Maggie glared at her computer screen. Her blank computer screen. No words marred its pristine surface. That was never a good thing, not with deadlines looming. The gossip trail had gone cold of late. She needed a fresh, steamy kill.
Her intern, Lamar Balboa, slithered over to her desk. He was wearing his usual skintight shimmery slacks and that poofy white shirt slit to the waist to show off his tanned chest. Not that it did her any good since he played for the other team, but a girl could always look.
She glared at him sourly. “Tell me you’ve got something.”
“Looks, brains, charm, and abs to die for,” he said breezily. “Other than that, nada. That scrumptious Danny from the mail room ran off to Alaska with icky Vicki. Can you make a column out of that?”
“Not a good one. Chaos bite it. I know there’s trouble brewing. Somebody somewhere is humping the wrong leg, but I can’t zero in on it.”
“We should visit the Sandbox,” Lamar suggested. “Always a good story there.”
“You just want to get laid.”
He shrugged with a reptile’s grace. “Come with me. They have something for everyone.”
“Can’t, darling. Damien Hancock’s throwing a ball for his heir to the throne. I’ve got to wrangle myself an invite. If anything juicy’s going to happen, it’ll happen there.”
“Devon gets a party? Pooh. He’s no fun. Now Dante … ” Lamar’s tongue flicked briefly over his lower lip. “That boy’s got himself one impressive – ” He caught Maggie’s look and lamely finished, “bike.”
“Give it up, Lamar. The Hancocks are too far above your pay grade.” Hers as well, but not for long. One hot scoop and it was syndication, darling. Bright lights, big city. If she could bring down those howlier-than-thou Hancocks in the process, so much the better. “Nick’s going to want coverage of this. He needs all the good graces he can get into if he expects to – ”
“You want me to WHAT?”
Maggie and Lamar exchanged a look. As one, they sprang up and dashed for Nick’s office.
Oh, this was gold. Their Fearless Alpha Leader getting reamed over, under, sideways and down by that cat Leona. She was in full spitting mode this morning, with the claws out and hair sprouting on the backs of her hands. Nick must have really yanked her tail.
From the corner of her eye Maggie spotted Ziva Whatsername edging over from Personals. The three of them took up position just out of sight but not earshot. Like it mattered; the gods could probably hear Leona’s yowls all the way in Valhalla.
Leona had Nick backed up against his desk. “Date your brother? That worthless, loud-mouthed pile of scat? What are you thinking? Can you think at all? Do you know how many ethics laws you’ve violated just by suggesting that?”
“I didn’t say date,” Nick ground out, his Alpha nature flaring up. “Mooney’s going through a tough time right now, what with losing his job and all – ”
“Yeah. Fired by text message. Smooth move, Nicky. Your own brother. Even he deserved better than that.”
“So I thought,” Nick went on, “if you didn’t want to lose your job, you’d do us all a favor.” He cut off Leona’s outraged hiss by adding, “The Hancock party. I want a reporter there. You want a story. Mooney needs female company. I’ll get you in and you take Mooney. All bases covered.”
Maggie’s figurative ears pricked at the second half of his statement. Nick had an in with Hancock?
Leona snarled. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Are you threatening to fire me if I don’t take your brother on assignment? With all due respect, just how big of an idiot are you? Do you enjoy flirting with self-destruction? Do you want to wreck this paper along with your sorry rep?”
Nick bared his teeth. “Given your own rep, Lane, you’re lucky you’ve got a job at all. If you want to keep it, you’ll quit talking back to your boss and do as you’re told.”
She bared her teeth right back. “Scratch the repect. I should have known better than to work for a wolf. Especially one who’s – ”
“Excuse me.” Maggie stepped fearlessly into the battle zone. “I believe we can settle this without anyone getting canned.”
Leona bristled. “What the hell do you think – ”
“Smooth the hackles, darling. I’m only here to help.” She turned to Nick. “You want a reporter at the Hancock bash. That’s society news. My milieu. I’d be honored to have Mooney escort me. I’ve always found your brother interesting.”
“Are you scatting me?” Leona blurted. “Mooney at a society function? Do you know how many possible ways there are for him to screw up?”
“Oh, he’s harmless. Just keep his mouth stuffed with food so he can’t talk and he’s fine. He even does the stuffing himself. I know how to keep him on a leash. You get a front page story, darling, your brother gets a date with a dare I say beautiful and worldly woman, no one gets sacked and no one gets sued over ethics violations and sexual harassment. Do we have a deal?”
She saw Nick’s nose working and knew the brain behind it must be working too. Rumor had it the paper’s new owner was a cat, who would take a dim view of Alpha wolf management tactics. Nick knew which side of his kill the blood flowed from.
“Okay,” he said. “Novak, the party’s yours. So’s Mooney. I’ll get you his number.”
“Already got it, darling.”
“Fine. As for you, Lane – ”
Leona had already stormed out of the office. Maggie spotted Ziva scurrying back to the Personals desk.
Outside the office, Lamar greeted her with bowing motions. “I salute the master.”
“As well you should. Both of them owe me now.” Maybe three. Maggie hadn’t missed the bitch-in-heat scent that always wafted off little Ziva whenever big Nick was around. She’d have to keep an eye on them. The drab, storyless morning had just turned bright and sunny.
“Leona will attend the ball anyway,” Maggie said. “She’ll want to see Devon. She’ll find a way. Stick close to her, sweetie. I want to know every bark and hiss they hurl at each other.”
“Like a second skin, chica.”
“As for Mooney, I’m sure he’ll create a story for me if I can’t find one on my own. The brainless mutt’s always good for a laugh.” Maggie bared her teeth in a wide coyote smile. Events were working out quite nicely.