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Off the Record


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Off the Record

On the Record

For the Record

Chapter 1


Liz Dougherty could barely hear herself think over the deafening buzz in the conference room. So much was going on. Reporters from all over North Carolina were piling into the Raleigh conference center waiting to hear State Senator Maxwell deliver a speech. Cameras were being set up, photography equipment lined the room, and voice recorders were poised and ready to capture every word the Senator uttered. Reporters milled around the room chatting with one another and directing their crews for the optimal angle. Liz hadn’t expected her first press conference to be quite this . . . loud.

Hayden Lane stood completely calm and collected next to her. She knew he had quite a bit of experience with press conferences, and was grateful he had included her, but damn, was it intimidating. How could he be so composed?

Liz felt small enough standing next to the editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, but she felt like the tiniest minnow in the ocean compared to the legends in journalism surrounding her. She had joined the newspaper two years ago, and had put in her time, but she had always wanted to be a reporter. She had pushed and fought for it. She had watched for two years as other reporters took the prime spots, but as an upcoming junior she had the privilege of finally working her coveted position.

She had interned at home for newspapers and had taken more journalism classes than she could count, so she knew she was prepared. She had done her homework, but it didn’t make her first real political press conference any less terrifying.

“You ready with the recorder?” Hayden asked, digging into his messenger bag and pulling out a notepad, pen, and digital camera. The equipment was nothing compared to what some of the top-notch reporters surrounding them had, but it would do the job.

“Yeah, I think I’m all set,” she said, chewing on her bottom lip as she adjusted her navy blazer and teetered in her nude high heels.

“I wish we were closer. I’d love to get a question in.” He peered around a camera to get a better look at the empty platform.

“Do you think we’ll get a chance?” Liz asked, wide-eyed. In case she was given the opportunity to ask anything of the sitting Senator, she had prepared questions, but she didn’t think it was a real possibility. Hayden would probably laugh at her if he knew how much extra work she had put into the questions. But it was her job and she couldn’t help it. She had been so anxious last night anticipating the event, and it tended to make her meticulous. She hadn’t even been able to sleep.

“Nah, probably not. If this guy is anything like his father, he’ll make his announcement and get out of there. Easier to keep winning if you don’t say too much. Know what I mean?”

She stared into Hayden’s gorgeous face, and the full force of his charm hit her. She gulped and turned back to the podium. “Yeah, makes sense.”

“I wish we could get one question in, though. I’d love to peg him down about education policy,” he said.

Liz nodded. After researching Senator Maxwell’s policy platform, she’d had difficulty narrowing her questions to the ten on education policy she had listed in her purse. He was a hard-core budget guy, just like his father, who was a sitting United States Senator. State Senator Maxwell had won his last two elections based on his broad, sweeping plan to balance the budget, and then he had done it. For the first time in twenty-five years, North Carolina’s fiscal books were in order.

Not that she disagreed with the end result, but she wasn’t sure how much she agreed with his approach to the matter: cutting anything and everything that might be deemed superfluous—and one of those items happened to be education. Her father was a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, and Liz couldn’t imagine what it would be like to see all of his hard work slashed by a politician just out to line his pockets. Maxwell put business first and everything else after: Encourage small business, lower taxes, help the working class, but Liz didn’t understand how he expected to help the working class when they couldn’t even get an education.

“Lane! Lane?” a perky redhead called. She pushed past another reporter and all but attacked Hayden.

“Calleigh,” Hayden muttered, hugging her back. “So good to see you. How’s Charlotte treating you?”

“Amazing, of course. You should come and visit me. I could get you an interview,” she said. She swished her red hair across one shoulder and smiled at Hayden like he was dessert.

“I might take you up on that when I graduate,” he said. “Have you met our new reporter, Liz Dougherty?”

Calleigh seemed to finally notice that someone was standing next to Hayden. “Oh, hi,” she said. “Are you taking over Camille’s old job?”

“Uh . . . yeah. I’ve been mostly in editorials before this,” Liz explained.

Calleigh Hollingsworth was a legend at the university newspaper. She single-handedly put the paper on the map last year by interviewing the President of the United States and busting up a sex scandal in the higher tiers of the school administration. Her byline had graced the front page of the university paper daily, and everyone at school knew her name. She had been offered a job at a New York newspaper, but had turned it down for Charlotte. No one knew why, but she was either crazy or a genius. Liz had only seen her in passing, and she was awestruck to be standing in the presence of someone with such notoriety.

“Well, I hope you do her some justice. I know Lane wouldn’t choose someone incompetent. Good luck on the job,” she said, turning back to Hayden. “Lane, drinks before you leave, doll. This is not a request.”

And with that she traipsed across the room. Male eyes from all around followed her as she whisked past them and out of sight.

“That was Calleigh Hollingsworth,” Liz said plainly.

“Yeah,” he grumbled. “And I have to entertain her highness.”

Liz giggled. “Do you not like her?”