Nina Larson had it all: a great career as a top journalist and a lover in a power suit—until her reputation and her career—were trashed by a scandal.
Now she’s working for The Scoop, a trashy tabloid that sends her on ridiculous stories, and her recent assignment pushes her too far: Nina is supposed to get an interview with a Genie. Yes, the kind that grants wishes. It’s so absurd that she’s ready to quit, until Alec—a real, honest-to-goodness genie--pops into her life (and into her bed) and changes it forever.
The problem is, all she really wants is Alec – but after her three wishes are spent, he’ll disappear forever.
AVAILABLE JULY 10, 2020!
Excerpt, All Rights Reserved
Nina Larson tried to ignore the slick drip of mud trickling slowly down the middle of her back and pointed a stern finger at the young photographer standing on the other side of the elevator, grinning at her. When he playfully threatened to capture a shot of her, she glared.
“Don’t even think about it,” she warned.
Sensing imminent harm, he lowered the camera but couldn’t quite get rid of his smirk.
“Well, if it helps, mud looks really good on you,” he said with a bit of a flirt, letting his gaze drop to her blouse which was also soaked with muddy water, exposing more than she would prefer.
“Eyes up, bucko,” was all she said in response as they walked into the newsroom.
She ignored the curious gazes and wrinkled noses from her colleagues in the bullpen of The Scoop—which they all fondly referred to as “The Poop” when the Chief wasn’t around. It was also the reporting hell into which she’d been cast after being caught up in a scandal that had cost her a real job as a real reporter at a real newspaper.
“You stink,” Dennis, one of the senior editors, commented flatly as she walked by.
“No, that’s the lunch your girlfriend made for you.”
Someone coughed a laugh, and Dennis sent her a withering glare – she had no idea if he was seeing anyone or not.
Grabbing the door handle of her small office ( it was more of a cubicle with a ceiling, really), she thanked God for that one small benefit. Upon hiring, she had insisted on her own space, such as it was. She’d taken a pay cut in exchange for this teeny piece of private real estate and had never regretted it for a second.
She grabbed a raincoat hanging on a hook behind the door and threw it on the chair to protect it from her wet clothes as she sat at her computer. She wasted no time as she began banging out copy for her “Miracle in the Mud?” story. It was due to the copy desk in an hour.
There was no time to shower and change until she submitted it, so she set her timer, bore down and got to work. The Scoop might not be a serious newspaper, but Nina was always serious about her work. She had been since high school when she caught the bug, reporting on stolen sports equipment and Homecoming Dance scandals. Her circumstances had changed, but her dedication hadn’t.
Fingers warming as she typed at lightning speed, the words flew from her fingers as she wrote about Mabel King, who lived west of the city of Boston in a more rural community. Mabel claimed that her pig farm had mud with special healing qualities, even the ability to reverse the aging process.
Nina titled it “Miracles in the Mud?” and lost herself in her focus on the story, flipping through her notes to grab some good quotes and ignoring the part where Mrs. King had dragged her through several yards of deep, sticky, stinky goop among pigs who weren’t all too fond of the human intrusion. One disliked it enough to knock Nina backwards into the disgusting mud bath.
For all of that, Nina wasn’t feeling any better or any younger for the experience. If only.
Still, readers loved a healing mud story; they were second only to healing properties of hot springs or magic herbs.
Some stories just never got old, Nina mused as she typed. Easy fixes to hard problems was always a good hook, and so was people trying to bilk money from people looking for those easy fixes. She paused, wondering for a moment about which track to take through her story, but decided to take the first route.
Mabel was thinking about opening a B&B so that she could charge people to roll around in her pig-enhanced mud. More power to her, Nina decided. In the end, while it was a crock, the modern version of snake oil, it didn’t do any harm, either. Everyone did what they had to do to get by in life, and if people were willing to pay for a roll in some stinky mud, who was she to tell them not to?
However, she was careful that her report did only that – reported. No endorsements. No titillation.
A quick look at the timer told her she had a little time to edit and she did a quick visual scan before hitting “Send” on the internal message system with a sigh of relief.
There. Another amazing tale put to bed.
Somehow, it didn’t give her the same buzz of satisfaction that writing stories on gang violence or corrupt city politics did. Maybe that was due to the mud drying in the crack of her-
“Nina. Good, you’re back,” her boss Lindsay said, inviting herself into the office. Lindsay did a once over, taking in the trail of dried mud that made a path to the desk, and then she got down to business.
“Are you making any progress on the genie story?”
Gee, Lindsay, I’d really like to discuss that after I take a shower, eat, and oh yeah, throw myself off of a bridge, Nina thought sourly.
Instead, she shook her head, maintaining what professional demeanor she could. Her pride was all she had left, and while it was mighty thin some days, she might as well hang on to it.
“I’ve done some background research, but-”
“Not good enough. We have to jump on this. You need to find the women on that blog who met that hunk who made wishes come true. Who knows how long genies stick around? Or if this is some kind of scam? Some guy taking advantage of vulnerable women? Either way, our readers will eat this whole. I want pictures of this guy, and an interview. Exclusive. This could be your cover, Nina. Don’t blow it.”
Lindsay spun and was back out the door before Nina could respond. Off to harass another poor soul about their research into space aliens, dogs that dialed 911 to save their owners, or seventy pound babies.
Nina closed her eyes and swallowed hard. I’m a professional, I’m a professional, I’m a professional…. A Newhouse School-trained journalist who had graduated at the top of her class and worked with some of the best and the brightest in the business. She was a professional who got the job done, no matter what the job was.
This was temporary, she reminded herself for the ten millionth time. All that mattered was that she was working, staying active in her profession. Sort of. Eventually, things would be better. Right?
Sure. That’s why none of her freelance work had been accepted recently. No one in the business would be forgetting her name for a long time.
They wouldn’t let her forget what had happened, either. After all, her confidential coverage of a whistleblower’s comments about a company poisoning its employees as they took environmental short-cuts to save money had evaporated when the informant’s identity had been blown on her watch, somehow showing up in the paper. Adding insult to injury, the offenses of the company in question had been drowned out by the scandal.
The whistleblower was harassed to the point where he had to sell his house and leave town. She was fortunate that he couldn’t come after her legally; she’d been protected by the paper at the time.
Nina had never used his name, and she didn’t know who had exposed him. She’d never shared his identity with anyone, but regardless, it was her fault. He was her informant. It was her job to protect him, and she hadn’t. She had to suffer the consequences for that, and she was. Every damned day.
Unfortunately, so had others. The incident had opened the paper to lawsuits and weeks of negative speculation. Several on the staff of investigative reporters had been thrown into chaos when their own informants, hearing news of the leak, didn’t trust them anymore. Her snafu had nearly compromised many important investigations.
Nina had been quietly asked to quit her job by her editor—the man whom she had been sleeping with—no less. Another bad call. It didn’t matter that they were madly in love, business was business.
Nina had wanted to fight. She was innocent, but she couldn’t prove it. Peter knew that, but still, he’d asked her, for the sake of the paper, to go. He’d assured her it would blow over and everything would be fine, eventually. She’d find other work.
She’d left, as he asked, fading into the background and eventually finding a job at The Scoop, the only paper that would take her. She hadn’t counted on fading into the background of Peter’s life. He’d never said anything about that.
She’d only heard from Peter twice in the six months since, and she tried to understand. She’d left him with a huge mess to contend with, whether she was innocent or not. Blinking tears away, she found herself staring at The Herald’s website; the job posting to fill her spot was still open. She clicked again and saw Peter’s smile fill the screen, her heart aching. She’d tried to stop thinking about where she’d be now if none of it had happened. Planning a wedding, perhaps? Receiving an award for her investigative journalism? At dinner with Peter at their favorite restaurant?
Shutting off the computer, she pushed her chair back and stood up from her desk, dried mud flaking everywhere around her, her jeans hardened and crinkling, scraping against her skin.
“Damn it,” she cursed, looking at the ring of dirt around where she stood.
Grabbing her bag, her jacket, and the file with “GENIE” scrawled across it from her desk, she walked out, oblivious to the activity milling around her. She would shower, she would eat something good, and then. . .then she would try to find whatever yahoo was out there calling himself a genie.