Authors: Melissa Good
Tags: #Lesbian, #Romance
“You think I should go for it?”
“Mm hmm,” Kerry nodded, her mouth full of chicken. She swallowed and licked her lips. “I love watching you fight.”
Dar forgot about crocodiles as she looked at Kerry’s profile, both eyebrows lifting in surprise. “You do?”
“Sure,” her partner cheerfully assured her. “It’s really sexy.” She found her jaw being gently gripped and her face turned so she was forced to meet Dar’s eyes. “What?”
Both dark eyebrows were up near Dar’s hairline. “Sexy?”
Kerry grinned. “Gonna do it?”
Dar drummed her fingers on the arm of the couch, a thoughtful expression on her face.
“SO, HOW’D A sharp girl like you end up in a rat’s nest like this?”
The smile was meant to make her understand it was all in good fun.
Kerry reflected, taking a thoughtful sip of her peach ice tea. ”I submitted a resumé, and it was accepted,” she replied dryly, ”and I happen to like it very much.” It had been a slow morning, unfortunately, and no crises had developed that might have excused her lunch invitation from Steven Fabricini, although, Dar had volunteered to create one if she really didn’t want to go.
”You do, huh?” Steven chuckled, scooping up a spoonful of yogurt.
“That’s hard to believe considering who you work for.”
Kerry shrugged. ”You know, people say that a lot, but I really enjoy working for Dar. She’s smart, she knows her stuff, she gives credit where credit’s due, and she stands up for her staff.” she commented, honestly. ”If you know what you’re doing, you have no problem with her.” Just like Mark Polenti had said at their first meeting. ”Of course, if you don’t...” She let the thought hang.
He laughed. ”You poor little thing. Wait until you get thrown to the fire as a sacrifice the first time she has to take the blame for something. You can’t really be that naive, can you?” He leaned forward.
”Listen, cupcake, I know her, all right? You don’t. She will turn on you like a rabid dog at the first opportunity.”
”Really.” Kerry nibbled on her sandwich. ”Well, thanks for the warning.”
”Anytime.” Fabricini smiled, then lowered his voice. ”Listen, there’s no reason we can’t work together, all right? My job here is to try and punch through these roadblocks we seem to be coming up against, and if I do it, the whole company benefits. Don’t get caught on the wrong side of that, hmm?”
“What kind of roadblocks are you talking about?” Kerry asked.
He regarded her for an instant. “Sales dried up,” he said.
“Everyone looks at this company as too slow and too old school. We can’t get our foot in the door.”
Kerry took a sip of her drink. “I see.”
“We need fresh blood, and new ideas,” he added, “new incentives for customers. We can’t rely on those old metrics of yours to drive new business. It doesn’t work anymore.”
“So, you want to give them a good deal, maybe some free services up front, to get them to sign—is that it?” Kerry rested her chin on one hand, letting her other hand lay casually on the table.
He put a hand on her wrist. ”You’re a sharp kid. Everyone says so, and when this all shakes out, there could be opportunity for you, if you know what I mean.”
Kerry smiled kindly at him. ”You mean, if you dig up enough things to force Dar out, I might get her job.”
He smiled back. ”I said you were sharp.” A dangerous glint entered his eyes. ”Stick with me, cupcake.”
She wiped her lips with her napkin, and set it down neatly on her plate. ”There’s just a few things I’d like to get squared away first.” She paused.
”What’s that?” he smiled, a knowing look on his face.
”One, you need to let go of my wrist before I sink my fork into the back of your hand,” Kerry responded very mildly. ”Two, if you call me cupcake again, I’m going to file a discrimination complaint on you with our personnel department. I don’t appreciate it.”
She stood up and took her tray as he released her. “Excuse me,” she said. “I have actual work to do.”
She left him sitting there, as she counted to twenty under her breath, waiting for her heart to stop hammering in her ears from anger.
”Stupid piece of goddamned...oh. Sorry,” she muttered, as she collided with a large, animate object. “Sorry Mark.”
Mark Polenti, their MIS director, peered over her shoulder. ”You okay?” he asked. ”Hey, what did you do to puss face over there? He looks like he’s been hit in the head with an obsolete mainframe.”
Kerry took several calming breaths. ”He is such a pig.” She put her tray down in the washing area. ”He wants me to work with him to find dirt on Dar, and then had the balls to say if I did, he’d see if he could get me her job when it was all over.”
Mark burst into laughter. ”Boy, did he ever get his lines crossed.”
He patted Kerry’s shoulder. ”Guess he picked on you because you’re the newest, figured the rest of us had our loyalties set by now.” He put his own tray down. ”So, what’d you tell him?”
”To kiss my ass,” Kerry replied, with a hint of a blush. ”More or less.”They both watched as their subject sauntered up, his neck still red from anger, and deposited his tray. ”My mistake.” He oozed savage politeness to Kerry. ”I should have guessed Dar would pick someone who thought just like she does.” He threw his napkin in the bin. ”Your loss.” He left, giving them a disgusted look.
Mark and Kerry eyed each other. ”Asshole,” they both said in sync.
Kerry sighed. ”Well, at least I won’t have to worry about him asking me out on a date now,” she remarked wryly. “That’s a relief.”
”Yeah, but he could get nasty that way,” Mark replied, snagging 30
two large chocolate chip cookies and offering her one. ”You know how people are in this place.”
”Been there, done that.” Kerry accepted the cookie, and bit into it.
”I think everyone’s over that one already.” She glanced around. “We’ve been pretty careful not to hang out together here.”
”Yeah, but watch out,” the MIS chief warned, as they headed for the elevator. “Doesn’t take much to get that crap started up again and big D’s in a hornet’s nest right now.”
“Yeah, I know.” Kerry sighed, and punched the button for the fourteenth floor, then held the door as she heard footsteps approach.
She couldn’t see outside from where she was, but she knew it was Dar from the weight and rhythm of them.
A smile was already pulling at her lips as Dar stepped inside, moving to the rear of the car and leaning against it. ”Speak of the devil,” Kerry commented, as the doors slid shut. ”I just pretty much blew up my lunch meeting.”
”Really?” Dar crossed her arms. ”You lasted a lot longer than I would have.” She gave Mark a wry look. ”He must have stirred up a pile of crap though, because Mariana just called me and told me they’re calling a meeting of all the upper management staff.” As if on cue, both Kerry’s and Mark’s pagers went off. ”I really don’t have time for this crap today.”
Kerry was listening to the voice page. ”Yep, one o’clock in the big conference room.”
Mark cursed softly. ”I’ve got HP coming in this afternoon about the servers. Damn.” He glanced at Dar. ”What’s it about?”
The executive shrugged. ”Mari didn’t have details. She was waiting on a packet from Houston.” She sighed. ”Alastair endorsed it and it’s from Houston Personnel center, so god only knows what it is, probably another poster campaign.”
Mark snickered. ”I liked the security posters, Dar. I have the one about preventing hackers framed in my bedroom.”
The doors slid open and they walked out, surprised to see Mariana standing in front of Dar’s doorway. ”Uh oh,” the executive murmured.
”That doesn’t look good.” She gave them both a nod. ”See you all shortly.”
”Dar, I need to talk to you,” Mari said as she approached. ”You’re not going to believe what they just dumped on us.”
”Oh, I’ll believe anything...once.” Dar gestured towards the door.
”C'mon.” She led the way into her office. ”Maria, book me for a one p.m. meeting, and cancel the briefing conference call, please.”
”Si.” Her secretary looked up from the phone. ”Dar, your little puppy called.”
”Thanks,” Dar said absently as she went through the door to the inner office, then she stopped short, causing Mariana to crash into her.
”Wait a minute, what?” She turned. ”Sorry. ” She poked her head back
out. ”Maria, who did you say called?”
The older woman smiled. ”Si, the puppy. I got a call, I picked up, is nothing. I said, ‘hello, hello,’ and then, ‘buenos dias,’ but nothing. I almost hang up, and I hear...” She made little whining noises. ”I check caller ID, is your house.”
Dar blinked, ignoring the muffled laugh from behind her. ”She must have gotten out and knocked the phone off the hook in the living room. Do me a favor, call resident services out there and have them go check, will you?” She shook her head and ducked back in the office.
”Great, with my luck she went and called Singapore while she was at it,” she muttered as she closed the door. ”All right, what’s up?”
Mariana threw a packet on her desk for an answer. ”Before you start screaming, I’ve already been on the phone with Alastair, twice, and he’s not backing down.”
Dar circled her desk and sat down, picking up the packet. Her eyes scanned it, and she looked up. ”You’re joking.”
A shake of Mariana’s head. ”Nope. It’s an executive retreat, with a program specifically for ‘team building’. They have a reservation for twelve of us starting Friday afternoon. They’re sending a bus to pick us up.” She crossed her arms. ”Alastair says they’ve been using a very similar program out in Texas for three months and it’s worked great for them.”
Dar covered her eyes. ”Let me see if I understand this” she muttered. ”He wants to send us all on a bus out into the wilderness, to climb over rocks and trees and live in a cabin, and that’s going to help us get along?”
”That’s essentially it, yes.” Mari nodded. ”For the record, I’ve read up on this stuff. I was trying to find some kind of help here, and it’s got its merits, Dar, but it depends on the participants.”
”In our case, it depends on the participants not killing each other!”
Dar ended up yelling, her voice bouncing off the walls. ”Is he nuts?”
She punched the phone. ”Beatrice, is he there?” Then she drummed her fingers until the line opened.
”Now Dar, before you say anything, let me get my spiel in.”
Alastair’s voice was cheerful, as usual. ”Okay?”
Dar folded her hands on her desk. ”Okay,” she responded in a quiet tone.”I got that email yesterday, and to be honest, it concerned me,” the CEO stated. ”Not because I thought it was true, although you can be a stubborn obstructionist when you need to be, Dar, but it’s always been in our best interests if you know what I mean.”
”Uh huh,” Dar grunted.
”I see it as an overall problem company-wide, and that’s why we’ve been using these seminars. They’re wonderful! You’ll love it. Listen, it’s just a weekend out in the middle of nowhere. No cell phones, no computers and the food’s pretty good. We found the damn things really 32
do work to get people to know each other better.”
”So, I’m sure if this new guy and you get to know each other, things will smooth out, and besides, the rest of the group needs a little team building. I’ve been getting a bunch of grumpies from that office lately.”
”Yes? You can go off on me now, Dar.”
”The problem with me and Steven Fabricini is that we do know each other. I got him thrown out of school ten years ago and he’s kept a grudge.” Dar paused. ”You think sending us both out into the woods is a good idea?”
Long pause. ”Ah.” Alastair muttered. ”I see...wish I’d known that.”
“Asking might have been helpful.”
”Can we cancel this now?” Dar asked, hopefully.
”Well, see, it’s prepaid, and we’ve already transmitted the payment.” He sighed. ”And if we cancel, we lose all that money...” He paused. ”Let’s do it anyway, Dar. I’m counting on you to set an example and bring everyone back with at least a little more team spirit.”
“You want me to foster team spirit?” Dar’s voice took on a puzzled tone. “Do you actually know who you’re talking to here?”
Dar sighed. ”Alastair, I really don’t have time for this, and you’re tossing my top ops staff out incommunicado. What if something goes wrong over the weekend?” She tossed her last card on the table.
Alastair chuckled. ”Dar, we both know you pick the kind of people who won’t screw you over in a pinch. Your staff can cover things. Go on, have a good time and loosen up a little. I went on one of these things and I had the time of my life. Trust me.” He heard the repeated sigh on the other end. ”You’re mad at me, huh?”
”If I thought this was going to do a damn bit of good, I wouldn’t be,” Dar snapped back. “For Christ’s sake, Alastair!”
”Ah ah, keep an open mind, Dar. You never know what can happen. You all could come back best of friends,” Alastair chuckled.
”And, by the way, I just processed your year-end bonus. I know I forgot to send you a birthday card, but see if that’s an acceptable substitute.”
”Gotta go, the chairman of IBM is here. We’re going to swap lies and exaggerations over rubber chicken,” Alastair told her. ”Just do it, Dar. When you get back, if it was that awful, I’ll make it up to you.”
”How?” Dar inquired sourly.
A slight pause. ”We’ll talk about resolving the issues in a more direct way.”
Dar's dark eyebrows lifted. ”All right,” she agreed quietly.
Alastair chuckled. ”That’s my Dar. Try to have a good time, huh?”
He hung up.
Mari shifted in her chair, and shook her head. ”You have such an interesting relationship with him,” she sighed. ”You’re one of the few people I can say for sure he really, really likes.”
”Well, I tried.” Dar gave her a wry look. ”This is going to be a nightmare, Mariana.”
”I know,” the personnel VP agreed. ”You and me, Duks, Kerry, José, Steven, Mark, his second, Eleanor, and El’s assistants, and my assistant Mary Lou.” She paused. ”You know what your biggest problem is going to be, don’t you?”