His tongue is lodged in his cheek as he pulls into traffic on King Street. I spend the ride with arms crossed so tightly, I start to worry for my circulation. Preston doesn’t say anything as he weaves in and out of traffic, showing his identification at certain checkpoints. I’m grateful for the silence, but I can’t shake the intuition that there’s something he knows…that I don’t. The closer we draw toward City Hall, the more my instincts begin to vibrate. People crowd the streets, watching giant projection screens that have been set up for the occasion. God. I’ve always known how Elijah’s role as mayor was important, but seeing it happen live, is amazing. I’m so proud of him.

The magnitude of that pride makes this Lexus feel very small—very wrong—in comparison.

Elijah’s reaction to his mother introducing Preston and me on election night comes roaring back, covering my face with flames. He wouldn’t want me in a car with this man. He never would have encouraged this. What is going on?

When we reach the security gate that leads to City Hall, Preston already has his badge out to hand to the officer. Okay, this is fine. As soon as we’re inside the gate, I can shake Preston and find a way to Elijah. Or if I can’t reach him, at least I can watch him get sworn in.

My game plan is blown to smithereens when Preston rolls through security, circles the parking lot and pulls to a stop at the curb outside City Hall. There is a veritable mob of reporters, all of them filming the arrival and I know…I know in that moment that I’ve been had. Big time.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Elijah

New Couple Alert?

—TheTea.com

“Captain Du Pont, it’s time.”

I give the harried woman holding a clipboard my most patient smile, even though I’m the furthest thing from patient. “Yes, I realize that.” A quick check of the clock tells me I should already have one hand on a Bible and my military sensibilities are protesting my lateness. “Have you been able to get a hold of my mother?”

A cursory consult of her clipboard and she nods. “She’s on her way to the stage, along with your father, but she asked us to pass on a message.”

There’s a ticking in my temple. “What is it?”

Clipboard woman hesitates. “She says, she tried, but…Addison Potts won’t be joining them. And she’s sorry.”

My optimism drops. Big time. “Really.”

The woman holds up a finger, leaning into the headset and scribbling down a few more notes. “Sir, we need to go now.”

Okay. Get over the disappointment. Addison didn’t want to come to the inauguration in the first place. There are a million cameras and it was too much to ask of her so soon. I should be grateful that she’s willing to brave the fray on a normal day. Standing behind me on the stage would have launched her into a much larger spotlight. One that would come with expectations and more media attention. I need to be more understanding and patient.

Still, my belief in her refuses to wane. I can’t shake the feeling that she’ll be here. Not when we’ve been spending more and more time talking about my job, the impact I want to have as mayor. I thought…today was important to her, too. No, it is. I know it is.

“Addison Potts. She’s on your list, right?”

“Added last night, sir. At your request.” Her smile is beginning to diminish around the edges. “I’ve asked to be informed when and if she arrives.”

I’m due at the stage, but I can’t get rid of this weight in my stomach. Would Addison turn my mother down without calling me with an explanation? It’s not like her.

From across the office, I hear the woman’s headset crackle and she presses a finger to the device, listening with an intent expression. “Captain Du Pont, Miss Potts has arrived.”

“Has she?” Relief germinates in my chest, but it dies a quick death when I turn and look out the window, just in time to catch Addison stumbling to a halt in front of a dozen flashing cameras, another man’s hand on her back. They’re close, his body turned into hers, eyes regarding her with obvious affection. And she’s simply standing there, letting him lean into her like they’ve just won Homecoming King and Queen. I’m so raw from the onslaught of jealousy, it takes me a rough series of breaths to identify the man touching my girlfriend.

Preston.

There a sharp pain in my jaw, as if I’ve been decked. “What the fuck?”

“Sir?”

By the grace of God, I don’t put my fist through the window, raining glass down on the scene below. But that’s only because I’m frozen in place, my vision a sea of bright, sickening red. “Get on your headset,” I grind out. “Have Miss Potts escorted to the stage by her security detail. They’re waiting downstairs.”

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