Political strategist Glenda Nelson is having a meltdown. Her handpicked, very married Congressional candidate was just caught climbing out of the window of the Sleepytown Motel, and her philandering ex-husband seems to have the most to gain from the colossal scandal that follows. As Glenda attempts to salvage the campaign in a hotly contested race, conservative and liberal pundits pounce on the story to further their own agendas.
Glenda’s love life is nonexistent to say the least, that is, until she meets handsome artist Chris Goodrich. Chris’s easy-going, carefree outlook on life couldn’t be more different than the 90-mph crazy train that is Glenda’s, but the more time she spends with him, the more she craves his calming presence, his sexy smile, and his steamy embraces. Is Chris worth taking a chance on?
Between the pressure of full-blown spin control mode, rapidly declining job security, refereeing two teenagers, caring for aging parents, and spending hours on her therapist’s couch trying to get past her ex’s crushing betrayal, Glenda finds love and makes the long trek back to happy.
Nearly three hundred years after the first hardy German settlers arrived in my county, many things had not changed. My ten-mile trip to Lancaster City had taken forty minutes trailing an Amish buggy.
“Glenda! Where have you been?” my boss, Melvin Smith, shouted from the steps of the county courthouse.
“I got behind a buggy,” I said as I jumped curb stones and dodged opened car doors on my way across the parking lot to where Melvin waited for me.
“We don’t want to be late to see what our seventy-five thousand dollars bought us,” he said as he yanked open the ornate, wooden door.
Melvin and I worked for the Lancaster County Democratic Committee, and it was a stick in his craw that Deidre Dumas, the Republican Chairwoman, had strong-armed more donations than he to fund a mural to hang in our courthouse.
“Are you still pissed the Republican Committee raised more money? You’ve got to get over this, Melvin.” We hurried past the buffet table, weaving through the county big shots and up a rickety set of steps to take our place on the dais for the unveiling.
Deidre air-kissed Melvin, and Bill Frome, county Republican strategist and the yin to my yang, gave me a tight-lipped smile and shook my hand as he looked at his watch. Photographers from the local newspaper were taking pictures, and Melvin leaned close to me.
“They’re cutting us out of these photos, Glenda. You mark my words,” he whispered.
“They’re not cutting us out of the photos.” I took a quick peek down the line of smiling suits and black dresses. I could barely see past Deidre’s cemented bouffant, puffed up and combed away from her face ending with an artfully rigid curl just above her shoulder. She had acquired the style in the mid-sixties, copying either Jackie Onassis or George Mitchell’s wife, and rode it all the way into the new millennium.
“Who’s the guy?” I asked Melvin.
“I’m black,” Melvin replied. “I’m as odd as they get in Lancaster County.”
The cameras kept flashing as I smiled and talked through my teeth. “You’re not odd because you’re an African American, Melvin. In this county, we’re both odd because we’re Democrats. And, anyway, I’m talking about the guy in the middle of the line in the jeans and blazer.”
The flashes stopped abruptly, and the Chairman of the County Commissioners, Alan Snavely, walked up to the microphone. He proceeded to extol the generosity of county residents in giving their hard-earned dollars to fund the mural project for the courthouse. He gestured repeatedly to the black-draped wall behind us, introduced the oddball as the mural artist, and then wrapped it up with some hard facts.
“The Lancaster County Democratic Committee raised seventy-four thousand, eight-hundred and ninety dollars . . .”
“That’s seventy-five even, Alan,” Melvin interrupted. “We had a last minute contribution.”
All heads turned Melvin’s way, including mine.
“Seventy-five even, Melvin?” Alan repeated.
“As of this morning.”
“OK then, it’s seventy-five even from the Democrats.” Snavely took a pen from his breast pocket to jot down the adjustment to his notes. “And the Lancaster County Republican Committee raised a whopping one-hundred thousand dollars.” The crowd clapped politely, and Alan continued, “And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Our artist, Christopher Goodwich, was commissioned nearly a year ago and has come here from his home state of Ohio for tonight’s unveiling. He has won multiple accolades for his work, and the Goodwich Family Foundation is well-known among philanthropists. Mr. Goodwich, would you do the honors?”
Christopher Goodwich moved from his place in line, yanked a gold pull rope, and the black curtain fell away. I looked up at the thirty-foot mural of a Lancaster County Revolutionary War battle as did everyone else. To my amazement this typically chattering crowd fell silent other than a smattering of appreciative oohs and aahs.
The painting was stunningly beautiful. I could see the hope and fear on the faces of the soldiers and practically hear the roar of the cannons and smell the smoke. Alan grabbed the microphone again and began discussing the mural as if he had the foggiest understanding of artwork. But it made me curious about the artist, and I took a second look at Christopher Goodwich.
He was a handsome man. Casually masculine with green eyes and a smile that made me think about George Clooney in a tuxedo. Get those hormones under control, I thought. At forty-six with a rather ugly divorce under my belt and two teenage children, I needed a man like the President needed another Cabinet nominee in tax trouble.
* * *
Alan rambled on to the crowd about how fabulous we all were for fifteen more minutes but finally got the message that no one was listening. Eventually, he told us to get something to eat and drink. I called home from the lobby.
“What are you doing?” I asked my fifteen-year-old daughter.
“Yoga,” Sylvia replied.
“Are you in your Zen place yet?”
“You’re confusing your disciplines, Mother.”
“Lighten up. What’s your brother doing?”
“He and Zach went downtown to picket an abortion clinic. Maybe intimidate some poor woman into going back to an abusive husband.”
The trouble with raising intelligent, well-read, thoughtful children was that they more times than not disagreed with me and each other and could back up their argument. Had I not been present at each of their conceptions and births, I would have been skeptical of their parentage.
“Frank is not picketing an abortion clinic. There are none in this county. What did you eat for dinner?”
“I heated up potatoes from the other night.”
“The Pop’s potatoes?”
“Yeah. What kind of cheese was that on top?”
“The moldy kind. I made that two weeks ago.”
“Do you have your homework done?”
“Yeah, Mom. Gotta go. It’s the finale of ‘Blond & Beautiful’.”
I hit the End button, went to the buffet table, and filled a Styrofoam plate with carrots, dip and those little wieners with pie crust around them. The carrots were rolling around and getting stuck in the dip, but one wiener kept moving and made a break for the lip of the plate. I dipped my elbow for counter balance. “Whoa!”
The errant hors d’oeuvre caught a wave and hopped right off the edge of my dish. It landed on a plate inches away. I turned to see who was on the receiving end of my dinner. Christopher Goodwich was looking at the weenie standing upright in his spinach dip.
“Sorry,” I said.
“You couldn’t do that again in a million years.”
I laughed. “You’re probably right. . . Glenda Nelson,” I said and shook his hand. “The painting is exquisite. Well worth all the work to raise your commission. I’m with the Democratic Committee.”
“I saw you on stage.” Goodwich chuckled. “Seventy-five even.”
When he laughed, the little wrinkles around Chris Goodwich’s eyes creased. His mouth was full of even, white teeth. He pulled his lips to one side when he smiled, and it made him look boyish.
He took a long look around the room over the heads of many of the guests as he was able to do at six feet and something. “I expected this unveiling to be filled with history types all asking me about the buttons on the uniforms.”
“The buttons on the soldiers’ uniforms,” he said and popped my runaway weenie in his mouth.
“That had spinach dip on it.” I looked up at the newly-hung mural. “What about the buttons?”
“The buttons on the officers’ uniforms identified their home state or town. History guys always check out the insignia. You know, see if their great-great-great-grandfather fought with that regiment. I don’t paint them real clear for that reason.”
Goodwich looked up at his painting. “It’s a moment in time. Doesn’t have anything to do with who the soldiers were or could have been. There are a thousand moments just like this over the years. Individual sacrifice for larger ideal.”
He looked at me and laughed.
“Political crowd is worse, though,” I said. “I’m sure someone in this room is looking at your painting and trying to figure out who’s a Republican and who’s a Democrat.”
“They won’t get an answer from me.”
We chatted a while longer, and I realized Chris Goodwich and I had been standing right beside each other for half an hour, eating and talking. This was as close to a date as I had had in eight years. Not really a date, though. We gabbed like two old school chums. No wedding ring. Artist. Gay.
“I’ve held you up,” Chris said. “You probably have lots of people here you want to talk to.”
I shrugged. “Not really. Not people I want to talk to. But ones I should.”
“It was nice meeting you,” Chris said and smiled. He turned to walk away and was almost immediately stopped by a man in a Confederate officer’s uniform.
I wandered over to Melvin. He was listening to Deidre do a press interview, and I could see the veins on his neck starting to stick out. He was patting his coat pocket, trying to find his Rolaids as is his tendency to do when he’s upset.
“One-hundred and two thousand dollars,” Deidre was saying. “And change.”
The reporter wrapped up with Deidre and nodded to Melvin and me as he passed, hesitating nonchalantly to give me a look up and down. God bless men and their inability to walk by a woman without doing a quick once-over. Dark blonde hair, blue eyes and hanging on to a size twelve by the skin of my teeth, I could still turn a male head or two.
“She just couldn’t leave well enough alone at one-hundred thousand dollars, could she?” Melvin grumbled.
“Let it go,” I said. “You’re going to give yourself a stroke. Interesting that we got another one-hundred and ten dollars this morning to get us up to seventy-five even.”
“Another committed Democrat.” Melvin hitched up his pants, a sure sign he was lying.
“What did Martha say about you writing that check?”
“My wife doesn’t need to know everything.”
Deidre and Bill Frome joined us just as Meg Stoltzfus, Melvin’s and my secretary, stuck her head between us and whispered, “Mr. Smith, Harrisburg’s been trying to get hold of you all evening. You better call them. They said it was urgent.”
“How’s Grant?” Deidre asked me as Melvin wandered away.
Pennsylvania State Representative Grant Nelson, my ex, Sylvia and Frank’s father, had been everything I always wanted in a husband. After his fourth affair, I was certain I was not everything he wanted in a wife. He was remarried to one of the four itty, bitty young things who wore black cocktail dresses and had windswept jet-black hair to match.
“Grant’s in a tough race. I haven’t talked to him lately.”
“Not as tough as Marshall,” Bill Frome snickered.
I smiled. Melvin and I had found local businessman, John Marshall, nurtured him through some smaller races, and made the case to the state Democrats that he was our best chance to unseat incumbent Republican Richard Bindini for the U.S. Senate. It had been an uphill battle getting the Harrisburg folks to take a look at Marshall, and it would be a colossal battle for him to actually win.
Then I noticed Melvin gesturing frantically to me from the hallway. I followed, and he pulled me into the emergency exit stairwell.
“Marshall’s been having an affair.”
“Germaine Grishom’s got a picture of him coming out of a motel down on Route 30. It’s running tomorrow. Front page.” Melvin pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his forehead.
I was rarely speechless. But this was one of those occasions. Melvin and I had spent countless hours with John Marshall over the last ten years. We had been together many a late night in the office or at Melvin’s dining room table planning strategy and tutoring a political latecomer. I had watched him interact with his with wife Trixie. I had seen him kiss her goodbye, stare into her eyes, and stroke her face as we headed out to a rally. In the last few years I had been in John Marshall’s company more than anyone other than my children and Melvin.
“Your phone’s ringing,” Melvin said.
I looked at him and dug around in my suit pockets. “Hello.”
“Yeah, Frank. Where are you?”
“The Young Republican meeting. Everybody here is talking about Mr. Marshall. It sounds bad.”
Lying to your children, even by omission, has all the appeal of a chit recount on Election Day. “When are you going home? Is your homework done?”
“I’ll be home by ten, Mom. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” I looked at Melvin. “Frank just told me they’re talking about Marshall at the Young Republican’s meeting.”
“Cat’s out of the bag. Let’s get out of here.” Melvin grabbed my arm, as if he needed to hustle me along.
We hurried back to the celebration just as cell phones began to chime in a weird symphony of hymns, show tunes, and buzzes from pants pockets and purses all over the room. Melvin jumped into action before we were cornered into defending our candidate for the U.S. Senate.
“We’ve got to call it a night. Good night, everyone,” Melvin shouted over the din as he herded Meg and me to the courthouse door.
“I didn’t fill my doggy bag from the buffet,” Meg complained.
I was running, pulling my car keys from my purse as I went. A former U.S. President had been able to successfully spin adultery. I wasn’t nearly as confident.