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The Oval Office was dark, lit only by the soft glow of the brass lamp on President Herney’s desk. Gabrielle Ashe held her chin high as she stood before the President. Outside the window behind him, dusk was gathering on the west lawn.

“I hear you’re leaving us,” Herney said, sounding disappointed.

Gabrielle nodded. Although the President had graciously offered her indefinite sanctuary inside the White House away from the press, Gabrielle preferred not to ride out this particular storm by hiding out in the eye. She wanted to be as far away as possible. At least for a while.

Herney gazed across his desk at her, looking impressed. “The choice you made this morning, Gabrielle . . . “He paused, as if at a loss for words. His eyes were simple and clear‑nothing compared to the deep, enigmatic pools that had once drawn Gabrielle to Sedgewick Sexton. And yet, even in the backdrop of this powerful place, Gabrielle saw true kindness in his gaze, an honor and dignity she would not soon forget.

“I did it for me, too,” Gabrielle finally said.

Herney nodded. “I owe you my thanks all the same.” He stood, motioning for her to follow him into the hall. “I was actually hoping you’d stick around long enough that I could offer you a post on my budgeting staff.”

Gabrielle gave him a dubious look. “Stop spending and start mending?”

He chuckled. “Something like that.”

“I think we both know, sir, that I’m more of a liability to you at the moment than an asset.”

Herney shrugged. “Give it a few months. It will all blow over. Plenty of great men and women have endured similar situations and gone on to greatness.” He winked. “A few of them were even U.S. presidents.”

Gabrielle knew he was right. Unemployed for only hours, Gabrielle had already turned down two other job offers today‑one from Yolanda Cole at ABC, and the other from St. Martin’s Press, who had offered her an obscene advance if she would publish a tell‑all biography. No thanks.

As Gabrielle and the President moved down the hallway, Gabrielle thought of the pictures of herself that were now being splashed across televisions.

The damage to the country could have been worse, she told herself. Much worse.

Gabrielle, after going to ABC to retrieve the photos and borrow Yolanda Cole’s press pass, had snuck back to Sexton’s office to assemble the duplicate envelopes. While inside, she had also printed copies of the donation checks in Sexton’s computer. After the confrontation at the Washington Monument, Gabrielle had handed copies of the checks to the dumbstruck Senator Sexton and made her demands. Give the President a chance to announce his meteorite mistake, or the rest of this data goes public too. Senator Sexton took one look at the stack of financial evidence, locked himself in his limousine, and drove off. He had not been heard from since.

Now, as the President and Gabrielle arrived at the backstage door of the Briefing Room, Gabrielle could hear the waiting throngs beyond. For the second time in twenty‑four hours, the world was assembled to hear a special presidential broadcast.

“What are you going to tell them?” Gabrielle asked.

Herney sighed, his expression remarkably calm. “Over the years, I’ve learned one thing over and over . . . “He put a hand on her shoulder and smiled. “There’s just no substitute for the truth.”

Gabrielle was filled with an unexpected pride as she watched him stride toward the stage. Zach Herney was on his way to admit the biggest mistake of his life, and oddly, he had never looked more presidential.