Home > American King (New Camelot Trilogy #3)(5)

American King (New Camelot Trilogy #3)(5)
Author: Sierra Simone

Then the wave would collapse and crash, sucking itself back into the past. An endless, churning cycle of doubt. I only knew one way to stay the doubt, to part the guilt and the worry like a biblical sea, and that way was lost to me. My little prince had run away, my little princess was in another city. There was no one to wrestle, no one to whip, no one to kiss. No one to shove inside of and relieve every ache.

Fuck. I needed it bad too. Those moments before Embry had told me he was leaving, his jacket crumpled in my fist, his fingers warm and probing the place I’d denied him so long…

God, what I would have given. My kingdom. My soul, just to have Embry in front of me. I’d grab that jacket again, and then I’d push him down, shove his face into the carpet. Yank down his pants. How the fuck dare he, how the fuck dare he, and I’d seethe just that into his ear as I laid my body over his. I’d pin him down with a forearm to his neck, I’d make him feel every angry pound of me. I’d fuck him right in two.

 

Belvedere finds me in the gym the next morning, naked to the waist and covered in sweat.

Belvedere’s in his mid-twenties, Latinx—and his floppy black hair and tight cardigans and trendy glasses betray the same level of attention he gives to style as he gives to everything else, which is part of why he makes such an excellent aide. The other part is his sheer unflappability; he makes no comment on my haggard expression or sweaty body.

“Good morning, Mr. President,” he says. I grunt in response, finishing the last four pull-ups of my set before dropping from the bar and reaching for my towel.

“We’ve got a full docket today,” he continues, unfazed. Ryan Belvedere has seen me in every mood, every state of sweat and undress, every tired, snappish moment in a rented car or in the corner of a high school gymnasium or under the baking sun at a state fair. He’s my body man, my personal aide—my valet if you care for such old-fashioned terms—and he’s awake before me and asleep after me. His job is me. To manage my travel and my appointments in conjunction with my secretary. To make sure my dry-cleaning arrives at the right hotel when I’ve got three different events in three different cities. To hand me Sharpies when I’m signing at rallies, to carry my spare ties, to answer my phone when I can’t. He’s my shadow, and after last night, he’s my most loyal friend.

Of course, Embry and I were never really friends. When we first met, he thought I was his enemy and I thought he was perfect. Then I fell in love with him, and he’s been breaking my heart ever since.

I flex my hands just once, hard enough to feel the protest of the bones and thin tendons, to remind myself that I can feel something other than this. Than him.

My little prince.

“What’s on today?” I ask, throwing the towel in a nearby basket and taking the folder Belvedere offers. Inside is my agenda for the day and several memos from my staff to review.

“Briefing from your secretary at eight thirty,” Belvedere says, taking the folder from me and handing me a bottle of water, which I gladly drink. “Then your daily security briefing with Gawayne at nine thirty. A phone call with the new UK prime minister right after, then the televised visit with the Pine Ridge high school. Merlin wants me to remind you to use it as a chance to showcase the early achievements of the reservation infrastructure bill you spearheaded last year.”

Merlin. Another open wound that needs triaged today. I cap the now-empty bottle and drop it into the recycle bin. “I’m not going to platform on something that should have been done decades ago. It feels corrupt.”

“I told Merlin you’d say that. And he told me to tell you to do it anyway.”

“I won’t.”

“I told him that too. He said to tell you that you and Embry aren’t going to get re-elected on modesty alone.”

Embry.

Hearing his name from Belvedere’s mouth is like having my guts exposed. I rub a hand over my face, pray that the salt sting in my eyes is from sweat and not tears.

“What else?” I ask through my hand.

“Bakewell wants to meet about the Carpathian sanctions bill the House is floating around. I put her down at one. Then we’ve got a staff meeting in the Oval Office at one-thirty. Handshake session at three, at four we’ve got the police widows coming in. Merlin wants the photo op to smother the latest GOP claim that you’re anti-cop.”

“For fuck’s sake,” I mutter, dropping my hand. My party had sponsored and successfully pushed through legislation to track officer-involved shootings and to provide federal funds for body cameras and racial sensitivity training. The bill had been crafted in close consultation with the Fraternal Order of Police and several key police chiefs from around the country. It’s the kind of choice I would have easily made as a captain or a major in the war.

But this isn’t the war, I remind myself with a sigh. This is peacetime. And in peacetime, even the most careful of decisions can get ripped to shreds. Twisted for political gain.

I remind myself that I chose this way of living. Or it chose me. I’m still not sure which.

“And then there’s the gala for the Luther Center honors tonight. Trieste, Merlin, and Kay have made a few notes on your speech—would you like me to squeeze in Uri this morning for final revisions?”

Uri Katz is my head speechwriter, and he’s damn good. Normally, I want his input at every stage of a speech. But today is not a normal day, and today more than ever I’m feeling the bitter irony of speaking at the Luther Center—a foundation dedicated to promoting the arts and sciences that began with an endowment from my dead father, President Penley Luther. A father that only a few people in this world know is mine.

"Any word from Berlin?" I ask. "It should come through today or tomorrow, and it'll be unofficial channels."

Belvedere shakes his head. "Not yet, sir."

"Okay." I hand him the folder back. “We’re changing the day. Tell Lana to compile any information from her briefing and put it on my desk. Have Gawayne send the PDB digitally, reschedule the prime minister. I trust Uri to revise the speech on his own; I’ll tweak it later if I think it needs it. Something big happened last night, and our staff meeting is first thing now, got it?”

“Got it,” Belvedere murmurs, already typing into his iPhone.

“High school and widows stay, everything else gets bumped to tomorrow, please. I’ll go to the gala tonight—see if I can call the prime minister from the car on the way there, now that I think of it.”

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