It all began at the Christmas party. It was a Friday evening in mid December. Nothing
flash. They held it in the bank each year. We simply stayed on when we would normally
have all been on the tube, hurtling back to our overpriced flats and apartments. The bank
would not pay for real catering but did pay for take away from a nearby restaurant. It was
a paper plates and bring your own bevvy type affair.
I saw Max, our group leader, tuck some dosh in the pockets of a couple of the junior
traders. Watching Max was one of my favourite pastimes. I guessed he was sending them
round to the offy down the street. My hunch was confirmed when they quickly returned
with several bottles.
After everyone had a drink in their hand, Max disappeared for a bit. He returned bearing
a black bin bag, slung over his back like Santa. "Ho, ho, ho," he boomed, waggling his
brows. He reached inside and withdrew a series of brightly coloured tubes. The staff
looked at one another uncertainly. Lawton Brothers allowed the group leaders to give
away bonus packets to their own group members. It was what assured everyone's
attendance at the holiday party. We were expecting plain white envelopes, not gaudy
Christmas crackers. We stood holding our crackers like so many turds.
"Well go on then, open them up," said Max, sounding slightly exasperated.
Ed bravely popped his open while the rest of us stood about like a sober crowd at a
karaoke night. He waved the rolled envelope for all to see, like a starter's flag, and then it
was on. The crackers detonated like a wave of gunfire across the office, accompanied by
shrieks and laughter as traders helped each other open the prizes.
Besides the bonus, the crackers contained the obligatory silly hats, trinkets and jokes.
Max made slow progress across the floor as he paused to watch, seeming to enjoy the
reactions. He came toward me finally, holding the last cracker. Cynthia
was written on
the nametag. I reached to take it from him but he retained his grip on one end.
"Allow me," he said, and gave a tug. The snapper went off with a loud bang
in my hand
and I chirped in reflex. Max chuckled and retrieved the hot pink foil hat that had fallen to
the floor. He placed it on my head, gently tucking the elastic under my chin. "There,
that's better. Now you look like you're having fun," said Max, his amazing aqua eyes
He turned to address the gathering. "You've all worked very hard this year, lab rats. Eat,
drink and be merry tonight for Monday morning you will return to - " he raised his hand
like a chorus director.
"Make lots of money!" sang the group as one.
I tucked my packet away inside my bag and went to mingle with my fellow rats, over by
the food. "The boss really enjoyed his little show with that bag, what?" said Kenny, not
bothering to hide his disdain.
"I'll take yours if you don't want it," I offered.
"Over my dead body. I just think the geezer's going a bit soft, is all." he said.
"You'd still blow him if he asked and you know it," I said.
"Why would he ask me when he's got you?" he shot back. "A leader should lead, that's
all I'm saying."
"Profound!" I murmured into my plastic cup.
"Party favours!" he snorted. "I bet old man Lawton never gave out Christmas crackers
when he was team leader."
"I bet that cheap old bastard kept all the bonuses for himself," I said.
"Who knows," Kenny grumbled. "I wonder if Skinner ever fetched curry for the old
"Oh Kenny," I sighed and rolled my eyes. "You didn't really, did you? How can you
expect Max to respect you if you keep licking at his balls like that?"
Kenny changed the subject. "So where you going on hols, Cyn?"
"I haven't decided yet. Someplace sunny," I replied.
"Going with Rob again? Has he dislodged his ball and chain?" he asked.
"No, he's still seeing her. In fact, I went shopping with her last Saturday. She bought a
new bikini because they are off to Fiji," I said with delight. My brother Rob, who
worked at a rival firm, was dating Kenny's former girl friend.
"Spiffing for them! So are you going solo or have you got some new man you've not told
us about?" he asked.
"I'm going with Jane." Jane was my best girl friend.
"Aw, poor old Cyn. I'd give my mates the flick if you'd like to have a dirty weekend?" he
said and drained his cup.
"Bring me another?" I asked, ignoring his offer.
"What am I? The dog's body?" he asked, but took my cup.
"Yes," I answered his back. An eavesdropping, spotty-faced junior trader snorted in
amusement. I looked at him. He gawked back. I turned away quickly before he could
work up the nerve to speak.
"Where you going on hols?" I imitated, under my breath. Why don't you pull that plumb
out of your mouth, you mincing little Hooray Henry,
I thought. Another dreary Christmas
party and here I was, as usual, fending off advances from old codgers and wankers like
Kenny. I looked toward the bar in hopes of that drink but he was engaged in
conversation with the other traders. I surveyed the lot. We might as well have gone down
to the pub. It was the same scene - the women, what few of us there were, swapping
meaningless flattery while the men swapped insults. Most of them could
have been my
younger brother, if my brother was a wanker, which he most certainly was not.
I thought about fetching my own drink but decided not to risk a conversation with any of
them. I fumbled in my bag for a cig. "Shite!" I hissed on remembering I'd quit again.
"What's yours?" asked a richly timbered voice. I turned round to find Max standing
"Vodka tonic," I said, as he held out the correctly anticipated drink.
I took it. "Thanks," I said. "Got a fag?" My knees began to go wobbly as usual. Max had
that effect on me. I suspected he had that effect on a good many women. I was grateful
for the vodka already percolating in my bloodstream. Stupid girl,
I chided myself. It was
so childish, to fancy one's boss this way.
He reached inside his jacket and, retrieving a full fag packet, offered one to me. I took it
but when he offered no light, I reached for my own. Max looked skyward. "You'll set off
the sprinklers you know."
"Right! Sorry!" I laughed nervously and snuffed it out. "You'd think I'd remember. Ha
ha. I'll pop down to the street and be back in a jiff," I said, feeling like a right fool. Why
not simply swoon at his feet?
"Let's go up," he said, pointing toward the ceiling. I grabbed my bag and followed him
curiously. I looked out across the party as we got into the lift. There was Kenny looking
lost, vodka tonic in hand. Then the doors slid shut and we were riding up.
"You have a smoking room up here?" I asked as the doors slid open on the top floor.
"Of sorts," he said. "It serves." I followed him to the opposite end of the large atrium
that filled the center of the floor. He opened a door - nearly seamless within the glass
wall - and we stepped through.
"I never noticed that!" I said.
He lit two fags, his hand brushing mine as he cupped it around the flame. Twin white
trails spiraled toward the night sky, open above. I stood looking at him stupidly, thinking
once more that he must have a wonderful tailor for his sleek Seville Row suit to
accommodate his broad shoulders so handsomely.
"Have you been up here before?" he asked.
"Only when I hired on," I said. I could see straight through the glass walls to the
boardroom. The long table and high backed chairs were visible within. The partners'
offices lay behind us. Traders entered here for purposes of hiring and firing only.
"You can't see the door from the lower floors, just the plants," he said, exhaling a blue
cloud that drifted heavenward. I shivered.
"It's a lovely blouse for a party, but perhaps a bit thin for evening atrium lurking," he
observed as he removed his jacket and placed it around my shoulders.
"Ooh, gallantry," I cooed. The warmth of him clung to the jacket, transferring to me in a
most intoxicating way. I stood there smoking with the man who had replaced Robbie
Williams in my sexual fantasies, wondering what in hell to say. Max simply did not
fraternise with staff like this and I was nonplussed. He sat down on one end of a small
bench and looked at me expectantly until I sat down on the other end. He lit two more
"I overheard you talking to Kenny," he said at last. "You're going away for Christmas?"
"Yes. To Naples. Or maybe Athens. I haven't decided. Some place where it never gets
foggy." I caught myself about to run on. I tended to chatter nervously around Max.
"So you've not bought the tickets then?" He frowned thoughtfully.
"No. Why?" I asked.
The impressive shoulders gave a slight shrug of indifference but I thought I discerned
some concern. "What is it?" I pressed.
"There is something coming up. It may not be a good time to go away," he said
Excitement stirred in my belly. To hell with Naples!
There were two things I longed for -
a promotion and Max's attention.
"You've been here - what? Two years?" he asked.
"Nearly three," I replied.
Max nodded. "In that time, how many holidays do you recall me taking?"
Max did not take holidays, not even the ones everyone else took. "None. You take
business trips. You've been across the pond twice a year, and once each to Rome and
Hamburg this year. You're gone just long enough to attend meetings, turn round and hop
a flight back to Blighty," I recited from memory.
One corner of his mouth turned up. "You watch."
"I want to learn from you," I said, perhaps a tad too earnestly.
The smile winked out. "You should leave the ass kissing to Kenny."
I was vaguely insulted, although not altogether clear on why, through my vodka buzz.
"I'm not trying to kiss your arse," I began to protest.
"No? Hmm, pity that," murmured Max, the smile creeping back. "I think I'd enjoy it a
great deal more from you."
The party going on downstairs ceased to exist as a tiny whorl of hair on his brow claimed
my full attention. It had broken free of his carefully slicked chestnut hair, threatening to
fall into his direct, blue-green gaze. He had a chin the envy of plastic surgeons across the
city, blanketed by a neat, short beard. No one managed this look as well as Max. I
wondered how long it would be before I was a group leader, same as him, and if he
would prefer fucking me while I ascended or after I leveled the field. I became aware
that he'd resumed speaking. "… exciting things on the horizon. I wouldn't want to see
you miss your opportunity. You're my best trader. Cyn?" He peered at me.
I forced myself to concentrate. "What?"
"You know that, don't you?" he asked, squeezing my hand for emphasis.
"Oh. Right. Thanks."
If even half the rumors of his conquests, both in and outside of the office, were true, then
he had to know his power over women. I'd watched him devour an intern fresh from
university just weeks before. When he tossed her over, she was so distraught she quit and
went to another bank. I was more than a bit resentful that he had not tried to devour me.
Certainly not hard enough, not beyond these sorts of sly comments and the occasional
alarming compliment. I began to wonder just what it was that I lacked. True, there were
younger girls in the bank, but my bottom still fit trimly into my skirts. All of the single
traders, except the gay ones, and several of the married ones, had flirted with me. I'd
resisted fishing from our little pond - all so it would not get back to Max.
I was working myself into a fine snit as I studied his face, and it gave me satisfaction to
see that he had far more lines than I did. I saw his hand edge across the back of the bench
out the corner of my eye. When he caressed my shoulder I near as jumped out of my skin.
"I've got plans for you," he said.
"About bloody damn time," I blurted.
"What?" he blinked.
"I was beginning to think you were going to promote every child just out of university
ahead of me," I said.
"I've only promoted one other trader since you came on!" he protested.
"And what has he done for you lately?" I asked pointedly.
His hand stilled. No one had been more successful at bringing in the big clients this past
year than me. He nodded, considering, and then cocked his head speculatively. "You
getting ready to jump ship, Cyn? I do recall that your brother works for NatWest."
"No," I lied.
The hand was back, fingers stroking softly. "I value you. I want you to want to be here,
with me, with us," he quickly corrected. "Have you looked at your bonus yet?" he asked
"No," I said, frowning. "I was going to wait. Seems a bit tacky, peeking in front of the
boss, don't you think?" I asked.
He leaned back against the bench. "Well go on then."
My hand was already in my bag. I tore the envelope open. "Oh my God!" I exclaimed,
losing any trace of decorum. It was more than ten times what I'd expected. I wished I
could act like Rollo, my chocolate Lab, now living in Notting Hill with my parents, and
leap into his lap to cover his face with kisses.
"That's for the Yang account," he said. "You earned it."
"Yes I did!" I said triumphantly. "I made that rich old man even richer."
"And us as well," he said. The smile that had been lurking round his mouth flourished
and spread to crease the corners of his eyes. "I like it when you're aggressive," he said.
"Do you?" I felt a most pleasant tingling from the way he was looking at me.
He edged closer on the bench. "Yes. When you're like this, I find you nearly irresistible,"
he said. He leaned forward, his face inches from mine.
"Nearly?" I asked rather breathlessly.
"Would it be untoward if I gave you a Christmas kiss?" he asked.
"It's not Christmas yet," I said as I leaned in to meet him.
His mouth was warm and questioning, tentative at first, pulling gently at first one lip, and
then the other. I opened, tasting him, our tongues darting eagerly together. Too soon, I
felt him begin to pull back. My hands went to either side of his face, caressing his velvet
stubble, urging him to stay. Max gave a sound like a small growl and made good on my
invitation. His hands roamed across my back, pulling me closer. I would have let him take
me right there but he finally broke away. I had never seen him lose his cool on the floor
no matter what the numbers were doing. It was a wonderful revelation to see him look so
He loosened the knot of his tie. "If you're still in town at Christmas, we will have to do it
again. How does that sound?" he asked.
"It sounds lovely," I sighed.
He regained his composure so quickly that I wondered if the intense attraction was
perhaps one-sided after all. He stood and offered his hand, which I was glad for, as my
legs were a bit shaky. We walked to the door, he opened it and I stole a glance at his
handsome profile as I passed through. He looked like the same Max as before we'd come
upstairs, in complete control of his world. My insides gave a little flip as I wondered if
I'd just wrecked my career in one impulsive moment.
We got back on the lift and the door slid shut. He reached behind to cup my bottom in
his hand, giving me a little squeeze, and releasing it just as the doors slid back open on the
I started coming in earlier, trying to beat Max in to the office. When he arrived, I tried
not to look at him, which was very hard to do while trying to see if he was looking at me.
It was exhausting, in fact. The first week after the party went by without so much as a
wink or a nod.
"You're daft," said Jane when I cancelled my holiday plans. "What good is a bonus like
that if you never go anywhere and spend it?" she asked.
I remained steadfast. "I'll spend it in the city," I said.
She recognised the familiar stubborn tone in my voice and sighed. "Just don't get all
whingey when I come back with a tan then."
"I won't. Shag a young and randy Italian for me, will you?" I asked.
"You can always come out later if you change you mind," she suggested.
As the others began leaving on fabulous-sounding trips, I became a trifle resentful.
Perhaps Max had been having me on. On Friday morning, as I returned to my desk after
fixing my morning cuppa, I found Lee, chucking items into a box on top of his desk. Two
security guards stood by, monitoring his progress.
"What's happening?" I hissed as I passed.
"I'm leaving. Sod this for a game of soldiers," said Lee.
I looked at the impassive faces of the guards. "You quit?" I asked.
Lee did not pause nor did he meet my eyes. "More or less," he said.
I winced. "Right. Well. Best of luck," I said and left him with the guards, who soon
escorted him from the bank. There was a lull in the normal drone of voices as he left, as
the drama had not escaped anyone's attention. Within minutes, however, the volume
increased as gossip began. I risked a look up at the next level. Max was there, wearing a
grave expression as he monitored our movements below. I knew from experience that
Lee's departure would remain a prime speculative topic, for weeks. First, the partners
would issue some statement that would fail to provide any real clues. Soon, the rumours
would be sorted and ranked, from least to most likely.
I, however, was not interested in gossip. I was interested in opportunity. With difficulty,
I waited until lunchtime.
I felt like I'd swallowed some ghastly chemical that was dissolving my insides as I took
the lift to the executive offices. Part of me was appalled at the short shrift given Lee, not
because I had liked or admired him but because I knew that any one of us could fail to
please the banking lords. I got off the lift, walked to the rail and scanned the floor below.
It was like working in a giant aquarium - impossible to do or say most anything without
everyone in on it. My coworkers seemed absorbed for the moment by the endless crawl of
figures across their monitors, hands reaching into brown bags or takeaway cartons, bodies
sitting contorted, turned half way away so as not to spill anything on the keyboards. The
bond trader's lunch.
Another, more dominant, part of me was doing handsprings at the thought that maybe
this was the opportunity Max had mentioned. I paused at the top of the landing and
surreptitiously watched as he sat on a bright orange sofa, reading the business section of
the Times. He would not take time for a real lunch either, but distinguished himself from
the minions by refusing to eat at his desk. It wasn't a real desk anyway, not like those in
the tiered rows at which we toiled. It was a heavy glass table, always fingerprint free, no
doubt selected to coordinate with the heavy glass walls. His laptop sat upon it, snapped
shut, underlining that he really was on break.
I knew he was waiting on his takeaway delivery because he kept glancing impatiently
toward the door. I hesitated, having second thoughts about approaching the bear at
feeding time. Too late - he turned slightly farther and caught me hovering. His brows
arched in question.
I took a deep breath and pushed through the door. "Max, have you got a moment?"
He waved me to the seat across from him. I felt his eyes on my knees as soon as I sat
down. It was reflexive with Max. I'd have been more concerned if he hadn't looked.
"I don't suppose you have my lunch?" he asked.
"No. Sorry. I've some crackers in my desk if you'd like," I offered.
He scowled at his watch. "What is taking so bloody long? I've a meeting at one," he
paused, consternation creasing his brow. "Yesterday I was kept waiting until twelve
thirty!" He jabbed a finger my direction. "You could get it to me on time, couldn't you?
Lucky for you, I need you on that floor, or I'd be sending you after my lunch."
"Perhaps you could've sent Lee," I suggested.
He wagged the same finger. "Never you mind about that." His paternal smile, meant to
reassure, was at disquieting contrast with his hungry eyes. It appeared that my legs would
make an acceptable substitute for his lunch. "Don't you think that's a very short skirt for
the office?" he asked.
"It's not any shorter than the other girls'," I argued.
"Perhaps it's the little split up the side there," he said, gesturing, his finger coming
precariously close to said split.
"I won't wear it if you don't like it," I said.
"I'd like you to wear it every day," he said with a gleam in his eye.
"That's not what I wanted to talk to you about," I said, trying to get back on topic.
He spotted the delivery girl hurrying our way. He stood, folded his paper and tucked it
beneath one arm as he went to meet her at the door. An ample girl, she was a bit red in
the face from the run, but his eyes never traveled that high. "Here you go," he said to her
bosom, straining at its buttons. He gave her a couple of notes for a tip and waited,
watching her equally curvy bottom retreat down the staircase. He took the carton out of
the bag, broke open the chopsticks, and balanced it on his knees
"Would you like any?" he offered me the additional set of chopsticks. "Best in the city."
"Um, no, thanks," I said.
He assessed me. "You look like you've lost close to a stone? Are you feeling well?"
"Yes, I'm feeling fine. Thanks for asking, but - "
"Don't get too thin. It doesn't suit you," he admonished. "What is it? Some new diet? A
That surprised me. Max never showed the slightest interest in any of our personal lives. I
tried to play it off lightly. "Must I call human resources? I believe that the policies and
procedures handbook says it is inappropriate to comment on an employee's weight or
inquire about her dating status," I said.
"I bet it also says it's a no-no to kiss her," he said.
I felt the blush rise up my neck, into my face. "Look. I didn't come up here to flirt with
"No? That's a pity, I was hoping you had," he said before shoveling a forkful of sticky
rice into his mouth.
"I'm here to ask if you'd consider letting me take over Lee's clients," I blurted.
His brows beetled over his long, classic nose. "Why would I do that?" he asked. "Didn't
I tell you that you're my best trader? You know, right before the snogging." He peered at
me closely. "Is that what this is about? You want kudos? What? Another bonus?"
"No. I'm ... well, I'm tired of being on the floor. You know how it is - all the crazy
energy it takes - and then I've got nothing left at the end of the day to show for it save
an outrageously overpriced apartment that I don't even like ..." I trailed off.
He leaned toward me a bit, as though about to share a confidence. "I didn't realise your
dotage was approaching so fast. You're not getting all broody on us are you, Cyn?
Hearing the clock tick echo off the walls of your ... ?"
"Stop!" I held up my hand. I didn't want either of us pondering that image, nor did I
want Max getting nervous. He wouldn't hesitate to jettison me first if he thought I was
preparing to jump. I wanted to tell him to piss off, but settled for, "No. Not that it's any
of your business, but I have no maternal stirrings whatsoever. It's just that my once bright
and shiny excitement has dulled considerably after nearly three years on the floor."
"Has it really been that long?" he asked, fishing about in the carton.
"Yes!" I said, feeling my exasperation rise. "I am ready, Max. I want something more
"What could possibly be more challenging than the floor?" he scoffed.
"I want to woo clients. I want to manage their assets," I asserted.
He waved an impatient chopstick. "You do. You help create a market climate that in turn
makes money for our clients. If that is not asset management, than I do not know what
"I want more personal contact," I said.
He paused, chopsticks poised. "You want to personally service the rich and powerful, is
that it?" he asked, as he sank casually back into the sofa, his knees splaying further apart.
It was all I could do not to look. If any other man at work dared talk to me this way, I
would have cut him off and made him feel a right fool. With Max, it never seemed
harmful, but more like a play. Damn those hooded eyes and boyish smile,
I thought. It
never got me anywhere, talking to him like this. I would prepare my case carefully, but
right as I was pressing him for an answer, he would derail me with one of his wicked
double entendres, and then scoot off to a too convenient meeting.
"Yes," I said, sitting up straighter. "I fantasise about meeting with my
them tea on my own white leather sofa. None of this garish orange stuff," I waved at the
sectional we sat upon with disdain.
He set his carton aside. He slapped one strong hand on his thigh and for a moment, I
thought he was inviting me to climb on. "Do you recall our conversation the night of the
Christmas party?" he asked. I nodded. How could I forget it? "Lee didn't quit. I gave
him the sack. You were right. I should have promoted you first." He waited a moment for
me to absorb this. "How does it feel to know you're responsible for the loss of a man's
job?" he asked.
"I can live with it," I replied.
He stood and walked to the front of the office, looking down on the trading floor below.
I couldn't help but admire the interplay of muscles spanning his broad back as he folded
his arms across his chest. He turned slowly and peered at me over the top of his glasses.
"Are you after my job, Cyn?" he accused.
"Of course not!" I said.
"Lawton Brothers does not need two of me," he reasoned.
"How do you make that leap in logic? Just because I want to take on Lee's clients?" I
asked. "Really, Max, I didn't peg you for a paranoid."
"Now I know
you're after my job! If you think I reached this position by trusting in the
goodwill of my fellows then you've learned nothing about me or this business," he said.
"All right," I conceded. "Maybe I do fancy your job. But you have to admit that having a
well trained replacement - one you could trust absolutely - would make it harder for Sir
Nigel to deny you partner."
"I knew it," he said. He wagged his finger at me but smiled indulgently. "I admire your
nerve but you're too honest by half. Never let them see you coming," he said as he came
back toward me.
I pressed on. "I know Lee primarily handled anonymous execution and that would be
fine for starters but - "
"But you want more," Max finished, sitting down opposite me once more.
"You could assign me clients as you determined I was ready for them," I offered.
"Oh I could, could I?" He arched a brow.
"It would free you up to focus on the really big fish. Toss me the minnows," I suggested.
"What are you? Some sort of asset manager seal?" he quipped.
"That would make you the walrus," I said, encouraged when he chuckled. "Our client
roster has doubled since you took over. You can't possibly maintain the same high
standard of service and success that those clients have come to expect all by yourself."
He shook his head. "Your talents are wasted here. You were definitely made for bigger
things," he said. Excitement spread through me at his words. His mouth crooked. "I
suppose I could give you Lee's accounts," he teased.
"Oh Max! You planned to do it, didn't you?" I asked excitedly. I started to bounce on
the sofa, and then quickly sat on my hands to keep from clapping them together.
"It would mean working together very … intimately," he said, edging so close that our
knees pressed together. "I think I'd best keep a close eye on you," he said, his voice
slipping between inviting purr and warning growl. "How does that sound?" he asked.
"It sounds lovely," I replied rapturously.
Max gave my knee a little squeeze. "Yes, well, I'll bring it up at the board meeting next
week. Can't make it official before then, but it really is my call," he said with that note of
authority I found so irresistible.
"That's fantastic!" I cried but seeing the alarm in his eyes, I refrained from throwing my
arms about him. "Thanks ever so, Max, you won't regret it," I said, belatedly matching his
restraint. I stood and stuck out my hand. He looked at it, then at me, and for a second I
thought he was going to laugh. Instead, he shook it solemnly. I felt the need to run a
hand over my hair and smooth my skirt, even though he had only fondled me with his
"Oh - one more thing, Cyn," he added. "You didn't ask but there are a few minor perks.
Lee had a parking space,"
"I don't own a car," I said.
"You might soon," he continued, "and a passkey to the executive gym." He handed me a
plastic card. It looked just like a hotel room key.
"We have a gym?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes, well. It's not very grand," he said, waving a dismissive hand.
"Does anyone ever use it?" I asked. It was hard to imagine any of the saggy bodied,
pasty-faced managers working out.
Max frowned. "Well, not much. I run, you know, and if I want to swim or play tennis, I
go to my club."
My brows edged higher. "Are you having me on?"
He hesitated. "Right. So I go there to drink and smoke cigars, but I do run most
"Good for you then," I smirked, wondering why he was so keen for me to know that he
"It's on the other end of the atrium. You can find me there some afternoons - after
"Right," I said.
"There is a sauna. It might be a good place to talk over portfolios," he suggested, looking
at me as though I were a sweet in a pastry shop window.
"In the sauna," I repeated as my mouth went dry.
"Or on the treadmill or something," he finished quickly. I swallowed, suddenly nervous,
the smile sliding from my face. His expression faltered. "Or not, that's perfectly alright
too," he said, and flipped open his laptop.
Still staring at Max, I did not see Gemma approach until she breezed past me.
"Hello Cynthia," she said, giving us both a curious glance.
"Where've you been?" asked Max, his business voice back.
"Hello Gemma," I said, beating a hasty retreat.
Max appeared to be entirely absorbed in watching his laptop reboot as I left but I was
certain his eyes followed me back down the staircase.
True to his word, Max made the announcement at our group meeting the following week.
I was to be a junior manager and would be building a client roster. I had not made close
friends with any of the other traders so it held little consequence when they all smiled,
shook my hand, and threw daggers at me with their eyes.
I didn't have my own office yet, but I spent almost as much time in his as on the floor.
As he had predicted, we worked together very closely, and what began as accidental
contact - a chance brush of bodies or touch of hands - became something we both
seemed to engender with increasing frequency. Within a few weeks, the longing had
become almost unbearable and terribly distracting. I found myself calling clients by the
wrong name and making ridiculous mistakes in simple calculations. I began to wonder if
perhaps this arrangement had been a large mistake.
Two days before Christmas, I was in Max's office early, trying to concentrate on the
spreadsheet spread across his desk rather than the clean soap and water smell of his neck.
No sooner had the market opened when a commotion broke out on the floor. The Bank of
England had gone and raised interest rates by a half a point. It was completely
unexpected. Prices went into free fall. I quickly returned to my old post, clutching a
phone in one hand and wildly gesturing with the other. I was hoarse by lunch. Max
remained on the floor with us as everything we'd schemed and maneuvered to achieve in
the past year literally vaporised before our eyes.
Close to lunch, the market leveled out, but the move staggered the bond community. Just
as we began to catch our breath, I noticed the partners marching up to the conference
room. It was very rare for them to all show up at once, and never a good thing. Max was
called up and I couldn't help thinking it was like watching a man go off to the gallows. I
knew he'd been holding on by his fingernails all morning. I kept an eye on his office, but
close to closing time, he still had not reappeared.
"I'm glad I cashed that bonus check," said Kenny as he zipped his brief case shut.
"Oh shut up," I said crossly. I could stand it no longer and took the lift up.
"I don't know where he is," said Gemma when I plied her for information. I turned to go.
"He was very wrought up after the meeting today. He keeps complaining of headaches. I
would feel badly for him if he was not being such a pain in the ass," she added. A model
of discretion, it was unlike Gemma to comment on Max at all.
I stopped and turned back. "If I had to answer to the board after this morning, I'm certain
I'd have a migraine as well." I said.
"He has been unusually cross for some time now, not just today. It is as if something is
needling him," she said, her luminous eyes trained on me.
"I'm sure I have no idea what it would be," I said, feeling oddly as if she was accusing
me of something.
She shrugged. "I don't know either. I thought perhaps you might, since you two spend so
much time together now."
I pretended not to catch her meaning. "No," I lied as I left. "I hadn't noticed." Of course,
I'd noticed. He'd had moments of real peevishness lately, very unlike Max.
I got back in the lift with the intent of returning to my desk to collect my things and
leave. My hand hovered over the second floor button, but then I pushed the button for
the top floor. I got out and walked toward the far end of the atrium, my heels clacking on
the stone floor. I slipped the passkey into the slot. The green light winked on and the
door clicked open as I pressed the handle down.
Max was on one of the treadmills and looked up as I came in. His running shorts and t-
shirt clung to his sweat soaked body, giving evidence that he did indeed work out. "It
was a bad day to miss my morning run," he said with a weak attempt at a smile. He
pulled a towel from the control panel and wiped his face. "Did you want to talk about
something?" he asked.
"Nothing that can't wait until next week," I said, feeling awkward about interrupting
him. I started to back up.
He frowned. "I said you had access to me at any time and that is what I meant. We don't
stay on top of things by putting them off until tomorrow." He nodded at the machine
next to him. "You run?" he asked.
"Sometimes. When the weather is good," I hedged.
"You have clothes here?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. I'd begun using the tiny gym as soon as he had given me the key. The
undisturbed weights and machines led me to feel as though the janitor and I were the
only ones to visit.
"Good. Go change and come back. I just started," he said.
I did as he commanded, quickly swapping out my business suit for shorts and a t-shirt. I
returned to the treadmill, poked at the buttons, began walking, and slowly increased the
pace until I was jogging alongside him. Although my real motive had been to check on
him, I came up with something to talk about - an older client who had previously been
managed by Max for several years. "I don't think he was happy with the change," I said.
"I don't know if it's because I'm a woman or if there's something I could do to put him
more at ease - " I said.
Max interrupted. "Everything changes. He'll be fine." He glanced at me. "The meeting
today," he shook his head. "No one saw the hike coming. But - " he shrugged.
"Do they really expect you to predict such things?" I asked.
"Somehow I'm supposed to be omniscient," he said, sounding tired.
"That is absurd," I scoffed sympathetically. "Every one got hammered, evenly, across the
board. Surely they can see that?"
"No one was expecting it, it's true. We saw some big moves at the short-end of the
curve," he said. I knew that translated into major profit loss. We continued to pound the
machines and I tried to cheer him. "There's apparent stability in short-sterling prices.
That's hopeful at least."
"Yes," he conceded, "that is hopeful. Perhaps the Bank won't raise further - at least not
straight away." He punched at his buttons and the belt began to slow. "If they do, you
might be taking my spot even sooner than you'd hoped."
I slowed my machine as well. "I hope you're kidding. I'm not ready for that - not by a
long shot." We both stepped off. He placed a towel around his neck and handed one to
me. He was wringing wet. "Besides which, I'm very much enjoying being your
apprentice," I said.
He drained his water bottle. "Is that what you are?" he asked. He rubbed the towel
briskly over his head, making his hair stand out like an angry porcupine.
"That's the first time I've seen you smile all day," I said. "You shouldn't miss morning
runs. The endorphins seem to do you good."
"I don't think it was the run so much as the company," he said. I was a bit nervous as I
walked past him into the changing room. I had had my share of suitors, some of them
quite handsome and clever, but Max had a reputation for being with a different drop
dead gorgeous woman every month.
His suit, shirt and tie were hanging neatly on a butler near the shower. He took another
towel off the stack. "Would you like to go first?" he asked politely.
"Well, there are two stalls," I observed.
His lids lowered to half-mast over smoldering eyes. "I assumed you would want some
"Then you might be surprised," I said.
"Would you prefer to join me?" he asked. In one more step, his hand was resting on my
"Was that one kiss at the Christmas party an adequate prelude to a shared shower?" I
"How about two kisses?" He said as his head bent toward mine. My arms were about his
neck, pulling him down and holding him fast before I even paused to think.
I've heard that when people drown, there is a sort of euphoria that comes just before they
give over to death. That is what kissing Max was like. It makes me a little sad to think it
now, but I doubt I ever find anyone who compares with him as a kisser.
It was such a thrill working with him. He had incredible nerve. He was willing to take
risks that made my pulse race. The figures seemingly rose and fell on his whim. That was
power, and it was an intoxicating aphrodisiac. I was primed and ready to fire before he
even pulled my trigger. No doubt encouraged by my moaning and grinding against him,
he moved quickly past groping my breasts to squeezing my bottom to slipping his fingers
inside my panties.
"My God you're wet," he murmured against my mouth. One, then two fingers probed
inside, making me gasp. They slid out to tickle my slippery nub, before plunging back into
my folds. My legs began to tremble. He lowered me carefully to the bench for support, as
he continued to stroke me without pause. He was murmuring things in my ear and I was
having trouble making sense of his words. I felt his other hand, large and warm, pressing
me back and down, until I lay straddling the bench, his hand pumping rhythmically
between my legs. I wondered when he had slipped my shirt off as he thrust two fingers
deep inside and resumed our kiss. He held me like that, one hand beneath my back, the
other buried in my pussy, getting me drunk on his kisses, until I climaxed harder than I'd
ever in life.
Max's head jerked up. He pulled the hand from beneath my back and put it to his mouth.
He looked at me in surprise. "Did you just bite me?" he asked.
"I don't know," I panted. There was a hot metallic taste on my tongue.
He looked at the back of his hand. "You did! Bloody hell," he murmured.
"Sorry! Sorry!" I sat up quickly only to find his other hand still planted between my legs.
"I knew you'd be a tigress," he said admiringly.
I was relieved he was not angry. I tried to catch my breath. First, the impromptu run,
followed by an equally spontaneous finger fucking, left my mind reeling and my heart
hammering. "No, really, I'm not," I protested.
"Bollocks." He kicked his shoes aside and whipped off his shirt and shorts.
"Dear Lord," I prayed, looking him over. He was the most gorgeous man I'd ever laid
eyes on, exactly as I'd imagined him. His was not a gym-sculpted body, but masculine
and very strong nonetheless, as if he didn't really have to work at it.
"How many times can you do that, hmm?" he asked intently. "Come on then, let's find
out. Get those off," he ordered, helping divest me of my bra and shorts. "Are you on the
pill or something?" he asked.
"I have the ring."
"Is it in?" he asked. I nodded affirmatively. "God, how I've wanted you, Cyn," he
He half led, half dragged me to the shower stall. He didn't even wait for the water to
warm up before shoving me inside. I squeaked at the cold water and he quickly stepped
in behind me, taking the spray on his back. He squeezed his eyes shut tight and grit his
I smirked. "That's likely to slow you down a bit."
"Oh you think that's funny do you? I thought gallantry impressed you," he said.
I could tell the water was getting warmer because he relaxed his grip on me and reached
for the soap. We took turns lathering each other, quickly becoming well acquainted. By
the time we rinsed away the last of the soap, I had traced every major muscle group in his
body and he had caressed every curve of mine. He turned the water off. The thick fog of
steam added to the illusion of safe seclusion from the rest of the world.
"Cynthia?" he asked.
"Yes?" I asked, tipping my face up, hoping he was about to kiss me again.
"We're on very treacherous ground here. You do understand that?" I knew he was right.
Passionate kisses after too much vodka at the Christmas party were one thing; shagging
your boss in the executive gym was quite another. "The partners would not approve. If
they find out, it could result in disciplinary action for both of us."
"What if I enjoy disciplinary action?" I stood on tiptoe and put my hand at the back of
his neck, capturing his lower lip between my teeth.
"You need it," he purred. "Because you
, are a very naughty
girl," he said, mashing me to
him. His erection dug into my belly.
"Do you have a johnny?" I asked.
"Bloody hell! Too right - hang on," he said and disappeared out the shower. In less than
a minute he was back with a mischievous grin and a small round disc.
"Let me," I cooed and took it from him. I drew it down slowly over his member, savoring
the heft of him in my hand.
He wrapped his arms tight about my middle and hoisted me up, my back against the
shower wall. My legs clutched about his hips as he impaled me in one breathtaking lunge.
I held on for dear life as he began to stroke upward. My head knocked on the unyielding
tile. He had a bit of trouble gaining traction. Everything was very wet and slippery -
especially me. He readjusted his grip on my bottom, fingers digging into my flesh, his
strong legs working to hold us both up. At first, I tried to assist, but my efforts were
clearly useless. I gave up and let him take over.
I had seen Max raid and plunder the market, to both his and the stockholders glorious gain.
Other brokers could conduct such deals with a bloodless efficiency, but not Max. I'd
seen him crack a fat. I had secretly hoped that he would bring the same lust and zeal to
his personal relations, and I was not disappointed.
He was breathing hard, grunting softly with each thrust, driving up into my depths like a
human jackhammer. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling his head forward,
seeking his mouth with mine. The raw brute force was such a massive turn on that I was
only dimly aware of the pain inflicted on my back. He increased his pace, his wet body
smacking so forcefully against mine that it pushed the air from my lungs. I locked my
heels around his bum as the pleasure turned to a white-hot intensity at my core. My
muscles contracted in contained fury. I thought I would scream, waiting for the release.
For all I know, I did
scream. And then I popped like one of the party crackers, beginning
from where we joined and rocketing up through my head, flying apart in complete and
He must have carried me from the shower, because the next thing I remember, he was
gently settling me on the dressing room bench once more. I slowly opened my eyes,
embarrassed that I'd faded out like that. "That was amazing," I breathed. In truth, it was
bloody terrifying - glorious and completely overwhelming.
He smiled a little nervously. "You okay?" He watched me uncertainly.
"Yes," I said, sitting up slowly. "Ow!" I exclaimed, reaching around to feel my back.
Concern crossed his face and he came round behind me for a closer inspection, pressing
his thumb along my spine. I flinched away. I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around my
naked form. "I won't try to sue you for sexual harassment, but I might have to claim
injury compensation," I said, trying, and failing, for a joke to lighten the air, heavy with
steam and potential recriminations.
His nervous smile returned. "Let me take you to dinner. I know I'm
hungry after that.
You like Japanese?"
"I love sushi," I said.
I stood in front of the dressing room mirror, touching up my make-up, aware of him
moving about as he dressed. My lips were swollen and he'd left love bites on my
shoulders. I'd never seen myself look quite so ravished. It was startling but I liked it. I
tugged the collar of my white blouse up higher around my neck. My long copper hair was
in disarray from where he'd run his hands through it. I brushed it back away from my
face and coiled it at my nape, fastening it with a clip. When I finished, the familiar,
poised professional gazed back calmly.
"All set?" asked Max when I emerged. We went down to the lobby and he asked the
door attendant to hail us a cab. I knew he had a car and driver at his disposal, but I also
knew that he would want to be as discreet as possible. "The Metropolitan on Old Park
Lane," he told the cabbie.
"Nobu?" I asked.
"Have you been there?" he asked.
"Only once, for a hen party." It was somewhat pricier than my usual haunts and almost
impossible to get in on a Friday night.
The host greeted him with a bow. "Mr Skinner, if you would care for a drink in the bar?
We should have something for you within a few minutes."
Max looked toward the bar, buzzing with people and conversation. "Thank you, but I
think we will wait out on the patio," he said and passed a folded note to the host, who
bowed once more. Max took a fag out and offered one to me, but I declined.
"I'm trying to quit again," I said.
He put the fag back and tucked the packet away inside his jacket. "Right," he smiled.
I thought I knew why he wanted to avoid the bar and it had nothing to do with smoking.
While lunch together would not likely arouse comment, dinner at one of the city's most
romantic restaurants was another matter. His choice was a bit of a puzzle. We stood
gazing out over Hyde Park in silence. I exhaled and my breath showed white. "It's cold
out here. We should have waited in the bar," he said at last, a note of apology in his
"It's all right," I said. "We could go someplace less high profile if you'd like?"
Max looked at me oddly. "I'm not hiding. I'm just not in the mood to talk to any of those
wankers in there tonight. Besides, the food is better here."
The host reappeared shortly as promised. "Right this way, Mr. Skinner."
The dining room was one of the loveliest in the city. The little lamps on every table made
the room fairly glow, like a pearl in the night. We were seated at a table along the outer
edge, with a view over the park. The waiter brought sake. "Do you like everything?" Max
asked and as I did, he ordered for us both.
"So tell me all about Cyn," he asked.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "It occurred to me, après our earlier intimacy, that I
don't really know anything about you."
"Don't be daft. I've worked on your team all this time," I replied.
"I know that you have a brother. How is it that you and he went into the same field? I
mean, do you come from a long line of bankers? Or what?"
I laughed. "No. My father works for the government and mum is, well, mum. She stayed
home to be with us. It's funny because they're traditionalists, very conservative. Yet they
encouraged me to think progressively - go to school and have a career."
"Well. Banking is not the most progressive of occupations," he observed.
"True," I agreed. I told him more about my family, the dogs and my younger brother.
"Rob and I have always been very close. We're only a year and a half apart you know,
one year in school. We were either competing with one another or holding off the world
together," I said.
"That must be wonderful," he said, seeming quite sincere.
"Yes. I don't see as much of him since he became engaged. She is really a lovely girl. I try
not to feel jealous about it, but sometimes I do. I suppose that makes me a terribly selfish
person?" I mused.
"Oh I don't know. It sounds like you cherish your relationship with him. I don't know
what that's like," he said.
"You don't keep close ties to your family then?" I asked.
"I don't have many happy memories of my parents and they're both dead now. I don't
have any siblings and I've never owned a pet. Here," he said, abruptly changing the
subject. He plucked a small orange flower of sashimi from the black lacquer box with his
chopsticks and set it on my plate, "try this."
The sushi was as beautiful as it was delicious. "Look - they made little dragonflies in the
rolls! It's like eating tiny works of art," I said. I gave him a sidelong look. "So - I'm to
believe that this is the be all and end all of Max Skinner? You work. End of story."
"That is about the long and the short of it, yes," he said.
"No hobbies? No interests?" I asked.
"'Fraid not. You'll see that I'm quite single minded."
"Favourite sport? Secret talent?" I persisted.
"Cricket and no talent except making money," he said. I thought I detected a touch of
annoyance in his voice.
"No one is that - " I hesitated.
"What?" he asked, challenging me with his direct gaze. I was wishing I had not drunk so
much sake. Alcohol was like truth serum in me. The chef's timely appearance was a
welcomed rescue. Max smiled, nodded and complimented him on a wonderful meal.
"Wow. You and Mick Jagger," I said as the chef left us. "I saw them hugging in a
magazine. I thought he only came out to talk to celebrities."
"Yes, well, without me he would have never raised the capital for this place. Now he's
got a string of them - another across town and one in New York. So I suppose I am a sort
of celebrity in his world. Rather ironic, seeing as how I worked my way through
University in places like this," he said.
"What - you? Waiting tables? That's hard to imagine. I would have thought you too posh
for that," I said.
"Not at all. I've made money, but I wasn't born to it. See? I'm not entirely dull," he said
a trifle defensively.
"I didn't say you were," I protested.
"It's what you were thinking," he accused.
I leaned forward and said softly, "You shagged me senseless in the company gym. I
wouldn't exactly call that dull."
A hint of pleasure teased at the corner of his mouth. He looked at me almost shyly. "I'm
sorry you missed your holiday," he said.
"I'm not. We were short-staffed as it was. Imagine if I'd have been gone when all hell
broke loose this morning," I said.
Max nodded. "It was good to have you there - with me. I'm glad you stayed," he said.
He planted his foot between mine, beneath the table, our knees brushing.
"Me too," I said.
He didn't seem concerned who saw us as we left, his arm wrapped securely about my
waist. The damp cold of the London night managed to seep in around my best trench
coat and I burrowed into his side, grateful for the heat he radiated as we waited for a cab.
On the ride to my apartment, we sat in silence, holding hands. I wanted to ride around
the city with him and pretend not to know what would happen next.
Max instructed the cab to wait while he walked me to my door. He took my chin in his
hand and studied me for a long minute. "Shall we stop this here or shall we carry on?"
"You're the boss. What do you think?" I replied.
"I wish you'd stop calling me that," he said.
"What if it turns me on?" I asked.
"Then keep calling me that," he said. He ran his fingertips across my cheek and cradled
my chin in his hand before stealing a tender kiss. "Can I come in?" he asked at last.
"You might want to send the cab away first," I suggested. I waited on the stoop.
I didn't get the chance to give him the grand tour. He kicked the door closed and began
pulling my clothes off, leaving a trail on our way to the bedroom. It was dark but for the
light coming in from the hall. "More, I want more of you," he said urgently.
I lay back on the bed as he finished peeling off my stockings and panties. He undressed
quickly and covered my body with his, holding me willing captive beneath him. His
tongue, like warm liquid velvet, both burned and soothed my flesh. The soft bristles on
his face burnished all my most sensitive spots. He was everywhere, beginning in my neck,
sending waves of gooseflesh across my skin, making my nipples draw taut just as his
mouth found them next. He moved down my body, to the insides of my knees and
thighs, settling there. His hot breath tickled and soon his fingers joined his tongue in
making me squeal, squirm and spasm uncontrollably, over and over.
I was utterly exhausted and emotionally spent by the time he eased back up and over me.
The crackling of the johnny packet registered dimly somewhere in my mind. "Ready?" he
asked huskily. He did not wait for my response before splitting me apart at my core.
I cried out, grasping at his strong back. He withdrew and I dug my heels into his bum,
trying to drive him in. He teased me this way, holding himself back and then plunging in,
for what seemed a very long time. I was surprised to hear myself moaning. He shuddered
slightly and then wrapped me in a tight embrace. There was no more retreat. He rocked
me in a slow, sensual lullaby, caressing my face with his lips and my ears with soft, sweet
words of worship. I thought I had nothing left to give but he was patient, his rhythm
steady. The pleasure built gradually to an almost unbearable point.
He raised his head, gazing down at me, thrashing beneath him. "Good?" he murmured,
grinding into me. I was too delirious to respond. He began thrusting harder, faster.
"Come for me one more time, Cyn," he instructed, ripping one last soul-emptying climax
from me. I felt his whole body tense, he held his breath, and then there was only the soft
pulsing inside me as he came. He relaxed into me briefly before rolling off onto his back.
I thought he would go then, but after a visit to the lav, he returned to curl around my
back, his breathing becoming steady, his arm lying heavy across me as he slipped off to
dreams. I wasn't far behind.
I was surprised to find him still in my bed the next morning. His face half-turned into the
pillow, one eye open, watching me. We assessed each other for several seconds before he
groped beneath the covers for my hand, guiding it to his recharged stiffie.
"Hang on," I said and rolled out on my side. I did a quick check in the mirror. Could
have been worse. A very quick round of damage control, a brush through my hair,
swished some mouthwash round and went back for more. He was still there, on his back,
making a pup tent with his pole. I darted through the chilly room and dove beneath the
covers. I ran my hands and tongue along his lightly furred body, returning his favours
from the night before. His body was a wonder to behold - solid and masculine, his long
muscles quite impressive yet not so massive as to be scary. The part demanding my
immediate attention, his lovely cock, was vibrating with a most compelling urgency.
We spent close to an hour rolling about in the sheets before he was spent. Then he turned
over and sat up on the edge of the bed. "What have I done with my watch?" he asked.
He stood, scratched himself and bent to retrieve his clothes.
"That's a crime. You should have hung it up," I said, dragging my eyes from his bottom
to the dark blue wool puddle on the floor.
"I was busy," he said with a smirk.
"There are clean towels on the shelf," I said. Presently, I heard the shower running. I got
up, tied my robe and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on. I was sitting with my
cuppa, skimming the headlines in the morning paper when he came out, looking only
slightly rumpled in his suit.
"I didn't notice these, last night," he said, indicating the surrealistic prints on the wall.
"That's because you made a beeline for the bedroom," I said.
"They're a little … unusual," he said, looking at a watercolour of a man trapped within
the trunk of a tree.
"Yes they are, but I bought them as an investment. They've doubled in value since the
artist died last year," I said.
"That's one way to choose art," he allowed, still looking at them critically.
"That's not the only reason. I actually like them. I think of them as modern fables about
our relationship with the earth," I said. I came to stand beside him, looking at the
companion piece, of a weeping woman, partially hidden within a cloud.
"They're interesting, I'll give you that."
"What did you expect? Pretty impressionists? Perhaps a Ming vase?" I asked, thinking of
my parents' collection.
He cocked a brow. "Quite honestly I never thought about your taste in art. My only
thought outside of business was what you looked like naked."
"And now you know," I said, returning to the kitchen.
He followed. "Yes. I'm going to want another look, you know," he said as he wrapped an
arm about me.
"You are?" I asked.
"Yes, but while I'm recuperating, I can learn other things about you - like your taste in
art," he said as he wound my hair around his hand. He flicked his thumb along the ends
like the bristles of a paintbrush, seemingly deep in thought. After a couple of minutes he
said, "So you think if you shag the boss you don't have to get dressed and come in?"
I reached for the teapot and poured him a cup. "I know you said that you don't do
holidays - but not even Christmas?" I asked. He released my hair and looked at me
blankly. "It's this weekend - remember? The office is closed."
"I have a key," he scoffed.
"Are you really going in then?" I asked.
"Of course!" he waved a hand as if it was the silliest question he'd ever heard. "We had
an enormous loss yesterday. It wiped out all the profits for last year. I need to strategise."
It dawned on me what he had said about his family - or lack there of. "Max - do you
have plans for dinner tomorrow?"
He looked as if I'd just thrown a net over him. "Um, yes. I'm seeing an old friend."
"That's good because I don't want to think of you alone on Christmas. Unless that is how
you want to be," I quickly added. "I'm going up to see my parents today but I could
come back early to give you a hand with anything?"
Max began patting his pockets, making certain of his belongings. He spoke quickly, as I'd
noticed he did whenever he was giving someone the flick. "Ah, thanks Cyn, you're a
love, but you go on and have a nice time with your family and I'll see you when you get
"I'm quite certain my family would welcome you, if you'd like? Not a big deal, you
know, just for dinner," I said.
He gave me that tight-lipped smile he used when he was barely tolerating someone. It
made me queasy. "Not to worry about a thing, you run along and enjoy your holiday, all
right?" he said.
I began to think he was going to bolt out the door without so much as a goodbye and
thanks for the fuck, but then he came and stood behind me. He kissed the top of my
head. "Thanks for staying with me last night," he said, his voice sounding a bit thick.
"You stayed with me," I reminded him.
"Yes. I meant I appreciated the company after the shitty day," he said into my hair.
"So did I." I tried to sound casual.
Max tucked a strand of my hair back behind my ear, kissed me lightly on my forehead,
my nose, and my mouth. Then he turned and walked to the door where he hesitated
briefly. "Merry Christmas, Cyn," he said and let himself out.
"Merry Christmas, Max," I said to the closed door.
I told myself on the train to my parents'. Then I'd check my mobile, see that
it was still working and that he really had not called. Don't dwell,
I repeated. It was not
entirely my fault. He'd begun calling me after my promotion, with increasing frequency
until he was doing it four or six times a day, about some matter or other, whether he was
in the office or away.
Throughout dinner, my imagination conjured him alone, eating curry from a take away
carton. The resulting wellspring of sympathy nearly made me call, but then I remembered
his claimed plans with the "old friend". By the time I'd finished dinner with my family,
I'd painted him in a serious, long-term relationship with some woman far more beautiful
and brilliant than myself. Not that Max had ever given any sign of being in a serious
relationship with anyone.
Rob tried to talk to me about work in the midst of my obsessing. Rob's bank, NatWest,
had been hit as hard as Lawton Brothers after the unexpected rate increase. It came close
on the heels of NatWest's implication in the American Enron scandal. Three of their top
bankers were involved. "There's talk that they might be ordered to stand trial in the
States," Rob confided. "Not that I care - it means more opportunities for me if those
three get the ax or a jail cell. Serves them right, silly sods, getting in bed with the Yanks
like that. So why aren't you returning Ian's calls?" he asked. He'd given my name to the
recruiter who had snared him.
"Really, I'm good where I'm at - " I began but he cut me off.
"NatWest is twice the size of Lawton Brothers. You belong in the premiere league," he
insisted. "Just think - we could drive each other nuts at work every day," he grinned. "It
would be just like when we were home." I was compelled to imagine it and a matching
smile danced across my face. It was true we'd been horrible competitive with each other,
but also true that when the chips were down, I could never have a better champion than
"How are they treating you at Lawton Brothers?" he asked.
I could not change the subject fast enough. "Well enough. All packed for Fiji?"
"Yes - we leave in the morning. I'll ring you first thing when I get back. You must meet
my boss," he said, making it clear he'd no intent of letting me off the hook.
On the train ride back my thoughts refused to line up in an orderly fashion. I entered my
apartment and saw that the answerphone light was on. I pushed the playback button and
listened eagerly. I sped through three messages impatiently but there was nothing from
Max. Disappointed, I made a cuppa and switched on the telly for company, something I
rarely did. My apartment had never seemed quiet to me before. The news came on, full of
dire predictions about the market drop. I switched it off. I got ready for bed, but as I slid
between the sheets and tried to clear my mind, I felt the ghost of his hands on my skin.
An awful wretchedness like I'd never known swooped down and sat on my chest like
some fearsome predator. I grabbed the pillow that had cradled his head and clutched it to
me, like some sort of shield, and knew there was no defense. I was in real trouble.
I went into the office the next day deadset to act as if nothing had happened. I would
not let on to Max, or anyone else, how I felt. I suspected that Max's attitude toward
relationships was much the same as his attitude toward holidays and weekends. The last
thing I wanted was to cause him to panic.
We all turned up early and were greeted with strict orders not to return calls until we'd
been briefed. There was an agitated buzz on the floor. Traders were nervous about the
market, while all I could think about was Max. It wasn't long before he called us to
"The market is going to open in half an hour. I know they are ringing you all ready. Your
job is to convince them not to panic. Nothing good ever comes from panicking," he said
in his usual calm, authoritative manner. If Max was concerned about either the market or
me, I was unable to detect it.
The other managers stopped their nervous twitching. I became jealous as they fell under
his spell, soothed by his voice. It had always had that effect on me as well, but on this
morning, it reminded me of what he had sounded like, low in my ear, growling directions
to grab my ankles rather than to buy low, sell high. I appeared to be listening attentively,
or hoped I did, but while half my mind was watching for meaningful glances, the other
half was chiding me for being such a ninny. By the time he'd done instructing us on how
to handle clients' queries and calm their jitters, the traders had calmed considerably as
well. We filed back to our desks and started taking calls, mirroring Max's unruffled
Close to lunchtime, my phone buzzed. It was him. "Cyn? Could you please come up here
and bring me the morning's numbers?" he asked. My stomach did a back flip. I gathered
the data he wanted and took the lift, repeating my mantra to act normal.
I approached the door and Max motioned me to come in. He was engaged on his headset
and I hovered inside the door. "A wise decision, one I'm certain you will be glad of in
the fullness of time," he said into the phone. "Yes. Very good. By all means. No, thank
you." The call ended. He shook his head in disgust. "Nannies, that's what we are. Wet
nurses to the rich. If I have to hold one more old codger's hand this morning I'm going to
need a double Hennessy by lunch."
"It is lunch," I said.
"Oh," he said consulting the heavy platinum Panerai on his wrist, "so it is." He paused, as
if waiting for me to say something. "How was your Christmas with your family?" he
"Very nice, thank you," I hesitated. "You have a real knack for managing people," I said.
He frowned. "Did I do something to make you feel managed?" he asked. "It was only
that I didn't want to intrude on your plans at the last minute," he explained, looking
"No. I meant this morning. You did a good job of calming the group down and getting
them back out there." I said.
His brows shot up. "Oh that!"
"You wanted these?" I asked and handed him the printouts.
He took the reports and tossed them down on the desk without looking. My eyes
followed them. "I can see all of that right here, you know," he said, jabbing his pen
toward his laptop screen. "I just ask you to get it so that you will come up here every
I allowed his mischievous grin to infect me, enjoying the secret with him. "Now that
you've confessed that, I won't bother printing it out any more," I said, smirking.
"But will you still come when I tell you to?" he asked in his smoke and whiskey voice. I
felt a pleasant flush of heat that began in my belly and spread out in both directions. I
opened my mouth to reply something equally naughty but shut it again as Gemma came
through the door.
"Maxi! What are you still doing here? Have you forgotten about your meeting?" she
"Gemma!" he said in exasperation.
"I cannot help it that you do not watch the time. You are supposed to be across town in
ten minutes," she scolded.
He stood up and took the briefcase she thrust at him. "I pay you
to watch the time!" he
said. He looked at me with a brief apologetic shrug. "I'm sorry. We'll, um, finish this later
then?" he asked. I nodded affirmatively. He rewarded me with a broad wink before he
hurried from the office.
The gesture was not lost on Gemma, who watched him disappear down the stairs. She
turned to me, one brow arched, much like her employer. "Do you know - he was
humming this morning? In the middle of this mess!"
"Really? He must have gone for a run," I said and moved quickly toward the door, not
looking at her.
"Yes. Something has got his blood pumping," she said to my back.
Max was discrete, at least at first. He said he was protecting me, and maybe he really
believed that, but he was protecting himself as well. Days went by and he did not attempt
to get me alone. I began to wonder if he'd had second thoughts about the wisdom of
continuing our affair. I'd just left the office and was heading toward the station when
my mobile went off. I flipped it open. "Cyn here," I said.
There was a pause. "I love how you say that.
"What's that?" I asked, almost stepping off the curb in front of a bus.
"I like the idea of ringing up 'sin'. It's a description as well as a name," he said.
"Oh," I said, grasping his pun. It was not the first time I'd heard it, but it was the first
time I'd not rolled my eyes.
"Where are you?" he asked.
"Leicester Square. I'm about to the station,"
"What are you doing all the way over there?" he asked.
"I had a bit of shopping, if that's all right with you? Why did you ring me - did
something come up?" I asked,
Another long pause. "I thought maybe we could pick up take away," he said.
"Right," I said, waiting for the rest.
"Maybe we could go to your place?" he suggested.
"Ah ha - so something did
come up," I said. He rewarded me with a throaty chuckle
down the line. I thought about it all of three seconds. "All right. Where are you?"
"I'm leaving now. Go to Sweetings by Blackfriars. I will meet you there in ten minutes,"
he said and hung up before I could remind him that Sweetings served fish and chips to
bankers like us for lunch but was not open for dinner. I rang him back and got his
voicemail. I walked over and waited. In less than ten minutes, a cab pulled up.
He leaned over and opened the door. "I forgot," he said by way of apology as I got in.
"Why didn't you answer your mobile?" I asked.
"I was afraid you were calling to change your mind," he said.
It had not occurred to me that he might feel as precarious about me as I did about him. I
gave the cab driver my address. "I can make us something," I said.
"Do you really cook?" he asked, surprised.
"No. Did you really want to eat?" I asked.
He leaned over, his breath hot in my ear. "Yes. I want to eat you. I want to suck on your
perfect little toes, and work my way up, licking every inch, to your perfect little petal
I squirmed in my seat. It seemed like the driver would never get there. I couldn't seem to
get the door unlocked. Max had to take the keys from my trembling hands and let us in.
He nearly climbed on top of me in the entry, crushing me to him as his mouth sought
mine. He wound my thick hair around his fist. "Like red silk," he murmured, kissing my
neck and making me shiver deliciously.
Max tugged my hair gently, pulling me to the bedroom as though on a leash. He pushed
me back on the bed and began to remove my clothes in a most zealous manner. I heard a
button pop on my blouse. "Hey! Easy there," I said.
"I'll buy you a new one," he said and paid me no mind.
He peeled off my stockings and began suckling my big toe. I was silently grateful for
those weekly pedicures I loved so much. When he moved down the line to each little
piggy, stroking my arch with his finger, my sensitive feet could not tolerate it. "You are a
pervert!" I giggled and tried to pull away, but he held me fast. The tickling became
almost painful and I felt a rising panic at not being able to escape.
Just as I thought I would scream, he moved up my body, making good on his promise in
the cab. He didn't bother to remove my panties, pulling them to the side as his tongue slid
into my ready wetness. I heard them rip when he tore them off, but by then I was holding
onto his head with both hands and far beyond protesting. I came twice under his tongue
before he pulled me up onto my hands and knees and mounted me from behind.
He penetrated me roughly. I cried out and he froze. He smoothed his hands across my
lower back and bottom, his touch and his voice soft as silk, waiting as I adjusted to his
girth. The pain quickly turned to a warm and liquid pleasure. His grip tightened on my
hips as he pulled me back tight against him, pumping slowly at first, and then more
vigorously. I could tell by his throaty sounds that he was enjoying the spectacle.
"Like a ripe peach," he muttered. One hand slid from my hip to cup and squeeze my
bottom. He flattened his palm, rubbing. I was startled to feel a sudden smack.
but a definite spank. I arched my back and bucked against him, as he delved deeper still.
He spanked the other cheek, gently, to even it up I suppose, and then reached around me
to flick my nub. I lost all control, convulsing around his cock. He held me up, continuing
to pump until I felt him slow and cleave to me as he came. Then once more, caressing my
back and bottom, the broad, warm palms of his hands soothed my still vibrating nerve
He flopped back on the bed, pulling me down along with him. He gave an exaggerated
shake from his head all the way down to his toes, like a dog after a bath. He held me
tight, rolling back and forth, growling and nipping at my neck until I squealed with
laughter. Propping up on one arm, he traced a thumb along my face. "Your hair looks
fuchsia in the moonlight. Definitely a hothouse orchid - my exotic flower."
"I didn't know you had a poet's soul," I said. I had to admit, my long copper hair did
look wonderful twined about his bicep.
"See? I'm learning more about you, and now you know that I'm a romantic," he said and
kissed the top of my head.
"I wouldn't go that far," I said.
His stomach growled ferociously. I patted his belly and rolled out of bed. I picked up the
phone and dialed a favourite nearby restaurant. "The food is wonderful but the service
has always been offhand, even stroppy. I actually prefer this place for takeaway," I
explained before placing the order.
"What was that?" he asked as I hung up the phone.
"What?" I asked, pretending not to know.
"What were you speaking?"
"Oh that," I said as though it was common for anyone to lapse into Chinese. "I speak a
bit of Mandarin."
"You speak a bit of Mandarin ..." he repeated. "And where did you pick that up?"
"I went to high school in Hong Kong. The government posted my father there for three
years, and rather than fly back and forth, we went along too. I came back a couple years
ahead of them, when it was time for me to go to university. I have not been there since
before we gave Hong Kong back to China.
"Well, well. You are full of surprises."
For a time, we tried to continue the fun and games at the office. One minute we'd be
talking valuations and equity indices and the next thing, he'd slip in a naughty suggestion
that made my toes curl. What he lacked in subtlety he made up for in confidence.
"I'll be out of town for two days. They want me to handle something in the office up
north," he said one morning.
"Ooh, going to fire someone?" I asked. "Can I watch?"
"I wish I could take you with me, but it would be too risky," he said. "You understand,
don't you Cyn?" he said, giving me his most sincerely regretful look. Max surreptitiously
looked about to make certain no one was watching. Satisfied, he reached to cup my bum
in his hand and pull me against him, demonstrating his lament.
"Of course. I can see it's a terrific strain," I said, slipping my hand between us to
appreciate his dilemma. "So much responsibility," I murmured sympathetically. "Is there
anything I can do to help?" I asked.
Max didn't hesitate. Seizing my hand, he pulled me down the hallway and into the
supply closet. "You don't have to do that," he said as I dropped to my knees and undid
his fly. "Unless, of course, you really want to," he added, his voice getting nearly as thick
as his cock. I swirled my tongue around his tip and then plunged downward. After a few
minutes of my head steadily bobbing up and down, he tried to stop me. "I'm going to
come baby," he warned. I pushed his hands away and redoubled my efforts.
"You can be in charge while I'm gone," he panted as I wiped my mouth and stood to kiss
him triumphantly. "Just don't, you know, do anything."
I arrived early on Tuesday, eager to fill Max's shoes, only to find Kenny, the weasel, had
got in even earlier. Kenny was under the impression that Max had left him
"Did he actually say that?" I asked indignantly.
"It was implied," Kenny replied.
"Oh really?" I asked. "Because he told me
, point blank."
Kenny eyed me speculatively. "Did you swallow?" he asked.
"Piss off," I said. We skirmished for the next two days.
Max returned, mouthing vague apologies about my having to put up with Kenny. He gave
me a grope in the lift that made me feel secure of my place in his wicked, lusty heart, if
not in my career.
There was one more go at the executive gym. We'd planned to rendezvous in the steam
room at the end of the trading day. Max was waiting for me, already on the treadmill, in
those cute little running shorts that showed off his fabulous legs. I entered the room and
he was off the machine and on me in an instant, kissing me everywhere and saying the
naughty things I loved to hear him say, when we heard a card slide in the lock. He let go
of me and stepped back just as the door unlatched. In walked another manager, David.
He had beautiful, thick golden hair and wore it a little longer than most bankers. I'd
noticed him before, of course. His kept his hands nicely manicured. He had a male junior
trader in tow, who blushed crimson when he recognised me. The four of us stood there,
looking at our feet, for an awkward moment, before Max and I quickly gathered our
things and left.
"I hope we didn't throw a spanner in their works," I said.
"I didn't realise it was the buggering zone," said Max, still in his shorts, as we got on the
lift. "Maybe we should steer clear of there."
"Too risky?" I asked.
"Too crowded anyway," he said.
"Yes, we might walk in to find the beast with two hairy backs," I giggled.
"Thanks for that. I won't ever go in there now," he said.
"Maybe we should leave it to them then," I said blithely.
And so my apartment became our regular trysting spot. Max said it was too likely that
would recognise us going into his place. I tried not to wonder who, exactly,
We never left the bank together, but met up some place else, like the glossy, upscale pub
two blocks away. It was chockablock with bankers and traders, but Max had a system. I
would leave the bank first and wait for him there. I always tried to dodge serious
conversations, since I knew he would soon show, and he really hated to be kept waiting.
He would come in, have one drink and then leave. I would wait five minutes and then
follow outside. Halfway up the block a cab would pull to the curb for me, Max waiting
One early spring evening, I was waiting at the pub. Janice, a trader from our bank,
buttonholed me. She was a little younger and greener than me, but apparently I didn't get
credit for dues paid. Her envy of my ascension at Lawton Brothers became clear as the
alcohol took hold of her brain.
"So tell us your secret then. What's it take for a girl to break through that testosterone
barrier? I get so sick of everyone saying you did it by sleeping round the boardroom table.
We girls need to stick together, right?"
"Too right," I replied and clinked my glass to hers. "Besides. We didn't actually do it on
Janice gawped. "What?" she asked. "Oh! You're a cheeky one!" she laughed, a bit too
loud. I noticed that she had an overbite that made her top lip protrude slightly.
I looked toward the door for what seemed the hundredth time in ten minutes, wondering
what was taking him so bloody long when he suddenly appeared at the bar. Our eyes met
briefly and as always, I felt that wonderful rush.
"Mmm," purred Janice. "Check the talent." I looked about casually, though I bloody well
knew whom she meant. "Now that's what I call a man," she said.
"Horses for courses I suppose," I shrugged, nonchalant. "Though I hear he's bonked half
the women in the square mile."
She was frustratingly hard to deter. "I wouldn't mind being on that list," she said.
"You'll never break through the pinstripe trouser brigade like that," I cautioned.
"Maybe," she said, but her gaze did not waver. She bolted the rest of her martini and set
the glass down. "I don't care," she said. I started to watch her sashay toward him, and
then forced myself to turn round. Then I heard her giggle. Don't look, don't look, don't
my mind sang, but my head turned anyway. I told myself they made a ridiculous
looking pair - he was old enough to be her father - if he'd knocked her mum up when
they were in their teens - which didn't help at all since suddenly I was imagining him
shagging not only her but her mum as well.
I looked about for a quick ruse and spied another banker staring at me. He was balding,
with a paunch and a wedding band. He stammered with pleasure as I engaged him about
the attempts of the American NASDAQ to buy up the British Stock Exchange. Faster
than I'd dared hope, Janice had returned. I cut baldy off in mid-sentence. "No luck?" I
"He said he was meeting someone," she said, and her slight pout made me want to pump
my fist in the air.
I checked and found that Max had vacated his place at the bar. "Hmm, just as well if you
ask me," I said. "As a matter of fact, I'm late too. Good night!" I said brightly and made
straight for the door.
I was almost to the corner, wondering where in hell Max was, when Janice called out,
"Cynthia! Wait up!" I cringed. Maybe if I ignored her she'd think I didn't hear. And then
the cab was there, pulling to the curb. "You left in such a hurry but I wanted to ask your
opinion on something," she puffed as she caught up to me.
"Catch me tomorrow at the office?" I suggested. "I really have to run. I have a prior …
engagement." I hoped that she did not notice my nervous hesitation over the street
She scrunched her nose in a petulant manner and my ill feelings toward her increased
exponentially. For a second, I thought she might stamp her foot. "Alright then," she said
at last. "Maybe we could do lunch?"
"Yes, very good. Let's do that." I forced a smile.
"It'll be on me," she smiled back.
I nodded again. "Cheers!" I said as she turned away. I reached for the door handle and
"Silly me!" Janice squeaked from right behind me. "We can share a ride and talk!" She
popped her head into the cab. "Oh. Hello," she said to Max. She must have stared at him
a full five seconds - it was all I could do not to tell her to shut her mouth before flies got
in - before she slowly backed out.
I shut the door in her face and the driver pulled away from the curb. I chanced a glance at
Max but he appeared as tranquil as the Buddha. "I'm sorry," I said sheepishly.
"Whatever for?" he asked.
"I didn't know she followed me," I said.
He pursed his lips. "Mmm," he said noncommittally.
I looked at him sharply. "I didn't!"
"There, there," he said, patting my hand. "Don't get your knickers in a twist over it."
"Are you placating me?" I accused. I detest being placated. Clearly, he did not
comprehend the situation. "She's going to blab now. I should have been more cautious," I
"Who cares?" he shrugged. "We're breaking company policy, not one of the Ten
Commandments," he said a trifle more brusquely than I cared for. "We knew there would
be gossip sooner or later," he continued.
"Oh really? What's all this with the spy games and secret rendezvous then?" I asked,
regretting it as soon as it left my lips.
"Do you think I enjoy keeping you a secret?" he asked. I returned the shrug. "My main
concern is for you. I don't want people saying you've advanced on your back," he said in
a maddeningly reasonable tone.
I began to wonder if he
believed that. "How about on my knees?" I asked sarcastically.
"Would that be better?"
"I don't want you to feel like a bit on the side," he said all too seriously.
"I didn't," I protested. "Until you just said it." I tried to withdraw my hand but he held it
"We could take it out in the open. If that's what you really
want," he offered. It was
clear he thought this a foolish idea.
"I'm not asking for that!" I exclaimed. "Look. I get that other women have tried to trap
you, but I'm not …"
He cut me off. "I just want you to be prepared. They might reprimand me, but the
consequences could be much higher for you," he said.
"Bloody hell Max!" I burst out. "You don't have to threaten me. I don't want anything
from you!" I felt like hurling myself from the moving cab. I knocked on the plexiglass
separating us from the driver. "Let me off here!" I shouted.
"Cyn, don't," Max said, clutching at my hand.
I shoved at his shoulder. "Let go of me you … egomaniac!" His eyes grew large and
round. I snatched my hand back. "Thanks for the ride," I said as I exited the cab and
banged the door closed. I was not entirely clear why I was so angry. All I knew was I
had to get away from him and quickly.
"Cyn! Come back here right now!" he ordered from the open window. I refused to turn
round. I heard him order the cabbie to slowly trail me.
I walked several minutes before my breathing slowed and my thoughts began to clear.
Max's demands turned to entreaties. "Please come back. Let's talk about it." I kept
A block from my apartment, he got out and I heard the cab drive off. I refused to slow
down and made him run to catch me. He didn't try to talk, but followed me to my door. I
let him in. He held my face in his hands, concentrating so intently that at last I turned my
head, unable to bear the scrutiny any longer. He hooked his finger under my chin and
turned me toward him. He hovered over my mouth, waiting for my approval.
"I want you to go."
"Cyn," he said my name like a plea.
"Please. Just go. I need time to think," I said.
He did and I cried myself to sleep for the first time in years. I took that as a very bad
He seemed willing to pretend that there was nothing amiss at the bank the next day. It
was a relief - at first. Days turned to weeks, however, and Max remained nothing but
professional. I very much missed our private relationship, particularly when he leaned
over a conference table, and I could not help admiring his fine bum, or when he crossed
his arms and I watched, entranced, at the play of his muscles beneath his suit jacket. I
desperately wanted to toss my pride and jump his bones only I didn't know where I
stood. Perhaps he was well and truly relieved I'd given him an easy out. I began to mark
time by how long it had been since we'd slept together. I could not seem to help it.
Honestly, I did not try very hard. I was beginning to think I'd have to leave the bank
since I was unable to get him out of my mind.
It was a Friday evening. The city was mired in a soggy drizzle that had kept up nonstop
for weeks when I left the office to meet up at what Jane had promised was a posh new
club. Rob joined us - he was solo since his girl was occupied. The club had a very sixties
vibe, or so it seemed from what I've seen in movies. I wasn't alive then. I half expected
to see Peter Sellers and Goldie Hawn sitting in the corner getting stoned. Patchouli
incense pots gave off a sickly sweet odor and yards of diaphanous scarves in purple and
gold dripped from the ceiling. It was all quite hideous actually and the incense gave me a
headache. I'd just begun to get a good vodka buzz on when I spied him on the dance
floor with some blonde bird I'd never seen. She looked young enough to be his daughter.
I begged off from my friends early, complaining of the headache and hoping I'd escaped
before he'd seen me.
I thumped myself about realistic expectations all the way home. The rub of it was that
Max Skinner had climbed right up my skirt and managed to lodge his unfaithful,
untruthful, unrepentant self within my heart - as well as other parts.
I was feeling bruised and decidedly antisocial. I'd just collapsed my brolly and propped it
in the corner of the entry when the phone rang. I groaned and slid onto the sofa, letting
the answerphone get it.
"Cynthia - it's Ian - if you're there, pick up," said Rob's headhunter. There was an
expectant pause. I found the pursuit flattering at first, but after declining twice in the past
month, and in my present foul mood, I found his persistence most annoying. "It's urgent.
Call me back or I will continue to ring through the weekend until you pick up. The offer
has changed and you must hear this," he said.
I reached behind my head and snatched the phone up. "Look," I said, too tired to hide
my exasperation, "I've spent more time on the phone with you lately than any of my
friends or family. I gave you my answer."
"Cynthia! Thank Christ you picked up. NatWest has changed their minds. They don't
want you as a trader," he said.
"No? Oh well, bugger them then," I said. Just what I needed - another boost to my self-
"They want you to help redevelop their international trade division. You'd sit at the table
with the big boys - making the decisions."
I was sitting upright again. He had my attention. "Ian, it's after ten on a Friday night. It
must be one hell of a commission, eh?"
"The standard twenty percent but it's quite the starting salary." Ian rattled off a series of
numbers but my mind was elsewhere.
I'd been trying so hard to push his name down for the past hour that I almost
screamed it as it leapt into my brain. I squeezed my eyes shut tight but he was still there. I
saw him again as he had been - hovering over me, watching my face intently, warm breath
tickling my neck, mouth caressing mine, sweat-slick arms pinning my hands above my
head, willing me to beg him for sweet release.
"You'd be daft not to take this. Cynthia? Are you there?" asked Ian.
My eyes flew open and I released the breath I'd been holding. "Yes. I'm here. I'll take it.
Like you said, I'd be daft not to, right?" I said, trying to sound more certain than I felt.
"When can I tell them you will start?" Ian asked.
"Give me a month, no, sod them. Three weeks. I'll give notice end of this week," I said. I
scribbled down a few pertinent details before I hung up.
The following Monday morning, I was in the queue waiting for the tube when a
conductor came out and announced they were shutting down the line for the morning due
to some malfunction. I caught the bus instead. It was early April and spring beckoned me
from the windows. I got off two stops early and walked through Hyde Park. The
daffodils had been in bloom for weeks and were looking about as bedraggled as my
spirits. Bright fragments of candy wrappers littered the flowerbeds and I guessed that the
children had trampled them in an egg hunt the day before.
The walk improved my mood and as I passed by NatWest, I looked up at the windows
and thought of Rob. Perhaps I'd ring him for lunch, tell him I'd finally talked to his
recruiter fellow and it had gone well.
My desk phone was buzzing even before I'd got my coat off. "Fantastic you could join us
today," said Max testily as I entered his office.
"There was some problem with the tube again - "
He cut me off, not listening. "It appears that I've been elected to attend the foreign trade
convention. I generally loathe these things but there is no help for it."
I waited for more but when it did not come I asked hopefully, "And you want me to keep
an eye on things while you're gone?"
"No. I want you to accompany me," he said.
I looked around just to make sure no one had heard him. He grimaced. "I don't mean like
He rushed to explain. "Nothing untoward. You will have your own room of
course." My eyebrows rose. He rubbed a hand over his face. "What I'm trying to say is
that I need you!" He made a sound like he was strangling before he jumped up and paced
to the other end of the room, as if to put distance between us.
"Are you having a nervous breakdown?" I asked, completely bewildered at this display.
"I may yet, at that. I'm requesting your presence because your skills would be a real
asset," he said, mustering all his professional dignity.
"What skills?" I asked warily.
"You have knowledge of the language and the culture. I don't," he said brusquely, as if it
should have been obvious.
"What language? Where is this convention?" I asked.
"Beijing," he said.
I looked at him, incredulous. "I think you misunderstood. I can speak enough Mandarin
to order takeaway. I'm not fluent enough to conduct business - not by a long shot!"
He waved my concerns away with an impatient hand. "They have people who do that.
"Well then I don't understand," I said, frowning.
"Bloody hell!" he exclaimed so loud that people in the next office looked our direction.
"Is this how it's going to be from now on? Every time I need you for something you're
going to be suspicious?"
The outburst caught me by surprise and before I could recover sufficiently to tell him to
sod off, he asked, "Do you recall when I mentioned that there might be some excellent
opportunities coming up?"
"In December." My heart lurched painfully at the memory of that first kiss.
"Yes." His voice and expression softened. He came toward me and I began to tremble,
praying he could not see. He started to touch my cheek, but then his hand faltered and
dropped to his side. "Oh, Cyn," his voice was ripe with regret. "Did you think I only
meant the opportunity to shag you?"
I had a sudden, irrational desire to cry, followed just as swiftly by an impulse to slap him
for reading my mind. The emotional ping-pong game was disorienting, to say the least. I
struggled to focus. "Actually, I thought you meant the opportunity of taking Lee's spot,"
The memory registered behind his eyes, and the sadness vanished. "Oh. Ha ha. Well. Yes,
there was that then,
there is this!" he said brightly.
My eyes narrowed. "Oh bloody hell yourself!" I said, completely exasperated with him.
"You're making this up as you go, aren't you? What's in it for you
if I go to Beijing?" I
Max scowled at me, considering. At last, he said, "You lived in Hong Kong. You at least
have a rudimentary understanding of the culture, that's more than I can say, and what's
more, you are a far better diplomat. Lawton Brothers has invested a billion in a strategic
stake in the Bank of China. Trade relations with Asia have moved up the priority list.
Thing is, they want me to take over the international division."
"International trade," I breathed, allowing the idea to take hold. This was big - and with
time would only grow bigger. "And you think I'd be useful to you?"
"Well, yes, if you want to put it like that. To the bank, actually," he said.
The intercom went off. It was Gemma. "Maxi? What did you decide about Bejing?" she
Max fixed me with a look that brooked no dispute. "Make arrangements for two. We fly
out next Thursday."
That night as I was on my way home, my mobile rang. It was Ian. "NatWest has a task
for you," he said.
I scowled. An elderly woman, her blue hair tucked beneath a plastic rain bonnet, scowled
back. "That's a bit rich," I said into the mobile. "I haven't even started with them yet!
What do they want?"
"They want you to bring the Yang account," said Ian.
I had a vision of old man Lawton, screaming in my face as he turned apoplectic red and
the bobbies rushed in to haul me away. A man spoke sharply, jolting me back to reality, as
he swerved to avoid me. I'd come to a stop in the middle of the pavement as the human
traffic coursed around me like a boulder in a river. "I don't see how that's possible," I
said sweetly into my mobile. "Yang is a Lawton Brothers account. It belongs to the bank,
not to me."
"Not if you convince them to jump," he said, unnecessarily. I knew well enough how it
worked. There was a long silence as I imagined Max's reaction. I might justify leaving the
bank as career climbing, but stealing one of their richest accounts would be a massive
betrayal, even if I was the one who had brought it. I wasn't exactly happy with Max at
the moment but I wasn't looking to stab him in he back either.
"Let me get this straight. As a sign of allegiance to my new employer, they expect me to
nick off my old one?" I asked.
"You wanted to run with the big dogs. Now's your chance to prove you can," Ian
"I didn't think I needed to prove anything. I thought they'd already offered me the job.
Look - I'm not going to start like this. I don't even care if it queers the deal," I said
"Take it easy! They didn't say anything like that. But they are
offering a fat bonus as
inducement," he countered.
"Tell them to piss off. I don't want their bloody carrot!" I snapped, flipping the mobile
shut. He tried to ring back but I ignored his calls. I wondered if I'd gone mad as I packed
for Beijing. I'd walked away from the potential job of a lifetime to fly off with the man
who'd broken my heart. The exchange with Max in the office made it painfully clear that
I was still very vulnerable to his charms. I suppose curiosity and my usual perverse
optimism won out.
Nothing was to Max's satisfaction from the moment we left Heathrow. I could see he
was in a foul mood and wondered whom he'd pick a row with first during the ten-hour
flight from London to Beijing. He opened his laptop as soon as we were airborne, and I
breathed a sigh of relief. At least he would be temporarily distracted. About an hour into
the flight his battery died. When he discovered that the service port was not operating he
became agitated again. Sick of listening to him complain, I got up and found two
students a few aisles away who were willing to trade seats with us. I flagged the
attendant and ordered Max another drink.
Just as I was congratulating myself on taming the beast, the twin boys seated directly
behind us began kicking the backs of our seats. They kept at it - on and off - for the next
three hours, despite Max voicing his opinions about children on aircraft rather volubly. I
had to agree, and came close to offering the wee terrors two of my Atavan as candy.
Instead, I popped the pills with a glass of white wine. Soon even the turbulence seemed
like a hand gently rocking my cradle.
"What do you mean you're out of the beef? Why should I be inconvenienced?" I jerked
awake to more angry Max sounds. I peeked beneath my sleep mask and saw that the
flight attendant had become the new target of his wrath.
"Really, Max. It's airplane food. It's not any good anyway," I mumbled groggily and
pulled my mask down again.
A car picked us up at the airport to take us to the hotel. We drove past a city crammed
with a hodgepodge of old and new - temples surrounded by high rises - into the center of
the new business district.
"This is fantastic!" I enthused as the porter removed our luggage from the boot. "Do you
realise where we are?"
"The Westin Beijing," he replied with significantly less enthusiasm. "I would have
preferred the St Regis, but there you are, it's the Bank's typical valuation of thrift over
"Yes but - we are right beside Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City! I've always
wanted to see them," I said.
Max pushed his glasses up on his nose and gave me a bemused glance. "Then take a good
look around because once we go through those doors I'm not planning on coming back
out until time to go home," he said. "We're not here on holiday you know."
I hurried after him into the lobby. "The conference doesn't last all day, and there are the
evenings," I said.
"What about the evenings?" he asked. I could see he had not left his foul mood on the
plane, as I'd hoped. "That's when I check in with London."
"Max! You cannot be serious. What about the Beijing opera? Or the festival of lanterns in
"You want to see opera?" asked an eager young man who appeared at my elbow. He
introduced himself as Kim, our interpreter and guide, supplied by our convention hosts,
the Bankers Association for Foreign Trade. I was pleased to find I could make out a few
words here and there, as I listened to the people around us in the lobby.
I chatted with Kim as Max checked in. Max returned and handed me my room key. "Yes,
very good, thank you, we've got it from here," he said, all but shoving Kim aside.
"There's no need to be rude," I said as we walked toward the lifts.
"Was I?" asked Max, clearly not the least bit concerned.
"Although to his credit, if you offended him, I couldn't tell," I said. I remembered how
the Chinese could be even more painfully polite than the British. "He says there is a
welcoming cocktail party this evening at eight o'clock."
"A right knees-up, I'll wager," said Max sarcastically. "Think I'll take a pass."
We got on the lift with a few other hotel guests. I looked at Max sideways. He was only
average in height, but appeared tall as a giant among the Chinese.
The doors slid open at our floor and I hurried out after him. "What was the point of this
trip if we're not going to network? We didn't really come all the way to Beijing for the
power point presentations?" I asked.
"I'm here because I was required to come. Personally, I think it's a colossal waste of
time," he said. We located our rooms and he unlocked his.
"What exactly is wrong with you?" I demanded, jamming my shoulder against the door
to keep it from shutting in my face. I followed him inside. He'd been trying to pick a
fight with me since we'd left Heathrow and I was finally good and ready for it.
"At the moment, nothing, except that I have to take a piss," he said, quickly locating the
loo. I stood in the near dark, listening to his stream and feeling ridiculous.
I moved cautiously into the room so as not to bang my shins and drew back a drape. The
room looked clean and the simple dark mahogany furniture looked new. There was a
cream coverlet on the bed. Max came out of the bathroom, flung his jacket over a chair,
picked up the television remote and flopped down atop the bed. He switched on the telly
tucked within the armoire. "If you're going to stay here, would you mind calling room
service? I'm feeling peckish. Oh, and that," he gestured to the jacket, "will need cleaning."
I narrowed my eyes. "I am not Gemma. Call the laundry yourself."
"I don't speak the language. You do." His eyes flicked up to meet mine before returning
to the Chinese government official on the telly. He grimaced and turned it off.
"I told you I wasn't coming along to be your translator. It's an international hotel. I'm
certain they can manage dry cleaning and dinner orders in English."
My mobile rang. I checked - it was Ian. He'd begun ringing me again just before we left
London. It was really getting on my tits that NatWest could not seem to take "no" for an
answer, and anyway, I certainly wasn't going to talk to him in front of Max. I switched it
to vibrate and ignored it.
"Gee, what else are you not? Let's see, you're not Gemma, you're not my translator,
you're not my lover," he counted each on his fingers, working himself up to a good rant.
"Oh," I said, startled and secretly pleased to discover the cause of his consternation.
Serves you right,
"You don't seem to even want to work with me anymore! You behave as if I was some
randy old goat you want to avoid," he sputtered.
"Hmm, interesting analogy," I mused.
He waggled his finger at me. "Oh no you don't! I have left you alone - as requested."
"I asked for some time to think. I didn't ask you to give me the flick." I realized I
sounded more wounded than I'd meant to let on.
"What? You're mental! You
the flick - and wasted no time in - what do you call
I looked at him, bewildered. He flapped an agitated hand at me; as though it was my
fault that he'd lost the phrase. "Hooking up!" he blurted the remembered accusation, his
eyes bugging out alarmingly.
"What are you on about?" I asked, indignant.
Max swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood, hands on hips, ready for battle. "I
saw you with that fellow at that ghastly club two weeks ago. You were sitting so close, I
expected you to climb into his lap," he said.
I pretended to search my memory, though I knew exactly what he meant. "Was he
incredibly handsome with dark hair and blue eyes?" I asked.
"I really couldn't say. But you were wearing an amazing yellow dress." His voice
abruptly dropped away - barely audible - and his eyes had gone as grey as a London
My righteous indignation evaporated, replaced by the more familiar aching sadness. I
fished in my bag and pulled out a plastic sleeve of photos. I flipped through it and held it
up for him to see. It was a family candid taken Christmas of me with my arms around
Rob's neck, our parents on either side. "He's my brother." Max looked at me in surprise,
then back at the photo as if to confirm the truth of it. "I don't suppose the girl you were
with was some relation? No? Didn't think so," I said somewhat smugly.
He looked like he'd reached in the biscuit jar and pulled out a mouse trap. "You cut me
loose," he said somewhat limply.
"I did nothing of the sort." I stuffed the photos back in my bag.
He placed a hand on my elbow. "Cyn - " he started.
I looked into his eyes and I swear, I felt him pulling me down, onto the bed. I saw us
tangled in the sheets, entwined in a passionate struggle. I felt his weight press me down,
heard him whisper sweet words in my ear, treasuring and pledging to me above all others.
I willingly gave over all control.
"Cyn?" he asked again, his look curious.
I blinked. "I've got to get ready for tonight," I said, and was out the door and across the
hall unlocking my room before he could reply.
An hour later, I was showered and dressed for the reception. I twisted my hair up in a
knot and fastened it with a pair of lovely carved hair sticks. Twin tiny jade birds danced
from the ends. The sticks had been a graduation present from my parents and served as
the one Asian accent in my otherwise western attire. I checked my reflection with
satisfaction. The black sleeveless dress was a very safe choice - tasteful and feminine. It
would not do to flash too much leg or cleavage here, but the results of my faithful
runner's habit showed in the snug fit of my skirt.
Although I knew his hold over my emotions was dangerous, I'd failed to push the
thoughts of being with Max again from my mind - thoughts that tickled my imagination
and made my pulse race. I opened the door and stood in the hall staring at his room for a
long moment before I went across and knocked, but there was no reply. "Max?" I called.
I knocked harder and called again. I decided he must have gone down without me. I
caught myself humming as I walked down the corridor. I searched my memory for the
lyrics. The lift was empty. I got on and sang softly to myself.
Dressed up to the eyes
It's a wonderful surprise
To see your shoes and your spirits rise
Throwing out your frown
And just smiling at the sound
…la la la la lalala …
Spinning round and round
Always take a big bite
It's such a gorgeous sight
To see you eat in the middle of the night
You can never get enough
Enough of this stuff
It's Friday, I'm in love
I don't care if Monday's blue
Tuesday's grey and Wednesday too
Thursday I don't care about you
It's Friday, I'm in love
No sign of Max in the lobby or as I entered the ballroom. Kim, however, found me
straight away. "You want to see opera tomorrow? Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City
very nice." he offered.
It was clear he was intent on fulfilling his purpose as host and tour guide, and would not
stop until I cooperated, so I listened to his carefully rehearsed speech about the nearby
tourist attractions. "What are you studying at University?" I asked when he seemed to
pause for breath.
Kim blinked in surprise. "Economics," he said. "You want me to make you reservation at
dinner?" he asked.
"No, but thank you. I think we can manage on our own," I said. "Have you seen my boss
- Mr. Skinner?" I asked.
"No, no, boss. I introduce you," he assured, leading me to where something akin to a
procession was forming.
I wondered if he ever thought about the students, just like him, slain fifteen years earlier.
Or had the government succeeded in inducing mass amnesia? I realised with an
unpleasant jolt that he might not even remember it. I tried to gauge his age. I remembered
it vividly, being a student myself at the time in Hong Kong. I knew that such questions
would embarrass him and so I kept them to myself as we approached the first group of
bankers and business people.
I was concentrating hard, working up my courage to say a few words in Cantonese, when
I spotted a familiar face across the room and did a double take. A tall, strawberry-blonde
man, wearing a pink shirt and a vivid paisley tie, moved above the black-haired, somber
suited crowd like a flamingo moving through a lagoon of mud hens. It was Reg Drury,
Rob's boss at NatWest.
Reg also happened to be the man Max despised more than any other on the planet.
The two held similar positions with their respective banks, and both maintained tight
control over their domains. There had been more than a little bad blood between them
over the years, including a rumored affair between Max and Reg's current wife. I
assumed that the affair, if it happened, was before the marriage, and if I was wrong, I did
not want to know.
Then there was the oft-repeated story about a cricket match between their rival Uni teams.
Allegedly, after one particularly contentious match, the competitive spirit had continued
beyond the field to a local pub, finally spilling over to the pavement outside. Accounts of
the fight varied wildly. Some, like my brother, claimed that Reg had got the better of
Max, planting a shiner on him as proof. Others claimed that Max finished on top because
he convinced the police, who arrived as the two were rolling in the middle of the street,
to haul Reg off to the poky, while Max got off Scot-free.
Reg waited his turn while a dozen or so others greeted me, his mischievous grin constant
as a lighthouse beacon above the crowd, while my apprehension steadily mounted. "Miss
Sutton is it?" he asked "At last we meet! I don't believe we've been properly
introduced." Although his pleasure seemed genuine, I was suspicious about his
"Cynthia," I held out my hand. His grip was firm but brief, and he looked me directly in
the eye. He was a handsome man, not in a virile, earthy way like Max, but with a charm
that made me think of Stephen Fry.
"I hear you will soon be joining our ranks," he said.
"I'm afraid that news is out of date. I had to decline the offer," I said.
"I'm very sorry to hear that. I hope the terms are still negotiable?" he asked.
"I'm sorry." I shook my head apologetically.
Reg looked about the room surreptitiously. He leaned in a little. "Did Ian get hold of you
yet?" he asked. I tried to keep my face a blank, thinking of the messages on my mobile.
Reg shook his head in mock exasperation. "What are we paying him for anyway?" His
smile was guileless and I found myself liking him in spite of my loyalties. I tried to
imagine what Max found so objectionable. "We've sweetened the offer. I want to bring
you in as lead. You'd still technically answer to me, but it would be your baby."
I was so gobsmacked that I had to force my mouth to close. Foreign trade was a glam
job, and here I was, being wooed to lead the department at an even richer bank. "I am
very flattered," I said honestly, remembering my rule about bridges, not walls.
"Think about it," he said with a wink. He nodded his head across the room, his smile
broadening. I turned to see Mr. Yang, the president and owner of Yang Enterprises
watching us. He nodded to me.
"Mr. Yang knew he needed the resources of NatWest, but he was reluctant to leave
Lawton. That is, until I told him you'd be coming too," Reg confided.
My head whipped round and I looked at him in shock. "You had no right to say that!
I've not signed any contract with NatWest. I'll have to tell him …" I sputtered.
"Mr. Yang will be very disappointed. He seemed to believe that you were unique among
the London bankers he had met, and that you shared his business sensibilities. Interesting
concept, actually, he had a word for it."
"Yes! That's it," said Reg.
"It loosely means, one good turn deserves another. Once you enter into it, it's not so
simple to walk away," I said, feeling sick at my stomach. "I will have to explain to him
that you spoke without my knowledge or consent, of course. I will tell him that I feel it
would be a calamitous mistake for Yang to leave Lawton."
"And why would you do that for a bank that ignored your talents and held you back for
nearly three years?" asked Reg in an infuriatingly sympathetic voice.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss it with you," I said coolly.
"I see. Tell me Cynthia - what happens when the affair ends?" he asked.
"I beg your pardon?" I saw those little sparkles in my peripheral vision that usually
occurred when I forgot to eat.
"If I know, you can bet that old man Lawton knows as well. He's likely to punish you -
he's certainly not going to punish his most successful lead. And he will never let Skinner
install you as lead of foreign trade, no matter what he promises you," he said. There was
nothing the least bit threatening in his manner. If anything, he seemed to regret the need
to bring it up.
A faint buzzing in my ears now accompanied the sparkles. "You are mistaken about my
relationship with Max and anyway, I don't see how it is any of your business," I
"It's not. Actually, it doesn't matter what you and Skinner do on your own time. Feel
free to carry on. I don't mean to cast aspersions on his character. Maybe his intentions are
entirely honorable and he wants only the best for you. People mature, after all. But old
Nigel, he's another matter altogether." Reg shook his head ruefully. "Nigel is a
misogynist, plain and simple. No woman, now matter how deserving or talented, will ever
be a lead at Lawton until he is dead or at least gone. I suppose you might hold out for
that, since he's older than Methuselah, but why wait when you can have it all with
NatWest right now?" he asked.
I looked over his shoulder just in time to see Max scowling from the doorway. The blood
that had drained from my head had pooled somewhere down around my black Manolo
pumps. Max was coming toward us through the throng like one of those stealth missiles
the Yanks used to blow up whoever pissed them off that week. I'd never seen him look
so ferocious, not even in the thick of it on the trade floor.
"Courage!" Reg hissed in my ear. "Skinner! How did they ever dislodge you from your
office?" he asked, still smiling as though Max was a long lost chum, rather than a
frequently encountered rival.
"I'm surprised you could tear yourself away, Sunshine, what with the Americans
breathing down your neck," Max said with false fondness not intended to fool anyone.
"Terrible bother how these pesky computers keep files forever. It used to be so much
cleaner when you could simply shred all the incriminating evidence."
Reg responded with a hearty laugh, clapping Max on the shoulder. "Not a bit of it. The
courts are barking up the wrong tree. Our fellows are far too smart to be caught up in all
that Enron mess. It will all soon blow over - you'll see," he said.
"Good to know," said Max. He glanced between us. "You're in high spirits for a man
whose top traders just made the cover of the Times under the banner, Brit Bankers might
do time in US prison,"
he said. He did not care for Reg's jovial mood one bit.
I touched Max's arm. "There are people waiting to speak to us," I reminded, trying to
steer him away.
His feet remained cemented to the spot. "You're smart to try and steal her. She's a real
gem. But you're too late. She's going to head international for Lawton," he said.
"Impressive," Reg said, arching his brows. "Well bully for you, talking old Nigel into it.
Good to see someone dragging the old codger into the twenty first century."
The surprise I'd felt at Reg's offer was nothing compared to the shock I experienced on
hearing Max's claim. It was one thing to make me promises while we lie in each other's
arms, and quite another here, out loud, in front of the competition.
Reg shook my hand for the second time that evening. "Congratulations, my dear. I'm sure
you will give us a run for the money," he said. "Now if you will excuse me, I'm feeling
rather fagged out from that flight and I hate these things anyway, so I'm off to my bed."
Reg nodded and left us regarding each other rather awkwardly.
"Well that was impressive, to say the least. When were you planning on telling me?" I
"Tonight. How long has he been courting you?" asked Max quietly. I noticed the tiny
muscle flexing in his cheek. That meant he was very put out.
"Bloody hell!" I exclaimed just as Kim tapped my shoulder. I turned abruptly and found
him standing with four Chinese businessmen, waiting to make our acquaintance. The
startled looks told me that they'd heard my sharp tone. No doubt my aggravation was
written plain on my face as well. They eyed me with trepidation and glanced nervously at
Max. I realised they were thinking I had just caused him to lose face and so, going
against every natural impulse I felt at that moment, I turned toward him. "Please forgive
me," I said quietly and bowed my head in supplication.
When I straightened, Max's expression was a cross between pleasure and astonishment.
"Just say you forgive me," I whispered.
He cleared his throat. "Of course. No offense taken," he said, waving a hand over my
head like a benediction. He smiled in what he thought a reassuring manner at the group.
As Kim presented each of the men, I took their business cards in both hands and read
each separately, before distributing our cards in response, in the accustomed manner. "Ni
I said and introduced each in turn to Max, who followed my lead. I was very
pleased with myself - I'd found a printer to do a rush job on the cards. They were printed
in both English and Cantonese, according respect to our hosts. The group seemed
"Why are you bobbing like that?" I asked behind my polite smile.
"I'm not bobbing, I'm bowing," he replied, from behind his.
I turned to his ear. "They shake hands. You're thinking of the Japanese."
I held my breath when Mr. Yang and his group approached. He smiled broadly at me and
spoke animatedly to his colleagues about his faith in my ability to connect their company
with western business. He completely ignored Max.
"What exactly did you do to win that account?" he asked as the group moved off.
"Don't be insulting," I warned, shooting him a dirty look.
We repeated the routine with the cards and handshakes with a seemingly endless parade
of people. My smile began to feel like it was a painted opera mask. Finally, Max reached
his absolute limit.
"That's enough. My back is killing me," he complained. He took firm hold of my arm and
propelled me from the room. "I was right. You were born for this," he said wearily.
"You were pleased with my performance then?" I asked, alone once more on the lift. I
was not above a bit of fishing. The encounter with Reg really shook me and Max's
continuing frosty behavior offered no reassurance.
"Most impressive," he said dispassionately, not looking at me.
"Your enthusiasm is overwhelming," I said.
"You didn't answer my question. How long has he been courting you?" he asked in that
tight, clipped tone I detested.
"What difference does it make? I don't work for him and I don't intend to," I said all too
The door opened and he strode off down the corridor. I let him go off without me,
walking deliberately slowly, hoping he'd leave me be for the rest of the night. We were
both worn out and I knew we were headed toward a serious row. As I rounded the
corner, however, I saw him waiting, holding his door open. "Would you please do me the
favor?" he asked with an exaggerated politeness. He wheeled on me as the door clicked
shut. "How long?" he pressed, his mouth forming a line so tight that all of the colour
vanished from his lips.
I stepped back from him a little. "NatWest has been trying to get me to come over since
I've been at Lawton. Rob works for them - you know that."
Max nodded tersely. "Well, you have to do whatever you have to do of course. That is, I
mean, I understand, it's not personal,
it's only business. You want to fuck me with the
bank instead of in bed." There was nothing understanding in his tone, only blistering
"Max - I said I wasn't interested!" I exclaimed.
"How big a fool do you take me for?" he ground out. My legs felt precariously weak and
I sat down on the end of the bed. Max paced away from me, running an agitated hand
through his hair, before turning back to confront me. "I walk into the room and the first
thing I see is that ponce Drury fawning all over you. I may have underestimated your
treachery but that bastard has no scruples whatsoever and would love nothing more than
to steal you - especially if he thinks I'm bedding you."
"I've heard stories," I said, feeling truly low. "I believe the antagonism is mutual though,"
"Yes it is. I'd sell my own mother to bring him down and I'm quite certain he feels the
same," he answered.
"That's why I can't do it," I said helplessly. I took a deep breath and plunged in. I told
him all of it, including the very scary part about Yang Enterprises. Having made a full
confession, I waited for my punishment with as much stoicism as I could muster, given
the fact that I was very frightened of his anger and his power to destroy my whole career.
Max valued honesty, I told myself, trying to maintain courage. Sometimes he could be
reasonable, never in business to my memory, but as Reg had said, people did mature.
Max paced as he listened to my tale, but then seemed to grow weary and sat down in a
chair opposite me, his head bowed. I fingered my bag and eyed the door, wondering if
perhaps I should just get up and quietly leave, giving him some time to think it over.
He raised his head, his omniscient eyes pinning me to my seat. I felt completely exposed,
knowing with sudden, sickening clarity that he saw every trick of guile, bit of flattery, or
half-truth I ever thought to get by him. His eyes flicked away from me as he stood. I
tucked an errant curl back behind my ear with trembling fingers and gauged the distance
to the door. Max shrugged out of his jacket, hanging it carefully in the closet. I started to
rise. He caught the movement and I froze as his eyes held me fast again.
"You do understand," he said quietly, unbuttoning a cuff, "that every choice has its
consequence?" He undid the other cuff and pulled his shirt free of his trousers.
"Consequence?" It came out a whisper. I tried to swallow, but found that I was now void
of both air and saliva. I watched, hypnotized, as he unbuckled and slid his belt out of the
loops. Folding the belt in half, he stroked it across the palm of his hand. I guessed what
he was thinking but my mind recoiled. After all, he had never been punitive or aggressive
with me, certainly not more than I'd encouraged.
"What is your choice?" he asked - far too calmly.
Hot tears pricked the backs of my eyes as I clasped and unclasped my hands anxiously. It
felt exactly like the time I was eleven and my father had caught me smoking his
cigarettes. "You. I choose you. Fuck the bank, but I can't stand to leave you," I
stammered. "I won't lose the account. I can fix this," I pleaded.
"I thought I'd trained you better than that. You have to negotiate the terms," he said, still
fingering the belt.
"All right," I said and did my best to sit up straight and not grovel. "Make me lead of
foreign trade, like you said you'd do, and I will stay."
"What about Yang?" he asked.
"I can hold them - you know I can. I can give them what they want if I can grow the
department to meet their needs. They're only thinking of jumping because of me and
NatWest knows it."
"But I already had all that - the Yang account … and you … working for the bank," he
said with a bored shrug. "And you're getting a massive promotion out of it. I want
something more," he said.
He sounded calm and in control, but there was still something menacing in his eyes. I
willed my legs to work. I went to him and laid my hand alongside his cheek. I stroked his
beard, feeling the scratch and tickle I'd longed to feel again. "What do you want, Max?
Hmm? What's your
choice?" His eyes fluttered closed as he turned and pressed his lips to
my palm. I shivered. His arms went around me and then his mouth was on mine and I
melted into him.
He was breathing hard by the time we broke the kiss. "You. I choose you, you vixen.
And how am I ever going to trust you, hmm? You've been a very naughty girl." He was
still upset but his efforts to get me naked as fast as possible distracted me. Until he
flipped me over his knee and landed a sharp slap across my bare bum.
"Ow!" I cried in shock. "Let me go!" I wriggled frantically, trying to get free.
"That was for lying to me," he said. Smack!
"And that was for talking to the competition
without giving me a chance to make you happy."
The tears that had threatened before now sprang from my eyes. "Max! Stop it!"
He landed another. "And that is for keeping me away from you all these weeks," he said,
his voice breaking. His big hand hovered over my stinging bottom like a feather. I could
feel the heat and knew I must be rosy pink. A finger traced along my crack and slipped in
front to dip into my folds. I stopped struggling briefly, and when I began to wriggle
again, it was not to get free. He pumped one, then two fingers into my depths, releasing a
long, shuddering sigh as I responded wetly to his touch. I couldn't help myself. It was all
that wrought up emotion, I suppose. I humped shamelessly against the scratchy fabric of
his trouser legs. He continued to smack my bottom, although much more gently, with his
other hand, while he frigged me. I came almost immediately.
"I have to have you now," he said as he pulled me upright and on to his lap.
I clasped his face in my hands and feverishly sought his mouth with mine. He fumbled
beneath me to free himself and hoisting my hips gently, impaled me. "Oh God how I've
missed you," he groaned.
"I've missed you too baby. Wait! I need to feel your skin," I said, tearing at his shirt
buttons. "There," I said as I pushed it from him. I caressed the strong arms I'd longed to
feel hold me again.
He stood, still within me, and I wrapped my legs around his back. He turned round and
laid me back down on the bed. He pushed my knees up by my shoulders and withdrew.
"There's something else I want," he said.
"Anything! Just give it back!" I almost screamed.
He hovered over me, poised at my entrance, watching as I grasped for him greedily,
lifting my hips up in a futile attempt to bring him back home. "I want a key to your
place," he said huskily.
"Fine!" I agreed readily.
He entered me with a force that made me moan and thrash deliriously beneath him. He
stretched out atop me, his weight pressing me down into the bed. I wrapped my legs
about his hips and arched to meet each powerful thrust. "Do you like that baby? Is that
good?" he murmured, shifting slightly. His lightly furred chest brushed against my
breasts, tickling my nipples. I moaned again. "God, you're wet." He knew me, knew I
was so close. He fell into an insistent, steady rhythm, grinding against my sweet spot
I was fighting to maintain a clear head, to burn it all into my memory, all the things I'd
adored about him and feared I'd never experience again. He burrowed his face into my
neck. "Missed your round-as-a-peach bum," he growled as he reached beneath me and
squeezed. He lifted me up against him, driving in deeper still. "So good, you feel so damn
I felt as though I were rising higher and higher on a pleasure precipice. He stuck his
tongue in my ear and I abruptly fell off the edge. Max's release came quickly in response
to mine. He tensed and held very still, then exhaled in a long, satisfied sigh.
"This trip just became worthwhile," he said as he rolled off me.
I watched his profile in the near dark room. "Well at least I know where your priorities
lie," I said without rancor. For the moment, being his lover was enough. "We'd better get
some sleep. I want to make a good impression. They place a high value on presentation
"I could not care less," he said, sounding exhausted.
"I've never known you to behave like this about your work," I said, genuinely puzzled.
"Like what?" he asked.
"You seem - almost resentful - about this position. It really is a tremendous opportunity,
you know. I'm quite surprised you want to hand it over to me," I said.
He shrugged. "Problem is, I don't want it," he said.
"Why not?" I asked in disbelief.
He ran a hand over his face, scratching at his beard. "I need a trim," he said more to
himself than me. He sighed heavily. "Because. It would mean a complete change of path
- giving up what I've built - and honestly, it does not hold that kind of interest for me.
My life is in London and the position will require a great deal of travel," he said. "The
bank needs someone who will be passionate about international trade. That is why I
planned to convince them that it should be you to lead the department," he said matter-
I felt giddy at the idea - and more than a bit guilty. "That's just … I don't know what to
say. I am so flattered."
He turned and looked at me. "Don't be. You've earned it. You're the only sensible
choice," he said seriously. "Let's just hope I can convince Nigel. If not straight away,
then perhaps in time," he said, his words slurring slightly with fatigue.
His arm went round me, his hand settling comfortably on my hip. "Why don't you move
your things over and stay in here with me?" he smiled, his eyes sloping like a cat.
I gently nipped at his chest. He giggled and fell silent. I lay secure in the curl of his arm
and watched as his chest rose and fell steadily. His face held a look of perfect peace I
never saw when he was awake.
The next morning I took copious notes during the first presentation. The program referred
to the topic as the "little-understood field of liquidity risk".
"Stunningly dull field of liquidity risk, more like," observed Max, who arrived late and
spent more time texting on his mobile than listening to the speakers.
The first presentation was very slow because of the endless translations. A former
chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland was up next. "That almost sounds like English,"
said Max, perking up briefly.
"I could suggest some things Sir George might stick in his sporran," he said an hour later
as the Scot droned on relentlessly. My shoulders shook with the effort to contain my
mirth - which of course only encouraged him. Unfortunately, the next speaker, the
adviser to the Governor of the Bank of England, had a slight lisp. We were drawing looks
of disapproval and shushing sounds by lunch break.
We ate in the hotel café, which was not unlike any similar London hotel's café. I looked
at the schedule despondently. "Looks like there will be more on independence and
centralised risk management for the Chinese banks." I frowned. "Isn't that what they
talked about all morning?"
"Let's go up to the room," he said furtively.
I feigned shock. "I thought you said we weren't on holiday." I reminded.
"We weren't - until you agreed to stay in my room," he smirked. "Now it's a jolly
holiday!" he said in a silly voice, making me titter. A dour-faced man at the next table
scowled at us.
"Oh Max, please let's play hooky?" I begged. "There's any number of beautiful places to
see nearby." He took my hand and we were snogging before the lift door closed.
Up in the room I wanted to change from my business attire into sightseeing clothes.
"Here, let me help you with that," he said, removing my bra in one deft motion.
"Give that back to me!" I said, snatching it from his hands. "You are not helping! You are
trying to get me naked," I accused. He was so cute when he was horny. "Kim said that
the hotel arranges group tours for the conference attendees," I suggested.
"Did he? Helpful chap," said Max as he unzipped my skirt.
"It promotes guanxi to engage in recreational activities with the hosts," I explained as he
"I don't care if promotes world peace. I want you to myself for a little while," he said.
This made me so ridiculously happy that I surrendered. A little less than an hour later, we
lay entwined, flushed and sated once more, and I tried to approach the subject again.
"We could go to the opera," I suggested.
"I don't like opera in English. Why would I want to sit through it in Chinese?" he asked.
"It is considered one of the highest achievements of their culture. It is a combination of
song, theatrics and acrobatics. The lyrics are displayed in English on electronic boards -
like subtitles at a film," I said.
"I detest subtitles," he groused. "If I need to work that hard, then it's not very
entertaining, is it?"
"All right," I conceded. "Forget the opera. I'll go next time." I smiled at the thought.
"You are going to absolutely shine at this," he said, sounding very much the benevolent
"Yes, I am," I agreed.
"You are going to expand our Asian market share so much that Nigel is going to kiss my
ass for finding you," he chortled. "I think the old fart should pay me a commission. What
does that bastard trying to steal you for NatWest get?"
"I don't think you can claim a finder's fee when I already work for the bank," I pointed
out, dodging the question.
"How about a stroll around the Square?" he suggested. I jumped at it and we fled the
hotel like students lured to truancy by the promise of a gorgeous spring day.
We walked east along Financial Street until we reached the western boundary of
Tiananmen. We stood in the middle of the great pavilion and looked around. I pointed.
"See those loudspeakers on the light poles? That's so the government can broadcast
speeches to the crowds."
"It's very … large," said Max sounding less than impressed.
"Let's keep going," I suggested. "If we hurry, we can make the Forbidden City before
they close the palace gates." We continued north on a scenic twenty minute walk, lined
with monuments, until at last we came upon the entrance to the outer court. Inside were
the remnants of what had once been a bustling city. The larger family houses gave way to
servants quarters. I read all the signs to Max. "This is where the concubines lived," I said
when we came to the smaller dwellings of the inner court.
"It says that?" he asked.
"No, of course not. I read it in the Lonely Planet book." I imagined those women, waiting
in their apartments, not knowing when their masters would choose to leave their own
homes and pay a clandestine call. Did any of the women look forward to these visits?
Did these rich and powerful men care something for them? Or were the women merely
useful vessels? The empty despair I conjured in the rooms seeped inside me and I felt
Max put his arm around me. "The sun is going down. Shall we go back?" he asked. There
was more, stretching far beyond, but we had already been walking better than two hours.
We retraced our path, passing the large crowd gathered outside Tiananmen to watch the
guards lower the flag at sunset. Kim had warned me that cabs were not allowed
anywhere near the historical sites, but we finally managed to find one within a block of
I told the driver.
"Where are we going?" asked Max.
"The night market," I said. Minutes later the cab stopped. We stepped out into the street,
inhaling the delicious aroma of grilling meat and vegetables.
We mingled with the locals and the tourists, perusing the rows of red and white stalls. All
contained identical, gleaming cook tops, fitted with gas burners. "It looks hygienic
enough," Max decided. He patted his stomach. "And it smells divine. What would you
We sampled noodles and steamed buns, and roast lamb and chicken on bamboo skewers.
We went perhaps one stall too far. A man was holding up something vaguely familiar -
also on a skewer.
"What is it?" Max asked, wrinkling his nose.
I translated the question to the man and listened to his response. "Oh dear. I believe they
are small garden birds," I reported to Max.
The man took something from the grill and held it up. "And scorpions!" exclaimed Max.
We both backed away from the stall, declining the treats. "I think I've had my fill. How
about you?" he asked.
We walked the short distance back to the hotel.
In the room, Max opened two miniature bottles from the mini bar, clinking his tiny
whiskey against my tiny vodka. "Cheers," he said and swallowed the contents of his. I
took a sip from mine before he took it away from me and set it on the dresser. He
squeezed my bottom, pulling me close against him as he kissed me.
"We should have a plan," I said when he released my mouth.
"What do you mean?" he asked distractedly. He was concentrating on unbuttoning my
blouse. Succeeding, he put his hands on my shoulders and gently pressed me down,
willing me to do his bidding with a lusty, wicked smile.
"How do you think we should handle - this - when we get home?" I asked, kneeling
before him. He didn't reply. He was clearly more interested in winding my hair about his
fingers - and other appendages. "I was wondering if perhaps we ought to cool it - us -
for awhile?" I asked.
Max had his hands on the back of my head. He tipped my face up and studied it. His
expression indicated that he was questioning my mental health. I felt foolish.
"No one knows. Why should anything change?" he said somewhat impatiently, filling my
mouth - presumably so that I could not ask any more annoying questions.
The next day, we flew back to Blighty. Max was all charm with the flight attendants. We
seemed to be seated in the midst of a large family, traveling together. I assumed that they
were related anyway, because their argument was in full tear as they boarded, and
continued well after take-off. Even this did not seem to disturb Max's fine mood. When
the attendant came round with headsets, he took two.
"When was the last time you watched the in-flight film?" I asked, amused.
"Oh, I don't know, years. But who cares? Maybe it will help forestall the inevitable a little
longer," he replied.
The little flutters of apprehension began beating their wings frantically. "The inevitable?"
I asked, instantly hating the fearful sound of it.
"You know. Back to the grindstone. Reality," he said distractedly as he studied the
"Ah ha," I said. "And what happened in Beijing wasn't reality?"
Max laid the card in his lap. He peered at me over the top of his reading glasses. "I can be
careless with my words. That was inaccurate. This," he said, taking hold of my hand, his
thumb gently kneading my palm, "is as real as anything I've ever experienced."
"But you don't think it will last," I said. I wanted so much to believe his promise that he
could make it all good. It made me sad that he shared my doubts, because it leant them
There was a long pause as he weighed his words, perhaps not wishing to be careless with
them again. "You may have noticed that I have a difficult time trusting people. I tend to
avoid relationships because every time I have one, I make a cock up of it."
"Yes. I know what you mean. It's really too much bother," I agreed.
"Yes. Yet - here we are, hmm?" he mused, studying my hand as he turned it over within
his. "Now I find, to my great surprise, that I want
the bother." He kissed me, as though
to seal off any further worries that threatened to burst from my lips.
We watched the silly film and held hands, like lovers do. When the plane landed at
Heathrow, he woke me by kissing the top of my head and murmuring my name. I'd been
sleeping with my face pressed against his shoulder and he teased me about the creases his
shirt left in my cheek.
"See you in the morning," Max said, stealing one last chaste kiss as we waited for our
separate cabs. "Don't worry. It will all sort," he assured, tucking a curl behind my ear.
We parted company and I went home to try and shake off the jet lag. I pushed aside the
worries Reg had planted by recalling Max's certainty - he seemed convinced things
would go off according to our plans. No one knew Sir Nigel's mind like Max, after all.
Monday I was still feeling the effects of the trip. It had taken me forever to fall asleep
and in the morning I didn't want to get out of bed. Once at the office, I felt a sense of
let-down, sitting at my same old desk, listening to the usual hum of the traders around
me, busy making calls and clicking away at their keyboards. I had too much restless
energy to sit still so I went up to Max's office.
"He's in a meeting with Sir Nigel," Gemma informed me.
"Really? Did he say anything about a report on the conference?" I asked, wondering if I
might be summoned any minute.
"If it's going to be your department, then you may as well start giving them the reports,"
Max had suggested just the day before, on the plane.
"No." Gemma looked at me with her large, inquisitive eyes. I knew she had sussed out
the affair long since and was simply curious to see what came next.
I went back to my desk and forced myself to summarize the highlights of the conference
- just in case. As I wrote, I allowed myself little bursts of pleasure, remembering the
smoldering sex and sweet, passionate words.
I was still having trouble clearing all the cobwebs from my head and I wanted to be sharp
for the presentation so I sent the finished report to the printer and went to the break room
for a cuppa.
"Did you have a good time in Beijing?" It was Janice - from the bar and the taxicab
"It was a horrible bore, actually," I replied.
"Hmm," she scrunched her nose - that has always struck me as simply the most irritating
female gesture ever. "I imagine it was. Good thing you had Max."
Something unguarded must have crossed my face. Looking back, the satisfied smirk she
managed to pull over her horsy teeth should have set warning bells ringing in my head.
"I don't think he likes travel but he was a good sport about it," I said noncommittally.
"I bet," she said, in a way I did not care for at all. Scrunch.
I did not linger. I went to the printer to collect my report. I saw her out the corner of my
eye talking to two other young traders. They had their heads together, whispering.
Pretending to proof the report, I turned round and walked back to my desk, casually
glancing at them as I passed. Yes, they were definitely talking about me.
I didn't have long to ponder it. My mobile rang. "Cyn here," I said.
"You have to leave at once." His voice, clipped.
"What?" I asked.
"Don't let anyone stop you. If anyone tries, say that you are ill."
"What happened?" I asked.
"I'll ring you at this number as soon as I can," he said.
"Where are you?" I stood up so that I could better see him, but he was still not in his
The firmness in his tone made my barely suppressed anxiety rocket out of control. I felt
my chest tighten and it was suddenly hard to draw breath. "I don't understand," I
"They're coming Cyn. Leave - right now." He hung up.
Then I saw the security guards get off the escalator. It was like a bad déjà vu experience
of the day poor Lee got the axe. So that was it - he was trying to spare me the
humiliation of being escorted out in front of everyone. I grabbed my bag and walked
quickly in the opposite direction toward the lift. It occurred to me that my colleagues
would not likely be referring to me as "poor Cynthia."
I'm proud to say that I did not panic. Instead, I went shopping. I bought a new bag and
waited, checking my mobile periodically. When I had not heard from him by three, I
made a few phone calls. Jane met me for dinner.
"You know I love you and you always have my support, but really, what did you expect
would come from shagging the boss?" she asked.
"Don't waste my time with false sympathy. Tell it to me straight," I said, eating the olive
out of my vodka tonic. I checked my mobile again.
"You aren't really hoping he's going to save the day for you now?" she asked dubiously.
"No. But he said he'd call. I might be unemployed but I still want to see him," I said.
"Why? The bastard cost you your job while sneaking around. That's not what I call good
"I can't blame him - I went along willingly. When I asked him to cool it, he did. We only
started up again because I allowed it," I said.
"Well. I hope it was worth it," she said, stabbing her salad with the indignation she
thought I didn't have sense enough to feel.
"It was," I said quietly.
Jane paused, salad fork in the air. "Really?" She leaned forward. "That good?" She
arched a brow.
I nodded. "I doubt I ever have better. I'm just glad he came along now. I'll probably cry
and listen to maudlin songs and start smoking again when he starts seeing someone else,"
"What makes you sure he will? It sounds like he risked almost as much as you," she
"Because he is incapable of making a commitment. He'll have to end it. I really don't
think I'm strong enough to let him go," I said, poking apathetically at my salad.
Jane looked at me aghast. "Now I know why you haven't told me more about him. He's
done something terrible to you."
"You just have to trust me. Whatever I have to do to pick up the pieces, it was worth it."
"I wish you'd come away with me for a holiday before you start looking for another job.
We could go some place cool and escape this muggy place. It would be good for you,"
"At Christmas we were going to go someplace warm." I sighed. "It's too late. I start the
new job day after tomorrow."
"What?" she exclaimed
"They wanted me tomorrow but I was firm about the one day. I'm going to go have a
massage and a pedicure."
Jane sat back in her chair, smiling and toasting me with her wineglass. "Now that's
There was still no message as I took the tube home. I was sitting with the telly on, not
really hearing or seeing it when he knocked at my door. I'd half expected him to come,
half thought I might never see him again.
He looked wretched, and not just because it was raining and he'd forgot his brolly.
Somehow I wanted to comfort him even though I was the one getting the axe. "I quit,"
were the first words out of his mouth.
"You didn't!" I exclaimed.
"Well, no, I didn't. I tried to but the fucker said he'd fire you anyway."
"Jesus Max! Don't scare me like that. Are you coming in or are you going to just stand
out there dripping?"
He looked at me uncertainly. "I didn't know if you'd ever want to see me again."
I made him take off his shoes and stripped him of his wet jacket and trousers. His words
came out in a rush. "I feel awful. This is entirely my fault. I was arrogant to think I could
convince Nigel of anything. He hadn't even heard about NatWest or Yang, can you
believe that? Apparently we've not been very discreet - he'd heard about it from several
people. I told him, you should fire me, she's my subordinate, abuse of authority and all
that - but he claimed that you
into the foreign trade lead. He said that at
my age men begin to develop a weakness for younger women, can you believe that?"
"I bet the old fart is jealous because he hasn't got laid in years," I said, and handed him a
towel to dry his hair. Then I let him off the tile entry onto the carpet.
"I didn't call sooner because I've been walking round, trying to think what you should
do," he said, sitting down on my sofa and accepting the cognac snifter I offered him. He
swirled it round and took a sip, nodding his appreciation.
"You can thank Rob for that. I don't care for the stuff."
He took another sip, then drained the glass, licking his lips. "Much as it pains me to think
of you working for that bastard, I've decided that you should call NatWest and take
them up on their offer. And take the Yang account with you." He set the glass down
I looked at him evenly. "Well, that's a bold idea."
A lengthy pause. "You've already done it, haven't you?" he asked.
I shrugged. "I didn't see as I had much choice. But it's going to make things difficult for
"In what way?" he asked.
"Sleeping with the enemy," I said, waving my hand. "and all that." He nodded. I could
see he was still trying to catch up.
"So if you're not mad at me can I spend the night?" he asked.
Reg made me lead on foreign trade as promised and kept me so busy I barely had time to
go home, shag Max, and come back to work the next day. It was wonderful - for a few
months. Then I was shipped off to Beijing. I didn't come home for six months.
Max called almost daily for a while - maybe a month, then less frequently, and then I
heard through mutual contacts he had a new girl in the office. About four months after
I'd gone I read about his scandal - the market manipulation. Still, it was a bit of a shock
when he left Lawton Brothers. The official word was that all was amicable and the board
agreed to buy him out when he declined partner, but Reg told me that he was forced out.
I said I found that highly unlikely - if anyone could get away with it, Max could, but Reg
insisted he'd finally gone too far.
I'm back in London often now, as well as all over the world - just as Max said the job
required. I love it.
I heard last week that he had taken up residence in France and was making wine. Poor
bastard is likely going out of his mind. I think of him often. Maybe Jane will want to visit
France next spring.
© Tamara, 2008