The Candidate

The Candidate

The Candidate

The Candidate


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How far will a candidate go to become president? Erica Sparks—America’s top-rated cable-news host— is about to find out.

Mike Ortiz is a dynamic war hero favored to win the White House. Standing by his side is his glamorous and adoring wife, Celeste. But something about this seemingly perfect couple troubles Erica. Is Celeste really who she seems? And most importantly, what really happened in that squalid Al-Qaeda prison where Mike Ortiz spent nine months?

But more than the nation’s future is at stake. Erica’s relentless search for the truth puts the life of her preteen daughter Jenny in danger, even as Erica’s own dark past threatens to overtake her.

In her latest Newsmakers thriller, New York Times bestselling author and Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl weaves a taut and chilling story. The Candidate is packed with political intrigue and media manipulation as the lust for power turns deadly indeed.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718037680
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 10/04/2016
Series: A Newsmakers Novel , #2
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author Lis Wiehl is the former legal analyst for Fox News and the OReilly Factor and has appeared regularly on Your World with Neil Cavuto, Lou Dobbs Tonight, and the Imus morning shows. The former cohost of WOR radio's WOR Tonight with Joe Concha and Lis Wiehl, she has served as legal analyst and reporter for NBC News and NPR's All Things Considered, as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney's office, and as a tenured professor of law at the University of Washington. She appears frequently on CNN as a legal analyst.

Sebastian Stuart has published four novels under his own name, including The Hour Between, winner of the Ferro-Grumley Award and an NPR Season’s Readings selection. He has also co-written national and New York Times bestselling books. As senior editor of e-book publisher New Word City, Stuart has written over two dozen original non-fiction e-books.

Read an Excerpt

The Candidate

A Newsmakers Novel

By LIS WIEHL, Sebastian Stuart

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2016 Lis Wiehl
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7180-3890-8


IT'S MONDAY MORNING AND ERICA Sparks is in the elevator at GNN headquarters in New York — going up. She's on her way to a meeting with Mort Silver, the head of the network. Silver called her yesterday and scheduled it. She isn't sure what his agenda is, but she suspects it has to do with her hopes of moderating one of the presidential debates in the fall. With her nightly news show The Erica Sparks Effect dominating its time slot, and her reputation as one of the best in the business, Erica is searching for new challenges, and the prospect of being part of America's quadrennial exercise in democracy — messy and imperfect as it is — excites her.

She feels a little shiver of expectancy as the elevator shoots skyward. Erica loves mornings — when the world is still fresh and her mind clips along, almost tripping over itself with plans, ideas, and inspiration. Her life, so tumultuous over the past few years, is finally settling down. She's achieved her two great goals: success in the news business and gaining custody of her daughter, Jenny. Yes, things get edgy at times — Erica feels like she still has the training wheels on her mothering skills — but they usually manage to work it all out. Jenny means more to her than anything in the world.

The only piece missing from her life is Greg, the man she loves. He's a world away, in Australia, working insane hours helping to launch a cable news network. It's an amazing opportunity, and Erica was supportive of his seizing it, but not having him around has been tough. There are nights — after her daughter has gone to bed, as she goes around the apartment turning off lights — when she feels almost overcome with loneliness, with a yearning to have a man by her side during these exciting and fulfilling times.

The elevator doors open on the fortieth floor and Erica gets off. She takes a deep breath. She likes Mort Silver, but his leadership style can be a little intimidating. After Erica's investigation sent GNN's founder Nylan Hastings to jail for the rest of his life, several large media companies vied to buy the network. Google was the winner, and CEO Sundar Pichai has turned out to be a demanding if distant boss. He was smart enough to hire Silver, a seasoned broadcast pro, to run the network — these men play to win, and the company's results prove the wisdom of their ways. But they're known for pushing employees to deliver — and if they don't, well, sayonara.

Silver's receptionist gives Erica a deferential smile and says, "Mr. Silver is expecting you."

Erica walks down the wide hallway and into Silver's large corner office. Unlike Nylan Hastings, who filled the space with modern art, Silver's taste is more traditional — one wall has been lined with mahogany shelving that holds his three Emmys and other awards, and the other walls are home to numerous framed articles about Silver and his successes in the news business. Modest the man isn't.

"Erica!" Mort Silver says with a big smile, leaping up from his chair and coming to greet her. He's around fifty, tall, and a little bulky, with an avuncular manner that borders on the overbearing.

"Nice to see you, Mort."

He ushers her into the office. "Can we get you something to drink, something to eat?"

"I'm fine," Erica says, sitting down opposite his desk.

Mort sits back down and leans forward, elbows on the desk. "It's always such a pleasure to see you," he says. He works hard at being charming, but it always comes across as just that — work.

"Likewise," Erica says.

Silver grows serious, lowers his voice. "Sometimes, in the hurly-burly of our daily efforts, we forget how important journalism is to our democracy, indeed, to the world." He looks Erica in the eye. "It truly is an honor to work with you."

Erica's bullcrap alarm begins to sound — platitudes have a way of setting it off.

"Thank you."

"But as crucial as our role is in uncovering the truth and exposing injustice and criminality, at the end of the day, GNN is a business." Silver pauses, looks out the window as if he's searching for his next words — but Erica can tell this has all been rehearsed. He turns back to her. "As you know, The Erica Sparks Effect is very important to the network's bottom line. Which is why we're so concerned."

Erica is thrown. After her work in exposing Nylan Hastings as a psychopath bent on world domination, her celebrity was transcendent, and for months her show had a firm grip on the number one spot in the ratings. Erica knows it has slipped a little since then, but she avoids tracking the ratings race. She's a journalist, not an entertainer, and she's seen integrity compromised in the hunt for higher ratings. She's not about to let that happen on her show.

Silver stands up and starts to pace, his whole demeanor changing as his jaw sets and his eyes narrow. "Last month FOX beat you three times and CNN twice. That's five weeknights out of twenty-two. There were six other nights where your lead was miniscule." He stops abruptly and turns to her. "These numbers are unacceptable."

Erica knew she'd lost a few nights, but she didn't realize that her lead all month was that tenuous. And Silver's ultimatum is so stark and brutal. She feels the fiery demons of insecurity that have haunted her for her whole life flare up. She hears her mother's mocking voice. Ha-ha, smarty pants, got a little too big for your britches, didn't you? And then, after the taunts, comes Slap! Slap-slap! Take that, you little brat!

Erica feels a bead of sweat roll down from her left armpit. She crosses and uncrosses her legs. Mort Silver has taken a step closer to her, seems to tower over her.

She's starting to feel a little bullied, and Erica has never liked bullies. She sits up tall and says, "I'm proud of the show, Mort, proud of my team. I think we've become a consistent source of superior journalism. We're taken seriously across the country and around the world."

"That's a given. And your being in the top spot used to be a given. Now it isn't. And that's a problem. For me. For Sundar. For our shareholders. And for you."

"If you think I'm going to start chasing sensational stories just to give my ratings a temporary boost, you've got yourself the wrong woman."

Mort looks at her — or is that a glare? Maybe he didn't expect her to respond so forcefully. In any case, he seems to switch gears; his face softens and he sits back down. "We all have the same goal. To see The Erica Sparks Effect firmly on top. Any thoughts on how to make that happen?"

"The presidential campaign is heating up. We may well have the first woman and the first Latino nominees. This is history in the making. I want to be a part of it. Moderating one of the debates would put me in the spotlight in a whole new way and take my reputation to the next level. Let's make that happen."

Mort nods. "We'll put your name forward to the Commission on Presidential Debates. You do have a rep for being nonpartisan, which should help your chances, but there are no guarantees. Both of the eventual candidates have veto power."

"Lucy Winters has a lock on the Republican nomination," Erica says. "The Democrat will be either Ortiz or Buchanan. I'll do my best to let all three candidates know I'm interested and impartial."

"Debate moderator or not, I think we have to address the underlying cause of your slippage."

"Which is?"

Silver drums on the desktop with his fingertips and takes a deep breath. "You've lost some of your mojo, Erica. Sometimes you seem to be gliding through your show. Other times you seem distracted. You're not as hungry as you used to be. You have to stay famished in this business."

Erica feels anger rising up in her. "I'm the top-rated cable newscaster in the country, and you're telling me I've lost my mojo?"

"I'm not telling you; the numbers are," Silver says forcefully, harshly.

Suddenly Erica's position at GNN feels, if not quite precarious, far less secure. And if her career is uncertain, so is every other aspect of her life. She feels the sweat spread to her forehead, and suddenly the room feels close and airless. Her breathing grows shallow.

Silver leans back in his chair and tries to contain his smirk. "Have you caught any of Sara Kenyon's show over on CNN? She's interesting. Bright. Driven. Incredibly self-possessed for a twenty-six-year-old."

Sara Kenyon is the new flavor of the month. Yes, she's smart and watchable, but she began her career as a meteorologist; she has no journalism training. And there's a rumor going around that she had plastic surgery — to look more like Erica Sparks.

"I'll give her a look," Erica says.

"Her ratings keep going up," Silver says, standing up, signaling that the meeting is over.

Fifteen minutes ago Erica was walking on sunshine. Now it feels more like quicksand. As she walks back down the cold white hallway, she has one thought: I need a story. A big story.


ERICA IS SCRAMBLING EGGS FURIOUSLY. She has no time, no time. It's two days since her meeting with Mort Silver. Her flight to Cleveland leaves in ninety minutes and she hasn't packed. And she still has so much prep yet to do for tonight's show. "Jenny!" she calls. If they don't hustle, Jenny will miss her school van and Erica will miss her flight.

She plates the eggs, adds a piece of toast and a slice of cantaloupe, and puts it down on the kitchen table just as Jenny walks in.

"Why the long face, honey?"

Jenny sits and looks at her breakfast without touching it.

"You have to eat, sweetheart."

"I'm not hungry."

"I have a very busy day."

"You have a very busy day every day."

Not this again. Erica bites her tongue. She wants to tell Jenny that her hard work is what pays for this beautiful apartment on Central Park West, for her tuition at Brearley, for the camp in the Adirondacks Jenny is going to this summer. Her job is what gets them invited to the movie premieres and Broadway opening nights Jenny loves. And that if she doesn't push and sweat and put in long hours, it could all disappear. Mort Silver made that pretty clear. But more than anything, she wants Jenny to understand that she loves her work — she loves the platform her nightly news show affords her; she loves the power she has to uncover the truth, to stand up to the high and mighty, to shine the light of fairness on injustice and inequality.

But she's explained all this to Jenny before — and it doesn't make up for all the late nights at the network, all the missed dinners and broken dates, all the weekend plans upended by a breaking story. Jenny feels neglected, and she can be resentful. Her transition to New York and living with Erica has been a little rocky. No doubt she sometimes feels like a fish out of water in the competitive and ultra-wealthy world of Brearley, and it's only natural that she misses her father and her old friends up in Massachusetts. And then there are those other, darker things ... things Erica can't blame her daughter for having trouble forgiving.

Erica hears that haunting echo, that mocking voice — — You'll never be a good mother; you're a fraud, a fake, a pretender. And it spreads like a toxic spill deep into her psyche. Some nights she bolts awake at three a.m. in a cold sweat, gripped by intense fear and a certainty that something terrible is going to happen. The slip in her ratings and the driving pressure she feels to deliver a big story have only exacerbated her night terrors.

Erica exhales with a gush, puts the frying pan in the sink, and sits down across from Jenny. She reaches out and strokes her hair. "Yes, I'm busy, but there's nothing in the world more important to me than you are."

"I don't believe you. You won't even raise my allowance. Morgan Graham gets twice as much as I do."

Oh — so that's what this is about. A little bit of emotional blackmail as practiced by a smart eleven-year-old. Erica feels a surge of relief — allowance disputes she can handle.

"No, Jenny, I'm not going to raise your allowance. I don't care how much Morgan Graham gets. I think twenty-five dollars a week is more than enough for a girl your age. You know that if there's something special you want, you can come to me and we'll discuss it."

Jenny looks Erica in the eye, and Erica smiles. Oh, how she loves this little girl! Jenny picks up a piece of toast and takes a bite.

"Did you get all your homework done?"

Jenny nods as she digs into her eggs.

"You remember that I'm flying out to Cleveland today to cover the final Democratic debate."

"Who do you root for?"

"Well, as a journalist, I stay neutral. But between us, I do think the prospect of a Latino candidate is exciting."

"So do I. We talked about the election in class. Senator Ortiz was a marine who served in the Iraq War. Then after he was elected to Congress he went back on a humanitarian mission and was kidnapped by Al-Qaeda and held hostage."

"And then he escaped from Al-Qaeda."

"Yes, the escape was like in a movie."

"But it was real, Jenny. He's a brave man."

"He's cute too."

"Yes, he is cute, isn't he?" They smile at each other. "Yelena will make you dinner."

Yelena is Erica's part-time housekeeper, a middle-aged Russian woman. She's dependable and a terrific cleaner, but her English is limited, making it tough for her to engage with Jenny.

"I hope she doesn't make those potato dumplings again. They're a carb-a-thon."

Erica laughs. Her cell rings. It's Eileen McDermott, her lead producer.

"Good morning, Eileen."

"We're setting up a temporary studio at Case Western, but it's across the quad from the debate hall, and neither Ortiz or Buchanan will commit to an interview."

"If they won't come to me, I'll go to them. I'll be on the ground in front of the hall as they arrive, and I'll grab each one for a few questions." Getting out of the broadcast booth — which is where the other anchors will be — will create exciting television.

"Perfect," Eileen says. "It's a big night. See you at the airport in a few."

Erica hangs up and stands. "Your van will be downstairs in fifteen minutes, and my car will be here in twenty. We're a couple of busy girls. Now, I better go throw a few things in a suitcase."

"This is our only time together all day and you're leaving."

"Oh, honey ..."

"Never mind." Jenny pushes away from the table, pops in her headphones, grabs her knapsack, and heads out of the apartment.

Erica strides back to her bedroom and opens her closet — but she can't concentrate. All she sees is the expression on Jenny's face as she walked out of the kitchen. She imagines her daughter's lonely evening, filled with homework and indigestible dumplings and incomprehensible Yelena.

Snap out of it, Erica. You're doing the best you can. Erica grabs a simple, never-fail peach dress. Nancy Huffman made it for her, and it fits like a glove. She also pulls a black suit as a backup. But her mind — and heart — just won't let go of her daughter. The demands of her job are staggering — it's a pressure cooker in a minefield — but it's what she wants to be doing. What she hasn't figured out is how to carve out enough time with Jenny. She needs help.

Erica has a terrific staff at the network, but she's resisted hiring a personal assistant, someone who would bridge her professional and personal lives. She prides herself on being able to handle it all, but the stark truth is she isn't handling it all. Not well, anyway. Pride can be a dangerous thing. Maybe it's time to relent. It would be such a relief to have someone who could handle the thousand prosaic details that clutter up her life, someone who could tie up odds and ends, engage Jenny, and hopefully anticipate both Erica's and Jenny's needs.

But it has to be the right person. Female. Young. Bright. Takes initiative. And most important, of course, clicks with Jenny. Erica has several interns on her show, kids just out of college trying to build their resumes. She runs through them in her head. There's that super-organized one — Amanda, Amanda Rees. She's a hard worker, a self-starter, upbeat. Hmm. Certainly worth talking to.

Erica calls Shirley Stamos, her amazingly efficient, dry-witted secretary, on whom she has come to depend. "Can you get me Amanda Rees's resume?"

"Will do."

"I've decided I need a personal assistant. What do you think of her?"

"I think she's terrific, a real go-getter, heading for big things."

"I had the same impression. If you think of anyone else, let me know. Maybe put out the word that I'm looking."


Excerpted from The Candidate by LIS WIEHL, Sebastian Stuart. Copyright © 2016 Lis Wiehl. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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