When USAF Colonel Chad Ryan accepts a new job on the White House staff he is soon making friends with the First Family – and with charismatic and troubled President Douglas Ford Kearney himself. They have scarcely begun to explore their feelings for one another, however, when it becomes apparent that their relationship is under threat from enemies both within and without.
Self-consciously Ryan discarded his jacket, draping it over the back of a small chair, and hauled his tie low enough to unfasten the top button of his shirt. The President was in the remnant of a business suit, shirt open at the collar, tie askew, sleeves rolled. He had long ago abandoned his shoes somewhere and was padding about on the carpet in black socks.
"Thank you, Mr President," Ryan said, his tone soothing. "For the job offer, and the invitation."READ MORE
"If you take the job, there'll be plenty more invitations." Kearney helped himself to a beer – apparently not his first, Ryan noted – and slumped back down on the couch. The shabby room was downbeat and friendly after the formal splendor of some of the White House apartments, and Ryan could understand exactly why it would be the kind of place a man would retreat to when he was too tired to string two coherent thoughts together. "Whenever I'm not at some dinner or working my way through a stack of papers."
"Thank you, sir."
"Uh-huh. You swim?"
"Yes, sir. At least, I used to. I haven't, for a while."
"I like to go swimming. I'd want you with me."
"Yes, sir. I'd be happy to."
"No, Mr President, I never have."
"Ah." Kearney registered a momentary disappointment, then shrugged it off. "You can learn. Badminton?"
"I'm not very good."
"You'll get better. Tennis?"
"Reasonable," Ryan laughed.
"Good. My daughter likes to play, and I don't have the time to join her as often as I'd like. She has a coach, but I'd really appreciate it if you encouraged her as well."
"I'll do my best."
"You watch sports? Comedies? Science fiction? What?"
"Most kinds of sport. I'm not into NASCAR – or science fiction, I'm afraid – but I'll watch a good comedy any day."
"Are we going to get on well together, Colonel, do you think?" Kearney asked him, bluntly.
"I don't see why not, Mr President. We're both sensible men."
"Sensible?" Kearney's eyes turned fully towards him then. "You think I'm a sensible man, Colonel Ryan?"
"I hope you are, sir, if you're running my country."
"Good answer." A wave of the hand indicated the unoccupied half of the couch. "Sit down."
Ryan plunked himself down in the space beside Kearney and looked squarely into the man's lined face.
"Nervous?" Kearney asked. "Reminding yourself what I do for a living?"
"A little, Mr President," Ryan conceded, without embarrassment.
"Uh-huh. It's just a job, you know. Like being a high school principal or a sanitation engineer. Try to get past it for a moment and tell me if you think the two of us can work out how to be friends, even if it takes a little time."
"Sir," Ryan said, calmly, "now that I've met you properly, I don't think it's going to be a problem."
"No." The release of tension from Kearney's frame was unexpected and highly complimentary to his guest, as though perhaps Ryan himself was not the only one who had viewed the encounter with alarm. When he wondered what there might be about him that could unsettle a man prepared to stare down the leaders of more than half the planet's population he came up with nothing like a satisfactory answer, yet the symptoms were impossible to mistake; Kearney had been just as nervous as he was himself. "So, you want to choose a movie?"
The pile on the table was an apparently random selection of anything that might take a tired man's fancy; there were detective thrillers, comedies, sports fables, westerns from both the gritty and impossibly hygienic ends of the spectrum. Ryan's hand hovered over a cheesy rom-com, then lit with decision on something featuring car chases and girls in skimpy clothing. "Will this do?"
Kearney waved away his selection. "I don't care," he said. "Choose whatever you want to watch; I'll probably be asleep within fifteen minutes."
"Oh." And before the unwisdom of cracking a joke with the President could occur to him, he ploughed on; "Maybe something with fewer explosions, then?"
The look he received in exchange was almost unreadable, but not without an element of humor. "Chad," the President said, "the way I feel right now, you'd have to blow up the East Room just to get my attention. Trust me, I could sleep through a hurricane."
"I hope you never have to prove that, sir," replied Ryan, as he slotted the movie into the machine and settled into what seemed to have become his half of the couch.COLLAPSE
"With prose and dialogue like this it was no wonder I couldn’t put this book down."
Length: 54,000 words/194 pages