|Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)/U.S. Forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus shakes hands with author Paula Broadwell in this ISAF handout photo originally posted July 13, 2011. REUTERS/ISAF/Handout
WASHINGTON - Smart, stylish, self-assured: Paula Broadwell, the woman linked to the dramatic downfall of CIA chief David Petraeus, appeared to have it all.
The high school homecoming queen from North Dakota, who later graduated from West Point and Harvard University and went on to become a counterterrorism expert, never seemed to settle for second best.
But after getting the dream opportunity to write a bestselling biography about America's most heralded general, the married mother of two embarked on a love affair that brought her hero down and her name into disrepute.
Was her relationship with Petraeus, whom she has called a mentor, one of true love, infatuation or even obsession? Why would she send threatening emails to someone she reportedly saw as a romantic rival and risk it all?
"Passion. Intensity. Vision. Three simple nouns that can only partially describe the complexity of Paula Kranz, 1991 CHS graduate," reads the portrait of the 40-year-old posted on the website of Century High School, her alma mater in Bismarck, North Dakota.
In the years that followed, the valedictorian who was her orchestra's concertmistress and played basketball focused her attention on war and conflict resolution -- first at the highly selective West Point military academy.
Her life took a turn when, in 2006, the fiercely ambitious Broadwell first met Petraeus, who had come to Harvard -- where Broadwell was pursuing a Master's degree in public administration -- to give a presentation.
"I introduced myself to then-Lt. Gen. Petraeus and told him about my research interests," she wrote in what would become a biography of the four-star general, "All In: The Education of Gen. David Petraeus."
"I later discovered that he was famous for this type of mentoring and networking, especially with aspiring soldiers-scholars," she wrote, saying the general gave her his card and offered to put her in touch with others working on similar topics, according to excerpts published by the Washington Post.
The newspaper said Broadwell -- who is an officer in the US Army Reserve -- decided to write a case study of Petraeus' leadership style in 2008 and, over time, the two would spend countless hours together, especially once she decided to write a biography.
The interview process often involved runs and occasional trips on Petraeus' plane, raising eyebrows among some.
"I found her relationship with him to be disconcerting," the Post quoted one former aide to the general as saying.
But others seemed more than surprised by the revelations and expressed doubt that Broadwell would have an affair.
"I have some serious questions about who is connecting the dots and how," ABC News quoted David Bixler, an active duty double amputee who got to know Broadwell through a charity foundation, as saying.
"Paula Broadwell is not the type... she isn't," ABC quoted Bixler as saying.
That corresponds with what neighbors in Charlotte, North Carolina, have to say about Broadwell, who is married to a radiologist, Scott, with whom she has two young sons.
"It wasn't uncommon to look in their dining room at night and see the candles lit as they were eating," the New York Times quoted neighbor and friend Sarah Curme, as saying.
"Nobody put Paula on a pedestal; it was more about Paula the neighbor, the mom and the wife than it was about everything else she did."
Little is known about Broadwell's husband, although he made a brief television appearance with her on comedian Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" in January during which the three engaged in a push-up contest. Broadwell, in a sleeveless top that revealed her toned arms, beat both men.
"He's a very high-energy person," Broadwell said of Petraeus during the same appearance.
She could very well have been speaking about herself.
On her extensive LinkedIn profile, the slim brunette included kayaking, weight lifting and kickboxing on a lengthy list of interests that also encompassed wine tasting, cooking and small arms marksmanship.
The avid runner, who has competed in triathlons, has also made time for war veterans, serving as an advisory board member of the Carolinas Freedom Foundation.
It remains to be seen how Broadwell, who has not spoken or appeared publicly since the scandal broke, will go from here.
Ironically, her last piece, which appeared in Newsweek just days ago and was titled "General David Petraeus's Rules for Living," might provide some guidance.
"We all will make mistakes. The key is to recognize them and admit them, to learn from them, and to take off the rearview mirrors, drive on and avoid making them again," said one rule.
No matter what, Broadwell's stellar image will never be the same.
In a stark sign of how far she has fallen, one US media publication was already calling her "the Pentagon's Lewinsky," in a reference to the White House intern with whom former president Bill Clinton had an affair.
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