Pour one out for Cady Davenport. Well, for her romance that is.
In Aimee Agresti’s whip-smart upcoming novel Campaign Widows, Cady loses her fiancé to — gasp — politics. When he hits the road for an upcoming presidential election, she’s left alone to navigate their new home and their new city, Washington, D.C. But before she can shout Iowa caucus, Cady lands herself in the middle of an influential yet bizarre group: The fellow campaign, er, widows. (Yes, their husbands seemingly go MIA during election season.)
Though an odd match of people — there’s a mommy blogger and, of course, a First Lady hopeful — Cady is welcomed with open arms. And instantly swept away on a wild ride.
Former Us Weekly scribe Agresti — thanks to her own husband, she’s experienced the roller coaster of being a campaign widow firsthand — makes today’s eye-rolling politics a page-turning adventure.
Read on for an exclusive excerpt from her novel, out Tuesday, May 22!
CAMPAIGN SEASON KICKS OFF AS RUMOR MILL CHURNS: IS GRAMMY WINNER HAZE MULLING PRESIDENTIAL BID?
By Sky Vasquez, Staff Writer, The Queue
The Iowa Caucus—the official start to the presidential campaign season—is just days away with no fewer than two dozen candidates already in the race.
Among the very early favorites, according to recent polls: Vice President John Arnold; billionaire businessman Hank Goodfellow; and freshman Congressman Carter Thompson.
But sources say yet another contender may soon enter the ring: Grammy-winning hip-hop artist Rocky Haze. Yes, you read that right.
A source at the Federal Election Commission confirms paperwork has been filed on behalf of the star. “Primary ballots in New Hampshire, Haze’s home state, are being printed as we speak—her name is on there,” says another source. “She does things her own way, no one would be surprised if she sat out the Iowa Caucus and got in the game later.”
Whatever her plans, she’s playing it close to the vest. Haze, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who has penned articles for Foreign Policy magazine, has yet to publicly declare her candidacy.
Reps for Haze did not return calls.
PART I: PRIMARY EDUCATION
Chapter One: THIS IS TOTALLY THE AMERICAN DREAM
One look at that endless spiral staircase and Cady knew this just wasn’t going to work in heels. She craned her neck, following that epic skyward coil leading presumably to the Capitol Dome, as she slipped off her pumps and stowed them in her satchel. This called for pragmatism. “So, how many—”
“Twenty-six stories, give or take,” the buzz-cut Capitol police officer said, pulling shut the door onto the rotunda. Twilight descending from the windows above, tourists and lawmakers cleared out for the day, the grand, airy rotunda had been so Zen-like at this hour. With the creak of the door, though, they were now sealed inside the stark and claustrophobic hidden passageway of the staircase. “No elevators.”
“Okay then,” she said, squeezing the bouquet of glorious red roses in her hand. “Let’s do this.”
The plan had been a quiet dinner in Dupont Circle, near Jackson’s place—their place now, their place—to celebrate her first day of work, but instead a sleek black sedan had arrived outside her office and whisked her here, to this officer bestowing f lowers with a note that said only, “See you at the top. Love, Jackson.”
She wondered why the sudden change. Jackson had said nothing in his texts, going silent after instructing her to get into the car. The officer led the way, and Cady began the climb in her tights. To keep pace, she hummed that quick, steady drumbeat of Rocky Haze’s “Constitutional Rite,” the catchy song that had been playing everywhere for weeks.
About eighteen stories up, her legs burning, she caught her breath: the twisting, turning path opened to a narrow catwalk, allowing her to glimpse the bottom of the rotunda, nearly making her queasy, before another passage sent them up again, deep into the webbed architecture of the dome. Metal beams and trusses extended out at all angles across the empty space in a way that appeared almost delicate. She didn’t mind this long journey up, circuitous as it felt. Two days earlier, she had completed a similar odyssey and equally stunning feat: making the leap from New York to Washington…and to Jackson. The months apart had felt as arduous as this climb, so much scheduling, traveling week after week unsure of where the relationship was headed but with the vague hope of reaching a summit at some point. And at long last, it had all culminated in her move to his city.
She replayed that moment in his apartment, trying now, as she had that day, not to be concerned. He just hadn’t gotten around to making room, he’d said, he’d been “slammed” with work, when she arrived to find not a single drawer vacated nor any welcoming windows created among his dozen navy and black suits, his vast array of button-down shirts. No room anywhere, really, for anything of hers. But there would be time for the proper melding of the things, she’d comforted herself. And so she had simply, joyfully shoved her boxes and suitcases along the periphery of the one bedroom apartment like sidelined players waiting to be let into a game.
The time was right, pure and simple: she couldn’t take it anymore, the distance, being away from him, shuttling along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor or worse, along I-95 in those cheap buses with the reckless drivers that dumped you at Union Station or Penn Station or Chinatown—just to see him for a brief weekend. The more time she spent with him, the more she wanted. She ached for a full-time relationship, but it had been up to her to make it happen. As a Capitol Hill staffer, Jackson was firmly entrenched in DC now, and as a TV producer, she had more options, and Washington was still a great market, after all. She began looking sooner than she had admitted—these things took time—and finally she had gotten the job, which was a good one with a good title—Senior Producer at the local morning show Best Day DC—a step up.
Except for the pay cut.
She stopped and stood on her toes for a second, straining to spot the top, but it was too dark and winding to see anything other than more and more stairs.
She sighed and continued her ascent. She had fought hard, but the pockets just weren’t as deep as they had been at New in New York. Her new boss, Jeff—who seemed just a few years older than her but dressed as though heading a tech start-up (hoodie, jeans, sneakers)—had promised to “reevaluate” once ratings improved. “There’s no question you deserve more,” he told her. “But between you and me, we just rebranded—aka cheated death—and things are a bit…capped…until we see the expected…growth. You know? But we will, especially with a producer of your caliber.”
That was another thing. The show wasn’t quite the number one local morning show. Best Day DC might be two on a good day…or possibly three. But she had felt sufficiently flattered by her new boss’s confidence in her. So Jackson didn’t need to know her salary details, or any of the reservations she had about leaving her old job and old life behind. From what she heard everyone had some kind of dirty little secret in Washington, so this could be hers.
Three hundred steps later, they finally reached their destination. She paused to catch her breath, smooth her long brunette bob, slip her shoes back on. When the officer pushed open the door to the viewing deck, the aggressive January wind roaring at them, she found Jackson across the way, leaning over the railing. At the sounds of their arrival, he spun around, cleared his throat.
“Hi! Hey!” he said, rattled, like he’d been caught shoplifting. “That was fast!” He ran his fingers through his short blond hair, then smiled that smile, the one she had fallen in love with. The one that got her every time. Even after three years together, Jackson Winfield still reminded her of that universally beautiful male model whose photo accompanied stories in glossy women’s magazines advising “How to Get THAT Guy!”
“This is— Wow!” She took a step forward and scanned the backdrop: all of Washington twinkled below.
“That’s the idea,” Jackson said. “Okay…so…Cady…” He tested the words as though rehearsing and hopped up and down like he was gearing up for something.
“You okay?” she asked gently. He seemed unusually nervous, jittery even.
“Yes, better than okay.” He nodded, definitive, ready, and smiled that gleaming smile again. “Okay, so—” he started, then stopped again. “Oh, hang on.” He dug his phone from his suit breast pocket and handed it to the cop, who began filming.
Finally Jackson reached for her, setting the flowers on the ground and taking her hands in his warm palms. He looked deep into her eyes in an important, vital way, not just a should-we-go-to-Lauriol-Plaza-or-Kramer-Books-for-dinner? way. The Washington Monument shone behind him in the distance. “I had a whole speech I was working on, but I’m no speechwriter. So… I love you… Will you be my running mate?”
“You know, my running mate…in life? Marry me?” he asked, kneeling now. His face stony, serious, aqua eyes glittering.
She stood there, hands to her mouth in pleasant shock, possibly having an out of body experience.
“Soooo—” he prompted her.
A gust of wind whooshed past, waking her up. “Oh! Sorry!” She shook her head, brain activity flickering again. “Yes! Of course! Yes!”
He kissed her in that perfect way of every film and book she had ever seen or read. And then he gently swept a lock of hair away from her face and sighed. “Now, just a couple quick things—”
“Oh?” she asked with a nervous laugh.
“No big deal—just, if anyone asks, we’re supposed to say Carter was here with us,” he explained. “It’s, more or less, well, illegal to be up here without a member of Congress but—”
“But then what could be more fitting for us?” she interrupted, smiling as she recalled the last time they were up on a roof overlooking the city. “Breaking the rules is kind of our thing now.” When she had been offered the job, they had celebrated by crashing a party at the Hay-Adams Hotel, sneaking onto the terrace to gaze at the White House and breathe in the night air of the city they would take on together.
“Rule breaking, for better or worse.” He grinned. “That’s why I love you. So anyway, Carter would’ve been here but he’s in Iowa—”
“Obviously.” She smiled, then thought about it. “Ohhh…”
“Yeah, and so I’m flying out tomorrow, just a few days, you know how it goes… I’m sorry. You know I’d rather be here celebrating with you.”
“C’mon, you know you’re thinking this is totally the American dream,” she teased. “Being indispensable. Staffing your boss, who happens to be a presidential candidate, on his first big campaign trip.”
For a flash it seemed like he might object, brows furrowing, but then he dropped the facade. “I know!”
“Congratulations,” she said and meant it, shaking his arm, the proverbial pieces all falling into place for them both, and so swiftly. “It’s something to celebrate, another thing to celebrate.”
He kissed her. “Thank you, I’m glad you feel that way,” he exhaled. “Because there’s one last thing that’s not the greatest but it’ll be okay—” He paused for too long.
“You’re kind of worrying me now—”
“I don’t have your ring,” he blurted. He sheepishly glanced toward the ledge and back at her: “Actually. It…fell. Down…there…somewhere.”
“It…wait…it what?” She ran to the ledge, peering over as though she would be able to spot a lost diamond nearly thirty stories down. Instead, a postcard-perfect panorama of Washington winked back at her.
© 2018 Aimee Agresti, with permission from Graydon House