Three years later:

The knock on the door was a welcome distraction from the stack of mind-numbing reports piled up in the corner of his desk. Jack grinned when Roy Holt appeared in the doorway. If he was lucky, some crisis would save him from the monotony of paperwork. The agitation in his normally unflappable chief of staff gave Jack hope.

"Mr. President, you've got a visitor."

While it wasn't a major crisis, it was better than dying of boredom. Unless it was Matt Salvatore. If he had to put up with another visit from the Speaker of the House, he'd throw himself off the balcony. Or throw Salvatore. Lost in thought, Jack never saw the sly smile on Roy's face or the blonde who took his place in the doorway.

"I hear you're running for reelection. Need any help on this campaign? I've got a killer slogan."

Jack's eyes widened at the vision before him. After years of doing everything short of moving out of the country to avoid him, he couldn't believe Cassie was actually standing in his office. Aside from a few anonymous messages -- notes that said I told you go to strong on health care or Don't let Salvatore get you down -- that could have only been sent by her, she'd broken off all contact.

The first few months had been hard without her. There were so many things he wanted her opinion on. He needed someone he could talk to, confide in, someone who would tell him the unvarnished truth. Once he got in the swing of things, it gradually got easier. Not that he didn't miss her. Every day.

"Well, do you want to hear it or not?" Cassie shifted nervously. It took three weeks to build up the courage to face Jack. She'd kept tabs on him through Roy, but he had been vague when it came to how warm of a reception she would receive. She prayed rejection would be swift.

"What about when the campaign's over? Are you just going to disappear again?"

That was the question of the day. She was as unpopular with the Republicans as she'd always been. Her ideals were the same but her methods were a subtler. For the most part. The shouting match with Senator Hayes on live television was so not her fault. Now that he'd established himself, would her involvement hurt Jack's career? Probably not.

"It would be an honor to be a member of your staff."

Jack fought to stifle his joy. There was no reason to let her know just how happy she'd made him. He wanted her to suffer just a little. "Unfortunately, I don't think there will be any openings for you. Nearly everyone here has expressed a desire to stay for a second term."

Cassie covered her disappointment with an indifferent shrug. She couldn't expect him to fire a dedicated employee simply because she wanted a job. "That's good to hear. You've got one of the best staffs in recent history. They're very loyal. I'm sorry for taking up your time. I--"

He considered her carefully as she stammered her way through an awkward apology. She'd changed since the night she walked out. Mellowed. The Cassie he'd known would have never apologized for anything. Even her appearance was different. Gone were the faded jeans, baseball caps and baggy t-shirts. With her stylish tweed suit and demure braid, she could fit right in with the rest of his staff.

"Are you finished ogling?"

There she was, the woman who could arouse both his mind and his body. No way was he letting her go this time. "What if I were to offer a more personal position?"

Cassie's heart skipped a beat. He had asked this question before and she could remember how desperately she'd wanted to accept. Some of the old roadblocks remained, but she didn't have the strength to give him up again. "I won't settle for anything less than First Lady."

"Didn't imagine you would." Jack's face broke into a wide grin. In three long strides he was across the room and in her arms. Mindful of the people eavesdropping a few feet away, he pushed the door shut before lifting Cassie's face and kissing her breathless.

After several minutes, Jack settled her against his chest and rested his chin on top of her head. "Cassie, darling?"

"Yes?"

"Did Salvatore really give you a black eye?"

Cassie snorted in disgust. "He only wishes."

Jack sighed in relief. The story had seemed a bit outlandish, but he'd learned to never underestimate Cassie's penchant for provoking people. His press secretary was going to have a hell of a time making light of the more colorful parts of Cassie's career.

"Matt Salvatore hits like a girl. If he hadn't been wearing that gaudy ring, there wouldn't have been a bruise. And that's exactly what I'm going to tell the next damn person to ask me that question."

"Oh God. Margaret's going to kill me."