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ROMANCE ON THE ROAD excerpt

Dear Cordelia,

Freud had if all wrong. He should have asked: What do men want? Why is it that saying the L word practically gives men hives? Why does the merest hint of the word “commitment” catapult men into flight? Why will a man relentlessly pursue a woman, only to change his mind about her once she yields to his advances? I’m beginning to believe men think of women as they do fishing trips. Catch and release. Thank God it’s January—the lakes are frozen over just like my heart.

     Shivering in Chicago

 

Dear Shivering,

Things could be worse. You could still be dating a commitmentphobe. At least now you’re free to find the right guy. In the famous words of Mae West, “A woman has to love a bad man once or twice in her life to be thankful for a good one.” Don’t give up yet. Cordy predicts that if you let the ice in your heart melt a little, you’ll soon land the keeper you’ve been looking for.

     Cordelia 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

All she wanted was to be part of breaking news instead of baking news. The chance to write about murders instead of menus. A little more pizazz and a little less pizza. Was it really so much to ask? 

Liza Dunnigan scrolled through the three story ideas her editor had sent over—fast and tasty tortilla treats, winter dinners guaranteed to warm the soul, and waffle mania (whatever that meant). She let out a sigh.

Seven years of quick easy dishes and happy holiday entertaining and cool low-carb cooking and blah, blah, blah. Enough. She’d been working in the same job at the Chicago Sentinel since the day she graduated college—the small, private girls’ school her parents insisted she attend when she’d really wanted to go to the University of Wisconsin with its wild parties and Big Ten football games. Instead, it had been sherry with the dean, charcoal blazers, and discussions of Thomas Hardy.

Well, no more.

She glanced up as one of her food section coworkers slid into the chair next to her desk. Kristin Coulter, every man’s dream woman—tall, thin, blond, blue-eyed. She wore clothing effortlessly, making everything she put on look like a Vogue cover. Good thing she was as nice a person as was ever born. Because it kind of made her hard to despise.

“You look different today,” Kristin said.

Liza looked down at herself. “Navy skirt. White shirt. Ballet flats. I don’t think so.” She reached behind her back to give a quick roll to the waistband of her skirt. Kristin probably never had to roll her waistband to make her skirt length fashionable. Probably because Kristin had the good sense to buy new clothes when styles changed.

The thought took her aback. Until this moment, she’d always considered Kristin’s attention to fashion a frivolous waste of money.

“Not your clothes,” Kristin was saying. “Your face. Seven years together in the food section and I can tell these things. You’re hiding something.”

Liza grinned.

“I knew it! What are you up to?”

Liza glanced at her watch with its plain black leather band. How very mundane. “In half an hour I’m going upstairs for an interview—”

“You’re leaving the food section?” Kristin gaped at her.

A thrill ran through Liza that her announcement came as such a shock. Kristin’s reaction was reinforcement of just how predictable she’d become. It was definitely time to put her new plan into action. As of today, her motto was: Throw caution to the wind.

Kristin leaned forward and waggled a finger at her. “This has something to do with Mark, doesn’t it?”

Damn. “No. It’s about me. I’m twenty-nine years old, in a rut twenty feet deep and a mile wide.”

Kristin pushed herself up, put her hands on her hips and faced Liza, eyes sparkling. “It’s about Mark.”

Liza exhaled in defeat. “Fine. If it makes you feel better, I admit, Mark is the catalyst. But all he did was open my eyes. When he called me practical and predictable, it made me realize just how boring I really am.”

“Honey, that was months ago. Just because he dumped you doesn’t mean he’s right. The world could use a few more practical people.”

“Let it be someone other than me. I’m changing my life.”

“Because of Mark.”

“No. Because of me. All my life I’ve followed the rules, taken the safe route even when I didn’t want to. And what has it gotten me? Don’t answer that. It’s too late for sales pitches about yesterday’s life. I’ve thought about this for months. It’s time to shake things up. I’m going after the kind of job I’ve always wanted, the kind of job I should have applied for years ago.”

“You’re leaving the food section,” Kristin repeated, almost dumbfounded.

“Cross your fingers,” Liza said airily. “There’s an opening upstairs for an investigative reporter and I’m going for it. With any luck, I’ll soon be saying goodbye meatballs and hello mystery.”

Forty-five minutes later she was seated across a large beat-up metal desk from Bill Klein, managing editor, a paunchy and wrinkled middle-aged man who looked as if he had left investigative reporting behind years ago. While his desktop was virtually empty, fat manila files and stacks of paper covered almost every other flat surface in the room. Behind him, high-tech laser beams shot across his black computer screen.

He hadn’t cracked a smile since the interview began, hadn’t seemed impressed by her resume. And now, as she watched his bald head bent over her portfolio of sample articles, it was painfully clear that he wasn’t impressed by her writing either.

“You’ve been with the food section for seven years,” he said in a monotone. “Tell me about that.”

Liza cleared her throat. The job hunting websites said to sell yourself, make your experience match the skills needed for the job. Food—investigative reporting. Now there was a match if she’d ever seen one.

“I get story ideas from almost anywhere. I might read something that inspires a concept for a series. Or a meal in a restaurant will trigger an idea. Then my first step is—” She paused for emphasis. “—research and investigation. I’ll look into the history of a certain dish or the uses of a particular spice. I dig in, search to find the truth, and expose it to—”

A loud screech from the interoffice buzzer on his desk phone stopped her midsentence.

Mr. Klein sighed and picked up the phone. “Yes?”

Liza shifted in her seat so she could look through the glass wall behind her at the newsroom, awash in activity. She could picture herself there, phone squeezed between shoulder and ear as she typed the finishing touches of a gripping exposé into the computer. Her heart beat a little faster. This was where the action was, the excitement, the pulse of the newspaper. She had to get this job. She just had to. This was about as far from predictable as you could get.

After a long pause, Klein said, “You tell him the deadline is nine o’clock. If he’s not finished by then, the story doesn’t go in. It’s not a big enough scoop to hold the presses. Got that? And Mary, hold my calls, I’m doing an interview right now.”

He banged the phone onto the base and shook his head. “Sorry. We’re using a freelancer until we can fill this position. The guy doesn’t understand the meaning of the word deadline.

“I’ve never missed a deadline in the food section. I’d bring that same conscientiousness to investigative reporting. A reporter needs to know when the story is finished. I guess it’s sort of an intuitive thing.” An intuitive thing? Oh, please, she needed to learn when to quit talking.

He raised an eyebrow. “Tell me, does this intuitive thing help at all when you can’t get anyone to confirm information on the record that someone has leaked off the record?”

A thrill of excitement rushed through her. Never once in all her years on the food section had anyone ever had to go off the record to answer her questions. Off the record. Let alone talking about leaking secrets. The very thought made her all the more determined to get the job. She sat up straighter.

“I guess ... intuition would help me choose just the right persuasive argument to get the source to go on the record. Or even help me decide whether I can push that person to give me names of people to contact who could confirm the information.”

She leaned forward and felt the waistband at the back of her skirt unroll a bit