The Best-Kept Secretñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“I have the drive.”
“Used to,” Rosie corrected him.
“I’m very driven. And I have lots of friends who find me intriguing.” Hudson hadn’t meant to let Rosie get to him.
“I call them as I see them.” Her voice was flat, as if she thought Hud’s political career wasn’t worth arguing about.
“And you know this by reading my file?” She didn’t know him at all. “Maybe there are things that aren’t in my file that might make you feel differently.”
“I’ve been trained to be a judge of what works and what sells in the system. It’s my professional opinion, nothing more.”
Rosie DeWitt didn’t know it yet, but her professional opinion was about to change.
I was excited to be included in the SINGLES…WITH KIDS miniseries. Having spent sixteen years as a working mom in the corporate world, I had a lot of history to draw upon, including that all-important network of other working moms who keep you sane. More important, I’d had these characters lurking in the recesses of my brain– Rosie and Hud, two driven, type A personalities who were used to being in the driver’s seat and were craving a book of their own. It’s a power struggle from the get-go and one neither intends to lose.
Only, these two didn’t count on sparks flying from the moment they shake hands. Or the way falling in love necessitates revealing the best-kept secrets.
I hope you enjoy Rosie and Hud’s story. I love to hear from readers, either through my Web site, www.MelindaCurtis.com, or through regular mail at P.O. Box 150, Denair, CA 95316.
The Best-Kept Secret
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melinda Curtis lives in Northern California with her husband, three kids, two Labradors, two cats and a circle of friendly neighbors who eagerly weigh in on everything from the best way to cut your lawn to the best haircut for a fourth grader—just what good friends are for!
To my family, who understand what it means
to have a working mom who might forget dentist appointments, singes the garlic bread and misplaces PE clothes. Your wit, eye rolls and unconditional love keep me going.
And to Thelma, who taught me about blended
families, forgiveness and stuffing a bra. You will be missed.
“I NEED YOU TO DO something for me.” A small favor.
A phone call. Still, it went against Hudson McCloud’s grain to ask anyone for help. It came down to this: swallow his pride and ask his mother for help…or wait. And Hud was done waiting.
“What is it?” Vivian McCloud turned from the skyscraper’s view of the turbulent waters of San Francisco Bay and the few sailboats that braved the post-Christmas Pacific Ocean tides. His mother had once been full of life, but the events of the past ten years had taken their toll.
And Hud was partially to blame.
He couldn’t turn back the clock and prevent the mistakes and losses he’d suffered from happening, but after two years of biding his time there was finally a chance he could restore his family’s honor.
Hud crossed the Oriental carpet in his mother’s office to the cabinet that held the TV and filled the room with a sound he had come to loathe—a newscast.
“…sad news for the city. San Francisco’s mayor was about to deliver a speech on the steps of city hall when he suffered a brain aneurism. The mayor was rushed to USF Medical Center and pronounced dead at ten a.m.”
Hud was silent as his mother came to stand next to him. As a young senator’s wife, she’d been a prot?g? of Jackie Kennedy both in politics and fashion. Despite her silver hair, she was still a striking presence in her classic suit and pearls. Her influence as the widow of a fifth-generation U.S. senator stretched across both parties, but it was a power she rarely used.
There was a long silence between them, as the news changed to the weather. She had to know what Hud wanted and how important it was to him, to the McCloud legacy.
When his mother didn’t speak, Hud smoothed his tie, cleared his throat and said quietly, “This is just what I’ve been looking for.”
His mother gave him a sharp look. “Another chance for you to be hurt?”
“It’s what I want.” It’s what he had to do. Hud muted the volume. He’d turned out to be the screwup in the McCloud family, not Samuel. How in the hell had that happened?
“You excel at running McCloud Inc. Any other man would try to be satisfied with the way things turned out.”
“But not a McCloud.” McClouds didn’t give up. His father had taught him that, along with duty before personal goals.
She sighed heavily. They both knew Hudson had sacrificed his own dreams for the sake of the family.
“I know the public thinks I failed.” These last words came out gruffly despite Hud’s resolve not to care what anyone else thought. He cleared his throat again. “But I can make it right this time.” Hud wanted his mother to be able to hold her head up once more, wanted to hear her laugh with unbridled joy rather than polite response.
“Mayor of San Francisco? The party would be foolish to consider you.”
And Hud was a fool to believe he had a chance. Still, he had one card left to play. “They won’t turn me down if you ask them. No one refuses Vivian McCloud.”
“ROSIE, YOU HAVE two calls waiting.” Rosie DeWitt’s assistant, Marsha, stuck her head in Rosie’s office. “Line one is Walter O’Connell.”
Just hours after the mayor’s death, the news media and political world was in a frenzy over who was going to run in the election to replace him. Since Rosie was one of Walter’s political strategists, he probably wanted her opinion. He might even want her to run the campaign for the Democratic candidate.
“Line two is Casey’s day care.”
Anxiety pulsed through Rosie’s veins. She set down her coffee and quickly pushed the button for line two. “Is Casey okay?”
“He’s fine, Ms. DeWitt.” Rosie recognized the voice of Rainbow Day Care’s principal, Ms. Phan. Casey attended the Rainbow center after school and during the holidays. “I just wanted to make sure we get our school play on your calendar in late January.”
Ouch. She’d missed the last play when Walter had asked Rosie to accompany him to Washington to evaluate several candidates for office. She glanced at a photo of her and Casey from last summer. Heads close, they had the same black curly hair, dark brown eyes and energetic grins. Was she letting him down as Ms. Phan always seemed to imply? Sometimes Rosie felt as if she were trying to sail the SS Motherhood beneath the Golden Gate Bridge without a working rudder. No matter how hard she tried to be a good mother, life seemed to conspire against her.
Rosie dutifully penciled the play on her calendar and assured Ms. Phan she’d be there this time.
“And I’m sure you won’t be late tonight to pick up Casey. It is New Year’s Eve, after all,” Ms. Phan added. “Once parents begin picking up their children Casey becomes a clock watcher.”
To her credit, Rosie didn’t snap a pencil or a sharp retort. She did, however, reach for her coffee. Just holding the warm ceramic mug settled her nerves.
Planning strategy, drafting legislation and writing speeches for candidates and incumbents often meant Rosie was late to pick up her kindergartener. She’d learned to leave money in her budget for the late fees she incurred from Rainbow on a weekly basis. What she hadn’t completely mastered was the art of filtering all the advice she received about parenting without taking offense or feeling as if she and Casey needed to go to counseling. They were doing the best they could.
Rosie told Ms. Phan she’d be there before five o’clock closing, then paused to take a sip of coffee before she shifted back to professional mode.
Pressing the button for line one took her to California’s power player. “Walter, how are you?” She caught the dinosaur Democrat in midcough. He was currently serving as the chairman of the Democratic Party for California. With Walter’s approval—and increasingly Rosie’s—candidates were groomed by the party for various positions throughout the state.
“A day short of the grave, as usual. Can’t seem to shake this cough,” he grumbled. “How’s it feel to be a backup singer for Senator Alsace?”
“I’m just biding my time until the next political race.”
“Ha! Your search for the right candidate is over. Win this one and you can write your own ticket.”
“You’re going to run for office?” Even as Rosie joked, she was intrigued. Deals were how the American political system worked and how those involved got ahead.
Walter chuckled, a gruff sound that dissolved into another fit of coughing. “Perhaps you’ve noticed that San Francisco needs a new mayor.”
“There’s an opening for a squeaky clean candidate with aspirations of glory.” Rosie fidgeted in her seat, excited by the prospect of something new. “Who did you have in mind?”
“You win this one, Rosie, and you’ll have a spot on the presidential campaign.”
She’d dreamed of working on a presidential campaign since she was a kid. “Who?”
Rosie looked at the picture of her son again. The McClouds were the California equivalent of the Kennedys. Media followed their every step. Anyone who worked for the McClouds would receive the same scrutiny, and Rosie was fiercely protective of her privacy. She had to turn Walter down.
And yet, part of her yearned for the challenge. Pundits had dismissed Hudson McCloud’s career. The campaign would make national news and, possibly, a strategist’s career, as well. She would just have to work that much harder at keeping her professional life separate from her life with Casey.
“Rosie? Rosie, don’t play games with me. You won’t get another chance like this anytime soon.”
“I don’t doubt that.” Had Walter lost his mind? Had she? Rosie couldn’t quell her curiosity. “Why me?”
“Because you excel at advancing the underdog. Because you don’t sugarcoat things.” Walter coughed. “And because Vivian McCloud requested you.”
HUD SAT AT WHAT HAD once been his father’s desk, in what had once been his father’s chair, and perused a file of faded newspaper clippings by the light of a small desk lamp. Usually, his Queen Anne home, built after the 1906 quake, was never quiet. It groaned and shifted like a living thing. Tonight though, as if sensing Hud’s somber mood, not a board in the one-hundred-year-old house dared creak.
Tomorrow he’d find out if the party considered him salvageable. He’d left the string-pulling to his mother once she’d agreed to inquire about the Democratic leadership’s feelings toward him. But he had no idea who or what he’d face tomorrow. Would they welcome him back or challenge his interest in running?
Hud read the headlines of the articles he kept to remind him why he’d turned his back on his personal goals in the first place.
Hudson McCloud Flexes Power on First Day in Senate.
McCloud Accused of Conflict of Interest on Child Labor Bill.
Questions Increase, McCloud Influence Disappears.
Another Bill by Senator McCloud Crushed.
McCloud Stepping Down from Senate.
Who was Hud kidding? He may have saved McCloud Inc., the clothing conglomerate his great, great grandfather had founded, and their employees from ruin, but he’d done so at the sacrifice of his own career, tarnishing the family reputation in the process. The party wanted untouchable candidates who could influence policy. Hud’s political power no longer existed. He’d best remember that and not get his hopes up about what tomorrow’s meeting might bring.
SOMETHING SMELLED good enough to get out of bed for.
“I smell morning,” Casey whispered from the other side of the bed. Sometime during the night, he’d padded into her bedroom complaining of a bad dream that only a dog or a little brother could protect him from.
Eyes still shut, Rosie rolled over and drank in the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. It was Friday. One more day until the weekend. An easy day. Casey was still on holiday from kindergarten.
No! She sat up and her head spun. It was the Friday, the day of her audience with Vivian McCloud. Rosie scrambled out of bed full of regret over agreeing to go in the first place. She was meeting Walter for breakfast at nine before their appointment at the Pyramid Center at eleven.
“Wake up, Case! We can’t be late today.”
Rosie dreaded what she had to do, but what choice did she have? To turn down Vivian McCloud outright was political suicide. So Rosie had done her homework. She had all the ammunition she needed to sink Hudson’s political aspirations. Walter would find someone more suitable for the race and the tension that had been sitting in Rosie’s stomach since Walter’s call would disappear.
The next hour was a blur of activity in between gulps of hazelnut-flavored coffee and making sure Casey ate all his cereal. There was a small ceremonial moment—a lull in the morning chaos—as Rosie unwrapped a pair of new Jimmy Choo pumps. They’d been incredibly expensive but when she’d seen them at lunch on Wednesday, she knew she had to have them, so she’d used the money her parents sent her for Christmas. This morning they felt like success as she slipped them on her feet.
One last perusal in the mirror confirmed her springy curls were still half-tamed, pulled back from her face and anchored simply by a clip just below her crown, and her clothes lacked major wrinkles or stains. Rosie loved the way her midnight-blue pantsuit projected confidence with a feminine touch provided by long, slightly belled sleeves.
Less than an hour after bolting from bed, keys jingling in one hand, her briefcase, umbrella and raincoat slung over her other arm, she was ready to leave.
“Case, let’s go.”
“Mommy, I can’t go to day care today ’cause I don’t have any shoes that match.” He lifted his pants legs to show a sneaker on one foot and a sock with a hole in the toe on the other. “It’s only a short day anyway.”
Rosie slid out of her heels, dropped her briefcase to the floor, tossed her raincoat and umbrella onto a kitchen chair and made a mad dash around their crowded apartment to find a match for a blue-and-red Spider-Man tennis shoe.
“Not by the door. Not in the kitchen. Not in the bathroom.” Rosie could feel herself starting to get sweaty. Could she send Casey in sandals? Unfortunately, no. The weatherman had predicted rain.
“Here it is,” Casey singsonged. “It was under the couch cushion.”
“What was it doing in there?” Rosie asked, setting a record for speedy shoe tying. She stuffed her feet back into her shoes, grabbed her briefcase and Casey’s hand, and then they were out the door.
Rosie tugged Casey along as fast as she could, down the stairs past Chin-Chin’s Pizzeria and Noodle House, spicy scents already wafting in the air, and along the familiar two-block walk to Rainbow Day Care. The wind swirled about them on the sidewalk and a glance up revealed heavy, gray clouds.
Predictably, the faster she tried to walk, the slower Casey became. “Mommy, can I have hot chocolate?”
Rosie glanced at her watch. “No.” At this rate, she’d miss the bus.
“I’m hungry. Can we stop at McDonald’s?”
“No, honey. You ate breakfast already.” Rosie tried to at least appear as if she wasn’t running a race, recognizing that Casey didn’t want to be hustled off.
“Mommy, you forgot your coat and umbrella,” Casey scolded her when they arrived at Rainbow Day Care. “Take mine.” Casey dug his Spider-Man umbrella out of his cluttered cubby.
“I’m sure I won’t need it.” Rosie dismissed the dark clouds outside. The city had only been getting intermittent showers as they blew over toward the peninsula. Besides, anything with Spider-Man was precious to her son. What if the wind blew it away?
“It’s going to get very messy later, Ms. DeWitt.” Ms. Phan leaned out the office window. “What is it we always say, Casey?”
“Be prepared and take care of your neighbor!” Casey punched the neon bright umbrella toward the ceiling, eliciting a smile from Rosie.
Ms. Phan nodded with approval, and then gave Rosie a significant look. The day-care principal always managed to make Rosie feel like the worst mother on the planet.
“Thank you for your kind offer, sir,” Rosie said as she took the umbrella, wondering if there was another day care in the neighborhood that offered after school services without persecution of its parents. This was just the impression Rosie wanted to make on Vivian McCloud when she rejected her son—a political strategist who liked Jimmy Choos…and Spider-Man.
“DON’T LET HUD BAIT YOU.” The door to the Pyramid Center swung closed after Walter, almost hitting Rosie in the face. “He’ll try to test your knowledge of the issues. This is an excellent training ground for the presidential campaign.”
“Not a problem.” Presidential campaign. Rosie latched on to the idea like a lifeline. She was about to meet one of her idols—the woman who’d shaken hands with at least six presidents, a dozen heads of state and probably a Supreme Court justice or two.
The woman who could make her life unimaginably miserable if things didn’t go Rosie’s way.
Rosie spotted the Starbucks in the lobby immediately and clenched the strap of her briefcase against the urge to grab a cup. One of her curls escaped and fell onto her cheek.
“You’ll have to pass muster with his father’s campaign manager,” Walter continued, passing a hand over his bald head. “Stu Fenderson serves as Viv’s assistant now.”
She hadn’t admitted to Walter that she didn’t want the job. If Hudson turned out to be an ideal candidate—like that would happen—Rosie would recommend someone else work on his campaign.
“I’ve heard about Stu.” Old, crotchety, a womanizer in his day. Rosie knew how to deal with him—never waffle on an issue, speak loud enough for his hearing aid to pick up and never let him have the last word.
“But it’s most important that Viv approves of you. Make a bad impression and any chance you have at the national level will be slim to none. Everybody loves her and they’ll do anything she asks.” Walter pointed at Rosie. “Including blackball you. So, let’s not tell her you’re having lunch with another candidate.”
“She doesn’t know about Roger Bartholomew?” Rosie balked as she was about to pass a large modern sculpture in the lobby. When Walter confessed this morning that he was interested in a second candidate, Rosie’s grip on her coffee mug had turned white-knuckled. It was either that or let out a credibility-killing shout of relief. With another option, there was no way she’d get trapped into working on Hudson’s campaign.
“I don’t plan to tell Viv about Roger unless it’s absolutely necessary. That’s why I’m not going to lunch with you.”
Walter gave Rosie an odd look over his shoulder as he handed the security guard his ID. “I trust your assessment.”
Rosie ignored the rush of excitement at the power he was giving her. “But you said Mrs. McCloud—”
“If you don’t play both sides of the coin, you’ll be empty-handed at the end of the day.” Meaning he wanted Rosie to do his dirty work so his friendship with Mrs. McCloud wouldn’t suffer.
She’d been planning to build a case against Hudson with Walter at her back, but now…
Certain she wore that deer in the headlights look, Rosie crossed the foyer and produced her ID.
They were followed into the elevator by a group of women each cradling a Starbucks cup. Trapped against the back wall, Rosie looked up at the small video screen playing news sound bites so she wouldn’t focus on the coffee. She’d had coffee this morning. She was prepared for the meeting—even if her hair was starting to unravel, Rosie would not. She didn’t need the prop of a coffee cup or the jolt of caffeine. But that didn’t stop Rosie from imagining the surprised look on the face of the woman next to her as Rosie plucked the cup from her hand.
Since Walter hadn’t given up his spot by the control buttons, he exited easily at the forty-second floor, while Rosie had to fight her way through the caffeine herd and was almost scrunched by the closing elevator doors. She trotted past several clear glass entryways, struggling on her short legs to catch up with Walter.
The doors to the McCloud offices had been replaced with paned, frosted ones so that no one in the hallway could see in. Walter marched through. Rosie’s hand hesitated on the cool, pebbled glass. Tension buzzed in her ears.
Rosie backed up a step, her fingertips almost a memory on the door. If she left, she’d lose a chance to influence the agenda of the next president of the United States. What would she tell Casey the next time he asked about what she wanted to be when she grew up? How could she encourage him not to abandon his dreams without putting forth the effort if she didn’t do the same? All she had to do was keep her mouth closed about Roger Bartholomew, not let Hudson get to her, control Stu and not even think about…
With a deep breath, Rosie pushed the door open and stepped into an opulent, hushed reception area decorated in muted grays and deep burgundies, coming face-to-face with a large oil portrait of Hamilton and Vivian McCloud, flanked by their two grown sons, Hudson and Samuel. The men all shared a strong cleft chin. No one smiled. It was an ominous portrait, no doubt created as a legacy marker. All the wild charm had been painted out of Samuel’s expression.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî