The Secretary: Part Eight
IRE Scoville Scale: Tastefully Wicked
A week and a half into her visit and Carrie was still no closer to securing her much desired place in John’s life. She had his love but little else. Yes, they slept together, but they’d always slept together, nothing more. She’d hoped to see a change in his sentiment towards her, but it had yet to come. Aside from her declaration of love for him, there had been no talk of taking their relationship further. Though Carrie fought to subdue her naturally competitive temperament, it began to rear its ugly head. Every woman he came in contact with was her unwitting competitor.
While she gave the appearance of being unruffled by the seemingly endless stream of interruptions throughout the day, she jealously guarded their time together. Carrie caught herself on more than one occasion snapping at Dennis for taking up too much of John’s time with trivial bullshit that he was more than capable of handling himself. John belonged to her. And she wouldn’t be denied.
John wasn’t oblivious to Carrie’s irritation with the current state of their relationship. In his estimation there wasn’t a relationship beyond what it had always been. For a woman who dealt with love as a business transaction yet remained by his side without any reassurance from him was astonishing. Whether it was genuine love or dogged determination not to lose, John couldn't say for certain. Either way he could not give her something that belonged to Tammy.
After days, hours, and minutes of self-evaluation, reality began to sink in for them both. Cooler heads prevailed. Tammy went to John for the last time not to plead her case but to accept responsibility for her role in the failure of their relationship. She admitted she’d lied, but offered no reason why she had done so. Before he could utter a single word in reply, Tammy gave an almost serene smile and took her leave.
John was taken aback by her courage. It impressed him yet intensified the guilt he felt for not allowing her to explain herself. Even criminals were given a chance to explain their actions. Her crimes were not being truthful and breaking his heart. But what of the countless women's hearts he’d broken with the exact same behavior? What made his affection for Tammy more valuable than those other women's affection for him? They’d given him the opportunity to speak but Tammy was silenced and sent to the gallows for little more than bruising his ego.
Involuntarily, John's self admonishment steadily ate away at his bitter indignation towards her.
In the days that followed a peace settled in the office. Tammy no longer went out of her way to avoid Jeff. He wasn’t the reason her and John’s relationship was over. She shouldered the blame and treated him as though nothing had happened, but her sensibility warned her against befriending him any further. For his part, John, did his best not to grimace in Jeff’s general direction when they crossed paths.
But Jeff wasn’t done with either of them, not yet at least. Where Tammy had proven a dead end, surely Carrie wouldn’t. He’d had Carrie in his cross-hairs since she’d swaggered in the front door. Her impish eyes darted to his whenever they were in close proximity. He recognized a bit of himself in her. For the time being, Jeff had no plans on making a move but he would leave his dance card open for later use.
Carrie and Tammy established a judicious relationship based on each others misery of disappointed affection. Although Carrie wasn’t aware of John and Tammy's previous relationship, she sensed Tammy had recently suffered heartbreak. As for Carrie, she made no secret of her attraction to John. Every lunch date was filled with her endless babble about his inability to commit, and her intimate needs going unsatisfied. Tammy’s stomach sank at the thought of them sleeping together, but her pussy performed a tiny flip recalling the pleasure his thick cock could deliver whenever and wherever she needed it.
“Are you listening to me?” Carrie prompted.
Tammy shook off the image of John’s head resting between her thighs. “Yes, sorry. My head was somewhere else.” She squeezed her legs together. “You were saying?”
Carrie raised a quizzical eyebrow. “What were you thinking about, you dirty bird?”
“Nothing,” Tammy smiled and shoveled her salad around her plate determined not to meet Carrie’s shrewd glare. “Go on. What were you saying?”
“I wanted to know if you were going to the firm’s outing this coming weekend. Its three days away so I figured I’d better make sure you were going before I committed myself to attend.”
“I don’t know. Those functions are always bland. It’s just a bunch of people standing around bragging about themselves to anyone that will listen.” Tammy squinted against the noonday sun. Why Carrie insisted on eating lunch on the restaurants’ outdoor patio was beyond her. “It’s not really my scene but you should go regardless. You’ll have John there to keep you company.”
“John.” Carrie exhale long and hard. “John and I…” she stopped. Tammy waited on edge for her next words. “We don’t see eye to eye on where this ‘relationship’ is going.”
“What to you mean?”
“I can’t be certain but I think the last woman he dated really did a number on him. Either he hates her guts or he’s still madly in live with her.”
At that Tammy’s head shot to attention. “He’s in love with her? No, he probably hates her.”
“I doubt it. I’ve known John for many years and I’ve never seen him like this.”
“Like what?” Tammy asked, almost dreading the reply.
Carrie relaxed against the back of the wicker chair. “It’s like he’s more internal, as if he’s repenting for a bad deed, or maybe he’s becoming self-reflecting.” She wrinkled her nose. “I can’t put my finger on it but whatever he’s going through I’m not helping the situation.”
Tammy felt sorry for her. “I’m sure that’s not the case. Have you spoken to him? If not, then you should.”
“Trust me, I’ve tried but it’s the same response every time. “ 'I can’t promise anything.', 'I need time.' ” Hell, what would you do if you were in my shoes?”
Tammy sighed with pinched lips. She fought the urge to tell her to go back to LA and get over him, and the urge to encourage her to pursue what appeared to be a hopeless situation. “If I were you, I’d go talk to John.”
Back in the office Carrie and Tammy parted ways. Tammy returned to Mr. Woodson’s office for their afternoon powwow, while Carrie headed to John’s office, where she found Dennis leaning over John’s shoulder, carefully inspecting Mr. Cate's financial records.
“Hey, what are you two doing?” she said sitting down and kicking her feet up on John’s desk. Neither Dennis nor John flinched. This was serious. “What happened?” she asked in a stiff business tone.
“These figures aren’t adding up.” John said as he intensely studied the page. “Where the hell could the money have gone again?”
“I wish I knew.” Dennis shrugged. “I don’t understand what’s going on. You’ve saw the numbers two nights ago, they all added up correctly.”
John buried his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes. “Seven million dollars doesn’t disappear without someone knowing something. Who has access to these accounts?”
“Anyone who has had access to the Cate's files. And for the last few weeks it’s only been Liz, you and me.”
And Tammy. Shit. John thought. Of course she would have access, she was still his secretary.
“Fuck!” John shouted as he rose quickly, pushing the papers away in anger, startling Carrie and Dennis. His nostrils flared, his heart pounded in his chest. “Carrie Ann,” he pointed. “I need you to go through these numbers with a fine tooth comb. Don’t skip over anything. Liz has my personal access codes; she can supply you with the second set of Mr. Cate's books. Once you have the books, please change all of my passwords yourself and tell no one.
He turned his shape eyes to Dennis. “You, make sure Carrie has everything she needs and sit tight. Don’t let anyone get wind of this. Act as if things are normal. Do you understand?”
Dennis winced and nodded. John rushed to the door. “Where are you going?” Carrie chased after him with Dennis a mere two steps behind.
“I’m going to find Tammy.” He said through clinched teeth, kicking himself for being gullible.
Carrie returned to her office while Dennis covertly, raced from the archives to the file cabinets gathering every piece of documentation he could regarding the Cate's account. Back in the office Carrie spent the next three hours elbow deep in figures. Dennis answered her questions as they arose. She couldn’t determine where the discrepancy fell but it was definitely there.
Think! Carrie think! This is John we’re talking about. He doesn’t make mistakes like this, he’s not careless. The voice in her head pressured her. She sat tapping her pen against her bottom lip, a nervous habit she’d developed over the years.
“Are you having problems accessing your email?” Liz asked from Carrie’s doorway.
Dennis looked to Carrie to answer Liz’s question as he was fixed on the task before him. “Yes, I’ve been having problems all day. IT is looking into the problem. There’s something wrong on the network. Firewall problems, dropping communication packets, bugs…who knows. I’ll let you know when I’m able to login successfully.” Carrie replied without skipping a beat.
“Figures.” Liz conceded. “I’ve been trying to access Mr. Carpenter’s email but it’s giving me an “Access Denied” error message. Well, it’s no since in me hanging around here. Can you please tell Mr. Carpenter I’ve gone home early?”
“Will do. Have a good night.” Carrie gave a friendly half-hearted salute. Dennis looked to Carrie when Liz vanished out of sight. They both breathed a long sigh of relief but both snapped to attention when she reappeared unexpectedly.
“I almost forgot to tell you, Mr. Carpenter has been looking for Tammy all afternoon, and I just found out that Mr. Woodson gave her and Mr. Ulrich the evening off. She’s gone for the day. I haven’t been able to locate Mr. Carpenter to relay the message.”
“I’ll let him know when I see him. Thanks!” Dennis said with a smile. Liz said her goodbyes and left. Dennis hastily closed the door behind her and turned to Carrie. “I wonder why he’s looking for Tammy.”
Carrie was focused on the papers in front of her. I think I’ve just figured out why he’s looking for her; that little manipulative conniving bitch! She thought to herself.
“Most likely he needs her to answer a few questions. It’s nothing to be concerned about.” She reassured him.
“Have you thought about taking some time off?” George asked John.
“No, why?” John replied from his horizontal position with his forearm resting over his eyes on George’s sofa. “Do I look like I need it?”
“No Sparky, you've never looked better,” George shot sarcastically. “Have you spoken with Tammy?
“I spoke to her briefly this morning.”
“So you’re aware she’d considered resigning a couple of weeks ago?” George said continuing to sort through his day planner yet acutely conscious of John’s shift in mood.
“What? She never mentioned she wanted to leave. What brought this on?”
“She said she was exhausted and wanted to a change of scenery. I hope I haven’t overworked her.”
“No, Tammy’s a lot tougher than you think. I’m sure she’s fine but I’ll talk to her.” John rose, his face not betraying the gut wrenching terror he now felt. “If you see her please ask her to stop by my office before she leaves.”
George closed his book. “She and Jeff left earlier; I gave them the evening off. They’ve been working diligently these past few weeks, leaving no stone unturned. I’m proud of them both.”
“You should be proud of them.” John’s weak grin hid the repugnance caused by hearing them referred to in the same sentence. “You chose well. I’m calling it a night. See you tomorrow.”
“How did your meeting with Tammy go?” Carrie asked as she lay atop John’s bare chest. He calmly twisted her golden hair between his fingers. He did not answer immediately, she could tell he was deep in thought and it wasn’t about her. “John?”
She tilted her head up to his. “I asked how your meeting with Tammy went.”
Her head rose and lowered with his breath. “I wasn’t able to catch her before she left the office. I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”
“Are you sure it can wait until then?”
“I don’t have a choice. Besides, you said there weren’t any inconsistency in the accounts. We’ll worry about it tomorrow. Right now, I need some sleep. Goodnight.” John said tucking one arm behind his head and pulling Carrie against him with the other. The clean manly scent of his skin awoke sensual urges in her core that only he could quench.
Slowly she purred into his firm chest, its heat sent shudders to her pussy with each of her lingering kisses. John inhaled as he felt her working her way down towards his engorged cock. That was all the encouragement she needed. As she continued down further, he inhaled sharply and relaxed again. Further still she slid. John stopped her the second she kissed his navel.
He shifted her weight away from him. “Goodnight.” He said in a perky tone as he rose from the bed, leaving the room.
Carrie clenched the sheet to her chest, and her jaw dropped. She wasn’t going to let him get away with that! Throwing on her robe, she followed him into the guest bedroom where he lay sprawled across the bed.
“What do you mean goodnight!” she said with an edge.
John didn’t bother turning over. “I mean goodnight. We’re not having sex, Carrie Ann.”
Her chest caved. “I don’t want sex. I want you…and sex. I don’t get you. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t you give yourself to me?”
He was dreading this conversation, yet here it was…staring him in the face and it was time to deal with it head on. John rolled over, beckoning her to him. They lay facing one another. Carrie could see what John was preparing to say, she didn’t want to hear the words. She knew he was about to dash her remaining hope.
“I’m not the one, am I?” she asked barely above a whisper as he brushed the stray strands of hair from her flush cheeks.
“No.” John replied just as softly.
Her eyes dropped. “It never was me, was it?”
He released a short breath. “No, it wasn’t. Deep down I've always known you weren't the one.”
“You’re in love with someone?”
“Yes.” He said confidently.
Carrie's chin quivered slightly before she checked herself. “Does she know how you feel about her?” she looked up into John's twinkling eyes. “Is she in love with you?”
John shook his head. “I don't know. But it doesn't matter because I’m hopelessly in love with her. I should have never considered taking our relationship any further. It's not to say that don't love you---I don't love you the same way I love her."
He drew Carrie into his arms. Accepting that she’d lost her fight, she buried her face in the warmth of his neck and muttered, “If she knows what is good for her, she’ll take care of you.”
“Are we okay?” he asked.
“We will be.”
The next morning Carrie and Dennis worked nonstop behind closed doors sorting through document after document. Carrie hadn’t clued anyone in on the information she’d discovered. And why should she? Dirt such as this doesn’t have an expiration date, and it could be put to good use.
John searched high and low for Tammy but she was nowhere to be found. He questioned Liz about Tammy’s desire to leave. Liz confirmed his worst nightmare. She was in fact resigning and planned on handing in her letter of resignation that very day. John retreated into his office, to sort out what, if anything, he would say to her. What if she’d changed her mind about him? What if his brashness had driven her and Jeff together after all? What if it was too late? Then what?
Noon came and went with no sign of Tammy or Jeff. Carrie and Dennis stopped by his office before going to lunch. John pretended work was keeping him anchored to his desk not Tammy. Two o’clock rolled around; still she hadn’t walked through the door. Three o’clock past. John felt everything slipping away from him. He needed a distraction or he’d go crazy.
Throwing himself into work, John rang for Liz but there was no answer. Walking to her desk, he found it empty. He’d have to go down to the law library for himself. After spending nearly an hour with the chatty law clerks, he walked upstairs to George’s office, however he to was missing. Tammy’s temporary office was also vacant. As was Carrie's and Dennis'.
She’s gone. rang repeatedly in his head.
As he rounded the corner to his office, he saw Tammy placing a sheet of paper, no doubt her resignation letter, neatly on his desk. John walked up behind her and placed one hand over hers still resting on the letter, and the other on desk effectively pinning her in.
Sorrowfully, he dropped his head into her shoulder. Tammy felt his breath against her neck as he spoke slowly, “Baby, I’m sorry. Please don’t leave me.” He gently gripped her hand, crumpling her letter in the process. John could feel her trembling against his chest.
“Oh, God.” Tammy drew a heavy sob as hope billowed inside of her. Reaching up, she ran her hand through his hair, pulling him closer to her.
“I’m listening.” He choked.
“I’m sorry I lied to you,” Tammy turned, meeting John’s gaze. “Things were already tense between us and I was afraid if you'd known I’d had dinner alone with Jeff, I’d lose you. Lying wasn’t the answer. I should have you the truth that night. But I was scared.”
A faint smile creased the corners of John’s mouth as he guided Tammy to the sofa. "Tell me exactly what happened.”
Tammy pulled her legs under her and spoke in a shaky yet clear tone. “Jeff came to me early that day saying that he’d planned to take everyone out to dinner later that evening---just to get out of the office. I didn’t question his motives because we were all worn-out by that point. I was the first to arrive and…”
“Let me guess,” John said cutting her off. “No one else came. He’d tricked you.”
Tammy’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, how did you know?”
He shook his head, grinning. “It’s his calling card. He’s done it before. I can’t believe I fell for it, I should’ve seen throught him.”
“What? I’m the one who looked like a fool. I only stayed and talked because I needed to discern his character for myself, not hearsay. By the end of the night I was certain I wanted nothing to do with him.” Tammy stopped as though struck by a sudden realization. “Wait, what do you mean you can’t believe you fell for it?”
“I came to the restaurant that night because I wanted to talk to you. That’s when I saw the two of you sitting together,” John snorted. “Why didn’t you tell me what happened when you came home?” he asked her. Tammy’s head drooped. John lifted her chin, meeting her dewy eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want to disappoint you. And I felt like an idiot. You were right about him. He’s a jerk.”
John smiled at her deferred epiphany. “That’s inconsequential. You should have formed your own opinion of him. I thought you would've picked up on his bullshit by then.”
“No, we hardly saw one another,” Tammy told him. “What was so important that you came to the restaurant?” Resting against the back of the sofa, John took Tammy’s hand bringing her to her feet. The softness in his eyes sat aside her pounding heart as she straddled his lap.
Running his index finger down the length of her nose to her parted lips, John studied her flawless café au lait complexion and spoke without hesitation. “I wanted to tell you that I loved you---I still love you.”
Easing back, Tammy gave him a long penetrating stare, touching her mouth with her fingers. “Are you sure?”
“I’ve never felt this certain of anything. When I look into your eyes, I can see the rest of my life before me.” he admitted.
“Why haven't you mentioned this before?”
“I was afraid my love wouldn’t be reciprocated. There’s safety in silence but that night,” He gently brushed her fingers away from her lips and kissed them tenderly. “everything made perfect sense and I had to tell you. You mean the world to me and I want us to start over again, properly this time.”
“What are you asking?” She needed to hear him say the words aloud.
John bit his bottom lip suppressing an earnest smile and savoring the moment. “Can you please forgive me for being a stubborn jackass and consent to dating me exclusively."
She drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He'd finally spoken the words she longed to hear. “Of course I forgive you but what about Carrie? She’s not going to be happy about this.”
“Carrie and I have spoken. She understands there is never going to be a relationship between us.”
“Yes, however, she doesn’t know that I’m the reason she can’t have you,” Tammy said poignantly.
John blew a short breath as the contemplated Carrie’s reaction. “I wouldn’t date Carrie regardless. I don’t see her in that way.”
“You don’t have to convince me. But from where she’s standing it will seem as though I’ve usurped her position.”
“Does that mean you won’t be my girlfriend?” he leaned his head back against the cushions. Tammy looped her arms around his neck, lifting his head to meet her gaze.
A smile softened her face. “Yes, I will. I love you, John.”
Taking Tammy’s face in his hands, John kissed her lips. Softly, she parted them, welcoming him with a low seductive moan as she ran her fingers through his hair. The bulge in his pants grew stiff against Tammy’s lower abdomen as he deepened his kiss.
“John, what are you still doing…” Carrie asked bursting through John’s open door. Instantly, Tammy and John’s attention was turned to her. She stopped dead in her tracks, agony and confusion shadowed her face. “Whoa! What’s going on here?” she muttered. Tammy sprung to her feet, as did John. Carrie spun an icy glare straight through Tammy then darted to John. “Un-fucking-believable.” She stormed from the office. John went after her, calling repeatedly for her to stop. Tammy followed him.
Reaching the lobby, Carrie, breathing heavily, turned on both of them.
“Carrie, I’m sorry you had to find out this way,” John said, catching her by the upper arms. “I was going to tell you about us this evening.”
“I’m sorry Carrie.” Tammy apologized.
“Don’t you dare speak to me!” Carrie spat to Tammy over John’s shoulder. “You were supposed to be my friend!” she tried to pushing pass John, reaching for Tammy’s throat but she quickly moved out of her reach.
“I am your friend.”
“Some friend you are! You let me drone on about my feelings, knowing you were fooling around with him! I trusted you! I should rip your fucking head off!”
John tussled with Carrie while attempting to keep Tammy at arms lengthens. “Watch it, Carrie Ann! It’s not Tammy’s fault. Stop this!” he tightened his grip.
“How could you do this to me? And why her?” Carrie asked her words softened.
“Would it have mattered if it were someone else?” John intoned. Carrie stopped struggling, sadness replaced her anger.
“No, but it wouldn’t feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back.” Shaking from John’s hold, Carrie left them standing in her wake.
“Go talk to her." Tammy urged. "I’ll lock up the office and head home.”
“Yeah, I’d better get her back to my place before she does something stupid,” John replied. “I’ll call you later.”
Carrie huffed across the darkened parking lot with John close behind, continually calling to her. She didn’t miss a step until she reached her car. John caught her arm and swung her around, pulling her into his embrace. She sagged against his chest as he held her. Watching the scene from the office window, Tammy couldn’t hear what was being said but she could feel Carrie’s disappointment.
John and Carrie returned to his house where they sat chatting for hours. Considering her initial reaction there was very few theatrics to follow. In many ways, Carrie’s calmness unsettled John. The woman he’d known would never have allowed anyone to step over her, but he didn’t question her.
“Why didn’t you tell me that Tammy was the woman you were in love with? I can understand your hesitation in broadcasting it to the office but, John, you should have told me.”
“Our relationship was over---there was no need for unnecessary drama,” John rebutted “And at the time it seemed like the right thing to do.”
“Then you’re a hypocrite, John.” accused Carrie. “You damned Tammy for not being candid about her evening with Jeff yet you withheld the details of your past from me, when you knew of my feelings for you.”
“You’re right. I apologize for not telling you the entire truth.” He conceded. “Neither of us was deliberately trying to deceive you.”
Carrie pulled her legs up to her chest, resting her head on her knees. John stroked her golden tresses, soothing her as best he could. “I know you weren’t. You’d never intentionally hurt me.”
“I’d never hurt you. You’re my closest friend and I need you to be happy for me. I don’t fall in love everyday.”
“You really are in love with her, aren’t you?” Carrie asked softy, looking into John’s eyes.
“Yes, I love her. And she was very concerned about how you’d take the news.”
“Really, why?” Astonished, Carrie raised her head.
“What do you mean why? Because she cares about your feelings, silly. She wouldn’t give me her answer until I’d assured her you’d be fine.”
“Well,” she gave a slight smirk and rolled her eyes. “Maybe she is the right one for you. But that doesn’t change anything between us.” She said moving into John’s arms.
“Of course not! We will always be friends. Christ, what would I do without you?”
Carrie sucked in a long breath and released it slowly. A few moments of brittle silence cocooned them before she rose to her feet. “I’d better get out of here. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“What? You don’t have to leave,” John followed her into the bedroom where she began packing her bags. “Where are you going?”
“I’m checking into a hotel,” Carrie said throwing up her hand circumventing John’s protest. “I know, I don’t have to leave but, out of respect for Tammy, I’d rather go. Besides, I’ll be here for a few more days and we’ll see each other in the office. Oh, are you two going to the firm’s party Saturday?”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to ask Tammy,” John replied cautiously, taken aback by Carrie’s sudden change on behavior. “Are you certain you’re okay with all of this?”
Carrie abruptly closed the last of her bags, smiling she turned to John. “I’m fine, see!”
“You’re full of shit.” John chuckled smoothing her cheek. “But I love you anyway.”
Carrie pulled to the traffic light, franticly rummaging through her purse for her BlackBerry, then hit redial.
“Hello Carrie Ann.” said a husky male voice.
“Let me guess. You’re calling because you’ve confirmed what I’ve told you.”
“Yes, they’ve been seeing each other.” She said blindly focused on the road ahead.
“Ha!” the voice bellowed. “Love is a maneuvering business. It clouds your judgment.”
“Don’t push it, Jeff.”
“How can I help you?” his tone grew hard.
“What can I do to get in on this?”
“It depends on the information you provide. What do you have?”
“Enough to send John to jail for a few years,” she whipped around a sharp corner. “Open the door. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”