The Kept Woman(9)

By: Susan Donovan



Sam grew very still and said, "OooK."

Kara cleared her throat. "Do you remember what you said last Friday at the Lizard Lounge? About how there was nothing wrong with being a kept woman?"

Sam blinked. "I said what?"

"Sure she remembers," Monte said, uncurling her legs and placing her feet square on the floor. "Go on."

Sam glared at her. "I do?"

"Sure you do. You said if there was a way to swing it without damaging the kids you'd do it in a heartbeat."

Sam frowned, then dragged her gaze back to Kara. "Obviously, Jose Cuervo was doing the talking last Friday, not me." Then she laughed. "Why? Did you go out over the weekend and find some loser who wants to be my sugar daddy?"

Kara folded her hands in her lap and bit the inside of her cheek to keep a straight face. "Actually," she said, noting how Sam's grin was slowly melting into something akin to horror, "I was hoping you might help him be a winner."





2





Jack hadn't been this nervous since his first and only Super Bowl appearance, at the end of his first and only year as an NFL starting quarterback, when he realized the TV cameras were going to be as unforgiving as the fans. His hands had been so sweaty that he fumbled the first snap, dread coursing through him as the textured leather of the ball slid right through his fingers and bounced on the AstroTurf. His fingers were nearly that wet now, and no matter how many times he jerked at his tie, he couldn't seem to get rid of the nagging feeling that he was choking.

He couldn't fumble this. Kara had been right. This was his last shot at an elected office on the national level. In his heart, he knew it.

"The hard stuff is over, Jack. Relax. This is a formality."

Jack chortled, twirling a felt-tip pen in the fingers of his damp right hand and ignoring Stuart.

"That little lady was quite a negotiator, too, let me tell you." Stuart walked over to the miniblinds at the windows and pulled them shut, casting the sixteenth-floor conference room in muted light. "A signing bonus, private school tuition, college trust funds, monthly stipend. . .I haven't worked that hard to hammer out a contract since the labor dispute at the kosher meatpacking house back in '99."

Jack looked up at his lawyer accusingly. "I hope you're not implying that I'm being led to slaughter."

Stuart smiled. "Of course not. Did you read the opposition research we did on her?"

"Yeah. Nice work." Jack shook his head in amazement. Kara and Stuart had done such a complete background check on the Monroe woman that Jack almost felt guilty—she'd be walking in that room in a moment and he'd already know everything about her, from her shoe size to her credit score.

Sam Monroe's health was excellent—no current prescriptions; allergic to codeine; hospitalized for childbirth only. No complications. Minor carpal tunnel from her job. Four ceramic fillings in her molars. She saw a counselor during and after the divorce and was treated for mild depression for six months.

She made forty-five thousand dollars in commission last year, not counting tips. She still owed a few thousand on her student loan, but her 1997 Toyota minivan was paid for. She rented a house for nine hundred dollars a month and she was often late with the rent. Her Visa and Discover cards were maxed out.

She'd graduated from Valparaiso public schools and earned a respectable B average at Hanover, a college for artsy-fartsy brainiacs.

Her divorce had become final a little over three years ago. Prosecutor's office records showed her ex-husband, Mitchell James Bergen, no known address, was currently fifty-four thousand dollars in arrears in child support payments. She had no history of felony charges or convictions, but her DMV records showed three speeding tickets in the last fifteen years and a warning for a broken taillight. Her registration and auto emissions inspections were current, and her children had no juvenile truancy or criminal issues.

Her job history was flawless. She'd been at the salon for thirteen years and was loved by her clients and boss. Apparently, she used to paint Kara said that she was talented and had sold some pieces, but her stuff was too abstract for most people's tastes.

Her parents and a married younger brother still lived in Valpo, though they weren't particularly close. Sam was attached by the hip to a fellow stylist named Monte McQueen, a never-married mother of one who paid for cosmetology school by singing in a now-defunct Indianapolis R&B band. It seemed the drummer's sperm donation was the only thing he'd ever done for their son, Simon, and the two women and their kids acted as a de facto man-free family unit.

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