"I know you’re married," she whispered. "I don’t want to ruin that. I just want to spend a night with you. One night, then we can forget it ever happened. No one ever has to know."
Jack tried to summon Elizabeth’s face, but he couldn’t remember what she looked like, and he hadn’t touched her in so long he couldn’t even pretend to recall how she felt. For the first time in forever, he felt wanted. His body ached to give in to desire. "I’d know," he managed to say.
She touched his face, forced him to look at her. "Just a kiss, then," she murmured.
He felt her breath against his mouth, hot and moist. He almost groaned.
"You can say it was a victory kiss."
Now she was even closer. He could smell her perfume and the sweet scent of her shampoo. Her lips brushed his.
"There’s nothing wrong with a victory kiss," she said, and he could hear the new harshness in her voice. She wanted him as much as he wanted her. If he reached under the table now, and slid his hand under her dress and into her panties, she’d be wet for him already.
"No," he said softly, groaning at his own weakness. "I have to go." He stood up.
It took everything in him to walk away.
The next morning, Elizabeth was wakened by the phone. She rolled over and answered sleepily. "Hello?"
"Hey, Birdie, rise and shine. Did you watch the show?"
She sat up, pushed a hand through her tangled hair. "Hi, honey." She couldn’t tell him she’d forgotten. It would hurt him too much. She tried to manufacture a reasonable excuse.
But he didn’t seem to notice her awkward pause. "I did it, baby. You’re married to a superstar."
"I’ve always been married to a star, Jack." She let out a breath. "I knew how good you’d be, Jack. I’m proud of you."
"I need to stay an extra day for some press opportunities. Do you mind?"
"Of course not."
"Great. I’ll be home tomorrow, then. We’ll celebrate by ourselves, okay?"
"Okay, honey. I love you."
"Love you. Bye."
Slowly, Elizabeth hung up the phone. She hadn’t dared to ask him where he’d been last night.
Still, she couldn’t help wondering whether he’d been with another woman. It had been years since she’d questioned his fidelity, but he’d stepped onto the old fame track again, and that was where the road had taken them before. Infidelity could be forgiven, but forgetting it was impossible.
Strangely, that wasn’t what bothered her the most.
What bothered her was that she didn’t really care.
Jack sat at his desk, staring down at the notes spread out in front of him, sipping a double tall mocha.
Over the last few days, the Drew Grayland story had spread like wildfire, and every bit of coverage mentioned Jack. The Larry King interview had pushed him back into the spotlight. He was hot again, but it wasn’t enough. Broadcasting was a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? world. Yesterday’s news was just that.
He had what he’d wanted for years: a chance. People were watching him again. Now he needed a follow-up story to cement his reputation. Something that would make the networks sit up and take notice.
Last night, as he’d lain in bed, listening to Birdie talk about her new design for the bedroom, he trolled desperately for an idea. About three a.m., it had come to him.
It started with Alex Rodriguez. Seattle had turned on the famous outfielder like a pack of rabid dogs when he’d signed the contract with Texas. As if Alex should have turned down the biggest contract in baseball history.
People didn’t understand how fleeting an athlete’s professional life was. You were old at thirty, ancient at thirty-five, and that was if your body held up. But how could a body take that kind of punishment year after year and not give out too soon? You had to take the money when it was offered. Tomorrow, there might be no one offering. No current athlete could dare talk about such a thing–they were too rich to be believed. But an aging, once-golden athlete who’d lost his career was perfect.
He looked down at what he’d just written: Through an athlete’s eyes. What it’s like to be a breakable god.
It had the right mix of glamour, corruption, and heartbreak. And Jack knew the subject inside and out.
Suddenly his phone rang. He picked it up. "Jackson Shore."
A voice he hadn’t heard in years said, "Hey, Spaghetti-arm, how’re they hanging?"
"Warren." Jack leaned back in his chair. "Hell, Butterfingers, I haven’t heard from you since the last time you got married and wanted me for your best man. Is that it–are you marrying another one?"
"No, no. Truth is, I had a little scare with my heart. A few nights hooked up to machines in the hospital will sure clear a man’s head."
"Are you okay?"
"Better than ever. Turns out it was a friggin’ panic attack. Can you believe that? Fourteen years of pro ball and nothing. A few years as a studio analyst and I’m stressed-out. The docs say I need to relax. So, I decided to give up the broadcasting gig. Too much travel and horseshit, but the guys at Fox don’t want to let me bow out gracefully. They came up with this idea for a new one-hour show. It’s called Good Sports. They’re picturing a combination of Real Sports and Oprah, if you can believe that. We’ll be looking at athletes in a whole new way, trying to understand the pressures and heartbreaks. And highlighting the role models out there."
"That sounds great. Maybe I could be a guest sometime, you know, talk about the Grayland thing."
"Actually, we want you as more than a guest. They were gonna call you today, but I begged for the chance to be the one. The bigwigs–and me, of course–think you’d be a natural to coanchor with me. I’ve been trying to get someone in New York to take a chance on you for years. After this Grayland thing, they’re finally ready to listen. Think of it, Jacko, it’d be like the old days. We’d be a team again."
"Don’t f**k with me, Warren. I’d give my left nut for that job."
"Keep your peanut-sized balls. Just be in New York tomorrow for an interview."
"Of course I’m serious. Have your secretary call Bill Campbell at Fox. He’ll send you a ticket. Then give my secretary your itinerary. I’ll pick you up at the airport."
"I’ll get the first flight out. And thanks, Warren. I mean it."
"It’s not a sure thing, Jacko. But I know we’ll knock ’em dead. See ya tomorrow."
Jack hung up the phone and immediately called home. Elizabeth answered on the second ring.
"Hey, honey, you won’t believe–" He stopped. What if he didn’t get the job? He’d disappointed his wife too often in the past. There was no point in building up her hopes for nothing. "I have to go to New York tomorrow. Can you pack me a suitcase?"
"New York? How come?"
He thought fast. "Some hotshot high school quarterback just signed a letter of intent with the Ducks. I gotta interview him."
"Oh, that’s odd. How long will you be gone?"
"Two nights. Hey, let’s go out for dinner tonight. How about the Stephanie Inn? It’s romantic as hell out there."
There was a pause on the other end. "What’s going on, Jack?"
"Nothing. We haven’t gone out for dinner in too long; that’s all," he answered. It was true. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d called from the office and made a date with his own wife. But everything was going to be different from now on. He’d move Heaven and Earth to get this job; then he’d return home in triumph. Oh, she’d grumble about moving east, but in the end, she’d do the right thing. This job would finally–finally–offer them a second chance. "Everything’s great."
And it was. For once, it was.
Elizabeth stood back, her arms crossed tightly.
Jack was by the front door, garment bag in hand. Even at this predawn hour, he looked bright and eager, almost boyish.
For a moment, he was so handsome he took her breath away. Strangely, she remembered the first time he’d kissed her. A lifetime ago. They’d been lying on the grass in the Quad, supposedly studying. She hadn’t seen the kiss coming, hadn’t braced for it, and when his lips touched hers, she’d started inexplicably to cry. She’d known with that one kiss that her life had been upended . . . that she’d love Jackson Shore until the day she died.
It was probably even still true.
But was it enough?
She looked up at him, wondering if he could see the longing in her, if it shone through her eyes. Or if he’d seen that look so often and so long that it had simply become Elizabeth. "Maybe I could go with you," she said. It was what she should have said when he went on Larry King Live.
His smile faded as he dropped the garment bag and moved toward her. "Not this time, Birdie. I’ll be running full speed. I wouldn’t be able to spend any time with you."
She nodded, swallowed the lump in her throat. He used to invite her on every business trip, but she’d never wanted to leave her children. It was only later–too late–that she realized what her decision said about the marriage. It was her own fault she’d missed her chance.
"Next time, then. I hate New York, anyway."
He touched her face, gently forced her to lift her chin and meet his gaze.
She put her arms around him and held on tightly, afraid suddenly to let him go. "Be careful," she whispered.
He stepped back. "I’ll call you from the Big Apple. I’ve got a room at the Carlyle. The phone number is on the fridge."
"Okay. Have a good trip. Good luck."
"Winners don’t need luck."
She stood there, arms crossed, until long after he was gone.
Somewhere in the house a beam settled; wood creaked. In the living room, the mantel clock chimed five o’clock.
She tried not to think about the endless, narrow hallway of the day before her. It was early; she could go back to bed. But she wouldn’t sleep.
She walked into the kitchen, opened her daily calendar, and began to plan her day. She was halfway through her To Do list when she realized it was Thursday.
Passionless women night.
Maybe she’d go. It wasn’t as if she had anything better to do.
Jack liked everything about first class: the impossibly short line at check-in, the roomy, comfortable gray seats, the clean white trays that held edible food, the drinks that never stopped coming.
Hot towels, sir? Can I get you a brandy for after dinner, Mr. Shore? Can I take your coat for you?
Service was something he’d forgotten existed in air travel until recently. Their family vacations over the last few years had consisted of four people crammed into the el-cheapo package.
He reached under the seat in front for his briefcase. Noticing the scratches and scuffs on the black leather, he wondered if he should have splurged on a new one. He knew what Birdie would say. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Do it right the first time.
Suddenly he wished he’d told her about the interview. She would have agonized over his clothes choices, matching the right tie with the right shirt. There would have been no question about the briefcase.
It was how she’d helped him prepare for Albuquerque so long ago. You’re a star, she’d said fiercely, squeezing his shoulders, and don’t you forget it for a second. Channel 2 should fall on its knees at the chance to hire the great Jackson Shore.
"A star," he murmured, realizing a second too late that he’d spoken aloud. He glanced around, but no one seemed to have noticed.