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Declaration of War
Presidential Suite
Summary:  Chapter 3 in the Temptation series...
Even with the best intentions, sometimes war is inevitable.
Spoilers:  through "Debate Camp"

Declaration of War

It turned out to be an extremely busy day, with Jed never quite able to catch up on his schedule, and certainly unable to devote any more time to thinking about Abbey. It was a surprise, then, when he went into Leo's office late in the afternoon, to find her sitting on the couch, the two of them talking and laughing.

"Hey, Leo, I need..." Her presence caught him off guard, and he stopped short in the doorway, momentarily forgetting what he wanted from Leo.

Delight at seeing her washed over him, and he smiled, saying, "Hi, Abbey, I didn't expect to see you here. You two busy?"

Was that a brief expression of uneasiness that crossed her face? It was gone quickly, replaced by a smile, and it was Leo who answered.

"We're just going over the appearances Abbey will be making between now and the election. She's got a tight schedule ahead of her."

Jed nodded, and started for the couch, ready to sit beside Abbey and enjoy a little break with his wife and his best friend, but Charlie appeared in the doorway.

"Mr. President, can you come back to your office? Dr. McNally is on the phone."

"Yeah, Charlie, I'm coming." Jed turned to follow his aide, taking time only to say, "See you later, Abbey."

For hours afterward, he was swept up in any number of small crises which needed his undivided attention. Finally, at eight o'clock, he thrust a few files into his briefcase and left the Oval Office.  Despite the tensions of the day, he was in a good mood and ready to talk to Abbey. Jed wanted everything to go right. The evening was still young and he had every hope that the night would be a good one. He had it all planned -- a heartfelt conversation to clear the air, a nice dinner, a snifter of brandy, a small fire in the fireplace, and the hopes of igniting an even bigger fire with his wife. His smile was smug as he walked to the residence.

She was there, waiting for him in the sitting room. He walked over and kissed her, pulling her close, anxious to feel the warmth of her body and the delicate softness of her skin. A small sigh escaped his lips, and Abbey pulled away to look into his face.

"Bad day?" she asked.

"No, not really, just busy. But I am very, very glad to be home." He smiled at her. "And I am very glad to see you, Abigail."

Jed went over and poured himself a drink, asking Abbey if she wanted one, but she refused. He turned to find her sitting on the couch, staring into the fire. He silently congratulated himself. This was good. Everything was going according to plan, even down to the fire crackling in the fireplace. Now a little conversation, a nice dinner - and dessert. He thought he would have Abbey for dessert.

He sat down beside her, ready to clear the air and tell her he wanted them to regain the closeness that had slipped away over the past few months.

"Abbey, we need to talk..."

"Yes, we do, Jed," she replied, her voice dull and flat, but she didn't look at him. She just kept staring into the fire.

"Abbey, things haven't been right between us lately and I know a lot of it is my fault."

"You're damn right it's your fault." Her sudden anger shocked him. This was going to be far harder than he had expected. Why wasn't she trying to meet him halfway?

"I know I need to make changes, that I need to..."

She interrupted him ruthlessly, finally turning her eyes to his, and he saw they were blazing with fury.

"I can't believe I kept you alive just so you could go to Rachel Hartman," she said, the bitterness evident in her tone.

"What?" Jed was genuinely shocked. "What are you talking about?"

"You know perfectly well, Jed. I'm talking about keeping you alive, lying for you, standing by you through everything, and then you repay me by bringing Rachel back into your life."

So that was the problem.  There was no cause for alarm or anger.  He could straighten this out.

"For the record, Abbey, I didn't bring Rachel into the campaign. The DNC assigned her as a political analyst and I didn't know anything about it. And she's not a part of my life. Where did you get this crazy idea?"

Abbey stood up, flinging her words at him. "It's not crazy, Jed. You know it's true. Leo said that you were upset when she didn't show up for the retreat. And you've been calling her three and four times a day since then. Sounds like you're pretty involved to me."

Jed spared a fraction of a second to wonder why Leo was telling Abbey these things. Why would it come up, particularly in casual conversation?

But he addressed the issue. "It was telephone tag. That's all. Rachel finally called me back this afternoon and it was business, pure and simple. In fact, she's being transferred to a different assignment."

This seemed to take a little of the wind out of Abbey's sails. She paused, then said, "But you would like it better if she stayed, wouldn't you, Jed?"

"She's good at her job, and she's helped keep Bruno in check," Jed acknowledged. "I hate to see her go."

Abbey flared again. "I just bet you do. I cannot believe I kept you alive for this..."

He had been prepared to be conciliatory about Rachel, but now he was angry too.  Jed's voice was low, his tone measured.  Any of his staff would have recognized it as a dangerous sign and backed off.  He knew his wife wouldn't.

"Just hold on a minute, Abbey. You've said that once before tonight, and I've heard you say it at other times, too. Let's get this absolutely straight. You did not keep me alive. I was never in any imminent danger of dying from the MS, and you know it. You administered my medication. Something, I might add, which you offered to do. I never asked you to do it. The doctor in Boston who diagnosed me was perfectly capable of overseeing my treatment, but you thought it would be easier if you did it." He stopped and turned his cold gaze on her fully. "But you are not keeping me alive. And I am not shortchanging you by remaining friends with Rachel. There is absolutely nothing going on there."

"But you cared about her once," Abbey said, still clearly upset.

"That was a long time ago, Abbey, before you and I even met."

"You loved her, Jed, you can't deny it."

Jed shook his head in exasperation. "Maybe I did, Abbey. As I said, it was a long time ago, I can't remember."

A twinge of guilt shot through him. That was a lie, and he knew it. Stupidly, he attempted to soften the edges and make it less of a lie. "I was very young and maybe I was a little bit in love with her."

Abbey laughed harshly. "A little bit in love? What a joke! That's like being a little bit pregnant or a little bit dead. Jed, you either are or you aren't. A 'little bit' doesn't come into it."

"I won't debate this with you, Abbey. Of course there are degrees of feeling and shades of emotion, but it just doesn't matter. Rachel and I ended when I met you."

Abbey frowned. "I would love to believe that Jed, but you've been different since she started working on the campaign. I've seen it. Leo's noticed it, too."

Jed was tired of defending himself for something that hadn't happened and decided to go on offense. "I'm a little annoyed that you and Leo are discussing me, Abbey. When did this start?"

She tossed her head and gave a slight sniff.  "Don't get high and mighty on me, Jed. You know that Leo and I talk; we always have. The two of us have to look out for you."

An angry red haze suddenly clouded Jed's vision. "Well, please don't bother," he said coldly.

"Anything you want, Jethro," she shot back.  "I was getting tired of worrying about you anyway. But I'm not backing down on this. I know you haven't forgotten your feelings for Rachel. I know you want her."

Jed's basic honesty wouldn't let him deny it, even though his desire had been fleeting and had certainly been unfulfilled.

He finally said, "I'm not having an affair with Rachel, Abbey. You can rest assured on that." That was a true statement. It avoided Abbey's remark about 'wanting', and it was a perfectly appropriate response. Nothing to feel guilty about there.

She looked at him closely, one of those deep stares that made him feel that she could read his mind.

Her voice was soft when she spoke again. "I said 'want', Jed. And you didn't deny it." She paused, then continued just as softly, "Is it a fantasy, Jed? Does she remind you of your youth? Is that why you want her?"

He wasn't fooled by her tone of voice. This was a very dangerous line of questioning, and it had to stop.

"Abbey, get it through your head. Nothing...and I repeat, absolutely nothing...is going on between Rachel and me."

"But you want it to," she almost whispered. "I bet you even dream of her."

Jed couldn't stop it, and he cursed himself for it. He knew a flash of guilt had come across his expression, that his eyes would give him away. Why the hell couldn't he keep his guilt under control?

Abbey gave a sharp, derisive laugh. "I thought so, you jackass. You just couldn't help it, could you?"

He sighed and gave in.  Maybe it was better just to have it all out in the open and over with.

"Abbey, there was nothing to it, just a dream. I was tired and my mind was playing tricks on me. I swear, it doesn't mean anything..."

"Doesn't it, Jed? Didn't you enjoy it?" her tone was still filled with derision, mocking him for his human frailty. Then she dropped her voice seductively, "Was it good with her, darling? Were you the consummate lover that you think you are?"

That stung. It was totally uncalled for. He clenched his jaw and she saw it.

"Hurts, doesn't it?" Abbey was in a true tirade now. He knew nothing would stop her when she caught fire like this. "It hurts when your expertise as a lover is belittled, doesn't it? And that's what you've done to me, Jed.  You want Rachel...you dream of her.  How am I supposed to feel?"

She paused and he saw the hatred in her eyes before he heard her vicious words.

"I don't want Rachel Hartman's leftovers in my bed, Jed. I just want you to leave me alone."

That was enough.  He hadn't done anything, nothing at all.  He took a deep breath and straightened his back, saying coldly, "No problem, Abbey. Your wish is my command."

Jed started toward the door, intent on leaving the room. Her obvious distrust and anger were killing him. He had wanted so much to make their relationship better, and now it lay in shreds on the carpet. Some of it...no, most of it...was his fault. He could accept the blame, but he couldn't accept her venom.

Her next words made him pause.

"Leaving, Jed? Going to Rachel?"

He turned, feeling coldness reach into his heart, freezing his emotions.

However, he was able to address her quite civilly, his words well chosen. "No, Abbey, I'm not going to Rachel. In fact, I'm not going TO anyone." He paused to let the emphasis of his statement drop into her mind.

He continued slowly, "But I am getting AWAY from you."

Jed turned away, not even waiting to see if she had more to say. But the room was deathly quiet as he opened the door and walked out.

Abbey stared after him as he carefully shut the door, and, with his actions, shut her out, too. Her fiery anger suddenly melted into a hard knot of fear.

What had she done?


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