Madam President, page 37
"That wasn't your fault, darlin'," Lauren whispered. "Stop blaming yourself. You're not eating." Her fingers grazed dark circles that had become a nearly permanent fixture under Dev's eyes over the past few weeks. "You're not sleeping."
"No!" Lauren lowered her voice. "No. Those people had to be stopped. We both know that. You did what you had to so that could happen. That doesn't make you responsible for the children's deaths. Their parents became responsible when they put them in harm's way. Not you."
Dev nodded miserably. "David has been saying the same thing. But I just feel so damned responsible for it all. And I should. That comes with the job." She exhaled wearily. "In my heart of hearts, I know there are horrible things happening everyday that I can't control, no matter how much I want to. But this... how do you live with this?" Her eyes pleaded with Lauren for an answer, but the biographer held her tongue, letting Dev finish. "I hurt for everyone who died that day. On both sides. But to have the names of those two innocent children weighing on my heart, knowing that if I personally hadn't said ‘Go in there', they'd still be alive..." Dev looked away. "That's hard to deal with."
"I know," Lauren muttered quietly, gently guiding Dev's face back around with the palm of one hand. She softly stroked a prominent cheekbone with her thumb and tilted her head slightly to the side as she spoke, sending soft, pale hair tumbling over one shoulder. "I'm so sorry that you're hurting. But you're a caring woman, Devlyn. I wouldn't expect anything less from you." Lauren smiled softly. "But you made the best choice under the worst of circumstances. You told me so yourself. Don't second-guess that now. You did the right thing." She held out her arms. "You look like you could use a hug."
Dev smiled, slipping into Lauren's outstretched arms. "From you? Always. Never doubt that." Dev felt much of the tension of the past weeks melt away under Lauren's comforting touch. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to be held. "You've got the touch." She murmured, sinking deeper into the embrace. Soothing my soul. "I love you."
Lauren pressed her cheek against Dev's, feeling its softness and warmth. She squeezed her tightly, praying to convey even a fraction of the love and concern she felt for her. "Any time, Devlyn. I love you too."
Dev rested there for a long moment, listening to the birds, finding a surprising amount of solace and peace. She blew out a long, slow breath and did her best to just let the worries and guilt go. It would take more time, to be sure. But she had that. And she wouldn't be alone.
When Dev finally pulled back she was ready for a change of subject. "Now I want you to tell me something." She lifted a dark, playful brow, indicating that the deep thinking part of the conversation was over.
"Whatever it is, I didn't do it." Lauren grinned charmingly, irrationally pleased that she could help to lighten Dev's load.
Dev chuckled. "Oh, I'm sure you didn't. You're totally innocent, right?"
"Oh, yes," Lauren dutifully replied, batting golden lashes.
Dev nodded. "I see. So, tell me, sweetheart, what kind of videos are you watching while I'm away?" Okay, I pretty much know what kind. But it's still fun to watch you squirm. Blue eyes twinkled. "Even more importantly, what kind of books is my mother sending you?"
Lauren's face immediately turned bright red. That was the last question she expected, and her mind reeled for a moment as she searched for a good answer. "Why?" she squeaked. Oh, yeah, I'm brilliant with words. She mentally rolled her eyes.
"Because just before my parents left, my mom said she sent you a book that would help you identify all the parts, despite your good head start." She grinned and bumped shoulders with the shorter woman. "Did she give you a book on the care and feeding of your very own lesbian or something?"
Lauren burst out laughing, feeling a little dizzy from her blush. "Umm... something like that." She wriggled her eyebrows. "It's got pictures."
Dev's own grin widened. She had missed this with Lauren, and needed it just as much as she had needed the talk. She loved teasing her friend. She gave her another slight nudge. "What kind of pictures?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?" And now that I'm feeling better, I think it would be a very good time to show you.
Friday, September 17th
It had been another magical evening for Lauren. In her wildest dreams she had never imagined herself in this place, either emotionally or physically. Part of the magic was undoubtedly the setting, the White House itself, whose walls held unimaginable secrets and whose rooms were as interesting and unique as they were beautiful. Even after nine months of living there, Lauren found herself utterly fascinated. Then there was her dinner partner, the most powerful person on earth. Not too shabby there either. But the biggest factor was Dev herself - not her influence or position, but the woman underneath, whom Lauren had come to adore.
"I can't believe I just had dinner with the King of England." She laughed a little, taking Dev's hand as they strolled through the garden.
The President pulled away in mock annoyance. "Is there no woman in my life impressed with the fact that I am President of the United States?"
"Yes." Lauren rolled her eyes and laughed. Only you could pull off that ego, darlin'. "I was horribly impressed with you the first time I laid eyes on you." Then she paused and started to laugh. "No, that's not quite true. When I first saw you in person I nearly dropped dead on the spot. But obviously I'd seen you on television a gazillion times before that."
Lauren nodded. "At least."
"Wow. My PR people rock." Dev made a motion for Lauren to continue as they passed in and out of the shadows created by the softly glowing lamps that lined the garden path and a full moon.
"I wasn't really impressed with you until I took the time to go beyond the sound bites that saturated network television. But once I did... wow!" Lauren quirked a playful grin. "Or maybe the fact that I was stoned out of my mind at the time."
Dev nearly stumbled. "Excuse me?"
The blonde woman scrunched up her face and smiled brightly, crinkling her nose and the corners of her eyes. "It's not what you think," she laughed.
Dev accepted Lauren's answer easily, but not before offering a tiny snort. She kicked a stone from her path. "So is that why you didn't vote for me? Because I was over-exposed?"
Lauren stopped dead in her tracks, tugging Dev to a halt with her. "How do you know I didn't vote for you?" Her hands automatically went to her hips, and she shot Dev a meaningful look.
Dev scratched her cheek and smiled ruefully. "Oh, that." She winced inwardly. Me and my big mouth.
"Yes, that," Lauren demanded.
"Well, umm... Michael Oaks was a little overzealous in the materials he requested for your background check." Dev's eyes conveyed regret and a good dose of embarrassment. "That information is private. I swear it. But that doesn't mean, if you ask the right people, it's not easy to find out. I'm sorry."
"Are you mad at me?" Dev braced herself.
"Really mad?" Dev tilted her head to the side and peered into eyes that looked nearly translucent in the muted light.
Lauren dropped her hands from her hips. "I should be." She tugged on the stems of her glasses, bringing the glasses a little higher on her nose, and sighed. "But I'm not, I guess."
Dev smiled. "Thank you." But the smile slid away quickly. "Why didn't you vote for me?!"
"Oh, God." Lauren rolled her eyes as the women resumed their walk.
"What?" Dev waved a frustrated hand in the air. "I want to know."
She laughed. "I know you do."
Dev growled in mock frustration. "Why are you torturing me?!"
"Because it's fun."
"Well, there is always that."
A long arm wrapped around Lauren's waist as they slowly walked, the easy rhythm of their strides matching perfectly.
So, this is what being in love is like, Lauren thought with equal parts awe and gratitude. God, was I stupid before. If I'd o
She had, in her own way, loved Judd, but there had always been something missing. A connection that was absent from their marriage. Lauren never felt as if part of herself was missing when they were apart. Even in the best times she had never longed for his touch or laugh or smile. Never bled when he was cut. With Dev it was so different. If, for some reason, they couldn't talk, which they did most evenings when Dev was finally finished for the day, Lauren would lie awake in her bed and listen for the President's distinctive footsteps and the sound of the door opening just down the hall.
No matter what she was doing, or whom she was talking to, she always found her eyes or thoughts straying to Devlyn. And when miles separated them, she felt truly alone.
They walked silently. But it was a comfortable silence. A gentle peace stole over Lauren.
Dev stopped and turned to face the shorter woman, pulling her into a tight embrace. "I'm so very much in love with you, Lauren. You have no idea-"
"No." Lauren shook her head emphatically. "You're wrong. I do. For the first time in my life I honestly do understand. More than that, I finally understand what you were trying to say to me in your room that night. About having it all." She reached up and cupped Dev's cheek, peering into eyes that shone silver in the moonlight.
"I think we do." Dev slowly leaned in and gently kissed the writer. Their lips separated, but only a hairsbreadth, and Devlyn whispered, "It's been worth it, hasn't it?" Believe it like I do, Lauren. With your whole heart.
"Oh, yeah," Lauren sighed, immediately feeling the loss when Dev pulled back far enough so that she could look her in the eye and gage her reaction. Something suddenly clicked in Lauren's mind, and she thought of the fresh roses that had been placed in her room every morning since her very first day at the White House. She smiled, utterly charmed. "You've been courting me from the very beginning, haven't you, Devlyn Marlowe?"
Dev felt a heat flood her cheeks. But the blush went unnoticed in the dim light. The tall woman leaned in until Lauren could feel the heat of her body and whispered in her ear. "That's the point of courting, Lauren. You fall in love so slowly that it becomes a part of you without your knowing it." She brushed her lips against Lauren's ear, feeling the tremor left in the wake of her tender touch. "You do realize that at this very moment the marksmen on the roof are probably watching us," Devlyn teased a bit. "Didn't your little sex video tell you that this is a big turn on for most males of the species?"
Lauren groaned. "The video pretty much ignored men altogether, which was sort of the point, smarty pants. And you're never going to let me live that down, are you?"
"You're not the one who had to explain to her Chief of Staff why there were erotic sounds coming from her bedroom when I called you. He thought we were having phone sex, for God's sake!"
The breeze blew a lock of Lauren's hair into her eyes, and she reached up, absently tucking it behind her ear. "I'm so sorry. That was a bit of a surprise for me too. A joke from Wayne, I think. Or maybe it wasn't a joke. I'm not exactly sure." She leaned into Dev as they began heading back towards the White House. A gust of wind caused her to shiver and shift closer still to her warm-blooded companion.
"Mmm hmm. A little."
"Then I know of a certain fireplace and two cups of cocoa that have our names on them."
Dev kissed the top of Lauren's head. "As many as you'd like."
* * *
Lauren wiggled her toes in front of the fire, grinning from behind her mug as Dev pulled on fleece slippers. "Wimp," she muttered, getting a lovely view of Dev's tongue as a reply. "This is truly heaven. Take those off and let the fire do the work."
"Nuh uh," Dev grunted, picking up her own mug and joining Lauren on the floor. "Hate being barefoot. Have since I was a kid."
"Any particular reason why?" Lauren leaned back, staring into the glowing embers as the wood let off an occasional pop or hiss.
Dev thought about that for a moment, rolling a swallow of hot chocolate around in her mouth. "None that I'm aware of. But maybe I had a traumatic, barefoot incident when I was little."
"Maybe subconsciously you're afraid you'll have to make a mad dash through the woods naked," Lauren taunted. If Dev could find every excuse to bring up the video, the least she could do was to return the favor.
"I admit it wouldn't be on the top of my list. I had scratches in delicate places that itched for weeks."
Lauren snorted, having to clamp her hand down over her mouth to keep from losing her cocoa. "No comment." Ooooo, wait. Wasn't there talk of scratching a particular itch when I was sick? God, I itch!
Dev reached over and pushed a lock of blonde hair behind Lauren's ear. "That's my line."
Lauren looked confused. "God, I itch?"
Lauren shook her head, suddenly realizing what Dev meant. "Never mind."
"Are you okay?" Dev questioned softly. "You seem a little distracted." When Lauren nodded in an uncharacteristically shy fashion and smiled at her, Dev's face instantly mirrored the gesture. She was glad to know she wasn't the only one who could be thrown off track by the simplest of looks or touches or phrases. She drew her fingers lightly up Lauren's neck and threaded them into silky, pale hair. The touch was soft and intimate, and meant to garner the writer's complete attention.
Lauren found herself holding her breath without knowing why.
Dev set down her mug, then deftly relieved Lauren of hers, though neither woman's eyes strayed from the other's. The President lifted her other hand to Lauren's face, tracing a pink cheek with her thumb and silently drawing Lauren closer. She didn't stop until their faces were almost touching.
"I think you should know, Madam President, if you don't kiss me, I'm going to die." Lauren's voice was an octave below normal, and it resonated all the way to Dev's bones.
"Me too," Dev breathed.
Their lips met, slowly, gently, brushing together in an explosion of sensation that caused both women to moan and shiver. Nothing was ever rushed or hurried with Devlyn. And Lauren wasn't sure if she should be singing her praises or cursing her name. But whichever it was, it would have to come later. Right now her body was otherwise engaged. She was set on a sweet, low burn when the kiss deepened, and warm, wet tongues began gently tasting and exploring.
Dev was nearly done in by the soft moans that escaped Lauren as their lips eagerly brushed together again and again. In the garden, in the moonlight, bewitched by a pair of shining gray eyes, Dev had already decided that tonight she wouldn't stop unless Lauren asked her to. The writer's gentle touch, and the heady smell of her skin and hair, only served to strengthen Dev's resolve. She was nervous as hell, but her body shared none of her mind's trepidation and was responding in hot flashes to Lauren's touch and taste and the heat of the moment.
"Oh, God," Lauren gasped softly when they parted for much needed air.
Dev groaned, and her eyes fluttered open with exaggerated slowness. "That was, um..."
"Oh, yeah," the President agreed quickly. "But your kisses always are." She wiggled her brows a little, trying not to look as aroused as she felt.
"Can we-" Lauren paused and wet her lips. "Can we do that again?" she asked quietly, giving Dev an adorable grin that she knew the older woman found totally irresistible.
Dev nodded nervously. "Actually, why don't we move someplace where we can be more comfortable?"
The blonde woman glanced down, flushing a little at the suggestion. She was pretty damned comfortable right where she was. "Like?"
Considering the couch was all of six inches awa
Dev placed warm hands on Lauren's thighs, and the smaller woman adjusted her legs so that Dev could kneel between them. This was different. Mixed in with the desire she'd seen so often in her friend's eyes, was a good dose of fear. Lauren could think of only one reason that Dev would be afraid right now, as opposed to all the other times they'd kissed in front of fire... after a wonderful evening together, sitting so close together they could feel the heat of each other's skin through their clothes. Oh, God. Lauren suddenly became very aware of her own heartbeat and the sensitivity of her skin.