Thursday, December 25, 2008

Friday Fiction for December 26th, 2008

There are two of my stories that I have not excerpted for Friday Fiction yet. “The Eridanus Dream” was the first novel-length manuscript I ever finished, back in 1987. I rewrote the story in 2004, both to correct errors and problems with the original draft, and to transfer the story into an electronic format.

The story takes place in a distant future when the corporations of Earth are exploring and developing other worlds. The Voidship Columbus has traveled nearly eleven light years to the Epsilon Eridanus system, releasing the Lander Pisces to descend on the fourth planet in the system. The Pisces crew finds the world is already inhabited by humanity, and through an odd phenomenon the Lander Technician, Sean Scott, is joined to Y’La, a priestess from a nearby village.

After walking for three days to cross a mountain pass, the crew arrives at the stream between Y’La’s village and the forest.

Crossing the Stream
From “The Eridanus Dream”
By Rick Higginson

Just over two hours later they came upon a stream where several men were hunched over washing clothes, gossiping and not noticing the approaching group until Y’La stepped into the gurgling water just upstream from them to wash her face.

Honored priestess,” one of the men said, lowering his eyes. “We were instructed to watch for you this morning.” He turned from his laundry and called for a child playing in the brush nearby. “Run quickly and tell the priestess Noma that her daughter has arrived with her guests.”

The young girl looked wide-eyed at the strangers for a moment before turning to sprint away from the stream with unbridled enthusiasm.

The women of the crew imitated Y’La’s action, washing their faces in the clear water and relishing the numbing cold after the morning’s exertion.

Welcome to our village, honored guest,” one of the men said to Lorraine.

“Uh, hi,” Lorraine said.

The men exchanged puzzled looks with each other. One of them whispered something, just loud enough that Lorraine could hear it, and watched for a reaction that never materialized. The one next to him turned questioning eyes towards Y’La. “Honored priestess, can she not hear us?

They cannot understand us, Berus. Their speech is different from ours in every way,” Y’La said. She stepped back on the bank of the stream and gestured for Sean to stand beside her, explaining to him mentally that custom dictated they wait there for her mother.


The plump man named Berus nudged the younger man next to him. “Look, Rej; that must be her intended.”

Rej studied the couple for a moment, and then without response returned his attention to his work.

He is so tall,” Berus continued. “I did not think She would match a woman with a taller man. He dresses strangely too, Rej.

Rej expressed annoyance. “Why must you taunt me, Berus? She had the dream and let me go. We all know it can happen, though I know you were disappointed at her dream; it certainly stopped your gossip about what she and I might have been doing.” He gathered his laundry in his arms and stood. “There will be another woman to take me from my mother’s house; perhaps even a B’sela dream for me.” Without waiting for rebuttal he carried his laundry to a nearby tree and began wrapping the clothing around a low branch to twist and wring it out.

Berus watched him go and grunted to himself before attacking a stubborn stain in his wife’s robe. From time to time he glanced up to watch the unusual couple.


A growing commotion sounded from the village. A tall, stocky woman in a more ornate version of the blue robe that Y’La wore approached with a regal air, and a small parade followed along behind her. She proceeded purposefully until she stood on the opposite side of the stream from where Y’La stood with Sean. The men along the stream all stood and lowered their eyes respectfully, each muttering the traditional greeting of “Honored priestess.” The woman lifted her face and regarded the couple with a knowing smile.

Honored priestess,” Y’La greeted, lowering her eyes momentarily.

Following her prompting, Sean likewise lowered his eyes and greeted, realizing as he did that he had committed a serious social blunder by not doing so even before Y’La had.

Honored priestess,” the woman replied to Y’La. “My beloved; my firstborn; have you brought your intended for my approval?”

Yes, mother. God has led me in B’sela to my intended, Sean Daniel of the family Scott,” she faltered for a moment, as if something would not fit properly. “From the village of Pisces,” she finally concluded.

Sean suppressed the urge to laugh at the thought that they’d brought the whole “village” along for the trip. One faux pas in the traditional proceedings was bad enough; injecting laughter might prove too much for even these unusual circumstances.

The woman turned her eyes to Sean. “I am the priestess Noma, daughter of the priestess V’Ne, of the family T’Cha, Priestess Elder of the village of T’Cha. Come in peace to our home, Sean Daniel of the family Scott.

I am grateful for your welcome, honored priestess,” Sean replied, taking his cue mentally from Y’La.

“What the blazes is going on?” Rory asked, not concealing his impatience.

“Shh!” Maggie said. “Whatever it is, it seems very structured in ritual and I don’t think our interruptions will be welcome at all, no matter who we are.”

“Whoever that woman is,” Lorraine added, “she looks like the wrong person to get on the bad side of.”

Noma gestured, and Y’La led Sean across the stream, away from the analyzing conversation behind them. The woman first touched two fingers to her daughter’s cheek and then swept her into a firm embrace. She then turned to Sean and looked him over. “A man from the stars? He looks much like any man to me. You are really from the stars, Sean Daniel?”

Well, actually from a world similar to your own, which orbits another star that we call Sol, honored priestess. I and my companions traveled here to see what we might find,” Sean answered.

You would not try and deceive an old priestess on such a thing, would you Sean Daniel?”

No, and even if I should think of deceiving you, I could not deceive your daughter on anything.”

Noma touched her middle and ring fingers to Y’La’s cheek with one hand, and the little and ring fingers to Sean’s cheek with the other. She looked affectionately at her daughter for a moment, and then let her fingers slip down to both of their necks. She held them there for a few silent minutes. The little finger lifted from his neck and the middle finger dropped. She smiled and commented, “No, you could not deceive Y’La, Sean Daniel.”

Please, honored priestess, just call me Sean. I was only called Sean Daniel by my own mother when I was in trouble.”

Noma laughed; the sound very similar to her daughter’s laughter. “Were you in trouble often, Sean?”

More often than my mother would have liked,” he said.

Laughing more freely, she pulled him into an embrace similar to what she had given her daughter earlier. She released him to Y’La’s side and gestured expansively. “Bring your guests and begin the B’sela feast! God has given my daughter a husband!”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Friday Fiction for December 19, 2008

This week’s Friday Fiction is a special Holiday story, expanded from a Faithwriters Weekly Challenge Entry for the topic, “Christmas Lights”. This story, like “Away From the Mistletoe”, also takes place during that first year Josh is with the Pod, and is hinted at in later Pod stories. I’ve wanted to write this one for a while, but an earlier attempt ended up floundering (no pun intended). It references also to "Christmas Magic", a Cardan's Pod Holiday Story from a couple of years ago.

Merry Christmas to all my readers who celebrate it. Hag sameach Chanukah to my Jewish readers. I’m not sure if I have any readers who celebrate Kwanzaa, but since it starts next Friday, I’ll extend my wishes for it then. Whatever holidays you celebrate or don’t celebrate, may we all find joy and peace in this season, and in the coming New Year.

Thank you all for reading, and I hope you enjoy this Holiday gift. May you also find the magic in the Season.

Finding the Magic
By Rick Higginson

“I just don’t get why you’re doing this,” Marta said.

“It’s kind of a family tradition,” Josh replied, extracting another string of lights from the box. “Dad always decorated his boat for the annual Parade of Lights, and when they gave me my sailboat, I started participating every year.”

“But, what’s the point of it?”

He connected the string and looked for bad bulbs. “It’s just fun. It’s fun to decorate the boat, and it’s fun to see how others decorate theirs. Some of the bigger yacht owners really go all-out, and it’s awesome to see what they come up with.”

“Maybe I’d understand it better if I’d seen it before,” she said, shifting position on the deck. “From here, though, it seems like an awful lot of effort for one night.”

Pausing his work, he smiled. “I remember someone saying that same thing to my mother one year when she and Dad were getting ready for the parade. The guy told my parents they should be doing something useful instead.”

“Well, that does make sense.”

“Mom told him that Christmas celebrated God sending light into the world, and that the lights on their boat were just a small reminder of the star that shone on Bethlehem, and the glory of God that shown when the angels appeared.”

“Is that why you’re doing this? Do you believe that story about Jesus and the manger and all?”

He secured one end of the string to the stanchion at the stern of the boat, and started carefully wrapping it around the lifeline along the starboard side. “Yeah, I believe it, but even if I didn’t, I’d still do this.”


“Because even if the story is just fable, it reminds us to bring light and joy into our world. If we can embrace the idea that the birth of one baby could illuminate a time of darkness, and bring hope to so many people, then maybe we can illuminate some of the darkness around us, and bring hope to those we meet.”

She smiled at him. “Okay, now that I understand.”

Reaching the end of the string, he connected another to it and continued towards the bow. “You’re doing better than the guy my mom argued with, then. I don’t think he ever got what it was all about.”

“We spent enough time hiding in darkness and barely holding onto hope. If he’d been through what we’ve been through, he might have understood better.”

He reached the bow and swung under the forestay. “Normally, I wouldn’t do any of this until I was at the marina, but we have nice, smooth seas today. I shouldn’t get much splash on the electrical connections on the way to the bay.” He completed the circuit with the lights that ran up the forestay, to the head of the mast where a large star was secured.

“I wish I could go with you and see the other boats tonight,” she said.

He thought for a moment, and then gave her a sly grin. “Why can’t you go?”

“I can’t go to the mainland,” she objected.

“No, you can’t be seen,” he said. “What if you stayed in the cabin? You could lie on the bunk, and watch the rest of the parade out the window. The most anyone might see of you is a small portion of your face.”

“Do you think I really could?”

“Why not? It’ll just be you and me aboard, and we’ll cruise back out here after the parade is over. Just let the Pod know you’ll be gone, and everything should be fine.”

She rested on the bunk hours later, pillowing her head with her arms and watching through the window. The lights of the boats around them shimmered off the small waves, creating an ever-changing mirror display. People lined the nearby beaches and docks, waving and cheering at the vessels, while through the window on the other side she could see minimally lighted boats with occupants watching the display from the bay side.

The sound system played Christmas carols as they cruised along with the festive flotilla. “And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing, for the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King,” echoed from the speakers and across the normally dark water.

Light and hope showed on the briefly glimpsed faces nearby, but most of all in the faint reflection in the glass in front of her, and she smiled. This, she understood.

Josh came into the cabin as the boat floated offshore after the parade. “So, what did you think?”

“It was beautiful,” she said. “I never imagined Christmas could be like this for me. Is this what it’s like for you every year?”

He shrugged. “It varies; last year, I hoped the Holidays would be special since it was the first year I was married. I imagined we would have the kind of Christmas season my parents always had when they were alive, but instead it was a rather blasé holiday.”

“I thought last Christmas was magic, because Eva wished for enough food for the Pod, and I caught a big block of cheese some people dropped off a boat. Tonight seems so much more magical; I’ve seen more of the world tonight than I’ve ever seen before.”

“Wishing for food; that sounds like Eva, all right.” He looked at her with a wry smile. “I imagine your wish was much loftier. What did you wish for, Marta?”

She turned her face back to the window, and her voice became quiet. “I hadn’t thought about my wish since then. When Eva got her wish, I actually started believing that, just maybe, I might get my wish, too. When Christmas Day came and went, and everything was still the same, I put it out of my mind.”

Running a light touch up her back, he took a seat on the bunk beside her. “What was your wish?”

“I wished I could be a normal person, and that I could have a Christmas like we saw in the movies,” she said, and then sniffed. “Silly, huh?”

He leaned down and pushed her hair off to one side, kissing the back of her neck. “It’s not silly at all.”

The lights of decorations on the mainland shone in the distance and reflected off the surface of the sea, tempting her to once again believe in magic. “Take me home, please, Josh,” she whispered. “I can’t bear to keep looking at what I can never touch.”


She felt a muted anticipation, waiting with the Pod a week later for Josh to return with the supplies for the week. He’d had a party to attend with his company, and promised he would be home early afternoon on Christmas Eve. Rather than venture out into the cold wind and choppy waves that day, they remained inside the Pod’s cavern. Some played in the water, while others rested on their beds, enjoying the warmth of their blankets while reading or talking.

Her attention was drawn to the ladder by the sound of the hoist operating, meaning Josh was sending something down the vertical tunnel. A large, heavy cloth bag appeared and settled at the bottom, followed shortly thereafter by Josh. He unhooked the bag, pushed it to one side, and then walked over to her for a kiss. Her mood lifted a bit on seeing him, and especially at his smile as he knelt down beside her.

“I missed you,” he said.

She kissed him. “We all missed you,” she said. “What’s in the bag?”

“You’ll see; I have to go back up top and lower another first, though.” He stood up and winked at her.

The Pod was gathering close to the first bag as he returned to the ladder, voicing their greetings to him and receiving his in return. The second bag was as large as the first, and when Josh again appeared, he was wearing a furry red and white cap.

Marta stayed back from the ladder, next to Eva.

“I thought Santa was supposed to be fat and have a white beard,” Eva said. Her eyes twinkled with mischief.

“Ho ho,” Josh said. “With the exercise I get out here, I don’t think I’ll ever get fat.” He opened the top of the first bag, and extracted a book from the top. “While we still have some light, I have something here for the kids, so let’s get the children gathered up close here.” He took a seat on the stone, and rested his back against the bag. “My mother used to read this book to me when I was a kid, and it was always one of the highlights of Christmas to me.”

“You’re going to read to us, Josh?” Patricia asked.

“Well, unless you don’t want me to.”

Eva lifted herself higher on her arms. “You’re not getting out of it that easy, Josh,” she called over the rest of the Pod.

“Well, I can’t argue with that, can I?” Josh said, and then laughed. He cleared his throat, opened the book, and started to read. “Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot…”


The two bags were empty, and a large artificial tree stood on a level spot, bedecked with shiny ornaments and glittering with battery-operated lights. Christmas music played through a portable stereo, and the Pod rested about the cavern, enjoying the satisfaction of the special treats that had followed dinner that night.

Marta stared at the tree, lying on her belly with her pillow under her chin. Eva crawled up beside her.

“Now this,” Eva said, nudging her, “is Christmas magic.” She waited until Marta met her eyes. “Did you get your wish finally, Marta?”

“Some of it,” she said. She returned her gaze to the twinkling tree. “I’m still a mermaid, though.”

“Well, we don’t have stairs, and we couldn’t run down them even if we did, and I suspect our Santa Claus arrived in a sailboat instead of a sleigh, but I’m betting we’re going to find gifts under this tree in the morning.”

“You think so?”

Eva laughed. “You don’t really think Josh is up in his office taking care of some work stuff this late on Christmas Eve, do you? I’ll bet he’s up there, getting presents ready for all of us.”

“You’re probably right, and now we don’t have anything to give to him.”

“We’ve already given him the one gift he could never buy, Marta. Didn’t you watch his eyes as he was reading to the Pod earlier? We’ve given him a place here in the Pod; a family and a home.” She reached a hand to Marta’s chin, turning her to face to meet her eyes. “He had that same look you had last year, when you came back with that cheese and believed the magic really worked. I don’t think in all our years I’ve ever seen you looking that alive before.”

“We gave him the magic?”

“No, Marta; he found the magic all on his own, just like you did last year. We just gave him a reason to look for it.”

She thought for a moment, and then a smile formed on her lips. “It was just a block of cheese someone dropped,” she said.

Eva smiled back, her face painted the changing colors of the tree lights. “I think you just found the magic again.”

“I guess I just needed to remember a reason to look for it.”
(Excerpt from "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss. (c) 1957, 1985 by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Fiction for December 12, 2008

For Friday Fiction this week, I thought I would post an excerpt from one of my stories that I hadn’t directly featured in this blog before. While “Penance” back on August 15 was based on the situations and characters from “The Daedalus Child”, it wasn’t an excerpt from the actual story.

“Penance” mentioned that Daryl and Geneva Malach had genetically modified their son. What they did was to engineer his arms to become wings, much like a bat would have. If he stands straight, his elbows will rest near his ankles, even while his wrists are up by his shoulders. Only his thumbs look normal; his other fingers are all elongated to support the membrane of skin that creates the wing surface, and when he stretches his arms out, the tips of his index fingers will over twenty-five feet apart.

The story really begins after the government has declassified his existence when he’s around fifteen years old. Advised to get an agent, he agrees to let Toby represent him, and ends up with a contract allowing his image to be used for a new cartoon superhero named Daedalus, with provisions for him to make appearances at the entertainment company’s park as the character.

Now sixteen years old, Bobby is struggling to find his own identity as the popularity of his animated character takes off.

Becoming Daedalus
From the novel, “The Daedalus Child”
By Rick Higginson

The pilot episode premiered a few weeks later, following a popular show to guarantee it the best exposure. Bobby was able to review each subsequent episode before it was aired, though it wasn’t long before he had little to say concerning the content thereof. It still felt strange that all he had in common with his cartoon persona was his shape and the ability to fly. Other than that, he wasn’t any more Daedalus than his grandmother was.

Along with the preview discs, he also received weekly reports on how the show was doing. The popularity of Daedalus was climbing at a rate that was almost skyrocketing; bolstering the already popular show ahead of it. Viewers were watching the other show because Daedalus came on next.

“You’ve arrived,” Toby told him, bringing up a webpage on his laptop. “You’ve got Fan-Fiction being written about the Daedalus character. It’s not just kids, either; the polls are showing a strong viewership among the mid-teen to young adult sector as well.”

He read over one of the pages of fan-fiction. “Wow; some of this stuff is pretty strange.”

“Yeah; it can get that way, but it’s also an indication of your popularity. People want more Daedalus stories.”

“But it’s not my popularity; it’s the popularity of a fictional representation of me.”

“Bobby, it is as much you as you want it to be; you can stay here and keep telling yourself you’re just Bobby Malach, or you can go for it and tell everyone you’re Daedalus. It’s a role you can play for all it’s worth, and if you get into it well enough, it will carry you as far as you want to go.”

“So you’re saying I should go ahead and act like Daedalus?”

“No; don’t act like Daedalus; be Daedalus. If you just think of it as an act, so will everyone else. Don’t tell the world you’re Bobby Malach playing Daedalus; tell the world you are Daedalus, and they’ll eagerly embrace the fantasy with you.”

“Be Daedalus; you make it sound so easy.”

He smiled, and called up another website. “Daedalus discussion forums; I’ve already reserved the Daedalus log-in for you, and your password is Malach. Go ahead; log-in and introduce yourself. Some of the people are going to call you a liar, but you know better. Just keep being Daedalus here, and when we’ve got your first appearance scheduled for the Park, drop a hint. The execs aren’t going to announce it; they’re going to surprise the public with you. You, however, are going to be subtle and let the folks in this forum know that you’re going to show yourself, and when you do, they’re all going to know it really has been you all along.”

“But it isn’t me; it’s Daedalus.”

“Bobby, repeat after me; ‘I am Daedalus.’”

“I am Daedalus.”


“I am Daedalus.”

“Get up and come with me.” He led the way out the door, off the porch, and towards the hill. “Say it again.”

“I am Daedalus.”

“You still don’t believe it. Say it like you mean it.”

“I am Daedalus!”

“Say it as if you were saying it to that girl you keep writing to.”

“I am Daedalus!”

“Jump off this hill; feel that rapture of flight that only you can feel, and shout it to the people on the other side of this mountain.”

He dove off the crag and pulled hard with his wings for altitude. He circled over the hill, catching the small thermal that sometimes rose from the rocks. “I AM DAEDALUS!”

“Make me believe it!” Toby called up to him.

He climbed higher, heading a short ways downwind of the hill. He pulled his wings in short, and swooped back towards the small figure of the man below. He squeezed his eyes almost closed against the onrushing air, and as he drew close to his agent, he pulled up in a strafing-type pass. “I – AM – DAEDALUS!!” he screamed as loud as he could.

Rolling as he climbed back over the hill, he felt an exhilaration he had not experienced in many years. Toby was whooping and cheering, and he let out his own exuberant cry. The mythical Daedalus had used fabricated wings to carry him away from exile to freedom, and with the thrill of revelation he understood that his wings could also carry him on that same path.

He looped back around and descended to land back atop the hill. “I’m Daedalus, Toby; I’m really Daedalus.”

“Yes, you are; and that, my boy, will make the world your oyster. Now; let’s go tell all those fans in that forum who you are, and let them start guessing what we’re up to.”

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Friday Fiction for December 5th, 2008

As promised, for this week’s Friday Fiction , I have an original story. This is one I’ve thought about for a while, and decided this was a good time to write it. This story takes place within the time frame of Cardan’s Pod, and occurs at Christmastime that first year Josh has settled in with the Pod. As the owner of Cardan Pharmaceuticals, though, Josh still has business obligations to attend to, one of which is the annual Holiday Party. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded in crafting this scene such that it stands alone well enough without you needing to read Cardan’s Pod first.

Be sure to check out the other submissions this week, and feel free to leave comments.

Away from the Mistletoe
By Rick Higginson

The open door revealed a crowded room, where holiday music played over the sounds of conversations and laughter. The hotel staff had done a terrific job, decorating the room and setting the atmosphere, and from the smells that wafted through the air, the caterer had likewise delivered on all that had been promised. He stepped into the room and surveyed the scene from beside the door.

He worked his way around the room, shaking hands, extending holiday greetings, and making generic small talk with his employees and their families. As duties went, it was a pleasant enough one, and while no one had forgotten the events of the previous summer, at least for the evening, there were no questions raised about it.

He finished the circuit by the hors d’oeuvre table near the Christmas tree, and watched the festivities while snacking on some crackers with cheese.

“Mr. Cardan, you are not being very cooperative tonight.”

He turned towards the voice. “I didn’t know I was supposed to be cooperating with anything, Tina.”

She walked her fingers up his arm. “How is a girl supposed to get you under the mistletoe if you’re not going anywhere near it?” She reached to set her drink cup on the table and missed. “Oopsy,” she said, and laughed at her clumsiness.

“Just how much have you had to drink already?”

She gave him a pouty look. “It’s a party; aren’t I supposed to have fun?”

“Fun, yes; I just hope you’re not planning on driving yourself home tonight.”

The pouty look turned just as quickly to a teasing smile. “I was kinda planning on just staying here tonight.”

“I think that would be an excellent idea.”

“So, how’s about that mistletoe?”

“You do know, Tina, that I’m seeing someone, don’t you?”

“Oh, right,” she said, and made a weak attempt at a whisper. “You don’t wanna be seen flirting with other women, do you?”

“No, I really don’t want to flirt with other women, and I don’t want to get under the mistletoe with anyone but her.”

“Gotcha,” she agreed, leaning even closer to him. The mixture of perfume and liquor created a rather unappealing aroma. “I’ll catch you later, Mr. Cardan.”

She sashayed away, glancing back to make sure he was watching.

Maybe next year we’ll have the party in-plant, he thought. That way, maybe we could get through one holiday without at least one employee getting so drunk they embarrass themselves. The standing rule of no liquor on company premises would make for a convenient excuse to not have an open bar at the party.

Glancing at his watch, he wrestled with the question on whether he’d made enough of an appearance, or if he needed to stay around a little longer.

He picked up a slice of sandwich from the buffet table, and quietly walked out the nearest exit. Waiting to eat it until he arrived back at his room, he placed it on the desk and fired up his laptop before removing the tie and dress shirt. He started the coffee maker, and then kicked off his shoes by the bed and stepped out of the dress slacks. He put on a soft, terry robe, and settled into the chair at the computer.

Playing solitaire while eating his sandwich, he decided an early bedtime wasn’t such a bad idea.

There was a gentle knock on his door, and he quickly finished the last bite of sandwich before walking over to look out the peephole. Seeing who was outside, he returned to his laptop, made a few quick clicks, and then went to open the door. “Is there a problem, Tina?” he asked.

She giggled and tugged at the robe belt. “Only that you’re ready for bed in there and I’m still out here,” she said.

“I’m ready to go to bed alone; I told you that I’m seeing someone.”

“Uh huh; but she’s not here, and I am.” She licked her lips. “I know you want to keep up appearances, but now we’re all alone, so no one has to know anything.” She reached her hand to wrap behind his head.

He directed the hand away from him, deflecting the kiss attempt. “There’s nothing for anyone to know.”

“Of course there isn’t,” she agreed. “And tomorrow morning, I’ll sneak away. Your ‘someone’ won’t have to know a thing.”

“Tina, you’re drunk and you’re not listening. You’re not sleeping with me tonight or any other night. I’ve been on the receiving end of a cheating relationship, and there’s no way I’m going to put her through what I was put through. I’m not going to do anything that I will either need to confess to her, or that I’m going to have to lie about for the rest of my life.”

“Aren’t I pretty enough for you, Mr. Cardan?”

“You’re very pretty, Tina, but that has nothing to do with this. I don’t believe ‘pretty’ excuses cheating.” He pulled his cell phone from the robe pocket, and initiated a speed-dial. “Yeah, Rob; would you send Janice and Tina Kinney’s supervisor up to my room right away? No, no trouble; I just need to make sure someone watches over her so she doesn’t try to drive home. Thanks.”

She gave him a hurt expression. “You’re not going to let me in?”

“No, and I want you to give me your car keys. If this was your idea of staying here tonight, then you’re going to need to make other arrangements.”

The hurt turned to anger. “You’re so worried about your reputation; what if I just tell everyone we’ve already done it? How’s that going to look, huh? You think your precious someone is going to believe you then?”

“You don’t want to play that game, Tina. I’ll give you some slack because you’ve had too much to drink, but if you try that threat on me, it’s going to backfire on you.”

She lowered her face, and let her arms fall limp.

“Your keys, Tina; please. I don’t want you hurting yourself or anyone else driving home tonight.”

She reached into her small purse and extracted the ring, and slapped the keys into his open hand. Standing quietly, she waited.

The ding of the elevator arriving on the floor drew his attention for just a moment, and suddenly, she had her arm back around his neck. She planted quick kisses on his face and robe, even as her other hand tugged the knot from the belt. “Explain that,” she whispered with a triumphant expression.

He struggled to disengage her even as Janice and Tina’s supervisor stopped short, with shocked looks.

“Mr. Cardan?” Janice said. Usually, in her capacity as Executive Secretary, she just called him Josh.

Flustered, he quickly reclosed and tied the robe, and then held the keys out to Janice. “Ms. Kinney has had a bit too much to drink; please make sure she either has a room here tonight, or is taken home in a taxi. Tina, go with Janice and wait for Mrs. Armstrong by the elevator.”

The woman tried to object, but Janice placed an arm around her and ushered her away from the room.

“Mr. Cardan, I’m not sure what to say,” Mrs. Armstrong began.

“Dora, Tina came up here tonight hoping to get in my room, and when I wouldn’t let her, decided to try and make it look like she had anyway. You don’t have to take my word for it; my laptop has been recording everything since before I opened the door, and you’ll have the complete video on your work computer before I go to bed tonight.”

“Are you serious?”

“You’ll have the video; review it yourself.”

“What should I do about Tina?”

“It’ll all depend on what she does when she sobers up in the morning. If she realizes she made a dumb mistake and leaves it at that, then let her know it will be overlooked this time. If she tries to carry through with the deception, though, take the video to HR and let them handle it.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Cardan.”

Closing the door, he returned to the laptop and stopped the recording, saving the file before transmitting it to Dora Armstrong’s computer. He went to the sink, and washed the smears of lipstick from his cheek. Stay away from the mistletoe,his friend Diego had jokingly warned him that morning. When he’d explained the custom to Marta, she’d reiterated the instruction, and he’d promised her he would.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough to just stay away from the mistletoe.