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Private Scandals, Page 2

Nora Roberts

  difficult enough juggling her responsibilities in the newsroom and on set with the favors she did for Angela. And they were only favors, after all. Done primarily on her own time.

  “All I know is that she’s been nothing but kind to me. She liked my work on Midday and the ‘Deanna’s Corner’ segment and offered to help me refine my style.”

  “She’s using you.”

  “She’s teaching me,” Deanna corrected, tossing used makeup pads aside. Her movements were quick and practiced. She hit the center of the wastebasket as consistently as a veteran free-throw shooter. “There’s a reason Angela has the top-rated talk show in the market. It would have taken me years to learn the ins and outs of the business I’ve picked up from her in a matter of months.”

  “And do you really think she’s going to share a piece of that pie?”

  She pouted a moment because, of course, she wanted a piece. A nice big one. Healthy selfishness, she thought, and chuckled to herself. “It’s not as though I’m competing with her.”

  “Not yet.” But she would be, he knew. It surprised him that Angela didn’t detect the ambition glinting just behind Deanna’s eyes. But then, he mused, ego was often blinding. He had reason to know. “Just some friendly advice. Don’t give her any ammunition.” He took one last study as Deanna briskly redid her makeup for the street. She might have been naive, he mused, but she was also stubborn. He could see it in the way her mouth was set, the angle of her chin. “I’ve got a couple of bumpers to tape.” He tugged on her hair. “See you tomorrow.”

  “Yeah.” Once she was alone, Deanna tapped her eye pencil against the makeup table. She didn’t discount everything Roger said. Because she was a perfectionist, because she demanded, and received, the best for her show, Angela Perkins had a reputation for being hard. And it certainly paid off. After six years in syndication, Angela’s had been in the number-one spot for more than three.

  Since both Angela’s and Midday News were taped at the CBC studios, Angela had been able to exert a little pressure to free up some of Deanna’s time.

  It was also true that Angela had been nothing but kind to Deanna. She had shown Deanna a friendship and a willingness to share that were rare in the highly competitive world of television.

  Was it naive to trust kindness? Deanna didn’t think so. Nor was she foolish enough to believe that kindness was always rewarded.

  Thoughtfully, she picked up the brush marked with her name and pulled it through her shoulder-length black hair. Without the cover of heavy theatrical makeup necessary for the lights and camera, her skin was as elegantly pale as porcelain, a dramatic contrast to the inky mane of hair and the smoky, slightly slanted eyes. To add another touch of drama, she’d painted her lips a deep rose.

  Satisfied, she pulled her hair back in a ponytail with two quick flicks of her wrist.

  She never planned to compete with Angela. Although she hoped to use what she learned to boost her own career, what she wanted was a network spot, someday. Maybe a job on 20/20. And it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that she could expand the weekly “Deanna’s Corner” segment on the noon news into a full-fledged syndicated talk show of her own. Even that would hardly be competing with Angela, the queen of the market.

  The nineties were wide open for all manner of styles and shows. If she succeeded, it would be because she’d learned from the master. She would always be grateful to Angela for that.

  “If the son of a bitch thinks I’m going to roll over, he’s in for an unpleasant surprise.” Angela Perkins glared at the reflection of her producer in her dressing room mirror. “He agreed to come on the show to hype his new album. Tit for tat, Lew. We’re giving him national exposure, so he’s damn well going to answer some questions about his tax evasion charges.”

  “He didn’t say he wouldn’t answer them, Angela.” The headache behind Lew McNeil’s eyes was still dull enough to keep him hoping it would pass. “He just said he won’t be able to be specific as long as the case is pending. He’d like it if you would concentrate on his career.”

  “I wouldn’t be where I am if I let a guest dictate my show, would I?” She swore again, ripely, then wheeled in the chair to snarl at the hairdresser. “Pull my hair again, sweetie, and you’ll be picking up curlers with your teeth.”

  “I’m sorry, Miss Perkins, but your hair is really too short . . .”

  “Just get it done.” Angela faced her own reflection again, and deliberately relaxed her features. She knew how important it was to relax the facial muscles before a show, no matter how high the adrenaline. The camera picked up every line and wrinkle, like an old friend a woman meets for lunch. So she breathed deeply, closing her eyes a moment in a signal to her producer to hold his tongue. When she opened them again, they were clear, a diamond bright blue surrounded by silky lashes.

  And she smiled as the hairdresser swept her hair back and up into a wavy blond halo. It was a good look for her, Angela decided. Sophisticated but not threatening. Chic but not studied. She checked the style from every angle before giving the go-ahead nod.

  “It looks great, Marcie.” She flashed the high-powered smile that made the hairdresser forget the earlier threat. “I feel ten years younger.”

  “You look wonderful, Miss Perkins.”

  “Thanks to you.” Relaxed and satisfied, she toyed with the trademark pearls around her throat. “And how’s that new man in your life, Marcie? Is he treating you well?”

  “He’s terrific.” Marcie grinned as she gave Angela’s hair a large dose of spray to hold the style. “I think he might be the one.”

  “Good for you. If he gives you any trouble, you let me know.” She winked. “I’ll straighten him out.”

  With a laugh, Marcie backed away. “Thanks, Miss Perkins. Good luck this morning.”

  “Mmm-hmmm. Now, Lew.” She smiled and lifted a hand for his. The squeeze was encouraging, feminine, friendly. “Don’t worry about a thing. You just keep our guest happy until airtime. I’ll take care of the rest.”

  “He wants your word, Angela.”

  “Honey, you give him whatever he wants.” She laughed; Lew’s headache sprang into full-blown agony. “Don’t be such a worrier.” She leaned forward to pluck a cigarette from the pack of Virginia Slims on the dressing table. She flicked on a gold monogrammed lighter, a gift from her second husband. She blew out one thin stream of smoke.

  Lew was getting soft, she mused, personally as well as professionally. Though he wore a suit and tie, as dictated by her dress code, his shoulders were slumped as if pulled down by the weight of his expanding belly. His hair was thinning out, too, she realized, and was heavily streaked with gray. Her show was known for its energy and speed. She didn’t enjoy having her producer look like a pudgy old man.

  “After all these years, Lew, you should trust me.”

  “Angela, if you attack Deke Barrow, you’re going to make it tough for us to book other celebrities.”

  “Bull. They’re six deep waiting for a chance to do my show.” She jabbed her cigarette in the air like a lance. “They want me to hype their movies and their TV specials and their books and their records, and they damn well want me to hype their love lives. They need me, Lew, because they know that every day millions of people tune in.” She smiled into the mirror, and the face that smiled back was lovely, composed, polished. “And they tune in for me.”

  Lew had worked with Angela for more than five years and knew exactly how to handle a dispute. He wheedled. “Nobody’s denying that, Angela. You are the show. I just think you should tread lightly with Deke. He’s been around the country-music scene a long time, and this comeback of his has a lot of sentiment behind him.”

  “Just leave Deke to me.” She smiled behind a mist of smoke. “I’ll be very sentimental.”

  She picked up the note cards that Deanna had finished organizing at seven that morning. It was a gesture of dismissal that had Lew shaking his head. Angela’s smile widened as she skimmed through the notes. Th
e girl was good, she mused. Very good, very thorough.

  Very useful.

  Angela took one last contemplative drag on her cigarette before crushing it out in the heavy crystal ashtray on her dressing table. As always, every pot, every brush, every tube was aligned in meticulous order. There was a vase of two dozen red roses, which were brought in fresh every morning, and a small dish of multicolored coated mints that Angela loved.

  She thrived on routine, at being able to control her environment, including the people around her. Everyone had their place. She was enjoying making one for Deanna Reynolds.

  Some might have thought it odd that a woman approaching forty, a vain woman, would have taken on a younger, lovely woman as a favored apprentice. But Angela had been a pretty woman who with time, experience and illusion had become a beautiful one. And she had no fear of age. Not in a world where it could be so easily combated.

  She wanted Deanna behind her because of her looks, because of her talent, because of her youth. Most of all, because power scented power.

  And for the very simple reason that she liked the girl.

  Oh, she would offer Deanna tidbits of advice, friendly criticism, dollops of praise—and perhaps, in time, a position of some merit. But she had no intention of allowing someone she already sensed as a potential competitor to break free. No one broke free from Angela Perkins.

  She had two ex-husbands who had learned that. They hadn’t broken free. They had been dispatched.


  “Deanna.” Angela flung out a hand in welcome. “I was just thinking about you. Your notes are wonderful. They’ll add so much to the show.”

  “Glad I could help.” Deanna lifted a hand to toy with her left earring, a sign of hesitation she’d yet to master. “Angela, I feel awkward asking you this, but my mother is a huge fan of Deke Barrow’s.”

  “And you’d like an autograph.”

  After a quick, embarrassed smile, Deanna brought out the CD she was holding behind her back. “She’d love it if he could sign this for her.”

  “You just leave it to me.” Angela tapped one perfect, French-manicured nail along the edge of the CD. “And what is your mother’s name again, Dee?”

  “It’s Marilyn. I really appreciate it, Angela.”

  “Anything I can do for you, sweetie.” She waited a beat. Her timing had always been excellent. “Oh, and there is a little favor you could do for me.”

  “Of course.”

  “Would you make reservations for dinner for me tonight, at La Fontaine, seven-thirty, for two? I simply don’t have time to deal with it myself, and I forgot to tell my secretary to handle it.”

  “No problem.” Deanna pulled a pad out of her pocket to make a note.

  “You’re a treasure, Deanna.” Angela stood then to take a final check of her pale blue suit in a cheval glass. “What do you think of this color? It’s not too washed-out, is it?”

  Because she knew that Angela fretted over every detail of the show, from research to the proper footwear, Deanna took time for a serious study. The soft drape of the fabric suited Angela’s compact, curvy figure beautifully. “Coolly feminine.”

  The tension in Angela’s shoulders unknotted. “Perfect, then. Are you staying for the taping?”

  “I can’t. I still have copy to write for Midday.”

  “Oh.” The annoyance surfaced, but only briefly. “I hope helping me out hasn’t put you behind.”

  “There are twenty-four hours in the day,” Deanna said. “I like to use all of them. Now, I’d better get out of your way.”

  “ ‘Bye, honey.”

  Deanna shut the door behind her. Everyone in the building knew that Angela insisted on having the last ten minutes before she took the stage to herself. Everyone assumed she used that time to go over her notes. That was nonsense, of course. She was completely prepared. But she preferred that they think of her brushing up on her information. Or even that they imagine her taking a quick nip from the bottle of brandy she kept in her dressing table.

  Not that she would touch the brandy. The need to keep it there, just within reach, terrified as much as it comforted.

  She preferred they believe anything, as long as they didn’t know the truth.

  Angela Perkins spent those last solitary moments before each taping in a trembling cycle of panic. She, a woman who exuded an image of supreme self-confidence; she, a woman who had interviewed presidents, royalty, murderers and millionaires, succumbed, as she always did, to a vicious, violent attack of stage fright.

  Hundreds of hours of therapy had done nothing to alleviate the shuddering, the sweating, the nausea. Helpless against it, she collapsed in her chair, drawing herself in. The mirror reflected her in triplicate, the polished woman, perfectly groomed, immaculately presented. Eyes glazed with the terror of self-discovery.

  Angela pressed her hands to her temples and rode out the screaming roller coaster of fear. Today she would slip, and they would hear the backwoods of Arkansas in her voice. They would see the girl who had been unloved and unwanted by a mother who had preferred the flickering images on the pitted screen of the tiny Philco to her own flesh and blood. The girl who had wanted attention so badly, so desperately, she had imagined herself inside that television so that her mother would focus those vague, drunken eyes just once, and look at her.

  They would see the girl in the secondhand clothes and ill-fitting shoes who had studied so hard to make average grades.

  They would see that she was nothing, no one, a fraud who had bluffed her way into television the same way her father had bluffed his way into an inside straight.

  And they would laugh at her.

  Or worse, turn her off.

  The knock on the door made her flinch.

  “We’re set, Angela.”

  She took a deep breath, then another. “On my way.” Her voice was perfectly normal. She was a master at pretense. For a few seconds longer, she stared at her reflection, watching the panic fade from her own eyes.

  She wouldn’t fail. She would never be laughed at. She would never be ignored again. And no one would see anything she didn’t allow them to see. She rose, walked out of her dressing room, down the corridor.

  She had yet to see her guest and continued past the green room without a blink. She never spoke to a guest before the tape was rolling.

  Her producer was warming up the studio audience. There was a hum of excitement from those fortunate enough to have secured tickets to the taping. Marcie, tottering in four-inch heels, rushed up for a last-minute check on hair and makeup. A researcher passed Angela a few more cards. Angela spoke to neither of them.

  When she walked onstage, the hum burst open into a full-throttle cheer.

  “Good morning.” Angela took her chair and let the applause wash over her while she was miked. “I hope everyone’s ready for a great show.” She scanned the audience as she spoke and was pleased with the demographics. It was a good mix of age, sex and race—an important visual for the camera pans. “Anyone here a Deke Barrow fan?”

  She laughed heartily at the next round of applause. “Me too,” she said, though she detested country music in any form. “I’d say we’re all in for a treat.”

  She nodded, settled back, legs crossed, hands folded over the arm of her chair. The red light on the camera blinked on. The intro music swung jazzily through the air.

  “ ‘Lost Tomorrows,’ ‘That Green-Eyed Girl,’ ‘One Wild Heart.’ Those are just a few of the hits that made today’s guest a legend. He’s been a part of country-music history for more than twenty-five years, and his current album, Lost in Nashville, is zooming up the charts. Please join me in welcoming, to Chicago, Deke Barrow.”

  The applause thundered out again as Deke strode out onstage. Barrel-chested, with graying temples peeking out from beneath his black felt Stetson, Deke grinned at the audience before accepting Angela’s warm handshake. She stood back, letting him milk the moment by tipping his hat.

  With every a
ppearance of delight, she joined in the audience’s standing ovation. By the end of the hour, she thought, Deke would stagger offstage. And he wouldn’t even know what had hit him.

  Angela waited until the second half of the show to strike. Like a good host, she had flattered her guest, listened attentively to his anecdotes, chuckled at his jokes. Now Deke was basking in the admiration as Angela held the mike for excited fans as they stood to ask questions. She waited, canny as a cobra.

  “Deke, I wondered if you’re going by Danville, Kentucky, on your tour. That’s my hometown,” a blushing redhead asked.

  “Well now, I can’t say as we are. But we’ll be in Louisville on the seventeenth of June. You be sure to tell your friends to come on by and see me.”

  “Your Lost in Nashville tour’s going to keep you on the road for several months,” Angela began. “That’s rough on you, isn’t it?”

  “Rougher than it used to be,” he answered with a wink. “I ain’t twenty anymore.” His broad, guitar-plucking hands lifted and spread. “But I gotta say I love it. Singing in a recording studio can’t come close to what it’s like to sing for people.”

  “And the tour’s certainly been a success so far. There’s no truth, then, to the rumor that you may have to cut it short because of your difficulties with the IRS?”