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Roger Blake studied the edited copy of the article that would be posted in tomorrow’s edition.
Jessica Porter at University Hospital in Raleigh-Durham…Didn’t that just make the perfect headline? She was still in a coma, but the doctors had said that she would be coming around at any moment, would soon be able to give her side of the story and what had happened to her and her roommates that tragic night.
Roger smiled to himself, staring at the article. His rivals were going to shit themselves when they saw this printed tomorrow morning. This was classified information that no one should have their hands on. Yet, his paper was the only one that knew first hand where Jessica Porter was. That certainly gave The Gazette a much-needed advantage.
It seemed lately his reporters had been slacking. Hell, one of their own was brutally stabbed and left for dead, yet they were the last ones on the scene, getting just bits and pieces of a story that should have been theirs from the get go. The Gazette had been faltering in sales, the new periodical called The Daily Report picking up more and more readers.
However, with his new star reporter, The Gazette was getting the job done. She had only been with them for a month and a half, but the woman had outdone all of his veteran journalists, getting her hands on stories that seemed unattainable.
Isabella Evans was a force to be reckoned with, confidence and beauty wrapped together in one devastating package. She had a knack for always getting the story, even when the odds were against her. Roger liked to think it had something to do with her dominating sex appeal. She had a way of making men eat out of the palm of her hand.
And she had fallen into his lap out of nowhere, like a gift from God. He took one look at her when she walked into his office and hired her on the spot, for obvious reasons. The office could use some more eye candy and that was just what he expected Miss Evans to be. But then, she had surprised him by showing up two days later with an exclusive report on the abuse of funds in City Hall. The article had been printed the very next day and following investigations into the City Counsel, quite a few men and women had been fired from their posts, having been charged with misappropriation of city funds and embezzlement.
Each story she had presented to him had been better than the last and she had quickly become his ‘go to’ girl for the hard-hitting, almost impossible to get stories. And every time she had come through for him, getting the scoop before anyone else knew there was an article to get. She was a godsend, the perfect answer to his wavering sales and readership.
Suddenly, his door opened and in walked the blonde bombshell, her hips swaying seductively. Isabella was tall and voluptuous, long blonde hair that she normally wore in a neat twist on the top of her head. She had the most stunning dark blue eyes that sparkled with a hint of mischief, and a smile that captivated all. Her face was that of an angel, despite the shark-like tactics she used to get her stories. But that was what made him admire her and want to fuck her. Unfortunately like Jessica, she had turned him down as well. It seemed that somewhere beyond that sex pot exterior, the woman did have some degree of morality, much to his dismay. Still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t try.
She lifted one hip onto the side of his desk, reaching over and scooping out a handful of M&M’s he always kept stocked in a candy dish.
“Miss Evans,” he crooned. “How nice to see you.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Roger, as always. How are you?”
“Better now that you’ve entered the room.”
“Now, now… don’t make me blush.”
“So,” he sighed, enjoying their quick banter. “What brings you by?”
“I just wanted to fill you in on where I’m at with the Porter case.”
“I’ve talked to a few of the officers that were at the scene that morning. They were quite prompt in giving me detailed information on the actual murders.”
“Imagine that,” he jested.
“I have an article I’m working on now, sort of a ‘who were they’ in the works.”
“So, you’re going to dive into the lives of the four victims?”
“That’s the idea.” She smiled, the gesture reaching those beautiful big blue eyes. “Murder in itself is a ghastly thing. But when the victims are actually given a name and a touch of tangibility, it makes for quite an interesting story. I want to paint a picture of the women themselves, delve into the mystery of their lives and give them the essence of being your best friend, your daughter, your sister… that kind of thing.
“That sounds good. However, I hope you plan on digging up the dirt as well.”
“Are you suggesting I tarnish the dead?” she asked, her voice half teasing and a little bit defensive.
“We’re not here to make friends. We’re here to sell papers. And dirt, unfortunately, sells papers.”
“Mm. It’s a sad, sad world we live in, now isn’t it?” she teased.
“Very true.” Roger offered her a winning smile, reaching out and touching her hand that rested on her thigh. “So when are you going to let me take you out to dinner, to thank you for everything you’ve done so far for The Gazette, and everything I’m sure you will do?”
“Now Roger, are you suggesting we mix a little pleasure with our business?” she taunted.
Roger let out a gasp of protest, smiling as he did so. “You know I would never suggest such a thing.”
Just then, the door opened again and Alan Ginnis walked in. He offered Isabella an appreciative glance before placing a manila envelope on Roger’s desk. “Here’s the information you wanted on Sheriff Benson.”
Isabella turned back to Roger, cocking one eyebrow. “Getting the lowdown on the good sheriff of Deatsville?”
“Yeah. You got a problem with that?”
Isabella lifted her hands in mock surrender. “Nope. None whatsoever.” She shoved the rest of the candy into her mouth and smiled before turning to leave the room. “I’ve got a story to write.”
Both men stared after her for a long moment, admiring the simple grace and confidence in her stride.
Roger whistled softly. “Damn if she isn’t one of the finest looking women I’ve ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on.” He turned to Alan, drawing his brows together. “Did you have a problem getting your hands on any of the information I asked for?”
“No, sir. Not a problem at all.”
“Good. So, I assume everything is in that envelope.”
“Yes, sir. Everything you asked me for.”
“Thank you. And remember, no one is to know that I had you gather that information. Understand?” Roger waved a dismissing hand in the air. “That will be all, Alan.”
Alan simply nodded and walked out of the room. He hated working for that dick, hated doing all of the grunt work. And for what? Nothing! Not a damn thing. He was nothing more than a glorified errand boy. Quite honestly, he was getting sick of it, getting fed up with working directly for the almighty Roger Blake. He wanted to be a reporter, not a go-for.
Alan walked toward his desk, nodding to Roger’s receptionist as he passed her by. With eyes straight forward, he strolled through the maze of cubicles and into his meager little office in the corner of the building. To his surprise, Isabella was standing at his desk, watching him approach.
God she was beautiful, he thought to himself, and far beyond the average man’s grasp. Just like Jessica had been. The two women were as different as night and day. Jessica was sweet and down to earth. Isabella was the epitome of sexuality, confidence, and completely unobtainable. She was one of those women that a man could easily look at and know that he could never have.
“Alan,” Isabella purred in her sweet voice.
“Yes?” he murmured, the woman making his nerves unstable. There was something about her that made him feel inadequate, incompetent even. She left him lacking his ability to form intelligible words, to grasp logical thought.
“How are you doing today?”
“Fine,” was his clipped one word reply.
“That’s good to hear.” She leaned in a little closer so that she could whisper into his ear. “A quick word to the wise… you should be careful when it comes to Roger Blake. Because in the end, he doesn’t give a shit about you. It’s all about what you can do for him.”
Before he could ask her what she had meant by that, Isabella waltzed away.
* * * *
She was driving down the darkened street to her house, her car vacant along that never-ending road. Her mind had been concentrating on the term paper she needed to start on and nothing else. But something was amiss, was wrong and she couldn’t place her finger on it.
Jessie glanced over to the passenger seat and was startled to find Karen staring back at her. Her friend was almost transparent, her form barely visible. Jessie reached a hand over to touch her, but her fingers couldn’t seize anything physical.
She wore a white dress, her hair flowing down to her shoulders in soft curls. Her face seemed pale, her lips gray. It was as if Jessie was seeing her in black and white.
“Karen,” Jessie gasped, her own voice echoing in her ears.
Karen’s mouth was moving but her words were inaudible, a mere whisper in the wind.
“I can’t understand you,” Jessie cried out, her voice a desperate plea.
“Nothing is as it seems,” Karen whispered.
“What? What do you mean?”
Karen shook her head, her expression grave. “Nothing is as it seems,” she spoke softly, her voice still nothing more than a vague whisper.
“What’s not what it seems?” Jessie implored.
Karen’s mouth continued to move, the words fading as her image evaporated.
“Karen!” Jessie shouted at the top of her lungs. “Karen! Don’t leave me! Karen!”
Jessie bolted upright in the bed, her body drenched in sweat, her breathing harsh. Her eyes darted frantically around the darkened room. There was no one there. The only sound was the beating of her own heart and the words echoing through her mind.
“Nothing is as it seems,” she repeated to herself.
* * * *
Isabella sat on her couch, her knees drawn up to her chest with the phone cradled beneath her ear and her shoulder. She stared at the laptop computer in front of her as she waited patiently for the line to pick up.
“Yeah,” the masculine voice on the other end answered brusquely.
“Well, hello to you, too,” Isabella offered in a bright voice.
“I’ve had a shitty day,” the man growled.
“Why? What happened?”
“Nothing,” he dismissed her quickly. “Why are you calling me?”
“Just called to tell you that the article will be printed in tomorrow’s edition of The Gazette.”
“Good. And what about the next headline?”
“I’m turning it in tomorrow, as soon as I have time to put the finishing touches on it.”
“Great. We’ll get that one in the paper and see what happens from there.”
“You realize of course that since I’m doing all of these favors for you, I expect a favor in return.”
“Of course,” he barked in an irritated voice. “We’ll settle on payment later.”
“You bet your ass we will. In case you have forgotten, I’ve got a job to do here, too.”
“I know you do, Is, and I’m thankful that you agreed to help me out.”
“You should be, you ungrateful bastard.”
The man groaned animatedly. “I’m grateful. Just forgive me if I can’t kneel down and kiss your feet right now.”
Isabella laughed. She had almost forgotten how adorable and charming this man was. “By the way, I thought you’d like to know that Alan Ginnis delivered a package to Roger this morning, information on the good Sheriff of Deatsville.”
“Mm. I wonder what he’s looking for.”
“Well, remember why I’m here and I’ll bet you that’s what he’s looking for.”
“Unfortunately, he’s not going to find anything. The good Sheriff of Deatsville is as clean as a whistle.”
“Let’s hope so.” She heard him chuckle and smiled as well. “We must get together after this is over and catch up.”
He exhaled and let out a short laugh. “Getting together with you usually involves more than just catching up.”
“And you’re complaining?” she offered with a purr.
He didn’t reply.
Isabella smiled to herself, conjuring up the man’s image in her mind. She had been trying to get him into bed for years. Yet, she knew that once she had slept with him, the whole dynamic of their relationship would change. It was better to look and not touch where he was concerned, no matter how badly she wanted him.
“I guess I should let you go. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“Yeah. And if you hear anything else, you call me.”
Isabella clicked the phone off and tossed it onto the cushion beside of her. Pulling her legs away from her chest, she scooted to the edge of the sofa and started typing commands into her computer. In a second, the image of Roger Blake flashed onto the screen.
She reached over and grabbed her pack of cigarettes, shaking one out into her hand and lighting it with a match. Inhaling a long puff, Isabella tilted her head to the side and stared at the man’s picture. Stretching one hand out, she hit a button to zoom in on his image, exhaling a cloud of smoke.
Roger Blake made her skin crawl, her stomach queasy. He was always what everyone wanted him to be, putting up this great fašade of the doting father and faithful husband. Yet, she knew good and goddamn well that if she spread her legs for him, he would be all over her in a matter of seconds. That thought made her cringe because she had met the man’s wife and the woman was a wonderful person. Marcia Blake was involved in a multitude of charities, she volunteered at the local nursing home, and she was an excellent mother and wife. The only thing wrong with the woman was her naivetÚ. She was completely clueless when it came to her husband’s extracurricular activities.
But being an adulterous bastard was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to Roger Blake. The man was a known entrepreneur of sorts, taking bribes from certain political figures to solicit publicity in The Gazette and dabbling in a little harmless blackmail in order to get what he wanted. Unfortunately, there was no proof, only suspicion. But the man seemed too cocky, too smug. There was evidence to be found. Just because he had covered his tracks well so far didn’t mean that he wouldn’t slip up. She was sure of it.
Isabella took another drag off of her cigarette and she tapped another button, conjuring up Alan Ginnis’s profile. The young man had been warned, she silently told herself. Still, she had been so vague, so ambiguous that he probably didn’t know what in the hell she was talking about. Unfortunately, she couldn’t give away additional information to the young go-getter. If she offered any more admonitions, she would give herself away. Her anonymity was all that she had going for her. If she lost that, she lost her chance to uncover Roger Blake and all of his dirty deeds. And that was something she had been longing to do since the first time she had ever heard his name.
The man would get what was coming to him. And she would be proud to be the one to give it to him. He had played with too many lives, destroyed too many people to be let off easily. His defeat would be her ascent, a triumph she would take much pleasure in.