Authors: Evelyn Adams
Tags: #alpha billionaire romance, #military romance, #politician, #alpha billionaires and alpha heroes, #office romance
ANDRA WALKER WATCHED HER HUSBAND grip his campaign manager’s arm, an expression she’d never seen before etched on his face. She took a deep breath and counted to twenty. Very slowly.
One. Two. Three.
If she stopped counting, there was a very real chance she’d fly across the stairwell and rip hunks of the ordinary brown hair out of the other woman’s head.
Four. Five. Six.
Her security would see, and it would make a scene. Sandra did not make scenes; she set them, creating an illusion of grace and charm wherever she went. So she counted...
seven, eight, nine
...and reminded herself why she shouldn’t kill her husband and the woman she was fairly certain had become his mistress.
For weeks, she’d suspected there was something going on between the two of them. The lipstick she’d seen on Shep’s face when she came back after the bridge collapse confirmed what she’d already known, but honestly, she thought he had better sense than to cop a feel in the hotel stairwell. She couldn’t be the only one who took the stairs instead of the elevator. Nothing toned glutes like a handful of flights of steps and she had the ass to prove it. She didn’t look the way she did by drinking sweet tea and taking the elevator.
Anybody could have walked in on her husband having a moment with a member of his staff, and then it would have all been over. Instead of first lady, she’d be the long-suffering spouse of one more cheating politician.
What a cliché.
The man she married wasn’t an idiot. He was rich, smart, and successful, with the energy and skill to climb to the top of the pack and stay there. That’s why she married him.
But get their dicks involved and even the smart ones lost their minds. And they thought women were the weaker sex.
It was a joke. Men might still stand out front and take credit for everything, but it was women who actually got things done. Women raised the children, made the family, and added the civility to civilization. And sacrificed damn near everything to do it. It had taken her years of work to reclaim her body after having her girls, and it still wouldn’t ever be the same.
She took another breath, feeling her nostrils flare, and deliberately shoved aside the emotions that weren’t getting her closer to where she wanted to be. She closed her eyes for a moment, smoothing her forehead before the creases became permanent. When she opened them again, she’d managed to bank her anger and keep her expression neutral. No easy feat considering the urge to commit murder hovered just under the surface.
“Shep, darling, I thought it might be getting close to time for you to make your statement.” Ignoring the other woman, she closed the distance between them. “I came to see if you needed me.”
He turned to face her and for a moment his expression held so much pain, she almost felt bad for him. And then she remembered what he’d been willing to risk and how much he could have cost her, and any sympathy she’d been on the cusp of feeling evaporated. She’d known what she was walking into when she married William Shepherd Walker. She’d known his family since she was a girl. His daddy’s affairs were legendary and largely ignored because he stayed discreet and made sure the women didn’t talk afterwards.
Part of her assumed Shep would follow in his father’s footsteps. Her mother-in-law hinted at as much before they were married, but it didn’t matter. Her in-laws were the governor and first lady of the state of South Carolina, and even back then Sandra had reason to believe Shep’s achievements would surpass his father’s. A little infidelity was a small price to pay for wealth, power, and a place in history. Of course, none of that would happen if her husband got caught having an affair with a member of his staff.
Before he could say anything else, she tucked her hand under his arm and nudged him in the direction of the suite the campaign was using as a war room. For a split second, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to move him. That the idiot would insist on having a confrontation in front of the security and staff.
“I’ll make sure the cameras are ready,” said the other woman.
Her voice unlocked Shep’s feet and he took a step toward the door. This time it was Sandra who stopped him, tucking his arm against her body. She glanced over her shoulder, meeting the other woman’s gaze for the first time.
“Of course you will,” she said, sliding a little honey into her voice. “That’s your job.”
She ignored Shep’s hesitation and headed for the door, leaving him no choice but to keep up with her or risk making a scene. For now, at least, he seemed to have enough sense not to do that, but honestly, given his recent judgment, she didn’t trust him to make decisions for himself anymore. Which meant she was going to have to go back to spending more time on that awful bus. If she couldn’t trust him to keep his shit together, then she couldn’t leave him alone. It meant bad food, bad hotels, and working out in sweaty hotel exercise rooms. And either pulling the girls out of school and finding a tutor or figuring out how to juggle their schedule so they didn’t fall behind. Just one more sacrifice for a man who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, or at least keep his extramarital action a secret like it was supposed to be.
TILL SHAKING, HAVEN headed into the hallway and punched the number for the elevator. She didn’t trust her legs to make it the two flights of stairs down to the ballroom. Not after dealing with Mrs. Walker. She’d never gotten a hint from the other woman that she realized something was going on between Haven and Walker. The woman had to be used to every female around making eyes over her husband. For a moment, Haven had almost convinced herself that Mrs. Walker hadn’t recognized what was happening in the stairwell. Walker hadn’t kissed her. He’d just held her arm, but he’d been on the cusp of telling her he loved her again. She’d seen it in his eyes. His wife must have read his emotions in his expression.
Sandra latched onto her husband’s arm like a child clutching a toy. That wasn’t right. Like a woman protecting what was hers. Haven couldn’t afford petty and vindictive. Not when she was on the wrong side of the issue. The look in her eyes when she reminded Haven she was paid help made it clear she knew exactly what was going on.
So what the hell happened now?
Haven stepped inside the elevator, letting out a breath as the doors slid closed. She needed the few moments alone to compose herself before she had to face the volunteers and the press. And she needed to remember that Walker’s campaign was more important than anything she might be feeling. She wanted to be with him, to know what he was thinking, but her job, as his wife pointed out, was making sure he became the next president of the United States. As long as he kept moving forward, she would too. They’d figure out how to deal with the mess they’d made of everything else later. For now, she’d shove it in a box and ignore it.
The ballroom was already filled with volunteers and supporters who, from the looks of things, had been celebrating for a while. American flags flanked the stage and the podium, with its
Walker: Moving America Forward
sign, waited for the senator to make his statement. A quick scan of the room showed the campaign’s normal press contingency plus a handful of local TV network crews waiting for news to happen. Haven recognized the
reporter who’d made such an impression on Mrs. Walker, talking to a young woman who looked vaguely familiar. Justin might have told her something about her, but she couldn’t remember what. At the moment, she couldn’t remember much of anything.
Her brain felt fuzzy and unfocused after the confrontation/non-confrontation with Mrs. Walker. She didn’t think she’d be able to puzzle her way out of a paper bag, let alone handle the press. Not that she had a choice. Regardless of what was going on with her heart, she had a job to do. The news cycle wouldn’t wait for her to get her shit together. If she didn’t give them the story she wanted them to have, they’d fill the space with something that served their purpose, not hers.
She drew in a still shaky breath, trying to steel herself. She’d just about convinced herself she could handle things when she felt a familiar hand on her shoulder. Turning, she found Justin looking at her, his penetrating gaze searching her face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, his hand occupying the same real estate Walker’s had only minutes earlier.
She wanted to hug him and tell him everything. He was her best friend—had been since college. They’d nursed each other through disappointment and heartbreak and cheered their individual and joint victories. Justin was her family. But if she told him the truth, if she told him she’d had an affair with their married client—worse, that she’d fallen in love with him—he might never forgive her.
If their positions were reversed and Justin was the one who’d broken the rules, she honestly didn’t know how she’d react. She was on unfamiliar ground. The only thing she could be absolutely sure of was that Justin couldn’t offer her the comfort she so desperately wanted and regardless of the risk, she wouldn’t give up Walker.
She’d do what she had to, stay away from him for a while, but she couldn’t stop loving him. Not even if she wanted to.
“Nothing,” she said, trying not to stumble over the lie. “I’m just making sure everything’s ready down here. The banner’s a nice touch.” She motioned toward the draping running along the front of the stage.
“Cut the bullshit, Haven.” He lowered his voice so only she could hear, but this still wasn’t a conversation they needed to be having in a room full of the press.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but whatever it is, this isn’t the place.” She tried for some of her old authority, but lying to her best friend made it hard to capture.
Keeping his grip on her arm, Justin leaned in close enough for her to breathe in the familiar scent of his aftershave. He bent his head so his lips were inches from her ear.
“Walker came back to the suite, looking like someone ran over his dog. Mrs. Walker was with him, clinging to his arm like a life raft and so artificially chipper, the IQ in the room dropped by ten points. Something happened, and I want to know what.” He pinned her with his gaze, and she had to work to keep from looking away.
She had a choice to make and in that moment, she made it. She could either tell Justin the truth or some version of it and live with the consequences, or she could lie and protect the man she loved. If she’d taken the time to consider it, she’d have been embarrassed by how quickly she decided. She pulled her arm free and took a step back, pitching her voice low enough not to be overheard.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, looking Justin in the eye and lying. “If something happened between the Walkers, I’m sure I don’t know what it is. Maybe the senator’s worried about Florida. Owen still thinks he’s going to lose. Ninety-nine is a lot of delegates.”
Justin gave her a look that clearly telegraphed what he thought of her answer, but he was smart enough not to push it in the middle of a crowded ballroom. She’d counted on that.
“Something happened,” he said, some of the fire going out of him.
“Well then, we’ll have to figure out what it was and deal with it.” She let her fingertips brush his arm for just a moment, wanting the contact in the face of all the deception. “Whatever it is can wait. Tell the Walkers we’re ready for them. I’ll go talk to the press.”
Before he could respond, she turned, knowing he’d do exactly as she asked, the way he always did. She’d make sure everything was set and then disappear before Walker and his wife showed up. She’d go pester Owen to fine-tune the projections for Utah and wait for the Florida numbers to prove him wrong. There was no way she could watch the Walkers play happy family.