Speaker of the House Sean Gilmore shook Brian’s hand and smiled at him approvingly. “Congratulations, my boy. You’ve really done it. Welcome to the world of politics.”
The comment was condescending, and on any other night, it might have been offensive. But not tonight. Tonight, even the glib and ingenuous Gilmore couldn’t offend Brian. It was his night. And this was California’s senior congressman welcoming the newest member of the House of Representatives to the fold.
Brian nodded at Gilmore, and the photographers who had made the select list snapped their cameras repeatedly. Brian had been told often enough that he photographed well. At thirty-seven, his thick brown hair held off all traces of gray. His wide brown eyes gave off a sparkle that he joked was confusion often mistaken for intelligence. Brian’s self-deprecating humor was always well received. It made a rising star just one of the gang. The slight dimple when Brian smiled completed the salable political image. He was packaged as some combination of John Kennedy and Jimmy Stewart.
As they stood together to be photographed, Brian and Gilmore presented an obvious contrast in gene pools. Gilmore was almost bald, but refusing to concede the point, he arranged his last few strands of hair across the dome of his head, ear to ear. His wry smile suggested he had a secret. Brian suspected he had many. Gilmore was grossly overweight since his levels of exercise did not keep pace with years of catered events like this one.
Gilmore turned to the guests who had packed the banquet room of his mansion and raised his glass. “May I have your attention, ladies and gentlemen?” He waited with a dignified smile as the room became quiet. “I’d like to make a toast to the beginning of a great political career.” Then he turned toward Brian. “And I’d like to welcome Brian Madsen to the party stronghold.” He thrust his glass toward the black-tie crowd and held the pose.
Gilmore was always posing. After twenty-five years in politics, Brian doubted he could stop. But the son of a bitch did have flare. Glasses were raised, and cheers rang out across the expansive room. White-coated servers scurried around to refill glasses before they emptied.
“There is no limit to what we can accomplish together.” He threw his arm around Brian, and flashes went off around the room.
As Gilmore moved into the crowd to mingle, Brian surveyed the room. Speaker Gilmore had lent more than his opulent Beverly Hills mansion to the occasion. His influence was evident in the guest list. The movers and shakers of politics, a healthy share of Fortune 500 executives, and the who’s who of Hollywood were all present to pay tribute to Brian. Big money filled the place. Many had contributed to the campaign to get Brian elected once the party had gotten behind him, and the rest would now. Doors were open. Staggering power and influence was in this room, all now available to Brian. He was the candidate of the power brokers around him who would love to do him favors: raising money, gaining access to the most exclusive of clubs, or whatever he wanted.
“Congratulations, Brian.” The deep voice came from a rotund man with a thick beard but little hair on his head.
“Thank you, Jim. I’m delighted you came.” Brian shook the hand of James Francis Orson, former secretary of state and attendant to three past presidents. Now to Brian, he was just Jim.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. You’re the right man for the job. Whatever assistance I can lend, call me. I still know how to get a number of things done in Washington.”
Brian knew what an understatement that was. Orson could get a new bill onto the floor of either house or swing a close vote. He could arrange an audience with the president if he so desired.
“It’s gratifying to have your support, Jim. I may take you up on that offer.” Brian shook hands with Orson once more before moving on to a circle of well-wishers.
Brian’s champagne glass was refilled between brief visits with dignitaries as he moved from group to group. It was eleven o’clock before he had a moment to himself. He looked around the room. The crowd wasn’t thinning and wouldn’t for hours.
From his left, Brian heard a familiar voice. “Quite a night, isn’t it, man of the hour?” Barbara kissed him on the cheek.
He turned toward her. Her layered black hair was perched royally on her shoulders, flipping upward. Her green eyes, high cheekbones, and soft smile worked together to convey good breeding. Her movements were graceful elegance. She was the girl most of the boys in high school were attracted to but were sure they couldn’t get.
“Quite a night,” she repeated, glancing around the room.
“It’s just incredible.” Brian smiled.
“Well, this is your night.”
“It’s all so hard to believe.”
She smiled warmly. “Nothing that a brilliant mind can’t achieve on the heels of a dozen years with the most successful law firm in the state and eight years of local politics.”
“This is a long way from the unnoticed city council meetings we used to do. Having influential clients didn’t hurt either.” He kissed Barbara’s cheek. “And having a beautiful and supportive wife.”
She grinned at him. “See, you’re already a politician. You earned it, Brian. Bask in it.” She saw a familiar face across the room. “See you later, Congressman. I’m going to mingle.”
Brian watched her walk away. She was the perfect Congressman’s wife—attractive, charming, and intelligent. As he watched her greet an elderly couple, he felt a sense of loss. He thought back to the first days of their marriage in the small apartment they could barely afford. They had been so close.
Somewhere along the way, our lives together had become a business. Had it been a necessary cost of growing a political career, or did I get my priorities confused? Or was there a difference? Brian acknowledged a feeling of loss as he swirled the remnants of his third glass of champagne.
Another voice broke into his thoughts. “You make a dashing congressman, you know?”
Brian smiled and turned to see Cathy Jenkins smiling at him. She wore a black strapless dress and a single strand of pearls. Her blonde hair cascaded down over her shoulders and accentuated the blueness of her eyes.
He gave her a hug. “We did it, didn’t we?”
She smiled. “You did it. I’m just one of the support staff.”
Brian shook his head. “Not so. The whole team made this possible.”
He had seen Cathy frequently at campaign headquarters. She had worked hard for his election, but he wasn’t sure why. All he really knew about her was that she worked for International Resource Corporation and she always had a smile for him.
“This is your night, Brian.”
He looked into wide blue eyes that seemed to invite him in. “I don’t think we’ve ever had more than five minutes to talk. Seems like you know a lot more about me than I do about you.”
“The price of being a rising star.” Those eyes sparkled. She looked around the room at the visiting elite. “This is a night you’ll remember for some time.”
Brian smiled and nodded. “It is a wonderful night for all of us.” He looked down at the empty glass she held. “Can I get you a drink?”
Cathy looked down at the glass and then back at him. She said nothing. Her blue eyes became liquid as she stared deeply into Brian’s brown eyes. He found himself lost in those eyes. Time was passing, but he wasn’t sure how much. He was no longer aware of the others in the room.
“Come with me,” Cathy said in a whisper. She took his hand and led him from the banquet room.
A tall, mustached man watched them from across the room. The man was in his fifties, but his youthful, elegant features, salt-and-pepper hair, and black tuxedo made him appear to have just stepped from the cover of GQ. He was not a celebrity who had been squeezed into the attire to conform to the GQ mold but an unknown who looked the part naturally. The man stood in a circle of others befitting his image, no longer listening to the conversation. His thoughts strayed to the guest of honor and his attractive companion. She was familiar to him. He had seen her around the company, but he couldn’t place her.
He watched them walk from the room. He wasn’t sure why, but on impulse, he decided to follow. He excused himself and slowly moved toward the door. The man watched as Cathy led Brian up the stairs. He waited several seconds before following at a safe distance.
Brian and Cathy walked down the marbled hall to the staircase and began to climb to the second floor.
“Where are we going?” Brian’s voice was slightly cracking.
“I’ll show you.”
At the top of the stairs, she pulled him down the wide corridor, past nineteenth-century tables, priceless sculptures, and expressionless, expressionist paintings. She opened the second door on the right and pulled Brian inside. It was a large bathroom.
Cathy walked back to the door, gave the lock in the door handle a twist, and turned to look at Brian. A grin came over her face, and she walked toward him. “I just wanted the opportunity to congratulate you privately.” She put her arms around his neck. “Damn good work, Brian. You’ll do very well.”
“Thanks. You were a great help to me, you know? I really appreciate all you’ve done.”
“Really?” She leaned back to look into his eyes.
“Of course. You gave––”
Cathy pulled Brian toward her and kissed him softly. He didn’t resist. Maybe it was the champagne. Perhaps it was her. He found himself kissing back. He recognized a longing for this woman he barely knew. The kiss intensified. Their mouths opened, and their hands began to grope.
Brian placed a hand on her breast. She leaned toward him. His hand slid down her side and lifted her dress. He ran his hand up her leg. Nothing was under the dress. He felt her groping at his belt and then his zipper. His pants fell to the floor. She sat on the counter and wrapped her legs around him. He felt the moisture. Then he was inside her. Her arms were under his shirt.
As the thrusts grew in intensity, her nails cut into his back. Brian could hear her moaning louder and louder. He could feel himself inside her, ready to explode. The rest of the world was gone. Cathy cried out, louder with each thrust. Brian suppressed the sounds with his mouth on hers.
She arched her back for the final thrusts, and Brian pulled her toward him. He held her tightly as the release came. Moans filled the room. He looked into those blue eyes and saw a contented smile.
Reality suddenly came back to him. Instinctively, Brian looked around. He suddenly realized that the bathroom door was ajar, and it seemed to move slightly. Brian pulled up his pants and held them at his waist. He ran to the door. It was open just enough to allow him to glimpse a small portion of the hall. He could see nothing. He touched the door handle, and it wouldn’t turn. It was still in the locked position.
Brian opened the door little by little until he could see the entire hallway. There was no one. He sighed with relief as he realized that the door must have been locked, but not completely closed.
He buttoned his pants as he walked over to Cathy and told her, “Everything’s okay.”
She gave him a radiant smile. Brian knew he would feel guilty later. Right now, he had to get back to the party before he was missed … before it was known that they were missing together.
Cathy kissed him on the cheek. “That was wonderful, Congressman.” She straightened her dress and her hair. Then she checked her makeup. “I’ll go back first.”
He nodded and then smiled. “That really was wonderful.”
She grinned back and walked out the door. “See you soon.”
As he walked down the stairs, the noise of the party grew louder. Everything seemed to be just as he had left it. He checked his watch. Almost twenty minutes had passed. He looked around and saw Barbara standing with three women on the other side of the room. She waved to him, smiling. He waved back.