Madam President, page 4
"Nah. It's real. You're here. And it's never gonna be the same again. You've already made history, Madam President. Now let's give 'em four years they'll never forget."
Devlyn took another slightly shaky breath and made her way to the chair, sinking into the soft leather with an inaudible sigh. She spread her hands over the desk in front of her, feeling the cool, smooth surface under her palms. "I am the President of the United States," she whispered, looking up to her Chief of Staff.
"Yes, you are." David sucked in a breath, biting the edge of his thick red mustache, fully aware of the power of the moment.
She blinked and stared across the room with unseeing eyes. "I've lost my mind."
"Yes, you have." David cleared his throat. "I'll leave you now, so that you can get your personal things out." He gestured as he moved back to the door. "They're in those two white boxes in the corner."
"Thanks, David." She looked up. "Hey, if we don't hate this too much, are we going for eight?"
"Ask me in two years. Have a good day, Madam President."
"David!" she called after him.
He poked his head back around the door. "Yes?"
"Thank you for getting me here."
"We did it together, Dev." Her friend gave her a smile and left the office.
Monday, January 25th
Dev had quickly adjusted to the flock of people that always seemed to be on her heels no matter where she was going. It was a lot like being Governor only to the nth degree. Luckily, she had long ago learned to listen to everyone at once. Now, if someone could scare me up a good corned beef on rye without my having to fly back to Ohio, I'd be a happy woman.
"You have a meeting with the Secretary of Energy at three thirty," Liza Dennis, her new assistant told her, slipping another folder into her hands. Liza was young and every bit as tall as Dev's 71_ inches. She was rail thin with tightly curled brown hair and gums that showed just a little too much when she smiled. She was also saving Dev's life by getting her everywhere she needed to be with at least some semblance of punctuality.
Dev had learned early in her political career never to wear a watch. People read way too much into the gesture of glancing at the timepiece, which she tended to do often if she wore one. "What time is it now?" Dev eyed the door to the Oval Office, which was growing larger and larger with every step. She hoped to make it inside before someone declared war.
"One fifteen, Madam President."
"Remind me about the meeting at three fifteen."
"Yes, ma'am. You have an appointment now as well. With Lauren Strayer."
The President stopped dead in her tracks, turning to the young woman on her heels who nearly crashed into her. "Is that today?"
"Yes, ma'am. It was set for one o'clock."
Dev winced, and then suddenly became very aware of her appearance. "Damn." She gave herself a quick once over, straightening her jacket and smoothing back long, ebony locks. "Do I look all right?"
The young woman's mind derailed at the sudden change of topic. "Umm... of course," she stammered. "I mean... yes, ma'am. You look fine."
"Good." She handed all the files back to Liza, then wiped her palms on her slacks, chiding herself for her nervousness. "How long is this scheduled to go?"
"Half an hour, ma'am."
Dev pursed her lips. That simply wouldn't do. "Push everything back and give me an hour here. I'm gonna need it."
"Yes, ma'am." Liza opened her notebook. This was only her second day, and she'd already figured out that the President was always going to need some wiggle room in her schedule. "That means you won't get back to the residence until sometime after seven thirty."
"If I'm lucky," Dev grumbled as she stood in front of the door to her office and waited for an immaculately dressed man to let her in. She wondered if she'd ever become accustomed to people whose sole purpose appeared to be to open doors for her. Okay. There's nothing to be nervous about. You respect her work. All right... you love her work. So what? You've met accomplished people before. Dev drew in a deep breath. She was an expert at burying how she felt. "I'll be ready to move on in an hour." She reached over and tugged on Liza's sleeve. "Do me a favor and find me a corned beef sandwich, huh? The food they served at the luncheon wasn't even close to edible."
"Right away. What about...?" Liza gestured to the door.
"Oh, yeah." Where are my manners? "Hold on." Dev squared her shoulders and walked into the Oval Office, pushing aside the immediate thrill she felt just from entering the room. That's when the dark-haired woman got her first real life glimpse of Lauren Strayer. Wow. Not just cute. Dev mentally amended her assessment of Lauren's looks, based on her photograph. Beautiful. Dev cleared her throat gently, and the writer's head turned, slate gray eyes fastening on Dev's face. Dev's lips immediately curled into a smile, and she greeted Lauren warmly while remaining at the door. "Hi. I've been looking forward to meeting you. I'll be right with you, I promise. I'm just making sure I get enough sustenance to keep from passing out." She stopped and took a breath. Okay, I usually don't talk that quickly. "Would you like a sandwich?"
Lauren practically jumped to her feet. She hadn't even heard President Marlowe come in. It had taken her all of two seconds to commit her first breach of White House etiquette. "Hi." God, television does not do her justice.
Devlyn was wearing fashionably wide-legged, worsted wool trousers in the darkest of greens. Underneath a jacket that matched the slacks was a sleek-looking metallic silver turtleneck that complemented Dev's lightly tanned complexion and glossy black hair. She had the body of a track star, long and lean, with endless legs. Lauren's eyes widened as she realized she hadn't heard a word past 'Hi.' Her mind raced frantically. Shit! I know her lips were moving!
Devlyn wondered at the sudden look of confusion coloring the younger woman's face. "Sandwich?" she prompted hesitantly.
Right. That was it. "No, thank you, Madam President. I already had lunch." The few bites that the bat-sized butterflies in my stomach would allow, that is.
Sweet Southern accent. "Do you mind if I indulge? The NRA failed in its attempt to poison me over lunch. And I'm..."
"Of course, Madam President." Lauren smiled and tucked a strand of pale behind her ear. She slid off her glasses and began absently gnawing on the tip of one earpiece as Dev turned around.
Just like Christopher wears, the President mused. The boy was always fiddling with his glasses. Dev smiled again. He'd like knowing someone else who wore them too. A lot. Glasses were unusual nowadays, and she knew Chris hated wearing them, despite the fact that the lenses would actually correct his near-sightedness, so that he wouldn't have to wear them at all in a few years.
"Thanks," Dev said over her shoulder, breathing a slight sigh of relief. Yes! She's not mad that I'm late. "I swear, I'll be right back." With that, Dev pulled the door closed and stepped back out into the outer office. "One sandwich and one hour," she told Liza, who was now explaining some White House protocol to Jane Shultz, Dev's longtime secretary. The President gave Jane a small wave and received a sympathetic smile in return.
"One sandwich, fifty-six minutes." Liza grinned tentatively and tapped her large-faced, gold watch.
Dev raised an eyebrow, glad, and a little surprised, that the young woman was already growing more at ease with her. Everyone had begun this new administration in a way that was almost painfully formal, and although it was to be expected, and wholly appropriate, it wasn't making her own adjustment any easier.
"Right. Thanks." Dev re-entered her office. Leaning her shoulders against the door to close it, her eyes slid shut and she exhaled a long, slow breath. The breath turned into a happy whimper when the heavy door clicked shut, effectively locking away the rest of a very demanding world for another fifty-five minutes.
Lauren, who stood behind one of the rich leather chairs that sat in the center of the room, looked appropriately amused. Her hands restlessly rubbed at the back of the chair, and it looked as though she was trying very hard to st
Dev stood up straight, intent on recovering at least a shred of her Presidential demeanor. But one look into understanding, even slightly indulgent eyes, and she gave up instantly, grinning as she slumped back against the door. "Tell you what, let's make a deal right now. You let me be myself when we're alone, and we both might make it through the next few years without going insane." She smiled at Lauren's intently interested look. "Besides, if I have to be the President of the United States all of the time, the book's gonna be crap, and we both know it."
"Deal." Lauren was grinning now, but her smile quickly faded. "Does 'you' being 'you' equal 'off the record'?" Oh, boy. Here it comes. The biographer instantly chastised herself for not listening to her first instincts and turning down this assignment.
Dev pushed away from the door. Padding over to the leather sofa across from Lauren, she gracelessly dropped into it, sighing with satisfaction. "Nope," she replied blithely, gesturing for Lauren to retake her seat. "The good, the bad, and the ugly of my life are an open book to you, Ms. Strayer." Unexpectedly, the President's voice grew serious, and she leveled a frank stare at the writer; one that caused her to lean forward as she listened. "My children, however..."
"You don't have to be concerned about that, Madam President," Lauren interrupted urgently. "I would never invade their privacy. As far as your biography is concerned, they are only relevant in the ways that they directly affect you."
Dev looked at her curiously and barked out a tiny laugh. "Well, that would be in just about every way, wouldn't it?"
Lauren was about to disagree, but stopped herself. Shut up, Lauren. It's not like you have kids. Well, at least ones that don't occasionally drink from the toilet. No assumptions, remember?
The writer's first biography had been of Karina Jacobs, the star of the 2016 Olympics who had been born in Harlem, addicted to crack cocaine. She was immediately touted as a 21st Century Wilma Rudolph and ended up winning seven gold medals, despite several physical disabilities she'd been born with. Karina was single with no children.
Lauren's second biography had been of Peter Orlosky, the mega-nerd who had brought down the Microsoft empire with his single, non-proprietary operating system. It could handle everything from the desktop computer to the largest global networks – instantly resolving the problems of interoperability that had plagued computer and network operations people for years. Not only was he unmarried and childless, but Lauren was pretty damned sure he'd never even had sex. With another human being, that is. But ultimately that tidbit didn't make it into his biography because she figured everyone could figure that out just by looking at or listening to Peter. She certainly didn't need to tell them.
And, finally, her most recent biographical subject had been Cardinal O'Roarke. While she was certain that he and his long time male secretary, Andre Ricardo, had a very up-close and personal relationship... as far as she could tell, he had never, literally, fathered any children. So how exactly could she know how President Marlowe's children affected her?
"Let me rephrase that..." Lauren tried again, her tone every bit as serious as Devlyn's. But unconsciously her gaze had softened. "You can trust me to know what's private in your children's lives... and what could hurt them. I promise," she swore intently.
Dev nodded. "If I weren't already certain of that, you wouldn't be here, Ms. Strayer. I don't take chances with the well being of my babies."
Lauren smiled engagingly, slightly taken aback by the President's choice of words. 'My babies'... so personal. Maternal. For some reason, I didn't think she'd be that way. "But I'd be pleased if you felt like you could be relaxed and be yourself around me, despite my job." She raised a playful eyebrow at the woman who was comfortably reclining in front of her, with pleasure so complete it bordered on sensual... "I can see how hard that will be for you," Lauren teased gently.
Dev laughed, glad that her genuine nervousness didn't appear to be showing. "Good. Because this," she laid her hand on her abdomen and, as if on cue, it growled ferociously, "is me... tired, hungry," she glanced at one of the several clocks mounted on the wall, her eyes quickly finding the one showing the correct time zone, "and a little late."
She's a talker. Thank you, God!
"I really wanted to make a good first impression. But being late kinda blew that, didn't it?" Dev inquired sheepishly.
She wanted to impress me? Lauren cocked her head slightly to the side as she regarded the leader of the free world with ever-growing curiosity. "Some would say so." But I wouldn't happen to be among them. You make a charming first impression, President Devlyn Marlowe. But I'll bet you already knew that.
"Then I guess all I can do is say I'm sorry, and hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me." A flash of white teeth brought Dev's face to life.
The writer's mind was already spinning, weaving a tapestry with words that would eventually form a picture of Devlyn herself. And there was one word that Lauren could already see was going to pop up again and again when it came to President Devlyn Marlowe. Charisma... in spades. It fairly oozed from the tall woman's pores. But it was in an understated kind of way that was both compelling and alluring. "I think under the circumstances, I can forgive you, Madam President."
"Thanks." The tall woman scooted forward a little on the sofa and leaned forward, her arms resting on her thighs with her fingers interlaced. What she really wanted to do was ask the writer about some of her work... especially a few pieces that had been written under the pseudonym Lauren Gallager.
But now wasn't the time to be a goofy fan. There was still one major wrinkle to iron out that Dev had saved for a face to face discussion. Something she hoped would give this biography a sense of intimacy and candor that she found lacking in so many others. Just ask her Dev. The worst she can say is 'no'. Well, that's not quite true. She could laugh, accuse you of being insane and wanting to micromanage her work, and then say 'no'. "You just arrived in town this morning?" the Dev began casually.
Lauren shook her head. "Last night. The Emancipation Party is putting me up at the Hay-Adams Hotel."
"And your room is nice? You like it there, I mean?"
A wry smile wanted to twitch at Lauren's lips, but she felt a tiny kernel of worry germinate in her belly. Where is she going with this? "Well, it's Italian Renaissance. Not exactly the Motel-6, but somehow I’m making do," she said drolly.
"Good... good." Dev missed the joke. She was too wrapped up in what she was about to ask. "I, um... well, actually, I had something a little closer in mind. I mean, if you're going to follow me around on anything like a regular basis, you'll need to be close." That was brilliant. Duh.
Pale eyebrows lifted. "The Hay-Adams is less than 3 blocks away. Any closer and I'd be residing in your back pocket."
"Hmm... true..." Shut up, Dev. God, don't scare her off now. "Okay, maybe not my back pocket, but how about in residence with me and my family?"
Lauren's jaw sagged. "Inside the White House?"
Dev grinned. "I've found inside the White House to be far more comfortable than outside the White House. The park benches around here suck." When Lauren didn't answer Dev pressed on. "Look, if you really want to get to know me and understand what I do, you're going to have to tag along after me. And you can't very well do that from the Hay-Adams Hotel. I don't exactly keep regular hours, and there simply isn't enough time in the day for a lot of one-on-one research discussions." And, while that was true, Dev knew instantly that if Lauren Strayer asked, she'd make time for her anytime she wanted.
"I, umm... Madam President, I don't know what to say," she admitted honestly. Sure it would make things interesting, but Lauren knew she needed her privacy. She wasn't at all sure that she could stand living in more of a fish bowl than she was already subjecting herself to.
"Living here is the only way to really know what I do," she said reasonably. "It doesn't have to be for the entire term. Just until you feel like you've got a good handle on my day-to-day life." C'mon, Lauren, say yes
"Do you really want that?" Lauren asked curiously. Giving her editorial control of the book was an enormous risk, and she knew it.
Sky blue eyes fastened on Lauren's with an almost painful honesty. "Yes. I really do."
Lauren found it nearly impossible to disbelieve the President's words. Damn, I'll bet that comes in handy in her profession. But a tiny part of the writer still found this opportunity too good to be true. "And no one is going to be whispering in my ear, telling me what to write?"
The President smiled. Don't even go there, Dev. Keep your mouth shut. "I promise you I won't censure you in any way. And once the book is done, as long as nothing concerning national security is revealed, I won't ask you to make any changes. There may be a few others that make requests of you... but you can take them on as you see fit."