Barbara Barrett

Romance at Work

UnderWright Productions Series

Change Up

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Soft? His boss says he’s soft with clients? Entertainment attorney Ryan Donahue is simply more “in tune” with his clients’ needs than his resentful associates. But if he wants to make partner so he’ll be viewed as an equal amongst his medical family, he must suck up his pride and accept the assignment to represent the boss’s financial interests on a fledging TV production.

Unable to find another gig after the cancellation of her travel show, producer Ainsley Hilton uses her interior decorator sister’s apartment renovation project to cheer up a friend as the inspiration for her own show, “Change Up.” All she needs is financing. Her best bet is the head of a large entertainment law firm intent on broadening his investments. He’s not about to part with his money unless she agrees to his conditions, including the ongoing presence of his representative charged with monitoring every penny spent.

He begrudges his babysitting job. She detests his continual meddling in her decisions. Neither wants to like the other, let alone fall in love. But who can account for the heart when it finds its soul mate?


“This where I find the blushing bride?” a somewhat familiar male voice asked from the door.

Bethany rushed over to hug the man at the door. “George! Finally. I was worried you wouldn’t make it.”

Hadley gaped, brain incapable of any response, although the rest of her felt like she’d been body-slammed. George Barkley, her best friend in college embraced Bethany. Hadley and George had shared professors’ notes, late-night study sessions, brainstorming sessions and their hopes and dreams for their film careers. She could tell him anything, except that the woman he loved was cheating on him. That had been a huge mistake. Now, feelings stored away for years came rushing back, prevented her from speaking.

Only as he stepped away from his aunt did he notice Hadley. His body jerked and his eyes went wide. “Hadley? What are you doing here?” The surprise in his voice was obvious.

“You know each other?” Bethany asked.

God, he still looked great. A tad over six feet, he appeared to have been working out, to judge from the way the white tee under his windbreaker stretched across his chest. His dark brown hair was longer and disheveled. The hazel eyes she’d remembered as being so intense had become more guarded.

He kept those eyes on his aunt. “We, uh, knew each other several years ago.”

He didn’t add the rest. But that was George. Always the gentleman. He hadn’t shouted at her or called her names that night. His expression, the disappointment in his eyes, the downward cast of his head, said it all. After that, he refused to see or even talk to her again.

“You film weddings now?” Inane, but the only thing her brain would allow her to mutter, even though she knew better. Her voice wobbled.

“Heavens no,” Bethany inserted. “George is an up and coming film director.”

“But I can shoot my own film when needed. And this one is going to be great. Sorry I missed the beginning. Couldn’t help it. There was an accident on the 101.”

“No problem, dear.” Bethany turned back to Hadley. “We were just getting acquainted and going through a few preliminaries, including this wild idea I got for a new cable TV show.”

“Yeah? Isn’t your plate pretty full these days?”

She laughed, sloughed it off with a wave of her hands. “You think? Not to worry. It had a life not longer than a gnat. Hadley turned me down.”

He finally gazed at Hadley, though his focus didn’t quite meet her eyes. “What were you going to do?”

This crazy idea for a TV show was getting out of hand. “Nothing. I never should have mentioned my mother’s new project: she wants me to help her find a boyfriend.”

The Story Behind the Story

Are you the oldest child? The youngest? In the middle? Or are you an only child? Birth order plays a role in the motivations faced by both the heroine, Ainsley Hilton, the oldest child of three and the hero, Ryan Donahue, the third of four children. Ainsley’s parents passed away before she finished college, leaving her in charge of her younger brother and sister. Even as the three of them mature, Ainsley can’t shake her need to watch out for them. Ryan is not the oldest or the youngest; birth order theory has the middle child doing whatever it takes to stand out. In Ryan’s case, he is the only non-medical one in the family and more people-focused.

Confession time. I’m the older of two girls in my family. I see a bit of myself in Ainsley. I was the trailblazer, the one who followed the rules (most of the time). My sister, on the other hand, was and still is more free-spirited, the rule challenger.

Don’t Toy with Me

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Imagine you’re a talented management consultant whose lack of self-confidence prompts you to quit your jobs rather than defend your ideas. You’ve been out of work for several months, and the bills are mounting. Desperate, you accept a position beneath your skill set with a fledgling TV production company. To your horror, you discover the reality competition show the company is producing denigrates unattractive people. Your first thought is flight, but with the loss of your car pending, that’s no longer an option. Given that, why not try to change the concept instead?

That’s the dilemma for Jordan Wright. Then add one more complication to the mix: you fall for your boss, executive producer, Bart Underwood.


(This is from Jordan’s first meeting with Bart, “Facial Hair.”  She has just decided that this audition for his reality show “beauty competition” isn’t for her. But before she can leave, he makes an enticing offer.)

Facial Hair propped a foot on one of the chairs and leaned toward her. Be still my heart. Those jeans were tighter than she realized at first glance. The scent of musk wafted across the short distance between them. Nice. Don’t breathe it, don’t breathe it, or you’ll be sorry.

“Why should I believe you?” His mouth widened as if to smile, but she didn’t sense amiability. It was more the spider-to-the-fly variety. Still, her focus stayed there longer than necessary, until she reminded herself she didn’t owe him any further explanation.

This was going nowhere. Even she, doormat to the world, had her limits. “Look, I’m leaving. I haven’t done anything illegal, so you can’t hold me here like a criminal. I won’t hesitate to use the can of pepper spray in my purse if provoked.” She actually did have one with her, though it was a couple years old and probably inoperable.

Jordan threw her bag over her shoulder like a mail carrier preparing for the day’s deliveries and headed for the door. He didn’t try to stop her. Just as her hand reached the door knob, he spoke. “How’d you like to work for me instead?”

Few statements could have stopped her in her tracks. That one did. God, she hated the vulnerability near-poverty forced on a person.

The Story Behind the Story

Don’t Toy with Me has gone through more iterations than most of my books. It began as a chick lit written in the first person present with only one point of view. It was totally Jordan’s story. I enjoyed writing in the first person, although it was challenging to reflect the full story when seen from only one person’s perspective.

Years ago, a TV commercial for hair products was based on the slogan, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.” That’s how I saw my heroine in those first versions. She couldn’t keep her jobs because she wasn’t taken seriously.

As the focus on chick lit faded, I decided to take the story another direction, more mainline romance. That meant giving Bart a bigger role and switching to two points of view, plus changing from present to past tense. At times, I wondered if it wouldn’t have been easier to start from scratch.

Along the way, the focus on her “problem” of being too beautiful to be taken seriously disappeared (she’s still quite good looking, of course) and instead, her low self-confidence emerged as the obstacle keeping her from becoming the bright and creative person she was. In addition, Bart now became cognizant early on that her “spy” story was a hoax, but he used it as his reason for hiring her rather than tell her how much he needed her for the kind of creativity she exhibited in coming up with this tall tale on the spot. His inability to ask for help is his obstacle.

Although they become intimate fairly soon in the story, their relationship will grow slowly, because it will serve as the framework for the rest of the series, starting with Change Up, coming this fall. I hope you enjoy this introduction to Jordan and Bart’s story and will continue to follow its evolution in future additions to the series.




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