Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Name of the Game

Nora Roberts

  To Faye Ashley.

  Now you’ll have to leave me the bracelet.


  “Marge Whittier, this is your chance to win ten thousand dollars. Are you ready?”

  Marge Whittier, a forty-eight-year-old schoolteacher and grandmother of two from Kansas City, squirmed in her chair. The lights were on, the drum was rolling and the possibility of her being sick was building. “Yes, I’m ready.”

  “Good luck, Marge. The clock will start with your first pick. Begin.”

  Marge swallowed a lump of panic, shuddered with excitement and chose number six. Her sixty seconds began to dwindle, and the tension grew as she and her celebrity partner picked their brains for the right answers. They leaped over such questions as who founded psychoanalysis and how many yards in a mile, then came to a screeching halt. What element do all organic compounds contain?

  Marge went pale, and her lips quivered. She was an English teacher and a bit of a history and movie buff, but science wasn’t her strong suit. She looked pleadingly at her partner, who was better known for her wit than for her wisdom. Precious seconds ticked away. As they fumbled, the buzzer sounded. Ten thousand dollars flowed through Marge’s sweaty fingers.

  The studio audience groaned their disappointment.

  “Too bad, Marge.” John Jay Johnson, the tall, sleekly polished host, laid a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. His rich, rolling voice expressed just the right combination of disappointment and hope. “You were so close. But with eight correct answers you add another eight hundred dollars to your total. An impressive one.” He smiled at the camera. “We’ll be back after this break to total up Marge’s winnings and to give you the correct answer to the stumper. Stay with us.”

  The music was cued. John Jay kept his avuncular smile handy. He used the timed ninety-second break to come on to the pretty celebrity panelist.

  “Pompous jerk,” Johanna muttered. The pity was that she was too aware his smooth looks and slick manner were keeping Trivia Alert up in the ratings. As producer, she’d learned to accept John Jay as part of the set. She checked the second hand of her watch before walking over to the losers. Putting on a smile of her own, she commiserated and congratulated as she eased them along. She needed them in camera range for the finish.

  “Coming up on five,” she announced, and signaled for applause and music. “And cue.”

  John Jay, his arm around Marge and his three-thousand-dollar caps gleaming, closed the show.

  They were one big happy family as the assistant director shut off his stopwatch. “That’s a wrap.”

  Kiki Wilson, Marge’s partner and the current star of a popular situation comedy, chatted a few moments longer with Marge in a way that would have the schoolteacher remembering her warmly for years to come. When Kiki rose, her smile was still firmly in place as she walked the few steps to John Jay.

  “If you ever pull something like that again,” she said quietly, “you’ll need a paramedic.”

  Knowing she was referring to his quick—and, if he did say so, clever—hand maneuver just before the end of the break, John Jay smiled. “Just part of the service. About that drink, sweetheart . . .”

  “Kiki.” In a smooth move that didn’t appear nearly as rushed and harassed as it was, Johanna swung over and scooted the actress away. “I want to thank you again for agreeing to do the show. I know how hectic your schedule must be.”

  Johanna’s warm voice and soothing manner brought Kiki’s blood pressure down slightly. “I enjoyed it.” Kiki pulled out a cigarette and tapped it absently against an enameled case. “It’s a cute show, moves fast. And God knows the exposure never hurts.”

  Though Johanna didn’t smoke, she carried a small gold lighter. Pulling it out, she lit Kiki’s cigarette. “You were wonderful. I hope you’ll consider coming back.”

  Kiki blew out smoke and regarded Johanna. The lady knew her job, Kiki admitted. Even though she looked like some cuddly little model for shampoo or yogurt. It had been a long day, but the catered dinner break had been first-class, the studio audience generous with their applause. In any case, her agent had told her that Trivia Alert was the up-and-coming game show of the year. Considering that, and the fact that Kiki had a good sense of humor, she smiled.

  “I just might. You’ve got a good crew, with one notable exception.”

  Johanna didn’t have to turn to know where Kiki’s narrowed gaze had landed. With John Jay it was either love or disgust, with little middle ground. “I have to apologize for any annoyance.”

  “Don’t bother. There are plenty of jerks in the business.” Kiki studied Johanna again. Quite a face, she decided, even with the minimal makeup. “I’m surprised you don’t have a few fang marks.”

  Johanna smiled. “I have very thick skin.”

  Anyone who knew her would have attested to that. Johanna Patterson might have looked soft and creamy, but she had the energy of an Amazon. For eighteen months she had slaved, hustled and bargained to get and keep Trivia Alert on the air. She wasn’t a novice in the entertainment business, and that made her all the more aware that behind the scenes and in the boardrooms it was still a man’s world.

  That would change eventually, but eventually was too long a wait. Johanna wasn’t patient enough to wait for doors to open. When she wanted something badly enough, she gave them a push. For that she was willing to make certain adjustments herself. The business of entertainment was no mystery to her; nor were the deals, the concessions or the compromises. As long as the end product was quality, it didn’t matter.

  She’d had to swallow pride and sacrifice a principle or two to get her baby off and running. For example, it wasn’t her name, but her father’s logo that flashed importantly at the end of the show: Carl W. Patterson Productions.

  His was the name the network brass related to, and his was the one they trusted. So she used it—grudgingly—then ran things her way.

  Thus far, the uneasy marriage was into its second year and holding its own. Johanna knew the business—and her father—too well to take for granted that it would continue.

  So she worked hard, tying up loose ends, hammering out solutions to problems and delegating carefully what couldn’t be handled personally. The success or failure of the show wouldn’t make or break her, financially or professionally, but she had more than money and reputation tied up with it. She had her hopes and her self-esteem.

  The studio audience had been cleared. A few technicians remained on the set, either gossiping or tidying up last-minute business. It was just past eight o’clock, and moving into hour fourteen for Johanna.

  “Bill, do you have the dupes?” She accepted the copies of the day’s tape from her editor. Five shows were produced and recorded in one full-day session. Five costume changes for the celebrity panelists—Johanna had a policy against referring to them as guest stars. Five wardrobe trips for John Jay, who insisted on a change from underwear out for each show. His natty suits and coordinated ties would be sent back to the Beverly Hills tailor who provided them free in exchange for the plug at the end of each show.

  His job was over, but Johanna’s was just beginning. The tapes would be reviewed, edited and carefully timed. Johanna would oversee each step. There would be mail to go through, letters from home viewers who hoped to be chosen as contestants, more letters from people who disagreed with certain answers. She’d go head-to-head with her research coordinator to check facts and select new questions for upcoming shows. Though she couldn’t personally interview and screen each potential contestant, she would go over her contestant coordinator’s selections.

  The game-show scandals of the fifties were long over, but no one wanted a repeat of them. Standards and Practices was very strict, their rules and regulations very clear.
Johanna made it a habit never to relax her own, and to check each detail herself.

  When screened contestants arrived at the studio for a day’s taping, they were turned over to staff members who sequestered them from the crew, the audience and their prospective partners. They were entertained and soothed, literally cut off from the show until their turn came to participate.

  Questions were locked in a safe. Only Johanna and her personal assistant had the combination.

  Then, of course, there were the celebrities to deal with. They would want their favorite flowers and choice of beverage in their dressing rooms. Some would go with the flow and make her life easier, and others would be difficult just to show they were important. She knew—and they knew she knew—that most of them appeared on morning game shows not for the money or the fun but for the exposure. They were plugging series and specials, placating their networks or scrambling to keep their face familiar to the public.

  Fortunately, a good percentage of them had fun once the ball was rolling. There were still more, however, who required pampering, cajoling and flattery. She was willing, as long as they helped her keep her show on the air. When a woman had grown up with artistic temperaments and the wheeling and dealing of the entertainment business, very little surprised her.


  Regretfully Johanna put her fantasy of a hot bath and a foot massage on hold. “Yes, Beth?” She slipped the tapes into her oversize tote and waited for her assistant. Bethany Landman was young, sharp and energetic. Just now she seemed to be bubbling over. “Make it good. My feet are killing me.”

  “It’s good.” A bouncy dark contrast to Johanna’s cool blond looks, Bethany gripped her clipboard and all but danced. “We’ve got him.”

  Johanna secured the tote on the shoulder of her slim violet-blue jacket. “Who have we got and what are we going to do with him?”

  “Sam Weaver.” Beth caught her lower lip between her teeth as she grinned. “And I can think of a lot of things we could do with him.”

  The fact that Bethany was still innocent enough to be impressed by a hard body and tough good looks made Johanna feel old and cynical. More, it made her feel as though she’d been born that way. Sam Weaver was every woman’s dream. Johanna wouldn’t have denied him his talent, but she was long past the point where sexy eyes and a cocky grin made her pulse flutter. “Why don’t you give me the most plausible?”

  “Johanna, you have no romance in your soul.”

  “No, I don’t. Can we do this walking, Beth? I want to see if the sky’s still there.”

  “You read that Sam Weaver’s done his first TV spot?”

  “A miniseries,” Johanna added as they wound down the studio corridor.

  “They aren’t calling it a miniseries. Promotion calls it a four-hour movie event.”

  “I love Hollywood.”

  With a chuckle, Bethany shifted her clipboard. “Anyway, I took a chance and contacted his agent. The movie’s on our network.”

  Johanna pushed open the studio door and breathed in the air. Though it was Burbank air and therefore far from fresh, it was welcome. “I’m beginning to see the master plan.”

  “The agent was very noncommittal, but . . .”

  Johanna stretched her shoulders, then searched for her keys. “I think I’m going to like this but.”

  “I just got a call from upstairs. They want him to do it. We’ll have to run the shows the week before the movie and give him time to plug it every day.” She paused just long enough to give Johanna a chance to nod. “With that guarantee they’ll put on the pressure and we’ve got him.”

  “Sam Weaver,” Johanna murmured. There was no denying his drawing power. Being tall, lanky and handsome in a rough sort of way didn’t hurt, but he had more than that. A bit part in a feature film five, maybe six years before had been a springboard. He’d been top-billed and hot box office ever since. It was more than likely he’d be a pain in the neck to work with, but it might be worth it. She thought of the millions of televisions across the country, and the ratings. It would definitely be worth it.

  “Good work, Beth. Let’s get it firmed up.”

  “As good as done.” Bethany stood by the spiffy little Mercedes as Johanna climbed in. “Will you fire me if I drool?”

  “Absolutely.” Johanna flashed a grin as she turned the key. “See you in the morning.” She drove the car out of the lot like a bullet. Sam Weaver, she thought as she turned the radio up and let the wind whip her hair. Not a bad catch, she decided. Not bad at all.


  Sam felt like a fish with a hook through his mouth, and he didn’t enjoy the sensation. He slumped in his agent’s overstuffed chair, his long, booted legs stretched out and a pained scowl on the face women loved to love.

  “Good Lord, Marv. A game show? Why don’t you tell me to dress like a banana and do a commercial?”

  Marvin Jablonski chomped a candied almond, his current substitute for cigarettes. He admitted to being forty-three, which made him a decade older than his client. He was trim and dressed with a subtle flair that spoke of wealth and confidence. When his office had consisted of a phone booth and a briefcase, he’d dressed the same. He knew how vital illusions were in this town. Just as he knew it was vital to keep a client happy while you were manipulating him.

  “I thought it was too much to expect that you’d be open-minded.”

  Sam recognized the touch of hurt in Marv’s tone—the poor, self-sacrificing agent, just trying to do his job. Marv was far from poor and he’d never been into personal sacrifice. But it worked. With something like a sigh, Sam rose and paced the length of Marv’s glitzy Century City office. “I was open-minded when I agreed to do the talk-show circuit.”

  Sam’s easy baritone carried a hint of his native rural Virginia, but his reputation in Los Angeles wasn’t that of a country gentleman. As he paced, his long-legged stride made the observer think of a man who knew exactly where he was going.

  And so he did, Marv thought. Otherwise, as a selective and very successful theatrical agent he would never have taken the struggling young actor on six years before. Instinct, Marv was wont to say, was every bit as important as the power breakfast. “Promotion’s part of the business, Sam.”

  “Yeah, and I’ll do my bit. But a game show? How is guessing what’s behind door number three going to boost the ratings for Roses?”

  “There aren’t any doors on Trivia.”

  “Thank God.”

  Marv let the sarcasm pass. He was one of the few in the business who knew that Sam Weaver could be maneuvered with words like responsibility and obligation. “And it’ll boost the ratings because millions of sets are tuned in to that half-hour spot five days a week. People love games, Sam. They like to play, they like to watch and they like to see other people walk out with a free lunch. I’ve got miles of facts and figures, but let’s just say that most of those sets are controlled by women.” His smile spread easily, shifting his trim, gray-flecked mustache. “Women, Sam, the ones who buy the bulk of the products the sponsors are hyping. And that fizzy little soft drink that’s the major sponsor for Roses also buys time on Trivia. The network likes that, Sam. Keeps things in the family.”

  “That’s fine.” Sam hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans. “But we both know I didn’t take the TV deal to sell soda pop.”

  Marv smiled and ran a hand over his hair. His new toupee was a work of art. “Why did you take the deal?”

  “You know why. The script was gold. We needed the four hours to do it right. A two-hour feature would have meant hacking it to bits.”

  “So you used TV.” Marv closed his fingers together lightly, as if he were shutting a trap. “Now TV wants to use you. It’s only fair, Sam.”

  Fair was another word Sam had a weakness for.

  A short four-letter epithet was Sam’s opinion. Then he said nothing as he stared out at his agent’s lofty view of the city. He wasn’t so many years off the pavement that he’d forgotten wha
t it felt like to have the heat bake through his sneakers and frustration run through his blood. Marv had taken a chance on him. A calculated risk, but a risk nonetheless. Sam believed in paying his dues. But he hated making a fool of himself.

  “I don’t like to play games,” he muttered, “unless I set the rules.”

  Marv ignored the buzzer on his desk; it was the prerogative of a man in demand. “You talking politics or the show?”

  “Sounds to me like they’ve been lumped together.”

  Marv only smiled again. “You’re a sharp boy, Sam.”

  Sam turned his head just a fraction. Marv had been hit by the power of those eyes before. They were one of the reasons he’d signed an unknown when he’d been in a position to refuse the business of well-established luminaries. The eyes were big, heavy lidded and blue. Electric blue, with the power of a lightning bolt. Intense, like his long-boned, narrow face and firm mouth. The chin wasn’t so much cleft as sculpted. The kind of chin that looked as though it could take a punch. The nose was a bit crooked, because it had.

  California sun had tanned the skin a deep brown and added the interest of faint lines. The kind that made a woman shiver, imagining the experiences that had etched them there. There was a mystery about his face that appealed to females, and a toughness that drew approval from other men. His hair was dark and left long enough to go its own way.

  It wasn’t a face for a poster in a teenager’s room, but it was the kind that haunted a woman’s secret dreams.

  “How much choice do I have on this?” Sam asked.

  “Next to none.” Because he knew his client, Marv decided it was time to bare the truth. “Your contract with the network ties you to promotion work. We could get around it, but it wouldn’t be good for