Madam President, page 29
"No. I'm the one who should be, and is, truly sorry. I've just always been ‘out'. I figure that people know my preferences, and I'm just being me. But you're not exactly ‘out'. I mean you're not even exactly are you? Wait, it doesn't matter... I mean... okay, I'm gonna shut up now. Let me just say that I've been thinking about you for months too. And this relationship is a two way street. I care for you a lot; more than a lot."
Before Dev could say another word a dessert cart that carried two huge sheet cakes on it was rolled out. One was decorated for the Fourth of July. The second was a special cake, done for Lauren's birthday.
Lauren tried to peer around Dev to get a good look, but the taller woman clamped her hand firmly over Lauren's eyes. "I told you I ordered something special for you. You ready?"
Lauren nodded excitedly. "Totally!"
"‘Kay." Dev guided Lauren away from the railing and around the table, careful to make sure the blonde woman didn't trip. When the candles were lit, she peeled her hand away, showing Lauren the beautiful cake that had been crafted and prepared just for her by one of the top pastry chefs in the world, who also happened to work for the White House. Around the outside of the cake was a ring of Dottie's special Devil cookies. "Had those shipped in from Ohio just for you, Mighty Mouse. Happy birthday."
Lauren grinned as she looked down at the cake. "It's beautiful! I'm gaining weight just looking at all those Devil cookies."
The crowd that had gathered around them laughed.
Lauren's eyes suddenly widened, and a slightly astonished look overtook her face. "Please tell me that isn't the correct amount of candles."
Sunday, July 11th
Lauren was heading for the library when she spotted a very tired President slowly padding down the hall towards her. An enormous smile lit up her face. "Welcome back!" Jogging the last steps until they met, she wrapped her arms around Dev and pulled her into a heartfelt hug. "How was Camp David?" God, it's great to see you again. It's just not the same on video link.
"It was rotten because you weren't there," Dev whispered into a pink ear. She pulled away, groaning at her own exhausted state. "It's great to be back." Her smile at Lauren was weary, but genuine. "C'mon, I need to make it to the living room before I drop dead right here in the hallway." Dev grabbed Lauren's hand and determinedly steered her in the opposite direction of the Clinton Library. "I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to call more often. It was pretty crazy."
"Well, seeing as how it was all part of the continuing process to stop World War III, I don't see how I can really complain."
Dev snorted. "Well, I can complain. I missed you!" God, I hate being called away at the last moment. Especially when you can't come with me.
Hand in hand, they turned the corner and nearly ran into two agents.
"Welcome home, Madam President." The man straightened his tie and stood a little straighter.
"Thank you, Jack."
Amy nodded at Lauren, then addressed the President. "Good to see you again, Madam President."
"Good to see you too, Amy. I haven't made it back to the apartment yet. How's Ashley? Did you manage to keep her out of trouble while I was away?"
"All the kids are in bed early tonight, ma'am. They had a pool party at the Vice President's house and were wiped out. And Ashley is hardly ever any trouble."
"Do you get paid enough to tell a mother sweet lies like that?" Blue eyes twinkled.
"Nope," Amy answered confidently. "The kids will be sorry they missed you tonight."
"Not as sorry as I am." A frown marred Dev's face. "Thanks, Amy." She tugged on Lauren's hand again to get them moving. She needed to kiss Lauren, and she wanted to do it in private. "Good night."
The agents both nodded. "Good night, ma'am," they called after her retreating figure. "Night, Lauren."
Lauren smiled and waved.
Dev picked up the pace.
"You're sure moving quickly for someone who's dead on her feet!" Lauren was having to jog every other step to keep up with Dev's longer, powerful strides. "I can see first hand that your hip has completely healed."
Dev guided her around a small, antique table that held a vase of dried flowers. Side by side portraits of Teddy Roosevelt and Grover Cleveland, both on horseback, hung above it. "When I'm motivated I can do amazing things."
Lauren's eyebrows shot up. "Really, Wonder Woman?" she purred playfully.
Dev chuckled. "Oh, yeah." Merely waving hello to the agent posted outside the living room, Dev pulled open the door and yanked Lauren inside, nearly pulling her off her feet.
"Devlyn!" Lauren exclaimed. Is it wrong that this is kind of turning me on?
Dev kicked the door shut and pulled Lauren into her arms, forcing the smaller woman to tilt her head way back in order to look at her face. She didn't bother to say a word. Instead, she captured Lauren in a surprise, passionate kiss them left them both breathless.
"Hi," Dev said softly when their lips finally separated. Her heart was pounding so loudly she couldn't even hear the words when she muttered earnestly, "I really missed you."
Lauren sucked in a deep lungful of air, and her eyelids fluttered open. She snuggled deeper into Dev's embrace, savoring her own body's reaction to her friend's closeness, and enjoying the solid, warm feeling of Dev's lanky form pressed tightly against hers. Wow. Lauren gazed deeply into Dev's eyes and sighed dreamily. "Hi. And I really missed you too."
"Ahem..." From across the room, Emma cleared her throat. "I missed you tooooooooo, Dev," she teased. Emma laughed so hard at Lauren's instant blush that her ample bosom threatened to take out one of her own eyes.
"Very funny, Emma. How is everyone?"
"Well, I'm fine. And the children are all in bed. Too much sun and fun at Vice President Vincent's did them in early, I'm afraid."
"Let's all have breakfast together tomorrow though, okay? I'll make sure Liza gets me back to the residence around 8:30 A.M."
"We'll be ready." The older woman shuttled past Dev and Lauren on her way out. "I'll see you two tomorrow."
"Good night, Emma." Lauren smiled.
Dev shed her jacket, tossing it on a nearby chair. Next she began untucking her blouse from her slacks. "Night."
Lauren plopped down on the couch and gazed at Dev affectionately as the dark-haired woman puttered around, quickly made herself as comfortable as possible, and put in a call for dinner. With a nod of the writer's head, dinner for one was turned into dinner for two.
Devlyn sat down next to Lauren and closed her eyes. "I'm so tired." She sighed and leaned towards the small fingers that began gently stroking her hair.
"Then you should rest."
"Then eat, Devlyn," came the simple reply.
Dev smiled. "I'm so glad you're here with me tonight."
"Mmmm... then you should definitely kiss me again."
Before Dev could comply, there was a light knock at her door. "No," she whimpered, grabbing a throw pillow and burying her face in it. "That can't be dinner this quickly. Whoever it is can just go away! I don't want to be the President any more tonight."
Lauren chuckled at Dev's minor tantrum. "You rest. I'll take care of it."
A dark head shook. "No," Dev sighed egregiously. "If they're knocking here, they're after me. I'll tell them to buzz off." She stood and gave Lauren a quick peck on the tip of the nose. "Save my seat."
Dev rolled her shoulder as she slowly moved to the door. It ached tonight. "This had better be good," she mumbled, pulling the door open. She was surprised to see Michael Oaks.
"Yes, Michael?" Dev inquired in a bored tone. Didn't the man have any life? They'd only been off Marine One for an hour. Didn't he have a home or girlfriend or pet rock somewhere? "And why are you still here?"
Michael blinked. "I had work to do, Madam President. But that's not why I'm your door. Security is holding a man downstairs who wants to see Ms. Strayer. He claims to be her husband."
"What?!" Lauren exclaimed from across the roo
"I see that she is here and not in her room." Michael's displeasure was clearly written across his face.
Lauren joined Dev at the door. "Judd is here?" She felt a dread building in the pit of her stomach. Why would he be here?
"Shall I bring your husband up to your room, Ms. Strayer?" Michael couldn't think of a single thing he'd like more than to throw a wrench into Devlyn and Lauren's budding romance. Lauren was an unmanageable annoyance that had somehow, and most certainly unjustly, gained the President's ear. It wasn't smart, it wasn't safe, and his dislike for the writer was only rivaled by the resentment he felt because his opinion on the subject had been completely ignored by the President.
"Ex-husband," Dev growled. She turned to Lauren. "You want me to have him tossed out on his butt? I can do that you know."
"Michael?" she asked innocently, smirking as the black man's face darkened.
Dev wrestled the grin from her face. "No. Mr. Radison."
Lauren chewed her lip, sorely tempted to say yes and spend a few moments alone with her favorite person. But Judd hadn't contacted her in years. He wouldn't come here for nothing.
The writer laid her hand on the small of Dev's back. "I'd better talk to him in case it's something important." She turned to Michael. "You can have an agent bring him up to my room."
"Bring him here instead," Dev interjected. "If that's all right." She looked down at Lauren who nodded.
Michael quickly disappeared, ordering two agents to bring Mr. Radison inside the residence. He would personally escort him the rest of way.
Dev pushed her door, leaving it open just a crack.
Lauren crossed her arms over her chest. "I know how tired you are, Devlyn. Judd and I can go to my room and talk. I'm sure it will only take a few moments."
Dev's jaw worked. "I don't trust him."
"You don't know him."
A well drawn eyebrow arched.
"I know that he was married to you, and lost you. Therefore, he is an idiot. I don't trust idiots."
"Dev." Lauren shook her head and sighed. "It wasn't like that. Judd and I just grew apart. Actually," she hesitated as she gathered her thoughts, "we were never really together, if you know what I mean. I thought I loved him. It was a mistake."
Dev clapped Lauren's shoulder, squeezing gently. "I'm sorry."
Lauren reached up at patted Dev's hand. "Don't be sorry. It just wasn't meant to be. I'm not even sorry," she admitted. "He wanted a wife. And I wanted to have a career and a playmate, and we just couldn't make it all work. Judd's not a bad guy. We just weren't good for each other."
Lauren was leaving out a lot, and she knew it. But what little anger or frustration she had over her failed marriage was long since gone. And, in truth, it had mostly been directed towards herself anyway. There was no reason to dig up old bones now.
The blonde woman nervously tugged on her glasses, glad to have Dev's close, supportive presence. "I just have no idea why he's here. Judd's not a social kind of guy. He wouldn't just drop by the White House at eight in the evening on a Sunday night to say hello."
"You don't know for certain-"
Another knock indicated Judd and Michael were back. "Come in," Dev called.
Michael marched into the room with Judd Radison following somewhat reluctantly behind him. He quickly introduced Devlyn, who gave Judd a firm handshake, hoping her frank appraisal of the man wasn't as obvious as it felt.
Dev had to give him credit, he was a more handsome man than his photograph had made him seem. Judd was dressed in slacks with a neatly pressed crease down the front, and a navy sport coat. He had short, curly, brown hair and dark blue eyes that constantly flickered around the room as he walked, taking in the wonderful architecture and beautiful furnishings that characterized the White House.
Dev quietly dismissed Michael, making sure he left two agents immediately outside the living room, so that Mr. Radison would have an escort ready whenever he left. Which, despite his harmless demeanor, she hoped would be soon.
"Hello, Lauri." Judd smiled weakly at his ex-wife and gave her a tentative hug, which she returned just as awkwardly.
Dev blinked. The unease between the former couple was palpable. They were married to each other? I'm less standoffish with my hair stylist!
"Hello, Judd." The embrace loosened enough for Lauren to look at his face. She regarded him silently for a moment, and tears began to well in both their eyes.
Something was happening; Dev could see it. She felt confused and anxious at the same time. I guess they do know each other.
Lauren finally pulled away from Judd, the familiar scent of his after-shave lingering in the air. "Let's sit." She left her hand on his forearm as she directed him to the couch. "Tell me what's the matter," she said gently, feeling sick to her stomach. Oh, God. Something was very wrong. Judd's eyes never lied. Despite the fact that his lips could be significantly less reliable.
The man sat down and studied his shoes for a moment.
Lauren perched on the coffee table in front of the sofa and, with pleading eyes, wordlessly held out her hand to Dev.
Dev wouldn't have moved faster if she were on fire. With an enormous sense of relief she stepped forward and took Lauren's hand.
Judd glanced up, surprised by the scene in front of him. His thick brows drew together as he focused on the women's linked fingers and the positions of their bodies. There was no space between them. "Are you two... um...?" He gestured vaguely, and Lauren nodded. "Wow," he breathed, clearly in awe. "Not according to your dad."
The writer had always suspected that Judd and her father remained friends after the divorce. She'd just never had confirmation before now. And frankly, she hadn't been interested enough to ever ask. "It's a sort of recent development, Judd. Now, tell me what's wrong. I can see that something is. Are you in some sort of trouble?"
"No! It's not that. I... um... I moved to Falls Church, Virginia, last month. Took a job at a small architectural firm there. I guess we're sort of neighbors."
"Okay." Lauren drew out the word, rapidly losing patience. She'd forgotten about Judd's penchant for beating around the bush. "And you showed up at the White House to tell me that? C'mon, Judd."
"Your father called me an hour ago. I came right over." He looked at Dev, a little unnerved by her presence. But not enough that he wanted to drag this out any longer. "He wanted me to come and tell you in person, Lauri, so he wouldn't have to tell you on the phone." A deep breath. "Your mo-"
"She finally did it, right?" The color drained from her face as she said the words. "Oh, God," she whispered to herself. She finally got what she wanted .Her stomach threatened to rebel, and she wasn't sure whether she should feel relieved for her mother or appalled by what she'd done. At the moment all she could feel was sick.
Judd nodded quickly, glad for the moment not to have to say the actual words. His forehead was sweaty and his hands were shaped in fists. "I'm so sorry, Lauri. Your dad, he... um... he wants you to call him as soon as you can. She died a couple of hours ago. He didn't want you to be alone."
"She's not alone!" Dev interrupted, her voice cracking with emotion. "She's not."
Lauren pulled her hand from the older woman's, despite the death grip Dev had on her fingers. Leaning forward, she wrapped her arms around her stomach in mute comfort. Her chin quivered slightly, and Dev's chest constricted at the sight. "I don't... don't feel so well."
Lauren's complexion was taking on a slightly green tinge, and tears swam in her soft gray eyes.
"C'mon, sweetheart. I think we need to get you to the bathroom." Dev put her arm around Lauren and began to help her up.
"I'm fine," Lauren insisted unconvincingly, but she didn't stop Dev from guiding her to her feet. "I need to call daddy." Just then her stomach lurched harder, and she bent at the waist and groaned quietly. "God, I think I'm going to be sick." She'd forgotten all about Judd, who was still sitting on the sofa, wishing he were somewhere else, and her legs felt shaky
"I know." Dev took charge of the situation, trying not to think about how she'd felt when Jane had told her about Samantha. "Let me help you." I need to help you. As soon as Lauren was far enough away from the coffee table for Dev to get a good grip on her, the older woman held her around the waist and quickly started walking them to the bathroom. "Please wait," she called back to Judd without looking over her shoulder. "I'll be out in a moment."