Authors: Alison Foster
he phone keeps ringing and I keep ignoring it, turning the music a tad louder on my iTunes—as much as Hanson will allow before leaning in from his cubicle to politely ask me to turn the volume down.
Hanson’s tiny cubicle and mine are stuck in a nook like two sardines packed in a small tin. If I dropped a feather, Hanson would hear it. Should I mention that Hanson is a hypochondriac mess of a nerd who can’t stand loud music of any type? No? Well, there you have it. My life.
It’s been three weeks since I officially started working as a junior editor at the Daily Scandal and I’ve already contemplated quitting more than once, but the truth is I need the money badly and the people here are all cool and supportive. We all know what we do will not end world hunger or even improve a single person’s life in any meaningful way, but there’s demand for scandalous stories and wherever there’s demand, there’s supply. That’s us. And we all have rents and student loans and the Starbucks’ drive-thru to fund.
It’s immature not to answer my phone on a work day, especially since I can clearly see that it’s Mark Devlin, my all-too-serious and sneakily attractive editor-in-chief who’s in New York right now, rubbing elbows with a sketchy adult film producer with loose lips and a story to tell.
I hesitate to take the call because I know what Mark wants. He tipped me off when I dropped him at LAX to catch his flight to New York. There’s a paparazzi assignment that just opened up to fly to Hawaii and stalk super couple Tobias-slash-Elisabeth Lomax, a.k.a
, and Mark’s usual guy might not make it on the trip due to a laser eye surgery mishap.
Mark informed me I should be on standby since I’m the most talented writer in the office right now. (He could fuel a locomotive with his bullshit.) False compliment aside, I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of stalking. So far, all I’ve done is punch up other people’s reports, making them quicker and
—which has proven to be my specialty. I’m a writer, plain and simple, and I never expected to be anyone’s unwanted shadow.
My desperate hope is that Mark will tire of trying to get me to answer and will find someone else. There’s always the risk of getting fired, of course, and I know I’ve reached my call avoidance limit. If there’s a next time, I’ll have to pick the damn thing up.
Flying all the way to Hawaii to spy on two perfect, tanned bodies to prove the rumors are true and their marriage is a sham and they are actually gay is not my idea of a vacation. It’s more like a vacation in hell. Even Mark calls it a long shot, but if this could somehow be verified, it would become the centerpiece for Mark’s big Exposé issue he has planned.
Dear innocent Ella, what did you expect when you signed on for the job? We’re called the Daily Scandal. We pull back the curtains and reveal what’s hiding its ugly head.
Yes, I knew that.
We reveal. That’s the whole purpose behind the publication and the ever growing popularity of our website: uncovering every detail of the personal life of people in the spotlight—actors, politicians, athletes, entrepreneurs, millionaires, celebrities from all walks of life; details they try so very hard to keep hidden and away from public scrutiny.
The phone rings again. My hand hovers above it.
It’s all good,
I tell myself. It’s just one summer. How much moral degradation can happen to me in such a short amount of time? The pay is more than decent considering my lack of experience.
This too shall pass
, I think. There will be time enough to change the world with the subtle magic of my writing sorcery later on.
“Ella, it won’t bite.”
The voice startles me because his mouth was right next to my ear. I turn around to find Jason bending his face, barely a foot away.
His inviting ruggedness sticks out around our office. He’s the sports guy, rather the guy who writes a column focusing on scandals in the world of professional sports. He also reviews video games, but someday someone, other than me, has to tell him his teeth are magnets for bits of lettuce.
“What’s up, Jase?” I say with a friendly grin.
“The next time that phone rings, pick it up.”
My smile vanishes.
The phone has stopped ringing.
I catch a glimmer in Jason’s eyes. He’s not only onto the fact I’m avoiding Mark’s call but I bet he’s worried he might end up being the one sent to hide in the bushes stalker-style in Hawaii.
“Just trying to finish a story,” I say to get him off my case.
Jason’s expression softens. “No worries,” he says, “but, please, answer your phone next time it rings.”
As soon as he leaves, the phone screams to life again. Scandal journalists are relentless. The calls are getting closer and closer like labor contractions.
There’s no way out. I exhale hard as I answer.
“Ella Wade, how can I help you?”
“Ella,” Mark says, sounding quite exasperated. “I’ve been calling and texting all morning.”
“Sorry about that, Mark. A headache has put me behind schedule. Maybe Hawaii will do me good.”
“Forget about Hawaii.” He pauses and I think that’s my cue to say something when he starts speaking again. “There’s a story about to hit the wire. I wanted to be the one to tell you before you heard it on the news.”
I get an uneasy feeling. “Tell me? Why me?”
“It’s about Madison Starr.”
“What about my lovely stepsister? Another catfight? Not drugs?”
“Ella, Madison is dead.”
The words sink in like sudden bursts, like a nail being pounded into a thick wall. “Mark, what are you saying? Is this a joke?” Surely, he meant to say something else or maybe this is a very poor taste joke. Madison’s not dead. She’s too beautiful, too successful and too young. She’s only twenty-three.
“They found her in her apartment early this morning. They took their time to make sure with the ID. Ella, it happened last night.”
My heart leaps and then beats rapidly. I can feel the pulsing in my fingertips and my throat. An iciness envelopes my skin like an arctic gust.
“Ella, is there anything I can do?” Mark’s voice reaches me from afar, like a distant echo. I can’t make sense of his words anymore.
Madison and I didn’t become
or anything. We didn’t have much in common but we did live under the same roof between the ages of twelve and sixteen, for as long as my mother was married to her father. We fought a lot but we also entered puberty together and relied on each other for honest feedback when it came to things like makeup, hairstyle or boys.
My stepfather showed up as a father. He was just not what my mother needed. He took good care of us while they were together and he never took sides when we had our adolescent fights.
Maddy and I haven’t seen each other in nearly three years. Our last communication was an exchange of emails last Christmas when she was in Fiji with her boyfriend, the famous model and aspiring actor Jaxson Cole.
I can’t really say I know much about the woman she became. One thing I can say about her is that she was always breathtakingly beautiful and never quite knew how to deal with all the attention that provided. Whether she liked it or not, she had flawless skin, luscious golden hair, a narrow waist and long legs that wouldn’t quit. My stepsister was an ideal of femininity.
By the age of seventeen she had collected a stack of business cards from model scouts who seemed to find her every time she left home.
The rest is history. Despite her father’s early reservations, Madison went from catalogue modeling to national commercials to Paris fashion shows to a Vogue cover within a year.
“Ella, are you still with me?”
Mark’s voice returns to my ears as if time had stood still. I try to compose myself. “Yes,” I say. “I’m here. Thanks for telling me.” My voice catches in my throat when I try to ask if I can take the day off.
“Ella, I understand this is tough news for you and your family, but perhaps it’s also an opportunity.”
“An opportunity?” I repeat like an echo. Once again I’m convinced I have heard him wrong.
He remains silent, carefully considering his words. “I know how much you want to be a writer, a real writer, and I know about your debts. Maybe this could help your family and help The Daily Scandal at the same time.”
I don’t even want to know what he’s getting at. “I think I need the day off,” I say. My mother will be needing someone to talk to today.
An old memory surfaces: the night my mother held thirteen-year-old Maddy in her arms and pet back her hair until she fell asleep. Madison had been called a bad name in junior high that day.
“I think you should go to the police press conference,” Mark says so fast, he must have practiced it several times. “I’ve already booked a spot for you.”
“Mark, even you can’t be this unfeeling.”
“Here’s the deal. You go to the press conference to cover the story as the Daily Scandal’s reporter. I’ll make sure everyone knows your connection to Madison. They’ll be helpful, Ella. You can get the answers you need about what happened to Madison and I’ll promote you to an editor and double your paycheck. I know I sound ruthless but if it’s not you, it’ll be someone else.”
Anything I say now would be tinged with emotional distress. So I take the easy way out. “I’ll have to think about it.”
“You have about an hour before the press conference starts at eleven. I’ll need to know in the next twenty minutes if not.”
“Mark, can you please chill a little?”
“Just go to the presser, Ella. What do you have to lose? It would be good for you to hear everything first hand. If you don’t want to write the piece afterwards, we’ll just pass on your notes to someone else.”
He’s right about one thing—two actually: I need the money and I need to find out what happened to Madison.
“Okay,” I say, “but if I don’t feel like taking notes, I won’t.”
THE EVERLASTING SERIES
EVERLASTING RUIN (Book 3)
USA Today Bestselling author Alison Foster loves reading a good love story almost as much as she loves writing one. She spends her time dreaming up strong heroes and even stronger heroines and she enjoys finding unexpected strengths within her characters when they are in the most unexpected places.
She believes that passion makes the world go round and that a sexy grin is as sweet as candy. She loves interacting with readers, so feel free to drop her a line.