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Gabrielle Ashe gazed absently out the window of Senator Sexton’s limousine as it moved through the morning traffic toward Sexton’s office building. She wondered how the hell she had arrived at this point in her life. Personal assistant to Senator Sedgewick Sexton. This was exactly what she had wanted, wasn’t it?

I’m sitting in a limousine with the next President of the United States.

Gabrielle stared across the car’s plush interior at the senator, who seemed to be far away in his own thoughts. She admired his handsome features and perfect attire. He looked presidential.

Gabrielle had first seen Sexton speak when she was a poli‑sci major at Cornell University three years ago. She would never forget how his eyes probed the audience, as if sending a message directly to her‑trust me. After Sexton’s speech, Gabrielle waited in line to meet him.

“Gabrielle Ashe,” the senator said, reading her name tag. “A lovely name for a lovely young woman.” His eyes were reassuring.

“Thank you, sir,” Gabrielle replied, feeling the man’s strength as she shook his hand. “I was really impressed by your message.”

“Glad to hear it!” Sexton thrust a business card into her hand. “I’m always looking for bright young minds who share my vision. When you get out of school, track me down. My people may have a job for you.”

Gabrielle opened her mouth to thank him, but the senator was already on to the next person in line. Nonetheless, in the months that followed, Gabrielle found herself following Sexton’s career on television. She watched with admiration as he spoke out against big government spending—spearheading budget cuts, streamlining the IRS to work more effectively, trimming fat at the DEA, and even abolishing redundant civil service programs. Then, when the senator’s wife died suddenly in a car crash, Gabrielle watched in awe as Sexton somehow turned the negative into a positive. Sexton rose above his personal pain and declared to the world that he would be running for the presidency and dedicating the remainder of his public service to his wife’s memory. Gabrielle decided right then and there that she wanted to work closely with Senator Sexton’s presidential campaign.

Now she had gotten as close as anyone could get.

Gabrielle recalled the night she had spent with Sexton in his plush office, and she cringed, trying to block out the embarrassing images in her mind. What was I thinking? She knew she should have resisted, but somehow she’d found herself unable. Sedgewick Sexton had been an idol of hers for so long . . . and to think he wanted her.

The limousine hit a bump, jarring her thoughts back to the present.

“You okay?” Sexton was watching her now.

Gabrielle flashed a hurried smile. “Fine.”

“You aren’t still thinking about that drudge, are you?”

She shrugged. “I’m still a little worried, yeah.”

“Forget it. The drudge was the best thing that ever happened to my campaign.”

A drudge, Gabrielle had learned the hard way, was the political equivalent of leaking information that your rival used a penis enlarger or subscribed to Stud Muffin magazine. Drudging wasn’t a glamorous tactic, but when it paid off, it paid off big.

Of course, when it backfired . . .

And backfire, it had. For the White House. About a month ago, the President’s campaign staff, unsettled by the slipping polls, had decided to get aggressive and leak a story they suspected to be true—that Senator Sexton had engaged in an affair with his personal assistant, Gabrielle Ashe. Unfortunately for the White House, there was no hard evidence. Senator Sexton, a firm believer in the best defense is a strong offense, seized the moment for attack. He called a national press conference to proclaim his innocence and outrage. I cannot believe, he said, gazing into the cameras with pain in his eyes, that the President would dishonor my wife’s memory with these malicious lies.

Senator Sexton’s performance on TV was so convincing that Gabrielle herself practically believed they had not slept together. Seeing how effortlessly he lied, Gabrielle realized that Senator Sexton was indeed a dangerous man.

Lately, although Gabrielle was certain she was backing the strongest horse in this presidential race, she had begun to question whether she was backing the best horse. Working closely with Sexton had been an eye‑opening experience—akin to a behind‑the‑scenes tour of Universal Studios, where one’s childlike awe over the movies is sullied by the realization that Hollywood isn’t magic after all.

Although Gabrielle’s faith in Sexton’s message remained intact, she was beginning to question the messenger.