Gently, the child cradled the doll in her arms. "I won't do that again," she promised. "As long as you're good."
Tears welling, Joan backed away. She went to the kitchen sink and vomited.
She stayed there for minutes, hands braced against the sink. At last she turned on the faucet. Watching her sickness swirl down the drain, Joan faced what she must do.
Glancing over her shoulder, she searched for the slip of paper with his telephone number, hidden in her leather-bound book of recipes. Call me, he had urged. No matter the hour.
She must not wake her husband.
Lifting the kitchen telephone from its cradle, Joan crept back to the living room, praying for courage. On the television, a graceful arc of fireworks rose above the obelisk.
President Kerry Francis Kilcannon and his fiancée, Lara Costello, watched as a red flare rose above the Mall, bursting into a galaxy of falling stars which framed the Washington Monument.
For this rarity, an evening alone, they had left the annual party for staffers and retreated to the porch on the second floor of the White House. Spread across their table was a white linen cloth, a picnic of cheese and fruit, and a bottle of light chardonnay which cooled in a silver cylinder, a gift from the President of France. Lara took Kerry's hand.
"When I was six," she told him, "our father took us to the fireworks at Crissy Field. I remember holding his hand, watching all those explosions above the Golden Gate Bridge. That's my last memory of being with him."
Turning from the fireworks, Kerry studied the sculpted face--intense dark eyes, high cheekbones, pale skin framed by jet-black hair--which, to her bemusement, had helped Lara rise from a semi-anonymous political reporter for the New York Times to celebrity as a television journalist. Like many women, Kerry supposed, her self-concept had been fixed in adolescence: then she not had thought of herself as beautiful--though she surely was--but as the perfect student, the dutiful oldest daughter who must help her mother and sisters. It was the dutiful daughter who had achieved success, driven to make Inez Costello proud, to free her younger sisters from the struggle caused by their father's desertion. Even at thirty-two, Kerry knew, her family still defined her.
"What I was hoping you'd remember," he said, "is the scene from To Catch a Thief. Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Monaco, watching fireworks from her hotel room."
Lara faced him with an amused, appraising look. "I remember that they lay down on the couch, and then the camera panned away. The fireworks were a metaphor."
"Uh-huh. Very 1950s."
Leaning forward, Lara kissed him, a lingering touch of the lips, then rested her cheek against his shoulder. "This is the twenty-first century," she told him. "No metaphors required."
Afterward, they lay in his canopied bed listening to the last, faint whistling of fireworks. One table lamp still glowed--making love, and after, both needed to see the other's face.
Smiling, she lightly mussed his hair. "You're not too bad," she told him. "At least as Presidents go."
As she intended, this elicited the boyish grin which lit his face and crinkled the corners of his eyes. There had been too little lightness in Kerry's life. Even his first success in politics, election to the Senate at age thirty, had been as surrogate for his brother, Senator James Kilcannon, assassinated in San Francisco while running for President. Lara had been nineteen then; she remembered watching the telecast of James's funeral, the haunted look on Kerry's face as he attended to his widowed mother. So that when, as a reporter for the New York Times, she had met him seven years later, the first thing she noticed was not his fine-featured face, incongruously youthful for a potential President, nor his thatch of chestnut hair, nor even the scar at the corner of one eye. It was the startling contradiction presented by the eyes themselves: their green-flecked blue irises, larger than most, gave Lara the sense--rare in a white male politician--of someone who had seen more sadness than most. Then, she had thought this an illusion, abetted by her memory of the funeral; only later, when Kerry shared the private history he had entrusted to almost no one, did she understand how true it was.
Excerpted from Balance of Power by Richard North Patterson Copyright© 2003 by Richard North Patterson. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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