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Chapter:   Cover 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Dance In My Heart

Chapter One

The clatter of keyboards clicked through the immense newsroom, adding to Candice Lincoln’s frustration as she struggled to see through the fluorescent glare obscuring her monitor. The article she labored to complete included a five o’clock deadline, and she heaved a sigh, checking the time on her Rolex.

Four-twenty-seven.

Inhaling a deep breath, she blew the air out toward her long bangs. She rolled her eyes as the blond hair fell immediately back to rest in front of them. Frustrated, she ran her manicured nails through her hair, fisting the wayward strands on the crown of her head.

“Easy, Tiger-lady,” Justin Moriarty’s voice brought her around in her cheap fabric swivel chair. “What’s the problem?”

Releasing her hair, she picked up a sheaf of papers in both hands and shook them. “This! This is the problem. I have to compile the most worthless set of statistics, about cotton candy of all things, into an article people will actually read!”

Tossing the papers across her dull gray laminate workstation, she threw her weight into the back of her chair and propped one Gucci clad foot on the edge of her desk.

“Cotton candy?” Justin’s eyebrow raised in bewilderment. “What happened to Afghanistan?”

Candice released an unladylike snort. “Why don’t you ask the dragon,” she replied, using her own nick-name for their senior creative director.

“Uh-oh,” Justin made himself comfortable, leaning against the thin portable wall of her cubicle. “What did you do now?”

“Me? I didn’t do anything. That man hates women. He despises the fact that I’ve managed to chase stories to the four corners of the globe, while he’s been stuck in some office, reading what others have done. The fact I’m a woman and can write circles around his fat ass drives him insane.”

“So you get the human interest stuff, while I, on the other hand, have just picked up plane tickets to Kuwait from purchasing?”

She sat up straight in her chair, ignoring the thud of her boot on the worn industrial carpeting. “No!”

Justin smirked. “Enjoy the candy, Candy,” he laughed. “I’ll send you a post card from Baghdad.”

“You jerk,” she threw her mechanical pencil at his chest. He caught it and after checking the lead, slipped it into his pocket.

“I know. Ain’t it cool. I wonder what they’re wearing in Baghdad this time of year. Sand cammo?”

“Shut up. I have work to do,” she smiled. She didn’t really begrudge Justin his luck. Talented and bold, and male, it was only natural he would get the in-country assignments. “And don’t call me ‘Candy’, you know I hate that.”

“Don’t sweat it, babe. If anyone can make an article about spun sugar spin, you can.”

She appreciated his words of encouragement, even as she doubted them. Waving him away, she resumed typing. Her bangs fell into her eyes again. Huffing, she gave up and reached for the NY Giants ball-cap hanging on a plastic hook near her computer and shoved her hair into it. She ignored the fact it added nothing to her chartreuse Armani pant suit.

Twenty minutes later, she printed the two thousand-word side-bar she’d been assigned and groaned. She missed the action of real news. If she had half a brain in her head, she’d leave NATIONAL PULSE magazine behind and write freelance. She stacked the double-spaced papers neatly and clipped them together.

Rising, she walked with a shadow of her former aplomb to the Dragon’s office. Her temper threatened to flare with each step she took. She hadn’t even been given the main assignment, to cover the largest ever sea-farer’s festival to ever hit the New York waterways. She’d been assigned instead a worthless side-bar to investigate the intricacies of festival cousine. By the time she reached the very solid wood door of Mark Barlow’s office, her level of anxiety had reached its zenith. If he said just one thing about her article, made one red mark on the pristine white paper before she left his company, she’d likely kill him.

“Come in,” he called in reply to her forceful knock.

She pushed the door open and crossed the plush carpet with three long strides. Tossing the papers on the desk, she noted the time again.

“There. Eight minutes to spare.” She turned to leave.

“I knew you could do it, cupcake.”

A low growl clawed its way up her throat at the diminutive. She couldn’t kill him, she hesitated in mid-step. She needed the paycheck.

Alimony is a bitch. Especially when her ex received it, instead of paying it. The divorce court hadn’t cared she had breasts. The irony nearly made her laugh. Instead, she traced her steps back to the door.

“I have another assignment for you,” he called after her.

She turned as she reached for the doorknob. “Let me guess. You want me to survey pigeons in Central Park. Find out the motivation for shitting on the statues?”

He apparently ignored her sarcasm. She knew he heard her, unless he was losing his hearing along with his hair.

“You’re flying to Minnesota tomorrow morning. I want pictures and a human interest piece on the Ojibwe Indians. The dancers, specifically. They are having some kind of Pow Wow thing this weekend. You can pick up your plane tickets in purchasing.”

Stunned, Candice gripped the doorknob until she thought her fingers would burst. “You didn’t even check with me first? I don’t want this assignment, Mark. You know how much I hate this stuff. Who gives a shit about a bunch of Indians stomping around a camp-fire! Justin is going to Kuwait. I can tag along as his photographer. I won’t even have to write anything.” She hated the whine sounding through her voice. She hated begging.

But Minnesota? He had to be kidding.

“No, cupcake. It’s all been arranged. You’re going to Minnesota, and you’re going to bring back heartwarming pictures of Native Americans doing what Native Americans do. Beating drums and dancing.”

She narrowed her eyes, but grit her teeth. She needed the paycheck. The words were becoming a mantra, and she hated it.

She spun out of the office and would have slammed the door behind her if the damn plush-pile carpeting weren’t so thick the door barely moved at all.

She marched to her desk, picked up her Gucci bag, her Nikon, her laptop encased snugly in it’s leather case and raced toward the door. She needed to get out of here. Maybe she’d stop by Manny’s for a drink on the way home.

No. Too many memories, she sighed as she pressed the down button on the elevator. And too many fellow reporters who still had careers. The last thing she needed right now was the off-chance of running into one of her old colleagues, all too eager to espouse their latest middle eastern jaunt.

“Nice hat, Candice,” Emily Parker called from her cubicle.

She reached up and grunted as she pulled the Giant’s cap from her hair. “Here, keep it,” she tossed it at Emily as the elevator doors parted with a loud chime.

“Thanks.”

Once on the city streets, she felt herself relax. The steamy grime of New York pumped through her veins as she made her way to the Taxi stand in front of the Time Warner Building. Horns blared, voices merged together in a cacophony of verbal music and even the screaming of the pigeons as she scattered them with her steps soothed her.

She found a cab with no trouble and situated herself in the back seat. Pulling out her cell-phone, she gave the driver her address. Please be home, Lynette. She answered on the third ring.

“Yeah, whatcha need?”

“You’re cheerful,” Candice laughed. “What’s up?”

“Nothing. The damn super said he’d be here by five to fix the drain in the bathroom, but he’s nowhere in site. Guess we’re using Justin’s shower again tonight.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem. He’s going to Kuwait in the morning. I’m sure he’ll trade running water for tending his houseplants again.”

“He got the Kuwait thing? Gee, hon, I’m sorry.”

Lynette Sinclair had been her roommate since college. Except for those misguided four years Candice actually tried to share her life with a man. Candice knew the sympathy she offered was genuine, and it warmed her.

“Yeah, he got it. But I didn’t really expect to, you know?”

“I know. Are you on your way home?”

“Yep. In the cab as we speak.”

“Did you get the candy article finished on time?”

“I did.”

“Good. Call in sick tomorrow and we can take the weekend at my mom’s place in Jersey. You need a break.”

Candice sighed. She loved going to Lynette’s mom’s beach house. “I wish I could, but I’m flying to Minnesota in the morning. Damn,” she cursed. “I forgot to pick up the plane ticket. This day just keeps getting better and better.”

“Minnesota? What’s in Minnesota?”

“I’ll explain later. I’m gonna try and catch Justin to see if he’ll get my stuff for me. I’ll see you at home.”

She hung up and dialed Justin’s cell number. She caught him right as he was leaving the building, but he agreed to collect her plane ticket and car rental reservation.

“Thanks, bud. I appreciate it. Oh, and can Lynette and I use your shower again? The super is a no show.”

He laughed. “Sure thing, babe. You know, it’s a good thing you have me for a neighbor. Most New Yorkers would just let you stink.”

“Nice image,” she laughed as the cab pulled to a stop in front of her building.

Lynette met her at the door with a cocktail and a plate of spaghetti. Ignoring the food, Candice took the drink and collapsed the minute she found the leather sofa in the tidy living room.

“So what’s in Minnesota?” Lynette asked as she reclined on the other end of the couch.

“Indians, apparently.”

“Oh my. You know what you need?”

Candice took a sip of her gin and tonic and swallowed. “What?”

“Really good sex with a way buff brave,” Lynette answered, wiggling her eyebrows.

Candice nearly choked. “Like that would ever happen.”

“No really, it would do you a world of good.”

Candice tried to recall the last time she’d had really good sex with anyone and frowned when she drew a complete blank.

Lynette kicked her gently. “Lighten up. It can only get better from here.”

“Right,” she drolled as she tossed back the last of her gin. She stood and grabbed the key to Justin’s apartment from the hook by the kitchen pass-through. “I’m heading to J’s for a shower. Back in a few.”

Justin’s bathroom oozed masculinity. The dark red walls, almost maroon, boasted gold accessories, including a towel warmer. She reached for the thick bronze-colored towel she’d placed there before she’d stepped into to the black marble shower and wrapped it around her dripping body.

“I thought I’d find you here,” Justin stated from the doorway.

“Shit, you scared me.” She laughed and finished tucking the towel around into her cleavage.

He shook his head and winced. “Damn woman. You have a body to make a guy straight, you know that?”

“Like you would ever notice,” she reached for another towel and rubbed her hair brusquely.

“Oh, I notice. I’m just not interested.” He turned and headed to the dry bar in his bedroom. “You need a pick-me-up?”

“No thanks. But I do have a favor?”

“Anything, babe. Shoot.”

She hedged for a minute, not sure if she should broach what could be a touchy subject. “Can I borrow some of Ray’s things for my trip?”

“Sure. I moved everything into the guest room last week.” He returned to the bathroom door with a large drink in his hand. “Wouldn’t want any of my dates to see women’s clothing in my room. They might thing a girl lives here.”

“Oh, the horror,” she laughed at his mock shutter. “If I remember right, didn’t he have a little cowgirl get-up? I just need those boots he used to wear. I don’t think my spiked Gucci’s will do the trick in cowboy country.”

“Sure. I’ll get them for you. But I thought you were on the side of the Indians. Maybe you need moccasins.”

Cowboys. Indians. Ugh.

“If I have to go,” she grimaced as she pulled a brush through her hair. “I’m going cowgirl.”

~* * *~

 

©2006 Romance at Heart Magazine.

Book ©2003 by Margorie Jones.

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