I was sitting in one of the two dark brown, nicely upholstered client chairs that had been another of Lana's ideas. They were more comfortable than the straight-backs he'd had before. My legs were politely crossed, my hands folded in my lap. I was the epitome of ladylike.
"That skirt is too short for business hours, Anita," he said as he rounded his big desk and eased into a chair even bigger and browner and more leathery than the one I was sitting in.
I slumped down in the chair and put my boots up on his desk, with my ankles crossed. The movement raised my skirt up high enough to flash every last inch of the lace tops of my thigh-high hose. I was a little short for the movement to be comfortable, but I doubted Bert could tell I was uncomfortable. I looked at him around the heels of my knee-high black boots.
"The skirt is also black. We all agreed that we don't wear black to work. It's too depressing."
"No, you think it's too depressing. Besides the skirt has flowers embroidered on the side by the slit. Blue, green, and turquoise, which matches exactly the shade of turquoise of the jacket, and the blue of the top, it's like an outfit," I said. I was also wearing a gold chain with an antique locket on the end of it. It had two tiny paintings, one in either side of it. They were tiny oil paintings of Jean-Claude and Asher. The locket had once belonged to Julianna, and was more than three hundred years old. It was handwrought gold, heavy and solid, and very antique-looking. Tiny sapphires traced its edges, with one larger one in the middle. I'd thought it looked great with the outfit. Apparently not.
The short little turquoise jacket also covered the black shoulder holster and the Browning Hi-Power under my left arm. I'd have put on the wrist sheaths, but with the jacket off, the knives showed under the thin material of the top. I could just take off the gun if it got hot enough in the office, but to remove the wrist sheaths, I'd have to strip off the shirt. It didn't seem worth it. They were in the car, just in case I started to feel insecure.
Bert didn't have any weapons under his rich, chocolate brown suit, which had been tailored to fit his body. As he'd lost weight, the athletic cut to his suits had emphasized his broad shoulders, which had sort of appeared as his waistline had decreased. His shirt was pale yellow, and his tie was a paler brown, with tiny gold and blue figures on it. All the colors suited him, they even brought a little warmth into his gray eyes.
I slumped down further into the chair, using the padded corner to brace my back and head. The skirt had scooted up far enough that the black silk of my underwear was peeking out, though it probably couldn't be seen from where Bert was sitting.
"If I tell you the skirt is too short, you'll wear something even shorter tomorrow, won't you?"
"And if I complain about the black..."
"I've got black dresses," I said, "I've even got short black dresses."
"Why do I even bother?"
"Arguing with me," I said.
"I have no idea."
"At least you're wearing makeup, I appreciate that."
"I've got a date after work," I said.
"That brings me to another problem," he said. He leaned forward and folded his hands on his desk. He was trying for fatherly, but he never quite made it. It came off more as pretentious.
I did straighten up in my chair, because I simply wasn't comfortable. I straightened the skirt as I sat up. There was enough skirt to smooth down the back of my thighs. My rule for skirts was that it was too short if there was no skirt to smooth over your ass. This skirt passed the test, so I was glad Bert had given up. I really wasn't comfortable in skirts much shorter than this one. Wearing them just to spite Bert wouldn't have been as fun as it once would have been.
"And what problem would that be, Bert?"
"Mary tells me that the young man in our waiting room is your boyfriend."
I nodded. "He is." Strangely, the ardeur hadn't risen today at all, not a quiver, not a shake. But we'd all been a little concerned about what might happen if it suddenly sprang to life at work. There was nobody at work that I wanted to have sex with, so that meant I needed someone nearby, just in case. Nathaniel was sitting outside in the warm sienna orange waiting room, looking very decorative in one of the brown leather chairs. He was wearing street clothes--black slacks, a violet business shirt that was almost a match to the one he'd worn to the wedding, and black over-the-ankle boots. He'd braided his hair so it looked as professional as ankle-length hair can, and he was reading back issues of some music magazine that he had a subscription to and had fallen behind on reading. He'd brought a messenger bag full of magazines from home and was prepared to wait until I dropped him off at work, or until he was needed, whichever came first.
"Why is your boyfriend out in our waiting room, when you're supposed to be working?"
"I'm dropping him at work later," I said, and my voice was much more neutral than his had managed to be.
"Doesn't he have a car?"
"We only have two cars at the house, and Micah may need the other one if he gets called into work."
Bert did the slow blink, and what little warmth he'd managed to get into his gray eyes faded. "I thought the one in the other room was your boyfriend."
"Doesn't that mean that you've broken up with Micah?"
"Your assumption is your problem, Bert."
He gave another long blink and leaned back in his chair, looking puzzled. I'd always puzzled Bert, but just not in the personal department. "Does Micah know you're dating..."
"Nathaniel," I said.
"Nathaniel," Bert said.
"He knows," I said.
He licked his thin lips and tried a different tact. "Would you think it was professional if Charles or Manny brought their wives into sit in our waiting room?"
I shrugged. "Not my business."
He sighed and started rubbing his temples. "Anita, your boyfriend cannot sit out there the entire time you're in the office."
"Why not? "I asked.
"Because if I let you start bringing in people, everybody else will want to, and it would be a mess. It would disrupt business."
I sighed. "I don't think anyone else will be bringing their sweeties to work," I said. "Charles's wife is a full-time registered nurse, she's a little busy, and Rosita hates Manny's job. She wouldn't darken the door. Jamison might bring a girl around, if he thought it would impress her."
He sighed again. "Anita, you're being deliberately difficult about this."
"Me, deliberately difficult, why, Bert, you know me better than that."
He gave a surprised burst of laughter and sat back in his chair and stopped trying to treat me like a client. He looked instantly more comfortable, and less trustworthy. "Why did you bring your new boyfriend to work?"
"None of your business."
"It is, if he's sitting in the waiting room that we all share. It is, if you're going to let him sit in on clients."
"He won't sit in on clients," I said.
"Then he's going to be in our waiting room for how long?"
"A few hours," I said.
"Why?" he asked again.
"I told you, none of your business."
"It is, if you bring him to work, Anita. I may not be the boss anymore, but we're also a democracy. You really think that Jamison won't kick a fuss?"
He had a point. I couldn't think of a lie that came close to explaining it, so I tried for partial truth. "You know that I'm the human servant to Jean-Claude, Master of the City, right?"
He nodded, eyes uncertain, as if this was not the start of the conversation he'd expected.
"Well, there's been an interesting side effect. Trust me when I say that you'll want Nathaniel here if things go wrong."
"How wrong are they going to go?" he asked.
"If I take him into my office, just lock the door and make sure we aren't disturbed. No harm, no foul."
"Why would you need privacy with him? What side effect? Is it dangerous?"
"None of your business. You wouldn't understand even if I told you, and it's only dangerous if I don't have someone with me when it happens."
"When what happens?"
"See first answer," I said.
"If it's going to disrupt the office, then as manager I need to know."
He had a point, but I wasn't sure how to tell him, without telling him. "It won't disrupt anything, if Mary keeps everyone away from the door until we're finished."