I can’t remember the last time I was this nervous before an interview. Maybe it was my first interview on the air. No, I think even that pales in comparison. I feel sick to my stomach as I contemplate the fact Jess is going to be here any minute. I check my watch. I want to greet her when she arrives – make sure she’s holding up okay.
This morning I didn’t mock-interview her. Instead, I spent the morning chasing up leads on this setup. I called the hotel, but they can’t give me information about the guests. The reception staff were useless, as I knew they would be. It’s the housekeeping staff I wanted to talk to because occasionally they don’t mind indulging in gossip, but I couldn’t get a hold of any. I suspect Jess and Grant were drugged before they got to that room. Meaning, they would have needed help getting undressed and into bed. All I need is for someone to confirm my suspicions and point me in the direction of those responsible.
Which won’t be half as easy as it should be with me living more than ten thousand miles from the scene of the crime.
As soon as I get the message from my producer that Jess has arrived – five minutes before I’m supposed to go on air – I walk to the room where our guests wait. Painted a tragic lime green, and filled with light grey couches that have seen better days, the room isn’t the most attractive part of the Mercury FM building. That said, the couches are damn comfortable. When you’re not sitting there anxiously waiting to commit social suicide, anyway.
I’ve prepped Jess as much as I can for today, but she’s about to apologise and take responsibility for something I know she didn’t do. And I can’t prove otherwise yet.
“Hey,” I say when she looks over and sees me standing in the doorway.
She stops biting her nails – something I’ve only seen her do twice in the time I’ve known her. Both times were while I was mock-interviewing her. I told her not to do it in front of Dani; it’s a dead giveaway that she’s nervous.
“How are you feeling?” I ask as I walk into the room.
Her eyes lock with mine. “I’m nervous as hell,” she admits.
Even under the makeup she’s wearing, it’s easy to see she’s struggling to keep her shit together.
For the past week and a bit, I’ve become used to seeing her as the stunning girl next door, but the woman in front of me is the model who has graced countless covers and been the star of hundreds of campaigns since she was eleven. Yes, I’ve done my research. I’ve had to since she’s a guest on my show. If I didn’t know who she was under the designer dress and heels and pearls – if I hadn’t seen her at her most vulnerable – I’d have no qualms bringing down the ice princess she’s trying so hard to emulate tonight. She’s one of the most attractive women in the country, and I would have held that against her because of my past.
Prejudice is ugly, in whatever form it appears in, and I can’t believe I let myself be so swayed it. I called her ugly, but underneath her cool and distant persona is a highly attractive person. Instead of the rotten core I expected to find once I started spending time with her, I discovered a woman who is beautiful, intelligent, someone who works hard, conducts herself with integrity and cares deeply for the world and those people she chooses to get close to.
Kristy promised me I’d like Jess if I got to know her, and she was right. Jess is someone I could be friends with. The ugliness I saw was in me, not her. Holding onto shit that happened when I was younger meant I never looked beyond the surface. And after seeing what an arse I made of myself with my wrong assumptions, I’ll be much slower to call someone names before I get to know them.
Jess breathes in deeply as I sit down next to her on the couch.
“Your nerves are perfectly understandable. Just take it easy, keep taking deep breaths and focus on feeling centred. Whatever you do in that interview, never let go of that centre.”
Because the moment she does – the moment she loses control and Dan sees Jess stumbling over words or breaking out in a sweat – Dan will run away with the interview.
At this stage, Dan doesn’t know Jess knows about Casey. She doesn’t know Jess nearly pulled out of tonight’s show. We’re still arguing about everything. My co-host was betrayed by a man at some point, and she wants to punish Jess for it. It’s not good journalism, and I’ve told her so more than once.
I check the clock on the wall before looking back at Jess. “The show’s about to start. You can do this, all right.”
It’s not just her I’m reassuring. My adrenaline is racing, and we haven’t even begun the interview.
“I’m scheduled to go on at six-thirty, is that correct?”
I nod. “Tabby, the assistant who showed you in, will come and get you when it’s time.”
Casey is calling in at seven o’clock. It was the earliest time we could agree on for the call, considering she’s phoning in from London. And how that phone call might go is anyone’s guess. I’ve never been this nervous for another person. Going through with the interview is a terrible idea; I wish she’d never agreed to it. We’ve practised answers and rehearsed avoidance techniques, but one stupid question could derail her. Everything she’s worked hard for over the past sixteen years might be for naught after today. And I’ll be responsible for putting an innocent woman on trial for a crime she didn’t commit.
The fear in her green eyes is enough to make me break my promise not to touch her. I reach out and put my hand over hers, squeezing gently. She squeezes back and offers me a small, nervous smile.
“We should hang out and go get a drink or something afterwards,” I suggest, removing my hand no matter how much I want to keep it there.
She looks surprised but quickly nods. “Thanks. I might need it.”
I think we both will.
We’re nearly thirty minutes into the interview. The question and answer session has been interspersed with songs so that we’ve only spent about fifteen minutes of the thirty minutes talking. So far, it’s going as well as it can go. Jess has been textbook perfect, and I’m proud of her. Every time she’s asked anything, she responds as we practised. Jess also appears relaxed, which was part of our plan. But it’s also Dan’s plan, too. In a standard interview, we aim to put the interviewee at ease, take their mind off their nerves and get them to open up. We show empathy and get them talking. Then wham! Hit them over the head with the ace up your sleeve. Casey is our ace. I can only take comfort in the fact Jess knows what’s coming.
“We’re going to take some calls, now,” Dan says, indicating she’s ready for Tabby to let the call through. “We’ve got Cassie on the line. How are you, Cassie?”
It’s all part of the setup. Dan and I both know it’s not ‘Cassie.”
Jess shoots me a mild look of panic. I hold her gaze and nod slightly, trying to tell her that she’s got this. I watch her visibly relax as our eyes hold. At that moment, I know Dan could realise I gave Jess a heads up about this call, but I don’t give a shit. I did what I thought – what I still think – was right. I wish I could have been more honest with Dan about everything. We’re supposed to be partners, and we could have investigated this setup together, but she’s too blind to see Jess may not be entirely at fault.
Just like I was when I first heard about the affair.
“Dani, Adam,” the soft and husky voice starts. “It’s Casey, not Cassie.”
“Casey, this story is personal to you, I’m told,” Dan begins.
“Personal? You could say that. It was my husband Jessica Skyler slept with. I’d call that personal.”
I see Jess flinch and I just know that this is going to going to be the bloodbath I predicted it would be. Sweat pricks at my armpits and my adrenaline spikes. I wish I could get her out of here. I wish I could pull the plug and end this. I wish Jess had decided not to face Casey this way.
“Do you have something you’d like to say to Jessica?” Dan asks.
This woman, or Karen Malua, or maybe both of them set Jess up. I’m positive. And now Casey is about to unleash hell upon Jess. I’m so angry, I want to verbally assassinate the woman, but I can’t make accusations I can’t back up yet. And if I give away my suspicions now, I might screw up any chance I have of uncovering the truth about what happened that night. So, I clamp my jaw shut, clench my fists, and breathe through my anger.
“Jessica,” Casey starts. “Why did you sleep with my husband? You know you could have any man out there, yet you slept with my husband, and I want to know why. I deserve an explanation,”
“Jess,” Dan prompts. “Will you answer the question?”
“What happened between Grant and I was not planned, and it was a mistake. I-“
“A mistake because you got caught,” Casey says. “You know I’m sick of this kind of thing. It happens far too often. As a married woman, I’m tired of these tramps who sleep with men who are married, because they can’t resist the lure of those who are unavailable.”
“Hey!” I snap. “Let’s keep the name-calling out of it.”
“The fact he was married was no lure at all,” Jess says, shooting me a look. “I didn’t want to sleep with a married man.”
Casey snorts. “Of course not. So it was the fact he was good looking, famous, the host of the show?”
“No!” Jess says. “He was my friend, and I was lonely, and-“
“Let me get this straight. You slept with my husband – you destroyed my marriage – because you were lonely?”
Casey’s voice is on the rise, and Jess pales under the lights.
“I never meant to destroy your marriage,” Jess defends herself.
“No? Because it sure seemed like it to me. He should have been with me all those nights the two of you were out together. Didn’t you ever think of that?”
“Of course, I did.”
“You just didn’t care, then? You didn’t care that you were the other woman. You didn’t care you were about to take another woman’s man from her. You’re despicable, Jessica Skyler.”
Jess is floundering, I can see it. She has no answer and no comeback. Everything we’ve practised has gone out the window; she’s freezing up. I feel so damn helpless when Jess looks at me, so out of control of this entire situation.
“Do you have anything to say in your defence?” I ask.
It’s a keyword – the word defence – and we discussed it at length during our prep. Fortunately, it’s triggered Jess’ memory, and she shoots me a grateful look before she starts talking.
“In my defence, no.” Jess shakes her head. “There is no justification for sleeping with another woman’s man. I broke the code – the code of womankind everywhere. I listened when he talked about you. I was emotionally intimate with him when I knew it was wrong. I did the wrong thing every step of the way when it came to your husband, and I have to look in the mirror and deal with that guilt every day.”
“Poor you,” I’m sure I hear Dan mutter beside me.
“There is no excuse for what I did, but I want you to know that I am so sorry, Casey.” Jess’s voice rings with truth and sincerity. “You deserve much more than this apology. I am truly sorry for all the pain I caused you.”
“You’re sorry?” Casey cries. “You’re sorry you ruined my marriage? Do you think it matters one iota if you’re sorry? The damage to my marriage is irreparable. Your apology is nothing to me, and you’re only saying it because everyone is listening. I bet you’ll be chasing another woman’s husband before long.”
Jess looks shattered at the thought. I know how much Jess does mean her apology. She regrets everything. Not just getting caught, or how far things supposedly went with Glendon. She regrets all of it, including befriending him in the first place. And there’s no way she’d go after anyone else’s man.
“Are you forgetting about Grant’s part in all of this?” I ask Casey, unable to keep the edge out of my voice. Dan is glaring at me, but I couldn’t care less. “Are you saying the blame lays purely on Jessica’s shoulders in this?”
“All of it, no. But as a woman, she should have had my back. She should have sent him home to me. She should have come to me and talked to me about what was going on instead of allowing herself to become the other woman. She could have done so many things that didn’t include sleeping with my man.”
“So is your marriage is over, Casey. You’re saying Jessica ruined your marriage. Is it over completely?”
Dan shoots me a look that tells me to keep my mouth shut, but I ignore it. “Are you done? Is divorce inevitable for you and Grant?”
“Damn straight. I’m divorcing that sucker for all he’s worth. He couldn’t keep his dick in his pants; I’m entitled to every scent that dickwad has earned.”
Fucking bingo. This was never about Karen Malua being after Jess’s job, or revenge on Casey’ part. This was about money. And calling Glendon a sucker – yeah, that word implies far more than Casey probably intended it to. I bet the divorce settlement is enormous, and I bet Glendon had to fork over far more than he would have if this scandal had never come to light. In fact, I bet Malua is on it too. Maybe Casey told her she’d split the settlement with her.
But how the hell do I prove that?
“I understand you have somewhere you need to be now, Casey,” Dan says. “Is there anything else you want to say while we’ve got you on the air?”
“Yes,” she states adamantly. “I do. Fellow women, in this world filled with arseholes and pigs, we have to have each other’s backs. But Jessica Skyler does not have your back. If you see her anywhere near your men or husbands, do not trust her. She’s a homewrecker, with no respect for other people’s relationships, understand me?”
The call gets disconnected, and I can feel Dan looking at me, probably wondering if I’m going to defend my fellow men on the air, but I’m not. I’m too busy watching Jess’s eyes fill with tears. She looks as though someone has just shot her. And I know, just know, she’s thinking about Kristy and Logan right now.
“Well, that was Casey Kenzie having her say,” Dan chirps, not giving Jess any chance to respond or defend herself. “Let’s take some more callers, shall we?”
The interview goes downhill fast. With every new call that comes through – Jess has less and less to say for herself. Each listener is quick to jump on board with the judgements – Jess is a man-eater, a homewrecker, a tramp. One even calls her a slut. One guy labels her an embarrassment to the country. Another makes some rude remarks which the producer does her best to bleep out, about how he wouldn’t want to…well, you can imagine. By the time the interview is over, Jess has well and truly been thrown under the bus. And she looks like it.
Dan, on the other hand, is glowing.
A song begins playing on the airwaves, signalling the interview is over, and now we can informally say goodbye to our guest.
“That went well. Thanks for the interview, Jessica,” Dan says, leaning over and shaking Jess’s hand after the agreed-upon fifty-minute segment.
Now I have another forty minutes ahead of me before I can walk out of here and check on Jess and see how she’s doing. I want a stiff drink now, and I think Jess could use one.
“I’ll be done around eight o’clock,” I tell Jess when she looks at me. “Wait for me.”
I don’t ask her if she will because I don’t want her to consider leaving. I’m not sure she’s in any condition to drive right now, and I think she needs time to debrief. Things will hit her hard tomorrow. She’ll be in the magazines and the papers. It won’t be pretty. Besides, I think she needs to acknowledge what she did today – Jess threw herself into the eye of the storm, she faced her biggest fears, and she did it without lying or trying to get out of anything. Not many people earn my admiration, but Jess has.
Jess nods. “Thanks for having me, Dani, Adam.”
She’s polite, even until the very end of this catastrophe.
Once Jess leaves the room, escorted out by Tabby, Dan and I sit down again and go on with the rest of the program we planned. I spend most of that time looking at the clock on the wall and counting down the minutes. I can’t muster any humour or wit for the show, and I’m aware Dan is carrying my arse.
Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, according to her.
As soon as the clock hits eight, and Freddie Newton – the DJ who takes over from us – walks into the room, I stand up and sign off in a hurry.
“Looking for the slut of the hour?” Dan asks snidely as I’m about to walk out of the room.
I want nothing more than to wipe the sneer off Dan’s face when I turn around and see her standing there.
“Don’t even go there with me, Dan. To stand there and judge her, call her a slut, and take no shame in wrecking her career like that…well, you should take a long hard look in the mirror before you start calling other women names.”
In Dan’s mind, she was taking revenge for herself and everyone else scorned by a lover. But in my opinion, she hurt a woman who was more innocent than people might ever know.
From here on we might move onto new stories and cover different topics together, but after today I can’t imagine our partnership will ever be the same again. Today has damaged it irrevocably, and even if Dan doesn’t know it yet, I do.
A/N: Those of you who read the draft on other platforms know that this version varies slightly. I’m one for encouraging a good debate, but I felt this was not the right time for it.
The next chapter is one of my favourites. To everyone making time to read this book, I heart you guys so much. You guys are the best. XOXO