Operation Cinderella Online - Hope Tarr Page 0,1

Right.

The Texas sociologist had made national headlines the year before by publicizing his research study showing a strong positive correlation between the hours American teens spent online and their likelihood to engage in a laundry list of high-risk behaviors, including unprotected intercourse. The conservative media had latched onto the study’s findings like a starved leech let loose inside a Red Cross blood bank. Within a week, “Dr. Ross” was making guest appearances on national news talk shows, decrying the country’s “culture of part-time parenting couched in denial and politically correct double speak.” Six months ago, he’d landed his own daily weekday radio program broadcast from the nation’s capital. Currently, three hundred radio stations around the country had picked up “The Ross Mannon Hour” as part of their regular programming, and the show’s website pulled in around 100,000 visits per day.

Until now, Macie had left Mannon alone. On Top might run some pretty candid—okay, in-your-face—copy, but taking on the latest conservative media messiah qualified as just plain stupid.

It was Mannon who’d put the kibosh on their peaceful coexistence. He’d gotten his hands on a copy of On Top’s current issue, spotted Macie’s feature article on the growing number of parents opting to prevent unwanted pregnancies by putting their teenage daughters on birth control before they had sex—“Forget the Fairy Tale. Teen Sex is Fact, Not Fiction”—and made the magazine the target of that morning’s “Ross’s Rant.” He’d ended by giving out On Top’s website, mailing address, and toll-free phone number, urging his listeners to make their voices heard. Within minutes the magazine’s overloaded server had crashed and the switchboard had lit up like a billboard in Times Square.

Along with the phone calls, which had ranged from hostile to deranged, there’d been e-mails to the corporate Powers That Be denouncing Macie’s article as trash. Macie hadn’t really worried much about that. On Top’s readership and Ross Mannon’s radio audience were planets apart, a separate species of entertainment news consumer. But when a major advertising account, Beauté, a manufacturer of high-end hair care products targeting the “tween” to teen market, pulled the ad spread they ran in every issue, citing the morals clause in their contract and concerns over branding and corporate image, well, that was another story.

She clicked her mouse to maximize the clip. Mannon’s blond head and broad shoulders filled her screen, and for a crazy few seconds she forgot why she was supposed to hate him. More than his looks, though, there was something in his eyes that brought to mind long-forgotten fairy tale fantasies about knights in shining armor, princes capable of bringing you back to life with a single, petal-soft kiss, and True Love, forever-after love, the kind of Big Love that outlasted a single sexy weekend or hot hook-up night—only, of course, it didn’t really exist.

All that perfection had to be a smokescreen, a front. Picture-perfect types like Mannon invariably had a less than storybook behind-the-scenes. He was altogether too good-looking, too hot to be living the squeaky-clean life of a contemporary Prince Charming. His website bio, pared down to a smattering of innocuous factoids, stood out as a big friggin’ red flag. Born and raised in Paris, Texas. A football scholarship to the University of North Texas, where he’d stayed on to earn a PhD. One daughter, Samantha, but no mention of a wife, which almost certainly meant he was divorced. Hypocrite! Do a little digging and the frog hanging out inside the pretty boy prince would leap to the surface. Just give her the chance, the access, and she could blow Mannon’s cover—she knew it.

It was all about the access.

She pulled at the ends of her waist-length hair, now straightened and colored jet black, and clicked on the pause button to pick up where she’d left off viewing the video.

Mannon’s deep-timbered Texas drawl blared from her Boston speakers. “Folks, I don’t usually bring up personal stuff on the air, but I’m gonna go ahead and make an exception. Looks like my fifteen-year-old daughter, Samantha, is going to be living with me twenty-four-seven for the foreseeable future, and the plain truth is I’m not much of a cook or a housekeeper…”

The plain truth. Ha! I’ll bet you wouldn’t recognize the truth if it bit you on your uptight ass.

“But what my Sam needs more than any of those things, even more than someone to chauffeur her around—and believe me, that kid’s schedule is packed tighter than the president’s—is a role model, a lady who models the