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The limousine ride back from the CNN studio to Sexton’s office felt long for Gabrielle Ashe. The senator sat across from her, gazing out the window, obviously gloating over the debate.

“They sent Tench to an afternoon cable show,” he said, turning with a handsome smile. “The White House is getting frantic.”

Gabrielle nodded, noncommittal. She’d sensed a look of smug satisfaction on Marjorie Tench’s face as the woman drove off. It made her nervous.

Sexton’s personal cellphone rang, and he fished in his pocket to grab it. The senator, like most politicians, had a hierarchy of phone numbers at which his contacts could reach him, depending on how important they were. Whoever was calling him now was at the top of the list; the call was coming in on Sexton’s private line, a number even Gabrielle was discouraged to call.

“Senator Sedgewick Sexton,” he chimed, accentuating the musical quality of his name.

Gabrielle couldn’t hear the caller over the sound of the limo, but Sexton listened intently, replying with enthusiasm. “Fantastic. I’m so pleased you called. I’m thinking six o’clock? Super. I have an apartment here in D.C. Private. Comfortable. You have the address, right? Okay. Looking forward to meeting you. See you tonight then.”

Sexton hung up, looking pleased with himself.

“New Sexton fan?” Gabrielle asked.

“They’re multiplying,” he said. “This guy’s a heavy hitter.”

“Must be. Meeting him in your apartment?” Sexton usually defended the sanctified privacy of his apartment like a lion protecting its only remaining hiding place.

Sexton shrugged. “Yeah. Thought I’d give him the personal touch. This guy might have some pull in the home stretch. Got to keep making those personal connections, you know. It’s all about trust.”

Gabrielle nodded, pulling out Sexton’s daily planner. “You want me to put him in your calendar?”

“No need. I’d planned to take a night at home anyway.”

Gabrielle found tonight’s page and noticed it was already shaded out in Sexton’s handwriting with the bold letters “P.E."‑Sexton shorthand for either personal event, private evening, or piss‑off everyone; nobody was quite sure which. From time to time, the senator scheduled himself a “P.E.” night so he could hole up in his apartment, take his phones off the hook, and do what he enjoyed most‑sip brandy with old cronies and pretend he’d forgotten about politics for the evening.

Gabrielle gave him a surprised look. “So you’re actually letting business intrude on prescheduled P.E. time? I’m impressed.”

“This guy happened to catch me on a night when I’ve got some time. I’ll talk to him for a little while. See what he has to say.”

Gabrielle wanted to ask who this mystery caller was, but Sexton clearly was being intentionally vague. Gabrielle had learned when not to pry.

As they turned off the beltway and headed back toward Sexton’s office building, Gabrielle glanced down again at the P.E. time blocked out in Sexton’s planner and had the strange sensation Sexton knew this call was coming.