Next Part Three: Life and Love Decisions
Previous Part One: Just a Walk in the Park

SoulMates Part Two. Another Kind of Dance

Chapter 4: First Revelations

Monday started the way Mondays often do - Badly. My alarm clock failed to alarm due to a power outage during the night caused by a summer thunderstorm. I was out the door a full hour later than normal and was soon in the middle of what is euphemistically called "rush hour". How anything moving at only 7 miles per hour can be "rushing" is beyond my understanding, but I pulled into my parking place a full three hours later than my usual seven am.

The drive (the crawl) gave me ample time to review the long hours of thinking I had done over the weekend. I had finally admitted to myself that I was utterly infatuated with my vivacious and energetic boss. Not a comfortable thing for a man of my maturity, to accept that he was susceptible to such emotions. I was still wrestling with implications of the "L" word. I had not yet accepted that I might be falling in love with the woman after only one date. That was not something a forty one year old man did.

When I chugged into my office, Roselie was not at her desk. I was horrified, wondering fatalistically what else could go wrong today. Relief surged when I heard Roselie's voice through Monique's partially open door. "You mean he can dance, too?? Damn him! I was beginning to think he did not even like girls. I mean, I have done everything to get his attention short of crawling under his desk and attacking him."

Monique's soft laugh seeped through the door. "Oh, I think he likes girls, my dear. And he kisses as well as he dances. I caught him off guard and nailed him a good one before he could protest. He turned the tables on me, and nearly had me dragging him to my lair. Yes, I don't think you need to worry on that score, Rosie-bottom."

"Ooooooo that... that... male!" Her tone made "male" a four letter epithet. "I am gonna get him yet, just see if I don't."

"Well." Monique's voice had become harder, and quite cold. "As to that, maybe you will. It might even be quite likely, but he has a prior claim on him." I wanted to hear more; to figure out who they were talking about, but I decided that might be going too far. I made a show of opening the office door loudly and breathing heavily, as if I had been running. Roselie appeared at the door to Monique's office.

"Sorry I am late. Lost power in my division last night." I walked into my office and started the computer up. Roselie poked her head in. "Anything hot, Roselie?"

Was I imagining it, or did a very strange look flit across her cute face. "Nothing work oriented. I wish you would be more careful of my files when I am not here, though." She grinned. "Took me a half hour this morning to undo the disaster you inflicted on me Friday."

"Yes, well, I want to talk to you and Monique about that, today. How about finding a free half hour when we can all talk."

"You bet, Nate. I will let you know." She gave me a gamine grin and headed back to her desk with a decidedly feminine strut. Damn, but she had a cute wiggle on that tush. I had not noticed that?? Maybe I was starting to get old. I sighed, and called up my email account to start the day.

The meeting with Monique came at the end of a hectic day. My late arrival had not decreased the amount of work that had to be done, it just shortened the amount of time until the infamous "close of business, today" due date for the work that had to get done. I worked through the most pressing work, and left the rest for overtime. I broke off to do a little research for the meeting in personnel, and got back just in time for the get-together. Roselie had made a fresh pot of coffee and we settled behind Monique's closed door in the easy chairs. Monique smiled at me. "This is your call, Nathan. What is on your mind?"

"Roselie, her workload and her filing system." I detailed what happened the previous Friday, and then ruefully related what I had done to Roselie's files. "I think, given the work load around here, Roselie could use some real time help. Someone who was here enough to be familiar with the layout and who could help fill in when Roselie is on vacation." I carefully did not discuss the sick leave issue. "It does not have to be full time. I checked with Admin, and we could get a part timer in here, say half days, to fill in for afternoon surge, or to cover the phones, or Ummmmmm..." I am sure I blushed. "Help with the filing." Roselie giggled at my discomfort. Monique simply looked at me with that straight forward, up front look of hers. She would have made a superb ship's Captain.

I finished my little pitch, and turned the floor over to Monique. "Well, Roselie, what do you think? Do we need extra help?"

She blushed slightly. "Well, I do get behind sometimes, Boss, particularly on Mondays and Fridays when everything has to be done. Or." she shot me an evil grin. "When I have to undo damage to my files before I can find anything. I don't think that there is normally enough for a full timer, but half days, or even full days, part time - yes, I can see value to that."

Monique turned her gaze back to me. "How soon?" Was all she said. I had worked with her long enough to know she expected that I had already done the leg work on this. Fortunately, I had.

"I can have four candidates up here for Roselie to interview and check out tomorrow afternoon. If one of them is acceptable, any of the four can start on Monday."

Monique raised an eyebrow to me. "Roselie interviewing them? Not you?" Her tone was amused.

"Hey, we have established that I do not know files. This is to help Roselie, which, will definitely help me, but Roselie is the technical expert here, so her opinion is what counts."

Monique grinned at me. "I knew there was a reason we worked so well together, Evans. Our minds work alike on this issue. Well, Roselie, I would say you might want to think about how to interview these women tomorrow." She caught my quick frown. "Not women?" she asked.

"All but one of them are women. One is a retired Navy Chief Personnelman. All work part time other places in the company and all are highly thought of. Two of the women might be willing to work full time if that should become desired later on."

"Sounds fine to me. Anything else, Roselie?"

Her flashing grin lit her face. "Nope. Sounds great, but I need to be leaving if I am going to catch my car pool. Is that it?" Monique and I both said we were done, and Roselie hustled off for the elevators. I sat quietly, sipping my coffee.

"All right, Nathan. There is something else on your mind and you did not want Roselie here when you discussed it."

She was right there. I was not sure I really wanted to discuss it at all, but twenty years of Navy service where the job was, first and foremost, to take care of your people would not let me take the easy way out. "What do you know about Roselie's private life, Monique? Her records say single, but do you know if she has a steady boy friend?"

Her forehead knitted as she considered my question. "I know her fairly well. I don't know that she has a boyfriend she sees regularly. Why do you ask?" Her voice was wary.

"Monique, since I came to work here, Roselie has missed work four times in four months. Each time was a Friday, after a Thursday night date. I hate jumping to conclusions, but is it possible she has an abusive boyfriend? I might be making too much of only four days, but it seems that is just too coincidental."

She was quiet for several long moments. "I had not seen the pattern. It bears thought and investigation."

I sighed. "If you have not seen the pattern, Monique, why has Roselie not been charged sick leave or annual leave for any of those days. Her time record, signed by you, shows eight hours of normal work. I found that when I checked her records this afternoon."

Her shocked surprise at my line of questioning was obvious. Dropping her eyes to her lap, she would not meet my eyes for a moment, but she visibly shook herself and looked directly at me. "I could tell you it was an oversight, that I never look at the time card when I sign them. I could, but I won't. Suffice it to say, that I know things that I cannot divulge to you, Nathan, and that I have elected to cover for Roselie. Her work gets done, in spite of the time off, and she does more than any secretary should be required to do. Yes, I have falsified pay records, and I admit it. Now, you must decide what to do with that knowledge."

Both Roselie and Monique could be disciplined for this. Frankly, Roselie could lose her job, if I understood the rules correctly. "Monique. If you say that you think it was the right thing to do, I will not say anything more about it. I am surprised that this has not come to light before, especially with me demanding fill-in's for her on days she is receiving full pay. I guess that makes me an accessory, but I will keep the secret of those four times."

She smiled at me, a hard, calculating smile. "Meaning, that you won't keep future times secret. Where is your loyalty, Evans?" Her tone was insinuating, and I did not like it, but I held my temper in check.

"I am loyal to you and to the company that employs us both, but my first loyalty is to my personal integrity. If I have to leave here to preserve that, then I will do that. It won't be the first time, Monique. Besides that, if Roselie is being abused, we would be perpetuating that by not confronting her with these suspicions."

She examined me through lidded eyes for a long, interminable moment. Whatever happened, I did not want to leave this place. Hell, I did not want to leave her. Finally, she smiled. It was a tired little half smile, but it was a smile. "I should have expected as much. Your loyalties are in the right order, Nathan, and are, in fact, part of the reason I hired you. You won't play along with this for the same reason you would not sell me out to save your skin. Very well. It will not happen again. Is that all, now, Nathan?"

I nodded. "Yes, except to tell you again, that I had a wonderful time the other night." I stood to leave. "And that I would like the chance to do it again. But, I guess, I just queered that chance."

She rose, too, and walked me to the interconnecting door to my office. She spoke just before I closed the door. "Nathan. I cannot tell you what it is, but I can tell you that Roselie is not being abused. It is a confidence that I cannot break. I will find another way to help her so that you are not put in the position of compromising your integrity. And, as for seeing one another again, well, we'll just have to see, won't we." She closed the door, and I heard the unmistakable sound of the door lock being engaged.

A feeling of loss swept over me. Obviously, I was not in full possession of the facts, but still, she had to realize how the facts could be interpreted by others. Just as obviously, that locked door spoke loudly that my digging into those facts had not been well received by her. I knew what I had to do, and I was saddened by it.

I worked for another three hours, clearing the work from my desk. Then, I typed another file into my computer, and printed the document out. After proofing it, I signed the letter, put it into an envelope, and left it in Monique's message box before leaving the office. It was 8:30, and Monique had not left yet, either.

I stopped by the reproduction office the next morning on my way to the office, and picked up two boxes. Monique was already in when I arrived and started the coffee. Roselie was not due in for another half hour. A quick glance at her in box showed that my letter was no longer there.

I put the work that I had finished the night before on Roselie's desk for distribution to the appropriate offices for action. I poured myself a cup of coffee, trying to act as if nothing had changed. As I went to my office, Monique's door opened. She looked very tired, drawn. I had hoped my letter would reassure her, but evidently, it had not.

"Nathan, would you come to my office please?" I nodded and headed for my office to get my notebook. "Now, please." Her voice was sharp, commanding. I shrugged and walked into her office. She gestured me to the chair that sat in front of her executive desk, and she sat down in her large backed, leather office chair. The early morning sun streamed in through the window directly behind her and made it difficult for me to look at her directly. We sat there, in absolute silence, for such a long time that I had to resist the urge to squirm in my chair like a schoolboy called before the principal. She picked up a tri-folded piece of stationary. It was obviously my letter.

"What is the meaning of this, Nathan?" She tossed it to my side of the desk.

"I think it is self explanatory. My dismissal from your office, after our discussions last night, lead me to think you might prefer someone else as your personal assistant."

She looked at me unblinkingly. "Someone who would not concern themselves with calling me on things like Roselie?" It was a statement more than a question.

I nodded soberly. "And to be frank, Monique, I prefer not to be fired."

It became absolutely quiet again. Then, she swiveled in her chair, and pulled the blinds so that I could see her without squinting. "Nathan, I would like you to pretend that letter never happened. I am not going to fire you. You are too important around here and I trust you. Even more after last night than I did before, if that makes any sense to you. Believe me, most people in your position, most people in this company, would have tried to use that information for their benefit, and to my or Roselie's detriment. You have my word, that I will not do that any more, and that you will not be asked to cover for me in that regard." She smiled at me. "Fire you? Nathan, your actions in this have made me value you all the more, as an employee, and as a man I call friend. Please, reconsider."

I picked up the letter, and reread the simple, uncompromising words. "... I regret that I must tender my resignation, and request that I receive severance pay in lieu of notice." In truth, it had been as hard to type those words as it had been to type the letter that requested my retirement from the only work I had ever known in the Navy. Maybe, because I wanted to know this woman better, and thought that I would not be able to. I think my hands shook, visibly, as I put the letter into my shirt pocket. "Thank you, Monique. I do not want to leave."

She smiled at me. It was a bright smile like the ones she had given me when I had stolen the lead of the waltz back from her on the dance floor. "Excellent. I don't want you to leave either. Let's get the day started, then come back in here." She handed me another envelope. "Those are the particulars of a trip to San Francisco scheduled for early October. I want you to get started on planning that trip now. Same type of arrangements as the August trip to Boston, only you will be going with me on this trip."

The walk to my door was slow on legs gone rubbery from stress. Why did that woman affect me so strongly? The door to my office was still locked, evidently since last night. I turned to Monique, who seeing my dilemma, pressed a button on her desk. >>click<< I tried the door again, and left when it opened. I needed more coffee.

The rest of the day went quietly. Monique was withdrawn when I met with her about the trip. I was definitely surprised that I would also be going on the trip. Physical and emotional exhaustion slowed my desk clock to a crawl, but finally, 4pm arrived. I was going to call it quits, and go home and rest when Roselie came into my office, and closed the door behind her. "Got a minute, Nathan?" I nodded, and offered her a seat. "Monique told me what you talked about last night after I left. Why didn't you talk to me if you thought I might be being abused?"

I sighed. Straightforward, both of them. "Because I was not sure. Because, if you were being abused, you might not admit it, for whatever reason. I did not know, but I had to ask. I care about you, Roselie. You have become my friend. If someone is hurting you, then I want to stop that, if I can."

"If you were worried, Nathan, why did you go to Monique? Why didn't you just ask me?"

"I really wish I had. But, I was not sure you would or could tell me if you were being abused." I considered my words. What the hell. "Or, if you are being abused."

Her mouth opened and shut several times, as she tried to decide what to say. "Well. How do I answer that? The only way I am sure you believe me is if I say that I am being abused." She giggled at the thought, and then became serious again. "I am not being abused, Nate. Thank you for caring. I am glad you are my friend." She stood, and walked over to me, and kissed me lightly on the lips. She moved back to look into my eyes, her own a deep blue. "Damn." Then she grinned. "See you in the morning, Nathan. By the way, you will have another female to deal with. I want one of the women you picked for me to interview."

I smiled ruefully. "Well, let me worry about that tomorrow, when I am not quite so exhausted."

"Awww... poor you. Trust me, you'll love her, especially on the days when I am not here, or on the days when I get back from not being here." I lifted an eyebrow at her in question and she laughed again. "The first is so you can find files when I am gone, and the second is so I won't kill you when I get back and find my filing systems in shambles again. Take Care, Nathan. Monique and I both want keep you around." And with that, she disappeared out the door. I just shook my head. I was not in any shape for this. I packed and got ready to leave. I waved good bye to Monique, who smiled and waved back.

I was very circumspect with Monique the remainder of that week. I knew that she had been shaken by the Roselie/time card episode. It had certainly shaken me. For the first time since I started working for her, I looked forward to the weekend. I needed some distance and perspective.

Of course, Murphy stepped in, and the world went to hell in a hand basket on Friday. Out of town Directors announced that they would be coming on Monday for a last minute briefing and Monique and I were at the office until very late preparing the briefing packages and the agenda for the meetings.

Monique looked up at her watch. "God, it is almost 11pm." She looked at the neatly bound briefing booklet and the slide presentation that we had just finished putting together. "I can't believe we are done, though." She stretched. "Come on, let's go to my apartment and order some food. I am starved and we deserve a treat."

I looked at my watch, and tried to demure. It was late. "Well, it is a long way to Burke, Monique and.." I was cut off by an imperious hand, as she picked up her desk phone and punched out a number.

"Front Desk? Yes, this is Monique Sanderson. Mr. Evans of my office has had to work late tonight. Please prepare a room for him." She listened momentarily. "Yes, that will do nicely. Charge it to my office account. Have the key sent to my personal suite when it is ready. Oh, and make sure that there are some toiletries there, too. Thank you." She hung up with a arrogant little flourish and a smirk. "Some problems are easy. You are too blitzed to drive tonight. You can sleep here and still get what ever needs doing done tomorrow. Come on, I am hungry."

Dinner was light; sandwiches, salad and fruit. She remembered I did not drink and had mineral water and juice with the meal. Conversation was easy, and we relaxed for the first time in nearly sixteen hours. My room key had arrived with the meal. I got up to leave, but stopped at the door. "Monique, I enjoyed today and tonight, and I enjoyed last Friday. I think you know that I find you very attractive, and that I want to get to know you much better."

She regarded me steadily. "I know, Nathan. It is unwise, but the feelings are mutual. You continue to fascinate me. Your work ethic, your loyalty, hell, your chivalry, those things are very rare in my life. I suspect they are very rare in many female executive's lives. But it is unwise, you know, mixing business with private lives."

"Yes, I know. Would it make a difference if I worked elsewhere? Would there still be a chance for us to try and see if there is more than attraction and fascination?"

"I don't know. I don't have much free time. One reason we are together at all is the because of the work time. And there is much about me that you do not know, Nathan, much that you would have to deal with and accept, for there to be more between us. I am not as..... up front as you are. There are depths to me you have not seen; depths you may not care to explore."

"I won't know unless we try, Monique. Neither will you. The questions on the table, I think, are will we try at all, and how do we handle the private and the public. If we become really close, then I may have to leave my post. If we don't try, well, I don't know if I can continue to be with you everyday and not be more than your personal assistant. I will try, but you should know that it will be very hard."

She sipped her wine and sighed. "Yes, it will all become very complicated, very quickly. Nathan, I am too tired to face this right now, and so are you. Let's get through the next few days, and in the meantime, try to figure out what we think would be the best course of action."

I smiled. She was uncertain, too. That was strangely reassuring. "Okay. You are probably right. Good night, Monique. Sweet dreams." I left and headed down to my room. It was sumptuous, very plush - and I did not see much of it. I hit the bed and was asleep in moments. A great load was off my head, and it felt good.

Chapter 5: Dark Revelations.

Dealing with those complications had to be put off. The briefing to the Directors killed Monday, and getting caught up on what work was put on hold for that briefing took us into Wednesday. Thursday found me running around, working with other VP's aides to orchestrate a big meeting wherein the VP's would jointly "make" a decision that Monique had already made for them. Essentially, I was making sure that everyone knew their part in this little play, and that they would play ball. I am not a political animal. I do not understand the power games some people feel that they have to play to make a simple decision. Power is something you have, and use to the benefit of the company, or it is something that is abused. In this case, I did not permit the abuse; it would be done Monique's way because she was right. By the end of the day, I was again exhausted. In fact, it was well after five when my last contact conceded and agreed to support the decision.

I dragged myself back to the office, wanting nothing more than to grab my coat and head for home. Discussions with Monique would wait another day at least. I half hoped that she would already be gone, but the outer office was lit up when I arrived. Moving quietly into my office, I packed my brief case, cleaned up my desk and then sat, wondering if I should check out with Monique. Another forty five minutes rehashing the last five hours did not appeal to me at all. She had not heard me come into the office, surely, I could escape one night without her noticing. Her office was all but sound proof. She would not even realize I had left.

But alas, twenty years of Navy time came to the fore, and I decided that I would check out, if the door was not locked. The damned knob turned without a sound and the door swung open.

I stood there in the doorway, staring in stunned silence at a pair of female buttocks mooning me - bare, naked female buttocks.

My befuddled wits came back slowly as I took in the sharply spread and shapely legs in pink high heels rising from the floor to the buttocks of the woman bent at the waist over the front of Monique's desk. It was only after more staring that I realized that, one, the woman was tied by her ankles to the legs of the desk. And two, the woman was Roselie.

"Blast!" The sharp expletive shook me from my stupor, and brought my attention toward Monique's executive washroom. She stood there, dressed in black lingerie and heels, and holding something that looked like a long table tennis paddle, only thicker and all black. "Nathan, get the hell out of here, damn you!"

"But, but, but...." I was not at my most coherent, but I had to say something.

Monique strode over to me and planted a hand in my chest, knocking me off balance. I stumbled backward through the open doorway, falling against my desk and bruising my hip. The door slammed in front of me, and clicked loudly as the locking bolt engaged.

My eyes still wide with amazement and fixed on the closed door, I felt my way along to my chair. The sharp clout to my hip and buttock made sitting down painful. My questions of abuse resurfaced. All I could do was sit there, dazed, wondering what to do next. The door clicked again and opened. Monique stood there in one of the hotel's terry cloth bathrobes. "Nathan, we need to talk, please come in."

I really was not sure that I wanted to, or even if I should. Then, Roselie came to the door, similarly clad, "Please, Nate, come talk with us." Her voice was pleading where Monique's had been flat and demanding. In the end, it was Roselie that I responded to. I stood slowly, painfully, and followed them into the office. Monique shut and locked the door behind her, and motioned me to the comfortable chairs. I was to be cajoled, not lectured. Lectures were delivered to the straight backed chair in front of the desk. Except that the chair in front of the desk had been moved to permit Roselie to be tied to the desk. I looked down - the ropes were still on the floor, wrapped around the desk legs.

I moved to the chair Monique had indicated, but decided not to sit down. My bruised hip was stiffening quickly. A sardonic smile on her face, Monique stood beside her chair and faced me. "I told you, Nathan, that there was much about me you did not know, but this is not the way I would have chosen for you to start learning." I stood quietly, not knowing what to say, not wanting to say anything.

Roselie came to stand beside Monique. They made quite a contrast, the tall, slender, exotic redhead, and the petite, voluptuous All American blonde. Monique put a comforting arm about Roselie, who cuddled into the taller woman seeking protection.

"Well, what do you have to say for yourself, Nathan? What do you have to say to me? Surely, you have some recriminations, some accusations? After all, you are the one who brought up the issue of abuse. Aren't you glad to see that you were right?" Monique's voice was rising in pitch and volume with her emotions. "How about the fact that we are both women, surely that must be good for at least one or two snide comments. Or how about offers to keep quiet about our little perversions if we are nice" making the word 'nice' a curse, " to you."

The last got one got to me. "I have done nothing to deserve that, Monique." I kept my voice calm and neutral, but God, it was hard. I had to ask the next question. "Roselie, are you being abused? Are you being forced into this against your will?"

"Why you.." Monique sputtered in sheer fury, but Roselie touched her lips to quiet her outrage.

"Nathan, " Roselie's voice was soft, and calm. Without fear. "I told you that I am not being abused. That is the truth. In fact, what you just saw started as my idea. It was my idea to do a scene here in the office, my fantasy. It was not Mistress Monique who started this, it was me - I wanted this."

I looked from one woman to the other in confusion. Monique was obviously positioning herself between me and Roselie. Was she trying to protect her? From me? And Roselie, after making her declaration, had cuddled even more tightly into Monique's arms. If anyone was afraid of anyone in this room, I was the one that both were of them feared. My head was still spinning. I looked up into Monique's eyes. She was defiant, rigid. "Monique, I..." my voice broke. "I don't understand any of this. I'm stunned, I think. I can't deal with this. I... I have to leave." I turned for the door, and stepped off on my injured side. Pain shot through me and my side buckled. Catching myself on the chair, I leaned heavily into it, trying to regain control.

Suddenly, Roselie was at my side, supporting me. "Nate!" her voice was urgent, intense. "Are you all right?"

Stupid question, I thought. Then I realized that she meant my near fall. "I fell when Monique pushed me out of her office. I fell against my desk and hurt my side." Shrugging free of her grip, I struggled to my feet and began to shuffle my way from the office. "I'm okay. I have to get out of here." The door closed behind me and I made my tortuous path to my car.

The trip home is a blur to me, even now. The pain of my hip, the confusion and the emotion of that confrontation left little room for coherent memories. I might have been the cause of the mother of all pileups on the interstate home and not known it. All I know is that, somehow, I made it home, got inside and finally collapsed on my couch. A mild case of shock befuddled my senses. Fatigue ate at me but the pain kept me from finding the oblivion of sleep. The scene replayed itself over and over in my mind's eye. Finally, the emotional drain of the day won out, and I fell into a fitful doze.

A homey aroma insinuated its way into the fringes of my mind. Still half asleep, I started to roll towards the wonderful smell when pain shot down my side. I went rigid, trying to stop the pain from getting worse. When I had regained control, I opened my eyes to see Monique standing in the door to my living room with a tray in her hands.

"You should be more careful about locking your doors, Nathan. Anyone could have walked in on you, and you don't appear in any condition to protect yourself."

She walked over to the coffee table and set her burden down in front of me. The tray had a bowl of hot soup and a chunk of crusty bread. Carefully, I shifted to a sitting position. "Why?" I was not thinking clearly. "Why are you here? How did you get here?"

She did not answer immediately, instead contenting herself to hand me a napkin and a soup spoon and motion me to eat. "You surprise me, Nathan. Your kitchen and house are clean and neat, and your larder well stocked with fresh produce. You don't even have an electric can opener. Are you sure you are a bachelor?"

Her sardonic tone did not completely hide the strain she was under. "A lady comes in twice a week, and since I don't want to be thought of as a slob, I keep the place fairly neat in between. As to the other things, I like food and I like to cook." I tasted the soup. "Evidently, I am not the only one who likes cooking. This is very good."

She gave me a little bow of her head, accepting the praise. "It is your soup stock. The rest is pretty easy. As to why I am here, Roselie was worried about you after you nearly collapsed in the office. Nothing else would do but for me to come and make sure you were all right. As to how I found your place, well, I do have access to your personnel records and I do have a map. It was not that difficult."

"Roselie was concerned?" I set the soup spoon down and looked at her. "That is why you are here?"

She did not meet my eyes, but shrugged. "For the most part. You now hold Roselie's and my lives and careers in your hands. I am still dealing with how I could have been so stupid as to not set the locks before Roselie and I decided to play. She was all ready to head for the cab stand when I promised her I would come check on you, and make sure you were all right."

Savoring the soup, I considered what she had said. "Frankly, it is just my word against yours, Monique. More than that, it is your word and Roselie's against mine. You could probably have me out on my ear with a harassment charge so quickly it would make my head swim if you decided I was that much of a threat to you."

"Never!" She made a sharp cutting motion with her hand to add accent to her emphatic tone. "That would destroy you as surely as what you have could destroy me. I don't play the game that way, Evans. That incident was my fault and my fault alone. I got careless, and I am here, mostly, to ask that you do not hurt Roselie over this."

"Monique. Look, if I did not know that display in your office was between two consenting adults, Roselie cleared that up for me pretty quickly. I also know that Roselie is not in her current position just because she is good in bed. She is highly competent at what she does. In fact, if she was using your relationship for gain, she would have my job right now. The pay is much better."

I sighed and took another sip of water. "I am not going to turn you two in, so could we stop with the nobility scene? I am not going to hurt either of you over this. It was just a shock."

Hope, tempered by wariness flitted across her face. "You know that you have me over a barrel, again, don't you? That is the first time we have ever done something like that, but even so, it violates about five corporate policies, any one of which could get me fired and blackballed."

"Monique, I really like you. I mean, as in I am starting to fall in love with you. I am not going to hurt either of you. I am just very disappointed that you are already..." I struggled for words. "disappointed that your feelings are already engaged." Frowning at the soup, I looked back up at her. "I wanted the right to court you, and to see if there was room for me in your life. Now I know that I may not ever have that opportunity."

Understanding warmed her eyes as she looked at me. She sat back in the living room chair. "And you think, that my relationship with Roselie precludes that plan of yours, that it makes a relationship between you and I impossible. Nathan, remember I told you, that you did not know me as well as you needed to. This is what I meant. We have much to discuss, my friend, including whether you think you can still work for me before we discuss those other things."

Flatware clattered against china as the spoon dropped from my hand. "You mean, that I am not, a priori, out of my job?"

"That is up to you, Nathan. I would prefer you continue to work with me, because you are damned good at what you do. I certainly have no just cause to fire you. Secondly, twice you have had information that you could have used to your advantage if you had been ruthless enough to hurt me with it. In both cases, you have declined. I don't think you understand how rare that is in my world. I want that loyalty, that talent on my team. However, if you cannot work with me, I promise you a promotion to a better job. You will not lose by the job change, either financially or by damage to your professional reputation."

"But I don't want to leave." I blurted out. She smiled brightly in response to my outburst. "I like the work, and I like you and Roselie."

"I promise, Nathan, that you will never again walk in on such a scene again. At least, walk in on one uninvited, but that is something we will have to discuss more when we are both rested. I think we should both get some rest, now that we have cleared the air a bit." I nodded tiredly, and tried to stand. The bruise on my hip, if anything, had gotten tighter.

Monique was beside me in an instant, and helped me to my room. Nothing would do for her, until I was stripped down so she could examine my hip. "Looks like you fell against the point of the desk, Nate. That will be sore for several days, but it should heal without trouble. I have seen worse bruising." I wondered where she had seen worse as she helped me into bed. She disappeared into my bathroom and returned with a glass of water and my aspirin bottle. "I do so love a logically organized personality. It makes finding things so easy." I took two of the tablets as she stood over me, seeming to supervise each swallow.

She ruffled my hair when I finished the water. "Now, can I use your phone to call Roselie and let her know you and we are all right? Then I will get out of your hair."

"No need to leave." I put in quickly. "There is a phone by the bed in the guest room across the hall. You are welcome to use both."

"Great idea. I don't like leaving you alone right now anyway. I am exhausted, too." I pointed to my bureau. From the top drawer, she extracted an old football jersey. She blew me a kiss and was out the door. Tomorrow, I thought, could be very interesting. Damn, but she looked wonderful in my bedroom. If only I could have gotten her to stay.

My hip woke me at 7am. As always, I had bruised quickly and colorfully, but the pain had already lessened to a tolerable level. More than one coach had panicked the day after a game or match when I came in for practice, my body in Technicolor. Slipping on some really disreputable gym shorts and a t-shirt, I padded down to my kitchen and made some coffee. While the coffee brewed, I made sure there was fresh towels and soap in the guest bathroom. On a last minute whim, I laid out one of my sweat suits along with the towels.

I was well into my second cup of coffee, sitting on the my deck, when she came into view. She was freshly showered, hair hanging wet and straight down her back, wearing my baggy sweat suit and completely devoid of makeup. She was absolutely beautiful. I stared like a school boy at a burlesque show.

Her nervous laugh shook me out of my reverie. "Hey, you left his for me. Don't look at me like that for wearing it." I jumped up and seated hear on the patio and poured her some coffee.

I offered her some breakfast, but she demurred. We sat chatting in the sultry warmth of a late June morning in Northern Virginia. I learned that her parents were both dead, and that she had been an only child. She had been fairly wild in her early twenties, and it was not until she had matured a little (her own words) and developed some self discipline that she had turned her life into something productive. This maturation had occurred in Europe, and she had finished her schooling there. When she had returned to the States, she had used stock in the hotel chain, inherited from her father, to get a foot in the management door. Hard work, talent and ambition had propelled her up to her current position in the last dozen years. She was thirty seven years old, successful, proud of how she had achieved that success, and satisfied with her life.

I told her about the Naval Academy, and in particular, about the petty hazings of Plebe Summer. Although the Viet Nam "Conflict" had been mostly over by that time I had gotten there, I told her about the Summer Cruise my first class year on a destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin. Of picking up dehydrated, near-starved survivors from rafts trying to escape the "Vietnamification" of their country. Of the fourteen year old girl who had tried to parlay her young body into better treatment for her family while on board the ship, and about the fight that I had gotten into with a sailor who had decided to take her up on the offer. A fight that had nearly ended my Naval career right then and there. I told her of the incredible loneliness of seventy five days of underwater patrolling, of the incredible high of driving a ten thousand ton submarine and doing it well, and of the utter desolation of losing your unborn child, and then your wife, because what you were doing was deemed "more important". I told her of a Navy that had become increasingly more bureaucratic and land based, forgetting the ships and the sailors in the petty political squabbles, and of my ultimate disillusionment. I told her things I had never told another person, and when I mentioned that to her, the look on her face made me think that, perhaps, she had just done the same with me.

The sun had crept higher into the bright blue of the summer sky, and I put up the umbrella to block the direct sunlight, but soon the heat and the humidity drove us back into the air conditioned comfort of the house.

When I stood, Monique saw the large, purpling mass on my leg, below the hem of my running shorts. "My God, Nathan, that is much worse than last night. Maybe we should go to the hospital."

Her concern warmed me, and I tried to reassure her. I told her of my "colorful" history. "Actually, most of the pain is gone, and what is not, is tolerable. I can move quite freely, now, and tomorrow, should be able to do some light jogging." She still looked uncertain, and I felt her eyes following me every time I moved for the next half hour. She was obviously waiting for me to show any signs of pain of discomfort.

Conversation lagged. We each became reserved, uncertain of how we should proceed. Hell, uncertain if we should proceed. I cleared my throat just as she started to talk. We both stopped short, and then grinned at each other. "I think," I said carefully, "that we have other things to discuss."

Her face solemn now, she swallowed and then nodded. "Yes, I guess we do." She stood up and walked to the window to stare out of it for a moment. I had seen her do this at the office often. It usually signaled she had decided what had to be done, and was trying to decide how to express it. She turned suddenly and faced me directly. If I had been back at the Academy, on the wrestling mat, or at Quantico for my Marine indoctrination, facing an opponent with the fighting clubs on the log, the look on her face would have been expected. Monique looked prepared to go into battle. Or to be told to go to hell.

"Nathan." Even the tone of her voice was aggressive, on the attack. "You said, last night, that you recognized what you saw in my office as consensual. What do you think you saw?"

"Monique, you do not spend twenty years in the Navy, living with men in close circumstances, and visiting some very exotic places without at least hearing of, or about, many ... umm, different ways of playing and living. You were going to have some type of kinky spanking session with Roselie, right?"

She strode over to stand in front of me. "Yes. Or at least, that is part of it. She was going to get spanked, paddled actually, and teased unmercifully. In all likelihood, the scene would have ended with us making love." My head came up and my eyebrows rose at that. "Oho.. I have shocked you with that, have I? Spanking is okay, but woman to woman loving shocks you? I am disappointed."

"No." I spoke carefully and tried to infuse my words with conviction. "Not shocked, but surprised, and maybe.." I groped for the words. "well, maybe I am intrigued by the thought of you two together. And, besides, I admit to some prejudice. You are both such feminine women, and I think that you both are at least partially attracted to me."

Monique gave a very unladylike snort and an evil laugh. "Partially, Nathan? Poor Roselie has been working so hard to get your attention, I am surprised she has not attacked you in the parking lot. Are you really that immune to her? She is a very sexy and determined little wench."

"No, not immune, just suffering from a much more severe case of Monique. I would not fight very hard if you attacked me in the parking lot." This time her eyebrows rose, in gentle mockery of my earlier response.

"Cheeky, Mr. Evans, very cheeky. If I jumped on you, you might not like it as much as you might like to believe." I grinned, and was surprised when she frowned. "Nathan, I was serious just now. Maybe, we should sit down for a bit." We sat opposite one another in my living room. When we were settled, she looked up at me again. "Nathan, when I told you I had learned discipline in Europe, that was a double entendre. I fell in with a group who played some very heavy sex games. Sado-Masochistic games. Some of the people in that crowd did not play very safely, and I got hurt. Not as badly as it might have been, but badly enough that I was very frightened. A woman I had met through the group, but who was not in the group, came to my aid and took me in. She took care of me, and she helped me start to regain the self respect I had lost."

"Nathan, she was a professional dominant. The term you will often see, particularly in the tabloids, is dominatrix. She dominates men and women for her living. She is" and Monique's voice took on deep emphasis, "an artist at her craft and is very well paid for her services. She is also, a wonderful, loving woman who truly cares for the people in her keeping." She grinned at a momentary thought. "She still remembers my birthday and Christmas every year."

Her voice now was calm, controlled, almost toneless. If she had screamed at me at the top of her voice, it would have been less disconcerting. "I became her submissive, Nathan, her voluntary slave. I served her sexually; I was tied and restrained, sometimes painfully, at her command; I was punished corporally by her with crop, cane, paddle and whip."

"I was with her for almost two years. In that time, I went back to school, first because she insisted, and then, because I became addicted to learning again. She taught me the discipline I needed to succeed. She also taught me to be a dominant." She let that last sentence drop.

I fought very hard to remain impassive, and let her finish her story. When she realized that I was not going to say anything, she continued. "I finished my last year with her as her apprentice, learning to do to others everything that she had done to me and learning to do it safely. It is now a very important part of who I am, Nathan. You must understand, that I like who I am now. More than that, I am proud of who I am. If you are going to be in my life, important in my life, if you want to share your life and all the good things in life with me, you will have to accept that part of me, too."

"I am a dominatrix, a domme, a domina. In some circles, I might be called a Mistress, a Bitch Goddess. Roselie and I are friends, Nathan, but she is also my submissive. We share a relationship, based in trust, caring and commitment, that pushes, and sometimes breaks the limits of what society is willing to accept. We are usually very discreet, so we are not ostracized for it. Yesterday was a grave mistake on my part, and an aberration."

"I have several other slaves who attend me, although I no longer dominate anyone for money as I did in Europe. These people are actually friends as much as anything, but when we are together in a scene, my will is absolute. Our relationship satisfies needs in us all, needs that are as necessary a part of our lives as food, water and love."

She turned those incredible eyes of hers on me, piercing me to my soul. "Do you understand what I have just told you?" Her voice lost its cold tonelessness. That last sentence was rasped out, breaking with emotion. I felt hope, but I was also lost and floundering.

"Monique, as I said, I have lived many places, have experienced many things, and heard of even more. I have never had such a relationship with anyone. My knowledge is limited to a few articles and letters in Penthouse. It all seems so.. ... bizarre, and I don't really know what to say. I can't even phrase intelligent questions."

She lapsed into one of those interminable silences of hers. Then she seemed to mentally shake herself. "True enough, and actually, a fairer answer than I would have expected, Nathan. You are a good man. I do like you, quite a lot, actually. I think we could have much more, if you can accept what I have to give you for that to happen."

That got my attention. "Monique." Uncertainty, and disbelief roiled inside me. "Does that mean that you expect me to submit to you, as you did to the lady in Europe, that you expect to bind me, to whip me?"

A evil, mischievous smile of anticipation lit her face. It made me shiver. "Oh, yes, Nathan, if we are to be together, I will want all that you are, and I will want to give you all that I am. Yes, I will bind you, tease you, torment you, whip you. And, I will love you."

"I am not sure I can deal with this, Monique. The images I have are frightening."

Her face softened. "That is because, at least in part, your images are wrong. They are either wrong, or represent the darker sides that are often mostly fantasy. You need to understand the good parts, the life and love affirming aspects of Dominance and Submission." She stopped to think, and stood up. "Wait here." She went outside and came back in a moment later with her briefcase. She withdrew a book from it and handed it to me. The title was The Loving Dominant", by some Ph.D.

She sat back down. "Mentor is a legend among the D/S community. He speaks to people who are not into the scene about the scene, and treats it objectively and fairly. I think you will find many of your answers in here, Nathan. If not answers, then perhaps the understanding with which to frame your own questions. Read it, and we will talk again." She looked at her watch and stood up. "Now, I have to get going. I have much to do before the weekend slips away, and you have much to consider. Not the least of which is if you really want to get involved with me now that you know that cute butt of yours is literally on the line." I frowned, not knowing how to take that comment, or how to respond to it.

She saw the uncertainty. "I am sorry, Nathan. I should not tease when you are so confused, and I know that you are." She bent down and kissed my cheek, then walked back to the door. She hesitated, then turned again. "Nathan, I think we should postpone any further relationship, outside of work, until you can decide whether you are willing to try submitting to me. It would be unfair to both of us to become close and then be hurt. In fact, I will not go out with you again until after your first submission session with me. Think about it, dear." She blew me a kiss and was gone.

I sat there, just staring at that book for the longest time. She was planning to whip me. The comments about "Rosie-bottom" and seeing much worse bruising now began to make sense. What was in it for her? Hell, what was in it for me?

The answer to that question was already there. There was the chance that she might fill that god awful, lonely empty spot in my soul; there was the chance for love. I opened the book, and began to read.

Part Three: Life and Love Decisions
Previous Part One: Just a Walk in the Park