Forbidden Passion - Ruth Gogoll - ebook

Forbidden Passion ebook

Ruth Gogoll

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Opis

Falling in love with your boss is never a good idea. And if you're a lesbian and she's straight - that's double trouble right there. When Kim and her very attractive, straight, and married boss Sonja find themselves having to share a hotel room at an out-of-town conference, one thing leads to another. But after one night of Forbidden Passion Sonja almost cruelly tells Kim they're finished. Sonja's emotional and physical distance is a torment to Kim. And aside from the obsessiveness of being in love, there are more questions: What is really going on in Sonja's marriage? Is Sonja who Kim really thinks she is, after all? And - what are the chances that love will prevail?

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Ruth Gogoll

FORBIDDEN PASSION

Translated from the German bySusan Way

© 2012édition el!es

www.elles-books.com [email protected]

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form whatsoever.

ISBN 978-3-95609-175-9

Cover Illustration: © -Misha – Fotolia.com

PART 1

Tiny letters danced across the screen in front of Kim’s eyes. Exhausted, she rubbed at her eyelids. Working at a computer for hours at a stretch wasn’t exactly restful. But when she could work no more, she went to one particular Internet site, where she could relax a little. There were stories there that she read again and again.

Very special stories. From woman to woman.

Slowly, Kim let herself slip into the tale. The woman with the chestnut brown hair sank back on the couch, and the other woman leaned over her – 

“Ms. Wolff?”

Kim spun around. Her boss stood in the doorway. Silky chestnut brown hair fell across her shoulders, shiny and seductive. Kim swallowed.

“Are you working on something urgent?” her boss asked. “Or could you come see me right now?”

“I can . . . come,” Kim managed with an effort. That was certainly true. She probably could’ve, almost.

Sonja Kantner, department head and object of Kim’s restless dreams, glanced briefly at Kim’s computer screen, but she was too far away, the screen stood at too sharp an angle, and the letters were too small. Kim thanked all the goddesses in heaven for that.

“Let me just save this.” Kim felt heat rising to her face. She hoped she hadn’t turned beet red. Lucky for her that she didn't usually suffer that fate.

“Fine, do that.” Sonja Kantner nodded, then turned away.

Kim watched her luscious backside disappear from the doorway. Did she have to be so attractive? It was a daily torture.

SIX WEEKS EARLIER

Six weeks ago Kim had seen her new boss for the first time, in the conference room at Sonja’s introduction to the company. Kim had nearly fainted. She immediately began working out a plan for how, “for reasons of strategic importance to the company,” she could move the department head’s office – normally immediately adjacent to her own – to the other end of the hall, or better yet, to another floor. Or even better still, to another building.

After relating a few of his new department head’s career highlights, the CEO gave the floor to Kim’s new boss. “Why don’t you start by introducing yourself, Mrs. Kantner?”

He stepped back, and Sonja Kantner stepped forward. She repeated, in slightly different terms, what he’d already said about her work history, but Kim wasn’t interested in all that. What interested her was something Sonja Kantner had said right at the start: married, no children.

“Yet,” she added with a charming smile.

She’d guessed right. Kim almost sighed when she received confirmation of what she’d already known anyhow. Sonja Kantner was straight, and solidly so. But what good would it have been, even if things were otherwise? Kim brooded some more over her plan to ship her off to another building. Maybe over in Eichhalde. Didn’t they have branch offices in other countries than Germany, too? Couldn’t Sonja be assigned overseas?

Kim knew one thing, at least: She wouldn’t be able to stand having her new boss so close to her for long, every day, almost every minute. Or perhaps Kim would get used to her and the attraction would fade with time? Kim examined Sonja Kantner’s body once more from head to toe as she spoke. No. No, the chances of that were exceedingly slim. The opposite was more likely to occur.

The assembly started to break up, and Kim was about to leave when the CEO waved in her direction. “Ms. Wolff? Would you come over here, please?”

Kim took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. Courage! She walked over to the two of them, and he introduced her with a smile. “This, Sonja, will be your closest coworker, Kim Wolff. Kim, I’d like to formally introduce you to Sonja Kantner.”

Sonja smiled and extended her hand to Kim. Kim would rather not have touched her, but she could hardly be rude, after all. Sonja’s hand was soft and warm. Once they actually touched, Kim would have preferred never to let go, so it was left to Sonja to draw back after the appropriate interval, which she did.

“I’m glad to meet you, Kim. I hope we’ll work well together.”

Work together? Kim thought, but aloud she responded with what was expected of her: “I hope so, too, and I’m looking forward to our association as well.” She smiled in a way that she hoped came across as confident. The tingling that had slowly spread from her hand throughout her entire body somewhat hindered her ability to be precise in her reactions.

“You’ll take Sonja on a tour of the company and show her everything, won’t you, Kim?” her CEO surmised, in a tone of friendly command.

Kim tried not to gulp. “Yes,” she replied, the effort required to control her voice making it sound very soft. “Of course. I’ll show her everything.” If only that were possible! What Kim would have liked to show her . . .!

Sonja laughed. “But not until tomorrow! Today, I still have to tour the executive floor.”

The CEO melted at her charming smile just as Kim had, only he was permitted to let it show; Kim wasn’t. One day’s reprieve! At least she had that!

“Then until tomorrow.” Sonja smiled at Kim once more. “What time will you get in?”

Kim forced out an answer. “At eight.”

“Good.” Sonja smiled. “I’ll be here at seven.”

“This really wasn’t necessary, Kim.” Mrs. Kantner greeted her, beaming.

Already in such a good mood this early in the morning – this was going to be something! When had she gotten up? Kim had been punctual, but Sonja was already sitting at the desk when Kim entered her office.

She came over to Kim and extended her hand. “Good morning,” she said when she’d reached Kim, and her eyes delved into Kim’s with an irresistible gaze.

She probably had no idea what effect that had on Kim . . . what effect she herself had on Kim –

“You could just as well have come in at eight,” Sonja continued. “I know I get on everyone’s nerves by being such an early riser. But I like to catch up on things in peace and quiet first thing in the morning. When there’s no one here yet. Otherwise there are some things I’d never get to.” Her laugh was enormously likeable.

She’d only just started. What was there for her to catch up on? Kim nudged herself into an understanding smile and withdrew her hand, which Sonja was still holding. “You’re right about that,” she agreed. “Although I prefer to do it in the evening, when everyone else is gone.”

Sonja Kantner laughed once more and went back to her desk. “To each her own.” She turned to face Kim. “How late do you stay at the office in the evenings?”

“Sometimes until ten. But I usually don’t come in until –” Kim broke off. Perhaps she shouldn’t reveal to her new boss what time she normally came in in the morning.

Sonja smiled. She was too clever to be led so easily astray. “You don’t normally come in at seven or eight, do you?”

Kim sighed. “No,” she admitted. “But I’ll change that, of course,” she added hastily. “If you’re here at seven, I will be, too.”

“That won’t be necessary. As I said: I know I get on everyone’s nerves by being such an early bird, but I don’t demand it of anyone else.” Sonja kept smiling. “Although by ten o’clock in the evening, I’m usually in bed. So we ought to agree on some time in between.”

In bed? Kim looked at her. How seductive must she look lying in bed, if she was already this attractive during the day? She was sure to have wonderful negligees for nighttime . . . and if she wore nothing at all . . .?

“What’s the earliest you can be here?” Sonja was paging through a file on her desk, something her predecessor must’ve left behind.

Kim had to tear herself away from her un-businesslike thoughts. “Eight-thirty?” she suggested. She could probably manage that, just about.

Sonja looked up. “Fine.” She smiled once more in that unbelievably likeable, almost loving way. “And if it’s more like nine sometimes, that’s not a problem. I suspect that was the time you really wanted to suggest, am I right?”

She must’ve graduated from a great many leadership seminars, to be this good. “Yes,” Kim admitted.

“We’ll thrash it out together eventually!” Sonja laughed. “Will you show me around now?”

Thrash it out together – what a nice image, Kim thought for a moment. Then the two of them left the office for the tour.

And they really had thrashed things out together, so to speak. Working with Sonja was a pleasure. What Kim found less enjoyable was the physical proximity that usually went with it, and which Sonja showed no inclination to limit. She leaned over Kim’s chair when she stood behind her and Kim had to show her something on the computer screen. When they met at a conference table to discuss something, she sat very close to Kim so they could study the same papers. Again and again, she smiled when they talked – always purely business, of course – and brushed casually against Kim’s arm, raising goosebumps that were visible for miles – or would be, if Kim hadn’t made a habit of wearing long-sleeved blouses to work.

Straight women! It never occurred to them that women might also be receptive to such temptation. In that respect, only men existed for them. Kim was already dreading the approach of summer. Her T-shirts and short-sleeved blouses would have to rot in her closet, and she would sweat like hell. But she still preferred that to letting Sonja Kantner see how she felt.

On the other hand, Kim also yearned for that physical closeness. To a certain extent, it was sweet torture whenever her boss called her over or approached her to work . . . when she was so dreadfully close, and yet Kim couldn’t come any closer.

Never would Kim have dared to touch her the way Sonja carelessly touched Kim, just brushing her arm like that.

Kim would’ve exploded – on the spot.

Kim brought herself back to the present. I should go over there, she thought. She’ll be wondering where I am.

She entered Sonja’s office and was greeted with a smile, as always. “Let’s sit there.” Sonja indicated the conference table.

Oh, no, not that again! Kim had barely managed to calm down after being surprised by Sonja at her computer screen so uncomfortably – but Sonja was completely unaware of that. For her, all of this was innocent. She was straight, after all.

Kim lowered herself into a nearby chair and waited for her boss to sit down next to her, but she didn’t. She sat down on the opposite side of the table and placed a prospectus in front of Kim.

Kim picked it up and looked inside. “You’re going to this seminar?” Thank the Goddess! A couple of days of peace!

“Yes, and I’d like you to come along.”

So much for the relaxation. “Me?” Kim asked, astonished. “This is a management seminar.” She looked at Sonja. “Do you need someone to take minutes?”

“No.” Sonja shook her head. “I don’t want you to take minutes. I want you to take part in the seminar, just like I will.”

“But I . . . I’m not a manager,” Kim marveled rather feebly.

Sonja Kantner leaned forward and looked at Kim with that intense gaze that Kim could barely endure. “But you could become a manager.” She leaned back again. “In my opinion, you are considerably under-challenged in your current position. You have many other qualities than those you’re putting to use here. And I wish to foster them. Once you’ve completed this seminar, you’ll meet all of the prerequisites for a promotion. You could be a manager by the fall.”

Other qualities? What did Sonja Kantner mean by that? Had she noticed that . . .? Did she want to get rid of Kim? Kim cast a furtive glance at her boss. No, she seemed as friendly and competent as ever. “By the fall?” Kim asked, taken aback.

“Yes, it can’t happen any sooner. Promotions are only announced once a year.”

“I know.”

“And? What do you say?” Sonja asked with an inviting smile. “Will you come along?”

“If you want . . .” Kim replied vaguely. This was her boss. If she said Kim had to, then Kim had to.

“No, no!” Sonja shook her head. “I don’t want to force you into anything. You’re welcome to say no. But I think this would be a great opportunity for you, wouldn’t it?” She gave Kim a questioning look.

“Yes. Yes, it certainly would be,” Kim admitted.

Kim’s misgivings were not of a professional nature. She was more than happy to have the chance at a promotion. That would certainly have more money attached to it. But at a seminar like this, they’d be even closer than they were here in the office. And there would be no blessed end of the day at which they’d part ways and go home.

Kim knew about these seminar hotels, too. There was never anything nearby. That meant conference attendees sat in the bar in the evening with other seminar participants, because there was nothing else to do but have a drink and gab away. All small talk, and normally not a problem, aside from the inevitable boredom, but if Sonja were there, she and Kim would probably tend to concentrate on one another because they didn’t know anyone else. Until well past midnight, probably, when it was finally time to go to sleep.

Fine. Kim would at least have those few hours alone in her hotel room to recover from her, from her constant gaze, from her uninterrupted presence.

Sonja was still watching Kim, waiting for her answer. She was probably wondering why Kim would hesitate at all. Anyone else would surely have agreed right away, and with excitement.

Kim nodded. “Sure. I’m looking forward to it.” She gave Sonja the most enthusiastic smile she could muster, to make her forget her hesitation.

“Lovely.” Sonja stood up. “Are you finished with the report that we talked about this morning?” she asked as she went back to her desk; she was obviously already thinking about something else.

“Almost. The meeting with the project group took longer than expected. I haven’t quite had time to finish it up.” And because of the little excursion Kim had needed to make on the Internet . . . But Sonja Kantner certainly didn’t need to know about that.

“When, then?” her boss asked succinctly. She was exceptionally efficient when it came to work.

“In an hour,” Kim promised.

Her boss nodded. “Bring it to me as soon as you’re done, please.” She sat down, and with that, Kim was dismissed.

Kim glanced down at the prospectus one more time as she stood up. “Should I reserve the rooms?”

Sonja looked up briefly. “No, I’ll take care of that. It’s included with the registration. I need to talk to them about something else anyway.” She went back to reviewing her files.

Kim nodded, left the office, and stopped at the coffee vending machine. She needed something to get over that shock. Unfortunately, the company management hadn’t seen fit to provide stronger drinks for such occasions. Hard liquor would’ve been just the thing right now. Kim did know of a colleague or two who were guaranteed to have a bottle hidden in their desks, but she didn’t really want to go so far as to ask.

The seminar took place a week and a half later.

The drive took just under two hours. Kim and Sonja chatted about in-house business, appointments for the following week, when they’d be back, and other organizational matters. Kim became more and more aware of Sonja’s proximity while her boss drove and talked at the same time, developing entire concepts as she spoke. Kim’s job was primarily to listen. She could observe Sonja Kantner the entire time in complete innocence.

Sonja’s car was a large one, but Kim pressed herself inconspicuously against the outside edge anyway, into the door. The broad automatic transmission console in the center did separate them, but it wasn’t enough to keep her from feeling Sonja’s body heat with increasing intensity and smelling her perfume. Her scent was familiar to Kim, but was intensified by the closeness of the car. It unleashed indecent fantasies in her mind. Kim imagined how Sonja would smell when she was aroused, when she lay in bed and spread her legs – 

“Do you think we can do it that way?” Sonja glanced briefly over at Kim.

Kim hadn’t been listening. “Yes. Yes, sure. Certainly,” she answered quickly. She’d find out eventually what it was her boss had been referring to.

Sonja turned her attention away from Kim and back to the road. Ten minutes later, they had arrived and headed for the reception desk. Sonja took care of everything while Kim looked around and waited for the concierge to hand her the room key.

When Sonja had finished, she turned around and dangled the plastic keycard in front of Kim’s face. “Would you like to . . .” she inquired with an inviting smile.

“Is that my key?” Kim asked in return. She was rather surprised. Normally, the concierge only gave them out individually, and each guest had to sign something first.

“Ours,” Sonja Kantner replied, similarly slightly surprised. “I explained all that in the car earlier. The registration was too last-minute. They only had one more room available. And the other participants are all men. So they put us two girls together.” She laughed at her own joke, referring to grown women as ‘girls’. “Earlier, in the car, you said it was fine. Or would you rather room with someone else –?” She broke off, even more confused than before.

With a man? Oh, no, definitely not! In that case, I’d rather stay with you. Although Kim didn’t find that prospect exactly enticing. That is, she did find it enticing – but that was hardly open for debate. So she wouldn’t even get to recover alone in her room at night. Even then, she would be there.

Why, oh why hadn’t Kim paid attention in the car earlier? But what difference would it have made? If there weren’t any more rooms . . .

“No, of course not,” Kim assured her. “That’s all fine. I’d just forgotten about it.”

They took their things to the room, and Kim looked at the double bed with considerable worry. It was wide, as always in this sort of hotel, but Kim feared it would not be wide enough. Sonja was going to lie down next to her, Kim would hear her breathing, smell her, feel her warmth . . .

Kim put her bag in the closet and went to the door. “I’m going to go down now.” At least five minutes. Please! Please, let her stay here!

Sonja Kantner nodded. “I’m going to unpack a few things. Then I’ll catch up.”

Exhaling, Kim left the room and shut the door behind her. She walked slowly down the stairs. She needed air. She couldn’t have endured the elevator again. Her scent was sure to remain in there from moments ago, when they’d ridden up together. Once downstairs, Kim crossed the small entrance hall to the exit and stepped out onto the driveway.

The landscape, into which someone had so audaciously disturbed nature to erect this hotel, was gorgeous. Nothing but mountains all around, green meadows; in the middle distance, a cow mooed. Presumably on one of the nearby alpine pastures. It could’ve been really nice, relaxing, recuperative . . . but it wasn’t. For that, Kim would’ve needed more distance from her – at least at night.

Well, then. Kim sighed. She would just have to deal with it, at least for these three days. Those, too, would pass, they’d drive back, and nothing would have happened. Nothing would have changed between the two of them. That seemed certain.

Kim looked at her watch. Too late to go for a walk – the seminar was about to begin. When Kim entered the lobby, Sonja was just coming down the stairs. She, too, had passed on the elevator, but – in Kim’s estimation – more likely out of concern for her figure than because of Kim’s beguiling scent. Kim wanted to sigh again right then.

Sonja was heading toward Kim. “Isn’t there any sort of a reception?” she asked, smiling.

“Yes. Yes, sure there is. Over there in the lobby.” Kim had to swallow. “Coffee and croissants.”

“They could think up something new once in a while.” Sonja sighed a little and turned in the direction Kim had indicated.

Kim followed her. They received two pin-on nametags and a slim folder of handouts. There were place cards arranged on the tables, with their seat assignments. Kim stopped. She saw her own name, but not Sonja’s.

Sonja went around to the other side of the U-shaped arrangement of tables. “Ah, here!” She smiled and held up her place card.

Kim tried not to show her relief too plainly. She wouldn’t have to sit next to her all day long! Saved! At least during the day. Nights would be another story . . . What luck that someone seemed to have distributed the name cards randomly, and not according to company affiliation.

After they’d found their places and set down their folders, they went out and joined the male participants. Sonja paid not the slightest attention to the way their tongues all hung out as soon as they saw her. She would’ve had to accept ten cups of coffee and at least as many croissants at once in order to satisfy all the offers she received. Graciously, she honored an elderly gentleman by choosing him to be her coffee carrier.

Kim and Sonja stood at one of the tall bistro tables and awaited his return.

“Men!” Sonja said. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them!” She laughed once more.

Well, I seriously doubt the latter, Kim thought. But her boss didn’t know any different. “But you’re married,” Kim said. Since she’d been with the company, they’d never talked about Sonja’s husband, but then, they rarely exchanged a word regarding their private lives.

“Yes,” Sonja replied, exceptionally tersely, but then turned a captivating smile on her returning attendant, who was trying desperately to balance two coffee cups and two croissants with his two ungraceful man-hands. At home, his wife probably did that sort of thing, but on the other hand, she probably wasn’t twenty-five years younger than he was, and she probably didn’t look like Sonja Kantner.

“Thank you,” Sonja said when he finally arrived. Not much coffee was left in the sloshed-over cups. She took one from him and placed it in front of Kim, so that he could hand her the second with a gallant gesture.

They’d barely tasted their croissants when a man of about forty entered the room – a man who was obviously attractive to straight women, which Kim immediately became aware of by noticing Sonja’s gaze. She watched him with noticeable interest. On top of that, in contrast to her coffee-beau, he was much more age-appropriate. She was thirty-five, as Kim knew from her personnel file.

The newcomer introduced himself as Klaus, their seminar leader, and asked everyone to gather in the conference room. He did a double take when Sonja Kantner walked past him, and she smiled when she noticed it. The two of them had yet to say a single word to one another, and yet things were already well underway.

Kim would gladly have traded places with him.

During the seminar day, Kim watched the tension build between the two of them. Perhaps she’d be sleeping alone in their room tonight, after all. Jealously, she observed her boss when Sonja turned her attention to the course leader, gave him a charming smile, or asked him a question.

Kim tried to stop paying attention, but she couldn’t. Sonja was sitting across from her, and sometimes a friendly smile would come Kim’s way as well, when she happened to glance in her direction. But it was nothing compared to the ones she gave him. Kim’s jealousy swelled.

She’s my boss, damn it, not my friend – and definitely not my lover. Unfortunately. Kim tried to tell herself that over and over again, so that she could at least partially follow the seminar. But when Kim looked at Klaus, she saw how fixated he was on Sonja, so Kim’s eyes wandered back over to Sonja, and Kim noticed her interest in him. It was endless . . . and hellish.

After the end of the seminar day, they all gathered in the bar. Klaus fetched two champagne flutes. He came over to the table with them and placed one in front of Sonja. He knew what women liked. Reluctantly, the others made room for him, so that Klaus could sit next to her. They clinked glasses, gazing deep into one another’s eyes; after a moment, Klaus forced himself to look away and toasted everyone else at the table.

Klaus made sure that Sonja’s glass was never empty, and she became ever more buoyant. She liked to laugh, even in the office, but this evening, her laughter took on a new quality. She was flirting with Klaus and he with her.

Kim observed them, and everything she saw felt like a stab to her heart. Her insides shriveled. I ought to go to bed, she thought, and spare myself this sight.

But she couldn’t. It was like an addiction, needing to look at Sonja, to enjoy her laugh, even if it wasn’t really meant for Kim, and her presence.

When she got up later to go to the toilet, she heard a muffled sound in the hallway, around the next corner. She followed the sound and saw – her boss.

Klaus had already pushed Sonja’s skirt halfway up and was pressing her against the wall. They were kissing, and she was moaning and pressing into him just as much as he was into her.

Oh, no, I really don’t need this! Kim turned away, but at that moment, she heard Sonja’s voice.

“Klaus . . . Klaus,” she sighed, aroused. But then her tone changed. “No, Klaus, please don’t.”

He didn’t stop. “Oh, come on,” he coaxed, kissing her again, which Kim saw as she spied on them from around the corner. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m married,” she replied, slightly breathless.

“So am I.” He laughed, his voice hoarse with arousal. “But your husband isn’t here and neither is my wife. So what’s the problem?” He kissed her again, and she did absolutely nothing to fend him off – until he reached under her skirt again.

“Don’t, Klaus.” She held his wrist firmly. “Not like that, and not here. I don’t like that.”

“Where, then?” he asked.

“It’ll have to be your room. I’m sharing my room with my colleague.”

“Yes, right,” he remembered. He let her go. “Let’s make it not too obvious,” he suggested. This clearly wasn’t the first time he was doing this sort of thing at one of his seminars. “I’ll go first, and you come later. 125.”

That must be his room number. Did his wife know how he amused himself when he was away from home?

He turned around, and Kim had to disappear quickly when he came toward her. She was nearly seated back at the table when he turned up. A while later Sonja appeared, and not two minutes after that, Klaus was suddenly terribly tired and yawning. “I’m going to sleep,” he announced. “That was pretty tiring today.” He rapped twice on the table. “Good night.”

A general nodding and murmuring answered him, and three of the others joined him.

Sonja waited a couple of minutes, and then she stood up likewise. “It’s getting to be that time for me, too.” She looked in Kim’s direction. “But you’re welcome to stay here,” she offered.

How big of you! But Kim knew why she was doing it. She nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I’m not tired yet.” Kim followed her with her eyes as she left the bar. Lucky Klaus . . .

Kim didn’t get back to their room until close to two, but Sonja still wasn’t there yet. She selected a side of the bed and lay down. The alcohol, which she’d consumed in more abundance than usual out of desperation, helped her fall asleep. Nonetheless, she perceived that some time later, her boss lay down cautiously beside her.

Kim lay there, stiff as a board, but as much as she tried, she could not ignore Sonja Kantner’s presence, her warmth, her scent, all of which stole over Kim like a seductive mist. With considerable effort, including the counting of sheep, Kim finally managed to fall back into a restless sleep, but it was unavoidable: she dreamed of Sonja. Of the two of them. Kim caressed her, massaged her breast, and brushed her nipple with her thumb. Next to her, Sonja sighed. Kim awoke with a start. It was already daylight outside. Her hand lay on her boss’s breast, and Sonja sighed again. Quickly, Kim drew her hand back, before her boss could wake up.

Kim got out of bed hastily and stumbled into the shower. She couldn’t bear lying next to Sonja any longer, and it was probably almost time for breakfast, anyhow. She grew queasy at the thought. After all that alcohol, food had definitely lost its appeal. But the hotel was also likely to have a couple of Alka-Seltzers on hand, she assumed.

She went downstairs and asked a waitress for the relief-inducing pills. The prompt fulfillment of her wish indicated that Kim probably wasn’t the only one requesting them for breakfast. She had a cup of coffee, as well, and sat down to wait for the medicine to work. It took a while, but then her headache improved. She even started to feel hungry.

She went to get herself something from the buffet. Shortly after she returned to her table, another seminar participant appeared. He looked dreadful. He still seemed to be staggering as he approached Kim and sat down at her table.

“You look chipper this morning,” he remarked with a reluctant grimace, glancing at her half-empty plate.

Kim waved to the waitress. “Bring this gentleman the same thing you brought me earlier,” she requested.

The waitress nodded and disappeared. A moment later, she came back and set a glass of murky liquid in front of him.

“What’s that?” he asked skeptically.

“Drink it, it’ll make you feel better,” Kim promised. “It worked for me.”

He drained the glass, and after Kim had finished her breakfast, it appeared that her colleague was finally enjoying the beneficial effect of the analgesic, too. “Man, what a night!” he groaned, head propped up by both hands. Then he grinned. “Did you sleep well, you two gals?” he asked sneakily.

“Don’t even try it. I’m not telling you anything,” Kim warned him.

Of course, he wanted to know whether Sonja had been there at all. Their little stealth maneuver hadn’t fooled anyone. Everyone had noticed the coinciding departure times.

“Aha. So she wasn’t there.”

“No ‘aha’,” Kim replied, irritated. “Of course she was there.”

Why was she defending her boss? There was no reason she should do that. After all, Sonja was an adult who could do whatever she wanted. Kim wasn’t responsible for her reputation. If she wanted to spread her legs for Klaus and everyone else knew it that was no one’s business but her own.

“These married singles,” he was still grinning at her. “They just don’t get it. I prefer to stay single, period.” He looked at Kim with interest. “And you’re single, too, aren’t you?”

Kim looked back at him. What should she tell him? The truth? “Yes, I am,” she answered, taking the last sip of her coffee. “I’m single.”

“Not in a relationship, not married?” he asked again to be sure, and he glanced briefly at her ring finger. But nothing sparkled there.

“Neither, nor,” Kim confirmed.

“I like you.” He gazed deep into her eyes. “A lot.” He laughed. “I’ve never met a woman who can hold her liquor the way you do!”

Kim shook her head. “If that’s the only reason . . .” She stood up.

When she reached the entrance to the breakfast room, she almost crashed into Sonja.

The waitress came out of the kitchen at the same moment. “Alka-Seltzer?” she asked sympathetically, giving Sonja the once-over.

Kim nodded, as her boss didn’t seem able to do so for herself. The waitress disappeared once more. This had become a sort of ritual.

Kim was about to continue on her way, but Sonja grabbed her arm. “I need to speak to you, Kim,” she said with some effort. She might not have had as much to drink as Kim, but she’d had plenty. Her head must be buzzing like a swarm of bees.

“The seminar is about to begin.” What did she want? To confess? She could spare herself that. Her private life was, after all, absolutely none of Kim’s business, which, to Kim’s regret, she made clear by her behavior time and again.

Sonja peered closely at Kim. “Can I rely on your discretion?” she asked with a slightly hoarse voice. She was obviously still somewhat the worse for wear.

Kim looked into her agonized face – possibly more agonized by the effects of the alcohol than by her infidelity, but that, too, was none of her business – and nodded. “Of course.” She glanced toward the colleague with whom she’d shared a table earlier. “I told him you’d been in our room all night.”

“Thank you,” her boss said. “You know that I’m married –”

Kim interrupted her quickly. “I know.” She couldn’t stand it anymore. She simply left her boss standing there and walked away.

It was at least reassuring that Sonja seemed not to have noticed Kim’s faux pas in bed this morning. That would have been far too embarrassing: so many forced confessions at once – and coming from both sides. Kim could only hope that the remaining three days would pass without further incident.

Perhaps the friendly waitress might have a couple of sleeping pills, too. Kim would have to ask her.

During the day, Klaus and Sonja restrained themselves astonishingly well. No more flirtatious glances, no more questions, and his attention now seemed rather more evenly divided among the other participants, and even on Kim. What a Casanova! He actually winked at her!

But that was probably just her imagination. Yesterday, they’d all been drunk, and today, they all had hangovers – including those two. His winking was probably nothing more than eyelid twitching due to overexertion. Or had something happened? In his room? Sonja seemed to barely acknowledge him, and during the breaks they sat as far apart as possible. Even at lunch, they chose seats at opposite ends of the long table.

But then, perhaps, they were sure to be plagued by guilty consciences – married as they were. It was possible that Kim had judged him too harshly. Maybe he wasn’t such a rogue. Nor did Kim know whether this was something she typically did when she was away from home. Kim wouldn’t have thought, thus far, that Sonja was the type. But a woman as attractive as Sonja was would of course be offered constant temptations. Many men would try to pursue something with her. And apparently, some of them succeeded.

Sonja had never spoken of her husband, nor had he ever called, at least when Kim was within earshot. There was no photo on Sonja’s desk. But that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Perhaps she just valued her privacy.

That evening in the bar, Kim continued to observe Sonja and Klaus. Indeed, Klaus conversed ostentatiously with men only, and Sonja talked with everyone but Klaus.

Kim shrugged. Straight people and their silly games. His and hers both. Well, it was nothing important for Kim, at any rate. For her, it changed nothing.

She watched Sonja as much as possible without staring openly. She is simply unbelievably beautiful, she thought. When she tossed back her hair, it looked as though thousands of tiny feathers were lifted into the air and then reassembled into a cascade of satin. The dark red sheen of her chestnut brown hair seemed to glow when light fell upon it. Like highly polished, wonderfully fine-grained wood. Her eyes, her lips, her forehead when she furrowed it thoughtfully and then laughed a moment later, so that the tiny wrinkles around her eyes radiated in all directions – everything about her was perfect.

She had a small dimple on her chin that was visible only when it was lit from a certain angle and she happened to be turning her head. It looked sweet, and Kim always tried to sit in the right position to be able to see it. The entirety of the woman was simply ravishing.

I have got to stop doing this! Kim squared her shoulders and forced herself to look in the other direction. She is ravishing, yes – ravishingly heterosexual! It made no sense whatsoever to become attached to a woman like that, or to even waste time thinking about it. Sonja was quite suitable as an object of sexual fantasy, but not for anything real. That was simply out of the question.

Two more nights, it’s just two more nights . . . She’d already managed one night; she’d get through the rest somehow, too.

She couldn’t stare at the bar forever. She turned her head and – her gaze landed directly in line with Sonja’s eyes. Apparently, her boss had been watching her.

“Are you bored?” Sonja asked.

“Oh . . . hm . . . no, not really –” Kim was utterly confounded by the silky gaze of those gold-brown eyes. Never before had they been so close to her and looked at her so directly.

“It’s not exactly exciting, I know, but I never promised it would be. You just need the certificate for the promotion.” She raised her eyebrows in slight apology. “Maybe I should’ve warned you.”

“Hm . . . no . . . I –” Where was this going? Kim cleared her throat. “I do know about these seminars, not necessarily as a participant, but I’ve taken minutes or been in charge of the logistics for them now and again.”

“I know.” Sonja smiled. “I’m familiar with your personnel file.”

Oh, that smile . . . Damn it! “Of course.” Kim attempted to respond around the frog now stuck in her throat.

Sonja sighed. “Business life is sometimes really dull. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable. One simply has to make the best of it. Seminars like this aren’t exactly my thing, but the topic of this one comes up so rarely in other seminars, it just had to be.”

Kim lifted her hands. “I have absolutely no objections. The seminar’s been quite interesting so far.” In one respect, anyway, she continued in her thoughts.

“I’m glad to hear that.” Sonja went on smiling, and Kim didn’t know where she ought to look, so as not to seem impolite. Those lips . . . she could already feel their silky softness, as though she were touching them. Think about something else!

“I think I’ll turn in a bit earlier tonight. It’s pretty tiring, listening so closely all day long.” Kim yawned behind a raised hand and stood up.

“I’ll join you.” Sonja stood up as well.

Must you?

“Sonja, can I talk to you for a minute?” Klaus was leaning in their direction.

Sonja hesitated imperceptibly, but then she nodded. “Of course.”

Klaus stood and pointed at two armchairs in a corner of the foyer. “There?”

He and Sonja went over to the conversation nook. A smirk, which Kim unfortunately could not join in on, traveled contagiously through the assembled ranks. She left the bar. On the way to her room, her Alka-Seltzer companion caught up with her.

“Think something’s still going on between those two?” he asked, grinning.

“Nothing’s going on,” Kim answered sharply.

“Good grief, aren’t you a mother hen! You’d never know it to look at you.” He laughed. “She’s your boss, not your daughter. You don’t have to guard her virtue.” He laughed again. “I think she’s way beyond that. Seems to be quite the hot little number.”

Kim shot him a withering glare.

“Oh, excuse me!” He lifted his hands in the air. “Didn’t mean it like that. The lady is highly attractive, I wanted to say.”

Kim remained silent.

“Other ladies, too, though.” He tilted his head to one side. “You, for example.”

“You don’t say.”

“And I mean that, seriously.” He remained standing close to her, even while she was holding the keycard in her hand to open the door. “You’re much more attractive than she is – in your way.”

“In my way? What way is that, then?” Kim had to chuckle. What questionable compliments her colleague was dishing out!

“You’re just . . . well . . . nicer,” he replied vaguely. “I just like you.”

“Because I happen to be the only woman other than Mrs. Kantner at this seminar?” Kim could no longer suppress her smirk. “The selection isn’t that large, you must admit.” She stuck the keycard into the slit in the door. There was a pling and the light above the slit switched to green.

“I admit it. But even if there were more women here –”

“You’d fall in love with me on the spot?” Kim laughed. “Oh, sure, I believe that.” She opened the door.

Her colleague took a step toward her, putting one foot inside her room. “You’re not as cold as she is,” he whispered excitedly. “That one’s like a block of ice, the pure Sahara.”

“A block of ice in the Sahara would presumably melt,” Kim said, amused but also annoyed. “And earlier, you claimed she was hot.” What kind of conversation am I having here? she thought, irritated.

“Well, yeah, in a way, but –” He squirmed.

“But she’s out of your league. Is that what you’re trying to say?” Kim shook her head. “And you don’t think I am?” She gave him a stony look. “Then be aware, my friend, I play in a completely different league than she does. And most definitely not in yours.”

He just looked at her, dumbfounded and uncomprehending.

Kim pushed his foot out of the way with hers, entered her room, and shut the door behind her. Good grief!

A minute later, there was a knock at the door. Kim didn’t imagine it would be her erstwhile admirer and opened it. She was right. She let her boss inside.

“Pardon me,” Sonja said, a little embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to . . . but I have to sleep somewhere, too, after all.”

She looked outrageously sweet, standing there like that. Why couldn’t Kim just kiss her right now?

“Did you want to go with him?” Sonja asked her. “I really didn’t mean to stop you –”

How touchingly concerned she was about Kim’s sex life! If only she were so concerned in the right way . . .

“No. You didn’t stop me from doing anything. Don’t worry.” Kim went to the bed and took her nightshirt out from under the pillow.

“Men can certainly be awful sometimes,” Sonja remarked suddenly, and rather bitterly, it seemed.

What on earth had Klaus done to her last night? She certainly hadn’t been sounding like this beforehand.

Could Kim ask her about it? Hardly. This was none of her business. Sonja wasn’t her friend, she was her boss. They had no personal relationship whatsoever, as much as Kim regretted it. That didn’t change the facts.

“You said it,” Kim agreed with her and went into the bathroom.

When she returned and lay down on the bed, Sonja was getting ready to take her turn in the bathroom. She stripped down, completely naked, and walked past Kim, clad only in her birthday suit.

Kim held her breath. Her body was – oh, God, she was starting to feel awfully warm . . . Her body was a work of art. Kim had, of course, touched Sonja’s breast once already, but the rest as well . . . she was truly beautiful – and insanely desirable. Though what Klaus had helped himself to last night, Kim couldn’t have.

Kim rolled over and curled up under her blanket. A pathetic substitute for Sonja’s skin, which Kim yearned for; for Sonja’s caress, which Kim would never be permitted to experience except when she accidentally brushed her arm; for Sonja’s kiss, which Kim longed for.

And Kim wanted more from Sonja than that. She wanted to hear the same sounds that she’d granted Klaus, the sighing and the moaning. Kim wanted Sonja to whisper her name the way she’d whispered Klaus’s. Ah, she was crazy. None of this would ever happen, and Kim knew it.

Sonja came out of the bathroom – still naked – and slipped on a negligee when she’d reached her side of the bed. Kim briefly shut her eyes in order to calm herself down. It was an extravagant item. Didn’t she have anything simpler? Just for a trip to a seminar? But perhaps she’d been planning to amuse herself here. And had come prepared.

Sonja lay down. “Would it bother you if I watch television?” She pulled the blanket up. “I’m not actually tired yet. I just wanted to get away from those . . . men.” She pronounced the last word with a certain degree of contempt. “But if you want to go to sleep –”

“No, that’s fine,” Kim answered immediately. “I’m not tired yet, either.”

Sonja smiled a little. “Lovely.” She got up to get the remote control.

“Why don’t you grab something out of the minibar, too, and a couple packages of nuts or chips. I know there are some around here somewhere.” Kim grinned crookedly. “They say you’re not supposed to eat anything after you brush your teeth, but as far as I’m concerned, snacking just goes with watching TV.”

Sonja nodded. “Yes, for me, too. Even though my mother made such an effort to teach me proper tooth brushing.” She was grinning now, as well.

She brought the snacks back with her, and she plumped up her pillow so she could prop it behind her back.

Like an old married couple, Kim thought.

Sonja turned on the television and they agreed on a Woody Allen comedy, a real one, not one of his dark ones with the undertones of misery.

It was delightful. They sat in bed, nibbling on chips and peanuts, drinking cola and wine – who cared if those went together? – and laughed themselves silly at Woody Allen’s jokes. Now and then, when Sonja wasn’t looking, Kim glanced over at her and enjoyed watching her laughing, relaxed profile. What a wonderful woman.

When the movie ended, they talked about it a little, laughed anew over a couple of very funny scenes, and settled down to sleep.

Sonja extinguished the light on her side of the bed. So did Kim on hers. Kim heard Sonja fall asleep; her breathing grew deeper, calmer. She murmured just a little as she finally sank all the way under.

Kim desired her, would have loved to touch her, but at the same time, she simply enjoyed her presence, even now, as she slept. It was nice to have Sonja there, lying next to her, after they had laughed and gotten along so well together. All of that was a large part of what Kim wished for in a woman.

The rest – well, that would never happen, and that was for the best. Kim sighed. She could no longer fend off the clutches of sleep, as the sandman paid her a visit and gave her a clear order to shut down her mental apparatus for the night.

She sank into a dream very similar to the one she had the night before, except that this time her boss looked even more seductive, because Kim could now incorporate the view of Sonja’s naked body, which had been forced upon her, into her dream sequences.

Kim awoke to the sound of someone crying. At first, she thought her senses were deceiving her, that it was a remnant of her dream (although no one in the dream had been crying, rather the opposite). But then she realized that the noises coming from the other side of the bed were real. Kim leaned over and touched Sonja’s averted shoulder. Pale moonlight shone brightly on her back.

She didn’t seem to be awake; she was still sleeping. But she was crying – clearly, she was crying in her sleep. What should Kim do? Wake her? Maybe she’d be embarrassed to realize that Kim had been a witness to whatever unhappiness that was. But Kim couldn’t just leave her to cry like that. Sonja began to sob. It was heartrending.

“Sonja . . .” Kim shook her shoulder very cautiously. “Sonja, please, wake up.”

With a great spasm, Sonja suddenly threw herself onto Kim’s breast. “Hold me!” She sobbed. “Please, hold me tight!”

She seemed to be talking in her sleep. Nonetheless, Kim did what she was asked and held Sonja in her arms. She stroked Sonja’s back soothingly and let her cry. Sonja slowly calmed down; the sobbing became softer, and the pauses between sobs, during which she breathed deeply, became longer.

It seemed that she had fallen into a deep sleep on Kim’s breast. Well – to tell the truth, Kim really had nothing against that. Actually, it was turning her on; the way Sonja lay in her arms like that, her breath brushing against her skin . . . Kim could feel that Sonja was just exactly as soft as she’d imagined.

Kim raised her hand and brushed it very carefully across Sonja’s face, with just one finger and very, very softly, so that she wouldn’t wake up. Oh, it was wonderful! What Kim wouldn’t have given to be allowed to go on caressing her. Not just her face, her whole body, her breasts, her belly, her thighs, and then between them –

Something suddenly changed about Sonja’s posture; she froze in Kim’s arms and seemed not to breathe any more – she had woken up.

Kim quickly pulled her hand away, and Sonja’s eyes flew open. She noticed where she lay. Within a flash she withdrew to her own side of the bed. “What . . . what happened?” she asked, shaken.

“Nothing,” Kim reassured her. She reached toward the light switch. Perhaps with a little illumination this all wouldn’t feel quite so intimate.

“Don’t,” Sonja said. “Please don’t.”

Kim let her hand drop and stared at her boss through the dimly lit darkness. She couldn’t see much, but shimmering reflections formed in Sonja’s eyes whenever she moved.

But she hardly moved at all. She just sat there trembling. Kim didn’t see but rather felt Sonja’s trembling. She was obviously waiting for something, a reaction from Kim, or to finally wake up from her bad dream. But it was no longer a dream.

“What happened?” Sonja asked once more, this time more firmly and with a more alert-sounding voice, but in spite of that, she still sounded deeply shaken.

“You were crying in your sleep, and then you . . . sought protection from me, and I held you. Then you woke up,” Kim explained to her, as soothingly as possible.

“I . . . I’m sorry.” Sonja sounded deeply ashamed. “Please, forgive me for burdening you like that. I don’t know how that could’ve happened. Please forgive me.”

“You had a bad dream. That happens to everyone from time to time.”

Sonja let out a desperate laugh. “But not everyone responds to it by throwing herself into another woman’s arms! Especially when she’s a woman herself.” She straightened up a bit more. “I must sincerely apologize to you. That surely couldn’t have been . . . pleasant for you.”

Kim felt sorry for her. It wasn’t fair. Sonja thought it had been terribly uncomfortable for her, and all the while, Kim had enjoyed it. In fact, Kim really regretted that Sonja had woken up. “I wouldn’t say that,” Kim replied honestly. She wanted no more deception. “I’m used to it.”

From the darkness, only silence answered her. Then, after a while: “How . . . how do you mean that?” Sonja gave a somewhat nervous laugh. “Do people often soothe themselves at your breast?”

“Not so much that,” Kim admitted. “Although – it’s happened once or twice, of course. But what I meant is that I’m used to holding a woman in my arms.”

Sonja got up and went to the bathroom, where she turned on the light. The glow that appeared from the doorway made their bedroom no longer so dark. But it wasn’t proper light, either. She obviously wanted to avoid that for now. Her face was still in the shadows. “That means . . .?”

She knew what it meant, Kim assumed, or else she wouldn’t have gotten out of bed so fast. “Since I’m neither a nurse nor a social worker, it means exactly what I said: I’m not interested in men, but in women.” Women like you, Kim would have liked to add, but that probably would’ve been much too shocking.

Sonja folded her hands and went over to the little living room suite that stood in one corner of the room, two armchairs and one tiny loveseat. She lowered herself into one of the armchairs.

In her flimsy negligee! Kim thought, concerned. She ought to put something on.

“You’re going to catch a cold. Wouldn’t you rather get under the covers?”

Sonja’s head shot up. No, she obviously did not want that . . .

Kim didn’t know what to say. Really, nothing had happened. And so the room filled with silence.

It took some time before Sonja spoke again. “The situation is somewhat . . . strange for me,” she remarked coolly. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t quite know how I ought to react.” Her voice sounded expressionless.

Somehow Kim had to take the tension out of the situation. She laughed. “Well, you know, the situation is kind of strange for me, too. Never before have I been in bed with a woman I have such a formal relationship with . . . and who, on top of that, is my boss.”

Sonja looked at her, and again, said nothing. Kim had to end this. Clearly, her boss had a huge problem with her, and evidently some internal struggle, some big problem with herself, as well – whatever it was that caused her to cry in her sleep. If she didn’t want to talk about that, she was well within her rights. But then Kim couldn’t help her, either.

“You’re going to freeze to death.” Kim stood up. “Please, get back into bed. I’ll sleep on the couch.”

Sonja looked over at the tiny piece of furniture. “You’d have to be a Lilliputian for that,” she remarked dryly and got up. “No, stay where you are! I’m being silly. I guess it’s all just been a bit too much for me these last few days. But you shouldn’t have to suffer for that. You’re right. The bed is big enough for both of us, after all.”

Something she said resonated with Kim: I guess it’s all just been a bit too much for me these last few days. What did she mean by that? Why wouldn’t she speak her mind? Would that be so terrible? What had happened? But she obviously didn’t want to talk about it.

She got back into bed, and Kim lay down again too. When Sonja crept under her blanket without looking over at Kim, Kim got up to turn off the bathroom light. Maybe Sonja had left it on intentionally, to keep Kim at more of a distance. But if that was the case, she ought to have said something. She didn’t.

When Kim slid into her side of the bed once and for all, she noticed that Sonja had scooted over all the way to the far edge. If she moved just an inch further, she’d fall onto the floor.

My God, she must be afraid of me! What did straight women really think of lesbians? That they had nothing better to do than pounce on unwilling partners? That’s how it looked, anyway.

But Kim didn’t have to concern herself with what was going on in Sonja’s mind. She lay down in the middle of the mattress and rolled over.

If Sonja wanted to sleep that uncomfortably – she was welcome to do so.

But Kim certainly wasn’t about to ruin her own good night’s sleep.

When Kim awoke, her boss was already gone. At breakfast, Kim assumed. She probably wanted to avoid any more all-too-private situations. Which was fine with Kim. She showered and headed to breakfast herself.

Sonja was there, sitting alone at a table. It was still quite early. The others didn’t seem to be up yet.

Kim went to the buffet, served herself and was about to head for a different table. Sitting down with her boss would’ve felt too intrusive. Sonja certainly wouldn’t welcome that, Kim was sure.

But when Kim started in the opposite direction, Sonja called her name.

Kim went over to her, but didn’t sit down. “Good morning.”

“Good morning.” Sonja considered Kim, standing before her. “Please, sit down with me. Let’s have breakfast together.”

Kim raised her eyebrows. She hadn’t expected this. But since her boss wanted her to, Kim sat down across from her. The waitress brought the coffee that Kim had already ordered when she’d first walked into the room.

For a while, they sat across the table from each other in silence. Sonja was eating nothing, just drinking tea. Kim was hungry and bit heartily into her roll. The silent breakfast wasn’t exactly pleasant for her, but she certainly wasn’t going to starve on that account.

At last, Sonja cleared her throat. “I have to apologize to you again. I behaved very stupidly last night. Please forgive me – I didn’t mean to insult you.”

Kim shook her head. “You didn’t insult me. Don’t worry about it. Nothing happened.”

“Oh, yes!” Sonja let out a dry laugh and leaned back. “A great deal happened!” She gave Kim a peculiar look. “Maybe not for you, but for me it did. You have to consider, I’ve never . . . I’ve never lain on a woman’s breast before, except my mother’s.”

“And you’d hardly remember that.” Kim chuckled.

Her boss laughed, a bit more relaxed now. “True.” She considered Kim again with the same odd expression. “You . . . you’ve always been with women?”

Kim nodded. “Yes. Exclusively.” She spread butter on the other half of the roll and waited for what would come next.