Caitlin Sinead is another repeat visitor to Boosting the Signal–she came by earlier this year with her release of Heartsick, and now she’s back again with her next Carina title, the politically-themed New Adult romance Red Blooded! This time she’s offering a direct excerpt from the book, wherein her character Peyton needs to pull off two goals at once: surviving the grilling of her campaign manager… and surviving the presence of Dylan. Peyton clearly has her hands full!
There’s a loud thump and some profanity on the other side of the door. Bain doesn’t wait for me to say “come in.” He barrels through with a couple of staffers bobbing along behind him. If the crowd below is intense, these staffers are downright ferocious.
“Peyton,” Bain says with a clap, as though I’m his best friend. “How’s the speech coming?”
I smile and straighten my shoulders and try to respond, but I can’t help seeing the way Gin, one of the staffers, snidely asks Dylan how “work” is going. Yeah, he uses air quotes. Dylan cocks his head and—
“Peyton!” Bain snaps everyone’s attention back to him.
“Yeah, the speech,” I say. “It’s good, I feel good about it.”
Bain sticks his legal pad under his armpit. “All right, let’s hear it.”
“Right now?” I swallow and rub my fingers against my palms.
“Right now.” Bain stares at me. Dylan scrolls in his tablet and hands it to me, my speech all lined up. This isn’t necessary though. I’ve memorized it.
I memorized it because that’s something I can control. There are too many other things I can’t control. Like my mouth, which is now so dry, it’s hard to open.
“Honey,” Bain says, and his inflection makes an otherwise endearing address sound caustic. “If you can’t do it in front of me, how do you expect to do it in front of America?”
“I got it, okay.” I stare him down. Or, at least, I try to.
I start off in a low voice and only shake, oh, about the level of a 4.2 earthquake when Bain snaps, “Louder and look up.”
I look up, but my words trip and fall over each other. All I can think about is how Bain should retire to one of those little islands where the drinks have umbrellas. He’d like that, right? Yeah, he should retire and leave me the fuck alone.
“Stop, stop,” Bain says. “Gin, make yourself useful and get her a fucking cup of water.”
Gin dashes to the bathroom.
“Peyton, I know I’m not your favorite person. But you need to look up when you talk. Speak loudly and clearly.” As if in demonstration, he locks my eyes and continues in a slow, precise voice. “If you stumble, we’ll know it’s because you’re nervous or distracted. But America will think it’s because you don’t believe what you’re saying.”
Gin dashes back with my water so fast he trips. The cup goes flying, drenching my right side.
Cold shocks my skin, but Gin looks worse. He’s red and still on his knees. I reach down to help him up. “Are you okay?”
“I’m sorry,” he says.
Bain looks to the ceiling, a vein in his neck threatening to pop out. “Peyton has to meet with fucking funders in twenty minutes.”
He says it as though Gin wouldn’t have accidentally spilled water on me if only he’d known that fact.
“It’s okay,” I say, flipping my dress away from my leg and dabbing it with some paper towels that Dylan hands me. “If we can find a blow dryer or something it won’t take long at all to—”
Bain snaps his fingers and juts his thumb in Gin’s direction.
Gin scrambles out of the room.
Bain sighs. “Dylan, get over here.”
Dylan strides to Bain, and Bain puts his hands on Dylan’s shoulders, turning him to face me.
“Okay, you don’t need to say your speech looking at me, but you need to be looking at someone. So, can you keep your eyes on him while you talk?”
“Yes,” I say, but too softly for Bain’s liking.
He puts his hand behind his ear and leans toward me. “I’m sorry, did you say—”
“Yes!” I yell. I breathe in. Before Bain can mock me again, I start my speech. “I didn’t have any siblings…”
I focus on Dylan’s brown eyes. When he smiles, I get lost somewhere between the memorized words and muddy comfort. When I start talking about my dad, Dylan’s eyes crease, his chin dips forward further. He coaxes the words out. He coaxes the memories.
“…Please help us welcome the next Vice President of the United States of America,” I conclude, but don’t look away from Dylan.
He grins and pulls something out of his pocket. A neatly folded tissue.
I barely hear Bain’s booming voice as he exits the room, off to complete another task on his long to-do list. “Fucking fantastic, Peyton, just like that.”
I take the tissue and glide it under my eye.
Gin scrambles in with a hair dryer and holds it out to me. “It’s fine, really,” I say. He looks around and, realizing Bain’s gone, he shrugs and leaves.
I go to the corner and plug the hair dryer in. At first I turn it on my leg, but that’s of course too hot. I try to hold my dress out myself, but really, it would be best if…
“Why don’t I hold the hair dryer and you hold your dress,” Dylan says, taking the tool out of my hand.
I hold it out for him as he delicately sprays warm air toward some of my more sensitive parts. He’s got to get close to do it correctly, so when he looks up and asks me if it’s too hot, his breath is only a couple of inches from my mouth. He’s got me cornered.
My face warms.
He clicks off the hair dryer. “This is kind of ridiculous.”
“I’ll take my dress off.”
His mouth parts.
“In the bathroom,” I say, pointing.
He laughs, but it’s this weird laugh that’s more of a grunt. I guess we’re back to the frustrated grunts. He steps aside and I brush by him.
I stand alone in my underwear in the bathroom, blowing the bottom of my dress dry. Just another day on the campaign trail.
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