love,' said the bearded man in the front row, ever so
politely, 'did you say naked?'
clutched her folder of proposals tighter and smiled a smile
that went no
further than her cherry-scented lip gloss. 'That's right,
ruddy-faced, and fifty-something, nodded as if she'd just
confirmed the price
of a cheese scone in the local cafĂ©. 'You mean without any
murmured a whippet-like lad whom Emma recognized as a local
the general idea of a nude calendar, Jason, yes.' Smiling
sweetly, she fixed
her eyes on him, then regretted it as a blush spread to the
roots of his hair,
competing with his red curls for color.
Now that was
odd, she thought, as a dozen faces tried terribly hard not
to look in her
direction. If she'd known how easy it was to turn a roomful
of hard-bitten men
into quivering jellies, she'd have tried it years ago.
Unfortunately, right now
it was exactly what she didn't want.
In front of her,
leaning against fading walls, perched on rickety chairs and
tables, were some of the most macho men in England. Tall
and short, green and
vintage, each of them looked like a nervous schoolboy
hauled up before a
particularly bossy headmistress. You'd certainly never have
known they were a
mountain rescue team from the look of them. Or that they'd
saved over fifty
lives in the past twelve months alone and were expert at
belaying and all kinds of skills which weren't needed among
the sushi bars and
coffee houses and mirror-window tower blocks of the city
life Emma was used to.
They didn't look
extraordinary at all. In fact, they could just as easily
have been part of a
church choir or, admittedly, a rather fit darts team. Which
was exactly why
this project was going to be such a huge success. It was a
good thing, Emma
told herself, that as a seasoned PR person, she had already
run through this
scenario in her head a dozen times. If she didn't believe
in her idea 100
percent, how on earth could she expect them to?
She smiled even
more broadly at Bob Jeavons, as he slouched on a broken
chair. As team leader
of the Bannerdale Mountain Rescue Team he had the power to
crush her project
with a single word. Emma wanted to take her jacket off but
she didn't dare.
Bob placed his
chipped mug, still half full of tea that by now must have
grown cold, on the
floor tiles and folded his arms. He studied her for a
moment, oblivious to the
bead of tea trickling down his beard. 'Correct me if I'm
wrong, love, but
doesn't that mean everyone in Bannerdale will see us with
our kit off?'
'Oh, I do hope
so,' she said airily, ignoring the gasp of horror from
Jason. 'I really hope
so, in fact, because if everyone in Cumbria sees you with
your kit off, it will
mean that I've done my job properly. It will mean,' she
carried on, warming to
her theme, 'that everyone will want to buy the calendar and
that we'll raise
heaps of money for a new base. Which, if you don't mind me
saying,' she added,
eyeing the paint peeling off the window frame, 'you do
actually need quite
'Not that badly,'
said a new voice.
Emma peered into
the gloom of the room. It was difficult to see where
exactly the voice had come
from, as the late March evening was drawing in and the
strip light had
flickered and died shortly after they'd come in.
She looked at a
dark figure standing in the door frame. 'Did someone else
have a contribution
This time the
response was easier to locate. It was a cross between a
snort and a harrumph,
rather like a rhino in heat-not that she'd ever met one.
'I'm sorry, but
does someone have a cold?' she asked, with more than a
trace of irony.
'No. But someone
needs their head examined if they think this is a good
The owner of the
voice stepped into the room and her heart seemed to stop.
Will Tennant. She
might have known. She'd only met him once before, a few
weeks ago when she'd
suggested the team get some rather funky promotional
merchandise to sell at
fĂȘtes and open nights. He hadn't been amused then and he
certainly didn't look
As he rested his
six-foot-plus, nearly two-hundred pound frame against a
spare patch of wall,
Emma felt herself grow even warmer. That super-strength
antiperspirant might be
good for trekking through a steamy jungle but it was no
protection at all
against a man who had all the charm of a grizzly bear.
'I know it seems
a bit... radical,' said Emma defiantly, trying not to be
couldn't quite see Will's face in the dimness, and anyway,
she'd forgotten her
contacts, but she knew what his expression would be.
Patronizing, sarcastic, or
hostile, possibly all three.
Will, crossing his arms.
God, that man
was massive, thought Emma, momentarily distracted by the
muscles in his
'Is that what
you call it? I'd have said bloody ridiculous. We'll be the
laughing stock of
all the teams, you know.'
mate,' laughed Jason, giving Emma a small victory. Hmm...
she thought, a little
phallic competition might not be a bad thing. With all this
around, it could be a very good thing.
'You need the
funds for a new base and you need them quickly,' Emma
'Donation tins and stalls at the village fĂȘte are all very
well, but you need
to do something really dramatic these days to attract
'We don't need
that kind of attention,' growled Will.
'There are other
ways of getting the money without fancy PR gimmicks.'
approached boiling point. At this rate the idea of a nude
calendar would be
thrown out without a meaningful debate and she'd worked so
hard on the
proposals-for nothing too. Helping the local mountain
rescue team with their
fundraising wasn't exactly in the remit for her new job
with the tourist board.
She was here out of the goodness of her heart and, she
might have added, was
offering them a free consultancy that back in London would
have cost them
hundreds of pounds.
As the water
tank in the old slate roof gave a temperamental shudder,
wasn't in London now.
'It would all be
very tasteful, of course,' she went on breezily, feeling
very exposed herself.
'No one would actually see anything.' She halted, not quite
knowing how to put
it. 'Well, I mean, you'd have things to cover your decency,
asked Phil, a wiry-looking guy with a ponytail.
You know, tools of the trade. Helmets...'