Newspaper editor Molly Owens is eager to bring the struggling Britton Bay Bulletin up to speed. But pushing one of her reporters to dig deeper into a story seems to backfire when he winds up murdered. And since the middling journalist had a talent for making enemies, finding his killer won’t be easy. The lists of suspects includes his ex-wife, his own son, and even Molly’s boss. As Molly searches for answers, she finds herself targeted by mysterious threats—and the trouble is only beginning.
The one bright spot is Molly’s newfound flirtation with Sam Alderich. The sexy mechanic is used to taking things apart and piecing them back together, and between the two of them they just might be able to solve this deadly puzzle—if Molly can survive peaceful small-town life long enough . . .
“Deadly News will make you want to pack up and move to the seaside town of Britton Bay, Oregon. The characters are vividly brought to life, there’s a perfect touch of romance, and the mystery has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.”
—Sarah Fox, USA Today bestselling author
About the Author
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Fated or not, Molly Owens was rethinking her decision to plant roots in the seaside town of Britton Bay. Or at least accepting the job as editor of the town's small, failing newspaper. The name of the little city by the ocean had called to her, but at the moment, tension pumped through the room like a stereo with too much bass as Alan Benedict introduced her to his staff of four.
All eyes were on her, making her stomach clench in tight spasms. At least Alan's voice was steady and kind.
"Molly has a double degree in journalism and literature. She's a remote editor for several large-scale magazines and has even worked with a couple of publishing houses as a freelance editor. We're very lucky she's agreed to join the Britton Bay Bulletin. As you all know, I've been spread a little thin lately and Molly is going to be my right hand."
"Welcome. Again," Elizabeth Grover said, a tight smile on her unpainted lips. They'd met when Molly had arrived this morning.
Elizabeth was probably in her fifties, and Molly knew she wrote most of the small pieces for the online and print versions of the paper. After accepting the position via email and phone interviews, Molly had done a bit of research on both the staff and the paper. Elizabeth was somewhat reserved, even though she'd been nothing but polite.
The young man seated to Elizabeth's right gave a different kind of smile — one Molly didn't want to dwell on for too long. The kind that most people — women especially — would look away from. Molly held his gaze, unwilling to show discomfort. From the corner of his upturned lips, a dark blue pen cap was sticking out. He pulled it out to speak.
"Nice to meet you," he said, running a hand through his blond, slightly shaggy hair. "I'm Clay. I'm only here part-time. I do some of the photography and the social media. What there is of it, anyway."
Laughing like he'd shared a joke, Clay put the cap back in his mouth — a plastic toothpick. Molly nodded and locked eyes with the man to Clay's left. It was his scowling face that suppressed any joy she might have felt over a position she'd been excited to take. She almost preferred the lecherous grin of the younger man to the simmering anger burning in this man's eyes.
"You want to introduce yourself, Vernon?" Alan asked, sending Molly an apologetic look.
She tried to smile reassuringly, but nerves zipped around her stomach like horses on a racetrack. Breathe. You're meant to be here.
When he said nothing, she filled in the silence. "I've read several of your articles, Vernon. You've got a great knack for headlines," Molly said, hoping her olive branch wouldn't be whacked down with a chain saw.
The older man, who looked a little like an unfriendly Albert Einstein with white tufts of hair growing from either side of his head like rainbows over his ears, snorted derisively.
He looked up from the furious spirals he was drawing with a black pen on a bright yellow Post-it note. "Well, gee, thanks. Means a lot coming from someone your age. What are you? Twenty?"
Molly curled her fingers together on top of the long mahogany table. Like the paper, she bet that in its glory days, it had been a thing of beauty. Now, it was weathered and scarred, marks creating a map of lines over the once glossy surface. She wasn't sure what had happened to the newspaper, or the table, but clearly, someone hadn't cared for it in the way they needed to. Though Vernon might not realize it and definitely didn't want to acknowledge it, she was the perfect person to bring it back to its former glory.
Molly straightened her shoulders and didn't shy away from his eye contact. "I'm twenty-eight, actually. I understand you're all a bit of a family already and I'm just hoping I can find my place here. I look forward to working with each of you."
She turned to the last person at the table; a teenage girl. "I'm sorry. What's your name?"
"This is Hannah," Alan said, a smile spreading across his handsome, weathered face. "She's my niece. She's doing a work- experience practicum. Hannah is in her final year at Britton Bay High and runs the school newspaper. Has for the last two years."
Hannah smiled brightly and gave a small wave. "I'm free labor," she said with a laugh.
Some of the tension slipped from Molly's shoulders. Three out of four not visibly hating her were numbers she could live with. Living in L.A. had given her an extra layer of skin so Vernon wasn't going to get under it, if that's what he was hoping.
Alan leaned back in the black leather chair, his fingers pressed together under his chin. Molly noted the way Elizabeth stared at him, watching the man's every move with unnerving awareness. When her gaze drifted to Molly, the woman gave a slight start, like she knew she'd been caught. Elizabeth stood and reached for the water at the center of the table and poured Alan a glass, the ice ringing against the rim.
"Thank you," he said, his eyes holding Elizabeth's. His fingers wrapped around the drink, the prominent wedding ring on his finger clinking against it.
Molly loved watching people the way she loved reading books. Their actions and reactions were stories in themselves. She noted, as Elizabeth continued to pour for everyone else, the woman did not have any rings on. Accepting the water, Molly thanked her and gratefully downed half her glass. The dryness in her throat was as distracting as the tension in the room.
Glancing around once again, she marveled at how she'd ended up sitting in a nondescript conference room in a town that shared a name with her childhood best friend. All because she'd stumbled across an online ad posting the job at a time when her life was going the exact opposite of the way she'd planned. There was only one window in the stuffy room and though it was cracked open, the air coming through was dry and heavy. Again, L.A. was good preparation for hot days and cold shoulders.
Alan set his glass down, smiling at his staff. With a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, he reminded Molly of a more reserved version of her dad. It was, to her, another sign that she'd made the right decision to pick up and move. Of course, that choice had been kicked into high gear after walking in on her live-in boyfriend taking his ex-girlfriend on a naked tour of their sheets. Molly's sheets. That experience had been more like a boot in the face than a simple sign. Sometimes believing that everything happened for a reason sucked.
Elizabeth settled back in her chair, sipping delicately at her water. Despite the death-glare Vernon was giving her, Molly still believed she was right. With its cobblestone streets and easy access to the water, Britton Bay was a place she could see herself staying.
"Are we done with the meet and greet? I'd like to get back to work," Vernon said, pushing back his chair.
Molly glanced at Alan and saw his slight nod of encouragement. Opening the files in front of her, she passed handouts to each of them, pleased to see her hand was steady.
"This is a great article on responsibility, fairness, and accuracy in reporting. Elizabeth and Vernon, you have great personality and voice in your writing, but if we want to broaden the Bulletin's readership, which is what Mr. Benedict has hired me to help with, we need to make sure that the stories you're sharing have all of these things. Every time."
Despite practicing this speech, her voice wobbled as she closed the file and looked around the table. Molly cleared her throat and hoped her expression exuded a balance of professionalism and confidence. Thankfully, no one could see the way her heart hammered painfully against her rib cage.
Vernon didn't touch his handout. He glared at Mr. Benedict. "My understanding was that you're here as a copy editor? Maybe a fact- checker. If you're leaving the paper entirely, Alan, we have a right to know. Is she assigning stories now?" He hooked his thumb at Molly as if she were a mannequin and not a real person listening to his derisive tone.
Molly turned to face Alan. Sitting forward, he folded his hands in front of him. "Molly will essentially take over what I've been doing. To be honest, she's better suited to it than I am. She has the ability, background, youth, and the understanding required to make the Bulletin stand out among its competitors. We used to be one of the most read papers on the Oregon coast and we all know those numbers have dwindled. I won't say it's not my fault, because in part, it is. Maybe if I'd had the same passion for reporting as my father or grandfather, I'd have done a better job keeping us afloat. But I made a commitment to my family and the way I see it is, Molly's our best chance at me keeping my promise. While she's doing that, my goal is to up our revenue and get more businesses — especially some of the new ones, working with us. So to answer your question, her job title is ... vast. She'll do a little bit of everything and yes, that includes assigning stories."
When she'd contacted Alan about the job, they'd had a long conversation about the newspaper's history, as well as his family's, in the town. He'd followed his path, as his father had expected him to, but in today's market, he wasn't giving the public anything they couldn't easily live without. From what she'd seen, the Bulletin posted articles that barely passed as puff pieces: What was on sale at the market, what the local kids had been up to in their free time, and an up-to-date account of city hall's agenda. Hardly captivating stuff.
Molly hoped to deepen and strengthen the news they were sharing, regardless of Vernon's reluctance, which was seeming a lot like jealousy at this point. Alan hadn't mentioned anyone in-house wanting the position, but why would he? If he had, would she have thought twice? No. If Alan thought she was the best person for the job and Vernon had an issue with that, it wasn't her problem. At least, she hoped it wouldn't be.
"I, for one, would like to see this newspaper last for another hundred years, so I'm happy to take your advice, Molly," Elizabeth said.
"We talk a lot about the impact of the digital world on hard-copy news in class," Hannah said.
Molly nodded, appreciating the interruption to Vernon's pouting. "It doesn't make things easy, but we can work with it. Clay, I've seen your reach on social media and we'll talk about widening the Bulletin's audience there. Your web edition of the paper only shares one quarter of what's in print. That needs to change immediately. Not only is it more convenient for most readers, it gives the businesses advertising with you a wider audience. I know I'm new here, but from what I've seen in the last couple of days, there's a younger demographic moving in. We can appeal to that. Which means mobile-friendly editions of the paper, coupons that can be scanned by the cashier. And most importantly, news that people want to read. The town itself will be drawn to their hometown paper. If we make it more appealing."
Molly had taken a look at the town's history and population. It had grown and changed over time, with a few families having remained for several generations. However, young couples and new families were settling in the town, realizing it offered a lot of perks for less cost than many of the other cities along the coast. She loved the idea of bringing a small-town circulation back to life. Mostly, she loved the idea of moving forward and putting all of her attention into something with a real chance at success.
The conversation turned to current articles that had already been assigned by Alan. It was a good opportunity for Molly to ease her way in, see how they worked and the approach they took to getting their stories finished. So far, she hadn't seen much that required a lot of fact-checking because the paper was more of an observation journal than a media source. If she could help them fine-tune their current pieces, they could start making a shift in the right direction.
"Are we done?" Vernon stood abruptly. He picked up a black notebook covered with multiple Post-it notes in a variety of colors. Other than the one he'd drawn circles on while she'd spoken, they were filled with scrawled notes.
Mr. Benedict huffed out an impatient breath and looked up at him. He'd mentioned during the interview that he had some personal issues going on and would be leaving her with a fair amount of responsibility. Which was fine with her and best she accept it sooner rather than later.
"You're working on a few stories, but Alan said there's a special celebration this summer and you're working on a heritage piece, correct?" Molly asked, checking her notes.
Vernon all but sneered as he looked at her. "Yes. I'm doing a timeline of the Phillips family's history in Britton Bay. It'll be a lead-up to the annual Phillips Festival."
Which was boring on its own, seeing as it occurred every year. "I think that's a great place to start. What about an interview with the family members? Maybe even a cross-generational one, if that's possible?"
"Oh, there isn't a soul in the Phillips family who doesn't love to talk," Elizabeth said. Her bright smile went a long way toward making the drab office a happier place.
"Why would we interview people we could talk to any day of the week? They're not royalty," Vernon argued, gripping the back of his chair with both hands. His fleshy knuckles turned white.
"They'd tell you differently," her boss said.
"I read up about them. They have a long, unique history here in comparison to some of the other families. Would you be interested in setting up an interview, Vernon? If not, I could maybe pursue that angle. I certainly don't have as much writing background as you, but if I did the interview for you, you could use my notes. Plus, it'd be a great way to meet some people," Molly said, her voice syrupy sweet. She'd had just about enough of his toddler behavior.
"I think I can do my own damn job. You want an interview, I'll get one. I'm sure people will be jumping all over our paper to read about what Clara Phillips bought at the Stop and Shop," Vernon growled.
When he walked out of the meeting room, a silence ensued. Molly bit her lip and tried to breathe softly. Evenly, rather than expelling the deep sigh she'd like to.
"He gets a little grumpy without his coffee," Elizabeth said.
Clay snickered in between chewing on the cap. "Or if he's awake."
Hannah laughed. Molly kept her expression neutral and tried to focus on the people who actually wanted her here.
"Clara Phillips? Married to the mayor?" Molly asked, thinking back to her research.
"She is," Hannah answered. "Their daughter, Savannah, is my best friend."
Molly smiled. Hannah and Savannah. It was cute, just like the teen. Gears turned in Molly's head. A fresh start. A fresh point of view and a good way to test out her staff's capabilities. "How would you like to ask your friend a few questions for the paper?"
Hannah's eyes widened. She looked at her uncle and then back at Molly.
Molly laughed. "Completely. Might be nice to get a young person's perspective on what it's like to grow up in a family so well known in a small place. On top of that, she's got the responsibilities that go along with being the mayor's daughter. And she'll definitely open up to you more than someone else. Why don't you put together some questions, and we'll go over them together and determine what you should ask. Once you do, I'll work with you on writing up an article. It'll give me a chance to see your writing."
Alan beamed at Molly, but his smile paled in comparison to Hannah's. "I'd love that. Thank you. I've got to get to my second-period class, but I'll start on the questions after school."
"Great. It was nice to meet you," Molly said truthfully.
She kissed Mr. Benedict on the cheek and left the room. When she did, he checked his watch, his brows furrowing, forming little creases on his forehead.
"I ... uh, need to get to a meeting. I'll leave the day in your capable hands," Alan said, standing.
When he stood, Elizabeth's eyes followed him. Molly watched, fascinated as the woman tried to be subtle about her staring.
"Elizabeth, in addition to running the regular classifieds next week, I'd like you to do a small piece on requesting some local opinions on a few different topics. Make sure they aren't controversial issues for now, but let's invite the town to take part in their paper. Maybe we could even run some fun polls."
Elizabeth nodded, but her eyes continued to dart to the open door Alan had left through. It didn't surprise Molly when a moment later, Elizabeth excused herself from the table and said she had to get to work.
Molly gathered her papers, hoping Clay would leave as well. She wasn't quite ready to deal with his role yet, as she hadn't figured out exactly what he did. The paper had a subpar website, a Facebook page with no information, and twenty-five followers on Twitter. Besides that, the way he looked at her made her skin itch.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Deadly News"
Copyright © 2018 Jody Holford.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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