By M. Ryan
For disclaimers see Part 1
Comments are welcome! firstname.lastname@example.org
For such a small woman Chris managed to take up a good deal of her king sized bed. Sprawled on her stomach with her arms stretched out, she laid claim to most of the space, leaving just a sliver of room on one side for Laura to sleep on, which was fine since once she was asleep, the tall woman didnt move much. Unfamiliar sounds and smells woke Laura as light was beginning to fill the room, and she felt the soft steps of Chris cat on the foot of the bed, investigating the strange presence in his territory.
She slid out of the bed, and uncomfortable naked, found her shirt and slipped it on before going to the bathroom. Chris watched her leave through slitted eyes, wondering what was next. Leave or stay, its up to you. Please stay. She watched Laura return to stand in the doorway, her hands gripping the frame and hesitating before padding back to the bed to slide under the sheets. Chris smiled when startled blue eyes turned to meet hers. "You stayed," she said softly.
Laura licked her lower lip uncertainly. "I Good morning."
Chris rolled onto her side and took Lauras hands into her own, lacing their fingers together. "How are you?"
Pausing a moment to take stock, she considered the question. "I feel good."
Chris moved closer and pressed a light kiss on full lips, the rough texture of Lauras shirt scraping on her bare skin as she closed the distance between them. "Oh, I beg to differ you feel great," she murmured.
Nerves and practicality won out over a sudden jolt of arousal and Laura gave voice to the question that had chased around her brain since she fell asleep with Chris wrapped around her. "Where do we go from here?"
"Do we have to go anywhere? Cant we just stay here all day?" Chris mumbled into a warm shoulder, her fingertips brushing the edge of Lauras ribs underneath the starched shirt.
"That tickles I have to practice, and you have softball Youre making it hard to think." Laura gently stopped a traveling hand and turned, sliding a strong thigh across the lower half of Chris body. Raising a hand, she rubbed her thumb against the smaller womans jaw. "So smooth, so beautiful," she whispered. "Can you feel what youre doing to me?"
"Yes." Green eyes glittered like jewels, hiding nothing.
"Good." Laura murmured. "Turnabout is fair play." She bent her head to capture Chris lips, fastening on the fullness, as her hands began to prowl over golden skin. She touched with reverence, from breasts to ribs to hip and lower still, following with lips and mouth eager to taste everything. Its not enough. Laura couldnt control the slight shaking in her hands as she moved them from one point to the other, spanning the blonde womans waist, dipping her thumbs into the well of her navel, and teasing the hollow of her hip. Itll never be enough
Gasping at the sensations running riot, Chris reached for Laura as she moved lower, and surged into the other woman, her hands begging for purchase on sinewy arms and shoulders, as spasms shook her from head to toe.
Chris fell back on the bed, breathing raggedly as she felt sheets of perspiration peel away from her overheated body. "For a first timer, youre pretty good at this," she managed to get out, closing her eyes because it was too much effort to keep them open.
"Didja think you were the only one who could research?" Laura laid her cheek on a firm abdomen, watching as a few aftershocks trembled across the surface and marveled that she was the one who caused them. "So I didnt disappoint?"
Chris heard the uncertainty in the low voice, and wondered again at all the contradictions. "God no, Laura." She threaded the fingers of one hand through the dark silky hair that tickled her belly. "Its " Its what? Beyond anything youve ever felt before? Tell her that and shes outta here. "You have no idea what youve done to me," she said with quiet wonder. And with that Chris realized she was in love, and had been for quite some time.
"No, really I have to go. My Jeeps been in your driveway all night." Laura wiggled her feet into sandals and stood, tucking her shirt into wrinkled shorts. I am not running I just have to think. "If were gonna Ah, we need to figure out how " She stopped, rubbing nervous hands through her hair. "Youre not listening."
"Yes I am. Whats your Jeep got to do with anything?" Chris sat up against the headboard, pulling the sheet up against the chill from the air conditioner. It was endearing, Chris mused, watching the normally composed News Director fumble around the bedroom gathering clothes and dressing with awkward shyness. This was the same woman who could quell a newsroom argument with just a look, or make corporate cough up not one but two brand new hundred-thousand-dollar live trucks.
"Goddammit Chris." This was a bad sign though, the blonde woman thought. Laura was usually articulate enough not to resort to swearing, except when she was really disturbed. "I didnt think this through I shouldve been more careful." Worried blue eyes finally looked at Chris. "I didnt think about being careful "
The warm feeling evaporated abruptly. "Dont you dare say youre sorry." Chris scrambled out of the bed grabbing her robe and putting it on almost angrily.
"No, no, no. Im not sorry, I just " Laura looked down at Chris belting the terrycloth around her waist, the hurt obvious in the stiffness of her shoulders. "I never had a private life before. I dont know how to keep one private. If this got out at the station, I couldnt protect you."
"We talked about that."
"No, we glossed over it." Laura rubbed a hand over her forehead, willing the words to make sense. How do I do this? How do I handle any of this? How do I say Im scared for her and what could happen?
"Dont." A smaller hand touched Lauras wrist, stopping the nervous motion. "Youre over thinking again. No ones checking my driveway to see whos staying overnight, at least I dont think so. Well be discreet necking on the porch in the future is probably out." Chris pulled the tall woman close, laying her head in the hollow of her shoulder, feeling the tension ease ever so slightly as she wrapped her arms around a narrow waist. "But Im not giving this up. Tell me that you wont either."
Laura closed her eyes, rubbing her chin on the soft gold hair as she felt the worry fade away under the quiet confidence of her lover. My lover? I never thought Id have one of those. "Okay, I wont."
"See, that wasnt hard. Now go play golf, or whatever it is you do when you run off on me."
"I dont "
"Yes you do." Chris pushed away regretfully. "Ive got some things to take care of before my game." Time for another trip to the batting cages. Placing her hand on the small of Lauras back, she propelled her down the hall to the front door. "Whatever you want to do later, Im up for it, just let me know." She stood on tiptoe to press a feather light kiss on the taller womans jaw, promising herself to take out this newfound love and examine it later. Right now she could only let go.
Standing at the door Chris watched Laura skip down the steps and stop before spinning around and coming back. "Did you forget something?"
A wicked lopsided smile took up residence on the tall womans face and Chris raised an eyebrow in question. "Ill blow off golf if youll skip softball."
"Looks like a rain out to me." Chris drawled.
Mondays suck. Chris stood in the middle of a muddy field, her feet encased in rubber boots, and stared at a metal pipe contraption that was the subject of her story while Jody tried to shoot it in a way that might be visually compelling. Contaminated wells werent very compelling unless you had to drink from them, Chris thought, then chided herself for her lack of compassion. Shed gotten two interviews and had enough for a package, she just couldnt work up any enthusiasm.
The rain came around midnight, starting at about the same time that Laura left the warm confines of the king-sized bed. The steady drizzle matched her unusually somber mood and complimented her troubled thoughts. Things are different now. The inherent dangers of a boss/employee relationship mixed with Lauras emotional awakening made Chris nervous. Very nervous.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt Chris knew what she wanted, All six feet and blue eyed muscle of it. But getting from point A to point B was going to require more patience than she was sure she possessed. In the morning meeting the News director had been withdrawn, barely grunting in response to questions from Keith and the producers, hands flexing nervously never stopping their movement and never once meeting the blonde reporters eyes. Shed had time to think, Chris concluded and now Laura was back behind the walls shoring up her defenses.
Chris tilted her head back to look at the gunmetal gray sky and licked the moisture from her lips as the rain continued to fall. Im setting myself up for some kind of hurt. Heart breaking, soul rending, never get over it kind of hurt.
"Got it." Jody unlocked the camera from the tripod and held it in one hand while he flipped the legs closed with a jerk. "Here, lemme help." Chris offered, shaking off her pensiveness and taking the camera. It was Jodys first day back as a shooter and the blonde reporter was feeling a little guilty that hed gotten stuck with such a dog of a story. They started back across the field, the thick red mud squelching around their boots as they made their way back to the gravel road and the news unit parked there. After scraping them off as much as possible they dumped the boots in the back and climbed in. The two-way radio squawked impatiently and Jody picked up the handset. "Newsroom to unit 2, whats your ETA?"
Jody thumbed the switch, "Were looking at about thirty minutes."
"10-4" The photographer twisted the key in the ignition, but instead of the engine coming to life, there was only the whining grind of a car that refused to start. "Well this sucks." Jody muttered.
"We need to send a tow out to Gilliam, unit 2 is dead." Janie called across the newsroom to Keith. For a minute there was undisguised panic in the Managing Editors eyes. "Dead or crashed?"
Laura came out of her office like a shot. "Did someone say crashed?"
"No one said crashed!" Janie shook her head, bangs bobbing from side to side. "Jody cant get it started we need to send a tow, Im calling Jimmy Watson, hes close so it shouldnt take too long."
Nodding with relief, Laura went back to her office, swallowing back a remnant of fear. This is absurd it was a friggin' well story. She isnt a child. Long fingers raked through dark hair as she faced the window that looked out over the studio. So many changes. She gave a snort and crossed her arms. It was supposed to get easier, right? When she left the night before, everything was fine. Then the second-guessing started, and unable to sleep, she paced the apartment obsessing over questions with no easy answers.
What the hell am I doing?
How do I work with her?
How do I treat her at work?
How will she treat me?
How do we keep it private?
Will anyone notice?
And when can we do it again?
With a sigh Laura turned back to her desk. She was supposed to have lunch with Art and the stations lawyers to go over some pending cases and she wanted to be prepared. The timing for this meeting left a lot to be desired since sweeps should have taken priority. Ah well, I could be out in Gilliam waiting on a tow truck with Chris. At that moment, it didnt sound too bad.
The tow truck delay meant that it was almost twelve when Chris and Jody got back to the station. Jody ran to cut a VO; raw video for the anchor to voice over during the Noon newscast, and Chris returned to the newsroom dropping her muddy boots by the door. In a sort of odd lull in the day, Janie was the only staff member around and Chris gave a brief wave as she dropped her things on the desk. Messages were stacked up on her keyboard and she was flipping through them when the News Directors office opened and a nightmare that Chris had hoped shed never have to experience began to unfold. Looking up, she ground her teeth together, powerless to stop what was coming. I know that laugh.
Four people came out of Lauras office, but the reporter had eyes for only two of them. Old flame, new love What are the chances? With my luck, pretty good. The woman smiling at Art Dement was elegance and sophistication wrapped up in a raw silk suit of emerald green. In heels she was almost as tall as Laura, long shapely legs went on forever and her auburn hair swept smoothly into a knot at the base of an aristocratic neck. Whatever else had burned between them, Erica Lambert made Chris feel short and awkward. She always had.
"Steven, Erica, this is Christine Hanson, one of our Six Oclock anchors." Art was in an expansive show off mood, happy to have on air talent around with which to impress the visitors. "Chris, this is Steven Poteet and Erica Lambert, they take care of the legal matters for the station." The reporter dug up a charming smile and turned it on despite the fact that she could feel every drop of blood draining from her face. Sell this Dont give her the satisfaction. "Steven, its a pleasure Erica, nice to see you again." She looked over at the News Director and explained. "I interviewed Ms. Lambert for a story a while back." Ericas beauty was unblemished, but for the first time Chris could see a hardness that was beginning to take over the looks that were so carefully maintained.
The elegant lawyer turned a mocking smile on Chris, her dark eyes half lidded. "Anchoring certainly agrees with you Chrissy, you look good, though I see you still go stomping around in the mud." She looked pointedly at the dried brown spatters on the legs of the reporters dark blue slacks.
Chris gave a broad smile, every inch the anchor trying to cover an on-air glitch while she watched her world spin out of control. "Part of the job, whats a little mud? If youll excuse me, I have a story to deal with. Nice meeting you Steven." She gathered up her notebook and left the newsroom avoiding the blue eyes that followed her questioningly, concentrating on getting to the hallway without falling apart.
Laura had never seen those green eyes so cold before. If she hadnt seen the exchange herself, she would never have believed it. An uncomfortable realization twisted around her gut. Jeez Kaz, you are dense. Bet this isnt something youve thought about. The lawyer turned and regarded her evenly for a second before laughing at something Art said, and Laura knew with bone deep conviction that this woman was a very dangerous enemy. Almost absently she broke into the conversation. "We have reservations at my club for twelve thirty, we should head on over there."
"Yeah Steven, Kaz has qualified for the U.S. Open in Mississippi next month, its been quite a boost for sales an unexpected benefit." Art was showing off again.
"Youre quite the athlete Miss Kasdan." Ericas tone was smooth; lacking anything that might be called warmth.
"Ive worked hard to become so. Art, will we be taking the Lexus?" And she gestured for them to go on down the stairs.
Chris used a damp paper towel to wipe the dry mud off of her pants, acknowledging the bite of humiliation as she brushed the material clean. The door opened and she looked up when Kate came in, then bent back to the task at hand. The producer touched the smaller womans shoulder apologetically. "When she came in, you and Jody hadnt made it back yet. I would have warned you but I just stepped out for a minute God Chris, Im sorry."
"Shit happens." She tossed the paper towel into the trash and ran water to wash her hands. "I just didnt need to see her." Chris muttered. Not now.
"Yeah well, youve got bigger problems if shes gonna be handling the station legal stuff. This is the lawyer wholl be advising them on talent issues. Its a can of worms Chris. And youre pretty exposed here."
You have no idea. Chris grabbed two fistfuls of pale gold hair as she considered the issue. Erica could make things difficult, but only if she could get something out of it. Because thats the way she works, isnt it? Everybody uses everybody else, right? "I cant deal with this now, Jody and I have to go out again." She ruffed her hair back into order and straightened her blouse. "Thanks Kate."
"What are you going to do?"
"Nothing I can do." Chris answered honestly. "Well see how it plays out."
The one advantage that Laura had was that shed talked Art into having the lunch at Northridge, and it was more than a little comforting to be on her own turf. Steven Poteet was very entertaining and it was easy to see why he was a successful attorney. He orchestrated the conversation easily, flattering the General Manager and speaking knowledgeably about news and golf. He wasnt as oily as some attorneys she knew, but Laura was certain he could hold his own in a court of law.
As for Erica, there was certain hypnotic charm about the elegant woman. She was at turns seductive, inquiring, amusing, and intelligent with a wry sense of humor that the News Director could have appreciated if she didnt have the sickening feeling that the lawyer and Chris had a history. Jealousy was an emotion as foreign to her as physical desire had been a week ago, and she didnt appreciate expanding her horizons to this new hypersensitized state.
The dishes were cleared after the excellent meal and Steven laid out a folder, painstakingly taking them through the half dozen pending cases and discussing where they stood. It was incredibly boring, and even Lauras powers of concentration were stretched to the breaking point. Eventually everything was discussed, dissected, and covered. Steven packed up his files neatly and gathered the notes that Erica had meticulously taken, placing them into a briefcase before drawing out several cigar tubes. "Im not being exclusive here ladies, would you like to join us in the cigar bar for a few minutes?"
Laura smirked at the boys club mentality, but before she could reply, Erica cut in. "If youre going to light up the stinky sticks, Ill pass. What about you Laura?"
"Call me Kaz, and I think Ill stay here as well." Figuring that this had been the plan all along, she watched as the men went up the stairs, then turned to face the other woman. "Would you care for some coffee? They do a nice cappuccino here."
"Ill take some decaf." Laura motioned the waitress over and watched as she poured from a silver service into Ericas cup, then covered her own to decline. The lawyer sipped the dark liquid and studied the News Director frankly. "Youre not at all what I was expecting."
"And what was that?" Laura raised one eyebrow.
"A hot headed bitch, if youll pardon me. Your reputation had a lot to do with that of course. A woman doesnt get to be a news director in a top ten market without cracking a few heads, but I did not expect such a thoughtful planner, or someone so young."
Where is this going? Laura smiled tightly "Youre not ancient yourself, how long have been with Barnes and Poteet?"
"Eight months. It was a good move for me, I have a realistic chance to make partner. What are your plans? I cant see you staying in Burkett Falls forever."
"Ill serve my corporate masters wherever they want me"
Erica nodded, "At least for three years until your ship comes in. I would assume that this is the best offer you could get after Dallas."
Laura remembered in that instant why it wasnt a good idea to play word games with a lawyer. "I dont see why that should concern you at all."
Erica folded her hands and tilted her head. "It concerns me because this is one of my biggest clients, my success is tied to the stations success and by extension to yours as well. Its important that you understand that."
"I think youve made yourself clear," came the dry response.
"How well do you know Christine Hanson?"
Lauras expression remained neutral. "I think shes the best Reporter/Anchor in the market. Certainly the hardest working."
"Mmm." Erica nodded. "Are you aware that she carries some baggage?" Dark eyes glittered with malicious intent and Laura steeled her own gaze as she recognized the adversarial turn the discussion had taken. Baggage? Sitting up straighter, the News Director decided that Erica should have chosen a better word and a better target.
"This isnt Dallas Kaz, Its much more conservative." Her point made, Erica crossed her legs and folded her hands.
"I see." Laura leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers. "Lets cut to the chase, shall we? Youre the lawyer, let me lay something out for you. Lets say I have a high profile anchor that happens to be gay. As her supervisor and according to her contract, I am already aware of this and its not a problem as far as Im concerned. But suppose we yank her off the air for no reason other than small minds, and she brings in a high powered lawyer to sue the socks off the station for discrimination because the ratings arent affected at all. Maybe its even a test case and it generates national media exposure. Do you want to be heading up the team that tries to sort out that public relations nightmare?" Lauras eyes went blue-white with controlled rage. "All this is hypothetical of course. If were all tied to the stations success, you would do well to let me run the news department and stick to keeping us out of court. How much Willy-Simon stock did you get anyway, Erica?"
"Oh, very good Kaz. Corporate was right about you." Another sip of coffee and a smile praising the News Directors perceptiveness. "Definitely a keeper. Is it just the money, or something more? What happens in three years, do you chuck it all to go play golf? What was the deal?"
Lauras smiled coldly. "My deal, my concern." She decided to press one more point, allowing the anger to bubble free, "Whatever happened between you and Chris is your own personal business." Ericas dark eyes narrowed. Bingo, Laura thought. "If I find that it has any bearing on the way that you conduct business on behalf of the station, I will do everything in my power to see that WBFC terminates its relationship with Barnes and Poteet. Have I made myself clear?"
The Lawyer lifted her chin. "Perfectly. You walk a fine line Ms. Kasdan, pray you dont stumble."
Laura barely made it back to the station in time to be violently ill, the heaves continuing even after there was nothing left. Bracing her arms against the opposite walls of the stall, she hung there knowing that it wasnt the confrontation, it was the idea that she was enough like Erica to be repulsed by the similarities. You told Chris youd take her off the air remember? Thats just the way the business is. Why didnt you give Chris her options? The only thing that matters is the station thats why. Erica wants to be a partner, what do you want? Will you really quit in three years if they make you GM in Dallas, or is that the going rate for your soul these days? You took the deal three years in exile for KDAL. They dont know you have other plans. Youre as twisted as she is.
She straightened shakily and pushed out of the stall, rinsing her hands, face, and mouth with cold water. The stranger that stared back from the mirror bore no likeness to the woman she remembered from Sunday. That Laura Kasdan had been almost giddy, awash in a happiness that hadnt survived past the door of the newsroom. And thats the real problem isnt it? Now you know what its like to feel and you miss it when its gone. She scrubbed a hand across her face, blowing an impatient breath.
Chris and Erica Now that hurts. Remembering the way the color drained from the blonde reporters face Laura rubbed the heel of her hand along her breastbone as though that could soothe the ache in her chest, and considered the implications, giving free reign to the jealousy that wormed its way up from wherever it had lain dormant for a lifetime. Everything we did, Chris did with her and probably then some. Erica would know what she was doing In the same bed Deal with that. The picture that presented itself was almost enough to make the News Director start heaving again.
Enough! With strength of will born from years of discipline, she shook off the offending emotion. Its after five, go watch the news, it would be nice if you could contribute to some part of the process today. Pulling the door open, she left the ladies room and headed down the hall.
A half-hour newscast is exactly that. One half hour of time that is filled precisely. For those who participate, there is no escape until thirty minutes have passed. Time is measured out story by story, segment by segment and even the commercial breaks are merely breaths taken before the content runs its course.
Chris rolled her eyes and leaned back in her chair, bored and twitchy. Kurt was doing his weather segment and she had three and a half minutes to simply exist until she was on again, held hostage by the format of the cast. Tom was marking his scripts and practicing his facial expressions, tilting his head in silent emphasis and mouthing the words as he went. For a minute Chris thought she might laugh at the absurdity of it all, then the voice in her ear spoke up, and she had to focus on getting through the end of the show.
"Hes wrapping, Camera two youre clear, get a cross shot on Chris, Camera one gimme a three shot. Were on graphics."
"Textbooks is dead, animal control is dead " Kate read the list of stories dropped for time. "Thirteen and fourteen are dead."
Chat, chat, turn, and read. The rest of the newscast crawled by with no major problems and eventually it went to black and Lisa dismissed the crew and headed for the News Directors office, freeing the hostages until they gathered together to do it all again at ten oclock.
Laura sat through the post mortem leaning back in her chair, long legs stretched out over one corner of the desk. Her chin rested between the space of her thumb and forefinger, propped up by an elbow on the armrest, but the pose was deceptive since there wasnt a relaxed bone in her body. She kept silent and nodded briefly when the meeting came to an end, content to let them leave while she continued to brood.
"Are you gonna go home, or just think dark thoughts all night." Chris stood in the doorway hesitantly, briefcase slung over one shoulder. "Mustve been some meeting." The office wasnt her first choice as place to clear the air, but it would have to do.
"It was." Laura ran her tongue across her teeth thoughtfully and sighed. "What happened this afternoon?" She picked up a stack of pink sheets of paper. "I have three repair requests signed by you and a workmans comp claim from St. Joes. I was gone for what, five hours? You were busy."
"Ah, those." Chris shrugged ruefully, "I dropped Jodys camera, its okay though, just a circuit. The board in the audio booth fried while I was cutting my package That will take a little longer to fix, and Im real sorry about the live truck, but that ones not my fault."
"The live truck?" Laura forced down another surge of anxiety.
"Um, yeah. Jason scraped part of the microwave dish off on a low overhang at the sheriffs car barn. He should have had enough clearance, but the door to the garage was down a little ways. I signed the repair request because he took Jody to the hospital since Im not allowed to drive station vehicles."
"Jody went to the hospital?" The pain in her stomach was getting worse.
"We were out getting a standup and there was this bee. I mean it was just a little sweat bee or something, anyway I tried to shoo it away but it stung Jody and hes allergic " she trailed off running a hand through her hair and grimacing. "Not a particularly good day."
No, it wasnt. "You forgot to mention the part about your new girlfriend having lunch with your old girlfriend." Laura was careful not to accuse, just to state a fact, but the clenching muscle in her jaw gave her away.
"Well theres that too. Sometimes it sucks to be me." Chris could feel the embarrassed heat on her neck and looked away, wondering about the hurt inflicted on both of them.
Her face impassive, Laura drew her long legs off the desk and stood up switching off her computer monitor. Deciding against taking any work home she left the briefcase in the corner and came out from behind the desk. "Come on over to my place," she said in almost an off hand manner. "Ill fix us something to eat and well talk."
Chris could almost see a ray of light on an otherwise bleak landscape. "Pardon my surprise, but you cook?"
"Ive been eating for years, someones gotta do it." Laura followed the blonde woman out of the office and locked the door behind her.
Chris stared into Lauras refrigerator with dumfounded awe. There wasnt any food at all but every kind of beverage seemed to be represented, except for the red and white cans of her boss beloved Coke. Bottles, cans, and pitchers of liquid took up every available space on all three shelves. Puzzled, she stole a glance at the woman who was busy sautéing chicken pieces and her mouth twitched into a smile. "Do you have a drinking problem?"
Laura chuckled softly. "Ah, my secrets out. As much golf as I play, I run the risk of dehydration, so I drink a lot. Since Im off Coke, Im trying a bunch of other stuff."
"But theres no food in here." Chris took a guess and pulled out a pitcher and congratulated herself on her selection as she poured tea over a glass of ice.
"Hate to tell ya, but youll die of thirst before you starve to death. Just call me prepared." The chicken sizzled as she stirred it, and Laura turned down the heat. She jerked a little when she felt Chris chin on her shoulder, peeking over at the selection of food cooking on the stove. "So what are we having?"
"Uh, Chicken fettuccine. One of two things, no make that three, counting Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, that I can cook."
"It smells good."
"I havent poisoned myself yet." She whisked the sauce as it thickened, careful not to let it stick, then pulled it off the burner. As with everything else she did, Laura was efficient in the kitchen. All the dirty utensils were rinsed and placed in the sink as she methodically prepared the meal and cleaned as she went along. The pasta was drained and distributed on two plates, then the chicken, followed by the sauce. "Go ahead and sit down. Ive got some bread too." She set out everything they needed and Chris saw the quiet loner again, spartan even in the way she entertained.
Chris settled onto one of the barstools and picked up a fork. "This is fabulous. Who knew?"
"Who indeed." When did we become so formal? Her drink of choice tonight was some kind of bottled lemonade, and Laura shook it before breaking the seal with a pop. Sitting down across from Chris, she took a slice of bread and started eating, but mostly just pushed the food around on her plate.
Finally, Chris couldnt stand it. "How did you know?" The question was asked quietly and with dread. When blue eyes met hers, the expression was wry. "Lets just say that neither one of you has a poker face and back in my office you didnt correct me."
"Oh." Chris answered, thinking that there was apparently no end to the humiliation the lawyer was going to cause her. "What did she say?"
Lauras smile was tight and humorless. "Well, once the men disappeared into the cigar bar, she outed you and threatened me I threatened back and we agreed not to be friends. Other than that she was a delightful woman and a sharp dresser."
Miserable, Chris pushed her plate away and covered her mouth with one hand. "Whats next then, am I off the air?"
"Nah, Im not taking you off the air. I trumped her."
"You what? Trumped her?"
"Yeah." With a smug grin Laura came around to the other side of the bar and pulled Chris to her feet. "I was reminded that a woman does not get to be a news director in a top ten market without cracking some heads, so I started swinging. I laid out a possible scenario that included a lawsuit and lots of publicity and other stuff and she backed down. I think she was just trying to make things hard for you. I dont think Steve knows anything or was putting any pressure on since I didnt get a summons from Art." She paused, considering the consequences of what she was about to say next. "Remember when I told you Id take you off the air? If that ever happens you have options. Legal options. Right now no one knows or cares, so we just maintain the status quo." Laura gently used a thumb to brush the moisture from under Chris eyes.
"So thats it?"
"We just wait for the book Chris. Well all live and die by those numbers. Well have the market research done at the end of the month too. If Im right and weve done our jobs, there wont be anything to worry about."
"And if youre wrong?" Chris tangled a hand in the opening of Lauras shirt before looking up and feeling a catch in her throat when she saw the bitter smile.
"Probably a big management change before November. Ill be gone, Art, Elly, and Mark the General Sales Manager."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that. Never carry more into a TV station than you can carry out in one box, running." Laura felt the snort of laughter against her shoulder and took a breath, "So, did you love her? No wait, you dont have to answer. That was incredibly presumptuous of me."
"Why is that presumptuous?"
"Because its your past not mine? No. It shouldnt make any difference? No because it doesnt matter?" Laura wasnt even aware that she was thinking out loud, then blue eyes snapped emphatically, "Fuck yes it matters." Unable and unwilling to explain any more than that, she gave a half shrug. "Did you?"
Chris smiled, intrigued by the rambling display of the News Directors thought process, then reluctantly pushed away from the comfort of the taller womans body. Try as she might, the only emotions she could associate with Erica were humiliation and anger, and those paled to insignificance against what she felt for Laura. "No. I never did."
"So " Her question answered, Laura had no idea what to do next. She leaned against the counter, crossing her arms. "What happened?"
Chris moved slowly to the couch, calmly considering how much to tell. Erica hadnt been just a personal mistake; shed been a professional mistake as well, and the parallels between then and now were unnerving. At least youre consistent. "I was stupid and I got burned." Easing down onto the sofa, she tucked her legs under her and considered how to begin. "We had an incident." She paused, pulling at an earlobe nervously, "About nine months ago a suspect in custody of the Burkett Falls PD was beaten pretty badly. The guy said it was one of the arresting officers, and when they started the investigation, they found one other officer that backed up the suspects story."
Laura remained silent, wondering what one had to do with the other.
"Jerry had me working the police beat then, so I was doing background checks on the officers involved. I found out some stuff on the cop who was supposed to testify against the officer accused of the beating, and I " Chris shook her head slightly in bitter memory. "I shot my mouth off to Erica. She gave the information to the head of the officers defense team, and they got the witness to recant."
Chris raised her eyes and they were filled with self-disgust, "You see, the witness had a kid by his mistress and he was the son-in-law of one of the city councilmen. They told him that if he testified, all of that would come out, so he turned chicken, and the dirty cop walked."
"What about Erica?"
Chris snorted. "Erica got an offer from the firm that handled the cops defense Barnes and Poteet." Her lips twitched at Lauras startled expression. "She cut a deal on information I supplied and didnt think there was a problem with it."
Laura couldnt think of a single thing to say.
"Ysee, she said everybody uses everybody else and you had to get yours before it was all gone. It would have been sleazy to report about that guys affair, so we werent going to say anything. It was just a conversation, with someone I thought I could trust because we were well, you know " Chris let out a breath, "So anyway, I dont talk about my stories outside the newsroom anymore."
"God Chris, I thought itd be something simple like she dumped you."
That got a short laugh. "Hey, this is me were talking about. Nothings ever simple." Laura hadnt moved from her position against the counter, and the distance between them seemed to be growing. Chris looked down, studying a pattern in the carpet. "How freaked out are you about this?"
Well, what bothers you the most, the fact that I got a dirty cop off, or that I compromised a story?"
Laura winced, not wanting to sound naïve but knowing she would. "Ah, the fact that you and Erica were close."
Chris jerked her head up with the realization that Laura wasnt her boss right now, wasnt concerned with a story, she was just a jealous lover, tap dancing around an uncomfortable subject. "Really?" It was oddly flattering.
Laura dropped her hands, exasperated with herself. "I have no wealth of experience to draw on, I can only rely on what I feel right now." The admission was embarrassing and she cracked her knuckles nervously.
"Would you stop that and sit down?"
Grumbling, Laura complied by dropping her body into the cushions at the far end of the couch and propping her head on a fist. "If I was honest, Id say Im glad one of us knows what were doing, especially since I reap the benefits of your experience so to speak. I just didnt want to run into it today." She cocked one eyebrow at Chris, "And she was really smarmy too. I bet that suit costs what I make in a month."
Chris chuckled and pulled herself closer to Laura, sliding in to rest her head between a neck and a strong shoulder. "Kind of a rough day for you."
"Yeah well, at least I didnt send a photog to the hospital." Content, Laura stroked the blonde head tucked next to her chin.
"At the risk of sounding like a total slut, let me say that the day after the morning after is always the worst."
"That would be your experience speaking?" Laura could feel Chris laugh against her chest.
"Yeah. Wanna go reap some benefits?"
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