39. The Light of Day

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Washington, D.C.

Mac finished her daily brief and sighed in relief as her intelligence director and Anthony Prado, her national security advisor, left her upstairs study. The one constant of the presidency was this daily global intelligence rundown. She turned to her chief of staff, "Keep applying pressure on Israel to exercise restraint in the West Bank. I understand their need to respond to the PLO bombings but I don't want the region destabilized any more than it already is. Remind Tony that I want him on this all day."

"Yes, ma'am," Jim replied.

"I also want you personally to follow up with the both the union and management representatives. We've got to know if the tentative agreement we reached yesterday for a permanent settlement is going to hold. If you sense any backtracking I want to know about it immediately. There cannot be any possibility of disruption of airline service… I will not allow Templeton to get any more mileage out of his shortsighted, ill-advised and inappropriate interference. Let's have Kelly announce our deal at today's briefing. We moved that to this afternoon?"

He nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

Mac shifted her position on the sofa and winced, completely unaware that all color had drained from her face.

"Are you okay? Should I call Dr. Brock?"

Breathing deep, hand against her side, she shook her head. "It's nothing," she insisted. "Just sore. I'll get through it. We've got work that can't wait, starting with choosing a new vice-president. That has to get done this week."

"We have some time—unless you plan on having surgery again any time soon," he said lightly, hoping he could curb her innate impatience and ambition at least long enough for her to recover from last week's ordeal.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Or get shot at," she added with a droll tone. "Jim, the longer we wait the more difficult it will be to get anyone pushed through Congress. Right now we have the public's heightened sense of the need for orderly succession in our favor. But if we wait election year politics will consume everything and everyone. You know that—better than I do. So I want that short list finalized by tomorrow and I want people in for interviews the end of the week."

Jim sighed. "Madam President, Dr. Brock has said that…"

"I know," she interrupted. "I've been placed under house arrest. But let's not kid ourselves. Kyle's the Straw man. We both know who really gave that order. I'm betting he had a conversation with you, too."

"He loves you," Jim pointed out, not even attempting to deny the allegation.

She couldn't argue with that simple yet mind-blowing truth. Once again she checked her left hand to see if his grandmother's ring was truly there. She smiled at the way it sparkled. "He does," she agreed with a contented sigh. "That's why I'm up here and not down in the office," she added as an impish smile that was not in the least bit presidential brightened her face.

He, too, smiled. "Still… We do have a little time, ma'am."

Momentarily she weighed his advice before pressing forward. "You and the staff will be doing the hard stuff. I'll simply be conducting a few interviews this weekend at Camp David. It's the best place to get people in and out secretly. Kyle's order that I rest provides the perfect cover. Besides how can my fiancé object to a quiet weekend in the mountains?" She chuckled aloud at the sound of Rod's new title. It was still so strange and new.

"Have you and Rod decided how you want news of your engagement handled? As you can imagine, Kelly is getting barraged by questions."

She nodded. "I think so. We talked about it yesterday. But I want to run it by him again. What time is she briefing?"

"Two," he replied. "But there's no rush. The sharks aren't going anywhere."

Mac groaned. "I hate what this will do to him—and the kids. And I want to make one thing absolutely clear: The twins are totally off-limits—particularly Rebecca. Unless the press wants a really pissed off President…."

He chuckled. "I'll spread the word. But there are still the paparazzi, the public, the campaign staff… and the terrorists."

The last bit hit Mac hard. Just the sound of that word sent a chill throughout her body. With no trace of humor she said, "With all that's happened the past few days, that's not something we've talked about. But they are now huge targets, even before the wedding."

"Especially before the wedding," he confirmed.

"What worries you most?"

"Kidnapping."

She slowly exhaled. "It's really that simple, isn't it?"

He nodded.

She realized just how little she understood about the particulars of the security that enveloped her, and the forces that daily threatened her and everyone she loved; or maybe, she'd deliberately chosen to remain ignorant. Jim, on the other hand, undoubtedly fully comprehended all of it. She would be a fool not to seek his counsel. "What do you suggest?" she asked.

"The U.S. Marshals are in charge of federal court security. They should be able to provide protection for Rod, perhaps even for the twins."

"And if they can't? Private security?" she surmised.

"Seems like the best option—the only option until you are married. We can get the Secret Service to consult. I assume money is not an issue."

"It's not," she agreed. Her mind began to wander to all kinds of new scenarios made possible by her engagement, all of them terrifying. "Life can be so different in the harsh light of day," she thought aloud.

"Ma'am?"

"How can I possibly ask this of them?" she clarified. "It would be a hundred times better for all of them that I don't run for reelection."

"You do it because the nation needs you, Mac," he replied matter of fact.

His use of her name got her attention. He hadn't called her that since she'd taken the presidential oath of office. She studied him and saw in his eyes that he sincerely believed what he'd told her. His loyalty, given their history, meant a great deal to her. "Thanks… And I need you."

He nodded. "Would you like me to set something up with Rod and PPD to discuss it?"

"Let me talk to him first. This has to be his decision." She had no right to speak for him—not about this.

"Knock, knock," the man in question said from the doorway.

Regardless of the seriousness of the ongoing discussion, Mac's heart flipped at the sight of him and she smiled. "We were just talking about you."

Rod stepped into the room and with a wink replied, "What a coincidence because I was just thinking about you. Morning, Jim."

The two men shook hands and Rod joined Mackenzie on the sofa. "Daily brief okay?" he asked, putting his arm loosely around her shoulders.

"Fortunately, other than the West Bank, which seems to be cooling off, the world's pretty quiet at the moment."

"Good," he said, staring into her face. The last thing she needed was a national security crisis. Her color was improved but still he was worried about her—particularly when he wouldn't be around to keep an eye on her.

"Ma'am, do you need anything else?" Jim interrupted.

Mac turned her attention to her Chief of Staff and shook her head. "Thanks, Jim. You'll keep me posted on what we talked about?"

"Of course, ma'am."

After he left the room, Mackenzie turned back to her man. "Hey…" she said, all traces of President Allen temporarily gone.

"Hey, yourself," he replied with an equally wide grin.

She scooted even closer to him and fingered his pastel colored zigzag and striped tie, which was the perfect compliment to his crisp light blue shirt. "Have I ever told you that I melt every time I see you in blue? That it's been that way from the beginning?"

"Only blue?" he teased, as his head bent towards her.

"No, but it's my favorite," she said, his nearness driving away any smart comment she might have used in retort. She welcomed his kiss and eagerly responded. But as she ran her hands up along his back, it occurred to her just what his formal attire meant. "When do you have to leave?" she asked softly as they parted.

"This morning," he confirmed.

"What happened?"

"Emergency hearing on Friday."

"En banc?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Just a normal panel, but I'm on it. It's likely to turn into a matter for the entire court though, and it's not something I can prepare for from here. The issues are too complex. Cam, Mary and I will be burning the late night oil all week."

Saturday was his birthday, but she wondered if he'd even thought that far ahead. She doubted it. Not with all that had taken place the past five days. No matter. She and Cooper would take care of that; and with any luck, Becca would be able—and willing—to join them. "And the weekend?" she asked hopefully.

He brushed the hair back from her face, and cupping her neck, leaned in for another kiss. "I'm all yours," he told her.

She smiled but then turned serious. "Do you have a few minutes before you go?"

"I'll make time," he replied. Her lovely eyes were full of fear. He took her hand. "What is it, Mackenzie? Are you in pain?"

She shook her head. "Jim and I were talking about you and the kids. I know this is awful to contemplate and I hate the fact that we even need to have this conversation. But our relationship—my job, I mean—makes them—makes all of you—targets… for terrorists, who want to get at me through them."

He nodded. "I know."

"I'm sorry." She inhaled deeply because what she had to tell him could break her heart again. "I want you to know that I would completely understand if upon further reflection you decided that this—that we—aren't worth the risk. If you feel you need to break off-"

He silenced her by placing a finger over her lips. "Honey, I'm not going anywhere. This isn't breaking news. I'm well aware of what our relationship means for all of us. I just happen to believe that you are worth it. That you are just what my family needs."

Mac closed her eyes and exhaled, feeling more grateful and relieved than she had a right to feel. The sense of wellbeing that washed over her as she felt his forehead press against her own overwhelmed her. "I love you," she whispered.

He pulled back and gazed into her face. "I love you."

"You're absolutely sure about this?"

"Yes," he assured her.

"Jim thinks—and I agree—that we should get security for the twins, at least until the Service can take over when we get married, or until after I lose the election."

"It's already taken care of," he informed her.

"It is?"

He nodded again. "Becca's got a full detail that will protect her around the clock, and Cooper's got a team that will take over when he's not with you. I would never put them at risk."

"And for you?" she asked.

"I've spoken with the Marshals office. I'll have round-the-clock protection, too." He caressed the side of her face with the back of his hand. "Mackenzie, I don't want you to worry. It's just a precaution. Nothing's going to happen, okay? I've got it handled."

She immediately felt better. "I should have known," she said with a chuckle. He was always prepared. "How—when—did you do all this?"

"While you were sleeping," he teased.

"Sorry about yesterday," she said with an embarrassed flush. "I didn't think the airline meeting and Arlington trip would take so much out of me." She'd fallen asleep in his arms after lunch while they watched a movie and had slept soundly through the night, waking up early this morning, still dressed in her sweats.

"You needed it… And it gave me some time to spend with Cooper, and to talk with Becca."

"How did the kids take it?"

"About the security?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said with a nod.

"As you'd expect," he said and then smiled. "Cooper took it in stride and Becca thinks her life is over. She hates being the center of attention."

"She must hate me."

He put his hand on her leg. "Honey, she doesn't hate you. Truthfully, I don't think she knows what to think—or feel. This is as new for her as it is for me. But she'll figure it out."

"I hope so," she replied with a small smile. "I want her to like me, Rod. I want us to be a real family. I want that more than anything."

He squeezed her hand. "Me, too."

"I think we should hold off on any interviews about our engagement."

He thoughtfully cocked her head. "Why?"

She shrugged. "I just think it would be best. You know, give us all a chance to get used to things without adding to the spectacle of it all. I'll have Kelly confirm our engagement, and I'll answer basic questions. But that's it for now."

"Is this what you really want, or are you just trying to do what you think I want… or Becca wants?"

"It's what's best. And that's what I want—what's best."

He nodded his acquiescence. "Okay."

She reached out and ran her fingers through his still thick dark hair. "You have to go, don't you?"

"Yeah," he acknowledged, looking at his watch. "I'm afraid time is going to be tight this week."

"I understand. How does a weekend at Camp David sound?"

"Sounds perfect. You will take it easy this week?" he questioned.

"I don't think I'll have a choice," she teased. "You've shanghaied my chief of staff, my personal aide, my doctor and my protective detail. So much for being the world's most powerful person."

"I don't know what you're talking about," he denied with a mischievous grin.

"Kiss me?"

"With pleasure." He cupped her face in his hands and felt her smile as his lips settled over her own in a gentle, evocative possession that warmed both body and soul. "I love you, Madam President," he told her afterwards.

"Hurry back, Your Honor."