Standing near the television with hands clasped behind his back is Preston. He’s been working with my father for the last four years, starting as a part-time consultant before being promoted to full-time advisor. With the upcoming transition taking place of late, he’s become more of a glorified errand boy for my parents…and there’s something about him that makes me exercise caution. There’s an assumption on my father’s part that I’m going to hire Preston after the election, but I don’t think Preston has made that same assumption. There’s an unaddressed tension between him and me, and he’s clearly aware of it. Seems to even enjoy it somewhat.

My theory is partly confirmed when Preston seems poised to comment on the television footage, but notices me in the doorway first and shuts his mouth. “I’ll leave you to it, Mr. Mayor,” he says to my father, passing me with a nod. “Captain Du Pont.”

“Preston.”

The advisor closes the door on his way out and I continue into the office. “Well played, son,” my father says, using the remote to turn off the television. “A little more grief in front of the cameras wouldn’t have gone amiss, but the public will want a resilient mayor. Not someone who takes to bed over some woman.”

“She wasn’t some woman. She was going to be my wife.” Even as I defend Naomi, I can’t even remember our last conversation. Or if I kissed her last night after the rehearsal dinner. None of it. I’m sure once I have some time and perspective, those things will come back to me, but right now, I’m coming up blank. I clear my throat. “How is Mom?”

“Miffed as hell. You know how she likes playing hostess.” My father lets his feet drop from the desk and sends me a smirk. “I suppose she’s a little worried about you, too.”

Guilt turns over in my chest. “I’ll give her a call to let her know I’m fine.”

He drops his chin, sending his voice down into a lower register. “We’ll give this a month to settle, then we’ll find you someone else. A new love interest that plays well with voters.” Two fingers lift to massage the bridge of his nose. “People care less and less about the issues these days. A blossoming romance will keep their interest.”

This suggestion does not come as a shock to me. Some of my first memories are of being thrown up on my father’s shoulders for a photo opportunity. Protecting one’s persona is the nature of the beast in politics. My father served in the army, like me, and has dedicated his life to what he believes will better this town, though. This city runs in his veins and he’s been the face of recovery after storms, perseverance through tragedy. To a casual observer of this conversation, he comes across as callous and self-serving—and maybe he is, on occasion. After all, he’s a politician. But he’s a man who is passionate about public service. And oatmeal.

In two month’s time, I’m the front-runner to take his place in this very office. At sixty-five, he could probably go on serving for another decade, but my mother is tired of the long hours he works and wants to travel. She also wants grandbabies, which is on hold for a while, since I’m an only child and freshly jilted. My father expects me to pick up exactly where he leaves off. To lead Charleston the way he’s done, without deviating.

Part of me wonders if it’s worth the inevitable battle and disappointment if I do things my own way. My father is a member of the proverbial old boys’ club. There’s a spot waiting for me there, too. Do I want to take it, though? Taking it means favors, funding, deals made at the country club. Traditions as old as time, but not ones that make a real difference.

Addison’s frown creeps back into my head. If I told her I had fresh new ideas that I was on the fence about introducing, what would she say? More than likely, she would probably threaten to dump soup on my head. Again. For just a couple seconds, I let myself remember the glow of the Christmas lights and Addison’s voice at my shoulder. If I’d gotten married yesterday, I never would have known such a unique person and place existed. That thought causes an uncomfortable flattening in my stomach.

“You’re on board with the new love interest idea?”

“I think you know I’m not,” I respond, unable to keep the weariness out of my tone. “You didn’t marry my mother for appearances’ sake.”

“I got lucky.” He picks up the remote control and taps it on the desk. “We can’t all find a diamond in the rough, though. You’ll meet another girl like Naomi. Good upbringing, looks, class. She’ll give you a comfortable life and respectability.” A pregnant pause starts a tingle at the back of my neck. “That girl you left with yesterday will give you none of those things, so I hope you scratched the itch.”

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