Chapter 21

Vickie wasted no time after leaving the police station. She drove straight to the Senator's home, ready for a fight. Sure, he'd gone to the police and supposedly told them everything he knew, but the fact still remained that people had died and no one was being held accountable. Sweat beaded and rolled down her back beneath the cotton material of her t-shirt as she jogged up the steps of the front porch and pressed the doorbell to the Riggins' home. The hot Texas sun was scorching more than the grass that summer. She waited as patiently as she could, but found herself mashing the tiny white button over and over again. Nothing. Not a single footstep or peep from inside the massive house. No servants or maids, Senator? How very thrifty of you, Vickie thought. Giving up on the door, she peered through several of the windows that lined the front of the house, but saw nothing inside that would indicate a presence.

"Fine then, I'll wait," she said as she flopped down into one of the many rocking chairs that lined the front porch. Vickie guessed that he wouldn't be far from home. With all the attention he would be receiving from the press after his withdrawal from the race, he would certainly want to escape it all and have some privacy. As she sat silently, taking in the scenery of the Senator's modest ranch, her mind raced through everything that had happened in the past 24 hours. Why did I get mixed up in all of this, she thought.

"Because you're nosey and have nothing better to do," she answered herself aloud. And now, here she was, having a conversation with herself on someone else's front porch. Twenty-eight years old, alone and talking to no one. She shook her head, trying to ignore the thought that was leading her down a road of self pity.

You're a cold, hard hearted woman, Miguel's words suddenly flooded her mind. She'd been called a lot of things in the past; bitch, slut, arrogant; but Miguel's words seemed to pierce right through her. Was it his words or that he was the one who'd said them? If he had known her before, maybe he would understand. As she thought back on her life though, even she was uncertain if it was the loss of her parents, the loss of Chase, or the loss of something deeper that made her so callous.

10 Years Prior

"I'm sorry ma'am, you can't go through the gate without a ticket," the airport security guard instructed Vickie.

"I'm just picking up my boyfriend, sir," she pleaded.

"Sorry ma'am, federal law. You'll have to wait out here." Vickie rolled her eyes and shuffled her feet as she walked away. Chase had been away for nearly 2 months and she couldn't stand to wait another minute to see him. They'd been nearly inseparable for the year and a half they had dated before he was accepted into Columbia University's law school. Throughout the court hearings over her guardianship, the police investigations into her parents death, and all her grieving, Chase had been by her side each step of the way. The two had discussed it over and over before finally deciding she should stay and finish her master's at the University of Texas, as planned. She hated their time apart, but he called often and flew home when he had breaks.

Her eyes darted back to the monitor that displayed arrivals and departures. His plane had landed more than 15 minutes prior. Vickie searched the throngs of people that made their way through the gates, when she finally caught a glimpse of his wavy hair and crystal blue eyes. "Chase!" she called. As he finally made his way through the crowd and past the gates, she ran and leapt into his arms, circling her legs around his waist. "You're here! You're finally here!"

Instinctually, he used both hands to cup each side of her rear, and returned the fierce kisses she lavished upon him, not caring about the scene they made. "Let's get out of here," he whispered huskily in her ear. Silently, they navigated through the airport, into the parking garage, and to the vintage Camaro she had driven.

"Where to?" she asked as she slid behind the wheel.

"You should probably take me to my parent's place. They'll be expecting me," Chase answered, his eyes still clouded with the desire she filled him with when they'd kissed.

"If you say so, but I'd rather go somewhere that we can be alone. There's something I need to talk to you about, Chase," Vickie paused for a moment. "I suppose we could talk about it later though." As she drove, Chase told her about his classes and various projects, about New York and how different it was from Texas. It seemed all too soon that she was pulling into the driveway of his childhood home.

"Can I see you tonight?" she asked hopefully. She'd been waiting weeks to talk to him, to share her important news. Before he could answer, she leaned across the console, slid her hand up his thigh and gently squeezed his growing bulge as she nibbled his earlobe. Chase moaned in response and pulled the rest of her over until she was straddling him in the passenger seat. Resisting her was something he'd never been very good at doing. His hands roamed every inch of her body, finally sliding beneath her thin tank top to tease her sensitive nipples. "Make love to me. Right here," she demanded while grinding against his lap, hating the barrier of clothes between them. Just as Vickie reached down and began unfastening the button on his shorts, Chase stopped and pushed her back, creating as much space as possible between them.

"Victoria, wait. We can't do this," he spoke through ragged breaths.

"Why not?" she asked, struggling to lean into him again. "We've done it in my car before."

"No, stop. You have to listen to me. We need to talk," he said with more force.

"Chase, what's wrong?" Worry crept into her eyes now. Nothing had ever been so urgent that Chase would interrupt making love to her. She still straddled him, but he sat straighter, pushing her even further away, until she finally receded back into the driver's seat.

"You know I love you, Victoria," he started. "But, being away…being in New York; well, it hasn't been easy."

"I miss you, too, but we're making it work," she began to argue, sensing that he was unhappy with their situation.

"Let me finish," he interrupted. "I'm up there, making new friends…meeting new people."

"Chase, don't," she said in a near whisper, moisture filling her eyes and her throat growing tight.

"I met someone. I met another woman, Victoria."

"No, you don't mean that." She closed her eyes now, praying she would wake-up from what was surely a nightmare.

"I'm sorry. She was just a friend at first, but it's grown into something more than that. I didn't mean for it to happen. But, I want to be with her." Tears filled his own eyes as he spoke. He didn't love Victoria any less, but time and distance were between them now.

"You're leaving me?" Vickie wiped away the drops that trickled down her cheeks and bit back the sob that threatened to escape her. "You're leaving me," she stated this time, rather than asking.

"I'm so sorry. I never meant.."

"Stop. Don't apologize. Just go," she said and took a deep breath to steady her now trembling body. Chase pulled his duffle back from the back seat and turned to face her one last time as he opened the door.

"I do love you," he said again.

"Stop saying that. Just please, get out of the car and go." It took every bit of strength she had to ask him to leave. She wanted to plead with him to stay, to be hers, to love her the way he had for so long. Since the day he first made love to her, she'd given herself to him completely; mind, body, and soul. Vickie loved deeply and passionately. Chase had been the lone recipient of her love for nearly two years and now, now he was gone. How could something be so wonderful in one moment, and shattered to pieces the very next?

She kept her eyes focused on the steering wheel in front of her as he stepped from the vehicle and closed the door. Putting the Camaro in reverse, she backed out of the driveway and drove away from him. She saw him standing there in the rearview mirror, and wondered if it was a mistake not telling him that she was pregnant.

"I expected I would see you today," Senator Riggins said as he walked up the steps of the front porch. Vickie had waited patiently for twenty minutes, lost in her own thoughts, before he finally returned home. "I'm actually surprised I didn't run into you sooner. Shall we go inside where it's cooler?" Vickie stood and entered the house as he opened the door. "Please, let's go to my office." The remarkably calm Senator guided her up the stairs and into the room she'd been snooping in only days before.

"Have a seat," he pointed to one of the leather chairs in front of his desk. Vickie sat, still not speaking a word. She waited patiently to see just how the Senator would explain his actions. She had thought about it all day, rehearsing all possible scenarios in her mind and expecting the worst. Nothing added up in her mind. Why had Riggins gone to the police? Why had he withdrawn from the race? If he was innocent, why sacrifice so much? Unanswered questions raced through her mind.

"He was going to blackmail me, you know; Lance was." Paul pulled a cigar from its case, lit it, and then continued speaking. "He set it up to look like I slept with that woman. He told me she would be good for the campaign team and that I should interview her. Meanwhile, he had Sinclair hire you to take the pictures. He orchestrated the whole thing. Quite clever, really." He paused to take another puff of the burning tobacco. "When he approached me with it, I told him he was crazy. By the time I was done chewing him up one side and down the other, he was practically in tears, begging me to forgive and forget. Turns out he had some gambling debt he was trying to pay. Or at least that's what he says. So I put him back to work and told him to get rid of whatever evidence he'd created around that woman. I had no idea he would…well, you know what he's done."

Vickie listened as he continued talking; explaining that he had no knowledge of the deals Harwood was working with Clovington, or actions he was taking against her. "That night at the ball it didn't click as to who you were right away. Of course I recognized your name, but you've changed quite a bit since I saw you as a child. Anyway, you showing up had Lance shaking in his boxers. When he told me who you were, and that you were the investigator Sinclair had hired, I told him to set things right with you. The things he did to you though, well, those were not my intentions and I am deeply sorry. I never, never would put you in harms way."

"I'm supposed to believe that Lance was simply trying to cover his tracks? You had nothing to do with any of it?" She shook her head, not wanting Riggins to be completely innocent. It went against everything she'd been working to prove.

"That's the truth. As far as I knew, we were just getting sizable campaign donations. And as for you, well, like I said, I just had no idea what he was doing. Your father was a great friend of mine, a trusted business partner, and practically family." Paul dabbed the end of the cigar in an ashtray.

"You said that before," she started. "I don't remember ever seeing you though. If you were such great friends with my parents, why don't I remember you?"

"You were very young when he and I worked together. We were quite a dynamic pair, working to help revolutionize the oil industry." Pride beamed from his eyes as he began speaking about his friendship with her father. "I'm not sure how involved you are with the company these days, but they currently hold the mineral rights to about a thousand square miles of land out in West Texas. Land that's practically bursting with natural gas. That's in addition to the offshore leases your Daddy fought to get. Daniel was so passionate about securing those to prevent anyone from drilling. We argued…man we would argue about that. I wanted to drill of course, but he wouldn't have it. 'If I can save just a sliver of Texas,' he would always say. Anyway, he and I worked for months to get those rights and leases. Eventually though, I became more and more involved in the politics of things, while he stayed with the industry." Paul closed his eyes, getting lost in the memories of his youth.

"I know about the mineral rights and leases. Maintaining them was one of the first things Daddy decreed in his will. I had no idea you were involved so heavily." Vickie stared at the man before her, studying him intently. Had she been wrong? If her father had trusted him, surely he was a good man. He had, after all, essentially turned Lance into the police.

"Tell me Senator, why turn Lance in and go public with all of this? Why withdraw from the race? You've given up everything for a crime you say you didn't commit."

"How could I not turn him in and withdraw? Isn't that what an honest man, an honest American would do? Don't think I'm out of the woods on this. They'll be investigating me for years, until this is all settled. I'll cooperate though, because I have nothing to hide." Everything in Vickie's life revolved around proof. Proof that someone was guilty or innocent. Proof that she could trust someone or not. Nothing she had found clearly pointed to Riggins though. She had assumed him guilty merely by his association with Lance. Maybe it was time to swallow her pride.

"It doesn't happen often, but sometimes…sometimes I am," she paused before continuing, struggling to utter the final word. "Sometimes I am wrong. Maybe this is one of those times."

"Well, if it's any consolation, I'm glad this happened. Imagine what it would have been like if I had been elected with Lance at my side. It would have been detrimental to this great nation. You saved us," he said with a smile and a wink. Vickie sat a little straighter with his observation, letting the beginnings of a grin creep onto her face.

"When you put it that way, it sounds like I was right," she boasted.