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When The Lights Go Out ...
By Barbara Daly
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"WHATCHA GOTTA DO IS gut up and frigging go for it."
"Frigging?" Blythe Padgett looked up at her best friend, her roommate, her co-worker, her guardian devil. "Very good, Candy. Last month it was effing. You've toned it down another notch."
"Bart's on my case." Candy Jacobsen was a tall, beautiful blonde with a mouth as filthy as the pan the mechanic drained your old oil into. Her passion for expletives was only one of the reasons her news stories invariably needed a rewrite, a task Blythe was performing at this very moment, providing Candy the time and space to interfere in her life.
Not that Candy needed much time to interfere in Blythe's life. Not at any time in the seven years they'd been friends had she ever been too busy to do that.
She didn't need much space, either. The New York Telegraph offices occupied three floors of a large, undistinguished building in Times Square. City Desk editor Bart Klemp and his crew of reporters and staff, including Blythe and Candy, occupied the fifth floor, which was basically one enormous high-ceilinged room with scuffed hardwood floors and grandly proportioned, infrequently cleaned windows.
At one time, the office had contained nothing more than rows of desks. The sounds of clacking typewriters and jangling phones must have bounced off the walls and ceiling to create a din loud enough to rattle those big windows. Then someone had come up with the bright idea of separate cubicles. These were nothing more than six-feet-high, square doorless partitions made of a porous synthetic material, but they at least gave the illusion of privacy and cut down on the noise level. When someone else came up with the even brighter idea of computers, and phones were engineered to announce incoming calls by flashing or buzzing softly, the result was the busy hum that prevailed outside the cubicle where Blythe was currently trying to fix Candy's story and Candy was trying to fix Blythe's life.
Obviously undistracted from her cause, Candy slid off the edge of Blythe's desk to pace the tiny cubicle a few steps this way and that on her stiletto heels. "If you don't start strutting your stuff, you're never going to find another -" she came to a halt, then said "- boyfriend."
Blythe knew the term Candy had wanted to use, but couldn't quite bring herself to say "frig-buddy."
"Because," Candy said, pointing a long, frosted-pearl fingernail at Blythe, "until you find another guy, you're not going to get over Thor. You can't spend your life thinking no man will ever want you just because -"
"His name wasn't Thor," Blythe mumbled. "It was Sven."
"Thor, Sven, who cares? Male meat. Problem was that he was so full of steroids he couldn't -"
"Candy!" Blythe vengefully deleted cataclysmic and typed in major. It reduced the verve of Candy's story nicely. Candy could use a bit of verve reduction.
"So what you have to do," Candy said, "is sleep with somebody. Anybody. Break through the frigging barrier. Then you'll be okay. Are you about finished with that?"
Candy and Blythe had both landed jobs with the New York Telegraph right out of college. A mere three years later, Candy was a hotshot crime reporter with high hopes of getting a job with the venerable Times. Blythe was still a proofreader. Bart Klemp, the city desk editor, had declared that "Blythe Padgett's a darned good writer, but she wouldn't know news if she woke up in bed with it."
Everybody seemed determined for her to wake up in bed with ... something.
Rewrites were currently the biggest thing going on in her life. This one was Candy's report of a shocking drug bust on a sedate street of town houses in Greenwich Village. As fed up as Blythe felt with the entire world, it was going to read like a story from the Obituaries editor in the cubicle next door when Blythe was finished with it.
"And I've got just the guy for you."
She'd tuned Candy out for a moment, but this statement made her tune swiftly back in. "You what? Who?"
"He grew up next door to me," Candy said, "so we know he's not a strangler or an axe murderer."
"Oh! Wonderful! Those are my top qualifications. Have I ever met him?" One of Candy's many kindnesses was to take the orphaned Blythe home for holidays. Candy's family had become her family. In spite of enjoying every privilege money could buy, the Jacobsens were as broken as any family could be and fell just short of being certifiably insane, but any kind of family was better than none.
"Oh, no. His parents moved ages ago," Candy said, "but I kept in touch with him. He's living in Boston now. I don't know ... he was always sort of special to me, I guess, like the big brother I never had. He's attractive. And sensitive - for a guy, anyway. I mean, he's a shrink and a shrink has to be sensitive. He was educated to be sensitive. He gets paid big bucks to be sensitive. I know I can trust him to be nice to you. You could have a few dates and let nature take its course."
"What's his -"
"But I have a feeling nature will take its course the second you lay eyes on each other, and he sees what a sexy little hotpot you are."
Candy was pacing in circles now, and gave Blythe's curly red hair an affectionate ruffle on her way around the desk, but Blythe still felt irritated. A hotpot was a menu item in a Mongolian restaurant. How could a hotpot be sexy? Candy was really very careless in her use of language. "Candy, come on!" Blythe said, deleting a string of flamboyant adjectives from the news story. "I don't know anything about this old friend of yours. I might not like him at all."
"You don't have to like him. You just have to have sex with him." Candy fanned herself with a galley proof from the stack on Blythe's desk. Midafternoon, mid-August, New York - these three factors were more than the air-conditioning in the prewar building that housed the Telegraph offices could handle.
"No way I'd go to bed with a total stranger," Blythe said firmly. "Certainly not with a man I didn't like."
But Candy's face had taken on a dangerously dreamy expression. "That's how I lost my virginity," she said. "I kept saving it and saving it, because my mother said I should save myself for the right man."
It sounded comfortably motherly, but Candy's mother still seemed to be looking for the right man - and having gone through three husbands in the search, the evidence pointed strongly toward the likelihood that she hadn't been saving herself.
"But there never was the right man," Candy went on like a voice-over to Blythe's thoughts, "and I saw myself getting older and older without finding him. One day I said," You've got to start somewhere. "So I went straight for the quarterback, not a total stranger, but let's just say we'd never talked. I'm not sure he knew how to."
Wellesley, where the two of them had gone to college, Blythe on a National Merit scholarship, was still a women's college and didn't have a football team. "How old were you?" Blythe asked, changing "biggest haul of the decade" to "confiscation of a large amount of product."
Excerpted from When The Lights Go Out ... by Barbara Daly Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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