Madam President, page 33
Dev headed for the small room at the side of the larger one that was her own personal command center. Just before she entered she felt something being pressed into her hands. She looked down to see a fresh pair of white socks. Before she had a chance to even utter a small thanks, the person who'd handed them to her was swallowed up by the crowded room.
Monday, August 16th
The President rubbed her temples and took another sip of coffee. She eyed the omelet that had been placed before her. Dev wasn't hungry, but she could hear Emma's scolding voice blaring in her brain, 'Eat! You won't be any good to anyone if you don't eat.' She picked up the fork and cut away a small bite, placing it in her mouth and chewing slowly as she scanned one of the reports in front of her.
She wasn't a hundred percent sure, but she believed it had been at least thirty-six hours since she had stepped into the Situation Room. She'd only been out once; to give a brief prepared statement to the Press. Since then, she'd been hunkered down at her desk, working like a dog, making sure the world knew what a safe place the United States was, and how she would most certainly bring to justice the bastards that had called the nation's safety into question.
Among a million and one other things, this required phone call after phone call, video conference after video conference, sitting in on strategy sessions with her advisors and department heads, and continuing to deal with just as many of her normal duties as was possible. God, there aren't enough hours in the day. She was grateful, at least, that the children had Emma and Lauren, who she knew would spend a little extra time with them, just because she couldn't. That was one thing she wouldn't have to worry about.
"Don't," she grumbled to the staffer who was about to place a glass of orange juice in front of her. "Please. I hate the stuff. It gives me heartburn. Milk. A large glass of milk."
The young man nodded quickly. "Yes, Madam President."
They'd been lucky so far. Although Dev never thought the word 'luck' was an appropriate one when it came to a situation like this one. Five bombs had gone off and only six people had been killed and twenty injured. Only. It's not 'only' when one of those people is someone you love. By all accounts, it should have been so much worse in San Diego, but part of the explosive device had failed to go off. The junior high school in Portland had been nearly flattened, but even the janitorial staff had all gone home by the time the bomb had detonated. The community, however, was reeling.
While still wholly unjustifiable, Dev could almost understand the bombings in New York City, Atlanta, and Dallas. Those were all government buildings; always a favorite of terrorists. The two civilian targets, however, made no sense whatsoever, and this pissed her off more than anything.
When the door opened again, the Attorney General entered the room. She looked as tired as Dev felt. "Coffee's fresh." Dev pointed to the carafe in front of her.
"If I take another drink of coffee, it'll be oozing out my pores, and my husband won't come near me for weeks."
Dev chuckled and rested her chin on her fist. "Nah, that's just a nasty rumor started by people who sell tea." Her good humor faded quickly, and she blew out a frustrated breath. "I need good news. Please tell me you have some good news."
"There's very little good news in a situation like this. But we have our top people deployed at every scene."
Dev nodded. "Do we know anything yet? Are they connected? If you feel the need to lie just so that I feel better, I won't resent it in the least."
"Well, that at least, is something we do know. Preliminary reports show that the explosive devices in Atlanta, San Diego and New York were nearly identical. We're still waiting on the results from the other two cities. But, for now at least, it looks like the same person, or group, is responsible."
"Is that good news?"
"Most definitely. One group is easier to round up than two or three."
Dev leaned back and sighed heavily. "This is true. Well there's some progress at least."
"Yes, ma'am. We'll get there. "
Dev met the Attorney General's gaze head on. "Yes. We will." She laid her palms flat on her desk. "In your professional opinion, is this an all right time for me to get out of here for a little while, so that I can take a shower and see my family?"
"Yes, Madam President. It would be a fine time." The older woman gave Dev a bittersweet smile. "You've had more challenges in your first eight months than most Presidents face in four years. You're facing these challenges in a way that makes me proud to be an American, a woman, and a member of your team. A lot of people think of you as a hero. I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that I'm one of them. It's an honor to work with you, Madam President."
For a moment Dev was speechless. "Wow," she finally mumbled. "That was one helluva pep talk. My kids' nanny could learn a lesson from you." Dev's expression turned serious. "You know I feel the same way about you, Evelyn."
Evelyn squared her shoulders proudly as her cheeks took on a slightly pink tint. "That's just because I kick ass and take names."
Dev chuckled. "Why do you think I appointed you? That's my version of kicking ass."
Evelyn lowered voice. "We'll get them, Dev. I know it."
Dev nodded as she rose to her feet. She stretched, rolling her head in a slow circle to get out the kinks. "I'll be back in a few hours." Dev made a show of sniffing the air. "I think I tend to offend."
The Attorney General snorted. "Have you smelled the air in the Situation Room? Why the hell do you think I'm in here with you?"
* * *
Heading into the residence, the first things Dev heard were the faint, but delighted squeals of two children; her brow creased as she wondered what had happened to her youngest child, whose voice was missing from the mix.
As she made her way farther down the hall, she realized the sounds were coming from Lauren's room. She stopped and listened outside the ajar door.
"Is she okay?" Ashley asked worriedly.
"I think she's fine," Lauren answered with more confidence than she felt.
Dev rapped on the door. "Anyone home?" She pushed the door open a little further and stepped inside. "Is this a private party, or can anyone join the fun?"
"Mom!" Christopher jumped up and ran over to his mother, flinging himself into her arms.
"Hiya, pal." She groaned quietly as she picked him up. Damned shoulder. Blue eyes flickered around the room, landing on Aaron, who was on Lauren's bed fast asleep. She turned back to Ashley and Christopher. "Now, what's causing all this ruckus? I could hear you half a mile way."
"Puppies!" Ash grinned. "Princess is having her puppies!"
The tall woman leveled her gaze at Lauren, who was looking slightly green around the gills but otherwise in good spirits. "Oh, joy. How many so far?"
Lauren stepped out of the way to reveal Princess' bed. If Dev strained she could hear the faint whimpering sound of the mutant baby dogs. "Do you guys need a vet?"
"I don't think so. Then again, Princess has been silent on the subject." The writer stepped closer to Dev, leaving Christopher and Ashley leaning over the box Lauren had placed Princess in.
The little boy and girl cooed at the squirming puppies and gently stroked their longish, wiry hair.
Princess grunted and then let out a long-suffering groan.
"She's had two so far." Lauren winced. "But I don't think she's finished."
Dev couldn't disagree. Judging by the sounds coming out of the box, Princess still had a way to go. "Sucks to be Princess today."
"Oh, yeah." The shorter woman wrinkled her nose. "But on the bright side, I haven't thrown up or passed out yet."
A genuine grin stretched Dev's cheeks. "Wow. I'm impressed."
"You should be," Lauren teased back.
Dev peeked over Lauren's head and caught a glimpse of the puppies. "Oh, my God," she muttered.
"I know," Lauren giggled. "Poor things. They didn't inherit all of Grem's good looks. They look at least part Pomeranian." She mulled that statement over
"Grem's good looks?" Dev flicked Lauren a disgusted look, but chuckled when the tip of a pink tongue was the blonde's reply.
Of their own accord, Lauren's arms found their way around Dev's waist, and she placed a gentle kiss on waiting lips. "How goes it?"
"Not so well," Dev admitted quietly. "But we're handling it and starting to make some progress."
"Of course you are." Lauren cupped Dev's cheek with her palm, and the President leaned into the comforting touch. "Anything I can do to help?"
Dev glanced at Aaron who was curled in a tight ball, snoring happily with a thin blanket draped over him. "You're already doing it, sweetheart. Thank you."
Slate gray eyes went round and innocent. "Well, I thought they should be here when the puppies were born."
Devlyn chuckled and lifted a well-defined eyebrow. "Very sneaky. But we are not taking even a single one of Grem's babies. Speaking of my arch nemesis..." Dev's gaze narrowed as it crisscrossed the floor.
Lauren burst out laughing. "He's hiding under the bed. I tried to get him to come out earlier, but he's not budging."
Princess whimpered pitifully as another portly part Pug shifted within her.
Dev shook her head, cringing at the piteous sound. "Maybe he's smarter than I gave him credit for." Dev captured the writer's hand and gave it a kiss. "I'm on my way to get a shower and a changes of clothes. I'll be back in a few minutes. I don't have a lot of time, but I'd love to spend what I have with the four of you. How about I meet you in the dining room for a snack in about twenty minutes?"
Lauren drew the tip of her finger down Dev's throat, lingering almost imperceptibly at her pulse point, then coming to rest on her collarbone. "What would you like?" She looked up at Dev from behind pale lashes.
Dev swallowed hard as a warm wave of desire washed over her. Damn, she can flirt. She growled and ducked her head for another quick kiss. "There are lots of things I'd like. But I guess I'll have to settle for food and good company." She winked at Lauren before heading towards the kids. Dev gave Christopher and Ashley a quick kiss on the tops of their heads, trying not to look into the crate again and risk traumatic blindness. Again. Weren't all puppies supposed to be cute? "See you guys in a few minutes."
* * *
After a snack of fresh fruit and milk, they returned to Lauren's room to do a puppy check. Dev was dismayed to find that Princess had delivered not only a third, but a fourth puppy. "Holy cow!" she exclaimed, fending off Lauren's playful slaps. "They are so, so..." she searched her mind for an appropriate word.
"Cute!" Aaron provided helpfully, still a little dazed from his nap. He positioned himself in his mother's lap so that they could peer into the puppy crate together. "Now there's enough for us each to have our very own!"
And so it begins... "Aaron, we are not keeping these puppies."
Aaron's bottom lip immediately poked out. "Awww, Mom..."
"Aw, Mom..." Lauren echoed him cheekily.
"No." Dev glared at the writer. She put Aaron down and tried to look firm about her decision. "No. And that's final." She ignored Lauren's muffled snort.
Gremlin had finally gathered his courage and was standing on his hind legs, his front paws hanging over the edge of the crate as he peered down at his growing family. He looked at Dev and growled in warning, protectively baring his teeth.
Dev only laughed. "Oh, don't worry about it, buddy. They are all yours." She started herding the children away from Princess and the squirming puppies so that the detachment process could begin.
All three kids began whining and dragging their feet.
Just as Dev was about to lose control of her brood, Emma poked her head inside Lauren's room. Upon seeing the impending disaster, she took charge, reining in the Marlowe children and escorting them out of Lauren's room.
"Thank you, Emma!" Dev called out to the nanny as the door shut.
When they were alone, Dev opened her arms and Lauren stepped into them without hesitation. She hummed her delight at having the smaller woman wrapped tightly in her embrace. They both stood in total silence. Devlyn needed the wordless comfort, and Lauren was more than happy to oblige. "Don't suppose we can spend all day like this," she finally sighed.
The blonde woman tightened her grip on Dev. "I'm game if you are, darlin'."
Dev smiled into Lauren's hair, enjoying the light scent of her shampoo and the closeness of a friendship she'd come to cherish. "I need to get back there."
Lauren let out an unhappy breath. "I know. I haven't been able to keep up with much that's been happening. Between the puppies and the kids it's been crazy. I tried not to have the television going when we were together." She shrugged. "Ashley heard some people talking and had some questions that I thought you'd want to answer yourself." She stopped and rubbed her cheek against Dev's shoulder. "Were very many people hurt and killed?"
"One is too many. But, yeah, several people were killed. I checked the numbers one more time before I left the Situation Room, and deaths had gone up to ten and forty-six injured. Initial numbers weren't as high as we suspected they would be, but they've been slowly climbing because of injuries in nearby buildings that weren't initially included in our figures or weren't reported. And some of the more seriously injured didn't make it." Dev stared at the far wall as she thought. "I'm going to be pretty busy over the next couple of weeks. I'll be doing a lot of traveling, meeting with governors, mayors, and community groups."
"I know." Lauren's voice took on a no-nonsense tone. "I'm coming with you. It's important for me to be there for you too, Devlyn. Like you were there for me at my mom's funeral. Not to mention that it's critical for the book."
Lauren frowned, an uneasy feeling blossoming in the pit of her stomach. "Dev?" Lauren frowned.
Dev cursed under her breath and braced herself. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. But it's not safe for you to come on this trip."
"Oh, no! No, you don't!" Lauren tried to pull away, but Dev held her tight.
"No." She set her jaw. "I mean it, so there is no sense in arguing with me on this." Even though you usually win our arguments. "I'm not going to clear you for this trip, Lauren. It's too dangerous right now. Lots of people are scared and upset. And people who are scared and upset do stupid things. I won't risk your getting hurt."
Lauren's temper began to rise, and an angry flush started working its way up her neck. "I won't be coddled! And if it's too dangerous for me, then it's too dangerous for you."
"I don't have a choice. I can't appear to be afraid to be seen in public. One of the points in going is to make sure that people see that this administration won't be bullied." Dev's eyes flashed with anger. "That I won't be bullied. This is my job."
"And what about my job?" Lauren snapped back. "The book-"
"Is not worth risking you over!" Dev consciously lowered her voice and grabbed hold of her emotions. She knew she was being overly cautious. But she kept thinking of what she'd already lost and what she wasn't willing to risk. The rational part of her mind told her that the Secret Service could keep Lauren as safe as they could keep her. Then again, she'd been shot three times.
"What happened to unlimited access?" Lauren demanded.
"This is not about that, and you know it."
Lauren finally pried herself loose from Dev's embrace. She couldn't get good and pissed off when the older woman held her in her arms. Lauren needed distance. Even if it was only a foot or two. She crossed her arms over her chest and lifted her chin defiantly. "After the assassination attempt we still went places together. Why is this so different?"
"Because this is hot on the heels of something that has the public in an uproar. And half of them are insane on a good day! But when things like this happen, the crazy ones get even crazier and the extremists more extreme. And that anger is directed at the piss poor government that they didn't like to begin with. People protest, people riot. And s
Lauren went stone still. "How credible?"
"Even David is worried."
"Then you should stay!"
"I can't. But you can." Dev's eyes begged her to agree.
The President's words were soft but fierce, and the biographer felt herself caving in without wanting to. For God's sake, not the 'sad eyes'. That's not fair!