“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Mo. You took someone at face value, a man you thought you knew. He took advantage of a vulnerable moment. What are you going to do?”

“For starters, get back to Paradise Cove as soon as possible. I had to handle an emergency in L.A., and while here I’d planned to spend some time at the firm. Plans have changed. I can’t let an attack like this go unanswered. The longer I take to respond, the more the rumors will spread. I’ve commented briefly to several reporters, denying the allegations. But that’s not enough. I have to go on the air and tell my side.”

“Was this televised nationally?”

“No, thank God. I called Mom first thing this morning. If it had run anywhere in their area, believe me, they’d know. It still might get leaked. This story and the fallout from it are going to follow me for the remainder of this campaign.”

“I’m so sorry this has happened. Do you have a good support system around you?”

“Yes. Along with raising a whole lot of hell, Margo is also raising the money that will fund this new and unexpected ad. Lance, my campaign manager, has become a good friend who I know has my back.”

“What about Rob? I know you guys broke up, but at one time he was a very good friend.”

“We talk occasionally, mostly through text and email. Haven’t heard from him lately. I think he’s seeing someone.”

“Well, you should call him, get that analytical point of view that people good with numbers are known for.”

“Perhaps I will.” Monique sighed. “Enough about my soap-opera life. How are you and the baby?”

They chatted for several minutes about cravings and gained weight and phantom contractions. Monique was glad for the diversion. Even if only temporarily, it eased the ache in her heart over Niko’s betrayal. She thought about Emma’s suggestion to call Rob. It was a good idea. After a trying day in court or a hectic day at the office, his calm, steady demeanor had always calmed her. She’d appreciated different points of view gained from his perspective. An irony assailed her. If she’d stayed with steady, dependable Rob…none of this would have happened.

* * *

Niko, Ike Jr., Warren and Terrell sat around the conference-room table discussing how to handle this latest situation. If one Drake had a problem, they all did.

Ike Jr. eyed his brother. “How are you so sure it’s Dick?”

“It has to be him, considering his feelings about women in politics, poor people in our city and an upstart like me having the audacity to run for mayor. This wasn’t the work of a Democrat or independent. He did this.”

Terrell scowled, crossed his arms. “I think so, too.”

“When do you expect to hear back from Teresa?” Warren asked.

Niko looked at his watch. “By now, I thought. Let me text her.”

“I’m ahead of you, bro.” Terrell’s thumbs flew across the keys.

Ike leaned forward, steepling his fingers on the table. “What are we going to do with whatever proof Teresa finds? Dick isn’t foolish enough to have his name connected to something like this. If accused, he’ll deny. Then what?”

“Is the story true?” Terrell placed down his phone and looked at Niko. “That’s what I want to know.”

“She was terminated for an isolated incident, learned her lesson and moved on. We all make mistakes. That shouldn’t be held against her or used against her.”

Ike Jr. disagreed. “Come on, Niko. This is politics. Any part of her life is fair game.”

Niko sprang from his chair. “Are you justifying what happened?”

Ike Jr. stood and looked him in the eye. “I’m saying that if she can’t stand the heat, she never should have jumped in the fire.”

“Calm down.” Warren hadn’t raised his voice, yet his tone was authoritative and effective. The men sat. “Let’s keep focused on what we’re here to do.

“I say we start at the firm where this incident happened, get the names of the attorneys employed during that time and see if there’s a connection with Dick.”

“That’s a start,” Terrell replied, once again scrolling and texting on his cell phone. “But the Schneiders know some of everybody. His father was a judge for a hundred years.”

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