Authors: Mary Whitney
Copyright © 2014 by Mary Whitney
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.
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To my daughters who get to read this book when they’re old enough…
It was a mixer for two sides that rarely mixed, and I was stuck in the middle of it. I searched the gilded walls of the stately Capitol Hill room trying to locate the quickest exit. Above the main door, an ornate clock hung high, ticking away the time as slow as Congress itself.
Ten minutes and I’m outta here.
I took a swig of my beer to pass the time.
I was a politician by profession, but an introvert by personality. If I didn’t have to be “on,” I wasn’t. I’d already spent the day with most of the people in the room, and I didn’t want to mingle anymore. All I wanted was to be home on my sofa, watching hockey with my dog at my side. I was at the stupid reception simply to make an appearance for appearances’ sake.
Billed as a “networking” event for first-time members of Congress, everyone toasted one another in celebration of their achievement. The cocktail party was one of the few official functions of the new Congress that was bipartisan—though with a freshman class of eighty-five Republicans and only ten Democrats, there was hardly equal representation of both parties. As a Republican, I didn’t mind the numbers. It’s not like I had anything in common with the Democrats… except our jobs.
I craned my neck to find my chief of staff, Jeff Dolton, to tell him I’d be leaving soon. A fellow congressman saw me peer through the crowd and asked, “Can I help you find someone?”
Running through every Republican representative’s first name, I finally landed on the white haired man before me. “Thanks, Gary. I was just looking for my staffer before I leave, but I don’t see him.”
Gary nodded. “I’m ready to go, too. It’s been a long day.” He grabbed a stuffed mushroom from the passing waiter’s platter. Before he popped it in his mouth, he declared, “But the food’s pretty good.”
I smiled at the laid-back guy from Colorado. Gary Martin was too happy a man to be an ideologue, and he represented a district with simple needs. Most of his constituents were content as long as their taxes were low, and they could get their guns and ammo whenever they wished.
As a sign that I was done for the night, I wiped my mouth with a cocktail napkin and declared, “I think this is going to be my dinner.”
“Let’s get another drink then.”
It was the exact opposite of my intention, but it would’ve been rude to stop him. He tapped the shoulder of the small, black jacketed figure near him in the crowd. Gary didn’t even bother to look the wait staff in the eye as he asked, “Could I ask you to get me another Coors Light? And a…” He looked at me for my order.
“I’m okay right now,” I said, holding up my full bottle of beer.
“Excuse me?” a feminine voice asked with sweet indignation.
We paused to actually look at the waitress, and Gary smiled at the young woman. “Well, Miss, I was just askin’ if you could get me another beer. I’d like a Coors Light if you could. My friend here doesn’t need anything.”
She pursed her lips as if to suppress a laugh and pointed to her left lapel. Fastened securely to the black wool was a gold and blue congressional pin just like the one Gary and I wore on our suits.
My eyes widened
. Oh, shit.
Two Republican congressmen had just mistaken a female member of Congress for a waitress, plus she was a Democrat. It was an unpardonable gaffe that could end up in the gossip section of
The Washington Post
Gary took a step back as if he had to distance himself from his mistake. “My sincere apologies. I am so sorry. I meant no offense.” Then he extended his hand. “I’m Gary Martin. I represent the third district of Colorado.”
Happy to shake his hand, she replied, “No offense taken. I’m Jessica Clark from Arizona. You can call me Jessie.”
“Nice to meet you, Jessie.” He pumped her hand, smiling in relief that she wasn’t offended. “I truly am sorry. You’re just so… young maybe. That’s why I made the mistake. Hell, I bet I have golf balls older than you.”
“Oh, I look younger than I actually am because I’m short. I’m thirty-five, though.”
“Now why haven’t I met you yet? I’m a big talker. I’ve tried to get to know everyone in the caucus.”
“That’s because she’s not in the Republican caucus,” I interrupted.
She looked at me warily, her eyes signaling that she recognized me, and a forced smile formed on her lips. Offering her hand, she said, “You’re right. I’m a Democrat. Jessie Clark. Nice to meet you.”
“The pleasure is mine.” I shook her hand, as my mind tallied everything I could remember about her, adding in what I’d learned in the last two minutes. I kept up with the national election news enough to know that one of the few House seats the Democrats had won that year was in Arizona. The race was a fierce battle, with the young, scrappy state legislator beating a corrupt Republican incumbent by less than twenty votes. I vaguely recalled the victor’s name—Jessica Clark.
But, having just met her, I knew a little more.
She’s sort of cute, maybe.
Her artsy glasses and the way her hair was pulled back in a bun threw me off though. Despite the severe eyewear and hairstyle, she looked young for her age, which was the same as mine. I caught a glance of her left hand—no ring. With one sweep of my eyes over her stark appearance, I made a snap judgment.
Not really my type.
But truth be told, no woman could interest me at that point. An ugly divorce did that to you.
All the same, I turned on the charm. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Michael Grath. I’m from—”
“Illinois,” interrupted Jessie. “Your family name precedes you.”
“Yeah, I can’t get around that.” I took another sip of beer, knowing she had already formed an opinion about me.
The Grath name was both a blessing and a curse. It was synonymous with Country Club Republican, and it gave me privilege, access, and power. Of course, those things had their accompanying counterparts—no privacy and plenty of prejudices.
As if he still felt he needed to redeem himself, Gary interjected, “So, Jessie, what did you do before you got into the messy world of politics?”
“I taught high school.” She smiled. “What about you?”
“Oh, I’m just a small-time rancher like my daddy and his daddy before him,” said Gary with a shrug.
“There are some ranchers in my district. They’re good people,” she noted. She turned to me with a dismissive look. “And I bet you were a corporate lawyer.”
“I was,” I admitted. I could’ve left it at that, but no. I had to stifle a laugh because I had every intention of trapping her in her prejudice. “But I was also a high school teacher once. I did
Teach for America
for a year out of college.”
Her mouth gaped when she realized that she’d been caught being judgmental because she began to blush. She looked kind of cute, but was quick to gather her composure and countered in a “professional” voice, “Really? I wouldn’t have guessed that. Where did you teach?”
“Inner-city Chicago.” Her blush wasn’t fading and I started to feel sorry for her.
Gary popped back into the conversation, “And tell me about your district, Jessie. What’s it like?”
“A mix of suburban and rural. I live outside of Tucson, and my district spreads out from there all the way to the Mexican border.” She smiled and continued, “I bet mine is like yours in a lot of ways. Ranches, reservations, public land, very pretty...”
“Sounds about right,” Gary said. “This is the first time I’ve ever lived in a big city.”
Coming from Chicago, I couldn’t imagine living in the sticks. I looked at Gary’s gray hair and considered his age. “Really? Never before?”
“Nope. Never had any interest either.”
I turned to Jessie. “I suppose that’s true for you, as well? Is this is your first time living in a real city?”
“No. Not at all.”
“Really? Where have you lived?” I waited for her to say Tucson, which in my Chicagoan mind, was the equivalent of Springfield, Illinois and thus, not a true city.
“Well, London is a real city. I lived there awhile when I was in England for grad school.” Her mouth soured a bit. “Tucson is urban, even if my district is largely not.”
I cocked my head as thinking of her in London. “Where did you go to grad school?”
Blinking twice, I registered what she said. I certainly hadn’t expected any of those answers. “What did you study?”
“Economics.” She gave me a wry smile and then said what had to be her punch line. “So don’t tell me only Republicans understand the economy.”
“I wouldn’t dream of saying such a thing…” I said with a snicker. Of course, I thought Democrats knew nothing of economics, but I liked her feistiness.
Gary then broke in again. “Well, gosh,” he said with a laugh. “Jessie is a smart one. Isn’t she, Michael?”
Jessie shrugged and shot me a look. “So, I’ve lived in a city. I bet you don’t know much about mountains.”
“I… no, well, not from Chicago, but I got into climbing when I was in college.”
“Really? Rock climbing? You?” Her suspicious eyes darted to my hands to see if they showed the gnarled, wear and tear of a real rock climber. They didn’t.
Raising my hands in acknowledgment, I explained, “With the campaign, I haven’t gotten out in a while. I’ve been stuck on the wall in the gym.”
“That’s too bad. When you do get out, where do you go?” She asked it like it was a test of my abilities.
“Well, I started climbing out in the Berkshires when I was in school in Massachusetts. Now, I go all over.” Just to prove myself to her, I added, “I like the desert, and I’ve been to Arizona. I was in the Dragoons a couple years ago.”
While Gary went on about hunting for big horn sheep in the desert, Jessie appeared to be only half-listening as she repeatedly glanced up at me as though she was trying to figure me out. I was also attentive and nodded as Gary spoke, but I’d steal the occasional glimpse of Jessie. With her hair off her face, I noticed her peaches and cream complexion that extended down her neck and peeked out of the V-neck of her blouse. A vision of lovely white breasts popped into my mind, causing me to snap my attention back to Gary. When it floated back to me, I looked at her face one more time and became frustrated by her school teacher appearance.
What does she look like with her hair down and without those damn glasses?
Then a stern woman’s voice came from behind. “Jessie, we should get going.”
Turning to see the face behind the voice, my eyes popped open to see Jeff walking toward me with a stunning blonde at his side. She was a statuesque, runway beauty, despite a grouchy expression. Jeff grinned at me. He was a devout Southern Baptist and happily married, but he wasn’t dead. He was proud of his catch, even if he was just going to release her back into the wild. He knew better than to bring her to me.
Gesturing to his new acquaintance, Jeff said, “Michael, Gary. Let me introduce you to Trish Wingren.” He pointed to Jessie. “She’s Congresswoman Clark’s chief of staff.”
Gary began fawning over Trish, which only earned him a limp handshake and a slight snarl of a “hello.” When it was time for me to shake her hand, I said, “It’s nice to meet you, Trish. I’ve just been chatting with your boss.”
She snatched her hand out of mine and replied in an undertone, “Right. Chatting.”
I had expected civility when speaking with a member of Congress. Maybe a lifetime of men ogling her had made her immune to even casual conversation. She gave Jessie a silent nod toward the door, and Jessie answered, “Sure,” in a voice so quiet I’m not sure anyone else heard.
Turning to Gary, Jessie offered her hand again. “It was a pleasure to meet you. I hope we can have lunch sometime. There has to be something we can work on together given how similar our districts are.”
“Absolutely,” he said, shaking her hand in agreement. “Have a good night, little lady.”