Tuesday, January 27, 2015

First Look at The Love Gov

Author's Note
The only thing people in S.C. argue about more than football is politics. I've long wanted to write a story set against a political backdrop. After all, dirty politics and dirty sex just go together. When I went to vote this past November, Ben Collins, homegrown Spartanburg boy and self-made man, popped into my head. I knew Ben wanted to run the state in the black and with a clean conscience, but I had no hook. I did have a long history of S.C. governors who've had their sexual peccadilloes made public, from Strom Thurmond to Mark Sanford. 
With those two in mind, I sat down to binge on Scandal on Netflix. Somewhere in the middle of Season 2, I wondered who'd have to get their hands dirty in order for Ben to keep his so clean.

And I had my hook. 

There's nothing partisan about this candidate's sex life....

But now, Ben Collins is running for governor of South Carolina. He's determined to manage the state with a clean conscience and a balance sheet in the black, but his ulterior motive has little to do with politics and everything to do with love. He’s going after the one who got away—Evony Millwood, the woman who just got engaged to his opponent. 

Evony's running, too--from Ben. All the mud Ben's opponents are about to sling is dirt Evony buried with her own hands. Can she keep a lid on her misdeeds or will the brewing storm sweep her into the arms of the man she's loved from afar for years?


June, 2030

Cigarette smoke made a blue haze throughout the exclusive Columbia men’s club. At the back of the dim room, a man got to his feet. Maybe five-seven, his red hair gleamed despite the lack of light. When I approached, the political advisor’s smile slid across his face like an oil slick. His hazel eyes lost the look that made me want to put my fist through his face, but I left my hand clenched, in case I changed my mind.

“Mr. Collins. So nice to meet you.”

“Thank you for taking the meeting, Mr. Gaines.”

The man didn’t respond, but that might have been due to the fact he was busy kicking me in the ankles under the pretense of settling down to talk. Fucking Napoleon complexes. This is a waste of time. This man was my third choice for a manager, but by the time I’d made up my mind to run, the first two had already signed on with other people.

“What are y’all drinkin’?”

“Bourbon,” I snapped.

Gaines lifted a hand. A waitress scurried to his side. The asshole stared at her thighs, not her face. “Darlin’, we need two fingers of bourbon in two glasses.” He raised his eyes long enough to wink at the poor woman. Something told me he was a bad tipper. Like the fact the twenty-something server barely smiled.

“Let’s get right down to business. I want to run for governor.”

“On the Democratic ticket.”

I despise being interrupted, but fought to keep my tone smooth. “Yes. And I need a campaign manager. When I asked around, your name came up.”

“Of course. Gaines men have put governors in office in this state since the first settlers landed at Charles Town. But it’s been a minute since a Democrat sat in the governor’s seat.”

Oh, right. Rub your blue blood in my face. I nearly asked what fault in his family DNA led them to strive for second place, but the waitress’s return stopped me. The way the young woman flinched suggested Gaines ran his hand down the back of her leg. Disgust burned my throat far more than my big gulp of liquor.

“The Tea Party has ruined the GOP. People are fed up with this ultra-conservative bullshit. I have the backing of some powerful men. I just need someone experienced to guide this campaign.” Ultra-conservatives called this land home, but the winds of change were blowing.

Gaines swirled the amber liquid in his glass. “Let me be blunt, Mr. Collins. You’ve done a helluva job raising your public profile. I mean, restoring the governor’s mansion with your own funds? Getting PBS to film a documentary while you did it? Talking the producers into letting your movie-star ex-husband narrate? Brilliant. But that’s hardly enough to overcome the fact that you were, indeed, married to Jericho James. If you’ll pardon my French, no one in this state will vote for a man who’s sucked a dick.”

You mean no straight man. I clenched my glass so hard, the cut crystal bit into my fingers.

“You’re overlooking one thing, Mr. Gaines. There’s a significant gay constituency here, whether men like you want to admit it or not. They’ll vote for me. When George Millwood’s candidate gets beat in the primary, the black vote will swing to me.”

He kept his eyes on me and smirked. “That’s not going to happen. The black ministers will fall over themselves to condemn an un-Christian lifestyle.”

Don’t throw the glass. My lawyer might not show up to bail me out of jail.

“Besides, I don’t think you can beat Keelan Bonner in the primary.”

Bonner started out as an investigator for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and worked his way into to the top job after a huge scandal a few years back. He stood for law and order in a state that believed in that above all.

And if I didn’t beat anyone else, I’d spend whatever it cost to take down Bonner.

I slid out of the booth. “Sorry to have wasted your time, Mr. Gaines. Thanks for the drink.” Blood pounded in my ears, but I forced a smile. “For the record, a man who’s unemployed might want to hide his shortcomings the next time someone offers him big bucks to do a job.”

I recounted the meeting to my driver on the way home. “Your restraint was remarkable, Ben. I can’t believe I’m not down at the Columbia jail, coughing up bail money. What a jackass.”

I stared out the window at the downtown buildings, wishing I had the guts to order him to head for Melrose Heights.

“Listen to me, Ben. You will be governor of this state. You’re not giving up. Find someone else to run your campaign. You deserve to sit in the governor’s chair.”

Nicholas was a sweet kid. “What about Bonner? Why wouldn’t you vote for him?”

“It doesn’t matter how many people vote for Bonner. He can’t win because he won’t pull a single white majority district. And Ben, thanks to centuries of gerrymandering, they’re all white majority districts.” Nick struck the wheel with a closed fist.

Bonner would become the first African-American on the ballot for governor of South Carolina. An historic moment, to be sure. I could hardly wait to wreck it.

A few miles flashed by.

“We headed home, boss man?” Nicholas asked.

I growled. “Stop for cigarettes.”

Nick tut-tutted, but he got me a pack of Marlboro Reds and a lighter. “You know, they say smoking will be eradicated in another generation. Think about your lungs, chief.”

I ripped the cellophane off the pack and made a mental note to look for a reason to let him go.

“Dessert, darling?” Keelan patted his lips with the linen napkin.

I shook my head. “No. I want a piece of cheesecake in the worst way, but it’s not worth the added miles on my morning jog.”

“Your father called. He’s going to join us for coffee, if that’s all right with you.”

I couldn’t drink coffee this time of night. Keelan knew that, but I nodded. I’d have to endure more endless campaign talk, but with any luck, Kee would break things off at a decent hour. I had an early class the next day. 

Keelan stood when my father wound his way toward us through the close-set restaurant tables. “George, so nice of you to join us.”

“Honored to be asked, Keelan.” Dad bent to kiss my cheek before the men shook hands. “Evony. You’re looking beautiful tonight.”

Because Kee had made it sound like Dad asked to come, and not the other way around, my bullshit meter revved into high gear.

Dad took a seat, but to my surprise, he didn’t lead with his favorite topic, Keelan’s campaign for governor. In fact, he didn’t say a word.

Keelan cleared his throat. “You know I’m an old-fashioned man, Evony.”

Was he looking to win a prize for understatement of the year? I loved the man, but… Gotta put my tough week aside. He’s really trying. The campaign had already put stress on our relationship. I worked long hours, hoping for tenure at the University of South Carolina. We just couldn’t seem to make time for each other. This dinner was the first time I’d seen the man in days. We aren’t kids. Time spent apart isn’t going to kill us.

Keelan reached into his jacket. Dad folded his hands on top of the linen tablecloth, leaning forward slightly. My gut clenched as I looked from one man to the other.

“Mr. Millwood, you’ve been my closest friend and advisor for years. I respect you more than any man I know. So, I’m sweating bullets here, but I’d like your permission to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

For fuck’s sake. I’m nearly forty-two. There’s old fashioned and then there’s archaic.

My father beamed. “Took you long enough, son. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see Evony settle down with, Keelan.”

Kee pulled his hand free. I stared at the box, admiring the robin’s egg blue. The crisp black logo sent my pulse racing. “Evony, I love you, darling. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?” He placed the box in my shaking hands.

Aware that conversation had ceased at the tables around us, I managed to lift the lid and pry the black velvet ring box free. Lifting the lid, I gasped.

The oval-cut solitaire threw off rainbows from the candle in the table center. I tugged the white metal setting free, unable to resist a peek at the inside of the band. The bold ‘950’ stamped beside the elegant Tiffany maker’s mark told me the lacy fretwork around the stone was platinum.

I raised my eyes to Keelan’s. He’ll make a good husband. He’s solid. Dependable. He loves me. “Yes.”

Polite clapping broke out. My father’s laugh seemed a bit too loud. Keelan took the diamond from the box. I extended my left hand. He slid the ring on my finger, holding onto my hand. Leaning over, he pressed a kiss to my lips.

Pulling back, he stared into my eyes. “I’m going to put you in the governor’s mansion as First Lady, Evony, if it’s the last thing I ever do.”

“Hrmph.” My father only cleared his throat before he delivered bad news. I wanted to admire my diamond, but turned my attention to him. “Ben Collins asked Perry Gaines to handle his election campaign. He’s planning to run against you for the Democratic nomination.”

Oh, shit. He can’t do that. The press will go digging. Daddy will go digging. Ben has no idea what he's walking into.

Thanks to me.

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