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More Than Words(11)
Author: Jill Santopolo

Nina thought about that. And thought briefly about the fact that he didn’t count his divorce as something truly terrible. Or his father’s death. “I guess you can’t,” she answered. “Unless . . .”

Rafael put up his hand. “I know what you’re going to say. Unless I took it off and saw if my luck changed without it pinned to my collar. My college roommate suggested the same thing years ago. I’m not willing to try that. Especially not on primary day.”

Nina laughed. “I agree,” she said. “Today is not the day to experiment with luck. And honestly? It can’t hurt, right?”

“Plus it makes me feel like my abuela is with me,” Rafael added, standing up. “But if she were here, she’d tell me to read version B. Not to tempt fate.”

Every new thing Nina learned about Rafael made her want to ask questions about his past, his family, his childhood—not the kind of questions she asked as a speechwriter, but the kind she’d ask of a close friend.

“Then let’s not tempt fate,” she said. “But it’s closing in on two. Are you sure you want to stay this late? You can always give it a read in a few hours, after we’ve slept and showered and changed.”

Rafael looked at Nina again with an expression she couldn’t quite figure out. It was a combination of emotions, really. Puzzlement? Longing? Apology?

“Why wouldn’t I want to stay?” he asked.

Nina bit her lip. There were so many answers, but she didn’t want to get into any of them. Not when Rafael was leaning over her shoulder again, his breath hot and sweet against her cheek, making her shiver just slightly. “Forget I even asked,” she said. “Let’s hear it.”

And while Rafael began to read, Nina ignored the thrill she got from hearing her words from his lips. Hotelier’s Daughter Fired after Secret Relationship with Candidate Revealed, Nina thought. Joseph Gregory’s Daughter Cheats on Longtime Beau with Boss.

Her father was always so proud of their family’s reputation. And she was, too. Scandal and affair weren’t the words she wanted to be her contribution to the Gregory legacy. There weren’t any skeletons in their closets, no poorly treated employees, nothing to tarnish their name or their corporation.

She couldn’t be the one to change that. Especially not now.


The following night the whole campaign staff was gathered around the TV. The polls had just closed, and they were waiting for the reports. The numbers were looking good, up in some neighborhoods they hadn’t been expecting—news that had Jorge doing his version of a touchdown dance.

“Rafael’s really going to win the primary,” Jane said. “And if he does, ninety-ten says we’re working on the campaign of the very first Latino mayor of New York City.”

“I was a true believer from the beginning,” Mac told Jane. “Everyone said I was nuts to take this campaign manager job, but I knew.”

“The way you know about a good melon?” Nina quipped.

Mac looked at her funny. Jane laughed.

“She’s quoting from When Harry Met Sally,” Jane explained.

“Oh,” Mac answered. “I didn’t know people like you watched normal movies.”

Nina looked at him askance but didn’t say anything.

“Are you serious?” Jane said. “Nina’s totally normal. She just wears shoes that cost more than my rent. And uses seasons as verbs. But other than that, she’s like that magazine spread ‘Heiresses are just like us!’”

Nina had friends—like Priscilla—who wore their parents’ money like a badge of honor. But once Nina had heard about the loans that Leslie had to take out to go to college, she felt a little bit ashamed of how easy she’d had it. Working outside her own bubble gave her perspective. It was another reason she liked being part of the campaign. She looked down quickly at her Manolos. Maybe she wouldn’t wear them to the office again.

“Summer and winter are perfectly acceptable verbs,” she said, covering up her feelings with a smile. “I deal in verbs, I should know.”

Jane laughed again. Mac still looked uncomfortable. Nina wondered if her expression had mirrored his before she’d switched it. Then she felt her cell phone vibrate in her pocket. She pulled it out and turned away from the group. “Your dad?” Jane asked softly, her expression immediately worried. Nina marveled at how open Jane’s face was all the time, her every thought telegraphed for the world to see. You always knew where you stood with Jane.

Nina shook her head while reading the message. “Tim,” she said, relief in her voice. “Wishing us luck and asking how the numbers look.”

Jane grinned. “The best friend, now so much more. I could place a feature on the two of you anywhere,” she said.

“You and any other comms person worth their salt,” Nina said with a smile. “But we’re not features kind of people.”

As Nina laughed, she thought about Jane’s words. Tim was more, but he was less now, too. She couldn’t tell him about the feelings she was battling against at work. The way she was drawn to Rafael, even though she didn’t want to be. How she’d been thinking about Rafael’s breath on her cheek all day, about the soft skin of his neck. Before, she would have told Tim. But now she’d lost her confidant, traded that relationship for one she wasn’t convinced she liked better. Or perhaps one she was trying to convince herself she did like better. Leslie’s question rang in her mind: Why do you feel like you have to get used to it? Every answer she came up with seemed wrong.

Nina looked around the rest of the office and caught Rafael looking back at her just before he picked up a remote control, increasing the volume on the television. All conversation stopped as everyone stared at the screen.

“We have breaking news in the race for Gracie Mansion,” the anchor was saying. “With ninety-two percent of the votes counted, we can officially say that Rafael O’Connor-Ruiz has won the primary!”

The campaign headquarters exploded with shouts and cheers. Mac started high-fiving everyone. Jane hugged Nina. Champagne bottles were popped. Jorge started doing his touchdown dance again.

Nina looked back over at Rafael, to flash him a thumbs-up, and saw him walking toward her.

“Congratulations,” she said. “Felicitaciones.”

His grin was wider than she’d ever seen it. “May I thank you with a hug?” he asked. “I couldn’t have done it without you. And I mean that seriously.”

Nina willed herself not to feel anything as she opened her arms, holding Tim’s smile in her mind. “Of course,” she said. “And you absolutely could have done it without me.”

For the very first time, the warmth of Rafael’s entire body pressed against hers. His heartbeat thumped when hers did. Time stretched—until she heard the click of a cell phone camera.

“Rafael O’Connor-Ruiz embraces speechwriter Nina Gregory in celebration of his win!” Samira shouted. “Tweeting now!”

Nina pulled away. “Do you still feel good about tonight’s speech?” she asked, her body tingling from being against his. “We have another few minutes before they’ll expect you out front, if you want to change anything.”

“I feel great,” Rafael said, reaching out and squeezing Nina’s forearm.

Nina took a deep breath and smiled. But her heart was racing. In that moment, Nina realized that if she wasn’t careful, the future she and Tim had planned could disappear in an instant. She was falling for her boss.


The next morning, after a run along the Hudson, Nina left her apartment in Tribeca and took a car uptown. Rafael had told everyone to take the day off. Nina wanted to spend it with her father. She planned to have Tim join them for dinner as a nice surprise. Her father didn’t need to donate to Rafael’s campaign. He didn’t even need to approve of her job. He just needed to be there. To be alive. To stand sentry between her and the fear that bit at her heart whenever she thought about what it would be like when he was gone.

When Nina got up to 21-B, Carlos opened the door.

“How’s he doing this morning?” she asked, dropping her bag on the bench in the entry gallery.

“It hasn’t been the greatest day,” Carlos said. He never sugarcoated things. Nina appreciated that.

She braced herself as she headed into her father’s suite of rooms.

“Dad?” she said, as she knocked on his door. “Dad? It’s me.”

She heard a groan and pushed open the door in alarm. Her father’s teeth were clenched and his back was arched under the blankets.

“Carlos!” she yelled.

“There are lollipops,” her dad said through his teeth. “Please, Sweetheart.”

Nina saw the painkillers in a prescription bag from the pharmacy on her father’s dresser. She brought one to him and quickly unwrapped it, as Carlos entered the room.

“What—?” he said just as Nina’s father took the lollipop from her with a trembling hand and quickly put it in his mouth, shifting it against his cheek. The next few moments seemed like hours, as Nina watched, feeling entirely helpless as her father’s face contorted with pain and then relaxed again.

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