Cleo Hollings, Deputy Mayor of New York City, glanced at her
watch and groaned. Six AM. She needed sleep, desperately needed
sleep. The city’s transit strike was wearing her down,
her mind manically bouncing from stalled wage negotiations
to her stalled love life, and she didn’t need to be thinking
about her stalled love life. She needed sleep. Four days without
sleep would cause anyone to get a little loopy. Only a few
seconds, what would it hurt?
Gently Cleo nudged aside the massive piles of paperwork, lowering
her head, her cheek nuzzling against the desk. Slowly she got
lost in the sleep she so desperately needed, getting lost in
her dreams, where the impossible became possible and the men
were the stuff of legends….
The desert sun burned high in the sky, but here inside the
great marbled columns of City Hall, she was comfortably cool
while her loyal guards waved their palm fronds, and took turns
offering her sips of water from diamond-encrusted goblets and
feeding her the sweetest grapes on the Eastern Coast. Alas,
her respite was soon over, and it was time for the duties that
were demanded of the Empress of the East River. Majestically
the trumpets fanfare echoed as Cleo walked to the throne. As
always, the needs of the city beckoned, and it was time to
attend her subjects.
Her guards were ten thousand strong. Their blue transit worker
uniforms a testament to their loyalty to their queen and their
city. Reverently they parted, letting the first subject pass,
and her eyes noted this new one’s arrival with interest.
This one was worthy.
She knew it by the challenge in his mocking eyes, the man
who believed he could tame her – she, who ruled all of
There were few men in the world that could satisfy her, however
she greeted each new day with fresh optimism. When your name
was Cleopatra, expectations were understandably high
Slowly he advanced toward her throne, stalking her as effortlessly
as a lion seeks prey, his bare feet making no sound in the
great hall. His eyes were deep brown pools that dared her to
run, but surely he knew better. Cleo never ran. Gracefully,
he knelt before her with athletic ease, but he didn’t
lower his head in homage as most men did. Instead, his gaze
never left her face, promising her the world.
Many men had come before him and tried to woo her. Their pretty
words were nothing but broken promises. Their token greeting
cards were trite and flowery. They plied her with the nectar
from fermented grapes, but she knew those games. This… this
arrogance, this power was new.
Cleo was intrigued.
Slowly she stood, rising over him, letting him know his place
in her world.
His coiled strength was unmistakable while he remained on
bended knee. The hard muscles of his shoulders were tantalizingly
displayed beneath the thin cloth of his toga. Strong, potent
thighs supported his weight as he knelt, the tendons tight,
drawing her eyes. Her fingers stirred, eager to touch. Yet
Cleo stayed immobile. This was her palace, her city, her country,
and she ruled them with an iron hand that never showed weakness
His hand reached out, as if daring to touch her, and one of
her guards leapt forward, lethal spear at the ready. To touch
her without invitation meant certain death, but she could not
kill such a magnificent animal. Rashly, she dismissed the guards,
ten thousand men that obeyed her every command. They turned
to depart, their booted heels echoing in unison. While they
were marching out, she admired this one’s dark head,
noting the silken hair and the tantalizing aroma of … issey
Miyake cologne. It was her favorite, never failing to kindle
Even while supplicated before her, his arrogant mouth inched
up at the corner.
The dastardly man knew.
Once the last of guards disappeared, the great hall stood
empty and they were alone. His mouth inched up even higher,
yet he did not rise. Boldly, his hand slipped through the slit
in her gown, and moved to her thigh, not asking for permission
or approval, taking. The slight touch burned through her veins,
searing her blood. His fingers were hard, rough, but well-schooled
in the art of pleasure, stroking her like a cat, arousing a
purr that rumbled through her nerves like the 7th Avenue subway
at rush house. Cleo was pleased, relaxed, and most of all,
Men brought her gifts. No man brought her happiness.
For that alone, she would let him live.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“A common peasant,” he answered, continuing the
blissful caress, exploring her strong thighs, sliding up her
leg, taking an inch higher with each tantalizing stroke.
“Why are you here?” she asked, her voice catching
slightly, yet enough for him to notice, damn his impudence.
His eyes darkened, and she found his impudence – tempting.
“I beg your indulgency, Excellency.”
“You beg quite nicely,” she answered, and he rewarded
her own impudence with a caress that was no longer flirting,
but insolent indeed. Cleo swallowed, her knees weakening, and
she hated that he knew her weakness, saw it, felt it inside
her. Her body betrayed her, her legs parting, and as his fingers
touched her, she could feel her womanly flesh swell, eager
to feel his touch again. This time, the queen became his pawn.
Pawn? She would beg for no man, she was Cleopatra, ruler of
all she surveyed. She would writhe for no man, she would moan
for no man. Ruthlessly, she pushed his hand away. “We
are done with playing. Come, before you grace me with your
request. You will serve me in earnest. If you please me, perhaps
you shall be rewarded.”
He rose and he was a tall man, taller than her, stronger than
her, but there was weakness in his eyes because of her. Cleo
smiled. He thought he controlled her, he thought he ruled her.
He was wrong.
No man messed with Cleo.
Insolently he pulled her into his lap, stealing her throne,
setting her body on fire. “You are more than any man
“You dare,” she cried, struggling to free herself,
ready to call for the guards. Heedless of her protests, he
took her lips in a forceful kiss, taking what no man had taken
before. Cleo fought even harder, but she could feel his hardened
staff pressing against her womb and her flesh was weak, eager,
waiting to be consumed.
“I dare,” he whispered against her lips, impaling
her on him with one fluid stroke.
He was so large, stallion-large, so thick, stretching her
body, almost painfully. Surely no man could be so well endowed.
The muscles in her legs were painfully tight, but she would
not give him the satisfaction he craved, the satisfaction that
she craved until he was the conquered. One inch further, and
she wanted to sigh. His lids shuttered lower, nearly masking
his eyes, but not hiding the need.
He took her mouth, his tongue demanding entrance. Weakly she
opened her lips to him, opened her body to him, feeling his
potency inside her. She had had lovers before, but none such
as this, none so… virile.
As he moved within her, his hips slow and forceful, she forgot
that he had usurped her throne, she forgot that he was a mere
mortal in her realm. She forgot all but this blessed fullness
inside her, the void that this man could fill.
There was a ruthlessness inside him, a hunger that equaled
her own, and she sensed it, felt it in the steely control of
his movements, his body, all that powerful strength. All at
“What is your name?” she asked, because she wanted
to know his name. He would be her favored one. She would appoint
him to a position of power, give him a country, or a borough
of his own to lord over.
“Mark,” he told her.
“Mark,” she whispered, and their bodies mated
together, and with each powerful thrust, she knew she must
keep him. He made her happy. “Mark,” she whispered
again. “Mark, Mark, Mark…”
After talking his way past two security guards, and bribing
another three assistants, Sean O’Sullivan stood in the
office of Cleo Hollings, trying to figure out what to do now.
This was the one scenario he hadn’t prepared for. The
Deputy Mayor of New York City was asleep at her desk and calling
for some guy named Mark.
The Deputy Mayor was hot. Even asleep with a ballpoint pen
sticking to her cheek, she was still smoking. Sean checked
the clock on her desk, almost eight AM. Her office would be
filling up soon, and with the transit strike in progress, all
hands would be needed. This was his one shot, and it wouldn’t
be smart to stand here waiting to see how far this dream was
going to take her. Not that he wasn’t exceptionally interested.
With a regretful sigh, Sean put a hand on her shoulder and
shook gently, the long, red fall of her hair spilling over
his fingers. Tempting. Very, very tempting.
Her head snapped up, dark lashes opening, and she stared at
Sean with amber eyes that were sleep-fogged, still passion-fogged.
That must have been some dream. He wanted to be in that dream.
She blinked. “Mark?”
And stone-cold reality. Sean shook his head. “No, not
Mark. Sean O’Sullivan.”
He smiled at her, and the passion faded from her expression,
the sleep faded, and the amber eyes narrowed dangerously. “Why
are you in my office? Are you here about the strike?”
This was the Deputy Mayor of Administration that he had heard
about. Cleo Hollings, the Wicked Witch of Murray Street. She
oversaw the fire department, the police department, the transit
workers that were currently giving the city fits, the speechwriters,
the sanitation department, and the courts. She ruled it all
with an iron hand.
The Deputy Mayor of Administration wasn’t the best choice
for what Sean needed, but after he’d seen her picture,
well, there wasn’t much of a choice after that. A body
that men died for and the mouth that cleaved them in two. She
was a challenge and Sean lived for challenges. The more impossible,
the happier he was.
“I need to talk to you,” he said.
“Excuse me? There are eight million commuters trying
to get to work, and there’s no buses, no subways. This
is Day Four of the strike. Negotiations are restarting in,” she
looked at the clock, “oh, no – an hour in midtown.
I have to go.” She made an attempt to leave, but Sean
put a hand on her arm. Underneath the wool blazer, he felt
the steel. A face like a china doll, a body like… no,
Sean. Not now.
“Wait,” he managed. “Please. I won’t
be long. Two minutes tops.”
She stood frozen under his hand, her eyes staring at where
he touched her. “You dare,” she whispered.
Okay, that was just weird, but Sean was good at thinking on
his feet. “Please. I’m begging here. You’re
pretty much my last chance.”
Finally she shook her head, probably working off the last
of sleep, the last of her dream. He noted the circles under
her eyes. “How much sleep have you had?”
“Not enough. Tell me what you need.”
“It’s about a bar,” he answered, regretfully
removing his hand.
“A bar? You must be kidding. Tell me you’re kidding.”
All that angry fire, all that bottled passion. He could imagine
what she was like in bed, a flash of red hair, her body coiled
around his, arched and ready, blazing hot… For a long,
healthy moment, Sean got caught up in the idea.
Jeez, he needed to stop. Mentally he yanked his libido back
on the lash. Sean put on his courtroom face. Much better. Almost
enough to forget… “Someone in the mayor’s
office is messing with my brother’s bar. I need to stop
it.” It was true. For the past two years, Gabe’s
bar had been cited for health violations, electrical problems,
street problems, and pretty much anything that a creative person
could imagine. All citations without cause. Sean had fought
the battles he could, but this last form letter was the bureaucratic
breach heard round the world.
Sean was declaring war on City Hall.
Outside her office, he could hear the rustling sounds of the
office waking up. He needed to work fast. The clock was ticking.
Literally. She rubbed at her neck, fingers diving into kinked
muscle. Sleeping at a desk was never a good idea. He’d
done it. He’d regretted it.
“You want me to fix that for you?” he asked, contemplating
the smooth skin she was kneading, rashly ignoring the ticking
clock. Mainly he wanted to touch her again. Her skin was fair,
porcelain white, and gleamed in the light, making a man imagine
her without the exquisitely fitted suit.
“What?” she asked, again looking at him with
steamy, caramel eyes that still weren’t quite awake.
Lust spiked straight to his cock. Sean know didn’t know
Mark, didn’t care, but right now, he hated the man. The
picture had missed all her good parts, and Cleo Hollings had
good parts in spade. The lethal strength inside her. All that
emotion simmering, pressure building, waiting for the right
spark to explode.
Wisely he kept that thought from his face. She knew her own
appeal. Men fell all over her and she didn’t tolerate
it. He’d heard the stories. Some approaching mythic proportions.
“Your neck. I can rub the kink out if you want.” He
glanced at the clock, heard voices outside. Ignored them.
“Don’t even think of touching me. What’s
the name of the bar?”
“Prime. There’s an outline of the whole mess on
your desk. It’s short. I know you’re busy. I need
“I’ll check into it,” she promised, then
moved to leave. Sean grabbed her arm again. Not exactly smart,
but he liked feeling the current shoot through him. As he kid,
he had stuck his finger in a light socket and lived to tell
about it. There were certain parallels. “Why don’t
you let me take you out for dinner?” he asked.
Efficiently she shrugged into her coat, the black leather
skimming her body, her breasts, her hips, riding down to toned
thighs. “You’re coming on to me, aren’t you?
It’s not even eight AM, and we’re running through
every move in the playback.”
Well, duh. Did he look stupid? “Absolutely, I’m
coming on to you. Men are very visual, simplistic creatures.
Give us something to look at, and we’re happy. I’d
be some eunuch-man if I didn’t come on to you, and I’m
“No. I didn’t think you were,” Cleo murmured. “I’m
not having dinner with you. Too busy.”
It’d take more than a transit strike to keep Sean from
what he wanted. “You don’t eat?” he persisted.
“We’ve ordered in for the past four days. Deli
food. It’s what for dinner.”
“You’re disappointing me,” he said, simply
content to stare at her. He’d recite the entire New York
state case law if he could stay here, staring, breathing. She
was different, so different from anyone else. The tension crackled
through her, tempting him all over again.
“Life’s full of disappointments. I bet you’ll
survive,” she told him, and yeah, he would, but if she
thought he was giving up, uh, that was a big no. “Speaking
of work. Need to get back to it. I’m sure you’ll
understand. Eight million commuters and all that…”
“I’ll be back in a couple of days --”
She tightened her jaw, as if ready to correct him. Sean jumped
in before she could.
“-- of course, that’s assuming you can resolve
the strike in a couple of days.”
It was an inflammatory comment, designed for one purpose only.
To get her as worked up as he was, to see her eyes shoot flames.
Not pretty, but Sean was driven by simple needs.
She quirked one brow, high and full of contempt. “Are
you doubting my ability to whip ten thousand, unionized transit
workers into line?”
Entranced, Sean shook his head. “There was never one
second of doubt in my brain that you could whip a whole army
of men into line. Unionized transit workers or not.”
She nearly smiled. He saw it. “Don’t make me like
you. I don’t like people. Especially non-eunuch men who
need things from me.”
He shrugged helplessly. “I have to. It’s who I
Cleo headed for the door and he followed behind. Down the
stairs, out the building, and the entire way, he fought the
urge to touch her, because he wanted to feel that surge again.
She walked down to the front gate where her driver was waiting.
“Hey,” he called out. This time she turned.
She tensed, those magnificent amber eyes lasering in on him. “I
don’t know a Mark. I don’t want to know a Mark.
There are no Marks. None. No. Marks. Ever.”
Sean watched her leave, and then kicked up the leaves that
were littered along the walk. He didn’t care who Mark
was. He’d made up his mind.
Sean was going to have her.
All he had to do was figure out how.
Cleo stared at her notes and tried to concentrate as her
driver maneuvered through the thick traffic, but she was still
feeling defensive, never a good thing. Especially now. Union
negotiators weren’t Little Bo Peeps. If they smelled
blood in the water, she’d be hitting the streets tomorrow,
looking for a new job, and that was an option she couldn’t
It was all Sean O’Sullivan’s fault. She knew his
type. Hot, arrogant, used to getting what he wanted. Used to
wrapping women around his finger, wrapping women around other
parts of him.
No, all she had to do was remember that she’d been cruising
on four hours sleep for the past four days, that the New York
Times was hammering the mayor’s office, blaming her for
the slow resolution (did they think the City printed money
in its spare time?), that she hadn’t had sex in over
eight months, and -- no, strike that -- inappropriate.
Her secretary called, reminded her that of the press conference
at noon. Cleo thanked her and hung up, concentrating on the
scenery of New York on its knees. The transit workers walked
the picket line outside a bus depot. Red brake lights crawled
It didn’t help.
It rankled her, the idea that somebody had watched while she
slept, especially because of that dream. Normally her dreams
weren’t that explicit. Normally when she fell into bed,
there was no time for dreaming, much less anything else. Usually
that didn’t bother her, but today, she felt that loss
in every lonely inch of her skin, her brain, her nerves. Especially
her empty vagina. Usually she forgot she had a vagina. Not
today. Oh, no, that particular part of her body was screaming,
jumping up and down, yelling at her for ignoring it’s
She wanted to blame it on Mark Anthony and the Nile, but that
wasn’t the entire truth. No, Sean O’Sullivan was
partly to blame. Mostly. Completely. With his dark, take-no-prisoners
eyes, that silky brown hair, and the musky cologne that tickled
her nose -- among other places. He was a walking, talking,
The suit had been tailored. She had noticed. Along with the
broad shoulders, and the killer thighs. Cleo had a fatal weakness
for killer thighs. Helplessly she licked parched, Sahara-dry
“Miss Hollings? We’ll be there in ten.”
Her phone rang. The mayor, Bobby McNamara, i.e. her boss.
“You’ve talked to the transit authority negotiators,
right? We can fix this?”
“Of course,” she answered, shocked that he was
doubting her skills. She, Cleo Hollings, who had worked one
term under the current administration, one term under the previous
administration, and before that, had worked her way up through
the office of public housing. Cleo had earned her stripes at
an early age and knew how to yell.
“I’ll talk care of it, boss. We’re golden.”
She hung up, looked out at thousands of cars trapped in bumper
to bumper traffic, and sighed wistfully. Union strikes did
that to her. Empty vagina or not, she needed no man.
Cleo Hollings, Wicked Witch of Murray Street, was back. No
one, absolutely no one, would ever know she’d been gone.
The law offices of McFadden Burnett were the largest in New
York. Fourteen stories of attorneys, all in one building. It
should have been a bad lawyer joke, but lawyers weren’t
very good at making fun of themselves. Within the walls of
the 1937 art-deco building worked old lawyers, new lawyers,
fat lawyers, skinny lawyers, neat lawyers, schlob lawyers,
men lawyers, and women lawyers, but they all had one thing
in the common, no matter their differences: The responsibility
to do whatever it took to zealously defend their clients to
the fullest extent of the law.
Sometimes that mandate was easy because their clients shouldn’t
be held liable. Sometimes not so much. As a lawyer, and as
a human being, Sean O’Sullivan had learned to keep his
judgments to himself.
The seventh floor was Sean’s floor. Medical malpractice.
Since New York was the medical capital of the world, it followed
that it was also the medical malpractice capital of the world,
as well. Sean didn’t mind, the more the better. He loved
the law. Loved the creativity of it, loved the structure of
it, loved the fairness of it, as well as the unfairness of
it. That was his job.
After he got into the office, he wheeled around the corner,
and slid a mug of coffee on Maureen’s desk. “You
got the Cannery deposition for me?”
“Digested, indexed, and in the database, Sean, just
like you asked.” Maureen was a paralegal who had worked
at the firm for the last thirty-five years. With a diamond
choker that must have cost a fortune, and elegant white hair
that was styled at one of New York’s best salons, she
probably didn’t need to work, but Maureen did, and Sean
thanked God every day, because Maureen always knew what needed
to be done, and even better, you could always count on her
As such, Sean brought her coffee every morning, and every
afternoon. Two sugars. No creams, and a sprinkle of cinnamon
on top. She took a sip and closed her eyes, letting the caffeine
rip through her veins. Then, when two ten second break was
over, she pulled out her message pad and relayed the neatly
steno graphed message.
“Katy called from the Environmental Fund, but the bossman
heard the call come through, and he said that you’re
not to call her back because he wants the last of Dr. Winetrapp’s
affidavits completed and on his desk before lunchtime.”
“He wanted to remind you about the two internal medicine
docs from Mt. Sinai that you’re supposed to schedule
an interview for.”
“Wilson called about the Cornell case, I asked him
if this was regarding a settlement offer, he wouldn’t
tell me if it was regarding a settlement, but I knew it was
regarding a settlement offer.”
Sean nodded with satisfaction. The Cornell case was next up
after his current trial was over. It was a botched surgery
that if the plaintiff had a better lawyer than Wilson, they’d
win. A fat settlement was the way to go for Wilson, and Sean
was glad the man could read the writing on the wall.
Speaking of the wall, Sean checked the clock there. Nearly
eleven. His boss Bruce would be pulling paperclips from his
teeth, but Sean didn’t mind. The morning had been worth
it. Getting up at the crack of dawn to watch Cleo Hollings
have sex dreams, and then two hours talking to the lawyers
at the hospital. Not only stimulating, but productive nonetheless.
His brother’s bar would be back in order soon. Cleo
Hollings looked like she worked harder than most of the U.S.
Marines combined. She would fix it, although he’d have
to stay on her case until she did. Not that that was going
to be a problem. Staying on her case, riding her until she
Man, he had always had a thing for redheads. But redheads
that barked like drill sergeants? He was still carrying the
extra four inches in his shorts from when she glared at him.
She had the sexiest eyes.
Maureen waved a hand in front of his face, bringing his attention
back to the present. “Bruce wanted to know why you’re
late, but I told him you called and said the transit strike
was causing problems.”
“I love you, Maureen. What did the Environmental Fund
“You don’t want to know.”
He slid a hip against her desk. “I want to know, Maureen.”
“Bruce will be furious. He’s your boss. Fury is
not a good thing for a boss.”
“I want to know, Maureen.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“You can tell me.”
“I shouldn’t tell you.”
“You should tell me.”
“Bruce will kill me.”
“I won’t let him. You’re my favorite.”
“He’ll make my life miserable.”
“I’ll bring you Godiva every day,” he bribed.
“The little mocha truffles?”
“Now see, why can’t all the lawyers be like you?”
“That’s a rhetorical question, Maureen, so what
the Environmental Fund want?”
Maureen pulled her glasses from her head and read the pink
message slip. “The West Side Ladies Botanical Preservation
Group is trying to convert the half lot on 34th street into
a park. The city has different ideas. They specifically requested
you for representation, no surprise. I think Mrs. Ward who
heads the society has a thing for you.”
“She’s nearly eighty.”
“Mrs. Ward told me she has a thing for younger men,” Maureen
told him with a knowing glance.
Sean frowned. “I’ll call Katy back.” He
wasn’t nearly so enthusiastic anymore. Oh, well.
Maureen wagged a finger at him. “Don’t forget.
Little mocha truffles.”
Sean tapped a finger to his brain. “Like a steel trap.
There were seventeen emails in his inbox. All from Bruce.
All various stages of anxiety and neurosis. Everyone on the
fourteenth floor called Bruce the Tin Man, because he had no
heart. Both literally and figuratively. Bruce was pushing sixty,
had high blood-pressure, high-cholesterol, and high anxiety,
so four years ago, the talented surgeons at New York-Presby
(McFadden-Burnett clients) had given him an artificial heart.
After the surgery, nobody at the firm could tell the difference.
“Bruuuuuuuuuuce,” called Sean, cruising into his
“It’s about time. Why aren’t you answering
Sean pulled his phone out of his pocket. ‘You called?
What the hell?”
“Come on, O’Sullivan, where are we at?” Bruce
called everyone by their last name. Apparently, calling employees
by their first names indicated some semblance of humanity and
a caring, giving spirit. All of Bruce’s employees understood.
You could only expect so much from an artificial heart.
Bruce waved Sean in, his face flushed and nervous. The cause
of Bruce’s anxiety was the thirty-five million dollar
lawsuit, Davies, Mutual Insurance v. New York General, the
individual doctors, and their dogs and cats.
The hospital was part of America’s third largest hospital
chain, and one of McFadden Burnett’s ka-ching-iest clients.
The insurance company hadn’t wanted to pay for a kidney
transplant, saying that dialysis was all that was necessary
for the patient. After the patient didn’t recover, the
insurance company was siding with the patient’s estate,
blaming the hospital for the botched treatment that had affected
the outcome. Sometimes that was truly the case, but right now,
the insurance company got caught being cheap, and they didn’t
That was the beauty of the legal system. One day, the bad
guys were on one side, the good guys on the other, and the
next, somebody had rolled the dice, messed up the board, and
though the game stayed the same, the players had all traded
“Depositions are done. I got the medical report from
the lead physician, and found a doc from Indiana who is a trial-virgin,
completely untouched and uncorrupted by the U.S. Judicial System.
He’ll be perfect for this. My team’s been prepping
him. We’re ready for trial. The insurance company is
Bruce took a deep breath, and popped another blood-pressure
pill. “Your brother called.”
“Why are you answering phones?”
“I thought it was you,” said Bruce in his needy
“The bar owner. He left messages for you on your phone.”
Sean pulled his phone from his pocket, noted the absence of
coverage and swore. He headed for his office phone and dialed
“They shut Prime down, Sean. What the hell did you do?
You were supposed to fix this problem, not make it worse. For
the past two years, I’ve been fighting with the health
department, the building department, the liquor board, and
the gas company, but nobody’s ever shut the place down
before. And do you know what today is? It’s Thursday
and tomorrow is Friday. Do you know what people like to do
on Friday? Drink.”
Sean frowned. This was supposed to be fixed. “Wait,
wait, wait, wait, wait. Who shut it down?”
“Some pencilhead from the mayor’s office. Along
with the health department. Along with the historical society.
Along with the State Liquor Authority. It was a huge party.
You should have been there.”
No way. No freaking way that Cleo Hollings had done this.
She was at the bargaining table. She couldn’t have done
it. Women didn’t pull this crap on Sean. Ever.
“The Mayor’s office? You’re sure?” he
asked enunciating carefully, wanting to know exactly where
the blame belonged. It would only take one short phone call
from her. Thirty seconds or less. Yeah, she could have done
it. And she had been mad. Tired, cranky.. frustrated. He remembered
those sleepy eyes and got himself aroused once again, which
only made him madder. So Cleo Hollings really wanted to go
head to head with him? Fine.
“Posted a notice on the door, it’s all here in
black and white. Not serving drinks tomorrow, Sean.”
“I’ll take care of it,” he answered tightly. “We’ll
have you opened before happy hour.”
“Are you sure?”
Sean’s smile wasn’t nice. “Nothing I can’t
Strike negotiations were stalled, and Cleo came back to her
office in a foul mood. The lead negotiator had started by yelling
at her, Cleo had yelled back, and things went downhill from
there. When she got back to bull pen where her offices were,
Sean O’Sullivan was there waiting. He looked flushed,
heated with anger, and… yes, even then, resembling Mark
Anthony than before.
This no-life stuff was starting to fry her brain.
“You had one of your little flying monkeys come down
and shut down the bar, didn’t you?” he ranted,
striding into her office, daring to read her the riot act – her – in
her own office. Suddenly his hotness factor didn’t matter
so much, although he did have a great angry voice. Good tone,
lot of malevolence, and that trace of New York that made most
people fear for their lives.
Belinda, one of her interns, came and stood in the doorway. “We
tried to stop him, but he knows the security guards. I’m
Cleo looked at Belinda, looked at the man. Pointed to Belinda. “I’ll
handle this.” Belinda didn’t look happy, she never
looked happy, but she obeyed.
And then Cleo turned to the matter at hand. Sean O’Sullivan. “We’re
in the middle of a strike and I’m supposed to be running
point with the transit authority. Do you honestly believe I
have time to mess with you?”
“Not me,” she said, defending herself because
she was tired of everybody accusing her of everything. Undeservedly.
Sometimes she deserved it, but not today, and especially not
He held up his hand, his eyes puzzled. “You didn’t
“Nor did any of my little flying monkeys, either,” she
said, with a tight smile.
The man took a long breath and stuffed his hands in his pocket,
but not before she noticed the fists. Somebody had a temper.
“Someone from this office shut the bar down.”
Tony, Intern number Two, appeared in the doorway, “Need
help, Miss Hollings? I know your meeting with the mayor is
coming up. I can kick him out,” he said, ignoring the
fact that the other man could take him down in ten seconds
or less. Tony was like that. Loyal, yet short on brains. He’d
go far in city government.
“It’s a little late for that, Tony. I’ll
handle it, thank you for trying.” Tony gave Sean one
more look and then left the office.
Cleo glanced at her watch. Tony was right about one thing,
the mayor was going to be here any second, waiting for an update. “You
will leave. Now is good.”
The stranger slammed her door shut, and settled himself on
her couch as if he planned to stay. Casually he looked around
the room, the picture of casual indulgence. “I don’t
care if you have time or not. Somebody in this office is screwing
up my brother’s life and I’m not happy about it.”
“Nobody from this office is interested in your bar.
I have a meeting with the mayor.”
“Still haven’t fixed that strike yet?” he
asked, and this time, it was her hands that fisted.
Jackass. Mark Anthony? Fat chance of that. Mark Anthony would
never question her governing skills, not even if he thought
that Cleopatra had sabotaged his fiefdom. Okay, maybe then.
“So if there is a strike that’s keeping everybody
so busy,” he continued on, “how come someone from
this office, someone from the health department, someone from
the historical society, and somebody from the state liquor
authority, are all out posting a notice on the door at my brother’s
Cleo’s eyes narrowed at that. Out of habit, she turned
her angry voice into her soothing constituent voice. It wasn’t
easy, but a necessary job requirement. “I can’t
do this at the moment, but I promise that I’ll look into
it as soon as the strike is over.”
“Gee, now I think I’ll sleep better,” he
snapped back, seeing her soothing constituent voice for what
is was. A sham.
“I like you better when you’re nice,” she
answered, which was a half-half-truth. She liked him better
when he was nice, but he got her insides all tight and humming
when he wasn’t. Disturbing, yet true.
“Most people do,” he responded, and then pulled
out a phone. In the middle of her office. As if he owned the
Cleo pointed at the door. The man smiled back.
“Mike. It’s Sean O’Sullivan. How you doing?
How’s the wife? Really, what is this number four? Getting
busy, aren’t you? So listen, talk to me here. I’m
running down to the station at Prince Street, late for court,
you know how it goes, and I race down the stairs, and when
I get to the bottom, it’s all empty, so I whap myself
on the head for being such a idiot that I forgot about the
strike. You guys are killing me here. You know what you’re
doing to my career, and don’t laugh….”
Cleo watched him. Fascinated. He was a lawyer. It explained
much. But who was Mike?
“I know you don’t have anything to do with it,
but what’s the real holdup on the strike?”
“Yeah, mayor’s a dickhead, I know, I know. I didn’t
vote for him.”
He stood up, and began pacing around the office as he talked,
completely taking over the place, ignoring her Rutgers diploma
on the wall, ignoring the press pictures on the wall, ignoring
the picture of Bobby McNamara at his inauguration, ignoring
the half-knitted afghan that she hadn’t stitched on in
ten years, but still kept her warm when absolutely necessary.
Ignoring everything, including Cleo.
“Pay raise of ten percent? That’s nutso in this
day and age, Mike. Why don’t your guys take something
less? I don’t know. Five seems reasonable to me.”
Two seemed reasonable to Cleo, but she started to pay closer
attention. Mike, whoever he was, seemed to know things.
Sean nodded, stopping a moment to tap the mayor’s bobblehead
on her desk, which nodded back. “They’re holding
out for seven?”
Hell would freeze first. A seven percent raise? Was everyone
in this town insane? Probably. Including her.
But she wasn’t stupid. She scribbled a note on her paper
and shoved it at him.
He took it. Nodded. “Okay, so what about the pension
stuff? What if the transit authority pulled a Detroit, and
put some money into a kitty, letting the unions fund it after
Establishing a trust? Oh, creativity. Cunning. And it would
save billions in the long run. Cleo liked that. She really,
really liked that.
She scribbled a number on the paper and Sean jacked his thumb
Cleo motioned her thumb down.
Sean scribbled a counter number on the paper, and Cleo pulled
out her calculator and started running numbers. This could
work. She looked at him with surprise. He noticed and flashed
a cocky grin as if she should have never doubted him.
“I know, I know, the transit guys are whackjobs, too,
but you think they’d bite? They should bite on that.
I want to ride the subway again, Mike. It ticks me off. This
is my city. Besides that, we’re a few weeks away from
Thanksgiving. You got all those kids wanting to see the parade,
the giant balloons, Santa Claus. Come on, Mike, those guys
can’t disappoint the kids. Santa Claus uses the subway,
too, and the kids know it.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m a dreamer. Anyway, just
wanted to put a bug in your ear. You know me, always ready
to whine about something. Listen. We’ll have to go out
to dinner. You, and Peggy and the rugrats…
“Nobody special here. Same ole, same old, whoever’s
on speed-dial is good enough for me.
“Yeah, yeah, don’t think hell’s freezing
anytime soon….. uh-oh, boss is yelling. Bad news. Gotta
go. Thanks, Mike.”
Sean hung up the phone and looked at Cleo, not missing a beat. “Can
you do it?”
“I can’t do it,” she said, only to be contrary,
because she was back to damp and squirmy again, and it ticked
her off that union negotiations could affect her like that.
The transit authority could fund the trust, and possibly stave
off a fare hike until 2012. The mayor would be a hero.
“I bet you can do it. The city would be stupid not to
put it out there. They’ll save millions in the long run.” He
collapsed on her couch, again like he owned the place.
“Who’s Mike?” she asked.
“Mike Flaherty. Legal representation for the national
transit union in their civil rights cases. We went to Penn
State together. And the transit authority’s a client
of the firm. Not my area, but I know Mike. He’s a good
guy. Peg’s really great.” He talked like he knew
everybody in New York, and she began to wonder if he did.
“Who are you?”
“I remember your name. Who are you?”
“Lawyer. McFadden Burnett.”
“What do you practice?” she asked, hoping he
was contract negotiations. Boring, by the book, pansy-ass contract
“Medical malpractice defense.”
Medical malpractice defense? In the jungle of law, med-mal
defense lawyers were the carnivores. The ones with sharp teeth
and a bloodthirsty mind. Oh, it would be a sick, misanthropic
woman to have that depraved factoid twist her panties in a
knot. A very tight, pressurized knot. Very, very sick.
Unfortunately, all she could was think of him over the conference
room table, taking a deposition, hammering away at the witness,
over and over, pounding away until they were weeping for him
Very, very sick…
“You sure he can follow through?” she asked, calling
upon every inch of her humanity, and methodically untwisting
Sean shrugged. “He doesn’t have any reason to
lie to me. Try it and see. It’s a starting point for
negotiations, because whatever you’re doing it’s
not working. And don’t go over 5 and a half percent on
the wage increase. Mike was saying seven, but he always shoots
high by a couple of points. I played poker with him a few times.
Not pretty, especially after he’s had too much to drink.”
“I’m going to owe you for this, aren’t I?” she
asked. She didn’t have debts, not even a mortgage. She
hated owing favors, she hated payback, but she had a feeling
that Sean O’Sullivan was hard-core about payback, demanding
his pound of flesh, pounding away until she was weeping…
Oh, gawd. This was only, only from lack of sleep. And possibly
lack of sex, because the hallway quickie at last year’s
Christmas party with George from media relations did not even
count in the big scheme of things. And it certainly was right
up in there in Cleo’s ‘mistakes that I won’t
make again’ file.
Sean O’Sullivan smiled at her, with a slow show of teeth,
and a look in his eyes that said, ‘I don’t do quickies’.
Cleo shivered. “You’ll owe me, but only if you
think you can get ten thousand unionized transit workers in
line in the next twenty-four hours.”
She could feel the hot flash in her blood. Medical malpractice,
she reminded herself, trying to stop the bubbling in her veins.
It didn’t help. “I can have them crying for mercy
“Dinner tonight. And you’re going to listen to
“Negotiations,” she answered.
“A drink, then,” he countered. “After the
She looked at him, studied that squared, stubborn jaw, considered
the dark, shadowed, take-no-prisoners gaze, and scrutinized
the nose that had probably been broken twice. She understood
“All right,” she replied, against her own better
judgment. She would be needed at home, and probably had only
about an extra thirty minutes to herself, but that was more
than enough time. In her world of transit workers, wastewater,
taxation, and permits, it wasn’t often that a Sean O’Sullivan
walked in. Nope, he was her orgasm, and she was going for it
before he walked out again.
“It might be late before the talks wind up,” she
“The later the better,” he replied, tossing his
card on the desk, causing the mayor’s bobblehead to shake
In the upper cavity of her chest, there was a strange thudding,
a chamber long forgotten. Sean O’Sullivan was a player,
she reminded herself. A walking orgasm and nothing more. Thirty
minutes and out. And hopefully, the thirty minutes would be
well worth it.
Cleo took the card in her fingers, knowing it was better to
just get things over with, repay the favors, and then get back
to the chaos of her own life.
Bobby McNamara, the mayor of New York City was in his first
term, a life-long liberal with the magical ability to attract
the money-backed vote of the Wall Street Republicans as well.
The crime rate was down, unemployment was down, tax revenues
were flowing like New York’s finest Finger Lakes wine,
and the housing bust had yet to quash the Manhattan real estate
market. In the five boroughs of New York, times were definitely
good. The McNamara administration had been a tremendous success,
in no small part due to Cleo’s long hours and hard work.
The mayor was a good-looking man, distinguished, in that 50
year old, news anchor way with a gravelly voice that matched.
Bobby had the usual politician’s eye for the ladies,
but he never stepped out of bounds, which is why he and Cleo
worked together so well. There was lots of gossip over the
years, but Cleo kept her nose down, Bobby kept his nose clean,
and without any smoke to fuel the fire, the gossip died down,
just like it always did.
However, whenever Bobby was nervous, the fingers on his left
hand played in the air, never staying still. Right now, Bobby
seemed to be typing out War and Peace.
“We’re getting killed, Cleo,” he said, taking
a moment to reread the NY Times headline on the strike, “STALLED,” and
then grimaced painfully. “Tell me you can work a miracle.”
“I can work a miracle,” Cleo assured.
“Really?” he asked.
“Yeah. Trust me, boss. We’re fine.” Okay,
that was cocky, possibly stupid talk, because she didn’t
know if the insider info would amount to anything or not, but
Sean O’Sullivan had been too sure of himself. Arrogant.
Confident. Attitudes like that didn’t come from delusions,
they were earned.
The talks were in a mid-town hotel, and before Cleo left her
office, she showered, changed, and yes, the green cashmere
was the best date dress she kept in her office, and no, she
did not pull her hair back into a ponytail because it flattered
her cheekbones. It was because she needed to keep her hair
out of her eyes while she sat in the back, running numbers
during the talks.
Happily, a mere two hours later, Cleo knew that Sean O’Sullivan
had been right. The city’s chief negotiator and the transit
union boss were hammering out the final details of the negotiations,
and Cleo walked out of the room, nearly dancing with the power
Her first call? That was easy. A heads-up to the mayor to
shave and wear the Brooks Brothers jacket in navy that matched
his eyes and showed up well on television because the strike
was nearly over.
City Hall was empty except for the security guards. Somehow
everyone knew the strike had been settled. The security guards
waved as she walked alone to her office. Cleo was dead on her
feet, but there was a smile on her face. The Wicked Witch of
Murray Street was smiling. Anyone who knew her would call it
job satisfaction. Sean O’Sullivan would call it anticipation.
He would be right.
Once in her office, she checked for new messages. If there
was an emergency at home, she had couldn’t call him.
The chance would be gone, because Cleo didn’t get chances
like this often. She wanted to see him, wanted to feel his
arms, his mouth. Wanted to feel those killer thighs wrapped
around her, and feel her blood pound. It had been so long since
she felt like this, and it was selfish to want tonight. However,
if she was quick, and made it home before midnight, everything
would work out fine.
There was only one message. From the mayor, telling her congratulations
again, and asking her to set up a meeting with the Healthy
New York committee first thing tomorrow morning. With the business
of the transit strike, they’d avoided the whole issue
of Bobby’s brainchild, a free children’s clinic
in Harlem, and in the mayor’s words, “time was
Cleo took a deep breath and dialed.
“Yes?” Sean answered, knowing exactly who it was.
Even over the phone, the dark voice made her pulse beat faster.
“Tell me where to meet you.”
“There’s a place at the corner of 47th and 10th.
How long will it take you?”
Cleo peeked out the window at the streets. “Give me
half an hour.”
“See you then.”
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