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TOTSS
"Abducted"
By Beckers



"Put them on!" the woman, dark and severe, demanded. With a short nod of her slightly graying head, indicating the thinly-curtained bed, she frowned her contempt at the interloper. "You wear man-clothes and that is an insult. Unacceptable."

Isabelle Reed glanced down at her attire, the white blouse and dark jodhpurs, then looked at the new attire as it lay over a coverlet, waiting for her. It was a light lavender two piece arrangement that left far too little to the imagination. Isabelle was not a puritan but, as lovely as the garment was it was also not at all modest. 'Scant and humiliating.' she thought. Surely, this harem outfit would reveal a bare mid-drift, her legs through the diaphanous material and, even more disconcerting, a considerable amount of cleavage. "I will not." Isabelle replied and, for a moment, could almost picture Clare nodding a blond head at her with approval.

An exploding pain unexpectedly caught Isabelle across the back, knocking her on all fours to the floor. She gasped. The turbaned attendant behind her, dressed entirely in black, returned the massive club to his side and stepped backward. They had learned how to hit the women, causing as much pain as possible, but leaving very few bruises. The sheik, his master, did not like when merchandise was marked.

"Put it on." the woman repeated, watching an unsteady Isabelle stand once again by the bed. The woman folded her arms in front of her and frowned. Just another pretty little plaything for her husband's amusement. Only this one had fire and a paler complexion than most.

If she had nothing else to call her own Isabelle Reed had her pride. She leaned over the bed, deliberately picked up the top part of the well sewn lavender garment, then turned carefully to looked at the sheik's number one wife. With force, she threw it once again on the mattress, "Go to hell." Isabelle stated, calmly.

The man in black started forward again.

"No." Pulling back an ornate curtain, another man - a fine-looking European chap wearing an expensive white suit - appeared.

"Rupert …" Isabelle almost smiled her relief, seeing the familiar face, knowing release was forthcoming.

"Allow me." He took the club from the burly servant and moved forward.

"No marks!" the senior wife demanded.

"Perhaps just a few." Rupert Niven growled, "It adds character. Bruises eventually fade but the lessons taught stay with a learner forever."

Confused, Isabelle's breath caught in her throat. He was not smiling or giving any indication of ruse or rescue. "Rupert, what are …?" she began then backed up as he lifted the bludgeoning tool.

***

Her eyes were wide and searching, glistening with pent up misery as she lay near him, helpless on the plush bed. "I wish you had wanted me, David. If you had just cared, even a little bit, it could have made a difference. If you had only said a few words … told me Rupert was a bad man. Shown me love. It didn't have to mean forever." Isabelle Reed whispered, delirious from both the drugging and her recent beating. "I used to think it was because of Lavinia but it's not, is it? It's me … it's just … *me*." She turned her head away from him; defenses down and body shrouded in an indefinable pain.

"Isabelle, hush now." he touched her forehead with a damp cloth.

She heard him through a fog. Tears fell as an unimaginable mental ache caused a sob. "I'm just not worth being loved and respected. And, being the honorable man you are, if you don't love a woman - especially someone you consider a friend - you're not going to pretend …" she trailed off, her babble lost in the deep recesses of her own ramshackle mind.

Like a dagger into his chest, Isabelle's words and the vulnerability they exhibited cut. David Grief never dreamed this lovely and ambitious young woman could feel such profound turmoil. Isabelle was always so resilient and confident. Her strength was what got her through the many pitfalls of a too complicated life. Yet, Grief had come to realize hidden deep inside of that seductive shell, with its devil-may-care attitude, was the spirit of a lonely, much abused little girl who just wanted someone to hold her and show affection.

Was there any wonder why Isabelle had fallen into the bed of Marcel Pinnet? From all Grief had heard from Isabelle and a few others, the crafty Frenchman was not just handsome but also very charming. What's more, he loved Isabelle intensely even if she could not honestly return his affection. Pinnet would have given his woman anything she wanted and, at the time, Isabelle Reed wanted it all. However, before his dream could become reality Marcel had died and, instead of riches, he left his lady only anguish and a prison sentence.

'You certainly know how to pick them, Isabelle.' David thought but, instead, whispered - "Sh, now." and gently wiped the perspiration from the woman's smooth forehead.

Her eyes were closed and Isabelle was too tired to argue. She allowed him, this obvious apparition, to fuss over her battered body, taking comfort in his distress and gentle touch.

Grief dabbed carefully at the corner of her swollen right eye where it had been pummeled by the ruthless hand of Rupert Niven. Never in his life had Grief wanted to kill a man as badly as that cruel bastard. He and Mauriri were forced to watch as Isabelle was beaten, first with a baton then with his fists, and they could do nothing or reveal themselves, be overwhelmed and possibly killed. But he wanted to intercede. He really did. Grief almost moved forward from behind the curtain he and his Polynesian friend were hiding but he was stopped.

Only Mauriri's big hand on his shoulder and rational words kept Grief still. "They're not going to kill her." he had said, "They didn't bring Isabelle here for that purpose …"

Rupert Niven had come ashore on Matavai as the proud owner of *The Encore*, a sturdy British ship staying in the Tahitian harbor for a week. He was a charismatic and striking man. All the women of the surrounding islands, both native and foreign, fawned over him. He was respected and seemed very well off -- but even then Grief sensed he was looking for something … someone … other than the cryptic business venture he claimed to be pursuing.

"He's so nice." Isabelle had said a week ago, stars in her eyes, as she and Grief sat together at a table in Lavina's bar. She had been immediately attracted to the obviously well-off and impressively connected Englishman. He had invited Isabelle out many times, noticeably enjoying her company during long strolls on the beach and during trips to the out-door market. Rupert, Isabelle had said, was interested in everything about her. When they were together he asked question after question, wanting to know about her background, her likes and dislikes. "Just someone wanting to know me," Isabelle had said, "makes it all better."

Grief didn't, at the time, realize Isabelle was making a point. To him it seemed like Niven was just being nosey. Or maybe he wanted to invest in Reed Enterprises and was feeling her out for a stock tip? Quite frankly he didn't trust the man. From the first moment Grief saw him there just seemed to be something hard, calculating and ultimately ruthless about Rupert Niven. That and more. It lay deeply hidden, disguised by his wealth and cultured manner, but Grief couldn't quite put his finger on what really was setting his nerves on edge. Yet, even unnerved, Grief kept his mouth. Too many thoughts were swirling around in his head and one of them seemed to bump the others aside. Perhaps he didn't like Niven because, in all honesty, David Grief was envious. No, not of his wealth or position but because his friend and partner, Isabelle Reed, found him attractive.

In retrospect Grief could breath a bit easier. He knew the truth. He hadn't like the stranger for a more insightful reason. Rupert Niven was a monster. He bought and traded human flesh like Isabelle bought and sold horses. No. He was worse because he was brutal. Decency and mercy meant nothing to him.

"I think you're jealous." Mauriri had said earlier in the week while the two were seated on The Rattler, watching Isabelle walk and talk with Niven on shore. He really didn't have faith in Niven any more than David but he suspected Captain Grief's objections were far more from a personal standpoint than observing the way the man worked.

Oddly, at first Niven seemed to have set his sights on Clare, watching the young, attractive newspaper reporter and publisher with interest but soon the man's attention was centered elsewhere.

"I'm not jealous." Grief replied promptly to Mauriri. The only way he could be green-eyed was if Grief thought there might be a future between he and Isabelle and, well, that of course wasn't going to happen. He and Miss Reed were comfortable with the way things were. If ever they got involved their whole working relationship could be jeopardized. Yet, if Grief had ever imagined that Isabelle was the precious object of Niven's foul search he might not have agreed to leave Matavai to make a delivery so quickly.

Four days after Rupert Niven had come to Tahiti, Grief and Mauriri set sail to Baratonga, transporting much needed farming supplies to the natives. Isabelle had arranged for the assignment as a public relations strategy. Eventually, she planned on doing business with the natives and the generosity of Reed Enterprises might make them look her way when some bidding got started on land rights and produce distribution.

And, while her partners were gone, she would get to know Niven even better. He had invited Isabelle onto his yacht.

Mauriri had snickered about it then, telling David it appeared Isabelle was looking elsewhere for a diversion these days. Obviously the intrepid Captain Grief wasn't where her romantic focus was anymore. Grief had laughed with him, pretending to be relieved but - to be frank - David was secretly disappointed. He had come to enjoy their flirting. Isabelle was a beautiful and seductive woman, after all, and when her avaricious side wasn't showing she was a quite an enthralling human being. What red-blooded man wouldn't enjoy someone like her casting an interested eye his way?

Having made up for a somewhat dubious past, Isabelle deserved to be treated well and Grief could not deny that there were times, when she reached out for him, that he was not there for her. Oh, certainly he had saved her life on more than a few occasions but the same could be said for Isabelle and what she had done for him. Jenny Duval briefly flashed through Grief's mind but he quickly dispensed with the thought. Isabelle truly did deserve a man who could give her things Grief couldn't. For a time, a fantasy filled with dreams of a big house and money to call her own, it looked as if Niven fit the bill perfectly.

"Isabelle," David, looking down at the battered woman once again, noticing how she had slipped away from him, unconscious. He didn't know if this was a good thing. She could have a concussion. He was told once by a mainland doctor that concussion victims should not sleep, for fear of never waking. He spoke, trying to rouse her, and desperately attempted to keep the worry and guilt from his expression and voice, "We'll get out of here soon." Grief promised, softly patting the plump pillow Isabelle's head lay on. "Dante's been worried about you." he attempted.

"Dante …" Isabelle's eyes half-opened and a trace of a smile appeared on her swollen lips as she thought of her prized horse. Dante understood her. Still, as much as she loved him, Dante could not keep her bed warm on one of the cooler tropical nights. "Just Dante?" she asked, her eyes closing once again, anticipating David Grief's flip reply.

"No, not just Dante." he said honestly, touching her cheek with a tender finger. "Everyone is worried about you. I ..."

Isabelle opened her eyes again and stared up at David Grief as he paused, surprised by the earnestness in his voice..

"… just don't know what I might have done if we didn't find you in time, Isabelle." His fingers trailed to her hair line, "You're that important ... to Mo, Clare, Colin, to the village, to your workers and especially to … me." Grief paused at the revelation, "I'm going to get you out of here. Do you understand?"

Slowly, a bit dazed by his tenderness, she nodded.

David leaned forward and kissed Isabelle very gently on the forehead.

***

Determining that the woman would benefit far more with respite than immediate exertion, Grief - despite his concussion fears - allowed Isabelle to sleep. Her head rested on his shoulder for a few hours. He had time. No one was going to come for her until morning and the sheik's other wives were hidden in a large room on the other side of the palace.

Isabelle's right eye, still slightly puffy and turning an alarming shade of purple, opened first and she regarded the reclined Grief with curiosity. His own eyes were closed, unaware of the woman's conscious stare, he seemed at peace in some way, despite the situation. "David?" she finally broke the silence.

He started ever so slightly but appeared pleased she was awake. "Yes, Isabelle."

She gaped up at him for a moment, "What *am* I wearing?"

Grief was well aware Isabelle was going to ask something else but he smiled slightly as she looked down at herself, at the considerable amount of lovely flesh that was being displayed by the lavender harem costume. "A uniform?" he hazard, nearly teasing.

"Fit for a courtesan." Isabelle murmured, somewhat unnerved.

"Do you remember being kidnapped by Niven?" Grief asked, sitting up with Isabelle on the bed.

She nodded, regretfully. "And the sheik's surly wife." Isabelle also recalled being drugged, once aboard Niven's yacht, and beaten. But she'd forgotten pretty much everything after that. "I don't recall being brought in here or actually putting on this outfit ... or you. When did you get here?" She then paused and arched an eyebrow, "And what the hell took so long?"

Grief nearly grinned. Isabelle was recovering nicely. Still, a small part of him missed that childlike vulnerability earlier displayed. Also, he was aware that whatever had passed between them last night, his confession of concern, was forgotten. He didn't know whether to be comforted or disappointed. "Can you stand?"

"Of course." Slowly, Isabelle sat up and carefully placed her feet on the cool tile floor. She then stood, took a few paces, looking down at the thin gold sandals she wore, and promptly felt dizzy. She raised a hand to her head and swooned. It was only a moment but her reaction was enough to make Grief nervous. Isabelle felt his hands on her bare back and shoulder and couldn't deny, even to herself, feeling soothed. He had a lovely, reassuring touch..

"I wish I could let you take it easy, Isabelle, but Mo will be showing up shortly. We're going to take you out the back. He knows a man …"

"Where are we?" Isabelle abruptly asked.

"An island outside of Toutira."

"We're that close to Matavai?"

He nodded, "What? Did you think you'd been taken to Arabia?" Grief teased.

Isabelle looked up and about at the eastern furnishings enhancing her surroundings. She had, in fact, wondered about that. "I was unconscious aboard ship for what seemed like a long while ... and I thought no one would ever find me." The memory of her drugging, thinking that Rupert Niven's yacht had been ambushed by Arabian pirates, made Isabelle grimace. How could she, the woman of the world she professed to be, have been so naïve? With a gentle toss of her dark hair, Isabelle looked up at Grief and mildly smiled, "I should have known you'd be on top of things, David. You're always coming to my rescue." Her expression then grew serious when recalling something that must have been a dream. Only a few hours ago had he said … or had he seemed …? No. That must have been a fantasy, a remnant from the drug she had been tricked into taking. Still, truth was truth. "You really are an extraordinary man, Captain Grief."

David gently slid fingers down her bare arm then took both of Isabelle's hands in his own. Something she said earlier, while still delirious, echoed in his mind. "And you, Miss Reed, are more than worthy of my continued rescue efforts."

Isabelle returned his smile. She was sure this was just chitchat but it was still a lovely thing to say.

The couple gazed at one another for awhile, coming to terms with some new and old emotions, both unaware of Mauriri who was easing his way through the mass of veils, cushions and sensuous fabrics about the palace to where they stood .

"Isabelle, are you all right?" Mauriri called gently, interrupting the moment. He came up behind her, caught David's attention, and turned her away from Grief. Carefully, the Polynesian looked at her swollen eye.

"I'm fine." she said, nearly annoyed, feeling Grief's hands fall away from her own.

"There's a boat waiting." Mauriri told Grief, "And we need to hurry."

"My clothes." Isabelle said, again looking down at her lavender harem costume.

"No time to get self-conscious on us, Isabelle." Grief said as he and the woman followed Mauriri. He took her arm as they walked to the back entrance that led out into a small hall then to another exit that directed them to the beach where the boat awaited. "We'll get you into something warmer once were safe on The Rattler."

****

She sat looking thoughtfully out to the sky and sea, her knees drawn up to her chin, with the wind blowing through her sun tinged hair. She had been given a warm drink when first boarding The Rattler and Isabelle now hugged a large blanket around herself against the cold of the whipping wind as they sailed back to Matavai.

Grief, at the ship's wheel, with Mauriri by his side, watched Isabelle. They had been at sea for half a day but she had said very little the entire time. Grief wasn't certain if it was the after effects of the abuse she had suffered through, her drugging, or if Isabelle merely needed quiet time now that she was safe and heading home.

Initially, she had shown a great deal of concern about the nameless women in the sheik's south seas harem, asking Grief, whilst they rowed in the long boat to his ship, if they would receive justice. Had they all been brought there like she, kidnapped and possibly tortured to comply with the wishes of their masters, or were they with him voluntarily? Isabelle had heard stories of eastern families breeding and selling their female children for the sole purpose of the child reaching her teen years and becoming one of the sheik's mistresses.

David assured Isabelle, whatever the case, they would notify the authorities and get the women back to their families. "Rupert Niven will also be arrested." he told her with certainty.

"And the sheik?" Isabelle asked, looking at Grief steadily, knowing the answer when he could not instantly reply.

"That's a bit more complicated." Mauriri had voiced, hesitantly.

A slap on the hands and a stern warning were the best they could hope for in his case. Oh certainly the sheik would probably be transported back to where he came from, to the luxury of his Arabian palace and the beds of his beautiful Arabian wives, but no real punishment would ever be dispensed. When you had money and power, no matter what it was you had done, you were set free.

That was when Isabelle had grown quiet. She was alone and no one, particularly a man, could ever understand what it was she was feeling.

"I'm going to talk with her." Grief said.

"Be careful, David." Mauriri warned. Being a husband and father, the Polynesian felt he had a slightly better perception on the fairer sex than his sometimes brash partner. "Isabelle's hurting and she may not want you prying, even if you are trying to help her."

Grief nodded and left the wheel to his friend.

The sheik had been looking for a rarity in the south seas. He wanted a white woman to adorn his island palace. A fair-skinned beauty to add contrast to all the gorgeous, dark skinned island exquisiteness he'd enslaved through Niven and other employees.

Grief, as he watched the sunlight gently caress Isabelle's hair, causing a golden hallow to radiate from her lustrous brunette curls, could easily understand why Niven thought she might be the perfect woman for his highness. Isabelle's fair features, with those captivating blue-gray eyes and a sensuous mouth that, Grief was sure, had driven more than one fervent man to distraction, were more than merely appealing. She certainly had cast a spell over him, Grief recalled, when he saw Isabelle Reed for the first time, in chains, and she smiled so beguilingly at him on her way to Captain Morlais jailhouse.

"David, do you remember what I was like when you first met me?"

Startled for a moment, afraid she had read his mind, Grief said, "You were confident and ambitious."

"You're being kind. I was devious and greedy."

Chuckling slightly, Grief sat beside Isabelle on the level and crossed his legs. Like the troubled woman beside him he stared out into the sea. Earlier, watching Isabelle while he stood at the wheel of his ship, Grief scrutinized her as she hugged the blanket around slim, tense shoulders. Grief never considered himself an overly deep man yet he wondered if Isabelle was really cold, do to her lack of clothing, or if the blanket symbolized something significant. It didn't just protect from the cold but also hid the harem attire, thus shielding her defenselessness as well? What type of struggle was going on in that beautiful head right now and just how much of what she was currently feeling would Isabelle be willing to reveal?

"Isabelle, you were confused." he said, "And desperate. We all make mistakes and yours was in thinking gold would make you happy."

"Maybe not gold …" she whispered, " … but I want enough wealth, even now, to show people I am a person to be reckoned with. I want to be successful, David."

And with success often comes respect -- and loneliness. Was it this third facet that made Isabelle seek out men who clearly were not worthy of her? Grief looked down at the deck and smiled, "You *will* be successful," he said, "in time. If you're willing to wait and work hard I'm sure you'll eventually get everything you want out of life, Isabelle."

Slowly, Miss Reed turned her head and glimpse at the man sitting beside her. He seemed taut and slightly bemused but, as always, honest. "I'm not afraid of hard work." Isabelle murmured then turned her head once again to look out at the horizon. "You know, I've been with every form of man from the lowliest street scoundrel to Frenchmen with high military positions." she bitterly chuckled, "I've even dated a prince or two."

Grief glanced at Isabelle, unsure if she was joking.

"But I don't think they cared to be with me for any reason other than the way I look. They wanted me there to warm their beds or have me on their arm as a trophy when they walked down the street. A pretty girl to show off to the masses. But the minute I said anything, tried to join into conversations, no one wanted to hear me. I have opinions, you know, and I'm not all together stupid. I have a good head for business."

"That you certainly do." Grief concurred and saw a small smile upturn her lips for the first time in hours.

"Marcel was one of the few men who believed in me." Isabelle sighed, "I just wish I could have loved him." There was respectful silence for a moment. "On Matavai I feel safe." Isabelle continued, lifting a finger to touch her bruised and still slightly puffy eye. "I'm working for something and the people there - once they got to know me - understand that I'm more than an ex thief or an exonerated convict. They trust me and some might even admire me. It's not my face or figure that has gotten me as far as I have here in the south seas, David, it's talent and - as you said - hard work." Shivering, Isabelle drew the blanket tighter around her shoulders, "So when Rupert came to me, telling me such sweet stories, and how he felt deep reverence for my achievements …" The words faded as Isabelle closed her eyes.

He had done more than kidnap Isabelle. Niven had splintered her spirit. Suddenly she wasn't thought of as a well respected lady of business, someone to be treasured for her mind as well as her beauty, but merely just another woman, a prostitute to be used by men then abandoned for another when used up.

"If things would have been different," Grief began, unsure if he should even ask - "if he had turned out to be exactly what he said he was, do you think you *could* have fallen in love with Rupert Niven?"

Isabelle opened her eyes and they narrowed slightly. "When he was pretending to be interested in me, when he asked all those questions - before I realized what type of information he was really after - I almost did fall in love. Or rather," she cleared her throat slightly, "I fell in love with the idea of a man being interested in my opinion and my brain and my words -- not just my body. So," Isabelle's expression grew slightly stiff, "if your thinking I was only after Rupert for his money, David, you're wrong. I'd like to think I have evolved a bit beyond that." but then she smiled ever so gently in confession, "But it would have been nice to have money too."

Grief nodded while listening. It made sense now. Niven had been checking out Isabelle's background, making certain she wouldn't be too terribly missed by family, a brother she hadn't heard from in months, and friends. He quickly came to the erroneous conclusion that if Isabelle had suddenly decided to up and leave with him, a rich man, deserting her business, the people of Matavai wouldn't be surprised.

Clare, Niven's original victim, proved to be too dangerous a package to deliver. She had position and family ties in England and, not to mention, the British beauty also faithfully released the island's newspaper every week. If Clare had turned up missing there would definitely be talk.

"If it'll put your fears to rest, Isabelle, understand that everyone on Matavai considers you more than a pretty face." Grief spoke gently, "As a matter of fact, the longer we get to know you the more invaluable you become. I can't count the number of times you've pulled my fat out of the fire -- and I'm not talking about just The Rattler either. You're remarkable. If the day were to ever arrive that you'd leave us I'd truly miss you -- and so would so many others."

The hands that were tightly holding the blanket around her shoulder eased somewhat as Isabelle once again turned to the man beside her. She stared at him, her mouth ever so slightly open, as if seeing Captain Grief for the first time. On anyone less beautiful it might have looked silly. "David, I think that's one of the nicest things you've ever said to me."

Isabelle's happiness filled him with an unexpected joy and the emotions Grief had held suppressed began to bubble to the surface. Suddenly, mesmerized by the inner beauty of her radiant smile, his expression grew sober. He had fought against falling in love with Isabelle Reed for so long …

"I mean it. Every word." he breathed, softly.

The couple stared at one another, aware of their closeness both physically and emotionally.

Bewildered, Isabelle searched his face for something she desperately needed to see … and it was there. Not lust. Not desire. Not even the unsure passion of a struggling lothario. Isabelle saw tenderness and, dare she even think it, devotion. *Love*. She and David Grief had never really explored that particular emotion with one another. Certainly she had felt his pity and, yes, he had been her hero on more than one occasion but they had never exchanged a passionate touch that meant anything more than hunger and need between a man and a woman. Yet, even *that* had been so very long ago.

When was the last time they had actually …?

Slowly and very gently Grief moved forward and met Isabelle's inviting lips with his own. The kiss was as affectionate and tender as he could give and Grief became aware that Isabelle's hands, shaking slightly, had moved from clutching her blanket - which had fallen from her shoulders onto the landing she sat on - to rest behind his neck. They gently fed on one another, experimenting, and feeling the simple pleasure such a doting act manifested. Then reluctantly, their lips parted and, especially for Grief, it was nearly painful. He wanted more… so much more. His forehead leaned against hers and Isabelle, taking a breath, appeared reluctant to let him go. Yet, eventually, Isabelle pushed back and her hands fell away.

Isabelle's eyes stared into his.

Grief felt loss.

"Are you sorry?" she asked, unsure.

"No." he said promptly, lifting a hand to touch her hair. His pained expression must have confused her. "Are you?"

She averted her eyes and smiled, teasing. "Ask me next week."

Grief chuckled softly and watched as Isabelle lay back on the flat, allowing the sun to caress her luscious, harem garbed skin. He lay beside her, staring up at the sky. They would talk more, find out new and wonderful things about one another, learn all those little secrets that made them the complicated human beings they were. Eventually, when it was right, they would also throw caution to the wind, he thought, and indulge in physical passion. However, until then he would wait patiently. Isabelle needed time to feel her worth and he didn't want to rush the process. He already had heated passion with her, the hungry kisses and outrageous flirting, but now she needed tenderness and to be as sure of David Grief as he was of her.

"David, do you think there will ever be equality between men and women?" Isabelle suddenly asked, eyes closed and hands tucked underneath her head.

Grief, uncertain where the question was leading, propped himself up on an elbow and stared at Isabelle. Laid out as she was the woman *was* making it a bit hard to concentrate.

Isabelle was well aware that he was looking at her, admiring her figure and the barely there harem outfit. She could feel pleasure about that now.

"I don't know." Grief said but smiled when anticipating her mind set. Still, Isabelle valued honesty. "It's a nice thought but I don't think so. The world it just too large and men will always be men." Satisfied with his answer, Grief lay back down on the flat again, closing his eyes against the bright sunshine.

"Too bad." Isabelle sighed, "I was rather hoping that one day a man might actually come up to *my* level."

A pause.

His laughter was like sweet music to her ears.


THE END
July 27, 2002.