"Morning Melissa," he smiles, and not for the first time, wonders how much longer he'll have to put up with her catatonic grin.
I should have looked at the small print, he thinks, as he does every Friday at eleven o'clock. He pulls up a chair for her and brings her a cup of coffee. Dad always said the devil's in the detail. But at the time, there just wasn't time. We had to get the deal struck and I relied on my team. I had more important things to do.Maintaining a media presence. Looking statesmanlike. I had to trust my boys would get the best deal. What else could I do?
Melissa tries not to wince at his faux-chivalry. How an earth has this happened? A year ago, I was riding high, now I'm just a laughing stock. She smiles, hiding her disdain for the smoothness of James' chin behind a sip of coffee. I shouldn't have left it to the boys. I thought they'd put the party first. Think of the good of the country. It didn't even cross my mind that the real ties that bind are formed in the playground.
"What's the latest Whip count?" his teeth glint in the morning sun.
"Sixty yeas, ten abstentions, ten nays. On your side?"
"Two hundred and forty yeas, six abstentions plus 11 from the other parties."
"So we're safe then?"
He resists the impulse to add, "No thanks to you." Instead, "It would help if you could rein Mark Townsend in."
Melissa stares down at her coffee spoon. The bastard, the total bastard.
"He's making waves you see," his eyes gaze at her with fake sincerity, "And I believe you have some influence?"
She stirs her coffee. Leave now, and the party is destroyed. Stay and I ruin every relationship I have. But once you make a deal with the devil, life becomes a series of increasingly unpalatable choices.
She smiles back, his equal in sincerity, if nothing else. "Of course, James. Now tell me, what is it you want me to do?"