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L.K. Campbell

Author of Contemporary & Historical Fiction

Revenge Wore Lipstick

Chapter 1

JESS McELROY eased her car into the right lane of traffic on the interstate highway and scanned her mirrors. A small, red convertible rushed up behind her and hugged her rear bumper. When the car swerved into the left lane, it swayed a little too close for comfort. Without thinking, Jess jerked the steering wheel to the right. Her tires grazed the shoulder of the road. Adrenaline rushed through her chest. Her knuckles turned white from their grip on the steering wheel.

She maneuvered her tires back onto the pavement and shot a glance toward the other driver. The woman turned toward her. Dark sunglasses obscured her eyes, but her lips formed a tight, thin line. She sped forward and cut into the right lane missing Jess’s front fender by inches. Even though she’d worked hard on her bent toward road rage, Jess shoved her palm into the soft center of her steering wheel and let her horn blare. The woman accelerated, putting several car-lengths between them in a matter of seconds. Before the convertible fled out of sight, Jess noticed the temporary dealer tag stuck onto the rear bumper.

“I hope you weren’t taking that expensive car for a test drive, lady.”

Oh, no, is this a bad omen? Second thoughts about her job interview flooded her mind. Had she rushed into the decision to change jobs? Staying with the safe and familiar would decrease her chances of being killed on the interstate traveling to and from work. Still, she’d received a good vibe from her interview with Parker Montgomery. For the first time in months, she had an optimistic feeling about her life. She wouldn’t let one bad driver on I-85 scare her out of a great opportunity.

 * * *

 The door stood ajar. Light spilled out into the darkened hallway where no one had bothered to replace a burned out fluorescent in the overhead fixture. She drew back her shoulders, inhaled a deep breath, and tapped on the door.

“Joe, I need to speak with you if you have a minute.”

He tossed her a strange look. She’d grown accustomed to seeing those ever since his impromptu marriage in the Bahamas.

“Sure,” he said. “But only for a minute. I have a meeting to attend.”

When didn’t Joe have a meeting? If ever there was an example of an absentee boss, Joe was it. A running joke around the paper coined Joe the drive-by manager. She walked into his office, being careful not to trip over a stack of old newspapers next to the door.

“I’m not going to beat around the bush,” she said without bothering to take a seat. “My appointment this afternoon was at Piedmont Today. I’m taking a job in their news department.”

His feet fell off the edge of his desk, and his mouth dropped open but no words came out.

“Well, aren’t you going to say anything?” she asked.

“Jess, when did you decide to do this?”

She closed her eyes and counted to three.

“If you’d been listening to me for the past several weeks, you wouldn’t have to ask. I don’t think my staying here would be good for either of us.”

He stood up and pushed the door shut. He reached out to put his hands on her shoulders, but she backed away.

“Didn’t I tell you that my marriage is only temporary?” he asked. “As soon as Kathy’s trust fund comes through, I can file for divorce. With no pre-nup, I’ll get half and then you and I can be together again.”

She clenched her fists at her side. Anger welled up within her.

“Joe, for God’s sake, please stop talking like that. We’ve been over for months now and that’s not going to change regardless of your marital situation. The fact that you can’t accept it is one of the reasons why I have to leave here.”

He plopped down onto the sofa that was positioned against one wall of the office. Oh, the stories that sofa could tellstories that she no longer wanted to remember.

He raked his fingers through his blond hair and then clasped his hands on top of his head. “Could you have a little faith in me?” he asked. “That’s the one thing I thought I could always count on from you, Jess.”

Her cheeks blazed hot. “Don’t talk to me about faith, Joe. You don’t have the right.”

He stood up and faced her. After meeting Parker Montgomery, Joe didn’t seem as tall as he once did.

“Okay,” he said. “So you have no loyalty to me but what about the paper? Andy needs you.”

He’d hit her where it would hurt the most. She hated having her loyalty to the paper or her co-workers questioned. Still, her resolve remained strong. She took a few steps toward the door and reached for the handle.

“You needn’t try to guilt me into staying. I’m doing what I have to do.”

He waved a hand in front of her face to dismiss her and turned his back. So, that’s how it’s going to be. She jerked the door open and walked out.

While she’d been in Concord, her small cubicle desk in the newsroom had been papered with messages and mail. She tossed her purse into the corner.

“Jess, I don’t believe it. Joe just told me.”

Her head snapped around, and she saw her managing editor leaning against the cubicle wall. His face resembled a sad puppy’s. She didn’t want to disappoint Andy. She liked him, even though she’d once thought him too young and inexperienced to be named Managing Editor.

“It’s true,” she said.

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and rubbed a hand across the top of his closely cropped haircut. “But why? You’ve been here a long time, and the people in the community love and trust you.”

She pulled off her teal suit jacket and draped it across the back of her chair. “I know, Andy, and please don’t think that this was an easy decision. I put a lot of soul-searching into it.”

He nodded. Something in his dark eyes told her that he understood. It wouldn’t have surprised her to find out that Andy knew about her affair with Joe.

Piedmont Today is getting one hell of a reporter,” Andy said. “I hope Parker Montgomery knows that.”

She picked up the mail that had been left on her desk and glanced at it. “Do you know him very well?” she asked.

Andy shoved his hands into the pockets of his khaki pants and lifted one shoulder. “I met him at an NCPA meeting. He seemed like a nice enough guy to me, but I could tell that there was no love lost between him and Joe.”

“Really? What made you feel that way?” she asked.

A slight grin spread across his mouth. “Because Joe said some bad things about Montgomery during the return trip from Raleigh.”

She placed a knee in the center of her chair and leaned against it. “What kind of bad things?”

Andy stepped closer and whispered, “According to Joe, Parker was run out of the last town where he worked.”

Unease gripped her. She didn’t need to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire, as her grandma would say.

“And why was that?” she asked.

Andy leaned closer and lowered his voice. “Because he had an affair with the School Board Chairman’s wife. I don’t know if I believed Joe or not. I think he was jealous because Piedmont Today took home more awards than our paper. You know how he gets every time they cover stuff that happens in Fulton—especially when they scoop us.”

She swallowed the bitter taste in her throat. “I’m sure it was jealousy on Joe’s part,” she said. “And Mr. Montgomery’s personal business is none of mine so let’s not talk about what Joe said.”

He nodded and perched on the corner of the light gray desk. “So when is your last day?”

“I’m going to give Joe two weeks notice. I told Mr. Montgomery that I needed to do that.”

Andy folded his arms across his chest and stared at his feet. “If it’s any consolation, Joe treated you like crap.”

She had a strong temptation to pretend that she didn’t know what Andy meant. On the other hand, what point would there be in carrying on the charade now?

“How long have you known?” she asked.

“I have a little confession to make,” he whispered. “And I swear I never told anyone else and never will.”

Her knees grew weak. “What kind of confession?”

He turned his head in both directions, before whispering, “I came in early one morning because I’d left my camera here the night before. I guess you thought you were alone with Joe in the building. It was right after he returned from the Bahamas. I heard you arguing with him, and you said that you wished you’d never …”

Thank goodness, the beep of her phone interrupted Andy. Heat pricked her cheeks.

“Would you excuse me?”

After Andy walked away, she picked up the outside line. A woman’s voice answered, but a terrible connection caused the signal to fade in and out. The line cleared long enough for Jess to hear, “I know all about you.”

“Who is this?” she asked.

Some more garbled words came through but then the line went dead.

“Probably some telemarketer,” she said aloud and dropped the cordless receiver onto the desk.

She removed her compact from her purse and stared at her red cheeks in the mirror. My face matches my hair color. The thought of Andy standing outside the door listening to her private conversation with Joe embarrassed her to the core. Anyone could’ve walked in and heard us. Had her feelings for Joe caused her to lose all of her common sense? She had the chance to rectify that mistake. She had no more doubts that leaving The Journal would be the best move for her.

 * * *

Jess awakened with a start. A shrill sound pierced her tender nerves. Is the phone ringing? What time is it? She reached for her phone on her bedside and squinted at the screen. Good grief, it’s past midnight. The words Private Number appeared on the caller I.D. pop-up. I’m tempted not to answer it.

“This is Jess McElroy. Who is this?”

“Come on, Jess. It’s me.”

Her head fell back down onto the pillow. “Why are you calling me, Joe?”

He didn’t answer right away. I should hang up, now, she thought.

“Well, you see. I have this problem,” he said. “One of my key people at the paper walked out on me.”

She rolled over toward the nightstand. “Knock it off,” she said. “I’ve said all I have to say about that. Where are you, anyway?”

“I’m sitting outside on my deck,” he said.

“What? In the middle of the night? Where is your new bride?”

“She’s asleep. I miss you, Jess. I miss making love with you…”

Jess bolted forward in the bed. “I’m hanging up now, Joe. Don’t ever call me again.”

A long time ago, he’s pleading might have meant something to her. Now, it disgusted her.

“Don’t leave me, Jess,” he whispered. “I’ll give you more money—anything you want.”

Fury overtook her. “Joe, I was going to give you two weeks notice, but I’m going to clean out my desk in the morning. I think that the sooner I put some distance between us, the better off we’ll both be.”

She pressed end call. It rang again before she could place it back on the table. Again, the words Private Number appeared on the caller I.D. She decided to let voicemail pick it up, but the ringing didn’t stop. She slapped a palm against her forehead. Earlier, she’d turned off her voicemail app to keep Joe from leaving unwanted messages. She swiped the screen.

“Hello,” she said.

No one responded but in the background, she could hear the kind of canned laughter used in old television programs.

“Don’t call me again, Joe. I mean it.”

She heard a beep and then dead silence. Jess pressed the button to shut down the phone. This is the only way I’m going to get any sleep tonight.

Blurb

After ending her love affair with the publisher of her hometown newspaper, Jess McElroy's life is disrupted by a stalker. With each incident, the danger increases. Her boss, Parker Montgomery is determined to keep her safe and to discover the perpetrator's identity. The closer he gets to the truth, the more he fears that it could be someone from his dark past.

Category: Fiction,
Action & suspense,
Romantic suspense
Published: June 19, 2009
Words: 52,600
Language: English
ISBN: 9781452363660

 

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