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Behind the glass

Chapter Text

Carol Aird was a formidable woman. Known in the hushed gossiping whispers of the staff room as ‘the blonde bloodhound’ she was a notoriously steely director. Unique in a male dominated field she took no prisoners and spared no mercy when it came to achieving market domination.

Viso was a tech company that was beginning to expand its lead in a competitive market. Technology was a booming business and the company were achieving record profits. Demand was high and Carol Aird had achieved the enviable status as the first female board of director in the entire company.

Therese had learned about ‘the blonde bloodhound’ even before interview. Her closest friend Danny worked in the marketing department of the company and had shared his own encounters with the uncompromising powerhouse.

“I learned the hard way!” He’d chuckled before necking a bottle of beer. “The one day that I was making a personal call and of course she just strolls up behind me…casually tapping my shoulder…”

“What happened?”

“She annihilated me in front of the whole office. You can imagine the roasting I got from the guys afterwards”

Therese had shrugged her shoulders and smirked. “It sounds like she’s making her mark amongst ‘the guys’”

“I’m just saying, are you sure you want to be her PA? I mean, she burns through them in months”

“I need a job and besides the pays good”

“There are easier ways to make money Therese, believe me”

“Maybe I’m not intimated by a powerful woman Danny?” Therese shot back with a playful smile. Danny held his hands up in mock protest but he had a joyful expression in his eyes.

“How about I get this powerful woman another drink?” He compromised, signalling the bar tender for two more beers.

‘How bad can she be?’ Therese convinced herself as she’d sat, nervously, anticipating her interview. Outside Carol Aird’s office were a row of chairs and Therese’s heart rate had increased as she had played a game of musical chairs with every candidate that entered the office entering the room with a grey, ashen, look of raw fear.

Therese was next and she gulped audibly as the last candidate left the room with a relieved expression.

“Miss Belivet?” A tall man called from the now opened doorway.

Therese collected her things and stood up promptly urging her heart rate to calm with every step she took.

As she came to the doorway the woman, she assumed to be Carol Aird, came into view. She was perched on a seat with her legs crossed elegantly, her fine blonde hair tied into a bun and her lips a shock of blood red. Therese noted that her pant suit was fitted to perfection, navy blue jacket and trousers with a pristine ironed white shirt and heels that matched the tones of her pursed mouth.

“Please take a seat Miss Belivet” Carol Aird addressed her with a wave of her hand.

Therese took a seat directly in front of her marvelling at the coolness, the upmost professionalism, in those crushing blue eyes. She gave nothing away in her expression and Therese wondered if this were a well-honed skill to be used in boardroom meetings. Therese had always been a dreamer, a wonderer, and her mind began to wonder now with notions of how this awe inspiring woman had become so cool.

“You have an eclectic resume” Carol noted her eyes skimming a piece of paper resting on her lap.

Therese nodded her head. “I find I am quite adaptable”

“Or is it a matter of restlessness?” Carol posed with a raised eyebrow.

Therese gulped, pausing to consider her answer. “I’ve been lucky enough to have been given some short term work in different companies which has worked in sync with my circumstances”

“Your personal circumstances?” Carol asked peering at Therese through long lashes.

“Professional circumstances. My schooling”

“Ahh yes…” Carol glanced back down at the paper. “…you’re a photographer?”

“Of sorts”

“A difficult field to gain employment in I imagine”

Therese nodded her head in agreement. “I was able to secure a funded project in the last year, which explains some of the short term employment”

“And if you were offered another funded project would I find myself without an assistant?”

Therese gulped. She felt as if she were hooked to a lie detector test and that Carol Aird would identify any discrepancies in a blink of an eye. “I’m looking for some stability Ms Aird”
Carol stared at her with unnerving precision. She drank in the sight of Therese as if marking it to memory. “Quite” She replied. “Drew would you like to go through the usual spiel of questions?” Carol asked the tall man who sat beside her. Upon hearing his name he jumped, ever so slightly, in his seat. “Formalities” Carol added speaking directly to Therese. As Drew fumbled with his papers Carol graced Therese with a casual wink and Therese felt her heartbeat resume in crashing waves.

The rest of the interview resumed without any input from Carol Aird. She sat in her seat with her gaze firmly pointed in Therese’s direction. It was unnerving but Therese remained calm, gripping her hands together for some shred of comfort to stave her through the onslaught of questions.

“Thank you Miss Belivet. We’ll be in touch” Drew addressed her prompting her stand from her seated position.

“Miss Belivet” Carol’s voice was a sharp anchor and she extended her hand in Therese’s direction. Therese thought hard about the handshake willing herself to be firm and unwavering. She held Carol’s hand in her own feeling the strength in the older woman’s handshake. Through the nervous anticipation she felt the stirrings of something else building.

------

“So you got the job?” Danny asked through the buzz of the heaving bar.

She took a long sip of her drink and nodded her head with a look of surprise. “Believe me I was stunned!”

“That bad?”

“It was probably one of the most terrifying experiences of my life!”

“I tried to tell you”

“She’s one hell of a woman isn’t she?” Therese gushed her mind tracing back memories of the raw power Carol Aird had conveyed in the merest flutter of her eyelashes.

“That’s one way to put it”

“You’ve got to respect how much she’s achieved”

“Those heels have probably walked all over the backs of men, right to the top”

“Danny! I didn’t have you pegged for a sexist pig?”

Danny shrugged his shoulders evidently feeling the effects of that forth beer. He lit two cigarettes and handed one to Therese. “I’m a realist Therese. If she wants to act like a man, then treat her like one”

Therese shook her head in disbelief. No wonder Carol Aird was so unemotional and detached. How could she show even an ounce of vulnerability in the midst of such hostility?

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“There will be a brief introduction period Therese. Lou will show you the ins and outs before she leaves her post” Carol addressed Therese from behind her desk. She was leaning on her elbows and her immaculately painted nails were highlighted by clasped hands. “Then you will be flying solo. I expect a certain amount of initiative…which shouldn’t be a problem considering you’re so adaptable” She smiled at Therese but it was a curt, unfriendly, smile and Therese blanched under the scrutiny.

“I have a meeting in New York in three weeks. I’ll expect you to make reservations at an acceptable hotel for both of us. I’d like you to memorise my calendar and make any necessary appoints, flights, transportation, restaurants…” Carol trailed off as Therese frantically wrote notes on a notepad. “You understand?”

Therese nodded her head and continued to jot down her last sentence. “Absolutely”

“Good. I like a strong, black, coffee in the mornings Therese. I arrive at 8am and I expect you to be here in time for me to be greeted with a coffee” Carol spoke into the room but had allowed her eyes to be distracted by the computer screen in front of her. She typed methodically and Therese nodded her head to the emptiness of the room and anticipating she was being dismissed she rose and walked out of the room.

“Strong, black, coffee” Therese repeated. She blinked back the surprise as she returned to her small office next to Carol’s.

“It’s not too late to change your mind” Lou quipped. Lou was a middle aged woman who had a warm, rounded, face and a smile that felt motherly and comforting. Lou was a welcome ember in the bracken of the office and Therese wondered what she would do once Lou had departed. Try as she may Therese could not imagine Carol selecting Lou during the interview process.

“Do you have any advice?”

Lou looked her right in the eye before replying “Get out now! Otherwise, never, ever make her repeat herself and when you open that door to a cloud of smoke don’t make eye contact. She likes a whiskey, on the rocks, at the end of a long day and she likes the finer things in life. Don’t make the mistake of booking with a budget in mind. Trust me the skies the limit for these people”

Therese gathered Lou’s insights, committing them to memory, as though they were some precious stone or jewel. She didn’t know why but she was compelled to please Carol even if it were an impossibility. There was something about the self-assured woman that instinctively made Therese feel subservient. Maybe it was the photographer in her? Therese had always been interested in the hidden meaning behind people. Sometimes she could capture it in a smile, a wry glance, some secret vulnerability that spilled out onto print. She knew already that she was more than intrigued by Carol Aird’s potential vulnerable side. Therese believed that everybody, even a closed safe like Carol, had some sense of vulnerability locked away. In fact, she mused, the steelier the person the stronger the emotions bubbling under the surface.

 

Therese sat at her desk. The clock on the wall ticked insistently. 7.30am. She blinked back the tiredness that hung at her eyes like a weight. She had been well intentioned in her efforts to get more sleep before the work day and yet the moment she clocked off her feet seemed to find a local bar as if they had a mind of their own. She was regretting it this morning and as she prepared Carol’s coffee she stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. The coffee machine groaned and spluttered as jet black spilled free into the belly of a coffee pot. She inhaled deeply willing the smell of roasted coffee beans to give her an immediate caffeine hit. Checking her watch, she knew she had precisely twenty minutes until Carol would breeze through the hallway leading to her office. She would be immaculately dressed and she would be clutching her faithful briefcase in one hand not even considering the notion of greeting Therese until she had, had her first sip of black coffee.

In the early weeks Therese would feel the sting of rejection when Carol would seem to look straight through her with those azure eyes. Now she was used to it, expected it even, and she found that she had an uncanny knack of being a sponge for Carol’s idiosyncrasies.

After a few, minor, teething pains they had settled into something of a rhythm.

“Therese…” Carol had bristled, following a meeting with a potential investor. “…when you daydream the colour of your eyes changes…”

“Excuse me?” Therese had blushed and was grateful for Carol’s averted gaze.

“You look like you’re sleepwalking into a meeting. It’s unprofessional”

“It won’t happen again”

“It had better not!”

Therese wondered if she would ever be able to stop daydreaming?

“Therese…” Carol had barked when Therese had entered her office without knocking.

“Ms Aird?”

“Don’t call me Ms Aird…How many times do I have to tell you…when my door is closed knock before you enter my office” She fixed Therese with a look of exasperation. “I cannot be distracted by your insolence”

Therese winced. “I apologise Carol it…”

“Won’t happen again?”

 

“Have you booked the hotel?” Carol asked in her usual clipped tone as she hailed a cab. Therese marvelled at her ability to command respect and attention.

“Yes”

“Two rooms?”

Therese glanced in Carol’s direction with a look of puzzlement.

Carol tutted in response. “I’m assuming we’re not going to be sharing a room?” She challenged and Therese felt her cheeks redden at the thought of it. She didn’t dare to imagine what that would be like. What would Carol look like as she prepared for bed? Therese imagined her in some type of silken negligee. She’d sit taking off her makeup with a robe on and some jazz soundtrack playing lightly in the background… “You’re daydreaming again”

“Sorry Ms…Carol. Yes, I’ve booked two rooms”

“On the same floor?”

“Yes, just in case you need me”

Carol observed her for a moment longer before she climbed into the cab and ushered directions to the driver. As Therese hurriedly buckled her seatbelt Carol was already sat poised like some majestic creature.

 

The airport was a hive of activity. People were milling to and fro saddled with bags and suitcases as they walked at top speed to their destinations. Carol didn’t hurry. Carol breezed through the airport as though she were gliding on air. She made everything look supremely easy, which was well noted by Therese as she rushed to keep pace with the older woman.

“We’re meeting Mr Grafe at 1pm sharp” Carol informed her handing over her bag to the check in department.

“I’ve made reservations at Hynes…it comes well recommended for its period décor and smoking lounge. They sell Gurkha cigars by the box” Therese had committed an obscene amount of time to researching viable venues. Mr Grafe was a millionaire whose family owned shares in Gurkha cigars and Therese had wagered that he would appreciate dining at one of the only restaurants in Manhattan which stocked boxes of his family cigars.

Carol blinked rapidly and for the first time since Therese had met the formidable woman she noted a look of surprise on her usually stoic face. Momentarily it changed the composition of her honed facial expression and Therese noted the flash of softness she saw, however fleeting. “Any other nuggets of information?” She was standing now with her back to Therese and Therese was so close that she could see the nape of Carol’s neck.

“Mr Grafe’s family are Scottish. They emigrated to America in the 20’s and he has a huge passion for his heritage. Hynes stock some of the best Scottish whiskeys in America probably because the owner is from Dundee”

Carol glanced over her shoulder and graced Therese with a small smile. “Very good”

As Therese handed over her passport and a small suitcase she revelled in the glow of pleasing Carol. Very few compliments left Carol’s lips and Therese understood that ‘very good’ might be as good as it gets.

“There’s a bar through passport control…”

“I went to the liberty of booking a booth so you can make any necessary calls with some privacy”

But as they reached passport control there was a small snag.

“Why have you booked a seat in economy?” Carol raged upon inspection of Therese’s ticket.

“I assumed…”

“How on earth are you going to be available in economy?”

Therese’s eyes widened as Carol snatched the ticket from her hands and marched off to a ticket desk. Therese watched her disappear with a sense of mounting doom. No wonder Carol burned through PA’s. The experience of working for her was like an emotional rollercoaster. You couldn’t relax or take a moment to pause because you were never wholly certain of what Carol’s response would be.

“I’ve managed to upgrade your ticket. Honestly Therese, try and use common sense”

‘I was trying to thinking economically’ Therese thought bitterly.

“And don’t sulk you look like a petulant child with your bottom lip out”

Therese was stunned into silence and she followed Carol’s abating figure obligingly making a concerted effort to reorganise her facial expression. ‘Petulant child’ She couldn’t quite believe it and yet she took the roasting without biting back because she knew it was part of the job.

 

Therese had not expected Carol to sleep during the plane journey. Did she think she was supernatural? That she only slept in fragments and always away from prying eyes? Therese felt a strange sense of confliction. She didn’t want to watch Carol sleeping, as if in sleeping she was exposed, and yet she felt compelled to drink in the sight of her. Therese felt there were nothing more vulnerable than a person deeply entrenched in sleep. In sleep people returned to childhood, their expressions young and honest. When Carol slept she looked angelic. Her soft blonde hair shone like a halo and her delicately long lashes graced the softness under her eyes. She was soft in her sleep, with her hands resting on her knees’ and her breathing quiet but rhythmic.

Therese tried to occupy her time with scanning, meticulously, through her diary. She did not want any road bumps along the way. But every time she dipped into a new page she found her gaze distracted by Carol’s beauty. What was she thinking? Perhaps she had more masochistic tendencies than she’d imagined? How could she be so drawn to a woman who appeared to take pleasure in making her daily job as difficult as possible? Therese did not understand it but she was indeed drawn to Carol Aird. She found herself thinking of her when she returned home and settled in for bed. She’d lay with her head on her pillow and imagine a host of arbitrary scenarios. Most would involve Therese confronting Carol for the way she spoke to her. Some would stage Carol in a moment of weakness and Therese, ever faithful, would be there to bear witness. The occasional thought emerged that Therese felt necessary to censor. She would picture the two of them, in the office, at the end of a long day. Out of nowhere Carol would kiss her and Therese would immediately shut down the daydream but not before her body would hum to life and she’d feel that familiar beating beneath her breast.

When Carol woke she was momentarily startled. Gripped halfway between her sleep world and reality her eyes widened in searching and instinctively Therese placed a hand over hers to comfort her. It was instinctive and yet she admonished herself the moment she did it. Nevertheless, she tenderly stroked the back of Carol’s hand before withdrawing at warp speed.

If Carol bristled at the contact she did not show it and within seconds she had composed herself. She glanced at the map on the screen in front of her. They were moments away from landing and she began rattling a list of orders to Therese but Therese knew that she could not make eye contact with her. Therese wondered if the contact had stilled her nerves somehow? She pondered the thought a moment longer before her internal voice laughed and mocked her for such an audacious claim.

Chapter Text

Therese had booked a suite for Carol and a small adjoining room for herself. The room beside the extravagant suite felt like a modest nook in comparison. Therese wondered if this had been planned with servants and helpers in mind. Or perhaps mistresses?

Carol opened the doors to the hotel room and breezed in with a hold-all in her hands, and Therese fumbling with the rest of the bags behind her. She whistled in appreciation. "It's a doozy" She remarked as she moved from a seating area to the bedroom. "Bring the rest of the bags in here Therese" Her muffled voice called from the distance.

Therese struggled with the bags taking in the sight of the luxurious room as she dragged the suitcase behind her. The seating area was decorated in rich greens and a plush couch remained the focus of the room. There was a small bar area stocked with wines and apperitifes and the far wall boasted expansive views of the city. Therese had never seen views like this before and momentarily she was distracted enough to pause at the floor to ceiling windows.

"Therese!"

Therese jumped in her skin but brought her hand to the clear glass longingly. She would love to see this view at nighttime. When the sun had set and the buildings buzzed to life with light.

She walked into the bedroom and Carol was perched on the edge of a king sized bed, legs crossed at the ankles and supported by outstretched hands. She had arched her head back and had untangled her hair, from a tight clip, allowing the blonde tresses to tumble freely. She moved her head from side to side excercising some of the kinks in her neck. The sight of her caught off guard was charged and Therese couldn't help but linger on the image of her giving into release.

Carol registered Therese's prescence a beat later. Eyes widened ever so slightly, indulging in one last stretch, before she was buttoned up with that air of composure. "I won't need you until after my meeting with Grafe"

"What time should I expect you?" Therese asked feeling awkward at the juxtaposition of Carol seated while she towered over her in a standing position.

"Be on stand by"

Therese considered the evening ahead of her and acknowledged with a pang of regret that she would not get to see the city tonight.

"Book me a cab ten minutes after Grafe is due to arrive"

"Ten minutes late?"

"Just a subtle reminder of whose in charge here" Carol remarked and there was that wink again. So casual, so natural, and yet it made Therese's stomach heavy with a wave of butterflies.

"Do you need anything before you leave?"

"A dry martinin in an hour should do it. Now if you don't mind I'm going to relax in the tub"

In a split second Therese had conjured an image of Carol slipping into a bath of soap suds her head arching back as her body greeted the warmth with blissful appreciation.

"Now run along. Order yourself something from room service..." Therese obliged turning on her heels to leave the room. "...and Therese? I expect you to be on hand"

--------------

Therese toyed with the idea of ordering a dry martini to be delivered to Carol's door. So many of her interactions with Carol were half chance half risk. She seemed to enjoy playing a cat and mouse game with Therese but the younger woman knew that her vagueness was a test. Carol did indeed expect a certain amount of iniative and Therese was consistently battling with her own feelings of ineptitude.

Carol's cab was booked for 6.30 and Therese reasoned that with her well oiled organisation skills she would be dressed by 6.00pm and in need of a refreshment. Therese ordered the dry martini to her room for 5.50pm. Had she always been so concerned with the details?

She glanced around her room. It was small and lacked the luxury and extravagance of Carol's presidential suite but it was humble and Therese appreciated its minimalism. It gave her the space to breathe and think again.

There was a desk and modest double bed. Despite its scaled back features the room coveted one fine feature of Carol's room. The view. One pane of floor to ceiling glass looked across the skyline of manhattan. Skyscrapers darted like giants dwarfing smaller buildings. They were so tall that Therese had to crane her neck awkwardly to see rooftops. Perhaps she could steal away for an hour to take some photos?

There was a gentle tap at her door. A bus boy stood with a martini on a silver tray, a green olive bobbing gently. "Your order ma'am"

Therese had never been called ma'am before. She didn't like the sound of the term and thought that it was reminiscent of old maids. She smiled gracefully moving aside so that he could lower the tray onto the desk.

"Could you charge it to room 203?"

He bowed his head congenially. "Anything else ma'am?"

"No that's fine thank you"

---------------

There was a long drawn out pause before Carol's muffled voice could be heard. "Come in!"

Therese opened the door with the drink in hand but she was stilled by the sight of Carol looking at her reflection in a floor length mirror. She was fixing a pair of gold earrings and was distracted enough for Therese to admire her without reproach. She looked immaculate. Dressed in a velvet black dress that fit snugly to her curves and her hair teased so that it caressed the shape of her face perfectly. She was wearing red heels and her lips were painted in that shock of blood red that seemed to bring to live the steely blue waters of her eyes.

"Put it on the table will you?"

Therese did not hear her so transfixed was she by Carol's beauty. She had only seen her in power suits and collared shirts and the glamour and sophistication shot through her like a spear to the stomach.

"Therese? You're staring open mouthed" Despite Carol's attempts to remain still faced a small smirk pulled at the corners of her mouth.

Therese blushed self-consciously. "You look..." The sentence dissipated in her mouth as her mind desperately stumbled over a mess of words. Beautiful? Wonderful? Exceptional?

"I look?"

"You look beautiful"

Blue eyes locked onto Therese's gaze with an air of a challenge. She was surprised by Therese's honesty and curious by the flush of pink that lined her cheeks. 'What a curious girl' She thought as she crossed over to the table and took her martini.

"Well thank you Therese" The smirk was still there but Therese registered a hint of softening in her tone.

Therese stood awkwardly challenging herself to keep eye contact with the impressive blonde. "I'll be on hand to call you a cab..."

Carol batted a hand flippantly. "I can hail a cab. I want you sharp and alert to write up some notes about my meeting. I'm entertaining a guest this evening. Abby Gerhard, one of my closest friends. I'll be meeting her after my dinner with Grafe.I'll contact you upon my return" And with that Carol turned away from Therese. The blush at Therese's cheeks deepened as her eyes involuntarily dropped to the shape of Carol's rear. She left the room with the view burned solidly into her mind.

As the door opened Carol glanced over her shoulder watching Therese as she exited. Carol knew she was playing with fire but she couldn't quite resist the urge to see the beautiful young woman's blushes. They were telling. Very telling. She sipped her martini and contemplated the evening ahead.

Chapter Text

Therese sat in her hotel room drinking a bottle of beer. The clock on the wall showed 10.50pm and she sighed loudly into the stillness of the room. Her empty dinner plate sat on the desktop reminding her of how much time had passed. She wondered if Carol enjoyed the idea that she would be chained to this room? Therese couldn't help but be bitter about the fact that Carol was enjoying the delights of New York while she was staring out of the window of this dismal room. Yes, it had long since lost its charm.

The phone by her bedside rang vibrating against the wooden surface with a shrill chime. She entertained the notion of ignoring it but reached for it anyway. "I'm on my way Therese. Order two dry martinis" Carol's tone was clipped and before Therese could respond she was cut off.

'Witch' the word appeared in her mind but she knew it was no comparison to the enigmatic blonde. What on earth was happening? Therese could not understand the torrent of emotions which had surfaced since the day she had met Carol Aird. She was fascinated she supposed. Carol was the polar opposite of Therese and the young woman craved just an ounce of her confidence and her composure. Therese had always been a slave to her emotions. She wore her heart on her sleeve and it had often steered her in the wrong direction. Therese admonished herself, this was not a matter of hearts and flowers. No, she knew all too well that her reaction to Carol Aird was much more carnal. It was no surprise to Therese that she could be attracted to a woman. There had been women before who had turned her head but she had daydreamed about being with them. With those women she had envisioned romance and tenderness. She did not want Carol to be tender with her. The thought brought the heat back to her cheeks and she shook her head in the hopes that it would somehow provide some clarity. If Abby Gerhard were as forthright as Carol then Therese knew she would be scrutinised within an inch of her life. She gulped at the prospect.

------------

Abby Gerhard was a vivacious and charming woman. Within seconds she had swooped in to retrieve the martini glasses from Therese smiling wide to reveal white teeth. "Thank you darling" She gushed leaning in to press a kiss against Therese's cheek.

Therese registered the slight sway in both women's movements and surmised that they had enjoyed more than a few drinks after dinner.

"Why don't you come in for a night cap?" Abby suggested ushering Therese into the suite. "Carol...what a room! My, my, my aren't they treating you well?"

Therese glanced at Carol apprehensively but she gave away no clues. She strode into the lounge area and leaned against a wall with her arms folded. Therese could see a slight heaviness in her eyes.

"I should probably..."

"Nonsense!" Abby exclaimed. "Do you like dry martini's?"

"I've never tried one"

"You don't wine and dine your employees Carol?" Abby admonished staring at Carol with a mischievous expression on her face.

Carol rose to the challenge smirking back at Abby. She lit a cigarette and exhaled a plume of smoke. "And mix business with pleasure?" The two women seemed to share some private joke and Therese felt like a hapless outsider.

"Lets order another round of dry martinis. Two for you Therese. You need to catch up" She winked at Therese as she walked over to the telephone.

Abby's back was turned and Carol was staring directly into Therese's eyes. She was silent but her mouth was pursed and her deep blue eyes were smouldering. The alcohol was like a chink in Carol's armour and Therese could see behind the veiled attempt at composure. Carol was brooding, digesting some intense thought and she snared her bottom lip between her teeth, eyes never leaving Therese's.

Caught between frustration and desire Therese met Carol's stare with unwavering eye contact. She could feel a heat building between them and did not want to give into her apprehension.

"Would you like a cigarette Therese?" Carol proffered, lighting another cigarette before there was time to hear Therese's response.

Therese nodded and stepped towards the taller blonde. She could smell Carol's perfume strong and vibrant and the distant cling of smoking rooms and bar lounges. They were stood close and Therese inhaled sharply feeling her heart rate racing like a beating drum. She took the cigarette from Carol's hands and felt a rush of electricity as their fingers touched momentarily.

"The drinks are on the way! Until then I insist you try your first martini Therese" Abby's cheerful tones pierced the mounting tension which had enveloped them.

Therese stepped away and obligingly took the martini from Abby's hands taking a sip under the watchful eye of both women. The taste was bitter but Therese tried not to scrunch up her face in distaste.

"You look quite the thing Therese. A martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Doesn't she Carol?"

Carol nodded her head and lit another cigarette. "She does"

"High praise indeed" Abby teased.

Therese continued to drink her martini struggling with its bitterness but she was glad of something strong. She needed Dutch courage more than she had ever needed it before.

-------

"Let's take our drinks onto the balcony" Abby insisted leading the women with her enthusiasm.

The double doors were sprung open and a rush of cold wind greeted Therese's warm cheeks. She drained the last of her martini and reached eagerly for the second. She was feeling the effects of the strong drink and felt brave enough to allow her eyes to wander along the curves of Carol's hips.

"What kind of a boss is Carol?"

Therese glanced in Carol's direction and blinked nervously. "She doesn't suffer fools gladly"

Abby laughed heartily and Carol smiled an indulgent smile which confirmed in Therese that she had chosen the right answer.

"I'll bet! She likes to call the shots huh?"

"What is this Abby?"

"A fact finding mission. Never you mind. You've always struck me as a terrible control freak Carol"

Carol shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly and leaned against the balcony railing. Her blonde hair seemed to swim in the breeze. Resting against her outstretched arms she was mere inches away from Therese. "And what of it?" Carol challenged and in motioning towards Abby she brought her arm lightly against Therese's. There was a frisson of chemistry and Therese felt the hairs on her arms rise.

"She likes things done in a specific way" Therese murmured. Was her voice impacted by the merest contact with Carol?

Carol glanced sideways at Therese rewarding her with a lazy smile which betrayed hooded eyes.

Suddenly Therese wished more than anything that Abby would disappear in a cloud of smoke. 'For what reason?' Therese asked herself. Therese didn't need to answer that internal question she knew all to well by the flood of thoughts in which Therese would spring forward and take that beautiful face in her hands. She thought about kissing Carol. How would that mouth taste? How would it feel to hold her in her arms? Therese drank the last of her martini and indulged herself with the idea of mouths stained red with lipstick in the aftermath of kissing.

"Shall I order some more? We have many of Carol's quirks to discuss"

Sensing that another martini might be Therese's undoing she politely declined. But Abby Gerhard was not a woman you could easily say no to.

"Nonsense" She stated. "The night is young"

-------

The air sizzled with an all consuming tension which clouded the atmosphere leaving both women in silence.

"Can I have another cigarette Carol?" Therese asked if only to punctuate the overwhelming silence.

Alone, Carol turned to face Therese unabashedly. She seemed to peer into Therese's very soul. She placed a cigarette between Therese's mouth and stepped forward shielding the cigarette with one hand as she struck the lighter and a flame burned brightly in the darkness.

Therese was captivated. She could not take her eyes away from the depth she found in Carol's eyes. She was telling her things that made Therese's skin flush with promise. "Have you always blushed?"

"It's embarrassing"

Carol shook her head and leaned in to whisper in the younger woman's ear. "It's quite attractive"

Therese gulped audibly. If she just closed the small space between them she could will herself to kiss those full lips. "Is it?" She whispered.

Carol gently touched Therese's cheek with delicate fingertips. "It looks like Abby's left quite a mark on you" She smiled seductively leaning in to press a kiss to the lipstick stain branded on Therese's cheek. As Carol leaned back Therese brought a hand to her cheek longingly. A featherlight kiss and yet she felt it in every fibre of her being. She wanted Carol so badly that it made her heart constrict.

"Lets go inside. The drinks are taking an age" Abby bellowed and the doors were opened with a clatter.

Carol indulged in one last look at Therese before she turned on her heels and followed her friend inside leaving the younger woman on the balcony, clutching at her face.

Chapter Text

Time rattled by. To begin with Therese kept one eye on the clock watching as the hands circled the clock face. 'Everything will be different in the morning' She reminded herself. Carol would not be looking at her with lust in her eyes. She would not be lenient or make exceptions. She would be ruthless and cold and Therese would hang on to the idea of this Carol resurfacing.

After another dry martini she admitted that she was powerless to leave. No matter what, she knew she wanted Carol too much to give up.

Abby was slurring her words now. She was gesturing wildly with the hand that held a disappearing martini and the liquid sloshed to and fro. She did not appear to notice that neither women were listening to her story, that both women only had eyes for each other as they wordlessly conveyed the desire they felt.

"I'm off to powder my nose" Abby gestured getting to her feet with some difficulty. Her step was marred somewhat by her drunkenness and as she left the room the heat that enveloped Therese and Carol seemed to bubble over.

Knowing Abby would likely be passed out in her bed Carol signaled for Therese to sit beside her. "Come sit here Therese" Her voice was rough with something Therese could not quite put her finger on and she obliged readily feet finding the sofa in snatched seconds.

Therese looked down at Carol in a seated position. Even with the sting of many martinis she still held herself so regally. Her legs were crossed elegantly and Therese could just make out the curve of her breasts through the velvet black of her dress. She sat down beside her keeping her eyes trained on Carol's face, eyes dropping to her mouth with a pang of want. When would she be granted another opportunity like this? 'Not soon enough' she decided and she allowed her hand to linger on Carol's knee.

Carol was surprised by Therese's bold move and she glanced down at the younger woman's delicate hand perched on her knee. When had a simple squeeze of the knee felt so erotically charged? Oh yes, she was certainly playing with fire now but something told the fierce blonde that she was willing to run the risk of getting her fingers burnt.

"Do you find me attractive Therese?"

She knew all too well that Therese found her attractive. She could see it in the way her eyes would dart away when Carol had caught her staring and then those pearlescent cheeks would appear. Carol was sure she had seen the spark of something in those hazel eyes even as she'd extended a hand shake during their first meeting. But what did the esteemed woman think of Therese? She was intrigued that was for sure. It was in direct contrast to her usual conquests, and yet there was something about Therese that made Carol snatch fervent glances. She'd watch Therese day dream and crave knowledge of the thoughts running through her mind. When Therese would lean in close to get a signature or to mouth something important during a phone call, Carol would catch sight of the outline of her slender limbs and she'd imagine the two of them beneath her bedroom sheets. She certainly found Therese attractive.

"I think you know I do" Therese answered honestly. Carol had remained perfectly still but Therese had kept her hand anchored to Carol's knee, fingers stretching until they reached under the fabric of her dress to graze the softness of her outer thigh.

Carol kept her eyes trained on Therese but she did not move and she did not allow her face to betray her lust. She kept her jaw tight until she felt Therese lean in and press a gentle, chaste, kiss to her lips. She felt the stirring of something and as Therese, tentatively, deepened the kiss she brought a hand to the pback of her neck urging her in closer.

Something came alive in Therese. Any rational thinking, any fear or doubt, disappeared when she felt Carol returning the kiss. She was hungry for her. All the tension, frustration and resentment bled its way into the kiss and she slipped onto Carol's waiting lap gasping as their mouths briefly parted.

"Therese" Carol gasped with an element of surprise. Therese was bold and she handled Carol's body with an expert touch. None of the shy, nervous, apprehension she had anticipated. No, Therese appeared perfectly at ease straddling Carol, knees at either side of her hips, while she kissed her until she was breathless. In return Carol brought her hands to rest on Therese's pert rear, hands skimming the surface with appreciation.

"You're indescribable" Therese whispered into Carol's ear, her soft, angelic, blonde hair tickling her cheek. She ran her fingers through the thick tresses, raking nails gently along Carol's scalp and marvelling at the way Carol's long lashes fluttered closed and her mouth was left slightly ajar in pleasure. Therese could not shake the thought that she was witnessing Carol raw, unchained by her demons, and she wanted to drink in the sight of her. She wanted to see that face again and she wanted to make Carol overcome with pleasure.

"Try" Carol implored her hands roaming the planes of Therese's body. She lingered on the swell of Therese's breast, slipping a hand into the confines of her bra to be greeted by warmth and the younger woman's evident excitement.

"You make my mind wander to places I didn't know existed" Therese's voice was impacted by the feel of Carol teasing a nipple and she exhaled deeply unable to do anything but close her eyes.

"You've thought about this before?"

Therese nodded in silence enraptured as Carol's mouth came to her neck sliding to her earlobe to claim its prize. She was a mass of raw nerves, goosebumps lining her skin like a map of her desire. "I want you"

Carol had the upper hand and she relished the sight of Therese with eyes closed and her body inching closer for contact. Therese had looped her arms around Carol's neck and the blonde could feel her writhing, grinding, ever so slightly, for precious friction. She gripped her taut rear in her hands anchoring her as Therese brought her focus back to Carol's mouth. Therese was such a tentative enthusiastic kisser and Carol felt herself jostling between the need for control and the urge to let herself go completely and allow Therese to kiss her with that exquisite mouth. She chose the former and busied herself with popping open the buttons of Therese's shirt until she could part the material and slide it off of her slender shoulders. It slid to the floor leaving Therese in a silken black bra and trousers. She had a beautiful body all slender, taut, lines and gentle curves. Carol wanted to kiss every part of her and without hesitation she nipped at the line of her collar unhooking her bra from behind. She leaned back, paused, to allow hungry eyes to drink in the sight of her bare chested and turned on. Carol allowed her hands to come to Therese's breasts and she stroked the tender skin attentively.

Therese was putty in her hands. She alternated between convincing her eyes not to miss a single second and closing them to savour the feel of the older woman's hands pouring over her body. When Carol unzipped her trousers she willed herself to capture the arousal that seemed to darken blue orbs until they raged like a storm closing in. "Oh..." The word broke free from the confines of her mouth as she felt Carol's hand slip into her warmth. She couldn't help it she groaned deeply and could only vaguely hear Carol's whisper of protestation.

"You have to be quiet Therese" Carol repeated but she was so close to the point of losing control that thoughts of her bringing Therese's hand to rest between her thighs flitted through her mind. It would be so easy to find relief for her pent up arousal.

But Therese struggled to be quiet. She was panting now and she used her arms around Carol's neck as ballast while she moved against her arching fingers. She was filled by the sensation of her, inside of her, building a tempo that made Therese's head arch back in pleasure. Then she was quicksand sinking, becoming water as she rode out the waves her humming to life. Involuntarily her head came forward to rest in the crook of Carol's neck as she waited for her heart to return to a regular beat.

Carol was waiting. She was waiting for Therese to make the next move. She could feel how badly she wanted Therese to have her but she would not guide her. Even through the fog of martinis and brandy she still coveted the need to be in control. Carol Aird did not need and she did not ask.

As the dust settled Therese became heightenedly aware of the warmth permeating Carol's body. She was glowing in the aftermath but she was desperate to have a piece of the formidable woman. She wanted to taste her on her lips and she sunk to her knees in preparation.

Carol's eyes widened at the sight of Therese beneath her. She watched, transfixed, as Therese slid her dress up to her hips and hooked her fingers into lace drawing her underwear down to her ankles. When Therese's hands came to her knees gently parting her thighs she allowed her head to sink back into the sofa. When she felt the delicate softness of that beautiful mouth she reliquenched control, giving herself completely to the moment.

Therese felt her arousal build aknew. She was stuck on the thought that she was in between Carol's thighs hearing the sound of the older woman's guttural moans as she lapped at her. When Carol's hands came to the back of her head, urging her deeper, she groaned involuntarily. Thoughts were crashing through her mind. The fact that Carol was her boss, that they had engaged in this erotic power dynamic from the beggining and that she was tasting Carol and feeling her excitement building was almost too much to bear. She thought about the fact that Abby lay in the bedroom just feet away, that she could walk in at any moment to see Therese's buried between her thighs, but she didn't care. Nothing could take away the molten chemistry between them.

Carol knew she was on the precipice. She gripped Therese's head, thighs parting wider, until the friction sent her over the edge and her shallow breathing disturbed the room. She was exposed, vulnerable, in this moment but in the back of her mind she knew that she savoured the freedom it brought her. When Therese fitted her body neatly against hers she allowed herself the indulgence of burying her face into her sweet smelling hair enjoying the feel of Therese painting invisible patterns along her arm. For now she would enjoy the feel of the younger woman, solid and real, but soon she would compose herself and direct Therese back to her room. Tomorrow nothing would change. Not until Carol allowed herself another snatched moment with the younger woman.

Chapter Text

"Get some sleep Therese" Carol had ushered her out in the hotel hallway, thrusting her balled up shirt to her chest as she went.

Therese did not protest but the look in her eyes betrayed her confusion. The door was closed without so much as a backward glance from Carol and she was left half naked in the hallway.

Carol leaned against the closed door and exhaled deeply. She could still feel Therese all over her body. She reasoned that she would regret this come sunrise. It wasn't that she'd given into her desires. No she had, had a few dalliances in the past and following every encounter she would bristle, turn to hard ice and eventually they would leave. Carol never batted an eyelid. She had urges, experienced lust, just like everyone else and yet, somehow, she knew this was dangerously different. Somehow she knew she could not stop herself from indulging again.

Carol walked into the bedroom where Abi lay fully clothed on top of the covers. How close she had been, within earshot, of their dalliance. Carol shook her head at the madness of it all but the thought made her heart spike and her pulse thrum. Abby had been a lover but was a much firmer friend. Carol had always suspected that Abby would have liked for them to be more than friends with benefits. For Carol that signalled the end of their sexual encounters. There would be no relationships for Carol Aird. Not after the sting of her ugly divorce.

She slipped Abby's heels off one by one and draped a blanket over her sleeping friend.

Today was a new day but Therese would not see a different Carol. For now Carol would contend herself with thinking about her beautiful body coming to life in her hands. She would be the same Carol but somehow she knew so many things would change.

-----

Therese woke with a start. Her head ached and her mouth was painfully dry. Lurching out of bed she made her way into the bathroom turning on the faucet to gulp down mouthfuls of cold water. Quenching her first she looked at her reflection in the mirror. Therese's hair was mused, makeup smudged, and her lips and neck bore the markings of Carol Aird's interest. A smattering of blood red lipstick prints painted her pale skin and she allowed her fingertips to graze each one as every detail of the evening before seemed to pass in vivid colour through her mind. How could she look at Carol in the same way? And would she be clipped, cold, standoffish even after Therese had witnessed her melting at her touch? Therese did not doubt that she would be an even cooler, more calculated Carol. 'She wanted me' Therese acknowledged. Even if it were fleeting, even if she had seized her chance, she wanted the younger woman and that felt like a powerful secret.

Therese showered. She turned the heat up until her skin became pink and the room filled with a fog of steam. Showering made her feel renewed and she stepped onto the tiled floor with the seed of a plan in mind. She would not show Carol an ounce of emotion. She would not allow her to think that she had rattled her in anyway. She would be professional even if she had to covertly hide her blushes.

Therese changed into fitted trousers and a spotted shirt. She dried her hair and applied makeup, feeling more human by the second. She would get Carol a strong black coffee and would continue with the day as though something extraordinary hadn't happened mere hours ago.

The smell of roasted coffee was an instant comfort. Along the way she drank down an espresso and felt the caffeine storming through her veins. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep but Therese felt ready to take on the world.

She tapped her knuckles against the hotel room door and waited. There was the sound of movement and then the door was opened to reveal Carol dressed in a fitted pantsuit and linen shirt. She held no tell tale signs of fatigue and instead wore a look of annoyance.

"I've brought you a coffee..." Therese began but she was cut off by Carol's impatience. The older woman retrieved the steaming cup of coffee and strode away from the door leaving Therese to stand awkwardly in the doorway.

"Come along Therese!" Carol barked as she stood in front of the floor length mirror fixing a pair of earrings to her ears.

Therese swallowed her disappointment and inched into the suite lounge. With Carol's back to her she stole a chance to gaze at the length of her back. Her jacket was hooked onto the back of a chair and Therese could make out the shape of her toned arms. The sleeves of her shirt were folded so that her forearms were visible and Therese was granted a memory of how those hands had so passionately appreciated her body. 'She's touched me intimately with those hands' Therese thought before she looked away and rattled out the days itinerary. "I've booked a cab to take you to a diner, across the road from Pelman's offices..." Therese glanced at the clock on the wall. "...it's due in twenty minutes"

"Diner?" Carol asked appraising her with a sharp look.

"It has a smoking area..."

Carol cut her off with a wave of her hand and eased herself down on the sofa. Therese thought of how she had sunk to her knees only hours ago and she visibly blanched. "Fine"

"Should I book somewhere for Abby?"

The subject of Abby was like a thread to reality and despite herself Carol's face betrayed a look of something. "Ms Gerhard" Carol corrected and Therese resisted the urge to smirk knowing it would make Carol irrate.

"Ms Gerhard" Therese repeated keeping her eyes strong and steady in the face of Carol's scrutiny.

"See that she has a cab arranged. I want you to be waiting outside of Pelman's so that we can travel to the airport. You can write up the notes on the plane"

"And yesterday?"

Carol's eyes widened in surprise. "What of it?" She snapped and Therese was sure she could see a slight colouring at her cheeks.

"The notes from yesterday"

Carol's eyes darted away and she drank her coffee in silence, brooding over the fact that Therese had masterfully managed to rile her. She had not expected her to be so composed. Quite the opposite in fact. She had pictured a flustered, nervous, Therese stumbling over her words. Perhaps there was more to Therese than met the eye? "Yes you can finish them on the plane. Now if you don't mind I'd like to drink my coffee in peace"

Therese nodded politely and left the room sure to keep her body language neutral and her eyes averted from Carol's gaze. Despite this her chest tightened and her heart raced.

As Therese exited Carol could not keep her eyes from watching her. She watched her until the door was closed and she was left in the room alone, drinking down strong black coffee. She lit a cigarette and said to the empty room "Bravo Therese. Bravo"

------------

The plane ride home was spent in total silence. Carol did not utter a single word save for her instructions as she handed Therese a pile of scrawled notes. "Have it typed and emailed to me before we land"

'Yes Madame' Therese thought resentfully. She knew Carol would make a concerted effort to drive home the point that she was in charge and only she decided when things thawed. It made Therese feel like Carol's property and she was unnerved by the swell of emotions this brought forth. How could she crave the way Carol treated her? The frost, the cold and then the roaring wildfire. 'Because it makes you feel alive' She acknowledged while Carol slept soundly beside her. How angelic she looked when she slept. It was confusing. How such a powerhouse of a woman could appear so soft and graceful when she slept. Did Therese really believe she could see beyond the glass? That she would somehow thaw that steely exterior and...what exactly? Be Carol's lover? Her sweetheart. She was getting ahead of herself now and she laughed softly shaking her head in disbelief as she continued to type Carol's scrawled notes into something legible.

Chapter Text

Things did not return to normal for Carol and Therese. At least not to the trained eye. To the idle observer Carol and Therese continued a professional, albeit boundaried, working relationship. They returned to the usual power dynamics. Carol driven, focused, unconcerned with trivial sensibilities. Therese obedient, sensitive but lost in many ways to her own emotions. On the surface circumstances looked positively pedestrian but both women felt the tension bubbling under the surface.

There were snatched moments which offered food for thought. One evening when Therese attempted to change, in a rush, for a late dinner with a friend, she'd been interrupted by Carol breezing into her office. Therese had been in a state of undress, wearing nothing but her underwear. Carol had paused in the doorway noticing Therese before the younger woman was alerted to her prescence. Carol couldn't help herself. She allowed her eyes to dance along that lithe body with a hungry curiosity. What she would do with that body. Then Therese's eyes had widened in recognition and Carol had walked into the room dropping files onto her desk. "You should close the door Therese" She'd remarked taking one last look before she waltzed back out of the room.

Another evening Carol had been rattling off a list of instructions to Therese and had been attempting to button up a shirt. Distracted by conversation, Therese has stepped forward without thinking and had closed the buttons of Carol's shirt so close that Carol could feel her breathe tickling her neck. Carol had swallowed hard caught in a tailwind of desire that urged her to kiss the younger woman. Therese had stepped away and Carol had felt the loss of warmth like a chill along the spine.

During one trip to Boston the two women had been riding the lift to the top floor when there was a sudden influx of people. They had been sandwiched together, Therese hopelessly pressed against the front of Carol's body so close that their breasts touched and Therese had set her face to the side so as not to see Carol's expression.

Tonight appeared to be of no exception to the pattern emerging between both women. Therese had joined a group of friends at a local bar and had spied Carol, Abby and some other unknown friends arrive and sit at a table in the corner. A jazz band began to play and Therese was grateful for the distraction. She did not want to have to explain her reticence to friends. Protected by the gentle din of elegant music she knew the way she'd tensed at the sight of the immaculately dressed blonde would go unnoticed.

As the night wore on Therese drank beer upon beer until she became more brazen, instead of hiding she sought out Carol's attention. She began to enjoy herself and when a female friend asked her to dance she obliged without thinking of Carol.

"Well hello Therese! You're quite the dancer" Abby had exclaimed bumping into Therese while they both queued for the bar.

"Abby" She acknowledged with a smile. The truth was she didn't care if Abby thought she was a good dancer, or attractive or any number of things the vivacious woman might have thought of her. The woman had an inordinate habit of interrupting the build up of a moment between Carol and herself and Therese could not stop this knee jerk reaction which found Abby irritating.

"Can I get you a drink? Call it an apology"

"An apology?"

"For my behaviour...I was a drunken mess! Honestly I can barely recall the evening" She laughed heartily. "Could I get three manhattans"

"You have nothing to apologise for"

"Nonsense. Come over to our table? It's been an absolute bore of an evening!"

Therese glanced, cautiously, at the table in the corner. She could retrace that table from memory due to the many times she had stolen a fertive glance in that direction. Carol was now sat alone smoking a cigarette, watching Therese's every move. "My friends..."

"Just one drink?"

Therese acquiesced unable to resist the glimmer in those blue eyes. She knew Carol would be peeved and with her renewed confidence she decided it was no more than Carol deserved.

"Look who I've found!" Abby hummed with excitement presenting Therese to Carol as though she were some curious treasure.

"Therese" Carol greeted the brunette coldly and her tone did not go unnoticed by Abby who shot her friend a warning glare. "Play nice" She added teasingly.

"I thought I told you that I don't mix business with pleasure"

Therese couldn't help herself she smirked at the hypocrisy of Carol's words. Not unnoticed by Carol who felt her gaze narrow and thaw from a detached glance to a simmering glare. Her eyes appeared to live through all four seasons in the space of a second but Therese was thankful for the heat. You could only endure so many frosty encounters.

"Nonsense!" Abby balked. "Therese isn't like the rest..." Abby instructed her to sit down and she obliged with a sense of curiosity. 'Not like the rest?'

"What does that mean?" Therese asked keeping her focus on Abby though she could see the magnificent blonde out of the corner of her eye.

"Carol has had some absolute clangers haven't you?" Abby chuckled and Carol smiled back at her but Therese noted that the smile did not reach her eyes. "Who was the last one?"

Carol rolled her eyes and it unnerved and excited Therese in equal measures. She thought of Lou and felt a pang of guilt. "I don't keep score Abby"

Abby roared with laughter but Therese did not allow a smile to grace her lips. 'Keep score' She thought incredulously. Is that what she was to Carol? A conquest? An arbitrary number? A bet between the two friends of how long it would take before she cracked.

"Do they leave or are they fired?" Therese wondered aloud. She marvelled at the coolness in her voice and the impact of her tone was not lost on the two women. There was a snap of tension before Abby broke the ice.

"See Carol? She's a smart girl"

Carol drank her manhattan and looked at Therese over the rim of her glass. "They leave" She replied with a half shrug but Therese was sure she could see an element of vulnerability in her body language. The shrug appeared anything but casual to Therese's eyes.

"But surely you're a keeper Therese?" Abby winked at her but it lacked the charm of Carol's gesture.

"She is a glutton for punishment" Carol shot back and Therese wondered if she could read her very thoughts? It felt like payback for acknowledging her vulnerability. Nevertheless, Therese was not prepared for an evening of being scrutinised and patronised by Carol Aird.

"I'm going to return to my friends. Thanks for the drink Abby" As she stood up she could see the glimmer of disappointment in Carol's eyes before she tidied her face into a cool expression.

"Finish your drink Therese?" Abby pleaded.

"I'm sure I'll see you soon Abby" And then she walked away from the table feeling stronger with every stride of her footsteps. She could just about overhear Abby scolding Carol for her behaviour.

--------

Therese exited the bathroom stall and washed her hands in the sink. Somebody was standing beside her but it wasn't until she looked at her own reflection in the mirror and saw a glimpse of vibrant blonde that she realised it was Carol.

Carol watched the reaction of the younger woman change from surprise, recognition, and then a trace of irritation. Why was her heart beginning to beat at such a frantic pace? She could not fathom how Therese managed to have such an impact on her every sense. The smell of her perfume as she strode to her own office in the mornings set her on fire. The merest brush of contact made her skin hyper aware and sensitive. A look at that beautiful mouth reminded her of tasting exquisite softness. And now Therese was irked, sullen, and Carol could not resist the urge to torment her. She smirked at Therese's reflection and watched her boil over with frustration.

There was no one else in the room and Therese turned to the smirking blonde with her face hot and her temperature boiling. She was sick of the way Carol was treating her. The hot, the cold and the shamelessly cruel. Carol was watching her, seeing what she would do and she wanted to shake her, to shock her, surprise her to do anything to make her see sense. Her body seemed to have a mind of its own and before she could register what she was doing she had her hands on the collar of Carol's shirt and she was pulling her, drawing her, in until their lips came crashing together.

Carol's eyes widened in surprise but the contact of their mouths together relieved the pressure building between them. She could not resist her and she sunk into the kiss as if her entire body was sighing with relief. She felt Therese's hands at the back of her and she was breathless, heart thrumming like a humming birds, chest tightened as Therese kissed her so tenderly that it made her ache with longing. Then Therese's hands were cradling her face, tips of her thumbs stroking her cheeks delicately and Carol found her eyes close and her mouth pursing in wanting. But then she was gone. Therese had left the bathroom and there was nothing save the swing of the bathroom door to offer some sign of life. Carol looked at her reflection in the mirror. She look she'll shocked, ravaged, and she brought one hand to her mouth the other clutching at the sink for support. It wasn't that Therese had kissed her. No the chemistry between them was u deniable. It was how she had kissed her. How long had it been since someone had been tender in the face of her belligerence? She had been kissed by Therese and then she had left. For some reason Carol knew she could not allow the night to end here.

Chapter Text

Therese shot out into the cold evening air and breathed in the smell of the night. She could not believe what she had just done. Left Carol in a bathroom with her eyes closed and her mouth puckered ready for more. When had she ever considered the possibility of saying no to the forthright woman? Carol had become putty in her hands. To begin with the passion and the anger had driven Therese and she's allowed the emotions to consume the kiss but then the feel of Carol in her arms, solid, real, reminded her of how much she wanted her. It always felt like she was living on borrowed time with Carol and she had wanted to savour this moment. She'd pushed past the initial frustration and found a deep craving that made her soft with Carol. She'd kissed her so tenderly that leaving was the only thing she could do to keep her composure. She knew that she was not just playing an exciting game with Carol. She had allowed her to get under her skin and into her very being and that was truly a terrifying prospect. How could she allow herself to feel anything for a woman who would never let her in? 'She is a glutton for punishment' Carol's words ran in a cycle leaving her feeling jaded.

"Therese" It was Carol's voice but she refused to believe it was her. There was a hand on her shoulder and she glanced down to see those immaculately painted nails and those composed but beautiful hands.

Therese turned round to face her with a look of utter disbelief. Carol remained composed but her eyes were telling and her mouth was, ever so, delicately smudged with the print of their joined mouths. "Carol?"

"I think we'd better have a nightcap. Don't you?" She was firm and she gave none of her nerves away but the truth was Carol's pulse was at her throat at the possibility that Therese might not come with her.

Therese found herself nodding even though part of her wanted nothing more than to go home and slip under her covers. "Ok"

"I have a hotel room on the corner" Carol did not look at Therese as she spoke but they both understood her intentions.

Therese did not want to think about what it all meant. She wanted to be with Carol. She needed to be with her and the thought of them together in a hotel room was too pleasing an opportunity to pass up.

------------

The lift doors pinged closed and Therese did not wait, no hesitation, as she slipped into Carol's arms pressing her against the lift wall and kissing her unabashedly. Carol did not resist. Quite the opposite. She allowed herself to be taken by Therese the excitement building in her at the desire projected in her kiss.

They did not hear the lift doors open but heard the impatient tutting of a woman. They didn't care. Neither woman even glanced in her direction as they parted, momentarily, and Carol gripped Therese's hand in her own leading her to her hotel room.

Inside they came alive in each other's arms. They undressed each other in a hurried rush, Carol's shirt undone with such haste that buttons went flying across the room.

Therese was undressed and completely naked when Carol urged her onto the bed. She lay nude with Carol at her knees gazing down at her with a look of pure lust and admiration. "You have a beautiful body" Carol's voice was raspy and she'd leaned in allowing her hands to span the planes of her body, cupping her breasts in her hands.

"Kiss me" Therese urged as Carol lowered herself onto her body, fitting neatly, perfectly. The feel of her nakedness sent a wave of pleasure through her body. She gripped Carol in her arms and they kissed softly, gently, teasing each other.

Carol thought she could drown in this mouth. Therese fed every emotion into the way she kissed her and Carol took it all in, hearing words that were being shared without a voice. She knew this was more than sexual chemistry but she could not admit it to herself. Not yet. Instead she would content herself with drowning in this wonderful woman. She parted from her mouth and kissed at her breasts, nipping, swirling her tongue around a nipple. She wanted to take her time with Therese and she did, kissing her breasts attentively until she heard the sound of Therese groaning in pleasure. Therese's body was becoming warm to her touch, she'd slipped her hands into Carol's hair and she could feel her urgency in the way she gripped at her prompting her downwards. Carol smiled against her navel willingly obliging Therese's request. As she dipped between her thighs Therese held clumps of her hair in fists and moaned in anticipation. It was that fine line between pleasure and pain and Carol could not stop her own sounds of pleasure from spilling free. She lapped at Therese tasting her wetness and groaning anew at how turned on she was. Just the simple act of tasting her felt like it caused a direct contact between her own thighs and she found it hard to concentrate through the heavy pulse of her desire, throbbing with need. She drank her in, knowing it would not be long before Therese gave in completely and felt that unimaginable pleasure coursing through her veins. The hands in her hair urged her impossibly closer and she could hear Therese's moans building, heightening. Then she arched beneath her, body tightening and then she was unraveling with a long drawn out 'oh' that carried into the room as she lay back on the pillow in the blissful aftermath of orgasm.

Carol crawled up the length of Therese's body, leaning on an elbow as she watched Therese ride through the last smatterings of pleasure. Without thinking she cupped her face in her hands and stroked her gently, absentmindedly, before she thought better of it in drew her hand away reproaching herself. Carol Aird did not do romance. But when Therese's eyes fluttered open and Hazel orbs looked at her with tenderness she felt her stomach turn over.

Therese did not waste time with words. She wanted to feel every inch of Carol's body and she straddled her, gripping Carol's hands in her own, feeling the warmth between her thighs against her own wetness. Carol was smiling seductively, enjoying the sight of Therese above her and Therese wondered if she enjoyed losing a bit of control sometimes. She was beautiful. Those blue eyes were so much darker with lost. "Your eyes change all the time" She marvelled with an indulgent smile noticing the way Carol's eyes darted away. She let go of Carol's hands and sat upright wanting to see the expression on her face. "Let me look at you?" Therese whispered and she moved against Carol's centre watching with fascination as her expression became less guarded and her eyes changed with lust. She could feel her own pleasure building as her movements were rewarded with small scraps of friction.

Carol's hands travelled to her rear, gripping her, aimlessly hoping for something solid enough to bring her to the edge. She knew Therese's eyes were on her, watching her, and she felt her caution give way to excitement. She was watching Therese too even though her eyes closed, involuntarily, when she would be gifted enough contact to make her arousal flourish. But she needed more and as Therese eased herself closer against her she shamelessly ground against her in a desperate attempt to find release.

Therese bucked against her. She was in danger of her own pleasure taking over and reluctantly she eased herself off of the blonde woman much to her annoyance which was evident in the way Carol groaned in protest.

Carol did not have time to dwell on the loss of contact before Therese's hands were between her thighs, her fingers moving against her with expert precision. And Carol felt positively wild at the contact. She covered Therese's hand with her own urging her fingers inside of her. It was all she could do not to scream out into the room. She so badly needed to feel her inside of her, filling her with her touch. She had gone home everynight with thoughts of Therese on her mind. All the looks, the accidental touches and the close encounters had left her so turned on that sometimes she'd locked her office door and slip a hand under her own skirt, gripping the edge of her chair as she'd brought herself to pleasure. Now Therese was bringing her there.

Therese's eyes did not leave Carol's face as she moved her fingers inside of her, tips arching ever so slightly, rewarded by the way Carol's hands moved above her head to grip her pillow. Her hips were bucking with Therese's movements and she was moaning, crying with pleasure. She looked unbelievably beautiful without the trappings of a contrived exterior, she looked peaceful, real somehow and Therese brought her mouth to hers capturing her bottom lip on her mouth. Then she felt Carol tense around her fingers, the power behind her kiss disappearing as she came so that Therese was left to kiss her tenderly. Carol's hand came back to hers between her thighs, holding her fingers inside of her for a moment longer as Carol felt the last tremors of pleasure subsiding.

"Your beautiful" Therese whispered wanting to convey just how much she felt just by looking at her perfect profile. She knew Carol might bristle, might reject her warmth but she did not care. She was not ice, she was not capable of denying her thoughts and desires.

But Carol did not bristle. Not yet. She felt stoned by their lovemaking and she grabbed at the edges of the bed sheets drawing them up and over their bodies until it rested at their shoulders. "Shut up and kiss me" She insisted but their was a gentle teasing to her tone and when she felt Therese's lips succumb she could taste the smile on her mouth. She willed herself to bring a hand to Therese's face. She wanted to be gentle with her, at least in this moment and she would not leave this room. Not tonight. Tonight she wanted to fall asleep with her arms wrapped around Therese and she refused to allow her mind to reflect on what this all meant. Tonight she wanted the comfort of Therese's form beside her. "Shall I order room service?" She wondered watching as Therese played some secret game, fingertips tip toeing along her hips and then her waist. She was drawing dangerously close to below her navel and then there was a sharp intake of breathe as her hand returned between her thighs, resting there, stroking her gently. She felt the pleasure leaping back in an instant and she mirrored Therese's actions bringing her own, curious, hand to the softness between the younger woman's thighs. With a thrill of excitement she thought about them brining each other to pleasure, Hazel and blue eyes duelling for contact.

"Not right now" Therese purred and she moaned with smiling pleasure as Carol slipped inside of her wetness. "Not now" she murmured all words lost to her as they moved in perfect harmony with each other. No, right now all she could entertain was the feel of Carol's softness and the pleasure of her between her thighs.

Chapter Text

Carol glanced at the neon lights of the alarm clock on the bedside cabinet. It was 5am and the sun had just begun to sneak through a gap in the curtains.

Therese was curled into Carol's side sleeping with her bottom lip put out as though she were a scolded child who had cried herself to sleep. Carol briefly wondered about Therese's life. Her parents. Her upbringing and then she shook her head clear of such thoughts. She admonished herself. 'Do not lose your head Carol for goodness sake' Carol reprimanded herself repeating the words like a mantra. Yet she stole one last look at Therese kissing her soft shoulder before she extracted herself from the warm embrace and tiptoed into the bathroom. Closing the door she turned the light on wincing at the sudden explosion of light. Carol knew before she dressed or showered that she would leave this hotel room and Therese behind to sleep on if only to convince herself that she was able to put some kind of distance between the two.

Forgoing the shower she grabbed her clothes, scattered around the hotel room and changed quickly. If she got a cab she could be home and arrive at work without being late. She grabbed her handbag, glancing over her shoulder at Therese as she slept soundly. She had moved over to the side of the bed which Carol had slept on and had clutched the pillow beneath her while dozed peacefully. Reminding herself that she was watching Therese sleep she left the hotel room closing the door, soundlessly, behind her.

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Therese woke alone surrounded by the scent of Carol. She was on the sheets, the pillows, clinging to her very skin and it somehow softened the disappointment at waking up alone. It was Carol's move and she had played it expertly. Making Therese yearn, made her believe that there was some romance to their lovemaking and yet here Therese was waking alone with nothing but the feel of Carol all over her body. And she had yearned for her. She was yearning for her now but she would not admit it to Carol.

Therese stood under a hot shower. Her body ached and her skin held the tell tale signs of Carol's kisses and the aftermath of her nipping her skin.

It was too late for Therese to find clothing to change into. She would have to wear her outfit from the evening before and hope that Carol would be in a forgiveable mood. Carol would be firmer with her just like she was before and Therese would remain composed knowing now that the rules had changed and Carol was finally giving into temptation. But would Therese accept this new Carol? Coldness thawing into spats in which they would come together their embrace thawing the control and ice, albeit briefly. Therese knew that she would, that she craved Carol so badly that she would likely accept any terms. She had it bad and the thought made her feel weak.

Dressed she had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. She grabbed a pastry and black coffee and sat at a table next to the window watching people mill by. Therese had arrived here by accident. The truth was she did not have roots. Abandoned as a young child she had been raised in foster care and the moment she was old enough to break free she had. She'd lived most of her young life as a nomad flitting from place to place until she'd settled here and had made friends she was lucky enough to call family. She supposed it was why she was able to endure Carol's indecision. Why she chased her even though she appeared to be neither interested nor available. She accepted Carol's coldness because she knew she had been close to being cold herself. Therese didn't know why but rather than turn cold she had become dangerously warm, clinging to any hint of love or affection regardless of the consequences. Therese had never been a good judge of character. She was gullible and saw the best in people no matter what side they showed her. Therese couldn't help but believe there was more to Carol than the steely side she projected. Firmly she believed that Carol had a back story, a reason to clam up and she was willing to search for it as though its secret was a pearl to be coveted.

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Carol was waiting, paused like a cat she sat at her desk with her door wide open waiting for Therese to arrive. She was early. Half an hour early but she found that by the time she'd arrived at her rooftop apartment and had showered, chosen her outfit and changed she'd sat feeling restless like a caged animal.
She'd found herself in a cab arriving at the office in the vain hope that Therese might just be there. She'd wanted a moment with the younger woman. The truth was she couldn't help but feel a shard of guilt at the idea of Therese waking up alone.

When she heard the sound of Therese's unmistakable footsteps she busied herself by lighting a cigarette. She kept her eyes on the computer screen allowing Therese to stand there for a moment before she looked up and graced her with her acknowledgment. "Therese" She could not keep the smile from her face.

Therese stood lithe and beautiful dressed in tailored trousers, a shirt and braces. Her brown hair was tamed back by a clip and she held two coffee cups in her hand. She was professional and did not allow a single emotion to play out in her expression. Carol surprised herself by how much she did not like this professional Therese.

"I brought you an Americano" She handed her the coffee and their hands brushed with a bolt of electricity.

"Thank you" She allowed a softness to melt her voice and she clasped Therese by the wrist. "Shall we have dinner this evening?" She suggested.

Therese glanced at her cautiously.

"There's a new restaurant I've been meaning to try" She released Therese's wrist with a final caress.

"I'd like that"

"Good. I have back to back meetings today. See that you finish work on the Smith account"

Therese nodded obligingly.

"And Therese?"

Therese turned on her heels. "Yes?"

"You look wonderful"

Therese was caught in a mixture of insecurity and surprise. She couldn't quite believe this was Carol Aird seated before her. She was professional, her tone was matter of fact but she was trying. She was trying damned hard and Therese didn't know what to think or feel. She smiled bashfully before exiting the room. In the safe convines of her office she wondered what the hell had happened and if she was prepared to believe in any of it.

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Carol sat at her desk with the hands of a clock chirping with every tick. Had it always seemed so loud? She was preparing for an arduous day of meetings but she only had one thing on her mind. She thought about calling Therese into her office. It would be so easy. 'Close the door' she imagined herself speaking briskly. She wouldn't look up until Therese was stood, patiently waiting, by her desk. Then she would rise from her seat and draw Therese in by those braces. 'No' Carol shook her head. She was not a weak willed woman and she would not allow herself to descend into school girl madness. Tonight at dinner she would lay down the ground rules. But what were these ground rules? Carol pondered as she lit a cigarette and leaned back in her chair. No feelings. Surely that had to be rule number one? Carol wanted to wine and dine Therese and she wanted her between her sheets and in between her thighs but there would be no heart felt anniversaries or marriage proposals. Carol did not do relationships but she was more than prepared for an arrangement of sorts. Rule number two business before pleasure. Carol was willing to admit she was in danger of breaking this rule. But Carol had worked too hard for the career she had earned and she was not willing to compromise this for anyone no matter how much Therese set her skin and her mind alight. Rule number three? Carol expected a certain amount of privacy. She did not want to become gossip material at the water cooler and she expected Therese to be conservative with the truth. Carol stubbed out her cigarette and clutched her briefcase in hand feeling pleased with herself.

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Therese sat at a table with a small reserved sign in the centre. It was a beautiful restaurant. A small band playing wind instruments filled the room with a cacophony of sound and waiters stood to attention, always present but never overbearing. Couples sat together chatting amiably and there was romance and the smell of freshly cut flowers in the air. Therese felt out of her comfort zone, awkward in a new mustard dress. It wasn't a colour she was used to wearing but she had chosen it on a whim. She felt like taking risks tonight.

When Carol finally breezed into the restaurant Therese forgot all about the fact that she was a half an hour late. She felt her stomach leap into her throat, watching as she moved around the room seamlessly. "Why thank you" She exclaimed as a waiter helped her with her coat. As the fur was eased from her shoulders Carol greeted Therese with her trademark wink and pursed her lips with the air of a promise. Clearly comfortable in this setting she allowed her chair to be pulled out before she sat down oozing with charm. People loved to look at Carol. They were in awe of her, charmed by her very prescence and tonight was no different as heads turned to snatch a glimpse of the striking blonde.

"Sorry I'm late" Carol apologised taking in Therese's dress. Therese couldn't help but fidget awkwardly under her gaze. "You look beautiful"

"You look wonderful" Therese replied appreciating the sight of Carol in a figure hugging red dress that matched her painted lips. "You always do" Therese knew such compliments were not new to Carol and she watched Carol quickly lose interest as she scrolled through the menu with the ghost of a smile on her mouth.

"The roasted talibut sounds divine" Carol commented absentmindedly.

Therese glanced apprehensively at the menu. She was not used to the finer things in life and as words on the menu jumped out at her she felt daunted by its possibilities. "I don't know what half of the menu is but it sounds delicious" Therese admitted. When she looked up she found Carol was eyeing her with a soft look. Therese supposed she took pity on her and she tried not to think about how that made her feel.

Carol leaned forward resting her head on a hand which was propped up by an elbow. "We could have a lot of fun together Therese" She purred. "How does that sound?" In leaning forward Therese could see the curve and line of her cleavage.

"I like the sound of that"

"Good" She sat back and folded her arms with a sense of finality. She signaled the waiter over and smiled a wide beautiful smile. "Shall I order?"

Therese felt an immediate sense of relief. Why did it make her feel a degree of excitement upon hearing Carol taking the reigns? She enjoyed this emerging power dynamic but equally she relished the odd moments when Carol let those boundaries soften and Therese snatched a moment to seize control.

A waiter came forward presenting a bottle of red wine to the table. Carol nodded her head distracted by the way the candlelight danced across Therese's face. She truly was a beautiful woman. The thought reminded Carol of those ever important ground rules. "Therese, when I said that I wanted us to have fun I meant it"

Therese was confused by Carol's shifting tone. "I understand"

"And I hope that you do. I hope that we can come to an arrangement of sorts" Carol spoke with confidence but she could see the slightest tension in Therese's eyes at the mention of the word arrangement. Nevertheless she continued lining up her proposal as though she were at a boardroom meeting. "Needless to say I expect a certain amount of confidentiality..."

Therese was stunned by Carol's detached aloofness. She was speaking as though Therese were a potential client or some kind of seedy bedroom secret. Was that what she wanted? An arrangement? 'An arrangement of sorts' The term made Therese feel like a hired escort. "Of course" She finally managed drinking down a large mouthful of red wine.

"I have a reputation to uphold" Carol reminded her.

Therese wondered if Carol knew of her reputation as an ice maiden? Or was that the reputation she wanted to uphold? "You have my word" Therese attempted to smile through the tension that seemed to grip her jaw.

"We have a lot of chemistry Therese" The heat returned to Carol's eyes with a rising temperature. "I find you irresistible..." Carol paused observing the way Therese's expression changed into a girlish smile. Why did she feel a pang of uncertainty. "...but I'm looking for excitement not a relationship" It felt like a death knell and Carol was grateful for the interruption as a waiter produced their meals severing the tension at the table.

"Of course" Therese smiled looking down at her food. She was smiling but Carol caught a small glimmer of disappointment. She refused to consider this. They were her ground rules. They kept her safe and she would not budge on this no matter if the slight sadness in hazel eyes made her heart plummet.

Chapter Text

As the door to the hotel room was closed Therese pressed Carol against the wooden exterior, pushing her body against Carol's back and sliding her blonde hair out of the way so she could kiss the nape of her neck. She could taste the goosebumps that lined her skin and she slipped her arms around her waist, sliding up to hold her breasts in her hands with a gentle but firm touch.

Carol turned her head to the side feeling the coolness of the painted door which was in direct contrast to the heat building between her legs. She revelled in Therese taking control and she felt her breathing hitch in her throat as those delicate, small, hands gripped at the bottom of her dress sliding the material up until it bunched at her hips. Cool air came in a rush reminding Carol that she was standing, vulnerable, in her underwear. There was something different in Therese this evening. There was a firmness and a frustration that Carol felt in her insistent touch. She had seen the glimmer of it in her eyes when Carol had suggested they booked into a hotel after finishing their meals. Carol knew she should have put some distance between them, at least until there had been time for Therese to think over things, but she could not resist sharing a bed with the younger woman. It was the dress. Carol was sure of it. And as she felt Therese's hand slip into the front of her underwear she wasn't sure that she had made an unwise decision.

Therese was hurt. More than anything she was hurt by her own stupidity. Of course they would have nothing more than an arrangement. How could she have been so foolish? And what did she want other than Carol trembling beneath her touch? She fed all of the resentment into satisfying Carol. She was dancing between a balance of uncontrollable lust and frustration and she wasn't sure which was leading her now. She knew Carol was nearing that sweet edge of release and she slipped her underwear down to the floor turning Carol to face her as she got to her knees and brought her mouth to that unmistakable heat.

"Therese I can't..." Carol began fearing that her knees would buckle and she would fall but when she felt that achingly soft mouth she pressed back against the door reaching out for something to hold onto, anything to provide some stability so that the younger woman could continue without interruption.

Therese did not let up. She gripped Carol by the hips, hard, fingers digging into skin as she busied her mouth with the task of bringing Carol to the point of pleasure. She wanted to make love to her fiercely. She wanted to satiate her and then she would be the one to leave. The thought was fleeting but she held onto it even as Carol gripped her by the hair legs trembling, hands grasping, clawing and then her head went back and she was breathing heavily. Therese looked up at her flushed cheeks just as azure eyes looked down at her, softened with bliss. She stroked Therese's face and smiled before closing her eyes and shaking her head in amazement. "What a mouth" She remarked squeezing Therese's cheeks firmly.

Therese got to her feet. Could she really leave? As Carol came to her with a tender kiss she knew that she was going nowhere. "Let's take a bath" Carol suggested kissing each of Therese's shoulders before she moved behind her unzipping her dress in one fluid movement, allowing it to drop to the ground in a whoosh.

Therese watched her cross over and into the bathroom. She heard the sound of water running and she sat down on the edge of the bed in her underwear wondering. She was brooding and she knew it. She was mulling over Carol's words. She was thinking about the fact that Carol had whisked her off to another hotel. Would this be it? Endless hotel rooms and fancy dinners? Nights spent in passionate lust and mornings where she was sure to wake alone?

"The water's just right" Carol's voice followed into the bedroom and when Therese looked over she was standing in the doorway completely nude. She leaned against the doorframe and beckoned Therese over with an extended arm. "Take off your underwear"

Therese slipped out of her underwear under Carol's watchful gaze. In Carol's eyes she felt attractive, seductive and she strode towards her watching the intensity rise in stormy blue skies. As she brushed past Carol she felt her hand cupping her rear and she started to think that this might not be such a bad set up after all.

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Carol dried Therese down with a towel and admired the view of her flushed skin. The hot water had turned her entire body a light pink. "Do you feel relaxed?" She asked with a raised brow before a smile tugged at the corners of her lips.

"Utterly relaxed" Therese gushed slipping into a hotel robe. Carol missed the sight of her body instantly and she turned her attention to drying off her own body. Her mind slipped back to moments ago when Therese had sat between her opened legs and she'd allowed her hand to travel between her thighs stroking her achingly slowly. She'd worked her into a frenzy and the bubbles and bath water had splashed over the sides of the bath creating puddles all over the bathroom floor. She adored the sounds Therese made when she came, they began as gentle moans and built into deep cries. Therese always grabbed at Carol the moment she teetered over the edge, hands would curl around Carol's wrists, or touch her face or weave into her hair. Her touch was urgent it conveyed how much she needed her and how deep the impact of pleasure and it excited Carol.

When she returned to the bedroom Therese was laying underneath the sheets. "You don't have to wait until I'm asleep to leave" She told her with a shrug and though she appeared to be genuine, without a trace of spite, Carol felt bruised by her words. "I understand. It's one of the rules" She reached for the tv remote and turned on the tv leaving Carol to register a sense of shock at her frankness.

"Lets have a beer and then I'll call a cab" Carol suggested with what she knew was a compromise between needing to appear aloof and wanting just a little more time with Therese. Was that so extraordinary? To want rest with her for more than a moment?

Chapter Text

"No" Carol interjected sharply. "12.30 and not a moment later" She slammed the phone down so that it rattled against the desk top. Today Carol was in a bad mood. Today she was rattled and she had already taken it out on Therese. So much so that the last time she'd walked past her office she had sat at her desk looking like a scolded puppy.

"Do you want a coffee?" Therese had asked popping her head around the doorway.

"No" Carol had continued to tap away at the keyboard, drumming out an angry email.

If Therese had sensed the tone she did not heed the warning and she came into the office to stand behind Carol bringing her hands to her shoulders in an attempt to ease her tension. Carol resisted the urge to snap. "Therese..."

"Everybody's out for lunch"

Carol breathed through her nose. "Business before pleasure"

"What's happened?"

Therese's concern was like a red rag to a bull and Carol tensed, instantly shrugging away Therese's hands. "You're here to work Therese not to be my agony aunt. Close the door on your way out"

She had been cold. Painfully cold and she despised the way it made her feel even worse. Usually tearing a person apart felt like the snapping of an elastic band but Therese was not a muscle to be flexed, she was not dispensable. Carol wasn't sure how to feel about that. Other than Abby and a few close friends everybody in her life had become dispensable. It's how she'd operated. It was an order she had developed out of necessity. She would not be hurt again and though it pained her to admit it she was terrified of the hurt those meltingly soft hazel eyes could cause. She heard the distant sound of Abby's voice and it snipped at the fabric of her daydreams. A welcome break but she knew Abby would be pausing in Therese's office a moment too long. When she imagined Abby smiling like a Cheshire cat she got to her feet and walked the length of Therese's office.

"Therese!" Abby greeted her like she was a long lost friend. She seemed to fly around the desk as she greeted Therese with a kiss on the cheek.

"Abby" Therese smiled genuinely happy to hear the voice of a friendly soul. She had sat in silence with nothing but the sound of keyboard taps and the whirring sound of the printer for company. In contrast to Carol Abby was a marvellously warm person. How did their friendship survive Carol's inconsistent moods?

"Long day at the office?" Abby enquired with a sympathetic look. "Carol and I are off out for a bite to eat and then we're going to see a show"

"That sounds lovely"

"Well then why don't you come along?" Abby suggested leaning casually against a wall.

As Therese began to speak Carol appeared like a forboding apperition in the doorway. There was nothing but frost in those blue eyes and she folded her arms as if to block any hope of contact.

"I'd better not" Therese murmured looking back down at her computer if only to close herself off to those peering eyes.

"Do you have plans? I'd love to get to know you a little better"

Out of the corner of Therese's eye she could see the beginnings of something in Carol's expression. Was she jealous? Intrigued? Therese didn't know but she was certain she wanted to find out.

"And I won't be intruding?" Therese motioned towards Carol's prescence and there appeared to be a minor chink in Abby's joyful armour. What sort of game were they playing?

Abby glanced over her shoulder at Carol who raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders simultaneously. "The more the merrier" She deadpanned before walking away.

Therese was certain she could see Abby tense but she was smiling at Therese warmly. "Meet us at Harley's. Do you know it? I can write the address down for you..." She leaned down beside Therese but Therese felt no chemistry. She noticed the sweet smell of Abby's perfume and the way her handwriting was as gentle as her kind nature but she could not imagine those hands on her body. It made her think of Carol's hands, strong yet beautifully, unmistakably feminine, with soft freckles. Carol's hands had touched every part of her and she felt her cheeks grow warm as images of the two of them swam through her mind with ease. Perhaps Abby mistook Therese's blushes as being in response to their close proximity? Was Carol truly prepared for her friend to become collateral damage? Clearly she knew nothing of their relationship. It pained Therese that she meant so little to Carol.

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"She's quite the girl isn't she?" Abby remarked as they walked side by side to the bar.

Carol could hardly hear her through the mass of thoughts in her head and she resisted the urge to tell her oldest friend to shut up. Abby had a tendency to ramble on and all Carol wanted was a moment of silence. "Mm hmm" She answered non commitally.

"Aren't you fascinated Carol? She has the most telling eyes..."

"She's a daydreamer! She spends half the day on another planet" Carol spoke with a trace of irritation but the truth was she loved catching Therese deep in her thoughts. When Therese's hazel eyes shimmered green and her colour shot up at Carol catching her out, the older woman knew she was thinking about her. "I should put her on a warning" She grumbled.

"My you're a surly one today" Abby teased. Only Abby could tease Carol without fear of her reaction. "She'd be a lamb to the slaughter! I think you'd eat her alive Carol"

Carol could not help but smirk at Abby's words. She spotted Therese before Abby did. She was stood outside of the restaurant looking very fine in a navy dress, with her hair loosely plaited to one side. Carol was instantly drawn to the smattering of colour on Therese's lips. She couldn't help but think about wearing that shade herself.

"Therese!" Abby whistled in appreciation. "You look wonderful" She was using Carol's words and Therese did not like it. Like an ill fitting outfit she shrugged it off self-consciously. "This old thing" She joked and Carol enjoyed the look on her face and the gentle shrug of her shoulders.

"Don't be so modest Therese. You're a beautiful woman" Abby praised as she held the door to the restaurant open chivalrously.

Carol was watching this exchange closely. Carol and Abby had enjoyed the thrill of the chase before. Was it rivalry? Onewomanupmanship? Or the last vestiges of jealousy on Abby's part? Carol assumed nothing. She was certain Abby knew nothing of her interest in Therese. It had felt like assurance, power even but as she watched how easily Abby charmed her, how warm and gentle she was with her, she couldn't help but feel a shard of concern. What if Therese preferred the warmth and the gentle charming qualities of her dear friend? She strode into the restaurant with all the confidence she could muster. She had her game face on and she would not be losing this evening.

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"I'm going to use the restroom. Shall we start with a good old fashioned?" Abby rubbed her hands together gleefully.

"Abby doesn't know about us does she?" Therese asked.

"Us?"

Therese rolled her eyes. "About our arrangement"

Carol rearranged the gold bands on her wrist. "Why would she?"

Therese laughed under her breath. "Is she attracted to me?"

Carol laughed. "Undoubtedly" She knew she should be changing tact, warming Therese up but she couldn't. She couldn't show her that she cared.

Therese was becoming annoyed. "And you're ok with that?" She asked the question even though she knew that she shouldn't. It was too real, too close to the truth, and Therese surprised herself with how worried she was about Carol's reply.

Under the table Carol slid her hand onto Therese's knee and inched her way under her navy dress. She touched the featherlight skin of her inner thigh and sighed inwardly. Couldn't she just take Therese and leave? She thought of Abby alone and the idea dissipated in seconds. No she could not do that. "I don't want to share" She rasped just as Abby came back to the table.

The warm hand on her knee slipped away but Carol's words did not. 'I don't want to share' Was she something to be shared? A prize? An object? She resented the way Carol's ownership sent a chill along her spine and a pulse between her thighs. Yes she wanted to be owned by Carol in the worst possible way.

"Shall we order? I'm famished! Therese?"

Therese scanned the menu for something tangible. She hated this. She hated the fact that she felt like a fish out of water. It made her feel like an imposter to know that she was dining in a restaurant she could ill afford. Carol would pay the bill and she would feel owned in a different way. "I..."

"The beef carpaccio is sensational" Carol suddenly interrupted. Her blue eyes were distracted by the menu but Therese knew she was being kind to her. In her own Carol way she was rescuing her and Therese could not help but warm to this.

"Sounds wonderful" Therese replied and she met Carol's gaze with her own unable to stop the warmth and the longing from pouring out of her.

'Abby's right. She truly does have such telling eyes' Carol mused.

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"You'll love this Therese. It's full of romance and longing" Abby told her as the lights were lowered and the audience erupted in applause.

A brief encounter. It meant nothing to Therese and yet she couldn't help but equate it to her 'arrangement' with Carol. Was this a brief encounter? She could feel Carol beside her, her vibrant perfume clinging to Therese and she felt her prescence overwhelmingly, like an ache, like a throb. More than anything she wanted to ease the mounting tension. Between them the atmosphere would build to an unmanageable degree and it would be eased, deliciously, by the joining of their bodies. She needed some tangible contact to cut the tension. Anything to offer some sensory relief.

As if Carol could hear Therese's every waking thought she shuffled in her seat, her intentions shielded by the cover of darkness. She allowed the hand at her side to curl around Therese's forearm. Her mind implored her to slip her hand into Therese's, to entwine their fingers, to see how neatly they fit together but it felt dangerous. Instead she kept her hand at the outline of Therese's bicep stroking her through the thin material of her dress.

"What did you think Therese?" Abby asked helping Therese into her coat.

"I loved it" Therese's eyes were dreamy and she wore her enthusiasm on her sleeve gushing about the play. Carol found it adorable. Therese viewed everything with virginial eyes soaking in the experience with a childlike wonder that made the ordinary seem magnificent. In the dim glow of a street lamp Carol had never seen Therese look so enchanting.

"Shall we go for a nightcap?" Abby asked as the three women crowded together on the pavement.

"I'm going to call it a night"

"I can't convince you to stay for one more drink?" There was mischief dancing in Abby's eyes.

"Not tonight Abby"

"Some other time?" She asked hopefully. "Carol? One last drink before we call it quits?"

"I'm afraid not. I have an early morning and I need my beauty sleep"

"Nonsense" Abby winked kissing Carol on the cheek and squeezing her hand before she stepped away. "Then I wish you goodnight darlings" She waved a hand and then she was gone bounding down the street.

Therese watched her for a while even as Carol joined her side. She did not want to look at the taller blonde. She couldn't tolerate her gaze. The sadness of the play hung over her like a melancholy cloud.

"Therese" Carol whispered but Therese averted her gaze. She was staring off into space and Carol's mind conjured up a collection of all the cold things she had said or done to Therese throughout the day. She had been too harsh. But she was soft now and she stepped in front of Therese holding both of her hands in her own, stroking her gently.

Therese could not envision another evening spent in a random hotel room waking up to cold sheets alone. "I'm going to go"

Carol held onto Therese's hands tugging at her gently. "Don't" Carol implored. "Come with me" She added kissing Therese under the warmth of the streetlight. She had pushed Therese too far and now she knew she needed to make amends.

"Carol..." Therese tried to resist her but she was melting under her soft touch. When Carol slipped her arms around her waist drawing her in for an embrace she sighed at the contact, resting her head in the crook of Carol's neck.

"Lets go back to my place" Carol said even though the thought of it made her body scream out. What are you doing? She did not take lovers back to her house but she could not leave Therese this evening.

"Ok" Therese answered simply. She did not want Carol to know how much she relished the idea of seeing her home. She was practically trembling at the idea that she was seeing a part of Carol that she so painstakingly kept hidden.

"Let's get a cab" Carol kissed her and kept ahold of one hand guiding her along the pavement.

Chapter Text

Carol's home was a rooftop apartment in an area Therese didn't even know existed. Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of congested streets were apartment complexes which were as tall as sky scrapers. The streets became cleaner, became nicer and Therese watched immaculately maintained houses roll by from the window of the taxi.

"Ms Aird" A smartly dressed doorman greeted Carol with a congenial bow of his head. He smiled in Therese's direction and held the door open for them both.

"Thank you Carl" Carol and Therese walked in comfortable silence to the lift and when the doors opened they slipped inside just the two of them. Therese felt as though she was holding her breath the whole ride to the top floor. She knew Carol was tense she could tell by the way she set her jaw and by the fact that she had remained silent even as the lift doors opened.

"The lift opens into your apartment" Therese commented in disbelief.

"Yes" Carol replied with a thinly veiled smile. Therese gazed at the apartment with unrestrained awe and Carol felt a small sense of embarrassment. She had stopped noticing the lavish, the grand, and she wondered if she had taken things for granted as of lasts.

Therese was amazed. Of course Carol had an immaculate and lavish home. Carol liked the finer things in life, had earned the finer things in life and her apartment was of no exception. Paintings and a host of black and white photographs lined olive walls. Therese could hardly take them in she was so overwhelmed by the knowledge that she was in Carol's home. The apartment smelt like freshly cut flowers, bergamot and lime and then the unmistakable smell of Carol. Not just Carol's vibrant perfume but the smell of her skin of her very being. She walked through the living room in a trance. Carol had crossed over to a mahogany drinks table and was decanting two glasses of brandy. To her side was a grand fireplace and a thick rug that looked bountiful enough to sleep on lay feet away. Bouquets of flowers in shades of plums, purples, snippets of wild green and bountiful yellows were scattered around the room and Therese wondered what it must be like to have more than you needed. To be able to possess taste, class and everything in abundance. Carol lived a different life to Therese but right now she was content to swim in her currents.

"Are you cold?" Carol asked glancing at the fireplace.

Therese wanted to see the fire roaring to life to dream a sense of normality in the two of them sitting on that beautiful rug as if they did every night. "A little" She lied if only to compell Carol to start the fire.

"Sit down. Make yourself comfortable" Carol was still tense. She was holding on to the tension of having someone else in her apartment but as she watched Therese slip off her shoes and melt into the softness of her living room rug she decided that for tonight, for once, she would not overthink things.

Therese sat back sinking into the rug and enjoying the sight of Carol on her hands and knees building a fire. She smiled as Carol cursed under her breath before she heard the sound of matches striking and then the fireplace was alight with smouldering flames. Therese watched them dance transfixed and as Carol crawled over to her she watched the light show across her alabaster skin. The tension had slipped away and Therese brought her hands to Carol's face stroking her skin tenderly, gently, despite the way it made Carol's eyes widen. She would not always be afforded the ability to be tender with Carol and so tonight she would take her time and be as soft as she possibly could be. "You have the softest skin" Therese hummed, lightly tracing the curve of Carol's lips with the tip of her finger. "And the most beautiful eyes" She moved onto tracing the shape of her eyebrows noting the way Carol's eyes changed to being a lighter shade of blue.

"Therese..." Carol cleared her throat. "...this doesn't change things" She said even though she knew the very act of inviting Therese to her apartment changed everything. But she still had to scrounge some perception of control.

"Don't" Therese interjected bringing a hand lightly to cup Carol's mouth, silencing her. "Not tonight. Tonight I don't want to think things over. I just want you to be with me. I want you to do whatever you want without worrying about what it all means in the morning"

Carol's eyebrows rose at the implication of Therese's suggestion. She placed a hand over Therese's moving it down to rest in her lap. "Ok" She acquiesced. For now she would be in the moment with the younger woman but she was insistent, firm, in the fact that this was nothing more than chemistry. A case of sexual chemistry too strong to resist but she was not losing her head. "Ill put on some music" She suggested and she kissed Therese briefly.

Carol put vinyl on a record player. The needle scratched and the sound of soft jazz filled the living room. She lit two cigarettes and handed one to Therese. Humming along to the tune she sat in an armchair across from Therese watching her as she smoked. And just like that in the flicker of a struck match the excitement leaped between them like the formation of an invisible line. "I think it's time for bed"

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Carol's bedroom felt like a homing beacon. Therese could hardly believe she was here and she digested every factor as though it were a blueprint which would assemble the bones of Carol. The way a black silken robe hung on the back of a chair at her dresser. How meticulously her make up and perfume lined a dresser and how there was a wine glass on her bedside cabinet and a well worn book. It conjured images of her waking and resting routines and it felt exposing, vulnerable, somehow. A pair of heels stuck out like a sore thumb in an otherwise orderly room and Therese imagined Carol stepping into them and morphing into work mode. "Id get you some pyjamas but I don't think you'll be wearing them" She teased and she flicked on a lamp at her bedside which painted the room in soft, relaxing tones. She began to undress and Therese watched, remaining off to one side as though at any moment Carol would come to her senses and insist she leave in a cab. She was drinking in the sight of creamy soft skin bathed in subdued light and did not move until Carol spoke. "Well don't just stand there slow coach. Aren't you going to join me?" She slipped beneath crisp cotton sheets and watched as Therese slipped out of her dress, then her underwear, hastily walking round to the other side of the bed. She joined her and Carol snuggled closer turning onto her side so they lay face to face bathed in cool sheets.

Therese felt bolder, braver, and she allowed a hand to stroke through soft blonde strands of hair. "You don't like it when I tell you you're beautiful"

Carol allowed her hands to wander and she stroked Therese's chest moving to cup her breasts. "Don't I?"

"I think it's not an uncommon compliment for you to hear. I'd wager lots of people have said it to you"

"I know people find me attractive. It means very little to me. It bores me" She admitted, letting her nails skim the surface of Therese's thighs. She scratched her skin lightly and felt goosebumps rising to the surface. "But I enjoy knowing that you want me. I like seeing it in your eyes. Do you know how green they become when you're excited?" She stroked a line along her groin and dipped her hand into delicately soft curls. Therese's eyes fluttered closed. "Let me see you" Carol whispered and Therese willed her eyes to stay open even as her body stretched in anticipation. Carol's hand was a slow scratch working at her in undulating circles. She remained content to simply graze the surface and her blue eyes were watching Therese as she became frustrated by the slow pace of her movements. She was squirming under her touch, dipping her head back into a pillow and biting at her bottom lip.

"You're killing me here" Therese groaned. She was grabbing at the sheets and unrooting them out of sheer frustration.

"I want you to really want it" Carol's voice was husky and she nipped at Therese's neck with a teasing bite.

"I want it" Therese insisted. "I need it" She was moving her hips now hoping for the smallest amount of contact and Carol smiled moving her body so that it aligned Therese's. Therese brought her hands to Carol's pert breasts and she teased her nipples glad of the sound of Carol's delighted moans. She brought her mouth to a breast warm and wet.

Carol cradled Therese's head to her breasts enjoying the sensation of her tongue and her lips working in tandem. She relented and slid her fingers inside of Therese, greeted with her warmth and her wetness and a deep, guttural moan that spilled out of the brunettes mouth.

Therese kept her mouth suckling at Carol's breasts but she was impossibly distracted by the fine motion of arching fingers. Soon she could do nothing more than rest her face in the bountiful softness of her chest, made damp with her kisses. She was in Carol's bed. With Carol working her into a frenzy and it was the most delicious feeling. She wanted to make it happen in slow motion so that she could savour every moment. It was overwhelming to be here with her, the smell of her everywhere and the feel of sheets Carol had slept in. She kept her eyes connected with Carol's and the heady mix of emotions were creating a storm in her eyes.

The eye contact was alive with feeling and Carol could see that Therese was caught between pleasure and a taste of being desperate, hungry, for release. She was moving, backing herself up against the headboard and Carol was moving against her slick wetness. Just the thought that she had Therese in her bed, fingers pumping inside of her, made Carol feel overwhelmingly turned on. Why had she waited so long to have her here? As she watched the bursting forth of relief turn Therese's eyes a muddled green, she did not have a rational answer.

Therese lay back breathing in a shallow rhythm. Her chest rose and fell and she faintly felt Carol's prescence as she laid beside her stroking her body gently as she was racked with waves. "That was..." She caught her breath and Carol smiled resting a hand on Therese's chest so that she could feel the pattern of her heartbeat. "...never mind" She could not articulate a sentence. She did not care about words. There were more important matters to consider and as her hand curved the outline of Carol's hip and she heard that all too familiar sigh she busied her mouth with a much more pressing detail.

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Carol awoke unsure of her surroundings. There was a split second of confusion before she realised that she was here in her bed with Therese sleeping soundly beside her. She felt a lurch of panic, feeling the sting of doubt and regret. But then Therese shuffled closer resting her face against Carol's naked back and snaking an arm around her stomach. She could feel the gentle brush of Therese's breasts against her skin. She was warm and soft, holding Carol in her arms while she slumbered peacefully. She wondered if she had a stake in Therese's dreams? Was she imagining her? Thinking of her? Anchored by the fact that she had Carol in her arms. Carol could not deny that she was feeling comforted, blissful and before she could dwell on the ramifications of letting Therese see this part of her she was cradled back to sleep.

Chapter Text

"I hope that I don't have to remind you of how important this meeting is" Carol spoke in a serious tone as she attempted to fix the collar of her shirt.

"You don't have to remind me" Therese tutted and urged Carol to face her. She fixed a small looping bow at Carol's collar. Carol did not flinch or recoil but stood impatiently waiting for Therese to finish. Therese had noticed subtle changes the more time they spent together. Carol would be loathe to admit it but she was warming to Therese. She was softer with her now. Of course she maintained her 'commitment' to the arrangement insisting that it was her philosophy on life. There was still talk of rules of privacy, of business before pleasure, but Carol was bending her own rules. There were snatched moments in the office. Therese had gauged a pattern in Carol's impulsiveness and days in which her outfits consisted of anything tailored or fitted. One day Therese had worn a light blue pin stripe suit and a white shirt buttoned to the throat and Carol had instantly locked her office door and had unbuttoned her own shirt without saying a word. Then she had ravished Therese entirely and Therese had spent the remainder of the day feeling completely elicit and hyper aware of Carol in the next room. Carol was kinder. She shared snippets of information with Therese, though this was usually followed by periods of extreme coldness. Therese weathered such periods holding on to the belief that something more than sex tied the two of them together. She was sure of it. Sure of it in the way she caught Carol looking at her sometimes. In the way that she held her in her arms and smelt her hair after a long evening. The nights at Carol's home continued and even though they came with a disclaimer, they were happening on a regular basis. Carol cooked for her. She spent lazy weekends preparing breakfast which they ate on her rooftop with the early afternoon sun warming their bones. Yes there were ripples of progress but Carol's past was not an open book. She would not indulge Therese in conversations of her history, of how she became who she was. When it came to her life she remained an elusive mystery.

"I want you to charm people. Keep things ticking over. There's nothing worse than awkward silences..." Carol fixed her hair in a floor length mirror.

"Yes" Therese confirmed trying not to betray her nervousness. Therese did not interact with clients and she felt somehow that this was yet another one of Carol's tests. There was safety behind a desk, behind a phone, and she wondered how well she might fair in a male dominated world. Stranger still she was curious to know who Carol was in this context. Did she become one of the boys? Did she relish in being one of the only women in the boardroom? Therese wasn't sure if she wanted to see this Carol.

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Therese had never seen so many men in suits in one room. They had a way about them that exuded confidence and power. Carol possessed much of the same and yet it did not excite Therese to see this in male form. Therese felt surrounded, on show and she tried to hide her awkwardness with a sweet smile. It would, unfortunately, be her undoing. Carol did not smile sweetly. She was sharp, controlled, and men sought her out and avoided her in equal measure attracted to her magnetism or terrified of her power. When it came to Therese, however, her sweetness and relative approachability appeared like a homing signal.

"What's your name beautiful?" A man in a brown suit asked with a glint on his eye. He was smoking a cigar and smiling gleefully amongst his friends.

The word beautiful felt like a cheapness in his mouth and Therese fought back the urge to roll her eyes. "Therese Belivet. I'm Carol's PA" Therese replied politely aiming to keep conversation professional.

"Is that so?" He regarded Therese closely and continued to smirk. "So what does that entail?"

"Admin. Arranging functions such as..."

The man stepped forward. "So you're sort of a glorified receptionist?" The men in his circle laughed and this appeared to drive him to continue. "Or do you have any other services to offer?" He winked and the laughter continued.

"I'm not sure I like what you're implying" Therese replied curtly. She thought about stepping away from the group but sensing this the young man gripped her by the wrist.

"Just remember who we are Miss Belivet" He warned her.

Therese tugged her arm away. "How could I forget?" She remarked. She smiled. "Gentleman if you'll excuse me" She walked away amidst the sound of their childish laughter and she could feel his hand on her wrist like a sting or like a burn.

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Carol glanced around the room and became irritated when she could not find Therese anywhere in the throng of people. She did not expect Therese to be slacking off and she bound towards the rest rooms becoming incensed when Therese did not suddenly appear in the crowd.

She entered the women's bathroom and saw one stall occupied. "Therese!" She exclaimed.

Therese did not reply. She stood leaning against the walls of the cubicle attempting to slow her breathing and stop her tears. She would not give them the satisfaction of knowing they had upset her.

"Therese!" Carol's voice was louder and firmer now. "I will not speak to a door!"

There was the sound of the door unlocking and then Therese emerged eyes visibly tearing up. She dabbed at them delicately with a tissue. Upon seeing Carol she was struck by an urge for the older woman to take her in her arms and comfort her.

"What's this?" Carol barked. She had lost none of her irritation upon seeing Therese visibly upset. Instead she felt an initial shock of guilt bubble into outrage."Why are you being emotional?" She snapped.

Carol's anger did not quell her upset and she cursed herself as fresh tears ran down her cheeks. How could Carol be so cruel? She did not know this Carol. She did not want to know this Carol. "I will not be spoken to..."

Carol cut her off instantly with a raised hand. "They are only words Therese. You have a job to do and I expect you to remain professional. I should not have to babysit you" Her eyes were raised and her face had lost any expression of the Carol Therese had begun to see. This Carol was burning with a white hot anger and Therese felt her own upset harden. Carol did not even want to know. Therese gripped the sink and looked at her reflection in the mirror. "Do you understand? I will not ask you again"

Therese nodded at her reflection in the mirror. "I understand" She replied willing herself to hold onto the anger that was now simmering under the surface. She watched her eyes become darker and she gripped the sink tightly. Carol did not care about her and she was a fool if she thought otherwise. She imagined Carol hours after the event warming, wanting Therese, wanting her in her bed and Therese was determined not to give in to that Carol. At this moment she did not care if she ever kissed that mouth again.

"Clean yourself up" Carol uttered before flying out of the room.

---------

Carol returned to the room with a tightness in her chest that would not abate. Of course she resumed her sharp professionalism, emerging herself back into the group with nonchalance. She discussed a new merger with a potential client but she could not prevent her attention from wandering over to Therese's direction. Did she regret how she had spoken to her? Perhaps but Carol comforted herself with the firm belief that this was work and when it came to her career she was unashamedly ruthless. And Therese had composed herself. Carol could see it in the way she held herself and the way she navigated the crowd. No, Carol would not admit that she regretted anything.

Nearing the end of the meeting Carol approached Therese who was caught in a rather raucous group. Some of the clients she engaged with did not know how to behave and Carol had, had to swell through the ranks herself throughout the years. It had taken years of grit and determination but she had clawed respect. She knew she was still just a woman in the eyes of many. This was a male dominated arena. It was a mans world and she was an attractive woman. Some men admired her, some envied her, but due in no part to her reputation as a ball buster, all kept their mouths finely tightened when she was around. Therese, Carol noted, was not treated with the same regard.

"If you're in the mood for a change then why don't you consider becoming my personal assistant?" Gregory Smith crowed as Carol joined a group nearby. Carol could see the hesitancy in Therese's eyes and in the way she gritted her teeth. Gregory Smith was the heir to an immense fortune. His father owned the most accomplished packing industry in America and he wore this fact in his arrogance. Gregory Smith was untouchable and so Carol remained on the outskirts watching the interaction closely.

"Thank you for the offer but I'm quite satisfied where I am" Therese replied with a saccharine smile. It was a false smile but there was an air of a smirk at the hidden meaning behind her words. She doubted very much that this man could satisfy her like Carol did. The thought hung in the air and though Therese was furious with Carol she felt that familiar heat like a long lost friend.

"I think you'd find yourself quite satisfied in my company" He was grinning and the men around him were responding in kind their body language swelling with pride. "What do you say?" He wriggled his eyebrows. "You're a personal assistant right?"

Therese nodded her head but her body language was tense. "That's right"

"How about we see how personal we can make things?" And on that note he leaned in and allowed his hand to lightly graze Therese's back.

Therese shrunk away and he stepped back laughing lightly clearly satisfied by her reaction. But worse than that was the fact that Carol was turning away as though she hadn't been watching this entire exchange. Therese had seen her out of the corner of her eye, hovering, blue eyes betraying an element of concern but not enough to step in and prevent Therese from being humiliated again.

------

Carol knew she had done considerable damage. Once they were alone Therese had resisted any form of eye contact. She had been silent busying herself with tidying the vast hall.

"Leave that Therese the cleaners can take care of it in the morning"

Therese looked up from a table she'd been clearing. She did not give anything away. Normally Carol's damage control involved looking into Therese's eye and assessing the depth of emotion. Not tonight. Tonight Therese was unemotional, detached, and as Carol joined her side she walked away and headed for the lift.

"Therese!" Carol enquired.

The lift doors pinged open and they entered the lift with Therese staring steadfastly ahead.

"Why don't we go for a drink? It's been a long day" Carol suggested. She allowed her tone to be warm as she attempted to catch Therese's gaze. But the younger woman was not in the mood for compromise and she resisted Carol entirely with her closed off body language.

"I'm tired" Therese finally replied. "I just want to go home and sleep" The lift doors opened and Therese walked into her office without so much as a backward glance in Carol's direction, leaving Carol to stand in the hallway gazing at her disappearing figure.

Carol could not block the emotions that were surfacing. She felt guilt like a deep bitterness but there was still a bluster of entitlement. She was not used to being turned down by the younger woman. She knew it was cruel but she could see how willing Therese was. She would look at her with those puppy dog eyes and Carol knew that she was enamoured with her, would do anything to snatch a moment with her. Carol would not give up. She was a persistent woman and so she stepped into Therese's office just as the younger woman began unbuttoning the top button of her shirt. "Therese..."

"Carol..." Therese turned to face her and her eyes were irritated, her mouth sharp. "...its late. I'm going home"

Carol was shocked at her firmness. She considered putting on an air of bravado. After all it was the way they played the game but somehow she knew that Therese would see through this. She sighed. "I want to make amends" She relented.

"I don't need you to" Therese turned away from her and starting rummaging for her coat.

"I want to explain myself!" Her voice had become sharper and she reprimanded herself. "I should have prepared you. It won't happen again"

"You should have prepared me? You could have cared Carol! You could have showed me just an ounce of compassion"

"Did you want me to rescue you?" Carol shot back with a hand on her hip indignantly. "This is how things are Therese. I don't like it but I can't change it. You have be strong and defend yourself. Make your mark"

"And become like you? Closed off and cold?" Therese snapped.

"You are out of line Therese. May I remind you that I am your employer" Carol could not stop herself. The old wounds resurfaced. Therese had hit a nerve and she closed ranks knowing it would leave her out in the cold.

Therese shook her head and laughed in disbelief. "Business before pleasure" She confirmed resentfully. "I'll see you in the morning Ms Aird"

Carol watched her walk away with unwavering eyes. She could feel the tension in the room leaving her as tight as a coiled spring. She brought a hand to her temples kneading the tension away with a hand. What was she doing? Carol was used to difficult conversations, show downs, but she felt bruised. She cared. It was one hell of a revelation. She cared about Therese. She had broken her own rules and she had begun to develop feelings. She thought about Therese in that bathroom in floods of tears, of how Carol had turned her guilt to anger because it was the only thing she'd been able to do. It was how she was programmed to avoid any hurt and it had made her miserably unhappy. She had put Therese in the lions den and expected her to fight bare knuckled like she had, to develop a thick skin, like she had. She couldn't think about it any longer and somehow couldn't face the idea of returning home to her apartment. Her apartment bore memories of Therese, images of their lovemaking and Carol convinced herself that she was too tired to take the short journey. Tonight she'd find a hotel room and console herself with a large whiskey.

Chapter Text

Therese sat at her office desk reading her emails before the day began. She had, had a lot of time to think on things. Once she'd left the buildings she'd walked and walked, feet pounding the pavement until her head had cleared. She'd always done this. It had offered the time and the space for her to imagine herself in different lands, different worlds, with different dreams. Now she was using it to put some distance between herself and Carol. Therese felt hopelessly miserable. She knew, long ago, that she had fallen hard for Carol. It wasn't an emotion she was used to feeling. In many ways Therese understood Carol's coldness and her lack of feeling because she too had struggled to feel things for people. Relationships, infatuations which had died a death before they'd begun. Had she ever felt something tangible for another? She supposed she had her own fears of intimacy. Wanting Carol so badly had acted as a conduit for her to explore her feelings in a safe, unknown, way. The sex had clouded things. It still clouded things. If they so much as hit a speed bump then the merest brush of skin, or the joining of mouths would be enough to calm the storms and Therese would be back on course happily along for the ride. They had an indescribable chemistry. It sizzled between the two of them and it acted like a drug, a state of intoxication that left both of them at each other's mercies. Therese knew she was not the only one weak at the knees. She had seen how driven Carol could be in her quest to have her. Carol enjoyed the chase and she did it supremely well. But Therese had moved on from the chase, had become disenchanted with the game. Now she craved a different side of Carol. She yearned for the Carol who was gentle and soft. The Carol who delighted in teaching her things, showing her parts of the world she had only dared to dream of. The Carol who tolerated the way she fumbled. The Carol who looked at her with tenderness in her eyes just before she fell asleep. After yesterday she wasn't sure this Carol truly existed. At the very least she mused over whether fragments of that Carol were enough to face the icy winds. Therese was uncertain and for the first time since she'd begun working for Carol she was dreading the sound of her heels clipping as she walked.

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Normally Carol did not even glance in Therese's direction before she'd savoured her first coffee of the morning. This morning she couldn't help herself and she lingered at Therese's doorway only to find she wasn't there. She felt an initial sting of fear which was eased by the sound of Therese in the distance. Carol composed herself and strode into her office with briefcase in hand.

Therese lowered Carol's morning coffee onto her desktop just as she heard the sound of her heels tapping against the wooden floor. "Good morning" She greeted Carol politely.

"Good morning Therese" Carol dropped her briefcase onto the floor and shrugged out of her coat. She was buoyed by Therese speaking to her and she started to believe that she had worried all night for nothing.

"You have a meeting at 1pm. Mr Bridges. I'm preparing the contract now and it'll be on your desk within the hour" Therese remained painstakingly polite and reserved resisting any attempts to give in to the smoothness of Carol's smile.

"Did you sleep well?" Carol enquired.

"Yes thank you"

Carol pursed her lips in thought. Therese was the epitome of cold and it unnerved her. All the warmth had gone from her eyes and her smile appeared as a ghost never fully materialising. "Shall we have a coffee together?"

"I've just had one. I'll finish the contract"

Carol was frozen in a state of sheer disbelief as Therese turned on her heels and walked back to her office. She felt snubbed, utterly snubbed, and this wasn't a sensation she was used to feeling. Therese did not turn her down, not for long. Even when Therese was furious with Carol it would take little more than a wink or a touch of the hand and Therese would give in allowing the warmth to return between them. 'She'll come round' Carol told herself as she sat down at her desk and sipped her coffee. If Carol was sure of anything it was that she was irresistible in the eyes of Therese Belivet.

-------

The day trickled by and Therese kept her feet firmly planted on the ground. She was busy and this meant that she remained completely unaffected by Carol Aird.

Even when Carol had appeared at her doorway draped across the wooden pane invitingly, Therese had barely noticed her. "You're working hard" Carol's voice was gravel, coarse and heavy with intrigue and Therese fought the urge to watch her with tempted eyes.

"There's a lot to do" Therese replied keeping her eyes firmly focused on her computer screen. But Carol was determined and she strode into the room until her frame appeared in the corner of Therese's eye. Carol sat on the edge of Therese's desk allowing her skirt to ride up ever so slightly.

"I probably won't be back after my meeting"

Therese could smell that unmistakable smell of Carol and she bit down convincing herself not to look up. She knew if she did she was a goner. "Do you need me to arrange anything?"

Carol moved closer so that her leg was pressed against Therese's arm. "That depends" Carol's voice was melting honey. "Are you free this evening?" She smoothed down a crease on the arm of Therese's shirt.

"No I'm not"

Carol would not beg like a dog. She rose from the desk and fixed her skirt. "Then I'll see you tomorrow" She replied even though the thought was torturous.

"See you tomorrow" Therese could not believe the words were leaving her mouth. She could not believe that she had turned Carol down. She had turned her down and yet she ached to be with her. Carol had been like a spark of life. She'd taught her things about herself, she was still teaching her things about herself even now. And Therese felt utterly miserable at the thought of giving that up. The truth was she had never felt love, not really. She had spent year after year shuffled from foster home to care home always feeling out of sorts. With Carol she felt like finally she could be in one place. It was a living tragedy that the first person who had unlocked the real Therese was the one person who was least likely to reciprocate.

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Carol was miserable. The feeling added to the tension of the meeting and she exercised her demons by snapping, viciously, at the head of a colleague.

"You were woefully unprepared" She bit at him seeing the concern rise in his eyes.

"I'm sorry Ms Aird I..."

"I don't have time for apologies. See that it never happens again"

"It won't" He assured her.

"It had better not otherwise you will find yourself unemployable"

Carol felt the aftermath like scratching an itch that was difficult to reach. She moved her head from side to side easing the tension of the day. The truth was she could not contemplate another evening without Therese. She couldn't. The realisation made her feel weak but not so weak that she wasn't prepared to make another attempt to persue the younger woman.

Once home she lit a cigarette and punched Therese's number into her telephone. There was the sound of the dialling tone and then the persistent sound of the ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. By the fifth succession of rings she contemplated putting the phone down.

"Hello?" It was Therese's voice slightly out of breath and she clutched the phone to her ear as if it might bring them closer. "Hello?"

"It's me" There was a long pause and then Therese sighed.

"Carol it's late..."

"I know"

"Are you ok?"

Three simple words and yet they felt like they had pierced her chest. Carol closed her eyes, surprised to find they were tearing up. "Of course"

"What's on your mind?"

Carol hesitated. "Do you want to come over? I'd call you a cab"

"I'm not sure that's a good idea" Therese admitted but she was weakening by the second.

"Come for a drink. I've just opened a bottle of scotch and slipped into something comfortable" She was trying, she was stretching her skills of seduction but the truth was it only further compounded how conflicted she felt.

"Good night Carol" Therese put the phone down and sat staring at the receiver. Blinking. She was numb for a long moment. She had longed for Carol draped in something silken and beautiful but she knew the sex would confuse her further.

Carol sat in an armchair smoking her cigarette down to the tip. At first she had scathed. How dare she turn down Carol Aird? There was the bravado. The brief thought of calling a cab, finding some beautiful woman to entertain for the night. It was senseless, purely senseless and Carol felt like a child. She was behaving like a child. She sat back and fought the urge to cry. It would feel so good right now to let her shackles down and to give into the feelings that were brewing unabatedly. What were these feelings? She allowed herself a moment of contemplation. She had been unhappy for a while. She had everything a person could ask for, the finest things in life, and yet they meant absolutely nothing. For years she had thrown herself into work believing it was the most important thing in her life. So important that it had become the only thing in her life. Now she was alone. Now she was lonely. For the first time in a long time she could admit that she was lonely.

Chapter Text

Carol was miserable. There was no other way to put it. She was utterly, utterly miserable and she sat at her desk with a stinking hangover nursing her wounds. She had tried to assert some control over the situation and she had failed. Therese had not relented and it had left her feeling completely out of sorts. Though it pained her to admit it, Therese was teaching her things about herself that she had placed under lock and key for years. Indeed, Carol Aird was a control freak. A control freak to the extent that the merest snub from Therese had sent her into free fall. However, she refused to be beaten. She would play Therese at her own game. If Therese went cold she would go cooler. Clearly the pressure cooker of seduction had left Therese luke warm. Perhaps it was time for Carol to freeze her out? No more drinking whiskey on her own and contemplating her many flaws. No more time for soul searching. It was time to put a plan in action that would reinvigorate Carol and remind Therese just what she was missing.

Therese entered her office with a strained smile. "Good morning" She greeted her politely.

Carol did not smile or meet Therese's eyes. Instead she reached for a cigarette and lit it, leaning forward on her elbows. She stared at Therese through a plume of smoke with a blank look. "Fetch me a coffee would you?"

"Of course"

"And see that it's piping hot this time? I couldn't drink this down" She pointed to her coffee cup, filled halfway with cold black coffee.

Therese nodded obligingly. "Certainly" She replied moments before Carol dismissed her with a wave of her hand. Then Carol reached for the telephone and punched in Abby's number, recorded to memory, and waited for the drone of ringing.

"Hello?"

"I'm having a sinfully boring day! Shall we meet this evening for cocktails at the lounge? I fancy letting loose a little"

"Letting loose?" Abby balked. "It'll take a little more than a few cocktails to get you loose"

"Just book a table you nit wit!"

"Shall I invite Therese along?" Abby asked.

Yes they had been inviting Therese along to quite a few evening ructions of late. Carol knew Abby enjoyed the opportunity to flirt and perhaps sensing the chemistry between Carol and Therese was happy for a chance to dual with her life long friend. "Not this evening" Carol decided.

"Cooled off have you?" Abby asked as Therese appeared at the doorway with a coffee in hand. Tentatively she placed the piping hot coffee down in front of the older blonde and appeared to await some kind of response or acknowledgement from Carol.

"Lets just say she's served her purpose" She replied coldly, even though she knew it was a dastardly lie.

"Carol you're awful!" Abby shot back in relative disbelief. "You'll have to tell me all about it"

"In technicolor detail" Carol impressed. As Therese left the room she could see the shape of an emotion tugging at her face. It turned the tight, repressed expression into something of sadness, even anger. Carol was caught between the crossfires of guilt and elation that she could, at the very least, register a change in Therese.

-----

Presuming the words 'Served her purpose' were for Therese's benefit she had returned to her office to stew. She was seething. Carol's moods were twisting and turning enough to leave her with whip lash. She could not keep up with emerging tides and she wasn't sure which Carol she disliked the most. Neither Carol were honest. She thought about Carol's many attempts at seduction in the past few weeks. How she would lean in close during boardroom meetings so Therese would feel the full force of being flushed, and hyper aware of other people in the room. One late evening she had been fetching copy paper in the snug stationary cupboard and Carol had slipped in beside her, her body so close she could feel her gentle breathing on the nape of her neck. "New perfume?" She'd admired and Therese cursed her body for reacting so instantly.

"Yes" She'd replied the tremble in her voice betraying her.

Carol had steadied herself on the shelving but in doing so she had become lightly pressed against Therese's back. "I like it" Then her face had grazed Therese's cheek and she'd leaned forward retrieving a box of pens. "Ahh, there it is" And then she'd stolen away leaving Therese in the cupboard with a wave of impure thoughts in mind. If only she had locked that door. She envisioned Carol still gripping the shelving while she disappeared under her skirt, teasing at the softness between her thighs. But she didn't and everyday she felt a little more empowered to resist the beautiful blonde. No, as much as Carol's powers of seduction were a mask to rectify circumstances it did have its perks!

The cold Carol was altogether much more dangerous. The cold Carol pierced the heat of Therese's desire and it left her puzzled, shaken, wondering if she had ever truly seen a Carol worthy of Therese's developing feelings. Had she imagined a warm Carol? A Carol who had begun to ease those walls, to show the merest glimpse of the true self within? The Carol that slept on her side like an angel? The Carol who made suggestions at dinner? The Carol who made her feel like the most attractive woman in any room? She had not seen this Carol in quite sometime.

'Served her purpose' If Therese had once raged she now softened. It was a typical Carol trick but a rather desperate one and Therese couldn't help but feel a flicker of sadness. Carol was unable to admit that she felt something. Therese was sure she did. How could she be the only one with such feelings? Didn't she see it in the way Carol had responded as of late? Carol would not allow herself to give in and admit that she wanted Therese. She would rather commit herself to a million examples of bravado, spite and intrigue, because she could not admit that she wanted something outside of her own control. Even though her words stung Therese she would not allow Carol to break her.

------

Through the din of a packed lounge Abby and Carol attempted to find a table. "Christ it's busy in here!" Abby shouted above the racket.

"I'll say!"

Locating a small table in the corner they sat together, thick as thieves, nursing their cocktails.

"Now Ms Aird I do believe you owe me an explanation" Abby huffed with a sly grin. She had puffed her chest out veining affront and Carol laughed at the gesture.

"Do I now?"

"What have you been up to with that delightful assistant of yours?"

Carol shrugged her shoulders and devoured the olive speared in a cocktail stick. "Let's just say the job requires a lot of close working!"

"Close you say?"

"Late nights. Flights. Dinners. She isn't the first and she probably won't be the last!" It pained her to say it but she bit back the feelings in the pit of her stomach. She needed to believe her own falsehoods.

"Carol!" Abby exclaimed. "Have you been intimidate?"

"Honestly! What questions you ask" She couldn't resist the opportunity to glow under Abby's scrutiny. "Many times"

"Tell me everything. When did it happen? When was the first..." She trailed off and then her eyes grew wide. "It was New York wasn't it!" She gasped. "When I'd passed out in your bed. Did you go to her hotel room and sneak back in?"

Carol winced ever so slightly. "Not exactly"

"In the living room?" Abby's eyes widened until Carol was sure she would burst but she had a delighted look on her face. "Carol you absolute dog. While I was asleep? I could have walked in at any time!"

"She persued me"

"No? Not timid Therese"

"She's not so timid believe me. She's quite something" Carol drained her drink feeling she had said too much, admitted too much sentiment.

"And you don't want to continue this dalliance? This office romance?" Abby wondered allowed. "She's absolutely gorgeous!"

"It's run its course" Carol sniffed with a roll of her shoulders.

Abby shook her head. "And another one bites the dust ey? Carol Aird strikes again" She was teasing but Abby couldn't quite help the modicum of woundedness from appearing in her eyes. She too had felt the full force of storm Carol and she'd been lucky to survive in tatters.

"You know I like to live in the moment" Carol replied. "Fun is fun but I don't do feelings" I don't do feelings. Carol could practically scoff at her own words. No matter how hard she tried to hide she knew there was something under the surface. She knew she yearned for more than Therese's body.

-----

Carol decided she would walk a little to clear her head. She passed bars where patrons spilled out on to the pavement smoking cigarettes and hooting into the nights air. She thought about joining them. The old Carol would have. The old Carol would not have called it a night but would have gone on until the early hours of the morning.

"Carol?" The unmistakable sound of Therese's voice jostled her from her musings and she took in the sight of Therese on the sidewalk with a bottle of beer in hand. She was wearing a pretty dress and it brought out the flecks of green in her eyes.

"Late night?" Carol asked glancing at the beer in her hand. "I don't expect you to be hungover at work tomorrow" She couldn't help herself and the ice slid back into her words.

Therese sighed loudly. "Do things have to be like this Carol?"

Carol was taken aback. Therese was so much braver than she was and she wore her bravery in her honest and open expression. "Like what?" Carol shrugged.

Therese shook her head. "Fine. Carol do I need to find another job?"

The surprise registered in Carol's expression. She had not expected this from Therese. "No" She replied simply, battling the fear that she might never see Therese again. "Do you want to?"

"No. No I don't. But I can't do this"

Carol nodded in silence. She thought about making some quip or cutting remark but she was thinking about walking past that office door in the morning without sneaking a glimpse of Therese deep in thought. "Let's be professional" Carol decided.

"If that's all we can be! Goodnight Carol" And then Therese touched her hand, the merest graze, but it electrified Carol. Even as Therese walked away she still cranes her neck, searching, hoping that she might turn around and come back to her. If that's all we can be?

Chapter Text

It was their first trip since things had thawed between them and Therese had mixed feelings about it. She could not deny that she was looking forward to some alone time with Carol. Wasn't that the problem? That she still hung onto the possibility that things could change? She wasn't sure. Carol had pulled out all the tricks. Like a seasoned professional she tried to woo Therese, attempted to use her sexual prowess to draw her back in but Therese was looking for more than that. She wanted Carol to show her a more vulnerable side, a side that wasn't caught up in her bravado and pride but she didn't know if that existed? She had learned things about herself in the past few months, since she had first met Carol. She had learnt that she was needy, desperate for somebody to see her as she truly was. It meant that she reduced herself to a doormat. Just the thought that Carol had wanted her had been enough for Therese to persue her at any and all cost. No matter the impact. Therese couldn't blame Carol for taking advantage. She'd hosted herself as a willing participant in this game and in a way she knew now that only she held the cards. Only she could change things.

Carol approached the check in desk with Therese close at hand. She felt there was a sense of promise sizzling in the air. This weekend they would be in close quarters and Carol hoped that this might soften the atmosphere between the two of them. Business trips had always provided a vacuum for their chemistry. She thought back to their trip to New York. Therese had been bold, had been forward, and Carol had been powerless to resist her. Perhaps Therese had always been the instigator? Carol had naively presumed she had been in control of things. She would stoke the flames. She would choose to cool things. Now Therese had put her on freeze and Carol realised she had lost control quite some time ago. She had lost control the moment she'd invited Therese back to her home. She could recognise the signs but she would not admit to herself that she was falling.

-------

They arrived at the hotel with little time to spare. Normally this would pique Carol's irritation, she liked things to be orderly, but today she merely shrugged her shoulders.

"There's something to be said for arriving fashionably late Therese" Carol had told her playfully as they waited for the lift to descend.

Therese smiled, happy to share a playful moment with the blonde.

Therese walked into Carol's room without knocking. In her haste to get ready in time she'd forgotten one of Carol's inordinate rules. Carol was dressed in her underwear and stockings her blue dress laid out neatly on the bedspread. Therese should have closed the door but she found she couldn't move. There was something so sensual about seeing Carol in soft silken underwear with the allure and restriction of stockings against creamy white skin. She wanted to put her hands on Carol to tease and nip at the delicate skin on her thighs.

Carol looked up to find Therese staring at her with a deep intensity. It surprised her, thrilled her, and she did not react instantly. She wanted to savour the heat in Therese's eyes. It had been quite some time since she'd looked at her like that.

"I'm...I apologies. I'll be back in a moment" And then she disappeared from sight with her mouth slightly ajar.

Carol looked at her reflection in the mirror and couldn't stop the smile from pulling at the corners of her mouth. Maybe things could be different after all?

-----

"I've got a cab booked in twenty minutes" Therese told Carol as she stood in her hotel room trying not to think about the image of Carol in her underwear.

"Perfect" Carol replied. "I ordered us some drinks" As she spoke she distracted herself by putting on her jewellery. Something was brewing between them and she was careful not to overplay her hand.

Therese leaned in, she'd been caught off guard, and brushed something away from Carol's cheek. The close proximity became dangerously apparent. Therese could smell her perfume and the lingering sweet smell of body lotion. She knew how soft the skin at her neck was. She had felt it, tasted it on her mouth. She craved it now and she registered the surprise in those earth shatteringly blue eyes and then the sigh of longing. Therese stepped away.

Carol cleared her throat. "It's a fairly small dinner. Only three people" She was thinking back to the disastrous event.

"Have you met them before?"

"Yes I have. I think you'll find them to be a tad more agreeable" Carol was thinking about the dinner party guests. A woman who worked in the finance department and two brothers who had been hailed as tech geniuses.

"Carol..." Therese trailed off losing her train of words to the belly of the quiet hotel room. She wanted Carol to know things about her. To understand why the event had made her so emotional. She wasn't used to such interactions with men and she had felt out of her depth, exposed, as though the only language they understood was purely physical. It had reduced her to nothing more than an availability to those men.

"Yes?" She was scanning Therese's face but there was a burst of hope in her heart.

"Never mind"

Carol looked at her a moment longer. 'Tell me' Her internal voice implored. 'Tell me everything' But she did not say another word. She was licking her wounds and she was giving Therese time. Just like she'd asked for.

-------

The cab ride to the restaurant was spent in silence but for the background noise of the radio. Words were not being shared but Carol felt as though Therese were screaming out loud from every pore on her body. She could feel the tension pouring out of her as strong as taste or smell. She wanted to shout to the cab driver 'stop!' turn to face Therese and grip her by the shoulders. 'Speak to me. Tell me how I can change things' She had lost it. She was sure she had lost her senses completely. She was morphing into a love torn sap and she shook her head glancing out of the window of the cab. Carol was sure she was merely enamoured because Therese was not giving in. She had never experienced this before. Unrequited...she stopped herself, gripping her own knees as though it might halt the thoughts stampeding through her head. It's nothing more than romance. Nothing more than romance.

-------

The dinner party danced by in a haze of comfort and enjoyment. If she had been tense before she was now at ease and she chatted amiably to a woman named Fiona who she learned worked in finance in the Chicago department. They had bonded over their shared dislike of Viso events and Fiona had shared her own stories of vulnerability. "You get used to it" Fiona assured her with a warm smile. "It's terrible but you do get used to it. You learn to play them at their own game"

"How do you do that?" Therese asked as she watched her glass refilled.

"Don't be afraid to stand your grown. Especially when people are making personal remarks. When I started in the company eight years ago I was like you. Afraid to rock the boat. Intimidated by their wealth and power. I didn't say anything. I tried to be good natured about it..."

"Did it work?"

Fiona laughed and shook her head profusely. "It only encouraged the bastards! I learnt I had to present myself as being completely unavailable and out of their reach"

Carol was watching from the outskirts. She was caught in conversation with Thomas and his sweet girlfriend but she could not stop her ear from pricking at the conversation.

"Unavailable and out of reach?"

"Well..." Fiona leaned in and there was an almost growing intimacy in their close proximity. "You already look unavailable to most of them. Money does not buy somebody an attractive face or personality! But it makes them believe they can have anything" Fiona covered Therese's hand and squeezed it a moment too long. "Don't let them get too close..." She whispered in Therese's ear, brushing her hair from her neck. "But remind them that you're there"

Therese could feel Fiona, warming beside her. Her eyes had become heavy, her intentions clear and Therese gulped at the prospect. Was she attracted to Fiona? She was an attractive woman. Immaculately dressed with soft long brown hair and chestnut eyes. Feeling her hand on hers had made her blood begin to rush but was it the contact? Or was it the knowledge that Carol was watching them, scrutinising them and it made Therese feel wanted by her. She could see Carol in the corner of her eye craning her neck to see better. When she met Therese's eyes she looked away within a split second.
--------

After the dinner they retired to a local bar for a quiet drink.

"I'm not surprised you get a lot of male attention" Fiona remarked with a hint of playfulness.

"No?"

Carol eyed Fiona suspiciously. She'd seen the body language between the two of them and she had hated every cruel moment. Watching Fiona making a move, getting close to the younger woman had made her stomach turn. Normally she would respect the chase, admire the competition. But tonight with Therese still distant Carol felt like she'd already lost.

"You're a very attractive woman Therese. You remind me of a young Audrey Hepburn"

Carol rolled her eyes and seethed in silence. A young Audrey Hepburn? But it was true and Carol cursed this woman and her ability to make Therese smile.

"You're too kind" Therese insisted. She had some colour to her cheeks and Carol felt a pang of jealousy. She had been the one to make Therese blush. She adored it, had craved it, especially in those early days and she could not stop herself from the torture of seeing someone else do it.

"Nonsense. Can you excuse me for just a month? I need to go to the ladies room" Fiona announces stroking Therese's arm before she left the room.

Therese was more than aware of Carol's prescence nearby. She was close but she moved closer and she was cupping her chin with a hand, eyes betraying a raincloud of thoughts.

"Do you like her?" Carol asked over her diminishing wine glass.

Therese almost choked on her drink. "Fiona?"

Carol rolled her eyes. "Of course"

"She's a nice woman. I'm fond of anyone I can have a conversation with"

"But are you attracted to her Therese?"

Therese glanced at Carol. She had a serious look on her face which made her eyes darken and she was pausing, waiting, simmering on a thought. It suddenly occurred to her that Carol was jealous. She thought about telling Carol that it was none of her business but she didn't. She couldn't. "No" She replied simply. She was sure she could see Carol breath a sigh of relief.

"You realise that she wants you?" Carol prickled with jealousy. It had seized her in her grip and had made her resentful and detached the whole evening. She was rattled by Therese's aloofness.

"Yes"

Carol looked away. She could ask no more questions. Not without appearing desperate. She had experienced quite a reality check in recent weeks but she was not willing to appear desperate. She still had her pride no matter how wounded.

"I'm not interested"

Carol kept her gaze fixed across the room until Therese gripped her arm with a sense of urgency. "Carol. I'm not interested" She repeated, relieved when Carol brought her eyes up to meet hers. She was saddened to see that Carol looked like a wounded animal. It was like watching a lioness struck down and Therese had to look away instantly. "Shall we leave soon?" She suggested allowing her hand to rest ontop of Carol's, stroking the lines of her fingers.

Carol felt the contact like the unearthing of a live wire. She was overcome, overwhelmed by the hope in Therese's suggestion. She could not even consider the idea of playing cool not when the idea of being wrapped up in Therese's arms presented itself. "I'd like that"

"What a horrendous queue for the ladies!" Fiona squeezed into the booth with a huff. "Honestly! Sometimes I think about using the gents" She was smiling congenially and she bumped shoulders with Therese.

"I'm going to call it a night"

"Surely not?" Fiona gasped. "But we've had such a good time"

"I'm so tired and I have an early flight tomorrow" Therese explained though she felt a sense of guilt in snubbing the beautiful woman.

Fiona moved in closer and whispered into Therese's ear. "I have a hotel room on this street. We wouldn't have to go far" Then she turned to Carol addressing her. "You wouldn't mind our having a night cap would you?"

Carol minded very much. She drained the last of her drink and met Fiona with a look of barely repressed indifference. What should she say? 'It's no skin off my nose?' It would be a bald face lie and Carol was learning that veining indifference only served to make Therese feel completely unwanted. 'Therese is her own person' More promising. Or perhaps 'I will end you if you don't keep your hands to yourself' Too far. Carol realised she was smirking under their watchful eyes. "I think she's made up her mind" She decided in compromise.

Fiona gave Carol a puzzled look. "I can't change your mind?" She asked returning her gaze to Therese. "I can be very persuasive" She added with heat in her words.

"Nevertheless..."

"Then let me give you my phone number..." Fiona began scrawling her number on a napkin she handed it to Therese. "...in case you change your mind. Or are ever in Chicago alone" There seemed to be an emphasis on the word alone and she threw Carol a cautionary look.

"Thank you" Therese was obliging and she took the napkin even though she had no intention of using the number.

"Some other time I hope" Fiona leaned and and pressed a kiss to Therese's cheek much to Carol's annoyance. As they walked away Carol resisted the urge to wrap her arms around Therese possessively. She was not an object to be claimed, not a prize to be won, but this was a side of Carol she was not used to feeling.

------

They stood outside waiting to hail a cab. Carol stuffed her hands into her coat pockets partly due the cold but partly to still her hands from reaching out to touch Therese. Not yet.

"You look beautiful tonight" Carol meant it. And her words brought a quiet Therese that much closer.

"So do you"

"Therese I..." She exhaled through her pursed mouth. "...I've missed you" There she'd said it. She had missed her. Missed the way she'd looked at her.

"I've missed you too" Therese whispered though her heart was booming in her chest. She felt like she couldn't breath. She stepped forward and brought her hands to rest on Carol's shoulders, warming her through the fabric of her coat. She slipped her hands into Carol's coat, sliding around her waist and drawing her in until their bodies touched.

Carol bit down the urge to groan. She could just about compose herself and she followed Therese's lead resting her hands on the younger woman's hips if only to steady herself. She was looking into hazel eyes, drowning in them, and she was desperate to kiss her. She had to kiss her. So she did. She kissed her tenderly even though she was fighting back a fire which threatened to consume her. It had been so long and she wanted nothing more than the taste of Therese on her lips.

"Lets go back to your room" Therese purred keeping her hands firmly planted around Carol's waist.

Chapter Text

Carol did not know what to do with herself. Her hands lay in her lap feeling useless and idle. When the pair had made up in the past the electricity of their sexual chemistry would hit with lightening bolt precision. She could feel the chemistry now lingering, longingly, in the background. It demanded Carol acknowledge its prescence but she couldn't, not when there was an altogether more pressing emotion to consider. Carol was yearning for something more. It was a bold thought, one which encouraged Carol to flee for the hills or to allow them to be engulfed in the heat that joined them. It was a familiar and welcome emotion. Turn everything to sex and it left little room for thought. You could confuse yourself into thinking it was purely physical, nothing more than lust. Carol looked at Therese's side profile as the cab made its way to the hotel, weaving amongst the traffic. She looked caught in some deep thought, with a wistful expression on her face. It made Carol's heart lurch and her mind desperate for crumbs of insight. What was she thinking? She so badly wanted Therese to tell her things, to share the mysteries of that curiously deep mind. When had Carol ever considered the thoughts of the people she shared her bed with? Hardly ever. She would not give this a name but she knew it was breathing its way to life, colouring everything she said and did. "What are you thinking?" She finally dared to ask and she watched as Therese appeared to be dragged out of her musings. She smiled sweetly, a soft smile which grew as her eyes retained their focus.

"About you" Therese answered and her smile grew wider. "Of course about you"

Carol couldn't quite accept it. It was too much somehow to see the look in her eyes, to feel the heat of her words radiating through her skin. Instead she smiled back and then turned her attention to the world outside. "There's an amazing balcony" Carol whispered.

"I'd like to see it" Therese replied within the beat of a second. She knew that Carol was trying, she was trying hard to shirk off some of the excess baggage that weighed her down. It was enough. For now. It was enough for her to be slightly vulnerable with Therese because it meant that she was allowing herself to be honest. Honesty, appeared to be a harsh concept for Carol Aird. Therese wondered if she were exhausted? Playing such games, emotional acrobatics, simply in order to appear strong. Pride was a funny thing.

"We could have coffees on the balcony" Carol did not want alcohol to blurr this evening. She wanted to feel things, to be in the moment, without the helping hand of drink. Tonight she would share a bed with Therese and she would not leave, or insist that Therese retire to her own room.

"That sounds wonderful"

-------

The night sky was navy and velvet, dotted with winking crystal stars which managed to fight their way through the intrusion of lights. It was a beautiful view but Therese was distracted by Carol, nervously, sipping at her coffee. She had not said a word since they'd returned and Therese had given her that space using the time for her own private reflection. Carol's jealousy had shone brightly. She had seen it in the way blue eyes darted around the room with a trace of apprehension. To begin with it had drawn a clear, anticipated, conclusion. Carol was jealous because she had chased after Therese and had found herself empty handed. Therese had wagered that for a woman like Carol Aird,who was used to getting what she wanted, watching another powerful woman make a claim on her would have been an irresistible challenge. It was only in seeing the defeat in Carol's eyes, and the sadness in her tone, that Therese had begun to relent. Maybe Carol did care more than she let on? And couldn't she see an air of softening in those enchanting eyes? Couldn't she feel something?

"Shall we go inside?" Carol asked, finally disrupting the stillness of the night. "You're shivering"

"Am I?" Therese had not realised she was cold but she could feel it now, feel the cold clinging to her bare shoulders.

Carol nodded and she was walking toward Therese now standing in front of her with her face illuminated by the light calling from the hotel room. She was stood over her, looking down, and her hand lingered on Therese's face. She cupped her chin guiding hazel eyes up to meet misty blue.

Therese stood up as though her very bones compelled her to be close to Carol. A magnet pull brought them face to face and they allowed little more than an inch to seperate them. The space hovered between them with an air of a challenge. It was instinctive. The pull between them. It was irresistible and the second Therese began to feel it she felt powerless to do anything more than give in to it. Was it so wrong to want to be close to Carol? She had missed this beautiful mouth. She brought a single fingertip to Carol's plump bottom lip, taking in the expression on Carol's face. Carol was watching her, waiting for her to make her next move and it was spellbinding. The pause gave the moment weight and Therese felt it in every fibre of her being. She held Carol's face in her hands with an urgency that spilled from her fingertips to Carol's soft skin. She held her face inches away and looked at her deeply. The light of the curve of her eyebrows, the bow of her lip and the light smattering of freckles. She was in love with this woman. Complications and all. In this moment she felt it so strongly that she could envision herself saying the words to Carol. They would spill free from her unguarded mouth, the springing of a leak, and Carol would shrink away. Carol would flee. 'Not now' Therese warned herself. Not now.

"Therese if you don't kiss me I won't be responsible for my actions" Carol insisted, smiling as she spoke.

"What if I don't want you to be responsible?" She whispered before closing the gap between them. Before long, she was gripping the collar of Carol's coat, pulling at the material as they kissed longingly. Kissing Carol unearthed a root deep within her. It always, always led to the bedroom and so, at times, it was used with caution. Tonight she did not want to be cautious. Even though she knew she were masking things. She could think of nothing more than indulging in this remarkable woman.

----

Carol slipped out from underneath the silken sheets and strode in search of her cigarettes. She knew too well that those hazel eyes were soaking up the sight of her nude, uncovered. It gave her a thrill and she moved with intent showing off the curves of her body. She glanced over her shoulder at Therese and gifted her with a coy look and a wink. "Cigarette darling?" She asked. Darling. The word felt both natural and unnatural on her mouth. Terms of affection had slipped past her careful mouth on a number of occasions, always accidental, often in the throws of passion. This darling felt different somehow and Carol allowed herself to settle on this thought without further scrutiny.

Therese had moved to a seated position and the sheets, mused by their lovemaking, had slipped down to her hips revealing her sublime body. Carol lit two cigarettes and stood for a moment, in the centre of the room, enjoying the view.

"Carol you're staring" Therese highlighted but she was not self-conscious and there was an air of confidence in her raised brow.

"I enjoy looking at you" Carol replied with an indulgent smile. "Though it's quite a distraction"

"Is it?"

Carol's smile broadened and she slipped back between the sheets, proffering a cigarette and a light, delicate, kiss against Therese's lips. "I think you know it is Miss Belivet"

Therese was enjoying the game. She felt high, giddy almost, as the tension that had gripped them began to slip away. With every smile, every lingering look, Therese felt wrapped in the ease which settled between them. It was a welcome break from all that cold indifference. "Perhaps you should remind me?" Her eyes were glimmering jewels now and they brought an added spark to Carol's smile.

"You have driven me quite mad" She admitted. "I couldn't think of anything else..." The playfulness was still there but behind it, lurking under the surface, was bruising. Carol brushed it away and fixed her smile. "Do you remember we had a meeting that went on and on and on?"

"With that sinfully boring executive?"

"You were wearing a pant suit...the first time I'd seen you dressed in one..." Carol's eyes had become glazed as she thought back to that day. Therese had tip toed into the room, late, and Carol could not even think to reprimand her, not when she was so struck by the sight of Therese. Her hair was tied back carelessly, tendrils spilling free to frame her alabaster skin, and her lithe body shone out in a navy fitted suit. Her white shirt had peeked out hinting at what lay beneath. "I couldn't stop looking at you. I couldn't concentrate on anything..."

"What were you thinking?" Therese asked idly, hands coming to Carol's body without reservation. She skimmed the surface of her thighs and watched as blue eyes dipped down.

"I was waiting for an opportunity, hoping you'd go to the bathroom so I could follow you. I wanted you. I thought about you in that office. About straddling you, opening your shirt..." She trailed off as her breath hitched in her throat. How quickly the desire sprung back.

"I've ached for you" Therese revealed, buoyed by the sparking of passion. "I've missed you" They were Carol's words and in speaking them she felt the full force of the emotions of the day.

"Well..." Carol stubbed out their cigarettes and leaned in. "...why don't you have me?" She was gentle with the younger woman, stroking brown hair from her eyes and lingering on those adorable dimples. She could be gentle with her now. She had to be and the acceptance was freeing somehow. Had she ever really allowed herself to just look at this beautiful face? Her guard was down and as they slipped beneath the covers she kissed Therese delicately. She would take her time. She would linger over every inch of her until they were satiated. As she moved along the length of Therese's body she felt that all too familiar magnetism.

Chapter Text

"Ms Aird..."

"Please call me Carol" Carol replied with a gesture of her hands.

"Carol, that's two-thirty on Wednesday?" The assistant asked with inquisitive eyes. She held a notepad in her hands and was poised with a pen to strike. Therese watched her from across the room and wondered if she had been so eager when she'd first begun working with Carol.

"That's right"

The assistant dutifully scribbled a note in her diary with a nod of her head. "I'll have arrangements made for you to arrive before two-thirty" She spoke softly to the man beside her who was gazing off into the distance.

"What?" He asked with a trace of irritation. "Right? Yes! Carol..." He addressed Carol with an extended hand. "...a pleasure as always"

Carol shook his head with a firm grip. "You too Leonard. Pass on my regards to your wife"

He smiled obligingly before turning his brief attention to Therese. Of course he had forgotten her name. He settled for a terse but polite smile before bowing and leaving the room.

"Thank you! And nice to meet you Therese"

Therese gave her a look of sympathy. It wasn't easy being an assistant to powerful people. "You too" Therese watched the young woman as she walked away. "Leonard is an unforgiving man" She commented when she was sure the coast was clear.

Carol shrugged her shoulders. The blonde had other things, more pressing thoughts, in mind. "Close the door would you?" She asked keeping her eyes trained on the computer screen as she hastily typed an email.

Therese was used to Carol's abruptness. Assuming she was being dismissed she got up from her chair and left the room, closing the door until she heard Carol's impatient tutting.

"Honestly!" She exclaimed when Therese returned to the room. She was leaning on her elbows and pinching the bridge of her nose. "Close the door!"

Therese obliged, resting against the door with a puzzled look. "Carol?"

Carol sighed and unclipped her hair. Blonde tresses tumbled free and she shook her head back allowing a hand to massage her scalp with a closed look of pleasure. It was an intrinsically erotic action and Therese couldn't help but savour the image. "Come and kiss me"

Therese gulped feeling her pulse quicken in response to Carol's words. Here? Now? She strode toward Carol's desk in one long stride and Carol swirled around in her chair crossing her legs. She leaned down, noticing the way Carol's eyes traveled to the gap in her shirt, and captured her soft lips in a kiss.

Carol's hands reached forward gripping the front of Therese's shirt, drawing her down until she was off balanced and came stumbling down onto her waiting lap. "That's better" She rasped enjoying the look of surprise on Therese's face.

"Carol somebody could walk in..." Therese gasped trailing off as she felt curious hands slipping into the back of her trousers.

"Damn them...I've been thinking about this all day long" Her eyes were molten, her lips pursed in thought as she kissed Therese gently.

"Carol we shouldn't. Remember your number one rule?"

"Forget the rules. We've already broken so many of them" She was husky voiced, gripping Therese's body against hers and relishing the warmth of her.

Therese was caught between concern and pleasure. The idea of someone finding them in a compromising position was a little more thrilling than she'd envisioned. The glimmer of apprehension was pulled apart by the feel of Carol beneath her. Despite her reservations she gave into the sensation wrapping her arms around Carol's neck as they kissed with a mounting, developing, excitement. They kissed hungrily, pawing at each other until Therese pulled away needing some physical distance before the point of no return. She closed her eyes and exhaled. "I..." She shook her head and put her hands on Carol's shoulders. "...we need to finish our work" She reasoned, attempting to slip off of Carol's lap.

Carol clung on. "Just a moment longer" She insisted, pulling Therese closer.

Therese shook her head firmly. "A moment longer and I won't be able to help myself" She climbed off with a sense of finality. Brushing herself down she shot Carol a look of warning. "Need I remind you that you have a report to finish?"

Carol smiled widely. Therese was changing, everyday she was changing, and Carol marvelled at each new glimmer she caught. This Therese was the voice of reason. This Therese had a firmness, a boldness, that left Carol desperately wanting more. "Can I cook you dinner this evening?" She asked, the heat continued to cling to her.

The firmness melted and Therese smiled affectionately. The smile changed her face in seconds and she lit up from within. "You may" She teased. Though Carol's frost had given way to feeling Therese still feared revealing just how strongly she felt for her.

"I'm eternally grateful"

-------

This felt like uncharted territory and Therese stood awkwardly in Carol's living room, cradling a bottle of red wine like a precious child. She had lingered over the wine selection in the supermarket. Therese knew Carol loved the finer things in life. The best food, the most luxurious wines, and she had chosen the bottle with a sense of timidity at the thought of Carol wrinkling her nose in distaste.

"Therese you shouldn't have" Carol greeted her taking the bottle of wine from her hands appreciatively.

For the first time in a long time Therese felt awkward under Carol's gaze. "I have no idea if it's..."

"It's perfect" Carol interjected. "And you look perfect in that dress" She added kissing Therese for a moment too long. "Come in to the kitchen and keep me company?" She asked, capturing Therese's hand in her own to guide her into the kitchen.

The smell of melted butter and garlic enticed Therese's senses and she glanced around the kitchen at the small pockets of regimented preparation. Of course everything was neatly ordered and labelled. Even the cooking of a meal was meticulously undertaken. "Let's start with a glass of red" She hummed rummaging in the cupboards to retrieve two gleaming glasses. "Sit down darling" She instructed motioning towards the table and chairs tucked away into the corner of the room.

Therese watched as she decanted the bottle of red wine into two glasses. Why was she so nervous? As Carol breezed around the room humming along to a tune in the radio she couldn't shake a sense that she was seeing a Carol hidden from most of the world. She was charmingly soft and warm, relaxed to the point that it was as though she had forgotten Therese was in the room. But if Therese grew concerned it was pierced by Carol throwing her a smile, a wink or leaning in to feed her morcels of food as she cooked.

"Try this" She brought a wooden spoon to Therese's lips and she tasted obligingly. It was delicious. Of course Carol Aird was a good cook. Of course. How could she be anything other than masterful at anything she tried?

"Delicious" She praised.

"Clam chowder is one of my favourites" She replied returning to the stove. Why did it feel like a gift to even know that? It was an in the moment juxtaposition. The old Carol wasn't about to reveal the small details. If Therese learned something knew it was by accident or revealed by Abby. Now the knowledge that Carol was cooking her, her favourite dish, hung in the air like the beginnings of a whole new layer of Carol's identity. This was the real Carol and as Therese sat back, finally relaxing as she sipped the glass of red wine, she reasoned that she liked this Carol best.

"I've never had it" Therese admitted, pulling herself from her own musings.

"Then you're in for a treat" She glanced over her shoulder at Therese and granted her that signature wink that still made Therese's stomach flip like a love sick teen.

-----

"Tell me about your life?" Carol asked when they were sat entwined on the sofa, a blazing fire flickering and popping. Therese was sat between Carol's legs, the front of the blondes body nestled comfortably against Therese's back. Carol was running her fingers through her hair and Therese had closed her eyes, savouring the feel of her tender touch.

"What do you want to know?" Now it was her time to be cautious, guarded. She thought of her childhood and wondered what Carol would think. Would she pity her? Be repulsed by her? She wasn't sure and it made her doubt herself in an instant. And she was shocked. Shocked to the core at Carol wanting to know things about her. What did it mean? It was uncharacteristic of Carol and it caught Therese off guard, so off guard that she was relieved that Carol could not see the expression on her face.

Carol continued to brush her fingers through silk chestnut hair, aware of the way Therese had flinched momentarily. This was new to her. Moments like this and she felt as though she were flying blind. "Tell me about your photography" She decided, noting the way Therese appeared to relax in her arms.

"I've always been a watcher"

Carol smiled fondly. She thought of the way Therese's eyes would become distant, her mind taking her to places unknown.

"I've always been fascinated by people. As a child I would scrawl little sketches, drawings of people and I'd imagine what life's they would lead. I remember being a young teenager and finding an old camera in a flea market. I feel like I can still smell that place" She smiled now conjuring memories of the day she'd placed a clunky old camera in her hands and it had seemed, somehow, to call out to her.

"I think you have an entire solar system in that head of yours. I'm only jealous that I can't see it in full technicolor" Carol remarked and she slipped her arms around the small of Therese's waist, drawing her in tightly. She did not listen to the sting of apprehension that tried, in vain, to remind her that this was not Carol Aird's style. Instead she nuzzled into the sweet smell of Therese's soft neck. "And do you still have that camera?" She wondered aloud, smiling at the feel of Therese's hands clasping hers in place. She tried to imagine this young Therese rummaging through overflowing boxes and trinkets. Yet when she did she felt an overwhelming sense of sadness.

"I do!" Therese exclaimed with a broad smile. Safe in Carol's arms she allowed her senses to wander. She had more to tell Carol. She wanted, so badly, for Carol to tell her things but for tonight it was enough to share fragments of her past life "I'll have to show you"

"I'd like that. I'd like to see your work"

Therese glanced over her shoulder, curious to see Carol's face. She was wistful, contemplative, and Therese could not quite believe what she was seeing. She kissed her, curling around like a delicate leaf in Carol's arms. She could feel the words brewing in her mind. I. Love. You. They sat heavy in her chest and she felt in this closeness with Carol a cloying need to show her. But she didn't. Not verbally. Instead she kissed Carol deeply until she was breathless, until she felt her chest rise and fall and her hands snake around her back in welcome. There would be time for words but for now she was happy to melt in Carol's arms.

Chapter Text

"Wear that dress" Carol suggested pressing a kiss against Therese's cheek before she dipped into the steam filled bathroom. Slipping into the shower she sighed at the warmth that engulfed her. She could hear Therese turn on the stereo and sing along to a tune. She had a beautiful voice and Carol loved to wake up on a weekend morning to hear her singing from the kitchen. Therese had become quite comfortable in Carol's home and Carol, in truth, had become quite comforted to have her here. They had come to an arrangement of sorts. There was no rhyme or reason. It was instigated by a hand hold, a look across a board room meeting and a hushed whisper 'my place tonight' or 'your place tonight?' Now Therese spent more nights at Carol's than she did her own apartment. And yet neither woman had chosen to name it. Certainly not Carol who was clinging onto some false pretence that she did not do relationships. She did not do relationships and so why did she adore the sight of Therese's garments strewn haphazardly across an armchair or the bedroom floor?

"Is there a band?" Therese asked as she applied a plum coloured lipstick.

"There is" Carol had a smile in her tone and she came behind Therese so that her face appeared in the reflection of the mirror. She slipped her arms around her waist and rested her chin against her shoulder blade. "You look wonderful"

"Thank you" Therese felt that cloying flush on her cheeks and she knew Carol enjoyed seeing it, knowing she had caused it.

"I haven't seen those cheeks in a while" Carol purred feeling her body come alive against the back of Therese. She slipped a hand under her dress with her fingertips dancing along the soft swell of her outer thighs. She reached the waistband of lace underwear and toyed with the fabric, carefully observing the changing seasons in Therese's expression. Hazel came alive like autumn leaves and her neat plum mouth puckered.

"Carol..." Therese half warned half implored. Carol was playing a dangerous game and she knew that in seconds she would be a more than willing participant. "...we're meeting Abby at 8"

"She can wait" Carol replied firmly. She slipped her hand into the front of Therese's underwear and heard that sharp intake of breath. Her other hand toyed with the zip at the back of Therese's dress, drawing it down to reveal the slender curve of her back. Indeed, there were more pressing matters at hand.

--------

"You're late!" Abby spoke through half gritted teeth. "I've been sat here on my lonesome"

"Traffic was a nightmare. I'll tell you I almost didn't tip that cabby!"

Abby studied them both with a look of pure suspicion. "Hmm? Well you can get the drinks in Ms Aird while I interrogate Miss Belivet. Something tells me she's going to be a terrible liar!" She teased gripping Therese by the shoulders and leading her over to a nearby table.

Therese glanced over her shoulder at a retreating Carol with widening eyes and a cautious smile. A smile that deepened at the sight of Carol shrugging her shoulders and shooting her an apologetic look.

"Cigarette?" Abby asked as they sat down at a small table.

Therese nodded. Somehow she felt she was minutes away from an interrogation. Was this a tactic? To seperate her from Carol and give her a dressing down. She had seen the curiousness in Abby's eyes.

"So...?" Abby began. She lit her cigarette and leaned in with a glint in her eye. "You and Carol?"

Therese tried to keep the apprehension from tightening her jaw. "What do you mean?"

"Are you an item?" Abby asked with unblinking eyes.

She was watching Therese carefully now and Therese could detect something vulnerable beneath the curiosity. It put her on edge and made her feel defensive. "No" She answered simply because it was true. The acknowledgment gave her a pang of sadness and she swallowed it like a bitter pill.

"But you'd like to be?" Abby had leaned in close and had spoken in an almost whisper.

Therese felt her face flush a deep red and as her mouth struggled to form a coherent conversation Carol appeared like a blonde angel plonking three champagne floats down in front of them.

"One hell of a queue! I thought champagne was in order. I've sent a bottle on its way"

"Marvellous" Abby remarked eyeing the champagne gratefully.

Therese remained still recovering from Abby's inquisition. She registered the shock of it like a burn and she lingered over the words even as Carol proffered her a glass. The bubbles fizzed and popped and she became aware of the concern in Carol's darting eyes. Under the table she felt Carol's hand slide, reassuringly, onto her knee and the contact calmed her slightly.

"Shall we have a toast Therese?" Abby asked willing Therese to make eye contact. "To hopeful beginnings?"

Therese nodded her head allowing the beginnings of a smile to change her face even though she remained haunted by Abby's words. How was she to know how complicated things were?

-----

The band roared into life and Therese sat tapping her toe to the rhythm. She was gripped by an unforgettable urge to get up and dance. Watching as couples flocked to the dance floor she turned to Carol and Abby and asked "Shall we dance?"

Carol contemplated. No, her internal voice confirmed. She would not dance with Therese. Because she was sure she would not be able to stop her body from calling to her younger lover. "Not for me" She answered wrinkling her nose.

"Abby?" Therese added, a peace offering.

"Would you mind?"

Carol shook her head as she drained the last of her glass. "Go! Have fun" She insisted but she was miserable at the suggestion and she watched the two women hit the dance floor with a trace of resentment. She could not stand the idea of Abby being free enough to share a moment with Therese with such ease. She watched a moment longer before signaling the waiter over.

-------

Carol was jealous. Worse than that she was stung, overcome with paranoia. She was sure she could see a look of flirtation in Therese's eyes. She sat at the table drinking down a double whiskey resentfully.

"Hell of a party" Abby whistled, easing herself into the mouth of an arm chair and collapsing into it with an almighty sigh.

"Is it?"

"She's an incredible dancer" Abby shouted over the throng of music. She glanced over her shoulder at Therese who was caught up in the music and dancing as though she were the only person in the room.

"She certainly is" Carol replied miserably, tracing the rim of her cup with a finger.

Abby's eyes suddenly widened in understanding. "Carol!" She exclaimed. "Are you jealous?"

Carol rolled her eyes. "Dont be preposterous"

"You are aren't you? The great Carol Aird is actually jealous. Well I must say I cannot believe it"

"I am not jealous" She repeated each word clearly.

"You're beyond jealous. You've sat here for most of the evening making yourself completely miserable because you are jealous. Do you think she has eyes for somebody else?"

"I wouldn't care if she did" Carol attested but her eyes wandered back to the dance floor where Therese was surrounded by intrigued eyes. 'I wouldn't care if she did' She thought about another woman's hands on Therese's body and swallowed hard.

"Nonsense. Face it Carol you feel something for her" Abby's voice was gentle now.

"Do you think you know me better than I know myself?" Carol countered before draining the last of her drink.

"Sometimes" Abby leaned in and put a hand over Carol's. She'd had to push past her own jealousy at seeing this change in Carol. How many times had she longed for Carol to look at her the way she looked at Therese? "Carol are you determined to make yourself unhappy?"

Carol wouldn't look at Abby. She stared across the room with a fixed, determined, look. "What are you talking about?"

"You care about Therese..."

"I'm attracted to Therese" Carol corrected.

"That much is painfully obvious" Abby spoke under her breath. "But you're a fool if you think it's nothing more than that"

"It's just fun"

Therese joined the table with a burst of energy.

"You're a fool" Abby confirmed before turning her attention to Therese. "You certainly have some stamina. I couldn't keep up with you!"

Therese laughed self-consciously. "I love to dance"

"It shows. Shall I get us a round of drinks?" Abby stood up and winced slightly. "I'm getting too old for this game"

"You don't like to dance Carol?" Therese asked sitting down next to the older woman. She noted the way Carol's brow was furrowed in thought. When Carol looked at her, her blue eyes appeared conflicted, with just a shade of sadness. "I'd like to dance with you" Therese curled her hand around Carol's delicate wrist.

"Would you?" Carol asked looking down at Therese's hand on hers. She had beautiful hands, they were animated, they told Carol things.

"I would"

"Shall we go back to mine?" Carol suggested as Therese stroked the back of her hand.

"Are you asking for a private dance?" Therese grinned with delight when she saw Carol's expression melt.

"A private dance?" Carol raised an eyebrow deliciously.

Therese leaned in and whispered into her ear "For your eyes only"

"I like the sound of that" Carol rasped enjoying the mischievous glimmer in Therese's eyes. The game they were playing felt like confirmation. It gave her the bravado to believe that they were indeed just having fun. 'For your eyes only' So why then did the idea of being the only person Therese wanted fill her with such comfort?

"What are you two gossiping about?" Abby chattered as she handed them their drinks. "Whatever it is you've done the unthinkable Therese. You've stopped Carol from being an absolute misery!"

"Well aren't you a regular spitfire this evening?" Carol joked but she was radiating warmth.

-----------

As the doors to the lift opened there was barely a second to spare before Carol had seized Therese in her hands in a tight hold. She kissed her hungrily and her hands grasped at Therese's body frantically. The cab ride to her apartment had been a desperately difficult journey with Carol undressing Therese with her eyes, resisting the overwhelming urge to begin undressing that lithe, toned, body. She had been flooded with desire and she would waste no time in seeking out a release from the achingly sweet throb that built like a heart beat between her thighs. They didn't make it to the bedroom. They didn't make it to the sofa. Carol was hitching up her own dress and leaning against a wall, urging, insisting that Therese came to her as close as they could possibly be.

Therese obliged feeling her own desire mounting uncontrollably at the sight of Carol so turned on and flushed. When she watched Carol hitching her dress up and pulling her underwear down she groaned loudly and her eyes fluttered at the sight. "Oh Carol" She gasped hardly able to stand it. "You're unbelievable" She whispered crashing the weight of her body against the older woman's frame and feeling her heat radiating through her. Therese brought her lips to Carol's neck as her hands slipped between her thighs and she suckled the soft skin smiling at the sound of Carol's sharp intake of breath. She was putty in her hands, meltingly soft and trembling ever so slightly under her touch. Therese gripped her tightly, capturing her mouth with her own while her fingers built momentum.

Carol was so caught in her mounting desire that she could not concentrate on the beautifully soft mouth kissing her. All she could think about was the feel of Therese slipping inside of her, moving in and out of her wetness until she could hear the sound of herself panting in quick succession. She gripped Therese by the shoulders depending on her firm grip to keep her knees from buckling beneath her. Therese held her firmly against the wall planting light kisses along her collar bone, calm even though her own pulse and heat were racing. She remained in Therese's hold until she returned to reality and to the feel of the body gripping her. She began to stroke Therese's back, allowing her hands to run through the hair at the nape of her neck. "Lets go into the bedroom" She whispered pulling at the hair at her nape which ellicited a soft moan from Therese's lips.

They walked in a daze to the bedroom. Carol held both of Therese's hands in her own and with pressure willed her to sit down on the edge of the bed. Her eyes were dark and stormy and Carol did not want to look away from them. "Turn around" She insisted with a raspy voice.

Therese obliged moving onto her hands and knees as she felt Carol slide the zipper of her dress downward. Then her dress slid down and she crawled forward stepping out of it and turning onto her back to lay in the centre of the bed basking in the look in Carol's eye. She could feel the intensity rising in Carol, she knew the hunger in her eyes was more than sex. There was a desperate need in her to be close to Therese and the thought only added to the excitement.

Carol guided lace underwear down to Therese's ankles. She wanted to appreciate every inch of the beautiful body beneath her. She remained fully clothed and the juxtaposition felt undeniably erotic. So she lay beside her meeting velvet soft lips with her own, tongues touching with a rawness as they kissed deeply, uncontrollably. Then her hands were roaming freely, cupping the swell of her breasts, fingers dancing, playing, with the exquisite softness between her legs. She was rewarded with Therese writhing beneath her and gasping into her ear. She knew the jealousy had driven her need to have Therese but it was more than that. Abby was right. Therese was not just fun. Therese meant something to her and the thought was both terrifying and exciting. But she could not think about it. Not now and instead she moved along Therese's warm body until she rested with her face between her thighs.

Therese could not compose herself. She wanted to wait, wanted to make this moment last as long as possible. She wanted to saviour the build up but she was bubbling over at Carol's touch. When she felt Carol's tongue slipping into her, her body bucked forward in excitement and she had to bring her hands to the back of Carol's head to still her there. She was melting. She was becoming liquid. Every cell, every fibre, all of her screaming out. 'That's her mouth on you, in you' Therese reminded herself and the thought alone stuck in a loop in her mind. It brought her perilously close to the edge and she braced herself, trying, unsuccessfully to stave off the tempo. But she couldn't. She couldn't hold off and it took no time at all for Therese's pleasure filled cries to fill Carol's bedroom and for her body to curl into a C as she felt the full force of the pleasure coursing through her veins.

Carol was watching Therese. She felt herself growing hotter and wetter by the moment. Even as Therese lay deeply entrenched in the afterglow, Carol knew she needed to touch her again. They were molten lava together. It was indescribable and Carol could not remember ever having this deep, thrilling, connection with anyone. Maybe it was the control freak in her but she needed to hear Therese's panting breath's once more. She slipped behind Therese's naked body brushing against her clothing. Her skin was damp to the touch and she was on her knees arching her head back to kiss Carol. Carol kissed her hard, hands coming round to her breasts to play with her nipples, feeling them as they became erect in her fingertips. She teased them and Therese was left with no choice but to part their kisses as she groaned at the sensation. Carol was kneeling behind her nipping at her shoulder blade as her fingertips marvelled at the feel of Therese's breasts. She kissed Therese again and smiled against her mouth as the younger woman brought a hand to cover hers urging her hand downward. Carol's fingertips swam across Therese's rib cage, her taut stomach and then the soft curls that greeted her.

"Carol...I..." Therese could not finish her sentence, interrupted by the overwhelming feeling of Carol's fingers moving against her in a divine, slow, movement. She was teasing her, and Therese backed against her, her rear against Carol's hips as she slid her fingers inside of her. Therese could not stand it any longer. She brought her own hand to cover Carol's, holding her inside of her as she bucked against her, using the firmness of the body behind her for support. She was frenzied in her movements. She did not care, could not imagine what she looked like, too caught in the impending wave of release. She felt as though she were made of sand and that she was disappearing into some other part of the world, pleasure snatching at any sense of composure or reality. She was moving against Carol's fingers, building up to the friction she knew would release her. And it did. It sent her urging forward, head bowed, as she felt completely lost in the vibrations coursing through her body. She did not know she had continued to moan, quietly now, but still a volley of pleasure drenched sounds stretched, contentedly, past her lips.

Carol eased Therese down onto her back and laid beside her stroking the hair away from her eyes. She was in rapture, love stoned and it was sometime before those hazel eyes came back to focus. "You were on fire" She told her, stroking her cheek with curled fingertips.

Therese did not feel self conscious. In fact, she loved the idea of Carol watching her with smouldering eyes as she came. She knew how much she impacted her, how she could make her hot under the collar with the simplest touch, and that drove her wild. But she knew there was something significant in the clearing. She was in love with Carol. It was undeniable.

Chapter Text

Therese slept deeply. Sleep was drenched in images of flowers and blossoming life. It was a dream so rich, so real, that she felt it clinging to her even as long lashes fluttered open. She was caught in that confusing mesh of dreamland and reality and it took her a considerable moment before she became aware of tranquil blue eyes watching her closely.

"You sleep like a child" She whispered exposing the vulnerability she felt at Therese knowing she'd been watching her as she slept.

"Do I?"

Carol stroked her face, allowing an indulgence in tenderness before she thought better of it and withdrew her hand. She was in dangerous territory and she knew it. She thought back to Abby's words and couldn't help but ruminate. 'Do you want to spend the rest of your life miserable?' Did she? This whole time she had presumed she was living out some kind of fantasy world that most people could only dream of obtaining. Endless affairs with beautiful women, power, prestige, and yet...loneliness. She had grown to become so lonely. The more lonely she'd become the thicker the skin. She could remember all those hopeful dalliances. Even Abby had once looked at her with love stricken eyes. Every time she caught those beginning symptoms of love she would withdraw, freeze them out and move onto the next. So what was so different about Therese? She had seen the feelings rich, brimming, in Therese's eyes. She'd seen them quite some time ago. She'd tried to fight it, tried to cool things, and yet she couldn't get the younger woman out of her mind. Every time she contemplated Therese not being in her life the thought scared her more than the danger of succumbing to feeling something.

"What are you thinking about?" Therese marvelled. She gripped Carol's face in between her hands and gazed into her blue eyes. If only she could read minds.

"I'm thinking..." She couldn't quite face the raw honesty in those eyes. Not with Abby's words jarring in her head. "...about breakfast. Shall we go for brunch? I know a place"

"I'm starving" Therese admitted and she relinquished her hold on Carol stretching like a contented cat.

"We worked up quite an appetite" Carol winked at her and stroked the taut planes of her flat stomach.

"We did" Therese kissed her gently, the softest of kisses. "I want a nice hot shower"

"Is that an invitation?"

"Always" She cooed, snuggling closer to Carol. It was forever a waiting game. Sometimes she could stride ahead, could melt into Carol a touch, and other times she heeded the warning in her body language. This morning she was taking a risk. She rested her head against Carol's chest, hands contentedly lingering on her breast, as she listened to the thud of her heart. Carol did not shrug her off but she could feel a stillness in her body and it reminded her that Carol Aird had many chapters to be read, many sides to be seen, and that Therese was in danger of falling naively into a sense of optimism.

-------

The restaurant was a cacophony of sounds. Diners milling around, knives scratching against plates and the bustle of waiters darting around like flocks of birds.

"What are you having?" Therese asked over the brim of her menu. Carol had been silent since they'd left her apartment and it unnerved her. She was used to long moments of contemplative silence with Carol. She gave her that time and patience but this mornings silence felt different somehow. Carol was tense. Therese could see it in the way she interacted with people. She had set her jaw tightly and there was an impatience in the way she handled things.

Carol looked up swiftly. She was caught in a bad mood and she knew she was going to take it out on Therese. It seemed, almost, unavoidable. "Do you always have to know what I'm ordering?" She asked sounding harassed. "You can't decide on your own recognisance?"

Therese remained silent feeling the sting of Carol's annoyance. It felt like a cruel blow. Hadn't Carol always come to her rescue when it came to ordering off a menu? It had felt like their thing. Something they shared. Their own secret language and now it felt as though Carol was dismantling it out of petty indifference.

"Would you answer me when I'm talking to you?" Carol snapped and she was alarmed to find herself seething with a white hot rage.

"I'm sorry Carol. I guess I was just trying to make conversation" Therese felt a different type of blush reach her cheeks and she studied the menu in front of her resisting any urge to look Carol in the eye.

Carol bit back a sneering response. Apologise! She knew that she should. She knew that her moods could turn positively Baltic or could sizzle with a raging heat. Therese was gentle, sensitive, and Carol didn't know whether she adored such qualities or resented them. For now she found she could not resist the urge to prickle even if a large part of her felt crushed at the sight of Therese's embarrassment.

-------

"Shall I come over tonight?" Therese asked as they stood on the sidewalk long after finishing their tense brunch.

Carol neared the pavement and held her hand out in the hopes of hailing a cab. "Not tonight" She replied. Her eyes were busy scanning the traffic and so she did not see the dejected look on Therese's face. She did not see it but she felt it.

Therese nodded glumly. "I'll see you on Monday" She replied not waiting for Carol's cab to be hailed. She left her on the sidewalk and walked off into the thronging masses of Saturday shoppers. She was chastising herself with every pounding step that she took. She felt like a fool to believe Carol might be able to see her as something. Hadn't she spent the last few weeks in a bubble of ecstasy? Carol had been soft, gentle, kind. Ending things had appeared to make Carol see sense and so it was no easy turn of events when Carol's coldness breezed in like an unexpected frost. She had grown fond of the warmth. She'd basked in it and now she couldn't help but lick her wounds. She had always been such a glutton for punishment.

"Therese!" A familiar voice called out.

Therese spun round in a daze of thoughts to find Danny directly in front of her, his smile wide and his eyes joyful. "How's tricks?"

"Same old same old" Therese replied plastering a smile on her face.

"Do you have time for a drink?"

Therese thought about returning to her apartment and giving into her melancholy. It wasn't a pretty picture. "Sure. Why not"

-----

"Where to Ma'am?" The cab driver asked in a gruff voice.

Carol listed the address and immediately looked out of the window.

The cab driver whistled in appreciation. "That's a fancy building"

Carol rolled her eyes and kept her vision directed to the rolling streets ahead of her. She was not in the mood for idle chit chat.

"Lived there long?"

"Do you mind? I have a headache" She replied with an air of irritation.

"Spose not...Makes these journeys go a little quicker"

"Just. Drive. Can you manage that?" She bit back and watched as he shrunk slightly in his seat before turning red. It made her think of Therese flushed and shamed in that restaurant. Why am I like this? She wondered. It pained her that tearing this stranger down felt like the unlocking of a tight muscle. Therese had opened up the floodgates. She'd made Carol think, made her soul search, and she was dissecting every flaw in her character. There were certainly more than a few! Now she understood why Therese had enchanted her. Of course she was beautiful, exquisitely beautiful and she was smart and sensitive and warm. But more than that she was brave. Far braver than Carol. She was brave enough to wear her heart in those deep, green speckled, eyes and even when Carol built up those walls Therese found a way to climb over them.

--------

"Another round?" Danny asked with a curious brow. He winked and Therese was gripped by how little the action meant to her. No, it was nothing like the magic in those blonde curving brows. After the first drink she'd been furious with Carol and the seed of a plan to call her and tell her exactly what she thought of her entered her mind. By the second drink she considered finding a new job. After the third she started to pine for her and it made her feel like an addict constructing excuses for that next fix. By the forth she knew she would catch a cab and arrive at Carol's apartment even at the risk of her not being there.

"Not for me Danny. I've got somewhere to be"

"Somewhere? A hot date?"

"You could say that!" She called back to him as she retreated out of the packed bar.

Therese was sure she had hatched the plan of the century. She was sure of it. She would turn up at Carol's apartment and she'd woo her. She could picture it now, Carol would bristle, she would try to claw back control but having Therese there ready and waiting would be too much for her to resist. Therese knew she could melt Carol. With just a touch or a kiss she would relent and Therese would be back in her bed.

By the time Therese arrived it was late. The sky was dark with a smattering of stars and she began to wonder if she might prefer to be outside?

-----

"Ms Aird?"

"What is it Cliff?" Carol asked with a trace of concern in her voice. She had gripped the phone to the intercom and had draped her naked body in a silk robe.

"Sorry to bother you Ms Aird but you have a visitor"

"A visitor?!"

"A Miss Belivet. She insisted Ms Aird"

"Did she now?" Carol could not keep the smirk from gracing her mouth. "Send her up will you?"

"Of course"

Carol placed the receiver down on the intercom and flicked on the hallway light. She glanced at her reflection in the mirror. She had been in the midsts of preparing for bed and her once curled hair was now scraped back into a pony tail. She freed her blonde tumbles of hair and attempted to brush her fingers through the tangled tresses. 'It will have to do' Then she crossed over to the armchair in front of the lift and she eased herself down into its cushioned mouth. She crossed her legs, both hands outstretched on the arms of the chair, as she waited poised for Therese's arrival. For the entire evening she had debated whether or not to give in and apologise. She nearly had. The pull had been so strong that she had sat with the phone pressed to her ear in deliberation. But every time she thought about giving in something compelled her to hold onto herself. She'd been wracked with guilt. Of course she had but she'd been contained by a mounting sense of resentment. The truth was she resented Therese for making her feel this way. She resented her power over her and the fact that she was sat here holding all the cards.

The lift doors seemed to open in slow motion and Carol watched through lowered lashes as Therese appeared, stumbling ever so slightly forwards. She didn't notice Carol at first but when she did she froze in place and her eyes became wide with surprise.

"I wanted to see you" Therese spoke the words in a rush and they tumbled out of her mouth so fast she brought a hand to her lips to stifle them. "I know you didn't want me to come over..."

"Well you're here now" Carol replied with a voice which was thick and heavy with intensity. Of course she wanted her to come over. She wanted her here every night. She wanted her every night. But she did not make it easy for Therese. She did not move an inch.

Therese hovered around the entrance to the lift. Carol was unyielding and unmoving and she was still planning an exit route. "Should I leave?"

Carol took a deep breath. No. She would not let her leave. She focused her gaze on the woman before her with brooding eyes. She waited an uncomfortable beat. "No" The word was uttered succinctly. She allowed the feeling to sparkle in her stance.

Therese knew that she was toying with her. She was enjoying the game, the chase. She had made herself a willing victim and in turn had approved all the ways Carol exacted her dominance over her. As if in willing herself to carve out a sense of self respect she flounced past Carol, poised like an Egyptian cat, and made her way into the living room. It was melodramatic but it felt right.

Carol knew it would drive Therese mad to know she found it adorable when she skulked off into the apartment. There was a petulant air to the way she stuck out her bottom lip in protest and Carol understood her urge to indulge her, to calm her fiery spirit and placate her. She followed her into the living room where she was stood by the liquor cabinet helping herself to a measure of gin. "Cigarette?" Carol asked coming up close behind her.

"Yes" Therese did not turn to look at her. There were no pleasantries, she was trying, so hard, to be short but it was not the Therese Carol knew. She knew she would soften. It would take some time but she would soften under Carol's attention.

"You'd better pour me one too" She was close to Therese. She stood beside her lighting two cigarettes. As she leaned against the wall she allowed her robe to part exposing the slender line of an outstretched thigh.

Therese took the bait drinking in the sight of Carol's slender body with an audible gulp. She would not be able to resist her not when she could trace the image of her naked body from memory. 'It's enough to be wanted by her' Therese concluded. She handed Carol a tumbler, hands touching, skin electrifying. Then she leaned against the solidity of the wall behind her. "Did you want me to come Carol?" She asked unable to keep the sting of pain from her voice.

Carol's resolve had been thawing from the moment she'd clumsily stumbled into the hallway. Now it had melted completely. "Therese..." Carol began with a warning tone and she placed her drink down on the mahogany drinks table. She took Therese's drink from her reluctant hands, noting the way Therese eyes had become glassy. Carol knew she was trying not to cry and it bothered her more than she dared to admit. She wanted to scoop her into her arms. She wanted to tell her that she was a fool. Instead she placed both hands at either side of her head. "Look at me Therese" She insisted. She lowered herself closer to Therese until they were face to face. "Therese..."

Reluctantly Therese met her line of vision. "Yes?" She asked. She felt the heat rising to her cheeks and she met Carol's gaze reluctantly.

"Of course I want you to be here" Carol spoke the words gravely. She brought a hand to Therese's face and squeezed her soft cheeks until her lips parted gently. "Don't you know that already?"

Therese closed her eyes, cursing the tears that sprung to life and ran, freely, along her cheeks. She was so in love with Carol she could not bear it any longer. "No I don't" How could I? She asked herself. How could I?!

Carol took a step back but kept her hands captivated by Therese's face. She was wounded by the sadness in Therese's tears. Like a shot to the stomach she closed her eyes and breathed deeply. "Then let me show you" She gasped, hands eagerly stroking Therese's face before she crushed her lips to that soft, meltingly, sweet mouth. "Let me show you how much I want you" She was breathless. She held Therese tightly, desperately. In this moment she needed, had to, show Therese what she meant to her even if it felt like she was letting go of a part of herself that had always felt like the truth.

Therese allowed Carol to seize her in a firm grip and she nodded in to the soft blanket of blonde hair. She reached her arms around pulling at Carol's robe as she gripped her, shaking all over like a wet leaf.

Chapter Text

Carol lowered Therese onto the bed. Instinct kept her fears of commitment at bay and she was soft, tender, meltingly gentle, and it made Therese crave for more. Hazel eyes bore the tell tale signs of crying and it made her feel vulnerable. She could only watch as Carol began to undress her. There was no red hot heat, not tonight, not even as Carol's silk robe slipped open to reveal her glowing, nude, body. Tonight Carol did not try to silence her with seduction. Tonight, Therese could see the sprouting hope of something deeper and it felt like a reward for the months of uncertainty. She did not say a word. She drank in the feel of her slipping off her shoes and casually throwing each one over her shoulder. Hands came to the button of her trousers, sliding them along her hips, her thighs, until they pooled at her ankles. There was a flicker of intrigue in azure eyes, which darted to hers with concern, checking, worrying. And if I told her that I love her? Would she pull away? Would she withdraw? Or would she...Therese's internal voice shut down the very possibility of Carol feeling the same. She couldn't imagine it but then, then there was the soft weight of her body perfectly forming against Therese as if they were made to align each other. There was the sense of Carol scooping her up close into her arms and then the gentle press of her lips against the side of her neck.

"Let's be still for a while" Carol whispered and she caressed the side of Therese's tear stained cheek. Her pulse was marching on but for a different reason. Oh it would be recklessly easy to melt into the body beside her. If she closed her eyes she could imagine her mouth on that sweet skin. But she couldn't. She didn't want to. All she wanted was to hold Therese. She had been cold. She had been clipped and it had reduced her to tears, something Carol reproached herself for instantly. She was in uncharted territory without any hope of taking the wheel. She was baffled by Therese, captivated and she could not quite believe that Therese did not have an inkling of just how much power she had over her. If she knew the power she could wield Carol was sure she'd be in trouble for she knew, right now, that she could not bear to lose this beautiful woman.

--------

Therese had slept soundly for hours. She had been draped in Carol's arms and had cried herself to sleep like a child. She felt it now, awake in the early hours of the morning when light just began to creep into day. She felt that heavy sluggish feeling of spent tears as though in crying she had shed something of herself.

She turned onto her side where Carol laid in deep sleep, a hand tucked under the pillow. The robe she'd been wearing was shyly hanging onto her delicate shoulders. Therese liked to watch her sleep. She felt she was snatching fragments of the real Carol, unburdened by her obsession with control and boundaries. With a heavy sadness she knew that she could not withstand Carol's turbulent moods anymore not without hope of being with her. Really being with her. She knew she had to tell Carol how she felt, no matter the cost, even it meant losing her because she felt like she was losing herself.

She tossed and turned for hours, waiting for Carol to wake up. In that time she rehearsed a plethora of scenarios. Ever the romantic she dared to dream of Carol warming, melting as she told her just how deeply she had fallen for her.

"Therese..." Carol groaned voice heavy with sleep. "I feel like I'm sharing a bed with a bucking bronto"

"Carol I need to tell you something" Therese's voice bore the tell tale signs of nerves and she sat up not caring that she was completely exposed.

Carol buried her head in the pillow and her muffled complaints could be heard. "Not right now Therese"

Therese closed her eyes. "It has to be right now otherwise I might never say it"

"Then don't say it!" Carol warned. She was alert now and she was gripped by concern.

"What are we Carol?"

"Therese..."

"Can't you tell me that you feel something for me?" Therese asked with a sadness that broke her voice. She was sitting at the foot of the bed and as she turned to glance over her shoulder Carol groaned in dismay and covered her eyes with the back of a wrist.

"Come back to bed" Carol persuaded.

Therese sighed from the pit of her chest. "No. Tell me you feel something for me. Is it so hard?"

"Therese I have a thundering headache"

Therese covered her face with her hands and kneaded the skin above her eyelids. She couldn't do this anymore. She couldn't keep chasing Carol for scraps of affection.

"Therese, honestly! Get back into bed we'll talk about this later"

"There's always an excuse or a distraction!" Therese mumbled under her breath as she fumbled around the room for her clothing. "Will I ever be more than just fun for you?"

Carol scoffed. "Of course you're more than fun for me"

"Am I?" Therese countered buttoning her shirt angrily. She implored Carol to look at her and when she did she fixed a stare directly into blue pools of ice. "What are we doing?" She wondered aloud.

"We're supposed to be sleeping in!" Carol reminded her raising herself up on an elbow. She stroked the spot of the bed Therese usually occupied but it only served to make Therese more furious.

"You don't get it do you?"

"Get what?"

"Carol I'm in love with you" Therese suddenly snapped. "I'm in love with you and you can't even tell me I mean something" There were tears now in Therese's eyes and she stood watching, waiting for Carol to react.

Carol was dumbfounded. She felt the bravado disappear and it left her feeling utterly taken aback. 'Carol I'm in love with you' Whirrled around in her head in a tornado of words and feelings. It was all she could do to lay there open mouthed and silent.

"That's what I thought!" Therese replied bitterly. She took one last look at Carol's shocked and ashen faced, and then she walked out of the apartment assuredly.

Carol lay back against the pillow blinking back her surprise. She was in love with her. Of course it was plain to see in the way she looked at her. Carol had known for some time that Therese had developed feelings for her. If she were honest with herself she knew because she saw the same changes in herself. But love? Love felt risky, weighted. Love felt like heartache and unavoidable pain. Love felt like the aftermath of a warring divorce. It felt like a daughter who had traveled half way across the world to start a new life away from parents she could no longer stand to look at. There were phone calls, limited every year, and now they were officially estranged. Yes, Carol Aird had received more than enough warning about the costs of love. She had the scars to prove it. She had turned herself into a monument to her pain. And had it made her happy? She thought about her life, about how empty it had been before Therese had arrived. The truth was Therese had struck a chord deep within her. Somehow, battling against the odds, she had thawed Carol. She had undone some of the walls she had built within herself. What had once felt like necessity was now shackles which she had worn even knowing it caused her pain. 'Carol. I'm in love with you' After the shock had subsided she allowed herself to register a growing sense of...warmth? Hope? Happiness? She cursed herself. 'Are you determined to make yourself miserable?'

Carol leaned over to the phone on the bedside and snatched the handset.

"Hello?"

"Abby I need to talk"

"Has something happened?"

"Sort of" Carol was amazed to feel tears springing to her eyes.

"Carol?!" Abby prompted sounding alarmed. "Shall I come over?"

Carol couldn't speak for fear of her voice cracking with emotion. She was horrified and she gripped the phone until her hands turned white with the strain.

"Say no more" Abby assured her and then the line went dead leaving Carol to grip the handset long after Abby's voice had vanished.

-----

Therese was walking with purpose. The wind whipped at her hair and gave the back of her coat wings. There was a bite to the air and it dried her tears as fast as they came. She was angry now. More than angry she was incensed and she wanted to walk as far away from that apartment, as far away from Carol Aird as possible. Thoughts sprung in her mind, poison ivy, bitter, horrid, thoughts of revenge. She entertained the idea of falling into another woman's arms but the possibility was laced with bitter defeat. No she could not imagine arms softer than Carol's. She couldn't imagine another woman's smell, touch, taste. All thoughts led directly back to Carol. But she would not render herself powerless anymore. She held her head high. She had told Carol that she was in love with her. And she would do it again and again regardless of the way Carol had frozen before her very eyes because she would not allow Carol to turn her into stone.

--------

"Carol what's happened?" Abby gasped, storming into the room with a bottle of bourbon. "Emergency rations" Abby explained, following Carol's eyes darting to the gleaming bottle cradled in her arms. "Carol? You look like you've had a terrible fright"

Carol could not withstand Abby's concern. She turned away from the worry in her eyes and walked, defeatedly, into the kitchen with Abby hot on her heels.

"You've been crying" Abby confirmed as Carol perched on a chair and lit a cigarette.

"Yes" Carol finally managed but it brought a fresh wave of tears to her eyes. She forced her eyes to close and took a heavy drag of the cigarette perched between two fingers.

"I've never seen you like this...what on earths happened?"

"She's in love with me"

Abby's eyes widened, searching. "She's in love with you...haven't we been here before?" Abby thought back to the casualties which had laid down the gauntlet before. None of them had caused Carol to shed a single tear.

"Not like this" Carol admitted draining a tumbler of bourbon with a slight wince as the alcohol hit the back of her throat. She motioned for Abby to refill her glass.

"Can you really be shocked Carol? She looks at you with those big doe eyes..."

"I'm aware" Carol interrupted closing her eyes to the image of flecks of rich green in warm, hazel eyes.

"And how did you leave it?"

"She left...I couldn't form a single word! I was stunned, completely stunned into silence"

"That she's in love with you or that she admitted she is?" Abby questioned cautious of allowing the frustration she felt to seep into her tone. But the truth was she was undeniably frustrated with the tearful blonde. How many times had she longed to make Carol feel something, anything for her?

"I don't know" She admitted with a solemn shake of her head.

"Or is it that you might feel the same?" Abby's voice was gentle now and she bit back a shard of jealousy. At one point she had loved Carol with all of her heart.

Carol bit at her bottom lip and kept her eyes, rich with unshed tears, trained firmly on her hand holding an empty glass. She couldn't tear her eyes away. She felt exposed to the bones of herself and her mouth quivered and trembled.

Abby leaned in and covered Carol's hand with her own. "You're in love with her Carol" She insisted squeezing Carol's hand firmly.

Carol nodded. "I am" She cried and the relief felt instantaneous. "And I'm terrified"

Abby nodded in understanding. "Tell her" She replied suddenly, urgently. "Go and tell her"

"I can't! Not now. Not yet"

"You have to. Carol she's not going to wait around for you to find your nerve"

"What would I say?" Carol perished the thought. She could not imagine herself saying the words.

Abby cupped Carol's cheek and wiped away her tears. "Whatever it takes to make it right. Now come on. I'll drive you to her apartment"

Chapter Text

"Go on" Abby insisted, the motor still running as she looked at Carol who was sat frozen to the spot.

"What if she isn't there?"

"I'll wait"

"What if she is there?" Carol agonised. She did not want Abby to see her this way but she could not tidy her expression into a face of pride.

"Talk to her. Tell her how you feel!" Abby exclaimed allowing the frustration to seep into her words. "Carol, she needs to hear this"

Carol nodded her head. She, at the very least, owed her this moment. "Ok"

Abby watched her friend closely. She was parts admiration part jealousy and she resisted the urge to snap at the blonde, knowing that above all else she wanted Carol to be happy. With a pang of disappointment she acknowledged that Therese had made Carol happy in ways she never could. "Now go get her!" Abby was practically pushing Carol out of the car at this point and it brought a smile to both of their faces.

"You're a wonderful friend" Carol spoke with emotion and as she pressed a kiss to Abby's cheek she noted the way the brunettes eyes fluttered closed at the contact.

"You can pay me back with a good meal!" She jibed as Carol left the car with a backwards glance. "Good luck" She whispered as Carol's figure disappeared into an apartment complex.

------

Therese sat in a rickety chair drinking down a large mouthful of beer. She sighed at the taste and attracted the attention of a friend.

"Shall we go for a pizza?" Gracie asked as she poured over a newspaper, scanning the movie listings. "Then maybe a movie?"

"Whatever you like" Therese replied with a shrug of slender shoulders. She didn't care what she did as long as she didn't have to think. Gracie was a friend she had met when they'd paired up to do an exhibit of their work. She was a nice enough friend, someone she could call on, but her presence reminded Therese of just how alone she felt at times. Gracie did not know her, not really, and Therese knew she would never tell her how she felt about Carol because she kept that part of herself well and truly hidden. She was a mystery to people and it made her realise that she was not so different from Carol after all.

"You're in one hell of a sour mood Terry!" Gracie admitted with a look of questioning. She was interrupted by the shrill sound of the intercom buzzing to life and she got to her feet. "I'll just get that"

Therese remained seated in the rickety chair and she rocked on its legs despite the precariousness because she felt like damaging something other than herself for once. She heard the sound of muffled conversation and she pricked her ears searchingly.

------

Carol stood at Therese's doorstep with a hand poised to knock. She had knocked so many times without being heard and yet she remained here in the vague hope that Therese might be burrowed away somewhere in her apartment. There was no sign of life and Carol faced the full force of disappointment and regret. She was kicking herself now, wondering why on earth she had remained silent. How had she allowed Therese to flee her apartment? She didn't have an answer for herself other than she was a coward. Yes she was a coward and Therese had showed her just how brave she could be. Therese had the heart of a lion and she wore that cloak on her sleeve unflinchingly. She had the raw power of being honest, of loving Carol even though she did not deserve it. Carol knew she didn't deserve to be loved by this wonderful woman and she had made a complete tatters of the situation. Now she was laying the prize and as she returned to Abby's waiting car she couldn't help but wonder if she deserved this moment of shame and pain.

------

Carol sat at Therese's desk in the glum hue of early morning. Nobody save security were here at this time and she had sat in the darkness swallowed in the mouth of sheer silence. It was dramatic but she felt dramatic. Having spent the weekend agonising over Therese's departure she realised she had little faith that the younger woman would even be here today. A dozen thoughts had crept in like a stormy sea fog blanketing everything in gloom. Had she packed her bags and ran? Something told Carol that Therese was a roamer, a traveler and she could picture her carting a meagre ration of her worldly belongings, destined for some random destination. What if she never found her? The thought turned her insides to stone. What if she arrived this morning but had finally had enough of Carol's ever changing moods? What if she rejected her? It reminded Carol of the many times she had rejected Therese. How many times had she seen the sting of disappointment in Therese's beautiful eyes? Most difficult of all, what if she flung her arms around Carol? What if they both loved each other? What would love look like now? Carol didn't know, couldn't remember the last time she'd felt like this. It filled her with a sense of failure. Carol Aird had succeeded at, pretty much, anything she'd set her mind to and yet she knew she did not win when it came to matters of the heart. Everytime her mind seemed to spring a leak she would return to daydreams of the two of them together.

-----

Therese had not slept last night. Not able to face a weekend alone she'd spent hours in smokey bars sofa surfing with the cover of being too drunk to go home. The truth was she couldn't bear it. If she were home she would have to face the cold truth that Carol did not feel the same way as she did and that she would make no move to close the distance between them. How many hours had she spent agonising over whether or not to come this morning? She almost hadn't, had looked at her ashen face in Danny's bathroom mirror and wondered if she shouldn't just quit before Carol could fire her. Would she fire her? Therese felt pretty sure it would be a Carol Aird certified way to get rid of the problem. She imagined she would set Carol's coffee down and she would greet her with a terse smile. 'Why spoil such a good thing Therese?' She'd lightly scold before handing over a crisp, typed, termination. 'No hard feelings' She'd probably add as a meaningless consolation. Therese didn't know the Carol she conjured in her head, the Carol who could remain deftly silent after she had poured her heart out. She didn't know her but she had met her so many times.

"Morning Miss Belivet" The receptionist greeted her as she walked into the building.

"Good morning Celia" Therese replied congenialy. She gave a slight bob of her head in greeting but she could not shake the sense that she was walking her last steps in this building.

By the time the lift carried her to the top floor she could feel her pulse begin to thunder to life. She looked at the watch on her wrist. Carol would not be here for at least another hour. If she wanted to she could type out her letter of resignation, leave it on Carol's desk and be gone before those heels strode into the office. Yes perhaps that would be for the best? She could then at least leave this catastrophe with some semblance of self-respect.

She began unbuttoning her coat with the seed of a plan in mind. Walking into the office she did not, initially, notice the figure propped on her desk. She flicked on the lights, shedding her coat and then turning on her heels with a fright. "Carol?" She brought a hand directly to her chest in shock, hoping to somehow ease off her near heart attack.

Carol remained entirely still, rooted to the desk top by two outstretched hands. She felt herself blanch. A spark of joy upon seeing Therese, here and solid in the flesh, was undone by a fear she had never felt before. What now? Her mind demanded. She was here. She had came after all and yet Carol could not vocalise a single thought.

"Why are you sitting in the dark?" Therese asked as she turned away from the beautiful blonde to hang her coat, and put some distance between them. "You're not usually in at this time!" Therese rattled on despite the intensity which had engulfed the room.

"I...I wanted to see you" Carol forced the words out and they sounded strange to her ears. She pushed herself off of the edge of the desk hoping the momentum would galvanise her into action. "I needed to see you!"

"Is that so?" Therese was standing with a hand on her hip now and her face was organised into a look of disbelief. Carol resisted the urge to tell her how adorable she looked when she meant business.

Carol moved forward standing directly in front of Therese. She could see the dark circles under Therese's eyes and she knew she had caused her so many sleepless nights. "I looked for you" Carol told her and she watched the surprise toying at Therese's pained eyes. "Over the weekend...I tried to find you"

"I didn't want to be alone in my apartment" Therese admitted. Her mind was racing with thoughts of Carol on her doorstep. She couldn't believe she would make any kind of grand gesture and she wondered if Carol were playing with her.

"Therese..." Carol swallowed hard and she gripped Therese's hands in her own, continuing even though the younger woman flinched and pulled her hands away. She missed the contact instantly but she held her hands up in protest. "I didn't want to leave things like that"

'Here it comes' Therese thought miserably. She was waiting for Carol to reject her and she closed her eyes fearful of how easily they might tear up. But Carol was gripping her face now in two delicate hands, cupping her cheeks until she had no choice but to open her eyes. Carol's face was framed with concern, blue eyes were plagued and her mouth was set with the tension of the moment. "I was shocked" She explained, holding Therese tighter when she shook her head. "I was shocked because I didn't expect you to say those words to me"

"Can you even bear to say them aloud?" Therese cried. She had brought her hands to Carol's with the objective of moving them away but instead she gripped them tightly. "That I love you? Can you bear it?"

"I was surprised because I feel the same" Carol finally managed. "Because I'm in love with you. And you're right...I am afraid. More than that I am terrified" Carol was trying, she was trying desperately hard, even though it filled her with utter horror. She was out of her depth but she would not bury her feelings, not this time. No she wanted to feel the full weight of her emotions and when her eyes filled with tears she did nothing to stop them spilling forth.

Now it was Therese's turn to be stunned into silence. She stood fixed to the spot, holding Carol's hands to her face, watching as tears traced tracks to her chin. She replayed Carol's words, drumming them into her mind like she was reciting a verse. 'Because I'm in love with you' They were words her mind could not compute. "Carol, it's ok to be afraid" Therese insisted and she moved her hands to Carol's face, cupping milk soft skin with an urgent hold. "I'm afraid...I don't know what to think or feel. You've completely taken over my life. From the moment I met you I haven't been able to get you out of my mind"

"And do you want to?" Carol interrupted. "To get me out of your mind?" She was vulnerable, standing with Therese holding her face.

"No. No, I don't want to miss a thought of you" She whispered, leaning in until their mouths hovered mere inches away. "I want to be with you"

Carol's heart soared. Bravado, pride, was nothing more than a uniform she had shed the moment Therese had switched on that light. "I want to be with you" Carol repeated and she meant it. In whatever capacity, she knew she needed to be with Therese. "I want us to be together" Carol assured and she kissed Therese softly, tenderly, feeling a weight lift from her shoulders.

Therese scooped Carol into her arms and she held her so tightly she feared she might take all the breath from her lungs. Carol hung onto her, gripping her back as they kissed until they were forced to part for air. She rested her forehead against Carol's closing her eyes to the sensation of having her in her arms. Carol had given her a part of herself Therese knew never saw the light of day and in doing so she was vulnerable, exposed. It made Therese want to keep her here in her arms, to ease away her fears, and to promise her that no matter how hard things became she would be here, waiting for her, at any cost.

-----

"Somebody could come in" Therese warned her, reluctantly tearing her lips away from Carol's exquisite mouth. Carol had her leaning against the wall of her office deliciously trapped by the full weight of the insistent older woman's frame.

"Let them" Carol insisted returning to Therese's pouting lips. The room had become warm with their heated kisses and she lapped up the sensation like the quenching of a heavy thirst.

"We're going to need some boundaries Carol" Therese's voice was muffled by their joined mouths and she gripped Carol's shirt collar stroking the material between her fingers and thumbs.

"I don't like the sound of that at all" Carol shook her head lightly but allowed enough space between them so she could capture the sight of Therese attempting to be sensible.

"You have a job to do" Therese reminded her even though she relished the spark of mischievousness in Carol's eyes.

"Let me worry about that" Carol gripped Therese by the hips as the younger woman's hands circled her lower waist. She was enjoying the feel of the younger woman in her arms and she had no intention of relinquishing her, not just yet.

Therese allowed Carol to slip her hands into the lapels of her jacket even though the contact brought her dangerously far from sense. Carol's hands pawed at her through her silk shirt and she felt a shiver of excitement dance along her spine. "You have a meeting in an hour"

Carol sighed. "When did you become so sensible Therese?" But Carol knew she was right. Carol knew she wanted to hole up in Therese's office, with her in her arms, because she had been so undeniably worried that she had lost her. She kissed her long and slow, the kiss severed abruptly as Therese appeared to dart from her very arms and curtail it to her desk. Carol watched utterly puzzled as Therese began to sort papers on her desk.

"Come in" Therese called out shooting Carol a hesitant glance. It gave Carol just enough time to smooth the creases from her shirt and organise her expression into a look of professionalism.

The door opened and Brian from accounting sauntered into the room greeting Therese with a warm smile. "Good morning. Where's the bloodhound?" He laughed lightly at his own joke even as Therese's eyes nervously darted in Carol's direction.

"The bloodhound?" Carol asked curiously, watching as the colour drained from Brian's face and the smile dropped from his features. "Is that the latest nickname to do the rounds?"

"Carol...I..." He spluttered and Carol silenced him with a raised hand.

"You're especially lucky that I'm in a good mood!" She smiled at the way he squirmed in front of her eyes. Brian had always been such a smarmy weasle. "I need you on hand after my meeting" She addressed Therese unable to keep the warmth from her words. She smiled at her with a look of mischief gracing her with a delighted wink before she left the room.

"God damn it!" Brian grimaced. "She's all seeing! I don't know how you manage it Therese"

"She's not so bad" Therese replied with a shrug of her shoulders, even though it felt like a lie. She's marvellous, she wanted to say. She's more beautiful than you know. But it was her Carol and she didn't need to justify her to anyone.

-----

Therese knocked at Carol's door. The day had trickled by like a dream. Therese had devoted hours and hours to dwelling on the events of this morning. She thought about Carol so often that it made her chest hurt and her heart feel tight.

"Come in" Carol called out in her clipped, orderly, work voice.

Therese opened the door and then closed it behind her, relying immediately on its solidity for grounding. The sight of Carol shot through her in an overwhelming wave. She was sat at her desk hair pulled up and out of her face with the top buttons of her shirt opened to reveal cream soft skin. "Lock the door?" She suggested with a wiggle of her eyebrows. "We don't want any unwanted guests"

Therese locked the door and came to Carol instantly, slipping onto her waiting lap to be held tightly. Her legs were at either side of Carol's hips and she slipped her arms around Carol's neck studying her from a distance. She didn't know why but she felt she might weep. She could feel the sting of tears in her eyes. The close proximity, the warring emotions, had left her feeling completely overwhelmed.

"Hey? What's wrong?" Carol enquired with a look of concern. She studied Therese's face, noting the way her hazel eyes were glassy with unshed tears.

"I don't know" Therese whimpered, allowing Carol to grip her in her arms. "It's hit me all at once"

Carol understood. It was how she felt and she marvelled, once again, at Therese's ability to spill out her raw emotions without refrain. "Let me take you back to mine? I'll cook us dinner and we can spend the whole evening in each other's arms" Carol was stroking her back gently, bringing her head to rest against her shoulder while she soothed her.

"I like the sound of that"

Chapter Text

Therese lay on the plush rug completely nude and basking in the warmth of a roaring, crackling, fire. The flames foretold a story on naked skin and Carol appeared to be captivated by every meandering shape. She was laying beside her, cream white body bare to see, and occasionally Therese's hand would dart out to touch soft, sublime, skin. It was as though she needed to remind herself that this moment was real, to grasp onto something tangible to steady herself. They were content to lay here together and had for long hours. They had not made love, yet, but had grappled, clung, to one another in a type of desperate need. Just to be close to one another, closer than skin.

"How long have you felt this way?" Carol asked, momentarily, towering over Therese to drink a mouthful of red wine. A droplet spilled onto her chest and painted a crimson line to her breasts.

Therese sat up and brought her hands to circle Carol's waist, mouth suckling at the crimson stain. She knew Carol's eyes would be closed now, her own hands coming to the back of Therese's head to steady her at her breasts."For quite some time" Therese admitted. She gave her breasts one last kiss before she relinquished her laying back into the plush softness of the rug. "Does that scare you?"

Carol leaned back on her arms. No she was not afraid but she was curious. Her mind traced back to moments they'd shared together as she attempted to somehow pinpoint the exact moment she fell in love with her. Carol was a logical person. She knew there would likely be no solitary moment but rather that love grew in fragments confirmed when you least expected it. When did she realise she had fallen in love with Therese? She wasn't sure she could trust herself to give a genuine answer not when she had been lying so expertly to herself.

"Now you've gone quiet" Therese's small voice uttered and it made Carol snap back to reality in a second. Therese could have cried over the softness, the care, that warmed those beautiful blue eyes.

"I'm sorry darling...I suppose I was curious. I was thinking about the moment I knew I was in love with you"

Now it was Therese's time to wonder. She had presumed Carol had not known she had fallen in love with her until Therese had dared to say those words herself. "When was that moment?" It was a game they could play now as...lovers? Girlfriends? The words sounded preposterous to Therese's ears and yet she relished the confirmation that they belonged to each other in some way.

"Do you know I fooled myself for quite some time into thinking I craved you when really I think I became enchanted by you quite quickly" Carol was smiling, mind traveling to the early days when she would book them into hotels and they would ravage each other. Therese set her very skin alive and yet even as they'd laid there in the aftermath of their lovemaking Carol had begun to agonise over whether to stay or go. "I certainly tried to distance myself. I behaved like a monster at times" The smile had faded from her face as she dwelled on all the cold barriers she had constructed to keep Therese at bay. "But you showed me! You had me feeling like a love sick teenager. When you played me at my own game I could barely function"

"What did you do?" Therese couldn't help but desire this idea of the ever cool and composed Carol Aird becoming undone, ever so slightly, at the seams.

"Agonised over you. I became bitterly jealous. In fact it was a comfort at the time because I could fool myself that it was just my wounded ego. When we traveled to Boston I knew that I had fallen madly in love with you" Yes Carol could see the moment now.

"Because of that woman?"

"I was incensed but it was more than that. Just when I had supposed I might have totally screwed up my chances with you, you were so kind to me. Heaven knows I didn't deserve your warmth but you gave it to me and I realised that I was very much in love with you"

Therese was listening. Carol had her undivided attention and she absorbed every detail relishing its snapshot of Carol's thoughts. She felt as though she were seeing a new Carol born before her very eyes. "I knew I felt something for you even on our first trip to New York. It was lust, of course it was, but when I saw you sleep on the plane ride I knew there was something more, something beneath the surface. And you showed me parts of yourself bit by bit. When you brought me to your home. When you came looking for me that night when you'd been so abrupt in the jazz bar. And now I know I was right to wait" She smiled at Carol content to be entirely unguarded with her. For the first time since they'd met she was certain she would not leave, that she would not allow bravado to interrupt what was blossoming between them.

"You've been very patient" Carol's voice was melting honey now and she beckoned Therese over to her with an extended hand. Therese obliged crawling on her hands and knees toward the taller blonde. It was a sight not lost on Carol and she watched the curve of her hips swelling with every movement. How did she get to be so lucky? She wasn't sure but she was starting to believe that there were perks to being honest about her feelings. It sure beat evenings spent alone or evenings spent with Therese on some kind of mental timer, counting down the hours in which a threshold for feeling would be reached. She welcomed Therese onto her waiting lap. In fact, she loved the feel of her straddling her by the waist, that resonating heat between her thighs at the contact and then the full weight of her lithe body anchored to her naked skin. It seemed instinctive to Therese to drape her arms around Carol's neck and their breasts brushed, just lightly, just enough to stir up that biting feeling of desire.

"I have been very patient" Therese acknowledged but she was smiling warmly from ear to ear simply enjoying the feeling of being close to Carol. She kissed her collar bone, her naked shoulders and finally a featherlight kiss against her mouth. "But it was worth it" She confirmed, giving extra attention to Carol's earlobe. She heard that sharp intake of breath and she smiled even with the soft flesh snagged between her lips. Carol would prickle all over when she so much as hovered near her ear or her neck. Therese wondered how many layers she would grow to learn about this mystery woman.

"I'll make it worth it" Carol aspired, there was passion in her voice but also a layer of pain. She would have to learn to change if she wanted to keep this wonderful woman in her life. She would not share this with Therese, why ruin this magical moment? But Carol was fearful, foreboding, of her ability to change into a better person. She had not become this cold overnight. Circumstance had turned her into a ghost of who she'd been before all the mess of divorce, the heartache of estrangement. She was not born this way but she had become deeply attached, embedded in the Carol she'd become out of sheer necessity. What if she could not shed those self-constructed layers? What if Therese was too pure, too kind, for her? "I'll make it better" She insisted attempting to brush away some of the fears which were casting doubts.

Therese could sense the confliction in Carol. She saw it in the way her eyes misted over and her mouth pursed, seriously, in thought. "I think you're brave" Therese assured her even though an incredulous look sprung into her eyes. She gripped Carol harder and looked deep into her eyes. "I mean it. You were brave. You came to find me. You love me. I can't ask for more than that"

Yet! Carol's internal voice suggested but she warmed to Therese's words, feeling the butterflies build aknew in her stomach. "You're magnificent" Carol beamed.

------

Therese woke in Carol's bed alone and she was gripped with an initial sense of disappointment. Had Carol gotten cold feet? Surely not? She thought back to the hours they had spent in front of that fire whispering sweet nothings to each other. That Carol couldn't run, she was sure of it.

"Morning sleepy head" Carol cooed emerging from the opened doorway with a tray in her hands.

Therese felt an instant rush of relief and then the prickling aftermath of guilt. What would it take for Therese not to second guess her intentions? "Morning" She beamed and she sat up straight in anticipation for the breakfast Carol had so adorably crafted.

"You slept so soundly I didn't have the heart to wake you for breakfast. So I brought breakfast to you!" Carol announced and she placed the tray down onto the bedspread revealing buttered bagels, freshly squeezed orange juice, champagne which fizzed and bubbled in flutes bejewelled with raspberries which bobbed delicately. There were segments of fruit, melon, mango and ripe perfect strawberries. Off to the side was a cafetière of coffee, steam rising to match the smell of rich roasted coffee beans.

"You're spoiling me" Therese remarked as she snagged a strawberry and popped it into her mouth with an indulgent smile.

"Nonsense" Carol insisted and she pressed a kiss to the side of Therese's head before joining her back in bed.

"Champagne?"

"We're celebrating! Besides, it's romantic" There was that signature wink and how did it still manage to make Therese's heart melt?

"It's very romantic" Therese agreed leaning in for a good morning kiss. They were smug in their blissful enjoyment of each other and Therese did not want the moment to end.

"I'm feeling very romantic. It's quite uncharacteristic of me" Carol handed Therese a flute of champagne and then they clinked their glasses together in unison. "I'm lovesick and I can't imagine a second without you"

"Me either" Therese smiled but she was thinking about the two of them working in close confines. It had been hard enough when they had snatched mere moments but now there were no boundaries? "How are we going to work together Carol?" Therese asked drinking down a mouthful of champagne. She could not imagine Carol keeping her hands to herself. She thought about Brian almost walking in on them. Carol had not even heard the sound of the door handle turning.

"I don't see that anything needs to change"

"No?" Therese met Carol's grin with a searching look. "You'll be able to remain professional?"

"Therese I haven't had a single professional thought about you in months!"

"And isn't that the problem? I can't keep my hands to myself"

"And neither should you" Carol winked.

"What if somebody walks in and finds us?" Therese could not keep the alarm from her voice. She pictured Brian finding them in a compromising position and she couldn't help but flush.

"Let me worry about that won't you? Therese, I don't want a new assistant. It's the perfect arrangement and I promise we'll be a little more careful" Carol assured her even though she was certain their office rendezvous would not be coming to an end.

"A lot more careful!" Therese interjected.

"You drive a hard bargain Miss Belivet" Carol smiled broadly. She picked up a glowing piece of golden mango and brought it to Therese's waiting mouth. "Now let's eat breakfast"

Chapter Text

The board meeting dragged on and Therese felt her eyes becoming heavy. She sat away from the round table with a number of other personal assistants and receptionist. As was the tradition at Viso. Heaven forbid anybody less than seniority darkened the hallowed round table of the elite. To begin with she had feasted on the sight of Carol quick witted and sharp, eviscerating arrogant managers with a mere flick of her wrist. There was something about being privy to the softer side of Carol that made Therese's heart float from her chest. As Carol gestured calmly with her hands Therese thought about the fact that mere hours ago Carol's hands had encouraged her into a stock cupboard for a drawn out fumble and a kiss. No matter what Therese had a sense that she knew those hands almost better than any other. Yes the images she conjured of that delicate smattering of freckles had staved off her boredom for quite some time. But even a love enthused dreamer like Therese had her limits and she had listened to some bloated, red faced, executive for near forty minutes before she'd allowed her mind to drift.

"Are you writing this down?" One of the heads of advertising asked with a single raised eyebrow.

Therese did not instinctively react. In fact it took a pregnant pause before she blinked in quick succession and stared back at him with surprised eyes. "Excuse me?" Therese said in a hushed whisper, wary of attracting the attention of others.

"I said are you writing any of this down?" He questioned announcing every word with a drawn out arrogance as if to highlight Therese's ignorance.

Therese glanced down at the notepad in her lap. Her pen had stilled and she had begun to doodle. "Yes" She answered though her fluttering tone betrayed her nervousness.

He scoffed loudly drawing the attention of the room. "I've been watching you..."

"Then perhaps you should be questioning your own work ethic?" Carol interrupted with a steely coolness. "If you have become so occupied with my assistant"

The man blanched under Carol's scrutiny and he cleared his throat nervously. He had anticipated a different response and it showed in his slightly reddening face. "I thought I should draw it to your attention!" He insisted though his words trailed off into the rooms energy.

"Her name is Therese" Carol replied with unwavering eyes. "Now can we return to business? Or would you like to see my assistants credentials?"

His eyes dipped away and his face was a mixture of shame and anger. Therese couldn't quite feel sorry for him and she had to bite back a smile that was threatening to unfurl at the corners of her lips. 'Her name is Therese' It felt like the ultimate chivalrous act and Therese felt flushed, excited by Carol's protectiveness. Perhaps this was Carol's first step in putting Therese before business.

------

"I'm sorry" Therese apologised as she tiptoed into Carol's office after the notes for the meeting had been typed up.

Carol was engrossed, scrawling something with a pen but upon hearing Therese speak she tore her eyes away from the task at hand. "Don't apologise" Carol insisted with a warm smile. It was unknown for Carol to respond in this way and momentarily it made Therese uncertain.

"I was daydreaming" Therese admitted slinking further into the room.

Carol's eyes had returned to the paper in front of her but she was smiling, crimson lips parting to show the whiteness of her teeth. "I know you were. You often are"

"I'm not a great assistant!" Therese replied in an apologetic tone.

"Nonsense!" Carol exclaimed. "Come sit here would you?" She patted the desktop before her eyes dropped back to pen and paper.

Therese obliged and she strolled over to the desk propping herself on the edge of the desk so her feet dangled off of the ground. Carol's attention remained on the task at hand and Therese was content to watch the expression on her face, quiet concentration, and smell her striking perfume. Occasionally Therse would lean on for an embrace and she would wear that perfume on her front like a warm memory of their closeness.

"Now!" Carol announced with an air of finality and then her eyes were pulled in Therese's direction. She placed a hand on her knee, sliding up and under the seam of her dress.

"Was that risky Carol?"

"Being this close to you during work hours?" Carol teased, hand reaching, straining dangerously close to her inner thigh.

"Taking him to task...for me" Therese couldn't help it, she smiled through her vague concern and it made her eyes sparkle.

"I'd imagine the men of this company are just grateful it isn't them in the hot seat!"

"I don't want to draw attention..."

"Did you enjoy it?"

Therese lowered her head slightly and her hair hung before her eyes but Carol could see a light pink hue rise to her cheeks. "Yes" She admitted.

"Because?" Carol was fishing and she'd allowed her fingertips to graze the front of Therese's underwear rewarded by a sharp inhale of breath and the slight movement of Therse shuffling closer.

"Because you came to my defence. It made me feel protected. It's not something you've ever done before"

It was true. Carol had never leapt to Therese's defence so publicly before. Carol found she couldn't help it. Something had changed in her from the moment Therese had told her she loved her. She took different chances, she made different decisions and they were all directed with her in mind. It was as though a fog had been lifted and she could finally see a clear, beautiful, day. It wasn't all hearts and flowers. Carol was still a powerhouse in the boardroom, little had changed in that regard, but she was happier and softer with the people she cared about and it had not gone unnoticed by others. "I want to take care of you"

"And I want to take care of you" Therese urged slipping her arms around Carol's neck loosely. "I like taking care of you" She was thinking of the moments when Carol would return from late meetings and Therese would be waiting with something cooking on the stove and a bath drawn.

Carol was thinking of similar moments. Was it a brave move to let someone care for you? It certainly felt like it to Carol. "I like it too"

They shared a growing smile and Therese rested her forehead against Carol. She was content to remain there longer than she knew she should and she had to physically pull herself away. "Are you finished for the day?"

Chapter Text

Carol was working on autopilot now. Glancing out of the window in her office she noticed, with an air of alarm, that it had become dark. She cursed out loud kicking at the leg of her desk as she hurriedly sorted papers.

The phone rang insistently. Carol thought about ignoring it. if she continued working she could finish this account in time to be home for dinner, home to a cooked meal and a warm lover. “Hello?” She answered with an air of irritation.

“That bad?” Therese winced.

A slow smile spread across Carol’s lips and she cradled the receiver between shoulder and ear as she sorted papers and punched a stapler through them with a sense of finality. “Can you detect my moods that easily?” She wondered out loud.

“I’ve built quite a repertoire when it comes to your moods”

Carol laughed lightly. “Don’t remind me”

“Carol…it’s late…”

“I know. I know. I’m getting the Grant account finished. Its important”

“Shall I come over? I could help?”

“No darling. I’ll be home soon” Carol cooed with a gentle insistence, even though the idea of Therese being in front of her seemed to be the perfect tonic. If she closed her eyes she could just picture the outline of Therese’s body draped across her. She always greeted Carol like a returning soldier, bubbling with excitement.

“I don’t want the dinner to spoil” Therese warned but there was a playfulness in her tone. “I should probably stop distracting you!”

“Never” Carol breathed the words out surprised to find she was gripping the phone with a certain amount of urgency. The idea of Therese not appearing at her door, bumbling, falling over her own feet, was a melancholy one.

“I’ll see you at home”

‘Home’ hearing Therese say the word home made warmth radiate through her body. Carol couldn’t remember the last time Therese had returned to her apartment. “I’ll see you at home my darling” She whispered, gripping the phone even after the click to signal the end of the call. Now she was left in the emptiness of her office wondering just what was important to her now. One thing was for sure it wasn’t the papers in her hand.

-------------

Therese had long since turned off the oven. A cassoulet remained in a luke warm oven drying out to a crisp. She could have been annoyed. After all she’d wasted hours preparing a meal, made from scratch and the scrutiny of a cookbook. Therese was not a natural cook but she was trying, she was learning.

Therese poured herself a glass of red wine and retired to the balcony to smoke a cigarette. It was one of her favourite spots. Especially at night time when the lights of cabs and buildings spread across the sky like buzzing fireflies. The oversized white shirt she had worn at work was open, each side flapping in the breeze. She leaned against the balcony on both elbows. She was enjoying this cigarette, taking in the view with a sense of ease. She felt as though she belonged here. Here in Carol’s home that had become something of a home to her. She had gone back to her apartment on rare occasions. Truth be told she had become used to the finer things in life. Yes, there was something mildly disconcerting about returning to a home of bare walls, a skeleton apartment. Carol’s apartment felt alive with traces of her, colour, vibrancy, and Carol’s unmistakable class. In contrast her apartment felt unfinished, unloved, and there was one vital difference, Carol was not there.

——————

When Carol left the building she glanced at her watch and cursed loudly as she realised it was almost midnight. She was tired, hungry, irritable and wanted nothing more than to sink into Therese’s arms. Therese, she felt a pinch of regret at the idea of Therese’s meal gone unloved, uneaten.

She hailed a cab and spent the ride in comforting silence, but for the background noise of a muted radio. She felt as though she were in a daze, drunk almost on tiredness and she watched the buildings past by without emotion until the houses became familiar and she felt that stirring of contentedness at coming home.

She was careful not to make a sound, wincing at the noise from the lift doors opening. She could make out a dim light which lead her to the living room and she stopped in her tracks, overwhelmed by the sight of Therese curled up with a blanket, sleeping on her hands as though they were a pillow. She looked adorable, beautiful, in her slumber and even though Carol did not want to wake her, she knew that she would, that she couldn’t resist it. She kneeled in front of Therese, slipping out of her coat and allowing it to drop, carelessly, to the floor. She didn’t care. Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to be against Therese’s warmth. As she lowered her body onto Therese’s, Therese began to shift, ever so slightly. Carol began to unbutton her blouse watching carefully as Therese’s eyes began to flutter open.

“Carol…” She smiled voice laced with the aftermath of sleep. And yet, on instinct, her hands moved to Carol’s rear cupping, gripping at her. “What time is it?”

“Hmm?” Carol was straddling Therese by the waist. “It’s gone midnight”

“You’re very late”

“I am” Carol acquiesced with a knowing bob of her head. She was distracted by the act of slipping out of her blouse, tired eyes carefully watching the way Therese fought through the clinging grip of sleep. "I've been very silly to stay away so long"

Therese allowed her hands to wander to Carol's waist and she traced the outline of delicate ribs. "You're here now" Voice pure gravel spoken from the hollow of her throat.

"I am" Carol confirmed. She felt stoned by the look in Therese's eyes. She was used to people looking at her with lust in their eyes but Therese was different. Therese looked at her with unrestrained emotion, her intentions as clear as nimble fingers which toyed at the clasp of her bra. Therese wore her feelings in her eyes, in her body language, in the simple curve of her mouth and Carol devoured it all. She wanted it so badly that sometimes she wondered if love was making her mad.

Therese freed Carol's breasts, holding them in her hands, craving the soft weight of them. She could feel Carol's excitement stirring and as she laid, with sleep still heavy in her eyes, she stroked her nipples with a tenderness that made Carol lean forward in anticipation. Therese was watching her through hooded eyes, watching the way her eyes closed and her mouth parted ever so slightly. She was hit by the sudden thought that she had Carol here, in the palm of her hands, that in the throes of desire there was a vulnerability to her that people seldom saw.

Carol was on her knees, grinding against Therese shamelessly. She was gripping at the sides of Therese's billowing white shirt, using them as leverage to get just a little bit more friction. If Therese took her right now she knew she would be seconds away from release. She was not far away from that promise and she felt Therese taking the reigns, shifting her weight so that Carol came down with her back on the sofa. Then Therese was kissing her, magnificently slowly, and then building, creeping towards a deep kiss that sent Carol's mind into a pleasure filled dream land. There was something deliciously promising about the way Therese had become so confident, so bold. Carol did not let partners take her, not like this. Ever the control freak, even in the murky blurr of sex, Carol still had to hold onto that sense of control. Not now. Now she was practically panting into Therese's exquisite mouth, finger nails skirting between sharpness against Therese's back. When she felt Therese's hand slip into the warmth and wetness between her legs she lost any ability to keep her composure. She knew that Therese's mouth had disappeared from hers, her lips felt the longing instantly, but she could barely open her eyes, could scarcely acknowledge anything but the way her fingers moved against her wetness teasing her, slipping inside of her.

If Therese had been sleepy she was now wide awake gripped in the thrill of watching Carol in the throes of passion. She was lost in the moment, eyes closed, mouth moving, forming some silent, sacred, pattern. She loved to watch Carol for in doing so she felt her own excitement building. She loved taking her to the edge and then slipping, just shy of touching, so that Carol would groan her disapproval.

"Therese..." Carol's urgent voice groaned. She was close now, so close that she was seeing those lights behind her closed eyes. She couldn't believe the wetness between her legs, how Therese slipped inside of her and she parted her thighs wider to take her in, to guide her deeper inside of her, until she could take it no longer. She held Therese tightly, anchoring herself to the moment, as the waves crashed engulfing her with feeling. She was saying Therese's name, calling out a volley of cries unt she was completely and utterly spent.

------

"Don't eat it!" Therese insisted covering her face with the back of a hand out of sheer embarrassment.

"Nonsense it's still...edible" Carol couldn't quite form the words as she attempted to take a bite of what now amounted to dry dust. "I'm sorry darling. All your efforts...I'm sure it would have been delicious"

Therese laughed heartily. "I think you'd better order a pizza"

Chapter Text

The faint haze of a just rising sun painted the room in sepia tones. Last night, as they climbed in from the balcony, they'd left the curtains ajar and now the light shone in, in a beam. Carol should have stirred twenty minutes ago. She was meeting the executive director of the company and she had planned to be showered dressed and in a taxi in...she glanced at the neon light of her alarm clock...precisely five minutes. But how could she leave with Therese slumbering peacefully beside her? Closer than skin. She kissed the top of her head and reluctantly tore herself away from the younger woman's warmth. She stood in the doorway of the en suite bathroom and paused, lingering on the way Therese sleepily protested and then shuffled over to her side of the bed. 'Carol you are a goner' She admitted.

The shower was hot and Carol indulged in the sensation allowing the water to submerge her closed eyes. It revived her, renewed her and with every droplet spilt she pictured herself in that cab journey to the office. It was as though even mentally she had to separate herself from Therese. Truth be told she felt overwhelmed by her feelings. Past love had always burned strong and then petered out to little more than meaningless sex. Feelings were not ebbing, they were growing stronger each day, and Carol couldn't help but wonder if she were a slave to the way she felt. It felt uncertain. It felt as though she were behaving in ways she had spent her entire life resisting. She was softer. Softer with Therese, kinder in the shadow of love and a part of her felt like she was weakening. Her resolve was weakening and though she felt hesitant she knew the waves of butterflies would always carry her back to Therese. The days of running were surely gone.

-----

"Well Carol I'm impressed" Douglas Conner beamed with a barely repressed smile. He was dressed in an expensive grey suit and he fiddled with a cuff link. "Business has never been better"

"I'm certainly happy to hear that Doug"

"If only it were business as usual for some of our other departments" He sighed and glanced around Carol's office.

"Oh...coffee Doug?"

"Yes, yes please...we have a branch in California that's dying on its knees. Truth be told the director doesn't exactly have your finesse..."

"Therese could you bring in two black coffees..." Her mouth almost drew the shape of the words my darling and her heart gave a momentary pause before it thundered with adrenalin. "You were saying?"

Doug paused in thought before his eyes widened and he moved forward in his chair like a man possessed. "Yes! The Californian branch. It looks like we're going to have to let a few stragglers go. Cut the wheat from the chaff. It's going not going to be pretty"He sighed.

"A real shame" Carol commented though internally she could care less. She was thinking about Therese, warm in bed, this morning. She was excited to see her and it was baffling. How could she be gripped in nervous anticipation when she had seen her mere hours ago?

"Yes. Yes it is" He sniffed again and Carol wondered if he were getting a cold or if his constant sniffling was an omission of nerves. "We thought you might oversee the operation?"

Carol observed him with little emotion. "For how long"

"I shouldn't think it would take more than a few weeks. You'd be compensated handsomely for your efforts" He was smiling now and Carol decided it was unnerving.

Before she had time to answer Therese appeared from behind the doorway rather nervously gripping a silver tray. Her auburn hair had been scraped back into a loose bun and her hazel eyes held the merest suggestion of being panicked. Carol found it adorable, heart warming, and she suddenly became conscious of Doug's presence. Coffee mornings as of late had become a lovers ritual. The smell of roasted coffee beans and the pervading warmth of an embrace. Therese would lean into Carol smiling through a kiss. "Business before pleasure" She'd remind her. And Carol would tell her that she'd thrown away that rule book long ago.

"Do you take milk or sugar Mr Connor"

Doug graced her with a bare minimum of his attention merely mumbling his order as if she were waiting on him. It irked Carol and she wondered if her distaste seeped into her movements? 'What a waste' Carol mused. 'What a waste that Doug could not see true beauty even when it was right in front of his eyes' "So...Carol what's your verdict?"

"It sounds like an attractive offer..."

"And California's beautifully warm this time of year"

Therese straightened suddenly, dashing coffee from the cafetiere onto the silver tray. She couldn't help her mouth widening in shock. California? Could Carol really sit here so casually when she was considering moving impossibly far away? Shock turned to sheer outrage. She knew she shouldn't but as she leaned forward to hand Carol her coffee she fixed her with a glare. "California?" She snapped. She was surprised to see a faint hue of pink aligning Carol's cheeks. It was confirmation that Carol had already made up her mind. Did she really mean so little to her? "I'll leave you now" She said dutifully, turning on her heels with just enough time to register the look of utter confusion on Doug's face.

Therese was seething. The anger was a blessed relief because she knew what lay beneath would be unbearable disappointment. She felt like a fool. For a shocked moment she sat at her desk simply tapping the curve of her lip, over and over again as though the monotony of her movements would help to carve out a sensible thought. She was not thinking sensibly, she was being dramatic and she didn’t care one bit. She wanted to storm back into that room and give Carol a piece of her mind. Hadn’t they moved on from this? Therese couldn’t bear the idea of Carol moving to California without a second glance. Did she really mean so little to her?

--------

Carol should have been furious. Months ago she would have stormed into that office to give Therese a piece of her mind. Not now, not with love changing her from the inside out. At first she had blanched under Doug's scrutiny. It had been a bold move from Therese and Carol couldn't help but smile at the acknowledgement that Therese had presumed she would be relocating to California and that to Therese this was an unbearable prospect.

As Carol curled around the open doorway Therese was furiously typing at the keyboard of her computer. She did not look up and her mouth was fixed in anger. "You could have told me Carol..."

"Therese I don't think you..."

"Please don't tell me what to think! Are you telling me you're leaving or asking me to go?"

Carol couldn't help it. She was motionless, in awe of the passion in her younger lovers eyes. "Do you think I'd leave without you?" Carol gasped with a shake of her head. "Therese..."

"I love you. I want to be with you but in what shape? Is this even a relationship for you?” Therese questioned.

"I don't think that's in question!" Carol exclaimed. She leaned forward gripping Therese's hands in her own, resisting the urge to sigh as Therese attempted to tug away from her grip.

"But are we equals? How could I compete with what you have?"

Carol wondered if Therese had been brewing on this for some time now. "Compete? With what? My money, easy living?"

"It means something" Therese whispered.

Carol scooped a reluctant Therese into her arms, pressing an opened hand to her beating heart. "This means something" She gestured to the beating drum of her heart. "This" She leaned in to kiss Therese delicately. "You've made me happy. Do you know that?"

Therese allowed the ghost of a smile to grace her mouth and she gazed into Carol's achingly soft blue eyes with a tenderness that melted Carol's composure. “Then why didn’t you ask me Carol? Or do you plan to take me with you?” Therese didn’t want to sound like a scolded child but she knew that she did.

"California is just a vacation darling" Carol told her, holding her face between cupped hands. "Just a few weeks. A prolonged business trip"

Therese's cheeks flushed a hot shade of red and her eyes dipped down unable to meet Carol's eye. She groaned outwardly before burying her face in the silk shoulder of Carol's blouse, feeling the light vibration of Carol laughing. “You didn’t think to stop me before I dug a deeper hole?” Therese’s muffled voice could be heard.

“And miss seeing you be so forthright?” Carol impressed, holding Therese to her tightly. When Therese was here, solid and real, wrapped in her arms everything else disappeared. In a split second of seeing the look of utter shock sail across Doug’s face she realised that his opinion of her, of Therese, meant absolutely nothing. Reputation had meant everything to her, and now it was a mere notion. Now, the pleasure she got from Therese’s warmth superseded any of the prestige she had so painstakingly crafted.

“I don’t know what came over me” Therese admitted, she had rested her head on Carol’s shoulder now and was gripping her by the waist.

“I like seeing that fire in your eyes” Carol whispered into her ear placing one, single kiss against her cheek. “Do you know how brave you are? You surprise me, everyday you surprise me” Carol was feeling sentimental and she held Therese, ever so slightly, at arms length so that she could really look at her lovers bashful expression. “You’ve changed me…for the better, you’ve made me feel things, you’ve made me happy. That’s worth more than any fancy restaurant or expensive hotel trip”

Therese smiled broadly. She couldn’t help it, she was smiling so widely that it pinched her cheeks and made her eyes water. “So California then?”

————

“California?” Abby remarked over the brim of her tumbler of whiskey. “Nice work if you can get it Carol” Abby whistled. “And I imagine you’ll be jetting off to California too?” Abby addressed Therese, baffled by the coy expressions on both Carol and Therese’s faces. “What’s this?”

“Nothing” Carol replied but she was smiling and sharing a secret look with Therese. She couldn’t help it. She knew Abby’s mind would be racing but she was still feeling the effects of the long lingering kisses they had shared behind the closed door of her office. Even now she had slipped a hand onto Therese’s knee and had left it there, lingering on the sensation of her warmth. She wanted to be as close to her as humanly possible.

“No separate hotel rooms on the books?” Abby asked with a cocked brow. She was beginning to feel like a gooseberry and she challenged herself to bite back at the air of jealousy that threatened to rear its ugly head.

“We try to be discreet” Carol responded with a wink in Therese’s direction, grinning further to find that a light blush began to line Therese’s cheeks. She could feel those first flexing muscles of desire, stretching, content to enjoy the beginnings of something.

Abby guffawed. “Discreet? I can barely suffer the way you look at each other!” She had a teasing tone to her voice but Carol could see the vague suggestion of annoyance in Abby’s eyes. With a pang of regret she noted that she had neglected her friend and in turn had allowed her to become an unwanted third wheel.

“We’re being insufferable” Carol agreed, allowing the kindness to reach her eyes.

Abby hung onto her annoyance for just a moment longer before she smiled and aquiescesed. “Ignore me. I’m green with envy!”

———————————

Carol watched with lazy eyes as Abby latched onto a pretty redhead, arm in arm they waltzed onto the dance floor giddy with excitement. It was a relief, for Carol to find Abby distracted by somebody else, and without hesitation, Carol allowed her gaze to return to a much more pressing matter. The entire evening Therese had played heavily on her mind. Therese only had to lean in, just that little bit forward, silk blouse gaping to reveal the creamy expanse of her skin, and Carol felt herself swallow hard. She had, had to fight to cling on to Abby’s conversation, finding that she could vain interest even though the swell of Therese’s hips pricked at her senses. She was thinking about those hips in her hands. She was thinking about early mornings when outstretched palms had steadied themselves on those hips, her mouth drinking in the taste of her lover with unabashed pleasure.

“What are you thinking?” Therese challenged. She knew too well what the look in those dizzying blue eyes meant. She had seen that heat gloss over until Carol was misty eyed, lost in another world of possibilities.

“We need to go home” Carol insisted, and she drained her drink with a sense of finality.

Therese contemplated teasing her but she knew she could not wait a moment longer. As Carol grabbed her hand and lead her out of the bar she realised she'd been holding her breath the entire time.

Carol was looking for a cab but the roads appeared to be clear. She stood at the pavement, tutting impatiently, with Therese's hand held in an urgent grip. "I can't wait can you?" Carol asked, glancing over her shoulder at Therese. Therese had an intense look in her eyes and it made Carol hot under the collar. She was thinking about the nearest hotel.

“I don’t know” Therese admitted. She felt wild with want for Carol. Martini after martini had been drained bringing the sexual tension between them to the forefront. She needed just one piece of her, just one lingering touch, anything to give the moment a bit of release. “I feel…” She was overwhelmed and she looked bewildered, lost to the depth in darkening blue eyes. “…I feel beside myself”

“It’s alright” Carol assured her firmly, the breathlessness in Therese’s voice making her radiate heat from within. “Believe me It’s alright" She gripped Therese by the shoulders and held her insistently, trying to affirm that she was caught in the same feeling of desperation. "There's a beautiful hotel on the end of this road" Carol said, leading a dazed Therese by the hand.

The cold of the night was biting but Therese did not know her teeth were chattering until Carol had draped a warm arm around her shoulders. Carol was being chivalrous, and it made Therese feel safe, feel protected. It brought future thoughts to the surface of her mind. Therese living with Carol, never having to leave but instead spending endless mornings in the haven of her favourite place, Carol's bed. She was dreaming of holidays they would take together. Carol, a natural teacher and instructor, showing Therese things that would make her mind bubble with activity. 'I don't think that's in question' Carol's outraged response to Therese asking if she loved her, if she considered this to be a relationship. Was she surprised? That Carol loved her? She had said it many times. Could you love someone and not be with them? Therese didn't know but there was still a faint cloud of uncertainty. Still a fear that the rug would be snatched from beneath her and Carol would somehow change her feelings for her.

Carol was tapping her card impatiently on the counter top of the reception.

"Twin beds?" The receptionist asked.

"I want nothing less than king sized" Carol sniffed and met him with an unwavering look.

"Yes ma'am. Right away" Colour had started at his neck and was working its way to his cheeks. "We have a room with a view of the city. Or a..."

"That will do!" Carol waved a hand impatiently. It was not lost to Carol that Therese had begun to retreat into her own thoughts, she was subdued, the cogs of her brain turning into overdrive. She could feel a sense of melancholy settling over her and she didn't want to delay one more moment.

"Room 214. Shall I escort you?"

"That won't be necessary" Carol snapped and she swore she saw an instant sense of relief change his face. "This way darling" Carol urged, once again slipping her hand into Therese's. They entered the lift and the second the doors closed she had Therese wrapped in her arms, holding her tightly so that her face was nestled against her chest. She was running her hands through Thereses hair, fingertips scraping her scalp until she could see the hairs rising on her neck. "Look at me my darling" She whispered, staring into Therese's eyes, which were deeply green like wet winter leaves. She held Therese's face in her hands willing her to see the power of the feelings she felt for her. "Don't doubt my intentions...I want you. I want to be with you" And then she kissed Therese with a hunger that matched her passion. It was a deep, unrestrained, kiss, the sounds of their mouths meeting, filling the lift, interrupted by the ping of the doors opening. When Carol pulled back she pressed one last lingering kiss to Therese's mouth, acknowledging how flushed Therese's cheeks were and how hot her eyes had become as if in kissing her she had awoken her from a deep sleep. "I'm going to take my time with you" Carol's husky voice echoed through the plush hallways. She opened the door to room 214 and felt Therese close behind, wrapping her arms around her middle before the door had even clicked closed. She couldn't help herself, she smiled widely, covering Therese's hands with her own. She knew there would be a tussle for control this evening.

Chapter Text

"Blissfully hot" Carol welcomed the intense heat with appreciation. She dug around in her handbag and slipped on a pair of chic red shades. "I think I could quite enjoy this climate" She sighed with pleasure.

Therese was wondering if she enjoyed what felt like a tropical change. The shirt she was wearing was buttoned to the neck and she slipped a hand beneath the fabric. It was cloying and she popped open a button with an instant sense of relief. No she had always suffered in the heat but she quite enjoyed seeing Carol basking in the mid day sun.

"There should be a chauffeur" Carol muttered under her breath and she wrinkled her nose before pulling a crumpled cigarette packet from her jacket pocket. "I'll tell you something I'm expecting the red carpet treatment" She turned to face Therese and graced her with a legendary wink.

"I should imagine so" Therese was squinting in the glaring sun and as she took a lit cigarette, gratefully, Carol retrieved another pair of sunglasses leaning in close she carefully propped them onto Therese's eyes. "I'll scratch them!" Therese protested knowing they were expensive.

"Nonsense" Carol challenged, playfully tapping the tip of Therese's nose. "It's been hours since I've been able to kiss you" She lamented, forcing herself to look away as she took a long, drawn out, drag of her cigarette.

"It's an effort to be sensible around you" Therese acknowledged. "To not kiss or hold you or be close to you. Sometimes I forget and I have to physically stop myself from kissing you goodbye or hello..." Therese trailed off as she became aware of Carol's tentative expression. She couldn't help herself from feeling self-conscious.

"I feel exactly the same" Carol reassured her. She allowed a hand to curl around Therese's wrist.

"Mrs Aird?" A well dressed man asked with a sign in his hands which read Carol Aird.

"It's Ms Aird" Carol corrected, allowing her hand to linger on Therese's wrists for an indulgent moment longer.

"Ms Aird" He rephrased with a congenial bob of his head. "Please follow me. I'm Stephen and I'll be your driver for the duration of your stay in California. A beautiful town car has been booked...fully air conditioned of course" Stephen smiled as he appeared to seamlessly take control of their luggage.

"I can take this..." Therese suggested but she was cut off by Stephen's easy smile.

"I wouldn't have it" Stephen insisted politely.

Carol bit back a feeling of irritation. Why did it bother her that Therese felt so uncomfortable with being waited on? She had seen it many times. Everytime they ate in an expensive restaurant Therese would be tentative, awkward and she would blanch under the polite efficiency of staff. It irked Carol. It set her on edge and she didn't know if it were sheer frustration that Therese could not see her worth or the ugly monster of guilt reminding her that she took for granted the finer things in life.

The car was very fine indeed and Carol slipped onto cool leather apholstered seats with an exhale. "Quite something ay Therese?" She asked stroking the middle seat with a hand.

"Can you imagine what the hotel will be like?"

Carol knew Doug would spoil her. She was royally saving his ass and she would be rewarded handsomely for her efforts. She wondered how big Therese's eyes would become once the hotel room came into view. She would wait, impatiently, for the bell boy to disappear and then she would explore the suite lingering on all the added extras with growing fascination.

"I highly recommend this restaurant for brunch" Stephen remarked as they stopped in traffic.

Carol wasn't listening, she was looking at Therese's delicate hands crossed in her lap and thinking about how sweet her perfume smelt. It filled the car with warmth. "Could we have some privacy? It's been a long flight" Carol asked cooly, wanting nothing more than a minute alone with Therese.

"Say no more" Stephen replied good naturedly. The conjoining window between Stephen and the back of the car closed in a minute and Therese couldn't help but feel a trace of guilt.
Before the thought could register further Carol's hands were in her hair drawing her in for a long awaited kiss.

"Carol we shouldn't!" Therese exclaimed shooting a look of concern in Stephen's direction.

"Nonsense" Carol shushed her, batting away her concern. "I need a minute with you" She insisted, teasing Therese closer until she was able to crush her mouth against the younger woman's with a sense of urgency. She loved kissing this sweet mouth more than anything and though she could hear the distant sound of Stephen humming along to a tune on the radio, she didn't care. She needed to be close to her.

"Carol!" Therese exclaimed and she brought two fingers to Carol's pert lips, bridging a gap between them. Just the merest fingertip suggestion of a distance because there was Carol's hand sliding into the back of her hair causing the hairs on the back of her neck to become electrified. "Business before pleasure" It was a relic of a rule. The first to be rendered obsolete when love decided to take the reigns. It was a memory of how things had become, how they'd started, and it made a faint smile pull at the corners of Carol's mouth.

"I think you know we set fire to that rule many office fumbles ago"

Therese liked the word fumble. It made her think of the messy times, the occasions where something would happen between them in the bite of a second and Carol would take risks, snatch fervent moments no matter who was within ear shot. It thrilled and concerned her in equal measure. 'Trust that I know what I'm doing' Carol had insisted once. But how could she? How could her brain register anything but the warm, the wetness of their joined mouths?

"Nevertheless" Therese insisted, leaning back to pat down her now crumpled blouse. She was painted an air of professionalism, which she knew Carol found utterly adorable. "One of us has to keep a calm head"

Carol's smile widened as she reapplied lipstick using the small mirror of her compact. She couldn't help it, she crowed with laughter. "Is that so Miss Belivet?"

Therese nodded her head in contained silence.

"Well then..." She leaned in, her voice a raspy whisper that made Therese's cheeks warm in seconds. "...I hope I can count on loosening that calm head when we're in private" She was thinking of nights with Therese with her head nestled between velvet softness.

It seemed Therese too was sharing similar heated thoughts and Carol watched, with pleasure, as her entire face turned a delightful shade of blush.

-------------

Therese's wide eyes were taking in Carol's lavish suite in amazement. Therese had become used to staying in luxurious hotels, secretly staying, cocooned away like a little stowaway, but this was beyond anything she had ever seen before. There were panoramic views and a balcony with a seating area that was the size of most hotel rooms.

The living room had a hanging chandelier and a staging area with an expansive dining table and ornate chairs. Therese imagined the esteemed people who must have wined and dined the elite in this very room.

As though the bell boy registered the fact that Therese was a mere bystander in this display of opulence he motioned towards her suitcases. "Should I direct you to your room Miss?" He asked, drawing her out of her musings.

"That won't be necessary" Carol answered as she sunk into a cushioned arm chair. She began removing her earrings. "Just leave the card and the room number. She's needed here"

Though Carol's eyes didn't even sparkle with mischief Therese blushed at the secret innuendo hiding in the words 'she's needed here'

The bell boy nodded his head and gave Therese a gentle smile. "It's room 119. I'll be happy to take your luggage..."

"Not necessary!" Carol interjected with a roll of her eyes. How easily she dismissed people and how quickly they listened.

The bell boy shot Therese a sympathetic look. It happened a lot with Carol. People were often afraid to look her in the eye, daunted by the steeliness in those blue orbs. Therese remembered it well. But now Carol looked at her differently. She looked at her with warmth with love and it meant that, sometimes, in mixed company Carol had to avert her eyes.

"Finally" Carol groaned. "I thought he'd never leave!" She kicked off her shoes and sighed with pleasure.

"He was intimidated by you"

Carol shrugged her shoulders. "Shall we have a drink?" She suggested, tiptoeing towards a stocked drinks cabinet. There was a refrigerator and Carol opened it, retrieving a bottle of champagne. "Very nice!" She commented as she glanced at the label. "I have a dinner appointment with the heads of the department a 8" She sighed miserably. "But that leaves ample time for champagne in bed?"

Therese forgot about her distant thoughts of the poor dismissed bell boy, thinking instead of the shape of Carol's milk soft body, the curves of her hips, the v between her thighs. Lost in thought her mouth had parted, ever so slightly, and Carol took the opportunity to allow a fingertip under Therese's chin to playfully close her lips.

-------

"Exquisite" Carol remarked as she leaned in to lap at a pool of champagne on Therese's stomach. She sat back and drank a mouthful from the bottle.

The action was charming to Therese and she felt her stomach turn over with confused excitement. She was lying, nude, in the belly of the largest bed she had ever laid on, legs still like jelly in the aftermath of spilt passion. Despite this, she could feel her body reaching, yearning for more.

Carol glanced over her shoulder at the clock on the wall, cursing under her breath at the time. She knew she had an hour to get ready. One measly hour. Not enough to even whet her appetite. She would be sat in a formal dinner dreaming of returning to this bed. Carol considered detaching herself from Therese's naked body but thought better of it. 'Just another half an hour' her internal voice implored as she parted Therese's thighs.

"Carol..." Therese drawled her name out breathlessly, some vague attempt at a protest.

But Carol only smiled, a smile that did not quite reach her eyes betraying her distraction. She was taking in the lines of Therese's beautiful body, allowing a hand to slip into soft curls closing her eyes to savour the feel of her slick wetness. It reminded Carol of how much she was able to please her and the thought made her own excitement grow in waves. Touching Therese felt like a direct line to her own pleasure and she poured a measure of champagne between her thighs, marvelling at the way it bubbled on her skin, and the way Therese squirmed and writhed in anticipation. She could not hold off a moment longer and she brought her mouth to Therese's heat, lapping, drinking in the taste of her with unrestrained desperation. The noises which seemed to rise from her throat were raw, animalistic, it mirrored how she felt. There was something about being in a different place that made her feel unbridled, excited, and it compelled her to take more risks.

"Oh!" It was Therese's signature sound during their lovemaking. Exultation, surprise, exclaimed in a feminine, beautiful voice that made Carol feel powerful and in control. Therese threaded her fingers into Carol's hair and gripped, opening her thighs wider, willing Carol to all but crawl inside her. She wanted her closer than skin and as she felt her tongue sliding, curving to fit inside of her, she couldn't control the volley of sounds that filled the room. But goodness it felt good to lose total control, to writhe and move against that perfect mouth, striving for the pressure and the contact which would send her spiralling into that wonderful place. Somewhere between total pleasure and insanity. She could feel it mounting now and she tried, hopelessly, to hold it off, to keep the point at bay, simply so she could remain in this moment with Carol between her thighs and inside of her. It was a foolish attempt and soon she was tipping, sliding over that edge, stilled by her grip on Carol's hair, panting desperately into the room until she collapsed in a heap beneath her.

Carol shimmied up the length of Therese's body, acknowledging the fact that her younger lover remained motionless, love stoned. Reluctantly she glanced back at the insistently ticking clock on the wall. She would need to change quickly or she would need to be late. Stroking Therese's cheek with the curl of her knuckles she placed a lingering kiss on Therese's lips. "I'm going to be late" She concluded.

Chapter Text

Carol strode into the ballroom confidently, bag tucked under her arm and a smattering of jewels adorning her neck. She was wearing a slender green, velvet, dress and black heels that gave her a certain bounce in her hips as she walked. Carol was beyond fashionably late, and couldn’t help but enjoy the idea that she had kept them waiting to the point of resentment. Carol reasoned that they would be frustrated, checking their watches, sighing at being made to wait. It was an unintended power move, which would show them clearly that the ball was forever in Carol’s corner.

This restaurant brought back memories of her last days in California. How long had it been? Carol wondered as she spied a group of familiar faces. It must have been almost ten years since she’d worked in the California branch of the department. Back then she had only just begun to carve out a name for herself as a force to be reckoned with. Now her reputation preceded her and she noticed that Terrence and Burt, heads of the department for over a decade, rose to their feet in greeting. Both men were smiling broadly. Carol wondered if they knew that she was here to clean up their messes? They would survive, jobs in hand, by the skin of their teeth but some of their valued colleagues would not be so fortunate.

“Well, well, well…” Terrence remarked, extending his hand in greeting.

Carol accepted it with a firm grip. “Terry. How are you?”

“As well as can be expected” He replied honestly. There was an omission in his words. Perhaps he was expecting Carol to feel a pang of guilt? She didn’t and his expression changed in an instant to feigned appreciation. “I hear you’ve built quite the empire Carol”

Carol bowed her head humbly. “Things are ticking over nicely” She acknowledged. “Please gentlemen, don’t stand on ceremony on my account” She dismissed their faux chivalry with a casual wave of her hands and sat down at the table.

“Our wives are otherwise engaged” Burt remarked, glancing woefully in the direction of the women’s bathroom. “Powdering their noses I expect” He sniffed and sat back in his seat. Could Carol detect the slight puffing out of his chest?

“Still happily married?” Carol asked. She wasn’t in the least bit interested in their personal lives but understood that sometimes she had to play the game of idle conversation.

“Champagne madame?” A waitress asked, interjecting in the tedious conversation.

Carol nodded her head and smiled motioning towards her glass. “Perfection” She said as she watched the champagne fizzle to life at the brim of her glass. In a split second it reminded her of the hotel room where moments ago she had been perfectly positioned between Therese’s thighs. With a pang of disappointment she clinked her glass with Terrence and Burt, wishing miserably that she were back in that hotel room instead of dining with these insufferable bores.

“Still married” Terrence teased with a playful wink. “And you? No male suitors?” His eyes were glimmering now, and Carol knew there was a hidden, unsaid, innuendo in his question. Carol’s reputation as a womaniser had been water cooler fodder in the California branch from the moment she earned her title as a ball busting career woman. As she’d progressed through the ranks she had chosen more discreet liaisons, had fooled herself into believing that she wanted to appear aloof and unobtainable but the truth was even steely, uncompromising Carol had felt the gossip and the nicknames as a chink in her armour. ‘Man hater’ ‘Dyke’ she had heard those words, and worse, uttered in the hushed tones of company gossip.

“No male suitors” She replied with a smile though it never reached her eyes and she realised that she was staring Terrence down, unwaveringly, until he finally looked away in discomfort.

“Ahh here they are” Burt announced as two women arrived at the table. The men stood to attention, greeting the women as though they were long awaited lovers long since parted. “This is Betty” Burt glowed, loosely holding his wife’s hand as she appeared at his side.

“Betty” Carol said with a warm smile, stepping forward to shake her hand cordially. Carol noted the way Burt did not relinquish his wife’s hand, even as Carol greeted her, and she wondered how much fun she could have toying with Burt by flirting, outrageously with his rosy cheeked wife.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Carol” Betty had a smile that reached her eyes and was a plump, beautiful, woman. Carol imagined that Betty saw a different side to Burt, a different side to the sour faced competitive man she had known all these years. Perhaps he was softer with her? Or perhaps she accepted him as the sinfully boring man he was?

“And this is my wife Lucy” Terrence announced, producing his wife with what Carol detected was a sense of pride. It would have made Carol smirk years ago, would have made her see him as a weak man, but now it touched her, and she began to wonder who this woman was? Carol Aird, warmed by Terry’s love for his wife? It didn’t bear thinking about.

“Lovely to meet you” Lucy replied with a nod of her head. She was a tall slight woman and though she smiled it did not reach her eyes like Betty’s did. It was a forced smile and her lips puckered ever so slightly as though she were chewing over a sour taste.

“Shall we sit?” Carol prompted.

“We have one more guest, yet to arrive. Fashionably later than you Carol” Burt said with a wry smile. "Ahh here she is!" Burt was beside himself at this point, grinning from ear to ear as he extended a hand in the direction of a petite woman crossing over to their table. "You remember Mia?"

Carol thought she might have gulped so audibly that it drew the attention of the room. 'Of course' her internal voice mocked. 'Of course' Now Carol remembered why it had been such a memorable summer.

"Carol. It's been an age" Mia greeted her with a knowing, indulgent smile that brought a certain heat to the room.

"Mia" Carol attempted to keep her tone cordial. Hoping she would not betray an ounce of nerves. Carol wondered if Mia mistook her unease for interest? Likely. But the truth was she was thinking of Therese. She was thinking of how expertly Mia had persued her all those summers ago and she was worrying, concerned with how this would make Therese perceive her. The old her. Of course. Therese knew there had been past conquests. If she didn't then the rumour mill at Viso would make light work of that innocence. Carol was, sadly, prolific in her courtship of women. This would be of no surprise to Therese. After all she had been regaled with one or two agonising stories from Abby. But this would be different because in Mia Carol had almost met her match. Therese had not been confronted by any of Carol’s past conquests. There were more than a few still working in different sectors of the department but they were discreet, they had moved on, they did not even acknowledge the past with so much as the sweeping of a curious brow, but Carol knew, from memory that Mia would not be so discreet.

"Well don't you look fabulous" Mia exclaimed appreciatively. She eased herself down next to Terrence and studied Carol with obvious interest. Propping her elbow onto the tabletop she rested her head against a hand and smiled a deep smile.

"You have quite the esteemed reputation Carol. Why when I mentioned your name at the office there was a chorus line"

"All positive I hope Terrence" Carol quipped, smiling lazily despite the fact that her heart was thrumming in her chest.

"Mostly" Terrence replied with a casual shrug of his shoulders before bumping shoulders with Mia conspiratorially.

"Then I'm still doing something right!" Carol teased.

"Now Terry. It's not easy to have friends at the top" Betty remarked seriously. Carol was glad of Betty's remark if only because it distracted her from Mia's close gaze.

"Indeed" The table agreed.

Carol knew that if she just kept talking business then Mia would struggle to carve out space for a private moment. She was still a very beautiful woman, jet black hair and striking blue eyes that seemed exotic somehow. Judging by her closeness to Terrence she had come some distance in the company ranks since Carol had last met her. When Carol worked at the California department many years ago, Mia had worked in advertising and had been lucky enough to have been given a chance to work on a project with Carol. Back then Carol's reputation as being uncompromising and sharp tongued had made working with her an intimidating task for any unseasoned newcomer. Not Mia. Mia had been poised, flawlessly prepared and had undertaken the task without a hint of nervousness. It had unnerved Carol. It had riled her and she had thought of Mia as arrogant and unfeeling. Perhaps Carol wasn't used to seeing a mirror image of herself? Their relationship had been based on competition, and that fire had made its way into the bedroom. A good, long, summer had been spend feuding in the office, and tearing each other’s clothes off in the bedroom. In Mia, there had been no need for romantic interludes. Carol hadn’t the slightest desire to be romantic with Mia, and Carol had been sure the feelings were mutual. It was the reason they had worked, it was the reason that the heat between them had not come in-between their work. And yet, Carol could remember seeing just a glimmer of hurt in Mia’s blue eyes when she had told her that she was transferring away from California.

"When I heard that you'd be back in LA I just had to join this dinner party" Mia was glowing now and was smiling from ear to ear. They had just finished a round of whiskey's and were settling into a more comfortable silence. Betty and Lucy had excused themselves to go to the bathroom and Terrence and Burt were regaling each other with various boardroom antics.

Carol resisted the urge to make a stinging remark. “Is that so?” She asked with an evident sense of disinterest. Drinking down the last remnants of her whiskey she began to wonder how swiftly she could make her exit without Mia making any attempts to keep her company.

“You’re looking wonderful Carol” Mia remarked as she leaned in, ever so slightly, allowing a hand on the tabletop to remain just inches away from Carol’s. “You’ve always been a tremendously good looking woman” Mia was sizing her up now, allowing her eyes to take in every inch of Carol appreciatively. “Why don’t we have a night cap?” Mia suggested glancing in the direction of Terrence and Burt who mights as well have been on their own planet. ‘Damn them’ Carol thought hopelessly. What a fat lot of use they were, deeply engrossed in conversations that were tedious yet impenetrable.

“I have an early start” Carol replied not looking Mia in the eyes. “In fact I’m going to have to call it an early night I’m afraid” She added cordially.

“Nonsense” Mia insisted. “It’s your first night here…we can’t allow Carol to leave before a night cap can we?” Mia asked the table, finally attracting the attention of Terrence and Burt.

“Absolutely not! For heavens sake the nights on the company. It would be a shockingly poor show if we didn’t rinse the account just a little” Burt interjected.

“By all means paint the town red. I’m afraid I’m struggling with a bit of a jet lag. I’m not a good flyer!" Carol insisted, knowing full well that they would relent.

"Some other time then?" Mia asked with one perfectly cocked eyebrow. She rose alongside Carol, followed closely by Terrence and Burt.

"Thank you for a lovely evening"

"It's a pleasure to have you back" Mia replied leaning in to press a kiss against Carol's cheek. The close contact felt unavoidable and Mia gripped her, gently, by the wrist whispering in her ear "I'm looking forward to getting to know you again"

——————

When Carol returned back to the hotel room she was met with total silence, save for the distant hum of activity emanating from surrounding rooms. Somehow she was pleased to have a little background noise. She kicked off her heels and stood in the doorway of the bedroom.

Therese had bundled herself in a mass of duvet covers, bottom just peeking out as she gripped the weighty material between her thighs. She was sleeping on Carol's side and it made Carol's heart lurch, almost painfully, in her chest. Carol watched a moment longer before deciding to smoke a cigarette and drink a beer on the balcony.

The balcony greeted her with a view of the city, lit up like a private light show. The night view thronged with activity and yet as she lowered herself down into the mouth of a chair she found that she had a moment of utter stillness. Carol didn't want it. Carol didn't appreciate the peace because her mind was racing with a volume of thoughts. Truth be told Mia was a reminder of who she'd been before Therese. It was an odd thought, an odd tie to the past ,and she was beginning to wish she had never made the decision to uproot their lives, even temporarily. It dawned on Carol that she was in unchartered territory. Carol Aird did not do relationships and yet here she was, desperately in love and feeling unsure how how to be. She stubbed out her cigarette and returned to the stillness of the bedroom. Slipping out of her velvet dress she kicked her shoes to the side and slipped onto the bed, beside Therese, allowing the full lines of her body to curve against Therese’s.

“Carol” Therese mumbled, voice still heavy and thick with sleep.

“Did I wake you my darling?” Carol whispered, pressing a kiss against the delicate shell of Therese’s ear.

“How was the dinner?”

Carol paused for a long moment. Wouldn’t it be as simple as retelling the story? They could laugh about the absolute absurdity of Mia’s arrogance and confidence, and be thankful that it was a different Carol Aird in a vasty changed California? “Uneventful” Carol eventually replied, shaking her head at herself. Even though she knew it was worse to lie, made it look like she had something to hide, Carol just couldn’t quite bring herself to talk about Mia. Holding Therese close she reasoned that it was only out of a want to protect Therese from the past, even though in the back of her mind she knew it was nothing more than self-protection.

Chapter Text

The Viso offices in California were sprawling, a white high rise building with blooming leaves along one side, tendrils of green appearing to reach out into the hot California sun.

Carol stepped out of the town car and placed her sunglasses on the bridge of her nose. It felt as though she were gearing up for a fight and that this, somehow, was part of her ritual. Carol knew there would be a fight, a fight for the last scraps of dignity, to hold on, at any cost, to some sense of ownership even on a sinking ship. This part she could master as easily as she put on a pair of sunglasses, it was the other fight that unnerved her. Not just the Mia’s, not just the Terrence’s and Burt’s, but the nagging doubts of past history. Carol couldn’t help but fear that her old reputation would come back to bite her.

“Ready?” Therese asked gingerly. She was an expert in knowing Carol’s every mood. To the untrained eye it may have appeared as posturing, but Therese sensed there was a tension hanging in the air, and it put Carol on edge.

Carol nodded her head but didn’t say a word. In a split second she had packaged all of that nervous energy into total aloofness, striding through the large expansive doors to the building, with Therese in tow.

As they neared the reception desk two receptionists appeared poised like waiting cats, as though they had memorised a photo of Carol and were waiting for the right moment to leap into action. “Ms Aird, we’ve been expecting you” A young receptionist beamed. “Welcome to Viso”

Carol bit back the urge to make a comment about this not being her first rodeo, but instead settled on a congenial nod of her head. “This is my assistant Miss Belivet. See that she is taken care of in my absence”

Therese didn’t know why but she felt a blush begin to rise to her cheeks and as she smiled at the two beaming women she felt as though they knew that she was intimate with Carol.

“Absolutely. We’ve prepared an office for you, for the duration of your stay. There’s ample room for Miss Belivet to work beside you, or we can arrange for an office down the hall…”

“That won’t be necessary” Carol insisted with a raised hand. Carol had seen the blush rise to Therese’s cheeks and resisted the urge to make a quip about their working in close quarters, knowing Therese would be furious and would blush a deep red. “I have a lot of work to do ladies” Carol reminded them.

“We’ll show you to your office immediately Ms Aird”

“Please call me Carol” Carol insisted.

 

Carol’s office was impressive not just in its size but also in its decor. A large mahogany desk was positioned beside a wall of interactive computer screens which stretched from floor to ceiling. There was an expansive view of the city and a hidden door amongst the panes of glass which led to a balcony. ‘Perfect when the temperature drops and you need some fresh air’ Beth, one of the receptionists, said as Therese wandered around the office with a face filled with admiration. Carol watched as she surveyed the room with a child like glee, stroking the textured wallpaper in an alcove of the room which held a smaller desk, no doubt designed for an assistant or secretary. Carol mused that she would get very little done with Therese positioned across from her. Carol could picture it now, looking on as Therese would sink into her contented day dreams biting idly at the tip of a pen as her imagination conjured up delights. How many of those delights involved Carol?

“I’ll leave you to acquaint yourselves” Beth smiled. “Carol, though you are not in need of an assistant, Mr Lockmere has spared his assistant for the morning to get Miss Belivet up to speed”

Carol nodded her head. “Fine, fine…” She trailed off with a flippant hand. Truth be told she wanted some alone time with Therese before she became engrossed with the task at hand. She was thinking about the dinner last night, and the lie she had told her in the early hours of this morning. She had not lied to Therese since they had officially become lovers, and the truth sat in her chest like a shard of ice.

As Beth politely excused herself Carol went to the door and closed it, leaning against it in the hope that it would somehow will away any curious visitors. “Well, what do you think?”

“It’s a beautiful office” Therese remarked looking around the room again with appreciation. “Much bigger than your office in New York” Therese dared to jibe, she could make these comments and more at her Carol.

Carol grinned. “I’ll say. I’m going to be having words”

“There’s a nervous energy in the building”

Carol considered this. Therese had a knack for sensing a mood, a tone, of picking up the sadness and emotions of people. It meant that people felt understood in her presence, immediately put at ease by her, and yet Carol worried that some of her gift led her to melancholy. Was she picking up Carol’s nervous energy? “Well darling everyone is on edge”

Therese nodded before replying “I feel on edge”

Carol looked across the room at her as she was perched clumsily on the edge of her new desk, green eyes cloudy with a heavy emotion.

“It feels like we have to write the rules all over again. At home we know the patterns and the routines so we can take risks…I know that everybody goes for lunch at 12.30 pm so I…” She trailed off with that light pink returning to her cheeks and Carol was transfixed, half looking at Therese’s expression, half thinking about all the kisses and the clinches.

“Why don’t you let me worry about that?” Carol suggested, beckoning her over with an extended arm.

Therese couldn’t help herself, feet taking her to stand in front of Carol even though all rational thought reminded her that Carol didn’t exactly keep a clear head in such matters. Then Carol had her in her arms, gripping her impossibly tight, and all worries about being caught disappeared from her mind. She gripped the lapels of Carol’s jacket kissing Carol fiercely. There was something about being in a new place that felt reminiscent of the past, when the first stirrings of an affair had begun. It had felt illicit, existing, and now Therese was remembering all of that with the safety of knowing they were so much more than lust. They meant more to each other than the lust.

Therese physically backed herself away even as Carol protested, attempting to reach out and grab something tangible, to pull Therese back into another embrace. But Therese was insistent, smoothing down wrinkles in her shirt unseen by the naked eye. “One of us has to be sensible and I think we both know it isn’t going to be you!”

“Miss Belivet do you question my intentions?” Carol was smiling, but could not help but bring a hand to her mouth which felt the aftermath of Therese’s bold kisses.

Therese had returned to her desk and was organising stationery. “I know all about your intentions Ms Aird”

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“Carol” Burt greeted her with great enthusiasm entering the room to steadfastly shake her hand. “You look right at home”

“Just getting to grips with things. Burt some of this paperwork is shocking”

Burt nodded his head sagely. “Grant was let go yesterday” He offered as some kind of penance for what had probably been a lack of oversight from higher up, from Burt himself. Burt was a thin, sallow looking man, with a moustache and a smile that never quite reached his eyes. Carol couldn’t help but see him as smarmy, slimy, allowing other employees to fall by the way side, whilst he kept his job. Albeit with a tremendous dent to his ego. What an embarrassment it must be to have a woman return to clear up his mess.

“I imagine there will be more than a few losses” Carol replied, looking Burt directly in the eye.

“The nature of business” Burt said wistfully. “Now we have an all corporate meeting at 5pm, where you’ll be formally introduced to the company. My assistant will be by shortly and get your secretary up to speed”

“My assistant is called Therese Belivet” Carol responded with a cool tone, casting her eyes in Therese’s direction who stood waiting on ceremony. It irked Carol that Burt did not even spare a single glance in her direction, and it irked Carol further to note that she had been just as dismissive and rude in the past. “Therese why don’t you come over here and introduce yourself?” Carol suggested.

Therese had been happy to hang back in the shadows. She was used to the way things worked in corporations like this. It amazed her how invisible you became when you were bottom of the corporate ladder, at times overlooked, worst forgotten about entirely. Therese knew Carol was doing this, changing things, because she loved her and couldn’t bear the indifference people directed towards her, but Therese worried that in making her more visible it somehow put a spotlight on their relationship. “Nice to meet you” Therese smiled, taking in Burt’s harassed expression. Burt’s mouth puckered into a smile but Therese sensed it was forced, and a pain to register on his already stressed complexion. Burt did not have time for trivial pleasantries, but he forced himself for Carol’s benefit.

“How do you do Miss Belivet? I trust California is treating you well?”

Therese thought about her morning swim in crystal blue seas and the snatched moments she had, had drying off on the sandy beach. Even after a long hot shower she had still found traces of the sea and sand in her hair. “Very well” Therese replied simply, knowing that Burt did not care if she was enjoying California in the slightest.

“Carol I trust I’ll see you at 3pm?”

“Burt you will find that I am meticulous and punctual. Things may have become shoddy here but I run a tight ship in New York” Carol stung, unable to help herself from delivering a barb in the slender mans direction.

Burt did not take the bait but instead painted a good natured smile on his face. Despite the show he was putting on Carol could see the beads of perspiration on his forehead. “Carol…Miss Belivet” Burt bid his farewells and turned on his feet, promptly leaving the room.

Therese didn’t say a word but Carol could see her discomfort in the subtle shrug of her shoulders.

“He’s a snivelling weasel!” Carol exclaimed.

“I don’t doubt it…” Therese couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for the man. Behind his pride she could only imagine he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. “…you worked together?”

Carol was looking out at the balcony now. She both loved and loathed Therese’s ability to make her see the good in everybody. It did not do to have feelings in business, it meant making decisions of the heart and not the mind. “Many years ago”

“Was he a weasel then?”

Carol couldn’t help but smile at the sound of Therese calling Burt a weasel. “That and worse!”

“What were you like then Carol?” Therese asked, regretting the question when she saw the way Carol’s shoulders tensed and her movements came to a crashing halt. Therese could see the tension in Carol. California did not seem like a fond memory to the older blonde, she was on edge, defensive, and it made Therese wonder what had happened here to make her so cold? Therese wanted to know the truth of things, desperately wanted to piece together the beginnings of Carol. They were happy, more than happy, but Therese knew that Carol remained unyieldingly guarded about her past.

There was a knock at the door and Carol breathed a sigh of relief, letting go of a sharp intake of air that had been pinching her chest. “Come in” Carol beckoned. Much to her relief a slim, red headed woman entered the room looking sheepishly in Carol’s direction.

“Ms Aird? I’m Mr Lockmere’s assistant. I’m here to meet Miss Belivet?”

————————————————————————————————————-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“I’ll give you the guided tour” Rachel said with a genuine smile. Rachel had relaxed the moment they had left the grand office and Therese knew that this was because people found Carol so intimidating.

“It’s a big building” Therese remarked as they passed office after office. Most rooms were made entirely of glass, and it made Therese feel exposed like every pair of eyes she passed were taking her in, wondering who she was. It wasn’t like working in New York at all, and for the first time since they had landed in this balmy heat she missed the streets of New York.

“You’ll get used to it!” Rachel directed them to the kitchens on the fifteenth floor. “Good strong coffee makes the day seem more bearable!”

Therese nodded in agreement. “Do you enjoy working here?”

Rachel shrugged her shoulders. “It has it’s moments and perks…but it’s not easy working with these kind of people. I’m sure you know that all to well!”

Therese did not respond immediately.

“There are lots of rumours about her…” Rachel finally said as she set about making coffee. “…apparently she is completely uncompromising. Worse even than the men at the top”

Therese did not think this was a fair comparison, coming from a woman who must know the extra pains it took to be recognised in this field. It was hard not to bristle at her comments and she resisted the urge to bite back in Carol’s defence. The truth was Therese wanted to know more about Carol, about the old Carol. “She is very well respected in New York”

“But feared?”

Therese nodded her head because it was the truth.

“I’ve heard that she left to go to New York because she was disgraced” Rachel had an excitement in her eyes, which sparkled to life as she bestowed Therese with office gossip. “She had quite a few affairs…”

Therese felt her face flush a deep red and was grateful to busy herself with finding the milk. “Is that so?”

“With men and women!” Rachel exclaimed with raised brows. “Apparently she was prolific.”

This was not news to Therese neither a surprise to her ears. Carol was a confident lover and she had pursued Therese expertly. Therese knew that such dalliances did not happen on the spur of the moment. No Carol knew exactly what she was doing, when to act, when to move in just that little bit too closely, what to say and how to woo. Carol was not so deftly skilled when it came to matters of the heart. When things had become more complicated Carol had been completely and utterly out of her depth.

“She ate them up and spat them out again!” Rachel handed Therese a tray with the coffee, milk and sugar. “You’d better watch yourself” Rachel replied, bumping shoulders with her conspiratorially.

————————————————————————————————————

“Why don’t you go back to the hotel room?” Carol suggested, noting the way Therese’s eyes looked heavy. The jet lag felt like a weight of tiredness and it left Carol feeling discombobulated.

“And have you back at the hotel later than you’ll already be?”

“Darling, it won’t do for us both to be here utterly exhausted. Go home and have a sleep” Carol spoke softly with tenderness and she crossed over the Therese stroking the tip of her nose and pressing a chaste kiss to her soft mouth. Therese’s eyes closed at the sensation of the light kiss, she could feel sleep willing her and she was dead on her feet.

“It won’t look right…” Therese reasoned.

“Never mind about that…” Carol kissed her again, giving into the sensation of cupping her soft cheek in her hand. “…you’re getting dark circles under your eyes”

“We have to be more careful Carol” Therese whispered, though she did not move from Carol’s embrace. She was thinking about Rachel and about the office rumour mill. ‘She was disgraced’ it made Therese feel protective, made her conjure up a Carol who was vulnerable.

“We will” Carol assured her, pressing one last lingering kiss to Therese’s achingly soft mouth before she took a step back and put some distance between them. “When I get back we can order room service”

“I’d like that” Therese was already lost in thoughts of the two of them draped in covers and lounging in the largest bed she had ever slept in.

“Off you go my darling” Carol gave her one last lingering look before she returned to her desk. The suggestion for Therese to leave early was a calculated one. Carol wondered if Mia or a few relics from her past might be in attendance at the all staff meeting and she reasoned that she was not quite ready to face that trip down memory lane, not yet.

Chapter Text

Carol was not nervous. Truth be told she thrived on situations like this and as she watched the hall fill up with new faces she busied herself with reading the tone of the room. Majoritively male. No changes there, Carol thought. As per Viso tradition those at the very top were seated at the front safely cordoned away from the lower hanging fruit. There was a nervous tension in the air, and as the number of people swelled so too did the sound of mindless chatter.

They had erected some kind of makeshift podium, and Burt and a few other poe faced men stood to the side sweating under the harsh din of the indoor lighting. She was glad Therese was not here, not just to save her an early introduction to Mia, though she was nowhere to be seen to Carol’s naked eye, but because she would hate this type of event with a passion. She would be seated far away, day dreaming and snatching glances at Carol as she manoeuvred around the stage expertly. Carol knew Therese both lusted after and loathed this part of Carol, the part of the ice maiden, the career minded cold person she knew she had to be at times. Sometimes Carol would catch her flinching slightly when she took an employee to task, and yet there were occasions when Therese would become hot under the collar. Perhaps it were the memory of their hot and heavy beginnings.

“If I can have some quiet please” Burt bellowed. The chatter in the room ebbed away to total silence. “As many of you know we have Ms Aird, head of Viso in our New York branch with us. Ms Aird is well established in New York and will be working with us in California for a number of weeks…”

Working with us? Cleaning up your messes! Carol thought, noting the way Burt appeared to skirt away from the real reason Carol was here, to take names, make losses and fix messes.

“…Ms Aird began her professional career at Viso in this very same branch and we are very happy to welcome her back” Burt was grandstanding now, buttering her up, and Carol couldn’t help but smirk. “Ms Aird, though you need no introductions” Burt announced, welcoming Carol to the podium.

“Thank you Burt and thank you for your hospitality. Now...” Carol got to business without hesitation. She was not here to be liked, or even respected. She was here to do a job in a finite amount of time and it did not pay to make false niceties when she was about to take part in a very messy business. A very messy business indeed. Carol had begun to painstakingly and meticulously go through the books. Despite her reputation as a non nonsense ice queen in the boardroom she had been able to at least barter an attractive severance package. It meant two things, those on the chopping board were at least graced with some sense of dignity and short term financial security, and some might be saved by colleagues who were already experiencing itchy feet. “...it will, I would hope, be no surprise to all of you that this branch is on uncertain footing...for a multitude of reasons...” Carol cleared her throat and allowed the room to breathe with insinuation. “...sadly there will be losses. We will endeavour to make as little waves as possible but unfortunately we are in uncertain times and for the future of this branch we need to think economically. I have been tasked with a thorough consideration of current circumstances and developing a severance package, which I assure you, though small mercies, will be an attractive one. Once the severance package has been completed I urge any of you who have other options...consider meeting with me. Your cooperation WILL be rewarded handsomely” Carol could see the front row collectively breathing a sigh of relief. The mention of a severance package would now doubt ease the guilt of those who had the gumption to care about the fates of their colleagues. “We have much work to do and I would appreciate your cooperation in challenging times. My office is on the fifteenth floor. Do not hesitate to knock on my door” Carol knew that few would take her up on her offer but the sentiment would at least create some sense of care. “I look forward to meeting with you”

There was some smattering of applause and Carol returned the podium to Burt with little more than a backwards glance.

——————————————————————————

Carol eased herself into the leather seats of the company car, relieved to feel the coolness of the AC. Damn this eternal heat, she thought as the car made its way to her waiting hotel room. It was 7pm and Carol wagered that Therese would be on the balcony with a book, a beer and a cigarette. Therese could not resist the allure of the outside world and no matter where they traveled Carol always made sure the room had a balcony. She loved the idea of Therese always being there when she returned from work. It was ironic how much she craved a sense of traditionalism in an otherwise untraditional setting. Though it was problematic for Therese, Carol found a certain enjoyment in being the provider. How things had changed. Before Therese, money had been a mere string in her bow. Wining, dining and then casting her conquests aside as quickly as they had come into her life. Now she loved the fact that her money afforded them great views, interesting places to see, and that look Therese got in her eye when she encountered a new experience. It was why Carol felt so hesitant about her past colliding with the present. She was not the Carol of previous days and she wanted to protect Therese from meeting all the people she had possibly wronged along the way. More than that she didn’t want Therese to know that she had struggled, been humiliated, and weakened by her past. Carol had quite the reputation in these ranks, and it was more than her dalliances with women, it was more than her steeliness and coldness. If the walls of that building could talk they would tell a tale of failed marriage, affairs and Carol drinking away her problems in the arms of women and with the emptying of a whiskey glass. Was it so wrong to want to remain the Carol she saw reflected in Therese’s eyes?

———————————————————

Carol kicked off her heels and sighed luxuriously.

“Long day?” Therese asked, emerging from the open balcony door. “I took the liberty of ordering us a couple of dry martinis”

Carol had eased herself down into the waiting mouth of an armchair and was rubbing her feet which remained hidden beneath black tights. “Did you now?” There was a hidden meaning in Carol’s tone and they both remembered the thrill associated with dry martinis.

Therese handed Carol a martini before sinking to her feet and easing the pair of tights she was wearing from her hips to her slender ankles. Therese massages tired feet enjoying the sight of the blonde sipping a martini and allowing her head to bob back with pleasure.

“Divine” Carol gasped, giving into the sensation of nimble fingers working away the stress and kinks of the day.

You’re working so hard” Therese said, hands moving over the delicate outline of Carol’s ankles.

“They’re working me very hard” Carol complained, enjoying the attention this granted from her younger lover. She was not against basking in sympathy, especially not with that twinkle in Therese’s eyes. Carol knew that spark, had been on the receiving end of its intentions many times, and right now she wanted nothing more than a dry martini and Therese’s mouth between her thighs.

“You need to wind down after a busy day” Therese added, smoothing Carol’s skirt up until it bunched at her hips and exposed green silken underwear. Therese couldn’t help the excitement that sprung forth, it painted her cheeks pink and made the blood course through her veins. She loved the way Carol’s underwear was as immaculate, as pristine and stylish as the outfits she wore. It made Therese feel that she wore it with her in mind and the idea made her excited. Therese eased underwear down until it came to rest at Carol’s ankles. She looked up meeting blue eyes that were darkened with desire. Therese likes the idea of Carol watching her, she liked seeing the heat rising to her eyes and she coveted the closeness it brought her. Even in a packed boardroom meeting Therese knew exactly how to move, what to wear, to bring that look to the surface. It made her feel attractive and wanted. It’s how she felt now, at Carol’s knees kissing the delicate softness of her thighs. Therese was going to make Carol feel as relaxed as she could possibly be and her hands slipped between warm thighs, taking her time to allow her fingertips to dance dangerously close. It was more than Carol could bear and despite herself she shuffled closer, to the edge of the armchair straining, arching closer to those fingers.

Carol gripped one arm of the chair, her forgotten martini balanced perilously on the other arm. Carol didn’t care if it came crashing down to the carpeted floor. Not when Therese’s fingers were moving along the delicate curls between her thighs. Therese was being frustratingly gentle and it was making Carol squirm and groan out into the room. “I want you inside of me” She urged with a bite of insistence. It was not a begging remark it was a demand and she covered Therese’s tentative hand with her own, pressing it tightly against her with the added friction rewarding her with the first tremors of pleasure. Oh she needed her in the worst way and she was not above speeding her along.

Therese felt herself becoming hotter at the sight of Carol, and at the urgency of the hand covering hers. She could feel her pulse between her thighs and it set her body on fire. She allowed one further moan of frustration to pass Carol’s lips before her fingers slipped into the wetness that awaited her.

Carol was looking down, watching, she allowed a hand to slip to the back of dark silken hair and gripped a handful in a closed palm. She could not take her eyes off of her. It added to her excitement and when she felt Therese’s achingly soft mouth in unison, she allowed her head to fall back and the martini to fall to the ground with a clatter.

Carol did not register Therese slipping onto her lap at first. Not until she nestled her face into the crook of her neck. She was tracing invisible patterns against the material of her blouse and it was all Carol could do to breathe.

“Do you feel completely relaxed?” Therese asked, covering the knowing smile on her face. Therese slipped a hand into the pocket of Carol’s suit jacket and retrieved a crumpled packet of cigarettes.

“I don’t think I could be anymore relaxed unless I was horizontal!”

Therese’s smile deepened. “That could be arranged” She teased as she lit two cigarettes and placed one between Carol’s purses lips.

“Quite the ambush we have on our hands Miss Belivet”

Sometimes I have to take matters into my own hands. You don’t take breaks, you don’t slow down” Therese reminded her. “If we’re going to be living in this hotel for weeks...if you’re going to be working late then I’m going to have to be creative”

“Yes Ma’am” Carol still had the clinging remnants of being love stoned and it found its way into her voice, softening her features.

They laid there together for a long moment. Both women were duelling with thoughts in their heads, wondering whether to share, whether to ask.

“Do you remember people from when you worked here Carol?” Therese finally asked. Why did it feel like the question was a loaded one? Therese was thinking about the gossip Rachel had shared in the kitchen. Why was Carol still relevant after so many years. Therese was curious and she wanted to piece together a picture of who Carol had been then. Maybe it would explain the Carol she had first met.

Quite a few. It’s like Groundhog Day”

“Nothing has changed?”

“Hardly” Carol scoffed. “It’s like a time warp in this place”

“It doesn’t feel like you have fond memories of your time here” Therese spoke softly.

Carol inhaled and it did not go unnoticed by Therese. Carol marvelled at how honest, how open, Therese was and it was hard not to feel herself softening, especially with Therese in her arms. “I don’t have fond memories” Carol admitted, trying with all her might not to set her jaw tightly.

Therese sensed that she was in unmarked territory, feeling Carol tense beneath her. She would take her time and wait for Carol to leave her little crumbs of memories, she knew that she would. Carol had spent so many years with her worries unchecked and now she had Therese and her patient, caring, eyes urging her to share, to offload. It would only be a matter of time.

Chapter Text

Carol?” A familiar voice enquired.

Carol remained glued to the spot. Of course she was here. Of course. Carol thought of Therese in the room, and knew she had made a very stupid mistake.

“I’ve never known you to be shy Carol” Mia smiled a secret, knowing smile and entered the office striding towards Carol determinedly. “You didn’t think I’d miss out on an opportunity to see you again, did you?” She reached out and smoothed a crease in the forearm of Carol’s silk blouse. “We didn’t get a chance to talk properly at dinner. You seemed perfectly stunned to see me Carol” Mia was grinning broadly.

“I didn’t know you’d be there” Carol replied cooly, finally getting her bearings.

“You didn’t ask after me?”

“After all these years?” Carol couldn’t help but smirk.

“After all these years. Don’t try to tell me you’ve forgotten about me” Mia whispered, leaning in ever so slightly to gently grip Carol’s forearm with a curled hand.

Carol gulped, noting how sweet Mia's perfume was. Not at all like Therese’s. Therese wore scents that were replicas of nature, striking smells of flowers and greenery, exciting and engulfing. Mia smelt like vanilla pods and honeyed almonds, and it was not Therese, not at all like Therese. As though her brain churning Therese’s name over and over again pulled her out of some day dream, Carol stepped back and folded her arms across her chest. “I’m taken” She replied with an air of finality.

Mia was grinning now, from ear to ear and she leaned back against Carol’s desk. “I won’t believe it”

"I'm taken" Carol insisted, literally giving Mia the cold shoulder.

 

Therese sat at this unfamiliar desk stunned into silence. She could not believe the gall of this woman who had strode into Carol's office with an air of forcefulness. But more than that she was stunned into silence by Carol's words. 'I'm taken' The words spoken so deftly, so forcefully that it pricked at Therese's senses. Therese was used to people, women and men, finding Carol attractive.It was an everyday occurrence for people to be emboldened enough to make a pass at her. Always, Carol was gracious, charming but today she was cold , aloof, and it unnerved Therese.

"I won't believe it" Mia all but purred, sitting on the edge of Carol's desk so that her skirt rode up ever so slightly. "The great Carol Aird?" Mia wiggled her eyebrows and laughed gently.

"Believe it" Carol replied tersely. Carol's attention to the computer screen before her was focused and not once did she allow her gaze to wander.

Therese sat perfectly still. She couldn't help but feel a shot of jealousy, like adrenaline, making her heart race. This woman hadn't even acknowledged her prescence and Therese wondered how far she would push it, how forward she would become even with company in the room.

"Well..." Mia slid off of the desk top walking in high heels to stand, towering, over a seated Carol. "...out of sight out of mind?" Mia suggested with a coy smile. She spoke so quietly that Therese had to strain to hear her.

"Mia..." Carol finally met her gaze now and Therese could see she was flustered even as the coolness made her blue eyes like shards of ice. "...I have a lot of work to do in very little time"

Mia appeared satisfied with this response. She straightened up, keeping Carol's gaze as she beamed a knowing smile. "It's still business before pleasure is it?"

Therese felt her heart thud back to life at the pace of a galloping horse. She couldn't believe her ears. 'Business before pleasure' Rule number one. The most important rule of all. Then there was Carol's voice in her head reminding her that they had set fire to that rule book long ago. She was caught directly in the storm of feeling like their relationship had been built on the back of well oiled lines, dolled out to all of Carol's admirers, and a sense of acknowledging that maybe, just maybe Therese was different.

"I'll see you at the meeting will I?" Mia said, her body curved elegantly around the door frame.

Carol only waved a hand irritatedly, eyes never looking up from their task. She remained like this for long moments.

"She's certainly brazen!" Therese finally spoke, piercing the silence of the room. "Why didn't you tell me Carol?" Therese implored.

Therese was not looking at her, and
she was glad of it, because she didn't know if she could handle seeing those bruised green eyes. "Come again?"

Therese sighed and finally fixed Carol with a despairing look. "Mia"

"What about her?"

Therese rolled her eyes. "You didn't tell me that you'd been intimate "

"I didn't think it was important darling"

You didn't think I deserved a heads up? Honestly Carol for an intelligent woman you can be incredibly naive sometimes" Therese snapped, coming to stand before Carol if only to force her to look in her direction.

Carol fought hard to resist the smile that was threatening to form on her face. Therese would be furious, enraged, but Carol couldn't help herself from admiring Therese's renewed ability to put her in her place. Carol turned slightly away from Therese's gaze. "I didn't know what to do" Carol admitted and her shoulders sagged slightly with the strain.

Therese was watching Carol's demeanour and thinking about how tense she had looked with Mia in the room. "Why didn't you tell me Carol?" Therese was behind Carol now with a hand on her shoulder, acknowledging the way she flinched ever so slightly from the contact. When Carol sighed deeply Therese could feel it running through her fingertips.

"I don't know" Carol admitted. She was glad to have Therese behind her, outside of her vision. "She was at the dinner the other night and I ran out of there as quickly as possible"

"You didn't think you could resist her?" Therese dared herself to ask.

Carol tensed and turned on her heels to face her. "There hasn't been another woman since you" Carol had set her jaw tightly, unable to keep the frustration from her voice. "I have NO interest in her"

"Then why hide?” Therese asked gently, allowing her eyes to soften at the look of upset framing Carol’s face.

Carol contemplated this question. “I don’t know…” She admitted with a deep exhale. “…I...” This was not Carol Aird. Carol Aird did not get misty eyed, she was no coward. Carol mentally scoffed at her own thoughts. Had she been anything but a coward these past ten years? Looking at the softness in Therese’s eyes she couldn’t help but remind herself that for the first moment since they’d arrived in California she was finally being brave. “...I hate who I was when I worked here” She finally admitted, breathing the words out with feeling. It was a relief. A relief for Mia to out her past. “I’ve allowed myself to become unfeeling, hateful. I stopped caring about people. I didn’t want you to see that part of me”

Therese nodded solemnly in understanding. She would not tell Carol that she had known the cold side of her so many heartbeats, and raised pulses, before she had thawed, even enough, to convey the desire in her eyes. Therese did not know why but she had known there was something else, something beneath the service, that told her Carol was worth the uncertainty. “Carol...” Therese stepped forward and brought her hands to Carol’s face, she cupped the softness of her cheeks in her outstretched palms and pressed a soft, featherlight, kiss to Carol’s uncertain mouth. “...I love you. Isn’t it painfully obvious? Nothing could change how I feel about you but I need you to be honest with me. I need you to share things with me”

“I want to share things with you” Carol insisted. Carol was admonishing herself for being such a fool. Hiding from her past had gotten her nowhere. And yet even with Therese standing here with an open heart and love in her eyes Carol knew that she could not match her openness. Carol knew Therese had a past too, she wore a sadness in her eyes that told her she had been bruised so many times. Yet Therese had not grown cold but had, impossibly, softened becoming kinder, and more loving, in the face of pain.

“That’s enough for me” Therese whispered before resting her head into the softness of Carol’s neck, breathing in the sweetness of her hair. ‘For now’ Therese’s mind added in a beat. For now it was enough to have Carol tight in her arms. Carol was yielding, in her own way, she was giving parts of herself to Therese.

“Let’s get back to the hotel” Carol said with a quiet softness in her voice. She could not say anymore. It was too much in this moment but she wanted to be close to Therese, to show her how she felt in familiar ways. It was all she knew.

Chapter Text

Carol had woken, hours, before Therese that morning and had taken a coffee out onto the balcony. There was a dry heat in California that made Carol’s brow dampen and the back of her neck sodden. Gone were the impeccably tailored suits, collared dresses, tights and heels. In California Carol had sprung for cotton dresses with removable jackets, easily shrugged off when the heat got too much. Still very much the immaculately stylish Carol she has always been but she was no longer prepared to stew in this heat for the sake of good tailoring.

Therese’s outfits had changed too. Some of the changes brought back crystal clear memories of New York which made Carol feel fleeting feelings of loss, images of Therese striding along the hallway in shirts buttoned to the collar and braces across her chest which hinted at the slender body hidden beneath. There was something delicious about the way Therese’s outfits had changed as she’d grown in confidence. In California Therese had opted for billowing shirts, buttons undone to the breast so that in close proximity Carol could see the gentle peaks of her breasts and the lace fringe of her underwear.

Carol drank the last mouthfuls of her coffee and thought about last night. Even alone Carol had to pace herself with the raw bones of her feelings. It’s why she had kissed Therese feverishly as the adjoining windows of the company card had offered them the privacy needed to come together with a simmering heat. This heat had been different. When she had gripped the material of Therese’s cotton shirt in her hands she had been struck by her own need. There was a desperation in her movements, a need to hold Therese to her as close as skin. As Carol had kissed Therese, deep, long kisses, which bruised lips, it was all she could do not to weep into her waiting mouth.

Therese asked no questions. She had not needed to and of Therese’s many, many qualities, this was the one that made the biggest difference to Carol. Therese would speak emotion when needed, and spoke with her actions, with her eyes, eyes otherwise. Therese allowed her the space for reflection, did not bombard her with requests. Even though Carol knew she remained guarded about her past, Therese still let her take her time. Still afforded her the control she needed. Carol almost scoffed at this. Ever the control freak and yet she had given that coveted emotion over to Therese long ago. Carol marvelled at her younger lover. To have so much of Carol in her hands and to never use it against her. Therese was not interested in power or control, she wanted Carol, she wanted the real Carol.

“Morning” Therese cooed from the opening screen door. She was wearing an oversized t-shirt, her long slender legs peaking out.

“Good morning darling”

Therese slipped onto Carol’s waiting lap and suddenly they were in close proximity, bodies together and smiling faces little more than an inch apart. “Good morning” Therese repeated, the warmth in her words matching her eyes. She kissed Carol gently, a small chaste kiss, and then felt Carol’s hands slid around the middle of her waist drawing her in closer. Therese’s body responded immediately, a growing sense of desire building within in her. No matter what, their chemistry had always brought the two of them in close proximity as though their physical being worked against the better sensibilities of their minds.

“Good morning sleepyhead...” Carol was slipping arching fingertips under the flimsy material of Therese’s t-shirt and coasting the curve of her smaller back. Carol knew that she would be unable to resist taking things further. She kissed Therese, feeling the kiss deepen and smiles replaced with lust in their eyes. She had entertained conversation about sight seeing today and her mind still tried to register mundane suggestions which seemed positively trivial against the backdrop of Carol lifting her t-shirt up until it bunched just above Therese’s soft breasts.

“Carol...” Therese trailed off the beginnings of a useless argument lost to the sensation of Carol snagging a nipple in her warm mouth. Finally she remembered. “Somebody could see”

Carol was enjoying herself, mouth content to taste the impeccable softness. She didn’t care if someone saw them. She allowed another hand to stroke Therese’s other, waiting breast, smiling at the way Therese’s body responded to hers. Despite her protestations she could feel Therese's warmth her thighs gripping just that bit tighter. She looked up at her younger lover, green eyes a muddle of desire and curiosity. Therese’s face was flushed and she was beginning to arch her head back, basking in the hot California sun. Carol could not help herself, gripping Therese’s back she slipped her hands into the front of Therese’s underwear and gently caressed soft curls, watching with intrigue as Therese’s eyes fluttered closed and she bit down on her bottom lip. Slipping into Therese’s wetness, desire more than evident, she steadied Therese with the hand at the back of her waist. Carol loved this feeling, being inside of Therese, fingers arching, fitting neatly, as Therese moved against her. Therese was trying her hardest to be quiet, save the occasional guttural moan which cried out its insistence, she was focusing on making as little noise as possible. It added to the eroticism and Carol felt like a voyeur, eyes trained on the sight of Therese writing against her working fingers, that bottom lip still snagged beneath teeth. Occasionally, green eyes would meet blue, and Carol would will them to remain locked together, wanting the intimacy.

Therese became lost to the moment, hips bucking faster as she felt herself getting closer to the edge of pleasure. Long forgotten was the possibility of other eyes watching them, Therese only cared for the intensity in Carol’s eyes even though the heat were occasionally too much to bear and she would find herself bashfully slipping away. In the frenzy of the moment Therese found her hands had slipped into Carol’s blonde hair, nails just shy of scraping the surface of her scalp, tumbles of soft sweet smelling hair in the palms of her hands. Then Therese was panting, totally overwhelmed by a rush of desire and emotion which left her leaning forward in a tumble of limbs, head directly into the comfort of Carol’s shoulder. She rested here for a long while, listening to the way her heart beat raced ahead of Carol’s own drumming heart. Carol was kissing the side of her face, lightly. Featherlight kisses like sprinklings of rain which brought Therese to her senses.

“We should only ever have mornings like this” Therese insisted, face slumped against Carol’s chest, which rose and fell with the vibration of Carol’s laughter.

“That can be arranged” Carol’s response was teasing. “We need to get dressed. I’m working tomorrow and we have a day of fun ahead of us” Carol was massaging Therese’s slender shoulders, looking forward to the day ahead.

“Then no more distractions Ms Aird”

————————

Carol was watching Therese immersed in the neon lights of sea creatures floating around the fluorescent aquarium. Carol knew Therese would be captivated by the sea life aquarium. It certainly was not top of the list of Carol’s sight seeing desires but she had known California and more and Carol was thinking, enjoying the idea of what would bring that quiet excitement to Therese’s eyes. Watching Therese eagerly retrieve her camera to snap images of jellyfish, tendrils a mass of throbbing pink lights against the backdrop of jagged rocks and blooming plant life, Carol was certain she had made the right decision. It was cooler in the aquarium and Carol was enjoying the coolness and casually watching Therese without reproach. There were children milling to and fro, chattering excitedly to each other. Occasionally teenagers would slope around the sign posted path, pretending not to care.

Carol suddenly had a thought of Rindy, a memory of when she had aged out of such days out and Carol had continued regardless in the hopes that it would somehow preserve her childhood for just that little bit longer. It was a memory so clear that she could practically picture her standing here, slumped with adolescent indifference. Carol suddenly felt overcome with the memory of that moment and she distracted herself with a tank of clown fish who bobbed around, seemingly without thought. How long had it been since she’d thought about Rindy? Months she wagered. More than months. She had blocked out all memories of her the longer her calls had gone unreturned. It was a kindness of her mind to allow her to forget the things that brought her such inextricable pain. There was an initial jostle between letting the sadness seep in and that all too familiar desire to give way to anger in its place. She could insist that they leave without any explanation for her dumbfounded partner. Or snap at her day dreams. Maybe when Therese allowed herself to lean in, touch her wrist, or secretly hold her hand, Carol could accost her with outrage in her eyes?

“There’s a tunnel!” Therese exclaimed excitedly, gripping Carol’s arm to direct her to the darkened pathway. In the dimmed lights of the aquarium Therese did not notice the complex storms raging in Carol’s eyes.

They entered the tunnel and with the help of darkness Therese slipped her hand into Carol’s, fitting perfectly, neatly together. If Carol had contemplated acting on her emotions they had now dissipated as she drank in the sight of neon lights against Therese’s porcelain skin.

“You’re so beautiful” Carol said because in this moment she could not allow the thoughts to go unsaid.

Therese stopped, suddenly, excitement giving way to a bashfulness that made her cheeks flush and her mouth form into an O.

“You’re utterly beautiful and I can’t stop looking at you” Carol repeated, enjoying the way Therese’s blush grew deeper and she bobbed her head self-consciously.

“Carol...” Therese trailed off but was silenced by the kiss Carol brought to her surprised mouth.

“Let’s finish here and get something to eat. I know just the place”

———————————

“You’ve caught the sun on your nose” Carol remarked as they settled into a booth and looked at the menu. “I’ll have to get you a sun hat!”

Therese smiled back at Carol who had now looked down at the menu in her hands, digesting the words and occasionally commenting on dishes. “Monkfish! Quite the dish” For the first time since the plane had landed in California Carol looked relaxed. Therese had known Carol had been carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders and now as she watched her easy body language and her trademark wink return to conversation she knew that she was finally letting go of the strain.

“Clam chowder?” Carol suggested.

Therese shook her head furiously. “It’s my favourite dish of yours. I won’t try a single other clam chowder”

“You’re a sweetheart...but you may be denying yourself”

“I don’t think so” Therese replies confidently.

“Then try the monkfish. It sounds perfect!”

Carol’s recommendations had felt like chivalry from Carol long before she had softened. It was something Carol had always done and it warmed Therese. It reminded Therese that she had been right to continue being with Carol even in the face of such coldness.

This evening Carol was tender, more tender than usual. She would lean in to gently touch Therese’s hand, or smooth a hair out of her face for longer than necessary. In the aquarium she had taken full advantage of all of the games and booths made for two, kissing Therese gently with a softness that had made Therese’s heart ache. Now she was looking at her with such warmth and affection that it made her skin awash with a soft pink.

“Carol?!” A voice suddenly announced itself interrupting the romance that had created a bubble of protection around the booth.

“Bert” Carol attempted not to speak through gritted teeth and yet Bert always brought irritation to the surface.

“Well aren’t you generous?” Bert admired looking between Carol and Therese.

Carol remained calm and collected but Therese could not help herself and she shifted uncomfortably under Bert’s gaze.

“Come again?”

“Wining and dining your employees” Bert was smiling but the barb was there. ‘Employees’ Therese was nervously thinking about how long he had been here. It would look like a romantic evening because that’s what it was and Therese worried about the ramifications. They would be water cooler fodder and more.

Carol smiled a slow smile and Therese notes that it unnerved Bert. It were as though they were both engaged in a standoff. Carol did not back down. “Perhaps you’re not generous enough?” Carol pondered.

“And on a Saturday evening...” Bert broke eye contact with Carol and his gaze settled on Therese. “...and how are you enjoying working for Carol?”

Therese resented herself for the blush she knew very well was painting her cheeks. Why couldn’t she answer the question the way she had done so many times before. “Very well” Therese managed.

“I’ll let you into a little secret” Bert jibed, tapping the side of his nose. “Carol hasn’t had the best luck with receptionists. Isn’t that right Carol?” Bert was smiling widely now and Therese could smell the faint odour of Brandy.

Carol shrugged her shoulders and smiled back. “As you know I don’t mince my words”

Bert nodded and chuckled lightly. “Ladies, please enjoy your evening”

Chapter Text

Therese watched Bert’s retreating figure. He left the restaurant with a group of men, a pack of tall, thin, men and Therese wondered if they enjoyed each other’s company because they were practically identical. Like looking at their own mirror images.

“Don’t fret” Carol said immediately. Therese did not need to air her worries they were written in her pained expression.

“I should have spoken with confidence...” Therese admonished herself. “...I should have...”

“Nonsense” Carol interrupted with a wave of her wrist, such a casual move and yet it clattered with finality. “He’s an obsequious worm of a man. Don’t waste another thought on him”

“Do you think he knows?”

Carol shrugged and sipped a glass of crisp white wine. “Divine” She remarked, gracing Therese with a wink. Carol knew it was her trademark. It always worked and Therese was of no exception. “And what if he does? It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been romantically linked with an employee”

“Could he make waves?” Therese wondered aloud.

Carol scoffed at the suggestion. “He’s desperate my darling. The last actions of a desperate man. Let’s not allow him to spoil our day. We’ve had such a wonderful day”

Therese couldn’t help but be surprised by Carol’s response. The Carol Aird of months past would have seethed, snapped, and then distanced herself from Therese. Therese had known it had little to do with wanting to please people, Carol did not care for the opinions of many, but rather hated the idea of anyone getting the upper hand. Yet here she was glowing with warmth about the day they had spent together, even in the face of Bert’s smugness.

“We have had a wonderful day” Therese said in a way that suggested she had just this moment decided.

“There’s still much of the night left” Carol reminded her with a playful tone in her honeyed voice. “Let’s take a walk back to the hotel after dinner” Carol suggested, as she resumed her scrutiny of the restaurant menu.

Therese smiled back at the beautiful blonde but try as she might she could not forget the look in Bert’s eyes. It reminded Therese that there would always be restrictions in their relationship. There were already so many. Therese resented the way she reproached herself if she took Carol’s arm in her own, the way her eyes would dart around suspiciously when Carol would lean in and smooth something from Therese’s collar. It was a dynamic complicated by Carol’s status in the company and sometimes Therese couldn’t help but think it would be better if she didn’t work alongside Carol at all, never mind for her.

————

The night brought with it a coolness that eased away the memory of the days enduring heat. Therese craved this part of the day when she felt the atmosphere physically ebb away, leaving with it a sense of being unburdened, unsaddled. As though there was a lessening of the weight on her shoulders. Therese had always thought too much about such things, and even as a child adults would comment on her solemness. ‘Carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders’ ‘Why the sad face’ and Therese’s most hated suggestion ‘smile it might never happen’ Therese was thinking now and it meant that she was silent, walking beside Carol under the subdued lights of a moon which shyly peaked out from behind velvet sky.

Carol had noted that her younger lover was far away in her thoughts. It had taken months for Carol to admit to herself that she was desperate to know where Therese’s mental meanderings took her. Carol suspected that ,this evening, Therese was not travelling to pleasant thoughts or memories. Carol waited, paused, for the right moment to lean in, knowing that a hand curled around the delicate bones of a wrist would bring Therese back to reality with tenderness. Previously Carol would give way to her frustrations, snapping at Therese and admonishing her for her daydreaming ways.

Therese felt the softness and warmth of Carol’s hand just curving, slightly, around her wrist. There was warmth in her hold and a gentle insistence in her grip. It brought Therese’s eyes to blue, searching, melting softness. Therese felt herself sigh deeply, how she loved to look into those blue eyes, to see how the seasons changed depending on Carol’s emotions. They were full of the blossoming of spring and they promised Therese new beginnings, safety.

“You have beautiful eyes” Therese whispered. “I’ve always thought so”

“Have you?” Carol was smiling and Therese noted that crystal blue became deeper. “You’ll have to tell me all about that Miss Belivet”

It was the game they loved to play with each other. The games that lovers can play even in a busy boardroom. The knowing glances, the routines and rituals that they built and shared together. Therese marvelled at the way Carol could draw her away from the melancholy she sometimes felt and with such gentleness. Therese didn’t know why she dipped into sadness, sometimes there wasn’t even a connection to the moment or circumstances and yet she would feel the clouds rolling in. Therese felt too much. It was a gift and a curse.

Therese smiled and accepted Carol’s hands in her own, smoothing the soft skin with fingertips. “Do you ever think about the day you interviewed me?” Therese asked as they walked arm in arm towards the hotel.

“Sometimes”

“I couldn’t look at your eyes or look away from them!” Therese admitted as they slipped apart and stride into the hotel.

Carol acknowledged the bell boy with a cordial nod of her head and then they slipped through the doors of the waiting lift, a sense of relief brought on by the privacy of closing doors. “You found me intimidating?” Carol asked with a knowing look. As the doors had pinged closed she had allowed herself to wrap her arms around Therese’s middle, drawing her in close. Carol could smell the fragrance of Therese’s perfume, the distant smell of shampooed hair and the real essence of Therese.

“You were very intimidating...but I enjoyed that part of you” Therese knew that there was an omission in her words and her cheeks flushed a soft pink.

“Is that so?” Carol held Therese tightly close even as she protested that somebody might see them. “Damn them” Carol insisted, throwing caution to the wind. As the lift brought them to their floor Carol reluctantly released Therese from her hold, allowing her hands to linger, ever so slightly, on Therese’s hip.

As soon as the door was closed Carol was reaching out, hands pouring over Therese who had been standing with her back to Carol. She slipped her arms around Therese, resting her face against her neck. “What did you enjoy about finding me intimidating?” Carol asked, wanting to know what it meant. There was a hint of eroticism, the want to be dominated, to be treated harshly, and Carol was balancing between a sense of desire and fear. Carol loved hearing about the ways in which Therese desired her but she knew that she had treated Therese poorly, cruelly, at times, and she didn’t know what to do with the notion that Therese might have enjoyed this in some masochistic sense.

“I liked that you were so different. That you could be harsh, say whatever you wanted, even if it ruffled feathers”

“Because you can’t?” Carol asked.

“And because it set me on edge. It kept me on my toes and it was the hot and the cold and everything in between” Therese felt Carol’s hold tighten as though she were physically willing Therese to share her truth. It was both exciting and unnerving not to be able to see Carol but to feel her solid and real behind her, to feel her breathe against her neck.

“It sounds confusing”

“It was confusing but I wanted you so badly that I couldn’t help myself”

It sat in the room like a newly acknowledged secret. Therese would have done anything to have a taste of Carol, would have weathered all of her turbulent moods and would have endured her cold aloofness, because she wanted her, and because Carol suspected she did not know her worth.

“I wanted you” Carol’s voice was a red hot whisper in her ear and it made Therese’s skin a flush with a wave of goosebumps. “I wanted you even though I wouldn’t allow myself to admit it. But you showed me. You might think there’s strength in saying things at any cost, without caution to feelings, but you are much stronger than I am darling” Carol seized her in her arms and breathed in the smell of her soft hair. “You have always been honest, have taken risks and forgiven. I was a wounded animal clattering around trying to hurt people so they couldn’t get close”

Therese desperately wanted to see Carol’s expression and she turned, with effort, in her tight arms, coming to face a shock of bruised blue orbs. “I got close” Therese whispered, cupping Carol’s face in her hands.

“Nobody has been closer” Carol admitted. “I have not allowed myself to love for a very long time”

Therese wanted to ask her why. Why has she been so closed off? Why had the idea of comfort been such a painful consideration.

“I don’t want you to worry about the Bert’s of this world. Office gossip or water cooler nonsense. It won’t change anything. Do you understand that Therese?”

Therese couldn’t look Carol in the eye at this point and she could feel her own eyes distorted by sudden tears. Carol was telling her that nothing would change their relationship and Therese realised that this was a fear of hers that she hadn’t even been able to acknowledge.

“Look at me” Carol urged, a hand under Therese’s chin urging, guiding, her to meet her gaze. “I’m in love with you, deeply in love with you” She was insisting now, and there was a concern in her eyes, a fear that Therese would not believe her. “I’m not an easy person to be with. I accept that. There’s much to learn about each other but I want to know. I want you to tell me things”

“I want you to tell me things” Therese repeated.

“I will” Carol assured her. “I will”

Therese allowed herself to be held by Carol and to give into the relief and the security of waiting arms. More than anything she wanted to believe that nothing could change their relationship, she wanted to feel secure and safe, but it was a feeling she was not used to experiencing. Therese did not know if she could trust Carol completely. Not yet. Not to stay. Not to stay with her despite all of the baggage, the attention they would draw. But she knew that she wanted to, that she wanted to give in completely to Carol and would no matter what.

Chapter Text

 

“Therese you needn’t waste your Sunday in the office” Carol commanded, hand poised with a comb to her hair. Carol was looking at Therese in the reflection of the mirror she was peering into. Therese was sat in the middle of the large bed, which had become their bed in recent weeks.

“We’ll have half a chance of having dinner together if I come with you” Therese insisted, buttoning the sleeves of her pressed cotton shirt with an unrelenting air.

“Darling...”

“Carol” There was a warning tone in Therese’s voice which made Carol relent, turning back to her own reflection with a barely repressed smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. With Carol, Therese was firm, assertive and deliciously forthright and Carol adored seeing this side to her, knowing that only Carol saw the flames in her eyes and words. With a pang of emotion in her stomach Carol accepted that she was powerless to resist Therese. Did Therese register even an ounce of the power she had over her? Carol didn’t know, but she guessed that it had gifted Therese the confidence, the courage, to be more daring in getting what she wanted.

“Will the office be empty?” Therese pondered, thinking of the snatched moments they might have without prying eyes and ears.

“I should imagine it will be. Save for a few workaholics” Carol enjoyed the hidden innuendo in Therese’s question. In California Therese was more cautious, she looked over her shoulder and held a tension in her shoulders which no amount of reassurance from Carol could ease. Back home Therese was an expert in noting footsteps, patterns of colleagues, and she knew when to give in and when to allow a kiss or a fondle or on a rare occasion so much more. Carol missed those snatched moments and suddenly the idea of Therese wasting a day in the office didn’t seem quite so bad.

———-

Carol was distracted by the mammoth task at hand, perusing a list of employees to consider for interview. What an odd set of interviews they would be, drawing down to the bare bones of who was right for redundancy. There was some relief in knowing a bulk of employees were volunteering for the severance package she had created, though Carol knew she needed to preserve the jobs of those most valuable to the company. There was no sense in losing an exemplary candidate to a rival company. That would not do and so Carol had a tremendous amount of observation and analysis to do.

“Darling could you make us some coffees? I’m going to need a jolt of caffeine if I’m going to go through this mess”

Therese nodded obligingly and allowed her eyes to linger a moment longer on the sight of Carol raking her fingers through her hair. When Therese returned she vowed to massage tense shoulders and offer room for some small distraction. “I’ll be right back” She said even though Carol was too in the thick of things to hear her.

Therese walked nimbly along the empty hallways marvelling at how they were changed by the lack of activity. As though Therese were exploring an empty hive, worker bees long since departed leaving the shallow remains of endless tunnelled hallways in their wake. Therese wanted to be nosey and briefly contemplated slipping into, random ,offices to spy through drawers and sit in chairs, trying on a new identity for size.

“Better not” Therese reasoned aloud, as the kitchen area came into view.

Without fear of awkward conversation Therese made herself at home in the usually busy kitchen. As the coffee maker purred to life she perused the contents of the fridge. Therese decided that iced coffees would be the perfect tonic for her sleep deprived lover, who so badly suffered in the Californian heat. Every morning Therese woke with a sleepy smile as Carol cursed the blistering heat of the sun. Therese couldn’t help but adore the way Carol sounded when she cursed, the juxtaposition of her well spoken clipped tones and the easy drawl of a curse word. It still made Therese’s stomach fill with butterflies. Therese wondered if there would come a time when a simple word, the merest suggestion of that trademark red lipstick, or the slightest brush of skin on skin, wouldn’t cause her pulse to throb and her heart to beat madly in her chest. Therese could not imagine it. Even thinking about the last time she had felt Carol flush against her, made her cheeks blush and her heart ache.

“Well, well, well” An unfamiliar, honeyed voice remarked. “Carol is a harsher taskmaster than I’d imagined...” Therese turned to find Mia leaning against the doorframe with a Cheshire Cat grin. “...or remembered!” She added with a twinkle in her eyes.

Therese felt instantly flabbergasted, caught in an internal battle of feeling intimidated and furious with this brazen woman. “I don’t believe we’ve met” Therese responded with what felt like a forced smile. “I’m Therese Belivet” She introduced herself extending a hand in Mia’s direction.

“I know who you are” Mia smiled knowingly, enveloping Therese’s proffered hand in both hands. “Carol’s latest long suffering PA...does she still burn through them like wildfire?” There was a tone of humour in her voice and a playfulness in her blue eyes. Then a long drawn out moment before Mia released Therese from her grip and stepped back with that unfaltering smile.

Therese busied herself with making the drinks relieved for a moment to regain her composure. “Not so far!” She replied good naturedly. “Can I make you an iced coffee? There’s plenty”

Out of the corner of her eye she could see Mia’s outstretched hands on the kitchen countertop and could feel the heat of her gaze. “Therese, that’s the best offer I’ve had all morning” She replied, bumping shoulders playfully.

Therese smiled in response and hoped that her body did not betray how on edge she felt. Mia was likely on a fishing expedition and would want to charm Therese, flirt with her even, anything to rile Carol, to unnerve Therese or lull her into a sense of security so she could reveal things about her lover. Therese thought back to Mia’s forward attempt at rekindling things with Carol, and she felt her cheeks burn slightly with annoyance.

“Are you enjoying California?”

Therese shrugged her shoulders. “I miss the bustle of the city” She admitted. “It’s gloriously beautiful here, hot everyday, and I love the beaches...”

“But it’s a little too shiny?” Mia interrupted. “A little too perfect?” She was smiling broadly now and Therese wondered if she felt she had hit her mark here? Forging a closeness, suggesting an idea of understanding, alongside the occasional touch and a long drawn out look. There was no doubt about it Mia clearly had a charm and a way with women, but it wasn’t a patch on Carol’s. Therese had a sudden thought that Mia had probably learned from the best. It unnerved her.

“Do you enjoy working for Carol?” Mia asked as Therese handed her a now frosted glass of iced coffee, the ice cubes jingling.

“Yes” Therese replied guardedly.

“You must be made of strong stuff” She said with one perfectly raised brow. “The things I could tell you about Carol” Mia’s tone was simmering now and there was an insinuation in her blue eyes that brought the heat to Therese’s cheeks.

Therese could not help it, images of Carol and Mia came to the fore. It was all wrong. Carol’s hands, strong, purposeful, beautifully feminine, gripping the back of Mia’s neck to pull her into a kiss that burnt its memory onto her pink, delicate, mouth. Offices clinches, corporate romances. Despite herself Therese felt the bitter sting of jealousy before coming to her senses.

‘Damn her’ Therese thought knowing Mia would mistake her blushes, would see her rosy cheeks, as, at best prudishness, and at worse interest.

“I’m sure you have secrets of your own to spill” Mia’s hand was briefly on her shoulder. “A drink sometime perhaps?”

Therese remained silent as Mia strode, confidently, out of the room, knowing that Therese was watching her every move. Just as she was beginning to move out of view she glanced over her shoulder and smiled, bidding Therese farewell with a wave.

Therese remained in the room for a long moment, noting the way her heart still beat wildly in her chest. She cursed herself for being so unnerved by this woman, for being jealous of a Carol she knew logically could never replace the Carol in her life now. With a pang of defeat Therese grabbed the iced coffees, making her way back to Carol’s office.

———————————————

Carol looked down at the mountain of profiles in front of her. No matter how hard she tried she knew that there was no way to get out of this with her hands completely clean. For a short moment she thought about Bert and his snivelling face, wishing that he could bear the brunt of his mistakes. If only it were his head on the chopping block.

The aircon in the room had eased and no amount of fiddling or hitting at buttons with the palm of her hand appeared to make the blindest bit of difference. Leaning against her desk she began to ease open the buttons of her shirt, flinging open the balcony doors for some light relief. Sighing at the brief reprieve of a gust of air Carol was too distracted to hear Therese’s footsteps approaching.

It was the clink of glasses against the hard, wooden, surface of her desk top, that brought Carol back to the here and now. “Iced coffee. How divine” She remarked, seizing a glass with relish. Sipping on the ice cold liquid she sighed with relief. Momentarily distracted she didn’t notice Therese’s distant expression, not at first. Instead she pressed the cold, damp, glass to her exposed chest, feeling the thrill of the cold against her warm skin.

Therese was watching all of this with heavy eyes. Despite her best efforts she was rattled by Mia, rattled by California, and the relics of Carol’s past. They’re relationship had weathered many storms and they remained connected together, growing more comfortable, more honest, each day. Therese had begun to feel a security with Carol she had never felt before. In Carol’s presence she felt whole, the good, the bad, and the in between.

Therese had spent so many years making herself small, trying not to stand out. Be kind, be accommodating. With Carol she felt the freedom of being totally herself. It was a new feeling, as fragile as a new sapling. Therese could not help but feel rivalled by Mia. Therese did not have the confidence or the charm, could not speak words simply with the movement of her body. Mia commanded attention and respect, simply, with the brush of her eyelashes. Therese couldn’t help but compare herself to Mia.

“Where have you gone?” Carol whispered, stroking the hair from her younger lovers face. Therese’s hazel eyes were darkened with the ghost of somber thoughts and Carol ran her fingers through long, sublimely soft, brown hair in an effort to bring her back to solid ground.

“I ran into Mia in the kitchen”

Carol nodded in understanding. “It was only a matter of time” She concluded. “What did she say?”

“I think she was fishing for information about you. She’s quite flirtatious...she asked me out for a drink and said she could tell me things about you”

“Did she now” Carol was smiling but there was a slight bite of tension in her words. “Mia is a prolific womaniser”

‘Like you were’ Therese thought fleetingly. “She unnerves me” Therese admitted.

“Darling that’s because she’s trying to” Carol had gripped Therese’s shoulders with both hands. “I wish you would stop worrying about my being caught out by them. We’re doing nothing wrong, you understand that don’t you Therese?”

Therese nodded with a serious expression still etched on her face. She knew it and yet there was an admittance that it would be seen as risqué, a seedy affair between a highly accomplished businesswoman and her lowly personal assistant. “Did you date Mia?” Therese suddenly asked.

“No. There were no feelings involved, at least not on my part”

“Was it a long affair?”

Carol was reading Therese’s expression, both a mixture of sadness and confusion. The older blonde consider making a quip, lightening the mood with some well oiled response but she sensed it would not land. “It came and went. It wasn’t always consistent and we were competitive with each other. It was a power play for both of us” Carol was thinking back to those days of excess where she would burn through women without as much as a backwards glance. She had been nursing the wounds of her divorce and the gradual loss of who she had thought she might become. A mother, a wife, a success. One had become a reality.

“She seems so different from me” Therese finally said even though it made her cringe with vulnerability.

“So that’s it...” Carol trailed off, the coin finally dropping.

Therese was comparing herself to Mia and perhaps feeling snippets of jealousy and insecurity. Carol remembered when she had felt completely bewildered, at odds with herself, fearing that she had lost Therese to the arms of another. Where Carol would have been flippant in response to her past lovers jealousy, with Therese she only wanted to ease her concerns. “She is very different from you darling” Carol brought a hand under Therese’s chin willing her to make eye contact.

“And that’s a tremendously good thing” Carol spoke gently and with a melting tenderness. Carol wanted to tell her that Mia represented a dark period in her life, that Carol had been desperately unhappy and watching her life fall apart at the seams but she couldn’t. Not here. Not now. But soon.

“Why don’t we go back to the hotel, put the air conditioning on to max and then slip into a hot bath with a dry martini?” Carol suggested, allowing her tone to carry the promise of intimacy. Carol knew she was deflecting. Prolonging the inevitable. For now. Looking into Therese’s hazel eyes she knew that it was time to talk about the past.