It was 11am. As the bellboy backed out of the Presidential Suite checking his tip, I told him I needed to be left undisturbed. Then I sat down to write the most difficult speech of my life.
It would last only last five minutes, and it would be wrenching. The audience of twenty senior staff, each of whom I knew and liked, would be attending the welcome cocktails for my company's annual executive retreat at the Florida golf resort we visited each year.
And I was preparing to tell them our days as a close knit personally owned company of 200 people had ended this morning when I signed a document selling Michael LangeTechnics to a European conglomerate.
The signing meeting with the Chairman of Avionics Brussels was a sweet and sour moment - sweet because after the twelve year roller coaster of building my own aerospace technology business, it made me a truly wealthy man. And sour because you don't get to choose the moment you have to leave it all behind, when someone makes an offer you can't sanely refuse. I longed for a coffee that was deep and strong, but I put it off to work on the words.
Behind me I heard the click of a door opening. Annoyed that the hotel staff had ignored my privacy request I turned sharply and startled Nicola Nicolaides, the youngest member of my executive team. Her pretty faced flushed with embarrassment and her hand flew to her mouth.
"Oh, I'm so sorry to disturb you Mr. Lange," she said. "I've just checked into my room, and I thought I was opening the door to the bathroom and --- and it's straight into your suite. They've left it unlocked. I'm so silly, I should have knocked, I ---"
She was floundering and humiliated, and I realized the only words that could save the moment had to be humorous.
"Hell Nicola, I've ordered coffee and Room Service sends up you instead. What's this joint coming to?" I cracked. "The coffee machine's in that overblown butler's pantry. I need a double long black, and you'd better get something for yourself while you're at it."
I smiled at her. "I know it's your first executive retreat -- but how many times have I asked you to call me Michael?"
Nicola's face revealed something between relief and uncertainty. "OK Michael. Coffee, you've got it - a double for Mister Big Boss." She hesitated, her trim elegantly suited body half turned towards me. Then she surprised me with a mock Hitler salute to further acknowledge my suddenly invented chauvinism.
It was a nice recovery. I liked her quiet personality and the nice surprises when she sometimes broke free of it. And not for the first time, Nicola Nicolaides made my heart catch.
Let me tell you what I knew then about Nicola Nicolaides.
First, something that's blindingly obvious. Nicola is - and no person who doesn't carry a white cane will argue -- the most startlingly beautiful woman you or I will ever meet.
She arrived at Lange as a management trainee three years ago. Elle Norris our personnel manager who'd recruited her, sent her to me for the final "sign off" interview that was a formality unless I took serious exception. "She's a bit shy, and not all that confident, but there's something special. I'd back her strongly," Elle commented.
While Ms Nicolaides waited in the lobby outside I flicked through her resume. Nicolaides -- presumably the name indicated an Eastern Mediterranean background? Very young -- she was only 22. A good business degree from a second string institution, and the sort of waitressing and factory part time jobs that showed she'd had to work her way.
My assistant buzzed, and Nicola walked into the office.
Now do you all remember the beauteous Nefertiti? I know you've seen at least one reproduction of that remarkable bust of the fabled Queen of Egypt who preceded the boy king Tutankhamen. Two millennia after Nefertiti was sealed in a tomb inscribed with the words "the Mistress of Sweetness," we see the serene face of that sculpture, and instantly acknowledge her extraordinary, peerless beauty. Nefertiti, in the form of Nicola Nicolaides, was standing in front of me.
I swear that if Nicola had shown any smart knowingness about her extraordinary beauty, I would have shown her the door on the spot. She would have been too disruptive a presence. However she was just as Elle Norris described her -- a little young and shy, and but possessing a quiet, hard to pin quality.
I hired Nicola and she started as an assistant in sales, but within weeks I was dealing with a frustrated general manager who complained she lacked confidence and forcefulness. I put time into several review meetings, one with Nicola in tears, and finally saw she was being pushed in the wrong direction. The face might open a thousand doors, but the shy temperament could never be taught to front up for the assertive close on a difficult sale.
I moved her into the team doing the tough yards preparing our largest tenders, and she found her niche immediately. Nicola will make it to top management one day, but right now her confidence is growing, and she has become the organizational rock for her immediate boss. And I know he still sends her into the occasional meeting with sales prospects just for the hell of it. They take a good ten minutes to get their eyes back into their heads.
Myself? I'm 42 years old, divorced the last five, and until now happily lost in my work during my daytime hours. But lonely when I get home? Hell, yes. Nicola is now 25, established in her position, and according to the office rumors, she split up with her boyfriend six months ago.
One more thing I've discovered about myself and Nicola. I see her every weekday and know that if Nicola was the plainest woman in the street, I'd still like her a great deal indeed. Yes, I do look at Nicola more than I should, and yes, I also wish two things - first that she was closer to my age, and second that she didn't work for me, because working for me puts her off limits.
"Tee-off's in two hours. Are you joining the group for golf," I asked Nicola, as she handed me a cup, and perched herself on the seat opposite, unconsciously pulling down the hem of her closefitting skirt. It was pointless. Her legs remained long, tanned, and shapely.
"Wish I could, but I'd make a fool of myself," she said. "I've only had a couple of lessons. I'll just sit round and read."
"Then use the suite. Spread out. You could use my spa pool if you like."
She seemed uncertain, but she accepted. "That's nice of you. I'd bring in my own robe, if you really don't mind me taking your pool. But I wish I could play well enough to go on the course," she mused.
"You don't have to play. Ride along in the cart with me, and have a putt when we get to the greens. Would you like that?"
"Could I really?" she smiled. "Are you sure it's okay?"
The thirteen people in the golf group met at the first tee, and while we loaded clubs and drinks on board the carts, the course starter pulled me to one side.
"Your group?" he asked.
"Yes it is."
"I'm sorry, the girl can't go out on the course," he said, nodding towards Nicola.
Nicola was dressed in all white - dark wavy hair cascaded from under her perky visor, a cotton blouse was knotted in a bow half way up her brown stomach, and clinging to the top of her long tanned legs, were closely tailored shorts that reached only an inch below the firm curve of her backside.
"You mean she'll draw too big a gallery?" I joked.
"Yeah, probably -- but actually it's the dress code," the chubby man said grimly. "There's one here for the female players too. Shorts have to come nearly to the knees."
"But she's not playing," I said. "She's my coach. You've haven't got a dress rule for coaches, surely?"
He thought about that a moment. "Then you're a lucky man," he said, and burst out laughing. "But I'll bet ten bucks you can't break a hundred with her in the cart beside you. You'll crash and burn"
We set off in groups of four players, and I scored indifferently for the first five holes. Nicola was nervous beside me, and I'd become self conscious. While you could never be with Nicola and unaware of her beauty, I hadn't previously seen her dressed in anything overtly sexy, and the wattage glittering through was overwhelming. We stuttered along, awkward and overly polite, and I pondered that while Nicola was still too young for me, the fact was that from this evening onwards, I'd no longer be her employer. She'd no longer be off limits. Nice thought, but still irrelevant.
The sixth tee was on a hillcrest and when we drove behind the other players back down the curving path I took a corner too quickly.
The cart lurched, and Nicola slid across the seat towards me and grabbed my arm for support. Her smooth legs slipped along mine as she tried to recover her balance. And by the time I'd stopped the cart, her backside was across my lap, her breasts were pushed against my chest, and her olive skinned face was buried so close against my neck I could smell her.
Yes, it was ungainly, but there was skin contact everywhere and I jumped as if I'd been charged with an electric prod. Beside me, I felt Nicola's body quivering like a startled doe's.
I looked into her gold and green eyes, and she surprised me by holding my gaze. "Wow, did you feel the charge?" I exclaimed, not thinking about my words, and instantly wanting to retract them. But she nodded slightly. Then slowly, as if dawn was rising, the serenely beautiful face of Nefertiti opened into a secret smile.
Seeing that the other carts were now thirty yards in front of us, I acted on impulse. I leaned into her and brushed her mouth with mine. Startled, she opened her lips to me and we kissed.
But ahead of us, a cart had stopped. "Got to go I suppose," I said, indicating the pair in front, and she murmured something indistinct in my ear. I think she whispered: "Shit."
Still, it had happened, and the rest of the game mattered little. When I could do it discreetly, I drove a few yards behind the other players and stroked her hand, while she sat close enough to be always touching me. Nicola putted with us on several holes, and smiled in delight when she sank a twenty foot putt than won a bet. At last, on the final hole she asked if she could try a fairway shot. She fluffed her first and then her second, and the other three staffers cheered and teased us as I wrapped my arms around her from behind, and showed her how to swing the club. What they couldn't see was how tightly she snuggled her butt against me, as I swung her arms back and then through the ball.
We finished the game, shook hands all round with each exec insisting on also kissing Nicola, and then drove back into the cart shed. We looked at each other. "Have to run, I guess," she said. "Its drinks and your opening speech, so I want to get myself dressed up."
"Heck, it's just me," I replied.
She held my eyes. "I know. That's why."
"Look, were going to have to talk. There's something I want to tell you."
She looked at me. "I'm so relieved you said that," she whispered, and walked away.
But she couldn't know the half of it.
Avionics Brussels had requested that when I announced the sale to my staff, I introduce the executive who'd step straight into my shoes. Helmet Schum would then stay on for the rest of the retreat. I'd declined a suggestion I take a seat on their main board, but agreed to the needed consulting role while I phased out my involvement with the company. I knew there'd be a tough adjustment period for my staff.
Schum came to my suite half an hour before the 7pm cocktails, and we went over what we'd both be saying. "You're quite sure it is good for me to stay on for your company dinner?" he asked.
"It's definitely best you do -- they'll need time with you," I said. Schum had a pleasant manner and was an easy man to like, which would make breaking the news easier. We went downstairs together to the small function room.
I saw the puzzled looks on my execs' faces as I stepped up to the microphone on the dais with the stranger by my side.
Quite honestly I don't remember the next few minutes clearly, because they were even more difficult and emotional than I'd anticipated. I do know that Nicola, the most junior of the group, stood to the rear, a little to one side, dressed in a shimmering white sheath, her face unreadable.
There was a stunned, empty silence when we finished, and then someone remembered it was polite to clap. I seized a very large scotch and taking Schum by the elbow, took him down into the white faced group, and began introducing him. It was ten minutes before I saw Nicola had been left alone at a moment that I could break free.
"I wanted to tell you this afternoon. I'm sorry, but it wasn't possible," I whispered.
"Of course you couldn't. I understand absolutely," she replied.
"So what do you think?"
She paused to consider, and her face a mask, answered: "Michael, there's not a person in this room who didn't talk about this happening one day. And there's no one here will begrudge you this good fortune. But every single one of us will hate it."
Then she touched my arm and gave me a small smile. "Still, life goes on I guess."
I felt shattered. "We still need to talk. Can we do that?" I asked
But Helmut Schum was at my arm and before Nicola could reply, he was charmingly introducing himself to the one person in the room who, if he was remotely human, he most wanted to impress.
Nicola was seated farthest from me at dinner, and we didn't speak. Then afterwards she hung back as one by one I was cornered by anxious people who were like family to me, each one of them important.
She was there in the background still talking with a smiling Schum as the group finally began to thin, but when I looked again soon after 11pm, they were gone. By now we were in a small private bar, and while I seethed with anxiety, it was impossible for me to go until the last person left me in peace. It was nearly 1am.
I could see no light on under her door as I walked down the darkened corridor past Nicola's room, and I paused, silently cursing the obligations that had kept me. At this time of night I could hardly knock. Bitterly disappointed, I walked into my suite and headed straight to the bar for another drink I didn't particularly want but needed. I threw off my jacket, pulled my collar open, and flopped down on a sofa.
Then I noticed. The door to Nicola's adjoining room had not been fully closed -- it was slightly ajar. I thought for a moment, and then hoping she'd left it that way deliberately, I pushed it open, put my head around the door, and whispered:
"Nicola, are you still awake?"
A body moved in the darkness, but there was no response. "Nicola?" I asked again.
"Yes, I'm awake," she replied. But she said nothing else. I wondered if Schum was with her.
"I'd like to talk to you. Is that okay?"
There was another long pause. "Okay. Go back into your suite. I'll be a moment."
I waited, hearing her moving round in her bathroom. The only light turned on in my suite was a corner lamp, and five minutes later she edged through the door into the semi-lit room. Nicola was wearing a cream colored silk over-gown that came to just above her knees, and I realized she'd been tidying up and brushing her hair.
She looked down at the sofa, hesitated, and then decided to sit beside me. It was only then I saw she'd been crying.
"Hey, what's up? It's all going to be okay," I said, wrapping my arms around her for the first time.
She sobbed. "It's not okay. What do you mean? How can you possibly think that it's okay?" I felt the warm tears running down her cheek. "Look, you're very good at what you do. Your job's safe, and I know for a fact the new owners have you rated top ten with a bullet," I told her.
To my surprise, she pulled back furiously and tried to hit me. Not once, but twice. I grabbed her hands and gently wrestled her back in against me tight, where I could hold her. "But don't you see? Are you so blind? Don't you know?" she sobbed angrily.
"No I don't see. I'm sorry, what do you mean?" I said nonplussed. She sat up, her gown opening to reveal a flimsy peach negligee underneath. I glimpsed a perfectly rounded breast and a dark brown nipple, but truly, it was her brimming liquid eyes that held me.
"From tomorrow I won't be working for you anymore," she said. "I can't bear the thought of it. I've had feelings for you since that day you interviewed me, and the main reason I've stayed is it means I get to see you five days every week.
"And now all that's blown away. I've loved you. Don't you get it?"
Her body shuddered as she wept again, and I pulled her close to me, stroking her long dark hair, amazed by her words. I was astonished, shamed, aroused, alarmed, and delighted. I couldn't believe I could be so lucky a man. I began to tell her this time and time again, holding her as close to me as I could, as I explained to her how she'd stunned my senses the first time I saw her, how I felt about her, and how with my leaving, we could now be free to begin.
At last, assured, she relaxed in my arms, and I knew there is no greater joy than discovering you are loved and admired.
"Will you stay with me tonight?" I asked.
"Mmmn," she sighed.
I went to the bathroom and when I returned five minutes later found her under the covers, with the creamy outer gown thrown on the floor. I was fully erect before I climbed in beside her, and there was no hiding this as I reached for her and she slid into my arms. Her negligee slipped off her shoulder, and I felt her nipple against me as my cock pressed against the silk covering her stomach. I slid my hands under it and discovered that if she'd been wearing panties, she'd pulled them off.
For a while we just kissed but really, there was no point in some slow seduction. We both now knew that each of us had, from our own distances, been waiting for this moment. I tenderly kissed her hardened nipples, and felt her hand brush against my cock, and then hold it, stroking it gently. I slipped my own hand down between her knees, and began caressing the cool soft insides of her thighs. Instinctively, she spread her legs further, and I stroked my way up them until beneath the soft tufts of her little bush, I found her slit.
I stroked the outsides of her lips, and then, parting them, ran my finger over her clitoris and down her wet inner labia until it rested against her entrance. As I gently stroked her from clit to pussy hole, Nicola caressed my cock more firmly, and reached under it to cradle my balls. She massaged them softly, and whispered: "Oh, you feel so good. And it's so big."
I began to work the tip of my finger in and out of the dampening entrance to her pussy, and then as she wriggled against me, I slowly worked it down the tight channel into her depths. She gasped, and then reached softly down to my hand and made me withdraw.
"Please, after all this time I can't wait," she murmured. "Put yourself inside me."
I looked down at her beautiful face and her body, and then putting my hands under her bottom, lifted her slightly, and moved my cockhead to her entrance. She reached her hand underneath, and shuddering, held my cock towards her as I pushed it against her parting lips. For a moment they resisted my cockhead but then it pushed through her small opening, and slowly down the tightness of her soft wet channel.
Nicola cried out as my penis thrust up against the bottom of her vagina, and began rocking herself against me making small sighs and moans as my throbbing cock slid up and down the exquisite length of her clinging pussy walls. I was vaguely aware of her pink fingernails lightly tracing patterns up and down my back, and then moving to my backside to hold me in her as tightly as she could.