The Kept Woman(3)

By: Susan Donovan

"Fine, but if we're being blunt, then let me just remind you that no woman is perfect, especially the ones that you can buy."

"She's not for sale. She would be more of a rental."

Jack produced another hearty laugh. "Good God, Kara! I will not rent a fake fiancee! It is immoral and reprehensible, not to mention pathetic!"

Jack raked his large hands through his waves of dark hair, pushed himself up from the desk, and turned his back to Kara. He began to pace through the office as he thought aloud. "Besides, if I want to benefit from her strengths, I'll have to eat her weaknesses, won't I? Does she have a criminal record? Speeding tickets? How about her credit rating? Is she even registered to vote?"

Kara smiled to herself, watching the sway of Jack's muscular bottom as he paced, the way the wide ledge of his shoulders rolled with each step. She knew there was no man less in need of dating intervention than Juicy Jack Tolliver. But Kara also knew that at this crucial point in his political career the emphasis needed to be on the quality of the women in his life, not the quantity, and Jack's tendency to focus on the latter had suddenly become a bigger liability than ever.

"I've already started opposition research on Samantha—anything and everything your challengers could come up with I've got covered. So far, a spotty credit rating after her divorce is all I'm seeing, and that's understandable. Makes her more sympathetic even."

Jack shook his head, still facing away from Kara. He spoke so softly she could barely hear him. "What about Tina? Damn. She was a redhead. You know how I love redheads."

"You've only been dating her a month."

"It's been a real good month."

"She's a twenty-five-year-old belly dancer, Jack, which may be entertaining to you personally but won't exactly send the right message to voters. Besides, I don't think she's a natural redhead."

"The color might be from a bottle, but it looks good on her. And for the record, Tina is a pediatric nurse who only moonlights as a belly dancer. And she's incredibly flexible."

"Good. Then she'll recover nicely when you break up with her."

"No one's going to believe I'm engaged anyway." Jack chuckled, staring up in exasperation at the room's ornate pressed-tin ceiling. "I'm just supposed to wake up one day and bam!—I'm suddenly overcome with the urge to commit? Please. Who's going to believe that crap?"

"People change, Jack. The voters would accept that you've matured, that you found the right woman and decided to settle down. It happens to men all the time."

He glanced over his shoulder, one eyebrow arched, a green eye narrowed at her in doubt.

"And there's plenty of time before the primary," Kara continued. "A dinner here, a basketball game there, an anonymous tip to the Star's city desk, and pretty soon you've got a blossoming romance in place before the February filing deadline. It doesn't look rushed. And you're golden."

"Or I'm dead meat." Jack whipped around. "Surely you realize I'd be nailing down my own coffin lid if someone discovers this little business transaction? Maybe, I don't know, someone like Christy Schoen?"

Kara had anticipated this concern, and she nodded crisply. "I will micromanage the hell out of the media. I will personally keep Christy on a short leash."

Jack roared. "Careful. That little bitch will yank your arm right out of its socket sniffing out a lead story for Capitol Update."

Kara smiled. She'd been a guest on Christy's Sunday TV show more times than she could count, and she knew all about the journalist's pathological disdain for Jack. Kara couldn't exactly blame her—no woman likes to get kicked to the curb in public. "You really were a real ass to Christy, you know."

"Yes, I was. But pardon me if I feel the time for apologizing is long gone."

"Well, we'll handle Christy, because we have to," Kara said. "As for the rest of the media, the secret will be a light touch. A little public exposure will go a long way with this. And you can always explain that Samantha and the children treasure their privacy."

"Children?" Jack's eyes went huge. "This rental woman comes with children?"

Kara shrugged good-naturedly. She knew this part would be the hardest for Jack, but it was also the piece that was going to appeal most to voters. "Three kids. I know them. They're great. Her baby, Dakota, is the cutest little—"

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