Madam President, page 14
Lauren ducked her head and smiled. "I agree. Good night." She turned to David. "I believe there was someone you wanted to introduce me to?"
David stared at her blankly.
"Across the room," she prompted, tilting her head in a direction she's chosen randomly, hoping it would put her as far away from Prince Dipshit as she could get.
David's eyes widened slightly with recognition. "Oh, yes, of course." He quickly scanned the crowd and threw out a name. "If you'll excuse us, Your Highness?"
The Prince nodded and insisted on taking Lauren's hand and giving it another little kiss.
"You're a lifesaver, David," Lauren said softly as soon as they were out of the Prince's earshot.
He stopped walking and looked at her curiously. "How'd you know my Secret Service name?"
* * *
The Prince smiled at Dev. He had managed to avoid her for the past two hours but he was about ready to retire and decided a quick goodbye was in order. "It seems that your Ms. Strayer is very much taken," he conceded.
Dev spun around at the sound of the Prince's voice, and another glass of champagne was thrust into her hand.
She had downed hers in one swallow when Lauren and the Prince left in search of a server or the bar. And even as she tried to mingle, she found her attention drifting across to Lauren. It was only after Lauren had finally broken away with David, that she felt comfortable enough to begin mixing with her guests. "I told you that this afternoon," Dev stated flatly. "What finally convinced you?"
The young man burst out laughing. "Ms. Strayer's declaration of her ‘satisfaction' in your ‘arrangement'."
Dev blinked. What? Oooooo...Well, thank you, Lauren! She grinned rakishly at the Prince, who looked as though he would high-five her if he were familiar with the gesture.
Instead, he slapped her between the shoulders with gusto. Apparently, Dev had been accepted as ‘one of the boys'. "I have no hard feelings, Madam President." His brow furrowed a little, not quite understanding why this whole thing seemed to bother the American President so. Lauren was merely her lover. President Marlowe was a beautiful and powerful woman, and her nation obviously accepted her sinful ways. Surely she had dozens of lovers. "She's just a woman," he finally said, still puzzled but willing to let it go. He waved a hand dismissively. "Nothing that we should allow to interfere in our negotiations tomorrow."
"Until tomorrow then," Dev ground out, needing to make a hasty retreat before she did something stupid. It'll only make Lauren mad if I go ahead and punch him in the nose.
"Anxious to get back to your beautiful blonde?" he laughed. "Ahh... I cannot blame you a bit. Lucky for me, she can easily be replaced with another beautiful blonde."
Dev's eyes darkened with unspent anger, and she moved to shake Prince Hassan's hand. She grasped it firmly and leaned forward, placing her lips near his ear. "That, Your Highness, is where you are dead wrong."
Sunday, April 4th
WHY SO GLUM, chum?" David leaned over the chessboard, wondering why he always fell for that same gambit.
"Oh, I don't know." Dev sighed, then sipped her brandy. She leaned back in her chair and watched pensively as David tried to get out of trouble again. Would he never learn?
They were in the spare office in the private residence of the White House. It was a cozy room that Dev had turned into a family game room of sorts. The kids loved it. On this chilly spring night, however, her babies were fast asleep, as was, Dev suspected, nearly everyone else in Washington D.C. without insomnia. But David's wife was out of town visiting relatives, and her old buddy was lingering in Dev's quarters, not wanting to go back to his empty house.
"The only time you drink is when you're having women troubles," David said casually, his eyes never leaving the board.
Dev looked into her snifter and frowned. "It's brandy, for God's sake. And I certainly don't have women troubles. No women, no troubles."
"Well, I'm really glad to hear that.” Here goes nothing.” Because guess who's in town this week?"
"The Emperor of Japan?"
"Noooooooo" David moved his knight.
Dev leaned forward and made a move that would allow the game to continue as long as David didn't do something stupid. She wasn't ready to be alone either. "King of England?"
"Noooooo" His brows knitted together. Why didn't she go for the quick kill? “Think a little less political. More, umm, your type."
"My type?" Dev kicked her long legs out in front of her. "David, I don't have a type."
He leaned back in his chair, after making his move, and leveled his best brotherly stare at his friend. "Yeah, I know. And it's about time we changed that."
Dev glared at the ruddy-skinned man. "David, please don't tell me that you went and did something incredibly stupid like-"
"I set you up on a date."
A dark head dropped. "Oh, God!" Dev set her snifter on the table next to her, its heavy crystal bottom making a loud thump. Then she changed her mind and irritably jerked it back up again. "Isn't my life already complicated enough without you fixing me up? Half the U.S. and one horny Arab prince already think I'm sleeping with Lauren."
"And since you're not," David said sensibly, "there's no reason you shouldn't go out with Candy Delaney."
Devlyn began choking on her drink, wincing as the strong liquor stung her sinuses. She covered her mouth with her fist and tried to breathe through her nose.
When Dev could finally speak she managed to gasp, "You mean you fixed me up with ‘C'mere and get a piece of Candy' Delaney? Jesus, David, why didn't you just hire me a hooker and call the press in to take pictures!"
David chewed the inside of his cheek unhappily. He was starting to get the idea that the only person who was going to satisfy Dev was one Lauren Strayer. "I'll have you know that Candy Delaney is now Candice Delaney, M.D., and she's in town attending the Surgeon General's conference on STDs."
"Well, she had enough of them in college. She should be an expert by now."
"Deeeeeeev" But he couldn't stifle a laugh.
"You know how I hate being set up!"
"I set you up with Samantha, Dev."
"Oh, yeah." She frowned, slumping back into her seat. "But you'll never get that lucky again. And I still don't want to be set up now."
"C'mon! You're being ridiculous!"
"I am not going out with Candy ‘Check out my crème filling' Delaney!" She leaned forward and lazily moved her bishop. "Checkmate."
"You're right. You're not going out. You're the President of the United States, for God's sake."
Dev snorted. "‘Bout time you remembered that."
"She's coming here. Friday night, seven o'clock. I thought a nice dinner in residence. Maybe a movie after. Or a tour of"
"How very Andy Hardy of you."
"She’s not even going to be here on Friday. She's got a date," David said quietly. He knew the words would sting. But there was no use in Dev's continuing to brood about it.
Devlyn didn't have to ask who ‘she' was. Liza had practically been beaming because of it all week. The President's personal assistant had happily blabbed to everyone who would listen that Lauren had agreed to go out with her favorite cousin, Casey Dennis. "Thanks for reminding me, pal." Dev glowered. "I had almost forgotten," she mumbled sarcastically. And where is that damn FBI report I ordered on Liza's cousin?! I asked for it hours ago!
David made a face at the chessboard and lifted his palms in a gesture of defeat.
Dev thought of Lauren being wined and dined, having an intimate evening out with someone else. They might hold hands or God, what if he kisses her? Or she kisses him? And what if that leads to No. No. No! I will not think about that. I won’t! Her face screwed up with anger, and she knocked David's king across the room with her bishop.
Both sets of eyes followed the king, as the white, wooden chess piece sailed through the air and landed in the lit fireplac
"Oh, yeah, buddy, you're just lucky you won't fit."
Friday, April 9th
Dev sighed as she entered the hallway. She looked at her Secret Service agent who pushed up out of his chair and stood the moment she left her room. "Don't suppose you'd just shoot me now?"
The man paled a little. "Madam President?"
"Did you ever do something that you didn't really want to do just to your keep busybody friends happy?"
He began to relax and gave her a knowing grin. "Blind date, Madam President?"
"Almost. I haven't seen her since college." Dev sighed. "Well, at least I made it clear to my Chief of Staff that he and his wife were coming too." Her head jerked up when Lauren's door opened several paces in front of her. Oh, shit. She looks great. Why does she have to look so damned good? If I didn't know better, I'd almost say she was trying to drive me insane.
They approached each other very slowly. Lauren slid her purse over her shoulder as she moved alongside Dev. "So, you ready for the big evening?" She'd heard about Dev's blind date from Emma. And the thought did not make her happy. Dev had been looking tired these past few days. She only gets ten free minutes a week as it is. She should be relaxing or watching TV or reading my book, or something, Lauren thought petulantly. Not making her life more complicated. So what if this chick is a big time doctor from Harvard? Big deal. I know I'm not impressed. University of Tennessee is a great school!
Dev nodded and tried to sound positive. "Yeah, it'll be nice to see Candy eh Candice um, Dr. Delaney again." A tiny frown line appeared on Lauren's forehead, and Devlyn barely stopped herself from reaching out and smoothing it away.
"Well, I should be going. Liza asked me to come along with her and her boyfriend. Umm... her cousin is going to be there. And well"
"Really? I hadn't heard," Dev said casually, hoping no divine being actually kept track of little white lies, especially where Lauren was concerned. If he did, she was in deep shit.
Lauren tugged on her glasses uncomfortably. She felt an inexplicable urge to explain herself to Dev. "I've been going kind of stir crazy lately. It's been months since I've really gone out. And she asked um Liza, I mean, and really wanted a fourth person so her cousin wouldn't feel uncomfortable.” Why do I feel like I'm cheating on her? We're not a couple!
"Oh, I understand completely.” I am going straight to hell. “You never know when you might meet Mr. Right."
Lauren smiled weakly and shrugged. Somehow she didn't think she'd be meeting Mr. Right tonight. "Or Ms. Right."
Dev's ears pricked up. "Huh?" she practically shouted.
"Candice Delaney?" Lauren clarified, puzzled by Dev's outburst. "Your date tonight?" Her cheeks turned pink with embarrassment. "Um... Emma mentioned it a couple of days ago. That's how I know her name.” And I haven't been able to think of anything else since.
"Oh. Right." Dev tried not to look too crestfallen. She tilted her head in the opposite direction from the one Lauren was heading in. "I'm on my way there now, as a matter of fact."
Lauren eyed Dev's casual suit appreciatively, perversely pleased that Dr. Delaney didn't rate a skirt or heels. "I can see that. That's a pretty outfit."
"Thanks." A tiny smile edged onto Dev's face. "Same back." Awkwardly, she stuffed her hands in her pockets and rocked on her heels. "Well, I'll see you around." But she made no effort to move.
Lauren sighed wistfully, already sorry she had agreed to Liza's double date offer. She firmly commanded her feet to move, when what she really wanted to do was stay here and visit with Devlyn. Ugh. Except that Dev is going to spend the evening with Ms. Harvard. She sees me all the time. I'm sure I'm the last person she wants to spend more time with. "Yeah. See ya around."
* * *
By the time Lauren's taxi dropped her off in front of the Been Gi Palace a cloud of depression had settled over her. She glanced up at the restaurant sign and wrinkled her nose. Why did I agree to Korean food? I hate not being sure about what I'm ordering. I'm from Tennessee, dammit! I'm very happy knowing that the ‘C' in KFC stands for ‘chicken' and not ‘cat’. The irksome thought made her shiver.
"This is what I get for wanting a life," she mumbled to herself as she squared her shoulders and pushed open the restaurant's heavy wooden door, allowing the strong aroma of the Korean food to waft out onto the sidewalk.
A smiling hostess immediately rushed to greet her. Lauren slid off her trench coat and draped it over her arm.
"Hewo, hewo," the young woman greeted, bowing her head several times. She looked exceedingly pleased to see Lauren.
"Hi." Lauren began bowing her head too, until she caught herself and realized what she was doing. She stopped and smiled at the petite woman. "I'm here to meet the Dennis party."
"Party of one?" the hostess chirped. Her accent was so thick Lauren found herself leaning forward as though the words might somehow make sense if their volume were increased.
The hostess looked confused. "You no want food?"
"No I mean yes. I'm meeting some friends here. The Dennis party," Lauren tried again.
"If you no want food, you just go! This not funny joke." The young woman began shooing Lauren back toward the door.
"No I do. I mean yes, I want food.” Just not this food. The odor was making her a little sick. Lauren exhaled impatiently and peered around the small woman.
The restaurant was dark, illuminated only by the candles dotting the tables and by several yellow-toned hanging lights over the bar. She squinted as her eyes continued to adjust to the dim light. Liza was no place to be seen, so she started looking for Casey, which was no easy task, considering she had no idea what the guy looked like. A handsome, dark-haired man in a sports coat and tie was sitting at the end of the bar nursing a drink. The seats on either side of him were empty.
Lauren decided to take a chance. She stepped forward, past the hostess, and waved in his direction. Despite the darkness, the man spotted Lauren and his head popped up. He smiled broadly, gesturing her over. Lauren sighed in relief. Liza and her date must just be late.
She turned to the confused hostess, who had moved back in front of her, apparently prepared to block her path if necessary. "I found my party. See?" Lauren pointed to the man who raised his drink in acknowledgement.
The hostess nodded furiously, finally understanding that Lauren was meeting the man at the bar. "You go then," she said happily. "I get you table, and waiter leave menus."
Lauren just stared, not having understood a blessed word.
"Go!" the hostess finally huffed. "Tourists so stupid," she grumbled as she stepped back to the door, her head bobbing again as she greeted an elderly couple who had just stepped inside.
Lauren took the bull by the horns and approached the man. He stood up and offered her the seat next to him.
She extended her hand, and he shook it briskly. "I'm sorry I'm a little late." She slid onto the stool next to him. "I'm Laur-"
"That's okay, honey," he interrupted. His eyes tried their best to focus, but this was his fifth drink, and things were a little fuzzy around the edges. Still, he could see enough to know this was the luckiest damned day of his life. "You were worth the wait." He smiled triumphantly. And his friends tried to tell him that munching down the worm at the end of a bottle of Cuervo wasn't really good luck. Ha!
Lauren's eyes narrowed, and she caught a good look at the man for the first time, noticing his slightly disheveled shirt and askew necktie. "What's your name?"
The man suddenly grasped the importance of this question and thought wildly. "John?"
Lauren rolled her eyes. "More like ‘asshole'." She pushed off the bar.
"Bill?" he valiantly tried again. "David? Sam? Rick? Steve? Bob? David?"
"You already said that one."
"It's the right one then?"
"C'mon! Give me a hint at least."
"Sorry, pal. None of those
The woman two seats down, who had been listening to the exchange with mild amusement, suddenly jumped to her feet. "Lauren?"
Lauren's eyes jerked toward the sandy-haired woman. "Yes?"
"I'm so glad to finally meet you. I'm Liza's cousin, Casey Dennis." She extended her hand, and Lauren lifted hers in utter shock. "Your date," Casey added when Lauren continued to stare at her blankly. The writer's hand was as limp as a spaghetti noodle.
"You're a woman," Lauren said needlessly, her jaw sagging slightly. Do I look totally gay or what?