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Going My Way
By JANET DAILEY
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe din of the newspaper office was steady, telephones ringing, the clatter of computer keyboards and raised voices creating an unceasing hum of activity. With headphones on, Lexie Templeton barely heard it. She sipped from the paper cup of black coffee she held in one hand and then nibbled at a half-finished Danish pastry in the other.
Carbs and caffeine, the breakfast of champions. Okay, not. But she needed it. She put a different CD in her Walkman and cast a glance at her coworker Ginger Franksen, also her roommate and friend, who was ranting about something. At twenty-two, younger than Lexie by a few years, Ginger had yet to figure out that life wasn't fair and she tended to complain a little too much about that not exactly earthshaking fact.
She was definitely the fresh, Midwestern, annoyingly innocent type. Lexie sometimes felt a little like Ginger's mother.
She studied the slim, blue-jeaned figure pacing by the cubicle where they sometimes met. Ginger's long and beautiful corn-silk hair flowed past her shoulders and she wore very little makeup. She didn't need it, having that all-American look of pure honey that gathered men like bees. Lexie had no doubt that was what Ginger was going on about. She'd heard all about her roommate's current on-again, off-again romance in the last few weeks.
Ginger's obvious agitation made Lexie nervous and when she was nervous, she didn't eat. She set down the pastry in her hand and slipped the headphones off her ears.
Another sideways glance caught the amused but tolerant look of the third member of their group. Shari Sullivan, whose office was across from the cubicle where they were now, was considerably older than both of the others, but no one seemed to think of her as a mother figure. Shari was chic, sophisticated, always dressed to the teeth, and her blonde highlights were a work of art, created by Boston's most sought-after hairdresser.
Despite Shari's hard-bitten glamour, Lexie often felt sorry for her. Shari wanted more than anything else to be thought of as young, and she just wasn't. And she hadn't made the defining career move to a corner office, even though she worked longer hours than anyone in the newsroom.
They were definitely an incongruous threesome. Lexie had often wondered exactly what unseen thread tied them together. Obviously there was something; they met each morning for coffee, Ginger coming from her lowly position in the sports department and Lexie from her fast-rising post in political news. Shari did soft features on society and style, and wrote a gossip column as well.
She came out of her office just as Ginger was winding down. "... and Bob was so angry because I wasn't in when he called last night," Ginger said with a dramatic sigh.
Lexie wrapped a paper napkin around the rest of her Danish pastry and tossed it into the wastebasket beside the desk. "I suppose you apologized for going out to do your laundry," she said dryly.
"Well, I was sorry that I wasn't there when he called," Ginger said.
"Honestly, Ginger,"-exasperation riddled Lexie's response-"how can you let yourself become a doormat for that man?"
"I am not a doormat," came the protest. Even Ginger seemed to realize that as defenses went, it was kind of lame. "He wanted to talk to me and I wanted to talk to him. We just didn't make the connection, that's all. But that has nothing to do with my problem. What Bob is really upset about is this weekend. I can't make up my mind whether I should go with him to Cape Cod or not, and I'm afraid if I don't go, he'll ask someone else."
"Let him," Lexie declared in disgust. "And if you can't make up your mind, he may not be the right guy."
"What do you mean?" Ginger asked.
"If he really knocked your socks off, you wouldn't hesitate."
"True," Shari murmured.
Ginger picked at a cuticle. "But I really like him. I mean, I really, really like him."
Lexie only shrugged. "Why?"
"That's not a very nice question. You don't like him, I guess." Ginger pouted.
"Maybe you just don't like men, Lexie," Shari observed in the husky, insinuating voice she had perfected over the years.
Lexie shot her a look. "Spare me the armchair analysis, thank you very much. I like men just fine. When they're not being totally aggravating. You should have been with me yesterday when I interviewed that new candidate for Congress and heard him explain why he doesn't have any women holding responsible positions in his campaign."
"Besides on their backs," Shari said snidely.
Lexie snorted. "Don't think the distinguished candidate could handle that. He's got to be a hundred and five."
"Is he that really ancient rich guy with the polka-dot bow tie and matching suspenders I saw on the news?" Ginger asked.
"That's him. He even gave me that old song and dance about the difficulties of a single woman traveling in the company of so many men and, blah blah, the problems of a married woman leaving her husband while she's on the campaign trail." Lexie swirled the lukewarm coffee in her cup and decided not to finish it. "I couldn't believe I was hearing that crap. It's like nothing has changed."
"For a man of his generation, it probably hasn't," Shari pointed out. "He probably has a little wifey at home in a chiffon apron serving up cocoa and cookies."
"I think he divorced that one," Ginger, an avid reader of tabloids, said. "He has a trophy wife who's a lot younger. But she doesn't do anything but shop."
"Thanks for the news flash." Lexie wasn't ready to stop grumbling. "Why is it that a man is never asked how he manages to combine marriage and a career successfully, but a woman always gets that question thrown at her?"
"Excellent point," the older woman agreed with a throaty laugh.
"And speaking of careers,"-Lexie warmed to her subject with a vengeance-"if a woman makes more money than a man, it's still news. Did you see that article on it in Time?"
"It's a pity we can't convince men they can make money having babies," Shari offered in a dryly amused voice.
"Isn't it, though?" Lexie murmured, impatiently brushing a lock of titian hair from her forehead. "No matter what men say, they secretly want a woman to do it all so they can put their feet up and watch football."
"But some men don't even like football," Ginger said. "So I don't think that's true."
"Believe me, it's true," Lexie continued. "Men want women to soothe their furrowed brows, to pander to their insatiable male egos, to tell them how great they are in bed, and our reward is the so-called pleasure of their company." Her gaze strayed to the tear sheet in Shari's hand, a photograph of a man dominating the page. "And he's the worst of the lot!"
"Rome Lockwood," Shari said with obvious admiration. The candid newspaper photograph didn't do the man justice, but Lexie had seen him too many times in person to be deceived by the picture. She had never met him personally, only observed him at political functions. That had been enough.
Lean, dark features. Jet black hair styled with rakish carelessness above the wide, intelligent forehead. Dark eyes, with a knowing light in their depths as if he knew the power of his attraction. And the photographer had caught him with a disarming smile on his sexy mouth. More than once Lexie had seen him work all that potent masculine charm, smoothly and subtly and successfully.
"Yes, Rome Lockwood," she repeated. "God, that sounds like a made-up name."
"It isn't. And he isn't a politician," Shari remarked. "So how did you happen to meet him?"
"Political functions often become social functions," Lexie answered, again with a trace of contempt. "And no A-list party, political or social, is considered a success without Rome Lockwood. Have you ever seen him with the same woman twice in a row?"
Shari thought for a moment. "Can't say that I have. No one has even come close to hooking him yet, although a lot have tried-desperately. Which may be why his little black book is rumored to have so many names. He probably finds safety in numbers."
"If I were Rome Lockwood, I'd be worried," Lexie observed.
"Why?" Ginger looked at the photograph, which Shari held up for her. A glimpse of the man in the picture made her add, "He's hot. He'll never have to worry about getting a date."
"He should worry that some of his many women might get together and compare notes. I'm sure he finds safety in numbers because it conceals the fact that he isn't man enough to keep one woman satisfied."
Her caustic statement was greeted by silence from Ginger, but Shari cackled with glee and reached for a scratch pad and pencil. "That's priceless, Lexie!" she declared. "May I quote that in my column?"
Lexie hesitated, then shrugged diffidently. "I don't care."
Shari hurriedly wrote it down, despite the rings cluttering her fingers and long nails polished a fashionably gaudy red. "Can't wait to hear the buzz. Everybody will be talking about this column," she said, smiling with feline satisfaction as she read over what she'd jotted.
"I think that's a horrible thing to say," Ginger accused. "You're probably just jealous, Lexie, because you aren't one of his dates."
"You're way off base." Lexie gave her roommate a pitying look. "But I do know his type. There'll never be just one woman in his life. He's always going to have to prove what a stud he is by stringing out a long line of conquests. The disgusting thing is that so many men envy him."
"He's kind of like Donald Trump," Ginger agreed breathlessly.
"Well, not exactly," Lexie said. "Even I have to admit that Rome Lockwood is a lot better looking than The Donald. And much, much sexier. And that's definitely his own hair."
"No wonder other men envy him," Shari laughed.
"He's what they all want to be."
"Lexie, a lot of women just love Rome Lock-wood," Shari began.
"A lot of women are fools," Lexie replied. "They cherish fantasies that they'll be the one to catch him."
"And why not? What's wrong with a few fantasies?" Shari argued. "He's tall, dark, and handsome, not to mention filthy rich."
"And he's a born Casanova." Lexie put the lid on her takeout coffee and placed it in the wastebasket.
"And you're a born cynic." Shari smiled.
"I prefer it to being a born innocent," she retorted, straightening up and glancing at her watch. "I'd better be getting back to my desk. Stan will be wondering where I went," she said, referring to her editor.
"I'd better go, too," Ginger said. "See you later, Shari." She followed Lexie as both of them left the cubicle opposite the older woman's office. "Hey, neither one of you said what you thought I should do about this weekend. Should I go with Bob?"
"I can't tell you whether or not you should go," Lexie frowned. "It's your decision, Ginger, not mine."
"I don't feel right about going," the girl sighed, flicking her long, straight blond hair away from her collar.
"Then don't go."
"But if I don't, Bob won't ask me out anymore."
"He's not the only Bob in the world. Trust me on this, Ginger. You will meet many more Bobs."
"Easy for you to say. But it's not that easy to find a good Bob."
Lexie laughed. "Who knows? A bad Bob might be a lot more fun."
"Hm. Guess you don't deserve your reputation for being a prude."
Lexie shook her head. "I'm not. Just a workaholic. I don't actually have time to date anyone, good or bad."
Having been blessed with a pretty face and a striking combination of red hair and blue eyes, not to mention a toned body she'd worked hard to achieve, Lexie didn't lack for invitations. She even accepted one now and then. But she really wasn't interested in a committed relationship with anyone at this point in her life.
"See ya later," Lexie said, as they reached the hallway where they would separate to go to their different departments.
Ginger gave her a sheepish look. "Um, I'm meeting Bob after work. So it'll be a lot later."
"What about supper?" They rotated the responsibility for buying takeout food but they rarely cooked.
"Don't get anything for me."
Lexie's cubicle was barely distinguishable from the rows of others just like it. A computer and keyboard had pride of place, but a a drift of printouts and memos half-covered the telephone. The file cabinet, desk, and a huge stack of back issues fenced in her chair. As Lexie squeezed through the gap between the desk and the short file cabinet, the man at the cubicle opposite hers glanced up. Ralph Polasky was a staff reporter twenty years her senior, and inclined to laziness.
"You're back," he observed. "Mike was here a minute ago looking for you."
Lexie had expected her brief absence to be noticed. Very little escaped Mike Farragut's attention. The little wheels on her chair squeaked as she pulled it away from the desk.
"What did he want?"
Her coworker shrugged. "Just asked where you were. I told him I thought you'd gone out for some coffee."
"I can imagine his reaction to that."
Ralph Polasky smiled. "You know Mike. He said something about time being money, and why didn't people take advantage of the sludge-in-a-pot that management provides, and so forth."
"Did he actually call our fabulous free coffee sludge?"
"No. It was just the usual speech."
Lexie nodded and sat down. The phone rang at Ralph's desk and he answered it, then cupped a hand over the receiver. "I forgot. I think Mike left something on your desk."
He returned to his call as Lexie quickly skimmed through the papers scattered haphazardly over her desk top. One practically leaped out from among the others, demanding her attention. It was the story she had just written and turned in to Mike not more than an hour ago. She sighed when she saw what was left of it after Mike's ruthless red pencil had gone over it. She leaned back in her chair and began reading through the changes and corrections.
After reworking the story, she e-mailed it to him and got back an almost instantaneous okay. Words of praise were the last thing Lexie expected from him, and she didn't receive any. But his follow-up e-mail announcing that he was giving her a byline on the story was ample reward.
The following afternoon, as she was leaving for the day, she passed Ralph Polasky in the hall. He'd been out on assignment all day and was just coming in to write up the story.
"What are you trying to do?" he asked. "Make a name for yourself?"
She laughed, guessing he had seen her story with her byline in the morning edition of the newspaper. "Jealous?" she teased. The elevator doors were just closing and Lexie hurried to beat them. "Don't work too hard, Ralph," she mocked as she slipped inside the elevator.
The good mood didn't last long.
Excerpted from Going My Way by JANET DAILEY Copyright © 2005 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission.
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