Episode 115 – Sharon Convalesces

16-1201-whr_pullquoteThree days after the assassination attempt found Sharon safely tucked into bed in the Georgetown townhouse where she lived.

“You’re not exactly cooperating,” observed June Jerguessen, the President’s sister and Sharon’s close friend.

“I’m just so tired of being fussed over,” Sharon grumbled. “I wasn’t hurt that badly, for heaven’s sakes. And my headache is almost gone.”

“Almost,” smirked June.

She was a tall, willowy woman with the figure and face of a runway model. Her hair, light brown or dark blonde depending on one’s perspective, was growing out of its short cut. June usually went for a more natural, slightly tousled look, but Sharon thought that her hair seemed a little more tousled than normal. And there were definitely bags starting to form under June’s deep blue eyes.

“Okay,” Sharon said, keeping her observations to herself. “I get staying down until the headache is completely gone without meds. But your brother is insisting I stay down a full week and threatened to have the Secret Service cut off my Internet access if I didn’t stay offline.”

“He’s got a point about that. It’s not like he doesn’t know what a concussion can do, after playing football all through high school.”

“Well, all I’ve got to say is harrumph!” Sharon said. “The doctor in Columbia said I could ease back into work as soon as I felt like it, and whatshername, you know, the official gal at Bethesda pretty much said the same thing.”

“And the fact that you can’t remember her name says something right there,” June folded her thin arms across her small chest. “You almost always get people’s names.” She sighed. “Give it a couple more days, okay?”

“I suppose I should. But I am so bored!”

“Well, I have a pile of fluffy little mysteries for you to read, and Matt said he’d set up something or other so you can stream movies onto your TV.”

“Jodi’s going to talk him through the setup,” Sharon said. She sighed again. “I have no idea what movies are even out there.”

June pulled a piece of white paper from her purse. “Karen made you a list.”

“How’s she doing?”

June shrugged. “Okay, I guess. She’s on pins and needles with that hearing coming up Monday.”

“I thought that was just a formality.”

“They always are,” grumbled June. “And as soon as you assume that, you know what happens.”

Sharon sighed. “Too true.” She paused. “How are you doing?”

“Me? I’m fine.” And yet June said it way too quickly.

But Sharon didn’t get a chance to pursue it.

Episode 114 – Text Session

romance fiction, romantic fiction serialText session –

— Kira – we got news, but have to keep it on text.

— What up? Were you scared about your aunt?

— Totally. But our news – you don’t have to go to your dad’s.

— I know. They reversed the custody order. We did that chat.

— If it gets reversed back – you’re safe. Aunt Susan got your dad to okay taking you.

— It’s a secret, tho, so don’t tell anyone.

— How’d she do that?

— They met @ some fundraiser. He gave her a blank permission slip.

— You there?

— Yeah. That’s good news.

— But don’t tell anyone. We don’t want your dad fixing it.

— I won’t.

Episode 113 – Susan Meets George Watanabe

16-1102-whr_pullquoteIn the Orange County, California, home of her parents, Susan Wheatly’s good mood was quickly evaporating. It had been a good couple days. There was the usual rush of anxiety that she got right after accepting a choreography job, as she began to wonder how she was going to create a dance. And while the fear seemed somewhat more intense because she was now in a wheelchair, it felt a lot more normal than anything else in her life. Then there had been the horror of that afternoon, then the enormous relief that the far-away events hadn’t been an issue.

More annoying was the event she was getting ready for. It was a fundraising dinner celebrating a major addition to a local hospital. Susan’s brown hair and eyes reminded everyone of their mother, even though Susan had her father’s slimmer build. And some seriously developed arms, Susan noted with some disgust. She shifted her chair around and headed for the lift downstairs.

She was only going to the event as a favor to her friend Mira, and wouldn’t have been doing that much if it hadn’t been for her niece Jodi and her best friend Tiffany. The two girls had asked Susan to shelter their friends Kira and Allie Watanabe if they ran away to avoid staying with their father.

“Harboring runaways? I don’t think so,” Susan had told Jodi and Tiffany the week before. “That’s insanely illegal, and you have no idea how much trouble Sarah got our parents into when she tried hiding a friend at their place.”

“But, Aunt Susan, we’ve gotta do something,” Jodi pleaded.

Susan had said she’d think about it, and then Mira called, also pleading and begging for Susan to show.

“It’s turning into the fundraiser from hell,” Mira had complained. “Just today, George Watanabe, head of emergency medicine at County/USC? He not only decides to get involved, he makes this mondo donation and want his name in the program and they’re already printed! I hear he only made the donation because he needs to look good because he’s suing his ex for custody.”

Susan pondered the odds that there were multiple Watanabe’s suing their exes for custody in Southern California and decided it was worth the risk and agreed to Mira’s request.

Susan checked her mobile phone for the time. The car service was due at any second. She hoped she could check Watanabe out (assuming he was Kira and Allie’s father) and leave the dinner before the evening got too drawn out.

It was a standard hotel fundraiser. Although Susan did note there were several others in wheelchairs there, including one guy from her rehab facility who looked like he was still trying to score with her. Susan made a point of avoiding him.

She found Dr. Watanabe almost by accident when he backed into her to avoid a waiter rushing dirty dishes back to the kitchen. He was of medium height, built solidly with a square face and coal black hair. Susan introduced herself and he smiled with interest. It wasn’t a leer, but darned close.

“Watanabe,” Susan said slowly. “You wouldn’t happen to be related to Kira and Allie Watanabe, would you?”

“My daughters,” he grunted, the interest evaporating immediately. “Why?”

“My niece Jodi is friends with them. I understand they’re coming out this summer.”

“At some point, yes.”

Susan smiled. “It’d be great if we could set up some time for the kids to get together. Maybe do a sleep over or something.”

“It would, but I don’t know when they’re going to be here. My ex is being a bitch about it.”

“Well, I could email you.”

“I don’t have time for that.” Watanabe glared for a second, then dug out his prescription pad from his suit and a pen. “Tell you what. I’ll write up the permission now and you let my secretary know when you want the girls.”

He leaned over her to write on a nearby table, whipped the paper off the pad, and handed it to her, his eyes already sweeping the room and lighting on a tall blonde near the podium.

“My number’s on the pad,” he said and stalked off.

Susan looked down at the paper. Sure enough, he had granted her permission to take the girls and had not specified when or for how long. Susan wasn’t sure if she was elated or appalled. But she carefully put the paper in her purse, went to find Mira, and left the party the very second she could.

Jodi was thrilled to get the text. Susan still winced. How could anyone be so casual about where their kids went while spending huge amounts of money to get custody of them? Jodi had said the custody suit was more about Watanabe being angry at his ex. Susan shook her head. It certainly seemed that way.

Episode 112 – From Matt’s Perspective

romantic fiction serial, light romance, fiction serialFrom News&Perspectives.com,

By Matthew Jerguessen

….We finally did figure out what had happened and I have to cop to the blame. Turns out when Tomas was asking us about Sharon, and I said, “No es muerto,” what it sounded like to Tomas was that Uncle Mark wasn’t dead. I’d made the classic mistake we English-speakers make when speaking Spanish. I’d forgotten that you have to change the endings of words based on whether you’re talking about a male or a female. So what I said was, “He isn’t dead.” And Tomas apparently thought I was trying to point out that at least my uncle wasn’t dead, which meant that Sharon was. Or something like that.

Anyway, Tomas is the one who told the rest of the media that Sharon was dead and they all jumped on it. Sharon was pretty cool about it. I mean, I know more Spanish than that, but Sharon said that it was probably the stress from the whole shooting thing that made it hard for me to think in Spanish. She says that language is one of those things that’s almost hard-wired into our brains and that the two things almost any human being will do in their native language is pray and count. So while I do have to cop the blame for the mix-up, it was also the situation.

Episode 111 – An Assassination Attempt

romantic fiction serial, romance fiction, The levity and good feeling lasted through the next morning as the U.S. party loaded themselves into a limo motorcade that was joined by President Mendoza’s own motorcade. Mark later was hard pressed to remember where the group was headed. All he remembered was that as he got out of the limo and bent to help Sharon out, he was flattened and shoved back in by body guards. He never even heard the gun shots.

An American Secret Service agent, unnamed, was later credited with spotting Pablo Tomenco’s gun and calling it out in time for one of the Columbian agents to knock the gun askew and send the bullets skyward. Somehow, no one was hit in the attempt on both the Columbian and American presidents.

In the U.S. presidential limo, Mark realized that Sharon was underneath him and as he slowly got up, he saw that she was unconscious.

“Are you all right, sir?” asked the ever-present Riff Butler, an imposing African American man with a buzz cut and a perfect Secret Service demeanor.

“I’m fine,” Mark snapped.  “Sharon’s out.”

Mark glanced around. Calvin Whitecross was in the facing seat next to Matt. Sharon groaned and tried to pull herself up. Riff reached around the tight space and helped her up as he let out a stream of Spanish, directing Tomas, the Columbian driver, to head to the nearest hospital. Sharon responded, her Spanish far too fast for Mark to follow in spite of her grogginess, but Riff not only glared her down, he repeated the order.

At the hospital, the limo screeched into the emergency bay. Doctors, nurses and orderlies were ready with several gurneys.

“Sir, come with me,” Sharon ordered as she was lifted onto a gurney.

She started in Spanish again and the doctor motioned for Mark to join them as they rushed Sharon into the emergency room, with Riff on their heels. Matt swallowed and looked at Calvin.

“Now what?” Matt asked.

“Get out of the car?” Calvin asked.

Fortunately, an orderly who spoke English appeared in the doorway and took them to a waiting room.

“Your driver, he is parking the car someplace else,” the young Columbian said. He was short and slight, but had a firm demeanor.

Matt swallowed. “I heard shots. Did anyone else get hurt?”

“I don’t think so,” the orderly answered. “The radio for emergency, it does not say anyone is coming. I will come for you if it calls.”

“Thanks,” Matt replied.

“So I guess we wait,” Calvin said as the orderly left.

“Yeah.” Matt sighed. “Hope she’s okay.”

Calvin smiled softly. “In my experience, when they’re yelling like that, they’re okay.”

The waiting room could have been anywhere, with green and blue plastic chairs strung together in tight rows and gray walls with supposedly soothing framed pictures on them. Except that the voice coming from the TV mounted on a wall in the corner was speaking in rapid Spanish. Matt watched the images from the shooting site and tried to deduce what had happened.

Tomas, the short and fat limo driver, waddled into the waiting room. With a worried frown, he approached Matt and spoke rapidly in Spanish. All Matt caught was “La Senorita” over and over again and guessed that the driver was asking about Sharon’s condition. Matt’s mind went blank.

“No es muerto,” he finally said.

“Ay! Pero la senorita?” Tomas asked.

“No es muerto,” Matt said again, trying to remember how to say Sharon was mostly okay, especially since he knew that he knew that much Spanish.

It didn’t help. With a loud cry, Tomas went running off out of the hospital. About 20 minutes later, Matt noticed a head shot of Sharon on the TV screen with the caption “Muerta.” Dead.

An obscenity dropped from his lips. “Calvin, it’s saying Sharon Wheatly is dead.”

“What?” Calvin came over and looked at the screen. “You think?”

“Why wouldn’t they have told us?” Matt cried belligerently. “What the hell happened? Where’s that guy?”

He left the waiting room with Calvin on his heels, looking for someone to who could speak English and who knew how Sharon was doing. The two didn’t find help right away, but they found Mark and Riff waiting in an empty room.

“Oh, no!” Matt sobbed.

“Matt? What’s the matter?” Mark asked.

“Aunt Sharon… The TV said she’s dead,” Matt blinked back tears. “And she’s not here.”

“They’re doing an x-ray on her head,” Mark said. “She has a concussion, probably. They’re checking just to be sure there’s no skull fracture.”

“But the TV,” Matt gasped.

“Are you sure you understood what they were saying?” Mark asked.

“Pretty sure,” Matt said.

Mark glanced at Calvin, then glared briefly at Riff. He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and dialed out.

“Yesmenia -” he began, but was cut off. “What? No. She’s fine. I mean, she probably has a concussion, but she’s alive and cranking…  Seriously? Crap…. Even the U.S. news?…. No, no. Get out the retraction. Now. I’ll call Wheatly’s folks…. Yes, I’ve got her phone…. Just get on it, okay?”

Mark swiped off, then rolled his eyes as he dug through the plastic bag holding Sharon’s belongings. He pulled Sharon’s Blackberry free and started scrolling through her contacts.

“Her mother is Madeleine Fauvrillet,” Calvin said. “Father Robert Wheatly.”

“Here it is.” Mark connected through as Matt elbowed Calvin.

“How’d you know that?” Matt hissed playfully at Calvin, who shrugged.

Mark waited as the phone rang in California.

“Allo?” asked a worn female voice.

“Madeleine Fauvrillet?” Mark asked, stumbling over the last name a little.

“Yes. This is she.” Her voice was firm, but she sounded upset.

“This is Mark Jerguessen. It sounds like you may have heard about your daughter on the news.”

“Yes. It is kind of you to call.”

“Ma’am, it’s a false report. I was just with your daughter, and it’s no more than a concussion, maybe a skull fracture at worst. But she is most definitely alive and likely to stay that way.”

“False? She is alive!” There was a sigh, then the sound of her crying and shouting at someone in French. “Oh, grace a Dieu! Merci. I mean, thank you so much. Thank you for calling. I must call the others. Merci. I mean, thank you!’

She hung up. Mark looked at the phone. A second later, orderlies wheeled Sharon into the room.

“Why do you have my phone?” she asked.

“It’s a long story,” Mark said.

Sharon frowned at Mark as he, Matt and Calvin exchanged guilty looks. Matt suddenly sniffed and soundly hugged Sharon.

“Easy!” she yelped, then hugged him back. “What was that for?”

“I’m sorry,” Matt gasped. “I know you’re hurt, but I’m just so glad you’re alive.”

“Of course-” Sharon suddenly stopped and listened. Rapid Spanish floated over from another television elsewhere in the emergency department. “You have got to be kidding me! Oh, my god, my parents!”

Mark showed her the phone. “I just called them. Sorry to use your phone, but it was the fastest way.”

Sharon eased herself back down onto the pillows. “How the hell did this happen?”

Mark just shrugged.

Episode 110 – Sharon Gets Good News

romantic fiction serial, romance fiction, sweet romancePresident Mendoza arrived just as Air Force One touched down. Tony and Matt, who had previously been bouncing off the walls, suddenly settled down and got their ties tied and suit jackets on. Sharon smiled to herself. They were technically there as the president’s personal assistants. It was a heady job, but Mark had chosen well in spite of their youth, with both boys having just enough youthful joie de vivre to be excited about opening doors for the President but enough gravitas to behave appropriately.

Mark made his way down the airplane’s stairway to the podium and red carpet set up nearby. There was a decent-sized crowd gathered on the airport tarmac, and plenty of press, both American and Columbian. Mark greeted Mendoza, a broad-shouldered man who Sharon thought resembled Omar Sharif more than a little. Mendoza made a little welcome speech in excellent English, then Mark made his way through his speech in Spanish. Mark didn’t speak Spanish very well, but Sharon had coached him extensively, and if she was not thrilled with his accent, at least his Spanish didn’t sound forced.

After the welcome speeches, there was an early evening car tour of the city, then dinner in the presidential palace. That went late. Nonetheless, the U.S. party was up again early for tours and talks and much-needed fence mending with local farmers who had suffered at the hands of American soldiers who had been trying to take down the drug cartels. Mark strongly suspected that more than a few of the government officials and citizens they met were members of said cartels, if not the heads of such groups. Sharon didn’t say for sure, but she hinted.

She spent her day mostly observing. Her staff member who oversaw research on South America, Leonidas Bertonetti, had been in Bogota since late the week before and had made a goodly number of contacts even apart from the ones President Mendoza had set up.

The day was a whirlwind, finishing up with a particularly rowdy party with dancing and a decidedly free-flowing bar. Sharon didn’t think she’d had that much to drink, but she was feeling pretty happy.

The news from home was exceedingly good. First, Karen Tanaka, Sharon’s colleague on the president’s Advisory Panel and Sharon’s good friend, had called. Karen, also known as Tanks, had been recently sued by her ex-husband, George Watanabe, for custody of their two daughters, Kira and Allie.

Then Sharon’s sister Susan had called with her news, followed closely by their brother Michael, whose parting advice, while unsolicited (as so much of Michael’s advice was), Sharon had to concede had merit. Which turned out to be fairly convenient, since Mark suggested the two take a light walk around the grounds of the Columbian presidential palace, where the party was taking place.

Sharon was acting as Mark’s “date” that night – a frequent arrangement that made it look like Mark was bowing to the demands created by the social expectations of couplehood. But since Sharon spoke Spanish almost as well as a Mexican native, it also made her readily available as a translator when needed.

Sharon left the party first and found the walkway around the outside of the palace gardens without trouble. She was wearing a long, straight black dress with a sheer beaded overlay. Mark smiled as he saw her standing on a low retaining wall, looking out over the garden with a happy smile on her face. Her hair was pinned up.

“Hey!” she said, turning and seeing him. She lightly hopped down, took a deep breath and spun around once.

“You look exceptionally happy,” Mark said.

“I am,” she replied. “It’s been an unusually fun party and right before we left the hotel, I got some terrific news from home.”

“The Indians and the Pakistanis are making nice?”

She scrunched her face. “I wish. Nope, this was on the more personal front. Has Karen talked to you about the custody suit?”

“Not much,” Mark said. “But she’s been keeping me up to date. Last I heard, her ex got an emergency order to enforce the girls’ visit this summer.”

“Boy, did that backfire on them.” Sharon laughed. “I’m not sure how it worked out in legal terms. But Karen was going to send the girls to their dad’s for the summer and had it set up before the suit was even filed. And since she was able to prove that the emergency order was anything but an emergency, the judge got annoyed. Then Karen’s lawyers petitioned him to stop the visit based on George’s history of abusive behavior and the judge okayed it. Well, at least for the time being. There’s another hearing next week, where George’s lawyers get to respond.”

“That sounds pretty good,” Mark said. “But why stop the visit?”

“Kira’s refusing to go.”

“She’s barely fifteen. How can she refuse?”

Sharon grimaced. “Well, she can’t, technically. But remember when Matt made his unauthorized arrival in DC?”

Matt had, in fact, run away from his very unhappy home, and thanks to the plan he’d put together with Kira, Sharon’s niece Jodi and her friend Tiffany, along with Tony Garces and Rebecca Cooper, the daughter of one of Sharon and Karen’s other colleagues on the Advisory Panel, he’d arrived safely in Washington, DC.

Mark sighed. “Right. They were originally planning Kira’s getaway. They’re not still up to something, are they?”

“I have no idea. I’m trying to play it cool on the off chance someone will confide in me. In any case, with luck, the judge will keep the order in place and Kira and Allie won’t have to go to their dad’s.”

“Or wherever.” Mark smiled. “That is good news, but not normally the sort of thing that has you dancing.”

“That’s the even better news.” Sharon smiled and spun again. “My sister Susan has been commissioned to choreograph a new dance for the Artists with Disabilities Festival at the end of August, and she’s going to use my brother’s music.”

“Susan? Oh, she’s the one in the wheelchair. I mean, uses a wheelchair.”

Sharon chuckled. “Michael and I are thrilled. We didn’t think she’d go for it. It’s been barely two years since the accident and she’s been going through a really bad patch the past few months. The best we can figure is that it’s finally sinking in that her injury is permanent. She’s been pretty angry lately.”

“Wow. Wasn’t she some sort of dancer?” Mark asked.

“Lead ballerina with the Pacific Ballet, although she was getting ready to retire when the accident happened, being over 30 and all. The good news is that she can still choreograph and since the dance will be about her own journey as someone with a disability, it might help her confront some of her own issues.” Sharon smiled. “She’s really excited about it and happier than she’s been since the accident happened.”

Mark smiled. “It sounds great.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” Sharon spun very, very close to him. “Better yet, my brother suggested I get a little of my own happiness, too, and I thought why not?”

She reached up and kissed him full on the mouth. Mark felt himself rejoicing, even as he worried about the two of them being seen.

“I like that kind of happiness,” he whispered as their lips parted.

Sharon’s lips were still slightly open and her breathing was just a touch heavy. “As much as I’d like otherwise, the good news is that this will go absolutely nowhere since we cannot risk being seen and someone is bound to be headed our way soon.”

Mark kissed her again, starting softly, then stronger and stronger as she responded, melting into his arms and holding him tightly against herself. However, it was he who gently pulled them apart.

“What are we going to do, Sharon?” he sighed. “This distance thing is not working. I can’t lose you as an employee. And I don’t want to lose you.”

“I don’t either.” Sharon blushed, then looked at him, her soft brown eyes almost piercing him to his soul. “And you’re not going to. We’re friends, good friends. Your sister and I are just as close. Your nephew is my buddy and he’s best friends with my niece. Our lives are so freaking tied up together that we’re sort of stuck. We just have to try to stay friends and hold out as long as we can.”

The sound of footsteps crunching on the gravel forced Mark to pull away from her. Leonidas appeared on the path with one of President Mendoza’s aides on his arm. Leonidas was young, dark and smooth, although Sharon couldn’t help wonder if he was finally getting played by the lovely young woman with the very shrewd dark eyes.

They didn’t quite notice Mark and Sharon as they slipped into the garden. Mark nodded back at the building and Sharon went ahead of him.

“I’d better stay out here a bit longer,” Mark said somewhat more loudly than he needed to. “I think I see Matt headed this way. I overheard him and Tony talking about practicing their Spanish with some of the younger ladies here.”

“I did, too,” Sharon replied. “Do you want me to take the outer loop of the garden and see if we can flush them out?”

“Sure. Why not?” Mark turned and headed away from the building as Sharon headed around the other way.

If Mark was hoping that he and Sharon would meet on the far side of the garden, it was not to be. Never mind that their “search” was actually intended to throw Leonidas off, Sharon did actually encounter Matt and Tony and three obviously over-age-eighteen young women near the entrance to the palace.

In rapid Spanish, Sharon not so gently convinced the young women that they might be better off inside back at the party.

“Aw, come on, Aunt Sharon,” Tony groaned as the women left. Tony called Sharon “aunt” simply because her niece Jodi and Jodi’s best friend Tiffany did.

“Uh-huh,” said Sharon.

“We weren’t going to do anything,” Matt complained.

“And what were you guys going to say when not doing anything turned into an international incident?” Sharon asked, her grin belying her serious tone.

“Since when does a casual snog in a garden constitute an international incident?” replied Matt, pulling himself up and acting way more confident than he felt.

Sharon laughed. “Let’s see. All three of those girls are over eighteen. You guys are not. One of them is President Mendoza’s daughter and the other two are nieces.”

“And your point is?” Tony said, trying to imitate Matt, which didn’t entirely work since after a poignant pause, he, Matt and Sharon were all doubled up with laughter.

“Seriously, Aunt Sharon,” Matt said finally. “We weren’t going to do anything, well, serious.”

“I’m sure that was your intention,” Sharon replied. “But let’s be real. Those ladies had serious written all over them. And besides, as the nearest available grown up, I have a sworn duty to keep you two from having any real fun.”

“And speaking of fun,” Tony said, “Matt’s uncle left the party right after you did.”

Sharon rolled her eyes. “Nice try. I have no idea where he is or what he’s up to.”

Which, she had to admit, was the truth, even if it was misleading. Still, the boys each took one of her arms and went with her back to the party.

Episode 109 – Book Two Begins On the Way to Columbia

romance fiction, romantic fiction serialThe seat belt sign was off and President Mark Jerguessen got up from the desk in his small office on Air Force One and stood in the doorway looking out.

The seating area immediately outside his office was more or less full but still seemed empty compared to the rows of seats normally found on a jetliner. Terry Barker, his Deputy Chief of Staff sat next to a window, eye shade firmly in place. Barker, with his closely cropped light brown hair and piercing blue eyes, normally carried his significant size with the grace and authority of the former professional football player he was. But he deeply loathed flying. Next to him was speech writer Calvin Whitecross, an average-sized young Black man who was nonetheless dwarfed by Barker.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mark could see White House photographer Emil Salas setting up a shot. It was Salas’ job to document visually almost everything Mark did. Mark, however much he didn’t mind being photographed, found even the portly Salas’ most stealthy movements and the whir of the shutter release insanely distracting and banned the photographer as often as possible.

At a table in front of Whitecross and Barker, Tony Garces and Mark’s nephew Matt Jerguessen were bent over a tablet computer and keyboard, bouncing back and forth between laughing and serious conversation. Both gangling and just starting to grow into their hands and feet, Tony was dark and prone to brooding, while Matt’s lighter brown hair, green eyes, and square jaw reminded everyone of his famous uncle. Both boys, just barely 16, had been almost too squirrely to do their official jobs as Mark’s personal assistants, but Mark could hardly blame them. It was their first time on Air Force One.

Across the plane, at one of the two tables there, petite and fluffy Message Director Yesmenia Alvarez talked on her mobile phone while pounding away on her laptop.

At the next table, also deep in conversation on her mobile phone, was the real reason why Mark had left his office. Watching World Affairs Advisor Sharon Wheatly was one of Mark’s guiltiest of guilty pleasures.

Sharon had blond hair, rich brown eyes, and a tallish, slender figure, all of which garnered plenty of attention from others. But while Mark appreciated her more obvious physical attributes, what generally stirred him was her devastating intellect and complete willingness to stand up to him. He wondered what language she was speaking at the moment – odds were against it actually being English. Sharon spoke ten different languages fluently and was conversant in several others.

Glaring, she brought the phone down from her ear and punched it off with her thumb. She glanced up at Mark and he could see she was not happy. She got up and as she approached, Mark waved her into the office.

“Sir?” she asked as he shut the door behind her.

Mark bristled inwardly at the formality, but he knew it was necessary. However deep and powerful the attraction between them – and it was mutual – a relationship could not happen.

“You looked like something’s wrong,” he said.

She shrugged delicately.  “It’s nothing we can do anything about, but it looks like Pakistan and India are getting ready to go at it again. Nobody’s talking nukes, but there have been at least a couple border skirmishes over the past few days.  Faiza’s contact at the Pakistani ministry insists that the Indians started it.  Katie’s contact swears it was the Pakistanis.  And my contact says it was probably some of both.  The good news is that Leonardo says that things are looking really good in Bogota.”

“Well, that’s nice, at least.”  Mark sighed.  “Any signs of jealousy from President Mendoza?”

Sharon smiled.  Their trip to Mexico earlier that year had almost been a disaster when it appeared that Mark’s popularity would eclipse that of the Mexican president.  They were, at that moment, headed to Columbia at the invitation of the newly inaugurated president of the country.

“I doubt it,” Sharon said.  “Mendoza seems to still be in his honeymoon phase.  He can’t appear too pro-America because he does have to keep the support from that side of the government, but the general feeling Leonardo and I and Daniel have all been getting is that most of the people on the street associate anti-American sentiment with the old regime.  And those guys were not that popular before the new party ousted them.  Since the elections, it’s all been make friends with the Americans and get their money.”

Mark chuckled.  “That’s assuming I can get Congress to cooperate.  But that is my job.”  He paused.  “How have you been doing?”

“Fine.  Why?”

“Distance.”  Mark smiled, trying to cover the sadness he felt.

Sharon sighed.  “Well enough, I suppose.  It’s been busy enough, so that’s helped.  You?”

“The same.”

“Okay.  I’d better get back out there.  You know how Yesmenia loves to speculate and she’s directly hooked in to Jean, who would love even a hint that we’ve got something going on.”

Mark chuckled.  Jean was Jean Bouyer, the Press Secretary, and Jean was intent on bringing Mark and Sharon together, no matter how much they were trying to avoid it.

“Catch you later, then,” he said softly.

Sharon smiled as she left, but inside, her stomach was in knots.  For two weeks, she and the president had been able to keep their distance in spite of the fact that she was one of his top aides.  The problem was they were fast becoming close friends, which was a good thing except that the last thing Sharon wanted was a relationship with someone whose life was on public display – and Mark’s life certainly was, which meant that hers would be, too, if they got involved with each other.

But there were times when she almost couldn’t help herself.  Yes, he was tall and amazingly good-looking, with broad shoulders, those green eyes, light brown hair and square jaw.  But while Mark was brilliant in his own way, he was surprisingly humble for someone in his position and while he didn’t often show his vulnerable side, Sharon had seen enough of it to be completely smitten.  When she was willing to admit that she was, which wasn’t often.  Worse yet, the two seemed to have an awful lot in common but were just different enough to keep things interesting.

Sharon shoved her feelings back down inside her gut as she went back to her seat on the plane. She settled in and tried to relax. The next few days were going to be anything but restful. Columbia’s recently elected and sworn-in president Carlos Mendoza was bound and determined to turn around any anti-Columbian sentiment that had been fostered by the previous U.S. administration. Hence, there was a full schedule of events and tours planned for the visit, which only began when the plane touched down in Bogota.

Book One is Here!

romantic fiction serial, romance, sweet romance, fiction serialThe excitement is palpable. Here’s your chance to relax and read the first part of White House Rhapsody on your own schedule as an ebook.

While you can buy it at Amazon.com, why don’t you head over to Smashwords.com and buy it for your Kindle there? Or for any other of your reading devices.

The gang at Smashwords are very nice and are actively helping me to promote this and my other books. That’s more than I can say for that other outlet.

Either way, the ebook is $2.99 and we may soon have a print version. Sign up for my monthly missive – The Robin Goodfellow Newsletter – in the box to the right and you’ll get that and other fun news.

And next week we continue with the next episode, starting Book Two. Matt may be straightened out, but Kira Watanabe is headed for trouble. June’s little issue is going to get majorly big. Susan has a big assignment headed her way. Al Eddington is facing the challenge of his life.

As for Mark and Sharon, well, let’s just say that distance thing is not working. Not at all.

Episode 108 – The End of Book One

romantic fiction serial, romance, serial fictionIt was getting on for six-thirty that evening when Mark made his way up to the private quarters, calling June as he went. The two met in his private study. It was a smallish room, dominated by the immense flat-screen television on the wall and a sleek modern desk with a glass top and brushed steel legs. The entire desktop could be used as a touch pad screen, and there was a single black lacquered drawer under the center which contained a keyboard and several remote controls. The desk chair was brown leather and reclined. Two more similar chairs were backed up against the side wall in between a bookcase overflowing with books and various tablets and ereaders.

“I’ve got to bring you up to date on Matt,” Mark told June as he pulled out one of the chairs on the wall. “You’ve seen him already, haven’t you?”

“I spent the afternoon with him.” June sat down then glanced anxiously up at her pacing brother. “Was that okay?”

“I, uh…” Mark frowned. “I didn’t really tell you, but I was keeping him in solitary confinement as punishment for running away. I mean, we can’t reward that.”

June sighed. “I guess not, but he didn’t have a lot of options.”

“I know, I know.” The irritation in Mark’s voice grew before he could catch it. “I’m sorry. I know I’m angry. And you didn’t do anything wrong because we haven’t had a chance to talk. But we’ve got to get together on this. Just be aware, Harold’s got me more pissed off than usual.” He sighed. “He wouldn’t even say hi to Matt.”

“Yeah, I know.” June tried to blink back her tears.

“Well, the good news is, Matt doesn’t have to go back.” Mark squeezed her arm gently. “Harold and Shawna will maintain nominal custody, but we’re pretty much free to do as we see fit. I’m inclined to work Matt’s butt off this summer, then let him board at St. Ignatius Prep in the fall. But what do you think?”

June wiped her eyes and thought. “Well, aren’t Tony and Rebecca Cooper going to do some interning this summer?”

“I was going to have them do the personal assistant thing to spell Gen Flowers. And it turns out, she’s got this summer fellowship she’d like to do. With Matt here, I can let her go and either work him full-time or split hours between him, Tony and Rebecca and maybe Kira Watanabe if she’s interested.”

“She should be, but she probably won’t be here for a good chunk of the summer. Once her dad gets back from Japan, she has to go stay with him, which is another mess.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard about it. Thanks for stepping up on that, by the way. Do you want me to contribute to the legal fund?” Mark went over to the desk and turned on the top.

“You’d better not,” June knotted her fingers together. “We don’t want any hints of conflict of interest.”

Mark winced and shut the top down. “You’re right.” He sank into the chair. “Anyway, back to Matt. I really feel like we need to impress on him that the running away was not a good idea, if not for him, then for Kira’s sake, if you know what I mean.”

June sighed. “Yeah, that makes sense. I just hope it doesn’t backfire on us with Kira. Karen’s really worried about her – apparently, she gets pretty stubborn.”

“Oh, I’m shocked,” Mark said dryly. “How do you feel about keeping Matt in solitary for the rest of this week, with the once nightly video conference?”

“That seems fair. Do you want him as personal assistant full-time or do you want to split hours?”

“I think they can split hours and we have to give them some time off on Sundays so they can all hang together. I want Matt to have his friends.”

“Given that’s what started this whole mess, that’s a good idea.” June smiled weakly. “I’m okay with St. Ignatius, too. Since Tony’s there, it should help Matt adjust.”

“Okay.” Mark got up. “Do you want to come with me to break it to him?”

June looked down at her mobile phone. “No. I’ve got some work to get done. I’ll go in and visit after dinner if that’s okay.”

“Sure. As much time as you want. Oh, there is a gadget restriction in effect.”

June chuckled. “Yeah, he went on about that.”

“Like I said…”

“I know. We can’t reward how he went about getting here. Does he get his stuff back at the end of the week?”

“Sure.” Mark went to the door and paused. “I hope you didn’t cut your business on the coast short.”

“No,” June said quickly. “It’s fine, Mark. Really. I needed to be here more.”

“Okay. Thanks, June. I’m sticking to not wanting your business to suffer because of being here for me. But I have to say, I really appreciate you being here.”

“I’m happy to do it.” June smiled.

Mark left, pulling his mobile phone from his pocket and texting Sharon. He checked the response just as he got to Matt’s room and smiled, then texted a quick response back.

Matt was just finishing his dinner when Mark walked in.

“Hey, Uncle Mark,” he said, scrambling to his feet.

“Sit down,” Mark said, sitting on the bed next to him. “We’ve got to talk.”

“This doesn’t sound good.”

“Well, your dad left around noon.”

“Oh.” Matt slumped and shook his head. “I suppose that’s a good thing.”

“Matt, I’m sorry about him and the way he acted. You certainly don’t deserve it,” Mark put his hand on his nephew’s back.

“Yeah, I know.”

Mark smiled softly. “I know you do, Matt. But it still hurts. You wouldn’t be human if it didn’t.”

Matt swallowed, then slowly sank into quiet sobbing, leaning against his uncle. Mark held him gently and waited until the sobs eventually abated. Matt finally sniffed.

“I don’t get it,” he finally sighed. “I mean, I get that Dad’s pissed at me. I’d be pissed, too. But he didn’t even want to see me.”

“I know.”

“And I talked to Mom, but she’s really mad and I tried to apologize but she hung up on me.”

“It’s like you said, Matt. They’re pissed and that’s as much about me as it is about what you did. They’re feeling like you love me more than them.”

Matt’s face screwed up. “But they’re my parents.”

“Of course and of course you love them.” Mark shook his head and patted Matt’s shoulder. “And you love me, too. So what? It’s not a competition and I’m not out to steal your affections. But they’ve decided it is. And if you love them, then you can’t love me and if you love me, you can’t love them.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Not entirely. Has to do with our cultural paradigm, according to Karen Tanaka, and that’s hardly your parents’ fault.”

“So does this mean I’m staying here?”

“That’s the good news. Now, your parents do still have legal custody of you, but your aunt and I are pretty much in charge and I don’t think your folks are going to challenge that. Just before you start celebrating, keep in mind, you will be working this summer and then going to boarding school.”

“Working?”

“For your college fund and you’ll be working for me as my personal assistant.”

Matt brightened. “Can I get a car?”

“No. You won’t need one.”

“How about a dog?”

Mark grinned. “You’ve been talking to your grandfather, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, but it’s a good idea and I’d like a dog.”

“Well, at the moment, you’re hardly in a position to be asking for things. You will remain in solitary confinement through the weekend and you will exhibit exemplary behavior from here on in. Are we clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

Matt ducked his head, supposedly in shame, but Mark caught the grin underneath.

“That will be all, then,” Mark said, getting up. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Matt bounced up and gave his uncle a quick hug before Mark left the room.

Mark, for his part, was still feeling rather angry and unsettled. Even as he left the hallway for the stairs, he went through the mental monolog – Matt was going to be okay, that was the important thing. It didn’t matter how badly Harold had behaved, it was Harold who had the problem, not Mark.

Mark was still going through the mental monolog as Sharon let him in through the secret basement entrance to her townhouse.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“It’s been a rocky few days,” he replied. “Let’s concentrate on getting dinner together and then maybe we can talk.”

“It’s almost done,” Sharon said. “The potatoes are fried and in the oven. The salad is made, but needs dressing and I just have to nuke the broccoli while I sauté the fish.”

“That’s good,” Mark sighed. “I can dress the salad if you don’t mind.”

“All yours.”

And, in fact, dinner, featuring tilapia fillets cooked a la Meuniere, with butter-fried new potatoes, steamed broccoli, and salad, was ready in a matter of minutes. Sharon opened a bottle of Chablis while Mark finished dishing up the food.

“So, I haven’t gotten the final word on Matt,” she asked as she placed two full wine glasses on the table next to the filled plates.

Mark sat down and slid his napkin onto his lap. “Matt’s staying. After the last two days, there’s no way I’d let him go back.” Mark paused and looked at his meal. “Fortunately, Harold didn’t push it.”

“Matt said that he hadn’t seen his dad.”

“That’s because Harold refused to see him.” Mark’s voice got very tight and low.

Sharon gaped. “He what? Oh, my God, what kind of—”  She stopped suddenly. “I’m sorry. I know he’s your brother.”

Mark started eating quickly. “That’s fine. Bash him all you want.”

He tried to look casual but saw Sharon’s soft gaze. Slowly, he swallowed.

“Look, Harold is one of the very few people on this planet who can get under my skin and make me question everything I know is right,” he said finally. “It’s kind of nice to hear someone else say what I’m usually thinking about him.”

Sharon shook her head. “He is quite the prize specimen. I know some serious Neanderthals who have more social grace than he does.” She frowned. “But to not even say hello to your own son.”

“I know,” Mark replied with a resigned sigh. “He didn’t even bother coming back to the White House last night. According to his security detail, he and his buddy Congressmember Chuck Meyers spent the night at Meyer’s favorite brothel.” Mark snorted. “It’s not even one of the better ones in town.”

“Oh?” Sharon asked.

Mark shrugged. “It’s one of those unspoken realities of the Old Boys Club. If you’re a man and you’re a legislator, you get invited to parties at whorehouses. A lot of the old farts consider it part of their perqs, and sometimes if you need to get something pushed through, you have to play on their turf. It does make it hard on some of the women legislators, but that was kind of the point. One of the reasons I don’t care to go to those kinds of parties.”

“I see.” Sharon shuddered. “It does sound like something Harold would enjoy. Yick.”

“Yeah, well, one thing about Matt being in town, I’m not going to be able to come over here for a while, unless it’s an acknowledged PFZ party.” Mark picked up his wine glass and gazed at the light yellow wine. “I mean, I assume you’d prefer we were discreet about this.”

“I haven’t told anybody if that’s what you’re asking.” Sharon paused. “I don’t know that it has to be that top secret. We are just friends.”

Mark chuckled. “You want to try and convince Eddie and the rest of the gang of that?”

“Good point. Oh, well. We were trying to keep distance, anyway.”

“Yep.” Mark took a long sip of his wine. “Let’s hear it for distance.” He sighed. “Anyway, thanks again for helping out with Matt. I really appreciate it.”

Sharon smiled. “It’s no trouble. He’s a nice kid.”

“He is.” Mark drained his glass and stood up. “And I have to get back.”

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

Sharon followed Mark down to the basement and the secret entrance. He looked at her fondly, then sighed.

“I suppose one good thing about Harold is that with a brother like him, why would you dare want me?” Mark said, forcing a smile.

“Well…” Sharon started, then saw the wary look in his eyes, and decided to say the opposite of what she was about to. “You’re right. He is one hell of a disincentive.”

Mark burst into laughter and left. Sharon chuckled as she shut the door behind him, then found herself sniffing. Distance was necessary, but there was part of her that longed to hold Mark and comfort him the way she had held Matthew two days before.

Mark’s laughter also faded quickly once he was in the Presidential limo. Harold was only part of the problem and he couldn’t unleash any of that on Sharon. But he deeply wished he could.

This is the end of Book One of White House Rhapsody. Book Two will start in a couple weeks, but next week, I’ve got an exciting announcement that will run in this space. Come check it out.

Episode 107 – Harold Comes to Visit

romantic fiction serial, light romanciWednesday morning found Mark in a somewhat calmer frame of mind. Though he was still apprehensive – with Harold one never quite knew what was coming – Mark felt he’d at least had a chance to brace himself for the unpleasantness ahead.

After confirming that Harold had, indeed, gotten on the plane and that it was going to land at National Airport, Mark sent Sharon and Al Eddington to pick Harold up, apologizing ahead of time for what would probably not be a very pleasant encounter.

Sharon had dealt with all kinds of unpleasant older men and so wasn’t terribly worried about the president’s brother. Al, who had met Harold before, simply shrugged it off. After all, he and Harold probably had more in common than not, and Al seemed somewhat preoccupied.

“You okay?” Sharon asked in the car as it wound its way through the Washington traffic.

Al shrugged. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t look it.”

“Well, that’s…”  Al looked over at Sharon and winced. “You’re going to just keep bugging me, aren’t you?”

“I might. Why don’t you just spill and avoid all the bugging?”

“It’s Caroline,” he sighed. “The biopsy on her lung came back positive yesterday.”

“Oh, Al, I’m so sorry.”

“They’ll be running some more tests tomorrow, but the doctor said that the prognosis is pretty decent.”

“How’s she dealing with it?”

Al snorted. “She’s great. I’m the one who’s falling apart. You know, I thought if we were going to deal with this, I was sure it was going to be breast cancer. I was ready to deal with that. But lung cancer?  I’m the one who should have the lung cancer.”

“Actually, guys can get breast cancer,” Sharon said.

Al chuckled in spite of himself. “We’ll have to see about that. Thanks. And, uh, do you mind keeping this under your hat?”

“Of course,” Sharon said.

By that time, they had arrived at National Airport and were let off near the baggage claim for the flight Harold Jerguessen was on. Al saw the president’s brother first. Harold Jerguessen was tall, but with sharply receding light brown hair and thick jowls. In spite of expensive custom tailoring, his suits always seemed rumpled and ill-fitting. He carried a tan leather messenger bag that wasn’t quite bulging.

As a state senator in Minnesota, Harold used his slightly rumpled look to seem more folksy and in touch with his constituents than he actually was. He mostly rode along to election on his brother’s name and a love of publicity and a good sound bite. Harold was good at sound bites.

Al approached and greeted Harold, who responded amiably enough, but Sharon caught a flicker of annoyance in Harold’s green eyes as if he just barely tolerated Al. Al introduced Sharon.

“So why’d you bring your secretary?” Harold asked Al, as he covered Sharon with an appraising smirk.

“I’m one of Al’s colleagues on the advisory board,” Sharon said pleasantly. “Do we need to wait for your luggage?”

“Didn’t bring any with me,” Harold snarled, then turned to Al. “I’m only staying the night.”

Al had already signaled the car and it pulled around so that the three of them could get in. Harold spent the drive back to the White House chatting about nothing with Al and ignoring Sharon, who took advantage of it to surreptitiously answer a few emails.

When her phone rang, she looked at the readout and lightly coughed.

“Excuse me, gentlemen, I really have to take this,” she said.

“Ah, it’s just my kid brother,” said Harold with a forced chuckle.

“I’m afraid it’s the Chinese ambassador,” Sharon said. “Excuse me.”

She quickly switched to Chinese as Harold glowered. They pulled up at the White House and through the gate as Sharon finished her call.

Al silently dismissed her as they got out of the car.

“I’ll take you to the Oval Office, Senator,” Al said, leading the way.

When Kent announced Harold’s arrival, Mark put his tablet down and told Kent to send his brother in immediately. Harold swaggered into the office and looked around appraisingly.

“Nice set up you got here,” said Harold with a nod.

“Thank you,” said Mark. “Would you like some coffee?”

“I don’t need anything.”  Harold plopped down on one of the couches and began fishing through his inside jacket pocket. “Nice piece of meat you sent to meet me at the airport.”

“She’s a valued member of my staff.”  Mark remained standing behind his desk, holding on to his temper with both hands.

“And how is she in bed?”  Harold pulled a cigar out and bit the end off.

“I wouldn’t know.”

Harold lit his cigar off a match and looked around. “Where’s the ashtray?”

“Since the employees chose to ban smoking indoors at the White House, I don’t have one.”

“You should have one for people who smoke. It’s rude not to.”  Harold dumped the match on the coffee table and let out another puff of pungent smoke. “Anyway, I’ve got meetings on the Hill, so let’s just cut to the chase.”  He got a standard letter-sized envelope out of the messenger bag and tossed it on the coffee table. “Since you’ve been wanting to undermine us ever since Matt was born, we’re going to let you have him.”

“Really.”

“Terms are there in that envelope.”

“I see.”  Mark walked over and picked up the envelope. “All right. I’ll look these over and get back to you in the morning. I just want to be clear on everything.”

“So you’re going to take him?”  Harold sounded surprised.

Mark looked his brother over. Apparently, Harold hadn’t expected Mark to want Matt.

“Yes, assuming you are okay with that. You are his father.”

“I wrote up the terms. You just sign the paperwork and we’ll be good to go.”

“I’ll do that,” said Mark, trying to keep his voice even. “See you in the morning?”

Harold struggled into a standing position. “Yes.”

“You said you had meetings. I can arrange to have dinner at whatever time is good for you. And there is a room ready for you. Breakfast is at seven or you can order it sent up at whatever time you prefer.”

Harold paused. Mark could see him mulling over the options.

“I’ll be back for dinner at seven,” he announced. “And I gotta go. See you.”

“Your Secret Service detail will have your car brought around and see you out.”

Harold snorted. “What?  You can’t trust your own brother to walk around on his own?”

“Yes,” Mark said, even though he didn’t. “The detail is for your protection. Standard operating procedure around here.”

Harold snorted again and swaggered out of the office. Mark waited until the door was shut and stayed shut before calling Johnnie.

“Yes, sir?” she asked when she picked up.

“I’ve got some highly confidential papers that I need White House counsel to go over with a fine-tooth comb,” Mark told her. “I’ll send Gen with them, but I need them before end of business. Can you let them know?”

“I most certainly can, sir.”  Johnnie paused. “I saw on the run-down that Matt’s dad was supposed to come by and I think I caught a whiff of cigar smoke in the hall.”

“You did.”

“Need to vent?”

Mark chuckled. “Probably, but I don’t have time. In any case, he’s gone until dinner time and even odds he won’t show then. He left some papers for me to sign so that I can keep Matt here.”

“Gotcha.”  Johnnie sighed. “I’ll have Voskovich sift through every letter.”

As it turned out, Mark was right and Harold did not show for dinner. He didn’t even stay the night at the White House. Matt took it philosophically and didn’t ask if Mark knew where his father was.

Mark knew, thanks to Harold’s security detail. He wasn’t sure he knew what he was going to do about it until the next morning when he had a quick meeting with Mila Voskovich, one of the attorneys that served to help represent the president with any potential legal issues. Voskovich had the changes made and the paperwork was printed out on Kent’s printer long before Harold arrived at 11 a.m., demanding to see Mark.

“Well?  Did you sign those papers?” Harold said as he entered the Oval Office.

“Yes, but White House counsel insisted I make a few changes that you will need to initial,” Mark replied, picking the paperwork up off his desk. “Why don’t you have a seat?”

“Sheez, Mark. I’m your brother. You’re supposed to trust your family,” Harold complained as he stayed standing.

“Right now, I can’t enter into any contracts without approval from White House counsel,” Mark replied, not at all sure he was unable to do so.

“So much for leader of the free world,” Harold snorted. “You’re such a pansy, Mark.”

“Actually, there were only two clauses changed – the ones that have me paying you to raise your son. And, frankly, Harold, while I am only too happy to help out with Matthew, I see no reason to why I should pay you for the privilege. Now, if you’ll just initial here and here.”

Harold glared at him. “What if I don’t?”

“Harold, you were gone all night last night and you’re wearing the same suit you wore yesterday.”  Mark sighed. “As in I know exactly where you went last night with your buddy Representative Chuck Meyers.”

“So you’re blackmailing me.”

Mark chuckled coldly. “I don’t have to blackmail you, Harold. But I can offer you a choice. Given that you haven’t even bothered to say hello to your own son, given your wife’s drinking problem and given your behavior last night, I think I could make an excellent case for having Matthew removed from your home. Now, I’m perfectly happy going through the courts, if I have to, but I know you’ve got a tough campaign coming up next year. So we can either do this quietly and privately, with the terms you have mostly specified, or we do it publicly.”

“You don’t want DeeDee?”

“I’m happy to have her. However, she did not come to me for help and she is close enough to 18 that it’s really moot at this point.”  Mark stared Harold down.

Harold shifted uncomfortably as he thought things over, then snatched the papers from Mark’s hand and flipped through them.

“There are two copies there, one for each of us,” Mark said.

“I can see that.”  Harold went over to the desk, looked for a pen, then pulled open the top drawer and got one out. “You know, Mark, one of these days, someone is going to show you up for the mean, manipulative son of a bitch that you are.”

Mark took another deep breath. “I don’t doubt it. Thank you, Harold. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a meeting. Did you want to see Matthew?”

“I’ve got a plane to catch,” Harold grumbled as Mark looked over the papers.

He snatched the set Mark handed back to him and stormed out of the room. Mark sighed, took a very deep breath, then went to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stopping only to call Jean Bouyer and ask her to keep an eye out for any potential statements from Harold.

June had her mind on only one thing as she slid out of the limousine outside of the family entrance to the White House – seeing her nephew. Which is why she didn’t see her oldest brother until he was almost, literally, on top of her. At first, Harold seemed angry, but he suddenly broke into a smile.

“June!  Long time no see.”  He held out his arms. “How about a hug for your big brother?”

June tried to back away, but with a whole crowd of West Wing employees and her own assistants standing around, she suddenly caved and gave Harold a quick embrace.

“Hey, Harold,” she said, choking back the sick feeling in her gut and quickly pushing away from him. “I’m so sorry. I’ve got to get upstairs.”

Harold held her for a second, then let go with a snort. “You know, it’s really sad how little respect I get from my own family.”

“I’m sorry, Harold,” June said over her shoulder as she hurried away.

Upstairs, she sent her assistants to their offices, then went on to her rooms and shut the door. She fought to get the sick feeling under control, but she still felt unclean and ugly, never mind that it was just a hug. And even then, she could have and should have simply refused. She knew she had the power to do that much. She should have. What was wrong with her that she kept giving him that much power over her?

June knew she should have reached for her phone, but unfortunately, she looked in the mirror. Fortunately, she remembered that moment very clearly. Five minutes later, she was all smiles and giving Matthew a big hug.