The Halls of Power

Philippa Grey-Gerou

BALANCE OF POWER

Senator Marcus Whelan stared in disbelief at the pink While You Were Out message slip in his hand. "Linda Meyers canceled on me?"

"Yes, sir." Angie looked up from the calendar on her desk, a hint of amusement coloring her sympathy.

"But ... I'm a U.S. Senator! Can she do that?"

"Well, her appendix seems to think she can. They took her to the hospital before dawn."

"Oh." Marcus was instantly chagrined at his boorishness. "Did we send flowers?"

"Way ahead of you," Angie replied with a smile.

His original consternation took hold again. "Angie, I can't go stag to a state dinner. I just can't."

"Well," Angie put her pen down and came around to lean on the front of her desk, "I may have a solution for that, too."

"Oh, lord, what now?" He rolled his eyes in horror at the suggestion. "Last time you set me up, I ended up having to change my phone number."

"Shelly wasn't that bad." Her sheepish expression told him she knew just how bad it had been. "She's just ... determined. But no, this is definitely nothing like that. More in the nature of a business relationship. I hired you an escort for the evening."

"You did what?" He didn't even try to control his volume, drawing the attention of several of the junior members of his staff. "Are you out of your mind?" he continued more quietly. "I can't go to a White House function with a hooker on my arm!"

"Give me some credit, Marcus," Angie chided him. "She's not that kind of an escort. Her firm offers discreet personal security to high profile clients."

"So, what, you hired me a bodyguard?"

"No, I got you a respectable date for the evening with no risk of expectations. If you'd date more, I wouldn't have to." Her arch words were tinged with sisterly compassion.

He sighed. "If I dated more, you probably wouldn't have a job," he answered wryly.

"You're a handsome, powerful, successful man, Marcus. There's no reason for you to be alone so much."

"Angie, what woman is willing to play second fiddle to ten and a half million constituents? No woman should have to." He eyed her sardonically. "I should just marry you."

She grinned. "Darn those anti-polygamy laws. And somehow I don't think Mike and the kids would appreciate having to share me more than he already does."

Marcus shook his head. "All right, I surrender. Who is this woman?"

Angie twisted around to pick up a business card off her desk. "Her name is Cassandra Hargrove," she said, handing him the card. "And she comes very highly recommended. Senator Abrahms uses her firm all the time."

"Her firm?"

"Hargrove Security. I knew you would feel awkward about this, so she's coming to meet you at one-thirty this afternoon. If it doesn't feel right, we'll see what else we can manage."

"Any chance Linda will be out of the hospital by then?" he tried.

Her raised eyebrow was enough of an indication of her opinion as she changed the subject. "You have a floor vote in fifteen minutes, and then a meeting with the Midwest caucus at ten."

"Right. And what about that study of erosion around the Leelanau? I need to have that before I go into that development lobby meeting this afternoon." He slipped back into his professional mode, all thoughts of the wretched state of his love life once again forgotten.

He came back from the lobbyist meeting distracted, flipping through the sheaf of papers that had been shoved into his hands by developers eager to "improve" the wild areas of the shores of the Great Lakes. Nothing he was willing to support, but good to know what he might need to defend against in the future.

Angie met him at the door. "She's here," she said, pulling the papers out of his hands, balancing them under one arm as she straightened his tie.

"Who's here?"

"Cassandra Hargrove," she huffed impatiently, adjusting his collar. "Your date for tonight."

Her eagerness affected him, making him run his hands through his hair, trying to straighten it. "She's not my date," he protested even as he tidied up. "I don't have to hire dates."

Angie just glared at him, turned him around and gave him a gentle push towards his office.

The woman sitting in the chair in front of his desk rose when the door opened, and for an instant Marcus forgot to breathe.

Cassandra Hargrove was tall and willowy with a grace that belied her size. Her long, blonde hair was clubbed up at the nape of her neck, and if she wore any makeup besides her pale lipstick, Marcus couldn't see it. Her almost masculine pantsuit in unrelieved black couldn't hide the proud fullness of her breasts or the narrow curve of her waist, the blue silk of her blouse beneath the jacket hinting at rather than actually exposing her cleavage. To his embarrassment, he felt his cock responding to her presence.

He mentally forced it down and offered her his hand. "Ms. Hargrove, thank you for coming. I appreciate your willingness to help us out on such short notice."

"Not at all, Senator." Her grip was stronger than he would have expected. "A man in your position doesn't have the time to be trolling for companionship like the rest of us." She smiled, almost conspiratorially.

It was a beautiful smile, wicked and sweet all at once.

"Yes. Well." He fell back on formalities to help him regain his composure, indicating that she should sit as he moved to his own chair. "Have you attended any functions at the White House?"

She settled comfortably into the chair, apparently not discomfited by his position at all. "A few. Nothing so formal as a state dinner."

"All the freshmen senators are invited to one in their first year." He downplayed the significance of it, suddenly wanting to reassure her. "It's not an earth-shattering event tonight. I think the guest of honor is the king of Burundi or some such."

"Buganda."

"I beg your pardon?"

"It's the king of Buganda."

"Okay." He was impressed with her preparation. "So, you'll be keeping me out of trouble more than vice versa."

Her mouth curved slightly. "All part of the service."

"All right, then." He rose, more in control of himself. "I'll pick you up at seven."

She rose as well. "That won't be necessary. Another part of the service is a chauffeured sedan."

"Ms. Hargrove, I'm an old-fashioned guy. I like to pick my date up for the evening and take her back home at the end of the night. Even if I had to hire said date."

Her eyes twinkled as she offered her hand. "Well then, Senator, you should call me Cassie. Or at least Cassandra."

Taking it, he felt a spark of electricity that devastated his composure. "Marcus. You can call me Marcus."

She held his hand a moment longer than appropriate. "No, I don't think I should, Senator. Until tonight, then."

He watched her go, the subtle sway of her hips working its magic on his libido. Angie followed her out with her eyes, coming over to where he stood. "So?" she asked, obviously uncertain of his reaction. "Should I start calling around?"

Marcus didn't take his eyes from where Cassie had disappeared. "No, no. I think she'll do."

* * * *

"Is this your first visit to the White House, Senator?" The President was open and jovial as he shook Marcus's hand.

Marcus couldn't help but be put at ease despite the inevitable awe of meeting the leader of the Free World. "Since the tour I took with my family in the seventh grade, yes, Sir."

The President smiled. "Well, welcome back. And who is this lovely lady with you?"

Marcus rested his hand on the small of Cassie's back to guide her forward. "May I present Ms. Cassandra Hargrove."

"It is my pleasure, Ms. Hargrove." Cassie's hand disappeared in the President's larger one. "What do you do for a living?"

Cassie seemed unfazed by the man's prestige. "Personal security, sir."

"Really? That's an unusual field for a woman."

"Yes, sir."

"Have you ever considered the Secret Service?"

She smiled. "To be honest, sir, the money's better and I have better hours working as a contractor. No offense."

"None taken," he replied with a chuckle. "You're absolutely right, I'm a demanding bastard. Not to mention the regular chance of getting shot at. Senator Whelan, Ms. Hargrove, may I present you to His Reverend Majesty..."

Introductions were made to the king, his wife and the First Lady, and then they were clear of the receiving line.

"Well, that's one hurdle overcome," Marcus confided to Cassie as he escorted her down the hall to the State Dining Room.

She looked surprised. "You're really worried about this, aren't you?"

"I'm a farm boy from Michigan," he defended. "I don't have a lot of experience at fancy social functions."

"You're no farm boy, Senator," she challenged him. "The town you grew up in was an industrial center, and then you went on to U of M where you graduated magna cum laude before going on to get your law degree. Then you went back to serve as a prosecutor in the Seventeenth Circuit Court before getting elected to the state house two years later." She eyed him. "Have you even set foot on a farm?"

"One doesn't get elected to any position in Michigan without stumping through a lot of farms," he admitted. "You've certainly done your homework."

"All part of the service." Her expression was enigmatic.

Finding their table, he held her chair for her. "Still, it hardly seems fair. I don't know anything about you."

Sitting with her statuesque grace, she looked up at him playfully. "You're a big boy, Senator. I'm sure you've learned by now that life isn't fair."

Before he could respond, they were joined by another couple and he was forced to make introductions.

Cassandra Hargrove was quickly becoming an obsession. Marcus had been expecting a variation on the masculine look she had sported that afternoon. But when he arrived to pick her up, the sight of her had rendered him speechless. Her blonde hair now fell in loose waves down her back, held back only with delicate silver combs. Her gown was a simple black sheath that fit close to her curves, the hem slit high on the same side as the one sleeveless strap, revealing a fair amount of leg as well as all of one shoulder. The matching sandals on her feet were high but not ridiculous, bringing their eyes almost level, the matte leather straps revealing each shapely ankle and long, elegant toe. Even her makeup was different, eyes smoky and lips a full, dark ruby, cheeks contoured into striking relief. She was one of the most breathtaking women Marcus had ever seen.

He had felt like a fool holding the door of his five year old Saturn for her.

She had shown the same poise and social dexterity at the reception that she showed now as the dinner started, mingling easily, able to converse on many different subjects, even already acquainted with several of the other guests. Marcus often found his attention in a conversation wandering as he watched her instead. There was something so compelling about her, he desperately wanted to learn more.

He managed not to spill anything on himself at dinner, but was relieved when at last the toasts were complete. Afterwards they retired to the East Room for a performance of African dance by students from one of the city's performing arts high schools before the floor was opened up for general dancing and socializing. It was the opportunity he had been waiting for.

Paying little notice to the couple Cassie was talking with, he asked, "May I have this dance?"

She looked surprised for a moment before smiling. "It would be a pleasure, Senator." Setting her drink down, she took his hand, letting him lead her onto the dance floor.

Marcus shifted his grip on her hand as he turned her into his arms, resting the other low on her waist. She fit him perfectly, and he could perhaps be forgiven if he held her a little too close. Cassie didn't complain.

He enjoyed the feel of her softly swaying against him as they danced before initiating conversation. "So, tell me about yourself."

"There's not much to tell." Her hand on his shoulder crept higher, her fingertips creating frissons of electricity along his skin as she toyed with the hair at the nape of his neck.

"I know that can't be true. Why does a woman as talented, beautiful, and well-educated as you get into such an unusual line of work?"

"Because I'm good at it," she said with emphasis.

"But surely there are other fields..."

"I like taking care of people in power, Senator." Her eyes flashed a challenge. "The only other line of work that would let me is prostitution, and I have too much respect for myself to do that."

He was taken aback. "I hadn't meant to imply..."

"I know you didn't."

"But you could be powerful yourself," he insisted. "You would do amazingly well in the State Department."

"I don't aspire to power," she explained patiently. "I know too well the cost of it. But people like you need to feel normal at the same time you need to feel safe. I don't just hire myself and my staff out as a discreet dating service, you know. Usually we go with clients traveling into high-risk zones for business or fact-finding. We protect you guys while you're working for us."

"So, this is a patriotic duty to you."

"Now you're getting it." Cassie smiled wickedly up at him. "Plus it pays really well."

Marcus laughed and held her closer, dropping the subject to just enjoy the dance.

He didn't get many more opportunities, as she was in high demand as a partner, although he spent little time on the sidelines himself. But he was just as happy when the evening had worn on enough that he could make their excuses and call for his car.

The ride back to her house was comfortably quiet, although Marcus was sharply aware of Cassie's proximity. He had to fight the urge to reach out and rest his hand on the bare expanse of her leg revealed by the dress she wore, as it repeatedly drew his eye. He just clenched his hands tighter around the wheel until at last they arrived at her home.

He held the car door for her and walked her up the stairs, waiting as she found her keys. "Thank you for a lovely night," she said.

"I'm the one who should be thanking you. You saved my neck tonight."

"It was my pleasure," she said with a smile, turning to put the key in the lock.

"Cassie," he stopped her, his hand over hers on the knob as she started to open it.

She looked up, startled. "Yes?"

Their mouths were bare inches apart, and Marcus was certain she could hear his heart pounding in his chest, but his restraint, tested so much tonight, could hold out no longer. Closing the distance, he pressed his lips against hers.

The gentle caress escalated in an instant when Cassie opened her mouth under his. He moaned softly, burying his hands in her hair, guiding her head as he slanted his mouth over hers in desperate hunger. Her arms curled around his back to pull him close, defining the soft curves he had only felt a hint of when they danced. The solid bulge of his cock had to be obvious as it pressed against the crease of her thigh. Her tongue slicked out to trace his lips, dodging back as though coaxing his to follow. When he did, he found the inside of her mouth sweet and soft and welcoming.

Finally Marcus had to breathe, forcing him to pull away from the haven of her mouth to look down into her eyes, now gone cloudy and dark with passion. "I'd really like to come in," he asked, his voice quiet and rough.

Her expression was tinged with regret. "I'm sorry, but you can't."

"Why not?" His eyes focused again on her mouth.

"Because," Cassie insisted, her own voice breathless, "I don't sleep with my clients."

"You're fired." He bent his head to kiss her again.

This time she pushed him away, surprising him with her strength. "It's not that easy."

It finally started to sink in what was happening. "Cassie, please..."

"I'm sorry, Senator. Good night." And with a speed he hadn't anticipated, she slipped through her doorway, throwing the deadbolt behind her.

He stared at the door for too long as her denial sank into his lust-addled brain. This shouldn't be happening. She wanted him as much as he wanted her, he knew it. But short of pounding on her door like a petulant child, there was nothing he could do about it.

With no other choice, he went back to his car, starting it and pulling away with a frustrated squeal of tires, trying to ignore the scent of her perfume permeating the interior and the throbbing erection that would allow him little rest tonight.

 

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