Read The Gentlewoman Online

Authors: Lisa Durkin

The Gentlewoman (5 page)

“I was there all day. Working on getting the votes for the
appropriation coordinated.”

“Good. You have your work cut out for you there. I can’t
believe this all comes down to EPA.” He shook his head. “Who are you looking
at?”

“I need eleven and I’ve settled on the most likely; Brown,
Donnelly, Marshall, Richards, Koepler, Duncan, Moore, Goodhouse, McNeil, Arness
and Dorn. I think those are my best bets, mostly friends in the party.”

“Except Jackson Dorn,” Landon stated accusingly as he
crossed his legs and looked her square in the eye. “Why is he on the list?”

“He’s somebody who can help me with the opposing party. I
need to make some friends over there. I’m not going to get this vote based on
just our support. Too many of them might side with Powell. He has a lot of
friends in the House, on both sides. Powell will do whatever it takes to get
this shipyard. Just like me.” She added the last part as she gave Landon her
steely, determined gaze.

“I heard you were out with Dorn last night.” He tilted his
head.

“Yes, I was with him. I wouldn’t call it ‘out’ with him. He
gave me a ride to the furniture store and we stopped for a quick bite to eat
along the way. He lives across the hall from me, and I don’t have a car here.”
Damn Landon and his gossipy contacts, just like Cleveland. She took a drink and
looked past him at the football game, hoping to make a nonchalant move away
from the conversation. It didn’t work. Landon knew she hated football.

“His reputation in the House is good within his own party.
He’s a staunch conservative, and they spend a lot of money on him. He’d be a
good ally. Although I think his reputation with the ladies might taint your
good name.” His leg swayed casually back and forth. It irritated Rory.

“I think you’d get a kick out of spreading those rumors
yourself. What’s this about?” She was losing patience. Even though Landon was a
mentor and she owed him, she wouldn’t be controlled by him.

“He’s not with our party, and he’s very popular. He gets
what he wants and he uses who he needs to.”

“Just like us,” she stated, raising an eyebrow at him.

“But the difference is, he’s not with us, dear. And that
won’t go unnoticed by the party. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, Rory.
Don’t forget who put you here. If the party feels you’re not a good
representative of our wants and needs, if they feel your loyalties are not one
hundred percent, it could mean a short stay.”

She looked him in the eye. “Don’t worry. You can count on me
not to let the good congressman take advantage of me and disgrace the party.
I’m not going to fuck up.”

He laughed loudly. “I know, dear. I just feel the need to
put it out there, for your own sake. On the other hand, it does make me happy
that you’re making new friends. I know your mother and father would want you to
move on with your life. But not with a political conservative, of course.” He
smiled, trying to restore her good mood and get her back on his side.

“Where are the boys?” Rory asked as they all sat down in the
dining room. Rory loved being around the kids.

Nicole passed the main course. “They’ve already eaten.
They’re on a junk-food binge that I can’t compete with. Besides, we want this
to be adult time. How was work today? I heard you say you went in.”

Rory filled Nicole in on the day’s decisions and they began
to discuss strategy for approaching each of the eleven members of the
Appropriations Committee. Landon helped by filling in information he knew about
the different men.

“Jim and I have news, Rory,” Nicole stated as the talk of
work ran down. Jim returned Nicole’s smile from the other end of the table.
“We’re pregnant. Two months along.”

“Oh wow! Nicole, Jim, congratulations!” They all stood and
took turns embracing and congratulating. “Geez, number five! Can’t you stay off
her?” she asked Jim as she hugged him, laughing.

“Well, you know, we thought we’d give it one more try for a
girl,” Jim said, almost apologetically. “Besides, what’s another pound to an
elephant?”

“Maybe you’ll get a whole football team!” Rory was sincerely
happy for Jim and Nicole. She didn’t know a better matched couple or better
parents.

She bit back her emotion and smiled back at Nicole as they
all sat down again. She would never know what it was like to have what Nicole
and Jim had, that comfort of having met and married their true love, their
partner for life. She would never have the love and joy of children.

“So, when is this one making an appearance? August, right?”
She was used to this bittersweet feeling. She’d been living with it for three
years. Happiness was for other people, not her.

“Yes, August. It’ll coincide with the end of the session.
I’ll have the time off with the baby and be ready to start up again with the
rest of the House.”

“Well, how convenient, Mrs. Dailey. That was very nice of
you to plan your reproduction around the schedule of the US House of
Representatives.”

 

Landon drove Rory back to her apartment in the city. Rory
leaned her head against the back of the seat, listening to him go on about his
work with the Department of Commerce. Rory reflected on Nicole’s announcement.

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and steeled herself
against the painful memories that news like this always flooded back into her
mind. She tried her best to concentrate on the conversation until they pulled
up to her building.

“So we’ll have lunch this week and finalize your committee
appointments.” He gave her a hug and peck on the cheek. “You okay? I know news
like that must be hard for you to hear.”

“I’m fine, really, Uncle Landon.” She smiled meekly and
swung the car door open. “I’ll talk to you later in the week then. Remember,
HHS and Energy and Commerce are important.”

“The party has already agreed to those, so you should be all
set.”

“No Homeland Security,” she added.

“We’re all aware you want no part in that.” He placed his
hands on the steering wheel. “Now get inside and have a good night.”

Rory smiled and stepped onto the sidewalk. She closed the
car door and waved as he pulled away. The January air was chilly but very mild
as DC winters go. Walking to the building, she fished around for her keys and
unlocked the heavy door. She stopped at the mailboxes and unlocked the little
gold slot bearing her condo number. Even though it was Sunday, it occurred to
her that she hadn’t checked the mail. Finding the box empty, she relocked it
and turned toward the hall.

As she was walking toward her front door, she realized it
didn’t look right. As she got closer, she saw the door was open. It was pulled
against the jamb so that it wasn’t standing ajar, but the door was definitely
not closed. She stopped and stared. A chill ran down her spine. She stared at
the knob. Thoughts shot like lightning bolts through her mind. Had somebody
broken into her condo? What if they were still in there? Had she left the door
open herself? Maybe she neglected to close and lock her door when she left for
work this morning. And then she thought of Aidan’s family.

She shook her head and looked in both directions down the
hall. Choosing to be brave and believe it was her own stupidity, she pushed the
door open and peered inside. Nothing seemed out of place. She poked her head
inside and, seeing no movement, stepped in. It was dark, but the streetlight
outside the front window cast enough light to see most of the room. She gently
set her bags on the floor and very slowly and quietly took three or four steps
forward, into the open living space.

She looked around slowly, her heart in her throat. Very
gingerly, she made a circle of the living space. Nothing struck her as out of
the ordinary. She quietly and slowly walked toward the kitchen area, making a
wide wake between herself and the bar as she leaned over and looked behind it.
She breathed out. Steeling herself, she headed down the hall to her bedroom.

The bedroom door was halfway closed, but she often left it
like that. Quickly and not caring about the noise, she slammed the door back
against the wall. She marched to the closet and opened it quickly and with
aggression. She swiped her arm through it just to make sure nobody was hiding
there. She checked the bathroom and marched into the spare bedroom and second
bathroom, repeating the process. As she closed the closet in the second
bedroom, she cursed under her breath. She decided she must not have pulled the
door all the way closed. Feeling more comfortable even though she was massively
irritated, she walked back out to the front door and made sure it was closed
and the lock engaged.

She tried to forget about it and get ready for bed. She was
tense and her nerves were frayed. As she showered, her thoughts drifted over
the work she had completed during the day, and then to dinner at Nicole’s and
the announcement. As Rory lay back in bed and tried to relax, she thought how
very happy she was for the Daileys. They were good people and good friends to
her.

As she rolled onto her side, she thought how lonely she was
returning to this empty house. She closed her eyes and remembered the feel of
Jackson’s arms around her, so warm and strong. It was nice feeling his broad,
large frame up against the length of her body, sharing his heat with her. That
had felt really good.

She turned onto her back and sighed, trying to clear her
mind and begging sleep to wash over her. As her eyes closed and she started to
relax, one last thought drifted through her mind: She had never, ever in her
life forgotten to close and lock her door.

Chapter Four

 

“Now, we’re going to go meet up with Daddy, sweetheart,
and have a little talk about why it’s not nice to side with the FBI over the
man you married, you fucking bitch.” Aidan jerked her hard against the seat and
told the driver, one of his assistants, to head for I-90.

“Where are we going, where’s Daddy?” Her head was down,
her hand to her face as she tried to catch her breath. The pain was sharp. Her
eye was swelling and watering profusely. Her breath and voice echoed, causing
ringing stabs of pain in her head.

“Daddy is waiting for you at the farmhouse, sweetheart.
He’s had a hell of a morning. We’ve been chatting about loyalty and what can
happen to family when they go against their own.” He hissed the words at her in
his Irish brogue while pulling her head back by her hair. She shrieked as he
leaned in and kissed her hard on the lips. “How was work today, dear?”

“You son of a bitch. If you’ve hurt him I’ll kill you.”
She was rewarded with another fist to her face that split her lip open. Blood
spurted out.

“Right, you’ll kill me. Look at you. You are the worst
wife a man could possibly have. Who would put up with such disloyal behavior
from his own wife? What did you take me for, you stupid cunt, some jerk-off who
wouldn’t take care of his own?” He rained punches down her back. As each punch
landed he called her another name. “Cunt, bitch, whore.” The blows kept coming.
Fear sliced through her as the air was knocked from her lungs.

Finally, he moved to the other side of the seat, pushing
her over hard. He panted. “You shut the fuck up now, bitch. Sit there and don’t
make a sound until we get to the farm and maybe I won’t kill you.” He spat with
each word.

She curled into the fetal position to protect her stomach
and held her head. Her eye and lips were swelling quickly and blood and tears
mixed with her hair. In sheer panic, she held as still as possible. Breathing
slowly, she tried to assuage the pain. She would stay perfectly still and
silent and try to think of what to do. Their farmhouse was so remote. Rory’s
father had bought it for the family as a getaway for precisely that reason. She
would try to devise a plan of action before they reached the farmhouse. But
fear and pain were gripping her mind. She must think of what to do, how to get
out of this and help her father.

 

Rory woke to the sound of her own scream. She was curled in
the fetal position with her arms wrapped tightly around her head. As she
realized where she was, she tried to slow her breathing and relax her clenched
muscles. She moved slowly, unwrapping herself. Doused with sweat, she sat up
and looked at the clock. Five a.m. She dragged herself out of bed and headed to
the bathroom for a drink of water.

She held the glass under the faucet, her hands shaking hard.
She set the glass down and gripped the sink, hanging her head. She’d had
nightmares over and over in the first couple of years after the incident and
was so happy when they subsided. They made her sad and scared, but it also made
her angry as hell. She didn’t need the constant reminder. She needed to be
fresh to deal with the business of representing her people in Congress. She
pushed off the sink. She would go for a run to clear her head.

 

“What are you doing here? You didn’t mention you liked to
run.” Rory jogged in place as Jackson Dorn caught up with her.

“I use the treadmill in my condo, but I decided to join in
when I saw you heading out into the darkness alone. You really should be more
cautious. We may live in a pretty safe neighborhood, but you know as well as I
do that it’s still dangerous for anyone to run alone in the dark.”

“Well, I guess I’ve been doing it for so long, and this is a
pretty safe neighborhood… I just needed to get out and run…” Her words trailed
off.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I’m fine.”

He looked down at her as they jogged along. She wasn’t fine.
He’d known her for about five minutes, but he could tell she was pretty upset.
And it bothered him.

“Has something happened at work that has you upset?”

“Not yet, so far so good there.”

“Then what, Rory?” He reached out and grabbed her elbow,
drawing her to a stop in front of the Georgetown University Library. She put
her hands on her knees, her breath curling in the chilly air. “Tell me. You seem
pretty upset.”

“I guess I need to do a better job of hiding it then. I
don’t need pity.”

“Nobody pities you, cut the shit. Tell me.” Her pretty face
looked even more pale, he thought. “Out with it.”

“Fine. Last night I got home around nine o’clock. When I
arrived, my front door was open.”

“What do you mean your door was open?”

“I mean, when I approached my door, I found that I must not
have closed it all the way when I left, so it was open.” She held up a hand
when he started to interrupt her. “I entered the condo very cautiously and
checked every room and everything was where I left it and nobody was hiding in
any closets,” she said, as alarmed anger spread throughout his body.

He felt her aloneness. “So that certainly spooked you, I
imagine. So much so that you’re still upset over it this morning.”

“Well, I’m more upset because the door situation brought on
some nightmares.” She began to run again. He absorbed what she said and caught
up with her, striding alongside her.

“Nightmares, huh?”

“Yeah, I’m prone to them. I don’t know what triggers them
normally, but I bet that was what happened this time. The open door thing
triggered the nightmare.” It felt good that she was talking to him.

“So you have them often?” He continued when she was silent.
“Obviously you might not feel comfortable talking to me about this. I mean, you
just met me and I’m not a friend
yet.
” He stressed the word as he tilted
his head sideways and smiled. “But I think we could be friends, Morgan. And as
friends, I wouldn’t use any personal information you shared with me for any
political purposes.”

She turned her head and looked him in the eye. They ran
another block in silence before she said, “We better turn around.”

Finally she asked, “Why do you want to be friends with me?”
She spoke so calmly and gently that it seemed she was afraid of the answer.

Because I want to fuck you
, was the first thought
that popped into Jackson’s head, and he started laughing. “What do you mean why
do I want to be friends with you? You’re a cool chick, Morgan. You’re
interesting and smart. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with you?”

She snorted. “Well, while I totally agree, it still makes me
suspicious.”

“Tell you what. How about you come back to my place and I
cook you breakfast before we head to the Hill today?”

Rory turned her head again and looked at him. “Depends on
how bad of a cook you are.”

“I’m terrible. Come see.”

“Okay. In the name of friendship I’ll suffer through your
attempt at home cooking.”

As they stopped for Jackson to unlock his door Rory eyed her
own suspiciously. She reached out and jiggled the knob.

“So your door was open?” Jackson held his door open for Rory
to enter in front of him. He looked back at her door.

“I’m sure I just didn’t pull it closed all the way.”

“We’ll have to take a look at the knob. It may need to be
replaced.”

Jackson ushered Rory to a seat at the kitchen bar. He went
to work putting bacon in a pan to fry, setting the bar and pouring glasses of
orange juice. “So tell me what you’ll be busy with this week.”

“I’m going to be busy negotiating the appropriations EPA
needs for my shipyard. I’m hoping I can count on your support, Dorn.”

“We’ll see about that. Who are you looking to get a vote out
of beside me?”

Rory rattled off the list of the coveted eleven. She
outlined her reasoning and reviewed her proposed approach. He listened
intently, laying a plate of bacon and eggs in front of her and taking his seat.

“Wednesday I’m having lunch with a few of the members of the
committee. You’re welcome to join us. Arness and Moore will be there at least,
if not more of them on your list,” he said and popped bacon into his mouth.

“Thanks, I appreciate that. I’ll be there. Just tell me
where and when.”

“McGovern’s Steakhouse, twelve-thirty, Wednesday. The
reservation is under my name. Be there or be square,” he quipped before
draining his orange juice glass and setting it back on the counter with a tap.
“Now, if you’re finished choking down my horrific cooking, go get ready for
work and I’ll share my ride with you.”

“Well, it was an effort. But I think with a little luck I
just may be able to keep it down.” She smiled and rose to clear her plate. He
watched her as, without thinking, she scraped her dish into the garbage can and
rinsed it in the sink. When she was finished, she wiped her hands on the dish
towel and moved toward the door. “Give me half an hour.”

Jackson leaned back and smiled at the comfort level they
were building.

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