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Then she saw a hand rise in the back of the room and her heart stopped beating. What could Brady possibly have to ask? Was it even kosher for him to ask a question?

“Congressman Maxwell,” Professor Mires called. She sounded surprised. Liz doubted she had been expecting a politician to ask a question.

All eyes turned to stare at him. If they were all as surprised as Dr. Mires was then they didn’t show it.

“Yes, I have a question for Miss Dougherty,” Brady said formally.

“By all means.”

“As I’m a current member of the Education Committee in Congress,” Brady began, his voice smooth and strong, “what would you personally say from your research is the most important factor for me to take back to D.C. regarding education?”

Liz’s stomach dropped out. He was on the education committee? She hadn’t been following his progression in Congress at all. She had been purposely avoiding it at all costs. She didn’t want to know what he was up to and torture herself any more than she already was.

But what would a man who had balanced the budget in the North Carolina State Legislature, whose father was head of the budget committee in the Senate, be doing sitting on an education board? She knew that freshman Congressmen were placed wherever more senior members chose, but this was Brady. His father’s name alone would have moved him up the ranks.

And it certainly wasn’t his specialty. He hadn’t even run on education reform. He worked in real estate, ran his family business, budgeted properties. He wasn’t an educator in the slightest. So then . . . why was he working in education?

It made her want to run back to her computer and look up every single bill that he had been working on to find out what the hell he was up to.

But first she had to get through his scrutiny.

What would she tell Brady to take back to D.C.? Christ, what a question!

Oh, how a part of her wanted to spit back at him not to favor big donor money for budget reforms in place of education policy. Education was a positive speaking point, but it wasn’t something a politician could run on. It didn’t distinguish them. It didn’t make them stand out . . . not like balancing a budget in the current fiduciary climate.

If only Congress would make education a priority instead of a backdrop, then they could begin to see improvements to the system. But she couldn’t say that to him. She couldn’t throw words she had spoken to him last summer back in his face like this in public. She couldn’t let her answer to the question be personal. Wasn’t that what Dr. Mires had been trying to instill into Liz’s work all last summer?

“Thank you for that question, Congressman Maxwell,” Liz said formally.

They were staring at each other across the room, and she felt her cheeks heating. His face was a mask of indifference, and she was dying to know what he was thinking right now.

“I believe there are probably several answers to this question. Education policy, as you know, is multifaceted and should be addressed as such. So I believe that the strongest thing you should take back to D.C. would be to focus on policy that treats students as individuals. So often they are lost in the standardized tests and labeled as a number, a score; you lose the individual. Finding a way to treat education reform both systematically as well as on an individual level would be a step in the right direction, in my opinion.”

Her voice wasn’t even shaky when she finished. Because by the end it felt as if it were only she and Brady in the room and she was telling him all over again why this was important to her. The faintest of smiles crossed his gorgeous face before it fell away.

“Thank you, Miss Dougherty. I’ll take that into consideration,” he said formally.

And then as easily as he had walked into the room, he slipped back out. Liz was left reeling.

The panel concluded without fanfare and everyone filed out. Dr. Mires pulled Liz aside with a congratulatory pat on the back. She knew how much Liz disliked public speaking.

“I have some people I want you to meet,” she said, directing her to the back of the room.

Two women and a man stood in a cluster with their heads ducked together, and Dr. Mires guided Liz straight to them.

“Lynda,” a woman greeted Dr. Mires. She was a few inches shorter than Liz, with hair graying at the temples even though she didn’t look that old. She had keen eyes and a sharp smile. She was someone who wasn’t imposing until you caught a glimpse of those eyes, and then they cut you straight through.

“Nancy. It’s so good to see you.”

The two women greeted each other with a warm handshake.

“Bob. Susan,” Professor Mires said, acknowledging the other two people. Bob was tall and lanky, with an air of importance to him that matched his black suit. Susan was the youngest of the bunch, no more than ten years older than Liz. She had short straight hair cut with sharp bangs and she tapped her foot incessantly. “This is my student Liz Dougherty. She’s the one I’ve been telling you about.”

Liz turned to look at Dr. Mires, slightly slack-jawed. She had been talking to people about her?

“Pleasure to meet you,” Nancy said first, shaking hands just as warmly. “It’s always good to meet one of Lynda’s students.”

“Pleasure is all mine,” Liz said automatically, shaking hands with the others as well.

“Liz, Nancy is a senior editor for the New York Times. We went to college together at Columbia. Bob works for the Washington Post. You’ve spent, what, fifteen years reporting there?” Dr. Mires asked.

He nodded and shrugged. “Twelve.”

“And Susan here works for USA Today. Before that she was several years at the Chicago Tribune. She was also one of my students,” Dr. Mires explained cordially.

Liz smiled on the outside while on the inside she was freaking out. First Brady. Now this. Holy shit! She was meeting people who worked her dream jobs. She would kill to get a job at the Times or the Washington Post. And Dr. Mires was introducing her to these people as if it were no big deal. In fact, as she looked at Professor Mires, she realized it was no big deal to her. These were her colleagues, her friends, her students. These were the people she was introducing to Liz because Liz was also all of those things.

Liz wanted to be a reporter, and as her advisor, Dr. Mires was ensuring that she didn’t just become a reporter, but a damn good one.

“Liz, why don’t you come to lunch with us and discuss your work and future aspirations? I’m sure my colleagues would be able to point you in the right direction for your scholarship internship hours next year,” Professor Mires said.