Madam president, p.42

Madam President, page 42


Madam President

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  "Too bad she'll never hear those compliments, pal," Dev said wryly.

  Liza and Jane turned sympathetic glances towards David.

  The red-haired man frowned, but took the implication seriously. "She's going to kill me, isn't she?"

  Dev nodded and slapped her best friend hard between the shoulder blades. "I regret that you have but one life to give for your country... and that my girlfriend is going to snuff it out when she gets home."

  * * *

  Traci marched off the set in a huff, upset she hadn't gotten more of a reaction out of Lauren. What could have been a lead story on the news had been reduced to a meaningless sound bite that wasn't sensational in the least. She stopped dead in her tracks at the sound of a hard voice coming from behind her.

  "That wasn't very nice." Lauren stood three paces behind the slender, older woman, her facial muscles twitching with the force of her pent up anger and frustration. She'd taken enough shit from the Press over the past ten months. But now... now there was finally a face attached to that malicious, big mouth.

  Slowly, Traci turned to face the woman behind her. "I'm a news correspondent, Ms. Strayer. I'm paid to get a story, not to be 'nice'. If I wanted to be 'nice', I'd write biographies for a living."

  Lauren took another menacing step forward. "I don't think you were trying to get a story at all. You were trying to get a reaction." And you almost did. “Those were nothing more than cheap shots. And something I'd expect more from the tabloids than a supposed 'news correspondent'." Another step forward. "It takes skill and talent to write for a living, Ms. Corbin. Don't kid yourself. Your obvious inadequacies are the reason you can't do it."

  "Oooo, ouch!" The reporter gave Lauren a less than sincere smile. "I can die happy now. The President's girlfriend has told me off. Are you finished having your little tantrum, Ms. Strayer? Because I'm going home. Besides, I'm sure you're due back at the White House to do a little Chief Executive back scratching."

  Lauren's face turned an angry shade of purple. She calmly slid off her glasses and tucked them safely into the pocket of her jacket. "Oh, there's going to be scratching." The writer's eyes glittered with rage. "But I was thinking more along the lines of bloody streaks down your face." Lauren smiled a cold smile, enjoying the look of shock and poorly masked concern on Traci Corbin's face. "Though I'll be sure to give Devlyn your regards tonight."

  "Hi, Lauren!" A nervous and very familiar voice interrupted their conversation.

  Lauren didn't even turn her head; she just continued to burn holes through a wide-eyed Traci with her withering glare.

  Oh, shit. David was right. Thank God I was so close to the studio. David’s frantic call had reached his wife when she was only two blocks away from the studio and on her way to a downtown meeting. She could be there more quickly than anyone else, and by the tone of David's voice she knew she needed to hurry. Beth rushed forward and stepped into the small space that remained between the women. "Hi, I'm Beth McMillian." She reached out and took Traci's hand, shaking it vigorously. "And if I were you, I'd leave now, before my friend Lauren claws your eyes out, and my husband has to find a place to hide your worthless," her gaze dropped to Traci's chest, "silicon-filled body."

  "Oh, the cavalry!" Traci leaned in and stage-whispered to Beth, her bravado returning now that it appeared she wasn't about to be pounded within an inch of her life. "And just in time too. I would hate to have broken blondie's nose." She took a deep breath and looked over Beth's shoulder at Lauren. "Give the President my best, won't you?" Traci smirked.

  Lauren finally snapped and lunged forward, but Beth turned around more quickly than anyone would have thought possible for a basically sedentary history professor. She used her greater weight to hold Lauren back by the shoulders. The younger woman looked as though she was going to spontaneously combust if she didn't kill someone.

  "Let. Me. GO!" The writer watched angrily as Tracy took this as her cue to leave.

  "Lauren, don't do it," Beth soothed. "The legitimate media will tear you and Dev apart. Take a deep breath and think of Dev and the kids." She could see her words having an immediate effect. "That's it. She's not worth it."

  Lauren blew out an unhappy breath and tried to calm herself. "Bitch," she seethed in a whisper, feeling hot tears spring to her eyes. "It's always something. They're always lurking and lying and distorting. And they never stop, even when you try to play their game!"

  "No, they don't." Beth sighed, glad that when Lauren finally had this meltdown she was away from the White House. Beth had seen it building over the past few weeks as Dev's popularity began to slip further in the polls. In addition to the furor over the bombings and subsequent FBI raid, Dev's own party, along with the Republicans and several conservative Democrats, had begun to question the President's morals. After all, she was shacked up with her girlfriend in what was considered by most people to be a public residence. "If you intend to have any kind of a relationship with Dev, you're going to have to learn to ignore most of this."

  "Easier said than done," Lauren admitted. She brought shaking hands to her eyes to wipe the tears away, then to her temples, where she was developing a horrendous headache. God, what is wrong with me? She let out a ragged breath, more upset by her lack of control than Traci Corbin. "You're right, Beth. Let's go." The two women began walking towards the exit. "I'm not even going to ask why or how in the hell you got here not thirty seconds after that joke of an interview ended."

  Beth laughed. "My loving hubby called me on my cell phone." She shrugged. "I just happened to be nearby. He told me that if I didn't get over to this studio A.S.A.P. he was never coming home again because he'd be busy trying to explain how a simple interview turned into a homicide."

  Lauren nodded. "David is a smart man. Too bad he has to die for talking me into this." A small grin edged onto Lauren's face. "He knows the early morning hours are when I'm most likely to commit murder."

  Beth chuckled, linking her arm through Lauren's. "I suggest we let him live and just torture him for the rest of our natural lives. It's far more fun that way. Never let them see you sweat and never let them forget it when they do something stupid. Now, how about I buy you breakfast?"

  Lauren laid a hand on her churning belly. She'd been too nervous to eat anything and had already been up for nearly four hours. "Will there be alcohol?"

  "Absolutely. Nothing wrong with a Bloody Mary at," Beth glanced at her watch, "7:30 A.M."

  "Mmm hmm... or Mimosas."

  "Or Screwdrivers."

  "Or beer," they both said together, bursting into unexpected laughter as the tension surrounding them plummeted. They pushed through the front doors of the building and were hit with a blast of moist air.

  Beth suddenly stopped walking and stared out at the street lined with cars and rain puddles. "Uh... you're going to have to drive."

  "Sure." Lauren shrugged, her eyes tracking Beth's gaze. "What are you looking at?"

  "The empty space on the road behind that car in the handicapped spot." Her shoulders slumped. "Where my car used to be."

  "Oh." Lauren grimaced and wrapped her arm around Beth's shoulders, steering her towards her own car. "Sorry." Her brows drew together as she thought. She glanced at her friend as they stepped down off the curb. "Do you think Dev could have Traci Corbin deported?"

  Beth laughed. "I'm sure David's looking into it as we speak."

  Friday, October 15th

  "Gentlemen." Dev leaned back in her chair, allowing her gaze to sweep over every Emancipation Party member present. She closed her eyes briefly in a silent bid for control. "I don't give a good God damn what you think on this issue. This is my private life you're prying into!"

  Party Chairman Bruce Jordon loosened his necktie with thick fingers. He was only a few years older than Dev, but had silver hair and a deeply creased, hangdog face. "No offense, Madam President, but when the Party agreed to hire Lauren Strayer to write your biography, we didn't realize that you'd be getting into a..." he momentaril
y fumbled over his words, torn between what he wanted to say and what was appropriate. "Ahem We... ah... we never seriously contemplated a physical relationship between the two of you."

  "Good." Dev crossed her arms over her chest. " Because neither did I." She looked at David, but he just shrugged. Dev was on her own here. This had to come directly from the President's mouth. Thanks a lot, buddy. Dev refocused on Party Chairman Jordon. "What happened between Lauren and me happened just like it would have for any other couple. Over a period of months, by working together and helping each other through some rough spots, we developed a close friendship which, in turn, blossomed into love."

  She stopped and drew a deep breath, resenting the hell out of every second of this. She pointed directly at the main source of her antagonism. "It wasn't you, Bruce, in the hospital holding my hand after I got shot. And I don't recall your being the one to go in and help soothe my children's fears when they thought their mother might die." Dev wanted to shout at the top of her lungs that she didn't have to justify her actions to the Party or any other bastard on earth. But that wasn't totally true, and she knew it.

  "Dev..." The man sat up a little straighter in his chair. "Look, you know I have a great deal of respect for you. I have no problem with your... lifestyle. What I do have a problem with is that National News Magazine is about to release a nearly twenty page cover story about you and Lauren. They've got pictures of the two of you out together."

  "Yeah, well since we've been out together in public, I'm sure they do. What is the real problem here?!"

  Chairman Jordon slammed his palms against the table, the resulting bang causing nearly everyone in the room to jump. Dev didn't move a muscle. "Don't screw around with me, Dev. You know damned well that you got elected by being honest about your sexuality, but not by rubbing people's noses in it. Samantha-"

  Dev's face turned to stone, her voice dropping to a dangerous level. "Don't you dare bring her into this. Not one God damned word about her!" she boomed.

  Mentioning Sam's name was taboo, and the Party knew it. After her death, they'd wanted to exploit public sympathy for Governor Marlowe, and they'd nearly lost Dev because of it. If it hadn't been for David's cooler head, Dev would have broken with the Emancipation Party then and there. Since then, however, they'd always been able to work through their differences. Until now.

  Bruce Jordon threw his hands in the air and let out a disgusted grunt. "Not this time." He jutted his jaw defiantly. "I'm not catering to your ego for one more second! We've got problems that won't go away by ignoring them. Half of Washington is calling your morality into question. They've got big problems with the fact that she's living in the White House, under the same roof with you and your children, while you're carrying on an affair with her. They believe that your children are being exposed to something less than moral. And that by continuing to pay her, the Emancipation Party is encouraging this amoral behavior."

  "And the Party would rather not be subjected to that kind of publicity?"


  "Yet the party doesn't have a problem when some half-assed gossip magazine calls me 'The World's Most Eligible Woman'?"

  Mr. Jordon looked confused. "Dev, that's true." And it was good publicity. There is a difference.

  "Like hell it is. One, I'm not eligible. Two, the article in National News Magazine is accurate. I saw a copy of it last week, and I have no problem with it. Three, if people want to talk about my morality let's discuss the fact that before Lauren, I spent the last four years alone. It's all well and good that then I wasn't 'rubbing the public's nose' in anything," Dev sneered. "But I had no one in my life. No one. I served my term as governor, and then ran for President, by myself." She enunciated her last two words with excruciating precision, letting everyone know just how she felt about that time. "For God's sake, Bruce, you've been with Olga for over twenty years, and now you've got the nerve to criticize me for finding someone who makes me happy?"

  "It's not the same thing."

  "Bullshit. I'm in love with a woman who loves me and adores my children and suddenly I'm immoral? I feel like I'm going backwards in my life! Doesn't make sense."

  "If you were married to her it would be different." Chairman Jordon shifted in his seat. "But this living together-"

  "Wrong!" Dev sprang to her feet. "You seem to be conveniently forgetting that same sex marriages still aren't legal in almost half the states! We've made strides, yes. But..."

  "But!" The Chairman jumped up, joining Dev. "It is legal in your home state." He squared his shoulders and sucked in his stomach, throwing his chest out in the process. "Or is she just a distraction and a quick roll in the sack that you have no intention of getting serious about? Because if she is-"

  "You son of a bitch!" Dev turned on the man and advanced, her hand curling into a tight fist.

  David was between them in an instant. What is it with Dev and Lauren this month?! Time for another vacation! “Don’t do it. It's not worth it." He held his hand firmly against Dev's chest and his eyes met hers. "You and I both know you're in love with Lauren. He's just pissed and scared." He lowered his voice and pleaded with his friend, knowing he couldn't stop her if she really had a mind to punch Bruce. "Don't let him get to you."

  David looked over his shoulder. "Mr. Chairman, I think it would be in your best interest to leave right now. We can continue this at a later time when heads are cooler and the facts are clearer. Let us run some numbers-"

  "Screw the numbers, David! I will not let a damned poll tell me who I'm allowed to love and who I'm allowed to invite into my home." Dev pushed against his hand, still trying to get closer to Chairman Jordon as the rest of the party leaders quickly shuffled out of Dev's office.

  David and Dev were left alone to look over the scattered coffee cups and meeting agendas that were left on the table when the Party members fled the room. Each of them took a chair and sat quietly, wondering how the hell things went so wrong so fast.

  Saturday, October 16th

  "This last one is from me." Christopher thrust a package into his sister's hands. "Happy birthday, Ash."

  "Thanks, Chris." Ashley grabbed the box and tore open the paper. "Wow! Scientist Barbie with her laboratory! Thanks, Chris!"

  The little boy smiled brightly and adjusted his glasses. "You're welcome." He leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, very aware that Lauren, his mom, and Emma were listening. "Can me and Aaron play too? Even though it's a girl toy. We can blow up the laboratory and kidnap Barbie!"

  Ashley was about to tell her brother to keep dreaming when she got a warning glare from Dev. She relented with a tiny huff. "Sure, Chris. C'mon." Ashley picked up the disk containing the Nancy Drew Mysteries that Lauren had given her, the tickets to The Nutcracker that were from her mom, the sweatshirt from Emma, and the glow-in-the-dark necklace from Aaron. She turned to follow her brothers, who had already run from the room, when Dev's voice caused her to turn back.

  "Aren't you forgetting something?" Dev reminded gently. Ashley had already politely thanked Lauren and Emma. But it never hurt to say it again.

  "Thank you, Lauren and Emma," the girl dutifully repeated. Then a genuine smile creased her cheeks. "I love my stories and sweatshirt. I'm going to show my friends at school!"

  Lauren chuckled. "I'm glad you like it, Ashley. I was just your age when I started reading those. Only I used the actual books."

  Ashley made a face. "Wow. You're really old."

  Dev and Emma dissolved into laughter.

  "Gee, thanks, kid." Gray eyes twinkled.

  "You're welcome," Ashley answered sincerely as she ran for the door.

  Dev called out another 'Happy birthday' to her eldest, and Ashley skidded to a halt. She ran back to her mother and hugged her fiercely. "Happy birthday to you too, Mom. It's so cool to share a birthday. Are we really going to go to the ballet just the two of us?"

  Devlyn closed her eyes and squeezed her tightly, feeling a nearly crushing guilt over the lack of quality
time she could lavish on each child individually. "I promise, Moppet. Just you and me. A special afternoon for the two of us." Dev felt her chest constrict and decided if she didn't think about something different, and fast, she was going to cry. " How does it feel to be so big? Eight years old!" She sighed wistfully. "I can hardly believe it."

  Ashley beamed. "It's great! Bye." And this time when she ran out of the room, she didn't turn back.

  "Well, now, Devlyn," Emma said, "I think I'm going to retire for the evening and call my son, Tommy." The matronly woman smiled tiredly. "It's been a busy day." And it had. Ashley had had several girls from her class spend the afternoon at the White House, and then had another smaller family party that was just wrapping up.

  "You do that, Emma. And thank you so much for everything." Dev smiled wryly. "I don't pay you nearly enough."

  Emma snorted. "Isn't that the truth?" She began padding slowly towards the door. "Night, ladies."

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