Karlee Hart pushed her tortoiseshell glasses back up her nose before unlocking the door to her dog grooming salon. After shoving her oversized tote bag under the counter, she plopped her venti latte on top. She needed all the caffeine to make it through her to-do list today: give her favorite standard poodle a rocking afro and try not to embarrass herself in front of a United States Senator. Again.
Groaning, she palmed her forehead for the hundredth time. No more blind dates!
What started as a perfect evening at a local diner with a vaguely familiar, incredibly handsome, and charming man had nose-dived into a complete and utter embarrassment.
Definitely no more dating.
She inhaled, the scent of aloe and oatmeal shampoo bringing her back to her private, quiet life. Ah. No cameras. No press. No thoughts of senators. Heavenly.
A flash of blue outside the window ruined her zen moment. Oh no. It couldn’t be. Perfectly pomaded hair. Exquisitely tailored suit. Fiddlesticks. She ducked behind the counter. It was him.
She clamped her fingers on the edge of the counter and managed to pull herself upright. Be brave. Polite. Smile. Nothing more.
“Eric. I didn’t expect to see you…”
“So soon?” His rich voice and easy smile prodded her pulse. But his effect on her was outshined by the spotlight of the public eye that followed him every day.
“I see.” The brilliant smile on his face faded, replaced by a diplomatic guise. No twitch or crease of emotion showed on his face.
Her nails dug into the counter. “How did you find me?”
“I have friends.”
Karlee raised a brow.
“In the FBI.”
She snorted. “You can’t be serious.”
Shrugging, he gave her a sheepish look. “Serious.”
A half-crazed laugh escaped her before she slapped a hand over her mouth. “That settles it. I can’t do this.”
Eric took a step toward her, his gaze more vulnerable. The armor was cracking. “You didn’t feel the connection between us?”
Oh, she’d felt it. But she’d felt the magnitude of his office even more. “What about the vast differences? Think, Eric. You pass life-altering legislation, and I give Pomeranians a killer lion cut.”
“Opposites strengthen each other. And they attract.” The teasing glint in his eyes made the butterflies in her stomach take flight.
Attraction wasn’t the problem.
His gaze grew more intense as he skirted around the counter until his Oxfords were inches from her Sperrys.
She stepped back, not letting herself fall for him again. The first time he’d swept her off her feet, she hadn’t known he held a seat in Congress. Once she knew the truth, she’d doused him with a plate full of chili-cheese fries and half a glass of cherry soda in her attempt to flee.
“Why didn’t you tell me who you were in the beginning?”
He sighed, his diplomatic armor gone. “Can you blame a guy for wanting a normal date? One where I don’t have to question if the woman across the table cares more about some political agenda than me?”
Oh. And Karlee thought she was the only one gambling with her heart. He was taking a risk on her, too.
She wiggled her Sperrys closer. “I have no agendas.”
“No?” His thumb caressed her cheek, his gaze taking in every inch of her face.
The spark she felt last night reignited. She leaned in, flattening her palms against his suit coat.
His breath tickled her chin a moment before his lips brushed against hers. Soft at first, hesitant. But as she let her hand wander over the pounding beat of his heart, the force of his kiss rushed through her veins.
Eric leaned backward, breaking contact. His hands cupped her face as his eyes searched hers. “What’s holding you back?”
“I’m terrified of being so exposed. I’m not savvy about anything political. I’ll be nothing but an embarrassment to myself and you. What if something I do or say makes me lose clients? Or damages your career?” She shuddered.
“We can take it slow. Pick and choose events. My team and I can prepare you for each one: who you will meet, safe topics to discuss, and how to dodge questions from the press.”
He was so confident. Organized. A rock under pressure.
But she was still a world-class klutz. “I’ll make a mistake.”
“Maybe. But I think you’ll charm everyone the way you have me.” The warmth in his eyes pooled in her belly. He believed in her, and she couldn’t deny a piece of her heart wanted to try.
She lifted onto her toes, looking level with his eyes. “Okay, we’ll take it slow.”
“You set the pace.”
“I will.” She snaked her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his.
His hands trailed down her back to her waist, drawing her closer as he deepened the kiss. The small moan she felt rumble from his chest surprised her. The fact she was able to make this straight-laced man come undone even a smidgen sent a thrill down her spine.
The bell over the door sounded the arrival of a poodle pulling an older woman into the salon.
Karlee stepped away from Eric and scampered around the counter to grab the dog’s leash.“Mrs. Butler and Butterscotch, good morning!”
Eric followed at a more respectable pace.
“Senator Bennett?” Mrs. Butler glanced between them before turning a steely eye to Eric.
“Yes, ma’am. A pleasure to meet you.” He extended a hand.
She waved his manners away. “Young man, you’ll have my vote.” She tipped her head toward Karlee. “As long as you don’t break her heart.”
His gaze swept to Karlee as he slipped his fingers between hers, and she knew – one disastrous date and one should-have-been-kiss weren’t enough. She wanted to know him, the real him. He was worth the risk.
“That’s one campaign promise I will do everything possible to keep.”
Kristina enjoys working on her historical romance novels, blogging about her favorite books, and encouraging other women through her online Bible study. An avid reader and reviewer, she enjoys escaping into a book while learning more about the craft of writing from her favorite authors.
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