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OLIVIA

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Cordelia waited until her husband had lifted his water glass to his lips, and confided, “Your secretary made the sweetest pass at me this morning.”

After Aral had mopped, somewhat futilely, his lips, the front of his jacket, and a good part of the tablecloth, he complained, “You timed that.”

She dimpled. “Well, maybe a little."

He eyed her. “You are looking suspiciously merry. Betan and merry. You’re... not taking this seriously are you?” He had never imagined the efficient and beautiful ISWA Lieutenant Jole... had... interests in that direction. The effort to un-imagine it was going to be heroic.

“She sounded quite sincere. Well, that seems to be Lieutenant Jole’s usual mode. I admit, I’ve never heard her voice shake like that before.”

Aral carefully made sure no glass or fork was near his lips. “And what did you say?”

“Mm, I told her that was a very serious and complex proposition, and I would have to give it the careful thought it merited.”

“That’s... you’re not having her on, are you? Jole is the most brilliant secretary I’ve had since Kou, and he took years to train up to that level. I don’t want to risk losing her for any reason.”

“I’m actually giving a great deal of thought how to handle this without doing her harm. Or letting her get away. Er, from you. But I shouldn’t let her stew in miserable suspense one moment longer than necessary. What would you say if I told her no?”

“I’d say... that was very proper and prudent.”

“And what would you say if I said yes?”

He shoved his water glass farther away. Don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it...

“Shall I tell you what you’re thinking?”

No. Yes. “Mm.”

She tilted her head and grinned. “ ‘Can I watch?’ "

“I wouldn’t say any such thing! ...How did you know?”

“You’re a man. Really, love, it’s not hard.”

He glowered at her.

“Oh. Is it? Really, I never suspected our little theoretical discussions of bisexuality could work like that both ways. Shall have to keep it in mind.”

He made a noncommittal noise. It sounded a little like a gargle. “Do not do anything whatsoever to damage my secretary.”

She studied him with keen interest. “You know that leaves me a great deal of scope, without committing you to having said anything one way or the other. Aral the shrewd politician?”

Aral the Betan’s husband. “You are far more frightening than the Council of Ministers, dear Captain.”

Her grin was… contagious, actually.