By Lindsey P. brackett
My time on Capitol Hill divides two ways: the time I spend actually working as an intern—which amounts to lots of copies and coffee—and the time I spend avoiding Blythe Gilbert.
She’s got this amazing head of curls. They’re the exact color of the honey my grandpa drips from his combs in the summer. Hazel eyes that darken when she’s mad. Right now, they’re the color Senator Russell prefers for his morning lead.
“What the hell, Bennett?” Blythe is nothing like the sorority girls I knew at Ole Miss. She doesn’t play games. “Russell’s attached the immigration rider, and you know what that will do to the vote.”
I step back. She looks like mutiny but smells like peaches. “I don’t write the bills.”
She steps to me, the toe of her black heels touching the toe of my leather loafers. “You Republican boys are all the same. Greedy for more money, willing to trample anybody to get it.”
I hold up my hands and try to ignore how sexy she looks in that swirly pleated skirt with a bow tied at the neck of her sleeveless blouse. “Immigration’s a problem we can’t ignore. And Homeland Security needs more money. Even you Dems can’t argue that.”
She pokes a finger in my chest. “It’s not the people jumping the Mexico border we need to worry about.”
“But the security of that border is something we need to worry about.”
Narrowing her eyes, she crosses her arms.
I’m just trying to breathe and remember this is a crowded hallway in the senate office building, and we’re on opposite sides.
So it doesn’t matter she’s the only woman here who makes my blood simmer in a way that would make my grandmother blush.
“This won’t end well. We may be in the minority, but there’s no way this bill gets through with that rider attached.”
I shrug. “We’ll see.”
I take my brown bag lunch out to a bench near Lincoln. Lunchtime passed six hours ago, but an intern’s job is an odd mix of frantic rush and long pauses. I don’t leave when either has lingered too long. Something big is always about to go down. Advancing in politics is about being in the right place at the right time.
The school groups are gone for the day, and Easter’s still a couple weeks out, so tourist season hasn’t fully begun. I stretch my legs and tilt back my head, eyes closed, the setting sun on my face reminding me of home.
A scent of peaches wafts by.
I crack my eyes. She settles herself cross-legged at the end of the reflection pool, the Capitol to her back, facing Lincoln. Pops open a wooden case and flips a page on a large sketchpad.
Blythe’s an artist?
I shift on my bench, out of her sightline. She begins with broad strokes, and even from here I can see the colors mixing into a sunset. When she pauses and rests back on her hands, I walk over. Maybe her eyes will stay light.
“You’re beau—your picture is beautiful.” I clamp down on my tongue. Six months I’ve spent biting back those words. Ever since my grande Americano collided with her new suit on our first day.
She squints up at me, so I squat down and get a closer look at the sketch—and her. Eyes like fresh-turned earth.
The Lincoln Memorial set against the dusky purple sky and budding cherry blossoms. Hints of orange and amber set off the stone.
“Go ahead. Get critical.” Her challenge holds no venom. The artist isn’t the fiery intern.
“You’ve captured the image perfectly.”
I exhale my breath and hope she values honesty as much as compassion. “You’re missing the soul.”
Her brow furrows.
I hold out my hand. “I’ll show you.”
To my surprise, she lets me help her up, gathers her oils, and follows me up the wide steps. Only a few folks mill around, and we enter the memorial in reverent silence, Lincoln’s sad eyes watching over all.
Blythe pauses at the rope. “He carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.”
“And somehow the sculptor captures sorrow—and hope.” I marvel at this work all the time.
She flicks her gaze over me, from my loafers to my jacket slung over one shoulder. “I wouldn’t expect a rich, white, southern boy to make Lincoln his muse.”
“You know, if you wanted to get to know me, you might find we’ve got a few things in common.”
Turning, she brushes my shirtsleeve. “Like what?”
“Like a respect for strong leadership. And an eye for art.”
Her eyebrow cocks.
So I roll my shoulders. “I put myself through college selling landscapes. Mississippi farmland, mostly.”
“Work with what you know.”
Now her jaw slackens a bit, and the true fullness of her lips distracts me. Too often they’re pressed into a thin, un-kissable line.
“Come here.” She walks outside.
We sit on the steps and face the Capitol.
Blythe presses her knee into mine. “Truth, farm boy. Are you just trying to get under my skin?”
I figure if Lincoln had enough guts to save the Union, I ought to have enough for this. I lean into her, nose to nose this time. “Absolutely.”
I kiss her. She tastes like strawberries in springtime. Her fingers tangle into mine, and we mingle breaths and laughter and thoughts there on the steps under the shadow of an honest man.
Get her free novella at lindseypbrackett.com (or through BookFunnel) and drink sweet tea with her while she stalks authors over on Instagram @lindseypbrackett.