The Kept Woman(4)

By: Susan Donovan



"Stop right there." Jack began laughing again, and this time his chortle had an edge of madness to it. "Sure, I'd like to be the newest senator from Indiana. I'd like that just fine. But Kara, there will be no babies rented in order to get me there. No kids. This is insane."

Kara waved a manicured finger in the air. "Think about it, Jack. What would scream reformed more than having a hardworking divorced hairstylist and her three kids at your side? You can play it down. Let the voters make their own inferences. I'm telling you. It will work fabulously."

"Absolutely not." Jack shoved his hands down into the front pockets of his chinos and glared at her. "And I would think that after four campaigns and twenty years you'd know me better than that."

Kara tilted her head and paused for a moment, then sighed. "That's just it, Jack. As your longtime campaign manager and dear friend, I can tell you the truth, and the truth is that you've just been handed your last shot. Allen Ditto's decision not to run for the Senate again is a gift, and if you don't make it happen now, you never will."

"That's just one possible scenario."

"It is the only one." Kara eased out of her chair and walked to where he stood by the wall of bookcases. She gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. "Look, Jack, it's been four years since you ended your lieutenant governor gig and two years since Christy helped the voters decide you were a punkass, sexist pig not fit for the Seventh District congressional seat."

Jack winced.

"Every focus group and poll we've commissioned has said the same thing—voters want to support you, but they can't get over your reputation as a player, especially women voters. That's all that's keeping you from winning, Jack. The money is there—the Tolliver name still opens checkbooks—and we're already well on our way to the three million it will take for this campaign. But honestly, I don't think there's enough money in Fort Knox to get you elected unless you make a gesture of the grandest kind."

Jack squeezed his eyes shut and let out a hiss of disgust. Kara was pretty sure it was self-directed.

"You've got to show voters that you're not the same man who was caught ogling a speaker's booty at a teachers' convention two years ago! They have to see that you've changed. That you have a new perspective on life and family and can better represent hardworking Hoosiers in our nation's capital." Kara paused, making sure Jack was following along. He seemed less pissed, so she continued.

"It's creative campaign strategy. It's a business arrangement. It's a way to tweak your private life into shape on incredibly short notice."

"Oh my God," Jack mumbled.

Kara smiled big. "Let's say Sam Monroe and her kids hang around for six months or so, then after the primary you can have a quiet, amicable breakup and, once again, ask that the public respect her privacy. No one gets hurt."

"And how could we be sure she wouldn't talk?"

"A simple nondisclosure clause. If she talks, she has to give back the money, and she'll want that money. Trust me."

"Uh-huh."

"And think about it! Remember how Manheimer droned on at that homeless roundtable about how the Tollivers were too rich to identify with those in need and even owned a mansion that no one even lived in? Hey—Sam and the kids could move in here. It would be seen as an act of compassion and generosity. Am I a genius or what?"

Kara watched Jack chew his lip. She watched his fiercely intelligent green eyes scan his surroundings, calculating the truth of her observations, weighing the risks of her plan, and plotting his next move. Kara had known Jack since their freshman year in Bloomington. Jack was sharp. He was a man who could think on his feet, keep a clear view of what was critically important, and make his move right in the nick of time. It's what had once made him the NFL's hottest quarterback. It's what made him a natural politician, like his father and his father before him.

Kara waited for Jack to say something—anything. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Jack's bright green eyes flashed and he gave her a decisive nod, exhibiting the kind of clarity of purpose he'd need to pull this off. At that moment, Kara felt truly proud of Jack the politician—and Jack the man—and waited for his pronouncement.

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