Madam president, p.12
Madam President, page 12
Lauren eyed him seriously, chewing her lip as she wondered if she'd done something wrong. She and David had been getting along just fine these past few months. Lauren moved behind her desk and dropped into a soft leather swivel chair. It forced David to talk to her across the desk and put her in an immediate position of power. It was a trick she'd subconsciously picked up from Dev. "Sure. Is something wrong?"
"Truth is," David closed the door and took a seat on the couch, skipping over the chair in front of the desk, "I'm not sure."
"What do you mean? Is there a problem with the book?" Lauren had agreed to let David read the rough notes that would form the beginning of the prologue to Dev's biography. It was mostly background and family information and wouldn't change, no matter what happened in the next four years. She'd never shared any part of her preliminary work before, but, as Dev's best friend and the President's Chief of Staff, she valued David's unique insight.
"No! Everything looks great so far. Dev is going to love it. She'll get a big chuckle out of the fact that one of her ancestors was a convicted horse thief. Must be where her natural talent for politics comes from."
"It's Dev." He looked her directly in the eye. "She's, umm, really opened up to you, you know?"
Lauren nodded reluctantly, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable with where this was going. "That's true. For a biography to be good, a subject has to open up to the writer."
"I'm not talking about the book, Lauren. I'm talking about on a personal level. She's really taking a chance here. In fact, I haven't seen her warm up to another person so quickly since..." his words trailed off, and Lauren caught the significance.
"Samantha?" Her voice conveyed her astonishment.
David nodded. "I can see you understand." He stood and buttoned his jacket. "I trust you not to hurt her. You're the first person in a long time who has seemed to make her happy." He paused. "Just don't lead her on. Please." The man turned and quietly left the office.
Dumbfounded, Lauren blinked several times in rapid succession. Lead her on? Coming to her senses, she jumped up from her desk. "David, wait!"
The Chief of Staff stopped and turned around in the hall. "Yeah?"
"You believe the rumors, don't you?" Lauren lowered her voice, looking around a little nervously. "The ones about Devlyn and me."
"I'm not sure what to believe at this point." He placed his hand on the plane wall as he felt the big machine begin to taxi down the runway. "I'm just asking you to be careful."
"Then, just like Devlyn, you're going to have to trust me." She could see the hesitancy in his eyes. "I'll admit it probably wasn't the smartest professional move I've ever made. But somewhere in the last two months, we became real friends, David. Please know that I wouldn't do anything I thought would hurt her. I'm not leading anyone on."
Her voice was pleading, and he had no choice but to believe her. He hated being surrounded by honest people. This was Washington politics for God's sake.
"I do trust you." He smiled softly. "And I'm glad she has you for a friend. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a call to make myself."
* * *
Lauren's notebook was in her lap as she sat hunched over on the long sofa in her office aboard the ‘Flying Oval Office', scrawling away. She glanced up at the steward, who placed the milk on the table in front of her. After so many weeks with Dev, the writer had grown rather fond of the beverage as well, but she discovered it had to be ice cold for her to truly enjoy it. Do I need to wonder where this came from? “Thank you."
"My pleasure, Ms. Strayer. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"No, I'm fine, thanks." She pushed her glasses up, rolling her neck to work out its tightness before taking the glass. She was amazed that it was, indeed, ice cold. Are they all mind readers?
Lauren glanced at her watch. They'd been in the air almost two hours, and she hadn't seen hide nor hair of Devlyn since they parted in the hallway. Quit your whining. You're a big girl, and you know she's busy. With a soundless sigh, she went back to her notebook and her milk.
Dev finally showed up outside her door almost an hour later. The President gave a light rap and heard Lauren's answering ‘Come in'.
Blue eyes rolled at Lauren as Dev marched into the office, arms outstretched in front of her like Frankenstein's monster. She walked stiff-legged across the room to the couch, where she collapsed face down. "I'm such a bad mother," she mumbled into the cushion.
"What?!" Lauren snorted. "No way."
Dev rolled over, clutching a small throw pillow to her chest. "I just realized that I'm not going to be home for Christopher's birthday next week." She folded her arms around the pillow and tucked it under her chin, looking down the couch at Lauren. "Maybe I can airmail him a camel."
The writer turned her body, lifting one arm to rest it on the back of the couch. "Nah, that's overkill. Besides, you get him a camel, and next he'll want an elephant, and before you know it: poof! You've got rhinos eating the bushes in the Rose Garden, and the south lawn is a petting zoo.” C’mon, Dev, smile.
Dev's laughter rang out through the plane so loudly that Lauren wondered if the Press rats, who were housed near the rear of the plane and went along on every Air Force One flight, could hear her. Then she got hit in the head with the pillow Dev had been using.
"Hey, be nice!" Lauren scolded as she confiscated Dev's pillow and pressed her face into the soft cloth.
"I'm always nice." Dev grinned, but the happy expression faded quickly. "I'll figure out some way to make it up to Christopher." She stopped speaking for a moment, and a contemplative look crossed her face. Dev's eyes went serious. "This is the kind of thing he's never going to forget though, isn't it?"
Lauren felt a pang deep in her chest. It was only a birthday, right? He would eventually understand that Dev had pressing commitments that were of global importance things that couldn't wait for a little boy's party. Lauren smiled sadly at the President. "No, it's not something he'll ever forget."
Dev nodded slowly and pushed up off the couch, moving toward the door. She exhaled tiredly. "That's pretty much what I figured."
Tuesday, March 9th
They had been at the Embassy for three days and this was the first time that Lauren had had more than a moment to enjoy her room's balcony. She stared out at the city that pulsed with life. It was congested and colorful. Foreigners stood out like sore thumbs, their business suits or touristy shorts and T-shirts clashing with the native's traditional white robes. Car horns mixed with the angry shouts of pedestrians and the occasionally whinny from a donkey or horse. It was a curious mix of old and new world technology, culture, and attitudes that Lauren found more interesting than appealing.
The writer snapped off a few photographs, then headed back inside, stepping out of the heavy perfume of highly seasoned, roasting meats, local pastries, and car exhaust.
She was amazed when Dev ordered everyone to take their third day ‘in country' to rest and relax. ‘Everyone', Lauren found out, was a relative term. David was still working like a madman, as were several aides and advisors on foreign policy. But most of the other staff, including Dev herself, used the day to relax.
The President slept away the entire day, and Lauren suspected that the dark-haired woman was still fighting a nasty case of jet lag. While she slumbered, David had easily taken charge, giving orders that Dev not be disturbed for anything. He made it perfectly clear that she needed to be well rested for the upcoming meetings.
Lauren had managed to take a nap herself, but felt restless and was up long before Dev. She took the time to do some exploring and shot two rolls of film, but was hesitant to venture too far from the executive quarters. There were just too many strange faces milling about, constantly staring at her and whispering as she, or anyone connected to Devlyn, passed. No. Lauren preferred to stick close to her friends, especially the beautiful one who ran the most powerful nation on earth.
The first meeting was set for tomor
She settled her camera on a table and opened the door to be greeted by Dev's thousand watt smile. Devlyn was holding a garment bag and looking incredibly pleased with herself. "You know," Lauren started, her hands coming to rest on her hips, "I've known you long enough now to know that that smile is trouble." But even as she teased, her eyes worriedly searched Dev's face, relieved that the lines of fatigue and tension that she'd seen yesterday appeared to be gone.
"Oh, so that's how it is, huh? I bring you a present, and you accuse me of causing trouble." Dev shrugged nonchalantly and threw her nose in the air. "Fine. I'll just take this reeeeally beautiful, incredibly expensive evening gown and find some other short, cute blonde to give it to." She sniffed in mock indignation and turned around, barely clearing Lauren's line of sight before an enormous grin sprang to her lips.
Lauren's arm shot out, grabbing the back of Dev's shirt. "Waaaait just a minute, Madam Commander and Chief!" She tugged the woman into her room and eagerly closed the door. "Number one, I'm not short"
"You're shorter than I am."
"Everyone without male plumbing is shorter than you are, Stretch," Lauren defended.
Dev laughed. "True."
"And number two" Lauren held up two fingers.
Dev draped the garment bag over her arm. Her eyes twinkled. "You're not gonna try and deny that you're cute, are you?"
"Do I look stupid?"
Dev opened her mouth, and Lauren clamped her hand over it. "There's really no need to answer that, Devlyn."
The President's eyes screamed, ‘Who, me?' But she prudently remained silent.
Lauren smirked and pulled away her hand. She eyed the bag. "So are you gonna show me? Or do I have to beg?"
Dev didn't say a word. Her evil laugh alone was more than enough to make Lauren blush to the roots of her hair. I love it when she does that, Dev thought affectionately. "All right, Mighty Mouse ouch!" Dev grasped her arm and scowled. "I bruise easily, you know!"
"Then you shouldn't call people names," came the reasonable response.
"You know, I'm pretty sure it's a federal crime to hit me."
Lauren lifted a brow as she liberated the garment bag from Dev's arms, noticing it was a tad heavy for a garment bag. "Call a cop." Her gaze flicked around the room, looking for a place to hang it, but before she could move, Dev took it back and held it up for Lauren's easy inspection.
The blonde carefully unzipped the leather bag. She gasped when the dress came into view. Dev hadn't lied. Wow. "Oh, my." She fingered the black, sequined material reverently. "It's" She swallowed emotionally. Nobody had ever given her anything so lovely. "It's beautiful. I can't um I can't believe it's for me." Suddenly bashful eyes tilted upward, and she gazed at Dev from beneath pale lashes. "Thanks," she said softly.
Dev sighed happily. God, Marlowe, she's got you hook, line, and sinker. I'm totally and irreversibly twitter-pated. "It's I mean, it's for the reception tonight," she explained needlessly, her tongue failing to comply quickly enough with her brain's command to start talking and stop looking like a moron.
Lauren nodded and mercifully dropped her gaze from Dev and refocused on the dress.
Once out of the beam of those intense gray eyes, Dev found she could think much more clearly. "I personally thought the most beautiful woman in the room should have the most beautiful dress."
Lauren blushed again, unsure how she should take these compliments. Dev was as solicitous as a lover, but surely she didn't feel that way about her. Other than a little harmless flirting, Dev had never given Lauren any indication that she felt something other than friendship for her. Still, she was flattered by the attention, and the way Dev was looking at her caused her belly to flutter nervously and her palms to go moist.
The biographer dismissed the most obvious explanation of what she was feeling, chalking up the sweet-talking to Dev's being well rested, in a really good mood, and charming as hell. "You know, you're gonna spoil me if you keep this up. I mean, gee, great big white house, a private plane, permanent dog sitters." She grinned, scrunching up her nose and wrinkling the corners of her eyes. "I think I'm ruined for anyone else."
Dev nearly bit her lip through. From your lips to God's ears, Lauren.
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were someone awfully important."
"Nah, I'm just a geek stalker." She laughed. "Okay, I've got a meeting and Liza is gonna be here to drag me downstairs by my ear any moment. She has learned too much from Jane, I tell you, but I'll be back to get you at about six and we'll go down for the reception. I'd invite you to join me for the meeting, but it wouldn't go over well."
"I thought the first meeting was tomorrow?"
"The first official meeting is tomorrow. This afternoon's is with the Crown Prince. It's nothing important. Photo op and sound bites for the press, that sort of thing." Dev grimaced, wondering how much longer she could hold up her arm before discreetly lowering without looking like a wuss in front of Lauren. "It'll be boring as hell. And you've already been there and done that a million times, so please continue to enjoy your day off. If I didn't have to go I wouldn't. Just relax and enjoy. You can watch the dog and pony show on closed circuit if you like."
"I'll do that." She closed her eyes for a moment, scratching just above her eyebrow. "Umm, please don't tell me I need my password to activate anything here. It's several thousand miles away at the moment."
"No, everything here is simple voice activation."
"Finally, something simple." Lauren rolled her eyes. She studied Dev's face, her eyes widening with realization. "Jesus, put that down." Without a warning to Dev, Lauren pulled the bag from her hand. She grunted at its weight and interestedly peered into the bag. There were shoes in the bottom and several jewelry boxes. "My goodness, Devlyn! This weighs a ton!"
"Nah. I barely noticed it," Dev lied. "I just wanted to make sure you had a decent selection of accessories to go with your surprise." Dev suppressed a grin. "There are a few baubles in there I hope you'll like." Her fingers idly played with the bag's zipper. "But I burrowed them. So no losing them, okay?"
Lauren nodded, gulping a little. "This wasn't necessary, Devlyn. I could have..."
"Don't be silly," Dev admonished gently. "I wanted to." Dev gestured toward the bag, already picturing how lovely Lauren was going to look. "I'll be back in a couple of hours to escort you. Unless you've got someone else in mind," she commented with forced casualness. Half the Press Corps and a good portion of her own staff were in love with the beauty.
Lauren shook her head. "I'm all yours, Madam President."
Now that's more like it. Dev's heart began to swell. She knew that those simple words shouldn't mean so much, that they didn't mean what she wanted them to. But still they made her happy, she found herself lacking the will power or inclination to fight the feeling. "See you soon then."
When Dev left, Lauren unzipped the bag and pulled out several pairs of shoes. She held them up to the dress and, with a little nod, selected a medium black heel with a thin strap around the ankle. Then she set them aside and pulled out several velvet jewelry boxes that had Cartier imprinted on them in gold letters.
Grey eyes widened slightly when she realized that when Dev said she had ‘borrowed' them, that meant the jewelry was on loan from one of the finest jewelers in the world. Lauren shook her head in simple disbelief. "Good God, Devlyn. Don't ever let it be said that you don't know how to make a woman feel special." She tugged over the dress and let out a nervous breath. "I only hope I can do all this justice."
* * *
Lauren flopped down on the bed and ordered the TV on, requesting a t
Almost resentfully, she dragged her gaze from Dev to inspect the shorter man standing alongside her, who was undoubtedly Crown Prince Karim Sami Hassan. He was nice enough looking, she considered thoughtfully, estimating his age somewhere between twenty-five and thirty. He had a generous mouth and a well-trimmed, dark beard that disappeared into a thick mass of wavy, black hair. The Prince's olive coloring made him appear more Mediterranean than Middle Eastern, and his dusky skin was set off nicely by his loose, golden-colored robes, which were streaked with red. He wore the traditional headgear of his people.
The United Arab Alliance had chosen him for this meeting because most of his formal education had taken place at Cambridge. Once, he had even visited Devlyn's own college alma mater, Harvard. They believed his youth and open mind would serve him well in dealing with such an infidel. He wouldn't be as quickly offended as the elder members of the Alliance.
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