It’s always a mistake to let the politicians come in before the entree. Before cocktails even. As if these dinner parties weren’t bad enough. I slid over on the long, lumpy settee, swallowed down my irritation and let him sit next to me. Senator Buck Martino in the flesh.
Not as much flesh showing as the last time I’d seen him, but we apparently weren’t talking about that, were we? I lifted my eyebrows and he lowered his, so no, I guess not.
“All flights to Minneapolis have been cancelled, Sir,” Freddie was one of the interns — the only one whose name I could ever remember. Freddie the Firefly.Randomly lit up and jarred for life. “12 inches of snow already and more coming.”
For no good reason that I could see, Buck shifted and leaned back, making sure to press his shoulder against mine. His arm and hip lined themselves up. All upper body parts were in complete agreement about touching me.
“I’m sure your mom’s fine, Freddie. Don’t you worry.” He was blunt and sure. About everything. That’s how he kept getting elected.
“Her ph — phone is — there’s no service, Sir.” Freddie flickered a little, but I’d met Mrs. Firefly at a rally last fall. Well, not met, exactly. More like applied ice to the face of the security guard she’d punched.
“I’ll call the state police, ask them to check on her, okay?” Buck’s deep, booming voice calmed Freddie and everyone else in listening range. “We’ll stay here in Miami tonight.”
Oh, and hello Mr. Thigh, there you are. Senatorial knee, touching mine. And his calf. Why hadn’t I bought those double-thick, thermal yoga pants I’d seen at Macy’s instead of this tiny, silk dress?
Two more senators wandered in, as well as that congressman wearing the ankle tracking bracelet, and the lieutenant governor who blocked me on Twitter. Sure, buddy, I’m the snowflake. Hey, was that Justice Sotomayor’s law clerk over there?
Buck nodded at Freddie. “The bar’s open, kid.”
Freddie lurched to his feet. He didn’t have to ask what we wanted.
“Sit on my right at dinner,” Buck whispered as soon as he was gone. “I’ve got that whack job sitting on my left side.”
I snorted. “Whack job could be anyone in this room. You’ll have to narrow it down by state.” Damn, he was so warm and solid. My skin was melting.
“You know, the guy from the back ass of nowhere. Smells like shrimp.”
I waved at a tall woman with pink hair, one of the think tank geniuses. She glanced at Buck and lifted her boobs a little higher. “Biloxi is not nowhere, Buck. He’s a lobbyist. Some coastal association. Gave you some pretty pennies.”
“I know. That’s why he’s sitting next to me at dinner.” He took a slow, deep breath. Breathing me in. It would have to hold him a few more hours.
Freddie leaned over me with a Glenlivet (mine) and a gin and tonic for Buck, then wandered off to be with his own kind — the pile of interns huddled in archway, staring hungrily at the dining room. God, those kids could eat.
I tossed my hair back over my shoulder, making sure it brushed Buck’s face. He smiled slowly without turning his head. “Stay another night,” he said softly, swirling his glass. He wasn’t going to drink it; he never did.
“I’m going to Phoenix. My flight’s fine.” I was hosting a panel discussion for a women’s group tomorrow night. Then another dinner. A spoken word thing at a community college. A pancake breakfast. A church, too, I think. “This is why you keep me around, Senator. I drum up votes and beg for money.”
“Stay.” This time it was not a request.
I sighed. We’d been over this a hundred times. “We can’t keep doing this, Buck.”
“The hell we can’t.”
“She’s already warned us twice.” I was scared of Muriel, even if he wasn’t. With the kids grown, this campaign occupied every moment of her life, and in her opinion, I was just one more big distraction.
“Muriel’s going to have to face the truth sooner or later.” Implacable. I wanted to climb on his lap and see if he was implacable anywhere else.
The room was filling up with legislative aides and local Miami celebrities. I let my hand brush Buck’s hard abs for just a second, just to hear him hiss. “Somebody said Jennifer Lopez might show up. Bet that’ll turn you on.” He gave me that look, that dark and needy thing he did, right before he turned himself loose. “Ms. Lopez will just have to wait her turn,” he said roughly. “I’m all yours tonight.”
I pulled out my phone and cancelled my flight. In a couple of minutes, he’d be surrounded by people, and I’d be making polite conversation with some random city councilman. He was right; we could barely sneak off together as it was. Muriel would be none the wiser.
There was a crush of people now, some calling his name and pushing towards him. Buck gave me one last secret smile before he was swallowed up by the crowd.
I drifted into a circle of Cuban businessmen, who kept my glass filled, and slipped me a few cigars for the Senator. Just as I heard the dinner gong, I saw Muriel. Glaring at me over the bobbing heads of statesmen and media junkies.
Oh, she was pissed that I was still here instead of on my way to Phoenix.
She looked good. Really good. A vibrant blue off-the-shoulder dress that really brought out her eyes.
Of course, those eyes were boring holes into my skull right now, taking away from the overall effect. But still.
I saw Freddie floating by in the sea of people and grabbed his arm.
“Ma’am?” he floundered. Probably scared he was going to miss the cheese straws.
“Freddie,” I whispered urgently. “Muriel’s on the war path.”
“Oh, no!” He was scared of her, too. I wasn’t the only one. She ran this campaign like Douglas MacArthur, and we all saluted, even the Senator.
“You’ve got to tell her that I — “
Freddie shook me off. “Me? ME? Oh, no! I can’t talk to her!”
I squeezed his little firefly elbow and he whimpered. “Buck up, man! Just tell her I left for Phoenix!”
I slipped through the archway and ran for the main staircase, away from those cold, cobalt eyes. I’d grab some Puerto Rican food from that grill around the corner, then head over to Buck’s suite at the Fountainbleu. I could send him some very interesting texts while he was at dinner.
I swear. The lies I have to tell just to sleep with my husband.