POWER PLAY An "Ultra-Sensual" Erotiqué Download
Power Play POWER PLAY An Erotiqué Downlo...
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POWER PLAY An "Ultra-Sensual" Erotiqué Download
Power Play POWER PLAY An Erotiqué Download
First Erotiqué Press Electronic Publication / July 2006
All rights Reserved. Copyright © 2006 by Anabel Blue Cover illustration © Karen L. Syed & Anabel Blue
Erotiqué / Echelon Press 9735 Country Meadows Lane 1-D Laurel, MD 20723 www.echelonpress.com All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address Echelon Press. ISBN 1-59080-975-0 PRODUCED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Jeannette Monroe was on top of her game. She signed her name on the contract with exaggerated flourish and grinned as she handed the document back to her client. "We'll start the preliminary drawings Monday. This is going to be the best decision you've ever made, Mr. Conner. I guarantee it." She thrust out her hand and accepted a hearty shake before exiting the 42nd floor chrome and glass office. Best decision ever. Indeed, it would make her a ton of cash and put her on the map in L.A.'s already burgeoning building industry. It called for celebration. She didn't even go home. She didn't mind the traffic getting back to the Valley. Her car seemed to know the way to the old neighborhood, the city blocks where she'd started out several years ago. There was a restaurant here, across the street from her old office, which served the best damned margaritas north of the border. And just maybe she'd run into some of the old crowd. Maybe even Malcolm McVee. She should have known better. Whenever this feeling of power came over her, things happened. Important things; ordinary things with extraordinary consequences. Still, Jeannette wondered later if it was truly the power that caused it to happen. Did she have the ability to compel someone else to act, that someone being an 4
Power Play equally powerful and self-made man at that? The thought scared her and she pushed it aside. But the truth remained; she had wanted it as badly as he. She'd been wanting Malcolm between her legs for all the years, months, and minutes she'd known him. Leaving La Cocina's with Mal on a tequila buzz was a fantasy turned real. In the end, when she spent what seemed like hours in her car making the twenty-mile drive home, she realized it wasn't the softness of his lips that had unraveled her. It wasn't his crystalline eyes that disassembled her reason, not his spontaneity or even that his sexuality could cause a woman's undergarments to combust. No. It was the fact that he knew the lyrics to the song.
Three months passed before she saw Malcolm again. She was delivering something, some sketches requested by a client she'd forgotten to leave earlier... probably because she knew he had an office in the same building and the possibility of running into Malcolm always caused obstruction of thought. Visions of the afternoon spent tossing, wrestling, in throes of hot, feverish passion made her face heated and moist. Of course he was standing there when the elevator door opened, preoccupied at first, as was the norm; Malcolm was often someplace else. Then his head cocked to the side and a smile turned the corner of his mouth. Jeannette fought for control of her gaze, his lips and eyes warring for attention. She cleared her throat, pushed the long wave of chestnut hair behind her shoulder. "I've... been meaning to call," he said quietly, stepping into the elevator and turning to face the door. "It's been crazy." Don't let my voice break, Jeannette prayed, then opted for a nod. "How're things?" he asked, clasping his hands loosely behind his back. Jeanette moistened her lips, slowly moving her gaze up from his black leather dress shoes, noticing the quality of his grey wool suit trousers, pricey tailored coat, the 6
Power Play crisp white cuffs peeking out at his wrists. He'd always had a boyish face, looked years younger than he was. Malcolm was nothing if not a class act. Even his hair looked salon finished, a striking contrast to the damp, brassy-blond disheveled mane she'd last seen him wearing. "Jeannette?" "Oh... things are great. You?" "The same." He stole a sideways glance. "Actually, things are a bit too quiet." Jeannette opened her bag and pawed for something. What, she didn't care. It was, as they say in the theater, a bit of business, something to keep her hands busy. "Quiet... how?" Malcolm looked to the floor and grinned. "Oh, you know. Just... I need distraction." She knew. Too well. She'd known him fifteen years. Fifteen years of wishing she could be that distraction. Then suddenly...that celebration drink after work, that insane tumble in the hay. She'd hit the jackpot. Three months ago. "Busy at work?" he asked, still examining the toes of his Giovanni loafers. "Always." Jeannette glanced at the display over the elevator doors. Soon, the lobby would swallow them both up. "Never too busy," she murmured, hating herself for saying it, hoping the flush creeping up her neck wouldn't color her entire face. She'd never liked sweaty sex. Always preferred tidy, perfunctory, no-surprises sex with men she could trust not 7
to cry out or suggest intolerable positions. Kisses were good, as long as they weren't slobbery. Touching was good, as long as it was respectful and--dare she think it-predictable. There was nothing predictable or tidy about Malcolm. The sheets on the waterbed, she'd noted, were clean when she arrived. Now, they were barely on the bed, much less pristine. The condo's walls were soundproof, and they'd been at it for hours. Literally. They had rolled, tossed, and tumbled, and now Malcolm was suggesting she kneel on the floor and lie over the edge of the bed, a foam pillow supporting her ribs against the side of the bed frame. "Ah, yeah. This is good," he muttered, kissing her back as he slipped his hands beneath to cup her breasts. "Feel okay?" Jeannette nodded. "Ummm." It felt great. Even though she had already climaxed twice, the sensation of Malcolm thrusting into her again gave her renewed thrill. After all, it was Malcolm. Malcolm McVee. Her mind began chanting a silly mantra as he began his primal, rhythmic ritual. Malcolm...Malcolm... Malcolm... Jeannette dragged a strand of wet hair from her cheek, not knowing if it was hers or his and not caring. She thought for a moment about how she'd carefully trimmed her pubic hair in preparation for the marathon afternoon. Shaved, waxed and moisturized, painstakingly applied waterproof eye make up and flat-ironed her 8
Power Play tresses. She wasn't sure he'd even noticed. Actually, fairly certain he hadn't. She consoled herself with the knowledge that he certainly would have noticed had she not prepared. And that was enough. He moaned. A lustful, powerful sound that communicated male desire, a still somehow insatiated groan that she knew without looking accompanied a rueful smile, a dare in those crystal blue eyes. Could she go again? How many days, weeks, months would it be before he would again ask for distraction? It was then that Malcolm began to hum, then sing, lyrics softly recounting the pain of a true love lost to the wind. Jeannette, in control and yet oddly controlled, slid her still-slick body onto his and thrust her tongue into Malcolm's mouth.
It wasn't as long the next time, and it wasn't a chance meeting in the elevator. It had been a particularly bad day at work. The cleaning woman quit and the water cooler leaked. The copier ran out of toner and even her mild-mannered assistant, Todd, was cranky. Jeannette had called it a day early and drove home in a funk. Now, in her own kitchen, she was on her back, penlight clenched in her teeth as she wrestled with a tangled sprayer hose under the kitchen sink. She nearly smacked her forehead on the drainpipe when the phone in her pocket began to chirp. "You up for sushi?" he asked, as if it was something they did regularly. As if they'd spoken yesterday. Jeannette sat up, crossed her legs on the kitchen floor, and pushed the hair from her eyes. "Why not. You picking me up?" "Why don't you come by and get me. The Jag's in the shop again." She hesitated only a moment, but he caught her indecision and interrupted her response. "If it's not convenient, we can make it another time." "No, no, it's fine. Just give me a few minutes to change. I'll see you in forty-five." Excited at first, she went through her preparations with a hum. She had to admit she'd been waiting for his call. Several times in the 10
Power Play past week she'd driven past his office and looked for his car. Stopped in for a to-go dinner at the restaurant. Now, as she slipped her sapphire earrings into place, her smile faded. She'd never waited on a man before. Not like this. Never in her life had she dropped everything and raced out to have sex. He couldn't even pick her up for a proper date. At least he'd called her. The California Rolls were already a forgotten memory. Jeannette sank down into Malcolm's leather couch and accepted the Cosmo he held out to her. "I never drank martinis before I met you," she murmured. "You weren't living until you met me," he said with a wink that both excited and disgusted her; she loathed herself for falling prey to such a cloying gesture. Nonetheless, the drink was tasty and she began to feel aroused just watching him as he searched for the right CD from his rack of hundreds. The black Dockers hugged his perfect bum with an enviable touch as he reached to a high bookshelf beside the fireplace. "I know it's here somewhere. I was just listening to it last week. Or was it last month? Ah. Here it is. One of my moldy oldies." Jeannette recognized the song, a song that conjured bittersweet memories of a prom night gone sour. She took a deep breath, started to speak, then put the martini glass to her lips instead. Mal didn't want to know about Johnny Webster's lack of backseat etiquette. "Good choice," she said at last, feeling what little power she had 11
drain from her body as Malcolm joined her on the couch. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back into his touch as his fingers began to draw circles on her scalp. The sex got better every time. They'd moved to the guest bedroom and a regular bed. Sheepskin covered handcuffs appeared from a bottom dresser drawer. The 50" plasma TV came to life with images of carnal antics that would have shocked and embarrassed Jeannette had she been able to focus on them. As it was, she was on a ship on the water, tossing, wet, aroused; she was somewhere else, she was someone else, she was taking a voyage away from her life as a lonely architect with a man that took her to the heights of madness. But handcuffs? "Not my legs," she managed to assert, and Mal flashed a malicious grin. "Okay." She'd never been restrained before, and she tested the cuffs with a little tug. A coil of fear snaked through her body, resulting not in panic but in a surprising thickness of sheer, erotic lust. She couldn't embrace the man whose tongue was artfully drawing bulls eyes on her nipples, couldn't grasp the taught, tanned shoulders as he moved down her stomach and hovered over her jewel box. Malcolm looked up at her now, watching her expression, whimsy turning a crooked smile as he peered between her breasts. She was panting. "Tell me what you want, Sugar Girl," he whispered. Her mind was screaming at him, but her lips wouldn't move. Do it. Touch me. Lick me. Now! "Tell me!" 12
Power Play Jeannette lifted her hips toward his mouth, and she heard a deep chuckled as Malcolm extended that talented tongue toward her and began to tease her most precious gem. A groan escaped and Jeannette pulled hard against the handcuffs as need coursed through her body. Need, to jam her fingers into that flaxen hair; need, to pull his lips against her hard so that his whole mouth could pleasure her at once. Yet all she could do was moan. Arch. Twist. The metallic chinking of the cuffs drove her madness higher as Malcolm added fingers to his assault, slowly moving them in, then out... "Oh, God," Jeannette choked as her mouth filled with saliva. "Not yet. Not--" The wave was beginning, and she could roll with it or shut it down. And while she was on the brink, on the very precipice of abandon, there was still the shadow of a feeling that something was just a sigh short of perfect. Yet the fever burned away the distraction and she thrust herself upward once more in demand as Malcolm consumed her whole, tongue darting faster as his hands now grasped her behind. "Oh, God," she repeated as every cell within her cried out in unison, tremor became wave and wave became avalanche. Her body convulsed again and again before finally falling limp against the mattress. And when the shudders subsided, she became aware that Malcolm was watching her. His wicked grin had faded, and there was a new glint in his eyes as prepared to take her for his own release. A condom appeared from nowhere. "The handcuffs," she panted. "Undo them." 13
"No." It seemed like one fluid movement, Malcolm lifting her and shoving a pillow beneath before driving himself into her. Now, more than ever, Jeannette wanted to touch him, to grasp his hips, to dig her fingers into his back and hold him close as he rode her. To become one with this golden god of her fantasies. Wrists straining at the headboard, she tossed her head from side to side, her anger building. "Good," Malcolm murmured. "Good. Fight me. Fight!" And fight she did. The angrier she became, the more she bucked. The more she bucked, the wilder he became. He cried out then, a deep, guttural sound that snapped Jeannette from her fury. Turning her head to the side, she exhaled and wondered at the hot trickle running from the corner of her eye. Thankfully, Malcolm remembered to unlock the handcuffs before passing out beside her, leaving Jeannette to cool the burn alone. As always, sanity returned on the drive home. Sanity, and with it, emptiness. Jeannette went straight for the tub, dunking her ravaged body into the hottest water she could stand before even checking her answering machine. She submerged herself to the chin. "What is happening to me?" she whispered. "What am I doing?" Blindly staring at the ceiling, she leaned back against the bath pillow and touched her body, stopping first to cup her breasts and run thumbs over her 14
Power Play chaffed nipples. She couldn't keep the frown from her forehead, couldn't stop her hands from sliding down and finding the painful bite next to her navel and the tender bruises between her legs. The hot water felt good, but it did nothing to restore her self-respect. What had happened to all that power? That power that had made it all happen to begin with?
She lost two contracts in a row. Someone was underbidding her, she was sure. Worse, wrinkles had appeared around her eyes, overnight. Surely they hadn't been there before, hadn't been there two months ago when she'd last seen Malcolm. Otherwise he wouldn't have been attracted. Wouldn't have taken her to such dizzying pinnacles of passion. Wouldn't have made love to her four times in six hours. Where was he, anyway? She'd nearly called him a dozen times. Staked out his office in her car, watching him escort sweet young things into that black Jaguar parked at the curb. Cried into her pillow at night, cursing the day she'd walked through the doors of that Mexican restaurant in the Valley. If only he'd call. And if he did, what would she do? The phone on her desk slammed her back into the moment. "How are my drawings coming?" a man's voice asked, his tone neutral or possibly wary. "Mr. Conner! Sorry, I was still thinking about my last call. The mock-ups are nearly done..." "Please, call me Bryce. We're going to be working pretty closely for a long while." "You've got it. Same goes. Jeannette." "Okay, Jeannette. I'm excited. I'm actually up from San Diego today. Can I come by and see the renderings?" 16
Power Play Jeannette drew in her bottom lip. She'd planned to leave early, maybe take a drive by... "Of course," she blurted before her deceitful heart could stop her. "I'll be here until five. I'll make sure Todd has them ready for viewing." She had to admit she had not been on top of Bryce Conner's project for a couple of weeks. Hadn't been on top of anything, really. Her obsession with Malcolm's comings and goings had all but eclipsed her good business sense and frozen her calendar. She hurried down the hall to her assistant's office and burst through the door. "Do you have the Conner drawings done? Please say yes. Please." Todd looked up through his Clark Kent glasses and smiled. Indeed, his blue-black hair sported a single Superman curl onto his youthful forehead. "Yes. Unlike you," he said, standing and adjusting the glasses, "I've been working for the past few weeks." Jeannette's face grew hot. "What do you mean? I've been here. Don't be crazy." "Here, maybe. But not here." "I don't know what you mean. Anyway, thanks for getting them done. May I see?" Jeannette swallowed and lifted her chin, inwardly cursing her short-sightedness. The drawings were exactly as she'd commissioned them. "Oh Todd. These are perfect. Conner will love them." She sighed a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding. "Fantastic. Thank you." She started from the room, then turned. "Thanks for covering my butt, too. I guess I've been preoccupied." 17
"Preoccupied?" Todd asked, lifting his eyebrows. "Hey, is something going on with you?" Jeannette gave him a frowny smile. "Nope. Nothing, really. Just going through one of those life things. You know, not sure what I want to do with the next fifty years of my life." "Gotcha. Like me trying to decide on Burger King or Del Taco." "Yeah. Just like that." Jeannette carried the drawings back to her office and hooked them onto an easel, then stood back to admire the first one. Thank God, she murmured. Thank God for Todd. Thank God there are still men with morals and scruples and responsibility. She laughed then, realizing that she knew nothing about Todd's morality or scruples. Or did she? He was just a kid, a fledgling artist she'd hired based on his portfolio and honest, super-hero face. And just because Malcolm hadn't called her, she was ready to call all men schlubs? "Looks like a winner from here." Jeannette spun to face Bryce Conner, who stood in the doorway admiring the rendering. "Better than I'd expected." "Todd's the best. Truth be told, you could do this whole deal with just him. I'm just the facilitator." "Oh, I doubt that," Bryce said, shoving his hands into his suit pockets and leaning against the jamb. "Let's look at the rest." They spent fifteen or twenty minutes discussing the twenty-story medical building that would be erected on 18
Power Play the site where the old book bindery had been destroyed by a fire. "My partners will be very impressed. Can I take these?" "Certainly. We've made color duplicates. Once I have you sign off on these, we'll get to the bones of the project." "Great. This is my first time investing in something like this. I'm nervous. Or I was. I feel better now." Jeannette smiled. Bryce had a candid honesty about him that she immediately enjoyed. "I do too." And she did. Something about Bryce Conner felt good. She started to wonder about him, his personal life, when a red light flashed. No. Don't go there. Still, she felt strong in his presence. She was upright and successful. There was a glimmer of power in her chest, a calm in the security of her position. There was respect. Bryce rolled the drawings and Jeannette helped him slide them into a tube for transport. "I'm not used to this part of town. You wouldn't take pity on a poor, lost ... hungry man and help me find some dinner, would you?" "I--" Jeannette began, trying not stammer while thinking up an excuse not to go. She'd planned on getting Mexican take-out and watching American Idol. Her fluster was saved by the ringing of her cell. "Would you excuse me?" she asked, snapping the phone off her desk and turning toward the window. Bryce nodded and stepped into the hallway. "Hey babe, long time." Jeannette's breath caught in her throat at the sound of Malcolm's voice. "Hey, Mal, what's up?" She tried to keep her voice 19
cool and calm, but found her fingers were already trembling and digging into her hairline. "It--it has been a long time." "Yeah, too long. I'm sorry. Been busier than shit. Thinkin' boutcha though. Hows about we get together tonight?" Jeannette took in a deep breath. The words she'd been waiting for. For months. She made a quarter turn, saw Bryce waiting in the hall outside her office. He was smoothing his brown hair in the back to where it curled at the collar, possibly indulging in a little self-conscious grooming. He caught her looking and smiled, his hazel eyes glinting with just a touch of embarrassed charm. "Gosh, I don't know. I'm very busy at work." "Never too busy, you once said." She could see Malcolm's seductive grin. Feel his hands on her body. Remember the liquid heat that coursed her veins when they touched. "I did say that, didn't I? Well..." Jeannette wavered, feeling like a balloon with a slow leak. "You want to swing by my office? I'm waiting on a call but I'll be free by the time you get here." Swing by my office. Swing by? Again she glanced at Bryce, who was shifting uncomfortably and checking his watch. He leaned into the office and smiled apologetically. "Hey, if tonight isn't good, I can do a rain check. It was just a thought," he said quietly, respectful of her caller. Quickly shaking her head, she held out her index finger and turned away. "Can't make it, Mal. I--I have a date. Maybe another 20
Power Play time. Call me next week." There was silence on her phone as Jeannette's balloon began to re-inflate. Several seconds passed before Malcolm spoke. "Call you next week. Right. See ya." He hung up without fanfare, and Jeannette slapped her flip phone closed. "You like lasagna?" she asked, lifting her suit jacket off the back of her chair. "My favorite. You sure?" "Positive."
Power surged through her, and whenever that power came over her, things happened. Important things; ordinary things with extraordinary consequences. And sometimes, they were extraordinarily good consequences. Taking a chance on lasagna, with a man she barely knew had led to roses, cards, and chocolates. Followed by a tour of San Diego harbor and the Zoo; sailing to Catalina and lovemaking in an intimate beach cabana; and most importantly of all, a man who was still there in the morning, who treasured his time with her and treated her body like a proverbial temple. Sunday mornings became ritual. Morning sex after mouthwash. Lattes and the L.A. Times on Bryce's balcony overlooking San Diego's beautiful Mission Bay. Fresh fruit held out to her on a fork, eyes meeting as she grabbed it with her teeth. This Sunday morning was no different. Bryce propped himself on one arm and dragged lazy fingers down her chest. "Last night was really great," he said softly. "You were really with me." "I'm always really with you," Jeannette replied, feeling an unexpected blush coming on. "Yeah, but, I mean, like we were really together. Timing wise. You know..." The blush broadened. "Oh. Yeah. Like that." 22
Power Play Jeannette had noticed. Her teenaged fantasy, long buried, came to mind. And along with it, the embarrassing day her best friend, Mary Jane Kotowsky, had discounted it. People don't really climax together, Jean. It just doesn't happen. Only in books and movies. "It wasn't exactly a coincidence, you know." Bryce sighed and nuzzled her ear, sending shivers throughout Jeannette's body. "It takes some practice." "You've had a lot?" "Not before you. I mean, it never seemed important before." Jeannette couldn't contain a giggle. Reaching down beneath the sheet, she slid her hand down his abdomen, raking the tiny curls below with her nails before gently wrapping her fingers around his growing pleasure piece. "I'm not quite sure," she began as she stroked him, "that it was exactly the same moment. We might need to practice some more." "If you insist." Her hands itched to touch him, to feel every inch of skin, every hard-working muscle. Pushing him over onto his back, Jeannette caressed his cheek, his jaw line, his neck. He closed his eyes as she massaged his chest, paying attention to the twin peaked nipples before moving on to his shoulders. All the while she was rocking, rubbing, sliding against that growing, pulsating part of him that was beginning to resemble a rocket. "Feel good?" she asked. "Mmmm." She lifted herself then, maneuvering her body just so before sliding back down to engulf him. He inhaled, 23
lifted his chin, reached for her, embraced her. "Ah, Jeannie..." Slow ride. Jeannette nibbled on his ear. Savor this. But not too long. As though reading her thoughts, Bryce came alive with action. He was the bull and she was the rodeo cowboy. She giggled aloud at the thought, realizing that bulls don't caress and they don't kiss their riders. Passion soon quelled her laughter, and a new image formed in her mind. The image of two lovers becoming one, not only in body but in soul. Even now, sinking into her steaming tub of fragrant, hot bubbles, Jeannette could not believe the change in her life. It was six months, give or take, since that first cozy dinner at Luigi's with Bryce; so it must have been six months, give or take, since her last words with Malcolm McVee. Yet, he nagged at her subconscious, niggled away at her pride, withholding that last little bit of something she needed to feel her best. Her strongest. "Closure," she said aloud, the words sending small bubbles flying. "He has something of mine." But would she, could she do anything about it? Shaking her head, she forced herself to admit that she was afraid. Afraid to see him again, unsure of what she would do. She was not proud of the nymphomaniac she became in Malcolm's arms, the memory of which both horrified and mortified her. Not that she was any kind of prude with Bryce. She blushed, thinking of the wild, but healthy sex she and Bryce enjoyed whenever they were together. Even 24
Power Play now, Bryce was nagging her to move to San Diego, threatening to move to Los Angeles if necessary to cement their relationship. She wanted both, and neither. She liked it the way it was. Being equals. She did not have to feed Bryce her power to keep him coming back. "Jeannie?" he called to her now. "You decent?" "Never," she called back. "But you can come in." And he did. In a heartbeat, Bryce stripped down and joined her in the Jacuzzi tub. "Jesus H. Christ this is hot! How do you stand it?" Jeannette smiled lazily. "Hot is my middle name." Before she could elaborate, his lips covered hers and bubbles slopped onto the floor. Teeth to earlobe, fingers to the small of her back, tongue to her cleavage. "You excite me to no end," he whispered huskily. "But this is just a bit too messy for me." With a groan, he climbed back out of the tub and pulled her with him, wrapping her in a white bath sheet he carried her out to the bedroom. They ended up on the floor. Rolling, kissing, nipping, laughing. "The bed?" he asked suddenly, lifting away to see her eyes. "No. Take me here." So he did. Lacing his fingers with hers, he brought her hands above her head and drove into her as she clamped her legs around him. "Go. Go. Go!" With the scent of jasmine still clinging to her skin, her wet curls cascading around Bryce's face, Jeannette withheld until the moment she was absolutely sure he would explode. It was a new game and she enjoyed it immensely. She wanted to go right to the phone and tell 25
Mary Jane Kotowsky that it was possible. With the right man. So the sloshing bath water was too messy for him. Ah, a man after my own heart. He was after her heart, she realized, when they lay spent and glowing moments later. "You know I love you," he murmured, tweaking a curl from her cheek. "Lots." A moment of panic rose and subsided, and she traced his lips with her finger. "What do you love?" she asked softly. "Everything. Everything. You and me. Together." "Mmmm." She didn’t return the admission, but instead took him into her arms and sighed. His lips ended next to her ear. "You don't need to commit to me today, Jeannie. But I do need to know that this is going somewhere. That there isn't another guy in the rafters watching. If you come to me, you come to me whole. No loose ends." She didn't answer, only stroked his still damp back and tried to breathe normally.
The building was complete. Todd opened the door of her car for her, a gesture of chivalry that touched her. As they hurried up the steps to the ribbon cutting, Todd held her elbow and slowed her down. "I just wanted to say, before all the hoopla starts, I wanted to say thank you for the opportunity to work on this. It's been the greatest. I won't ever forget." Jeannette turned to her prodigy and smiled. "It has been the greatest. I should be thanking you for your talent and insight. You took my idea and ran with it. You deserve as much kudos today as anyone." They hugged then, a spontaneous, affectionate embrace between partners sharing a triumphant moment. Power surged between them as she kissed Todd on the cheek. Then she saw him over the younger man's shoulder. The longish, shiny gold hair glinting in the sun; the man leaning against the cornerstone of the building with his arms folded across his chest, icy blue stare pointed her way. "Malcolm..." she whispered. "Huh? You okay?" Todd asked, turning his head to follow her gaze. "What are you looking at?" "Nothing. Nothing at all. Let's get up there. I see Bryce." She nearly stumbled into Bryce's arms, barely heard the celebratory announcements, and snapped to attention at the breaking of the champagne bottle. They shook 27
hands for the cameras and then Bryce had his arm around her. "What's the matter? You feeling okay?" "I'm fine. Let's just go. I could use a glass of wine or something. This is just all so...overwhelming." "I'll get the car. You wait right here." Jeannette nodded, then said her goodbyes to the mayor and councilmen who'd come to witness the ribbon cutting. Todd came up to her with a small bouquet of spring flowers. "I want you to have these," he said shyly. "But don’t get any ideas. My Aunt Shirley came down here and she brought these. They, uh, aren't my type..." he mumbled and thrust the bouquet into her hands. "You wicked boy," she said with a laugh. "Poor Aunt Shirley. But okay, I'll take them home and give them some water. You take care, see you Monday," she said, once again planting a brief kiss on his cheek. She waited for a bit, watching the traffic on Figueroa and the balloons that occasionally broke free of the exquisite new medical building behind her. The sun was bright, the air cool and fresh. By all rights she should be feeling fabulous and free. She would have, had the cold hand of the past not reached out and blocked the sun. "He's cute. Where'd you pick him up, a day care center?" "Hi, Mal. Didn't expect to see you here." Jeannette turned to face the man who, after a whole year, still had something of hers. She decided she wanted it back. "He's my assistant and no, there's nothing between us. How've you been? You're looking... good. A little tired, though. Everything okay?" 28
Power Play "Everything couldn't be better. Life's good. You?" "I could say the same." She eyed him down, then up. "Sorry I... haven't called. I've been busy." "I can see that. So, well." He grinned, reached for her hand. "We always pick up right where we left off, right? You game, babe?" "Game?" She smiled broadly, peered into his eyes. "Sure. Always am. Your place, say, 7:30?" Malcolm returned her smile. "You got it. Hey what was that great wine you brought that time? Bring that. That was fine." "I'll see what I can do. I have to run, darling. See you tonight." Malcolm nodded and leaned forward, but Jeannette dodged the kiss and waved sweetly as she trotted down the steps towards Bryce's waiting Lexus. "Who was that guy today, on the steps?" Bryce asked as they sat down for dinner. "A ghost from the past." Jeannette held up her wine glass and peered at the candlelight passing through the amber liquid. "A ghost that needs to be dispelled." Bryce nodded, his face pensive. "I see. This might be a loose end, huh?" "Yeah. Might be." They ate in silence and cleaned up together with a minimum of words. At seven o'clock, Jeannette cleared her throat. "I have to go." Bryce nodded and reached out to stroke her cheek. "Should I be here when you get back?" 29
Jeannette licked her lips. "I... that's up to you." He stared at her for an endless moment. "I'll call you in the morning. You don't need the added worry of me waiting here. Do what you need to do." "I'll call you later--" "No. No promises. Just...just let me know in the morning if we still have something." He cupped her head then, pulling her lips firmly against his for a soulsearching kiss. She wanted to melt against him, wanted to hide in his arms and postpone the inevitable. But she didn't, and he was gone. In her closet, she opened a small bureau drawer and withdrew a red and black lace teddy with a snap crotch. From her lingerie drawer she pulled a pair of black patterned stockings and slipped them on, securing them with the satin garters hanging from the teddy. High-heels off the shelf and a short black sleeveless dress over her head and pulled down around her hips. The make-up was as expected. A little more eyeliner, a tad bit more blush. Deep shadow. A bold red lipstick called Seduction. Perfume that would make a eunuch cry. In her make-up bag was a plastic ball from a gumball machine containing a temporary tattoo of a snake. With a giggle, she carefully applied it to her breast so that it just peeked above the neckline of her dress. The giggle turned into a laugh. Grabbing her lava red dress coat she was on her way to Malcolm's. "Sorry I couldn't get the wine," she purred at the front door as Malcolm got the first cloud of her perfume in his face. "I'm sure you have some, don't you, darling?" His gaze fixed on her tattoo, then dropped down to 30
Power Play the lacy stockings and back. "Uh, yeah. Oh yeah. I've got wine." He led her to the black leather couch and stumbled over an ottoman getting to the bar. "California white okay?" "Unless you have some Alsace Pinot Gris?" "I have Napa Valley Chardonnay." "It'll do." Jeannette pulled open the red coat and let it slide from her shoulders, thrusting her chest forward in the process. She could have sworn Malcolm swallowed, hard, while he was opening the wine. She didn't sit. Maintaining a coy smile and twisting slowly to the soft music that was already playing, she waited patiently for him to offer the glass. "To... to what?" he asked, holding out his glass inviting a toast. Jeannette held hers out as well, grinning sweetly. "To power." "Here, here," Malcolm answered, gulping his wine while focusing again on the tiny snake peeking out of her dress. "So, uh, what's with the tattoo? You dating a biker?" "As a matter of fact, he's a tattoo artist. This is just the first of many. Next week we'll start on my ass. Twin tigers." It was a classic textbook spray. "Oh, my! Mal, are you all right? Jesus, are you choking?" Jeannette grabbed a tissue from a box on the coffee table and dabbed it at Malcolm's chin. He pushed her hand away. "I'm fine. Fine. Crap." Hurriedly, he went to the bar and refilled his glass. "Just down the wrong damned pipe. 31
I'll live." "Good. Because I have plans for you later." "What's later? What the hell, why not now?" Jeannette stood her ground as Malcolm approached. "Sure, in a bit. We have lots of time. Rocky won't be home from the bar for hours." "Rocky?" Was Malcolm sweating? "No worries. Let's catch up. So what have you been up to?" Jeannette asked, sitting down on the couch and propping one stilletto'ed heel on the coffee table, giving Malcolm a bird's eye view of her most feminine mystique. "Oh, you know, the usual worthless dog shit. Other agents jacking my listings, buyers flaking out all over the place, some bozo in the Bay area is trying to screw me out of a referral fee. The usual." Despite his tirade, his eyes never left her thighs and he seemed about to hyperventilate. "Mmmm. Sounds bad. Why don't you get out of that nasty business and make some honest money?" Jeannette cooed, gently wagging her knee back and forth. "I'm doing great, by the way. The Conner building was a coup. A major plume in my professional hat. I've three new contracts as a result." Malcolm frowned. "Really?" He took a gulp of wine, then dragged his sleeve across his forehead. "Is it hot in here?" "Mal, you look tired. You sure you're up to this?" "What I'm up to is you, babe. What say we go upstairs and get comfortable?" Jeannette hesitated, then got slowly to her feet. 32
Power Play "Whatever you say." His bed had been hastily made, laundry stuffed into the closet. A telltale sock hindered the closet door from closing tight. He was on her immediately, forcing a lustful kiss that nearly took her breath away, and not in a romantic sense, either, she thought. Still, she smiled and shoved him forcefully back onto the bed. His grin was a nervous one, but he stayed put when she pointed at him. "Don't you move, sugar." "I'm all yours, darlin'." "Now, if memory serves..." she murmured, going to the dresser and opening the bottom drawer. The handcuffs were there. "Ah, yes." It took only moments to strip Malcolm's clothes off and secure his wrists and ankles to the four-poster bed. "Don't you look just... helpless," Jeannette said sweetly. "Cute. And helpless." "Oh, baby. You are one hot mama tonight. Let's get it started." Was he begging? Jeannette smiled and pulled the black dress over her head. "Good lord." "He might have had something to do with it," Jeannette answered, walking slowly around the bed to the CD player on the nightstand and hitting "play." Pleased that her intuition was correct when the same sad, romantic lyrics began to waft from the speaker, she walked back to the other side of the bed and sat down, pulling her knees up and hugging them to her chest. "I used to love this song," she said quietly. "Now, I just think it's pathetic." Beads of sweat began to appear on Malcolm's 33
forehead. "So...so put on something else. Something more upbeat. Dance for me, baby." "Good idea." She smiled as Addicted to Love started playing next. How apropos. The bump and grind wasn't professional, but it didn't seem to matter to Malcolm, who had a hard-on going like a broomstick. She even reached out for a quick caress during her impromptu dance. "God have mercy!" "No mercy for the wicked, my dear Malcolm." The stockings slid off her satin smooth legs and wound gently around the flagpole begging to be favored with a touch. The teddy fairly slithered from her body and she bent at the waist, her back turned, to pick it up. Malcolm emitted a strangled sound and she turned back. Licking her lips, she crawled onto the bed and hung straddled over Malcolm, leaning just close enough for her nipples to brush his chest as she slid her tongue around his mouth. "Oh God. Christ, Jean, what are you doing to me?" Jeannette paused, staring into those now dark blue eyes, eyes that were near tears with anxiety and wanting. Her smile faded. "You're right. This is wrong." Climbing off the bed, she went to the CD player and shut it off, placed her hands on her hips. "I'm tired now, dear one. I think I'll go home. I'm really not in the mood to tussle with you tonight. Or any other night, for that matter." "WHAT?" Malcolm's voice cracked like that of an adolescent. She hesitated. She could be meaner. She could push the envelope and leave him bound. But she was 34
Power Play reminded, for a moment, of how she'd entered into the relationship knowing what a jerk he was. They'd been friends for fifteen years. It wasn't his fault she'd been such an airhead. It really wasn't his doing that she'd offered up her power on a silver platter, simply because she'd carried the torch for him for so long. She sighed and sat down, peering into his dumbfounded face as she unlocked the handcuffs on his wrists. "It just doesn't work for me." "What the hell are you talking about?" he cried, more out of shock than anger. "I accidentally gave you too much, Mal. I just had to get it back. I'm sorry. It was really fun in the beginning, but it was also wrong from the beginning. We were friends, and I screwed that up by letting you get to me. I want us to stay friends now. Just pick up and go on. Can you do that?" Glancing down at the remains of his spoiled erection, Malcolm shrugged. "Sure." He rubbed his wrists, then attempted to sit up. "Why not." She dressed, and Malcolm pulled on his discarded jeans. He mumbled something about seeing her out, keeping his face expressionless. Jeannette felt giddy just watching his defeated stagger. He would live. He did, indeed, walk her to the door, where she turned and gave him a hug. "You really should find someone special, Mal. It's the best thing in the world. It would do you such good." Malcolm nodded, looking away, a remorseful smile gracing his boyish face. Jeannette walked quickly down the porch steps. She was just getting into her car when 35
she heard him call out. "Jean? Was it true about the tigers on your butt?"
She took her time walking from the car to the house, picking up the forgotten morning paper from the driveway and the neighbor's dog's tennis ball. She wished, for a moment, that she'd asked Bryce to stay, to wait for her. But it wouldn't have been fair. Inside the house, she looked around at the silence, the last batch of roses he'd brought her, the spring bouquet Todd had handed her earlier. Photos she'd recently framed of herself and Bryce sailing, hiking, and dancing graced her fireplace mantle. On the coffee table was a clipped article about her firm's new contract awards. The reporter had asked if she planned on expanding in order to accommodate her newfound success. She looked back at the daisies and mums. Standing up tall and taking a deep breath, Jeannette stretched and kicked off the high heels she silently vowed to never wear again. Then she hurried to the telephone and dialed the now-familiar number of the apartment Bryce had taken nearby. "I hear the weather's a lot nicer in San Diego," she said smoothly. "I know the scenery is lot better." "It could be," he answered softly. "Interested in investing in a new building near downtown? I know of an architectural firm looking for space down there." 37
"I might be. As long as there are no loose ends." "No loose ends here, Mr. Conner. By the way, would you like to get some pie and coffee? I can pick you up in thirty." "If you want." "I want."