If Sharon didn’t pay much attention to the looks as she entered the reception at the State Department, it was only because she was so used to people looking at her. Yet, she couldn’t shake the feeling there was something else behind them, at least from the women, beyond the usual jealous glances. It didn’t matter. She had other things to think about and stayed focused on greeting Monsieur Sartimes and chatting with him and the French ambassador for a bit.
After the president had joined them, Sharon moved away and all but ran into June. Which is when Sharon realized that her odd feeling about the other women looking at her wasn’t just an odd feeling. June’s dress may have been pink, but it was exactly the same as Sharon’s otherwise, right down to the gold arrowheads shot through the sheer pink fabric.
June, for her part, started laughing.
“Oh, Sharon, please forgive me,” June hissed, trying to stifle her giggles.
“I’ve got your dress on!” Sharon gasped.
“Yes. But it’s my fault.”
But at that second, one of the butlers whispered something in June’s ear.
June groaned. “Gotta deal with this now. We’ll talk later. It’s not your fault.”
June scurried off as Sharon stood, trying to digest what had just happened, let alone figure out why June would feel guilty about the mix-up.
Daniel Friedman wandered up at that point.
“It seems to be going well,” he observed blandly.
“Uh. Yeah.” Sharon swallowed. “Anyone talking about the food?”
“Mostly about how good it is. Looks like we dodged that bullet.”
“Good.” Sharon’s voice came out a lot more tense than she’d planned.
“You okay?” Friedman asked
The president wandered up. “Looks like everything’s going really well, Daniel.”
“Sure seems to be,” Friedman replied. “Um. Did you hear about the menu changes?”
“No. Should I have?” Mark grabbed an hors d’oeuvre off a passing tray and popped it in his mouth.
“No, sir,” said Sharon quickly. “As long as you and Monsieur Sartimes are happy, who cares?”
“Tuna tartare?” said Mark, grinning. “Definitely some wasabi action on the endive? I’m happy and I hear Sartimes is chowing down like a pro.”
Sharon glanced downwards and saw something definitely wrong.
“Sir? Can I confer with you outside, please?”
“Sure,” Mark replied. “You got a headset on I can’t see?”
Sharon smiled. “It’s not that kind of problem. Sir?”
Mark glanced at Friedman. The two shrugged and Mark followed Sharon from the room.
Sharon wandered quickly through the halls, trying each door. “There’s gotta be an open conference room somewhere.”
Puzzled, Mark followed obediently until Sharon found a door that opened. She sighed in relief when it opened into a conference room and not a men’s room.
“Ms. Wheatly?” Mark asked, expectantly.
“I’m sorry, sir, but you’ve got a button missing on dinner jacket,” Sharon said, opening her purse. It was a small rhinestone affair, but big enough for what she needed. “On the sleeve.”
Mark sighed. “Oh. Yeah. I fidget with them. Johnnie’s always on my backside for tearing them off.”
“I think I might have a close enough match here,” Sharon said, pulling out her sewing kit.
“I’ve got it right here.” Trying to hide his flush, Mark pulled the button from his pants’ pocket.
“Well, that makes life easier.” Sharon smiled. “Don’t worry. You wouldn’t believe the number of executives I’ve saved just because I keep a sewing kit on me. May I have your jacket, please?”
Mark pulled his off and handed it to her. “Johnnie’s always telling me to keep my hands in my pockets.”
“Obviously, you’re listening,” Sharon said, then tried not to wince as she took the jacket and pulled out a chair from the conference table so she could get to work.
“Bad habits. What can I say?” Mark smiled.
He allowed himself a covert glance at Sharon. She bent over his sleeve, presumably concentrating on the job at hand. Yes, she was gorgeous. But that was almost a distraction. Granted, her interest in seeing him well-groomed had as much to do with her professional duties as anything else. Yet, there was something. Something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Something special.
Which, of course, is why at that exact moment, June chose to burst into the room.
“Mark, they’re looking for you,” she began, then saw what was going on. “Oh. For heaven’s sakes. Can’t you keep your hands off your sleeves? For crying out loud. You’re a grown man!”
“I will endeavor to do better,” Mark said, pleasantly.
June rolled her eyes. “You say that every time. I don’t think you’re really trying.”
“It’s irrelevant now,” said Sharon, biting off the thread. “It’s taken care of. Although why more men don’t carry sewing kits is beyond me. It would make my life easier.”
Mark took his jacket back and put it on. “I’ll put it on my to-do list.”
“Get yourself back in there. It’s speech time,” said June, pushing him out the door. As soon as her brother was gone, she turned to Sharon. “Well. Thank you. I swear, it’s scary how often he tears his buttons off. Everyone thinks he’s the proverbial cucumber and no one ever notices how many times the buttons go missing on his suit jackets.”
“It’s not all that uncommon,” Sharon said, ducking her head as she put the sewing kit back together. “It’s why I learned to pack my little kit.”
June giggled. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be laughing. You must be horribly embarrassed.”
“It’s a little awkward on my first night out.”
“It’s my fault. I forgot I put this design into production.”
Sharon looked at her, completely perplexed. “I’m sorry? I just got it today.”
“It’s a Design by JJ, right?”
“I have no idea.” Sharon stopped and thought about it. “I just didn’t have any cocktail dresses and this was the first one that appealed to me.”
She grabbed the back of her dress and tried to wriggle around to look at the tag.
“It’s mine,” said June, laughing. “Are you serious? You had no clue?”
Sharon sighed. “I used to be better at the label game. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” June smiled warmly. “I hate label freaks, although I have to confess, they’ve been pretty good for business.”
Sharon took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay. That makes how many times I’ve messed up tonight?”
“Messed up?” June looked at her. “Oh, Sharon, I’m not mad at you. Actually, I’m pretty complimented. You bought the dress because you genuinely liked it. That’s the best compliment I’ve gotten all year.”
“I’m glad you think so.” Sharon sighed. “I’m beginning to thing Tanks was right. This White House thing is pretty freaky.”
June laughed outright. “Pretty freaky? Good lord, it’s absolutely crazy-making! I didn’t get this messed up dressing Helen freaking Mirren for the Oscars.”
“You’re not upset, then?”
“Why? Because you have such exquisite good taste?
Sharon sniffed and giggled. “Well, if you’re not upset, then to heck with the rest of them.”
“To heck with them, indeed. Shall we return together, arm in arm? That will really get the old gossip mill going.”
Sharon instinctively shrank back. “Oh, lord. Oh, what the hell. The men haven’t noticed. You’re not peeved. Why should I care?”
“You do, don’t you?’ June said softly.
Sharon shrugged. “You’d think I’d be used to the looking and the rumors and all that stuff by now. Funny thing is, I don’t think you ever get used to it.”
June shook her head. “You don’t get over it. But you do get used to it. You can get used to a lot of things. Trust me.”
“Think your brother is ever going to get used to being president?” Sharon blurted out.
“Yipes. Where did that come from?”
Sharon blushed. “I can’t believe I just said that.” She sighed. “It’s funny. I just can’t help noticing how sad he seems every time the rest of the Advisory Panel talks about going out to lunch together and he can’t come with us.”
“Actually, I’ve noticed that, too.” June frowned. “It’s kinda weird, really. Mark is the original every day guy. So it’s totally amazing to me that he’s gotten as far as he has. I mean, the kind of ego you need to pull off a presidential campaign. Mark doesn’t have that. He does have drive, I’ll give him that.”
“Probably accounts for it.”
“Probably. But he’s been having a couple problems settling in.”
“I, uh, talked to Coop about it the other day. He said he’d see what he could do. There’s a bunch of private clubs around the area. Coop said he’d talk to the Secret Service guys and the clubs, so maybe…”
“Maybe,” June said. “What’d be really great is a good hide-out with a secret entrance or something.”
The light went on in Sharon’s head. “Yeah. He likes basketball, right?”
June laughed. “He loves sports, period. The guy will watch curling, for crying out loud.”
“Curling’s kinda fun,” said Sharon. “Now, if he was into watching badminton, I’d really be worried.”
June laughed even harder and Sharon joined in.
“Think you can face ‘em?” June asked, finally.
“If you can, I can,” Sharon said.
So arm in arm, the two returned to the party. Across the room, Mark saw the two enter. Again, he felt his stomach flutter at the sight of her. And she was with June, no less, and the two really seemed to like each other. Mark smiled to himself. How perfect could one woman be?