Home > Off the Record (Record #1)(3)

Off the Record (Record #1)(3)
K.A. Linde

It was a paradox she wanted reconciled. Who exactly was Brady Maxwell?

Chapter 2

OUR POLITICIAN

Liz pushed open the glass door to the quaint Italian bistro, and a bell chimed overhead. “How did you find out about this place?”

“My dad used to take me here a lot,” Hayden told her, grabbing the door out of her hand and holding it open for her.

“Thanks. I forgot you’re from Raleigh. Your parents live here?”

“No, they moved to D.C. when I graduated. They didn’t want me to go to D.C. public schools, but my mom always wanted to work on the Hill. So as soon as I went to college, they packed up and left too.”

The waitress seated them in a maroon booth at the back of the restaurant and then left. Liz opened the menu and skimmed the choices. “Do you get to see them much? It’s like a five-hour drive to D.C., right?”

“Yeah, that’s right. I’m too busy to go home much right now, but it’s all right. I get to see them around the holidays, and I’m flying back for the summer. Where do your parents live?”

“Tampa. I’m in the same boat. I’m too busy and it’s too far to drive.”

“At least you have the beach.” He looked up at her over the plastic menu.

“That’s true. Guaranteed tan on vacations. If I went home more, I probably wouldn’t be so pale.”

“You’re not pale. Do you see this?” he asked. He pulled down the open neck of his button-down. She didn’t know why, but the way he exposed the bare skin under his shirt to her made her flush.

She cleared her throat and averted her eyes. “Well, I guess I have that going for me, at least.”

“Liz, you have everything going for you. Aren’t you a Morehead scholar?”

“Yeah, but that’s just academics. Book smarts,” she said. “You have the whole paper, and everyone loves you.”

“You could have the paper.”

“You think so?”

“I’ve seen your work. It’s really good. Plus, you’re driven.”

“Thanks,” she said. It was what she wanted and what she had worked for. She appreciated that he saw that in her.

“I wouldn’t have put you in a reporter position if I didn’t think you were fully capable of moving forward.”

“Well, you sure know how to motivate someone,” Liz said, her face heating under the spotlight. She would love to be editor, but she knew that she had some work to do over the next year to prove that to everyone else.

Hayden made everyone want to work for him. When he was overseeing a project people worked twice as hard than if anyone else had initiated it. He had such a presence that he could seamlessly take over a whole room. Once people got to know him and witnessed his unfailing dedication to projects, they only loved and admired him more.

Liz certainly had fallen for that amazing presence. Plus, he was attractive. His medium brown hair was always shaggy and overgrown, curling at the ends and around his ears. It constantly covered his hazel eyes, which changed colors depending on his mood or attire. He had a runner’s build and could be seen crisscrossing campus in his track shoes. Best of all, he always had a smile on his face. It was such a relief to walk into the office after a grueling day and be greeted by such a happy demeanor.

They ordered when the waitress returned. Hayden claimed the restaurant had some of the best spaghetti he’d ever had in North Carolina. Liz wasn’t sure that was saying much, but ordered it anyway. She trusted his judgment. He had chosen her for this position, after all.

“So, do you think Maxwell will win the primary?” Hayden asked, taking a sip of his water.

“Definitely,” she said without a doubt or second thought.

“You’re so sure,” he said. “What makes you think that? He’s a young, first-term State Senator with no experience.”

“He has his dad’s name and career to run off of, and that’s clean. People know it. I wouldn’t count him out.” Plus, he was attractive, really attractive, and that always helped.

“No, you’re right. I was just curious,” he said, smiling into his menu.

“What?” Her eyes narrowed.

“You were kind of staring at him when he walked onstage,” he said. “Did you not know he was that young?”

“Stop teasing me, Lane.”

“Hey, I don’t blame you! He’s a good-looking guy,” he said with a devilish smirk as she glared at him.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. Hayden had pretty much hit it on the head.

“You don’t have to hide it from me. It was a pretty sharp three-piece suit.”

“Hayden Lane! I think you have a crush on our politician,” she said.

Hayden rolled his hazel eyes to the ceiling and pretended to fan himself. “You caught me.”

Liz laughed. This was the most fun she had ever had with Hayden. She wasn’t sure if it was because this was the first time she had ever been completely alone with him. They had worked together for the past two years on the paper, but it was a different environment. Plus, others had easily overshadowed her, like the star reporters, Camille and Calleigh. She liked seeing a more relaxed side of him.

“In all seriousness, though, it’s going to be an interesting race,” he said.

“That it is.”

The waitress walked over and plopped the spaghetti down in front of both of them. Liz dug her fork into it and served it into her mouth. She was surprised: She had to admit that it was the best spaghetti she’d had in a really long time.

“So, what are your summer plans?” he asked, watching her devour the spaghetti. “It feels a little cruel to me, giving you this big story right before summer break.”

She wiped her mouth with a napkin. “I appreciate the opportunity. I’d love to work as much as I can this summer. I feel like I’ll be better prepared for next semester.”

“Good. That’s what I was hoping for.”

“I don’t have much planned for the summer, though. I’m taking a class in the journalism department. I think it’ll be easy. What about you?”

“My mom helped me get an internship with the press office where she works on Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C.”

“That’s really cool,” Liz said. She would die for an in like that on the Hill. She was one of the few staying behind for the summer.

“Hold on.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Hey, what’s up? Yeah, we’re just finishing up dinner.” He ran his hand back through his longish mop of medium brown hair and listened. “Okay. Okay. Yeah, I know where that is. We’ll be over soon. Bye.”

He hung up the phone. “That was Calleigh.”

“Oh yeah?” Liz asked.

“She just got to the bar. We can head out whenever you’re finished.”

“All right.” She had suddenly lost her appetite.

She hated how anxious she was already getting about hanging around with Calleigh. Liz had virtually idolized her for the past two years. Hanging out with her felt a little surreal.

“Hey, is everything all right?” Hayden asked, his head tilted slightly to the side as he looked at her.

“Yeah, sorry,” she said with a nervous laugh. “Just zoned out, I guess. What are you going to be doing in the press office?” she asked, returning to her dinner even though she wasn’t hungry.

Hayden shrugged, still looking concerned. “Probably nothing interesting. Fetching coffee and doing research is all I anticipate. I doubt they’ll let me do much else even though I have the training. I bet your class will be more interesting.”

“But you’ll be in D.C.! There’s so much going on there. No way could it be boring, even if the work is slow. I’ll just be in North Carolina researching political communication and reporting. You’ll actually be living it.”

Hayden kept his hazel eyes downcast. She didn’t know what that meant, but the quirk of his mouth had her thoughts swirling. What was he thinking underneath that smile?

“You’re going to visit, right?” he asked, raising his eyes to meet hers.

Liz swallowed and took a sip of the water. “You really want me to?”

“Yes,” he answered confidently. “I need to see you this summer.”

Silence lingered after his bold statement. Hayden not just wanted, but needed, to see her. She was blindsided by this new information. She wasn’t sure if this was a date, and she had no confirmation. Not that his wanting to see her over the summer meant they were currently on a date.

Okay, now she just felt stupid and overly analytical. They couldn’t start anything now…a week before he was supposed to leave for the entire summer. But she could visit him…

Blowing out a slow breath, she placed her fork back on the plate. “Well, then I’ll visit,” she said softly.

Chapter 3

HITTING THE BIG TIME

Walking into La Luna Lounge, Liz and Hayden passed the bouncer and entered another world. La Luna was as far from a place Liz would have chosen as they could get. She didn’t mind going out, drinking, and have a good time, but not like this. She preferred low-key bars where she could sit and enjoy the company of her friends. Her best friend, Victoria, would have liked La Luna much more than Liz did.

The entrance was a large arching tunnel lit by dim blue bulbs that opened into an expansive open room. It was slightly reminiscent of a 1950s movie theater, with a small stage at the front, all red plush seating around the perimeter, and tiered balconies up above. The center of the room was taken over by an ever-growing mass of people dancing, and the walls were lined with liquor.

Hayden scanned the room for the group of reporters. Liz wasn’t short, but she wasn’t exactly tall either. From her vantage point, she couldn’t see much more than the group of girls gyrating in front of her. The room was too dark for her to be able to pick anyone out of the crowd anyway.

“I think they might be over there,” he told her uncertainly.

“Maybe we should get a drink first?”

He nodded, and they angled for the bar. There were three small steps that led up to it, and it gave her the extra height she needed to see above the crowd. Hayden had been right; she could see Calleigh’s lush red hair from here.

“What would you like?” Hayden asked, drawing her attention.

“I guess just a whiskey sour.”

Hayden ordered for both of them. The guy behind the bar quickly mixed the drinks, and Hayden handed over his card.

“Keep it open,” he told the guy, sliding Liz’s drink toward her.

“Thanks,” she said.

She took a sip and tried not to wince as the alcohol hit her.

Hayden laughed at her pained face. “Not a big drinker?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I like drinking just fine, but I can’t seem to get past the burn.”

“You need to drink more, I think.”

“You sound like my friend Victoria.”

He smiled that smile that turned her insides to jelly. “I’d like to meet her sometime.”

Victoria would be happy to meet him too. She was the more outgoing of the two of them and found it way easier to get people to love her. “You should. She’s a character.”

“I’m sure I’ll get the chance.”

Liz turned back toward the dance floor, not able to meet his gaze. Was he saying he would meet Victoria because he would be spending more time with her? Was he flirting with her? She wanted him to, but she was so thrown that she didn’t even know how to respond.

“You were right. I spotted Calleigh,” Liz told him, pointing in the same direction he had mentioned earlier.

“Great,” he said, more enthusiastic than he had been before.

She followed him through the crowd, inching around the dancers. Hayden reached back, and she slipped her hand into his. A bolt of electricity shot up her arm. Her attraction to Hayden was only growing the more time she spent with him, and the way he grabbed her hand, pulling her through the crowd, made her feel flushed. She didn’t want him to let go.

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