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Prologue

December 4, Sunday

The entire Capitol Hill seemed to be still hungover from the recent Thanksgiving celebrations. Just a few days earlier, the streets had been packed with families spending the day exploring the city.
Sumptuous dinners had been prepared and shared among family members. There was no other holiday quite as intimate as Thanksgiving.
The White House was still as busy as ever. Decorations were being taken down, and despite it being a Sunday it didn’t look like things were slowing down.
In the private apartments on the second floor, a woman sat in front of a TV projection sorting out baby clothes and folding each one carefully. Every now and then she would rub her cheeks on the dainty little outfits.
Clara Dalton, the country’s First Lady, was fondly remembering the days when her children were young. Her eldest daughter, Cheyenne, had just turned twenty-one and had recently given birth to her first grandson. Her sons were both teenagers now.
It would be great to have another baby, she thought. Many women in their forties like her still had babies all over the world. She grinned as she thought about another child.
On TV, a middle-aged man was talking about another technological development. She grimaced as she heard what the man was saying.
“The new app developed by Lucid Tech is a medical breakthrough. Just imagine: you don’t need to rush to your doctor or the emergency room in the middle of the night to find out what’s wrong with you. The app can identify your symptoms and give a diagnosis in a matter of minutes or even seconds.”
Clara looked up at the clothes she was folding and frowned. At first, she was pleased with the convenience of self-diagnosing with your smartphone, but something about it disturbed her. It didn’t sound very wise to her. She felt that if something has that much power, there is probably a catch. You don’t get that much information without being intrusive. Unsettled and unable to put her finger on it, she stared at the man who was being interviewed on TV.
He looked awfully familiar. She could’ve sworn that she’d seen him before, but she just couldn’t figure out where and when. She was so intent on trying to remember that she didn’t hear the door open or see the elderly woman who walked in.
“Mrs. Dalton, you really shouldn’t be doing that.”
“Gina! You startled me. I’m sorry, did you say something?”
“Only that the First Lady isn’t really supposed to be folding baby clothes.” Gina smiled.
Clara grinned at what the other woman said. She’d known Gina for years. The woman had been a part of her and her family’s life long before her husband’s political career had taken off.
Clara still felt overwhelmed at their recent move to the Capitol. It still felt quite surreal at times. “Now… now, Gina, we must not be heard talking like that. What would people say?” she teased. “Have you seen Rafe?”
“The President just finished a meeting with his Chief of Staff. He sent me to find you, actually.” Gina smiled at Clara, who had the elegance and sophistication of a proper first lady but none of the airs. “He said… well… these were his exact words: ‘Will you tell the love of my life that I will be heading up to our room for a shower and I’d appreciate it if she meets me there as well?’ Yes, that sounds about right.”
“On a Sunday? Working? Didn’t the good Lord say that we should rest on the seventh day?” Clara and Gina looked at each other and burst out laughing. “Well, we mustn’t keep His Excellency waiting, then.”
Clara stood up and ran her hands down the side of her skirt to smooth out any creases that may have formed. “Will you take care of this for me? I want to send these to Cheyenne tomorrow morning.” She looked tenderly at the blue onesies she’d been folding.
A few days ago, her eldest daughter had given birth, making her a certified grandmother. She’d been both elated and sad. She and Rafe had not been there when their first grandson was born.
Clara was just about to open the door when it happened. She couldn’t remember feeling the blast. She felt her ears ringing. The entire room shook with the impact. She was sent sprawling to the floor.
She looked up and saw that Gina too was on the floor. A vase from a nearby table fell and shattered. This sent the two women scurrying towards each other.
The door flew open, and her security detail rushed in. They helped her up and hurriedly ushered her out the room. “Gina! Gina!” she called out. Clara held on to the doorway and refused to leave until her friend and companion was attended to.
“We need to go, ma’am,” the man closest to her said in a curt tone.
“I am not going anywhere without Gina. Where is my husband? Oh, my God! That explosion- was it in our room?”
She received no response, but thankfully Gina was now also being led out the room. Once they were out in the hallway, everything seemed normal except for the people who were rushing about. There were sheets of paper and other items scattered on the floor as if a child had left them there. She tried to pull away from her security to run towards their bedroom where she could see smoke coming out.
“We have no time, ma’am. We must get you to safety. The President is being taken care of.”
Clara barely heard what the man said. She was still looking in the direction of their bedroom. “No!” she screamed as they pulled her away. “Rafe! Rafe! Oh, my God Rafe! Please! No! Please.”