Midnight for FB


Meet Colin McKenna: Beautiful, broken and in complete control –until she opens her smart mouth. 


PROLOGUE

I ALWAYS THOUGHT I was immune to want or need, that I would sleep through the rest of my life and never feel my heart thunder under the weight of a stare. Shivering from a touch or humming through a kiss was not for me. It just never happened. Days clicked into place one black-and-white slide at a time; college graduation, lunch with Mom, shopping with my sister. I’m happy, but not with the kind of dizzying joy that keeps me from concentrating on anything but a Him or an Us.

Last night I went to bed by myself, as I have every day before. But now, now a prickling knowledge shimmers over my skin and forces my eyes open.

I am not alone.

He’s the perfect man: full lips, a chiseled jaw, and a smirk that wars between dirty and sweet. Tall and broad and in my bedroom, he’s bathed in the early morning light. I swallow down a question as he leans in to press his hands on either side of my face, watching me watch him.

“There are few things in the world I’d call mine,” he says in his perfect, deep voice. “You belong to me.”

I whimper. I whimper and reach for him. My fingers dive into his hair and pull him down, crashing my mouth against his. He matches my hunger. We kiss, hard and deep, long strokes of his tongue against mine, and I demand more. I’m a ticking time bomb and he started the clock. My pulse, his lips, my breath, his heat, the calm possession, I’m tied into a knot of yes, please and don’t ever leave.

He tastes like everything I’ve ever wanted or needed. And I won’t let him go. Not now that we’ve found our way to each other. Our souls are on a first name basis. Forever has come and gone and we’ve just met again. Mine.

My world explodes into a bright light when he presses between my thighs and my lids snap open.

“Oh, God,” I pant and swipe the damp hair from my forehead. The familiar glow of a streetlight tugs my mind into my room and my life, where a gorgeous man doesn’t affect the state of my panties. “Sleep, Carter.” My voice is angry, as is the punch I throw to my flattened pillow. An early morning starts in hours and leaves little time for wishful thinking. But it doesn’t stop the flush burning up my chest, or hope, as I squeeze my eyes closed to find the dream that will never be reality.


ONE

POLITICS IS NOT MY strong suit; in fact, I hold a high level of disdain for it, and maybe more so for politicians. My simple philosophy categorizes the whole system just above the criminal clientele inhabiting the State penitentiary. Politicians are pompous asses in very expensive three-piece suits. They may hold the appearance of kindness and concern, yet behind the façade they plunder the pockets of Americans, spending taxpayer money as if it grows on the trees surrounding their million-dollar mansions.

The irony that I’ve been asked to meet Indiana Senator Colin McKenna about a much sought after social media position on his campaign team is not lost on me. I don’t know anything about him. The late call from Sonja Bates, an editor I work with, didn’t allow for any investigation, and given my beliefs about the American political system, I have little knowledge of the platforms on which he professes support. I’m more interested in reading the classics than about who’s banging who in Washington.

The thought of following the progress of a stale campaign for months is rather depressing, but my dried-up life savings outweighs any concerns. I’m turning onto the University of Notre Dame campus because my freelance work dried up and I’m broke.

Sliding from my beat-up Chevy Blazer at just past two in the afternoon, I hurry through the parking lot with only a few minutes to spare. The January wind whips in lashing licks. It prompts my jog into the Morris Inn, where I jump in the line of reporters waiting to enter the auditorium. After a credential check, I’m motioned to the far end, where an elevated stage sits in front of a U-shaped configuration of tables. Behind this area are rows of seats for the general public, which are filled to capacity.

I stand aside to remove my coat, accepting the last open chair on the very edge of the assembly. A pretty brunette woman sits next to me, preparing a portable mini recorder on the table in front of her, along with a binder for written notes. I watch, fascinated, as she meticulously reapplies her lip gloss and ensures every strand of hair is in place.

I’m suddenly aware of my white button up. The cotton didn’t fare well through the four-hour drive, so I run my hands down the fitted sides to smooth out any wrinkles and tuck the hem into my black pencil skirt. Afraid my auburn curls suffered the same wilting fate, I twist and pin them up into a loose bun and hope my presentation will pass inspection.

As I pull my iPad from my bag, a balding man appears on stage and the hum of the crowd calms.

“Ladies and gentleman, it’s with great pleasure I introduce you to a man I had the good fortune to teach not long ago at this very university. His goals and ambitions were clear even then; his drive to succeed unwavering. Embodying honesty and sincere candor, he will lead this country into the next decade with a direct connection to the needs and desires of the people. Senator Colin McKenna.”

The crowd erupts into a riotous ovation. Clapping out of politeness, I watch the candidate walk onto the platform, shrouded at first by the shadows at the edge of the stage. Hoots and whistles follow him as he makes his way to the forefront. This is the reception of a popular musician, not a politician.

My hands still midair, breathing forgotten. Colin McKenna is a mirror of the man from my implausible dream. I’m in a trance, a moth caught in a spider’s web without the ability to escape. He’s absolutely gorgeous.  Elegant yet sculpted in sharp lines, he fills the seams of a three-piece suit with a radiating sexuality. He doesn’t look like any politician I’ve ever seen before. He’s young—really young—for a presidential candidate.

A screen hangs behind him, projecting his features large enough for those in the very back to see every brilliant nuance. His jaw is etched from stone, softened only by a slight indent in his chin. Full lips, perfect teeth, and dimples, and I fear I may need a fan to cool the heat on my cheeks when he smiles. Rows of dark lashes frame eyes like I’ve never seen before: a brilliant blue with a slice of brandy shooting through the left one. Thick brown hair is perfectly placed at the crown of his head, smoothed back into a short and neat cut. I want my hands in it. I want my fingers pulling on it as if they were meant to live there. Holy hell. Desperate to refocus, I stare at the podium and the university’s symbol embellished on the front—staring anywhere but at Colin McKenna.

It’s only a moment before my gaze is drawn back. The noise of the crowd has yet to die down. He gives a slight bow of his head, as if embarrassed by the attention, and gestures for the applause to quiet. A hush falls across the room.

“Today I stand before you with our future and the health of our nation lying ahead of us. I have heard the cry for change in Washington, heard the hope that this election will be different than all that came before it. Together, and with my leadership, your desire for a brighter future is within our grasp.”

I find myself staring wide-eyed as he speaks. Surely this man, albeit a very attractive one, shouldn’t have this effect on me. I look around. Many are as struck as I am, watching with silly grins or simply gaping. A camera flash sparks my sanity and I realize I’ve forgotten to hit record. Fumbling, I do so, knowing I must have missed the first few minutes of his speech. Straightening my back, I lift my gaze to the Senator as he confirms his bid on the White House.

“I’ve made it my life’s mission to care for this country and those who call it their home,” he says, squaring his shoulders. “As I continue on with the pursuit of this dream, it’s time I seek the most absolute position in which I can lead with integrity, pride, and passion. I will not let you down; I will not let this country down. I will bring the United States of America into the next decade stronger than it has ever been.” The crowd erupts and once again I feel as if I’m at a concert, suspecting an overly hormonal teenager will throw her bra on stage.

When the cheering calms, he continues sharing his key initiatives should he be elected. After a few more minutes it’s over and the dialogue is opened to the members of the media. He’s quizzed about his beliefs, his priorities during the first year in office, and so on. I’m once again thankful for the iPad, because I’m having trouble concentrating. It’s only when I catch the tail end of a question that I sit taller in my seat.

“…abortion and women’s rights?”

My breath catches but his response comes easily. “There must be a balance between personal rights and the right to live. Life is precious and we must think in that context when considering ending it.”

Indignation pulses like a second heartbeat, bubbling to the surface. “Would you take away a woman’s right to protect herself? For reasons you couldn’t know, would you take away a woman’s control over her body and possible health?” It’s as if I was thinking out loud, yet it was stated with conviction for everyone to hear. All heads swivel toward me, looking for the dumb ass shouting out in argument with Mr. McPerfect. But I don’t back down. I would like to know.

I need to know.

It’s his turn to stare. His intense gaze holds mine for what feels like an eternity before he addresses me with consideration. “A child has a right to be born, a right to live.” His eyes continue with their hypnotic spell as others invade the moment, hurling questions. He hesitates, studying my face and hair before he shifts his attention away.

Relief floods through me as I sink back into my seat. What did I just do?

The questions and answers flow until the conference comes to an end, and with a brief glance my way, he exits the platform. I let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding and stand so fast my chair tips back.

“Hey, now, there’s no need to throw furniture. The speech wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Oh, shit. Is he talking to me? The thump of my heart hits my throat and reluctantly, I turn.

He has an easy grin centered on a handsome face; handsome in a California surfer kind of way.

“Ms. Carter?” When I nod, he continues, “Evan Daugherty, the senator’s campaign manager.”

“Right, yeah.” Flustered, I stumble through a greeting and his smile spreads.

“I have a private space set aside for us to talk. Come, he’s anxious to speak with you.”

I don’t know if this is a good idea; after the reaction I had toward Senator McKenna, this assignment is looking more and more unfavorable. Yet I follow, even as nerves settle in my stomach. The only distraction as he leads me past the stage and through a large conference space bubbling with campaign staff is a stunning blonde, who plays voodoo with her eyes. They narrow and spit needles as she tracks my progress. I lose sight of her when accepting Mr. Daugherty’s waved offer for one of four plush chairs in a private tiny room.

As I drop down to sit, the senator fills the doorway. By his mere presence, Colin McKenna commands attention, and he definitely has mine; every nerve in my body is highly attuned to his proximity, shimmering like a spark waiting to ignite. He’s tall, so tall I crane my neck to look at him. I force my gaze to his face, but he’s too—I don’t know, he’s too… him—so I let them trail to his chest. No longer fully suited, he wears only a dark gray vest with a white shirt, collar open. And then lower. I catch myself staring at his muscled thighs and the bulge that lies slightly higher, barely concealed by the slim line of his matching charcoal slacks.

He clears his throat and I blink my way up his rock-hard body. His smile broadens and I lose myself in its brilliance, before I call myself stupid and stand, fumbling with my bag.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me on such short notice,” he says in a husky tone made to send shivers down my spine.

As my palm connects with his, a line of electricity shoots up my arm and the air feels full of an almost palpable energy. His brow furrows and his smirk dissolves into the straight line of his lips. I wonder for a second if he feels it too, and then the intensity of his stare causes a hot flush to spread up my chest like a wildfire. Those damn eyes; it’s as if they’re searching mine for answers to unasked questions. My lips part to respond to the mysterious inquiry, but no sound escapes my now parched throat. Shaking my head, I recover and slip free from his grip.

With our physical connection broken, his smile returns. “Please have a seat. May I offer you anything?”

I sink into the soft chair, crossing my legs, and his gaze follows to my leopard-print heels. But I don’t feel ferocious as I did when I walked out of my apartment this morning. The confidence I held as I slipped into my favorite print has been stripped away, and all that’s left is me. Charlie Carter, sister, daughter, a pseudo-journalist from a small town with limited experience. And in front of me is a god among men. Colin McKenna isn’t the boy next door—he’s the lion ready to slaughter the lamb.

I count to three to ensure I won’t squeak out an answer. “No, thank you—I’m fine.”

We’re face-to-face as he sits on the couch, knees apart, one arm stretching to rest on the back cushion, relaxed. “I hope you had an uneventful drive. Where is it that you live?”

“Royal Oak, just north of Detroit—Michigan,” I add after a beat, and then think stupid isn’t a strong enough term.

“That must have taken you most of the morning. I’m sorry we didn’t give you more notice to plan an accommodating travel schedule.”

I wave away the concern in his tone. “It was fine, I didn’t mind the drive.”

He nods. “I understand Sonja has reviewed with you my thoughts on creating an extensive social media campaign, a chronicle if you will, relating to my candidacy and me personally. I want to connect with those who use social media as their primary means of communication.”

“And you believe I may be the person best suited to do this?” I’m incredulous. I fail to understand how my limited resume qualifies me for this assignment.

 “I do.” He continues by changing the subject. “It seems you and I have differing opinions on topics that are very pertinent to the moral compass of our country. I’m intrigued to learn more about your position.”

This is not a conversation I want to have. Not with him. I could kick myself for opening my mouth and wish I had shoved my glorious leopard-print heel into it instead. It takes a deep breath and boiling blood before I can offer the truth. “I don’t believe a man wholly unconnected to the state of a woman’s body should judge and prevent a possible life-saving procedure. How are you, or any other politician, qualified to determine what a woman may do with her own body?”

“And what about the baby, Ms. Carter? Who will protect the innocent life taken each time an abortion is performed?”

I flinch. “There are some instances in which neither one would survive if not for the option. It’s in those circumstances I believe a woman has the right to choose her own life over the beginning of another.” The intensity of my position shows as my voice reverberates my answer, forceful, even though the tone is low.

Nodding, as if to close the topic he says, “It’s very rare that someone voluntarily and so spontaneously opposes my opinion at an event sponsored by my camp. I need to be connected to people, even those with beliefs that differ from my own. I like that you offer another side of the picture painted before me.”

“Is it my opinion you seek, or my ability to write about yours?” I ask. What is it he wants me to do?

His eyes spark. “Both. Tell me, how do you approach a topic to present it in a fair light, approach it from a true, unpolluted perspective?”

“I withhold all personal judgment of the individual or subject. It’s not my job to provide a conclusion for the reader; it’s my responsibility to share the facts as I understand them.” I’ve regained my footing and the fledgling confidence returns. “I learned very early on most people are not as easily read as one would believe. I let them tell me their truth, and listen carefully to the art of people. You would be surprised by what you hear.”

Raising his fingers to his mouth, he begins to pull on his lower lip, and it does something to me. The same something it did last night, and I shift in my seat, hoping he doesn’t notice my thighs squeezing together. “And what if the topic is of no interest to you?”

“Life is interesting, Senator. I don’t need to have a passion for everything in it; I have to find what’s remarkable for the readers. That’s what will engage them in the blog and the topic itself.”

I look at Evan, who has remained silent through the entire conversation, standing against the far wall, arms folded against his chest. He grins as if he’s in on a joke I’m not aware of. “Was that your tactic when you created and maintained the highest rated personal blog for three years straight?”

My heart explodes in my chest. “Oh, that.” I bite my bottom lip and wait for my pulse to settle. “I um, it was a lucky coincidence at a time when not many people were talking about plus size fashion. I wanted to chat about it and I didn’t care much if anyone wanted to listen.”

“Millions did. Why’d you stop?”

“It was drawing me into the spotlight and I prefer to remain behind the scenes.”

McKenna leans forward. “Ms. Carter, I’m about to embark on a tour of the United States seeking the Republican presidential nomination. I would like for you to accompany me as I campaign. Use your expertise to understand my motivations and connect my beliefs and me to voters via the Internet. Will you come?”

It takes a moment to formulate a response, and the only thing I can think to say is “Charlie.” His right brow lifts in question. “Call me Charlie. Ms. Carter or Charlise is too formal.”

“Charlie,” he says as if tasting my name, savoring it. When I don’t answer he tries again. “Charlie, I want you to contemplate my offer. Would you meet me tomorrow for breakfast?” he asks, yet I think by the command in his tone he only expects an affirmative answer. “It will give you an opportunity to learn more about me and the campaign.”

I’m drawn to this man, his masculine, chiseled jaw and cheekbones, straight nose, blue eyes, and the glorious waves in his hair. This is uncharted territory, and I’m not sure accepting his offer is the right thing to do—for him or for me.

“I haven’t booked a room to stay through the night.”

He glances over my shoulder. I turn to the window and the snow that has started tumbling from the sky. Big, wet flakes fall, the roof of the building next to ours already thick with buildup.

“I’ll take care of the room for you this evening. Don’t drive in this weather.”

I agree with him, but not because of his demand. It’ll take double the time to get home in this mess. “Okay.”

“Good.” He stands, staring down with an unreadable expression. “I would like for you to enter into our agreement knowing little about me or my campaign. Base your perspective on what you learn firsthand. Can you promise me you’ll forgo any research from this moment forward?”

I’m surprised by his request. Most journalists engage in extensive preparation prior to embarking on such a journey. “Will you promise to be forthright and honest with information when I ask for it and have a need to know?” I search the sculpted lines of his face to determine the truthfulness of his answer.

“On my honor,” he says, and for some reason I believe his sincerity.

“I promise.”

“Until tomorrow then.”

Standing, my hands fan over my skirt to ensure it’s lying smoothly over my rounded hips. His eyes flick over the area I just caressed and then he turns and steps from the room.

“Until tomorrow, Senator,” I whisper to his retreating backside.

Text copyright© 2014-2016 by Elizabeth Miller


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