Disclaimers - Nope, none. My characters, my hometown, my pseudo company. This is an Uber Fiction - featuring two characters from a previous story called Tropical Storm.  Dar Roberts is the vice president of operations for an internationally known Information Services corporation. Kerry Stuart is her assistant and protégé.


They kinda like each other.


There is mild violence, mild bad language, mild sexual activity, and mild salsa, with chips.


Whoops. Never mind that…    


Hurricane Watch

By Melissa Good

The office was mostly silent, save the faint scratching of a pen on paper, and the soft, distinctive hum of the computer on the desk. It was a room filled with warm mahogany wood, with a small conference table on one side surrounded by chairs, a discrete credenza holding a tray containing a pitcher of water and a set of glasses on the other, and the desk in the rear center, it's back facing a large, floor to ceiling window which afforded a horizon view of a choppy, greenish blue Atlantic Ocean.

Seated at the desk was a tall, dark haired woman, dressed in a conservative gray skirt and white silk shirt, the sleeves of which were rolled up past her elbows, exposing tanned, muscular forearms. Draped over the back of the chair was a gray blazer, and the dark head was propped up on one fist, while the other hand curled about a busily moving pen. One paper was completed, and then it was turned over, coming to rest next to a small aquarium where two suspicious Siamese fighting fish swam languidly, sparing occasional fishy eyes for the desk's tenant.

"Twelve down, eighteen to go." Dar sighed, scratching her jaw with the edge of the pen. "You'd think we'd have gotten our staff evaluations on computer by now." She paused, and then punched a button on the large console phone on her desk. "Mari?"

"Yes… hello, Dar. Good afternoon." The Personnel Director's voice was relaxed and friendly.

"Mind if I ask why one of the largest goddamn IS companies in the world can't put it's evals the intranet?" Dar asked, testily.  "Do you know how much faster it would be?"

"Ah, Dar." Mariana sighed, as though she'd been answering that very question all day long. Which she had. "If we did that, how would we comply with the regulation that dictates we insure all our senior staff know how to write longhand?" She inquired lightly. "Now now… you shouldn't complain… you only have thirty people you're directly responsible for. Think how Jose must feel? He has two hundred."

Dar considered this, chewing the end of her pen. "You're right. That put me in a much better mood." She chuckled. "He must be tearing what's left of his hair out."

"You're not kidding." Mari sighed. "Actually, the reason they're not e-forms is because there were some concerns about employee security  - the eforms might be accessible by people on the intranet that really shouldn't be able to read them."

"Oh." Dar thought about that. "So.. I probably shouldn't tell you that I just passed by the main printer room and saw all of Jose's completed forms printing out, right?"

Mari sighed aggrievedly.

"It was like a feeding frenzy in there." Dar grinned at the phone. "Everyone was peeking."

"And you didn't stop it? Come on, Dar… you're supposed to be responsible management up there." The Personnel director sounded peeved.

"Hey… how was I supposed to know that wasn't a new sales incentive of his?" Dar asked, reasonably. "After all, I fill out mine longhand."

"Jesu. All right.. I could use a cup of coffee anyway.. I'll wander down there. " Mariana exhaled. "How are you doing?"

"Bout halfway. "Dar lied.

"Uh huh." Mariana sounded supremely unconvinced. "Why do you all you guys have to wait until the last minute?"

"Because it's such a pain in the ass, Mari!!!" Dar responded, exasperatedly. "Tell Plano to get their anal pusses into the 21st Century with the rest of us, and put these damn things online! If they'd migrate to IIS4, security wouldn't be a god damned problem!"

"Can you spell that phonetically, Dar? I'm sending them a carrier pigeon." Mariana responded, in a serious voice. "All right… I'll put in a recommendation, again, for the forms to be changed to eforms."

"Thanks." Dar grumped. "Gotta go." She hung up, and went back to her task. Each form had fifty categories, in which she had to grade her employees, and a comments section which by regulation had to be filled in. "Jesus Christ… " She sighed, riffling through the stack. "Can't I just send in a slip of paper that says 'If they're not fired, they're fine?'" She complained to the fish, who wiggled their fins at her.

"No, huh. " She bent her head to the paper, reaching out and snagging a piece of dried fruit from a cobalt blue dish on her desktop and nibbling it.

A tap at the outer door was a welcome interruption. "C'mon in." She called out, looking up to see her secretary poke her head in. "Maria… have we gotten the status reports from Marketing yet?"

The short, older woman shook her head. "Nada…and I have called that new facilitatoria there three times." She walked across the carpeted floor and put several folders into Dar's inbox. "Three new accounts.. Kerrisita is going to be busy this week."

"Mm." Dar agreed, the mention of her assistant bringing an unconscious smile to her face. "Hang on.. " She punched a number into the phone. It rang twice, then a perky voice answered. "I need to talk to Jose." Dar stated crisply.

"I'm sorry.. he's in conference right now." The voice answered.

"Tell him to get out of the john and onto the phone or  he'll have me in there hunting him down  in thirty seconds." Dar replied, pitching her voice lower.

Dead silence. "One moment, please."

Dar waited, checking her watch. Maria covered her mouth to keep a laugh from escaping. Twenty seven seconds later, the phone picked up again.

"What the hell, Dar?" The Marketing VP snarled.

"I need those status reports ." Dar snarled right back. "And I frankly don't have the time to have my god damned staff running around the building chasing down your staff to get them."

In the silence, she could hear his heavy breathing. She waited making a few more comments on the sheet she was working on, and munching another piece of dried fruit. "I'm waiting." She commented crisply.

"Hold on." The line went to music, and Dar hummed along, selecting a pecan from the dish and pushing it towards Maria. "Wants some trail mix?"

The secretary accepted the offer, picking  up a piece of apricot and putting it into her mouth, privately amused by her bosses' sudden fondness for the relatively healthy snack, replacing her usual dish of chocolates.

"They'll be there in five minutes." Jose's voice came back on. "And stop scaring the shit out of my staff."

"If your staff did their jobs, I wouldn't have to be calling you, now would I?" Dar replied silkily, before she disconnected. "Asshole." She muttered, shaking her head. "Okay.. if you don't get those reports by the time you get out to your desk, lemme know."

"Si… Dar, have you seen Mr. Jose's new assistant?" Maria lowered her voice. "I'm not the one for to be talking in corners, but I hear twice today he is very sharp, and they are looking for him to how you say… go against you."

Dar leaned on her elbows and fiddled with the pen in her hands, then looked up. "I've heard the same thing." Her pale, intense blue eyes regarded Maria. "Kerry's in a meeting with him, and Eleanor right now in fact… he called the facilities projections for this year into question."

"Dios Mio." The older woman's brow creased. "Is trouble, no?"

A slow nod. "Mr. Fabricini and I have met before." The executive remarked quietly. "In fact, we used to be friends." Her former classmate, in fact, whose hiring had been a very unpleasant surprise when they'd gotten back from the holidays. "We are not friends now." She told Maria frankly. "It could get very ugly, yes."

Maria sighed. "Is bad." She frowned. "Why can not everyone just come, do their work, go home… not spend all day making problems." She exhaled. "Poor Kerrisita.. stuck with those two."

A quiet smile edged Dar's face. "She's tough… she'll be fine, Maria. " She reassured her secretary. "Listen, I know I've got a meeting after lunch with the executive committee, but did we reschedule that client briefing for tomorrow or is it still at four?"

"I'll check." Maria headed for the door. "And I'll let you know about those reports."

"Thanks." Dar let out a breath, and went back to her task, concentrating for a minute, then dropping her pen down and leaning back, her eyes thoughtful.

So. Even Maria had heard it. Dar felt a familiar frustration rising in her, triggered by the secretary's plaintive question. Why couldn't everyone just show up and do their job? It was obvious by their first encounter that Steven Fabricini had been hired specifically because he knew Dar, and Jose was hoping that knowledge could turn things to his advantage in the boardroom.

Not that he wasn't qualified, Dar mused. He was, more than Jose was, in her honest opinion. But he was also less scrupulous than the blustery Cuban, more ruthless, and far more aggressively antagonistic.

Like her, if she wanted to view things very objectively, in which case Jose's choice hadn't been a bad one, for his purposes. Their first meeting hadn't gone well.

"Hello, Steven." Dar had stood quietly behind her desk, her hands resting on the surface, as he entered.

"Well, well, well… look at what we have here. If it isn't my old, and best buddy, Dar Roberts." Steven had sauntered in, shutting the door behind him as he crossed the room towards her. He hadn't changed much, still tall, with a sleek, runner's physique, and thick, dark hair. His hazel eyes had made no bones about studying her as he came forward, and that slick, toothy smile creased his face as he held a hand out. "Been a while, hasn't it?"

Not nearly long enough. Dar had almost answered, as she reluctantly took his grip, and returned the strong handshake with one of her own. "Certainly has." She'd replied evenly. "I believe the last time I saw you was right after you were thrown out of school, that last semester."

"Mm… yes, and you enjoyed engineering that, didn't you?" He chuckled. "That's okay.. no hard feelings…after all, things turned out all right, didn't they? Here we both are." He'd spread his arms out. "My office isn't as nice as this one, but… " Now he'd turned his eyes on her. "Maybe that'll change soon."

Dar had merely lifted an eyebrow, and refused to take the bait. "Well, best of luck to you." She'd said, keeping a neutral expression.

Then a knock had come on the inner door, and she'd called out, half turning her head to watch as Kerry entered. The blond woman had passed through the sunlight pouring in her window, burnishing her pale hair, and highlighting her graceful physique.  "I've got those reports." She'd said, giving Steven a curious look, then turning her attention to Dar. "That New York center is going to be almost impossible to complete.. Nynex is projecting sixty days to pull the circuits."

"Not good enough." Dar had said, tersely. "I'll see what I can do." She'd turned to where Steven was watching interestedly. "Kerry, this is Steven Fabricini, Jose's new AVP."  She stated. "This is Kerry Stuart, my right hand."

Kerry had almost.. almost… smiled at that. Dar had seen the crinkling of the skin around her eyes as she extended a courteous hand to Steven. "Pleased to meet you."

"Likewise.. I'm sure." He'd said lazily, giving her a charming smile. "We'll be working very closely together, I can see that."

Kerry had merely nodded, then turned and slipped out, leaving them alone again.

"Well..well.. Dar, you old whore.. your taste certainly has improved." Steven had laughed. "That's a nice piece of ass."

She had only just been able to put a lid on her temper, as she realized almost too late he was trying to get under her skin. "This is an EEOC company, Steven, and we take that seriously. I'd keep those kinds of comments shoved up your ass, where they belong."

"Ah, now Dar." He'd stood up, that obnoxious smile sliding onto his face. "You've got everyone here so blinded by that kiss my ass attitude… but I know better. " He pointed a finger at her. "I know you… and that's how I'm going to beat you."

Dar had looked at him coolly. "Steven,  I'm not the person you knew back then. Be careful you don't promise things you can't deliver."

He'd smiled, and walked out.

Since then, it had been a series of little testing jabs, culminating in a challenge, two days ago, to the projected facilities additions they'd structured before the end of the last year. She knew Steven was looking to prove himself to Jose, and use this as an opportunity to fence with her, so she'd reviewed the information, and sent Kerry to the meeting he'd demanded instead.

She wondered how it was going.


The meeting room was small, only an oval table, with six chairs around it, and a whiteboard stark against the beige corded wall covering. Four people were seated around the table currently, three of them staring across the table at the fourth, a young woman of middling height with blond hair and pale green eyes. She was clad in a plain, dark blue skirt with a matching sweater, contrasting with the other occupants pinstripe business suits and bright red skirt and blazer.

"I'm sorry.. I'm not sure I understand the question. " Kerry stated, turning her pencil in her hands, and peering patiently across the table. Jose, Eleanor and Steven rounded out the participants, and Kerry had the very uncomfortable sensation of being a rabbit in a cage with three hungry snakes.

Fortunately, she sighed, rabbits did have claws, and teeth, and could use them when needed. "What does half a dozen prospective leads that haven't even gone to bid status have to do with projections from last year?"

Steven Fabricini had been very obviously miffed that Dar had sent her, Kerry realized, but she also understood why her boss had done so.. she had the answers to their questions, and it prevented the meeting from appearing to be a forum where Dar would be pushed into the defensive, attacked by the three Sales and Marketers. 

Now Steven stood, walking to the whiteboard. "Well, as I see it.. if we can show that kind of potential, then facilities has the obligation to add bandwidth so we have the ability to close the deals. " He held his hands out. "What is there to understand?"

Kerry cocked her head. "That's like saying you're going to buy six hamburgers at McDonalds because you might be hungry." She stated. "Upping bandwidth on the network is done via a formula based on your department's past performance… if you want that changed, you need to close more contracts, because they're not going to acquire hard circuits on the possibility of leads."  She consulted the information Dar had printed out for her. "According to the last five years projections, infrastructure is increasing the acquisition of circuits based on a new account rate of ten percent." She looked up. "Are you saying we're going to close more new accounts than that?"

"We have no idea!" Jose threw his hands up. "But we can't sell the accounts if we don't have the bandwidth to handle their demands immediately."

"Don't you see, Kerry.. " Eleanor added smoothly, smiling at her. "We have to have a bargaining chip."

"Ah." Kerry stated, folding her hands over the papers. "Okay.. so what happens if we don't add that many accounts, and we end up with a negative balance we have to compensate for?"

"See? That’s your problem, cupcake.. you can't think like that.. you have to think positive." Steven pointed the marker at her. "You're too conservative.. and it's killing our potential to sign new business."

Kerry propped her chin up on one hand. "No… we're just following the written guidelines for new business, as set down by corporate, in Plano. If you have an issue with how the business case has to be structured, you need to address that with Les Roesenthal, since it's his model." She neatly flipped the tables on him. "And those five accounts you tossed into this issue do not adhere that standard.. in fact, two of them show significant potential for our taking a loss on the overall account, despite the bonus you all will get for signing the new business." Her voice was gentle, and almost pleasant. "So, as you can see, I'm really not convinced we should go to Infrastructure on this, and ask them to accelerate their program." She stood up. "Now.. if you'll all excuse me, I have a lunch meeting I'm due at in twenty minutes."

Jose grabbed his papers and left, with a disgusted look. Eleanor trailed him out, leaving Steven and Kerry in the room. He sauntered over to her. " You're pretty sharp."

Sea green eyes regarded him. "Thank you." She picked up her papers. "Excuse me."

"Hey.. hey.. hold on.. " Steven circled around and perched on the table. "I'm not going to bite you." He smiled. "Unless you want me to, of course." He flicked the papers. "No need to be hostile.. we're on the same side, remember?"

"Are we?" Kerry asked. "Then why accuse our division of deliberately sabotaging yours?" She held up the printed out email. "Or didn't you write this?"

"Aw, c'mon.. " Steven chuckled. "It's just a game… loosen up." He slapped his folded papers against her arm lightly. "We're both pretty new here, right?"

"More or less. " Kerry replied relaxing her pose.

"So… we can talk.. look, I'm not here to make trouble, okay? I'm just trying my best to jump-start some sales here.. it's to all our benefit, remember?" His brows lifted. "We can help each other… things are kind of stagnating… and if we work together, maybe we can get things moving again."

Kerry studied him. He was charming, he knew it, and she could feel the allure of that engaging smile. "I'd be glad to help in any way I could." She answered, carefully. "Without compromising our standards."

He moved closer, in a casual way. "Ah.. now Kerry.. would I ask you to compromise your standards?" He grinned. "I heard you say you have a lunch meeting… maybe tomorrow we could grab a bite in the cafeteria and chat.. how about it?" Steven captured her eyes, and his lips twitched a little.

"All right." The blond woman said, quietly. "We can do that." She shifted her papers. "I have to go… I'll be late for my meeting." She favored him with a gentle smile.

He winked. "Go on, cupcake.. .see you later."  He watched her leave, then smiled to himself, letting out a low, soft chuckle. "More than one way to pull the fangs off a cat, Dar… I think you just made a big, big mistake."


The cafeteria was crowded with the early lunch people, staff who came in before eight, and by noon were more than ready to eat. Kerry picked up her tray, and wound her way through the room, spotting Maria and several other older women seated near the back where a window allowed a view of the water. "Hi."  She greeted them, putting her tray down by an empty chair. "Looks like we're going to get some rain."

"Si." Maria agreed, looking out at the threatening clouds. "How are you, Kerrisita? Did your meeting go all right?"

Kerry seated herself, and picked up her silverware. "More or less… " She took a sip of her ice tea, and speared a piece of lettuce. "We agreed to disagree… you know." She gave the older woman a wry look, then glanced around casually. "Boss get stuck again?"

Maria nodded. "Si… a conference call from France… she asked me to bring her up a sandwich."

Kerry clucked and shook her head, but didn't say anything. The table talk turned to the latest episode of a favorite TV show, and she joined in cheerfully.

"Guess that honeymoon ended fast." The faintly sarcastic remark made Duks raise his head, and regard the speaker coolly.

"Excuse me?"

Comptroller Selene Advosan leaned closer. "C'mon, Duks…when she first started, her and the ice princess were tighter than a champagne cork in a bottle… I haven't even seen them eat lunch together since the New Year.. I guess the novelty wore off."

The Financial VP chewed his corned beef sandwich thoughtfully. "Never noticed."  He shrugged, then glanced over at Kerry, who appeared perfectly at home with her tablemates, and was laughing at something Maria had said. "Maybe they're just busy… Dar never did lunch much anyway… and they seem friendly enough."

"Yeah.. but I thought we had a juicy one going there for a little while." Selene sighed. "I should have known better.. Dar's way out of her league."

"Mm." Duks dismissed the subject, and concentrated on his lunch.

Kerry put her tray away, and joined Maria as the secretary ordered a sandwich for their boss. The older woman checked the available options, then glanced sideways. "What you think…chicken salad?" She inquired, her brow creasing.

"Tuna melt, on raisin toast." Kerry murmured. "With french fries."

"Aie." Maria winced, and gave her an appalled look. The blond woman shrugged, and smiled. "Dios Mio. All right." She ordered the sandwich, and gathered some napkins as it was being made. She took the bag the counterman handed her and clucked, then followed Kerry out the door and to the elevator, which swallowed them up along with several other staff members. At the last minute, running footsteps and a hand between the door delayed them as Steven Fabracini slid in.

"Well, hello there." He sorted his way through the mailman and two administrative assistants, choosing to lean against the same wall Kerry was. "How was lunch?"

"Fine thanks." The blond woman replied readily. "This cafeteria's really not bad…it's better than most of the restaurants around here."

"Ah.." He watched as the doors opened, and one woman left. "You live in the area?"

"Kendall." Kerry answered amiably.

"Hey.. me too." Steven smiled. "Seems like most of the building does…either that, or up in Miramar." He glanced up as the mail man and the other woman left. "Guess we're headed to the same place." He noted, seeing the fifteen button the only one left lit.

"Guess we are." Kerry eyed him. "Where in Kendall did you end up?"

He told her, crossing his arms. "It's a nice little complex…got a clubhouse, and all that."

"That's not too far from where I am…I like the area. We go rollerblading down to that little bakery on the corner near the mall all the time." The blond woman commented.

"Hey.. I blade al the time." Steven smiled. "Maybe we'll bump into each other sometime down there… I like that little place."  The door opened and he gestured. "Ladies first.. "

Kerry followed Maria out, seeing the stiff set of the secretary's back and biting off a tiny smile. Steven accompanied them down the hall and into Dar's outer office, where the executive's distinctive, vibrant voice could be heard growling through the thick wood paneling. "Aie.. what now." Maria sighed.

Steven chuckled. 'Dar never needed a reason to be rude, crude and obnoxious." He brushed by them and walked into the dark haired woman's office, closing the door behind him. 

Kerry and Maria exchanged glances, then Kerry picked up the paper bag. "I'll drop this off." She paused with a hand on the doorknob, then opened the inner office door, and stepped inside.

"Mike, I don't give a god damn what they're telling you, it's bullshit." Dar punctuated her words by slamming her pencil on the desk. "I'm not going to accept sixty days to pull a lousy circuit, so they better come up with something else."

"Look, Dar… we've been going around and around with them for two months.. they won't budge." The man's voice answered, sounding tired. "They've got unions to deal with up there, and facilities that are older than my damn mother."

Dar looked up as the door opened, and her nostrils flared a bit as Steven walked brazenly into her office. "Hang on a minute. "She hit the hold button. "People knock before they come into this office."

Steven clucked, and dropped into a chair. "Get your panties out of a wad, Dar."

"What do you want? I'm in the middle of something." The dark haired woman snapped back.

Steven leaned back, glancing up as the outer door opened, and Kerry slipped in. "Thought people knocked first?" He asked mockingly, smiling at Dar.

"She doesn’t have to knock. She works here." Dar replied. "You've got ten seconds. Talk, or get out."

Kerry paced quietly across the carpet and deposited the bag on Dar's desk. "Lunch." She murmured, then headed for the inner door that lead down a service corridor to her own office.

"Thanks.' Dar spared her a brief glance. "Hold on a second.. I have some contracts to turn over to you." Then she focused back on her unwelcome guest. "What is it?"

"I want a task force." He leaned forward abruptly. "I want two people from your staff so I can figure out what the hell you're trying to accomplish around here, and see if I can straighten it out. " He pointed. "I want her, and whoever else you have assigned over to me for a period of two months, starting tomorrow."

Silence fell. Dar folded her hands over her desk, and blinked at him. "That's what you want?" She inquired mildly.

"That's what I want." He smiled.

One long, powerful finger pointed at the door. "What I want is you out of my office." The executive stated flatly. "I don't have the time, or the people to dedicate to you for your wild goose chase. If you want to bring in temps to play with files, talk to Mariana."

"Afraid of what I'll find, Dar?" He crossed his legs, and smiled at her, as he glanced sideways at the quietly waiting Kerry. "You can't hide it forever."

Dar merely stared steadily at him.

"Fine." He stood up and brushed his pants off. "I'll just make it a formal request up the line… I'll get what I want… and everyone will know it… sorry, Dar.. I was trying to spare you that for old time's sake." He winked at Kerry then left, the door closing behind him with a bang.

A silence settled, then Kerry cleared her throat. "You know what I want?"

Dar raised an eyebrow at her.

The blond woman walked over and settled on the corner of Dar's desk. "I want a shower." She pointed "Right in that corner, so every time I have to talk to that sneaky little piece of pig manure I can go and wash myself off." She made a face and gagged. "He makes me feel so slimy!!" She shuddered. "Ugh! Dar! Gag! Gross! Yuck!!!"

That got a weary chuckle from the taller woman, who shook her head and sighed. "He's a piece of work, that's for sure. " She punched the phone button. "Mike you still there?"

"Yeah.. " A muffled voice answered. "Just eating my lunch."

"All right.. gimme the name of someone up in their chain.. I'll see what I can do to shove things along a little." Dar propped her head up on one hand. "Sixty days… my dog could pull a circuit in less than sixty days."

"Probably do a neater job of it. "The voice agreed. "I'll email you with some names… thanks Dar."

"Yeah, yeah…" Dar sighed, as she disconnected, and turned to face Kerry. "Hey."

Kerry cocked her head and smiled.. "Hey." She indicated the bag. "Tuna on raisin… better eat the french fries before they soak through the bag."

Dar's expression gentled, and she captured Kerry's hand, squeezing it. "Thanks.. how'd the meeting go? You must have made an impression, or he wouldn't be asking for you."

Kerry rolled her sea green eyes. "I think he's just bound and determined to screw you over…he went from being condescending and antagonistic, to hitting on me." She made a face. "He wants to do lunch tomorrow."  She watched Dar's right eyebrow lift. "Here… just in the cafeteria." She amended with a gentle twinkle. The eyebrow remained where it was. "Oo.. do I sense some territoriality  raising it's head?"

"Hmph." Dar snorted softly. "No… that's not… you can go to lunch with whoever you want to, Kerry.. I'm not.. um.. "

A hand cupped her cheek unexpectedly. "I'm flattered." Kerry whispered.

Dar fell silent, then chuckled a little. "I do have a pronounced possessive streak. " She admitted wryly. "But be careful, all right? He's very sharp."

The blond woman leaned closer. "Not as sharp as you are." She murmured softly. "Even though he thinks he is." She informed her boss. "What is his problem with you, anyway/"

Dar sighed. "We went to school together… we were pretty good friends, even though we don't have much in common.. we were both in the martial arts together, hung out with some of the same crowd… the trouble started when I beat him in the nationals that year."

"Ah." Kerry lifted a hand. "I get it… let me guess, he was god's gift to karate?"

"No." Dar replied, surprisingly. "He wasn't really that good, maybe that was the problem.. he never made it past the preliminary rounds, and I was the one that kicked him into the loser's bracket… purely by chance. " She exhaled, remembering. "He felt I should have helped him get further… because he was trying to impress this girl on the opposing team he'd been after for years… it was why he got involved in the stuff to begin with."

"That doesn’t make sense.. why would you have taken a dive for him?" Kerry inquired. "I can't see you doing that in any case."

Pale blue eyes winked at her from under long, dark lashes. "It was complicated.. he thought I owed him the favor.. but at any rate, I didn't, and he lost, and he dropped out of the karate program after that." She paused, ordering her thoughts. "He was majoring in systems design.. and through a chance routine I was running, I discovered he'd stolen his entire senior's design matrix from someone else. "

"Uh oh." Kerry winced.

"Yeah… well, me being a moral and upright bastard in the old days, I had to go running to the department head with it, and he was tossed out of school." Dar sighed. "Our last meeting wasn't very pleasant.. he told me he'd get back at me someday, and now, here he is trying."

"Jesus… he should get a life.. what was that, ten years ago? What a waste of time." Kerry folded her arms across her chest. "He gives me the creeps."

"Mm." Dar agreed. "Well, we have to deal with him.. if he keeps pushing you, you can tell him you're not interested.. or that you're involved with someone."

"Both of which are completely true." Kerry agreed." Your sandwich is getting cold." She gave her boss a not so subtle nudge.

The dark haired woman smiled, then opened the bag, tugging out the sandwich and munching on a fry. "Mm… bet Maria made a face at you for this." She bit into the gooey sandwich happily. "She usually brings me chicken salad on pita."

Kerry watched her indulgently for a minute, then stood up. "Yes, she did… but not nearly as nasty a face as when old Stevie Snake was flirting with me." She touched Dar's shoulder. "I think she has a protective streak, too."

"Mmhmm… " Dar nodded, with her mouth full. "She thinks you're a manifestation of the Blessed Virgin for getting me to eat trail mix instead of malted milk balls."

Kerry snorted softly. "That didn't take much effort at all.. c'mon…anyone could have done it."

Dar studied her sandwich for a moment, before taking a bite of it. "No one else ever tried." She remarked casually, as she chewed the mouthful, enjoying the gentle tang of the raisins in the bread. "Even my mother gave up on me."

"Well." Kerry reached oven and gently pushed an errant, dark lock out of Dar's eyes. ""I'm pretty stubborn." She smiled. "Not to mention a little on the possessive side myself." She confessed. "Was your mother into greens?"

"Vegetarian." Dar replied, wiping her mouth. "She tried… but my father told me even as a baby I used to chuck up the strained peas, and go after his hamburger. Must have driven her nuts." She finished off her fries and neatly disposed of the bag. "Thank you…now I have just enough time to review this damn status report before the executive committee meeting… and I'm stuck with a new client briefing at four… I won't get out of here before seven."

Kerry nodded. "I'm meeting a few folks over at the gym for a climbing session at six…will you be over for our class?"

"Oh yeah." Dar responded positively. "I'll be ready for that…. It's been a long, aggravating day, and it's only lunchtime."

"Yikes." Kerry's hands had found their way across her bosses neck, feeling the tension in her shoulders. She stood up and went behind the chair, reaching over and giving her a gentle massage, enjoying the warm feel of Dar's skin under the cool silk of her blouse. "You're all wound up, huh? "

"Mm." Dar closed her eyes and dropped her head forward, submitting to her companion's touch gratefully. "Yeah… Ow… oh… damn, that feels good." It was such a nice feeling, she reflected. Not just the massage, which was relaxing her, but the warmth and caring she could practically feel pouring from Kerry. It made the nastiness of the day recede, and put her in a  much better frame of mind in which to face the upcoming meeting. She finally leaned back, as the blond woman finished, and looked up at her. "Thanks."

Kerry smiled back. "Your welcome.. I'd better get going .. did you actually have stuff to give me, or was that just a reason for me not to leave?"

A soft chuckle. ""I'm not that bad. Here… " Dar handed her the three folders. "Three new ones…and in case I didn't say it before, the two you structured last week were very well done." She meant it, too, the business plans had been very well thought out, and the start up schedules were efficient, and thoughtful. "I got a note from Eleanor regarding the New England Power meeting…she was very impressed with how you handled it."

Kerry positively beamed. A big, sunny grin covered her face, and her eyes sparkled, as she drank in the compliments. "Wow.. thanks…" Somehow, when Dar discussed business with her, she managed to forget their relationship, and simply react as anyone else would in getting praised by their boss. It was a weird sensation, almost like she and Dar were two different people, the ones who worked together, and the ones that lived together. "Glad I did good."

Dar's phone buzzed. "Dar?" Maria sounded resigned.

"Yes?" The executive answered, leaning on an elbow.

"Personnel, line numero uno."

"I bet I know what this is." Dar sighed. "Thanks.." She hit the button. "Dar Roberts."

"You are such the troublemaker, you know that?" Mariana's voice sounded halfway between irritation and wry amusement. "Are you trying to set some record for complaints against one employee?"

Dar lifted her hands and let them fall on the desk. "What did I do?"

"Oh.. let's see.. " A rustle of paper. "Being rude, obstructionist, uncooperative, detrimental to the progress of business… "

"She really wasn't, Mari." Kerry spoke over her bosses shoulder. "I was here…she was really polite, as a matter of fact."

Mariana sighed. "What did he want?"

"Me." Kerry replied. "He wanted me, and another staff member assigned to him personally for two months, while he.. as he put it, straightened us out."

A soft curse in a fluid language followed. "And you told him no, I take it?"

"I told him I didn't have the time nor the staff to go on wild goose chases.. if he wanted dog's bodies to hunt stuff down, to go see you." Dar replied. "I'm not assigning one of my staff, not even mentioning my very valuable, and very efficient assistant to that horse's ass."

"Mm.. I see." The Personnel VP sighed. "Well, he kicked a copy of this up to Les, along with a bunch of statistics… it looks pretty nasty, Dar.. I'll forward you a copy."

Dar drummed her fingers on her desk. "Did he copy Jose?"

A moment's silence. "Um…now that you mention it, no." Mariana replied.

Dar smiled. "Okay.. thanks.. I'll handle Les if he decides to get involved." She pulled a folder over to her. "Meet you in the conference room?"

"You got it." Mariana agreed, and hung up.

"He sound like he really means to make a case out of this, Dar." Kerry stated quietly, her brow creasing in concern. "Would it be easier if we just went along with it? I mean.. it's not like he's going to actually find anything if he investigates our area."

The pale blue eyes thoughtfully roamed the room, settling on Kerry's face with quiet intentness. "Yes, it would be easier." She stated flatly. "But I'm not gonna do it." The ferocity in her voice surprised Kerry. "He wants a fight? He'll get one."


Dar glanced at her watch as she entered her office. The briefing had lasted an hour longer than predicted, but it had ended on a good note, so she considered the time well spent. It was a few minutes to seven, though, and she lifted her cell phone, dialing a number without looking. Three rings, then four, then a breathless voice answered. "Hey."

"Oh.. " Kerry paused to breathe. "Hey… what's up?"

"Where are you?" Dar inquired, hearing the panting.

"Halfway up the climbing wall, holding on by one hand." The blond woman replied. "So..as much as I love talking to you, could you kinda…"

"Sorry." Dar apologized. "I just got back from the briefing… I'll be over in about ten minutes."

"Right.. I'll let everyone know." Kerry responded. "Ooof…oh..wait..okay." She sighed. "That's better.. I was sort of upside down, and trying to hold myself up… my arm was giving out."

The executive chuckled softly. "Okay.. .well, get both hands back on those holds, okay? I'll see you in a bit." She was looking forward to the class, and her sparring time with Ken. "Take care."

"Okay.. see ya.." Kerry hung up, then managed to clip her cell phone to the back of her workout shorts. "Glad I got the lightweight model." She commented to the rough wall before her eyes. "Well, time to go down.."

She worked her way slowly across the wall, moving from handhold to handhold, and finally let go of the last one, landing lightly on the floor. Her shoulders and thighs ached, and she straightened up slowly, then leaned against the wall and caught her breath. "Whoo." She shook her arms out and flexed her hands, then paced back out of the climbing room and paused, searching the crowded gym. "Ah." She spotted Ken standing next to his small office, and she headed in his direction.

He looked up as she approached, and a smile creased his friendly face. "Hey there."

"Hey Ken… " Kerry wiped her brow with the towel she had tucked in her waistband. "Dar's on her way over… she had a late meeting."

Ken rubbed his neck. "I'm still sore from last night." He complained wryly. Dar had surprised him with a side kick that had nailed his jaw, and snapped his head sideways. "Maybe we can just have coffee tonight, huh?"

Kerry laughed gently. "I think she's really enjoying your sessions… but I'm sure she'd take it easy on you if you asked her."  She looked up as Colleen approached, already in her workout gear. "Hey, Col… it'll be a few minutes. Dar's on her way over."

The redhead grinned. "Good..I thought I was going to be late..I had two tellers come up short today, and we spent an extra hour trying to figure out what happened." She tugged on Kerry's shorts. "Let's get a drink while we're waiting."

"Okay.. I"ve got to put my stuff on.. " Kerry agreed. "You want anything, Ken?"

"No… " The gym manager shook his head. "You two go on.. I've got to give a few tours." He indicated a small group of uncertain looking women. "New members."

Kerry nodded then followed Colleen towards the juice bar. "Order me a strawberry banana, would you.. I'm going to go change." She angled her steps towards the locker room, waving at three sweating women who passed by. "Hey guys.. "

"Hi Kerry." The closest one, a programming specialist who worked in Mark's department answered "The boss around?"

"On her way." The blond woman smiled, as she continued into the tile lined locker room, which echoed with the sounds of the showers, and the clank of locks against the metal doors. She went to her assigned space and unlocked it, pulling out her light cotton pants and top, and the white belt that went with them, and stripped off her shorts and the t-shirt she wore when climbing, along with the knee protectors that kept her kneecaps from being smashed against the rough concrete.

Idly she glanced to the right, and caught sight of herself in the mirror, and she paused to evaluate the reflection. Turned sideways as she was, she could see the smooth curve of her thigh muscles, which had become a good deal more pronounced and she slid a hand up along her waistline, where she was just beginning to be able to see a little definition. "Hmm." She raised an eyebrow at the sight, watching the rounded shoulder muscles shift as she moved her arm. It had taken her a while to get used to it, to be honest.. she'd been so accustomed to thinking about herself in a certain way, that this sudden change had made her a little uncomfortable at first.

Okay, she sighed, as she slipped into the cotton pants. A lot uncomfortable, as her mind fought against a lifetime of being subject to her mother's views on what a woman should, or should not look like. Women were not supposed to look like wrestlers. Slim, yes. Poised, yes. Buff?

Ah, no.  And there were a lot of people here at the gym who fit into her mother's views, keeping strictly to the light aerobics, and the sweat rooms to produce bodies like whippets, all slim bone and taut skin, who avoided the weight rooms and machines like the plague.

Dar had gone a long way towards providing her with an example of a different way of thinking. The taller woman regarded strength training as an important part of her fitness regimen, and was completely unapologetic over the amount of smooth muscles that covered her body, explaining to Kerry a touch sheepishly that she preferred it that way, since the muscles burned up a lot of the excess she tended to indulge in.

That made a lot of sense to Kerry, and she'd decided if she was going to share a life with Dar, she'd better make an effort to insure sharing the taller woman's eating habits wasn't going to be totally self destructive. And she'd found that she liked the activities, as well as her growing competence at them, comfortable with the thought that the hour of climbing she'd just enjoyed would also make the pound of strawberries and crock of thick, dark chocolate waiting at home equally and guiltlessly enjoyable.  As if on cue, her stomach started growling, and she rolled her eyes, locking her locker and heading for the door as she tied the belt around her.

"Took you long enough." Colleen gently pushed her drink over to her. "So.. how's the week been?"

Kerry sighed. "Personally, great. Professionally, great, except that new guy I told you about… he's been driving us crazy this week." She took a long gulp of the frothy fruit drink, enjoying the tangy sweet taste. "He's got it out for Dar."

Colleen sipped her own drink, and fiddled with a napkin. "Well, you be careful, there, m'dear.. don't get caught in the crossfire." She warned. "Dar's full capable of taking care of herself."

"I'm already in the middle of it." The blond woman sighed. "It's a mess…but we'll handle it." Her eyes went to the door just in time to see it open, and a familiar form ease inside. Dar was still in her business suit, but had her gym bag hitched over one shoulder, and she pushed it back as her eyes swept the interior of the gym.

It took less than five seconds. Kerry counted. It was a game they played, sometimes, to see how fast they could find each other. On the count of one thousand four, the blue eyes zeroed in on hers, and Dar's lips twitched into a grin. She made her way over to where they were seated, gracefully sidestepping a pair of power walkers, who were strutting their way across the machine area.

"Hey." Kerry offered her a sip of her drink. "How'd it go?"

A shrug. "Same as always." Dar accepted the glass, and took a swallow of the fruit smoothee. "Hello, Colleen."

The redhead smiled. "Hi, Dar…any chance of going over those punches today?"

"Sure." Dar replied, handing Kerry back her cup. "I'm going to go change… meet you guys over by the mats." She headed into the locker room, crossing to her locker, right next to Kerry's, and unlocking it. She put her bag inside, and changed quickly, glad to get out of her skirt, hose and pumps, and into a comfortable pair of cotton pants and soft boots.

She hung up her work clothes, and shrugged into the mid length shirt, pulling the long, black belt from her bag and glancing at it before she wrapped it twice around her waist and tied it off.   Putting this on had felt very strange, she remembered. She usually worked out with the trainer on the island in a pair of sweat pants and a tshirt, but when she actually started teaching class, Ken said it would make the students feel less awkward with their own new garb if she wore hers as well. So she'd rooted around in the three trunks tucked into the condo's closet that represented her personal possessions, and dug the old thing out, a little surprised it still fit. She'd had her doubts about wearing it, but then Kerry had told her she liked it… okay, she'd told Dar she thought she looked really cute in it, and since then she hadn't minded wearing it again.

"A little egotistical?" She asked herself wryly. "Oh. Just a little." She chastised herself, as she locked the locker and headed out towards the class area. 

They were all waiting, a group of ten including Kerry and Colleen. Dar took them through a series of warm up routines, using the time to stretch her own muscles out, then went over several concepts she'd taught the week before, and linked that into the day's lesson. As always, Kerry watched her with that little look of utter concentration, her brow furrowed, the tip of her tongue poking out a bit, as she repeated the exercise, at first uncertainly, then with more confidence.

"Nice. " Dar complimented her. "Okay.. now you and Colleen go at each other." The rest of the class watched, as the blond and the redhead squared off, and Kerry edged forward, getting the hold on Colleen's arm, then correctly dumping her on her butt. "Right."

"Ugh." Colleen squinted up at her friend. "I'll be needing a pillow on me butt, much more of this."

Kerry grinned, and offered her a hand up.

Dar hadn't expected to enjoy teaching. She'd volunteered on the spur of the moment, and afterward had almost regretted it, but as the weeks went on she'd found herself looking forward to her little class. "Okay.. good." She nodded, as two of the men squared off against each other, and demonstrated. "Right.. a little higher on the kick.. you have to get it just above the knee."  She got in closer, and tapped the man on the thigh. "That's it."

The class finished, and she leaned against the wall, watching as Ken ambled over, an apologetic look on his face. "Evening, Ken." She greeted the shorter man. "How's the neck?" She really hadn't meant to nail the poor guy like that.. she'd just been trying out a move she hadn't been able to do in a while, half expecting it not to work, when it did, they'd both been pretty surprised. Or rather, she'd been surprised, Ken had been too busy counting stars on the mat to be anything other than in pain.

"Hurts like heck… " He admitted. "I think I'm going to have to give it a miss tonight."

Dar chewed her lip. "Sorry about that." She told him, sincerely.

"Don't worry about it." He chuckled deprecatingly, then he glanced up at her. "Say, Dar… you ever give any thought to going back into competition?"

The question surprised her. "No, I…" She paused. "No..c'mon, Ken.. it's been ten years. I'm way past that."

The short man shook his head. "I beg to disagree… I mean, I don't know if you're interested, but I was at a match this past weekend, and I have to tell you, honestly, Dar… you'd have walked with the trophy." He put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "I know it was just a little local thing, but if you wanted to, you could go back into that… you've still got the moves, it would just take a little work."

Her first instinct was to say no. Absolutely not, she didn't have time for that, her life was too complicated as it was, there was no way she'd have time to do it right.. to get into the kind of shape she knew she'd have to in order to really compete.


A seductive tendril she'd thought long buried surfaced, reminding her of just how much she'd enjoyed competing. How much she'd enjoyed winning.  Maybe seeing Steven had shaken that loose and brought it to the surface, she mused. Her eyes flicked over Ken's waiting face. "Something to think about." She replied quietly. "I don't know… I really hadn't considered it before."

He grinned. "Well.. you think about it…" He patted her arm. "We'll talk about it in a couple of days."

Dar walked slowly across the busy gym, her eyes thoughtful.


Kerry relaxed into the soft leather seat and sighed. "God, I'm starving… I am so glad I stuck that bowl of chicken satay in the refrigerator before we left this morning."

"Mm… that sounds good." Dar agreed, as she gazed out at the road.

The blond woman glanced at her, studying Dar's profile. "You're quiet tonight." She said, after a moment of silence. "Everything okay, or are you still stewing about Mr. Slimeball?"

Pale blue eyes left the road and gazed at her for a moment. "He's not worth stewing over." She stated, knowing it for a lie. "I managed to put a corncob up Jose's tailpipe… I gave him a copy of that email." She chuckled softly. "I haven't seen him change that shade of red in a while.. I usually cause that."

Kerry stretched out, and leaned on the armrest. "What does he hope to accomplish, Dar? Fabricini, I mean."

"Bottom line?" Dar turned into the ferry terminal and drove onto the boat, which had just docked. She put the car into park and rolled the windows down, then turned the engine off. The cool January air blew in, ripe with the salt tang of the sea and she settled back, propping one knee up against the steering wheel. "He wants Jose's job, and my head." She said. "If he can prove we lost money because of something I did, he's got a good chance of both."

Kerry blinked. "But… how can he prove that? You know nothing like that happened."

Dar ducked her head to one side. "No one's perfect, Kerry… it's possible he could dig up something where we could have done our jobs better, and we lost out because of it… we've got so many things going on at once, and so much of it involves making decisions based on the best information available… it can happen."  She settled her hands on her knee. "But I've got a pretty good batting average.. he'd have to find something really major, and I'm not really worried about that." She fell silent, and watched the ripple of the water in the ferry's wake, scattering the moonlight over it's surface.

"So.. what are you really worried about?" Kerry prodded gently. "Is it because he's made it so personal?"

Dar thought about that. "Maybe." She acknowledged. "Or maybe it's because he's sniffing after you…" She let rueful grin cross her face. "And if he does find out about us, he will most certainly make an issue of it."

"Mmph." Kerry rolled her head to one side, waving  at the deckhand as they docked on the island. "Well, we just have to make sure that doesn't happen… right?"

Dar drove off the ferry, and through the spray, then turned onto the access road that lead to the condo. She pulled in next to Kerry's Mustang, and turned the car off. "C'mon.. let's go get slurped." She got out and took her bag, then waited for Kerry to join her before she trotted up the stairs and keyed the door open.

They ducked inside and turned the lights on, then Kerry dropped her bag on the couch and continued on into the kitchen towards the utility room, which was issuing shrill yelps. "Okay, okay Chino…. Take it easy.. " She unlatched the gate, and let the three month old Labrador puppy out. "Did you miss us?"

The puppy scrambled up her leg, hopping up and down until she picked her up and cuddled her. "Hey… " Kerry laughed as the pink tongue got her neck. "Hey.. no nibbling!" The sharp little teeth nipped her skin, as she glanced into the puppy's area. "You were a good girl, werentcha!"

Dar wandered over, and the puppy whined, wriggling towards her. "Hey, puppy… "

"All right…all right… here… " Kerry turned her over. "Go… I know who your favorite is… look, Dar.. she was  a good girl all day."

The dark haired woman suffered a nose nibble, then peered into the room. "Hey… look at that. Good girl." She praised the puppy. "Getting resident services to come and let her out twice during the day was a good idea, huh?"

"You bet." Kerry agreed. "Want to take her for a walk while I get dinner up?" She watched indulgently as Dar scratched the puppy's chin, and cooed at it, the little tag on her collar, which bore her name, and their address jingled softly as she moved. "Dar?"

"Hmm?" The executive glanced up. "Oh.. right.. sorry." She kissed the puppy on the head. "C'mon, Chino… let's go out… see if you'll piddle for me, huh?" She slipped out the back door, and down the patio steps into the moonlit grassy area.

Kerry had to laugh, as she rinsed her hands off. "No one at work would believe hearing that." She shook head wryly. Dar had proven to be an extremely soft touch when it came to their little addition, and Chino had learned all it took to get a puppy biscuit was a pair of soulful brown eyes, and a tiny paw.  She'd find Dar, and sit next to her, raising the paw up and patting Dar's leg with it, and the well trained human would immediately produce an Iams biscuit which Chino would crunch contentedly.

It was cute in the extreme, and Kerry loved watching her intimidating lover turn into a blue eyed puddle over the puppy's admittedly adorable ways.

She put up the satay and some rice, then added some fresh green beans to the steamer. "That'll do." She dusted her hands off and retrieved her bag, glancing around the living room with a sense of quiet satisfaction. At one time, it had seemed very sterile to her, but since she'd moved in, she'd coaxed some personal items out of Dar, and added her own stuff to it, resulting in a warmer and more cheerful atmosphere that now included some prints they'd picked out at the Grove Art Festival, a colorful native woven blanket that was draped over the central table, and a brass sculpture of dolphins and waves sitting in the middle of it.   She'd coaxed a few pictures out of Dar, including two of her at school age which Kerry thought were adorable and added her own in the niches of the entertainment center.

Nice. Kerry trotted up the stairs and dropped her laptop off in her office, then went into her room.

Her room. She still had to run that through her head when she walked in, as the spacious, vaulted ceiling and the wide, glass doors that opened out onto the Atlantic Ocean hit her eyes. She'd moved most of her things up from her apartment, though she was still retaining the lease there temporarily, and it still seemed a bit strange to see Pooh holding out his arms for a hug from the comfortable, overstuffed chair perfectly situated for reading as the sunlight came in the room. She'd hung her pictures on the wall, and it was her quilt on the bed, and the dresser held her things in a slightly jumbled disarray. 

Kerry put her bag down and went to the glass doors, sliding them open and going out onto the wraparound balcony to just stand, and gaze out over the black, rippling water for a long moment, watching the quarter moon send a tiny splash of light over the waves. It smelled of salt, and the rich scent of the freshly fertilized lawn below her, and the hint of hickory smoke from the beach club just down the way.

It was beautiful, and she loved it, even though she had to pinch herself sometimes just to prove it was real, and not just some outlandish dream Not just the house, but her life. Sometimes she was a little afraid to go to sleep at night, fearing she'd wake up one day and it would all be gone as though it had never existed.

A sigh. "C'mon, Kerry… get changed, and stop being goofy." She went back inside, closing the doors, and slipped out of her work clothes, exchanging them for her favorite sleep shirt and hanging her jacket and skirt up in the huge walk in closet that Kerry swore was the same size as her bedroom in her Kendall apartment.

A tiny whine alerted her, and she looked up as Chino pushed the door open with her nose, and came stumbling in, having laboriously negotiated the stairs. It was a new skill of hers. "Hey, Chino… c'mere honey." Kerry sat down and let the puppy scramble over her. She played with her for a minute then got to her feet and headed downstairs, with the animal trotting behind her.

Dar was in her office, working on something, and she looked up as Kerry poked her head in. For a minute, they just looked at each other, then Dar leaned back in her comfortable chair. "That smells great." She put her hands behind her head and exhaled, pulling the thin fabric of her worn baseball shirt against her body. "Ken sprang something on me tonight… he… broached the subject of me going back into competition."

Kerry came forward and perched on the arm of the couch. "Really?" She watched Dar's face. "You think you want to?"

The dark haired woman nibbled the inside of her lip. "I don’t know.. when he first mentioned it, I came up with all the reasons why I couldn't… and they seemed like good ones. "She shrugged. "I mean, it takes time, a lot of effort.. training…" She sighed. "It's been a long, long time… I don't know if I could still do it."

"But?" Kerry saw the indecision in her expression.

Both hands lifted, then fell to the arms of the chair. "Maybe the stuff  I've been doing with him… triggered some stupid adrenaline gene in there… I don't know… I've been getting quite a kick out of trying to see how much I could get back." She looked up. "What do you think?"

The blond woman studied her in silence. "I think you should go for it." She grinned. "I love the classes, but watching you and Ken go at it afterward has been such a blast… you get this incredible look on your face when you get past him."

Dar scratched her jaw, looking a touch embarrassed. "I do?"

"Yes, you do." Kerry held out a hand, as she checked her watch. "Come on.. we'll talk about it over dinner. It should be ready."

They settled in front of the large screen television, Dar flipping in on after she set her gently steaming plate down. "Oh… look, it's the Crocodile Fanatic." She peered. "What's he after now?"

Kerry observed the screen. "Snakes." She took a bite of chicken and then a mouthful of the steamed rice, which she'd put a touch of ginger and spices into. "Mm… yeah, rattlesnakes." She shook her head. "Jesus… he's picking them up by the…. Dar, he's crawling into a cave of those things… isn't the Discovery Channel afraid they're going to have a lawsuit on their hands when he gets eaten alive?"

Dar pulled her plate over and took a bite. "They probably had him sign a document in quintuplet that absolves them of any responsibility for him." The spicy peanut sauce on the chicken contrasted with the gentle, gingery taste of the rice, and she sighed contentedly. "Kerry, this is great."

"Thank you." Kerry took a sip of ice tea. "We have strawberries for dessert, you know."

"I know." Dar chuckled softly, as she settled an arm over the blond woman's shoulders, eating one handed. "So. What's he doing now? Oh…hey, is his wife pregnant?"

Kerry peered. "Either that, or she's been munching on the crocodile crackers overtime." She watched. "And he drags her up into mountains, and hands her the tail of  rattlesnake to hold onto…Jesus!" The man on the screen cooed at the angry female rattlesnake. "You gotta love them? No Steve.. I don't!" She chewed. "He's got such a cute accent, though." She reached over and picked up a  green bean from Dar's plate, and offered it to her. "Here… I sautéed them in a little garlic butter… just pretend it's a French fry."

Dar obligingly took the bean, chewing it speculatively. "I think I'm being condescended to." She blinked. "Look at him… there must be a dozen snakes under that rock.. can't he just leave it alone? Wait… did he just say 'shit'?"

Kerry's brow creased. "Yeah.. he just said 'shit'…what's… oh man, did you see how pale he just got?" She turned up the sound a little. "Oh… Jesus… he's got a snake between his legs."

Her lover burst out laughing. "Well, it's not original, but.. "

"Tch.. Dar! NO! He's got a rattlesnake between his legs! Look… they're going nuts… he doesn’t know what to do!"  They watched as the man on the screen eased out of the way, and scooted out of range. "Wow… that was outrageous.. I wonder if they'd show it if he actually got nailed in the nuts by a poisonous snake."

"Well." Dar laughed helplessly. "At least he could get a tourniquet in place.. not like if he got bit on the face." She sighed, and chewed a mouthful of rice. "I think he's an adrenaline junkie." She quieted for a moment. Looking for that fix.. that excitement… was that what was tugging at her towards resuming the aggressiveness of competition?  Other wise, what was the attraction of going back ten years, and trying to recapture that particular bit of glory?  Or was this even a reaction to her turning thirty… a reassurance to her ego that she still had 'it'?

Now.. that was a depressing thought, wasn't it?

Conceit,  or a challenge it would just be fun to attempt?   She studied the image of the undefeatable Steve Irwin bounding over the rocks in search of yet more snakes, undaunted by his close encounter.

Hmm. She finished her dinner thoughtfully.


"So.. how'd a sharp girl like you end up in a rat's nest like this?"

The smile was meant to make her understand it was all in good fun. Kerry reflected, taking a thoughtful sip of her peach ice tea. "I submitted a resume, and it was accepted." She replied dryly. "And I happen to like it very much." It had been a slow morning, unfortunately, and no crises had developed that might have excused her lunch invitation from Steve Fabricini.

Though, Dar had volunteered to create one, if she really didn't want to go, the executive having been in a fairly good natured mood after an early morning meeting with one of their newer account teams. Someone had clued them in, she'd informed Kerry, having been fed strawberry crepes and biscuits for breakfast, instead of the usual fruit cup at the meeting, her twinkling eyes indicating who she thought was the culprit.

"You do, huh?" Steve chuckled, scooping up a spoonful of yogurt. 'That's hard to believe considering who you work for."

Kerry shrugged "You know, people say that a lot, but I've really enjoyed working for Dar… she's smart, she knows her stuff, she gives credit where credit's due.. and she stands up for her staff." She commented, honestly. "If you know what you're doing, you have no problem with her." Just like Mark Polenti had said, at their first meeting. "Of course, if you don't… " She let the thought hang.

He laughed. "You poor little thing.. wait until you get thrown to the fire as a sacrifice the first time she has to take the blame for something… you can't really be that naive, can you?" He leaned forward. "Listen, cupcake.. I know her, all right? You don't…she will turn on you like a rabid dog at the first opportunity."

"Really." The blond woman nibbled on her sandwich. "Well, thanks for the warning."

"Anytime." Fabricini smiled, the lowered his voice. "Listen… there's no reason we can't work together, all right? My job here is to try and punch through these roadblocks we seem to be coming up against.. and if I do it, the whole company benefits. Don’t' get caught on the wrong side of that, hmm?"  He put a hand on her wrist. "You're a sharp kid… everyone says so, and when this all shakes out, there could be opportunity for you, if you know what I mean."

Kerry smiled kindly at him. "You mean, if you dig up enough things to force Dar out, I might get her job."

He smiled back. "I said you were sharp." A dangerous glint entered his eyes. "Stick with me, cupcake."

The blond woman wiped her lips with her napkin, and set it down neatly on her plate. "There's just a few things I'd like to get squared away first."  She paused.

"What's that?" He smiled, a triumphant look on his face.

"One, you need to let go of my wrist before I sink my fork into the back of your hand." Kerry responded, very mildly. "Two, if you call me cupcake again, I'm going to be forced to find something equally insulting to call you, and that could get very ugly." She smiled right into his eyes, enjoying the shock. "And three, where Dar goes, I go." She stood, as he let go of her and picked up her tray. "Have a nice day." 

She left him sitting there, as she counted to twenty under her breath, waiting for her heart to stop hammering in her ears from anger. "Stupid piece of god damned… oh. Sorry." She'd collided with Mark Polenti, who glanced behind her.

"You okay?" He asked, having heard her growling. "Hey.. what did you do to puss face over there? He looks like he's been hit in the head with an obsolete mainframe."

Kerry took several calming breaths. "He is such a pig." She put her tray down in the washing area. "He wants me to work with him to find dirt on Dar, and then had the balls to say if I did, he's see if he could get me her job when it was all over."

Mark burst into laughter. "Boy.. did he ever get his lines crossed." He patted Kerry's shoulder. "Guess he picked on you because you're the newest.. figured the rest of us had our loyalties set by now." He put his own tray down. "So.. what'd you tell him?"

"To kiss my ass." Kerry replied, with a hint of a blush. "Only more politely."

They both watched as their subject sauntered up, his neck still red from anger, and deposited his tray. "My mistake." He oozed savage politeness to Kerry. "I should have guessed there was… personal… loyalty.. there." He threw his napkin in the bin. "Your loss." He left, giving them a disgusted look.

Mark and Kerry eyed each other. "Asshole." The both said in sync.  Kerry sighed. "Well, at least I won't have to worry about him asking me out on a date, now." She remarked wryly.

"Yeah.. but he could get nasty that way." Mark replied, snagging two large chocolate chip cookies and offering her one. "You know how rumors are."

"Been there, done that." Kerry accepted the cookie, and bit into it. "I think everyone's over that one already." Meaning the whispers about her and Dar, which had subsided dramatically since the new year had started. They'd been careful not to hang around each other at work, going to far as to not even have lunch together, and it seemed to have cooled the rumor mill to the point where everyone had gone on to something more interesting.

"Yeah… but be careful." The MIS chief warned, as they headed for the elevator.

 Kerry sighed, and punched the button for the fifteenth floor, then held the door as she heard footsteps approach. She couldn’t see outside from where she was, but somehow…  a smile was already pulling at her lips as Dar stepped inside, moving to the rear of the car and leaning against it. "Speak of the devil." Kerry commented, as the doors slid shut. "I just pretty much blew up my lunch meeting."

"Really?" Dar crossed her arms. "You lasted a lot longer than I would have." She gave Mark a wry look. "He must have stirred up a hornets nest, though, because Mariana just called me, and told me they're calling a meeting of all the upper management staff." As if on cue, both Kerry's and Mark's pagers went off. "I really don't have time for this crap today."

Kerry was listening to the voice page. "Yep… one o'clock in the big conference room."

Mark cursed softly. "I've got HP coming in this afternoon about the servers… damn." He glanced at Dar. "What's it about?"

The executive shrugged. "Mari didn't have details.. she was waiting on a packet from Plano." She sighed. "Les endorsed it.. and it's from Plano Personnel center, so god only knows what it is.. probably another poster campaign."

Mark snickered. "I liked the security posters, Dar… I have the one about preventing hackers framed in my bedroom."

The doors slid open and they walked out, surprised to see Mariana standing in front of Dar's doorway. "Uh oh." The executive murmured. "That doesn't look good." She gave them both a nod. "See you all shortly." 

"Dar, I need to talk to you." Mari said, as she approached. "You're not going to believe what they just dumped on us."

"Oh.. I'll believe anything… once." Dar gestured towards the door. "C'mon…" She led the way into her office. "Maria, book me for 1pm at a meeting, and cancel the briefing conference call, please."

"Si." Her secretary looked up from the phone. "Dar, your little puppy called."

"Thanks." Dar said, absently, as she went through the door to the inner office, then she stopped short, causing Mariana to crash into her. "Wait a minute.. .what??" She turned. "Sorry..  " She poked her head back out. "Maria, who did you say called?"

The older woman smiled. "Si.. the puppy… I got a call, I picked up, is nothing. I said, hello, hello… and then, Buenos Dias, but nothing. I almost hang up, and I hear.. " She made little whining noises. "I check caller id, is your house."

Dar blinked, ignoring the muffled laugh from behind her. "She must have gotten out.. and knocked the phone off the hook in the living room.. do me a favor, call resident services out there and have them go check, will you?" She shook her head and ducked back in the office. "Great… my luck, she went and called Singapore while she was at it."  She muttered, as she closed the door. "All right.. what's up?"

Mariana threw a packet on her desk for an answer. "Before you start screaming, I've already been on the phone with Les, twice, and he's not backing down."

Dar circled her desk and sat down, picking up the packet. Her eyes scanned it, and she looked up. "You're joking."

A shake of Mariana's head. "Nope… it's an executive retreat, with a program specifically for team building. They have a reservation for twelve of us, starting Friday afternoon. They're sending a bus to pick us up."  She crossed her arms. "Les says they've been using a very similar program out in Texas for three months, and it's worked great for them."

Dar covered her eyes. "Let me see if I understand this." She muttered. "He wants to send us all on a bus, out into the wilderness, to climb over rocks, and trees, and live in a cabin, and that's going to help us get along?"

"That's essentially it, yes." Mari nodded. "For the record, I've read up on this stuff, since I was trying to find some kind of help here, and it's got it's merits, Dar.. but it depends on the participants."

"In our case, it depends on the participants not KILLING EACH OTHER." The dark haired woman ending up yelling, her voice bouncing off the walls. "Is he NUTS?" She punched the phone. "Beatrice, is he there?"  Then she drummed her fingers, until the line opened.

"Now Dar, before you say anything, let me get my spiel in." Les's voice was cheerful, as usual. "Okay?"

Dar folded her hands on her desk. "Okay." She responded, in a quiet tone.

"I got that email yesterday.. and to be honest, it concerned me." The CEO stated. "Not because I thought it was true.. although you can be a stubborn obstructionist when you need to be, Dar - but it's always been in our best interests when you have. "

"Uh huh." Dar grunted.

"I see it as an overall problem… company wide, and that's why we've been using these seminars.. they're wonderful! You'll love it.. listen, it's just a weekend out in the middle of nowhere.. no cell phones, no computers… the food's pretty good… and we found the damn things really do work, to get people to know each other better."

"Uh huh."

"So, I'm sure if this new guy, and you, get to know each other things will smooth out.. and besides, the rest of the group needs a little team building. I've been getting a bunch of grumpies from that office lately."


"Yes? You can go off on me now, Dar."

"The problem with me and Steve Fabricini is that we do know each other - I got him thrown out of school ten years ago and he's kept a grudge" Dar paused. "You think sending us both out into the woods is a good idea?"

Long pause. "Ah." Les muttered. "I see… wish I'd known that."

"Can we cancel this now?" Dar asked, hopefully.

"Well.. see, its' prepaid, and we've already transmitted the payment." The CEO sighed. "And if we cancel, we lose all that money.. " He thought. "Let's do it anyway, Dar… and I'm counting on you to set an example, and bring everyone back with at least a little more team spirit."

Dar sighed. "Les, I really don't have time for this… and you're tossing my top ops staff out incommunicado.. what if something goes wrong over the weekend?" Her last trump card.

Les chuckled. "Dar, we both know you pick the kind of people who won't screw you over in a pinch… your staff can cover things.. go on, have a good time, and loosen up a little. I went on one of these things, and I had the time of my life, trust me." He heard the repeated sigh on the other end. "You're mad at me, huh?"

"If I thought this was going to do a damn bit of good, I wouldn’t be." Dar snapped back.

"Ah ah.. keep an open mind, Dar…you never know what can happen.. you all could come back best of friends." Les chuckled. "And, by the way.. I just processed your year end bonus. I know I forgot to send you a birthday card, but see if that's an acceptable substitute."

"Les… "

"Gotta go… the chairman of IBM is here, we're going to swap lies and exaggerations over rubber chicken." Les told her. "Just do it, Dar… when you get back, if  it was that awful, I'll make it up to you."

"How?" Dar inquired sourly.

A slight pause. "We'll talk about resolving the issues in a more direct way."

Dar's dark eyebrows lifted. "All right." She agreed quietly. "That's worth a weekend."

Les chuckled. "That's my Dar… try to have a good time, huh?"  He hung up.

Mari shifted in her chair, and shook her head. "You have such an interesting relationship with him." She sighed. "You're one of the few people I can say for sure he really, really likes." 

"Well, I tried." Dar gave her a wry look. "This is going to be a nightmare, Mariana."

"I know ." The personnel VP agreed. "You and me, Duks, Kerry, Jose, Steve, Mark, his second,  Eleanor, Duks and El's assistants, and my assistant Mary Lou." She paused. "You know what you're biggest problem is going to be, don’t you?"

"Besides not killing Steve?" Dar played with a pencil.  "Yeah. I do." 

Not letting everyone in on their little secret. "You two have such a cute little chemistry when you're around each other. " Mari told her wryly. "That's going to be tough to hide, out there in the wilderness with nothing to do but talk to each other and roast marshmallows."  She stood up. "Thanks for trying, my friend.. it was a good fight.. and you'd have had him if we hadn't already coughed up the bucks."

"Yeah." Dar leaned back, exhaling. "I should have just offered him my bonus back to cover it." She told her friend wryly. "It would be worth the money."

Mari chuckled as she turned to leave. "It's just two days, Dar.. we'll be back in Miami on Sunday afternoon.. I'm sure we'll survive."

Dar regarded her back as she left, then she threw her pencil down on the desk, leaning forward and studying the packet in consternation. A light tap on the inside door, however, put a wry smile on her face. "C'mon in."

Kerry poked her head in, then entered. "Hey."

"Hey." Dar leaned back in her chair and folded her hands across her stomach.

"Are we in trouble?" The blond woman inquired curiously.

"We may be." Dar pushed the packet over to her. "Cancel your plans for the weekend."  Actually, they hadn't had any concrete ones, just a vague plan that included diving, a trip to Bayside, and spending some quality time with Cappuccino.

Kerry took the packet and sat down in one of Dar's visitor chairs, studying it with interest. "Oh.. I've heard of these." She glanced up with a smile. "This sounds interesting…it's upstate from here, isn't it?"

"Mmhmm." Dar acknowledged.

A shrug. "Sounds like it might even be fun, Dar…I mean, there are cabins, it's not like you're out foraging for hickory nuts or something."

Dar chuckled. "If it were just you and me, or just you, me, Duks and Mariana, and even throw Mark in there, I'd agree with you.. but we're going to have Steve, Jose, Eleanor, and a couple other people with us."

"So?" Kerry peered at the agenda. "Oh.. that's cool… they have obstacle courses, and you have to help each other through them… " She looked up. "Who knows? Maybe it'll help, Dar."

The dark haired woman gazed at her. "So.. you don't mind spending an entire weekend pretending not to know me?" She inquired mildly. "Other than as your boss?" 

Kerry blinked. "Oh." She bit her lip. "Right. Hmm.. you couldn’t get us out of this?"  She winced.

"I tried." Dar lifted her hands and let them fall. "Les had already paid for the damn thing.. we're kind of stuck."   

They looked at each other. "Ew." Kerry finally sighed. "Well, I'm sure we can do this…I mean, we manage pretty well during working hours anyway." She stood up and put the packet back down on Dar's desk, then circled around and perched on the edge of the wood next to where Dar was sitting.

"We do huh?" The executive's lips twitched. "Well, I have to say you're the first assistant I've ever had who's made a habit of camping on my desk." She tweaked the edge of Kerry's skirt. "Most of them wouldn't get within ten feet of me."

Kerry's  eyebrows lifted. "Their loss." She replied, in sultry tone, which brought a genuine smile to her bosses face. Reflexively, she reached out and touched Dar's cheek, letting her thumb trace the smile, then she uttered a soft sigh. "Two days, huh? This is going to be a bitch on wheels, Dar."

The smile widened slightly, then the dark haired woman curled a hand around Kerry's knee, and gave it a gentle squeeze. "We'll survive."  She glanced at her watch. "Let's got to the damn meeting…I want to see Stevie baby's face when he sees what his email kicked off… what did he want from you, by the way?"

"Oh." Kerry stood, and backed to get out of Dar's way so she could stand up. "He wanted me to sell you out for the possibility of getting your job."

Dar paused in the middle of standing, then she slowly straightened and ran a hand through her hair. "Funny." She commented briefly. "That's the deal Elana took."

Kerry snorted. "I knew she was an idiot when I saw her… trade you for this job??? Give me a break!!!" She bumped Dar lightly. "Not for any job on earth… or anything else on earth for that matter, or anything on Mars, Jupiter.. the moon… " Her words were abruptly cut off by a pair of warm lips, and a fierce hug. "Mm.." Kerry murmured, when they parted. "I'm not sure.. but I think that might clue them in to our relationship, Dar." She leaned back in and ran her hands over the cool fabric of her lover's shirt, and kissed her again.

"Yes it would, but thank you." The dark haired woman caressed her cheek, and pressed her lips against Kerry's forehead before she released her. "C'mon… we're going to be late."


They could hear the yelling halfway down the corridor. "Oh, this sounds pleasant." Dar muttered, glancing at her companion, who pursed her lips in agreement, and pulled the door to the conference room open, motioning Dar to precede her.

The loud voices ceased as her six foot plus frame cleared the door, and all eyes turned her way. Dar was aware of Kerry entering behind her, but she kept her attention on the group around the table, and paused, putting her hands on her hips.

The silence went on for a long moment, then Dar lifted one elegant eyebrow. "Is there a problem?" She snapped, putting aggravation into her voice. "Or are you people just yelling at each other out of boredom?"

Jose stood up, or to be more accurate, stood further up, since he was already kneeling on one knee on his chair. He waved a familiar looking packet at her. "Have you seen this shit?" He slapped it on the table. "What is this crap?"

Dar's eyes went to Mariana, who was leaning with her fingertips on the table. "I take it you've filled everyone in?" She waited for the Personnel VP to nod.

"Certainly she did." Eleanor tapped her pen on the table. "Good grief, Dar… surely they can't expect us to just pick up and go… we all have lives!" A sweet smile at the Operations VP. "At least most of us do, at any rate."

"Yeah… I'm not going along with this." Steve stated suddenly. "It's senseless."

Dar sauntered around to the head of the table, which they'd left conspicuously empty, and leaned on the back of the chair there. "It's paid for. We're going." She stated bluntly "It wasn't my idea, but Plano's insistent, and that's all there is to it."

A chorus of voices thundered at her. Dar put up with it for a moment, then she straightened, and sucked in a breath. "SHUT THE HELL UP!" She thundered, making the glasses on the sideboard rattle. Kerry's eyes widened, and she slumped down in her chair a little in pure reaction, as a conspicuous silence dropped over the room. She let that go on a minute, then she pointed at Steve. "Next time, be careful what you ask for." She pitched her voice low, and her eyes swept over Eleanor and Jose. "You people had to start this, now Plano answered, and by god you're going to go to this stupid thing and not say another word about it, or I'm gonna take the charge for the course out of your damn paychecks." Each word had gotten louder, and more penetrating, until the last word barked out, making the glasses rattle again. "Understood??"


"I'll.. um… bring a deck of cards." Mark offered, hesitantly.

Steve snorted, and leaned back. "I'm not going." He stated, staring insolently at Dar.

"Jes, you are." Jose turned on him. "If I gotta do this, you gotta do this." The Sales VP gave the room a disgusted look. "Lemme go call my wife."

Mariana passed a packet out to each person. "There are instructions in here on what to bring, and what not to bring. No electronics, no cell phones, that kind of thing. Four changes of comfortable clothing, sundries, and any prescriptive drugs you need. "

"Does that include tranquilizers?" Eleanor muttered, glancing at the glowering Dar. "I'll bring some extra."

Duks had been fiddling with the packet, reviewing it. , then he glanced at his assistant, a young, heavyset woman with short blond hair and thick glasses. "Sandy.. you all right with this? "

She pushed her glasses up her nose. "Yes.. I'll get mother to watch my cats.. it'll be different, at least." She glanced sideways at Kerry. "Have you been on one of these before?"

"No." Kerry had been keeping an eye on her boss, who still had distinct, angry waves pouring from her. "I never have.. but I'm sure it'll be a learning experience, if nothing else."  She glanced at Steve, whose face had settled into a grim mask, and whose eyes were fastened on Dar.

Duks rubbed his jaw, as his glance followed Kerry's. "Oh.. yeah." He nodded solemnly. "We are going to learn something, of that, I'm sure."


Kerry glanced between two different shirts, then finally chose one and stuffed it in her overnight bag which hadn't gotten much use since she'd moved in with Dar.  Her lover had taken Chino in the cart, and was scooting off across the island to the small Italian shop in the center, to pick up two orders of pasta for dinner. She had protested that she could just make some, but Dar had told her they'd both might as well relax as much as possible, since it was even money the next couple of days were going to be just a bitch.

Despite her usual optimism, Kerry had to reluctantly agree about that, and besides, she had a taste for the trattoria's fettuccini alfredo, which was really tough to make from scratch.

She finished packing her bag, zipping it up and trotting down the stairs, stopping to review the chewed boot that Chino had gotten to, after the clever little puppy had escaped from her utility room dwelling. "Ooo… you're a lucky little girl, Chino… this is an old one." She chuckled, turning it over and running a finger over the shredded heel. The puppy had pulled it out of Dar's closet, after turning over the wastepaperbasket, and managing to knock the phone off the hook. A visit by the puppy sitter had returned her to her room, but now they had to figure out how she got out in the first place.

The back door opened as she passed through the kitchen, and Dar walked in, carrying the puppy under one arm, and a large, nice smelling bag under the other.

"Mm… that smells good." Kerry smiled, taking the bag from her. "I can just imagine what we're going to get at the retreat.. what do you think.. beanie weenies?" 

Dar sighed, and put Chino down. The puppy immediately went to her bowl and started to lap water. "Probably…from what the packet said, it's very 'rustic' - which usually means burgers and dogs… guess it could be worse."

"Oh yeah.. they could have picked one that only served raw vegetables.. they have those you know. It combines a heath food seminar with a corporate twist."

A low snort. "I'd have flown to Plano and beaten Les with a bag of celery until he screamed if he'd done that to me." The dark haired woman muttered. "It's going to be bad enough as it is." She tugged the two containers out of the bag and pulled out a long, fragrant loaf of garlic bread stuffed with cheese. "You all packed?"

"Mmhmm.." Kerry retrieved some silverware, a pair napkins, and tugged Dar towards the living room. "C'mon, Dar… it's not going to be that bad… I bet everyone get so involved in either what we're doing, or in how uncomfortable they are, that they'll forget how much we all don't like each other."  She opened her container of pasta and breathed in the rich scent. "Mm… "

"Maybe." Dar sighed, prodding at her own dinner with a fork, a large pile of angel hair bolognaise. She split the garlic bread in half, and gave Kerry her portion. "Here… "

The blond woman accepted the fresh bread, and tore off a chunk, dipping it in the alfredo sauce and taking a bite. "I mean… we are all adults, after all.. and professionals, for goodness sake.. surely we can get along for two days."

Dar chuckled. "You may be right, my friend.. and I hope you are, or it's going to be a damn unpleasant weekend." She swallowed a mouthful. "Did you read all the way through that packet? They observe us, and a status report gets sent back to Plano. " She gave Kerry a wry look, as the blond woman flipped through the channels and settled on the History Channel. "That should kick start some cooperation… no one wants Les to know they acted like a cranky little baby."

Kerry licked her fingers. "Do you think he's really concerned about our office? " She asked. "You don't think he's buying into Steve's accusations, do you?"

Dar shrugged, as she plowed thorugh a moutfhful of her dinner. "Hard to say. "She answered, after she swallowed. "How's your pasta?"

Kerry leaned over and kissed her gently. "Taste for yourself." She teased, then offered Dar a forkful.

"Uh uh." Dar evaded the fork and went for the source, running her tongue over Kerry's lips before she returned the kiss, putting her almost finished container down on the coffee table and freeing up her hands to stroke the blond woman's face, then travel down her shoulders. "Oh yeah.. I like that." She breathed.

"Me too." Kerry put her own dish down, and turned her attention fully to her companion's body, which her hands were itching to feel. She loved the silky texture of Dar's skin, and her fingers slid beneath the cotton t-shirt eagerly as they spent a leisurely few minutes exploring each other. She nuzzled Dar's neck, and tucked a playful touch under the waistband of her jeans, feeling the muscles contract as she did giving her easy passage. "Wanna give In Search of Ancient Mysteries a miss?" She inquired softly.

'This qualifies, doesn't it?" Dar replied, with a chuckle, as she teased a shirt button loose.

"Who you calling ancient?" Kerry bit down on a tasty earlobe, feeling the laugh travel through Dar's body.  "Hmm?" She tickled Dar's belly button, an area she'd discovered was very sensitive. "C'mon, I hear  a nice, warm waterbed whispering my name."  She nipped the soft skin on Dar's neck, then glanced up. "Hey!"

Dar reacted, her body shifting as she straightened up. "What in….oh." A soft laugh. "Chino, what do you think you're doing?"

The puppy was busted, tiny paws propped up on the low table, face covered in bolognaise sauce, wide brown eyes fastened on them in a big, canine "uh oh."  A thin strand of spaghetti drooped form her mouth, and the pink tongue licked at it.

"Bad puppy!" Kerry scolded her sternly, getting a tail wag. "No..don't wag your little butt at me… bad girl!"

The small, creamy ears drooped, and she dropped off the table, sitting down and looking up at them through dark eyelashes. The effect was ruined by a satisfied lip lick, however. Both women laughed. "Oh. It's not funny. " Dar sighed. "But I can't help it.. look at that puss."

"Yeah.. she's got a better pout than you do." Kerry replied, with a faint giggle.

Both dark eyebrows lifted. "I most certainly do not have a pout." Dar stated sternly.

Kerry traced the warm, coral colored lips with a delicate finger. "Yes you do… when you want something you know is bad for you." She teased gently. "Like that cake I made for your birthday."  The lips edged in a sheepish grin. "See?" She laughed. "I love that smile."

"Does that mean I get the cake?" Dar asked, ingeniously. She reached down and tickled Chino's ears, and the puppy stumbled over, putting her paws up on the edge of the couch and licking Kerry's arm. "I bet you'd like some too, hmm?"

"No no no.. no chocolate for her. " Kerry rubbed the silky ears. "I'm glad Colleen agreed to come puppy sit…I'd feel really bad leaving her here with just the island people dropping in once in a while." She flicked a glance to Dar. "That is okay, right? "

"Mmhmm." Dar agreed. "That works…I was going to see if Clemente could have someone hang out in here, but Colleen's a better choice.. even if I do think she's still a little unsure about me." She tugged lightly on a lock of Kerry's hair.

Kerry sighed. "It's….she just worries about me, that's all… she thinks it's great we're together, but the work thing weirds her out." She admitted, slowly. "And it is sort of weird.. I feel like I'm two different people sometimes."

"Mm… yeah, me too." Dar agreed.

"And I feel so… " Kerry pushed a lock of Dar's hair back. "I get upset when you get so stressed… like when you were yelling at everyone at the meeting today.. my guts hurt me." She admitted. "I got so mad at that creep today, I almost slapped him in the lunchroom, and it wasn't because I felt he was insulting my intelligence… it was just that he was doing something to get at you, and I just couldn't stand it."

Dar remained quiet, letting the puppy chew on her fingers while she considered Kerry's words. "Sorry." She finally muttered.  "It's just the way I do things."

"I know." Kerry smiled a little. "It's just so…" She paused. "Your reputation is based on reality, and I forget that sometimes, because I know you mostly like this." She put a hand on Dar's cheek. "I forget most everyone else sees a different picture."

Dar exhaled. "You make me sound very schizophrenic." She made a wry face. "And unfortunately, you're going to have to live with Ms. Hyde this weekend…I'll apologize in advance."

Kerry laughed ruefully. "Probably better off that way.. or I'm liable to forget, and start hugging you in front of everyone." She demonstrated, settling more comfortably as Dar returned the hug. "Mm… that feels so good. "

"How about we get rid of our plates, and keep searching?" Dar rumbled, right into her ear, the warm breath sending a light, pleasant shiver down Kerry's back. "I don't want to think or talk about work any more tonight."

Kerry murmured agreement, as she nipped her way along Dar's collarbone. She broke off reluctantly, and turned to grab the containers, only to find a cream colored puppy with an Alfredo colored nose licking her chops. "Oh… poo.. Dar, she's going to be sick to her stomach."

Dar lifted the pasta out of the puppy's reach and brought them into the kitchen, putting them in the garbage and dropping the silverware into the dishwasher as Kerry slid up behind her, capturing her with a solid grip around her waist. "Whoa."  The hands slipped up under her shirt, and explored her skin, making her knees shiver and almost unlock, and she grabbed the counter momentarily for balance.

Then she turned and met the relentless attack , wrapping her fingers in Kerry's blond hair and ducking her head as the smaller woman pressed up against her, losing herself in the intense passion, and letting the complications of her life drop away, fogging her awareness as her heart started pounding.

That must have been why she imagined she lifted Kerry up, and carried her to the bedroom, because she knew she wasn't capable of doing that.



Kerry became aware of her surroundings when a sharp crack of thunder rattled the windows. She blinked her eyes open, and glanced at the clock, realizing that though it was close to dawn, the weather was keeping it very dark outside.

Thunder rolled again, accompanied by several flashes of lightning. She peeked up to see the dim reflection of the clock's light against half open blue eyes. "Sounds nasty."

"Uh huh." Dar agreed.

"You're not considering going out and running in this, are you?"

"No." Dar snorted lightly, as she ran light fingertips across Kerry's bare ribs. "You think I'm nuts?"

"Just checking." Kerry nuzzled the soft breast she was resting on. "You've been very consistent lately."

Her lover snuggled closer, and made a soft noise deep in her throat. "Running's a good way to start the day out… kinda clears my head…gives me a little time to think." Thunder grumbled overhead. "However, this is perfect sleeping in weather." She muttered.

Kerry eyed the rain lashing against the window, along with the almost constant flashes of lightning. "Yeah… it sure is." She slid a knee between Dar's thighs, and went belly to belly with her, curling an arm around her back and exhaling contentedly. "Well, we have an hour or so before we have to get up, then."

"Mmhmm." Dar tugged the covers a little closer, and let her eyes slide shut.

The phone rang.

Dar cursed softly, and untangled one arm, reaching out and capturing the instrument. "Yeah?"

"Dar, it's Mark." The MIS chief sounded pissed.

"What's up?" Dar answered, stifling a yawn. "Meteor fall on Plano, or something?"

"Worse… the overseas gateways are down. Exxon tanker dropped anchor in the wrong place going across the North Atlantic, and snagged  the cable. Took out three hundred pairs."

"Ugh." Dar winced. "Jesus… can we reroute?" She felt Kerry stir against her, and she stroked the woman's back lightly. "Oh shit… they've got a transatlantic sales meeting with four new British clients this morning." ar

"I know." Mark replied. "That's why I'm calling… the shit's going to hit the fan in so many directions, we might as well set up a freaking stand and sell fertilizer." A soft sound of clicking keys came through the phone. "One of the pairs that was cut was the admin line.. they can't tell who's up and who's down, and they can't reroute until they get some diagnostics over the cable…it could take hours, maybe all day."

"Can we buy transponder time and go via sat?" Kerry uttered, very softly.

Dar considered that for a minute.

"Did you say something, Dar?" Mark inquired. "Thought I heard something."

Tell him? What the hell, he knows she logs on from here all the time. "Kerry suggested a possiblity.. switch it to a sat conference and rent uplink time."

"Oh… tell her I said good morning. " Mark's voice held a touch of triumphant amusement, despite the circumstances. "That's… well, they were going to do a multimedia real time… I'm not sure the sat can handle that kind of bandwidth, but it's a thought. We'd have to reconfigure all the sets here, and there for the different network type.. I'd have to put that on the fiber backbone."

"Is there any other possibility? Other than the reroute, which we have no reasonable ETA on?" Dar inquired.

"Not that I can see, boss.. that's why I was calling you." Mark replied. "Got two for the price of one too.. Kerry was next on my list of notifies."

"Please don’t' page me." Kerry mumbled. "I left it on vibrate, and it's on the dresser… it always scares the crap out of me when it goes off."

Dar muffled a laugh. "Okay… contact Intelsat, see if we can get one.. no, get two transponders.. and bring some of your people in early to go up and reconfigure the presentation system in the big conference room." She gave Kerry a hug. "Good work." She mouthed.

Kerry shrugged modestly. "I learned from the best." She mouthed back, resting her chin on Dar's breastbone with a contented sigh.

"Okay.. will do." Mark replied, amid another clatter of keys and a rumble of thunder. "See ya in the office."

"I'll bring pastalitos." Dar remarked wryly. "And lots of Cuban coffee." She hung up, then sighed, as she regarded the dimly seen ceiling. "So much for sleeping in."

Kerry didn't let go of her. "Why? Is there anything you can do in the next hour there?" She asked, reasonably. "It's going to take at least that long for Mark to get someone at Intelsat to answer him, considering they're in California, and it's only quarter to six here." She started a slow, teasing rubbing up and down Dar's belly, running her fingers over the lightly rippled surface in little circles.

Dar hesitated, torn between a natural urge to pounce on the situation, and her body's insidious desire to remain right where she was, in this nice, warm cuddle, where she could almost feel the affection surrounding her in the circle of Kerry's arms.

Shockingly, her body won out, and she capitulated, resettling her hold around her lover's body, and exhaling softly. "You're right… no sense in going in there just to pace around the carpet." The gentle stroking was relaxing her and she felt her eyes flutter closed, as she eased forward, finding Kerry's lips waiting for her.

They were both too sleepy to go too far, but they spent a very pleasant half an hour in nibbling and touching each other, until the reluctant gray light warned them of the growing dawn. Dar stretched, and rolled out of bed, offering a hand down to her languidly watching lover. "I'm gonna go take a shower… the coffee should be ready." 

"Y'know… " Kerry hopped out of the waterbed. "It would save time if we both showered at the same time."

Dar's dark brow lifted. "Oh it would, would it?" She laughed. "And save water, too… maybe." She agreed. "All right… let's go." She lead the way into the bathroom, flipping on the light and ducking into the free standing stall shower to start the water running.

"Mm.." Kerry curled an arm around her, and nipped her waistline. "You know, Dar.. I think the thought of not being able to touch you for two and a half days is making me… um… "  She hesitated.

"Horny." Dar supplied, giving her a quick kiss. "That's all right." She smiled at the dull red flush that covered Kerry's neck and face. "C'mere." She drew the blond woman into the shower, and let the warm, pulsing water cascade over both of them. Then she picked up a natural sponge, and added some liquid soap to it, and started scrubbing Kerry's body.

"Mmm." Kerry swayed a little, then captured her own bit of sponge, and returned the service, rubbing the soft surface against Dar's tanned skin. She'd gotten halfway around her ribcage before she found herself sliding closer, and replacing the sponge with her lips, unable to deny her body's cravings.

Dar responded, dropping soap slick hands down over Kerry's hips, pulling her forward and into the intense flow from the shower head.  She let herself forget the time, as Kerry's hands slid up her thigh and they allowed a spiral of passion to take them over, building to a fiery intensity, then leaving them both shaking, as Dar leaned back against the water warmed shower tile and managed to keep her legs from collapsing under her. "Whoa."

Kerry sucked in a breath that was half heated skin, and half chlorine tinted water, with the soft tang of their soap on the peripheries. "Oh.. …"  She caught her breath, and bumped her head against Dar's arm. "Guess we're skipping breakfast this morning. "

Dar chuckled, on an uneven breath. "Thought that was breakfast."  They finished showering and got out, wrapping towels around each other and easing into the living room, where they could hear faint whines as Chino heard them moving. "Okay… " Dar sighed, running her fingers through her damp hair. "Onward to Hell." She gave Kerry's blond head one last kiss. "Oh… Eleanor… you wish you had as much of a life as I do."

They both laughed.


 Continued in Part 2