Chapter 1

Caution: This Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Consensual, Romantic, Science Fiction, Tear Jerker, Paranormal, Cheating, InLaws, Rough, Transformation, .

Desc: Sex Story: Chapter 1 - True loves never dies...You have to kill it.

They always say that the third times the charm. I guess I'm hoping that's true. It works in manufacturing. I make my living as a Manufacturing Engineer. I specialize in CNC programming and set up, but I also work with Robotic and CMM applications. I generally run a program three times before I hand it over to the operators. The first time is to just get the bugs out of the program. I kind of expect the parts to be out of tolerance.

I measure the parts, then check the dimensions against the print and make changes in my work coordinate offsets. Then I run the program again. I always expect the second time to give me good parts. Sometimes though, unforeseen things can go wrong. The third time through a program has rarely ever failed to give me good parts. I'm hoping the same thing can be said of my life.

I look at the slumbering form in the seat next to me. Her head is turned towards me and her pretty face is covered by a curtain of dark hair. I'm trying to avoid looking into the cavernous cleavage that her deep V-neck sweater reveals. I don't know what the future will hold for us and honestly, I don't care. I'm sure that we'll face a number of hurdles and challenges. We might not even end up together. But one thing for sure is that whatever we end up doing it'll be better than what we left behind.

The steady thrumming of my Mustang's powerful 5.0 liter V8 is like the passing of the blood through my system. The engine's powerful breaths help to ease the tension in my body and let the adrenaline drain out of my bloodstream now that the need for fight or flight is over.

Long before the sun comes up, I pull into one of those comfy looking little motels that are scattered all over the Midwestern Region of the U.S.

I check in and give the tired looking old lady behind the counter my payment for the next two days, in cash. She gives me a key and points towards one of the freshly painted bungalows.

Returning to the car, I pull into a parking spot in front of the unit without waking my companion. She continues to sleep as I unload the trunk. We've both travelled lightly, with only two bags between us.

She barely makes a sound as I lift her from the car. I lift her with one arm supporting her back and the other under her knees, perhaps it's a reflex as her arms go around my neck. I carry her into the room and notice finally that the room came with only one bed. I place her gently on it and cover her up. Perhaps it's a habit, when I kiss her on her forehead before returning to the trunk, but it's not a habit I've developed with her. It's the first time that I've kissed her in any way, though I've always wanted to.

I pull a small cloth bag out of the trunk and remove the car's cover from it. It's supposed to be sunny tomorrow, but I'm covering the car to keep it from being seen. I'll tell anyone who asks, that it's to protect my custom orange paint from sun damage, but the reality of the situation is that we're on the run. Not from the police or the authorities but from ... Nah you'd never believe me unless I start from the beginning.

My name is Preston Collins, and as I said before I'm a manufacturing engineer. I'm not one of those useless white collar wearing, project management, who never get their hands dirty types of engineers. You know, the ones who get on the right committee, and oversee the development of a community access team, or organize the company's youth outreach program. We all know that those guys and their high salaries for things that don't directly impact the product, are part of the reason that cars cost so much these days.

I'm a throwback to the old days. I program CNC machines and Robotic systems. I program CMM machines for quality control systems. I edit, modify, design and fabricate anything we need to get the job done and keep the company in the black.

Since before I could walk I've been taking things apart and putting them back together. 200 years ago I'd have been a blacksmith. 100 years ago I'd have been a craftsman. 50 years ago I'd have been a machinist. This morning however, I'm a fugitive from a psychopath with murderous intentions. Because of the internet and modern tech, she can find me in an instant if I'm not careful. She just has to put an update on her Facebook page, asking if anyone has seen a custom orange Mustang GTR with wide white side stripes, matching orange brake calipers, cross drilled and slotted rotors, and all of the glass blacked out.

She'd probably get five or six tweets on her twitter page from every town I blow through. She plots the tweets on a map, and has a pretty good idea of where I'm going, and can probably get there or have someone else there waiting for me.

Five years ago, I was fresh from U of M engineering. I had a few credits and projects from Lawrence Tech as well. The problem was that I was so new the ink hadn't dried on my degree yet, so no one wanted to take a chance on me.

I finally got a break, just before my money ran out, when I interviewed for an up and coming manufacturing concern. Runaway Technologies, was owned by Sam Stevenson, and they made a lot of different suspension components for several different auto companies. They also made superior components for a few aftermarket companies.

Old man Stevenson took me under his wing, and taught me how to apply all of my theoretical knowledge that I'd obtained in school to the real world. After a couple of years of soaking up everything he could give me, we started modernizing and increased the business even further.

Some of the old line guys who worked there, hated me on sight. After all, some of them had been there for years and I just swooped in from nowhere, and over the course of 24 months become the obvious heir apparent. Nowhere was this made clearer than by the fact that when Stevenson's wayward daughter returned home after flunking out in college, we were practically forced together in a very short period of time.

Sam came in one morning while, I was going over the prints for a new line of control arms we would soon be making for one of our after market clients. I was meeting with all of the department heads of our various areas. The products looked so good that I'd agreed to try them out on my own Mustang. Anyway Sam walked into my meeting, looked over my desk, and told me that it was time I had an assistant of my own, to watch over my interests and keep me organized. I needed someone new who could grow with me and not resent the changes I was bringing.

That second part about not resenting change, was directed at the group of managers I was addressing. The part about needing an assistant was directed at me. He then told me that he'd already hired her and she'd be there the next day. The facilities group was moving me into a bigger office near his where I'd have a separated office from my assistant, so she could screen visitors for me. Needless to say some of the managers didn't take too kindly to that. The floor guys, were looking at it as if I was becoming an office drone, who'd simply be swamped with paperwork, and wouldn't have a clue of what we actually did. The office drones, were looking at it as if some grease monkey with dirty fingernails, was going to be invading their workspace trying to tell them what to do. It was the worst of both worlds.

The next morning Sam came in, dragging a very disinterested young woman with him. Her manner, bearing and posture all spoke volumes about exactly how much she loathed being there. I found out from several of the guys on the floor that she was his daughter. She had apparently just returned home after having been expelled from another college. She had a host of problems with schools and other issues as well. The general consensus was that she was "Nucking Futs." Apparently Sam had decided that she should try working instead of academia and I was supposed to be her new baby sitter.

I spent as much time as I could on operations on the floor, avoiding the inevitable return to the office for the meeting that I dreaded. Eventually I could put it off no longer and headed for my office.

"Hey Press," said Sam, as I walked into the office. "I'd like you to meet your new assistant, Charlotte. I noticed that he didn't give a last name, but in a couple of seconds it no longer mattered, nothing did.

She was about 5'3" and slim, with an obviously enhanced rack. Her red hair was drawn back away from her face in an attempt to appear professional. Her eyes were large and green, and luminous. Her lipstick or lip gloss or whatever she had on those lips just made me want to chew on them. The overall impression I got from her was that she was only being contrite long enough for Daddy to get over whatever she'd just done, and then she'd be off on her next adventure.

She did take a hard look at me, and her gaze lingered on me for just a shade longer than necessary. Her hands as we shook hands were soft and so warm that I expected them to start smoking at any second. Again she maintained the contact for a little bit longer than I thought necessary, and her smile had broadened a tiny bit when she let go.

Something happened though when we locked eyes. It was as if a switch was tripped that opened up all sorts of possibilities.

"Well, I guess I'll let you two get acquainted," said Sam. "Press, is everything alright on the floor?"

"Yep," I replied. "We're wearing out inserts faster than we should on the Miller job. So it's going to cost us a bit more than we expected by the time we get to 5000 pieces. But that's my problem, not something you have to worry about. If I haven't solved it by the 5000 piece mark, I'll re-quote the rest of the job. It's minor but it would reduce our profit margin by about 2 percent. I really believe their castings are actually harder than the specs they sent us. I think their castings came from Mexico so their metallurgical studies are suspect. We could reduce the feed rates by tweaking the program but that might cost us an extra 10 or fifteen seconds per part."

"Alright, you can handle that," said Sam, shaking his head. "If you need any help, I'll be in my second office. I should be in conference until about 2:30, with a follow up therapy session after that." I just smiled and nodded my head.

Charlotte took that opportunity to tap me on the shoulder. "Why, is 15 seconds a problem?" she asked.

I turned to face her so I could answer her question. As she looked at me again I was just stunned. "Uhm, it's 15 seconds per part," I said. "in this initial production run of these parts we're only running 5000 parts to see if the quote we gave them was accurate or not. 15 seconds times 5000 parts, is about 2 and a half days, since we're only running one shift on this project. If we're two and a half days late delivering the parts, our customers aren't going to be happy. Also if we tried a faster shipping option, we'd have to pay a lot more, which would again cut into our profit margin."

"Do you wear glasses?" she asked.

"Contacts," I said.

"I knew it," she replied. "You're a nerd. I like nerds. They're smart, and very creative. I think I'm going to enjoy working with you. I can think of all kinds of ways to use that creativity."

I really didn't know what to say. So I just went into my office. There were several things I needed to organize. I decided to have an impromptu meeting to discuss the Miller job.

"Charlotte, can you get all of the managers together for a quick meeting?" I asked her.

"How do I do that?" she asked. Her smile lit up the room. I had trouble concentrating on what I was doing.

"Just call them all and have them meet us in the conference room in 20 minutes," I said.

"Who are the managers?" she asked. "What are their phone numbers?"

I suddenly realized that she didn't know anything about working in an office. "Charlotte what did you study in school? I asked her.

"I had some English classes, and a couple of Math courses, and some science course too but I forgot which ones," she said smiling. "It doesn't matter though."

"Why doesn't it matter?" I asked.

"Because I didn't pass any of them," she said brightly. "It was mostly because I didn't go to class much. I really tried, but they just got so boring after a while. You know how it goes. Besides I knew that eventually I'd be taking over here for my Dad when he gets too old. And I'd have all of those smart guys like you to figure out stuff. So I just concentrated on my strengths. You know like meeting people and getting them in the mood to relax and discuss things."

I picked up the phone and called Myra. Myra Washington, worked in our secretarial pool. I had worked with her several times and loved both her intelligence and her work ethic. Myra was there in less than 3 minutes, and we got to work.

"Myra, I need to have an impromptu meeting with all of the managers. Can you get them all to the conference room?" I asked.

Myra smiled and picked up the phone. She pushed a couple of buttons and spoke into the phone. Suddenly I heard her voice from all over the building. She named off 8 people from memory and asked them to be in the conference room in 15 minutes.

"Will that be all?" she asked smiling.

"Myra, keep your options open, as soon as I talk to Sam you may be moving," I said.

Myra smiled and closed the door on her way out.

"I hate that fucking bitch!" screamed Charlotte. "She could have just shown me how to do it, but no! She had to fucking show off in front of you. That cunt was just trying to make me look bad. She thinks I'm some kind of a fucking moron. I'm going to have that bitch fired."

I was floored. Myra was a professional, and acted like one. She had majored in office systems and business in college and was very good at what she did. If everything was considered Myra should have been my assistant. If I'd gotten to pick an assistant, I'd have picked Myra hands down. Charlotte on the other hand was beautiful, and I really saw her in another role. More like girlfriend. I knew that Sam wanted me to keep her out of trouble, and show her the ropes, so maybe I could kill two birds with one stone.

After my meeting that morning, I explained my plan to Charlotte before calling Sam. I didn't want her to get angry at me. "Charlotte before today, I've never really wanted an assistant." I told her. "Now I find that with this office and my new responsibilities, I'm probably going to need two. So you're going to get a promotion. Myra will be my administrative assistant. And you can be my personal assistant. I just need to call your Dad and make sure I can spring her from the pool," I said.

"I can ask him for you," she said. "Where's his second office?"

"Uhm, Charlotte, your Dad's second office, means he's at the golf course," I told her. "Mondays and Wednesday, his foursome usually tees off at about 10 a.m."

"So who takes care of everything?" she asked.

"Well, in terms of running the floor and the manufacturing stuff, I have for the past year or so," I said. "That's why I got the new office. He wants me to start looking into more of the business and sales side of things too. That is why I need the assistants."

Over the next couple of weeks things really moved quickly between Charlotte and I. By the end of the first week we were dating. She seemed to show up at work every morning just to hang out with me. She took long lunches, and frequent shopping trips. I got the idea that the dating thing was what her dad had in mind anyway.

By the end of the first month we were exclusive. Charlotte had a very unusual and mercurial personality. She also had a jealous streak a mile wide. She allowed Myra to do all of the work, except for certain tasks that were considered to be hers alone. Anything that was done for me personally was considered Charlotte's.

She came in one afternoon after having a two hour lunch. During her lunch period I'd met with several customers who were making similar parts. We were discussing the possibility of one of them switching vendors for their castings. The move would save money for all three businesses. They would save on their shipping costs. Since we would also get all of their parts from the same vendor that would also get them both a big discount on the price they paid for casting, which meant they could pass those savings down to us as well.

It took us two hours to go over the proposal with them, and its advantages over the current system. It was like getting two porcupines to kiss, without either one of them or us, getting quill marks. After the meeting I was drained. Myra was in the office giving me a shoulder massage when Charlotte got back from lunch. Charlotte dropped her bags and had a fit immediately.

"What the fuck are you doing?" she screamed. "Get your God Damned hands off of him!"

Myra and I looked at her as if she was crazy. I told Myra to start typing up the reports from the meetings so we could send them to Sam. I then took charlotte into the conference room.

"Charlotte, what's wrong with you?" I asked.

"What do you mean, what's wrong with me? I come in to see some dried up old cunt with her hands all over my boyfriend, and you're asking what's wrong with me," she screamed.

"Charlotte, Myra has a husband and three kids," I said quietly. "She loves her family very much.

"Which means what?" she asked.

That really should have started the alarm bells ringing in my head, but it didn't. Any person, who thinks that someone who is married and has kids, doesn't give them any thought before doing something inappropriate, is probably going to be a cheater themselves. But I didn't think about that seriously at the time.

"Charlotte, you're the only person I want," I told her. "You're beautiful, you're sexy, and I love you." She smiled at that and just walked away.

"Just make sure grandma keeps her hands off you," she hissed.

I had trouble believing that Charlotte was only 22 years old sometimes. She was very aggressive sexually and very experienced. Charlotte had never said no to anything I wanted to try, and had already done most of them before.

Usually we'd go out to eat, and maybe hit a club or a late movie afterwards. Then we went straight back to my place. Charlotte's room at her mom and dad's house was probably bigger than my whole apartment, but it didn't offer us the privacy we needed. As soon as the door closed her clothes would be on the floor. Charlotte loved trying out new rooms, and new positions.

Charlotte would not only suck my dick on command, but liked it so much that she would frequently, have me pull it out of her vagina so she could suck it again. I think she knew what her pussy tasted like better than I did. She was also pretty loud and very vocal. She wasn't one of those girls who just softly moaned, I think everyone in my neighborhood knew when Charlotte had her orgasms.

Every day that passed found me deeper in love with her. At least it did for the first six months. One evening just after the 6 month point, I'd had to stay late at the plant. We were having some problems with a new robotic part loader. The robot wasn't picking the parts off of the pallets or loading them into the machines. It was just going through the motions and the locations were totally off. For some reason it took us a couple f hours to find out that the robot was actually performing the way it was supposed to. The problem was that we used English dimensions and the robot was reading them in metric dimensioning. We went through the entire program and did the conversions and had no further problems.

On my way home I spotted Charlotte's car a Saturn Sky roadster that her Dad had bought her when she tore up her first car, a Corvette. The car was in the parking lot of Manny's a club that a lot of the guys went to after work to blow off steam. I went in and saw her at a table with three guys who didn't work for us. The four of them were all huddled into one of the smaller booths. Charlotte's hands weren't visible but one of the guys sitting next to her had his head back and Charlotte seemed to be really interested in his crotch.

I walked over to the table and looked at her. As I supposed, she was jacking the guy off under the table.

"See you at work tomorrow, Miss Stevenson," I said loudly. She jumped back with the stupidest look on her face.

"Preston, no," she said. "I can explain. Two of the guys got up.

"No need for any explanations," I said calmly. "We aren't married. I just thought that we had something. Sorry, it's my mistake."

"Preston, I'm sorry," she whined, her eyes filling with tears.

"Why don't you give the little girl a break Preston," said one of the guys.

I turned towards him and punched him in the mouth as hard as I could. I hit him so hard that he spit out two teeth and my hand was bleeding.

"Why don't you shut the fuck up," I replied. His friends including the guy that Charlotte had jacked off, came out of the booth, while he just sat there holding his mouth.

Before they could do or say anything, several of my guys who were in the club were around me.

"Is there a problem Press?" asked Clay Thompson. Clay was one of my CNC operators. He was also as big as a house.

"Nah, no problems Clay, I'm just leaving," I said.

When I got to the parking lot, Charlotte came running out of the club. I started my car and drove slowly away from there. I didn't need a ticket and there were always cops around the club. Brightly colored muscle cars tend to draw far more tickets.

The next day at work was interesting. I came in went right into the office. As usual Myra was there already. I told her that I'd be working on the floor all day. I needed to make sure that the problems we had with the robot were actually solved. I asked her to forward anything from the office side that I needed to know about to my cell phone.

"When Charlotte comes in, should I ask her to join you on the floor, or stay here in the office with me?" she asked.

"It would probably be better for her to stay here with you," I said. "At least until I can figure out a way to get rid of her." There was no disguising the gleam in Myra's eyes when I said that.

At about 11o'clock Charlotte showed up. Her eyes were red, and she was looking around the floor for me. Luckily it was a very large building, and had a lot of machines scattered around. There were conveyors and CMM labs and all manner of things that I could hide behind to avoid her. After a while she changed tactics and called my cell phone. When I saw her number I just let the call go to voice mail. That day, was the first one since Charlotte came to work with us that she and I didn't go to lunch together. Charlotte often went to lunch twice. She shopped on one lunch period, and ate with me on the other. I sat down for lunch with Charlie Parreda, in his small office, just off the floor.

"So the bloom is off the rose?" he asked. I just nodded sullenly.

"It's my fault Press," he said. "I should have said something sooner. Sam is one of the good guys. He started this business out over thirty years ago, before you were even born. He started out in his garage with a refurbished Bridgeport mill, drilling holes and making slots in plates for anyone who needed parts. He's just like you and me. He's really only happy in front of a machine making something. Once the business got going he started hiring guys and getting bigger jobs. He was constantly expanding and making things better. You've helped a lot over the past couple of years. I see a lot of him in you. I know that he wants you to take over for him when he retires, and I guess he was hoping that you could tame that hellion he sired as well."

"That girl has never been worth a damn. Between Sam, and her mother, you couldn't ask for two classier people. The problem is they indulged her, and now she just has no boundaries. When she turned 20, she started showing up here at the plant. That first summer, she got caught in a compromising position, with two of our top salesmen. They both had to be let go and Sam just sent her off to another college. Last year, she wrecked her Corvette, just left it behind one of those huge trucks that come in every week to pick up our scrap metal. When the driver backed out, he couldn't see that little car because it sits so low, it wasn't visible in his mirrors. He just backed up and crushed it."

"That car cost $60,000 and she just left it behind a truck so she could catch up to the married guy that she was fucking. He was trying to break things off with her, and she wasn't having it. He quit the next day. He said it would be easier for him to get another job, than to deal with her."

"You've heard of guys who can't keep it in their pants, she can't keep her legs closed. Sam loves her, but she's too old for him to spank. And she's too used to having her way." He looked at me with a mixture of sympathy and humor. "What are you going to do?" he asked.

"Update my resume," I said slowly. "I guess I'll need a new job."

"Where are we going?" asked Charlotte, from behind me. "If you're leaving, I am too." I hadn't heard her come in.

She looked at Charlie, and said, "Hey old guy, is this your office?" he nodded. "Well we're going to need it for a while, If you don't mind."

"I was going back to work anyway ma'am," he said politely. "My lunch will be over soon."

I got up to leave with Charlie. As I passed by Charlotte in the tiny office, she grabbed my arm. "Press, where are you going? We need to talk," she said.

"Miss Stevenson, I think you're a bit over qualified to be wasting your time as my assistant. I'm going to ask your father to see if he can assign you to a position of greater importance in the company. Especially since you're not doing what you've trained for or aspired to." I said. "Maybe he can find something, where you can use those meeting people and helping them to relax skills. I've recently discovered exactly how good you are at that," I said. "However for the rest of the day, you still work for me, so please return to the office. The state safety regulations don't allow you on the manufacturing floor dressed the way you are. You could also consider taking the rest of the day off as a well earned reward for your faithful service and hard work over the past six months."

"Preston, we're supposed to be going to that concert tonight, and I'd really like to work this out before we go," she said.

"I'm afraid I have to work tonight," I said. "Perhaps you could get one of your friends from last night to go instead."

"I don't even know those guys. Preston, the only guy I'm going out with is you. I love you," she said. When she said she loved me. I almost folded, but stuck to my guns.

"I've been thinking about that, Miss Stevenson," I said. "It's totally my fault, but workplace romances aren't in the best interest of the company. They tend to lead to unpleasant circumstances among the employees, and usually result in lowered productivity. It was totally my fault for allowing it to begin. I'll report it to your father, and have him reprimand me."

"Preston, will you stop being a jackass. My father pushed us together because he was hoping we'd hit it off. I was hoping I'd hate you, but I don't. I love you. We're going to get married, have kids and run this company. We just need to get over this. It wasn't anything serious. I just made one mistake. It won't happen again," she said.

"Charlotte, the only mistake that you think you made, was getting caught," I said. "I'll talk to Sam when he comes in tomorrow. I don't want you working for me. There's nothing left for us on a personal level either. I just plain don't want to be around you. I'm sure that when the shit hits the fan, your dad will choose you over me, in a heartbeat, so I'll just spend the rest of today saying goodbye to everyone. That way I'll be ready to leave after I see him tomorrow." Then I walked away and left her there crying. I felt badly about hurting her, but decided that it was the lesser of two evils. I'd rather have her hurt for the few hours that it would take her to get over me, than me broken hearted over her for months.

Unfortunately Charlotte wasn't used to rejection in any way shape or form. She trashed Charlie's office and destroyed a bunch of his personal property during her rampage.

Everyone on the floor and in the offices was talking about both my fight yesterday, what there was of it, and Charlotte tearing up Charlie's office.

"Hey Press, I heard you hit that guy so hard that his kids will be born without any front teeth," said one of the mechanics. I smiled and watched as another one picked up a chair and pretended to throw it, imitating Charlotte.

The next morning I was already on the floor when Sam came in. I excused myself from the guys I'd been working with and went up to his office.

"Holy shit, what is all of this stuff?" he asked, pointing to the mountain of files on his desk.

"Production reports from everything we're running right now. Metallurgical reports and QC data," I said. "There are also master copies of every program we use and possible modifications to them for different scenarios on the disks. The rest are incident reports, Sales figures, Cutter designs, time studies..."

He held up his hand for me to stop. "What I mean is why, is it on my desk? This is stuff for you to take care of. That's your job now. I don't need to look over your shoulder every day. If I did you wouldn't have the job. If something is wrong, or you think something may go wrong that you can't handle, then you call me. But for the day to day stuff, I don't need to know," he said.

"Well I was thinking..." I began.

"You were thinking that since you and Charlotte are having problems that maybe you should bail? I never thought you were a quitter Press," he said.

I sat down in the chair across from him, and looked at the floor. "That bad?" he asked. I only nodded. "You want to talk about it?"

"Sam six months ago, I didn't know Charlotte. I thought I was happy. I love what I do. Working here is my dream job. When she came in here that first day, I thought it was some kind of test you were putting me through. Then I thought that you wanted me to babysit her for a while. The next thing I knew I was crazy about her. We were always together both at work and at home, and I just couldn't see living without her. I was figuring that some time soon I would start feeling you out to see whether or not you'd be upset if I proposed to her. I'm not sure she'd have accepted, but I wanted your approval first," I said.

"For most of my life, I've had a girl or two, here and there, but there was never anything really serious, until Charlotte. I guess I was so busy with the machines and my car, that people to me were about the same as machines. In most cases though, people were worse, they're less dependable, they're less predictable, and you can't count on them to do what they're supposed to do all of the time."

"Then Charlotte came along and I guess I was blindsided. I found out that she can't type. She doesn't know anything about filing systems. She doesn't know much about computers or our phone system at all. In fact Sam, she's a terrible assistant. That's why I had to have a second assistant. Myra is great. She actually does all of the work. But Charlotte did something different. She changed me in ways that I can't even begin to think about. I found myself smiling at her at odd moments, or holding her hand under the table in meetings when no one could see us. Just silly things like that."

"The worst thing though is I started looking forward to a future with her. I started seeing the rest of my life as "we," instead of "me," I said. "Sam I know that she's your daughter, but I started thinking of her as "my Charlotte." Then it all went to hell. When I walked into Manny's the other night after seeing her car parked out there, I wasn't spying on her, or trying to catch her doing something. I just hadn't seen in her in a few hours and I missed her something awful. That's a terrible way to be isn't it? To care about someone so much that just being away from them for a couple of hours seems like an eternity." He nodded his head agreeing with me.

"Anyway I went in and saw her in a booth in the back, in the corner, in the dark, with three guys. One of them had his arm around her and she was looking down in his lap while the other two watched. My heart was pounding so loudly that I thought everyone in the bar could hear it. As I got closer I saw that I wasn't wrong. My Charlotte was giving another man a hand job in a public place. I guess I could have just walked away, and let it go. I could have just broken things off with her, and told her it wasn't working out. But Sam I was hurt badly, and I wanted to let her know why, we weren't going to work out."

"So I just told her that I'd see her at work the next day. She started trying to talk to me, and one of her friends tried to interfere. I only hit him once, but I nailed him pretty good. I found out yesterday that he's married and has a kid, so I don't think he can afford any problems. I'm sure he lied to his wife about how he got busted up."

"I guess the thing that we need to work out, is that I can't work with Charlotte anymore. So I just figured that I'd turn in my stuff, so my replacement will have all of the data he needs. Of course I'll stay until you find the guy, and I'll even help him get going in the job..."

"Press, if you can't get work with Charlotte, put her in another department or another job, or hell, just fire her. But the problem is not going to go away until you deal with the real issue here. You might not see her at work, but you're still going to see her in your head. The fact of the matter is that you love Charlotte. It's so obvious that I'm surprised that you can't see it. She did a real shitty thing, I know it. But this pales in front of some of the things that girl has done," he said.

"As bad as it is, I see this as growth for her. And I'd be willing to bet that she's going to grow even further after this. Charlotte is really spoiled and used to having her way. That's mostly my fault I'm afraid. Press, she's been crying her eyes out for two days now. I've never seen that girl shed one tear for anything before this in her entire life. If, and I'm only saying if, the two of you get past this, I don't think it would ever happen again," he said softly.

"She's finally realized that there are some things that have value to her. She knows there are things that can be taken away from her, that we can't just replace," he said. "I'm not trying to tell you what to do here, but she isn't going to let you go easily either. I think my daughter loves you."

"With that being said, you have some things you need to look at too Preston," he said. "You have to realize that people, especially Charlotte, are not like your machines. You can't just program them, and expect for everything to run flawlessly, every time. People, especially Charlotte, have needs and feeling and a lot of really complex issues to deal with."

"You'll figure it out. I'm going to have someone deliver all of this crap back to Myra. If you need me I'll be at the other office," he said smiling. I decided right then that I was going to have to try golf someday.

Later that day, when Charlotte showed up for work, Myra told her that I was out on the floor again. She called me and asked me if we could talk. I started to simply fire her, but decided to be a bit more poetic. I told her that we had nothing to talk about, because everything had been taken care of.

"You mean you've forgiven me already?" she asked. "That's great Press. I love you. It won't ever happen again. You do know that nothing really happened anyway. Nothing serious happened anyway. Where are you? Can I come down there?"

"Miss Stevenson, we have nothing to talk about because you've been reassigned. I really don't need two assistants, when some of the managers don't have any. Your father owns this company, and some day you'll probably run it, so it's time for you to have some more direct information on what it does. You're still an assistant, but you've been assigned to Charlie Parreda," I said smiling. "You should probably take the rest of the day off to get the clothing and equipment you'll need for your new position.

I could just imagine Charlotte's shock as I hung up the phone. I thought it was great. Since Charlotte had trashed Charlie's office, she could be the one to clean it up.

At lunchtime I was walking to the parking lot, when I noticed Charlotte sitting on the hood of my car. I turned and went back inside. I got Myra to order a pizza and had lunch in my office.

"Myra we've never, just had lunch together, why don't you sit down and have a slice," I laughed at her.

"Oh no," she said. "I like working here. You may be unlikely to be fired, but I'm not. I have my list and I know what I can and can't get away with."

"What list?" I asked puzzled.

"Remember the day I was massaging your shoulders?" she asked.

"Yep," I said. "Charlotte had a hissy fit, it was kind of funny."

"Only to you," snapped Myra. "She gave me a list of things I can't do and continue working here. One of the things I'm not allowed to do is to have non-working lunches with you if she isn't present."

I was shocked, but Myra was serious.

"I told her that you were married and have kids," I said.

"Press, she probably thinks that everyone is like her. That commitments and things like that don't matter. Only what she wants," said Myra. "The guy she went after last summer, Anson Williams. He went to school with my husband. He's working for a different company now, but Don still sees him. Don told me that Charlotte didn't care about Anson's wife or kids. She thought he was cute and she was going to have him. You've heard I assume, of how she just left her car in the way for that truck to crush it? If she wants something she just goes after it and nothing will stand in her way."

I went home after work that day. I was relieved that Charlotte wasn't in the parking lot. I made something to eat, drank a lot and went to bed early. The phone rang several times, but I didn't answer it. I guess I didn't want anyone to know how miserable I was.

Sometime during the night I woke up. Someone was banging on my door so hard I thought it would come off the hinges. I looked out through the keyhole and saw a taxi driver standing there.

As I opened the door he pointed at his waiting cab. "I have something of yours buddy," he said. I followed him to his Taxi. I looked inside and a clearly drunk Charlotte was passed out on his rear seat. "Thirty bucks including gratuity," he said.

"Why'd you bring her here?" I asked. "She doesn't live with me."

"Look buddy, she was staggering around downtown. I asked her where she wanted to go, and she gave me your address. You can either, pay me, and take her. Or I can drop her off at the police station and she can spend the night in a drunk tank. Something else though, is your name Preston?" he asked.

"Yeah, how did you know that?" I asked.

He just hooked his thumb towards Charlotte. "Sleeping beauty, kept saying Preston loves me, all the way here. It sure doesn't seem that way though."

I gave him forty bucks, and carried Charlotte into my apartment. I laid her down on my sofa and called her house. Sam didn't answer the phone, his wife Amanda did.

"Hi Amanda," I said. She sounded as if she was asleep. "I'm sorry to wake you."

"Preston, is that you?" she said coming fully awake. "Sam is right here I'll get him for you."

"No Amanda, that isn't really necessary," I said quickly. "I don't want to awaken both of you. A cab driver just dropped Charlotte off at my apartment. She's very drunk. So could you please stay awake for a while so I can bring her home?"

"Preston, Charlotte is 22 years old and you guys are practically engaged. You may as well keep her until morning, and she can come home then," she said.

"Amanda, Charlotte and I broke up 2 days ago," I said sadly. "Can I just drop her off?"

"I'm sorry Preston, I didn't know. Are you sure she knows that you're broken up? Only this afternoon she was talking about how she was going to make some changes in your living arrangements, as soon as she got done pulling your head out of your ass. She hates that tiny little apartment you live in. she says with the money you're making the two of you should have a house. Why did you break up anyway?" she asked. "Every couple goes through little arguments and rough patches. Sam thinks you're going to propose to her."

"I walked into Manny's and caught her giving another guy a hand job, in public," I said casually.

"Oh!" said Amanda. "I'll stay up so you can bring her home."

Twenty minutes later my Mustang's growl announced our presence as I drove inside the gates of their house. The porch lights were on and the door opened as soon as I stepped near it. I carried Charlotte up a long circular stairway and deposited her gently on her bed. "Take me to Preston," she slurred. "My Press, loves me."

"She loves you, you know," said Amanda softly as she covered Charlotte with a fluffy comforter. "She has no idea how much yet, but I've never seen her take to anyone the way she has to you." I just nodded and went back down the stairs as quietly as I could.

The next day at work was an interesting one. I had a meeting with one of the sales people from the company we bought cutting tools from. I'd had the same meeting several times a year. over the past 4 years. They always went the same way. Their guy would show me the catalogue full of their new lines and explain the newest policies for ordering custom made cutting tools and inserts. Then we'd have lunch, and finally we'd talk money and orders.

To say I was shocked shitless was a big understatement. Their new guy, was a woman, and she was hot. She was about 5' 9" weighed about 130, with a slim but curvy figure. She had that tawny Jennifer Aniston type of hair that was neither Blond nor Brown. She had huge grey eyes and a beauty mark on her left cheek. I took one look at her and sensed trouble. I sent her to Charlie, because I wasn't in the mood for another kittenish sex bomb.

A half an hour later, I saw Charlie bringing her out on the floor. They were looking at one of our HAAS VL 20's. Charlie kept motioning for me to come over to them, and I kept pretending I didn't see him. Finally Charlie brought her over to me.

"Press, this is Samantha Jordan, she's Dan Blocker's replacement," he said. "She'll be handling all of our dealings with her company from now on."

"It's nice to meet you," I said, extending my hand, and then pulling it back before we made contact. "Sorry, I didn't want to get coolant on you. I'm a mess right now. If you're still here when I get cleaned up, we can talk."

"Well Press," said Charlie. "There are some questions about our needs that you really need to be the one to talk to her about. I can handle ordering the cutters for all of our manual and tool room machines. But the CNC stuff, and all of those radical cutters you design, are beyond me. Half of the cutters you use on the five axis machines don't even look like cutters."

As we walked around, I found out that Samantha was a lot more than just a pretty face. She knew her cutter dynamics, and was a serious sales person. I was really enjoying our time together and was about to suggest lunch, when the bottom fell out. We were in one of our QC labs discussing how similar our tool paths were to the path lines the CMM Machines used for inspection, when Charlotte showed up. Charlie tried to give her something to do, but she was having none of it. She just stepped up and started glaring at Samantha.

Charlie tried to defuse the situation by introducing them. "Charlotte Stevenson, this is Samantha Jordan. She's our new sales rep from Carbide international," he said. "Samantha, Charlotte is the owner's daughter."

Samantha smiled warmly and extended a hand. "Charlotte, we were about to go out for lunch, would you like to join us?"

"Who's going out to lunch?" asked Charlotte.

"Why, Press and I were. Dan told me that Press likes to go to Texas Roadhouse," began Samantha before she was cut off.

"There is no fucking way you're going anywhere with my boyfriend, anytime," snapped Charlotte. "I'd throw your fat ass into one of these fucking machines first, grandma." Tears were already trickling down Charlotte's cheeks. Charlie grabbed her and pulled her out of the office.

"She makes an incredible first impression," smiled Samantha.

"Why don't you just re-order the same things we got from you last month. And add in 50 of those serrated edge hoggers and the inserts for them," I said. "If you write it up and fax the order to me, I'll sign the purchase req. and we can meet again next month for the lunch part. I'm really sorry about this. It's embarrassing, but I'm sure your husband won't mind, you going home early."

She was great about it, and said she'd see us next month and she hoped everything worked out with Charlotte.

I turned and walked slowly to Charlie's office. I noticed all of his new furniture, and office supplies. Overall his office was actually better now than it had been before. If you didn't pay attention to things like the cracked glass on the picture of his family, you'd never know that the little office had been the victim of one Of Charlotte's rampages. His desk was bigger and better. His computer was more modern and had a bigger monitor. Everything about his office was better after the rampage, than before it.

I knocked on the door and walked in. Charlie was trying to calm Charlotte down.

"Excuse me Charlie," I said. "Charlotte. My office, now!" Charlie gave a silent prayer that what he thought was going to be a knock down drag out fight wouldn't take place in his office. Charlotte got her things together and followed me, meekly.

Once inside my office, I let her have it. "Charlotte, what the fuck is wrong with you?" I yelled. "Why would you do something that stupid? This is a business, not some fucking high school club. We can not afford to alienate the people who we do business with, or we'll be out of business." I was so angry, that I didn't realize that we could be heard all over the offices.

"My father..." she began.

"Your father left me in charge, and I don't think he'd want to hear about what you've just done," I said.

"My father always told me the same shit he tells you," she said fiercely. "If you want something go after it. So Preston, I don't give a flying fuck about Daddy's business or your smelly, noisy machines. None of that shit matters to me at all. Your customers, your suppliers, your business partners, can all take a long walk on a short pier. Fuck the company." Charlotte was getting angrier by the second. She stood up and came over to me. As much as I hated her, or wanted to believe I did, the fire in those green eyes was getting to me.

"Preston, I made a big damn mistake a few days ago, but it opened my eyes. For all of my life I've been spoiled and bored. I knew that I could have anything I wanted, so there was no reason for me to try or work for anything. But as sure as the sun is shining, I know what I want now. I want you Preston," she said sticking her finger in my chest. "I love you Preston, and no one is going to ever take you away from me. You are mine, now and forever. You may be pissed at me, but you'll come around. I was wrong 2 days ago, but today I was right as rain. I was protecting what's mine. You're just lucky I stayed in control."

"Charlotte how was that, staying in control?" I snapped.

"Preston, my first instinct was to beat the shit out of that bitch, but I held back. You just don't even know what she was doing. You didn't see the way she was looking at you. Women can tell these things, and as sure as I'm standing here, that whore didn't care about selling you shit. She just wanted to fuck you. You didn't notice, did you? That she wasn't very shocked by what I said? Right now she thinks she won. She got the sale she came for. And she thinks that you're going to fire me, or put some kind of leash on me. But it ain't gonna happen. If you fire me today, I'll still hurt that bitch if she comes after you next month."

"Charlotte, what business is it of yours if I did go out to lunch with Samantha? You cheated on me so, there is no us," I said.

"I already told you that I made a mistake," she said quietly. "I'm very sorry for what I did." Tears came from nowhere all of a sudden. "Preston, you just don't understand. This is all new to me. I don't know what I can do, and what I can't. But all you need to know is that I love you so much it hurts sometimes. Can we go out to lunch and talk about this. We're yelling so loudly right now that everyone in your precious business knows all of our business."

Twenty minutes later we were staring at each other over a large platter of Fajitas at Chilli's. "Should you be drinking in the middle of the day?" I asked her.

"The way you're staring at me, I can't help it," she said. "God Damn it Preston, no one is here except for us. I know how you feel about me."

"You mean how I felt about you; past tense," I said.

"Preston, I know what you told my father. All that stuff about how much you loved me and wanted to ask him how he felt about us getting married." She said. "That was yesterday. I somehow doubt that you stopped loving me overnight. Speaking of overnight, why didn't you just drop me on your couch last night? You could have kicked me out this morning. But you were worried about me, and you didn't want me in your apartment. I think that you're afraid to be around me because if you spend too much time with me, you'll want me back."

"That's not going to happen," I snorted. "Charlotte I'm kind of old fashioned when it comes to certain things."

"Look Press, I promise you, it won't happen again. Most of the guys I've been with, have never given a damn about me. Most of them just wanted to fuck me and show me off to their friends. A lot of them even wanted me to fuck their friends. They didn't care how many guys I screwed, as long as they got some too. I'm not used to someone caring about me so much that they don't want to share me with anyone else. I mean it's only sex. The other day I was only giving Ray a hand job while I waited for you. Those guys wanted to party but I told them that, I was waiting for you to come home from work." She seemed to be pleading with me to believe her, and I wanted to.

"I knew that I wasn't going to fuck them, even though I didn't know why. But now I do. I had a long talk with my mom, and she explained a few things to me about being faithful, and all of that shit. I want to be faithful to you, and I can, if you give me the chance. But you have to be faithful too. No more lunches with skanky saleswomen, and no secretaries giving you massages, because if I see it, you know I'm going to go off." She was staring directly into my eyes when she said that and I could tell that she meant it.

"So Preston, will you please forgive me?" she asked. "May I please have one more chance? You won't regret it."

I nodded my head, and she smiled at me.

"So we're back together?" she asked. I nodded again. "Well it won't count until you prove yourself." she smirked.

"How do I prove myself?" I asked puzzled.

"Well you could be just saying this so you can get back to your robots and machines," she smirked again. "I won't believe it until you take me back to your place, and spank me, and then fuck me until I can't walk."

Before I could say anything like, "Let's go," or "But we have to go back to work," my iPhone rang. It was Amanda telling me that Sam was in the hospital. He'd had a heart attack on the golf course, and I needed to find Charlotte and come to the hospital as soon as possible.

When Charlotte and I got to the hospital, we asked a nurse at the information desk where we'd find Sam. She directed us to the Cardiac Ward. Once we got there we found Amanda in the waiting room. She looked like she had aged over night. Worry and exhaustion, lined her face.

"Amanda how is he?" I asked.

"They don't know anything yet," she said quietly, she looked down at her watch, and then back up at me. "We've only been here for about 25 minutes. I called you as soon as we got here. It seems like hours. Thank you for finding Charlotte and bringing her."

"Geez Mom, we were together, when you called," snapped Charlotte. "It's not like he had to go out and search the bars for me."

We all sat down in the hard plastic chairs that filled the waiting room. There was a television on, but none of us even glanced at it. We didn't speak and barely acknowledged each other's presence. I guess we were all lost in our own thoughts. I could tell that Amanda was really afraid, for Sam. I was too. I kept thinking about all of the things he'd taught me, and wondered if he knew how much I appreciated him and the way I felt about him.

Amanda was looking for a source of strength, and I guess I was it. I don't know when she took my hand, but it felt natural. It wasn't one of those things where you barely know someone and you hold their hand to put on a show, but all the while you're feeling odd. It felt like we were family and I hoped that someday we would be.

"Mom, how long do we have to stay here? Can't they just call us when they know something?" snapped Charlotte irritably. She stood up and looked at us, and then exploded. "What the fuck are you doing? How long has this been going on?"

Every eye in the waiting room suddenly turned towards us.

"Charlotte what are you screaming about now?" I asked. "Sit down and lower your voice, you're embarrassing all of us."

"Why the hell are you holding my mother's hand?" she hissed. I couldn't help it I just started laughing. The fury in Charlotte's fiery green eyes softened and tears started falling.

"Come here, Char," I said reaching out to her. She sat down and leaned over to me and I cuddled her and tried to calm her down.

"Charlotte, I love you, and only you, but your Mom and Dad are like family to me. It's only natural for us to try to comfort each other during bad times. Right now you and I are both afraid for your Dad, but it's far worse for your Mom. She needs us right now, can you understand that?" I asked.

"I'm sorry Press, I'm sorry Mom," she said. "But Damn it, when it comes to you, I just act irrationally. I can't help it."

A nurse came in and told us that we could see Sam but only for a few minutes. The doctors on site, had him stabilized but they were waiting for a special Cardio team, who would do the surgery. A doctor standing beside her told us that we were very lucky he had been at the golf club when it happened. They not only had a portable defibrillator there, they had people who knew how to use it. In many cases a heart attack like Sam's cold have been fatal.

As we filed into the room, I was worried. I may as well tell the truth, I was scared. Sam had always seemed larger than life to me. Seeing him lying there, connected to all of those tubes and machines, threw me off. He seemed so small, and so frail. I guess it made me realize that life is precious, and very fleeting. At any moment, any of us could be snatched away. Sam had always been my source of strength. Sure I made a lot of the day to day decisions, but it was always with the understanding that if I ran into anything I couldn't handle, I had only to call him and he'd handle it.

Sam also did all of the corporate stuff. Sure, I'd spoken to the board of directors several times but I never felt comfortable doing that. I especially felt weird, in cases when it wasn't really necessary for me to speak to them. Even after the company had gone public, Sam retained 54 percent of the company's stock. The board was only a formality.

Sam's eyes opened as we approached. "Only a few minutes," said another nurse standing by his bed watching all of the monitors.

Amanda leaned over and affectionately kissed him. Sam's hand moved up, even with all of the tubes connected to it and rested on Amanda's backside.

"Press," he said slowly, as if even speaking put a strain on his damaged heart. I went closer so he wouldn't have to strain any more than he already was.

"I knew you two would work it out," he whispered smiling. "That thing you asked me about, yesterday ... you never had to ask. It was what I always wanted too. If I don't make it..." suddenly the monitors began to beep loudly. "Take care of my girls," he hissed. Then he lost consciousness. The nurse abruptly pushed us out of the room and started yelling. I could barely recognize some of the things she said as being English. She screamed about Cardio this, and STAT that, while sticking all kinds of needles in Sam's IV tubes.

We were hustled back into the waiting room. Amanda's soft sobbing was the only sound in the room. I gently stroked her hair and hugged her to me. "Amanda, Sam is strong. He's going to pull through this. It might take a little bit of time, but he will." She looked at me and nodded her head shyly. Amanda had always been a supremely beautiful woman. She had rich silky, long dark hair that you could just get lost in. She had widely spaced beautiful eyes that were full of love and compassion. She was the kind of woman who was superior to types.

Some men love their women on the taller, thinner side. Others prefer shorter more voluptuous girls. Some liked tiny petite women, and some love BBW's. It didn't really matter what type of woman you liked, everyone liked Amanda. The thing about her that was so special though, was that it wasn't a slutty type of appeal. She was just beautiful and classy. She was kind of like Elizabeth Taylor in her heyday.

She squeezed my hand and nodded at me and tried to smile. After a half hour, that seemed like three days, another doctor came out and introduced him self to us. I couldn't remember his name but he was supposedly a very famous cardiac surgeon. He explained a lot of things to us. Basically the prognosis wasn't very good. Sam's condition, was far too weak for them to to operate on. They had put him into a medically induced coma while they pumped him full of a cocktail of drugs to lessen the damage to his heart and to stabilize him. Their hope was that over the next few days, he'd gain enough strength that they could then go in and do the surgery.

He also told us that we served no purpose haunting the visitors lounge and should go home. If anything happened no matter how minor, they'd call us immediately.

"Told ya," said Charlotte.

Amanda's eyes rolled at her daughter's words. She gripped my hand with a strength I hadn't suspected she had. I just smiled at her in return.

I drove them home, with Amanda in the passenger seat next to me, and Charlotte squeezed into the Mustang's tiny rear seat. Charlotte whined the whole way.

"I love these cars," said Amanda. "They remind me of back when I was younger."

"Mom have you ever even been in a car like this?" snapped Charlotte. "And why do you get to sit up front. Whether you know it or not that's my seat. I should be sitting next to Preston. He's my boyfriend, for now."

"Charlotte, your father had a Mustang when he and I got together. That's what I meant about loving these cars. I think I was more upset than he was when we had to get rid of it," said Amanda.

I slapped my hand over my chest, as if I was in pain, and then realized that my joke was kind of insensitive considering the situation we were in. "What possible reason would anyone have, for getting rid of a Mustang," I asked in mock shock.

Amanda smiled and looked at me. "That's exactly the way Sam looked, when he found out he had to give it up," she said. "But I gave him a very good reason, and I always told him that someday we'd replace it. We just never got around to it."

"What was the reason," I asked. I guess I wanted more to keep the conversation light and keep it going on, than really needing to know the reason. I really wanted to give Amanda something else to think about other than her husband lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life.

"Who cares," hissed Charlotte. "It doesn't matter. Daddy gave up his car four hundred years ago yada yada yada."

"I'd say you matter, to both your father and me very much. And to Preston as well wouldn't you," said Amanda. "And it did matter. Men become very attached to certain things, like certain kinds of cars. Your father loved his very much, but when you came along we didn't have the money for two cars, and the back seats were even smaller back then."

"Preston, when are we getting married?" asked Charlotte changing the subject. "Can I start planning the wedding now, or do I have to give you time to get a ring and actually ask me. If you want me to, I can go on the internet and find the engagement ring I want, to save you some embarrassment, or I could just go with you when you shop for it."

Amanda and I just looked at each other. "Preston, you do know that I don't want a diamond, don't you?" droned Charlotte. "Everyone gets diamonds. My ring has to stand out. It also has to fit my looks and my personality. Remember when you told me about how beautiful my eyes are? That's why I want a big assed Emerald instead of a diamond. If you want, you can surround the Emerald with a bunch of diamonds, but that's what I want."

Over the next few days, Sam clung to life with a tenacity that astounded everyone. I visited and sat with him every day. Even though he wasn't conscious, I could tell that he somehow knew I was there. Often Amanda was there and we sat together and watched the steady rising and falling of his chest. We both also leapt up at every change in the rhythm of the machines that monitored his status.

We also talked a lot to help the time pass while the man we both loved recovered. I found out a lot of things that I'd never thought to ask. Sam was 68 years old, Amanda had just turned 50. They'd been married for 32 years. That old Billy-goat had robbed the cradle. He'd just snatched her from the loving arms of her parents.

"That explains it," I said laughing.

"That explains what?" she asked. It was good seeing her smile come back even if it was only temporary.

"That explains why you're so hot," I said.

"I am not," she said.

"Are too," I replied. She pursed her mouth into an almost unreadable expression but ended up smiling.

"Preston, how can I, be hot? You're 27 years old. I'm nearly twice your age. I'm going to be your mother in law very soon," she said. I could tell by the way she was turning red that she was very flattered.

"Even if you did think that, it's not a good thing to say it," she whispered.

"Why not?" I whispered right back.

"Uhm, what if someone heard you?" she said.

"They'd probably agree with me," I smirked.

"I don't think Charlotte would," she said. "My daughter has a lot of issues. That's why Sam and I are so glad that she has you. We had often wondered what would happen to her when we're gone, and now we don't have to worry."

"Why would Charlotte be jealous of her own mother?" I asked.

"Charlotte has a very strong personality," Amanda said. "She loves me, but not nearly as much as she loves her Dad. He was her entire world until you came along. She always saw me as a rival for his affection. But now that she has you, she has her own man, and she wouldn't like hearing that you found someone else attractive. I'm not exactly sure what she would do. But it wouldn't be pretty."

I whistled and shook my head. "I guess not," I said.

"I'm sure you heard about her exploits or some of them. What most people don't know is that Charlotte isn't really a slut. She just uses what she has to get what she wants. In most cases, what she wants is her daddy's attention," said Amanda.

"Think about it, even the thing she did, the summer she turned 21, with the salesman who quit. That was Charlotte's way of letting Sam know that she was a full grown woman, and could take a much older man away from his wife and kids. She didn't even think about how badly she devastated the poor man. She just teased him until he gave in, and then humiliated him by following him around until he cracked and quit. Sam never would have fired him, but I guess Anson just couldn't take it anymore."

"And Charlotte?" said Amanda, shaking her head. "She never gave it a moment's thought later on. The only thing that bothered her was the fact that she needed a new car. She didn't even consider that she had caused a man to break his marriage vows and possibly destroyed his family. She also never considered that she had ruined a $60,000 automobile out of negligence. She just wanted another car to go out and hang out with her friends in."

Usually I'd go and visit Sam in the mornings before work. When Amanda got there we'd talk for a while and I'd go to the plant. I'd often bring her lunch and sit with her again. And finally when she went home in the evenings, I'd sit with Sam until visiting hours ended. The evening hours were my time to talk to Sam about the business and other things. Even though he wasn't conscious, I talked to him anyway.

News of Sam's condition had travelled beyond the hospital and plant, and a meeting of the board had been called to discuss it. The meeting was set for Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. and I was asked to be there.

I remember when I told Amanda about it. I was very worried and she just smiled and told me it was a non issue. Things would go on as they always had, and I shouldn't worry about it. She asked me to have Charlotte give her a call, since there were some things they needed to discuss. Neither of us mentioned that Charlotte hadn't been to see her father since the first day.

While visiting Sam at the hospital I'd met a patient named Annalise Carson. She was there being treated for a kidney disorder. She was remarkable. She was often in a lot of pain but she had the same type of glow and compassion that Amanda has. She had to be at the hospital three days a week for dialysis treatments and was on the list for a kidney transplant. I typically went in and spent a few moments with her if I saw her. And she came and sat with me at Sam's bedside a few times too. She was probably one of the kindest people I ever met. She always had something pleasant to say, no matter how bad her pain was.

Annalise was beautiful, but not in the same way Charlotte or Amanda was. It was just different. Charlotte was a hot young woman in the prime of her life. She oozed vitality and fun. She was flashy, perhaps a bit trashy even, but no man would ever turn her down. She had relatively large boobs for her frame but they didn't move, because they were implants. Her hair was a bright red and her eyes were a fiery green. Everything about her was tight and in your face.

Annalise on the other hand, was far more understated. Her hair was very long and full. It was a very warm Chestnut brown. Her eyes were brown as well. Her features, though beautiful, didn't stand out at all. She didn't have a megawatt smile, like Charlotte's. But you felt warmth and a glow from her that was beyond youth and vitality. If Charlotte was the girl that everyone wanted to fuck, and tell their friends they'd had her, then Anna was the girl they all wanted to marry and have kids with.

Amanda on the other hand was grace, and class personified. She had a little bit more meat on her bones than the other two, but it was well shaped meat. She was nowhere near fat or even chunky. She was just older and more substantial. Her breasts were larger than both her daughter's or Anna's and they fit her frame well. But you'd never see them because she has far too much class to ever dress in a way that displayed them. Her ass is very nicely shaped, but very few ever think to look because she always wears jackets. Amanda is very sneaky in that respect. I didn't realize how well she was put together, until I'd gone swimming with Charlotte at their family pool. Let's just say that I spent most of my time looking at Amanda even when Charlotte was there. Amanda in a one piece swimsuit made Charlotte's bikini look tame. I think part of it was the way her body moved. Her breasts seemed to jiggle under the suit, and it sent a very primal message directly to my gonads. Her ass swayed gently with each step, and I found it mesmerizing.

Amanda's hair is inky black and very silky. It falls about halfway down her back and is cut straight across her forehead. Her eyes are the same shade of green as Charlotte's but with less intensity. Of the three, If Charlotte is the one you want to fuck, and Annalise is the one you want to marry, then Amanda is the one, you dream of.

The Friday morning before the board meeting, Sam finally gave up the battle for his life. While Amanda and I sat talking, with her holding his hand as he often did, he squeezed her hand one last time and then slipped away. It was as if the squeeze on the hand was his way of thanking her for a lifetime of love, and also to tell her everything else he had to say. The only way we knew he was gone was the cacophony of alarms and warning sounds when he passed. The room filled with medical technicians and doctors but we all knew that the fight was over and we'd lost.

I took Amanda in my arms and we both cried. We needed to just let go of all of the feelings we'd been holding in. We didn't cry for very long because we both knew that Sam wasn't big on weakness, and there were things that had to be done. Annalise came in and hugged us both and offered to help us make any arrangements that were necessary. She had met Amanda once before and offered her condolences. While we were talking my iPhone rang. I answered it, Charlotte was calling to tell me that there was an emergency at the plant and I needed to call Charlie immediately and get my ass over there. I put the phone on speaker, and started talking. I guess that I was thinking that if there was an emergency at the plant Amanda should know about it because she was the owner now.

"Charlotte, I'll call Charlie," I said. "But I won't be able to come for a while. I need to drive your mother home."

"My mom does know how to drive a fucking car, Preston. I wish you'd stop trying to suck up to her. You aren't her fucking butler, you know," snapped Charlotte. "You aren't even her God Damned son in law yet. I'm the one you should be sucking up to. I'm here at this noisy place all alone, checking on all of this boring crap for you. I'm trying to show you that I can be serious, so get your ass in here. Besides I'm on the internet and I found out where we're going on our honeymoon."

"Charlotte, your father died a few minutes ago, I'll talk to you later," I said, and hung up the phone.

I called Charlie and asked him what the problem at the plant was. It was minor, but I had to handle. It was the main controller for all of the robots on the B line. They'd upgraded the firmware, which necessitated shutting all of the power off to reboot the system. When the system was rebooted everything went back to its default operating state. We'd changed several offsets in the robotic controller's coordinate system. They needed to be redone so they'd work with our machines. It would take me about an hour to do it.

"Charlie, Talk to all of the managers. Tell them that Sam has passed. Give everyone the rest of the day off, with pay. Amanda wants to have the funeral on Monday at 1 p.m. That way we can take care of the board meeting and find out who's going to be in charge and all of that. Give everyone Monday off too. Tell them to call the switchboard, and we'll post the funeral arrangements there for those who'd like to attend.

Annalise was a life saver. She stayed with Amanda and helped her take care of all of the Funeral details, while I handled other things, like contacting the insurance companies and making other arrangements. On Saturday Anna even showed up at the funeral parlor to sit with Amanda and I, while final preparations were handled before the viewing Saturday evening.

Monday morning was the worst for me. I was nervous about the funeral, but even more nervous about the board meeting. I'd tried to get the board meeting pushed back to another date, but no one would listen to me. Obviously the board was trying to exert some type of control. When I told Amanda about it she laughed, and said that we needed to have a talk when all of this was over. She told me to go ahead and have the meeting to get it out of the way, but to please be on time for the funeral because she needed me to be there to give her strength.

At exactly 9:00 I walked into the conference room. There were a lot of older men wandering around. Some were talking on cell phones others were drinking coffee. When I walked in they all got quiet. One of the men called the meeting to order. He asked if there was any new business, and immediately Alan Ellington, stepped up and proposed that we begin the search for a new COO. "With the untimely demise of our founder, we cannot afford to let operations cease or become static," he said. "We need strong experienced leadership at the helm."

The older man who had called the meeting to order reminded him that I had pretty much been in charge of the plant for over a year. He also told them that during that year we had modernized operations and become even more profitable. He also said that he was a personal friend of Sam's and was sure that Sam had intended to put me in charge anyway. He saw no need to fix something that wasn't broken. About half of the men there agreed with him about giving me a chance. Slightly more seemed to think that I was too young for the job. They decided to vote on it.

A small man wearing glasses and a cheap suit stood up and walked to the head of the table. He took the gavel from the chairman and banged it loudly.

"Gentlemen, excuse me," he said. "I need to stop you before you make an illegal action, or at least an un-necessary one. My name is Hiram Berkowitcz. Many of you know that I am the attorney for the late Samuel Stevenson and his wife. In keeping with Sam's wishes the reading of his will, is to occur this evening after his funeral. To keep us all from having to do this meeting twice, I feel that I must reveal several important facts before you initiate a worthless vote."

"Mr. Stevenson amended his will last year. It is already filed and witnessed by a friend of his who is a municipal court judge. In his will he left instructions for how to distribute his stock. If you remember Mr. Stevenson wanted his wife and daughter to be taken care of for life. He left his wife twenty percent of the company's stock. He left his daughter another 17 percent of the company's stock. His original intention was to sell the remaining 17 percent publicly. He changed his mind last year and gave the remaining 17 percent of the stock to Preston Collins." I was floored. I couldn't believe that Sam had given me a piece of the company.

"Until the reading of the will this evening, Mrs. Stevenson will control all of Mr. Stevenson's stock. She votes to allow Mr. Collins to operate the company as he sees fit. Furthermore it is her wish that Mr. Collins will vote for her portion of the stock at future board meetings for the foreseeable future. Mr. Collins is also in the process of marrying Mr. Stevenson's daughter, which according to Mr. Stevenson's will gives him voting control over her stock as well. Are there any questions?" The room was as silent as a tomb.

"You guys can still vote if you want to," he said. "It just won't matter. All righty then, have a nice day." He packed his briefcase and left the room leaving me staring at a lot of old men. Some of them looked on approvingly. Others looked as if they wanted to kill me.

Sam's funeral was supposed to be a very stately event. The service was performed at a very large church that he'd made several very large donations to over the years yet had never attended. We drove to the cemetery for the burial in a fleet of silver Lincoln MKZs. Everything was very classy and understated, with the exception of Charlotte's crying and attempting to throw her self into the open grave when the casket was lowered into it. She nearly had to be sedated. Annalise and I, were there to support Amanda, who despite her pain conducted herself as usual with class and dignity.

In the days that followed, I got all kinds of offers from board members who wanted to be my mentor, or advisor. They were especially helpful when it came to questions about raises or perks for board members. I talked everything over with Amanda, and she agreed that we should stay with Sam's original guidelines. One third of all profits got reinvested in the company to keep our equipment on the cutting edge. One third was saved for future downturns or unforeseen problems and the remaining third went to dividends and profit sharing bonuses for the employees.

My wedding was a huge event. We had to limit the guest list for the ceremony and allow the rest to come to the reception. After a two week cruise through several Polynesian Islands, Charlotte and I came home to settle into Domestic bliss.

Neither, Amanda or Charlotte seemed to care about the day to day operation of the company. I did keep Amanda updated of course, but Charlotte just didn't want to know. "You can handle it, honey," she always said. After our honeymoon Charlotte basically quit coming to work. She preferred to spend her time shopping, lounging and other important things. I was not complaining though because she often met me at the door, stark naked and ready for sex. More than once I'd come home exhausted to have her fire me up with one of her sloppy blow jobs. Just the sound she made slurping on my dick like it was a Popsicle, gave me more than enough energy for a few hours of non stop sex.

She was very inventive too. Like her fruit salad idea. She called me at work one day and told me that she was worried about my diet. She wanted me to eat more fruit, so we were having fruit salad for desert. When I got into the house she called me from upstairs. "I want you to eat this whole fucking salad she screamed. When I got to our room I noticed that Charlotte was naked and had fruit covering her body except for her head arms and legs. "Start from my neck and eat your way to the cherry" she said. I looked around and didn't see a cherry but I went for it. The cantaloupes covering her breasts were great. The line of grapes and watermelon chunks on her torso were delicious. The slices of strawberry she'd carefully placed over her bald pussy were delectable. "Charlotte, where's the cherry?" I asked.

"Inside me," she laughed.

"That was gone, long before we met, Charlotte," I deadpanned.

"I got another one," she replied stretching her inner labia apart. "You have to get this one out using only your tongue."

I gave it my best effort, but I came up short. Other parts of me were coming up long and hard. Finally Charlotte took mercy on me and spread her legs and pumped her hips. The cherry flew out of her and I caught it.

"It feels kind of empty in there now," she said sadly. "Do you have anything you can fill it up with?"

Amanda did ask me to do one thing with the business, early in my marriage to Charlotte. She wanted me to interview Annalise for a job. I did, and we found a position for her. We scheduled her hours so her time in Dialysis wouldn't be a factor and neither would the hours she'd need to recover from the exhausting treatments.

I saw Anna often at work, and she was still the bright and cheerful person I'd come to know at the hospital. After a while she ended up moving into my outer office with Myrna and the two of them got along well. Charlotte never realized that Anna was working with us for a long time. I'm not even sure that she was aware that I knew Anna, since she always referred to her as my Mom's girlfriend.

Nothing lasts forever though and my life had to come back to Earth sometime. After a while Charlotte started to come home later than I did. Then it got worse and she started coming home with liquor on her breath. When I asked her about it, we had our first big argument. She stormed out of the house and didn't come home until early the next morning. She crawled into bed and tried to cuddle up with me. I rolled away from her and went into another bedroom. She finished up her night crying and sobbing.

When I woke up and got ready for work the next morning, she was very apologetic, and wanted to make up. "Charlotte next time you go out and stay out all night, don't bother coming home," I told her. Then I left.

I had lunch with Amanda that morning. I made it a point to have lunch with her at least twice a week and enjoyed it immensely. This time there was something going on, I saw it as soon as she sat down. She looked at me and said, "I take it that you know?"

"I'm surprised that you know," I said. "Don't worry it's just a silly argument, it's not that serious."

"Press, what do you think we're talking about?" she asked.

"Charlotte and I had a tiff yesterday and she went out and got drunk and didn't come home until almost three in the morning," I said.

"Preston, Charlotte spent all of the income from her stock for the entire fiscal year and is trying to borrow more money against the stock. If the silly bitch blows through the loan money and can't make the payments she could possibly lose her stock. That would open up the possibility that someone else might be able to purchase her stock and we could lose control of the company in a hostile takeover," said Amanda.

"Amanda, that's not possible," I said. "I pay our mortgage and most of the bills. I pretty much just use my salary, I've never had to touch my dividend income, so why would she need to blow through hers."

"We need to talk to her," said Amanda. "The thing I'm the most curious about though is what the hell she could spend so much money on and have nothing to show for it."

"I'll ask her," I said quietly.

Things between Charlotte and me went further downhill. It got to the point where she was always ready to start an argument.

"You don't love me anymore," she screamed. It was only 4 in the afternoon and she was already drunk. I knew that I needed to get her some help. I decided to bring the subject up to Amanda at our lunch the next day. That lunch was the beginning of the end. Amanda again trumped my news with information of her own.

"Preston, you owe me 150,000 dollars," said Amanda sitting down.

"Okay, I'll write you a check," I said smiling.

"Aren't you going to ask me what it's for?" she asked.

"I just figured you were charging me for having lunch with me," I said. "It's definitely worth it."

Amanda just smiled back at me for a second and then shook her head. "Your silly wife sold some of her stock yesterday, and I bought it back in your name," said Amanda. "The other news I have isn't as good, and is going to hurt you badly."

She placed a large envelope on the table in front of me. "Here's where her money is going."

I looked inside the envelope and a report and several pictures fell out. "I didn't do this," said Amanda. "Ever since she had that fling with the salesman, Sam had Charlotte under surveillance. I just never stopped it. Every week I got a report on her actions and whereabouts. When the money started disappearing, I started reading the reports."

It was the same guy, I'd busted in the mouth the last time, and his friends. Charlotte had apparently bought him and his friends, lots of expensive toys, including cars, boats and bikes. She was also paying for the condo he lived in. The report also included pictures of my wife having sex with him and others.

I packed everything back into the envelope, and looked at Amanda. "What are you going to do Preston?" she asked. "I see two avenues of interest for us here, the personal aspect, and the business side. On the business side, I love my daughter but I will not allow her to put the company my husband started, and poured his life's blood into, at risk for some kind of takeover. On the personal side I just don't see how she could do this to you. She obviously needs help."

"You take the business side, I'll handle the personal side," I said. She nodded and we left.

I took the report with me. I called Pete Standish, our head of security. I had him send me three of our biggest, ugliest security guards. I had them meet me at Charlotte's lover's condo. I sent Pete himself on a different errand. I knocked on the door loudly and waited for lover boy to open it. He opened the door a crack, but had the security chain in place. As the door opened, I kicked the door so hard that it snapped the cheap chain and the door slammed into his face opening a deep cut.

"You obviously didn't learn last time asshole," I screamed at him. He looked at me as if he didn't recognize me. He was drunk or high on something already.

"Why'd you hit me," he asked drunkenly. It took all of the venom out of me. This guy was pathetic. Pounding the piss out of him, not only wouldn't make me feel any better, but it would just be a waste of time. Another guy came from the back room. He took one look at me and tried to bail. He ran out the back door. I looked around at the squalor of the place. There were beer cans and liquor bottles all over the condo. The whole place smelled like piss and bad weed. There was a 60 inch plasma TV with a beer bottle sticking out of the screen. I turned when I heard a female voice screaming "Keep it quiet out there, or you're not getting any."

I opened the door and almost vomited as I watched the last of the three plunging his dick to the hilt, in Charlotte's ass. Charlotte just seemed to be letting him do it. She wasn't fucking him back. She was just not stopping him. Neither of them even reacted as I walked into the room. I don't think he cared, and she was so drunk she didn't recognize me. I pulled out my iPhone and recorded a few seconds of video.

"You can go next," Charlotte slurred. "But you got fuck my shitter, only my shitter. I promised my husband he's the only one who gets any pussy from me. I don't know why I keep my promise. He doesn't keep his. He promised to love, honor and obey me, and the only thing he cares about is that stupid fucking company. It killed my dad, and now it's taking my Press away from me. That fucking company and my stick up her ass Mom, are ruining my fucking life." I pulled the guy off of Charlotte and noticed the popping sound it made as his dick came free. I guess I should have felt something but I was just numb.

I had the security men take him out with the first guy, Ray. Pete showed up at about that time with Ray's wife. Charlotte had simply fallen asleep on the bed. I let Pete handle the wives and the explanations. He took them outside and closed the door behind them. All three guys realized once they sobered up that the gravy train was over. Besides their own divorces, I named them all in mine. I pulled up a chair and waited for Charlotte to awaken.

It took more than three hours for her to wake up. The daylight was fading and she sat up and started to try and cover her breasts. There was a line of dried cum leading from her ass to one knee. She looked around for her clothes and noticed me.

"Frank?" she asked.

"Whichever one of them that Frank was, he's sleeping it off somewhere," I said quietly. "All three of them will probably be able to come back here and visit you later. They're all going to be divorced very soon."

"Oh God, no, Preston, it's not what it looks like," she said. "I was drunk and they forced me. You have to believe me. They had some pictures and they said they were going to show them to you if I didn't. They said you'd never forgive me again."

"Charlotte save it," I said. "I was here long enough to hear you screaming that whoever was making all of that noise wasn't going to get any. I was also here long enough to see you letting one of them fuck you in the ass. You didn't even care when I came into the room. You just thought I was another guy, it didn't even matter who. You just told me I could go next, and that I couldn't fuck your pussy, only your ass."

Charlotte started crying then.

"Charlotte, you can let them have all of the pussy they want from now on. I don't care anymore." I told her.

"Press, I'll go straight home and wash all this off of me. I'll get so clean that you won't even know that I was ever here. From now on I'll be a prisoner. I won't ever leave the house. You can post a guard outside our house, to make sure." She whined. "I love you Press. I was just angry. Please just give me one more chance, for my father's sake. You know he wanted us to be together."

"Charlotte don't come back to the house, this is your home now. I'd suggest that you get someone to clean it up though."

Then I motioned for the men from the rehab clinic that I had signed Charlotte into came in and took her.

The next morning when I went in to work, I was depressed. I checked the floor to make sure everything was running as it should be, then I went into the office. Myra and Annalise were talking very animatedly about something, when I walked in. They both smiled at me when I looked at them.

"What's wrong?" Myra asked her soft, yet insistent, tone showed her concern. "What did that bitch do to you now?"

"Myra Charlotte doesn't cause all of the problems in my life," I told her.

"Press, whenever you're this down, it usually involves her," she said sadly. "But you're right. Perhaps I spoke too soon. I was just angry because you're like family to me and I don't want to see you hurt. So what's wrong?" I noticed that Annalise was definitely paying attention as well.

"Well you may as well know," I said. "It's probably going to be public knowledge soon anyway."

"What's going on, Preston?" asked Annalise.

"Charlotte has been screwing around on me again," I said. "She got mixed up with those same guys I caught her with before we got engaged. They're all older than us and have wives and kids. She's so messed up on alcohol and drugs that she blew through all of her money and was beginning to sell off her stock to pay her debts. She's apparently been fucking all three of them and probably more guys as well. For now we've got her in a rehab program. I won't know the full extent of what she's done until she sobers up."

"My God," said Annalise. "Is Amanda Okay? This must be devastating for her, as well as for you. You have to do whatever you can to get Charlotte well."

"Fuck her!" snapped Myra. "Press, I've hated that bitch since Jump Street. From the first time she walked into this office, and didn't know how to use the intercom, she's been nothing but trouble. This is the first time I've let you know what I've felt about her because I know that you love that silly cow, but she isn't any good for you."

"Do you remember when you caught her in that bar with those guys? After a few days you took her back, and I thought that you were nuts. Once a cheater always a cheater, if you take them back, they always cheat again. The only difference is that they learn how to cover it up better. The first time she was so brazen about it that she was doing it in public, this time she covered it up so it took you longer to find out. If you take her back again, she'll cheat again. It's time for you to cut your losses and kick that bitch to the curb. There are plenty of available young women out there who are better for you."

"Press, remember her first tirade here in the office. I was giving you a shoulder massage and she went postal. You explained to her that I was married and had kids. Do you remember what she said? She said something like "So what?" Obviously no form of commitment means anything to her, so she assumed that my marriage means nothing to me. Your marriage probably doesn't mean anything to her. You need someone better. Forget about that woman and get over her before it's too late and you get hurt worse." Myra was so upset that she just stormed into my office and closed the door.

"Good Morning Anna," I said cheerfully to Annalise. "What were you two so happy about, before I wrecked things?"

"Preston, you didn't wreck anything," she smiled. Anna was the only person I could think of who didn't call me Press. Her voice was always so cheerful, and she always had that little smile. She was also always concerned with how everyone else was feeling even though I could tell sometimes that her kidneys gave her a lot of pain and discomfort. I loved the way she said my name. It was so clipped and perfect sounding. Press ... Ton, almost as if it was two words.

"Myra and I had finally figured out how things need to work around here. She's going to handle all of the office and business side of things for you. I'm going to handle all of the technical and manufacturing side of things. That way we'll be more efficient and not step on each other's toes." she said.

"So I'm going to be following you around more now," she said happily.

"Anna you don't have to worry about Amanda," I said. "She was the one who gave me the heads up about Charlotte. Although I don't think she knows the extent of it. I'm having lunch with her today, if you'd like to come."

"I would love to," she said.

I called Amanda, and told her that Anna would be going to lunch with us. I told her my end of how things had gone the previous day with Charlotte. She laughed, which I thought was odd.

"What's funny Amanda?" I asked her.

"Press this makes things easier for us," she said. "Yesterday I found out that my idiot daughter has made a deal to sell off some more of her stock. If you've put her into rehab that gives you, as her husband, her power of attorney while she's committed, so you can block the sale. I don't want to get into a bidding war for control of the company, because Charlotte can't get her head out of her ass. I've also been able to determine that someone on the board had been trying to buy Charlotte's shares. The stock I bought in your name the other day was supposed to go to him. I don't know who it is, but I' trying to find out." She seemed relieved that Charlotte was in rehab.

"Preston, how are you feeling today?" she asked. "Finding out what she's been doing and actually seeing what you saw must be devastating for you. I hope you're okay."

"I've been through this before with her, if you remember," I said. "It still hurts like hell but this time, it's over. I'm looking for a divorce lawyer as we speak."

"Preston," said Amanda slowly and quietly. "I know that you're hurt. But you can't do that. I know that you just want to be done with her and I can't blame you for it, but you just can't do that right now."

"Amanda, I know you're her mother and you want me to forgive her, but she tore my heart out, twice. I can't let her do that to me a third time." Tough guy or not I was almost in tears.

"Preston, I'll have this figured out before I see you at lunch. But you can't divorce her yet. This isn't me siding with Charlotte because I'm her mother. This is about me siding with my Husband's company. If you remember the terms of the will, you have voting control over Charlotte's stock, but only for as long as you're married to her. If you divorce her, as fragile as her mental state and finances are, we could lose control of the company. Even with the stock we recently bought from Charlotte you and I together, do not have a majority of the stock. We need to work out a way to either buy her out entirely, or gain at least permanent control over her stock."

"God I wish my husband hadn't loved his daughter so much," she said. "Preston I'll see you and Anna at lunch."

The rest of the morning my head spun. I had to keep forcing myself to answer Anna's questions about the machines and the types of reports I needed to assure the smooth flow of information across our operations. On the other hand I constantly found myself wondering where I'd gone wrong. Why wasn't I enough for Charlotte? We'd been married for less than a year and she had already cheated on me. The sight of that guy fucking Charlotte's ass was permanently etched on the inside of my retinas. I could still see it, and still hear that obscene popping sound it made when he disconnected from her. The worst part was seeing my beautiful wife, with all of that red hair just bent over and slurring to me that I could fuck her ass next. She didn't even realize who I was, so basically anyone could have just come in and fucked her and she wouldn't have cared. As long as they stayed away from her pussy, anyone could fuck her. Charlotte could easily have given me a disease. I needed to get away from her for my own sanity.

I was roused from my thoughts again. This time it wasn't Anna, it was my iPhone. I had a call from the clinic that Charlotte was checked into.

"Mr. Collins, I'm Dr. Thomas from the clinic where your wife is being treated for her alcohol and drug problems. She awoke this morning and is fairly lucid. She would like to speak to you. Is it possible for you to come and visit her today?" he said.

The last thing I wanted to do was to look at Charlotte today. "Dr. Thomas, I was told that I wouldn't be able to speak to Charlotte while she was being treated," I told him. "It was something about how the person with the addiction needed to develop the ability to stand on their own two feet, and deal with their issues during the first part of the treatment. After making it through that stage they would then regain contact with their loved ones and try to deal with their family and personal issues that either caused or resulted from their addictions."

"That is the way we normally do things," he said. "But she was only brought in yesterday, so we didn't think that speaking to you before she began treatment would hurt anything. In fact it might help. Let me level with you. Your wife has a very strong personality. She is adamant about speaking to you before she will do anything. She believes that it is your intention to divorce her. I believe that if she has no reassurances from you that she has at least a chance of repairing your marriage, that the treatment will be unsuccessful, and she'll leave. You are aware that, now that she's conscious, she has the right to sign herself out if she so desires?"

"Doctor, tell Charlotte that I'll be over to see her, right after lunch," I said. Then I hung up.

The lunch with Amanda and Annalise, was wonderful. Amanda and I refrained from discussing the company and kept the conversation light and fun. The only time any hint of sadness intruded was when we talked about Sam. I found myself looking at Anna in a different light. She really was a very special woman. I wish that I had met her before I met Charlotte. My life could have been very different.

After lunch, I drove Anna back to the plant. Then I went over to the clinic for my meeting with Charlotte.

Charlotte looked worse than I'd ever seen her. Her beautiful red hair was tangled and matted. Her skin appeared sallow and she had large blotches all over her face. She also had not just bags, but suitcases under her eyes. Her eyes themselves, those fiery green embers that once burned in her skull, showing her passion and emotion, were dull lifeless gems.

"Press, this is all some kind of terrible nightmare. Why did it take you so long to come for me? What is going on? How did I get here?" she starting talking to me in rapid fire sentences that all ran together, as soon as she saw me. She reached out to hug me but I moved away from her.

"Press what's wrong? I don't know what they've told you, but it isn't true. I love you, and you love me. That's all that matters. Whatever else is going on we'll work our way through it together, no matter what." she said.

"Charlotte, this isn't about what someone said," I told her. "It's about what I saw with my own eyes. Charlotte, for now you need to concentrate on getting well. You need to get all of the drugs and alcohol out of your system. We need to take care of all or your problems first. Then we can take a look at whether or not we can save our marriage."

Charlotte went from frantic and pleading to icily cold then. The personality change was so rapid it was eerie. "Alan was right," she said coldly. "They're all setting this up to take you away from me. That fucking company, my stupid friends, and even my own God damned mother. They're all trying to break us up. Well I won't let them. I'll take them all down so we can be together again."

I was wondering who the hell Alan was, and what she was muttering about.

"Press, no matter what happens. Remember that I'm doing it all so we can be together. I'll never stop loving you, and I won't let you stop loving me either. So tell my mother that I'll be coming for her." she hissed.

I started looking around to see if any of the doctors were watching us, and hearing her rant.

"Alan brought me pictures," she said. There was an evil glint in her eyes and the fire in them was back. "I know that my mother is trying to push one of her little friends on you. I'm not stupid, I know all about your little lunch today."

Charlotte had checked out of reality, but she did have a few facts straight. I wonder how she got the information about my lunch with her mom and Anna so quickly.

For the next few minutes Charlotte ranted about killing anyone and everyone who stood in our way. She also talked about us getting back together, and how we were fated to be together and nothing could stop it. She talked about the company as if it was a living entity that had set out to keep us apart. The company in Charlotte's opinion, was in love with me and trying to suck me in and take me away from her, just as it had her father. I felt like I was trapped in an episode of Pinky and the Brain.

After I got done talking to Charlotte, one of the doctors pulled me over. I was afraid to talk to him until he told me that he had heard a lot of the conversation. He asked me if I was ready to sign Charlotte into the facility, and I agreed. He also told me about Alan Ellington's visit.

I remembered Ellington then. He was the man who'd tried to put someone else in charge of the company at the board meeting.

Later, I called Amanda and asked her if I could stop over for dinner. She told me she'd love to have me come over, but Anna was there, so there'd be three of us. At dinner I told her about my visit with Charlotte and her ranting. I also told her about Ellington and his visit to Charlotte. She said she'd look into it. He might've been somewhere in the background pulling the strings all along.

Over the next few weeks, things moved along. Anna and I got closer. It wasn't anything planned or orchestrated we just seemed to be drawn together. I didn't think that Amanda had noticed until she brought it up one day in that non-subtle way of hers.

"Annalise, wishes that you hadn't married Charlotte," she said. "She really likes you, maybe even more than that. But we both know that she's too honorable to even tell you while you're married to Charlotte. She's also afraid to start anything with you anyway since she may not live for very much longer."

"What do you mean?" I asked. Amanda wasn't making sense.

"Press, she tries very hard not to show it, but she's in a state of increasing discomfort from her kidneys. Her doctors are telling her that her kidneys may fail soon. She is of course on the transplant list. But so are thousands of others."

I felt like someone had hit me in the head with a hammer. Anna was always smiling and so concerned with making everyone else feel good, that I'd kind of put her situation out of my mind. The days when she wasn't at work, because she had to go to dialysis were simply filed away as if she was a college student who worked part time to allow for their class schedule.

"Press, all I'm saying is that she likes you; that's all you should think about. This is a very unusual situation so morally or ethically, the normal rules just don't seem to apply. If you like her as well, don't waste any time, because you may regret it later. I don't want you to sit here when you're older and think, "I wish I had done this, or I should have done that." After losing Sam so quickly, I realize that life is just too short for regrets."

I had to wrap my head around this as well. Was Amanda actually giving me permission to start a relationship with another woman while I was still married to her daughter? Charlotte had cheated on me, and she had done so more than once. But that was still no reason for me to betray my vows to her. That would make me as bad as she was. I didn't think that Amanda was the devious type, but could this be part of some plan of hers.

Charlotte cheated on me. If I cheat on her with Annalise, since we're both guilty, maybe, we could get back together later. Could that be Amanda's thinking?

"Press, as we've been talking, I've thought about our Ellington problem and I don't know why he'd visit Charlotte. I also don't know where they'd have met or the nature of their relationship, but I don't like it," she said.

"I want you to call the clinic and have him barred from visiting her. And tomorrow there's another meeting of the board. I'll pick you up from the plant at 12:30. I want you at the meeting with me. I think we'll have to take care of Mr. Ellington. This makes twice he's inserted himself into a situation. To keep him from becoming a problem down the line, we need to address him now." She smiled at me and patted my hand.

I started to realize that Amanda was at least as smart as Sam had been. She was far more aggressive when it came to dealing with business than he ever was. Sam was kind of like me, he'd always been content to just run the machines, and deal with the customers.

The next day I found myself feeling edgy, and looking at the clock all morning. By 8:00 a.m. I had the floor running smoothly, no problems, no issues. I told Myra that I had an errand to run, and I left. I drove to the hospital and got directions to the dialysis center. Once I got there, I asked the nurse on duty where I'd find Annalise.

Anna was lying on a bed, reading a magazine. Her face did show signs of some discomfort. There was a nurse walking around visiting all of the patients. Anna couldn't see me because of the partitions that separated each bed into small cubicle like sections.

I waited for her to turn her head, and she didn't but after a few moments she closed her eyes and laid her head back. I crept over and held her hand as I sat down next to her.

It was almost instantaneous. Her eyes opened and her face lit up.

"Preston, what are you doing here?" she asked smiling.

"I just thought that one of my favorite people should have some company," I said. That caused an even bigger smile. "Actually, I'm here for selfish reasons though. When I got to work this morning, I realized that I missed you."

She didn't say anything she just stared at me, smiling. I filled her in on everything that she missed out on at work that morning, and even the things that had happened when I visited Charlotte the night before. She was shocked by Charlotte's behavior and personality swings. It made me wonder why Amanda hadn't been.

The next thing I knew a nurse had come over and Anna was done with her treatment. She'd be weak for a while, it was one of the results of the treatment, but she'd grown used to it.

I asked her if she wanted me to follow her home, just in case something happened. She just gave me the Anna smile, and told me she never drove to her treatments, she always took a taxi. So I drove her home. I apologized for my car's rough ride, and cramped quarters, but she just smiled at me and told me, it was the most comfortable ride she'd ever had. I told her that I knew she was lying. She said it was the company, not the quiet or the comfort, that made the ride special.

I was still thinking about that when I stepped into the conference room for the board meeting. I'd called Amanda, and told her that I'd be a few minutes late, and not to pick me up.

I arrived just at the conclusion of the old business discussion. A few moments later they started asking about new business. I gave my report on what we'd done in the past few months, and new business that was coming in. My report was taken very positively by the board and I was relieved. I looked over to where Ellington was sitting. Truthfully, I was expecting him to have something to say, but he didn't.

We were just about to adjourn the meeting, when Amanda began speaking. She reminded all of the board members that they were elected to their positions, and those positions were considered an honor, by the company and all of its stock holders. With that honor went the responsibility to put the good of the company and its employees and stock holders at a high priority. There were several nods of agreement with what she said.

Then she stood up and looked at me. She said that as much as she loved me, and thought that I was the best possible candidate to run the plant, I shouldn't be at a board meeting. Only members of the board of directors should be here. I couldn't believe that Amanda would do something like that to me. She had asked me to come to the meeting. I wondered if she was angry at me because I'd come late. But she was smiling at me like she always did. Had she actually said that she loved me?

Amanda called for an immediate vote to re-instate the old policy barring non-members from attending board meetings except in very rare situations. Ellington, who obviously still hated me for his embarrassment at the last meeting, quickly stood up and seconded it.

Amanda voted all of her stock in favor of it. Ellington who had very little stock but held a few proxies also voted for it. So did very many of the board members there. I controlled my 19 percent of the company's stock and Charlotte's 15 percent. Even with thirty four percent of the stock, plus a few others who voted no. It wouldn't have mattered, I'd have lost if I voted no. So since I didn't want to go to the fucking meetings anyway, I voted with Amanda. She smiled at me again.

Suddenly it dawned on me, that she was planning something. Unconsciously, I guess I'd done the right thing to help her plan.

Amanda then called for another vote, to remove Ellington from the board. He looked shocked.

"What reason do you have, to question my seat on this board," he sputtered. He looked around to see how much support he had, but everyone in the room was as shocked as he was.

"I don't need a reason," hissed Amanda. "I just want a vote."

"But I need time to consider this, or prepare a defense, or a counter vote," he said.

"Where in the company's bylaws does it say that?" Amanda asked.

Ellington couldn't think of a response.

"Gentlemen," began Amanda. "Mr. Ellington has been involved in some shady business. He's been quietly trying to buy up my daughter's shares in the company while she's mentally incapable of making good decisions. I don't think a person like that should be on our board. So basically, here's how this sits. I control 20percent of the company's voting stock. I vote for his removal. My son in law, controls another 19 percent. That makes 39 percent. But oh, wait. He also controls my daughters 15 percent while he's married to her. That adds up to 54 percent of the voting stock. So realistically it doesn't matter what anyone else votes does it?"

Ellington started protesting and sputtering.

"Goodbye Mr. Ellington," she said. "Now we need someone to fill Mr. Ellington's seat. One of our problems on the board is that we're all old tired business men. We're out of touch with what the company does on a daily basis and the new technologies that we're employing. We need some fresh blood on the board. We need someone with their boots on the ground, who can give us more up to date information than the stock reports and company financial reports do."

Several voices agreed with her.

"I nominate Preston Collins, to a seat on this board," she said. Ellington who was still packing up his belongings looked as if he was going to have a stroke. Then, with as much dignity as he could muster, Ellington left the room.

The vote giving me a seat on the board was nearly unanimous.

Over the next few weeks, activity at the plant was business as usual. Amanda and I spoke everyday and had lunch several times a week. I spoke to Charlotte over the phone daily, and visited her every other day. She was very positive, and always telling me what we'd do when she got done with her rehab. I didn't want to give her a false sense of hope, so I was very neutral. I often told her that we had a great deal of issues to deal with if we were ever going to even remain friends, let alone stay married. It was as if she had attributed her cheating to the alcohol and drugs and wanted to just sweep it under the rug. I didn't push the issue, because I had to let Amanda work.

Amanda was doing everything she could to get Charlotte to either cede total voting control of her stock to either of us, or sell it outright. Her latest ploy had been to remind Charlotte that when she was done with rehab, she had literally no place to go and no income for the rest of the fiscal year coming from her stock. Unless Charlotte wanted to e homeless or have to get a job she should sell the stock to Amanda or to me. Charlotte on the other hand would remind Amanda that we were still married and that she was sure that I'd forgive her and allow her to come home, so income was a moot point.

The most important thing going on though was that Annalise and I were falling in love. We were nearly always together now. I know that it made me a bad person, but I didn't feel any sense of guilt or anguish about betraying my marriage vows at all. I guess in my mind Charlotte cheating on me, not once, but who knows how many times during our relationship, was what ended our marriage. I had intended to file for divorce, but Amanda made me hold off on that until we somehow got control of Charlotte's stock. I was married more as a convenience for business reasons than any emotional ones.

The only thing I did regret was the fact that Anna and I were spending so much time together that it forced me to see how badly her kidneys were doing. If I had paid a little more attention to what was going on around me things might have ended up differently.

One evening Amanda called me, almost in tears. She'd had a big argument with Charlotte, who'd called her evil and swore that she would kill her. She said that Amanda was a tool of the company, and was just trying to keep Charlotte and me apart. She also said that Amanda had plotted with Annalise to break up our marriage and she was going to take care of both of them.

I told Amanda that I'd come right over and stay with her for a while so she could calm down. She told me to call Charlotte and try to calm her down instead.

I called the clinic and was told that Charlotte had checked herself out of the clinic. Being an adult and supposedly mentally capable meant they couldn't hold her against her will. I suddenly felt alarm bells going off in my head.

That night I stayed over with Anna because I didn't like her coloring and she was in more pain than normal. During the night I ended up taking her to the hospital. The next morning I called the plant and told Myra that I wouldn't be in and neither would Anna. Myra told me that Charlotte had been there, and she looked even crazier than normal.

I called Amanda and warned her that Charlotte was out, but that I was at the hospital with Anna. Amanda drove right over. We both stayed with Anna during the day. Amanda left in the early evening and I had a bad feeling about it. I also had the feeling that we were being watched, but I never saw anyone or noticed that anything was out of place.

A little bit after Amanda left, I must have dozed off. I don't remember going to sleep, but I do remember waking up. Charlotte was in the room staring at me as I held a sleeping Anna's hand.

"I can't believe you're doing this to me," hissed Charlotte. "After all I went through to keep us together. I know this isn't your fault. It's your blind loyalty to that fucking company and my mother. She forced this little whore on you, as my replacement, didn't she? It's a good thing she's dying, or I'd have had to kill her too. According to some of the nurses she won't last much longer. She's got a few days maybe a month at best. Then you'll have to come back to me." Charlotte didn't seem like herself. I had trouble determining whether she was talking to me, or herself.

"I'm not like you Press," she said. "I know how to forgive. I love you, so I'm going to forgive you, for cheating on me with your sick little whore. But I can't forgive my mother for what she's done."

"Charlotte, Amanda hasn't done anything to you. You should go back to the clinic," I said.

"Preston, how did you find out where I was, and what I was doing? I was very careful. I had people watching you to make sure I was always home before you got there," she said. I turned on the voice recorder on my iPhone so I'd have a record of her ranting.

"Press, I love you more than anything else in the world and I never want to lose you. But our life is boring as hell. All you do is work. I needed a diversion, so I took great pains to make sure you never found out. Unfortunately while I had people watching you, my fucking mother, had people watching me. She was the one who told you about me, her own God damned daughter. She tried to cause the end of my marriage, so she could tie you even tighter to her stupid little company. Then she tried to replace me with that little whore. No one does that to me and gets away with it. In order for me to save our marriage, they're both going to have to die, Preston. Nature will take its course with that one," she said pointing at Anna. "I'll have to handle my mother."

She turned and quickly left the room. I was so shocked that I didn't even follow her. I called Amanda back and played the recording for her over the phone. She had me email it to her. Amanda called the police and played the file for them. It was enough to start the police looking for Charlotte so she could be sent back to the clinic. It was also enough evidence of her mental incapacity to involuntarily commit her.

The next morning found me back at the hospital, with little or no change in Anna's condition. I had never been a religious person but I prayed for some miracle to either help Anna get better or find us a kidney that would be a good match for her. Both Amanda and I had undergone the procedures to find out whether or not we'd be viable candidates for a transplant for her. I was nowhere near close. Amanda was a close match but not quite close enough for them to risk the surgery.

I went down to the lounge for a cup of coffee and noticed that there was a flurry of activity going on in the hospital. I asked a nurse what was going on, and she told us there was a big auto accident right here in the neighborhood. A woman going the wrong way down a one way street had lost control of her car and plowed into a retaining wall that was part of the entrance ramp to the freeway. She was going so fast that her car was totaled and they had to use the Jaws of Life to cut her from the car. She was barely alive, and hanging on by a thread. They were doing all they could to locate the next of kin. Even as she spoke to me, my phone started ringing. I looked down at the display and it seemed to be coming from the hospital I was standing in.

"Hello," I said. I immediately thought it was Anna's nurse calling me back to her room. "Is this Mr. Preston Collins?"

"Yes it is," I said. I looked up and waved at Amanda as she came into the hospital and hurried through the door into the emergency room.

"Mr. Collins your wife has been in an auto accident and..." I ran into the emergency room after Amanda.

Amanda was crying as what appeared to be a doctor spoke to her. When I walked over to him and told him who I was he began again.

"We're doing what we can to make her comfortable, but it's really a miracle that she's lasted this long. She was pronounced dead, twice on her way to the hospital. You should go in and stay with her, I'm really sorry," he said. He really did look like he meant it. That is one of the reasons that I could never be a doctor. I don't think I could ever face someone's relatives, and tell them that their son or daughter was going to die and there was nothing I could do about it. The second reason was that I'm more of a machine guy than a people person.

Amanda and I stepped into the antiseptic looking room. Charlotte was on a table, with a nurse attending to her. I took her hand and she smiled. There was a huge bruise on her face where she'd hit the windshield. I didn't know why she hadn't been killed on contact. Her forward momentum was so rapid that she'd apparently still hit the windshield even with the airbag. I'd read several reports about people who were either too tall or too short for the bags to be effective. We later found out that Charlotte also wasn't wearing her seat belt so the airbag was less effective.

"Press," she said. Then she coughed up a bit of blood. "I knew you'd come." she looked next to me and then told the nurse. "Get that dried up bitch out of here, she's upsetting me."

The nurse got a funny look on her face and looked at Amanda. Amanda told Charlotte that she loved her, and just wanted to spend a few minutes with her. Charlotte stared coughing up more blood. "You're gonna get yours bitch, whether I make it out of here or not. Get out," she tried to yell, but it just came out no louder than a whisper. The nurse then asked Amanda to leave the room.

"Press, no matter how this turns out. No matter what I did, or couldn't do, always remember that I love you. Nothing will ever separate us for very long," she said. Her voice was barely above a whisper and she squeezed my hand with more strength than I thought possible. Her eyes closed and she smiled. Her chest stopped rising and falling and the sound of the machine recording her heartbeat turned from a steady beeping sound to one long beep. I closed my eyes and squeezed her hand one last time. Tears trickled from my eyes, and I had trouble breathing. I guess despite what had happened, I still loved her.

Suddenly, her eyes popped back open and had that fiery intensity they'd always had. She looked directly at me and said, "Don't cry for me Press, I'll Be back, soon. I swear it." Then she just stared ahead and was still.

The nurse and I looked at each other strangely. "I've never seen anything like that," said the nurse.

Both the nurse and I were suddenly pushed out of the way by people running into the room. The doctor and Amanda came after them and pulled me away into a waiting room. "Preston, sign this, now," said Amanda.

"What?" I exclaimed. "Amanda, I can't do this right now. Good or bad, I loved Charlotte with all of my heart. Can't we just sit for a while? My wife just died. Give me a break."

"Press, do you love Annalise?" she asked.

"Yes I do," I said tiredly. "But it's not the same." All of a sudden the weight of the world was on me.

"As terrible as today is, we don't have to lose both of them," said Amanda. "Preston, sign the paper."

I signed the papers and went back to Anna's room. I guess I was in a mild form of shock because I really didn't understand what I was signing. When I got back to Anna's room she was gone. The nurse there couldn't tell me where. I didn't know where to go or what to do, so I reverted to habit. Believe it or not, I went to work. I was a couple of hours late but it didn't matter since I was the boss and part owner. I checked the floor, and spoke to most of the operators and programmers. After a few hours, I guess word had spread, and people started coming over to give me their condolences about Charlotte. That was when the damn burst and I started crying. I went to my office and closed the door, and just cried my eyes out. Myra came in and held me.

"Press, I hated that woman," she said. "But I know how much you loved her, so I'm sorry."

That seemed to be the majority opinion. Most of the people who came to offer their condolences, or comfort me said nearly the same things. They either didn't know Charlotte, or knew her and didn't like her, but they wanted me to know how sorry they were for my loss.

Just when I started another round of tears, my iPhone rang.

"Preston, where the hell, are you?" snapped Amanda. "Preston, do I hear machines in the background? Are you at the plant? God damn it, you're just like him. Preston you need to come back to the hospital. So jump into your noisy little orange car and get over here now."

I was sure that I'd have to do something to help with the arrangements for Charlotte. I felt awful for running out on Amanda like that. As badly as I felt about Charlotte, it had to be worse for her mother. Amanda had needed me, and I let her down."

I walked into the visitor's lounge, pulled out my phone, and called Amanda. "Where are you?" I asked.

"I'm in Anna's room," she replied. "Come on up."

When I got to the room I started apologizing as soon as I saw Amanda. "I'm so sorry, Amanda. I didn't mean to let you down, or to leave you to do everything. I just couldn't stop crying, and I guess I went to where I felt safe."

"You have nothing to be sorry for Press," she said. "Anna should be awake soon, and I wanted you to be here. I'm afraid that I'm the one who should be sorry, because I haven't been very supporting of your feelings either. I haven't taken any time out yet to cry for my daughter, but I suppose that will hit me at some point."

We were interrupted by Anna's doctor who came to give us a report on her condition.

"She's doing great. The surgery went so smoothly it was as if everything was designed to fit. How do they say it about computers? Plug and play. She should be able to go home in about four days barring complications, and except for the anti-rejection drugs, she should be ready for a normal life."

My head was spinning. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. I looked at Amanda and she just nodded her head.

"Press, Anna is going to be fine. Her color is already much healthier and she hasn't even awakened yet. They did all of the testing and I was certain that since I was nearly a match for her that Charlotte would be too. But Charlotte was a nearly perfect match," said Amanda.

"I still don't understand," I said.

"Preston, Amanda needed a kidney. Charlotte died of a closed head injury. Her kidneys were fine. We transplanted one of Charlotte's healthy kidneys into Amanda. My daughter's death wasn't for nothing. Some good has come from all of this. We also donated the rest of her organs to others in need. That was why I had you sign those papers."

We went into Anna's room, and all of the machines monitoring her vitals were humming and beeping briskly. We sat down in the chairs near her bed, and spoke quietly about the arrangements we'd have to make for Charlotte. Amanda had checked Charlotte's email and accounts and had found out that Charlotte had been communicating, as we'd suspected with Ellington. She'd also had several very large cash expenditures over the last two days that we couldn't track and couldn't account for. But we'd deal with al of that later. As of that moment, Ellington had been neutralized. One of us would control Charlotte's stock so the company was secure. So despite the tragedy of Charlotte's death, things were looking up.

We both felt very sad about Charlotte's dying but it was also kind of a relief. It's the same feeling you get when you're boarding up your house before a hurricane. You know the storm is coming and you want to be prepared for it. You board up all of your windows and tighten up everything you can. You buy lots of water and survival necessities, and then the wind changes and there's no storm. That's the kind of relief we felt.

I felt Anna squeeze my hand and looked over at her as her eyes tried to open. First one eye and then the other slowly opened and she yawned and struggled to focus. Amanda got up and went out into the hall to get a nurse just in case.

Anna's eyes looked around the room and settled on me. She smiled a very big smile that just didn't seem right. Suddenly I was back on edge, but I didn't know why. Besides the overly big, overly bright smile, there was something wrong with her eyes. Her eyes were still brown, but the soft deep warm soulful brown, had very intense green flecks. How had I missed that? In all the time I'd spent looking into Anna's eyes how could I have missed those green flecks. I realized then that I hadn't, they hadn't been there before.

Then she spoke and I realized that I was in trouble. I had to be going crazy myself. This just couldn't be happening.

"Hi Press," she said. Anna had never called me Press. Not once. I missed the charming and very clipped, Press ... Ton, the way she usually said it. The quality of her voice was so different, so much sharper and much less compassionate than Anna's voice had ever been. "I told you I'd be back," she said sitting up to look at me. "Did you miss me?"

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