Iron Rose Bleeding

Chapter 10

Anne Azel

To: Inga, Lisa, and Susan, thanks for your help.

The Anne Azel's World web site is now found at

Note To The Reader: All the information used in this story about trends and concerns on our planet is current and accurate data. In the next fifty years, our world will change completely.

These are the events as we know them.

We recorded them factually and objectively.

And now we report them to you.

Courtney lay in bed staring at the light patterns on the ceiling. She was still in shock. Tap's sudden announcement that she would be dating her to see where their physical attraction would lead them had left Courtney, for the first time in her life, totally speechless. Such practical and honest declarations are rare and so few people, including Courtney Hunter, knew how to properly respond.

Courtney wondered what the hell was going on here and what had she got herself into. She was forced to admit that it was her strong attraction to Taylor Alexandria Punga that had drawn her into the situation where she now found herself. Now, having spent time with Tap, she had come to realize that Tap was well beyond her league. The thought of being dated by Tap was both irresistibly fascinating and absolutely terrifying. Courtney still had no idea who or what Tap was but she did realize that she was immensely rich, brilliant, and powerful. She had the money, resources, and connections to make even the most powerful figures in the world fear her. Why was she interested in ordinary Courtney Hunter? It just didn't make sense.

Warning bells were going off loud and clear and Courtney had to admit that she was good and scared. With a shaky hand, she touched her finger tips to her lips. Tap's kiss had been so gentle and soft yet it had sent all the right messages and Court's body ached to respond. It was these raw desires that would win out over logic and reason.

Tap too had laid awake for a very long time. It had been a new experience kissing Courtney. A devastating experience. Tap felt shaken to the core of her being. Never had she imagined that the physical contact with another woman could be so powerful an experience. Her lips had barely touched the soft, warmth of Courtney's when her whole world had tilted. She felt her body respond as if it had suddenly woken into a new dimension of feeling, which in fact it had. She found herself now wet and hot with desire like an animal in heat. It was both shocking and wonderful all at once.

Her decision to date Courtney was going to threaten everything. Perhaps even bring her downfall. She was well aware that informants would have already passed the disturbing news on to her brother but she simply didn't care. All she really wanted to do was to go over and knock on Courtney's door so that she could be invited in. What would it be like to sleep next to this woman? To have sex? Tap groaned with need and tossed her pillow across the room in frustration and anger with herself for being so weak.

The next day, Courtney had to struggle hard to keep focused and take in any of the information that she was hearing. The presence of Tap beside her was almost physically draining. That morning, Courtney had been woken with a gentle kiss. Tap had laid a bouquet of roses on her bed and told her she needed to get up. But at breakfast, which they had in their suite, Tap had read the morning papers, sharing them politely with Court but saying little.

Court would have liked to discuss what had happened the night before and set some ground rules but clearly this was not the time. So she had waited. They had ridden in silence to the meeting keeping to their own sides of the bench seat in the limo and once there the day had followed the same structure as the day before.

It was the afternoon lecture by the United Nations' representative of the Council on World Poverty that at last made Courtney focus. The figures were shocking. Courtney had already read a few papers referring to the coming world population crisis but here was the actual data presented in a very scary manner. Countries such as Pakistan, India, Columbia, Brazil, Bangladesh were already experiencing crisis situations in some areas. Canada's population density was only 2.5 people per square mile yet India's was 233.1 people per square mile. It had taken the world 12,000 years to increase its population to one billion humans but at the current rate of growth, the world's population will go from five billion to six billion people in only eight years. Bangladesh and Vietnam would double its population in less than thirty years, Ghana in less than twenty years. Already the strain on the world food supply had reached critical proportions. Twenty years ago, the world maintained a five year surplus of food, today that margin of safety had been reduced to just months. The impact this growing crisis was going to have on the global economy was staggering.

It was a very sober Courtney who slid into the seat beside Tap that evening. "You are tired?" Tap asked.

"No, overwhelmed by the staggering extent of the problems facing the world in the next few years," sighed Courtney.

"Do you wish to change your assessment of your bleeding iron rose?" Tap asked, watching Courtney intently. Body language and expression are a far greater indication of feeling than words.

"No, no,"Courtney answered slowly, deep in thought. "But I am beginning to realize that the solutions are going to mean very hard decisions and not everyone in this world will survive this crisis. Twenty years down the road, the world will be completely different than it is to day."

Tap's brief smile expressed a far deeper understanding of what lay ahead, but she chose not to share that knowledge. Courtney did not see Tap again that day. Tap informed her briefly that she had business to attend to that night and that a meal would be sent to Courtney's room. "Please do not try to escape," Tap had stated bluntly, but the threat was somehow not as strong because Tap had raised an eyebrow and smiled.

Still, as Courtney ate her solitary meal in their suite, she was very aware that she was indeed a prisoner. She suspected that she would not get far if she was to try to leave the hotel. Just to assert some independence she spent her meal thinking of possible ways to escape. Then, with a sigh, she had settled down to do some more reading. Much more of this and her eyeballs were going to fall out.

Courtney woke to find the sunlight playing across her bed. The smell of coffee and fresh bread drifted through the door. Groggily, Court looked at the clock and was shocked to see that it was almost nine o'clock. Then she saw the note. 'You are very beautiful when you sleep. Your face is so innocent and young. Today, instead of flying back, we will go sight seeing. TAP. Perhaps not the most romantic of notes but it was special to Courtney because she knew that Tap had meant it to be caring. She smiled softly, folded the note and carefully put it away safely inside her briefcase. Then she slipped from the bed and headed to the bathroom.

It was a beautiful day and Tap did her best to be a good guide. Her sense of presence and tall, straight bearing seemed to part the crowds of tourists wherever they went. The shorter Courtney followed gratefully in her boss's wake. They went first to the Vitale Vaticano. Tap explained that Vatican City had many outstanding art galleries and museums of art and artifacts collected or donated to the church over the centuries.

"It would be impossible sadly for us to see and do justice to all the fine works that are on display here. There are Egyptian, Gregorian and Etruscan treasures. There is the antiquarium that houses the Roman antiques and then there is the vase collection, the tapestries, the maps, and Raphael's works, and..."

"Please Tap," Courtney laughed cutting into the list that threatened to go on for some time. "Can we see the Sistine Chapel? I have always wanted to view it."

Tap smiled. "A good choice for such a brief visit. Although it is a magnificent work and one could spend days looking at it, sadly the crowds make it less than the spiritual experience it should be."

"Do you like art, Tap? I noticed in the room...aah..where you found me that you had a some significant work from the turn of the century."

Tap's eyebrow rose in amusement. "You wouldn't be referring to the room I found you in the day you broke into my quarters, would you? Maybe I should count to see if they are all there."

Courtney blushed. "Very funny!" She might have taken offence at Tap's teasing but just then Tap took Courtney's arm and they made their way through the press of tourists to the ticket booth. The simple touch was almost too intense to bear. They moved apart again as soon as they could, both a little embarrassed by how deeply they had reacted.

"Two please," Tap managed to get out through a throat suddenly tight with emotion.

"26 lira." Tap handed over the money and took the tickets.

"I could pay," Courtney stated, as Tap checked the time of their tour.

Eyes the colour of the Caribbean Sea trained on her. "Courtney Hunter, this is a date I am taking you on and so I must pay. Besides I am rich and you have no money."

Courtney put her hands on her hips and looked up at Tap in mock annoyance. "So who said you get to be the butch?"she challenged.

The look of total surprise on Tap's face almost made Courtney laugh out loud but she felt a point needed to be made here right at the beginning. Dating your boss was a difficult situation to be in.

"And I do have some savings. It probably wouldn't seem much to you but I can afford a ticket or two."

Tap shifted from one foot to another feeling just a little uncomfortable. The truth was that Courtney's money had disappeared along with her identity by Tap's order. "I think I am much better suited for the role," Tap stated, totally floored that Courtney would question her natural authority.

"Do you? Well, you are wrong. If we are going to have a relationship it has to be on an equal footing," Courtney explained, determination written all over her face, holding her ground as a stream of tourists broke around them.

Tap tried in frustration to explain her position without revealing anything to her trainee. "I am your boss."

"Granted. And until my training period is up, I have agreed to accept your authority over me. Even to the ridiculous point of being kept virtually a prisoner. But outside of that boss-trainee relationship we have also decided to explore an emotional relationship. That must be on an equal footing or I am not interested."

"You broke into my quarters because you were interested," Tap pointed out to her, with growing annoyance.

Court snorted in disgust and rolled her eyes to the heavens. "You are so arrogant! Believe me, Tap, as much as I will admit to finding you fascinating, I can live without you. Well are we going to have an equal partnership or not?"

Tap was blinking in shock. It had hit her like a wall that she didn't want Courtney not to be in her life. These new feelings were very strong and erupted on her without warning. Worse still, that Courtney did not feel the intensity of the bond really hurt. "You owe me, 13 lira,"she stated rather stupidly.

Courtney smiled. "That's okay, you can pay this time. I'll get the next entrance fee."

Tap blinked again, trying to make sense of Courtney's rapid change in stand. "You do not wish to pay for your ticket now?"

"Not this time,"Courtney smiled, rather enjoying watching the super- confident woman floundering in confusion.

"Can we go now to join the tour, Courtney Hunter?"Tap asked, still trying to get their present situation straight.

"Yes, I would like that very much, Tap. Thank you for buying my ticket." Tap smiled weakly, still looking rather confused and Courtney, laughing and linking her arm with the taller woman's, led her over to where the line was forming.

They stood at one end of the Sistine Chapel looking up and around in awe. Tap had manoeuvered them to the front of the group and stood close up behind her with her hands resting gently on Court's shoulder's.

"The Sistine Chapel is where the election of popes occurs and most of the pontifical ceremonies take place here. It is a barrel- vaulted ceiling, as you can see, and is divided by a marble screen. That was common in early churches, to separate those lesser individuals from the powerful who worshiped closer to the altar." Tap's explanation whispered softly in Court's ear and the feel of her warm, lean form up against her was giving Courtney sensations that one should not be having in such a holy place.

"The ceiling is, of course, by Michelangelo. He painted it at the order of Pope Julius II between 1508 and 1512. It was only gradually that Michelangelo became committed to the project. He had wanted to spend his time working on marble sculptures. We still have some of his marble work left unfinished."

"It is breath-taking, Tap. How did he ever do it? The ceiling is so high up," Courtney asked, unconsciously leaning back against the taller woman as she looked up at the magnificent ceiling.

Tap swallowed hard and forced herself not to squirm. "He lay on a wooden scaffolding and painted onto wet plaster. It is called fresco. Julius II had wanted the ceiling to show the lives of the Apostles. Michelangelo convinced him to allow the painting of a much bigger image of the religious history of Christians as they wait for the Messiah. Note the very heavily muscled, peasant women. It was illegal to study anatomy and to have female models at that time so Michelangelo's women are not very feminine by today's standards."

"Yes, I can see that but still the overall effect is so powerful," Courtney murmured as she strained to see the fading colours and brush strokes high above her head.

"Julius and Michelangelo had a very stormy relationship. Julius was a little short of cash because of the wars that were going on and Michelangelo felt he should be paid more often. It wasn't until twenty years later that Michelangelo returned here at the request of Paul II. Between 1536 and 1541, he painted the wall behind the high alter. His famous "Last Judgement." Legend has it that the figure over there in the fresco is Michelangelo himself."

"Really? Neat. Who did the walls?"Courtney asked, becoming aware for the first time of the rich illustrations down each side of the chapel.

"The wall frescoes were painted earlier, between 1481 and 1483 by Botticelli, Rosselli and Chirlandaio. The panels represent the lives of Moses and Christ."

"How do you know all this stuff?" Courtney asked, as they were jostled out to let a new group of tourist in.

Tap smiled down at Courtney with a twinkle in her eye. "It's all in the data files of my library."

Courtney groaned. "More reading! I should have known!"

They found a quiet café and had morning coffee while they watched the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Rome. They shared a basket of croissants Courtney topping hers with grape jam and washing it down with a latte while Tap sniffed at her own bread suspiciously and ate it plain with a black coffee.

Courtney sat back in her seat and watched Tap with interested eyes. It wasn't that Tap was extraordinarily good looking, although she was. There was a presence about her of strength and danger, like a panther that has arrogantly sauntered into town and sent everyone fleeing. Her hands were long and graceful and yet gave the impression of being strong and capable.

Courtney looked up to catch Tap looking at her. "Does my appearance please you?" Tap asked, not with conceit but with real interest.

Court blushed at being caught staring but answered honestly."Yes. I find you very attractive but more than that there is something...exotic about you."

Tap looked at her trainee with curious eyes. "I find you very appealing too," she responded, awkwardly, clearly uncomfortable with that realization.

Courtney nodded. She had to remember that Tap was just starting to explore her new awareness of her sexual orientation. "It's okay to love who you want," Courtney stated. Tap smiled sadly but said nothing.

Chapter 11

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