He looked up at the young woman in his door, surprised to see a woman delivering his mail at all. “Can I help you?”
“Just a message from Mr. Kane, Mr. President,” she handed him the letter, deliberately grazing his hand as he took it.
He looked over the letter, his brain barely processing that the Utah War had ended. Kane was not one for pith; the president would have to find time later to analyze the flowery language. His eyes drifted back to her. “They don’t usually employ such respectable couriers.”
“Maybe I’m not that respectable,” she afforded him a suggestive smile. He returned it, always amenable to attention, even of the female variety.
“Well,” he remained nonplussed, even amused by her boldness. “I am not surprised by that information. You’re one of those women who gets what she wants, aren’t you?”
A shadow crossed her face, and she dropped the pretense. “What I want is a voice in this mess of a government,” she responded sharply. “I want you to stop meddling in the Supreme Court, and I want you to quit saying states’ rights when what you mean is the rights of slaveowners. What I want is a president who will stand up for the rights of everyone, not some dandy who would rather be wrong than unpopular.”
He rose swiftly, head cocked (when wasn’t it?), his blue eyes shining with anger. He fought through this, found restraint (it helped that he’d already consumed several alcoholic beverages), found his voice:
“Careful,” he directed her, as she stepped back involuntarily. “I’m sure that was cathartic, but I’ll remind you who you’re addressing.”
She took a breath, and steeled herself. “Yes. I’m sorry I spoke to you that way.”
“But not for what I said,” she continued.
He laughed. “You are refreshing. Does it occur to you I’m doing the best I can? In case you haven’t noticed this country is divided. I’d prefer not to be remembered as the president who killed the republic. Restraint is important.”
“There are worse ways to be remembered,” she softened, but barely. “Restraint is weakness.”
He considered this for a moment, knowing he could continue a heady political discussion if he desired.
“Well,” he replied, thoughtfully. “I welcome you to feel unrestricted here.”
She appreciated his deftness in steering the conversation toward the prurient. After all, her unplanned outburst, while fair, was tangential to her mission. It also cost her the upper hand, and she hated losing.
“Believe it or not, I actually didn’t come here to yell at you,” she admitted.
“I believe it. I think you had a very different agenda in mind.”
“It had very little to do with talking,” she smirked, easily finding the tone she’d abandoned moments ago.
“Oh?” He feigned ignorance, daring her to say more. She leaned over his desk, her face hovering near his.
“I thought, if you were agreeable, you might like to take me for a ride.”
He moved around the desk, closing the gap between them, unfazed by her candor. “I think you’ll find I’m agreeable.”
She still expected he would back out, and she was eager to see him sputter. Instead he scooped her up and marched directly across the hall to his chambers where he dropped her roughly on the bed.
“Now,” he leaned over her. “Is this what you wanted?”
She was rattled; she anticipated an occasion where a man would call her bluff, but James Buchanan was a surprise. She wasn’t panicked, however (she wasn’t the country in 1857), and she nodded, winded, thrilled at what was to come.
It turned out what came was analogous to the presidency of the man himself. Following the initial thrill, it was clear that he had little plan and even less of an idea what to do. He kissed her, nearly swallowing her lips in his sloppy attempt at romance. He seemed confident, aroused, but his smooth attempts to remove her dress were clearly mired in frustration. The excitement she felt faded, replaced by pity for this doughfaced little man who seemed bent on thoughtless action.
“Um,” she didn’t want to be rude, but the question worked its way out. “Have you done this before?”
The look in his eyes was priceless, and he fumbled for a response as he’d fumbled moments ago figuring out how her body worked.
“I have,” he answered tentatively. “I was engaged once, you’re aware.”
“I’ve heard things,” she fought a smirk. “If that’s what you meant.”
“To a woman!” He protested, “I know what people say, but I did love her.”
“I’m not questioning that,” she assured him, gently caressing his face.
He nodded, softening. He was absentmindedly drawing circles on her arm with his delicate hands; her fair skin welcoming even if she didn’t completely tickle his fancy. He’d shown an uncharacteristic lack of restraint in pursuing her, and it became clear it was a desire for control and not sexual attraction that brought them here.
“It’s not,” he paused, trying to find the right explanation. “Please don’t think it’s you.”
“Oh God, please don’t explain yourself. Unless it’s about Dred Scott because you should be ashamed. Of that. Not this.”
He nodded, still pained. “I just didn’t want you to wonder.”
“Your relationship with Mr. King is the worst kept secret in Washington,” she told him. “If it helps, though, I can tell everyone we bumped uglies and it was so good South Carolina seceded.”