Natural Disaster, page 2
He unlocked the truck, threw open the driver’s side door, and climbed into the seat. His seat.
The inside was tricked out with a HD digital camcorder dashcam, a stand for a laptop, and a HAM radio. He trailed his hands over the steering wheel and dash as if it were his lover. Guthrie fell into the seat beside him with a huff and an eye roll.
Guthrie’s prissy attitude mixed with his very masculine beauty made Luke’s blood run hot. Guthrie had newscaster hair—dark, thick, sleek, and neatly parted. He sometimes hid all that silkiness under a cowboy hat, which revved Luke’s engine in a distinctly unprofessional way. Guthrie’s lips were full, his jaw square and shadowed. Plus he had the greenest fucking eyes. No wonder Guthrie had such a large, thirsty fan base online.
But Luke’s favorite part of Guthrie’s face was his smile. When he truly smiled—not the fake on-air smile, but the real one—his top lip curled and flashed that little harp string that connected his upper lip to his gums. That smile made Guthrie seem impish and kissable.
“Chance of storms later in the week,” Luke said, so he’d stop daydreaming. “First of the season.” He wanted to untangle Debbie’s cryptic comment about Guthrie’s storm-chasing experience, but wasn’t sure how to broach the subject.
“We could be called out.”
Guthrie didn’t say anything but fiddled with the knobs on the dash.
Luke hated one-way conversations. They made him feel needy and off-balance. “You okay?”
Guthrie sucked in a breath. “Yup.”
“You don’t look okay.”
“I look fine.” Guthrie turned toward him and their gazes snagged. A lick of heat whipped through Luke’s veins. Guthrie was, in fact, fine.
“They’re doing promo with the weather team tomorrow, plus interviews for one of those digital-only series,” Luke said.
“Fabulous. Do you have to do it too, or just me?”
“I don’t have to do the promo, but Johanna said they’ll interview you and me together.”
Guthrie touched the stand where they’d mount a laptop. Those long, elegant fingers spreading over the metal made Luke breathless. He needed to get a grip on this attraction. He wasn’t going to let Guthrie wussing out on storm chasing negatively affect his career, and he certainly wasn’t going to let a dumb crush do it either.
“Storm chasing is dangerous,” Guthrie said.
“I’m not going to take a bunch of stupid risks. If we do this—”
“If?” Luke said, annoyed—they were doing this—but Guthrie talked over him.
“I am not going to be party to any macho, adrenaline-junkie bullshit. Our job is to forewarn, not get boners over nature.”
Silence vibrated between them again. Guthrie stared out the front windshield, his strong jaw clenching and unclenching. What would happen if Luke leaned over and kissed that ticking muscle?
“I’m not the asshole you think I am,” Luke said quietly.
“I am the asshole you think I am, though. Out there, you will do what I say. You will listen to me. I’m the boss. I’m the master of our universe when we’re in this vehicle. You feel me?”
Guthrie’s phone blared in his hand. He jumped out of the truck before Luke had a chance to respond, leaving him with nothing but Guthrie’s distinct scent of hairspray and starched shirt.
Guthrie managed to corner Debbie the next morning. He fought for a different assignment and pushed for a raise. Neither worked.
She stared at him for a long moment, seeming to weigh her words. “Let me level with you. KTTY is struggling. Between budget cuts, advertising, and the state of broadcast journalism in general, we’re barely holding on. Layoffs are already a possibility, across the board. Starting last week, we went under a hiring freeze.”
“So? Why does it have to be me?”
“Because you’re the only one on staff who we know can do it. If you won’t do it, we’ll have to fire one of the contract chasers, or force a storm chaser to go solo. After lots of discussion, we decided this was the best and safest option.”
“For you. Not me.”
“Yes, for KTTY.” After a long beat, she said, “It’d be last in, first out on the contract chasers otherwise.”
He closed his eyes briefly. They’d fire Luke if he refused. Luke was the most recent hire. That was what she was saying without spelling it out explicitly. And Guthrie’s position might not be that stable either, not if there were decisions about layoffs to be made. As much as he didn’t like Luke, he didn’t want the guy to lose his job.
“Fine,” he finally said.
“We’re good?” she asked.
After his meeting, he recorded his voice-over for the polka hall story, which he then edited for the noon broadcast. Next came the spring weather promo. He was one of the first in the studio. The room was full of production staff bustling around in front of the requisite green screen.
The station’s chief meteorologist—Seth Nguyen—waltzed into the room and gave him a kind smile. “You ready for this, kid?” Seth had a calm, authoritative voice. Even when he was teasing, he sounded unflappable. It made him a trustworthy chief meteorologist in a sea of sensational weather reporting.
“I was born for green screen work.”
Seth laughed. “Still a cocky little shit, I see. I meant storm chasing.”
It would have bothered Guthrie if anyone else in this entire building had called him a “cocky little shit,” but Seth had known him since he was six.
Guthrie shrugged. No, he wasn’t ready for storm chasing. He didn’t want to be out there. Didn’t want to step into that world again. He’d probably have to refill his anxiety medicine, which was a pain.
Seth clasped his shoulder. “I know this wouldn’t have been your first choice of assignment.”
“I’ll deal.” He’d try, at least.
“I’m appreciative, if it means anything.”
Guthrie’s favorite director, Angelica, clapped her hands. She was a middle-aged Black lesbian, and the most efficient director ever. As far as Guthrie was concerned, she was a queen. “Okay, we’ll start with the whole weather team up there.”
Angelica arranged the team into a nice tableau before walking them through smiles and serious expressions and different poses. An hour later, she’d put them through every combination imaginable, and it was his turn for individual shots.
He couldn’t help but imagine the dramatic voiceover that could go along with his promo.
At KTTY News Channel 7, our weather coverage just got way more… gay country kitsch. Introducing reluctant storm chasing legacy Guthrie Gale. Now part of the Storm Watch 7 Team.
Angelica cleared her throat. “Guthrie, you look like your mind’s somewhere else.”
He jerked back to attention. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine, hon. Hard to get a bad shot of you, even when you’re phoning it in.”
A flash of movement at the back of the room disrupted Guthrie’s concentration. Luke shuffled in and grinned as their eyes met. Guthrie snapped his gaze back to Angelica.
She checked the clipboard in her hand. “Last shot for you, Guthrie. I want you to walk to your mark and cross your arms. Try to look tough and self-assured. Then you’re done.”
Guthrie could normally do an overconfident take in his sleep, but with the new audience member, his stomach was turning cartwheels.
Well, he could fake it with the best of them. He straightened his shirt and brushed the hair off his forehead.
Steeling himself, he waited until Angelica prompted him. Then he swaggered to his mark, hit that power stance—legs wide, hips loose, arms crossed—and gave the camera his cockiest fucking smile.
A weighted silence filled the space as he held his pose for a few extra beats before dropping his arms. A loud whistle pierced the air. It wasn’t a catcalling whistle, more of a g
Angelica twisted around to see the noisy culprit, then faced Guthrie again with a grin. “You two are gonna be trouble.”
Guthrie and Luke weren’t going to be anything. Trouble was not on the table.
“What are the logistics for this interview?” Guthrie asked her.
“You’re with Brad for that, and he wants you outside with the new truck.”
“All righty. Thanks for everything, Angelica.”
“Welcome.” She gave him a distracted half hug and a pat on the back.
He reached Luke, who was staring, a strange frown on his face. They walked out into the sunshine together and headed toward the garage.
“What?” Guthrie asked.
“Weird to see you being nice.” He took a few steps ahead and turned to walk backward, facing Guthrie.
Luke grinned. “Not to me.”
Guthrie tried not to roll his eyes. He was determined to be professional, but everything about Luke fired him up.
“Don’t worry,” Luke said. “It’s going to take more than your caveman posturing to scare me off.”
The way Luke called Guthrie a caveman shouldn’t have made him sweat, but it did. Guthrie was still hot under the collar as Brad arranged them on the tailgate of the fanciest storm-chasing truck KTTY owned. Everyone at the station called it Toto. Toto wasn’t the truck he and Luke would be using, but it was KTTY’s pride and joy. A monster of a thing with Lexan windows, satellite uplink, POV cameras, mitigation bars, and Line-X coating.
Brad wanted a casual air for the interview, but Guthrie felt like a little kid sitting next to Luke with his feet dangling off the tailgate. At least he’d worn his favorite boots today. Luke had on ratty tennis shoes.
“Okay, guys, this will be a digital feature that I’m hoping to expand into a bit of a series if it’s well-received. No pressure,” Brad said. Brad was a scrawny white guy, fresh out of college, and Guthrie understood the enthusiasm. He’d been there—green and eager and ready to scale mountains for the right kind of coverage—but he wasn’t interested in being a storm-chasing sideshow.
Luke must not have liked the sound of that either, because he tensed. “A series about the two of us?”
Brad shook his head. “All our storm chasers.”
They both breathed a sigh of relief at that.
After arranging the sound and lighting to his specifications, Brad said, “This is a getting-to-know-you interview. Nothing heavy. You guys ready?”
“Sure,” Guthrie said.
Luke nodded. He’d been fiddling with the lid of a pen—a distinctly nervous gesture that surprised Guthrie—but he pocketed it. Normally Guthrie would try to calm someone down before going on camera, but he wasn’t in a very comforting mood.
Brad asked them each to introduce themselves, which was easy. Guthrie had a normal spiel he whipped out about his job as a reporter and his interests, like riding horses and dancing, but his speech was purposefully full of holes. Holes that he had no intention of filling.
“And you, Luke?” Brad said.
“Oh, uh, okay. I’m Luke Masters. I’m originally from California and am excited to make my home in Oklahoma. I was a storm chaser with a private weather research company on the Gulf of Mexico for three years before getting this job with the Storm Watch 7 Team.”
“What else?” Guthrie asked before he could stop himself.
Luke turned to toward him, his eyebrows hitching down. “Huh?”
“Tell me more. What do you like to do on the weekends? What are your other interests?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Guthrie caught Brad nodding and gesturing for Luke to continue.
Luke never looked away from Guthrie. “I’m not that exciting.”
“The fans want what they want, hotshot,” Guthrie said, a fissure of exhilaration flushing through him as Luke’s eyes darkened deliciously.
“I don’t have fans.”
“With that glorious hair, you will soon.”
Luke smiled. A smile as soft and bright as morning sunshine. He touched a wisp of hair on the back of his neck that had escaped his rubber band. “Fine. I’m a nature photographer, and I also like to dance.”
“What kind of dancing?” Guthrie asked, his voice suddenly husky. They hadn’t looked away from each other, the eye contact too intense, and Guthrie almost forgot the camera was there at all.
“Any kind. I don’t know how to two-step, though.”
“You’re in Oklahoma. Someone will be happy to play teacher with you.”
“Maybe you?” Luke cracked a wide, crooked grin that made Guthrie’s brain short out.
He didn’t know what to say to that. “What type of nature?”
“Weather, mostly. Landscapes. I got my start photographing wildfires in California. That morphed into videography.”
Guthrie managed to snap out of it enough to ask, “Is that how you began storm chasing?”
It wasn’t that unusual of a jump. One disaster to another. Wildfires were their own terrifying animal, though.
Luke shrugged and gave an embarrassed laugh. “Yeah. Who’s doing the interviewing here anyway?”
“Me, evidently,” Guthrie said, not checking with Brad. This was getting fun.
“That’s not fair. I should get to ask you questions back.” Luke rubbed his hands together, like he was plotting, and the over-the-top gesture made Guthrie laugh. “You ready?”
“Too bad. You gotta learn to be versatile,” Luke said, absently licking his bottom lip and making it shiny.
Guthrie’s breath caught, his gaze zeroing in on that sexy mouth. “Oh, you have no idea, hotshot.”
Luke’s whole face lit up as he laughed. “My turn. How did you get started storm chasing?”
The pleasant buzz from a moment ago turned into a jarring aftershock. A lump lodged in Guthrie’s throat. They stared at each other, Guthrie floundering. Like his introductory spiel, he had a plan for this question too. He usually changed the subject or answered it with enough detail to move on without giving too much away.
But this time, he blanked.
He didn’t want to share. Not with a viewing audience, and certainly not with Luke. Storm chasing pushed at all of Guthrie’s soft spots, all his vulnerabilities and fears.
Luke touched Guthrie’s back. “I’m sorry. Debbie said you had experience, so I assumed. If you don’t, that’s okay. Didn’t mean to put you on the spot.” He glanced at Brad, concern written all over his face. “Can you edit that out?”
Brad laughed. “Sure. But Guthrie does have experience. His father is Slim Bridges.”
That dropped like a bomb between them, and Guthrie could feel the explosion coming.
He closed his eyes with a resigned sigh at the same time that Luke turned to him and said, “What the fuck!”
Slim Bridges. The name blazed through Luke’s brain.
Guthrie Gale was related to Slim Bridges. He was the progeny of Slim Bridges.
“How the hell did I not know that?” Luke asked.
Guthrie’s expression locked down, which sucked, because Luke had been enjoying the light in Guthrie’s eyes during their banter.
“I’m ready to answer,” Guthrie said to Brad, totally ignoring Luke. “You’ll cut that whole disaster, obviously.”
Luke wasn’t a fan of Guthrie’s bossy attitude. He almost wished the interview would show the captured, fearful gleam in Guthrie’s eyes when Luke had lobbed that question at him. And it had been a softball of a question too. One Guthrie should have been prepared for.
“Sure,” Brad said with a shrug, seemingly unfazed. “Have to edit out the cursing anyway.”
“Sorry about that,” Luke said. He’d have to be careful about that when they were broadcasting live.
“No problem. Go ahead, Guthrie.”
Luke wanted to pitch a huge fit. He should be allowed a moment to process the fact that he was sitting next to storm-chasing royalty. That it had been hidden from him. Before he could open his mouth to demand some answers, Guthrie sent Luke a warning glare so cold it froze the sweat on the back of his neck.
Guthrie turned toward the camera and straightened his shirt. “I grew up around severe weather, like most Oklahomans. But I also grew up around storm chasing. It has taught me to give Mother Nature the respect she deserves.”
“How old were you for your first chase?” Luke asked him. He was going to get to the bottom of this. Slim Bridges was one of the most famous extreme chasers alive. He had an entire reality TV empire to prove it.
“I was part of the storm chasing team at the University of Missouri when I was in college. I learned everything I know from them.”
That hadn’t really answered Luke’s question but had made it clear exactly where Guthrie and his famous father stood.
Guthrie met Luke’s eyes, as if daring him to be a dick. But it was impossible for Luke to be a dick when underneath Guthrie’s blank expression lived a world of vulnerability.
“I was twenty-five,” Luke said, answering his own question and taking the focus off Guthrie for a moment. “My first chase resulted in over ten hours of driving and a tornadic waterspout that only lasted thirty seconds. But I was hooked.”
“What hooked you?” Guthrie asked.
“Being part of a team. Working toward a common goal. The crazy pictures I could get. The science. Also, I like to drive.”
Confusion crossed Guthrie’s face. “Not the adrenaline high?”
“Nah, dude. There are easier ways to catch a rush. You know, roller coasters, scary movies, that sort of thing.”