The Hollow
Author:Nora Roberts



Chapter Three
IN THE DREAM IT WAS SUMMER. THE HEAT GRIPPED with sweaty hands, squeezing and wringing out energy like water out of a rag. In Hawkins Wood, leaves spread thick and green overhead, but the sun forced its way through in laser beams to flash into his eyes. Berries ripened on the thorny brambles, and the wild lilies bloomed in unearthly orange.

He knew his way. It seemed Fox had always known his way through these trees, down these paths. His mother would have called it sensory memory, he thought. Or past-life flashes.

He liked the quiet that was country woods-the low hum of insects, the faint rustle of squirrels or rabbits, the melodic chorus of birds with little more to do on a hot summer day but sing and wing.

Yes, he knew his way here, knew the sounds here, knew even the feel of the air in every season, for he had walked here in every season. Melting summers, burgeoning springs, brisk autumns, brutal winters. So he recognized the chill in the air when it crawled up his spine, and the sudden change of light, the gray tinge that wasn't the simplicity of a stray cloud over the sun. He knew the soft growl that came from behind, from in front, and choked off the music of the chickadees and jays.

He continued to walk the path to Hester's Pool.

Fear walked with him. It trickled along his skin like sweat, urged him to run. He had no weapon, and in the dream didn't question why he would come here alone, unarmed. When the trees-denuded now-began to bleed, he kept on. The blood was a lie; the blood was fear.

He stopped only when he saw the woman. She stood at the small dark pond, her back to him. She bent, gathering stones, filling her pockets with them.

Hester. Hester Deale. In the dream he called out to her, though he knew she was doomed. He couldn't go back hundreds of years and stop her from drowning herself. Nor could he stop himself from trying.

So he called out to her as he hurried forward, as the growling turned to a wet snicker of horrible amusement.

Don't. Don't. It wasn't your fault. None of it was your fault.

When she turned, when she looked into his eyes, it wasn't Hester, but Layla. Tears streaked her face like bitter rain, and her face was white as bone.

I can't stop. I don't want to die. Help me. Can't you help me?

Now he began to run, to run toward her, but the path stretched longer and longer, the snickering grew louder and louder. She held out her hands to him, a final plea before she fell into the pool, and vanished.

He leaped. The water was viciously, brutally cold. He dove down, searching until his burning lungs sent him up to gulp in air. A storm raged in the woods now, wild red lightning, cracking thunder, sparking fires that engulfed entire trees. He dove again, calling for Layla with his mind.

When he saw her, he plunged deeper.

Once again their eyes met, once again she reached for him.

She embraced him. Her mouth took his in a kiss that was as cold as the water. And she dragged him down to drown.

HE WOKE GASPING FOR AIR, HIS THROAT RAW AND burning. His chest pounded with pain as he fumbled for the light, as he shoved up and over to sit on the side of the bed and catch his laboring breath.

Not in the woods, not in the pond, he told himself, but in his own bed, in his own apartment. As he pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes he reminded himself he should be used to the nightmares. He and Cal and Gage had been plagued by them every seven years since they'd turned ten. He should be used, too, to pulling aspects of the dream back with him.

He was still chilled, his skin shivering spasmodically over frigid bones. The iron taste of the pool's water still coated his throat. Not real, he thought. No more real than bleeding trees or fires that didn't burn. Just another nasty jab by a demon from hell. No permanent damage.

He rose, left the bedroom, crossed his living room, and went into the kitchen. He pulled a cold bottle of water out of the fridge and drank half of it down as he stood.

When the phone rang, he felt a fresh spurt of alarm. Layla's number was displayed on the caller ID. "What's wrong?"

"You're okay." Her breath came out in a long, jerky whoosh. "You're okay."

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"I... God, it's three in the morning. I'm sorry. Panic attack. I woke you up. Sorry."

"You didn't wake me up. Why wouldn't I be okay, Layla?"

"It was just a dream. I shouldn't have called you."

"We were at Hester's Pool."

There was a moment of silence. "I killed you."

"As attorney for the defense, I have to advise that's going to be a hard case to prosecute, as the victim is currently alive and well and standing in his own kitchen."

"Fox-"

"It was a dream. A bad one, but still a dream. He's playing on your weakness, Layla." And mine, Fox realized, because I want to save the girl. "I can come over. We'll-"

"No, no, I feel stupid enough calling you. It was just so real, you know?"

"Yeah, I do."

"I didn't think, I just grabbed the phone. All right, calmer now. We'll need to talk about this tomorrow."

"We will. Try to get some sleep."

"You, too. And Fox, I'm glad I didn't drown you in Hester's Pool."

"I'm pretty happy about that myself. Good night."

Fox carried the bottle of water back to the bedroom. There, he stood looking out the window that faced the street. The Hollow was quiet, and still as a photograph. Nothing stirred. The people he loved, the people he knew, were safe in their beds.

But he stood there, watchful in the dark, and thought about a kiss that had been cold as the grave. And still seductive.

"CAN YOU REMEMBER ANY OTHER DETAILS?" CYBIL wrote notes on Layla's dream as Layla finished off her coffee.

"I think I gave you everything."

"Okay." Cybil leaned back in the kitchen chair, tapped her pencil. "The way it sounds, you and Fox had the same dream. It'll be interesting to see if they were exact, or how the details vary."

"Interesting."

"And informative. You could've woke me, Layla. We all know what it's like to have these nightmares."

"I felt steadier after I'd spoken to Fox, and he wasn't dead." She managed a small smile. "Plus, I don't need to be shrink-wrapped to figure out that part of the dream was rooted in what we talked about last night. My fear of hurting one of you."

"Especially Fox."

"Maybe especially. I'm working for him, for now. And I need to work with him. You and I and Quinn, we're, well, fish in the same pool. I'm not as worried about the two of you. You'll tell Quinn about the dream."

"As soon as she's back from her workout. Since I assume she dragged Cal to the gym with her, she'll probably talk him into coming back here for coffee. I can tell them both, and someone will fill Gage in. Gage was a little rough on you last night."

"He was."

"You needed it."

"Maybe I did." No point in whining about it, Layla thought. "Let me ask you something. You and Gage are going to have to work together, too, at some point. How's that going to work?"

"I'll cross that bridge when. And I think we'll figure out a way to handle it without shedding each other's blood."

"If you say so. I'm going to go up and get dressed, get to work."

"Do you want a ride in?"

"No, thanks. The walk'll do me good."

Layla took her time. Alice Hawbaker would be manning the office, and there would be little to do. With Alice there, Layla didn't think it would be wise to huddle with Fox over a shared dream. Nor would it be the best time to have a lesson on honing and, more important to her, controlling her ability.

She'd handle busywork for a couple of hours, run whatever errands Alice might have on tap. It had taken her only a few days to understand the rhythm of the office. If she had any interest or aspirations toward managing a law office, Fox's practice would have been just fine.

As it was, it would bore her senseless within weeks.

Which wasn't the point, Layla reminded herself as she deliberately headed to the Square. The point was to help Fox, to earn a paycheck, and to keep busy.

She stopped at the Square. And that was another point. She could stand here, she thought, she could look at the broken or boarded windows straight-on. She could tell herself to face what had happened to her the evening before, promise herself she would do all she could to stop it.

She turned, started down Main Street to cover the few blocks to Fox's office.

It was a nice town if you just overlooked what happened to it, in it, every seven years. There were lovely old houses along Main, pretty little shops. It was busy in the way small towns were busy. Steady, with familiar faces running the errands and making the change at the cash registers. There was a comfort in that, she supposed.

She liked the wide porches, the awnings, the tidy front yards and bricked sidewalks. It was a pleasant, quaint place, at least on the surface, and not quite postcardy enough to make it annoying.

The town's rhythm was another she'd tuned to quickly. People walked here, stopped to have a word with a neighbor or a friend. If she crossed the street to Ma's Pantry, she'd be greeted by name, asked how she was doing.

Halfway down the block she stopped in front of the little gift shop where she'd picked up some odds and ends for the house. The owner stood out front, staring up at her broken windows. When she turned, Layla saw the tears.

"I'm sorry." Layla walked to her. "Is there something-"

The woman shook her head. "It's just glass, isn't it? Just glass and things. A lot of broken things. A couple of those damn birds got through, wrecked half my stock. It was like they wanted to, like they were drunks at a party. I don't know."

"I'm so sorry."

"I tell myself, well, you've got insurance. And Mr. Hawkins'll fix the windows. He's a good landlord, and those windows will be fixed right away. But it doesn't seem to matter."

"I'd be heartbroken, too," Layla told her, and laid a hand on her arm for comfort. "You had really pretty things."

"Broken now. Seven years back a bunch of kids-we think-busted in and tore the place up. Broke everything they could, wrote obscenities on the walls. It was hard coming back from that, but we did it. I don't know if I've got the heart to do it again. I don't know if I have the heart." The woman walked back to her shop, went inside behind the broken glass.

Not just broken glass and broken things, Layla thought as she walked on. Broken dreams, too. One vicious act could shatter so much.

Her own heart was heavy when she walked into the reception area. Mrs. Hawbaker sat at the desk, fingers clicking away at the keyboard. "Morning!" She stopped and gave Layla a smile. "Don't you look nice."

"Thanks." Layla slipped off her jacket, hung it in the foyer closet. "A friend of mine in New York packed up my clothes, shipped them down for me. Can I get you some coffee, or is there anything you want me to get started on?"

"Fox said to ask you to go on back when you got in. He's got about thirty minutes before an appointment, so you go ahead."

"All right."

"I'll be leaving at one today. Be sure to remind Fox he's in court in the morning. It's on his calendar, and I sent him a memo, but it's best to remind him at the end of the day, too."

"No problem."

From her observations, Layla thought as she walked down the hall, Fox wasn't nearly as forgetful or absent-minded as he and Alice liked to think. Since the pocket doors to his office were open, she started to knock on the edge as she entered. Then she just stopped and stared.

He stood in back of his desk in front of the window in his no-court-today jeans and untucked shirt, juggling three red balls. His legs were spread, his face absolutely relaxed, and those tiger eyes of his following the circle as his hands caught and tossed, caught and tossed.

"You can juggle."

She broke his rhythm, but he managed to catch two balls in one hand, one in the other before they went flying around the room. "Yeah. It helps me think."

"You can juggle," she repeated, dazed and delighted.

Because it was rare to see her smile just that way, he sent the balls circling again. "It's all timing." When she laughed, he shot them high, began to walk and turn as he tossed the balls. "Three objects, even four, same size and weight, not really a challenge. If I'm looking for a challenge I mix it up. This is just think juggling."

"Think juggling," she repeated as he caught the balls again.

"Yeah." He opened his desk drawer, dropped them in. "Helps clear my head when I'm..." He got a good look at her. "Wow. You look... good."

"Thanks." She'd worn a skirt and a short, cinched jacket and now wondered if it was too upscale for her current position. "I got the rest of my clothes, and I thought since I had them... Anyway, you wanted to see me."

"I did? I did," he remembered. "Wait." He crossed to the doors, slid them closed. "Do you want anything?"

"No."

"Okay." His juggling-clear head was fogged up again thanks to her legs, so he went to his minifridge and took out a Coke. "I thought, since there's some time this morning, we should compare notes about the dream. Let's sit down."

She took one of the visitors' chairs, and Fox took the other. "You go first," she told him.

When he'd finished, he got up, opened his little fridge, and took out a bottle of Diet Pepsi. When he put it into her hand and she just stared at it, he sat again. "That's what you drink, right? That's what's stocked in the fridge at your place."

"Yes. Thanks."

"Do you want a glass?"

She shook her head. The simple consideration shouldn't have surprised her, and yet it did. "Do you keep Diet Sprite in there for Alice?"

"Sure. Why not?"

"Why not," she murmured, then drank. "I was in the woods, too," Layla began. "But it wasn't just me. She was in my head, or I was in hers. It's hard to tell. I felt her despair, her fear, like they were mine. I... I've never been pregnant, never had a child, but my body felt different." She hesitated, then told herself she'd been able to give Cybil the details. She could give them to Fox. "My breasts were heavy, and I understood, I knew, I'd nursed. In the same way I'd experienced her rape. It was that same kind of awareness. I knew where I was going."

She paused again, shifted so she could look at his face. He had a way of listening, she thought, so that she knew he not only heard every word, but also understood what came behind them. "I don't know those woods, have only been in them that one time, but I knew where I was, and I knew I was going to the pond. I knew why. I didn't want to go. I didn't want to go there, but I couldn't stop myself. I couldn't stop her. I was screaming inside because I didn't want to die, but she did. She couldn't stand it anymore."

"Couldn't stand what?"

"She remembered. She remembered the rape, how it felt, what was in her. She remembered, Fox, the night in the clearing. He-it-controlled her so that she accused Giles Dent of her rape, denounced him and Ann Hawkins as witches, and she assumed they were dead. She couldn't live with the guilt. He told her to run."

"Who?"

"Dent. In the clearing, just before the fire, he looked at her-he pitied her, he forgave her. He told her to run. She ran. She was only sixteen. Everyone thought the child was Dent's, and pitied her for that. She knew, but was afraid to recant. Afraid to speak."

It pierced her as she spoke of it. That fear, that horror and despair. "She was afraid all the time, Fox, and mad with that fear, that guilt, those memories by the time she delivered the child. I felt it all, it was all swimming inside her-and me. She wanted to end it. She wanted to take the child with her, and end that, too, but she couldn't bring herself to do it."

Those alert and compassionate eyes narrowed on Layla's face. "She thought about killing the baby?"

As she nodded, Layla drew air in slowly. "She feared it, and hated it, and still she loved it. It, not she. I mean-"

"Hester thought of the baby as 'it.' "

"Yes. Yes. But still, she couldn't kill the baby. If she had-I thought, when I understood that, if she had, I wouldn't be here. She gave me life by sparing the child, and now she was going to kill me because I was trapped with her. We walked, and if she heard me she must've thought I was one of the voices driving her mad. I couldn't make her listen, couldn't make her understand. Then I saw you."

She paused to drink again, to steady herself. "I saw you, and I thought, Thank God. Thank God, he's here. I could feel the stones in my hand when she picked them up, feel the weight of them dragging down the pockets of the dress we wore. There was nothing I could do, but I thought-"

"You thought I'd stop her." So had he, Fox mused. Save the girl.

"You were calling out, telling her it wasn't her fault. You ran to her-to me. And for an instant, I think she heard you. I think, I felt, she wanted to believe you. Then we were in the water, going down. I couldn't tell if she fell or jumped, but we were under the water. I told myself not to panic. Don't panic. I'm a good swimmer."

"Captain of the swim team."

"I told you that?" She managed a small laugh, wet her throat again. "I told myself I could get to the surface, even with the weight, I'm a strong swimmer. But I couldn't. Worse, I couldn't even try. It wasn't just the stones weighing me down."

"It was Hester."

"Yes. I saw you in the water, diving down, and then..." She closed her eyes, pressed her lips hard together.

"It's okay." Reaching over, he closed a hand over hers. "We're okay."

"Fox, I don't know if it was her, or if I... I don't know. We grabbed on to you."

"You kissed me."

"We killed you."

"We all came to a bad end, but it didn't actually happen. However vivid and sensory, it wasn't real. It was a hard way for you to get inside Hester Deale's head, but now we know more about her."

"Why were you there?"

"Best guess? We've got this link, you and me. I've shared dreams with Cal and Gage before. Same thing. But there was more this time, another level of connection. In the dream, I saw you, Layla. Not Hester. I heard you. That's interesting. Something to think about."

"When you juggle."

He grinned. "Couldn't hurt. We need to-"

His intercom buzzed. "Mr. Edwards is here."

Fox rose, flipped the switch on his desk. "Okay, give me a minute." He turned back to Layla as she rose. "We need some more time on this. My last appointment today's at-"

"Four. Mrs. Halliday."

"Right. You're good. If you're not booked, we could go upstairs after my last appointment, do some work on this."

It was time, Layla thought, to suit up. "All right."

He walked to the doors with her, slid them open. "We could have some dinner," he began.

"I don't want you to go to any trouble."

"I have every delivery place within a five-mile radius on speed dial."

She smiled a little. "Good plan."

He walked out with her to where two hundred and twenty pounds of Edwards filled a chair in reception. His belly, covered in a white T-shirt, pillowed over the waistband of his jeans. His scrubby gray hair was topped by a John Deere gimme cap. He pushed to his feet, held out a hand to clasp the one Fox offered.

"How you doing?" Fox asked.

"You tell me."

"Come on back, Mr. Edwards. We'll talk about it."

Works outside, Layla decided as Fox led his client back. A farmer maybe, or a builder, a landscaper. A couple clicks over sixty, and discouraged.

"What's his story, Alice? Can you tell me?"

"Property dispute," Alice said as she gathered up envelopes. "Tim Edwards has a farm a few miles south of town. Developers bought some of the land that runs with it. Survey puts some eight acres of Tim's land over the line. Developer wants it, so does Tim. I'm going to run to the post office."

"I can do that."

Alice wagged a finger. "Then I wouldn't get the walk or the gossip. I've got notes here on a trust Fox is putting together. Why don't you draft that out while I'm gone?"

Alone, Layla sat, got to work. Within ten minutes, she wondered why people needed such complicated, convoluted language to say the straightforward. She picked her way through it, answered the phone, made appointments. When Alice came back, she had questions. She noted that Edwards walked out looking considerably less discouraged.

By one o'clock, she was on her own and pleased to print out the trust Alice had proofed for her. By page two, the printer signaled its cartridge was out of ink. She went to the supply closet across from the pretty little law library hoping Fox stocked backups. She spotted the box on the top shelf.

Why was it always the top shelf? she wondered. Why were there top shelves anyway when not everyone in the world was six feet tall? She rose to her toes, stretched up and managed to nudge a corner of the carton over the edge of the shelf. With one hand braced on a lower shelf, she wiggled it out another inch.

"I'm going out to grab some lunch," Fox said from behind her. "If you want anything- Here, let me get that."

"I've almost got the damn thing now."

"Yeah, and it's going to fall on your head."

He leaned in, reached up, just as she turned.

Their bodies brushed, bumped. Her face tipped up, filled his vision as her scent slid around him like satin ribbons. Those sea-siren eyes made him feel a little drunk and a lot needy. He thought: Step back, O'Dell. Then he made the mistake of letting his gaze drop down to her mouth. And he was done.

He angled down, another inch, heard her breath draw in. Her lips parted, and he closed that last whisper of distance. A small, soft taste, then another, both feather light. Then her lashes swept down over those seductive eyes; her mouth brushed his.

The kiss went deeper, a slow slide into heat that tangled his senses, that filled them with her until all he wanted was to sink and sink and sink. And drown.

She made some sound, pleasure, distress, he couldn't tell with the blood roaring in his ears. But it reminded him where they were. How they were. He broke the kiss, realized he was essentially shoving her into the storage closet.

"Sorry. I'm sorry." She was working for him, for God's sake. "I shouldn't have. That was inappropriate. It was-" Amazing. "It was..."

"Fox?"

He jerked back an entire foot at the voice behind him. When he whirled around, he could feel his stomach drop straight to his knees. "Mom."

"Sorry to interrupt." She gave Fox a sunny smile, then turned it on Layla. "Hi. I'm Joanne Barry. Fox's mother."

Why was there never a handy hole in the floor when you needed one? Layla thought. "It's nice to meet you, Ms. Barry. I'm Layla Darnell."

"I told you Layla's helping me out in the office. We were just..."

"Yes, you were."

Still smiling, she left it at that.

She was the kind of woman you'd probably stare at even if you weren't stunned stupid, Layla thought. There was all that rich brown hair waving wild around a strong-boned face with its full, unpainted mouth, and long hazel eyes that managed to look amused, curious, and patient all at once. Joanne had the tall, willowy build that carried the low-slung jeans, boots, and skinny sweater look perfectly.

Since it appeared Fox had been struck dumb, Layla managed to clear her throat. "I, ah, needed a new cartridge. For the printer? It's on the top shelf."

"Right. Right. I was getting that." Fox turned, managed to collide with Layla again. "Sorry." Jesus Christ. He'd no more than pulled the box down when Layla snatched it away, and fled.

"Thanks!"

"Do you have a minute for me?" Jo asked sweetly. "Or do you need to get back to what you were doing when I came in?"

"Cut it out." Fox hunched his shoulders, led the way back to his office.

"She's very pretty. Who could blame you for playing a little boss and secretary?"

"Mom." Now he dragged his hands through his hair. "It wasn't like that. It was... Never mind." He dropped into a chair. "What's up?"

"I had some things to do in town. One of which was to drop by your sister's for lunch. Sparrow tells me she hasn't seen you in there for two weeks."

"I've been meaning to."

Jo leaned back against his desk. "Eating something that isn't fried, processed, and full of chemicals once a week won't kill you, Fox. And you should be supporting your sister."

"Okay. I'll go in today."

"Good. Second, I had some pottery to take into Lorrie's. You must've seen what happened to her shop."

"Not specifically." He thought of the smashed windows, the corpses of crows on Main Street. "How bad's the damage?"

"It's bad." Jo lifted a hand to the trio of crystals that hung from a chain around her neck. "Fox, she's talking about closing. Moving away. It breaks my heart. And it scares me. I'm scared for you."

He rose, put his arms around her, rubbed his cheek against hers. "It's going to be okay. We're working on it."

"I want to do something. Your dad and I, all of us, we want to do something."

"You've done something every day of my entire life." He gave her a squeeze. "You've been my mom."

She eased back to take his face in her hands. "You get that charm from your father. Look right at me and reassure me it's going to be okay."

Without hesitation or guile, his eyes met hers. "It's going to be okay. Trust me."

"I do." She kissed his forehead, his cheek, then the other, then gave him a light peck on the lips. "But you're still my baby. I expect you to take good care of my baby. Now go have lunch at your sister's. Her eggplant salad's on special today."

"Yummy."

Tolerant, she gave him a light poke in the belly. "You ought to close the office for an hour and take that pretty girl to lunch with you."

"The pretty girl works for me."

"How did I manage to raise such a rule follower? It's disheartening." She gave him another poke before starting for the door. "I love you, Fox."

"I love you, Mom. And I'll walk out with you," he added quickly, realizing his mother would have no compunction about stopping by Layla's desk and pumping the pretty girl for information.

"I'll have another chance to get her alone and grill her," Jo said casually.

"Yeah. But not today."

THE SALAD WASN'T BAD, AND SINCE HE'D EATEN at the counter he'd had a little time to hang with his baby sister. Since she never failed to put him in a good mood, he walked back to his office appreciating the sunny, blustery day. He'd have appreciated it more if he hadn't run into Derrick Napper, his childhood nemesis, as the now Deputy Napper came out of the barbershop.

"Well, hell, it's O'Dell." Napper slipped on his dark glasses, looked up, then down the street. "Funny, I don't see any ambulances to chase."

"Did you get that buzz cut on the town nickel? Somebody overpaid."

Napper's smile spread thin on his tough, square face. "I heard you were at the scene yesterday when there was trouble at the Square. Didn't stand by and give a statement, or come in to file a witness report. Being the town shyster, you ought to know better."

"You'd be wrong on that, nothing new there. I stopped by and spoke to the chief this morning. I guess he doesn't tell his bootlickers everything."

"You ought to remember how many times my boot kicked your ass in the past, O'Dell."

"I remember a lot of things." Fox walked by. Once a bully, he thought, always an asshole. Before the Seven was over, he imagined he and Napper would tangle again. But for now, he put it out of his mind.

He had work to do, and as he opened the door of his office, admitted he had a road to smooth out. Might as well get it done.

As he came in, Layla walked toward reception holding a vase of the flowers Alice Hawbaker liked having in the offices. Layla stopped dead.

"I was just giving these fresh water. There weren't any calls while you were gone, but I finished the trust and printed it out. It's on your desk."

"Good. Listen, Layla-"

"I wasn't sure if there was anything to type up regarding Mr. Edwards, or-"

"Okay, okay, put those down." He settled it by taking the vase out of her hands and setting it on a table.

"They actually go over-"

"Stop. I was out of line, and I apologize."

"You already did."

"I'm apologizing again. I don't want you to feel weirded out because in the office we've got the employer-employee thing going on, and I made a move on you. I didn't intend... Your mouth was just there."

"My mouth was just there?" Her tone changed from flustered to dangerously sweet. "As in on my face, under my nose, and above my chin?"

"No." He rubbed his fingers in the center of his forehead. "Yes, but no. Your mouth was... I forgot not to do what I did, which was completely inappropriate under the circumstances. And I'm going to start pleading the Fifth in a minute, or maybe just temporary insanity."

"You can plead whatever you want, but you may want to consider that my mouth, which was just there, wasn't forming words like no, or stop, or get the hell away from me. Which it's perfectly capable of doing."

"Okay." He said nothing for a moment. "This is very awkward."

"Before or after we add your mother into it?"

"That moves it from awkward to farce." He slipped his hands into his pockets. "Should I assume you're not going to engage counsel and sue me for sexual harassment?"

She angled her head. "Should I assume you're not going to fire me?"

"I'm voting yes to both questions. So we're good here?"

"Dandy."

She picked up the vase and carried it to the right table. "By the way, I ordered another replacement cartridge for the printer." She slid a glance his way, lips just curved.

"Good thinking. I'll be-" He gestured toward his office.

"And I'll be-" She pointed to her desk.

"Okay." He started back. "Okay," he repeated, then looked at the supply closet. "Oh boy."