The 3rd book in the 20 Something series, STILL ME, releases tomorrow, and to celebrate, I thought I’d give you a sneak peek of Kenley and Larson’s story. It takes place in Atlanta where Kenley moved to satisfy the ultimatum of her fiancé. As you may have seen hinted at in Book 1, CHANNEL 20 SOMETHING, and Book 2 STILL YOURS, Kenley’s engagement hasn’t quite turned out the way she expected. Hope you enjoy CHAPTER ONE!
Don’t Look Up
The key to career advancement is being left at the altar. At least it worked for me. If I’d only known getting dumped would lead to a job at the network, I’d have done it much sooner.
Well, maybe not. It wasn’t like I’d been in control of that situation anyway—the dumping part had been Mark’s idea. But still, two months later, here I was in the Worldwide News Network’s Atlanta headquarters, grateful to be back in the news business after stupidly quitting my last TV job. (Also Mark’s idea, the weenie.) I was way better off without him. Really.
“Know anyone in southern Missouri?” Deb turned to me from the desk adjoining mine. “Please say ‘yes.’”
“Yes, actually. A couple of people. Looking for tornado witnesses?”
“Yep. We need to find an iReporter on the ground there to give us some sound—maybe even some amateur video until our crew can get there.”
A senior producer, Deb had taken me under her wing as soon as I’d been assigned to her show. As a news assistant, I did whatever she and the associate producers needed, answer phones, monitor the news feeds, order graphics, coordinate with field crews. Occasionally, I got to write a script or a tease. Deb was a little like a twister herself, doing all that and more, and making it look easy. Someday, I wanted to grow up and be Deb.
“Okay—I have a couple friends from college who live in Missouri now,” I said. “One from J-school who’d probably be great, actually. I’ll try to get in touch with them. We’ll see if there are any cell towers still standing, though.”
Deb went back to punishing her keyboard, writing a script for the primetime news show she produced, Overstreet Live. It would air in a half hour, and so far, we had no one lined up to talk about the tornado aftermath.
The storm had touched down only about fifteen minutes ago but had been a big one and had reportedly taken out several schools and had severely damaged a hospital as well as destroying a Mississippi River casino and dozens of homes. There was no word on casualties at this point, but the count was sure to be significant. We’d look bad if we didn’t have at least something on it for the show. Obviously, we couldn’t have a news crew located in every tiny town in the nation, but viewers sort of expected us to.
I tried the one phone number I had—for my sorority sister from Missouri—it went right to voicemail. Then I logged onto Facebook and found my journalism-school friend, Beth. She’d actually posted only a few minutes earlier, telling her friends she and her family were safe, hunkered down in their basement in a neighboring town.
I messaged her. “Glad to see you all made it safely through the storm. How’d you like to report for Worldwide News tonight? Give me a call if you can.”
I typed my phone number and was waiting for a reply when the show’s anchor, Larson Overstreet, came over for a final pre-show chat with Deb. He stood a foot away from me as they discussed the story that had been at the top of the rundown. Then he asked about the latest on the Missouri tornado.
“How’s it going? Any video yet?”
“Not yet,” Deb answered him without pausing in her lightning-fast typing. “Kenley’s your girl for that.”
In my peripheral vision I saw Larson turn toward me, and I tensed.
“Um… yes. I’m working on it. Hopefully I’ll have something soon.” I didn’t look up at him, just kept my eyes trained on my computer screen as if it emitted a powerful tractor beam. Pretty typical of all my interactions with him over the past few weeks—he’d speak to the side of my face in that deep, shiver-inducing voice of his, and I’d do my best to give short answers and avoid eye contact.
Larson walked over and sat with one hip on the edge of my desk, giving me an unavoidable view of his suit-clad torso and one powerful-looking thigh. “Great. I’d love to have something on it off the top. Any hope of getting someone at the scene who can talk to us on-air?”
Still keeping my eyes down, I worked to make my voice steady and even. “I’ve got the fire chief in Carutherstown lined up for a phoner. I’m working on a possible iReporter.”
“Okay, great. Thanks.” A pause. “You look lovely tonight, by the way.” He rose and sauntered off toward the studio.
I resumed breathing and finally looked up, watching his retreating form—tall and on the thin side, wide shoulders, perfectly-cut strawberry blond hair. As he did every weeknight, he wore a beautiful suit that probably cost more than my car—designer label, without a doubt.
Not that WNN was famous for its high salaries. No, Larson didn’t need the money. Everyone here knew he was the only son of Warren Overstreet, the president and CEO of Overstreet Resources, one of the oldest and largest asset management firms in the country. His mother was Corina Videau, the famous clothing designer and heir to the Vivienne Videau cosmetics fortune. Larson didn’t have to work a day in his life if he didn’t want to.
Maybe he hadn’t been satisfied with being obscenely rich—he needed to be famous, too. It had probably taken Mom and Dad one or two phone calls to get him on air here, hosting his own show. At twenty-six years old.
Hmph. Rich boys. “You look lovely tonight,” I lowered my voice and mocked his compliment, certain it wasn’t sincere. “Smooth-talking jerk.”
Deb’s fingers paused on her keyboard. “You should be nicer to him. He’s just being friendly. And he’s not a jerk. He’s really sweet once you get to know him.” She gave me a reproving look, her sharp, dark brown eyes seeing right through me. Though we’d known each other only a month, she was one of those people who lured you right past the shallow end of small talk and into the deep end of real life before you’d even had a chance to acclimate to the water. We discussed far more than work during our long hours here.
And Larson might as well have been Deb’s second son, as much as she doted on him. In fact, pretty much everyone around here kissed his privileged butt. He’d been deemed WNN’s rising star and potential ratings savior, the embodiment of the network’s hopes of bringing in the coveted younger demographic.
“I won’t be ‘getting to know’ him, and he could be made of pure sugarcane for all I care—he’s not my type,” I muttered to Deb, unrepentant.
“What? Single, handsome, and rich?” She laughed.
“Single and handsome I have no problem with.”
“Oh, so it’s the whole double-heir-to-the-wealthiest-families-in-America thing that bothers you. I can see how that would be a huge turnoff.” She looked up from her monitor and smirked at me.
I had to laugh. “It is actually. I know—I’m weird. Do you know anyone nice from the feed room, maybe? Any twenty-five-year-old unpaid interns still living in their parents’ basements? That’s more my speed these days.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, kiddo. You could totally land a guy like Larson.”
The muscles between my shoulder blades tightened. Deb had no idea what a nerve she’d hit. “I’m not selling myself short. I just don’t happen to like rich men.”
I had liked one, loved him in fact. But three weeks before our enormous society wedding, he’d informed me God had told him to break up with me. Apparently, the Almighty already had His divine eye on someone new for His devout follower because Mark had immediately shown up in public with a new girlfriend. They were now quite in love, or so I heard.
Deb leaned back in her chair and stretched, then scrubbed her fingers through her dark, short-cropped hair before sitting up straight again. “Well, all I’m saying is you should take it easy on Larson—give the guy a chance. He doesn’t have too many real friends here. And underneath that silver-spoon, Park Avenue exterior is the kind of boy you want to bring home to Momma.”
I literally shuddered at that thought. “Mine would marry him herself if he looked at her twice.”
The only person more distressed than me by my broken engagement had been my mother.
Mark Fitzsimmons (of the Buckhead Fitzsimmons) hadn’t just been my fiancé. He’d been her trophy, a wealthy future son-in-law to parade around at social events, a name to drop among friends at the country club my parents couldn’t really afford. He was living proof she’d done her job—made her daughter desirable to a man from Atlanta’s highest social echelon and married her off to money—almost.
My phone rang, and I checked the screen—Missouri area code. “Beth? How are you? You’re all okay?”
“Hi. Yes. It hit just south of us. My neighborhood seems to be fine. So—reporting for Worldwide News—really?”
“We’ve got a crew on the way, but they won’t make it in until tomorrow, and there’s no local affiliate close to you. We need some pictures tonight, like, as soon as possible. How fast can you get over to the hospital? And please tell me your phone can record video.”
Beth agreed to help us out, and I gave her the number to call for the director’s booth when she started seeing some tornado damage. We’d put her eyewitness account live on the air along with any video she could shoot.
“We’ve got ourselves an iReporter,” I said to Deb as I ended the call.
“Awesome. Can you finish a couple of scripts for me while I work on the new rundown?”
Beth did a nice job with her off-the-cuff reporting, better than the fire chief, actually. Poor guy’s voice was shaking the whole time. And Larson handled the constantly-changing show smoothly, making what was chaos behind the scenes look planned somehow. He was a spoiled-rich-pretty-boy, but I had to admit he did have some talent.
After the show I gathered my things, trying to scoot out as quickly as possible. The crew often went out for drinks after the show. I’d avoided the get-togethers so far, and tonight would be no exception. Saying a quick goodbye to Deb, who’d just emerged from the director’s booth, I headed for the hallway.
Shivers. Could I pretend I hadn’t heard him? No—that would be weird. I turned to face Larson. Goodness gracious, the man was beautiful. I swallowed. “Yes?”
“Nice work tonight. Some of us are heading for Darby’s. Want to join us?”
And now my heart’s slamming like he just asked me for unprotected sex. Regulate yourself, Kenley. “Oh. No. Thanks. I can’t. I have to… get home.”
“You sure?” His face contracted in a cajoling smile. God, he had a good smile. Of course with his family’s money, he’d undoubtedly had access to the orthodontist-to-the-stars, but it was more about what the rest of his face was doing. He had the most appealing laugh lines I’d ever seen, radiating out from the sides of his mouth and even appearing at the corners of his eyes whenever he laughed or smiled. Which he was doing now with heart-liquefying effectiveness as he approached me. “Traffic’s going to be a nightmare out there right now—unless you enjoy spending quality time on 285 with America’s least patient drivers.”
I took a shallow breath. “Right. I know. But I’d better get started. My family, you know. They’re expecting me for dinner.” Now I sound like I’m ten years old. He probably had a mental image of me pedaling down the interstate on a sparkly pink bicycle with handle streamers.
Larson’s answering grin looked genuine, not derisive. “A family that has dinner together. Must be nice.”
I nodded and whirled around again, hot-faced, eager to reach the safety of my car, but not necessarily to go home. Family dinners probably were nice in some homes. In mine, they’d been considerably less nice since my failure to close the deal with Mark. At our table, the main dish was a generous portion of guilt served with a side of pressure.
* * *
What do you think??? Ready for more? The book goes on sale at midnight tonight on Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other major ebook retailers. Happy reading and I hope you enjoy Falling in Love Like a 20 Something!