"An exciting and complex plot makes this thrilling mystery a must-read."
Reviewed by Kay Quintin
Posted January 16, 2010
Romance Suspense | Mystery Amateur Sleuth
As an investigative reporter for Channel 3 in Boston,
Charlotte "Charlie" McNally finds herself juggling her
stressful career while planning her wedding. Joshua
Gelston, a prominent professor at the elite and prestigious
Baxter School, is Charlie's true love. Believing her
biological clock has stopped ticking, Charlie is looking
forward to be step-mother to Josh's young daughter.
Charlie is forced to come to grips with which is more
important, being a wife and mother or accepting a once-in-a-
lifetime offer with a New York station. If that isn't
enough to deal with, Charlie, along with her sidekick
photographer, JT, and producer, Franklin, is knee deep in
the investigation of their lives. Uncovering a counterfeit
auto scam, as well as involvement of murder at Baxter,
Charlie's knowing too much results in a fight for her life.
Tires squeal and burn as long, cold stake-out nights keep
the trio in disguise while the film is rolling for that #1
If you're looking for an exciting and complex plot, this is
the book for you. Hank Phillippi Ryan has written
another sexy thriller full of mystery. I found it to be
very refreshing and written with a plot that has the reader
grasping every word. DRIVE TIME is equally as exciting as
the previous three novels about Charlie.
Investigative reporter Charlotte McNally is an expert at
keeping things confidential, but suddenly everyone has a
secretâ€”and it turns out it is possible to know too much.
Her latest scoopâ€”an expose of a counterfeit car scam,
complete with stakeouts, high-speed chases and hidden-camera
footageâ€”is ratings gold. But soon that leads her to a
brand-new and diabolical scheme. Charlieâ€™s personal and
professional lives are on a collision course, too. Her
fiancĂ© is privy to information about threats at an elite
private school that have turned deadly.
Charlie has never counted on happy endings. But now, just as
sheâ€™s finally starting to believe in second chances, she
realizes revenge, extortion and murder may leave her alone
againâ€”or even dead . . . .
ExcerptI can't wait to tell our secret. And I'll get to do it if
we're not all killed first.
We're ten minutes away from Channel 3 when suddenly the
Boston skyline disappears. Murky slush splatters across our
windshield, kicked up from the tires of the rattletrap big
rig that just swerved in front of us on the snow-slick
highway. Eighteen wheels of obstacle, stubbornly obeying the
Massachusetts Turnpike speed limit.
I brace myself once again. During this afternoon's
teeth-clenching, bone-rattling, knuckle-whitening drive,
I've learned how J.T. feels about speed limits.
"Fifty-five is for cowards!" he mutters. My new
photographer powers our unmarked car into the passing lane,
sloshing what's left of my coffee and almost throwing me
across the backseat. Franklin, seemingly oblivious to our
icy peril, is in the front seat clicking on his newest phone
gizmo. As usual these days, my producer's deep into texting.
"Thanks, I'm fine back here," I call out, blotting
the milky spill from my just dry-cleaned black coat. I don't
even attempt to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. J.T. Shaw
may be a hotshot when it comes to news video, but he
apparently learned his driving skills chasing headlines in
the network's Middle East Bureau. Now, even though he's back
stateside shooting my investigative stories, he still thinks
he's driving in Beirut. Where they don't have ice. Or speed
Eight minutes away from Channel 3. Eight minutes away from
the rest of my life. I hope I make it.
I look at the still-unfamiliar emerald-cut diamond on my
third finger, left hand. Even in the fading winter light, it
glistens, catching the January sunset, fire in the center.
I'm strapped into the backseat of a deathtrap news car, but
memories still spark the beginnings of a smile. Josh handing
me the heart-stoppingly iconic robin's-egg-blue box. The
creak of the tiny hinges as I opened it. The twinkle, the
love, the passion in his hazel eyes as Josh slipped the
glittering surprise onto my finger. Charlotte McNally,
soon-to-be married lady. The family of investigative
reporter Charlotte Ann McNally, age forty-seven, of Boston,
announces her engagement to BexterAcademy professor Joshua
Ives Gelston, fifty-two, ofBrookline…
"Charlotte! Get the license number!"
Snapped out of my bliss by the squeal of brakes, I look up
to see Franklin twisted over the front seat, pointing out
the back window. And then I hear a skid. Metal on metal. A
horn blaring. Then another one. Then silence.
"It looks like a—blue? Black? What kind of
car?" Franklin's squinting through his newest pair of
eyeglasses, these rimless, almost invisible. He's jabbing a
finger toward the highway behind us. We're going at least
seventy now, speeding away from whatever he's looking at.
"Over there, across the Pike. Right lane."
I follow his finger, unsnapping my seat belt and yanking my
coat so I can face backward on the seat, knees tucked under
me. My turn to squint. "The guy in the—? I think
it's blue. Some sort of sports car? Going too fast—
he's crazy. All I can see is taillights. What happened?"
Then I see what's on the side of the road. The puzzle pieces
snap together. And the big picture means J.T.'s Indiana
Jones driving ability may come in handy. Problem is, we're
going in the wrong direction.
"J.T.! Check it out in your rearview." Using one
finger, I poke him in the shoulder. "Behind us. Other
side of the Pike. Looks like a hit-and-run. A car ran into
the guardrail. Any way to get us there? Like, right now?"
I grab the leather strap above my seat, preparing for the
inevitable g-force. Traffic accident? Definitely. News
story? Maybe. But I'm a reporter and it's my responsibility
to find out.
Keeping my eyes on the accident scene, I use my free hand to
grope through my bottomless black leather tote bag for my
phone. I know it's in there somewhere, but I can't take my
eyes off the crash to look for it. Why are we still speeding
"J.T.? Listen, we've got to turn around somehow. Come
on, just do it! Franko, you call 911, okay? My phone
With a blare of the horn, J.T. swerves us across two lanes,
skidding briefly in the slush and splattering ice pellets
across our windows. I'm thrown across the seat again,
grabbing to get my seat belt back on before I'm the next
casualty. So much for getting to the station on time. And
this was my idea.
J.T. checks his rearview, his expression hidden behind his
oversize sunglasses, then jounces us across an emergency
lane in a who-cares-it's-illegal U-turn. With a two-handed
twist of the steering wheel, he bangs the gas to speed us in
the opposite direction.
"We're approaching mile marker 121," Franklin is
saying into his phone. He's braced for the ride, one hand
clamped on the dashboard, and his voice is terse. "Mass
Pike. Westbound. Car in the ditch."
We're almost there. Off the road, skewed and tilted at an
angle that telegraphs disaster, there's a set of taillights
that's not moving. The trunk of the blocky sedan is open. I
can't see the front of the car. And I can't see anyone
"Tell them the guy who caused it left the scene," I
instruct. My fingers touch my own phone. "Tell
them— blue or black. Sports car. Headed west. Fast.
And no movement at the crash site. And no fire. Yet. I'll
call the assignment desk. Let them know we're on the
scene." And we'll be late getting back, I don't say.
Josh should be used to it by this time. And he—
generally—understands a reporter can't control
breaking news. Thing is, being late today has some extra
baggage. In two hours we're supposed to be breaking our own
news: telling Penny she's getting a new stepmother. Me.
The nine-year-old was at Walt Disney World with her mother
and stepfather when Josh and I got engaged. This week, still
on school vacation, Penny's back with Josh. Now it seems
like our news, Reality World, will have to stay secret a bit
longer. My mother knows, of course. And Franklin. He and I
have no secrets. Working as a team, sharing an office,
there's no way.
Franklin and I usually handle the blockbuster stories,
long-term investigations, Emmy caliber. Two months ago, we
pulled off a showstopper, revealing international
counterfeiting and FBI corruption. But after twenty-plus
years in the biz, I know local news demands local news. And
a hit-and-run tragedy could lead the show. I punch 33 on my
cell phone's speed dial.
Clamping the phone to my ear with my shoulder, I rip off my
black suede heels and yank on the flat snow boots I always
carry this time of year in a red nylon Channel 3 pouch. Yes,
I'm a pack mule. But I can't be worrying about slush on
suede. Or cold feet.
Notebook. Pencil. And finally, the assignment desk picks up.
"Channel 3 News…"
"Hold some time on the six," I interrupt. "It's
Charlie McNally. Got a pen? Tell the producer. Spot news on
the Mass Pike. Hit-and-run. Car in a ditch. Casualties
unknown. Franklin Parrish is with me. J.T.'s shooting. More
to come. Got it?" I flip the phone closed in the middle
of "Okay" and open the car door.
A blast of January hits me, and I scramble to keep my
balance in the frozen slush of the rutted roadside. A quick
check of my trademark red lipstick in the car's side mirror
also reminds me my hair's brownish roots are invading their
painstakingly blonded camouflage. Flipping open my spiral
notebook and edging across the breakdown lane, I look over
my shoulder to make sure J.T. has his camera out and rolling.
"Right behind you, Charlie," J.T. says. He slams the
trunk closed with one hand, and aims the camera at a pile of
still-white snow, hitting the white-balance button to make
sure our video is set to the right color. His leather gloves
have the fingers cut off, allowing him to make the tiniest
adjustments in video and sound.
"You got your external audio potted up?" Franklin asks.
I can't believe the boys are bickering again. J.T, battered
leather jacket and broken-in jeans, foreign-correspondent
cool and with a network résumé, is my age, but
he's still the new guy at Channel 3. Franklin, pressed and
preppy in Burberry camel hair, is ten years J.T.'s junior,
but still holds station seniority. Picking my way toward the
car, I turn to watch, half amused, half annoyed, as they
continue their battle for turf. Can't we all just get along?
J.T, aviator sunglasses now perched in his sandy hair,
throws Franko an are-you-kidding look, but gives the
camera's built-in microphone a tap just the same. He checks
to make sure the needle on the audio meter is moving.
"Rolling with sound, Charlie," he announces.
Franklin waves him off. "Just doing my job, pal."
"Me too, brotha," J.T. says.
Franklin hates when a white person calls him
"brother." And J.T. knows it.
"Guys?" I interrupt the escalation of World War III.
"The car? Someone's inside?"
We all head in the direction of the still-silent accident
scene. All I can hear are our footsteps and the hissing
splatter of cars streaking by on the crowded highway. Then I
see the whole picture. The mangled car, its front end
tangled in a now-twisted metal guardrail, is perched
precariously over a shallow embankment. The hood of the dark
red sedan is tented, crumpled, a discarded tin can. Tires in
shreds. Something hot is hissing onto the snow beneath the
chassis. I know the longer nothing moves, the more likely
the news inside is bad. "Come on," I say softly.
"Get out of the car."
And then, a quiet sound. Like a—cry. A baby. Crying.
"Guys?" I stop. Listening. But all is silent again.
"Did you hear that?"
And then, the car's front door creaks open. Driver's side.
Slowly. The car shifts, briefly, then settles back. No one
I flash a look at J.T.
J.T. holds up a reassuring hand, his eye pressed to the
viewfinder. "Rolling," he mouths.
Franklin points to me, then J.T, then to the car. He raises
one eyebrow. We don't want to say anything out
loud—it'll be recorded on the tape.
The crying starts again. Getting louder. Where's the
ambulance? And then I see what J.T. is capturing on camera.
A man hauls himself, hand over hand, out of the front seat.
He leans against the open door, parka to window, and presses
one gloved hand to his bleeding forehead. He's thirtyish,
suburban. His pale blue puffy jacket, striped muffler and
jeans are spattered with blood. "Gabe," he says.
He gestures toward the car, then crumples onto the front
seat, planting his salt-stained Timberland boots in the
snow. Red drops plunk onto the white, then one splats onto
his tanboot. "I'm okay," he insists, waving a hand.
"Justdizzy. Head on the steering wheel. Please. Gabe and
"Sir?" Franklin says, stepping closer. "We
called 911 and…"
I'm already yanking open the passenger-side rear door. A
boy, five years old maybe, in chunky mittens and red parka,
is still in his booster seat, seat belt on. His cheeks are
wet. His eyes are wide. The crying is coming from beside
him. There, an unhappy toddler in a pink hat, squirming in
her flowered sweater and matching snow pants, is strapped
into a padded baby seat.
"Are you the doctor?" the boy asks me. "Daddy
said you would come."
"Hi, Gabe. I'm Charlie," I say. Am I supposed to
move him? I glance at the driver's seat. In a newish car
like this, I would have expected air bags in the front.
"Everything is going to be all right, sweetheart. The
doctor will be here in one second to get you out. Is that
your sister? Do you hurt anywhere?"
"I was in a crash, so I cried a little," Gabe says.
He's earnest, his brown eyes trusting. "But I'm a big
boy. And I always wear my seat belt. So I don't hurt. Is my
daddy hurt? Sophie is crying. She always cries. She's only
one years old."
"Your dad is fine, that's a good boy," I reassure
him. Little Sophie begins to wail full blast. Her blanket is
on the floor of the car. I can't leave her there. Where is
the ambulance? What makes a car blow up?
"Gabe? If I unhook your seat belt, can you get out? I'm
going to get your sister, and then we'll all walk away from
the car. Can you do that?"
If I move the kids, am I going to make this worse? Neither
seems really hurt. And the ambulance must be on the way. And
except maybe for the hit-and-run element, this is not much
of a story. Luckily for all involved. But we have to wait
for the EMTs, at least. And maybe the cops, too, since,
technically, we're witnesses.
"I want out." Gabe, his face suddenly racked with
uncertainty, elongates the final word into a mournful plea.
I reach over, unclick four pink webbed straps from around
the now-quieting Sophie and ease her out of the baby seat,
grabbing the yellow chenille blanket from the floor and
wrapping it around her as I back out the door. Sophie
sniffles, once, then I feel her little body burrow into my
shoulder. On the other side of the car, her father is
standing again. Where's the ambulance?
"The kids are fine," I call to him across the car.
"We'll come to you."
The sky is steel and ice, promising another bitter night. I
tuck the blanket closer around Sophie, and wiggle my fingers
toward Gabe. "Take my hand, honey. Can you get down?"
Gabe slides off the seat and grabs my hand. His lower lip
gives the beginnings of a quiver. "I want to see my
daddy," he says, looking at me.
"Absolutely," I say. "And we can tell him how
brave you are."
This has got to be the strangest interview I've ever done.
The EMTs finally arrived, pleading "wicked traffic"
and "buncha jerk" drivers. They checked the kids,
plastered Declan Ross's forehead with a gauze-and-tape
bandage, pronounced everyone fine and took off. Now Sophie's
nestled peacefully over my shoulder, her little breath
sounds snuffling into my ear. Franklin and Gabe, holding
hands, are watching as I use my non-Sophie hand to hold the
Channel 3 microphone, its chunky logo red, white and blue
against the gray slush. I know we probably won't use my
interview with Declan Ross, or even the video J.T. shot of
the victims' car—Franklin's already informed the
assignment desk it's too minor to make air.
And I'm yearning to leave, meet up with Josh, share our
celebratory dinner. Take a step closer to becoming Penny's
mom. But we're here, and my years of experience dictate it's
easier to erase an interview than regret not doing it.
Better to be safe than scooped. Your job could depend on it.
"So just to be clear," I say, bringing the
microphone back in my direction, "this car is rented
because yours is in the shop?" I flip the mic back to Ross.
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