Table of Contents
ALSO BY KAREN ROBARDS
Whispers at Midnight
Manna from Heaven (a novella)
To Trust a Stranger
The Midnight Hour
The Senator’s Wife
Walking After Midnight
This Side of Heaven
Desire in the Sun
Dark of the Moon
To Love a Man
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
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Copyright © 2009 by Karen Robards
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Pursuit / Karen Robards.
eISBN : 978-1-101-02456-0
1. Women lawyers—Fiction. 2. Traffic accident investigation—Fiction. 3. Presidents’ spouses—Crimes against—Fiction. 4. Adultery—Fiction. 5. Conspiracies—Fiction. 6. Washington (D.C.)—Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
AS ALWAYS, THIS IS FOR
DOUG, PETER, CHRIS, AND JACK,
First of all, I want to thank my wonderful editor, Christine Pepe, who has done such a great job with this book. I also want to thank my agent, Robert Gottlieb. More thanks go to Leslie Gelbman, Kara Welsh, and everyone at Signet, and to Stephanie Sorensen in Publicity. Finally, to Ivan Held and the rest of the Putnam family, many thanks for your continued support.
I couldn’t do it without any of you!
s she there? Do you see her?”
As Jessica Ford pushed through the smoked-glass door in front of her, cell phone clamped to her ear, urgency sharpened John Davenport ’s voice to the point where the alcohol-induced slurring of his words almost disappeared.
“Yes,” Jess answered, her hand tightening around the phone as the door swung shut behind her, because the lady was and she did.
On the fringe of a raucous crowd intent on watching a televised basketball game, the First Lady of the United States was sitting alone at a table for two in a dark, secluded corner of the hotel bar, knocking back a shot of some undetermined golden liquid with the stiff wrist and easy gulp of a practiced drinker. Wearing a generic black tracksuit with white stripes down the sides and white running shoes. With her trademark short blond hair tucked up beneath a baseball cap pulled low over her eyes. The sheer unlikelihood of her presence in this mid-priced hotel just a few blocks from the White House at ten minutes past midnight on a Saturday night, plus a strategically placed leafy potted ficus near her elbow, was all that stood between her and a Texas-size scandal.
Jess felt butterflies at the realization.
“Thank God.” Davenport’s tone was devout. “Tell her . . .”
A cheer from the basketball fans made it impossible for Jess to hear the rest. Grimacing, fearing disaster with every way-too-fast beat of her heart, she hurried toward the corner.
Even knowing what she did, her mind boggled at what she was being asked to do. She was not the First Lady’s handler.
“I couldn’t hear you. It’s kind of crowded in here,” Jess said into the phone as the cheering died down.
Davenport added a few more choice words under his breath. “Just get her out of there, would you?”
“Yes.” Jess had already learned not to say “I’ll do my best” to her formidable boss. He would snap that he wasn’t paying for her to do her best, he was paying for her to
End of story. The phone disconnected with a click in her ear. Okay, the problem was now officially hers.
Where the hell is the Secret Service when you need them?
Casting another glance around, she had her answer: Nowhere useful, obviously. There wasn’t a black suit in sight.
Davenport had said the First Lady would be alone. Silly of her to have doubted the all-knowing one.
“Mrs. Cooper?” she asked in a low voice as she reached the table, mindful of possible listening ears. Besides the First Lady and the basketball fans, there were only a few other patrons in the small, wood-paneled room. No one seemed even remotely interested in the solitary woman in the corner.
Still, it never paid to take chances. She needed to get her newest problem out of there fast.
The First Lady continued to stare at her now-empty shot glass. If she’d heard Jess speak to her, she gave no indication of it. Clearing her throat, Jess tried again.
“Mrs. Cooper? Mr. Davenport sent me.”
That did it. The brim of the baseball cap tilted up. The look Mrs. Cooper gave her was tense, wary.
Jess attempted a reassuring smile. It felt tight.
“Jessica Ford. I work for Mr. Davenport.”
The blue eyes that seemed so soft and gentle on TV and in magazine spreads narrowed. Tonight they were red-rimmed and puffy, devoid of obvious makeup, and hard. The attractive, round-cheeked face was puffy, too, and pale, but still instantly familiar in the way a fuzzy copy of an iconic photograph is familiar. The lines seemed blurred, the angles less defined, the features indistinct, but the subject was definitely recognizable.
It was impossible to miss that Mrs. Cooper had been crying.
They fight a lot. She and David. All you need to do is hold her hand and nod sympathetically until she gets it out of her system,
Davenport had said.
David being the President. Of the United States. And before she could get busy with the hand-holding, Jess first had to coax his wife—one of the most recognizable women in the world—out of a packed hotel bar she had no business being in. Without anyone recognizing the icon in their midst. Jess could already almost feel a posse of gossip-hungry reporters panting at her heels.
FIRST LADY FLEES WHITE HOUSE, the headlines would scream.
If she screwed this up, she would probably lose her job. For sure, her boss would go crazy. The
would go crazy. The image of the weepy, sweats-clad, runaway First Lady would be plastered on every TV screen and on the front page of every newspaper and magazine in the world. The political fallout would be incalculable. The personal fallout would be incalculable. And hers would be the first head on the chopping block.
This was way too much responsibility. Jess felt her palms grow damp. She clasped them in front of her.
Do not wring them.
She didn’t, but she still must have looked less than reassuring because the First Lady’s expression turned hostile.
“I don’t know you. I want John.”
Perfectly manicured pink nails drummed the table. Then Mrs. Cooper’s well-tended hand curled around the cell phone lying beside the shot glass. Davenport was the First Lady’s old friend and personal lawyer. Jess was a lawyer, too, junior grade, who had been working for the filthy-rich mega-firm of Davenport, Kelly, and Bascomb, the most prestigious and powerful of the giant legal firms operating in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, for just under a year. Although officially known as an associate, Jess sometimes thought her main duty consisted of asking “How high?” when Davenport said “Jump.” When Davenport had hired her part-time during her second year at George Mason School of Law, which catered almost equally to older night-schoolers wanting to change careers and hardscrabble kids with crippling student loans and no money, such as herself, Jess had been giddy with excitement over her good fortune. This was her big chance, an opportunity to grab the golden ring for herself and her family, and there was no way she was going to blow it. If she had to work a hundred hours a week, she would work a hundred hours a week. If she had to put up with crap from the Ivy League blue bloods in the corner offices, she would put up with crap. If she had to be more efficient, more knowledgeable, and more determined than everybody else to get where she wanted to go, then that’s what she was going to do.