They call me America’s Widow.
They expect me to mourn forever.
But, I’ve taken a lover.
The closer I get to Cruz, the more I’m convinced he"s keeping secrets.
And secrets, I’ve learned, can be deadly.Books in Series:Protocol Series by Eden ButlerBooks by Author:Eden Butler Books
Waterford, Virginia, June 2012
LIA DIDN"T LOOK MUCH like a First Lady, but then, the gig was still new. I got zero Nancy Reagan or Barbara Bush feels from her as she moved around my condo, her hair pulled up in something resembling a bun, held together with a pencil she lifted from my junk drawer, and a damp dish towel knotted around her waist as she rinsed the dishes cluttering my kitchen island.
"You don"t have to do that, Mrs. Harris." I cringed when she frowned, realizing for at least the dozenth time tonight that she hated when I didn"t call her Lia.
"Ridiculous," she said, swatting my hand away when I tried taking a plate from her. "You and all this "Mrs. Harris" business has gone on too long, Cruz." She got the dish free from my hand with little more than the arch of one eyebrow. Devious. She knew I couldn"t take those looks from her. It was a challenge I wouldn"t accept, though I suspected she wanted me to.
We"d danced around the vibe moving between us for over a year, starting on the campaign and still damn well there as she got used to being the newest First Lady.
I was getting a little pissed off that we hadn"t finished it.
"You"ve seen me puking my guts out after six amaretto sours…"
"We were stupid kids. College doesn"t count," I tried, unable to keep the laugh out of my tone when she shook her head, disregarding my logic with a lazy shrug.
"I"ve seen you so sick you couldn"t lift your head off the pillow." She moved to rinse another dish, a wine glass this time and I couldn"t keep myself from watching her ass move in that modest skirt of hers.
Heart shaped, still. Lia Baptiste, as I"d known her at Loyola my last semester, had the most perfect ass I"d ever seen. Time hadn"t changed that.
"Such a Boy Scout," she said through a laugh.
"Boy Scout" I"m no Boy Scout, Lia besides, it…was Hartford and five below zero." I hurried to gather more dishes from the island, standing next to her to keep from staring at that sweet ass like I wanted to take a bite. "Everyone was down with the flu."
"No," I said, handing her two forks after I rinsed them. "President Harris was up for the job."
She shook her head, lowering her gaze to the water running from the tap. "Still seems so weird, doesn"t it""
"What" Him being president"" She nodded, and I wondered just then what she thought and why whatever those thoughts were, made her look a little disappointed. "You know that"s what the whole campaigning thing was for, right" Us getting up before sunrise, riding on a bus from state to state, him kissing…" She glanced at me and I remembered who she was. At least who she was now. The Lia I"d been with in college was gone. The woman looking up at me was the First Lady. I was an agent. We were galaxies away from who we"d been back in New Orleans.
Time to check myself.
"Kissing"" she said, prompting me to continue with a half-smile.
She didn"t laugh. Even though during the past year as I was assigned to guard Lia and her husband, it had been commonplace for me to crack a stupid joke and for her to laugh no matter how idiotic it was, she didn"t then. Just didn"t seem to be much that made her laugh lately. At least, when she was in the White House.
When she exhaled, pulling off the dish towel after she closed the dishwasher, I spotted the soft, small wrinkle between her eyes. That was uncommon, too, and I decided I didn"t like seeing her like that. It wasn"t the face she showed the world.
"Yes, well, he"s kissing a lot more than toddlers now." It was a slip, I spotted that quick enough when Lia"s cheeks colored, brightening her light brown skin. She hurried to make the frown move from her features, but I hadn"t missed it.
"Hey," I finally said, catching her when she tried to move away from the sink. My place was a disaster, but the party had been good. A bunch of the people we"d both known from our Loyola days converging on D.C., itching to hang out with the new First Lady and embarrass me in the process. But that had ended two hours ago. A car waited out on my drive ready to take us both back to D.C., but Lia hadn"t wanted to leave. She"d insisted on helping me clean up and when Lia wanted something, she usually got it. Now though, the fake smile, so practiced, so constant on her face, slipped as though the small comment was something she"d wanted to keep secret.
"I"m being…a little pathetic," she said, stepping back from me, readjusting her shirt as I watched her. She didn"t seem to like the way I stared, like she knew I could make out the bullshit she tried to pretend she wasn"t giving me.