Home > Target (Circle of Justice #2)

Target (Circle of Justice #2)
Author: L.P. Dover


“Feels good to spend Christmas out here.”

My mother kissed me on the head and set a steaming mug of hot chocolate in front of me. It smelled like heaven. “Yes, it does, sweetheart. I miss it terribly,” she murmured, patting my shoulder before putting away the clean dishes.

Looking out the kitchen window, I drank my hot chocolate. Even though the sky was dark, the mountains were bright against the moonlight with all the snow. In another year or so, when my father was done serving his last term as President of the United States, we were going to move back here to Wyoming, instead of Charleston, South Carolina, where I grew up.

My father’s expression was sad as I watched him through the reflection in the window. He never regretted running for president, but I could see the toll the job had had on him over the years. Here we were, away for Christmas vacation, yet in his mind, he never rested. I missed the way he used to be.

“Ready to play cards, pumpkin?” He shuffled the deck of cards.

Giggling, I turned around to face him. “I’m sixteen, Dad. Are you still going to call me that when I’m thirty-five?”

Face brightening, he dealt out the cards and winked. “Even when you’re sixty. Now come on, let’s play rummy. It’s been too long since we last played.”

The game was on. Playing cards and board games all night long was our Christmas tradition, ever since I found out Santa Claus didn’t exist. We’d play until we could barely keep our eyes open.

Chuckling, my mother put up the last dish, then kissed him on the cheek. “Make sure to get some sleep tonight. Noah and Renee will be here with Trinity tomorrow to spend the rest of Christmas vacation with us. You both don’t need to be zombies.”

“We will, Mom. I promise.” I looked at my dad, the gray hair on his head taking up more real estate than it had the previous Christmas. Even his handsome face had more wrinkles. He glanced over at me and I smiled smugly. “Dad will get tired of losing and give up,” I added, making my mom giggle.

He snorted. “We’ll see about that.”

My mother rolled her eyes. “Have fun, you two. See you in the morning.”

She walked out of the kitchen and my father watched her as she disappeared around the corner, a look of longing on his face. There was no denying the love he had for her. “She’s different when she’s here,” he murmured sadly.

“Being the First Lady isn’t an easy job.”

He reached for my hand. “Neither is being the president’s daughter. I know I’ve been overprotective of you for the past few years. It’s only because I love you.”

I squeezed his hand. “I know, Dad. But I’m ready for a normal life. In a couple of years, I’ll be going off to college. And I’m talking, as far away from D.C. as I can.”

Nodding, he closed his eyes and sighed. “I figured as much. Guess I can’t blame you. But you know I’m not sending you to school without protection.”

I held up my hand. The thought of not having my freedom after almost eight years was too infuriating to think about. “Let’s not talk about that now. I just want to pretend I’ll be able to drive away in my own car like a normal teenage girl.” I still had a couple of more years to dream of a freedom I’d probably never get, at least not until I was older and able to refuse security detail.

My father grabbed my hand and squeezed. “I didn’t say you couldn’t drive away in your own car,” he said with a sly smile. “I just said you needed protection. Why don’t we cross that bridge when it gets here?”

Eyes wide, I jumped up and squealed. “Oh my God, are you serious? You have no idea how much that’d mean to me.” Any amount of normalcy was better than none.

“I know.” He laughed. “Now sit down so I can win, would ya? The last thing I want to think about is you growing up.”

Rolling my eyes, I sat down. “I’m just excited we’ll be away from all the politics soon, and back here where we belong.” A look passed across his face and my stomach dropped. “What’s going on?”

Releasing a heavy sigh, he lowered his gaze. “Moving back here will only be temporary, at least for me and your mother.”

My gut clenched. “Temporary? Why?”

“By the time things are set in motion, you’ll be old enough to live on your own. Your mother and I are giving you this house . . . or you can take the one in Charleston.”

“I don’t understand. Where will you be?” When his eyes met mine, I already knew. I’d heard the hushed conversations between him and my brother for a while now. I just didn’t want to believe it. “You’ll be in DC.”

Swallowing hard, my father agreed with a nod. “Noah needs me to help him prepare for the presidency. I have to be there to support him when it’s his time to run.”

“It’s too soon,” I snapped. “He’s not even close to running. Why do you have to help him now?”

He sighed. “I’m sorry, pumpkin. Please tell me you understand.”

I did, because I knew he’d stay to help me if I was running for president, but I wanted to be selfish. I’d spent my whole life sharing my parents with the country. “Does mom know?”

“Yes.” His head drooped. “But that’s why we’re giving you one of the houses. It’ll give us a reason to get away and come see you.”

As much as I wanted to leave Washington D.C., there was no way I could live on the opposite side of the country from my parents. The thought of sacrificing more years terrified me. It wasn’t the life I wanted.

Taking a deep breath, I lowered my head and let it out. “I appreciate that. But wherever my family is, that’s where I need to be.” I looked up at him and his eyes widened. “However,” I blurted, getting up to put my cup in the sink, “it doesn’t mean I’m going to college close by.”

Chuckling, my father stood and pulled me into his arms. “I can live with that. Do you have any idea how much this means to me?”

I breathed him in, loving the way he always made me feel safe. “What can I say? I’d miss you and mom too much if I moved far away.”

He squeezed me hard, then kissed the top of my head. “I love you, pumpkin.”

My eyes watered. “I love you too,” I said, letting him go. “I’ve had too much hot chocolate. Let me run to the bathroom before I dominate you in cards.”

“Hurry up.” He laughed as I took off down the hallway. I was halfway to the bathroom when the sound of breaking glass and a gasp came from the kitchen. For a second, I thought I imagined it. Time stood still and I froze. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until my lungs screamed at me. “Dad? You okay?” I called out.

Shouts erupted outside the house and the front door slammed open. Gun drawn, Joseph, one of my father’s secret service agents, barreled inside. As soon as he saw me, he lowered his gun. “Go to your room,” he commanded, then spoke into his head piece. “Willow secure. Anyone have eyes on Woodlark?”

My heart stopped and all I could think about was my dad. “What’s going on?”

More shouting erupted outside and Joseph turned toward the front door, gun raised. I used that second of time to run back into the kitchen. My pulse pounded in my ears, terrified of what I was going to see once I rounded the corner. The last thing I expected to find was my father on the floor in a pool of blood.

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