Danielle awoke, the bedroom pitch black. Silent. The glowing numbers on her alarm clock read 1:42 a.m. Her abdomen shook, rumbling slowly at first, then building in intensity like an earthquake. Her unborn baby, once awake, would play for an hour at least, jostling her insides and making sleep impossible. The little guy had no concept of night and day. How could he? But she didn’t remember this much nighttime activity during her first pregnancy.
A foot or maybe a fist pressed against the inside of her belly, stretching her skin until she could almost perceive the outline of the tiny appendage. She ran her fingers over it in circles and decided it must be a fist. The little guy jerked away, then gently pressed his fist against her fingers. She pressed back. He jerked away again. When he punched her waiting fingers, she smiled. He seemed very inquisitive already. And playful.
He tired of that game and dug his toes into her ribcage. No, no sleep for a while. Her stomach growled. Cheese and pretzels sounded so good her mouth watered. Or cheese and crackers. Or both. She hefted her weight into a sitting position, careful not to disturb her sleeping husband, Stephen. On the way out of the room, she ran a hand over the crib already set up in the corner beside her bed, waiting for the baby’s arrival.
She waddled down the hallway, sacroiliac joints aching. She was eager to meet her feisty new baby. Her due date only a few weeks away, she didn’t have much longer to wait. But these last few weeks were killer. He woke up in the middle of the night habitually and was so big and active, she could no longer sleep through his waking times.
And he squeezed her stomach to the point she could eat only small portions at any meal before indigestion kicked in. She swung constantly between uncomfortably full and starving.
She paused to check on her sleeping three-year-old, Drew, as she passed his room. He’d been suffering terrible nightmares since they moved into this house. She thought he’d love having his own room. Instead, now that he slept by himself, he cried out most nights, sobbing about not liking “the dark” as she consoled him. She hoped he adapted before the new baby arrived. Two little ones screaming in the night would be exhausting. Reassured to see him sleeping peacefully, she continued to the kitchen.
She opened the refrigerator and removed a block of sharp cheddar, then stood in front of the pantry and deliberated between crackers and pretzels. She grabbed both. After slicing half the block of cheese, she settled at the dining table with her plate of cheddar, a box of crackers, and the bag of pretzels. She stabbed a pretzel stick into a piece cheese and popped it in her mouth. Delicious. Possibly the best cheddar ever made. Or her pregnancy made it taste that way.
A rustling noise outside interrupted her snack. She stopped crunching and listened. Did she imagine it? Probably just the wind blowing leaves.
She resumed chewing.
There it was again.
She swallowed and sat completely still. Again she heard a sound. Leaves rustled as though something or someone moved through the back yard. She listened intently but heard nothing except the chirping of a single cricket overwintering in the house.
She impaled another bite of cheese with a pretzel, chewing cautiously.
No more noise interrupted her heavenly consumption of cheese. When the plate sat empty, her thoughts turned to peanut butter. But her stomach already churned with early indigestion. She decided water would be a better choice at this point.
She pressed her glass to the refrigerator dispenser and heard something. A different sound.
She jerked the glass from the dispenser and froze. No sound assaulted her ears but ragged breathing—her own.
Her abdomen clenched, clamping down on her distended belly. She put a hand to her stomach and noticed the baby had stopped moving. He remained still as her muscles continued to contract. When the pain kicked in, she leaned forward and moaned.
She looked at the clock to time both the contraction and the baby’s still episode. 1:57. Though this was probably only a Braxton-Hicks contraction, she wanted to make certain. She attempted to remember Lamaze breathing. At 1:58, it relented. She stood straight and resumed regular breathing.
Five minutes passed uneventfully. No contractions. No noises. And the baby shifted only once. He seemed to have gone back to sleep. Which sounded like a fantastic idea to her. She turned to leave the kitchen and switched off the lights.
She heard crying in the backyard.
She flipped the lights back on. That was definitely not the wind or her imagination. That sounded like someone needed help.
Heart hammering, she turned to the back door. She heard it again. Closer this time. Scarcely able to breathe, she forced her feet to carry her forward.
Whatever waited in her backyard cried out again. Wailing.
No human could make that sound.
Drew slept just a room away. She had to find out what was out there and make sure it posed no threat to her son.
So why did her feet refuse to move? She waited, hoping the sound would repeat and she could determine the source without looking outside.
A sense of dread enveloped her. She didn’t want to know.
The minutes ticked by. Maybe she should wake her husband. She hated to disturb him. He had to get up and go to work in the morning. She could nap in the afternoon with Drew, but he couldn’t. Besides, what if it turned out she was spooked over nothing?
She moved to the back door and placed her hand on the knob. Don’t be silly. There’s nothing out there. Just open it and see the backyard is empty and go back to bed.
Another wail. She dropped her hand. That sounded almost like…a caterwaul.
She pushed aside the curtain and peered out the window.
Something neared the porch a step at a time.
The light spilling from the kitchen and dining room windows cast enough illumination to make out the figure. And his familiar features.
She opened her mouth but produced no sound. Her throat constricted. She gulped for air, unable to draw a breath.
The figure reached the porch and stared directly at her. He opened his mouth and wailed again. She screamed.
Kimberly Wantland rubbed her temples. “I hate this. I don’t like to say no to any of them.”
Michael Thompson, her director, laughed. “You have it easy. The website receives over a thousand submissions daily. We’ve weeded through the junk and the cranks and the trolls and the guys who want to hit on you. You only see the good ones.”
She shuffled through the folders. “Any of these would work. The hotel in Eureka Springs…the lawyer’s wife in Oklahoma City. I don’t know.”
“It needs to be good. Season finale and all.”
“I know that. I’ve been doing this show for three years.”
Her lead researcher, Elise, weighed in. “Try winnowing them down to your favorites. Any cases we don’t select for the finale, we’ll put on next season’s slate. I’ve researched every one of these. They’re all excellent candidates.”
She dropped her face into her hands and moaned. “I don’t know. Someone else decide.”
“No can do, sweetie,” Michael said. “You’re co-executive producer now.”
She looked away from the manila folders and watched the rest of her crew, headphoned and staring at monitors, selecting footage from last week’s investigation to send to the production company. Once they finished the episode, they would distribute it to the network.
She never could have predicted her little research project would come so far.
She covered her eyes with one hand and held the other over the file folders, index finger pointed down. “Eeenie, meanie, miney—”
The sound of a crying baby interrupted her. She dropped her hand from her eyes.
The secretary’s voice carried from the lobby. “Ma’am? Ma’am! You can’t go in there.”
A young woman pushed her way into the room, eyes darting over every face until landing on hers. “Ms. Wantland!”
She jumped from her seat as the woman crossed the room, crying baby cradled in one arm and a toddler in tow.
Michael stepped in front of her. “Can we help you?” He held up a hand to the secretary following the woman.
The woman stopped in the middle of the room, eyes wild. “I just want to talk to Ms. Wantland.”
The woman looked around the room. The crew watched warily. “I need your help. Please. I don’t know what else to do.”
Michael answered. “You need our help with a case? You can submit your request online, ma’am. You really shouldn’t come barging in here—”
“I did that! I did apply online. My case wasn’t accepted. And I’ve called and called. No one will let me talk to Ms. Wantland. So I had to come. I drove three hours to get here. Help me. Please.”
She stepped from behind Michael to get a better look at the woman, whose demeanor relaxed somewhat at the sight of her. The infant continued to cry while the toddler slurped two fingers and stared at her. “What do you need my help with? Tell me about your case, Ms...?”
The woman took two more steps into the room, releasing the toddler and shifting the infant to her shoulder. “Williams. Danielle Williams. I see a ghost. At my house. We moved in while I was pregnant and everything was great until I started seeing the ghost.”
“That sounds awful. Visible manifestations can be quite alarming. Does the apparition stand over you while you sleep? Does it attempt to communicate? Has it—”
“It’s the ghost of my grandmother’s cat. I’m sure of it.”
Michael groaned. “It’s the ghost cat lady. Ma’am, I’m sorry. We declined your case because it just isn’t scary. Just…shoo the cat away.”
“A cat?” She turned to Michael. “We’ve never investigated a disturbance that revolves around the spiritual entity of an animal.”
“For a reason. Because it isn’t that interesting.”
“I disagree. I’m intrigued.”
Danielle stepped closer. “He is scary. Very scary. Please. I haven’t slept in months. Taking care of these two is challenging enough, but now I have a horrifying demon cat waking me up at night too. It’s ruining my life. My husband is beside himself. He thinks I’m crazy.”
She shook her head. “That’s terrible. Nothing worse than being called crazy for seeing something others don’t see. Some of us—”
Michael rested a hand on her arm. “You can’t possibly be considering this. We need to focus on an amazeballs finale right now that will blow viewers out of the water and have them psyched for next season. If this was a good option, I would’ve brought it to you.”
“I don’t know what he means,” Danielle said. “All I know is I need your help. Please, Ms. Wantland. My husband says you’re a fraud, but I knew if I could talk to you—if you could see how much we need your help—I knew you’d come. I watch your show every week. You’re the only one who can help me. I don’t know what else to do.”
She crossed her arms. “A fraud, huh?”
“We declined for a reason. Focus on the selected shows—”
“How often do you see the apparition?” she asked.
“Almost every night.”
“Every night, Michael. How often do we have an entity that manifests that regularly? We’re guaranteed activity. That never happens.”
Elise spoke up. “Maybe we could work this into next season?”
Danielle shook her head. “Next season? How long will that take? This has been going on for months. I need help now.”
She grasped the quartz crystal around her neck and crossed to stand beside the distraught woman. Closing her eyes, she allowed Danielle’s energy to wash over her. Reading the woman’s spiritual spectrum, she detected fear and desperation, but also strong compassion and sturdy strength. And hope. The heart chakra radiated stronger than all the others, with flares of the survival chakra, deep red. This woman told the truth. Danielle truly feared for her family’s safety and wanted only help.
Michael was right. This could be a ratings disaster. But this was a good woman and a good mother who feared for her family’s safety. She needed help. And Kimberly knew the pain and frustration of asking for help only to be laughed at and ostracized.
She opened her eyes. “Okay. We will take your case.” The relief rolling off the woman nearly knocked her over. The one-armed hug, baby squashed between them, did knock her off balance.
“Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“Whoa,” Michael said. “You can’t just—”
“You told me to choose and I have. The ghost cat is now our season finale. Let’s start the case file. Elise, can you take her information?”
“Sure thing.” Elise led Danielle back to the lobby.
Michael crossed his arms. “What was that?”
She returned to her desk and gathered the file folders. “Here. You and Elise can start scheduling these cases for next season’s open slots. I suggest we start in Eureka Springs. The hotel sounds complex. It’s been investigated before, but now they want me to come.”
“Don’t change the subject. You just accepted a case we turned down.”
“A case you turned down. This was the first I heard of it.”
“I get it. That woman twisted your bleeding heart. But this case isn’t finale material. It’s boring. Probably nothing.”
“It’s not nothing. I could feel it. She needs help.”
“I agree she needs help. From a psychiatrist.”
“Michael! Rule one. We never call anyone crazy.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fine. Take the case. But push it to next season. We can bury it during a holiday week.”
“This woman needs help now. You didn’t feel what I felt. This is real. Something is haunting her family.”
“And you just played the sixth-sense card. You know I hate that.”
“Well, now I’m playing the co-executive producer card. Only Randall Hoffmeier can overrule me. And he won’t.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because you’re going to back me on this and tell him it’s an amazing case.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because I know you miss the old days just like I do. When we first formed APS and no one had heard of Kimberly Wantland. When our only focus was helping people no one else believed. Not ratings and viewers and sponsors and ads and internet gossip and which talk show wants to interview me. Just…helping people.”
Michael blew out a deep breath. “You’re right. I do. But we’re not the Albuquerque Paranormal Society anymore. Now we’re The Wantland Files.”
“We’ll always be APS in my mind.”
“That’s sweet. But I also really love my Manhattan flat and being able to pay my rent.”
“I don’t know why you even keep that place in New York. You’re almost never there.”
“Because I can. And because I want a place to stay when I see Broadway shows. It’s an investment. You know that. What makes no sense is that you stay here in Albuquerque. In the house you grew up in. You could live anywhere.”
“I waited years for that house to come back on the market. And you know why I wanted it.”
“I know, sweetie.”
She squirmed at the pity in his eyes. “So. Are we doing this?”
“Looks like we are. A ghost cat for a season finale. I’ll pitch Hoffmeier. And you better deliver.” He reached for his phone but paused before dialing. “Can I tell him the cat holds a dagger in its mouth? Or speaks Latin backwards? Or carries its head in its paws?”
Kimberly passed a tissue across the table to Danielle. Years of experience taught her to come prepared for tears. She knew the cameraman would zoom in for a close-up. Stan was a pro. She covered the woman’s hand with her own and squeezed. “What happened next?”
“It’s just so difficult to talk about, you know?”
“Absolutely. But we’re here to help, Danielle. We need to know what we’re dealing with before we can help you.”
Danielle nodded and dabbed the tears from her cheeks. “I started seeing him while I was pregnant.”
Now they were getting somewhere. Though she already knew what happened, they needed it on film. Getting people to share while the cameras rolled was the hard part. But this was why she got paid the big bucks. She nodded, encouraging Danielle to keep talking.
“I couldn’t sleep toward the end, you know? I was so big and uncomfortable and Joshua was so active at night, I thought he was throwing a party in there.” Danielle offered a watery smile through her tears. “The first night I saw him, I got up ‘cause I craved cheese. A midnight snack, you know? So rather than thrashing around wide awake in bed, I got up to get something to eat.”
“The first time you saw the apparition, you mean?” She needed to keep the woman focused. Her one-hour time slot didn’t allow time for extraneous chatter. And she didn’t pull in top ratings by discussing midnight snacks. They would edit that out.
“Yes.” Danielle’s eyes widened. “People are going to think I’m crazy, but I know what I saw.”
“Danielle, tell us what happened that night.” She leaned forward to allow Stan to get some wide-angle shots with both of them.
“I fixed a plate of cheese and pretzels. It just sounded so good, you know? And I sat down at the dining table to eat.”
“This table, Danielle? Where we’re sitting now?” She placed both hands on the table.
Danielle nodded, her eyes even wider. “Yes. Right here where we are. And I heard a weird noise in the back yard.” The woman gestured to the door behind her.
Kimberly watched Stan motion to the other, younger cameraman, TJ, who zoomed in on the door.
“What did you do when you heard the noise?”
“At first, nothing. I thought it was my imagination or the wind or something. But it kept getting louder. Sounded like it was coming closer.”
“What did it sound like?”
“I thought maybe it was just leaves rustling in the wind. Then there was an awful sound. Almost like a howl or a scream. A wailing noise. It got louder and louder. I could hardly breathe, I was so scared. I almost yelled for Stephen, but I didn’t want to wake up Drew. Once a toddler wakes up in the night, you can’t get them back to sleep, you know?”
“Of course.” She didn’t know the first thing about toddler sleep patterns but nodded anyway. “So what did you do?”
“I told myself I was being silly. I went to the door to open the blinds so I could see out. Then I flipped on the porch light. And that’s when I saw him.” Danielle choked up again, covering her eyes with the tissue.
Danielle nodded, the tissue pressed to her eyes, and whispered, “Felix.”
Kimberly’s brow furrowed briefly. None of her research or interviews mentioned that name. Mindful of the cameras, she hid her confusion, smoothing her features. “Felix?”
“I flipped on the back light, and there he sat on the porch, staring right at me. Just like he used to when I was a little girl. Those eyes…I knew he hated me. He arched his back and hissed. Just like he used to.”
“Danielle, tell us who Felix is.”
“He’s…he was…my grandmother’s cat. But he died when I was twelve.”
“Most people might think you’re getting worked up over nothing. It’s just a cat, right? Why not just ignore it?”
Danielle’s head snapped up. Her eyes blazed. “You don’t understand. You didn’t know this cat. He was vicious. Creepy. Weird yellow eyes and long, sharp teeth. Like the Pet Cemetery cat.”
“How so? Why were you so scared of him?”
The young woman shuddered. “He scratched me and hissed at me. He hid under the couch and pounced on my feet when I walked by. I hated him. And I knew he hated me. One night, he crept into the bedroom where I slept at Grandma’s house, sat on my chest, and pushed his nose against my mouth. I think he wanted to smother me. And no one believed me. Not my mom and definitely not my grandmother. That cat terrified me when I was little. I couldn’t stand going to my grandmother’s house because of Felix.”
She nodded. “Folklore surrounding cats goes back centuries. People once believed cats sucked the breath from sleeping children. And of course, cats were used as familiars by women practicing witchcraft.” She made a mental note to have her researcher look into any history of witchcraft in the area. The thought crossed her mind that perhaps Danielle’s grandmother had been a witch. One look at the weeping young mother told her this was not the time to ask.
“I was…I was glad when he died, even though my grandmother cried for weeks.”
“And why do you think you saw a vision of your grandmother’s deceased cat instead of, say, a stray that wandered into your yard?”
“No, it was Felix. I knew that without a doubt. The color of the fur, the markings, the gleaming yellow eyes. And the way he acted. After all these years, he’s back to terrorize me again.” The woman broke down into another fit of sobs.
“I’m so sorry,” she offered another tissue to replace the damp, wadded mass in Danielle’s hand.
“Thank you.” The woman blew her nose and took a deep, shuddering breath. “When I saw Felix on the back porch, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak or call for Stephen. Something paralyzed me. I blinked a few times, trying to make the image disappear. But it didn’t. Then he turned and walked back toward the yard…and disappeared. Just faded away.”
“What did you do then?”
“I screamed, which woke up my husband, Stephen.” Danielle gestured to her husband, standing on the other side of the room, waiting for his turn in front of the camera. He shifted from one foot to the other and ran a hand through his hair. “I couldn’t sleep after that, I was so shaken, you know? He thought I dreamed it.”
“How can you be sure you didn’t?”
Danielle took another deep breath. “I saw him again. He keeps coming back.”
“How often have you seen him?”
“Gosh, I’ve lost count now. Almost every night. Every time I get up, I’m terrified I’ll see him. I hear him wailing and hissing.” Tears dripped from her eyes, spilling onto her cheeks.
“What is it you’re hoping for by inviting me to your home? How do you want me to help?”
Danielle leaned forward and grabbed her hand. “I’ve watched your show for years. I’ve seen you clear houses of all sorts of entities. I hope…I hope you can make him go away. I want him to leave me alone. I never want to see that cat again.”
“And moving isn’t an option?”
“No. We haven’t even been here a year. We lived in an apartment but decided to get a house when we found out Josh was on the way. It took everything we had to move in here. We can’t possibly afford to move again.”
She nodded, allowing the cameras to zoom in on her comforting smile before bringing the husband in.
“Stephen, won’t you join us?”
TJ spun his camera around, focusing on the husband who looked like he’d rather be anywhere but here. He rested a hand on his wife’s shoulder before he sat. Good. He remembered the instructions the director gave him earlier. Appear supportive and reassuring, whether he believed his wife or not.
“Stephen, have you seen the apparition that’s scaring your wife?”
“No, ma’am. She doesn’t see it when I get up with her. I’ve tried. For weeks I got up almost every night. But nothing happened.”
“Do you believe your wife is seeing the ghost of her grandmother’s cat?”
He took a deep breath, running his fingers through his hair. He glanced at his wife, still dabbing at her eyes with a soggy tissue. “Before, her doctor said it could be a pregnancy-related psychosis. But she still sees it.”
Danielle cried softly. Stephen wrapped an arm around her and tugged her close, holding her head against him.
“And you believe I can help?”
“My wife sees something that scares her. I don’t know what it is, but she sees something. Please figure out what’s going on. I just want my wife to find peace again.”
She stood and spoke directly to the camera. “What caused Danielle’s nightmare from her childhood to haunt her in the present? Is the spirit of her grandmother’s cat still wandering the earth, drawn to the descendent of his former owner? Or is something more menacing and dangerous prompting these nighttime visits? Stay with me as I unravel the mystery of the prowling ghost cat and bring peace back to this family. Tonight on The Wantland Files.”
Kimberly allowed herself a glance at Michael after the scene cut. Normally, he flashed a thumbs-up and a huge smile after a successful scene. But he wasn’t even looking at her. Back turned, he seemed deep in conversation with someone she couldn’t see. What was so important he couldn’t even acknowledge her? Rude.
Stan’s voice drew her attention from Michael. “Hey, Kimberly. You want to try to squeeze in the walk-through before lunch?”
She threw a glance at Danielle, drying her eyes while Stephen sat beside her. Michael still focused on the other person. When he threw his head back and laughed, she made her decision. “After lunch. We all need a break.” And she needed to learn who Michael found so delightful.
“Ms. Wantland?” Danielle called from the table.
She stopped in her tracks and turned away from Michael and his visitor, forcing a smile on her face. “Yes?”
“You don’t think I’m crazy, do you?”
“Not at all.”
“What do you think is happening?”
She sank into a chair. “Hard to say without some investigation. Any number of things could cause it. I’ve seen residual and active hauntings where the entity is attached to the house. Instances where the spiritual energy is tied to a particular object. This case intrigues me for two reasons. First, the disturbance appears to be fixated on you personally. And second, the arrival of the apparitions seems to correlate to the birth of your second child.”
Danielle’s eyes widened. “So you think Felix is out to get Josh?”
“I didn’t say that. We need to take some readings, investigate, and spend time in the house before we can formulate any hypothesis about what’s happening here.”
She stood up, looking for Michael, but he was gone. “Let’s break, have lunch, and I’ll start preparing for our walk-through with the crew. Okay?”
She walked away before Danielle could respond. This time Stephen intercepted her.
“Ms. Wantland?” He crossed the few steps she’d managed to put between them.
He leaned close and spoke in a hushed tone, keeping his back to the dining table where his wife sat. “You don’t need to encourage her. In fact, I prefer you didn’t.”
She noticed the deep concern in his eyes. A skeptic. She curled her hand around the quartz crystal hanging around her neck and took a deep breath. “I’ll bear that in mind as we move forward with the investigation. But I’m here to discern the truth. Whatever that may be. I advise you to bear that in mind. You may not like what I find.”
She gritted her teeth, fighting the urge to reply, “Yes, Mikey?” Only Michael called her by the detested nickname. Anyone else dumb enough to try it never repeated it a second time.
She contemplated going straight to her trailer, pretending she hadn’t heard him. Instead, she set her long, gauzy skirt twirling yet again.
“Kimmy, come say hi.”
Someone tall and wiry, dressed completely in black, stood beside Michael. Dark eyes stared at her from beneath a shock of unruly and equally dark hair. Recognition sparked somewhere in her mind. How did she know that face?
Three steps closer, he came into focus. The insolent smirk enabled her to dredge the proper name from the proper file.
What was he doing here?
“Come here, Kimmy.” Michael waved her forward. Her feet plodded one after another until she stood beside him. “Kimmy, this is Sterling Wakefield.”
“I know who he is.”
“And everyone knows who you are.” His smirk curled into a full smile as he grabbed her hand and shook it. “I’m flattered you know me. Always happy to meet a fellow entertainer.”
She disengaged her hand, glaring at Michael. Why did he bring this man here? “I’m sorry, you’re mistaken. I’m not an entertainer. I’m a serious paranormal investigator—”
Sterling threw his head back and laughed. Laughed at her. “Fastest flip from smile to frown I’ve ever seen.”
“You got that right.” Michael threw an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t make our Kimmy mad. She’s got an open line to call down vengeful spirits.”
“Right. Sure.” Sterling winked.
“Hey, Michael. We need your opinion on camera angle.” Stan motioned down the hall.
“Okay, you two. Let me see what they need to get set up and we can have lunch together.” He gave her a look that clearly told her to behave, squeezed both their arms, and left them alone.
“Sorry,” Sterling said. “Didn’t mean to call you an entertainer in front of your latest marks.” He jerked his head to indicate Danielle and Stephen. “You need to maintain the illusion for them.”
The man had no tact. She curled her hand around her crystal and breathed deeply. “I’m not maintaining an illusion. And please don’t insult these nice people with such a crass term as marks. As if I’m pulling a fast one on them.”
“Come on. You can’t kid a kidder.”
“I’m not trying to kid anyone.”
“Right. Not in front of the clients. I gotcha.” He winked again. “So. Have you seen my show?”
“Yes, Mr. Wakefield. I’m familiar with your show. I’ve also seen your videos calling me a fraud and challenging me to let you come on my show.”
“Please call me Sterling, Kimmy.” His eyes danced as he drew the word out, almost as if he knew it would set her off.
She gritted her teeth. She didn’t think anything could irritate her more than calling her Kimmy, but that smirk came close. “It’s Kimberly, thank you.” She focused on deep, calming breaths. In. Out. Unclench the jaw.
“And yet Michael gets away with Kimmy. Hmmm, I sense a story there.” He wiggled his eyebrows and propped his chin on a fist, shifting from one foot to another. He seemed to be waiting for her to fill him in. As if she would share anything with this sensationalist slime.
“No story. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to relax in my trailer and prepare for this afternoon.” No way could she endure an entire meal with this cretin. Michael would just have to understand.
Michael rounded the corner of the hall as she made her way to the front door. He wrapped an arm around her waist, lifted her off the ground, and swung her back toward Sterling.
“Michael! Put me down!”
Sterling laughed. “I need to remember that trick.” He clapped his hands while his eyes took her in. “The perils of weighing a hundred pounds. Dripping wet. With rocks in your pockets.”
“I told you, lunch today with Sterling and me.” He pointed a finger and gave her a look. Then he turned to the crew. “Okay, everybody. Lunch. Walk-through this afternoon.”
TJ sidled close to Sterling. “Excuse me, Mr. Wakefield? Could I have an autograph?”
She attempted to edge away as the crew dispersed and Sterling went with TJ to find a pen. “Really, Michael, I just want to relax—”
“No whining. I’d hoped you would cooperate. Since you won’t, you force me to tell you. This lunch is mandated by top brass. Network. Actually, the meeting is mandated. I just thought food might make it more palatable.” The corners of his lips twitched as he watched her face. “Get it? Palatable?”
Network? Some suit insisted she meet with Sterling? No. That could only mean one thing. Surely not.
“Come on,” Michael said, bumping her with an elbow. “You haven’t heard the news yet. Don’t go all pale and deflated on me. How long have we known each other? Would I let anyone hurt my Kimmy?”
The edges of her crystal dug into her palm and fingers. She didn’t even remember wrapping her hand around it.