Madam President

Madam President

Chapter VI

June 2021

Tuesday, June 1st

Dev sat with her head hanging between her knees. She was panting slightly as her physical therapist stood back and made notes on the Presidentís chart. The therapist was young and fit and a rising star in his field, having earned the glowing recommendations from Devlynís leading physicians. The man took a breath and girded his mental loins before turning back to face the tall woman straddling the weight bench. They were about two-thirds of the way through their rehabilitation routine for Devís shoulder and hip and he could clearly read the lines of exhaustion and pain on his patientís face. Things were about to get ugly.

"Madam President?"

"What?" she growled, not bothering to lift her head. Sweat was dripping from her forehead and chin onto the vinyl-covered bench between her legs.

"We need to do another set to work your arm." The therapist looked up to see Lauren slipping quietly into the room.

Lauren closed the door behind her and motioned for the man not to alert Devlyn of her presence.

"Donít want to." The President shook her head, grimacing at the bolt of pain even that small movement caused her stressed muscles. "Weíre done for the day."

"Maíam, you have a routine that we need-" He ducked just in time for a small water bottle to sail past his head.

"Fuck the routine! I said weíre done for the day!" Devís shoulders slumped even further. "Now leave me alone," she whispered, ignoring the twinge of guilt she already felt over her outburst.

Lauren cleared her throat, causing two sets of frustrated eyes to swing her way. "Hi. Itís Julio, right?" The blonde extended her hand to the therapist. "Iím Lauren Strayer."

The young man smiled and moved several steps towards Lauren to take her hand. "Nice to meet you, Ms. Strayer. I was just on my way out. Iíll be outside if you need me."

Lauren watched as the therapist made a hasty exit. She decided to ignore Devís mini-meltdown. Lauren had been meaning to come to one of Devís sessions earlier. But something always seemed to come up. Be honest, Lauri. You donít want to see her in pain. And you donít know what to say to her after tearing out of the hospital like an idiot a couple of weeks ago. Youíre embarrassed to face her in private.

The writer slowly padded to a bench near Dev and sat down. She studied the President carefully. Other than a quick initial glance, the older woman hadnít even acknowledged her presence. Devís face was flushed and drawn. And it was clear that she was hurting. Laurenís thoughts turned to Devís would be assassin, Louis Henry. The little bastard.

When it was clear that the President wasnít going to say anything, Lauren blew out an unhappy breath. "Hello, Devlyn," she drawled softly. "Are you finished for the day?" She cocked her head to the side. "Liza said youíd be going for at least another half an hour or so."

"Liza was wrong." Dev self-consciously wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "Thatís the beauty of being the President Ė I can tell people to fuck off and they actually have to do it."

Lauren sat up a little straighter at Devlynís choice of words. "I see," she answered seriously. "And does that include me as well?"

Dev shot Lauren a contrite look and shook her head. "No."

Lauren watched as the President tried to make a fist with the arm that had been injured. She couldnít do it. "Iím just tired." Her voice was resigned. "And it hurts a lot."

Lauren had to sit on her hands to keep from literally reaching out for Dev. She wasnít sure it would be welcomed and she was already treading on dangerous ground. "I know it does. But thereís something else Iíll bet you didnít know."

"What?" Dev reached for her sling and looped it over her head.

"Youíre the strongest person Iíve ever met." Lauren stood up and moved behind Dev, carefully tugging long hair out from under the slingís strap. "And youíre not a quitter." Okay, this is where she blasts you for not understanding what sheís going through. Lauren closed her eyes and waited.

"Iím not as strong as you think, Lauren. Iíve been through an awful lot and Iím just damned tired. I only want to go to my room and go to bed."

Okay, that didnít work. "And you can go back to your room and take a nap." She waited until she saw Devís head bob before adding firmly, "Right after you finish your physical therapy."

Dev looked up. "Excuse me? What happen to the Ďfuck youí factor?"

Lauren raised an eyebrow and gave Devís sling a little tug. "It was just trumped by the ĎLauren factorí. Go figure. Donít make me get tough with you, Devlyn. Southern women are relentless and youíll lose eventually." Gray eyes twinkled.

Dev stared at her for a moment. Lauren was serious, but the words still held a teasing edge. It was something sheíd missed sorely the past few of weeks. "I knew somewhere along the line Iíd find someone who had the trump card. I always figured itíd be Jane or Emma though." Dev visibly squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. "I guess I should apologize to Julio for being a royal bitch, huh?" Dev eased her arm into the sling

"It couldnít hurt, Madam President." Way to go, Devlyn. "Iíll go tell him youíre ready to continue."

"ĎKay. Iím not going anywhere. Umm... thanks." Dev sat stock-still as Lauren walked away. She wanted Lauren to stay, but a bigger part of her didnít want Lauren to see her like this. Weak. Miserable. A disgusted look crossed Devís face. Most of all, she just wanted this day to be over.

Lauren paused at the doorway, waiting for any reason, any word from Dev that she wanted her to stay. After a few seconds she swallowed hard and opened the door. "The President is ready to continue her therapy, Julio." She smiled at him sympathetically. "Thank you for being so patient."

The man blushed and stared at his sneakers. "No problem, Ms. Strayer. Thatís my job." He glanced back up. "Sheís really hurting."

Laurenís brow creased with worry. "I know."

He inclined his head toward the gym. "You coming back?"

"Nah." Lauren pursed her lips before pushing her glasses up higher on her nose. "She doesnít need me." But I wish she did.

* * *

David entered the debriefing room just as the video of the assassination attempt ended on a freeze frame shot of the bloody stage floor. He shook his head. Why did they always stop it at that very second? His temper flared and angry brown eyes flickered around the room, landing on each man and woman before moving on and glaring at their next target.

"How in the hell did that happen!" He pointed at the video image. "Would somebody like to tell me why the President of the United States is currently undergoing physical therapy to heal her three bullet wounds?" David bolted across the floor and slammed his fists hard on the long table where the agents sat. "Well?"

The silence was deafening and not a single agent could meet Davidís glare. He angrily tugged at his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. "Get comfortable, ladies and gentlemen, because no oneís leaving this room until I have the answers I want," he boomed.

Several agents flinched.

David took his jacket off and tossed it onto a couch. With quick, angry tugs he rolled up his sleeves. "I want to know how a fifteen-year-old kid got a gun in the first place. How he got it into that high school." Davidís already red skin tone turned an angry shade of scarlet. "And how he managed to get it and himself in perfect position to kill the President of the United States! God dammit, I want to know why he did it!"

An older man at the end of the table drew in a deep breath and rose to his feet before speaking.

Davidís jaw worked. "Yes, Agent Rothsberg?"

"It was a hate crime, sir," he began tentatively.

"Speak up!"

"A hate crime, sir." His voice was a little more solid this time. "The suspect tried to shoot the President because she is a woman and a lesbian." The agent pushed a file towards David, sending it sliding down the glossy tabletop.

"He didnít try," David barked, "he did shoot the President. Several times!"

The agent nodded quickly. "Yes, sir. All the information we have is in there." He pointed to the file David was now holding. "Thatís the latest intelligence."

David picked up the file and thumbed through it. "He very nearly succeeded in killing her." The Chief of Staff continued to chastise as he read. "Which one of you in here wants to have to confess that it was on their watch that the President of the United States got killed? Because if we continue to be this sloppy, thatís exactly whatís going to happen!"

David yanked an empty chair out from under the table and gracelessly plopped down in it, his nose still buried in the file. "Hell, itís been almost sixty years since Kennedy died. I guess most of those guys are dead now too. Trying to fill their shoes? You all had better hope that the investigation proves that kid got lucky." He closed the file. "Because if I find out any of you were lacking in your sworn duty to protect the President, or that you in some way made the attempt possible..." The rest of the threat remained unspoken, but was crystal clear.

Deep brown eyes traveled to every face in the room. All David saw was sadness, embarrassment and regret, which actually made him feel a little bit better. For now he could believe that the kid had gotten lucky. But this couldnít happen again. Somehow, someway, they would find where they had made their mistake. There might not be a second chance.

"Video rewind," David commanded. "Okay, kiddies, here we go again. Weíre gonna watch it over and over again until I know where everyone was and what they were doing when our President was struck down. Video start."

Friday, June 4th

Dev groaned as she eased herself back down into the bed and propped her cane against the wall. Her hip still hurt like hell and she missed not being able to run or work out. She wondered if anyone would be surprised when she pulled her sling off and choked several people with it. Probably not, she mused silently, knowing full well she could be a royal bitch when she didnít feel well. But since sheíd lost her cool with her physical therapist, sheíd tried her best to rein in her frustration. Maybe sheíd only choke one person.

She sighed as the warm sun spilled into the room through the tall windows that stretched from floor to ceiling. Devlyn was recovering in the Solarium, which also happened to be her favorite room in residence. Ironically enough, it was in this very same room that President Reagan had recuperated after being shot some 40 years before.

Devlynís gaze strayed out the window. Well, Iím the first American President of this century that someone hated enough to try and murder. Too bad it was some woman/lesbian hating punk that did it. He doesnít even care about my politics! her ego squawked indignantly.

Liza strode in through the open door and past two Secret Service agents so she could drop a pile of folders onto a table next to Dev. "If you feel up to it, Madam President, you really need to look through these and sign off on them."

Dev snatched up the first folder, happy to be able to wallow in something besides self-pity. "Iíd be happy to do that. Iíll have them for you by dinnertime."

Liza smiled. Jane had insisted she give Devlyn something to do so sheíd stop terrorizing the entire White House staff. As usual, the Presidentís long time secretary knew best.

"Laurenís gone to get the kids. Weíre going to spend a few minutes with them in here." Or at least I am. I dunno if Lauren will stay. Seems like since I got shot sheís almost afraid to be around me. Not that I can blame her. Who wants to walk next to a target? I might as well have a big red bullseye tattooed on my ass. And then I had to go and pry into her familyís private affairs. If she wanted to talk to me about her mother she would have. Good going, moron. Fuck. So much for ditching the self-pity.

"Thatís wonderful news." Liza looked at her watch. Ever since she set up Lauren with Casey, sheíd been avoiding the writer like the plague. Sheíd heard from Emma that Lauren was after her Ďno good Yankee ass.í Liza wasnít quite sure what that meant. But she was pretty sure it was bad. Very bad. But at least Casey was happy. She and Candace Delaney were getting married in the fall!

Liza handed Dev a pen and looked nervously towards the doorway. "Should I have the call from the British Prime Minister transferred up here?" She began edging her way out. "Itís a social call but he may want to discuss the State Dinner coming up in September for His Majesty."

Dev nodded absently. "Sure. Iíll probably spend the rest of the afternoon in here. So transfer everything up here thatís not classified."

"Yes, Maíam." Liza turned to leave as the children came barreling in and skidded to halt just before they crashed into their Momís bed. She scooted around Ashley, purposely avoiding Laurenís evil gray gaze as they passed each other just outside the room. Liza winced when she heard a growl. Gremlin or Lauren? Did it matter?

The children were careful to mind their motherís injuries but still gave her enthusiastic hugs and kisses before settling down with coloring books and crayons. Ashleyís Secret Service agent, Amy, joined them on the carpet, leaving Dev and Lauren to talk quietly in the corner.

"I wanted to thank you for taking extra time with them these past few weeks," Dev said quietly, noticing that Lauren had taken a seat in the center of the couch instead of closer to the end and nearer to the bed.

Lauren twisted uncomfortably in her seat. Devlyn had already thanked her for this very thing. Several times.

Theyíd never discussed her bolting from Devís hospital room several weeks before, and ever since then things between them had been... she sighed inwardly... strained. Dev was on pins and needles around her; she wasnít doing much better. Their brief conversation during Devís therapy session two days ago had been the most theyíd spoken all week. Silences that were once comfortable now felt uneasy. And at the moment, it was painfully obvious that Devlyn was making small talk to avoid one of those silences. It was equally obvious that it was a strain for the older woman.

Lauren chewed her lip. This was her fault. She glanced apologetically at Dev. "I havenít minded spending the extra time, Devlyn." It was the truth. "The book will be better because of it. And I loÖ I meanÖ your kids are great."

Dev couldnít stop the grin that transformed her face. "Thanks. Theyíre all crazy about you. Except for Christopher, that is."

Lauren leaned forward and frowned. "Really?" Her gaze darted to the tow-headed boy sprawled out on the carpet. She looked back at Dev helplessly as her mind raced for what could have possibly happened that she didnít know about. They always got along great! "ButÖ butÖ"

"Heís not just crazy about you," Dev clarified, "heís madly in love with you and asked me the other day if you were married."

Lauren laughed. "Wow. You had me worried there! Did you tell him Iíd be available when he gets legal?"

Like hell you will. Dev smiled. This was going better than sheíd hoped. The banter that had been missing over the past few weeks was edging its way back. She hoped. "I most certainly did not. I want grandchildren and by then youíll be-"

"Not that much older than you are now!" Lauren crossed her arms over her chest and narrowed her eyes.

"Yeah. An old lady!" Dev winked and they both laughed softly.

Dev was determined to keep the conversation going. "From what I can squeeze out of David, he seems to think the book is going great so far. But he keeps threatening to reveal a few really embarrassing stories if I donít behave and do all my therapy." Her face colored when she remembered the last time they were together. "He always was a blackmailer at heart, and if heíd seen how I behaved the other day in the gym heíd have kicked my sorry ass."

Lauren made a face but didnít disagree.

"Iím sorry."

"You donít have-"

Dev stopped her with a stern look.

Lauren grinned and ducked her head graciously. "Apology accepted, Devlyn." Her gaze dropped to her lap for a moment before she changed the subject. She looked a little nervous. She wasnít sure how Dev would feel about the personal interviews she wanted. "Speaking of my progress on the book, I... um... I think Iíve done all the background research I can do from the White House."

Devís suddenly felt her heart stop and her throat close up tight. So much so, as a matter of fact, that she was having trouble breathing and had to clear her throat and take a drink of her coffee before she could speak again. She wondered briefly if her panic was showing on her face. God sheís gonna leave! She wants to move out. Think of something quick! "AhhhhÖ" Devís mind went absolutely blank for all of a horrifying second. "How about a chance to meet my parents!" she blurted out, a little faster and a lot louder than she meant to, but she didnít think her heart could take losing Lauren right now. Maybe in a few weeks when I feel better, but not now. Please, God, not now. I canít lose her, too.

Laurenís brow wrinkled and she stood up and crossed over to the bed. She hesitated for only a moment before sitting on its edge. She wanted to pat Devís leg or hold her hand. But she didnít. Instead, she trapped her hand under her own leg to keep it from roaming. "Whatís wrong, Devlyn?" Her concerned voice was soft and warm and made the President want to burst into tears.

"IÖ IÖ ummÖ was just thinking that, after everything that has happened, maybe a vacation was in order. My folks own a beautiful little cabin back in Ohio and we could have a few days off. The kids could see their grandparents and weÖ I mean, IÖ uhÖ well, we could get some rest and peace and quiet if you wanted to go with us. And my folks could be interviewed for the novel." Dev took a chance and let the back of her fingers graze Laurenís leg very lightly. If Lauren was going to leave she wanted to have every possible memory she could get.

At the word ĎOhioí, Ashley excitedly jumped up and ran to Devís bedside. "Grandma and Grandpa! Can we? Please, mom? That would be wonderful! Can we take Gremlin with us?"

Dev patted her little girlís back. "Yes, sweetheart," she chuckled. "Weíll go see them. But we can only take Grem if Lauren goes with us." The President smiled unrepentantly, knowing she was putting Lauren on the spot, but willing to use any advantage she could.

Laurenís lips quirked. "Very sneaky, President Marlowe. You know your kids get their way with me nearly as much as Gremlin." She tried not to laugh as Christopher, who was now standing at the foot of Devís bed with Aaron, nervously tugged at his glasses, waiting for her answer. Then she blinked. Did he pick that up from me?

Before Lauren could answer Dev, Aaron trotted over and climbed up into her lap, turning blue eyes that rivaled his motherís on the writer. The little boy, like his best buddy Gremlin, had no shame whatsoever when it came to manipulating Lauren. "Please," he asked pathetically. Laurenís head dropped forward and her shoulders started to shake with silent laughter. "Yes!" she crowed, happily. "Yes, Grem and I will come."

The children cheered and Aaron jumped off Laurenís lap to go play with his brother. His work here was done.

Lauren turned back to Dev, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat. She leaned into the fingers that were still lightly pressed against her thigh. "Iíd love to talk to your parents. Iíve been meaning to ask David to arrange an interview. But seeing you with them and talking to them in person will be so much better." She needs this. We all do.

Dev still had dark circles under her eyes, and sheíd lost weight over the last few weeks. But she was still the most beautiful woman Lauren had ever seen. "I think we could both use a vacation." She grinned. "Iíd love to get out the city for a while." With you.

Devís answering smile caused her to laugh out loud. Suddenly, her eyes took on added depth, and she lowered her voice so that only the President could hear her. She hesitated and glanced around the room. "We need to have a talk soon though, okay?" She inclined her head, waiting for Devís reply.

"Okay." Dev nodded, suddenly apprehensive. "Anything you want. Whenever you want it." She licked her lips. "Lauren, if Iíve done something to upset you, youíd tell me now, right?"

"No, I wouldnít," the blonde replied seriously. "Iíd rather do this alone."

The knot in Devís stomach tightened. "Son of a-" she stopped when she realized that the kids were only a few feet away. The phone rang and she let out a frustrated grunt. "Activate phone."

The image of the British Prime Minister began to take shape. "Madam President." He looked around and smiled. "I hope Iím not interrupting some family time. I was just concerned for you. How are you today?"

Devlyn went into full Presidential mode. "Well, to be honest, Prime Minister Hawkins, Iíve had better days. But Iím hoping things will turn around soon. And how are you and your family?"

Friday, June 11th

Dev, with the help of her cane, walked slowly down the hall. This was her first day back in the Oval Office after being shot. Even from her hospital room sheíd been performing her duties as Chief Executive, but this was her first Ďofficialí day back at work.

David and Sharon had done a wonderful job of keeping the press updated, and she was currently enjoying an approval rating near sixty-five percent. Damn, if heíd hit me with that fourth bullet Iíd either be dead or at eighty percent!

"Good morning, Madam President." Jane was already on her feet when Dev entered the outer office, having heard the rhythmic thumping of her cane as Dev progressed down the hall. Jane smiled and handed Dev what would be her first of six or seven cups of coffee.

A few feet behind Dev came Liza, her nose stuck firmly in her electronic organizer.

"Good morning, Jane." Dev did her best to smile despite the throbbing pain in her shoulder and hip. "Would you come into my office for a moment, please?"

"Of course."

The three women entered but Liza broke away from the other two, taking the mug out of Devís hand and setting it on the Presidentís desk. She immediately went to work on her half-day schedule, pounding away on her organizer with one hand while writing in Devís leather bound appointment book with the other.

Dev turned to Jane when the door clicked shut. She stepped forward and gave the woman a hug. "Thank you. Thank you for being a rock for my family again, Jane. I donít know what Iíd do without you."

Jane, who was never big on emotional scenes, gave Dev a warm hug and then pulled back. "Youíd leave your own head lying about if David, Emma and I didnít keep it fastened there."

The President rolled her eyes but quickly acquiesced. "Youíre absolutely right."

"And now Liza has earned her place on the roster as well, Devlyn. That girl doesnít earn nearly enough money for chasing around after you like she does."

Devís eyebrows jumped. "Youíre right again. I should send her some flowers, donít you think?" she asked in a whisper.

"What a grand idea, Madam President," Jane whispered back with a grin. "Iíll get right on that."

"Thank you." Dev turned toward her desk, then paused. "Oh, Jane?"


"Why donít you get yourself one of those ugly cactuses you like, too."

Jane huffed, "I may get two. And expensive ones at that!"

Dev grinned and shook her head as she listened to the older woman leave the Oval Office. The President gingerly settled down at her desk, taking time to look over her schedule and sip her coffee. "Liza, where did Lauren rush off to this morning? Do you know?" She propped her cane up alongside her desk, out of sight.

"Yes, Maíam." Liza winced slightly at the mention of the writerís name. "Ms. Strayer had several meetings on the Hill today. Doing interviews for the book with the congressmen and senators from Ohio, I believe."

"God, I hope everybody is in a good mood up there this morning," Dev mumbled as she signed her name to several documents. She paused, staring long and hard at the paper in front of her. "What the hell is this? A grocery list?"

Liza peered over Devís shoulder. "Itís the suggested menu for the State Dinner, Madam President."

"Ah, well give this back to the social secretary to go over. If she has any questions, have her direct them to Jane or even Beth McMillian. They make much better stand-ins for the First Lady than I do. Besides, as long as they donít serve sauerkraut, I donít care what we eat."

Lizaís eyes widened. "Iíll meet with Jane immediately."

Dev chuckled. "You do that, Liza."

The young woman took the file from Devís hand and handed her a half a dozen more.

Dev glared at her, but there was no real heat behind the look. She lifted a single dark eyebrow. "You get a perverse pleasure out of doing that, donít you?"

Liza smiled. "I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it might incriminate me."

"Oh yeah? Well, you havenít looked at your watch in at least ten seconds."

"I donít need to look at my watch to know that you have four minutes until the Chief of Staff and the special prosecutor arrive."

The smile slid from Devís face. She sighed and dropped her head forward onto her desk. "Do I have to?"

"Yes, Maíam, but look at it this way. Today is the last day for a week. This time tomorrow, you, the children, Ms. Strayer, and the McMillians will be on your way home to Ohio for a much deserved vacation."

"This is true. Tomorrow night, Lauren will no doubt be treated to my motherís pot roast."

Liza bit back a smile. How many times had the President already mentioned Lauren this morning? "Is it good?"

Dev read over another paper before answering. "I never said that." She signed her named, never looking up.

Laughing, Liza excused herself just as David and a tall, dark-haired man entered the Oval Office. David moved over to Devís desk and leaned forward, bracing his hands on the deskís edge. "Liza looked pretty happy. Glad to see you havenít lost your ability to make people laugh."

"That was pity, my friend. She knows weíre having dinner with my folks tomorrow night."

Davidís eyes grew wide and he crossed himself. Twice. "Is your Mom cooking?" He gulped. "If she is, I need to tell Beth to pack the antacid."

"Well, thatís the threat currently hanging over our heads, old buddy. Her world famous pot roast. And donít even think of backing out now. You know it would hurt her feelings." She closed the last folder and looked up at the man quietly waiting behind David. She started to stand, but David motioned her back down.

Dev grunted her thanks and interlaced her fingers. "So, gentlemen, I take it youíre here to discuss the prosecution of a fifteen-year-old boy."

"Madam President," David began, "this is special prosecutor William Miller."

"Mr. Miller." Dev extended her hand, they shook formally, then the President gestured. "Please have a seat."

The slim man unbuttoned his suit coat and carefully dropped into one of the wing back chairs that sat in front of Devís massive desk. David was already in the other one. "Thank you, Madam President."

Dev pressed an intercom button. "Jane could you have someone-"

"Send up a tray of coffee? Itís on its way, Madam President."

"Of course it is. Iím sorry I doubted you, Jane."

David winced at Devís faux pas. Jane never forgot coffee and cookies.

"Itís the painkillers. I forgive you," she chuckled from the other end of the intercom.

"Thanks so much." Devlyn looked at David who gave her a disapproving look. "Can I help it if Iím addicted to coffee? Thatís got to be why Emma makes me drink a glass of milk every night. Sheís trying to coat the hole in my stomach." She leaned back in her chair, took a deep breath, and studied both men seriously. "So tell me whatís going on with this young man."

"We intend to prosecute him to the fullest extend of the law, Madam President," Miller stated authoritatively as he removed a file from his briefcase.

"What about the people who put the gun in his hand and taught him how to use it?" David took one of the files offered to him, flipping through it. "A boy doesnít materialize a handgun out of nowhere. He stole it, bought it, or it was given to him. He had help."

Miller nodded. "We are looking for accomplices, sir. But so far we havenít come up with anything."

"Good. Because I want everyone who had a hand in this brought to justice."

Dev crossed her arms. "David?"

"Yes, Madam President?"

"Suppose he did it on his own. No law against being a bigot."

"But there is one against attempted murder," David shot back. "And whereíd he get the gun? That person is responsible too, Dev."

Special Prosecutor Miller broke in. "The gun was purchased on the street. Itís been traced back to a small police department in Wyoming where it was stolen from an officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty. The gun is a complete dead end."

"Jesus." Dev let her head drop. "The gun has quite the history doesnít it?"

"Yes, Maíam, it does."

"You know," Dev said. "That gives me an idea." She reached over and scribbled a note on a pad.

"Your ideas can be dangerous, Dev," David mumbled. "Donít forget weíre going on vacation tomorrow."

"Iím not." Dev looked back up. "Mr. Miller, if the boy is prosecuted what kind of sentence can he expect to get?"


She blew out a disgusted breath and closed her eyes. "Such a waste." Heís not that much older than Ash. And his whole life is probably over.

"Dev, what that boy tried to do to you... Well, it isnít that different from what Ted Harris did to Sam." David shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He knew he was hitting below the belt by mentioning Samantha. But he could tell Dev was on the verge of doing something stupid, like publicly coming across as soft on what Louis Henry had done. It was one thing for her to appear sympathetic to the boyís parents, to his brothers and sisters, and the community that helped raise him. But it was quite another for her to openly act as though what he did could be forgiven. If she did, sheíd be opening the door for every nut in the world that wanted to take a pot shot at the President.

Saturday, June 12th

Lauren nervously wiped her hands on her jeans, shifting from one foot to the other as she stood outside the Presidentís office on Air Force One. Theyíd been in the air for forty-five minutes and sheíd finally mustered her courage, knowing that she couldnít put off this discussion with Devlyn for much longer. This had already been a month in coming and that was way too long.

Their friendship was suffering and she wasnít sleeping well because of it. Lauren hadnít realized how much she counted on the little intimacies between them until this awkwardness sprang up, robbing her of something sheíd come to want... maybe even need in her life. She felt foolish and guilty. Their relationship was slipping between her fingers like fine grains of sand and she was letting it happen. No more. I need to put this right.

Taking a deep breath, she lifted her hand and gave the door three light raps. There was no answer. She tried a second time. Still nothing. Thatís odd. I know sheís in there. Taking a chance, she quietly turned the handle and peered around the door. "Dev?"

Devlyn was lying asleep on the sofa with Laurenís very first Adrienne Nash novel fanned open on her chest as her gentle snores filled the room. The blondeís eyes softened and her heart swelled with affection as she took in the sight of the President sleeping curled up on the sofa, her chest rising and falling in a slow even pattern.

Lauren started to retreat when Dev cried out quietly and her eyes began to working beneath closed lids. "Donít," she whispered. "Please."

The writer hesitated for only a second, before clicking the office door closed behind her and crossing the room. She knelt on the floor next to Dev. "Devlyn," Lauren soothed. "Itís okay."

Devís arms began to thrash and she knocked the book that was lying on her chest onto the floor. "Please donít," she whimpered again as her breathing increased and she began to struggle weakly.

The urge to touch Devlyn was too strong to ignore, and Lauren reached out and laid warm hands on Devís arms, using her thumbs to stroke soft skin. "Everything is just fine, darliní. Youíre not alone. And itís only a dream." The thrashing stopped at once, and the older womanís short breaths began to lengthen and even out again.

Lauren gnawed her lower lip as she wondered what Devís nightmlare was about. Samantha? The shooting? Or something else perhaps. She smoothed a dark lock of hair off Devís forehead, careful of the still healing pink scar that ran along the left side of her forehead.

In this quiet, semi-private setting, with Devlyn asleep, Lauren felt comfortable indulging herself. She studied Devís relaxed face carefully, her eyes lovingly tracing every line and contour. God, you are so beautiful. Her gaze dropped to full, red lips and she felt herself drawn closer. A shock of pale hair tumbled forward and Lauren tucked it behind her ear as she leaned in and allowed the light scent of Devlynís shampoo and skin to wash over her sense. I need to kiss her. The familiar thought came unbidden. Only this time a sense of urgency was attached. If I donít kiss her, Iím going to die.

An unexpected patch of turbulence caused the plane to lurch slightly and Devís face twitched, her eyes fluttering open. She blinked, mildly alarmed until the face so close to hers came into focus.

Lauren immediately pulled away, her heart hammering in her chest. Oh yeah. I was going to do it. I was going to kiss her!

"Hi." Devís voice was rough with sleep. She leaned forward a little, rubbing her eyes with one hand and bracing herself with her good arm. "What are you doing in here?"

Lauren immediately stumbled to her feet. "Iím sorry," she said in a rush. "I knocked and there was no answer and-"

"Lauren," Dev stopped the younger womanís rush of words. Before Lauren could escape, Dev reached up and grabbed the writerís hand, holding it tightly. She sat up all the way, her eyes searching around for her book. "Iím glad youíre here."

Lauren reached down and fished it off the floor, wordlessly handing it to Dev.

Dev shrugged. "I was just reading."

Lauren chuckled at the deep creases the back of the sofa had made on one of Devís cheeks. She decided not to mention the nightmlare since Dev didnít seem affected by it. "I can see that." Lauren waggled her finger at Devís sleep-marked face. "I hope that isnít a reflection of the story."

"Oh, no!" Dev corrected her quickly, flushing slightly. "The first one is still one of my favorites." With a slight groan, she threw her feet over the edge of the sofa, making room for Lauren. She patted the cushion next to her in invitation.

Butterflies began to flutter wildly in the younger womanís belly. Apologize now, you coward, before another minute goes by. And then just kiss her.

"So," Dev prompted, purposely not letting go of Laurenís hand. Her body tensed in reaction to Lauren, who did not look happy.

"Yeah." Lauren exhaled slowly. "So."

Dev lifted her jaw. "What have I done to upset you, Lauren? Please tell me. Things havenít been the same between us since that day in the hospital." And itís killing me.

Laurenís shoulders slumped and she restlessly picked at the couchís navy-colored fabric. "You didnít do anything. I just... I just...."

"Are mad at me?" Dev ventured, bracing herself for Laurenís anger.

"No!" Laurenís brow furrowed and she shook her head. "Itís me, not you."

Devís lips formed a thin line. "Me, not you," she muttered. Thatís sounds like the kiss off. Sheís canít break up with me! Weíre not even together... like that. "What does that mean... exactly?"

Lauren licked her lips, letting out a slow breath. "It means you didnít do anything wrong. I need ... um... I need to apologize for running out on you in the hospital." Lauren felt a pang deep in her chest when she thought about what sheíd done. "You needed a friend and I just ran away," she admitted softly. "Iím so, so sorry."

"Hey." Dev scooted closer to her companion, though there was already almost no space between them. She forced herself not to flinch as she lifted her arm and wrapped it around Laurenís shoulder. It had only been out of her sling for a few days and she still had several weeks of physical therapy to go before it would be back to close to normal. "You didnít have to apologize. Iíve been worried about you."

Lauren voice was full of self-loathing, and she pulled away from the comforting embrace. "But I just left you after you sat through that horrible video!"

"That doesnít matter." Dev pulled her back.

"It does matter, Devlyn!"

"No, it doesnít. And if Iíd known thatís what was bothering you, I would have made that clear weeks ago."

Laurenís watery gaze lifted to meet Devís, and she found only genuine curiosity and concern shining in those pale blue eyes. There wasnít an ounce of anger. Or worse yet, the pity she feared sheíd find. "I see you everyday and I still miss you."

At the sweet words, Dev found herself gulping back tears. "I miss you too."

"That day I was embarrassed and ashamed." Lauren paused and then added, "And tired and angry."


Lauren nodded. "When you told me that you knew about Mama, it suddenly felt like you were spying on me. It was like all my familyís dirty laundry was being paraded in front of you whether I wanted it to be or not."

Dev winced at the truth of the words. Sheíd known Lauren was having trouble adjusting to life in a fish bowl. And her actions, though started with only the sincerest of intentions, hadnít helped much. "I... I... didnít mean for you to feel that way. I was worried about you. I only had David check into things so I could help." Devís gaze dropped to her lap. "I didnít mean to pry. I just wanted to be able to help if you needed me, but..." I couldnít go with you when I wanted to. I couldnít be there when you really needed a friend.

"I know." God, how can I explain this? "But itís so hard. Mama... my mother... I mean..." She let out a frustrated breath. "If Iíd been thinking straight I would have assumed that youíd find out what happened." Lauren winced, seeing flashes of her younger self and slashed wrists and a pool of dark crimson blood spreading across the floor in her mindís eye. "Itís so personal and ugly what she tried to do."

"Itís hard." Dev swallowed back the pain of her next admission. Sheíd never lied to Lauren and she wasnít about to start now. But this went beyond that. Her political mind wanted to say Ďoff the recordí but she believed deep down that Lauren wouldnít betray her trust and that that kind of lack of faith on her part would seal a future for herself without Lauren.

Devís face was deadly serious but her voice was still even and soft. "Some people just canít fight the urge. They want to escape. Lauren, Iím going to tell you something Iíve never told another living soul." She could feel the weight of Laurenís expectant stare, and slender fingers threaded themselves tightly between her own. Devlyn looked the smaller woman square in the eye. "When Sam was killed, I thought about it." Dark brows creased in thought. "I didnít know how to deal with the loss. I wouldnít, I couldnít find a place for the anger and pain and it started to overwhelm me. I couldnít breathe without it hurting. Every heartbeat was painful." The tears welling in Laurenís eyes nearly made her stop. But she didnít. "Somehow, after a long while, I found a way back. Through my children. But some people just canít fight."

Lauren squeezed her eyes shut. She had trouble picturing the strong woman beside her giving up on anything. But then she remembered the video image of Dev testifying at Theodore Harrisí sentencing hearing. Only one word came to mind. Broken. She was broken. But somehow, someone had fixed her. Or sheíd fixed herself. "But I canít help mama," Lauren whispered in anguish. "Iíve tried! My whole life Iíve tried and nothing works. Iím not enough." Nothing is ever enough.

Oh, Lauren. Donít do that to yourself. "Sweetheart, youíve helped her even if you donít know it. By growing up into such an intelligent, generous woman. By being there for her when she needed you, and by trying your best. Sometimes people just canít help what they do or how they feel. If you want, weíll hire new doctors to see her. They can try to help her. Maybe there is a new technique or medicine or-"

"Sheís got the best doctors I could find. My royalty checks are enough to see to that." Sweetheart? She let the word soak deep down inside her, balming spots made raw by worry and fear. She hasnít said something like that to me since she was in the hospital. "I appreciate your offer. But I donít think thereís anything you can help us with." She squeezed Devís hand. "Other than continuing to be my best friend."

Lauren sniffed, then smiled when she heard Dev doing the same thing. They were quite a pair. "After I ran out of the hospital, I felt like I wasnít enough to help you either. All you were doing was being kind to me. But all I could think about was running away." Lauren reached up and wiped away a shimmering tear that was hanging suspended in the corner of Devís eye, waiting to fall. "Iím so sorry about that," she whispered. "And especially sorry about being too embarrassed to apologize sooner." Say the rest! "Things between us have been awkward and I donít like it. I umÖ" A pause. "I want to hold your hand... a lot... and I canít do it if we wonít sit by each other." She held her breath and waited, praying that Dev felt the same way.

A brilliant smile edged its way onto Devís lips and she instantly saw its echo on Laurenís. "So," the President shrugged a little, hoping to lighten the mood and barely able to keep herself from jumping up and down like a little kid. "Sit next to me. I donít bite." She expression turned playfully. "Iíll even give you a hug if you need one. And my hands are always free to be held."

Lauren nodded shyly. She lifted their linked hands. "Weíre half way there. But how about that hug?"

"Okay." Dev used the arm lying loosely across Laurenís shoulder to pull her closer. "This is not a bug," she teased. "This is me hugging you. I donít want any confusion." She eased her arm around Laurenís shoulders and pulled her close. When Lauren was pressed tightly against her, both women let out long, shuddering breaths. Dev rested her cheek atop strands of fair, wavy hair. "I know weíre not done talking about the privacy issue. But maybe we can take things a little bit at a time, you know?"

Lauren murmured her agreement against Devís collarbone. "I wonít let things get so out of hand again. I promise." She sank into the embrace, not thinking about what it meant or where they were going. Just accepting the affection and comfort Devlyn was offering. And doing her best to return it in kind.

"But you know what else?"


"Nash still needs a girlfriend."

Lauren began to shake with silent laughter.

Then Devlyn felt the softest of touches graze the hollow of her throat. She went completely still and her eyes fluttered closed. Oh God, sheís kissing me!

Lauren pressed her lips against the soft skin again, marveling at the tiny tingles that chased their way up and down her spine, and the flood of warmth that flowed through her veins like a strong wine, heating her from within. The featherlight kisses were painfully intimate and it felt so good to finally be showing Dev how she felt, how deeply she cared for her, that Lauren had no intention of stopping yet. She leaned forward and barely brushed Devís throat with her mouth, feeling the dark-haired womanís pulse pound wildly in response.

The plane lurched again, sending Lauren a little sideways and interrupting the perfect moment. Dev drew in a breath to speak and the writer pulled back a little, tilting her head up and regarding Dev seriously. "No." Her voice was gentle but insistent.

Lauren brought up both hands and gently cupped Devís cheeks, enjoying the warm, smooth skin against her palms. She stared deeply into panicky eyes tinged with desire and affection. "Nothing is going to interrupt us again. Okay?" A tiny bit of insecurity popped through but was quickly quashed by Deví response.

The taller woman let out a shaky breath and nodded once, tilting her head and pressing her a cheek more firmly against Laurenís steady but delicate touch. She fell willingly into warm gray eyes that were so full of honest friendship and devotion that Devís chest constricted at the sight. "Okay," she croaked softly, honestly surprised she could speak considering her heart felt like it was going to burst the confines of her chest at any moment. She already felt lightheaded and they hadnít even really kissed yet. Please donít let me pass out now.

Lauren smiled shyly and licked her lips to moisten them. With a tiny tug of her hands, she drew Devís face to hers. "Iíve been wanting to kiss you for forever." Devís warm exhale caressed her lips and she forgot the rest of what she was going to say.

The Presidentís eyes slid closed when as light as a feather, impossibly soft lips brushed against her own, then settled more firmly there. A moan escaped from deep in her throat and she threaded one hand in Laurenís hair, holding her gently in place as she returned the kiss. Laurenís mouth was soft; inquisitive lips were setting her on fire. The younger woman let her set the pace of their heartfelt exploration and Dev felt like her entire body had been placed on a slow burn.

It lasted a long sweet moment, not stopping until tentative tongues had reached out and tasted what both had been wanting for so long. Finally, Lauren began to pull back, slightly breathless. But Dev surged forward and nipped at her bottom lip, tugging it into her mouth in a move that earned a gasp and then a low, sensual groan. But the high intensity of the moment quickly shifted when Dev began nipping and teasing with her teeth until both women were laughing.

This time it was Dev who began to loosen the fingers she had threaded in Laurenís hair, but before she could pull completely away, Lauren exacted her revenge by surging forward and passionately kissing Devlyn into insensibility. Her initial fears had melted away and now she acted on pure instinct, letting the rightness of the moment sweep them both away and easily deepening the kiss. She swirled her tongue around Devlynís until the taller woman began to whimper. Yes! Laurenís mind cried. This is what she wanted. It was the desire and hunger that lurked behind every touch, every innocent glance and tender gesture. And now she was tasting it.

Lauren felt her body responding, as much to the sounds she was evoking from Dev as the wonderful touch she was receiving. Her belly was beginning to clench as a combination of rampant hormones and adrenaline sang through her blood.

When they finally parted, she drew in a deep breath, slightly dumbfounded and more than a little giddy. Lauren happily smiled and Devís face immediately flushed a bright red. The younger woman laughed.

"That was... um..." Dev searched for the right words with slightly wide eyes.

"That was wonderful, Devlyn, and I wish we would have done it ages ago."

Dev was nodding before Lauren could finish her sentence. She sighed with relief, still a little tongue-tied from the effects of the mind-blowing kiss.

Lauren smiled again, finding Devlynís bashfulness, mixed with pleasure and a good dose of nerves, utterly charming. "I think, considering that Iím the one whoís never done that before... with a woman, that is, that Iím the one who is supposed to be scared witless." She reached up and with the very tip of her finger traced the delicious mouth that was already beckoning her back with its softness.

Dev grinned then bit her lower lip. "You would think that, wouldnít you?"

The pilot's voice came over the loud speaker, informing the planeís passengers that they were making their final descent into Port Columbus International airport and that they were advised to buckle their seat belts.

Devlyn stood up and pulled Lauren up with her. Together they moved to two seats side-by-side that they could buckle into.

"I think weíve got some things to talk about on this trip, Lauren," Dev said seriously, but her twinkling eyes gave away her utter delight with the turn of events.

Lauren couldnít stop from beaming as she happily settled into her seat. "I think this is going to be one hell of a vacation."

* * *

As they traveled toward Devís family home. Lauren was struck by the familial feeling that pervaded the back of the limo. Emma and Amy sat across from her and Dev. Ash was sound asleep with her head in Emmaís lap, Christopher was slowly nodding off in Amyís arms and Lauren looked down at the little boy in her own lap. She couldnít resist placing a tender kiss on Aaronís forehead as he slept in her arms. Even Gremlin seemed content to nap on the floor of the limo, only rolling over occasionally to offer a growl. He had taken to waiting for Dev to growl back. Which she always did.

Dev reached into her pocket and took out a small bottle of pills. She dropped one into her palm and replaced the cap. Taking a bottle of water from the holder, she was about to take a drink when she caught the look that Emma was giving her. "What?"

"Do you need that?"

"Itís ibuprofen, Emma. Nothing serious." She glanced sideways at Lauren and felt compelled to offer an explanation. Her gaze dropped to the bottle where she fiddled with lid. "Umm... This is not something that ever went public, but after Samantha was killed," she hesitated and then finished in a rush, "I had a small problem with sleeping pills." She chanced a look up at Lauren, whose eyes held no censure. "But I donít anymore."

"Iím glad you donít anymore," the writer said softly, gently bumping Devís good shoulder with her own. Lauren grinned when Dev dropping her free hand down, wrapping long fingers around smaller ones. Devlyn was so different from anyone else sheíd ever met. She was always brutally honest about herself. Even though this was something that sheíd managed to keep in the family, she knew that if someone asked Dev about it, sheíd tell the truth.

But Lauren had already promised herself that she wouldnít print a single word that would hurt Devlyn or her family. It didnít hurt that she really hadnít uncovered anything that could be truly damaging. She prayed she never would.

The writer watched as Dev closed her eyes and rolled her shoulders carefully. Then the Presidentís head sagged forward. Laurenís face showed her concern. "Tired?"

"No. Praying."

Twin eyebrows disappeared behind fair bangs. "Praying?"

"Yeah. Praying that my dad doesnít let my mom cook for us."

"Amen," Emma and Amy said at the same time. Over the years, both women had been subjected to the offerings of Janet Marlowe. The woman was sweet as could be. She loved her husband and Dev more than life itself and cooking was a hobby sheíd enjoyed since childhood. Unfortunately, her skill level had also stayed the same as it was in childhood.

Dr. Frank Marlowe, Devís father, had always had a cook. Luckily for Dev, that didnít change once he got married. But her mother still felt the need to jump in and Ďhelpí the cook every once in a while. Especially when she had guests.

"Oh, come on." Gray eyes rolled. "It canít be that bad." Lauren looked at each face. "No one is that bad a cook." Okay, I am. But at least I donít make other people eat it.

"Well, letís just say Iíd rather eat some more of that shrimp from my ill-fated date with Candace Delaney than be subjected to my momís cooking. I love my Mom. Donít get me wrong butÖ"

"Oh my God," both Emma and Jane finished simultaneously, shuddering with revulsion.

Lauren laughed, causing Aaron to fuss a little. She immediately clamped her lips shut and cuddled him closer to her. Kids werenít nearly so scary when they were unconscious.

Dev looked over at Lauren and grinned, lifting her pinkie and wiggling it at the writer.

Lauren stuck out her tongue in reply but she knew Devlyn was right. Boy, am I wrapped by each and every member of the Marlowe family, or what?

Two hours later and they were all standing in the entryway of the Marlowe family home. Lauren hung back with Emma and Amy, watching Frank and Janet welcome their daughter and grandchildren home. She desperately wanted to snap off a few photographs but she resisted the urge, not knowing how Mr. and Mrs. Marlowe would react. Lauren looked on uncomfortably as Janet Marlowe, who looked like a shorter, salt and pepper-haired version of Devlyn, wrapped her arms around her daughter and wept openly.

Frank Marlowe stood back with one grandson in each arm, wearing an indulgent smile for his granddaughter who was wrapped around his waist. He was tall and slim, with a thick head of white hair, a neatly trimmed beard and mustache, and generous mouth.

"Oh, baby!" Janet Marlowe put her hands on Devís cheeks. "Iím so glad youíre home." She frowned when she got an up close look at the fading scar on her daughter's face. "Are you really okay?"

"Mom, Iím fine. You know me, too stubborn toÖ" Dev stopped when she realized what she was about to say. She remained prudently silent while her mother stepped back and examined her from head to toe. "I swear to you, Mom. Iím totally intact."

"Iíll be the judge of that, young lady," Janet snapped peevishly. But her eyes instantly softened. "You looked so tired when we called. I donít know why you wouldnít let us come up there and let me take care of you."

"I have a whole house full of people who-"

"They are not your mother," the small woman huffed, poking the President in the chest.

Lauren tried to stifle a giggle but failed.

Janet looked over and made eye contact with Lauren. Ah, the infamous Lauren Strayer. She lifted a brow.

So thatís where Devlyn gets it. Lauren tried to look properly castigated as she lowered her eyes.

"Ah, Mom, Dad, you remember Emma and Amy." Dev directed her parents to their other guests. The greetings were quick and everyoneís attention was soon back on Lauren. The younger woman began to visibly squirm under Janet and Frankís appraising, parental stares. She turned pleading eyes on the President that screamed, Ďhelp!í

Dev almost smiled at the look of unveiled panic on Laurenís face. "And this," Dev extended her hand to the writer and tugged her forward, "is Lauren Strayer. Sheís writing my biography, as you know. Sheís going to want to interview you both. So could you try not to tell her all of my embarrassing stories at once please?"

"But I wouldnít mind a few," Lauren jumped in.

"Oh, Iím sure I could come up with a thing or two about Stinky here," Frank offered with a wink. "Nice to meet you, Ms. Strayer. Welcome to our home."

"Please call me Lauren. And thank you, Mr. Marlowe." The writer was just dying to know where in the hell ĎStinkyí fit in here. She was definitely going to set aside some time to hear that story.

"Then you, young lady, should call me Frank." He smiled charmingly.

Lauren nodded and grinned back. Frankís Southern accent was even more pronounced than her own. "Thank you." She took a deep breath and faced the one she knew really counted here. "Itís very nice to meet you, Mrs. Marlowe. Devlyn has told me a lot about you."

"Itís nice to meet you, Lauren." The small woman took the writerís proffered hand. Lauren just knew she was being sized up and she straightened her shoulders and made sure she gave a proper handshake. Nothing wimpy would do for Janet Marlowe. "And call me Janet. Mrs. Marlowe was my mother-in-law. God rest that evil bi-"

"Mom," Dev gritted out.

Janet smiled innocently. "God rest her soul."

* * *

David, his wife Beth, and Lauren were simply howling with laughter. Tears were streaming down their faces as their eyes darted between Devís flaming cheeks and Frankís shit eatiní grin. Janet was trying not to burst into laughter by busying herself with the coffeepot that had just been placed on the dinner table. But her slender shoulders were shaking.

Frank Marlowe looked properly satisfied as he leaned back in his chair. He had done every fatherís duty and regaled his audience with the time that Dev took off her diaper in the middle of a family dinner party.

Devlyn narrowed her eyes at her father and mumbled something from behind the napkin that she was holding firmly against her face. Lauren wasnít sure, but she thought she heard the words Ďair strikeí.

"So," Lauren sipped her water when her laughter finally died down. She fanned her cheeks. "Tell me, where did Stinky come from?"

Dev looked up, her eyes wide, and she clamped a hand over Laurenís mouth. She eyed her father warily. "You did not hear that. She did not ask that question. You did not hear that."

Lauren licked the offending palm, causing Dev to jerk it free. The writer nodded wildly before Dev could recover from yelling Ďewwwwwí and wiping her hand on her jeans. "Yes, he did!"

Frank laughed low and evil. "Well, Devil here, was about, oh, fifteen I thinkÖ"

"OMIGOD! Kill me now, heís gonna tell her." Dev slumped in her chair and began to moan for mercy.

Frank snorted and then happily ignored his daughter. "Anyhow, she went out on this camping trip with a bunch of her friends. Seems our little Devil and a young lady friend of hers decided to go skinny-dipping in the pond."

Laurenís eyebrows nearly launched up off her forehead. She turned to Devlyn. "Skinny dipping? Oh my, Madam President. Who knew you had such a naughty streak?"

Dev glared at her father. "Well, if this makes it into my biography, the entire world will!"

Lauren patted Devís knee and refocused on Frank and made a quick gesture with her hands. "Go on. Go on."

"Apparently, everything was going along pretty well until one of the chaperones heard them splashing around and giggling in the pond and decided to check it out. The girls must have seen the flashlight, because they got out of the water, grabbed up their clothes, and started back to the camp, running buck nekkid through the woodsÖ."

Dev groaned and slumped a little more. Was it really possible to die of embarrassment? David was pointing at her and laughing hysterically. Yes, she decided, it really was.

Lauren clamped her hand over her mouth. She tried to imagine a Dev wet and naked, running through the woods. Oooooh... How much would I pay to see that? Hell, Iíd take out a loan. Her face suddenly colored and she shook her head slightly to clear it of its decidedly lascivious thoughts. "Gotcha. Nekkid," the word slipped out effortlessly, "teenaged Devlyn, streaking through the woods." She waited expectantly for Frank to continue, not sure which she was enjoying more, Frankís yarn, or the mortified look on the Presidentís face. "Is there more?"

"Uh huh." Devís father nodded. "Her friend made it back okay, and never got caught." He stared at Dev and pursed his lips. "Officially, that is." Then he laughed. "But Devil here, wasnít so lucky. Her nekkid a-" He stopped abruptly and cleared his throat. "Backside, I mean, stumbled into a den. A den containing one very protective Mama skunk and four little baby skunks, all scared witless by the dripping wet human that had woken them. You know what spooked skunks do, Lauren?"

Lauren burst out laughing. Then she wrinkled her nose at Dev. "Oh yuck, Devlyn."

Dev recovered long enough to scratch her cheek and flip Lauren the bird at the same time before she tossed a napkin at her father. "Thanks so much, Dad. There goes any shred of dignity I had left in Laurenís eyes."

David and Beth looked at each other. "We heard you puked on her, Dev. There was no dignity left."

Dev covered her face with her hands. "Was this visit really my idea?" she groaned.

"Yes!" the room chorused.

Frank continued undeterred. "It took two weeks, and thirty gallons of tomato juice, before we could be in the room with her without our eyes watering. And thatís where the name Stinky came from."

Lauren felt a pang of sympathy for Dev who was still hiding her face. Once the writer managed to get her laughter under control, she reached out and gently rubbed Devís back. Lauren leaned over and whispered, "If it makes any difference, Iíve always thought you smelled great."

Dev whispered back without moving her muscle but Lauren could hear the smile in her words. "It makes a difference."

Sunday, June 13th

Lauren munched on a piece of toast and sipped her juice as she stood on the porch of the house in the morning sun. This was a beautiful place, and the fact that the Secret Service had been ordered to set their perimeter several hundred yards away made it feel cozy and safe. She could only wonder what it would be like in the cabin they would go to later in the day. The writer actually liked the main house.

Dev had let her sleep in this morning. Although to be fair, since the shooting sheíd gotten to sleep till 6:30 A.M. while Dev was undergoing her physical therapy. But her daily sessions had been switched to three times per week and Julio had even given her this week off Ďfor good behaviorí. Dev thought it was a therapeutic break for her muscles and Lauren decided she didnít need to be enlightened.

She had woken to a soft summer breeze blowing in her window, the sound of children laughing and playing, and the smell of bacon cooking. Oh yeah. Throw in sex and Lauren would swear she was in heaven not Ohio. She let that thought rattle around in her head until she had a dull ache in her lower belly and points more southerly. Lauren imagined Dev leaning over her and... Enough! She forced herself out of bed and padded toward the bathroom. Time for a shower. A very cold shower.

After her shower, Lauren towel-dried her hair and ran a comb through it before brushing her teeth and moving out onto the large back porch. She leaned against the house, watching Devís mother and father playing with their grandchildren. Gremlin was right in the middle of the chaos, romping, barking, and chasing a stick that Frank would toss out onto the lush green lawn every minute or so. You little flea bag. Youíd never fetch for me! Traitor.

Amy and Emma where seated at a picnic table enjoying their breakfast. Lauren smirked. They were gossiping, by the looks of it. Sheíd catch up with them later.

Lauren had seen David and Beth walking hand in hand toward the woods. The only person that was missing was Dev. She slipped her hand into her pocket of her denim shorts and took another sip of her tangy, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.

The blonde woman looked up when she heard a soft clomping sound coming toward her. Her breath left her lungs in a quick whoosh when she got a good look at the noiseís source. And who was riding him. Dev was sitting atop a beautiful quarter horse, wearing tight fitting black jeans and chaps that were barely visible because they blended into the dark denim. A loose, light-blue chambray shirt that matched the color of her eyes was tucked into the jeans, and well-worn boots covered her feet. Her thick, ebony hair hung in a single braid that trailed down the middle of her back. Lauren sighed. It was truly enough to make any Tennessee girl swoon. Okay, maybe not any girl. But it did wonders for Lauren. To the writer, the President looked absolutely delicious. Iím gonna need another shower.

Dev rode slowly up to the porch and pulled her horse alongside. "Morning, Maíam," Dev drawled, sounding very much like her father.

Lauren couldnít stop her grin. She used her hand to shield her eyes as she looked up at Dev and moved to the porch railing. "Good morning."

"Sleep well?"

Lauren nodded slowly, not quite able to tear her eyes from Devís. "Very well. How about you?"

"Oh, I was doing great until Dad came and got me up to go feed the horses."

The younger woman wrinkled her nose. "Lemme guess. 5:00 A.M.? Is that where you get it?"

"Thatís where I get it."

"How, by the way," Lauren motioned to the tall, chestnut-colored beast, "did you get up on the tallest horse I have ever seen with your injured hip? You know youíre not supposed to-"

Dev held up a forestalling hand. "Before you tear into me, like Mom did," she grumbled, "I used a bale of hay and Dad helped me. Iím fine, I promise."

"It doesnít hurt?" Lauren asked skeptically.

"If I say it does, will you kiss it and make it better?"

Lauren began choking on her juice. "Who are you and what have you done with the President?" she coughed.

"Oh, thatís still me. I guess I forgot to mention that Iím just much more relaxed at home." Dev laughed and took pity on her friend by changing the subject. "You get any breakfast?"

"Umm... yeah, the cook actually has a plate in the oven for me whenever Iím ready."

Dev nodded again. "Yup, thatís Dottie. Been the family cook since I was a kid. And sheís even successful at keeping mom out of the kitchen. Mostly. No one goes hungry in the Marlowe house with Dottie around. If Iím really lucky, sheíll make her special Devil cookies while Iím here."

Lauren smiled innocently and ran her hand up and down the rough wooden porch post. "You wanna tell me how you got the nickname Devil or should I ask your Dad?" She allowed her head to come to rest against the post, and took a deep breath of morning air, catching the scent of damp grass, and the horse, and the faint aroma of Devís soap and shampoo. She felt her knees go a little weak.

Devlyn shrugged. "It just comes from Dev. You know, like DEV-astating," she growled in a sexy voice. She leaned down towards Lauren who was nearly at her level because of the tall porch, her pale eyes sparkling with mischief in the morning sun. "And DEV-oted and DEV-ourÖ" She grinned, giving the writer a truly evil smirk. "Just naturally pop upÖ"

Laurenís eyes raked over Dev. "Donít forget DEV-ine"

"Like you."

Lauren waited a beat, trying not to smile.

"Hey, thatís not spelled right!"

Lauren was undeterred. "Call it artistic license."

Dev mulled that over for a moment. "Huh. Okay, Iíll buy that from you. But only Ďcause youíre so cute."

My God weíre actually flirting with each other. Two more seconds of this and Iím gonna kiss her again. I swear I am. Lauren pushed off the post and leaned towards Dev until she could feel the combined heat of the older woman and her mount. She closed her eyes and their breath mingled...

"Hey, Devil!"

Lauren jumped back at the sound of Frank Marloweís voice.

"Shit," Dev groaned, straightening in the saddle. "Later, Ms. Strayer." It was promise.

Lauren adjusted her glasses and smiled. "Later, Madam President."

Tuesday, June 15th

Dev walked slowly towards the cabin where she, Lauren, David and Beth would spend the next few days while the kids stayed with their grandparents in a tent out in the back yard.

Lauren had spent a solid day with each of Devís parents. And the tall woman suspected they now liked Lauren better than they did her. Dev laughed good-naturedly. I guess it was inevitable.

Dev spied several Secret Service agents out of the corner of her eye. They were setting up in campers several hundred yards away. She wanted to give Lauren at least some sense of privacy. With everything that had happened, they all needed some rest.

She glanced down when she felt an arm loop through her own. "Hello, Mother dear."

"Indeed, Devlyn Marlowe."

Dev knew that tone. It was her momís Ďyou are in such big troubleí tone. "What have I done now?" She sighed.

Janet kicked a stick from their path as they walked. "What is going on between you and Lauren?"


"Donít you lie to your mother." She tugged on Devís arm. "Iíve seen the way you two look at each other."

"And that would be exactly how?"

The shorter woman dug in her heels, bringing both of them to an abrupt stop. She reached up and caressed a tan cheek. "You havenít looked at anyone like that since Samantha. Are you sleeping with her?"

"No!" Dev pulled back a little. "You know I would neverÖ I mean, I canítÖI meanÖ"

Janetís blue eyes twinkled and she shook her head at her daughter. They began walking again. "I know. You always were horribly old fashioned like that. You nearly drove Sam crazy. I thought the poor girl was going to spontaneously combust."

"I drove her crazy?"

"Uh huh. Before you two were married, sheíd call me and ask me what she was doing wrong and why you werenít trying to get her into bed. Devlyn, in my day your actions would have been considered prudish. Now, itís just downright archaic. You need to chill out a little. It isnít as though one of you is going to end up pregnant." Janet chuckled at her own joke.

Dev stopped and put her hands on her hips. "Mother, are you suggesting I take Lauren to bed?"

"You love her, donít you?"

Dev hesitated. "I donít know."

"Devlyn Odessa Marlowe, donít you dare..." She waggled a finger in her daughterís face. "I canít believe you kiss me with those lying lips."

Blue eyes rolled and Dev nearly stomped her foot. "Mom!"

"Dev, you know I donít get involved in your life unless I think youíre doing something really stupid." Janetís posture mirrored her daughterís. "I think holding back from Lauren is really stupid. Sheís good for you, honey. It doesnít take a rocket scientist to see that."


"Sheís a very attractive woman. Sheís sweet and smart. Why I hardly knew she was pumping me for information when we spent the day together." Janetís voice was filled with honest admiration. "And in case you havenít noticed, your children adore her."


"And she watches you with eyes that very nearly worship every move you make."

Devís mind flickered back to the kisses they had shared on Air Force One. "She kissed me," she admitted quietly.

"Good for her! It her appears that her parents did not raise a chicken."

Devís jaw sagged. "Are you calling me a chicken?"

"If the feathers fit, dear."


"Did you kiss her back?" They turned a blind corner and were now facing a large wood cabin, with a small attached porch and a pile of split logs for the fireplace lining the front wall.

"Iím old-fashioned, Mom, not stupid. Of course I kissed her back!"

"Then what happened?"

"The plane landed. We came here and Dad told her the Ďstinkyí story. She may never kiss me again, for all I know."

"Oh, I wouldnít be to sure about that." Janet elbowed her daughter lightly in the ribs. "I think if you give her any sign at all, sheíll do a lot more than kiss you, Dev."

"Mom!" The President scrubbed her face hoping to remove some of the red from her cheeks.

"Youíve been alone too long, honey. Let the past remain where it belongs and look to the future. You need someone in your life. I know you. You donít fall quickly and you donít take these things lightly. But wake up and smell the coffee, Devlyn. Youíre in love with that girl." Janet helped Dev up the stairs. "There was saying when I was a kid that I feel is most appropriate now."

"Shit happens?"

Janet snorted. "Hardly, dear. You snooze," she eyed her daughter seriously, "you lose."

* * *

Davidís wife, Beth, pushed herself off the cabinís sofa and plopped gracelessly onto the hard wood floor, causing her brown curls to bounce. Beth was a little shorter than Lauren, with wide hips and a scooped nose. She had a quick wit and a quicker smile and was a professor of early American history at Georgetown University. Beth and Lauren had instantly hit it off and the evening had already been filled with equal parts intellectual conversation, rambunctious laughter, and beer.

"Well," Beth said cheerfully, "why donít we play a game?"

"What kind of a game?" David wriggled his eyebrows and sank deeper into the soft sofa. "Strip checkers maybe?"

Beth laughed and reached over and slapped her husbandís knee. "Pervert."

"And you married him," Dev reminded. "What does that say for you?"

Beth took a long swallow of her beer while she pondered Devís comment. "Good point," she finally admitted. She turned to Lauren. "I was thinking of something that could help us all get to know each other a little better."

"Beth." Devís tone was warning.

Beth raised her amber-colored bottle, itís golden contents sparkling in the firelight. "We could play spin the bottle." She laughed again when her husband suddenly perked up. "But I donít want David to have a heart attack." Beth smiled sweetly at her husband, gleefully bursting his bubble. "Heís right in the danger years."

"I am not!"

"Are too!"

"So what were you thinking about?" Lauren asked, curiosity finally getting the better of her. She set her third bottle of cold beer down on the floor next to her chair and dropped down onto the area rug beneath it, mirroring Beth. The writer tucked her legs beneath her Indian style, enjoying a light buzz from the alcohol and the aroma of oak from the crackling fire.

"We could always see how brave Madam President really is." Beth smirked at Dev. "How about truth or dare?"

"Bring it on, Beth! If I can handle a Republican controlled Congress, I can handle three measly Democrats."

Lauren snorted, nearly sending her beer through her nose. "Thanks a lot, Devlyn," she laughed. The blonde woman mentally cataloged her most embarrassing moments and most evil sins and then decided they would be worth sharing just to hear Devís. "Okay, Beth. Iím in."

David yawned. "You know me, Iím game."

"Youíre all heathens, but Iíll play along. I have a feeling Iím the good girl of the group."

Beth rolled her eyes. "You forget who youíre talking to, Devil. Lauren might believe that BS, but donít try it on me or David. Weíve known you for toooooooo long." She took another drink and emptied her bottle. Then she clapped her hands together and reached into the ice-filled tub full of frosty bottles that sat between the four people. "Dev, youíre so cocky tonight. I think you should go first. Truth or dare, Madam President?"

Three sets of expectant eyes turned towards Dev.

"Well, letís cut the President of the United States bullshit for the rest of the week. And Iíll go with truth."

Lauren giggled when David made a loud honking noise, indicating that Dev had already made a tactical error with her selection of truth.

Beth happily picked up the gauntlet. "Truth: How many people have you slept with?"

"Iím assuming you mean in a sexual sense?" Dev sipped her beer and shot Beth a look that screamed ĎBitch!í. "One," she said very softly.

Lauren dropped her bottle in her lap then cursed as the icy liquid seeped through her jeans. "Jesus... Damn, thatís cold." She turned wide eyes on Dev. "One?! As in one, single, solitary person?!" Maybe she means one at a time. God, I hope sheís not interested in more than one at a time.

David and Beth burst out laughing.

"Yes!" Dev huffed. "What else would it mean?" Dev grimaced when she realized her voice had taken on an indignant tone that sounded a lot like her Aunt Myrtle. "I know it seems kind of pitiful and pathetic but... umm... well..."

"Itís not pitiful at all! Itís really... err..." Lauren desperately searched for the right word, immediately throwing out Ďunbelievableí and Ďamazingí. "Sweet." There, thatís a good word. ĎOne?í She mouthed the word silently, clearly in shock as she reached for another beer. Sheís practically a virgin! Oh, please donít let them ask me that question. Please, please. Compared to Ďoneí I look like a total slut! Pleasepleasepleaseplease.

Dev exhaled and considered who should be her first victim. She was tempted to pick Beth to exact her revenge, but was far more curious about the writer. "Okay, Lauren, truth or dare?"

"Dare!" Lauren blurted out, relieved she could avoid the question Dev had been asked.

The trio burst out laughing at how quickly the writer had made her decision. They all knew that this meant she had something to hide and now they could work as a team to figure it out. "Okay," Dev grinned. "Give me your bra." She laughed and gestured casually. "The one youíre wearing."

Laurenís mouth dropped open.

Beth leaned over and clapped her hand over Davidís eyes, causing the man to protest loudly. "Hush up, David!" she scolded.

Lauren shook her head at Dev, loving the mischievous twinkle in the slightly glazed blue eyes. "Youíre drunk, arenít you?"

"No." A little drunk. "Iím...happy. If you canít run with the big dogs, Mighty Mouse, just get up on the porch."

A single pale eyebrow lifted and Lauren sat up to her knees. She turned until she was completely facing Dev. "It was my bra, right?" She lifted her hands to the buttons of her lightweight denim shirt and Dev stopped breathing.

The suddenly stillness in the room alerted David that something was happening and the man begin to squirm, trying to get a peek between his wifeís fingers. They both began to laugh and Beth began to poke David in the belly. "No way!"

Lauren slowly undid the first button of her top, keeping her eyes riveted on Devís.

Dev watched as Lauren paused briefly and then began to finger the second button. Oooo, now I gotta put up or shut up. But if she takes her shirt off, Iím gonna die. My brain is just gonna ooze out my ears. Dev knew she was grinning like a total idiot and blushing furiously, but she met Laurenís eyes and never wavered. "Thatís what I said. Of course, you could change your mind and go with truth."

Laurenís fingers stopped. "Do you want me to change my mind, Devlyn?" she asked softly.

David shook his head and was about to cry out Ďnoí when his wife clamped her other hand over his mouth.

Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! "I want you to do, what you want to do." The President licked her lips and sipped her beer, knowing she had firmly hit the ball back to the writer.

Lauren nodded slowly. I want to ask you to come over here and do it for me. But since thatís probably not a good idea Ė tonight Ė this will have to do. The writer unbuttoned the second and third buttons, sliding her hands inside her shirt to find warm skin. Her bra happened to unhook in the front, and with a quick twist the cups fell away. Her bloused shirt and hands covered the most crucial spots. She grinned as Dev began to fan herself but didnít look away.

"Hurry up, Lauren," Beth called. "She said lose the bra, not perform a damn striptease!"

David whimpered at what he was missing. This was so unfair.

Dev finally bit her lip and glanced down at her beer just long enough for Lauren to pull away her hands and slip her bra out of one of her sleeves. She buttoned the third button but left the two highest buttons of her shirt undone, however. It was enough to a fair amount of cleavage, but not enough to get arrested for. Then she crawled over to Dev on her hands and knees and held the lacy undergarment in front of her face. "I believe you asked for this?"

Dev took the garment and looked at it. Then she mopped her brow with it before sticking it in the pocket of her pants. "Yeah," Her voice cracked like a prepubescent boy. "Thanks."

Beth finally removed her hands from Davidís face. "No more naked dares! How long do you think I can hold him?"

"Well, hell, Beth, youíve held onto him for nearly 15 years whatís another 15 minutes? Okay, Lauren, itís your turn."

Lauren didnít go back to her seat. Instead, she sat down next to Dev who had moved to the floor. The President lifted her bottle for another drink but just as the glass touched her lips Lauren snatched it from her hand and finished it off in one long swallow. "Ahhhh..." she breathed. "Thanks. It was getting hot in here."

"Iíll say!" Beth pressed her bottle against her forehead.

David frowned and mumbled petulantly, "Not like Iíd know."

Dev retrieved her bottle and held it up to the light. "You stole my beer. Man, you ask a girl for her bra and you gotta give her a whole beer? For a whole beer I should get the panties too!"

This time it was Lauren who blushed. Oh yeah. Devís drunk. Nobody would believe Iím playing a teenagerís game with the President of the United States.

"Your turn," Beth reminded Lauren.

"Okay." The very tip of Laurenís tongue appeared as she concentrated for a moment. She pushed her glasses farther up on her nose. "David..."

The red-headed man sat up straight.

"True or dare?"


Lauren grinned wickedly. "Whatís the last horribly embarrassing thing that Devlyn did that you kept out of the Press?"

"She went out with Candy Delaney."

"Hey! No fair," Lauren protested instantly. "I already knew that!"

Dev made a face at her Chief of Staff. "Besides, dumbass, that was your fault. You set me up with her. Personally, I think the fact that I got my speeches mixed up last week was pretty good. I mean, when was the last time the President started to give a speech written for The National Cattlemenís Association to the World Vegetarian League?"

Lauren sniggered. "That was embarrassing. But David really couldnít answer with that one." A beat. "Considering I read about it for two days."

"David!" Beth chastised. "Youíre supposed to nip that kind of thing in the bud!"

"I know you think Iím the great and powerful Oz-"

"You mean youíre not?" Beth asked with devastating innocence, just as David leaned over and stole a kiss.

The tall redhead smacked his lips together happily when the kiss ended. "Okay, Dev, truth or dare?"


David grinned and grabbed a handful of popcorn. "Howíd you break your pinkie finger, Devil?"

Dev choked on her beer and flicked the cap at Davidís head. "You know how I broke my finger, you prick."

"But I donít," Lauren pointed out happily. She grinned at Beth who grinned back. Oh boy. This should be interesting.

Dev took a deep breath and then a big drink of her beer. "One night I got my hand slammed in a window..." She pretended to take another drink, hoping that would be a suitable answer.

Lauren elbowed the President. "Annnnnnnnd?"

"And it got broken when the window came down on it."

David wiped his fingers on his jeans. "The part she leaving out is that she was naked and in the throws of passion when she did it. She grabbed the bottom of the window and pulled it shut on her own hand."

Dev reached over and punched him on the shoulder. "Thanks, pal!"

Lauren burst out laughing. She reached out and grabbed Devís pinkie finger, holding it up for examination and giving serious consideration to kissing it. "And you know this how, David?"

"Because she was running for office at the time and they called me first to tell me the window was jammed with her hand stuck in it and Samantha thought they were gonna have to call the fire department. They wanted me to keep it from hitting the papers."

Beth began to howl. God, she loved this story! She knew David would be cruel enough to bring it up during the game. God, she loved David!

Lauren and David joined in until Dev, who was sitting with her arms crossed over her chest, pouting, finally had enough.

"Okay, fine. Laugh it up, you rat bastards. Truth or dare, Strayer?"

Lauren jerked her thumb toward Beth. "Itís her turn!"

"Thatís okay," Beth said. "Since no one has bothered to ask me a question, Iíll be happy to let Dev take my turn. Have at it, Devlyn. And make it good."

Lauren stuck out her tongue at Beth. "Fine. I pick dare." Youíre not getting me on that sex question tonight, Devlyn Marlowe.

"Iím betting good money you have a tattoo somewhere. If you do, show it."

"No way! She is not the tattoo type. A hundred says she doesnít have one," David taunted.

"Youíre on!" Dev leaned over and they shook hands.

Gray eyes narrowed. Shit! "What makes you think I have a tattoo?" Laurenís words were tinged with as much indignation as she could muster. Which wasnít much, considering she did actually have a tattoo. But David was right. She wasnít the type. It was something stupid sheíd done on a dare when she was in college. Kind of like what she was doing right now.

"I know the type," Dev pronounced firmly. "Deceptively cute looking, all innocent like the girl next door. No, make that the ĎAll Americaní girl next door." She chuckled at the appalled look on Laurenís undeniably cute face. "You girls always have a tattoo because at some point in your life you bucked the system and either got a tattoo or dated a biker." Dev took another swallow of beer. "And you donít strike me as the biker-dating type."

Shit, I hate it when Devlynís right. And dating a biker would have been so much less permanent! Lauren looked nervously at David and Beth who were staring back at her, waiting with bated breath for an answer. She leaned close to Devís ear and whispered, "Ummm... assuming just for a moment that I do have a tattoo, who exactly would I have to show again? Not everybody, right?" There was a hint of pleading in her voice.

Dev looked at David and Beth, giving a vague gesture. "Youíd trust me to verify it and tell the truth, right Beth?"

Beth grinned. "Absolutely, Devil." David was about to protest but his wife beat him to the punch. "And so would David. We trust you implicitly, Dev."

Dev turned her silly, truly buzzed face to Lauren and wiggled her brows. "Just me then. You only have to show me. Címon, Lauren," she crooned, barely able to control her laughter.

Lauren blew out a breath. "Just you?"

Dev nodded. "Just me. Where is it?" Devís smile widened, she hadnít really believed the writer would have a tattoo. Lauren was far too straight-laced for a tattoo. And someone got close to her with a needle? "You were unconscious when you got it, werenít you?"

Lauren nodded. "You know it."

The blonde woman turned to Beth and David and made a circular motion with her index finger. The McMillians turned their backs, but not before a few more mumbled protests from David. She raised an eyebrow at Dev. "Promise you wonít laugh?"

"No, I wonít promise that." God if I donít kiss her again soon Iím gonna die. "When a girl gives you her bra before youíve even ever bought her dinner, she totally gives up the right not to be laughed at," Dev teased.

"Bitch," Lauren mumbled as she rose to her feet and began undoing the button to her jeans. "Itís on my..." A pause. "Hip. Sort of."

Dev swallowed hard, holding up her hand. "What do you mean sort of?" You drop your pants and I will die.

"I mean sort of. Itís well, I guess Iíll have to show you. There really isnít a word to describe exactly where it is. But if youíd rather I stop-"

"No, no, go ahead." I just wish I were gonna remember this in the morning

Lauren bit her lip but nodded. "Stupid game." She positioned herself in front of Devlyn and glanced over her shoulder to find Beth and David making out on the rug and not paying the slightest attention to her and Dev.

She unbuttoned her pants with agonizing slowness, then began to slide them over her hips.

Dev felt her heart pounding so hard she was sure that it was going to burst out of her chest at any moment. She whimpered pitifully when she glimpsed panties that matched the silky, lacy bra. Her vision suddenly began to get fuzzy and she felt light-headed. Then everything went black.

Beth and David turned around at the sound of a loud thump.

Lauren pulled up her jeans and simply stared at Devís prone body.

David jumped up. "Jesus Christ, Lauren, you killed her! Where the hell is that thing!"

Lauren pointed to Devís body. "Sheís still breathing! I didnít kill her! She didnít even make it to the unveiling!"

* * *

Everyone retired shortly after they had carried a snoring Dev to bed, which sucked, considering her room, along with Laurenís, was upstairs. Lauren went to her room, which was connected to Devís via a shared bathroom. David and Beth had been awarded the master bedroom downstairs because of its larger bed.

Lauren changed into a pair of soft cotton, short boxers and a threadbare T-shirt. She held her panties in her hand wondering if Dev would give her back her bra or if the set would be lost forever. Oh well, she smirked inwardly, it was sort of kinky thinking of Dev with a pair of her panties. God, how old am I again? Besides, she probably wonít remember tonight. Those beers went right to her head, poor, evil thing.

The writer placed her glasses on the nightstand and crawled into bed, sighing at wonderful feeling of clean sheets and soft bedding. "Oh, this is nice." She nuzzled the comforter and closed her eyes, still a little wound up after the silly game she and Dev had played with each other. Her head was a little foggy from the beer, but she was certain she hadnít drunk enough to warrant a hangover in the morning. Just enough to feel incredibly... relaxed.

Lauren wasnít quite sure what woke her up. It took a moment or two for the sounds to register. She squeezed her eyes shut and crammed the extra pillow against her face. "I so do not need this," she mumbled into the thick feather pillow. One particularly low moan caught her attention and made her giggle. She wasnít sure whether it was Beth or David. "Somebody is a verrrrry happy camper right now." When the sounds continued, Lauren briefly considered stuffing a blanket or towel into the air vent that was carrying the erotic sounds.

Finally, when she couldnít take it any longer, she headed for the bathroom, hoping that if David and Beth heard footsteps above them, theyíd tone down their bedsports to a dull roar Ė in deference to those not so lucky.

She didnít turn on the light - a small night light provided more than enough illumination. Lauren used the facilities and washed her hands. She smiled into the mirror when she realized that couldnít hear them in here. I can sleep in the shower! It wouldnít have been the first time. But it was a stall shower, so, with an unhappy groan, she quickly gave up on the idea. This couldnít go on all night. Hell, sheíd been married for three years. She could attest to that fact!

Then another sound caught her ear. It was Dev. Lauren didnít hesitate to quietly open the door that led to Devís room and check on her friend.

"DonítÖ" The Presidentís voice was pleading again; apparently she was caught up in another nightmlare.

Lauren stepped deeper into the room and moved to the edge of Devís bed. She noticed two things right away. Dev was rolling around in her bed, all twisted in her sheets. And she was naked as the day she was born. From the waist up at least. Her pajama top was wadded into a ball on the floor.

"Donít!" Devís thrashed again. Her breathing was coming in short, raspy bursts.

Lauren swallowed as a feeling of helplessness washed over her, leaving her nearly in tears. Another nightmlare? God, Dev, how often do you have these?

"PleaseÖplease. Donít leave!" Dev tossed in the bed, fighting the covers and becoming more distressed by the second.

Lauren knelt alongside the bed. "Devlyn," she whispered. "Itís just a dream, darliní." Lauren carefully reached out to straighten Devís sheets and tug something over Devís naked breasts, which were bathed in silver moonlight. The sheet stopped just below what she was trying to cover. "Jesus." Lauren closed her eyes and tugged harder, cursing softly when the bedding wouldnít move. Devís whimpers grew louder and when no amount of soothing seemed to work, Lauren tentatively crawled in bed alongside the older woman.

Dev let out a long hard breath, instantly curling up against Lauren and wrapping her arms around the writerís waist. She made a few more frustrated noises that were quickly followed by soft mewing sounds that eventually evened into gentle snores

Lauren pressed her cheek against Devís hair and returned the embrace. "Thatís it. Relax." She took a deep breath, catching the smell of fresh linen and Devís skin. She exhaled contentedly. Lauren tried not to the think of the warm, soft breasts pressing against her. I donít want to move, even though I need to. This feels too nice. What are you dreaming of, Devlyn?

Wednesday, June 16th

Dev was caught up in that wonderful place between sleep and wakefulness, where the slightest push one way or the other is all it would take to get you there. She was having the most wonderful dream: Lauren was in her arms, she could feel her, smell her, and if she lowered her lips just a hair, she could taste warm, soft skin. She shifted to hug her body pillow closer. But with her next breath she was suddenly more awake than asleep.

Panic set in when she could feel her body pillowís gentle breath against the sensitive skin. Donít panic, Marlowe! Too late! Okay, you donít remember anything after the tattoo thing. But that doesnít mean anything. Relax. Dev could hear footsteps downstairs and by the angle of the sunshine cascading in through her window, she could tell it was at least mid-morning. Wake her up, but donít do anything stupid. Tread softly. "Lauren?"

"Hmmm?" Lauren murmured, snuggling closer.

"Lauren?" It was all Dev could do to breathe and not bolt upright. "Come on, sweetheart. Itís time to wake up."

Lauren shook her head and mumbled a grumpy Ďnoí. "Go Ďway," she slurred even as she snuggled closer, shifting and pressing her face against Devís chest. She sighed and began to lightly snore.

Dev whimpered. She bit her lip as the shivers worked their way down her spine and the gooseflesh broke out all over her shoulders. I could stay like this for a while. What would be so wrong about that? She ran her fingers through disordered, wavy blonde hair, loving its silken texture.

She was about to try again when there was a sharp rap on the door, just a split second before it opened. "Devil, breakfast is ready and I-" Janet Marlowe stopped dead in her tracks as Dev quickly pulled the covers over her half-naked body and the woman sleeping in her arms.


Laurenís eyes flew open, only it was dark. She could feel something brushing against her cheek. Her mind desperately searched itself. "Oh my God! A nipple!" she squawked loudly, squirming wildly as Dev held her down.

Devís face flushed bright red and her mother began howling with laughter. "Well, Devil dear, itís good to know that she recognizes all the important parts!" The older woman tossed her head back in renewed laughter. When Janet finally composed herself, she said, "Breakfast is ready if you two are the least bit interested." The woman continued to chuckle even as she pulled the door shut. "Frank, put a couple of plates in the oven Ė it may be awhile. Thank the Lord!"

Dev groaned, trying to decide what part of this was going to kill her first. She suspected it would be Lauren.

When Devlyn finally let go of her death grip on the sheet, the writer practically flew out of the bed, landing on the floor with a glorious, unceremonious thud. She looked around the room. Devís room? Then the events of the night before came rushing back. "You..." Lauren swallowed. "You were having a dream."

Dev made no effort to move. She simply lay on her back with her arms out at her side. "Apparently." After a moment she added, "Do you, perchance, know where my shirt is?"

"I didnít take it off!" Lauren shot back defensively. Then she stopped and got a really good look at Devlynís semi-nude body, which amazingly looked even better in the bright morning sun than it had in the moonlight. She stared. "Damn, Devlyn."

Dev rolled over on her side, pulling the blanket over herself, trying to hide her smile at Laurenís obvious appreciation of her body. "I didnít say you did. Can you get in that dresser behind you and get me a T-shirt? Youíll know theyíre mine because they have the Presidential seal on them," she teased, hoping to lower Laurenís defensiveness.

They were here to relax and Dev was going to relax and get this sorted out without causing another problem between her and Lauren. More kissing, less problems. Was that so much to ask?

"Why are you so concerned about your shirt," Lauren hissed. "Iím a girl too, you know." She ignored the fact that she had been staring at Devís naked body like she was a 16-year-old boy. "We need to worry about your mother! She caught us... us..." Lauren waved her hands in the air. "In bed together!"

Dev took a deep breath and got out of the bed, looking around until she found her pajama shirt on the floor at the foot of the bed. She slipped it on. "First, I only wanted my shirt because believe it or not, Iím modest." When Iím not drinking beer. "And second, did my mother sound upset by the fact that she found us in bed together?" Dev tilted her head, finally getting a good look at Lauren in her cotton boxers and thin T-shirt. Nice, very nice.

"I dunno. I couldnít hear very well because one of my ears was pressed up against..." She pointed at Dev and flushed a bright red. "You know!"

"Oh yeah. I know." Dev sighed and took a tentative step forward. "Trust me. My mother was not upset. Thereís no reason for you to be, unless youíre upset that you were in bed with me." Which, you moron, she probably is. Jesus, Dev, what the hell did you do last night? "Iím ummÖ Iím sorry if I did anything out of line, Lauren. I never meant to hurt you. To be honest, Iím not even sure how we ended up here together. But if I hurt you or upset you-"

Lauren raised her palms. "Hold it." Devís parents are not your parents, Lauri. Relax. Sheís not upset. Her mother didnít freak out. They wonít be mad at her and nobodyís going to come in here brandishing a shotgun. With effort, Lauren allowed some of her tension to slip away. "You didnít do anything. You were having a nightmlare and I came in to see if I could help." She smoothed out the bottom of her T-shirt as she approached Dev. "I was worried. You didnít wake up when I shook you, so I climbed into bed and you calmed right down. I... umm... I guess I feel asleep," she admitted bashfully.

Dev smiled. "You came in to help me with a bad dream? That was very sweet of you. Iíve been having trouble sleeping lately. Apparently youÖ uhÖwell, we both slept like babies last night. Thanks for staying. I know it must have been hard for you." Please tell me it wasnít. Please, please, please.

Lauren looked up shyly. "Hard?" She laughed. "UmmmÖ thatís not exactly how I would describe it, Devlyn." She reached up and fingered a lock of dark hair.

Dev took Laurenís hand, kissing it very gently. When their eyes met, a smile spread across her lips. "You know what, Lauren Strayer?"

Lauren shook her head Ďnoí and gazed up at Dev from behind pale lashes. "What?"

"I really want to kiss you right now. Do you think thatíd be all right? Or are you afraid my mom will come back in?" She gave the shorter woman a lop-sided grin and inched a little closer, taking a deep breath and stroking Laurenís cheek with the back of her hand.

Laurenís eyelids drooped slightly when she felt the warmth of Devlynís body come to rest against hers. Her heart began to pound and she lifted herself up onto tipped toes. "Whoís mom?"

Dev slid her arms around the smaller woman and barely brushed her lips over Laurenís. Then, on impulse, she sighed and decided to show Lauren exactly what she felt. The kiss was slow, and patient and as loving as she could make it.

Lauren whimpered quietly when Dev gently requested more, which she gave without hesitation.

The writer felt Dev thread her fingers in her hair and pull her closer, deepening the kiss. Oh yeah, this is good in so many ways. Laurenís thoughts slowly moved from how good the kiss was to what else might be worth trying. Every blessed thing I can talk her into trying, she decided, as soon as I can figure out what that might be.

When they finally broke apart, Dev smiled and brushed her thumb over Laurenís lips. "So soft. Now I have another question for you."

"Yes," Lauren sighed dreamily. "Whatever it is, as long as I continue getting kisses like that, the answer is yes."

Dev straightened and gave Lauren a bright smile. "All right. If Iím going to take you out, then the least you can do is pick the place."

Lauren blinked. "Are you asking me on an honest to goodness, real live date?"

"Yes. And you canít back out now," Dev teased. "You already said yes."

A playful expression overtook Laurenís face. "Oh, I wasnít going to back out, Devlyn Marlowe. Iím holding you to your offer." She put her finger on her chin and pretended to seriously consider Devís question. "Wherever we go, will there be a team of Secret Service agents lurking in every corner?"

"Yup. Unless you have some kinky fantasy that Iím not aware of that requires several agents."

"Ha! Wouldnít you like to know," Lauren shot back, stealing another small kiss. She hummed as they separated. "I should go get dressed." The smaller woman turned on her heel and moved toward the bathroom. "You donít have to take me anywhere, Devlyn. We can spend time together at home for all I care. So long as itís together."

"Actually, I would like to know," Dev called after her. "Now we get to go downstairs and face the family. Not to mention David and Beth. You ready for that?" Home? Did she just say home? Go ask her, stupid. No. Wait. One thing at a time. Ask her later.

Lauren turned around as she pulled open the bathroom door, the wood floor made her toes cold, but she felt warm inside. She cocked her head to the side. "We do it together right?"

Dev nodded.

"Then Iím ready if you are."

Chapter 7

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