NOT AGAIN," MADISON REED groaned as she glared at the mocking red numbers of the clock radio on her nightstand. It was 4:33 A.M. Unlike the five previous mornings, she made no attempt to go back to sleep. She knew it would be useless. Instead she stared out the French doors in her bedroom and watched darkness slowly give way to hues of orange and yellow ushering in the coming day.
She didn't have to be a medical doctor or a psychologist to know the reason behind her sleeplessness at night or her headaches during the day. However, knowing the reason and correcting the situation were two entirely different matters. She'd helped so many others find their way, but she just didn't seem to be able to do the same with her own life.
Two doors down the hall was her office. On the walls, on her desk, and in the open bookcase were numerous awards, plaques, and accolades attesting to the success of her professional life. The Madison Reed Show had been the top-rated television show in its time period for the past six months, and market shares were increasing with each rating period.
Her dimpled smile was seen by hundreds of thousands in the North Texas region each weekday from four to five P.M. on WFTA Channel 7 in Dallas. The second child of Gladys and Billy Evans had always liked to talk and had put the talent to good use.
The alarm clock shrilled. She punched the off button, threw back the down comforter and left the bed, pushing her problems firmly to the back of her mind as she did so. Her adoring public and her co-workers could never know that Madison Reed was living a lie.
Crossing the thick oyster-colored carpet, she entered the bathroom. Stripping off her silk pajamas, Madison passed in front of the six-footlongmirror over the white marble vanity. Not given to conceit, she spared only a cursory glance at her reflection, but it was enough to show there was nothing sagging or protruding where it shouldn't have been.
She'd always been slim rather than voluptuous. Sleek, her mother said, trying to spare the feelings of her youngest child who hadn't matured as her older sister had. Madison had been fifteen before she needed a bra. However, by eighteen her body had come into its own. She had curves instead of angles, and after waiting more than half her life for them, she wasn't in a hurry to see them disappear. Her passion for danishes and chocolates didn't show. Yet.
With a sigh she stepped into the shower and made a halfhearted promise that she'd start exercising before she had to ask Ray, the head cameraman, to put a filter on the lens. Politely she ignored the little voice that said she'd been telling herself that for the past six months. But it was difficult to find the energy when her mind was on other matters.
Adjusting the water, she reached for the floral-scented bath gel. Rubbing her body briskly with a sponge, she realized that, having passed her thirtieth birthday a month before, she wasn't going to be able to shed pounds as easily as before. She only had to look at her mother and her sister, Dianne. Surprisingly it was her mother who, rain or shine, faithfully walked five miles each morning in the neighborhood or in the nearby shopping mall.
On the other hand, Dianne, who had never lacked self-confidence, didn't seem to mind the fifteen pounds she'd added since the birth of her two children. She was always quick to say, if David didn't want her, she could easily find another man who did. On cue, David would always say that after the man got out of the hospital Dianne might not want him. Then, they'd look dopey at each other and grin. Their interchange was the standing joke of the family. They all knew Dianne and David had a good strong marriage.
For a moment Madison's eyes closed with regret before she hurried to finish. She had no time for reflection. They were taping the last show of the season today.
An abrupt knock on the Plexiglas startled her. She jerked around, the sponge falling from her hand. Through the frosted glass she saw the image of a man.
"Madison." The knock came again. Brisker this time and more demanding. "Can I speak with you?"
For a moment longer she hesitated, then cut off the water. Stepping to one side, she slowly cracked the shower door open and stuck her head out. Wes, handsome enough to cause any woman's breathing to stall, stood a few feet away. As always he was impeccably dressed. Today in a dark blue five-thousand-dollar Brioni suit. She had known him almost seven years and had never seen him look less than his best or engage in anything more rigorous than a game of golf.
"I didn't know you were back," she said, then thought how peculiar those words were.
Wes flashed her a smile seen by tens of thousands. If he had his way the number would soon be in the tens of millions. "I got back late last night. I didn't want to disturb you."
Madison nodded, silently acknowledging his reasons and thinking how far they had drifted apart, how effortlessly Wes exuded his boyish charm when he needed something from her.
"I just wanted to make sure that you're still coming with me tonight to the awards ceremony."
Her hand tightened on the door. Duty called. "I told you I'd be there."
He opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it. Soft, manicured hands slipped into the pockets of his tailored slacks. In anyone else Madison might have thought the gesture indicated uneasiness or uncertainty, but Wes had never been either.
"A car is picking us up at seven sharp," he told her.
That was expected. Wes always insisted on a limousine for their public appearances. "I'll be ready."
His gaze narrowed. He crossed the white tile floor until he stood within a foot of her. "This is important to me."
"I know." She brushed the water running from her hair out of her eyes with a hand that wasn't quite steady and wished he had waited until she had gotten out of the shower.
His attention drifted to her lips, moist and trembling. He made a motion as if to step closer, then checked it when she jerked her head back. His mouth thinned. Whirling, he walked away.
Madison closed the door, picked up the sponge, then turned the waterback on. There had once been a time when just his nearness would have caused her heart to pound, her body to want. A time when, if he had found her in the shower he would have come inside and come into her. Their cries of passion would have filled the room instead of their stilted, awkward conversation.
Once they'd had so much and had been so sure of themselves, so sure their love would last a lifetime. Once. No more. They were husband and wife, but they only spoke to each other when and if they had to. For a woman who had always dreamed of a loving marriage the cause of her sleeplessness and headaches was all too clear.
Although she worked as a lowly gofer at a TV station in Chicago where Wes was a newly hired roving reporter, the first time they saw each other was at her second job as hostess of an upscale steakhouse. She'd taken the position to help pay off her college loan and help with expenses. Wes had come in with a date, but had called back after leaving and asked to speak with her. She'd thought that tactless and told him so.
A couple of weeks later they'd run into each other at the station. Wes had redoubled his efforts to get her to have dinner with him. A month later, finally convinced that he and the woman weren't in a relationship, she'd gone out with him. The manager at the steakhouse said he wished Madison had held out longer. Wes, coming in almost every night, was good for business. He always ordered the most expensive item on the menu and the best wine.
Wes had come from money, but he had never been condescending to any of the people working at the restaurant or the station. He was carefree, fun to be with, and attentive. It had been easy to fall in love with him. His parents hadn't felt the same way about Madison.
The first time A.J. and Vanessa Reed had met Madison she'd been working at the restaurant. They'd come from Texas to pay an unexpected visit to Wes, their only child, and he had brought them to see her. His parents' cool reception hadn't bothered Madison. She wasn't naive enough to believe that there wasn't a class and a color system among African-Americans.
Although A.J. Reed was a shade darker than Madison's honeyed-brown complexion, Vanessa Reed was high yellow and so was the obviously wealthy young woman they had with them. It hadn't taken long to realize that she, not Madison, was what the Reeds wanted for their son.
Madison had been taught by her blue-collar parents never to be ashamed of who she was. They might not own their own home or have a college education, but they were honest, hardworking people who loved their children and did without so their kids could have more than they'd had. For Madison to be ashamed of who she was, was to be ashamed of them. She'd shown Wes's dinner party to their seats and come over once at his request, then tried to do the impossible, accept that Wes was lost to her.
Later that night she'd come out of the restaurant to find him waiting with a large bouquet of flowers and a kiss that had made her heart leap and her body ache.
"You're what I want. What I'm going to have."
"But your par--"
He'd kissed her again and she had ceased to think of anything, but being in his arms. The next day they'd met his parents for brunch. The other woman wasn't there. His parents had been pleasant, if not friendly.
Wes had surprised her on her twenty-fourth birthday with a stunning three-carat colorless pear-shaped solitaire engagement ring. Nine months later they'd had the big social wedding that Wes and his parents insisted on, and she had been the happiest woman on earth. By that time they were both in Texas, Wes's home state.
Wes had been hired at a TV station in Fort Worth, and luckily she'd secured a position in nearby Dallas at a rival TV station as assistant to the producer of Wake Up Dallas, a morning talk show. They'd spun dreams and plans for a bright future. Wes as head anchor on CNN, and she as the next Oprah Winfrey.
But all that had ended two years ago. Pain and a deep sense of loss hit Madison without warning. Her hand trembled as she cupped her stomach. Tears pricked her eyes. Her baby should have lived, and Wes should have been there for both of them.
Knowing she'd be no good to herself or anyone else if she gave in to the anguish and anger sweeping through her, she firmly pulled her mind back to the present. Shutting off the water, Madison left the shower, grabbed a towel, and quickly dried her body. She had a show to do and an awards ceremony to get through.
Madison wheeled her late-model Mercedes into her assigned parking space a mere thirty minutes before the taping of her show was to begin. Being late irritated the hell out of her. She prided herself on her punctuality. Besides, this was one of the most important shows of the season. But a traffic accident on Central Expressway had virtually shut down the freeway in both directions, and by the time Madison knew what was going on, it had been too late to take an alternate route.
Slamming out of her car, she slung her black Yves St. Laurent duffel bag over her shoulder and sprinted toward the front door, glad she could run in three-inch heels.
She reached for the code box just as she heard the buzzer for admittance. Opening the glass door, she smiled at the receptionist, Frankie. Thomas, the security guard, who everyone knew was trying to hit on Frankie, stood a short distance away. "Good morning, Frankie. Thanks."
"Good morning, Ms. Reed. Good luck today."
"Thanks, Frankie. Please let Sarita know I'm here and I'm ready for her to do my makeup," Madison said on her way past the receptionist.
Madison paused in her headlong flight. She glanced around to see a man in his mid-forties with four children in varying ages, from a toddler clutching him around his neck to a gangly teenager staring at her with sullen brown eyes. Impatience radiated through Madison, but she had long since mastered the art of hiding her emotions.
"Yes, but I'm in a hurry now," she told him.
The man visibly swallowed. His hold on the child in his arms tightened. "The--the show you're doing is about breast cancer, isn't it?"
Something like lead settled in Madison's stomach. It had been her idea to end the season with a show that would impact the lives of women and cut across social, economic, and racial lines. "Yes."
"Tell them ... the women ... to get checked." He looked at the girls, touched the hair of the oldest. Tears formed in his dark eyes. "Maureen always said she was too busy. We lost her last year, the day after Christmas. She loved me and the girls. I just wish she had loved herself as much." His voice wavered, then steadied.
"After she found out, she wouldn't have the surgery. She thought it would make a difference. It wouldn't have, but I couldn't get her to understand. Now I have to raise the girls by myself. She'll never get to doall the things she planned to do with them. A mother should watch her daughters grow up."
A hard lump formed in Madison's throat that no amount of swallowing could move. How many times had she thought the same thing? But fate didn't always cooperate.
"Is everything all right, Ms. Reed?" Thomas asked, stepping beside her. He turned hard, accusing eyes on the man. "He came in with your other guest. His name wasn't on the list so I had him sign in and wait here. He said you were expecting him."
Madison came to a quick decision. "You're perceptive as usual, Thomas." When Thomas reached for the man Madison shook her head. "However, I've decided to add him to the show." She turned to the man. "I think having you and your daughters on the show will speak more eloquently than anything I could say. Are you up for it?"
The man hefted the child in his arms. "None of us have ever been on TV before, but if it will help one family not go through what we're going through, I guess we can do it. A family is too important not to."
Madison agreed. She just wished she knew if she'd ever have one.
The show went well. There hadn't been a dry eye on the set or in the audience by the time the taping was over. More importantly, she hoped women would accept the challenge to schedule their mammogram appointment then notify the station. She wanted the switchboard to be inundated with calls. Then, perhaps, another family wouldn't have to go through Christmas without their mother.
On the second floor of the station where the executives offices were located, she knocked on the door marked GORDON ARMSTRONG, PRODUCER in block letters.
Entering, she smiled across the brightly lit room at her boss, mentor, and friend, for over five years now. The spacious office was a comfortable mix of modern and traditional furniture. Glass and chrome abounded, but Gordon sat behind a beautiful antique cherry desk. The wall to his left had five built-in television screens. He kept up with his station broadcasts as well as with the competition. They were on mute, but Madison had never entered the office when they weren't on.
"Thanks." Her smile broadened.
His approval meant a great deal. She'd arrived at the television station from Chicago eager but still green. Gordon had taken her under his capable wing and given her the benefit of his considerable knowledge. He'd made sure she learned everything required to put a show together in front of the camera and behind it. Because of his encouragement she had tried out for the talk-show hostess job.
"You wanted to see me?" she asked.
Before she finished speaking, the door behind her opened after the briefest knock. Madison glanced over her shoulder, wondering who would be so foolish as to enter Gordon's office without permission. The frown cleared and a certain wariness took its place at the sight of Louis Forbes, her agent. She slanted a quick glance at Gordon. His mouth had flattened into a thin line. She barely kept from sighing.
Louis was a fantastic agent but he had a tendency to rub people the wrong way. One of those people was Gordon.
"Hello, Madison, Gordon," he greeted jovially.
"Hi, Louis," Madison replied. There wasn't so much as a grunt from Gordon. "Did we have an appointment?"
Louis smiled broadened, showing perfectly capped teeth in a darkchocolate face. "No, but I thought you'd want to hear this from me in person. I just got off the phone with TriStar Communications and they're interested in syndicating The Madison Reed Show."
Madison was stunned, speechless and overjoyed. She'd hoped, she'd dreamed, but never let herself really believe it might happen. TriStar Communications had the largest distribution of television programs in the country. With their backing she could be seen in outlets across the country.
"Madison is under contract to this station," Gordon stated, coming to his feet. He was two hundred pounds of well-conditioned muscle, wonderfully distributed over a six-foot-frame, with the wide shoulders of a linebacker and the wide-palmed hands to go with it. In his mid-fifties he still had a head of thick, curly black hair with a scattering of gray. He was a good-looking man, but it was his strength of character and his loyalty that attracted people to him. But if you happened to displease him, his laser gaze could slice you to ribbons.
"Which expires in six months at the end of the year. TriStar is willing to wait," Louis put in smoothly, then rocked back on his Italian heels.
Madison could well imagine why he was so elated. Louis was a pit bull when it came to contracts, tough and tenacious. He had the reputation of being one of the best entertainment agents in the business. He not only got the big bucks, he also obtained other perks like maid and car service. Madison's base salary of $400,000 easily went up $40,000 with her extra perks. Although Wes only made a little over $98,000, he had perks as well. Louis played hardball when it came to contract negotiations and he played to win.
Gordon, however, was no pushover himself. "Until the end of the year Madison is under contract with WFTA and I'd like to speak to her privately."
The smile slipped from Louis's face. The trick was to intimidate, not piss off. He knew better than anyone when to retreat. "No problem. I was coming to tell Madison the good news in person; saw her assistant, and she told me where to find her."
"Thank you, Louis. We'll talk later," Madison offered. She might not agree with his in-your-face tactics, but in their cutthroat business you had to be tough. He'd been Wes's agent first. After she'd won the hostess position for the talk show, she'd signed with him as well.
"I have to run now, but I'll see you tonight at the awards ceremony," he said. "Wes will win awards for Broadcaster of the Year and for Top Story of the Year. When he docs, the network in Chicago will pay through the nose for him." His smile slid into place, quick and confident as he opened the door. "What a duo you and Wes make. I couldn't have been more on target when I dubbed you two 'the perfect couple,' and you're both under contract to me. Life is good." The door closed behind him.
"How do you stand him?" Gordon asked, sinking back into the cushy comfort of his leather chair.
"He's not so bad and he's done a lot for our careers," Madison said as she settled into a tan leather chair in front of his desk, the top of which, as usual, was strewn with paper. "You know as well as I do that it's just as important to score in public relations as it is with your audience. Louis has done that for us."
Gordon merely lifted a brow at her comment. "That he has, but how long do you think you can go on as if everything is all right?"
Everything in Madison went still. It was only due to years of experience that her expression showed puzzlement instead of alarm. "Gordon, what are you talking about?"
Never taking his gaze from her, Gordon leaned back in his chair. Leather sighed. "It's my job and my inclination to watch people, study them. I don't do it maliciously; I grew up in an area where you had to if you didn't want a knife or a bullet to find you."
Everyone knew Gordon's story, his climb out of poverty from the projects in Los Angeles. He was the youngest of seven children of a single mother. Only two made it to adulthood without a criminal record. Only Gordon and his older sister remained alive. Drugs, bad health, and bad choices had claimed the rest.
"Gordon, you and 'malicious' will never be in the same sentence," Madison said, meaning it, but also giving herself time to think. "I've probably been a little preoccupied with the show lately. Taking responsibility for the programs of the shows has been exciting and scary."
"If I hadn't thought you could do it, I wouldn't have given you the opportunity."
Smiling, Madison relaxed in her chair. You couldn't have an ego around Gordon. "I know, but in the beginning I didn't have the confidence in me that you had."
"And now?" he questioned, leaning forward in his seat to pick up a gold fountain pen.
"I'm good at what I do and I love doing it," she said, feeling the rightness of her words.
"Exactly, and it shows." He studied her closely. "Your genuine warmth and generosity, your empathy for people, is what gives your show a humanness that others lack. Your feelings, whether you're happy or sad, show."
Madison barely kept the smile on her face, her body from tensing. Gordon had smoothly led her in a circle. He hadn't lost the interview skills he'd honed as a reporter years ago. However, she had no intention of letting him use them on her.
"I worry because my work is important to me." A bright smile on her face, she came to her feet. "If there's nothing else, I have a full schedule before I go home and get ready for the awards ceremony. Wes is having a car pick us up."
Up went his eyebrow again. "Madison, one thing I've learned in living these fifty-seven years is that sooner or later the truth always comes out."
Her smile wavered, then steadied and grew wider. Apparently she hadn't hidden her growing unhappiness with her marriage as well as she had thought. "Gordon, I appreciate your concern, but I assure you I'm fine."
Tossing the pen aside, he stood. "My mistake. Since you're so busy we'll put off discussing the topics you wanted for the next season until tomorrow morning."
Madison felt the sting of his rebuff. Gordon had given her her first job at the station as his assistant, then supported and encouraged her. Without him she wouldn't be where she was and they both knew it.
He was reaching out to her. But if there was one thing she'd learned in the media it was that if another person knew your secret, it was no longer a secret. That much she and Wes could agree on. "Is nine all right?"
Gordon nodded without glancing at his calendar. "Tell Wes good luck, even if he's going against one of our own."
The heaviness in her heart eased. He had forgiven her. "I will, and thanks."
"Just remember, if you ever want to talk, I'm here."
Her mind in a turmoil, Madison quickly left. If he suspected, perhaps others might also. They had to be more careful. No one could know the image of the perfect couple she and Wes portrayed was a lie.
I KNOW WHO HOLDS TOMORROW. Copyright © 2002 by Francis Ray. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.