Madam president, p.13

Madam President, page 13

 

Madam President
 



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  They spoke quietly with one another and then shook hands, dragging out the normally quick ritual for the flashing cameras.

  After a few moments, the Prince leaned over and whispered something to Dev. When she pulled back, she was still smiling, but something had changed.

  Lauren sat up on the bed and pulled a pillow into her lap, missing Grem at that very moment. She studied the image, looking into eyes that were normally rich and vibrant, but now appeared as cold and stony as a grave. "Oh, boy, I do believe that Madam President is pissed."

  * * *

  The meeting ended, and the Press Corps shuffled out of the room. David began making his way over to Dev, but she waved him off, needing a few moments with the Prince. She did her best to maintain her calm demeanor, but she could already feel the sneer forming on her lips.

  "Your Highness." She stopped and cleared her throat. "I appreciate the fact that you saw Ms. Strayer today on television. And I also appreciate the fact that you find her an attractive, desirable woman." Dev's nostrils flared. "But let me make something perfectly clear to you. She is not approachable. And she is most certainly not interested in remaining behind in your lovely country upon my departure." Dev's heart clenched at the very thought.

  The man's eyes narrowed, and he ran the back of his hand over his dark, closely cropped beard. "I was under the impression that there was no romantic involvement between you and Ms. Strayer," he said in perfect, though slightly accented, English. "My people were assured by your people that your press was simply looking for a sensational story, and that Ms. Strayer was free to be, shall we say, pursued."

  When I find out who said that, he's walking back to the United States! So what if it's true! Dev's teeth actually ground together when he looked at her with eyes daring her to say differently, which she immediately did. "You were misinformed," Dev answered flatly. "I'm sure that you understand I must deny our involvement to the press for appearances' sake. But I assure you, Ms. Strayer is very much taken. She will be accompanying me to the reception tonight."

  The Prince looked Dev directly in the eye. "She is your lover then?"

  "Absolutely," she practically snarled, startled by the proprietary ring to her voice.

  "But she is not your wife," he clarified smugly. He tilted his head to the side, waiting for Dev's response. With a quick jerk of his chin, he kept his own approaching entourage at bay.

  Dev's jaw clenched. Asswipe isn't getting the picture. "That changes nothing.” Except for the fact that if she were my wife, and you were saying these things, I'd wring your scrawny neck on the spot. “The fact remains that Ms. Strayer is unavailable to you, Your Highness." She straightened to her full height and looked down at the Prince with barely contained rage. How dare he? “I trust, Your Highness, that this is a closed issue?"

  "This discussion is over," he agreed amiably, flashing Dev a smile that was anything but reassuring. "Madam President."

  Dev could see that the Prince was used to getting his way in every matter. Too bad that's not going to happen with this, junior. Dev stiffened, her body unconsciously responding to the challenge that was flashing in his eyes. To him, Lauren was still a prize to be won, and she'd just made things worse by tossing the gauntlet at his feet. God, Lauren, I hope you trust me this much. Because he's gonna be watching us like a hawk tonight.

  * * *

  Dev knocked on Lauren's door. She nervously ran her hands over her long, white jacket, tugging on its hem and smoothing it against her wide-legged silk trousers. It wasn't what she normally would have worn for such an occasion, but it was still formal attire and she wasn't about to put on a stitch of clothing that would detract from Lauren tonight.

  Despite Dev's loosely worn hair, elegant jewelry and modest makeup, her outfit would help Prince Hassan see her as Lauren's escort and his peer, not just a woman. In this male dominated region of the world, Dev's trousers were more than a fashion statement. Besides, I'm the President of the United States, I'll wear whatever I damn well please.

  Devlyn's mind was a whirl with tomorrow's likely headlines. She sighed. There was no choice now. If the Prince found out that she'd outright lied to him about her relationship with Lauren, the entire trip could be in jeopardy. She had put Lauren's feelings ahead of a summit that had actually been in the works for more than ten years. But she wouldn't see Lauren harassed as though she were an object to be owned.

  The door suddenly swung open, and Dev's breath was simply stolen from her body. "Stunning," she whispered reverently as wide blue eyes eagerly absorbed every detail of Lauren's appearance.

  Her pale hair had been swept up into a low knot that rested snuggly on her neck. Several fair tendrils had already worked their way free and served to frame Lauren's youthful face in a quietly graceful way. The black sequin dress was strapless, showing off a slender, succulent neck and slightly muscular shoulders that were covered with creamy, white skin and dotted with faint freckles. The snug cloth clung to every curve of the writer's body, outlining firm breasts, a trim waist and the womanly flair of her hips. Dev found herself wishing it were shorter, say mid thigh, but this was an evening event, so the floor length gown was already pushing the limits of propriety by showing so much of those incredible shoulders.

  Dev sucked in a breath, very conscious of the low burn that had ignited deep in her belly.

  "Can I take your staring at me as though I had sprouted a tail as a good sign?" Lauren asked a little insecurely. She felt her heat rise to her cheeks. Dev's eyes raked over her body in a way that was making her pulse flutter happily. Unfortunately, it was also making her even more nervous than she already was. Which was pretty damned nervous.

  "Wow," Dev mumbled. "You look" She shook her head, unable to form the words. Fabulous, her mind screamed. She looks fabulous! Uh oh. Too fabulous. Prince What's-his-name is gonna drop dead at first sight.

  Lauren tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear, and her earrings glittered in the light. Her hand dropped to her throat. "Thank you. And for these especially. I feel like some sort of princess." Her fingers shifted and grazed the sparkling diamonds wreathing her neck, then moved down to the matching bracelet that hung loosely around her wrist. She smiled warmly. "I'm a little concerned about turning into a pumpkin at midnight." Lauren spoke without paying much attention to her words. Her gaze was firmly fixed on Devlyn, and the mere sight of the President tonight threatened to seize up her brain entirely.

  "You um" Lauren laughed helplessly, finding herself tongue-tied and with the inexplicable urge to run her hands up and down Dev's body. And kiss the hollow of her throat? Okay, that's new.

  "Clean up pretty good?” No, you cannot lean in and nuzzle that soft- looking cheek.

  "Mmm" Lauren agreed. "That's an understatement, Devlyn."

  "Shall we?" Dev offered the smaller woman her elbow.

  "Oh, yeah."

  "Wait a second." Dev frowned a little and pointed back toward the room. "Don't you need your glasses?"

  "Will I have to read or write?"

  "Well, we were all going to sit around and retake our SATs for fun." Dev slapped her forehead. "But so much for that. Now what will we do after drinks?” I have a few suggestions. One of them includes whipped cream and STOP IT!

  Lauren laughed. "We'd better get going, President Marlowe." Lauren spied Dev's Secret Service men lurking down the hall. "I'm sure Liza is stroking out someplace, waiting for you." Lauren tucked her arm around Dev's as they made their way down the hall.

  "Umm Lauren?” Time to face the music, Marlowe.

  "Yes?"

  "Do you trust me?"

  * * *

  "You did what?!" Lauren stopped dead in her tracks just as the couple entered the reception hall. She stared at Dev in disbelief.

  The room went dead silent, and every set of eyes turned to the two women.

  "Don't make me say it again," Dev pleaded under her breath as she grinned at the crowd and gave a quick wave. "I know by the way your jaw just hit the carpet that you
heard me the first time."

  "Devlyn!" Lauren huffed through her plastered on smile. She was temporarily blinded by a dozen quick flashes from the press' cameras. "The gossip just started to die down back home." She spoke without moving her lips. "If we put on some show tonight, so we can convince Prince Hassan, it's just going to start all over again."

  David rushed to Dev's side, pushing down his irritation. Dev knew the drill. Why was she being difficult? She'd been in an unusually foul mood ever since the photo op that afternoon. "Good evening, Madam President," was what he said.

  Devlyn, however, heard exactly what David meant, which was, ‘Why didn't you wait for your introduction, bozo?!' "Sorry, David. I was distracted. Besides, I was already introduced to everyone this afternoon. This is just a little reception. Relax." She glanced sideways at her Chief of Staff and elbowed him in the ribs affectionately. "Nice tux. Your tie is crooked, by the way."

  "Thanks." He fussed with the tie until it was straight. "And you know we have to follow protocol, Madam President."

  Prince Hassan made a bee line for the women, and Dev immediately wrapped her arm around Lauren's waist, tugging her closer and surprising the hell out of both David and Lauren. A flurry of camera flashes lit up the room, and the press hounds began to murmur among themselves. "Let's just skip it and say we didn't, David. I've got something else I need to take care of right now anyway. If you'll excuse us?"

  David turned round eyes on Lauren who could only shrug helplessly. "Fine," he mumbled. "I'll be back in a few moments. I'll handle it."

  Dev nodded absently, her eyes tracking the Prince and the advisors that flanked him like bookends.

  Prince Hassan stopped right in front of Devlyn and Lauren. He motioned his men back a few feet. "Madam President, it's a pleasure to see you again." But somehow Dev just couldn't believe him. It might have been the fact that he was looking at Lauren the entire time he spoke. "I don't believe I've been introduced to your lovely biographer."

  Dev remained stubbornly silent until Lauren nudged her. "Your Highness, Prince Hassan, may I present Ms. Lauren Strayer?"

  "It's a true pleasure." Prince Hassan bowed deeply at the waist and grasped Lauren's hands. He kissed her knuckles, lingering for several seconds too long.

  "Hello," Lauren replied cordially, wanting her hands back.

  Dev fought not to roll her eyes. If I strangled him, I wonder if it would start a war? Dev knew she wasn't acting very Presidential. But she couldn't seem to help herself.

  "What a lovely necklace, Ms. Strayer." The Prince gestured to the glittering stones then let go of one of Lauren's hands to reach out and touch them. Using the grip on the hand he still held, he tugged Lauren closer.

  "Thank you." Lauren pulled her hand away and discreetly moved out of his reach, trying not to appear as repulsed as she felt. Okay, now I know why Dev didn't want him to feel like I was fair game. Yuck. “It was a gift from Mad Devlyn." Her lover would say her name, she admonished herself. Lauren smiled up at Dev, who glanced back down at her with apologetic eyes.

  Prince Hassan retracted his hand casually, although he felt stung by her actions. "I trust that you are enjoying all that my lovely nation has to offer."

  "Unfortunately, this is a business trip, Your Highness," Dev interrupted. "We've had no free time for sight seeing. Perhaps another time.” Like ten minutes after never.

  He frowned. "Perhaps." Then his frown shifted into a smile that the women were sure only he found charming. "I believe then that I need to make the most out of our short time together." The man handed a full glass of champagne to Dev, who took the glass without thinking. Then he turned to Lauren and smiled broadly. "It seems that I need some more champagne. Would you care to join me, Ms. Strayer?"

  Dev stepped in between Lauren and the Prince, her temper flaring. "No, she would not, you son-"

  "Why, yes." Lauren laid a calming hand against Dev's back, then moved around her. "Thank you, Your Highness. I would be delighted."

  The man's chest immediately puffed out, and he tossed Devlyn a conceited grin.

  No unmarried woman would refuse him. And that a woman could be chosen over him? That was unthinkable.

  "One moment please, Your Highness. I need to speak with Devlyn." Lauren immediately grasped Dev's hand and walked them several feet away. She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Let me handle this, Devlyn."

  "I will not!" Dev whispered back angrily. "He's making a play for you right in front of me! Of all the arrogant pieces of"

  "I know." Lauren made a face. "He's a pig. But I've got the sneaking suspicion that you punching him in the nose wouldn't do anything for our two country's relations." A pale brow lifted. "Right?"

  Dev's expression turned sulky. "I wasn't going to punch him.” Yes, I was. Shit. I'm going insane.

  "Uh huh." Lauren smiled gently. "I know you were only trying to get him to leave me alone by telling him we were lovers. And for most men, I think that would do it. But Prince Hassan is apparently the over eager type who needs a little extra convincing." She patted Dev's arm reassuringly. "Trust me."

  Devlyn exhaled unhappily. "Do I have a choice?"

  Lauren pretended to think for a moment before she smiled sassily. "Ummm... not really."

  Blue eyes took on a dangerous glint as Dev peeked over her shoulder at the Prince. "I'm going to be watching him. And if he gets even the tiniest bit out of hand"

  "I know. I know. Now go greet your other guests before you get a reputation for being a horrible hostess." Lauren squared her shoulders, realizing that she'd never even had the chance to be nervous in her surroundings. Things had just happened too quickly. "I'll be fine."

  Dev flashed her a gleaming smile full of admiration and affection. But there was a serious edge to her voice that garnered the younger woman's complete attention. Piercing eyes bore straight into Lauren, and they stopped speaking for a long moment as the rest of the world faded away. "Just don't forget who your escort is tonight," Dev finally whispered softly, her heart thundering in her ears. This should be for real. Not some stupid ruse.

  Lauren swallowed. "I won't." Several more seconds passed before their surroundings seeped back into their consciousness. Lauren closed her eyes for a moment to clear her head. Time to get this fixed. She purposefully strode over to Prince Hassan, who had been waiting, stealing furtive glances at the women and wondering if his bed might be warmed by more than just Lauren tonight. Lauren wrapped her arm around his and headed them in the general direction of the bar. "We need to have a little talk."

  "I was hoping you would see me alone."

  "I... um... I wanted to make something clear to you, Your Highness. I thought it best if we spoke privately. That's all."

  "But a woman as beautiful as you should not be required to think."

  Lord, help me. Maybe I'll be the one to punch him. Prudently, Lauren decided to plow ahead, ignoring his last remark. "I'm flattered by your attentions, Your Highness." Gag. "But I'm perfectly happy with Devlyn."

  "Obviously, President Marlowe values you, or you would not be attending a function such as this. But you are merely a lover and not her wife, correct? I have four wives and several lovers. And it is you that I am interested in tonight."

  Lucky them. “Be that as it may, I only have one lover, and I'm not interested in any others." Lauren was running out of patience quickly. What was it going to take to put off Romeo? Her imaginary status as Devlyn's lover was apparently far enough below that of a spouse that Prince Hormones felt free to try his luck. A server finally passed them, and she snatched a flute of champagne from the tray, tossing it back in one deep swallow. "Your Highness, I'm trying to be discreet here. But you've left me no choice but to be rather explicit."

  He leaned closer, obviously extremely interested.

  "I am completely satisfied." Lauren wriggled pale brows, and her voice dropped to a sexual purr that did an excellent job of conveying in exactly what way Dev satisfied her. "I wouldn't trade Devlyn for ten men." She licked
her lips slowly and tried not to burst out laughing at the look of surprise, then arousal, that swept across his face. "No offense."

  The Prince cleared his throat, suddenly embarrassed. His respect for the tall American jumped several notches. "None taken, Ms. Strayer. I'm glad that you are so," he paused and smiled with open appreciation, "satisfied." Lauren was a beauty. But he wasn't foolish enough to chase after a lost cause.

  "Thank you. I am a very lucky woman." Relief flooded her. Finally. Just then David joined them. Perfect timing. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Your Highness. I hope your meetings tomorrow go very smoothly."

  "I'm sure they will. It seems that President Marlowe is a master at getting and keeping what she desires most."

 
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