I lean forward and whisper in his ear, “What are you doing?”
“Saving your ass,” he replies through gritted teeth.
“Do you have time for a one-on-one interview?” Ms. Campbell asks, tipping back on her heels nervously.
“He’s booked today, but if you call me—” Carl pulls a business card from his jacket and hands it to her “—I’ll make sure to schedule an interview as soon as possible.”
“Mr. Titan,” another reporter interrupts, sticking his recorder in my face.
Carl cuts him off, pushing the man’s arm down. “No more questions today. Please see the media spokeswoman, Ms. Jenkins, for any information or to schedule an interview in the future. It’s going to be a long season, ladies and gentleman. Mr. Titan has just announced his candidacy and needs to spend time tonight with his supporters who came to cheer him on.”
I want to argue with him, but he’s right. Tonight isn’t about the press. It’s about the people. People like me who rarely have a voice.
For far too long, I’ve been subjected to the deals many politicians made. The military is notoriously shortchanged and overworked because of special interest groups and in the name of the almighty dollar.
Americans are led to believe wars are fought for just reasons. Why else would they support them? Politicians tell lies to make the public accept the fact that thousands of lives will be lost in the name of saving the world from tyranny or terrorism.
But deep down, at the core of their decision to go to war, there’s another reason—an ulterior motive that seems to be missed by the masses.
Wars cost billions of dollars. The money is funneled from the US government to the weapons companies around the country.
War is big business.
Fortunes are made on the backs of US servicemen and women. They’ve given their lives for each dollar bill that lines the pockets of Washington’s elite.
It stops with me.
I’ll break the cycle and make people my first priority. Reagan Preston’s about to find out Marines always fight to win, no matter the cost.
My hands are covering my face, and I crack two fingers open to make a “V” I can see the TV screen through.
“Shit,” I say with a groan. “He has a presence, doesn’t he?”
“He definitely does,” my friend and campaign manager, Alexis, says.
I close my fingers and go back to the blissful blackness of not seeing my new opponent, Jude Titan. “Why does he have to be so damned attractive? And…heroic? Attractive or heroic, I think I could handle, but both?”
“Mmm, I’ll handle that man anytime,” Lexi mutters.
“You’re not helping.”
“Sorry.” She turns to me and takes my wrists, easing my hands down. “Look, we’ll find his weak spot. I mean, the guy’s never run for any office. Your political experience started in the womb.”
I roll my eyes. “Lex, being from a family with a history in politics is good and bad. It’s mostly bad against Jude Titan. He’s a war hero, returning home to shake up the establishment. No baggage. Just a chiseled jawline and a huge smile and a Medal of Honor around his neck.”
Lexi gets a dreamy look on her face, and I shove her. “Stop picturing him wearing nothing but the medal.”
“I wasn’t,” she says, her fair cheeks darkening.
“I may have been,” she admits.
“I am so fucked.” I lean back against the thinly upholstered bench at the fold-down kitchen table of my campaign bus.
“Game face,” Lexi reminds me. “You were fine the first time we watched this announcement.”
“It’s different when the entire staff is in here. With you, I can be myself.”
“Yeah, I know.” She glances at her wristwatch. “Hey, you want me to reschedule your stuff for the rest of the day, and we can wallow? I’ll allow you six hours to wallow before we put our big-girl panties back on.”
I smile. “Thanks, but no. I need to do those interviews and that speech to put on a good face about running against Titan.” I shake my head. “Ugh, even his name reeks of power and capability. I’ve really got my work cut out for me.”
“I’ll be right beside you. And your father will be, too.”
“You’re right,” I say with a deep breath. “We can do this.”
“You unseated Paul Hawthorne after he’d served five terms in the state house,” Lexi reminds me. “Your approval rating is strong. And since when do you back down from a fight?”
She’s getting animated now—her short red corkscrew curls are bouncing as she talks. I love this girl. She’s been by my side since we met as college sophomores a little more than ten years ago.
“Okay,” I say, taking a deep breath. “So Jude Titan’s running. Maybe he’ll lose in the primary.”
Lex snorts and laughs. She covers her mouth with her hand. “Sorry. Maybe he will.” She clears her throat and tries to stop smiling but just ends up laughing again.
I shake my head and walk back to the tiny bathroom. Life on a campaign bus is very unglam. The battle between the male and female staffers over the toilet seat is real, and it’s aggravated by someone’s lousy aim. Putting a pee-stained toilet seat down is just gross.
I fix my hair and put on fresh lip gloss. Before I’m done, I hear the rest of the staff piling back on to the bus. We stopped at a deli for a late lunch, and now it’s time to drive to Charleston for a campaign rally.
The ride to Charleston is quiet. Jude Titan’s announcement has everyone in a thoughtful mood. This election was in the bag. The Democratic primary is uncontested, so my only opponent for the Senate seat my father is vacating was going to be Republican Sonny Solomon, the quirky mayor of a small, southern Illinois town.
Jude is likely to plow over Sonny in the Republican primary, and that victory will give him momentum. I have a strong track record, but still…a handsome war hero is a tough opponent.
I give my stump speech at a rally in a high school gymnasium in Charleston, and the crowd roars to life when I mention Jude Titan at the end.
“Mr. Titan served our country with valor,” I say, my hands wrapped loosely around the edges of the wooden lectern I’m standing behind. “I have nothing but respect for him. Serving in the Senate is different, though. It takes experience and tenacity. I have both. I’m only thirty years old, but I know our state well. I know its needs well. Being Stan Preston’s daughter prepared me perfectly to be your next senator. I need your support, and I appreciate your being here tonight.”