Hot Chips and Sand
Copyright © 2013 Mary Hughes
All rights reserved
Cliff was watching her with the strangest expression on his face. That confirmed it. She’d blown it, and only biting her tongue hard kept her from bursting into fresh tears.
“Vickie, sweetheart. You’re exhausted.” He took her wet cheeks in his hands. “John told me you were working too hard. I want you to take a vacation. Company‑paid. Take two weeks, go to
New York shopping, or the Florida beaches, or the French …” Riviera
“No, no…” Vickie couldn’t believe it. Deep down, she’d really thought this time might be different.
But here he was, trying to get rid of her. Oh, it was couched in the nicest of terms, but it confirmed he considered her an embarrassment. She had proven she couldn’t play the corporate game.
If only she could cover her feelings, and they’d stay buried. Or if only she truly didn’t care about him, and could treat this like any other facet of her professional life.
If only she could be as smooth about this as he was.
Anger, love, and obstinacy. Inside of her, Vickie felt a seed of resistance start to grow. If he really wanted to get rid of her, he was going to have to do it for real, not just nudge her out. She dug in her metaphorical heels.
“Shopping is nice, Cliff, but that’s not how I relax.” Beat this, Mr. Hawkesclyffe. “Strangely enough, I find coding very restful.” Check, Sir Humphrey.
Incredibly, he smiled. “I understand completely. That’s how I relax, too.” He started gathering up the picnic things, talking as he worked. “Okay, you need to get away from the front line for a while, and to be honest, I could use a break from the heat, too.” He lifted the packed basket and opened the truck door for her. “Here’s what we’ll do. The disk utilities are designed, but not coded. Between the two of us, we could get that code knocked out by Friday next.”
She got into the truck, wondering what she had gotten herself into.
“It’ll be fun to be mucking about in the code again. Great idea, Vickie!” And he started the truck and took off.
Somehow, being obstinate had gotten her nearly two weeks of working intimately with the man who made her forget her own name, but who cared for her not in the least.
Check mate, Victoria Lynn.
Vickie slapped her tablet’s keyboard in disgust. “This miserable piece of junk is never going to work. The code simply won’t execute, no matter how I beg!”
Cliff looked up from his laptop. “Beg, Vickie? I didn’t know you spelled the word, much less used it.” He tossed his mouse and kicked back. The mouse knocked into Vickie’s, sending her rocketing off that table before gracefully sliding off after it. Cliff looked around as if to say “Now, how did that happen?”
It was two days into their ”vacation”. In those two days, no mention had been made of the disastrous picnic. Vickie had put on her most effective corporate mask, and Cliff seemed relieved. At least he was cheerful—she couldn’t tell if it was real or artificial. His mask was perfect. As they worked together, though, her mask began skewing, then slipping dangerously. He was just so damned personable when he put his mind to it.
Cliff sighed and checked the clock on his screen. “Vickie, I think we both need a break. It’s almost—do you realize it’s nearly eleven? We must be the only people in the building. Even Operations has turned over to the off‑site watch.”
“Oh, my goodness. I’ve got to get the rest of this code checked tonight. It looks like another all‑nighter for me.” She hadn’t been able to sleep the last two nights, anyway. Every time she drifted off she had hot dreams of Cliff.
“Not happening.” Cliff rose and clapped his laptop closed. “I can’t have you getting burned out on me. I hereby issue an executive decree that you accompany me to the company gym. I’ll meet you there in about ten.”
“Cliff, I really don’t think—”
“Part of the problem. We’re too fuzzy to think.” He reached over and punched her tablet’s sleep button. “Nine minutes, now.” He strode out.
Vickie stared, incredulous, at his departing tight butt before scampering after him. When she reached the hallway he was already gone.
Swearing, she headed for the company gym. She’d seen the compact but well-provisioned workout area when she first came. John had said, “People can blow off the accumulated tensions of the day here. It functions as an outside place where networking and play can take place in a safe environment. There are no titles here, and whatever is said here stays here.”
She stood outside the gym, vascilating. While she was sick to death of code that wouldn’t work, did she really want to spend sweaty time with mounds of muscular Cliff?
Well. Put that way, the answer was obvious.
Vickie came out of the cramped locker room wearing leotard and tights, her Reeboks squeaking on the floor. She felt at the same time undressed because of their body‑hugging nature and dowdy because they were two year’s colors out of date. Her self‑consciousness was not aided by the new bandanna headband she had spent several minutes adjusting in the mirror and was certain looked ridiculous.
She looked around and spotted Cliff moving gracefully through the first exercises in the tao‑she, the unusual martial art he practiced.
Vickie stared. Those were the same movements he’d used that night in the sweltering heat of Middle Yemen. Moves that had been devastating for their opponents.
Her stomach warmed, tingling. The effect was devastating on her, too.
He moved fluidly from one position to the next, seemingly effortless, but a light sheen of perspiration marked the actual exertion involved. He doesn’t sweat, he only perspires. Fascinating.
Cliff finished the exercise with a slow rotation of his torso. His back rippled under the thin singlet he wore. A tide of lust rose in her, quickly clamped down on as Cliff strode over, smiling in welcome.
“I’m sure you’ve seen this equipment before, but I still need to explain its operation to you. You wouldn’t believe the hassle my insurance carrier gives me about such things.”
Vickie nodded politely as Cliff pointed out the stations of the universal weight machine in the center of the room, the free weight stations, the stationary bicycles, and the stair climbing machines. “Of course, you know how to use a running track.” Cliff pointed to the three lanes circling the room.
“Yes. Yes, it’s all coming back to me now,” Vickie said with a small hint of acid in her voice. “I think I’ll start with a little stretching and something aerobic, and then hit the weights.”
Vickie went over to the wall, where a rack of weights was marked by a horizontal bar. She was slightly irritated that even with her firmest mental discipline in place Cliff’s simply exercising could cause her so much wretchedness. It wasn’t fair that he could be so exciting.
Unless what he did to her she could do to him.