Undead and Underwater


Page 12


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"Please shut up now." She'd shrugged out of her blouse, her bra. "You've never seen anyone here?"


"Not once. Uh, take off more clothes, please." He reached out and cupped her breasts in both hands, then leaned down and breathed on her nipples, and then kissed them. She nearly lost her footing; it felt like he was kissing her somewhere else entirely. She (gently) grabbed his ears and pulled him to her mouth and kissed him with the intensity she'd felt, but tried to control, since he said, "Hero, hero." He didn't know her, then, and he said that. He knew the truth now, and he was still here.


She had no idea that simple acceptance could make her so wet.


She wouldn't break the kiss, so they managed to undress and help each other without once coming up for air, and then she was carefully pushing him onto the soft grass and climbing on top of him. She'd pushed him down on the bank and his head was actually pointing down toward the pond, but she didn't care if he didn't, and he didn't seem like he did. It was possible he'd forgotten the park entirely.


Her knees were on either side of his hips and, while she steadied herself with one palm on his chest, she reached back and found his hot hard length. She squeezed gently and smiled at his groan, then lifted up just a bit and slooooowly lowered herself onto him, closing her eyes at the pure sweetness of it.


"Oh, Christ."


Yes, those were her exact sentiments.


She began to ride, getting used to him, letting him get used to her, easing up and down, surprised and thrilled at how slippery she was, how slippery he was making her.


"Don't stop. Anything you want. If you don't stop. Money, fur, jewels. Farmland, puppies, caterpillars. Orange juice. A Starbucks franchise. A gift card for Red Lobster. Don't stop."


She leaned down and kissed him. "I have no need for caterpillars and I hate lobster," she whispered into his mouth, and she felt him reach around and grip her ass. "Ummm . . . that's nice. Do that harder. I'm charged up enough . . . you can do that a lot harder."


So he clutched and kneaded her pale flesh until his knuckles whitened and the veins stood out on his neck, touching her with force that would have badly bruised anyone else, force that made her want only more of it, more of him. Watching him lose himself in her tipped her over and she fell into her orgasm; it hit her with such rapidity that she was surprised.


Still shuddering, she felt his warmth burst inside her and was surprised once again.


"Hailey," he managed after several minutes. "I'm officially ruined for other women, forever."


"I should hope so." She licked the sweat from his collarbone.


"Also, I fell in love with you after you abandoned me at Big Bowl to help that mom free her kid."


"Well, good."


"And my head's gonna pop off."


She pulled back and looked; he was quite red-faced. "Oh, Linus! Your head was pointing down but I didn't think you cared at the time."


"I still don't care. I was just letting you know the situation. My head can keep filling with blood until I burst something; I don't give a shit. Won't even feel it. Won't notice . . . aaahhhhh." She'd pulled him to a sitting position. "So, this is what it's like to not pass out."


She hugged him to her and heard an, "Oof!" and then got a hug back. He grinned at her. "We're gonna have fun, aren't we?"


"For the rest of our lives," she promised, and carried him to the car.


EPILOGUE


"Hi. I'm Audrey the Receptionist."


He smiled. First days were always the worst, but everyone had been pleasant so far. With the economy only starting to recover, he was grateful for a good job with a good company.


And Ramouette had of late been making quite a name for itself; it had always pulled a profit, which was a good trick given Minnesota's economic woes. But now it was making waves with its innovative benefits options, big number one being, "As long as your work is getting done, take all the vacation time you want."§ No one in the business world was quite sure what had changed in the last several months, and as someone whose first love was marketing, he'd been anxious to join the team.


"This is Gerry, our new marketing director." The HR rep-who insisted on referring to herself as one of Hailey's twisted minions and had never actually given him a name except Minion Number Four-had been taking him around. He took that with an internal shrug: there was one in every company.


"It's nice to meet you," Gerry said, shaking her hand.


"Same. Hailey's on her way," Audrey the Receptionist told the minion. Audrey was short, with ebony skin and a square-shaped face she emphasized with square glasses set in purple lenses. Her handshake was quick and firm. "She says she'll finish the new-hire stuff when she gets here. Hailey's our head of HR . . . She's running a little late."


Gerry said graciously, "That's how it goes sometimes. And Four-ninety-four was awful."


"Yeah, that's how it goes with Hailey sometimes, and by sometimes I mean always, and every day is Monday and Four-ninety-four is continually awful. Hey, Coot, what are you getting them for the engagement party?"


"Them?"


"She and Linus are getting married next spring," the young man-who was surely not a day over thirty-explained.


Did she call this boy Coot? All right: there were two in every company.


"Did you say Linus?"


"Yeah, Jamie Linus," Audrey the Receptionist replied. "Don't call him Jamie because nobody will know who you're talking about, including him. He started here a few months ago . . . He's an accounting stud with the eyes of Marlon Brando and the freckles of Howdy Doody. Somehow he makes it work."


"Marlon Brando, now there's a true Hollywood god. In my day-"


"Shut up, Coot. Gerry, don't pay any attention to his feeble mutterings."


"All right," he replied cautiously. A transplant from New York, he'd assumed midwesterners would be a little more bland.


Just then the front door opened and two more young people came in. The man had the most startling large brown eyes Gerry had ever seen, eyes that went oddly with (the receptionist had nailed it) the Howdy Doody freckles.


But it was the woman who caught most of his attention, and not just because she was a striking, slender brunette with a pretty mouth and lovely pale skin. She looked as though she'd been in an accident-torn panty hose, smudged skirt and blouse, hair straggling out of its ponytail.


"Hey," the coot and the receptionist said in perfect, unsurprised unison.


The woman greeted them with, "Sorry. Nasty one on the way in-the cops were waiting for the firemen to grab the jaws of life. But it wasn't as bad as they thought. They were able to get the door off after all, jaw-less. You must be Gerry." She held out a small, dirty hand for him to shake.


"Yes, my God, are you all right?"


"Hailey likes to work out in garages, not gyms," Audrey the Receptionist explained as if that made sense to a normal person. "She feels that if you don't leave with oil in your hair and a torn shirt, you didn't do it right."


"I've got to stop commuting with you," the freckled man groaned. "You've made me late three times this week. And it's Tuesday."


"Gerry, I'll just clean up and we can get to it," Hailey said, unperturbed by the comments. She was a lovely woman, glowing and proud even in her dishevelment. "You're going to like it here."


"I'm sure I will." All right, there are three in every company . . . no, four . . . Still, they seem like fun. Not much point going in to work if you don't like the people you work with. Nice kids, for sure.


"We all love it," she explained. "A lot of companies say they are, but they aren't, not really. But Ramouette is." The woman seemed to almost glow with contentment and joy. "We're a family."


Undead and Underwater


PROLOGUE


She clawed for her cell phone, fumbled, dropped it, caught it with the tips of her fingers and then dropped it again. She fell to her knees on the concrete and scrabbled for it as scalding tears burned her cheeks. Thank God it hadn't been in her purse. Thank God she'd kept it in her jacket pocket because her clutch was too small, thank God, thank God.


After a thousand years of groping for it in the far-from-perfect glow of street lights, she had it, and thumbed familiar buttons.


"Mama?" she asked as the voice she loved answered her call, as she always, always did. And part of her was comforted, and part of her was rueful: I'm in my early twenties, for God's sake, and, like, crying for my mommy? Laaaaame. "Mama, I'm in such bad trouble. They're tried to kill me and they couldn't; they're gonna kill her and get back to me. And it's exactly what I deserve. She'll be dead because of me. And then I'll be dead because of me. I don't think you can fix it."


Her mother wasted no time. She soothed, she directed, she promised to fix it. All her daughter had to do was sit tight.


Soothed, Madison was surprised to see she was still on the concrete, her stockings in shreds around her knees and the darkened New England Aquarium looming behind her. Boston wasn't ever especially quiet, but at two A.M. on a Monday it was close.


She climbed to her feet, still looking at the building. Looming. Why did I think that? I work there, I always wanted to work there. Better, she used to work there, and prob'ly will again. It was my favorite place in the world when I was ten and it is today and it's not looming, it's . . . it's just there.


The building hadn't changed. She had changed. Always wanting more and never satisfied, the Fehr family motto. She promised herself, as she had many times, that This Time It Would Be Different.






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