Starry Night

Page 1

Chapter One

Carrie Slayton’s feet were killing her. She’d spent the last ninety minutes standing in two-inch heels at a charity art auction in a swanky studio in downtown Chicago. She couldn’t understand how shoes that matched her black dress so beautifully could be this painful. Vanity, thy name is fashion.

“My name is spelled with two l’s,” the middle-aged woman, dripping in diamonds, reminded her. “That’s Michelle, with two l’s.”

“Got it.” Carrie underlined the correct spelling. Michelle, spelled with two l’s, had just spent thirty thousand dollars for the most ridiculous piece of art Carrie had ever seen. True, it was for a good cause, but now she seemed to feel her name needed to be mentioned in the news article Carrie would write for the next edition of the Chicago Herald.

“It would be wonderful to have my husband’s and my picture to go along with your article,” Michelle added. “Perhaps you should take it in front of the painting.”

Carrie looked over her shoulder at Harry, the photographer who’d accompanied her from the newspaper.

“Of course, Lloyd and I would want approval of any photograph you choose to publish.”

“Of course,” Carrie said, doing her best to keep a smile in place. If she didn’t get out of these shoes soon, her feet would be permanently deformed. She wiggled her toes, hoping for relief. Instead they ached even worse.

Harry, bless his heart, dutifully stepped forward, camera in hand, and flashed two or three photos of the couple posing in front of what might have been a red flower or a painting of a squished tomato or possibly the aftermath of a murder scene. Carrie had yet to decide which. The title of the work didn’t offer a clue. Red. Yes, the painting was in that color, but exactly what it depicted remained a mystery.

“Isn’t it stunning?” Michelle asked when she noticed Carrie staring at the canvas.

Carrie tilted her head one way and then another, looking for some clue as to its possible significance. Then, noticing that Michelle, spelled with two l’s, was waiting for her response, she said, “Oh, yes, it’s amazing.”

Harry didn’t bother to hide his smile, knowing that all Carrie really wanted was to get out of those ridiculous shoes. And to think she’d gotten her journalism degree for this!

Carrie knew she was fortunate to have a job with such a prestigious newspaper. A professor had pulled a favor and gotten her the interview. Carrie had been stunned when she’d been hired. Surprised and overjoyed.

Two years later, she was less so. Her assignment was the society page. When she was hired, she’d been told that eventually she’d be able to write meatier pieces, do interviews and human-interest stories. To this point, it hadn’t happened. Carrie felt trapped, frustrated, and underappreciated. She felt her talent was being wasted.

To make matters worse, her entire family lived in the Pacific Northwest. Carrie had left everything she knew and loved behind, including Steve, her college sweetheart. He’d married less than six months after she took the position in Chicago. It hadn’t taken him long, she noted. The worst part was that Carrie was far too busy reporting on social events to have time for much of a social life herself. She dated occasionally, but she hadn’t found anyone who made her heart race. Dave Schneider, the man she’d been seeing most recently, was more of a friend than a love interest. She supposed after Steve she was a bit hesitant to get involved again. Maybe once she left the Herald and moved home to write for a newspaper in the Seattle area, like she planned, things would be different.


Back inside her condo, Carrie gingerly removed her shoes and sighed with relief.

This was it. She was done. First thing in the morning she would hand in her two-week notice, sublet her condo, and take her chances in the job market in Seattle. If the managing editor, Nash Jorgen, refused to give her the opportunity to prove she had what it took, then why stay? She refused to be pigeonholed.

That decided, Carrie limped into her bedroom and fell into bed, tired, frustrated, and determined to make a change.

“You can’t be serious,” argued Sophie Peterson, her closest friend at the newspaper, when Carrie told her of her decision.

“I’m totally serious,” she said as she hobbled to her desk.

“What’s wrong with your foot?” Sophie asked, tagging behind her.

“Stupidity. This gorgeous pair of shoes was only available in a half-size smaller than what I normally wear. They were so perfect, and they were buy one pair, get the second half off. I couldn’t resist, but now I’m paying for it.”

“Carrie, don’t do it.”

“Don’t worry, I have no intention of wearing those heels again. I tossed them in a bag for charity.”

“Not that,” Sophie argued. “Don’t hand in your notice! You’re needed here.”

“Not as a reporter,” Carrie assured her, dumping her purse in her bottom drawer and shucking off her thick winter coat. “Sorry, my mind is made up. You and I both know Nash will never give me a decent assignment.”

“You’re your own worst enemy.” Sophie leaned against the wall that separated their two cubicles and crossed her arms and ankles.

“How’s that?”

“Well, for one thing, you’re the perfect fit for the society page. You’re drop-dead gorgeous, tall, and thin. It doesn’t hurt that you look fabulous in a slinky black dress and a pair of spike heels. Even if I could get my hair to grow that thick, long, and curly without perming the living daylights out of it, Nash would never consider someone like me. It isn’t any wonder he wants you on the job. Give the guy a little credit, will you? He knows what he’s doing.”

“If looks are the only criterion—”

“There’s more,” Sophie said, cutting her off. “You’re great with people. All you need to do is bat those baby blues at them and strangers open up to you. It’s a gift, I tell you, a real gift.”

“Okay, I’m friendly, but this isn’t the kind of writing I want to do. I’ve got my heart set on being a reporter, a real reporter, writing about real news and interesting people.” In the beginning, Carrie had been flattered by the way people went out of their way to introduce themselves at the events she covered. It didn’t take long for her to recognize that they were looking for her to mention their names in print. What shocked her was the extent people were willing to go in order to be noticed. She was quickly becoming jaded, and this bothered her even more than Nash’s lack of faith in her abilities.

The holidays were the worst, and while it was only early November, the frenzy had already started. The list of parties Nash assigned her to attend was already mammoth. Halloween decorations were still arranged around her desk, and already there was a Christmas tree in the display window of the department store across the street.

Determined to stick with her plan, Carrie went directly into Nash Jorgen’s office.

A veteran newsman, Nash glanced up from his computer screen and glared in her direction. He seemed to sense this wasn’t a social visit. His shoulders rose with a weary sigh. “What now?” he growled.

“I’m handing in my two-week notice.” If she’d been looking for a response, she would have been disappointed.

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