Home > Off the Record (Record #1)(2)

Off the Record (Record #1)(2)
K.A. Linde

Liz felt the crowd draw closer to him, as if each person were practically hanging on the edge of their seat to hear him speak for just a second longer.

“I grew up here in the Triangle. My mom worked as a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. My father, as you well know, sat as a United States Congressman for many years and now serves you all as a Senator. I know the people here, because I went to school here, I played ball here, I met my first girlfriend here. I saw my friends go off to college and leave town just like many of you did. And I saw friendships fade with distance. My own best friend, Chris, moved to New York City, and I miss him every day.” The crowd sighed with him at the loss of a friend. “When I thought about leaving, going off to the big city, making a name for myself—all it sounded like was leaving all the people I loved behind. So I decided to cut that out of my plans and focus on what I had always loved—and that was the people of North Carolina.”

Liz hadn’t even realized that a huge smile was plastered on her face as she listened to his engaging voice. She dropped her smile immediately, not wanting to get taken in by someone she disagreed with, and held the recorder out farther.

“I knew after living here my entire life that there was too much to do to leave my community for someone else’s. That was Chris’s plan, not mine. And I’m glad I stayed, because if I had left, I wouldn’t have been here when my mom found out that she had breast cancer, or to see my brother and sister choose a college, or my dog eat an entire steak while we weren’t looking one night.” The crowd burst into laughter and glanced around the room at one another before focusing back in on the Senator.

“I want to take that same enthusiasm for my community and fight for what you believe in. That is why, as of today, I am announcing my intention to run for the United States House of Representatives in my home district.”

Liz’s mouth dropped open, and the crowd of reporters clambered forward, each trying to be the first to ask the Senator a question. She had been expecting a conference on a bill that had recently passed, North Carolina taxes, or really anything but this. It was practically unheard-of for a one-term State Senator to run for the House. They usually bided their time and waited to gain status and recognition, climbing the ranks before throwing their hat into the race. Brady had his dad’s name and reputation to go off of, but would it be enough?

For some reason, even though she disagreed with him on some issues that were key to her, she could see Brady pulling it off. There was something about him that fired up a crowd and lit up a room. He had been all but bred for this moment, but you couldn’t fake that charm and ease before the cameras. She knew firsthand, because she turned into a blabbering idiot with a camera in her face. She was already beyond ready to see how this election would play out.

A barrage of questions was thrown at the Senator as he smiled radiantly at the sea of flashing bulbs. Liz moved with them, excitement coursing through her body for the upcoming Q&A.

“Thank you for your enthusiasm. I’m ready to get started here in North Carolina. I’d be happy to take a few questions, though I don’t have much time,” he said, eyeing the line of microphones.

“Senator Maxwell!” a few reporters called. They threw their hands in the air as more raised their recorders and volleyed for his attention.

“How about Mr. Tanner,” Senator Maxwell said. He pointed out a short, balding man with a Raleigh News badge on his shirt.

“Senator Maxwell, you’ve had tremendous luck in your previous elections. What prompted this decision when you’ve barely won the last two elections?”

“Barely won is still winning, George,” Senator Maxwell said with a smirk. “But on a more serious note—I chose this race not for me, but for the people of North Carolina. I’m not running with any selfish motivation. I know what is needed to help the people here succeed and what they need in their daily lives. This is a fight worth fighting, and I intend to give it my all.”

“Senator, can you give us insight into how you plan on beating the incumbent representative?” a tall librarian type butted in.

“We haven’t talked strategy just yet, Sheila, but I think North Carolina can do better than what he’s offering, and I’m the man for the job,” he spoke confidently.

A commanding man in a faded button-down with his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows chimed in next. “Senator Maxwell, your past opponents have already brought up the fact that your youth contributes to the image of your inexperience. What do you have to say to that?”

The Senator chuckled softly into the microphone before looking back up at the crowd of reporters. “I’m twenty-seven, ladies and gentlemen. The Constitution of the United States says that a member of the House of Representatives must be at least twenty-five years old. If the Founders of our great country believed that a twenty-five-year-old could get the job done, why don’t my opponents?”

“But don’t you think it will be a hindrance to your campaign?” someone shouted over the crowd.

The Senator shook his head. He had clearly been prepped for this question. “Not at all. I know North Carolina. I’ve seen my own father work for the people and my mother work for the people, and now I want to. How about we take one more,” he said, cutting off the reporter and staring out at the crowd.

Liz shot her hand up in the air, pushing past another reporter in her haste. She wanted this question. She wanted to prove herself to Hayden and to herself.

“You there.” Brady pointed into the audience. “An unfamiliar face with a familiar logo. I’d be happy to take a question from my alma mater. It’s good to see them in the house.”

Oh my God. Liz stared up at Senator Maxwell and saw that he was pointing right at her.

“Uh,” she hesitated on her beginning. Why was she blanking on the questions she had planned to ask him? She had practiced for hours, and now standing there with the opportunity she was losing it all.

She locked eyes with Brady across the room and felt the heat of his gaze run through her body. She cleared her throat uncomfortably. She needed to get it together. She was a reporter, after all, and this was her job. He was handsome, but just a job.

Liz straightened considerably and met Brady’s gaze head-on. She wouldn’t back down from a challenge. “Senator Maxwell, during your time in Raleigh you consistently voted to cut education funding in the name of balancing the budget. Yet you’ve also voted to allow some of your biggest donors to avoid paying corporate taxes on their various business ventures. Can you please comment on how this helps better the lives of all North Carolinians, which you’ve repeatedly stated is your primary reason for entering this race?”

Everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath waiting for his response. Questions from the college newspapers were typically light and fluffy. Politicians chose them because it looked good on paper to include them. College reporters weren’t supposed to ask a question that hit that close to home.

Liz could feel eyes judging and assessing her from all sides.

Had she really thrown his entire speech back in his face? Staring into those eyes, she felt a jolt of electricity course through her body. It was as if they were the only two people in the room in that moment. She held that gaze like a pro and watched as he changed his appraisal of her.

“That’s an excellent question. It was painful for me to have to do that knowing how closely linked I am to higher education, but other aspects of the bill were unacceptable to me. I couldn’t fully support the bill with those parts still in it,” he stated.

Liz narrowed her eyes as he stealthily evaded her question, not even touching on the tax cut component. He really was a natural.

“Thank y’all for coming out and I’m sure I will see y’all again on the campaign trail.”

He waved at the reporters, ending the press conference. Several people shouted at him for one more, but he never stopped his purposeful stride offstage.

Liz couldn’t believe that had just happened. She had asked a hard-hitting question at her first press conference and alienated a sitting politician. She thought she might throw up any second.

Hayden reached forward and turned the Record button off. “Fucking amazing, Liz,” he cried. He threw his arm over her shoulder and pulled her in for a hug. She folded into his chest. Any other day she might have reveled in the embrace, but she couldn’t get the image of Brady Maxwell III’s eyes out of her head.

“Did you see his face?” Hayden asked. “You stumped him. He didn’t see that question coming at all. This is going to be an incredible article.”

Liz smiled weakly, and tried to push down the rising taste of bile in her throat.

“Liz, are you going to be okay?” Hayden asked, holding her arms and looking into her blue eyes. “You look kind of sick.”

“I feel a little sick,” she admitted.

“Well, you have no reason to. Calm down. That was great. I’m so glad you came with me!” He released her and slung his messenger bag on his shoulder.

They got halfway across the room when Calleigh Hollingsworth headed them off. “What a question!” she said. “I knew Lane would pick the right person. I never saw Camille stump a politician.”

Calleigh Hollingsworth was complimenting her. She might die.

“Oh, I don’t think I actually stumped him.”

“He hesitated, honey. That’s enough for me,” Calleigh told her before shifting her attention back to Hayden. “Some other reporters are coming with me to get a drink. I’ve already told them you’re coming with me, and they’re excited to meet you.”

“I’m really not up for it, Calleigh. We have to get this story out,” he offered.

“No way. Unacceptable, Lane. I’ll see you tonight. Liz, you are more than welcome, of course,” she said politely.

Liz looked at Hayden expectantly. She wouldn’t mind mingling with other reporters, but if they needed to work on the story, she would go back with him. “What do you want to do?”

He shrugged, clearly preferring to leave.

“You’re not even running the story until Monday,” Calleigh told him stubbornly. She placed her hand on her hip and sat into the movement. “Come out and play. You’re too uptight.”

“All right. If Liz wants to go, then I’m game. Otherwise I’ll just drive home and work on the piece.”

“Liz?” Calleigh asked, pleading with her big green eyes.

“Uh…yeah. Sounds like fun.”

“Great! I’ll text you the details, Lane, and see you later,” she said, waggling her fingers at him as she departed.

Hayden sighed and readjusted his bag on his shoulder. “I guess we’re going out.”

“Sorry,” Liz said. She followed him out the door.

“Don’t be. It wasn’t likely that I would have been able to get out of it anyway. At least I have company now.” Liz smiled, butterflies jumping around in her stomach. “Do you want to go get dinner? It’ll probably still be a few hours before they go out.”

“Uh…yeah, sure,” she said. Was he asking her out?

“Cool.” They walked into the half-full parking lot and veered toward his black Audi. Liz took a seat as Hayden popped the trunk open and deposited his equipment before opening the door and sliding onto the leather seat.

“Do you have a preference for dinner? I’m really craving Italian.”

“Fine with me,” she agreed easily. She didn’t know how to judge the situation.

It didn’t help that her mind was still captured by the Senator. The way his eyes found her in the crowd, the tone of his deep, husky voice, the borderline arrogance in his every movement was so…appealing in a way she had never even known before. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been attracted to a bad boy in the past, and that was exactly what Maxwell portrayed under that charm, but she didn’t know whether he really was that bad boy underneath the image of the upright Senator.

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