Mollie stood beside the answering machine, her whole body trembling and her eyes burning as she struggled to keep her tears from spilling over her hot cheeks. She clenched her hands into fists and dug her manicured fingernails into her palm until pain shot through her. The sensation did not relieve any of the anger flooding through her body.
"The dick head!" she growled. How could he do this on Valentine's Day? Of all days to blow her off, he had to do it on Valentine's Day, the anniversary of the first time she had met him. Through three years of dating and six years of marriage, they had always marked Valentine's as a special day in their lives.
Their marriage had been good through four years and nine months. She still loved Bobby and was almost certain that he still loved her. However, for the last five months, things had not been as good. He had been spending more time at work. At first she had given his extra time at work to his promotion. Their income had increased and she knew his new responsibilities must take more time.
If it had been just more time at work, perhaps she would not have been concerned. Things had changed in all parts of their life, though. Conversations were thin and monosyllabic. Affection was nonexistent. She suspected that he was having an affair and until today it had not really bothered her.
But today, of all days, that secret knowledge infuriated her. She was still his wife. He still came home to her. They were still going to spend Valentine's Day, their day, together. Now things were different. She supposed it was ridiculous to think that Valentine's Day being sacred to them was nothing more than a silly, hopelessly romantic notion. It was a day for people who were in love, and though she still loved Bobby, she knew, though she could not admit it to herself, that they were no longer in love.
"Ass," she hissed at the phone, storming toward the bedroom. She kicked off her heels and reached around her back to unzip her dress. She caught a glimpse of herself in the full length mirror hanging on the back of her closet. She paused, allowing her eyes to sweep over her reflection.
The red dress was ridiculously short. When she bent forward, it hugged her round rear. Her legs were firm and sculpted. She put on the heels again and admired the way her stockinged thighs and calves extended from the hem of the skirt.
The bodice was a low cut "V" that revealed plenty of cleavage. She wore a bra that lifted her breasts and pushed them together. A diamond pendant he had given her on their fourth Valentine's hung against her breastbone. The shape of the charm directed the viewer's attention to the round, firm globes.
Her long, sandy brown hair flowed around her face. The edges curled against her cheeks and chin. Earrings that matched the pendant dangled from her lobes. Make-up expertly hid what few blemishes age had placed at the corners of her eyes and mouth. Her lips were full and matched the dress.
"Ass," she repeated, but this time the disgusted insult was directed toward herself. What had she hoped to rekindle by looking stunning tonight? Did she think she could knock him off his feet all over and make everything right again? Had she really thought a hot red dress, a nice dinner, and an intimate night in their bed would make them love each other again?
She reached to unzip the dress again, regretting the money she had spent and wondering if she could return it to the store for a refund. She continued studying her reflection, twisting and turning in front of the mirror. She wondered if Bobby would have appreciated the pains she had taken to look her best for him. "Fuck him," she spat, shaking her head with determination. She looked fabulous. She had spent money and time to look her best for her ungrateful husband. If he wasn't going to bother to come home and enjoy the view, she could still enjoy her ability to turn heads.
She pulled her wrap around her shoulders, picked up her small purse and car keys, and stormed to the garage. She slipped behind the wheel and gripped it in her hands, trying to decide where to go. She had intended to surprise Bobby with a meal at his favorite restaurant, a little Italian bistro on the other side of town. She didn't want to go to a restaurant where other couples would be celebrating the day of love. She didn't want to see couples who were happy and still in love. She didn't want to watch love blossoming. She didn't want to be reminded of what she had once had with Bobby.
She cranked the car and started driving, still struggling to hold her tears inside. They burned as she fought against the emotion welling inside her. She knew why she had chosen to ignore his affair. If she turned a blind eye to his cheating, then she could also ignore The Kiss.
That's the way she thought about it. It was The Kiss, with capital letters.
Jill Conner was Mollie's boss's boss. She wasn't in the local office very often, but the tall woman always made time to stop at Mollie's desk. Mollie had assumed it was professional courtesy and had dismissed the way her heart seemed to beat a little faster when she saw Conner milling about the office and the way she couldn't stop smiling whenever the woman would lean against her desk. Days seemed lighter when Conner was in town.
Three months ago, Conner had started spending more time at Mollie's desk. More often than not, their conversation had drifted away from trivial small talk and work details. Conner had eventually asked Mollie out for lunch, but Mollie had declined. She wanted to deny the good feelings Conner aroused in her. She was vaguely reminded of the way Bobby had made her feel when they were falling in love. She certainly didn't want to admit that Conner made her feel even better.
She had started avoiding Conner after the lunch invitation. When Conner would come into the office, Mollie would spend time filing, copying, or delivering mail. She would not be at her desk when Conner had free time. Two weeks ago, Conner had finally caught Mollie in the supply closet, her hands full of paper clips, empty folders, and staples. Conner had shut the door behind her, trapping Mollie in the narrow room. Mollie had stepped away, the shelves digging into her back as Conner had advanced.
"I'm not exactly sure what I did to make you hate me," Conner had stated in her matter-of-fact southern accent. "I would like the opportunity to apologize and make amends." Mollie's mouth moved wordlessly, so Conner continued. "I miss our little chats, Mollie Donavon. I'd like it very much if you stopped running from me."
Mollie avoided looking at Conner, staring at the floor and the supplies piled on the shelves. She avoided Conner's intense green eyes. She didn't think she could lie to Conner if she had to look into the tall woman's eyes. "I'm not running from you. I really don't know what you are talking about." Conner remained silent and unmoving. Excuse me," Mollie whispered. "I really need to get back to my desk."
Conner still did not budge. "If you are not running, then what are you doing now? Why can't you stand to be in the same room with me anymore?" Mollie continued to stare at the floor so Conner moved even closer. "Did I overstep a boundary when I invited you to lunch?"
Mollie could feel Conner's warm breath and the heat of her presence. The strong body had her trapped, though Mollie knew that if she attempted to push passed her superior, Conner would step aside. Mollie tried to imagine doing just that. She tried to picture herself shouldering by Conner and fleeing from the small space. The visual image did nothing to bolster her courage. She would have to touch Conner to get around the woman, and instinctively knew that if she touched Conner that an electrical charge would explode between them. It wasn't just Conner's physical presence that had Mollie trembling. It was something more. It was something that Mollie couldn't describe but yet choked off all of her words.
"Please talk to me," Conner whispered, bracing one hand on the shelf behind Mollie's head. She placed her finger under Mollie's chin, tilting the woman's face upward. "At least look at me."
Mollie slowly lifted her brown eyes. She was taken away by the concentrated expression in Conner's eyes. "I'm married," she finally made herself say.
"I know," Conner replied, her voice equally soft. "And it kills me, but as much as I'd like to have you in my bed, I know that's not an option. I invited you to lunch. I enjoy spending time with you when I am in town. I like to know there is a friendly face waiting for me." Mollie lowered her eyes again. "Don't look away," Conner ordered. Reluctantly, Mollie returned her focus to Conner's eyes. "I know you are married, but if you love your husband, why are you afraid of me?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Mollie returned in an attempt to appear nonchalant. "I'm not afraid of you." The words were not a lie. Mollie was not afraid of Conner. She was afraid of the feelings that Conner raised.
"Then why are you trembling?" Conner asked, bending her head closer to Mollie. Conner wet her lips with the tip of her pink tongue. Her breath flooded Mollie's face, but Mollie's cheeks were already on fire with the excitement and intimacy of the moment.
Conner's fingers moved from Mollie's chin to her soft cheek. Mollie leaned into the caress. "Jill," she whispered.
"Say it again, Mollie Donavon. Say my name like you know who I am," Conner whispered, her mouth only a breath away from Mollie's.
"Jill," Mollie repeated with confidence in her voice. Bobby was far away from her mind now. She barely knew that she was in a supply closet. All she was aware of was Conner's closeness, her scent, her breath, and her moist lips.
"Again," Conner pleaded, moving even closer, her lips on Mollie's now.
"Jill." Conner barely allowed the word to escape Mollie's lips before her mouth was pressed against the young woman's. Mollie did not resist. She tilted her head as Conner's lips pressed firmly to her own. The tip of Conner's tongue danced along Mollie's full lips, teasing them apart. Mollie opened to the invader, her mouth parting as Conner's tongue danced along her teeth. Mollie pressed into the kiss, stretching upwards into the embrace. Mollie used her own tongue to brush against Conner's, inviting the teasing instrument deeper into her mouth. Conner dropped her hand to rest on Mollie's hip as their tongues twisted together, tasting each other.
Time slowed as they explored each other's mouth, tongues dueling, sliding in and out, and moving along teeth and gums and palates. Mollie felt her heart thudding against her breastbone as she welcomed the intimate intruder. Her body trembled and yearned for more. She could feel her breasts tightening and responding with a hunger to be touched and squeezed and licked. The sensation spiraled downward, resting in the pit of her stomach and tempted to travel deeper. She pushed into Conner's mouth, the bundle of supplies in her arms keeping their bodies separated.
The door to the supply closet opened suddenly and Conner's arms shot out to grab the shelf on either side of Mollie's head. "Fuck," the boss whispered.
They broke the kiss instantly and Mollie bowed her head, hoping the visitor did not see who Conner had pinned. Conner kept her arms in place, allowing her billowing blouse to hide Mollie's face. "Oh, uh, sorry, Ms. Conner," a voice said. 'I just needed some, uh, I need some printer paper."
"Well," Conner said in a short tone. She wanted to get the employee out as quickly as possible. The long Mollie was exposed, the more she would withdraw. The visitor grabbed a ream of paper and stepped out, carefully closing the door behind him. "Shit," Conner breathed.
Mollie chuckled despite herself and lifted her eyes. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and Conner softened. "Ah, gee, Mollie, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Bravely, Mollie answered. "Don't be. I'm not."
Conner smiled. The crooked lift of her full lips took away Mollie's breath. "Good. Because I'm not either."
"I'm married," Mollie stated again, the only argument she had that would hold any weight in the long run. "I can't do this, Conner."
As Mollie steered her car through the streets, she thought of her words to Conner after The Kiss. Conner had seemed to accept them. She had been in the office twice since The Kiss but had only spoken to Mollie as business necessitated. There was no touching, no offers of lunch, no quiet, intimate conversations while Conner leaned against the corner of Mollie's desk, her long legs stretched in front of her and crossed at the ankles. Things were uncomfortable between them. It was awkward enough that Mollie had applied for a transfer from Conner's department.
Her buried feelings for Conner had kept her blinded to the real possibility of Bobby having an affair. She couldn't be angry with him for looking for comfort from other sources if she did the same thing. Perhaps that was why she had spent so much time trying to make this Valentine's special. She wanted to absolve her guilt over The Kiss. Now things were different. He had chosen his mistress over their special day. It was a nail in the coffin of their marriage. She knew now there was no way to fix things. Her marriage to Bobby was over.
Her body and reflexes on auto-pilot, she drove aimlessly through town, uncertain what she hoped to find. She stopped at a red light and looked around her. She didn't recognize the stores surrounding her. She pulled into a parking lot of a bar and slipped out of her car, walking across the lot in the fading light. She stopped at the entrance, took a deep breath, and entered the room. She couldn't remember the last time she had been inside a bar, but she couldn't drive around town all night.
She stood just inside the door as he eyes adjusted to the dim light inside the room. As her eyes focused, she saw a bar in the center of the room. Tables were spread sparsely about the rest of the open area. A pinball machine and a Pac Man arcade game stood in one corner. A mixed group was standing around a pool table to the right. Mollie didn't spend time looking at any of the people in the room. She lowered her eyes and walked to the bar, asking herself mentally why she was there. What had she hoped to gain or prove by leaving home on Valentine's?
She slipped onto one of the leather barstools and ordered a daiquiri. The man rewarded her with skeptical look before turning to the fix the drink. There were no red hearts or Valentine's Day specials advertised in the bar and she was happy for there not to be any reminders. She folded her fingers together and stared at the wood grain of the counter, her eyes tracing the stains and burns that patrons had left over the years. Her mind drifted back to Bobby. Where did they go now? Did she really want to give up on her marriage?
Mollie didn't think she was ready for that. She didn't know what she would say to him when she got home. She thought she might sleep in their spare room. Perhaps that would send a message to him about how upset she was. It might also tell him that she wasn't a dummy. She knew what was happening to their marriage. It might also tell him that she knew he had found alternative entertainment.
The bartender sat the daiquiri in front of her and she slowly lifted her eyes in question, reaching for the purse. He waved her away. "It's taken care of, Ma'am."
Mollie tilted her head in puzzlement, looking around the room to see who had bought her drink. She didn't recognize anyone. There were no men sitting at the end of the bar with cocky, inviting, creepy smiles. She frowned and shrugged, pinching her lips around the straw and drawing slowly from the fruity liquid. She felt the alcohol hit her system and enjoyed the sensation as it coursed through her blood veins.
She absently stirred the frothy liquid, her mind miles away from the bar. She didn't hear the music pouring from the jukebox or the people talking in their small groups. She had never felt so alone in her life. She felt desperate. She had no business being there. She pushed the glass away and turned to leave the establishment, but her escape was halted by a figure standing just a few feet from her.
It took Mollie's breath away to see Conner outside of their secure office. Conner was wearing dark blue carpenter jeans. They were tight around her waist and baggy on her legs. She wore a white button-up man's shirt. The top three buttons were undone and the shirt hung open around her throat. A white ribbed tank top was under the shirt. Mollie felt her mouth go dry and her throat constrict. She was accustomed to seeing Conner in professional attire. She never would have imagined that the tall, athletic woman could be so delicious.
Conner's expression was not so delicious. Her green eyes were focused tightly on Mollie's face. There was no smile on her lips. Her features were set in stone as she stared coldly at her subordinate. Conner hesitated on her barstool, scooting back uneasily. "Hi, Conner. I didn't know you were in town."
"Home is the last place I want to be on Valentine's Day," Conner answered flatly, her hands resting around the shaft of a pool cue as she watched Mollie. "What is a happily married woman doing in a bar alone on Valentine's Day?"
Mollie flinched at Conner's words. Her boss's tone was not harsh but Mollie felt the accusation. The truth of the statement also burned in Mollie's ears. "I just dropped in for a drink before going to meet him," she lied.
Conner raised one dark eyebrow, her green eyes revealing to Mollie that she heard the lie and was not going to let it slide. "I see," she said thoughtfully. She nodded toward the half drank daiquiri sitting on the bar. "By all means, finish your drink before going to meet him." Conner sat down on the stool beside the woman. Immediately, the bartender sat a draft beer in front of the tall woman.
Reluctantly, Mollie turned her attention back to her drink, stirring it once before taking another sip. Conner watched, her green eyes never wavering, even as she sipped her beer. Mollie forced a smile to form on her lips, but when Conner did not return it, Mollie gave up.
"I had an interesting piece of mail cross my desk yesterday," Conner said when she finally spoke again.
Mollie stirred the straw in her glass, eyes focused on the swirling liquid. She knew what mail Conner referred to but she didn't want to acknowledge it. She did not want to deal with her feelings for Jill Conner as she was fighting with her heartbreak over Bobby Donavon. "Really?"
"I don't want to sign it. You are too valuable for me to lose. Stuart was not happy about your request to transfer, either." Conner drank some more of her beer, allowing her words to register in Mollie's head. Mollie did not respond. "Is that what you really want, Mollie Donavon?"
"It's what I need," Mollie whispered so softly that Conner had to lean closer to hear her. "I can't . . ."
"Can't what, Mollie? Can't face me? Can't face what you and I make each other feel? Can't face that you might be lying to yourself?"
Mollie whimpered, turning her face away from Conner. "Please, Jill."
Conner was still leaning over Mollie's shoulder, her mouth near her employee's ear. "I love the way you say my name." Mollie kept her attention on the other side of the room, trying not to respond to Conner's presence or seductive voice. Conner laid her hand on Mollie's knee. She didn't slide it upward or squeeze. Her palm just rested lightly on the top of Mollie's thigh. She could feel Mollie tense at the touch but she did not pull away. Instead, she leaned closer, her breath hot on Mollie's skin. "Where is Mr. Donavon tonight?"
"Work," Mollie reluctantly answered, still not looking at Conner. She hated the way that Conner seemed to be able to read her so intimately. Conner's hand squeezed lightly and slid upward smoothly. Her fingers moved toward the inside of Mollie's thighs, curling against the satin stockings. Mollie closed her eyes, allowing Conner to continue her caress. She was lonely and angry and Conner was not a stranger. She did not pull away.