Lis Wiehl incorporates her own experience as a TV host and federal prosecutor in this riveting series. Erica Sparks has become a superstar overnight. Is it due to her hard work and talent, or is she at the center of a spiraling conspiracy?
Erica Sparks is a beautiful and ambitious reporter who has just landed her dream job at Global News Network in New York. And while it was hard to leave Jenny, her cherished eight-year-old daughter, in the custody of her ex-husband, Erica is determined to succeed in the cutthroat world of big-time broadcasting. She can only hope her troubled past won’t come back to sabotage her dreams.
Although the wounds from her divorce are still fresh, Erica can’t deny the chemistry between her and her new producer, the handsome and empathetic Greg Underwood. But a relationship is the last thing she wants right now.
On her very first assignment, Erica inadvertently witnesses—and films—a horrific tragedy, scooping all the other networks. Mere weeks later, another tragedy strikes—again, right in front of Erica and her cameras.
Her career skyrockets overnight, but Erica is troubled. Deeply. This can’t just be coincidence. But what is it?
Erica will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. But she has to make sure disaster—and her troubled past—don’t catch up with her first.
"A heart-pounding thrill-ride from someone who knows the news business inside and out. Not to be missed!" Karin Slaughter, New York Times bestselling author
"The Newsmakers is a stunning thriller in a new series by one of my favorite authors. Lis Wiehl casts her insider's eye on the intrigue and drama of high-stakes television journalism. Terrorist attack? Murder of a presidential candidate? A reporter whose own life is at risk? This thrill ride has them all." —Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling author
"A page-turner from the word go. Completely entertaining. Outrageoulsy readable. This quick-cut action-thriller spotlights television's cutthroat deal-making, unholy alliances, and lust for success. Gotta love Lis! As always, she nails it." —Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark Award willing author of What You See
"Lis Wiehl is a seasoned journalist who knows the news business. Here, she's fashioned a tantalizing story that takes full advantage of her insider status. It's a fascinating thriller, which poses a curious questions: what happens when reality is not quite good enough. The answer is going to shock you." —Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author
"The Newsmakers is sensational—taut, troubling, and terrifying. With Erica Sparks, Lis Wiehl has created her most memorable character yet: a reporter who has smarts, drive, heart—and a dark past that threatens to pull her down. Waiting for Book 2 won't be easy." —Kate White, New York Times bestselling author
- Full-length suspense
- Part of a series, but can be read as a standalone
- Also in The Newsmakers series:
- The Newsmakers
- The Candidate
- The Separatists
About the Author
Lis Wiehl is the former legal analyst for Fox News and the O'Reilly Factor and has appeared regularly on Your World with Neil Cavuto, Lou Dobbs Tonight, and the Imus morning shows. The former co-host of WOR radio's "WOR Tonight with Joe Concha and Lis Wiehl," she has served as legal analyst and reporter for NBC News and NPR's All Things Considered, as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney's office, and was a tenured professor of law at the University of Washington. She appears frequently on CNN as a legal analyst. She lives near New York City.
Sebastian Stuart has published four novels under his own name, including The Hour Between, winner of the Ferro-Grumley Award and an NPR Season’s Readings selection. He has also co-written national and New York Times bestselling books. As senior editor of e-book publisher New Word City, Stuart has written over two dozen original non-fiction e-books.
Read an Excerpt
By LIS WIEHL, Sebastian Stuart
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Lis Wiehl and Sebastian Stuart
All rights reserved.
ERICA SPARKS STRIDES DOWN NINTH Avenue on her way to the Global News Network headquarters on Sixth Avenue. It's her first day on her new job as a field reporter, her first job in New York City. And, if things go well, the first step toward scaling the heights of television news. She feels a little shiver of pinch-me excitement race up her spine. Stay cool, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other. Getting here was hard, but she's made it. Now she just has to stay on the beam. It's five thirty a.m., her call time is six, and she's just three blocks from the studio. Erica believes just being "on time" means you're already five minutes late.
She reaches West Fifty-First Street and heads east, and catches a glimpse of herself in a storefront window. The tailored coral suit looks just right. Her hair is hidden under a cap and her face is plain. She's going to leave hair and makeup to the pros. She got up at four, showered, had a cup of Irish breakfast tea and a banana, did her half hour of Tae Kwon Do exercises, and then scoured the Web looking for potential stories. She's not going to sit back and wait for the world to come to her; it doesn't work that way. The inquisitive bird gets the worm. The corporate rental she leased for six months is convenient if soulless, but that's all right for now. She doesn't want anything fancy, no chicken counting, budget-budget, focus-focus.
It's mid-April, a mild morning. Around her the city is kicking to life, trucks rumbling down the pavement, early commuters rushing past, empty taxis cruising for fares, maintenance men hosing down sidewalks, food vendors pushing carts from their garages to take up their stations on the midtown streets. The neighborhood is a mix of shiny, new condo buildings, all glass and amenity-filled, and tenements, home to long-term New Yorkers and immigrant families of all stripes and colors. Erica loves the city's gorgeous mosaic, the crazy cacophony, the sense of endless possibility and promise.
Suddenly she hears yelling, a woman's voice, slurred and hysterical. Up ahead there's some kind of commotion. A police car pulls up, the doors fly open, and two cops leap out. Erica's reporter instincts kick in and she picks up her pace, remembering her maxim: always rush toward the sound of gunfire. When she gets close, she sees the wailing woman sprawled on the sidewalk, skinny and strung out, pale-skinned with skanky hair. A Hispanic man stands nearby, clean and bright-eyed, holding a little girl.
"The bastard won't let me in my own apartment," the woman screams at the cops.
"She's been out all night doing drugs and I don't know what else. I don't want her around my daughter," the man explains, soft-spoken and sure.
"She's my daughter too, you filthy creep!" the woman wails. She jumps up and races to the man, grabbing for the girl. The little girl starts crying, "Mommy, Mommy."
One of the cops pulls the wasted woman off the man. She turns and slaps the cop, hard. Out come the cuffs.
Erica watches. The little girl is crying, crying so hard. Domestic disturbance. Unfit mother. Unfit mother.
Suddenly Erica feels that terrible, raw hurt come crashing down and hears another little girl crying. Mommy, Mommy, wake up, wake up! It's twelve o'clock, Mommy, please wake up! I'll miss kindergarten, Mommy. And Erica, curled on her side on the living room floor, does wake up. Her head feels like concrete being chipped at by a jackhammer, her mouth tastes like sand and dirt and shame.
Erica blinks and she's back on the sidewalk. She knows what she needs to do. She ducks into the nearest doorway and takes five deep breaths. Then she says, in a strong, low voice: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can't change ... and the courage to change the things I can."
She steps out of the doorway. The woman is being loaded into the police car. The little girl is clinging to her daddy's neck. As Erica approaches, the father gives her a rueful smile. He's a good man. The little girl looks at her with wide eyes, and Erica has an urge to gather her up in her arms and shower her with kisses. She smiles at the girl and continues on her way.
And now here she is in front of GNN's headquarters in the Time and Life Building on Sixth Avenue — right in the heart of America's media capital, just blocks from NBC, FOX, and CBS. Nylan Hastings, the network's founder, is sending an unmistakable message: watch out, big boys, there's a new kid in town. And Erica is about to start a fresh chapter in her life. The incident on the street has only strengthened her resolve. She's come this far — and now she wants to go all the way to the top.
Erica Sparks walks into the soaring lobby, passes through security, walks over to the elevator, and presses the button that reads Up.CHAPTER 2
AS THE ELEVATOR SHOOTS SKYWARD, Erica feels her excitement rising with equal velocity. There's a poster of Nylan Hastings — charismatic, idiosyncratic, enigmatic — on one wall of the elevator. Below his picture is his one-sentence mission statement for the network: To connect and unite humanity — and write a bold new history for our planet. Erica, like the rest of the world, is fascinated by Hastings. She studies his boyishly handsome, artfully airbrushed face, half smile, and inscrutable blue eyes for a moment, thinking: You and me, buddy.
The elevator doors open on the tenth floor. Erica gets off and heads down to her office. Greg Underwood, her executive producer and designated mentor, gave her an orientation tour last week, so she knows the lay of the land. She smiles modestly and says a warm hello to the colleagues she passes. Her greetings are returned with quick nods and an occasional tight smile. The vibe is serious, heads-down, we're-all-here-to-work. But do things feel just a little too reserved — almost coiled, protective, suspicious? As if everyone is looking out for numero uno. It's such a contrast with the casual, freewheeling New England news stations she's used to. Welcome to the big time, kiddo. Erica feels ready. She's going to show them all what she's made of.
Her office is small with a large desk, a wall of shelving, and a spectacular view of the vents and pipes on the roof of the building next door. Fine for now — she remembers the Hollywood axiom: small office, big movie. Erica puts down her carryall, sits at her desk, and turns on the computer.
She reaches into her bag and takes out a well-worn deck of playing cards and tucks them into the top drawer, in easy reach. Nothing relaxes her like a few hands of old-fashioned, played-with-real-cards solitaire. No matter how stressed she is, if she can find the time and space for a few rounds, her blood pressure drops. There's something about the tactile feel of the cards and the finite parameters of the game that make her feel in control. And she never ever cheats.
Next Erica unloads her glittery armada of clip-on earrings. Back when every girl was getting her ears pierced, Erica declined. She suffered enough pain at home not to voluntarily inflict more. She spreads the costume jewelry — which she buys at flea markets and on eBay — on a side table. A neatnik she isn't. Then out come two framed pictures of Jenny, her smart, brave, funny eight-year-old. Jenny. Who paid such a terrible price for Erica's mistakes.
* * *
"We're going to make you a star," Greg Underwood told Erica at her first interview.
We'll see, she answered to herself. Global News Network is only a year and a half old, still finding its footing in the cable news network galaxy. But it's well capitalized and aggressive, with an uncanny knack for breaking stories before its rivals. Ratings are going up. Erica could be in on the ground floor of something big. She could become a star. She really could. And then ... and then she could build a new life for herself and Jenny, and give her daughter all the advantages she never had. Which is what she wants more than anything in the world.
Erica turns to her computer screen and starts to scour the Web for possible stories. As a field reporter, she's near the bottom of the food chain, and she expects Greg to appear at any minute with her first assignment. But she's not about to sit around waiting. She knows from experience that there are stories out there just waiting to be told. She races through the major news sites, then skips over to the celebrity gossip sites. Something catches her eye: Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is arriving in New York for a short visit timed to coincide with the opening of a Turner exhibition at the Frick Museum. Erica feels her blood race — the fastest route to fame is through the famous. If she can snare an interview with the duchess, it will be a major coup. Fluff? Maybe. A smart move? Definitely.
Erica picks up her phone and calls the Smart Room, the network's research nerve center, staffed 24/7 by lawyers, accountants, scientists, and researchers. Between them they can answer just about any question within minutes.
"This is Judith Wexler."
"Judith, hi. It's Erica Sparks, newly hired field reporter."
"You're not wasting any time. What can we do for you?"
"I need any information you can find on the Duchess of Cambridge's visit to the city."
"We're on it."
Erica hangs up just as Greg Underwood appears in the doorway. He's in his early forties — a decade older than Erica — tall and off-kilter handsome, with green eyes, skin tawny from years of sun, and a shock of black hair that looks like it rarely connects with a comb. There's something haunted in his eyes, as if he's battle scarred, but at the same time an ironic smile plays at the corners of his mouth. There's a raw physicality about him, and he looks lean and fit in jeans and a gray work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He smiles at Erica, and when he does, a little spark comes into his eyes.
"Good morning, Erica. And welcome."
"I'm happy to be here."
"I've got a story for you. E. coli was discovered in one of the city's reservoirs up in Putnam County, about an hour north of town. The city is expected to order a boil alert for parts of Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. I want you to go up there and cover it. Frame it as a story with national implications — how do we protect our water supplies?"
Erica does the math: E. coli or the duchess? No-brainer. "That sounds like an interesting and important story. But may I suggest something else?"
"I love suggestions."
"The Duchess of Cambridge is coming to town and I've been granted a short interview."
"You've been on the job for half an hour and you've landed an interview with the future Queen of England?"
"A plucky reporter gathers no moss."
"Where is this happening?"
"I'm just waiting for confirmation of that." Her phone rings.
"Erica, it's Judith. The duchess is arriving this morning. Lunch today under a tent at Battery Park, hosted by the Anglo-American Alliance. She's touring the Turner exhibition in the afternoon, and then there's a formal dinner dance at the Frick. Press contact is Reginald Beckwith."
Erica jots down Beckwith's number. Then she hangs up and tells Greg, "Battery Park, this afternoon. What do you think?"
Greg rubs his jaw and whistles in appreciation. "Run with it. I'll find somebody else to send up to the reservoir."
"Thank you. I want to do a little bit of research on Turner and on Battery Park, think about the strongest visuals, and figure out the best way to frame the story. I think I'll go with how the duchess has revived the royal brand. Of course I won't call her a brand to her face."
"She's right up there with Coke and Disney," Greg says with that ironic smile. "When you've nailed things down, come see me. I'll get your pod together."
When he's gone, Erica googles Kate Middleton as she dials Beckwith. She explains to him that, coincidentally, she's been working on a piece about the duchess and how she's become the shining star of the Royal Family. Erica lays it on thick — but not too thick — throwing in a few facts about the duchess's background and interests (as she reads them off the screen). Could she please get five minutes of face time this afternoon at Battery Park?
Beckwith demurs, in a crisp British accent: the duchess is already doing CNN and NBC, and she doesn't like to spread herself thin. "Can't you use some pool footage?"
Erica adds a note of urgency to her voice. "Mr. Beckwith, Global News Network is the most exciting thing to happen to news in thirty years. Our founder, Nylan Hastings, has an exciting vision of a synergistic network that seamlessly spans broadcast and social media. The duchess will receive a depth of positive coverage that the other networks simply can't deliver." There's a pause on the line. Erica softens her voice, warm and sincere. "I would deeply appreciate anything you can do for me."
There's another pause before Beckwith sighs with a mixture of exasperation and appreciation. "I can never resist the charms of American reporters. The duchess will give you five minutes. Be at the luncheon tent at noon."
"Many thanks, sir. Cool Britannia."
Beckwith laughs. "Oh, you are good."
Erica hangs up, stands up, crosses her office, and closes the door. Then she does a little jig.CHAPTER 3
CARRYING HER NOTES, ERICA HEADS down the hall to hair and makeup. She already feels supported by Greg. What a pro he is. And what a fascinating man — where does that war-weary, knowing edge come from? And he's strikingly attractive. She quickly pushes that thought away. Romance is simply not on her radar. This first year (at least) is all about work. And the vodka-soaked wounds of her failed marriage are still healing.
Not that she's counting, but she's been sober for one year, eleven months, and eleven days. She was working as the nighttime coanchor on a Boston station and probably drinking a little too much when she discovered Dirk's affair. He said he wanted a divorce — and everything just spun out of control. She went from two glasses of wine a night to three cocktails to four cocktails to an all-vodka diet. Dirk moved out and took Jenny with him. Erica spent a month crashing around her empty house, drinking, cursing the world, and crying for her daughter. Then the station fired her for on-air intoxication. That pushed her right to the bottom and she did the unimaginable — and ended up in the hospital, under arrest. The judge gave her a choice of rehab or six months in jail. She took rehab, and something clicked at that first meeting. The surrender ... the acceptance ... the grace.
Erica took off six months to get clean, then pleaded her way into a job as a reporter for a small New Hampshire station. She scoured the hills and towns for interesting stories — and she delivered. Soon she was anchoring, and the station's ratings soared. Boston wanted her back.
And then she got the call from Greg Underwood.
* * *
There is a hair and makeup station on each of GNN's six floors; most have three chairs and two experts at the ready. When Erica arrives, all three chairs are empty and two women are standing by. One is middle-aged and Hispanic, carrying a few extra pounds, with a pleasant, open face, brown skin, and lovely, expertly made-up gray-green eyes; the other is young, pierced, tattooed, and bleached blonde.
"Good morning. I'm Erica Sparks."
The older of the two women says, "I'm Rosario, and this is Andi."
"What a pleasure to meet you both. And thank you in advance for helping me look my best."
Rosario and Andi exchange a glance: nice lady. The vibe here is decidedly more relaxed than at the rest of the network.
Erica sits in the chair in front of the wall of mirrors. Rosario studies her face for a moment as Andi picks up a brush and gets to work on her hair.
"You're beautiful," Rosario says.
Erica smiles. She knows that her looks are a marketable commodity in the news business, but she also understands the limits of beauty. Looks may get you in the door but they won't earn you your own show. And they can engender resentment and even subterfuge among colleagues who don't have the same advantage.
"If possible, go easy. I hate that caked-on look," Erica says.
Excerpted from The Newsmakers by LIS WIEHL, Sebastian Stuart. Copyright © 2016 Lis Wiehl and Sebastian Stuart. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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