Jennifer looked over in surprise. “That’s her?”

“Yes. I reminded Dad about it. I thought he’d told you.”

“He most certainly did not,” Jennifer replied, with a playful slap on her husband’s arm. “So she’s smart as well as cunning. How interesting.” Jennifer’s eyes were speculative as she gazed at her son and pondered this news. “I’d like to get to know her. Wonder if she’d accept a dinner invitation.”

Niko frowned. “Mom…”

“Now, that would be an interesting meal.” Ike Jr.’s eyes were filled with humor as he studied a slightly squirming Niko while taking a drink of juice. “After watching how she handled the debate, I’m tempted to vote for her myself!”

“What y’all need to do is take your focus off of my competition and put it back where it belongs…making these last weeks count. With that being said—” Niko pushed back from the table and stood “—I’ve got to get to the office.” He walked over to his mother and kissed her forehead. “Thanks for breakfast. Terrell, you coming by the campaign office later?”

“Yes, Teresa and I will be there in an hour.”

“What’s going on at the office?” Ike Sr. asked.

“A plan to ensure that I’ll win this election…no matter what.”

* * *

Still charged up from the morning’s news and a hard but productive twelve-hour day, Monique put on her walking shoes and headed outside. She was just minutes into her power walk when her cell phone rang. She checked the caller ID and slowed down a bit as she answered. “Hey there.”

“Counselor!” Niko’s voice boomed through her earbuds. “Congratulations on turning this into a real race!”

“Thanks, Niko. I’m thrilled, but needless to say, it’s not over until it’s over.”

“Definitely not, especially since I’m going to do everything in my power to defeat your sexy behind.”

“I have no doubt about that.”

“Your performance at the debate has definitely garnered its share of attention. You were even the topic at the family breakfast.”


“Ike Jr. said he was tempted to vote for you.”

“That’s not likely to happen.”

“No, but it’s a testament to how impressive you were the other night.”

“I appreciate that, Niko, and given that we are opponents, I’m impressed with your kindness. It sounds sincere.”

“It is.” A pause and then “What are your plans for the homestretch?”

“More of the same—canvassing neighborhoods, phone banks, knocking on doors. But I have to go to L.A. to finish handling Devante’s case.”

“Couldn’t get it done from here, huh?”

“No. He violated parole by leaving where I’d placed him and staying with his cousin, a felon. There’s a new parole officer. His paperwork got screwed up. It’s a mess.”

“When are you leaving?”


“How long will you be gone?”

“I’m hoping to be able to finish in a couple days, but it might take a week.”

“Okay. Keep in touch.”

“I will.”

“Turn off the television. Turn off your phone. And get some sleep. You need it.”

“You’re right. Good night.”

Later, as Monique flipped through the channels after packing for her trip, she felt tired but happy. Since moving to Paradise Cove, her life had changed in ways she could not have imagined. Having just broken up with Rob months before coming here, a relationship with Niko had been the last thing on her mind. Sure, when she’d allowed herself to dream, she’d imagined it. But the reality was imminently more amazing.

Reaching over to turn off the bedside lamp, she was surprised to hear someone on television saying her name.

“Monique Slater,” the professional yet somber male voice intoned, “running for mayor on a platform that promises Paradise Cove a new day.” An intrigued Monique reached for the remote and turned up the volume. “Yet while working as an attorney in Los Angeles, she was fired for improper conduct…dating a client.” Monique’s mouth dropped, along with the remote from her hand. “Questionable conduct. Questionable character. Questionable acquaintances. Is this the type of person you’d trust to lead you anywhere? I don’t think so.” As a picture of a mean-looking Monique dissolved into a picturesque view of Paradise Cove, a pleasant female voiceover said, “Paid for by Independent Citizens for a New Paradise.”