Madam President, page 43
"Night, Emma," Lauren and Dev called back.
"Wow." Lauren shook her head in admiration. "She did a great job this afternoon. I could barely hear all those screaming second graders from my room today. With my door shut. And my headphones on. And my head buried in a pillow."
Dev rolled her eyes. "Wimp."
"True," Lauren chuckled. She liked her quiet time, and life at the White House certainly was never that. At least not with the Marlowes in residence. "So..." Lauren sidled up to Dev and molded her body to the President's lean, lanky form. She dropped a kiss on Dev's throat. "What does the big birthday girl want today?"
Dev growled as she captured Lauren's lips in a passionate kiss. When she heard the younger woman moan softly, she deepened the kiss, reveling in the taste and scent of her partner. When she pulled away, Lauren looked a little dazed as she slowly licked her lips. "Does that give you a hint?"
Lauren swallowed. "Uh huh." She grabbed Dev's hand and began leading her out of the living room. "We're going to my place. And I'm not letting you out until morning."
Dev was willingly led along as far as her front door. Then she pulled Lauren to a stop.
"What?" Lauren asked in exasperation. "I've been waiting my turn all day!"
Dev smiled. "I know, sweetheart. But couldn't you just stay here? What if the kids need something, or David could-"
"Nope. It's all arranged." She tugged hard on Dev's hand, nearly taking her right off her feet.
"God." Lauren rolled her eyes, laughing when Dev didn't get a chance to close the door behind her before she was dragged out into the hall. "Emma knows. David knows. And probably the entire Service knows that I'm having," she unceremoniously pushed open her door and ushered Dev inside, "a sleepover tonight."
"Is that what you told them?" Dev chuckled, scanning the floor for Princess and Gremlin. She was always wary of surprise attacks. And since coming to the White House, Princess had taken on Gremlin's decidedly unpleasant disposition. Well, unpleasant to Dev. Everyone else, except for Michael Oaks, who Dev suspected hated Santa Claus and his own mother, seemed to adore both dogs.
"Yup. That's exactly what I told them." Lauren finally stopped her march when she stood in front of her couch. She lifted Dev's hand and kissed it softly. "Sit. It's time for me to give you my present now."
"Heh." A lecherous grin raced across Dev's face. "Do I get to unwrap it?" She reached out and slipped her hands under Lauren's University of Tennessee sweatshirt, resting her palms against a warm, firm belly.
Lauren smacked Dev's hands away and pushed her down onto the sofa, pausing to kiss her soundly. "Yes, you do. But not till later."
Dev threw out her lower lip, and Lauren couldn't help but laugh. "Sit tight for one second so I can get your present, okay?"
Dev nodded indulgently. "Yes, ma'am."
"Thank you." Lauren patted Dev's shoulder as she disappeared behind the President and headed for her desk. She retrieved an envelope from its shiny surface, surprised by her own nervousness. Relax. This was a good idea. She won't think it's stupid. Lauren winced inwardly. I hope.
The blonde woman dropped down on the couch next to Dev, sitting Indian style.
Dev's gaze drifted to Lauren's hands. She waited a few more seconds before her curiosity got the better of her. "Aren't you going to give it to me?" she prompted.
"Uh... of course I am." Lauren shook her head in dismay, suddenly wishing she'd gotten Dev a more traditional gift. But knowing it was too late now, she screwed up her courage and slowly passed over the thick envelope. "Happy birthday, Devlyn."
Dev smiled brightly. "Thanks." With a gleam in her eyes she tore it open, blinking at what appeared to be a contract from Starlight Publishing. She glanced up in question at Lauren, who simply gestured back to the papers.
"Read it. You went to Harvard." The writer's eyes twinkled. "I know you can understand a simple contract between Lauren Gallagher and her unnamed co-author. The co-author for her next Adrienne Nash novel."
"I..." Dev's face grew pensive. "I don't understand."
"I know how much you enjoy my Adrienne Nash novels. I thought you might like to help me with the next one." She worried the inside of her cheek. "I start planning the next when I'm about three-fourths finished with the one I'm working on." Lauren shrugged one shoulder. "That's where I am now. The contract is a 50/50 royalty with me and my yet to be named co-author. Nobody ever has to know about it but you, me, and the IRS." She grinned.
Blue eyes widened. "You want me to work on your book?" Dev whispered.
Lauren nodded slowly, not sure how to take Dev's reaction. "Only if you want to," she clarified quickly. "oh, crap. It's a stupid idea, right? I should have gotten you a sweater or something. I mean, you're only the busiest person on earth, and there's no way you'd-" Her words were cut off by an incendiary kiss, the force of which nearly sent her off the other end of the sofa.
"It's great," Dev muttered against Lauren's lips. "Next to Ash coming on my birthday, it's the best birthday gift anyone's ever given me. It's another wonderful reason to spend time with you." Dev paused to slowly draw her tongue along Lauren's top, then bottom lip, earning a deep growl from her lover that sent shivers down her spine. "Even though being crazy in love with you is more than enough reason for me." She pulled the rumpled contract from between their bodies and dropped it to the floor, moaning softly as Lauren's hands slid under her shirt and around to her back, where they began teasing the sensitive skin between her shoulder blades. "Lauren?"
The writer was quickly getting lost in a sensual haze, which caused Dev's muttered words to roll right over her. She pulled Dev closer, moaning as her fingers threaded into soft, dark hair, and she felt Dev's entire body came to rest solidly atop her.
"Mmm?" she breathed faintly.
"Can I unwrap my other present now?"
"Oh, yeah." Lauren's eyes slid shut as her shirt was nudged over her breasts, then head. "God, I love your birthday."
Thursday, November 4th
"WHAT IN BLAZES is taking so long?" Dev complained.
"Don't worry so much. Whatever happens, we'll be fine." Right?
"Darlin', it's only been thirty minutes," Lauren reminded as she crossed, then uncrossed, then crossed her legs again.
"I can see that you're not worried."
The two women were sitting in side-by-side, wingback chairs, clutching throw pillows that had large, gold, Presidential seals embroidered on their centers. They were in one of Dev's sitting rooms, the Treaty Room, waiting anxiously to find out whether, by the end of the day, Lauren would no longer be the President's biographer.
Things had come to a head last month when the Emancipation Party officially called for Lauren's resignation. Privately, Dev had been told that if her girlfriend didn't resign by Thanksgiving, Lauren would be fired outright. Dev's response, which was that if Lauren were fired she would break with the ‘bastards' for good, could be heard at the opposite end of the White House. It had been a shout fest of epic proportions that even David couldn't smooth over.
Wayne and two lawyers from Starlight Publishing had arrived in D.C. yesterday. They were now in a meeting with Party Chairman Jordon, the Party's lawyer, and David, who, with great difficulty, had convinced Dev and Lauren to wait in the Treaty Room and leave the negotiating to the lawyers.
"You know," Dev began, pitching the pillow across the room and jumping to her feet, "they can't make you leave. They can't!"
Lauren exhaled wearily. "Devlyn, think about this for a moment. My credibility has taken a serious hit. They have a right to be upset. No matter what now, they're not going to get the biography they paid for."
"Bullshit! But you can still stay here, whether you're doing the book or not."
Lauren tightened her grip on her pillow, her soul aching. "I don't think that would be such a good
"What?" Dev marched back to Lauren and dropped to her knees in front of the younger woman's chair. She felt a surge of panic tear through her. "What... what did you say?" No! I did not hear that. I didn't!
The look in Dev's eyes sent a stabbing sensation straight to Lauren's heart, and she found her mouth refusing to repeat the words. "This is hurting you," Lauren finally whispered, fighting back tears. "The polls-"
Dev rested her palms on Lauren's knees, a determined glint in her eyes. "I don't give a damn about the polls! This is still my home, Lauren. I won't be told who can stay with me and who can't. I love you, and I don't want you to go anywhere."
"I love you too," Lauren insisted. "But if my staying here is ruining your career, then I should leave." It was the last thing she wanted to do, but she'd be dammed if she would take Devlyn down with her.
"Polls go up and down. I'm higher in the numbers than I was last month, and things are already looking better. It was the bombings that really hurt me in the public eye, sweetheart. Not you. And despite the Party's complaints to the contrary, most people couldn't care less who I'm in love with and where she lives. This is just the bastard conservative wing flexing its muscles. And the head bastard, Bruce Jordon, is posturing and trying to gain a better foothold for himself within the Party. If they can get me to ask you to leave the White House, it will be a great show of strength. If I refuse, then they'll just wave their ‘superior morals' in America's face and blame every ill in government on our relationship. This is the ugly side of politics, Lauren."
"There's an attractive side?" A small smile began to twitch at Lauren's lips.
Dev shook her head in amused exasperation. "I'm sort of partial to the power, doing things to help mankind, shape the future..." She shrugged. "Little things like that."
"You would be, Wonder Woman."
Dev relaxed a little. Lauren was teasing her. That was a good sign. "For some reason I can't fathom, they can't seem to get it through their thick skulls that I would never ask you to leave. Never. "
Lauren opened her mouth to speak, but Dev pressed two fingers against her lips to forestall her words. She needed to clear this up once and for all. Because she, for one, knew she could never live with the doubt. With her free hand, Dev gently fingered the ends of pale hair that barely brushed Lauren's shoulders. "Do you want to leave?"
Lauren shook her head vigorously.
Thank you, God. "Are you happy living with us here?"
There was a second's hesitation, while the events of the past year raced through Lauren's mind like wildfire. The battles with the Press. Dev's shooting. The loss of a great deal of her personal freedom. Never being truly alone, but never being lonely. Dealing with idiots like Michael Oaks. The increased responsibility and fear that came along with loving Dev and her children. She quickly nodded. Lauren had never been happier.
Dev let out a shuddering breath and licked dry lips. A single second had never seemed so long. "Okay, then," she muttered. "Good." The President drew back her fingers and kissed Lauren gently on the lips. "Then no matter what happens with the job, you'll stay, right?" Her eyebrows lifted in entreaty. "Promise?"
Lauren smiled, giving in to what she really wanted in the first place. She had faith that Dev would be able to fend off the political attacks that her presence here would bring. And with her next breath, Lauren reached out and grabbed onto the life that Dev was offering. "I promise. They'll have to bomb me out."
Dev's heart started beating again. "It's about time you gave up on that selfless crap and got with the program, Mighty Mouse."
They both laughed, but the sound died quickly when there was a knock at the door; David opened it and poked his head inside. "Ready?"
Dev pushed herself off Lauren's knees and stood, offering her hand to her lover. When they were both on their feet, Dev nodded to him and David opened the door, allowing the small group of men and women to file into the Treaty Room.
Lauren held her breath as her eyes darted to Wayne. He gave her a smug smile, and she almost ended up in a heap on the floor from the sudden release of tension.
David was the first person to speak. "Madam President, I think we've come up with a solution that we can all live with."
Dev crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Bruce Jordon. "Is she fired?" She casually draped an arm over Lauren's shoulders and pulled her close, raising an eyebrow in challenge.
The silver-haired man crossed his own arms and jutted out his chin. "One way or the other, Ms. Strayer will no longer be employed by the Emancipation Party." His defiance was obvious, and Dev felt her temper begin to flare.
The President lifted her arm from Lauren's shoulders and took a step towards Chairman Jordon. Her hands twitched, wanting to form fists. "You mother-"
But David slapped her on the back - hard - causing her to cough and sputter, and cutting off Dev's snarl mid-sentence. "You really ought to see to that cough, Madam President."
Dev turned murderous eyes on her best friend.
David cleared his throat, figuring he'd better get to the heart of the matter before Dev had a stroke or killed him. Or both. "As I was about to say, this is the arrangement that, with Ms. Strayer's consent, we'll implement immediately. Lawyers from the Party, as well as Starlight Publishing, agree that, should the matter go to trial, there is a reasonable likelihood that Lauren's romantic relationship with you, Madam President, materially alters her ability to perform in a manner that is consistent with the terms and reasonable expectations of her contract. In other words, she may be found to be in breach. Though, at this point, all parties concerned want to avoid litigation."
Lauren threw up her hands and rolled her eyes.
"What in the hell does that mean?!" Dev roared. "Speak English, not lawyer."
David pursed his lips. "Here's the deal, Madam President." But he glanced at Lauren as well. "Starlight Publishing has offered to buy out the remainder of Lauren's contract with the Emancipation Party. In addition to taking over her salary for the next three years, they will compensate the Party for the salary she's already been paid over this past year. Starlight will also pay a reasonable fee for the biographical information Ms. Strayer gathered while working for the party."
"If you can call two million dollars reasonable," Wayne snorted.
David ignored him. "In return, Ms. Strayer will deliver a biography as planned. However, she will be under the direct employ of Starlight Publishing, who will receive all profits."
Lauren finally joined the fray. "So, I can continue to do my job, write the book, live here, and the only thing that changes for me is that I report to Starlight and sever any ties with the Emancipation party?"
Wayne winked at Lauren. "That's the deal, sweetheart. You can thank me later."
"Where do I sign?"
There was a knock on the door.
"Madam President, I have the contract that Chief of Staff McMillian requested," Liza called from the outer office.
"Come in, Liza, and thank you," David answered as the President's tall assistant brushed past the attorneys and Wayne and presented David with three copies of the contract they'd just negotiated.
Wayne handed Lauren a pen. "I think this is where you sign."
Starlight Publishing and the Emancipation Party's attorneys each took a moment to give the document a quick once over before their solemn nods declared that it was, indeed, an accurate reflection of the deal they'd struck.
Bruce Jordon signed first, then Wayne, and finally Lauren, who launched herself at Wayne and gave the flustered man a firm kiss on the mouth for his efforts. When he figured out what was happening, he pulled Lauren into an affectionate hug, laughing when she squeezed him so hard he could barely breathe. "Thank you, Wayne," she whispered in the stocky man's ear. "You don't know how much this means to me."
"You don't have to thank me, sweetheart. A bestseller will be thanks enough."
Lauren laughed then gave David
David's already ruddy skin took on a darker shade of red. He shrugged lightly. "Just doing my job." But his warm brown eyes glittered with pride over a job well done.
Lauren raised an eyebrow. "Uh huh."
"What about my hug?" Dev griped playfully. "I'm last on the list?"
Lauren grabbed the President's hand. "You rate a full-blown celebration, Madam President. Liza," she said, never breaking eye contact with Dev, "how long until the President's next appointment?"
"Twenty three, nearly twenty four minutes," Liza answered without hesitation, causing Wayne to raise both eyebrows. The woman was a human organizer and alarm clock all rolled into one. He wondered whether she was single.