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Authors: Shirley Jump

Really Something (2 page)

BOOK: Really Something
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Chapter 2

A half mile down the road, Duncan glanced in his rearview mirror and saw—

Nothing.

No red Taurus following him. In fact, as he watched, the Taurus flipped a U-turn and headed in the opposite direction, with a puff of exhaust smoke bleating a distant in-your-face.

He should leave it alone. Let her go.

But something about the woman—and the way she threw those rocks—had intrigued Duncan. That was no dart practice he saw back there. It had been anger, pure and simple.

An emotion he'd done more than shake hands with in the past few years.

Duncan braked, spun the Miata on the empty road, leaving a black streak on the old, pale tar, and headed after the Taurus. He caught up with her at a four-way stop between what passed for two highways in rural Indiana. She'd pulled into the Pump-N-Gulp gas station on the corner, a place that saw less business than a Texas Roadhouse in India.

He stopped his car behind hers, then came around to her passenger's side, opened the door, slid inside, and made himself at home. “What are you doing?” he asked.

She glared at him, all legs and frustration. “What do you think
you're
doing?”

“Finding out why you ditched me.”

“Maybe I'm not interested.” She stepped out of the car, handed the full-serve gas station attendant two twenties, then turned to go into the mini-mart. The attendant tipped up the brim of his ball cap and watched her go, all appreciation for those long legs and high heels.

Duncan, also a member of that club, followed. Behind them, the kid—who looked like he'd just started shaving last week—stared for a moment longer, then came to his senses and started pumping the gas.

Duncan caught up with her inside the door, where she was scanning the headlines from the paper stand. “Funny. I got the impression you were interested.”

“I hope you don't make your living as a mind reader. Because you'd be collecting unemployment.”

He chuckled. “Let me treat you to lunch, and to find out why you were
really
pummeling the Tempest sign.”

Something flickered in her green eyes, gone before he could put a finger on what he'd seen. She pivoted, heading down the first of the three aisles in the small shop and stopping at the glass-fronted cooler. She withdrew a Diet Coke, then turned and grabbed a package of Baked Lays from the shelf beside her. “See? Lunch.”

“That's not much of a lunch,” he said.

“I don't need much.”

“I disagree,” he said, capturing her gaze when she turned. Fire and ice warred in the emerald-colored depths, as though she was debating between hating him—and kissing him. “You look like the kind of woman who has high expectations. And with high expectations comes a long list of wants and needs.”

“Oh, I get it. You're one of those men who thinks he knows a woman just by looking at her.” She slid her free hand down the hourglass of her waist, skimming along the firm curves. “All this must say ‘please keep bugging me. I'm just playing hard to get.' Is that it?”

The bell over the door rang. “Uh, ma'am?” The kid who ran the gas pumps stood in the doorway, his IU ball cap in his hands, his voice a nervous, eighteen-year-old's stammer. “Your, ah, car is all ready.”

“Thanks.”

Duncan ignored the kid, smiling as he moved in closer, watching her inhale and exhale, and feeling a stir of desire that had long been silent. “I know one thing for sure. You're already regretting choosing this”—he took the chips and Coke from her hands—“over Margie's homemade meatloaf and me.”

She took a step closer, so close he caught the light floral scent of her perfume, the soft vanilla of her shampoo, saw the flickers of gold in her raspberry lipstick. “I may have made a bad dietary choice”—she plucked back her soda and chips—“but at least I'll be with company I know I'll enjoy.”

Then she spun on her heel, so close that her shoulder brushed his chest, sending a crazy surge of want through him. She tossed him a smile, her lips inches from his chin, then strode off, heels clicking on the tile. She dropped a couple bills on the counter before thanking the starstruck attendant and hopping back into her car.

The kid tugged his hat back on his head, watching until the Taurus had disappeared back in the direction of town. “Holy shit. She sure ain't from Tempest.”

“What makes you say that?”

“They just don't grow 'em like that out here. I don't think we're using the right fertilizer.”

Duncan agreed. And yet, a tiny part of him had to wonder. Because something about that woman—and her throwing arm—had awakened a powerful sense of déjà vu.

And a curiosity that he had thought died near this very same road five years ago.

Chapter 3

Duncan stood in his office at WTMT-TV News, door shut, blinds drawn, still wearing the napkin tucked in his collar to keep the makeup from staining his suit, and picked up his sophisticated, state-of-the-art, all-purpose weather-predicting tool.

A Magic 8 Ball.

It had come to this. A fact that didn't exactly fill him with pride, but Duncan was a desperate man—desperate enough to do anything to keep his job.

“Will it rain tomorrow?” Duncan asked the ball. He closed his eyes, shook the ball for seven seconds—counting the right number of Mississippis in his head—then opened his eyes and looked at the words on the tiny white floating triangle: W
ITHOUT A
D
OUBT
.

“Dunk?” Two quick raps on his door. “You ready?”

Duncan yanked open the bottom left drawer of his desk, tossed in the Magic 8 Ball, then shut the drawer again. The plastic sphere rattled inside the empty metal cavern, protesting its mistreatment. “Yeah, come on in, Steve.”

The station manager opened the door and poked his balding head inside. “You're on in five.”

“Let me update the forecast and I'll be right out.” With a few keystrokes, Duncan added, “Chance of Rain 90 Percent,” and sent the file over to the news desk. His intern, Wally, had already created the screen images and even written up a summary of the National Weather Service's inch-thick stack of daily data. Wally, always eager to please, had been the one person who had saved Duncan's butt in this job. Duncan took what Wally gave him, added the Magic 8 Ball touch—a predictor that had been right so often it was scary—then stood in front of the camera and regurgitated it all.

His stomach rumbled, a reminder of the lunch he'd missed and the woman he'd met.

The gas station attendant had been right. She clearly didn't come from Tempest. She'd stuck out like a hothouse orchid in a field of thistles.

And yet, there'd been something about her…something almost familiar, as though they'd met before.

He shook off the feeling. To forget a woman like that he'd have to be senile
and
blind.

Her rejection—swift, cold, and sure—had surprised him. Clearly, he'd grown too comfortable in his name. His place in this town.

In the old days of Duncan Henry, football star, “best smile” and “cutest” designee, he hadn't even had to ask women out. They'd flocked to him in droves, impressed by the padded shoulders or the way he looked in the Tempest High football team's tight pants; what magnetic appeal he had, he'd never understood. To his eyes, he was just another guy on the field.

He suspected most of it had been about being on the arm of a Henry more than anything else.

Regardless, he hadn't asked a woman out in a long time and to have her stand him up—

Well, it was damned intriguing. He intended to find out who she was and then see if he could get her to change her mind about that cup of coffee. She was gorgeous, no doubt about it, with long straight blond hair that tickled past her shoulders, lean, firm legs, and high, round breasts that gave “well-endowed” a whole new meaning.

Against his hip, his cell phone rang. Duncan didn't need to peek at the Caller ID. He considered letting the call go to voice mail, but knew if he ignored her, she'd dial the station, which would mean explanations.

And Duncan wasn't about to explain—or expose—his personal life to anyone. He could do that much for Katie, at least.

On the third ring, he flipped open the Motorola. “I asked you not to call me at work. What if—”

“When are you coming home?” Katie cut in, the whine already in her voice, even though the day had barely started, at least for her.

“At six-thirty, like I always do.” He'd taken this job because of its flexibility and regular hours. As long as he delivered the weather at noon and five, and showed up to send out an alert whenever there was a storm headed their way, he was free to come and go as he wanted.

But staying put in the weather position also had kept him from advancing up the career ladder, to becoming a reporter and moving on to a bigger station, bigger stories. To chasing pieces that meant something, rather than posting the probability of precipitation.

Duncan ran a hand over his face and kneaded at his temples. Another headache, the last thing he needed right now. Hell, on any day.

“I can't wait that long, Duncan,” Katie said. “I need you.”

He drew in a breath, holding it in his lungs as long as he could, counting out his patience like a dealer at a poker table. “Katie, I'll be there as soon as I can.”

“And you'll stay tonight? Until I fall asleep?” Her voice had gone from whiny to vulnerable. Little girl lost. Scared. His heart broke for the hundredth time and he clutched at the phone, feeling as powerless as a sapling caught in a tornado.

“Yes.” That satisfied her and she finally said good-bye. Duncan held the phone for a long time, then placed it on his desk. He splayed his palms across the metal surface, trying not to think of the what-ifs. Of things that couldn't be undone.

Mistakes that couldn't be rectified.

When he had himself under control, and could again wear the mask of confident, former football captain, All-American Duncan Henry, he put on his weatherman smile and left his office, heading for the production floor.

The set for WTMT-TV News looked huge on TV, thanks to a trick of camera angles and a perspective shot of the city of Indianapolis. The station was usually the Johnny-come-too-late to any Indy news, but the station's owners persisted in the Indy look, even though they were located within Tempest city limits—because the real estate had cost less than the anchor's annual wardrobe budget.

As part of a start-up network, WTMT-TV had had a hard time breaking the NBC-CBS-ABC-FOX quartet of power in the area. Being the next new kid on the network block made for an uphill journey, with guardians of the gate like Katie Couric and Bill O'Reilly ready to smack down any hint of a new fish in the TV waters.

So, the station stuck to covering news in Tempest and the surrounding towns. Steve made daily sacrifices to the TV gods, hoping for a story that would put WTMT-TV on the map.

Thus far, WTMT-TV wasn't much more than a detour on the TV dial, even as the corporate honchos threw out new programming with all the accuracy of a blind dart player. With those east coast dollars behind him, Steve had hope and a decent budget. Those two things made WTMT-TV look like a real station. Faking it till WTMT-TV could make it—or die trying.

The WTMT-TV evening news anchors, Jane Betterman and Klein Wilson, sat behind a particleboard desk painted to resemble metal, their posture perfect, their veneered smiles gleaming. Jane's protruding pregnancy was well hidden by the desk, her extra baby weight camouflaged by a dark dress. Three cameras formed a semicircle five feet away, shadowed by the glaring lights focused on Jane and Klein.

Particularly on Klein, who had requested extra lighting to conceal his expanding bald spot. A light strategically directed to the side and a few sprays of hair-in-a-can preserved Klein's youthly image, at least on TV. Anyone who came within six feet of the in-person Klein realized the newscaster involved a lot of artfully applied makeup—

And not much substance.

Still, he was the anchor, and Duncan was just the weatherman.

When he'd bucked his father's prescribed career path and applied at WTMT-TV, he'd been looking for a serious journalism spot. Hard-hitting investigative-type work, something that would eventually propel him to work on one of the coasts. To a job that meant something in the bigger scheme of things. His life accomplishments thus far—bringing the high school football team to three state championships, taking the college team to two—had about as much meaning to Duncan as whipped cream. He wanted more.

He wanted to make a difference. In one of his own dreams, not the ones his father had laid out, and Duncan had followed, day after day, until five years ago.

Until the day he'd seen the ad in the paper and took a chance. Decided that day to turn his back on the family façade and carve out his own path. Prove his father wrong.

Steve, who'd known Duncan all his life, had said the station was going places—and would take Duncan with it. With that friendship in his back pocket, Duncan figured the reporter job was a shoo-in, despite the blank spot on his resume for internships and experience.

“Dunk,” Steve had said during the interview, leaning back in his chair and tipping it, just as he had in English class, “I have a proposition for you. Be the weatherman, instead of a reporter. You're simply not Geraldo Rivera material, buddy. Your S-factor is way too high.”

“My S-factor?”

“Sex appeal. The ladies are gonna love you.” Steve chuckled. “Just like always, hey, Dunk?”

Duncan had shifted in his seat. “I was looking for something serious.”

Steve laughed. “Yeah, right. This from the guy who took his English teacher's daughter out to dinner so he wouldn't have to take the final?”

Duncan ignored the reference to his former self. He had changed since high school, changed a hell of a lot, but no one seemed to notice. “Steve, I don't know much about weather.”

Steve waved a dismissive hand. “What's to learn? Sunny, partly cloudy, or cloudy. There you go. All your weather in one sentence. Read the pile of shit the National Weather Service sends over every day if you want to throw in a few terms here and there. Just look good and the ladies won't care if you're off by a degree or two.”

On the ride home, he'd reconsidered and decided sticking with business was safe. Predictable. The Henry way.

But the next day, rainy weather and slick roads had changed Duncan's life, pushing whatever hope for a future he had over the proverbial cliff. And forcing him to choose between what his father wanted and what Duncan knew was best.

The whine of the Jaws of Life, the screech of metal protesting the mistreatment, all came back to him, in flashbulb bursts of memory. The car, crushed like a ball of foil, and Katie, sweet Katie, stuck in the center of twisted metal.

The next morning, Duncan had called Steve and taken the job, even though he wouldn't have known an isobar if it hit him over the head, and he still got cumulus confused with cirrus. The station had bought him some fancy-dancy computer programs he had yet to have time to learn, then left him to flounder. Since taking the job, the only advice Duncan had ever received had been from Jim, the cameraman, who'd told him not to wear white. “You'll bloom, dude, and that's just not cool on TV.”

Now, Duncan headed across the room, toward the weather station, about to deliver another forecast that he hoped like hell would be right. Putting his job in the hands of a kids' toy was nuts, but his strategy had worked thus far.

One day, he knew, it wouldn't. In the fall, Wally, who had been here all through high school and college, would graduate and move on to a paying job, leaving Duncan to muddle through the data on his own or finally find a reporter job. By then, Duncan hoped to be standing over Jimmy Hoffa's grave, with the national media surrounding him, his star finally lit in the crowded, competitive TV sky.

“Duncan, wait!” Shelley, the makeup artist, hurried up to him, yanking the white tissue out of his collar. “There. You forgot it again, silly.” She flashed him a smile—the kind that said his S-factor still registered in the double digits—then blushed and turned away.

Duncan slipped into place beside a huge blue screen that would, for the viewing audience, hold an image of the state of Indiana. His weather forecast would be flashed on the teleprompter, guiding Duncan through his job as easily as a Pekingese at Westminster.

In fact, as he listened to Klein and Jane wrap up the [N
EWSCASTERS
B
ANTER
] ordered by the teleprompter, Duncan realized with a sinking feeling that was, indeed, all he had become—

A well-trained, pampered poodle.

BOOK: Really Something
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