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"You know she's sleeping with Mr. Dean in Marketing. They go down to the Ellis Hotel every Tuesday. And when I say 'go down,' that is exactly what I mean."
"You are such a pig, Herman."
"Why thank you, Penny. Did you know that pigs were considered sacred animals of the goddess thousands of years ago?"
"That has nothing to do with why I'm calling you a pig. How can you gossip about Melanie Jenkins like that? She's married to a preacher."
"Preachers and their wives are human, too, my dear."
"You're not kidding, are you?" Penny asked with a gasp. She couldn't believe what her coworker had just told her about their supervisor. "I mean ... she looks too ... I don't know ... uptight ... to be having an affair with Patrick Dean of all people. He's been through more wives and girlfriends than Henry VIII. How do you know this?"
"Get a few beers in him, and Patrick Dean likes to brag about his sex life." Herman popped a couple of cashews into his mouth. "You don't think uptight people have desires and fantasies?"
Penny saw a gleam in his eye and knew immediately he was baiting her. She smiled.
"I think everyone has desires and fantasies, Herman. Some people more so than others. You know that saying, 'It's the quiet ones you have to watch out for.'"
"Yes, but I've always liked 'Still waters run deep.'" His deep chuckle indicated he was thinking of some private joke.
Maybe he was. Herman always gave the impression that everyone around him was a star in his personal comedy show where he considered the drama in their lives as spurious, hilarious, trivial pursuits. She'd never seen him upset over anything. He just came in, did his work, cracked a fewoffbeat jokes that only she ever got, gossiped with her whenever he could, and went home. Wherever that was. Penny had no idea where in Atlanta he lived. No one seemed to know much about him, or what he did outside of work. She'd asked him once, and he'd given her a mysterious, dark smile, but no answer.
She laughed. "Yeah. I've always liked that one, too."
Herman tore a slice of orange loose and offered it to her. A sharp, citrus smell rose around them and juice ran down his fingers.
Penny stared at the trickle, holding back her desire to lick his fingers clean before sucking each one deep into her mouth. It was her secret that she found Herman very, very sexy. Most of the other women, and men come to think of it, in the office shied away from him.
She glanced up sharply from her wayward thoughts, and found Herman studying her with narrowed eyes.
"Thank you." She accepted the orange slice, popping it into her mouth to ease the odd little silence that had risen between them, not to mention the ache in her clit.
She liked Herman. A lot. But, she had a policy of not getting involved with anyone she worked with, especially when they had black-as-night hair and the deepest brown eyes she'd ever seen. Looking into those eyes was like wading into a dark pool and willingly drowning yourself. She'd drowned too many times with coworkers to allow that to happen again. Office relationships and sex didn't work for her. She hadn't met anyone yet who wanted to stick around long enough to satisfy the needs that she had. The one person she'd thought she could trust with her sexual appetites had betrayed her and gone off with the proverbial "younger woman."
"So--" He took a bite of orange and leaned closer, resting his chin in the palm of one hand. "What naughty fantasies are you harboring, Penelope?"
Penny felt the heat of a blush spread across her cheeks and glanced down at the pile of orange peel that had gathered on the table between them. She shrugged. "My dreams and fantasies died about six months ago, Herm. I don't have any left."
"Come on, girl, I know you have at least a couple. You're one of the 'quiet ones.'" His voice shifted from playful and teasing at the first of his statement to dark and sensual toward the end. "I bet there are all kinds of perverted desires swimming around behind that angelic face of yours."
Penny glanced up, catching a very primal expression on her friend's face. His eyes were intense and his features were more drawn, as if he struggled to control some emotion inside from escaping. She blinked and sat back, but when she opened her eyes again, all she saw was Herman's teasing smile, encouraging her to open up and tell him her deepest, darkest sins. She opened her mouth to do just that, to tell him about how there was a man in the office that she wanted very much, but was afraid he'd laugh at her for thinking she'd ever interest him sexually.
The bell on the microwave dinged, and with a quick shake of her head she caught herself with a very self-conscious sounding laugh. "Oh, my, my. You'd make a wonderful priest, Herman."
His head went back and he released a long, loud laugh into the confines of the small break room. When he'd finished he asked, "Why do you make that hilarious comparison?"
"Something about you invites a person to spill their guts."
"Hm. But, not take their clothes off, eh?" he asked with a wink.
Penny giggled and felt her blush deepen. This one was temptation personified. No sleeping with coworkers.
Aloud she said, "No. 'Fraid not." He didn't need to know she was lying. She'd have taken her clothes off for him ... if she didn't work with him.
Herman gave an exaggerated sigh, squeezed her hand, then sat back in his chair. "Ah, well. Can't win them all."
Penny watched him rock back onto the two hind legs, crossing his arms behind his head. His crisp, white dress shirt pulled tight across his chest, revealing the shadow of black hair on his chest through the material of the shirt. Normally, she didn't care for men with hairy chests, but on Herman the hair added to the already primal vibe she always picked up from him. He might wear suits and ties and Italian leather shoes, but the sophistication only added to that animal magnetism he carried around beneath designer clothes.
"Why do you hang around with me?" she asked, impulsively tackling the question she'd always wondered about since he'd begun inviting himself in sharing her lunches and breaks.
The rocking stopped. He cocked his head at the same time one side of his mouth quirked up to the opposite side. Now he looked like a playful boy--totally bad, but irresistible.
"I see great things in you, Penelope Odis. Like the hero, Odysseus, you are going to go far and accomplish things only a few of these imbeciles in this office can ever dream of. But--"
"You've been drinking, Herman." Penny shook her head and rose, cutting his silly gibberish short. He was always spouting nonsense about gods and goddesses and ancient Greek and Egyptian facts, as if he'd been there and knew them all personally.
Lightning swift, Herman's chair came down and he reached across the table and grabbed her wrists in both his hands, pulling her to him across the table. "--only if you stop denying yourself what you truly want and get past your fears of the unknown."
With their faces less than an inch apart, his gaze looked unfocused, but his voice sounded normal. Penny only knew that she couldn't move and she didn't dare breathe hard in case she sent him over the edge of whatever madness possessed him at the moment. His fingers bit into her wrists, but she didn't try to pull away. "I promise I don't have any fears, Herman," she whispered.
"You're going to meet a man, Penny." Now, his voice shifted between what sounded like a male and a female's voice.
Her heart pounding, Penny tried to laugh, but the sound was strangled. "Every girl's dream, right?"
"Is it?" Herman asked, sounding and looking himself again, but something was still different about his demeanor from usual. "Ever thought about trying the girls?"
"Lesbian? Well..." Penny swallowed the knot of nervous energy that rose in her throat. This close she could count Herman's eyelashes. They were so long and thick. A sin for a guy to have such gorgeous lashes, she thought, fighting for normalcy. "I've thought about it once or twice." She twisted her wrist, trying to pull away from his intense stare and painful grip.
"And?" Herman tugged her closer with the heat of his question fanning her already hot cheeks. The scent of his sticky fingers teased her nostrils and stung her bruised skin.
Enough was enough. Penny dropped her gaze to his grip with a raised eyebrow, but when he didn't appear to take her subtle hint to release her, she submitted to his questioning. "I've always wanted to do it with a girl, but I've never had the opportunity. Besides I wouldn't know what to do. Women intimidate me. Now let go, please."
He frowned, as if he was considering her response. "I guess sometimes it is hard to know where to look for the things you want to try, but have never done." He released her, sitting back into his chair. "Women are women. Just like you. All you have to do is do what you'd like done to yourself."
Watching him resume his consumption of the orange, Penny wondered if she'd just imagined the interlude of madness a few seconds before. Clearing her throat, she eased back into her own chair. "What was all that about meeting a man?"
He shrugged, as if he'd forgotten the tangent he'd gone off on earlier.
"Oh"--he wiped his fingers on his pants leg--"this gift certificate came in the mail the other day and I thought of you. I know how you're always collecting rare books on different subjects. Thought you'd like it. I won't use it." He pulled a folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket. "I've read most of the books there already." He offered it to her, saying, "This place is up around Dahlonega. Not in the town square area where all the other arts and crafts shops are located, but off the main track. I hear it's really cool with all kinds of incense, herbs, candles, and books."
Before she could respond, he threw the paper onto the table between them with a casual shrug that was so like the Herman she knew and desired.
Penny shook her head, surprised that he'd bothered to think of her at all. The question rose again why he hung around her, but she didn't repeat it. Instead she reached for the gift certificate that had streaks of juice along the edges. Her hand mere centimeters from the certificate, she heard Herman's voice shift into that dark and sensual tone he'd used earlier.
"Just beware the witch who dwelleth inside the castle. Whatever gifts are offered during your stay, accept."
A chill raced along her spine at his strange words. Glancing up, quickly, Penny asked, "What?"
"I'm just the messenger, sweets." Stuffing his mouth with the last two slices of orange, Herman smiled and winked, but offered nothing further. A second later he frowned and glanced at his watch, as if he'd drifted off to sleep and just awakened. "Damn, I'm late. I'll see you later."
Penny watched him hurry toward his office and shook her head. "That was too weird."
She glanced at the gift certificate in her hand. "But I'll take the gift that was offered."