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By FERN MICHAELS
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One Maggie Spritzer leaned back in her chair and stretched her neck muscles. She wished she could prop her feet up on the desk the way she'd done for years at her old desk. But those days were gone, and she missed them. No point in lying to herself. Right now, tired as she was, she knew if a hot tip came in on a story she was following, all her tiredness would be gone, and she'd be in hot pursuit of whatever lead she was chasing down.
She liked her new job but it was so routine. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had an adrenaline rush, the rush all reporters lived for.
Maggie looked out through the plate glass windows of her office, which she'd decorated to suit herself. It wasn't exactly homey, but it was comfortable, with soft leather chairs, green plants, and colorful prints on the walls. She'd had the office painted a misty green, hoping to get the cigar smoke from her predecessor off the walls and out of the fiber shades on the windows. It didn't work. Every so often she thought she caught a whiff of one of Liam's cigars. She sighed as she continued to stare out at the newsroom, which was quiet at the moment. All the rushing around and the sound of computers clacking away had died down two hours ago when all the other newspaper employees had packed up and gone home for the day-which was exactly what she should have done.
Maggie rolled her head back and forth on her neck, hoping to work the kinks out. Maybe she should get a massage tomorrow or go to Harry Wong's dojo for a good workout. She leaned forward and scribbled a note to herself, a note she would probably end up ignoring when she arrived back in the office the next morning.
She knew she was delaying her departure because she hated going home to an empty house and an empty refrigerator. There was a note someplace on her desk reminding her to stop at the grocery store. That note was at least two weeks old, which meant she'd have to stop for some takeout if she wanted to eat tonight.
The empty house was three doors away from Jack Emery's house in Georgetown. A find, really. Jack had clued her in when one of his neighbors had told him he was going to rent out his house because he was being transferred to England, and had asked if Jack knew anyone interested in leasing it for two years, fully furnished. She'd snapped it up before Jack was finished with his spiel, and the Post had picked up the lease. She paid half the rent, and the Post paid the other half.
The house was a bit on the masculine side, but with a few of her treasures set about, some plants, and colorful rugs on the shiny oak floors, the Tudor became hers in short order. The funny thing, though, was that she'd been in the house almost a year and had yet to bump into Jack. Maggie grimaced. She'd rather thought they would pop in on each other, shoot the breeze, and maybe have a beer once in a while. It never happened. Yet it was comforting in a way to know he was just three houses away in case she needed him in the middle of the night for something or other.
Maggie sighed again as her stocking feet sought her heels under the desk-though she hated high heels, she wore them at the office every day because she had an image to present to her staff. The designer jacket was another thing she wasn't fond of. The truth was, she hated getting dressed up. Reporters never got dressed up, and they wore running shoes all the time.
The only thing that hadn't changed was her old backpack. She still carried it every single day, and there was no way she was going to stuff her life into some crocodile briefcase that cost more than most people earned in six months. Her L.L.Bean backpack suited her just fine, thank you very much.
Maggie was reaching for her coat when she heard a knock on the door of her office. She whirled around, her breath catching in her throat. Ted Robinson. She tried to take a deep breath and almost succeeded by the time she motioned for him to come in.
This was a new Ted standing in front of her. She wasn't sure if she liked this new Ted or not, but she'd transformed him into who he was these days, so she was stuck with the new, improved version of her old lover. Somehow she managed to ask, "What's up? I thought you left hours ago."
"I did leave, but I came back. I wanted to see and talk to you alone because I ... I wasn't sure you would want anyone to see me talking with you one-on-one. It's important. At least I think it's important. Yes, it really is, Maggie. Look, it's not about us, so don't go there if that's what you're thinking. Look, I haven't had any dinner, so what do you say to grabbing a quick bite? We could pop into The Nest for a burger and a beer. Even a salad if you want. My treat and, no, I'm not going to put it on my expense account."
Maggie surprised herself by saying, "Okay, let's do it."
Ted beamed with pleasure.
Maggie surprised herself even more on the ride down in the elevator when she asked how Mickey and Minnie, Ted's cats, were.
"Minnie was sick a few weeks ago. I had to leave her at the vet's for two days. Mickey was so lost he just lay by the front door and waited for her to come home. When I brought her back I put her on the couch, and he curled up next to her and stayed right by her side. Tell me that isn't true love."
"Sounds like it to me," Maggie said. That's how it had been when she and Ted were together. She hated the anxious tone in her voice when she asked, "She's okay now, isn't she?"
"Yeah, she's fine. I wouldn't have brought it up, but you asked."
Maggie knew she was supposed to say something that referred to the time in their lives when they'd talked of marriage and retirement. It seemed like a lifetime ago. "I ... I was very fond of Mickey and Minnie. Actually, Ted, I think I loved them as much as I ... loved you at the time. You can't ... you just can't turn ... what I'm trying to say here is ..."
"That you loved me and I screwed it up for us and you still can't forgive me but you still love my cats. It's okay, Maggie. Just so you know, I still love you. We aren't supposed to be talking about us."
"I know." Stupid answer. It's all she wanted to talk about, but she wasn't going to let Ted know that. She blinked away a tear. Suddenly, a vision of herself twenty years down the road floated in front of her. She was alone and crying.
Out on the street she stopped in midstride, turned to the right, reached for Ted's windbreaker, and pulled him forward. She planted a lip-lock on him that made her toes curl up inside her pointy-toed high heels. When she released him, she gasped for breath.
Ted's eyes rolled back in his head. "Jesus!" was all Ted could say.
"We will not talk about this ... ever."
"Yeah, yeah, right. We won't talk about this ... ever. You want to go home and have sex?"
"Sex? What? You think I'm easy? Just because I kissed you doesn't mean I want ..."
Ted was still rooted to the sidewalk. "It was a yes-or-no question, Maggie. You didn't answer the question."
"Yeah. Yeah, I do."
Ted almost fainted. He felt like scooping her up, slinging her over his shoulder, and running down the street. Why the hell not? He grabbed her, threw her over his shoulder, and started running as Maggie squealed and laughed and pedestrians clapped their approval.
"Put me down, Ted! Let me take off my shoes, and we'll run!"
Run they did.
Two hours later, the new editor in chief of the Post and the Post's star reporter snuggled in Ted's big bed with the two cats, who were purring so loud it was hard for the humans to hear their own words.
"That was the best sex I ever had," Ted said sleepily.
"Yeah, it was pretty good," Maggie agreed. "You got anything to eat in this place?"
"Everything under the sun. Help yourself."
"I don't mean leftover takeout. I mean food."
"Check it out, Miss EIC."
Maggie padded naked out to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. She blinked at the array of food inside. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Half a ham covered in Saran Wrap. A plate of leftover fried chicken. Milk, juice, beer, eggs, bacon. She didn't know what to reach for first. She turned around when she felt Ted's hand on her shoulder. He was just as naked as she was. She smiled. This was familiar ground, something she'd missed the past year. Sex, pillow talk, raiding the fridge. Companion talk. Easy, comfortable. "Want a sandwich? What's up with this loaded fridge? I was expecting to see a ton of take-out cartons."
"I've been staying home a lot. Cheaper to cook than eat out. I've been running and exercising a lot lately. I didn't know what to do with myself. I actually like cooking. I meant it when I said I missed you, Maggie. I've been trying to be the kind of person you want me to be. I paid attention to everything you said. I need to know something, though. Was ... is this just a hit-and-run? Or are we ... Whatever it is, I'm okay with it if it's what you want. I might not like it, but I'll do whatever works for you." Maggie pretended to think as she sliced the succulent ham. "I think it's whatever we make it. Look at us, we're standing here naked. I'm slicing ham, and you're spreading mayo on bread. Neither one of us is bothered by our nakedness. I guess that has to mean something. It can't be the way it was."
"I know. We could start over. No secrets this time around. That was our problem, you realize that, right?"
Maggie stiffened. She did realize it. She also realized it was make-or-break time as far as Ted was concerned.
Seeing her discomfort, Ted stopped what he was doing. He reached over and pulled her close until they were eyeball to eyeball. "Look at me, Maggie, and listen to me. I know you're one of the Sisterhood. I think I've known it for the past year. You changed when you joined them. That was your choice, but in my own defense, I reacted to that change in you. For God's sake, Maggie, we talked for hours, days, for weeks and months about how we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. You shut me out, babe."
Maggie nodded. She didn't trust herself to say anything.
"Listen to me, Maggie. I actually like the new me. I felt like a ton of bricks dropped off my shoulders when you ordered me to cease and desist where the vigilantes were concerned. I admit I was obsessed. Beyond obsessed. It actually felt good when I finally let it go. And the reason I was able to do that was I didn't want to hurt you in any way. I know, Maggie. Do you want to hear something really weird?" Maggie nodded. "Knowing you the way I know you, I knew you wouldn't have joined that pack unless you believed in them with your whole heart and soul. I still believe that.
"I also know who the owner of the Post is. Don't worry, I can't prove it, and that's okay. It's the de Silva woman. I'm not asking you to confirm or deny. I know because they made you the EIC. I'm not going to interfere, Maggie. I swear to you on Mickey and Minnie."
Maggie licked at her dry lips. Suddenly, she wasn't hungry. It didn't look like Ted was hungry, either. She sat down. Ted sat down across from her. "What did you want to talk to me about when you came to my office?"
"Want a beer?"
Maggie nodded. Ted uncapped both bottles and held up his hand for her to wait a minute. He ran to the bedroom and returned with two ratty old robes. He handed one to Maggie.
Maggie slipped her arms into the robe she'd worn many times. It smelled like Ted. She tied the belt and sat back down. She held up her bottle of beer, and they clinked bottles before Ted spoke.
Ted cleared his throat before he spoke, but he never took his eyes off Maggie. "I wanted to give you a heads-up on something. I have a source at the FBI, and I met him for lunch. He's a good friend as well as a source. Don't worry, you don't know him. He's golden, never steered me wrong.
"As you know, the buzz in this town for the past month has been the president's appointment of Bert Navarro as director of the FBI. With the advice and consent of the Senate. I lost track of the number of articles we published on the topic during the past month. Navarro has been vetted up one side and down the other. The Judiciary Committee has been holding hearings, as we reported. Right now we're waiting for the committee to vote and pass it on to the Senate. We don't know which way they're going to vote, but either way, with or without a recommendation, once the nomination is out of committee it can come up for a vote in the Senate. If they approve, Navarro is in as director of the FBI.
"My source has a source who told him there's one hang-up for Navarro. It looks like it might be a go for him except for one thing."
Maggie felt a ripple of alarm at Ted's words. "What?" she asked. "Are you going to make me drag it out of you?"
"Maggie, I'm a damn good reporter. I dig and dig, and my instincts are every bit as good as yours are. We both know that. I know that Navarro and Jack Emery and that guy Wong have been helping the vigilantes. Nothing else makes sense. I'm not the only one who thinks like that, either. We both know that, too. Anyway, my source's source told him the hang-up on Navarro is his friendship with Jack Emery and Harry Wong. It seems when the FBI did the vetting background check, that all came out. Jack's previous engagement to Nikki Quinn and knowing Myra Rutledge. I guess all kinds of stuff came up, like Bert's being front and center when the vigilantes were running fast and loose, and those guys ran with it. My source told me there are those within the FBI who are jealous of Navarro and never liked his close relationship with Elias Cummings. Cummings is the one who had the president's ear, and he recommended Bert replace him. Elias's vote carried a lot of weight. It's politics like you've never seen.
"My source's source told him the Senate should be ready to take a vote on Friday. Friday of this week, Maggie. Today is Monday. My source told me if Navarro loses, he's going to resign from the FBI."
Maggie's hand snaked out to reach for a slice of ham. Her mind was racing. Was there any way for Charles and the girls to know the way this was playing out? Probably not, she decided. Her eyes narrowed as she stared across the table at Ted. He met her gaze without flinching.
"You and the others need Navarro, so you better get in touch with someone and do something in the next few days," Ted said quietly.
Maggie nibbled on her bottom lip. Ted was right. But ... was he setting a trap for her? Evidently the question she wasn't asking verbally showed on her face.
"Maggie, get dressed and go home. Do what you have to do. I'm not going to do a thing. Personally, I think Navarro will make a hell of a director. When my source told me Navarro is prepared to walk away rather than give up his friendship with Emery and Wong because that's what it will take to get him appointed, I had all I needed to know about the guy. You're the go-between. Take care of it, Maggie."
Maggie shoved the ham to the side of the table. She leaned across and was mere inches from Ted. "All of this," she said, waving her arms around, "was and is wonderful. I enjoyed every single minute of it. If you're setting me up, Ted, there will be no place for you to hide. I will come after you with all my new friends. Just so you know. For both our sakes, I hope the new you is here to stay. If you are setting me up, I will fire your ass, and you will be grist for the mill. I'll make sure you never work again for a newspaper. That's assuming you're still alive at that point. Thanks for the heads-up."
Ted dipped his knife in the mayo jar. "Hey, what are friends for?"
Ted was munching contentedly while slipping tidbits of ham to the cats when he heard the door to his apartment close with a loud bang. No kiss good night. He winced. Then he shrugged. This new Ted wasn't one bit worried about anyone coming after him. He was walking the straight and narrow these days. His conscience clear, Ted decided to make a second sandwich. Sex always made him hungry. Really, really good sex made him ravenous.
Outside, her stomach churning, Maggie hailed a cab and gave the driver Jack Emery's address. How weird that just a few hours ago she'd been sitting at her desk at the Post thinking about her neighbor Jack Emery and how they never ran into one another. She looked down at her watch and saw that it was almost eleven o'clock. She knew for a fact that Jack never went to bed before midnight. She, on the other hand, was usually in bed by ten and soon sound asleep.
Excerpted from FINAL JUSTICE by FERN MICHAELS Copyright © 2008 by Fern Michaels. Excerpted by permission.
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