Here’s an excerpt.
Courtney had barely taken her seat, and now her knees wobbled as she got up. When she pushed open the massive wood door leading to the senator’s inner office, he rose from behind his desk and rounded it to greet her. Proffering a hand, she slipped hers into his and looked up into green eyes flecked with gold. Criminy, he was gorgeous. And he was wearing Burberry cologne. She’d given the fragrance to her brother last Christmas, but Senator Morrison didn’t look like her goofy brother. Oh, no, the senator was Bradley Cooper with a splash of Michael Fassbender in the set of his strong jaw. Yum.
“Good afternoon, Senator Morrison. I’m Courtney Larson from Montgomery, Haskins & Knoll.” Were her hands sweating?
“I see you found your way, finally. I must say that lobbyists are generally punctual. It must have something to do with their intent?” His eyebrows rose with the question, but she didn’t miss that his eyes then traveled up and down her body.
“It’s inexcusable, but I hope you’ll grant me just a few minutes of your valuable time.” She didn’t wait for him to offer her a chair. She sat, crossed her legs, set her briefcase next to the chair, and ran her fingers up her calf before returning to his gaze. “I’m really sorry I was delayed because what I want to talk with you about is one of the most important issues you’ll decide this year. But I can be brief, and I hope, convincing.” She smiled.
“Brief away.” Senator Morrison sat on the edge of his desk, spreading his long legs out and bracing his hands on either side of his hips. Just the kind of casual, but intimidating, posture she’d expect from him.
“Your voting record would indicate that you care deeply about your constituents. You consistently support bills on education and the environment. In fact, you voted for the ban on smoking in North Carolina restaurants and bars, proving that the health of your citizens is foremost in your mind.” Courtney clasped her hands together and leaned forward in her chair. “I know you voted against the last tax increase on tobacco in 2008, but the bill that will come up next month to increase the surcharge by another paltry few cents will help your state fund educational improvements, specifically new programs in the community college system in fields like medicine and engineering.” Courtney took a breath, and was getting ready for the rest of her spiel, when Senator Morrison held up a hand to interrupt.
“Pardon me, Miss … Larson, was it?”
The senator crossed his arms. Someone, like his public relations person, should tell him not to do that. It looked confrontational. “Before you go any further, Miss Larson, I’d like to tell you what I’m doing for my state in the realm of tobacco. I’m pushing the USDA to help tobacco farmers by making an adjustment to the tobacco federal crop insurance program so that claim amounts can better reflect market prices. I’m working on the price election issue in direct response to requests from tobacco farmers all across eastern North Carolina who contacted my office seeking assistance. So far, no one in my district seems to be concerned with teenage smoking.”
Courtney straightened in her chair. “While I appreciate your focus on protecting small business owners, have you considered helping farmers transition out of tobacco to a more environmentally-friendly crop … like hemp? And unlike tobacco, which is harmful in every form, hemp has a multitude of practical uses. I even have a pair of hemp shoes.”
Courtney watched the senator’s eyes move to her feet, travel slowly up her legs, pause briefly at her calves, and then settle back on her face. She thought she detected a hint of appreciation in his gaze.
“Miss Larson, what you’re suggesting is akin to asking Ford to start making Toyotas. You don’t just yank out one crop and start planting another. I have to help my farmers where they are in this lifetime … with the crop that’s been on their land for generations.”
“What about sustainability, Senator? Looking ahead twenty years and more, wouldn’t you want to be supporting a crop that could enhance the planet, rather than one that destroys it?.” Was it getting warm in here? Courtney fidgeted with her thin gold necklace.
“Just so I understand, you came here to try to convince me of something, and now you’re questioning my judgment?” The corner of his mouth twitched. Was he suppressing a scowl or a grin?
He’s right. What am I doing? Cool down, Court. “Look, what you’re doing with price election is admirable, but it doesn’t begin to touch on the crux of the tobacco issue.”
Like he doesn’t know. “Which is the recent upswing in tobacco use by teenagers.”
“I’m assuming you have statistics on that.”
“Absolutely.” Courtney reached into her briefcase and pulled out a folder. “I’ve prepared a dossier of information that you are welcome to use to build your case in the Senate.” She handed the folder to Senator Morrison. “I’d be happy to send you electronic copies, as well.”
“That won’t be necessary at this point,” Senator Morrison said. He flung the folder into his desktop inbox, which was already overflowing. “It’s important that you know why I took this job, Miss Larson. I work on behalf of the citizens of my district, and the bills I push are ones that I know will directly benefit them.”
“Perhaps they don’t feel it would be in their best interests to curb teenage smoking. Maybe they’d rather deal with the heartache of lung cancer when those teenagers hit their fifties.” Courtney didn’t need a cigarette to generate smoke. It rose from her ears and swirled around her head. “As their senator, it’s your responsibility to ensure that the future generation is smoke free, and that begins with your constituents. They look to you to lead them, and this is an issue where you can take a noble stand for their health. You say you want to help tobacco farmers, but what help can you be when you’re perpetuating the problem?” Add flaring nostrils to those smoking ears.
“Whoa, can we dial it back a bit here?” The senator made the timeout sign, and again, that little mouth twitch seemed to suppress a grin.
“Sorry. Perhaps I got a bit carried away. I didn’t mean to tell you how to do your job.” She was just trying to appeal to his better nature … if he had one.
“Didn’t you?” He chuckled, displaying that one dimple. “You told me exactly how you think I should do my job.”
“I try to remain objective about the issues I represent, but this one is personal. My mother died of lung cancer.” She’d had no intention of telling Senator Morrison about her mother, but she didn’t want him to think she blathered like that on a regular basis.
“I understand.” He spoke slowly, his voice evoking empathy. “Being passionate about an issue is admirable.” He looked at her from under his eyelashes. He was either sincere or very good at rhetoric. He checked his watch. She’d vote for the rhetoric. “Listen, you’ve made a cogent argument, but I’m firm on my position. And right now, I have another appointment. In fact, they’re probably waiting.”
Courtney’s heart sunk to the soles of her black pumps. She couldn’t let this defeat her. Think … think … think. “Certainly, Senator. I won’t take up more of your time, but I’d like to leave you with this passing thought. I know you’re a supporter of the Big Brother Program, and I wonder how you’d feel about your little brother, I believe his name is Travis, taking up smoking?”
The senator’s eyes grew wide. “I see you’ve done your research, Miss Larson, and the answer is no, I wouldn’t want Travis to start smoking.”
“I suspected as much,” Courtney said. She wanted to say something about how her information had hit home, but she bit her tongue. Better to let him mull this over.
He nodded, a small smile tugging at his lips. “Can we continue this discussion another time?”
“Certainly. I’ll check your schedule on my way out.” Courtney bolted up from her chair, and then pressed her fingers to her temple, feeling a bit light-headed.
He opened his mouth, closed it, and then said, “Are you free for dinner tonight, say seven o’clock?”
Mixing business and pleasure—never a good idea. She felt her cheeks blaze. Her mind scrambled for a plausible excuse, but nothing surfaced. Oh, what the heck. Live a little dangerously, Court. “Uh, yes I am.”
“Great. Leave your address with my secretary.”
Minor victory but Courtney would take it. She took a deep breath, finally able to relax, and suddenly her head grew light, her vision blurring—should’ve grabbed lunch—and she blinked hard to focus. There was a collection of photos on the wall behind the senator’s desk and Courtney stared hard, willing the brief detached sensation to pass. They were duplicates of the photos she’d seen online: group shots featuring Eric and friends fishing at a lake, posing with horses in equestrian gear,and bundled up on a snowy ski slope. Next to the photos was a framed riding crop. Curious. Something about it spiked her interest. “Do you use that for riding?”
The senator smiled, but this time his lips didn’t turn up in a politician’s grin or a condescending smirk. This time, his lips curled seductively. “Yes, for all sorts of riding. I have quite a collection at home.”
Besides horses, what would he be riding? Oh … Don’t blush, don’t blush, don’t blush, Courtney chanted to herself. And what else might he have in his collection? “I’ll … be … going … now.” As she walked away from the senator, she realized she was leading with her neck, which jutted out like a horse just sprung from the paddock, anxious to hit the meadow.