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By Meg Lacey, Alethea Spiridon Hopson & Lewi Pollak
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Lynn V. Miller
All rights reserved.
Josh Redmond Faraday's Little League baseball team was behind by six runs when it was Joey Murray's turn at bat. The little boy looked over his shoulder at Josh. His pale face reflected his terror, and the groan of the other kids added to the pressure. Josh could relate. He'd been terrible at sports, too. That's why he'd agreed when his best friend asked him to coach this Little League team. It was T-ball, and the kids were just learning, but to him it was more important that the boys and the two girls on the team learned confidence as well as skills.
"You can do it, Joey," Josh said, walking over to clasp the little boy's shoulder. "Just take your time, and wait for your pitch. When you see it coming, take a swing."
Joey's lips trembled for a minute, and then he said, "Coach Josh, I think I'm going to throw up."
He squatted down to eye level to look at the chubby little boy in the too-big uniform. "I know how you feel. When I was a kid, I was the worst player on the team. I missed every time I tried to hit the ball."
"I always miss."
"It doesn't matter if you miss. The important thing is you try your best. Will you do that for me?"
"Okay," Joey said with a resigned shrug. He picked up his bat and stepped to the plate.
"You can do it," Josh said as he backed up to join his best friend, Marty Logan.
"Think he'll hit it this time?" Marty asked, leaning back against the fence.
"Man, I hope so. I've been working extra with him. The poor kid's never even seen a baseball, much less tried to hit one." Josh felt his stomach clench as Joey took a swing and a miss, and then another. "Shake it off, Joey. You can do it."
The little boy set his jaw, took a better grip on the bat, and swung, this time connecting with the ball, which dribbled forward a few feet. Joey was so shocked he stood there staring at the ball instead of running, resulting in the other team's catcher scooping up the ball and tagging Joey out. That's when a parent started yelling his displeasure from the stands.
Josh glared up at the man who was commenting on Joey's lack of ability. "Leave the kid alone. It's not the World Series."
He walked over to Joey. "Good hit, kid. I'm proud of you."
"I'm still out," Joey said, with a disgusted look.
He gave him a high five. "Doesn't matter. You tried. That's what counts." Then he walked back to Marty. "Did you hear that guy yelling at the little kid? I'm going to write about parents who put too much pressure on kids at sporting games."
"You are, or your alter ego, JR?"
He shrugged. "My column's under JR's byline."
"When are you going to junk that idea and write as yourself? Aren't you getting tired of the unknown journalist routine?"
"Yeah, sometimes I wish I'd never started it. But until I can get my other ideas off the ground, JR pays the rent."
Marty nodded. "And from what I've seen, pays it pretty well."
"That it does, but I earn every penny of it. I've worked my butt off to get where I am."
"That's not news, you've been doing that since we met in prep school."
Josh watched as their team took the field for the last inning. "You know how it goes. Snooze you lose. Today, competition is worse than ever. Someone's always snapping at my heels. I don't have any choice but to go after what I want every way I can."
Marty heaved away from the fence. "You're your own worst enemy most of the time."
"You should talk. I'm amazed you found a woman to put up with you," Josh said, as they walked toward the team bench.
"Speaking of that, Liza has this friend who's perfect for —"
"No deal," Josh said, holding up his hands like a traffic cop. "Not after that last blind date. The woman almost had us married before dinner was over. I'll damn well find my own woman, thanks."
"I wish you'd hurry up so Liza will get off my back." Marty looked toward the field. "Great. The other team just hit a home run. There goes the ballgame."
Shaking his head, Josh said, "That's seven in a row. At least they're improving. This time we only lost by eight runs." He chuckled. "I call that progress. I think we should celebrate. How about we take them out for pizza? My treat."
"Anything to avoid cooking, huh?" Marty said, picking up the bag of bats.
"You got it. When I find my perfect woman, she's going to look like an angel and cook like a dream."
Josh shoved a stack of papers aside and hitched a hip onto the corner of his desk, preparing to read his latest newspaper column. He opened up the spread and eyed a photo of his nemesis, Tess Banyon, the so-called "diva of domesticity", taking up the lion's share of the page.
"What the —"
He stared at the paper, rage blurring his vision. The irritating image of the gorgeous usurper pulsed in and out of his mind.
"They had the nerve to edit my article so the media's newest golden girl could take over my page?" He adjusted his tortoise-shell reading glasses and scowled as he stared at the photo. I've been working my butt off for years. What makes her so bloody special?
Unable to pull his gaze away, he studied the headshot more closely. He concentrated on her pert little nose, sitting square in the middle of a perfect oval face with high cheekbones, a ripe mouth, and wide blue eyes. The damn woman is way too perfect. His expression darkened. He didn't trust people who rose to the top of the heap as quickly as she had. Where was the thought, the hard work, and long hours he'd put in for the past ten years?
He stared at the perfection of her hair, falling onto the top of her shoulders in such a smooth, curved style, and his fingers twitched. He wondered if it would feel as silky as it looked. His scowl deepened.
What the hell do I care? Even as he thought that, his eyes zeroed back on her picture, on the full lips that teased the reader. An unexpected rush of blood raced south. His imagination drifted to Tess Banyon dressed in a kinky maid's costume, with a container of whipped cream in one hand and handcuffs dangling from the fingers of her other, her luscious mouth moistened by —
He sighed in exasperation, drawing the attention of his editor as he walked through the newsroom on the way to his office.
Sam Melnick stopped, reluctantly it seemed to Josh. "Problem, Faraday?"
"Nope." Josh turned the paper, flicking it so Sam could pay the proper attention to his grievance. "Nothing beyond the Domestic Goddess commandeering my space, jamming my column into this miniscule, bottom corner of the page."
Sam adjusted his heavy, black-framed glasses, peering at the print before fixing a laconic expression onto his lined face. "I wouldn't call a quarter of a page a small space, Josh."
"I would when Tess Banyon has half the layout." He could feel his jaw jut forward. If he didn't watch it, he'd be lifting his leg and peeing to mark his territory.
"If your books and products sold millions of dollars, I'd give you half the page, too."
Josh crumpled the paper. "Meaning what? This isn't some type of regular feature, is it? Is she taking over the online version as well?" From the moment he'd seen this article, he'd tried to push that possibility to the back of his mind. He told himself that wouldn't happen, he was too valuable to the paper. Jealousy was burning a hole in his gut. After all the late hours, the skipped vacations, and sporadic love life, all Tess Banyon had to do was make some brownies and the whole world was at her feet.
"A regular feature would be great, wouldn't it? But no. The lady's busy." Sam speared him with a grin. "Guess I'll have to stick with you and your pithy observations on life."
"Just because I don't see the world through rose-colored glasses doesn't make me pithy." He winked. "It makes me ironic and amusing."
Sam shrugged. "To certain tastes."
"Hey, syndication in 350 other newspapers around the country and on the Internet can't be all wrong." He grinned, then knocked on his wood desktop. "Thank God."
"Thank God is right. I have to admit your biting wit sells papers, Josh." Sam leaned against the desk. "So what have you got up your sleeve for next week?"
He glanced down at the crumpled paper in his hand. "I've been thinking, how come no one ever tells the truth about this domestic superwoman?" He'd been thinking no such thing, but now that he said it, it was a great idea — a behind the legend sort of thing.
"What truth? What you see is what you get."
"Not always." He smoothed the wrinkles from the page. "I'll bet there's a lot more to her than meets the eye."
Sam gave Tess's photo an approving glance. "What meets the eye is good enough for me."
"And you, the married father of five, grandfather of three, standing here drooling over another woman."
"I think it's a learned response, like Pavlov's dog."
Josh stared at Tess's image for a moment, his imagination again caught by her lips, captured for news photo-file posterity in a ladylike pout that had nothing of the lady about it. It was a mouth to dream about. "I don't know what it is, but I'm convinced something's not right in Tess Banyon's kitchen. I can smell it."
Sam sighed. "I know she's given you some great material for your columns, but you're going to have to call off your crusade against this woman. At some point you'll turn everyone off. People like her. That gives her an edge."
"People like her because she's pretty. Numerous studies have shown attractive people get more positive responses, regardless of their expertise."
Sam eyed him thoughtfully. "If that's the case, maybe you should let us publish your picture instead of that cloak and dagger one you chose for your column. You're a good-looking guy, or at least the women in the office seem to think so."
Josh waved off the compliment. "I chose that photo because I want people to pay attention to my ideas, not to my looks." A choice he was starting to regret. Wasn't it time he got more recognition than letters to the editor?
He met Sam's satirical gaze and hunched his shoulders in response. "Okay, I admit I've been focusing on her a lot for the past few months. I find her irritating and fake, but I'm not treating her differently than any other public figure, or public idea for that matter."
"Research studies or not, just because she's blond, gorgeous, and richer than you are, that's no reason to pick on her."
"It's the best reason. Last week she was quoted spouting off on corporate America. Next thing you know, she'll be baking cookies for shareholder meetings."
Sam chuckled. "What's so bad about that? I love cookies."
"That's not the point. I'm a trained journalist with double minors in political science and organizational effectiveness. I also have an MBA in business ethics. I'm qualified to comment on corporate America. She should stick to what she knows."
Sam folded his arms. "Cookies, you mean?"
"It's not as simple as cookies. She suggests women should bring their home attitudes into every situation. It's trying to make half the population over in her image. Do you think every woman wants to spend all their time in the kitchen, or make Popsicle birdcages? I don't."
Sam peered at Tess's photo. "Damn good image, if you ask me. And honestly, I don't get why you care so much. It's not like it's personal."
"It doesn't have to be personal. It's my responsibility as a journalist to stand up and represent all the women who don't want to spend their time being a Tess Banyon clone." He tapped the photo. "Look deeper, Melnick, look deeper."
"I don't need to look any deeper. I'm the Entertainment and Life editor. The only thing I see is Tess Banyon will have to do her own weekly TV show on the parent company's network, Tess Banyon's Living or something like that."
"She's doing a TV show?" On the network that has been stringing me along on the topical news and commentary show that I've been secretly pitching them for the last year?
"Yeah. Didn't you read the article?"
"No, I haven't read it. I was planning to save it to line my parakeet's cage."
"You have a parakeet? I'll be damned."
Josh tapped the photo with his index finger. "She's getting her own show, you say? Why? Because she'll look great on TV?"
"That's not the reason, but it can't hurt. It's going to be sponsored by all the big guys. Guaranteed thirteen-week run with an option for thirteen more, and heavily promoted."
Josh narrowed his eyes, considering his editor. "I'll bet they could use a good feature story on the show, don't you think?"
"By you, you mean?" Sam laughed. "They wouldn't let you within fifty feet of the place. You'd have to wear a disguise and change your name."
Josh waved his hand, dismissing Sam's objection. "They won't know me as Josh Faraday. People only know me by my initials, JR, and since no one's ever seen my real photo, it shouldn't be a problem. Even if we did run a picture, it wouldn't attract this much attention." Her photo was the size of his entire article. Never thought he'd have size envy. Unconsciously, he adjusted his crotch.
"I'd like to get close to her, spend a couple of days to see what she does and how she does it. Get to know the woman behind the success to see if that's the real Tess Banyon. I can write some JR columns in advance, that way I'm not neglecting my primary work. What do you think?"
"It could work."
"I know it will. You'll get a great story out of it and be a big man because you've recognized the value of her advertisers. After all, they advertise here as well as on TV." More importantly, if Tess Banyon were involved in a negative story, maybe my news show would get another chance.
Excitement replaced the reluctance in Sam's eyes. "Well, I can call her agent and float the idea by her."
Josh folded the paper and snatched off his glasses. "Do it."
* * *
Tess Banyon stood in her studio prep kitchen, mixing a recipe idea for her new TV show. It was a good thing no one else could see her. They might mistake her for a scullery maid or a ditch digger. She was covered in cinnamon dust, flour, and chocolate sauce. She had even gotten chocolate in her hair from pushing it out of her face. Chocolate went with blond, right? Even if it didn't, it sure smelled better than perfume.
She looked down at her hands. Somehow, she'd gotten the sticky sauce all over her fingers. She turned to the sink and washed her hands before twisting back to look at the mixing bowls on the messy cooking island. She walked around the island, studying the situation from every conceivable position. To achieve a recipe or create a craft that would look good on TV or for print photography took a lot of trial and error — in her case, more error.
"All right, let's approach this analytically. What did I do wrong?"
"Coming into the kitchen might be the first clue."
Tess glanced up at her older sister who stood in the doorway. "Very funny, Marla."
"I think so." Marla glanced around at the chaos. "My lord, it looks as if a bomb went off in here."
Tess bristled as she glanced at the small woman wearing raggedy jeans and a T-shirt that said "Don't mess with Mom!" "I don't know what you have to feel so superior about. It's not as if you're the world's greatest cook, you know."
"Obviously, neither are you. You're merely the marketing guru."
Tess rubbed her nose, succeeding in smearing the bit of chocolate decorating the tip from a dainty dot into something that resembled a continent. "I'm trying to get better at the mechanics of it."
"Why?" Marla patted her chest. "I think we should both leave that honor to our mother. She loves working the prep-to-final kitchen process. Besides, when Mom does it, we can take the leftovers to the community food kitchen instead of having to pitch it so it doesn't poison anyone."
"Leaving it to Mom is probably a wise suggestion, but I'm determined."
"Who knows, maybe I'll get married someday and have to cook for a husband and children."
"You'd have to date someone first." Marla leaned her elbows on the cooking island. "If you'd allow some time for a man in your life, you'd know this without my having to tell you."
"Don't start that again. Just because you're happily married with three kids doesn't mean I have to be."
"And you, the homemaking queen, the minute someone mentions marriage you start hyperventilating."
"That's not true. I like men. And I do date, smart-ass."
"You do? When?"
"When I want to, that's when. Let's drop it, okay?"
Excerpted from Something's Cooking by Meg Lacey, Alethea Spiridon Hopson & Lewi Pollak. Copyright © 2013 Lynn V. Miller. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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