THE CANDIDATE

By: Alice Ward

CHAPTER ONE

Brooke

This was it.

Leaning forward in the front seat of my battered VW, I watched the limousine I’d been following for the past hour slow to a stop in front of a graffiti-covered Save-All mini-mart.

Keeping my distance, I pulled into an empty five-dollar parking lot across the street, hoping the guy who took my money wouldn’t also take my hubcaps. Keeping the wipers going to ward off the rain, I watched through the windshield, waiting for something to happen.

No one stepped out of the limousine. At least, not at first. The lineup of assorted riffraff outside the market — there to conduct drug deals or turn tricks or whatever they did in broken neighborhoods like this — watched the limousine intently, because there was only one reason a limousine would be in downtown Camden after dark.

Obviously, someone was lost.

I heaved in a breath, then another before reaching over and unwrapping a piece of spearmint gum, feeding it into my mouth to calm my nerves. When I’d set out to track my billionaire out of his high-rise apartment in swanky Delancey Place at midnight, I’d hoped maybe he’d go to his lover, somewhere in the city. I’d hoped I’d be able to somehow capture them together on the street, get the damning evidence I needed, and be done with this gig by morning.

That was what I’d hoped, even knowing Mr. Harvard and Yale was much too smart for that.

What I’d expected, knowing my luck, was that he’d end up doing something ordinary and not at all newsworthy, like picking up fried chicken at KFC. Though nothing about his tall, athletically cut physique — obvious despite the fact that I’d never seen him in anything but a suit — signaled a penchant for greasy fast food.

Our little jaunt across the Ben Franklin Bridge at midnight? I had no idea what this was about. Surely his driver had to be lost. Looking around, all I knew was that this neighborhood was likely where dreams went to die.

I watched as a prostitute — she had to be a prostitute, wearing a skintight dress that barely covered her butt — approached the limo. Okay, this could be good dirt. Soliciting had brought down more than a few lusty politicians. The back window powered down. As she leaned forward to give her pitch, I fumbled around the passenger seat for my camera. When I found it, I lifted it to my eye, twisting the lens to focus.

But the prostitute just shrugged and stepped away from the car, a disappointed look on her face.

Damn. No dice. I lowered the camera.

Then she pointed across the street. Toward me.

Shit, shit, shit. I sank down in my seat, hoping they wouldn’t see me.

Huddled down, I sighed. So, he was just asking for directions. Snore.

I glanced at the clock on my dash. Twelve-thirty in the damn morning. I yawned. I could have been nestled all snug in my bed right then. Instead, my ambition getting the better of me, there I was, eagerly tracing Mr. Fast-Track to the White House across state lines, hoping to find the dirt that would bring his sterling political career down.

Even if he had seen me, I was sure he was used to it. People were always trying to get photographs of Cameron Brice, and the paparazzi followed him around 24/7, like an A-list movie star. Because he was that Cameron Brice, part of the powerful Brice family, the richest and most influential family in Philadelphia. His father was a vice president, a slacker compared to his great-great-grandfather, who had served as president… and not merely of any high-power corporation. No, of the entire freaking United States of America. His family made the Kennedys look positively ordinary.

And Cameron? He was only up for state Senate, but he was just thirty. The political pundits were constantly gossiping that he was a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican ticket. If that wasn’t enough, the man was genetically blessed. The camera loved him. He had a boyish face, and when he gave speeches, women had been known to faint at his feet, like he was a lost member of the Beatles. If he and Justin Trudeau ever got together, the general consensus was that ovaries everywhere would explode.

But of course, as a politician, he had enemies.

Enemies, like my best friend Kiera’s father, Owen Blakely.

My employer.

But that was only temporary. I was simply biding time until I got my ticket to the show. The FBI. My dream, the dream I’d been working toward ever since I was five and used to play cops and robbers with my three older brothers. It was virtually impossible to get a job in the FBI right out of college. You needed an in.