"Cathy, what the hell does a cute guy like him see in that bony little bitch?"

"What are you talking about? She's bright, well educated, interesting, has a great sense of humor—and a better career than either of us do by a long shot. She's a damn good person...honest...decent to the core."

"She's also skinny, virtually boob-free and not very pretty...she's barely plain."

"She's got a kind of a cute little butt and long legs."

"I won't argue on the legs but she hasn't got a heck of a lot of booty."

"You're being a little harsh and selling her short; could it have anything to do with the fact that she got promoted to Vice-President---and you didn't?"

"I deserved that promotion; I'm senior."

"Loyalty counts for something, Marie. You can't go around undermining the boss and not expect it to come back and bite you. Did you really think all of your bitching and complaining wouldn't get back to Jennifer? The last guy let you get away with your shit because he had the hots for you and you could manipulate him all day with a toss of the hair, a shake of your ass and a bat of your eyelashes."

"Just my luck to get a female Senior Vice-President who doesn't buy my act."

"I think it's great! She's the senior woman in the company and the first department head we've ever seen who knows our jobs---and her own---inside and out. In under a year she has promoted five people inside and brought in a bunch of first class talent from outside. She works her ass off---and the big boys respect her. She's the best boss I've ever had---any of us have ever had.

"She has put this department on the map. When the 'atta boys' come down, she never takes credit. You had your chance, Marie. Jennifer gave you every opportunity to step up and be her right hand---and you couldn't keep your mouth shut. You're lucky she didn't just fire your ass for gross insubordination."

"Whatever. I don't want to talk about her---I'm talking about Meredith---the string bean. I just don't get what a hunk like that sees in her."

"Who knows, Marie? Maybe she gives fantastic head and takes it in the butt."

"I highly fucking doubt that. She's so mousy! I can't even see them fucking---let alone her doing anything nasty. Did you know she goes to church—and I've never heard her swear."

"Well, Jennifer thinks she walks on water and the President of the whole damn company respects her opinion over damn near anyone else in this building. Even that prick Dave, the Executive VP---who is the most openly paternalistic, sexist, dick-head I've ever met---shuts up and listens when Meredith speaks. As a matter of fact I'd have to say Meredith---and Jennifer---have made dramatic inroads with him. These 'good old boys' evidently have never been around really sharp women executives before. Have you noticed how often Dave comes down here to bounce things off of those two?

"Look! A little over a year ago we did all of the work and that jerk-off who ran this department took all of the credit. Those two women have put us on the corporate map. At least you're a director---I'm just a manager. I almost peed my pants when Meredith told me that she and Jennifer wanted me to brief the executive committee on my project! Six years here and instead of an anonymous head nod in the cafeteria from the President of this company---he smiles and calls me by name. Shit, the other day he stopped me and introduced me to the founder and CEO---telling him what I did for this company and how damn well I did it! A year ago I was ready to quit; now I love what I'm doing and, for the first time ever, I trust the people I'm working for."

"What's he do for a living, anyway?"


"Meredith's main squeeze."

"He's a writer; his name is Mike."

"Oh, that's lame. Isn't he a little old for her?"

"He's a decade her senior and I said he's a writer---I didn't say, 'impoverished struggling author;' I gather he's quite secure financially. You also don't have to be clairvoyant to know he worships the girl."

"Sure. Whatever."


"Jennifer!" Dave, the Executive VP, said, sticking his head almost coyly inside her office door. "Have you got ten minutes?"

"You know I do, Dave. Thanks to Bill Gates my schedule---and yours---is public knowledge. Allowing three minutes for a quick trip to the lady's room I have exactly ten minutes. Make yourself comfortable. I'll be right back."


"What's on your mind?"

"People stuff."

"I'd prefer to have Meredith in on that but she's out of town."

"I promise no firm action until she gets back. Look, short and sweet, I need to dump some more stuff on you but this time the work comes with the bodies to do the work. Roger has made a complete mess of the customer service consolidation. No, that may be harsh; they've got a plan and you've seen it and I think we agree it's a good one. Roger just doesn't seem to be able to get it implemented."

"Please tell me you aren't about to put Roger under my world; he's a really nice guy but after twenty-five years here I don't have time between now and mandatory retirement to fix everything that is wrong with him. He's a bright guy with good vision sense but an ineffective manager."

"No argument there; Roger is moving out of the headquarters. We're going to try a sort of think tank thing for him off-site which hopefully will produce some payback but effective as soon as I can get the pieces to fit---his department is no longer his department---it's yours."

"Dave, I'm not terribly impressed with any of his managers or directors; he has some bright people over there but never seems to promote the right ones. I'm going to need to promote or acquire another VP---Meredith has more than enough on her plate."


"She hasn't earned it yet. She's very bright but her people skills leave a lot to be desired and while I've seen some improvement she still runs her mouth too much."


"He's only been a director for a few months; good kid but not ready. Wait! Remember the girl from Dallas who we had up here last month for interviews? Unfortunately all we had to offer her at the time was essentially a lateral which she politely declined. I recall that she actually started in customer service back when she was in college. Linda Evans?"

"Think you can sell her on it? Why am I even asking? I made the mistake when I first came up here of forgetting that you were in sales---at the top of the game---and not just another HQ puke."

"I do recall that you treated me like your secretary for the first few weeks."

"Am I improving under your skillful tutelage?"

"You'll always be a work in progress, Dave, but I've actually come to enjoy our chats and I've retired my voodoo doll."

"That's why my back pain has improved so much?"

"Exactly. What do you think of sending Marie to Dallas? If anyone needs to get away from here and out in the real world it's her."

"Her replacement as director?"


"Great minds think alike. How long do you need to get Meredith's input?"

"Formality. We discuss career progression almost daily and we're of the same mind. I'll send her a short email as soon as we're done here. Time frame?"

"In the next three days?"

"Let me juggle a couple of things and get in touch with Dallas. I'd at least like to know we have a prospective VP before you lower the boom. Let's touch base at the end of the day."


How many nights had Meredith arrived back at this modest Midwestern airport after dark, dragged her Pullman to the pick-up stand for the off-site parking lot and driven alone the forty minutes to her darkened, often freezing cold condo? Generally dinner was whatever she could find in the freezer which could be heated in a microwave. She wanted a dog but her travel schedule and her condo precluded it. Her job was her life. She'd pour a decent glass of wine and check her emails; there would be dozens of them. Generally she'd spend some time working out on her home gym and jogging on her tread mill. She'd read until she dozed off.

Jennifer had entered her life about a year ago; Jennifer had shocked everyone by promoting Meredith to VP over several others who were more senior. Meredith had vowed to herself that she would never give the Senior Vice President any reason to regret her decision.

Jennifer had convinced her to change her hair style which had been terribly dated. She had influenced Meredith's wardrobe which had since become far more fashionable. Most importantly Jennifer had encouraged---no, demanded---that Meredith allow her keen mind and exceptional analytical skills to shine through. She had given her the confidence to stand up for what she believed---what she knew was right. In under a year Meredith had gone from being a bright and competent director whom no one noticed to a highly respected VP to whom people listened. Jennifer deserved much of the credit for her stunning transformation.

As she looked up and stepped off the bottom of the escalator to baggage claim, standing before her, grinning from ear to ear and grasping a single white rose was the other truly wonderful human being who had changed her life. If Jennifer had carefully mixed the ingredients and baked the cake to perfection, Mike had iced it with tenderness, love and passion...so much passion. Once decidedly dowdy and mousy---hardly sexy or beautiful---it was in this man's arms that she felt like a beautiful princess.

Men did not normally try to pick up Meredith unless it was very late and they were drunk, desperate or some combination of both. She didn't send out signals that said she was exciting in any way. He had not tried to pick her up that day at the book signing at Borders; she had picked him up.

She had fallen in love with him years before she had ever met him---or at least in love with his rich and endearing prose. Meredith didn't collect autographs or go to book signings. She had been sitting in a lonely executive hotel a thousand miles way from home. She had walked the few blocks to the book store to browse and perhaps find something which would help her get to sleep.

She had seen the placard indicating that his book signing would end in a few minutes. On impulse she'd grabbed a copy of his latest work---even though she already owned it---and approached the small table. She studied him for a minute; he seemed younger than she would have expected, albeit a decade or so her senior. Their eyes met and held; he smiled...warm, safe, inviting...thanks to Jennifer's mentoring, Meredith smiled back without the smile seeming forced, artificial or tentative.

"Hi!" they both said, simultaneously. As each of them started to speak the other also did so. They laughed about it. He offered his hand; she took it, held it longer than would have been her nature and found his eyes again. They were kind, warm and inviting eyes just like his smile.

She remembered the fleeting sense of warmth between her legs; it at first embarrassed her. There would have been a time not too many months before when she would have dropped her eyes...turned her head...felt unworthy of this man's gaze. He was certainly sizing her up and for most of her life men quickly lost interest in her slender form and plain features at that point.

Jennifer had taught her: "Look 'em in the eye, smile and then own the bastards! You're smarter than they are and they know it. Don't beat 'em over the head with it...don't preach or get too excited. Just tell 'em the truth---short and sweet---and stick to your guns. When they ask you what needs to be done---tell 'em and don't waffle."

"I love your work---no, I adore your work. I came here tonight looking for something to help put me to sleep---had no idea you were here."

"Does my stuff put you to sleep, Ms...."

"Meredith...I'm Meredith. Hardly! I can't put your books down...often reread them several times. Never travel with one or I'd never sleep. Oh, my God---I sound like a groupie!" She was blushing.

"Business or pleasure?"

"What? Oh, business...traveling on business."

"I've never had a groupie before, Meredith---it's kind of exciting for a somewhat obscure author of what most people dismiss as meaningless and shallow romance novels."

"Hardly either shallow or meaningless! My God, you are the master of the genre! So much hope, love, need...passion."

"Thank you, Meredith. That means a lot coming from such an attractive young lady. I fear my typical fan---at least based on these dreadful affairs---is neither...young nor attractive."

'Thank you, Jennifer—thank you for giving me a "set",' she thought in retrospect. 'I'll name my first born after you.' He was being nice or mildly flirting. Once she would have let it pass. This time she was going to go for it. She had nothing to lose; if he didn't bite, so be it.

"You're done here, aren't you? Assuming there isn't a missus or whoever somewhere---at home or back at some hotel---would you like to join me for a drink? I don't make a habit of picking up strangers in a book store---hell, never have done anything like this before---but then to me, you're not really a stranger."

He took her hand...the eyes again...the smile...she wanted him as she had never wanted any man. The warmth had become heat...and moistness.

"No 'whoevers' anywhere, Meredith. I'd be delighted to join you for a drink. I know nothing about this city, however---you?"

"Not really; there appeared to be a decent little bar in the hotel I'm staying at. The Hyatt just a couple of blocks..."

"How interesting; I'm staying there too."

"Serendipity? One of your favorite themes as I recall. Shall we go?" Yep. Now she was flirting.

They sat together in the intimate little piano bar for hours. They didn't really talk about each other in specific terms. From her perspective she felt as if they connected on a level which thrilled, excited and even scared her. He was a very handsome man; there were numerous women in the bar who easily put her to shame in terms of curves and allure. More than one had flirted with him. He could have made some excuse. He didn't have to be "stuck" with her.

He was interested in her---wasn't he? This was more than a writer paying suitable attention to an ardent fan---wasn't it? What in the hell was he thinking? The hour was late. Meredith knew she wanted to see him again but there was another feeling welling up inside her, one she had little experience with. She wanted to fuck him; he excited her as no man ever had.

"Mike, it getting late. I haven't had this much fun in longer than I can remember. I'm not on terribly secure ground here. I'm generally painfully shy around attractive men...men I find attractive. I'd like to see you again."

"I don't find you remotely shy, Meredith. On the contrary, you are one of the most charming and scintillating people---women---I've ever met. I'd very much like to have the opportunity to spend time with you...again."

"Mike, as I look around this bar, I realize that I'm hardly in the league of the other women..."

"Don't do that, Meredith; don't ever sell yourself short."

She laughed softly. "Funny, that's what my boss—who is probably also my best friend---always tells me."

"She's a smart woman also."

It came out before Meredith even realized it. "Do you want to go to bed with me? I mean other than the fact that it's late and..."

"From the very second I looked up and saw you at the bookstore. There isn't a woman in this place that can hold a candle to you."

"I have to warn you...I'm not terribly experienced...you may be disappointed."

"I seriously doubt that; you're selling yourself short again. For the record, I've never done anything like this before---in spite of what you may think from my stories."

"Your place or mine?" They spoke the words simultaneously; they both laughed.

"Where would you be more comfortable, Meredith?"

"Mine, I think."

"Shall we go?"

They ended up in one of the glass external elevators alone. Neither could recall who made the first move but their bodies were pressed together before the door had closed. Their tongues and hands explored. She found his hard cock and stroked it through the fabric. He groaned. His hand found her hot moist mound and she whimpered. They were lucky to get to her room with their clothing intact.

Meredith was not a virgin. She had had a couple of semi-meaningful relationships since graduating from college more than a decade earlier. Looking back they were more intellectual than physical. Certainly sex had been involved but it had been far from steamy or adventurous.

Lacking self confidence when it came to the opposite sex, Meredith all too often had ended up in dead-end relationships with men who found her interesting but certainly not sexy. She never seriously went after the really good looking or exciting ones, viewing them as out of her league. So she ended up with essentially wimpy guys and ultimately found their insecurities annoying and stifling and moved on.

In all honesty, it had occurred to Meredith that she had never gone to bed with a man who excited her and pushed her buttons. At least if the elevator ride was any indication, this man excited her and the feeling was mutual. She was determined to make up in enthusiasm for what she lacked in experience. It would turn out to the delight of both Mike and Meredith that, in the care of an experienced, nurturing and patient man, her sexuality would blossom to a level that no one could have anticipated.

She could have no idea at that moment as the two of them groped their way down the hall toward her room that this man was completely taken by her---hopelessly smitten and every bit as fearful as she was that he would screw it up and lose her.

Mike had once been married; he had two grown children from that marriage which had ended six years earlier. He had lost his first wife to a cancer which had come on quickly and completed its ravage in a few short months. While the loss had taken its toll, it had been fortunate that the two offspring were in their teens, almost adults, and had dealt with the loss better than could have been expected.

Mike had been very much in love with his college sweetheart; they had enjoyed an almost idyllic life together. While he had certainly not remained celibate after her death, neither had he seriously attempted a relationship that might have had a long term future.

Meredith didn't remotely look like or remind him of his dearly departed. She was probably a bit thin for Mike's taste. He'd always had a weakness for blonds and Meredith had dark brown, almost black hair. As they had gotten to know each other that first evening, it was her intensity and passion that truly captivated him. They might never have gone to that Hyatt bar if he had not seen something---been grabbed by it---when he first looked up and saw her face.

It was in her eyes; there was a fundamental honesty, almost a transparency...what you see is what you get...this is all I have to give you. He sensed that Meredith was incapable of hiding agendas or of playing manipulative games. She was astoundingly bright and insightful. She was very quick; that first evening their exchange had been rapid fire banter often tinged with her dry wit and sense of the ironic.

While Mike may well have noticed on first meeting that Meredith was a relatively plain looking young woman, by the end of the evening---in his eyes---she was anything but. He was completely captivated by her; any physical flaws she may have had became invisible. There was another factor at play in these situations for as Meredith became more and more enamored that first evening, more and more glimpses of the beautiful swan beneath the surface crept into view.

Meredith was simply at her core kind, gentle, loyal, caring, loving and honest. It was those special attributes that Jennifer had quickly discerned and why she had promoted her. It was those same special qualities that had almost instantly captured the heart and soul of a very special man with the same qualities. It was almost as if some force had kept these two apart until each was ready to accept the other---love and cherish the other---and then thrust them together at just the right instant in time. Serendipity?

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