As Jed walked up the stairs to his room, he was followed by the sounds of laughter and male voices raised in tuneless song.
He smiled to himself as he recognized the loudest voice as Sam's. That was okay. Let the guy blow off a little steam. He had
worked hard today and would still be working far into the night. As they all would.
He knew that, in a little while, the pressures of the day somewhat abated, the staff would form groups to brainstorm about
debate topics. God, he hoped they could come up with something he could endorse. Today's endless discussion and bickering
over his responses had annoyed and drained him. Combine that with the potential for disaster in Qumar, and there was little
wonder that he felt so tired and edgy.
Jed and Leo had eaten dinner together, the atmosphere somewhat strained between them, but they could get past that. They
always did. And, by the time the meal was over, the tension had eased and Leo had suggested that Jed take a little time to
himself before they all got back together later in the night to work on the debate again.
So now he found himself on the way to his room, thinking a brief nap might not be a bad idea. The agent on duty nodded
and wished him good evening as he opened the door.
The room was lit by only one lamp on a bedside table. Jed sat down on the edge of the bed and reached for a pillow. Nap
"Long day?" the distinctly feminine voice came from the other side of the room. He recognized it instantly and looked around
to find her sitting in a chair in the semi-darkness. She rose and came to stand before him.
"The agents let me in. Was that all right?" she asked.
"Of course," he said, his voice a little gruff. Jed stood up and took her in his arms. Of course the agents would let her
in his room. They knew her and how important she was to him.
He bent his head to kiss her and found that her response was uncertain at first. Pulling her closer, he deepened the kiss
and felt her body melt against his, warm and soft. They stood together for endless minutes, trying to remember what it felt
like to touch each other.
"I'm so glad you're here," he whispered.
She pulled away a bit and looked into his tired face. "You're working too hard."
"There was a lot to do today."
She sat down on the side of the bed and patted the mattress. "Sit down and tell me."
"Well, apparently no one can agree on any of my responses for the debate, so every word has to be analyzed over and over
again. By the time the thing actually happens, I probably won't be able to remember any of it."
"Yes, you will," she patted his hand, and he was amazed how much better he suddenly felt, simply because she had confidence
in him. "Next?"
"Qumar. We had to secure a location here so I could talk to Fitz and the rest," he sighed and ran his hand through his
hair. "It's a problem that just won't go away."
"I'm sorry, Jed," she said softly. "It really has been a long day for you."
"And now it seems I have you on my hands to deal with," he said with mock seriousness.
"You're tired. I can go."
He fell back against the mattress and pulled her with him. "No way. I can handle three things at a time." He kissed her
hard, then pulled away to whisper, "I really am glad to see you."
She smiled at him. "What's behind door number four?"
She sat up and ticked things off on her fingers as she spoke, "It's like a game show. You try to pick only the doors with
prizes behind them, but sometimes it doesn't work out that way. You have the debate behind the first door; Qumar is behind
door number two; and...this may or may not be a prize...I popped out of door number three. What's left behind door number
It hit him immediately. Jed knew all too well what was behind door number four, and he knew it showed on his face.
"Obviously not a prize, then," she said as she watched him.
"Guilt," he said, his voice so low that she almost didn't hear him. Then he met her eyes and said again, "It's guilt."
"It's what we live with," she replied.
"I don't want to think about it right now." He reached for her and she went to him willingly, both of them wondering how
long they could shut out the truth.
Later, he couldn't remember pulling back the bedspread or shedding his clothes, but he found himself beside her on the
bed, the sheets cool against his bare skin and her breath warm on his cheek. The only conscious image he had was of removing
her bra and sliding his fingers over the pale skin of her breasts, his fingers rolling the nipples into hard peaks that he
then caressed with his lips.
She moaned softly and arched her body toward him, reaching down to pull his head up from her breast and back to her mouth.
He complied eagerly, his lips parting hers, his tongue teasing and probing. She ran her hands over his chest, her warm fingertips
grazing his skin and igniting sparks of sensation that raced to the pit of his stomach. As her hands moved lower, he held
his breath, waiting for her to touch him. Agonizing moments passed before he felt her fingers on his erection. Her first strokes
were feather light, fleeting caresses that left him aching for more. He reached down and placed a hand over hers, wordlessly
showing her what he craved.
"Don't be in such a hurry," she whispered, moving her hand away completely. Her lips were hot on his neck, but he could
barely contain his disappointment at the loss of her arousing touch. Just as he opened his mouth to ask...no, he would willingly
beg...for what he wanted, he felt her hand move firmly over him again, stroking rhythmically up and down. Now he was torn.
He wanted her to hurry. But he wanted it to last forever. He groaned as he tried to make up his mind and found it totally
impossible to think.
She decided for him. Her fingers slowed their movements and she snuggled closer to him. He sighed as he realized that she
knew him better than he knew himself.
"I do believe you could drive me insane," he said, and she smiled.
He kissed her lightly and rolled her onto her back, his body covering hers. While his hands caressed her breasts, he let
his lips trail a path down her neck to her collarbone. His lips hovered there, then moved slowly downward to tease each nipple,
bringing them to taut, reddened peaks of arousal. His hand slid between her thighs, finding her warm and moist as she arched
against his questing fingers. Jed moved lower, placing kisses on the smooth skin of her stomach and finally placing his lips
where his fingers had been. As he finally reached her most sensitive spot, he felt her shudder with excitement. He heard
her say his name, and then the rustle of the sheet as she gripped the bed, but he stayed where he was, intent on arousing
her with his lips.
Finally, her voice broke through his fog of desire. This time it was louder, her tone anguished, "Jed...stop. Please, stop."
He pulled away and moved back up in the bed. Wrapping his arms around her, he kissed her gently, then whispered in her
ear, "What do you want?"
Her response was soft, but heartfelt, "You, Jed, just you."
He looked into her face and their eyes locked. Jed poised his body over hers and pushed inside her, feeling the instant
warmth as she accepted him. Slowly, their bodies began to rise and fall, still looking into each other's eyes. He thought
it was too intense, that he couldn't withstand the onslaught of physical and emotional forces, but he couldn't look away.
He was almost relieved when her lids fell and he could concentrate solely on the raging fire overtaking his body.
They moved together, the tension building with each moment. Jed heard her muted gasp at the same time he felt her contract
in ecstasy around him. He slowed his thrusts, rocking her gently as he waited for her to regain control.
After a moment, she opened her eyes and murmured softly, saying only three words, "I love you."
Her words stabbed at him, and the pain reached deep inside him. Fleeting thoughts of guilt raced through his mind, but
his body was too aroused to let him stop. He kissed her with fierce passion and quickened his movements. Jed felt her hands
on his hips, pulling him tight against her as she arched upward to meet each thrust. The blood pounded in his ears, thudding
so loud that it almost drowned the inarticulate sounds pouring from his lips as he climaxed. The bursts of intense pleasure
peaked, then slowly receded, and he felt a warm peace come over him. He lowered his lips to hers in a gentle kiss.
"Rest a while," she said.
Jed didn't want to rest. He wanted to talk to her, but his eyelids were suddenly weighted beyond his capacity to hold them
open. He let them fall as sleep claimed him.
He awoke suddenly and grabbed his watch from the bedside table. It was late. He had to get downstairs for the debate preparations.
He slid out of bed and covered her slumbering body with the sheet. Picking up his jeans and sweater, he went toward the bathroom.
Standing under the hot shower spray, Jed washed away the aftermath of their lovemaking, but he couldn't wash everything
away. The guilt was still there. Nothing seemed to dispel it. He assumed he would always carry it with him now.
He struggled with his thoughts and emotions as he dressed. There were things he should say to her, but he didn't know how.
"I want you." Yes, that was true, and she already knew it. He could say that.
"I need you." It hadn't started out that way, but he did need her now. He didn't know what he would do if
she disappeared from his life. He should tell her so.
"I love you."
No, he wasn't ready for that. He could not...would not...say that. Not yet.
Jed walked back into the bedroom to find her dressed and sitting on the side of the bed, putting on her watch in the yellow
light cast by the lamp. She looked up at him and smiled and everything he wanted to say slipped away.
"Will you be here later?" was all he asked.
She picked up her wedding ring and slid it on her finger. He noticed her hands were shaking.
"I don't think so," she said.
"Please." He hesitated for a moment, then walked over and sat down beside her, taking her left hand in his. He looked at
the wedding ring that he hadn't given her. He even rubbed his thumb over the gold, wondering how people got into situations
like these. How people turned to someone other than their spouse. Then he raised her hand to his lips and kissed her palm,
folding her fingers over the kiss as he lifted his head, just as though it were something tangible she could keep forever.
He sighed and realized just how these situations came about. When they were hurt, people naturally sought comfort and love,
and they had found it in each other.
"I don't think so," she said again. She lifted tormented eyes to his. "We've already put too much stuff behind door number
Guilt. This was the price they were doomed to pay.
Jed stood, reluctant to leave, but knowing that everyone was waiting on him.
"I've got to go," he said.
She nodded and, as she rose from the bed, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her with all the feeling that he couldn't
put into words. He didn't know when, or if, he would ever see her again. He opened his mouth, the words ready to tumble out,
but she put a silencing finger against his lips.
"Go, Jed. You've got things to do."
He nodded and started for the door. Just as it closed behind him, he heard her speak, or, at least, he thought he heard
"I love you."
The preparations for the debate ran late into the night and it was close to 3:00 AM when Jed at last found his way back
to his room.
He had been wanting to return to her for hours. He had shortchanged her, perhaps even shortchanged himself, and he needed
to make it right. He just hoped she had changed her mind and was still there, waiting for him.
The agent on duty nodded and opened the door for him.
The room was silent and empty, dark except for the lamp shining from the bedside table. She wasn't there. There wasn't
even a lingering trace of perfume to remind him that she had been in the room.
He looked at the smooth bedcovers and wondered if the inn's housekeeping service was in the habit of making midnight calls
to tidy the rooms. Maybe they only did it as a special service for the President. But that couldn't be right, because one
pillow was pulled out, its center dented where someone had placed their head.
Then it struck him forcefully...where he had placed his head.
Had he dreamed it all?
Had she ever been there with him?
Or was it only fiction, born in his mind from the seeds of loneliness and tension? Had he clutched on the image of an attractive
woman for comfort? Could he be guilty of only dreaming?
In his head, his words repeated themselves, "I do believe you could drive me insane."
He couldn't be totally sure, but he thought she had been there. But, then again, it was possible that it was all in his
Either way, he was plagued by temporary insanity. And wondering if he dared to experience it again.
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