "I'll gallop over and eat the rotten fish eggs and the other crap myself. And I'll also personally reimburse every penny of your money."

Annie's head came up. "And the eighty-five-dollar black teddy you forced me into buying at Neiman Marcus? Do you also plan to wiggle your buff little tush into a thong-style teddy?"

Collin raised an eyebrow. He put a finger to his chin as if he were seriously contemplating the idea.

"And drop the comedy act. It isn't working." Annie sat up and made a swipe at both eyes with her fingertips. But this time she didn't push Collin away when he bent down to give her a long, supportive hug. "A video," Annie said. "The no-balls coward actually dumped me on a video." She left her chair, walked back across the room, picked up the remote, and hit rewind. When she hit play, Dave smiled and said, "The roses are just a small token of my appreciation for the wonderful six months we've spent together." And then Annie hit pause, freezing Dave right where he stood.

"You cowardly bastard," she yelled at the screen. "What did I ever see in you?"

Collin walked up behind her. "Men," he snorted. "Too bad they don't come with a remote control so you can fast-forward past the heartache." "You can say that again," Annie said. Wait a minute, Annie thought. Then she had an oh shit! moment so powerful she dropped the remote. "Annie? Are you okay?" Annie looked past Collin with a glazed-over stare.

Why couldn't a woman have a man she could control with the aim of a remote or the simple tap of a mouse? A man who would never disappoint her. A man who would always be there to listen and offer support during any situation. A man who would always assure her that she was beautiful, smart, and desirable. A video-type Joe. Someone who would help her bruised ego recover after receiving one of life's little slam-you-to-the-ground lessons like this one.

"You're starting to look pale, Annie. God, don't you dare pass out on me."

Collin held his arms out prepared to catch her, but Annie grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pulled him so close they were literally nose to nose. "Did you or did you not hear Matt say that if either of us had a better game idea, we could pitch it with his blessing?" Collin pried her fingers from his silk shirt and smoothed away her imaginary fingerprints. "Yes. But that was a rhetorical statement and you know it."

"Too bad. I'll plead temporary insanity." Annie hurried back to her desk.

"What does that mean?" Collin asked timidly. "Or do I want to know?"

Annie's laugh sounded borderline hysterical even to herself. "It means when I attend that production meeting this afternoon, it will not be an outline of poisonous snakes in a coffin that I place in front of our CEO." "You're kidding, of course." Collin walked over to stand by her desk. Annie didn't miss the fact that he was fretfully chewing his bottom lip.

"No, I'm not kidding. I've never been more serious about anything in my life." "You're scaring me, Annie."

"Take a number. I'm scaring myself." Annie placed her hands above her keyboard. She paused for a moment. And then she typed two words.

When the words came up on her computer screen, Collin asked on cue, "What's Joe Video?" "He's going to be the perfect man. On DVD," Annie said proudly. "And there won't be any reason to fastforward past the heartache. Joe Video is going to be the answer to a woman's prayers. He'll be her best friend.

Her personal cheerleader. He'll even be her own private shrink when she needs to vent about anything or anyone screwing up her life."

"I believe Matt refers to those venting sessions as 'assnumbing' chats," Collin said.

"And that's because Matt can be an obnoxious macho moron like most men."

Collin thought about it, then nodded in agreement. "Oh, oh," Annie said, shaking both hands with excitement. "He'll be interactive, of course. And never clueless. Joe Video will always have the perfect response for any given situation."

"You mean responses like, 'No, sweetie, you don't look fat in those jeans,' and 'Don't be silly, gorgeous, you couldn't have a bad hair day if you tried'?" "Yes. Exactly like those. Except I don't want the script to be corny. The script needs to be natural, loving, and supportive. And he won't be computer-generated, either. An actor will have to play the role. I want him to be completely realistic."

"Oh. A realistic fantasy man." Collin put his finger to his chin again. "Which would make him an oxymoron, I believe, instead of a macho moron." Annie sent him a go-to-hell look. "Stop making fun of this idea. Joe Video is going to set the video game industry on its mother-loving ear."

Collin took a deep breath and made the sign of the cross slowly over his chest.

"Oh stop it," Annie said. "You aren't even Catholic." "Well, it certainly can't hurt," Collin wailed. "Matt's definitely going to kill us. And then he'll fire us both." Annie blinked in surprise. "Us?" Collin grinned and nodded.

Annie jumped up and hugged him. She looked down at her watch. It was only 9 a.m. That meant they had six hours to come up with a concept outline before they had to make copies for the meeting. Not a complete design document, Matt had said that himself. All they had to provide was enough information to get the CEO and the department heads excited about the game idea. With Collin's help, that would be doable.

So screw Matt for his smarter-than-thou attitude. And screw Dave twice for being the coward that he was.

Annie, however, had been screwed over her last time. This previously token female member of the creative department planned to be kick-ass ready for her longawaited breakout debut when four o'clock rolled around.

Excerpted from Dream Guy , by Candy Halliday . Copyright (c) 2005 by Candy Viers. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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