(Turning Tides, cont’d.)


"I want a girl with a mind like a diamond,

I want a girl who knows what’s best;

I want a girl with shoes that cut, and

Eyes that burn like cigarettes;

I want a girl with the right allocations,

Who is fast, and thorough, and sharp as a tack." - Cake




Alli’s first month had gone rather smoothly, and she found herself easily falling into routines and procedures. She found that the HR office was surprisingly pretty loosely-run, as compared to her last job anyway, and she wondered if the rest of the company was like that as well. She found it hard to believe that anything could be ‘casual’ around the place, from what little she’d been told of M.J. and Madison Whitton, but she really had no idea.

Things had been quiet and fairly serene, but when John stopped in her office first thing in the morning to tell her that she’d be attending a departmental meeting with him, she had a feeling that the rest of the day wouldn’t be so calm.

"You ready?" John asked as he stuck his head in her door.

"I guess — uhm, do I need to take anything?" Alli was at a complete loss; John had given her little to go on aside from ‘we’re having our monthly departmental meeting with M.J. today’. She was nervous and she didn’t want to look like an idiot. This was her first ‘real’ meeting with the mysterious President, and, remembering the things Liz had told her, she wanted to appear competent and self-assured.

They arrived at the 14th floor and sat in the waiting area outside M.J.’s office. As soon as they sat, they could hear voices, obviously upset and stressed, and obviously arguing.

What is it with this woman that makes her inspire so many closed-door shouting matches? Alli wondered to herself. The voices continued, up and down, louder then softer, for several minutes. It was now 20 minutes past the meeting time, and Alli could see that John was getting impatient. One thing she’d noticed about John — he operated on a very firm time schedule. He ate his lunch from precisely 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. every day, and he left the office at 5:00 p.m. sharp every evening. Alli grinned inwardly at the thought that John was probably getting anxious about this meeting possibly infringing on his lunchtime.

An opening door roused Alli from her thoughts, and she watched as Raiford Calhoun fairly stomped out of M.J.’s office, his cheeks flushed bright red. He didn’t even stop to say hello to them.

Hmm... the ‘Scorpion’ strikes again, Alli thought.

"You can go in now, Mr. Stevenson, Ms. Phillips," Helen said. Alli thought that it would probably be more prudent for the woman to allow a ‘cooling-off’ time before throwing fresh meat into the lion’s den. She fancied that she heard John groan quietly as they rose and entered the office.

"Have a seat," M.J. said in way of greeting, barely looking up from her immense desk to acknowledge them. Alli scanned her eyes around the office quickly and discreetly.

M.J.’s office was dark and foreboding for the most part, except for the two huge glass windows that most likely gave her a gorgeous view of the city below. It looked like an attorney’s office with its wood-paneled walls, deep bookshelves and cabinets, massive wood desk, huge leather wing-back chairs, and blue carpeting. Alli thought it rather dark and masculine but figured that M.J. just never had it remodeled after her father vacated it. Then again, maybe she liked it that way? The only thing that seemed out of place was the fact that it lacked ‘personal’ touches; there were no pictures or decorations... no snapshots or desk-top adornments like you’d normally find in someone’s private office. It was rather sterile and barren-looking. Alli found that unusual, and disquieting, somehow. She had only been at the company a month, and her office was already chocked-full of pictures and snapshots and desk trinkets galore.

John didn’t formally introduce Alli to the President, and the tall woman didn’t ask who she was. It was as though the brunette already knew everything she needed to know, and she obviously felt no need to waste her time making small-talk with John’s new Assistant. Alli thought this was rather rude, but decided not to overreact to it. After all, M.J. was the *President*, and she probably didn’t have the luxury of chit-chatting with all new employees.

Then again, there really wasn’t much time to make any small-talk; as soon as John and Alli sat down, M.J. began firing off questions in a concise, clipped tone, as though she had a mental laundry list that she was keeping track of inside her head.

They proceeded to go over whatever was happening in the HR department, with M.J. continually prodding and plucking John’s brain for information, and John repeatedly hedging on his answers and not going into much detail. It was obvious that John didn’t care for M.J., and vice versa, making Alli wonder what the deal was. Aside from the fact that she was a woman and relentlessly hammered the Director with one question after another, Alli had never seen nor heard of any reason for the obvious discord. But surely Mark Whitton had been just as demanding when he ran things... surely John was used to that?

There’s probably some kind of ‘history’ between the two of them, Alli thought to herself. She could tell that M.J. was perturbed at John’s uncooperative manner, but surprisingly, the brunette didn’t bite his head off; she merely flashed her icy eyes at him in annoyance.

Maybe she’s not so bad after all? Alli thought, ...or maybe she’s just behaving herself because I’m here? She wondered.

Alli sat silently through most of the meeting, adding only minor comments when John included her, usually by asking her a question about something she couldn’t answer anyway, which made her feel quite stupid. The blonde was getting the feeling that M.J. assumed John was delegating a lot more to her than he actually was. She didn’t know if this was just the President’s over-expectant way, or if John really *was* supposed to be giving her more control than he had so far. Her boss obviously didn’t handle delegation very well, but Alli had figured he would give her more responsibility over time. It was a bit too early for her to push any of her ideas or suggest any radical changes — she didn’t want to rock the boat. She knew that the best thing was to just sit back and watch and wait, as usual. In this instance, that wasn’t such a bad thing, because it gave her time to observe the tall, austere woman as she interacted with her boss.

M.J. was cool and poised, and she wore an expression on her face that bordered on overly severe. She had small, dark-rimmed glasses on today, and with her hair pulled back in a tight bun behind her head, Alli thought she looked quite a bit like an old schoolmarm. She sat regally in her chair with her long legs crossed, calmly keeping everything under control, even when John would give her a sharp retort in response to one of her pressing inquiries. The woman somehow seemed to know that John hated to be questioned and pinned down about anything, and she handled his annoying reticence with serene superiority and a casually dismissive attitude. Alli found it interesting to watch how she handled everything.

M.J. hadn’t addressed Alli and barely even looked at her throughout the whole meeting, making Alli wonder if the dark-haired woman even realized she was in the room.

I’m just the ‘Assistant’, so I guess that means I’m not important enough to contribute anything, Alli thought, feeling slightly annoyed at the non-inclusion. Maybe her reputation *is* accurate after all? The blonde mused inwardly.

"Well, I just met with Ray and we had a *discussion* about his excessive and frankly, questionable, hiring tactics. I think you should be aware that we’re going to start being a little more *prudent* about who we hire for him." M.J. said as she pinned John with a serious look.

"What do you mean?" He said, his voice laced with annoyance.

"I *mean*, no more hiring friends of friends who aren’t qualified; I mean no more ‘hiring’ illegal aliens and paying them under the table — I mean no more *bullshit*, John." M.J. spat out, momentarily losing some of her cool control. Her voice was low and her eyes were suddenly blazing blue fire.

"Oh come on, M.J.! We hire his people the way we always hire them. We just do what Ray asks us to do!" John replied, getting defensive.

"Yes, I *know*, and because of it, I have Labor & Industry breathing down my neck, and our attorneys are getting tired of dodging lawsuit threats from the City’s Civil Rights and Ethics committees!" She growled, her eyes flashing at the HR Director as she leaned forward in her chair. "From now on, all hiring comes through me, whether Ray is here or not." She added with finality as she pounded her finger on the desk and pinned John with a deadly glare, as if to defy him to argue with her.

Alli felt herself shrinking downward in her chair, and she quickly changed her mind and thanked the heavens that the brunette hadn’t been including her; she didn’t want any of that anger thrown her way.

So the rumors are probably accurate then... oookay.

"Fine. Whatever you say, M.J. Is there anything else? I have another appointment to get to." John said with clipped impatience, his agitation clear as he scooted forward on his chair, preparing to stand and leave.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, there is one more thing; I need some data from you people," M.J. began as she searched for something on her desk. John made a snorting noise and pushed back in his chair again, resigned to the fact that he wouldn’t be leaving so soon.

"I need to know... over the past five years... everyone we’ve hired, fired, transferred, or promoted, and I need to know... race, gender, and age." M.J. rattled off the demand like a drill sergeant as she perused a paper in her hand.

"What? What for?" John dared to ask.

"Never*mind* what for — I need the information, and I want it by Friday." She said, her eyes narrowed and her jaw clenched tight. She was now definitely fed-up with John’s insubordination, and Alli was, quite frankly, embarrassed by her boss’s behavior — she’d never seen him act in such a way. Surely the Scorpion’s tail was poised and ready to strike his belligerent, sandy-blonde head.

"Friday?! We can’t get all that together in two days!" John complained, "Besides, we don’t even *have* that kind of data!" He spat out in exasperation.

Another thing Alli had learned in her short tenure was that John was not very computer-literate. He knew how to fetch and send his own emails, but that was about it; anything beyond that was out of the question, and he avoided it like the plague. But Alli had become familiar enough with the inner-workings of the office to know that all kinds of electronic data and information was available — you just had to know how to get it. She felt that it was her duty to inform her boss, and his boss, that they mostly likely could get the information, but she didn’t want to embarrass John. On the other hand, it would probably make the temperamental President happy...

"Uhm, actually, we might be able to get that data without too much difficulty," Alli said, hating the fact that she sounded so meek and unsure. She felt John give her a look, but she *saw* M.J.’s.

In an instant, she knew what it was like to come face-to-face with 100% of pure, heart-stopping intensity. They say a flame is at its hottest when it burns blue... if that is true, then Alli was being instantly incinerated. She found herself trying to swallow the lump that immediately formed in her throat, and her blouse suddenly felt very constricting. M.J.’s flickering blue orbs never left Alli’s face as the blonde began to try to explain what she meant without sounding totally idiotic.

"Uh, we have the HR/Payroll system, which has hire dates and change dates and current information in it, and we also have the data backup tapes that are run after each payroll processing. I know Payroll and Budget use the data for their reports, so I would think we could extract information for our use as well."

There, that sounded pretty good, like I know what I’m talking about. God, I hope I’m right, Alli prayed to herself.

John began to hee-haw around, saying things like "oh well, I don’t know if that’d work or not," and "you should probably talk to Liz instead of us." Alli felt uncomfortable and again was embarrassed by John’s obvious attempt to dodge the assignment, and she even feared that once they were back in the elevator, John might reprimand her for speaking up and over-stepping her bounds. Any doubt she had about speaking out was erased, however, when she saw the corner of M.J.’s mouth quirk upwards as she looked at Alli and then back to John, cutting him off abruptly,

"Fine, John. Don’t trouble yourself with it... I know it’s close to lunchtime for you, and I wouldn’t want to keep you from something so important." M.J. spoke sarcastically, her eyebrow arching high into her forehead as she threw the dagger at the blonde man, making his face flush bright red. Alli felt her eyes bulge at the audacious, but comical remark from the tall woman, and she had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing out loud.

"Ms. Phillips and I can work on this without your assistance... if that’s alright with you?" M.J. asked, turning her blue intensity to Alli again. The blonde felt her stomach lurch.

"Uhm," Alli hesitated for only a second as she glanced over to see John’s reaction. He had a mixed look of shock and humility on his face. Well what was she to do? Tell the President and CEO of the company, ‘sorry, but I don’t want to upstage my stupid boss’?

"...Sure." Alli said simply, shrugging her shoulders slightly.

"Excellent." M.J. said, giving a small, satisfied nod. "See what you can come up with by tomorrow and we’ll meet again to discuss it. I’ll have Helen call you with a time."



"I can't stand up, I can't cool down,

I can't get my head up off the ground;

Soon as I get my head ‘round you,

I’ll come around catchin’ sparks off you." - The Jesus and Mary Chain




Amazingly, John didn’t say one word to Alli after the tense meeting. She didn’t know if this was good or bad. The intimidating President had just picked the new, inexperienced *Assistant* Director to help her with some secret project, overlooking, and - dare she think it? - *ignoring* the more experienced HR *Director*. Maybe he was too embarrassed to say anything... maybe he was too angry.

He should be embarrassed, Alli thought. I don’t know why he acts so disrespectful to her. She’s *the* boss. She didn’t have John completely figured out, but again, she knew all that would come in time.

Alli worked diligently the rest of the day, questioning Liz about getting access to the data and how it could be extracted and manipulated. Luckily, she was pretty good with most computer technology and always had the ability to pick up and learn new programs and systems fairly quickly and easily.

The next day she gathered all the information she thought she might need and started throwing it into a big spreadsheet. Her 4:00 p.m. meeting with M.J. was fast-approaching and she wished she had a little more time to make the spreadsheet look more presentable and organized. She was beyond nervous at the thought of actually stepping into the Scorpion’s lair and working *with* the demanding woman, but she was betting that the President would be pleased to see that the insignificant little assistant director had managed to get all the information that she requested.

As she prepared to go upstairs, Alli discovered that she was actually looking forward to the meeting with M.J. So far the woman wasn’t quite as bad as the rumors she’d heard — well, she hadn’t been rude, demanding, over-bearing, and horrible to Alli *personally*. If that ever changed, then perhaps Alli would alter her opinion. For now, however, the President was in the Assistant Director’s good graces.


"Okay, Maddy, I don’t need an explanation of *all* the figures, just the important ones..." M.J. murmured aloud to herself as she returned yet another lengthy email to her sister. Madison knew that M.J. liked to be kept informed of all the business and investment dealings, but sometimes she went a little overboard with the boring details. Conversely, Madison always accused her older sister of being *too* concise, but M.J. merely saw it as efficiently truncating to get to the critical points. M.J. glanced at the clock, which read 3:55 p.m.

"Shit... gotta hurry this up," she mumbled. She had been looking forward to the meeting with the fair-haired Assistant HR Director all afternoon. After getting a good look at Allison Phillips at yesterday’s meeting, M.J. remembered how she first met her by nearly running her over in Liz Jacob’s office. At the time, she thought the blonde was just a kid, wet behind the ears, and of little significance and/or use to her. However, after watching her quietly assert herself while unwittingly putting her idiotic boss in his place, M.J. was eager to see what Allison would come up with for her. She had a feeling that this one was going to be full of surprises, and she hoped that they would be pleasant ones.

I could use a friendly ally in HR, M.J. thought to herself. Hell, who am I kidding? I could use a friendly ally *anywhere*. M.J. thought with an internal eye-roll. Her gut told her that this young woman was no dummy, and, even though it appeared that the wolves had already warned her and bent her ear about M.J.’s infamous reputation, she had a feeling that Allison Phillips would be different somehow and make up her own mind. Call it ESP, call it wishful thinking, call it whatever you want — M.J. sensed that something about Allison was different; she could see it in those clear, green-blue eyes. Allison seemed to have a determined, inner-fire that belied her innocent, youthful-looking exterior.

Can’t wait to see if I’m right, M.J. thought to herself with an inward grin.


At 3:58 p.m., Alli found herself walking up to the President’s office waiting area, a hard-copy and a disk containing her valuable assignment held tightly in her hands. Helen wasn’t at her appointed desk, but Alli could see that M.J.’s door was ajar. Did this mean she should knock, or should she sit and wait for Helen? She didn’t want to appear too forward, but then again, she didn’t want to sit out here and let M.J. think she was late. Telling herself not to be such a nervous dork, she walked up to M.J.’s open door and let her white knuckles fall on the dark wood.

The President was sitting at her pc, typing, and she looked up immediately when she heard the soft knock. "Ah, Ms. Phillips," she said in her smooth, rich voice.

"Uh, your secretary wasn’t at her desk, so...," Alli trailed off, not wanting M.J. to think she was being presumptuous.

"That’s fine, come in and sit down." M.J. said as she rose from her desk and walked to the door, closing it behind Alli. As her tall form breezed close by Alli, the smaller woman got a whiff of her perfume. It was a gentle, delicate scent, not overly feminine or flowery, not spicy or brazen, just... mild and pleasant. It didn’t seem to match her personality.

Or her *supposed* personality, Alli thought.

M.J. sat down at her desk again and turned back to her pc, "Just let me finish this email quickly and... I’ll be... right with you..." she said as she typed and spoke at the same time.

"No problem," Alli said, sitting back in her chair and taking the opportunity to look around the office and sneak a few peeks at her boss’s boss. M.J. had her hair pulled back and pinned behind her head, as usual, but this time some of her bangs hung down loosely, sweeping across her forehead. A few tendrils had escaped from her temples also and were hanging down, curling slightly at her jaw. Alli thought it made her seem younger and softer somehow; and it suddenly occurred to the blonde that perhaps the reason the President always wore her hair so severely was because it made her look ‘old and wise’. Did she think that she needed to look older and severe in order to gain respect, or was it just her true nature? How old was she, anyway?

"Okay... sorry about that. Now, what do you have for me?" M.J. said as she finished her typing and turned the full attention of her stunning eyes to Alli.

Alli tentatively presented her information to M.J., wishing that she sounded more confident. The president seemed to be pleased with what the blonde gave her, even though she didn’t outwardly say anything. She fairly devoured the information, popping the disk into her machine and bringing the spreadsheet up to start moving things around and adjust some of the data. Alli was just getting ready to feel disappointed by the lack of gratitude from the silent woman when M.J. began mumbling things aloud as she worked. Alli leaned across the desk a little, trying to learn what the president was doing and straining to see if she was ripping all her hard work to shreds.

M.J. noticed the smaller woman’s curiosity and felt like she owed her some explanation, seeing as how she was the one to provide her with the data in the first place.

"Uhm, here... come over here and I’ll show you what I’m looking for," M.J. said hesitantly. She normally didn’t show anyone anything, and she honestly didn’t know why she gave a shit about this young woman’s obvious interest. But something told her that it was safe to include the inquisitive blonde, and perhaps even beneficial. She pulled a chair over close to her own and the petite woman sat down eagerly as the brunette began enlightening her, explaining some of her rationale for doing whatever she was doing.

Alli could only sit and watch in fascination as M.J. murmured and pointed out things like, "see, this one doesn’t need to be in here... he was just an intern from the community college... this guy died — that wasn’t our fault... this one... hmmm... this one might be a problem," and providing little tidbits of information that she just somehow seemed to *know*.

Alli was impressed that this woman — the President of the company — knew all these employee/personnel facts and apparently had them stored in her vast memory. She would bet that even John, the HR Director, didn’t know or remember all the things that M.J. obviously did. Alli got the distinct picture that M.J. was trying to provide proof that the company hired, fired and promoted ethically and with proper justification. She couldn’t help but wonder if it had something to do with what M.J. had said to John the other day, about the city’s Civil Rights Commission coming down on them. Alli had no idea what was involved in all of it from a legal standpoint, but apparently the President was concerned about something. She was dying to ask questions, but figured she should keep her mouth shut... at least for the time being.

"Okay, I think that should do it. Now, do you think you can tidy all this up and make the spreadsheet look... presentable?" M.J. asked, snapping Alli back to attention.

"Uh, yeah, sure," Alli mumbled, wishing she could say something more intelligent.

"Good. I’ll just email this back to you... what’s your address?" The brunette asked as she began to compose an email at her pc.

"It’s ‘aphillips@whitton.net’," Alli said, looking at the screen with the dark-haired woman.

" ‘aphillips’? Why not the full ‘allison-dot-phillips’, like everyone else?" she queried, looking questioningly at Alli.

Alli felt her neck flush for a moment, "Oh, uh, you can use that too, but ‘aphillips’ is just... less typing, I guess," Alli said with a nervous grin as M.J. continued to regard her with confusion.

"I didn’t know you could shorten it; can everyone do that?" M.J. asked curiously.

So Wonder Woman doesn’t know everything after all? Alli mused to herself. "Oh yeah, you have several different options, actually. Here, I can show you...?" Alli offered, pointing to the keyboard.

"Please," M.J. said as she pushed her chair out of the way slightly and motioned to her desk, allowing the blonde to scoot her chair closer and take control. M.J. glanced furtively at the small woman as she helped herself to the mouse and began clicking away. The President took the opportunity to take in the soft, gentle lines of the youthful face, the flaxen-colored hair that was cut and worn in the popular shag-type style with long, fringy bangs, and the intelligent sea-green eyes that stared intently at the computer screen. M.J. found herself wondering just how old this little imp of a woman was.

"Here... this screen tells you how your mail service is set up," the blonde said, looking briefly at the brunette then back to the screen again. "This says that your address can be ‘mj-dot-whitton@whitton.net’, or just ‘mjwhitton@whitton.net’, or ‘morgan-dot-whitton’... you see? You have lots of different options," Alli said, turning to meet the steady light blue gaze again.

*Morgan*... ‘Morgan Whitton’, Alli thought, I like it... wonder why she doesn’t use it?

Alli could sense that M.J. had been watching her carefully, and although it unnerved her a great deal, she couldn’t deny that she felt a slight thrill knowing that the beautiful, intense eyes were studying her.

M.J. tore herself away from the jade gaze and looked back to the screen. "Well... they say you learn something new every day - no one from I.T. ever bothers to tell you this kind of stuff. How did you figure it out?" she asked, eyeing the blonde carefully.

Alli grinned, finding it refreshing that the President of a major company was curious about something as minor as the way an email system was setup.

"Oh, y’know... I guess I’m just inquisitive by nature... If I stumble upon some little... oddity, like this, then I have no rest in my pants until I figure the whole thing out." Alli finished with a nervous little laugh.

M.J.’s eyebrow shot up high into her forehead as the blonde confirmed some of her earlier thoughts, and she regarded the small woman with a half-smirk.

"Really? Well... I’ll keep that in mind." The President said lowly as she let her gaze drift downward over the petite body for just a second, then shot it back up to catch the widened, oceanic eyes. She knew what her open appraisal was probably doing to Alli, and she also knew full well that she should *not* be doing it... but the cute pixie was such easy prey.

Alli found herself blushing furiously and instantly felt very out-of-control. The riveting, sky-blue eyes were nearly undressing her and, god help her, she was enjoying it.

Ohmygod... what is *wrong* with me! She thought in a panic, smelling the faint aroma of M.J.’s perfume again and suddenly becoming keenly aware of how close they were sitting. Alli swallowed, her throat feeling tight and dry, and she licked her lips nervously. This certainly was *not* what she had expected to get out of this meeting, and *Morgan* J. Whitton certainly was not what she had expected her to be.

M.J. decided that she should ease up on the rookie, even though it was very tempting to keep her here to amuse herself.

"So... if you could clean this up a little bit, and then email it back to me tomorrow morning sometime, I’d appreciate it," the brunette said, her voice remaining low and even, her sly gaze still fixed on the blonde.

"Sure... no problem," Alli replied somewhat timidly as she cleared her throat and pushed her chair away to stand up, grateful to be escaping the disquieting situation.

M.J. stood up as well, towering over the smaller woman as they turned and began walking to the door. "Thank you for your assistance, Ms. Phillips--"

"Please, call me Allison," Alli interrupted as she turned to face the brunette, "or Alli... my friends and family call me Alli," she added, feeling suddenly bashful and shy.

M.J. gave a slight smirk back at her, again letting her gaze wander just a tad, "Okay... Allison-or-Alli... thanks," M.J. said lowly. Alli could only nod and quirk a nervous smile, then she turned and walked away.


Thankfully, by the time she got back to her office, it was nearly time to leave. Alli couldn’t believe that in a matter of just two days, she had gone from knowing absolutely nothing about the tall, mysterious President, to having the gorgeous woman openly flirt with her.

Godddd, Alli thought, nearly groaning out loud, was she *really* flirting with me, or was I just overreacting? Maybe she’s just playing head-games? Images of the brunette’s face flashed through Alli’s mind like a slide show. The high, arching brow that silently taunted her, the piercing, crystalline eyes that raked over her, and the sly, knowing smirk on the perfect lips that spoke her name so fluently...

She was doing *both*, you dork, and you totally fell for it!

Nevertheless, those penetrating cerulean depths gave proof of the dichotomy that lay within the individual that was M.J. Whitton: fierce, unyielding strength and intelligence, versus a seething, smoldering sensuality that nearly leapt out at you. A woman like that couldn’t be so stern and severe at all times, and through this little confrontation of theirs today, Alli suddenly had a very distinct feeling of what M.J. Whitton was like when the sultry ‘Scorpion’ side of her personality came out to play.

Oh goddd... don’t even *go* there, Allison, she chastised, shaking her head as she flipped off her office lights and headed out the door.

Another troubling thing for Alli was the fact that even though she had offered to cut through the formalities by using her first name, M.J. had not returned the gesture.

Well, she *is* the President; I guess I can understand why she wouldn’t want to offer such casualty to me, she told herself. One must stay within those ‘presidential’ standards, I suppose, Alli thought. Yeah, right... since when is flirting with an underling considered ‘presidential’? Hell, maybe she attended the ‘Bill Clinton School of Presidential Propriety’, the blonde thought with a grin as she mentally tried to recall if there were any cigars lying around M.J.’s office.




"Sleeping with ghosts,

It’s such a lonely experience;

The stars are out tonight,

Only they can hear you breathing;

You’re so like a rose." - Garbage




Alli flipped on the light switch as she finally reached the new apartment that she now called ‘home’. It was a very small, one-bedroom bungalow with seriously outdated 1960’s decorative undertones, but it was neat, clean, cheap, and only two blocks from the beach.

The blonde felt very glad to be home after such a strange day. She deposited her things on a small foyer table and moved into the kitchen to get a drink and contemplate what she could make herself for dinner. Deciding she didn’t have the energy to cook for herself, again, she selected one of her many frozen dinner entrees and tossed it onto the counter without care.

Her little episode with M.J. had left her feeling very unsettled, and she knew that it was going to require a lot of soul-searching and reflecting to figure out what she was really feeling and thinking inside, and why. Well, she knew something of what she was feeling - it wasn’t the first time another woman had pushed her buttons and turned her on - but she really didn’t want to get into it right now. Right now, she just wanted to relax and enjoy some peace and tranquility. She headed over to her stereo and popped her favorite Garbage cd in before going to change out of her work attire.

Oh yeah, let’s hear Shirley-baby belt out a nice, gloom-and-doom song... great idea, Alli, she thought with a roll of her eyes as she started to trudge back toward her bedroom.

As she passed her answering machine, she saw that the light was flashing. Depressing the button, she was rewarded with the sweet, southern sound of her older sister’s voice, "Hey Alli, it’s Kait... just wanted to see how you’re making out with the job and everything... haven’t heard from ya in awhile... gimme a call so we can talk, okay? ...bye hon." Alli smiled at her sister’s loving send-off, and she immediately felt herself relax.

She was closer to her sister Kaitlyn than she was to her even older sister, Erin. Being the eldest, Erin had always been more maternal and instructional with Alli, whereas Kaitlyn was very easy-going and good-natured, and played the part of best friend and confidante. They knew each other well and remained close, even after Kait had gotten married a few years ago. Josh was a great guy, and his relationship with Kait was an enviable one. If ever there was a guy to marry, Josh was it, Alli had always thought.

Erin, on the other hand, was more like their mother, and it was well known that she was the woman’s ‘favorite’ as well. Alli always thought Erin and her husband Jeffrey were much too different to be compatible, and she worried when they married so quickly, years ago. Erin was always very sure of her decisions, however, so Alli figured she must have known what she was getting into. Still, the couple seemed to argue constantly, and Erin’s mood was often sour. She was also strict and manipulative with her two children, which really bothered Alli. They were basically good kids, and Alli hated to see them used as pawns in any kind of a battle between their parents — Alli had learned first-hand what that did to children.

Her parents had divorced when she was just eight years old, and the memories surrounding that whole dark period of her life were sometimes still so vivid. Her father had never remarried, and although she’d never been very close to him to begin with, she saw even less of the man after the divorce, since she went to live with her mother and two sisters. However, Alli found that as she grew and matured, she began to long for her father. She wanted to know him, and discover who he really was. So, several years after the divorce — while her mother serially dated one creep and loser after another — a teenage Alli had begun visiting and spending weekends at her father’s simple home in the country. They reestablished ties and grew close, and the young woman was constantly amazed at what a wise, knowledgeable man her father had turned out to be. She often wanted to kick herself for not spending time with him earlier in her life. Robert Riley was not the dim-witted, indifferent man that her bitter mother had always claimed him to be. He was a gentle, quiet man who didn’t want for much, but cared deeply about his children and grandchildren, even though he saw them rarely.

Her mother — now that was a different story. Alli often wondered what it was that Susannah Watson seemed to be constantly searching for in her life. She was currently on her third husband, Albert Watson, and Alli didn’t give this relationship any better odds than the prior two. Both her step-fathers were supreme idiots and polar-opposites of her real father. But they were white-collar men as opposed to her father’s blue-collar, and she supposed her mother figured she could be happy so long as she had money to buy materialistic things to fill the empty spaces inside herself. She drove a fancy car and wore fancy jewelry, but deep down inside, Alli knew that her mother was still miserable.

Her current step-father gave her the creeps. He had a habit of leering at her and often made snide comments about what she wore or how she looked, or said other things that Alli considered inappropriate for a man to say to his step-daughter. She had no idea if her mother even noticed that the guy was a chauvinistic pig; if she did, she ignored it completely and played along like everything was peachy-keen.

Alli admitted that she might feel some pity for her mother if the woman wasn’t so unforgiving and judgmental of her and her life. Ever since Alli had made the life-altering ‘mistake’ of unexpectedly getting pregnant, then marrying and divorcing, her mother seemed to criticize every move she made, and constantly harped on her about every little thing. She continually compared her life to that of her sisters’ and absolutely drove Alli to the brink of her sanity. It was one of the main reasons she moved away from her native Georgia to start a new life in the ‘First Coast’ area.

Momma doesn’t understand me, Alli thought as she erased Kait’s message and trudged back to her bedroom. Kait is the only one who understands... Momma will never understand, the blonde thought pensively as she changed into shorts and a t-shirt.

The only one who took the time to listen to her and comfort her was Kaitlyn. She was the only person Alli trusted with her secrets and confessions. Yes, Alli had made some bad choices and stupid mistakes in the past, but she had worked hard to rebound from all that and had straightened her life out considerably. She now had a promising career ahead of her, and she was doing well for herself. But her mother didn’t seem to notice that; all she noticed was that Alli wasn’t married and didn’t even date. The weekend that Alli moved to Jacksonville, her mother had launched into her yet again about the miseries of being single and alone in a big city. Kait had been there to jump to Alli’s defense, but Alli told her not to bother. "Momma will never change, Kait. No matter what I say or do, she’ll never support me or my decisions." Alli had said to her sister. "Maybe not, honey, but remember that *I* understand, and *I* support you." Kait had responded. Alli sadly remembered how she cried the entire drive to Jacksonville.

Returning to the kitchen to fix her dinner, Alli regrettably began to think back to her ill-fated marriage. She wished she could just block it out for good, but knew that would never happen. Perhaps it was because there were too many valuable lessons to remember from it, or perhaps it was because it marked such an important turning point in her life. She had been so young and so confused... if only she knew then what she knew now about herself. "Hindsight is always 20-20, baby." ...Her father had told her that.

She was in her senior year at the University of Georgia and she’d been dating Eric Phillips for about 6 months when she became pregnant, quite by surprise. It was right before graduation, and when Eric suggested they get married, she supposed that it was the best thing to do... but she was so scared and uncertain. Her mother, of course, told her that it was indeed the ‘proper’ thing to do, but that was only after she berated and screamed at Alli repeatedly, "how could you be so STUPID!?". The woman never laid any of the blame or responsibility on Eric — she considered him incredibly chivalrous to propose marriage to Alli and pretty much told the overwhelmed young woman that she was insane if she didn’t take him up on his ‘generous’ offer.

Alli thought it was just as much Eric’s ‘fault’ as it was hers, especially since he had been the one to goad and push her into having sex in the first place. She had wanted to wait until she was *sure* - until she felt certain that he was the ‘right’ one, but he was relentless and finally persuaded her, almost forcefully, to give in to what he wanted. It sounded ridiculous to say that she just ‘went along’ with it, but the truth was, Alli didn’t want to disappoint or upset him. At the time, she was a shy, naïve girl who lacked self-confidence and was easily manipulated by the athletic, handsome - and sometimes intimidating - Eric. Even though she was uncertain about the depth of her feelings for him, she stupidly thought he might be the best thing she ever got. So she gave in to him. And it ended up getting her knocked-up with no money, no future, and no one to support her. Except Kaitlyn... Kait was the only one she could count on. Her mother seemed to be concerned only with Eric’s feelings.

Figuring, and hoping, that things would work out and she would eventually come to love Eric and live a ‘normal’ life, Alli agreed to his proposal, and they got married immediately after graduation. Eric got a job working at a local paper mill making slightly above the minimum wage, and Alli worked as a clerk in the Personnel office of a rinky-dink manufacturing plant. They lived sparsely in a shitty apartment, biding their time and hoping that something better would eventually come along for the both of them.

Nothing better ever did come along. In fact, things went from bad to worse.

Alli slumped on her kitchen table, suddenly feeling not very hungry. Why must I be plagued by all this, still? When will the memories leave me? She wondered it every time they resurfaced.

She recalled all the things that had happened, and how the relationship deteriorated so quickly. Eric began to care more about partying with his buddies than he did about her, and his excessive drinking spawned a nasty streak in him. The smooth, sweet-talking young man who had wooed her back in college was gone, and a bitter, hateful drunkard took his place. He became verbally abusive, telling her often that he was miserable and that she had ruined his life.

As if it was my fucking fault, she thought now as she forced herself to eat her bland dinner in the darkness of her kitchen.

At first, she did blame herself, and she knew that Eric resented her for being stuck in the marriage. But that feeling didn’t last long. Things changed, and she finally decided that she would not take sole blame and responsibility for the situation any more. Every time she looked in the mirror, she told herself to stay strong. Somehow, through it all, she found the strength to endure, and she began to realize that staying in the marriage was not what she wanted, even though her mother pressured her to stay and ‘try to make things work’. Alli thought it was incredibly hypocritical for her twice-divorced mother to even suggest such a thing, and it was even more repulsive to watch the woman continually fawn over Eric and treat him better than she treated her own daughter.

They remained married for little more than two years; Alli finally decided she’d had enough when Eric’s verbal abuse began to escalate into something more physical, and it all became too much for her to bear. She never pictured herself playing the part of an abused wife. Somewhere, somehow, some way, she found the intestinal fortitude to make herself get out of the situation before things got really ugly. For some reason, or maybe just because he loathed giving up his control, Eric fought the divorce and refused to sign the papers, saying that he would never let Alli go. When Alli’s mother again sided with Eric and defended him, ignoring his behavior and continually trying to talk Alli into a reconciliation, she turned to the only person she had left — her father.

Only when Robert Riley stepped in and threatened Eric did he finally back down and sign the papers. It was so out-of-character for Robert to do such a thing, but he couldn’t bear to watch his youngest daughter suffer anymore. Alli never forgot that. And I never will, she thought, closing her eyes. She remembered her father’s gentle words of wisdom and his quiet, unwavering support, "The tide will turn in your favor eventually, honey... just be patient," he used to tell her. She smiled, feeling the melancholy wash over her as a tear escaped down her cheek.

Why am I thinking about all this *again*, right *now*?! Alli chided herself. After all these years, you’d think I could just let it GO.

The only reason for the re-hashing of her past, she figured, was because today’s little altercation with M.J. made her feel things she hadn’t felt in a very long time. The alluring President stirred something deep inside her that she had nearly forgotten about. ...But the woman was also aggressive and intimidating, and that fact created feelings of foreboding in the back of Alli’s mind. She tried to convince herself that her fears were unfounded, and that they were just left-over memories stemming from her past experiences.

Not everyone is going to be like Eric, she told herself repeatedly.

Even after they divorced and Alli moved out, Eric would call her — usually drunk — and beg her to come back to him. He even went so far as to follow her to and from work on occasion, and he always seemed to appear whenever she went out anywhere. It drove Alli completely insane, and she swore off men, and dating in general. Her self-imposed celibacy only lasted about a year, however. After Eric’s harassment finally ceased, Alli soon found herself being lured out to clubs and bars with her friends, where she learned to take chances and experiment with her feelings... and her evolving sexuality.

It was during this time that she acknowledged her ‘awakening’, eventually coming to terms with and accepting the fact that she was attracted to women rather than men. It was something that had lurked in the back of her mind and plagued her for as long as she could remember; she was truly relieved to be able to release the pent-up feelings and frustrations that had tormented her for so many years. Still, no matter how much she allowed herself to ‘experiment’, she steadfastly refused to let herself be dominated or painted into any corners by anyone — her experience with Eric had taught her that lesson. Through all of it, she discovered that a very strong-willed woman lived beneath the small, innocent exterior of her persona.

She began to truly enjoy the freedom of being single and allowed herself to play the field, test-driving and honing her newfound self-assuredness. She never had another serious ‘relationship’ with anyone however, and although she did ‘fool around’, she never engaged in all-out sexual intimacies. She vowed that she wouldn’t do that until she met the person who truly rocked her world and treated her the way she wanted to be treated — with proper respect, unconditional devotion, and, well... a little tenderness mixed in with some red-hot passion would be nice too. They were things she’d never had, and they were things she’d decided she was willing to wait for.

So a situation like the strange one that seemed to be developing with M.J. Whitton was particularly distressing. Yes, she got the feeling that M.J. liked and respected her, but she seriously doubted that she meant anything to the captivating woman other than ‘employee’. It wasn’t the first time Alli had felt the stirrings of a ‘crush’, but she had always made it a point not to get involved with a co-worker — let alone the President of the company — and she really didn’t want to start now. But she couldn’t help herself... something about M.J. absolutely fascinated her, and she couldn’t remove the thoughts from her mind, even though she knew she should.

M.J. was, in many ways, the complete opposite of what she thought she wanted in someone... and yet she appealed to Alli in a most urgent way. Alli knew it was utterly pointless to pine over the woman; she was the BOSS, for chrissake. Besides, she had no idea if M.J. was gay, straight, bi, or what. She thought she got some ‘vibes’ from the mysterious beauty, but that didn’t mean much — her gaydar had a tendency to be way off sometimes, so she didn’t depend on it a whole lot.

Tossing the remains of her meal in the trash, she decided that she’d just have to continue playing it by ear with the dark-haired enigma.

She’s probably just one of those people who loves to flirt with everyone... it probably doesn’t mean a thing... it’s just a power-trip for her... I bet she gets off on it, Alli figured dejectedly. Rich, beautiful, powerful people... they’re all the same.

She flopped down on her sofa and picked up her phone, dialing Kaitlyn’s number. She missed her sister... especially at vexing times like this.



"You’ve got a vicious streak,

For someone so young;

You’re like a solar flare,

In the rising sun." - New Order




The next morning, Alli was still thinking about yesterday’s meeting with the intriguing, sophisticated President. She remembered the revelation of M.J.’s real name, and found herself wondering what else the beguiling woman hid behind her austere mask.

I wonder if her personnel file has any-- No, I can’t! I shouldn’t! Alli scolded herself, but what would it hurt?... just a *peek*... just a little glimpse... it’s not like I’m going to do anything with the information... I’m just curious... that’s all.

The blonde soon found herself sitting in her office opening a surprisingly thin brown personnel file labeled ‘M.J. Whitton’. She perused the information quickly, skimming through the documents looking for... she didn’t know what. M.J. had a varied educational background from schools and universities located far and wide. Her medical forms revealed nothing, nor did her payroll and tax information.

Alli was just starting to feel extremely invasive and shameful when she caught a glimpse of an insurance beneficiary form. The name of the insured read ‘Morgan Juliette Grayson Whitton’, and it listed one ‘Elizabeth Katarina Whitton Cohen’ as the sole beneficiary.

Cohen, Cohen... isn’t that Madison’s married name? Alli thought immediately. Sure enough, the beneficiary’s birth date of 09/29/98 and the signature of her legal parent/guardian, Madison Elizabeth Whitton Cohen, appeared right below. The document was dated 12/29/98.

So she’s giving it all to her niece? Alli thought, ...and it only took her three months to decide that the kid was worth it? ...interesting. She and Madison must be really close.

Alli’s eyes immediately scanned the other papers in search of another date. She found it on a medical insurance form: 11/10/69.

Hmmm... a genuine Scorpio... well that explains a lot... not a surprise, really, Alli thought to herself, Morgan *Juliette*, the powerful, mysterious Scorpio... how absolutely appropriate.

The rest of the paperwork in M.J.’s file was surprisingly scant, and Alli felt like she had only garnered a few tantalizing tidbits about the obscure woman, which just made her all the more curious.

Serves me right... I shouldn’t be snooping anyway, Alli thought as she slapped the folder shut and walked out of her office to return it to its rightful place.


Lunchtime brought a phone call from Helen asking Alli if she could stop up to see M.J. ‘before she left for the day’. Alli thought it was an odd sort of request — not a formal meeting, so... what then? Alli had emailed the completed ‘tidied’ spreadsheet back to M.J. right before lunch, so she suspected that it had something to do with that. She hoped nothing was wrong, but it really was hard to say. A small lump of worry immediately formed and firmly parked itself right in the center of her stomach.

After much indecision about what time ‘before you leave’ meant, Alli decided to head upstairs at 4:45 p.m. She reached M.J.’s waiting area and found Helen dutifully cleaning up at her desk. M.J.’s door was closed, and the office looked dark.

Helen greeted Alli and tried to buzz through to her boss. "Hmm, she’s still on her line. Hold on for a moment," the older woman said as she walked to M.J.’s door and tapped lightly, cracking it open to peer in.

Alli could make out the older woman silently mouthing ‘Ms. Phillips’ to whomever was in the office, and she nodded and turned her head back to Alli, "You can go in," she said simply. Alli walked into the darkened room and saw M.J. on the phone, her back to the door, facing the windows, the lamp on her desk providing the only light in the large office.

"Look, I *gave* you enough information — you should be able to take care of it, no problem," the brunette demanded to whomever was on the other line. Alli sat down and tried not to stare at the lean, well-toned arms that were exposed by the short-sleeved, cream-colored silk shirt that the President wore. Seeming to sense eyes upon her, M.J. turned slightly, giving a tight smile and acknowledging nod to the petite woman. Alli thought she looked frustrated and tired. Dark circles lurked beneath her normally bright eyes, and she rubbed her forehead with her fingers.

"Chuck... Chuck! You’re not *listening* to me!" the brunette said, suddenly raising her voice and standing up to walk closer to the windows. Alli suddenly wished she were out in the waiting area... but then again, if she weren’t in here, she wouldn’t be afforded the lovely view that stood in front of her. M.J. had her back to Alli so that she could openly admire the body that wore a short-sleeved blouse tucked into a pair of very well-fitting navy blue pants. For the first time, Alli could clearly make out the President’s figure.

A very *nice* figure, Alli thought, quirking an eyebrow as she ate up the vision before her. M.J. was not only tall, but she was built perfectly; long limbs, a trim waist, slender hips, moderately wide shoulders, and a graceful neck that supported that gorgeous face. Why is this woman not a supermodel? Alli wondered inwardly. The brunette’s arms were shapely and her skin was lightly tanned... Alli could only dream what those long legs looked like in the flesh.

Ohmygod! STOP it! What is *wrong* with you?! She screamed to herself suddenly and squeezed her eyes closed.

"No! that’s not good enough!" M.J. suddenly exclaimed as she turned back to her desk, jarring Alli from her perverse thoughts. "No! That’s bullshit! *Make* a deal! That’s your JOB, Chuck! *MAKE a goddamn DEAL*!" Her voice rose even higher and she slammed her fist down on her desk. "Well you can tell *Doug* that I’ll wring his damn bloody neck if you guys screw this one up! Now I want you to *finish* it — you got that? I want it *OFF my back*! ...Good. ...Fine. Look, I have to go. Call me later and let me know that this is *over with*. ...Goodbye."

M.J. turned and slammed the phone down a little too hard, sighing impatiently, "Sorry about that... *lawyers*," she said, looking exasperatedly at Alli and making an irritated face.

It made Alli smile a little in relief to see that the imposing woman wasn’t going to toss a chair out the window or anything. She felt like she always had to be on-guard around the tempestuous brunette.

"Uhm, well, let’s see... I just wanted to call you up here to tell you ‘thank you’," M.J. began as she pulled her seat out and eased her trim frame into it.

"Thank you?" Alli questioned, not understanding.

"Yes; the final report you sent back to me was great — very neat and clean, and exactly what I wanted, so — I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for your help." M.J. explained matter-of-factly.

Alli couldn’t help but feel incredibly shocked, and she tried very hard to conceal it on her face. "Well... you’re welcome... I mean, thank you, I mean... well, that’s my job, right?" she said, cursing herself for fumbling and sounding so lame. M.J. gave a throaty laugh and smiled at her — a genuine, wide, white-tooth grin. Alli had the distinct feeling that she was witnessing an unusual thing, and she thought it was the most gorgeous smile she’d ever seen. M.J. was gracing her with a rare glimpse of herself, and Alli felt truly privileged. She smiled back, feeling a definite blush overtake her cheeks.

"I, uhh... I often need information like that from your department, and... well... I usually have a hell of a time getting it," M.J. began to explain. "In fact, I usually have to *persuade* other people to get it, or else I end up doing everything myself," she said with a touch of bitterness. Alli suddenly understood many things with that one statement.

Apparently, no one helped the President willingly; no one offered her assistance or information. She kept the HR office under her thumb because she often needed the vital information it held, and she knew all that information by heart because she had to do the research work herself. She forced her authority on people because they ignored her otherwise; she had to be demanding and overpowering because she got nowhere without it.

Isn’t it a sad state of affairs when a woman has to resort to being a ‘bitch’ just to get her job done, Alli thought.

"Well, I’m glad I could help. If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to ask me," Alli said with absolute sincerity. She wanted to be different and offer her assistance to the President. Until the brunette gave her a reason, she didn’t see why she shouldn’t help this obviously hard-working woman.

M.J. was looking at her again, the slight smile on her face helping to offset the tired undertones. "Thank you, I appreciate that. You don’t know what a relief it is to have someone down there I can depend on, even a little bit," M.J. said, looking directly at Alli to convey her sincere sentiment. The look and the sincerity in M.J.’s suddenly gentle voice unnerved Alli immensely, and she felt those damned butterflies taking flight in the pit of her stomach again. She could only twitch her lips and grin nervously, wondering if M.J. Whitton had any idea what she did to her insides with a mere look.

Before Alli could speak again, a tiny whirlwind burst through M.J.’s open office door.

"Aun’ M.J.! Aun’ M.J.!" A little blonde-haired toddler was running toward M.J. with her arms wide open.

M.J. spun her chair, smiling wide and extending her arms to the child. "Heyyy, my little buddyyy!" the tall woman exclaimed, lifting the toddler up into the air and over her head. She laughed and smiled as she jostled the youngster, and Alli couldn’t believe this was the same woman who, just five minutes ago, was threatening a prominent attorney with bodily harm.

"I haven’t seen you in awhile, how are you sweetie?" M.J. asked in a warm, melodic voice as she brought the toddler into her arms for an enormous hug.

Madison walked into the office, noticing Alli immediately, "Oh, I’m sorry, Morgan — I didn’t realize you were meeting with anyone," the V.P. stammered.

"It’s okay, we were just about finished," the taller woman said, still grinning and giving a quick glance and nod to Alli, dismissing her, she supposed.

"Allison, how are you doing?" Madison said, turning to acknowledge her with a polite smile.

"I’m fine, thank you. Is this your daughter?" Alli asked with a tilt of her head and a grin.

"Yes, this is Lizzy. Lizzy? Could you say ‘hello’ to Ms. Phillips?" Madison chided, calling out to the little girl, who was now being mercilessly tickled by her aunt.

Lizzy... ‘Elizabeth Katarina Whitton Cohen’, Alli thought, remembering the information she’d secretly gleaned from M.J.’s personnel file earlier.

"Hello Ms. Phill–ahhh!" she squawked as M.J. continued to tickle her. Alli watched in rapt fascination as the normally intense, severe President tickled and teased the little bundle sitting in her lap, all the while her face exuding absolute love and adoration.

After a few moments of observation and chuckles, Alli decided that she should get going so that Madison and M.J. could be alone, since Madison had taken a seat and obviously wanted to talk to her sister. She excused herself, and M.J. again thanked her for her work.

As she walked down the hallway with a crooked smile on her face, Alli thought back to the warm, familial scene in the President’s office. Nothing she’d heard about this woman seemed to be true, at least not in her eyes. She didn’t see an emotionless tyrant who lashed out with a poisonous tail and snapped off people’s heads without provocation. The woman who unguardedly hugged and kissed that little child was nothing but a loving, doting aunt who had plenty of emotion and a luxurious, captivating smile that was blinding. Perhaps she was being naïve; perhaps she had just been lucky enough to catch M.J. on ‘good’ days... she didn’t know.

So she’s a complete conundrum... everyone has different sides to their personality, Alli thought, isn’t M.J. allowed that too? She didn’t know, and she really didn’t want to care, but again, she found herself feeling hopelessly bewitched by the irresistible President of the company.

She sighed out loud as she got into the elevator and pushed the #13 button, bringing a hand up to rub her temple. It was time to stop thinking... it was time to go home.



"Copasetic, calm my frenetic, she's the shit, y'all;

Highly-rated, well-educated, she's an angel;

She's ambitious, beautiful, delicious, like a restaurant;

I can take it, truth stripped me naked, and I’m fucked up." - J. Cantrell




Three months had now flown by, and Allison was finding that she enjoyed her new job immensely. Although she had been primarily focusing on recruitment and employee retention, which did need to be streamlined badly, as Ray Calhoun had said, she was enjoying the work. This was the first job where she had the freedom to put her ideas into motion without someone looking over her shoulder constantly. John finally seemed content to allow her to develop some independence and autonomy, and she found that she thrived in this kind of environment.

Things were going very well, but the office was dealt a blow at the beginning of this particular week: John announced that his wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and he was taking time off immediately to be with her. That suddenly left Allison in charge of the HR office. She was beyond nervous, to say the least, and yet she felt like it was a huge opportunity to prove herself. The biggest nervous hurdle to overcome was the fact that she knew that M.J. Whitton would be carefully watching her every move.


Today found Allison furiously preparing for a meeting with the oddly ambiguous President over a messy worker’s compensation claim that had been filed by one of Ray’s construction crewmen. She hadn’t met with M.J. again since the ‘email incident’ meetings, as she had come to refer to them, and although she was nervous at the prospect of coming under the scrutiny of the intimidating woman’s intensity again, she was also excited. M.J. seemed to bring something out in her — maybe it was a desire to help the information-starved President, or perhaps it was just some silly need to prove herself worthy in the powerful woman’s eyes. If it was something entirely different, Alli couldn’t name it; she only knew that her tummy tickled and she couldn’t get her hands to stop trembling.

Alli had some worker’s comp. experience from her prior job, but she hadn’t dealt with it at Whitton, Inc., and she certainly didn’t expect to be dealing directly with M.J... at least not so soon. It was times like this that she most missed having John there to serve as the official ‘Director’. She wasn’t sure how the issue even came to M.J.’s attention or why she was getting involved — all she knew was that when she received M.J.’s personal phone call requesting her to meet about the matter, she nearly peed in her pants. She assumed that M.J. was merely looking into the situation since Ray had left on his extensive vacation a few weeks ago, but the thought of dealing with something that John normally handled had her feeling very unsure of herself.

Nothing like baptism by fire, she thought as she took the elevator up to the 14th floor. She arrived at M.J.’s office, jittery and on-edge. Just relax... stay focused... don’t let her get to you... just the facts, ma’am..., she mocked inside her head. M.J.’s assistant knocked and announced that Allison had arrived, and she stepped inside to be greeted by M.J. and Madison.

Oh thank the fates it won’t be just me and Ms. Mesmerizing, Alli thought with some relief. The idea of being alone, again, in an office with M.J. Whitton had been eating at her ever since the meeting had been scheduled. The woman, frankly, scared the shit out of her. She unnerved her because she was so dominating and intense — both physically and mentally — and she was, well... alluring. Alli was certain she was the most attractive woman she’d ever met, and she feared that she would have a hard time concentrating on the task at hand if they were alone. She quickly scolded herself to remain objective and not stare like a love-struck teenager.

"Have a seat, Allison," M.J. purred smoothly, her mood serious and all-business. Nevertheless, Alli felt the hair on the back of her neck stand at full attention. "I’ve asked Madison to sit in on this so that we have a legal point of view," M.J. continued, nodding toward her sister.

Legal? This is going to get that nasty? ...oh shit. Alli nearly panicked at the thought, but remained stoic as she sat down. M.J. looked stunning and cool, as usual, and she flashed a proper, but tight smile as she regarded Alli and began speaking about the case.

Alli felt the nervous butterflies being released in the pit of her stomach, like they always did whenever she heard the smooth voice of the captivating President.

...I do not have a crush on the President of the fucking company! I do not, I do NOT! She yelled to herself, Stop it!

The three women discussed the case in depth for over an hour. Alli was fascinated with the way the two sisters’ minds worked. They played question-and-answer off of each other beautifully, and it occurred to Alli that she was witnessing something rare — two siblings who were ideally matched as business partners. Even though the two sisters looked fairly similar physically, their personalities couldn’t be more different. M.J. was impatient and abrupt, seeing things as black and white, yes or no, and she paced back and forth in front of her office windows while she talked and thought aloud. Madison was urbane and placating, gently arguing with her older sibling and explaining why there were gray areas and what they meant. Alli loved having the opportunity to observe both of them carefully.

M.J.’s face almost always held a serious-looking scowl, and her brows were constantly knitted together in fierce concentration. If she wore any makeup at all, it wasn’t easy to detect. The intense, penetrating eyes, the strong angles of her cheeks, and the slight jut of her strong jaw gave her face a fierce, intimidating look, and Alli decided that it was these features, in combination with her height, that gave her the ‘handsome’, even slightly androgynous, appearance. Her lips held only a hint of color, and today she wore simple gray pearl earrings and a slender gold watch. On the fourth finger of her right hand, she wore a gold ring with a beautiful emerald-cut sapphire surrounded by diamond baguettes. Other than that, she was completely unencumbered by adornments.

Madison, on the other hand, was decidedly more feminine-looking. Even though she also possessed perfect cheekbones and a pronounced jaw like her sister, overall she appeared more delicate and demure. Her expression was open and placid, and her eyes, although beautiful, were more of a dusty, slate-gray and not nearly as bewitching as M.J.’s. Her use of makeup was obvious, but it didn’t detract from her beauty. She wore large gold and diamond-encrusted earrings, which she occasionally played with when she was thinking. Her fingernails were perfectly manicured with a tasteful cranberry-colored polish that matched her lipstick precisely. Alli couldn’t help but wonder what the parents of these two women must look like in order to produce such beautiful daughters; and again, she couldn’t help but wonder why the two of them weren’t appearing on magazine covers somewhere. They were absolute knock-outs.

Alli also noticed, for the first time, that Madison wore a bizarre gold ruby-and-diamond creation on her right hand, and a humongous diamond wedding ring on her left hand. M.J., in contrast, wore absolutely nothing on her left hand.

Not like that means anything for sure, she thought to herself. Stay focused on the meeting... idiot!

"I don’t see why we just can’t sack the guy! He’s just screwing with us and he’s going to drag this out forever," M.J. growled with obvious frustration as she slumped back down in her chair. M.J.’s moody temperament was a bit of a worry to Alli — she was like some sort of yin and yang... sometimes cool, sometimes hot — occasionally water, but more often fire.

"You can’t just terminate him, Morgan, you have to offer him light duty or other viable alternatives. If he refuses those alternatives, *then* we have grounds to terminate." Madison reminded her gently. She sounded exactly like an attorney and always spoke in a crisp, precise, enunciated voice. Alli didn’t recall anyone saying that Madison had a legal background, but she now thought that she must. She also noticed that Madison always called her sister ‘Morgan’ rather than ‘M.J.’.

Bet she’s the only one who gets away with that, Alli thought.

"I’m just concerned that we’re going to set a bad precedent here, Maddy. If we don’t nip this in the bud and make an example, all the other wankers out there will see that this guy got away with it, and then we’ll have a dozen copy-cat situations!" M.J. grumbled impatiently, "I don’t *like* having worker’s comp. claims — it makes us look sloppy and unsafe." M.J. snapped as she leaned back in her chair and let out an agitated sigh.

"Well I don’t either, but we still have to handle them judiciously and legally. Besides, we really don’t get that many claims anyway," Madison added nonchalantly.

"Uhm, actually, we *do* have quite a few," Allison cleared her throat and spoke up hesitantly. Both Whittons turned to look at her in surprise, and she immediately felt beads of sweat pop out at her temples. "Uhm, I pulled some files and looked over things, and, well, there are a lot of claims that, I think, could probably be avoided if the workers had some safety training... or something."

Allison looked at the two women, expecting them to say something negative, especially M.J. Instead, they just stared at her expectantly with raised brows, so she continued, treading carefully. "It might not be a bad idea to consider hiring our own Health and Safety Specialist... someone who could do training and inspect the work sites and conditions on our behalf... it might help alleviate a lot of the problems and ultimately, prevent claims...?" Allison trailed off with uncertainty, nervously twirling her pen in her fingers.

M.J. stared at her intently, as though she had sprouted two heads and was speaking an alien language. Alli felt herself blush under the scrutiny and she darted her eyes over to Madison to see if she was about to have her head lopped off, or what. Madison, however, had a faint smile on her face, and Alli felt a tiny bit of relief.

"I believe I made that very recommendation to Raiford and Liz Jacobs ages ago. Obviously Ray ignored me... as usual," Madison said. M.J. finally managed to tear her gaze from Alli for a moment,

"Why did you mention it to Liz?" M.J. asked, confused.

"Her office handled the worker’s comp. claims before... uh... before Alex Whats-her-name left the department, remember?" Madison said, throwing a knowing glance at her sister, who in turn flashed a loud warning glare back at her. Luckily, the blonde didn’t seem to pick up on the sisters’ silent signals. "Anyway, after she left, you moved Worker’s Comp. to Human Resources," Madison finished.

"Oh... right," M.J. said, wanting to immediately move past Madison’s little trip down memory lane. "I’m surprised no one’s noticed this before. And why wouldn’t Ray or Liz have thought of the ‘Safety Specialist’ thing before? That’s an *excellent* suggestion, Allison," M.J. said as she stood up and walked to the window, looking back briefly and pointing to Alli with approval. Alli felt her chest swell with pride — she had actually gotten *more* kudos from M.J. Whitton.

I wonder if I could get this quoted and printed on a certificate so I could hang it in my office as proof? She thought as she fought to quell the grin that tugged at the corners of her mouth.

"Yes, it is a good idea. We should look into hiring someone immediately. When will Stevenson be back? Do we know?" Madison asked, looking at Alli and M.J., who turned and looked expectantly at Alli.

"I haven’t heard from him since last week — have you?" M.J. asked, boring her bright blue eyes into Alli’s.

Alli felt herself tremble slightly as M.J.’s gaze seemed to suddenly plow into her, "Uh, yes, I spoke with him on Monday. He said that Donna wasn’t responding well to her first chemo treatment, so... I suspect he’ll be out for awhile yet." She answered, feeling bad that John obviously hadn’t kept M.J. informed about his leave.

"Oh... that’s too bad," Madison mumbled aloud.

"Well then, I guess you and I will start working on finding a Health and Safety Specialist, Allison," M.J. said as she approached the blonde’s chair and rested back against her desk. M.J.’s features had changed, and Alli thought she was looking at her in a rather flirtatious, almost predaceous manner. She wore a tiny Mona Lisa smile and her azure eyes seemed to glimmer while sizing Alli up, as though she were a potential foe... or a dinner entree.

A sense of deja vu echoed in the back of Alli’s head, and her mouth felt oddly dry. She hoped to hell that she wasn’t sitting there with her tongue hanging out as she stood up on slightly shaky legs, "I look forward to it, Ms. Whitton." Alli answered, somehow finding it within herself to sound self-assured and even quirk an eyebrow at the imposing brunette.

"You don’t have to be so formal - call me M.J.," the tall woman said, reaching out to touch Alli’s forearm gently, her smirk still firmly in place.

"Okay, M.J... let me know when you want to get started." Alli said with confidence. She was flattered that the all-powerful President had finally decided to be on a first-name basis with her, *and* she had *touched* her in a friendly manner. ...She was on cloud nine.

Oh get a *grip*, moron!

"I’ll have Helen set something up for next week?" M.J. responded immediately, watching the blonde nod and smile back at her. Neither woman noticed that Madison was watching their interaction with great interest.

"Sure. Pleasure to see you again, Ms. Whitton," Alli said, remembering to remain polite as she reached out to shake Madison’s hand before exiting the office and closing the door.


"Morgannnn," Madison drawled out, pausing for just a moment after Allison left.

"What?" M.J. answered indifferently as she walked around and sat in her chair again.

"You know *what*," Madison said admonishingly.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about," M.J. said evenly as she pretended to look at some papers on her desk. Madison stood up and walked over to her desk, intentionally placing her hands on the papers that M.J. was looking at. M.J. raised her eyes slowly and leveled a fierce look at her sister.

"Morgan... just...," Madison said in a soft tone, her gray eyes pleading.

"What, Maddy? ‘Just’ what?" M.J. snapped with some impatience as she regarded her sister seriously.

"Just... don’t do anything stupid, okay? Don’t be careless again; I don’t wanna see another Alex Wicszleski situation, alright?" Madison gently reminded her older sister. M.J. glared at her younger sibling for a moment, her normally bright eyes misting over slightly. The mere mention of that name earlier evoked a landslide of bad memories for her. She was surprised that Madison actually remembered Alex’s real name - they had always sarcastically referred to the former employee as ‘Alex Whats-her-name’.

The whole mess took place a few years ago... M.J. had made the horrid mistake of having a ‘fling’ with Alex Wicszleski, an Administrative Manager working at the time in the Finance area under Liz Jacobs. It started out as a casual affair, but the whole thing ended up turning terribly sour, to say the least. M.J. quickly realized that cavorting with Alex was a big mistake. The woman was clingy, emotionally unstable, and — in Madison’s opinion — obviously digging for gold in the pockets of the Whitton family. When M.J. tried to break things off, Alex went ballistic and retaliated by threatening to go public and sue M.J. and Whitton, Inc. for sexual harassment. The whole fiasco nearly cost M.J. her job and her family’s business. Only after a great deal of savvy legal maneuvering and a hefty pay-off did M.J. get rid of the psychotic monkey on her back. She hadn’t thought about the whole thing in such a long time; she much preferred keeping it in the past, where it belonged.

M.J. sighed with annoyance, pulling herself out of her reverie, "There will *never* be another ‘Alex Wicszleski situation, so don’t even go there," M.J. said dismissively, pulling the papers out from underneath her sister’s intruding hands.

"I’m just saying... you *know* what I’m saying, Morgan," Madison said in a slightly scolding, but gentle tone. M.J. looked up at her again, the glare diminished greatly, and she sighed in acknowledgement. As usual, her sister was right, and M.J. knew that she was just looking out for her.

"Yes, I know what you’re saying, Maddy... I promise I’ll behave, alright?" She said impatiently, tossing her younger sister an irritated look.

Madison sighed and opened the door, "Yeah, *sure* you will," she mumbled as she shook her head and left her sister’s office. M.J. smiled after her and went back to her work.


The short, one-floor ride down to the Human Resources department was fraught with vivid images, both real and imagined, for Alli. She had no doubt that the president of Whitton, Inc. had, once again, flirted openly with her — and in front of her sister and Vice President, no less. It might have been subtle and mild, but it was real. Alli prided herself on reading body language and silent signals, and she was certain that the non-verbal language that emanated from the tall brunette didn’t fall within proper business protocol.

*God*, the way she rakes her eyes over me... uhhhh! Alli nearly moaned out loud.

Somehow she managed to keep herself from dissolving into a pile of mush; somehow she had retained her senses; and *somehow*, she even managed to speak back to the overpowering woman in a seemingly confident manner.

Don’t know *how* in the hell I managed *that*, Alli thought as she remembered quirking a brow while addressing the smug President.

She had also seen the silent looks passing between M.J. and Madison; the knowing glances and bodily communications between the two sisters was strong. Alli knew all about sisters and their connections — she had sisters herself, and she remembered a time when they were able to speak to each other in silence also.

Too bad I don’t see Kaitlyn and Erin that often... I miss that closeness, Alli thought, feeling melancholy at the thought.

Pulling herself out of her contemplation, Alli went into her office, determined to get started on recruiting a safety specialist, and determined to make a good impression on the big boss — flirting be damned.

It’s not like she’d ever do anything more than flirt a little bit anyway, Alli thought as she moved about her office, she’s the BOSS, for godssake... I’m nothing but a little peon to her.

As the blonde tried to throw herself back into her work, she found her thoughts continually drifting away. It was as though she could feel a pair of enigmatic blue eyes constantly watching her, dissecting her. It was worrisome and yet thrilling at the same time. Her memories kept focusing on the image of M.J.’s tall, sleek form, pacing back and forth in her office... the dark, brooding figure never seemed to be at rest, and her mind never seemed to be at peace. She was like a panther, trapped in a gilded cage, waiting to lash out and break free. She was beauty and beast, she was goddess and temptress, all wrapped up in one magnificent creature.

Alli sighed to herself, wishing her mind would knock off the stupid, poetic waxing and give her a freaking break. She had to work with this imposing, alluring figure on an important project, and she couldn’t afford to be distracted — not one little bit. She took a deep breath and blew it out loudly, determined to ignore her silly thoughts and feelings and concentrate on the task at hand. As she turned to her computer, she could swear that the reflection staring back from the monitor was a gentle cerulean.

Oh, this is *not* going to be easy, Alli thought with some defeat.




"Why do you come here,
When you know it makes things hard for me?
When you know... oh why do you come?
I'm so very sickened, oh I am so sickened now...

But it was a good lay, a good lay,
It was a good lay, a good lay..." - Morrissey




It was nearly 7:00 pm when M.J. finally glanced at the clock on her desk. She sighed loudly and leaned back in her chair, raising her arms up high and twisting them back behind her head.

Time to get out of here... I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I’m frustrated... so what else is new? She thought to herself, looking out the window at the darkened city skyline. She knew that tonight would be her usual quick dinner, followed by an excessive and unmerciful boxing workout, followed by a nice dip in the pool, then a long hot shower, and then off to bed.

I lead such a dreadfully exciting life, she thought to herself as she rolled her eyes and began cleaning up her desk.

The shrill ring of her cell phone interrupted her task. "Yeah," she said in her customary curt greeting.

"Hey, handsome," the voice at the other end of the line purred seductively. M.J.’s senses immediately went on alert. "No answer? ...okayyyy...," the voice added sarcastically.

"I’m just heading home for the night, Kate; what do you want?" M.J. said impatiently.

"You’re always *so* goddamn polite, M.J., you know that?" The redhead teased in her trademark velvet voice. M.J. merely sighed into the phone. "Look, I need to talk to you about something — a *business* something," Kate added emphatically.

"So talk while I walk out the door," M.J. said as she began tucking papers into her briefcase, determined not to stay one more minute.

"Actually, I’m in my car, just around the corner from you... I was hoping I could just stop by...?" The attorney demurred coyly.

"I’m on my way *out*, Kate; give me a call tomorrow and we can discuss whatever it is," M.J. said insistently. Kate had a way of sweet-talking her into doing things, and she couldn’t stand that.

"Oh come onnnn, M.J. It’ll just take a minute... I promise," Kate enticed, "I’m coming up on your building right now." The attorney knew exactly how to cajole M.J. and gently push her buttons, and she used that knowledge to her advantage whenever possible... like now.

M.J. paused a moment, releasing yet another loud sigh. "Fine, but make it quick. I wanna get out of here early for a change." She abruptly snapped the phone shut and stuffed it into her briefcase. M.J. knew she was being a bitch, but she really didn’t care; there was no way in hell she’d ever let Kate Reed have the upper hand completely — not that that was even possible — they were terrible together when they were outside the bedroom; they clashed horribly.

She’s great in bed, but letting her have any other kind of ‘control’ over me is out of the question, M.J. told herself. Kate was all about control and manipulation, and in many ways, so was M.J., hence the clashing.

Actually, it was ironic for Kate to call her today, of all days, after she had taken the little trip down memory lane about Alex Whats-her-name. It was during the legal battle over the Alex situation that M.J. and Kate met.

Yeah, I went from one bad situation to another, M.J. thought to herself. She sighed aloud, knowing that she’d probably kick herself later for giving in to the crafty little redhead tonight. God only knew what the woman had up her sleeve.


An hour later, M.J. gathered her briefcase preparing, at last, to go home for the night. Kate’s ‘business’ discussion had lasted all of 15 minutes before she turned her wiles on M.J. and proceeded to seduce her with abandon. M.J. wasn’t pleased with the turn of events, but in her state of frustration and fatigue, she found herself giving in, once again, to the attorney’s advances.

Damn woman, M.J. thought to herself. She decided she should stop off at the bathroom adjacent to her office suite to make a quick check of her appearance, lest she run into someone on the way out. She flipped the lights on and gave herself a cursory appraisal.

Not too bad, considering how savage we were with each other, she thought to herself. Quickly washing her hands in a subliminal desire to clean her entire self, she refastened a few buttons and tucked her blouse neatly into her pants, tidied her dark hair, and shrugged her suit jacket back on. Noticing that her shoulder felt a little sore, she grabbed her things and headed out the door toward the elevators.

While quietly plummeting downward in the stuffy capsule, M.J. couldn’t help but ponder the meaning of her life, or lack thereof. She hated it when she got introspective like this, but it was bound to happen from time to time. She had no one and virtually nothing in her life that was significant, except her career.

My ‘career’, she thought with sarcasm, what the fuck good is it? It’s all I have, and I barely give a shit about it anymore, she contemplated, feeling somewhat angry. I never wanted to be here... I was happier where I was... I only took this position because Mark made me feel guilty, like I ‘owed’ him... like it was my familial obligation, even though he tried to make it sound like I was just doing him a favor... I should have just told him ‘no’... I should have stuck to my guns and done what I always planned to do... just work here a few years and then get the hell outta Dodge.

The brunette reminisced about her long-lost dreams for just a moment before the elevator chimed, reminding her that she had reached the parking garage level. She trudged to her black Jaguar and climbed in, tossing her briefcase on the passenger seat. Sighing in relief, she fired up her beloved sports car, punched up an appropriately gloomy song on the cd player, and zoomed toward home just as Morrissey began to croon about being so sorry.

Fall was a strange time in the deep South; it could be chilly and breezy, or it could be boiling hot, like the middle of summer. Tonight it was balmy and the air was moist. It seemed ridiculous to have to run the air-conditioner in the middle of the fall season, and M.J. was tempted to drop the car’s convertible top, but decided against it. The only time she liked to do that was when the sun was shining brightly and her hair was down so that it could fly all over the place like a dark, wild flag of freedom and happiness. She hadn’t done that in a long time... she hadn’t felt free nor happy in a very long time.

She soon reached her home and pulled her car through the gates and into the spacious garage. Seeing her old battered Jeep Cherokee and her Harley-Davidson motorcycle made her smile for the first time that day.

Gotta take the ‘ole Hog out soon... haven’t ridden her for ages, she thought idly as she strode past it. Walking up to her Jeep, she looked wistfully at the well-worn vehicle and saw the rust bubbles that had begun to riddle its body like a metallic cancer. The 4x4 was like a cherished old friend to her; it had been with her, faithfully, for 15 years, and it looked it. She smiled again, feeling unusually sentimental, and patted the hood as she walked out of the garage and made her way into the main house.

She plopped her briefcase on the kitchen counter and immediately went to the fridge to see what was available to eat. Deciding on the usual frozen fare, she tossed the item into the microwave and grabbed a bottle of cold water. Leaning back against her counter, she looked around her home. Ruth had obviously been there today to do the cleaning, and the place looked spotless. M.J. employed the woman just to clean house for her — she did her own laundry and cooking, unlike her sister, who employed numerous staff at her home.

Ruth is good... don’t know how she keeps this place looking so nice.

The house was an historic and architectural masterpiece. Fighting against her father’s insistence that she should build a brand new ‘Whitton home’ to use as a showplace, M.J. had instead opted to buy an old house and renovate it. And that she did. It was a gorgeous, sturdy, old brick Georgian plantation-style mansion with beautiful hardwood floors, wide, thick baseboards, one-inch-thick plaster walls, a heavy slate roof, a gorgeous 2-story entrance foyer with a huge winding staircase, king-sized beds and fireplaces in every bedroom, and a long wooden dock that lead out to a large boathouse. All of it was perched very privately and serenely along the St. John’s River. The only areas M.J. had completely remodeled and modernized were the kitchen and the bathrooms — the rest of it was all original. She had also added a huge in-ground swimming pool, but that was the only real indulgent item she’d splurged on. She loved to swim, and found the addition a necessary one, rather than merely for show. She had always been fascinated with old homes, and this was exactly what she wanted. She’d personally overseen all the renovations, even designing and drawing up the kitchen and bath plans herself.

Even though she made it a point to avoid too much exhibitionism and opulence, M.J. knew that she probably wouldn’t have all the things she had if she didn’t hold the position she did.

Well, not necessarily, she thought to herself in self-defense. She was fairly frugal with her money and invested it wisely, rather than spending it on excessive things like absurdly expensive jewelry, priceless antiques, huge yachts, and private planes, like Madison, her father, and Ray did. Although she knew that her house, her Jaguar, and even her Harley could be considered ‘flashy’ items, she knew that she bought them for herself because she truly loved them, not because they could be used to proclaim to the world how wealthy she was. She had taken a good bit of ribbing from Madison about her sporty Jag XKR convertible -- Maddy accused her of being a posh snob, like their British mother, and the comment nearly caused her to forego buying the vehicle. But, ever the stubborn one, she refused to give in to her younger sister’s chiding and bought it anyway; she reasoned that if she really wanted to show off, she’d buy an Aston Martin. Besides, Madison had a lot of room to talk, considering that she drove a Bentley.

She remembered when she was purchasing the house... even though it needed some work, she was very happy with the old five-bedroom home and loved the fact that it had some history attached to it, as did many of the aged homes along the St. Johns. Her father and Madison, and even Ray, tried to talk her into building something brand new that would be much bigger and more extravagant. ‘Remember that your home will be a representation of you, *and* the company’, they had said, as though she needed to be reminded that they built things for a living. They knew she didn’t like extravagance and lavishness — it wasn’t her thing, it never had been. To further prove her point, she purposely never purchased a boat to moor at her dock... she bought herself the Harley instead. She preferred small and manageable as opposed to grand and out-of-control. Being the only person living there, the house was certainly spacious enough for her. It was a big enough place to get lost in, and, she admitted begrudgingly, it was a big place to be lonely in.

It was hard to admit that she felt lonely sometimes, even to herself. She only made such confessions on days when she was especially melancholy, or after she’d had one of her ridiculous, emotionless, quick-fix sex encounters with someone someplace.

Kind-of like... tonight? M.J. thought. Damn... damn that woman! She cursed inwardly.

The truth was, she didn’t mind being alone, she just hated feeling lonely... there was a big difference, but it was hard to explain. M.J. was pretty sure no one understood. She could never have a real relationship with anyone — it had only taken one bad experience for her to decide that. She wasn’t interested in anything long-term or ‘genuine’; it was just something she knew, in her heart, would never happen. Besides, she wasn’t a ‘relationship’ kind of person; she got bored easily, and she wouldn’t be a good ‘partner’. She would never fall head over heels *in love* with anyone.

Hell, the longest ‘relationship’ she’d ever had was probably whatever the hell she had going with Kate, and *that* hardly qualified as a ‘relationship’. That was only an occasional good fuck, interspersed with a lot of sarcasm and power-struggles. She didn’t understand what it was that kept Kate coming back to her, nor what made her give-in to the redhead’s ploys so easily. Kate meant nothing to her; she was just a body on, and in, which M.J. released her pent-up frustrations. They used each other. It was nothing but rough, harsh, emotionless sex. It was totally dispassionate, and completely unfeeling.

She often wondered if she intentionally, albeit subconsciously, selected ‘partners’ that she knew would be a poor match for her. Maybe she dabbled with people like Alex Whats-her-name and Kate because her subconscious mind knew there was no chance in hell that it would last beyond a few one-night-stands or a casual fuck here and there. Maybe her conscious decision to have no attachments controlled her subliminal sex-partner selections. Was that possible? ...She didn’t know. She only knew that she didn’t like what she had become. And the current situation with Kate only served as a constant reminder of it. Their sexual encounters now seemed to leave her feeling dirty and pathetic. She hated it. Moreover, she hated that she *needed* it.

M.J. finished her drink and walked out of the kitchen, forgetting her dinner and deciding to forego a work-out for the night; she was too tired.

I just wanna go to bed, she thought to herself as she walked back to her bedroom, undoing her strict hairdo and stripping her clothes off. Walking back into her bathroom, she began to run warm water for a shower, then turned to examine herself in the large mirror that adorned the wall in front of her sink.

M.J. knew she was an attractive woman, but still, there were things about herself that she wouldn’t mind changing. Sometimes she thought her lips were a little too thin and her jaw stuck out a bit too much. Even though enough people had told her that most women would kill for a face like hers, she didn’t think it was absolutely perfect... nothing was, after all. She was always glad that she was tall, however. Standing at nearly 5’11", she automatically had the advantage of being intimidating without trying very hard. Coupled with her dark hair and blazing blue eyes, she knew she commanded attention... she knew she could make men — and women — weak in the knees, and she used that upper-hand to her advantage quite often.

She turned her shoulder to look at it in the mirror. Angry, crimson scratch marks stood out starkly against her lightly-tanned skin.

Fuck... no wonder my shoulder hurts! She thought angrily as she touched the tender area. Next time the idea of ‘giving head’ comes up, I’m gonna make sure her fucking hands are tied behind her back! She vowed as she turned around and climbed into the steaming shower.




"I’ll tell you something, I am a wolf, but,

I like to wear sheep’s clothing;

I am a bonfire, I am a vampire,

I’m waiting for my moment;

You come on like a drug, I just can’t get enough,

I’m like an addict, coming at you for a little more." - Garbage




The next few weeks Alli found herself reporting to and working with M.J. quite a bit. They had begun to put together requirements and a recruiting scheme for hiring a Safety Specialist, and M.J. had also been making numerous requests for information. It was now a common occurrence for the President and the Assistant HR Director to be working together. M.J. liked the idea of having someone like Alli to depend on and run reports and gather important statistical information for her. It was something she’d always looked for in her own personal assistants, but none of them ever seemed to be able to understand what it was she wanted and needed. Somehow, the intelligent little blonde HR assistant fell into the role perfectly. M.J. only had to give her minimal instructions and guidelines, and Alli always understood and delivered the goods to the demanding woman. M.J. found herself liking and depending on her quite a bit and, she admitted, it was a bit unsettling.

M.J. had always been very cautious in her business relationships; one could never be sure when a supposed ally and friend would turn on you, and she couldn’t afford that... she had enough experience in that arena already. But her gut told her that Allison Phillips was trustworthy, and that she was different from all the other vultures who sat around waiting their turn to jump on her presidential carcass. M.J. supposed that what impressed her most about Alli was that she didn’t act as though she were intimidated or in awe of her. She clearly respected M.J.’s position and authority, but she never kissed her ass overtly like everyone else did. Whenever they worked together, Alli treated her just like any other colleague; she gave her honest opinion whenever M.J. asked for it, even if it differed from the President’s.

M.J. realized that, for a change, she respected someone else probably as much as they respected her. Their meetings had begun to take on a very relaxed, casual feel, and M.J. found herself treating Alli in almost the same way she treated Madison — like a trusted friend and confidante. She didn’t know when this change took place, or what caused it; perhaps it had just been a gradual, natural evolution. M.J. had to admit that, although it was confusing, it was also rather pleasant.

Of course, there was one slight problem with the new ‘comfort zone’, and that was the *attraction* thing. M.J. admitted it to herself only in private, because that was the only safe place for it. Alli was cute, and smart, and strong-willed; she seemed - so far - to possess all the qualities that M.J. thought she’d like in a woman. But... M.J. knew it was something that could never be. First of all, Alli was her employee and she knew better than to venture into that mine-field again; secondly, M.J. would never even attempt anything with someone like Alli. Someone who was so obviously naïve and pure in heart and soul would be devastated by a heartless predator like M.J. She knew very well what her ravenous, emotionless hunger did to unsuspecting women. She would never subject someone like Allison to her cravings. Madison had already picked-up on the way she looked at Alli, and M.J. knew she had to keep herself in check. But it was difficult sometimes; she enjoyed flirting with Alli, just as she did so many people. M.J. knew damn well that she shouldn’t do it, but she honestly couldn’t help herself. And, if her perception was still as accurate as it always had been, she could tell that Alli seemed to enjoy it too. So, if a little flirting and teasing was the most harmful thing she did, then that wasn’t so bad... was it?


"Okay... this is good, but I think I need the current salaries for all the clerical staff in here too," The President said as she perused the spreadsheet that Alli had given her.

"Okay... clerical... too," Alli mumbled as she scribbled some notes on her pad of paper. "Administrative assistants too, or just secretaries and clerks?"

"Mmm... let’s just look at the secretarial and clerk group for now; maybe I’ll add the AA’s later. There aren’t that many, are there?" M.J. queried.

"Ahmm... there are five, but Jane Leeds is retiring at the end of the year, and Helen will be going soon after, so...," Alli let her voice trail off as she continued to write. M.J. smiled to herself; she loved the fact that the Assistant HR Director had already familiarized herself so well with the company, and that she could spit out facts without hesitation. The woman was good.

"Okay," M.J. answered as she clicked her mouse around the spreadsheet. The two women were seated in their usual positions as they worked on yet another project; M.J. was seated in front of her pc and Alli was pulled up beside her on a chair, watching whatever she did. M.J. had come to enjoy the close interaction, and she felt like Alli gave her valuable input whenever they worked together. She’d discovered that the blonde was a whiz with spreadsheets - and pc’s in general - and she truly enjoyed watching the way her quick-witted mind worked. A loud gurgling noise suddenly disrupted the silence, and Alli made an embarrassed face,

"Ooo, sorry... I guess I’m paying the price for skipping breakfast this morning," she said with a grimace, pushing a hand into her protesting stomach as her face blushed in embarrassment. M.J. smiled and gave a small laugh. Looking at her watch, the President dropped her pen and pushed back away from her desk,

"Let’s go." She said as she stood. Alli looked at her in confusion. "Lunch — let’s go grab some lunch. I could use a break, and *that* obviously needs to be fed," she said, grinning and pointing to the blonde’s stomach.

"Uhm... okay. Just let me go grab my stuff from my office," Alli said quickly as she felt a nervous blush overtake her features.

She’s just asking you to go to lunch, dork - calm down! She chastised herself inwardly.

"Okay; I’ll meet you down there." M.J. said as Alli turned and skittered off.

Shit shit shit shit, Alli muttered to herself on the brief ride down to her floor. She knew that going to lunch shouldn’t be such a big deal, but she couldn’t help it - *M.J. Whitton* was taking her to lunch!

Okay, okay... just relax! For godssake, don’t act like a complete spazz! she scolded herself again as she reached her office.

When she headed back out toward the elevators, she saw M.J. standing, talking to a middle-aged man who was all smiles as he obviously fawned over her and kissed her ass about something. Alli couldn’t help but watch in amazement as the President spoke to the man, appearing to be patient and gracious, but with body language that screamed ‘you’re an idiot’. It was fascinating to watch her in action; she was totally dominating the man and apparently turning him down about something, and he unwittingly allowed every minute of it — Alli could tell just from his reactions and body language. She couldn’t help but wonder if his ‘suggestion’ had been of a personal or business nature. M.J. saw Alli approaching and excused herself, relieved to have a reason to get away from the slobbering fool with the idiotic ideas. They got into the elevator and started the descent down.

"So, what do you feel like? Casual, or classy?" M.J. asked.

"Uhmm... I don’t think I’m really dressed for ‘classy’," Alli stammered, looking at her nice, but plain, blouse and slacks ensemble.

"Nonsense, you look great," M.J. said offhandedly as she took the opportunity to toss an apprising sideways stare at the blonde’s petite form, a smirk gently tugging at the corner of her mouth.

There she goes again with that *look*, Alli thought as she swallowed hard and fought away a blush, Damn! "Well, casual is fine... if that’s okay with you," Alli stammered again.

"Casual it is." M.J. said with finality as the smirk spread into a genuine grin.


Five minutes later they were zipping along in M.J.’s sleek black Jaguar. Alli loved the car and couldn’t help but comment on it when they got in. M.J. didn’t mind her enthusiasm, and in fact found it enjoyable, for a change. They chatted about little superficial things while they drove, and Alli discovered, surprisingly, that it was quite easy to talk to the normally intimidating woman. She was obviously much more relaxed when away from the confines of her office, and Alli found herself wondering, again, just what kind of person M.J. Whitton really was beneath it all.

"So... you’re a true Southerner, huh?" M.J. asked out of the blue, startling Alli out of her thoughts.

"Uh, yeah... a genuine Georgia peach," Alli answered, letting her full southern twang emerge from her mouth. "How’d you know?" she asked, amazed at the tall woman’s perceptiveness.

M.J. smiled smugly, "You have the accent; you fight it, but I can detect it once in awhile," she explained.

Alli was surprised that the woman was able to make such an astute observation about her; she thought she hid her accent rather well. "Yeah, well... I try my best to keep it under wraps; people have a tendency to treat you differently if they think you’re a southern cracker," Alli said, moving her speech back to non-twang.

M.J. chuckled at the admission, "I know what you mean. I’m a full-blooded Yankee, and believe me, that doesn’t bode too well with a lot of these Southern-folk either," she said, giving the blonde a dashing grin. Alli smiled back at her, feeling herself falling further into the abyss.

Oh goddd...

The sports car soon pulled off the road and into an authentic, old-fashioned drive-in restaurant, complete with car-hops whizzing around on roller skates. Alli looked around in amazement, a silly grin plastered on her face.

"I know this is *extremely* casual, but they have awesome burgers here," M.J. said as she turned the car’s engine off.

"No, this is fine... this is great," Alli said, nearly giggling at the thought of eating lunch with the mysterious, beautiful President of Whitton, Inc. - in a car that cost more than her mother’s house - at a freaking burger-joint. M.J. Whitton was just full of surprises.

The two women sat and chatted about various and sundry things while they ate their burgers which, true to M.J.’s word, were delicious. Alli talked about her two sisters and her parents a little bit, explaining to M.J. that she moved away from her native Georgia because she wanted to make a fresh start. She didn’t go into detail, and M.J., thankfully, didn’t ask her to. She seemed to know not to push Alli for the details, and the blonde decided she was grateful for M.J.’s gift of perceptiveness. Alli felt like she’d been doing all the talking, and she tried to gently turn the conversation to M.J. to see if she would talk about herself. True to form, however, M.J. craftily avoided divulging any information about herself repeatedly.

I wonder if *she* has an attorney-background too... she’s certainly slippery enough, Alli thought.

"Okay... time for dessert - they have great ice cream here too," M.J. said, giving Alli a devilish grin that reminded her of a naughty child.

"Oh no! I can’t... I’m stuffed!" Alli lied politely, even though she loved ice cream.

"Oh come onnn... you want some!" M.J. teased in a low voice, making the hair on the back of Alli’s neck stand up. "Let’s see, I’d peg you forrrrr... a chocolate milkshake," M.J. said, narrowing her eyes at the blonde and giving her a beguiling grin.

Damn, she’s good, Alli thought as she helplessly broke out in a wide, embarrassed smile.

"Am I that easy?" Alli teased back, not realizing how it sounded until she saw M.J.’s eyebrow arch high into her forehead.

"Well, I don’t know... *are* you?" M.J. teased back as a scathingly flirtatious look overtook her features. Alli’s face flushed bright red and M.J. just laughed lightly, turning and ordering one chocolate and one vanilla shake.

Alli suddenly felt brave and decided to push the flirting envelope a little further, just for curiosity, "Vanilla... I wouldn’t have pegged you for being *vanilla*," the blonde said, lowering her voice just a tad. She was smirking back at the tall woman, but her head was screaming ‘danger danger, high voltage’ inside.

The dark, hungry look that overtook M.J.’s features at that remark sent Alli’s pulse racing and her blood pressure skyrocketing. M.J. saw the reaction and decided she was going to play the double entendre for all it was worth.

"Well, I can assure you, Miss Allison... milkshakes and ice cream are about the *only* thing that I prefer to be ‘vanilla’." She said in a low, near-whisper as she leaned toward the wide-eyed blonde and arched her brow even higher. The statement was so fraught with sexual innuendo, Alli thought she would choke on her tongue. The pale blue eyes had her completely pinned as brazen sensuality dripped from M.J.’s lips, and Alli found herself completely bereft of oxygen as she gripped the armrest of the car ferociously.

Neither woman realized it at that moment, but the little drive-in engagement marked the end of one phase and the beginning of another. The days of light, harmless flirtation had abruptly, and unconsciously, come to an end.



end ch.’s 7 — 13

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