Home > Off the Record (Record #1)(5)

Off the Record (Record #1)(5)
K.A. Linde

“Excuse me, miss,” a waiter said. Liz glanced up in surprise at the waiter dressed in all black. He was carrying a tray with a cocktail on it. “Drink for you.”

“Uh,” Liz said, looking around at the other reporters, who had paused their conversation. “I didn’t order a drink.”

“A gentleman in VIP offered it to you.”

“Sorry, I can’t accept this. I don’t know anyone in VIP.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, taking the drink back. “I was directed to give this to you by my manager. Must have been by mistake.”

“Must have been. Do you know who sent it?”

The waiter shook his head. “No, but I can make an inquiry if you like.”

“Yes, please do. Thank you.”

She had no idea who would send her a drink. She was here with everyone she knew in Raleigh.

The waiter traipsed off to see if he could get more details about the person in VIP. She wished she had said yes now, but she felt weird accepting a drink from a stranger. She hadn’t been in that situation very often.

“That was weird,” Liz said. She turned back to face the other reporters.

“I can’t believe you turned down a free drink,” Jenny said.

“I didn’t know who it was from.”

“Still,” Monique cut in, “it was free.”

“If the guy wants to give me a free drink, he can come up and offer it to me himself.”

The girls shrugged and returned to their conversation about spin media and how they thought it was going to affect the Maxwell congressional race. As interesting as the conversation was, Liz wished Hayden would come back. She grabbed her empty glass and tossed an ice cube into her mouth to suck on.

“Hey,” Trent said, extricating himself from the conversation and sliding into the open position Hayden had previously occupied.

Liz smiled at him halfheartedly. She had been expecting this.

He scooted over until his entire leg was pressed against hers. “That was some great work you did today,” he said, resting his arm on the back of the booth and leaning into her.

“Uh…thanks,” she said, moving over an inch or two to put distance between them.

He bridged the space immediately. “So…are you and Hayden…?” He trailed off.

“Are Hayden and I what?” she snapped. She was growing more and more uncomfortable by the second.

“You know…dating?” he asked her br**sts.

“Do you date your coworkers?” she asked, diverting the conversation.

“I would if they were as pretty as you,” he said.

Liz frowned. “I don’t like to mix business and pleasure.”

“So, then you’re not together?” Trent clearly wasn’t seeing that she was including him in the business category.

“No,” she told him reluctantly.

“You know,” he said, trailing his hand down her pencil skirt, “I find your attitude toward the Senator very attractive.”

Liz stared down at his fingers on her skirt, and then brushed his hand aside. Why did he think he could touch her?

She tried to keep the anger out of her voice. “Did I have an attitude? I thought I was just doing my job.”

He smirked, not even affected by the fact that she had moved his hand. And really, that look wasn’t attractive. He didn’t have the face for it. He should seriously reconsider his facial expressions.

“Whatever it was, I like it.”

Liz grabbed her glass and tossed the last remaining ice cube into her mouth; anything to use as a distraction. He was still staring at her, waiting for her response, but she had none…except to tell him to get lost.

She glared at the empty glass. Why had she refused a free drink anyway? Another drink would be good right about now.

“So…are you interested in maybe…” he began, but she cut him off and stood abruptly.

“I think I’m going to go find Hayden,” she told him, placing the empty glass on the tiny table.

“I’ll go with you,” Trent offered quickly.

She placed her hand on his shoulder, keeping him from standing. “Really. I’m fine,” she said, then made a hasty exit.

Her feet carried her toward the center of the room, but there were too many people, and she decided better of it and began to walk around.

Just as she started skirting the crowd, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Expecting to see Trent following her with an irritating persistence, she reluctantly turned around.

“Ma’am,” the waiter said, dropping his hand apologetically.

It was the same waiter who had tried to give her the whiskey sour, and he was still carrying it. Yeah, she needed that. She reached out and took it off of his tray. “Sorry about hassling you earlier. Thanks for the drink.”

The waiter smiled. “The gentleman didn’t wish to send his name.”

Liz waved it aside. “That’s all right. I appreciate it, whoever he is.” She took a sip.

“He did request that you join him in the VIP lounge instead.”

Liz stopped with the glass at her lips and eyed the waiter suspiciously. “You’re serious?”

“Yes, if you’ll come with me,” he said, and began walking away.

Liz stared after him. Was he expecting her to actually follow him? She scurried forward more out of curiosity than anything. Her reporter sense was tingling and now she had to know the story. Who exactly was her mystery benefactor?

Chapter 4

AIRPLANES

Liz caught up to the waiter as he opened a side door that led to a flight of stairs. He held the door for her and allowed her to enter before him. They walked up the stairs and into one of the second-floor balconies that overlooked the patrons below.

The VIP lounge really wasn’t anything fancy. No different from the room below except more sparsely populated and with way more staff. Okay, so maybe the booths carpeted in a red velvet material were a bit newer and the black high-topped tables and chairs had more shine to them. It sure was nice to have a long horseshoe-shaped bar in the center of the room all to yourself, but none of it was all that extravagant.

This certainly wasn’t what she had been expecting VIP to look like. Where was the swanky furniture and crème-de-la-crème clientele? Apparently she had been watching too much TV lately. It wasn’t as if she had suddenly been transported to Los Angeles. This was still just Raleigh.

“Who am I supposed to be meeting?” Liz asked the waiter as she took a large drink of the whiskey sour he had brought for her. She couldn’t believe she was here right now. It wasn’t her style at all.

“The man is in the corner,” the waiter said, gesturing to the only full table.

“Which person?” Liz asked, her eyes scrutinizing the table.

“You can’t see him from here. He’s packed into the corner, but he’s expecting you,” the waiter said before disappearing into the stairwell.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, taking another sip to calm her nerves.

It was now or never. She took a deep breath and slowly walked across the room. She wanted to look calm and collected, as if guys in VIP lounges bought her drinks all the time. As she got closer, a blonde at the table glanced over her shoulder and snickered. Why did she look familiar?

Liz had always been good with details. Her high school boyfriend used to make fun of her for being able to remember every aspect of their relationship—every date they had been on, what shirt he was wearing, the exact date of their first kiss, first dance, and first time holding hands—the list went on. The skill had manifested at an early age, and it was damn good in journalism.

Crap. Liz knew where she had seen the woman before. That was Maxwell’s press secretary. Liz’s heart sped up…could this be related to her question for Brady? That didn’t seem to make sense to her. She was missing a piece of the puzzle. It couldn’t be from Brady himself…could it?

A number of heads turned to face her as she approached. She felt heat rise on the back of her neck.

“May we help you?” a short, stocky guy in a charcoal suit jacket asked her. He was more than pudgy, with caterpillar eyebrows and beady eyes that swept her body. He was like Trent, but with the authority and self-importance of a VIP.

“I was sent over here by a waiter,” she said. She held her whiskey sour up for their inspection.

“Did someone order a drink?” the guy asked, looking around the table with a knowing glint in his brown eyes. “Anybody?”

Two women in the corner buried their heads in their hands. The blonde looked amused, but said nothing. Now Liz was getting pissed off. Was this all a bad joke? Pick on a girl on the main floor…choose a likely victim? Was she being used for their amusement? She pursed her lips, feeling the edges pull down into a frown.

“Someone up here bought me a drink,” she said frostily. “I doubt it was you. So, if you could point me to the individual who has some semblance of class, I’ll be happy to get out of your way.”

The man glared daggers at her. He didn’t seem the type to approve of a woman with a mouth, and she couldn’t seem to close hers when she got angry. Controlling her temper had never been one of her strong suits. He managed to stutter out a laugh before responding, “We have a feisty one here.”

Liz rolled her eyes. She really didn’t have the patience for this. “Fine. I’ll take my drink and go then.”

“Hold on a second, hon,” he said, reaching out and grabbing her arm.

Liz gave him a pointed look and he hastily withdrew his hand.

“It’s all fun and games. No need to get so irritated,” he grumbled.

Liz shrugged. If he wasn’t being helpful, then she didn’t feel the need to be polite.

“Well, you’re no fun. He’s over there. Had to take a phone call,” he said, pointing at a man leaning against the railing, partially obscured by a crowd of women.

“Thanks,” she said, walking away as fast as could. She heard him grumble something under his breath, but she ignored him.

Liz reached the wall and was able to get a look at the guy talking on his smartphone.

Her heart sank along with her stomach.

Brady Maxwell III.

A sitting State Senator had bought her a drink. This was not real life. This didn’t happen to her. Hadn’t she just insulted him in front of a roomful of people? No, she had done her job. He had a pretty face, body, smile…okay, he was flat-out gorgeous, but it didn’t mean she would stop doing her job.

Was she even allowed to be here? She was going home to write an article about him, and it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine either. She couldn’t be seen with him. She looked down at her drink and eeped! She nearly dropped it onto the carpeted floor. She had accepted a drink from a man she was about to write a scathing article about. Was she insane?

“Sorry, Jerry, give me one second,” Brady said into the phone.

He turned to look at her and she froze. Her insides felt like Jell-O, or that wobbly feeling after getting out of the ocean after being tossed around by the waves. Her head was hazy, like a morning fog had taken up residence where her wit normally resided.

“Don’t go anywhere,” Brady demanded, staring at her intensely.

Liz looked away and then back up at him. Standing here right now was a bad idea. Maybe she should just head out after all. She wanted to know why he had bought her a drink…and he was so handsome, but she knew this had bad news written all over it. Still, she felt rooted to the spot.

She watched him finish his phone call and memorized every inch of his face in those couple minutes. Where he had been freshly shaven and clean cut early this afternoon, a five-o’clock shadow was growing in along his jawline. She could see that he liked to lick his perfect lips while he was talking, and they were slightly chapped due to the habit. He talked with his hands more when he was making a point, and she really liked those hands. She bet he had a firm handshake…a firm grasp. When he smiled, he got little creases around his eyes, making them light up with emotion, and the most adorable dimples formed.

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