Two ivory combs held the blonde hair back. The young woman sat deep in concentration at her desk, working at her laptop. Absentmindedly she rubbed her neck, sore after working for far too long in the same position.
Janeway regarded her from the doorway. Annika Hansen was by far the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. The glow from the laptop screen accentuated her narrow features and made her hair look almost white. The younger woman parted her lips as she focused on her work.
"Working overtime, darling?" the executive asked huskily.
The blonde turned around on her chair.
"I have to finish this, Kathryn," she said with a tired smile. "I want to be able to present the complete translation to Marion as soon as possible."
"Is she pressuring you too hard?" Kathryn asked sharply. "Seven, I can …"
"No," Seven replied softly. "Marion actually expressed that it could wait until after the weekend. She is not aware of how much time I will need to prepare for the conference next week. I will not have time to work on this after today."
Janeway approached her lover and looked at the screen over her shoulder.
"The conference is important," she agreed, "and so is this report. You look exhausted, Seven. I didn’t realise that you had so much on your plate right now. I need Personnel to hire at least two more interpreters. You will be a hard act to follow, though."
Seven looked concerned, her brow furrowing as she resumed rubbing her neck.
"Are you not pleased with my performance, Kathryn?" she asked worriedly. "I know I have had to work late a lot but I …"
Janeway interrupted her and took over the massage. The fine lines under the blonde’s eyes were new and so was the tired expression around her mouth.
"You’re doing more than your share," she said. "It’s not fair on you."
"But I …"
"No. Listen to me, darling. You finish this report tonight and then go down to McDunn’s department and hand it in personally. I can see you’re almost done and I know that Marion is working late too. I’ll do some brainstorming about next week. This can’t go on."
Seven looked at Janeway with hesitation.
"Very well, Kathryn," she said quietly. "I will join you in the apartment as soon as I am done."
"Good. I’ll have dinner ready for you."
Seven made a face.
"I do not want anything," she said, swallowing. "I think I only want to go to sleep."
Janeway frowned. There was something very wrong.
"You have to eat something," she insisted softly. "I’ll fix you something light. Don’t be long."
"Half an hour, not more," she allowed and pulled the chair closer to the desk.
Janeway leaned against Seven’s desk and regarded the woman she loved with growing concern.
She knew she had to do something.
Marion McDunn rubbed her forehead with one hand as she searched her cluttered desk for an important file with the other.
"Damn," she hissed to herself. "It was here just a moment ago!"
The phone rang and Marion grabbed it impatiently.
"Hello Marion," said a low voice.
The sales manager rose quickly from her chair, flinging it into the wall behind her.
She recognised the voice at the other end only to well. It sent shivers down her spine and the bile rose in her throat as anger and fear grabbed her.
"I feel that you had enough time to think this over," the smooth voice continued. "It’s time for another down payment."
"No! Damn it, this has got to stop! You’re bleeding my dry."
"I know exactly how much to ask for, my dear. You want me too stay away, don’t you? Isn’t that why you work all these long hours? To avoid me?"
"I’ve told you never to call me at work," Marion hissed.
"I’ll contact you when and where I choose, Marion. You forget you don’t call the shots here. I do."
"Go to hell!"
Marion slammed the phone down and leaned over the desk on her hands, lowering her head for a couple of seconds. She deliberately paced her breathing, trying to stay in control but she was terrified.
The dark haired woman flinched and looked up.
Annika Hansen stood in the doorway with a quizzical look on her face and a floppy disk in her hand.
The blonde studied Marion’s face and then regarded the indescribable mess on the desk.
"Hello, Seven," Marion said wearily, realising that the other woman must have overheard the phone call or part of it. "What can I do for you?"
"Nothing," Seven replied sounding tired. "I have finished the translation of the documents."
She handed over the disk. Marion took it and eyed the blonde carefully.
"Already? I thought I told you that it would be all right to hand it in after the weekend."
"You did. I need the weekend to prepare for the conference next week."
"Oh, damn … it’s next week, isn’t it?" Marion gushed and leaned back in her chair. "I will no doubt have to work through the weekend for that one as well."
Marion looked at the woman she once had tried very hard to discredit. Seven had been gracious enough to give her a second chance. Marion had come to appreciate the younger woman a great deal. Still, she felt a bit awkward sometimes when the blonde directed her honest and open gaze at her; it was as if Seven could see right through her.
"It was not my intention to eavesdrop, Marion," Seven said bluntly. "I overheard you talking on the phone. Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"I’m sorry you had to hear that," Marion said quietly. She was trembling and tried to make her voice sound as together and slightly cynical as usual. "It’s nothing I can’t handle."
Seven didn’t look convinced.
"You look as tired as I feel," the interpreter now said with some trepidation. "Kathryn is making something to eat upstairs. Please join us. I am sure she would not mind."
"No, Seven, that’s all right. I have so much work to do and …"
Seven shook her head.
"Are you certain that you are all right?" she asked cautiously. "You are very pale."
"Yes. No. Oh, I don’t know. It’s just been too much lately," the dark haired woman confessed, dragging an elegant hand over her forehead.
"Please come with me and have something to eat," she repeated gently.
Marion wanted to decline but then she squared her shoulders and grabbed her purse. The blonde woman possessed a disarming honesty and complete lack of deception that the sales manager found refreshing.
"Okay," she smiled crookedly, motioning at the mess on her desk. "I bet Janeway won’t be thrilled but I’ve had enough of this for a while."
Seven only nodded and led the way towards the elevator. Inside she punched in the code that would take them to the penthouse. It took only seconds to reach it. The elevator came to a stop and as the door opened the two women stepped off it and walked directly into the large flat.
Marion looked around. She had been there on several occasions but not since Seven had moved in with Janeway. The CEO of the company had always guarded her privacy and after meeting the tall blonde she had chosen not to participate much in her old social circles.
The two women did not explain their relationship to anyone. Everyone in the building was under the impression that they were lovers. Marion realised that it was Janeway’s commanding and intimidating persona that kept the rumours at bay. Then there was the fact that Seven was well liked and admired for her skills. Nobody wanted to cross Janeway and Marion knew for certain that the fastest way of doing that was offending the woman Janeway lived with and so did the rest of the office staff.
The fireplace was lit and casting a homey glow over the large living room. There were magazines on the coffee table and soft slippers underneath it. There were colourful large cushions arranged on the couch together with a couple of wool blankets.
Janeway came out into the hallway, carrying a glass of brandy in her hand.
"Marion?" she said questioningly. "Is something wrong?"
"I invited Marion to share a late meal with us," Seven explained. "She is as tired as I am. She also had what sounded like a threatening phone call."
Marion groaned and closed her eyes. Trust Seven to not beat around the bush. She should have known that it was a mistake to come up here. There was no fooling Janeway. The CEO was shrewd as well as determined.
Janeway stared at the two women in front of her.
"Marion? Is this correct?" she asked incredulously.
"It’s not they way it may have seemed to Seven," Marion said. "I confess that these last two weeks have been brutal, but …"
"No, I mean the call. You were threatened?" Janeway asked and stepped closer, eyeing the other woman.
"Not threatened exactly," Marion tried to explain. "It’s nothing I can’t handle, Kathryn. I appreciate Seven’s concern but …"
Seven looked at them.
"I do not agree," she stated. "I think that something is very wrong. Marion’s voice betrayed both anger and fear."
"Let’s go into the kitchen and sit down," Janeway decided. "I want to hear about this, Marion. If Seven says you were threatened and scared … Well, I trust her judgement."
Marion bit her lip but nodded. She realised that neither woman was going to let this go without an explanation.
The three women walked into the kitchen where Janeway rescued a large omelette from the stove at the last minute. She filled three plates and placed them on the kitchen table.
"Mineral water for you two I think," she muttered and pulled out a bottle from the refrigerator. "I however think I need something else." She poured herself a glass of white wine.
They ate during silence for a while and then Janeway leaned back in her chair and looked at McDunn.
"So, tell me Marion," she said. "What’s going on?"
"It’s personal, Kathryn," McDunn said carefully. "This is not why I’ve fallen behind in my work."
"I consider you a friend," Seven said quietly. "I would like to help you if I can and I know Kathryn does too. Please, Marion."
The older woman flinched and then closed her eyes again. To her dismay, a single tear appeared and rolled down her tanned cheek.
Not bothering to consider if the gesture would be appreciated by the sales manager or not, Seven put an arm around her shoulders.
"Tell us about it," she urged softly. "Something is wrong."
Marion shook her head.
"It’s been going on for far too long. I should have done something about it months ago," she whispered.
"You’re an appreciated colleague and you’ve become a friend to both of us. We want to help if we can," Janeway said.
The dark haired woman inhaled audibly. She knew that she could expect nothing but humiliation but she had struggled so long trying to solve this problem, she didn’t care anymore. Still it was hard to let her guard down and trust anybody.
"I’m not sure how to put this," she began. "It’s been going on for months. I don’t know how much Seven overheard …"
"I heard you tell someone that they were bleeding you dry and to never call you at work again. Then you told the person to go to hell."
Marion sighed and put a hand over her mouth. Slowly lowering it she took an uncharacteristic leap of faith. Lacing her hands together in her lap, she inhaled deeply.
"I’m being blackmailed," she stated quietly.
"By whom? Regarding what?" Janeway asked sounding appalled and suspicious.
Marion rose from her chair. Panic had begun to set in.
"It doesn’t matter. It has gone on long enough. I’m not going to go along with his demands anymore," she said dismissingly.
The sales manager began to walk towards the elevator.
"I’ll take care of it … I can’t … Oh damn …" She halted and wiped her face. Tears were running again and she felt as if she were at the end of her rope. A cold sensation in the pit of her stomach made her almost double over. So much was at stake and she could lose it all.
Seven caught up with her and put her arm around her again. Dragging the older woman back into the flat she nudged her to sit down on the couch. Marion sank down with Seven on her right.
Janeway joined them on Marion’s other side. Glancing at Seven she nodded approvingly.
"You can’t go home in this condition," she stated firmly. "Spend the night here. Besides we need to talk. I have to know if this is regarding the company and what is at stake."
The sales manager regarded the other two women through the tears.
"Oh, no, don’t worry," she said with a hallow laughter. "It has nothing to do with the company. It’s all nauseatingly personal. I could quit tomorrow and his reasons would be as valid and disgusting as today."
"He?" Janeway queried.
Marion leaned back on the couch, Seven’s arm holding her firmly as if the blonde was afraid that she would bolt out of there.
"Who is doing this to you?" Seven asked gently.
"Avery," Marion whispered, surrendering to the need to unburden the pain, to share it with someone. "Eric Avery."
"That lowlife?" Janeway exclaimed.
Eric Avery had resigned from Janeway’s company almost a year earlier. Several women had brought accusations of harassment against him, including Annika Hansen. Janeway had wanted to fire him without any benefits what so ever. The company’s lawyers had disagreed.
The lawyers had counselled Janeway that a harassment suit would take considerable amount of time to bring before a court of law. Even then there were no guarantees that a jury would find the man guilty. The fact that Avery had been an employee for a number of years and held stock options in the company further complicated matters. If Janeway wanted him gone quickly, then the best way to expedite his departure was to force him to resign.
Janeway, another senior executive and the firms lead council had called Avery to a meeting. They had presented him with the facts, the affidavits from the women who he had allegedly victimised and a written statement from Marion McDunn about his involvement in a plot to destroy Hansen’s career.
They placed a deal on the table that Janeway explained would be a one-time offer. He would be allowed to resign, be given six months severance pay and the company would not press charges against him. Janeway made it clear that if he failed to act upon the offer immediately then she would happily to turn the entire matter over to her lawyers and that they would destroy him with her full backing.
Avery had tried to deny everything. When that failed he attempted to shift the blame on to McDunn. Janeway was not impressed. Finally, she handed the pen to Avery and told him to sign the documents that the lawyers had prepared. If not, she would use the pen with great satisfaction to press charges.
Avery had taken the deal, cleared out his office, and left the same day.
"And you ask me to trust that this has nothing to do with the company?" Janeway asked. "I find that very hard to believe."
Marion understood Janeway’s doubts. The only reason her career had survived the incident with Avery was the fact that Seven had intervened on her behalf.
"I swear Kathryn, it has nothing to do with the company."
"What does he have on you - or thinks he has on you?" Janeway asked. "I want to help, Marion, but you have to be up front with me. I need details."
"He’s gathered a lot of information about me during the years we worked together," Marion managed, swallowing hard.
"What type of information?" the executive asked tersely.
"Personal." The dark haired woman’s voice was hardly audible. She kicked her pumps off and pulled her knees up, hugging them close to her body, cold to the bone. She could hear Avery’s low voice on the phone, stating demands, taunting her with what he knew. The dark haired woman shivered.
"He is an awful man," Seven said quietly as she reached out and pulled a tissue from the box on the coffee table and silently handed it over to the distressed woman next to her. "I did not know him well but I definitely disliked him."
"No, he’s not very likeable," Marion smiled wryly through the tears, gratefully accepting the tissue.
"Marion," Janeway said quietly, "we both know you haven’t been the most forth coming individual I have ever known. If you want my assistance you are going to have to tell me everything and I’m going to need proof of what Avery is doing."
Marion swallowed hard.
"I … I guess I deserved that," she mumbled, wiping her eyes. "I have taped some of his calls, Kathryn. I’m keeping the tapes in my office safe. Should I get them now?"
"No, it is late and we are all tired," Seven said firmly, glaring at Janeway. "There will be time enough to do that tomorrow."
"Honestly, I’ve tried everything I could think of," Marion whispered. "He is shrewd and … he’s ruthless."
"So is Kathryn," the blonde stated readily, making her lover choke and glare back at her.
"I am sorry, Kathryn, that did not come out right. I mean you can be shrewd and ruthless when it is required."
Janeway rolled her eyes, making Marion smile through the tears.
"I think we all need a good night’s sleep," Janeway relented. "Why don’t you take the guest room, Marion? You’ll find everything you need there. Seven, why don’t you show her where it is?"
Marion nodded gratefully. She was surprised to recognise the overwhelming feeling of relief. Not having to go home to her apartment alone, not having to fear the phone … She closed her eyes briefly.
"Thank you," she managed. "I really am exhausted."
"We’re all tired," Janeway agreed and rose from the couch. "Well, goodnight then, we’ll talk more tomorrow."
Seven cocked her head and regarded Marion carefully.
"Have faith in Kathryn," she suggested seriously. "She always finds a way."
Janeway smiled crookedly. "You’re slightly partial, Seven," she suggested.
"Yes, but it is still true."
It was still dark outside when Seven stirred. A warm weight sprawled across her body pinned her down. She looked down while yawning.
Kathryn was laying half on top of her, her arm firmly secured around her waist.
The blonde wrapped her arms around the CEO and pulled her even closer. This was what she liked the most; the mornings when she woke up first and Kathryn was tucked up against her, soft and yielding.
Seven buried her face in the auburn hair. They had been lovers and lived together for almost a year now and still there were moments when she was amazed that this extraordinary woman loved her. Seven adored the older woman.
She had fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow after saying goodnight to Kathryn and Marion, she had not even heard Kathryn come out of the bathroom and climb into bed. Now she nuzzled the soft hair under her chin.
Kathryn shifted and turned her face up as if searching for Seven in her sleep. The blonde lovingly pressed her full lips against Kathryn’s. The executive moaned softly and opened her mouth but was still asleep.
Seven gasped softly, Kathryn’s unconscious display of desire taking her breath away. Slowly rolling the smaller woman on her back, she began to place open mouth kisses all the way from her mouth down Kathryn’s neck.
Slowly opening her eyes and registering the tender onslaught Kathryn moaned again and arched her neck.
"Seven?" she mumbled.
"Yes, Kathryn," the blonde mumbled against the soft skin under her lips. "Just let me take care of you."
Kathryn whimpered when Seven let a hand move under the silk tank top she was wearing. Knowing fingers found her left nipple and rolled it over and over, pinching it gently.
"Oh, darling," the executive sighed.
Seven regarded her beloved closely as she relentlessly played with first one breast and then the other. The nipples pebbled and after keeping up her ministrations for a couple of minutes longer she couldn’t resist. She roughly pushed the tank top up above the breasts she wanted. Leaning over Kathryn she devoured the breast closest to her. Sucking the nipple deep into her mouth she let her tongue work it, circle it and her teeth grace the hard peak.
Kathryn moaned and began to shiver. Slender arms held on to Seven and pulled her closer.
The blonde reached down and began drawing patterns on the soft stomach of her lover. Lower and lower, the hand moved towards its goal, making the woman underneath her gasp out loud.
"Oh, yes … yes, Seven, touch me …"
Seven then plunged her fingers between the slick, swollen folds. Kathryn thrust her hips up, groaning and spreading her legs to allow for a deeper touch.
Seven knew what her lover needed. Without delaying, without any intention to teasing, she let two fingers slide inside Kathryn. The velvety walls clenched her digits as the executive let out a husky sigh that turned into a whimper.
"There, my love," the blonde whispered against the hard nipples. "You need me to love you like this. It has been too long."
"Yes, yes," Kathryn gasped. "Too long, darling."
The executive let her hands hold Seven’s head tight to her chest and parted her legs more under her lover’s ministrations.
Moving her hand in and out steadily, not quickening the pace even as Kathryn began to moan her name over and over, Seven pushed her closer and closer to the edge.
"Your touch … it’s like fire within me, darling," the auburn haired woman whispered. "I can’t get enough of you … of this … ever …"
"I know," Seven answered, almost choking up with tenderness as she watched the older woman surrender to the passion. "I always want you."
"You promise?" Kathryn asked passionately.
The blonde placed her thumb on the aching ridge of nerves that held Kathryn’s pleasure without warning. Tiny beads of sweat trickled down the other woman’s temples, dampening her hair.
With a soft cry Kathryn came in long shudders, clinging to her lover. Seven folded her up in her strong arms. Cradling her she comforted the smaller woman, as sobs tore from the executive’s throat.
"There, there," the blonde hushed.
Mumbling Seven’s name over and over as her body relaxed, Kathryn eventually went back to sleep, exhausted from the overwhelming emotions.
Seven held her close, pulling the warm, lithe body onto her shoulder. She also needed to rest more; sleep had been a rare commodity lately.
"What is keeping Kathryn so long?" Marion asked over her second cup of coffee.
Seven had found it amusing that the sales manager had the same taste for coffee as Kathryn. She preferred tea and found it fun to watch her lover’s nose wrinkle in distaste at the mere smell of the beverage.
"She wanted to make some phone calls in private," Seven explained.
"She insisted she’d listen to the tapes and then let me know what she thought. What phone calls?"
Marion frowned worriedly and sipped her coffee again, tapping her long nails on the mug.
The blonde put a reassuring hand on her arm.
"I know you are nervous. Kathryn can be very stubborn but she is resourceful and will do what she think is best."
"But you have no idea what Avery is up to. I’m not even sure Kathryn does, even after listening to the tapes. They will show that it has nothing to do with the company, but …"
Marion covered her face with her hands.
"Marion, I’ve listened to the tapes," Janeway’s throaty voice was heard from the doorway.
The women in the kitchen looked up.
"Yes?" Marion asked, holding her breath.
Seven regarded the woman she loved, noticing the sparkle in her eyes.
"You found a solution," she guessed.
"Not entirely, Seven, but thank you for the vote of confidence," Janeway smiled. "Marion, you just proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Eric Avery personifies the meaning of a scum bag. I don’t know exactly what he has on you, but I can guess. That is not important here, though."
"It isn’t?" the sales manager asked incredulously.
"No. What matters is that we put a stop to him for good. Don’t you agree?"
"What do you mean, Kathryn?" Seven asked cautiously, not sure she liked the triumphant gleam in Janeway’s eyes.
"Don’t worry, darling," she said, apparently not noticing the term of endearment slipping over her lips. "I don’t mean to have Avery assassinated."
Seven unsuccessfully fought the urge to roll her eyes.
"I woke up this morning feeling very relaxed and refreshed," Janeway continued, smiling warmly at the blonde. "I also had an epiphany which I began to develop as I tried to wake you up, sleepyhead."
Seven’s eyes grew wide. Kathryn was being very obvious about their relationship in front of Marion and that was not like her. She never did anything to hide the fact that they lived together but she was a very private woman.
"Can you elaborate regarding this epiphany of yours?" Seven now asked.
"Certainly! It’s simple really. We need to keep Marion out of Avery’s reach for a bit. I’ve hired a private investigation firm to look into his activities and they need some time to do their work. Mr Leighton, the head of the firm suggested that you disappear for a while. I don’t think Avery will do anything rash if Marion is incommunicado so to speak," Janeway said with a grin. "I also think that you two ladies have been working way too hard these past few months and it’s time to whip you back into shape."
Both Seven and Marion were totally baffled by Janeway’s comments.
"Oh come on ladies, isn’t the solution quite obvious?"
Seven and Marion continued to look dumbfounded at the CEO.
Janeway put her hands on her hips.
"I guess I’m going to have to spell it out. I’m letting Susan Rowe and Marcus Walters handle the conference. It’s time that they learned anyway."
"What are we going to do?" Marion asked, looking decidedly dazed.
"We - are going on a vacation!"
Marion stood at the railing of the large cruise ship.
The moon was out, casting a glittering pattern across the Atlantic Ocean. They had sailed for three days and her frayed nerves had begun to settle a little.
She pulled the silk shawl around her shoulders, shivering a little in the cool breeze but at the same time relishing the sensation. She could hardly believe that Janeway had taken over everything, relieved her of the burden of dealing with Avery and invited her on this trip.
The sales manager had to smile as she remembered the look on the tall blonde’s face when Janeway had told them her plan. She had literally lost cohesion in her jaw and looked stunned, to say the least. Then she had risen from her chair and hugged the executive hard.
Janeway had looked a little flustered but reciprocated, smiling crookedly at Marion.
Now the other two women were still in the casino, Janeway watching in amused horror as Seven kept winning everything she tried.
Marion turned around and began to walk the promenade deck. She didn’t want to go back inside just yet. Everything was still very fresh in her mind and she needed time to herself.
When she reached the staircase leading up to the next deck a voice forestalled her just as she was going to enter it.
"I wouldn’t go up there if I were you."
Marion pivoted and would have stumbled if a woman appearing at her side had not grabbed her arm, steadying her.
"I’m sorry," the woman said. "Someone just managed to drop a bottle of champagne from up there. Someone is coming to clean up the mess but the stairs are full of broken glass."
"Thank you for letting me know," Marion gasped and stepped back, regarding the helpful woman.
She was in her late twenties perhaps early thirties. She had short, dark hair and was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.
"No, I don’t work here. I’m a passenger just like you," the other woman grinned. "My name is Julia. Julia Williams."
"I’m Marion McDunn."
The sales manager extended a hand and Julia took it in a firm grip.
"You’ve been dancing, or perhaps visited the casino?" she asked.
"The casino. It’s not very large and I found it too crowded," Marion confessed. "My friends are still there, cleaning out the bank, I think."
"Good for them. I was there yesterday. Perhaps they could win back what I lost."
"Did you lose a lot?" Marion asked, not knowing why she suddenly felt concerned.
"Heavens no! Twenty dollars or less, I think. I only went in there because you’re supposed to try everything on the ship at least once. Do you want to walk a little back over there?" the other woman asked, pointing in the direction Marion just came from.
Marion only hesitated for a second. Then she nodded and the two women began to walk.
"Is this your first time on the QE2?" Julia asked.
"Yes. I’ve never taken the time to go on a cruise before. It’s slow, but it’s … soothing."
Marion wanted to kick herself for her choice of words but Julia didn’t comment on them. She just smiled and nodded.
"I agree. Once you come aboard and the ship sails, all you can do is … go with the flow and accept its slower pace. You’re on your own and I find that soothing too."
Amazed at the way Julia described how she felt; Marion began to relax a little.
"Yes, that’s exactly it," she agreed.
"Have you ever seen such a moon?" Julia asked after a brief silence. "I don’t think I’ve ever seen it quite as large and white."
Marion walked over to the railing and looked at the moon again.
"Neither have I," she said quietly. "It’s as if it was going to fall into the ocean, isn’t it?"
Julia came up next to her.
"Yes," she said softly. "That’s exactly it."
The tall blonde was dressed in a sparkling blue dress that ended just above her knees. She seemed unaware of the fact that she had attracted the appreciative glances from both men and women during the evening.
She now looked down at the three large piles of markers in front of her and then up at Kathryn who stood next to her.
"I find it hard to believe that such a business as this can be profitable," Seven said. "Winning seems fairly easy, Kathryn."
Janeway smiled crookedly.
"I swear I haven’t seen anyone rampage through a casino like you before," she admitted.
She had suggested to Marion and Seven that they try their fortune at the roulette and the black jack table. Seven had agreed, explaining that she regarded it as a learning experience. She had quickly learned the basic rules of the game. Marion had watched for a while and then left, claiming that she needed fresh air.
The executive had not had much luck. She had casually lost the two hundred dollars she had set aside to play for. Then she had turned to Seven to see if she was done too.
She had regarded the other woman with widening eyes. Her lover had a huge stack of markers in front of her and the croupier was just pushing an almost as big stack towards her.
"You’re on a lucky streak, Seven," Kathryn mumbled. "Do you want to cash in your markers or play some more?"
Seven cocked her head.
"This is interesting," she said with a faint smile. "I find this experience to contradict my parents views on gambling."
"Oh, but you can’t expect to keep winning, darling," Janeway said. "Sooner or later your luck runs out and the trick is to know when to quit."
"How does one determine that?" Seven asked.
"When you start losing; cash in your markers right away. Don’t wait for the next lucky break. Most likely it doesn’t come."
Seven considered this.
"Perhaps I should try the dice?" she asked, motioning at a table across from them where a loud game was going on.
"I wouldn’t recommend it," Janeway said, shaking her head. "But if you really want to … It is your money, your choice."
The blonde rose from her chair and looked down at her markers and then down herself, looking a bit bemused.
"What’s wrong?" Janeway asked.
"How do I carry all of these?" Seven asked. "This dress did not come with pockets."
They had been shopping in one of the stores on the ship earlier in the day and when she had spotted the dress, Janeway had known it would look gorgeous on Seven. The store was of the Harrods branch and held every luxurious item imaginable.
The blonde had tried on the dress and the sight of the tall curvaceous woman in the blue dream had taken Janeway’s breath away. The executive then had found a dark green sleeveless dress that spelled her name and they had both been very pleased with their purchases.
"No, I don’t think such dresses ever comes with pockets," the CEO grinned. "Here. Use my purse."
She opened her purse and together they shoved the markers into it.
"Where did Marion go?" Seven asked, looking around for the other woman.
"She’s out on the promenade deck, I think," Janeway replied. "I think she needed a little time on her own. She’s still tense and upset over Avery."
"I know it is not polite to pry but I can not help wondering what that despicable man is using to blackmail her."
"I know. I think I have an idea but it was obvious from the tapes that it was deeply personal. Can you understand how important it is to Marion that I don’t disclose what I’m guessing?" the executive asked.
"Of course, Kathryn. If she wants to tell us, she will."
"Thank you. I agree."
They moved between the tables, Janeway leading the way towards the disk where you cashed in your markers. After handing Seven her thick roll of dollar bills, only to have the younger woman frown and put them in the older woman’s purse, they started walking towards the door leading to the promenade deck.
Outside a cool breeze played with Janeway’s auburn tresses, obstructing her vision for a while before she managed to stroke it behind her ears.
"Ah," she sighed contentedly. "This is nice. The air was getting a bit stuffy in there."
"It was loud as well," Seven agreed. "Look, there is Marion. She is talking to someone."
They began to walk towards the sales manager and the woman standing next to her. Marion glanced up and saw them approach. A smile graced her lips as she motioned toward the approaching women.
"Here comes my friends," she said. "Julia, this is Kathryn Janeway and Annika Hansen. Kathryn, Annika, this is Julia Williams. She helped me avoid some broken glass over at the stairs that could have become a painful experience."
Janeway regarded the casually dressed woman next to her employee. She wore no make up and was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt and still there was a definite aura of style and elegance about her.
"Nice to meet you," Janeway said politely and shook the proffered hand.
Seven repeated the greeting.
"Nice to meet both of you," Julia said with a smile. "I hear one of you got quite lucky in the casino."
Janeway rolled her eyes.
"Well if I ever hoped to show Seven what a futile endeavour it is to gamble for your livelihood, I was sorely mistaken. She kept winning until the croupier was about to call his boss on us. We left while the going was good."
Seven shook her head.
"This is an exaggeration," she stated with a smile. "I was winning some but the noisy crowd in there made me lose count. When Kathryn suggested … What?" she broke off her explanation as all three women stared openly at her.
"You were counting the cards?" Janeway blurted out, keeping her voice down.
"Yes, of course. How else could I have estimated and betted accordingly?" the blonde asked incredulously.
The CEO groaned.
"Let’s not tell anyone else," she mumbled, "and let’s not play there anymore. I think I’ve had enough excitement for one evening."
Marion threw her head back and laughed. This caused the other woman, Julia, to smile and then join in.
"You’re called Seven?" Julia asked the blonde curiously.
"Yes. You are welcome to use the nickname too, if you like. I am not quite comfortable being called Annika."
Julia nodded, apparently appreciating the familiarity.
"Thank you, Seven."
"Are you travelling on the QE2 alone, Julia?" Janeway asked their new acquaintance.
"Yes, I am," she answered. "I’m on my first vacation in years and I’ve looked forward to it for a very long time. You know how it is, all work and no play …"
The CEO smiled.
"Oh, I think we all know what that’s like," she replied. "What do you do for a living?"
Seven gave her partner a look that said she knew what Janeway was up to. The older woman kept her interested gaze locked on Julia.
"I’m an interior designer and I’m employed at Bennett & La Cour. Perhaps you’ve heard of them? They have branches in several states."
"I have," Janeway nodded, reluctantly impressed. The slightly tousled woman had to be excellent to hold a position at this company. Bennett & La Cour was a famous, award winning architectural firm.
"Enough of the third degree," Marion said impatiently. "We’re here to enjoy ourselves, not think about work, all right?"
"You’re right of course," Janeway said amicably. "Besides, it’s late. I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m bushed. I think I need to take a long bath and then go to bed. Will you join me, Seven or do you want to explore some more?"
Seven shook her head.
"No, I am still trying to catch up with my sleep. I think I will order some tea to our cabin. Goodnight, Marion, Julia," she nodded to the other two.
"Yes, goodnight," Janeway chimed in. "Perhaps you would like to join us for breakfast in the morning?" she asked Julia, noticing Marion catch her breath.
"Thank you, it’s nice of you to ask. I would love to."
Janeway smiled and began to walk towards hers and Seven’s cabin. It was right next to Marion’s, linked together by a connecting door.
Inside she put her purse down on the dresser and began to kick off her shoes. Looking over her shoulder, she watched Seven follow her example and rid herself of her high-heeled sandals.
"You look so tired, all of a sudden," Janeway said softly, walking up to the tall blonde. "Can I interest you in taking the bath with me?"
"I am very tired," Seven said quietly. "I think I better just go to bed after a quick shower."
Janeway frowned. Something was amiss and she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. They had been sailing with the QE2 for three days and during that time they had not made love once. The executive had rationalised the reason to be the fact that Seven was worn out and overworked, that the blonde needed time to adjust to the leisurely pace.
Still, she had a nagging feeling that there was more to it. She had caught her lover looking at her with a certain longing in her eyes on more than one occasion. She wanted to ask Seven, knowing that the younger woman preferred the direct approach. Janeway was unsure of how to address her concerns, though, sensing that the woman she loved was mulling something over that she had to think through.
"Let me order the tea for you," Janeway now said, cupping Seven’s cheek in her hand.
She walked over to the phone and ordered tea and decaffeinated coffee from room service. Unzipping her dress she let it fall to the floor and headed for the bathroom. Running a hot bubble bath she watched the foam form and the vanilla scent fill the beautiful room.
A moment later she heard Seven let the waiter in. She poked her head out the bathroom door and saw two thermoses and china on a tray sitting on the dresser. It would hold until after they cleaned up. Janeway returned to check on the bath and found the tub filled to the rim.
Seven entered, dressed in only her underwear. She leaned into the shower stall and turned on the water.
Janeway let her eyes wander over the younger woman. For the first time she noticed that Seven’s shoulders were slouching a little and that she looked a bit frail. Knowing that she might annoy her lover she reached around her and turned off the shower.
Seven pivoted and looked surprised, her eyebrows rising quizzically.
"Kathryn?" she asked. "Is something wrong?"
"I don’t know, darling. Is there? I worry about you, Seven. It’s like you’re withdrawing from me. Of course I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am."
The blonde looked apprehensively at her and then frowned.
"I am not sure what you are referring to, Kathryn," she began. "I am enjoying our cruise and I look forward to our stay in Europe."
"I know you do and that is just it. As long as we are participating in something, when we are among other people, you are focusing on that and you seem fine. It’s moments like these, when we’re alone … It’s like you can’t even look at me sometimes. Are you sorry you came, Seven? Would you rather we flew home once we’re in England?"
Seven paled and bit her lip.
"No! No, of course not, Kathryn," she whispered. "I am sorry if I have made you feel uncomfortable, it was not my intention. I am not sure … I …"
Her voice broke and she swallowed hard.
Carefully reaching for the younger woman, Janeway pulled her towards the large bathtub. Wordlessly she undressed Seven and ridded herself of her own underwear. Both of them naked, she nudged the younger woman to take place in the tub and then sank down behind her, cradling Seven between her legs and in her arms.
"Lie down," she encouraged the blonde. "There you go, darling."
Seven tentatively slid down and rested her head on Janeway’s shoulder. The executive grabbed a washcloth and the vanilla scented bath soap, working up lather. Slowly moving the washcloth over the tense shoulders, she felt Seven relax against her. Over and over she dragged the soapy cloth over the alabaster skin of her lover, making small circles down over her chest.
"There you go," she repeated in a low purring voice. "Don’t worry. I’ve got you. You don’t have to do anything. Just lie here and let me take care of you, sweetheart. Close your eyes and relax. That’s it."
"This is making me very drowsy," Seven mumbled and turned her head to nuzzle Janeway’s cheek. "Is this your intention?"
"One of them," Janeway smiled. She relished in the feeling of Seven’s warm skin on hers, the precious weight of the tall slender body resting half on top of hers.
"There are more than one?" the blonde whispered.
Janeway let the washcloth move over Seven’s hardening nipples just above the surface. The younger woman gasped softly and arched, moving towards the alluring touch.
"You could say, I have an ulterior motive, darling," the executive said tenderly. "We haven’t made love in a while and last time you were so wonderful to me and I fell asleep without reciprocating properly."
"I wanted to take care of you," Seven objected, trying to shift on her side to look at Janeway.
Janeway held her in place, lacing her legs around the blonde’s and by doing so spreading them.
"Hush, darling," she said quietly. "That is exactly what I mean. I have missed taking care of you. Just lean back and let me do that for you. Let me take care of the person I love more than anything."
Seven gave a sound that appeared to be something between a sob and a moan.
"That’s it darling," Janeway encouraged. "Spread your legs for me. Let me in. I think it’s time I made you aware of just how you affect me, of how much I adore you."
The younger woman whimpered quietly, trembling against her lover but obeyed.
Janeway let go of the washcloth and slid a hand down Seven’s flat stomach. Nestling in between the long thighs, she let her nails gently scratch the smooth skin before finding the aching, swollen nubbin.
Pinching it carefully, the executive made the blonde stir and moan huskily. Seven involuntarily pulled her knees up.
"That’s it," Janeway approved. "Open up to me, let me in."
She let her other hand join the first, pressing an eager finger inside Seven while adding pressure to her caresses.
"You need to relax. You need me," the older woman said throatily, her lips only a breath away from Seven’s ear. "You need me to make you feel good, don’t you sweetheart?"
"Mm … yes," the blonde moaned. "Need … you … us …"
Completely incoherent while approaching the precipice Seven began to shiver.
"Oh, it’s driving you crazy, isn’t it?" Janeway mumbled against the damp cheek next to her mouth. "You’re so close and you want to come so bad. I can give it to you. It’s what you want, isn’t it? I know it’s what I want. I love when I make you burn and surrender."
"Kathryn … Kathryn …" Seven whimpered. "Please …"
The pleading tone of voice almost broke Janeway’s heart.
"You don’t have to beg, darling," the executive assured her. "Just let it go … give in to it, my love. Give in. Now."
As if the last encouraging word together with the intrusive, probing finger became too much, Seven’s body became rigid and a wave was formed in the bathtub from the sudden motion when she clasped her legs around her lover’s hands.
Jerking over and over, the blonde bit her lip and breathed heavily, trying to get her bearings as the tumultuous orgasm hit her in wave after wave.
Janeway wrapped her legs around the woman she loved and held on to her, her hands still buried between Seven’s quivering thighs.
"Oh, Kathryn," the younger woman sighed, hiding her face against Janeway’s neck.
"There. I have you. You’re safe. I’m here."
Seven shifted, turning on her side and embracing her lover.
"I am so tired, Kathryn."
"I know, darling. It’s time to get you out of here and into bed. Let me go up first, all right?"
Janeway climbed out of the tub and then swiftly wrapped a large towel around her. Reaching for another bath towel she held it up and steadied Seven. Wrapping the blonde up in the towel as well, the executive smiled tenderly at the wobbly young woman.
"You’re exhausted," she stated. "Come on. I’ll help you to bed."
She led the other woman into their cabin and helped her get into a large tee shirt. Seven gratefully slid between the sheets and closed her eyes.
"Do not leave, Kathryn," she mumbled drowsily.
"Of course not," Janeway said softly and sank down next to her, caressing the alabaster forehead. "I’m right here."
"Sometimes I fear that you will not be here," Seven whispered, rolling onto her side, facing Janeway. "Some days I fear this … arrangement, is only temporary."
The executive’s heart skipped a beat. She had had no idea that Seven harboured such thoughts.
"Oh, sweetheart," she said quietly. "You belong with me. Don’t you know that?"
Seven opened her eyes, sleepily watching Janeway through her eyelashes.
"Yes, I do," she mumbled. "However, I am not sure you do. Not all the time. Not lately."
Janeway went cold. She could hear the distress in the younger woman’s voice. Did Seven have moments when she expected Janeway to leave her?
The older woman leaned down, putting her lips just above Seven’s ear.
"Listen to me, Seven," she implored her. "You are mine. This also means that I am yours. Never doubt that. Nothing will change it."
Janeway held her breath. There was no reply.
She leaned back and regarded the beautiful face on the pillow.
Seven was fast asleep.
Several instinctive alarm bells had gone off within Janeway’s heart. There was a lot going on with the younger woman that she didn’t understand but one thing was clear.
It was long overdue to start romancing Seven.
Marion studied her reflection in the full view mirror. The long, ruby red evening dress made her look so different, she hardly recognised herself.
She usually wore black, grey or blue power suits at the office and casual slacks and sweaters on her spare time. This glamorous look was alien to her.
The dress was extravagant, she had taken Janeway’s advice regarding the dress code for the Captain’s Ball their last evening onboard the QE2 at face value.
"A classy long dress that spells luxury," the CEO had stated firmly. "You can’t go overboard, pardon the pun, except in taste, I suppose. It’s the last big, no huge, event on the QE2 before we sail into Southampton. Let’s make the most of it."
Marion had bought the dress just before they sailed. Even if she had felt slightly silly then about investing a small fortune in a dress she would probably never wear again, she was pleased about it now. It clung to her upper body, leaving her shoulders naked and then flooded out into a long, wide skirt. There were small rhinestones attached around her waist and then sprinkled like a waterfall down her left side. A small purse and matching long gloves came with it and the shoes with rhinestone buckles were also part of the ensemble.
She wore a simple gold necklace with a large ruby that caught your eye. It had been her mother’s and this was the first time she had had the opportunity to wear it in style. She had forgone rings or bracelets and opted for small plain gold earrings as none of her jewellery could compete with the necklace.
Marion had had her hair done at one of the beauty salons on the ship and it was pulled back from her face and piled in soft curls on the top of her head with a couple of tresses framing her face. The make up was discreet and she knew she had never looked better.
She wondered what Julia would wear. Her new acquaintance that was quickly becoming a friend, mostly wore casual clothes, not unlike the outfits Marion usually wore at home.
Julia had not intended to attend the Captain’s Ball but Janeway had not taken no for an answer. She had simply used her usual commanding attitude on the other woman, leaving her with little choice but to agree.
Marion considered Julia to be something of a mystery. She was an interior designer from Michigan and a successful one at that. She was travelling alone to Europe to spend a week in London. Marion found the unobtrusive woman fascinating. Julia was not shy but withdrawn in a way that made Marion very curious. She had noticed that both Seven and Janeway liked her a lot. Julia was a very … likeable person.
There was a knock at the door.
Janeway opened it and poked her head through.
"Are you ready, Marion … Oh, my … you look wonderful!"
Marion felt her cheeks redden a little.
"Yes, this is as good as it gets," she allowed. "How about you and Seven?"
"Well, what do you think? Will I do?" Janeway smiled crookedly and opened the door completely.
She was dressed in a narrow dark blue gown with a soft pattern of black roses. It was deceptively simple but Marion realised that this was a very expensive garment. The executive wore long black gloves and a small black purse. A quick glance down her feet revealed black high heel pumps.
She wore her hair in large curls, fastened in a chignon at the back of her head.
"What a gorgeous dress," Marion said, smiling warmly at her boss. "It’s very becoming."
"You think so? Well, wait until you see Seven. That dress is to die for. In fact, the whole girl is."
Marion made sure she had her key and followed Janeway into her cabin. There was soft music playing and several candles burned on the small dresser.
She halted and could only stare.
In the middle of the floor stood Seven and although Marion had always recognised the younger woman’s beauty, she was now staring in disbelief. The blonde was simply exquisite.
A narrow ice white dress, leaving one shoulder naked and attached to the other one with merely a spaghetti strap, hugged the tall slender body like a glove. White beads covered the upper part of the dress, their soft glance reflecting the candlelight. The same glow came from a pearl collier around her neck.
The skirt was long and as narrow as Kathryn’s and Marion’s were wide, hugging her hips without being tight. A strict hairdo held her blonde hair, leaving every single feature of the beautiful alabaster face revealed. Very light make up, just mascara and a lipstick, was all it took to accentuate her natural beauty.
Marion all of a sudden knew why this woman had swept Kathryn Janeway off her feet. It wasn’t just her appearance, even though the blonde was breathtaking, it was her whole person. She radiated honesty, kindness and youthfulness in an intoxicating mix that must have stabbed the somewhat cynical and blasé executive right in the heart.
"My god, Seven," Marion said and walked over to her friend. "You are so beautiful."
"Thank you," Seven smiled. "You look wonderful yourself, Marion. That is a very elegant dress."
Marion reached out and did something she never thought she would do. She hugged the younger woman close to her for a moment and then pulled back.
"Thank you, Seven. Don’t think I don’t know how much I owe you, for everything."
Seven looked mystified.
"This trip was Kathryn’s idea," she pointed out.
"I know and it is a great vacation. Still, it’s because of your forgiveness and kindness that I’m here at all. I appreciate it more than I can say."
Looking a bit uncomfortable, Seven only nodded.
Janeway cleared her throat, apparently trying to get the festive mood back.
"Well, let’s blow out the candles and go find that new friend of yours, Marion," she said. "Seven, may I take your arm?"
Marion watched the blonde get a wondrous expression in her eyes. She smiled softly at the other woman.
"I’d be honoured, Kathryn," she said gently and held out her elbow to the smaller woman. Janeway tucked her hand under Seven’s arm and grabbed her small purse.
"Well, ladies, let’s find Julia," she smiled broadly. "I think we have a date with a captain!"
Julia was waiting for her new friends in the ballroom.
She nervously checked the clasp of her gold necklace. It had come undone twice earlier and she was afraid she would lose it.
She wore a champagne coloured dress that looked deceptively demure from the front. From behind the dress gave a different impression, leaving her back naked down to her waist. The fabric was shiny and made the skirt fall in heavy folds that accentuated her hips and long legs. She had had fun choosing it and a rebellious voice within her had rejoiced at the fact that she had not automatically chosen the most appropriate dress, but the one she liked the best.
She studied the crowd that slowly moved through the doors to the ballroom, hoping to spot Marion and her friends. She had come to like them all and was intrigued how three such different individuals could get along so well. They apparently worked together at the same company. They had kept from discussing anything related to their respective workplaces but this much she had found out.
Seven was something of a mystery. Her unusual way of speaking, her childlike beauty and open friendliness was disarming. She did nothing to conceal that she and Janeway were a couple. The older woman wasn’t as obvious about it but Julia suspected that she really didn’t care what people knew or thought they knew.
Marion was by far the most attractive woman she had ever seen. Julia knew from the day before that Marion had recently turned forty. She herself was thirty-two but knew she gave a much younger impression sometimes. Would Marion think she was too young? Kicking herself mentally for allowing such thoughts, she focused on the music. Like everything else on the QE2 it was first class.
This cruise had by far exceeded her expectations. Although her work was her life, it was a relief to leave it behind for a brief hiatus. Julia was aware that it wasn’t just a matter of escaping her work even though it was incredibly demanding; it was the constant demands made by her family that really exhausted her.
Julia looked up. She noticed that lots of people were looking towards the door. She curiously directed her attention there. People gave way and Julia found herself staring at a woman entering the room, looking vaguely familiar.
It took her a moment to realise that the goddess in white was Seven. The blonde seemed oblivious to the fact that everyone in the ballroom was staring at her. Janeway was at her side; her arm tucked under Seven’s and looking quite possessive.
Then someone moved out from behind the two women and Julia forgot about Seven.
Marion McDunn was stunning in her red dress. The dark haired woman looked around the room and spotted Julia.
"Julia, you look great," Marion stated as she walked up to her. "What a lovely dress!"
"You look fantastic," she returned the compliment, noticing the sparkle in Marion’s eyes. "So do Kathryn and Seven. Goodness, you three caused quite a commotion when you walked in."
"Oh, that was purely Seven," Marion grinned. "Doesn’t she look incredible?"
"She’s very beautiful," Julia agreed. "Kathryn looks like she’s up to the task of protecting her, though."
"She might need to," Marion said. "I’m sure a line of people will form wanting the opportunity to dance with her. I wonder if Seven knows how to dance, come to think of it?"
The other woman’s concern puzzled Julia.
"Why shouldn’t she?"
"Seven grew up in a remote part of the country under very different circumstances. She’s very intelligent and capable but her parents didn’t exactly make a point of teaching her the social skills."
"Well, we’ll find out I guess," Julia said.
"I wonder if it has entered Kathryn’s mind that she’ll be asked to dance," Marion mumbled. "This could get interesting."
She moved next to Julia and accidentally brushed against her arm. Julia bit her lip at the shiver the soft touch sent down her spine. Trying to remain composed she turned to greet Janeway and Seven.
A barely audible gasp from Marion betrayed that she had not realised just how revealing Julia’s dress were. Taking it as a sign that the sales manager was not indifferent to her, Julia greeted the approaching women warmly, complimenting them on their dresses.
"You look very nice yourself, Julia," Seven replied with a smile.
There was a live big band playing and the floor had begun to fill with dancing couples. Julia regarded them and wished that she possessed the courage to ask the person she wanted to dance with the most.
A tall man in uniform approached them.
"My compliments, ladies," he smiled admiringly, "you all look absolutely breathtaking tonight. I’m Captain Johnson."
They introduced themselves and chatted with the handsome man for a while. Several other men circled them but before any of them homed in on Seven, the captain reached out his hand towards the blonde.
"May I have this dance, Ms Hansen?" he asked politely.
Seven gave Janeway a look but then nodded and took his arm. A waltz was playing and the captain put his arm around Seven before whirling her across the dance floor. Seven moved effortlessly, looking wonderful although somewhat detached as her eyes continuously found Janeway when they passed the executive.
Julia watched the executive carefully keep an eye on Seven. Janeway couldn’t take her eyes off the blonde.
Soon, all four women were dancing. Julia smiled up at her partner, a tall blonde man boasting a neatly trimmed beard. He had asked her to dance twice and she knew from the way he looked at her that he found her attractive.
One hour later they gathered at a table by the far wall, ordering drinks to quench their thirst. Julia gratefully sipped her orange juice.
"Isn’t the orchestra great?" Marion asked smilingly.
"Yes, they are. I don’t know when I danced non stop like this before," Janeway agreed. "Are you having fun, Seven?"
The younger woman nodded.
"Yes, Kathryn, I am. I enjoy dancing. My father taught me and we used to dance on the porch on Raven’s Island."
"I didn’t know you could dance," Janeway confessed. "I didn’t even think to ask before we came here."
"I think Seven dances better than any of us," Marion said. "I think her partners are a little disappointed though."
"Why?" the blonde asked worriedly. "Am I doing something wrong?"
The sales manager grinned.
"No, you’re not. It’s just that you are so beautiful and they probably wonder who you are concentrating on while you’re dancing because it certainly aren’t them."
Janeway shot her employee a look.
"Marion," she said warningly.
"No, go on, Marion," Seven said, squaring her shoulders.
Marion glanced at Julia who was very interested to see where the conversation was going.
"You dance with your partners but you focus on Kathryn all the time. Am I not correct, Seven?" the sales manager asked gently.
Seven considered this. Julia wondered if the girl was offended but the young blonde simply smiled and took Janeway’s hand in hers.
"You are correct," she admitted readily. "I find dancing most rewarding but I confess that I would have preferred to dance with you, Kathryn."
Janeway seemed breathless for a moment. Julia watched the older woman gaze at the blonde with narrowing eyes and for a while she thought Janeway would back off.
Then she surprised everybody by standing up, still holding Seven’s hand.
Seven looked uncertainly at the auburn haired woman in front of her.
"May I have this dance, Seven?" Janeway asked softly.
Marion gasped quietly, looking from her boss to Julia with widening eyes.
"Kathryn, you do not have to …" Seven began.
"But I want to. Shall we dance?" the CEO asked again, a little devilish gleam in her eyes.
Seven swallowed hard but then got up.
"I would be delighted," she mumbled.
The two women entered the dance floor. The orchestra now played a very slow version of Night And Day. Janeway put her left arm around Seven’s waist and took her hand with her right.
Of course the CEO would opt to lead, Julia thought, watching in awe as the two women began to move to the music. People watched them curiously and several turned their heads when they noticed that people next to them were staring at something.
Feeling humble witnessing such a brave declaration of love, Julia glanced at Marion, seeing her new friend was just as taken by the sight of Janeway and Seven.
"What do you say," Julia said quietly, not knowing where she found the courage. "Should we join them?"
Marion slowly turned her head and looked at Julia.
"You want to dance with me?"
"Yes, why not? Let’s give the good people at the Captain’s Ball something to write home about."
She rose and extended a hand to Marion, half expecting the other woman to reject her. Then Marion glanced at Janeway and Seven on the dance floor and shook her head with a smile.
"Why not, indeed?" she said and took the proffered hand.
When they reached the dance floor, Julia leaned against her friend.
"You can lead if you want," she murmured.
"Thanks, that’s nice of you," Marion hissed back.
She reached around Julia’s waist and pulled her into a slow dance to the suggestive rhythm.
"Like this?" Marion asked.
Julia felt flushed but nodded. The slender arm around her, the hand on her naked back and the other hand holding her own firmly as they danced, were making her a little dizzy.
They danced closer to the other women, Marion apparently wanting to show her support and take some of the attention off her boss.
Janeway looked up. Her eyes widened as she spotted the other two women dancing not far from her and Seven. She leaned into the blonde and whispered something in her ear. Seven glanced over her shoulder and smiled towards them before focusing on her partner again.
"People are not staring as much anymore," Marion stated, carefully eyeing the couples dancing closest to them.
"Does that mean you want to go back and sit the rest of the dance out?" Julia asked hesitatingly, not sure how to interpret the comment.
Marion was a bit intimidating at times. The dark haired woman possessed a sarcastic wit and a keen intelligence that made her and Janeway equals when they discussed things. Julia was more of an introvert. Although she found their verbal repartee to be riveting she was reluctant to join in. She much preferred to watch and listen. Even Seven, who was bright and clever in her own special way, would settle for being a spectator.
"No, I want to dance," Marion now answered and pulled the other woman closer. "Unless you want to sit down?"
"No, no, I’m fine. I’m having fun," Julia said, feeling a soft glow of happiness in the pit of her stomach. She wondered briefly if it was the dress that gave her the courage to act so boldly or perhaps the appreciative gleam in the other woman’s eyes. She was enjoying herself and felt freer and happier than in a long time.
Marion hummed to the music and her hand kept moving in a circle on Julia’s lower back, like an unconscious little caress. A smile played at the corners of her mouth.
All Julia could do was bite her lip and lower her head to not let the other woman see the desire in her eyes.
Seven was dancing on clouds.
She was in the arms of the woman she loved and they were moving as one to the music. Their dresses whispered against each other as the fabrics met and parted in the dance.
Kathryn held her close but not tight. Seven enjoyed the soft touch but it was the fact that the executive had asked her to dance without hesitation that made her heart pound.
"Are you happy, darling?" Kathryn asked softly.
"Very happy," Seven replied. "This was a wonderful surprise. Did you plan this or was it a spur of the moment decision, Kathryn?"
Her lover gazed up at her.
"I can honestly say that I didn’t plan on dancing with you at the Captain’s Ball, simply because it just didn’t occur to me. But when I saw the people dancing and watched you dancing with all those men … I knew that this evening wouldn’t be perfect if I didn’t get the chance to dance with you myself. I mean I love you with all my heart. I didn’t think much … I just acted."
The blonde looked tenderly at the CEO.
"I am enjoying this very much," she said. "This is something I will never forget, Kathryn. That you went against what is conventional and danced with me, looking so beautiful in that wonderful dress."
"Oh, my god, Seven," Kathryn moaned. "You are the one who is absolutely gorgeous. You look so amazing; there are no words to describe it. Sometimes I can’t believe you’re mine."
"But I am yours," she stated uncertainly. "Have I ever given you reason …"
"No, darling," Kathryn reassured her. "It’s not you. Sometimes I have little moments of stupid insecurities that quickly pass, I promise. You’re always so good to me. You’re smart, you’re amazingly beautiful, and so loving." Kathryn pulled the blonde closer and they kept dancing. "Sometimes I just don’t feel that I’m … deserving."
Seven leaned her cheek against Kathryn’s temple. She had never heard Kathryn speak like this before. She never knew that the executive felt insecure; Kathryn always seemed so competent and composed.
Was it possible that Kathryn was as afraid of losing her as she was of losing Kathryn? She had always assumed that the most important thing in the executive’s life was her work and her company and Seven had tried to let Kathryn know that she understood this and tried to be as supportive as possible. Had she been wrong? Had she become what mattered most in her lover’s life? The thought made her gasp a little.
"I love you, Kathryn," she murmured. "I love you more than anything."
Kathryn tipped her head back and a slow radiant smile formed on her lips.
"I know, sweetheart," she said tenderly, apparently oblivious to those dancing around them. "I love you too."
Marion was looking at the woman in the champagne coloured dress with new eyes.
She and Julia were standing outside Julia’s cabin, saying goodnight after the Captain’s Ball. They had danced all evening, three of those dances together.
Janeway and Seven had retired for the evening over an hour ago and Marion had obviously surprised Julia by asking her to dance the last dance before they left.
"But Seven and Kathryn have left …" the other woman had objected, looking confused.
"Yes?" Marion replied, quirking an eyebrow.
"I thought we only danced to out of solidarity with them?"
"Yes. No. What I mean …" Julia had bit her lip and gone quiet.
"Do you want to dance again or not?" Marion had asked with exaggerated patience.
Julia had nodded and the sales manager had pulled her to the dance floor and into her arms, taking the lead without asking. The orchestra had played Unforgettableand they had danced in silence. Marion had been utterly aware of the other woman’s soft skin as her hand caressed the naked back.
Now the interior designer was looking just as flushed.
"Thank you for a lovely evening," Marion said, remaining calm on the surface. "I had a great time."
"So did I, Marion," Julia replied in a low voice.
"Tomorrow we sail into Southampton," Marion began. "We’re taking the train to London."
"So am I."
Marion smiled broadly which made the other woman’s eyes widen.
"So this doesn’t have to mean goodbye just yet?"
"I guess not," Julia mumbled, moving her small purse from one hand to the other.
Marion looked up and down the empty corridor. She took a step closer to Julia.
"Am I making you nervous?" she asked smilingly.
"Yes, I guess so," she admitted, leaning back against the door. "Do you enjoy making me nervous?"
"That depends," the sales manager said.
She looked at the woman in front of her. The short hair framed an elf like face with huge grey eyes and high cheekbones. The soft pink mouth was half open and the tip of her tongue darted out to lick them, also a sign of nervousness.
"On what?" the other woman asked.
"On why you’re so nervous, I suppose. If it’s because I make you ill at ease … or if it’s because you’re wondering …"
Marion became quiet. She admitted to herself that if Julia was nervous, she herself was terrified and when she became terrified, she became assertive, bordering on aggressive.
Julia regarded her carefully for a moment, almost making the sales manager squirm under her unyielding gaze.
"I wonder," she admitted with a soft smile. "I wonder if you’re aware of the effect you have on me, Marion. How you make me feel."
Marion cleared her throat.
"How do I make you feel?" she asked.
"Do you really want to know?"
"I’m attracted to you."
The open and honest declaration made Marion inhale audibly and take one step closer.
"Are you aware what such a statement does to me?" she growled softly.
"No. You’re like a chameleon. I never quite know what you’re thinking and half the time I don’t know whether you’re joking or not."
Marion checked the corridor again then pushed Julia against her door and put her hands on either side of the other woman’s head. Her lips were just a whisper away from the pink mouth she had been studying.
"Here, let me explain myself," she murmured against the softness.
Without touching any other part of Julia she captured the other woman’s mouth. Not realising just how intense the feeling would be Marion increased the pressure to savour the intoxicating taste of Julia.
Julia whimpered and opened her mouth, clutching her purse between them.
The sales manager responded to the involuntary invitation and let her tongue slip into the other woman’s mouth, forcing herself to be gentle when all she wanted was to ravish that sweet mouth and discover all its secrets.
Voices down the corridor reached her and she pulled back with a moan of disappointment.
Julia’s stared at Marion with all her desire on display in her eyes.
"Marion," she whispered.
Quickly and with some remorse for her assault on the other woman’s mouth in such a public place, Marion caressed Julia’s blushing cheek.
"I’m sorry," she said quietly.
"No, you’re not. Not really. Neither am I," Julia replied with a shy smile.
This was unexpected. The strength the other woman showed when she least expected it amazed Marion. Julia’s idea of the two of them dancing to support Janeway and Seven had come as a delightful surprise. Embracing this wonderful woman all evening had stirred emotions in her that she had kept dormant out of sheer will for years. Julia’s strange mix of boldness and shyness intrigued Marion and made her want to get to know this multifaceted individual even more.
"You’re not angry?" Marion asked carefully.
"No, but I think it’s time we went to bed. To sleep, I mean," the other woman smiled and blushed.
"I know what you mean," she said. "Sleep well, Julia. I look forward to seeing you in the morning."
"Sleep well," Julia replied. She then made a huge production of checking the corridor before kissing Marion’s cheek. "Goodnight, Marion."
She opened her purse and pulled out her key. Unlocking her door she turned her head.
"This has been a wonderful evening, one of the best I have experienced in a very long time," she said gently.
"Same here," Marion said.
"See you tomorrow," Julia smiled and closed her door behind her.
Marion began to walk towards her cabin feeling strangely happy about not having to say goodbye to Julia when they debarked from the QE2.
"I thought the QE2 was the most luxurious place imaginable but now I see that I was wrong," Seven stated as she looked around their room at the Ritz.
They had arrived in London a couple of hours earlier and checked into the famous hotel.
Marion was staying three rooms down the same corridor.
"Do you like it?" Janeway asked.
"It is a wonderful room. Look, there is even a fireplace."
Seven walked up to the restored fireplace and studied the ornaments sitting on the mantelpiece. Carefully she touched a figurine of a ballerina in a frail pink skirt.
"I like it too," Janeway smiled and approached her. "I stayed here once before about five years ago and I wanted to share the experience with you.
She wrapped her arms around Seven’s waist and pulled her close. Tipping her head back she smiled invitingly.
Seven smiled back and leaned down for a kiss.
They embraced for a moment, enjoying the pleasure of being together in this amazing setting.
Janeway felt Seven’s hands in her hair as the blonde deepened the kiss.
"Mm … " the executive moaned appreciatively. "We can’t get carried away just yet, darling. Marion is waiting for us to go to lunch. I think she misses Julia. Do you remember at what hotel she’s staying?"
"I was not paying attention," Seven said. "Marion knows."
"They seem to get along really well."
"I agree. I have never seen Marion this relaxed. She has been smiling a lot lately."
"She has indeed."
Janeway reluctantly let go of Seven and picked up the phone. She dialled Marion’s room. After listening for a moment she hung up.
"The line’s busy," she said. "Why don’t we take a quick shower and then go out for lunch and do some sightseeing?"
Seven walked over to her lover and hugged her again.
"I would love to take a shower with you," she said.
"Hm … Just a shower, darling," Janeway said warningly. "There will be plenty of time for romance later."
The blonde smiled innocently.
"Of course, Kathryn."
Janeway eyed her suspiciously.
"You’re being way too compliant," she said.
"I am?" Seven asked mildly.
"Yes you are. You only use that meek tone of voice when you’re up to something."
"Stop repeating everything I say and get into that shower," Janeway laughed. "I have to take care of something first."
"Anything I can assist you with Kathryn?" Seven asked while pulling off her sweater.
Janeway swallowed hard at the sight of a half undressed Seven.
"No, it’s a surprise and it won’t be one if you assist me, now will it?"
"Correct. I will leave you to arrange this surprise of yours then. I will be in the shower. Do not make we wait." Seven turned and continued to undress as she made her exit.
Janeway moaned. She knew that her self-control would be put to a serious test if she and Seven were to get out of the shower in a timely manner. "Self-control be damned!" she muttered, as she made sure Seven was out of earshot and she dialled the front desk.
"Good afternoon," she said politely, "my name is Kathryn Janeway and I’m staying in room 410. I know this might be difficult to arrange on such short notice but I thought there’d be no harm in asking."
"Of course, madam," the woman at the other end said politely. "How may I be of assistance?"
Janeway smiled. She had a good feeling about this. Nothing seemed impossible on such a marvellous day as today.
Marion picked up the phone. It had rung on her way into the shower and she was dressed in only a robe.
"McDunn," she answered shortly.
"Marion? It’s Julia."
She could hear that the other woman was upset and felt her stomach twitch.
"Julia? What’s wrong?" she asked.
"I should have known better than let my mother book my room," the other woman laughed, sounding more strained than amused. "I’m in a bit of a mess here. Honestly, it’s nothing I can’t handle but … the thought of going through the whole song and dance is making me nauseous."
"To make an extremely dreary and long story short, my parents want me to marry a particular man. I don’t. He’s here in my room, which is apparently is his room as well. It seems that my family has decided to force the issue."
"What kind of Victorian drama is this? Has anyone bothered to inform your parents that this is the twenty first century? Do they just expect you to fall into his arms and say ‘take me I’m yours’?"
She heard something that sounded like a mix between laughter and a whimper from the other end.
"I’ve told them that it’s not going to happen. Not with him. My parents think that if they are persistent eventually I will see their wisdom in this and do ‘the right thing’. This is just a small battle in an ongoing war between us. I have two younger sisters who are both married and procreating like there’s no tomorrow. You would think that would be enough for them, right?"
Marion shook her head at the other woman’s obvious distress.
"Get yourself and your luggage into a taxi and get over here to the Ritz," she said without hesitating for a moment. "I have a gorgeous room with an enormous bed and a large couch. You don’t have to spend one single second with Prince Charming if you don’t want to."
"What will Kathryn and Seven think?" Julia asked in a low voice. "It’s your vacation and …"
"They’ll say the same thing. Now, get over here."
There was a brief silence and then a sigh.
"I’m on my way. Thank you Marion. I won’t forget this."
"I know. I’ll remind you if you do," Marion answered, making Julia laugh shakily.
"I’m not always this indecisive," the other woman stated.
"Of course not."
"See you soon then," Julia said.
"I’m in room 416."
They hung up and Marion dialled Janeway and Seven’s room. Janeway picked up the phone after the first signal.
"Kathryn, there’s been a change of plans of sorts but I’m handling it," Marion explained, wondering briefly why her boss sounded so out of breath.
"What’s up? Janeway asked immediately concerned.
"It’s Julia. She ran into some unexpected personal problem at her hotel and she can’t stay there."
"I hope you told her to join us here instead," the executive replied.
Marion’s heart flooded with gratitude over the question.
"I did," she grinned sheepishly. "I didn’t think you’d mind if I shared my room with her."
"Of course not. She’s delightful and is quickly becoming a friend and you don’t leave your friends hanging."
The sales manager shook her head.
"No, you don’t. Thank you, Kathryn. What are our plans for today?"
"When we have showered and Julia has had the chance to do the same, I think we should go out and have a bite to eat. Seven read about the open top buses and has her heart set on sightseeing from one of them." Janeway sighed in mock despair. "Then I thought we’d make an early night of it, at least Seven and I will."
"Sounds good to me," Marion agreed. "Open top buses, you say? That sounds very tourist like. Seven will enjoy it and don’t pretend you won’t."
"I know. Don’t tell her I told you that."
Marion laughed out loud.
"You sound very happy, Marion," Janeway suddenly said. "Am I assuming too much when I say I think you and Julia are becoming close?"
The dark haired woman wrapped the phone cord around her finger, suddenly feeling shy.
"No, you’re not," she replied quietly. "I like her. She’s so different from anyone I’ve ever known. I find her … fascinating."
Janeway laughed gently.
"You know what, Marion? That is exactly how I felt the first time I met Seven."
Julia pulled her cardigan close around her. There was a definite chill in the air, a typical cloudy British day. but at At least it wasn’t raining, which was good since they were riding upstairs in an open top bus through London.
Seven and Janeway were sitting in the seat in front of Marion and herself.
Julia glanced at the dark haired woman at her side. She had felt utterly vulnerable and a bit silly about her panicky phone call earlier but Marion had greeted her warmly when she had arrived at the Ritz.
As soon as she had put her bags down in the luxurious room, Marion had held her shoulders and examined her face thoroughly.
"Are you all right?" the sales manager had asked.
Julia had nodded but a stupid lump in her throat had prevented her from saying anything. There were so much more to her reaction than just being taken aback by her mothers so called surprise. As if the other woman had sensed it, she had pulled her into a warm hug.
"We can talk about it later," Marion had promised. "Right now I think Janeway needs us to help her survive sightseeing with Seven."
This had made Julia smile and now she was looking at the CEO in the seat in front of her. She quietly chuckled to herself.
"What’ so funny?" Marion asked.
"Oh, just the look on Kathryn’s face as she endures this for Seven’s sake," Julia whispered into Marion’s ear.
"It’s almost worth freezing to death just to witness it."
"Oh come on, the tours not that bad. I find it fascinating. The guide is very good," Julia objected.
"He is," Marion agreed, "but it’s too damn cold for me. What can I say? I’m allergic to the great outdoors. I’m a creature of comfort." Her eyes widened. "Oh my god… there’s Trafalgar Square again. I’m starting to know those pigeons on a first name basis."
Julia laughed. Without thinking she took Marion’s hand between hers and warmed it.
The other woman gave her a surprised look but then smiled and moved closer on the seat.
"Thanks," she said quietly. "As you can tell, I’m freezing."
"Well, the tour is almost over. I think we’ll be able to persuade the others to go for a cup of tea somewhere."
"Tea? I want a large Café Latte," Marion shuddered. "Do you prefer tea?" She eyed Julia as if she had a serious character flaw.
"I like both," Julia grinned. "Will you hold that against me?"
"No, as long as you never make me drink that terrible stuff."
"I promise I’ll never do any such thing."
They rode the bus for another fifteen minutes finally reaching the end of the tour. Gratefully the shivering women stepped off the bus. Seven purchased a pamphlet from the driver with pictures and details from the tour.
"I could have bought you that in the first place and spared us from freezing to death," Janeway muttered and pulled her coat tighter around her.
"That would not have been the same and you know it," Seven stated calmly putting an arm around Janeway’s shoulders. "You are cold. We should go somewhere and get something warm to drink,"
"Good idea," the executive allowed. "Dinner is a while yet. Oh, look, there’s a Starbucks."
Seven rolled her eyes and looked to her companions for support.
"Starbucks sounds fine to me," Marion beamed.
"It would," Julia said. "However, I think Seven wants to go to a more British establishment."
"Precisely," the blonde nodded. "There are several shops along this street," she pointed out.
Janeway regarded her partner tenderly.
"Pick one, Seven," she offered. "I’m sure they serve both beverages."
They walked to the corner and into an old restored restaurant, now a picturesque coffee shop. You could choose between sitting at small tables in the centre of it or in booths along two walls. Seven opted for one of the booths.
Julia gratefully sank down, rubbing her hands. A waitress approached them with menus. Seven and Julia ordered tea and scones, Marion chose Café Latte and Janeway a large mug of black Colombian coffee.
Julia clasped the mug between her hands, relishing the warmth it radiated. In the corner of her eyes she saw the other three do the same.
"I found the tour to be fascinating Seven," Julia said.
"I think we passed Trafalgar Square four times." Marion mumbled.
Janeway almost choked on her coffee.
"That is correct," Seven confirmed. "That happened because we went on the extended tour."
"We did what?" Janeway exclaimed. "I thought we agreed to just go on their standard tour, the Green one on the map. I should have known better!"
"They had a discount," Seven said calmly. "We could go on the Purple extended tour for the same price as their standard tour because there were four of us."
"Brilliant," Janeway smiled crookedly.
"Did you not enjoy yourself, Kathryn?" Seven asked in a small voice. "I found it very interesting. I have never been on such a vehicle before."
Julia’s heart ached for her new friend and Marion gave Janeway a dark look.
The CEO immediately reached out and took Seven’s hand.
"Darling," she said seriously. "You know me better than that. What I did enjoy more than anything was seeing how intrigued you were by everything we passed. I couldn’t take my eyes off you when you looked at all the sights and all the people. To see things through your eyes really made the whole trip fantastic. Even if it was a bit cold."
Julia had never seen such a radiant smile on Seven’s lips. The blonde beamed at Janeway.
"I am glad, Kathryn," she said. "However, even I found it curious that they passed Trafalgar Square four times. Do the British hold this place and the monument in such high regard?"
"I don’t think that’s why," Marion laughed. "I think it’s like Rome - all roads lead there."
Julia and leaned back against the backrest regarding her friends. She considered herself very lucky to have met these generous women, especially since things had become a bit complicated.
"Are you all right?" Marion asked quietly. "You look worried."
"No, I’m fine," Julia replied quickly. "It just feels great to be warm again."
"We’ll go back to the hotel soon. I think I’ll take a nap before it’s time to go out for dinner. How about you?"
Julia held her breath.
"I … A nap sounds appropriate," she said, the words tumbling over her lips.
"Must be all that fresh air," Marion grinned.
"I may be allergic to it but you seem to thrive in it. That would explain the colour in your cheeks."
Continued in part 2 of Far From Raven's Island