Home > Off the Record (Record #1)(8)

Off the Record (Record #1)(8)
K.A. Linde

She had dug in her blazer pocket and retrieved the business card Brady had given her. She flipped it over between her fingers, examining the high-quality card for an answer as to why she couldn’t write about its owner. But that was reason enough. She was having a hard time being objective, extracting the Brady she had researched and interviewed from the man who had seduced her in the club.

You want to see me. I want to see you. Call me. If you don’t, you’ll regret it.

The words rang in her ears on repeat, tantalizing her, enticing her, commanding her. Thinking about him in that scenario—his hand trailing her jawline, his body so near, his charming air—clouded everything she was trying to do.

Liz couldn’t write an article about that Brady, and yet that Brady kept creeping into her thoughts. He was morphing in her mind somehow from the man whom she disagreed with politically to a welcome invitation. She had tossed the card aside, hoping it would land somewhere she could forget about it so she could write the damn article.

It took her longer than she wanted to disentangle the two faces of Brady in her mind and write a clear and coherent article about the press conference. State Senator Brady Maxwell III was running for Congress. He wanted to represent her district to the House of Representatives. Yet he had given tax incentives to his big donors, which could be the reason he was slashing through the education budget. While she might agree with him on some other broader issues, the idea that he had done this just to line his pockets without forethought as to how it would affect thousands of people across the state left a bad taste in her mouth. She couldn’t support someone who wouldn’t even vote to help fund his alma mater, the place where his mother had previously worked as a professor, when he consistently ran on improving the quality of education. There. That would do.

The article ran Monday morning on the front cover of the school newspaper. It was the week before classes let out for the summer, and students were looking for any excuse not to study for their finals. Everywhere she looked her classmates had the paper in hand—passing hands between classes, perusing it over lunch, sprawled out with it in the Pit at the center of campus. It was literally everywhere.

Liz knew the paper was popular, but it was usually the kvetching column that drew them, where students basically complained all day. But when she glanced around now, everyone was staring at the front cover…at her article. She couldn’t believe it.

She wondered how much of it had to do with Brady’s picture covering the front page—there certainly were more girls looking at the article—but she liked to think that it was because of her writing.

Seeing her name next to Hayden’s in the byline made her giddy. It was what she had always dreamed about. She finally felt as if she was living up to her own expectations.

“Hey, I thought you might be studying,” Victoria said, plopping down across from Liz on the hard white-topped bench on the outskirts of the Pit.

Liz broke out of her daydream and stared up at her best friend and roommate. “I-I was…” she stammered, though she hadn’t glanced at the homework piled in front of her for some time.

“Psh,” Victoria said, rolling her big brown eyes. “You were staring off into never-never land, because everyone on campus is going on about that hot politician you interviewed.”

“I know, right? It’s crazy,” Liz said.

“Not that crazy. The man is gorgeous. Everyone is interested to see if he’s going to make appearances here so they can go drool over him,” Victoria told her, flipping her kinky curly hair from one side to the other.

Victoria was a voluptuous beauty with br**sts that were always revealed in her low-cut tops and curvy h*ps always revealed in her tight skinnies. She was from New Jersey, with the northern accent and all that went with that. She wore a bit too much makeup with high penciled-in eyebrows, full red lips, and thick eyeliner. No one would have guessed that she was a Morehead scholar along with Liz, or that she was a lab researcher in genetics. But she didn’t take herself too seriously like most of the other honors students did, and didn’t bother with anyone who couldn’t keep up with her wicked smart mind.

“Is anyone actually reading the article?” Liz asked.

“Was there an article attached?” Victoria smirked at her, arching one well-groomed eyebrow.

“Just the one I spent all weekend on.”

“You could seriously use your time more wisely.”

“Weren’t you in the lab all weekend?” Liz leaned forward, her Carolina-blue blazer resting against her notes. She had the sleeves rolled up to three-quarter length because of the heat. It was a soft, breathable linen, and she had paired it with a neutral tank and white skinnies. Her typical platform heels had been exchanged for a pair of brown Oxfords. She missed the heels when they weren’t on her feet, but it just wasn’t practical when she had to walk to school.

“Not all weekend.”

Liz sighed and waited for what she knew was coming. “Another professor, Vic?”

“Nooooo. He’s just a TA. A PhD student in something useless…journalism maybe.”

“Ha. Very funny. We’re all laughing.”

“Gorgeous. Totally not my type. I’m way smarter than him.”

“And yet it doesn’t stop you,” Liz said, shaking her head.

“Why would I let that stop me? He has an office, Liz,” she said, as if that explained it.

“Oh, I don’t know. Propriety? Decorum?” Liz suggested.

“Well-behaved women rarely make history,” Victoria quoted Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

Liz let it pass, turning back to her notes. Victoria pulled out her oversize Audrey Hepburn sunglasses and leaned back on the bench to observe the mayhem in the Pit. It was said that if you sat in the Pit all day, you would see everyone on campus. Liz didn’t know when anyone would have time for that, but it was impossible not to see someone that she knew when she was here.

But she hadn’t really been expecting to see Hayden. They both practically lived in the journalism building near the Quad and in the newsroom in the Union off of the Pit, but after their parting on Friday things had been awkward. They had talked about the article, but nothing more, and she had left in a hurry Sunday after they had pieced it all together.

“Liz!” he called now, jogging up to her table.

Victoria propped herself up on her elbows and eyed him over the top of her extra-large sunglasses. “Hey,” Liz said with a smile.

He looked good…really good. He wore brown Rainbows, pressed khaki shorts, and a Carolina-blue polo. The two of them matched.

“The paper is going insane. They asked for a reprint,” he said, his face ecstatic, his hand running back through his shaggy hair. He tossed his head to the side to push the hair out of his eyes when it fell back into place. “I don’t remember the last time we needed a reprint.”

“Wow! Do you need help?” she asked, stuffing her notes haphazardly back into her folder.

“No. I should be fine. I have a couple guys who will make the runs, but I’m so glad I saw you. Reprints! All because of your article.”

Victoria cleared her throat loudly, sitting up and crossing her legs. “What did I miss?”

“Oh, sorry,” Liz said quickly. “Victoria, this is Hayden Lane, my editor at the paper. Hayden, my roommate, Victoria.”

His face lit up and he stuck his hand out. “I’ve heard a lot about you. Great to finally meet you.”

Victoria’s eyes darted to Liz and back as she slid her hand into his. “I’ve heard quite a bit about you, Lane. People call you Lane, right?”

“Yeah. My friends call me Lane. Do your friends call you Vickie?” he asked, dropping her hand after they shook.

“No,” she said plainly.

“Oh, well, I like it. Seems to fit you,” he said with that charming smile. Liz tried to hide her own behind her hand.

“It really doesn’t,” Victoria bit back, not finding it funny at all.

“Suit yourself,” he said, turning back to Liz. “Liz, I can’t believe how well this all went. After the reception of your work, would you be interested in covering the campaign division for the paper? You’re suited for it. I’d let you take it whatever direction you see fit. Consult me, but it’s yours. I’d want you to start this summer.”

Liz couldn’t hold back her shock this time. He was handing over the entire campaign division to her! If she had thought being on the front cover was a dream, it was nothing compared to running her own column, her own division.

“What are you doing Saturday night?” he asked.

Her mouth fell open but she recovered quickly. After all that awkwardness, he was actually going to ask her on a date?

“I’m pretty open,” she managed. She could feel Victoria’s eyes on her.

“Great. There’s this gala in Charlotte that I want you to go to. I have tickets, but my parents want me back in D.C. this weekend.”

“Oh.” Her heart sank. He wanted her to work. What was wrong with her? “Yeah, that’ll be great. Just shoot me an email with the information.”

“I will. I have to run, though. Reprint!” he said with so much enthusiasm.

Liz watched him jog into the Union and disappear from sight. As soon as he was gone, she threw her head down on the table and grumbled, “Could it get any more embarrassing?”

“He could start calling you Lizzie,” Victoria suggested.

Liz cracked up despite her frustration. “I just…I swear he was going to ask me out.”

“You’ve had the hots for that guy forever, right?”

“Yeah,” Liz admitted with a shrug.

“Why don’t you make the move? I bet he’d like that,” Victoria said, as if she knew.

“I shouldn’t have to,” Liz said stubbornly.

“At least you have gala tickets,” Victoria said.

Liz rolled her eyes. “Oh, who wants to go to a political gala anyway?”

“I don’t know. You’re asking the wrong person,” Victoria replied, leaning back on her elbows and staring out across the Pit. “Just find a hot guy there and forget about your Hayden Lane problems.”

If it was only that easy…

Chapter 7

JEFFERSON-JACKSON GALA

The Charlotte Convention Center was a modern-looking glass building set in the heart of downtown Charlotte. Nothing especially fancy, but large enough to hold bigger parties and conferences, and it even boasted a few high-end car shows. It was a staple for luxury political banquets for the state.

Liz kicked her flip-flops into the car and pulled out her pumps. It was a two-hour drive from Chapel Hill, and she wasn’t about to drive that far in four-and-a-half-inch heels, especially not black leather platforms. She slid the heels onto her feet and stepped out into the parking garage. Her black satin dress fell to her knees, clinging to her athletic shape with a lace V-cut that hung softly off her shoulders. A matching black belt cinched around her waist and tied in the back, accenting her waistline. Her blond hair was loosely French braided across the front of her head and pulled into a messy bun at the nape of her neck, and she had gone for neutral makeup.

Grabbing ahold of the small gold clutch where her voice recorder was stored, she shut her car door and walked out of the parking garage. It was a short walk to the convention center, and by the look of the people walking in with her, she was headed to the right place.

Liz walked into the convention center behind a middle-aged couple holding hands and speaking in whispers. The entranceway was all high arched ceilings, long white pillars, and a red-carpeted floor leading down an extended hallway. It was impressive enough, but could use a little work to keep up with the clientele it boasted. Liz wasn’t complaining, though. She still thought it was beautiful.

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