Innocence and Dim Timeby Puck and Zillah
August 2, 2011
Sam was on his third Manhattan, and they'd just brought the wine bottle to the table for Ainsley. The food was very good. "Ainsley, I don't want to it be just past."
She glanced up at him from her grilled chicken breast. "You think we can do a future?" she asked incredulously.
"Let's deal with right now, huh?"
"Right now we're on opposite sides on and election and we can't have a relationship beyond that." She sipped her wine. "It would be bad for both of us."
"I keep thinking I'll stop missing you one of these days."
She sighed and her expression softened. "I miss you too, Sam. Much as I try to forget."
"You think we could be friends again?"
She smiled. "I'd like to be your friend."
He grinned. "Good."
Dinner had a different feel to it now. They spoke of everything but politics. He updated her on Josh and Donna and their kids. She told him about her family. "My Dad's sick," she told him. It had been enough years she could almost say it in a normal tone of voice. "Cancer."
"I heard," he said softly. "I almost called."
She looked up in surprise then shook her head. "It's probably good you didn't. By then I was angry at you and wouldn't have wanted to hear from you."
"I know. But I thought about you."
"I appreciate that." She paused. "I thought about you, too." She looked at him. "Ten years is a long time to miss someone."
He met her eyes. "Yeah."
She smiled a little self deprecatingly. "Good thing we're so stubborn."
"You feel like dessert?"
She beamed. "Always."
* * * * *
November 5, 2002
Ainsley looked up from her paperwork and stared at the TV. CNN had been serving as background noise the whole night. But she had just heard those magic words designed to get her attention. "The final numbers are in and we are prepared to call the election."
She bent forward and turned the volume up. "The next president of the United States is. . . Jed Bartlet."
Ainsley felt herself grin despite herself. She'd told herself, half joking, that this was the only year she'd be happy with either party winning. But it had been a lie. She wanted Bartlet to win. She wanted them all to win.
There was a long series of commentators talking about what a momentous win this was for a president who had lied. They babbled about how it showed the forgiveness of the American public. Ainsley barely paid attention, going back to her papers until she heard Bartlet beginning his victory speech. She looked up to see him at a podium, unable to hide his grin. Behind him was his senior staff, all with their emotions clear on their face. As Bartlet talked the camera cut to shots of all the staff, ending on Sam.
Ainsley stared at him, wishing for a moment she was taping this. She allowed herself a brief fantasy of calling him later and congratulating him and somehow that one act would erase all their problems.
The image on the screen switched back to Bartlet and Ainsley turned back to her papers, unshed tears blurring the words together.
* * * * *
August 2/3, 2011
"No, Sam, you need to see my place." She tugged on his arm as they stumbled up the walk. "It has an amazing view. I wake up to the waves crashing every morning." They got to the front door of her condo and leaned on it, fumbling with the keys. Locks were rocket science when one had an entire bottle of wine in their little system.
"Have I ever told you what an entertaining drunk you are?"
She frowned at him, looking very serious. "I am not drunk."
He patted the top of her head. "Okay."
"I'm *not*!" She got the door open and backed in, gesturing grandly with her arms. "I'm just. . . happy."
With that she tripped down the two steps leading from her foyer down into her living room. She landed on her ass, legs splayed gracefully. She frowned, looking a little confused as to how she got down there.
Sam kneeled down to help her up. "Careful, there."
She made an unhappy noise, letting him pull her up. "I'm still not drunk," she informed him.
"Are you sure?"
She looked up at him. "Are you drunk?"
"I believe I might be."
"Hmph." She peeled her thin jacket off and tossed it onto a chair. "Perhaps I am a tiny bit drunk."
He walked over to the window. "You really do have a nice view."
"Yeah. S'worth the extra money." She went to his side. "I was mad when they made me come out here, but I'm growing to like it."
"I grew up around here."
"Mmm. Must be a nice place to grow up." She leaned on him then, fitting along the side of his body like she'd never left. His arm came around her. They stood together in silence, watching the waves crash on the rocks. Ainsley turned her head a little. "God," she whispered, half to herself. "You smell the same."
"Ainsley," he whispered softly.
"I shouldn't have brought you here. I knew what would happen." She looked up at him. "It's still there."
"It is." Then he kissed her. She moaned softly and sank into him. It was like the years melted away and it had been only yesterday that they'd last touched. He'd just wanted to kiss her once, just to see what it would be like, but he couldn't seem to stop.
She'd really intended to stop him. To break it off, maybe they could still laugh it off. But instead she pulled him closer and started to unbutton his shirt. A shudder of surrender moved through him and he deepened the kiss, lifting her off the ground he held onto her so tight.
It was the same. She couldn't understand that. After ten years it should be different, they were different people. But it was exactly the same. He tasted the same, smelled the same. He even held her the same, in the same place. No one held her like this. No one had ever been like this since. She got his shirt open and discovered he felt the same, too. A soft groan spilled from her mouth to his.
"Ainsley," he whispered again.
She responded with his name and looked up at him as they paused in the kissing. He tried to read her eyes, to see if she really wanted this. She did want it. She shouldn't. She knew what a bad idea it was and how much she would regret it when she sobered up in the morning. But right now she was half drunk, feeling soft and warm. She had missed him so bad it was an ache that had tainted every other relationship she'd tried to have. And here was her chance to have him again, so see if all her memories we accurate or softened by time.
She stroked her hands up his chest and cupped his face, looking into his eyes. This wasn't just about her, his career would be over if this got out. She'd never forgive herself for that. This had to be their choice. Not just hers.
"I still trust you," he whispered.
She smiled and began to tremble as she realized this was indeed going to happen. "I think I still owe you a dance," she said softly, then pulled his mouth down to hers.
He groaned, the kiss getting deep and hot. She tugged him and together they stumbled towards the door that lead to her bedroom. They fell through it into a room illuminated my moonlight. One wall was nothing but glass, French doors centered leading out to a balcony over looking the beach. Her bed faced the wall so that the sky and ocean were the first things she saw when she opened her eyes.
They fell onto her rumpled bed, kissing and touching. Their bodies remembered each other, easing the transition and driving away any awkwardness.
He kissed his way down her throat, his hands pulling her shell up from the waist of her skirt. She sighed when his hands touched her skin, arching up so he could pull the shirt off and toss it aside. She shoved his shirt off and threw it the way of hers, then, giggling, rolled with him, over and over, until they were in the center of the bed, tangled in the sheets.
Sam plunged his fingers into her hair, destroying the twist it had been in. He ran his fingers through it, running out of hair too soon. It was the one thing that was different. She was on top now, straddling him, her skirt bunched up to her waist. He carefully undid her bra and peeled it away. He saw her smile as he cupped them, then she bent to kiss him deeply. Her mouth wandered down his jaw. She nibbled his ear, licked his throat and began a hot, wet path down his body. He groaned, stroking his hands up and down her back. She reached his waist and left her mouth to torture his navel as her nimble fingers undid his belt and fly. She tugged his pants and boxers down, trailing sharp nails down his legs as she did so.
She stopped moving and he looked up at her. She was kneeling on his legs, resting on his knees. He could feel the heat of her center on his skin. She was looking at his half hard erection, savoring the moment. As he watched she licked her lips unconsciously.
"Ainsley," he growled. She looked up at him and grinned, something dark and seductive in her eyes. She scooted back on the bed, climbing off to take her skirt off, leaving her in a pair of black panties and dark thigh high stockings held up with garters. She climbed back on the bed, kneeling by his side now, rather then over his legs. She wrapped her hand around him and bent forward, licking the tip of him over and over, like an ice cream cone. The position forced he cute little rear in the air. He tugged her legs apart so he could stroke her with his fingertips. He felt her hum with pleasure against him, then she began to move her hand and mouth in tandem, setting a slow, steady rhythm. He sank two fingers into her, then drew them out, rubbing her moisture over her clit.
Ainsley shuddered and began to retaliate, starting a one-upmanship game they had often engaged in. She moved her hand off him and slid it between his legs, cupping his balls and toying with them as she started sucking harder.
"Enough," he growled.
She lifted her head and rested her cheek on his hip, looking up at him. "That's it?" she whispered, teasing.
"It's gonna be if you don't stop."
She grinned and sat up. "You're getting old," she told him, swinging her leg over him. "You used to let me do that all night." She moved her panties to one side and slid him inside her. She shuddered as she slowly moved down, taking him all the way inside.
He fingered the edge of her panties. "I love it when you do that."
She smiled and there was something almost sad in the expression. "I remember," she whispered, starting to move. He closed his eyes, thrusting up to her. She sighed, setting a quick, hard rhythm she'd only found pleasure in with him. She bent forward, placing her hands on her headboard, using the leverage to put force behind her thrusts. He cupped her breasts in his hands, pinching her nipples lightly. She smiled, bending her neck to drop random kisses on his face. She let her eyes flutter shut, concentrating on the sensations beginning in her.
He tugged harder on her nipples, mixing a little pain with the pleasure building. She groaned and her movements took on an almost violent tone. She slammed onto him again and again, their skin slapping together. She lifted a hand from the head board but had to put it back immediately to keep her balance. "Sam," she gasped. "Can you. . . touch me?" Her face twisted. "I need it."
He released her breasts and slipped his thumb beneath her panties. He pressed slowly on her clit. "Like this?"
Her eyes opened, glazed with the pleasure stretching her to the breaking point. "Harder," she growled, looking into his eyes.
He rubbed in a quick, rhythmic pattern. "Enough?"
"Yeah," she breathed. Her eyes fluttered shut. She managed to keep the pace for another few moments, her face twisting with a pleasure that bordered on pain. "Jesus, Sam. . . I'm. . ." She froze a moment, then thrust back one last time, roughly. She jerked, desperate whimpers emitting from her throat as she spasmed around him. He felt her entire body shaking violently as she was swept up in the most powerful orgasm she could remember having. She was still trembling when he gripped her waist and rolled her over, beneath him. He thrust harder, deeper into her a few more times. Then he stiffened, sucking in a harsh, shuddering breath. She felt him spill inside her.
Ainsley moaned weakly in his ear. She lay limp beneath him, breathing hard. Both their bodies were slick with sweat, her hair stuck damply to her throat and shoulders. After a moment he lifted his head and kissed her mouth tenderly. She smiled, blinking slowly. She pushed his hair out of his eyes. "Wow," she whispered, voice hoarse.
"Yeah. We've still got it."
"Yeah." She studied him. "I don't do that with anyone but you."
She looked embarrassed. "The, um, talking. And being so rough. I'm never. . . violent like that."
He grinned. "You are, and will remain, the sexiest thing I've ever seen."
She looked pleased and embarrassed now. "Thank you. But right now I need to take my underwear off."
"Let me." He rose up on his knees and gently peeled them down.
She smiled softly. She'd always loved the after glow, when he got so gentle and compassionate with her. He was by far the most considerate lover she'd ever had. He yanked up the edge of her blanket, wrapping it around the both of them. His arms encircled her waist and he buried his face in her hair. She sighed softly, sinking into his embrace. Exhaustion trickled through her and she let it pull her into sleep.
* * * * *
August 3, 2011
Ainsley's first conscious sensation was that her head hurt. A lot. Her next was that her legs and the normally very cooperative area between them were very sore.
Then she became conscious of a heavy arm wrapped around her waist and the night before came crashing back.
She sat up right, the motion making her head hurt worse. A wave of nausea hit her and she whimpered.
Sam opened his eyes. "Hey."
She looked down at him. "Hi," she whispered.
She almost laughed. Instead she swung her legs over the side, putting her back to him. "I don't think so," she said softly.
He touched her back. "Ainsley. . ."
"We shouldn't have done that. I should have known better. I did know better."
He dropped his hand. "Right." He climbed out of his side of the bed and went in search of his clothes.
She looked down at the floor. She wanted to get up and put something on besides the sheet she had wrapped around herself but she really didn't think she was capable of walking right then. "It's not just you, Sam. I worked damn hard to get where I am. To get respect. If this gets out a decade of work is gone and I'm a blonde Republican girl who no one likes again."
"I know," he said softly, shoving his arms into his shirt.
She swallowed hard. "I'm sorry."
He dressed in silence, not looking at her. "Just a drunken mistake, right?"
"It has to be, Sam."
He said nothing else until he was at the door. Then he stopped. "You know, for ten years I couldn't stop wondering if maybe. . .if maybe you were The One." He sighed. "I wasn't ready to find out today."
She sucked in a breath and lifted her head, but looked out at the sea, not him. "I'm sorry, Sam." She closed her eyes. "Good luck on the campaign."
All she got for that was a slammed door. She lay back down very slowly, curling up in the center of the bed. She pulled her second pillow, the one he'd slept on, to her chest. Then she buried her face in it and wept.
* * * * *
February 20, 2004
Josh barreled into his bullpen, hauled Donna out of her seat and dragged her bodily into his office where he slammed the door shut. "I need your help with something relatively devious."
"I'm not in the mood, Josh. I have a headache. But I can bring my catholic school uniform tomorrow if you really want--"
"No, no, no-" He paused and looked at her, then shook his head. "No. I need you to get Sam out of here for the next-" He looked at his watch. "Two hours."
"Because I have a meeting with Ainsley Hayes in thirty-two minutes and I don't want their paths to cross."
"Josh, Sam is a big boy."
"Donna it took him months to stop moping over her. And every time he sees her name in the papers or hears it on CNN or, God help us, finds out she's on a political show he spends a week sleeping in Toby's office. I don't know what he'd do if he saw her in person and I can live my life not knowing."
"Maybe they need to talk. Maybe you all should stop handling him."
He looked at her. "You're not going to help me, are you?"
She sighed. "What do I need to do?"
"Just get him out of here before she gets here and keep him away for an hour or so. It doesn't have to be out of the building, just off the wing. Recruit others if need be."
"All right, all right."
He grinned. "Thank you. You're a good assistant."
"You owe me."
"I have a prep school uniform I could try to find. . ."
"You went to prep school?"
"No. But that was a hell of a line."
"Not really. It's not a good mental image. Pants way too short, shirt wouldn't button. And those vests. . ."
"Well, I could have said military uniform but I didn't think there was anyway in hell you'd believe me."
"Still be too small. Unless maybe you were a really pudgy kid."
"Can we stop this now?"
"Yes. I'm off to do your bidding."
"That is what I pay you for."
She flounced out.
Ainsley arrived right on time, a bare ten minutes after Donna had somehow persuaded Sam to take her on a tour of some other part of the building. Josh was sure he'd have to listen to an hour's worth of meaningless historical White House trivia when she got back, as payment for this little deception he'd reeled her into.
He barely recognized the Ainsley Hayes that stood in his doorway. She had on a dark blue suit, her hair pulled up in a no-nonsense twist. Her facial expression gave nothing away as she greeted him and sat in the chair he offered. Josh wondered when she'd learned to hide her emotions and if he and Leo had had anything to do with it.
He let out a breath and looked at her. "What can I do for you Ainsley?"
"The health care reform bill. It's going to Senate in two days and so far you haven't made any indication of addressing environmentally transmitted diseases. Senator Howard has asked me to represent her in seeing you do."
"Ainsley the bill is already past the three billion dollar mark. I can't possibly-" He paused. "Environmentally transmitted diseases?"
"Diseases one catches from one's environment beyond their control. Lyme disease is the most prevalent, though there are others. Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, to name a few."
He sighed. "What do you want us to do about it?"
"Three point five million to step up inoculation and cure research. One million for nationwide awareness campaigns. Another seven million for funding for treatment clinics in high risk areas."
He calculated in his head. "You want eleven and a half million dollars to fight off wood ticks?"
She gave him a disparaging look. "Do you know what lyme disease is like, Josh? It starts out as a red rash, usually accompanied by joint pain, headaches and swollen lymph nodes. This then progresses into late lyme disease characterized by arthritis of major joints, nervous system failure including seizures, paralysis and occasionally heart arrhythmia. There are some antibiotics available but these are usually only effective if the disease is caught early which it often isn't because the rash is painless and people will ignore the joint pain. Sufferers have to live with the symptoms their entire lives and are usually susceptible to other maladies."
He paled a bit but cleared his throat. "Still, a comparatively rare disease that affects only a select area of the country isn't-"
"How many senators do you think have children or grandchildren who go to summer camp? Or have cabins in the woods? A getaway on a mountain? And how easy do you think it will be for me to convince them every tickle on their skin is a tick sentencing them to a lifetime of pain and discomfort?"
"On a three billion dollar bill another eleven million wont matter. But it will to someone whose child starts having seizures."
He stared at her. Throughout the entire conversation she hadn't shown an ounce of emotion, not even when rattling off her statistics. She obviously still cared about her subject, but she had gained some emotional detachment. In only three years she'd developed a tougher skin then he'd seen on lifetime politicians. And he knew, just by looking at her, that he was going to have to agree.
So he did. "All right. You got it." He watched her for any flicker of triumph or surprise.
There was none, she simply got to her feet, a polite smile on her face, and held out a hand. "Thank you."
He shook it. "Any time."
"I'll tell Senator Howard the good news." She headed for the door.
"Ainsley." She turned and tilted her head. He took a breath. "I'm sorry about your father."
For the first time an emotion flickered through her eyes, but it was one he couldn't readily give a name to. She nodded, once, a quick up and down movement of her head. "Thank you." She pulled his door open and left.
He stood in his doorway and watched her go, like he had three years ago after her fight with Sam. This time her chin was up, head held high. For a moment he wondered if she'd been hoping to run into Sam, to show him she'd gotten along fine without him.
Three minutes after she disappeared around the corner Sam and Donna came wandering over from a different direction. When Donna caught Josh's gaze she arched her brows in a question. At his slight nod she relaxed visibly and continued chatting with Sam about whatever historical tidbit he'd just imparted on her. Josh went back to his office to add Howard's demands to the bill.
* * * * *
August 3, 2011
Josh had used his considerable mental skills to shove the thought of Sam and his inappropriate affair with Ainsley completely out of his head.
Until Sam barreled into his office in a rumpled suit.
"I am once and for all done with Ainsley Hayes."
Josh blinked at him a moment. "You are."
"Well, I'm very happy for you, Sam."
"I'm dead serious. We talked, had it out, and now I'm done with it. I was just. . .nostalgic, you know?"
Josh nodded. "You just needed closure."
"And you got that last night."
"Exactly!" Sam turned and strode out of the office and into his. "Let's get to work, huh?"
"Yes, sir." Josh watched his friend yank open a drawer on his desk and start rifling through it, looking for he knew not what.
Suddenly Josh had a very bad feeling about this.
* * * * *
November 7, 2006
They'd all gathered at Josh's place to watch the election results. The atmosphere in the room was uncertain. Of course they all wanted a Democrat to stay in the White House, but they all had deep seated resentment towards Gillette for all the trouble he'd caused them. Besides, none of them thought he'd actually make all that good a president.
"Myself, I wrote in Bartlet," Josh said, popping some pop corn into his mouth.
"Because I'm sure that will make a difference." Toby was playing with his cigar more then smoking it, staring at the commentators on screen.
"Hush, both of you," Sam waved a hand at them. "They're calling it."
"We're now prepared to call the election in favor of the Republican from Tennessee Thomas Quick."
They all stared at the screen, unsure what to do. After a moment of utter silence while the TV showed shots of the celebration at Quick headquarters they all got up, CJ to use the bathroom, Sam to the kitchen for another drink, Toby just got up to pace. Only Josh stayed where he was, eating his popcorn and looking at the screen. They got around to Quick's victory speech. It was well written. Josh felt the guy seemed a little smug, but that might have just been his perception. They scanned the crowd around him, getting a few good shots of his campaign crew. Josh spotted a familiar blonde head and made a noise.
Toby stopped in his pacing to stand behind him and look. "I've heard she's going to be a force to be reckoned with soon."
"Quick offered her deputy chief of staff if he won and she turned it down. Said she had other contests to win."
Toby's face clouded. "I always thought she'd come back and cause us problems."
Josh shook his head. "It's a good thing she didn't, I guess. I have a feeling she would have been a big one." He paused. "Her dad must be proud of her, though."
Sam came back in just then, holding a bottle of beer and they shut up. But the TV was still filled with Ainsley Hayes' smiling face.
* * * * *
"Daddy? Can you hear me? I said we won." Ainsley pressed the phone into her ear, trying to block the other one with a hand. The celebration was raging on around her and she'd been unable to find a phone anywhere quiet. If one more person came up to slap her on the back while she was talking to her father she swore she was going to hurt them.
"I saw it on the news, Ainsley. I'm very proud of you."
She grinned, feeling like a seven year old at a dance recital every time he said those words to her. "You aren't mad I turned down the offer, are you?"
"Of course not, you've already worked at the White House. Now's the time for you to make your own name." He coughed. "Maybe someday it will be you in that Oval Office."
She focused on the cough. "Daddy? Are you okay?"
He wheezed. "Fine, honey. Just a little tired."
"Well, I'm coming up tomorrow, you know. They don't need me here so I'm going to come see you. For a week at least."
"Your mother mentioned it. I'm looking forward to hearing all the gossip."
She grinned. "I don't know how much gossip I'll have but I'll try to dig up something for you."
"I know." He took a few shallow breaths and she could hear the rattle in his lungs. "I think I'd better get to sleep now, honey. Rest up for your visit."
"You do that, Daddy. I just wanted to make sure you heard. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Bye, Daddy." She heard him disconnect and hung up, sighing. Then she went back to join the party.
* * * * *
August 23, 2011
"Have I told you today how good the polls look, my friend?" Josh leaned on a junior staffer's desk to look at the paper he was holding, their office buzzing around them, news shows babbling on TVs set up around the room. "California loves you. You are her golden child. She wants to make you the next John Kennedy, Samuel."
"Great, I can start my own curse."
Donna breezed by and plucked the paper with the polling numbers up, walking away while still yelling at whomever it was she was talking to. He heard something about cowhides. Donna was magic when it came to getting people to give them money, but sometimes Josh was really confused by her ends of the conversation. He hoped someday the Gambini family wasn't going to come after him.
She paced back five minutes later, on a different cordless phone, the one from Sam's desk no one had heard even ring. She did not look happy. "Boys, I have CJ on the phone. She says to put on Channel 36."
Josh frowned and plucked a remote from someone. He hit the channel and a TV across the room switched. The three of them circled around it. "And in our top story tonight. Democratic candidate for governor, Congressman Seaborn part of a sex scandal? We have the full story when we come back." They switched to a shampoo commercial.
Josh looked at Sam.
He fell backwards into a chair. "Oh my God."
"Sam. . .?" There was a pleading note in Josh's voice. Like he wanted some reassurance.
"All right, this should not *be* a sex scandal. It was two perfectly consenting adults."
"Oh, Jesus, Sam." He rubbed his hands over his face. "It's her, isn't it?"
He nodded miserably. He heard Donna say "Ainsley Hayes," then she smacked him on the back of the head
"That was from CJ."
"Three weeks ago. When you told me you were over her. What was that? Was that to get me off the track?"
"I didn't say I was over her. I said I was done with her for good. It was one night and it proved that nothing was ever happening again."
"Okay. So this isn't even about ten years ago. It's about three weeks ago?"
He looked down. "It's gonna hurt her a lot more than it hurts me."
"I'm not real worried about that right now, Sam."
Donna waved at them. "Sush, they're coming back."
As the news anchor popped on the screen and began talking, there was a picture in the upper corner. Not the blonde one they'd all expected, but a dark haired, dark eyed face Sam hadn't seen in fifteen years. . .but one he'd probably know anywhere.
* * * * *
May 10, 1998
"Because it's a presidential campaign. Pick out the damn china yourself!"
"Jesus Sam, don't I merit one day of your time?"
"Not when it's about china patterns."
"It's not just about the china. I thought we were going to buy a house. I thought--"
"We might not be living in New York. Bartlet's gonna win this, Lisa. I feel it in my bones. And then we'll be in DC."
"He's polling at 41 percent. Not exactly impressive. Now, I've been more than patient with this little thing you're going through, but . . .you're a corporate lawyer. That's what you do. So the sooner you stop this and come back to New York the--"
"This isn't just some thing I'm going through, it's--"
"Don't start. I have to go, okay? Be here on Thursday, please."
Sam stared at the phone as the line went dead. He slammed it down with such force that Josh jumped on the other side of the room.
"No." He stormed out.
An hour later found him in the hotel bar, telling his troubles to a martini.
And a pretty brunette woman he thought he recognized. She sat next to him, nursing a Bloody Mary and making sympathetic noises. "Some women just don't understand."
"This could be the greatest thing I ever do, and she's worried about china patterns."
"She should know better then to bother you with something so trivial. I mean, it's not like anyone ever uses their fine china." She smiled at him.
"Yeah. Hey, what's your name, anyway?"
"Faith. Faith Bellows. I'm one of the flunkies."
He grinned. "Do you think we're gonna win?"
"I sure do."
"Good. All everybody needs is a little faith." He laughed at himself. "As it were. Can I have another on of these?" he called to the bartender.
She grinned at the joke and sipped her drink. "Could you use some faith tonight?" she asked softly.
He closed his eyes. "Yeah."
She put a hand on his knee. When he didn't move it or his leg she smiled a little smile to herself and took another drink.
* * * * *
When Sam woke up-- with a headache the size of Canada-- she was long gone. He got up slowly and stumbled into the bathroom. Sharing a room with Josh had it's perks, considering he spent every night in Mandy's room. Though occasionally that meant a locked-out CJ would bang on his door at one AM, usually he had the place to himself. Why they had high-school-class-trip-stye same sex rooms he didn't understand.
Last night would have been a good night for CJ to show up, it really would have.
He heard the door open and close, and when he came out he found Josh, Donna and a basket of laundry. Donna sat on Josh's bed and began folding shirts. Sam flopped face down on his.
Josh looked at him. "What's wrong with you?"
Sam glanced at Donna, who was somehow making Josh's rumpled shirts in to store-quality folds, then back at Josh. "I cheated on Lisa."
Josh made a choking noise. "With who?"
"Her name is Faith. Brown hair, very pretty."
Donna snorted. "Her."
Josh looked over at her. "What does that mean?"
"She's an idiot-- no offense, Sam. She garbles phone messages, screws up schedules. She accidentally booked the governor on a plane to Tahiti instead of Texas."
"That would have been a much more fun campaign stop."
He waved a hand at her and looked at Sam. "I'm taking it this was a one night stand?"
"Yes," he said miserably.
"What are you going to do about Lisa?"
"I have to tell her."
"This is going to ruin your already precarious relationship."
"I can't marry someone I don't love enough to stay faithful to."
"Then it's good you found this out now."
He pressed his face into his pillow. "Could I possibly be alone for a little while?"
"Sure." He touched Donna's arm. "Come on, it doesn't have to be folded."
She grabbed the basket, taking it with her. "Yes, it does." She followed him out the door.
* * * * *
August 23, 2011
Ainsley stood with the rest of Perez's staff, as well as Perez himself, watching the brunette tell her story to the ever-so-sympathetic reporter. Ainsley felt a pit of fury grow in her stomach as Faith Bellows dabbed at her eyes with a damp handkerchief.
"It was such a stupid thing to do. I knew he was engaged. But I was young and he's very charming, you know. I didn't mind him ending the affair. I wouldn't want to come between a man and his fiancee. But when I was fired-" She sniffed and had to take a moment to compose herself. "I was just so hurt. I was a good worker. I didn't deserve to be fired because I was seduced."
The reporter cooed something comforting and turned it back to the anchors. Ainsley felt bile burn the back her throat. "Bitch," she muttered.
Haydon rubbed his hands together. "Probably. But this might be the best thing that could have happened to us."
Ainsley shook her head. "I don't want to owe a victory to a lying little harlot."
He looked at her curiously. "How do you know she's lying?"
Ainsley paled as the rest of them turned to look at her. Perez touched her arm gently. "My office?"
She nodded dumbly and followed him, sinking into a chair as he closed the door and leaned on the desk. She swallowed. "When Congressman Seaborn and I worked at the Bartlet White House together we had a brief affair. He told me about cheating on his fiancee."
"I know I should have told you earlier but I can assure you my past with him has had no effect on my work here." She paused. "That woman is lying. There was no extended affair and her being fired had nothing to do with Sam."
"You had an affair with the other candidate."
"It was ten years ago. I was twenty-six and we were both different people."
"I thought it was bad enough you worked with him once, but this. . ."
She sighed and felt the floor slowly slipping away from her. It was funny that a scandal that would probably do little more then bruise Sam would somehow manage to ruin her career. "If you want me to leave I'd understand."
"No," he said. "I don't want you to leave."
She let out a long relieved breath. "Thank you, sir."
"Let's not talk about this again."
"I would appreciate that."
She looked up at him. "Yes, sir?"
"This is past, right?"
In her mind she heard a door slam. "Yes, sir. Ancient history."
She nodded and got to her feet. "I'll see how this has affected our standings in the polls."
* * * * *
August 26, 2011
Josh appeared in Sam's doorway, hanging off the cross bar. "We made the Chronicle and the Examiner and the Inquirer has found another love child."
"Also, CJ is here. And she's her usual ray of sunshine."
He looked up. "Really?"
"This was sitting under my nose the entire Bartlet administration and no one bothered to tell me?"
"Yeah," Sam muttered to himself as Josh ducked out of her way. "CJ's here."
She stood in the doorway, glaring at them both. Josh took a seat in Sam's guest chair. "We were worried at first but she never came back to kick us in the ass. Then Sam had that spectacular debacle with the call girl and Faith really didn't seem like that much of a threat anymore."
"I swore that a promise to consult wouldn't become full-time cover-Samıs-ass, but here I am. Someone tell me what really happened."
"Sam got drunk and slept with her one night while he was fighting with his fiancee. A few months later Leo fired Faith because she couldn't file, had poor phone manners and basically annoyed the hell out of everyone." He looked at Sam. "Pretty much cover it?"
"She keeps saying we had a secret affair. It was one night, and I called Lisa and confessed the next morning. We called off the wedding over it. I wasn't sneaking around, it was just mistake."
"And the only person you told was Josh."
"You guys should have told us-- or at least me-- when she was fired."
"We were going to," Josh said. "But we didn't find out about it until a week after she was gone and by then she'd disappeared off the face of the planet. We figured it wasn't a big deal."
"Anything you figured wasn't a big deal always turns into a nightmare." She sat down across from Josh and stretched out her legs. "I will help you with this. In return I will be requiring your firstborn and possibly some nice real estate in Big Sur."
"Don't you already have two houses?"
CJ stood up. "Oh. . .and what the hell was that about Ainsley Hayes I heard before?"
"She's running Perez's campaign."
"But why did you think she was involved with the sex scandal?"
Josh looked at Sam a moment, then slid his gaze back to CJ. "Sam slept with her."
"What, when she was working at the White House?"
Sam looked down and mumbled. "Three weeks ago."
"Oh holy hell."
"But just the once. And she's not going to come forward, it will damage her career more then Sam's."
"True. I have phone calls to make. You opposed to going on TV?"
"Not at all."
"Good." She turned on her heel and marched out.
Josh looked at Sam. "Good to have her back, isn't it?"
* * * * *
September 4, 2011
Ainsley watched, with the kind of horrified, disgusted fascination she usually reserved for Jerry Springer and train wrecks, Faith Bellows' latest tear stained interview. Her story got a little more detailed and little more tragic every time she told it. Ainsley was ready to vomit. Honestly, why couldn't anyone see through this woman?
Sam had brought CJ Cregg in for damage control. He'd gone on television explaining the real facts of the matter in a calm and straight forward manner. Unfortunately, in the state in which Hollywood was born and thrived, facts were not welcome. Sex and scandal were what people wanted to hear about and Faith was only getting more attention.
Ainsley had heard the woman had two book deals and NBC was having a bidding war with FOX for the TV movie.
Something had to be done.
She watched the rest of the interview, then turned the TV off, leaning back on her couch and staring out her window at the Pacific. A woman like that used sex as a weapon. She was too good at the tears and sympathy. She'd told that story before, a thousand times, and gotten the needed reaction every time.
A woman like that had to have a past.
With a hard little smile on her face Ainsley reached over and picked up the phone.
* * * * *
April 12, 2009
"I don't care how much money you throw at me, the answer is no." Ainsley strode down the halls of The Capitol, half yelling into her cell phone as she hurried to make her two o'clock appointment.
The heavily accented representative from the Tobacco Lobby drawled another figure in her ear and for a brief moment Ainsley was ashamed to be from North Carolina. "I'm aware of how much money big Tobacco has, sir. I'm very impressed, I assure you. But no amount of it will get me to work for you." She paused to listen to his answer, which was a question. She stopped in the middle of the hall way, held the phone in front of her and yelled for real, drawing stares. "Because my father has lung cancer, asshole!" She hung up, longing for a way to slam a cell phone, and started walking again.
She was still fuming to herself and not paying attention to where she was going, which explained why she crashed directly into the suited back in front of her. The man turned around.
"I'm sor-- Ainsley?"
She blinked up at him a moment, then sighed. It was going to be one of those days, then. "Hi, Sam." She bent to gather her papers. "It's my fault, I didn't look where I was going."
"I'm a magnet for accidents, don't worry. How have you been? I heard you turned down Josh's office."
She glanced up. "I'm good. I'm freelancing." She got the last of her papers together and shoved them in her bag, standing. "And how are you, Congressman?"
He smiled. "I'm good. I. . .I saw you at Bartlet's funeral, but I wasn't sure if I should say hello or not."
She was quiet. "You could have. I wasn't going to start a scene."
"I know. But if you gave me the cold shoulder. . .that wasn't a good day for me."
"Yeah," she said softly. "Me neither."
He grappled for something good to talk about. "Josh and Donna are having another baby. In August."
"Really? Good for them. I heard when they got together." She floundered a moment. "Is he still working for you?"
"He got me elected, but now he's still out in California, teaching a poli-sci class and doing the pundit thing. And occasionally harassing the governor for the environmental lobby." Sam paused. "How's your Dad?"
She swallowed. "He's okay. They have him on a new treatment things that's supposed to. . ." She waved a hand. "He's proud of me."
Sam grinned. "So am I."
She smiled, still feeling awkward and a little amazed that made her feel good. "Thank you." She looked at her watch. "I have a meeting. . ."
"Yeah, me too. I'll see you around."
"Yeah." She offered him one more smile and went down the hall again.
He stood there, just watching her walk, wondering where all the years had gone. Wondering why he was afraid to call her back.
All my possessions for a moment of time
* * * * *
September 17, 2011
Ainsley strode through the hotel lobby into the bar. She was wearing the little red Chanel powersuit that made her feel like conquering the world. It was a necessary thing for what she had to do today. She recognized the woman from her last interview on tv. She'd chosen a booth in the back, which Ainsley appreciated. She went over and slid into the booth across from her.
Faith Bellows looked at her a moment, a calculating look a certain type of woman gave other women. A look of spotting competition "Ms. Hayes?"
"Yes." She folded her hands on the table in front of her. "Thank you for meeting me."
Faith smiled. "I figured you'd want to see me."
Ainsley smiled. "Did you?"
"I'd guess I'd be a very popular person at your campaign right now. That's not why I came forward though."
"Oh, I think I know why you came forward. I also know that you're going to stop."
Her eyebrows raised. "I beg your pardon?"
"You're going to stop. No more interviews. No more exposes. No TV movies telling your story. No more."
She laughed. "You're kidding right? Why in God's name would I stop? Do you know how much money people are offering me? Not to mention the attention-"
"February, 1990. You slept with your Philosophy professor at Catholic University. You got him fired and yourself expelled. April, 2003. You slept with a married banker at a conservative firm. The affair lasted three months. When he grew tired of you you blackmailed him. When he refused to pay you told his wife. She divorced him, took all his money. He lost his job. I don't suppose you care that he committed suicide that Christmas."
Faith's mouth opened and closed. "How did you-?"
"Every lover, Ms. Bellows. Every tawdry affair. Every drunken man in a bar. Every blow job in the back seat of a car. I will put your entire sexual history on trial. And when I am done you will look like the whore of Babylon."
"Because Sam Seaborn is a nice man. And the man running his campaign has gotten soft in his old age. But I'm the biggest bitch in politics. And someone needs to kick your ass or you're going to ruin the career of a man who actually deserves to be governor. Who deserves more than that."
"But you're a Republican!"
Ainsley smiled. "I said that, didn't I?" She arched her brows. "Do we have a deal, Ms. Bellows? Or do I have some calls to make?"
Faith's throat worked. "We have a deal. I'll stop. I wont talk to anyone anymore."
"Good. You're smarter then I thought." Ainsley got to her feet and tossed a few dollars on the table. "Have a good day." She turned and walked away without a backwards glance.
* * * * *
September 18, 2011
Josh fell in step next to Sam. "You really think talking to her in person is going to do anything? I mean, I know we're running out of options but. . . She doesn't strike me as someone who listens to reason?"
"I'd like to see if she can spin her lies straight to my face, personally."
"Well, that's mature. This one." He pointed to the hotel room door and knocked.
There was shuffling noises and Faith pulled the door open. She glanced at Josh, then up at Sam. "You."
"Yeah, it's me, the guy you're trying to screw over."
She sniffed. "Well, you didn't have to trouble yourself. Your little blonde bitch already talked to me. I'm shutting up, okay?"
Sam blinked. "What?"
"She tricked me into seeing her, too. That was low. At least I'm up front." She drew herself up to her full height. "Anyway, she knew all my dirty little secrets and told me she'd tell the press them. I don't need to turn into a Lewinsky. So I'm done, okay? That's all I can do."
"Good," Sam said, throwing a puzzled glance at Josh.
She slammed the door in their faces.
* * * * *
"Honey, it's okay if you- Well, it's not okay but I'm not going to be mad. Just tell us what you did."
"Josh! I did not-- repeat, did not-- go and talk to that woman."
Josh rubbed his head and looked at his wife. "Did you send someone to do it?"
"Of course not. Seriously, do you know how many ways CJ would kill me?"
He looked at Sam. "Do you think CJ qualifies as blonde?"
"No. And she said little. Even if you thought CJ was blonde, no one would think she was little."
"Well, what other bitchy little blonde women do we know that would have the power to dig up Faith's past and scare the shit out of her?"
Sam blinked. "Oh. . .no. No way."
Josh frowned, then caught on. "Jesus, you don't really think-?"
"But. . .why?"
"There has to be a reason. There's no way Faith could have known about you and Ainsley, is there?"
"No. No one knows."
Josh rubbed the back of his head. "It doesn't make any sense. There's no political gain to her helping you."
"Maybe it wasn't about politics," Donna said.
They both looked at her, then Josh looked at Sam. "Sam. . ."
"I have to go, Josh."
"I thought you were done with her."
"So did I."
Josh sighed, resigned. "Don't sleep with her again."
He waved a hand. "Go. Be back before three tomorrow. You have a thing."
Josh watched him run out then leaned on Donna. "He's going to kill me."
* * * * *
Ainsley got home from work and changed into her casual clothes. There hadn't been a peep out of Faith all day. Ainsley was feeling a little triumphant. She went for a walk on the beach, letting the breakers circle her ankles and the wind tug her hair. She walked until the sunlight was completely gone then hiked back up to her condo.
Only to find Sam Seaborn on her doorstep. She sighed, climbing the steps. "Hello. Do you ever work on your campaign?"
"You didn't think I'd have to come here?"
"What do you mean?" She stepped around him to unlock her door.
"You talked to Faith."
Ainsley's nose wrinkled as she stepped inside. "Yes. An unpleasant experience it was, too."
She shrugged, still not looking at him. "She was annoying. I couldn't turn on the TV without seeing her face." She went towards the kitchen, talking fast, in a deliberately blithe tone. "Women like that give the rest of us a bad name."
"I am not." She pulled open her fridge. "It was an utterly horrible experience too, looking into the woman's past." She pulled out a pitcher and poured herself a glass of iced tea, then offered him one. "I hope you got yourself tested after sleeping with her, there's no telling what she might have."
He reached over, catching both of her wrists in his hands. "Ainsley."
She looked up at him, a stubborn set to her chin. "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."
He tipped her chin up and kissed her. She tried to pull back an instant, then made an odd little noise and kissed him back. He released her wrists, arms coming around her. She moaned, sinking into his embrace. "Sam," she whispered.
His hands slid under her T-shirt, touching the smooth skin of her back. She whimpered. "If you're trying to get me to confess-" she muttered, kissing his throat.
She swayed into him, fingers at the buttons of his shirt. Ten minutes. He'd been in her presence ten minutes and already they were here. She felt him tug her shirt up gently. She lifted her arms obediently and he threw it somewhere, then crushed his mouth to hers again. She had his buttons undone and slid her arms beneath it, drawing his bare chest to hers. He backed her up, lifting her so she sat on the edge of her counter.
She kissed a line from his mouth to his ear and began sucking on the lobe, hands racing up and down his back. He cupped her breasts in his palms, rubbing his fingertips over her nipples. She shuddered, arching her back. She fought with his shirt, finally tugging it off, then dropped kisses on his bare shoulders. And then he tipped her back so he could lean down to kiss the tips of her breasts. She moaned, digging her hands into his thick hair. She arched and tugged at him, keeping him right there. He caught the waistband of her pants, beginning to tug them down.
It was the chill of the counter beneath her bare ass that finally got to her. She flinched, banging her head on the cupboard behind her. The pain drove away the haze of pleasure and she looked at him. "Sam," she said softly.
He lifted his head. "Yes?"
"We can't do this." Her voice was choked.
"Sure we can."
She shook her head. "Sam."
"Okay. Okay. I know how bad it would look, but. . .I miss you. And I keep having these second chances and I never do anything about them. I don't want to lose another one," he said softly.
She looked sad. "Sometimes things just don't work out. No matter how many chances you get."
"We can work, Ainsley. Somehow. I want us to, and so do you."
She shook her head. Somewhere she had to find the strength to do this, before he ruined his career. She'd never forgive herself if she didn't. "It wasn't about you, Sam." She forced conviction into her voice. "It was about me. I didn't want people giving her the credit for your loss." She hopped off the counter and went to find her shirt. "I don't want to win that way."
He stared at her, speechless. "But. . ."
"I'm sorry you came down all this way." She pulled her shirt on.
"Yeah," he said after a moment.
She hugged herself, then turned to look at him one last time. "Whatever we had we can't have again." She swallowed. "I'm sorry."
He put on his shirt, not saying anything. "Thanks," He told her finally, and then he left. She listened to his rental car drive away, then sank onto her sofa and cried.
* * * * *
November 1, 2011
"No seriously. Just cut it out. It's too bad if she cries, maybe now she'll learn that chewing gum can't be used as a hair-tie. . .Hey, there's nothing wrong with short hair."
Sam ducked under CJ's phone cord to continue pacing around the room. She caught him by the back of the collar. "Sam?"
"Yes?" He squeaked.
"Do you think short hair is cute on little girls?"
"Well, not butch short. That's scary."
"I told you!" Sam could hear Toby's voice through the phone he yelled so loud.
"Hey, it's election night and you're worrying about Emma's hair?"
"Have you seen the exit polls?"
"Fifty-three percent!" Josh hollered from across the hotel suite they'd rented for election night. Josh was positively jubilant. He was. . .prancing. It was a bad sign.
CJ was calling to Donna now, apparently Lory had gotten involved with the gum disaster. Sam could have told them leaving three kids alone with Toby all night was a bad idea, but no one ever listened to Sam.
He meandered over to where Josh was, staring at the TVs. "They're gonna call it soon, aren't they? CJ would know if she wasn't on the phone." He blew out a breath. "This is really happening, isn't it?"
Josh looked at him. "Are you going to faint? Because I'm not going to catch you."
He glanced over behind him, where the gum disaster was now taking up two phone lines. "You think it'll be worth it?" he asked softly.
"Fainting?" Josh asked, then followed his gaze. "Oh." He sighed. "I don't know, Sam. Maybe everybody just has to have a regret in his pocket."
"And at the end of the day, you'll go home to tuck your kids in bed and I'll go home to a half empty bottle of wine."
"Your life isn't over, Sam. Men get married at your age and older all the time."
"Yeah. I know. And I'm gonna have a great time picking up girls in bars as governor."
"It could happen. Didn't you ever see The American President?"
"She can't put her head in the freezer!"
Sam turned and looked at CJ again. "Seriously, if there were two people I could never see with a kid. . ." He looked back at Josh. "Nothing is how I expected it to be. I didn't expect to be alone."
Josh was silent a moment. "I'm sorry Sam. I wish it had worked out for you."
He patted his arm, then turned to the TV. "Hey, I think they're calling it."
* * * * *
Ainsley stood in front of the television, surrounded by her staff. It was perhaps the first time all night she hadn't been on the phone. They watched, all but holding their breath, as the commentator announced it. "Now, with over ninety percent of the districts in, we are calling the election in favor of Congressman Seaborn."
A soft disappointed sound filled the room. Ainsley closed her eyes, pressing a hand to her mouth. She felt the people around her disperse. They'd lost. Shit.
A hand touched her arm and she looked up into Perez's warm brown eyes. "I know you did your best."
She offered him a weak smile. "I did, sir, thank you." She sighed. "Wait five or ten minutes to collect yourself then do the call. I think Haydon has the notes."
He nodded. "I will. And Ainsley?"
"Next time, I'm going to call you from the beginning."
She smiled. "I'd be honored, sir." He went to find Haydon and she went to her office. She had the sudden urge to pack, to be done with this part of her life as quickly as possible.
As she gathered up personal belongings she wondered what Sam was doing and if, amongst his joy, he felt any of the regret she did.
* * * * *
Josh had thrown his arms around Sam's neck when they announced it and hadn't let go yet. Everyone was screaming and cheering.
Sam forcibly shook the coldness inside him that wouldn't go away. Tonight, he was going to be happy. Donna pulled Josh away, and he got a hug from CJ. Then from other members of his campaign staff.
You could be happy and lonely at the same time.
* * * * *
December 10, 2011
Ainsley couldn't get over winter in LA. She'd spent the last two weeks in North Carolina helping her mother with the funeral and selling the house. They had a few buyers interested and her mother had moved in with her sister who had retired to Florida two years ago after her husband had died of a coronary. Ainsley thought her mother was mourning but coping. At least she wasn't going to be alone for Christmas.
Both women had tried to talk Ainsley into staying with them for the holidays but she'd refused, citing previous commitments. She'd lied, of course, but her mother and aunt had believed her. Ainsley Hayes could lie to anyone.
Walking up to her front door, her suitcase dragging behind her, she winced at the mail spilling out of her box. She'd left in such a hurry she hadn't had time to stop it, or the paper. It was probably a miracle she hadn't been robbed.
She stowed her travel gear in the house then came back for the mail, which she dumped on her coffee table. At first glance it was mostly junk mail, so she showered, changed and fixed herself dinner before plopping down to read it, a glass of claret in hand. She sipped as she went through the envelopes, putting them in four piles: bills, junk, personal and business. She had waded through a little over half when she came to one that stopped her. It was a small square envelope with the California State Seal on it. She tore it open with a finger and pulled out the thin paper inside.
~You are cordially invited to. . .~
She was so uncertain what to feel her emotions simply stopped and she was numb. The governor's inaugural ball. Sam's inaugural ball. Why had he invited her? Had he invited her at all or had she made it on the list accidentally?
She stared at the paper a long moment before putting it down, afraid she'd rip it. She didn't know if she wanted to go. She didn't know if he wanted her to go. She was pretty sure he was out of forgiveness and they were out of second chances. She shouldn't go.
The RSVP date was the 20th. That was ten days. She had ten days to decide for sure. But she didn't want to go. She really didn't. It would be awkward and way too painful.
She didn't want to go.
Ainsley Hayes could lie to anyone.
* * * * *
December 20, 2011
"Donna, seriously, isn't this work for junior staff?"
She glared at Josh over her pile of RSVPed invitations. "Joshua, this is your best friend's Inaugural Ball in his first year as the governor of a major state. It is a very special and personal event and the least we could do is-"
"The junior staff couldn't read your handwriting, could they?"
She pouted. "No."
He smirked and went back to what he was reading, checking another name off the list. "The least you could have done was have the RSVP date a little earlier then this. What if I had Christmas shopping to-" He stopped, staring at the paper in his hand. "Donna."
"You invited Ainsley Hayes?"
"Yes." Her eyes lit up and she snatched the paper out of his hand. "She accepted!"
"Why did you invite Ainsley?"
"Because Sam wants her to be there."
"No, he really doesn't."
"Yes, he does. He's just a man and he couldn't invite her himself because that would mean a wound to his pride and he can't do that because his pride is all. Isn't that right?"
He frowned at her. "Who told?"
"CJ. To make up for all those times she betrayed the sisterhood."
"Hmph." He pointed at her. "This is all your fault. Completely and totally. When Sam comes at me with a pitchfork I'm stepping aside and pointing him at you."
"You mean when he comes groveling to me to thank me for being smarter then him and saving his life you won't try to take any of the credit."
She tossed him a brilliant smile and checked Ainsley's name off her list.
* * * * *
January 14, 2012
She looked like something out of a fairy tale.
Ainsley smiled at herself in the mirror. The hairdresser the hotel had found had just left. She still had five minutes before she had to get in her car and get to the mansion. She took the time to admire herself one more time, getting her courage up for what she had to do.
When she'd first gone shopping for her inaugural dress she was planning on a blue one. She tended to wear blue, it brought out the color of her eyes. But while looking for the dress she'd spotted a red one and decided the courage factor of her Chanel suit might work in ball gowns, too. She certainly needed courage for this party.
The dress was red, crimson red velvet, with a skin tight corset top. The back was open, lace up that the hairdresser had had to help her with. Pale skin peeked through the lattice work. The skirt was slightly full, with a train that made her feel inordinately elegant. Her jewelry was gold and garnets. After the dress she hadn't had much money for accessories. The hair dresser had woven the top layer of her hair into a basket weave over the top and back of her head, letting the rest hang loose around her shoulders. She'd used a big curling iron to give Ainsley soft waves.
She felt like something out of a fairy tale.
She glanced at her watch and saw it was time to go. She picked up her black velvet cape, left over from her East Coast politicking and tied it on, then grabbed her clutch and left the hotel room.
* * * * *
Josh stood with Sam at one end of the room, scanning the people as they entered. "Seriously, man. We have to get a job where we don't need to put tuxes on every few weeks."
"Yeah, but women love tuxedos. They make everyone look good. They make ugly men attractive, and they make us. . .well, Donna was practically in your lap on the ride over."
He grinned. "I suppose they are good for that, yes." He looked up at him. "Has your new job sunk in yet?"
"Not even a little bit. Hey, it was March before I could come to work at the White House without stopping and staring at the building like some tourist."
Josh grinned. "Ever think about working there again?"
Sam looked at him. "You're kidding me, right?"
Donna glided up in gold gown that, according to Josh, had to actually be made of actual gold, it cost so much. However, since she would be responsible for the usual duties of the Governor's wife, it had thankfully been donated. "Hello, Prince Charming," she said, catching Sam's arm and turning him to face the door. "Cinderella's here." Then she whirled away.
Ainsley stepped into the ball room. She'd checked her cape at the door but still held her little red clutch. She paused a moment at the entrance, a habit left over from her uncertain beginnings at the White House. She looked at the crowd, getting a feel for the ebb and flow of the room. She tried not to look for him, but he was hard to miss, standing to one side with Josh. He really did look magnificent in a tux. She shook her head a little to clear it, then moved into the crowd.
She turned to see CJ standing next to her. She offered a hesitant smile. "Hi."
CJ grinned at her. "This is some sort of political first, isn't it?"
"I think so. There must have been a mistake on the invite list." She shrugged. "I came anyway."
"No, you were invited on purpose. I saw the list. Though I should warn you, it was Donna."
Ainsley made a face. "Well, I knew it wasn't him."
"That doesn't mean he doesn't want you to be here."
"I don't think so."
"I do. Will it be politically awkward? Definitely. Politically damaging? Possibly. But let me tell you something, Ainsley, politics is not the be all and end all of the universe. I'm about as career minded as they come, and looking back the greatest thing I've ever done has nothing to do with a president or a governor. In fact it's something I originally thought was early menopause." She chuckled. "Yeah, that was a surprise. My point is, election night I could swear he would have traded his brand new office to be the one on the telephone trying to talk their spouse through an emergency haircut on a six year old."
Ainsley studied her a moment, then looked over to where she'd last seen Sam, standing with Josh, looking stunned. She opened her purse. "Could you do something for me? I got him a gift. But I don't know if he'll let me see him. His pride and whatnot." She pulled a slender gift wrapped box out of her purse and handed it to CJ. "Could you give that to him for me? Please?"
"I will. I can see he's still hiding in the corner like a coward. Men."
Ainsley grinned. "I think a little healthy fear is okay."
* * * * *
Sam was a little bit scared by the expression on CJ's face when she emerged from the crowd. She handed him a wrapped box and said, "Screw this up and I'll unleash the demons of hell on you." She glanced on Josh. "Double for you." Then she was gone again.
Josh looked up at Sam. "She's very disconcerting."
Sam just looked at him, then opened the package. Inside was an elegant sliver letter opened engraved with his monogram. Backwards, like on his shirts. Beneath it was a note. He pulled the piece of paper out and unfolded it.
Sam folded up the letter and tucked it in his pocket. "Hey, Josh?"
He'd been watching him carefully as he read the letter but hadn't been able to get anything from his reaction. "Yeah?"
"Tell Donna she's off the hook." He thrust the crumpled up wrapping paper into Josh's hands and strode off into the crowd.
* * * * *
When CJ had walked off Ainsley had promised herself she wouldn't stare in Sam's direction until he appeared. Keeping this promise had required getting a glass of wine from the bar and staring into it. It was claret, a dark red the same color as her dress. At least she'd make an impressive visual if he did come to her.
Please, God, let him come.
She looked up from her wine. He was standing right in front of her. God, the things that man did to a tux. She smiled. "Congratulations, Sam," she said softly.
"Would you like to dance?"
"Yeah." She put her drink down and stepped towards him. "But after this, we're even."
He pulled her out onto the floor, letting the cameras take as many pictures as they wanted. "You look amazing."
She fit herself easily into his arms. "So do you." She looked up into his eyes as he lead her around the floor. "Did you like your present?"
"Yeah. Don't think I'll be using it much, though."
"Really?" Her voice was very uncertain.
"If you have anything to tell me Ainsley, I want you to do it from across the breakfast table."
She smiled. "I'd like that. Too bad though." Her smile turned into a grin. "I already have some of those letters written."
"You've always been industrious."
"I try to be prepared for every eventuality."
"Why did you lie to me?"
"Because I wanted you to be governor. And I knew you'd give it up for me if I let you."
"Now everything's okay?"
"Between us or in the grand scheme of things?"
"In the grand scheme of things you're governor, I'm out of a job, the lease is up on my condo next month and I'm halfway to being an orphan." She paused. "And between us. . ." She grinned and pressed herself closer to him. "Everything's perfect."
"To hell with the press," he muttered, and he dipped his head to kiss her. She shuddered and kissed him back, ignoring all the camera flashes surrounding them. How often do you get on the front page for kissing a governor anyway?
He grinned at her when he lifted his head. She smiled at him. He had lipstick all over his mouth. "You look good in that color."
* * * * *
January 14/15, 2012
It took Josh and CJ half an hour to figure out how to get Ainsley into the governor's mansion without anyone noticing. It was almost three AM by the time she got inside. Her dress was getting heavy and her hair looked a little wilted. But when they finally led her upstairs to his private chambers she beamed, looking beautiful.
"Hey," he said softly.
She went over to him. "Hi."
"Welcome to the governor's mansion."
"It wasn't until you got here."
Her lower lip trembled and she put her arms around him. "You say the sweetest things."
He kissed her gently. "You okay with being in the papers tomorrow?"
"Oh, yeah." She kissed his mouth, his chin. "I can deal with being the governor's girlfriend."
"I missed you so much," he whispered, and then he kissed her hard. She whimpered and melted in his arms, wrapping her arms tight around his neck. She opened her mouth to him, letting their tongues dance.
"How do I get you out of this dress?"
"You have to untie the back."
"Well, then turn around."
She turned for him, presenting the laces. He began undoing them with some difficulty. "This is why I couldn't tie my shoes until first grade."
"Big clumsy fingers?"
"I'm just bad with laces."
"I never knew that about you."
"Yeah. I could read at 5, but I couldn't tie my shoes."
"That's kind of sad, Sam."
"Yeah, well, I got picked on a lot."
"You had to wear Velcro shoes, didn't you?"
"I adore you."
"Because I wore Velcro shoes?"
"It makes you adorable."
He finished her laces and peeled the dress down. "Well. . .thanks."
She slid her arms out of the sleeves and gave the dress a push, letting it fall to the floor. She stepped out of it and turned to him wearing only panties and thigh highs.
"And this would be my favorite outfit."
"Of course." She put her hands on the top button of his shirt. "You're wearing too much."
"Well. . .some help would be nice."
Her fingers marched down his buttons and she shoved both his shirt and jacket off. She smiled and bent forward, kissing his chest as her arms wrapped around him. He pressed his lips into the crown of her hair, letting his hands run down her back. She closed her eyes and pressed her face into his chest. "I was afraid I lost you."
He rocked her. "No."
She tipped her head back to kiss him. "I don't ever want to lose you."
"I promise," he said softly. He pulled her back towards the bed. She followed, stumbling on her high heels. She made a squeaking noise and went down on one knee, wincing.
He bent down, lifting her into his arms. "You okay?"
"I feel stupid. But I'll live."
He set her down on his bed. "It's possible this is an awful mattress."
She smiled. "I'll take a slab of granite. As long as you're with me." He reached up and took off her shoes, then gently peeled down her stockings one leg at a time. She sat up, kissed him, then lowered her hands to his belt and fly, stroking the smooth skin of his stomach as she did so. He flinched a little, muscles twitching. He was ticklish there.
Which she remembered. She stroked her fingers back and forth, lightly. He pulled away, laughing. "Enough."
She grinned, spearing her fingers in his hair and drawing him down for a kiss. He climbed onto the bed with her, pushing her onto her back. She went easily and sighed. "Good mattress," she murmured.
"Mmm." He sucked gently on her earlobe, filling his palm with one breast.
She arched up to him. "Have I ever told you you're the only man who ever pays attention to my breasts?"
"Yes. Everyone else thinks they're too small. They're often ignored."
"I like them."
She smiled, looking more touched then she should have been. "I'm glad. Because you're stuck with them."
He dipped his head to kiss each tip. "You promise?"
"Yeah." She kissed the top of his head. "As long as I have them." She gasped when he took a hard pull on one. "Jesus." She closed her eyes, fingers digging into the covers beneath her. He kissed down her body, dragging away her panties when he got there.
She opened her legs when he nudged her, getting a firmer hold of the sheets beneath her. He kissed across her hipbones, then slowly up one thigh. She sighed softly, looked down at him, dazed for a moment at the reality of this. She was with Sam again. And this time it wasn't just for one night. He stroked a finger over her gently, then replaced it with his mouth.
"Sam," she moaned, head tipping back. She clung roughly to the bedclothes. He slipped his tongue over her clit, teasing her. She began to rock with the motions, soft noises escaping her as pleasure began to grow inside her. He lifted her hips a little, sinking his fingers inside her. Her body closed around him immediately, as if trying to draw him deeper inside. He groaned, a shudder passing through him.
She smiled down the length of her body at him. "All of me missed you," she whispered, rolling her hips up to push his fingers even deeper. He shifted, leaning up to kiss her mouth. He left her hands reach down to undo his pants. She got them undone and pushed them and his boxers down so she could take him in her hands. She ran her fingers over his length, stroking him. He pulled her hands away and lifted her hips, pushing easily inside her.
Her arms went around his neck as she welcomed him, legs wrapping over his hips. She whispered his name, voice choked.
"I love you," he whispered, pulling out and sliding back in,
Tears spilled down her cheeks. "I love you, too," she managed.
"Good," he whispered, kissing her, still moving slowly. She held him tightly, kissing him again and again, tasting her own tears. She moved with him in a slow, heady rhythm that drove her mad and touched her heart at the same time. She tightened her hold on him, vowing never to let him go.
He lifted her hips, shifting her so he rubbed against her clit with each thrust. Ainsley whimpered, fingers digging into his shoulders. "Sam," she whispered. "Oh, Sam." She kissed him, being pushed closer and closer to her peak. "This is right. This is so right. I was supposed to be with you."
"Honey," he whispered, just a little incapable of speech.
It didn't matter, she wasn't terribly aware of what she was saying by this point. She arched up to him, making quiet, desperate noises in her throat. Pleasure tightened and twisted inside her until it snapped, flooding her. She cried out his name, jerking, clenching around him. Dimly, she was aware he kept moving, and just as she began to flutter back to reality he pushed deep into her one last time, swallowing a hoarse groan as his body shuddered. She smiled up at him, watching his face contort as his heat pooled and spread inside her. When he relaxed she pulled him down to her so he crushed her.
"So. . ." he said after a long moment. "You approve of this bed?"
"I could live with this bed. In this bed. All over this bed."
"Good. I plan on that."
"There's a lot of rooms in this mansion."
"We'll have to visit them."
"Definitely." She kissed his ear. "I love you. With all my heart."
"I love you too," he said, letting his eyes close. "And it's going to work this time."
* * * * *
June 23, 2020
"Charlotte, Natalie, don't go out too far on the rocks." Ainsley saw her daughters wave in acknowledgment and stop in their climbing, peering into the tide pools at their feet with the fascination only a seven and four year old could manage.
She turned to watch her son chasing the kite his father held. She grinned, watching him splash through the surf. She heard the girls squeal and turned back to see them running away from the splashing breakers. She was considering running over with a towel when arms wrapped around her and Sam pinned her to the ground.
She giggled. "Let me up."
"No." He nibbled her neck.
"What about the kite?"
"Sammy's got it."
"You think he can handle it?"
"He's very strong for a six year old."
Ainsley rolled over to look at him. She brushed her fingers over the growing patch of gray at his temple. She'd watched it spread during his two terms, even as her blond hair had turned ashy. "If he becomes airborne I'm blaming you."
"I take full responsibility."
She smiled, studying his face. Eight years had left their shadows. There were more wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and around his mouth. There was the iron in his hair and a little more flesh around his middle. But she wasn't one to talk. Eight years and three kids had taken their toll on her figure. Not that Sam ever noticed.
He kissed her hard. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking that you look very much like a writer and husband of a poli-sci professor."
"Yeah. It was fate, I think."
"You're right. I never looked like a governor."
She cupped his face in her hands and kissed him. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
He was bending to kiss her again when they were suddenly attacked by three small, squealing bodies. After a brief tussle Sam grabbed Sammy and Charlotte under his arms and started carrying them down to the water, threatening to toss them in, the two shrieking the whole way. Ainsley wrapped her arms around Natalie and cuddled her in her lap, watching the other three dance with the breakers. She kissed her the top of her daughter's blonde head and smiled.
Sometimes things work out the first time. Sometimes they never work out at all. And sometimes, all you need is time.