SEARING HEET

Chapter 1

Dani

 

My hand shook like a vibrator as I ended the call.

“I did it! I can’t believe I did it!”

I jumped up sending my chair rolling towards the glass wall of the conference room. It hit with a booming clank. It must have startled someone because the motion detector turned on the lights over the cubicle jungle. I looked out at the empty space and saw no one. That is until I saw the one person who I loved seeing.

Quickly rounding the table and exiting the room, I ran over to Jax. He was the one responsible for my victory and I had to thank him. So, sprinting over, I threw my arms around the built man and kissed him on the lips.

“Your contact worked,” I told the startled man. “I’m in!”

“Oh, great!” he said unsure how he should respond.

Should I have just kissed my co-worker? All of my good sense told me that I shouldn’t have. But, what the hell, right? He was gorgeous, as sexy as hell, and there had been a will-they-or-won’t-they thing going on between us for months. Someone had to make the call, so I did. They will!

“Is Ed here?” I asked him letting my ADD get the better of me.

“I think he left about an hour ago,” Jax said still looking uncomfortable.

I let go of the scrumptious man and jogged over to Ed’s office. As a bigger girl, jogging wasn’t something I did. But extraordinary times required extraordinary measures, right?

Approaching his closed door, I looked through the adjacent glass wall. The lights were off. He really wasn’t there. Jax had been right. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him. It was that my motto had always been, trust but verify. That was something Ed had taught me.

As my editor, Ed had taught me a lot. From the time I got to the newspaper, he took me under his wing. There were a lot of things I didn’t know when I got there as a 22-year-old. Hell, what did a girl fresh out of college know about anything? And, it was he who taught it to me.

When I turned in my first stories, it was he who sat me down and used his famous purple pen to show me all of the things I had done wrong. FYI, I had done everything wrong. And it was Ed who called me into his office and talked to me after I had gotten my heart broken the first… second… and third time.

It took me a long time to learn any lesson. Ed was the one who took the time to teach them to me. It was not that I was stupid. Far from it. It was that I’m stubborn. I’m hella stubborn and proud of it.

Ed never gave up on me, though. He kept pushing and prodding for me to write better and be a better everything. So now that I was on my way to having the story of the century, he was the one I wanted to tell. I was literally shaking with excitement to tell him. What was I supposed to do with all of my energy with Ed not there?

“Jax!” I yelled across the empty office. “We need to go out to celebrate.”

Although he heard me, Jax didn’t say anything until I was again standing in front of him.

“I have to finish the Knicks game,” he said pointing to the basketball game playing on his phone.

“Here, let me sum up the story for you. The Knicks hung in for three quarters until the star of the other team hit a shot and led their team on a run. The Knicks were blown out in the fourth. There, I just saved you 2 hours of your life.”

“Dani, every Knicks fan can tell you that. My readers rely on me to tell them exactly how much they lost by and why they should maintain a glimmer of hope in the face of such obvious hopelessness. Dani, it’s my job.”

Jax looked at me with complete sincerity, but this was his dry sense of humor. He was actually pretty funny. Most people didn’t see it because, you know, he never smiled, he was built like a linebacker, and he barely ever spoke. But he spoke to me. That’s how I knew he was into me. Or, at least, that’s what I told myself to keep our unspoken romance going.

“How long is left for the game?”

“There’s two minutes left on the clock.”

“So, counting for fouls…” I thought. “Thirty minutes?”

“Pretty much,” he said with as close to a smile as he was going to get.

“Okay, so here’s the deal. You’re going to finish the game, plug in the number of points they lost by, and then meet me at ‘Flannery’s’. You got it?”

“I got it.”

Since we had never hung out on our own before and he replied a little too quickly, I double-checked. “You’re not going to leave me at the bar celebrating alone, are you?”

“I’ll meet you there,” he agreed.

“Because if I get drunk and go home with some rando who kills me, you’re gonna feel bad about it,” I told him not completely believing him.

“I’ll meet you there. I promise.”

“Okay. Good. Then I’m going to go get my drink on,” I said with a smile and a wink.

Yeah, I winked at Jax. So what? I was feeling good. After tonight I was sure there was going to be a Pulitzer Prize in my future. If not, there was certainly a Peabody award.

Ed had more than one. He had a whole shelf of them. And he had two before he was thirty. I was behind. But with the information I got from Jax’s contact tonight, I was sure to catch up.

Entering the bathroom before leaving the building, I did what I had to do and then stared in the mirror while washing my hands. Things had been bad for me for a long time. But, I had to admit that things were getting better. Anyone who knew me would tell you that I wasn’t known for making good decisions. My mother, who wasn’t any better than I was, would constantly tell me that I was too impulsive. I hated hearing that as a kid.

Ed had it right. I was just passionate. It took me a long time to see that. And once I did, I was able to focus that passion like a laser. That didn’t stop the feeling I got when I was so excited that I was shaking and needed to vent it like Supergirl venting the power of the sun. But, that was why Jax was meeting me, wasn’t it? He never said much, but he could say volumes with his eyes.

Heading to the bar, I thought about the first time I met Jax. It was a year ago and Ed had introduced him as the new sports reporter. Apparently, he had played professional football for a few years and had had his career cut short by an injury. As far as I could tell, he was still upset about it. And after a little bit of digging I also learned that he had had a string of short term relationships, he lived in a brownstone in Brooklyn, and he had had two bulldogs, both of which were named dog.

I could also tell you what he fed them, how often he walked them, and the type of women he checked out at the dog park when he took them there. So, when I say that his dogs’ names were ‘dog’, you can trust me on that.

And, before you get any ideas about me, let me tell you that I’m an investigative reporter. It’s my job to find out the details. If I hadn’t found my way to reporting, would I have become a stalker with a string of restraining orders? Maybe.

All I can say to that is, thank you, Ed! The man taught me how to use my powers for good instead of evil. I seriously don’t know who I would have become without him, I mean other than the person who did the best background checks before dates. And in this particular case, my detailed background check told me that I was definitely Jax’s type and that he hadn’t dated anyone in months.

That was kind of hard to believe considering what he looked like. Jax was the type of guy who any woman would sacrifice their best friend to a volcano for. He was just sexy. He had a few tattoos but not too many. And no matter how much I dug, he continued to have a hint of mystery to him. He was like the birthday gift you had to tear into.

There had been so many nights I had laid awake thinking about him that, if my clit ever gets rubbed out of existence, he’s going to be to blame.  And now he was supposed to be joining me for a celebratory drink? Hell yes! Bring it on!

Entering the familiar bar, I looked around. There weren’t many regulars there. It had to be because of the time. Right after work, the place would be packed. But, most of those people had gone home to their families by now. The only ones left were the sad barflies and the businessmen staying at the nearby hotels.

That wasn’t all bad. The rotating selection of businessmen added variety. And, don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about sleeping with them. They were good to talk too. I had gotten more than one news story out of a late-night encounter at this bar. Come to think about it, I had had some pretty good sex, too.

Hey, I said I didn’t sleep with them. I can assure you that there was never any sleeping. 

That was a younger me who did stuff like that, though. I have matured since then. The only time I saw this place anymore was right after work when I joined my fellow reporters for a drink. And when the lame-asses all left to be with their families, I left too.

Did it matter that I had nothing waiting for me at home other than a well-used Netflix subscription? No. But, I was a respectable reporter now. Ed taught me that… and it sucked!

“Two fingers of Dewar’s,” I told the bartender ordering a whiskey.

“You got it,” the unfamiliar man replied.

I didn’t know this bartender. How long had it been since I had been here? Or did he just work the night shift? Either way, he had a way about him that got me going. Looking around the room, I noticed that a number of the guys did. Man, did I miss the old me. There was a time when I would have rounded them up and had them all.

Okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. But I promise you that a fun night would have been had. The truth is that I have never been with two guys at once. How hot would that be? Damn, I can only imagine it. That wasn’t something that a respectable reporter did, though. Again, thanks, Ed.

After thirty minutes came and went and my two fingers of whiskey turned into four, I was beginning to see how the night would go. Things had seemed too easy with Jax. What was I expecting, that I would invite him for drinks, he would accept, and the night would end in sex?

Of course, that wasn’t the way it would go with Jax. Things were never easy with him. He wasn’t easy to talk to or get to know. A month ago I sent him a text asking how he was doing and I’m still waiting for a reply. That man was a locked box and it was incredibly frustrating.

Well, if he thought he was going to ruin my night, he had another thing coming. I mentioned how fuckable the guys in the bar were tonight. So, why would I go home by myself when I still needed to celebrate?

The question was, who would be the lucky boy whose night I was going to make? Scanning the room, I saw a lot of great prospects. At least I thought I did. Four fingers of whiskey was a lot. On one hand, it had shed me of the crazy things Ed put in my head about what was respectable. On the other… what was I saying?

“Is that scotch?” Someone behind me said.

I turned to look. Him, I saw. And, goddamn!

Here’s the scary part. There was now a chance that since entering the bar I had died because I was definitely looking at an angel. A sinfully hot, panty-dropping angel.

“Bartender, give me what she’s having,” he said in the sexiest British accent ever.

As I ogled the gift from the gods, he sat on the stool next to me and faced me. It was like he was waiting for me to speak. I was at a loss for words. It was very unlike me. His beauty had struck me mute. What was happening to me?

The gorgeous man leaned in.

“I’ve never been here before. But, do you know what I like about this place?”

I still couldn’t speak. He pointed over my shoulder and I turned to look.

“That sign says “Established in 1896.” And it’s written in neon. You can’t get more authentic than that.”

“Is that supposed to be British humor?” I said suddenly finding my voice… as a bit of a bitch.

“Ouch! If you have to ask, I guess not,” he said with a chuckle.

“No, it was funny. This is my British laugh,” I said expressionless.

“Oh, so you’ve been to London?”

I laughed. “Okay, that got me,” I told him still smiling. “Is that where you’re from?”

“Among elsewhere.”

“What are you doing in New York?”

“Tonight? I think I was looking for you,” he said staring me in the eyes.

Ugh! The only thing worse than that line was how much it worked on me, because I was definitely looking for him tonight. I touched his forearm as it rested on the bar. I could feel the muscles ripple under his very expensive looking dress shirt.

“Yeah? And why were you looking for me?”

“Use your imagination,” he told me getting more serious.

He didn’t have to tell me to. My girl bits were already tingling. The man had to be the best looking guy I had ever seen and he was the one who had approached me. I liked everything about him.

“I don’t know, I have a pretty big imagination,” I told him flirtatiously.

“It’s good that you like things big,” he said making me swallow.

“I could imagine us getting out of here,” I mentioned.

“I have a place nearby.”

“Let’s go,” I said liking everything about what was going on.

He dropped a hundred dollar bill on the bar and two of us practically ran out. I stopped in front of the place expecting to catch a cab.

“No, it’s really close,” he said reaching out his hand.

I took the stranger’s hand and followed him into the night. I had to admit that I wasn’t steady on my feet. I was hiding it well. There was no way he could tell. The problem was that I could. And, every step I took, the shakier things got.

Where the hell were we going, anyway? And how long had we been walking? 20 minutes? An hour?

“Screw this,” I said when an alleyway appeared.

I pushed him in and he didn’t resist. He was into it. Immediately he pushed me against a wall and engulfed the side of my face with his hand. I didn’t realize his hand was so big. He was also a lot taller than me. What was he, 6’ 3”? The man was huge. And when he owned me by kissing my lips, I gave in to whatever he wanted to do next.

Opening my mouth, he slipped in his tongue. Our two tongues twirled around each other and it felt so good. When his large hand massaged my breast, I felt even better. I needed him in me more than I needed air. I didn’t care where we were. I knew anyone could walk by and see us, but that added to the thrill.

Moving my hands from his back I slowly took hold of his ass. It was so firm. The man wasn’t an angel. He was a Greek god. You could bounce a coin off his butt. I loved squeezing it and as tight as it was, it felt like grabbing two ham hocks.

Losing myself in the sensations, I pulled his ass cheeks apart. It pressed his cock onto my belly. I know because the man hadn’t oversold it. Not only was he hard, but he was big. Feeling him made me need him more.

I don’t remember when my hands left his ass, but they did. I know because I felt them fumbling with the button of his pants. I couldn’t get them unbuttoned fast enough. Slipping my hand past the zipper, I took hold of his manhood. It was like grabbing a cucumber, the thickest kind. I could have held him in my hands forever if my loins didn’t burn for him to fill me.

I was about to drop to my knees to consume him when he grabbed my arm and spun me around. He was manhandling me and I loved it. Clutching my hands and putting my palms against the wall he bent me over. Reaching around, he unbuttoned my pants and slid them down past my hips.

I felt so vulnerable, so exposed. I didn’t know what to do. Luckily, I didn’t have to do anything. He had latched his large hand onto the bend of my hip and was searching for my hole with his cock. Yeah, he was big. I felt it when he glided his head over my clit. It was like there was an arm between my legs. And when he found my opening and pushed, all I could do was moan.

With my legs spread apart, his cock entered me with a pop. I wasn’t prepared for it. My pussy clenched on him like an invader. Maybe it was that I couldn’t relax. That changed when the stranger’s free hand reached up and pulled my hair. It wasn’t what you would call relaxing, but it was as hot as fuck. He controlled me in every way possible and all I could do was give in to his will.

With me loosing up, he fucked me hard. I was putty in his hands. His grip on me was holding me up. Without him, I would have crumbled onto the ground. I still almost did that when my legs turned to jelly. He was too big and he fucked too well. It took everything I had to remain on my feet. And when I screamed like an alley cat in heat, he quickly followed with a lion’s roar.

God, had that felt good. I’m underselling it. It was fucking amazing. Everything around me was spinning and I was sure it wasn’t the alcohol. I could tell because I started to giggle. I always giggled after a great orgasm. I couldn’t help it. I just felt so happy. But that didn’t make me forget that I was in an alley with some stranger’s cock in me.

What the hell had I done? It wasn’t like I regretted it, because, as noted, it was fucking fantastic. But this had not been my finest hour. I had needed this, but I didn’t need anymore. I had to get out of there.

Still feeling his wonderfully hard cock deep inside me, I stood up slowly pulling it out. He stood up with me preventing its rapid retreat. Maybe he didn’t want the moment to end. Whatever the reason, it delayed the massive snap that happened once he exited me. You could practically hear my pussy say, “And stay out.” I don’t know why she was so ungrateful. We both knew we had been starved for this. Though, I guess, his size was something neither of us had expected.

With his palms now pressing the wall on either side of me, I reached down and pulled up my pants. Spinning to face him as I buttoned up, I looked at him again. I hadn’t been wrong. He was definitely one of the most beautiful men I had ever seen. I still couldn’t believe that someone like him had wanted to be with someone like me.

The thought of it made me lean forward and kiss his lips. As I did, I reached down and took hold of his cock again. He was still pretty hard. Everything about him really was amazing and perfect. I wasn’t going to forget him, but I was certainly going to get away.

Ducking under his arm I left him and realized that he had smelt like almonds. Was it a soap or a musk? I didn’t know, but it was wonderful. That was how I was going to remember him. He would be the one who smelt like almonds.

I did have to go, though. And to his credit, he didn’t stop me. He just watched me leave. He didn’t even pull up his pants.

Leaving the alley, I looked around for the first taxi and flagged it down. Getting in I looked back. He still hadn’t emerged. What was he doing in there? Maybe he actually lived there. Who knows? But I was sure I was going to make up a hell of a lot of stories about him as I rubbed off to him in the future.

“Where to?” The taxi driver asked.

I gave him my address and laid back into the seat. I didn’t live close so usually I would take the train. But tonight had been a great night after all and why not treat myself to one other thing before the night was done. Besides, I was still pretty drunk and who wanted to figure out where I was and how to get to the nearest train station. That would be a real buzzkill.

Getting home, I got out and charged the ride to my card. I didn’t even bother to ask how much it was. That was tomorrow Dani’s problem. I was tonight Dani and I would continue to be for a while.

Climbing the three flights of stairs to my two-room apartment, I fell into bed with my clothes still on. I hated sleeping clothed but I couldn’t move. All I had the energy for was to grip onto my pussy and remember what had happened. The warmth of my hand soothed me. The stranger had been so incredibly big. He wasn’t a guy I would soon forget.

 

The euphoria of the night before had completely worn off by the time I woke up the next morning. Rolling over, my first thought was that I had the flu. My body was uncomfortable and my head hurt. It took a little while before realizing I had a hangover. It took even longer to remember what I had done and with whom.

I did not feel great. There was nothing about what had happened that made me feel good. I regretted every second of it. And I swore to the god above that if she would just let me survive this one, I would never drink again.

Looking at the clock, I realized that I didn’t have time to think too much about it, I had to get to work. That reminded me whose fault my hangover was. It was Jax’s. That bastard told me he would meet me and then had stood me up. What type of bullshit was that?

If he had come as he had said, I probably wouldn’t have drunk so much. And I certainly wouldn’t have hooked up with some stranger.

Oh, wait, the stranger. I remember him now. Or, did I? The person I remembered was this olive-complexioned Adonis who smelt like almonds. That couldn’t be right, could it? Humans weren’t made that beautiful. I wonder what he actually looked like.

When I climbed out of bed, was when I remembered his cock. I had remembered it because I was still feeling it. He had left an impression in my memory foam. I was sore. Had he used his cock or had he used his fist? Jesus! What was I thinking riding that lightning?

I did remember that, at the time, it felt fucking fantastic. So, maybe I didn’t regret everything about the night before. But that didn’t change the fact that Jax was a royal class asshole for standing me up. What a dick. I don’t even know what I ever saw in him.

Still grumpy from my incredible hangover, I pulled myself together, showered, changed, and then headed into work. The sunglasses I wore helped as I walked to the train, but not enough.

“Wait, did I pay for the cab from the city?” I said when the memory hit me. “Shit!”

Despite what many believe, newspaper reporters didn’t get paid that much. That cost was going to have to sit on my credit card for months. It was times like this when I fantasized about moving to Bumfuck, Idaho and starting a farm. I could be a farmer, right? For what I paid for rent in New York, I could buy a house in Idaho. It would be a big one, too. Hell, for $3000 a month, I could probably afford a mansion.

Dragging myself into the office, I intended to put my head on my desk and lay there for as long as it took to feel human again. That was my plan until, Susan, the news department’s intern cut me off. Fuckin’ Susan!

“What?” I asked gruffly.

The poor thing shook in her boots. I knew that I intimidated her, but what was I supposed to do about it. Being a reporter was a tough life. She was going to have to woman-up or find a new line of work.

“Ed said to send you to his office as soon as you arrived.”

Oh fuck, Ed! That’s right. I had wanted to tell him about my story. Oh right, the story. It was my Pulitzer Prize waiting to happen.

I had forgotten about that. I had forgotten about all of that. Remembering it, it gave me a reason to continue on. Ed was going to love my story. Sure, I was a bit of a disappointment sometimes… like last night, but I was sure to make him proud with this one.

Finding energy I hadn’t had, I left the trembling 20-year-old with a smile on my face. I couldn’t wait to see the smile on his face when I told him what I had found. He was going to say to me that I was the best reporter ever and that no one in the newsroom was half the reporter I was. I didn’t much care for the opinion of others, but I lived and died by the things he said to me. At times what he said hurt, but I knew today he would be all smiles.

“Ed, have I got a story for you!” I said bursting into his office.

What I saw as I entered, caught me off guard. The strong, spirited, grey-haired man that usually ran the newsroom with an iron fist, was sitting with his back to the door. His curved back made him look older and frail. I knew that Ed was in his 70’s but he had never looked it before. What was going on now? When he turned and I saw tears in my mentor’s sad eyes, and I froze dumbfounded.

“Close the door, please,” he said more slowly than I had ever heard him speak.

I closed the door unable to say a word.

“Have a seat,” he told me gesturing to the chair across from his desk.

I didn’t want to speak. I was scared to. But I had to know.

“Ed, what’s going on?”

When Ed’s eyes met mine, it was the saddest thing I had ever seen. I wanted to cry just looking at him. Staring, I couldn’t breathe.

“Dani, you know I’ve never sugarcoated anything with you before. I’m not going to do it now. I found out some news this morning, and it isn’t good.”

Oh no.

“Dani, I’m dying.”

‘Oh shit!’ I thought, stunned.

“How?” I asked as the tears rolled down my cheeks.

“I’ve been having headaches. The wife finally convinced me to see a doctor. But it was too late. It’s a tumor.”

“Can’t they remove it or something,” I asked quietly already knowing the answer.

“No. It’s too big, too far along, in the wrong spot. Choose your reason,” he said painfully.

“Ed… I’m so sorry!”

“Yeah,” he said turning away. “But that isn’t the reason I called you in here. I did it because, with me gone, they’re going to need someone new to fill this seat.”

“Why are you thinking about that? That’s the last thing you need to be thinking about now,” I told him barely keeping myself together.

“No. I have to think about it. Dani, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. One of them was that I spent too much time here. I cared about this paper more than I cared about my kids.”

“No, Ed. You know that’s not true. You love your kids.”

“Dani, you don’t know what I love, so don’t presume to tell me. I’m telling you that during the times in my life when I had to choose between spending time with my family and being here, this was where I chose to be. I see the error of my ways now, but especially now, I have to face the truth.”

“Okay,” I conceded willing to say anything to make him feel better.

“I viewed this place as my world. More than my own kids, I viewed this newspaper as my legacy.”

“It’s a great legacy, Ed.”

Ed looked at me skeptically.

“I’m glad you think so because I want you to take over my seat when I’m gone.”

“You want me to have your office.”

“No, Dani, I don’t want you to just have my office. Don’t be daft. I want you to be Editor in Chief of the paper. And I will be recommending you for the job.”

“Me? Why me?” I asked stunned. “I’m not ready for something like that.”

“Dani, you’re the best fuckin’ reporter in this place. Don’t let a god damn person tell you otherwise. And, you ought to be, because I taught you everything you know. You’re my legacy as much as this place is.

“Because of that, I want you to watch over my legacy and treat it right. Would you do that for me?”

I stared at Ed barely knowing what to say. My head felt like it was in a washing machine. Nothing felt real. I was praying that I hadn’t woken up, but I knew I could never dream up something so horrid.

“Of course, Ed. I’d look after it with my life.”

The old man in front of me smiled. It was the first flash of the man I knew.

“There’s only one problem,” he continued. “With his sights on my inevitable retirement, the owner of the paper has been pushing for someone else to take my position.”

“Who’s that?”

“The owner of this company wants Jax Watt.”

I stared at Ed not sure I had heard that right. “Jax Watt, the sports reporter?”

“Yeah. Do you believe, god damn, that?”

I leaned back and thought about it. “No. He’s only been with the paper for a year. And, he works in sports.”

“It’s worse than that. This was his first job as a reporter. He had never put together copy before I taught him how.”

I shook my head hoping that jostling my brain would make everything make sense.

“I don’t understand. Why would the owner want him? Doesn’t he see how that’s an obvious mistake?”

“I don’t know. My guess is that that privileged son-of-a-bitch doesn’t appreciate the news like his father did. Let me tell you, Nadin Ray, he was a newspaperman. He cared about the news. He understood the role we play in making democracies work.

“I don’t know.  Maybe this new guy has it right. Maybe I’m just a fossil of a bygone era. Sports makes all of the money for this paper, maybe this place should be run by a sportsman. Maybe I should just die and get it over with.”

“No, Ed! Don’t say that. You’re right, this is your legacy. You build something amazing here. The things you sacrifice weren’t in vain. You helped shape the world. And, when the time comes for someone to take over this place, if you want it to be me, then it will be.”

Ed smiled bringing warmth to my heart.

“That’s what I wanted to hear. There’s an event tonight. The owner’s going to be there. I want you to be too. You’ll be my plus one. I want you to show him why it is that you’re the one to take over this place when I’m gone. I want you to make me proud.”

That was all that I heard Ed say because it was then that his words sunk in. Ed was telling me that he was dying. He was telling me that I needed to take over for him at the paper or else his entire life would be meaningless. That was a lot. At the moment it was more than I could handle.

It was probably around then that I left his office and sat at my desk. I’m not sure how long I was there because when I looked around again, I was on the train headed home. I knew it wasn’t the end of the day because it was still light out. But I was headed home none the less. I remembered someone telling me that I had to get my head in the game.

Was it Ed? Or, was it Jax? Why would Jax say something like that to me? I wasn’t sure. So, it had to be Ed, didn’t it?

No matter who it was, I now knew why I was headed home. The event Ed spoke of was tonight. I needed to make him proud. I had to impress the owner of the company so that he could allow me to take over for Ed.

How was I going to do that? I didn’t know, but I at least knew that it began with planning what I was going to wear. I had to dress to impress, whatever that meant. And it was never more important than now that I figure it out.

As I sat on the train, I remembered that the event was a black-tie affair at a museum. When did Ed tell me that? I didn’t remember. But that meant that dressing to impress had to do with finding a cocktail dress. Where was I supposed to find a cocktail dress?

When my stop approached, I grabbed my bag and got off. Still in a daze, I walked back to my building and plodded up the three flights of stairs to my apartment. Out of breath at the top, I realized that I was still a little hungover. I had chosen the worst possible night to drink too much. And with the added pressure of Ed’s news and request, my head felt like it was going to explode.

Entering my place, I looked at the clock. I had three hours to shower, shave, do my hair, put on makeup, and try on every outfit I had and then go with the first one I tried on. That was my ritual when I did venture out. But, I wasn’t sure it would work this time. I knew my closet. I didn’t have anything that could pass for a cocktail dress.

I wasn’t exactly a black-tie event sort of girl. I was the type to get drunk on whiskey at a dive bar and then hook up with a stranger in an alley. Yeah, last night was me doing what I did best.

Going through all of the steps, I got to where I had to put on my first outfit. I knew this was crucial. Whatever I chose, I was probably going to return to 15 minutes before I had to leave. But the problem was that I really didn’t have anything near fancy enough for a gala at a museum.

Tonight was going to be a disaster. The man who was more of a father to me than my own father was counting on me to give his life purpose and I was going to blow it because I didn’t have anything to wear.

As the pressure built to a breathless amount, was when the flood gates opened and I began to cry. Ed was dying. The man who meant everything to me was dying. I couldn’t deal with this. I couldn’t deal with anything.

Somehow I was supposed to get dressed and smile and impress and I couldn’t even choose a dress. Hell, I couldn’t even stop crying. My world was closing in around me. This was too much. Everything was too much!

I probably would have slipped into a stupor that I wouldn’t soon get out of if at that moment my door buzzer hadn’t rung. I almost didn’t answer it. The only people who ever buzzed me were delivery people and people asking for someone who wasn’t me.

I didn’t know which of them I was expecting the buzzer to be, but something in me told me to get up and find out. So, dragging my sobbing ass out of bed, I made it to the intercom.

“Yes?” I said through snorts and sniffles.

“Delivery for Dani Spelling,” the non-threatening voice said.

I tried to remember what I had ordered from Amazon. Nothing came to mind. Still, I didn’t put it past me to order something when I was drunk. So, I buzzed the delivery person in and did my best to pull myself together.

It took a few minutes to get a knock on my door and when I did, I opened it. It was the delivery person. I didn’t recognize the uniform they were wearing and they were holding a package. I couldn’t imagine what could fit in such an oddly shaped box.

“Sign here, please.”

I signed wherever he told me and he handed me what he had. Apparently, it was two boxes, but still, nothing was ringing a bell. Closing the door behind me, I put the boxes on the counter between my kitchenette and the all-purpose room.

I decided to open the long box first. It was a thick box and probably from somewhere really expensive. There was no way I was going to be able to afford whatever this was. And after paying for the taxi home last night, I definitely wasn’t going to be able to afford to eat this week.

Placing the lid aside and digging through the elegantly folded paper, I saw something that I would never have expected. In the box below me was a black cocktail dress. When did I order that? I was sure I hadn’t. The only time could have been before I passed out the night before. And, last night there was no way of knowing I would need a cocktail dress… much less matching high heel shoes, which is what I found in the second box.

I held up the dress. It was beautiful. It even looked like my size. How? It had to be Ed, right? He was the only one who knew I would be going to this thing tonight. Only, I would never have guessed that Ed had such a great sense for fashion.

Ed was a lot of wonderful things, but a fashionista wasn’t one of them. The man probably wore the same shirt and pants to work for two years straight. He was seventy-something and had the number for every New York power player on his phone. Who cared how he dressed?

So, how was he able to pick something like this out for me? With everything going on in his life right now, how could he even give a thought to me and what I would be wearing tonight? It touched me more than I could express that he would take care of me like this.

I began crying again as I held the dress in front of me in the mirror. But, now I knew that I really couldn’t let him down. I had to pull my ass together and be the best version of myself that I could be. Ed was counting on me and I was willing to do anything I had to do not to let him down.

Putting on the dress, I felt more glamorous than I had ever in my life. I could barely recognize the woman looking back at me in the mirror. She was pretty hot. Where had she been my entire life? And when I put my high heels on completing the outfit, I had to admit, I felt like a princess.

I know that clothes don’t matter and the only thing that matters is the story you can deliver to your editor, but staring at my reflection, I was filled with a confidence I never before felt. I was ready for my meeting with the rich douche bag who was trying to ruin Ed’s legacy. I hope he was prepared because he definitely didn’t know what was coming.

Taking off the heels and putting on a comfortable pair of sneakers, I stuffed the high heels in a backpack and headed out. I didn’t risk sitting on the train and getting gum stuck to my ass. Nothing could go wrong tonight. Tonight was too important. More than anything, I had to be on my best behavior. No whiskey, no inappropriate flirting, and no bad decisions. In other words, this was not the night to be myself.

Getting off the train at 86th street, I walked three blocks to 5th avenue and four blocks to the museum’s entrance. When I got there, I was overwhelmed by what I saw. I didn’t write for the entertainment and leisure department so I wasn’t used to glamour. But that was what I found.

There were limousines lined up for blocks in front of the gallery and at the entrance was a long red carpet covering the stairs. It was hard to see too much beyond that because the camera flashes were too bright. Whatever was going on was a big deal and somehow I had to pretend like I belonged.

My grip on my backpack tightened as I thought about it and my heart raced as I looked around. As I approached the entrance someone in a tuxedo grabbed my attention.

“Can I help you?” The thick, elegantly dressed bouncer asked.

“Yes, I’m supposed to be meeting someone here? Do you know where I’m supposed to go?”

The man looked like he didn’t believe me. Feeling my balls return, I was about to tear him a new one when I remembered that I was still wearing my sneakers and carrying a backpack.

“I’m with the press,” I told him assuming that I was.

The man’s disbelief faded and he barely redirected me to a side entrance before he lost interest and looked away.

“Thank you,” I told him before heading over.

Although still out of my league, what I found beyond the non-celebrity entrance was closer to my speed. Yeah, everyone was dressed up, but here it felt like every other event with a sign-in desk.

“Name please?”

“Dani Spelling,” I told the older woman whose boobs were falling out of her dress.

“I don’t see it,” she informed me.

“I’m the plus one of Ed Granger,” I said wondering if I was even on the list.

As I came up with a few alternative plans, the woman said,

“Ah yes. Ed Granger. You can head that way.”

“Thank you.”

“Umm…” she said as I was about to walk away.

“What?” I asked her not liking her uppity tone.

Her eyes followed the lines of my body to the floor.

“Oh right. My shoes,” I said having again forgotten. “I have them right here,” I said showing her my backpack. “By the way, where can I check this?”

“You can check it at the coat check,” she told me as if it were obvious.

Well, I certainly didn’t like her. I tried not to let her get to me, though, because tonight wasn’t about her. I was here to give Ed’s life meaning. Jesus, just thinking about it made me want to collapse under its weight.  

Heading over to nearby stairs, I sat down and switched out my shoes. As I did, I scanned the room. There were a lot of people circling but this wasn’t where the action was. If Ed was here, he had to be in the main hall. That had to be the room most people were heading in and out of. And the coat check had to be the line with twenty people standing in it.

“Fuck that,” I mumbled before tossing the backpack over my shoulder and heading in.

The inside was impressive. I wasn’t much for these ego-stroking events, but it was at a world-class museum. That couldn’t be lost on even me. The walls were lined with glimmering white drapes with gold trim and they were interspersed with the most famous art in the world. The place was breathtaking. I was way out of my league at this thing. But, I had to remember that tonight was for Ed. That meant blocking everything else out and doing my job.

“Hey Dani, you look beautiful,” a familiar voice said from behind me.

I turned and spotted someone I never expected to see at this thing.

“Jax, what are you doing here?” I asked momentarily disorientated.

“What do you mean, “what am I doing here?””

Did I stutter? I didn’t think so. So I gave him a look refusing to repeat myself. He gave me another confused look and I was over it.

Yeah, he was the guy who stood me up the night before and now he was the guy who was going to be handed the job that I had to get. I didn’t have time for his bullshit no matter how incredibly he filled out his tux. Jesus Christ! The man was walking sex.

“Have you seen Ed?” I asked him peeling away my attention.

“Yeah, he’s over there,” Jax said pointing across the room.

Looking through the hoard of beautiful people, I saw the one guy who didn’t look like he was trying to fit in. Yep, it was Ed. I was about to head over when Jax stopped me.

“Are you carrying your backpack?”

I looked back at Jax already having forgotten that I was carrying it.

“You’re right,” I told him before taking it off and handing it to him. “Can you do something with that? I think there was a coat check or something in the lobby.”

Jax looked at me exasperated. I didn’t back down. The way I saw it, he owed me one. He had stood me up and I ended up fucking some rando in an alley because of it. He could spend twenty minutes in a coat check line to make up for it.

“Um, sure,” he said annoyed.

‘Yeah, get over it, Jax. You’ll live,’ I considered telling him. I didn’t, though. Because, of course, tonight wasn’t about me. It was about Ed. I was going to do whatever I had to to make him proud.

Crossing the room, I approached the grey-haired man from behind.

“Ed?” I asked turning him around.

“Dani, you’re here,” he said casually.

Looking into his tired eyes, I was reminded of the secret he hid from the world. It made my heart hurt. I had to hold it together. I had to make him proud.

“I made it,” I confirmed with a smile. “Thanks, in part to this beautiful dress.”

I held out my arms so he could get a look at his generous gift.

He looked at me confused and then scanned me.

“Yes,” he replied flatly. “It’s very nice. There’s someone here I want you to meet.”

As well as I had been holding things together, I felt things start to slip. This was it. Everything had to go right from this moment on. I couldn’t fuck this up or do something stupid. Too much was riding on it.

“Dani, I want you to meet Heet Ray, the owner of the paper,” Ed said.

The man in front of him turned around and all of the blood rushed from my face.

“It’s actually pronounced “hit” Ray,” the man corrected.

“Oh, sorry about that,” Ed said embarrassed.

“That’s okay,” the man said graciously.

“I need to work on that. I keep forgetting. Again, Dani, this is Heet Ray. He owns our paper.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” the man said turning to me and offering his hand.

I knew that that was the signal for me to do something. I couldn’t. I couldn’t even breathe. Staring at him, he had to be the most gorgeous man I had ever seen.

Yeah, I know I said that before. That’s because the man standing in front of me, was the same man from the bar. Heet Ray was the rando with the British accent who I had fucked in an alley. And now he was the one who held the keys to Ed’s legacy and my future.

What was I going to do now?

 

 

Chapter 2

Dani

 

“Dani?” Ed said prompting me to speak.

“Yes. Nice to meet you,” I said snapping out of it.

“Dani, here, is the best reporter I have. And, not to put too fine a point on it, she would make one hell of an editor for your paper,” Ed continued.

“Would she?” Heet asked with a smile.

“She absolutely would,” Ed confirmed.

“So, you’re a reporter?” Heet asked me acting like he didn’t recognize me.

“Yes, I am. And I’m hella good,” I said confidently.

“Does that mean you knew everything about me as soon as I walked into the room?”

I paused unsure what room he was talking about. Was he talking about this room or the bar from last night?

“I’m a reporter, not a psychic,” I said not willing to volunteer more than I had too.

Heet chuckled. “Fair enough.”

“Well, I’ll give you two time to talk,” Ed told us. “And, Heet, I promise you, if you took a chance on this one, you wouldn’t regret it,” Ed said with a smile.

“We’ll see,” Heet said reminding me of a tanned James Bond.

Both Heet and I watched Ed walk away. When he was gone, I stared at Heet looking into his soul.

“Okay, cut the bullshit. You recognize me,” I told him not sure if he had.

He smiled realizing he had been caught. “So, we’re not going to dance around the topic playing will-she or won’t-she?”

“After last night, I thought you would have realized that I get to the point.”

“Which, I guess, is why Ed thinks you would make a good Editor in Chief.”

“That’s one of the reasons. The other reason is that I’m amazing at what I do.”

“And what’s that?”

“Cutaway the fat and get to what people want to know.”

“I see. And, you think that people don’t like the fat?”

“The news is about reporting the facts. You own a newspaper not a magazine. I’d think it would be important that your Editor in Chief know the difference. That’s why you wouldn’t want someone from sports to have the job.”

“Wow! You really are direct.”

“I try to be,” I said confidently.

“Then, let me be direct with you. I won’t be giving you the position.”

“What?” I asked stunned.

“You were direct with me. I wanted to be direct with you. I have someone else in mind for it and there is very little chance of me changing my mind.”

Heet’s words hit me like a punch in the gut. It took my breath away. I felt like I was falling in a void. This couldn’t be happening.

“However, there is a possibility that we could come to some type of arrangement.”

“An arrangement? What type of arrangement?”

“One where we both get something we want. Dani, name me something you want,” Heet said smugly.

“I only want one thing. Make me the Editor in Chief of your paper. I’m qualified and I’m good.”

“Qualified? Maybe. But the position at my paper has been filled. But, I have a lot of contacts. With a good word from me, I might be able to make you an Editor in Chief at another paper. At your age, that would be a hell of an accomplishment.”

“First of all, my age has nothing to do with it. I’m ready now. Second of all, I’m not interested in the job anywhere else. I want to be the editor of your paper. That’s it.”

“There’s got to be something else you might want,” he said slowly losing his smile.

“Nope.”

“If it’s more money you’re after, I might be able to arrange that.”

“I don’t care about money,” I told him.

“If you’re just looking to work at one of my companies, I have a lot of papers around the world. You could have your pick.”

“I’m only interested in one thing.”

After I said that, something hit me. There was a story here that I was missing.

“Wait. You were suggesting an arrangement. What would you want me to do? You want me to investigate someone or something?”

“No! Why would I want that?” He asked not liking the suggestion. It was a response I would have to remember.

“Why do people want anything?” I asked.

“No. What I’m looking for is a lot more pedestrian.”

“Which is…” I prompted.

“I was hoping that you would accompany me to my class reunion,” he said with a smile.

I stared at him trying to figure out if he was serious. He was.

“Yeah, that’s not creepy at all,” I told him feeling a little weirded out.

Heet laughed. “Why would a guy wanting to spend time with you be creepy?”

I thought about that. Why would it be? I’ve never been great at relationships and I don’t have a ton of experience with them. So, I didn’t know. Was this the way people asked people out nowadays? Did you fuck someone in an alley and then invite them to your class reunion?

“Why me?”

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“I mean, look at you. I’m sure you don’t have to bribe someone to get them to go on a date with you.”

“First of all, I wasn’t bribing you. Let’s get that straight. Second, it wouldn’t just be a night. It would be a week-long trip. And it would be in Stanford, California. So, it’s a bit of an investment.”

That confused me. And, I had to admit, that got my attention.

“Why me?”

“You’re fun. Smart. Beautiful. If I have to go with someone, why not you?”

“Yeah, I don’t buy that,” I told him smelling a rat.

“You don’t believe that I think you’re beautiful? Why do you think I slept with you?”

Heet looked around and then leaned in.

“We did it in an alley. Do you think that’s something a guy like me usually does?”

“I don’t know. Is it?”

Heet looked at me impressed. “Wow, you are tough.”

“I try not to be swayed by pretty words. I know how easy they are to make up.”

“Fair enough. But, that is my proposal. You be my date for my class reunion and I repay you with something you need.”

“I need to be Editor in Chief at the paper.”

“Anything but that. You can literally ask for anything but that. I’m sure you can think of something.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t,” I told him before turning around and walking away.

As I left I expected him to chase me and then cave in to my demands. Wait, ‘expect’ is a strong word. ‘Hoped’ might be more accurate. But, he didn’t. And since convincing him was the only reason I was there, what was the point of sticking around?

I was glad not to run into Ed on the way out. How could I face him after failing so miserably? I could never face him again. He was dying and he had needed me to do this for him. How could I have let him down? I didn’t want to think about it. All I wanted was to get out of there.

Exiting the main hall, I scanned the lobby for Jax. The man had my backpack and sneakers. It didn’t take long for me to spot him. He was at the front of the coat check line. The attendant was handing back his credit card when I yelled, “Wait, stop!”

He didn’t hear me, so running as fast as I could in three-inch heels, I met him just as he was getting off of the line.

“I need it back,” I told him. “Where’s the ticket?”

“You need it back? Why?”

“Where’s the ticket?” I insisted.

He held up a slip of paper with a frustrated look on his face. I ignored his grumbling and swiped the ticket out of his hand. Cutting to the front of the line, I addressed the attendant.

“Sorry, my friend checked in my bag by mistake? He just did it,” I said pointing behind me at Jax.

The annoyed attendant took my ticket and gave me back my bag. I thanked them and looked for somewhere I could change my shoes.

“What are you doing?” Jax asked me trying to get my attention.

I was going to reply but I wasn’t about to give him anything else his entitled ass hadn’t worked for.

“I’m leaving,” I told him deciding to return to the second step of the less-trafficked stairs.

“Why are you going? You just got here. Don’t you have that meeting you have to do?”

How did he know about the meeting? I hadn’t told him, had I? When would I have even had the chance?

“I had it. It’s done?”

“And?”

“And it was a waste of my time.”

“Well, you’re here. You may as well stick around and drink your money’s worth.”

That got me to look up at Jax. This had to be the most Jax had said in a stretch in ages. What was up with him?

Staring at him, I found a vulnerable look on his face. It was almost enough to make me forget that he had stood me up the night before. Or that he was going to be handed the job that I deserved and needed.

Well, I don’t know about deserving it. But I deserved it more than a jock who wrote his first article a year ago with Ed’s help. Giving him a job like that was an insult to the profession.

“I think I’ve done enough drinking for a while. You should have been there last night. Many drinks were had. You missed it,” I told him before getting up and marching out.

I felt like such a failure on the way home. I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t going to be able to do this for Ed. He had done so much for me. I would be nothing if it wasn’t for him, and now he was dying and…

I wiped the tears off my cheeks realizing I had become one of the crazy people crying on the subway. I had to pull myself together, or at least pretend that I wasn’t a mess. That was what most people were doing, weren’t they?

No one had their life together or knew what they were doing, did they? We were all just hanging on by the skin of our teeth, praying that this wasn’t the day it all fell apart.

It was going to take a lot to make sure that this wasn’t my day. I was losing my grip on things pretty quickly. And the only thing I wanted in this moment was to not become one of those people screaming incoherently on a train.

Mercifully, my stop arrived before I did anything I would regret. Walking back to my place, I even gained a little perspective. We could only control what we could, right? I had tried. What more could I do than that?

My newly acquired wisdom didn’t help me from feeling like I had failed the one man I never wanted to. Once I was on my bed, I considered escaping into sleep but remembered what I was wearing. It was the cocktail dress that Ed had gotten for me.

I rolled over and looked down at it. It was beautiful. The night had been a total disaster but it would have gone worse if not for the dress. It was amazing that I had someone in my life that looked after me the way he did. I couldn’t believe that he would be gone soon. How was I supposed to process that?

 

The next morning when I rolled into work I was sober and surprisingly well-rested. I was seeing things a little clearer. I was still gutted by everything that had happened, but I wasn’t paralyzed by it anymore. I was at my desk thinking about work for the first time in two days when Susan, the intern, skittishly approached.

“What is it, Susan?”

“Ed wants to see you when you get a chance,” she said practically peeing her pants.

What was up with her, anyway? How was she expecting to survive a newsroom if she could barely deliver a fucking message from the editor?

“Tell him I’ll stop in when I can.”

She didn’t walk away.

“What do you want, Susan?”

“It’s just that he made it seem important.”

“Did he say it was important?”

“No. It was more in his tone.”

“Jesus, Susan! Okay, fine. Tell him I’ll be right in.”

When she still didn’t leave, I spun towards her, “What?!”

That got her moving. My God, what was wrong with that girl? For Christ’s sake!

I killed as much time at my desk as I could and then got up and made the long walk to the office that would never be mine. I hoped to God that Ed wasn’t in there crying again. There was only so much of that I could take.

“Ed, you wanted to see me?” I asked poking my head in.

“Yeah, come in,” he said more cheerily than I had expected. “Have a seat.”

I entered and took a chair in front of his desk.

“You know, you should be easier on Susan. She’s just an intern,” Ed told me without irony.

“What, are you kidding? That girl doesn’t know her tit from her ass.”

“Yeah, she kind of reminds me of you when you first got here,” he said with a smile.

“I was never like that!”

“No, you were worse,” he said with a chuckle. “At least that girl can write. I had to teach you how to construct a sentence. Have you read the article that got her accepted? It’s some impressive stuff. That’s the type of talent you’re gonna want around you when you’re sitting in this chair.”

I didn’t say anything to that.

“Speaking of taking over this chair, how did it go last night? When I came back, you were gone. Heet said you two had a good talk, though. What happened?”

I stared with Ed with my mouth open. I didn’t know what to say. Why had Heet given Ed that impression? Things with Heet had gone as well as they had gone on the Titanic. How was I supposed to break that to him?

“They went about as well as they could be expected, I guess.”

“Really, that’s great. I knew you could do it. You’re a charmer, just like ole Ed, here. You couldn’t make me prouder if you were my own daughter.”

Ed slowed and got serious.

“I want you to know that. I know I’ve been hard on you, but I’ve always thought of you as a daughter. I’ve always been proud of you no matter what stupid thing you did,” he said with a smile.

Fuck! What was I supposed to say to that?