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Maggie's Red Dress

Part One

The Dress

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Theresa ushered us into the office and closed the door, abandoning us to our fate with a disapproving sniff. Jake, our boss, stood at the window, ignoring us. The grime of downtown Toronto, twenty floors below, was obviously more important than two lowly operatives in disgrace.

Sally, my partner, looked at me, questioning, and tipped her chin in Jake's direction. She'd only been with the company a few weeks. I lifted one shoulder in a shrug. Jake didn't lose his temper often, but the fireworks would be spectacular, whatever his real mood. Being ignored was only the beginning.

Jake Simmons was a lot of things, tall, dark, gorgeous, and an ex-cop. He was also the junior partner for Investigations, Inc., and in charge of general investigations. He was six feet tall, dark hair, dark eyes and a neatly trimmed dark beard that never quite managed to hide his mobile mouth, as quick to laugh as he was to anger. I'd heard rumours that he had a wicked temper. He had a rain barrel deep voice that could glide over you like melted chocolate, or pin you like a bug on a board at fifty paces. I'd never seen him lose his cool, never mind his temper, in the two years I'd been with the Company. Of course, there was a first time for everything, wasn't there?

Everyone in the Company, by the way, was convinced that I was sleeping with Jake, being that I spent more time in the office than most people did. Getting chewed out for wasting film, if anyone would have asked. I'm a photographer. I'm good at my job. I make sure of that, usually by going through twice as many rolls of film as anyone else.

I'm not sure why Jake didn't fire me. Maybe it was because I amused him. More likely it was because I was the only photographer he had that knew their way around a darkroom. Then again, it could be that I could be trusted to keep my mouth shut, making me an effective smokescreen for his real mistress. It certainly wasn't because I was related to the senior partner. Neither Jake nor my uncle believed in that sort of stupidity. One day I might get up the courage to ask him.

"Report!" Jake's voice barked over my thoughts, scattering them like sparrows.

He hadn't turned around, so he didn't see my shrug. "Our cover was blown," I told him, willing my voice to equanimity. This wasn't the time to come unglued. Not yet.

"I know that!" Jake bellowed. "I'm ass deep in... Lord liftin'! You dressed like that?!" Jake had finally condescended to turn around.

We'd gone from the stakeout to the security office and then straight downtown. I hadn't had the chance to change into my normal jeans and sweatshirt. Jake went on for some minutes, calling me everything but white and human, and never repeated himself once.

Sally and I were still by the door, leery of entering further until we knew what Jake's reaction would be. This was the fifth time my cover had been blown, third for Sally. Company policy was "Three strikes, you're out." Sally was a single parent with three kids. She looked ready to faint.

I let Jake go on for a bit longer, and then interrupted him by shrugging off the rabbit skin jacket I still wore. I caught it in one hand, and sashayed the distance to Jake's desk, dragging the jacket along the carpet. I felt like I was heading for the guillotine, but I pushed my misgivings aside.

Propping myself on a corner of the desk, I watched him as his gaze traveled from my black, ankle-strapped high heels, the mile or so of black stockinged legs to the flared skirt of my mini dress. Late afternoon sun glinted off the black sequins of the poodle design, stark against the brilliant red of the clinging jersey material. His expression changed slightly as he continued his observations, past the low neckline and across the expanse of skin to the delicate cameo, threaded onto a black velvet choker. I thought it gave a nice touch.

His eyes met mine in astonishment. I smiled faintly and stood up. I tossed the jacket onto a nearby chair and, keeping my eyes glued to Jake's, turned around completely, letting the skirt flare slightly. The long sleeves gave the unwary the impression that there was a back to the dress.

Jake sputtered.

I undulated the few feet to the nearest chair, moved the jacket and sat down. Very deliberately, I propped my feet on his desk. "Yes, Jake," I said softly. "I wore this." I don't think Jake had figured out that my voice gets very soft and husky when I'm terrified.

"You look like a goddamned whore!" he thundered, and he was off again. Under cover of his tirade, I motioned for Sally to take the other chair. Her prim propriety was a blazing contrast to my flamboyance. Jake ignored her.

The door burst open behind me and I heard Paul Davies, the portly, balding, and fatherly senior partner of the firm, enter. "Jake, airport security wants to know...." Paul interrupted himself with an unprecedented wolf whistle.

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