The inaugural celebrations, the parades, and the swearing-in ceremonies were over, and Oliver was eager to begin his presidency. Washington, D.C., was probably the only city anywhere completely devoted to and obsessed with politics. It was the power hub of the world, and Oliver Russell was the center of that hub. It seemed that everyone was connected in one way or another to the federal government. In the metropolitan area of Washington, there were fifteen thousand lobbyists and more than five thousand journalists, all of them nursing at the mother's milk of government. Oliver Russell remembered John Kennedy's sly put-down: "Washington, D.C., is a city of southern efficiency and northern charm."

On the first day of his presidency, Oliver wandered around the White House with Jan. They were familiar with its statistics: 132 rooms, 32 bathrooms, 29 fireplaces, 3 elevators, a swimming pool, putting green, tennis court, jogging track, exercise room, horseshoe pit, bowling alley, and movie theater, and eighteen acres of beautifully tended grounds. But actually living in it, being a part of it, was overwhelming.

"It's like a dream, isn't it?" Jan sighed.

Oliver took her hand. "I'm glad we're sharing it, darling." And he meant it. Jan had become a wonderful companion. She was always there for him, supportive and caring. More and more, he found that he enjoyed being with her.

When Oliver returned to the Oval Office, Peter Tager was waiting to see him. Oliver's first appointment had been to make Tager his chief of staff.

Oliver said, "I still can't believe this, Peter."

Peter Tager smiled. "The people believe it. They voted you in, Mr. President."

Oliver looked up at him. "It's still Oliver."

"All right. When we're alone. But you have to realize that from this moment on, anything you do can affect the entire world. Anything you say could shake up the economy or have an impact on a hundred other countries around the globe. You have more power than any other person in the world."

The intercom buzzed. "Mr. President, Senator Davis is here."

"Send him in, Heather."

Tager sighed. "I'd better get started. My desk looks like a paper mountain."

The door opened and Todd Davis walked in. "Peter..."

"Senator..." The two men shook hands.

Tager said, "I'll see you later, Mr. President."

Senator Davis walked over to Oliver's desk and nodded. "That desk fits you just fine, Oliver. I can't tell you what a real thrill it is for me to see you sitting there."

"Thank you, Todd. I'm still trying to get used to it. I mean - Adams sat here...and Lincoln...and Roosevelt..."

Senator Davis laughed. "Don't let that scare you. Before they became legends, they were men just like you, sitting there trying to do the right thing. Putting their asses in that chair terrified them all, in the beginning. I just left Jan. She's in seventh heaven. She's going to make a great First Lady."

"I know she is."

"By the way, I have a little list here I'd like to discuss with you, Mr. President." The emphasis on "Mr. President" was jovial.

"Of course, Todd."

Senator Davis slid the list across the desk.

"What is this?"

"Just a few suggestions I have for your cabinet."

"Oh. Well, I've already decided - "

"I thought you might want to look these over."

"But there's no point in - "

"Look them over, Oliver." The senator's voice had cooled.

Oliver's eyes narrowed. "Todd..."

Senator Davis held up a hand. "Oliver, I don't want you to think for one minute that I'm trying to impose my will or my wishes on you. You would be wrong. I put together that list because I think they're the best men who can help you serve your country. I'm a patriot, Oliver, and I'm not ashamed of it. This country means everything to me." There was a catch in his voice. "Everything. If you think I helped put you in this office just because you're my son-in-law, you're gravely mistaken. I fought to make sure you got here because I firmly believe you're the man best suited for the job. That's what I care most about." He tapped a finger on the piece of paper. "And these men can help you do that job."

Oliver sat there, silent.

"I've been in this town for a lot of years, Oliver. And do you know what I've learned? That there's nothing sadder than a one-term president. And do you know why? Because during the first four years, he's just beginning to get an idea of what he can do to make this country better. He has all those dreams to fulfill. And just when he's ready to do that - just when he's ready to really make a difference" - he glanced around the office - "someone else moves in here, and those dreams just vanish. Sad to think about, isn't it? All those men with grand dreams who serve only one term. Did you know that since McKinley took office in 1897, more than half the presidents who followed him were one-term presidents? But you, Oliver - I'm going to see to it that you're a two-term president. I want you to be able to fulfill all your dreams. I'm going to see to it that you're reelected."

Senator Davis looked at his watch and rose. "I have to go. We have a quorum call at the Senate. I'll see you at dinner tonight." He walked out the door.

Oliver looked after him for a long time. Then he reached down and picked up the list Senator Todd Davis had left.

In his dream, Miriam Friedland awakened and sat up in bed. A policeman was at her bedside. He looked down at her and said, "Now you can tell us who did this to you."


He woke up, soaked in perspiration.

Early the following morning, Oliver telephoned the hospital where Miriam was.

"I'm afraid there's no change, Mr. President," the chief of staff told him. "Frankly, it doesn't look good."

Oliver said hesitantly, "She has no family. If you don't think she's going to make it, would it be more humane to take her off the life-support systems?"

"I think we should wait a little while longer and see what happens," the doctor said. "Sometimes there's a miracle."

Jay Perkins, chief of protocol, was briefing the president. "There are one hundred and forty-seven diplomatic missions in Washington, Mr. President. The blue book - the Diplomatic List - lists the name of every representative of a foreign government and spouse. The green book - the Social List - names the top diplomats, Washington residents, and members of Congress."

He handed Oliver several sheets of paper. "This is a list of the potential foreign ambassadors you will receive."

Oliver looked down the list and found the Italian ambassador and his wife: Atilio Picone and Sylva. Sylva. Oliver asked innocently, "Will they bring their wives with them?"

"No. The wives will be introduced later. I would suggest that you begin seeing the candidates as quickly as possible."


Perkins said, "I'll try to arrange it so that by next Saturday, all the foreign ambassadors will be accredited. You might want to consider having a White House dinner to honor them."

"Good idea." Oliver glanced again at the list on his desk. Atilio and Sylva Picone.

Saturday evening, the State Dining Room was decorated with flags from the various countries represented by the foreign ambassadors. Oliver had spoken with Atilio Picone two days earlier when he had presented his credence papers.

"How is Mrs. Picone?" Oliver had asked.

There was a small pause. "My wife is fine. Thank you, Mr. President."

The dinner was going beautifully. Oliver went from table to table, chatting with his guests and charming them all. Some of the most important people in the world were gathered in that room.

Oliver Russell approached three ladies who were socially prominent and married to important men. But they were movers and shakers in their own right. "Leonore...Dolores...Carol..."

As Oliver was making his way across the room, Sylva Picone went up to him and held out her hand. "This is a moment I've been looking forward to." Her eyes were sparkling.

"I, too," Oliver murmured.

"I knew you were going to be elected." It was almost a whisper.

"Can we talk later?"

There was no hesitation. "Of course."

After dinner, there was dancing in the grand ballroom to the music of the Marine Band. Oliver watched Jan dancing, and he thought: What a beautiful woman. What a great body.

The evening was a huge success.

The following week, on the front page of the Washington Tribune, the headline blazed out: PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF CAMPAIGN FRAUD.

Oliver stared at it in disbelief. It was the worst timing possible. How could this have happened? And then he suddenly realized how it had happened. The answer was in front of him on the masthead of the newspaper: "Publisher, Leslie Stewart."

The following week, a front-page item in the Washington Tribune read: PRESIDENT TO BE QUESTIONE ABOUT FALSIFIED KENTUCKY STATE INCOME TAX RETURNS.

Two weeks later, another story appeared on the front page of the Tribune: FORMER ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT RUSSELL PLANS TO FILE LAWSUIT CHARGING SEXUAL HARASSMENT.

The door to the Oval Office flew open and Jan walked in. "Have you seen the morning paper?"

"Yes, I - "

"How could you do this to us, Oliver? You - "

"Wait a minute! Don't you see what's happening, Jan? Leslie Stewart is behind it. I'm sure she bribed that woman to do this. She's trying to get her revenge because I jilted her for you. All right. She got it. It's over."

Senator Davis was on the telephone. "Oliver. I would like to see you in one hour."

"I'll be here, Todd."

Oliver was in the small library when Todd Davis arrived. Oliver rose to greet him. "Good morning."

"Like hell it's a good morning." Senator Davis's voice was filled with fury. "That woman is going to destroy us."

"No, she's not. She just - "

"Everyone reads that damned gossip rag, and people believe what they read."

"Todd, this is going to blow over and - "

"It's not going to blow over. Did you hear the editorial on WTE this morning? It was about who our next president is going to be. You were at the bottom of the list. Leslie Stewart is out to get you. You must stop her. What's the line - 'hell hath no fury...'?"

"There's another adage, Todd, about freedom of the press. There's nothing we can do about this."

Senator Davis looked at Oliver speculatively. "But there is."

"What are you talking about?"

"Sit down." The two men sat. "The woman is obviously still in love with you, Oliver. This is her way of punishing you for what you did to her. Never argue with someone who buys ink by the ton. My advice is to make peace."

"How do I do that?"

Senator Davis looked at Oliver's groin. "Use your head."

"Wait a minute, Todd! Are you suggesting that I - ?"

"What I'm suggesting is that you cool her down. Let her know that you're sorry. I'm telling you she still loves you. If she didn't, she wouldn't be doing this."

"What exactly do you expect me to do?"

"Charm her, my boy. You did it once, you can do it again. You've got to win her over. You're having a State Department dinner here Friday evening. Invite her. You must persuade her to stop what she's doing."

"I don't know how I can - "

"I don't care how you do it. Perhaps you could take her away somewhere, where you can have a quiet chat. I have a country house in Virginia. It's very private. I'm going to Florida for the weekend, and I've arranged for Jan to go with me." He took out a slip of paper and some keys and handed them to Oliver. "Here are the directions and the keys to the house."

Oliver was staring at him. "Jesus! You had this all planned? What if Leslie won't - what if she's not interested? If she refuses to go?"

Senator Davis rose. "She's interested. She'll go. I'll see you Monday, Oliver. Good luck."

Oliver sat there for a long time. And he thought: No. I can't do this to her again. I won't.

That evening as they were getting dressed for dinner, Jan said, "Oliver, Father asked me to go to Florida with him for the weekend. He's getting some kind of award, and I think he wants to show off the president's wife. Would you mind very much if I went? I know there's a State Department dinner here Friday, so if you want me to stay..."

"No, no. You go ahead. I'll miss you." And I am going to miss her, he thought. As soon as I solve this problem with Leslie, I'm going to start spending more time with Jan.

Leslie was on the telephone when her secretary came hurrying in. "Miss Stewart - "

"Can't you see I'm - "

"President Russell is on line three."

Leslie looked at her a moment, then smiled. "Right." She said into the phone, "I'll call you back."

She pressed the button on line three. "Hello."


"Hello, Oliver. Or should I call you Mr. President?"

"You can call me anything you like." He added lightly, "And have." There was a silence. "Leslie, I want to see you."

"Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"I'm very sure."

"You're the president. I can't say no to you, can I?"

"Not if you're a patriotic American. There's a State Department dinner at the White House Friday night. Please come."

"What time?"

"Eight o'clock."

"All right. I'll be there."

She looked stunning in a long, clinging black knit Mandarin-necked St. John gown fastened in front with buttons over-coated in twenty-two-karat gold. There was a revealing fourteen-inch slit on the left side of the dress.

The instant Oliver looked at her, memories came flooding back. "Leslie..."

"Mr. President."

He took her hand, and it was moist. It's a sign, Oliver thought. But of what? Nervousness? Anger? Old memories?

"I'm so glad you came, Leslie."

"Yes. I am, too."

"We'll talk later."

Her smile warmed him. "Yes."

Two tables away from where Oliver was seated was a group of Arab diplomats. One of them, a swarthy man with sharply etched features and dark eyes, seemed to be staring intently at Oliver.

Oliver leaned over to Peter Tager and nodded toward the Arab. "Who's that?"

Tager took a quick look. "Ali al-Fulani. He's the secretary at one of the United Arab Emirates. Why do you ask?"

"No reason." Oliver looked again. The man's eyes were still focused on him.

Oliver spent the evening working the room, making his guests feel comfortable. Sylva was at one table, Leslie at another. It was not until the evening was almost over that Oliver managed to get Leslie alone for a moment.

"We need to talk. I have a lot to tell you. Can we meet somewhere?"

There was the faintest hesitation in her voice. "Oliver, perhaps it would be better if we didn't - "

"I have a house in Manassas, Virginia, about an hour out of Washington. Will you meet me there?"

She looked into his eyes. This time there was no hesitation. "If you want me to."

Oliver described the location of the house. "Tomorrow night at eight?"

Leslie's voice was husky. "I'll be there."

At a National Security Council meeting the following morning, Director of Central Intelligence James Frisch dropped a bombshell.

"Mr. President, we received word this morning that Libya is buying a variety of atomic weapons from Iran and China. There's a strong rumor that they're going to be used to attack Israel. It will take a day or two to get a confirmation."

Lou Werner, the secretary of state, said, "I don't think we should wait. Let's protest now, in the strongest possible terms."

Oliver said to Werner, "See what additional information you can get."

The meeting lasted all morning. From time to time, Oliver found himself thinking about the rendezvous with Leslie. "Charm her, my boy... You've got to win her over."

On Saturday evening, Oliver was in one of the White House staff cars, driven by a trusted Secret Service agent, heading for Manassas, Virginia. He was strongly tempted to cancel the rendezvous, but it was too late. I'm worrying for no reason. She probably won't even show up.

At eight o'clock, Oliver looked out the window and saw Leslie's car pull into the driveway of the senator's house. He watched her get out of the car and move toward the entrance. Oliver opened the front door. The two of them stood there, silently staring at each other, and time disappeared and somehow it was as though they had never been apart.

Oliver was the first to find his voice. "My God! Last night when I saw you...I had almost forgotten how beautiful you are." Oliver took Leslie's hand, and they walked into the living room. "What would you like to drink?"

"I don't need anything. Thank you."

Oliver sat down next to her on the couch. "I have to ask you something, Leslie. Do you hate me?"

She shook her head slowly. "No. I thought I hated you." She smiled wryly. "In a way, I suppose that's the reason for my success."

"I don't understand."

"I wanted to get back at you, Oliver. I bought newspapers and television stations so that I could attack you. You're the only man I've ever loved. And when you - when you deserted me, I - I didn't think I could stand it." She was fighting back tears.

Oliver put his arm around her. "Leslie - " And then his lips were on hers, and they were kissing passionately.

"Oh, my God," she said. "I didn't expect this to happen." And they were in a fierce embrace, and he took her hand and led her into the bedroom. They began undressing each other.

"Hurry, my darling," Leslie said. "Hurry..."

And they were in bed, holding each other, their bodies touching, remembering. Their lovemaking was gentle and fierce, as it had been in the beginning. And this was a new beginning. The two of them lay there, happy, spent.

"It's so funny," Leslie said.


"All those terrible things I published about you. I did it to get your attention." She snuggled closer. "And I did, didn't I?"

He grinned. "I'll say."

Leslie sat up and looked at him. "I'm so proud of you, Oliver. The President of the United States."

"I'm trying to be a damn good one. That's what's really important to me. I want to make a difference." Oliver looked at his watch. "I'm afraid I have to get back."

"Of course. I'll let you leave first."

"When am I going to see you again, Leslie?"

"Anytime you want to."

"We're going to have to be careful."

"I know. We will be."

Leslie lay there, dreamily watching Oliver as he dressed.

When Oliver was ready to leave, he leaned over and said, "You're my miracle."

"And you're mine. You always have been."

He kissed her. "I'll call you tomorrow."

Oliver hurried out to the car and was driven back to Washington. The more things change, the more they stay the same, Oliver thought. / have to be careful never to hurt her again. He picked up the car telephone and dialed the number in Florida that Senator Davis had given him.

The senator answered the phone himself. "Hello."

"It's Oliver."

"Where are you?"

"On my way back to Washington. I just called to tell you some good news. We don't have to worry about that problem anymore. Everything is under control."

"I can't tell you how glad I am to hear that." There was a note of deep relief in Senator Davis's voice.

"I knew you would be, Todd."

The following morning, as Oliver was getting dressed, he picked up a copy of the Washington Tribune. On the front page was a photograph of Senator Davis's country home in Manassas. The caption under it read: PRESIDENT RUSSELL'S SECRET LOVE NEST. Copyright 2016 - 2024