Chapter 6

Ciara shifted the headphones from her head, then stared through the glass at the audio technician. She was off her game this morning. Why had it taken her three takes to get the voice overs done? It wasn’t like her to be so inefficient, but admittedly she was distracted. 

Very distracted.

And distraction’s name was Luke.

Last night, she’d watched and re-watched her coverage of the Elm Street Brewery fire, trying to prove to herself that Abigail and Vic were wrong. 

One, she wasn’t the type to make goo-goo eyes at anyone.

Two, she definitely wouldn’t make goo-goo eyes with someone while she was covering a serious news event. 

How unprofessional would that be? 

Yet, each time she watched the video, she saw the tell-tale signs of herself flirting with the firefighter. The tilt of her head, the small curve of a smile on her lips, the flip of her hair, the gentle touches on his arm … not once, not twice but three times. What had she been thinking? 

That’s it. She wasn’t thinking. Her unconscious attraction to Luke had played out on the screen for all the world to see. He must think she’s a horrible person! But in her own defense, she wasn’t even aware of what she was doing. All she was thinking about was getting a first-hand account from the man who she’d watched minutes before carrying a woman out of a burning building. 

The audio technician gave her two thumbs up. 

Ciara swiveled off the chair and dropped to the floor. Her yoga pants dragging against the linoleum as she shuffled out of the sound room and out into the newsroom. 

The real problem was the rest of the world saw the same thing Abigail and Vic had seen in her interaction with Luke. She’d managed to get a couple of hours of slept after she’d spent most of the early morning hours pouring over all the comments on the KHTX website.

Ciara and Luke, next power couple of Houston?

Looks like a fire is brewing between Ciara and Luke! Get him girl!

Luke is so hot, he and Ciara would make a cute couple

What’s up with Ciara and Luke? Is there more to this story?

And the comments were on the website for everyone at the news station to see, including Jackie!

Ciara wanted to be taken seriously as a journalist and not have these juvenile comments taint the great coverage she’d made of the fire at the brewery.

And she really didn’t want to be attracted to a hunky firefighter from her home town. 

Old Town Tomball was a part of her past, and she had no plans to revisit that place, not even for a handsome firefighter who probably didn’t even remember much of the interview he did last night. 

The only bright spot was that videos like these died out faster than they caught the interest of the public. She had to calm down. Soon, these comments would be replaced by a flurry of comments and thoughts on the next hot story. 

Ciara walked over to her desk and grabbed her wallet from the drawer. Tapping it closed with her foot, she looked up and saw Jackie Martinez staring at her from across the room. My goodness, did the woman ever leave the news station? Jackie was making her way over to Ciara’s cube.

“Can I talk to you in my office before you go?” Jackie asked, her voice making it clear that no was not a suitable response. 

Ciara nodded, then shuffled behind her boss into the corner office. Floor to ceiling windows looked out over the picturesque view of Allen Parkway, as the sun rays cascaded over the dark mahogany modern furniture. Runners meandered along the five-mile trail outside. If Ciara squinted, she could barely make out her morning yoga class in the distance performing the final moves of the cool down. 

Why would Jackie want to talk to her now? Had she seen the comments on the website about her and Luke? Ciara sucked in a deep breath. If Jackie berated her for being unprofessional in her interview with Luke last night, she would be so pissed at herself.  

Slumping down in the oversized office chair, Ciara watched as Jackie maneuvered behind the desk and sat in the leather chair. Elbows propped on her knees and her fingertips pressed together, Jackie swerved the chair from side to side, her steely gaze directed Ciara. 

Not one to give in to intimidation, Ciara smiled and returned the stare hoping Jackie would get on with why she summoned her into the office.

Jackie said, “Last night, Oscar pitched a feel-good story for a special Christmas segment where he would interview an unsung hero in our community that’s making a difference for the holidays. He’d already recorded parts for the story, and it was … extremely compelling.” 

Ciara resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she sat up straighter in the chair. Oscar is pitching stories now? She couldn’t be mad at him for doing it, but she wanted to throttle herself for not coming up with something to pitch herself.

“As you know, Myra will be retiring in three months,” Jackie said, then paused. 

Was Jackie about to drop the ultimate bomb on her right now? Crash her hopes and dreams of becoming the next news anchor and reveal that Oscar was getting the spot? Ciara stiffened, trying to keep a pleasant look on her face as she nodded. 

“Replacing her won’t be easy, but Oscar’s pitch helped to give me clarity about the direction to go for the role,” Jackie continued. 

Here it comes.

The big let down. 

Ciara was grateful that she’d made plans to meet Abigail for lunch. She would need a shoulder or two to cry on after this revelation. 

“There are three amazing reporters that have made the KHTX evening news number one in the city for the first time in our history, and I’m not too keen on breaking up that chemistry. The best way to sustain our dominance is to select one of you as the anchor to replace Myra … on the evening news,” Jackie explained. 

Select one of us?

Jackie had narrowed down her choices to three people: Oscar, Emma, and her. 

Ciara leaned forward. She had a chance to a news anchor for the most coveted time slot. A surge of adrenaline shot through her body. All she wanted to know was how could she make sure that Jackie picked her over the other two reporters. 

“I will admit that Oscar, Emma, and you, Ciara, would all be amazing news anchors. But there is only one spot. To help me decide between the three of you, I want all of you to work with a writer, editor, and camera crew to develop you’re own Christmas segment highlighting an unsung hero in our community. Whichever one of you does the best job, will get Myra’s spot,” Jackie said, a smug look of satisfaction spreading across her face. 

Ciara couldn’t help the bright smile that spread across her face. A segment like this was right in her wheelhouse and one that she knew she could outshine Oscar and Emma. Her mind was racing, cycling through the stories that had captured the hearts of viewers over the past year. Figuring out who she’d want to highlight in her segment was critical. 

“After watching your coverage of the Elm Street Brewery fire last night, which was amazing by the way, I know exactly who I want you to focus on for your Christmas segment,” Jackie said. 

Ciara blinked. Wait a minute. Was Jackie going to dictate the unsung hero for her Christmas segment? 

No. This could not be happening. Please do not say it. Don’t say his name. 

“The serendipity of your coverages yesterday wasn’t lost on me. Your altruistic slant on the firefighter calendar. Then there’s the huge blaze in Old Town Tomball, which gets you more coverage of firefighters. But wait for it,” Jackie said, holding up a finger. “You snag an exclusive interview with the firefighter that carried an elderly woman to safety from the blaze. And it was exclusive, I confirmed he didn’t talk to any other news station but Channel 4.” 

This cannot be happening. Ciara’s heart pounded in her throat as a rush of blood flooded her ears. She felt dizzy as she leaned back in her chair, hoping that by some miracle, Jackie would not say his name. 

“Luke Diamond. He’s trending, he’s handsome, he’s compelling, he’s a hero, and he’s who I want you to focus on for your story,” Jackie said, then stood from behind her desk and walked over to Ciara. “I’ve seen your numbers. Our viewers love your country girl charm, the authenticity, and energy you bring to all of your stories. You’re focused, professional, caring, and entertaining. The camera loves you, the viewers love you, the evening news team loves you. You have a strong advantage for the news anchor spot … you get Luke Diamond, and I have a feeling you’ll be delighted with the outcome of my decision.” 

Ciara bit her lower lip, ignoring the force of her heart thumping in her chest.

“I will get the interview Luke Diamond, and you won’t be disappointed,” Ciara said.

“That’s what I want to hear,” Jackie said, crossing her arms over her chest as she leaned back against the desk. 

Ciara stood on legs that felt like jelly. 

Forcing one foot in front of the other, she slipped through the office door and made her way toward the elevator. 

Luke Diamond was her key to getting her dream job. Who would have thunk it? Sure, she’d have to put aside the pesky attraction that she felt for the good looking firefighter, and that would be easy to do considering the promotion waiting for her at the end.

As the elevator door sprang open, Ciara slipped inside. The only obstacle was finding a way to contact Luke without stepping foot back in Old Town Tomball. She knew from her research on the calendar that he wasn’t on social media and was unlisted. She’d thought about interviewing him earlier but had come up empty on an address or phone number. The only way to reach him was to call Tomball Fire Station 384, and she didn’t want to go through the red tape of the fire station to talk to Luke. She didn’t want to take any chance that they might restrict his communication with the media or dissuade him from doing the interview.

I thought popped into her mind, one that could be her key to getting around her predicament.

Slipping her cell phone out of the compartment of her yoga pants, Ciara scrolled through her contacts until she got to the Z’s. 

Tapping the only name in the section, she listened as the phone rang. 

A cheerful voice came on the line. “Wait a minute. It’s not your birthday, and it’s not my birthday. So, Ciara Thompson, what do you need from me?”

“Really, Zaire? Is it that horrible for me to call you around the holidays?” Ciara said, stifling a smirk. 

“Never horrible to hear from you, sweetie, just unusual for us to talk outside of our twice a year birthday lunches and I’m a busy lady, so what can I do for you?” Zaire asked. 

Ciara should have known Zaire would see through her impromptu call. Zaire and Ciara had been friends since they were on the junior high and high school cheerleading squads. Zaire was the only person that Ciara had kept up with over the past fifteen years since she fled Old Town Tomball. They’d gone on to Texas A&M together and pledged the same sorority. Now, Zaire had established a lucrative real estate firm in their home town. Her friend was the one person that had her finger on the pulse of all the residents in the town, those who’ve left and those who’ve arrived. 

“I need to get an address and a phone number for someone, and I’m hoping you can help,” Ciara said. 

“Sure, who is it?”

“A firefighter named Luke Diamond.”

Read Along with the Sweet Small Town Holiday Romance!

Disclaimer: This is a rough draft manuscript as I’m participating in NaNoWriMo. It will contain typos, missing words, brackets for things I may want to research later, and other messiness common in a first draft of a work. Please keep this in mind as you read. It is truly a Work in Progress. Thanks for reading! 

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