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Seduction and intrigue are rampant on the campaign trail when a political campaign adviser discovers that Washington's power broker elite have embroiled his presidential candidate in a plot involving an act of terrorism on US soil...
Political campaign consultant Ben Brinker can’t remember the last time he was excited by a candidate’s vision. He feels he’s lost his way, both emotionally and professionally. Worst yet, his show-me-the-money policy seems to have finally caught up with him. Two of his recent clients have been disgraced in one way or another: a senator is caught in lurid sex scandal, and a congressman is indicted in a kickback scandal. In no time at all the political pundits are calling Ben a "candidate cooler." Now Ben is desperate for any campaign gig he can get.
As luck would have it, Andrew Harris Mansfield, the charismatic junior senator from North Carolina and former Marine pilot, asks Ben if he wants to run his soon-to-be-announced campaign for president.
Little does Ben know what's in store for Andrew, or their country--
Nor does he realize that the key to saving both have been placed in his hands.
The care and feeding of Andrew Mansfield’s most generous campaign donors was well underway by the time Ben got to the Fairmont on that drizzly New Year’s Eve. Dinner was served promptly, the Tattingers flowed freely, and the up-tempo tunes emanating from the ten-piece orchestra on the Colonnade Room’s center stage lured a constant wave of the senator’s well-heeled guests onto the dance floor, so few if any of them minded the long wait to be endured prior to partaking in their prime objective: a few fleeting but memorable moments with Mansfield, in which he shook their hands and intoned a heartfelt thanks to them for ponying up $2,500-per-person for a plate of the Fairmont’s renowned Shenandoah Valley grilled rib eye of bison, the proceeds of which would go to the Mansfield Presidential Exploratory Committee fund.
As requested, Ben, tuxedoed and manure-free, arrived punctually at eleven o’clock. Waiting for him at the ballroom’s double-door entry was Sukie Carmichael, Mansfield’s aide-de-camp, a slight spinsterish woman with an unruly red mane. He followed her lead as she wove around banquet tables and partying revelers.
They ended up in front of a door that was hidden behind a few potted ferns. In the small anteroom on the other side of it were two men. Immediately Ben recognized the eldest as Preston Alcott III-- the managing partner at Corcoran Adams Webster and Alcott, the oldest, most revered law firm in Washington. Besides being a celebrated lawyer, Alcott served as gatekeeper to the country’s aristocracy. The sway he held over statesmen, monarchs, even dictators the world over was legendary.
The esteemed attorney was in his mid-seventies but could easily pass for a much younger man--ramrod straight and broad shouldered as he was. Even seated, Ben could tell he was a tall man. His eyes were piercingly bright, and befitting his role of patrician, his hair was full and white.
Ben had done his research. He knew that Alcott was also the executor of Abigail Vandergalen Mansfield’s trust, not to mention the blind trusts of the current POTUS and his wife, Edward and Elinor Barksdale, and the estates of an impressive percentage of the Forbes 400. No doubt Alcott was there to ensure that Abby’s very expensive investment in her husband’s political career would pay off in the largest and most important dividend of all: executive power.
Alcott’s presence there was proof that Ben wouldn’t be handed the job carte blanche.
Fuck it. I need to score this gig—and a win—to prove I’m back in the game, thought Ben. Even if that means kissing Alcott’s ass.
So it’s show time. . . .
As Sukie made the introductions all around, Ben shook Alcott’s hand and gave a reverential bow. “It’s an honor, Mr. Alcott.”
“Ah, the kingmaker.” As Alcott’s eyes cursorily swept over him, Ben held his gaze.
“No sir. That would be your title, not mine.”
Alcott’s slight nod indicated his grudging approval at the response, but Ben was fully aware that the real grilling hadn’t even started.
The man standing with Alcott chuckled nervously. Still his handshake, two-handed and firm, made up for his obvious apprehension in the presence of Alcott. “Paul Twist. I’m Andy’s finance chair.”
Ben recognized the name. “Also a partner at Cochran Adams. And Andy’s best friend. You guys roomed together in law school, right? It’s a pleasure to meet you, too.”
Andy’s buddy’s nodded genially. “Your track record is a thing of wonder, Mr. Brinker. But you’ve yet to manage a presidential campaign, am I right?”
“Yes. That is, not until now. In that regard, the senator and I are both underdogs going into this thing.” What, did you think I wasn’t going to point out that your boy doesn’t have his own party’s blessing? Fat chance. “We both know the deciding factors differ every four years. But one thing doesn’t change: The candidate who wins is the one who has the ability to embody the message the public wants to hear, to get that message out to the media, and to respond immediately to any bullshit that the other side might toss our way. As my track record shows, it’s what I bring to the table.”
“That’s all well and good. It’s too bad it didn’t work for Calder.” Alcott’s smile said it all: You lose.
Upon hearing the congressman’s name, Ben gave an involuntary wince. “As long as you can assure me that Senator Mansfield’s, er, skeletons aren’t anywhere near as fertile, I’ll take your candidate all the way to the White House—”
Andy Mansfield’s hearty laugh roared through the anteroom. Ben looked up to find the senator standing in the doorway. He had his arm around a woman of slight build and medium height, with long pale hair, pulled back severely from her anxious face and twisted into a chignon. Ben recognized her immediately: Abigail Vandergalen. She was, perhaps, eight years younger than her husband. Her black gown, a sequined sheath that she wore under a cropped lace jacket, was obviously expensive, but its elegance was undermined by the slump of her shoulders and her pensive grimace. Her squared-off pumps didn’t help, either.
In fact, if Ben had to choose one thing that stood out about Abigail Vandergalen Mansfield, he’d say not a thing--except for her eyes, which were deep set, and as blue and sparkling as rough-cut sapphires. At least, from what he could tell in the few seconds in which they actually met his before her innate shyness forced her to turn away again.
Unfortunately her small thick-framed glasses did nothing to enhance them. Damn shame she has so little charisma. We’ll have to get her into media training yesterday to keep that from hurting Mansfield on the campaign trail—
Andy nodded at all three men, but it was Ben whom he slapped on the back. “These two will swear up one side and down the other that I’m holier than a saint.”
“And they should know, I presume.”
“There is only one person who knows me better. I’d like to introduce you to Abby.”
Ben gave her his patented thousand-watt smile. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Mansfield.”
“Call me Abby, please. And I hope you’ll allow me to call you Ben.” This time when she looked up at him, her eyes didn’t waiver. In fact they seemed to look right through him. “You’ll have to excuse us for being tardy, Mr. Brinker. I was still on the dance floor when you arrived.”
“And giving an earful to some very earnest young man from the Auto Alliance. He was naive enough to insist that Detroit is doing all it can to cut emissions.” Andy gave his wife’s arm a squeeze. “You see, reducing our country’s petroleum consumption is a pet peeve of my wife’s.”
“To the point where she insisted that I divest her portfolio of any and all oil company stocks, and buy into clean energy start-ups instead.” Alcott’s disapproval was evidenced by the disdain in his voice. “One’s personal ideology shouldn’t impinge on one’s investment strategy.”
“I’ve always appreciated your concern over my financial matters, Preston. You know that.” Abby’s tone was soft, but firm. “But I refuse to support industries that are the problem, not the solution. Don’t you agree, Mr. Brinker?”
“Personally, my philosophy is ‘whatever floats your boat.’ Heck, I know people who choose their stocks the way others pick horses at the racetrack: because they like the name. It’s all a game of chance, right?” He shrugged. “Now if you’re asking my professional opinion, I’d say your instincts—be those personal or political—are ingenious. In fact, if a list of your green investments were to be ‘accidentally’ leaked to a few of the right reporters, they’d be duly impressed that you put your money where your mouth is. And what they’d write would sway a lot of independents and undecideds, not to mention any Dems looking to come our way.”
“But we don’t just ‘dabble in stocks.’ For the past six years in a row, my husband has been voted the greenest Republican in the Senate. We’re making inroads in convincing our party that being green isn’t just environmentally smart--it’s also fiscally responsible. Some of the country’s greenest business visionaries have stepped up and offered their support. They’re excited that Andy is making the greening of America a national mandate. If we’re going to—well, to put it somewhat indelicately, quit sucking on the ‘tit’ of foreign oil--we have stop cold turkey.”
Ben nodded, impressed. “You’re right, Abby. That message coming from a Republican candidate is big news.”
Andy smiled. “You now see, Brinker, why I’ve come to realize that Abby’s instincts are always right on the mark. In fact, it’s why you’re here tonight.”
“It was Abby who suggested that I approach you to run my campaign in the first place.”
Noting the quizzical look on Ben’s face, Abby turned away shyly. Andy, on the other hand, smiled at Ben’s obvious disbelief. “Even before we ran into each other, she said—and she’s correct—that crossing Talbot would be political suicide for any of our party’s favored campaign advisors, so we should find the best Democratic consultant; someone who knows how that party thinks—and how to strategize against our frontrunner. And someone who wouldn’t be afraid to take the gloves off, when the time came. As always, she called it. So I guess Calder’s implosion was my good fortune. And yours.” He gave Ben a knowing grin. “Which is why I’m hoping you’ve passed Preston’s inquisition.”
“Times will be a lot tougher, Andrew, if this boondoggle of yours doesn’t pay off.” Alcott took a sip of his drink. “Six hundred million is a lot of money to bet on a longshot. And if you lose, so does Abby, since it’s her money that will be the initial seed capital for your campaign. As you can imagine, the thought of that makes me very uncomfortable.”
“But he won’t lose.” By the way Abby said it Ben could tell that she wasn’t being naive, but just stating the facts as she saw them. “Certainly Vice President Talbot has his supporters. In the past, they’ve funded him fully—and have prospered, along with him, based on a failing energy policy. However the rest of us are ready for new leadership, both in the party and in the White House. With your help, Ben, that will be Andy.”
So the mouse isn’t afraid to roar. Interesting.
“As you can see, Preston, Abby is one hundred percent behind backing my campaign—and behind Ben, too. And as always, she has the last word.” Andy’s point was made: Game over.
At that, Alcott gave a resigned shrug. Paul, on the other hand, tried to hide his smirk.
Knowing he’d trumped any argument to the contrary, Andy turned to Ben. “So what do you say? Are you in?”
Hmmm, thought Ben, Now let me get this straight: I get to redeem myself with a candidate who is a seasoned politician from a large swing state, and whose wife has a trust fund that rivals Iceland’s gross domestic product. To top it off, he’s as pure as driven snow . . .
Hell yeah, where else would I be?
Not that he had to say that out loud. His smile said it all.
Andy shook his hand. “Great! You’ll make a great wingman. We have a few minutes before I jump onstage to ring in the New Year. Let’s compare notes on New Hampshire —”
She was nicely naughty, a raven-haired sylph with a sleek chin-length bob and a come-hither beauty mark on the left side of her luscious lips. One dainty foot, encased in a high-heeled diamond studded ruby slipper, was propped high on the rung of the bar stool next to her, unleashing her leg—long, strong, lean, and slim at the ankle—from the skin-tight red velvet gown sliced high on her thigh.
There was nothing Ben wanted more than to play her Prince Charming.
Hell, why not? It was just a few minutes before midnight. His timing was perfect.
He had zoned out somewhere in the middle of Andy’s speech. There were only so many ways a politician can inspire his constituency, and Ben had heard them all before. In a long career he would hear them all again.
So instead he searched out the nearest bar. Time to celebrate his resurrection.
There was one in the back of the ballroom, but the line was too long. The second one, in the hotel lobby, right outside the ballroom’s open door, was empty—
Except for Little Red Ride Me Hard.
Of course at that point he just presumed she’d live up to that fantasy. Still, he’d be willing to bet on it. The giveaway was what he saw on the spot where her backless gown came to a vee at the base of her spine:
A tattoo of a broken heart.
Perfect. He liked his women heartbroken. That keeps it simple. She wouldn’t expect it to go beyond tonight.
Particularly on New Year’s Eve, when no one wants to go home alone.
He wondered if he’d still be able to make out his candidate’s punch lines from the barstool beside Red Velvet. The senator’s jokes seemed to be going over big with the crowd, if the waves of laughter emanating from the room were any indication.
Yeah, no problem, he thought. Mansfield was coming in loud and clear . . .
If Ben cared to listen at all.
A sleek blade of her hair sliced her milky shoulders as she threw back her head and nudged a last lethargic drop from her martini glass.
“The lady will have another. And a scotch, neat, for me.” He skirted a twenty toward the bartender.
“Do I look that easy?” Red Velvet pretended to pout but couldn’t hold it together. Her full-throated laugh was an outright dare.
Easy? Heck, yeah.
And for some reason, she looked familiar, too. But he couldn’t quite place it. Something about the slant of her cheek. Or maybe he had once lost himself in the deep mossy depths of those luminous eyes peeking out under those brow-grazing bangs . . .
No, if he had met Red Velvet before, he would have certainly remembered. He shook his head. “If you want my opinion, I’d say you look thirsty.” He slid onto the bar chair next to her. “Besides, who wants to drink alone on New Year’s Eve?”
“Who says I’m alone?”
This time her smile was a bit forced. “Yeah, that’s my guy. Invisible. But you’ll still have to convince me that you’re the better man.”
“Don’t doubt that I can.”
“I won’t. Not in a million years——” she murmured, drinking him in. As she casually took the object of his affection—that beautiful leg—and crossed it over its perfect match, he felt his cock harden—“but you’ll have to try hard, just the same.”
That was when he kissed her.
It stunned her. He could tell by the tiny gasp she gave. He barely heard it though, because just then the crowd began the countdown to midnight—
58 . . .57 . . .56 . . .
He could hear Mansfield’s voice booming above it all: “Ah, here we go! And wouldn’t you know it, I’ve lost my wife! Abigail? Abby? Come on up here, honey, don’t be shy—”
That was when Ben’s red velvet dream bit his lip then licked the wound so lovingly, so passionately.
That for a moment there, he almost forgot to breathe. . . .
© 2013 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Author.
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June 15, 2013!