What’s your dirty little secret?
For Xavia Kennedy it was freedom. Escape from a pastel painted life ruled by an American dynasty and headed by a formidable foe. One wanted to escape. Her family. X has a plan. Get serious and get the hell out of Bean Town. Away from the pretty people and boring as hell lives.
Then she met him. Smooth talking and gorgeous. All it took was a dim hall.
He called their hook-up a mistake.
No problem. She walked away without a name, just an impression. That was the hottest sex she’d had minus the actual sex. After one Nantucket party too many, Xavia ends up cutting bait and heading to D.C. She hops aboard the crazy train as the newest intern to Bennett Stone.
Or Senator Stone as he’s known on the Hill. He’s more than Cosmo’s sexiest congressman. He’s complicated. A mystery.
Ben doesn’t date. He’s got his own dirty secrets.
But where X is concerned, there’s one he’s willing to share.
If she agrees to his terms.
In his bed, it’s way. All she needs to do is learn to stop arguing.
Impossible when she finds out the connection they share runs too deep to put aside, and she begins to fear the secret under the secret that’s left unsaid.
Everybody Uses Someone.
AT THE CURB, I park and get out of my car, whistling and waving to Jon exiting South Station. “Hey oh! Let’s go. We’re running late.” We’re headed to Nantucket. A three-hour drive to my grandparents’ end of summer cookout before they close up their home and head back to Manhattan.
As I go to move past him, he grabs me and crushes me within his arms. “Not too late for a hug!”
I squeal and thump him on the back, scrunching my eyes shut at missing him so much. “You’re a nut.”
“I miss you, Xavia. Terribly.”
“Then why do you stay away so long? A train ride. Not too tough.”
“Girl, that rail runs in both directions,” he mocks me.
“You need to come to D.C. more often. I’ve got a job. You’re the freewheeling student.”
“Student, yes. Free—not even close,” I retort, escaping from his grasp as I take shotgun. Jon flips me off as he stalks around the hood of my car, humming under his breath. Once inside, he opens his messenger bag, and laughs devilishly.
“Then help me, help you.”
“What have you done?” I ask, eyeing him suspiciously, wearily. My best friend has a propensity to believe in the impossible and does the outlandish at the drop of a hat.
“You’re welcome, Ms. Kennedy,” he says, handing me a manila envelope. There’s three copies, and a telephone number. Your contact is Nora Swan. Call her!”
I shift my glance from him to the envelope, knitting my brow. I've got a contact? That you've arranged...dear mother of God.”
“Follow through on this one and you’ll thank me. Fuck, will you thank me!”
“Clearly, we see the world differently,” I mutter, opening the envelope and removing a stack of neatly stapled documents. “A U.S. Senate internship application? Ah no!”
“Button your lips and read,” he commands me as he puts the car into gear. I hate driving and when he’s in town, he’s behind the wheel, but right now I’m rethinking that one. I want to do anything besides give this application an iota of my attention. I may not know what direction I want to take when I graduate and everyone’s good intentions, suggestions, connections...are strangling me—regardless of how well-meant.
“I’m so not going to D.C. Especially not to the part near Capitol Hill. It’s enough to have to deal with the political leeches we’ll soon see at Gran’s.”
“Oh but you are,” he replies. “This is ‘mission get your ass in gear’ and get the hell out of Dodge. You’re drowning here and besides, I've got it going on. Just need my wingman.”
“Correction. That’s wingwoman. I've got a vagina to prove it.”
“Sweetheart, I’m not the one who needs reminding of that fact. Another of the myriad of issues we’ll address. One-by-one. I've got you in my sights. But back to the app you’re holding. Nora is expecting your call. She’s crazy, on the verge of bridge jumping with her boss. Bennett Stone.”
I glare at the application. Exhaling, I scan the page, and stop as stare at the photograph of the gorgeous and unforgettable man at the bottom of the page. “Shit!” I hiss.
“What’s wrong?” Jon glances over at me. “Do you know him?”
Yeah, I know the man or rather his mouth. Don’t forget his hands, his cock, and his ability to torment me for seven weeks, and two days. But who’s counting! “Know him?” I can’t find the words to admit this is the guy from the club. Back in June, I’d told Jon that I met someone—more than met; that I’d relapsed into my old ways. He didn't crucify me— we commiserated. But if he finds out...that guy was—is—a congressman... a senator! What will my friend think? He’s gone to all this trouble.
“Hello?” he says, lowering the music.
Steeling my features, I dodge diving back into the pool of my shame at having lost my head in a dark hall. Instead of coming out with my dirty little secret, I seal my lips, refusing to divulge the truth. For weeks, I was clueless about that wolf from the club, but now I know. This gig is for the world’s most incredible kisser, going by the name of Senator Bennett Stone. My nightmare. An unforgettable mistake.
“No. No. Of course, I don't know him!”
It was true. I didn't actually know him. He was a drive-by suck my lips off kiss. The guy I had the craziest, hottest sex with in my life. Minus the sex!
“Great. Then take a look.” He fishes out a magazine as he drives. Now, it all makes sense. Why Stone seemed so familiar. I stare at the cover and mutter,
“He’s that politician featured on the cover of Rolling Stone last spring.”
“The very same brilliant hottie. Shit, if he was gay, I’d go intern for him.”
“Okay Einstein, why would one of the hottest senators want me on his team? He’s a front runner, and probably has scads of interns—cough chicks—lined up to do his bidding. This seems like a... mistake.” The word pulsates inside my mouth and I recall what it was like to kiss Senator Stone pushed up against a wall with his fingers fisting my hair. Jon shakes his head.
“The good senator isn't like that. Stone is strictly business. So much, he just sent his team packing. This player is the real deal. Not only is he killer in the looks department, he’s a Harvard graduate, and the lowdown is the White House is fast-tracking him. And you have connections from working on the Gazette that he can use. You two are alike. Stone was a little bit of a rebel rouser and stepped on some toes prior to law school.”
“And Mr. Pretty Face needs my help?” I narrow my eyes at him.
“Absolutely! Independents straddling the fence are prime targets. A Harvard camp you've got an in with, and one I put out feelers to—they’re also waiting for your call. All you need to do is set the wheels in motion. Get him a student talk on campus.”
“You mean like what Clinton pulled off? Are you on medication?” It was true that I had a cache of connects from an internship I’d done at Harvard, writing a column for the Gazette, but I wasn't into politics. “What’s so special about him—aside from being gorgeous, popular, privileged?”
“That pretty face has got presidential candidate written all over his political agenda. And not just his. There’s talk coming from the Vice President’s office. She’s running next year. Looking for her own Veep, and there’s a huge betting pool at the Post that Stone will be her running mate.”
So the man with panty-dropping looks any male model would kill for is more than a pretty face. I scan the application with his photograph and motto. ‘Get committed.’ Whoa, that sounds like double entendre. As I stare at the senator’s face, the skin over my body tightens. So much, a flash of heat doesn't just creep up my neck—it flares. Stop acting ridiculous. Refocusing, I read the possible staff positions available on the subcommittees Stone chairs. A slew. Everything from war reform to the environment, education, and foreign trade. Jon has talked about getting me to D.C. as a Capitol Hill climbing fool, nonstop during the summer. My last year at Boston College, and I’ve done my stint of resume padding internships already.
“Another tuck-n-roll, and for Mr. Popularity. I don’t know. You do realize I’m still in school.”
“Shut your pie hole. You've got enough credits to graduate and this will help you. Get your feet wet and then you can pick and choose where you want to be, come graduation. Need I remind you for the umpteenth time, it’s time to cut bait and run? Grace and Stan Stillman are just waiting to get their hooks in you. Are you going to let them?”
“Fuck that noise! I’m not accepting my grandparents’ help. How can you even kid about that shit?”
“Because if you don’t have a plan in place, they’ll turn you into Monica and Janice. Is that what you want?”
“My cousins are idiots.” I shake my head, thinking about my family’s ability to put a strangle hold on my career choices. Being connected to the Kennedys and Stillmans is a fulltime task of warding them off. Overbearing brutes have nothing on Gran and Pops in how they try to commandeer everyone’s future. After entering Boston College, I’d sidestepped their entrapping attempt to tell me what to do and when to do it. Unlike my two cousins currently ensconced in Midtown banking. It wasn't that Janice and Monica were vapid—they were brainiacs for all their suck-up ways. But categorically, they lacked spine to chart their own course by falling into the fold. That fold being my grandmother’s archaic view of life as the Stillman matriarch along with her ability to meddle 24/7, and now my cousins were junior execs on Fifth Avenue with a choke collar around their necks. I shake the envelope like it’s the enemy.
“And how is this any different? Instead of Gran’s meddling, I’ll be beholden to yours.”
“Shush. I listen to what you say, when you talk about hightailing it out of here when you’re done with school. Someplace fun and exciting—someplace happening. You can’t argue that D.C. isn’t just up your alley. I get nothing in return except you being near me.”
“Christ on a cracker,” I declare. “I’m not a political junkie like you!”
“XS, c’mon.” He softens his voice. “You pretend not to like politics because of your grandparents but you do have an opinion. Why not learn what the hell goes on behind the scenes—isn’t that your thing? Don’t let your pride get in the way.”
He’s playing dirty. Using my obsolete nickname: X or worse ‘XS’ short for Xavia Stillman. A reminder I don’t need, tagging back to some of my high-flying days where I was one hot mess of excess. Rebellious with a razor sharp ‘R’ before graduating high school and I’d been close to stumbling into several dens of iniquity and catastrophe. Without asking, my grandparents stepped in, twisted a few arms, and had me accepted to Boston College, nixing my dream to attend UCLA. Far, far away from here. One call and my applications to UCLA, along with a slew of other schools were denied or waitlisted. Without a choice, I stayed in New England and vowed never again. Since entering BC, I got serious, taming my partying ways with one goal of graduating and leaving Bean Town. Yet going polar into the library stacks during grad school has been a trip into the land of oh-so-boring, and it’s the end of summer. The end of my little freelance grind at the Globe as a reporter, and I’m so cagey that I’m actually looking forward to the start of classes next month. But a backstage pass, a ticket to the behind the scenes...I’m not convinced. Skeptically, I shrug.
“I don’t know. You’re really over-the-top on this one.”
“Precisely. And it’s a good thing. What have you got to lose?” He looks over at me, quirking his eyebrow, and then abruptly ruffles my hair. Besides my mind—but, he’s got a point. Groaning, I roll my eyes at him and exhale.
“Fine. I’ll think about it. Operative word: think.” I read through the application and yeah, Jon’s recreated my college experience, and then I read the references he’s listed. Grace and Stan Stillman. Patrick Kennedy.
“Name drop much? You’re nuts to put them down. What if Stone’s office calls my grandmother?”
“It’s not crazy to mention your family. Besides, look at the telephone numbers.” I read the numbers and although I don’t recall my stepfather, Patrick’s number off the top of my head, the one listed for my grandparents is— “You listed your telephone number. Are you insane?”
“Not in the least. I’m leveling the playing field. If Nora calls, I've got you covered and your family will be none the wiser.”
“And for Pat? Whose number is this?”
“Roderick’s. He’s ready.”
“Your brother is going to pretend to be Patrick Kennedy?” His brother was a Marine and just returned from active duty with a case of PTSD so bad he was in rehab. “He’s good with it. Right now, Rod’s doing his program, so he’s got the time. It’ll give him something to do other than sit around the V.A., smoke pot, and do group therapy.”
“This smells of all kinds of crazy,” I say, shoving the application back into the envelope.
“So it’s worked in your favor. I’m a little leery about mine. Luck I mean.”
“An opportunity has nothing to do with luck! It’s about working your connections. You've got an untapped skill.”
“Oh yeah and what’s that?”
“Charisma. When you choose to use it. God, do you know how many people would kill to have your looks, your connections, and that elegant charm that you were born with?” I inhale.
“It feels more like a curse, if you want to know the truth.”
“Fuck, Xavia. Don’t squander what you've got. I work my tail off to get where I am. We could be closer and I wouldn't have to keep coming back here to check up on you!”
“I hear what you’re saying.” I grimace, looking at the one person who’s always been there when I needed him, but this is a dilemma and obviously, he doesn't know how bad. Down in D.C., Jon has worked a gig for the last few years as a hotshot journalist. And it’s true, he’d be free of babysitting me— able to devote more time to his career. Yet unconvinced that I can dive headfirst into a Bennett Stone internship, I open the browser on my cell. Since I’m not about to tell Jon my secret, I’ll need some ammunition to argue my case, and start to Google the senator with hot rough lips and demanding hands. During the drive to the island, Jon and I discuss D.C., Hill internships, his experiences being in close quarters with congress... Everything except what I’m not telling him—that I basically let the good senator feel me up against a wall. Exasperated and not able to out argue Jon, I ask,
“How often would I have to see him?”
He presses his fingers to his forehead. “I don’t know. Depends on if you’re in his inner circle. Given this is a short gig, I doubt much. When Stone calls a meeting, but there are scads of interns plus all his senate staff. I wouldn't sweat it. Besides, you of all people have years of hanging with powerful men. What’s running through your head?”
“Nothing!” I train my focus forward, wondering what the hell he’s about to drag me into as we pull up in front of my grandparents’ home. GRAN’S ‘COOKOUT’ is anything but hotdogs and hamburgers. Waiters wearing white gloves circulate, carrying trays of champagne splits with plastic funnels, tumblers of what I guess to be Scotch, and margaritas given the sloshing neon liquid and salted rims. Several men in black suits and sunglasses circulate at the perimeter—dead giveaway that guests from the Capitol are probably lurking about. Gran comes over, arms raised and I press my cheek to her smooth face, inhaling L'Air du Temps. She takes hold of my arm and steps back,
“Xavia, let me look at you. All grown up! Where’s your mother?” Ah. Let the games being. An innocent statement, but what she’s really doing is assessing me, acquiring ammunition for later when she quietly addresses a list of concerns I’m so certain she possesses. The list gets longer and longer the closer I am to graduating. She’s ready to launch and all I have to do is acquiesce, let her and my grandfather make a few calls. Not gonna happen.
“Mom is flying to Seattle. Last minute. But, how are you?” My best line of defense is always to answer her, and pose the next question. Steer the conversation, charting the direction. Journalism 101, baby. She releases me and smiles pleasantly.
“Oh you know. It’s the end of the season and I always get a little sad. We’re closing the house next week...”And here it comes. The invitation for brunch or lunch.
“I’d like you to come down for lunch next week.”
Bingo! My move. I don’t answer her. “You remember Jon?” I ask on redirect.
“Hello, Mrs. Stillman. Great party. The clams are delicious,” he replies amicably. Jon’s so smooth and why not. He comes into contact with every type of political and business bigwig. Crud, maybe he’s got a point of getting the hell out of Dodge.
“Thank you,” Gran replies and pauses, giving him her little stare. She believes that Jon and I are secretly dating, and secrets don’t sit well with my grandmother unless they’re hers.
“Still working in D.C. at the Post?” she asks him icily.
“I am,” he replies.
The tension is palpable and I won’t have Gran browbeating my best friend, so I whip out a cutting question. One sure to displease.
“Where’s Aunt Bridget? I saw her heading upstairs. Is she all right?” I ask to off-balance Gran, knowing full-well that my aunt is inside, more than likely banging the hell out of one of the wait staff as she does every year. Aunt Bridget’s libido is the bane of my grandparents’ Nantucket colony life. Each summer, a huge chunk of change is exchanged along with whispered messages from their attorneys in settling house staff complaints. My aunt stirs up the gossip—I’ll give her that. We've all heard Gran preach that Stillmans don’t do scandal. They certainly pay enough to ensure the truth is locked away.
“Oh you know Bridget, doesn't like the sun or the heat,” Gran replies, casting a worried look toward the upper balcony.
“Princess,” Pop calls out, approaching our huddle with a drink in hand as he smiles and waves to the guests around us. The ice from my grandfather’s glass tinkles and he motions to a waiter for a refill. Hugging me, he laughs out a rumble as I’m surrounded by his spicy aftershave and the whiskers of his waxed handlebar mustache, tickling my cheek. I can smell he’s well into his third bourbon and coke. At least. Pulling away from me, he glances over to Gran.
“Grace, the Kennedys and the president just arrived.” I stiffen at the mention of my stepdad’s family, but Gran’s face lights up and she laughs—or snickers really. Zero is how many shits I could give that the president is here. Well, at least that explains the dark cloud of Secret Service agents.
“Stan, I’ll go greet them and pave the way. Please join us in two minutes. Two minutes, my good man,” she repeats her direction.
“Yes, Commandant.” Pop salutes her and winks at me.
“Xavia, come find me in a bit. We need to chat.” She gives me her semi-stern grandmother face, then squeezes my arm, and she’s off. I exchange looks with Jon as a waiter brings him a beer and mentally roll my eyes as Grans scurries away. Christ, what has she got up her sleeve?
“Having a good time?” Pop inquires, taking out a handkerchief, then wipes the beads of sweat off his face and down his neck.
“It’s hotter than last year. El Niño...am I right?”
“Yes and yes,” I reply.
“Mr. Stillman.” Jon smiles as he shakes Pop’s hand. “Get any fishing in this year?” My grandfather looks over at Jon thoughtfully and then frowns.
“Not a bite. Well, nothing worth remembering.”
“There’s always next year,” Jon concedes, holding his beer to his lips.
Pop twirls the ice in his glass. “That there is,” he agrees vaguely and pats my arm. “I’d better get going on my mission. Can’t keep your grandmother waiting. Someone will want to stop and talk as I make my way. You know how it is.”
For once, I see a glimmer of dissatisfaction in my grandfather’s eyes. Or maybe it’s just the heat. His skin is red and he’s sweating...profusely. “Are you feeling all right?” I ask suddenly.
“Right as rain. Except for this blasted heatwave.” He tweaks my ear and raises an eyebrow. “Your cousins are here. Go over and talk to them. Let them tell you about their recent moves and wedding bell news. You’re graduating and need to start thinking about a career path as well.”
My stomach twists as I spot my cousins across the pool. The ones who have fallen in line, earning six figures while working at Citibank. The same two who live in Midtown and Monica is engaged to some hard-hitting CEO with a rock the size of a boulder on her finger. Nice, charming, well-ordered lives. I could hurl. As I scan the crowd, my gaze hits upon another cousin. Not the exact one Pop referred to. Talk about the blackest of sheep. Colin. He’s more leech than sheep.
“Sure thing,” I say, nodding my head and all the while I’m thinking nope. Midtown plastic cousins or parasitic cousin— they’re all a no-go. I could rock the boat and point that out, but why? I’m ready to dive into the bay beyond the stone seawall. Strip naked and swim so far, so fast as to be free of this charmed and caged life everyone here leads. Pop disappears in the throng of vanilla-colored people and I turn to Jon, exasperation souring my tongue. He has his beer tipped back, and empties it. He’s no wisp of a man, standing six foot with a muscular body, tattooed arms that run from his wrists to the edge of his white polo, and plenty of girls around us, give him the eye in that we can tell you’re gay but hot. Like maybe in their bed, he might just decide to bat for the other team.
“What are you drinking?” He pushes a wayward strand behind my ear as only he can do when I’m steaming, not from the heat but being around my family for more than six minutes.
“Not enough,” I reply when I snag a waiter.
“Pardon me.” Jon gives him his order.
“Heineken and she’ll have...”
I look down at the waiter’s tray, surveying my choices. What the hell? I lift a tumbler and sniff. “This is fine.” The waiter bows and Jon shakes his head.
“Why do you care what anyone here thinks? Your eyes keep ogling the champagne.”
“Because,” I say, “I refuse to fit in!” Then I lift my glass, and smile. I've never had the pleasure of Scotch before. Plenty of the men are drinking it, so I knock back a gulp...that tastes like lighter fluid in my book. Oh shit! I clasp my hand over my lips. What the hell did I just suck into my mouth? I shiver as the liquor sits idly on my tongue.
“What’s wrong?” Jon asks, eyeing me with concern. “Are you going to be sick?”
Okay, either I can spit this shit out or down it. My gaze flashes around the party, all the pretty, pretty people that talk genteelly with their summer whites and boat shoes on. Crap, spitting out the Scotch is a faux-pas to the extreme, and I forcibly make my throat muscles work. But fuck! Swallowing is no better and I gasp, then start to hack as Jon claps me on the back. With tears in my eyes, I follow up with,
“No. I’m pretty pissed and want another of those!”
TWO HOURS later, I’m scrounging through my purse, blindly looking for my keys. I've done my duty and stayed the perfunctory time period Mom requested, and I as meander, weaving around people without making eye contact, my sandals slap across the patio pavers until I see Jon talking to a tall man, wearing a tight pair of Nantucket Reds.
“Excuse me,” a Secret Service agent says.
“Yes,” I reply, looking over his shoulder. Both Jon and the other man laugh, their heads bowed together for a second. I recognize Jon’s companion as one of the executives from Manhattan...some high-powered attorney I believe, and the more my memory starts to reconnect, I also recall said attorney has a wife and kids.
“The president would like a word with you, Ms. Kennedy.”
“With me?” I swing my gaze to the agent, wondering what President Gabriel North wants with me. This has to be Gran’s doing. Ten to one, she’s twisting North’s presidential arm, seeking some favor. Ah, yes and oh no!
“The president is waiting in the library.” He juts his chin over toward the house. “Come with me.”
He turns to leave as if I’ll just happily totter along.
“Pardon me, Agent.” I cross my arms over my chest, waiting. The man stops talking into his cell, telling someone to ‘hold positions.’
“I can’t right now. Please tell the president, I’ll catch him later.”
I arch my brow, pressing my lips together, and nod. The agent peers over his glasses, his dark eyes widen, and he looks like he’s thinking what to do. Well, while he’s trying to figure how to keep his job, I’m done playing games, and walk past him with a stony,
“Good evening.” I march over to Jon and his buddy. Both guys glance at me and then exchange a look between them—protracted and I understand. Immediately. I smile at Jon. He’s found a hook-up and in my giddy-I’m-leaving state, I semi-shout his name to grab his attention. “Time to split.”
“More like splitting from the Secret Service. What the hell was that about?” Jon asks.
“Who’d you piss off now?”
“Just Gran plotting,” I scoff.
“Xavia, nice seeing you again. It’s been a while,” the tallblond-and-married attorney states, extending his arm to me. I can’t recall his name, but I reach out and squeeze his hand.
“Same. Sorry to greet and run, but I’m heading off calamity.”
“No problem,” he replies. I smile at both of them and then focus my eyes on Jon. “So, are you up for leaving?”
“More than ready.” Jon says and grins over at his new friend.
“Mitch?” Now, I shift my focus directly to Jon, trying to catch his eye and nonverbally ask if Mitch is coming with us, but my BFF’s so hung up on the blond hunk in front of him, he ignores my intense stare.
“Need a lift back to the city?” I ask Mitch, taking the ‘bull’ by the horns. Jon’s eyes widen and he shakes his head, leaning next to my ear and whispers, “I’m riding back with him.”
“You’re not seri—” He jerks my arm, squeezing, and I want to laugh and ask him if he’s bonkers, but he gives me an I’ll-kill-you-in-your-sleep stare to silence my unwelcomed imitation of a dumbass. Stiffening, I feel a tendril of something foreign tighten around my throat— and wonder what’s come over me. I don’t want him to leave with Mitch. Am I jealous of Jon? Of the blond hunk? Of them together? In a bed? Fuck, I think am.
“Absolutely ready. After you,” Mitch pronounces and his smile widens gregariously. He sets his drink down, and I start to trek toward the front of the house. I want to bolt away and I hate feeling like this. In lieu of leaving through the gargantuan downstairs where I’m sure Gran is holding court in the living room by this time, I head for the side walkway.
“Wait up, Xavia,” Jon calls, and I realize, I’m practically fleeing like my feet are on fire. I slow my gallop, stepping onto the grass, and take a breath, glancing over my shoulder, and our eyes meet. I force a smile to my lips for Jon’s benefit when he and his friend join me.
“Chica?” Jon comes up to me, his eyes wide with concern. My stomach pitches. I’m acting selfishly.
“You know how it is...seeing the exit. I can’t leave fast enough.”
“Then call Nora,” he whispers before he steps back next to Mitch. “Okay?”
I inhale gazing into his dark eyes. “I’m thinking...remember? I need to do some research.”
We walk around the side of Gran’s home, toward the garden entrance. Together we stride over the pavers, in between the manicured lawn, and neatly trimmed hedges. I walk silently as Jon and Mitch whisper. Flanked by their low chatter and secret laughs, I feel alone and wrap my arms around my middle. I follow the trail until we come to the circular drive, trying not to eavesdrop on their conversation but all the while, I can’t wait to escape being the third wheel. Once outside and facing the winding row of car upon car down the driveway, I shrug.
“Hey, I’m going to go get my own ride. The queue is too long.”
There are several other couples waiting along the front steps for the two valets huffing it back and forth. Jon places his hand on my shoulder. “You okay to drive?”
My cheeks feel numb as I try to keep up the pretense of smiling. I assess my level of intoxication—not too bad. “Yeah. I’m fine, just hot. Pop is right about the heat.”
His brow creases. “I can always ride back—”
“No,” I whisper stubbornly. Jon has always been there for me. “Go have some fun. Lots and lots of screaming, hair-pulling fun. You deserve it. No excuses. Call me tomorrow.”
Both men give me that surprised expression as if their connection is covert—which it isn't to someone like me. I've learned to read nonverbals in assessing my sources as a writer— I’m all eyes when it comes to seeing below the surface.
“Catch you tomorrow. We’ll talk strategy on getting you intimately hooked up in D.C.” Jon says with a wink.
We hug, kiss, trade another ‘Bye.’ Alone, I walk to my car, scanning the night sky and wonder where’s my doorway to change. Glancing back over my shoulder as I approach my car door, there’s Jon laughing again with his new friend. New connection. That’s a lesson worth learning. New connection. New possibilities. I level my shoulders and think, what the hell? Maybe a little Hill climbing in D.C. is just the ticket. Tomorrow, I’m going to call Nora and see what’s the deal with Senator Bennett Stone and his unforgettable... persona.