In high-definition technicolor, globs of whipped cream slithered down the candidate’s artificially bronzed cheek. The stretched skin of his facelift froze his usual stiff smile with horror. The cream dripped off a movie hero chin onto a Harvard-maroon tie.
Gleefully, I clicked the remote control to go back and watch again as the fat chocolate cream pie splatted squarely on Senator Rose’s patrician nose. Aides rushed to hurry him off camera, but not before I caught a glimpse of the snarl curling his lip to reveal his capped incisors. I’d seen his high school yearbook—even his teeth were fake these days.
I happily clicked to the beginning of the clip again. Whoever was behind the pie-throwing clown disguise had a good throwing arm and fabulous timing. I watched Rose descend the stairs on a wave of mob enthusiasm after a gun control rally. The female clown with a bright red smile stepped out of the crowd as if to hand him her county-fair prize-winning confection.
Splat. I giggled happily and punched the clicker again. I couldn’t get enough of the smug smile turning to cursing snarl. “I love TiVo,” I said in contentment, rubbing my bare toes over a long masculine leg.
Graham was probably the reason for my unusual contentment, but I wasn’t ready to let him know that. I wasn’t prepared to acknowledge it myself. Six months from bitter enemies to lovers was moving much too fast. I could handle friends with benefits, though.
Graham crushed his muscular thigh over mine, trapping my teasing toes. Then he took my toy away.
“If there were no TV news, we wouldn’t have to worry about the state of the nation,” I complained as he switched from my fun recording to boring live TV.
“You’re the reason I’m in bed instead of at my desk,” he said in his low, spine-tingling baritone. “Want me to go back to my computers?”
“The house is blessedly empty,” I pointed out, as I had an hour ago, right after I’d packed EG off to her father’s. Graham had been quick to comprehend the message. He was smart like that.
My nine-year-old sister had been invited to a sleepover with her half-sister. The two were worse than magnesium and water, and I expected a report of a neutron bomb in the vicinity of Senator Tex’s Georgetown home at any moment. I grabbed the momentary respite in the best way I knew how.
“Having all your family out of sight is what worries me,” Graham said, proving his thoughts followed mine. He switched to his favorite news channel.
Graham bears a strong resemblance to the late Christopher Reeves as Superman, except for the puckered red scar from his temple to his eye. His thick black hair had been artfully styled to conceal the worst of the injury, except he sported bedhead at the moment, thanks to me.
He’d once been an up-and-coming politician, a presidential aide, and his pretty face would have assured that he’d go far. 9/11 had ended that, in so many ways that I had yet to uncover the depth of the damage—another reason I was wary of a relationship. The man did brooding and dangerous better than any movie super-villain.
Not that I couldn’t keep up with him in eccentric territory. I’m Anastasia Devlin, granddaughter of the late multimillionaire, Rathbone Maximillian. I’m learning I have a lot in common with that wily old man I’d barely known. Unfortunately, I probably inherited the worst deviousness from his daughter, my mother, Magda, as did my many half-siblings.
So admittedly, Graham had a point about worrying over an empty house. When my tribe was loose upon the world, anarchy was obliged to happen.
“My family is not currently under my control. I bear no responsibility for what they do under the influence of others.” I tried to sound dignified, but I was tickling the hairs on his broad chest.
Graham might be an agoraphobic hermit, but that didn’t mean he didn’t work out. He had muscles on top of muscles, built through sheer frustration in his private gym.
“You are looking for distraction because you can’tcontrol them, hence the remote control.” He zoomed up the image on the enormous flat screen on his bedroom wall. We live in the same house, but we maintain separate quarters. We both like our privacy too well.
“You do not qualify as a psychologist.” I grimaced as Senator Rose, no longer covered in the prior day’s pie, strode down the stairs accompanied by his Evil Minion, also known as his campaign manager, Harvey Scion.
The TV announcer was reporting the defeat of a landmark health-care bill that the Senate, led by Rose, had worked hard to kill. Rose, as usual, looked smug and triumphant. Scion, as owner of a pharmaceutical company who would have been adversely affected by the bill, simply looked his usual dour self. Politics as usual, yawn.
I leaned over to hit the mute button and solemnly intoned as if I were Rose, “Far better that poor people go without medical treatment and die so our taxes don’t have to support their uselessness into eternity.”
Graham snorted and wrenched the clicker back, holding it out of my reach. “Solves over-population,” he countered cynically.
I never knew when he meant that crap. I kicked him, just in case. “Privileged prick,” I muttered. “Really, the pigs ought to be made to wallow in the same sty with the rest of us if they’re going to represent us. Let them know how we really feel.”
“You’re not poor anymore,” Graham had to observe.
Caught by an image on the enormous screen, I ignored him. “That’s Nick.” I tried to snatch the remote but Graham held it so I’d have to climb on top of him to reach it.
At some other time, I might have, but I wanted to know what my brother was doing in the same vicinity of the man I hated with all my heart and soul, for excellent reason, none of them political. Nick worked for the British embassy. He had no interest in health care reform.
“He’s with the whistle-blower who wanted to present his paper on pharmaceutical company collusion to Congress before they voted. Rose stalled it in committee.” Leave it to Graham to know everyone and everything.
I studied the whistleblower as he tried to escape the rush of TV cameras and microphones shoved in his direction. He was a scruffy but not bad-looking geek in a rumpled suit.
I wasn’t a news fanatic and despised politics, but even I’d heard the rumors about the report revealing massive fraud and collusion between the drug and insurance industries. Jaded as I am, I figured collusion was nothing new. Drug lords got to be drug lords by physical and financial coercion in every corner of the world I’d ever lived in. Big Pharm might hide behind corporate legality, but only because they had more lawyers than the gangsters on the corner or the Afghans in their fields.
“What does the whistle-blower have to do with Nick?”
Graham gave me an odd look but didn’t reply. That meant he knew something I didn’t, which irritated me. A few of the more intelligent reporters abandoned Rose to delay the whistle-blower, whose name was apparently Guy Withers, Guy to rhyme with “me.” Leave it to my gay brother to find a fancified Frenchman to pal with. Guy was just Nick’s type—
Which was when I rolled my eyes. Nick had mentioned him in passing. I’d thought the name sounded familiar. Guy was probably a Brit, not a Frenchman, hence the involvement of the Brit embassy and my half-brother. Drug lords were international these days. And if Guy were as gay as Nick—I’d tease Nick to his dying day. Gay Guy—almost as good as EG, our baby sister Elizabeth Georgiana, the Evil Genius. We could call him GG for short.
The camera returned to Rose expounding on the benefits of private health care, apparently under the impression that the underemployed would choose health insurance over groceries and rent. Since our family had barely managed roofs over our heads until recently, I’d learned basic Band-Aids and Neosporin and then simply terrified everyone into staying healthy. Only recently had I coerced EG’s father into covering her under his family plan, so I didn’t have to threaten her into avoiding dangerous playgrounds.
As Nick and Guy continued down the concrete stairs and off screen, I grew restless. It was a Friday night. I didn’t have any interesting cases to work on. I’d either have to get up and find something to eat—or arouse Graham to another round of hide the sausage.
A thunderous roar and shouts from the TV pumped my pulse into overdrive. I jerked my attention back to the screen and saw smoke billowing from behind Rose and his cohorts.
Graham cursed and rolled out of bed, hitting the ground running.