By Ane Mulligan
Sienna O’Shea slammed the door of her red Volkswagen Beetle, trying not to slip on the icy patches in the parking lot. She hurried to the elevator for the Legislative Office Building and her dream job in New York’s capitol. New York! Her heart kicked up its heels and she could hardly believe she’d made it. Her second day on the job and already she’d been assigned to testify before New York’s Senate Judicial Committee. She might be a rooky at lobbying, but she’d show them.
It took her half the night to work up her presentation, praying the whole time it would be good enough. It should be, her old friend Matt Dressler gave her the background information. If it was, she could leverage her position as team newbie into a force to be reckoned with—someone they’d be proud of. And for once, it would be because of something she did, not who she was.
She pushed the button and waited, catching her breath that came out in little puffs of fog in the frigid air. A long-legged man in a dark grey overcoat approached from between two cars and stopped beside her. He tipped his hat.
A courteous New Yorker? Wow. And a handsome one. Double wow.
The doors opened and they both entered the elevator. He stood in front of the numbered panel, blocking it. She’d been told the Senate Hearing room was on the third floor. Since he didn’t move...
“Third floor, please.”
He grinned and punched the button for the first floor. Sienna blinked and stepped back. So much for courteous, that was downright uncivil. Her heartbeat accelerated and she forced herself not to look at him. He could be a pervert. Good looking or not, the dude better not try anything.
She slipped her hand into her coat pocket and wrapped her fingers around the cold cylinder of mace. The same one she’d laughed at when Mom made her promise three times to carry it in her pocket. Well, she wasn’t laughing now. If he made a move toward her, she wasn’t going down with a whimper.
As the elevator slid downward and he didn’t make any attempt to touch her, her fingers relaxed their grip on the mace. He didn’t dress like a mugger. The cut and quality of his overcoat whispered money. Still, why had he sent the elevator to the first floor instead of the third? Maybe she should say something. But what do you say to a potential assailant? She chewed her lip, trying to think of something.
“I said three ... please.”
He grinned but didn’t move. Her hand tightened on the mace.
“All the other floors go to different levels of the parking deck.” He removed his hat and brushed his fingers along its rim. “The only entrance to the LOB is from the first level.”
Did this elevator have an emergency exit for the terminally embarrassed? Not wanting to encourage him, she averted her eyes. Then again ... Keeping her head down, she peeked through her eyelashes. He exuded charm. And he hadn’t made an improper advance. Was there any way for this to be salvaged?
A slight bounce alerted her to the elevator’s impending stop. The doors slid open to reveal a brightly lit corridor from which other passageways branched off. Shops, restaurants, banks and offices lined the hallways. Voices, like an indecipherable hum, reverberated off the marble walls. People carrying briefcases and armloads of files scurried past, leaving a trail of perfume and aftershave in their wake. Her nose twitched. The scene gave her a sense of continuity— historic walls juxtaposed against energetic youth. Trying not to gape, she looked up at the man beside her.
“It’s like a city.”
“We’re underground. You can access the entire Capitol campus from down here. Around this wall and straight ahead is the Senate Office building, down that hall to your left, the Assembly Offices. You can go to the school board and the Capitol too, all without stepping outside which is a blessing in winter.” He took her elbow and pulled her closer so four men could enter the elevator.
“From here, if you turn right, you’ll see the Senate elevator.” He pointed down the hall. “Take it to the third floor and follow the signs to the Judiciary Hearing Room.”
“Third floor, uh, thank you.” How’d he know that was where she was going? Her elbow still tingled from his touch.
He raised one eyebrow and smiled at her. “Come on, I’ll show you.” He guided her along, weaving in and out of the crowd with expertise. He stopped in front of a bank of doors. “Here you go.” His eyes crinkled with good humor. “It’s all yours from here.”
The timbre of his deep voice resonated in her ear. “Thank you …” She suddenly realized she didn’t know his name.
“Reese.” He slipped his card into her jacket’s waist pocket. Her skin beneath the material tingled where his fingers grazed. “Reese Van Daal.” With the accent on Daal, it sounded like doll. He sure was that. Sun-streaked blond hair—natural, no hairdresser could match that subtle coloring—and ice blue eyes.
“Sienna O’Shea. I’m sorry … I don’t have any cards yet. New job” Brilliant conversation, O’Shea—quit blathering. “I really do appreciate the guide. No telling how long I would have wandered.” If not for him, she’d have wandered lost in the vast underground maze of Albany’s capitol and been even later. What a way to make an impression.
With his head slightly cocked, he nodded. “The pleasure was distinctly mine.” He didn’t move but stared into her eyes as if memorizing her. Then he turned and walked away.
She clamped her hand over her mouth. Did she say that out loud? When he didn’t turn around, she breathed a sigh of relief. What a hunk of gorgeous, rugged—
“Are you coming, Miss?”
“What?” Sienna whirled around. A withered man the color of charcoal sat on a stool, holding the elevator door for her.
“Oh, yes, I’m sorry.” She stepped inside. “Three, please.”
He reached out and pulled the iron grate shut with a clank. The outer doors closed in silence. She’d never seen an elevator operator before. It reminded her of an old late night movie her mom loved. What an amazing place.
A moment later she stood outside the Judiciary Hearing Room. She gave the guard her name, and after receiving her clearance, took a deep breath and opened the door, stepping inside.
The floor slanted downward like a theatre, each row of seats lower than the previous one. Her gaze progressed to the front of the room where a huge mahogany conference table stood, a bouquet of microphones clustered at its center. A row of journalists squatted on the floor in front of the table. She didn’t know the media would be here. Her stomach flip-flopped, sending waves of anxiety crashing on the shore of assurance. Lobbying she knew. Testifying before a judicial committee? No way—amicus curiae she was not.
A heavyset woman sat at the table, testifying. Her strident alto, proclaiming her group’s admiration of the judge, punctuated the rustle of papers and whispers from the assembled audience. A dais rose in front of the table. Behind the modesty rail, she could see a dozen high-backed, leather chairs—filled with senators. Only one or two of the senators paid attention to the woman speaking. The rest talked among themselves. Sienna shrank back and gulped. This must be what a prisoner felt as he left his death-row cell for his execution. Sure she’d lobbied, but that was one-on-one. This was onstage. Had they called her name yet? If so, what now? Her glance swept the room. CFC’s assistant, Christine, who would be showing her around, should be there. When Sienna spotted her, Christine was waving and motioned over her soccer-ball belly to the chair next to her.
She whispered, “Where have you been?”
Sienna lowered the theatre-style seat and dropped into it, setting her briefcase at her feet. “Caught in traffic. Lost. Don’t ask. Have they called me yet?”
“No, but you’re up in a few minutes.”
Hardly time to catch her breath. “I hope—What are they handing out?”
Behind the senators on the dais, an aide distributed what looked like an entire ream of paper to each senator. An intern pushing a trolley followed behind.
“That’s the next person’s testimonial.”
Sienna clutched the arms of her chair. Her eyes darted to Christine. “I don’t have that much.” The volume of her voice attracted attention. She slunk down in her chair and whispered, “I didn’t know I’d need anything like that. Christine, mine’s only a single page.”
She wanted to throw up. Her first day on the job as legislative affairs director for CFC and she was going to bomb. Cheese grits. Better to run. She started to rise.
Christine pulled her back down. “Don’t worry. You’ll do fine. Just read your paper, then get up and leave. Don’t give them any time to ask questions, unless you’re prepared to answer.”
“Answer them? No way.” She’d take the get-up-and-leave option. “I don’t know much about this issue, but I did unearth something I hope will blow the lid off the appointment. A good friend of mine, Matt Dressler, is an investigative reporter. It’s really his research and story. He emailed it to me last night. All I did was rework it to fit our needs. Of course, it took me most of the night.” Sienna leaned down and pulled a paper from her briefcase. “Look.”
Christine read the paper, her eyes growing wider with each line. “You’re sure of this?” She handed it back.
The man in front of them turned and scowled. Sienna leaned closer to her assistant and lowered her voice to a whisper. “That’s what I asked Matt. He said he had all the proof anyone would need—bank records, corporate reports, audits, you name it. I trust his work a hundred percent, and I’ve cited all the references on the back.”
“This is amazing, Sienna. You don’t need more than this one page.” A smug grin stretched across her lips. “Glen’s going to be so glad he hired you.”
“I was terrified I’d be too late to testify and he’d fire me.”
“Not after this.” Christine sat up straight. “Watch now. You should be up next.”
The clerk stood. “Conservative Family Coalition representative, please.”
Sienna walked to the standing microphone in the aisle. “I’m Sienna O’Shea.” Her voice trembled. She swallowed and tried again, handing her testimonial folder to the clerk. “I represent the New York CFC.”
The uniformed man looked at the measly offering then back at Sienna. When she nodded once, he shook his head and walked up the steps of the dais. Clutching her copy, Sienna took her seat at the table.
With her heart hammering in her ears, she watched the senators as the clerk handed them her paper. They reached up for more, but when the clerk shook his head, each senator, one after the other, glanced at Sienna, then at the printed testimony. Nervous as she was, she almost giggled. Her single page caught the attention of everyone, and they waited for her to speak.
Something tapped against her chair leg and persisted, sending vibrations up her back. Sienna turned. Directly behind her, and drilling her with a hateful stare, sat Judge Leone. Coal black hair pulled tight against her scalp gave the judge a pinched look. Tortoiseshell glasses perched on an eagle-beak nose. Sienna blinked and turned back. I’m glad she’s not my mother. The tapping continued. How rude. If she thought it would distract Sienna, she had another think coming. She bit the inside of her lip to stop the smirk.
“Please go ahead, Ms. O’Shea,” the chairman said.
Sienna took a deep breath and peered over the microphones. Twelve pairs of eyes were trained on her. She swallowed again and hoped her voice wouldn’t crack. “Mr. Chairman, members of the Senate, I won’t bore you with statistics on the number of families affected by addiction to gambling, or its negative effects on communities. Rather, I’m here to show why Judge Leone should not be appointed to the Supreme Court. Before moving to New York, she used her position on the Ninth Circuit Court to further her own agenda and personal financial gain.” The tapping increased. Sienna cleared her throat and lobbed her bomb.
“In the report before you, you will see that Judge Leone is part owner in a casino. The majority shareholder is a brother-in-law—her sister’s husband to be exact.” The stuttering beat against her chair faltered. “The judge presided over numerous cases involving its owners, rendering each verdict in favor of the casino.”
The chairman held up her testimony in a clenched hand. “Can you document this?”
Sienna laced her fingers together on the table. “Yes, sir. The Atlanta Daily Register published a story on gambling casinos three months ago. The casino in question was exposed in the article. Since then, the judge’s ownership has come to light. The implicating documents are listed on the back of the report you hold and are of public record. The New York Conservative Family Coalition recommends Judge Leone not be appointed to the New York Court of Appeals.”
The tapping stopped abruptly as Sienna stood. The judge stood at the same time, blocking her exit. Nose to nose with her, Judge Leone opened her mouth to say something when a reporter shoved a microphone in front of her. She glared at the man and slapped his hand away, then turned and stalked out of the hearing room. Sienna bit back a laugh as the media raced out after the judge, and the room erupted in pandemonium. The chairman banged his gavel and called for a recess.
Her laughter died when the remaining media started to close in on her. Suddenly, Christine broke through the crowd.
“Keep down while I distract them.” She shoved Sienna’s briefcase into her arms, covering her face. Pointing to the back of the room, she yelled, “There goes O’Shea!”
The reporters sped up the aisle.
Christine grabbed her elbow. “Come on. Follow me.” She headed toward one side of the room. As she stopped in front of the wood-paneled wall, something in the balcony caught Sienna’s eye.
Reese Van Daal leaned against the railing, talking into his cell phone and smiled down at her. He touched a finger to his brow in salute, then turned and disappeared from sight as Christine pulled Sienna through a doorway.