Madam president, p.3

Madam President, page 3

 

Madam President
 



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  "So did I... I... I think."

  She tucked her daughter in, smoothing the covers underneath her chin. "I know you did. And Mommy knows you did, too. I'm sure of it."

  Ashley yawned. "Do you think she's lonely, like you?"

  The innocent words pierced Dev's heart, and she felt the beginnings of tears. "No, sweetie. She's happy up in heaven with grandma and grandpa. She's never lonely."

  "'Kay." Sleepy eyes slipped shut.

  Dev placed a kiss on her forehead. "Love you, Ash," she said softly, watching as the girl's breathing grew deep and even. "Sweet dreams." On her way out of the room she clicked on a tiny night-light that cast the space in a muted blue glow.

  Next, Dev quietly padded to the room the boys shared where they lay asleep, tucked down in matching racecar beds. She knelt between the beds and felt the tears come in earnest. These boys, with their blond hair and blue eyes, were the spitting image of the woman who had given birth to them. And neither would ever know the mother who loved them so much.

  "Dammit, Samantha," she growled under her breath. Dev angrily sprang to her feet. "How could you just leave us?" She covered her face with trembling hands, immediately ashamed of her outburst. She wiped away the tears. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it." The tired woman forced the tears to stop, wiping the last of them away with the sleeve of her shirt. "I love you. I didn't mean it."

  She bent over and gave each boy a soft kiss on the cheek. "Great adventures to you both tonight. I love you."

  Closing the door gently behind her, she made her way to her own room. She tossed the file down on a desk near the stone fireplace. Where, true to Mrs. Drysdale's mothering nature, there was a sandwich and a glass of milk, waiting for the President-elect.

  She snorted and threw herself into a large recliner. She hoisted the milk to her lips, then paused to take a moment and offer a toast. "To Emma Drysdale, I wouldn't get through the days or nights without you." She leaned over, flipping open the file as she sipped the creamy beverage.

  "Well, well, Lauren Strayer. Aren't you just the cutest thing?" There were several pictures of the young woman, and she held up a 5" X 7" candid shot of Lauren in the park with her dog. The blonde was wearing a baseball cap, and a short, wavy ponytail was poking out the back. She had on gray sweats and a bright orange and white, University of Tennessee sweatshirt. She was laughing, her arm fully extended by the taut leash as the hideous little beast appeared to be walking her.

  Dev examined the date on the back of the picture and confirmed it was taken only two weeks ago. She flipped to the next photograph. In this one, Lauren was wearing a linen suit with a fitted skirt that stopped a few inches above her knees. The more sophisticated clothing made the writer look older, Dev considered. Lauren's suit jacket was draped over her shoulder and tanned arms peeked out from beneath a sleeveless, pale blue silk blouse. She was descending the steps of some office building and talking to a woman alongside her. The writer's hand had been caught in mid-air as she gestured. A smile edged its way across Devlyn's lips as she took a good long moment to enjoy Lauren's youthful good looks, devastating gray eyes and a smile that she was sure would melt butter.

  The President-elect lifted the last picture, which was obviously Lauren's drivers' license photo. Making a face, she shivered and pushed a button on the edge of her desk. The silent room was suddenly filled with a quiet hum. With one last grimace, she slid the enlarged photo into a paper-thin slot that ran along the corner of the desk, nodding happily as her shredder obliterated the unflattering shot.

  She retrieved the picture of Lauren in the park and spoke to it. "They'll retake it if you ask them nicely, Lauren," she chuckled. Tossing down the photo, she picked up the neatly typed report and glanced at the bio coversheet, but the words began to blur. She rubbed her eyes, knowing she still had several hours of pressing work ahead of her. Hell, they told you she passed the security check last week, Dev. The rest can wait until tomorrow.

  "Well, Lauren Strayer, I don't need this file to tell me I want your help. I already knew that."

  Dev finished her milk, ate her sandwich, and dug into a report on Chinese trade negotiations. She finally dropped into bed shortly after midnight.

  Monday, November 9th

  "No? What do you mean 'no'?" Dev scrawled her name at the bottom of a piece of paper and handed it to one aide while another was briefing her about her next three appointments.

  Michael Oaks shook his head, wishing he could say to President-elect Marlowe what Lauren had told her publisher the day before. "She doesn't want the job, Dev." He shrugged. "It's as simple as that."

  Dev shot him a look. "Nothing is ever 'as simple as that'. And you know it." She nodded absently to her secretary, who was going around the room and taking coffee orders from her staff. "Why doesn't she want it? No..." she told her secretary. "That day is bad. Can we push it up to the twenty-first?"

  Michael took a seat next to the tall woman. "Strayer gave me a few lame reasons, but I think it comes down to the fact that she just wasn't interested in writing your biography."

  "Then we need to get her interested."

  "Dev, what does it matter? We can get someone else. Someone better. I know you love her work, but the woman didn't even vote for you, for God's sake!"

  Now that got Dev's attention, and she looked up from her electronic organizer.

  Her customary smile slid from her face. "What do you mean she didn't vote for me? Why not?"

  Michael nodded his thanks when a pot of coffee was set down in front of him and Dev, then moved his elbows to make room for a mammoth stack of papers. "Didn't you read the report on her?" He poured Dev a cup, then one for himself, drawing in a deep, appreciative sniff of the strong aroma.

  "I looked at it," Dev said, her brow furrowing. Okay, I looked at her picture. Shit.. "Jane?" Blue eyes scanned the crowded room.

  "Here it is, Dev." Jane, Dev's personal secretary, thrust a manila folder into Dev's hand.

  Twin eyebrows rose. "You frighten me sometimes, Jane. You do realize this, don't you?"

  The plump woman smiled and winked. "After fifteen years, I know you better than you know yourself, Devlyn Marlowe." Her grin broadened. "And I can't wait to be President of the United States!"

  The room exploded in laughter, with Dev joining in. "And a wonderful President you'll make, too. Just give a me a little bump if I ever get in your way."

  Dev took a sip of hot coffee and plucked a blueberry bagel from a loaded tray that was now circling the room. She opened the file. Who are you, Lauren Strayer? And why did you turn me down? The room faded away as she began to concentrate on the words before her. She speed read the coversheet bio before tackling the report in toto.

  Subject: Lauren Anna Strayer

  D.O.B.: 7/4/1990

  Ht.: 5'6" Wt.: 124 Eyes: Gray Hair: Blonde

  Dev's eyes scanned beyond the address, non-remarkable medical history, lack of criminal history and employment information.

  Marital Status: Divorced (dates of marriage 1/24/14 – 10/16/17)

  Family: No children, no siblings, no significant other, parents: still living

  Her thoughts stopped there for a moment. Sounds lonely.

  Education: BA in History, minor in English Literature, University of Tennessee, Magna Cum Laude, graduation date: 5/5/11

  Devlyn laughed as she read about the eleven outstanding parking tickets the City of Nashville had against the woman. Her gaze drifted back to the photo that had caught her attention the night before, and she smiled again. I wonder what the ugly little dog's name is?

  She flipped to the back of the file for the supplemental information she knew would be there, quickly examining a photograph of Lauren's ex-husband, Judd Radison, an architect living in Chicago who had remarried two months after his divorce from Lauren. He now had a two-and-a-half-year-old-son. Dev did the math and stifled a curse. Cheating rat bastard. She decided to shred his picture later, too.

  She frowned when there were no photographs of
Lauren's parents, but the brief report indicated Howard Strayer was a retired plumber and 45-year member, and former Union Steward, for the American Plumbers' Union. Blue collar background. I wouldn't have guessed that. Interesting. Anna Strayer was a homemaker, who had been hospitalized for depression several times over the past ten years.

  When Dev looked up from her reading, ten minutes later, she was alone in the conference room. Empty cups were everywhere, paper plates were strewn around the room and for the first time she noticed the ticking beeping of an alarm that had been set to remind her of her first appointment. Her coffee was cold, and she pushed the cup away with distaste.

  Devlyn shuffled back to the first page of the file and, taking a large bite of her bagel, she picked up her phone.

  * * *

  Lauren began rooting around in her purse, finally finding a small mirror. "Auto drive on. Preset destination number 12. 4213." Lauren dropped her hand from the wheel and pushed her seat back as the car signaled and made a smooth lane change. She glanced at her watch. She was already late. "Increase speed by 10 miles per hour. 4213." She waited for the expected warning beep, then overrode the automatic speed control system with a voice command. "Speed override approved. 4213."

  Holding up a small hand mirror, she applied a light coat of pale lipstick. She jumped when her phone rang, causing her to smear her chin with a streak of pink. "Uck." She snagged a tissue from a holder between the seats, and let the phone continue to ring as she wiped her face. On the fifth ring she answered, "Hello."

  "Hello," a strong but decidedly female voice burred. "Is this Ms. Lauren Strayer?"

  Lauren held the phone away from her face and stared at it as though she'd never seen it before. I know that voice.

  "Hello? Ms. Strayer?"

  Lauren pressed the receiver back to her ear, impressed, despite the fact that she truly didn't want to be. "This..." She cleared her throat gently. "This is Lauren Strayer."

  Dev smiled, easily picking up on the younger woman's surprise and instantly loving the sweet, Southern drawl. "I'm glad to be talking with you myself. Oh, I'm sorry. I'm..."

  "The President of the United States," Lauren finished at a total loss. My God! She's calling me about the biography? Herself?

  "President-elect, actually." Devlyn kicked her feet up on the table, wishing that her always-ravenous staff hadn't scarfed down all the bagels. She found herself wanting another. "You spoke with my aide, Michael Oaks, yesterday?"

  Lauren nodded. "I did." Her shock began to give way to remembered anger. "And I don't appreciate being strong-armed," she said, her tone suddenly cool.

  Dev sat up straight, her feet sliding from the table and striking the ground with a loud thud. "What do you mean 'strong-armed'?" What did you do, Michael?!

  "Why else was Mr. Oaks accompanied by Mighty Joe Young?"

  Mighty Joe Young? Dev closed her eyes. Oh, God. Tell me he didn't bring Francis. "Could you be referring to Francis Davies? The very intense and unfortunate Secret Service agent, whose head happens to grow directly out of his shoulders?"

  A laugh escaped Lauren, and she clamped down on it with the palm of her hand. A politician with a genuine sense of humor? It's snowing in hell. "That name sounds familiar," she offered noncommittally, not bothering to wipe the smile off her face.

  "Then please allow me to immediately apologize. I'm certain that Francis' presence wasn't intended to intimidate." Please don't ask me why else he was there then.

  Lauren held the phone out again and looked at it, wishing could see Devlyn Marlowe's face. She sounded sincere enough. "Perhaps I misunderstood then," she heard herself say.

  "Ms. Strayer, your work is both intelligent and insightful. I'm a huge fan."

  Lauren was surprised again by Dev's enthusiastic praise and felt her cheeks growing warm. "Th... Thank you." What she didn't know was that Dev was sporting a matching blush on the other end of the phone.

  The President-elect mentally scolded herself for sounding like a star-struck teenager. "I need your help. I'm in a very unique position, Ms. Strayer. One that needs to be skillfully and, more importantly, accurately recorded." Dev's alarm went off, and she swatted at it with an irritated hand.

  "I couldn't agree more."

  Dark eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Then you'll do it?" People started filing into the conference room.

  "I didn't say that."

  Devlyn sighed in frustration. "Please, Ms. Strayer, help me out here. I've got a meeting in two minutes. Tell me what I need to do to get you to say yes."

  Lauren's car came to a stop outside the public library and waited dutifully for her to give the command to kill the ignition. "I don't think there is anything you could say," she replied honestly. "I'm flattered. Really, I am." And curious as hell. "But I don't want to have my copy ghost written by the Emancipation Party President. That's not the type of work I do. I'd be happy to recommend someone..."

  "What are you talking about?"

  Lauren could hear the puzzlement in Devlyn's voice.

  "That's not what I want." What did Michael say to you?

  The writer blew out a breath, wanting to believe the other woman, but knowing better. "You say that now. But..."

  "But nothing! I don't want a 'yes man' for the party. The party is paying you because I couldn't see asking the taxpayers to do it. And if I paid you myself it would call your professionalism into question, would it not?"

  Lauren leaned forward, listening intently. "Yes, it would."

  "I want someone with honesty and integrity and real talent. I want you, Ms Strayer. You'd have free rein to write whatever you see fit." Dev waved in the woman who she hoped would be the next head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Cursing the time, she spoke rapidly. "I'm giving you full access to everything and complete editorial control of the content. You're only constraint will be working within the bounds of reasonable National Security." Dev laughed. "And keeping up with me."

  Lauren stared at the phone for the third time, not believing what she was hearing.

  Dev held up a single finger, indicating to her people in the room she'd be just one more minute, as the last person sat down at the table and Jane closed the conference room door. The dark-haired woman turned her back to her guests and crossed her fingers. "Was that what you needed to hear, Ms. Strayer?"

  Lauren nodded dumbly. Full access? Editorial control? And a 'subject' who is making history with every thing she does? "Yeah." She swallowed hard. "That was what I needed to hear."

  CHAPTER I

  January 2021

  Thursday, January 21st

  DEV TOOK A DEEP breath and looked at David McMillian, her oldest and most trusted friend, and the new White House Chief of Staff. She'd known him since her undergraduate days at Harvard. They'd studied and even roomed together for a semester, before Dev meet Samantha. Their time together cemented a friendship that had become a permanent fixture in both their lives.

  While Devlyn's political aspirations put her squarely in the spotlight, David was more than content to play behind the scenes, where he often, and only half-jokingly, reminded Dev, the real power lay.

  Dev reached out and grasped the cool metal knob, an astonished smile playing on her lips. "We did it."

  "Yes, we did, Madam President."

  "Cut that out." She scoffed at the title coming from him. They were beyond things like that, at least in private. And David knew it. But still, she was fun to tweak. "Or I'll make you call me Wonder Woman."

  The tall, red-haired man scratched his jaw, and his tobacco brown eyes went slightly round. "Huh?"

  "Never mind."

  It was just after dawn, and the offices were empty, an almost haunting quiet surrounding them. This was just the way Dev had wanted it to be the first time she and David entered the Oval Office as the President and the Chief of Staff. It had taken a horde of people to get her here. But without the support of her best friend she never would have made it. It was only appropriate that they should sav
or this moment alone together.

  She pushed the door open but didn't step inside. David smiled broadly and gestured. "After you, Wonder Woman."

  "Smartass."

  She stepped into the office and took a deep breath, stopping in the middle of the room to enjoy every crazy emotion, soaking in the pure thrill of it all. An almost giddy laugh worked its way up from her chest. She turned around and found David standing behind 'the chair'.

  He gave her a grin and patted the soft leather. "Come on. Try it out."

  "I'm almost afraid to," she admitted. "It's like, if I try to sit in that chair, I'll wake up from the dream, and it'll all be gone."

 
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