by Tracey Richardson
Presidential candidate Jane Kincaid—gorgeous, dynamic and extremely driven—is taking the country by storm, passionately outlining her blueprint for America. Voters quickly fall in love with her…and so, unwittingly, does Secret Service Agent Alexandria Warner.
Their mutual attraction begins to take on a fiery life of its own, and soon Jane fears that their intense feelings for each other are a tinder box that could destroy the landscape of her career and alter the history of the country.
Jane had always expected the road to the White House would exact a high personal toll. She just never knew how high, until she’s forced to choose between her heart and her political destiny.
May, 2011: Strong, independent women... A romance novel that delivers. Sexy and romantic. You'll spend a few hours dreaming and smiling and imagining what could be.Curve Magazine
Reviewed by Kathi Isserman - September, 2008: The romance in The Candidate is intense, captivating and, at times, heartbreaking. Jane Kincaid doesn't believe she can run for president and have a lesbian lover too. The notion is challenged, raising very important questions about whether out and proud lesbians must sacrifice our personal lives for our careers, especially if we are in the public eye.GCLS Goldie Awards
The Candidate: Finalist, Best Lesbian Tradtional/Contemporary Romance.Lambda Book Report
Vol. 16, Issues 1 & 2 (Spring/Summer 2008), Page 17. Reviewed by Cecelia Martin of Oscar Wilde Bookshop: Tracey Richardson's new novel about a woman running for the presidency could not have come at a better time! A terrific storyline along with fun and lively characters make this politically charged book a great choice... Richardson does a wonderful job with both Jane and Alex and their growing feelings for each other while balancing the realities of running for higher office. Both characters are put in an extremely difficult situation and the reader feels great compassion for them. I had wished for a little more detail about the pressure each deals with in their professions, but that small gripe does not distract from this wonderful romance.Capital Xtra
Lesbian presidential candidate sparks 'what if' romance - May 14, 2008: We've all heard the adage that timing is everything. Well, Tracey Richardson certainly has a great sense of timing. The Windsor native has seized the day with her new novel The Candidate, deliciously premised on an unlikely romance between a charismatic female presidential hopeful and her achingly butch bodyguard. It's a decidedly queer diversion from the real-life US presidential primary season that is so dominating the media.Just About Write
Reviewed by R. Lynne - June 2008: Richardson has created two witty women who have a great deal of depth. She has explored their motivations and helped her readers to understand what drives them. The Candidate is a great read that runs quite close to our current headlines.
Reviewed by Anna Furtado - April 2008: Richardson has given us a fascinating look at a Presidential campaign and what it might be like if a charismatic, vibrant woman who was open to a relationship with another woman were to run for that office. It was especially interesting to read this work during the early Presidential primaries. The main characters in The Candidate are strong, compelling women and their story does not disappoint...
Reviewed by Lynne Pierce - March 2008: Tracey Richardson has written her story with considerable skill. The personalities of the characters are well defined in the beginning, but also are allowed to change as their relationship progresses and the women don't fall in love immediately, but grow into a realization of their feelings over an appropriate amount of time. The dilemma Jane faces is also handled very realistically. For someone who wants to be president, outing herself couldn't be more impossible. Readers shouldn't expect her to simply throw away her political dreams for an opportunity at "true love" and the way she handles her choices feels right. What makes the book particularly enjoyable is that the affair, though important, doesn't drive the plot as much as the situation in which Jane finds herself and the decision making process she goes through. The result is an interesting tale with some thought behind it. This book is worth reading...Our Chart
Reviewed by Julia Watson - April 2008: Alex and Jane have undeniable chemistry, and this is the book's chief strength - you can't help but want these two to get it on. Lots...
“Are you scared, Al?”
“Outta my wits.”
“Good.” Kim Stewart laughed and amiably slapped her longtime friend on the back. “That means you’ll do great.”
Alex Warner cradled the frosty mug of beer in her large, sweaty hands. She could never show fear like this to anyone but her former colleague and best friend. “I wish I could be as confident as you, Kim. This isn’t exactly routine traffic detail on the I75. Or guarding little old ladies while they get their hair done.”
Kim drained the last of her beer, momentarily distracted by the latest boarding announcement on the airport intercom. “Hey, I’ve seen you up against it. You’ve got more confidence than anyone I’ve ever seen, Alex.”
Alex wasn’t so sure. She’d felt these same seeds of doubt many times during her career as a state trooper and in her first protection detail. But this. This assignment was different. This was the big time. There would be a hell of a lot riding on her abilities, on that so-called confidence Kim seemed to think she had an abundance of. “I’ll let you in on something, Kimmy. That confidence thing is just a healthy dose of fear and some shit-ass luck.”
Kim laughed. “Nice try, my friend. It’s just good ol’ fashioned guts. Like the time you ran into that burning house and carried those two kids out.” Her eyes shone with the memory. “I was there, remember? I was the one shitting myself, trying to decide what to do while we waited for backup. But not you. You just took off and went in there without thinking.”
Alex stared blankly into her beer. “I always reckoned you were the better cop, Kim. The way you talked to people, the way you went by the book, the way you always kept your cool.”
“Yeah, but you’re special, Alex.” She tipped her empty glass in salute. “Following all the rules doesn’t work for people like you. It’s all guts and instinct. It’s who you are.” Kim frowned a little. “It’s why you’re doing what you’re doing and I’m still…doing what I’m doing.”
Alex shrugged lightly, queasiness still in her gut. “I feel like I’m about to dive into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim. Jesus. Can you believe it? Putting a presidential candidate’s life into my hands!”
“Honey, Jane Kincaid is damned lucky to be getting you.”
Alex knew Kim meant it because there was real pride when she looked at Alex.
“Listen, that’s my plane.” Kim hopped off the bar stool, slinging a carry bag over her shoulder. “I’m sure the Kincaid campaign will be stopping in Detroit. When it does, come see us, okay?”
“Of course I will,” Alex said, and the two women hugged for a long moment. “Thanks for the visit. And the pep talk.”
“Hey. Just returning the favor.”
“Give my love to Linny.”
“Speaking of my dear love, she insisted I ask you to get Jane Kincaid’s autograph for her.” Kim gave a sly wink. “I think she has a crush on the good Senator from Michigan.”
“A crush is one thing. But an autograph?” Alex made a face. “Remind Linny the woman’s just a politician, not God.” She didn’t really get the whole celebrity adoration thing. These people were real to Alex. Special, for sure, but real, with all their quirks and faults and bad days, just like everyone else.
Kim laughed. “You can tell her that next time you see her. And listen, Al, please be careful, okay? I don’t want to see you on CNN.”
* * *
Jane Kincaid studied the color photograph in her hands.
She was immediately struck by how handsome the woman was, though it was in an austere way: Short, blond hair with sunny highlights, wide-set green eyes, serious and resolute with just the hint of a question in them, good bone structure, straight nose. Firm but expressionless mouth, nice jawline. A strong face. Capable and intelligent looking, but no trace of joy, no smile. And that caused Jane concern.
Nothing in the six-page dossier on Alexandria Warner—or Alex, as she apparently preferred—indicated a sense of humor existed in this Secret Service agent. And if, if, she were going to be assigned to Jane’s security detail, a sense of humor was vital. Jane didn’t want a bunch of grim-looking creatures in dark glasses and starched suits shadowing her as she campaigned her way across America. A bit of fun now and again was as necessary as breathing. She thought she’d made that abundantly clear to Commanding Agent Harry Johnson.
Jane dropped the eight-by-ten on her desk just as her secretary buzzed to tell her the Secret Service commander was waiting for her in her outer office. She frowned. She’d obviously need to remind him again. No Terminator types.
“You ready to meet your newest bodyguard, Dr. Kincaid?”
Commander Johnson was grinning like a Cheshire cat. Jane’s reply was a groan of annoyance.
They left her cramped office, striding side-by-side down the wide, carpeted hallway of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
“Harry, is this really necessary?”
“For the hundredth time, yes. You have no choice, Dr. Kincaid.” His tone was reserved, but Jane knew he was enjoying every second of it. She always protested any extra protection, and he always needled her about it, knowing and perversely enjoying that it was beyond her control. Their cat-and-mouse game had escalated over the last two weeks, ever since he’d told her the Secret Service was adding another personal bodyguard to her detail—this time a female who would be her shadow on the campaign trail.
To Jane, this ever-increasing army around her was making her job a lot harder. Since her campaign had begun to pick up steam after the New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Illinois primaries, and as the voters and the media began to take her more seriously, so had the Secret Service. Every month it seemed like they were adding another bodyguard to her detail, and every new agent felt like another brick in the wall that kept her from her public. The bigger the army around her, the harder it was for her to show the voters who she was, and just as importantly, for her to get to know the voters. The fact that the newest addition was going to be in her pocket all the time just down right pissed her off because it would make her that much more removed from the people.
As usual, Jane skipped the elevator and headed for the stairs. “Harry, there have been no threats, or at least none you’ve told me about. So why do I suddenly need someone permanently affixed to my hip, for God’s sake? There’s enough of you people as it is making my life difficult.” She still held out faint hope that she could talk him out of this if she just complained loudly and long enough.
Harry Johnson sighed in exasperation. They’d fought many rounds over this and much to Jane’s satisfaction, he still got sucked into it. “We’re not trying to make it difficult for you. We’re trying to keep your ass safe, remember?” Jane scurried down the marble steps, the older agent a step behind and still trying his best to reassure her. “It won’t change anything, Dr. Kincaid. We’re just ratcheting up the security as the national convention gets closer. It’s policy. You know that. And besides, if you weren’t so damned popular, maybe you’d just be stuck with little old me instead of all this extra attention.”
Jane finally chuckled, if grudgingly. “Don’t worry. After next week’s speech to the Southern Christian Fellowship, I may not need any of you!”
Jane halted before they reached the basement cafeteria. She grabbed the commander’s forearm. “Please tell me this Alex Warner has a sense of humor. That she’s cool, you know? Because I hate those Arnold types.”
Harry Johnson fixed Jane with a well-practiced glare. “Don’t you give my agent a hard time in here. This is just a little meet-and-greet over coffee before she starts her duties tomorrow. It’s not an interrogation or a job interview.”
“I thought this was to see if I approved her?” Jane gave her own version of a glare. She knew without doubt that there was no getting around adding another agent to her detail, but she figured the commander would at least give her veto rights if she didn’t like the character. Kind of like picking out a pair of shoes off the rack; if she didn’t like one pair, there were hundreds more to choose from.
Harry was shaking his head, exasperation sagging his shoulders as he seemingly read her mind. “You’ve got to trust me on this, Dr. Kincaid. Alex Warner is a good young agent and she’s going to get even better. She’ll be a nice addition to your detail.”
They were moving quickly through the cafeteria, Jane casting off her annoyance as effortlessly as if she were removing a hat. She slid seamlessly into her public persona—her smile cheerful and automatic. Her public face had become as instinctive as breathing or walking.
Agent Alex Warner stood as they approached the table. She was as tall as Jane, which was considerable at just under six feet. But where Jane was slender and lithe, Alex was muscular, with the poise and carriage of an athlete. They shook hands, each woman’s grip firm. Those river green eyes, flecks of gold in them, gave away nothing in their cool appraisal.
Smile, dammit, thought Jane. It won’t kill you, honest. But all she got from Alex Warner was a closed-lip, near-wince.
They sat down. Harry Johnson ordered coffee all around, and each woman waited for the other to speak first.
Jane looked intently and unblinkingly at Alex Warner, finally ending the stalemate with a cool observation. “You’ve never covered a presidential candidate before.”
Alex’s chin rose slightly in a sign of quiet defiance. “You’re my first, ma’am.”
“Well.” Jane nodded slowly, a little detached, then softened. She smiled and meant it. She would not truly give Alex a hard time. At least not today. She leaned in close and hesitated for just a moment. “That makes us even. I’ve never been a presidential candidate before. Think we can figure this thing out together?”
Ah, finally, a smile! Jane inwardly marveled at the flash of raw openness and innocence and trust in that spontaneous smile. It was a beautiful smile, angelic almost, and totally incongruous to Alex’s veiled demeanor. It was gone too quickly.
Alex looked, almost shy, as she said, “Looks like you’ve mastered your part, ma’am. I’ll try to do the same.”
Jane felt herself involuntarily yielding to the southern charm, the smooth drawl, the honeyed wholesomeness, even though she knew it was probably a well-polished tactic of Alex’s. It was like melting sweetness, and she felt a little tingly, probably like every other woman who’d been subjected to it, she mused. She smiled in appreciation. Obviously, she wasn’t the only one who knew how to charm people into capitulation.
“Flattery,” Jane responded genially, “won’t necessarily make me do what you want. Though it certainly can’t hurt.”
“Alex, you’ll have your hands full with Dr. Kincaid.” The commander was grinning, clearly enjoying the little game.
Alex shrugged, nonplussed, looking squarely at Jane. “I like a challenge.”
Jane liked Alex Warner’s cool confidence, her courage. Perhaps she had initially underestimated her.
“By the way, ma’am,” Alex said as the coffee arrived. “Do you prefer to be called Dr. Kincaid, or Senator, or—”
“Please. Just Jane.” Jane stirred her coffee with automatic precision. “I think Harry has a thing for doctors.” She winked across the table at the suddenly blushing agent. “That’s the only reason I figure he calls me doctor all the time. I mean, I haven’t practiced medicine in a decade.” She waggled a finger teasingly at Harry. “Harry, you’re way out of date. You really must ask your boss for a new dossier on me one of these days…one that skips ahead to the part where I’m a member of the Senate and a candidate for the presidency.”
Harry gave her a lopsided smile. “Jeez. You people with fourteen titles and degrees. How am I supposed to know which one to call you?”
Jane felt herself grow wistful as she thought of her ultimate goal. She never really lost sight of it, but there were moments, like this, when thoughts of the presidency absolutely awed and overwhelmed her. “Hopefully in a few months, Harry, you’ll only have to remember one title.”
Harry noisily cleared his throat, looking less like a Secret Service agent and more like a friend. He looked like he could almost cry. “It would be my honor to call you Madam President.”
Jane smiled and touched his arm briefly. “Thank you, Harry.” Then with a sigh that signaled there was no more time for daydreaming, Jane wrested her attention back to Alex, leaned in and laid her hand gently on Alex’s sleeve. Her gesture was meant to drive home the seriousness of her message. “I don’t mean to be a pain, Alex. But you need to know that I have to be accessible to the public. It’s imperative that I have some space.” Jane ignored the stony glare she felt from Harry. “I won’t get elected to dog catcher if I can’t get close to people—talk to them, touch them, listen to them. I need to feel their energy and I don’t want to hide behind a bunch of suits with sunglasses and guns.” She would do little negotiating on this point, and the sooner Alex understood that, the better. “You understand.”
Alex nodded slowly, patiently. She was intrinsically polite. And unflappable. “I do understand, ma’am. But my job from here on is to cover you like a flea on a dog. So any space you need will have to be planned well in advance.”
Jane silently chuckled at Alex’s pronunciation of “dawg” and the amusing analogy, though she remained resolute. “Well, Agent Warner, we both have our jobs to do. I will try not to shake off my fleas, but you must indulge me the occasional itch, if we’re to get along.”
Alex nodded—barely. Her mouth was a hard line.
Well, well. Cool and confident was one thing, but this woman was bordering on imperious. Alex Warner would not be an easy one. Damn. She should have known Harry wouldn’t throw some quaking rookie at her, someone who couldn’t stand up to her. For her own safety and well-being, she knew the commander was right to put someone like Alex on her detail. But it was another obstacle, another person in authority to tell her no, to say things couldn’t be done the way she wanted. It would make campaigning that much more difficult.
“Alex.” Jane had a habit of switching subjects and salutations quickly. “It’s still a long campaign ahead. The national Democratic convention is still a few months away, and after that, well, who knows.”
Alex nodded. “I understand this isn’t a short-term assignment.”
“It’s a lot of traveling, Alex. Away from home, away from friends. Do you have a girlfriend?”
Alex fidgeted just enough to expose a sudden and unexpected chink in her cool composure. She flashed a hot, incredulous glare at Harry Johnson. “That was in my dossier?”
Jane held up a placating hand. “No, no, of course not. I didn’t mean to alarm you, Alex. I do my homework, that’s all.”
And she had. She knew Alex Warner was thirty-six years old, a North Carolinian who’d graduated from the University of Minnesota, a Michigan state trooper for eight years before joining the United States Secret Service four years ago. She’d already served a year protecting dear, old Betty Ford. She had exemplary academic and work records. A state commendation, and she was an athlete of some repute. Jane couldn’t help but be impressed. There was certainly nothing on paper to give her pause about having Alex on her detail.
Alex looked unapologetic and Jane immediately thought, good for you, Alex. “Is it a problem?”
Jane smiled reassuringly. “That you’re gay?” She dismissed the idea with a quick wave of her hand. “Please. But if you’re in a serious relationship…” Jane didn’t want to make it sound like protecting her was a jail sentence. But she understood it was a sacrifice for her staff and the agents, and she had to be sure Alex understood that there would not be a lot of down time. “Let’s just say the campaign trail isn’t exactly ideal for relationships.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not,” Alex snapped, a little too abruptly. “In a serious relationship, I mean. Or any…I mean, not…” Her face was slowly flushing, her knuckles white from clutching her coffee cup like a lifeline. There was a look of mortification on her face, and it struck Jane as extremely charming. Even touching. They could have shared a good laugh over it if only they knew each other better.
But Alex was clearly embarrassed and it was Jane’s fault, after all. She didn’t enjoy making people uncomfortable. Well, unless they deserved it. Like most of her fellow senators on the health and education committee who kept trying to water down her proposals.
She touched Alex’s arm by way of apology. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to throw you a curve ball.” Her smile was conciliatory. “I can see you’re at a bit of a disadvantage here. So, to even things up, I can tell you that I’m not involved with anyone either. And if I was, I’m afraid it would be with a man, since that’s the only team I’ve ever played for.” She shot a mischievous wink at Alex, then looked questioningly across the table at Harry. “Harry, have you ever batted for the other team?”
Harry Johnson choked on his coffee while the two women laughed in an easy alliance.
Jane glanced at her watch, silently berating herself for being so obvious about it. She didn’t like people to think they were on the clock, even though they always were these days. A schedule that had to run like a Swiss watch was one of the more unpleasant realities of her situation. “You know what, Alex? I think we’re going to get to know each other really well. But all in good time, okay? But right now there is one thing we need to clear up right away.”
“You’ve really got to stop calling me ma’am. You’re not still covering Betty Ford, you know.” She gave a little laugh. “Don’t get me wrong. I love Betty. She’s a sweet, old woman. But that’s just it. She’s old and I’m, well…not.”
Alex smiled widely, small dimples forming at the corners of her mouth. “I’ll remember that. I mean, about not calling you ma’am.”
Jane wanted to laugh but didn’t. “Well, you’ll be one up on Harry. It’s been three months since he’s been on my detail, and I’m still trying to get him to call me Jane.”
“I told you,” Harry said. “My dog’s name is Jane. It just doesn’t feel right.”
Jane still couldn’t figure out if the commander was joshing her about his dog. “What’s all this talk about dogs today, anyway? Is it some kind of Secret Service code?”
“You started it when you said you couldn’t get elected to dog catcher,” Harry reminded her.
Jane sighed loudly in mock irritation, secretly enjoying the banter. “You’re right, I did. But you.” She looked at Alex. “If you’re going to have a tight leash on me, I’ll only answer to Jane. Just like Agent Johnson’s loyal, old dog.”
Alex’s smile came easily now.
Satisfied and feeling a little cocky, Jane stood up to take her leave. She couldn’t resist another barb and leaned close to Alex. “If I’m the dog and you’re a flea, as you put it, may I remind you that fleas are almost invisible to the naked eye?”
Alex was looking smug. “Not if you know where to look.”
They shook hands in silent understanding, and Jane watched Alex depart in sure strides.
She winked at Harry. “She’s good, you son of a bitch.” More than that, Jane liked her.
The commander smiled.
* * *