Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
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Copyright ©2006 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author
Tyler Huntington stared into the flushed face of his editor, Chantel Hull. Hands
on her hips, she tossed her head of shoulder-length brown hair. "Face it, Tyler,
you blew it," she growled with more than her customary Friday morning
Hands on hips, Tyler thought. Not good. Not good at all. No doubt about it, Chantel was seriously upset.
"We need a more sympathetic voice," Chantel continued. She wore black dress
pants, a white fitted blouse, and suede high heels that put her at Tyler's
eye level. She didn't look like a mother of four and grandmother of oneprobably
because she was always too busy working to eat.
"I'm sympathetic," he protested.
"Telling parents it's their fault for not being stricter when their kid messes
up might have some basis in truth, but it does nothing for their griefor for
the public good. You were supposed to report, not wage a diatribe against
lenient parents. That's not good journalism. You
should know that."
He let his face show surprise. "What do you mean it's not good journalism?
Papers sell better because of a certain kind of story. We all know that. It
might be sensational, but I got attention, didn't I?"
"The wrong kind of attention. I won't stand for reporters using stories for
their own agendas."
"Even if I'm right?" He tried not to make the words challenging, but he wasn't
backing down, either. "I stand by what I wrote: parents are too lenient."
Chantel snorted, hands still on her hips. "That's a rather procrustean attitude.
I don't know what hole you've been living in, but one size certainly doesn't fit
all in child rearing. For crying out loud, you're only twenty-four and a year
out of college. What were you trying to prove?"
He adjusted his black-framed glasses to buy a few seconds. "Okay, so I might
have been a bit rash." He hated to admit it, but he would if it meant keeping
the peace. He felt a sudden strong urge to see and talk with Savvy Hergarter,
who had once been his closest friend. She would understand what he'd been trying
to do. She would offer encouragement and give him the insight to help him
pinpoint the exact compromise blend of emotion and objectivity he had
struggledand obviously failedto achieve in his last article. He was glad she
was coming home today. Maybe that's why he kept thinking about her.
"Rash?" Chantel's voice rose an octave. Another not-so-good sign. Her finger
came between them as though she wanted to shake it at him. "Tyler, you
accused a prominent and favored politician of emotionally neglecting his
daughterand in an election year, no less." A hardness glinted in her hazel
eyes, something he hadn't noticed the other three thousand times she'd yelled at
him. Yelling wasn't necessarily bad when it came from Chantel, but that steely
look was something new.
"I'll retract. I'll make an apology. I'll write something more favorable."
She shook her head. "There aren't enough apologies or excuses left in the whole
world. He's threatening to sue."
With a sickening twist in his gut, stomach, Tyler realized the situation was far
more serious than he'd thought. For a year he'd interned at the paper, working
every free moment, and then after finishing college a year
ago, he'd been hired full- time by Deseret Morning News. Now his diligence and
all the overtime had been for nothing.
I'll write you a recommendation," Chantel said, not quite meeting his eyes.
"You're a talented guy. I'm sure you'll find another paper. Maybe at the Trib.
Or maybe you'll want to go out of state. You might find more sensational
journalism in, say, New York or California. Though I hope you'll stay away from
badgering popular politicians."
We're the ones who make them popular! he wanted to yell. It wasn't exactly true,
but at least partially. By getting their names in the newspaper, politicians
received free publicity. He swallowed hard, feeling something that resembled
sand scratching at his throat. "Please, Chantel."
Her face was impassive. "I'm sorry, Tyler. You'll need to get your things now."
It was too late. He had used up all his chances at the paper.
Chantel walked with him to the small cubby he had worked in for the past year.
He moved slowly, as though in a dream, taking down the year-old photographs of
his family, the more recent one of his friend, Savvy, standing with him at a
restaurant after she'd returned from her mission, the small wallet-sized
pictures of his seven nieces and nephews, and the glamor shot LaNae had gotten
had done taken at some mall.
For the first time he thought of his girlfriend and how this would affect their
plans. LaNae was hinting at marriage, and to be honest, he was leaning that way
himself. Since his older brother Mitch had been married last September, after
waiting a year for his fiancée, Cory, a new member of the Church, to obtain a
temple recommend, Tyler was the only Huntington sibling who'd hadn't taken the
marital plunge. His mother was on his case about hurrying upone of the few
things she and LaNae seemed to have in common.
That LaNae wouldn't be excited about his new circumstances was putting it
mildly. She worked in Orem at Utah Valley State College as a guidance counselor,
but she was always talking about how happy she would be to quit once they got
married and started a family.
Chantel allowed Tyler to delete or forward his personal files from his computer,
though he didn't keep anything there except a few e-mails. His gaze fell on the
notes he'd taken during the early morning press conference called by the
governor, loose pages waiting to be typed up before press time. Someone else
would do the story now. He left the notes next to the keyboard.
Theo Brewer, the aging editor of the sports pages, appeared at his elbow with a
slightly dusty cardboard box, the kind that had once held ten reams of copy
paper. Tyler had always liked Theo, though he'd refused an offer to transfer to
his department because he didn't enjoy sports. Now he wondered if that offer
might be still available. He opened his mouth to ask, but another steely glare
from Chantel lodged the plea in his throat. It was just as well. He had enough
pride left that he didn't want her to see him beg. Besides, sports was a last
resort, and he wasn't that desperateyet.
"I'm going to miss you around here," Theo said, proffering the box.
"Thanks." Tyler dumped his personal belongings inside. Pens, four pencils, a
half-eaten box of Milk Duds, three pads of paper, the pictures, his personal
paperclip holder, two books on journalism, his spare Book of Mormon, several
paper files crammed with story ideas he'd collected over the past few years, a
few quarters and dimes, four music CDs, a new pad of Post-it notes, and a Star
Wars novel. That was it. That small box represented his whole life at the paper.
He suddenly wished there'd been time to accumulate more, that he'd moved up
enough to have space for accumulation.
"Won't have anyone to bounce my crazy ideas off," Theo said, giving Chantel a
pointed glance. Theo had a lot of ideas about everythingmostly strange ones
about politics and conspiracies, but none of that ever interfered with his
passion and expertise in editing or writing his sports columns. "I'll walk him
out," Theo added.
Nodding, Chantel gave Tyler a last conciliatory glance. "I'll send your letter
of recommendation. Good luck."
The walk out to the parking lot was long. Tyler felt the stares of his fellow
reporters as an almost physical touch. Most were sympathetic, except for that of
a round-faced intern who regarded his passage with poorly concealed glee. With
Tyler gone, there would be room for another full -time employee. Tyler forgave
him, remembering how it was to want to be a reporter so bad that it ate into
every waking thought or sleeping dream.
To tell the truth, he still felt that way.
And he was right, darn it all! How did a politician think he could run a city if
he couldn't control his own child?
"Give it a while," Theo said as they stepped outside. The turgid clouds overhead
were dark and dangerous-looking, a late summer storm on its way. "This thing
with the politician, it'll blow over. When it does, I'll request you in my
Tyler forced a grin. Theo knew of his dislike for sports; they had talked about
it often enough during their debates on the mysteries of life and pro-wrestling. But their disagreements hadn't hindered their relationship in the
least. "Thanks, Theo."
"Unless you have a job by then. I've no doubt you'll find something. I've got
faith in you."
Tyler started for the new green Jeep Cherokee that had replaced his battered
green pickup when he'd been hired on full time. He'd had no worries about
making the payments then, and the gas mileage was better than with his old
truck. Now he wasn't so sure the decision had been a good one.
Tyler turned back to face Theo, who had stopped on the sidewalk in front of the
door. "Look," he said. "I feel kind of responsible. I shouldn't have talked to
you the way I did the other day."
Tyler let his breath out, without realizing he'd been holding it. He had
wondered if Theo would bring that up. Their discussion about inept and lazy
parents had been much deeper and more pointed than anything Tyler had written in
his article. "It has nothing to do with you. You were right, I was right. If
parents aren't responsible, who will be?"
"Maybe it's not my place to judge."
Tyler cradled the cardboard box to his chest. It didn't matter now if the dust
rubbed off on his blue dress shirt.
"You've raised six children, all of them
Theo rubbed his jaw with his mottled, age-spotted hand up to rub his
jaw. For a moment his blue eyes looked haggard and sad. "Well, in retrospect I
think that had more to do with their mother than it ever had to do with me."
Tyler dipped his head. He'd met Theo's wife, and she was impressive. "I wrote
the article," he said. "I'm responsible. Don't worry. Like you said, I'm young.
I have time to find my niche, as you have yours."
Theo nodded, the lines around his eyes relaxing, making him appear younger than
he had a minute before. He extended a hand. "Well, good luck. Call me if you
need something, or if you ever want to talk."
Tyler shook his hand, smiling widely. He held the smile until Theo was back
inside the building. Then with a loud sigh, he walked heavily toward his Jeep,
shivering at the cooling breeze that ran up his back and around his neck. The
breeze reminded him of Savvy and how for one of her advance astronomy classes
two years ago she'd had to go up into the mountains and look at the stars
through a telescope. She'd invited him along, and he'd accepted because he
enjoyed watching her work. She came alive when she talked about or studied the
sky. That night, as they shared a picnic under the stars, they had
come up with a plot for a science fiction novela really terrible plot, but one
that made them laugh hysterically.
He hadn't thought of that night in a long time, not since he'd finally come to
terms with Savvy going on a mission. Yes, he could admit now that he'd been
against her going. The idea of not having her around to bounce his ideas off had
been unfathomable. Who else would endure all those foreign films or his latest
sci-fi plot? Who else would offer counsel for his latest romance? What would he
do without her?
Savvy had been in his life foreverwell, that wasn't really true. It just felt
that way. Actually, Savvy and his sister Amanda had been friends long before
Tyler met her. Though Savvy was four and a half years younger than Amanda, she'd
been mature for her age, and the two women had become fast friends in their
singles ward, almost as close as sisters. With the intent of making her a real
sister, Amanda had set Savvy up with Mitch, Tyler's older brother, but the two
hadn't hit it off romantically. Amanda had tried again with Tyler after his
mission to Bolivia.
Tyler had loved being with Savvy from the very first minute, and they dated for
six months. But eventually they became just friends, dating others but always
staying in close touch. His upset reaction at the time Savvy announced
her mission plans still puzzled him. He'd been hurt and angry. He'd felt his
heart breaking. Why? There was no explanation.
When he tried to tell her how he felt, Savvy admitted to harboring feelings for
him that ran deeper than friendship. He had been stunned with the revelation,
and began to wonder if he really did love her; but after a few months, he
decided that he simply missed her friendship. If he hadn't dated the first year
she was gone, it didn't mean anything. He'd only been concentrating on his
studies. Of course, they'd kept in touch with many letters, and though it wasn't
quite the same as having her around, it was enough.
Before he knew it, she was home and gone again within a few months, back to her
beloved mission area near San FranciscoBerkeley, to be exact. She transferred
her college credits to the University of California at Berkeley, where she planned to finish her education and then teach.
Tyler still missed hermore than he would admit.
Reaching the Jeep, Tyler saw his reflection in the window. He looked thinner
than he remembered, and his sandy blond hair needed cutting. He'd have to tell
LaNae. She liked cutting it for him, though she really didn't do as good a job
as the girl with the black, spiky hair down at Collar Cuts. His face was paleor
was that only in contrast to the grim, roiling clouds above his head? His green
eyes disturbed him most of all. They were scared. Not angry, not offended, but
scared and depressed. Glaring at his reflection, Tyler opened the door and slid
inside, setting his box on the passenger seat.
Glancing at the dash clock, he saw it was well after ten. In less than two hours
Savvy would be home for a visit. Her sister had called to let him know she was
picking her up at the airport and that the family would be gathering at their
parents' home in American Fork to welcome her. Tyler was planning to stop by,
but it was too soon to head there now.
He passed Sandy without getting off the freeway or heading home. He was living
in his brother's house and paying the mortgage while Mitch, his wife, Cory, and
their three-year-old daughter, EmJay, were in the Australian outback, snapping
pictures and writing facts about exotic animals for a children's book and
documentary they were putting together.
As the first drops of rain splattered on the windshield, Tyler pulled into the
visitors' parking lot at UVSC. Leaving his Jeep in the visitor parking, He put
several coins in the meter and dashed down the sidewalk, feeling the raindrops
on his head. They were colder than he expected for August.
He walked into the counseling center, past all the cubbies that resembled all
the other crowded cubbies in the world, until he reached LaNae's desk. She
wasn't there, so he sat down to wait, noting that her computer had been idle
long enough for the screen saver to come ona series of geometric shapes
skittering across a black background.
His eyes fell on a picture of him and LaNae together. She was of average height
and thinsomething he'd always loved about her. Her makeup wasn't thick, but it
was noticeable, and her blonde hair, cut short and sassy, had darker streaks
underneath. Her face was narrow, her jaw slightly too small for perfect balance,
though no one ever noticed after seeing her warm, wide smile. Her eyes were a
pale blue. Tyler puzzled about that for a moment. Why had he always thought they
were more the deeper color of the sky on a hot summer day? In all, she was
striking woman, and he felt a rush of what might be a hint of pride.
He looked up to see LaNae coming toward him. Standing slowly, he tried to
discern what was different about her voice. Must have something to do with the
man at her side. The stranger was tall and big like a football player. He wore
canvas pants and a button-down shirt with short sleeves, and his hair was spiky
on top, but in a reserved sort of way. The same look Tyler himself usually
sported when his hair wasn't too long.
LaNae looked as beautiful as ever, dressed in a olive flowered skirt and a
matching short-sleeved sweater. Her ankles were attractive in dressy,
high-heeled pumps. "This is a surprise," LaNae she said. She touched his arm,
but she didn't give him a hug or kiss as she normally did. Of course, this was
her workplace; he certainly wouldn't be hugging and kissing her in front of his
co-workers at the papers, either.
His former co-workers, that is.
Tyler looked from LaNae to the football jock, expecting an introduction, but the
guy thumbed over his shoulder. "I'll see you later," he said. "I've got someone
coming for consultation."
Tyler waited until he was out of earshot. "He works here?"
"Yeah, that's Rob. He's new."
As an unreasonable jealousy surged through him, LaNae grabbed his hand and sat
down, pulling him into the chair opposite hers. "I'm glad you're here. I've been
wanting to talk to you. Did you come to take me to lunch?" He'd surprised her
like that occasionally, when he'd been able to get away from the paper.
"Well, uh, actually . . ." He trailed off, not wanting to admit that he planned
to spend the afternoon with Savvy and her family. Though he assured LaNae
repeatedly that they were just friends, old friends, she didn't like Savvy.
LaNae's eyes narrowed. "Well, if not that, then why did you come? And why is
your shirt so dirty?"
"I lost my job." There. That bit, at least, was out in the open.
Her eyes widened as she gave a little gasp. "What . . . why? Was it that article
you were telling me about?" Her tone went from surprised to sympathetic to
accusing faster than Tyler could have thought possible. Sitting tall in her
chair, she put her hands on her hips. Tyler nearly groaned. Why did women do
"I was right," he said stubbornly. "The least you can do is be sympathetic.
That's why I came here, you know. Looking for comfort. It's not like I won't get
LaNae clucked her tongue, reaching out to take his hand. "I am sorry, Tyler, and
I know you'll find another job, but I sometimes wish you'd consider the
consequences before you act. I was just thinking we should make some solid plans
about our future. But this puts a hold on everything. You know how my dad feels
about you being able to support me."
He knew. No job meant no official engagement. Why didn't he feel more sorry?
"Don't worry about it," he said. "Things will work out."
He was a hard workerthere had to be something available. Maybe at the Salt Lake
City Tribune, as Chantel had suggested. Or perhaps in another state. Take
California, for instance. When he'd talked to Savvy on the phone last month,
she'd mentioned that some Berkeley students were picketing against gay rights.
There were several clashes, and after a little research, he'd written up a story
about it for his newspaper that had gone over really well. If he freelanced a
few articles like that, he could begin to make a reputation for himself. In
fact, maybe he'd drive to California next week and feel out the area.
"Let's go to lunch and talk about it," LaNae said. "We can even go by the Daily
Herald to see if they have an opening."
Tyler shook his head. "I'm not ready to work for a smaller paperat least not
yet. I'd rather try the Trib first. Besides, now's not exactly a good time. I've
got plans." He swallowed hard before adding, "Savvy's coming home for a visit
today. I thought I'd stop by and say hi."
LaNae dropped his hand as though it had suddenly burned her. "You didn't tell me
she was coming home."
He shrugged. "I only found out myself a few days ago. Her sister called."
"I don't see why you have to go see her." Her jaw clenched as though she hated
voicing the words.
"We're old friendsof course I want to see her." Though if he were truthful,
Savvy might not exactly welcome his presence. She hadn't told him herself that
she was coming.
"Can I go with you?"
Tyler was beginning to feel sick. He really, really didn't want LaNae to go, but
he knew that feeling was wrong. LaNae was the woman he was thinking about
spending eternity with, and she should be his first concern. "You can. Of
course, you can," he found himself saying. "But I don't know exactly when the
plane is coming in or what the plan is for lunch. I was going to swing by the
house and say hi, that's all. I don't know if I could have you back here on
time. Honestly. It's not a big deal."
She didn't reply, but her face was rigid, and Tyler wanted to kick himself. Why
did he have to hurt her? He didn't want to.
After a few moments, she spoke. "You don't want me to go, do you?" Her
perception was one of the things he had always loved about heruntil now.
"It was rather awkward the last time," he admitted. "With her family and all."
LaNae had shown up uninvited for Savvy's homecoming dinner at Tony Roma's. Tyler
remembered how Savvy's vibrant smile had frozen on her face. Her blue, blue eyes
met his. "Your girlfriend?" she'd asked. He thought he saw a disappointment
there, something so deep and filled with hurt that it made him want to take her
into his arms. Or to deny his relationship with LaNae. Anything to make Savvy
smile again. Yet how he could feel that way, or why he should imagine such hurt
in her eyes was beyond his understanding. After all, they were just friends, and
LaNae really was his girlfriend. He had to admit to that.
"We've been dating over three weeks," LaNae had replied, grabbing Tyler's arm
possessively. "He's a keeper."
Savvy had nodded and turned back to the conversation with her family. For the
rest of the meal, she was gracious to him and LaNae, but there was an impassable
wall between them. Later she didn't return his calls. He'd become involved with
a big story at work and before he knew it, she'd gone back to California. There
had been no opportunity to talk, to find out what had gone so dreadfully wrong
between them. When he'd finally called her in California, she'd talked to him,
though distantly. They'd even exchanged a few letters, but things were
definitely awkward between them. He hoped to repair that today.
"I told you a hundred times I was sorry for showing up like that," LaNae said.
"I didn't know it would turn out so awful. Are you still holding that against
"No, of course not. But Savvy doesn't even know I'm coming. I didn't want to
make a big deal out of it."
"Go, then," LaNae retorted, folding her slender arms over her stomach. "Do what
Tyler knew LaNae was touchy about Savvy, but he'd never expected this vehemence.
She was generally sweet and understanding. What was going on? Had he missed
something? "Honestly," he tried again, "it's not a big deal."
LaNae turned in her chair and typed something on her computer. The lazy motion
of the geometric cubes vanished, replaced by a Windows icons.
Women! They could be so infuriating.
He stood up to leave, retreat seeming the best solution. "Let's talk later,
okay? What about tonight?" She still didn't look up, so he walked away.
Outside, it was still raining, though lightly, and the breeze blew the drops
into his face. Halfway to the Jeep, he stopped and turned around. He couldn't
leave things like that with LaNae. He couldn't. Better to have her come with him
and risk making things worse between him and Savvy. At the very least, he should
try to talk to LaNaeproviding she didn't call security and have him thrown out.
He'd seen her do that once with an unruly student.
Yes, that was the responsible thing to do. He darted back inside the building.
Removing his glasses, he cleaned them on his shirttails and then tucked the
shirt back in. He tried to brush the dust from the box off his chest, but it
clung like a scum on the top of a stagnant pond.
LaNae wasn't at her desk, but Tyler refused to be daunted. He thought about
asking a co-worker, but instead went down the aisles himself. At the last
cubicle, one seemingly more isolated than the others, he saw LaNae with her new
friend Rob. She had tears on her cheeks, and his Rob's arm was around her
comfortingly. Without seeing him, they walked through a back door and
I blew it, he thought, staring down at the dirt on his shirt. The numb feeling
he'd had since being fired intensified. What kind of man lost his job and
alienated his girlfriend all in one day?
I need to talk to Savvy. Yes. That was it. She'd understand. She'd help him
figure out what to do, how to smooth things over with LaNae. Savvy had always
been there for him when he needed her.
As he walked to his Jeep, he pulled out his cell phone, scrolled through his
contacts, and called Savvy's younger sister, Camille. Of all Savvy's four
siblings, the soft-spoken Camille was his favorite.
"Hi, Tyler," she said, picking up on the second ring. "I was just going to call
Rain dripped down his head and into his ear. "Are you at the airport? Has her
plane come in?"
"No, I'm still in American Fork. We were about to leave for the airport when
Savvy called. I know how much you were looking forward to seeing her, but she's
not coming home. Something very serious has happened."
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