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"Tough break on Vertical Blind.'
Delainey Clarke glanced up at the sympathetic voice and offered a tight smile in response, but hurried all that much more quickly down the brightly lit hallway, hoping she could reach her small cubicle of an office and hide.
She managed to slip inside and dropped the fake smile the minute she was safely behind the closed door.
Tough break? More like death knell. Vertical Blind had been her last chance at making her mark at the network as an associate producer, and it had bombed so badly her boss had not only passed on picking up the pilot but had given her newest idea the sardonic brow, as if to ask, "Are you kidding me?" which did not bode well for her future.
Hollywood was a rough town-no, actually, it wasn't a town at all because that would imply that it was inhabited by people. Hollywood was a shark tank, and she was definitely feeling more like chum than a predator at the top of the food chain. What was she going to do? At this rate, she needed more than just a hit, she needed an award-winning, knock-it-out-of-the-park hit in order to restore her status around the network before someone else came along and booted her from her tiny, cramped office.
Suddenly, the back of her head connected with the door as someone tried to enter, and she stumbled away, rubbing the back of her skull with a scowl as Hannah Yaley walked in looking day-spa fresh and plainly perplexed.
"Delainey were you leaning against the door?" she asked.
Speaking of sharks. Delainey smiled for Hannah's benefit, though why she even bothered, Delainey wasn't sure. They didn't like each other, but for the sake of appearances they played the same passive games as everyone else in this fake town. "What can I do for you, Hannah?" she asked, smoothing the tiny wrinkles from her slim skirt and wondering how Hannah always managed to look as if she'd just collected her clothes from the dry cleaners. "Congratulations on the ratings of Hubba Hubba," she added with false cheer while gagging on the inside. Reality shows were cheap to produce and easy to make a good impression on within the right demographic, but shooting a reality show about the wild shenanigans of college coeds during spring break was like shooting fish in a barrel. Hubba Hubba had beaten out every other show in its demographic, making Hannah Yaley the new network darling. And Hannah hated Delainey.
"Thank you, we're very proud of our team," Hannah murmured with put-on modesty. Then her expression crumpled appropriately as she added, "I was so bummed to hear about Vertical Blind. I had such high hopes."
Sure you did. "Well, I should've known A drama about rock climbing was a logistic nightmare, not to mention expensive, and if you don't get the right time slot " She let the rest of the excuses trail, knowing she sounded like a pathetic loser and preferring to act as if the failure was simply an unfortunate casualty of the business and no real tragedy to her personally.
God, if only that were true. Hannah nodded in complete understanding, but her eyes glittered with undisguised mirth as she said, "Well, I just wanted to pop in and see how you were doing. I was worried you might've taken this recent failure a little hard. But I should've known you'd handle it with grace. You are such an inspiration, Delainey. If I were you, I'd probably end up sobbing in a corner, sucking down vodka and cranberry until I died of alcohol poisoning."
She emitted a sharp laugh at her own joke, and Delainey gave her a brittle smile in return.
"Yes, well, where I'm from, giving up isn't an option."
"Oh, that's right, you're from Alaska ." Hannah shuddered delicately. "Must be murder on the skin. But then, it's not as if there's much opportunity to show much skin when you're bundled in a parka, right?"
Delainey affected a surprised expression as she glanced at the wall clock. "Damn, I have an appointment to get to," she said, grabbing her purse. "Thanks for checking up on me. It means a lot that you care."
Hannah's expression was mildly frosty as she replied, "Of course. We girls have to stick together in this boys' club."
"Absolutely," Delainey agreed, yet wished she could roll her eyes so hard she saw her brain. Just once, she'd like to call Hannah on all her fake bullshit, but Hannah was the favored one right now and Delainey was already getting appraising glances from the other producers, the vultures. She shouldered her purse and followed Hannah out into the hall. "Anyway, good chatting with you. On to bigger and better, right?"
Hannah's expression was patronizing as she said, "That a girl. Such spirit " before walking away-and if Delainey wasn't mistaken, her shoulders were shaking with suppressed laughter.
Argh! Delainey wished she had a real appointment to dash off to. That might lift her spirits at least a little bit, but as it was, her calendar was depressingly free of appointments. No one was interested in taking a meeting with Delainey Clarke.
Not even the public access channels.
When she'd first arrived in California, she'd been hungry for a new life. Everything had been new and exciting, and she'd been eager to learn the rules of Hollywood's brutal social game. But the bloom had certainly worn off the rose at this point. You're just depressed over Vertical Blind, she told herself, trying to prop up her ego and heal her bruised feelings. This is the nature of the business that you love.
Did she love it? Not at the moment.
Delainey detoured to her favorite coffee shop, and even though she knew she shouldn't spend the money on such a frivolous purchase, she really didn't think she could face the rest of the day without something sugary and caf-feinated.
She needed a hit. God, please. She'd come too far to fail now. She'd do anything to succeed. Just send me something I can work with
Trace Sinclair fought the urge to bat the microphone out of his face as he cast the reporter at the other end a dark look. "I've already given a statement," he said curtly, pushing his way past the throng of reporters all clamoring for an exclusive that he'd already said repeatedly he wasn't going to give. Damn nuisances. He was just doing his job. Why didn't they pester someone who was interested in flapping their jaws about themselves? "Is it true you're the best tracker in the state of Alaska?"
"How did you know where to find Clarissa Errington?"
"Were the conditions a hindrance to your tracking skills?"
"How close to death was the governor's daughter when you rescued her from the mountain?"
"Please, Mr. Sinclair, don't you know you're a hero? Wouldn't you like to tell your side of the story?"
Trace climbed into his truck and gladly put the horde behind him, finally able to breathe. But before he could fully relax, his cell phone rang. He peered at the evil piece of technology that he abhorred and restrained himself from chucking it into a snowbank when he saw his boss's number pop up on the screen. He bit back a muttered curse and answered the phone.
"Would it kill you to grant an interview or two? It's really good publicity for the Search and Rescue program, and we could use a little good press, if you know what I mean."
"It's not my job to pander to the press. It's my job to find people. End of story. I don't remember reading anything in my job description that said one word about granting interviews that no one's going to care about when the next big story hits."
"No one cares about lost tourists-but everyone cares about a lost thirteen-year-old girl who just happens to be the governor's daughter. It might not be your thing, but it's big news, and you will give the press a story."
"If I said 'bite me,' would you fire me?" he asked.
"No, because that's exactly what you'd want me to do so you could get out of talking to the press. C'mon, Trace take one for the team. We need this."
Trace swore and shook his head, knowing Peter would badger him almost as incessantly as the press, and frankly, it would be harder to avoid his boss than the reporters. "One interview," he said. "And I mean-one."
"I guess if that's all I can get out of you," grumbled Peter, adding a sharp, "But it'd better be a good interview. Plug the program several times and make sure you mention how you couldn't have found the girl without your support crew."
"Yeah, sure," Trace said. "Gotta go. Set up the interview and let me know when and where. I'll show up with bells on."
"Sure you will," Peter said, not believing him for a second. "If you don't show up "
"I will," he assured Peter, sighing. "I promise."
"Good." Peter clicked off and Trace tossed his phone onto the seat, freshly irritated. He didn't understand what the big fascination was with him doing his job. Nobody got this fired up about the mailman delivering the mail. Why should anyone care about what he did? In a perfect world, everyone minded their own damn business and left each other alone.
He hated reporters.
He hated the limelight.
And he most definitely hated toeing the line for someone else's agenda.
The only thing that made this situation tolerable was the fact that Clarissa Errington hadn't been frozen solid by the time he'd found her.
He swallowed the sour lump in his throat.
Clarissa had cried with relief when she'd seen him appear from the dense forest, his orange vest blazoned with Search and Rescue in bold black lettering, and she had stumbled into his arms, terrified and sobbing, so cold she could barely hold on to him.
It wasn't that he was flippant about saving a child's life; it was that he simply didn't want accolades for doing his job. He wasn't a hero, and he hated when anyone used that term to describe him.
He was no hero. He was just a guy trying to make a living doing the only thing he'd ever been good at.
What was so interesting about that?
He needed a beer. Maybe two or three. Was it considered bad form to show up to an interview drunk? Celebrities did it, so why couldn't he? That ought to quash any more of that hero talk that kept getting tossed around.
Peter would likely blow his top if he walked in three sheets to the wind, and Trace didn't want an earful from Peter's wife, Cindy, who'd blame him for causing Peter's blood pressure to skyrocket.
Nope, he realized. Stone-cold sober was the only way available to him.
Just get it over with and be done with it, he told himself.
Twenty minutes of his life and then he could put the nuisance behind him. After that, everything could return to normal and the rest of the world would find something else to chew on while he went back to doing his job-quietly and without microphones being shoved in his face.
Delainey settled into her leather-backed chair, ready to throw everything she had into this pitch meeting, having spent a week brainstorming for the most interesting and stellar idea for a new show in the hopes that the gods of television were smiling down on her and would grant her a boon.
Her nerves buzzed from too much caffeine, but she was operating on too little sleep and couldn't chance that she might doze off at the most inopportune time. Calm down, she told herself sternly, working hard to breathe slowly and steadily to still her shaking fingers. This is only the single most important meeting of your life, so why stress? Ugh.
Frank Pilcher, head of programming, sat at the head of the long conference table, looking as austere and foreboding as ever, and no matter how many times Delainey tried smiling and putting on her best face, he rarely appreciated her efforts. In short, that man terrified her- more so now than ever because that baleful stare seemed centered on her more than anyone else. Or maybe she was just being paranoid .
"Vertical Blind has, in the history of this network, lost more money in the first six weeks than any new show given the green light from this company in the past five years. What have you got for us to lose money on this time, Ms. Clarke?"
Oh. Maybe she wasn't being paranoid. Was it possible to slide down in her chair and slink from the room on the power of her own mortification? A shaky smile fit itself to her lips and she opened her day planner with all her notes and ideas, but her eyesight had begun to swim.
"Uh, yes, well, Vertical Blind did not perform as well as we had hoped," Delainey admitted, clearing her voice when a small shake betrayed her. "But, I have been studying the demographic test groups and have found that-"
"Conversely, Ms. Yaley, your show, Hubba Hubba, is blowing all projections out of the water," Frank said, cutting Delainey off in mid-sentence, causing her cheeks to flare with heat as she had no choice but to sit and nod in response to Frank's assessment. "The kids seem to like watching one train wreck after another ad nauseum."
"Yes, sir. We are very pleased with the momentum of Hubba Hubba," Hannah said with a smile. "The show easily snags the seventeen to twenty-five age bracket, and already we're getting calls from quality advertisers eager to place their product in the commercial slots. Overall, I'd call Hubba Hubba a smashing success, one the network can be proud of."
"It's lucrative for sure, but something to be proud of? I wouldn't go that far," Frank said, surprising both Hannah and Delainey. "Although Vertical Blind dropped like a stone, the concept was, at least, less inane than Hubba Hubba."
Hannah lost her smug smile and nodded, unsure of how to respond, not that it mattered because Frank had moved on. "There was a time when we made quality programming. We need to find a way to do that as well as continue to make money. Thus far, we've missed that mark. I want to hear ideas that do both. And I don't want to hear any more ideas about shows that follow young, drunken idiots around all summer," he warned the group with a dark glare. "I want to hear something people can really get behind and care about, and not because it's filled with debauchery or alcohol-soaked shenanigans."
Hannah pretended to study her notes, as if she'd actually jotted something down that might fit the criteria, but Delainey knew for a fact that since Hubba Hubba was a hit, Hannah had been looking for several different ways to copy its success, relying mainly on the same format and concept.