Home > Off the Record (Record #1)(16)

Off the Record (Record #1)(16)
K.A. Linde

Bam! Liz felt like jumping up and down. She had been entirely on point from the very start. She knew he was going to address education at this event. It was a topic that resonated, and it was a fluff topic, because he likely would never be a part of any substantive education policy. His father was a budget guy, and a prominent member of the Senate Budget Committee at that. No way was his son getting stuck in education policy.

Now all she had to do was wait for him to slip up. She knew his education policy inside and out. Plus, she had the benefit of knowing ahead of time where his reasoning was wrong.

Liz listened to his speech with one ear to the ground for any slipups. She assumed he wouldn’t talk about how his help in balancing the budget had cut funding for the university, but she paid close attention to make sure. Most of what he was saying was entirely symbolic, posturing and position taking on policy he would never be grilled on. It just happened to be policy she found the most important.

Near the end of his speech, Brady touched on exactly what she had been waiting for. “Some people are advocates for what they’re calling NC Pledge, which provides a free college education for students who graduate from a North Carolina high school as long as they maintain a certain GPA. Sounds great, right? But where is the money coming from to support new students? How will that affect the growth in UNC system schools? Will that negatively impact the number of out-of-state students who attend North Carolina universities? In an already floundering economy, where will the support come from to stabilize a new influx of students, and where will those jobs come from? These are merely a few of the questions regarding NC Pledge that I am fighting for answers to. I need those answers to better assist you in the future and ensure that our educated youth just like you and me are getting enough help to find jobs once you graduate.”

Liz couldn’t wait to wheedle her way backstage for an interview. She had answers to some of these questions, and quite a few more that she would like to ask him.

Brady moved on to another topic and then wrapped up the speech. The whole thing had been less than an hour, but a significant hour. Liz had more questions scrawled onto her notepad than when she had entered, which she thought was a success.

And as distracting as his pretty face had been, she was proud that she had kept to her work as much as she could. Perhaps it was because they couldn’t immediately disappear behind closed doors. Though that sounded like an appealing option.

Brady offered to stick around after the speech and talk to any students or faculty who were interested in speaking with him. Liz wanted nothing more than to rush over there and talk to him, but she knew she couldn’t do that. Flipping her notepad back to the front, she tucked it into her purse and walked back toward the sound booth. Brady had a line of adoring admirers that could take up another hour of his time at least. Liz certainly wasn’t going to wait in line. She would wait until he was done, then approach him for an interview…just an interview.

“How did it go?” Liz asked Justin when she entered the sound booth. She leaned against the counter, anxious to see how the material came out.

“Perfect shot,” he said with a shrug, as if his work wouldn’t be anything less.

“Great. I know your work is fantastic. I really appreciate you doing this.”

“It’s no problem.”

Liz tore out a piece of paper from her notebook and handed it to him. “Do you mind getting all of this to me from the video?”

Justin scanned the paper. “You did all this while the speech was going on?”

“Yes. There are people who can multitask.” She chuckled softly. “I know it’s a lot, but I know the material will look great on the website.”

“Yeah, I should be able to do all this. I can multitask.” He winked at her in that typical Justin way and then started adding his own notes. “When do you want it?”

“Tonight would be amazing.” She crossed her fingers, hoping he wouldn’t charge more and just see it as a personal favor.

He nodded. “All right, Liz. For you.”

Liz smiled. “Thank you. Can’t wait to see how it turned out.” She turned to leave, ready to wait out the flock of admirers.

“Hey, Liz?” Justin called as she reached the door. “What are you doing this weekend?”

“Working.”

“Me and some of the guys are having a party over on Frat Court if you’re interested,” he said with a lazy shrug.

Liz never expected him to be in a fraternity. It still amazed her. He just didn’t strike her as the type. “I’ll let you know,” she said.

The chances of her going to Justin’s fraternity party were as close to zero as possible. He had invited her to more than she could count, and she had only been once. Victoria had come with her, and they had bailed around midnight. She didn’t have Victoria this time to make it tolerable.

Veering back out into the auditorium, Liz made a survey of the room. The Advance Team was already hard at work breaking down the event. Fliers that had been left behind were being collected and stacked to one side. The sound crew was fixing the special accommodations that had been made for the Senator.

Heather Ferrington was off to the side talking to a shorter bulky man that Liz was surprised she recognized. He was the jackass who had made fun of her at the club that night after the press conference. It all felt so long ago. What the hell was he doing here anyway? Was he involved in the campaign somehow?

Pushing those thoughts aside, she found Brady amid the crowd. More than half of his line had dissipated. They had either given up on meeting him or he had barreled through people faster than she expected. He was the perfect politician—shaking hands, taking pictures, answering questions.

Liz spoke to a girl she recognized from class. She had liked the speech and had decided she was voting for him. Liz asked her if she could quote her on that. The girl giggled, but agreed. Another student gave her a testimonial about how much he liked Brady. A third student said that while Brady was handsome, she hadn’t been sold entirely and she planned to research the other candidates more. Feeling that she had gotten the most out of the remaining students, she accepted those three as her sources and called it a day.

She walked over to where Brady was mingling with the remaining students. Leslie was among them, staring up at him with a gaga expression as he told a story. Liz wondered if she was infatuated with him like everyone else or if she was pushing for an internship with the campaign. If…when he won, it would look good on her already packed résumé.

“Ah, Ms. Dougherty,” Brady said, looking up and directly at her, “just the person I was looking for.”

Liz had enough good form not to look surprised when he interrupted himself to address her. “Senator Maxwell, always a pleasure,” she said, thinking of other pleasures they had indulged in.

“You’re here for an interview, I presume?” he asked with a smile.

“Of course. Are you ready?” she managed, keeping from darting her eyes toward Leslie with a ha-ha! expression.

“If you’ll excuse me, ladies,” Brady said sweetly to his crowd of worshipers.

“Senator Maxwell,” Leslie cut in before he could leave, “do you think you will have time to speak after your…interview?” she asked, cutting her eyes to Liz.

“Another time perhaps. Ms. Dougherty has already requested the remainder of my time in Chapel Hill,” he said, ending the discussion. “Right this way, Ms. Dougherty.”

Liz followed him back up the stairs, to the stage, and through the side door that led them to the back of the auditorium. She was surprised at how empty it was; it had cleared out entirely. She guessed all of the students wanted to get back to the pool as quick as possible. She heard the door click behind her, and she slowly turned to find herself completely alone with Brady.

The air between them crackled with tension.

Two weeks.

Two weeks since her hands had threaded through his hair. Two weeks since she had circled her legs around his waist. Two weeks since her moans had taken over the hotel room.

She had missed him, and it was downright painful. How had she not noticed it when he had been onstage? She had stared up into his handsome face for a whole hour, her mind hardly drifting from what he was saying. Now here, with so little space between them, all she wanted to do was reach out and touch him, make sure he was real, make sure it had all really happened.

“How come you didn’t find me sooner?” he asked, taking a step toward her.

“Didn’t know you needed me to save you,” she said.

“Well, you played along perfectly.”

“I was actually coming to find you for an interview,” Liz told him. The air seemed to be thinning the nearer he drew toward her. How was it suddenly so warm?

“Then you read my mind,” he said with a smile. It was contagious and she returned it. “What questions did you have for me?”

He was mere inches from her, and she was having a hard time remembering anything she was going to ask him. All of her carefully prepared questions flew out the window, and all she could think about was his lips on her.

“Tongue-tied?” he said, his hand moving forward and running up her skirt to her waist.

Her breathing hitched and she strained to keep her eyes open. She couldn’t let him completely distract her. She had questions. They were somewhere in her mind, and she needed to ask them. “You oppose NC Pledge for numerous reasons.”

“I have problems with some of the specifics of the legislation,” he said, circumventing her statement with the ease of a politician.

“You’re blocking the legislation from moving forward in the state legislature.”

“Was there a question in that?” he asked.

She swallowed, and tried to keep her thoughts on track. His thumb circling her hip bone wasn’t helping. Stay professional! she yelled at herself.

“Why do you feel the questions you have posed regarding NC Pledge are enough to block landmark education policy in North Carolina? And how can the people of North Carolina, specifically this district, expect you to further our interests on Capitol Hill when you aren’t even doing that here?” she asked, staring up at him with as much professional decorum as she could muster. She could see his campaign mask begin to slip on, and his eyes hardened. She had surprised him again.

“Until the legislature has agreed upon terms that I believe will actually benefit North Carolina,” he said, pausing for dramatic effect, clearly wanting her to hear his words, “rather than hinder the slow growth within our state, I will continue to fight for better terms. I’ll do the same on the Hill.” He arched an eyebrow, waiting for a response, the rest of his face blank. She wondered how irritated he was under that cool, collected front.

Damn. He was good.

He hadn’t actually said anything.

“But why wouldn’t you want more students to attend college?”

“Of course I support students attending college.”

“Did you have a basketball scholarship?” She already knew the answer.

“I did.”

“Could your parents have paid for you to go to college if you hadn’t had the scholarship?”

His hand tightened on her hip. “I see where you’re going with this, Ms. Dougherty.”

“Just a simple question, Senator,” she said.

“Yes, my parents could have paid for me to attend the university.”

“Do you know how many other students don’t have that privilege? Please, Senator, explain to me why those students don’t deserve a college education when you do?” she asked point-blank.

“I believe every student has the right to an education,” he said sternly. His brown eyes seemed to bore into her. “I do, however, feel that NC Pledge does not satisfy a number of other demands, such as cost to the university system and future benefits in the workforce. These problems need to be addressed first.”

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