Chapter Two
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The night lights from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel flooded the crisp, late, October air. The entire city block glowed, and sweeping spotlights threw beams of speckled light into the dark of night. Park Avenue traffic slowed to a stop as limousines lined the street. Their drivers waited patiently to deposit their high powered cargo onto a wide river of red flowing carpet.

Inside, a cordoned off aisle had been formed. On the perimeter paparazzi franticly shouldered each other to get the prime shots of movie stars and business moguls, smiling and posing as they filtered toward the grand ballroom.      

Everywhere red, white, and blue banners hung proclaiming “BENNETT FOR PRESIDENT.” Helium filled balloons hung midway up the exquisite lobby area, and confetti streamers swirled and danced from the ceiling and every inanimate object they had been thrown from or attached to.

All around the grand ballroom, round dinner tables lay set with layers of silverware and wine glasses. Ten guests per table led to a stage and podium where again balloons and streamers hung. Plastered on the wall behind the stage was another banner which read “Charles A. Bennett III - For President, For America!” Beneath this, in gold lettering, was a single-worded motto, “TRUST.”

Tuxedoed staff escorted the guests to their designated tables, and gradually the room filled. Hurried air kisses were exchanged, as were waves to friends and enemies alike, as long as everyone who was anyone was seen here tonight. 

Steven Holt walked up to the podium and held both hands in the air. Coming off one of the most successful movies in history, made him the most wanted man in the world right now, but tonight was not his to own. The crowd applauded and rose to their feet, the ruckus causing wine glasses to clink together on the tables. The Hollywood icon motioned to calm and the crowd settled into a tense quiet.

“Ladies and gentlemen. You didn’t come tonight to hear from me, although who could blame you.” 

The crowd laughed and applauded wildly. 

“With no further ado, please help me welcome the next President of the United States. . .” 

The noise from the crowd drowned out the rest of his words as a broad-shouldered smiling man walked onto the stage. His white teeth and offsetting thick, salt and pepper colored hair gave him the look of a trusted news anchor from days gone by. He hugged Steven as if they were brothers, then took the microphone from him and stood to the side of the podium, exuding just the right combination of confidence and humility to make the crowd go wild.

Ethan Reynolds sat in one of the V.I.P. balconies completely ignoring the assumed future president. Instead, he concentrated on the impeccable assets of the blonde sitting next to him who, simultaneously, was rubbing her high-heeled shoe against his ankle.     

Other guests had hustled and bribed to get a seat at Ethan’s private overlook. He ignored them too. The blonde interlaced her fingers with his as the presidential contender began to speak. 

“When our founding fathers declared independence,” 

He said, causing an eruption of applause. He waited for the crowd to quiet. 

“They believed that their just powers were derived from the consent of the governed.  Tonight, I come to thank you for your consent to govern all the people of these great United States...NOT special interests. This night belongs to the American people and together we will make history.”

People were on their feet again, cheering and waving flags. Strands of confetti were released from the ceiling and flickered downwards. Ethan stayed seated and sipped his wine. His piercing blue eyes watched the blonde’s every move.

She licked her enhanced lips and whispered in his ear. 

“Take me with you next time, Ethan. I’ve never been to Europe, it seems so. . .romantic.” 

“You’d be bored to tears. Lots of late nights. Not much romance.”

She ran a manicured finger up his arm. 

“I’ll wait up for you.”

He kissed her. 

Bennett continued.

“I’m here not as a single voice, but as your voice, a voice for everyone. People need to believe in their dreams again!” 

Ethan leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his thick, collar-length, dark hair. 

“I'm thinking this is going to last a while. I'll be right back.” 

He wanted to stretch his legs and get some fresh air before the marathon dinner began. 

He caressed the blonde’s knee and stood. Despite the mesmerizing presence of the party’s nominee, heads turned and whispers were exchanged as he made his way down stairs and to the back of the ballroom. He knew most of them, and those he didn’t acted like they knew him. He ignored them. Despised them really.   

As he reached the back of the ballroom, a young hostess clad in a low-cut tuxedo jacket and black mini-skirt held a tray of hors d'oeuvres toward him. Her long eyelashes and big brown eyes made him pause. 

He smiled and wondered how long it would take to get her to agree to sleep with him. 

“Are you enjoying yourself?” 

She smiled back and lowered her eyes. 

“Depends. You?”

Not a challenge he figured. 

“Not in the least.” 

He took one of the hors d'oeuvres and popped it in his mouth. 

“But it’s good for business.” 

He reached in his breast pocket for a card when someone slapped him on the back.

“How is business Ethan,' boomed a voice Ethan had been glad not to hear for months.

“James.” 

He tried not to let his disgust show as he kept his eyes firmly planted on the hostess. 

“It’s so good I’m wondering why I’m here.” 

He caught her eye and winked.    

“That’s not why you’re here,” said James as if sharing a long lost secret. 

“Please, enlighten me.”

He unsteadily waved an arm at the crowd. 

“You feed on this.”

“Perhaps… it’s ironic considering all the blood suckers here tonight. Don’t you think?”

“Oh come on Ethan.” 

James’s nose was a bright red and the Windsor knot on his purple tie slightly askew. On his second bottle of wine, most probably, thought Ethan. James had always been partial to cheap wine, and one of the many reasons why Ethan had been able to outmaneuver him on a major Defense Department supply contract so many years ago.

“Not like being at the stick of an Apache over Panama, but what is?” 

James smiled dramatically, looking every bit the fool.

The hostess’s eyes widened. 

“You’re a pilot? My father was in the Air Force.”

“That was a lifetime ago, now I build planes and fly for pleasure.” 

Ethan placed his card on the tray of hors d'oeuvres and mouthed “Nice to meet you” to the hostess. 

As he headed toward the exit doors another woman approached him. Her natural beauty immediately struck him, as did her all-business demeanor. He calculated it a cold day in hell would be when she agreed to sleep with him.

“Mr. Reynolds?” she said and handed him her business card.

Her gentle perfume wafted toward him. She unsettled him and he wondered why. He’d been around many beautiful women and they never caught him off guard.

“Rachel Mason from the Times,” she said, in a voice as businesslike as she was beautiful. 

Ethan shook her hand. 

“I know who you are.”

“I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“I didn’t say we’ve met,” he replied, pleased he caught her off guard. 

“I said I know who you are. I've never put a face to the name, but I know you nonetheless”

“Oh, yes, well--“

“Your article on Sotheby’s Lost Art collection this past summer was terrific.” 

He figured he’d push his advantage and try to switch who was unsettled.

“Thanks.” 

Ethan noticed she didn’t blush at the complement. She continued. 

“As I remember you bought some very unique items at that auction.” 

Ethan’s cell phone vibrated in his breast pocket. 

He held up a finger as he reached for his phone. 

“Excuse me.” 

He turned slightly from Rachel, but still angled so he could watch her from his peripheral vision.

“Marcel,” he said. 

Marcel’s voice blasted through too fast to catch anything but stray words. 

“Slow down. What’s the matter? Are you alright?” 

He glanced at Rachel and forced a smile.

“There’s been a break-in. I’m so sorry. They tied me up and I don’t know what happened. Oh, no… I'm-I’m sorry.”

“Calm down. Did they take anything?”

“I--I don’t know. I couldn’t do anything. They dragged me out in the hallway so I couldn’t see what they were after.”

This was the last thing he expected on a night like this.  Marcel rambled and apologized and his words began to make less and less sense so he could barely understand him. 

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.” 

He hung up.

The blonde had made her way through the crowd and appeared at his side. She touched his arm. 

“Come back and sit.” 

He put his hand over hers. 

“Something came up. I’ll send a car to take you home.” 

He kissed her on the cheek.

“Rachel,” he said, extracting the blonde’s hand from his arm. “It was nice to finally meet you.” 

He headed for the door as the blonde turned and glared at Rachel.

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