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By Anna Schmidt
Steeple HillCopyright © 2005 Anna Schmidt
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Inside the Capitol, the high domed walls of the rotunda echoed with conversation. Members of Congress — new and experienced — along with their staffs and families, accepted refreshments from trays offered by uniformed waiters. Grace Harrison helped herself to a glass of the watery punch and strolled the perimeter of the crowded gathering, eyes and ears on alert.
As the daughter of one of the nation's most popular senators, Grace was an expert at handling the media and especially at spotting any reporter who might be specifically looking for a story on her family. Riley Harrison had taught her well. He had also pleaded with her to show up at this welcoming reception. Her assignment was to help the rest of his staff keep the press at bay while he worked the room. "Dad," Grace had said, knowing that she didn't need to finish her plea. Her father was well aware of her aversion to any sort of political function. Fortunately, the public was completely sympathetic to her desire to have a normal life outside the spotlight. They even applauded her efforts. They loved the fact that she still lived at home with her parents and embraced her no-nonsense style and her choice to pursue her career as a religious education and program director for one of the city's oldest churches. She was viewed as more normal and more in touch with the public than most offspring of politicians — and that translated into increased popularity and votes for her father.
"Now, Gracie, I know you hate these things, but it's been a while since I asked you to do anything like this and the media will love it."
Grace sightings were a real coup for any D.C. reporter. In spite of their respect for her preference to lead a quiet life, the public ate up any news about Grace. Most recently the Washington press had had a field day speculating on the breakup of her long romance with a high profile attorney. The simple explanation was that she and Nick had both realized they were together more out of habit and a friendship that dated back to their high school days. But that was far too mundane for the newsman to accept without two days of rumors and stories of a heartbroken Grace.
When Nick began dating Grace's best friend Bethany, the news fueled a fresh wave of rumors and conjecture. Fortunately the election had turned attention away from Grace and on to the possibility of meatier news. It was ironic that in trying to maintain a low profile and get on with her life, she had become material for the gossipmongers.
"But, Dad "
"Ken's wife went into labor an hour ago, honey. You know that I wouldn't ask otherwise. I really need your help. An hour — that's it, I promise."
Ken was the senator's chief of staff and more than once he had persuaded her father that Grace's preference for a life of her own out of the spotlight, was a definite plus with the voters. She owed him. "Okay. One hour," she agreed, although she knew that it would be at least two.
Grace did her duty, mingling with members of Congress who had been old family friends for years and introducing herself to the newcomers who were clearly delighted to meet the elusive daughter of Senator Riley Harrison.
Grace knew most of the press, so she spotted the new guy right away. She leaned against a marble column and crossed one ankle over the other as she studied him. If she hadn't seen the press badge, she might have assumed he was a staffer for a member of the new class of Congress.
Even in terms of being a journalist, he looked more like a seasoned veteran than a rookie. The less experienced reporters could never completely conceal their eagerness and excitement at having landed an assignment to cover their first event on the Hill. This guy looked anything but eager or excited. He looked jaded, even a little hostile, as if anticipating the event to be a complete flop in terms of yielding anything of use to him. He strolled around the perimeter of the room, with an air of nonchalance, but his eyes scanned the crowd with practiced skill. He wasn't yet sure what he was looking for, but everything about him told Grace that he could recognize even the slightest indication of a story.
She recorded his physical features — six feet, athletic build, clothes selected as much for the air of casual cool as their perfect fit. But it was the face that drew her attention. Charcoal hair that might gray prematurely to salt-and-pepper in a few years, eyes deep-set and vigilant, watching everyone and everything in his surroundings, skin that would sport an intriguing five o'clock shadow by three and a mouth that promised a dimple when, and if, he smiled.
He didn't appear to have noticed her, or if he had, he was playing it very cool. Grace was used to being recognized and had no doubt that he would be no exception. She paused as he ambled closer. Then she saw him recognize her father. His body posture changed to a predatory readiness and his eyes brightened like a hunter who had just spotted a sixteen-point buck. Grace scanned the room and saw the other members of her father's staff occupied with reporters from the other papers and local television stations. This one was hers. She sighed, pushed herself away from the cool marble of the column and stepped directly in his path.
"Hi," she said with a bright, if completely artificial, smile. He glanced at her. His eyes flickered with recognition, but to her surprise he offered an equally artificial smile and prepared to move on. "Quite a crowd," she added, raising her voice to be heard above the clamor in the cavernous rotunda. She moved closer, effectively trapping him between a marble column, the bust of Thomas Jefferson, and herself.
It was obvious that he knew who she was. However, the only thing she saw clearly reflected in those deep-set eyes — which she now saw were a steely gray — was that she was in his way. Grace waited as he waged the battle between innate politeness and the need to keep tracking his prey — her father, in this case. Politeness won.
"Yes, quite a crowd. Seems like everyone is here except the President and his entou-rage." His smile was so tight that the dimple never appeared and he looked over her instead of at her. It was evident that he hoped that she'd get the message and move on.
She checked the name on his press badge — Jud Marlowe — and realized she knew the name but not the man. She tried to think how his name might have come up. He shifted slightly in order to see around her and the column as he continued to track her father. That Jud Marlowe.
Marlowe was the reporter who had written a scathing expose on Charlie Blackwell, a former business partner of her father's and a dear family friend. Marlowe was the one who had accepted documents and other information from a supposedly trusted source without realizing that his source had her own agenda when it came to ruining Charlie. In an effort to save face and avoid a huge lawsuit, the paper had fired him.
Grace frowned and sipped her punch. Obviously, he'd gotten himself rehired. She glanced at the press badge again. Washington Today. Millie Peterson's paper. That made sense. Millie had worked hard to put together a staff of slightly renegade journalists who weren't afraid to go after a story on the slim-mest of information.
"Would you excuse me?" he said, starting to make his move, his attention still firmly on her father through the gathering.
Grace wasn't about to allow this guy within ten feet of her father. She shifted positions, making it impossible for him to leave without physically pushing her aside, and said, "I'm Grace Harrison."
He gave her his full attention for the first time since she initiated contact. "I know," he replied and said nothing more. Instead he studied her, clearly trying to figure out why the reclusive Grace Harrison had actually introduced herself to a reporter.
Excerpted from Matchmaker, Matchmaker... by Anna Schmidt Copyright © 2005 by Anna Schmidt. Excerpted by permission.
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