Jennifer stood patiently in the receiving line wondering once again why she allowed her sister to talk her into attending these dreary affairs.
The line inched slowly forward, each one of the three hundred or so people at the gala reception anxious to shake hands with the new senator from Maryland.
After the tasteless meal, there had been speeches that seemed to drone on for hours. As usual, Jenifer paid no attention to who was speaking or what was said. Through long practice, she had polished the ability to tune herself out of these political functions to a fine art.
She felt David's arm come around her waist now, pulling her towards him. She flinched, stiffened and gave him a swift icy frown. The arm dropped away.
'For God's sake, Jennifer', he muttered under his breath, 'That wasn't a Pass. Relax'.
'I'm perfectly relaxed', she said coolly, 'as long as you keep your hands to yourself'.
David raised his light blue eyes heavenward in exasperation. Jennifer knew he was fighting anger. His masculine ego was bruised by her rejection. She didn't care. She'd made it perfectly plain to David in a hundred ways that she didn't want to be touched. Not that way, at any rate.
'I don't know why I put up with you', he said in a tone of mock resignation.
'Of course, you do, David'. Her voice was brisk. 'Margaret bullies you into it'.
He laughed It was true, Jennifer thought, moving a few steps forward in line, and David knew it as well as she did. Her sister wielded immense power in New York social world, not only because she was the wife of one of the President's top aides and had seemingly unlimited money to spend, but through the force of her own personality. David admitted ruefully.' Your sister is a formidable woman. Why she isn't president beats me'.
'Oh, give her time, Jennifer reply 'she's only thirty-six, barely over the minimum age to qualify'
'Speak of the devil', David murmured. 'Brace yourself.'
They had almost reached the head of the line, now, and Jennifer could see Margaret's flaming redhead, hear the strident high-pitched voice as she greeted the people in front of them.
At last, Jennifer said to herself with a sigh. She could go home soon. She hadn't wanted to come at all. Her sister had energetically embarked on a rigorous campaign six months ago too, as she put it, pull Jennifer out of her gloomy shell, and once Margaret made up her mind to something, she was irresistible.
Ten years older than Jennifer, she had been more like a second mother to her when their own mother died. They were as different as two women could possibly be, Jennifer thought now as the sharp hazel eyes fastened on her. Margaret was every inch the supremely confident extrovert with her easy, outgoing manner, while Jennifer, more intense and reserved by nature, had withdrawn even more into her own private world after Richard's death.
'Now', Margaret said, turning to her husband, 'William will introduce you to Senator Smith'.
She dismissed them with a look, her bright smile now fastened on the people behind them in line, her hand outstretched in greeting.
'Hello, William', Jennifer said, smiling up at her brother-in-law.
He was a big bear of a man, heavy-set, red-faced, with a shiny bald head fringed with grey, and one of the kindest men Jennifer had ever known. He obviously adored his vibrant red-headed wife and had been almost like a father to Jennifer.
'Jennifer, my dear'. She lifted her face for his warm brotherly peck. 'How nice to see you. And David', he added, shaking hands with the younger, man. 'I'd like you both to meet Senator Smith'.
Jennifer glanced at the tall man standing beside William. He was still speaking to the people ahead of them, and his dark head was turned slightly away so that his face was in profile. Throughout the dinner and the speeches, Jennifer hadn't paid any attention to him. She and David had sat at the back, far from the head table, and she had only a dim recollection of a tall man with a deep voice giving one more boring speech.
Now, really looking at him for the first time, Jennifer drew in her breath sharply. He was so much like Richard that for a moment it could have been her dead husband standing there before her. Then he turned to face her, and the illusion was shattered. The hair was darker than Richard's, coarse and crisp instead of smooth and silky, the features more prominent, the expression more forbidding. Richard had been a handsome man, a beautiful man, Jennifer had often thought, with melting brown eyes and a warm friendly smile that had lit up the world for her.
This man's face looked as though it had been carved in granite. There was only the shadow of a polite smile on the thin straight lips, and all resemblance to Richard vanished completely when she looked into those stony grey eyes.
'My sister-in-law, Jennifer Davis', she heard William say to him now, as if from an immense distance. 'And David Wyatt, our junior congressman from Massachusetts. Senator Matthew Smith'.
Jennifer held out a hand stiffly, touched his briefly, and then withdrew it. 'Mrs. Davis', he murmured, giving her a brief cool glance, then turned to David. Jennifer smiled politely at him, murmured a greeting and moved on. She was filled with a vague resentment towards this aloof stranger. Because he wasn't Richard, she wondered, or because of his unfriendly manner?