Madam President

Chapter XII

December 2021

Friday, December 3rd

Lauren didnít even bother to remove her jacket or shoes before she collapsed, face down, across her bed. Gremlin and Princess both hopped up on the bed and were studiously licking her ears when she heard the knock on the door.

"Enter at your own risk," she called across the room before dropping her face back onto the soft mattress.

Dev stepped inside, took one look at her lover, and an indulgent grin immediately broke out across her face. "Poor baby," she offered with sincere sympathy, crossing over to Lauren and kneeling near her head.

Princess had already jumped down and scurried under the bed, where she became uncharacteristically brave and growled at the President.

Dev just snorted.

Gremlin, on the other hand, was bolder. He remained standing on the bed, backed up a step and planted his butt directly on Laurenís head, where he could guard his mistress and take a stand against the PresidentÖ sitting down.

Lauren was too tired to care, but she managed to raise her head just a hair to nip the tail that was tickling her nose.

Gremlin gave a surprised yelp, then resettled himself, baring tiny, spiky teeth.

Dev wondered when the portly beast had learned to narrow his eyes at her.

He barked.

Dev barked back, and Grem scampered off Laurenís head, falling onto the bed with a high-pitched yelp before jumping down to the carpet to join his mate. Dev rolled her eyes when his growls grew fiercer once he was safely under the bed where she couldnít reach him. "Chicken," she taunted.

Turning her attention back to Lauren, the President gently stroked long fingers through blonde strands of hair, trying to coax their owner into looking up, and doing her best not to think about how Gremlinís butt had just been there. "Sweetheart?"

"What?" came the muffled reply.

"How was your day?"

Lauren rolled over with a groan, throwing her arms out to her sides. Her voice was a pitiful whine. "It was awful. Just awful."

"Uh huh." Dev stood up and walked around the bed. Reaching over, she pulled the smaller woman upright. Lauren slumped forward like a rag doll while Dev removed her blazer and then blouse, leaving her clad in a crimson-colored, silk bra.

A tiny grin danced across Laurenís face as she fell back onto the comforter and sighed. She loved every second of the attention Dev was lavishing on her, and Lauren happily abandoned herself to it.

"So tell me about it then," Dev encouraged. She gently removed one of Laurenís earrings, then the other, rubbing her earlobe with her thumb before setting both earrings on the beside table.

"Hmm?" the writer groaned, feeling her shoes being slipped off and the roomís cool air tickling her toes as strong fingers began an attentive massage. She instantly forgot Devís question and closed her eyes in pleasure. "Oh, God, thatís good."

Dev smirked. "Your day? Tell me about your day."

"Oh, right." Lauren let out a satisfied grunt at Devís ministrations. "Well, I knew it was going to be one of those days when my alarm didnít go off this morning. I need a new one. And not one of those obnoxious talking ones. I hate those."

"So thatís why you were AWOL from our workout this morning." Dev settled down on the floor and continued to rub slender, achy feet. She glanced down to see two black doggie noses, one tiny and delicate, the other large, flat, and covered in drool, poking out from under the comforter. They snarled, and Dev snarled back. She watched smugly as the noses promptly disappeared.

Lauren was going to scold Devlyn for teasing the dogs, but the thought was swept from her mind when Dev flexed Laurenís toes, stretching them one at a time. "Sweet Jesus, that feels good."

Devlyn waited a moment for Lauren to go on. When she didnít, Dev prompted, "Lauren?"

"Yeah?" the blissful woman replied dreamily.

Dev stifled a laugh. "You were going to tell me about your day."

Lauren flexed her toes in Devís very attentive hands before continuing. "I was?" She lifted her head a little and forced her eyes open to be greeted by a sharply raised eyebrow. Her head dropped back to the mattress. "Oh, right. Yes, thatís why I missed our workout. Then I put my thumb through two perfectly good pairs of hose while I was hurrying to get dressed."

"Gotta hate it when that happens."

"Uh huh. So, I made a mad dash to my appointments this morning. And I got a flat tire in Georgetown. Lucky for me, my first appointment was for breakfast with Beth. But she forgave me for being forty-five minutes late and called Triple A."

"Why didnít you just call them on your cell phone?"

"Because I dropped it on the sidewalk and watched it shatter into about a million pieces." Disbelieving but playful blue eyes pinned her. "Okay, it was only three pieces," the writer conceded with a sigh. "But it was still broken!"

Twin dark eyebrows rose. "Go on, sweetheart."

Lauren sighed and removed one foot from Devís hands, only to replace it with the other. "After breakfast, where they got my order wrong, but I was running too late to send it back, I finally arrived at General Brendwellís office with two minutes to spare. Then that son of a bitch kept me waiting for nearly a hour longer than I had expected he would."

"How long did you expect he would?"

"Half hour."

"The bastard."

"Exactly. Then he had the nerve to get mad when I cut his interview short in an effort to keep my schedule intact. You know, he is a total prick."

"I agree. But heís also very highly respected and has a brilliant military mind." Dev smiled when Lauren groaned with delight as she pushed her thumbs up the center of her foot from heel to toes.

"After that, I locked my keys in my car and forgot the override code. Just a little harder. AhhÖ right there. That required another call to Triple A. After that, I got trapped on Dupont Circle." Lauren raised her head briefly, narrowing her eyes at Dev. "Surely you can do something about that."

Dev shot Lauren a regretful look. "Sorry. Iím not on the street zoning and planning commission, but Iíll send a memo."

Her head dropped back down to the bed. "You do that."

Dev stood up, hearing Laurenís mewing protests that her massage was over. She reached back down and unzipped Laurenís skirt. "Lift."

The writer lifted her hips as her skirt and hose were pulled off in one deft motion. A single eye popped open, watching as Dev moved across the room to her dresser and opened her second drawer.

"Aha!" Dev swung around and pointed an accusing finger at Lauren. "I wondered where this set of sweats went."

"Oh, right," Lauren snorted softly. "Like youíd even notice if a pair went missing. You have a hundred sets of sweats."

Dev began rummaging through the drawer. "And my socks, too! You little thief." She laughed. "Canít you just steal the towels like everyone else?"

The President returned to the bed and knelt down long enough to put the socks on Laurenís feet. She realized sheíd forgotten to get something out of Laurenís dresser and ran her fingers around Laurenís hip and gave her bottom a pinch. "Commando?"

"Ugh, no panties?" She shrugged weakly. "Sure. You only live once."

"Thatís my girl." Dev worked the sweatpants up her legs.

"Devlyn, darliní, I donít mean to criticize. But youíre doing this all wrong."

"No criticism there."

"Arenít you suppose to be undressing me?"


Lauren wanted to protest, but it really didnít matter how Dev touched her. Just as long as she did. Besides, later was good too. "Okay."


Lauren lifted her hips once again and felt the sweatpants pulled all the way up, warming her legs. Then a hand circled her wrist and pulled her upright.

"Bra on or off?"

A blonde brow lifted faintly. "You need to ask?"

Dev chuckled and lovingly removed the undergarment.

Lauren groaned softly. "Later?"

"Absolutely. Later." Dev tossed the bra on the pile with the rest of Laurenís rumpled clothing. Lauren helped Dev put on her sweatshirt by lifting her arms. Dev couldnít resist allowing her hands to drift under Laurenís sweatshirt and move across warm skin.

Lauren sucked in a surprised breath when Dev used her knuckles to graze the silky skin on the underside of firm breasts. Before the blonde could utter a word, Devís thumbs ran lightly across her nipples, causing them to instantly go painfully erect.

"Devlyn," Lauren warned in a low growl, "be nice."

Blue eyes went round and innocent. "That was nice. Mean would have been if Iíd lifted your shirtÖ" Which she did. "And lowered my mouthÖ"

"Stop!" Lauren pulled back and shook her index finger in front of Devís face. "You got me dressed again for a reason. So unless Ďlaterí has arrived, donít start something we canít finish." She pulled down her shirt. "Whatís the plan?"

Dev frowned, but quickly got over the fact that Laurenís shirt was now back in place. "You, me, the kids, Jr. Monopoly in the living room? Emma baked cookies and made cocoa."

"Wonderful." Lauren sighed contentedly, feeling much better than she had moments ago. She leaned in and gave the tall woman a heartfelt kiss that she just barely resisted the urge to deepen. "So how was your day?" She wiped a tiny lipstick smudge from the corner of Devlynís mouth.

Dev shrugged. Standing, she tugged Lauren to her feet and wrapped her arm around her loverís trim waist as they began a slow walk towards the door. "Flew to New York this morning to give a speech in front of the United Nations."

"Show off."

Saturday, December 18th

Devís gaze flicked down to her meeting agenda, which was resting next to her notepad, then to the clock on the wall. She covertly rolled her eyes at the young man at the end of the table, who had just initiated what had to be the fortieth holographic visual aid explaining crop destruction.

She knew she should be paying attention to what he was saying, but she couldnít help it. Dev had already decided she was going to back the request for aid to the farmers, whose infant, winter wheat crops had fallen victim to this yearís unusually early and harsh blizzards. To Dev, this young man was Ďpreaching to the choirí, as her dad would say. She didnít need to be convinced.

Besides, it was Saturday, she had a hot date, and he had already talked a lot longer than expected. Her thoughts had begun to wander to Laurenís newest Adrienne Nash novel. Though her pseudonym would appear as co-author, she was leaving the actual writing to Lauren and confining her contribution to plot and character development ideas. What she couldnít understand was why Lauren had decided to bring in a beefy character named Dirk. And, worse yet, why Dirk had to have the hots for Adrienne!

Dev scowled and put a line through the circle that contained Dirkís name on the agenda. "Better be a damned redshirt, meant to bite the dust before he gets anywhere near Adrienne!" she mumbled, glancing up sheepishly when she realized sheíd said that aloud.

"Madam President?" The Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, the toothy young man making the presentation, looked at her with round eyes, terrified that she might actually have a question.

Dev gave him a regretful smile and a little wave. "Iím sorry. I wandered there for a second. Please, go on."

He nodded, and gave the voice command for the hologram to project a new picture. This one was of two stalks of wheat. One was clearly damaged, while the other was not.

Dev glanced at the other faces in the room, and, after confirming the Secretary of Agriculture was still awake, let her eyes travel back to her notepad. Youíre gonna screw up the perfectly good subtext, Lauren. God, it will be just as horrific as it had been on ĎXenaí. It had been twenty years since that show ended, and she was still pissed off that the writers were forever inserting the boyfriend of the week. Xena and Gabrielle loved each other. End of story.

Her attention wandered to the pages they had worked on the night before. Dev had not been happy with the way Lauren had ended that chapter. She drew a picture of ĎDirkí, complete with noose around his neck, on her notepad. "Iíll kill the rat bastard!" she growled, and every pair of eyes turned in her direction.

The Deputy Secretaryís eyes bulged, and he gulped audibly.

"Okay, ladies and gentleman." David reached over and patted Devís arm, smoothly taking charge of the meeting. "I think weíre all set. The President has another meeting sheís late for, soÖ"

The Secretary of Agriculture was the first on his feet, looking as relieved as Dev felt. He wasnít sure why the President was about to commit homicide, but he most certainly didnít want to be the target. And while his Deputy Secretary did have a propensity to drone on and on, he was fond of the young man and didnít want to lose him either. "Thank you for your time, Madam President. Can we count on the support of the White House?"

David nudged Dev, who looked up from her drawing, which now included something that looked like a gun to Dirkís head. "Absolutely!" she said, even as she slammed closed her notebook and rose to her feet. "Youíll have everything you need from my office first thing Monday morning. Isnít that right, David?"

"Yes, Madam President." He stood and buttoned his jacket. "I can finish up here, maíam, if youíd like to get to that next meeting." He motioned her to the door.

"Right. Thank you, David. Iíll see you Monday."

Dev did her absolute best to hold back her laughter until she was well within the residence. She ended up in front of Laurenís door, and used her forehead to gently knock against it. When the door opened, she smiled at her lover who was holding her glasses in one hand and her camera in the other. "We need to talk about Dirk."

"Dirk?" Lauren was truly confused. "From my books?"

"Oh, yeah. Because of Dirk, the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture now thinks I want him dead."

* * *

Lauren lay on her belly on her bed. Scattered around her were dozens of papers, outlines, reference books, and even a few world maps. Her chin was propped up by one hand, and she was turned around so that her head was at the foot of the bed. The writer had a pen between her teeth, which she pulled out occasionally so she could scratch some notes on one of the several tablets of paper.

She had scrubbed her face, and brushed her teeth for bed, and she was supremely comfortable in a threadbare, University of Tennessee T-shirt and a pair of thin, dark gray sweatpants that were so worn, if you held them to the light you could see through the knees.

Dev sat alongside her, back propped against the headboard by several large feather-filled pillows. The area around her was free of her own mess, though Laurenís had spilled over into her work area and now covered the entire bed. She held a single note pad and a pencil, which she alternately chewed and tapped against the paper restlessly.

Devlynís hair was slightly damp from a quick shower sheíd taken nearly an hour before. She wore soft, red, flannel pajamas and thick sweat socks that didnít quite manage to keep her toes from being chilled.

Although the temperature inside the White House rarely varied more than a degree or two, the rest of Washington, D.C. was in the throes of a blizzard. The relative silence of the room was periodically broken by the howling wind that scattered dry snowflakes against the tall bedroom windows.

Gremlin and Princess had taken up refuge on the sofa and were snoozing happily on opposite ends. Lauren had speculated earlier that the dogs must have had a loversí quarrel since Princess usually slept right on top of Gremlin and the portly pug didnít seem to mind a bit.

Tap. Tap. TapÖ Tap. Tap. Tap.

Lauren swung her head around and peered with obvious irritation over the top of her glasses to see Dev nervously tapping her note pad with her pencil again. The President seemed to be oblivious to her actions, and Lauren bit her lip to keep from saying something rude. She let out a slightly impatient breath and slowly turned her eyes back to her own work. Lauren had just about figured out how Adrienne Nash, intrepid explorer, could escape from her latest capture when she heard, ĎTap. Tap. TapÖ Tap. Tap. Tap.í She closed her eyes briefly, schooling herself in patience, before turning her head and glaring at Dev, who was deep in thought. "Do you mind?"

Devís head jerked up. "Huh?"

Lauren sat up a little so she could reach back and lay her hand over Devís, effectively putting an end to the tapping. "Youíre making me insane."

Bewildered, Dev just looked at her. "What are you talking about? Iím trying to think of ideas for Adrienne Nash. Iím not doing anything to you!"

Lauren groaned inwardly. Dev was used to working in the constant background noise of her endless meetings. She, on the other hand, while in attendance at most of those meetings, would slip back to the silence of her room to really get things done. "Okay. Youíre right. Iím sorry. That tapping was just breaking my concentration. Go back to your thinking." Lauren patted Devís thigh and lay back down, spreading out her papers even more and jotting down an idea that suddenly came to her.

Dev glanced down at Lauren and frowned. "We need more light."

"No, we donít."

Dev balanced her notepad on her thighs. "Yes, we do. Working in low light is bad for your eyes."

Lauren set her own pen down and turned around again. "Thatís not true. Not unless you have to strain to see. I work at night all the time. The light is fine. I can see perfectly."

Dev snorted.

"Donít you say a damned word about my glasses, Devlyn. My vision Ďissuesí have nothing to do with poor light, and before you start up again, I am not having anybody poking my eyes with needles or lasers or whatever they use," she huffed, going back to her work, now thoroughly distracted. After a moment of dead silence she added. "And thatís final. No how. No way."

"Baby." Dev stuck out her tongue and petulantly kicked at the papers surrounding her feet. "God, youíre messy." She picked up a paper containing nothing but Laurenís doodles and crumpled it into a tight ball. She aimed for the waste bin by the desk across the room and, in perfect free-throw style, took the shot. Which she promptly missed by several feet.

Laurenís eyes flicked up from her outline. "Dev," she whined in frustration. "What if that was important?"

"It wasnít," the President announced firmly, silently vowing to retrieve it from the floor later just in case Lauren was right. Better safe than sorry. "The bed is a pigsty." Devís kicking grew a little more vigorous. "How can you work like this?"

Lauren was about to snap back with a smartass reply but got a good look at the maps and papers and reference books that were covering the bed. She let out a grumpy breath, cringing inwardly. Okay, so it was just the tiniest bit messy. Without a word, Lauren grabbed Devís big toe and used it to lift the long leg. With her other hand, she scooped out the papers that were underneath.

"Hey!" Dev squawked indignantly, her eyes wide with mild outrage.

"Hush." Lauren let go of the toe, causing Devís leg to drop back to the bed with a dull thud, bouncing once. She tugged on Devís socked foot affectionately and went back to her papers.

"Grab my toeÖ" the words trailed off as Dev mumbled under her breath.

Lauren began to rhythmically wiggle her own foot as she thought. Adrienne could escape on horseback. Oh, yeah, folks would love that. The blonde woman pulled over a map, wondering if this particular island would. Iíll check online tomorrow. Unconsciously, she continued to move her foot back and forth.

Dev glared down at the offending body part, trying her best to ignore the shaking bed. Laurenís foot suddenly stopped all movement and the President sighed in relief, her thoughts drifting back to her own project. Dirk the jerk. Dirk the dick. Dirk must die. Heís only in the way. Why canít Lauren see that Adrienne would be so much better off with that hotty redheaded sidekick of hers? What does Lauren mean sheís Ďthinkingí about getting them together? Whatís to Ďthinkí about? Theyíre perfect for each other.

Donít worry, Adrienne. Iíll straighten out this mess. Dev smirked. So to speak.

The bed began to shake again with what was now a full-fledged bouncing of Laurenís entire leg. Dev was jolted out of her plans, and she fixed her gaze on the source of her annoyance, watching in dismay as it continued to bounce, and bounce, and bounce, and bounce. "Stop shaking the bed!" she blurted out when her patience had dwindled to nothing.

"Sure, honey," Lauren answered absently, patting Devís calf. She was so fully caught up in her newest idea that she didnít bother to turn her head as she spoke.

Dev rolled her eyes when the movement stopped for all of two seconds then continued, albeit at a less forceful pace. Trying to get more comfortable, she scooted down further in the bed, inadvertently bumping Laurenís elbow and causing the younger woman to draw a black line right across the notes sheíd just completed. "Oh, sorry," Dev said quietly. But she didnít move her foot. "Can you-"

"Yes?!" Lauren scooted over, putting at least two feet between her and Dev to give the President more room. "Better?" she mumbled.

"A little."

A few minutes more and Lauren heard the ĎTap. Tap. TapÖ Tap. Tap. Tap.í again.

"Arghhhh!" The blonde women dropped her head, letting her forehead hit the bed. She ground her teeth together.

ĎTap. Tap. TapÖ Tap. Tap. Tap.í Pause. ĎTap. Tap. TapÖ Tap. Tap. Tap.í

Lauren hastily sat up and scrambled to the head of the bed to join Dev. She reached out and plucked the pencil from Devís fingers, tossing it across the room with a quick flick of her wrist.

Dev stared at her in mute shock as the pencil bounced off Laurenís computer screen and fell to the floor.

Lauren smiled sweetly. "Thatís much better. Thank you."

"You," Dev gestured angrily with hands, "youÖ you just canít do that!"

Lauren nodded her head wildly, her lips forming a tight, white line. "OhÖ oh, yes I can, Madam President!"

"Fine." Blue eyes narrowed. "If thatís the way you feel."

Lauren threw her chest out and crossed her arms over it. "Oh, yeah," she growled. "Itís the way I feel."

A slightly predatory grin flashed across Devís face, and Laurenís eyes widened at the sight. Casually, Dev swung her feet over the edge of the tall bed and pushed off, landing on the floor.

Laurenís brows drew together. "Devlyn, where-"

Dev reached down and grabbed the comforter. She raised the edge of the thick, soft cloth and brought it back down in a lighting-fast move that sent most of Laurenís papers sailing straight into the air. For a split second, they floated around Laurenís head and legs, then drifted down to the comforter like large, rectangular pieces of snow. "That," Dev smoothed the comforter back into place, "is the way I feel." Take that, messyÖ messyÖ errÖ foot shaker!

"Ooooo!" Laurenís face turned bright red, and she launched herself at her lover, wrapping her arms around Dev and swinging her back onto the bed with a loud grunt. "I canít believeÖ uuffÖ youÖ did that!"

Dev instantly rolled over, pinning Lauren down with her body weight. "Believe it!"

Laurenís nostrils flared. "Get off me!"

"No! Youíre making me crazy!"

"Me? Ha!" Lauren began pushing against Dev, trying to dislodge her. "Youíre the one driving me crazy!" the writer choked out forcefully, her face turning even redder.

The veins in Devís throat, and one in her forehead, began to bulge as she pushed back against Lauren with all her might, refusing to release her captive. "Iím not letting you up! Youíll just make more mess and bounce, and bounce, and bounce," Dev bounced against Lauren to emphasize her words, causing the headboard to slam against the wall with her every movement.

Lauren exhaled explosively, and perspiration beaded her upper lip as she threw her entire body into her escape attempt.

"And then youíll nag," Dev grunted, fully realizing for the first time just how much strength Laurenís compact body contained as the shorter woman nearly wriggled free.

"Nag? I think not, Queen Nag!" Lauren was finally able to sneak her arms out from between their bodies, but her wrists were quickly caught by Dev, who held them over her head and pressed them into the soft pillows. "Dammit! Get off me so I can kill you!"

"Never! Never! Never!"

Their eyes locked, and they held each otherís defiant gazes for all of two seconds before they both burst into helpless laughter. Dev let go of Laurenís wrists, and this time it was their giggles that shook the bed.

Lauren let out a deep breath, shifting slightly so that Dev wasnít pressing so firmly against her rib cage. She wrapped her arms loosely around her partner, feeling soft, dark hair slide between her fingers. "I think weíve both officially lost our minds. The pressure has finally caused us to snap." But she was smiling the entire time she spoke and truly couldnít think of a nicer spot on earth than right where she was.

"Uh huh," Dev agreed. She leaned forward and brushed her lips against the soft ones only a few inches away, parting them easily with her tongue and deepening the kiss.

Lauren moaned softly and pulled a leg out from under Dev, immediately wrapping it around Devís legs, holding the older woman in place. They were both breathing heavily and perspiring from their roughhousing and the unexpectedly intense kiss theyíd just shared.

"Weíre fussing and nagging like an old married couple," Dev murmured, placing another small kiss at the corner of Laurenís mouth before pulling back slightly, and loving the intimate way their bodies were now twined together.

Lauren nodded. She cocked her head to the side speculatively as she truly considered Devís words. "We do sound married, donít we?"

Dev laughed. "Oh, yeah." The writerís body felt hot against her skin and, unable to resist, she nuzzled the smooth, hot skin of Laurenís throat.

Lauren gasped as attentive lips and teeth found a sensitive spot along her jugular. "So why donít we then?"

"Why donít we what?" Devís lips tenderly began working their way around Laurenís throat, and the blonde arched against the touch.

"Get married." The words were out before she could stop them or think about what she was saying.

Devís lips halted mid kiss, and her body went deadly still. Her eyes slid closed for several heartbeats as her mind raced. Then she pulled back slowly and opened them. "Did you just propose?"

Lauren blinked. Oh, my God. Thatís exactly what I did! I didnít mean to do that, did I? A bolt of sheer panic raced through her, but she was surrounded by the reassuring weight of her lover, who grounded her in more ways than one. And with every breath came the reassuring scent her mind would forever tell her was Dev. Her anxiety passed almost as quickly as it had appeared, replaced instead by an unyielding certainty she hadnít even known herself capable of. Even if she hadnít intended to say it, deep in her heart it was what she wanted. "I..." She licked her lips, unable to gauge Devís response by the look on her face. "I guess so." Lauren steeled herself forÖ she wasnít sure what. "Yes, yes I did." Firmer this time.

Dev couldnít help but smile. Part of her wanted to choke Lauren for completely ruining all those weeks of planning. All the worry and fear she had put herself through were for nothing! But a bigger part of her was thrilled senseless. So senseless, in fact that for just a moment she forgot to answer Laurenís question until she felt the increased thudding of Laurenís rapid heartbeat against her own chest. "Yes." She smiled and quirked a brow.

Lauren studied Devís face carefully; her own tentative smile appeared, and she released a slightly shuddering breath. But Dev had taken so long to answer she wasnít sure they were even talking about the same thing anymore. "Yes, what?" Lauren held her breath, her heart skipping a beat at the sudden twinkle in Devís eyes.

Dev shot her a mildly exasperated look. "Whaddya think? Yes, Iíll marry you, ya goof."

Lauren was speechless. "Wow," she finally breathed, hugging Dev with all her might. "This is so great." Lauren buried her face in Devís hair. "I love you so much."

Dev tightened her hold on Lauren. "I love you too, sweetheart."

Pale brows drew tightly together. "Can we even get married here?" God, Lauri, you might have checked before you asked.

Dev smiled at the sudden worry that colored Laurenís voice. She propped herself down on one elbow and traced the writerís cheeks, then fair eyebrows. "Every state, including DC, will recognize another stateís marriage. But not every state will perform the ceremony." Devís eyes conveyed true regret. "Tennessee wonít. Iím sorry, honey."

Lauren shrugged. It hadnít crossed her mind to go back there anyway. "But I bet Ohio does, right?" she asked innocently, batting fair lashes and waiting for the response she knew sheíd get.

A brilliant smile broke out across Devís face, causing tiny creases around her eyes.

Oh, yeah. That was the right thing to say.

"It sure as hell does!" Dev blurted happily, rolling off Lauren and onto her back. "My folks will be thrilled." She turned her head and regarded her companion lovingly. "Iím thrilled," she whispered, her voice cracking.

Lauren rolled onto her side to face Dev. Her smile mirrored the dark-haired womanís. "Me too, darliní." She slipped off her glasses, and, without turning her head, reached behind her and set them on the nightstand.

"You just donít want to be part of the spectacle of a White House wedding," Dev teased.

Lauren chuckled softly and rolled on top of Dev, settling heavily there. "I just want to make you happy." A slender brow quirked. "And if we happen to be able to piss off the Press in the processÖ" Lauren could feel Devís silent laughter.

"No wonder I love you. Youíre evil. Who could resist that?"

"Uh huh," Lauren agreed, leaning forward and tasting the soft skin just below Devís throat. She reached up and unbuttoned the top button of the Presidentís pajamas so her lips could drift lower. "Really evil," she agreed softly, unable to resist opening a second button, and releasing more of Devís shower-clean scent.

Dev sighed softly and pushed her hands underneath Laurenís thin T-shirt, trailing them up her naked back.

The smaller woman murmured her approval at Devís gentle touch. A third, then fourth button was slowly undone as Lauren worked her way lower still, exposing more warm, slightly salty skin to her lips and tongue. When the last button was freed she reached up and pushed the flannel shirt open and nuzzled the silky underside of Devís left breast. "MmmmÖ God, Devlyn," she groaned, her tongue darted out, tracing a hot path from the underside of Devís breast to the center breastbone, "you are so soft."

Dev gasped, and her eyes slid closed, a flood of warmth spreading down from her belly and settling between her legs at Laurenís sensual touch. She sat up, taking the smaller woman with her and covering Laurenís mouth with a passionate kiss.

Lauren swept the pajama top from Devís strong shoulders, hazily marveling at the combination of sleek muscles and smooth skin beneath her hands as the President continued to kiss her senseless. Her hands moved into thick, dark hair, where her nails grazed Devís scalp. She deepened the kiss further, swirling her hot tongue around Devís as she swallowed her loverís moans.

Reluctantly, Dev began to pull away. "You too," she encouraged raggedly, her chest heaving.

Laurenís eyes fluttered open, and she looked at Dev blankly for a several seconds as the words penetrated her brain.

"You too. I need to touch you, too." Dev tugged at the hem of Laurenís shirt.

Lauren lifted her arms high over her head, and her T-shirt was tugged off in one swift motion and tossed to the floor. Their movements slowed, as they traded kisses and tenderly whispered words. Next came flannel, sweats, and panties, until at last they fell together in a tangle of arms and legs, groaning at the flawless contact of naked skin on naked skin.

"I want to kiss and taste you everywhere," Dev murmured against Laurenís chest. A low but enthusiastic moan answered her, and she turned her head to the side to nip and lick against a sensitive nipple.

"Oh, Dev," Lauren whimpered, her body jerking slightly at the delicious sensation. "You enjoy teasing me, donít you?" Then she felt as though she couldnít draw in enough air as Dev began doing anything but tease.

As she used her mouth to entice the woman in her arms, Devís hands slowly traced hot paths up the sides of Laurenís slightly damp body. She moved from knees to shoulders, and then back down again, soaking in the exquisite feeling of soft skin under her hands.

The sensation of short, well-manicured nails gently grazing her back and shoulders sent shivers through her own body, causing a moan to escape Devís throat. The President never realized how much she ached for this womanís touch until she was receiving it. Lauren simply had a way of eliciting every emotion that Dev was capable of feeling.

They made love slowly, passionately. Taking the time to truly enjoy each other, to caress and gently kiss, experiencing the best of what each offered the other. Sensual hums of delight mixed with low, throaty groans.

A smile curled Devís lips when her ears picked up the soft but nearly constant moans that spoke of Laurenís arousal and love, with just a little impatience thrown in, as the smaller woman tried to get her body closer to Devlynís. Dev had come to recognize these as the signals of her loverís impending climax. She held Lauren closer still, wanting it as much as Lauren did, her own body reacting strongly to the sights and smells and sounds surrounding her.

Dev whispered words of love and devotion as their bodies instinctively found the rhythm that would cause them to experience together the pleasure that only they could bring each other. And when Lauren threw her head back and cried out softly, Dev followed right behind her. The sight of her loverís face as she released, the feeling of Laurenís sweat-slicked body bucking beneath her and the fingers that had become talons digging into her shoulder blades, were more than enough to bring her to her own precipice and beyond.

Heaving chests slowed and pulses calmed, as they began to relax, nearly melting together. Lauren slowly ran her hand down the smooth skin of Devís back and tiredly pulled up the comforter, which had somehow ended up half on, half off the bed, around their entwined bodies. She kissed a damp shoulder, eliciting a contented hum from deep in Devís chest and a murmured ĎI love youí.

Lauren couldnít have been more contented herself as she felt more than heard Devís breathing even out and her heart slow further as sleep overtook her partner. "I love you, too," she whispered softly. Gray eyes fluttered closed, and she smiled faintly as Devís arms tightened around her.

Saturday, December 25th



"Lauren?" The whispered voices were more insistent now.

"Go Ďway," the writer slurred, pulling the pillow over her head.

Three sets of giggles nudged Lauren closer to wakefulness. "Itís time to get up," Aaron insisted. "Santa came!"

Lauren whimpered softly and lifted her bedraggled head from her pillow. She was in Devlynís bed, but the President was nowhere to be found.

"Santa came; we get to open presents. Címon!" Christopher grabbed one of Laurenís hands and Ashley grabbed the other as they began literally dragging the writer out of bed.

"Okay, okay, Iím coming," Lauren laughed. She looked over at the clock. 3:30 A.M. God, no wonder Iím tired. I only went to bed three hours ago. "Do you always get up in the middle of the night for Christmas," she asked Aaron as she fumbled for her glasses.

"Uh huh. As soon as Santa comes, we can open presents. Thatís the deal," he crowed excitedly, tugging at Laurenís T-shirt as the woman stumbled out of bed, yawning.

"Whereís your mama?" Laurenís voice was still hoarse with sleep, and she stuck her fingers under her glasses to rub her eyes.

"Sheís in the living room. Címon, weíll show you!"

Lauren looked wistfully at the bathroom as she was tugged past it and out into the living room.

"Here she is," Ashley announced, her voice still a whisper. The room was pitch black except for the twinkling of the white Christmas tree lights, which illuminated Devís sprawled form. She lay on the floor in front of the tree, with Ashleyís new bike assembled and waiting, Christopherís half way there, and Aaronís still in the box. A wrench was still clutched in one hand, and the trail of drool leading from her mouth to the carpet was glistening with every blink of the lights.

Lauren bit her lip to muffle a chuckle. It was exactly where she had left Dev several hours ago, with the President promising sheíd be coming to bed soon, and that she didnít need any help; that this would only take a few moments. Good grief, Devlyn. What am I going to do with you?

Christopher stared at his mother curiously. "How come Santaís elves didnít put the bikes together? Isnít that their job?"

Laurenís eyebrows jumped up into her hairline as her mind scrambled to come up with a suitable answer.

Ashley looked at her brother impatiently. "Youíre so stupid, Chris. The Secret Service probably made the elves leave the packages downstairs. The elves couldnít very well put them together in the North Pole, because Ďput togetherí bikes would take up too much room in the sleigh."

Gray eyes widened as Lauren listened to Ashleyís explanation. With an imagination like that, we may have another writer in the family.

"So mama had to do it here," Ashley continued in a clear voice.

"Oh." Chris nodded, finding his sisterís explanation completely believable. "Of course."

Aaron tugged on Laurenís hand, and she peered down at the small blond boy. "Can we wake her up? Itís Christmas!"

Lauren smiled. "Sure, honey. Go ahead and wake her up." The words were still hanging in the air when Chris and Aaron let go of Laurenís hands, and all three children ran over to their mother, happily shaking her awake.

Lauren watched with amusement as Dev sleepily tried to fend them off for a few futile seconds before waking up enough to realize what was going on. The President exclaimed ĎMerry Christmasí, pulling all three children into a group hug that went on longer than any of the kids could stand.

"Okay, ya little monsters." Dev released her captives and frowned as she wiped her drool away with the back of her hand. "Have at it. And help Aaron read the names on the packages."

Three shrill cheers rang out, causing Dev to jump back a little. Ashley quickly grabbed Aaronís hand, and they both ran to the stockings with Chris hot on their heels. Each child grabbed his own, and plopped down in front of the cold fireplace to examine the booty it contained.

Dev padded over to Lauren who was still watching quietly with a grin plastered across her face. "Morniní. Sort of," Dev whispered, placing a soft kiss on Laurenís lips. She wrapped her arms around the smaller woman.

"Morniní, darliní." Lauren squeezed Dev back, sinking deeply into the warm embrace.

"I fell asleep."

Lauren laughed. "I know. Iím sorry. I crashed myself, or I would have come and gotten you."

"Did the kids ask-"

Lauren shook her head and led Dev by the elbow to the couch, where they both dropped down with twin groans. "Ashley blamed your being passed out under the tree like an old drunk on the Secret Service."

Dev laughed, then smacked Laurenís arm playfully. "I was asleep," she whispered loudly. "That is not the same thing as passed out!"

Lauren stuck out her tongue.

"I need coffee," Dev whined.

"Me too. Iíll get some coffee for us and some juice or something for the kids."

"You donít have to do that." Devís protest was half-hearted. "We just sat down. I can wait."

"Please." Lauren rolled her eyes knowingly. "Youíre the biggest coffee addict I know. And besides, if I donít get some caffeine soon myself, Iíll die. And I hear that sort of thing is a real downer on Christmas morning."

"Thank you." Dev wrapped her arm around Laurenís shoulders as they both stood. "I love you."

Lauren bumped hips with Dev. "I love you too."

"It seems strange without Emma around," Dev commented, not quite ready to let Lauren go.

"True," Lauren allowed, smiling at Ashleyís squeal of delight when the little girl discovered some brightly colored nail polish in her stocking. "But the woman does deserve a vacation. I canít believe you sent her and her sister on a cruise. That was so sweet. Itís all sheís talked about the last two weeks."

Dev shrugged and found something interesting about her feet. "She deserved it."

"I know." Lauren smiled indulgently and gave Dev a little shove. "Go on, take some pictures and start passing out presents. Iíll be right back with some coffee. Maybe I can bribe a couple of agents into taking Gremlin and Princess for a quick walk, too."

"A couple? Why not just one?"

"Theyíre still not talking to each other."

Dev looked confused. "The agents?"

"No, Grem and Princess."

Dev snorted disgustedly.

Lauren winked at her lover then lifted her hand to gently rake her fingers through dark, disheveled bangs that were sticking out in several directions. "Then we can find out what Santa left for you under the tree."

Dev leered at the blonde, wriggling her eyebrows. Her voice dropped to a purr as she pressed her lips to Laurenís ear. "I thought I got my present last night."

Lauren blushed, then burst into embarrassed laughter. She glanced towards the kids who were lost in their own world of chocolate, toys, books, and clothes. What could be better? "Well, I consider that the gift that keeps on giving."

"If Iím lucky."

The biographer smacked Dev on the bottom and turned for the kitchen. "Trust me, Devlyn," she said, smiling over her shoulder. "Weíre both lucky."

* * *

David knocked on Devís door for the third time. It was nearly 11:00 A.M., and Dev was expecting them. The agent outside the door could only shrug. Heíd heard movement in the apartment very early this morning, but since walking Gremlin several hours ago, and taking him back to the Presidentís apartment, he hadnít heard a blessed thing.

"Good Lord, David, just open the door!" Beth moaned. Her arms were full of gifts, and the puppy Dev had given them as a Ďgiftí was jumping anxiously at their feet. "The kids will be up; itís not like weíll catch Dev and Lauren naked on the couch or anything."

"Of course not!" David snorted. Then he paused and started to truly consider what his wife had just proposed.

Beth rolled her eyes and pushed passed David. "Keep dreaming, pervert. But it will never happen." She juggled her packages and turned the knob. "Hello?" She stuck her head around the door and peered into the room. "AwwwwÖ we should have brought a camera."

The living room was strewn with bright-colored wrapping paper, and Bing Crosby was softly crooning about a ĎWhite Christmasí. The lights were off, except for the tree, and the fragrant scents of pine, burning oak, and chocolate filled the air.

David and Beth moved quietly farther into the room, and David bent down to let his puppy off his leash. The little dog immediately toddled towards the Christmas tree, where he carefully navigated his way between the piles of open boxes and paper. He found a large stuffed bear and plopped down next to it, closing his eyes. The puppy had seen Dev and fully intended to bare his teeth in a ferocious growl. He was saving it for after his nap.

The McMillians looked at each other with huge smiles on their faces. Dev was sound asleep on the sofa, wearing a Santa hat and a sweater that still had tags hanging from its arm and neck. Tucked safely in her arms was Lauren, who was snoring softly and clad in a worn T-shirt, pajama bottoms, and new snow boots.

All three children were asleep in various parts of the room. Aaron was half under the tree, and Beth had to duck down to see the little boyís face. He was asleep in a pile of candy wrappers with chocolate staining most of his cheeks and lips.

Christopher was slumped in a chair, a half-completed puzzle in his lap and a racing car at his feet. He wore a crisp Hawaiian print shirt, complete with tags, over his navy blue, footie pajamas.

The small brunette was stretched out on her belly in front of the fire, which had burned down to bright orange coals. Ashley was snoring louder than Lauren and wore a pair of sunglasses and a white baseball hat that proudly proclaimed ĎTennessee Volunteersí in bright orange letters. She held a Barbie loosely in one hand and a comb in the other. Barbieís blonde mane was standing straight up.

Gremlin was snuggled up against one side of the little girl with Princess snuggled up to the other. Doggy estrangement was an odd thing.

Blue eyes opened wearily, and Dev gave a little wave to her guests, careful not to jostle Lauren. "Merry Christmas," she mouthed silently, tightening her hold on the woman sleeping in her arms before closing her eyes.

Beth and David deposited their packages on the ground in front of the tree. David held a hand out to his wife as they wandered over to an empty loveseat. They sat down quietly and snuggled together, closing their eyes. It had been a solid month of formal parties, visiting dignitaries, tuxedos, banquets, champagne, gowns and speeches. Both David and Beth let out a long, contented sigh. They always did like the Marlowesí idea of a quiet family holiday.

Monday, December 27th

David watched from the wings as Sharon continued her morning briefing of the Press. He was expecting the room to go up in flames in about thirty seconds. David glanced at his watch, wondering how Dev managed to live without one. Then again, I donít have Liza following around after me, briefing me on my agenda every five minutes.

"And, finally, the White House is happy to announce the engagement of President Marlowe to Ms. Lauren Strayer of Nashville, Tennessee. The President and Ms. Strayer became engaged just before Christmas and will be wed in the Presidentís home state of Ohio sometime next year. No official date has been set for the wedding."

David smiled at the collective gasp that went through the group. He watched carefully as it took everyone a moment to grasp what Sharon had just said. Then the room erupted in a flurry of questions.

"Who proposed?" the newest CNN correspondent managed to get out first.

"One of the two parties involved," Sharon offered with an absolutely straight face.

Half the room groaned while the other half chuckled. When Sharon responded with this kind of answerÖ they werenít going to get a damned thing out of her, and they knew it.

Another question. "Where did the proposal take place?"

Sharon sighed inwardly, wishing that Dev had been a little more forthcoming with the details. "The President and Ms. Strayer were at home in the residence over the Christmas season." She held up her hands to forestall what she knew was coming next. "I knowÖ I know. If possible, I will provide more details at a future press conference."

The Washington Post reporter politely raised his hand, and Sharon pointed to him. "When exactly did this happen?" he asked.

Sharon looked over at the reporter and resisted the urge to be a smartass. "A few days before Christmas. If possible, I will provide more details at a future press conference," Sharon said again. AhÖ my new mantra.

"What were the circumstances of the Presidentís proposal?" The man from the Times held his tape recorder high in the air.

"The exact circumstances surrounding the proposal are a private matter for the happy couple."

Another groan from the more seasoned reporters. That was Sharon speak for ĎYouíre never gonna get that particular bit of informationí.

Davidís smile shifted into a shit eatiní grin. He just loved the way Sharon handled the Press. Thatís it, Sharon; give them your world famous Ďbite meí answers.

A new reporter from the Boston Globe caught Sharonís eye from the back of the room. "Is this a push by the President for all states to legalize same sex marriages?"

Ahh... an intelligent, if inappropriate, question. "Absolutely not. This is simply an announcement by the White House to keep the public informed." Sharon sighed and looked down at the podium, even though she had absolutely no notes on the subject. David had told her only moments before, explaining that Dev was so damned excited she was practically shouting from the roof tops, so Sharon had better make the announcement before it leaked out. Sharon nodded to a tall, black man in the front row.

"Will Ms. Strayer be taking over the traditional duties of First Lady? And will she continue work on the Presidentís biography?"

Sharon pushed her hands into her blazer pocket and stepped away from the podium. "Ms. Strayer will continue to write the Presidentís biography. As far as taking over the duties of the First Lady, that will be for Ms. Strayer to decide for herself."

"Will the Press be invited to the wedding?"

"I know this is all very exciting, and itís been a hundred years or so since the last Presidential wedding, but this is simply an announcement of the engagement. No wedding plans have been made yet, so the guest list is obviously undecided."

"Will Ms. Strayer continue to live at the White House? Has she moved into President Marloweís room?"

"Ms. Strayer will continue to maintain her own room within the residence until after the wedding. Just as she has done since her arrival here at the beginning of the year."

David smirked as he watched Sharon finish up the briefing with the announcement that she would take one more question.

"Has a spot for a Presidential honeymoon been selected?"

"Nothing has been decided as of yet. As soon as the President and Ms. Strayer decide to release more information regarding their nuptials, and plans for after, I will let you know. Letís take things one step at a time." Sharon moved back to the podium and picked up her notes. "Have a good day, ladies and gentleman; Iíll see you at the five oíclock briefing."

With that, Sharon strode off the small stage and joined David. She nudged him as they began the walk back to the West Wing. "Couldnít she have just declared war on someone? I would have been much better prepared to answer questions about that."

David chuckled. "Ah, Sharon, donít you get it? Knowing Devís, but most especially Laurenís, penchant for privacyÖ"

The Press Secretary groaned, imagining the endless questions that Dev and Lauren would never provide the answers to just for spite. "David?"


"I want a raise."

Friday, December 31st

It was late, and together Dev and Lauren had tucked the children in before returning to the living room. Dev jammed her hand in her pocket, feeling for the ring box nestled deep inside. She wondered for the hundredth time if she should just go ahead and give it to Lauren. So what if she wasnít going to be doing any asking. Sheíd still gotten it for Lauren. Dev was old fashioned enough to want her wife wearing a wedding ring from her. But, to her dismay, she wasnít sure exactly how Lauren would feel.

Dev had been totally thrown when Lauren proposed to her. Thrilled, but thrown. All those weeks of worry and planning had gone up in a glorious poof of smoke in the wake of Laurenís natural tendency to cut straight to the chase. It was a characteristic that Dev adored. But, in this one instance, it left her not quite knowing what to do with herself or the ring in her pocket.

The writerís face crinkled into a smile, and she sucked in a deep breath of pine-scented air. The presents were gone from beneath the tree, but Dev had insisted it remain up until New Yearís. To take it down even a day early was to risk bad luck for the entire new year. Lauren shook her head at the surprisingly superstitious custom that came from such a reasonable, down-to-earth family.

The President took a calming breath and screwed up her courage. Just because Lauren wanted to get married didnít mean sheíd wear the ring. She sighed and tightened her hand around the box. "Lauren?"

It had been years since Lauren had a Christmas tree, and it was downright embarrassing how happy the simple but comforting tradition made her feel. "Mmmm... nice." She turned to Dev and extended her hand, wrapping her fingers around Devís, which were slightly chilled, and pulling Dev down onto the carpet to join her in front of the tree. "Whatís up?"

"AhhhÖ" Devís mind went blank for a moment, and the muscles in her face twitched nervously. It was stupid, she knew, since she wasnít actually proposing. But stillÖ it was as close as she hoped to ever come again. She licked her lips and cleared her throat a little. "You remember when I told you that I was working on the most important thing I had ever done, and that as soon as I could talk to you about it, youíd be the first to know?"

"Sure." Lauren leaned forward, her curiosity brimming. But thoughts of that evening and their nasty argument caused her to wince internally. Then and there, despite the fact that it was several hours before midnight, Lauren made her New Yearís resolution. Well, she admitted privately, it was more of a vow than a resolution, but it would have to do. Sheíd been given an extraordinary chance at happiness with Devlyn and her children, and she was going to do whatever it took to hold on to it. Sheíd never had so much to gain and so much to lose at the same time. And she promised herself that when things got scary, and she knew they would, she would hang on tight, and ride the storm out, secure in the knowledge that what awaited her afterward would be more than worth the sacrifice. Wow. Who knew being in love would make me so profound?

Dev turned over the hand she was holding and placed the box in the center of Laurenís palm, curling small fingers around it. "WellÖ I love you. And this is it." Dev wasnít sure how to explain, so she babbled nervously as Laurenís gaze darted from the box to Dev and back again. "I had it made for you." She bit her lip as Lauren cracked open the black velvet lid. "Thatís what took so long. IÖ umÖ I hope you like it."

Lauren blinked stupidly at the ring, too shocked to really take in its detail, as her mind processed exactly what it symbolized. The most important thing sheíd ever done. Oh, God. Her gaze jerked up to meet Devís very serious-looking face. "You were going to propose?"

Dev nodded. "Yes," she said quietly.

Lauren felt a sinking sensation in her belly. "And the night we quarreled, and you left for an appointment you couldnít tell me about?"

The President laid a hand on Laurenís leg. "Oh, sweetheart, thatís not important." She gestured towards the ring with her chin, her eyes hopeful. "Can I put it on your finger?" When Lauren didnít answer, Dev began reaching for the box.

Lauren grabbed Devís hands, stopping their motion. Her voice was low and harsh and startled Dev with its sound. "Iím so, so sorry."

Dark brows drew together as Dev searched Laurenís face, not quite understanding whether she was declining or accepting the ring. Her heart began to thud in her chest when she saw tears in Laurenís eyes. She immediately brushed them away with gentle fingertips. Damn! Sheís trying to let me down easy. If she had wanted to exchange rings, sheíd have given me one, right? Devís jaw worked silently, and she forced herself to continue, pushing down her disappointment. "Sorry for what?"

"For the argument. Things got so out of hand. If Iíd only known-"

"Stop," the President interrupted, taking a few seconds to let out a long, slow breath. Dev felt nearly lightheaded with relief. Sheís not turning it down. At least not yet. She smiled and carefully plucked the ring from the box Lauren still had clutched in her hand. "Sweetheart, if you had known," she took Laurenís left hand in hers and slipped the ring on her finger, "it wouldnít have been much of a surprise, now would it?" Then she held her breath and waited.

Lauren gasped when she got a good look at the ring. The heavy platinum band was so wide it nearly touched her second knuckle. In its center was nestled a large, flat, rectangular emerald with four small diamonds clustered at its corners. The twinkling glow of the Christmas lights reflected off the dark, green stone. "Oh, Devlyn." Lauren made a fist and held it up a little, allowing the diamonds to pick up the light and sparkle gently. "Itís so beautiful," she said reverently, running the tip of her index finger over it.

"Iím glad you like it. I wanted something as beautiful and as special as you are." Dev grinned, reading the look of undiluted joy on Laurenís face and knowing that right now, she was sporting the exact same expression. "And, just like you, itís one of a kind." She paused, "UhÖ is it okay? I wasnít sure youíd want to wear one." Lauren looked at her with a gaze so filled with adoration Dev felt a heat creeping to her cheeks.

"Yes, Iíll wear it." Lauren tucked a strand of wavy, fair hair behind her ear as she examined the beautiful piece of jewelry. "Iíve never worn one before." She chanced a glance up at Dev. "I told Judd it was because I really didnít like rings. But that was a lie." Lauren shrugged one shoulder and turned her attention to the tree laden with decorations and ribbon. "I guess I didnít feel like what we had was forever. And I wasnít ready."

"And now?" Dev questioned softly.

Lauren smiled wistfully. "And now I canít predict the future any better than I could back then." She grabbed Devís hand and pressed it to her chest, directly over her heart. "But I canít imagine loving you," she smiled warmly, "or your kids more. If anyoneís got a shot at forever, Devlyn, itís us."

Blue eyes twinkled, and a slender, dark eyebrow arched. "Yeah. Thatís exactly what I was going to say. You just beat me to it."

Lauren burst out laughing.

The President gave Laurenís ring a little tug. "Does it fit all right? I had to guess at your ring size. We can have it resized if we need to."

Lauren was about to wipe away the renewed tears that shimmered in her eyes, threatening to fall. But they were happy tears, and such a rare and wonderful occurrence she let them fall. She wiggled the ring with her thumb. It was a bit loose, but wouldnít come off. "Itís a little big." Grey eyes found Devís. "But thatís good, right? Iíve always heard your fingers get bigger as you get older." A sniff. "So this should be fine, and since I donít intend on taking it off, Iíll live with it Ďas isí."

"Okay, but-"

Laurenís eyes suddenly widened. "Shit!" she exclaimed loudly, causing Devlyn to jump back.


"I was supposed to get you a ring, wasnít I?" Lauren threw her hands up in disgust. "I didnít evenÖ Oh, God, I didnít think or plan-"

Dev chuckled, gathering her into her arms. "Sweetheart, the ring isnít the important part of the proposal. The words are. And you had the courage to say the words. Thatís all that matters. And what matters to me is that, when I march up to that altar, youíll be there."

Lauren grabbed Devlynís shirt and pulled her forward into a searing kiss. When the kiss ended, and they separated, a happy laugh bubbled up from inside Lauren. She cupped Devís cheeks and looked directly into beautiful, blue eyes, seeing the spirit that had captured her so completely. "Thatís one thing you donít need to worry about, darliní. Iíll be there."

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