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Olivia Moore's day began with a cheating husband and went downhill from there.
This time the cheating husband didn't belong to her. Of course, he didn't belong to the wispy-voiced woman on the other end of the phone line, either--a fact Olivia, as host of WTLK Radio's Liv Live, felt compelled to point out.
"The man has a wife, Clarice."
"But . . ."
"No, no 'buts.' Let's recap the facts, shall we?"
Olivia ticked her points off on fingers that her audience could not see. "You've never been in his home, and you can't call him there. You don't go out together in public. He's never available on holidays. Your dates take place in hotel rooms."
The sniffling began on the other end of the line.
"What does this tell you, Clarice?"
"This man is not available, Clarice, because he's married." Olivia's tone turned dry. "And unless you've been living on a desert island for the last year, you know that I've had some personal experience in this area."
Clarice stopped sniffling long enough to laugh a little.
"The bottom line here is, he's married, you're miserable, and his wife probably isn't turning cartwheels, either." Lord knew she hadn't been when she'd finally stopped pretending that nice, safe, dependable James was just working late.
"Married men do not belong in the dating pool. They're like catfish, Clarice. If you're unlucky enough to reel one in, you're honor-bound to either bash him against the side of the boat or throw him back."
Olivia settled her headphones more firmly in place and squinted out through the small rectangle of glass to the radio station control room beyond. The producer of her call-in advice show, Diane Lowe, cradled a phone between her ear and shoulder, her fingers flying across her computer keyboard as she typed in a list of callers waiting to go on the air with Olivia. After each name, she typed a brief summary of what he or she intended to say.
Scanning the monitor in front of her, Olivia noted four calls holding, two of them in agreement with her advice to Clarice. The other two, who'd never been married to a "catfish" or had the misfortune of dating one, thought Clarice should proceed more slowly.
Olivia drummed her fingers on the Formica tabletop and wondered how many Clarices her own ex-husband had dated. If you believed the tabloids, there had been truckloads of them. In the end, of course, the actual number hardly mattered; one or one million, the damage was the same.
Olivia sat up straighter, her thoughts leading her to ask, "Have you noticed that your boyfriend is the only one who seems to be enjoying himself?"
There was a sob. A hiccup. The blowing of a nose--all the more graphic for lack of accompanying video--and then a final sniffle.
"Can you hear me, Clarice?" Olivia leaned into the microphone. She could practically feel Clarice nodding her head.
"Good, because I want you to listen carefully."
A barely audible sniff, and then, "Okay."
"Get rid of the man, Clarice. Dump him. Throw him back. It doesn't matter what method you choose. Just do it."
Olivia hit the "drop" button to kill the call and, without allowing herself time to stop and think, moved on to the next.
She let half of the women have their say, totally aware of the irony of her advising the "other woman" when she'd spent almost six months imagining fates worse than death for James's last fling. Then she moved on to a new caller with a new problem, hoping this one wouldn't hit quite so close to home.
"Rachel, hello. What's happening?"
"Hi, Olivia. It's, um, about my new boyfriend. And my, um . . . feet."
Olivia heard a snort of laughter from the control room, mercifully out of microphone range, and saw Diane shoot a triumphant fist into the air. Olivia felt the same fine rush of adrenaline; only in radio could the topic move from philandering to feet in less than fifteen seconds.
Olivia tucked a stray strand of hair firmly behind her ear and got down to work. For several minutes she extracted information from her embarrassed caller. In a husky voice Rachel described the new beefcake boyfriend who only laid hands on her aerobicized body long enough to get to her big toe.
Olivia made a mental note to devote a future program to foot and other fetishes. More calls came in, and she started contemplating a book on the subject. Idly, she considered titles. Maybe Frenzied Feet? or Hung Up on Hangnails?
Glancing down at her own feet in their cushy Aerosoles, she tried to remember how long it had been since her last pedicure.
Her schedule allowed exactly no spare time for either toe sucking or pampering. In the year since her headline-making divorce, she'd moved her radio call-in show, Liv Live, from Tampa, Florida, to WTLK in Atlanta and seen her audience expand exponentially.
The three hours on the air every morning were the most visible part of her day, but the articles she wrote on a regular basis and the fulfillment of her multi-book contract gobbled up what little free time remained. And that was without the promotional appearances the station insisted upon.
"Rachel, this isn't a particularly unusual fetish as fetishes go. And it's only a problem if it's a problem for you."
She stood up to pace the postage-stamp-size room--a highly unsatisfying experience for a pacer of her magnitude--while the husky voice described what incredible shape her toes were now in and offered graphic detail about what her boyfriend liked to do to them.
The walls of the tiny room pressed inward as Olivia realized that her caller's feet were having a much better sex life than Olivia's entire body was.
She stopped pacing and waited out the moment of dead air while Rachel of the much-loved toes worked up to the real reason for her call.
"My boyfriend just took a job in the shoe department at Saks. He has his hands on other women's feet all the time." Her voice broke. "He comes home from work whistling every day."
Olivia bit down hard on the inside of her cheek and reminded herself that this was a legitimate problem to Rachel, one that deserved her full and serious consideration. Unfortunately, a glance through the window to the control room told her that neither her producer nor the news anchor getting ready to go on at the top of the hour felt any such obligation; they shook with silent laughter, their bodies doubled over with mirth.
Who could blame them? Her own self-control hung by the slimmest of threads. "You know, Rachel, as long as you have no reason to believe he's stepping out on you, I'd be careful not to jump to any conclusions. In fact, I suggest you keep your feet planted firmly on the ground and--"
Rachel dissolved into a fit of giggles while Olivia made one last stab at actual advice. "Remember, it's your feet, I mean, you, he runs home to every night."
The opening strains of the show's theme music in her headphones felt like a reprieve from the governor. Gratefully, Olivia leaned in to the microphone one last time and closed the show with her signature tag line. "I'm Dr. Olivia Moore, reminding you to live your life . . . live."
Olivia removed her headphones and gathered up the notes now strewn across the table. Pushing the microphone back on its retractable arm, she began to clear her things out of the way. In the control room on the other side of the glass, she could see Diane doing the same.
Opening the door that separated them, Olivia popped her head into the control room. "Nice job today, Di. Thanks." A quick scan of the room's flat surfaces revealed no candy wrappers or cookie crumbs. The usual McMuffin smells were missing. "On a new diet?"
"Yeah. I just started the Everything-but-the-Crust Pizza Diet."
"Oh?" Olivia felt one eyebrow go up. Her producer approached both eating and dieting with equal enthusiasm.
"Today I get ten green olives, five slices of pepperoni, one slice of cheese, and all the anchovies I can eat."
"Wow." Olivia tried not to wince. She didn't have time for fad diet lectures or yet another attempt to persuade Diane to look at the emotional triggers behind her eating.
If she hurried, she'd just make it to her own lunch with the Atlanta Leisure reporter. With a wave, she backed through the door and into the hall where the Operations Manager's secretary lay in wait.
"Hey, Olivia. Loved the feet thing. T.J. asked if you could stop by his office on your way out."
"Can we make it another time, Anna? I've got less than twenty minutes to make it to an interview."
The pert brunette shrugged apologetically. The top of her head barely reached Olivia's shoulder. "Sorry. He told me not to let you get away. I don't think it'll take too long."
Resigned, Olivia followed Anna down the corridor past two other studios and another control room. They went through a heavy door that swung shut and locked behind them, then crossed the lobby to the station's general offices.
T.J. Lawrence smiled and stood when Olivia knocked on his open office door. The sunlight streaming through the window spotlighted his freshly shaved head and glinted off his wire-rimmed glasses. Olivia blinked at the brightness after her stint in the artificially lit studio and took the chair the OM offered.
T.J. was a bit of a maverick by current radio standards. In the corporate environment that now permeated the industry, his hands-on approach and personal commitment to local production made him a rarity. It also commanded fierce loyalty from the people who worked for him.
It had been T.J. who'd talked Olivia into moving her show to WTLK, and T.J. who'd put the station and its resources firmly behind her during the media feeding frenzy that followed her divorce.
In a market where more and more stations relied on prepackaged syndicated programs, he continued to produce and promote local programming, building his on-air talent and staying personally involved in the direction of their shows. As a rule, he was head strategist and chief cheerleader.
Today, T.J.'s smile lacked its usual wattage, and his warm brown eyes looked troubled. Olivia settled into her chair and looked up at the man perched on the desk in front of her. "What's the problem, T.J.?"
He studied her for a moment as if weighing his words. When he folded his arms across his chest and then crossed his long legs at the ankles, Olivia shifted uncomfortably in her seat. As body language went, his was not promising.
"I know you're in a hurry, so I'll spare you the gory details. The problem, as always, is the corporate office in Detroit." He paused and shook his head in disgust. "Normally, I can handle the suits. But this time when I got out my whip and chair, they refused to back off."
The picture of T.J. in lion-taming spandex notwithstanding, Olivia found herself wishing they were in the big top so that T.J. could cage those mangy business types, or at least throw the beasts some . . . dead meat. Uh-oh. The image of Liv Live as a hunk of raw sirloin dangling above razor-sharp teeth was not a particularly pleasant one.
Olivia stood and walked to the window, where she stared down at the lunchtime traffic inching along Peachtree Street. T.J. joined her there, and for a long moment they stood side by side watching the antlike activity seven stories below. "Liv Live's not in jeopardy, is it?"
T.J. ran a hand over the dome of his head and sighed. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to take a hard look at it."
"Why is that?"
"It's one of our most expensive shows. It and Guy Talk pull the biggest audiences and have the most export potential, but they're also the most costly to produce. You and Matt Ransom are WTLK's highest-paid talent. Based solely on the bottom line, your shows are roughly equivalent."
"How can anyone compare Liv Live to Guy Talk? They don't even belong on the same planet."
"Yes, well, that's pretty much what Matt said. But WTLK is owned by people who started out marketing dog food, Olivia. To them, one can is pretty much like the next."
"How do the dog food people expect you to handle this problem?"
"Basically, they've informed me that I can't afford both Alpo and Gravy Train. Both of your contracts are up for renewal. They're sending the consultant down. I may have to give one of you up."
Olivia made the drive to Figaro, Atlanta's trendiest new Italian restaurant, in record time. Screeching into valet parking, tossing her keys to the attendant, and hurrying around the car toward the canopied entrance, she arrived for her appointment out of breath and totally out of sorts. She hated being late or unprepared, and at the moment she was both. She also hated being interviewed--which left her zero for three. And that was without T.J.'s bombshell thrown in for good measure.
The reporter from Atlanta Leisure stood as the maitre d' ushered Olivia to the table. He was young and self-consciously hip in a black T-shirt under a black unstructured jacket. A noticeable amount of gel forced the hair above his forehead up in little spikes, and although he looked relatively harmless, the red warning light in Olivia's head flashed just the same.
She'd acquired the red light and other survival techniques when the media decided a radio therapist whose own marriage had crashed and burned made great headlines.
Keeping her current motto, "Never forget the potential for disaster," firmly in mind, she chatted amiably with the twenty-something reporter. When he pulled out a small tape recorder, turned it on, and placed it on the table between them, she didn't bat an eyelash, but the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.
"Do you mind?"
"No, no, of course not," she said as the flashing red light in her head strobed brighter.
For the first fifteen minutes or so, he stuck to the safe and predictable. Yes, she loved Atlanta. Yes, she was thrilled at the buzz about her show's syndication potential. No, she didn't think being divorced disqualified her from advising others. A Gen X Dr. Laura? No, she hadn't thought of herself in quite that way. After all, she wasn't preaching morality, but trying to help women stand up for themselves.
More like a Dear Abby, then, with Gloria Steinem tendencies? Though that description came a lot closer to the mark, Olivia didn't come out and say so. Between bites, she bobbed and weaved, trying to duck both the pigeonholes and pitfalls. And all the time, she thought about the decision T.J. would be making.
From the Paperback edition.