The Lion and The Lamb
Part 1
by Lois Cloarec Hart

Disclaimer#1: No violence, some sex - but only when I was absolutely forced into writing it-I got no gratuitous pleasure from it-honest. <vbeg> But for those sensitive to f/f liaisons, this isn't the story for you. Mild BSDM overtones (or undertones if you wear your keys on the right) but nothing to get your tail in a knot.

Disclaimer#2: Bad language - yeah, some, but just in places where 'golly gee, doggone it' wouldn't have worked.

Disclaimer#3: Gambling - There was a moral about the evils of wagering in there somewhere but it may have been overlooked and tossed out the window by the end. In fact, I'd bet on it.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to my wonderful beta readers; Carol, who didn't once squawk 'enough already!' and Day, Her Ethereal Omnipotence, The Goddess of Punctuation.

I can be reached at:

Chapter One

"I'm bored."

The slender redhead shuddered. Nothing good ever followed those words from her best friend. She glanced uneasily up at the tall woman who was casually surveying the room full of women, elbows resting on the bar. Victoria studied her friend.

Jac was undeniably beautiful; a fact she'd used to her advantage constantly in the years Victoria had known her. Her physical allure aside, she had an edgy aura of power about her, a tension in her long, lean body that rarely went away. She often reminded the redhead of a jungle cat, thick ebony mane sweeping over her shoulder, high cheekbones slashing angles in her patrician features and glacier blue eyes daring the world to take her on her own terms.

Right now those restless eyes were sweeping the bar, stopping occasionally to scan a knot of women or linger over a woman alone. Victoria drew a breath and momentarily wished she'd refused Jac's invitation to go out that night. With a small sigh, she asked, "Why are you bored? You could walk up to just about any woman in this bar and find a cure for your boredom."

A small snort met her words, and Jac half turned to face her. With a little smirk she asked, "What's this 'just about', Vic? Are you doubting me now?"

Victoria groaned and dropped her head on her folded arms, thumping it a few times for good measure. A low chuckle assailed her ears, and she raised her head to see Jac grinning widely at her. Dryly the redhead retorted, "God forbid that I ever doubt Jac the Invincible, Jac the Seductress, Jac the Temptress, Jac the mphhh..."

"Okay, I get your point," the tall woman laughed as she removed her hand from the redhead's mouth.

"You are such an arrogant bitch," Victoria said mildly, unconsciously licking her lips.

"Yeah, but you love me."

Jac had turned back to the room and didn't see the brief flash of sadness in her friend's eyes. Victoria knew it was true. She did love this arrogant hedonist even though she knew Jac was adamantly against crossing the line of their friendship. She'd almost wrecked her marriage for this woman. Ironically, it was only Jac's unique moral code and firm resolve that had made her return to her husband. A small bitter smile crossed her face at that thought. She was still amazed that they'd salvaged their friendship from that wreckage. Resolutely, she pushed those thoughts aside.

"So what's the matter? Don't see anyone to your taste tonight?"

Jac shook her head slightly. "Aw, I dunno. Maybe I'm not in the mood or something. Geez, Vic, look at them."

The redhead frowned. "What's the matter with them?"

The tall woman sighed and turned her back to the crowd. After signaling the bartender for another round for the two of them, she turned to her friend and said, "Nothing, really. Bunch of vanilla pudding pops though. Hell, they'd probably go running to mommy if I turned one of them over my knee."

Victoria rolled her hazel eyes expressively. "Well if that's the problem, why don't you go over to the Tube?" The underground club was notorious for catering to those with darker sexual tastes, and though Victoria had never been there, she knew that Jac was a frequent patron.

The tall woman stared at the bottles lined up behind the bar, and Victoria found it impossible to read her friend's expression. Finally Jac said, "Maybe later." Throwing some bills on the bar, she downed half the scotch at one swallow and said quietly, "There's no challenge anymore. Not here. Not at the Tube. Nowhere."

Sipping her martini, the redhead contemplated her friend's ennui. Much later she would wonder what evil imp put the words in her mouth, but aggravated by her friend's dismissive attitude, she blurted, "It's not like you can have absolutely any woman you want, you know!"

Jac's eyebrow rose and she regarded Victoria intensely. "Are you challenging me?"

The redhead saw the flicker of interest in those blue eyes and knew she'd inadvertently roused her friend's rarely dormant competitiveness. Oh shit! Now what? Victoria strove to appear calm but knew those piercing eyes had read her easily as Jac smiled triumphantly.

Suddenly the redhead wanted nothing so much as to win a round from her charismatic friend. Jac had always been the alpha female in their friendship and as much as Victoria loved her, she ached to claim the laurels at least once.

Not allowing time for second thoughts, Vic said firmly, "Yes-I am."

Now both sable eyebrows rose, and Jac straightened. "Name your terms."

"I select the target. You have one month to get her in bed or you lose." Victoria couldn't believe what she was saying, but her impetuous tongue had gotten her into this and she couldn't face backing down.

Jac nodded thoughtfully. "And the wager?"

The redhead hesitated. She'd intended to bet money, but impulsively altered her conditions. "If you win, I'll convince Roger to go to the Tube one night." She knew Jac would be enticed by that, having been trying to convince Victoria that she and her husband should check out the club scene for the last year.

"And if you win?" Jac grinned. "Not that there's a chance you will, mind you."

Victoria clenched her hands around her martini glass and refused to meet her friend's eyes. "If I win-you ignore your rules and come to the mountains with me for a whole weekend."

There was silence between the two women now. Victoria had heard the sharp intake of breath from the tall woman and finally forced herself to look up. She found Jac regarding her with a troubled expression.

"Vic-are you sure?"

Nodding jerkily, Victoria drained her glass and set it carefully back on the bar. She waited quietly for her friend's answer, knowing that her terms had the potential to endanger their friendship but helpless to resist a chance, however remote, to be with the magnetic woman who haunted her erotic imaginings.

Long moments passed until Victoria was sure her challenge would be refused. She almost jumped when a low voice sounded next to her ear. "You're on."

Exhaling deeply, the redhead closed her eyes, not sure whether she was relieved or terrified by the agreement.

Briskly, Jac stretched to her full height and focused cool unreadable eyes on her friend. "Okay, who's the target?"

Victoria smiled slyly. "Her name is Christi Blaine. She's a young woman I work with at the agency."

"Tell me about her." The command left no room for waffling, and knowing Jac wouldn't welsh now that she'd accepted the challenge, Victoria filled her in.

"She's a great kid. One of those people that are beautiful inside and out, you know? She's not very tall, but you can tell she's in great shape. She's got short blonde hair, kinda shaggy like, and big eyes that look right through you."

"So what aren't you telling me?"

This brought a smirk to the redhead's lips. "She's straight and engaged to be married in about three months."

Jac shrugged. "Minor details. So when and how do I meet her?"

"I'm taking her out for lunch on Monday because it's her 25thbirthday. Why don't you meet us at the Aerie for lunch about one?"


"And the thirty days starts ticking off the moment you meet her," Victoria clarified.

"All right," Jac agreed. Pushing off from the bar, she looked over her shoulder at her friend. "I'll see you on Monday then."

Victoria watched as her best friend started prowling the crowded room. She wasn't the least bit surprised when Jac moved in on the crowd around the pool table and skillfully separated a curly haired blonde from the pack. Drawing the slightly dazed looking blonde to a dark corner, Jac leaned close, lightly running one finger down the woman's arm as she verbally seduced her.

The redhead sighed when Jac and the blonde left the bar shortly after, knowing her evening out with her best friend had ended in its usual precipitous manner. She didn't know why she subjected herself to it time and again. Yeah, you do. You'll take being with her any way you can, and you know it!
She winced as she acknowledged the truth.

People were Jac's friends on Jac's terms. If they didn't accept that, she made no effort to change their minds. No one, friend or lover, ever truly pierced her impassive exterior. Part of Victoria's obsession with sleeping with her best friend was a desire to see if Jac let herself go at the height of passion. That and the fact that you know she'd twist you in knots and wring you out!

Exasperated with her annoying inner voice, she forcibly turned her mind to the wager they'd just made. Victoria bit her lip as she had a small crisis of conscience about turning such a wolf loose on the young innocent with whom she shared her office. However, she'd worked with Christi at the travel agency for over a year and was certain that the woman was devoted to her fiancé, Phillip, and eagerly planning their life together. They'd even been out house hunting the past several weeks. She also knew the small blonde was the most honourable person she'd ever met, and was sure that Jac wouldn't stand a chance.

Banishing any ethical qualms, Victoria pushed her empty glass across the bar and shook her head at the bartender. Time to go home to Roger. Leaving the bar, she dug into her pocket and extracted her wedding ring, sliding it smoothly back into position.

Chapter Two

Jac shuffled the papers in front of her, frowning at the data that hadn't changed since the last time she'd studied it five minutes before. Glancing up, she checked the small pewter desk clock that had been a gift from her boss on her last promotion. She still had forty-five minutes until she was due to meet Victoria and her colleague for lunch. Jac reminded herself to leave a few minutes early to secure the first element of her campaign.

Leaning back in her well-padded executive chair, she allowed herself a few moments of anticipation. Victoria's challenge had been completely unexpected but, she had to admit to herself, welcome. Banking did not provide much in the way of thrills, at least not at her current level in Senior Management.

Jac's earlier years with the bank had provided her with the stimulation of climbing the corporate ladder, and she'd taken great satisfaction in advancing all the way from MBA graduation to Senior Sales Leader-Commercial Lending in record time. The men who'd once trained her, now reported to her, a fact that caused much resentment in the lower echelons.

For the most part the executive ignored the rumblings of discontent, knowing she'd achieved her position through talent and backbreaking hard work. Jac had shattered glass ceilings with a sharp, agile mind and a keen knowledge of human nature that made customers, subordinates and superiors open books to her. A fierce dedication to pushing herself far beyond normal limits was the final ingredient to her success. At 32, she had forged her career advancement much as a general would wage a military campaign, understanding her opponents, her allies and the field of battle with intimate savvy.

Of course, it helps to have no home life and no domestic commitments. She gave a small sigh, acknowledging the truth of that. Recently the six figure income, the downtown loft overlooking the river, and the perks her wealth and position brought her felt like small compensation for the loneliness that dogged her more and more.

Jac knew that was a large part of the restlessness that had led her to accept Victoria's challenge in the first place. Early Sunday morning after she'd sent her latest conquest packing with cab fare, she had stood at the windows of her darkened loft looking out over the city lights, wondering if there were any truly happy people out there; and, if so, what they had that she didn't.

All right. That's enough! Jac determinedly wrenched her mind from its maudlin track. The executive had no empathy for whiners and wouldn't tolerate such a weakness in herself, either. She had an excellent job, terrific prospects and an intriguing challenge to keep her attention for the next month. Once she'd bedded Victoria's friend, she would turn serious attention to achieving the next level in management. Jacqueline Lanier-Senior Executive. I like the sound of that. A slightly feral smile crossed the dark woman's lips as she tapped commands into her computer and resumed her work.


Jac paused in the alcove of the exclusive restaurant, letting her eyes seek out her friend. Spotting Victoria and another woman seated at a corner table, she studied her prey. Hmm, well Vic wasn't lying. She is cute. The woman who was chatting animatedly with her companion had a slim, compact build and a sweet, open face with delicate features. Sunbeams danced off her short blonde hair, rendering it almost incandescent.

The executive spoke to the maitre d' briefly, handed her coat to the attendant, and began to make her way across the floor holding a long, slim paper wrapped cylinder in her hand. The blonde was looking down at her menu now, and Jac wondered what colour the woman's eyes would be.

Green, they're green. Jac shook her head impatiently. You don't know that!
But then, the blonde looked up, saw the tall woman approaching and gave her a welcoming smile. And Jac's stride faltered as she saw that the blonde's eyes were indeed green. Like new grass growing after a long winter.

Disturbed at her flights of fancy, Jac rationalized, Must have met her at Victoria's office and just forgotten until now. But she couldn't shake the sense of déjà vu, of having seen this woman before. Glancing at her best friend, she found Victoria frowning slightly at her.

Reaching the table, Jac flashed a dazzling smile taking in both women. "Hello, Victoria. And you must be Christi. I hope you don't mind me joining your luncheon. It's just been so long since I've been able to get together with my best friend that when I heard she was having lunch out today, I rather rudely invited myself."

The blonde smiled in return, and Jac could see the genuine warmth in those marvelous eyes. "Not at all. You're very welcome. I've been looking forward to meeting you, Jac. Victoria speaks of you all the time."

Jac gently set the cylinder in front of Christi. "This is a small apology for crashing your birthday lunch, as well as congratulations on the big day itself."

The executive slid into the chair directly opposite the blonde, amused at her childlike delight with the surprise. Christi carefully peeled back the paper to reveal two perfect roses, one white and one red, in a tiny, slender crystal vase.

"Oh my heavens," Christi enthused. "Those are beautiful. Aren't they beautiful, Victoria?"

The redhead, who had been conspicuously silent, nodded dryly. "Yes, Jac's always had excellent taste."

Jac ignored her best friend's acidic glance and asked smoothly, "So which birthday is it, Christi?"

"Twenty fifth."

"A whole quarter century," Jac exclaimed, reflecting that the woman didn't look a day over twenty. "Then this is an occasion for celebration. I hope your 25th year is filled with marvels, magic and much joy."

Christi looked up shyly. "Thanks. Well, it's certainly gotten off to a good start. Thank you very much." She ran a finger gently over the red rose, tracing the softness of the petals. Jac was struck with the unintended eroticism of the innocent gesture and quickly reached for her water glass, taking a deep swallow.

"Well, we're ready to order, Jac. You'd better catch up," Victoria said pointedly. The executive smirked at her friend and opened a menu. Choosing swiftly, she motioned the waiter to them and the women gave their orders.

Once the menus had been collected and coffee cups refilled, the women settled back. Well aware that she was under scrutiny both by her best friend and the curious blonde, Jac maintained an amiable, open visage, smiling often and chatting comfortably. Small talk did not come naturally or easily to her, but she'd trained herself ruthlessly in the art and it had stood her in good stead in the corporate world. Now she used it to draw out her prey.

"Have you been working with Victoria long, Christi?"

The blonde knitted her brow, concentrating for a moment. "I've been at the agency for just over a year now. Victoria was wonderful about taking me under her wing and teaching me the trade." She smiled gratefully at the redhead who responded with an anemic grin of her own.

"Do you enjoy it?" Jac found she enjoyed the sound of the young woman's lilting voice, but reminded herself this was business, not pleasure. Though if what's under that dress looks as good as I think, there's going to be a lot of pleasure involved too.

Oblivious to the executive's discreetly carnal assessment, Christi answered enthusiastically, "I love it! I really enjoy helping people take their dream vacations and go places they've never been before. Not to mention all the business trips I get to take too. I just got back from the Cook Islands last month." Looking curiously at the tall woman, she asked, "Do you like to travel, Jac?"

"I do enjoy it. However a certain best friend, who shall remain nameless sent me to this godforsaken island off India last year, where I'm convinced they still practice cannibalism!" Jac grinned teasingly at a blushing Victoria.

"Hey, you're the one who said she wanted to get off the beaten path!" the redhead protested.

"Uh huh. Off the beaten path, Vic, not on a whole other planet!"

Christi joined in the amusement at her colleague's expense, and Jac reveled in the sound of the blonde's laughter. The three women chatted easily as their meals were served, and time passed swiftly. Jac was pondering her next move when an opening unexpectedly emerged.

"Victoria, are you sure you can't come on Friday?" Christi asked pleadingly. "I hate to waste the tickets, and I don't want to go alone."

"Sorry, Christi. Roger and I have been invited to his boss' place, so I can't get out of it."

Smoothly, Jac interjected. "What are the tickets for, Christi?" Hiding an involuntary smirk, she ignored the look of belated alarm crossing her old friend's face.

Sighing, the blonde said, "A Blue Rodeo concert at the Jube auditorium. My fiancé and I were supposed to be going, but he says he'd made prior arrangements to go to a football game with his friends and can't get out of it." Frowning, she went on, "I'm sure I checked with him about the date before I bought the tickets, but he says I didn't. I can't refund them, and I don't have anyone else to go with."

"I like Blue Rodeo," Jac fibbed. "Why don't I buy one of the tickets from you and keep you company?"

"Really?" Christi asked in delight. "That would be great! But you don't have to buy the ticket, I'll just give it to you."

"No, ma'am, I insist on paying you for it," Jac said earnestly. "I don't want to take advantage of you."

She was rewarded with a brilliant smile from the blonde and a choking sound from Victoria. Reaching a long arm over, she patted her best friend on the back and asked sympathetically, "Something go down the wrong way, Vic?"

The redhead sputtered into her napkin and glared at the executive who returned the look with mild concern. Turning back to Christi, who was also regarding Victoria with solicitude, Jac suggested, "Why don't I contact you at your office later in the week, and we can make arrangements from there?"

Christi nodded, and Jac looked down at her watch. "I'm so sorry. I've really enjoyed our lunch, but I have to get back to work." When Christi went to signal the waiter over, she laid a large hand lightly over the small one resting on the table. "No that's all right. It's your birthday after all, and I took the liberty of ordering a small treat, so please stay and enjoy it. I hope you like chocolate?"

Green eyes widened in delight. "I love chocolate! It's a spiritual experience for me!"

Jac grinned at her enthusiasm. "Then I think you'll enjoy this. The chef only creates it for special occasions, but this seemed to warrant it." Retrieving several bills from her wallet, she laid them on the table. "I think that should cover it. Enjoy your dessert, ladies. Victoria, it was wonderful catching up with you again. We mustn't leave it so long next time. And Christi, I'll talk to you in a few days, all right?"

"I'll be looking forward to it, Jac. And thanks again for the roses. They truly are exquisite."

Jac nodded at her companions and turned to go just as the waiter arrived with dessert. She smiled as she heard Christi's rhapsodic exclamation, knowing the confection of chocolate mousse, solid white and dark Belgian chocolate and fresh strawberries was sure to delight the young woman.

The executive left quickly, reflecting that she'd enjoyed the lunch much more than she'd anticipated and was looking forward to Friday's concert. It was only as she approached the bank office tower that she reluctantly prompted herself to view the engagement as step two in her campaign, rather than a date with a lovely woman. Frowning, she cautioned herself against such indulgence even as the sound of the blonde's laughter, the feel of a small hand under hers and those amazing verdant eyes lingered with her.


Victoria listened to Christi enthuse about the luncheon as they walked back to their office and wondered what had gone wrong. She had not counted on the obvious chemistry between the two women. Small tendrils of doubt began to grow in her uneasy mind.

The redhead had been so sure that Christi would be immune to Jac's undeniable charisma; but she'd watched her colleague closely as the executive charmed the birthday girl over lunch. She'd seen the slight blush when Jac turned the full force of her attention on the blonde. She'd heard the soft giggles when Jac gently teased the young woman. Victoria knew from personal experience how overpowering and flattering it was to be the sole focus of Jac's attention.

With a small frisson of misgiving, she summoned the mental image of Jac's grand entrance. The executive had foregone the usual upswept hairdo she favoured at work and had allowed her ebony mane to flow over her broad shoulders. The dark woman had obviously dressed carefully in a royal blue suit that highlighted her already striking cerulean eyes. The tailored lines of the jacket clung to her lean body like a glove, and the skirt stopped just above her knees, emphasizing long shapely legs. A white silk blouse, small silver earrings and a large silver pin on her lapel completed her ensemble. Victoria didn't need to look around to know that virtually every male eye and most of the female ones in the restaurant were on her best friend. She hadn't missed the small intake of breath when Christi had first looked up to see Jac approaching either.

They'd almost reached the travel agency, and Victoria glumly noted that Christi had yet to stop talking about Jac and the luncheon. Damn! I'd better start working on Roger now to convince him to try the Tube one night.

Chapter Three

The dense crowd exiting the auditorium carried Jac and Christi along with it. Glancing over her shoulder, Jac reached back and took her companion's hand with a little squeeze. She got a raised eyebrow and a grin, but she noticed that Christi didn't try to extract her fingers from the executive's tight grasp.

When they spilled out onto the sidewalk, Jac tugged Christi out of the crowd's path and then prudently dropped the small hand, even as she kept herself between the young woman and the throng.

Zipping up her black leather bomber jacket against the brisk October evening, she observed, "You know, it'll take forever to empty that parking lot. I know a nice little cafe about half a block away. Can I interest you in a coffee while we wait for the crowd to thin out?"

"Yes, I'd like that."

Christi didn't appear in any hurry to end the evening, and Jac smiled as she stepped aside and motioned the blonde to precede her up the short flight of stairs to the street level. The executive enjoyed the view as she trailed behind, watching the sway of the woman's hips and the delightful way the blonde's faded blue jeans hugged her bottom. Suddenly she felt a rush of desire so strong it made her knees quake. Down girl! Patience.

Her attention elsewhere, she tripped over a stair but Christi whirled and caught her, steadying Jac until she regained her balance.

"New feet?" Christi teased.

"Yup, just breaking them in. Thanks for the rescue," Jac laughed in chagrin.

Exiting on the street level, Jac drew in a deep breath of the cool night air and concentrated on tamping down her arousal. The auditorium fronted on a popular avenue of many restaurants, bars and clubs. The usual Friday night crowds sauntered down the sidewalks in couples and groups, and the executive was grateful for the distraction as she placed a light hand on Christi's back and steered her around the pedestrians towards the café.

"They make a Bavarian torte here that melts in your mouth," Jac advised as she held the door open for her companion.

"Oh, you just think you have my number, don't you?" Christi grinned up at the executive. "Okay, twist my arm."

God, I hope I've got your number! "Great. I know you'll like it," Jac said as led the way to an empty table. Plain white coffee mugs appeared before them instantly and the waiter held out two pots.

"High octane or unleaded?"

"High octane," Jac answered. "Christi?"

"Decaf, please. Phillip will kill me if I keep him awake tossing and turning." Christi gave a little laugh.

"Two pieces of Bavarian torte too, please," Jac instructed the waiter before turning her attention on the blonde. "So tell me all about the man who's captured your heart."

"Well, his name is Phillip Emerson. He works for his father's company, Emerson's Luxury Auto."

"Oh, I know that place," Jac said. "I drool over that Boxster in the showroom every time I walk by."

"Yeah, well Phil isn't a salesman or anything. I mean, he was when we met, but now his Dad's got him working in management. Um, we met when I moved here from a small town north of here a year ago. He came into the agency to book a holiday and he kept coming back, even after everything was finalized. He's really sweet. I didn't know anyone here and he took me under his wing, introduced me to his friends and showed me the city."

Jac was watching the younger woman closely. She saw affection in those green eyes, but not the passion she searched for. Interesting. "Have you been engaged long?"

Christi dropped her eyes and fiddled with her cup. "A few months. We're getting married on New Year's Eve."

The waiter returned with the torte and set them on the table. Jac took a bite before asking gently, "Something troubling you?"

The blonde dug into her torte, and Jac ate silently as she waited for an answer. Finally Christi sighed and said, "Well, I kind of feel rushed, you know. I mean we only knew each other for four months when he proposed. We hadn't, well you know."

Jac admired the pink flush on her companion's delicate features and chuckled softly. "I take it you have, 'you know,' now?" She grinned as the blush deepened and decided to take pity on the blonde. "Hey, I'm sorry. None of my business. Forget I asked."

Christi peered at her through golden bangs and gave a constrained chuckle. "Well, once we were engaged, Phil said it didn't make sense to keep two apartments, so I sublet mine and moved in with him. We're looking around for a house now, but Phil can't seem to settle on one that suits him."

"Maybe you should look at building a new one," Jac suggested casually.

The blonde perked up noticeably. "I'd love to do that. Choose all the colours and fabrics right from scratch. I really enjoy decorating. I guess I'm just a nester at heart." Then her face fell and she said, "I did mention that to Phil, but he says that contractors just rip you off and you never know what kind of quality you'll get. He says it's safer to buy a proven property."

"Shouldn't you have an equal say in this? After all, it's going to be home to both of you."

"Yes, you'd think I'd have an equal say, wouldn't you?" Jac was fascinated by the stubborn set to the small shoulders and the green fire that flashed in those expressive eyes. Then the blonde's shoulders slumped in resignation as she said, "But his Dad is financing the house, so I guess he feels he should have final say. Sometimes it's just easier not to argue any longer, you know?"

"Hmm, well not really."

Christi looked at her wryly. "Yeah, I doubt that many men argue too long with you. Maybe if I'd had a foot more growth, they'd listen to me too."

Jac broke out in a laugh. "Oh I dunno. I'd pit a terrier against a Great Dane any day. I think when you find something you want badly enough, you won't let anything stand in your way."

The mood lightened as they finished their torte. Noticing how Christi cleaned every last crumb, Jac grinned. "Like another?"

The blonde blushed and giggled. "Would you?"

"I don't think I have room, but please don't let that stop you. If you want another, have another." Jac saw the internal struggle going on as Christi bit her lip. With a smile she signaled the waiter over and ordered her companion another piece.

Christi gave her a grateful expression. "I like going out with you. Phil always worries that I'm going to put on weight, but honestly, I think my metabolism must work overtime because I never gain an ounce."

"No, you certainly aren't carrying any extra pounds," Jac said appreciatively. Before the blonde could respond, she continued, "You know what you were saying about liking to decorate?"

Her companion gave her a quizzical look but nodded.

"Well, I could sure use some help with my loft, if you're interested. I've got nothing in there but bare white walls and hardwood floors. Even the furniture is a relic from my university days that I've never gotten around to replacing. I've been thinking for quite a while that I really should do something to spruce the place up, but I never get around to it. Would you be interested in lending me a hand and giving me the benefit of your talent?"

"How do you know I have any talent?" Christi asked cheekily, but Jac could see her eyes sparkling with interest.

"Gut instinct," Jac replied off-handedly. "Do you?"

"Yes, I do," the blonde asserted confidently as she leaned forward. "Are you serious? Do you really want my help redecorating?"

"Trust me, Christi, there's no 're' about it," Jac laughed. "But yes, I'd love to have help."

"All right. That would be a lot of fun," Christi enthused. "When do we start?"

"Whenever you're ready; and the sooner the better."

Christi fumbled in her purse for her Daytimer, opened it, and scanned her schedule. "How about this Monday after work?"

"Great. I'll even make you dinner as a thank you," Jac said, delighted with the turn of events.

The blonde raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Can you cook?"

Jac clutched her shirt and groaned theatrically. "You doubt me?"

Christi giggled. "Well, forgive me, Jac, but you don't really strike me as the domestic type."

The executive grinned and sat up straight. "Caught me. But I do make a mean stir-fry for the nights when I get tired of take-out, so I promise I won't poison you."

The waiter arrived with another piece of torte, and Jac enjoyed watching Christi dig in. The younger woman took such a sensual delight in eating, almost moaning as the cake slid between delicate pink lips. The executive closed her eyes as her errant mind pictured those lips moving over her body.

"So," Jac said hastily. "You said Phil went to the game tonight. Too bad because he sure missed a great concert."

It was true. The concert had exceeded Jac's expectations. She was an old rocker, favouring bands like The Stones and Alice Cooper. There was nothing she liked more than having sex to the sounds of Santana blasting from her multi-speaker stereo set-up. But she'd enjoyed the evening, though she wasn't sure if that was entirely due to the music or had more to do with the enthusiastic company she kept. Christi had a habit of grabbing her arm in excitement every time the band began one of her favourite songs, and Jac considered herself fortunate that the younger woman had so very many favourites.

"Uh huh," Christi mumbled around a mouthful of torte. Swallowing, she grinned sheepishly. "It was great, wasn't it? But I know Phil was happier going to the game with his buddies. You know how guys are."

"Not really," Jac said dryly.

Christi looked at her curiously. "That's the second time you've said that. Do I take it you don't have any significant other in your life at the moment?"

"I'm getting the feeling that Victoria didn't tell you much about me," Jac said slowly. When the blonde shook her head in confusion, Jac said bluntly, "I'm gay, Christi."

Her companion stopped chewing and then gulped down her mouthful. "Oh, um, no I didn't know."

"I hope that's not a problem. I thought she'd told you." Actually Jac had no idea whether Victoria had mentioned her orientation to Christi or not. It hadn't altered the terms of the challenge, so initially it was irrelevant to her. Now, however, she found herself hoping that the answer would be favourable.

Christi shook her head. "No, not at all. I would never hold anything like that against you."

"Good," Jac drawled. "And I won't hold your being straight against you."

The young woman stared at her and then broke out laughing. Reaching across the table, she patted Jac's hand, then returned to her torte, finishing it with relish.

The rest of the evening passed swiftly until finally Christi looked at her watch and regretfully said, "I have to get home, Jac. Phil will be back from the game now and wondering where I am."

They settled the bill and returned swiftly to the now empty parking lot at the auditorium. Jac walked Christi to her bright yellow VW Beetle and quipped, "Sure makes it easier to find your car this way."

The blonde laughed. "Good point." Unlocking her door, she turned and smiled warmly at the tall woman. "I had a really great time tonight. Thank you."

"So did I," Jac asserted truthfully. "I guess I'll see you Monday then, right?"

"Right." Christi slid into the front seat of her car and waved as Jac stepped away.

Hands thrust deep in her pockets, Jac watched her new friend drive away. Alone now, she ambled over to her own black CRV. Once inside, she started the engine and let it idle as she contemplated her options. Christi had ignited a hunger in her that she wanted to sate. The only question was where. She dismissed the bar she and Victoria had been in the previous week. The executive didn't feel like putting out the energy for a seduction. The Tube. Yeah, that'll do it.

No strings, no complications, everyone there knew what they wanted and didn't expect anything beyond an evening's diversion.

Decision made, she put her car in gear and pulled out of the lot, heading out of the city limits, her destination firmly in mind.


Several hours later, Christi lay on her side, Phillip's arm wrapped possessively around her naked body. She stared at the wall, unable to sleep and chafing at the heavy limb that encompassed her. The woman listened to her fiancé's deep even breathing until finally, unable to contain her restlessness, she stealthily slid out from under and stood up.

Grimacing at the stickiness between her legs, she half-wished for earlier days when they had used condoms. Snagging her robe, she wrapped it tightly around her slight form and left the room. Wandering out to the living room, she curled up in the recliner and stared out the window at the apartment building that faced theirs across the courtyard. She mused idly over there being lights in some windows and not others, wondering about the lives going on behind those faceless portals.

Then, unbidden, an image drifted into her mind's eyes--an angular face framed with waves of sable hair, with brilliant blue eyes that seemed to see right into her, but never through and beyond her as Phillip's brown ones often did. When she was out with the woman tonight, she'd felt Jac's attention focused completely on her. Her companion had paid attention and remembered everything she said. The executive's regard never drifted, she never interrupted Christi; and even when the blonde took off on one of her flights of fancy, as she was wont to do, Jac only smiled indulgently and followed her lead.

Christi couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so comfortable with a person. She had relaxed completely with her tall companion, laughing and teasing as if they'd known each other for years.

The blonde considered Jac's revelation and decided it was irrelevant. If this was the way a lesbian treated her friends, she'd been moving in the wrong circles. Adopted into Phil's circle almost immediately on her arrival in the city, she'd never tried to make an independent circle of friends. With the exception of Victoria, she really didn't know anyone that wasn't primarily Phillip's crony.

Might just be time to change that.

Chapter Four

Christi drew a brush quickly through her hair and looked up as she heard the apartment door open. With a deep breath she tossed her brush on the bureau and went out to greet her fiancé.

"Hey, babe," Phillip called, as he slung his suit jacket over a nearby chair. "What's for dinner?"

The blonde kissed the man's cheek, as he loosened his tie with a groan.

"God, what a day! You wouldn't believe the mess that idiot Carpenter caused." Phil peeled off his shirt and tie, tossing them aside and scratching the thick coarse mat of chest hair. After stretching vigorously, he wrapped his arms around Christi and nuzzled her with his moustache. "Ah, but it's good to be home with my girl. So what are we having for dinner, babe?"

Christi placed her hands on his chest and gently pushed away. "'Fraid you're on your own tonight, Phil. I'm going over to a friend's to give her a hand."

The thickset man frowned. "What friend?"

"I told you about her. The woman I went to the concert with on Friday-Jac. She asked me to help her redecorate her loft, and I'm looking forward to the project. I put some ideas together over weekend. I just have to see what the layout is like so we can make some decisions."

"Shit, Christi. I was looking forward to spending some time with you tonight," Phil complained. Swaggering forward, he gathered her tightly back into his arms. "C'mon babe, blow her off. Stay with me."

From within enveloping arms, Christi sighed, feeling him press harder against her. More firmly, she extricated herself. "No, Phil. I made a commitment and I'm going to keep it. I won't be that late. You and I can have time together later on."

He dropped his arms and turned his back to her. She watched him walk into the kitchen and open the fridge to snag a beer. Silently she opened the closet and took out her jacket. Picking up her purse, she was almost to the door when he said with a hint of challenge in his voice, "Think I'll invite a few guys over to watch Monday Night Football. You won't mind, will you, babe?"

Christi shrugged. She knew that meant she'd come home to a bunch of drunks lounging in the living room, the air blue with smoke and empty bottles and pizza boxes littering the floor. Phillip had been good in recent months about taming his old buddies' rowdy behaviour around her, but he obviously was in no mood to accommodate her tonight. "It's your home," she said, quietly closing the door behind her.

The blonde took the elevator to the underground parking and walked quickly to her car. Determinedly putting any unpleasantness out of her mind, she concentrated on how much she'd been looking forward to this evening. Glancing at the directions that Jac had drawn on a napkin for her, she headed towards the river. Crossing one of the many bridges that would take her into downtown, she turned into a side street and then took an immediate hairpin onto a small service road that edged the riverbank.

She wondered momentarily if she'd gotten lost, seeing nothing that resembled an apartment, but then she noticed an old stone building on a steep rise ahead of her. Drawing up in front of it, Christi saw that she had the right address and she studied the building with interest. It was obviously one of the original city buildings, nestled in the shadow of the bridge that loomed above it. It wasn't large, three floors high and forty feet across. The blonde noticed several narrow floor-to-ceiling windows set in each level. The windows had an odd silvery sheen that complemented the stone construction, even as it was apparent they were not part of the original design. In the centre of the peaked slate roof, a small turret loomed upwards until level with the adjacent bridge, and a small covered parking garage abutted the building on the northern side.

Intrigued by the unusual building, Christi locked her car and strode towards the front door. Entering a small alcove, she saw three mailboxes and three intercom buttons, the topmost of which was labeled, 'J. Lanier'. Pressing the button, she was surprised at the crystal clear quality as Jac's voice came over the com system. She'd expected the customary tinny reception.

"Hi, Jac? It's Christi."

"Hey, Christi. C'mon up. I'm afraid there's no elevator so you'll have to take the stairs to the top floor."


The buzzer sounded, and Christi heard the click of a lock being released as she pushed through the door and found herself facing a steep flight of stairs that ran up the inside wall. Mounting them, she admired the care taken even in the stairwell. Rich muted colours in paint, textured wall coverings, and thick sound-deadening carpets combined with intricately worked wood detailing to give a subtle air of opulence. Porthole windows were set at regular distances, illuminating the stairwell with natural light. She kept her hand on the carved solid oak railing as she climbed past the second floor and emerged on the third floor landing.

Jac was leaning against her open door, grinning widely. "Guess I forgot to mention it was a walk-up, eh?"

Christi regarded the woman with a raised eyebrow. "Uh huh. I think you may have overlooked that. Must be tough when you bring in the groceries."

The tall brunette snorted and stepped aside, motioning Christi to come in. "Why do you think I don't cook most nights?"

The blonde looked up into bright blue eyes. "Well, I didn't think it was because of the stairs." She got a little hip nudge for that as Jac followed her into the loft and took her jacket to hang up.

"Oh ye of little faith."

Christi was about to respond to Jac's quip when she emerged into the loft and caught her breath. "Oh my god! Jac, this is beautiful!"

The loft wasn't huge, but it gave an overwhelming impression of space. The outer wall was stone and the other walls were plain white, as were the crown mouldings and wide baseboards. Shimmering hardwood floors caught the rays of the setting sun through the tall narrow western windows. The entire lower floor was open living space with a small kitchen to the rear, a corner fieldstone fireplace, gym equipment tucked in a back corner and an impressive home entertainment system backed against the stone wall. A short circular flight of stairs led off the kitchen to the half split-level where Christi assumed the bedroom and bath were.

Lost in admiration at the loft, it took the blonde a few moments to notice that the furniture was indeed as dilapidated as Jac had indicated and she turned to the tall, quiet woman with a grin.

"Your home is spectacular, Jac. Sorry I can't say the same thing about your furniture."

"I did warn you," Jac said with amusement. "Come and see the view, and then I'll give you the rest of the tour."

Christi trailed after the lean form, still in awe of her surroundings. Jac stopped by the window and gestured outside. In the failing light, the blonde could see the wide, fast-flowing river below her, edged by groves of ash, maple and poplar, their leaves having already changed colour and falling fast. Across the river, she could see the city's trendiest shopping area, home to quirky shops, cafes and an outdoor market.

"Part of what I love about this place is being right by the river. I often go running down there, and on weekends I usually finish up by heading over to the market. There's this great bakery there that makes croissants to die for."

"Doesn't the noise of the bridge traffic bother you?"

"No. Actually the stone walls are so thick that they deaden most of the sound. Besides, it's a small price to pay for the privacy of this location. Our nearest neighbours are far enough away to give the illusion of isolation even though we're right downtown. C'mon, let me show you the upstairs."

Jac led Christi through the kitchen and up the circular staircase. On the upper level, the blonde saw that two thirds of the space was open and the other third closed off. A waist high banister encircled the space, but the rear of the lower floor was open to view. A king-sized poster bed backed onto the stone, a walk-in closet was partially open. An old mismatched dresser and bedside table, a couple of chairs, lamps and a large roll top holding a desktop computer and printer completed the room. The tall windows soared to an open beamed angular ceiling. The only oddity was a short ladder leading to a trapdoor off to the side of the windows.

Christi turned a curious face to Jac, only to see her companion's eyes sparkling with childlike glee. "That's the best part of this place." She grabbed the younger woman's hand, and Christi found herself being propelled across the floor, laughing at her friend's enthusiasm. She watched as Jac climbed the ladder and pushed the trapdoor open, lifting herself through the opening and extending a hand back.

"Here, come up. You have to see this."

Shaking her head slightly, Christi followed the executive up and hoisted herself through the trapdoor, aided by Jac's helpful hands. Looking around, she realized she was in the small round turret she'd noticed from outside. Windows were set in an almost continuous line around the tower, which was the same unfinished stone as the lower wall. She discovered that, except for obstruction of the bridge, she'd have had a 360-degree view of the city around her.

"This was the original city fire station," Jac explained, as she closed the trapdoor and unfolded a sling chair that had been leaning against the wall, gesturing for Christi to take a seat. "And this used to serve as an observation and bell tower. The stables for the horses were just over there." She pointed in the direction from which Christi had driven in. "And they used the river to fill the holding tanks. This building was in service for about eighty years, until the city outgrew it and they had to build bigger fire stations. It's gone through numerous incarnations since then, but when they turned it into condos a few years ago, I knew I had to live here."

"It's wonderful, Jac," Christi said, enthralled by the sight of dusk gathering over the city as rays of ebbing sun flashed off office towers. "No wonder you love it here. I would too." She glanced down to where Jac was sitting on the floor beside her. "Hey, don't you have another chair?"

The woman shook her dark mane. "I, uh, don't usually bring anyone up here. It's sort of my private hideaway."

Christi marveled at the note of shyness in the self-assured woman's voice and as she studied the angular face, deeply shadowed now by the fading sun, she felt an unexpected surge of affection for her companion. She reached out a hand and rested it on one broad shoulder. "Thank you for sharing."

The soft words fell between them, and as they locked eyes, Christi felt an undeniable connection building with the charismatic woman. Vaguely she wondered if she should draw back, but it felt so natural--sitting here watching the waning daylight with her new friend. It was only when a warm hand closed over hers, still resting on Jac's shoulder, that she realized it had gotten so dark she could barely make out the other woman's features.

"Hey, I promised to feed you, remember?"

Reluctantly Christi shook off the spell she'd fallen under, and stood up. Jac folded the chair and put it back against the wall before pulling up the trapdoor. The blonde wondered how she could see anything in the near dark, but followed Jac's voice to the ladder and back down to the upper level.

Cautioning her companion to watch her step, the executive crossed the room and flipped on a lamp. "Well, that's pretty much it up here except for the bathroom. You can take a look in there if you want."

Oddly eager to see every bit of her friend's home, Christi opened the door to a large bathroom, immediately noticing the unusual size of the bathtub.

"Good heavens, Jac!" She heard a low chuckle from right behind her.

"Yeah, I know. It's bigger than the average bath; but I love long soaks, and the standard tubs just don't give me room to stretch out, so I custom ordered this one."

Christi glanced over her shoulder and grinned. "Well I can see that, but geez, Jac, you've got enough room in there for four people!"

"Hmm, well two anyway." The contralto purr beside her ear sent shivers down the young woman's spine as an uninvited image of Jac lounging in the tub with another person-a female person-flashed before her eyes. Flustered she backed out hastily, running smack into a tall firm body, which made her even jumpier.

"Whoa, tiger," Jac laughed as she placed her hands on the blonde's shoulders. "You're going to mow me down there."

Christi waited until Jac had turned to go down the stairs before she spun around and followed, raising a hand to her cheek to feel the heat there. Embarrassed at her lack of composure, she hoped Jac wouldn't see her rising colour. She was thankful when her companion made no mention of it, but only set to work pulling things out of the fridge.

"Can I help?"

"Sure," Jac said cheerfully. "You can start washing and slicing the vegetables while I do up the meat."

Grateful for a job to occupy her, Christi set to work industriously at the sink and then stood beside Jac at the counter, slicing on one cutting board while her friend worked at the other. She stopped halfway through a carrot to stare in fascination at the way Jac's blade flashed in swift, precise strokes.

"Wow, you could work in a Japanese restaurant! Where did you learn to cut like that?"

The executive grinned as she pushed the beef slices into a bowl. "My Mom was a sous-chef back long before women chefs were accepted. She studied in Paris many years ago. In fact, that's where she met my Dad. Anyway, I loved to watch her in the kitchen, so Mom put a knife into my hands when I was just a little girl and I seemed to have an affinity for it." She laughed as she retrieved a bottle from the fridge, shook it and poured it over the beef. "Not for much else though, and Mom soon banned me from doing anything but slicing and dicing."

Christi was charmed by the image of a small Jac working beside her mother, industriously wielding a paring knife. She continued with her work as Jac pulled a battered old wok from the lower cupboard. Setting it aside, Jac washed her cutting board and knife and took half the vegetables from Christi's stack.

"Thief," the blonde accused good-naturedly.

"Slowpoke," the executive shot back with a grin. Working companionably, the two swiftly completed the preparations, and then Jac delegated the rice to Christi while she began the stir-fry.

Once Christi had cleaned up, she settled onto one of the high stools beside the island and watched her friend deftly shuffle the meat before setting it aside and steaming the veggies. Inhaling the aroma of garlic, sesame oil and an indefinable tang, she asked, "What's in that marinade?"

"Sorry, state secret, I can't tell you." Jac's voice was serious, and Christi was thrown for a moment until she saw the corner of the woman's mouth curling up in a smile.

"Right!" she snorted. "Really, Jac, what's in it?"

"Nope, can't tell you. This recipe was handed down by my mother on her deathbed with instructions to take it to my grave."

"No way!"

"Yeah, you're right. My Mom is alive and well and running her own restaurant in Chicago." Jac grinned, ducking as Christi tossed an errant pea pod at her.
"Messy child," she teased. "Why don't you quit harassing the chef and open up the wine. You'll find a corkscrew in the right hand drawer."

Christi did as bidden and then slid two glasses out of the overhead holder. Filling one, she set it beside Jac who smiled her appreciation. Pouring her own glass she asked, "Anything else I can do?"

"Nope, just about ready." Within moments, Jac was setting two full plates on the island. Grabbing cutlery and napkins, she went around the other side so that she faced Christi across the island.

Lifting her wine glass, she touched it to Christi's. "Cheers!"

"Cheers," Christi responded softly, thinking she could think of half a dozen heartfelt toasts at the moment. She watched Jac take a deep sip of her wine and close her eyes in appreciation. When blue eyes opened and sought her own, she quickly took a sip and set her glass aside.

"Dig in," Jac instructed, doing the same.

Christi took a forkful and murmured in pleasure as the savoury tang hit her taste buds. "Oh, Jac, this is great! You have to give me the recipe."

"I dunno," the executive said doubtfully. "I only have a couple of dishes I do well and if I give you the recipe, it won't be special when I make it for you here."

The blonde halted in mid bite. She felt a sudden rush of pleasure at the implications that she'd be a regular visitor and that Jac cared enough to want to make something special. Lowering her eyes to her plate, she couldn't suppress an involuntary smile as she listened to Jac begin to discuss decorating plans.

After Christi had finished a second plate, Jac asked with a grin, "Got any room for dessert?"


Laughing, Jac collected the dishes and then retrieved a pint of ice cream from the freezer. Setting it down between them, she handed Christi a spoon.

"Okay to share this way?"

"Ohhh, Haagen-Dazs! Oh yeah, we can share; but I feel I should warn you, I'm pretty fast with the spoon." Christi eagerly dipped a spoonful of the chocolate confection and had returned for a second as Jac was taking her first. The executive chuckled as their spoons battled momentarily for space.

"Remind me next time to get two of these." Jac's wide smile brought an answering grin from Christi and the two finished the ice cream in rapid order.

When they were done, dishes were pushed to the side and the blonde pulled a small notebook out of her purse. The next hour was spent discussing colour and accessory options until finally Jac suggested they move to the couch. Christi sank into the mottled mushroom coloured cushions and watched as Jac built a fire.

Once it was blazing, the executive settled on the opposite end of the couch.

"So would you like me to give you a hand painting?" Christi asked as she sipped her wine.

Dark eyebrows rose. "You'd do that?"

The blonde smiled at the surprise in her friend's voice. "Sure. After all, if I'm architect of this project, I want to make sure it's done right. Besides, after we get the walls and trim painted, we can start with the good part-shopping for new furniture!"

Jac groaned. "Shopping? Can't we just go on-line and order new stuff?"

"Where's the fun in that?" Christi teased, enjoying the mournful expression on the beautiful face. Relenting, she compromised, "We can get some things on-line, but I'm still taking you shopping for art pieces and accessories."

"I guess that wouldn't be too bad," Jac conceded. "Okay, so I'll pick up the paint and supplies, and we'll start on Saturday. Would that be all right?"

"Sure." A thought suddenly struck Christi and she frowned.

"Something wrong?"

Christi looked up to meet her companion's concerned gaze. "Um, I think I'm supposed to be going to Phil's parents place on Saturday."

"That's all right," Jac reassured her. "I'll just start without you. I'm pretty sure I can handle a paint brush competently."

The blonde grimaced. "Believe me, I'd rather be working here with you than going to the in-laws. Phil's Dad is all right, but his mother drives me crazy. Look, let me see what I can do, and I'll give you a call later in the week."

Jac nodded her acquiescence, and the two continued to chat amiably for the next couple of hours. Finally, Christi reluctantly checked the watch she'd been studiously ignoring all evening.

"I'm afraid I've monopolized your whole night, Jac. I'd better go."

"Don't go on my account, Christi. I've been enjoying the company tremendously."

The blonde could hear the sincerity in her companion's voice, but knew she was overdue at home. "Thanks, Jac. I've had a great time too; but Phil was probably expecting me an hour ago, so I'd better go." Unwillingly, she stood; and Jac rose to escort her to the door.

The executive held her jacket for her and as Christi slid her arms into the sleeves, it struck her that Phil had never done this for her. Distracted, the young woman almost missed Jac's parting words.

"Goodnight, Christi. I had a really good time this evening. I hope you can make it back on Saturday."

"Um, yeah. Me too." Impulsively, Christi rose on her tiptoes and lightly kissed Jac's cheek before starting down the stairs. Glancing back from the second floor landing, she saw Jac watching her with a curious expression. She waved and was gratified when the dark woman returned her wave with a small smile. Hurrying down the rest of the stairs, she emerged into the cool air and hastened to her car.

Driving home, Christi pondered the evening she'd shared with the woman who'd been unknown to her only a week before. She was amazed at how comfortably they'd interacted and how at ease she was in the executive's company. Despite her natural warmth, the blonde had a shy streak with strangers, but it'd been non-existent around Jac since the day they met.

Making a sudden decision, Christi determined she wanted to paint with Jac and resolved to get out of dinner with the senior Emerson's on Saturday. She knew Phil would be upset, but she was confident that she could soothe his ruffled feelings.

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

A tall dark form stood framed in a window, watching the canary yellow VW drive away. When it was out of sight, Jac let her eyes drift to the river, its dark waters lit only by the running path lights. It always calmed her to watch the endless flow, and tonight her mind desperately needed that peace.

What the hell happened? She hadn't intended to make a friend. It was irrelevant whether she liked her prey or not. The only thing that counted was getting her into bed within the month. Yet she'd wantonly lost herself in the sheer pleasure of the young woman's company tonight. Inexcusable! What in God's name is wrong with you?!

The river refused to work its magic, and Jac turned angrily from the window. Get your mind back on track! You seduce her. You fuck her. That's it. Game over-you win. Stoically she tried to focus on her goal but the insidious warmth that Christi's image evoked made that impossible.

Flinging herself onto the couch, Jac concentrated on her campaign. After all, it was going well. She hadn't missed Christi's hand resting on her shoulder in the turret, or the blush when the young woman had backed into her at the washroom door. The executive knew when she was affecting a woman, and while Christi might not know it yet, she was being affected.

Jac tried to concentrate on the moment of victory and how that would feel, but it felt strangely hollow to contemplate. Suddenly she realized that she was inhaling deeply. Puzzled, she focused; and suddenly it struck her: her head was resting on the pillow that Christi had leaned against all evening, and it was her scent that Jac was unconsciously breathing in.

With a deep groan she seized the pillow from under her head and hurled it across the room where it hit the stone wall and tumbled to the floor. You've got five days to get yourself under control, you idiot. Now do it!

Continued in Part 2

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