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By the time Emma arrived, Lacey had already been living with their foster parents for three years. Lacey’s birth parents had been more interested in their drugs than their only child, bouncing in and out of jail until finally a half-starved and terrified Lacey had been taken away from them for good. But you’d never have known it from meeting Lacey. She was as sunny as her hair was blond, a cheerful little girl who’d taken the lonely Emma in hand and announced they were sisters. Just like that. As if deciding it somehow made it so.
But for Lacey it did, and eventually for Emma, too. They’d been inseparable ever since, sharing horrible apartments through college, squeezing the system for every penny of financial aid they could get, and working two and three jobs to make up for the rest. After college, Lacey had gone right to work, while Emma went to law school. And then had come their big decision to move to Washington, the center of power, the place where their fortunes would be made—or married into, in Lacey’s case.
And now, as Emma sat at her desk, staring sightlessly at the computer screen in front of her, she wondered if Lacey would still be missing if Emma hadn’t insisted they move here.
She hid her grimace at the sound of her boss’s voice—or rather her boss’s wife’s voice, which was the same thing.
“Sharon?” Emma said, looking up and over her monitor.
Sharon Coffer frowned down at her, every strand of her carefully tinted and styled hair in perfect alignment, her face almost immovable beneath a layer of makeup so thick that just looking at it made Emma’s skin gasp for oxygen. What was it with so many of these political women that they felt the need to roll on the makeup? And she didn’t even want to get started on that helmet of a hairdo.
“Have you finished the draft of that constituent letter yet?” Sharon demanded, which was pretty standard for Sharon. She never asked; she demanded.
Emma nodded. “I just finished. You want me to print it out?”
Sharon’s scowl deepened further as she clearly tried to decide if Emma was mocking her or not. God forbid the woman have to read a damn one page letter on her computer monitor. That would mean she’d have to wear her glasses instead of hiding them in her purse like some sort of shameful deformity.
“Do that,” Sharon said at last, then spun on her heel and stomped off to torment some other unfortunate.
“I don’t think she likes you,” Noreen whispered from the desk right next to Emma’s. Noreen was Congressman Coffer’s personal secretary, not that Sharon ever permitted her to meet with the congressman alone. Sharon didn’t trust any female when it came to her husband. The all-American good looks and charm that had helped Guy Coffer get elected also made him far too attractive for Sharon’s peace of mind. But Emma had never heard even a whisper of gossip about the congressman and another woman. And if there’d been something, she would have heard about it. The grapevine in these hallowed halls made the old ladies back home look like total amateurs in the gossip department.
“She doesn’t like anything with a vagina,” Emma murmured back to Noreen, and was rewarded by the sound of choking laughter.
Not that Emma gave a damn about Sharon or her handsome husband. Except that Sharon’s insane jealousy was a major roadblock to advancement in the Congressman’s office for anyone female and under sixty, and Emma had aspirations for her career that went well beyond dealing with constituent complaints. She had a law degree, dammit, and sometimes she doubted her decision in coming here at all, which brought her thoughts right back to Lacey.
“Em, there’s a birthday party next door and I need cake. You want some?”
Emma looked up at Noreen and gave her a blank stare.
“Earth to Emma, you want cake? I bet it’s cho-co-late.” Noreen dragged the last word out tantalizingly, but Emma shook her head, glancing down at her watch. She couldn’t do this. Couldn’t sit here like everything was business as usual while she waited for the vampires to decide if something had happened to Lacey.
“I have to leave early today.”
Noreen goggled at her. No one left early, not from this office, and pretty much not from anywhere on the Hill when Congress was in session.
Emma felt her face flushing, but she ignored her friend’s disbelief to open her desk drawer and drag out the enormous bag she called a purse. She’d tried a million times to go with something smaller, but each time she invariably ended up back with the big one. She was closing the drawer when the staccato sound of high heels announced Sharon Coffer’s return.
“Emma, the Congressman wants you in on this meeting.”
Emma turned in disbelief. She was never invited into meetings, especially not meetings like this one. They were reviewing the Congressman’s domestic priorities for the rest of the session, which meant every important piece of legislation likely to come up before the summer recess would be discussed and analyzed. It was everything she lusted after.
But why did it have to happen today?
“Emma, let’s go!” Sharon’s voice was sharp with impatience as she turned and headed back toward the Congressman’s inner office.
Emma shoved her purse back into the drawer, grabbed a bottle of water, tucked her laptop under her arm and rushed to follow.
Emma closed her car door and staggered up to the house she shared with Lacey, thankful she’d managed to snag a parking space right out front. A sudden gust of wet air blew down the street, chasing the remnants of a newspaper someone had dropped or tossed aside. Its pages littered the gutters, rattling as they rushed ahead of the icy wind. She climbed the stairs, her fingers nearly numb as she inserted her key into the lock. The door opened to a cold, dark house, and Emma stood there for a moment, feeling lost.
She was lucky to be home before midnight. The way the meeting had dragged into the evening, she’d expected Sharon to order in some cots so they could have a sleepover. And Emma knew she shouldn’t complain, even if the meeting had gone into the wee hours. Today was the first time she’d felt like she was actually doing the job she’d been promised when she came to work for Guy Coffer. And yet, it didn’t feel like any kind of victory. There was no adrenaline rush and none of the excitement she would have expected. Somehow, with no Lacey to help her celebrate, it all felt empty.
She sighed and kicked the door closed, then dropped her keys into the ugly dish on the small table near the door. Walking across to the light switch on the living room wall, she thought again how stupid it was to walk through a dark room every night when she came home. She should get a small lamp for the table. Of course, she’d been telling herself that same thing for two years now. And usually, Lacey got home before dark, at least on weeknights, so most of the time it didn’t matter.
But what if Lacey never came home again?
“No,” she said out loud. “She will come home, and she’ll be full of great stories about the hot, vampire lover who swept her away for—” A whole week, Emma?
Her throat closed up with fear, and she wanted to sit right down on the stairs and bawl her eyes out. But she refused to give into the urge. She was just so damn tired it was hard to think straight. The long hours at work, coupled with sleepless nights, were beginning to take a toll, and today had been the longest day of all.
Bracing a hand on the newel post, she lifted her feet one at a time and took her heels off, then walked up the stairs in her stockinged feet, shoes in hand. One thing about sitting in meetings all day, her feet didn’t hurt nearly as much as they did when she spent the day running all over the Capitol building like an overpaid messenger. On the other hand, her ass hurt and her lower back was killing her.
By the time she reached her bedroom on the second floor—hers was the one with the big bay window sticking out over the small front yard like a turret on the old Victorian house—her blouse was unbuttoned and she was already yearning for the hot bath she’d promised herself all the way home.
She glanced down at the street before twisting the rod on the cheap blinds over the window and shutting out the night. The house she and Lacey had rented wasn’t in the best neighborhood in Washington, but not the worst either. And it had been completely renovated before they moved in, including the bathrooms. Lacey had insisted Emma take the bigger bedroom, with the big window and the attached bath, because she paid the bigger share of the rent. In the months where she wasn’t paying the whole thing, that is.
Dropping her shoes in the closet as she walked by it, she went directly to the tub and turned on the water, letting it run. It sometimes took a few minutes for the hot water to make its way up to the second floor.
She had pulled off the rest of her clothes, throwing the whole bunch into the laundry basket, and pulled on a warm robe, when she decided the long day warranted a glass of wine to go with the bath. Nothing was more relaxing than a good hot soak with a glass of . . . hmmm, white or red? She’d see what was open.
Thinking of the cold hardwood floors, she shoved her feet into a pair of UGGs, turned off the water and hurried down the stairs, not permitting herself even a glance at Lacey’s empty room at the other end of the hall. A part of her still expected to come home and find Lacey wiped out and hung over, full of stories and apologies about her unexpected getaway in the arms of some rich guy she’d met. But too often these last few days, when Emma wasn’t being run ragged by her job, her thoughts had turned to far darker imaginings, and she’d wonder if she’d ever see Lacey again.
“Stop it, Emma,” she scolded again as she rounded the bottom of the stairs and headed for the kitchen. The wine would help that, too. Help dull the worry and shut down her brain for a few hours.
She was reaching for the kitchen light switch when a heavy car door slammed out front. Two more doors slammed hard after the first, and a deep, male voice said something she couldn’t make out. She told herself it was one of her neighbors. Few of the houses here had garages, and most of the residents parked on the street, just as Emma had tonight. But something about the noise made her curious. She tiptoed—and why was she sneaking around her own house?—over to the window near the door and lifted the thin, fabric shade away from the edge so she could look onto the street.