Madam president, p.5

Madam President, page 5


Madam President

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  "You'll back me up?"

  "One hundred percent." It wasn't lost on Devlyn that Lauren hadn't agreed to move into residence yet. But she was thinking about it. And something inside the President told her that this was a woman who didn't respond well to being pushed.

  There was a gentle knock on the door, and Dev dragged her gaze away from her guest.

  "Come in."

  A lunch table for two was rolled in and quickly set up. "Anything else, Madam President?" a young blond waiter asked, managing to sneak a peek at Lauren while he prepared the table.

  "No. I think we're all set." Dev looked over at Liza, who was grinning. It was obvious the assistant had ordered lunch for two. The President gave her a smile and a wink. She nodded, and the small group left the room, once again leaving the two women alone. "Are you sure you won't join me? I can see that my first executive order for one sandwich was completely ignored." She laughed. "There's plenty. Everyone around here has been trying to feed me for days."

  Dev took a large bite and groaned with undisguised ecstasy.

  Lauren swallowed hastily. "Well, if you insist."

  Devlyn waved toward the other sandwich and took another bite, the smell of corned beef and horseradish wafting up to her nose. She drew in a deep, satisfied sniff. Liza is getting a raise already. I'm in heaven.

  The writer took a bite, and immediately mimicked Dev's reaction with a happy groan. "Oh, god," she mumbled, licking the corners of her lips. "This is so good."

  Lauren's mind firmly told her living in the White House would give her fabulous access to the President, but would wreak havoc on her ability to keep a professional distance from her subject. She firmly told her mind to shut up. She held up half a sandwich. "Will I get more of these if I say yes?"

  Dev suddenly stopped chewing and glanced up from her plate. "As many as you want," she promised seriously.

  Lauren picked up her napkin and slid it over her knees. "Then set me up with a room, Madam President. It's looks like you'll be having a guest for a while."

  "Excellent!" Dev's honest pleasure was written all over her face. "And my name is Devlyn or Dev, not Madam President."

  Unaccountably, the blonde woman felt a blush rising to her cheeks. "Then please call me Lauren."

  Dev extended her hand and when Lauren's found hers, she squeezed firmly, absorbing its warmth with idle pleasure. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Lauren."

  "The pleasure is mine, Devlyn." Lauren exhaled and refocused on her sandwich as a knot that she didn't even know existed, unraveled in her guts. "So... I know you must have nearly as many questions for me as I do for you."

  Dev smirked and picked up a crunchy, cold pickle. "Yeah. How does someone rack up eleven parking tickets in two days?"

  This time Lauren's blush was pronounced. "How... how did you know about that?" she mumbled in embarrassment.

  Twin dark eyebrows lifted. Dev took a bite of pickle, enjoying its salty, tart flavor. "Do I really need to answer that?"

  Lauren scratched just above her brow. "No, I guess you really don't. Let's just say it started with a really bad day."

  "That ended two days later?"

  Lauren chuckled. "Something like that." She picked up the bottle of spring water that was resting in a small bucket of ice and poured it into a crystal glass.

  "I had a day like that once. It lasted for almost a week." Dev reached for a coffee carafe that was much closer to Lauren than her, and the smaller woman immediately intercepted Dev's hands with her own.

  "Let me do that." She picked up the carafe and poured two cups, deciding she could probably use some as well. "How do you take it?"

  "Black. And I'm praying it's strong. Thank you," Dev said as she took the cup from Lauren's outstretched hand. "How about you? How do you take your coffee? I want to know in case I need to get you a cup sometime."

  "Cream and two sugars." Lauren poured in a little cream and began hunting for a teaspoon, which magically appeared right in front of her face. "Thanks." She smiled and plucked the spoon from Dev's fingers. "But somehow I can't see the President of the United States fetching my coffee."

  "Hmm..." Dev begrudgingly nodded. "You're right, the President probably wouldn't. But Dev Marlowe will."

  Tuesday, January 26th

  The early morning meeting with her staff was just about ready to break up when Devlyn remembered something very important. "By the way," she straightened in her wingback, "I met with Lauren Strayer yesterday afternoon, and from now on she'll be attending these meetings. For those of you who don't know already..." Every set of eyes in the room turned downward, and Dev sighed loudly, mildly annoyed but not surprised. "Okay, you gossip hounds already know this, but I'm announcing it anyway. Ms. Strayer is going to be chronicling this term in office and will be moving into the residence today. Isn't that right, Michael?" Dev arched a challenging eyebrow in the direction of Michael Oaks, who nodded resignedly.

  He'd tried to talk the President out of it. But the stubborn woman wasn't budging. There was something about Lauren Strayer he simply didn't like. Not only had she arrogantly refused his offer in Tennessee, but she'd said something to Dev that had made the President especially cross with him and had called his judgment into question. Not only that, whatever Lauren had told her had gotten Dev so angry that she'd had Secret Service agent Francis 'No Neck' Davis transferred away from the White House. Permanently.

  Dev took her last sip of coffee and carefully sat her cup back on its china saucer. "Ms. Strayer will be starting her assignment today. She has full privileges and complete access. Please be kind to her." This last part was delivered with a joking tone, but no one in the room doubted the sincerity of the request. The President looked around at the staff. "Anything else?"

  The Chief of Staff glanced around the various faces in the room. Some were new to both him and Dev, but a few were loyal friends.

  "We should do an announcement about Ms. Strayer being hired to write your memoirs," Press Secretary Sharon Allen stated firmly, opening her notebook and jotting down a few preliminary ideas. The fact that she didn't look thrilled about the prospect wasn't lost on Dev. It wasn't that Lauren wasn't qualified. True, she was God awful young. Her work, however, was well respected. But that didn't mean she had to live in the residence. Press Secretary Allen began to get slightly dizzy from the horrific scenarios that were playing out in her head. Someone older and fatter would have been a much safer choice.

  "Ooo... I'm thirty-eight, not eighty-eight. And that makes me sound as old as the hills." Dev shifted in her chair, regretting the fact that she'd chosen a skirt instead of slacks today. "Biography has a less ancient ring to it, don't you think?" She gave Press Secretary Allen a pleading look.

  The room filled with easy laughter, and Jane, who was standing against the back wall, shook her head. Dev was such a pain in the butt sometimes. God love her.

  "Let's just call it a biography, Sharon. I'm not ready for a cane just yet."

  Everyone stood up when the President did and began to file out of the room, ready to start their incredibly busy days. The door closed, leaving behind Dev, Liza and the Chief of Staff. David looked at the young woman and silently asked for a moment alone with the boss.

  David smiled when she tapped her watch. Dev had a breakfast meeting with several members of the Democratic and Republican Parties, including the ultra-conservative Speaker of the House, this morning. He almost felt sorry for her. She had the unparalleled pleasure of facing two parties that resented and distrusted her. But that's the price she paid when she willingly joined a third party. David had always thought life would have been much easier if Dev had just stayed a Democrat.

  Liza slipped out of the office quietly.

  "Madam President?"

  "Yes, David." Dev sighed, resting her head in her hand.

  "I've got to tell you, I think Ms. Strayer being in residence is going to cause problems for you, Dev. Once the press gets wind of it, she's going to become more than an employee hi
red to write a book."

  "You sound like Michael now. And I don't intend to tell the press she's in residence here. If it becomes an issue, we'll deal with it then."

  David rolled his eyes. "It'll take the press all of one or two days to figure it out. If that," he snorted. "And trust me, it will be an issue. A single, openly lesbian President moves in an attractive, single, female biographer..."

  "You forgot very 'straight', single, well-respected biographer."

  David put his hands on his hips. "And just how do you know she's straight? Did you ask her?"

  "Uhh... buu... ahh..." Dev's mouth worked, but no words came out. "What?!"

  "Because I read that report, Dev. And I don't recall it mentioning any particular sexual orientation."

  "But she was married to a man!" Dev blurted out a millisecond before covering her eyes with the palms of both hands. She shook her head furiously. "God, I can't believe I just said that."

  David laughed. "Dev, whether Ms. Strayer is, in actuality, straight or gay isn't really the issue. Assumptions will be made. And you're both single, and you've got three kids. You know what the conservatives will do when they..."

  "Fuck the conservatives!" Dev hissed, suddenly angry. She had long ago grown tired of their painting her as the worst mother since Joan Crawford. "You know I don't give a shit about them."

  "But you should," David insisted. He'd lost this argument a hundred times, but he never stopped trying. "They're out there, and they're not going away."

  Dev leaned back against the edge of the table. "Besides, I may be single, but I'm also still in mourning over my murdered spouse..."

  David's brown eyes softened. "I know, Dev. But we're talking about perceptions, not reality." He swallowed, wondering if he should go further. "Umm... you know Samantha wouldn't want you to mourn her forever."

  Dev's shoulders slumped, and her voice dropped to an anguished whisper. "I know."

  David moved over to the tall woman and sat alongside her. "Look, I don't want to argue. I know how important it is to you that this book be done right... but when this comes back to bite you in the ass... and it will," he smirked a little, "I'm going to be right here to say 'I told you so'."

  "Like always?" Dev teased weakly.

  "Exactly." He patted her thigh, a little surprised to feel skin. Why is she wearing a skirt? She hates skirts.

  "Well, if moving Lauren into the residence, so she can work, is the worst thing to come back and bite me in the ass, I'll consider this a very successful month."

  "It won't take a month."

  Dev ignored David's pessimism and turned around, pulling over a couple of documents Liza had set in front of her earlier. She felt around in her blazer pockets, and David deftly handed her a shiny, metal pen. "We're talking legitimate press. The Inquisitor and the other scandal sheets don't count, David."

  "The legit press will pick it up if it's hot enough. And we all know that if three of the scandal sheets pick up the story of Lauren living in the residence at the same time, it must be true. It's a law... like gravity or Murphy's."

  Dev laughed to herself and stuffed David's pen into her pocket, rubbing her thumb along the warm metal. "It is true, Mr. Smarty Pants. Try to remember that."

  * * *

  Lauren sat down on her new bed, in her new room, in her new house... the White House. "Wow." She shook her head in amazement, allowing herself to absorb where she was and what she had gotten herself into.

  Since November, she'd been on a continuous, whirlwind publicity tour for her last biography, making the big push to drive up holiday sales and keep her publisher very, very happy. That had left her with no time to even scratch the surface of who Devlyn Marlowe was. And it left her feeling unusually insecure, slightly disconcerted even, like the college student who had blown off studying for the big exam and was now getting ready to pay the piper.

  Lauren chided herself for her worries. It's not like you don't know anything about her... Hell, her face and those annoying, endless sound bites have been plastered all over your TV for the past six months. But the writer did admit to herself that the President was a lot more palatable when she wasn't being crammed down your throat. Okay, more than palatable. Nice, really.

  She exhaled slowly. Lauren had finally been left alone for more than ten seconds at a stretch, her curious gaze unhampered by Secret Service agents and the milling, ever-present White House staff. It gave her a moment to order the mental snapshots she'd been taking since she met Devlyn. Although she itched to get her hands on her camera.

  The thrill here, in this place, was the same she'd gotten when she was permitted inside some of the most private, holy areas of the Vatican while doing Cardinal O'Roarke's biography. Her stomach fluttered in a cross between nervousness and raw excitement, her palms moist and cool even as her keen intellect began cataloging information. But her tour of the Vatican had been a brief, escorted visit. She was actually going to live here. At least for a while. Lauren didn't think her penchant for privacy would allow her to stay here too long. But she was going to make the most of it while it lasted.

  Her gaze glided across gleaming, Colonial style, cherry wood furnishings and the rich oil paintings of previous Presidents in heavy wooden frames that adorned the walls. The room was nearly as big as her entire apartment back home. And while it didn't have a kitchen or laundry room, it did have what amounted to a full bedroom, a well-stocked bar, and sitting area, complete with two small sofas that faced each other across a short, delicate-looking coffee table.

  The bed was so tall that Lauren's feet barely touched the floor when she sat on the edge of the firm mattress. Predictably, it was a four-poster model made from the same cherry wood that dominated the room. Its deep, rich shine was so brilliant that Lauren could see her distorted reflection winking back at her when she looked at it. She immediately lifted her hand and ran her finger across it, smudging it with the same weird delight a kid gets when he rolls around in a pristine bank of even, white snow, happily making his mark by destroying its almost unnatural perfection.

  A slender, matching dresser, nightstand with brass handles, and massive armoire flanked the bed. On the nightstand, in a cut crystal vase, sat two dozen long-stemmed, yellow roses, their gentle fragrance filling the room and mingling with the scent of wood polish. Long, cream-colored curtains that matched the impossibly soft comforter had been pulled open a few feet and tied with a gold sash, allowing the early evening's moonlight to spill in through the frosty glass.

  Her few boxes had been unpacked by White House staffers, after, of course, everything had been properly inspected, X-rayed, sniffed and scanned... and that included her Pug, Gremlin, who was scampering around her feet, trying furiously to jump up onto the too tall bed. Lauren was actually surprised the little dog didn't glow by now.

  "I must be dreaming, Gremlin." But, God, talk about pressure. "I hope I'm this good." Lauren blew pale golden hair off her forehead with a puff of warm air. An incredulous laugh bubbled up from inside her. "This is totally surreal." The fingertips of one hand idly grazed the satiny-soft top of the bed's comforter, while she leaned over and scratched Gremlin behind the ears as the dog growled in pleasure.

  Slate gray eyes flecked with blue and green widened when the woman peered down at her watch and realized that it was already time to meet Devlyn and be introduced to the President's children. She wondered if they'd all be lined up like the Von Trapp family, awaiting inspection from their Commander in Chief. Ewww... I hope not. Lauren cringed. Plus, I can't sing for crap.

  She was a little nervous. Life as an only child hadn't prepared her for dealing with kids. And always having your nose in a book when you were a child yourself, didn't help make you Miss Popularity. Then again, she was pretty sure she wouldn't do something embarrassing like lift up her shirt and show her boobies in exchange for two Hershey bars and the window seat on the school bus. Again. A grin tugged at her lips... of course that might depend on who was asking, and how good the candy was. Sh
e decided not to rule anything out for the time being.

  The writer stood up and straightened the belt to her russet-colored slacks, sparing a wistful thought for the blue jeans she didn't think she'd be seeing a lot of in the next four years. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw it. Should I? She thought for a moment then nodded. "I think we've got a minute, Grem. Let's call him, huh?" Lauren chuckled. "Let's just hope this doesn't give Wayne that heart attack he's been worrying over for the past five years. Because he is going to die when I tell him where I ended up staying."

  The second shelf of the dark nightstand slid out, forming a small table, making the phone easily accessible from the bed, but still keeping it mostly hidden from view, so as not to spoil the decor of the room.

  The blonde woman opened her mouth to give the voice command to 'call', but stopped when she got a good look at the smooth machine. It didn't have a voice box on the top. "Huh." Must be a genuine old phone. Next she picked up the receiver and stared at the cord, pulling at it a few times and looking slightly annoyed. "Pain in the... okay, I can do it the hard way." She lifted the receiver and flipped it over to press the button pad, but there wasn't one. In fact, there was no visible way to call anyone.

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