Crossing the River

by Dominic Blackwell

I

“See you down there!”

It was Friday night. Karen’s team were on their way to Sally’s do, but she they’d like it if she booked the sale for this month’s bonus. Karen sat back down at her screen, pulled up a web screen. CANNOT DISPLAY THIS WEB PAGE. Not good. She looked up. She’d call over the tech guys. But they’d gone, of course, to the pub with all the rest. Come on Karen, what now? She had pride in herself, how she’d pull great things from a hat when things got tough.

She knew what she’d do! Across the hall. That new web firm. The guy who looked up from his screen when she walked to the lift. Next to the sale she’d just made, this one should be a snap. She looked down at her dress, her heels. Just the clothes, for the party later. Oh well, she wouldn’t change back to her suit just so she could sort this.

She knocked on the door.

Karen looked at the man who stood at the door. Taller than her even as she stood with heels as high as she could wear. Hair which was dark and eyes with depth. Looked like his head had gone elsewhere.

“Hi.”

Karen watched his eyes flick back, meet hers. Did he look at her chest or just at his shoes?

“Could you could do me a huge favour? Phil, is that right?”

“Yes that’s right”

Thank God. The name came to her from when he’d met her with Sally in the hall two weeks back.

“Phil, I’m Karen Smith, from Impact across the hall.”

He looked struck dumb.

“Yes — the dress”, she said. She should tell him why. “We have drinks for Sally. I’d set off on my way to the door, but our computers crashed, our tech guys have gone home and if I don’t get my latest sale booked in, it won’t count for this month’s bonus. So—”, she breathed in with a smile, “—if it wouldn’t be too cheeky — could I use one of your computers? I just need the net. I swear I’ll be done in five minutes.”

Karen flashed him a smile. He might have hoped he’d leave soon, but he wouldn’t say no to her.

“A computer? Sure, you can use this one.”

“Thanks — you’re a real star!” Karen beamed. Always add one more bit of charm. Make him feel good he said yes.

Karen’s fingers flew fast over the keys. She pulled up a web screen, logged in to the server at her head office and booked the sale. Her figures this month were the best again. “There we are!”, she said. “Thanks a lot. My team’ll be pleased when they get their share of that!”

Phil logged her off from the computer that she had used, packed his laptop.

“So — if there’s nothing else you need, I’ll get off now.”

“Of course, thanks again.” Karen smiled once more.

Phil opened the door. Karen went out before him. She heard him shut the door behind them and set the alarm. Karen strode, her heels loud on the hard floor. Phil walked behind her.

Karen was skilled in this pair of heels but the flights of stairs, four of them, might push her luck. She’d take the lift. Phil went for the stairs but Karen called him.

“Come on, give yourself a break. Take the lift, you’ve helped me — you’ve earned it”

The lift had come. They stepped in. Karen pressed the knob for the ground floor. The lift bumped off.

They’d just moved off when the lift shook then stopped dead. “It often does this”, said Karen, though she felt fear touch her. She pressed the knob again, it didn’t help. She saw Phil glance round the lift.

“That doesn’t look good.”

He’d seen a error sign which glared red behind Karen’s shoulder. He palmed his phone. She saw he had no signal.

“Oh no.” Karen’s skin pricked. Her heart thumped, hard, ahead of the beat. “Don’t worry”, said Phil. “All we do is press the service call. It’ll ring the bell downstairs.” But she knew better. “No-one will hear it. The guy on the door likes one of the girls in my team. He asked himself to the pub with them. No-one will be there until his mate on the next shift gets there at 8”. She scanned Phil’s watch’s face. Two hours. Two bloody hours.

The lift jerked. The lights blacked. Emergency lights flashed on. Karen grabbed hard for something she could hold on to. Her hand was empty but she felt her nails catch on something as her fingers clenched. Phil shouted out in pain.

“Oh God. I’m so, so sorry. I’m not too keen on closed spaces”

They scared her to death. She hoped he wouldn’t be cross she’d scratched him. She wasn’t normally clumsy. Like her head, her body had lost it.

Phil looked at his hand. Red marks but no broken skin.

“Don’t worry. No real harm done. We’re safe here you know,”

How did he know that? Karen felt fear. “Talk to me. Please.” She was trapped, feared silence.

“OK, that’s fine. We can talk”

“I talk well. I feel safe when I do it. I went into Sales because I found it easy.” Her voice shook with none of the smoothness of her sales style.

“I get that. Me, I find code and design easy. Do what you know, I suppose.”, he replied. Not the best chat she’d had. But her other choice was silence.

She spoke once more. “But the thing is, although I love it when I talk, I don’t know what I can say now. I can’t talk about how we’re in here — it scares me too much, and I can’t talk about what I’ve got planned for later because I don’t know when we’ll get out, and I just don’t know what I should do.”

Karen’s words flew out, fast then faster. Her eyes welled. She felt vile. Why hadn’t she packed some flat shoes in her bag? If she had she could have used the stairs. Why hadn’t she chased up maintenance about the lift? If she had she would be outside now.

“Well, look. Every time you walk past our door I see you and hear you on your phone. I don’t know a thing about what you’re really like, but you act like you have more confidence than anyone I’ve ever seen. If you can do that, you’ll get through this.”

Karen breathed out hard, smiled, not quite calm.

“Thanks. You want to help. That’s nice. The thing is, I win people over for my job. I charm them. But here there’s only you I could win over. And there’s nothing you could do which would get me out of here.”

She knew she’d said too much as the words left her mouth. Far too honest.

“Thanks. Good to know my place in the scheme of things”.

He smiled, put himself down as a joke yet she sensed the slight he felt.

“Phil, I’m so sorry. All you you’ve done is help me out and now you’re stuck here with me and I lose it and scratch your hand — you don’t deserve this.”

“Look I’m fine. My hand will be fine. We’ll find a way, we’ll get through this”

He couldn’t get her out of here but he was on her side.

“Look I’m normally really calm. And I’ve never scratched anyone with my nails before. I’m normally so careful. I only grew them this long because I wanted my hands to look elegant. And I’m only in this bloody lift because I couldn’t risk four flights of stairs in these.” She pointed at her heels. “God, you must think I’m shallow…”

Karen felt her nerve leave her. She looked weak, sounded vain. She felt glad that her team couldn’t see her now.

To her surprise, Phil took Karen’s hands in his.

“Karen, you’re fine, I don’t think that at all.” He spoke no more until her hands were still. Then he went on. “You know, I always thought people in Sales were amoral monsters, who’d sell their grandma for some cash, and yet here you are, you’re really scared and yet still you care about me and if I think badly of you.”

“OK. You got me there. I’m a disgrace to my profession.”

She laughed, weak but more calm. She felt her hands go loose in his.

“Look, do you mind if we sit down”, she said. “There must be room if we sit in one corner and put our legs diagonally.”

Now Phil laughed.

“Great logic. I ought to make you an honorary programmer.”

“I ought to have you in my team. You’ve kept me sane in here, that’s a damn hard sell”, she replied. Phil smiled at her.

“So now I have you hear in this small meeting space what’s on the agenda?”

“Well I’m hardly dressed for a meeting”

“Really? I’d never have known. I thought Sales had this much glamour all the time.”

“What I do isn’t glamourous. I just act so people feel they’ll get something good. I play on people’s desire for money.”

“I’ll bear that in mind”

“Oh no. That’s not what I meant.” God, that sounded bad. “I mean that I have an sense for what people want and I make them feel they’ll get it.” She paused so he’d take that in. “That didn’t help did it?” This was fun. She felt better. She read his mind as it turned again and again. He couldn’t see her angle. She didn’t see it herself yet. So she kept her options open.

“Why do I sound like I should feel shame for how I earn my living?” Feigned remorse. Pretend she’d let her mouth run away from her. She had him now. “You know you’ve pulled a classic Sales trick yourself?”, she asked. “Shut up and let the other person crack.” Act like he’s in charge. He’ll like that.

“No”, Phil spoke back. “I’m just naive. I just don’t know your evil ways.”

“I’m not evil. Am I?”

She pulled the trigger, stared right into his eyes. He flustered, his cheeks flushed pink. The game was Karen’s now.

“That’s a hard question…” He stalled.

She looked at him, pleased. He squirmed. He had no clue what he should say but couldn’t own up.

He smiled, a bit twitchy. “I’m not sure if you’re evil.”

Karen pouted, played hurt.

“Karen are you flirting with me?”

“Of course I am!”

“Why are you flirting with me?”

Karen switched acts, played the cynic.

“It’s what I do. I tease people with the thought that I’ll make their lives better. I play on their hopes.”

“But with me, now?”

“Oh — I see. You think you’re special. I’m sorry.” She tapped his arm. “I do it with everyone. All the time.” Let him down. Make him work.

“What do you want from me? I don’t know what I should do.”

“Of course you don’t”

“And you don’t see why I find you evil?”

She’d tease him one time more.

“Why don’t you get this? It’s just a game. We all play it. You just don’t like that I play it much better than you”

Now he felt riled. “What’s your problem, Karen? All I wanted was for me get out of here with my files backed up. And because you ran your sales pitch on me, I’m stuck here with you. And I only talked to you because you asked me to.”

Karen looked at Phil with a versed eye. She watched him stew. She loved this. She’d never met anyone who she could play this well. And she liked his looks, a bonus. She knew where she’d go.

“You’re not a victim here. I can’t believe your luck that you have this chance.”

He sounded taken aback. “My luck? How am I lucky?”

“I fascinate you. I saw it in your eyes when you opened the door. You wanted me to sell you on something — anything! I couldn’t do my job if there weren’t people desperate that I sell things to them. You’re one of them. I’m sure of that. Yet I bet you’d never come up to me. Now you have the chance. You can talk to me. So that’s why I think you’re lucky”

She stopped, watched his eyes. She’d built the plinth he’d put her on. She’d let him help her back down later, if she chose. Phil looked stuck for words so Karen didn’t push too hard. After all he was a kind man and she did fancy him. She just had to hold all the cards in her hand.

“It’s bad that we’re stuck in here and you have helped me. I know I could talk for England. But I’m an honest person. People think that Sales means you hide things. You don’t, not if you’re good. I don’t change what people think is true, I change what they feel is important.”

“So Karen, what should I feel is important?”

She smiled. “Us. Here and now. Now please talk to me”

“I have been! All the time we’ve been in here. Haven’t you heard?”

She frowned. “No, talk to me properly. Be honest with me. I don’t scare you that much do I?”

“Look. I don’t know what I should say. I don’t know much about you.”

She steepled her fingers, their long nails pointed up. She felt poised, alert, in charge.

“Yes you do. You mean you don’t know facts about me and don’t know what makes me tick. I’ll tell you what I feel now. I hate being stuck in this stupid box where I can’t change a thing. And I know that you’re a kind man. You care about how you can help me. But you’re also a coward. You won’t be straight with me.”

Come on, thought Karen. Show me what you’re made of.

“Karen, we’re trapped in a small space together. I can’t go anywhere if I offend you.”

“How do you know you haven’t already offended me Phil?”

She looked at him hard. Wow, he had it bad. Deperate for her approval.

“Karen — what do you want?”

She knew her line of attack.

“When I knocked on your door, what did you do?”

Phil looked baffled. “I don’t know. I didn’t know what you wanted until you asked me about the computer.”

“Honesty, please. Where did you look when I opened the door?”

“I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t stare.”

“No. You didn’t. But you saw I had a low-cut dress on”

“Yes.”

“Good. One straight answer.”

She went on. “I wouldn’t dress like this for a meeting. But if I felt shy dressed like I’d have changed”

“OK.”

“And you know I’m a few inches shorter without these heels on?”

“Yes, I guess.”

“It still changes how you act with me when I can look you in the eye.”

“Well I don’t know…”

“Trust me. It’s a small thing, but when I need to persuade someone, small things add up. And when I melted down earlier. What did you feel?”

“It shocked me. I thought…”

“No. Not what you thought. What you felt. Honestly.”

“I felt sorry for you. I hoped I could help you.”

She saw it in his eyes. He really cared.

“You’ve helped me. You have. But do you think I planned I’d get stuck in a lift with you?”

“No. I hope not”

“I certainly didn’t. I hate that we’re stuck in here. But I can’t do anything about that now. And I am a saleswoman. I think on my feet. Or even off my feet on the floor of this lift. And you’ll tell me what I’ve worked out.”

“I will?”

“You will. But answer some questions. You’ll see the power of my evil ways, you just wait!” A smile crossed her lips, this felt just too good.

“Why do you look up when I walk past your door?”

“I erm…”

“Be honest.”

“I hear your footsteps in the corridor. I hear your voice.”

“OK. If I’m in heels. Or if I’m on the phone. Which covers a lot of the time. But why do you look up from your desk when I walk past and I’m not in heels and I’m not on the phone. You do, I’ve seen you.”

“You’re nicer to look at than my screen?”

“Don’t evade. Be honest!”

“OK — I find you really attractive.”

Wow. Karen felt she could walk on water. She liked him as much as he liked her. But she’d have more fun if she made him squirm once more.

“Finally! We’re there. You do. It’s funny really?”

“It is?”

“You know, the only that makes it worth being stuck in here, is the sight of you as you try and treat me with respect and not look at my breasts.” She smiled and arched her back. She saw his eyes gape. Good.

“And since I’m really evil…”

“…yes…”

“I’ll make your life much harder.”

She took the thin fabric of her dress at her knee between her thumb and finger, then pulled with flair like a conjuror. The long split in her dress gaped wide.

She looked at him. She liked what she saw in his eyes.

“Now, nothing will happen between us in this lift. I won’t put on a show for the maintenance crew when they get here. Sally’s do will be past the professional courtesy bit, well on the way to drunken carnage. I won’t go along just for that, I’ll call her sometime this weekend and wish her luck with her new job. So what are your plans for tonight?”

“I don’t have any.”

“Yes you do. Your plan involves me. It involves my flat. And you’ll be busy at least until tomorrow morning”

Karen spoke no words for a good long while. Her heart thrilled as she watched him take that in.

“Now Phil. I’m going to be really, really evil. My plan is this : I’ll tell you, in graphic detail, every last thing which we can’t do until we get out of here and back to my place…”

II

The café looked scuffed, cheap. Grease from bacon and sausages hung in the air. Most of the tables had empty chairs save for a few where lonely people sat and looked out with blankness over their cups, through their steam and the smeared windows at the grey streets outside. In the corner, a group of men, burly in high-vis bibs tucked with zest into plates stacked high with fried food. Karen shut the door behind her

“Hi, how are you?”

Karen hugged Phil. She’d changed her look from he usually saw her. Less done up. Loose fleece and jeans and trainers, hair pulled back.

“Good thanks – you?”

“I’m very well”

She went to the till, bought a mug of tea for herself, a black coffee for him and brought them over and sat back down across from him.

“So, why are we here?”

“I’ve got an idea. I want your thoughts. And I don’t want your mind elsewhere. Also, I hope you don’t just want me for my body”

She saw him flinch. Six months on and still he tied himself in knots so he could please her. Absolutely lovely.

“Is that what you think, Karen?”

She slapped his hand in jest.

“Of course not, silly! Now listen…”

Karen watched the care with which he heard her words, weighed each part of the plan. She knew it was a good idea and how it would work but she needed that he feel it too. Her heart raced as her plans, moulded with skill in her head, were made into words and left her lips.

“Karen, you’re a genius.”

“I know!”

“So where do I fit in?”

“Well I asked you here for a reason”

She told him how she hoped he’d do this with her. She saw the way he watched at her as she talked, Then she stopped and looked him straight in the eye, a challenge.

“So – are you up for this?”

He looked at her, like a knight with the Grail in his hands.

“OK. But I have a deal for you”

“Right…” Her eyes quizzed his. There was something else. What was it?

“If we do this…”

“Yes…”

“And if it works…”

“Yes…”

“Will you spend the rest of your life with me?”

She paused.

“Wow”

Her eyes were wide. Tears filled them. She grabbed his hands.

“Yes, of course I will!”

She pulled his face to hers. She kissed him deep and long and hard. When she let him go, she smiled for a long time. This got better and better.

“I thought I took a risk that first time that I asked you back to mine…”

He just smiled back at her. Karen asked : “Where did this all come from?”

He looked her straight in the eyes.

“I believe in you Karen. And if you believe in me, this will be brilliant.”

III

Karen flew along the half-empty seafront. Her feet struck the ground hard one after the other. She hadn’t run for a while and she’d gone longer and harder than she had planned. One hip ached dully and her insteps throbbed on each step. She didn’t mind the pain. She deserved it. She had messed up and soon she’d pay for it.

Hubris. Stupid bloody hubris. And how vain she’d been! She’d thought that because she could sell she could build a business from scratch. She could round up a few investors, make some customers say that they might buy, if the product came out right — but it hadn’t. They’d built nothing which anyone would buy. And she’d sunk a year of her life into this. She’d be lucky if she didn’t lose the flat. Her heart sank at what was left to her: crawl back to the sales world and beg for a job. She had the record. Once they’d have seen her as one of the best. But now she stank of how she’d failed and she knew they’d smell it in a heartbeat. If she got lucky, she might make half the money she’d been on before.

And if she didn’t speed up, she’d be late for the meeting. That last shot in the dark. But Dave and Chris deserved much better than that she’d come late, the woman who’d caused all their woes. She’d seen the look in their eyes the last few mornings. Like zombies, their corpses animated by unnatural means, their eyes bleared and hollow, they stumbled through each night. They had no hope and yet they’d build up code for each idea that she had.

She saw in her mind way they’d acted when she’d first met them. They’d flashed fine words at her, how their code would be agile and lean. How desperate they’d been that she be impressed. They’d let her design the whole system. She could sell and market and talk to people with her eyes off the floor, so to them she could wield deep black magic. Their awe had flattered her but now she’d let them down. And she knew it and they knew it. Now they would have blown the time she had but they were young and hadn’t proved themselves. They’d be back to square one in their careers, with no confidence, in a dead market. And she’d caused all this mess.

The wind whipped hard off the sea and the rain blew, hard and cold, straight into her face. She hardly saw the people she passed as they walked their dogs or went to work sullen. To her they were just live traffic cones. She dodged them, swerved round them. Her chest burned, raw with strain, but she didn’t slow down.

She made it to the door. No time for rest. She fumbled with the key until it got into the lock far enough to turn. Hurry up! She charged up the steps of the flat. Her hamstrings shot her with pain on every step. In the flat she checked the clock. Time enough that she’d make it if she shifted. She stripped off, showered, felt brief relief as heat and steam from the spray reached her skin and the water flowed though her hair, long flowing steams.

Out of the shower, she chose her clothes. Quick and simple makeup, jeans, trainers, top. Startups didn’t do power suits and Karen had no time for fancy outfits now.

Karen had heard so many pitches now from those who said that they could fix the trainwrecked product. She hoped someone would come in with a good idea. But if you had good ideas, you’d execute them, not do someone else’s. She knew no-one else had the answers and but she couldn’t fix it herself.

Dave and Chris still tried hard, she felt. She walked the rain-soaked streets to the place the meeting would happen. They were hard-core nerds with no eye for anything but code and maths. So some tool which made things look OK was great. They had tracked down the guy who wrote it. He’d dumped the code on the web for anyone’s use because he thought that design by code wouldn’t work. So, a quitter. Just what we need as our project flies off the edge of a cliff.

“Hi Karen!”

Two pairs of deep-sunk eyes stared at her. Dave and Chris lived on nerves and energy drinks and not much sleep. They mumbled through the stuff they’d fixed that night. She spoke like their work would help, but she and they both knew the score. They’d reached the end of the line.

“Is this the place he said he’d come?” Karen asked Dave and Chris. Dave checked his phone. “Yeah. Just got a text. He’s in there now.” “Let’s do it.” Karen breathed in deep pulled up her head and opened the door.

Karen tensed right up. Her eyes burned hot. Dave and Chris looked at each other, scared. She turned to them.

“I’m sorry. You must leave now. This is personal”

Dave shuffled out of the door and Chris after him.

IV

The door slammed shut. The rain slapped hard on the window.

Karen stared at Phil. They stood frozen, eyes locked together like Old West shooters poised for a final showdown.

Phil spoke first. “I didn’t know it was your company. Some guy I’d never met emailed me. He told me about a startup which needed some help. I thought it sounded interesting…”

Karen looked right back at him. Cold and brittle. Her eyes set hard.

“You left me.”

Phil looked down, like he’d thought better of his words, like he didn’t want a fight.

“Karen, if you don’t want me here then I’ll go. I’ve made a mistake.”

She spoke no words. She’d spent her rage. Phil had his hand on the door.

“Wait. Talk to me. Please.” The words were out of her mouth before she knew why she’d said them. They sat down across from each other. Phil looked at her. Karen felt dazed. But she knew where she’d start.

“You said that you’d spend the rest of your life with me.”

“I wanted that. I wanted that so much.”

“So what went wrong?”

Phil began an answer. His words came out so fast.

“I loved you so much. I would have walked through fire for you. And your idea is so good. And the way you can sell… You amazed me. You were just so wonderful. I loved it that I had you. I felt so lucky…”

Then Phil’s head dropped. He was stuck for a moment. Then he found the words.

“…but you didn’t want just want a man who loved you with all his heart. You didn’t just want a business partner who loved your idea. You needed someone who you could play, someone you could control.”

Karen felt hurt.

“You know when we were in that lift? I thought you were really scared. I knew I would do anything for you, if I could help. And when you started the games, when we flirted, it felt like fun. But we never got past that.”

He had her there.

“I did what you wanted all of the time. We should have worked together but you wouldn’t let me make choices when it came to what I knew. You never heard what I said at work or at home. So, I was no use to the business and I was no use to you. We had no relationship, any more, not really. And I couldn’t take it any more. So I left for both our sakes.”

Karen said nothing. She didn’t come back at Phil. She sat, stared at Phil. Her mouth wouldn’t work any more. Then words came up from deep inside her:

“I felt scared in the lift. Really scared. And you helped me. I’d lost it and you brought me back. When I flirted with you I felt back in charge again. And I liked it so much, the way you wanted me, the way you needed me. But I needed you too.”

Neither spoke for a while. They stared into each others eyes, sad. No words came to either of them. Finally Karen spoke.

“I’ve messed it all up. Totally. And I’m out of ideas. I don’t know what I can do”

She looked at him. Did he believe her? She didn’t trust herself these days.

“Karen I’m sorry. I see it now. I read you wrong. I shouldn’t have run away. I should have talked to you more. I got it wrong.”

“No. You got it right. I acted exactly like that. I acted like that because you acted the way you did with me. In awe. It felt great. I felt swept away, like being God. As if everything came from me, as if I could do anything, create things from nothing. But since you left, I’ve taken charge on my own and now I’m deep in debt, Dave and Chris have no money, and we’ve got no product we can sell. I’ve got nothing left.”

Karen saw Phil watch her through the tears which blurred her eyes.

“Karen I love you. I always loved you. I can help, if you’ll let me.”

She held out her hands. They shook. He took them in his. She cried some more, with heavy, bitter sobs. Then, at last, she stopped and looked at him.

“What do we do now?”

“Call Chris and Dave. Have them meet us back here.”

They came back. They looked sheepish. Phil looked at them.

“Right. First thing you need some sleep. You’ve no idea what you’ve done or how anything works. Go home. And don’t think about the code. I’ll call in a week and I’ll have a new design and a list of bugs you’ll fix. OK?”

That sounded fine to them. They went out of the door.

He turned to Karen.

“You’re shattered too.”

“I am. But there’s so much stuff I must do…”

“Well, here’s what I think. Some of this is my fault. I should have talked to you when things first went wrong. I’ve got some cash. It’s not a lot but it will give us a few months. Then if you’ll let me move back in, what I pay in rent at the moment will pay your mortgage. And then we might get this thing back up on its feet.”

Karen kissed him.

“Thank you”

They left and walked out of the door into the rain.

V

Sunlight streamed into the room through a crack in the curtain. Karen and Phil lay in the bed, naked, with warm content, in each other’s arms. Karen felt Phil kiss her on the top of her head She looked up at him, smiled broadly. She was at peace.

“So we did it!”

“We did indeed, Karen”

They’d married the day before, with simplicity and joy. They’d sold the business. It took a while but it got done before their big day. They hadn’t joined the ranks of the super-rich but they’d need no thought about how they’d pay the bills for the next ten years or so.

“What will happen to the business now?”, she had asked him when the deal was done.

“It’s like a child who leaves home. It must grow up”

They knew they’d called it right. They’d proved the concept and the growth had been huge. But the company was past the startup phase. It needed stability, grown-up management, not fun and creative hustle. Phil had stepped in, made sure Dave and Chris got terms they liked. If the new owners got on their nerves, they could walk away with cash in their hands. They wouldn’t join the ranks of coders left bitter when the company they’d helped build was sold from under them.

“So what have we learned?” Karen asked, languid, her arms stretched over her head.

“Don’t take the lift?”

“Well that’s bloody silly – you wouldn’t have met me!”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

She knew he joked but she feigned deep hurt.

“I’m so sorry — I didn’t mean…”

Karen grinned.

“I own you. I can control you completely. And you can’t do a thing about it.”

“Fair point. But I think you need me too.”

A fleeting sadness touched her. She looked him straight in the eye.

“I do. I won’t forget it.”

She kissed him on the lips, tender, softly, and pulled him close to her. Then she looked at him again.

“Now, I need help with my next plan. Let me tell you about it…”

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