Madam president, p.46

Madam President, page 46


Madam President

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  Lauren took a deep breath and screwed up her courage, ignoring the sudden churning in her belly. She lifted her hand to knock but noticed that the door was just a crack open. The blonde woman hesitated with her hand still in the air, not sure whether the open door was an invitation or an oversight on the part of the President. Deciding that Dev made very few mistakes, Lauren pushed open the door and made her way inside.

  The Presidential dining room was one of the younger woman's favorite places in the magnificent house. It had a light, airy feeling that was aided by its high ceilings and floor-length, mint-colored drapes. A delicate crystal chandelier hung high over the dark wood table, and a pristine, white marble mantelpiece surrounded a fireplace. The chairs were upholstered with a green, pale yellow, and rose floral print cloth, whose colors were repeated in the beautiful bouquets of fresh flowers that adorned the tabletop and mantel. It was elegant without being excessive.

  Dev looked up from her seat at a small intimate dining table that was set for two. The lights were low but several candles were lit and the curtains were open, allowing the last remnants of daylight to spill through the window. Dev quickly jumped to her feet. She'd been waiting for over an hour, hoping that Lauren wouldn't just toss her note in the garbage can. She tried to find her voice as she gestured to the table. "Would you like to have an early dinner with me?"

  Lauren let out a relieved breath and nodded quickly, crossing the floor to stand in front of her lover. "Absolutely," she said softly. Lauren reached up and affectionately raked her fingers through Dev's slightly askew bangs. God, I think I'd forgive her anything. "I'd... I'd love to."

  Dev smiled. She reached out to take Lauren's hand, but stopped herself. There was no way she was going to invade her personal space without her permission, despite the fact that Lauren was still, seemingly absently, running her fingers through Dev's hair. "I'm so sorry," she said sincerely, pulling out a chair for Lauren.

  Lauren didn't say a word. The look of indecision on Dev's face, when she began to offer her hand but quickly withdrew it, pierced Lauren's heart. She reached out and took Dev's hand, wrapping strong fingers around Dev's longer ones. She tugged the taller woman towards her and surged forward herself, pulling Dev into a desperately tight embrace. She buried her face in the crook of Dev's neck, smiling when long arms immediately wrapped around her, returning the heartfelt gesture. "I'm sorry too," Lauren said on a slightly ragged exhale.

  "I hate it when we argue," Dev whispered back. She tightened her arms around Lauren. "Let's not do that again anytime soon, okay?"

  Lauren nodded against Dev's shoulder. "Deal."

  The viselike grip on Devlyn's chest eased, and she said a small prayer of thanks as her world began to right itself.

  Lauren greedily drew in a breath that brought with it the warm, clean scent of Dev's skin. She found it comforting in the extreme and didn't want to move from this spot. But after a moment she did, knowing they weren't quite finished yet. Apologies were one thing, but this particular argument called for explanations as well. She licked her lips and leaned back in Dev's embrace, tilting her head so that she could watch Dev's face as she spoke. "Can we talk about what happened?"

  "I think two reasonable adults can sit here over a wonderful dinner and talk about it, if you'd like." Dev began to move towards the phone, but Lauren held her firm.

  "Later. Please."

  Dev turned back to Lauren, swallowing hard. "Okay. I... but I need to know if you really think I would ever intentionally lie to you." Dev sat down in her chair and gestured for Lauren to sit in hers. Then a bleak thought entered her mind. Oh, God, what if she says yes?

  "No, darlin'," Lauren reassured quickly, seeing the pleading look in Dev's eyes. She sat down and scooted her chair closer to Dev, not stopping until their knees were touching. "I don't. At least not if it was a planned thing."

  Dev's gaze dropped to the floor.

  "I can understand your having a private meeting," Lauren paused here, treading very carefully as she reached out and grabbed a fork from the table and restlessly ran her fingertips over its prongs. "You've gone to lots of private meetings concerning security issues or whatever. And I've tried hard not to make myself a nuisance." A wry smile curled Lauren's lips. "Which is no easy task, considering I start missing you like crazy after a few hours."

  Dev dared to glance up and meet Lauren's steady gaze. A stupid, happy grin creased her cheeks. "You don't know how many meetings I've sat through where you were the main thing on my mind. I don't just miss you when we're apart. Hell, I start missing you before you're even gone." Dev laughed quietly. "I actually anticipatorily miss you."

  Lauren blushed slightly, but continued. "I wasn't upset that you had to go. I was upset because when I asked you whether or not you had plans, you said no, even though that wasn't the truth." She stared at Dev with a painfully open expression. "Why would you do that, Devlyn?" Lauren asked quietly.

  Dev nervously twisted the napkin she's picked up while Lauren was talking. "Lots of reasons, I guess." And they all suck. "I'm dealing with something now that is downright nerve-racking for me. I had a very important appointment last night, which I nearly missed because I scheduled our time together to work on the biography right over it. I forgot all about my prior commitment until a few minutes into our time together."

  Devlyn shrugged one shoulder. "Then it sort of hit me between the eyes, and I panicked. I was embarrassed by my mistake and didn't want to make you feel bad or..." she winced, admitting this to herself as well as Lauren, "look foolish by having to cancel our meeting. So I tried to end it as quickly as possible. And then, to make matters worse, I tried to cover for the rotten decision I'd just made."

  Lauren let out a slightly shaky breath. "That's it?" When Dev instantly nodded, she couldn't help but roll her eyes at herself. She'd been imagining all sorts of rotten things. She liked Dev's simple explanation much, much better. The blonde woman set the fork back down and reached out to still Dev's nervous hands. "It's okay," she promised.

  Dev let out her own ragged breath as relief coursed through her.

  Lauren lifted Dev's hand and brought it to her lips, tenderly kissing a sensitive palm. "I guess we sort of pushed each other's buttons yesterday, huh?"

  Dev nodded and took a sip of melted ice water. "You really hit both of mine by comparing me to Judd. I've told you things about myself that no one on this earth but you and I know. And I trust you to protect them implicitly. I've been honest with you even when it would have been easier to omit or color the truth. So when you compared me to your ex-husband, who I knew had cheated on you..." A breath. "That hurt a lot."

  Lauren's stomach twisted at the thought of causing Dev pain. "That's not what I meant. At least not completely. I was trying to tell you that when you lied, it made me feel like I felt when Judd did it, which was lousy."

  The writer studied their linked hands. Time to open up a little yourself, Lauri. It's your turn. "By the time Judd had started having an affair, for all intents and purposes, our marriage was over. I couldn't muster enough concern over our relationship to even begrudge his looking for happiness... or sex, I guess, elsewhere. But even though we weren't lovers anymore, I still considered him a dear friend." Lauren's voice was soft, but Dev could hear the frustration leaking into her words. "When I asked him outright if he was seeing someone else, he denied it. And he did it over and over again." Lauren shook her head, not quite understanding it herself. "I know it sounds funny, but in my mind that, and not the affair itself, was the real betrayal."

  Lauren felt Dev squeezing her hand, and she returned the comforting pressure. Her face took on a slightly lost expression. "God, Devlyn, the thought of our drifting apart like that and not even caring... and..." She stopped and swallowed around the solid lump that was forming in her throat.

  "That's not going to happen to us, and you know why?" There was a fierceness in Dev's eyes that Lauren found oddly comforting. "Because we can do this after we argue. We can sit down and
talk about it and make it better." Devlyn caressed Lauren's cheek with her thumb and smiled. "Let me tell you this. What I'm working on now is absolutely the most important thing I have ever done. The moment I can talk about it, you will be the first to know."

  Lauren smiled a broad, genuine smile for the first time all day. "Fair enough." She leaned forward and brushed her lips against Dev's, pulling away only a hairsbreadth. "Thank you for inviting me to dinner," she whispered, kissing Dev again. "I love you. All of a sudden I've decided that I'm incredibly hungry."

  A soft moan was Dev's reply.

  Saturday, November 13th

  It was beginning to look and feel like the holidays at the White House. Everyday Dev was amazed to see more and more early Christmas decorations - some antique, some new - going up. It was kind of like going to Disney World as a kid. She started, realizing that soon all her children would be old enough for that particular family trip. Maybe next August, before school starts.

  Right now, however, she needed to have a chat with Lauren about one of the most cherished Marlowe family traditions. Dev prayed that her plans regarding Lauren's inclusion would be well received. She shifted the box she was holding under her arm and knocked on Lauren's door.

  The door opened, and an arm shot out, nearly pulling her off her feet as she was yanked inside by her collar. Then there was the kiss that followed. Wow! Devlyn grinned when the writer finally let her go. "Hi."

  "Hi. I missed you today." Lauren smiled at the slightly flushed look on Dev's face, feeling the heat in her own.

  "Me too." Dev reached around behind her and shut the door. "How was your day?"

  Lauren tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and took off her glasses. "It was okay. I got a lot done." She gave Dev a little smirk. "Found a couple of your high school yearbooks."

  Dev's smile disappeared and was replaced by a petulant frown.

  Lauren reached out and tugged on the protruding lower lip, keeping it up until Dev laughed and slapped her hands away. "Jane also came by and brought over a couple of boxes of her own personal mementos." The blonde woman winked. "I guarantee you don't know some of the stuff she's got in there. I had no idea she's known you since you were in college. And she's got photos to prove it."

  Dev covered her eyes. "Oh, God. This is what my secretary does on her day off?" The President groaned as she took a seat on Lauren's couch, giving it a pat so the younger woman would join her. "The new bio is going to have a more extensive picture section, isn't it?"

  "You know it." Lauren smirked, dropping down on the sofa next to Dev. "Your mom has already donated baby pictures. Wayne is just wild about the picture of naked baby Devlyn on the bearskin rug, by the way."

  Dev's head dropped, but Lauren could see her shoulders shaking with silent laughter. "I'm gonna kill my mother."

  "Wayne offered me an extra 5% on royalties if I could produce a current photo in the same pose for a ‘now and then' comparison."

  "In his dreams," Dev growled.

  "And mine." Lauren wriggled her eyebrows. "Okay, what's up? I didn't expect to see you until tonight."

  Dev sobered. "We need to have a little talk. You have a minute?"

  Lauren's brows knitted together. She didn't like the suddenly serious look on Dev's face. "I came to the door, didn't I? Shoot."

  "Okay. Every year at Thanksgiving the Marlowes set up candles that burn through the holidays, for our family and friends. White candles for those who are with us. Blue ones for those who aren't. We put them on the mantel." Dev glanced at Lauren, who was listening interestedly. "There are two reasons I'm telling you this. First, there is a set of candles for Samantha and her parents." Dev's gaze softened. "If they make you uncomfortable, I won't put them up."

  Lauren laid her hand on Dev's knee and gave it a gentle squeeze. She smiled softly at her friend. Her feelings about Samantha were so mixed up. Part of her admired Devlyn's wife. By every indication she had been a strong, funny, interesting woman in her own right. A wonderful, loving partner to the young, ambitious politician, Devlyn Marlowe. Another part of Lauren felt helpless and angry. There was no competing with the memory of Dev's first love and the woman who gave birth to Christopher and Aaron. But Lauren realized these were her own insecurities, and they existed despite the fact that Dev had never done a thing to encourage them.

  The blonde woman swallowed. "Devlyn, darlin', that's not necessary." Lauren mustered a smile. "Samantha doesn't disappear just because I'm in your life now. Not for you, or the kids. Don't get me wrong," she snorted a little, ready to admit her own shortcomings. "I'm not above petty jealously. But this is a beautiful tradition that must be important to you and the children. I don't see a reason to change it."

  Dev's posture instantly relaxed. "Thank you." She leaned over and gently kissed Lauren on the lips, allowing the contact to linger and then deepen. Dev didn't pull back until she felt the rise and fall of Lauren's chest begin to grow uneven, and her own breathing was ragged.

  Lauren groaned softly when the lips against hers disappeared. "Have I ever told you what a great kisser you are?"

  Dev smiled roguishly. "No. But feel free to do so. In great detail. You are a writer after all."

  Lauren's eyebrows crawled up her forehead and disappeared behind pale bangs. "No, thanks. I was just checking."

  "Brat." Dev stuck out her tongue.

  Lauren chuckled, then poked the box. "So what do we have here? Something for me?" she hinted.

  Dev repositioned the box on her lap. "Well, actually, with your permission, I was planning on making an addition to the family tradition, which is the second thing I needed to ask you about. Here, this is for you." Dev handed the box to her lover. "It's sort of an unofficial welcome to the family."

  "Whoa." Lauren jaw dropped open in surprise at the weight of the box. "You didn't have to..." She stopped when she lifted off the lid and released the rich aroma of vanilla into the air. Inside the box were two white candles and one blue, each about four inches in diameter and ten inches long. Carefully, Lauren moved aside the candles to find the source of the weight: three sturdy, silver candleholders. "They're beautiful," she whispered, picking up one of the candleholders. ‘Anna Gallager Strayer' was engraved in bold letters across its front. She sucked in a surprised breath, feeling tears spring into her eyes so quickly that she was helpless to stop them.

  Dev reached out slowly and pulled Lauren close to her. "I love you. I want to put those up with the rest of my family. Is that all right with you?"

  Lauren sank into Dev's embrace. "I love you too," she breathed softly, then sniffed. The writer pulled away and cupped Dev's cheek, tenderly brushing a prominent cheekbone. "Are you sure, honey?" she whispered emotionally. "I'm not really-"

  The President placed her finger over Lauren's lips to quiet her protests. "No, this is a tradition to celebrate the lives of the people who have touched us. The people who love us. And the people we want to remember. You belong there now. You belong there just as much as David and Beth do, or Emma, or Amy. We're adding one for Liza this year, too."

  A blonde head nodded once. "Thank you," she whispered when Dev's finger dropped from her lips. Lauren smiled affectionately at Dev, wishing she could put into words how special it made her feel to belong to Dev's clan, whom she loved more than she would have believed possible. She sniffed again. "I... I don't know what to say."

  Dev hugged her close and scooted down to get comfortable and make it clear she intended to stay there for a while and hold her lover. "You could tell me that you'll get that baby picture back from Wayne," she teased, placing a kiss on soft, fair tresses.

  Lauren laughed and pinched Dev's belly. "Nuh uh. It's too cute not to share. Suffer, Madam President."

  Monday, November 22nd

  "Good morning, Madam President. Good morning, Lauren." Liza handed Dev a file and her mug of coffee. They were in the Oval Office, Dev sitting behind her massive wooden desk, with Lauren sitting several paces away in a high-backed, leather, upholster
ed chair. They were together, but lost in their own work, as Lauren prepared questions she had for an interview later that afternoon, and Dev mentally went over a short speech she was giving that morning about the new healthcare reforms she intended to officially propose in January 2022.

  "It's a light day today, Madam President," Liza continued. "First, you have to pardon a turkey."

  Dev looked up from her folder, and Lauren snickered, taking a quick shot of the surprised look on the President's face. "Excuse me?" Dev suddenly began paying closer attention. "Did I hear you say that I was pardoning a turkey?"

  A soft click and muffled chuckle indicated that Lauren had just captured the surprised look on Dev's face on film again.

  Liza grinned, but refrained from asking Dev if she had ever bothered watching anything any of the past Presidents did. She didn't think it would be a wise career move. "Yes, ma'am, it's a Thanksgiving tradition," Liza explained patiently, somehow looking at and speaking to Dev while entering something into her hand-held organizer. "The President always pardons a turkey; then it's sent to live at the zoo."

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