Madam president, p.21

Madam President, page 21


Madam President

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  Liza strode in through the open door and past two Secret Service agents so she could drop a pile of folders onto a table next to Dev. "If you feel up to it, Madam President, you really need to look through these and sign off on them."

  Dev snatched up the first folder, happy to be able to wallow in something besides self-pity. "I'd be happy to do that. I'll have them for you by dinnertime."

  Liza smiled. Jane had insisted she give Devlyn something to do so she'd stop terrorizing the entire White House staff. As usual, the President's long time secretary knew best.

  "Lauren's gone to get the kids. We're going to spend a few minutes with them in here." Or at least I am. I dunno if Lauren will stay. Seems like since I got shot she's almost afraid to be around me. Not that I can blame her. Who wants to walk next to a target? I might as well have a big red bullseye tattooed on my ass. And then I had to go and pry into her family's private affairs. If she wanted to talk to me about her mother she would have. Good going, moron. Fuck. So much for ditching the self-pity.

  "That's wonderful news." Liza looked at her watch. Ever since she set up Lauren with Casey, she'd been avoiding the writer like the plague. She'd heard from Emma that Lauren was after her ‘no good Yankee ass.' Liza wasn't quite sure what that meant. But she was pretty sure it was bad. Very bad. But at least Casey was happy. She and Candace Delaney were getting married in the fall!

  Liza handed Dev a pen and looked nervously towards the doorway. "Should I have the call from the British Prime Minister transferred up here?" She began edging her way out. "It's a social call but he may want to discuss the State Dinner coming up in September for His Majesty."

  Dev nodded absently. "Sure. I'll probably spend the rest of the afternoon in here. So transfer everything up here that's not classified."

  "Yes, Ma'am." Liza turned to leave as the children came barreling in and skidded to halt just before they crashed into their Mom's bed. She scooted around Ashley, purposely avoiding Lauren's evil gray gaze as they passed each other just outside the room. Liza winced when she heard a growl. Gremlin or Lauren? Did it matter?

  The children were careful to mind their mother's injuries but still gave her enthusiastic hugs and kisses before settling down with coloring books and crayons. Ashley's Secret Service agent, Amy, joined them on the carpet, leaving Dev and Lauren to talk quietly in the corner.

  "I wanted to thank you for taking extra time with them these past few weeks," Dev said quietly, noticing that Lauren had taken a seat in the center of the couch instead of closer to the end and nearer to the bed.

  Lauren twisted uncomfortably in her seat. Devlyn had already thanked her for this very thing. Several times.

  They'd never discussed her bolting from Dev's hospital room several weeks before, and ever since then things between them had been... she sighed inwardly... strained. Dev was on pins and needles around her; she wasn't doing much better. Their brief conversation during Dev's therapy session two days ago had been the most they'd spoken all week. Silences that were once comfortable now felt uneasy. And at the moment, it was painfully obvious that Devlyn was making small talk to avoid one of those silences. It was equally obvious that it was a strain for the older woman.

  Lauren chewed her lip. This was her fault. She glanced apologetically at Dev. "I haven't minded spending the extra time, Devlyn." It was the truth. "The book will be better because of it. And I lo... I mean... your kids are great."

  Dev couldn't stop the grin that transformed her face. "Thanks. They're all crazy about you. Except for Christopher, that is."

  Lauren leaned forward and frowned. "Really?" Her gaze darted to the tow-headed boy sprawled out on the carpet. She looked back at Dev helplessly as her mind raced for what could have possibly happened that she didn't know about. They always got along great! "But... but..."

  "He's not just crazy about you," Dev clarified, "he's madly in love with you and asked me the other day if you were married."

  Lauren laughed. "Wow. You had me worried there! Did you tell him I'd be available when he gets legal?"

  Like hell you will. Dev smiled. This was going better than she'd hoped. The banter that had been missing over the past few weeks was edging its way back. She hoped. "I most certainly did not. I want grandchildren and by then you'll be-"

  "Not that much older than you are now!" Lauren crossed her arms over her chest and narrowed her eyes.

  "Yeah. An old lady!" Dev winked and they both laughed softly.

  Dev was determined to keep the conversation going. "From what I can squeeze out of David, he seems to think the book is going great so far. But he keeps threatening to reveal a few really embarrassing stories if I don't behave and do all my therapy." Her face colored when she remembered the last time they were together. "He always was a blackmailer at heart, and if he'd seen how I behaved the other day in the gym he'd have kicked my sorry ass."

  Lauren made a face but didn't disagree.

  "I'm sorry."

  "You don't have-"

  Dev stopped her with a stern look.

  Lauren grinned and ducked her head graciously. "Apology accepted, Devlyn." Her gaze dropped to her lap for a moment before she changed the subject. She looked a little nervous. She wasn't sure how Dev would feel about the personal interviews she wanted. "Speaking of my progress on the book, I... um... I think I've done all the background research I can do from the White House."

  Dev's suddenly felt her heart stop and her throat close up tight. So much so, as a matter of fact, that she was having trouble breathing and had to clear her throat and take a drink of her coffee before she could speak again. She wondered briefly if her panic was showing on her face. God she's gonna leave! She wants to move out. Think of something quick! "Ahhhh..." Dev's mind went absolutely blank for all of a horrifying second. "How about a chance to meet my parents!" she blurted out, a little faster and a lot louder than she meant to, but she didn't think her heart could take losing Lauren right now. Maybe in a few weeks when I feel better, but not now. Please, God, not now. I can't lose her, too.

  Lauren's brow wrinkled and she stood up and crossed over to the bed. She hesitated for only a moment before sitting on its edge. She wanted to pat Dev's leg or hold her hand. But she didn't. Instead, she trapped her hand under her own leg to keep it from roaming. "What's wrong, Devlyn?" Her concerned voice was soft and warm and made the President want to burst into tears.

  "I… I… umm… was just thinking that, after everything that has happened, maybe a vacation was in order. My folks own a beautiful little cabin back in Ohio and we could have a few days off. The kids could see their grandparents and we... I mean, I... uh... well, we could get some rest and peace and quiet if you wanted to go with us. And my folks could be interviewed for the novel." Dev took a chance and let the back of her fingers graze Lauren's leg very lightly. If Lauren was going to leave she wanted to have every possible memory she could get.

  At the word ‘Ohio', Ashley excitedly jumped up and ran to Dev's bedside. "Grandma and Grandpa! Can we? Please, mom? That would be wonderful! Can we take Gremlin with us?"

  Dev patted her little girl's back. "Yes, sweetheart," she chuckled. "We'll go see them. But we can only take Grem if Lauren goes with us." The President smiled unrepentantly, knowing she was putting Lauren on the spot, but willing to use any advantage she could.

  Lauren's lips quirked. "Very sneaky, President Marlowe. You know your kids get their way with me nearly as much as Gremlin." She tried not to laugh as Christopher, who was now standing at the foot of Dev's bed with Aaron, nervously tugged at his glasses, waiting for her answer. Then she blinked. Did he pick that up from me?

  Before Lauren could answer Dev, Aaron trotted over and climbed up into her lap, turning blue eyes that rivaled his mother's on the writer. The little boy, like his best buddy Gremlin, had no shame whatsoever when it came to manipulating Lauren. "Please," he asked pathetically. Lauren's head dropped forward and her shoulders started to shake with silent laughter. "Yes!" she crowed, happily. "Ye
s, Grem and I will come."

  The children cheered and Aaron jumped off Lauren's lap to go play with his brother. His work here was done.

  Lauren turned back to Dev, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat. She leaned into the fingers that were still lightly pressed against her thigh. "I'd love to talk to your parents. I've been meaning to ask David to arrange an interview. But seeing you with them and talking to them in person will be so much better." She needs this. We all do.

  Dev still had dark circles under her eyes, and she'd lost weight over the last few weeks. But she was still the most beautiful woman Lauren had ever seen. "I think we could both use a vacation." She grinned. "I'd love to get out the city for a while." With you.

  Dev's answering smile caused her to laugh out loud. Suddenly, her eyes took on added depth, and she lowered her voice so that only the President could hear her. She hesitated and glanced around the room. "We need to have a talk soon though, okay?" She inclined her head, waiting for Dev's reply.

  "Okay." Dev nodded, suddenly apprehensive. "Anything you want. Whenever you want it." She licked her lips. "Lauren, if I've done something to upset you, you'd tell me now, right?"

  "No, I wouldn't," the blonde replied seriously. "I'd rather do this alone."

  The knot in Dev's stomach tightened. "Son of a-" she stopped when she realized that the kids were only a few feet away. The phone rang and she let out a frustrated grunt. "Activate phone."

  The image of the British Prime Minister began to take shape. "Madam President." He looked around and smiled. "I hope I'm not interrupting some family time. I was just concerned for you. How are you today?"

  Devlyn went into full Presidential mode. "Well, to be honest, Prime Minister Hawkins, I've had better days. But I'm hoping things will turn around soon. And how are you and your family?"

  Friday, June 11th

  Dev, with the help of her cane, walked slowly down the hall. This was her first day back in the Oval Office after being shot. Even from her hospital room she'd been performing her duties as Chief Executive, but this was her first ‘official' day back at work.

  David and Sharon had done a wonderful job of keeping the press updated, and she was currently enjoying an approval rating near sixty-five percent. Damn, if he'd hit me with that fourth bullet I'd either be dead or at eighty percent!

  "Good morning, Madam President." Jane was already on her feet when Dev entered the outer office, having heard the rhythmic thumping of her cane as Dev progressed down the hall. Jane smiled and handed Dev what would be her first of six or seven cups of coffee.

  A few feet behind Dev came Liza, her nose stuck firmly in her electronic organizer.

  "Good morning, Jane." Dev did her best to smile despite the throbbing pain in her shoulder and hip. "Would you come into my office for a moment, please?"

  "Of course."

  The three women entered but Liza broke away from the other two, taking the mug out of Dev's hand and setting it on the President's desk. She immediately went to work on her half-day schedule, pounding away on her organizer with one hand while writing in Dev's leather bound appointment book with the other.

  Dev turned to Jane when the door clicked shut. She stepped forward and gave the woman a hug. "Thank you. Thank you for being a rock for my family again, Jane. I don't know what I'd do without you."

  Jane, who was never big on emotional scenes, gave Dev a warm hug and then pulled back. "You'd leave your own head lying about if David, Emma and I didn't keep it fastened there."

  The President rolled her eyes but quickly acquiesced. "You're absolutely right."

  "And now Liza has earned her place on the roster as well, Devlyn. That girl doesn't earn nearly enough money for chasing around after you like she does."

  Dev's eyebrows jumped. "You're right again. I should send her some flowers, don't you think?" she asked in a whisper.

  "What a grand idea, Madam President," Jane whispered back with a grin. "I'll get right on that."

  "Thank you." Dev turned toward her desk, then paused. "Oh, Jane?"


  "Why don't you get yourself one of those ugly cactuses you like, too."

  Jane huffed, "I may get two. And expensive ones at that!"

  Dev grinned and shook her head as she listened to the older woman leave the Oval Office. The President gingerly settled down at her desk, taking time to look over her schedule and sip her coffee. "Liza, where did Lauren rush off to this morning? Do you know?" She propped her cane up alongside her desk, out of sight.

  "Yes, Ma'am." Liza winced slightly at the mention of the writer's name. "Ms. Strayer had several meetings on the Hill today. Doing interviews for the book with the congressmen and senators from Ohio, I believe."

  "God, I hope everybody is in a good mood up there this morning," Dev mumbled as she signed her name to several documents. She paused, staring long and hard at the paper in front of her. "What the hell is this? A grocery list?"

  Liza peered over Dev's shoulder. "It's the suggested menu for the State Dinner, Madam President."

  "Ah, well give this back to the social secretary to go over. If she has any questions, have her direct them to Jane or even Beth McMillian. They make much better stand-ins for the First Lady than I do. Besides, as long as they don't serve sauerkraut, I don't care what we eat."

  Liza's eyes widened. "I'll meet with Jane immediately."

  Dev chuckled. "You do that, Liza."

  The young woman took the file from Dev's hand and handed her a half a dozen more.

  Dev glared at her, but there was no real heat behind the look. She lifted a single dark eyebrow. "You get a perverse pleasure out of doing that, don't you?"

  Liza smiled. "I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it might incriminate me."

  "Oh yeah? Well, you haven't looked at your watch in at least ten seconds."

  "I don't need to look at my watch to know that you have four minutes until the Chief of Staff and the special prosecutor arrive."

  The smile slid from Dev's face. She sighed and dropped her head forward onto her desk. "Do I have to?"

  "Yes, Ma'am, but look at it this way. Today is the last day for a week. This time tomorrow, you, the children, Ms. Strayer, and the McMillians will be on your way home to Ohio for a much deserved vacation."

  "This is true. Tomorrow night, Lauren will no doubt be treated to my mother's pot roast."

  Liza bit back a smile. How many times had the President already mentioned Lauren this morning? "Is it good?"

  Dev read over another paper before answering. "I never said that." She signed her named, never looking up.

  Laughing, Liza excused herself just as David and a tall, dark-haired man entered the Oval Office. David moved over to Dev's desk and leaned forward, bracing his hands on the desk's edge. "Liza looked pretty happy. Glad to see you haven't lost your ability to make people laugh."

  "That was pity, my friend. She knows we're having dinner with my folks tomorrow night."

  David's eyes grew wide and he crossed himself. Twice. "Is your Mom cooking?" He gulped. "If she is, I need to tell Beth to pack the antacid."

  "Well, that's the threat currently hanging over our heads, old buddy. Her world famous pot roast. And don't even think of backing out now. You know it would hurt her feelings." She closed the last folder and looked up at the man quietly waiting behind David. She started to stand, but David motioned her back down.

  Dev grunted her thanks and interlaced her fingers. "So, gentlemen, I take it you're here to discuss the prosecution of a fifteen-year-old boy."

  "Madam President," David began, "this is special prosecutor William Miller."

  "Mr. Miller." Dev extended her hand, they shook formally, then the President gestured. "Please have a seat."

  The slim man unbuttoned his suit coat and carefully dropped into one of the wing back chairs that sat in front of Dev's massive desk. David was already in the other one. "Thank you, Madam President."

  Dev pressed an intercom button.
"Jane could you have someone-"

  "Send up a tray of coffee? It's on its way, Madam President."

  "Of course it is. I'm sorry I doubted you, Jane."

  David winced at Dev's faux pas. Jane never forgot coffee and cookies.

  "It's the painkillers. I forgive you," she chuckled from the other end of the intercom.

  "Thanks so much." Devlyn looked at David who gave her a disapproving look. "Can I help it if I'm addicted to coffee? That's got to be why Emma makes me drink a glass of milk every night. She's trying to coat the hole in my stomach." She leaned back in her chair, took a deep breath, and studied both men seriously. "So tell me what's going on with this young man."

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