Liz hadn’t even realized that a huge smile was plastered on her face as she listened to his engaging voice. She dropped her smile immediately, not wanting to get taken in by someone she disagreed with, and held the recorder out farther.

“I knew after living here my entire life that there was too much to do to leave my community for someone else’s. That was Chris’s plan, not mine. And I’m glad I stayed, because if I had left, I wouldn’t have been here when my mom found out that she had breast cancer, or to see my brother and sister choose a college, or my dog eat an entire steak while we weren’t looking one night.” The crowd burst into laughter and glanced around the room at one another before focusing back in on the Senator.

“I want to take that same enthusiasm for my community and fight for what you believe in. That is why as of today, I am announcing my intention to run for the United States House of Representatives in my home district.”

Liz’s mouth dropped open and the crowd of reporters clambered forward, each trying to be the first to ask the Senator a question. She had been expecting a conference on a bill that had recently passed, North Carolina taxes, or really anything but this. It was practically unheard-of for a one-term State Senator to run for the House. They usually bided their time and waited to gain status and recognition, climbing the ranks before throwing their hat into the race. Brady had his dad’s name and reputation to go off of, but would it be enough?

For some reason, even though she disagreed with him on some issues that were key to her, she could see Brady pulling it off. There was something about him that fired up a crowd and lit up a room. He had been all but bred for this moment, but you couldn’t fake that charm and ease before the cameras. She knew firsthand, because she turned into a blabbering idiot with a camera in her face. She was already beyond ready to see how this election would play out.

A barrage of questions was thrown at the Senator as he smiled radiantly at the sea of flashing bulbs. Liz moved with them, excitement coursing through her body for the upcoming Q&A.

“Thank you for your enthusiasm. I’m ready to get started here in North Carolina. I’d be happy to take a few questions, though I don’t have much time,” he said, eyeing the line of microphones.

“Senator Maxwell!” A few reporters called. They threw their hands in the air as more raised their recorders and volleyed for his attention.

“How about Mr. Tanner,” Senator Maxwell said. He pointed out a short, balding man with a Raleigh News badge on his shirt.

“Senator Maxwell, you’ve had tremendous luck in your previous elections. What prompted this decision when you’ve barely won the last two elections?”

“Barely won is still winning, George,” Senator Maxwell said with a smirk. “But on a more serious note—I chose this race not for me, but for the people of North Carolina. I’m not running with any selfish motivation. I know what is needed to help the people here succeed and what they need in their daily lives. This is a fight worth fighting, and I intend to give it my all.”

“Senator, can you give us insight into how you plan on beating the incumbent representative?” a tall librarian-type butted in.

“We haven’t talked strategy just yet, Sheila, but I think North Carolina can do better than what he’s offering, and I’m the man for the job,” he spoke confidently.

A commanding man in a faded button-down with his shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows chimed in next. “Senator Maxwell, your past opponents have already brought up the fact that your youth contributes to the image of your inexperience. What do you have to say to that?”

The Senator chuckled softly into the microphone before looking back up at the crowd of reporters. “I’m twenty-seven, ladies and gentlemen. The Constitution of the United States says that a member of the House of Representatives must be at least twenty-five years old. If the Founders of our great country believed that a twenty-five-year-old could get the job done, why don’t my opponents?”

“But don’t you think it will be a hindrance to your campaign?” someone shouted over the crowd.

The Senator shook his head. He had clearly been prepped for this question. “Not at all. I know North Carolina. I’ve seen my own father work for the people and my mother work for the people and now I want to. How about we take one more,” he said, cutting off the reporter and staring out at the crowd.

Liz shot her hand up in the air, pushing past another reporter in her haste. She wanted this question. She wanted to prove herself to Hayden and to herself.

“You there.” Brady pointed into the audience. “An unfamiliar face with a familiar logo. I’d be happy to take a question from my alma mater. It’s good to see them in the house.”

Oh my God. Liz stared up at Senator Maxwell and saw that he was pointing right at her.

“Uh,” she stuttered hesitated on her beginning. Why was she blanking on the questions she had planned to ask him? She had practiced for hours, and now standing there with the opportunity she was losing it all.

She locked eyes with Brady across the room and felt the heat of his gaze run through her body. She cleared her throat uncomfortably. She needed to get it together. She was a reporter, after all, and this was her job. He was handsome, but just a job.

Liz straightened considerably and met Brady’s gaze head-on. She wouldn’t back down from a challenge. “Senator Maxwell, during your time in Raleigh you consistently voted to cut education funding in the name of balancing the budget. Yet you’ve also voted to allow some of your biggest donors to avoid paying corporate taxes on their various business ventures. Can you please comment on how this helps better the lives of all North Carolinians, which you’ve repeatedly stated is your primary reason for entering this race?”

Everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath waiting for his response. Questions from the college newspapers were typically light and fluffy. Politicians chose them because it looked good on paper to include them. College reporters weren’t supposed to ask a question that hit that close to home.

Liz could feel eyes judging and assessing her from all sides.

Had she really thrown his entire speech back in his face? Staring into those eyes, she felt a jolt of electricity course through her body. It was as if they were the only two people in the room in that moment. She held that gaze like a pro and watched as he changed his appraisal of her.