For B. J. Carlyle, features editor at Alpha magazine, that
fateful day in late October started out in abject
wretchedness β and went downhill from there.
B.J. was not someone who hit the snooze button as a rule,
but that morning she did. She hit it. And she kept hitting
it every five minutes for over an hour. Eventually, she
realized it was either get up β or admit she was taking a
sick day. B. J. Carlyle did not take sick days.
So she crawled out of bed groaning and headed straight for
the bathroom, where she dropped to her knees, banged the
seat lid back and threw up. Repeatedly.
By the time she finally stopped gagging and staggered
upright, it was much too late for her usual session on the
Stairmaster, let alone her blenderized breakfast cocktail
of fruit juice and vitamin-packed protein powder.
Okay, she told herself. Fine. Tomorrow for the Stairmaster.
And the protein drink? Skipping it was not a problem,
considering that the thought of gulping it down had her
queasy stomach threatening to bring her to her knees again.
B.J. ate three saltine crackers and grabbed a quick
shower. Precious extra minutes went into her makeup. She
troweled on the concealer in a mostly failed effort to
hide the ravages incurred by five virtually sleepless
nights in a row. Finally, she put on her favorite short
black pencil skirt and that cute pink Donna Karan silk
blouse with the opera-glove sleeves and the wild spill of
ruffles at the neck and the black snub-toed Pradas with
the four-inch heels. Though she was a tall woman β five-
eight in flats β on a day like this, she could use all the
extra height she could get. She pulled on a short, snug
pink leather blazer over the blouse, grabbed her big black
alligator bag and her briefcase, and went out the door
without so much as glancing at her message machine.
That little red light was blinking and she knew it. It had
been blinking when she came in the night before. She knew
who'd called. She'd checked the display.
She wasn't talking to him β she wasn't even going to
listen to his deep, sexy recorded voice. Uh-uh. Not a
Downstairs, she waited, trying not to tap her toe, while
sweet old Melvin, the doorman, got her a cab. Traffic on
Broadway was a zoo β no surprise. The cab smelled of
garlic and wet shoes. Her cell rang twice. Probably Giles,
her right-hand man at Alpha. By now, Giles would be
wondering where the hell she was.
B.J. ignored the calls. She stared out the side window at
the sea of scurrying pedestrians and honking vehicles and
told herself she was not going to vomit β garlic and
stinky-shoe smell be damned. She was keeping down her
three measly crackers and that was that.
At West 58th, she got out of the cab and sucked in a deep
breath of lovely exhaust-rich, garlic-free air. She paid
the cabbie. She tugged on her blazer and brushed at her
skirt. Then she yanked her shoulders back, stuck her chin
in the air and strode purposefully toward the black-marble-
and-glass building that housed the offices of Alpha
magazine. B.J."s father, L.T. Carlyle, owned the building.
Alpha had the fifteenth floor.
B.J. spent the ride up to the offices trying not to look
at her own reflection in the elevator's mirrored walls and
ignoring her cell, which was ringing again. She had that
Bride of Chucky look around the eyes. Scary. Very scary.
And she really should have used a little more blusher....
The doors slid wide and she was facing the Alpha reception
desk, complete with stunning receptionist Melanie, who had
exotic slanted eyes and preternatu-rally large lips β lips
that went with her breasts, as a matter of fact. Melanie
automatically beamed her blinding big-lipped smile, as
she'd been trained to do whenever the elevator doors
Then she realized it was B.J. "Oh! B.J.You're...late."
Melanie stated the obvious with a look of pure
bewilderment. B.J., after all, was never late. And beyond
the bewilderment, didn't Melanie seem a little...guilty?
She had a magazine open in front of her. She flipped it
closed, folded her slim French-manicured hands on top of
it and blinked three times in rapid succession.
Even with Melanie's tightly clasped hands in the way, B.J.
could see enough of the cover to make a positive
identification: TopMale magazine. Apparently, Melanie felt
guilty for checking out Alpha"s competition. Did B.J. care
what the receptionist read while she was supposed to be
Not today, she didn't. "Good morning, Melanie," B.J.
announced vehemently, and headed for the hallway to the
left of the desk.
Melanie called after her. "Uh. Giles says he needs to talk
to you. He's been trying to reach you...."
B.J. stopped, pivoted on her mean black heels, and gave
the receptionist her most terrifying smile. "And I'm
headed his way as we speak, now aren't I? Or I was, until
you stopped me."
"Uh. Well," said Melanie, coloring prettily. "Yeah. Okay.
B.J. proceeded down the hall, sprinkling tight greetings
at random colleagues as she went, careful not to make eye
contact, which would encourage further communication. She
was so not up for anything beyond "Hi," right then β not
that anyone tried to get her talking. In fact, they all
seemed a little...strange, didn't they? A little sheepish,
their grins of greeting bordering on smarmy.
Or was she only being paranoid due to sleep deprivation,
unremitting nausea and raging hormones?
Hmm. Could be.
Giles had the office next to hers. His door was open. She
had to walk past it to get to her own. She was tempted to
try that β zip right by, pop into her own office and shut
the door. Silently.
Which was absurd. No point in coming to work just to hide
in her office.
She stepped boldly into the doorway of Giles's narrow
cubicle, which only achieved the designation of "office"
because it had actual walls and a door he could
shut. "What?" she demanded.
Giles tossed his head as he looked up. His sleek blond
hair flew back out of his eyes. "God. I thought you must
have died." People assumed that Giles had to be gay, he
was so pretty. He let them assume it. Women adored him.
They felt safe with him, even though they weren't. He
loved to gossip and he cared about fashion. His last name
was CynSyr, pronounced sincere β which he actually was, on
occasion. Giles spotted her shoes. "Darling. I love those.
All you need is a whip."
"Is there a problem or not?"
"Unfortunately, there is." He peered at her more
closely. "Are you...all right?"
She stood straighter and lied β aggressively. "Fabulous."
"Did you, ah, see the new issue of TopMale, by any chance?"
She scowled. "What is it with that? Melanie was reading it
just now, when I came in."
"You haven't seen it."
"Ah β first, the good news." He grabbed the Star-bucks cup
at his elbow and held it out to her. "Decaf mocha almond.
Venti. One packet of Splenda. Just the way you like it."
His golden brows drew together and he wrinkled his
aquiline nose. "Sorry, but it's lukewarm by now."
She stepped into the room and took the latte from
him. "Thanks. You do have your uses."
"I figured you'd need it."
"I do." Assuming she could get it down without hurling.
She gestured with the covered cardboard cup.
"Okay. Let me have it."
"Disaster, that's all."
Her stomach lurched. She swallowed. Hard. "I'm listening."
"The Wise Brothers just broke up," Giles said.
"Their manager called Mike yesterday. They're not going to
be available for the Christmas cover story."
The Wise Brothers were the biggest thing to hit popular
music since...comparisons failed her. And this was not
good. Very, very not good.
B.J. shoved a stack of back issues off Giles's lone extra
chair and sank into it, dropping her briefcase to the
floor, letting her bag slide off her shoulder. "Tell me
Giles did nothing of the kind. "I'm as serious as a cheap
tie. Trust me. "Christmas with the Three Wise Men' is
"But...a different slant, maybe? Their new solo careers?
Giles was shaking his golden head. "They don't want to do
it. They are all, and I'm quoting Mike quoting the
manager, "devastated." They're also all in seclusion, or
some such crap. Mike tried all day yesterday to get
through to at least one of them. No luck. And we both know
that if Mike can't get to them, nobody can." Mike Gallato,
one of the best, was Alpha"s top contributing editor.
And B. J. Carlyle never gave up a major story without a
fight. She shouldered her bag again, grabbed up her
briefcase and shot to her feet. "I'll make a few calls."
"Been done. It's hopeless."
"Never use that word around me."
"Hah." She started to turn.
Gingerly, from behind her, Giles suggested, "Just... a
point or two more."
She whirled back to him. "Speak. Fast."
"Arnie wants a meeting at eleven to discuss your plans."
Arnie Dale was the managing editor. In recent years, Arnie
pretty much ran things at Alpha, though B.J."s father, who
had created Alpha on their kitchen table back when B.J.
was in diapers, had never relinquished his twin titles of
publisher and editor-in-chief.
B.J. prompted, "My plans for...?"
Giles looked at her patiently. "The new Christmas-issue
She blew out a gusty breath. "Fine. Meeting at eleven."
She looked at her watch. Nine-thirty-two. She needed to
get going on those calls. "Anything else?"
"Ah. Yes." Giles wore the strangest expression, suddenly.
Pitying? Worried? She couldn't read it. B.J. made an
awkward wrap-it-up gesture with the hand that held her
briefcase, after which Giles clucked his tongue and tossed
his golden locks again. Then, at last, the perfect line of
his square jaw hardened. His fine nostrils flared. He
yanked open his pencil drawer and whipped out the latest
issue of TopMale magazine β the one Melanie had been
reading so furtively a few minutes before.
"Oh, please," B.J. said. "As if I've got time to read that
rag with my December cover feature dead at my feet."
Giles stood β or sat, in this case β firm. "Darling. You
need to read this."
"Just give me the salient points."
Giles only shook his head and shoved the magazine toward
her. "I marked the page. Go in your office, sit down,
drink your lukewarm latte and then deal with that. And
when you do, keep in mind that it's nothing but
meaningless drivel written by a dickless ass."