Charlie was feeling pretty good. He liked Eb and the three people who'd called after Eb, the console was state-of-the-art so it was a piece of cake to run, and it didn't really matter whether he was a success or not at this hour of the night. And actually, it was fun. Once again his life was under control. He'd have all his days to track down that damn letter and figure out who wrote it, and then he could play radio at night until he finished the job and left in November. Life didn't get much better. Then Allie's voice came through his headphones. "Caller on line two." "Who's this one?" "The mayor." He swung around to stare at her through the window, but she just shrugged and smiled and punched the button that transferred the call to him. "Who the hell is this? "Uh, Charlie Tenniel." He shot an agonized glance at the j digital readout on the console. Fifteen seconds till the last song was over. "Well, what the hell is going on down there? Where's Bill? What is this garbage?" He sounded like an overbearing, handshaking politician. Charlie had met a lot of them growing up and he hadn't liked them. Still, it wasn't his job to make waves. "We've been talking about the city building, sir." "Well, stop it. It's none of your damn business." Charlie took a deep breath. "Well, it's the taxpayers' business, since they're going to be paying for it." "Screw the taxpayers. You shut up about that building or I'll have your job. I can do it, too, don't think I can't. Bill's a good friend of mine. You just shut up, boy." Five seconds. Charlie knew he was going to regret it, but laying low had been a lost cause as soon as the Mayor had started yelling. "We're going to be on the air now, mayor, so whatever you say is broadcast. Might want to ease up on that 'screw the taxpayers' bit since most of them are voters, too." "I don't want —" "And welcome back, Tuttle," Charlie said into the mike. "We've got a real treat tonight. Mayor Rollie Whitcomb has called in to talk about the city building. You're on, Mayor." "I'm what?" "You're on the air." "Oh. Well-" "Now, you want to explain again how you feel about the taxpayers and the city building?" Through the window he saw Allie put her head down on he producer's console. Rollie must have been right about Bill. Oh, well, win some, lose some. He went back to listening to the mayor tie himself in knots. Public speaking was evidently not what had gotten him into office. His sentences didn't seem to have any verbs, which was par for a politician. All nouns, no action. When the mayor wound down, buried under his compound subjects, Charlie stepped in. "So what exactly was the rationale behind the new city building, Mayor? I understand the new building actually has less space than the old one." That set Rollie off again, babbling about heating bills, big indows, all that marble, and the stairs. Rollie didn't seem to have a grasp as to why the last three were a problem, he just knew they were factors. "Anything you want to say about your brother, the contractor?" Charlie asked him when he'd sputtered to a close. "Fine businessman. Pillar of the community. Mason. Knights of Pythias. Proud to be in the family." Rollie meandered on, while Charlie waited for a verb. "Does he have the contract for the city building?" Charlie asked when Rollie trailed off again. "Of course not. I don't know. I don't award contracts. Building committee. Stalwart citizens. Pillars of the community." Charlie gave up. "Well, thanks for calling, Mayor. I'm sure Tuttle is reassured now." "Proud to do my duty," Rollie said. Charlie punched the cassette button and shoved the slide up and music came through his headphones. Unfortunately, it was Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years." He was screwed, as usual. He thought about it and began to laugh.
* * *
Allie sat stunned in the producer's chair, not sure whom she was in the most trouble with—the mayor, Bill or Charlie. She'd thought that maybe talking with the mayor would boost Charlie's credentials. The mayor could give his side of the situation and Charlie could discuss it with him. Serious talk radio. Maybe a nice mention in the Tuttle Tribune tomorrow since the mayor pretty much owned the paper. And then Charlie turned out to be a hell-raiser. Asking about the mayor's brother. Sheesh. "You still there, Tenniel?" She adjusted her headphones. "Uh, no, he's not, Mayor Whitcomb. This is Alice McGuffey, the pro—" "Well, you're fired. And so is he." Then all she heard was a dial tone. She sat back and tried to figure out the probable outcome of the mess she'd created. Bill wouldn't fire her, she was pretty sure. He wasn't that dumb, and if he was, Beattie wouldn't let him. Charlie could be vulnerable, though. And it was her fault. All right, she'd just go in first thing in the morning and tell Bill she'd called the mayor. Then the phone rang and she got back to work. At one, Allie shut down the phone lines at Charlie's request. By then he'd talked to eleven callers about the building, all of them telling him he was right and one asking if the mayor was drunk. "No, I think he always talks like that," Charlie said, and the caller said, "And we voted for him?" There were a few nonpolitical calls: one male caller wanted to know what he'd said to the lady in the bar, and four female callers offered to show him the city and let him insult them all he wanted. "Get me out of this," Charlie said to Allie from the booth, and she shut down the lines for the night. "Go home," he told her through the mike. "Stewart's here if I need anything technical. I'm just going to play music from now on. I don't ever want to hear about the city building again." Allie had been working since four, Charlie's show was off to a better than great start, and besides, guilt was making her groggy. She'd done her job and then some. "Thanks," she said. "I'll take you up on that." She gave Samson to Charlie and told him how to feed him and then watched while he gave the puppy a bottle to the rhythm of Gloria Estefan. Samson was almost lost in Charlie's big hand, and Allie forgot her career entirely as she watched him try to drip the formula into the puppy's mouth. Sam tried to drink a little and then gave up, but Charlie kept on coaxing, his blond-brown hair shining in the booth light like brass as he bent over the little body, massaging Sam's tummy with his thumb. "C'mon, Sam," he coaxed softly, and Allie shut her eyes and prayed the puppy would make it. She really didn't need any more trauma. She was due for a success here, and Sam might as well share it. "He's going to make it," she said out loud, and Charlie looked up at her and said, "Well, we'll give it our best shot. Go on. You're beat." And she nodded and left the booth. Charlie sounded even better at home when she was in bed, wrapped in her quilt. His voice was sexy and soothing, and he played a lot of different music including one memorable triple play of Boyz II Men, Aaron Copland, and the Everly Brothers, always leading so smoothly into the songs as part of his patter that it seemed like the music was part of what Charlie was saying. She was almost disappointed when he wrapped up the show at two. "Well, that's it for tonight, folks. Grady Bonner's coming up next with some background on crystals and healing and your sun sign's lucky numbers for tomorrow, and he tells me he's also going to be playing some whale songs a little later. Now, for those of you who haven't heard whale songs, that probably sounds like a joke, but keep an open mind and you'll hear music that is truly unearthly. And to get you over to Grady, here's Judy Collins doing her duet with a whale. Listen closely out there, this is the music of the deep." Collins's "Hunting the Whale" began and Allie closed her eyes and listened. The song was so lovely that the last notes seemed to hang in the air next to her. Then she heard Grady's reedy voice saying, "This is Grady Bonner taking you into the hours when the city sleeps. If you missed Charlie Tenniel's show just before this, you missed what he said about our lovely city building. There are so many old voices echoing through the old city building. Tearing it down would be ripping those voices apart. Go to the old building tomorrow, feel the power in it, and then go to the mayor and tell him that destroying that structure is destroying the spirit of public service in this city. And now, before I begin tonight's discussion on the healing power of the crystal, let's listen to a recording of some North Atlantic whales. This one's for you, Charlie." Good for Charlie, Allie thought. He's got Grady on his side. She felt comforted by that. Grady might be a little strange, but his people instincts were excellent. If he liked Charlie, Charlie was good people. She turned off her light and listened in the dark to the whale songs, and she drifted off in a dreamless sleep. She hadn't been asleep more than half an hour when Charlie poked her in the back.
"Hey." Charlie sat next to her on the bed and propped his feet up. "Did you listen to the rest of the show?" "Yes." Allie rolled over and stretched a little to wake up. "Now I know why Bill hired you. You're great." "Thank you." She squinted at him in the dim light from the window. He was dressed only in his sweatpants and he was holding a carton and chewing something. She struggled to sit up, and he reached over her and turned on the lamp, blinding her. "What are you eating?" She shielded her eyes until they adjusted to the light. "Sweet-and-sour pork. From some place called Mrs. McCarthy's Chinese. Want some?" "Yes. McCarthy's has good stuff, but Joe won't let me eat there." Allie yawned and took the fork from him and poked it into the take-out carton. "He says it's not authentic." Charlie snorted. "Sure it is. Authentic Irish-Chinese." Allie chewed the pork and then looked dubiously at the size of the carton. "Did you get anything else?" "No. I didn't know you'd be hungry, too. There's plenty of this, though." He took the fork and the carton back. He looked great in the lamplight naked to the waist, his long legs stretched out on her bed. Allie hauled her mind back to the radio program and tried to make her voice noncommittal. "So what's your next move here?" Charlie grinned at her. "Well, I figure if I can get your nightgown off, the rest will be easy." Allie stomped down on the hot little thrill the thought evoked and looked at him with what she hoped was contempt. Charlie said, "Joke. Sort of." She shook her head. "Not your next move on me, you dang fool. The city building. Give me the fork." "Ah, you liked Eb. So did I." Charlie passed the carton over. "I may wander up north and meet him. My kind of guy" "The city building," Allie said around a mouthful of food. "I think it should be saved, but I don't particularly want to do it. Especially if it's going to make people call me that much." He shook his head. "Some mighty pissed people out there when they heard about the mayor's brother. And the mayor didn't do himself any good, calling in like that." Charlie took the carton back. "I wonder if it's true?" Allie put her chin on his shoulder to look into the carton. He had great shoulders and Chinese food. At the moment, he was the perfect man. "I wouldn't be surprised. Hurry up with the fork." She reached around his arm, enjoying the slide of her skin on his, and took the carton from him after he'd taken a bite. Charlie chewed and swallowed. "If it is true, the mayor's an idiot." Allie snorted. "Do you have any doubts?" Charlie recaptured his carton. "I don't want to talk about the city building tomorrow night." Allie looked at him, half-naked in the lamplight, and felt a growing hunger for more than Chinese. No, she told herself. "You're missing a great opportunity." "Screen the callers." Allie looked at him, dumbfounded. "You want me to tell them they can't talk about the city building?" "I don't care what you tell them. Just don't put them on the line with me." She looked at him in disgust. "You're a wimp." Okay, he was a sexy wimp, but he was still a wimp. She reached for the carton to distract herself. "Give me the fork." "It's all gone." He put the carton on the floor. "I'm still hungry." Charlie grinned at her, and she forgot she was annoyed with him. After all, he'd done a great show. After all, he was Charlie. In her bed. Half-naked. Turn back now , she told herself. Get out of this bed. Charlie leaned toward her. "You're always hungry. You're the most orally fixated woman I've ever known. Not that I'm complaining." Oh, boy. Allie threw back the covers and started to get out of bed, and he caught her nightgown and pulled her back. "Where are you going?" She pried her gown out of his fingers. "I'm hungry. Really. I feel empty." "No problem." Charlie pulled her down on top of him, and she meant to push herself away, but he was so warm, she leaned into him instead. He felt wonderful under her. "Empty I can solve," he told her. "And I'll make sure you get to sleep, too. Eventually." He kissed her neck. She propped herself up on his chest and steeled herself to say no. "I thought we'd talked about this." Charlie stroked her cheek with his finger. "We did, but you look awful good rumpled. How about one more time? I'll move out to the couch tomorrow, I swear." "This is not a good idea." She pushed away from him and changed the subject to distract him. "You know, you have a great voice. I was concentrating on your body and your face before, and I didn't really appreciate your voice until I heard you on the air. It's incredible. I bet you were turning women on all over the city tonight." He tugged her back down to him, and she shivered when he said, "How'd I do with you ?" "Not bad." She moved against his warmth. "Thanks for Patsy Cline." "My pleasure. Kiss me." Don't do it , she told herself, but she kissed him, anyway, and his mouth moving softly on hers distracted her while he pulled her nightgown up and ran his hands over her naked back. She felt the heat start again, and she stretched against it. What could one more night hurt? She pulled the nightgown over her head, and his hands were on her instantly, cupping her breasts, making her draw a sharp breath. She touched him, too, then, stroking down his chest with her fingertips, over his sweatpants until she felt him shudder. He stripped off his pants, and she stroked him again, and she felt his fingers dig into the soft flesh of her hips as she moved to meet him. They tormented each other, touching and kissing and sliding together, gasping small laughs as they collided in heat until Allie thought she'd scream if he didn't take her. "Now," she said finally. "Please, now." "Wait a minute," he said, and reached for the condom in his pants, and then he said, "Come here." and pulled her over on top of him. "Stay on top of me this time. You'll like it better." He was lovely and hot under her, and she stretched against him, forgetting her panic from the night before. "I wasn't afraid of you," she said against his mouth. "It wasn't you." "I know." Charlie's hands smoothed over her. "You just don't like being out of control." "Maybe." Allie was distracted; he was moving under her now, pulling her hips up to his, spreading her thighs apart with his legs. "Whenever you're ready." Charlie kissed her shoulder. "Just don't wait too long, or I'll lose my mind." Allie propped herself above him, dizzy with heat. "What do you want me to do?" He pulled her closer. "Just ease yourself over me and make me the happiest man in this city." She laughed softly. "There are other guys in this city making love right now, you know." "Not with you." He smiled up at her, and she wanted him so much she ached with it. "Allie, I want you so much." Allie blinked at him, surprised out of her own thoughts. "Me?" He laughed softly. "Yes, you. Can't you tell I'm interested?" He was hard between her thighs, and she rocked a little against him and watched him close his eyes. "Yes," she told him, laughing again at how easy he was to distract. "I can tell. But I thought for a guy, it didn't make any difference who..." His eyes snapped open. "You thought wrong." His hands were suddenly tight on her waist, as if he were trying to make her listen harder. I'm going nuts right now only because I'm with you," he told her, and she lost her breath at the intensity in his voice. "You make me crazy. I've been thinking about you all day." He let his head sink into the pillow. "Now, will you please get a move on here? I'm not kidding about the crazy part." She took a deep breath and found him with her hand. He held her hips so tightly she knew she'd have fingerprint bruises the next day, but it was erotic to have his hands on her that hard. She guided herself over him and eased him a little way into her, carefully, tentatively. He felt wonderful, and her heart pounded and she felt her blood begin to rush and she stopped, trying to keep from lurching out of control. Charlie made a sound way back in his throat, but he didn't push. She was doing it all. "Oh," she said and sank her hips down to his, and he felt so good that she moaned, and Charlie threw his head back on the pillow and bit his lip. "Charlie." she whispered. "Don't mind me," he said through his teeth. "This is just ecstasy." Allie moved against him slowly, holding him hard inside her, feeling her skin heat, trying to keep her breathing slow as she watched his face. He wasn't kidding. He was in ecstasy. And I'm doing this , she thought. She squeezed him with the muscles inside her and her heart pounded as she watched him suck in his breath. Then she moved her hips against his, and he moved to meet her, and her blood began to bubble. She licked her lips and breathed in and thought, God, I'm powerful. No wonder men love sex so much. She eased herself up until she was sitting, straddling him until he was high inside her. He ran his hands up her body, cupping her breasts, and she leaned against his hands, relishing the pressure there and in the center of her body, and the prickling in her veins, and she began to move against him. She could feel the pressure growing, little flames of heat licking inside her as she rocked against him. The licking flames flared into a hot spiral, and she knew that it was going to explode, that she'd feel him everywhere, that she'd lose herself in him and be gone again, and she wanted it more than anything and still she clutched,just a little, as it began to go. Then Charlie arched up to hold her, dragging her down to his warmth, and she was wrapped safe in his arms as he moved convulsively inside her. "Come on, Allie," he breathed in her ear, and she pressed herself hard down against him and then everything did explode in a kaleidoscope of surge and flame, and she rocked against him over and over, sobbing, until he cried out in his own climax. She clutched at him until even the tiny aftershocks inside her were gone, and when they were both breathing again, Allie whispered, "I don't want you to move to the couch," and Charlie held her tightly and said, "I wouldn't dream of it."