Disclaimer: Characters belong to Marvel unless otherwise stated, so please don't sue us...
Note: No, you're not imagining this. Yes, we really have finally got round to doing a sequel. Get ready for twice as much sex, sass and wild shenanigans! Just to keep you all up to speed, this story begins 2 weeks after Jean's wedding in the first story, and will focus more on what happens to Rogue and Gambit over the next year or so. But don't worry - the other gals and their beaus will have a big look-in too. For all newcomers, it might help if you read Mix 'n' Match, otherwise a lot of this story may not make sense. And we just wanna say - it's great to be back! And thanks to everyone who read, reviewed and supported our fic last time round. We couldn't have done it without you guys (:hugs to our readers:) So please do the same for this fic -- and read, review and enjoy!
-Ludi and angyxoxo x
PS: Just to be clear... Yes, this story does (mostly) take place before the last chapter in MnM.
Little By Little
(1) Secret's Out
Do you remember how it was way back when you were in high school?
You know, when you were way too young to bother thinking about how your grades would end up affecting your future, when your hormones were playing havoc with your body and you were way too consumed with wanting to spend the rest of your life with the school quarterback?
Come on, we all know we've been there. When you're in school there are far more pressing matters in life. Like parties, and clothes, and makeup and men.
Now that I come to think of it, I guess I haven't really grown up at all, since my life seems to be pretty much consumed by the same things. But that's not the point. I mean, how can I not remember sitting in my boring French class, listening to Professor Dupont blathering on in a language I couldn't make head or tail of when the guy I'd been secretly wanting to snog all semester was sitting at the desk next to me? Freddy Jones happened to be the school quarterback and a very fine one he was too. So fine, in fact, that I spent most of my time in lessons fantasizing about jumping his bones instead of actually taking notes. I do believe that was the reason I failed French in the end - even though it would've been a darn sight more useful to me if I'd passed, now that I'm working at Laurier & Lauriel.
Right now I'm in the creative team's office, and I think I finally understand how Professor Dupont felt when he'd bemoaned the fact that no one ever actually listened to him. There I am, standing in front of a bored class of six people, trying desperately to get something sensible out of my mouth, let alone grab their attention. It doesn't look like it's working.
Oh well, seeing as we're all here, I guess I might as well take the opportunity to introduce everyone. The six people currently sitting in front of me just happen to be the creative team of Laurier & Lauriel, one of the foremost perfume companies in the U.S. Heather Cameron (on advertisements and publicity) is staring out the window with a wistful look on her face. Tabitha Smith (on costume design) is staring blankly and blowing pink bubblegum at me. Robert Kelly (on color schemes and coordination) appears to be scowling at the floor - since he's never liked me, I can only assume he's doing everything in his power to ignore anything I say anyway. In the middle, Peter Rasputin, the new project's artistic genius, is absently doodling a mini masterpiece onto the corner of his notepaper; his girlfriend, Kitty Pryde, the computer wizard, is merely gazing at him with an expression of pure adoration on her freckled face. The only one who appears to be listening to me at all is Roberto DaCosta (on packaging), who's looking up at me with rapt (and slightly unnerving) attention.
And of course, the lucky gal who's spearheading the creative team's latest project, the one who's holding it all together, is none other than me.
Who am I, I hear you ask? Well, that's easy enough.
I'm Anna Raven, and right now I'm in a helluva lot of trouble if I don't get these guys to use some brainpower anytime soon.
"C'mon, guys!" I end up breaking into the silence, which has filled a chasm of way over a minute already. "Y'all haveta think of somethin'!"
Another silence fills the room, during which everyone sits and twiddles their thumbs. Crack. That's Tabitha and her bubblegum. Roberto, who's been looking so studious and attentive so far, merely stares at me with a confused frown on his handsome face.
Now I'm starting to realize why Professor Dupont had a nervous breakdown in my sophomore year.
"Guys," I turn to pleading instead, "may Ah remind yah that, contrary to popular belief, Ah am not here talkin' at you for fun. Actually, Ah am doin' this totally against mah will. Do you know who requested this meetin'? Monet St. Croix. Yes, the bitch from upstairs who shows us the money. She seems t'think we're spendin' way too much on our Lavande project, and wants us t' brainstorm ways in which we can cut costs. Like for instance," I gesture in Kitty's direction, "cutting down on the visual effects, maybe?"
That immediately gets Peter's undivided attention, but predictably in totally the wrong way.
"What! Tone down on the visuals? No way, Anna, Kitty and I have this whole thing planned out to perfection, if we lose anything of hers, we lose the whole finished product!"
"You're only saying that 'cos she's your girlfriend," Tabs shoots at him slyly.
"Which is highly unethical, I might add," Robert Kelly cuts in caustically, still scowling at the floor.
"There's no law against me seeing someone I like, even if she happens to be in the same workplace as me!" Peter retorts indignantly, coming to Kitty's defense as always. It looks like Robert Kelly is going to bust in again, and since I don't want to hear about office romances at this particular moment, I decide to break the fight up before it begins.
"Alright, alright, let's leave the work ethics out of this, please!" I interrupt irritably. "Listen, Ah know this is borin', and there are much more excitin' things we need to get on with where the project's concerned. But we have a meetin' with Monet and the other section heads at half eleven, and no doubt about it - Ms. High-and-Mighty's gonna be wantin' results, otherwise yours truly gets her ass handed on a platter to her. Now how about we come up with somethin' productive for a change?"
Robert Kelly looks at me as if he couldn't care less if Monet whupped my ass or not. Roberto, however, is moved to eagerly suggest: "How about we do the advertisements in sepia? Or black and white? That'll cut costs."
"Are you crazy?" Kelly hisses at him. "Sepia? Black and white?"
"I thought it would be classy…" Roberto ventures meekly.
"Classy?" Kelly retorts disdainfully. "What are we supposed to be selling, old fashioned washing up powder? Ms. Munroe will have a fit!"
There's a collective groan. Ororo Munroe, world-class supermodel, happens to be face of our new perfume, Lavande, and has been butting in on every step of the creative process so far.
"Sorry, Rob, but no color scheme changes," I say apologetically to the handsome Latino. "It's way too late to be doing that now, and besides, color is essential for bringing off Peter's artwork. But thanks for the suggestion anyway."
He beams at me, a little too widely or so I think. Not for the first time since I've been in his presence, I start to feel uncomfortable.
"Why don't you just ask Mr. LeBeau to go and sort things out with Monet himself?" Tabitha suggests calmly, having just annoyingly cracked her gum yet again.
"Yeah!" Kitty enthuses. "I'm sure that once Mr. LeBeau explains things to her, he'll be able to make her see that we can't change a thing."
"That's not what I meant," Tabs says pointedly, casually blowing gum again.
"Yeah, Mr. LeBeau's on pretty good terms with Monet, Kitty," Heather points out.
"Yeah, he won't even have to open his mouth to get her to agree to anything he says," Tabitha adds with a hint of a smirk. "Actually, scratch that, he may have to open his mouth, but only in a strictly recreational way, if you catch my drift."
"He can use his mouth on me for recreation any time of the day or night," Heather remarks wistfully, curling a strand of her golden blonde hair round a finger and looking off into space. Robert Kelly merely looks at them both with a look of disgust on his face.
"You shouldn't talk about your superiors like that," he reprimands them disapprovingly.
"Just 'cos you want to cozy up to them so you can get promoted," Tabitha replies flippantly.
"Working with unambitious losers like yourself, is it any wonder?" he sneers down his nose at her.
At that point I decide to step in, since I know that Tabitha's rage is something best not seen; and besides just hearing about Remy LeBeau and his recreational activities - especially in reference to Monet St. Croix - sets my teeth on edge.
"Guys, please!" I finally cry in frustration. "We've got ten more minutes and arguments are not helping! Oh Gawd!" I finally groan and bury my forehead in a hand. "How are we gonna come up with something in time for the meetin'!"
"You could always talk to Mr. LeBeau yourself, and convince him to have a word with Monet," Tabitha suggests sweetly. "He lurves you."
It's my turn to be indignant. "And what does that mean?" I demand.
The girls pass one another the kind of looks only cliquey girls can exchange. The men merely pretend to look clueless. Well, Peter does anyway. Robert Kelly's still scowling and looking like he'd rather be in the sewers than sitting here with us. Roberto has a small, disappointed frown on his face.
"Well, we have noticed the way he looks at you…" Tabitha begins.
"Just a little…" Kitty adds.
"Not to mention all the rumors going round," Heather continues. "They are just rumors, aren't they?" she asks quickly as an afterthought, a ravenous look on her face.
"Of course they are!" I snap, before I can incriminate myself any further. "And for your information, Ah am not in any way, shape or form goin' to go and kiss Mr. LeBeau's ass, not even if yah paid meh! This is our problem and it's got nothin' t'do with him!"
"Anna's right!" Roberto suddenly bursts in. "Why should she have to go and beg Mr. LeBeau for help? We don't need any favors from him anyway! And as for those rumors going round - how can you believe a single one of them? Anna's way out of Mr. LeBeau's league anyway! As if she'd be screwing around with him!"
He flops back in his seat, his face flushed yet strangely satisfied, while the girls around him all look thoroughly chastened. I, on the other hand, am trying not to look too guilty.
If only you knew, Roberto, if only you knew…
Approximately half an hour later, I'm dragging my heels towards the conference room, having gained virtually nothing from my meeting with the rest of the creative team. As I make my way to the other side of the building, I wonder yet again why I was even chosen to spearhead this project in the first place. Of course, I owe it all to my bosses, Remy LeBeau and Jean-Paul Beaubier, for giving me the chance to realize my creative talent and actually handle the new campaign. I'd impressed them so much that Remy had actually placed me on his team in the first place, and as far as Jean-Paul is concerned, I can't do any wrong. But on the other hand, sometimes it's just way too responsibility for li'l old me to handle.
The rest of the creative team are already seated in the conference room, along with Jean-Paul, that supercilious cow, Monet St. Croix, and several other section heads I don't have the pleasure of knowing very well. I walk in and take my seat at the table, wondering how I'm going to bluff my way out of yet another tight situation. It's all I seem to be doing these days. Across from me there's another empty seat, in which Remy LeBeau is meant to be sitting. I stare absently at my watch. No doubt he's on one of his famous cigarette breaks. My mouth creases into a frown.
"Anyone seen Mr. LeBeau?" Jean-Paul asks, obviously wondering the same thing as me.
"He's always late," Monet observes with a certain amount of displeasure. She's probably wondering where he is too.
"He's probably having an early lunch," Tabitha murmurs loud enough for half the table to hear. "Probably a bit of mutton dressed as lamb?" At this Kitty lets out an uncontrollable giggle which she unsuccessfully tries to turn into a cough. Monet's eyes shoot daggers at Tabitha, who calmly ignores her. For once, I'd happily do the same as Monet and shoot evils across the table at Tabs, if it wasn't such a dead giveaway.
"Well," Jean-Paul gives a polite little cough, looking innocent - even though I know he's far from it and probably enjoying the joke as much as anyone else - "since we're already running a little over schedule, we'll have to start without him. I'd first like to say that -"
"Sorry, JP, am I late?"
Everyone swivels round to see Remy LeBeau finally make his grand entrance. I try to seem unconcerned about his presence and ignore him, but can't help stealing a look at him after all, even if it is only out of the corner of my eye.
Cajun Casanova, imperturbable womanizer, one of New York City's most eligible bachelors and drop-dead gorgeous would be just some of the phrases applicable to my boss and the head of the creative team. As he swaggers in and takes his place opposite me, you can literally feel all the female hormones in the room start to kick in. Dressed in a charcoal gray pinstripe suit, his jacket slung over his shoulder and his shirt half undone, it's a wonder half the women don't pounce on him and rip the whole damn ensemble off of him. Myself included.
Geez, has the temperature just gone up in this room or what?
"No harm done, Remy," Jean-Paul replies cheerfully, not even fazed when Remy calls him by his nickname in front of the subordinates. He loosens his tie a little. Even though he's extremely gay, it's a well-established fact that Remy is merely his dearest friend. It's just that Remy is so goddamn gorgeous, even his gay best friend has to get hot under the collar for him. He just has that effect on people.
I carefully avert my eyes as he sits, only briefly flickering my gaze over him. At 6 foot 2, with his tanned skin and artfully tousled auburn hair, he's the kind of tall, dark and handsome that any lady would kill to lay her greedy mitts on. He's also blessed with the most hypnotic, wicked and beautiful eyes a man can ever possess - a strange mixture of red and black that gives him the quintessential bad boy look. And since when has any woman ever been able to resist a bad boy? Apart from Kitty, that is?
"Didn't disturb anyt'ing, did I?" Remy continues in his usual blasé manner, shooting Monet a meaningful smirk, and winking openly at Heather. While Monet merely looks away with a shadow of a smile on her face, Heather looks like she's about to faint dead away. "Only I had t' have my cigarette break, y'know?" Remy concludes. I still avoid his gaze, silently thankful that he wasn't having an 'early lunch' after all.
"I'm sure we all know about your cigarette breaks by now, Remy," Jean-Paul returns archly, "but if you could turn up for meetings on time for a change…"
"But of course," Remy replies with his usual dazzling smile, which charms the rest of the table. "Je suis desolé, Jean-Paul."
"Non problème," Jean-Paul smiles back indulgently, and blithely continues with his introduction. I sit and half listen, my mind wavering between finding a way to bullshit out of my predicament and ignoring Remy. Part way through Jean-Paul's speech, I take a peek at him, only to find he's been gazing at me the whole time. When my gaze meets his, a small smile creases his lips, one that isn't enough to be immediately obvious to anyone else but me. My eyes dart away, but I end up smiling down at my paper despite myself.
"And now," JP is suddenly saying, "we might as well get down to discussing what we're all gathered here for. Monet, if you please?"
Monet stands up to make her speech. It's time to switch off - only I can't really afford to as I know she's going to give me the third degree about the creative team's finances anyway. So I sit there and try to be attentive.
That's when I feel Remy's foot start to trail up my calf.
I swing my head round to face him, ready to snap - if that were at all possible. He smiles again, just a flash, before mouthing 'chere' at me. His eyes are literally smoldering. I take in a breath and mouth 'no' back, before turning back to face Monet. Still, his foot doesn't leave mine alone, and insists on teasing me to distraction.
Drop-dead gorgeous he may be, but he's also an infuriating, irritating, slimy, sleazy, good-fer-nuthin' pervert.
Okay, okay, I admit it - as if you guys hadn't guessed already! Remy LeBeau's my man, and I'm his gal. And did I also mention that no one else at L&L knows that fact?
Yup - while I'm trying desperately to listen to Monet St. Croix driveling on about boring old finances, the guy I'm having a torrid office romance with insists on playing footsie with me under the desk.
Remy loves it. Playing with the relationship boundaries in front of work colleagues, I mean. It isn't keeping our relationship a secret that he loves, it's watching me trying to keep it a secret that amuses him no end. He couldn't care less. He'd declare we're an item to all and sundry - if I hadn't threatened him with dire consequences beforehand, that is. Every moment he gets the chance he's teasing me, and it drives me crazy 'cos he knows I can't resist. I also suspect it's his way of getting back at me for holding out until he gets himself -ahem- checked out.
Well, a gal can't take any risks, can she!
So as I was saying, there I am, sitting with my pen and papers in front of me, trying to look demure and attentive, while Remy's torturing me underneath the table. And I'd thought I'd beaten him at his own game by sitting myself across from him instead of next to him! At least it'd stop him from rubbing my leg and driving me insane with his artful caresses. But no, there's just no way I can escape the single-mindedness of that insufferable jerk!
So I sit there for a while, attempting to keep a straight face. I avoid meeting his gaze at all costs. I frown down at my papers with a ferocity I hope will get him to back off. I shift my feet and try to throw him off, and then I figure that if I can't shake him off I'll make myself as impenetrable as I can. So I press my legs together and try desperately to listen to Monet droning on in the background. But he's completely determined to get a reaction out of me. He trails his foot between my calves and up between my knees, lingering there to tease me. My knees involuntarily wobble and let him in. By this time I'm blushing furiously.
"Stop it!" I can't help myself from shrieking at him.
It turns out Monet thinks I'm telling her to shut up. Since there's no love lost between us, she wouldn't put it past me. Hell, I wouldn't even put it past myself. But unfortunately, this time she's read it all wrong.
"Is there something you object to, Ms. Raven," she asks me with her usual condescending coolness, "or are you just having trouble keeping up?"
Even though I'm seething inside and can barely resist the urge to scratch her eyes out (Remy can wait for the time being), I grit my teeth and remain as polite as I can.
"No," I force out ungraciously. "Please continue. Bitch," I add, muttering under my breath. Beside me, Kitty gives one of her explosive snorts. Unfortunately, Monet's hearing is sharper than she lets on.
"Excuse me?" she demands, eyes narrowed into dark slits.
Quick brain, think!
"'Switch'," I blurt out without a second thought. "Ah said 'Switch'. Yah know, that new perfume by Hugo Boss? They promoted it on a fairly tight budget. Maybe your team could check out some of their marketin' strategies, see how they tally up with ours. Maybe we could save a few dollars by using some of their techniques."
"Excellent suggestion," Mr. Beaubier enthuses, and some of the other section heads nod or hum their agreement. Monet gives me an icy stare, knowing full well what I really said but unable to say anything about it. I duck my head and look as innocent as I can, while heaving an inner sigh of relief. I look up briefly to pass Remy an acid glare of my own, but he's merely slouching back in his chair and smiling at me. There's a little hint of pride in his smile, showing how much he approves of my quick-wittedness. I guess having a big mouth does have its advantages. And at least Remy's stopped torturing me for the time being.
It seems to take hours before the meeting is finally adjourned, and when it is I can't escape fast enough. Just as I'm going out into the corridor, my persistent boss manages to catch up with me.
"Ro- Anna, I mean?"
I turn, secretly wishing he wouldn't keep forgetting my name's Anna and not Rogue. Our behavior is suspicious enough as it is.
"Yes, sir?" I ask, refusing to look him in the eye, since I know that if I do look into that devastatingly handsome, chiseled face, I'll end up jumping his bones and it'll be like high school and Freddy Jones all over again. Remy however, seems to have gone back into nonchalant mode.
"I need to speak to you about de Lavande project," he says. "In person. D'you t'ink you could come round t' my office in, say, half an hour? Wit' your papers?"
Just as he asks the question, Monet brushes past us like a gust of cold wind. She catches Remy's request and gives me a look that says I know exactly what you two are up to. I glare at her. The unfortunate thing is, she probably does. I've had to endure weeks of rumors started by her, rumors that started out as completely untrue, but that now have a small grain of truth to them. It's gone around L&L several times that I only got into the company because I slept with Remy, that I'm a low-down hoe using him to climb up the ladder, that I'm leading him astray with my wicked charms - although how I could possibly lead Remy astray is beyond me, since he leads himself astray pretty darn well enough. My way of combating the accusations is to act cool and ignore everyone - including Remy. Remy's way of dealing with it is to get frustrated and pursue me harder than ever. To him, it's simple. I'm his girl, and once everyone knows it, they'll stop bad-mouthing me. But of course, it's never as simple as that, especially in the workplace where rumors fly round faster than you can say 'cheap and nasty fling'.
So when he stands there in his delectable suit with that delectable body of his, and asks me in his sexy Cajun accent if I can go back to his office to 'speak' to him about the 'project', I can only try to reply as coolly as I can. And let me just say that that isn't very cool at all.
"Sure," I reply, once Monet's swept past. Then, looking down the corridor and making sure we really are alone, I add in a hiss: "Do you think y'all could stop bein' so goddamn obvious? Ah mean, playin' footsie with me durin' a meetin'?"
He smiles that sexy crinkle of a smile that he knows gets my heart racing.
"I can't help it," he states helplessly. "You look so sexy when you're angry."
Ugh! Is there no way of getting through to this guy!
"Just curb the foreplay in front of the suits, okay?" I beg him in a sharp whisper. He puts up his hands in self-defense.
"Okay, okay! I got it! From now on, Remy, he be an ange. He keeps his hands completely to hisself."
I can't decide whether to frown or smile. "Why do Ah get the feelin' your promise ain't even gonna last half an hour?" I muse out loud. He sighs theatrically.
"Y'know me too well, chere. Sometimes it scares me."
He pauses as someone passes, and as I turn to scurry back to my cubicle, he leans in and whispers seductively in my ear: "See y' in half an hour, chere."
He leaves and I'm still trembling pleasantly from the shivers his words send traveling down my spine.
The shivers are still there when I get to my desk. With an explosive sigh I throw down my papers, slump into my chair and mull over my predicament. Whatever angle I look at it, it doesn't look good. My secret just has to come out one way or another.
It's been two weeks since my friend, Jean Grey's ill-fated wedding. It's been two weeks since Remy and I have been together, and already I'm driving myself to distraction over it. You see, my boss isn't exactly your average kind of boyfriend. He's my boss for a start. He's insanely good-looking for another. He's also a dedicated skirt-chaser, with a complicated past and deep-rooted intimacy issues. He's gorgeous and beautiful and witty and smart and sleazy and infuriating and kind and considerate and sexy and funny and brooding and passionate and bold and outrageous and absolutely irresistible. I think you probably get the picture, right? I love him to bits and it's killing me that I can't show it. I hate the fact that I have to hide my relationship with him while I'm at work. I mean, it's fine after hours (apart from the fact that I've been holding out from him, which is naturally driving him crazy). But when I'm at work, it's like I'm in a Mission Impossible rerun. It's almost like I'm leading a double life.
Why, I figure, can't any of my relationships just be 'normal'?
"Hey, Anna. What's up?"
Kitty's unexpected voice wakes me from my reverie. I look up as she enters my cube and smile broadly in greeting.
"Hey Kitty. Nothin's up, really. Just thinkin'."
"Must be heavy," she remarks, "you were sighing so hard back there I thought you'd blow your desk away."
"Nah. Ah was thinkin about the meetin'. Stupid Monet and her dumbass presentations." I pull a face and do an imitation of my hated nemesis droning on about last week's budget figures. Kitty's rolling about the floor in a matter of seconds. I pass a lop-sided smile, bemused by her amusement. Gee, it sure is nice to know someone appreciates your humor.
"You sure told her back there!" Kitty exclaims gleefully, holding her stomach. "That whole 'Switch' thing was priceless!"
She bursts into laughter again.
"Stupid cow," I mutter darkly. "Ah just wish she'd leave meh alone."
"Aw, c'mon Anna, you can give her back twice as good as you get," Kitty states, wiping her eyes and sobering up slowly. "Everyone secretly enjoys it when you two come to blows. I know Petey does anyway. And it always makes Mr. LeBeau smile."
I ignore her 'Mr. LeBeau' comment, knowing I'd probably look as guilty as hell if I even mentioned his name.
"Where is Petey?" I ask instead. "Ah thought you two were inseparable."
Kitty blushes prettily.
"Talking to Mr. Beaubier. Seems like Petey's as much of a hit with the big cheeses as you are, Anna. He's always so busy with the project I hardly get to see him these days." She sighs morosely. "Looks like you're busy too, what with all that time you spend in Mr. LeBeau's office."
I try not to look too suspicious at her unexpected comment. I know she's not fishing for anything - Kitty's far too honest for that, bless her cotton socks - but at the moment anything Mr. LeBeau-related tends to ruffle me, especially since the time I spend in his office is strictly down to - shall we say - entertainment purposes, and nothing to do with work-related stuff at all.
"Hmmm," I agree as nonchalantly as I can. "Speaking of," I add, looking at my watch, "Ah'm supposed to be meetin' him right about now. Ah'd better get goin'."
"See what I mean," Kitty sighs dolefully, looking forward to continuing work on the project alone.
"Ah won't be long," I reassure her.
"You always say that," she pouts.
"Okay, Ah promise Ah won't be long," I promise her, randomly grabbing at my papers, knowing it won't really matter what I bring. "And then," I add with a wink, "when Ah get back, y'all can tell me how you an' Petey are gettin' on. Ah'm dyin' for a bit of girly gossip!"
Kitty flushes. "Alright. But only if you give me the lowdown on your love-life first, Ms. Raven!"
Darnit. Exactly the thing I was hoping to avoid.
I give the perfunctory knock on Remy's door before letting myself inside. The room is dim, the blindfolds are half-drawn on the windows, and everything is quiet.
It's also completely empty.
I venture inside slowly and close the door behind me, puzzled.
"Remy?" I call.
The next moment he's behind me, his arms wrapping snugly about my waist, and I gasp as I feel his warm kisses press behind my ear, all the way down my neck to the dip of my shoulder.
"Remy!" I cry in rebuke, but it doesn't make any difference to his onslaught.
"Been goin' crazy without you, chere…" he murmurs into my hair before resuming his kisses, and within seconds I can no longer resist. I turn into his embrace, press my body against his and find his lips with my own, bringing our mouths together in a hungry kiss. Damn you, Cajun!
It's several moments before we finally pull apart.
"We've gotta stop meetin' like this," I mutter as his lips rediscover my throat and he presses light kisses all over my sensitive flesh. "Remy, yah did promise me…"
"Oui, oui, I know, no more messin' around in de office." He pauses in-between kisses to say the words. "But dis time I called you in here for a reason, p'tit."
He doesn't answer, his mouth now firmly latched onto the side of my neck, and I moan, forgetting about the rules I'd ground into him the day before and surrendering to his sweet caresses. He's won this round anyway, so I might as well enjoy the ride while he's at it. A minute or so later we both surface and he murmurs: "Got a surprise for you, chere."
I raise an eyebrow at him, and he grins, unwraps me from his arms and walks to the desk. When he turns back to me he has a brown envelope in his hand.
"Am Ah s'pposed t' know what that is?" I ask sarcastically when he waves it. He rolls his eyes.
"I'm clean," he explains impatiently.
"You're what?" I say, nonplussed.
"I'm clean," he repeats slowly, with a whole wealth of meaning. It takes a moment to dawn on me.
"Ohhhhhh," is all I can say. Suddenly, he's all smiles again.
"So I was thinkin', maybe I could take you out for dinner t'night? What d'you prefer? Chinese, Greek, Italian? Den after, I can take you back to my place for dessert. Howzabout some strawberries and whipped cream? Or are you more of a melted chocolate kinda gal?" he adds seductively, his eyes burning as they hold mine. I take in a breath, let it out.
"Whoa," I blurt. Suddenly my big mouth isn't so big anymore.
"Or maybe we can do t'ings de old-fashioned way," he suggests when I'm too dumbfounded to say anything. "I can get some wine and we can actually eat de dessert. From bowls. Wit' spoons."
He sounds so ridiculous and desperate and funny that I can't help but burst into laughter.
"Quoi?" he asks, looking injured.
"Remy…" I walk up to him, still chuckling to myself, gripping his lapels and looking up at him with smoky eyes, "Y'all are somethin' else."
"You wouldn't be de first femme dat ever said dat t' Remy LeBeau," he murmurs in his usual brazen drawl. "And dat's why you ain't gonna say no t' me, chere."
"Pfft, y'all are full of it too," I pout playfully at him. His face falls and I feel unaccountably moved to reassure him. "Don't get me wrong. Ah'd love t' go t' dinner with yah, sugah. But Remy…" I look up at him doubtfully, "shouldn't we be takin' this slowly?"
He grins complacently. "I can do slow, chere. I can do just about anyt'ing you want me t' do. Just say de word. Although," he adds as an afterthought, "I still t'ink you're determined to kill me wit' all dis celibacy stuff, cherie."
"Ah, you'll live," I assure him, ruffling his auburn hair, which I know he hates, being as hair-obsessed as he is.
"Guess I just need to curb dis romantic soul of mine, neh?" he jokes.
"'Romantic soul'?" I scoff. "More like that overactive li'l friend of yours down south. Yah need t' learn to practice some self-restraint, Remy LeBeau."
If his distressed expression didn't look so tragic I might have laughed. I don't think 'self-restraint' is part of that boy's vocabulary, I really don't.
"Awww, Remy's been a good, good boy, Roguey!" he declares heartrendingly. He knows I can't stand that plaintive whine of his for too long, and he uses those beautiful big eyes to full effect so that I last even less than I normally would. I just can't resist kissing those artful lips of his; his hands automatically slip over my butt, pulling me as close as possible, and within seconds the clinch has become more passionate than I'd intended it to be.
So impassioned, in fact, that we don't even hear when someone knocks at the door and walks right in.
"Sorry, Mr. LeBeau, but Anna just forgot this and I thought --"
Remy and I both break apart as fast as lightning as soon as we hear the voice but it's already too late. I swivel round to see Kitty in the doorway, who immediately turns and faces the wall, loudly announcing: "Ohhhh, ffffiddle-sticks, I so did not see that!"
I groan, and for once even Remy looks embarrassed. Kitty, meanwhile, makes no effort to move away from the wall.
"Ummm, Kitty… dis is not what you t'ink…" he finally stumbles, scratching the back of his neck awkwardly, which tells me just how awkward he's really feeling.
"Think?" Kitty repeats, laughing weakly, still talking to the wall. "I don't think anything, Mr. LeBeau! I didn't even see anything! Uh-uh, not a thing!"
Silence. I stare at Remy with a disgruntled look that says I told you so, and he stares back with a sheepish one that simply says sorry. Kitty merely remains facing the wall as if she'd been sent off to stand in the corner like a naughty schoolgirl.
"Kitty, it's okay," Remy says at last, still looking and sounding uncomfortable. "You can, uh, turn around."
Slowly she turns on her heels, her cheeks burning.
"I just saw that Anna had left some important files on her desk," Kitty explains meekly, holding up the papers in her hand as evidence. "And I thought you'd be needing them for the report, but, uh…" she lowers her hand and blushes even harder, "I guess you won't be needing them after all."
Remy clears his throat and scratches his neck again.
"Well, uh, thank you very much, Kitty, that was very thoughtful of you and -"
"Kitty," I cut in calmly before the charade can get anymore ridiculous, "Ah'm sorry, this is all just a huge misunderstanding." She stares at me, confused and looking a little betrayed as well. I hasten to continue: "This really isn't what you think. And Ah was tryin' t' keep this a secret, but, well… since you're here, Ah guess you can be the first to know."
I link my arm through Remy's and suddenly Kitty's eyes are wide as saucers as she finally understands.
"What!" she gasps, her jaw dropping further than I've ever seen. "You mean… you two…!"
I smile and nod.
"OhmiGOD!" she shrieks, and I wince as I'm sure half the typing pool outside must have heard her. "I can't believe it! You and him…!" She runs out of words as quickly as she finds them, and does a strange little dance on the spot before finding them again. "It's like it's almost too good to be true! I mean, I thought you hated him, Anna! Although to tell you the truth I secretly knew you'd both make such a good couple and…"
I wince again. Beside me Remy looks nothing short of petrified. I guess he's never seen a gushing female ranting before. Maybe telling Kitty wasn't such a good idea after all.
"We'd actually really appreciate it if you could keep it kinda hush-hush," I cut in before her voice can rise any higher. "Y'see, Remy an' Ah, we don't want this to get in the way of our work here at L&L and we'd prefer it if rumors were kept to an eensy-weensy minimum…" Even as I say the words, the idea of keeping everything quiet sounds ridiculous. Who're you kiddin', Roguey? Nevertheless, Kitty's look of rapture turns to one of utmost seriousness. "Oh, say no more! You won't hear a word of this from me, not one!" She pauses and stares at us again. "Am I really the only one who knows?"
Beside me Remy shifts uncomfortably at this display of female gleefulness, but I ignore him.
"Yup," I nod, "think of yahself as privileged."
"Oh wow, this is so cool!" Kitty squeals, losing herself again. "Just wait till I tell Petey!" I frown heavily at her and she quickly checks herself. "I mean… Of course I won't tell Petey, I won't tell him anything at all..!"
Remy coughs meaningfully and strides back round his desk.
"Uhm…I have some stuff I should be gettin' on wit'," he states, still looking adorably awkward at Kitty's thrilled reaction, not to mention at being caught red-handed 'fraternizing' with his staff. Funny. I don't remember him ever being so shy whenever I walked in on him with someone else. "I've detained you lovely young ladies long enough," he continues, his usual charm slowly returning to him as he carries on. "Although I'm glad I managed t' provide you wit' some light entertainment in de meantime." He winks saucily at me and I blush. It suddenly occurs to me that he's going to leave me to sort out all this mess and explain things to Kitty. Holy crap…
"Yes, well, uhm," I cough lightly, "Ah should get back and, uh, sharpen pencils or somethin'…"
"You could always stay here and sharpen my pen-" Remy begins dirtily, but I immediately cut him off, saying: "Yes, well, goodbye," before heading straight for the door.
"Suit yourself," he calls after me as I try to grab Kitty and drag her out with me. "Oh and Kitty," he adds, just as we've reached the door. She turns questioningly and he continues: "Leave dose papers here. Guess I'll look over dem since you've both been so kind as t' bring dem to me."
Kitty obliges and just as we're about to leave again he stops me, saying audaciously: "See you t'night den, Anna."
I pull a face at him that says you wish and walk out.
Kitty's waiting for me outside the door when Remy finally lets me go.
"I can't believe it, Anna!" she whispers excitedly, pulling my arm through hers as we walk back towards our cubicles. "You and Mr. LeBeau - together! How long has this been going on!"
"Shh!" I hiss as her voice begins to escalate again. "Do you want the whole of L&L to know?"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" she apologizes in a lower tone, though still grinning broadly. "But it's all too good to be true! And I really do want to know! When? How?"
"Well," I admit slowly. "The how is a bit complicated. The when is a bit easier to answer. Officially, I guess it'd have to be about two weeks ago."
"Officially?" Kitty asks, sensing yet more intrigue. I groan inwardly. The only thing I can sense is that containing the collateral damage of this little incident is going to be some hard work. Damn that man! Why can't he just keep his dirty paws to himself for a change!
"Let's just say there was a bit of a misunderstanding between us," I explain as simply as I can. "And now we understand one another perfectly."
At least I hope we do. One thing I still can't understand is how and why men's brains always seemed to be geared towards the dreaded 'one thing'. And I'm not talking about love here.
"Oh, I'm so happy!" Kitty enthuses. "I mean, that you're happy, Anna. And Mr. LeBeau too, for that matter. He was so upset about that girlfriend he used to have before, the one he had back in New Or-" She trails off quickly. "Oh, but I suppose I shouldn't talk about that should I?" she corrects herself, suddenly embarrassed.
"It's okay," I say. "Ah know the one. The one who sent him the weddin' invite?"
I suddenly wonder where that wedding invitation is and what he did with it.
"Yes, that's the one. I never knew Mr. LeBeau back when he first came here, but all the veteran workers here, well they say that he was really cut up about her and…" She pauses again and shakes her head violently. "There I go again! Oh crap, Anna, I must've made such a fool of myself in front of Mr. LeBeau back there!"
"Don't worry about it," I smile. "Remy doesn't mind. Ah guess he's used to it. Next time you go off on one, Ah'll give yah fair warnin'."
"Trust me," Kitty replies dourly, "if I start yapping, the only way to get me to stop is to slap. Hard."
We both end up laughing as we finally turn into my cubicle. Once ensconced in there, Kitty leans in and asks: "So you're going to the Christmas party, right, Anna?"
Ah, the Christmas party, a time for all sorts of weird and wonderful happenings, for people to let their hair down and have a final chance to settle old scores and petty grudges. It's been scheduled for next Friday, two days before actual Christmas Day. Having only been in L&L for a couple of months, I'm interested to see what kind of mayhem will develop.
"Of course Ah'm goin'!" I retort indignantly. "Christmas at L&L wouldn't be the same without yours truly puttin' in a glamorous appearance!"
Betsy's already saying she has a dress lined up for me, and I simply can't wait to have all the men drooling over me - not to mention grinding Monet into the dust under my strappy, Jimmy Choo heels. Having an ex-supermodel for a best friend does have its advantages after all…
"So are you going with Mr. LeBeau?" Kitty asks me ravenously. "Or are the two of you still gonna play it cool?"
Hmmm. I hadn't thought of that.
"Ah guess Ah'll haveta talk t' him about that," I answer slowly.
"Because it'd be so cool if you did," Kitty continues excitedly, "all the girls would be so jealous!"
Yeah, I'd have to face about fifty jealous women in one room. Giving me evils. Whispering behind my back. Not that most of them don't already think I'm doing the dirty with Remy anyway. I sigh. It's a no-win situation.
"And let me guess," I change the subject quickly, "You're goin' with our very own Peter Rasputin! Am I right or am I right?"
Kitty smiles and bites her lip.
"Who else? Oh Anna, I can't tell you how happy I am that we're together! I think I must be the luckiest girl alive, to have such a gorgeous man like him!"
"And there's no one who deserves you better," I grin, affectionately squeezing her arm. "You two are about ten times better together than me an' Remy, that's for sure."
"No way!" She leans in towards me, her voice dropping a notch and her eyes dancing. "Petey and I… well, to tell you the truth, we always secretly thought you guys looked good together."
"You thought that!" I cry in mock horror. "And you never told me!"
"Well, we thought you hated Mr. LeBeau so much, you'd bite our heads off if we ever said anything," Kitty says, actually looking half serious. She's probably not far off the mark either. Gawd, I was in so much self-denial back then!
"Hmmm, that Mr. Rasputin's a perceptive one," I muse comically.
"I'll say! He always told me you two would get together one day."
"Ah hope he hasn't been sayin' that to anyone else!" I exclaimed, half worried and half humorous.
"Of course not!" Kitty looks somewhat offended. "He wouldn't! He hates talking! I'm the only one he tells anything to!"
"Well, that's a relief!" I pause and add slyly: "So is talkin' the only thing you two get up to in your free time?"
Kitty and I gossip for a while before Peter comes back and the two go off to work on the artsy side of things. I'm left in my cube to handle the overall project, which I reckon is a lot less exciting than what they're saddled with.
I sigh and leaf through the big folder of papers labeled 'LAVANDE' in big stark capital letters. Okay, so I've managed to stave off Monet's complaints about finance by toting the old 'Switch' ammunition. Hmm. Sometimes having a big mouth does have its advantages. But there's still so much I have to get through before the day is out.
I shut the folder and stare at the title blankly. Lavande. My project.
Don't get me wrong, I'm proud to death of it. And I know the rest of the creative team feel the same way about it, bone-idle though they can sometimes be. It's just far more work than I ever thought it would be. I'm the one everyone else comes to, the one they report to, the one who approves and rejects ideas, the one that brings things together. The whole responsibility aspect unnerved me at first. Actually, scratch that - it still does. I still have trouble believing I'm as talented as Remy and Mr. Beaubier and everyone else would have me believe, that I actually have a vision worth creating, and that I can actually have that vision created. But knowing me and a challenge, I ain't giving up any time soon, despite how tiresome that challenge can sometimes be.
And right now that challenge is turning out to be very tiresome indeed. I look at the papers and can't seem to take in a word they say. The letters dance before my eyes. I give up, slouch back in my chair, and think about getting myself a cup of coffee from the vending machine. I search in my jacket pocket for the loose change I'd dropped in there from my previous coffee mission. That's when I feel it.
A small scrap of a note, neatly folded into two.
Puzzled, I take it out and open it up.
I read it once and I can't help smiling.
'I'll pick you up at your place, 7 O'clock after work. Make sure you dress pretty for me, chere.
I shake my head helplessly and bite my lip to stop myself from laughing out loud.
All of a sudden, I've made up my mind about going out tonight.
To be continued...