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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 its 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 9

By Melissa Good

The alarm went off, startling Dar out of sleep in the pre dawn darkness. She stared at it in confusion for a moment, then rubbed her face and slapped at it, turning the loud buzzer off. It was very quiet in the condo, and she rested her chin on her pillow for a moment, wistfully thinking of how much nicer it had been to wake up the day before.

Funny. Dar sighed, and rolled out of bed, trudging to the bathroom mechanically. She never had considered herself to be lonely before. Her life had been busy, true, but now she wondered how much of her activities had just been a way to fill up the time. It had been unexpectedly nice just to have someone to talk to over their very impromptu brunch yesterday and she couldn't even begin to remember what it was that they'd talked about. Puppies? Politics? Dar splashed water on her face and shook her head, as she exchanged her pajamas for her running clothes and sat down in the silent living room to put on her sneakers. Whatever it had been, she'd spent most of the time laughing, something she didn't remember doing a lot of in the past few years. She sat thinking about that for a minute, then prodded herself to her feet. "C'mon, Dar… get moving…two extra laps around the island this morning, remember?" To make up for missing out the last couple of days, she'd decided, waking up an extra hour early for it.

It was very quiet as she closed the door behind her, and exited into the cool air, crisp with wetness of dew and the breeze from the sea. Her sneakers sounded loud on the gravel as she turned off onto the small path, then she took a deep breath, and broke into a slow jog, to give her muscles a chance to wake up and stretch before she pushed them.

The water sloshed against the seawall as she turned into the onshore wind, bringing the scent of brine and salt to her lungs. No other sound, save the far off clanking of the port and a soft hoot of a tugboat chugging by in the channel. She could see the running lights of the boat and left it behind her as she headed off into the south.

On the sixth ring around, she could feel the strain start to shorten her breathing, and it pissed her off. Instead of stopping, she pushed herself on, speeding up her pace and forcing herself to complete eight rings, by which time the sun was pouring over the horizon, and she was sweating freely.

She slowed as she came around the northern edge of the island for the eighth time, dropping down into a jog and letting her heartbeat start to calm. She ended up on the seawall, staring out into the dawn light and letting the sea breeze blow her damp hair back off her forehead. Slowly, she sat down on the concrete wall, letting her legs dangle over into the light spray from the waves.

She'd believed for so long she didn't need anyone to complete her life. Maybe because she hadn't had a choice. Now… Dar exhaled into the mist. Kerry's innocently held out hand of friendship had shaken loose that belief, and forced her to look at herself objectively for the first time in a long while.

It had been easy to confuse sterile isolation for happiness, if you didn't really know the difference, right? She'd dealt with loneliness by ignoring it, and convincing herself that keeping busy was the key to a satisfying life.

The past week had shown her just how much of a lie that really was. Going forward with Kerry would add a complicated, difficult, troublesome facet to her life, and the potential for pain, and personal problems likely to disrupt her ordered existence beyond repair.

The intelligent and rational view told her to put a halt to it. This could only bring trouble to both her, and Kerry, and might result in a professional disaster for both of them. It would be better.. smarter.. for her to sit Kerry down, and just… tell her no. Back off. Push their relationship back to a strictly professional level.

Dar was startled by the sudden sting of tears and the wave of misery that accompanied the thought. Confused, she rubbed her face, and clamped an arm over her suddenly aching chest. Just the thought of giving up that smile…. Dar imagined the hurt, and then the pain in the green eyes as she turned her away, and knew she couldn't stand it.

She couldn't do that to Kerry. Hell, she couldn't do that to herself.

With a shaking hand, she wiped the tears from her face, and ran her fingers through her damp hair. She'd find a way, somehow, to make it work. Her heartbeat settled, and she took a few deep breaths, letting the salt spray cool her down. Okay. It's just another challenge, Dar. Remember what dad always told you. Break your challenges up into tiny bites, and by the time you've finished, you've eaten a buffalo, tail and all.

That brought a wry, shaky smile to her face, and she got to her feet, stretching her legs out and straightening her shoulders. Time to start the day.

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

Maria liked the early morning. She made it a point to enter the building at seven am, before even the most virtuous of the other administrative assistants, and she used the time to catch up on the piles of correspondence Dar's position generated, along with the volume of electronic mail, requests of all sorts, papers to review, and other matters that fell under her jurisdiction.

It gave her nearly an hour, sometimes a little more, before her mercurial boss appeared, and brought with her a whirlwind of activity, and she enjoyed the quiet time, thinking it was a good way to start the day out. Especially on a Monday, which was never a good day, and most especially since Dar had been gone most of the previous week, and items had been stacking up, waiting her attention.

She heard the elevator open, and the soft sound of footsteps traveling down the tiled hallway, going past her door and continuing on. A smile crossed her face, as she recognized them as being more than likely Kerry's, who came in early much for the same reason she did. The young woman was still getting used to her new position, and was anxious to make a good impression.

Maria approved of that. She liked Kerry, and was glad her supervisor had found someone she felt she could work with, and who seemed to be willing to put in the same kind of effort that Dar herself did. And as an added bonus, Kerry seemed to also like the sometimes difficult, often impatient and aggressive vice president, which was quite a surprise to the secretary, given where Kerry had come from.

She wondered if Kerry knew just how close she'd come to being fired? With a sigh, Maria turned her attention to a stack of reports, sorting them and notating the ones Dar would want to see first thing. She noticed the huge report regarding the massive outage on Saturday, and put that one on top.

After a few minutes, the door opened, and Kerry poked her fair head in. "Good morning, Maria."

"Buenos Dias, Kerrisita…" The secretary replied with a smile. "Dios Mio, did you spend the weekend at the beach?" The younger woman's face was a rosy pink, and her arms held a tinge of the same color.

Kerry entered the outer office and walked over, carrying a steaming mug. "Not exactly. " She gave Maria a conspiratorial smile. "I got the boss to take a few hours off in Orlando."

"Bueno.. bueno… " Maria laughed. "Did you now? I hear things went good there." She applauded. "Did you get to see the Mickey Mouse?"

The blond woman perched on the corner of her desk and sipped her tea. "Let's see… I got to see Mickey Mouse, I got to the water park, and we got to see Epcot." She grinned at Maria's open mouthed stare. "Oh yeah.. and MGM.. on the way out of town."

The secretary picked up the phone and started punching numbers. "Aie.. I am calling the Vatican… it's a miracle." She announced. "I will tell the Pope."

Kerry grinned. "It wasn't that hard, really… we had a lot of extra time between meetings, and there really wasn't much to do other than that." She explained. "Besides, it was just what the doctor ordered.. I'm glad Dar got a chance to relax a little."

Maria studied Kerry's sunburned features, which made her blond eyebrows stand out and enhanced the vivid green of her eyes. "You look like you had a good time, eh?"

"I did." The younger woman admitted. "It was a very interesting bid meeting.. I didn't really realize it was a cutthroat as it is. But Dar really handled them…I mean, Jesus, Maria, she just walked in there and took over." Kerry shook her head. "She blew the clients away.. I was just sitting there in awe the whole time."

"Si..si… she does that." Maria nodded. "Comes and boom boom…it's all over." She explained. "Is why so many people.. they don't like her."

"She intimidates people, yeah.. I know." Kerry smiled wistfully. "It's kind of hard to get past that." She stood up. "Well, I've got stuff to do… "

"Si… oh, Kerry.. did you get something for her for Bosses day?" Maria asked, remembering. "I got her a little basket of chocolates.. I know she likes them."

Kerry glanced down at her tea, then back up. "Um.. yeah, I did.. at the park, as a matter of fact."

"Bueno… " Maria sighed. "That is two things, then." She fiddled with her pen. "She makes like she does not care, but I think, Kerrisita, I think she does."

"I think so too, Maria." Kerry told her. "And it's really a shame, because she does such great work, you'd think people would appreciate that." She shook her head, and turned to go. "See you later."

"Aie." The secretary watched her leave. "Chica, if she had to get some help, better that it was help like you." She spoke to the closed door, with a slight smile, then went back to her letters.

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

"Morning, Dar." Mark greeted her cheerfully as she joined him on the elevator. "Where's my.. oh thanks." He grinned as she handed him a manila envelope. "I hear my efforts were worth it?"

"Yep." Dar agreed, leaning back against the elevator wall, and producing a faint grin. "We got it… blew their socks off, in fact." She added. "I'm gonna go process some bonuses when I get to my office… everyone kicked butt on this one."

Mark waved the envelope. "Got mine."

Dar rolled her eyes. "Jesus, Mark… it's not that great a picture… get a grip, will you?" But she chuckled.

Unable to resist that temptation, the MIS chief opened the envelope, and peeked. Then he raised his eyes to Dar and made an appreciative face. "That camera liked you… I don't know what you consider not great, but.. oo.. la la…."

"Mark, shut up." Dar gave him a look. "I did it because I promised I would.. I don't want to hear about it for the next six months, okay?"

Prudently, he tucked the envelope away under an arm for later study. "Gotcha, boss." He replied crisply. "Speaking of which… wanna join us for lunch today? We missed you on Friday."

Dar relaxed a little. "Sure… if they don't keep me in meetings all day long over the Netops fiasco on Saturday."

Mark grunted. "Shit yeah… what a mess that was." He glanced at her. "You get some sun? You look a little burnt."

"A little." Dar replied, as the doors opened on the fourteenth floor. "I did the Volunteer day Saturday." She headed towards her office. "And got to walk around in the parks a bit."

Mark moved off down the side corridor which held the MIS offices. "Didja have fun?" He called back as she was about to enter her outer office.

Dar stopped and turned, regarding him with an expressionless look as she put one hand on the doorknob. Then she winked, and let a brief grin shape her lips, before she continued on into the room.

"Hmm.." Mark hummed, as he punched the security code in that would open the door to his own office. He waved a hello to the four or five engineers and analysts who made the place home, and ducked inside his own, mostly darkened office. He dropped into his padded leather seat, and looked up as his assistant wandered in. "Hey Bill."

"Hey." The tall, lanky man wandered over. "Whatcha got?"

Mark rubbed his fingertips, before he gently removed the picture from the envelope, and set it on his desk. "My bonus." He viewed the item approvingly. Dar was looking right at the camera, a faintly self deprecating look on her face as she leaned against a wooden pylon with one shoulder, crossing her long legs at the ankles in a casual, relaxed pose. The sleek black fabric of her swimsuit contrasted with her tanned skin, and the firm, just visible muscles dipped and curved, especially noticeable across her shoulders and in her thighs. "Boy, that's nice. "

Bill obligingly walked around the desk to see the picture right side up, then almost choked. "Son of a bitch… wherein the hell did you get THAT?" He squeaked.

"Heh… pays to do good work, okay?" Mark smirked. "She's got nice legs, huh?"

Bill leaned closer. "Nice everything…man, my gonads just crawled up inside my tonsils to get a better look."

Mark chuckled. "Sure beats working for Jose.. can you imagine him in a swimsuit?"

Bill made a gagging sound and mock upchucked into the MIS chief's garbage can. "Hey… we've got that new 64 bit color scanner that just came in.. " He gave Mark a hopeful puppy look.

His supervisor sighed. "Much as I'd love to put that on my desktop, she'd kill me." He looked at the photo regretfully. "I love to have been the one who took the picture, though."

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

"Morning, Maria." Dar smiled at her as she entered the office.

The secretary looked up. "Buenos Dios, Dar. " She greeted her boss, noting the hint of sun in her face, and the relaxed expression. "And how are you today?"

Dar thought about that. "Great. How about you?" She replied. "Things went well up in Orlando.. but you probably heard about that already."

Maria rolled her eyes. "Oh yes… Mr. Montarosa was dancing in the hallways.. you would think his wife had given him a son finally."

Dar burst out laughing. "I'm glad I wasn't here to see that." She remarked, with a grin. "But yeah… it was good… definitely a worthwhile trip."

The secretary hid her surprise at her boss's good spirits. Dar, laughing on a Monday? "Kerrisita tells me you even got a minute to see the Mickey Mouse." She informed the dark haired woman, not missing the way a little sparkle came into the agua of her eyes at the mention of her assistant's name.

"Yeah… we had some extra time." Dar replied offhandedly, then she paused, and thought. "God, you know I haven't been in one of those damn parks for so many years… it was nice to visit again." She leaned against the door to her inner office. "It felt good to relax a little."

Maria almost held her breath, watching the gentle, introspective look cross the tall woman's face. Dios Mio… something has changed in her. "Is good… you needed a vacation." She told her firmly.

Dar smiled, and pushed away from the door frame, then entered her office, closing the door behind her and walked across to her desk. She put her briefcase down and seated herself, flipping on her desktop computer and leaning back in the chair. Then she opened the case and pulled out something wrapped in terrycloth, and uncovered it, holding the glass dolphins up to the sunlight coming in her window. With a smile, she put the piece down on the front of her desk and centered it, pleased at the sparkles of rainbow colored light it scattered everywhere. There. She watched it for a moment more, then turned her attention to the small, colorful basket sitting in the center of her desk. Mm. She sniffed appreciatively Chocolates.

A grin appeared, and she munched on the treats as she brought up a disgustingly long list of things to do.

It was almost lunchtime before she looked up after wading through most of the really urgent matters. She'd just gotten of a conference call about the network failure, and was sipping on her second cup of coffee when a soft knock came on her inside door. "C'mon."

The door eased open, and a blond head poked itself in. "Good morning."

Dar felt a smile creasing her face unbidden. "Good morning." She leaned back and motioned the younger woman forward, watching her eyes drift to the dolphins, and then back. "Hell of a day, huh?"

Kerry came over to the desk and perched on the corner of it. "It's been busy, yes… I didn't realize how things could get backed up when you're not around for a few days." She gave Dar a rueful grin. "I just now got my inbox cleared."

"Me too." The dark haired woman propped her head on her hand. "I've got staff meetings all afternoon… and Jose scheduled a new business meeting tomorrow at nine." She'd been resisting the urge to wander over to Kerry's office all morning, knowing the blond woman had as much work to do as she did.

A nod. "Marketing wants me to attend some kind of service review panel later on today…and I have a whole bunch of reports on my desk that I think have something to do with network response time." She pushed her hair back. "I'm not sure where they came from."

Dar snorted softly. "I can guess… they figure you're easier to approach than I am.. so Marketing's looking to snare you in… I told them I wasn't going to touch the response time issue until exec funded more bandwidth…looks like they're trying an end around."

Kerry's brow creased. "Do you want me to send them back?"

Long fingers drummed on the desktop. "No.. go ahead." Dar mused. "Let's see what they're up to." She reached out and tapped Kerry on the knee. "Be careful, though… that's not a nice bunch."

Now Dar's eyes took in the trim figure seated on her desk. "You look nice."

Kerry smiled impishly at her. "So do you… I like that blue suit." Her eyes met Dar's. "I was wondering if it would be strange here today." She paused, appearing to gather her courage, then went on. "Listen.. Dar.. I was thinking about this a lot last night."

"So was I."

Kerry hesitated. "If… if this is going to be hard for you.. if…I.. I'd rather we don't go forward… with this.. if it's going to cause you problems." Her voice was awkward, and stumbling. "So…if you're reconsidering… it's okay, and I understand."

Dar stared at her dumbly. She shifted her gaze out the window for a long moment, then back. "Second thoughts, huh?" She struggled to keep her voice even, and calm. How arrogant… she'd never considered that maybe it would be Kerry who wanted out of this. Another lesson. How stupid. She felt her jaw clench hard, and a lump form in her throat.

"No." Kerry answered very softly. "Not on my part.. I just don't want to see you get hurt." She stared at her hands, folded in her lap.

Dar could see that she was shaking. That was all right. The sense of relief that flowed through her was making her tremble just as much. She reached up and clasped the blond woman's hands in hers. "Kerry… " she had to stop a minute. "I've been alone for a long time. I used to think that was the best way for me, because I had some very bad experiences when I was younger."

Sea green eyes peered at her uncertainly.

"You made me realize, this past week, how wrong I was." The executive told her quietly. "What would hurt me is to turn away from this, just because of the risk."

Kerry let out a long, shaky sigh of relief. "Okay.. I just….wanted to give you one last chance to say stop."

They regarded each other in silence for bit. "You just scared the crap out of me, you know that, right?" Dar finally said, in an attempt at humor.

"You?" Kerry wiped at her eyes in irritation. "I don't know what I would have done if you took me up on it." She exhaled. "You don't know how hard that was."

Dar studied her quietly. "I know that you're a braver person than I am, for doing it." She stood up and gently folded her arms around Kerry, hugging her. "Listen.. I have to meet Mark and a few other guys for lunch.. why don't you join us?"

Kerry returned the squeeze, then sat back. "Sure… that sounds good." Unconsciously her hand found itself stroking Dar's arm. "We'd better not sit next to each other, though." She tucked her hands under her arms and gave the taller woman a wry look.

Dar chuckled, and patted her cheek, a motion that slowed, and became a caress as she felt the soft skin under her fingertips. Kerry leaned into the touch and hoped no one decided it was time to barge into Dar's office.

"I see what you mean." The taller woman murmured, with a wistful smile. The phone buzzed, and she had to make a conscious effort to tear her eyes from Kerry's and punch the button. "Yeah?"

"Dar, we've got a problem in Singapore." The voice came through. "They can't get the circuit agreement complete down there, and we need a conference call."

"Now?" Dar asked.

"Yeah… unfortunately.. I've got six people already hanging on.. I was going to bring you in, and two people from Infrastructure."

She came very close to telling them to work out their own problems, but a pair of hands descended on her shoulders and squeezed them.

"I'll bring you up some lunch." Kerry whispered. "I think they have meatloaf today."

Dar smiled. "All right." She directed her voice to the phone, but her eyes went to Kerry's face. "Thanks." She mouthed.

Kerry winked, and patted her back, then headed for the door.

"Psst!" Dar hissed softly, then tossed the blond woman a wrapped chocolate when she turned.

Kerry caught it, and returned a smile, as she slipped out the door.

"Sorry, Dar.. did you say something? The voice queried.

"Me? Nope.. just here waiting." The executive replied blithely.

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

"Well, I don't think there's much doubt that we really dropped the ball here. " Jose Montarosa was hammering on the table. "What if that building was severely damaged? How long would it have taken us to route around it?" He looked right at Dar. "Well?"

The dark haired woman glance up from her doodling. "We couldn't." She went back to the paper, drawing a sailboat.

An awkward silence fell. "Excuse me?" Jose asked.

"We could not." Dar repeated. "What part of that don't you understand? We don't have the secondary resources to replace that facility."

"A single point of failure.. is that what we're talking about?" Another supervisor asked, incredulous.

Dar's blue eyes opened in mock surprise. "I guess it is." She added another sail.

Eyes shifted around the table. "Dar… this isn't a joke." Mariana leaned forward, glancing at her in a little discomfort.

The operations VP let her eyes go around the table. "You're damn right it's not.. but I'm not going to sit here and pretend to be either shocked or surprised, when I told you people this was a possible consequence when you voted to set it up this way." She shrugged, and sketched in a seagull.

Another awkward silence. "All right.. so.. what are we going to do about it?" Montarosa asked, sitting back.

"You're going to give me the budget to run a duplicate location." Dar replied, not looking up. "Or we're going to have more pointless meetings like this one for a few months, until you realize there is no other option and give me the money anyway." She started on a different sketch, this one of a pony. "You just let me know, okay?"

"Dar… " Duks leaned close to her. "You feeling all right?"

Dar stared at him, puzzled. "I feel great." She replied, then looked around at the table. "Other than the fact that I had to spent six hours Saturday night, until 5 am yelling at people until I got the building back up, that is." She paused. "That sucked, frankly… "

They all looked at each other. "Well… " Jose cleared his throat. "Do you have an estimate on how much we're talking about, for a duplicate facility?"

Dar finished her pony's tail. "I sent the full document to everyone here this morning." She glanced up. "Along with a recap of the Disney deal, and the Singapore mess." Her eyes flicked to the startled faces. "Mailserver acting up? You all didn't get that?"

"Um… no, I saw it." Mariana said, hastily. "I think we can table this until everyone's had a chance to look it over, agreed?"

Jose nodded. "Yeah.. .lemme take a look…sounds good." He cleared his throat. "Disney was good news, Dar."

The pale blue eyes flicked to him. "I hear you were dancing in the hallway." She smiled. "Anyone take pictures?"

A low round of laughter followed, as everyone relaxed a little. "Must have had good weather… you got a sunburn." Jose retorted. "Let me guess.. you were doing research on the property?"

The dark haired woman chuckled. "Something like that, yeah." She admitted. "It was worth it.. I think it was the presentation that really pulled them in.. we modeled it on their actual running system and used one of their restaurants as the demo set."

Jose snorted. "Dar, you could present garbage bags and sell them." He brushed her off.

"I didn't do the presentation." The executive replied, mildly. "My assistant did." She finished off her pony's head, and added eyelashes.

"Wait… you left it to some green kid?" The sales executive leaned forward in disbelief. "What kind of irresponsible shit is that?"

Eyes shifted back to Dar, expecting a fierce outburst.

But Dar only shrugged. "I had confidence in the package, and I trusted Kerry to present it." She sketched in an ear. "Which was more than your entire goddamn team could do in four months, Jose… so I wouldn't knock it, if I were you."

"Well.. " Eleanor crossed her legs, and straightened her skirt a little. "She seems capable…and a nice person. I was surprised, Dar." She gave the dark haired woman a sweet smile. "I was expecting a sour geek, or a beautiful airhead… you managed to mix and match quite nicely."

Mariana saw the dangerous glint appear in Dar's eyes, and her sketching stop dead. "Eleanor.. I think I said it well enough last time when I pointed out Dar doesnít hire people to be friends or look pretty." She told the woman forcefully. "She makes my job easy… and Ms. Stuart is extremely well qualified for the position."

Dar put her pencil down. "Are we done here? I've got two more meetings to go to."

"Yeah… I guess we are." Jose threw down his pen and stood up. "C'mon, Elenanor… let's go get a cafecito." The sales and marketing executives left, leaving Mariana, Dar and Duks still sitting there. "So..what's up with you, chica?" Mariana asked, leaning on the table and peering at her friend.

Dar looked at her. "With me? Nothing… what is it with you people today?" She tossed the pencil onto the table. "Jesus Christ.. what's the problem, did I grow horns or something?"

Duks patted her arm. "Hey… hey.. relax… you're just really laid back, and we're not used to that, my friend… is this what Mickey Mouse does to you?"

Dar lifted her hands and let them fall onto the chair arms. "What.. because I'm not screaming and yelling like a maniac, there's something wrong?" She looked at the table. "All right, I'll start bitching at someone… will that make everyone feel better?"

"Dar." Mariana gazed at her steadily. "C'mon.. level with us. Is everything all right? I heard you had some tests the other day."

Now anger showed. "You know, Mariana, I really hate to think someone's reading into my medical files."

"Ah ah.. " The personnel director held up a hand. "Not me, my friend… just gossip… but now that you confirmed it, is everything okay?" She leaned forward. "Dar.. I'm asking as friend, not because I need to know for the company."

Dar glowered at her, then sighed. "Everything is perfectly fine, as a matter of fact. Dr. Steve thought he saw something in my EKG during my last physical, but it turned out to be nothing. Okay?" She still saw skepticism in both faces. "All right.. " She rubbed her jaw. "Look… what he did find was that I need to back off the stress a little."

"Ah." Understanding flared in both of their eyes.

"So.. I took the opportunity to just relax a little while I was up there, and over the weekend… and I decided to try and not let this stuff get to me too much."

"Ay.. Dar, was that so hard?" Mariana smiled at her. "You see? We're just worried about you." She sat back and gazed at the taller woman. "You look good… you got some rest there, eh?"

Dar gave her a slight smile and nodded. "Are we done analyzing me now?" She stood up and dusted herself off. "Gotta go."

Duks and Mariana watched her leave, then eyed each other. "You know, Dukky… if I didn't know better, I'd say our good friend there found something other than Pluto and Goofy up in that place."

Lou Dreyfus let a faintly sardonic smile twist his lips. "You could be right, Mari." He slapped the table. "Well. Let's us get going."

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

Kerry finally got back to her office, after a very interesting meeting with the marketing people. It was obvious they didn't like Dar. It was obvious that they wanted to be Kerry's friend. It was obvious that they wanted her to give them dirt on her boss.

Her phone rang, and she picked it up. "Yes?"

"Oh.. Ms. Stuart.. glad I caught you in." Eleanor Anastasia's voice oozed through the receiver. "We were hoping you'd be able to attend a conference call tomorrow… it's with the regional marketing people, and they just have some general questions regarding some of the new operations policies."

"Um.. sure.. " Kerry pulled out her PDA, and flipped it open. "When?"

"One PM… but we're gathering for lunch downstairs beforehand, if you'd like to join us."

I'd rather handle electric eels barehanded. "I'm sorry.. I can make the meeting, but I have things I have to do just before that." Like make sure my boss has lunch, for instance. She'd gotten a peculiar pleasure out of selecting items for Dar, and an even bigger kick from the smile she'd gotten when she delivered it.

"Well, that's too bad, because we're all dying to just let our hair down with you, but perhaps next time." Eleanor sighed. "Tomorrow at 1 then."

"I'll be there." Kerry hung up the phone, and made a face at it, then she turned her chair around, and gazed out over the water. She felt a lot more relaxed than she had this morning, now that the 'issue' was out of the way with Dar. "Mm… I don't know if I'm going to last until Wednesday, though." She commented to the window. Last night's surfing on the internet had turned up lots of… interesting.. things. Most had made her blush. She'd been honestly surprised at the range, though.. from women's health sites to pages and pages of amateur fiction.

That had certainly been a revelation. She'd had no idea there was so much creativity out there… she'd ended up reading some of it until way too late, but it had certainly given her ideas. Maybe that's why she wanted to make sure Dar was sure before….well, one thing at a time.

She heard a gentle knock on her inside door, and she felt a flutter deep inside her. "C'mon in."

The door opened, and Dar slipped inside, her jacket off, and her shirtsleeves rolled up. "Hey there." She sauntered over and collapsed into Kerry's visitor chair, letting her hands drop onto the arm and crossing her legs at the ankles. "How'd it go?"

"Dar, do you know what limpet is?" Kerry inched her chair forward, and propped her chin up on both hands.

"Sure." The executive nodded. "It's a mollusk that attaches itself to a flat surface and lives off of it." She paused. "Why?"

"I'm a flat surface." Kerry gave her a wry look. "They want to suck me dry of information, chiefly about you." She sighed. "They paint you in shades of black, black, dark brown, and black."

"How'd I rate the dark brown? Dar smiled sardonically.

Kerry gazed at her disheveled boss. "Hey… listen, are you still open for that dinner and a movie?" She inquired. "Tonight, I mean?" She felt her throat go dry, and she swallowed, waiting for Dar to answer.

A soft, low chuckled reassured her. "I was just coming over here to see if you were interested in doing something." Dar admitted. "I.. um…" She shook her head and crossed her arms. "Sure… you wanna see Soldier?"

"Oo." Kerry's brows rose. "Yeah… I like Kurt Russell.. I really liked Escape from New York."

Dar laughed. "Ssssnake." She hissed, causing Kerry to giggle. "Yeah, me too."

"Great… if… you want to , we can stop by my place…I'll put something together.. then we can go to the movie from there. " Kerry went through her food inventory, and decided no matter what she had, it was better than Frosted Flakes and chocolate milk. "Okay?"

Pale blue eyes peeked back at her from under long, dark lashes. "Sounds good to me." Dar hauled herself out of the chair, and patted Kerry's desk. "Pack it up… I've had about enough of this place today." She walked through the door that lead to the back corridor and let it close behind her.

Kerry grinned happily, and pumped the air with her fist. "Yes!" She got up and did a little dance, feeling like the gopher in Caddyshack. "Yahoo, we may have a new reference for you tonight."

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

Kerry let the door close behind her, her mind already buzzing with prospective dinner possibilities. Dar had followed along after her, saying she had to make a quick stop. Kerry suspected her boss was just being polite, and giving her a chance to get her act together, but that was okay.. she needed it, and it was okay that she had a minute to settle her thoughts.

Except they weren't getting very settled. They bounced back and forth between blue eyes, and that lazy smile Dar had given her before they left the office, and she knew her hormones were busy dancing the mamba in her bloodstream which was making it very, very hard to think straight.

"Okay, Kerrison… let's just calm your butt down now." She put her briefcase down, and took a deep breath. "First things first.. change out of this monkey suit."

She went into her bedroom, glad she'd had the chance to straighten the place up the day before. She chose a pair of black jeans and a lavender polo shirt, slipping into them and tucking the shirt in and buckling the thin, leather belt. Her reflection looked back at her, and she smoothed her fingers over the dark denim surface and watched as her breathing pulled the soft cotton of her shirt taut against her body. "Well… these aren't as baggy as they used to be, that's for sure… but I guess it looks okay." The jeans fit snugly around her body, attesting to her past few weeks of culinary indulgence but the effect wasn't as bad looking as she'd feared.

As a matter of fact… Kerry blinked at her reflection. Maybe Colleen had been right… she'd taken things a little too far. Both Susan and Ray had told her she looked a lot healthier and more relaxed since she'd started working for Dar, and she supposed that was true… if she looked at herself objectively, that is… she wasn't sure her parents would agree though.

She straightened her shoulders, and ran her brush through her hair. To hell with them. She suddenly decided, as she opened the collar of her shirt a little, exposing her thin golden chain which held a tiny teddy bear charm. "Let's see… a touch of perfume? Yeah… " She pulled open her top drawer, and removed a small bottle, taking the top off and sniffing it. "Mm." She put a bit on her fingertip and touched it behind her ears, and put a playful dab down her cleavage. "God.. I feel like a damn teenager on her first date… " She giggled at herself, and put the bottle away, then met the steady green eyes looking back at her from the mirror. "I guess is it, in a way…though, because this is the first person I…" She stopped and took a breath. "The first person I've ever really cared about." She gave herself a little nod of acknowledgement. "There.. I said it." She turned. "Right, Pooh?"

The stuffed, smiling bear held his arms out to her invitingly. "Not now.. maybe later." She shook a finger at him, then she went back out into the living room, and glanced around, making sure she'd remembered not to leave out her laundry or anything like that. "Looks okay." She told the fish, then she went into the kitchen, and stood for a moment, crossing her arms over her chest and thinking. She likes oriental… let' see… I could do fried rice.. and, oh.. right.. I've got that skirt steak.. I can stir fry that with vegetables…okay.

She was busy getting things chopped up when a soft knock came at the door and she felt a teasing jolt in her gut. "C'mon in..it's open." She called out. The lock turned and she heard someone enter. "I'm in the kitchen."

Soft footfalls crossed the carpet, and then Dar was just there, in the doorway, filling it. The dark haired woman had traded her suit for a pair of white denims and a blue tailored shirt, which sported a small bumblebee embroidered on the left breast.

She was also carrying an amber bottle, which she held up. "Picked up a little addition." She advised, her eyes going over Kerry's slim form. "You look cute." She complimented the blond woman, with a smile.

To hell with them. Kerry smiled back. "Thanks… you look pretty nice yourself… I like the bee." She peered at the bottle. "Oh.. that was a great idea… if you want to let it cool down a little .. " She motioned with her head towards the refrigerator.

Dar put the bottle on a shelf, and peered inside, half turning and giving Kerry a mischievous look. "You sure have a lot more in here than I have in mine." She remarked, as she closed the door and wandered closer, and peered over Kerry's shoulder. "What's that?"

"Sauce." Kerry added a bit of flaked red pepper. "It's going to be Szechwan beef when I finish."

"That sounds tasty." Dar responded, her breath tickling Kerry's ear.

Oh boy. "Dar?.. Has anyone ever told you you're a really distracting person?"

"Me?" Her boss's blue eyes widened in surprised innocence. "Um.. well, no, actually. I've been called a lot of things, most of them nasty, but distracting has never been one of them. "

Kerry blushed, and laughed a little. "Well, you are." She told her. "You make it very hard to concentrate."

Dar looked puzzled, but not displeased. "Okay… well, I don't want you to cut yourself.. I'll just sit quietly over there. " She ambled over to the small table in the kitchen and slid into a seat, resting her elbows on the surface. Kerry's reaction to her was just so… different. Dar reflected, as she watched the blond woman return to her task. She'd always been used to people coming on to her.. and she wasn't shy in doing the same in return, but the combination of sweet affection and barely veiled desire she saw in Kerry's eyes was something she'd never experienced before.

It was warm.. and nice.. and she found herself tumbling helplessly under it's spell. Distracting? Oh yes. She was finding it very hard to keep her thoughts focused for any length of time, and even when she did concentrate, she found herself taking little side trips into wondering what Kerry was thinking… or what she was doing.. or.. Dar sighed. Like right now, for instance. She found herself perfectly happy to just be sitting her in the blond woman's presence, watching her prepare dinner. It was such a strange feeling.

She watched Kerry's shoulderblades moving under the soft cotton of her polo shirt, and she let her eyes wander down the slim form, appreciating the curves.

"Nickel for your thoughts." Kerry spoke, not turning around.

Dar burst into helpless laughter. "Uh…let's skip that, huh?" She felt herself slightly tongue tied, and she realized Kerry was having the same effect on her that she was having on the younger woman. It was getting out of control. "So.. where'd you learn to cook?"

Kerry heard the hesitant confusion in her voice, and smiled quietly to herself. Glad it's not just me. "Well, it's expected in my family… my mother doesn't work, she's always stayed home to take care of us. " She explained. "I had home ec and all that in school.. but I kind of developed an interest in it when I was in college." She added some chopped vegetables to her fried rice and stirred it. "We'd have get togethers…a bunch of us would rotate who cooked. " She glanced behind her and smiled. "When you have a group of critics like that, you learn fast."

"Ah." Dar nodded, then rested her chin on her fist. "My mother was a good cook." She mused. "I never learned, though.. I was… probably overly involved with sports and things of that sort when I was growing up.. we spent a lot of time on military bases too." She shrugged. "You tend to stick around the PX with the other brats.. and in the mil, you don't think housekeeping. "

Kerry heated up her wok, and poured a little oil in it. "Did you ever want to be in the military?"

Long silence. "Unfortunately, my father raised me to believe there wasn't anything I couldn't do." Dar finally answered, in a reflective voice. "In the military, there are qualifiers to that." Another long pause. "I wanted to do what he did."

Kerry nodded a little "They wouldn't let you?"

"I'm a girl." Dar answered, with a faintly sarcastic emphasis. "Hell.. " She sighed. "I know they have a point… I know they can't put mixed groups out in the field, at least not yet.. but.. " She shrugged. "Water under the bridge. At any rate, to answer your question… yes, I thought about it. I took the ASVAB when I was a junior in high school, and I got a lot of offers." She peered at the salt shaker on the table reflectively. "I just didn't think I had the self discipline to commit to that.. and do what everyone told me I had to do, rather than what I thought I should do." Her brows quirked. "And I was probably right."

"Mm." Kerry stirred the thinly sliced beef into the wok expertly. "Were your parents upset?"

The blue eyes took on a far off look. "My father was disappointed." She stated quietly. "I think my mother was relieved." She shook her head. "She was an artist… I never could figure out how those two hooked up."

"An artist?" Kerry tossed in the sauce, and stirred it. "Ah.. now I know where you get that doodling style from." She laughed. "I loved that one picture you made of that dog."

"I don't…." Dar stopped, and thought about it. "I guess I do." She admitted, a little sheepishly. "I never thought about that."

Kerry set a bowl of fragrant fried rice down, and put another of the stir fried beef next to it, then handed Dar two plates. "Here." She turned and retrieved the plum wine and a couple of glasses and brought them back to the table with her. "Well, the only talent in my family seems to be politics." She handed Dar a serving spoon. "And law… neither of which really sparked my imagination growing up."

The taller woman piled two plates with steaming rice and beef, and handed Kerry one. "What did spark your imagination?"

Kerry ate a few mouthfuls before she answered. "Books, mostly." She exhaled. "I did the usual things growing up.. my mother enrolled me in piano lessons, and in gymnastics… the one to give me culture, the other to give me what she called 'grace'." Kerry's lips twisted wryly. "I don't think either did much.. I never took to the piano, and I was, at best, a mediocre gymnast." She chewed thoughtfully. "I can play chopsticks."

Dar chuckled. "So can I.. if I use both hands and both feet, and you don't listen too closely." She smiled "This is great, by the way." She held up a forkful, then she paused to pour them both a glass of wine. "What kind of books do you like?"

Kerry took a sip of the wine. "You'll laugh.. but mostly science fiction…and some historical novels."

Dar gave her a puzzled look. "Why would I laugh? That's what most geeks like to read… myself included." She told her in a mild voice. "Not that I have time anymore." She added, with a sigh. "So what lead you into computers?"

"I didnít' want to end up an English teacher." Kerry replied wryly. "And I… well, I always had a liking for machinery.. I used to take apart things, you know… like phones and stuff." She laughed a bit. "When I got to college, I realized there was a computer science track that was pretty close to the general English track I was already on.. so I double majored." She paused, and took another sip of wine. "What about you?" It was, she suddenly realized, the first time they'd just sat down and talked about personal stuff, and she was surprised at how comfortable she felt.

Dar bit a piece of beef in half and chewed it. "What about me? Well…I was always interested in programming… that's what I studied in school.. but somewhere along the way, I decided all those lines of code just couldn't hold my interest." She reflected a moment. "Wasn't enough of a challenge.. so I went into system analysis and design.. and from there, into engineering and operations."

"Luckily for us." Kerry smiled.

"Opinions on that vary. " Dar replied, dryly, as she drained her glass and poured a second. "Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it." She toyed with the cup. "I spend a lot of time ignoring the cuts and digs, but it gets old sometimes."

Kerry got up, and took their empty plates, setting them in the sink then returning to put her hands on Dar's shoulders. "I kind of got that feeling…." She tried, but couldn't keep herself from leaning forward, and only barely kept herself from gently kissing Dar's sleek head. "So if you start getting complaints that your assistant is whacking people for saying nasty things about you, don't be surprised."

Dar was touched, and she eased back, pressing her body against the blond woman's, and gazing up at her with a slight smile. "That's sweet of you, Kerry… but I don't think it'll do much good." She lifted a hand and covered the one on her right shoulder, squeezing it gently. "Not that I don't appreciate the thought, though."

Kerry drank in her closeness. "It'll make me feel better." She objected softly. "Really." She looked down into the pale blue eyes, and saw a softening there, making her give in to her craving and bend her head, finding Dar's waiting lips with unerring accuracy. A touch traveled up her arm, softly stroking and Kerry felt her body respond to it, as she closed her eyes, and let the gentle probing and tasting continue.

It felt so good…she could feel Dar's fingers slipping up past her elbow and brushing against her side, making her breathing catch. She felt short of breath and her heart started to pound as she eased her own hands lower, touching bare skin.

Everything shifted then as Dar unexpectedly slid an arm around her waist, and tugged her down. Kerry found herself in the dark haired woman's lap with those strong arms wrapping around her and every inch of her body tingling in pure reaction. Her own arms slid up around Dar's neck, then one started traveling down, moving across the slope of her neck muscles, and down her shoulder.

Dar knew she should slow down and take it easy, but her body wouldn't stop it's gentle contact and her hands moved of their own accord, stroking and exploring the warm curves of the body tucked into her arms with insatiable curiosity. She could feel Kerry's breathing deepen and go ragged and her own wasn't doing much better. Easy… easy.. not yet… She lightened up on the intensity and felt Kerry do the same, until they broke off, and Kerry buried her face against Dar's shoulder. "Whoa." She wrapped her arms around the blond woman's body and held her, rubbing her back gently. "Easy there."

"Whew." Kerry muttered, feeling her heartbeat start to slow. "That was intense." She decided being embarrassed at this point would be kind of ridiculous, so she lifted her head, and just looked at Dar. "This is not going according to plan."

Both dark eyebrows lifted teasingly. "It's not?" Dar protested mildly. "I thought it was working out pretty well." She still had her arms around Kerry, but now she loosened her grasp and backed off a little.

"No.. um… that's not what I.. uh." She gave up. "We were supposed to go to the movie first." She explained wryly, reaching up and pushing back a bit of Dar's dark hair.

"Oh…oh.. right." Dar nodded in understanding. "But other than that?"

"Mm…." Kerry exhaled slowly. "You know.. I did a lot of reading.. they didn't mention the fireworks going off in any of it." Her fingers trailed down Dar's cheek. "It's kind of scary." Her breath caught as Dar captured her hand, and nibbled her palm. "But nice."

"Okay…." Dar considered. "Is this making you uncomfortable?"

A shy smile. "No." Kerry shook her head. "But I bet it's making you uncomfortable… I must be squishing you."

Dar squeezed her, then patted her hip. "Hadn't noticed." She confessed. "Don't worry about squashing me… I'm a big girl.. I can take it." She let her hand move down Kerry's thigh. "You want to go see the movie?"

It was scary. Kerry was nervous, but she appreciated the fact that Dar was willing to let her go at her pace, and wasn't pushing.. wasn't.. forcing. A grim memory filled her mind, and she had to take a moment, and force it out before she could consider further. "Well… I..um.. I have Escape from New York and some microwave popcorn here… we could improvise."

Dar grinned, a smile that lit up her very blue eyes and made the skin next to them crinkle "Oh.. I like that idea." She agreed. "And dinner was great… thank you, by the way."

"Mm." Kerry gazed at her. "Glad you liked it." She responded, not taking her eyes from Dar's. They sat quietly like that for a moment, then Kerry cleared her throat. "I guess I have to get up to get that movie, huh." She regretfully untangled herself from Dar's grip and stood, taking a deep breath as she moved away from the seductive warmth. Dar followed her into the living room, and she gave her a little tour, mostly to settle her own nerves down. "This is Scully and Mulder.. and their little friends the Lone Gunmen. " Kerry sprinkled a little food in the tank.

"Let me guess.. Mulder and Scully are the gouramies." Dar laughed. "Kissing gouramies, if I'm not mistaken."

"Uh huh." Kerry grinned, and watched their antics. "What can I tell you.. I'm a sucker for a good romance." The blond woman shrugged. "Silly, I guess."

Dar rubbed her back. "Nah…I think they're cute…though I thought they copped out in that movie." She chuckled. "And I gotta tell you.. the entire movie theatre I was in cracked up laughing when they said FEMA was behind the great government conspiracy."

"That wasn't a funny part." Kerry's brows creased in puzzlement.

"It was if you went through Hurricane Andrew down here and had to watch them work." Dar informed her. "Trust me.. if they were in charge of the conspiracy, those damn aliens would have gone home in disgust waiting for fresh water to be delivered."

Kerry laughed, and bumped her with an elbow. "I have that movie too, if you're interested." She got out the other videotape and turned the television on, then tossed Dar the remote. "I'll go get some popcorn."

Dar was left momentarily alone, and she took the time to study the apartment. It was bright, and very unlike hers… there were personal knick knacks everywhere, including several stuffed animals, and a set of diplomas on the wall. One was from college, and the other her certification affidavit. A small trophy attested to Kerry's debating skill, and there was a bookshelf against the wall which held an assortment of paper and hard back books, a mixture of fiction, and computer manuals.

It was a cheerful place, the comfortable couch was in a nice shade of light salmon, and the rug was a pale cream, lending a sense of lightness to the interior that Dar found very soothing. A door to the left obviously lead to the bedroom, and the was a small bathroom on the other side of the kitchen. There was a sense of cleanliness and order that Dar found very characteristic of Kerry, and she decided she felt comfortable being here.

The scent of freshly popped popcorn attracted her attention and she turned as Kerry reentered the room, carrying a large bowl and a pitcher. She set both down on the coffee table, and got two glasses. "Okay.. I think we're set." She glanced at Dar, who was seated comfortably on the couch, and hesitated.

With a quiet smile, Dar patted the cushion next to her and waited for Kerry to settle herself before she reached over and turned the lights down a little and started the movie.

Kerry held out for all of the time it took for the opening credits before she snuggled closer to Dar, leaning against her body as the taller woman put an arm around her shoulders. With a sigh of contentment, she pulled the popcorn over, and set it half on her lap, half on Dar's, as they shared the contents.

Much nicer than the theatre, she decided, popping a kernel into her mouth, then snagging another, and glancing up. Dar chose that moment to look down, and Kerry smiled, then held the popcorn up to her lips, stifling a giggle when the dark haired woman snapped her teeth down on it and caught her fingers as well. "Hey!"

Dar slowly released her hold, then chewed the popcorn, with a little waggle of her eyebrows. That got her another piece, which she held between her teeth, as she looked questioningly at the blond woman.

Oh. A game. Kerry pulled herself up and took half the piece, letting their lips brush. That tasted so good she decided to try it, and Dar obliged by reciprocating.

They went back and forth a few times, until Kerry forgot to take a piece and just went for Dar's lips instead. She was curled up on her own couch, in her own apartment, and she felt very safe. Safe enough to forget the movie, and concentrate on the sleek body under her fingertips instead as she allowed her hands to slip down Dar's neck while the taller woman's free hand curled around her side.

This time she wasn't afraid, or embarrassed.. or…she felt adventurous, that was what. It was like diving into something new, and exciting, and she found herself more intrigued than anxious. Dar was a good kisser, she decided, as they gently explored each other. A hand stroked her side, and she shifted a little as the touch shifted and brushed gently against her breasts.

That was an interesting sensation. Her body liked that.. she felt a slow building of sensation and her skin became very sensitive, and when Dar's fingertips touched the bare flesh at the neck of her shirt a soft sound of encouragement escaped her.

Dar's lips nibbled hers then moved away a little. "You doing all right?" She murmured in Kerry's ear, brushing the soft lobe with her tongue.

"Great." She managed to respond.

"You want to keep going?" Dar inquired, running a finger down her cleavage.

A moment of fear, of uncertainty. "I… I donít know if I…know what to do." Kerry replied softly, as she found herself drawn to the smooth skin of Dar's neck, and she nibbled it softly.

"You're doing pretty good so far." The dark haired woman confessed. "It's all right.. I'll show you."

Kerry felt her way down Dar's body, smoothing her fingers across the curve of her breasts. "Show me." She breathed, surrendering as she felt a pull against her, and she found herself stretching out on her side on the couch with Dar gently supporting her. The dark haired woman settled next to her and captured her lips again, letting one hand travel down her body, and tug her shirt free of her belt. Kerry felt the sudden electric thrill as the warm fingers touched her skin and traced a teasing line up her midsection, from her belly button up to the bottom of her bra. Her muscles contracted in sheer reaction, and she found herself plucking at the buttons on Dar's shirt, getting two of them undone which gave her access to smooth flesh that she wanted nothing more than to touch, and stroke and….

She felt a trickle of cool air as her shirt was raised, then heat replaced it as Dar's lips found their way down her throat and her body arched under her touch, a need building in her stronger than anything she'd ever felt before.

The pressure of her clothing seemed unbearable, and she almost cried out when she felt Dar loosen her belt. She felt chilled for an instant after she slipped the denim off, then a rapid heat consumed her as her legs were tangled with the taller woman's and long fingers stroked up the inside of her bare thigh.

It was like an explosion inside her. She lost track of where she was, she only knew that a pressure was building, a pressure that centered itself around Dar's touch, and the movement of her lips and the steady, knowing coaxing movement that brought her closer, and closer, and finally sent her crashing over the top, in a shudder of sensation so powerful every muscle in her body clenched and shuddered.

She could hardly breathe, her body convulsed again and again until it slowly relaxed, drawn on by Dar's gentle, easy motions. Kerry was shaking, and her hands clutched feebly at Dar, who wrapped long arms and legs around her, and was whispering quiet reassurances.

"Shh… easy." Dar stroked her hair, a little startled at the responsiveness of the smaller woman. "Easy.. I've got you." A physical relationship was always awkward for a while, Dar knew, until people got used to each other. But Kerry had… damn, it was like she just knew all the right spots to…Wow. She watch the blond head slowly nestled against her shoulder and she wrapped her arms a little tighter, bringing their mostly bare bodies closer together. "You all right?"

Sea green eyes drifted open and gazed half lidded at her as Kerry nodded faintly. Her hand slowly moved up and down Dar's side absently, sending tingles up and down her spine.

"Fulfill your expectations?" The executive inquired, moving the disordered hair out of her companion's face.

Kerry moved her touch lower, tracing a series of circles across Dar's abdomen and shook her head a little. "I had no… I didn't know what to expect.. but…um… you know, Dar…I really, really liked that." She ducked her head and nipped at the soft skin on Dar's breast, watching her body react to it. "Now.. I wonder… " She slid a little closer, wanting the contact and feeling the taller woman's breathing catch. "Let's see if I can… " She nibbled across the surface of Dar's breast, then let her hands roam, exploring the shape and curves of her and letting her imagination take over.

Dar was so much taller than she was, it was hard to get everywhere. But she managed, pulling a tortured groan out when she used her teeth to good effect, tasting Dar's skin in place after place and starting with touches at first tentative, then more confident until she felt Dar's body convulse and the dark haired woman grabbed hold of her with an almost painful strength.

She could hear Dar's heartbeat thundering against her ear, and she gently stroked her as they snuggled into each other's arms and just rested. It was peaceful.

It was familiar, in a way that Kerry really didn't understand. But she knew that right here, safe in Dar's arms, she'd found something very special.

Well. Kerry felt a delighted surprise. Yahoo, you didn't really have a clue. She took a deep breath of Dar's scent and exhaled in deep content. She glanced up, smiling in reflex at the half smile on the taller woman's face, as she gazed back at her peacefully.

Something was nibbling at the back of her tongue, wanting to be said, and she just couldnít nudge it forward. It was something she felt when she looked at Dar. Something that came from deep within her, a truth of the heart her mind just wasn't ready to look at yet.

Oh well. It would come to her. "Thanks… that was pretty awesome."

Dar gazed at her, a little half puzzled, half incredulous smile on her face. "Likewise…" She murmured. Boy.. did she ever have my number…when was the last time that ever happened? Luck? She examined Kerry's dreamy expression, almost getting lost in it. Whatever…She kissed the blond woman's forehead and sighed contentedly.

Guess I did okay. Kerry mused giddily. Wow. It felt wonderful. She glanced up at the angular face and saw interested blue eyes blinking back at her. A warm feeling re-ignited in her guts. "Hey.." She nuzzled a bit of soft, tanned skin. "That bathroom over there has a whirlpool in it.. you interested?" One finger idly traced a rib, then moved upward..

Dar chuckled, low and deep in her chest, capturing her finger with white teeth and sucking the tip of it. She had a feeling it was going to be long night.

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

It wasn't a dream. Dar heard the faint beep of her pager alarm, and she reached over, pressing the button that would turn the thing off, then she returned her arm to it's place around Kerry and let out a tiny sigh. It wasn't a dream, not this time.

This time it was real. No strange forest view, or unknown cabin.. just herself, and Kerry, and a feeling of quiet pleasure that touched something down inside her soul. It felt so nice to wake up with someone. She'd forgotten what that was like, almost.

No. She had forgotten. Deliberately.

It was dark out, and Dar knew she didn't have a lot of time left, before she had to leave, and drive home, to change before she was expected at the office. She stifled a yawn, and let her eyes drift closed for a few minutes, reveling in the solid, sleeping warmth of her companion, their limbs tangled together as they snuggled together in the middle of Kerry's bed.

The bath last night had turned into another long session of intimate exploration, and when they relaxed at last, tired but satisfied, Kerry had simply wrapped herself around Dar's taller body, and turned off the light.

Dar could think of a handful of reasons she should have left, but none of them could override the reason why she stayed.

Because Kerry wanted her to. So she'd pulled the covers up over them, surrounded by the clean, sweet scent of the fresh linens, and allowed herself to slip into a deep sleep Which was great, except here she was now, not wanting to budge out of the warm spot she was in and get moving.

Dar sighed, then she opened her eyes and started to straighten her body, hearing a soft murmur of protest from her blond companion. Kerry took a tighter hold on her. "Hey… " Dar whispered softly in the pink ear near her chin. "Time to get up, kiddo."

"Uhrm." Kerry protested incoherently.

Dar rubbed her back gently. "Kerrrrrrryy.."

A sleepy green eye peered up at her. The lashes blinked, then the other eye appeared as Kerry realized where she was. "Oh. Hi.. sorry. " A charming smile gleamed in the faint light coming into the window from the streetlamp outside. "Guess I should let you go, huh?" The blond woman said softly.

Dar hugged her, then released her hold. "Take me a while to get across to the island, then back… and I have a meeting with Jose and Eleanor at nine."

"Mmm." Kerry gave her a squeeze, then reluctantly moved away, curling up on sheets suddenly cold against her naked body. "I'm supposed to visit the MTC today… they're having town halls."

"Have fun." Dar told her, reaching out and stroking her face gently. "You feeling okay?"

Kerry captured her hand, and nibbled it. "I feel great, thanks… how about you?"

The dark haired woman smiled. "Never felt better." She glanced at the clock. "I better get going.. if I stick around here much longer, we'll both be late. " She paused, then rolled over, and slipped her hand around the back of Kerry's neck, kissing her slowly, but thoroughly.

They parted reluctantly, and Kerry closed her eyes, nuzzling the hand she still clasped in her own. "Oh sure… now just leave me here." She teased.

Dar yawned, then rubbed her face. "Believe me, if I had a choice, I wouldn't." She responded offhandedly. "But I think someone would notice if we both didn't show up for work."

Kerry snorted softly. "Someone? Jesus… " She fell silent. "We have to be careful, donít we?"

Dar remained silent, thinking for a bit. "Careful, but not too careful." She responded, propping her head up on one hand. "I have to admit I've never had to… " She paused. "Okay, I think we need to just act normally."

Kerry nibbled her fingertips. "Really?"

Her boss muffled a chuckle. "I don't think we should hide the fact that we're friends, I mean… or that we do the occasional thing after work with each other. If we try to convince everyone we hardly know each other, it's not gonna work."

"Probably not." Kerry acknowledged.

"There's going to be talk." Dar exhaled. "No matter what… does that bother you?"

The green eyes unfocused a little as Kerry considered. "It's a little intimidating…I know how nasty those people can be… I'm not sure how I'm going to react to that if I get it in the face." She admitted quietly.

"Mmm." Dar mused. "Well… I always found it's best not to deny anything." She commented. "When people insinuate things, I just smile at them."

"Smile?" Kerry's brows knit.

Dar demonstrated, producing a sexy, knowing grin.

"Oh." The blond woman muffled a laugh.

"Yeah… they're never really sure what to do with that." Dar replied with a smirk. "The more you tell people something isn't happening, the more they think it is…if you just laugh at them, they're not expecting that."

"Hmm." Kerry nodded. "That makes a lot of sense…is that your trick? All that self confidence?"

A slow nod in agreement. "If I believe in myself, everyone else tends to." She answered. "No one will say anything outright, but they'll insinuate." She chewed her lip. "You could also try the old standard of asking them exactly what they mean… that you donít understand what they're asking."

A nod. "Okay… I think I can do that." Kerry replied, hesitantly.

Dar studied her with a sense of quiet regret. "Kerry… if it's going to be too much… we'll think of something else." She told the younger woman softly. "I… I don't want this to be tough on you."

Kerry shook her head negatively. "No… no.. it's all right…it just takes a little getting used to…I'm not really good at hiding things." She chewed her lip. "But I'll be okay…I never thought I'd… " She paused, thinking hard. "Dar, I really like you."

"Well.. I kinda hoped so." Dar gave her a wistful little smile. "I kinda hoped it wasn't just that you thought it would be good for your career." She maintained a half joking air, but there was pain behind the statement.

Kerry heard it, and gently touched her cheek. "You didn't really think that, did you?"

Dar dropped her gaze to the sheets, and traced a little design there. She shrugged. "It's happened before." She acknowledged quietly.

God, if I could find the person who did that, I'd take a cocktail fork and poke them so full of holes… Kerry exhaled. "That's not what I'm about." She stated. "That's not…" Dar wouldn't meet her eyes. "I'd rather you fire me right now than have you think that." She paused. "In fact, I'm not going to give you the option.. I'm resigning."

Startled blue eyes lifted. "Kerry.. wait… that's not what I.."

"I mean it." Kerry stated quietly. "I can get a job working for Colleen's place… " She started to scramble out of bed, visibly upset. "I am not going to have you thinking the only reason I.."

"Kerry.. "

"No!" The blond woman replied sharply. "Is that really what… Jesus Christ." She headed for the door, anger in the set of her body.

Dar somehow managed to intercept her, catching her gently by the shoulders and turning her around. "Hey." Kerry was shaking, and she could see the beginnings of tears in her eyes. "Wait a minute." A pause. "Please." The blond woman stilled, and just looked at her. "That's not what I thought about you. If it was, I never would have gone this far again." It was a stark, blunt statement. "Believe me."

She felt the tension relax in Kerry's shoulders. "I don't want you to go. I don't want you to quit…I finally found someone I can trust, who can take some of this job off my shoulders.. if I lose that now, I…" Dar paused, and sighed. "It wont' be good."

Kerry blew out a breath, and put a tentative hand out, stroking the soft skin on the taller woman's belly. "This complicates everything." She admitted, falling silent for a long moment while Dar merely waited. "I'd rather lose my job than…" She paused awkwardly. "Than lose you." Kerry focused her gaze on Dar's collarbone. "Jesus.. you must think that sounds so damn naive."

Dar gently put her arms around her and pulled her close. "No." Her voice was very quiet. "Not at all." It was, she knew, a big risk. But Dar had always followed her instincts, and her instincts were telling her Kerry could be trusted, despite what had happened before, and despite the odds against it. "Weíll work things out…it'll be okay, Kerry… I.. I promise… it'll be okay."

The blond woman let her forehead fall forward to rest against Dar's shoulder. She really didn't want to leave the company. She really didn't want to leave Dar, sensing that the executive truly wanted her to stay. "Okay." She looked up in the dim light, seeing Dar's features barely outlined as lines of gold and silver, and the splash of crystal that were her eyes. "I'll try."

She tilted her head as Dar bent her neck and kissed her, welcoming the soft brush of her lips and the tingle as their bodies moved together. It was so incredible…she'd never expected it to feel like this.. not this deep and wild hunger that robbed her of breath and dignity and made her want to rub up against Dar like a cat in heat. The taller woman's hands slowly moved down her sides and around her back, and she utter a soft moan against Dar's lips.

Echoed by it's twin, as the dark haired woman stepped back a little, and stroked the side of her face. "We keep this up, and I'm not gonna make it into work." She sighed, regretfully.

Kerry patted her arm and gave her a wry look. "Uh… yeah… I think I need a shower myself." She paused. "A cold shower." Muttered as an afterthought.

Dar chuckled and gave her a light kiss on the top of her head. "Go on… I'll let myself out." She advised. "See you in the office?"

"You bet." Kerry nodded. "I'll bring pastalitos." She grinned at the way Dar's eyes lit up, then the executive winked, and padded out of the room, the light from the street lamp sliding in shadows over her naked form. Kerry heard her slip her clothes on as the younger woman let the shower run, then the soft click as the door closed.

"Whoa." Kerry leaned against the wash basin, and gazed at her reflection soberly. Surely it was the same person who had looked back at her the previous morning. The same almost babyish, slightly rounded face. The same green eyes.

Why did she feel so different, then?

Well, okay.. so it was the first time she'd ever made love to a woman. And if she had to pick a first, Dar certainly was a good one… she was experienced, but gentle, passionate yet playful. So it was a great experience.

Then why were her knees shaking? Why did it feel like butterflies were clustered inside her stomach? She thought of Dar, and felt a fierce blast of emotion grab her, making her lean forward in surprise. What in the hell was going on with her?

"C'mon, Kerrison… get your act together… and take a shower. You've got work to do." She sighed, trudging towards the gently steaming water, shocked to find herself seriously considering not getting in it to avoid washing away Dar's lingering scent. "Good grief." She sighed, and forced herself forward. "I think I'm losing my mind."

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

"Morning, Maria." Dar leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes, as the warm sunlight poured in her window. She was showered and dressed, and on the ferry heading over to the mainland, and only a few minutes later than she usually was. Not bad.

"Buenos Dias, Dar." Her secretary's voice answered. "I have a note here from Mr. Draefus…is there a report you were supposed to send to him last night?"

Oh shit. Dar almost slapped her forehead in dismay. "I have it here.. I'm… still reviewing it, Maria. " She unzipped her laptop case and booted the machine. "I had some problems with some of the.. uh… he has some.. " Her eyes flicked over the report, as the ferry made the long, slow turn into the dock. "Yeah.. he has some addendum's here that don't make sense. "

"I'll tell him, Dar.. that you're not done with it yet. " Maria told her. "Okay?"

"Yeah… I'll send it over when I get in and dock." Dar skimmed the rest of the report. "Uh.. I have a set of statistics I need copied for my nine o'clock… they're in my outbox. Can you take care of that?"

"Surely." Her secretary assured her.

"Okay.. thanks.. I've gotta get off the ferry here." Dar mumbled, as she shifted gears and started the car forward. "I'll see you in a few minutes, Maria."

"Drive carefully, Dar. " Maria stated, as usual. "There are crazy people out there."

Uh huh. Dar maneuvered the Lexus off the ferry and out onto the street, turning left onto the causeway, silently berating herself for forgetting Duk's report. "C'mon, Dar… snap out of it… you've got a division to run, here." She shook her head.

The short drive gave her time to focus her thoughts, and by the time she pulled into the building parking lot, she'd managed to put her mind to the problems of the day, and set aside the distracting wonder of the night before.

Almost.

She ran her fingers through her dark hair as she entered the offices, crossing to elevators in time to join Duks as he held the door for her. "Morning, Duks." She gave him a quick look. "I've got some issues with that report…. I'll copy you on them when I get in."

"Fair enough." Duks leaned back against the elevator wall. "Be careful in that meeting this morning.. I hear Jose has some tricks up his sleeve. He's trying to push those government accounts.. to lower the margin on them."

Dar snorted softly. "Someday he'll learn quantity doesnít do crap for you if don't make money on it." She shifted her laptop a little. "He didn't learn from that Olympics fiasco?"

Duks sighed, and shook his head. "Not hardly… hey, listen… Mariana thought she'd get together a few folks for an evening out at Monty's this Friday… you interested?"

Dar glanced at him, slightly puzzled. Usually Mariana did her own group announcements. "Um… I don't think I have plans.. sure… tell her to drop me a note when she finalizes."

"Okay." Duks agreed amiably. "She thought she'd ask Mark Polenti, Barbara.. and.. hey, she did mention.. you think Kerry would be interested?"

Ah Dar managed to restrict her reaction to a faint shrug. "How would I know? Ask her…she never claimed a seafood allergy or a fear of the ocean, so… "

"Will do." The Financial VP assured her. "Mariana says she's a nice kid…after all, she tolerates you, so she'd probably make a fun addition to the group."

Dar chuckled dryly. "I'm sure she'll be flattered to be asked. " She held the door open for Duks to go out before her.

"Well, Mariana wanted to be sure… that you wouldn't mind, first… after all, you have to work with her… you might not want to spend off hours with the kid."

She almost.. almost.. burst into helpless laughter. "Ah… what's one night?" She managed to get out, biting off a grin. "Nah, she's fine… she's got some good ideas, and speaks her mind. Nice change."

"Good to hear." Duks gave her a nod. "See you for lunch?"

The dark haired woman gave a half shrug. "Depends on how long winded Jose is." She gave her friend a little wave. "I'll call you when I get out." She opened the outer door, and slipped inside. "Hello, Maria."

The short woman glanced up from the phone call she was on and waved, then held out a sheaf of papers to her in silence. Dar walked over and took them, then continued on into her office. She closed the door behind her and moved across the carpet, stopping as she glanced at her desk. Centered on the top of it was a small plate, containing several pastries, neatly arranged, along with a covered cup. Dar felt a smile shape her lips, as she continued on around the desk and sat down, flipping on her desktop and putting down her laptop case. She selected a pastry and bit into it with pleasure. It was still warm, and she enjoyed the taste, along with the sweet coffee in the cup.

As soon as her computer finished coming up, she clicked on the corporate instant messaging software she hardly ever used, and keyed in Kerry's network address.

"Thanks for the pastries.. how'd you know which ones I like?"

She typed in, and hit enter. A few more bites, and the response came back.

"Easy. I picked the ones unhealthiest ones I could find."

Dar chuckled wryly.

"Good guess." She sent back. "They're great."

She clicked on her mail, then sent Duks back a copy of his report with a few notes. After a few minutes of review, and the rest of the pastries, she got another message.

"I'm heading out to the MTC.. anything you need taken care of first?"

"Nope… good luck, and have fun. " Dar sent back. "If you're back around lunch, drop by."

She set the papers Maria had given to her down, and started reviewing them, circling things in a bright purple pen that the sales managers had learned to detest with a deep and abiding passion. The phone buzzed. "Yes?"

"Dar, General Easton on numero dos."

She glanced at the phone, then punched the button. "Hello, Gerry."

"Hellloooooo Dar." The general's robust voice came through the phone. "Just wanted you to know, that flight was pure negligence. A pity, but nothing to do with you, my friend."

Dar nodded quietly to herself. "Wanted to make sure it was all right, Ger… Senator Stuart's daughter was on the flight as well, and he had some concerns in that regard. "

A low whistle. "Wow.. intelligence didn't pick that up at all.. howinthehell did you know about it?"

"She's my assistant." Dar told him, dryly. "It wasn't that hard." She circled another discrepancy with her pen and chuckled to herself. It was going to be an enjoyable meeting.

Easton laughed. "And here you had me marveling at your damn comprehensive detail orientation… that's rich… you hired that bastard's kid? Politically nice, Dar.. very nice." His voice was approving. "Never hurts to have a friend up on Mount Olympus."

Oh yes.. he'd looovvvvee me. Dar bit her lip to keep from smiling. Hello, Senator Conservative as grass grows up from Michigan.. I'm dating your daughter. Nice ta meet ya.. whoops.. watch that ground there as you fall over.. it's a little hard. "Yeah, well.. that wasn't a consideration, but I do have to keep it in mind."

Easton chuckled. "Whatever you say.. listen, you up for a visit over Turkey day? I've got an extra spot at the table, with your name on it."

Dar hesitated, playing with her pen. Kerry would, she knew, be home in Michigan over that whole weekend. The thought of staying alone in her condo was suddenly very unappealing. "Gerry, I'd like that." She replied quietly. "Thanks."

His smile could be heard through the phone. "Fantastic… I'll tell the wife.. she'll be thrilled." He paused. "And so will my kid… see you Wednesday night?"

"Sure." Dar agreed. "I'll make the arrangements… thanks again, Gerry."

He hung up, and she sat back, considering. Kerry's family was going to put a lot of pressure on her when she was home, Dar reasoned, though the younger woman had been very reluctant to discuss her family with Dar.

Well, Washington was a lot closer to Michigan than Miami was.

Just in case.

She pushed the intercom. "Maria?"

"Si?"

"I need a plane ticket to Washington National the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.. coming back that Sunday."

"Aie.. it's late for that, Dar… one ticket?"

Dark brows drew together. What an odd question. "Yes, one ticket.. General Easton invited me out there for the holidays.. I know it's going to be pricey. Just do the best you can."

"I'll take care of it, Dar." Maria clicked the intercom and she went back to her report, finding a flagrant lie and pouncing on it with a chuckle of glee. "Ah…Jose.. I have your cojones in my right hand, can't you feel me squeezing?"


 Continued in Part 10