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Authors: Irene Hannon

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BOOK: The Way Home
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“Ah…a world traveler. What's your favorite place?”

She considered his question as the waiter replaced their salad bowls with heaping plates of pasta. “You know, I don't think I've found it yet,” she replied thoughtfully. “I guess I'm still searching for the ideal spot.”

As the meal progressed, they hopscotched around a half-dozen topics, deliberately staying on safe subjects. When they finally left the restaurant, long after most of the other diners had departed, he walked her to her car.

“So when will the piece on Saint Vincent's air?”

“It's not ‘when,' but ‘if,'” she reminded him. “It was done on a purely speculative basis. But if they're going to use it, it will probably be in the next couple of weeks on a slow news night. Most likely the six o'clock program. I'd offer to alert you, but I probably won't know until right before it airs that it's going to run.”

“Well, I'll just have to keep an eye out for it, then.”

Amy tossed her purse onto the passenger seat and straightened up to look at Cal. He was leaning against her door, one arm draped over the top, the other hand in his pocket, and his brown eyes were friendly and warm. More than warm, actually. If she didn't know better, she'd almost think the man was
attracted
to her. Considering the cool treatment he'd given her during their first few encounters, it was quite a transition. In fact, it was hard to believe that this was the
same unfriendly man she'd approached on the courthouse steps just a few weeks before.

“Thanks for joining me tonight,” he said quietly, the unusually husky cadence in his voice playing havoc with her metabolism.

“Thanks for asking me. I just wish you had let me pay for my own dinner.”

“I owed you this one, remember?”

“The debt was paid in full that night at my apartment,” she said firmly. “The ‘takeout' you produced was five-star. And then, to top it off, you sent flowers. We're more than even, Cal.”

For a moment there was silence. Cal knew that it was time to say good-night. But as he gazed down into Amy's expressive green eyes, he was suddenly reluctant for the evening to end. It was the same feeling he'd experienced that night at her apartment when it came time to leave. He hadn't understood it then, and he didn't understand it now. He shouldn't feel this way about her. Each time their paths crossed, it became more evident that their priorities in life were completely different. She drove a late-model BMW, he drove an older compact. She lived in the high-rent district, he lived in a middle-class neighborhood. She went to exotic places on vacation, he went home to Appalachia. She thrived on the fast pace of life in the city, he yearned for the slower pace of the mountains. It was obvious that there was no way on earth they could ever get together.

And yet…as he stared down at her, his heart said differently. As illogical as it seemed, he intuitively sensed that, at their core, they were more alike than
either realized. Given the opportunity to really get to know each other, they might find a surprising amount of common ground.

As a rule, he didn't put much stock in intuition. It didn't always reflect reality. But one thing
was
very real—the electric attraction between them. On a purely physical level, at least, they were compatible. He could see it in her eyes, in the pulse that beat in the hollow of her throat, in the white-knuckled grip she had on her keys.

Cal drew a shaky breath. Heaven help him, but he wanted to kiss her. To deny the impulse would be foolish. But to do anything about it would be even more foolish. The lady wasn't interested in romance—with anyone. She'd made that clear tonight. And neither was he. The time just wasn't right.

Calling on every ounce of his willpower, Cal resolutely stepped back, jammed his hands in his pockets and somehow summoned up a crooked smile. “Okay. If you say so. I just want to make sure you got your five hundred dollars' worth.”

If you only knew! Amy thought fervently, her gaze locked on his. Even without the hoped-for angle for her coverage, she didn't regret one dime she'd spent. Cal Richards had given her two wonderful evenings that she knew would linger long in her memory. “Trust me, Cal. We're even.” She tried for a nonchalant tone, but couldn't quite control the slight quaver in her voice.

Again there was silence, and Amy had the disconcerting feeling that Cal knew exactly what was going
through her mind. But if he did, he made no comment. “I'll take your word for it. Drive safely.”

“I will. And thanks again.”

She slipped inside the car, and he shut the door firmly behind her. With one final wave, she put the engine in gear and drove away.

Cal watched her taillights disappear into the night, then turned and slowly walked to his car. He didn't understand the attraction he felt for Amy Winter. It defied all logic. But he did understand one thing. There was a lot more to her than he'd first thought. And the more he found out about her, the more he realized that she was one unforgettable woman.

 

For the first time in his life, Cal made it a point to watch the six o'clock news on Amy's station, even if he had to duck into the conference room at the office to do so. He told himself it was because he was hoping to see the Saint Vincent's story. But in his heart, he knew it was because he wanted to see
Amy.

As one week passed, then two, Saint Vincent's never made the news. But other stories by Amy did, including several that related to the Jamie Johnson trial. She continued to attend at least part of the court session each day, and she had an uncanny knack for distilling the essence of what transpired and communicating it to viewers in a straightforward way. He had to admit that her professional and balanced coverage was impressive.

But what impressed him even more was how she used the trial story to delve more deeply into related issues. One day she supplemented her trial coverage
by including an interview with alcohol-abuse experts. Another day she talked with families of drunk-driving victims about the devastating impact the tragedy had had on their lives. She interviewed a psychologist, who discussed the “sports star” phenomenon and the sense of invulnerability many athletes had. And she spoke with the person who ran the homeless shelter where the victim had spent time, using it as an opportunity to create sympathetic awareness of a world with which few people ever had any direct contact.

So when the story on Saint Vincent's finally aired, he wasn't surprised to see that she had gone one step beyond on that coverage, too. Not only had she interviewed Michael and others at the center, but she'd fleshed out her coverage by talking with social workers, law-enforcement officials and educators about the plight of youngsters like Mark and the odds they had to overcome. Her coverage made it clear that these kids needed as much help and support as they could get to break free of the cycle of poverty, gangs and violence, and that Saint Vincent's was doing a stellar job providing just such support.

When the segment ended, Cal rose and slowly walked back to his office, pausing to stare out his window into the darkness. Over the past couple of weeks, two significant things had occurred. First, he'd developed a deep admiration for Amy's skill and sensitivity as a reporter. And second, he'd realized that she wasn't just good at what she did; she was exceptional. He thought back to the way he'd railed at her when they first met, how he'd made sweeping generalizations about the press, and his face grew warm.
Although his overall opinion of the news media might be valid, based on personal experience, he hadn't allowed for exceptions. And Amy was clearly an exception.

Cal wanted to call and compliment her on the Saint Vincent's story. But he wasn't sure that was wise. Because even with no contact, he'd thought way too much about her over the past two weeks. For a man known to colleagues for his powers of concentration, he'd drawn more than a few curious looks at several meetings when he'd had to ask someone to repeat a question. Cynthia had begun asking him if he was feeling all right. Bill Jackson had good-naturedly speculated about why he was so distracted and come a little too close to the truth. Even his boss had commented that after this trial, maybe he should take a vacation.

He sighed and reached around to rub the tense muscles in his neck. Despite the fact that she was a newswoman, despite the fact that they seemed to be complete opposites, despite the fact that this
wasn't
the right time in his life for romantic involvements, he was attracted to Amy Winter. Though he'd dated plenty of women throughout the years, none had been memorable enough to disrupt his focus and his concentration. His analytical, logical mind had always been able to control his heart. But not this time. Bottom line, Amy had gotten under his skin, and he didn't have a clue what to do about it.

 

By the time Cal walked through the door of his apartment two hours later, he was wrestling with yet
another problem. In the past, he had steadfastly followed one simple rule in dealing with the press: no contact and no comment. He'd already blown the “no contact” part with Amy. And now he was actually toying with the idea of waiving the “no comment” part, too. Tomorrow he would be questioning a newly discovered witness who had information the defense wasn't going to like. Thanks to the persistence of one dedicated detective who just wouldn't rest until every angle had been explored, an eyewitness to the “accident” had been found. And his story made it clear that the victim was blameless, that Jamie Johnson had run a stop sign at a high speed and hit the pedestrian just as he reached the middle of the crosswalk. Bringing the man forward was a calculated risk, because Cal knew the man's credibility was vulnerable if the defense dug deeply enough. He hoped they wouldn't. But either way, the witness was newsworthy.

Cal figured that Amy would be in court, anyway. She'd rarely missed a session. But on the off chance she might be pulled on to another story, Cal was tempted to suggest she stick close. After all, if anyone deserved to get this “scoop,” it was her. The other reporters hadn't shown up in person since the opening day, relying on daily updates issued by Johnson's agent for their coverage. What could it hurt to suggest that she might want to be in court tomorrow?

With a sigh he reached for the phone. Maybe he should just call her and play it by ear. But instead of dialing Amy's number, he found himself punching the familiar Tennessee area code. He paused, then con
tinued dialing. Not a bad idea, he mused. Gram might be a good sounding board.

She picked up on the second ring. “You must be sitting right by the phone,” he said with a smile.

“Cal? Land, I didn't expect to hear from you tonight! How are you, son?”

“Good. How are things at home?”

“Couldn't be better. The craft co-op is going gang-busters, and your dad is busy as a beaver on the church picnic committee. He's at a meeting tonight, in fact.”

“I'd like to make the picnic this year,” Cal said wistfully as he switched the portable phone to the other hand and slid a frozen dinner into the microwave. “Do they still put on that great spread, with homemade apple butter and Moira Sanders's biscuits?”

“Of course. And speaking of food, did I just hear you turn on the microwave for one of those processed dinners?”

Cal chuckled and straddled a stool at the eat-in counter in his galley kitchen. You couldn't put anything past Gram, even from two hundred and fifty miles away. “Guilty.”

“Is that the way you eat every night?”

He thought of his last dinner with Amy. “No. Sometimes I go out. I had a good dinner two weeks ago, in fact.”

“With good company, too, I hope?”

“Mmm-hmm.”

For a moment there was silence, and then he heard her sigh. “Cal Richards, you are the most close
mouthed man I ever met! Can't imagine where you get it from. Do I have to pry every piece of information out of you?” she complained good-naturedly.

He chuckled again. “If you're trying to find out whether my companion was female, the answer is yes.”

“That newswoman you told me about?” she asked shrewdly.

“Yes. But don't get your hopes up, Gram. It was an impromptu thing. She was doing a story on Saint Vincent's, and I coincidentally happened to be there that night. We just grabbed a bite afterward. It was no big deal.”

“She must be nice, though, or you wouldn't have suggested dinner.”

“Yes, she is. Surprisingly so. When I first met her, I thought she was the typical pushy, ‘go-for-the-sensational' reporter, but I've been impressed by her coverage. She's gone above and beyond to present a balanced picture of all the issues surrounding the trial. Which, in one way, has created a bit of a dilemma for me.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, there's something breaking tomorrow, and if anyone deserves a first shot at it, she does. None of the other reporters have even come close to providing the comprehensive coverage she has. Trouble is, there's a chance she might not be in court, and if she's not there she won't get the scoop.”

“So call her up and tell her to be there.”

He sighed. “It's not quite that simple, Gram. I've always made it a rule to steer clear of reporters, and
I never give tips. Ethically I'm not sure I should make an exception.”

“How is suggesting she be in court giving her a tip?”

“She'll put two and two together and figure out something is going to break. She's one sharp lady.”

“Well, remember the old saying about rules, Cal. And there are extenuating circumstances here. You said yourself she deserves this scoop.”

“Yeah. I'm just having a hard time being objective about this. I don't want to let personal feelings get in the way of good judgment.”

“So…you have personal feelings for this woman?”

BOOK: The Way Home
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ads

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