Evelyn Thomas is tired of being treated like a little girl playing dress-up. Just because she is working at her father’s newspaper doesn’t mean she isn’t a good journalist. All she needs is a chance to prove it.

Unfortunately for seasoned reporter Wes Reilly, that chance turns out to be the exact same story he’s working on.

When the journalists get separate leads on the same insurance scam, they butt heads over who gets to expose it. But when Eve’s brother-in-law Jerry, who is also her source, ends up in ICU she has no choice but to turn to Wes for help breaking the story and finding the person who attacked Jerry.

Every step they take brings them closer towards the truth and each other. But the path to vindication is filled with danger and uncertainty leaving Wes and Eve struggling to get out of sticky situations and fighting for their lives.

 

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Chapter One

Evelyn forced her shoulders back and her head up as she walked into the conference room of her father’s newspaper, knowing those who weren’t ignoring her presence resented it. They’d made it clear they didn’t want her around. And she knew why.

Six months into her job as a reporter at The Messenger and her co-workers were still cynical. Daddy’s little girl playing journalist. That’s what they all thought, and none of them tried to hide it. That included her father, the illustrious Everett Thomas, self-made newspaper publisher and overall jackass. While most newspapers were going under or being bought out by larger corporations, Everett had managed to successfully hold onto his paper, making him even more difficult to be around than he had been when she was growing up.

Determined to stay ahead of Everett’s games today, Eve carried a cup of coffee to the head of the table and set it on a white napkin next to a pile of papers.

She sat in the chair next to Carol Matson, community editor, and smiled politely. “Good morning.”

In response, the woman leaned forward to look around her.

Eve looked across the table. Rich Jackson and Kevin Scott, who usually covered sports, were laughing as they looked at her. She exhaled slowly in an attempt to let their snickers roll off her back.

While she would love to be accepted by her peers as more than a little girl following in her father’s footsteps, that wasn’t going to happen until she had proven herself as a reporter and gotten out from under her father’s monstrous shadow. Unfortunately, that would never happen if her father/publisher didn’t give her anything to work with. For now, she ignored spiteful comments and behavior from the other employees and reminded herself that someday she would be seen as one of them and not as the boss’s daughter.

Dressed in his customary black suit with his silver hair slicked back, Everett entered the room and sat in the largest of the leather rolling chairs. He nodded to acknowledge the greetings of his employees.

“Evelyn,” he stated gruffly, “fetch me some coffee.”

Her face flushed as everyone in the room looked at her, some of them smirking. “I just put that mug there.”

He pushed the full cup away from him. “I want fresh.”

“But—” Eve stopped when he glared at her as if daring her to argue. “As you wish.”

She circled the powwow of reporters and made her way to the refreshment table. Fury coursed through her veins as she held the coffeepot steady. She poured just the right amount of brew into a mug and topped it off with the exact amount of cream her self-centered jerk of a father liked.

How could she ever earn the respect of her co-workers when their boss, her father, treated her like she didn’t deserve to be there?

She’d worked hard in school, had been editor-in-chief of the school paper, and had won numerous awards for her writing and newspaper design skills. She’d even broken a story about drugs being used on the university wrestling team, which earned the school statewide attention and a legal investigation.

That was more than half the people in this room had accomplished, but Everett treated them better than he’d ever treated her. He always acted like she was a burden, a thing to be tolerated. He’d treated her that way all her life, and it certainly hadn’t changed once she started working for him.

Eve reached for a stir stick as she recalled the day she’d told him she wanted to work with him at the paper. She had expected him to smile and swell with pride and assumed he’d want her there as well. Instead, he’d lectured her on how unfair it was of her to expect to walk in the doors just because she was his daughter.

She hadn’t expected to just walk in the doors. She’d earned it. But just as he had her entire life, Everett made her feel like the simple desire to have his approval meant she was selfish.

Jerk.

She exhaled heavily when she found the container which held the stir sticks empty. Behind her, Everett started the meeting without her. Then again, why would he wait? She was just here to get his coffee. Every. Single. Day.

She glanced back. No one, not even her father, noticed that she wasn’t in her seat. Looking at the mug in her hand, she resented it and suspected the others felt the same way toward her. Fetching his coffee was something she shouldn’t have to tolerate, but she had no choice because Everett Thomas deemed it so. Just like he deemed that she would be tolerated by her co-workers. And that’s all she was. Tolerated.

Angrily, she looked for something, anything, to use to stir his coffee. When her gaze fell on a lipstick-stained spoon in the trash can, she smirked.

She couldn’t do that. He was easily the most germophobic person she knew. He would kill her if she used a dirty spoon. She looked back at her father one more time, and then snatched up the spoon. Without even wiping it on a napkin, she stirred his coffee.

“Evelyn?” Everett called. “Coffee.”

She hesitated for a moment. Maybe she should accidentally spill the mug and replace it with a germ-free drink. But then he snapped his fingers at her like she was a disobedient dog, and several of the reporters in the room chuckled.
Eve dropped the spoon back into the trash as she turned. She smiled broadly and carried the mug to him. “Here you go.”

“Finally.” He stared at her long enough to make a point about keeping him waiting. It had only been one moment of his icy stare, but it seemed like an eternity to Eve. It always did. He had intimidation down to a fine art.

She eased into her chair and opened her notepad. As the old man continued with his usual ramblings about numbers and botched assignments, Evelyn looked at what she expected to be a blank page and nearly gasped. She searched the people around her, seeking the author of the note scratched on her paper.

When she looked at Wes Reilly, who had taken the seat on her left, the star reporter grinned as he stared into her eyes.
Eve’s heart pounded and her hands started to tremble as her gaze fell on Everett’s mug of coffee and then went back to her notepad and the question as to whether or not she was really going to let him drink that. Any doubts about her actions were made irrelevant when her father lifted the mug to his lips and took a sip. Her eyes shot toward Wes, half warning, half pleading not to give her away. When his smile widened, she sank into her chair, her pleasure at contaminating her father’s coffee negated.

Nearly an hour later, however, with assignments delegated, Evelyn felt justified. Yet again she was stuck with a story that required the investigative and writing skills of a five- year old.

Eve had graduated at the top of her journalism class and yet here she was, covering the dog of the week at the local animal shelter. It was better than another fiftieth wedding anniversary feature, but still, she was a journalist, not a community columnist.

She slammed her notebook closed and planted her palms on the table to push herself up, but her chair didn’t move. She looked down and found that Wes had wedged his foot behind one of the wheels. Her stomach knotted again. “Rat me out if you want, Reilly. I don’t really care.”

“I have no intention of ratting you out.” His amusement was obvious in his deep voice. “I was just going to tell you, the next time you screw with the old man’s brew be a little more discreet. It was pretty obvious what you were doing.”

“To whom?”

“To anyone paying attention to you.”

“Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, no one around here pays attention to me.”

“You’re not very observant for a reporter, Thomas.”

“Oh?”

Wes shook his head as he leaned close to her, a teasing grin on his face. “I, for one, find it hard to pay attention to anything else—especially when you wear those tight skirts you like so much.”

Eve took a sharp breath, but he walked away before she could retort. “Asshole,” she whispered.
Not only did she have to deal with stupid-ass assignments and bitter co-workers, now she could add Wes Reilly’s special brand of sexual harassment to the list. This job just kept getting better.

Stop it. It will get better.

But she no longer believed that. She hardly even cared anymore that her co-workers had such dislike for her. The real issue, at least in her mind, was her dwindling loyalty to her father and the family business.

It seemed logical that being his only child who was interested in journalism, Eve would take over the reins and someday run the paper, but she doubted that more and more every day. If Everett died tomorrow, he’d probably leave the paper to one of his ass-kissing editors. And that editor would probably pack up her desk and toss her belongings on the street before Everett’s body was cold.

She should just take what was left of her battered and bruised ego and get out. There were other newspapers out there, ones that would respect her experience and her effort. Respect her.

Eve walked to her desk and plopped down. She leaned forward and put her elbows on her desk, resting her chin on the palm of her left hand as she looked around the room. People huddled in their little cliques, laughing and enjoying themselves, while others spoke into their phones, getting leads on their stories. Real stories.

She frowned as she looked up the phone number for the dog shelter and then set an appointment for later in the afternoon. She grabbed her bag and headed out.

Wes leaned back in his chair, a smile spread on his face as Eve approached his desk. “Hey, Thomas, how ’bout a cup of coffee?”

“How ’bout you hold your breath.” She smirked as she swayed past him.

*

Eve left The Messenger parking lot and headed straight for the east side of town where her sister resided in a quiet neighborhood.

Like their parents, Evelyn and Margaret were polar opposites. While Eve had their father’s light hair, strong features, and bright blue eyes that could cut like glass, Maggie took after their mother with creamy skin and wavy auburn hair.

While Eve chose to live in the heart of downtown to be in the hub of things, her sister chose a quiet neighborhood with manicured lawns. Their natures were just as mismatched; Eve had many times been accused of having ice in her veins—since when did ambition and determination mean a person was cold?—while her sister had a nurturing quality that made her a natural mother.

Maggie’s third child, this one a girl, was on the way, and true to Maggie’s seemingly perfect life, she was glowing more and more each day as her tiny waistline expanded.

Eve arrived at her sister’s home with a drink carrier and several bags in hand. She smiled when her nephews noticed her and came running across the yard.

“Aunt Evie,” Nathaniel, the oldest, called out and was mimicked by Gabe. His eyes grew wider when he noticed the bags. “Happy Meals!”

Maggie frowned as she pushed herself up from the lawn chair. “Must you spoil them?”

“Yes.” Eve grinned and handed the food and two small drinks to the boys. “Milkshakes all around.” She bent over and spoke to the baby inside Maggie’s womb. “A large one for you, my sweet.”

As soon as the boys were settled at their tiny table, Maggie eased back down in her chair and took a long drink from her shake. “So, what did he do today?”

Eve felt her cheeks start to heat with embarrassment and kept her voice down as she confessed. “I used a spoon out of the trash can to stir his coffee.”

Maggie’s soft blue eyes bulged and her mouth fell open. “You did what?”

“There weren’t any stir sticks and he had already started the meeting without me. I wasn’t going to leave and go find more. He would have pitched a fit. But that’s not the worst part. Wes Reilly saw me do it.”

“Oh, Evelyn! Did he tell Father?”

“No, thank God. Not only would I have been fired, I’d have been disowned, too.”

Maggie’s shock faded and she giggled. “I can’t believe you did that. That’s disgusting.”

“He deserved it. He treats me like shit and I just… I’ve had enough.” She unwrapped her food as she tried to let go of the anger, which still festered deep inside her. “I have to write about the dog of the week. Isn’t that exciting?”

“You poor thing. You’ve only been there six months. Maybe this is just initiation time.”

“That’s bull and you know it.” Eve pulled a wilted piece of lettuce off her grilled chicken. “All the other investigative reporters were thrown in head first. He just can’t get over himself, that’s all.”

“He knows you’ll outshine all his so-called stars,” Maggie said.

“You’d think that would make him proud.”

Maggie softened her voice. “I wish you would stop trying to please him. It’s impossible. I learned that at a very young age, Eve, and I’m not half as smart as you.”

“No. You’re smarter. You fell in love, married a handsome doctor, and shunned Father’s expectations of you.”

“For which I’ll never be forgiven.”

“Do you really need his forgiveness?”

“Do you really need his approval?”

Eve scrunched up her face. “Ouch.”

*

Eve smiled as she looked over the story she had written. It was supposed to be a simple article on the dog of the week, but she had turned it into an in-depth look at the ins and outs of the shelter and brought some much needed attention to the fiscal and personnel needs of such an operation.

With any luck, this would be the turnaround in the way she was treated by her co-workers. This could be the article to show them that this was not just a hobby to her, but something that ran through her veins, the thing she lived and breathed.

“That’s quite a smile.” Wes half-sat on her desk. “Did Daddy finally give you a gold star?”

The grin fell from Eve’s lips as she reached for her bag.

His teasing smile faltered, too. “I was kidding.”

“I’m laughing on the inside.” She stood and tossed the strap of her bag over her shoulder. “Good night, Reilly.”

“Hey! What about that coffee you owe me?”

She didn’t bother to look back as she walked out.

*

Eve took a long slow breath before pushing open the door to her father’s office the next morning. She bit her lip, trying to hide her smile. This was it, she was certain of it. He was finally going to recognize that she could write something more than anniversary announcements and community fluff.

She stepped inside and eased the door closed behind her. “You wanted to see me?”

Everett gestured her in but didn’t bother looking up from his desk. “Sit down, Evelyn.”

The gruff tone of his voice instantly deflated Eve’s balloon of pride. As usual, she had done something to displease him. She slumped into the oversized navy blue armchair as he finished scribbling on a piece of paper.

He looked up at her, his lips pinched tight. “Sit up straight. You’ll give yourself a hunchback slouching like that.” As soon as she was sitting properly, he thrust a sheet of paper in her direction. “What is this?”

“My piece on the shelter.”

“I know that. What is it about?”

Eve dared to hope his aggravation wasn’t directed at her and he was actually interested in her article. “Do you know how much money it takes to care for and euthanize those dogs properly? If only they could—”

“When I gave you this assignment did I ask how much money it takes to care for or euthanize dogs?”

“No. But—”

“No. I asked you to write up a nice little description on the dog of the week.”

“But—”

He tossed the paper at her. “Fix it.”

“But—”

“Fix it.”

Eve rose to her feet and snatched her article. “Yes, sir.”

Her frustration grew with each step as she left his office. It didn’t help her mood any when she yanked the door open to find Wes standing there, his hand raised, prepared to knock.

His dark brown eyes met hers and held her gaze. She quickly swallowed her pain when his mouth moved as if he intended to say something.

“Excuse me.” She squeezed past him before he could crack a joke at her expense.

Muttering obscenities under her breath, Eve roughly jerked her chair out and sat down. She read her article again and shook her head. This was good. This was great. How could he just discount that?

“What’s up, Thomas?”

Eve raised her gaze to where Wes stood uncomfortably close to her. “What do you want?”

“The old man let you have it, huh?”

She wanted to say something sarcastic, but he actually sounded sympathetic.

“He does it to everybody. Don’t let him get to you.”

She exhaled and looked down at her article.

Putting one hand on the back of her chair and the other on her desk, Wes leaned down, and the strong scent of his cologne surrounded her. The musky smell was the only thing she didn’t find offensive about him. Well, that and the way he always seemed to have a five-o’clock shadow, even first thing in the morning, not to mention the way his dark hair, even though it was cut short, always looked like he’d just rolled out of bed.

She guessed he was about ten years older than her by the slight creases at the corners of his eyes and the way his smile deepened the lines around his mouth, but he acted like the cocky college boys she’d always detested. If he’d stop trying to be so damned suave all the time, she might find him attractive.

He leaned close to her, met her gaze, and then lowered his voice in a way she suspected made other women melt. “Just so you know, I thought your article was really good.”

She searched his eyes, expecting to find them full of sarcasm, but was met with sincerity. “You didn’t even read it.”

“I did.”

“How? The only person I sent it to was Everett.”

Wes grinned. “Did you know that I’m a computer hacker in my spare time?”

Eve’s eyes bulged slightly. “You hacked his computer?” Her intrigue faded to anger when he shook his head. “My computer? You hacked into my computer? You son of a bitch.”

Wes shrugged. “Hey, you’re the one who left me standing here with nothing to do. All I wanted was a cup of coffee.”

“I turn you down, so you break into my computer?”

“Maybe you’ll think twice next time.”

She shook her head. “You had no right.”

“Oh, calm down, tiger.” He straightened and put adequate space between them. “I didn’t hack your computer.”

“Then how?”

“You left a draft in your trash can.”

Eve scoffed. “So you dug through my trash can?”

“You seemed quite happy with yourself last night; I wanted a preview. It was good.” He nudged her shoulder gently.

“I’m paying you a compliment, Evelyn. You’re supposed to say thank you.”

She let out a deep breath and shook her head. “You know what? It doesn’t matter what you think, Reilly. The pompous ass wasn’t pleased.”

“Do you want to know why?”

Eve looked at him expectantly.

“You didn’t follow his orders. He gave you a budget line, he told you what he wanted, you didn’t give it to him. You gave him something else.”

“This story—”

“Was great. Well researched and well thought out, but it’s not what he asked you to write. Stop trying so hard to prove all the great things that you can do, and start proving that you can follow directions.”

When she darted her eyes up to him, he leaned down to her and held her gaze. “Do you know how many times I had to write and rewrite articles when I started? I damn near quit and went looking for something new.”

“You did?”

“Several times. Old Man Thomas just wants the best, and he makes sure that’s what he gets. He gives all his reporters a hard time.”

“And here I thought I was special.”

“We’ve all been there, having him rant and rave at us. It’s just part of the job.”
She toyed with the printout Everett had handed her as she considered Wes’s words. “I’ve been considering it.”

“What?”

“Quitting.”

Wes nodded. “You’ve seemed a little withdrawn lately.”

Her brow lifted, both surprised that he’d noticed and that he’d consider the recent change in her as being withdrawn. She’d stopped butting her head against the wall, stopped practically begging to be accepted by her peers. That wasn’t being withdrawn, that was self-preservation.

“I don’t know what I was thinking, coming to work here. I could hardly stand living with the man when I was growing up.”

“I pity you there. The fact that you and your sister have survived this long puts you in a league of your own.”

“Right.” She grinned.

“I’m sorry about what I said last night. I wasn’t trying to piss you off. Sometimes my jokes fall flat.”
Again, she found his eyes filled with sincerity rather than his usual sarcasm. “I’ve been testy lately. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. Sorry ’bout that.”

He pushed himself off her desk. “You still owe me a coffee.”

Eve smiled. “I’ll be more than happy to fix you my specialty at the next meeting.”

“I’ll take a rain check on that, Thomas.”

*

Eve pushed open the door to Maggie’s home and called out. She stepped inside and was immediately surrounded by the scent of pot roast. The best part about dropping in on her sister after work was the inevitable dinner invitation.
She slipped her high-heeled shoes off and headed for the kitchen. Her journalistic curiosity kicked in when she heard hushed voices coming from the room, and she slowed her pace.

Maggie pleaded from inside the room. “Just go to the chief of staff, Jerry. Tell him what’s going on.”

“It’s not that simple.”

Maggie and her husband rarely got upset, but both of their voices were tight, which made Eve’s stomach clench with nerves.

“But it is.”

“No, it’s not!”

Eve cringed at Jerry’s harsh tone.

“I’m sorry, honey,” he said in a more gentle tone, “but it’s not. I can’t prove anything.”

“But you know it happened. You know that what they are doing is wrong, Jerry.”

Eve peered into the kitchen and watched Maggie caress Jerry’s face. Eve had never seen him look so miserable. He was always smiling and cheerful, but now his forehead was creased with deep lines and his face was fixed in a deep frown.

“Not only is it wrong,” Maggie said, “it’s illegal. They can’t get away with this.”

“I can’t go to the chief.”

“Then go to the police.”

“Without any evidence? Do you realize what would happen to my career? I would be ruined.”

“If you let them get away with this, you’ll never forgive yourself. Somebody is going to die, Jerry. One of these doctors is going to perform an unnecessary surgery or prescribe an overpriced drug just to get the insurance money, and it’s going to cost somebody their life.”

Eve opened her eyes wide. Certainly she had missed some crucial part of the conversation that explained her sister’s comment. Insurance fraud? At O’Brien Medical Center? And Jerry knew about it?

“Yes,” Eve hissed.

This was the story she needed to prove her ability at great investigative reporting. Her grin faded, quickly replaced by feigned innocence, when Maggie turned to her.

“Evelyn, were you listening?”

“Not…intentionally.”

“You were accidentally eavesdropping?” Jerry asked. “Damn it, Eve.”

She lifted her hands in an attempt to ease the anger on his face. “Jerry, talk to me.”

“No.”

“I don’t have to reveal my sources. Nobody will know it was you.”

“Eve,” Maggie warned through clenched teeth.

Jerry shook his head. “You don’t understand.”

Eve lowered her hands and crossed the room to him. “Jerry,” she started in her calm, level-headed let’s-be-rational tone.

“Evie,” he mimicked.

“I can get to the bottom of this.”

Jerry crossed his arms and leaned against the counter. “It’s a very dark bottom.”

“I can print this and put a stop to it. I just need some details.”

“Absolutely not.”

She creased her brows together as she looked at him. Why the hell didn’t anyone think she could do more than goddamned community commentary? “Why?”

“This is bigger than both of us, Eve.”

“I’m a good reporter.”

“I’ve never doubted that.”

“And you know how they treat me at the paper.”

Jerry smirked. “And one day they’ll all realize how wonderful you are and they will treat you like the queen you deserve to be.”

Other than a quick glare, she ignored his sarcasm. “This will help both of us. You can expose these corrupt doctors, and I can prove that I can do more than anniversary and dog shelter stories.”

“This is serious, Evie.”

“Just point me in the right direction.”

“No. Besides the fact that this could be dangerous, how would it look if my sister-in-law broke the story? Don’t you think that would seem just a little bit obvious?”

“My relationship to you doesn’t alter the facts, Jerry. The Messenger is a newspaper; we write news. Just because we are related doesn’t mean it was you who leaked the story.”

He snorted. “Yeah, right.”

Eve shrugged. “Well, I know about it now. I overheard enough to know what’s going on so I’ll just figure out the rest on my own.”

“You wouldn’t even know where to start.”

“Don’t underestimate me. I will get the information, and I will write the story, and I will expose the misconduct of any doctor I find evidence against.”

Jerry let his jaw drop for a moment and then clamped his mouth shut. “You can be such a brat sometimes. Do you know that?” When she merely lifted her brows, he looked to his wife. “Would you help me?”

Maggie put an arm around Eve’s shoulders. “She’s right. You both need this to come out. You might as well work together to make that happen.”

Jerry stared at his wife. “The next time I need to tell you something, I’m going to hunt your sister down and lock her in a closet first.”

Eve jumped at him and hugged him tightly. “You won’t regret this.”

“Right,” he groaned.

 

The Messenger is available at these retailers: