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"Gabby, I think you should do it. What do you say?" Melissa Smith, senior editor at McKay Publishing, sat at the head of the table wearing an expectant expression.
Gabby Haines looked at her boss. Oh, no. Melissa was talking to her. She expected her to say something in return. The proper response would have required listening. Probably not the best time to admit she'd been thinking about what she would have been doing at her old job at this time of day. Not when she was only two days into her new job.
Let's see, Gabby thought. She was a junior editor in her first editors' meeting and her boss was calling her out to do something. She was probably being asked to do a low and vaguely demeaning task such as fetch coffee. Best to simply go with it.
"Absolutely. I'm on board. Tell me what you need."
Melissa clapped her hands. "Excellent. Go bring back Jamison Hunters' tell-all biography with a nice pink bow on it."
Gabby blinked. Okay, she had not imagined hearing Jamison Hunter's name. No way would a conversation containing those two names, Jamison and Hunter, occur that her ears didn't perk up and her brain immediately focus. Not to mention other parts of her body. "I'm sorry? Who ?"
Melissa smiled. "That's right. The elusive author we want you to track down is none other than Jamison Hunter."
"Jamison Hunter? The astronaut. The legend. The cheating pig bastard?"
"That's the one." Melissa nodded as the other editors surrounding the massive conference table chuckled. Apparently everyone was in on the joke except Gabby.
"You're the new kid on the block and we always send the new kid on the block."
"I went three years ago," Mary Jane, an editor who focused on cozy mysteries and self-help titles, chimed in. "Disaster. The man had me in tears in mach two seconds."
"I don't get it," Gabby said, trying to catch up with what she'd missed. "You want me to bring back his story? The autobiography of Jamison Hunter? He's one of the most reclusive people on the planet. He hasn't been heard from in years. I'm talking J.D. Salinger level hermit. You've got better chance of getting President Clinton to give us a tell-all about his days with Monica Lewinski than you do of getting this guy to talk."
"Yes, I know," Melissa agreed. "But here's the thing we have with Hunter, which we don't have with President Clintona binding contract. Hunterin a major deal, I might addagreed to give us his story. Granted, that was a few weeks before the scandal hit. Afterward, he tried to return the advance, but we refused it. We thought he might change his mind, might want the world to know his side of the story. And when that time came, he'd already be committed to us. Given the sizeable advance we paid him, we've got a lot at stake. So every few years we send an eager new face to meet him and personally give him a nudge."
Eager and new were not two words Gabby would necessarily associate with herself. Washed up and worn down were more accurate.
Get a grip, Gabby. You got fired, not murdered.
It was her inner therapist at work. Just because she lost the hottest job on morning television in Philadelphia to a younger, thinner, hipper version of herself did not mean her life as she knew it was over. Her ego had taken a punch was all. And her self-esteem. And her self-confidence.
And her wallet.
The truth was, she'd been lucky to land this jobeven if it was an entry-level position. Even if at thirty-three she felt more like sixty-three working with so many young twentysomethings. Twentysomethings who were all ahead of her on the corporate ladder. Twenty-somethings to whom she would have been teaching the ropes at her old job.
But after coming to the realization no other local morning programs were looking to hire a slightly overweight, aging host, she'd had to scramble for a new plan. Openings in her field of journalism were few and far between, so it seemed like a reasonable idea to try the other end of writing and look at openings in publishing.
Apparently publishing houses were often looking for junior editors. When they told Gabby what her starting salary would be, she understood why.
Still it was a job and a new start.
Plus there were advantages. Gabby loved to read. She could bury her head in books without anyone caring there were wrinkles around her eyes, or what clothing size she was currently wearing. She could earn enough money to keep her from having to move in with her motherwhich, at her age, would be the most pathetic thing evah. Most importantly this job would give her time. Time she desperately needed to figure out what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
And now, a handful of hours into this new career, Melissa was offering her the chance to meet Jamison Hunter.
Jamison Hunter, the epitome of all good things men could be. Proof that not all men were asses. The crush of her life, the man she'd idolized above all others until he smashed every one of those romantic dreams with a single horrible press conference. He'd broken not only the nation's heart, but hers, too.
Funny where life took you sometimes.
She was nodding before she let herself think maybe this wasn't the best idea given her particular mental state right now. Facing the man who had set her expectations about what a man should be, only to then confirm the worst of what she knew a man could be, would definitely be treading some rocky emotional ground.
Her mouth opened. The words came out. "I'll do my best."
Before she could reconsider Mary Jane leaned toward her and whispered, "Trust me. Take a box of tissues with you."
Jamie Hunter watched his ancient dog Shep slowly stretch and push himself into a standing position alerting him that company was coming. Shep sighed and creaked, but finally he was on all fours.
A second later the doorbell rang.
"Poor, Shep, you are definitely feeling your age, my man. There was a day you would have given me a five-minute heads-up." Jamie patted the loyal German shepherd's head as he rose from his reclinernot as quickly as he once did, either.
Dropping his book on a table and removing the glasses he needed to readas ridiculous as it was, he was slightly self-conscious about wearing themthe two aging warriors made their way down the hall to confront the intruder. After eight o'clock on a Tuesday night, it was a good bet almost every one of the eight hundred and twenty-two inhabitants of this island town were bunkered for the night.
Unless there was trouble. Jamie picked up his step.
"Yeah?" he said, opening the door half expecting it to be the sheriff asking for help with something.
The female face on the other side of the door was a complete surprise.
"You've got to be kidding me," he muttered. He took in the business suit, the low-heeled pumps, the hand thrust out in welcome. "Are you a reporter?"
It wasn't possible. He was old news. Yesterday's story. A forgotten has-been with a sad legacy no one wanted to remember because he depressed them. Unless someone had found out about No. He wouldn't even allow himself to think it.
He noticed she was huffing slightly from the forty steps it had taken her to reach his house from the road. If she was a reporter, she definitely wasn't a beat reporter. Too soft.
"No, I'm Gabriella Haines. I'm from McKay Publishing."
He ignored the hand completely. "Oh crap, not you people again. When are you going to figure it out? I'm not writing the damn book."
She blinked twice. Okay, maybe he didn't have to be quite so harsh. It wasn't this woman's fault the company was so persistent. Not her fault at all. But he knew if he maintained his hard attitude, she would leave faster. He knew this from experience.
"Come inside. I'll write out the check. Again." He opened the door wider.
She didn't move immediately. Probably wondering if either he or Shep bit.
Shep had never bitten anyone in his life.
"Inside, lady. That suit you're wearing isn't warm enough for this weather. No doubt you're freezing."
She nodded and stepped inside. As soon as he closed the door behind her she began to rub her hands over her arms. "It was sixty-five degrees when I left New York."
"And this is an island off the coast of Maine." If she'd checked the local forecast, she would have figured out to dress more appropriately. He walked toward the rear of the house to his office where he kept his checkbook. When McKay had refused to accept the advance the first time he'd offered to return it, he had put the money in a separate account he never touched. That way he would always have it at the ready whenever they came asking for it. He'd figured after a year or two they would come politely begging for the cash. He definitely hadn't anticipated their persistence.
"You should tell your boss I'm making a tidy sum off the interest," he said over his shoulder. "And I've got no qualms about spending that interest, either. It paid for a new deck last year. I'm almost sorry to have all that extra cash come to an end."
Jamie glanced up and saw she hadn't followed him. No doubt she'd stopped by the fireplace to warm up. He wrote out the check then tore it from the book and headed to the living room. As expected, he found her in front of the fireplace, her eyes raised to the skylights in the high, wood-beam ceiling.
Skylights so he could see the stars on a clear night.
With her jaw open and her arms crossed over herself, she looked more like a lost little girl than the grown woman she obviously was. Despite whatever protective instincts her appearance might spark within him, Jamie had no intention of being swayed. He didn't rescue lost little girls anymore and he certainly didn't rescue grown women.
"You know there's no ferry service back to the mainland tonight?"
She looked at him. "I know. I started driving early today, but there was an accident on the Tappan Zee Bridge and then I hit rush hour out of Boston. I saw it was the last ferry run, but I didn't want to stop. I felt if I stopped, I would"
Jamie found himself wanting to hear the rest, wanting to know what she feared would happen if she stopped. She was dressed professionally with long dark hair loose around her shoulders. She appeared to have it all together, but somehow with the way her hair seemed to swirl around heras though the brutal wind on the island had done a number on ityou knew there was nothing but chaos inside.
"They usually send the newbies to hassle me," he said. This woman was no newbiein her thirties, if he had to guess.
Her lips curled. "Believe it or not, I am the newbie. At least at this job."
It made a little more sense. No wonder she wanted to keep going even though it was late. She had something to prove, lost ground to make up. He was sure of it.
Not that he cared, he quickly told himself. He was not about to get caught up in whatever her story was.
"Well, there is a B and B on the island. They'll have plenty of space this time of year. Follow the road into town, it's the biggest house. You can't miss it."
"Thanks. Yeah, I have a room waiting for me."
He held out the check. "Go on, take it."
She glanced at the check with a similar expression to the one he imagined he'd given her hand when she offered it at the door. Like he'd rather touch a dead fish.
"I'm not taking the check."
"Gabby. My name is Gabby Haines."
"Ms. Haines, I don't have the patience for this. I really don't. Here is how this situation will go. You'll make your pitch and try to persuade me to write the damn book. I'll refusejust like I've done since the first time I tried to cancel the contract and return the advance. You'll be stubborn, thinking that might sway me. It won't. We'll keep the stand-off going until eventually you'll break down, maybe even start crying, reminding me you're new and really need this job, and if you don't get at least a commitment from me to write the book, you'll be fired. There will be begging and pleading, maybe even some threats of legal action. None of that will change my mind. So let's save ourselves the aggravation, shall we?"
"Gee, no wonder Mary Jane cried."
"Never mind. See, here's the thing, Mr. Hunter. As you so accurately pointed out I'm not some fresh girl with her first real job. I've wrestled with a tough subject or two. I've been to the top. I've been on TV. Until they ripped it all away from me."
He noticed her voice was gaining in volume and shrillness. Any second Shep would start whining.