Convert This Page to Pilot DOC FormatConvert this page to Pilot DOC Format

Standard Disclaimers - I don't need any for this story. All the characters are mine. (laugh) I should probably disclaimer my use of my own company, but I won't, unless temptation gets too great, and I name the big boss "Les." Whoops.. I did that, but any resemblance to anyone real is coincidental. (the real one is one of the nicest people I've ever met, honestly)

What this is: This is an Uber story. (Oooo... that Uber stuff!) You get a general physical description likeness of the two gals in the story that will remind you of two old friends we all know well, but that's about it. The time period of this Uber is right now, and the place is Miami, Florida.

Why Miami? Well, I live here. Not only do I live here, but I've lived here for thirty years. That means I know all the stupid little quirks of the area, and since I'm going to give this Uber a stab, I might as well not overstress myself with doing research on an area I don't know. (Right? Right.)

The world my Uber darlings inhabit is my personal world - not that I'm a dungeon master or anything silly like that, but I do work for a company called EDS, and we do Information Technologies - we outsource IS to other companies, and absorb their own IS facilities and staff. In other words, we are the EDS Borg - you will be assimilated - Resistance is Futile. (I'm not making this up) The two characters will work and play in an area that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole however - so they're not autobiographical. I do technical and network support - I stay away from the business end of EDS, because that's the end you get stuck with, and not in a friendly place, if you know what I mean.

This isn't specifically EDS, but I've tried to maintain the flavor of our hierarchy though...and the goofiness that sometimes goes on behind the running of a megalithic corporation. The descriptions of our mainframes, however, are fictitious, along with any names of persons involved, and the various office locations with the exception of Plano. EDS does have it's corporate hq there.

Fisher Island, the place where Dar Roberts lives, is a real place. I used to work there. The descriptions of it are circa 1990 though - it's been built up a lot since then with more condos and stuff. All the places, and restaurants, and streets, and causeways are real. I didn't see any need to make them up, when Miami is a colorful enough place in real life without me doing that. It's kind of a tribute to my hometown - because I happen to really like it here.

Dar and Kerry are not super spies, or undercover agents, or renegades of any kind. They're not running from the law, or taking over third world countries (EDS runs a few, though) or anything like that. You might find their lives boring... I can't help that.. there's not going to be a lot of car chases, or gun battles, though this is Miami, and we're a pretty tough city, so anything can happen.

It's just a story about two people, who meet under very usual circumstances, and happen to change each other's lives.


Tropical Storm - Part 6

By Melissa Good

Dar could hear the loud arguments before she even pushed the door open, and she let it slam, quite deliberately behind her as she moved across to the large executive conference table. Everyone jumped, then turned and started yelling at her.

She blocked the sound out, pulling her chair forward and seating herself in it, then meticulously arranging her papers in front of her and folding long hands together across them.

The din continued, and she swept the room, pinning each yelling manager with her pale blue eyes until he or she shut up, then moving on to the next one. Finally, only Jose Montarosa was left, the head of Sales, whose face was beet red, veins sticking out on a neck a size too big for his white, long sleeve shirt.

"Goddamn it, Dar.. I have three contracts in jeopardy in New Jersey we're suppose to be demoing this morning if you can't get this shit working. Iím going to take it out of your goddamn paycheck!"

Dar glanced down at her hands, then back up at him and cocked an eyebrow. "Try it." She purred, with a smile.

Uneasy silence fell.

"Besides, if your admin was worth two percent of the salary you pay her for those... assets.. you hired her for, she'd have paged you ten minutes ago and told you we were up." Dar poured herself a glass of water, and sipped it. "Now sit down, and shut up, and let's get on with this. I have things I have to take care of."

Montarosa glared at her, his lips twitching, then he lifted the conference room phone and dialed a number. "Maria.. what's the status?" A pause. "Why the hell didn't you let me know?" Another pause. "Don't give me that crap... my pager's... " He paused, and glanced at his belt. "Puta." He flung the phone down and just assumed his seat, with a glower.

Duks leaned back, biting a pencil to keep from laughing. "Dar, I heard it was a fiber cut... what happened?"

The tall woman also leaned back, crossing her legs at the ankles under the table. "Truck cut the cable. We rerouted through the regular airport T1's and shunted that traffic to a backup."

"Oh." Duks nodded as though he had any clue as to what she was talking about. "Can I have an eggroll with that?"

A nervous laugh went around the table, breaking the tension. "All right... all right ..I'm the chair this week.. let's see what's on the agenda." Mariana chuckled from her place next to Duks, as she pulled out the previous meetings minutes. "Now that we have the morning crisis out of the way, thanks to Dar, we can go over more insignificant things." She cleared her throat. "Global Volunteer day.. it's next Saturday, up in North Miami at the proposed Alternative School there. We need people to go down and clean the place up, do some painting, that kind of thing."

"How many volunteers do we have from the field?" Evan Maitsen asked. His department was in charge of most of the data entry, and traditionally provided a lot of volunteers for charity work.

"Um... as of today, 206." Mariana stated. "Quite a group from Associated is coming over - guess they want to impress the corporate types."

A laugh went around the table.

"Whose turn is it from us this year?" Jose asked, propping his chin up on a big fist. "I did it last year...remember?"

Dar considered a moment. "Mine, I think." She commented, recalling hearing Kerry talk about her recruitment efforts earlier.

They all looked at her in mild disbelief.

She shrugged. "I haven't done it, so it must be my turn."

Mariana stared hard at her for a long moment, then shook her head and scribbled her name down on her sheet. "All right." She cleared her throat, and went on to the next subject. "Remember this Friday's bosses day." She glanced around the table. "I know most you know the drill, but once again, please be careful..some people do take this opportunity to offer inappropriate gifts.

A chuckle lifted into the air. "Yeah.. I remember when someone sent Dar a set of freeze dried bull's cojones." Jose snickered, giving Dar a sweet smile. "What did you do with them, eh?"

Dar, who had been doodling, looked up. "Comailed them to Les." She replied in a deadpan voice.

Duks almost fell off his chair laughing, and the others joined in, save Jose and a few of his cronies. "Well, not all of us have to worry about our employees sending pipe bombs." He insinuated. "Some of ours actually like us."

Mariana glanced at him. "Fortunately for us, Dar pays people to do a job, not be her buddy." She responded mildly. "Or we'd all be in big trouble." She shuffled a page. "Speaking of which, let's get onto performance reviews, shall we?"

Dar went back to her sketching, listening to the Personnel executive's carefully drawn out plans with half an ear. She'd spent the previous day catching up on email, and relaxing, sprawled out across the couch in the blessedly restored air conditioning, surprised at how unwound she'd gotten after just one day on the water.

She glanced up as Duks leaned close. "You're in a good mood today." He murmured in a low voice.

"Am I?" The dark haired woman inquired. "I guess I am.. I had a fairly laid back weekend."

Duks eyed her pad, which had small pictures of fish all over it. "Go fishing?"

A chuckle. "Not really.. did a little diving, though.. after the storm cleared."

He clucked at her. "Dar.. you should know better than to go diving solo... I don't want to be processing your life insurance claim, thanks."

Blue eyes lifted mildly to his. "I wasn't alone."

He blinked at her, in surprise, then laughed softly and shook a finger at her. "I should have guessed.. no wonder you look so relaxed."

Dar's brow lifted. "It's not... " She hesitated. "Not what you're thinking."

He just smiled at her and tapped her arm with his pencil. "Say no more."

Silly Duks... he thought everything had to do with people sleeping together, didn't he? Dar smiled to herself. It would never occur to him that two virtual strangers could get stuck together by circumstance and end up becoming friends.

That was a very satisfying thought, and Dar reflected on it a moment, as a faint smile touched her face. It had been a very long time since she'd added one of those to her life. Beyond Duks, of course, and Mariana, who she sometimes would do occasional things with, dinner, and lunches, and whatnot. She'd known them for years, and they'd been out to the island a few times, but...

She sighed. An ill wind blew nobody good. "Dar?"

By the tone, it was not the first time her name was being called, and she glanced up with a start. "Sorry.. what?" All eyes were on her, curious and doubtful. "Sorry.. I was going over something in my head." She folded her arms across her chest, managing to keep a cool, disinterested stare going.

"Right.. well... " Betty Mavis glanced back down at her agenda. "Now that we've closed the quarter, and are starting into fourth, we've got a couple of weeks to decide what to do with Christmas."

"I think we should give it up and become Hindus." Duks stated, with a sniff. "Much easier.. we can give everyone white rice for presents." He waggled his pencil. "Seventeen cents a pound, remember."

Jose threw a wadded up piece of paper at him. "Godless heathen." He snorted. Duks was well known for his atheist leanings. "Remind me not to ever vote to put you in charge of that."

"Do we have a budget this year, or are we going to have to go out and sell embroidered toilet paper for funds again?" Dar drawled, sketching a lobster.

"It's fourth quarter, what do you think?" Duks laughed. "Ah... I supposed I can squeeze some cash out of somewhere...what is it, a tree, some stuffed pigs or something, and yucca? Is that it?"

Betty sighed. "Never mind.. I"ll take care of planning it.. maybe we'll get something other than piccadillo and ropa vieja this time." She shot a glance at Jose, who shrugged and lifted his hands. "Don't worry.. I'll get at least one stuffed pig for you."

They finished the meeting and Duks walked Dar to the door. "You open for lunch, DR?"

The dark haired woman took a breath. "I've got meetings.. probably not, Dukky...I don't know when they'll be done." She gave him a smile. "Raincheck." She folded her pad under her arm, and headed for the stairwell, a faster way down to the tenth floor, where the operations center was.


"So I found three people who'll go through certification." Kerry took a bite of her chicken salad sandwich, and chewed it. "We called this place in Kendall, because they all live near me, and got a deal for four Saturdays with classroom sessions, two pool sessions, and four open water dives, and one night dive." She took a sip of ice tea. "Does that sound good?"

Dar nodded, busy with her own plate. Lunch had been much later than usual, and she was squeezing it in between meetings. "Yeah...they include equipment rental?"

"Yes... though.. I was thinking of getting a piece or two of my own." Kerry replied, hesitantly. "The regulator, at least."

"Good idea." The executive nodded in agreement. "Mine's a Dacor..you can get them with or without dive computers, like mine has, and with or without an octopus."

Green eyes blinked at her in confusion. "I'm sorry? They give you octopus with your scuba gear? Uck... that's disgusting." She took another bite of the croissant, vainly trying to catch the flakes as they fell.

Dar laughed. "No.. no.. the extra mouthpiece you saw on my gear.. it's called an octopus." She scooped up a forkful of potato salad and chewed it. "It's for buddy breathing."

"Oh." Kerry blushed a little. "Buddy breathing.. right." She pulled out a magazine. "I got one of these yesterday.. I read it while I was waiting for the sewers to clear."

"Pro Diver... that's a pretty good one." Dar smiled at her enthusiasm, remembering her own certification. It seemed like it had been forever, she mused, then she glanced at her watch. "Did you get held up on something? "

Green eyes lifted to hers a touch sheepishly. "Um... well, no.. I was working on those projects, and then I took care of some email, and... um... I don't know, I guess I forgot about lunch until you showed up and poked your head in the door."

Dar studied her curiously. "Uh huh." She spotted the gentle blush creeping up the blond woman's neck and bit down on her fork. "Well, good timing then." Kerry had, she realized, waited for her to go to lunch, and she wondered if the younger woman wasn't feeling a little intimidated by her surroundings. After all, the only person she really knew here was Dar.. and she probably was uncomfortable just barging in on the usual lunch cliques. She made a mental note to get Maria to introduce her to some of her buddies, who were usually the kinder, gentler variety. "Nice to have someone to talk to during lunch.. I usually just grab something by myself."

Kerry nibbled her sandwich. "I did that too, a lot, at Associated. I... it's weird, I liked the people there, but when I would go out with them, I always had a funny feeling that they were putting on an act for me."

"Mm." Dar nodded in understanding. "I get that a lot too." But not with Kerry, she realized, with a sense of relief. The woman was just as straightforward as you could get.

"Oh.. and I checked on that discounts page.. that's a really good plan for that gym.. I signed up." Kerry said, getting the words out somewhat more quickly than was her habit. "I figured.. even if....I mean, I'd be crazy not to, right? They've got some really good classes there."

"I did too, this morning." Dar stated nonchalantly. "We have a deal set up on Wedneday, remember?"

Now Kerry smiled. "I remember." She relaxed a little. "What time do you have your appointment tomorrow?"

Dar had been trying to avoid thinking about it. "Eight." She answered quietly.

"Do.. do you want me to pick you up at the terminal? No sense in driving all the way here, just to.. I mean, it's on the beach, right? Just off Alton Road?"

"That sounds fine." Dar replied. "Yeah.. it's just off Alton, near Mount Sinai.. I.. um, I don't know how long it's going to take."

Kerry gave her a gently sympathetic look. "I'll bring a trashy novel...but I bet it doesn't take long at all, and everything checks out okay."

Dar exhaled softly. "You keep thinking those good thoughts, Kerry..." She lifted her head and gazed into the sea green eyes across from her. "I could use every one of them." Their gazes held for a moment, then Dar pushed herself to her feet. "More meetings... we've got some clients coming in I have to sit in for... I probably won't be back to the office until real late."

"All right.. I'll keep working on that stuff you gave me.....if anything blows up, I'll page you." Kerry promised. She started to finish up her own lunch, as Dar moved off, with a pat on her shoulder as a parting gesture.

It was amazing, she mused, just how warm that felt even through the fabric of her jacket. She glanced up as a shadow fell over her, and smiled. "Hello."

"Hi." A short, blond woman was standing there, with a smile. "Mind if I sit down?"

Kerry shook her head. "No.. I'm about done.. would.. did you want this table?" She could see several similar ones empty around her, but assumed perhaps the woman liked this particular one.

"No.. that's okay. I just wanted to introduce myself." She held a beringed hand out. "I'm Eleanor Anastasia, from the Sales and Marketing Group.. I hear your Dar's new girl."

The woman seated herself primly, and smoothed her hand over the tablecloth as she studied Kerry's face. "I didn't think Dar went in for such youngsters... but I've heard good things about you."

"Thank you." Kerry replied, guardedly. "It's only been a few days.. I'm still getting used to a lot of things." She prudently ignored Elaine's snarkier comments. "It's very nice of you to tell me that."

Elaine smiled toothily. "We always like to see fresh talent here... especially in such an important area as Operations.. I hope we can developed a pleasant working relationship." She paused. "Sometimes we have such...oh, I suppose you can call them communications problems... I'm sure you'll go a long way towards ironing them out."

"Well, I'll certainly try my best...I try to get along with everyone, if I can." Kerry answered, with a thin smile. "We have so many things going on at once, it's hard to not rush through the social niceties."

"Honey, you're biggest communication problem is right down the hall.. we all love dear Dar, but she can be a bit difficult at times." Elaine positively oozed fake affection for her fellow executive. "Don't you agree?"

Kerry cocked her head slightly. "Actually.. no.. I've found her to be extremely easy to work with." She replied politely. "So I'm not sure what you're talking about."

"Really?" Elaine gave her a pitying stare. "Well, give it a few more days, sweetie." She patted Kerry's arm condescendingly. "We'll be talking." She patted her again, then stood up and straightened her tight, bright red skirt suit. "It's nice to have someone with manners over there for a change." She gave Kerry a smile, then walked off, across the room to where a table was set to one side, four other business suited figures seated at it.

Kerry shuddered, and resisted the urge to wipe her sleeve with her napkin where the woman had touched her. "Ugh." She picked up her tray and carried it to the washing room, setting it down and dusting her hands off. "I gotta do something about her reputation." She started walking back to the elevator, deep in thought.


Kerry put her magazine down, and peered around the waiting room. Then she checked her watch, and sighed. Two hours. The room was pleasant enough, with decently padded chairs set around in a double figure eight, and low tables with an assortment of surprisingly current magazines. She'd already gone through PC World, Windows, Infoweek and Time, and had been flipping through People when she decided to give it a rest.

She wasn't really interested in reading about the fifty most intriguing people of 1998 anyway, right? She leaned back and crossed her ankles, wondering what Dar was doing. Or to be more precise, what was being done to her. She'd picked up her boss at seven thirty, and they'd made the short drive over to the beach in relative silence. Dar kept her emotions hidden very well, but Kerry had seen the motion as she kept swallowing, and the tense pursing of her lips.

Poor Dar. She felt so bad for the taller woman. Being that nervous was bad enough, but having to pretend you weren't was worse. Kerry had almost just told her it was okay to be scared, but she didn't think Dar would appreciate the attack on her defenses at the time.

With a sigh, she stood up, and wandered outside of the empty room, and down the hall to the small vending room nearby. The walls were covered with pale blue vinyl, and the floors were polished until they shone, but the most curious thing about the place was the plaques.

Plaques were everywhere. There were memorial rooms, memorial wings, memorial staircases, a memorial elevator shaft, and, as she glanced up while she was walking. A memorial water fountain. All in honor of people who gave money to the Heart Institute. Kerry was intrigued, and wondered why someone would bother contributing just to put a plaque on a bathroom door. Personally, she would rather just give the money, and let them do more productive things with it, like design hospital gowns that didn't expose your butt.

Surely some research dollars could be shaken free for that, right? Kerry ducked into the vending room, and ambled over to the coffee machine, popping her quarters in and selecting a cappucino. She retrieved her frothy drink from the dispenser, and headed back to the waiting room.

*****************************************************

Dar kept her eyes closed, trying to ignore the tiny pinches and strangeness of the gear attached to her body. Leads were over her heart, and under her arm, and one was on her back, and they had a machine off to the side of the bed which they'd just finished setting up. It had a small wand like device, which the head nurse had told her sweetly was like what they used to observe babies in the womb, it would emit sound, and map the return waves as a picture.

Oh. Dar chewed the inside of her lip to prevent herself from snapping at the nurse. Like I've never heard of an echocardiogram. You wanna know how to take those pictures, convert them to light waves, and reassemble them, little girl? How about if I reroute that current in there so it zaps the hell out of your hand when you pick it up? Condescending little...

But no, she was being good, so she just closed her eyes, and waited. Finally a male voice rumbled close by, and she opened them, to see a tall man with a shock of gray shot dark hair standing over her. "Hi." She remarked.

"Hello, Ms. Roberts." The man said, sticking a hand out within her reach. "My name is Richard Berger, and I'm going to be taking a listen inside you, to see if your plumbing needs work."

"All right." Dar replied, liking his frankness. "Lay off the pipe wrenches, though, huh?"

He smiled, then slipped his stethoscope into his ears, and warmed the end of it between his fingers before he laid it on her chest, and listened intently.

Dar liked that touch. She'd once answered a physician who'd cheerfully told her it would only chill for a minute by taking a metal bed pan and sticking it between his legs, right up against his testicles. It only chilled for a minute, she recalled, before the doctor had gone flying in the other direction.

She watched Dr. Berger's face, as he turned his head, a natural human reaction to listening, even though the stethoscope was bringing the sound to his ears evenly. "Hmm." He mutter, then picked up the wand, and spread a jell like substance on it, then on her chest. He pressed the instrument down, moving it in tiny circles, as he glanced up at a monitor overhead. After a moment, he frowned down at her. "No offense, Ms. Roberts.. but you have damn low blood pressure."

Dar cocked an eyebrow at him. "Not my fault."

"No.. but it's making it real hard for me to see anything.. can you.. um... think of something that would get your heart pounding a little?"

"I don't... well, I'll try." Dar replied, closing her eyes in concentration. A thought came to her mind with surprising quickness and she let the image go, feeling her breathing increase, and the blood start pumping faster, warming her skin in a soft blush. "How's that?"

"Much better." The doctor complimented her, patting her shoulder. "Okay.. just hold that.. I want a few more pictures... got it. Okay." He half turned. "Did you get that on the EKG? Good." He gave her a professional little smile. "All right.. Ms Connors here will get this stuff off of you, and you can get dressed."

"That's it?" Dar gave him a puzzled look.

He nodded. "That's all I needed to see. I'm going to go review the tape, then talk with your doctor, okay? Get dressed, then we'll chat in the consultation room."

Dar swallowed hard. "Okay."

He patted her on the shoulder again, and walked out, carrying a cartridge he'd ejected from the machine with him.

"Honey, let's get you sitting up here a minute so I can get this little old patch off your back, okay?" The nurse closed in, and reached for her. Dar ignored the hands and sat up, feeling the pull against her abdominal muscles as she leaned forward.

"My goodness." The nurse, a tall, heavyset cherubic looking blond laughed. "You must work out, right?" She plucked the lead off Dar's back and touched her shoulder. "Okay, back down now."

Dar laid back down, trying to just empty her mind of tension as she waited for the idiotic woman to finish pulling the electronic parts off. She had an unreasoning desire, suddenly, for a teddy bear to hug, and she wished she could just leave, and not go into that consultation room, and not listen to what the very nice, and thoroughly terrifying Dr. Berger was going to tell her.

She didn't want to be sick. She hated being sick.

Dar swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood, taking the clothes the nurse handed her with a brief nod. "Thanks." She slowly slipped back into the familiar wool, tucking her cream colored shirt in and zipping the skirt up, then hanging the jacked over her shoulder as she made her way out in the waiting room.

Anxious green eyes met hers, and she felt a quiet warmth ease the fear a little. Kerry jumped up and trotted over, her gaze searching Dar's face intently. "Well, it's over." She told the blond woman. "Now I have to go in and find out the bad news."

Kerry hesitated, her lips tensing. "You think it's bad news?"

Dar just nodded, a tiny bit. "Yeah, I think so."

The younger woman reached out and circled her arm with warm fingers, rubbing her thumb against the soft hairs on Dar' skin. "You... do you.. um want some moral support in there?"

The executive hesitated, drawing breath in, then just letting it go. "Sure." It felt good to have someone with her, and she gave a resigned little sigh, before she motioned Kerry towards the small room to one side of the waiting area. "Let's get this over with."

It was very small, in fact, almost claustrophobic, Two chairs, and a small desk for the doctor to sit at, and a print of three apples, two oranges and a banana above the desk. Dar sat down in one chair, and folded her arms over her chest, as Kerry took the other seat, tucking her feet under it and leaning forward a little.

Dr. Berger came in, and sat down, putting a large envelope down and folding his hands over it. He gave Kerry a curious look but didn't ask who she was. Instead, he focused his attention on Dar. "Well, Ms. Roberts... you are a very interesting case."

Dar wasn't sure how to take that, so she raised an eyebrow.

"You have a congenital valve malformation." The doctor went on, fiddling with the envelope.

Dar's heart sunk, though her face remained fairly impassive. She mostly felt like throwing up.

"However.. " Dr Berger glanced up. "Somehow, your body compensated for that, and developed a.. well, here, I'll show you." He pulled out a photo, and pointed with his pen to an area. "Here... it's almost like your body compensated by devleoping this muscle part here.. and here.. "He shook his head. "I've never seen anything quite like it."

Dar looked at the picture, then at him. She was aware of Kerry's nearby presence, the blond woman also peering at the shadowy gray and black image. "What exactly are you saying? Is there something wrong with me, or not??" The iron grip that had seized her chest started to loosen a little.

A quick smile flicked over his handsome face. "There sure ought to be. " He flicked his pencil at her. "But with all the tests I've done, there's no function impairment in this little arrangement, so.. I don't know what to tell you." He glanced up at her. "I think the fact that you obviously live a pretty healthy lifestyle has a big part in it.. you're in very good shape, you take care of your health, and you have very low blood pressure and levels of triglycerides and cholesterol."

Dar and Kerry glanced at each other. "What am I supposed to do?" Dar finally asked.

He shrugged. "Live... try to keep your stress levels down.. I could put you in for an artificial valve replacement, if you really want me to, but your plumbing, though strange as hell, is working fine."

There was a stunned little silence. Then Dar slowly let out a long held breath. "All right." She said, slowly. "I'll try to follow that advice."

Berger held out his hand. "Mind if I write you up for the AMA Journal? This'll make a test case they'll be arguing over for months."

Dar stood up and took his hand, shaking it briefly. " Be my guest.. hope you get a good paper out of it." She gave him a brief smile, then followed Kerry out, neither of them speaking until they were in the elevator, and the doors closed.

"Sonofagoddamnbitch." Dar cursed softly.

Kerry smiled, and walked over, then impulsively put her arms around the taller woman and hugged her gently. "I'm so glad for you Dar."

Dar went stock still for a moment, then tentatively reached around and hugged her back, a little awkwardly. "Oh.. well, that was the nicest thing that happened to me all day." She joked weakly as they parted, noting Kerry's blush. "Thanks.. boy.. what an unexpected end to that situation."

"No kidding." Kerry wiped her brow. "I thought I was going to have to call up about that machine gun there for a minute...I've never been so relieved in my life."

"Yeah." Dar grinned then, in pure reflex. "Wow." She felt a wave of feeling good wash through her, taking away the nagging anxiety of the past few days, and as the doors slid open, she turned to Kerry. "We're supposed to be offsite until the afternoon at least.. how about we do lunch?"

Kerry smiled at the high spirits that were echoing across her boss's face, despite her attempts to quell them. "Sure.. where'd you have in mind?"

"You like seafood, right?" Dar asked, a rakish grin twisting her lips. "C'mon.. it's not far... we can have stone crabs" She tugged Kerry's sleeve. "And a nice ocean view"

The blond woman grinned back. "Let's go.. that sounds great to me."

***************************************************

Kerry had her chair turned around, so she could look out over the water, her body slouched into her chair, and a sleepy, contented look on her face. Lunch had been fantastic, but somewhat overfilling, and she'd topped it off with a glass of champagne that Dar had offered, which made matters worse. She felt like curling up in a ball and falling asleep, especially since she was watching the hypnotic shift and dance of the waves.

It had felt so good to see Dar happy, though.. she'd almost bubbled over with it, though she was trying really, really hard to keep the lid on. Not that Kerry blamed her.. she knew the worry had been really eating at her boss, and she thought Dar had really believed she was going to hear really bad news this morning.

Of course, even the good news had it's not so good side, she reminded the taller woman. She really did need to relax a little more, and that half joking, half scolding comment had somehow turned into a conversation which had resulted in an invitation to go out on the boat again not next weekend, but the following one. With an added dangling enticement of more diving.

Like she'd say no to that. "Ha ha ha ha.. " Kerry chortled softly. "I don't think so." She glanced up as a tap came on the door, and she spun around, straightening up before she called out. "C'mon in."

Maria slipped in, and tip toed across the floor, looking around like she expected spies to be hanging from Kerry's mostly bare walls. "Chiquita... you know what Friday is?"

Kerry obediently clicked on her calendar. "Um.. the 6th?" She hazarded a guess.

"Aie aie.. it's Bosses Day." Maria waved a hand at her. "I was going to get her some little squishy balls, you know.. or one of those crazy masks you put in the icebox, then on your face, but since she says everything turned out okay, I think maybe... I don't know."

"Well ." Kerry put some thought to the matter. "Actually, they did say she had to keep her stress down, so those balls aren't a bad idea but... hmm." Bosses day... she'd forgotten completely about it.. or, to be more precise, hadn't actually known it existed. A day for bosses? It didn't make much sense, but, since she had one she liked, she might was well take advantage of the fact. She looked up. "Oh...I know what I'm going to go look for."

"Oye? What?" Maria leaned on Kerry's desk.

The woman grinned. "Toys." She confided. "I know some great ones.. nerf dart boards, that kind of thing." She crumpled a piece of paper up, then tossed it at her garbage can, missing by several feet.

"Dios Mio." Maria covered her eyes. "Do not tell me." She hurried out, closing the door gently behind her.

Kerry chuckled softly, and turned her attention back to her computer, where her project list was waiting. "Add project." She clicked twice. "Find some way to get Dar to relax." She clicked again. "Priority, Urgent."

**************************************************

"Dar, Mr. Head of T and T on linea numero uno." Maria's voice broke into the executive's thoughts as she looked, unseeing out the window. The sunlight was reflecting on the sea, and she'd been counting sailboats crossing the bay while a report she'd been running completed itself on her computer.

"Okay.. I'll take it." She replied, punching the specified button. "Afternoon, Uthai."

A completely unintelligible mutter traveled through the phone.

"That's nice.. what can I do for you today?" Dar leaned back, and studied her pencil, balancing it on the tip of her finger contentedly.

Another, longer spate of gibberish. Dar glanced up as Maria entered, then propped her head up on her fist. "Sure, Uthai.. just queue it to my worklist."

Shorter burst.

"Couple days, I guess. " Dar exhaled quietly, stifling a yawn. The long lunch had definitely put her in a lazy mood, and it had been very difficult to drag herself back to the office, despite the heavy slate of projects she was working on. She really wanted to just take the rest of the day off, after the stress of the morning, and get the relief out of her system so she could get back to her normal business attitude.

However. Dar listened to the gibberish. She was responsible for this place. "Your welcome.. have a nice day, Uthai."

Cheerful, if puzzled sounding nonsense came back, then the line went dead.

"Dar.. it is wonderful how you understand that man... I cannot see a word he says." Maria confessed, shaking her head at the phone.

Her boss grinned briefly. "I don't." She admitted. "I'll look at my worklist later, and see what I promised him." She looked up as the line buzzed again, and waved at Maria to stop as she picked it up herself. "Dar Roberts."

"Well, well, hello Dar." Les' voice was extremely cheerful, which usually meant nothing but trouble. "How's the weather down there?"

"Partly cloudy, chance of afternoon showers. Why?" Dar responded.

"Can't I just be asking?" The chairman inquired. "No.. of course not.. I just thought you'd like a little change of scenery."

The executive rolled her eyes. "How little?"

"Orlando" Les responded. "We're bidding Disney."

Dar's eyes widened in honest surprise. "They're taking bids? I thought they were so goddamn proud of doing their own stuff, they'd rather have Mickey admit to cheating on Minnie before they'd outsource."

A rich chuckle. "Not since they had that management changeover...they finally figured out it's better to farm the stuff out.. all the majors are in there, but I want it." Les cleared his throat. "We've got a good team bidding, but it needs... well, John Byers, the account lead is getting beat up pretty bad by IBM.. he needs us to show some weight behind him.. and you know the IBM rep, Jerry Andrews."

"Ah... Jerry." Dar let out an unpleasant laugh. "He wont' be glad to see my face, let me tell you that, Les..last time I saw him he threw a desk chair at me."

"Exactly." Les agreed jovially. "Just what John needs to throw off Jerry's focus." He shuffled some papers. "The meetings are tomorrow and Thursday.. but I'd like you to get up there tonight."

Dar considered. "I can take a puddle jumper up... all right. I'll take care of it, Les."

"Great." The CEO sighed. "You're in a good mood today... what's up?"

"Nothing much.. just had a good morning, that's all." Dar replied, dismissively. "Let me get started on pulling up the files for Disney, Les.. talk to you later."

"Bye... give em hell, Dar." Les hung up.

Maria sighed. "Travel again? My goodness, Dar... "

The dark haired woman worked seriously at her keyboard for a moment, then looked up. "I'll need a flight out tonight, Maria...book me for tonight, and tomorrow night at someplace relatively close to the admin center up there, and get me the usual...." She paused, considering. Les wanted to put on a show... okay, and she wanted to break in her new assistant, maybe she could knock off two birds... "Actually, I think this is a good opportunity for Kerry to get a look at what an account battle looks like.. book two seats, and two rooms... and clear both of our schedules until Friday." She decided, crisply, then dialed the phone. "Kerry?"

"Right here." Kerry answered softly, over a flutter of keystrokes. "Just working on some email."

"We need to go up to Orlando for a few days.. is that a problem? We're bidding an account up there." Dar was busy calling up records.

"Uh.. " Kerry's voice sounded surprised. "Um.. sure.. no, no problem.. I can do that... how long?"

"Two days... we'll fly up tonight, and come back on Thursday night, probably." Dar replied. "I"d like you to see the process first hand."

"Sure." Kerry agreed. "No problem.. I'll get going on these projects and try to get them out the door before tonight."

"Good." Dar hung up. "Okay.. let me just print these... Maria, I'm going to have to run home and pick up a bag since I didn't drive today.. but schedule the flight for seven or so.. the last one out." She felt her energy picking up, as the challenge pricked at her competitive nature. If she could bring home Disney... oooh... Her nostrils flared in anticipation.

"Si, I will." Maria was making rapid notes on her pad. "You want two rooms together?"

"Yeah, sure." Dar nodded absently, absorbing the information. "That's fine." She muttered to herself as Maria left, sending sheet after sheet to the printer.

"Aie.. Dios Mio." Maria sat down, and pulled out her contact book, checking for a number and then starting to dial. She paused, however, when the outer door opened and Kerry slipped in. "Oye, chiquita... you go on your first trip, hmm? Not so far."

Kerry perched on the corner of her desk. "Am I reading this right? Are we going to Disney World?"

Maria smiled. "Si..is business, though... no Mickey Mouse at the meetings."

"Hmm.... So.. where are we staying?" A twinkled of mischief showed in the sea green eyes.

Maria pulled up a trip planner, and reviewed her choices. "The Village area is close.. it has access to the administrative offices. Is nice.. the Hyatt, I think."

Kerry drummed her fingers on the desk. "I kinda thought it would be something like that... What if it's full?" She inquired.

"Aie.. well, there are seven, eight hotels in that area... is not holiday season yet." Maria stated, giving her a curious look.

"Well.. what if it... what if they were all full?" The blond woman persisted. "What if... " She pulled the monitor over, and scrolled down the choices. "What if we had to stay.. here?"

Maria studied the screen. "Chiquita, that's right inside the park."

"I know." Kerry assured her.

"What little plans are going through your mind?" The secretary demanded. "Dar will go crazy if I book her in there." She checked the profile nonetheless. The Floridian was one of the nicest hotels on the Disney property, and the picture showed a huge, filigreed white Victorian structure. "Is nice."

"Mm." Kerry agreed. "Listen.. her doctor keeps bugging her to take a vacation.. and I know this is a business trip, but those meetings can't last all day, and maybe I can get her to just cut loose, and relax for a while, you know?"

"Ahhhhh..... " Maria smiled, and patted her hand. "Chiquita, you are so sweet.. and very tricky. That is a good thing." She picked up the phone. "I will do it.. if she gets mad, she gets mad."

Kerry smiled. "If it works, it'll be worth it." She got up when she heard movement inside Dar's office. "Whoops.. gotta go.. listen, I'll bring you back a stuffed Pluto or something." She slipped out of the office and back down the hall.

"Pluto.. aie, chica.. make sure she doesn't stuff you." Maria shook her head.

************************************************************************

Miami International Airport had started out as a small airport, with one terminal. As Miami had grown, so had the airport, adding more terminals and more concourses as more airlines wanted to fly out of it. Now, being the gateway to South American and Caribbean, it moved an awful lot of people twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

Unfortunately, it wasn't so much designed as grown, and the concourses were long, endless corridors with no moving sidewalks that seemed to go on forever. It was always full of people, with a dozen languages going on and announcements over head in Spanish as well as English.

Dar strode through the crowd, an overnight bag slung over her shoulder, while she examined the travel documents Maria had handed her, couriered over by their corporate travel agency. "Where in... Jesus.. she booked us inside the damn park.. "

"Really?" Kerry was working to keep up, and she peered over her bosses elbow curiously. "Oh.. wow... that's supposed to be a nice place... I've seen pictures."

Dar gave her a look. "We won't get much of a chance to see it." She warned the blond woman, then hesitated, seeing the veiled look of disappointment in those interesting green eyes. "Well.. maybe a little.. " She relented. "We can have breakfast with Mickey, anyway."

Kerry smiled. "I"ve never been to Disney World... I always wanted to go, and we were planning a trip sometime at Associated, just a bunch of us going up one weekend, but we never got the details ironed out." She dodged a hurrying skycap as they arrived at the security checkpoint. They both put their laptop cases on the moving belt, and Dar dropped her cell phone and pager into the small bowl the agent held out. Then they passed through, and picked up their things at the end of the xray belt. "You know, I have less trouble getting through security here in Miami than when I get on in just about any other place. " Dar commented, as they started the long walk down the concourse. "I had my entire case searched in Iowa, they even made me turn the laptop on, and dial a number on the cellphone."

Kerry chuckled, as she pushed herself to keep up, making a little skip now and then to compensate for Dar's much longer stride. "Guess they've got more time on their hands than these guys." She was glad they'd gotten to change, and were flying in casual clothes, since they'd have until tomorrow before meeting the prospective clients. She felt a lot better in her baby soft, green flannel shirt tucked into stone washed denims, and her short topped hiking boots. Dar looked... Kerry eyed her companion. Casually elegant as usual, in the crisply pressed beige shirt and embroidered black vest over button fly jeans and comfortable looking sneakers. Just roll your suit up and put it in the overnight bag, Dar had told her, wryly. Even if you carry it in a garment bag, it'll still need pressing, so you might as well save yourself the trouble of carrying the damn thing.

That worked, Kerry had agreed, and also packed her bathing suit, and some shorts, just in case.

Just in case. She grinned to herself. I bet I can get her to go to MGM, at least...

The flight was boarding by the time they got to the gate, and they walked on, handing the gate agent their boarding passes and walking down the carpeted boarding ramp and into the 727. They took their places in first class, putting their bags over head and settling down in the wide, comfortable seats. "Well." Kerry said, as she buckled her seat belt. "This is travelling in style."

Dar settled back, and extended her long legs, crossing them at the ankles. They were in the front set of seats, with extra legroom before them. "Intercompany courtesy. " She gave a little shrug. "We do all of their hardware and software support, so we get pass riding privileges.. and if there's space, we go up front." She gave the steward a smile as he sidled over.

"Hello.. welcome aboard.. can I get you something to drink before we start?" His crispy efficient manner was reserved, but friendly.

Dar exhaled. "Do you have any chocolate milk?" She asked innocently.

Kerry rolled her eyes. "Orange juice for me, please." She gave Dar a little nudge. "You're awful."

One dark brow lifted, and Dar pointed at her own chest. "Me?" She glanced up as the steward returned, with crystal glasses filled with the requested beverages. "Milk is very healthy for ya, Kerry.. " She flexed am arm, the muscles moving smoothly under the soft cotton fabric of the casual khaki shirt she was wearing. "Makes you nice and strong." Despite the long day, she was still in a pretty good mood, and was actually looking forward to their task, despite the promised antagonism. She'd had a moment's guilt over bringing Kerry into that, but.. She eyed her companion's profile, and the stubborn strength she could see in the firm chin, and direct eyes. If she wants to do this, she's gotta start somewhere. Better now, better here, under my wing, right?

Besides, she had to admit it was a lot more pleasant travelling with someone to talk to, rather than alone. "I swear by the stuff. " She insisted, taking a swallow. "Mm..."

Kerry caught the playfulness in her voice, and went along with it. "You must own a cow, then.. where do you keep her?"

Dar laughed, and raised her glass, clinking it against Kerry's. They both took a sip and their eyes met for a moment, before Dar's dropped, to the travel documents she'd left lying on her thigh. "The Floridian, eh? Well, it'll be a drive in the morning, but at least I know we'll have hot water." She reconciled herself to her fate. "And they have great banana stuffed French toast for breakfast."

Kerry leaned on her armrest, and lifted a brow. "Banana stuffed French toast?"

"Mmhmm." The dark haired woman nodded, with a quirky grin.

"I love bananas." Kerry covered her eyes. "I'm in trouble."

Dar chuckled, and leaned back, sighing as she relaxed into the leather of the seat. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad...there was a little water park near the hotel.. maybe they could take an hour off between meetings and take a quick splash.

It might be fun.

Yeah.

*******************************************************

"Thank you." Kerry smiled at the guide who had lead them to their rooms as he bowed out, and let the door close after him. She looked around curiously, giving the room an approving nod as she took in the light, airy décor, and the crisply clean linen. The room had one large bed in it, and a dresser, flanked by a tall console that contained a television, and a small refrigerator. One wall was glass, covered by drapes where were drawn halfway back exposing a view that sparkled with color. Kerry put her bag down on the bed, and walked over, drawing the fabric back and peering out. "Oo."

A dark lake stretched in front of the hotel, the lights of the building winking fuzzily on it's surface. Boats were crossing it, likewise covered in lights, and across the way, the glowing, light bulb chased pattern of Main Street, and the silvery spires of Cinderella's castle reaching skyward beyond. Kerry pressed her nose against the glass, watching the cheerful sparkle of light. Across the water to the other side she could see a glimmer of torchlight on an island in the center of the water, and she could see other torches lining the far shore. She was so busy looking she didn't hear the connecting door between her room and the next open, and was startled when a warm presence appeared at her back. Kerry looked up and saw pale blue eyes watching her in the reflection of the glass, and she smiled, meeting them. "Oh.. hi... you spooked me."

"Mm." Dar turned her gaze to the outside. "Well, well.. the old castle's looking pretty good."

Kerry exhaled. "I have to plan a trip up here... it looks like so much fun." She paused. "Hey... we've got a couple of hours.. you want to go over there?"

"Oh no.. " Dar chuckled, shaking her head. "I've got reports to study."

Oh well, good try. "I guess I should do that too." Kerry smiled. "It's probably crowded and noisy, and we've got an early start tomorrow, right?"

Dar nodded. "Exactly."

Hm... let's just try one more tack.. "Besides, you're supposed to be taking it easy... better if you just hang out here and relax." Kerry told her, innocently. "You don't want to overstrain yourself."

A dark brow edged up.

Kerry moved back into the room and opened her bag. "I'm going to call the valet for this suit ... want me to have them get yours, too?"

Dar folded her arms, and gazed out at the glowing spires. "You know, on second thought, it might be better to take a look around."

Twinkling green eyes regarded her back. "No... it's late, Dar... and you've had a really long day."

The taller woman swung around and eyed her. "Late?" She snorted softly. "It's barely prime time, Kerry... I think it would be a good idea to at least check the park out... but if you're not up to it, you can stay here."

Somehow, Kerry managed to keep a grin off her face. "No.. I can manage... if you think it's important."

Dar gave her a nod, and headed back towards her room. "I do.. besides, it's nice weather out there for a change, might as well take advantage of it." She disappeared, and Kerry polished her nails on her shirt, then chuckled. "Watch out, Pluto.. here I come."

***************************************************

The hotel concierge cheerfully provided two tickets, and they ambled through the lobby passing throngs of people laughing and relaxing. The lobby held several bars and casual restaurants, and Kerry remembered suddenly that she'd forgotten to eat dinner. Well, I'm sure there'll at least be popcorn over there. She sighed, and followed Dar's tall form across the carpet, and up to the monorail station.

It was crowded, with people heading to and from different places, and the murmur of voices rose to a din. "Whoa." Kerry edged back against a low railing, peering down the track and looking for the train. "It is crowded... " She glanced at the people around them, and sighed.

Dar, from her more comfortable six foot plus height, glanced around, then put a hand on her shoulder as she stepped past the barrier and leaned close to the neatly dressed and smiling attendant. After a moment, the attendant nodded, and beckoned them forward, and Kerry found herself in the small, enclosed area near the control booth, separated from the rest of the crowd, some of whom glanced at her curiously. "Dar?"

"Hm?" The taller woman looked down, but was saved from further questioning by the arrival of the monorail. It hissed quietly into the station with an electronic whine and pulled to a stop with it's nose about six feet from where they were standing.

The attendant popped open the driver's door and motioned to them, and Dar put a hand on Kerry's back, gently shoving her forward. "Go on."

In mild disbelief, Kerry entered the pilot's cabin, and smiled at the young man seated there. The roughly triangular space had padded benches along the Plexiglas front nose and she slipped into one, as Dar relaxed on the other.

"Hi folks.. welcome to Monorail Purple." The boy cheerfully greeted them. "Next stop is the Magic Kingdom." He looked to one side as the door slammed shut, then he put the train in motion, pulling out from the hotel along the tracks. "You folks come far?"

Kerry watched the approaching lights in fascination. "No.. we're from Miami."

"Oh... fellow Floridians... that's great. My family is from West Palm Beach.. we just moved up here last year." He chattered happily. "Isn't the weather great? It's perfect for walking around the parks."

"You ever get tired of going around in circles all day?" Dar asked, her face half in shadow, her arms crossed over her chest.

"Oh no." The boy shook his head. "It's different every day.. sometimes we go around one way, sometimes the other way, and they also rotate us on the other line. And if you're qualified on the mono, you can get parking tram runs in the morning.. they're fun."

Dar and Kerry exchanged glances. "So...it's like a ranking, right?" Kerry asked, as the monorail started to slow, preparing to enter the station at the Magic Kingdom. "Are the monorail drivers on top?"

He giggled. "Oh no.. the lake pilots.. who drive the launches." He stopped the train and pressed a button, opening the door for them. "Wow..it's been great talking to you.. hope you come back soon to Monorail Purple."

Dar stood and gave him a brief grin. "Thanks.. have a nice.. um.. " She rotated her finger. "Ride."

Kerry slipped past her and ducked outside the door, waiting for her boss to follow her and catch up before she laughed softly. "Omigod.. what do they put in the coffee here?"

"They're all like that." Dar assured her. "I think it's corporate policy... though your notion of drugs in the water fountains has also occurred to me." She followed Kerry down the long sloping ramp, then through the electronic turnstiles which took their tickets and spit them back out. "Souvenirs." Kerry held hers up and tucked it in her pocket. She took a deep breath, and started forward, under the train station and towards the glimmering lights of Main Street.

Dar smiled, half hidden in the darkness, as she entered the park behind her younger companion. A square was in front of them, with the train station at the front, two large buildings on either side stating they were the fires station and City Hall, and the long street of shops heading down on the far side. They crossed the cobblestones, and turned down the main street, and Dar took in a breath as the castle rose before them, brilliant with light.

On either side of them, old fashioned store facades housed shops of all kinds, and Dar stopped short as she passed one. "Hey."

"Wh.. " Kerry watched her duck into a doorway and she followed, getting hit in the face with a strong blast of air flavored with taffy and chocolate. "Oh boy." She ducked around a scurrying attendant and spotted her boss, leaning against the glass partition and watching a machine pull long strings of fragrant taffy out over and over again. A case of chocolates caught her eye, though and she detoured, finding herself in front of a neatly stacked display of assorted squares. "Fudge."

"Is that a conclusion, or a curse?" Dar's voice sounded just behind her.

"Yes." Kerry sighed. "I love fudge." She smiled at the attendant, who gave her a perky grin. "Could I get a piece of the chocolate, please?"

"Only chocolate?" Her boss teased. "They have peanut butter there, too."

"Nope.. I'm a purist." Kerry took her purchase, and passed the girl the payment. "Thanks."

Dar acquired several small packages of her own, and they moved on down the street, passing a streetcar going in the other direction, carrying tired vacationers. "You hungry?" She asked abruptly, as they passed a small, Victorian style ice cream parlor.

"Yeah.. a little." Kerry admitted, blithely. "There's a hot dog stand over there... "

The taller woman snorted softly. "No Pluto Pups, and no Astro Burgers, okay? Those are my rules here... c'mon." She led Kerry across the square at the end of Main Street, and right up into the castle, where she turned into a small alcove abruptly, almost causing Kerry to crash into her. In front of them was a small stand, with a perky medievalish dressed woman.

"Hi there, folks.. welcome to King Stefan's Banqueting Hall.. would you like to have dinner tonight?"

"Two." Dar informed her, with a smile, as Kerry tugged on her sleeve. "Hm?"

"There's a restaurant here?"

Dar grinned. "Um hm.... I hope you like prime rib."

"Prime rib?" Kerry followed her as they made their way to an elevator and got out at the second floor. "But this is Dis... " She stopped, surprised. The second floor contained a wide, open dining space surrounded with tall windows. Sturdy wooden tables with pewter plates and cups were placed on two different levels, and quite a number of diners were already seated around the room. "Oh. Cool."

They sat down at a small, cozy table in the corner, and ordered from the limited menu. "Prime rib, larger prime rib, half a cow, and chicken. " Kerry giggled. "I think I'll take the prime rib, thanks.. and some punch."

"Same." Dar leaned back and studied her. "Not everyone knows this place is here... it beats the fast food stuff they mostly sell.. there's also a good chicken and fish place near Liberty Square, but I was in the mood for beef tonight."

"No arguments from me." Kerry glanced up as a basket of rolls and butter was put down. She examined the butter. "Oh.. Dar, look.. it has little Mickey Mouse's stamped into it." She picked up the pewter plate and show her companion. "Isn't that cute?"

Dar ruthlessly kidnapped a hapless Mickey and spread it on a roll. "Adorable." She agreed, munching on it. "Any place in particular you want to see, now that you conned me into coming over here?" Her blue eyes glinted gently.

"Me?" Kerry pointed her own chest. "But, boss.. it was your idea!" But she grinned impishly at Dar. "Thank you for indulging my somewhat childish whim." The candle on the table flickered in the air movement, and threw interesting shadows across Dar's planed features. The blue eyes moved around a lot, as the taller woman watched the crowd, and the skin around them wrinkled and smoothed as she did so. Her dark hair fell gently over her shoulders and framed her face and Kerry suddenly became conscious of the fact that she was staring.

She found something else to look at, picking up a wide, two pronged fork and turning it over.

Dar cleared her throat gently. "So.. was there someplace you wanted to see?"

Kerry thought about that. "Why don't you suggest something? You seem to know this place well enough.. I mean, the roller coasters would be fun."

"Ah.. Space, Thunder, and Splash mountain.. okay.. we can do that in a couple of hours. " Dar agreed. "Park's open until midnight...it'll get quieter after the parade goes by."

As if on queue, a brassy march filtered through the windows, and Kerry pressed her nose against one, peering out through the wavy glass to see a band going by.

Dar watched her with an indulgent smile, taking the opportunity to study her companion's gentle profile. Kerry had a small, straight nose, and a firm, even chin, with rounded cheekbones and soft, fair lashes. Right now, those lashes were blinking and opening, as she studied the parade, catching the odd glint from the candle, which also caught the faint wrinkles at the corner of her mouth as she smiled.

It was, Dar acknowledged to herself, nice to just sit across the table from someone who was cute, and intelligent, and had no ulterior motive in sharing dinner with her.

Whoa. She went back over that statement. Intelligent, yes. Kerry was certainly that.

Cute? Where did that come from? She peeked at the younger woman, who was still engrossed with the sight outside. Well, she was cute, the executive reasoned. Just all kind of sweet, and nice and... well... cute. C'mon, Dar.. quit fooling yourself.. you know she's cute, and more than that or it wouldn't have been an image of her in that bathing suit you used to pick up the old heartbeat this morning, hmm? The executive let out a breath wryly, and dismissed the thought. Not your type, kiddo.

Green eyes suddenly met hers and she noticed the little golden flecks in them for the first time. They were interesting eyes.. reminding her of sunlight underwater and she studied them curiously until the raising eyebrow made her realize she was staring. Okay.. enough of that. "Interesting parade?"

Kerry cocked her head. "Parade? " She asked softly, then she blushed a little. "Oh.. yes.. it's very cute.. they just had a float with Mickey and Minnie dancing on it." She looked up as the server arrived, with their dinner. "Good grief." She eyed the plate as it was set down. "My god that cow must have been the size of an elephant!"

"It's actually Dumbo, ma'am" The waiter stated, in a smooth, even voice. "He stepped on Minnie's tail, and it was just all over for him."

Both women stared at him, then burst out laughing. "Jesus... did your medication wear off?" Dar snorted.

"They don't give it to us." The man confided, placing Dar's portion in front of her. "We have to handle steak knives and hot plates.. it could be dangerous." He made a little bow, flicking his long sleeves out of the way, and backed off. "Enjoy your dinners."

They talked about minor business matters while they carved up the prime rib, and slowly that talk eased to more personal matters, as Dar mentioned her last time visiting the park. Kerry found herself just liking the sound of the older woman's voice, which was low, and vibrant and had a faint musical lilt to it. She wondered if it was an accent, or just something about the way Dar talked.

And that brought her to another question. She waited until her boss finished mentioning seeing parts of Epcot being built, then she looked up. "Dar?"

Those amazing clear blue eyes looked up at her, and the brow raised, which meant "Yes?" Kerry realized. "Can I ask you a personal question?" She inquired, a little shyly.

The darkness hid her flush, for which Dar was extremely grateful. "Um.. I can't guarantee I'll answer it, but yeah, go ahead." She felt a gentle nervous flutter hit her stomach.

Kerry leaned forward. "Is your name short for something, or is it just Dar?"

"Oh." The dark haired woman speared a broasted potato and popped it in her mouth, giving herself a chance to think. She could just say it's just Dar, since legally it was. However... "Well, my mother was.. is.. I suppose, still.. an addict of Spanish romance novellas...she had a favorite character.. Paladar. I'm named for that." The executive cleared her throat in embarrassment. "I hated it.. I had it legally changed when I turned eighteen."

Kerry propped her chin on her hand, fascinated. "Paladar... I don't know.. I kinda like it.. nice ring." She watched the look of alarm spread on Dar's face. "Donít' worry, though.. I won't use it.. not if you don't like it."

"B.. um.. well.. " Dar fiddled with her fork. "It was just so stupid... I mean, the character was this insane woman who ran around falling in love at the drop of a hat and getting in to trouble.. I just.. I didn't see any likeness, so .." She shrugged. "And the kids my age knew where it came from.. I got teased a lot." She speared another cube of rare prime rib and dipped it in the small boat of gravy. "What about you? Is Kerry short for something?"

A charming smile edged the younger woman's face as she regarded her companion. "Kerrison. It's a family name... usually it's given to the boys, but my father was determined to give it to his firstborn regardless, so. I have to live with it." She bit a green bean in half and chewed it. "I don't use it much.. even my resume has Kerry on it.. and all my official work documents."

"Mm.. I know.. that's why I asked." Dar glanced up with a grin. "I could have just logged in and found out otherwise."

The blond woman's brows knit. "That's so weird... you know all that stuff about me, and I... it's just strange." She laughed a bit. "I mean, it's not like I can just log in and find out about you."

Dar gazed at her, a tiny smile playing around her lips. "Kerry, you already know more about me than you'd find in the company computers. " She answered quietly. "Your co workers would be astonished to know what my house looks like or that I'm a diver, or what my real name is, for instance."

Kerry felt a little out of breath for a moment. "Oh." She blushed, this time more noticeably in the low light. "Well.. that makes me feel better... " She picked up her glass of punch and took a long swallow to cover her confusion. "You know.. not to bring up a sore subject, but your real name reminds me of something."

"Oh?" Dar took her own drink and sipped it. "What's that... a package of marshmallows? That was a popular version when I was younger."

"Oh.. like Mallomar?" Kerry laughed softly. "Well, it's sweet and tasty."

This time the blush made her fair eyebrows stand out, and she winced in reaction. "Um.. that's not... I mean, I wasn't... um... "

Dar chuckled softly. "Yeah.. yeah..I know what you meant... relax." She paused. " What else were you thinking of?"

"Um... " Kerry rubbed her face as though trying to rub the flush away. "Paladins, actually.... I was reading a story the other day that had them, and it... um..." She glanced at Dar, who looked puzzled. "Oh.. right.. you probably donít' read that kind of book.. sure.. well, Paladins are knights, but they're specially good kinds of knights, who stood up for people not for reward, but just because it was the right thing to do.. that was what they were.. people who just did things because they were right, not because it was good for them personally to do it."

Dar leaned forward. "Kerry... I am not any kind of good guy.. trust me, okay? I eat people for lunch.. I fire people at the drop of a hat.. I restructure companies to maximize profit for our company.. everyone hates my guts. So.. .try to remember that, huh? Or you're in for a shock when we go into those meetings."

"Not everyone." Kerry replied quietly.

"Hmm?" Dar looked at her questioningly.

"Not everyone hates you." The blond woman stated, lifting her chin a little. "I don't."

Dar stared at her as a silence fell between them. "You don't know me that.. long." She finally answered. "I don't want you seeing me as something I'm not, Kerry.. I'm very serious."

You tell yourself how awful you are, so it doesn't hurt so much when everyone else does, is that right? "All right. I promise I won't see you as anything you're not, okay?" She replied amiably.

"Okay.. just so long as we've got that straight." Dar replied, with a nod.

"Right." Kerry agreed, as she finished up her dinner. "Wow.. that was good." She leaned back, and gave the hovering busboy a smile as he removed their plates, then returned with a dish of strawberry shortcake. "Oh Lord... " She gave a chuckling Dar her most exasperated look. "I give up.. I'm just going to reconcile myself to looking like Miss Piggy, and have done with it."

"Donít' worry.. we'll walk it off.. this place is really spread out." Dar reassured her. "Space Mountain first?"

Kerry started on her dessert. "Sounds good to me.. did someone really ever get their head cut off on that?"

The dark haired woman snorted softly. "It an urban legend.. but it's a good one.. you always hear it from someone who had ridden before them, and saw the head arrive several cars before the rest of the poor bastard."

"Ugh.. I'll try not to think about that." Kerry made a face. "And tighten my seat belt."

"Oh, well you don't.... " Dar stopped, considering. "Well, now that I think about it..." A thoughtful smile crossed her face. "You'll be pretty safe."

Kerry glanced up at her curiously, wondering what she meant.

******************************************************

Everyone was watching the parade. That meant there was only a short line, and Kerry grinned as she joined it, putting her hands on the railing that kept the snaking path of humanity in check. Space Mountain was a tall, conical structure in the middle of Tomorrowland, which had a white roof and spire, and ominous warnings all over it warning pregnant women, children, short people, people with heart conditions, and Mormons.. no, wait, Kerry reread the notice. "Oh.. new mothers.. right.." against riding the roller coaster. "Like anyone would take a newborn child on this."

"Don't laugh." Dar's voice came from a point just behind her. "I saw someone try to take a guinea pig on here once, for a bet."

Kerry turned right around. "You did not." She accused, with a laugh. "Get out of here, Dar."

"Yes, I did." Her boss insisted. "They had it in a backpack, and they were in front of me.. it stuck it's little pink nose out and was wiggling it."

"What did you do?" The blond woman asked, curiously, as they moved forward.

"Made sure I wasn't behind them when it puked." Dar replied dryly. "Go on.. down that way." The path split and they headed down a ramp, to a neon lit boarding area. She studied the cars as they were filled, and realized each car was split into two seating areas. You could go by yourself in a big one, and just sort of brace yourself or ride double and let the person behind you hang on to you.

Ooo... dilemma. Kerry glanced up at her companion, who was watching the proceedings with a mildly interested look. "Um... " She didn't have to pretend the embarrassment. "Can I ask you a favor?"

Blue eyes turned violet in the neon dropped to her face. "Sure."

Kerry nodded towards the cars. "Would you mind a whole lot if we went double? I love roller coasters, but they spook me a little."

Was that a grin that flicked on and off Dar's face? It was far too dark to tell, really. "Sure.. no problem." Dar answered, in a normal voice. "You should go to Busch Gardens.. now those are roller coasters."

"Ah." Kerry moved forward to where they were loading the next set of cars. "Been to one out of state, and went on the one where you are clamped on from overhead.. Did you know you can actually hit your own foot when you're upside down when you vomit on one of those?"

Dar worked out the physics of that. "Wow... no I didn't." She admitted, as they were ushered into their car. She settled back against the backrest as Kerry seated herself somewhat gingerly between Dar's legs.

The car moved, to make room for the next set to be loaded, and slid her back a little, so that she could feel the taller woman's knees pressed around her hips and sense the warmth of her skin through Dar's jeans.

It felt nice. She tipped her head back and watched as the car started to move, and they inched forward onto a track, then turned a corner into the darkness and started up. "Uh... " Kerry realized she wasn't going to be able to remain upright without some serious holding on.

"Relax... lean back." Dar's voice reassured her, patting her shoulder. "I can take it."

The incline increased, and she had little choice, as she loosened her hold on the sides of the car and settled back against the taller woman's chest and felt Dar take a secure hold around her waist.

"Okay.. I got you." The executive told her cheerfully.

Yeah. Kerry absorbed the sensation. You sure do. She knew she should feel very, very nervous, and very uncomfortable, but for some reason, it was just...

Nice. Like they were old friends. She smiled and relaxed a little, watching the fake stars overhead as they inched to the top of the incline. She could feel Dar breathing, a slow, steady motion, and she relaxed further, letting her head drop back against the dark haired woman's collarbone and feeling the grip on her tighten, just slightly.

She closed her eyes, and was startled when a flash of her dream, from the storm morning, came to her.

It had felt, yes.. a little like this.. at least, the sensation of being protected had.

They reached the top of the incline, and the car shot forward, starting the ride. It was dark, and twisty, and there wasn't really much to see so she just kept her eyes closed, and let gravity war with Dar's powerful grip.

Dar won, unsurprisingly, and she managed to avoid having her head cut off, which was a good thing.

It ended too soon, and they shuttled into an ending platform. Dar released her and Kerry sat up with a grin. "Wow.. that was fun." She got up and hopped out of the car, with the taller woman following along behind. "It was so dark though.. are they all like that?"

Dar shook her head. "Thunder Mountain isn't... I've never been on the other one... but I don't think it is. That's more water than anything." They exited out into a starlit night, where the faint strains of the parade music were still floating.

"Thanks for keeping me safe." Kerry smiled at her.

"No problem." Dar replied with a brief grin. "I'd hate to tell you what I'd have to go through in Personnel if I lost you on a business trip. Mariana would have my head."

They both chuckled, then Dar motioned to the right. "This way...we can sneak around back through Frontierland to get to Big Thunder."

"Oh.. is that where that Country Bear Jamboree is?" Kerry suddenly asked. "I've seen that on TV so many times... "

Dar gave her an indulgent look. "Okay.. I get the hint.. c'mon." She gave her a sideways glance. "I'm surprised you didn't want to see the Haunted Mansion."

"Ooo... " Kerry made a face. "I forgot about that...is it around here?"

Dar just laughed, and changed direction. "C'mon."

******************************************

They were on about the last monorail out, and happy to settle in regular seat as the sleek train pulled out of the park and headed back towards the hotel. Dar leaned against the window and peered out, unable to believe she'd just been conned into spending the night in the Magic Kingdom.

Good grief. It better not get back to anyone, or she'd never hear the end of it. She watched the lights of the boats below go by, and exhaled, watching her breath condense on the glass. Wasn't so bad though... and it wasn't like they really had anything else planned for the evening.. she'd already gone over most of the reports before they'd left, and the other option was finding some entertainment in the hotel.

This, she decided, had been just as good, and all the walking had certainly been healthy. They'd managed to hit all the major areas somehow in under two hours, and had walked down Main Street as the park was closing, watching Mickey Mouse balloons float aimlessly up from sleeping children's hands.

She glanced to her left, hiding a grin at the bags tucked under her companions arms. From one, a stuffed buffalo peeked, it's crossed eyes and tiny pink tongue comically protruding. From the other, a happy looking Pluto had emerged, and was nestling comfortably against Kerry's shoulder, his floppy ears showing black against her blond hair.

Kerry had, to her bemusement, fallen in love with Buff, the animated, wall mounted buffalo in the Country Bear Jamboree, and wouldn't be satisfied until she'd scoured the Frontierland Trading Post and found one to take home with her. She'd tried to convince Dar to get a coonskin cap, but the executive had taken one look at the fuzzy tail hanging over her ear, and plopped up onto the top of a rack, out of Kerry's reach.

No, she'd stuck with her taffy, though a filigreed hand blown glass dolphin on a cresting wave in the glass maker's shop had tempted her. She'd finally decided the thing would probably only get broken and left it behind.

Then she'd momentarily lost Kerry, only to have her turn up a few minutes later, with Pluto and a satisfied look on her face. The Emporium, shop of last resort for frantic souvenir hunters, was always the last place to close, and they wandered through there on their way out, with Dar succumbing to the overwhelming marketing pressure by purchasing a crisp black polo shirt with a silver Mickey embroidered on the breast.

"Oh, that's festive." Kerry teased her.

Dar chuckled wryly. "Calculated plan of attack. I'll wear it at the meeting tomorrow, under my jacket." Her eyes twinkled wickedly. "Good psychology.. this Disney crowd's an odd lot.. they're businessmen, but there's still a strong element in there of the old, family centered franchise...they're very loyal to the brand name, and they like to see some enthusiasm for their product."

"Hmm." Kerry considered that, as they'd walked out. "Interesting.. what do they consider their product to be?"

Dar had looked at her. "Dreams, if you would have asked Walt Disney."

Now she settled back in her seat, and stretched her legs out, resting them on the bench facing them. They were almost alone in the car, and the train had several stops to make before it went the entire circuit and ended back up at the Floridian. They passed through the Contemporary, which had been the first of the hotels on the property, and the Hawaiian style Polynesian, before they slowed to a stop at the stately white Grand Floridian. "This is our stop." Dar stood, and stretched, then ducked out the door and entered the lobby.

It still had people in it, milling around mostly near the bars, and the elevators were fairly crowded as they made their way up to their rooms. Dar slipped her door open, and ambled over to the dresser, depositing her bag of goodies before she turned and noticed the message light blinking on the phone. "What the hell is that?" She pulled her cell phone from her belt and checked it. "No.. I thought this was on.. who in the hell would leave me a message here?"

She shook her head as she sat down and started pulling at her sneakers with one hand while lifting the receiver with the other and dialing the operator for the message. "Yes, this is Dar Roberts.. I have a message?" She wrote down the name and number on a scratch pad left by the phone and thanked the operator, then hung up. "Well, John... " She picked up the receiver and dialed again, listening as it rang. It was picked up on the fourth ring. "Hello, John.. you said to call when I got the message, so.. "

"Oh.. oh, Dar, yes. Thanks." The man's voice sounded harried. "I was just putting the last bit of a new proposal together... listen, I'm glad you're here."

That was new. "What's up?"

"They've asked us to come in with a bid tomorrow, but they're bringing us and the team from IBM in at the same time... kind of a like a face to face."

"Oh.. really." Dar pulled her other sneaker off, and rubbed her toes. "That's different...they expected us to arm wrestle it out or something? "

"I don't know." John answered, with a sigh. "But I've been getting my tail kicked by their team leader... I understand you know him?"

"Oh yeah." The dark haired woman chuckled. "You could say that...he certainly won't be glad to see me, let's just put it that way." She unbuttoned her vest and stood up. "Listen.. mail me over the proposal, and I'll take a look at it. What time's the meeting tomorrow?"

"It's at 10, at the admin center." He answered, with audible relief. "Michelle Graver's in charge of their negotiating group.. Dar, she's vicious." He cleared his throat. "She brought up every major failure we've had in the last ten years in today's session.. not sure where she got the info from."

"Probably from Jerry Andrews." Dar replied, as she pulled the vest off, and unzipped her briefcase. "So it's that kind of dirty pool, eh? All right.. I'll give the office a call and see what reciprocal dirt I can dig up... they'll be loaded for bear tomorrow." She paused. "Do they know I'm here?"

"Not that I know of.. unless they track our corporate bookings in their central res system." John replied, sounding a good deal more cheerful. "Damn, I'm glad you're here, Dar... it'll be like walking in with an Uzi under my arm tomorrow."

Dar snorted. "Thanks." She plugged in the laptop and connected the modem cord to the spare jack on the side of the phone. "Actually, make sure there's room for two more.. I have my new assistant with me as an observer."

"Oh? Great... " John replied. "Even better.. we'll outnumber them, then." He hesitated. "And it'll make a better mix on the team.. I've only got guys on this one, I think thatís annoying Michelle."

"What about them?"

"Are you kidding? At this level bid? All guys, all blue suits, all white shirts, black ties, black shoes, and IBM tie tacks." The account rep chuckled. "At least we're wearing different colored underwear."

"Should be fun." Dar sighed. "Send it over.. I'll be dialed in." She waited for him to hang up, then replaced the receiver and instructed her laptop to complete a connection.

"Problems?" A soft voice asked, and she looked up to see Kerry in the adjoining doorway, dressed in an overlong T-shirt with a large, obnoxious Tweety Bird on it. "I heard that start to connect." She pointed at the laptop.

Dar got over her gut level response to seeing her assistant in her underwear and shrugged. "Could be... apparently the IBM team is playing dirty pool...not that we wouldn't if we could, of course, but they've given the people here some inside info, and John's having a rough time of it." She glanced at the screen, and then waved Kerry inside the room. "Sit down.. he's sending me over his new bid to look at."

Kerry willingly did so, curling up on her side on the bed and handing Dar a piece of the fudge she'd been nibbling on. "What kind of inside info?"

Dar checked the download indicator. "Damn.. I must have a meg of mail.. we've only been gone for seven hours.. what's going on down there?" She ate the fudge, then licked her fingers. "Mm... thatís pretty good."

"I don't know.. I left mine picking up.. I had a bunch too." Kerry advised her, as she handed over another piece.

"Hey, that's yours." Dar protested, but took the fudge anyway. "The inside info was screw ups of ours.. times when we promised something we couldn't deliver, or had to void out of a contract due to non performance, that kind of thing." She started a terminal session and typed in a request. "C'mon.. c'mon... goddamn analog piece of shit lines."

Kerry muffled a grin. Dar had taken her sneakers and vest off, and tugged her shirt out, and was appealingly rumpled looking. "What are you going to do?"

"Get some dirt on them." Dar replied absently, sending a bot out searching the huge database programming had custom written for them. "Fire with fire, and all that."

Golden lashes fluttered. "Why not just put in the best bid?" She inquired. "Or is that an incredibly naive question?"

Dar's blue eyes lifted and twinkled. "Well... not naive... just.....a little too um... optimistic." She placed the laptop on the bed and stood, stripping out of her shirt and reaching for her bag. "In an ideal world, we'd all be judged on our merits. This isn't an ideal world." She got into her baseball shirt and pulled her jeans off, folding them neatly and tucking them inside the bag. "So you take any advantage you can find.. including knocking down the other guy any way you can."

"Hmm." Kerry nodded a little. "It sounds very antagonistic."

"It can be." Dar agreed, relaxing onto her side, and extending her legs across the bed, while she checked the progress of the bot. She thought a minute, then started another bot, this time searching for information on Michelle Graver. She'd vaguely heard of the woman in passing.. was it with Merryl Lynch? But they'd never met, and she knew nothing about her. Not a good way to go into a bid meeting. "The IBM lead negotiator almost came over the table at me the last time we met."

Kerry's eyes widened. "Really? God, Dar...that's terrible."

"No." Her boss looked up, with a devilish grin. "It was hilarious.. he couldnít do it because he split his pants when he stood up, and he had to sit right back down or flash the client with his big white butt." She chuckled in memory. "I almost hurt myself laughing."

Kerry bit back a giggle. "I would have died... is he going to be surprised to see you?"

"Oooo.. yes." Dar chuckled, not a nice sound. "It also helps the makeup of the team.. John thinks Michelle Graver, the lead rep for Disney, is ticked off because both us and IBM brought all male groups in." She glanced up at Kerry. "She's been giving John a hard time."

"You think she'll give you a hard time?" The blond woman inquired.

Dar studied the results of the second bot. "Hm... she might." Her brows rose. "She's pretty formidable on paper.. she's got a doctorate in psychology, in addition to a masters in business... she's been with them for ten years, and is viewed as one of their top talents." She turned her laptop around for Kerry to view. "Here.. take a look."

She watched Kerry read, her eyes flicking back and forth rapidly. "See anything interesting?" A little test, one she suspected her intelligent young friend would pass.

"She's a skydiver." Kerry murmured, touching the screen with a fingertip. "That shows a certain kind of personality, doesn't it? Someone who looks for adrenaline highs?"

"Mmhmm." Dar gave her an approving smile. "Good catch."

"So.. that means she probably thrives on conflict.. which is why she's staging the meeting like that tomorrow, right?" She glanced up. "It gives her a thrill to watch you guys go at each other."

"Could be." Her boss admitted.

"So.. your best bet is to stay cool, right?"

Dar chuckled. "Exactly.. she's depending on one or the other of us to lose it, and give in to our tempers.. and that, my friend, is not going to be me."

My friend. Kerry liked the sound of that. "I just sit quiet, and take notes, I assume?"

"If you've got something to say, Kerry... you say it." Dar answered, seriously. "But think of these people as sharks.. they're looking for tidbits, and bear in mind, no matter how civilized, that there are no friends in there."

She smiled. "Except us."

Dar looked up from her screen, and smiled back. "Yeah."

Kerry glanced down to the bedspread, then back up. "Thanks for doing the park with me tonight, Dar.. I know this is a business meeting, but I had a great time."

Dar let her head rest on her hand. "I had a good time too...tell you what.. if these damn meetings let out at a decent time tomorrow, we'll do Epcot, and I'll treat you to dinner in Mongolia or someplace, how about it?"

A quiet smile edged her lips. "You don't have to do that.. I can always come up here another time."

Dar drew a pattern on the fabric, then looked up at her through dark eyelashes. "I know you can.. but I won't, so let me have my little self delusional excuse, okay?" She replied wryly.

"Oh.. oh.. sorry.. okay.. I get it." Kerry gave her a sweet smile. "Don't worry.. I promise I'll never tell anyone you actually have fun sometimes."

"Thanks." Dar chuckled. "And.. um.. listen, thanks for going with me this morning.. I really appreciated having a friendly face there."

"No problem.. I'm just glad everything turned out okay." Kerry replied honestly. "You know.. it's so weird... we've only known each other for a couple of weeks, but I feel like it's been a lot longer." She gave a tiny shrug. "I mean.. it's just so strange."

"Yes, it is." The older woman acknowledged, slowly. "I've never been one to make friends easily.. this has been kind of an exception for me." She lifted her hand and let it drop back to the bedspread. "Must be fate."

A shiver tickled Kerry's spine. "Must be." She agreed, then sighed. "Well, if tomorrow's going to be a big battle, better get some sleep." She stood up and raised a hand. "Night, Dar."

Thoughtful blue eyes regarded her. "Night."

A silence settled over the room after Kerry left, and Dar was conscious of the soft hum of her disk drive as it accepted the downloads, and the gentle clicking as the air conditioning cycled on and off.

It... Her brow creased in mild confusion. It seemed so empty now, with the kid gone. She found herself wanting Kerry back here, even if it were only to be studying the files quietly in the corner.

She thought hard about that. Okay. A breath. She was attracted to her assistant. That wans't any big deal.. it happened often enough, and Kerry was as safe as a baby in a crib from any suggestion from her of anything at all. Company rules, and that was one line Dar Roberts never, ever crossed.

And, she was good looking, smart, had a great sense of humor, nice eyes, and nice body... who wouldn't be attracted to her? So that was normal. No problem. She could deal with that, it would disappear in time, and Kerry would never know the difference.

But.

Something was pulling them together on a much deeper level. She could feel it, and she suspected Kerry could too. It had nothing to do with carnal desires, and everything to do with the peaceful, contented feeling she'd gotten on that very brief ride, with Kerry's body snuggled against hers as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

She ached to feel it again. And that... that was scaring her. Physical attraction she could deal with. This... was something else entirely.

She just wished she knew what it was.


 Continued in Part 7