Friday, February 11, 2022
Beth McMillian shifted from one foot to the other as she peered around Lauren to see what she was looking at. “Dev would go bananas if she knew we were doing this,” she murmured as she waved away a sales clerk.
Lauren nodded absently as she lifted a silk robe from the rack and examined it with a discerning eye. She was ignoring the cloying, nearly overpowering scent of perfume from the counter nearby, determined not to let the budding headache she was developing from the combinations of odors ruin her time.
She and ex-husband Judd had stopped exchanging Valentine’s Day gifts after they’d married. Judd had informed her seriously that he didn’t need a made-up holiday to tell her he loved her or to buy her a gift. He wouldn’t have married her if he didn’t love her. So why should Hallmark put him on a schedule? And she’d readily agreed, mostly because she found herself with little interest in picking anything out for him.
The mixture of butterflies and anticipation that was brewing in Lauren’s belly for Valentine’s Day made it crystal clear to her that she and Judd had been full of shit.
What color? The holiday calls for red, I think. But…
“Ooo… Nice.” Lauren spied another robe pulled it off the hanger, fingering the cool silk with her fingers. With those gorgeous eyes, how can I pass up blue?
“Hmm…” Black is nice too. This robe will be short on her and that color against her skin would look so… She swallowed. Oh, my.
Beth put her hands on her ample hips. “Are you even listening to me?”
“Yes.” Lauren nodded, but her attention remained on the rack. “You’re getting ready to moan and complain about the lack of agents following my every move as I try to shop in peace.”
“Well, you have to admit you are—”
Lauren draped the blue robe over her arm and tossed the black one over the rack as she turned to face her friend. The look on her face caused Beth to blink and shuffle her and Lauren’s jackets, which she had obligingly held so Lauren could dig through the lacy unmentionables in the store. The movement caused her brown curls to bob wildly.
“Just what exactly do I have to admit?”
Beth’s brown eyes widened a touch. Uh oh. “Umm… well—”
“That I’m here without security?” A pale brow arched.
“Don’t you ‘now Lauren’ me.” Her voice was low and edged with irritation. “Just what am I to believe he is? Hmm?” Lauren shot her arm out sideways and she pointed to a Secret Service man who was standing about 15 feet away and trying quite unsuccessfully to blend into the background. “Or her.” Lauren’s arm shifted to a woman in a dark suit who visibly cringed when she realized what had just happened.
“Lauren!” Beth grabbed Lauren’s arm and forced it down. “Are you crazy or something? Don’t point them out! They’re supposed to be…”
“Hiding from me?”
Beth opened her mouth and then abruptly closed it. She had the good grace to blush when she realized that Lauren not only knew about the protection that shadowed her when she thought she was sneaking out of the White House, but she also knew that Beth knew. “Protecting you.”
“I don’t need protecting.”
“Yes, you do,” Beth shot back just as stubbornly. There was a long moment of silence that was finally broken by Beth saying, “You don’t want it, but you need it, Lauren. You do. It’s a dangerous world.”
Lauren held her breath for a moment before exhaling raggedly. She knew Beth was making a veiled reference to the assassination attempt on Dev. “You’re fighting dirty, Beth.”
“You’re too important to lose to, Lauren. I’ll fight dirty if I have to, at least on this. Besides, I’m rarely if ever wrong. Just ask David.”
Both women exchanged weak smiles, then Beth sighed. “Don’t kill Dev for this. She’s just worried for you. It’s not as though you left her much choice.”
“It’s not as though she left me any choice either.” Lauren turned around and began to replace the black robe on its hanger, her eyebrows drawn together as she thought. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I can’t be under lock and key every second, Beth. I’ll go crazy.”
“I know.” Beth put her hand on Lauren’s shoulder, feeling the warm fleece of her sweater beneath her palm. “Look, I know you and Dev have gone round and round on this, but since announcing your engagement certain things stopped being optional. Security for you is one of them. I’m sorry. This comes with the territory. You know that.”
Lauren made a face. “Knowing it and accepting it are two different things.” She squared her shoulders. “I understand that I’m more recognizable than I was a few months ago.”
Beth’s lips quirked. “No, really?” She lifted her hand and flicked her finger at the bill of the baseball cap Lauren was wearing in an effort to disguise herself.
Lauren blew out a breath and knocked away Beth’s teasing fingers. “You’re not helping.”
“Sure I am. I’m telling you the truth.” Beth, however, didn’t think it was necessary to mention the agent lurking at the entrance to the shop as well as the one hovering near her car to make sure it wasn’t tampered with that Lauren had apparently missed. She firmly believed there was such a thing as too much honesty.
“No one’s even noticed me,” Lauren asserted lamely. Like she’s gonna buy that.
Beth snorted. “Sell it to someone who’s buying, Lauren.”
“We’ve been in the store for 30 minutes. Big Burly,” she gestured to the male agent, who more closely resembled a mountain than a man, “and Bad Ass,” this time she gestured to the female agent, who had a predatory expression permanently plastered on her face, “have discreetly kept at least 10 people from coming up to you. I think the poor saleswoman has nearly been shot three times without knowing it.”
“Is that really their names, ‘Burly’ and ‘Bad Ass’? They sound like characters in a buddy novel.” Her tone became speculative. “I could write that.”
“Lauren,” Beth said impatiently. “Do not make me stamp my foot. My mother stamped her foot and I refuse to go there.”
Lauren smiled. “All right. All right.” She waved a hand in surrender. “But I do understand more than you realize.” They both began walking toward the cash register, with the agents trailing discreetly. “Especially after…” she licked her lips and swallowed hard as she usually did when mentioning it, “Devlyn’s shooting.”
Beth’s gaze softened as she regarded her friend. Lauren really was trying. She’d been through an almost unimaginable life change over the past year, and Beth reluctantly gave her credit for always doing the most prudent thing when the children or Dev were involved. Her track record when it came to decisions involving herself, however, wasn’t nearly as good. And, Beth admitted, it wasn’t like she could truly relate. She didn’t know what it was like not to be able to run over to a convenience store without turning it into a major production. Or how a simple baseball game or theater tickets now took weeks of planning.
Lauren wanted to make Beth understand. “I knew we wouldn’t be alone today.” Her eyes pleaded with her friend, who she knew damn well wouldn’t give her quarter. “This was sort of private, Beth.” Her cheeks flushed pink. “It’s our first Valentine’s since… well, you know.”
Beth grinned cheekily. She most certainly did know, along with everyone else on the planet. “And you didn’t want to be watched as you bought your girlfriend sexy undies?” She gestured to the robe in Lauren’s hands. “That’s really nice, by the way.”
Lauren scowled as her temper flared. Sometimes she felt as though she was smack dab in the center of a pressure cooker. “This trip wasn’t the Secret Service’s business!”
“Do you really believe that?”
Lauren crossed her arms over her chest. “Would I have said it if I didn’t?”
Beth rolled her eyes. “Does your need for privacy overrule everyone else’s needs? Devlyn loves you and you will have protection one way or the other.” She paused and turned towards the perfume counter. “Does it have to smell like they wax the floor with cougar piss and ox musk? Yuck!” She turned back, but despite the non sequitur her face was very serious. “When those agents are forced to sneak around to protect you, they aren’t doing their job the way they are trained to. They aren’t private security, Lauren. Or even CIA or Office of Homeland Security agents, trained to fight in the shadows. They’re Secret Service, who will literally put their body between yours and a bullet if they’re able. Their lives are put in greater danger by protecting you on your terms,” she said flatly. “Stop fighting the inevitable.”
Lauren blinked. In a few short sentences Beth had distilled the issue into something she couldn’t… wouldn’t ignore and put her in her place to boot. The very thought of one of those men or women risking their lives for hers made her sick to her stomach as it was. Why isn’t she on Devlyn’s staff? “Shit.”
Beth’s expression was a little smug, knowing that she’d won this round. With Lauren, victory was rare. “Exactly.”
“Be my chief of staff,” Lauren said suddenly.
Beth stopped walking and stared. “Huh?”
“Be my chief of staff,” Lauren repeated. “Michael Oaks and Devlyn both insist that as First Lady I’ll need one. I didn’t know there was such a thing. I guess it’s the equivalent of David’s job only for the President’s other half.”
Beth blinked a few times, wondering if she could really do that.
“You’re not only my best friend, well, besides Devlyn, of course. But you’re smart and know the ropes, Beth. I’m going to need help and I trust you. That’s more than I can say for 99% of Washington.” Politics, Lauren had learned long ago, could be a very nasty business. “I could use your wisdom on a permanent basis.”
“Is that an age crack?” Beth asked with faux annoyance. At 41 she had a solid decade on her friend.
“Basically.” Lauren laughed.
Beth’s mind was racing, and she was fast warming up to the possibility of really doing this.
Lauren recognized the gleam in the shorter woman’s eyes. It wasn’t that long ago that she herself had been offered the opportunity of a lifetime and everything had changed.
“What about my teaching position?”
Lauren chewed her lip. Beth was a respected professor of history at Georgetown and as much as she wanted her for this, believed that she’d be perfect for the position, she would never ask her to permanently give up something she loved so much.
“How about a sabbatical? Or a leave of absence? The university would have to be stupid to let you go completely if they could stop it.” She winked and offered wryly, “I could have Devlyn sic the IRS on them until they comply?”
Beth burst out laughing. “No need for that. I… well… maybe I could lighten my load to just one course a semester and still do this?”
Lauren nodded quickly. She’d take Beth on any terms she could get. “Anything.”
Now Beth was getting excited, and it was starting to bubble over. Her dark eyes twinkled, and Lauren knew she had her. “I’ll have to talk to David about it.”
“Of course.” Yes! Lauren grinned wildly. She set her purchase onto the countertop, and, after a moment’s deliberation, snagged a gold gift bag covered in tiny red hearts from the display near the register. She sucked at wrapping things. The card, however, was something she wanted to make herself. She began rooting around in her leather purse for her wallet, but Beth beat her to the punch, shoving a MasterCard at the ebony-skinned sales associate. Lauren could pay her back later.
The woman gasped as she took in Lauren. “Aren’t you—?”
“No,” Beth blurted, cutting off Lauren before she could even open her mouth. “She’s not. I know she looks like it. But look closer, you’ll see what I mean.”
The woman surveyed Lauren critically as she took Beth’s credit card. “Sorry, you’re right.”
“She is?” Lauren asked, bewildered.
“Oh, yeah. Lauren Strayer is way skinnier. No offense, ma’am,” she added quickly, not wanting to lose the sale.
Lauren’s gray eyes turned to slits as she glared at Beth, who looked like she was about ready to sink into the linoleum. “Oh, Beth?” she drawled in a singsong voice.
Beth gulped. “Yes?”
Monday, February 14, 2022
Dev rolled her shoulders, humming in pleasure when she felt her spine and neck crack and move back into proper alignment. It was 8:30 p.m. She was bone-tired and all she really wanted to do was call it a night and go to bed early, but she knew she still had something very important to take care of. It had been on her mind all day and, much to her private embarrassment, Dev felt a little like a high schooler with her first crush. God, I hope she likes it. What if she doesn’t like it?
With slightly trembling hands, she took the two boxes from her desk drawer and headed out of the office. She laughed a little, realizing she was making herself crazy for nothing. Glancing at the clock, she frowned, knowing she’d missed dinner with the family and that the kids would already be in bed.
That meant Lauren would be in her room working or in the kitchen playing cards with whichever agents or staff members had drifted there over the course of the evening. Dev smiled a little and shook her head as she exited the Oval Office. That discovery had been a bit of a surprise. Devlyn had overheard Amy, one of the agents who was permanently assigned to the Marlowe children, complaining about the $75 she’d lost to Lauren that week and the six pounds she’d put on since they started playing cards in the kitchen near all that food.
Dev stopped at Liza’s office and rapped on the doorframe. Two agents, who shadowed the President’s movement through the White House, stopped as well, staying well back to remain as unobtrusive as possible. Her personal assistant worked nearly as late as she did. “Liza?”
The reed-thin young woman glanced up quickly from her computer. “Oh, Madam President, I’m sorry I didn’t hear—”
“No worries.” Dev was quick to correct her. “Everything’s fine. Go home and have some fun tonight.” Dev winked. “That’s an order.”
“Are you knocking off early yourself, Madam President?” That didn’t happen very often and Liza knew it. But today was special. She bit back a grin.
“I’m going back to the residence for the evening. It’s umm,” she blushed slightly, “Valentine’s Day, you know.”
“I know. I have a late date.”
Dev let out a relieved breath; glad it wasn’t just her. Liza looked excited, too. “And I have a couple of surprises for Lauren.” She absently fingered the small boxes in her hand. “I want to give them to her before it gets too much later.”
She nodded at her boss. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“I’ll be here.”
Devlyn walked down the hallway with increased speed. As tired as she was, the thought of spending the rest of the night with Lauren was giving her renewed energy. She entered the Executive Quarters and quickly checked the children, finding them sound asleep. They looked so peaceful and quiet. Life, she decided at that moment, was very, very good.
Her next stop was her own room, where she changed from her skirt, blouse, and proper shoes into something far more comfortable. Donning a pair of jeans and a heavy-weight, tan-colored polo shirt that Lauren had given her for Christmas, she ran a brush through her dark hair, the dry air causing it to crackle as she brought it to order. She remained in socked feet, retrieved the gifts that she’d tossed on her bed as she dressed, and began padding down the hall.
Knocking softly on the door, she suddenly worried that Lauren might have given up on her for the evening. But when the door opened her face broke into a radiant smile. Worries forgotten. “Hiya, beautiful.”
Lauren wore an answering smile of her own. She was beginning to wonder if Devlyn had forgotten about the holiday completely. “Sweet talker.” Casually, she leaned against the doorway. “Care to come in?” Lauren stepped back.
“Love to.” Dev entered the room and waited for the sound of the door clicking shut before she turned to face her fiancée. She drew in a deep breath. “I’m sorry it’s so late.”
“It is late,” Lauren allowed softly. “But I love you anyway.” She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Dev’s neck. “I was really hoping to see you tonight.” She leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on her partner’s throat, smiling when she felt Dev shiver at the contact.
Dev swallowed, a little amazed at how undone she could become over a simple kiss. “How could I not come see you?” she finally muttered. “It’s Valentine’s Day.”
“I—” Lauren’s words were cut off when Devlyn ducked her head and captured her lips in an insistent but tender kiss that quickly became passionate.
Dev’s assault continued until she was treated to a throaty moan by Lauren and felt her companion melt into her arms. “I love you,” she told her, punctuating each word with a nearly chaste kiss to Lauren’s cheeks and nose.
Lauren blinked slowly. Her heart was beating double time and her libido was enthusiastically doing a happy dance. “I believe you.”
Chuckling, Dev brushed her thumb over Lauren’s lips. “I can’t wait to be married to you.”
“Me too.” Married to a woman. To the President of the United States. To Devlyn. God, who would have thought? Blonde brows contracted slightly as she considered their current position. “But it will be different how exactly?”
“I won’t have to come to an entirely different room to see you.”
Lauren laughed softly as she held Dev close. “I like my room. But you know darn well that I spend most nights in your bed as it is.” She shook her head at Dev’s pout. “It won’t be forever, Devlyn. But this arrangement keeps the press from shredding you.”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Devlyn,” Lauren warned playfully. She was not going to get into this discussion again.
“Sorry.” Dev stepped back and reached into her pocket. She pulled out two carefully wrapped jewelry cases and offered them both to Lauren with a hopeful look on her face. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
The writer shook her head, correctly guessing that the boxes contained gifts that were far more extravagant than those she could give Devlyn in return. “You’re going to spoil me.”
“I hope so.” Dev followed Lauren to one of the two sofas that flanked a cherrywood coffee table. Proudly displayed on the table were the two dozen fragrant, very fresh, blood-red roses the President had ordered that morning. Dev grunted her approval. “The White House florist does a hell of a job.”
“They’re beautiful as always.” Lauren leaned over and inhaled a deep nose-full of their spicy, gentle scent. “Mmm…” She sat next to Dev and shook the smaller of the two boxes next to her ear.
Dev rolled her eyes and grinned. “Just open them already.”
“Don’t rush me. I like the anticipation.” She slipped her nail under the tape and lifted the flap, going at a snail’s pace just to tease Devlyn. It was a method of playful torture each employed with the other in a variety of scenarios that often included the bedroom.
“You’re making me crazy!”
“Well, duh.” Lauren winked. “Good crazy or bad crazy?”
“Yes.” Dev watched as Lauren opened the small box to reveal a pair of solitaire diamond earrings.
Lauren’s eyes widened a little as the stones glittered elegantly in the soft light of her room. Jesus. “Oh, Devlyn, they’re beautiful.”
Devlyn was glad she was sitting because her knees went watery with relief. “I’m glad you like them.” She gestured with her chin towards the other package. “This one is just a little something to go with them.”
The second box revealed a diamond tennis bracelet. Lauren looked to her fiancé. “You shouldn’t have.”
“Sure I should have. I love you. You deserve beautiful things.”
“I love you, too.” Lauren removed the bracelet and wrapped it around her wrist. “It’s beautiful, Devlyn.” She held it up and the light caught the precious stones, causing them to sparkle happily and both women to smile in frank appreciation. “Thank you.”
She carefully put on the bracelet and placed the other piece of jewelry back in the box, setting it on the table. “I have something for you too. It’s not quite as grand as this, but—”
“I love it already,” Dev told her sincerely.
Inexplicably, Lauren felt her throat close at the simple words. She nodded a few times, then pushed to her feet. She pointed at Dev. “Can you stay here for a moment? I’ll call you when I’m ready.”
“Hush and wait for me to call you. No peeking.”
Dev huffed. “Fine. Waiting right here.”
Lauren headed for the bathroom and Dev sighed. Her sitting still on the sofa lasted all of one minute before she was on her feet pacing around the room. She stopped her restless roaming when she spotted two new photographs on Lauren’s desk. Photography was a hobby Lauren took seriously, many of her photographs ending up in the biographies she penned. And she was just as likely to follow Dev around with an old-fashioned 35mm camera as she was with a pen or recorder.
Dev lifted one of the new, silver-framed photos, the metal feeling cool against her hand. It was a close-up black-and-white shot of her sitting at her desk in the Oval Office as she gazed down at a stack of papers. One hand was pushing her obsidian hair from her face while the other was tightly clenching a fountain pen. Her expression was that of a serious, very intense woman puzzling something out. Dev wasn’t sure if she liked the photo or not. It was almost disconcerting the way the lens and Lauren had captured her completely, the picture easily conveying emotion she was aware ran close to the surface.
The second picture was completely different and Dev recognized the scene instantly. It had been shot right after she and Lauren had announced their engagement to her children. After dinner they’d all adjourned to the family room to watch a movie together, and what began as a tickle from Ashley devolved into a free-for-all. She hadn’t remembered Lauren taking the photograph, but the wonderful feeling that pulsed happily through her veins that day was still very fresh in her mind.
She brushed the tips of her fingers over the frame and smiled. The mutual, if sometimes awkward, love affair Lauren and her children shared warmed her heart.
Dev’s head snapped up at the sound of her name. She saw a naked arm snake out behind the bedroom door and set a gold gift bag on the floor. Then the arm disappeared.
Devlyn quickly crossed the room and, with a smile on her face, she pulled her gift from the bag. The silk robe was a deep, midnight blue and the fabric slid against her fingers. Hoping this was what Lauren had in mind, she quickly shed her clothes and slipped into the robe, groaning a little under her breath as the cool silk caressed warm, naked skin and sensitive nipples that already ached in anticipation of what was behind the bathroom door. “Ohhh.” The robe’s billowing sleeves were very full and three-quarter length, and the hem stopped well above mid-thigh.
That soft southern drawl from behind the door caused Dev to lick her lips nervously. “Yes?” she croaked, rolling her eyes at herself. She could hear the smile in Lauren’s voice as she spoke.
“Are you going to stand out there all night?”
“Uh… No. Of course not.” Dev kicked her discarded clothes out of the way and reached for the door handle. She stopped with her hand still in the air and wiped her damp palms on her robe.
The sight on the other side of the door took her breath away.
The room was illuminated with soft candlelight, and a steaming bubble bath half-filled a large tub. Champagne was chilling in a bucket and, best of all, Lauren was sitting on the edge of the tub, dressed in a black negligee with matching sheer black robe. Dev’s mouth dropped open, but somehow she still had to fight to keep from swallowing her own tongue.
Lauren’s eyes twinkled happily at her lover’s reaction. She resisted the urge to run over to Devlyn and run her hands across that smooth silky… skin. Breathe, Lauren.
“Aren’t you cold?” Dev managed to croak out as she took a slightly wobbly step forward. Dressed like that, her mind finished.
“You decide.” Lauren crooked her finger at Devlyn, then stood, giving Dev a full view of her outfit, or more precisely, her lack of outfit.
Oh, my God. Devlyn was sure her heart, or possibly her head, was going to explode before she made it across the large bathroom. Lauren Strayer was undeniably the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. Her heart began to race.
“You’re beautiful,” Dev whispered as she ran her eyes all over Lauren’s body like a hot bath.
The beauty of Lauren’s choice of attire was, in actuality, that it didn’t reveal much at all. It merely hinted at the treasures that lay beneath. The younger woman knew that she had just put a match to what promised to be a short, but explosive, fuse.
“I’m glad you like it, Devlyn. I thought you would,” Lauren said quietly, a hint of a smile playing around the edges of her lips. Moving away from Dev just as the President reached her, she began to pour a glass of very cold champagne. The room was hazy with steam from the bath and cool droplets developed on the champagne flute, falling to the ground silently. “Here, I think you might need this.” With the grace of a cat on the hunt, she moved back to Devlyn and offered her a drink.
“Most definitely.” Dev took the glass and drained it, never taking her eyes off Lauren. She licked her lips lightly when she was finished. “Thanks.” Eyes still locked with Lauren’s, she set down the flute on a small wooden table next to the bath. “I want you.”
Lauren’s eyes fluttered closed as she gathered her wits. “You do?” she managed, her pulse visible on the pale skin at her throat.
Dev’s eyes darkened. “I do.” She reached out and barely touched Lauren’s shoulder, her fingers grazing Lauren’s skin through the sheer material. “You’re driving me crazy.”
“You said that before,” Lauren answered amused, her stomach muscles contracting from her own desire. “Good crazy or bad crazy?”
“You said that before, too,” Dev breathed, leaning in and kissing a wet trail from Lauren’s cheek to her shoulder. She uncovered the skin with a simple brush of her hand while she distracted Lauren with gentle kisses.
“Devlyn…” Lauren moaned, her eyes closing as fire erupted deep in her guts and spread lower.
“Mmm?” Her lips never left Lauren’s skin.
“I, I.” Lauren swallowed hard as she tried to focus on what she wanted to say. “I drew you a bath.”
“What bath?” Dev hummed at the taste of Lauren’s skin.
“I don’t know,” Lauren said fuzzily, her hands sinking into soft hair as she pulled Dev closer, giving up the idea of rational thought completely.
Devlyn dropped to her knees, hitting the slick tiles with a loud thump. Long fingers traveled up Lauren’s belly, skimming her breast on the way to the strap of her negligee. She lowered it slowly, reverently, a kiss finding its way to every new inch of exposed skin. The delicate material and Dev’s hot tongue slid down Lauren’s skin like warm butter, causing her to shiver and gasp as her arousal built to a nearly painful pitch.
“I’m keeping you. You are so perfect,” Dev muttered against the soft skin of Lauren’s breast. “Thank you, this is exactly what I needed.”
Lauren’s knees threatened to give way as Dev began to suckle in earnest. “God!” If it weren’t for Dev’s hands, which moved to the small of Lauren’s back, holding her steady, she would have melted into a puddle on the floor.
“Bed,” Dev whispered hotly. “Or I’m having you right here, right now.”
Lauren wasn’t aware of much more than Dev’s teasing tongue and ardent lips until she felt the coolness of the bedspread against her back and the wet heat of Dev’s skin as she climbed on top of her. Lauren’s own hands had been mostly idle, but the temptation was too great not to reach out and take what was being so freely offered. She ran her palms over Dev’s back, then used them to guide Dev’s mouth to hers for another devastating, probing kiss.
Tongues collided as groans filled the quiet room. They both lost track of the time, kissing and touching well into the night.
While her lover was distracted with a particularly intense exchange, Lauren reached between them, her hand sliding down along smooth skin and soft flesh. She moaned her approval when she reached her goal.
Dev had been a wonderfully patient lover with her, allowing her time and space to work through her inexperience when it came to loving another woman. Sometimes, to Lauren’s frustration, Devlyn could be too patient. But once Lauren understood that was just Dev’s natural state of being, that she was truly free to experiment, or much to Dev’s delight take the lead, her imagination grew wings. Tonight, for example, Lauren Strayer’s patience had come to an end. She wanted Devlyn and she wanted her now.
And she was going to have her.
Devlyn was panting now, her skin slick with perspiration and condensation from the steamy bathroom and her own arousal. “Oh, Lauren…” she gritted out, the power of their lovemaking washing over her like a tidal wave, leaving her shaking in its wake, her body convulsing powerfully as she buried her face against Lauren’s salty-tasting neck.
Lauren’s hands slipped from between their bodies, and she began a gentle massage as she waited for Devlyn to recover. She knew she wouldn’t have to wait long.
The taller woman groaned loudly when strong fingers dug into tired shoulder muscles. “God, I am so keeping you.”
Lauren laughed. “Were you thinking of getting rid of me?” Dev’s quick movement onto all fours above her caused her to jump in surprise. “Yeow!” Transfixed, she watched the sensual sway of Devlyn’s breasts as she spoke.
“I am never getting rid of you,” Dev growled, lowering her head and carefully taking a painfully sensitive nipple between white teeth and tugging gently.
Lauren nearly exploded off the bed. “Jesus Christ, Devlyn,” she hissed, her head thrown back in rapture, hands flying to the bed and tangling themselves on the damp bedspread. “Yes!”
Dev’s mouth found swollen, sensitive flesh and Lauren came hard, her heart threatening to pound out of her chest as she moaned out her release in a steady stream of unintelligible words. Her own chest heaving, Dev crawled up Lauren’s body, kissing as she went and wrapping her arms tightly around Lauren’s torso as she pillowed her head on soft breasts.
“Any chance of sleeping in tomorrow?” Lauren asked quietly after a long time, a sleepy, sated smile curling her lips. She already knew the answer. She asked it almost every time they’d just finished making love, the desire to snuggle against Devlyn, savoring every blessed second for hours on end, nearly overwhelming.
“Actually, yes.” Dev sighed and spared a thought for the candles that were probably gutted by now and were threatening to burn down the White House. But there was no chance she was moving from this spot, even if she could, which she wasn’t so sure about. She gave the voice-command to activate Lauren’s phone and asked housekeeping to come and extinguish the candles and drain the tub, making it clear they were to use the service entrance to the bathroom that would leave them undisturbed. She also took the time to order breakfast in bed.
When Dev disconnected the call, Lauren said, “Now I know I’m dreaming. Breakfast in bed on a weekday? And you said 8 a.m.? Sweet Mother of God, am I dying but I just don’t know it yet so I’m getting the royal treatment?”
Devlyn chuckled. “I’m taking the day off tomorrow, as much as I can, and I’m spending it with you and the kids.”
“Now I know I’m dying.” She tugged on a lock of dark hair. “You’re really taking a weekday off?”
Lauren felt Dev nod.
“I’ve been really busting my butt these last couple of weeks. How many times in the last two or three weeks have I had dinner with you and the kids?”
“Exactly.” Devlyn paused to place a kiss on the soft skin above Lauren’s breasts. “I have barely spent any time with you at all. An hour or so here and there just isn’t cutting it. Hell, I don’t even know how Ashley is doing in school.”
“She’s doing just fine. We’re getting an A in English now.”
“That’s my girls.” She squawked when Lauren gave her a teasing pinch. Lauren was turning into a wonderful mother and it was happening so gradually that she wasn’t even aware of it. Devlyn, however, was loving every moment of it. “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love my robe.”
“Mmm…you looked great it in, but even better out of it.” Lauren cracked open an eye. “Where is it anyway?”
“I have no earthly idea.” Dev lifted up a very disheveled head and peered at Lauren’s face. “Do you want me to go find it?”
Lauren snuggled deeper into the mattress, tugging Dev down with her. “Not on your life,” she said seconds before they both tumbled into some very well-deserved sleep.
Monday, February 28, 2022
Dev sat in her private office, reading over some documents that David needed her opinion on by the end of the day. After hearing how enthusiastic about it the boys were, Lauren had agreed to endure the security and media circus and take the children to the Natural History Museum for the afternoon.
The boys had heard about the new dinosaur bones exhibit from their friends at school, and Dev was afraid that if they didn’t go soon they were going to combust. Ashley hadn’t been nearly so excited about going to look at “dumb old bones,” but a promise by Lauren to take her to the Native American exhibit made the entire trip worthwhile in the little girl’s eyes.
Devlyn glanced at the clock. They were actually due back any moment.
A soft knock at the door brought her head up from her documents. “Come in.”
Jane opened the door and gave Devlyn a huge grin. “You have a very special visitor.”
Devlyn sighed and tossed the pen she’d been restlessly twirling between her fingers onto the papers in front of her. “Unless it’s the paperwork fairy….”
“No, but almost as good.” Jane stepped to the side, and a woman with long blonde hair pulled back in a stylish braid stuck her head round the door.
“Hey, Stinky, you got a minute for an old sister-in-law?”
“Sarah!” Dev came out of her chair as if her pants had caught fire. “Damn, woman, where did you come from?” She bolted out from behind her desk, biting back a grimace at the pain that flared in her hip. After long hours at her desk she would still feel the effects of being shot. Dev pulled Sarah into a full body bear hug, lifting her off the ground despite the fact that she was nearly as tall as Devlyn.
The embrace lasted for several long emotional seconds before Dev gently cleared her throat.
Reluctantly, Sarah pulled away. “I’ve been in Argentina, actually.” Sarah took a step back, giving Devlyn an appreciative look accompanied by a low whistle that caused the President’s cheeks to grow warm. “You look wonderful.” There was a wistful note to her voice that the other woman missed completely. “Just as wonderful as I remember.”
“So do you.” Dev shook her head. “All grown up. Every time I see you I still can’t believe you’re not that skinny little kid with braces and skinned knees. When did you get into town? What are you doing here?”
Sarah chuckled and took a seat on a couch near the fireplace. “Easy, one at a time. My God.” Her wide-eyed gaze flicked eagerly from one surface to the next. “I can’t believe I’m in the Oval Office and that you’re the President. The President! Jesus, Dev.”
Devlyn plopped on the sofa next to her, leaning close and bumping shoulders with her. “No kidding. I haven’t stopped pinching myself yet.”
“I’ll take over that task if you need someone.” Sarah’s fingers shaped claw-pincers and Dev laughed.
“What are you doing now, Sarah? You’re not still in school?”
Sarah gaped. “That was years ago. God, has it been that long? I worked odd jobs for a few magazines before catching a break and accepting a position with World Traveler Digest two years ago.” They were known for their photographic pictorials.
“Impressive. You know, Lauren has traveled extensively for her work. You two would have a lot in common,” Dev said enthusiastically, beaming proudly for the both of them.
I wondered how long it would take her to mention her. Sarah ignored Dev’s comment. “I’m on assignment here in the city, and I thought I’d stop by and say hello and see the kids, if that’s all right.” She laid her hand on Dev’s thigh.
Dev put her own hand on top of Sarah’s and squeezed gently. “All right? I’ve missed you, Pee Wee.” Her gaze softened. Sarah had only been 10 years old when she and Samantha had wed. And for many years after, she was a constant fixture in the Marlowe household. To an only child, her young sister-in-law was the closest thing to a sibling Devlyn ever had. “Of course it’s all right. The kids have missed you in their lives. Pictures and recordings just aren’t the same.”
Sarah looked away but left her hand where it was. “I know,” she said softly.
Dev kicked her long legs out in front of her. “In fact, the kids and Lauren are due back soon. How about if we sneak back to the residence and rustle up some lunch before they get here?”
But neither woman moved.
Sarah continued to stare straight ahead, gazing into the embers in the fireplace while Dev openly observed her, struck again by how much Sarah Turner resembled Samantha. The nose was a little different, not quite as delicate in its slope, but the dark blonde hair and cornflower-blue eyes were so similar it was eerie. Even her voice made Dev shiver a little.
For the first time the silence between them was decidedly uncomfortable. It was Sarah who broke it first. She sighed. “I didn’t handle Sam’s death very well.”
Dev suddenly felt as though a weight was pressing against her chest. Some types of pain would never completely go away. “None of us did.”
Sarah sighed again. “But I should have tried to stick it out for you and the kids. Mom and Dad were already gone, and then Sam too.” Her chin quivered a little. “I just—”
“Shh…” Devlyn pressed a tender kiss against Samantha’s cheek. “I know.”
Sarah turned back to Dev and gently grasped a lock of hair. She couldn’t meet her eyes. “No grays yet?” Her attempt to move to safer ground was painfully obvious. “Or is Ms. Clairol on the payroll?” she joked weakly, running her fingers through Dev’s silky strands, not seeming to notice what she was doing.
“It really is okay, Sarah.” The tightness in her chest was making it hard to speak. But this was something that needed to be said. “We all needed time. Some of us more than others. I love you. And I’d wait a hundred years if that’s what you needed.”
Sarah gathered her courage and glanced up at Dev. Those soulful blue eyes had always been her undoing. She’d spent years envying the relationship Samantha had with Devlyn. And years more mourning the loss of someone irreplaceable in her life. But her sister wasn’t here anymore. And if Samantha’s death taught her anything, it was that life was short and that sometimes you didn’t get second chances.
Sarah lifted her palm and cupped Dev’s cheek. She could see tears shimmering there and watched compassionately as several finally spilled over. With her thumb, she brushed one away. Then, on impulse, she leaned in and removed the second with her lips. Before she could lose her nerve or think about what she was doing, she ducked her head and kissed Devlyn softly on the mouth.
It began as chaste, and for a second or two Devlyn was frozen. She didn’t return the kiss, she didn’t move at all, unsure how to interpret what was happening. This was Sarah, for God’s sake!
Then two things happened simultaneously. The door to the Oval Office opened, and Sarah moaned lightly as she leaned forward and tried to deepen the kiss.
Devlyn grasped Sarah’s hands firmly and pushed her away. “Sarah—” She looked up at Sarah’s face, but the younger woman’s attention was elsewhere.
Sarah’s eyes were riveted on the door and two very shocked women: Beth and Lauren.
Dev’s head snapped around. “Lauren.” Uh oh. She jumped to her feet, nearly knocking Sarah off the couch. “I didn’t expect you and the kids for a while.”
Lauren’s lips thinned and she was surprised that the words came out as evenly as they did, considering her mind was reeling. “I can see that.” No. No. No. I did not just see that! Devlyn loves me! She’s not like Judd. But even the possibility that she’d been wrong about Devlyn’s feelings for her was suddenly too much to bear.
The pressure-cooker of emotion that Lauren had been living in bubbled dangerously close to the surface.
“I’m so sorry, Dev,” Sarah told the President. “I know you wanted to sneak back to the residence before they got home.”
Lauren and Dev’s eyebrows nearly popped off their foreheads.
“Sarah!” Devlyn screeched. “That’s not what I meant.” She chanced a glance at Lauren. Oh, fuck.
Lauren looked at Devlyn as though seeing her for the first time. “You really said that, Devlyn?” she said, hearing the catch in her voice.
“Well… I…” She threw her hands in the air. “It’s not what it looks like.” Christ! Dev was starting to panic and didn’t know what else to say. So like any savvy politician, she stayed quiet, carefully choosing and discarding words. In this instance, however, her silence spoke louder than her words ever could. The cold mask that dropped over Lauren’s face caused Dev’s heart to pound and she suddenly realized her error. “Lauren, please… It’s not what you think.”
Lauren willed her hands to stop shaking. “I think I walked in here and caught you two kissing. Are you saying I saw differently?”
Devlyn swallowed hard. “Yes. No. I mean, sort of. Shit!”
The tension in the room skyrocketed.
Beth dropped her face into her hands. She could hear Devlyn’s mental mantra of ‘ohshitohshitohshit’ from where she was standing.
Sarah stood as gracefully as was possible considering her off kilter position on the sofa and waltzed across the room, offering her hand to Lauren.
Lauren’s heartbeat was thundering in her ears, with one thought chanted mercilessly in her head. She’s gorgeous and she looks exactly like Samantha!
When it appeared that Lauren was too stunned to acknowledge Sarah at all, Sarah addressed Beth. “Long time no see, Beth.”
Beth ground her teeth together, giving Devlyn, who looked like a drunken deer caught in the headlights, a dirty look of her own. Then she focused on Sarah. What the hell have you done, Sarah? “It has been a while, Sarah. I see your acne cleared up.”
Sarah? The girl from the family pictures? Acne? Lauren marveled. Sarah looked like a fashion model. And Lauren hated her with an intensity that would melt solid steel.
Sarah turned to Lauren. “And you are?” She knew damn well who she was.
“That’s my—” Dev began.
“Don’t!” Lauren interrupted, her face turning an angry red as her hurt and anger mixed. “I can speak for myself.”
Dev’s mouth clicked closed.
Lauren took a calming breath. “I’m Lauren Strayer.” Hard gray eyes trained themselves on Devlyn. “The President’s biographer.”
Dev’s stomach dropped 12 stories.
Lauren’s hands were shaking. Humiliated and torn between dissolving into tears and murder, she quickly tucked them under her arms. This has to be wrong, but I saw it with my own eyes. My own eyes! That was no sisterly kiss. “I’m going to leave now,” she ground out, feeling as though she was going to throw up.
Devlyn panicked. “For God’s sake, Lauren! It wasn’t—”
Lauren turned on her heels and marched out of the Oval Office on slightly wobbly legs, leaving the trio of stunned woman behind her.
For a second Dev wasn’t sure what to do, then she bolted for the door.
“Dev,” Beth began softly, “I wouldn’t.”
Devlyn looked at Beth with an expression so heartbroken it brought tears to Beth’s eyes. “But I have to go and fix things.” Dev’s shout rattled the pictures on the wall, then it dropped to a whisper. “She doesn’t understand.” This is not happening. She lifted her jaw a little, daring Beth not to believe her. “It wasn’t what it looked like. I would never do that to Lauren. I’d die first.”
Sarah closed her eyes as Dev’s words pierced her heart. Damn.
Beth shook her head quickly. “Don’t do it, Dev. She needs to cool off or—”
Dev’s jaw worked silently. She had no choice. “I won’t risk losing her by doing nothing.” She’ll understand once I talk to her. I know it. But memories of Lauren’s words about Judd’s infidelity haunted her. “I won’t live that way again. Ever.”
Beth watched as Devlyn disappeared into the outer office and with a tremulous voice asked Jane which direction Lauren had headed. Then she was gone.
Beth whirled around and pinned Sarah with a withering glare. She marched up to the younger woman and grabbed her by the shirt, dragging her over to the sofa where she roughly pushed her down. “Talk,” she demanded. “And don’t you lie, Sarah Turner. Devlyn might not have noticed the crush you’ve had on her since you were old enough to know what one was. But she’s the only one.”
Sarah swallowed hard. “Devlyn didn’t do anything either.” Her eyes conveyed a mixture of fear and anguish. “I think I really messed up, Beth.”
Beth groaned. I knew it. Thank, God. “You’d better hope that Dev can convince Lauren of the same thing, Sarah. Or I wouldn’t want to be you,” she said grimly, meaning every word.
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