Madam President, page 45
A large part of Lauren's anger deflated, only to be replaced with genuine hurt. "No, I'm not happy. All you had to do was say that in the first place." She turned her back on the President, and her voice dropped to a whisper. "Judd lied to me whenever it suited his purposes. I won't put up with that again, Devlyn." Not from someone I love.
"That's nice." She purposely ignored the barely detectable slump of Lauren's shoulders. "Thanks. Thanks for comparing me to the slime ball, cheating ex-husband, who was screwing his girlfriend and lying to you about it. Excuse me if I happen to have a meeting I can't really discuss." She stopped and grabbed her jacket off the couch, nearly taking the arms off as she pulled it on.
Lauren whirled around, gray eyes flashing. "How did you know about that?" she spat. "I know I never told you that."
"How in the hell do you think I knew that?" she huffed, buttoning her jacket. "I did the damned math when the FBI gave me your background file." Lauren opened her mouth, but Dev kept right on talking. "And before you go and get all pissed off at me for that, you don't really think the Party would have hired you without doing a complete background check first? Or that I would invite you into my home, with my children, without doing one! God dammit, Lauren! I've always been straight with you. This one time I have something I can't talk about, and you act like it's the end of the world. Well, it's not. It's just something I can't talk about."
Lauren's face contorted in anger as she ground out, "Get out!"
"Fine!" Dev turned on her heel and marched towards the door. "You know where to find me when you come to your senses."
"Why should I bother to find you? I'm sure you've got your spies watching every move I make. You can come to me!" Lauren rushed past Devlyn and flung the door open for her. It slammed so loudly against the wall that a picture hanging in the hallway outside crashed to the floor.
Dev took a deep breath and stepped calmly out of the room. She picked up the picture and hung it back on the wall, glancing back at Lauren when she was finished. "I don't have anyone watching you. I love you. But I won't be treated this way either. I'm not out to hurt you. And you know that." She felt the tears in her eyes and forced them back. "But apparently you can't afford me the same courtesy." Dev took a deep breath. "Good night, Lauren. Sleep well. I love you." She fussed with the picture for another few seconds before turning and slowly walking away.
Lauren's chest constricted at Dev's words. She nearly went after her, but her stubbornness and anger won out, causing her feet to stay firmly rooted to the ground. After all, she wasn't the one who had lied. Why should she chase after Dev to apologize when she hadn't done anything wrong? Lauren snorted derisively, completely disgusted with herself. She knew that one more look into those watery blue eyes, and she'd be saying she was sorry whether she wanted to or not. "Damn. Damn. Damn," she muttered to herself, before quietly closing her door.
Gremlin and Princess poked their heads out from under Lauren's bed now that the loud, unpleasant lady was gone. With dark, beady eyes, they watched Lauren shut the door, then lean against it for a long moment with her eyes closed.
"You can come out now, you cowards." Lauren sighed dejectedly, wondering how in the hell things had got out of control so quickly. "She's gone." Lauren flopped gracelessly onto the bed and hugged her pillow. She blinked rapidly, sending a scattering of hot tears cascading down her cheeks.
Gremlin jumped up onto the bed and snuggled alongside his mistress, who pulled him close and kissed him on the top of the head.
"Thanks, buddy," she whispered to her pet. "You were right. I definitely needed a hug."
* * *
Dev entered her private office in the residence to be greeted by a smiling David and the jeweler. Her jaw was clenched shut like a steel trap as she tried to shake off her hurt and anger. She shrugged out of her rumpled jacket and hung it on a coat rack near the door. As soon as Dev let go of it, it slipped off the wooden hook and fell to the floor. But Dev remained frozen, not giving a damn about the blazer. She stood that way, staring at the wall, for a long moment before taking a deep breath and turning around to greet her guest.
"Good evening," Dev said, still not leaving her spot by the door. "I'm," she stopped and cleared her throat, coughing a little. "I'm sorry I'm late. I was unavoidably detained."
One look at Dev's face and David made his way across the room as quickly as he could without alarming the jeweler. "Are you okay?" he queried under his breath, reaching down for the jacket and settling it on a hook.
"Maybe we should wait on this, David." Her voice cracked. "Now might not be the time."
David blinked rapidly as his mouth worked for several seconds before any sound came out. He lowered his voice. "What do you mean now is not the time?"
"Lauren and I just had a huge argument." She bit her lip. "Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I'm rushing things."
"What?" David hissed, gently grabbing Dev by the forearm and leading her out of the room. He glanced over his shoulder at a waiting Alvin Cartier. "We'll be just one moment. Please sit down." Once they were safely in Dev's den, David put his hands on his hips. "What happened?"
Dev paced for a moment and then turned to her friend. "I forgot about the appointment tonight, and when I remembered I got so nervous Lauren picked up on it and asked me what was wrong, and then it all just went downhill from there." It had all come out in a rush, and she took a deep breath and sighed. "We had an argument; she accused me of lying to her and of being like her ex-husband and..." She rubbed her temples. "I'm not like that. I know she was upset, and it was a silly argument, but..."
Dev felt confused and suddenly very tired. All she wanted to do now was go to her room and shower and go to bed. She knew that tomorrow it would probably all be over, but right now it just hurt.
"But do you really think you're rushing it? Because if you do, then I'm marching out there right now and telling that man to go home and keep his mouth shut." David squeezed Dev's shoulder comfortingly. "This one is your call, Madam President." The red-haired man didn't think for one second that Dev would take him up on it. But it was in the ‘Best Friend and Chief of Staff Handbook' for him to offer anyway.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "God, I must be out of my damned mind. No. I'll take a look. I love her too much to let her go. She's not getting away from me that easily. I'll just have to show her what this Yankee is made of." She grinned. "And then use the guilt I'm going to be able to milk this for, for the first two years we're married."
David let out an explosive breath. "You had me worried there for a minute, Devil. I thought you were going to do something stupid over one argument." He smirked. "Not that it would be the first time." His face grew serious. "And what in the hell did you do to rate a comparison to Lauren's ex? I've never even heard her mention him."
"You know," she shook her head, "I'm not sure. She said I was like him because he lied to her. But I know deep down in her heart she doesn't believe that. At least I hope she doesn't. She was just mad because I'm an idiot. I'm so nervous over this whole thing I'm not handling her very well right now. I'll have to figure out a way to make it up to her."
David rolled his eyes and shook his head, knowing Dev would be one of the Devil's own until she made up with Lauren. "How about you start by going out there and picking something really special? You can grovel later. I've always found that particularly effective with Beth."
Dev laughed, already feeling better. "Nice to know I can get groveling lessons from an expert." She slapped her friend on the back. "Now let me go find the perfect ring for my lady."
Wednesday, November 10th
Dev had completed her stretching routine three times, waiting for Lauren. She finally realized that the writer wouldn't be coming this morning. "She must really be pissed off at me."
"Ma'am?" Jack, her running partner, and the one agent Dev was particularly fond of, lifted a brow. "Are you okay?"
She blew out a breath, sending her bangs into disarray. "Yeah, I'm fine for an idiot. C'mon. Le
After the shooting it was Dev's shoulder that gave her, and continued to give her, problems. Her hip had fully recovered, and she was pretty much back to her old self as far as jogging was concerned. Despite that, it was her hip that ached whenever it rained or it was particularly cold. And since it was both on this crummy, pre-dawn November day, they were relegated to running laps in the gym. Dev was angry... with herself and with Lauren. She took out that anger on the track, and, by extension, on the agents who ran with her. Her blistering pace caused two of them to fall out, leaving them panting on the floor.
Jack was keeping up, but it wasn't easy. He could tell the President was working through something in her mind, and he hoped to God that she would find the answer soon, before the entire detail was reduced to a gasping, heaving mess. But he had to admit it; there was something kick ass about having a President who could give the most fit agents a run for their money.
By the time Dev was finally finished running, nearly an hour later, she was limping slightly and her hair, shorts, and T-shirt were soaked with sweat. She walked the track a couple of times to cool down, before grabbing a towel from her bag and wiping away the sweat that was pouring down her face. As she lowered the towel, Liza entered the gym.
"Good morning, Madam President."
"Not really, Liza," Dev groaned as she waved good-bye to the men and women who had run with her this morning. She received several barely veiled dirty looks as the agents filed out of the gym. The run had done Dev good, giving her time to set her resolve. "But I have hopes that I can salvage it."
"Nothing. What's on the agenda for today?"
"Well, since it's Saturday, it's very light. But I have some good news for you."
Dev smiled a pathetically grateful smile. "Wonderful. I could use it."
"The Secretary General of the United Nations called this morning. He regrets to inform you that he will be unable to attend lunch with you today. He is currently snowed in, and the storm is keeping everything grounded." Liza gave a little grin as she looked at her organizer. "I assured him that we could reschedule next week, and then I managed to make your afternoon appointment with Secretary Wisecroft a lunch meeting. So after your meeting with Press Secretary Allen, you have lunch with Secretary Wisecroft, and then you're free for the rest of the day."
"You know," Dev's smile grew larger, "you're a good kid, Liza. I may just have to adopt you."
Liza smiled, genuinely glad that she had made her boss happy. "My parents might protest, but I appreciate the thought, ma'am."
"Okay, then," Dev began as she exited the gym and headed towards the residence with Liza hot on her heels, "I have a couple of things I need you to do for me, then you can take the rest of the day off too."
* * *
Skipping their usual run rather than facing Dev before she was ready to talk, Lauren had spent the day alone in Georgetown, shopping and trying not to think about the way they'd left things the night before. But the time away today had done her good. And she felt as though, once she was able to step back, she could put things in perspective. Better late than never. Lauren was still confused about why Dev thought it necessary to lie to her, but at least now that she'd had a chance to calm down a little, she felt as if they could talk about it. She hoped.
Lauren discovered that she needed a day away from the White House, Secret Service, and especially the Press, more than she'd realized. She'd never understood what a valuable commodity privacy was until it was in short supply.
When it became public knowledge that she and Dev were a couple, the two women had had a huge argument over Lauren's turning down the Secret Service protection that Dev was determined to pay for out of her own pocket. It wasn't just the money. Dev and her family were very well off, and this wouldn't affect their standard of living in the least. It was the principle more than anything. Lauren couldn't stand feeling like she was under lock and key.
She had just been fooling herself, of course. Lauren had been recognized twice today. Once by a middle-aged construction worker who was working on the building next to where she'd parked her car. When he saw who she was, he began screaming something about taxes, alimony, and President Marlowe. Lauren didn't stick around for an in-depth explanation. Instead, she picked up her pace.
Next, a clerk at a toy store had recognized her when she was purchasing David, Liza and Dev matching, hot pink stress balls. Lauren was surprised when the frizzy-haired teenager asked for her autograph. She was about to ask the girl which one of her biographies she'd read, when the clerk started peppering her with questions about the relationship between her and Dev. What kind of shampoo did Dev use? What was it like living in the White House? Were the President's eyes really as blue as they looked on television? Lauren actually answered that one, laughing out loud as the girl nearly swooned when she confided that somehow, impossibly, they were even better in real life.
Lauren had to face the bitter truth. While she had achieved moderate success in her own right, her private life had never been public. Not like it was now. But even though her patience had been pushed to the limit time and time again since she'd moved into the White House, in her heart she believed Dev was worth every moment of it.
Now, after having her bags full of Christmas presents for the Marlowe children searched and x-rayed, she was back in the East Wing and ready to search out Dev and try to settle things between them before they got any further out of hand. The writer's brows came together when she found a note taped to the front of her door. Fumbling with her bags, she pulled off the note and managed to open the door and stumble into her room without dropping anything. "Okay, next time, when the porter asks if I want help, I say ‘yes'," she muttered.
Gremlin appeared from behind the sofa and began whimpering with joy as he wound himself around Lauren's legs. She laughed. "I love you too. Gimme just a second, and you can slobber on me all you want."
She gently dropped the bags on her bed and perched on its edge. Gremlin jumped up next to her and laid his face on her lap, where he received an immediate scratching behind his ears. "Pleasure hound." Grem's tail, had it been able to reach the bed, would have begun to thump wildly against it, as he let out a happy moan. "Yeah, yeah, I'll take you for a walk in just a while. Let my feet rest for a minute, will ya? Should we see what's in the envelope?"
Lauren slid her nail under the flap of the envelope, and it opened with a tiny pop. She pulled out the note card, her face creasing into a brilliant smile before she even started reading. Devlyn's hand writing. Taped to the note was a piece of milk chocolate, wrapped in bright silver foil. "Mmm..." Lauren let out a sensual groan at the aroma, as she immediately opened the wrapper and popped it into her already watering mouth.
"Sorry. No chocolate." She petted him sympathetically. "I could never be a dog."
Lauren allowed the rich chocolate to melt in her mouth, pooling on her tongue as she read.
I didn't mean to hurt you or lie to you. I've been a little preoccupied by something very important these last few weeks, and I had a meeting last night that brought me a step closer to my goal. I'm afraid I can't talk about it right now. Just this once, you'll have to trust me.
I wasn't thinking, and I made a poor choice. I know none of this makes sense to you. But I'll explain the best I can if you let me. Just know that I love you, and I don't like it when we argue. I thought of you all day today.
There's something I'd like to share with you. All you have to do is follow the trail I left for you.
With all my love,
She laughed at Dev's signature . Always the charmer, Devlyn. I shouldn't have thrown you out of my room before we could work things out. It was immature, and Lauren knew she'd simply let her anger get the best of her. Now, however, she was more than ready to talk. The trail I left for you? She scratched he
Lauren opened the door and peeked out into the hallway. Sure enough, there were chocolates sprinkled down the hall in the opposite direction from where she'd just come. I need to look down every once in a while.
Closing her door, Lauren moved a few paces down the hall and picked up another foil-wrapped chocolate. A few more feet, and there was another. And so the trail continued, with Lauren scooping up the candy, until she was led right to the door of the President's formal dining room.
The writer paused at the door to chew and swallow, having popped no less than four pieces of chocolate into her mouth on the way there. She wiped the corners of her mouth with her fingertips, realizing that she was a little nervous. "Relax. It's just Devlyn," she whispered to herself. They'd argued occasionally over the past eleven months. But rarely did it reduce either one of them to tears. And this time it had done just that to both of them.