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The bar, on the seventh floor of the Park Hyatt hotel, had its doors propped wide, as if boasting about the suddenly dazzling April weather.
We stepped onto the bar's patioan urban garden illuminated by the surrounding city lights.
"Spring is officially here," I said. "And God, am I ready for it."
The thing about spring in Chicago is that it's fast and fickle. A balmy, sixty-eight-degree Friday like tonight could easily turn into a brittle, thirty-five-degree Saturday. Which is why Chicagoans always clutch at those spring nights. Which is why a night like that can make you do crazy things.
The maître d', a European type in a slim black suit, spotted the woman I was with, Jane Augustine, and came hustling over. "Ms. Augustine," he said, "welcome." He looked at me. "And Miss "
"Miss Izzy McNeil," Jane said, beaming her perfect newscaster smile. "The best entertainment lawyer in the city."
The maître d' laughed, gave me a quick once-over. A little smile played at the corner of his mouth. "A lawyer. So you're smart, too?"
"If so, I'm a smart person who's out of a job." I'd been looking for six months.
"Maybe not for long," Jane said.
Jane shrugged coquettishly as the maître d' led us over the slate floor to a table at the edge of the patio.
"Our best spot," he said, "for the best." He put two leather-bound menus on the table and left.
We sat. "Do you always get this kind of treatment?" I asked.
Jane swung her shiny black hair over her shoulder and looked at me with her famous mauve-blue eyes. "The treatment was all about Izzy McNeil. He's hot for you."
I turned and glanced. The maître d' was watching us. Okay, I admit, he did seem to be watching me. "I think I'm giving off some sort of scent now that I'm single again."
Jane scoffed. "I can't stop giving off that scent, and I'm married."
I studied Jane as the waiter took our drink orders. With her long, perfect body tucked into her perfect red suit, she looked every inch the tough journalist she was, but the more I got to know her, the more I listened to her, the more I was intrigued by the many facets of Jane. When I was lead counsel for Pickett Enterprises, the Midwest media conglomerate that owned the station where Jane worked, I'd negotiated her contract. And while she was definitely the wisecracking, tough-talking, shoot-straight journalist I'd heard about, I had also seen some surprising cracks in the veneer of her confidence. And on top of that was the sexiness. The more I knew her, the more I noticed she simply steeped in it.
"Seriously," Jane said. "I know you're bummed that you and Sam had that little problem"
"Yeah, that little problem," I interrupted her. "We're seeing each other occasionally, but it's just not the same."
Six months ago, my fiancé, Sam, disappeared with thirty million dollars' worth of property owned by my client, Forester Pickett, the CEO of Pickett Enterprises, and it happened on precisely the same night Forester suddenly died. After nearly two agonizing weeks that seemed like two yearsweeks in which my world had not only been turned upside down, but also shaken and twisted and battered and bruised; weeks during which I learned so many secrets about the people in my life I thought I'd been dropped into someone else's lifethe matter had been resolved and Sam was back in town. But I'd lost all my legal work in the process and essentially had been ushered out the back door of my law firm. As for Sam and me, the wedding was off, and we weren't exactly back together.
"Whatever," Jane said. "You should enjoy being single. You're dating other people, right?"
"A little." I rubbed the spot on my left hand where my engagement ring used to rest. It felt as if the skin were slightly dented, holding a spot in case I decided to put it on again. "There's a guy named Grady, who I'm friends with, and we go out occasionally, but he wants to get serious, and I really don't. So mostly, I've been licking my wounds."
"Enough of that! Let someone do the licking for you. With that red hair and that ass, you could get anyone you want."
I laughed. "A guy at the coffee shop asked me out the other day."
"How old was he?"
"That'll work. As long as he's eighteen, he's doable."
The waiter stepped up to our table with two glasses of wine.
"Would you go out with her?" Jane asked him.
"Uh " he said, clearly embarrassed.
"Jane, stop." But the truth was I was thrilled with the randomly warm night, with the hint that the world was somehow turning faster than usual.
"No, honestly." Jane looked him up and down like a breeder sizing up a horse for stud. "Are you single?"
The waiter was a Hispanic guy with big, black eyes. "Yeah."
"And would you go out with her?" Jane pointed at me.
He grinned. "Oh, yeah."
"Perfect!" Jane patted him on the hip. "She'll get your number before we leave."
I dropped my head in my hands as the waiter walked away, chuckling.
"What?" she said. "Now you've got three dates when you want themthe waiter, the coffee shop dude and that Grady guy. We're working on the maître d' next. I want you to have a whole stable of men."
A few women walked by. One of them gasped. "Jane Augustine!" She rushed over. "I'm so sorry to bother you, but I have to tell you that I love you. We watch you every night."
"Thank you!" Jane extended her hand. "What's your name?"
The woman introduced her friends, and then the compliments poured from her mouth in an unending stream. "Wow, Jane, you're attractive on TV but you're even more gorgeous in person . You're beautiful . You're so smart . You're amazing."
"Oh, gosh, thank you," Jane said to each compliment, giving an earnest bob of the head. "You've made my day." She asked what the woman did for a living, then graciously accepted more compliments when the woman turned the conversation back to Jane.
"How do you do that?" I asked when they left.
"Act like you're so flattered? I know you've heard that stuff before."
Jane studied me. "How old are you, Izzy?"
"Thirty this summer." I shook my head. "I can't believe I'm going to be thirty."
"Well, I'm two years away from forty, and let me tell you somethingwhen someone tells you you're beautiful, you act like it's the first time you've heard that." She looked at me pointedly. "Because you never know when it'll be the last."
I sipped my wine. It was French, kind of floral and lemony. "How's your new agent?"
"Fantastic. He got me a great contract with Trial TV."
"I've seen the billboards."
Trial TV was a new legal network based in Chicago that was tapping into the old Court TV audience. The billboards, with Jane's smiling face, had been plastered up and down the Kennedy for months.
"It's amazing to be on the ground floor," Jane said. "They've got a reality show on prosecutors that's wild. It's gotten great advance reviews. And we're juicing up trial coverage and making it more exciting. You know, more background on the lawyers and judges, more aggressive commentary on their moves."
"And you'll be anchoring the flagship broadcast each morning." I raised my glass. "It's perfect for you."
Jane had always had a penchant for the legal stories. When she was a reporter, she was known for courting judges and attorneys, so that she was the one they came to whenever there was news. She got her spot as an anchor after she broke a big story about a U.S. Senator from Illinois who was funneling millions of dollars of work to one particular law firm in Chicago. It was Jane who figured out that the head partner at the firm was the senator's mistress.
Jane clinked my glass. "Thanks, Iz." She looked heavenward for a second, her eyes big and excited. "It's like a dream come true, because if I was going to keep climbing the nightly news ladder, I'd have to try and go to New York and land the national news. But Zac and I want to stay here. I love this city so much."
Jane looked around, as if taking in the whole town with her gaze. This particular part of Chicagothe Gold Coast and the Mag Milehad grown like a weed lately as a plethora of luxury hotel-condo buildings sprang into the skyline.
"Plus, aside from getting up early, it's going to be great hours," Jane continued. "I don't have to work nights anymore, and trials stop for the weekends. They even stop for holidays."
"Is CJ. going with you?" Jane's current producer was a talented, no-nonsense woman who had worked closely with Jane for years.
She shook her head. "She's staying at Chicagoland TV. That station has been so good to me I didn't want to steal all their top people. Plus, I wanted to step out on my own, start writing more of my own stuff." She gave a chagrined shake of her head. "You know how I got all this?"
"Your new agent?"
"Nope. He only negotiated the contract. It was Forester."
Just like that, my heart sagged. I missed him. Forester had not only been a client, he'd been a mentor, the person who'd given me my start in entertainment law, the person who'd trusted me to represent his beloved company. Eventually, Forester became like a father to me, and his death was still on my mind.
"I miss him, too," Jane said, seeing the look on my face. "Remember how generous he was? He actually introduced me to Ari Adler."
"Wow, and so Ari brought you in." Ari Adler was a media mogul, like Forester, but instead of owning TV and radio stations, newspapers and publishing companies all over the Midwest, as Forester did, Ari Adler was global. His company was the one behind Trial TV.
"Forester knew I loved the law," she said, "so he brought me to dinner with the two of them when Ari was in town."
"Even though he knew it meant he might lose you."
"Exactly." Jane put her glass down and leaned forward on her elbows. "And now I'm bringing you to dinner because I want you."
I blinked. "Excuse me?"
"The launch is Monday. We've been in rehearsals for the last few weeks." She paused, leaned forward some more. "And I want you to start on Monday, too."
"What do you mean?"
"I want you to be a legal analyst."
"Like a reporter?"
"Are you kidding? I've never worked in the news business. Just on the periphery." And yet as logical as my words sounded, I got a spark of excitement for something new, something totally different.
"We had someone quit today," Jane said. "A female reporter who used to be a lawyer."
"Well, let me backtrack. Trial TV has tried to put together a staff that has legal backgrounds in some way, including many of the reporters and producers. We have reporters in each major city to keep their eye on the local trial scenes. You know, interview the lawyers and witnesses, prepare short stories to run on the broadcasts. But one of our Chicago reporters hit the road today."
Jane waved her perfectly manicured hand. "Oh, she's a prima donna who wants everything PC. She couldn't handle our dinosaur deputy news director." Her eyes zeroed in on mine. "But you could. After working with Forester and his crew, you know how to hang with the old-boys network."
"Are you talking an on-air position?"
"Not right away. We'll give you a contributor's contract, and you'll do a little of everything. You'll assist in writing the stories and help with questions when we have guests. But eventually, yeah, I see you on-air."
"Jane, I don't have any media experience."
"You used to give statements on behalf of Pickett Enterprises, and you were good. Either way, the trend in the news is real people with real experience in the areas they're reporting on. Think Nancy Graceshe was a prosecutor before she started at CNN. Or Greta Van Susteren. She practiced law, too."
The spark of excitement I'd felt earlier now flamed into something bigger, brighter. If you'd asked me six months ago what the spring held for me, I would have told you I'd be finishing my thank-you notes after my holiday wedding, and I'd be settling into contented downtime with my husband, Sam. But now Sam wasn't my husband, and things with himthings with my futurewere decidedly unclear.
"What would it pay?"
She told me.
"A month?" I blurted.
She laughed. "No, sweetheart, that's a year. TV pays crap. You should know that. You've negotiated the contracts."
"But I'm a lawyer," I said.
"You'd be an analyst and a reporter now."
Just out of principle, I considered saying no. I was a lawyer; I was worth more than that. But the fact was, unless I could find entertainment law work, I was worth almost nothing. I knew nothing else, understood no other legal specialties. I'd been job hunting for months, and trying to make the best of the downtimevisiting the Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Science and Industry and just about every other museum or landmark Chicago had to offer. But, depressingly, there was no entertainment work up for grabs in the city. Though most Chicago actors and artists started with local lawyers, when they hit it big, they often took their legal work to the coasts. The lawyers who'd had it for years wisely hoarded the business that remained. And, months ago, after the dust had settled after the scandal with Sam, Forester's company had decided to use attorneys from another firm, saying they needed a fresh start and a chance to work with someone new.
I couldn't blame them, but it had left me in the cold. My bank statement had an ever-decreasing balance, teetering toward nothing. I hadn't minded the lack of funds so badly when I couldn't buy new spring clothes, but soon I wouldn't be able to pay my mortgage, and that would be something else altogether.
For the first time in my adult life I was flying without a net. Fear nibbled at my insides, crept its way into my brain. I was buzzing with apprehension. But the job offer from Jane was a ray of calm, clean sunshine breaking through the murky depths of my nerves.
I knew, as the negotiator I used to be, that I should ask Jane a lot of other questions What would the hours be? What was the insurance like? But in addition to needing the money, I neededdesperately neededsomething new in my life.
So I leaned forward, meeting Jane's gaze and those mauve-blue eyes, and said, "I'll do it."
When we left the Park Hyatt, Jane told the waiter where to meet us, and three hours later, when he walked in the club, Jane and I were surrounded by five other guys.