Madam President

Madam President

Chapter IV

April 2021

 

Sunday, April 4th

 

"Why so glum, chum?" David leaned over the chessboard, wondering why he always fell for that same gambit.

"Oh, I donít know." Dev sighed, then sipped her brandy. She leaned back in her chair and watched pensively as David tried to get out of troubleÖ again. Would he never learn?

They were in the spare office in the private residence of the White House. It was a cozy room that Dev had turned into a family game room of sorts. The kids loved it. On this chilly spring night, however, her babies were fast asleep, as was, Dev suspected, nearly everyone else in Washington D.C. without insomnia. But Davidís wife was out of town visiting relatives, and her old buddy was lingering in Devís quarters, not wanting to go back to his empty house.

"The only time you drink is when youíre having women troubles," David said casually, his eyes never leaving the board.

Dev looked into her snifter and frowned. "Itís brandy, for Godís sake. And I certainly donít have women troubles. No women, no troubles."

"Well, Iím really glad to hear that." Here goes nothing. "Because guess whoís in town this week?"

"The Emperor of Japan?"

"NooooooooÖ" David moved his knight.

Dev leaned forward and made a move that would allow the game to continue as long as David didnít do something stupid. She wasnít ready to be alone either. "King of England?"

"NooooooÖ" His brows knitted together. Why didnít she go for the quick kill? "Think a little less political. More, umm, your type."

"My type?" Dev kicked her long legs out in front of her. "David, I donít have a type."

He leaned back in his chair, after making his move, and leveled his best brotherly stare at his friend. "Yeah, I know. And itís about time we changed that."

Dev glared at the ruddy-skinned man. "David, please donít tell me that you went and did something incredibly stupid like-"

"I set you up on a date."

A dark head dropped. "Oh, God!" Dev set her snifter on the table next to her, its heavy crystal bottom making a loud thump. Then she changed her mind and irritably jerked it back up again. "Isnít my life already complicated enough without you fixing me up? Half the U.S. and one horny Arab prince already think Iím sleeping with Lauren."

"And since youíre not," David said sensibly, "thereís no reason you shouldnít go out with Candy Delaney."

Devlyn began choking on her drink, wincing as the strong liquor stung her sinuses. She covered her mouth with her fist and tried to breathe through her nose.

"Surprise."

When Dev could finally speak she managed to gasp, "You mean you fixed me up with ĎCímere and get a piece of Candyí Delaney? Jesus, David, why didnít you just hire me a hooker and call the press in to take pictures!"

David chewed the inside of his cheek unhappily. He was starting to get the idea that the only person who was going to satisfy Dev was one Lauren Strayer. "Iíll have you know that Candy Delaney is now Candice Delaney, M.D., and sheís in town attending the Surgeon Generalís conference on STDs."

"Well, she had enough of them in college. She should be an expert by now."

"DeeeeeeevÖ" But he couldnít stifle a laugh.

"You know how I hate being set up!"

"I set you up with Samantha, Dev."

"Oh, yeah." She frowned, slumping back into her seat. "But youíll never get that lucky again. And I still donít want to be set up now."

"Címon! Youíre being ridiculous!"

"I am not going out with Candy ĎCheck out my crŤme fillingí Delaney!" She leaned forward and lazily moved her bishop. "Checkmate."

"Youíre right. Youíre not going out. Youíre the President of the United States, for Godís sake."

Dev snorted. "ĎBout time you remembered that."

"Sheís coming here. Friday night, seven oíclock. I thought a nice dinner in residence. Maybe a movie after. Or a tour ofÖ"

"How very Andy Hardy of you."

"Sheís not even going to be here on Friday. Sheís got a date," David said quietly. He knew the words would sting. But there was no use in Devís continuing to brood about it.

Devlyn didnít have to ask who Ďsheí was. Liza had practically been beaming because of it all week. The Presidentís personal assistant had happily blabbed to everyone who would listen that Lauren had agreed to go out with her favorite cousin, Casey Dennis. "Thanks for reminding me, pal." Dev glowered. "I had almost forgotten," she mumbled sarcastically. And where is that damn FBI report I ordered on Lizaís cousin?! I asked for it hours ago!

David made a face at the chessboard and lifted his palms in a gesture of defeat.

Dev thought of Lauren being wined and dined, having an intimate evening out with someone else. They might hold hands orÖ God, what if he kisses her? Or she kisses him? And what if that leads toÖ No. No. No! I will not think about that. I wonít! Her face screwed up with anger, and she knocked Davidís king across the room with her bishop.

Both sets of eyes followed the king, as the white, wooden chess piece sailed through the air and landed in the lit fireplace. It burst instantly into flames, and David gulped audibly.

"Oh, yeah, buddy, youíre just lucky you wonít fit."

 

Friday, April 9th

 

Dev sighed as she entered the hallway. She looked at her Secret Service agent who pushed up out of his chair and stood the moment she left her room. "Donít suppose youíd just shoot me now?"

The man paled a little. "Madam President?"

"Did you ever do something that you didnít really want to do just to your keep busybody friends happy?"

He began to relax and gave her a knowing grin. "Blind date, Madam President?"

"Almost. I havenít seen her since college." Dev sighed. "Well, at least I made it clear to my Chief of Staff that he and his wife were coming too." Her head jerked up when Laurenís door opened several paces in front of her. Oh, shit. She looks great. Why does she have to look so damned good? If I didnít know better, Iíd almost say she was trying to drive me insane.

They approached each other very slowly. Lauren slid her purse over her shoulder as she moved alongside Dev. "So, you ready for the big evening?" Sheíd heard about Devís blind date from Emma. And the thought did not make her happy. Dev had been looking tired these past few days. She only gets ten free minutes a week as it is. She should be relaxing or watching TV or reading my book, or something, Lauren thought petulantly. Not making her life more complicated. So what if this chick is a big time doctor from Harvard? Big deal. I know Iím not impressed. University of Tennessee is a great school!

Dev nodded and tried to sound positive. "Yeah, itíll be nice to see CandyÖ ehÖ CandiceÖ um, Dr. Delaney again." A tiny frown line appeared on Laurenís forehead, and Devlyn barely stopped herself from reaching out and smoothing it away.

"Well, I should be going. Liza asked me to come along with her and her boyfriend. Umm... her cousin is going to be there. AndÖ wellÖ"

"Really? I hadnít heard," Dev said casually, hoping no divine being actually kept track of little white lies, especially where Lauren was concerned. If he did, she was in deep shit.

Lauren tugged on her glasses uncomfortably. She felt an inexplicable urge to explain herself to Dev. "Iíve been going kind of stir crazy lately. Itís been months since Iíve really gone out. And she askedÖ umÖ Liza, I mean, and really wanted a fourth person so her cousin wouldnít feel uncomfortable." Why do I feel like Iím cheating on her? Weíre not a couple!

"Oh, I understand completely." I am going straight to hell. "You never know when you might meet Mr. Right."

Lauren smiled weakly and shrugged. Somehow she didnít think sheíd be meeting Mr. Right tonight. "Or Ms. Right."

Devís ears pricked up. "Huh?" she practically shouted.

"Candice Delaney?" Lauren clarified, puzzled by Devís outburst. "Your date tonight?" Her cheeks turned pink with embarrassment. "Um... Emma mentioned it a couple of days ago. Thatís how I know her name." And I havenít been able to think of anything else since.

"Oh. Right." Dev tried not to look too crestfallen. She tilted her head in the opposite direction from the one Lauren was heading in. "Iím on my way there now, as a matter of fact."

Lauren eyed Devís casual suit appreciatively, perversely pleased that Dr. Delaney didnít rate a skirt or heels. "I can see that. Thatís a pretty outfit."

"Thanks." A tiny smile edged onto Devís face. "Same back." Awkwardly, she stuffed her hands in her pockets and rocked on her heels. "Well, Iíll see you around." But she made no effort to move.

Lauren sighed wistfully, already sorry she had agreed to Lizaís double date offer. She firmly commanded her feet to move, when what she really wanted to do was stay here and visit with Devlyn. Ugh. Except that Dev is going to spend the evening with Ms. Harvard. She sees me all the time. Iím sure Iím the last person she wants to spend more time with. "Yeah. See ya around."

* * *

By the time Laurenís taxi dropped her off in front of the Been Gi Palace a cloud of depression had settled over her. She glanced up at the restaurant sign and wrinkled her nose. Why did I agree to Korean food? I hate not being sure about what Iím ordering. Iím from Tennessee, dammit! Iím very happy knowing that the ĎCí in KFC stands for Ďchickení and not Ďcatí. The irksome thought made her shiver.

"This is what I get for wanting a life," she mumbled to herself as she squared her shoulders and pushed open the restaurantís heavy wooden door, allowing the strong aroma of the Korean food to waft out onto the sidewalk.

A smiling hostess immediately rushed to greet her. Lauren slid off her trench coat and draped it over her arm.

"Hewo, hewo," the young woman greeted, bowing her head several times. She looked exceedingly pleased to see Lauren.

"Hi." Lauren began bowing her head too, until she caught herself and realized what she was doing. She stopped and smiled at the petite woman. "Iím here to meet the Dennis party."

"Party of one?" the hostess chirped. Her accent was so thick Lauren found herself leaning forward as though the words might somehow make sense if their volume were increased.

"No."

The hostess looked confused. "You no want food?"

"NoÖ I mean yes. Iím meeting some friends here. The Dennis party," Lauren tried again.

"If you no want food, you just go! This not funny joke." The young woman began shooing Lauren back toward the door.

"NoÖ I do. I mean yes, I want food." Just not this food. The odor was making her a little sick. Lauren exhaled impatiently and peered around the small woman.

The restaurant was dark, illuminated only by the candles dotting the tables and by several yellow-toned hanging lights over the bar. She squinted as her eyes continued to adjust to the dim light. Liza was no place to be seen, so she started looking for Casey, which was no easy task, considering she had no idea what the guy looked like. A handsome, dark-haired man in a sports coat and tie was sitting at the end of the bar nursing a drink. The seats on either side of him were empty.

Lauren decided to take a chance. She stepped forward, past the hostess, and waved in his direction. Despite the darkness, the man spotted Lauren and his head popped up. He smiled broadly, gesturing her over. Lauren sighed in relief. Liza and her date must just be late.

She turned to the confused hostess, who had moved back in front of her, apparently prepared to block her path if necessary. "I found my party. See?" Lauren pointed to the man who raised his drink in acknowledgement.

The hostess nodded furiously, finally understanding that Lauren was meeting the man at the bar. "You go then," she said happily. "I get you table, and waiter leave menus."

Lauren just stared, not having understood a blessed word.

"Go!" the hostess finally huffed. "Tourists so stupid," she grumbled as she stepped back to the door, her head bobbing again as she greeted an elderly couple who had just stepped inside.

Lauren took the bull by the horns and approached the man. He stood up and offered her the seat next to him.

She extended her hand, and he shook it briskly. "Iím sorry Iím a little late." She slid onto the stool next to him. "Iím Laur-"

"Thatís okay, honey," he interrupted. His eyes tried their best to focus, but this was his fifth drink, and things were a little fuzzy around the edges. Still, he could see enough to know this was the luckiest damned day of his life. "You were worth the wait." He smiled triumphantly. And his friends tried to tell him that munching down the worm at the end of a bottle of Cuervo wasnít really good luck. Ha!

Laurenís eyes narrowed, and she caught a good look at the man for the first time, noticing his slightly disheveled shirt and askew necktie. "Whatís your name?"

The man suddenly grasped the importance of this question and thought wildly. "John?"

Lauren rolled her eyes. "More like Ďassholeí." She pushed off the bar.

"Bill?" he valiantly tried again. "David? Sam? Rick? Steve? Bob? David?"

"You already said that one."

"Itís the right one then?"

"Nope."

"Címon! Give me a hint at least."

"Sorry, pal. None of those are close to Casey." Thank God.

The woman two seats down, who had been listening to the exchange with mild amusement, suddenly jumped to her feet. "Lauren?"

Laurenís eyes jerked toward the sandy-haired woman. "Yes?"

"Iím so glad to finally meet you. Iím Lizaís cousin, Casey Dennis." She extended her hand, and Lauren lifted hers in utter shock. "Your date," Casey added when Lauren continued to stare at her blankly. The writerís hand was as limp as a spaghetti noodle.

"Youíre a woman," Lauren said needlessly, her jaw sagging slightly. Do I look totally gay or what?

Two eyebrows jumped. "Yeeeah," Casey drew out the word. "Last time I checked, anyway. Surely you knew that. I mean, Liza saidÖ" She stopped, noticing that Lauren looked a little spooked. "Hey, are you okay?"

Lauren scratched her jaw. "Boy, thatís a good question." The ideaís not totally new to you, Lauri, and you know it. Youíve thought about it before. Especially lately. So donít even think about acting all shocked.

Sheíd been mildly interested in a few women over the years. Lauren had wondered, if given the chance, whether things might have developed beyond friendship. But time marched on, and the opportunity never knocked. Her marriage to Judd had been one long study in unfulfillment for them both. So maybe it was time to broaden her horizons? Sheíd been skirting the edge of it for years. Lauren had to admit that it wasnít a lack of interest in women that had held her back. More like a lack of attraction. Or at least a feeling of attraction that was more than fleeting.

Attraction should beÖ her mind immediately hit upon the answer, and she sighed quietlyÖ like what I feel for Dev. To pretend to be anything other than attracted to Devlyn was simply a lie, and she knew it. She was drawn to the older woman like a moth to a flame. Her heart hadnít as much as spared a second thought toward Devís gender. Lauren tried not to think that Dev was probably kissing Dr. Delany at this very moment.

The writer firmly clamped down on her wandering thoughts and glanced up at Casey, who was, admittedly, a pretty woman. She concentrated on her for a second, holding her breath and purposely looking long and deep into Caseyís warm brown eyes. Nothing. No glimmer of interest. No spark of desire. No attraction. No pull. It was nothing like what she felt with Dev, even from the very first. Lauren exhaled. But sheís not Dev. So stop doing that!

"Iím sorry. And Iím fine," Lauren finally answered, realizing that she was staring. "What I meant to say earlier is that youíre a womanÖ who looks really familiar. Have we met?" Okay, that was pathetic. But Casey seemed to buy her answer without question.

"No, Iím sure Iíd remember you." Casey led the way to the empty table that awaited her return.

"Whereís Liza?" Lauren hoped the question came off casually, despite the fact that she was starting to get a little worried.

"Oh, she called a few minutes ago. Something came up at the White House, and so she and Art wonít be meeting us tonight." Casey smiled as she slid into her seat, tossing her menu onto the empty place setting next to her. "Itís just you and me for the whole night!"

Laurenís eyebrows crawled behind her bangs. "UmmÖ wow. The whole evening?" What time was it? She fought the urge to glance at her watch. Give the woman a chance. If Dev were interested in you, she wouldnít be dating someone else, right? "Thatís great," Lauren said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. The whole night.

* * *

In the dining room of the residence, David and Beth chatted with Candy, while Dev tried not to look totally miserable. She smiled at all the right times and feigned interest in what was being said as she pushed her pasta around on her plate.

She had lost her appetite long before dinner even made it to the table. It had been totally vanquished between the soup and salad; Dev had nearly dislocated her knee by smacking it into the table when she felt Candyís hand land on her thigh.

Once she had managed to get Candyís insistent hand off her leg, she looked up to find the woman openly leering at her. It had been a long time since anyone had looked at her like she was the main course. But coming from Candy it was downright unappealing. It actually made her a little sick to her stomach. Candice Delaney, respected MD by day, Superslut by night. Some things just never change. Dev just shook her head.

She imagined Lauren looking at her like that, with lust-filled, slate gray eyes, and her cheeks immediately flamed a bright scarlet. Oh, God. An involuntary moan escaped from deep in her throat.

The conversation around her suddenly stopped, and everyone stared.

Okay, that wasnít a good idea. "Hot pasta," Dev explained lamely, fanning the tepid entree.

With dessert, things went from bad to worse. While David and his wife were lost in their own conversation, Candy whispered an obscene suggestion to Dev, explaining just how sheíd like to use the cherry sauce once they were alone. Dev cringed at the mere thought. Not even with someone elseís tongue! Her shoulders slumped, and she tossed her napkin onto the table. How am I gonna survive this? Wonder how Laurenís doing? Couldnít be any worse than this.

* * *

Laurenís head bobbed dutifully as she poked her fork around her plate, barely listening to Caseyís endless droning, but fascinated by the 188186stinky conglomeration of something that had been placed in front of her. Were those tiny legs? She gulped. Or tentacles? I didnít order anything with legs! A mental pause. I think.

"And thatís how I became a medical technician at the morgue."

Lauren nearly dropped her fork. Her eyes shot upward. "Youíre what?!"

"A morgue clerk," Casey enthused, heartened to see that Lauren was as excited about it as she was. Maybe the writer wasnít as big a dud as she seemed. "Itís such a totally interesting job! Why one time, after a mob hit downtownÖ"

The biographer felt the blood drain from her face. Sheís not going to tell me about it, is she? Oh, God! "So, whatís your favorite book?" Lauren changed the subject as quickly as she could. The legs mixed in with what she thought were noodles on her plate were nearly enough to make her barf. Hearing about corpses would surely push her over the edge.

"You know, people are always asking each other that," Casey commented sagely. "I donít really have one. Iíve always preferred the movies." She rattled off a half dozen titles, none of which Lauren had even heard of. "Arenít those great? Theyíre my favorites."

"UmÖ sorry, I havenít seen any of those."

"Oh." Casey looked mortally wounded, and Lauren wasnít sure whether to feel bad or relieved. Maybe she could cut the evening short.

Both women were silent for several awkward moments. "What about travel?" Lauren prompted. "Have you been anywhere interesting? Or is there someplace youíd like to visit?"

"No. Not really."

More painful silence.

"Oh."

Casey took a long drink of Korean beer. "Astrology is a hobby of mine. Iím a Virgo. Whatís your sign?"

"Cancer."

Casey suddenly found the contents of her glass very interesting. "Oh."

Lauren cocked her head to the side. "Oh, what? Is that bad or something?"

"No. Not really. Well, they just arenít very compatible with Virgoans." She shrugged lightly. "Thatís all."

No shit, Sherlock. Lauren covertly studied her watch. Who knew two hours could feel like this?

"You gonna eat that?" Without waiting for Lauren to answer, Casey reached over and stuck her fingers in Laurenís dinner, fishing out something green and slimy that she immediately popped into her mouth.

Laurenís eyes turned to slits, and she considered stabbing Casey with her fork. If that had been a French fry, Casey would be sporting fork marks on her hand right now. But, as it was, she really wouldnít miss one more piece of slimy thing.

"Umm..." Casey chewed happily. "Thanks, those are great. And I canít believe you didnít eat them right off. I can never wait. OooÖ have I told you how much I love the symphony? Have you heard our local symphony? Theyíre fabulous!"

Lauren shook her head. "Iíve heard theyíre wonderful, but Iím not really a big fan of the symphony. So I havenít seen them myself. But I like opera," she tried hopefully.

Caseyís face twisted in disgust, and she stated flatly, "I hate opera."

Lauren looked down at her plate hopelessly. She scooped up a big bite, legs and all, and shoveled it into her mouth. She reasoned that sheíd probably have to be rushed to the emergency room soon, and then she could escape the date from hell. Or sheíd be dead. Either way worked.

Caseyís face suddenly brightened. "But this body we had down at the morgue last week sort of looked like one of those fat opera guys."

Lauren didnít even look up. She just took another enormous bite.

"He was pale and bloated. I think they fished his carcass out of the river near Dulles Airport. But thatís not the worst thing Iíve seen. Not by a long shot! The worst was thisÖ"

* * *

Dev seriously considered hurting David when he and Beth excused themselves after an insufferably long dinner, but suggested that the President give Candy a tour. She grabbed his arm as he was leaving. "I will make you pay for this!" she growled under her breath, knowing that only David was close enough to hear her.

"Well, you know what the old song says," he whispered back. "If you canít be with the one you love, love the one youíre with."

"Not in this lifetime, David."

"Good night, Madam President." He leaned over and spoke very quietly into Devís ear, "I didnít remember her coming off this strong, Dev. This was a slight miscalculation on my part. Iím sorry."

Slight? "Good night, former Chief of Staff."

David and Beth made a hasty exit, and Dev turned to face the music. Why do I keep hearing "Little Red Corvette" playing in my mind? Dear God, I promise you Iíll do something really good for the environment if youíll just get me out of this.

"Well," the President gestured nervously down the hall, "letís go see what we can find to look at around here."

"Come on, Dev." The woman moved closer, and Dev took a step back. "I donít bite." She grinned. "Unless you ask real nice. How about a tour of the Executive Bedroom?"

"They say Lincolnís bedroom is haunted." Dev stepped around Candy, only to have her ass pinched in the process.

* * *

"Thanks for the ride, Casey." Which you insisted on giving me.

"No problem. I was coming back here to meet Liza anyway." The women made their way around to one of the staff entrances just as Caseyís phone rang. It was Liza. "Well, what are you doing there?" Casey practically crowed into her cell phone. "We just came from there!" She placed her hand over the receiver and turned to Lauren, who was quietly digging for the ID that was required before she could sign in and gain entrance to the White House, even though the guard at the door knew exactly who she was and that she lived there.

God, Iím totally screwed if I ever lose this thing. Lauren finally pulled it out and signed the clipboard before turning a bored, slightly frustrated expression on her companion. "Let me guess," Lauren sighed. "Sheís at Been Giís?" Please donít tell me this means I have to spend anymore time with you.

"Yup. And she wants to know if you wouldnít mind giving me the nickel tour." Casey gave her a hopeful expression. "She doesnít want to drive all the way back. She lives in the opposite direction."

Lauren held out an impatient hand. "Let me talk to Liza."

"Okay." Casey put the phone to her mouth again to say goodbye, but didnít pass it to Lauren. "Liza says itís not necessary to thank her, that you can do that on Monday. She, umm... she hung up."

Laurenís shoulders slumped and she exhaled wearily. Would this date never end? "Címon, Casey, the nickel tour is really quick."

* * *

Dev wondered if she could still be President after her brain finally exploded in her skull. She figured if Ford could do it, she might be able to get away with it too. There were bigger stumbling blocks than brain death when it came to the Oval Office. Devlyn decided that if she had to remove Candyís hand from some part of her anatomy just one more time, she was going to have to throw Ďpoliteí out the window and simply kick Candy out on her ass.

"TheÖ ummÖ China Room is this way." Dev gestured again.

As the pair entered from one side, Dev was more than relieved to see Lauren enter from the other doorway. Then the fact that she was with a woman registered just a millisecond behind that. What in the hell? A woman! Casey is a woman? "Lauren, youíre home." It slipped out before Dev could get her lips and brain in sync with each other. The one thing that her mouth and brain could readily agree on, however, was to smile at Lauren. Which she did, quite readily, despite the fact that she felt hurt. It was clear that Lauren liked women. Just not her. Whoever didnít get me that FBI report is going to be looking for a new job come Monday.

"Hi, Devlyn." Lauren smiled warmly at the President, but threw a look of solid ice at the attractive woman standing next to her. "I donít believe Iíve met your friend."

"Oh, yeah." And what does this Casey woman have that I donít, Lauren Strayer? "Uh, Lauren, may I present Dr. Candice Delaney? Dr. Delaney, this is Ms. Lauren Strayer, the very talented young woman who is writing my biography."

Candy slipped a possessive arm through Devís, only to have the tall woman shift away. She gave the President an annoyed look, and then offered her hand and a catty smile to Lauren, instantly sniffing the blonde out as her competition. "Nice to meet you, Ms. Strayer. I have some great Dev Marlowe stories from college," her voice was condescending, "if you need them."

Candyís Bostonian accent grated on Laurenís nerves like fingernails running down a blackboard. "Nice to meet you, too. And I see Devlyn everyday. I donít need any old stories. Sheís perfectly willing to tell me anything I want to know." The smile she gave Dr. Delaney was every bit as catty as the one sheíd received. "Iím sure that Dev was pleased with how well youíve held up over the years."

Dev snorted, but tried to cover it by pretending to cough. Then she got a good look at the woman with Lauren, who hadnít so much as given her the time of day, and whose eyes were feasting on Candy like she wasÖ well, a piece of candy. "Uh, Lauren, you havenít introduced us to your friend." Dev shifted her gaze back and forth between the two women, hoping to hell Lauren would pick up on it.

But Lauren was too busy mentally cataloging every reason that Candy Delaney wasnít nearly good enough for Devlyn to notice. It wasnít until Dev repeated her question that Lauren said, "Madam President, may I introduce Casey Dennis, Lizaís cousin?"

Casey completely ignored Dev and continued to stare lustily at Candy. "Please tell me youíre not the Dr. Candice Delaney," she said in awe. "I read your article on crabs last year, and I havenít been able to pee in a public restroom since." Caseyís brown eyes grew moist, and her voice trembled. "You are... I mean, it was magnificent."

An enormous smile split Candyís face, and she openly appraised Laurenís date. "Why, thank you very much, Ms. Dennis. Tell me, are you in the field?" Candy stepped past Dev, and offered her limp hand to Casey."

"Oh, yeah!" Lauren said, almost too loudly. "Casey has a fascinating job, and she just loves to talk and talk about it."

Casey nodded enthusiastically. "It would be a honor to discuss my passion with someone as accomplished as you."

Lauren turned her best southern charm on Casey for the first and last time this evening. "Casey, darliní, maybe you could give Dr. Delaney a ride back to her hotel?"

"Iíd be delighted." Casey grinned dumbly.

"Well," Dev clapped her hands together in sheer joy. "Iím glad thatís settled. Jack!"

A young Secret Service agent popped into the room. "Yes, Madam President?"

"Would you please show Ms. Dennis and Dr. Delaney out?"

"ButÖ"

"Donít worry, Jack. Iíll be going back to the residence, and I doubt that Ms. Strayer is out to hurt me."

"Yes, maíam. Right this way, ladies." The young man gestured, and the two women were so wrapped up in talking with each other they barely mumbled a hasty goodnight to their original dates.

Lauren and Dev both held their breath until the women were gone. After a few seconds, they sighed in unison.

"Thank God," Dev mumbled

"Amen to that," Lauren agreed.

"What does Casey do for a living?"

"Morgue attendant."

Dev suddenly took a big step away from Lauren. "Well, eeeewwww," she teased.

* * *

Dev and Lauren started back to the residence. Dev stared at her shoes as she walked. She hated that seeing Lauren with another woman hurt. But it did. A lot, actually. She was feeling anger as well. Anger that she didnít have a right to. Lauren hadnít done anything wrong. So she was obviously only interested in Dev as a friend. Thatís my problem not hers. Dev shoved back the disappointment that stung her heart and threatened to give her away by leaking from her eyes. She cleared her throat, determined to try and salvage a little of her evening and spend it withÖ her friend.

"Umm, Lauren?"

"Hmm?" Lauren stopped walking and faced Dev. She looked up into eyes brimming with sadness andÖ something else. And she felt a twinge deep in her chest. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah." Dev smiled softly. "I, umm, well I didnít really get much to eat tonight. Donít suppose youíd like to come back to the residence with me. We could order up a couple of corned beef sandwiches and maybe watch a movie orÖ orÖ something." And then I can torture myself all night with something Iíll never have.

Lauren felt a genuine, heartfelt smile stretch her lips for the first time that night. "Iíd love to." That earned her a broad grin from Devlyn, and both women started for the residence once again. "Dev, I cannot believe I was ditched by Casey!"

"Iím sorry. Did you really like her?" Twist the knife, Dev.

"Right," Lauren snorted indignantly. "Give me more credit than that please."

Dev sighed inwardly. Even if Lauren didnít care for her the way she cared for Lauren, she didnít want to see her friend hurt. "Yeah, well, can you imagine how I feel?" she teased. "The biggest slut Iíve ever met just dumped me..."

"The President of the United States," Lauren chimed in for effect, grateful that Devlyn was taking this all in stride.

A dark eyebrow rose, but Dev continued. "... for a morgue clerk. Not a great evening for my ego."

Lauren chuckled. "No. I suppose not." Devís hand brushed hers as they walked, and she wondered for a brief moment what would happen if she reached out and took it. "Can I ask you something?" she said in a soft voice.

Dev smiled, placing her hand gently on the small of Laurenís back as they climbed a short flight of stairs. "Why would you stop now? You know you can ask me anything."

"You didnít seem very surprised that Casey was a woman. Were you?" She smiled wryly. Like I was.

For a moment Devlyn didnít know what to say. Somehow, she didnít think it was a good idea to tell Lauren she had nearly swallowed her damned tongue. "Well, I mean, I was surprised." The words tumbled out nervously. "But what was I supposed to say? ĎGee, Lauren, didnít realize youíd gone all lesbian on me.í"

Lauren slid off her glasses and tucked them into the front pocket of her blouse. "I didnít realize that I had either." She held her breath, waiting for Devís reaction.

"See, there you go. It would have been rude for me to point it out in front of your date." What do you mean, you didnít realize?

Lauren laughed weakly. "Yeah, I guess it would have."

"So, um, this was your first date with a woman?" Please donít let me be totally misunderstanding this conversation.

Lauren nodded as Dev opened the door to the living room and ushered her inside.

Blue eyes widened a little. "Wow."

"Yeah, wow. I guess Iíve always known there was some interest there," Lauren clarified, wanting to be honest. "This was just my first actual date... that, um... didnít include a man." She could sense Dev was upset about something, and she wasnít sure if that Ďsomethingí was her.

Dev grunted with satisfaction at the softly lit room and the fireplace, which was already burning. She chewed on the inside of her lip as she reached for the house phone. She was dying to hear more from Lauren, but it seemed so personal. Dev kicked off her shoes, then removed her jacket. "Yes, send up two corned beef sandwiches with all the trimmings." She paused and looked at Lauren. "What do you want to drink?"

"Beer. And since Iím being brave and asking you outright, does it bother you that I like women?" Something is bothering you. You always chew your lip like that when youíre upset.

Dev took a deep breath. "Send up an ice bucket full of beer, too." Iím gonna need it. She put the phone down and put her fists on her hips. "Why would it bother me? I like women too, in case you hadnít noticed."

Lauren shrugged, her insecurity showing. "I dunno, Devlyn. Weíre friends, right?" She looked up at the older women with an expression so open it was nearly painful in its intensity.

Dev sighed and took a seat next to Lauren on the sofa. "Iíd really like to think we are. Iím... well, Iím very fond of you." She really wanted to pull the young woman into her arms and just hold her until they both felt better. "I always have such a good time when weíre together. And, God, I was so miserable tonight. Then, when I saw you, I wanted toÖ" Kiss you senseless, she finished silently. Of course, Iíd probably have a heart attack before I got the nerve up to try it. But itís still a nice thought. "Well, letís just say Iím really glad weíre here now."

Lauren let out a shuddering breath and felt every ounce of tension leave her body. "Thatís how I feel too, Devlyn. I just wanted to make sure that that wouldnít change after you saw me with Casey." Lauren pushed off her shoes and tucked her legs underneath her until she was sitting Indian style. "So, do you want me to tell you about my horrendous evening? Or would you like to start?" She leaned back, her eyes twinkling gently. You are so stupid, Lauri. This is where you should have been all along.

 

Saturday, April 10th

 

When her alarm went off, Laurenís hand crept out from under the comforter and she slapped it silent. Then her hand retreated back under the warm thick blankets with the rest of her body. Wonder what it would take to keep her in bed for just one morning? She groaned and tossed back the covers, rolling over to look at the clock. Five A.M. on a Saturday morning. It just doesnít get any more disgusting than this. "Ughhh, the gym today. Thank God, weíre not jogging."

She briefly contemplated covering back up and playing hooky when Grem crawled up from the foot of the bed and placed his head on her stomach. "Yeah, yeah, I know, Grem. If you canít take the heat, you shouldnít be in the kitchen.

"But at least this is your favorite day of the week. In a few hours those kids will be here just begging for you to come out and play, so they can spoil you rotten." Gremlin growled contentedly as his mistress rubbed his belly. "And Iíve got two phone interviews set up for some of Devlynís old High School teachers. That should be interesting, huh?" She pictured an adolescent Devlyn, all gangly arms and legs, tall, and sparkling baby blue eyes. A smile came to her lips unbidden.

Lauren gave her pal a long scratch behind the ears, trying to find the energy to get up and pull her sweats on so she could go watch Dev sweat. Not that she minded that part. She laughed softly.

Her attention was drawn away from her pooch by a loud commotion in the hallway. Not once since she had been here in residence had she heard anything like it. It sounded like the world was coming to an end. Lauren jumped out of bed and pulled a robe on over her pajamas. Haphazardly, she ran her hands through her hair and grabbed her glasses from the nightstand on the way to the door.

The hallway was teeming with dark-suited Secret Service agents. She stuck her head out, and a hand reached out to stop her, until the agent recognized her and allowed her to step out into the hall.

Mixed in with the Secret Service were medical personnel. They were dragging or carrying armloads of equipment into Devís bedroom. For a brief moment, Lauren could have sworn her heart stopped.

"Whatís..." She cleared her throat and tried again. "Whatís going on?" She pulled her robe closed at her throat and ordered her stomach to stop roiling in protest at what her eyes were seeing.

"The President wonít be going out today, Ms. Strayer. You may go back to bed if youíd like."

"I didnít ask if she was going out. I asked what was going on."

"Iím not at liberty to say, Ms. Strayer." Michael Oaks gave her a frosty smile. They had stopped pretending they liked each other a long time ago. "And even if I were, itís none of your concern."

A Secret Service agent tapped Michael on the shoulder, and his attention shifted away from the biographer.

Lauren tried to peer around the milling men, but she wasnít tall enough to see into the outer room that led to Devís bedroom. She grabbed another agent as he shuffled past. "What is going on?! Is she okay?"

He only shrugged and then continued on his way.

Gray eyes flicked from face to face, and she heard more raised, panicky voices from inside Devlynís room. Then she did the only thing she could think of...

Lauren started screaming at the top of her lungs. "Emma!" She knew that if something was wrong with Dev, the nanny would be close by.

The men around her jumped back as though she were insane. And, from the look on Laurenís face, more than a few of them were sure that that was, indeed, the case. They knew better than to touch her, however. For something like that, President Marlowe would likely have them transferred to the North Pole to guard Santaís ass.

Emma rushed out into the hallway to see what had happened now. "What in the world is the matter?" she asked, trying to grasp why Lauren was yelling at the top of her lungs.

Lauren immediately stopped and composed herself. She was a little lightheaded from her exertion. "Whatís wrong with Devlyn? No one will tell me a damned thing!"

"Didnít you tell her?" Emma looked to Michael Oaks. Her tone was scolding.

"Somebody tell me!"

"Címon inside." Emma shook her head sadly. "You need to see this for yourself."

Lauren braced herself for the worst. She swallowed hard and followed Emma into the confusion.

Dev opened her eyes. Is that Laurenís voice? Then she saw a fair head in the crowd outside her room. A very raspy voice gave the low order. "Make way for the lady."

The flurry of motion around the bed ceased for just a moment as the doctors and nurses parted and allowed Lauren to take a seat on the bed. Without thinking twice, she took Devís clammy hand in her own and squeezed gently.

She heard the doctors talking to Dev, but only got about every other word. Her eyes and her mind were firmly focused on the sick woman. Lauren was about to ask Dev what was wrong when a doctor said, "Madam President, weíre going to start an IV." He set down two large test tubes full of crimson blood that heíd drawn from Dev only seconds before. "Youíre going to feel another prick."

Laurenís stomach twisted. The thought of Devlyn being impaled by a sharp object was every bit as distressing as if theyíd informed her that she herself was next. Shivering, she tore her eyes away from the test tubes.

The doctor stepped forward, but was stopped dead in his tracks by Devís grumpy bark. "Get that damned needle away from me." Canít you see youíre freaking out Lauren? Devís bleary eyes focused on Laurenís robe, and the pajamas that were peeking out. God, are those pink elephants on her pajamas? Could she be more adorable? I wonder what sheíd think if I invited her to a slumber party. "This is food poisoning, not the plague. I donít need any IVs." She motioned weakly toward the tank next to the bed. "Or oxygen."

Lauren cringed at the words Ďfood poisoningí, fully knowing how miserable that was, but totally bewildered by the staff around Devlyn who were acting as if she were on her deathbed. She expected the flag outside the White House to be flying at half-mast. Lauren put her face in her hands. "Food poisoning?" she breathed somewhat shakily, reassuring herself that it wasnít any more serious. She willed her heart to resume beating.

"Morniní, Mighty Mouse. You sure do know how to get attention when you want it."

Lauren smiled weakly and stroked Devlynís palm with her fingertips. "Well, I got tired of you hogging the spotlight all the time. And Iíll let the Mighty Mouse comment slide only because youíre sick. All this," she motioned around the room to the doctors and Secret Service agents, "scared the crap out of me, you know."

Dev rolled her eyes. God, people overreacted around you when you were President. "Sorry about that. And Iím not really sick. Itís just a ruse to get the day off." But her pale face told a different story.

A tiny, unexpected laugh escaped Laurenís throat. "How are you feeling?" she asked gently. But before Dev could answer, she broke in. "And I want an honest answer, Devlyn."

"Been up the entire night, worshipping the porcelain Goddess. How do I look?"

"Like crap."

"Funny, I donít feel that good."

Laurenís brow creased with worry. Dev did look terrible. She glanced up at one of the doctors. "Itís just food poisoning, right?" She knew she was being nosey. But she couldnít help but worry.

The doctor, a short, middle-aged man with a bald head and slightly protruding belly, looked annoyed that Lauren had interrupted the notes he was making on Devís chart. He pulled two labels from a small packet and placed them on the Presidentís blood samples, deliberately ignoring the interruption.

Devís brows creased, and she turned her head. "Doctor?"

"Yes, Madam President?" he answered immediately, giving Dev his undivided attention.

"Ms. Strayer just asked you a question. It would be in your best interest to answer her. Right now!" Dev growled, pale eyes flashing with sudden anger.

The writer and doctor jumped, and the man fumbled with the tubes in his hands before settling them on the tray. "The President appears to have a serious case of Salmonellosis, which is commonly referred to as Ďfood poisoningí. We believe the culprit was the shrimp from her dinner last night. The blood work is just a precaution."

Lauren nodded slowly, trying not to lose her temper at the doctorís rudeness. They donít owe you an explanation. Get that through your head. "Thank you." She turned back to Dev and smiled sympathetically. "If youíd seen what I ate on my date last night, youíd never believe that youíd be the one who was sick in bed."

A nurse approached Dev with a long needle and a tourniquet once again. "Iím sorry, Madam President. Iím afraid we need one more sample. One of your doctors just requested another series of tests be run." She shifted uneasily, not missing Laurenís wide-eyed stare. "This will need to go to a different lab. Thatís why we need another sample."

"Oh, all right." Dev held out her arm.

The color drained from Laurenís cheeks. "Youíre going to... right now..." Darkness invaded her peripheral vision, and her eyes rolled back in her head as she bonelessly lurched forward onto Devlyn.

Dev looked down at the woman who had passed out right in her lap. She grinned tiredly at the doctor. "I swear to you, doc, this is not the normal reaction to being in bed with me."

The doctor rolled his eyes and ordered the nurses to pull the limp blonde off the President. Dev chuckled and told them just to get Lauren settled next to her. The bed was queen-sized, and Dev wasnít quite ready to give up her hand. It made her feel better to know Lauren was close.

On Devís orders, reluctantly, one by one, the medical personnel and staff filed out of the room. Emma raised a sharp eyebrow at Dev and, with a nod from the President, left the door open a crack before leaving. After the blood had been drawn, then, and only then, was the young woman brought around with a little help from an ammonia capsule.

Devlyn waved the powerful chemical capsule under Laurenís nose, and after only a few seconds, the shorter womanís head began to thrash. Confused eyes popped open, and she immediately sat up and looked around the room. She stared at Devlyn and then back at herself. "Weíre in bed together?"

Dev coughed and laughed. "Yes. But I assure you, your integrity is firmly intact, Ms. Strayer. You passed out in my lap."

"Oh, my God. I did, didnít I?" Her hands immediately went to her face, where she straightened her slightly askew glasses. Devlynís hand covered her own, and before she knew it the glasses were slid off and placed on the nightstand. "ThankÖ you." Lauren swallowed hard, feeling her stomach flutter, although this time it wasnít only because of worry.

Dev smiled gently. "Would you do me a favor?"

"Anything I can," Lauren answered sincerely.

Dev completely bit back the request she wanted to make of the young woman and trudged on with her second choice. "Well, you see, when Iím sick, Iím like the biggest baby in the world." She smiled sheepishly. "I hate to be alone. Emma is far too busy with the children to sit here and hold my hand. Would you stay with me? We could work on the book if you like."

Lauren nodded mutely. Of course she wanted to stay. If Devlyn hadnít asked, she would have offered. "But... um..." She gestured to their half-reclined, pajama-clad bodies. "Is this okay?"

Dev took a deep breath. "Well, I have to be here like this, but ummÖ" I canít believe Iím saying this. She looks so damn good with her hair all mussed and in her wrinkled pajamas. But I donít want her to be uncomfortable. "If you want to go get a shower and change, I think I can manage for a few minutes."

Lauren was vaguely disappointed, but Devlynís words caused her to suddenly feel self-conscious. "Youíre right. I donít know what I was thinking coming out of my room like this. I was just worried... and..."

Dev placed her fingers against Laurenís lips. "Iím glad you did. Thank you for being worried about me." Reluctantly, she pulled her hand back, struck by the softness of those coral lips.

"But itís just food poisoning, right?" Lauren asked warily, her eyes flicking to the various pieces of medical equipment that were sitting around the room. "Youíd tell me if it were more serious?"

"This is just a precaution. If I werenít the President, Iíd be left to my own devices just like any other normal human being. Theyíre not worried about me. Theyíre worried about their boss."

Lauren frowned. "Thatís not true." Iím worried about you.

Devís eyes started to grow heavy, and she wondered if the doctor had slipped a little something extra in her last dose of medication. "Sure itÖis. ButÖ youÖ careÖ" She couldnít help the fact that she was falling asleep right in the middle of the conversation. But she had been up all night.

Lauren smiled softly and whispered, "Donít fight it."

Devlynís eyes immediately slid closed, and the dark-haired woman let out a slow, deep breath.

Lauren lifted their intertwined fingers, looking at them as though she had forgotten she was holding Devlynís hand. She pulled up the covers and smoothed them around the taller womanís body, then glanced at the nearly closed door. Do it. You know youíve wanted to since you walked into the room. ĎLonger than thatí, her mind whispered stubbornly.

Refocusing on Devlyn, she tenderly brushed the Presidentís cheek with her knuckles before dropping a soft kiss on the warm skin. "Pleasant dreams, Devlyn. Iíll be here when you wake up." Lauren snuggled back into her own side and allowed her eyes to flutter closed. A gentle peace stole over her as she dropped off to sleep.

* * *

Lauren woke well before Dev. She lifted her head and looked at the woman. Instinctively, she raised her hand and checked Devís forehead for fever. She was relieved to find it cool, not only because she didnít like the thought of Dev being sick, but she wasnít really sure if she could tell whether she had a fever or not.

Lauren moved away slowly, not wanting to wake the President, and retrieved her glasses from the nightstand. Carefully, she climbed out of the bed and started for her own room. She paused briefly to speak the Secret Service agent and the nurse seated outside the room. "Iíll be back in a few minutes. Please let her know if she wakes up in the meantime."

The nurse nodded. "Yes, Ms. Strayer."

As Lauren walked away she heard a comment pass between the people she had left behind. "Not sleeping together, my ass."

Lauren turned on her heel and marched up to the Secret Service agent and the nurse. She opened her mouth to deny the rumor, but stopped herself before saying a word. Her mouth clicked closed, and her lips curved into a delighted, borderline shit-eating grin. She winked. "You donít know the half of it." Then her tone cooled. "And you never will. So instead of spending your time gossiping, why not do your jobs before you end up as a security guard at Sears and an orderly at the morgue?" Itís not like I donít know someone there now, she thought wryly.

Squaring her shoulders, she marched back to her room, not quite believing what sheíd just done. She took the fastest shower known to man, threw on her sweats, grabbed Grem up for the quickest walk of his little life and returned to her room.

Lauren gathered her notebook and her laptop together and, with a quick nod, started back for Devís room. Just as her hand touched the knob, Gremlin began to whine. Her shoulders drooped, and she pressed her forehead against the door. "Come on, Grem. Not now. Not today. Please?" she mumbled, turning around. "Iíll buy you the biggest, fluffiest dog bed youíve ever seen if you just behave today."

The dog was not impressed. He bounded over to his mistress and flipped over on his back, presenting his belly for a good scratching.

Lauren blew out a frustrated breath and glanced at her watch. It was still too early for the kids to be up. "Okay, you can come with me, but you have to promise to behave. Devlyn doesnít feel well. No growling at her."

The dog rolled over happily, his tail wagging furiously.

"You little, snaggle-toothed extortionist," Lauren grumbled. "Címon. And I mean it. One growl and youíre history." She pulled open the door.

A nurse was just exiting Devís room to rejoin the agent outside the door. Lauren gave them a raised brow before she and Grem disappeared inside. After setting down her things, she moved to the bed to check on the President. Dev whimpered slightly, her head tossed from side to side. She seemed to be having trouble breathing, or she was gagging in her sleep, Lauren couldnít tell which.

"Devlyn?" Lauren peered down at the Presidentís ashen face.

Pale eyes blinked open.

"Hey." Lauren smiled. "Whatís wrong?" She quickly ran her fingertips over dry lips. "Is your throat sore, or are you thirsty?"

The brunette shook her head wildly and groaned piteously. "Laur... youÖ youíd better..."

Lauren leaned in closer to hear Dev better. "What is it?"

Devís entire body convulsed, and she leaned forward and heaved, throwing up all over Laurenís chest. Laurenís eyes went impossibly wide as warm, chunky liquid slowly slid down the front of her shirt, pooling in a great blob in her bra. She moaned, her own stomach furiously roiling at the rancid smell. "Oh, God! Ewwwwww!" She pawed at her shirt as Dev leaned forward again, and Gremlin ran out of the room. "No, you donít!" Lauren grabbed a basin from the nightstand next to Devís bed and thrust it in front of her just in time to catch round two.

After a moment that felt like ten lifetimes, Dev stopped retching and turned red, watery eyes on her friend. "Iím so," she paused, gagging momentarily on the taste of bile, "so sorry."

Lauren moved the basin back under Devís chin and left it there until she was sure the President was finished.

"I canít believe I did that."

The blondeís skin itched everywhere, and she couldnít believe sheíd lasted this long without puking herself. "Are you all right?" she managed, trying to hold her breath.

Devlyn nodded, too mortified and weak to do much else. "Sorry."

"Itís okay." Lauren stood up, consciously not looking down at her shirt. "Nurse!" she called to the woman, hoping sheíd hear her. She expelled a huge breath when the matronly woman quickly burst through the door. "Please see to the President. I needÖI need toÖ Iíll be back after I shower. Youíll be okay?" She pushed Devís bangs back from her eyes. Please say yes. Please say yes.

Even behind Laurenís revulsion, Dev could see her genuine concern. You are something else, Lauren. I could fall in love with somebody like you. "Yeah, Iím feeling much better now." She gave a weak grin. "Save time, use my shower. There are fresh clothes and robes in the closet. Take what you like. I owe you." Dev gestured behind Lauren. "Through that door."

Lauren could tell that Dev was in good hands as two more nurses entered the room and immediately got to work. They could handle getting Dev cleaned up. Which really wouldnít be that hard, considering sheíd thrown up all over Lauren, not herself. Lauren needed to get to the bathroomÖ fast.

She stood in the multi-jet shower in Devís bathroom. If it werenít for the completely disgusting circumstances that had brought her here, sheíd be impressed by this bathroom. But for now she was too busy scrubbing herself. She just wanted to get clean. Very clean.

Twenty minutes later she emerged, dressed in a set of Devís sweats which had to be cuffed several times Ė towel drying her hair. The clothes were big, but they were comfortable and after the recent turn of events she decided comfortable was good.

Lauren rentered Devlynís room without being stopped. She stood back and watched as the medical staff tucked Dev back into bed. They took away her toothbrush and a small basin, and propped her up against the headboard, putting several pillows at her back and head. Her bedding and pajamas had been changed, and she was looking much better. Even a hint of her normal color had returned to formerly pale cheeks. Thank goodness.

Lauren approached slowly.

A nurse fluffed the Presidentís pillow one last time. "Weíve given her a shot for the nausea."

"Better late than never," Lauren mumbled playfully, knowing Dev could hear her. "And thanks for doing it while I was gone." She was serious about that last part.

Soon Dev and Lauren were alone again. "So, have you used the puking thing to get women out of their clothes before?" Lauren teased. Then she took a seat on the bed next to Dev. "Next time, just ask."

Dev blushed fiercely, but quickly recovered. "Donít tease me. Iím not a well woman."

"Oh, trust me, I know. But at least we can find comfort in the fact that Candy is probably barfing all over Casey at this very moment."

Both women smiled broadly at the thought.

"I know something that will make me feel even better than that." Devís grin turned wicked. "Phone activate."

A soothing, female voice said, "Voice recognition system on. Activation code?"

"I am Devlyn Marlowe. Code: 18758OHIO6236ACA." Dev waited for the phone to verify her access code and recognize her voice.

Pale eyebrows lifted at Devís far more sophisticated phone set up. Sheís leaving it on speaker phone?

"Call David McMillian."

Why do I think David is in trouble?

After six rings David picked up his phone.

"David?" Dev smirked when the only sound she heard was a deep groan. "How you feeliní this morning, pal?"

"Iím dying, Dev," he whined, hoarsely.

"Yeah, me too, you pain in the ass. We got food poisoning from the shrimp last night; the shrimp you insisted the cook get specially for Candy Ďthe Slutí Delaney."

"Ohhh, God."

Dev could almost imagine David hiding under the covers of his bed. "The doctor says itíll pass in a few days, David. But you know what?"

He shook his head unhappily, then remembered there was no video link on this call. "What?"

"Youíll be in your office bright and early Monday morning."

"Yes, Madam President, you bitch."

Lauren burst out laughing and grabbed a spare pillow, pressing it against her face to muffle the sound. Oh, God. Only David could get away with that.

Dev chuckled. "And what will I be doing on Monday, you ask?" Dev continued cruelly. "Iíll be taking the day off and spending it in bed. Just me and my body pillow." And I might be lucky enough to continue enjoying the company of the beautiful, blonde biographer who is in my room right now. I wonder if I can make up enough stories about myself to fill up two days. Then Devís brain kicked into gear. What am I thinking? Iím a politician for Godís sake. No sweat.

David let off a few more choice words that nearly had Lauren in tears.

"See you Monday. Oh, and did I mention that you can take the Secret Service on their run? They get all twitchy without it."

Another loud groan.

Dev laughed wickedly. "Phone call ended. Code: 18758OHIO6236ACA." She turned to Lauren, who was shaking her head and smiling at Devís antics. She shrugged only somewhat guilty. "Sometimes itís great to be President."

Chapter 5

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