If Winter Comes, page 1
A mayor tries to win the election—and a journalist’s heart—in New York Times bestselling author Diana Palmer’s popular story, IF WINTER COMES.
Charismatic Phoenix mayor Bryan Moreland had already won the devotion of his constituents, and was well on the way to bringing reporter Carla Maxwell to his side…until she found out that the heart-stoppingly handsome leader wasn’t all he claimed to be. Rumor had it the popular politician was an embezzler.
It was just a rumor, Carla told herself. As a reporter, she’d have to get to the bottom of it, but as a woman, she wanted nothing more than to lose herself in sexy Mayor Moreland’s arms. Or was that exactly where he wanted her, for reasons other than love and desire?
“Palmer knows how to make the sparks fly…heartwarming.”
—Publishers Weekly on Renegade
If Winter Comes
Table of Contents
It was an election morning in the newsroom, and Carla Maxwell felt the excitement running through her slender body like a stab of lightning. The city hall beat which she shared with Bill Peck was a dream of a job. Something was always happening—like this special election to fill a vacant seat created by a commissioner’s resignation. There were only five men on the city commission, and this was the Public Works seat. Besides that, the two men running for it were, respectively, a good friend and a deadly foe of the present mayor, Bryan Moreland.
“How does it look?” Carla called to Peck, who was impatiently running a hand through his gray-streaked blond hair as he hung onto a telephone receiver waiting for the results from the city’s largest precinct.
“Neck and neck, to use a trite expression.” He grinned at her. He had a nice face, she thought. Lean and smooth and kind. Not at all the usual expressionless mask worn by most veteran newsmen.
She smiled back, and her dark green eyes caught the light and seemed to glow under the fluorescent lights.
“What precinct are you waiting for?” Beverly Miller, the Society Editor, asked, pausing by Peck’s desk.
“Ward four,” he told her. “It looks like…hello? Yes, go ahead.” He scribbled feverishly on his pad, thanked his caller and hung up. He shook his head. “Tom Green took the fourth by a small avalanche,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “Now there’s a surprise for you. A political novice winning a city election in a three-man field with no runoff.”
“I’ll bet Moreland’s tickled to death,” Carla said dryly. “Green’s been at his throat ever since he took office almost four years ago.”
“He may not run again now,” Beverly laughed. “He hasn’t announced.”
“He will,” Peck said confidently. “Moreland’s one hell of a fighter.”
“That’s the truth,” Beverly said, perching her ample figure on the edge of Peck’s desk. She smiled at Carla. “You haven’t been here long enough to know much of Moreland’s background, but he started out as one of the best trial lawyers in the city. He had a national reputation long before he ran for mayor and won. And despite agitators like Green, he commands enough public respect to keep the office if he wants it. He’s done more for urban renewal, downtown improvement and city services than any mayor in the past two decades.”
“Then why do we keep hearing rumors of graft?” Carla asked Peck when Beverly was called away to her phone.
“What rumors?” Peck asked, even as he began feeding his copy into the electronic typewriter.
“I’ve had two anonymous phone calls this week,” she told him, pushing a strand of dark hair back under the braided coil pinned on top her head. “Big Jim gave me the green light to do some investigating.”
“Where do you plan to start?” he asked indulgently.
“At the city treasury. One particular department was singled out by my anonymous friend,” she added. “I was told that if I checked the books, I’d find some very interesting entries.”
“Tell me what you’re looking for, and I’ll check into it for you,” he volunteered.
She cocked her head at him. “Thanks—” she smiled “—but no thanks. Just because I’m fresh out of college, don’t think I need a shepherd. My father owned a weekly paper in south Georgia.”
“No wonder you feel so comfortable here,” he chuckled. “But remember that a weekly and a daily are worlds apart.”
“Don’t be arrogant,” she chided. “If you tried to hire on at a weekly, you’d very likely find that your experience wouldn’t be enough.”
“You have one beat,” she reminded him. “City Hall. You don’t cover fashion shows or go to education board meetings, or cover the county morgue. Those are other beats. But,” she added, “on a weekly you’re responsible for news, period. The smaller the weekly, the smaller the staff, the more responsibility you have. I worked for Dad during the summers. I was my own editor, my own proofreader, my own photographer, and I had to get all the news all the time. Plus that, I had to help set the copy if Trudy got sick, I had to do layout and paste-up and write ads, and set headlines, and sell ads…”
“I surrender!” Peck laughed. “I’ll just stick to this incredibly easy job I’ve got, thanks.”
“After seventeen years, I’m not surprised.”
He raised a pale eyebrow at her, but he didn’t make another comment.
* * *
Later, as they were on their way out of the building, Peck groaned while he scanned the front page of the last edition.
“God help us, that’s not what he said!” he burst out.
“Not what who said?” She pushed through the door onto the busy sidewalk and waited for him.
“Moreland. The paper says he stated that the city would pick up the tab for new offices at city hall….” Peck ran a rough hand through his hair. “I told that damned copy editor twice that Moreland said he wouldn’t agree to redecorate city hall! Oh, God, he’ll eat us alive tonight.”
Tonight was when one of the presidential advisers was speaking at a local civic organization’s annual meeting, to which she and Peck were invited. It would be followed by a reception at a local state legislator’s home, and Moreland would certainly be there.
“I’ll wear a blond wig and a mustache,” she assured him. “And you can borrow one of my dresses.”
His pale eyes skimmed over her tall, slender body appreciatively, before he considered his own compact, but husky physique. “I’d need a bigger size, but thanks for the thought.”
“Maybe he won’t blame us,” she said comfortingly.
“We work for the paper,” he reminded her. “And the fact that a story I called in got fouled up won’t cut any ice. Don’t sweat it, honey, it’s my fault not yours. Moreland doesn’t eat babies.”
“I’m twenty-three, you know,” she said with a smile. “I was late getting into college.”
“Moreland’s older than I am,” he persisted. “He’s got to be pushing forty, if he isn’t already there.”
“I know, I’ve seen the gray hairs.”
“Most of those he got from the accident,” he murmured as they got to the parking lot. “Tragic thing, and so senseless. Didn’t even scratch the other driver. I guess the other guy was too drunk to notice any injuries, even if he had them.”
“That was before my time,” she said. She paused at the door of her yellow Volkswagen. “Was it since he was elected?”
“Two years ago.” He nodded. “There were rumors of a split between him and his wife, but no confirmation.”
“A daughter, eig
She nodded. “She must be a comfort to him.”
“Honey, she was in the car,” he told her. “He was the only survivor.”
She swallowed hard. “He doesn’t look as if bullets would scratch him. I guess after that, they wouldn’t.”
“That’s what I hear.” He opened the door of his car. “Need a ride to the meeting?”
She shook her head. “Thanks, anyway. I thought I might toss my clothes in the trunk and stop by a laundromat after the reception.”
He froze with his hand on the door handle. “Wash clothes at a laundromat at midnight in an evening gown?”
“I’m going to wear a dress, not an evening gown, and the laundromat belongs to my aunt and uncle. They’ll be there.”
He let out a deep breath. “Don’t scare me like that. It’s not good for a man of my advanced years.”
“What a shame, and I was going to buy you a racing set for Christmas, too.”
“Christmas is three months away.”
“Is that all?” she exclaimed. “Well, maybe I’d better forego the meeting and go Christmas shopping instead.”
“And leave me to face Moreland alone?” He looked deserted, tragic.
“I can’t protect you. He towers over me, you know,” she added, remembering the sheer physical impact of the man at the last city commission meeting.
“He’s never jumped on you,” he reminded her. He smiled boyishly. “In fact, at that last budget meeting we covered, he seemed to spend a lot of time looking at you.”
Her eyebrows went up. “At me? I wonder what I did?”
He shook his head. “Carla, you’re without hope. Men do look at attractive women.”
“Not men like Moreland,” she protested.
“Men like Moreland,” he insisted. “He may be the mayor, honey, but he’s still very much a man.”
“He could have almost any socialite in the city.”
“But he rarely dates,” he said. “I’ve seen him with a woman twice at a couple of social functions. He’s not what you’d call a womanizer, unless he’s keeping a very low profile.”
“Maybe he misses his wife,” she said softly.
“Angelica wasn’t the kind of woman any sane man misses,” he recalled with a smile. “She reminded me of a feisty dog—all snap and bristle. I think it was an arranged marriage rather than a love match. They were descended from two of the city’s founding families, you know. Moreland could get along very well without working at all. He does it for a hobby, I think, although he takes it seriously. He loves this city, and he’s sure worked for it.”
“I still wouldn’t like to have him mad at me,” she admitted with a smile. “It would be like having a bulldozer run over you.”
“Ask me when the party’s over,” he moaned, “and I’ll let you know.”
“Wear your track shoes,” she called as she got into her car and drove away.
* * *
Carla and Peck sat together with his date, a ravishing blonde who couldn’t seem to take her eyes off him. She felt vaguely alone at functions like this gigantic dinner. It was comforting to be near someone she knew, even if she did feel like a third wheel. Reporting had overcome some of her basic shyness, but not a lot. She still cringed at gatherings.
Even now, chic in an emerald green velour dress that was perfect with her pale green eyes and dark hair—which she wore, uncharacteristically, loose tonight—she felt self-conscious, especially when she caught Bryan Moreland’s dark eyes looking at her from the head table. It was unnerving, that pointed stare of his, and she had a feeling that there was animosity in it. Perhaps he was blaming her as well as Peck for the story in the paper. She was Peck’s protegee, after all, his shadow on the city hall beat while she was getting her bearings in the new environment of big-city journalism.
“His Honor’s glaring at me,” she told Peck over her coffee cup.
“Ignore him,” he told her. “He glares at all reporters. See old Graham over at the next table—the Sun reporter?” he asked, gesturing toward a young, sandy-haired man with a photographer sitting next to him. “He axed the mayor’s new landfill proposal without giving the city’s side of the question. Moreland cornered him at a civic-club banquet and burned his ears off. In short,” he concluded with a smile, “he would like to see you and me and Graham on the menu tonight—preferably served with barbeque sauce and apples in our mouths.”
She shuddered. “How distasteful.”
He nodded. “I’d sure give him indigestion, wouldn’t I, lovely?” he asked the blonde, who smiled back.
“Never mind,” Carla told her companionably, “we’ll flatter him by pretending we don’t think he’s a tough old bird.”
“Don’t listen, Blanche,” Peck told the blonde.
The blonde winked at Carla. “Okay, sugar, I won’t.”
When they finished the lavish meal, the tall young presidential adviser, Joel Blackwell, took the podium and Peck and Carla produced pads and pens. It had been Peck’s idea to let Carla cover meetings such as this, to give her a feel for it, but he took his own notes as well, as a backup, and wrote his own copy to compare with hers. She was proving to be an apt pupil, too. He was grudging with his praise, but she was beginning to earn her share of it.
Most of the speech was routine propaganda for the administration: pinpointing the President’s interest in his fan mail and highlighting some less known aspects of his personal life. When he finished, he threw the floor open for questions, and foremost on the audience’s mind was foreign relations. Domestic problems had a brief voice, followed by some questions on what a presidential adviser’s duties consisted of. Carla took notes feverishly, blissfully unaware of Peck’s indulgent smile as he jotted down a brief note here and there.
Finally, it was over, and the guests were gathering jackets and purses for a quick exit. Carla threw her lacy shawl around her shoulders and stood up.
“Well, I’ll see you at the cocktail party,” she told Peck and his girl friend. “I wish it were informal. My feet hurt!”
He gave her tight sandals with their high, spiked heels a distasteful glance. “No wonder.” He caught Blanche by the arm, and drew her along through the crowd. “In the office, she kicks off her shoes and walks around barefoot on the carpet,” he whispered conspiratorially.
“Can I help it if I’m a country girl at heart?” Carla laughed. “I’m still adjusting to big-city life.”
“You’ll get used to it,” Peck promised her.
She sighed, smothering in perfume and cologne and the crush of people. “Oh, I hope so,” she said under her breath.
The cocktail party was far more of an ordeal for Carla than the dinner had been. She stood by the long bar that featured every kind of intoxicating beverage known to man, plus ice and shakers and glasses, trying to look sophisticated and nonchalant. Around her, expensively dressed women wearing jewels Carla couldn’t afford time payments on were discussing new plays and art exhibits, dripping diamonds and prestige. A tiny smile touched Carla’s full mouth. How horrible, she thought wickedly, to be that rich and have to worry about having your diamonds stolen. Or to have a swimming pool and all the bother of getting leaves cleaned out of it every fall.
The mind boggles, she told herself as she idly glanced around the room. Ironically, the first person she recognized was the mayor.
Bryan Moreland was unmistakable, even with his broad back turned. Carla studied him from across the room, her dancing eyes curious. She’d seen the big man often enough on television, not to mention in the flesh, but every time she was around him he seemed to be bigger and broader and darker than he looked before.
His hair was dark, threaded with gray, and thick and straight. His complexion was very tanned, as if he spent a lot of time in the sun rather than in an office, and her eyes were drawn to the hand holding his cigarette—a darkly masculine hand with long fingers and a black onyx ring on the little finger. His suits looked as if
Carla started at the suddenness of the move. She almost stepped away, but she wasn’t quick enough. He saw her, and since her face was one he knew, he headed straight for her.
His dark eyes narrowed as he stopped just a couple of feet away and glowered down at her, pinning her. She felt apprehension shiver through her frozen body before he spoke, and her hand tightened on the glass of cola she was drinking instead of liquor.
“That was one hell of a mistake in your morning edition,” he said without preamble, his voice deep and slow and cutting. “My phone rang off the hook all day and I had to get on the damned evening news to get the noose off my neck.”
“I’m sorry,” she began automatically, “but it wasn’t my…”
“The next time, check your facts with me before you run back and print some pack of lies!” he growled, his deep voice reverberating like thunder. “What the hell do you people do with news down there, make it up as you go along?”
She licked her lips nervously. She wasn’t usually intimidated this easily. Being attacked went with the job, and most of the time she handled it well, diplomatically. But it wasn’t easy to be diplomatic with a steamroller, and that was what Moreland brought to mind.
“It was the…” she began again.
“Why don’t you go back to journalism school and learn how to verify information?” he growled. “My God, children are taking over the world!” His eyes narrowed dangerously. “I’ll expect not only a retraction, but an apology.”
“Mr. Moreland, I’m really sorry….” she whispered unsteadily, feeling about two inches high.
He poured himself a drink—Scotch, she noticed—with incredibly steady hands, his face like granite, and she wondered idly if anything ever rattled him. He would have made a fantastic racing driver or doctor, she thought suddenly, with those steady hands and nerves.
“I didn’t go to Ed Hart this time,” he said, tossing the publisher’s name at her. He speared her with those demon eyes. “But if it ever happens again, I’ll have your job.”
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