About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Her feet had hardly touched the stairs as she danced down to the kitchenonly to find her mother crumpled on the breakfast table, sobbing. Apparently, while Hunter had been in the shower, the phone had rung, the caller the station chief at her father's TV network in New York. The plane out of Colombia carrying her father, Nolan Harding, was missing and fears were that it had crashed in stormy weather. Days later, the wreckage was found, and they had the confirmation everyone had feared: there were no survivors.
Although they were financially stable, her mother sold their Mahwah, New Jersey, home and moved them back to Hunter's actual birthplaceSan Antonio, Texasto be near her maternal grandparents, since her father's parents had died some years before. Even though it was her senior year and she knew no one, Hunter learned to love Texas, made friends easily enough, and despite the hole in her heart, she determinedly moved on for her mother's and grandparents' sakes.
Then, just before her college graduation, when those she loved most were scheduled to watch her get her diploma and life was looking bright again, she thought it safe to sigh in appreciation, only to learn that morning that her roommate Danica's brother, foolishly tied up with unsavory types, had OD'd on drugs and was lying in a hospital in a coma.
This pattern of painful life experiences continued, the most recent the matter of her brief engagement to Denny Brewster. Hunter was still smarting too much from that episode to allow herself to dwell on the details for longer than a second. So when she woke in her San Antonio condominium early on a June morning and stretched with pleasure remembering yesterday's news that she and her newest co-anchor Greg Benson had almost achieved another week as the number-one-rated news program for the five and ten o'clock slots, the ringing phone automatically sent her body and mind into panic mode. She just knew that she was about to have a another reality check, the question was how traumatic?
Please, no, she thought. What's it going to take to end this hug-then-gut-punch pattern?
It turned out that the caller was KSIO's executive producer, Tom Vold, informing her that Senator George Leeds of Texascaught in a career-breaking scandal only days agowas advising the press that he planned to make an announcement this morning. Tom was convinced he would be tendering his resignation and wanted her to get to the station pronto to go live when that happened.
Under normal circumstances, such a development could be received as a career-enhancing opportunity, however it threw Hunter into a tailspin. She was due to fly to New Jersey to deliver the commencement speech at the high school she would have graduated from had she stayed on the East Coast. How was she to do the live spotif the senator actually went through with his resignationand still make her flight? What was she to tell the school's administration in New Jersey? "Hang on, I'll be there. Maybe?" But to ask her boss to get Greg, her relatively new co-anchor, to do the spot would send the message to him and their audience that she didn't see this as important news. If Tom wanted her to handle this, she needed to go.
Concluding that there would be little time to change tonight, she put on the red silk suit she'd planned to wear for this evening's event and rushed to work. Rarely fussy in her personal life, she believed in dressing up, not down, whenever possible as well as investing in quality clothing and accessories for her professional image. For example, she rarely wore anything less than fourteen-karat gold on the set. She believed the camera could tell or an abrupt movement would betray its inferior construction. However, when it came to shoes, regardless of price, she approached them all with equal resignation. She always joked to the set crew as she hunted for her discarded footwear that she had undoubtedly been a beach bum or bunny in a previous life.
By the time she arrived at the station, there was word that the senator would, indeed, step down. Luck was with them and they had a whopping forty minutes to formulate a strong package and cull quality guests. When the countdown came, she ably represented the network through his announcement and the guest interviews that followed.
"And that concludes our special report," she said some twenty-five minutes after the senator read his five-minute prepared speech. "I'm Hunter Harding. Please join us at five for a recap of today's important developments and at ten o'clock for the latest reactions from the White House, Congress and more. Until then, be well," she said as her outro, the newsroom jargon for an exit tag.
"We're off. Clean air as usual, Hunter," Wade Span-gler, her news director, said of the mistake-free segment right after the control room advised that the computer had done a hard out, taken over and slid them into a commercial break. Regular programming for that hour of the morning would also be handled by computers.
"Thanks, Wade and everyone," Hunter replied, adrenaline still pumping through her system. Pretending that she didn't have a 220-volt cord buzzing up her spine, she added, "Pizza is on me. Someone check with Joey at the security desk. It should be here by now."
As cheers of appreciation sounded from the control room as well as the set, Hunter pulled out her earpiece, unclipped her mike and slipped off the battery tucked at the small of her back inside the waistband of her suit in anticipation of the assistant assigned to collect them. At the same time, she slipped back into her high heels. The station would continue with the morning talk show out of New York, so there was no immediate need to rush off, but she did have to remind her bosses that she had a previous commitment for this evening and see about rebooking the flight that she'd missed. Collecting her notes, she gauged who best to speak to that might help move things along for her.
"Has anyone heard yet if our competition went live with the senator's resignation?" she asked the group in general. She might be feeling under the gun, but it would improve her mood greatly to know that they'd cornered the competition on breaking news.
A familiar voice from the control room announced, "No, ma'am. KAST picked up their mother ship on cable to handle this, and the other two didn't budge from their regular programming. Congratulations, Flash. You kept us on top of the podium, as usual."
Letting an apprentice she thought she remembered was named Kaci finish collecting her audio paraphernalia, Hunter signaled a thumbs-up. "Thanks, Fred," she said to Fred Gant, her producer in the control room. "Tonight, tell your wife she should kiss you once for me."
Amid hoots and chortles of laughter, Fred drawled, "And she'll say, 'After you bathe your stinky dog.' By the way, you're wanted upstairs," he added. "Pappy Yarrow himself requests the pleasure of your company."
Knowing the nickname was said with deep affection, she only cast a questioning look at the wall of windows at the back of the set, particularly at one balding head amid the sea of impressive and not-so-well-endowed coifs. "Seriously? I'm supposed to be at thirty-thousand feet somewhere over Arkansas right now. Does no one in this entire building remember that?"
"Glass half full, darlin'," Fred replied. "Maybe he wants you to take his limo to the airport to make up for things."
Pointing her finger at him, Hunter rose. "He's kind enough to do exactly that. Tell Kym that I'm on my way."
Under normal circumstances, she never minded being called to Henry Yarrow's office when he was in town because Fred was right that she enjoyed a special relationship with the CEO and president of Yarrow Communications, Inc., their parent company. Mr.
Henry, as she preferred to call him, had been a mentor to her almost since she began at KSIO as an apprentice while in college. But these days, the successful businessman could get a little long-winded, and time was precious today.
The Yarrow Building was forty stories, not the tallest structure in San Antonio but a glistening addition of glass and granite to the skyline. It housed all of the employees and operations of KSIO, the headquarters of Yarrow Communications, as well as thirty-three other businesses. In this day and age when large corporations were swallowing up smaller and weaker ones by the drove, YCI remained one of the few media businesses solely owned and operated by individuals, not a conglomerate.
Accepting the presence of security cameras as she rode the elevator up, Hunter automatically checked her hair and makeup in the highly polished wall panels. She still looked TV-camera ready: shoulder blade-length, mahogany-brown hair, glossy and neatly swept back behind her ears to allow a glimpse of eighteen-karat gold, lover's-knot earrings, bangs retaining just the right poof, mascara, liner and eye shadow untouched by emotion, an accidental rub or melted by the hot lights, and her suit was almost wrinkle-free. Despite the pressure of the morning, she looked much better than she had yesterday after the ten o'clock news when there had been declarations of abort in her ear as scheduled interviews didn't happen and remotes crashed. After most days under the camera, she was usually drooping in...