Not if I Save You First, p.1Ally Carter
FOR MADELEINE ELISE BROCK,
THE ORIGINAL MAD DOG
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
There’s a party at my house tomorrow night. Mom said I can invite a friend if I want to.
So do you want to come?
Madeleine Rose Manchester had absolutely no intention of invading the White House. But she knew seven different ways she could do it if she’d wanted to.
After all, Logan had lived there less than a year, and already he and Maddie had found four tunnels, two pseudo-secret passageways, and a cabinet near the kitchen that smelled faintly of cheese and only partially blocked an old service elevator that really wasn’t as boarded up as everybody thought.
“Charlie?” Maddie asked the big man in the passenger seat of the dark SUV. He turned to look at where she sat, her seat belt snuggly around her, even though everyone knew silk wrinkled and Maddie had never had a silk dress before.
She’d already complained about it, but Charlie had told her that it was either wear a seat belt or walk, and her black leather shoes were new and they’d already started to pinch her feet, and Logan had told her there might be dancing later.
Maddie dearly, dearly hoped there would be dancing …
“Whatcha need, Mad?” Charlie asked while Walter kept driving.
“Did you know there’s a place under the stairs in the East Wing that’s full of spiders that died during the Nixon administration? Do you think that’s true? I don’t think that’s true,” she said without really waiting for Charlie to answer.
“I could ask Dad,” Maddie went on. “But he didn’t work here then. At least I don’t think he worked here then. I mean, I know he’s old. Like, really, really old. But is he that old?”
Charlie laughed, but Maddie wasn’t exactly sure what was so funny. “I’m not sure, Mad, but you should say it exactly like that when you ask him.”
This sounded like a very good idea to Maddie. “Thank you, Charlie. I’ll do that.” She thought for a moment, then went on. “Did you know it’s possible to crawl all the way from Logan’s dad’s office to the press room using the air ducts?”
“No.” Charlie shook his head. “It’s not.”
“Sure it is,” Maddie told him. “Logan bet me five dollars that I couldn’t do it, so I did it, and then he gave me five ones instead of one five because Lincoln is his favorite.”
“You can reach the Oval Office via the air ducts?” Charlie asked, spinning to look at her.
“Yes. But I ruined my favorite pink leggings.”
“Then you should definitely tell your dad that.”
“He doesn’t care about my leggings,” Maddie said, and Charlie shook his head.
“Not about that. About … Never mind, Mad. I’ll tell him.”
When they finally reached a pair of tall iron gates Maddie couldn’t help but swing her legs and nervously kick at the back of Charlie’s seat, but Charlie just rolled down his window and told the man with the clipboard, “We have a VIP guest for Rascal.”
The guard looked in the back seat and smiled when he saw Maddie. Through the tinted windows she could see other guards circling the vehicle. Dogs sniffed around the bumpers, but the guard kept his gaze trained on her.
“Looks like a high-risk entrant to me, boys. I don’t know if we should let her in.”
“Hey, Felix,” Maddie said, leaning forward. “Did you know you can fit two kids and three kittens in the little compartment underneath Logan’s dad’s desk? If the kittens are tame, that is. I wouldn’t want to try it with mean kittens.”
“Neither would I,” Felix said, just as one of the men outside announced, “You’re clear!”
Then Felix stepped back and waved them through the gates. “Have fun at the party!”
Logan never had fun at parties. In his experience, they very rarely meant pizza and bounce houses and ice cream. Not anymore. Sure, there was usually cake. But they were always fancy cakes that were tiny, and Logan’s mom usually gave him The Look if he ate more than four. And ever since the time he asked the prime minister of Canada if she was going to eat her cake he hadn’t been allowed to sit at the table with his parents.
Which, in Logan’s opinion, was just as well.
“Is Maddie here yet?” he asked his mother.
“I don’t know. Is she under the bed?” Logan’s mom grinned and glanced through the bathroom door at the giant canopy bed upon which Logan lay.
“No. We don’t fit.”
“I am not going to ask how you know that,” his mother said, then went back to fixing her makeup.
When the phone rang, she reached for it, and Logan heard her talking.
“Yes? Excellent. Send her up.”
“She’s on her way up,” his mother told him, and Logan bounded off the bed, ran out into the hallway, then flew down the big stairs of the residence.
The farther he got from his mother, the more chaotic everything became. There were people with huge bunches of flowers, and staffers running up and down the stairs in high heels.
But all Logan really saw was Maddie.
“Mad Dog!” Logan screamed from the top of the stairs, racing to join her on the landing below. “You look …”
“Is my dress too wrinkled?” Maddie blurted as if the answer really, really mattered.
He shook his head. “It’s … No. I don’t think so. It’s …”
But Logan trailed off as he followed Maddie’s gaze through the bulletproof glass. The chaos of the building all but disappeared as, outside, a helicopter landed on the lawn. A group of men and women were running toward the house, crouching low beneath the helicopter’s spinning blades.
Only the last two men off the chopper walked upright, laughing and talking as they strolled toward the doors.
Maddie turned to Logan. “Dad’s home.”
Maddie couldn’t be sure if she was talking about Logan’s father or her own. The statement was true in either case. But there was no denying that, as the two dads came into the house, the place went a little more—and a little less—crazy.
There was an energy that always surrounded Logan’s father. Some people stopped. Some people stared. But there was another group of people who seemed to constantly swirl and swarm around him, like a hive of bees caught inside a series of very tiny tornadoes, spinning in his orbit while everyone else hurried to get out of the way.
Everyone except Logan’s mom. She didn’t spin or rush or stare as she walked toward her husband, her red dress flowing behind her as she moved down the stairs.
“You’re late,” she said.
“Mr. President,” one of his assistants cut in. “The speaker is waiting for you.”
“He can wait until the president has kissed his wife and hugged his son and … changed into something decent,” the first lady told the woman. And with that, the tiny tornadoes moved on to another part of the White House.
“Hello, darling,” Logan’s dad told the first lady as he leaned down to kiss her. When he pulled away she made a face and said, “You smell.” Then she shifted her gaze onto Maddie. “What are we going to do with them, Mad?”
Maddie could only shake her head. “Boys always smell,” she said truthfully.
“You get used to it, sweetheart,” Logan’s mom told her.
But Logan’s dad didn’t seem to mind. He just reached for his son and said, “Hey, kiddo.” Then he turned to Maddie. “Kiddette.”
Maddie dropped into a curtsy. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Logan’s dad.”
“And you, Manchester’s daughter.” The president bowed at the waist. “You are a far lovelier sight than your father, I can assure you.”
“Thank you. My dress wasn’t wrinkled when I put it on, you should know. The wrinkles are entirely Charlie’s fault.”
“I’ll have a word with Charlie,” the president said as Maddie’s dad tried to pull her into a hug.
“Come here, Mad.”
She pulled away and looked at the first lady. “You’re right. They do stink.”
“This is what I get for keeping the president safe?” Maddie’s father asked.
“From treasonous deer? It’s hard work, I’m sure.” The first lady turned to her husband. “Now do I need to remind the pair of you that the Russian prime minister and his entire entourage, your entire cabinet, and all seven viewers of C-SPAN are expecting our very first state dinner to commence in forty-five minutes?”
Logan’s dad cut a look at Maddie’s. “Save me from her, Manchester.”
But Maddie’s father just shook his head. “Sorry, Mr. President. This time you’re on your own.”
It wasn’t until the first lady dragged the president upstairs that Maddie felt Logan stir beside her. He’d been perfectly quiet—perfectly still—as if content to be a mere fly on the wall in the president’s presence.
Then her father asked, “How you doing, Rascal?” and Logan’s eyes got bigger.
“Did my dad really kill a deer?”
“No.” Maddie’s father crouched against the windowsill, bringing himself down closer to Logan’s level. “Your father and a senator from Kentucky and I sat in a tree in the woods for seven hours, hoping to kill a deer.”
“And you didn’t see one?” Logan asked.
“No.” Maddie’s dad shook his head slowly. “We saw one.”
Logan’s eyes were wide. “And my dad didn’t shoot it?”
“No.” Maddie’s dad sounded like he was carefully considering the answer. “Your dad was more interested in getting a vote out of the senator from Kentucky.”
Logan still looked confused. “You had a gun. Why didn’t you shoot it?”
Maddie’s father seemed to think this was an excellent question. He leaned a little lower. “Because when I shoot, it isn’t for fun.”
“It’s because you have to,” Logan said.
Maddie’s father nodded. “And what’s more important than shooting, Rascal?”
Logan only had to think about the answer for a moment. “Making sure you don’t have to?”
Maddie’s dad tousled Logan’s hair. “Good job.”
When Maddie’s father tried to pull her into another hug, Maddie pushed away even though her dress was already wrinkled. “You really do smell, Dad.”
“Okay, Mad Dog. I give up. I’ll go shower.” He started down the stairs. “Now what are you two going to do in the next forty-one minutes?”
Maddie and Logan looked at each other and gave almost identical shrugs.
“Fine,” her dad said. “Don’t tell me. Just stay in the house and stay out of the way. It’s kind of crazy around here.”
He was almost out of sight before they said in unison, “We noticed.”
Maddie was used to being pseudo invisible, but Logan had been in the spotlight so often in the past year or two that she could tell it was something of a new, but not entirely unwelcome, feeling as they walked through the chaos of the White House.
Doors slammed and phones rang, but no one noticed the first son and his friend, even when Logan said “In here” and punched numbers into a keypad beside a door that Maddie had never noticed before. When the door sprang open, he pulled Maddie into a hallway that was totally and completely silent.
“That’s better,” he said, then smiled at her.
“Are we supposed to be in here?”
Logan shrugged. “Probably not. But if they really wanted to keep us out, they shouldn’t have let me see them punch in the code that one time.”
Maddie thought he made a very excellent point. Everyone knew that Logan was really good at remembering things. All the things. Like phone numbers and access numbers and where the White House stored its chocolate.
It had been Maddie’s experience that the White House maintained a supply of excellent chocolate. And that’s what Maddie was thinking about when they found themselves in a long, empty hallway that ran from the loading docks to the kitchen. They walked in silence for a long time, until they reached a place where the hall branched, and Maddie knew they should turn around. Her dad and Logan’s parents were going to be looking for them soon.
She was just about to drag him back to the crowds and the people and the noise when three men came rushing down the corridor, pushing a large rolling cart, almost oblivious to the two ten-year-olds who stood in their way.
Logan said, “Excuse me,” because he was a good kid that way.
But Maddie’s dad’s job didn’t depend on her being nice to strangers, so she said “How rude!” as they passed.
For a moment, she and Logan stood together in the corridor, a little bit stunned. Then something about the men and their location within the White House made her stop. Wonder. “Are they supposed to be here?” she asked.
Logan grimaced. “Russian security. The Russian delegation said they would only eat their own food prepared by their own chefs. They had to bring it in and keep it under armed guard and everything.”
Maddie made a face. “I wouldn’t like that. Eating cold food just because someone might want to kill me.”
She was just starting to say something else when, suddenly, Logan reached into his pocket and blurted “Here!” as he thrust a small blue box toward her.
“What is it?” Maddie asked.
“A gift,” Logan said. “For you.”
“You got me a gift? Why?”
Logan looked like he wanted to roll his eyes, but he didn’t. “Because you’re my friend.”
“Did you get something for all your friends?” she asked him.
Even in the too-bright fluorescent glare of the hallway, a shadow seemed to cross over Logan’s face.
“You’re my only friend,” he said, and Maddie didn’t ask any more questions.
She reached for the package slowly. Reverently. Then she pulled on the little white bow and opened the box. A moment later she was looking down at a piece of gold.
“It’s so shiny,” she said.
“It’s a bracelet. Do you like it?”
“I love it.”
Logan helped her put it on, and Maddie turned her wrist, letting the light reflect off the delicate chain and dangling charms.
“It’s a little big,” he told her. “But I wanted you to be able to wear it when you get older.”
“I’ll never take it off,” Maddie said, and in that moment she had never meant anything more.
A silence stretched between them, and Logan had to look away, like staring at Maddie and her shiny gold bracelet was like staring at the sun. He blinked and said, “Well, I suppose we should get—”
“What are you two doing down here?” The first lady’s voice echoed down the tile hall, cutting Logan off.
“We’re staying out of the way,” Maddie announced as she spun. She was very proud of that fact and thought it was high time some grown-up bragged about them for their discretion.
“That’s a good plan,” Logan’s mother told her. “It’s a zoo out there.”
“Mom, do Maddie and I have to go? Couldn’t we just watch TV in the residence or something?”
When the first lady looked at Logan her eyes were a little sad, like part of her wished that she could give him a normal night in a normal house. But Logan was never going to be normal ever again, and she couldn’t bring herself to lie about it.
“You could watch TV,” the first lady told him. “But I’m afraid tonight is very important for your father. Our relations with Russia are … strained. And he thinks that if you and I go, it might be more of a family thing than a political thing. Does that make sense?”
Logan nodded grimly. “Yeah. It does.” Then he looked at his mother as if he were seeing her for the first time. “Why are you down here? Were you looking for us?”
“No.” She smoothed the part of his hair that never did lie flat. “The kitchen called. There’s some sort of problem, though why they need me I’ll never know. I like your bracelet, Maddie.”
Maddie hid her blush.
“I like your dress.”
“Me too. Mainly because it does this.” When the first lady started to spin, the wisps of red fabric floated around her like a cloud.
“It’s a twirling dress!” Maddie wanted to clap.
“I know!” the first lady sounded like a ten-year-old herself.
Logan looked like he would never, ever understand girls, but he didn’t bother to say so.
“Well, I’d better go see what they want so we can get this show on the road. You two should head that way. We’ll be starting soon.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Maddie said as the first lady walked away, leaving Maddie and Logan alone.
They’d been alone about a thousand times over the past year, but when Maddie moved, her bracelet jingled and it felt like a different kind of alone than they had ever been before.
“So …” Logan said, looking at her.
“So …” Maddie said back, because what else could she do?
He held his arm out. “Shall we, my lady?”
Not if I Save You First by Ally Carter / Young Adult / History & Fiction / Romance & Love / Actions & Adventure have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes