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Thanksgiving dinner was looking to be a huge success. Earlier that day Rafe, Clara, and their boys had stood on the lawn for the official pardoning. A well-fed turkey had been given a reprieve and sent on its way.
The press had been packed as everybody watched the striped black and white towel pulled away by the youngest Dalton boy. It was a light-hearted moment as the President officially announced that Giggles the turkey was a free bird and certainly not going to be served at dinner.
Traditionally the pardoning was held the day before Thanksgiving, but Rafe and his advisers decided doing it a day later would be more festive.
Clara had been stressing for weeks about what to serve their guests on their first Thanksgiving at the White House. She had worried about a dinner without turkey. She was relieved when the chef and her aides reassured her that pardoning a turkey didn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t serve one during dinner.
Planning the menu had been a delight with such helpful people around her. There were some, though, that tried to pressure her into certain traditional dishes. But Gina and the very capable chef created a fabulous menu.
She looked at the spread they’d prepared and felt a sense of pride. She didn’t care what women’s lib would say… There was something about planning dinner that made her feel proud. She had the turkey in the place of honor and loads of other delectable dishes all over the table.
She sat watching everybody enjoying the food and couldn’t help but smile. While there was certainly more than just her family at the table, it still felt very intimate.
They had said a prayer at the start of the meal and following tradition they had gone around the table to say what they were thankful for. It had been a rather long list of thanks, but everybody had been in good spirits. Her kids said they were grateful for the opportunity to study at a good school and to be well provided for. She thought that had been hilarious. They were obviously sucking up to her and Rafe. They must have something up their sleeves, a special request for a Christmas present perhaps. Her statement had been brief, and she had refused to have her staff prepare it for her. She knew it would be reported all over the country, but she wanted to say something from the heart.
From the look on her aide’s face, she seemed to have done pretty well. “Madam First Lady, that was definitely one for the books,” her secretary had whispered to her afterward.
Keith’s mother, Emily while still in awe at the lavish dinner, was sharing a joke she’d heard on the plane. The punch line was so unexpected that it had everybody at the table roaring with laughter.
The turkey had just been carved when an aide came into the room and approached Jordan Lionels, the President’s Chief of Staff. Clara frowned as the smile on the other woman’s face froze. It was replaced with a concerned look. Whatever it was that the aide was whispering had the Chief of Staff worried.
Clara watched Jordan whisper back to the aide who nodded somberly. The latter then walked out of the room as quietly as he had come in.
Jordan Lionels had been thoroughly amused at the joke she had just heard when she saw one of her aides walking towards her. Thanksgiving dinner was an affair that would not be disrupted for anything other than severe matters.
When she heard what the man had to say, she understood why he had deemed it necessary to let her know in the middle of the celebration. After the aide had left, she thought about whether it was appropriate to share the news immediately.
Jordan looked at the President, who was talking to his eldest son Noel. They both seemed to be in such a relaxed mood that she dreaded having to ruin it. The news was indeed serious and something that she knew the President needed to hear.
She took a deep breath, stood up and walked over to the President. She bent down and whispered that there was something that he needed to hear, but that they would need to leave the room.
“Is it absolutely necessary?” Rafe asked with a frown.
“Only for a few minutes Mr. President,” she replied apologetically.
Rafe nodded and addressed the entire table as he stood up. “It seems that I have to go see a man about something,” he said with a grin. “Please enjoy this sumptuous spread, and I will be right back.”
Jordan followed Rafe out of the room. They headed to a sitting room located close by but far enough so that none of the guests could overhear them.
“What is it?” Rafe asked, taking a seat and motioning for Jordan to sit down as well.
“We’ve just gotten a report from the British Government. Prime Minister Woodworth died last night at Number 10.” Jordan went straight to the point, knowing that Rafe hated beating around the bush.
Rafe’s jaw clenched. “How?”
“It is still unclear right now. He was found dead by the woman who cleaned his private apartments. There were no signs of trauma and the body is still being autopsied.”
“The woman didn’t see anything?” Rafe asked
“She is a person of interest right now. She is a middle-aged Muslim woman. Now you know why some of the British parliament are concerned. But she has been with him for a long time. He brought her with him to Downing Street.”
Rafe nodded as he thought about what the news meant. “Do we believe that he was attacked?”
Jordan had anticipated that question as she too thought about it the minute she’d learned of the British leader’s death. “There is no proof of that just yet. But it would be prudent to consider it a threat for now.”
“And since the Prime Minister was at home when it happened, we are doubling the security at the White House as we speak. If it was an attack, then we want to make sure whoever is behind it will not be able to do the same thing here.” She watched the President’s face as she explained. “Access to the White House will be limited. We don’t want anybody new coming into contact with you. The dinner-”
“No. I trust everybody at that table.”
A knock on the door made them both look up. They waited as the door opened.
Keith entered the room with a serious look on his face. He had been alerted to the possible threat at the same time as the Chief of Staff. He made sure that the security detail around the dinner table had been advised before making arrangements for the rest of the building.
“We’ve just received word that the official cause of death has been released,” he reported.
“And?” Rafe was impatient to hear. He wasn’t normally an impatient man, but the people he loved were in the White House, and he was worried at the thought of an attack.
“Natural causes. The Prime Minister had a stroke.”
Jordan and Rafe gave a sigh of relief, but Keith continued speaking. “But we’ll still be on heightened alert. Might I suggest, Mr. President, that you stay away from the sinful food served at dinner?” Keith’s face broke into a smile as he gave the warning. “I wouldn’t want to arrest and question the pot roast for compromising your safety.”
“Your advice will be taken into consideration,” Rafe replied in his most formal tone. “Let’s get back to dinner then.” He motioned over to Jordan. “No need to worry everybody else.”
All three left the sitting room and walked back to the dining room. But before reentering the room, Rafe pulled Keith aside and whispered: “Make sure to have your best people watching Clara and the boys. And have someone in Boston watch Cheyenne and her family.”
Keith nodded and smiled reassuringly. “Already done, sir.”
Clara watched her husband and Jordan rejoin dinner. She caught Rafe’s gaze and raised an eyebrow inquiringly. He responded with a lighthearted smile.
“Thank you so much for being patient with me,” Rafe announced. “But before we continue with our celebration, I would like to have a moment of silence for the British Prime Minister.”
The entire room fell silent as they waited for what Rafe was about to say next. “We have just received word that Prime Minister Woodworth suffered a fatal stroke last night.”
There were surprised gasps from the people sitting around the table. One of the guests was a priest who stood up and said a prayer for the soul of the recently deceased leader.
Clara sat at the other end of the table across from her husband so she couldn’t ask questions without alerting everybody else. She would have to wait until later.
“Well, now, shall I have the pies brought in?” she asked everybody and received a hearty response.