Getting It Right KG MacGregor
Part 6 (conclusion)
Wynne scanned the complex anxiously as she waited to see if Paula would show. Shed seen the blonde woman from afar a couple of times in the evening as she went in and out of the condominiums fitness facility, then onto the jogging trail that circled the adjacent golf course.
The Labor Day picnic was underway, with more than a hundred residents and guests milling about between the pool and the clubhouse. The caterers had laid out a buffet line of salad, baked beans, chips, and corn on the cob. Two men watched over the grill, which was spread generously with hot dogs, hamburgers, and barbecued chicken.
"Tell me again what she looks like," Kitty asked. The elder Connelly was really looking forward to meeting this woman that had her daughter in such a state. After drawing closer to Wynne over the past year, she wanted her own assurances that this Paula McKenzie was nothing at all like Heather Bennett.
"Shes right there!" Wynne beamed with excitement as she watched the blonde woman bound down the steps toward the party. For some silly reason, it hadnt occurred to her that Paula would in fact know many of the people in attendance, and she was at first surprised to see her stop and greet one group after another. Eventually, she found her way to the table where the Connellys waited.
"Hi! Im glad you could come." Wynne stood immediately and pulled another chair to their table.
"I try not to miss these things. Its a good chance to see my neighbors." Paula wanted to underscore the fact that she was planning to come anyway, and that Wynnes invitation had been unimportant. Turning toward the woman she assumed was Wynnes mother, Paula introduced herself. "Hi, Im Paula McKenzie."
Wynne completed the introductions as the two women shook hands. Paula remained standing until the older woman insisted that she join them.
"So how do you like Orlando, Mrs. Connelly?"
"Please call me Kitty. After all, were neighbors now. We like Orlando just fine, dont we Wynne?"
"Very much." Especially now.
"I like it, too. Im really glad to be back." Paula was quite deliberate about addressing her remarks to Kitty rather than Wynne. "And I like this complex too. The facilities are nice and the people are friendly. Do you like it here?"
"Oh, yes! The complex is very nice." Kitty recognized at once that Paula was avoiding her daughter altogether; it amused her to see the consternation on Wynnes face at being excluded from the conversation. But she wasnt about to let that happen indefinitely. "Wynne tells me that she met you at the hotel."
The brunette nearly choked at hearing her mother open that can of worms. And then there was Paulas reply!
"Thats right. We used to be pretty good friends."
"Well, I know shes been very excited about you moving back to town. She hasnt made many new friends here, and I hate to think of her spending all that time by herself at home. Itll be nice to see her start getting out."
Wynnes face burned with embarrassment at her mothers blatant insinuations.
Out of the blue, Kitty Connelly had put her finger on what it was about seeing Wynne again that was so unreal. She was by herself! In all of the hours over the last week that Paula had spent thinking about the sudden invitation to this picnic, she hadnt once thought about the woman who had answered the phone in Baltimore.
Paula stood suddenly and stepped back from the table. "I should be going. I have something planned with my family, but I wanted to stop by and say hello. It was very nice meeting you, Mrs. Connelly."
"Call me Kitty. And it was nice meeting you. Wynne, if you want to walk your friend back to her place, Ill be fine here."
On cue, the red-faced woman stood and fell in beside their departing guest.
"Your mom is certainly subtle."
"Like multiple gunshot wounds," Wynne agreed sheepishly.
"You know, I know the way home. You dont have to walk with me." Paula had owned up to her demons when shed come face to face with Wynne in Denver. As far as she was concerned, their brief talk that night in the Concierge lounge settled things between them for good. But seeing her again at her own door, no less had stirred emotions that she just couldnt identify.
"I know, but Id appreciate it if we could talk a little." Wynne shoved her hands in her pockets, slowing her gait in hopes that the shorter woman would do the same. Paulas demeanor today was far from warm and friendly, but at least shed come to the party, and that counted for something.
"Fine," she answered noncommittally. "So I take it you live alone these days."
"Yes, I do. I split up with Heather right after I got back to Baltimore."
The blonde shot her a sideways glare.
"Yeah, I know. My timing left a lot to be desired."
"Well now, theres an understatement!"
Plainly, forging even a friendship was going to be a challenge. "Look, I know that you told me in Denver that it didnt really matter, but I want you to know that Im really sorry I made such a mess of everything," the brunette started.
"You dont have to apologize," Paula answered, looking straight ahead as they walked.
"Then dont think of it as an apology. Think of it as a statement of how much I regret what I did because it caused me to lose your friendship, and because it cost me the chance to have even more than that. I know I should have spoken up, but I never really thought things would go that far between us."
"Thats no excuse, Wynne. No matter what you thought would happen to us, you and I started out just being friends, and even friends would think to say something like Oh, and I live with someone back in Baltimore. But you deliberately left that out. You told me about your mom, your sister, and your niece. Why not tell me about your girlfriend?"
That was a good point, Wynne thought. Why had she never mentioned it? "Paula you and I started flirting with each other the first night we met. We were having fun. It was the first time in five years I could remember having fun with anybody." She heaved a big sigh, worried that she might be digging herself into a deeper hole. "Look, Ill say it again. What I did was wrong. I should have told you about Heather. But at the time, I didnt think there was any chance of you and me being anything more than friends."
"Hello! We had sex, Wynne! That was you, wasnt it?" Paula sneered sarcastically, still not looking at her companion.
"I didnt set out to have sex with you. I never thought it would go that far, honest to God."
"It never should have gone that far, and if youd told me about this Heather, it wouldnt have. Im not in the habit of borrowing someone elses girlfriend for a roll in the sack. And just so you know it, I dont happen to like to share either."
Wynne walked in silence for a few steps, acutely aware of the ache in her chest as she absorbed Paulas angry words. Was this how the term "heartbroken" had come about? But she forged ahead.
"Paula, everything I did was wrong, and I knew it. I told myself over and over that I shouldnt be spending time with you like that, and especially when I started to realize the feelings that were growing every time I came down here."
Paula looked at her in disbelief.
"Thats right. And when I started feeling more for you than just friendship, I really knew it was wrong. By that time, I didnt want to stop. But I figured my job would end soon and both of us knew that would be the end of it. I never thought it would go that far. I lost control."
"So did I," Paula confessed.
"I wanted to try to set it all right, but you found out about Heather before I had a chance to tell you. And I would have told you. I realize how convenient that sounds, but it really is the truth."
"Did you tell Heather?"
"No. I hurt Heather enough just by asking her to move out. There was no reason to add to that."
"Would you have broken up with her if it hadnt been for me?"
"I hope I would have. Being with you sure showed me all that was missing from what she and I had. I was with Heather for all the wrong reasons, and if you and I can manage to be friends again, Ill tell you all about it someday. Shes a good person; we just werent right for each other. I hated hurting her, and I hated hurting you."
As they climbed the steps, neither woman spoke. Out of the corner of her eye, Paula watched the taller woman grimace as she grasped the rail and pulled herself up, obviously struggling to alternate her lead foot. That was a significant change from last time, she noted, when Wynne could only lead with her good leg.
"You had the surgery?"
"Yeah, about a year ago. I think this is as good as it gets."
"It looks like its a lot better," she observed, wanting for some reason to both compliment and encourage this woman beside her. "Does it hurt much?"
"Not like it used to." They reached the landing and stopped. Wynne finally gathered her nerve to ask Paula for one small concession. "Look, I know I dont deserve your friendship, but if we can work it out to start over, I promise that I wont lie to you again."
Paula didnt respond at first; she wanted to choose her words very carefully to convey exactly how she felt. She turned and inserted the key in the door. Still not meeting the eyes of her companion, she answered sternly, "Wynne, you need to get it out of your head that we can ever start over. We might be able to be friends someday might is the operative word if I ever feel like I can trust you again, but we wont ever go down that other path. If thats what youve got in mind, do us both a big favor now and just let it go."
Despite all those qualifications, Paulas response was enough to keep the hope alive in Wynne. If they could be friends again, shed find a way to show Paula that they could be more.
"I cant believe you scored these tickets" the hotel manager exclaimed. "All the home games are sold out."
"You just have to have the right connections," her tall companion answered smugly. And a fat checkbook, too, Wynne thought to herself. Ever since the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, they were the hottest ticket in Florida. But some of Eldon-Markoffs agencies held tickets back that were part of travel packages, and the seats often became available at the last minute. Wynne knew this from having gone to a game last year with Cheryl and her husband.
"Well, anytime you get connected, count me in."
That settled that, as far as Wynne was concerned. She would put in for all the home games from now on if it meant Paula would come with her.
Climbing the stairs to their upper level seats in Raymond James Stadium, the women quickly became caught up in the game day excitement. Paula snagged a passing vendor and bought them each a hot dog and a cold draft beer in a souvenir cup, but Wynne wanted to hit the NFL gear stand so she could buy herself a team jersey.
"I dont think thats a good idea," Paula warned. She herself wore a cap and t-shirt that boasted the Buccaneers logo.
"Why not? Lots of people here are wearing them."
"I know, but youre taking a big chance. Not only are they 80 bucks, but as soon as you get one with a players name on it, hes going to go and get arrested for beating his girlfriend. Then you have his name on your back."
"I see what you mean. So Ill get a t-shirt."
"Thats a better idea. Its cheaper and generic. It only says that you endorse large men crashing into each other with the intent of causing bodily harm."
"But in an organized way," Wynne added seriously.
"But of course," Paula laughed.
Wynne was really happy with the way the day was going. It had taken her a while to get up the nerve to call, afraid that Paula would refuse, or worse, that shed thought about their conversation and changed her mind about even trying to be friends. Things had started out awkwardly in the car, both women struggling a little with the conversation at first. But eventually, they settled down on the drive over to Tampa and lapsed into a casual discussion of the hotel business, the travel business, and the Bucs chances of returning to the Super Bowl.
"Does it feel weird to be cheering against the Ravens?"
"A little," Wynne admitted, though shed transferred her loyalties from the Baltimore team when she started following the Bucs. "I still pull for them when theyre playing someone else, but the Bucs are my team now."
"I couldnt bring myself to pull for the Broncos in Denver. I think I knew I wasnt going to be there very long, so I didnt get too comfortable. Does that sound silly?"
"Not at all. I guess Id have done the same thing. But I knew when I took the job in Orlando that it was going to be for the long haul, so I wanted to be a part of it. And when Mom moved down, it sealed the deal. Were Floridians now."
To Paula, that was almost surreal but not as much as the fact that they were here together as budding friends after the anger and bitterness shed felt just a year ago. Even more astonishing was the level of comfort they seemed to share, and how theyd slipped so easily into their friendly banter. It was a shame, Paula thought, that things between them had been forever ruined. Looking at her beautiful companion, it would be very easy to forget that she had insisted on nothing more than friendship. But that would be a mistake.
With the game in hand, the pair slipped out of the stadium early to beat the traffic. Not ready for the day to end, Paula offered to buy dinner and directed Wynne to Flanagans, the sports bar in downtown Orlando where her friend Val worked. Elbowing their way through the crowded bar, the women claimed a tall round table and two bar stools.
"Ill go grab a couple of menus," the blonde offered. When she got back, she bristled at the sight of a handsome forty-ish man who had set his beer on their table and was already deep in conversation with the beautiful brunette. "Here you go," she interrupted unceremoniously, tossing the menu across the small table.
"Thanks. Whats good here?"
Paula was about to answer when the self-perceived Don Juan jumped in. "I like the barbecue. Say, do you mind if we pull up a couple of extra stools? There seem to be lots of stools, but not many tables."
"Actually, if youd like to have this table, we can move on over to the bar," Paula offered flatly.
Wynne turned away to shield the smile that crept onto her face. She was enjoying this.
"Well no," he stammered. "You dont have to move. I think theres plenty of room here for all of us."
"Im sure youre right, but my friend and I havent seen each other in a long time, and wed sort of like to talk to each other." Paula waited to see if he would buy a clue.
He didnt answer right away, hoping that the dark-haired woman would overrule and invite him to stay.
Instead, she just smiled at the blonde and reached for her purse. "Two seats just opened up. If you hurry, we can grab them." In a flash, Paula was gone.
"Thank you," Paula said, pulling her stool up to the bar. I didnt want to deal with that today."
"You dont have to thank me. Im a lesbian, too. Remember?"
"Oh, yeah." It wasnt likely Paula would forget that anytime soon.
"So thats her, the woman from Baltimore that broke your heart left you shattered in a million pieces stomped on you and left you for dead ." Val sputtered between leg lifts.
"Thats her, the one and only." Paula stood before the mirror working her triceps with the dumbbells.
"She seemed really nice."
"She is really nice."
"You never mentioned that she looked like a model."
"I told you she was beautiful."
"Yeah, but I thought those were just Im in love words. Everybody says that when theyre in love. But she really is."
"Yep, she certainly is."
"So what were you guys arguing about?"
Paula chuckled. "The bill, actually."
"There had to be more to it than that. Most people dont get that angry when theyre fighting over the bill."
The blonde woman sighed, setting the dumbbells back in the rack. "I was going to pick up the check because she got the tickets to the game. But she tried to pay it instead. She said shed invited me so she should pay."
"Sounds fair. Cant you just pay next time?"
"That wasnt the point. The point was that were just friends. It wasnt supposed to be a date and she knew that, so I didnt want her picking up the tab saying it was because shed asked me out. You and I wouldnt have had any argument at all. Wed have split everything down the middle because thats what friends do."
"Sounds to me like youre making a pretty big deal out of nothing. So what if she wanted to pay? So what if it was a date? You did spend the whole day together, and youre both attracted to each other." That much was obvious to the bar manager by just the way the women looked at each other.
"Were not attracted to each other. We were, but thats in the past." Paula couldnt honestly deny that the attraction was still there, but saying it was in the past helped to harden her resolve. "You and I go places together and we dont call it a date. Im not interested in playing with that fire anymore, thank you."
"Couldve fooled me," Val muttered.
"If youre not interested, why do you go out with her at all?"
"Because shes nice. Because I like her. Because shes fun."
"So whats the problem with calling it a date? Its obvious that you two have chemistry together."
"Val, I cant go there again! I dont trust her after what she did."
"Are you sure youre not just punishing her?"
"What difference does it make? Either way, Im not going to give her the chance to do it again."
"But it does make a difference. Do you think shes just that kind of person, or do you think she just made a mistake?"
Paula shrugged. "How can you separate the two? Only a certain kind of person makes a mistake like that, and if shell do it once, whos to say she wont do it again? I mean, what if we got together and then she went off on one of her business trips and met somebody else?"
"People arent perfect, Paula. But some of them are able to learn from their mistakes."
The blonde woman reached again for the dumbbells to complete her final set. "Its just I know now that Wynne Connelly has the power to hurt me a lot if I let her too close."
"Look, I dont blame you for being wary after what happened. But any time you start to care for somebody, you give them the power to hurt you. Its a risk you have to weigh. And in this case, I think you really ought to ask yourself if this womans worth another chance."
Paula returned the dumbbells to the rack and turned for the door. "Are you ready to run?" The discussion was now closed.
Wynne flipped on the kitchen lights with her elbow as she stumbled into the dark house from the garage. With a sharp tug, she rolled her suitcase over the threshold, the wheels clacking across the tile floor. Shed have two days in her office before her next trip, this one to San Francisco on Sunday afternoon. Cheryl had underestimated the amount of travel for her job, but that was due in part to the fact that shed started helping out in sales.
It sure didnt leave much time for nesting, she thought. And after more than a year, she really hadnt bonded with her new house. It was a nice place, but after all this time, the only furniture she owned was her bedroom suite. At her insistence, her mom had moved the other one to the new condo for guests.
Another factor in play was that shed been spending so much time at her moms place that it felt more like home than her own house. If she had it to do over again, shed have gotten a three-bedroom condo herself, and turned one of the rooms into an office. She really liked the feeling of having such a variety of neighbors living close by.
The last two days in Miami had been busy, but fruitful, as she worked with Eldon-Markoffs cruise partner to draft a winter campaign. She was working these days with a lot of autonomy, except on the San Francisco project. That one involved three of the corporate officers, including Cheryl and Wendell.
Despite her exhausted state, Wynne loved her job more every day. It was turning out to be everything shed hoped it would be: challenging, fun, interesting, and she was lucky to find herself working with a team of people she really liked. Indeed, she could see herself at Eldon-Markoff for many years. Cheryl had cautioned her over and over not to let the job become her life. Sure, it was demanding work, her boss had said. But she needed something different to go home to, something comforting, and without the stress of the workplace. A different house, perhaps, Wynne imagined, knowing even as the thought registered that it would take much more than a house to fill the void in her life a void she might never have acknowledged had she not found Paula McKenzie again.
Kicking off her shoes, the tired executive entered her living room and turned on a lamp. A quick check of the front porch yielded two newspapers and a small stack of mail junk mail mostly, and a couple of bills. The dial tone on her phone pulsed to announce new messages. To her surprise and delight, the third one was from Paula.
Hi, Wynne. Its me. Look, I was wondering if youd be interested in going to a shuttle launch at the press site next week. I know you probably have to work, but its scheduled for Friday at 12:35 p.m. If youre interested, I need you to call me with your full name, your social security number, and your date of birth. Of course, this could just be a hoax and I need that information to clean out your bank account. Either way, can I count on your cooperation? So long.
Wynne fought the urge to call right away. It wasnt quite 11, but she knew that Paulas morning shift started at seven. She was probably already asleep.
More than anything, Wynne was thrilled at this, the first invitation shed gotten from Paula since their talk of friendship after the picnic on Labor Day. Her plane from California was due back in on Thursday night, and she made a decision on the spot to take a personal day if it cleared with Cheryl.
Paula pulled up to the gate and passed the guard two sets of press credentials and identification. The soldier recognized her as Ray McKenzies daughter and knew that she wasnt officially employed by a media agency. Still, the head of public information had cleared her and the beautiful woman beside her, and he wasnt going to question McKenzies authority.
As the long flat road continued forward past a line of trees, a giant structure appeared in the distance.
"Thats the Vehicle Assembly Building, where they ?"
Paula laughed. "Thats right. Thats where they attach the rockets and get the shuttle ready to mount on the launch pad. That buildings so big that it has its own weather inside."
Wynne looked perplexed.
"Well, not really. But the condensation gathers at the top and when it gets heavy enough, it falls just like rain."
Wynne was still skeptical, not so much because the story lacked credence, but because she wouldnt put it past Paula to pull her leg. "How do they move it from there to the launch pad?"
"It goes on a giant bed with treads like a tank. And the road isnt paved, because it would just collapse under all that weight. Instead, its made out of crushed seashells because they give a little. But every time they move one of the shuttles out there they have to rebuild the road for next time. The worst is if the window closes and they have to bring it back in and take it apart."
"Wow! That sounds like a lot of work."
"Believe me, they hate it." Paula pulled into the field and cruised the rows until she found a space to accommodate her small convertible. Among the two hundred or so autos were a couple of dozen press trucks, easily identified by the satellite dishes affixed to their tops.
A grandstand looked across an open area to the launch pad. Wynne noticed at once the familiar view of the large digital clock and the flagpole in the foreground. Just past those landmarks was water and marsh, wetlands that were home to thousands of birds, fish and reptiles. Seven miles away was the shuttle Endeavor.
"My dad works in here," Paula said, leading the way to a dome-shaped building that hosted rows of press terminals, walls of charts, racks of brochures, and speakers that carried every official word of the launch process. Ray McKenzie sat behind a desk in a glassed-in cubicle, his raised finger indicating to Paula that his interview was nearly complete. "We should wait here."
Ray McKenzie had gotten the lowdown from his wife that this was a woman who had recently moved to Orlando, and that she and Paula had a history. He didnt want all the details; it was enough to him that Maxine had told him to be especially nice to this one because their daughter liked Wynne Connelly very much.
"Im glad you could come today. Did either of you have any trouble getting off work?"
"I didnt," Paula answered. "I traded tomorrow, though."
"I didnt either. I havent had a day off in months, so I dared anyone to try to stop me," Wynne explained. "Mr. McKenzie, thank you for getting me in today. This is something I wont forget."
"Call me Ray, please. Paula told me you understood what things here at NASA were really about, so I was glad to do it."
"Whats the status, Dad?"
"It looks like all systems go and were less than an hour away. The weather looks great. Id say were going to launch."
"Thats great. Hey, I think were going to go out to the grandstand. Well come back in after she goes up, okay?"
"Okay, have fun."
Before going out, Wynne picked up some of the brochures and press releases so shed know a little about the crew before the launch. Once on the grandstand, the women read interesting tidbits to each other until the clock announced T minus five minutes.
"Lets go to the edge of the water to watch it go up." Contractors were already lining up on the bank.
A loudspeaker announced the final 30 seconds. The first sign of the launch was a large mountain of white smoke at the base of the launch pad. The mountain grew rapidly wider, but only slightly higher. The shuttles first movement was barely perceptible.
As the rumble reached their outpost, hundreds of birds took to the air from the glades in front of them. The water rippled fiercely as the whole earth shook.
"Its cleared the launch pad," Paula shouted. "That means its gone over to Mission Control in Houston."
The shuttle appeared to hang in the sky momentarily, then its climb began to accelerate rapidly. Wynne too was shaking in anticipation as the shuttle turned on its back and arced to trace a path directly above their heads. In less than three minutes, it was beyond the naked eye.
"Paula, that was so awesome!"
"I know. It gets me every single time."
Finally, they turned to walk back toward the dome. Journalists and photographers were collecting their gear, ready to file their launch stories.
"You know, this is why I called that night," Paula said softly.
"That night in Baltimore, when Heather answered the phone. I was calling to see if you could come to a launch that weekend. I had to know the next day to get your credentials."
Wynne shuddered at the memory. Neither woman said another word as they walked into the domed offices in search of Paulas dad. Both said their polite goodbyes and walked quietly to the convertible.
Paula was feeling pretty bad about bringing up the call to Baltimore. Shed been having a good time, and it seemed like Wynne had too. Things between them had been light, friendly, and even casual. Now the dark-haired woman pulled a cap low over her forehead as they started out, looking off to right at the scenery on her own side of the car.
"I guess I shouldnt have brought that up, huh?" Paula asked sheepishly.
Wynne blew out a breath of resignation. "I deserved it, I suppose."
"No, you didnt. We already settled all that and I should have just let it go."
"Well, one thing is pretty obvious, Paula. You havent forgiven me for it," she said sadly. "Thats going to make it pretty hard for us to be real friends."
Wynne was right, Paula knew. It wasnt enough just to go through the motions of doing things together. They connected every time they talked, and they had a real chance of being close friends for a long time but not if Paula couldnt get past her feelings about what had happened. It wasnt going to be good for them if she continued her punishment.
"I I do want to forgive you, Wynne. I havent been as honest with you as Ive asked you to be with me," she confessed. "What happened between us really hurt me a lot. I felt cheap and used, and I was angry for a long time, but not just at you. I was angry at myself for being such a fool in the first place, and I was angry at every woman I met at the hotel for a whole year afterwards." Paula looked over to find her companion pushing away tears. She understood that such declarations were tough to listen to.
"Im so sorry."
"I know. I believe you when you say that. But Ive been carrying this around for awhile and its going to take a little longer to get past all of it." On the spot, Paula made a decision and announced her intention. "Im going to try harder, okay? I really did have fun with you today, and I want us to be able to keep doing things together without having something between us."
"Thank you. Im really glad to have you back in my life, Paula. I want us to be friends again." At that point, Wynne wanted to reach over and cover the small hand on the gearshift, but the potential for rejection was higher than she was willing to risk.
"Excuse me, Wynne?"
Claudia Sanchez, Markoffs administrative assistant, stood in her doorway.
"Mr. Markoff wants a meeting right now with all the officers and assistant VPs. Were linking up Cheryl and Wendell by speaker phone."
"Ill be right there."
Moments later, the tall woman joined the caravan of busy executives as they filed into the conference room. All had dropped what they were doing to answer the urgent summons of their CEO.
Ken Markoff opened the meeting with two announcements: Eldon-Markoff would acquire San Francisco-based Western Travel, a smaller company with a solid network of Asian contacts. Most of the executives, including Wynne, had been working quietly behind the scenes to evaluate the potential for such an acquisition, so only a few were surprised.
Markoffs second announcement was startling. Effective immediately, Cheryl Williams was leaving her post as VP of Sales and Marketing to assume the title of President of Eldon-Markoff, the number two position in the company. Ken Markoff had held both posts for several years, ever since the death of David Eldon.
One after another, the executives around the table passed on their congratulations to the new president, who was actually on a cell phone in a cab heading to JFK International Airport. Wynne learned from Cheryl that successful business people made the most of every minute.
"I really appreciate all of your votes of confidence. Ill stop by your offices and thank you in person when I get back tomorrow. But right now, I need to cut this short." Her cab had arrived at curbside.
Markoff adjourned the meeting with an admonition not to talk to anyone outside the room about the proceedings until the formal notification and press release tomorrow. The Federal Trade Commission frowned heavily on the passing of insider information that might allow a privileged few to capitalize on the stock market.
"Wynne, can I see you in my office for a few minutes?" he asked.
"Of course." She was already thinking about how this move would impact her workload. Until they got a new VP in place, shed probably have to absorb more of the sales administration; she was already handling virtually all of the marketing.
Once inside the plush corner office, Markoff closed the door and offered her a chair. Buzzing Claudia, he asked her to put the call through.
"Wynne, this is Cheryl again."
That was odd, the assistant VP thought. But evidently, Ken and Cheryl had worked out the quick adjournment and had planned this call in advance.
"Im here. Congratulations again."
"Thanks, and congratulations yourself. If you say yes, youre going to be the new Vice President for Sales and Marketing."
Wynne was flabbergasted, and surprised herself by not falling out of the chair! "Yes!"
"Thats wonderful, Wynne." Markoff stood to extend a hug. Wynne had rapidly become one of his favorite staffers.
"Thank you. Thank you both. I promise not to disappoint either of you."
"We already knew that. Thats why we asked. Listen, I have to go through security, so Ill see everyone in the morning."
"Safe travels, Cheryl."
The new VP turned to her CEO to reiterate her thanks. "Those are some tough shoes to follow, but I promise to do my best."
"They are, Wynne, but we all believe youre the right person for the job."
Walking back to her office, she almost couldnt believe it. The first thing she wanted to do was to call Paula and share the great news. Theyd been getting together a couple of times a week for almost a month to go to the movies, out to eat, and even to a couple of NBA games. Bit by bit, theyd moved into a casual, comfortable friendship. Swinging into her swivel chair, Wynne tapped the speed dial feature, #1, her own private joke. It was after six oclock, so she was pretty sure her friend was home.
"Hi there. Its Wynne. Look, I know its short notice but I got some good news today. How about having dinner with me so I can tell somebody about it before I explode?"
"Uh I cant tonight. Maybe tomorrow?"
"Aw, come on. Well go wherever you say and well get back early."
"I cant, Wynne," she paused, checking through the blinds for an unfamiliar car. "I sort of have a date."
What the hell does "sort of have a date" mean, Wynne wondered. You did or you didnt. It was or it wasnt.
Under other circumstances, she would have gone straight to her mothers place after work to deliver the good news, but wild horses couldnt drag her to that complex tonight. She didnt want to be anywhere near Paula and her "sort of date."
Instead, she pulled out her notes on the Western Travel merger and began to draft a plan for incorporating their current marketing assets into those of Eldon-Markoff. There was sufficient equity in the Western brand to warrant a gradual co-branded campaign.
The new VP completely lost track of time as she worked. The outer offices had been dark and empty for hours, and the lone lamp on her desk kept her from seeing the figure fill her doorway.
"This is just ridiculous, Wynne!" Cheryl Williams barked angrily.
Startled, the executive jumped back from her desk, knocking a pile of papers into the floor. "God, you scared me!"
"Its after 10 oclock. Even the cleaning crew is long gone. What the hell are you doing here that cant wait until tomorrow?"
"Im Ive started to work on the co-branding plan for Western."
"Maybe you didnt hear my question. What part of that cant wait until tomorrow?"
In all her time at Eldon-Markoff, Wynne had never seen Cheryl so angry, at least not at her. "I just started on it and things were falling into place. I didnt realize it was so late." Suddenly it occurred to her that her accuser was in the same boat. "So what are you doing here so late?"
"Nice try. Im dropping off the paperwork for the press release so I can sleep in tomorrow." Cheryl was bemused at the almost frightened look on the face of her charge as she dragged a chair around the desk and sat down, effectively pinning her quarry in her seat. "Look, Wynne, Ive said this to you a dozen times. I think your work is wonderful. I also think youre capable of getting it done during regular hours. I really want you in this VP slot, but not if it means that Eldon-Markoffs going to take center stage in your life. Thats not good for you, and in the long run, it isnt good for us either."
Wynne nodded in resignation to let her boss know that she was getting the message.
"Look around. You dont see any of the other officers here after six-thirty or seven at night. Everybody goes home to their real lives, the ones that matter. Didnt you tell me you were seeing somebody?"
"That didnt work out."
Despite Wynnes attempts to conceal her emotions, Cheryl picked up on the disappointment in her voice. "Im sorry, Wynne. Really, I am. But if youre trying to bury yourself in work so you wont feel lonely, I can promise you that it wont help. Itll just make it worse and one day youll look back on it and wonder why you gave your soul to this place. Now I dont tell many people this, but my husband and I nearly split up when I came to work here because I didnt know when to come home. I thank God every day that I listened to him because we found a way to make it all work out. In the end, I got what I wanted here, and I got what I really wanted at home."
Wynne slowly closed her folder and pulled her purse from the bottom drawer. "Okay, Cheryl. Lets go home."
Paula listened with interest as Dee Hobart walked her through how she had set up her own law practice after leaving a harried job as associate in one of Orlandos largest firms. Her date was attractive, a slender woman, smartly dressed in black slacks with a tunic top. Her short red hair was perfectly coiffed, locked into place with what Paula thought was a little too much "product." She couldnt help but wonder if Dee thought her under-dressed for the occasion, as she wore a simple dress, having merely combed her soft blonde hair.
"My old firm would take on the occasional pro bono case if it was something that might get them good press. Their favorite was property cases against the government because that kind of thing almost anything against the government, in fact made them look good to most of their clients. But youd never see them pick up the mantle on a criminal case, or God help us all, if it was about a gay issue. I just got sick of it, so I got out."
"That was a pretty brave thing to do," Paula offered, genuinely impressed. Shed met Dee at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, and found herself working alongside the attorney on the Minority Affairs committee. The meeting room was almost pinging as both women acknowledged that their respective "gaydar" was in working order. Paula wasnt surprised at all at the invitation, though she would rather have done something more casual than the country club restaurant Dee had chosen.
"So tell me what you like about the hotel business."
Paula went on to talk about her job, how shed started at the WR right out of college and worked her way to her current position. Dee listened intently, interrupting from time to time ask questions or add comments.
Dinner progressed, and as they returned to the car, Paula felt that all in all shed had a pretty good time. Dee was fun and attractive and attentive and interesting and despite all that, she felt no spark at all between them. She knew that was an unfair assessment at this stage; they didnt even know each other. But first impressions on the arousal scale were usually pretty reliable for her, and this one was barely registering at all.
Wynne Connelly, on the other hand, had been completely off the scale. Even as friends, the beautiful woman triggered a sensual response. Paula scolded herself inwardly. Here she was out on her first date in over a year and she was comparing the woman she was with to someone else.
" dont you think?"
Paula was caught off-guard. Dee had been talking about something having to do with the hotel, while shed been seeing images of Wynne looking up at her from between her legs. In no time, shed gone from feeling nothing to feeling more aroused than she had in months. Only Dee Hobart hadnt done that.
Val was right. Wynne Connelly had it all, and she was worth another chance.
"Wynne, Paula McKenzie is calling on one," Denise announced.
The VP braced herself for the call, not knowing how shed react to hearing Paulas voice, this the first call since the "date" last week.
"Hello, this Wynne Connelly," she said formally.
"Hi! Listen, I just talked to the Concierge. He has a couple of tickets to the Magic-Lakers game tonight. You interested?"
Normally, Wynne would have jumped at the opportunity to do anything with Paula, but the idea that the woman was now "dating" someone else made her start to question if even a friendship was going to work. She didnt want to be close enough to watch Paula fall in love with somebody else.
"I, uh I have to go to San Francisco."
"You leave tonight?"
"No, day after tomorrow. But I have a lot to do before I go, so Id better not."
"Aw, come on. You know you want to," Paula coaxed. Ever since her dinner with Dee Hobart, Paula had been trying to think of how she and Wynne might get back on track. They seemed to have finally gotten past their old business, and after her date, she was sure it was time to let the executive know that the door was opening for more.
"I cant, Paula."
"Okay, maybe a rain check. When do you get back?"
"I think theyre on the road next week. Want to do something else?"
"I cant say right now. Things at work are pretty crazy with the new acquisition."
"Oh yeah? I didnt hear. What was it?"
"We bought up that agency in San Francisco wed been looking at for so long. It was in the paper." As were other things.
That must have been the big news Wynne had wanted to share last week. "Well, congratulations, I guess. Will you call me when you get back?"
"Are you pulling another double shift?" Jolene was surprised but immensely pleased to see her former supervisor behind the front desk.
"No, but I promised to cover for Belinda until six. She had a parent-teacher conference this afternoon. Speaking of Belinda has that situation gotten any better?"
Jolene thought about it, and finally confessed, "Yeah, now that you mention it, it has. After she took that week off, she just came back a whole different person."
"Sometimes, all you need is a little time away," Paula concurred. Belindas "time away" had come in the form of a personnel management seminar in New York. Paula and Stephanie had determined that retraining was the last hope and if Belinda didnt get it, shed likely be demoted and transferred.
"I think it made a real difference. Maybe I should have a week off and see if it improves my attitude," she joked.
Paula masterfully raised a single eyebrow before laughing. "Oh no, it doesnt work that way. What is that old saying? The floggings will continue until morale improves."
"Yeah, that sounds like a corporate policy, alright."
"Listen, while were not busy, Im going to clean out this cabinet," the manager said, indicating the space under the counter between the terminals. "You watch the desk."
Pulling out a trashcan, Paula began to extract wayward items from the shelves below. Her haul included several cell phone adapters and laptop power cords; loose batteries; an empty backpack; a half dozen registration packets from conferences held months ago; and a stack of old newspapers.
"How does all this stuff get in here?"
"If I were guessing, Id say people bring it to the desk when were busy and everyone forgets about it," Jolene explained.
"Thats probably right. Who reads all these newspapers at the front desk?" she asked with irritation.
"I dont know. Maybe the guys on third shift. Hey, isnt that the woman that used to come here?" Jolene grabbed a section of the paper Paula was pulling out.
"Now, dont you start!"
"Well, isnt it?" The desk clerk turned the paper around to show Paula the picture of K. Wynne Connelly.
"Ill be damned thats what it was!" Rapidly reading the announcement of the promotion to vice president, she now remembered that Wynne had wanted to share some big news last week. Instead, shed gone out that night with Dee. But why hadnt Wynne said anything since?
Jolene hadnt realized that a former guests promotion would be such big news to her mentor, but she remembered the gossip from when Paula used to drop her off at the hotel late at night. "Shes a friend of yours, right?"
"Yeah, she moved here while I was in Denver." Paula wasnt about to offer any more. Rusty confirmed for her before the move that some of the employees were speculating about her and the Baltimore guest. She hoped they would have forgotten.
"Maybe you should give her a call and congratulate her."
"Good idea," she agreed without looking up. She would do more than call.
"No, I get back on Friday night, Mom. Itll be late sure, Ill stop by on Saturday." Wynne knew shed have to suck it up sooner or later and make an appearance in the condo complex. Shed avoided coming by over the weekend on the off chance that Paula would be there with her sort-of date. "Mom, I need to go. Theres someone at the door I dont know who it is, but I need to answer it. Ill call when I get back in town, okay?"
Wynne lowered the flame underneath the soup she was heating and hurried to the front door. She wasnt expecting company, but the neighbors kids stopped by from time to time to sell things for school fundraisers, and thats what she figured this would be. Instead, she found the hotel manager still dressed in her uniform leaning against the pillar on the porch, her arms crossed in an accusing posture and a folded newspaper in her hand.
"Can you believe this? One of my best friends got promoted to vice president and I had to read it in the newspaper!"
"Come on in, Paula." Wynne stood aside as the irate blonde stomped into her living room.
"Why didnt you tell me?"
"I was going to, but you were busy."
"I havent been busy every night, and weve talked on the phone three or four times ." She stopped herself. "Wait a minute! Youre angry about me going out on a date, arent you?"
"Im not angry about anything, Paula. You have every right to do what you please." She wouldnt meet the questioning green eyes.
"But thats what this is about, isnt it?" Her tone changed subtly from one of accusation to something more compassionate.
Wynne didnt answer; instead, she walked back into the kitchen to turn off the burner. "You want some soup and crackers?"
"No, I want you to answer me."
The tall woman sighed as she turned around, crossing her own arms this time as she leaned on the counter. "What right do I have to be angry, Paula? You told me you werent going to go there with me again, but I hoped you might change your mind. Im not angry, but it ." She shook her head and sighed. It breaks my heart.
Paulas heart went out to Wynne as she watched her struggle with her emotions. "Wynne, I ."
Wynne cut her off. She needed to get this out while she still had her nerve. "I wanted you to start trusting me again. I cant I cant just let go of you, Paula."
This time, Paula sighed. "I know," she nodded, "Ive been thinking about it too."
"Thinking about what?"
"About you and me about whether or not we can put the past in the past and give this all another chance."
Wynnes heart was racing at what she was hearing. Was Paula really saying they had a chance?
Paula moved across the kitchen and held out her arms, pulling the tall woman close. "You scare me half to death, Wynne."
Wynne squeezed her tightly. "I love you. Please dont be afraid."
"You love me?"
"Yes," Wynne whispered, finally touching the mouth shed missed for so long. She could feel the smaller woman relax in her arms, returning the kiss with all the intensity of their first time. Memories of their night together roared back and the brunette forcibly calmed herself, breaking the kiss but not the embrace. "I do love you, Paula."
Paulas heart pounded at the simple words. All of her willpower evaporated as her hands reached underneath the long shirt to feel the warm skin on Wynnes back. Just as theyd done before, both women were about to lose control.
"Wheres your bedroom?" Paula asked, already working the buttons on Wynnes shirt.
Wynne couldnt believe what was happening as she led the woman she loved down the darkened hallway.
Moments later, both women were stripped to their waists and Paula was tossing her clothes over the trunk at the foot of the bed. Now naked, she stopped to stroke Wynnes breasts, which gleamed white against her tanned skin.
The taller woman responded by pushing her back onto the kind-sized bed, standing again to rid herself of her slacks and thong in one fluid move, gloriously reminiscent of the last time they did this.
Slowly, Wynne crawled onto the bed, settling her body between the smaller womans thighs. She could feel Paula open as feet wrapped around and came to rest on her calves. Resting her elbows beside Paulas shoulders, she lowered her lips for a kiss.
"I havent been with anyone since you," the blonde whispered.
Wynne thought her heart would explode with that knowledge. She wouldnt have asked the question for a million dollars. "I havent either."
"Not even Heather?"
"No, no one." Dipping her head, she tenderly nibbled the soft skin below Paulas ear. "How could I?"
Wynne shifted her body to the side so she could run her hand up and down Paulas nude form. The breasts, the hips, the silky blonde curls were all just as she remembered them, just as she had envisioned them so many nights alone in her bed. She lowered her head, sucking a taut nipple into her mouth as her hands wandered to the soft insides of Paulas thighs.
"Go inside me, Wynne," the blonde woman pleaded. She didnt want to wait she was ready now!
Wynnes thoughts of savoring the moment flew out the window with the command. Sliding her fingers through the wet folds, she pressed inside.
"God, yes!" Paula rocked her whole body against the plunging fingers, her hands subconsciously squeezing Wynnes shoulders in the same rhythm.
The brunette slipped her other arm underneath the writhing woman and pulled her close. Her own center ground against Paulas thigh, and she would peak soon. "I love you," she gasped as her climax began. Closing her eyes tightly, she fought to concentrate on her hand inside her lover. There! She felt the contraction as Paula stiffened in her arms.
"Annnnhhh!" The guttural sound came out like a cross between a scream and a moan. Slowly, the smaller woman lowered herself to the bed, her throbbing center still gripping the fingers inside.
"Ive missed you," Paula said, her voice low and serious. Gently, she trailed her fingers across her lovers prominent collarbone, dipping from time to time to the valley between her breasts. The lovers had spent more than two hours getting reacquainted and now lay temporarily sated.
"Me too. But its all just as wonderful as I remember it, only better." Instantly, Wynne regretted her words, knowing where they would lead.
"Better? Whats better?"
The brunette sighed. "Just knowing that theres a tomorrow this time, I guess."
"I hope there is." Paula nestled closer. "I like this."
Wynne relaxed, glad she was getting a reprieve. Her relief, though, didnt last.
"And this time, you dont have to feel guilty about anything."
Wynne shuddered uncomfortably as she planted a small apologetic kiss on the blonde head. "Thats right."
"Can I ask you a question?" Paula felt the tension emanating from her lovers body. She didnt want this to be a confrontation, but she needed to know that things really were different this time. Wynne had used the "L" word, and she needed to trust that before deciding for herself that there really would be a tomorrow for them.
"You said that someday you would tell me about Heather. Did you fall out of love with her?"
She wants to talk about this now? "No, I really wasnt in love with her to begin with."
"But you lived together, right?"
"Yeah, but it was complicated."
Paula raised up on her elbow so she could see her lovers face. "I really need to hear about it, Wynne."
Of course she did. Wynne blew out a deep breath, thinking about where to begin. "I met Heather right before my accident and we went out a couple of times, but I didnt feel like things were going anywhere between us. Then when I had my accident, she was there in the hospital when I woke up; she moved into my house to take care of me; and she was with me all through the surgeries and the rehab. We got to be really good friends through it all. Once I let her do all that stuff for me, I owed her so much."
"So you became lovers?"
"It was all she wanted. And I tried to be that for her but I couldnt. You cant just will your heart to love somebody." She searched the green eyes for understanding, for acceptance. "Just like you cant will your heart not to love somebody else."
"Did you ever tell her that you loved her?"
Wynne nodded. "And I did but it was more of a friendship kind of love. Do you know what I mean?"
"I think so," she sighed heavily. "But Id be lying if I said it didnt worry me a little that you betrayed her. I mean, she didnt know that all you felt was friendship, right?"
"Right," Wynne conceded. "And I understand your doubts, really I do. But what I feel for you is different, Paula. Its so much more, and it has been, almost from the very beginning." She had hoped Paula could see this for herself in the way theyd made love. "This all feels like what its supposed to be, and if anything, it just shows me what all was missing from my relationship with Heather."
"Its like were supposed to do this, and nothing else works." Thats how Paula understood it, but her doubts werent going to go away overnight. Still, she wanted this with Wynne; she wanted to someday be confident that it was real and that she could trust her lover completely.
"Thats exactly what its like."
"Youre not going to believe this, but I have to be at work in about six hours." Mondays uniform lay crumpled at the foot of the bed.
"Lucky you. I have to be on a plane at 6:30, and Im not even packed."
"I should go." Slowly, she extricated her limbs from Wynnes and rose from the bed.
Wynne watched from the bed as her lover got dressed, then pulled back the covers and climbed out of bed. She couldnt let Paula leave with her words of doubt still hanging in the air. Tying her robe around her waist, she moved behind the shorter woman and wrapped her arms around her middle. "I really do love you."
"I believe you."
For the second time in the last 10 minutes, Cheryl saw her colleagues chin dip as she fought to stay awake. "Ms. Connelly, would you like some coffee, or would you prefer that I just sit here quietly for a while and let you catch a nap?" The twinkle in her eye told Wynne that she was teasing.
Wynne shook her head and sat up straight, unhooking her seatbelt so that she could stretch. "I didnt get much sleep. I should probably have another cup of coffee."
"You werent up working on this, were you?"
"No," Wynne answered, unable to suppress the blush and the smile as she thought back to her evening with Paula.
"Oh, now thats an interesting look," Cheryl teased as the VPs face turned redder. "I do believe youve met someone."
"Actually," her smile broadened as she thought again of her evening, "its the same person I mentioned before. I think were going to work things out."
"Thats great news, Wynne. You want to tell me about her?"
"Shes her names Paula, and shes the ops manager at the Weller Regent."
"Is that ? Wait a minute youve been seeing her for awhile, havent you? I remember Ken saying something about running into the two of you at Jack Elams, but that was before you ever moved down here."
"Wow, there really arent any secrets at Eldon-Markoff, are there?"
"Hey, I told you from Day 1: Were a family. You should bring her to the Christmas party next week."
"You think it would be alright?"
"Of course! I want to meet this woman! If she doesnt come to the party, Im going to have to show up at her house!"
Wynne laughed aloud at that image, wondering whether Paula would rather face a holiday party or a one-on-one with her boss. "Ill ask her."
"Good. Now why dont you take a nap? Ill wake you up when we start to land."
The tired executive didnt need to be asked twice. In just a few minutes, she was sound asleep.
For the hundredth time that day, Paula caught herself daydreaming and shook herself to snap out of it. Wynne was due back home tonight. They had spoken by phone several times over the week, each tentatively confirming with the other that they were headed in the right direction.
The hotel had been relatively quiet over the last two weeks, the drop-off in holiday business travel evident from the near-empty lounge and restaurant. This gave the staff an opportunity to catch up on end-of-year paperwork and to get the jump on spring cleaning. In three short weeks, their conference season would be in full swing.
From her small windowed office, Paula could see Stephanie across the hall behind her desk. Something big was going on she could tell by the serious look on the hotel directors face. Her boss had been on the phone for most of the afternoon. Whatever it was, they would all know soon enough.
Paula debriefed with Belinda and Jon, the new Senior Shift Manager, as they started their shift. Ten more minutes and she was out of here for the next four days.
"Paula, can I see you in my office?" Stephanies face was grave.
"Of course." Paula followed her inside, and the hotel director closed the door.
"Ive been on the phone all day with Vince Tolliver."
Wynne hurried off the plane to the taxi stand, rolling her bag behind her. She had planned to head home for a shower before calling Paula, but the message on her cell phone suggested that she come straight from the airport. Paula "needed to talk" and that had the executives stomach in knots. What could be wrong?
Wynne paid the cabbie and dragged her bag up the stairs to the second-floor condo. She hoped her mother wasnt watching out the window; she hadnt planned to see her until tomorrow.
"Hi." Paula held open the door and reached out to take the suitcase. "Was it a good trip?"
Wynne nodded nervously. No hug? No kiss?
As if in answer, Paula wrapped her arms around the tall woman and pulled her close. "I missed you."
"I missed you too."
"Come and sit down. You must be tired. Are you hungry?"
Wynne took a seat on the couch. "No, I ate on the plane. Whats up? You said we needed to talk." They had talked each night on the phone and everything seemed fine.
"I got some big news today, but I didnt want to talk about it over the phone," the blonde started as she sat down.
"Oh yeah?" Wynne reached out absently to scratch the passing Slayer.
"You remember I told you about the guy that I worked for in Denver, Vince Tolliver?"
"You mean the one who got mad because Stephanie recruited you to come back?"
"Thats the one." Paula grabbed the cat and pulled him into her lap. "He called Stephanie today and he wants to return the favor."
"Hes just gotten the directors job at the Weller Regent in San Francisco, and he wants me as his Senior Operations Manager. Its the number two job in the hotel."
All of a sudden, Wynne felt nauseous. She couldnt compete at all with an offer like that. "So youd leave again." It wasnt a question.
"Its a really big promotion, Wynne. I could be running my own hotel in two years. If I stay here, itll be seven years before Stephanie retires."
Wynne nodded her understanding, all the while frowning at the implications. "What did you tell them?"
"I have to let them know on Wednesday. I havent really made up my mind."
Wynne waited to hear more, but obviously Paula expected her to react to the news. Finally she answered. "I dont want you to go, Paula. I feel like we just found each other again after being lost for a really long time."
"I know," she agreed quietly. "Itll only be for a couple of years, Wynne. We can still see each other. Ive got four weeks vacation; my work schedule lets me off four days in a row."
"But what happens in two years? If things work out like you say, youll get your own hotel and youll go somewhere else." She shook her head in resignation.
Paula nudged Slayer off her lap and dropped to her knees, scooting over to kneel in front of the flustered woman. "I havent made up my mind yet. But Id like to think that you and I could still have something no matter what I decide."
Wynne tugged her gently and Paula turned and climbed onto the couch, leaning back as the long arms wrapped around her waist. For the longest time, they sat without talking.
Wynne couldnt believe this turn of events. Everything she wanted had been within her grasp; now it was slipping away. But if Paula were to pass up this opportunity in order to be with her, it was really no different from what Heather had done. Wynne would always owe her, and she didnt want Paula to ever wonder if the debt was what made her stay.
"What if ?"
"What if what?"
"What if I came to San Francisco too?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean what if I asked Eldon-Markoff to move me to the new agency out there? I probably wouldnt get to keep the VP post, but it would still be a good marketing job."
Paula sat up and turned around, her eyes full of surprise. "Youd give up your job and come with me?"
"Well, maybe not right away. But after you get settled and youre sure you like it. And were sure that ."
Paula couldnt believe what she was hearing. The sheer magnitude of Wynnes offer was astounding. She was willing to walk away from her job as a corporate VP just to be with her.
"Wynne, I dont know what to say."
"Just think about it. We have a couple of days." Wynne felt like a weight had been lifted from her chest. Paula was far more important than a job any job. "I do love you, Paula."
"I love you too, she answered, fighting back tears. "Stay here tonight."
Wynne awakened to the strangest, most wonderful sensation. She was lying on her back in Paulas bed with the petite woman draped across her body, the blonde hair tucked beneath her chin. Slayer rested on the pillow, purring softly in her ear. There were no alarms, no planes to catch, nothing to pull her away from the comfort of this embrace.
Paula wiggled in response to the awakening muscles underneath her, instinctively drawing closer before she became cognizant of where she was. She had lain awake last night after their lovemaking, after the slow deep breathing told her that Wynne had fallen asleep. Remembering what theyd talked about, she couldnt believe that she could have her cake and eat it too. She could hold the number two spot in one of Weller Regents top hotels and come home to this every night. That was hard to beat.
"You awake?" Wynne gently caressed the soft shoulders.
"Yeah." Paula lifted her head and chuckled at the contented cat. "I see you have a visitor."
"Hes such a doll," Wynne cooed. "So are you."
"You too." Paula cuddled again. "You know, I still cant get over you being willing to give up your job and move with me."
"Are you kidding? Im not letting you go, Paula McKenzie. You can run, but Im going to follow you wherever you go."
Paula squeezed her tightly. "You made the decision easy, Wynne. Thank you."
"When do you have to be there?"
"Im not going."
The tall woman blinked and struggled to sit up. "Youre what?"
"Im not going. There are a lot more important things in this world than jumping through all the hoops to get to the top of a hotel hierarchy. Ill get there eventually, but if all I have is a job, whats it worth?"
"But a job isnt all youd have, Paula. I told you Id go."
"I know, and knowing that you were willing to do that showed me what I needed to know."
Wynne shook her head in confusion.
"Look, before we talked last night, I was afraid not to take it. I knew if I turned it down and things didnt work out between us, Id resent you for it, and be angry with myself for making the wrong decision. But with you willing to give up your job to go with me, I realized that you were really serious about us, really committed to it. I didnt know it, but thats what I needed to see."
"So were not going?"
"Nope, were not going. And by the way, Stephanie Anderson is going to want to meet you so she can kiss your feet."
"And I think Cheryl Williams will want to kiss yours if she ever finds out how close I came to leaving."
Paula gently pushed her lover back against the pillows, settling herself in the crook of the long arm. "This is right for us, Wynne. Moving up at WR wasnt all that important to me until you left. Before that, I was perfectly happy to stay here, do a good job, and wait for an opening so I could move up another notch. It was only when I thought that work was all I was ever going to have that I decided I had have it all, and as fast as I could get it."
"So youre okay to bide your time and wait for something here?"
"As long as I get to have you in my life."
"Then Id say we have a deal."
Slayer stood and stretched his long body, hoping in vain that someone might offer a scratch. Maybe hed go poke around in the kitchen and see if there was any of that canned beef left over from last night. It was probably going to be a while before anyone would think to ask if he was ready for his breakfast.
Thats all, folks! As always, Id love to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org
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