Running Mate(10)

By: Katie Ashley

“Excuse me for saying this, but a million dollars seems a little extravagant just to be Barrett’s fiancée.”

“You obviously haven’t met Barrett yet,” Senator Callahan quipped, causing Bernie to chuckle.

“I assume you’re suggesting that, because of his reputation, it will be difficult to pretend to be his fiancée.”

“In some ways, yes, but it isn’t just being my son’s fiancée. It’s months of hard work, Miss Monroe. The campaign trail has a brutal pace, of which I know you are aware. Sometimes you’re in three cities in one day. It will be asking a lot of you to go on the road.” He gave me a tight smile. “But the one million also ensures your silence about this deal.”

Silence about this deal—could I do that not just for the next nine months, but for the rest of my life? I wasn’t known for being a blabbermouth when it came to important information, but at the same time, what if I accidentally spilled the beans in a moment of panic, like if the first time a mic was stuck in my face for an interview my mind went blank so I decided to blurt out, “It’s a fake engagement! I’m a fake! We’re faking it!”

“As well as the non-disclosure agreement you just signed,” Bernie added.

Now I knew why they’d had me sign the NDA earlier. If I broke it, I could end up being sued, which of course was the last thing I needed—not to mention that although he seemed like a sweet, gentle person, Senator Callahan probably knew people who could make me disappear if I ratted them out. I shuddered at the thought.

When Bernie reached over to pat my back, I jumped. “Don’t worry, Miss Monroe. Nothing bad is going to happen to you if you don’t agree to Senator Callahan’s proposal.”

My mouth dropped open. “Okay, that’s kinda starting to get a little creepy.”

He smiled. “My wife hates it, too.”

“I can imagine.”

When Senator Callahan cleared his throat, I turned my attention back to him. “Bernie’s right. Nothing is going to happen to you if you don’t take the deal. I know if you don’t take it, you’ll continue working hard to ensure I get elected.”

Holy shit. My job—how could I have forgotten about that? “If I do say yes—and that’s a very big if—what would happen to my job?”

“You would stay on as volunteer coordinator. Because I would need you working the campaign trail, we would bring someone else into headquarters while you worked part-time from the road when time allowed. Part of the cover story would be that you and Barrett met through the campaign, and the two of you decided to keep your relationship secret for many months because you didn’t want people to think you landed your job due to nepotism.”

Although I hated to admit it, that sounded plausible. It was obvious that they had put a lot of thought into this whole fake fiancée charade. With their effort and resources, I wasn’t sure how it could possibly fail.

While the pace of the campaign trail sounded grueling, I liked the idea of getting to travel and see different parts of the country. There was also the plus that I would be doing all that traveling at someone else’s expense. Throw in a million dollars, and I didn’t know how I could possibly say no. This was the type of opportunity where if you didn’t take it, you’d beat yourself up over it for the rest of your life.

Sitting there at that table, I felt like Eve in the Garden of Eden with the serpent coiled around my body, whispering into my ear to offer me the forbidden fruit. Change your life, take the deal. After all, it’s only for a little while. Think of how freeing it will be to no longer be bound by financial strain.

At the end of the day, how hard could it be to pretend to be in love with Barrett? I’d faked love tons of times over the years in the theatrical productions I’d been in. This couldn’t be that different.

Then, as I glanced around the table, I realized for the first time that someone was noticeably absent: my future fake fiancée. “Why isn’t Barrett here?”

Senator Callahan shifted in his leatherback chair. “He isn’t aware that we’re having this meeting.”

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