It was late when Chris had walked me down the steps from his house to wait for the car to come and pick me up. While I had arrived at his place around sundown, it was after eleven when I left. Our goodbye on the sidewalk was awkward, given the tone of our conversation for the evening. He opened the door for me, said goodnight, and told me he would talk to me later. The drive back to my apartment was quiet. My Uber driver caught on quickly that I didn’t want to chat and was kind enough to let me be. Not that I was ever rude to him; I’d just told him I’d had a terribly long day and was low on conversation. The drive to my apartment would take at least twenty minutes. There wasn’t much traffic this time of night so it would be an easy commute.
I lost myself in the lights of the city while trying to reconcile everything that had just happened and what I had just agreed to do. I was so lost in my own head that I didn’t realize we had pulled to a stop in front of my building until the driver politely informed me that we’d arrived at our destination. I apologized profusely before struggling to open the back door and step out. I walked into the lobby of the building, greeting the security guard on my way toward the elevator.
I was nervous as I rode the elevator up to my floor. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the apartment. I had a feeling it wouldn’t be good, though. Since walking out of the meeting earlier in the day, I had ignored every attempt Claudia had made to reach out to me. Since I knew she would employ Joanie in the search, I had ignored all her calls as well. I hadn’t wanted to keep hitting ignore to the ringer when I was at the Senator’s house, so I had turned the phone off while I’d waited for him to answer the door. I’d only turned it back on to request my ride home. That is when I’d seen the numerous missed calls and text messages. Chris had just laughed and said he would probably find the same thing when he turned his phone back on as well. Geez, I couldn’t even keep it straight in my mind if I should be referring to him as Chris or the Senator. This was so confusing.
Squaring my shoulders, I slid the key into the lock and opened the door, bracing myself for the onslaught of questions. I was surprised to find all the lights in the apartment were off apart from the nightlight in the kitchen. Claudia and Joanie were not waiting for me. The doors to the guest room and to Joanie’s room were both closed. I had to admit it was not what I’d expected; I had expected them to be sitting in the living room ready to pounce when I walked in the door. I had expected them to give me the third degree about where I’d been and what I’d been doing. Radio silence wasn’t even a consideration. I closed the door, being careful to not make a lot of noise when clicking it shut or locking the deadbolt. I slipped my shoes off and left them by the door before gingerly walking across the living room to my own bedroom.
While I’d not been ready for the questions or third degree I was sure I’d be subjected to, I was certainly not prepared for radio silence or the lack of concern for where I was or if I was coming home. As I stepped into my room, I felt my phone vibrate in my hand. I looked down and noticed I had received a text.
“Tell me you made it home safe and that your roommates aren’t being too hard on you.”
Chris and I had exchanged phone numbers before I left his house and I had to admit that it was sweet that he was checking up on me. The ‘relationship’ wasn’t official yet. While the two of us had mapped out our guidelines for how we wanted it to work, we had not presented it to Lance and Tucker yet. Chris was going to speak with them to outline what we’d agreed upon and how his campaign would work. Depending on what they said would determine when, or if, our charade would start.
Regardless of the outcome, Chris and I’d agreed that from this point forward we would bury the hatchet on the Hill. Our talk had made us both realize that our preconceived notions regarding each other had not been entirely factual and we needed to stop making assumptions. He’d agreed to be nicer, but had said he was still not going to cave on my Republican-based policies nor did it mean he had to vote for the legislation I was lobbying for. I’d told him I was all right with that.
I quickly texted him back.
“I’m home safe and my roommates are asleep – they didn’t wait up for me. But I’ll get an earful in the morning.”
It didn’t take him long at all to reply.
“It’ll be fine. I’ll call you tomorrow to check in after I talk to the DNC. Goodnight Greer.”
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Goodnight Chris.”
~ * ~
The apartment was once again uncharacteristically quiet as I exited my bedroom to leave, the next morning. I noticed the doors to Claudia and Joanie’s rooms were open, but they were not in the apartment. I quickly surmised that they planned to leave early to keep from running into me. I checked my watch and it wasn’t even 7 am. My phone had remained silent since I had texted Chris right before going to bed. I checked my emails to see if I had anything pressing to cover first thing before I stepped out of the apartment and made my way to work. Once again, I decided to drive versus taking public transportation. With everything that happened yesterday and my fears for the awkwardness with my executive assistant, I figured it would be best to have an escape plan ready.
As I walked toward my office, I felt as if all eyes were on me. I imagined it, no doubt. It just sounded like my heels echoed more than normal and all sounds in the office stopped when I stepped off the elevator. It wasn’t that I was arriving early, either. Due to the time I fought with stopping for coffee and traffic, it was 8:15 already. In all honesty, I was late for work. Not that I was going to care or feel bad about it mind you. I put enough hours in on a regular basis to allow for a small transgression here or there. As I approached my desk, I noticed that Joanie had earbuds in and was typing up my dictation notes from a few days ago. She glanced up to see me walk into my office, but made no attempt to speak to me.
I took this as a sign and instead of dwelling on it used the opportunity to lose myself in my latest project – the Briarwood Technical contract. I was being inundated with paper on this deal. I had the past three contracts that had been signed along with the notes for the new one. The research alone was going to keep me under water for days if not weeks. I wasn’t sure I had that much time. I elected to start easy; reading through the current contract request and seeing what I could find in the media about my ‘client.’ Part of my job was to know the minefields that my opponents would hurl at me and be prepared to defend and deflect.
I was interrupted by a quiet knock on my door. Without looking up I offered, “Come in.” I figured it was Joanie and she was finally getting up the nerve to come speak to me. But when the door opened, I was surprised once again.
“I’m sorry, am I interrupting something important?” The rich velvet timbre of his voice pulled my attention from the stack of documents on my desk and I scrambled to remove my reading glasses as Chris stepped into my office.
“Um, no, come on in.” I jumped from my seat and moved towards the door. “Have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?”
“No, I’m fine. Honestly, I don’t want to keep you from something if you’re busy. You looked so intent when I walked in.” He smiled and for a minute I lost all train of thought.
“Uh, no just working on the Briarwood contract. Trying to prepare for what you might throw at me.” I quietly closed the door and made my way over to sit in the chair across from Chris. He had decided to make himself comfortable on the couch. He had crossed his right ankle over his left knee and his left arm was stretched across the back of the couch. He was relaxed and dare I say, sexy as sin. I couldn’t think straight when he looked like that.
“I wanted to stop by and see how you’re doing. Did your roommate or Claudia give you any trouble this morning?”
I averted my eyes from him to look at my office door. “My roommate is my executive assistant and she hasn’t spoken to me all day. She was out of the house before me this morning. Which, by the way, is extremely unusual. And Claudia? Well, she was gone as well and I haven’t heard from her, either.”
Chris moved so that he was leaning forward, his arms resting on his legs and his hands clasped in between. Seriously? From one sexy pose to another. I don’t think he was doing it on purpose, he just couldn’t help it. “I have a feeling she’ll be reaching out to you shortly. I just left the DNC offices. Tucker and Nash were surprised we ended up talking and coming to a consensus, but they approved of our plan. So, Greer looks like as of right now, we’re dating.” He gave me a smirk and a wink.
“You wanted to be seen in my office on purpose then?” I suddenly understood why he was here instead of just calling me.
“I wanted to be seen coming to your office and being behind closed doors with you. When I leave, I’ll make a comment about calling you later. Best to let the speculation start in your office.”
I swallowed hard. I couldn’t believe we were going through with this. “Okay. Did Tucker mention when he wants to announce your candidacy?”
“He wants me to wait six weeks then announce I’m putting together an exploratory committee. Then I’ll announce my candidacy a month after that. So, we’ll have ten weeks or so of ‘dating’ before you have to appear by my side at the podium.” Chris glanced at his watch. “I’ve been here about fifteen minutes. I need to go ahead and leave. If I stay too long they’ll think I’m here for work. A short visit, however, keeps ‘em guessing.”
I stood and moved toward my office door. Before I opened it, Chris rested his hand on mine and whispered in my ear. “This is going to work and we’re going to be fine. Take a deep breath and know that at least we’re in this together.”
I nodded and opened the door. Chris stepped out and he turned back to face me. His voice was just loud enough so that Joanie could hear him, but he wouldn’t be broadcasting through the office. “It was good to see you, Ms. Hamilton. I’ll call you late this afternoon to continue our discussion.”
I gave him a nod, “Thank you, Senator. It was good to see you as well. I look forward to hearing from you.” Chris gave me a brief smile and then turned and walked toward the elevator bank. I tried not to let my eyes linger on him. I didn’t want to call attention to myself, but it was hard to look away from him.
When he’d touched my hand, I’d felt the electricity jolting through my body once again. He was doing things to me that I couldn’t quite explain. I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
I had just taken my seat behind my desk when there was another knock on my office door. This time it was Joanie who was opening the door and entering the office. I couldn’t say that I was surprised. The last thing she had known was that I didn’t get along with Senator Evans and now suddenly he was visiting me in my office and saying he will call me later.
I made the decision to keep the conversation professional. She’d been avoiding me all morning, both at home and the office, so just because she wanted the inside scoop now didn’t mean I was going to cave quickly. I mean, I know I’d started this entire thing by not answering the phone calls yesterday, but I’d at least came home ready to face her and Claudia. Instead, they’d made the decision to block me. We had ourselves a standoff and none of us were willing to blink just yet.
“Yes, Joanie, can I help you?” My tone was a little icy.
“I heard the Senator mention that he would be speaking with you later.” She was trying to play down the fact that she was eavesdropping. “Do I need to arrange your calendar for a meeting or a call?” She was digging for information under the guise of being a good assistant.
“No, but thank you. Is there anything else?” I was a bitch and I knew it. I couldn’t help it, I was still upset. The fact that my two best friends could not even understand what was happening yesterday or sympathize with why I was struggling was hurtful. They acted like they were wronged because I wouldn’t answer the phone. I just needed time to absorb what was happening. After all, I would have to lean on them since I surely couldn’t ask my family for support.
“No, that’s all.” Joanie stood still in the doorway for a moment. She then took a step forward and shut my office door. It didn’t slam but she made no effort to close it quietly. “Look, are we just going to avoid one another all day?”
I tossed my pen down on my desk and sat back in my chair. “That’s rich of you to ask me when you were the one to hide when I came home last night and you left before I got up this morning. You didn’t speak to me when I came in and I’ve been in my office working all day. Convenient that you didn’t want to talk until Chris stopped by.”
“Chris? So, you’re on a first name basis with him now?”
“Joanie, I think it would be best for you to go back to your desk before either one of us says something we can’t take back.” What was unfolding in front of me was the prime example as to why you shouldn’t live with someone who works with or for you. While we weren’t in a romantic relationship, our friendship and working relationship was being put to the test.
“You know we were worried about you, right? The fact that you just walked out of a house in a neighborhood you’re not familiar with. You wouldn’t answer your phone or your text messages. You were gone all damn day.” Joanie was starting to get emotional but she never raised her voice. “We didn’t know if something happened to you and then when you texted you were going home we both breathed a sigh of relief. So, imagine how freaked out we were when we got home and you weren’t there!”
I didn’t think about that point. I was only looking at it from the situation of me ignoring calls. I’d totally forgotten that I left the apartment without leaving them a note or telling them where I was. But seriously? They were that worried about me but they’d still go to bed without me being home?
“Fine, you have a point, Joanie. I didn’t even consider the fact that I’d left the house without a note. But what the fuck? You go to bed when I’m not home? If you were so worried why didn’t you stay up in the hopes I would come back?”
“Claudia received a text from the Senator when you’d left his house to go home. He wanted us to know you’d been at his house and you were safe. He let us know you were coming back.” Joanie took a deep breath and I could sense she was doing all she could to keep it together. “We were so exhausted from worry but still totally pissed off that we figured it would be best to go to bed and not confront you. We couldn’t trust ourselves not to get into a screaming match with you and that was the last thing we wanted.”
Joanie moved over and plopped down on the couch, her eyes never leaving mine as she made herself comfortable. “I made the decision then that I was going to come to work early. I didn’t get much done yesterday because I was a wreck. Claudia said she was going to leave early so she could talk to Tucker and Lance. I figured I would speak to you at some point today but I wasn’t sure how to approach you. The Senator’s arrival gave me an opening.”
“I didn’t mean to worry the two of you. Hell, that wasn’t my intention at all. I was more concerned about needing space to think and breathe. I’m sorry, Joanie.” I took a deep breath of my own. “I’ll call Claudia and apologize. Maybe we can talk about it tonight and clear the air completely.”
“So, did you agree to date the Senator so he could run?”
I had to be careful with how the words came out of my mouth. Chris and I had come to an agreement on how this would work and who would be privy to the details. I was about to cross a line of my own, but it had to be done to protect Chris at all costs.
“We had a big blow-up about it and I was not comfortable with the concept of being a paid escort. But Chris and I talked last night and realized we had a mutual attraction to one another and instead of it being an arranged situation, we’d give dating a shot for real.”
Joanie jumped off the couch and came running over to my desk. She leaned forward and looked me straight in the eyes and she wore the biggest smile on her face. “Oh my God! I knew the two of you would end up giving into your feelings. So, this isn’t a publicity thing, it’s real?” I slowly nodded my head. “Holy shit! You’re dating a Senator!”
“Reel it in some. We are just starting to see one another socially but yes, we are doing it exclusively with one another. We realized last night we had some things in common and this allows us to explore it.”
“The office is going to freak when they find out.”
Joanie loved to gossip and I knew that she would have a hard time keeping this quiet. This was another reason for my deceit. “Hey, can we not share this with the office yet? I mean we’ve not gone out on an official date yet, so I don’t want the have this all over the paper. Besides, I’m not ready for Preston to know. Especially since I am working the Briarwood deal. I don’t want this to be a conflict of interest for Chris and me. So, Joanie, please, I’m begging you to keep this quiet for a while.”
She started to nod and stood up straight. “No, no, I get it. Your secret is safe with me.” Joanie turned and began walking toward the door. She quickly turned back around and put her hands on her hips. “You need to call or text Claudia. Let her know what’s going on before she says something to someone about the original plan. Wouldn’t want to give anyone the wrong idea about you and the Senator.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if her comment was meant to be a threat or if she was trying to be flippant. I didn’t want to take a chance either way. I quickly texted Chris and let him know that I’d told Joanie about us. He didn’t reply, but I wasn’t really expecting him to. I just wanted him to be warned that someone knew we were dating. Now the clock was on to see how long it would take for the news to spread.