Operation Cinderella Online - Hope Tarr

Prologue

EAST VILLAGE, MANHATTAN

OCTOBER

“Keep your jock strap on, I’m coming.”

Macie Graham stepped out of the shower to her apartment buzzer blaring. Fuck, that was fast. She’d been ordering from All Thai’d Up for two years now, at first because the edgy whimsy of the name appealed to her and later because they screwed up her standard order of Panang Curry with a side of sticky rice fewer times than the average St. Mark’s take-out dive. Bonus: the restaurant was only a few blocks from her apartment. Still, this was the first time one of their bicycle delivery guys had made it to her building in sub-fifteen minutes. Dude must be a regular Lance Armstrong. Impressive.

The buzzer let out another ear-splitting screech. Okay, this was getting annoying. Grabbing her robe off the hook, she called out from the steam-filled bathroom, “Chill already, I said I’m coming.” A stupid thing to do, literally talking to the walls, and yet considering all the stupid to bad things she’d done in the past month and a half, talking to herself didn’t begin to make the list.

She wrapped a towel around her streaming wet hair and raced through the living room, emptied of possessions except for her inflatable mattress, single suitcase, and her cat Stevie’s feeding bowls. Aside from the few boxes in her bedroom, everything else was in storage—in limbo like the rest of her life.

Reaching the door to her apartment—well, hers until tomorrow—she punched the intercom button. “Sorry, I was in the—”

“MJ…Macie, or whatever the hell you’re calling yourself these days, I know you’re in there. Buzz me up—now!” Ross’s voice, armed with an angry edge, rose above the crackling.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit…

Whipping away from the intercom, Macie pressed her damp back against the double-bolt, emotions reeling between shock, elation, and a primal fear. Ross. What was he doing here? How had he found her? And now that he had, how could she convince him to go away?

“Macie, it’s no use pretending. I talked to Francesca. She told me everything.”

At the mention of Ross’s ex-wife, every pore in Macie’s body seemed to open, soaking her terry cloth robe. She swallowed deeply, sucking down air like a college freshman quaffing beer at a kegger.

So this is what a panic attack feels like. I always wondered. Maybe I’ll do a story on it someday. Someday—assuming I survive.

She closed her eyes and focused on her breathing. Had she really gone from features editor of On Top Magazine, one of the hottest, hippest women’s magazines to come on the scene since Jane, to hunted fugitive in six short weeks?

“Macie, I know you’re in there.”

Ross’s voice, angry sounding but weary, too, dragged her back to the madness of the moment. It was time to pull up her Big Girl pants and face the so-called music…which hopefully wouldn’t involve either police sirens or angel harps.

“Buzz me in and hear me out. You owe me that much.”

Swallowing hard, Macie opened her eyes and turned back around. He was right. She owed him that much. That much and so much more.

She reached out a trembling hand and punched in the security code.

Chapter One

OFFICES OF ON TOP MAGAZINE, MIDTOWN MANHATTAN

SEPTEMBER, SIX WEEKS EARLIER

“Graham, I want your ass in my office in ten minutes. Ten minutes—got it?” Over the crackle of intercom static, Starr’s pissed voice reverberated off the framed magazine cover blow-ups blanketing the walls of Macie’s office.

Macie opened her mouth to answer, “Sure thing,” just as the line clicked dead. Her managing editor had just hung up on her. Could a pink slip be far behind?

She jerked open a desk drawer and searched inside for something to kill the headache hammering her skull, the double whammy of too many dirty martinis in celebration of Labor Day the night before and being blindsided that morning by her latest ballsy editorial decision blowing up in her face. No aspirin, just her luck—but there was a travel-size bottle of Pepto-Bismol. Loosening the child safety cap almost cost a sculpted nail, but once she had it off, she brought the bottle to her lips and knocked back a soothing bubblegum pink swallow.

Setting the antacid aside, she faced her computer screen, loathing bubbling up like bile. “You…asshole!”

The asshole, conservative media pundit Ross Mannon, smiled back at her from the webcast she’d paused in mid-play. With his cropped dark blond hair, chiseled features, and cerulean blue eyes, it didn’t take much imagination to recognize why the female Newsweek reporter had dubbed him the Robert Redford of the