Friday, July 1, 2022

Devlyn yawned as she wrapped a protective arm around Lauren’s waist. She was grateful for the relative seclusion of the cabin as she and Lauren wove their way between the deep puddles on the tree-lined path. The reception had gone on much longer than either she or Lauren would have liked. But its purpose was to honor their newly blessed marriage. It was so rare and wonderful to have all their friends and family in one place that they endured the endless toasts and raucous, familial chatter with a dose of good humor and several longing looks towards each other and the door.

Those same heavy-lidded looks, in fact, along with sweet, stolen kisses and hour after hour of casually intimate touches had left the women aching for some peaceful time alone together. David had assured her that, for what little remained of their wedding night, come hell or high water she and Lauren would be left alone. Devlyn knew that promise only went so far, but for the time being the world seemed to be letting them have their special day. She smiled as she put her hand on the front door’s knob and felt Lauren’s hand come to rest directly on her bottom. “Madam, I might remind you that we still have eyes upon us.”

“Like I care about those agents and their night-vision goggles.” She turned her head and stuck her tongue out just to be ornery, then tilted her head back and yawned, observing the now clear night sky. “They’re lucky I don’t throw you down on this porch and have my way with you.”

Dev smirked, knowing full well that most of the Secret Service and a healthy number of FBI and CIA agents had crushes on her wife. “Somehow I doubt they’ll consider you controlling yourself to be their good fortune.” She turned to regard her companion. “Too much to drink, Boris?”

“Eh…” Lauren wiggled her hand back and forth. “Close, Natasha.”

Devlyn sniggered as the hand on her rear began to slowly move up and down.

“Devlyn, just get the door open.” Her voice was a low growl.  “Ugh! If one more mosquito bites me, I’m going to get malaria!”

“I thought you liked it in the woods, ” Dev said.

Devlyn poked out her lower lip, and Lauren was tempted to grab it. The blonde sniggered loudly. “I like it everywhere. But I like to sleep in the cabin. Big difference.”

“Mmm… True.” Devlyn opened the door and took a step backward to stand behind Lauren. She gestured for Lauren to enter by placing her hand on the small of the shorter woman’s back and pushing slightly. “Our honeymoon suite awaits.”

“Tsk, you mean you’re not going to carry me over the threshold?” Lauren teased, already moving forward.

“If you insist.”

“Wh—!” Lauren’s squeal rang out into the night.

Before Lauren could stop her, Devlyn swept her off her feet and carried her into the cabin, managing to muffle a groan when she turned and kicked the cabin door closed.  She set a very surprised Lauren down and tried not to look too pleased with herself. Which was exceedingly difficult. She crossed her arms and waited for her reward.

“Wow.” Lauren said, clearly impressed. “That was nuts, Dev. Did anyone ever tell you you’re pretty strong for a middle-aged desk jockey?” She reached out to squeeze Devlyn’s biceps, all the while emitting a low whistle.

Devlyn bared her teeth in a false smile and slapped away her hands. “I am not middle-aged,” she said, straightening her back and throwing her chest out, much to Lauren’s delight. “I plan on living to be at least 107, which means—”

“Stop.” The blonde woman held up her hand. “Don’t do the math. I’m too tired to think about math.”

They both laughed softly and leaned against the cabin door, the wood feeling cool against their hot skin. The rain had stopped sometime during the reception, ushering in a wave of thick, muggy air that the air-conditioner had to work hard to repel. Candles, already burning low, had been lit and placed along the banister leading to the loft and around the fireplace in the main room. They emitted a soft, golden glow and sweet, vanilla scent.

Devlyn turned to face her new bride, her expression serious. She slowly ran her knuckles over Lauren’s cheek. “I love you.”

Lauren smiled, a little amazed at the fluttering in the pit of her stomach that Devlyn could incite with one touch, or look, or sultry whisper. “You know,” she said thoughtfully, as though she’d just had the revelation that very second, “I really love you, too.”

Dev’s smile reached her eyes, and she kissed her partner on the cheek and then turned her toward the living room.

“This is beautiful.” Lauren shook her head a little as she took it all in. “Your folks?”

“No, as I understand it,” Dev paused to remove her shoes, tossing them next to the door, “Beth and David did this. I did the same thing when they used this place for their honeymoon.” Dev’s gaze bounced around the room, then her eyes narrowed. “Only I was thoughtful enough to provide cold beer.”

“Oh no, you don’t.” Lauren groaned and moved to the sofa, settling down heavily as she struggled out of her own shoes. “One more toast after dinner and I would have ended up face down in the punch bowl. I stopped just in time, though I’m still a little buzzed,” she admitted. “Lord knows, I don’t want to be drunk on my wedding night.” She left off the word “again,” surmising that was more information than Devlyn really wanted to know. She covered her face with her hands and spared a thought for her first wedding night, now seeing what she thought was ordinary wedding jitters with very different eyes. What a moron I was.

“Ahhh.” Devlyn found an ice bucket loaded with bottled water. “I knew you weren’t my best friend for nothing, David,” she murmured as she grabbed two bottles.

 Lauren wiggled her sore feet. “God, I’m tired.”

“Even I feel tired after today, and I gave up sleep for Lent last year.” Dev handed over a cold bottle of water.  “Why don’t you go take a nice hot shower and change into something more comfortable?” She eyed Lauren from top to bottom and her voice softened as she said, “Though I’ve never seen any woman look more beautiful than you did today, Lauren.”

Gray eyes sparkled with appreciation as Lauren returned the favor, happily giving her mate the once over. “I think you know I feel the same way.” The blonde drained her glass and handed the empty bottle back with a grin. “How about we go to bed now and do something that will require a shower later?”

Devlyn laughed low in her throat and extended her hand, suppressing another yawn with her other hand. She pulled Lauren into a long hug, allowing herself to revel in a moment of pure happiness.

Finally, Lauren gently pulled back enough to lay her palms against Dev’s upper chest, feeling the other woman draw in a slow, deep breath. “If you’re too tired…?” she whispered.

Dev’s eyes popped open. She could hear the smile in Lauren’s voice, and she blinked hard, feeling disoriented.  Then she recalled what Lauren had said. “No! Not on your life!” Devin cupped Lauren’s warm cheek and spoke against soft lips as she kissed her. “But, honey, I’m inching towards middle age as we speak. Let’s go.”


Bathed in soft moonlight, they lay together on the bed, nude. Sheets and blankets lay crumpled on the floor as they traded slow, deep kisses. Two sets of smooth, damp legs were tangled tightly together, tingling skin being caressed with each shift of their bodies. They’d been kissing for so long that they’d lost track of the time, their bodies thrumming lightly with excitement.

Without warning, Devlyn rolled Lauren on top of her. The blonde’s head swam, and she suddenly felt a little queasy. Even in the faint light, Devlyn detected the change in her coloring and pinned her with concerned eyes. “Lauren,” she said quietly, sinking her hands deeply into Lauren’s hair and tilting the younger woman’s chin up just a fraction so that she could look into her eyes.  “Are you okay?”

“Ugh.” Lauren grimaced. “I drank at least a bottle of champagne tonight, sweetheart. Gymnastics are so out for the evening.” Her body shook with Devlyn’s soft laughter. “Can we do this without spinning, please?”

Dev smiled fondly and used the tips of her index finger to lovingly trace pale eyebrows. “We can. But we can just go to sleep.” She leaned upward and softly bussed Lauren’s chin. “If you’re too tired.”

“Are you?” Lauren asked, half-hoping Devlyn would say yes. She was exhausted and that, in combination with the alcohol and food, had her yearning to crawl underneath the covers and sleep for a week. Problem was she also wanted to kiss and lick every square inch of the beautiful body beneath her. She was well past the point of no return and this was their wedding night.

“No,” Devlyn answered quickly, looking for any sign that Lauren might want to put this off. There was no doubting how aroused she was, but the bed was so soft and even the moonlight seemed too bright for tired eyes.

A genuine smile twitched at Lauren’s lips for a split second before she captured Devlyn’s mouth in a delicious, wet kiss.

Devlyn let out a soft, encouraging moan, forgetting all about being sleepy and reveling in the sensation of naked skin beneath her fingertips and Lauren’s soft, warm tongue against her own.

Lauren’s mouth moved to Devlyn’s ear then neck. “Mmm… Devlyn, you smell so — Ack Phft!” She lifted her head and tried to dislodge the chunk of hair stuck to her damp lips and chin.

“What’s wrong?” Devlyn moved her head, effectively cleaning Lauren’s face.

“Your hair tastes like hairspray.” She made a face and wiped at her tongue. “Yuck.”

“You’re not supposed to eat it.”

“No talking,” Lauren murmured playfully, attaching her lips to Devlyn’s throat and lightly sucking just as she brought up one hand to cup Dev’s breast.

The taller woman arched her back and groaned at the contact, her eyes fluttering shut of their own accord.

Lauren moved to begin kissing lower as Devlyn squirmed a little under her touch. Her elbow jabbed Dev’s breast and the President nearly shot up off the bed.

“Ouch!” Her eyes flew open, and she grasped herself in a gesture that made it look as if she were having a heart attack. She sucked in a huge breath, then let it out explosively. “Christ!”

“Oh, shit!” Lauren began to panic, just knowing that her accidental jab, in combination with the ridiculous stress of the Presidency, had been too much for Devlyn. “Shit! You’re having a coronary? Oh, my God! Is your arm numb?” She grabbed at Dev’s arm and shook it.

Dev wrenched her arm out of Lauren’s hands. “You’re… you’re insane!”

“I can’t remember which arm is supposed to be numb.” She scrubbed her face with rough, jerky movements. “Shit. Shit. Shit!”

“Nothing is numb,” Dev ground out, unable to keep from laughing. “Goddammit, Lauren, I told you I’m not even middle aged!  I am not dying! It’s my boob!” Miserably, Dev pointed at her own nipple.

“Oh.” Lauren blinked. “Ohhhhhhhh.” She let out a relieved breath, finally getting the message. “You nearly scared the life out of me,” she said, her heart still pounding. She was tempted to smack Devlyn for nearly giving her a heart attack of her own.  Then her eyes narrowed as she thought about what Devlyn said. Had she bumped her breast? “I can’t even remember doing it. I couldn’t have done more than barely touch you!”

Dev’s jaw clenched, then she forced herself to relax. “I’m near to cycling and they’re a little sensitive,” she told her, a little embarrassed at what might be characterized as an overreaction to the accidental jab. She was more startled than anything. “And if you even think the word ‘menopause,’” Dev said it as though it was a curse, "your next vacation spot will be adjacent to Jimmy Hoffa.”

“Aww… I’m sorry, honey,” Lauren said sincerely, trying her best not to laugh and utterly failing. She removed the hand that was clutching Devlyn’s breast and replaced it with her own, letting her mate feel the warmth of her palm. She made a concerted effort to let all the love she felt for Dev show in her eyes as she kissed Dev’s hand, paying special attention to each long finger. “It was an accident.” Her eyebrows lifted in entreaty. “Forgive me?” she said softly. “I would never hurt you on purpose. Please?”

Dev placed her hand over the one on her breast and squeezed gently, melting a little under the loving attention. “Of course. I’m sorry that I scared you.”

“Kiss it and make it better?” Lauren gestured towards the breast in question with a tilt of her head. Her own arousal, which had been like a pendulum all night, had all but evaporated at the thought of Devlyn croaking. But the soft, desire-filled eyes gazing so intently into hers were more than she could ignore.

The dark-haired woman nearly said no, that they could just resume this in the morning, God knows it wasn’t exactly going well, but Lauren looked so earnest that she couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing her new bride on their wedding night.  “Sure.”

Lauren smiled and kissed her way down to Devlyn’s breast, peppering her soft skin with even softer kisses.

It only took seconds before Devlyn was drifting on a wave of emotion. It was, Dev decided, utterly divine. The warm feeling of Lauren’s breath and lips and tongue gently caressing her nipple and the sides and undersides of her breast was so breathtaking that she couldn’t help but relax under the tender ministrations, sinking deeper into the bed, mesmerized.

Lauren’s mouth drifted lower and lower and she dipped her tongue in Dev’s navel, knowing that Dev was especially ticklish there. Instead of the chuckle she expected, she heard a… Lauren’s ears perked and she suddenly lifted her head from her task and gazed up at her lover. “Was that a yawn I just heard?”

“Nooo…” Devlyn insisted, her mind snapping back into the moment with almost brutal force.  “A moan.” She was sure going to hell for such a blatant lie, but some things just couldn’t be helped. There was no way she would hurt her lover’s feelings tonight.

“Okay,” Lauren answered a little skeptically, fighting the urge to yawn herself. “Because if you’re too ti—”

“I am not too tired. I’m not!” Dev said sheepishly, knowing she sounded a little like a 3-year-old who was fighting bedtime. Devlyn gently urged Lauren’s head lower. “Carry on.” She flopped her head back on the pillow and licked her lips in anticipation.

And Lauren did, settling herself between Devlyn’s legs and tenderly kissing each thigh before making more intimate contact. Both women groaned languidly at the first touch of Lauren’s tongue. But soon the contact wasn’t quite enough for Devlyn, who was thrashing around like she was on fire. Rather than instruct Lauren verbally that she needed to move just a teensy, tiny, bit to the left, Dev kept shifting over in the bed, frustrating her partner no end. Dev, unfortunately, mistook Lauren’s frequent, helpless chuckles and growls of frustration for those of pleasure.

Lauren was hanging onto Dev’s hips, thinking her tongue might fall off soon, when Devlyn sat up, desperately grabbed her face, okay… her ears, and said, “ALLLLLLMOST, baby. Right here!” Abruptly, she pulled Lauren’s face forward and the younger woman’s teeth collided with a very, very sensitive spot.

“UGH!” Dev hissed, her face turning beet-red. Then she let out a protracted wail that shook the rafters and sounded very much like a cross between Tarzan and a cat whose tail had just been caught under a rocking chair. Her legs slammed shut with stunning force, boxing Lauren's ears and causing her to howl.

“AHH!” Lauren rolled over and grabbed her ears… and took a nosedive off the side of the bed. She landed with a loud thump.

When Devlyn could think again, she looked up, trying to find Lauren. She couldn’t see her, but she could hear pitiful whimpering and the occasional curse word coming from somewhere in the darkness.

Finally, Lauren weakly crawled up onto the bed and laid her head carefully on Devlyn’s stomach, wrapping her arms around her waist and kissing the soft skin beneath her lips.

Devlyn slowly stroked Lauren’s hair.



“Is this supposed to be as dangerous as running with scissors?”

They both dissolved into laughter.

“I never thought so until now,” Devlyn admitted with a smile. “I guess that ‘for better or worse’ stuff starts early with some couples, huh?” She could still feel Lauren’s chuckles warming the skin of her belly.  “C’mere.” She scooted over a little so that Lauren could share her pillow. Twin sighs escaped them as blonde and ebony hair mixed against the pale blue pillowcase.

“Can we just go to sleep?” Devlyn asked. “Please, oh please? There’s always tomorrow.”

“For the love of God, yes!” Grunting happily, she kissed Devlyn’s cheek, then nuzzled her neck, drawing in a satisfying breath of Dev-scented air.

Dev shot up a silent prayer. “How are your ears?”

Her voice was filled with concern, and Lauren snuggled closer eager to reassure her. She was sure the ringing in her ears would stop. Someday. “I’ll live, sweetheart. More importantly, how is your—”

“I’ll live too,” Dev said quickly. She sniggered at herself. “But just barely.”

“Darlin’” Lauren whispered after a few silent minutes. “That was still better than my wedding night with Judd.”
Two sets of giggles filled the cabin along with the morning sun.


The cameras couldn’t be avoided as they made their way across the tarmac to Air Force One. Dev gave Lauren a questioning glance as they got out of the car, and she nodded, smiling bravely as she followed Dev towards the crowd of reporters. After only three and a half hours of sleep, their eyes were bloodshot and their backs stiff, but they consoled each other with promises of long naps on the plane and many hours of doing nothing more than being together on their honeymoon.

Once they were in range of the press corps, the questions started flying like bolts of lightning from the storm the day before.

“Where are you going on your honeymoon, Madam President?”

“I have no earthly idea.” Dev grinned, tightening her hold on Lauren’s hand. “Our honeymoon is classified and only the First Lady, whoever her co-conspirators were, and the pilot know where we’re going.”

“And I’m not telling,” Lauren said enigmatically, deciding to give up the fight for now and make the best possible impression she could. She held her breath for a few seconds until the reporters began to laugh at her comment.

“Where are your children?” a reporter asked, his nose in his notepad.

Devlyn answered, “The children are safe and sound and enjoying a vacation of their own with Chiefs of Staff David and Beth McMillian.”

“So you’re going into hiding for a romantic getaway and escaping the kids?” a woman near the back of the pack asked.

Lauren’s back stiffened. She didn’t like the way the question was phrased; who took their children on their honeymoon? But she knew what the reporter was getting at. “I’m quite certain that where the children are going we won’t be missed. And the President and I are very much looking forward to some downtime alone. I think we’re due, don’t you?” she couldn’t help but add, feeling Dev squeeze her hand.  “They’ll be joining us later in the week.”

“Will you be working on the President’s biography, Mrs. Marlowe?”

“It’s still Ms. Strayer.” Which I know you know because Devlyn was forced to issue a press release about that very subject last week. “And, no, I won’t be working on the book.” Her patience was thinning faster than she’d imagined. “I hope I’m going to spend most of my time totally nak—”

“Well!” Devlyn jumped in. She smiled broadly. “It’s certainly a warm morning here in Ohio, isn’t it? Any other questions?”

Just then, Liza, who had arrived in another car, caught Devlyn’s attention by pointing at her watch.

“That’s all for now, ladies and gentlemen. But somehow I’m certain we’ll run into each other again soon.” There were more chuckles as the Agent-In-Charge escorted Devlyn and Lauren to the gangway. The President returned the brisk salutes of the servicemen flanking the gangway as she and Lauren separated from all but a bare bones staff and quickly disappeared inside the plane.

Once inside, Lauren sighed and leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. “I’ll never get used to that.”

“You will,” Dev assured her, nodding her greeting at several crew members.

On his way to the galley, a scurrying steward offered both women a beverage, which they politely declined.

“Remember, Lauren,” Dev fondly brushed a piece of windblown hair from Lauren’s face. “I won’t be President forever.”

Lauren sighed. “Thank God.” The sudden silence in the room caused her to open her eyes. “I’m sorry, honey.” She stepped closer to Devlyn, her eyes conveying her regret. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” She was very aware of the disapproving stares she was receiving from several junior staffers, and she felt the tips of her ears heat.

To Lauren’s relief, Dev smiled. “I know how you meant it.” Then she lowered her voice for Lauren’s ears only. “I think the same thing about half the time.”

“Madam President?” A young Air Force officer approached her hesitantly. “We have a secure call for you. It’s urgent, ma’am.”

Dev sighed. She closed her eyes and nodded slowly. We’re not even in the air yet! “I’ll take it in my office. Will you escort the First Lady to our quarters please?”

Dutifully, he nodded. “Of course, ma’am.”

Devlyn leaned forward and gently kissed Lauren on the lips, ignoring the blush the serviceman was now sporting. “I’ll be as quick as I can. I promise.”

“I know you will.” Lauren rested her palm on Dev’s cheek and gave her a loving, if tired, smile. “Such is the life of a wife of a superhero. Go save the world, Devlyn. I’ll see you in a few.” She watched as two aides instantly appeared at the President’s side and her partner’s demeanor shifted into that of the no-nonsense Commander-in-Chief. One of the aides pressed two thick folders into Dev’s hands and the other opened her office door and ushered her inside. A worried expression overtook Lauren’s face.

“Ma’am? Excuse me, ma’am?”

She looked up to find the serviceman still waiting for her. “Sorry,” she muttered absently, her finger moving to her glasses.

He motioned toward the door that led to the private living areas on the plane.

“No, thank you.” She paused and read the man’s nametag and took note of his rank, something she’d learned to recognize in recent months “No, thank you, Lieutenant Felznick. I think I’ll go to my office instead.” Lauren laid her hand on his forearm. “You don’t need to bother showing me, I know the way. Thank you.” She smiled warmly.

“Of course.” He smiled, pleased she’d addressed him by name. He couldn’t wait to send a letter back home to Iowa and tell his mother. He politely excused himself, feeling 10 feet tall.

When Lauren opened the door to her office, she found a large stack of mail on her desk and a note from Beth that said:


I know how boring these those long flights can be while Dev is busy not working <smile>. In the future, I’ll assign one of your new admins to sort through this kind of thing. For now, however, I thought it might be fun for you to get a taste of what type of mail you can expect. Aren’t we “Miss Popular’?! You’d think you were… oh, I dunno, THE FIRST LADY!

Congrats, my friend. I can’t tell you how I happy I am for you and Devil. The difference you’ve made in her life…well…I think you already know about that.

Okay, back to business. If by some miracle, Dev is actually not busy and you have no time to look at these, don’t worry. That’s why you have a staff.

I know how important it is to you that you be able to continue working on the biography, Lauren.  Being First Lady doesn’t mean you have to trash your own career or put it on hold.  Well, it has in the past, but while this administration is making history, we might as well change that, too.

Have a safe and wonderful honeymoon!

Taking a seat, Lauren pulled the chair closer to the desk and adjusted her glasses. The first 10 letters were all invitations for her and Devlyn or her alone to attend charitable functions. Then came one asking for a private interview from a New York Times reporter who was interested in her personal opinion of the DNA Registration Act. “Yeah, right.” Lauren snorted, recognizing a can of worms when she saw one.  That piece of legislation was a significant place where their political views diverged. “Like I’m that stupid.” 

The next three letters contained invitations to a birthday party for the Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, an anniversary party for the Emancipation Party leader, and a Labor Day fundraiser for the League of Women Voters (LWV) that was to be held in the Nation’s Capital. “Oh, boy.” Her eyes widened. How can I decide between these? Neither one of us has time for any of them!” she moaned, but after a few more moments of thought, she put in a large manila folder marked “Declined” every envelope but the LWV invitation, which went into another folder marked TBD (To be Determined).

“No complaining, Lauri,” she told herself as she grabbed the next stack of letters. “Soon you’ll be feeling the warm sun on your face. She paused a moment to let out a wistful sigh for what she knew was coming. “And whatever Devlyn’s dealing with is a lot worse than this.” With that, she sent good thoughts to the office next door and got back to work.


Dev sat behind her desk, rubbing the bridge of her nose, trying to quell the headache that was creeping up on her. They’d been in the air for close to two hours. Her aides had been dismissed so that this phone call could take place in private.

“Madam President?” Secretary of Defense Brendwell inquired somewhat curtly. “Your orders, ma’am?”

Devlyn asked, “Can I assume that the appropriate organizations have been notified, including Vice President Vincent?”

“Absolutely, Madam President. We sent a complete intelligence report to everyone, as you were being contacted. Vice President Vincent is awaiting your decision.”

“Okay.” Devlyn nodded, satisfied, for now. “I want to continue to monitor the situation. If those missiles move an inch I want to know about it.” She sucked in a quick breath, remembering where she was. “Scratch that. I am to be kept abreast only of any significant changes in the current situation. Geoff is there for a reason.”

There was a long silence on the other end of the line before,  “I’m not sure what you mean, ma’am.”

“The hell you don’t, John,” Dev shot back, irritated.  “You can advise him all you want, but Vice President Vincent will determine what is and what is not significant. And if he decides that it’s necessary, only then am I to be notified.” It was killing her to let go of the reins, but she'd trusted Geoff enough to make him her running mate. At some point she had to have the man do more than go to State funerals and finagle votes out of Congress. It was time to put her money where her mouth was. She couldn’t help but add, “However, I want a full written report summarizing the day’s events ready if and when I have time to review it. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am,” came the grudging answer.

“Our presence hasn’t been detected, correct?”

“Correct, ma’am. We have a contingent of operatives in the area to supplement our satellite surveillance. At last report, they were undetected.”

“Those operatives are a top priority, Secretary Brendwell.”

“Understood, Madam President. We have an evacuation plan in place, if the need arises.”

“Anything else?”

“No, ma’am.”

There was another uncomfortable pause before he said, “Enjoy your honeymoon, Madam President.”

Detecting no sarcasm in his voice, Devlyn smiled.  She knew the pugnacious man was still struggling to overcome his natural hostility to reporting to a woman. And, to his credit, he had made some progress, his commitment to professionalism resolute.  But that didn’t mean he wasn’t a complete asshole. “I intend to, John. Thank you.”

She ended the call with a string of security codes and sat back in her chair, her gaze still lingering over printouts showing hostile troop movements and covert transportation routes that were being used for weapons of mass destruction that supposedly didn’t exist.  She carefully rolled up the blueprints and placed them in her desk using another series of codes and a retinal scan lock to secure the documents.

Devlyn pushed a button on the intercom. “Can you please tell the First Lady that I’m lonely?” She heard a muffled chuckle on the other end of the line.

“Right away, Madam President.”

A few minutes later, there was a light knock on her door. She smiled reflectively. “Come in.”

Lauren stuck her head in and said in a deep voice that sounded like Lurch, “You raaaaaaang?”

Devlyn laughed. “That show was over before you were born.”

“Tsk. Old television shows never die, Devlyn. They just go to Nick At Night.” She made her way to Dev’s desk, seeing the lines of tension on her face. “Finished working?”

Devlyn rubbed her temples. “For now.”

Lauren almost didn’t ask, but her curiosity got the best of her as she perched on the corner of Devlyn’s desk. “Something important?”

Dev chewed on her lower lip and unconsciously began stroking the soft cotton of Lauren’s chinos. “Yes and no. The North Koreans are playing with their toys again. They don’t know that we know they have them.” She regretted once again that her predecessors hadn’t been able to resolve a conflict that was far older than she was. “So we have to be careful,” she said absently. “We don’t like it when they move missiles around. Let’s go sit down.”  With a groan, she rose from her desk and threw herself down on the sofa. She closed her eyes.

Lauren eyed her suspiciously, then pressed the intercom. “Hi. Could we get a couple of bottles of water and some aspirin, please?” She still felt a little funny about having other people do things that she could easily do for herself. But she had long since learned that if she went in search of something as simple as aspirin she’d spend more time explaining herself and fending off the helpful staff than she would have simply asking for it to begin with.

A single blue eyeball rolled sideways and regarded Lauren as she moved to the door. “How did—?”

“You have another headache,” Lauren said. It wasn’t a question. She frowned as she stepped around the sofa and laid her hands on Dev’s shoulders, feeling the tension there. "You're getting those too often, darlin'." She stopped talking long enough to allow a steward into the room with Dev’s aspirin. When they were alone again, she popped the top on the bottle of pills. “Is it a bad one?”

Devlyn smiled weakly. “Nah. Besides, I see them as a good sign. It means I’m still getting blood flow to the gray matter. Did you rest at all?” she asked, wanting desperately to change the subject. “I’m sorry about that call. I didn’t plan on being pulled away as soon as we were on board.”

Lauren shook her head as Dev sat, took the pills, and then made a spot for her on the sofa. "No. I was waiting for you.” She spoke over Devlyn, who had just drawn in a deep breath. “No arguments, Devlyn. You might be able to function on a few hours sleep. I however, cannot. And I sleep best if you’re with me.”

Devlyn smiled, charmed by the admission. “You do?”

“Mmm… hmm.” She found herself pulled into a surprisingly fierce hug. “What was that for?” Lauren laughed.

“I thought it was just me who slept better when we were together.”

Lauren cocked her head to the side. “Is that something you’ve wondered about?”

Devlyn nodded. “I thought maybe I bothered you or something… At night. It’s hard for some people to get used to sleeping together after going it alone for a while,” she quickly added.

“I… I don’t… If you were worried about that why didn’t you just ask?” She reached up and softly petted Devlyn's dark hair, smiling at the few silver strands she saw at the very top of Dev's head.

Dev shrugged. “Ask me something easier.”

Lauren let out a heavy breath. They were both tired. The last thing they needed was a serious talk… at least about them.  She eyed the phone. “Think that thing will leave you alone long enough for me to ravish you repeatedly this week?”

Her words were met with a brilliant smile. “It had better. I left pretty explicit instructions.”

"You’re trusting Geoff to handle things?” Lauren was a little surprised. Devlyn was the most professionally driven person she’d ever known. Delegating responsibility and learning to let go were basically foreign concepts to her.

“I’m trying. Really.” Dev shifted just a little, placing a particularly sore muscle right under Lauren’s hands. “And leave my gray hairs alone. I’ve earned all of them in the last year,” she teased even as she rolled her neck. “That feels really good. I luuuvv you.”

Lauren smiled, her gray eyes twinkling. "I don't know if you’ll luuuvv me,” she touched Devlyn’s nose with the tip of her finger, “when you see what I have in the back pocket of my pants."

Dev’s eyebrows shot skyward. “The back pocket of your pants, huh?” She gave herself a few seconds to allow her imagination to run wild, and a slow, but slightly wary, smile spread across her face. “Dare I ask?”

Lauren grinned back. "Dare."


Dev waited for moment, but Lauren didn’t move. “Lauren,” she said in her lowest voice, “you know how I feel about being kept in suspense. Tell me what’s in your back pocket.”

Lauren smiled innocently. "But you didn't say please. Yeow!!"

In a flurry of motion, Devlyn reached around and grabbed Lauren, flipping her over on the sofa, causing them to end up in a tangle of arms and legs. A quick shift and Lauren was lying across Devlyn's lap in the spanking position.

Lauren blew a strand of pale hair from her face. "You wouldn't dare?" she squawked.

Dev chuckled, the sound starting low in her chest and evolving into a full laugh. “We’ve already determined that I would dare, haven’t we? Now, show me or I’ll look myself.”

Lauren squirmed. “You big—”

“Too late.” Dev reached into the pocket in question and snagged two very small pieces of material. Her face scrunched up as she examined the bright red spandex from all directions. “Dental floss, how considerate of you, darling.”

“If you recall, you did ask me to pack for you." Lauren craned her head backwards and smiled sexily at her partner. "So I did," she said simply. "Surprise."

Devlyn held up the items in hand. “You want me to wear this?

Lauren’s smile shifted into an outright leer. “Oh yeah.”

“But it’s it’s… it’s… umm… there’s nothing to it!” She examined it again. “I assume we won’t be going out to dinner.”

Lauren smirked. "Well, I won't be going hungry. That's for damn sure."

Dev laughed to herself before delivering a quick smack to the backside across her lap. “You’re evil.  This bikini, if you could call it that, would get me arrested in half the states in the country. Have you been taking lessons from my mother?”

"Ouch!" Lauren began to wriggle when another sharp smack was delivered. She laughed.

“Do you know what’s really sick, Devlyn?  That feels sort of good.” That little comment got her two more for good measure. “Wait! Wait!” she screamed, laughing so hard that she was feeling a little dizzy. “I changed my mind.”

“Uh huh.”

“And I'll have you know I was evil long before I met Janet, she just solidified my belief in that way of life... Yah! Devlyn! No more.”


“You’ll be sorry when I start asking for this.”

Dev was quick to grab her squirming partner and flip her around. “You know,” she paused to bend and kiss Lauren’s ear. “I have a lovely bed onboard. Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Mile High Club?”

"If I answer that question honestly, will I ever see you on a sleazy talk show telling the world about it?"

“You could buy my silence.” Dev wiggled her brows.

"Ooo." Lauren nuzzled Dev's neck. "My little tramp." She let out an explosive breath when tickling fingers found her sides. "Yikes! What’s gotten into you today?" She glanced at Devlyn’s face and found her beaming. Lauren’s heart skipped a beat at the sight.

“I’m happy.” Her touch gentled and she pressed her lips to Lauren’s forehead. “My life is better than I ever thought it could be. I’ve heard it’s okay to be happy under those circumstances.” Dev finally allowed Lauren to sit up all the way, using her lap as her chair.

"It's way okay, Devlyn." She leaned forward and kissed her softly, taking the time to explore Devlyn’s mouth and reveling in the intensity of emotions she could feel flowing between them. "I feel exactly the same way," she said, her lips barely touching Dev's. Then she pulled back and smiled impishly. "Do you have any idea how fantastic you're going to look in this bikini... with those legs that go on for miles?" Playfully, she fanned herself with one hand. "I can't wait."

“I take it we’re going someplace warm?”

"You'd look great if you were wearing that," she snatched the bikini bottoms out of Dev's hand and twirled them on one finger, "even in Siberia." Fondly, she cupped Dev's chin. "But I wouldn't want you to catch a cold." Those lips were just too close, and she was way past trying to restrain herself so she kissed them again.

After a few minutes of intense kissing, Lauren drew in a deep, contented breath. "Mmmm..." She smacked her lips happily, not bothering to open her eyes. "Did you just ask me a question?" She'd thought she heard Dev talking. But that couldn't be right — Devlyn’s mouth was busy! 

“I was gulping for air.”

Lauren clamped her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing.

Dev’s grin took on a sexy edge that caused all the moisture in Lauren’s mouth to instantly dry up and fly southward towards a happier home. “Come on, Lauren. Let me show you the new bed I had put in and what a great massage I can give.”

“Like I could ever say no to that.”

And she didn’t.


Dev looked out over the balcony to their private beach and smiled.  She drew in a deep breath of salty air. “This is a wonderful surprise. Thank you.”

“Wow,” Lauren murmured appreciatively as she leaned over the balcony railing. “I do rock! Look at this place.” 

A light sea-scented breeze stirred their hair as they gazed out at the Hawaiian sunset that painted the sky with stripes of deep purple and vibrant pink.

Dev let her arm drape over Lauren’s shoulder. “It’s perfect. Absolutely perfect.” She pulled Lauren into her arms and kissed her on the temple. “I feel more relaxed already.”

Lauren bumped her hip against Dev’s. “Do you snorkel? I’m itching to get you into that warm water and very teensy bikini.”

Dev shook her head. Lauren was nothing if not persistent. “Wasn’t my modeling on Air Force One enough?”


“Well, that answers that question, and no, Ohio isn’t known for its snorkeling. You’re a lot better traveled than I am, Lauren.”

“Maybe,” Lauren conceded. Most of her reputation for writing biographies had been gained through her work overseas. “Let’s go snorkeling tomorrow morning then.” Her voice dropped a register. “I’d love to teach you.”

“Why does everything you say suddenly sound like a proposition?”

“Because it is?”

“Now that’s the answer I was hoping to hear!” Dev’s eyes gleamed with excitement. “I’ve always wanted to learn to snorkel, so you’re on.”

“Excellent!” She grasped Devlyn’s hand. “There’s some equipment in the storage shed. An early bedtime for us then?” She gave Devlyn an entreating look that she knew wouldn’t be denied. Sleeping on a plane is not the same as sleeping on land. No matter how nice the mattress is.

“Early bedtime,” Devlyn agreed, tugging Lauren off of the patio and padding in her bare feet through the condo. It was decorated in shades of beige and white, with low, comfortable-looking overstuffed furniture. It had a light, airy feeling that Devlyn found Washington, D.C., almost completely devoid of. She loved it.  “How did you find this place?”

Lauren clicked off the lights as they passed through the living room and small kitchen. “It belongs to Starlight Publishing. Wayne talked them into letting us use it.” She decided not to mention that a bevy of Secret Service agents was guarding the perimeter, or the state-of-the-art alarm system that had been installed, or the fact that the ship sailing a mile or so off the beach was manned by a security team. She knew she wasn’t fooling Devlyn by remaining silent, but she told herself there was no reason to go out of her way to mention what was already ever-present in their lives.

“That was nice of Wayne. He’s a good friend to you, isn’t he?” Devlyn remembered him sniffling his way through their wedding and wondered if it was because his hopes of dating Lauren had finally been dashed or whether he was simply happy for a dear friend.

Once in the bedroom, Lauren stripped out of her pants and began working on the buttons of her cotton blouse. “He is. And he’s good at what he does, too. I don’t think my writing career would have taken off the way it did without him fighting for me.”

“Maybe, many, many years from now, I’ll see if he’d like to handle me working on my memoirs. It’s almost a presidential must.”

Lauren gave Devlyn a pointed look. “He’d sell his first born, hell, he’d sell my first born, if either of us had first borns, for that opportunity.”

“Well, the man is a total maniac when it comes to business. Why I—” Devlyn’s tongue froze when Lauren’s blouse hit the floor. Dev swallowed. “No bra?”

“I’m on vacation, Devlyn.” Lauren grinned. “No bra.”

Dev looked up towards God. “Have I said thank you in the last five minutes?”


Saturday, July 2, 2022

The weather was crystal clear and in the low 80’s with just a hint of a breeze. The surface of the water was calm, and both women felt remarkably refreshed when they hit the beach.

Lauren patiently instructed Dev how to clear her mask and her snorkel, fit her fins tight enough so that they wouldn’t slip off when she kicked, and then they ventured into deeper water.

“Maybe we’ll see a shark,” Dev said excitedly, before glancing down at her feet. “Fins are hard to walk in.” She lifted her foot in an almost comical motion and scowled.

Lauren couldn’t help but smile. “I know, but you’ll get used to it. Do you remember what I told you about blowing out your snorkel?”

Dev’s eyes narrowed with faux anger as she glanced over her shoulder at Lauren. “Contrary to popular belief, I can retain instructions for more than 30 seconds.” She made a face before spitting into her mask. “Are you sure you’re not joking me about this part?”

Lauren laughed and crossed her heart. “Honest.”

Once Devlyn was wearing her mask, she placed the snorkel in her mouth and followed Lauren’s lead by watching her swim about a few meters.

The surface of the water shone like diamonds, reflecting the bright sun. But she managed to keep an eye on Lauren as she swam. After a few seconds she began to follow Lauren to a shallow reef, taking care to keep the inside of her mask and snorkel free of water.  Wow! She watched as a small school of neon-yellow fish swam beneath her as though they didn’t have a care in the world. They’re fish, Dev, they don’t.  She nearly remembered too late that smiling could lead to drowning, but she was hard pressed to contain her emotions at seeing the beauty that surrounded her.

She turned her head when Lauren tugged on her hand and gestured to a small green turtle, paddling along under the water, but the movement was too quick and water flooded into her snorkel and an instant later, into her lungs. Choking, she yanked her head up above the surface of the water, with Lauren right behind her.

Lauren pulled off Dev’s mask, knowing that sometimes it made people’s panic even worse, and grabbed Dev’s arm to help her keep afloat. “Are you okay?”

Coughing, Dev nodded and sputtered, “Yeah, I… I—”

“Got a big mouthful of water.” Lauren finished the sentence for her partner as she gave her a contrite look. “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have startled you. I was just excited about the turtle.”

Dev nodded again, still coughing. “S… s’okay.” She sucked in a deep breath when her lungs finally stopped spasming and pushed her hair out of her face. “Whew.”

“I’m sorry.” Lauren handed her back her mask.

“It’s not your fault.” Dev took Lauren in her arms, able to easily tread water because of the long fins she wore. “Thank you for teaching me. I’ll get the hang of it eventually.”

Lauren’s smile returned. “I’m sure you will and I’m glad it’s something you enjoy. It’ll be something we can do together when we can sneak away. Okay?”

Devlyn’s expression brightened. “It’s a deal.”


Tuesday, July 5, 2022

This was, Lauren decided, nearly perfect.

Dressed in a one-piece bright teal swimsuit, she sat on the private beach beneath a brilliant blue sky dotted with just a scattering of white, puffy clouds. Her bare toes were snuggled into the warm sand, and her hair was just beginning to dry from her last dip in the salty, tropical water.

She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, adjusting her sunglasses as she gazed across the sea to the horizon. She let a feeling of utter contentment wash over her. “Nice,” she murmured, already deciding she was going to badger Wayne into begging Starlight Publishing to allow them use this place as much as possible.

“Well, don’t you look ready for a life of leisure?”

Unconsciously, Lauren’s lips pulled into a smile and she turned her head. She could hear the Marlowe children’s squeals of excitement down the beach and shaded her eyes as she looked up at her tall lover. Lauren sighed. “Now everything is perfect. I thought you’d never get here.” She reached out and tugged gently on Devlyn’s hand, urging Dev to join her on her large, soft beach blanket.

“Why can’t I get that sort of greeting whenever I address Congress?” Dev huffed playfully, dropping down onto the blanket with a groan and kicking off her sandals.

A pale brow lifted slightly. “I guarantee that if you do to the members of Congress even a fraction of what you do to me, you’d get a standing ovation every time you took the floor.”

Dev made a face. “No thanks. I don’t want tax reform that badly.” Her eyes suddenly glinted. “Although the representative from Wyoming is sort of cute.”

Now Lauren’s other eyebrow lifted. “I heard she has to shave off her mustache every morning.”

Dev snorted so hard she began to choke.

“Heh.” Lauren patted Dev’s Hawaiian shirt-covered back. “Careful, Devil. You choking on your tongue on your honeymoon would be really hard for me to explain.”

“She does not shave her face!” Dev paused. “I hope.” She gave a little shiver. “What a horrible mental image.”

“I do my best,” Lauren answered smugly, waving at the boys as they raced up to greet her. “How was Disney World?”

“Great!” Aaron flopped down on the blanket next to Lauren and threw his arms around her in an enthusiastic hug. “We went on a roller coaster! And we ate ice cream at the airport!”

Lauren smiled indulgently at the boy. “I’ll bet you had chocolate.”

Aaron’s blue eyes widened. “Wow, how did you know?

Lauren bit back a smile

“You’re magic?”

She shook her head and pointed to a chocolate stain the size of an egg that was plastered squarely in the center of his chest. His eyes tracked hers and he blushed. “Oh.” He glanced up, cringing. “I spilled.”

“Imagine that,” she said fondly, knowing full well that Aaron wore nearly as much as he ate.

“Hi, Lauren!” Christopher bent down for a kiss on the cheek, making room for himself by giving his brother a playful shove.

“Hi, sweetie.” Then she turned to Ashley, who had come up from behind her, and wrapped her arm around the girl’s legs, giving them a solid squeeze in silent greeting.  “I missed you all.” And that was, she admitted to herself, startlingly true. While the peace and quiet had been a glorious, bordering on orgasmic, experience, she found herself wondering what the kids were doing and looking forward to seeing how much they were going to love the beach.

“I’m so excited!” Christopher sputtered. “I’ve been thinking about this forever!”

Lauren’s ego purred a little under the attention. “Well, I’m happy to see you too—”

“Have you seen any sharks yet?” Aaron broke in, his face a cross between anticipation and stark fear.

“Yeah! Have you? Have you?” Christopher leaned closer to Lauren as he awaited her answer with bated breath.

“Have you?” Aaron questioned again, looking incredibly anxious.

Dev muffled a laugh and Lauren sent a low watt sneer in her direction.

“They have an uncanny way of bringing you back to earth, don’t they?” the President commented seriously, making a space for Ashley to sit next to her.

“Oh yeah.” Lauren reached out and ruffled Dev’s bangs. “But I recall a certain 6-foot-tall woman who was excited about the very same thing.”

“Well?” Aaron asked impatiently, his gaze flicking around the sand. “Where are they?” His chubby body was slightly shaking.

Lauren laid a comforting hand on his leg. “They’re not on the beach, honey. You don’t have to be afraid.” 

“I don’t?” he questioned, his voice skeptical. “But Christopher and Ash said—”

“Whatever they said, you don’t need to worry. All the sharks are in the water.”

Fearfully, the boys looked out to the rhythmically crashing waves.

A wicked smile transformed Ashley’s deceptively innocent-looking face, and she tugged at Aaron’s swimming trunks. “Ready for a swim, Aaron?”

The boy gulped.

“In the water,” she continued, her expression the very picture of evil glee.

Christopher’s gulp matched his brother’s.

Ashley finished on a high note. “Where the sharks live.”

Both the boys screamed, and Lauren dropped her face into her into hands. She moaned a little, hearing Devlyn’s unsympathetic chuckles. “I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”

Dev chewed her on her bottom lip and nodded. “Pretty much.” Then she glared at her daughter. “I think you should be the first one in the water, Ashley. The boys are a lot smaller than you. And bloodthirsty sharks are the hungriest in the late afternoon.”

Ashley’s eyes went round as saucers. “They are?” she asked, her voice ending in a squeak.

“Oh God,” Lauren moaned. “Bloodthirsty?” She gave Dev a swat. “You’re as rotten as the kids!”

“Of course,” Devlyn said proudly, brushing a little sand off her leg. “They’re all quick learners and I am their role model.”

“Lord help them,” Lauren teased. She decided a change of subject was in order or none of the kids would be going into the water today. “Tell me about your trip.”

For a moment Lauren listened as they all chattered about Disney World and their favorite rides and treats. Then she reached out and touched a new necklace Ashley was wearing, but her attention was drawn to the sour look that had transformed Dev’s face. “What is it?”

Dev motioned down the beach, groaning a little. One of the Secret Service agents who had been watching them, but remaining discreetly out of view, was walking towards them with a phone in his hand.

“Christ,” Dev mumbled. She turned pathetically sorry eyes on Lauren.

“Go, go,” Lauren made a shooing motion with one hand. “It’s not like you have a choice.”

Devlyn winced inwardly. “Laur—”

“S’okay.” Lauren leaned forward and kissed Dev lightly on the mouth. “Just hurry back, okay?” she said softly, smiling a little to show Devlyn she wasn’t angry. Annoyed — yes. But not angry.

Dev let out an explosive breath, her relief so clear that Lauren felt a little guilty for being annoyed at all. There had been regular, if short, interruptions in their time together, and she’d been an exceptionally good sport about the whole thing. But she was only human, and her patience only stretched so far. 

“As soon as I can. I promise.” She jumped to her feet and began jogging down the beach.

“Here.” Christopher pulled a giant bottle of sunscreen from the back pocket of his lime green, Bugs Bunny swimming trunks and thrust it in Lauren’s face.

She blinked a few times, moving her head a little so her eyes could focus on the bottle.

Christopher said, “Emma told me to tell you or Mom to dip us in this.”

“Dip?” Lauren questioned, looking at the bottle. “Like a dog with fleas?”

Christopher shrugged. “I dunno. She just said to do it.” Then, unaccountably, all the children began to giggle.

Lauren’s forehead creased. “What? What’s so funny?”

Aaron began to jump up and down a little and excitedly said, “Emma said if any of us come home with a sunburn she’ll spank your and Mom’s bottoms!”

All three children dissolved into helpless giggles as Lauren’s eyebrows jumped. “Well, get down here then.” She poured a large dollop of thick, coconut-smelling lotion in her palm. “Lord knows I don’t want a spanking.” At least from Emma, she thought wryly.

Ten minutes and a half bottle of sunscreen later, the boys were coaxed into making a sandcastle at the edge of the water with Ashley and Lauren occupying comfortable spots on the beach blanket. Lauren picked up her camera and trained it on the boys. Then she quickly changed lenses and snapped off several pictures of them playing. It had been months since she’d been able to indulge her passion for photography, and she was grateful that Devlyn had reminded her to pack her equipment.

“You’re awfully quiet today,” Lauren ventured after a few moments of unexpected silence. Like her mother, Ashley was at times introspective, at times a chatterbox, but after just coming back from three days in the “Happiest Place on Earth” Lauren hadn’t expected her mood to be so serious.

“I guess.”

Lauren trained her eyes on the boys and the sea. “Wanna talk about it?”

Ashley hesitated, taking a moment to examine a small white shell near her foot. “Me and Chris and Aaron asked Mom what we should call you. She said to ask you and that we should do whatever you wanted.”

Lauren exhaled. Even though she knew this talk would be coming soon, she was still a little startled that the time had finally arrived. She also knew how important this was to Devlyn and figured that rapid-paced acceptance of co-parents must be some part of lesbian culture that no one had clued her in about. The older woman had wanted the children to address Lauren as “Mom or Mama” the moment they became engaged, which was well before Lauren, herself, felt she was ready. Luckily, the matter came up at a staff meeting, and Michael Oaks had interceded with a mini-protocol lesson, explaining that that parental title wasn’t appropriate until after the wedding. When Lauren had agreed, Devlyn begrudgingly let the matter drop.

Now, however… Now. A slow, easy smile worked its way across Lauren’s face as she thought about the difference the past six months had made. “What is it that you want to call me, Ashley? Forget about your mother for a minute.”

Surprised, Ashley's gaze darted sideways. “I… I guess I’m not sure.”

Lauren nodded slowly. “So why don’t you take some time to think about it? There’s no hurry.” Despite what certain presidents might think.

Ashley frowned. “I have thought about it. A lot.”

Pale brows lifted. “Oh.”

“I don’t remember my other mom.” The girl sighed and continued to examine the shell in her hands. “I mean, I thought I did. I thought I remembered her taking me to the park when I was Aaron’s age. But the other day I was looking at some old pictures and what I remembered was right there.” She sniffed a few times. “I think I was remembering the picture and not really her. Does that make sense?”

She turned heartsick eyes on Lauren, who could only nod. “That makes perfect sense, honey. But it’s not necessarily bad. I know your mom and Emma have kept Samantha alive for you through stories about her and lots of pictures and recordings.”

“She wasn’t really my mom,” Ashley said, abruptly changing the direction of the conversation. “Not by blood, I mean. We’re not related.”

Lauren felt like she was on a roller coaster and her stomach did a flip-flop.  Yikes.

“We learned about reproduction in school. You need a man and a woman for a baby, and that doesn’t change just because you call two people Mom.”

Lauren’s eyebrows inched a little higher. “Err…” She cast about for whatever it was she was supposed to say in this instance. “Have you talked to your mom about this, Ashley?”

“I can’t.” Ashley’s lips turned downward. “I don’t think she’ll understand.”

Lauren opened her mouth to disagree, but the words wouldn’t come. Ashley did have a point. This was one subject where Devlyn was too close to the situation to really see anyone’s viewpoint but her own. She had loved Samantha dearly, and their decision to raise a family together was the final word on parenting as far as Devlyn was concerned. And while Lauren tended to agree that love, support, and deeds were more important than biology ever would be, she also understood those were mature concepts that any child would have trouble dealing with.

“You wanna talk to me about it, then?” Lauren asked gently, her gaze darting down the beach in the direction that Devlyn had gone.

Ashley made a face. “I thought I was.”

Lauren smiled a little. “Oh, right.” She edged a little closer to Ashley and perched her sunglasses on the top of her head so they wouldn’t be between her and Dev’s much-loved daughter. “Go on.”

Ashley shrugged one slim shoulder. “That’s it, I guess. I still love my other mom. I just wanted to say that. Nobody ever does.” Her expression turned thoughtful. “People act like my family is just like everyone else’s.”

Lauren reached out and softly petted Ashley’s hair. “I suppose they do. But I don’t think it’s because they think they’re keeping secrets from you, Ashley.”

“You don’t?”

“No way.” Lauren shook her head. “Everyone knows what a bright girl you are. And that most especially includes your mama.”

Ashley looked even more confused and something inside her seemed to snap. “Then why—” Her hands flailed around as she searched for the right words. “Why… Ugh!”

Luckily, Lauren had a pretty good idea of what she was asking.  “I think that sometimes when two women or two men want to have a baby, they’re not too happy about the fact that they can’t just… Umm… reproduce the way you learned about in school. It would be easier if they could have a baby the way most people do. But they have to put a lot more effort and thought into it than just that.”

Ashley nodded. “I guess.”

“And so when they do finally have a baby, and they’re so happy, the way your mom and Samantha were when you were born, they don’t want to focus on what it took to get you. They want to think about how wonderful it is to have you.” She stopped and searched Ashley’s face. “Does that make sense?”

Dark eyebrows drew together. “Sort of.”

Sympathy shining brightly in soft gray eyes, she gave her an encouraging pat. “It’s hard, I know. But I do agree with your mom on one thing, Ashley.” Lauren’s voice grew more resolute. She wanted to emphasize this part. “Samantha was your mom. She earned that right by the time she spent loving and taking care of you, even if you two aren’t related by blood.”

“I know,” Ashley said quickly. “I know she loved me and took care of me. It’s just that I really don’t remember much. And I… I…” She groaned and threw her shell into the gently rolling waves. “I don’t know!” She turned so that she was fully facing Lauren. “I don’t know what I think or what’s wrong. I just wanted to tell someone what I was thinking, I guess. I do love Mom and Mom. But if I call you that, then it’s like you’re the same as them to me and you’re not. You’re different!”

“Hey.” With infinite tenderness, Lauren wiped the tears from Ashley’s face, her own heart clenching. “It’s okay. We are all different to you.”

Ashley’s voice took on a sudden, panicky edge. “You won’t tell Mom I said this, will you?” Her eyes widened with alarm, the thought of her mother’s disapproval stinging her to the core. “She’ll be mad and—”

“Wait a second, Ashley. Hey,” she grabbed the girl’s arms and held on tight, just as Ashley was going to bolt. “Hold on. You haven’t done or said anything wrong. Your mom has strong feelings about this, but she’s not some ogre. It’s good to talk about things that are bothering you.” When there is someone around to listen. Shit.

Lauren waited a few awkward moments, allowing the sound of the beach and the boys' laughter to slowly fade back in and Ashley to relax a little. Slowly, she released Ashley’s arms. “You can call me ‘Lauren’ forever. It won’t change how I feel about you if that’s what you decide to do. I only recently started to call your grandma ‘Mom’, because it felt right to do it now when it didn’t before. But even then I loved her just the same.”

“But I don’t love you all the same! I love you more!” Ashley shouted miserably, her face crumbling.

Lauren sucked in a shocked breath, then after several heartbeats while they stared at each other, she let it out shakily. She blinked several times as the words penetrated her brain. “I — I—”

“Not more than Mom…” Ashley’s tear-stained cheeks flushed red as she struggled to get the words out. “The same there, I guess, but... bu… but different, too. I can’t help it. I… I.. do love you more than my other mom.” She started to cry again. “I know I shouldn’t and Mom will probably be mad…” She began to hiccup and had to stop speaking.

“Oh, Ashley.” Strong arms pulled the sobbing child into a firm embrace. “I love you, too,” Lauren whispered fiercely, her lips pressed near Ashley’s ear. She felt her own eyes begin to fill. “You don’t have to love us all the same. I swear that’s not something you have to feel bad about.” She hugged her tighter, her heart going out to the trembling girl in her arms.

Ashley shook her head, unwilling to release the guilt she felt she so rightly deserved. “I think I… I’m supposed to love her more. That’s why Mom told us all about my dead mom, so I that would.” She sniffed loudly. “We used to go to the graveyard and bring flowers and—”

“Listen, okay? Listen.” Lauren pulled away from Ashley and cupped her quivering, wet cheeks with warm hands. “Your mom wanted you to know about your other mother because she loved her. And because of how much Samantha loved you. And it’s because of that love that you were even born. And, you’re right. Your moms had a donor to help them with the biology part of things. That’s something someone should have talked with you about a long time ago. I’m sorry for that, Ash. I should have been paying better attention. I didn’t know you felt this way.”

The girl drew in a breath to say something, but Lauren pressed ahead, not giving her the chance to jump in. This needed saying.  “The only reason you’re here at all is because your mom and Samantha wanted you.” She looked deeply into Ashley’s eyes, finding fear, but also comprehension. “Got it?”

Mutely, Ashley nodded.

“Just because your mom doesn’t want you to forget your other mom, that doesn’t mean you can’t love me too. There are no rules for how much you have to love people or who ranks above who. None. If there were, I would know it.”

Ashley shook her head wildly, dislodging a tear that hung precariously from her quivering chin. “That can’t be—”

“It is true,” Lauren insisted. “I swear it.” She gave Ashley a watery smile. “I sort of know how you feel, Ashley. I love your grandma in a way I never did my own mama.”

“Do you love her more?” Ashley questioned, her voice barely above a whisper.

Lauren closed her eyes, feeling hot tears spill over and streak her cheeks. “I… I—” No. The truth. She doesn’t need your bullshit! She gathered her courage and swallowed hard. “I think I do care for her a little more, because she’s more a part of my life than my mama ever was. Your grandma is a good parent and took me into her heart when I needed her. She was there for me, Ashley. And my mama wasn’t a bad person, but she was never there.”

“Did you feel… ba… bad about it?” Impatiently, she wiped at her face, hoping her brothers wouldn’t see her tears. “About loving Grandma more?”

Lauren nodded. “I did.” She sniffed a few times. “Until I realized that Mama would want me to love someone that much. Your other mom would want that, too, Ashley. Love is a wonderful thing.” The corner of her mouth quirked. “You don’t have to be stingy with it. The more you want to give, the more you’ll find you have.”

Ashley licked her lips as some of the anxiety that had been bubbling up in her belly faded. “So it’s okay to call you whatever I want? And it’s okay to feel this way? I’m not being horrible to my mom who is dead?”

Lauren let out a soundless sigh. “Yes, to the first questions and no to the last one, Ashley.”

“And Mom won’t be mad at me?”

Lauren sat back on her heels, the boys’ laughter interrupting her thoughts for a second. She turned her head to find them dipping their toes in the surf and chasing each other. Then she refocused on Ashley. “I don’t think she’ll be mad. But you know this is sort of complicated stuff, right?”

Despite herself, Ashley snorted, drawing a smile from Lauren. “Yeah.”

“Well, it’s hard for grownups too. But I think you should give your mom a chance to talk to you about this, don’t you?” Lauren squeezed Ashley’s hand. “She hasn’t killed you yet, and she is a really good mom.”

Reluctantly, Ashley nodded. “She is.” She pinned Lauren with a pleading look. “But will you be there, too? Please?”

“Of course.” They hugged again, and this time, Lauren couldn’t feel the girl’s heart pounding out of her chest. After a moment, Ashley and Lauren let go and both of them fell back on the blanket, looking up into a gorgeous bright sky.

“Could I call you Mama?” Ashley asked shyly, not turning to face to Lauren.

A small smile twitched a Lauren’s lips. “I would love that, darlin’.” She swallowed thickly. “But only if it’s something you’re ready for.”

Ashley chewed her lip for moment, giving the matter her most serious consideration. “It is,” she pronounced finally. “It’s different than what I call Mom. And it still shows that you love and take care of me and that I love you, right?”

Lauren nodded. “Absolutely.” She hoped her voice didn’t sound as hoarse to Ashley as it did to her own ears.

Quickly warming to the idea Ashley said, “Plus, it’s what you called your mom, right.”

This time she couldn’t answer at all. So she just nodded and reached out for Ashley’s hand.

“Good,” Ashley said brightly, her mood lifting almost immediately. She stood up just as her brothers ran up to the blanket.

“What’s wrong, Ashley?” Christopher asked, clearly concerned. He began to fiddle with the stems of his small, wire-rimmed glasses, something he always did when he was anxious.

Aaron instantly wrapped his chubby arms around his sister, offering comfort the best way he knew how. Short of offering pie. With ice cream.

Lauren’s heart ached at the sight. One minute the Marlowe children could be at each other’s throats, and the very next they would band together so tightly Lauren was sure that no outside force, no matter how strong, could come between them

“It’s my turn for a hug,” Christopher insisted. “Don’t be a greedy pig, Aaron! She’s my sister, too.”

And like most beautiful moments, Lauren thought wanly, this one was short-lived.

Ashley solved the problem by wiping her cheeks, then giving both brothers a quick one-armed hug. “Nothing’s wrong,” she told them. “We were just having girl talk.” She smiled at Lauren, who grinned back knowingly.

“Did you ask her?” Christopher whispered, loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Yup,” Ashley informed her brother. “We can call her whatever we want. I am going to call her Mama. Grandma told me that’s what Lauren, I mean Mama, called her mama.”

Lauren sat up and both the boys turned toward her and regarded her curiously.

The blonde woman felt the blood drain from her face. Oh, no, she mentally dithered. I don’t think I can go through all that again soon. I haven’t recovered from the first kid conversation yet!

“Can we call you that, too?” Christopher finally asked.

Lauren blinked. “Umm… of course. If that’s what you want?” the words lilted upward in question.

“Sure!” Aaron shouted.

“Cool!” Christopher agreed. “Thanks, Mama!”

“Can we have a Coke?” Aaron asked. When Lauren didn’t answer right away, he added, “Please? We ate all of our lunch,” thinking that was the problem.

“Uhh… Sure. There are some cold drinks in the house.”

“Thanks, La… errr, Mama!” he said. “Race you to the house, Aaron.” Before his brother could answer, Christopher took off running.

“No fair!” the younger boy complained, breaking into as fast a run as he could manage, his small feet kicking clouds of sand as he went.

Shell-shocked, Lauren could only blink.

“Beth says boys are easier,” Ashley said wisely.

Lauren shook her head and smiled. “I think that, even if that’s true, I couldn’t love you more.” She caught sight of Dev walking past Chris and Aaron on her way towards them. “Would you like a Coke, too? We can save talking to your mom for once we’re back home in Washington. I don’t think she’d mind.”

Ashley grinned and nodded. She bolted off the blanket to join her brothers, stopping to kiss Devlyn along the way.

When Devlyn's bare feet reached the blanket, she worriedly glanced down at Lauren. “Are you okay?”

“I’ve just been through the emotional wringer. More than once.” She nodded a little, taking stock of herself. “But I actually feel pretty good.”

Devlyn looked over her shoulder at the retreating forms of her children. She smiled and offered Lauren her hand.  “Welcome to motherhood, Ms. Strayer.”

“Is it always like that?” she asked weakly, wrapping her arm around Devlyn’s waist as they headed back to the house and towards most of her birthday cake, which she’d saved from the day before. She could feel a low, rumbling laugh work its way from deep inside her partner.

“Far be it from me to spoil the surprise.”

At the same moment, they turned their heads, and their eyes met. Lauren couldn't help but smile. The next 50 years were going to be nothing if not interesting.

Chapter Eight

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