Discovery Cyber Style
J M Dragon
Part One
© May 2001
Email: jmdragon1@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: This story features consensual sexual relations between adult women, and some m/f relations. There is nothing extremely explicit. However, if it is illegal in the state, province, or country in which you live, or if you are under the age of 18, find something else to read, please. There are loads of general stories out there in fan fiction land.
Language: There is some occasional strong language.
Violence: This one is written without violence.
Hurt/Comfort: Have some of this too.
Dedication: This was written for a very special woman who I?m fortunate to have met in my life and can call a very dear friend, MAAL.
Acknowledgement: Thanks Alice for the beta reading as always greatly appreciated.

Chapter One

Anna Stephens shook her head and glared at the technician. He had just given her the news that someone destroyed the set up programs on the new network link she had been working on over the last month.

?Joe, did anyone ever tell you never to trust those admin types? They?re damn useless.? Anna shouted at him in a tone that brooked no reply.

Joe Lancer looked at her with eyes full of fear. This was definitely not going down well. To make the odd mistake was okay, for he?d made his fair share, but something told him this was different. He would, of course, take the blame even if it hadn?t been his fault this time.

?I am sorry Ms. Stephens, I guess I blew it again huh?? The timid technician replied as he waited for her to dismiss him - hopefully for the last time today.

Anna glanced at the clock on the wall and noticed that it was eight in the evening. She was hungry and tired. With the problems that had transpired over the last couple of months at work she had little time to eat or sleep. Changing over some of the public office systems to more sophisticated programs certainly was not the pushover everyone thought.

?Get out of here Joe and see me in my office first thing in the morning and I mean first thing!? Anna growled at him, glancing back at the screen, shaking her head at the mess that would take at least another two hours of solid concentration to put back together.

?Fuck those untrained birdbrains that always seem to end up dealing with my department. Damn! ? They needed the work, otherwise she would have to terminate some of her people and she wasn?t going to let that happen.

Joe glanced once more at her dark head bent over the computer as he left the room. He knew what was coming tomorrow and it wouldn?t be good.

* * *

Mandrake Roman looked out of her skylight window and smiled gently at the wonderful array of stars.  God, the night was so beautiful with its midnight blue background and the clusters of bright, electric white stars that sparkled in the night.  She had never understood the science behind the heavenly bodies.  Mandrake looked at them with a frivolous, romantic notion and hoped that one day she could venture out into space and see it all for herself.  Chuckling at the thought, she turned back to the desktop computer that adorned the far side of her small apartment.  Her computer was her lifeline!

Mandrake traveled when she was in her early twenties trying to find herself. Then, she married hoping that children would be the solution to her restless thoughts. Unfortunately, a child hadn?t been the answer. Today she was divorced; head librarian in a branch of the Chicago library and her daughter was in college. Juliet was a most confident woman, a surprise considering her daughter?s parentage.

David had been a nice, small town guy. He wanted a devoted wife, two children, a good job, and a house in the suburbs. He?d ended up the local drunk, with no prospects at all, a wife who grew to hate him, and his only child wanting nothing more than to leave home.

Mandrake had been a fool to marry him. She finally took the steps to leave David and set out on her own when Juliet was ten, bringing up her daughter in a happier home.

She was so lonely, though! Mandrake?s arrival over a year ago from her tiny community had been a culture shock. However, Chicago was where her daughter was, and although they saw each other only once a week, it was enough to know that they were in the same city. An added bonus was that work was less than two blocks from her apartment and it paid enough to keep Juliet in college.

Turning on the computer, Mandrake put in her password and waited for it to load up.

* * *

Samantha Kapinski smiled at the computer monitor. There she was: Sentinel, the person who made the word ?virtually? come alive. Sam had been talking to Sentinel via the chat rooms for better than a year now. They were friends in an obscure, virtual way. Sam held out hope that it could develop into something more - perhaps, even an intimate personal relationship. Of course, that would mean they would have to meet in real life someday.


Kapski:Hey S, good to see you. How is everything going? Work still a grind?

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Hi Kapski. Work is work what can I say? LOL How are you doing?

Kapski: Always in top form S. :-) Work hasn't let up at all? Sounds like you could use a vacation. LOL

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Wish I could Kap. Is anything exciting happening for you this weekend?

Kapski: Oh yeah S big plans...clean the apartment, take the dog for a long walk, groceries, laundry you know all the fun stuff...one excitement after another. LOL

Sam smiled. It was always the same with Sentinel. She asked questions, but never gave much away of herself.

Kapski:What about you S? Bet you are jealous of all my plans. LOL 

Sentinel:(Mandrake) You are so right Kap I am sooooo green with envy.:-) As it is I have to work Saturday, and catch up on sleep Sunday.

Samantha had heard that on so many occasions. She wanted desperately to ask Sentinel to go out for a walk in the park. Their friendship had progressed enough to know they lived in the same city.

Kapski: S, I was going to try out a new chat room want to join me?

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Oh no Kap, have you been surfing again? What now? What is it this time? Do you remember the last time? 

Kapski: You mean all those teenyboppers? It?s okay this time S, I promise ...only adults. I've learned my lesson in strange places. LOL

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Kap I need a couple of hours something has come up, I will be back later okay?

Samantha looked at the flickering screen and smiled. It was always something.

* * *

Anna wiped a hand over her eyes and glared at the screen. The novice who did this would certainly pay in the morning; that was certain.

Looking at her stark, yet serviceable office, she grimaced, it reflected her life. Yeah, kind of barren, but at least she connected with people on the net and that would have to do for now. She didn?t have time for relationships in her real life. On the net you could walk away and not turn up for days and no one batted an eyelid but in real life?well, that was something else again.

As she walked toward the elevator, she glanced at her watch. It was very late. Even her apartment would be inviting and she did look forward to chatting on the net when she returned home.

An hour later, Anna, whose screen name was Trojan, was in her usual chat area. The same people turned up, nothing exciting, but at least familiar. Hell, in this day and age it was difficult enough to meet people physically; at least virtually was better than nothing.

The Internet was as anonymous as you wanted it to be. An identity could be fact or fiction. You could claim that you were next in line to take over a corporation; who would know for sure? Some of Anna?s previous cyberspace experiences had led her to be quite cautious. She never volunteered much more information other than she was in the same state as Kapski and Sentinel. They did not know her real name, where she worked, where she lived, her marital status or if she had children. Then again, what did she know about some of the others? Kapski, Danni and Leroy gave a little more away, but as for Sentinel, she didn?t have a clue. Guess she was cautious as well, couldn?t blame her.

Anna recalled some of the odd characters she came across in the first few months in chat rooms. In one, there was an obnoxious guy who badgered her constantly for a date, until she blocked him.  Another time, she found herself in ?Bill?s Little Mistakes?. Within five minutes, Anna was inundated with questions about her sexuality by a couple of odd screen names. That was ?Anna?s Big Mistake?!  The kid?s room was her most embarrassing to date. She had been having quite an interesting discussion with someone called ?Elkective? about the current state of politics, only to find out later the entire group was still in high school. God, had she been fooled!

Finally, she had, by a missed keying error, found her way to ?Oasis?. There she met Kapski and Danni and within a month Leroy and Sentinel joined them. There were also quite a few lurkers, so in the end, the five swapped email addresses and arranged specific nights and times to chat. Now it was a private club. They were beginning to feel like old friends. Anna thought of them in the familiar way you do while putting on your most comfortable house slippers. Exactly what she was looking for! No confrontations, no one with a personal agenda or with malicious machinations. They were just a bunch of people who had things in common and enjoyed a relaxing time together. What more could you ask for?

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Hi everyone, how are you all doing tonight? I See everyone made it.

Danni: Hi Sentinel, yep Kap, Leroy, Danni and Trojan, are all present and accounted for...

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Glad to see you are keeping the group in order Danni...LOL

Kapski: Hey S, I missed you, thought you would be here sooner...working again?

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Yeah, nothing new in that one...the life of Riley. 

Kapski: Now that the gang is all here, anyone going to the baseball game Sunday?

Leroy: Thanks a lot Kap! You know I?m out of state. You do this everytime my team plays the Cubbies. LOL

Kapski: Leroy darling so very sorry. <eg> Totally forgot you were in Georgia. LOL Maybe the next time the Braves are in town you could get yourself here and we could all go, what do you say gang?

Danni: Kap you know my hubby hates baseball and we are out of town most weekends...maybe I?ll make a suggestion that he needs to spend some quality time with his buddies.? LOL

Kapski: Danni what a great idea!

Danni: I will work on how to ditch the hubby for a day. LOL 

Kapski: Good, do you think that just maybe after a year we will finally get to meet?

Danni: Hope so Kap. Are you going to the game?

Kapski: Might if I can get anyone else interested...... Anyone.....? Hmmm......I guess not.  :-(

Trojan:(Anna) I?ve got tickets Kap, do you want to go with me?

Kapski: WOW!! Trojan, my god are you serious, yeah, yeah I would like that! What time and where and how will I know you? WOW!!

Trojan:(Anna) Great, anyone else want to come? We can have a group meeting...Sentinel??? The more the merrier.

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Thanks Trojan but I need the sleep will you give me a rain check? Of course we will want a complete report. :-)

Kapski: Are you sure S, perhaps if you went to bed earlier you could make the game?

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Sorry, Kap but I have a prior arrangement I can?t change.

Kapski: Okay, next time huh?

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Yes.Kapski: So, Trojan where and when?

* * *

After leaving the chat room, Anna surfed the web for a few more minutes. Her attention was drawn to the instant message list. One of the gang was still online, which in itself wasn?t unusual. The fact that it was this particular member did make her wonder and smile at the same time.

Trojan:(Anna) Hi, this is a surprise, thought you would be off line by now?

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Hi :-) normally I am, since I?m work in the morning but?I guess I couldn?t sleep. One of those nights.

Trojan:(Anna) Yeah, know the feeling.

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Do you Trojan? And here I thought it was only me. LOL

Trojan:(Anna) We have something in common then, other than mutual chat friends.

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Yeah seems that way. You must enjoy baseball if you have tickets? 

Trojan:(Anna) No, not really, a perk of the job. One of the few perks I might add. LOL

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Well, at least you get to meet one of the gang face to face and Kap is one of the best. How do you feel about the meeting T?

Trojan:(Anna) Yep, she always appears to be the life and soul of the party. I have to admit I am a bit nervous for she really is a stranger to me.

Sentinel:(Mandrake) I know I was kinda shocked when you agreed to go, like a bolt out of the blue. You been watching your favorite program once too often of late T?

Trojan:(Anna) No! Anyway you watch it too, you even cry over parts, or so you say

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Oh yeah and you don?t?

Trojan:(Anna)  Well?that is for me to know S and you to find out. 

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Well, that?s an offer a girl can?t refuse isn?t it! 

Trojan:(Anna) LOL

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Trojan what do you really do for a living? It is so easy to be someone else on the net.

Trojan:(Anna)  You are right about that one but as I have told you before I help to educate the masses. :-)

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Knowing you I doubt it would do any good to ask for details. But, damn you make everything sound so intriguing

Trojan:(Anna)  I could say the same of you Sentinel.

Sentinel:(Mandrake) Yes, indeed you could. We have been over this before, educating the masses is what we both do best. LOL

Trojan:(Anna)  Another thing we have in common then? How many more things do you suppose we could find?

Sentinel:(Mandrake) That would depend on how long you have my friend?

Trojan:(Anna)  All the time in the world Sentinel, what about you?

Sentinel:(Mandrake) I guess that time is on our side then Trojan.

Two hours later, Anna turned off her computer. It occurred to her that for the first time in months she actually had enjoyed talking with someone. Even loosening up to actually admitting her middle name: that was a first!

Tomorrow was another day and she was actually looking forward to it. Especially as Sentinel had agreed to another private chat tomorrow evening. Yep, things were looking up in a big way.

* * *

Chapter Two

?Joe, tell me! What kind of an idiotic name is Mandrake Roman?? Anna Stephens shouted at the technician in charge of running the computer systems of the library area.

?Well, Ms. Stephens I?m sure her parents had a good reason for the name at the time.?

Even though Anna spent hours the night before clearing errors and resetting everything, no one had seen fit to advise the head librarian that she couldn?t use the machine. It took Mandrake Roman just a short time to wipe out Anna?s hard work.

?Mandrake. It sounds like a farm animal with about the same intelligence level. So, where is she??

?She went for coffee.? There was no way Joe was going to tell his boss that Ms. Roman had been less than appreciative of Anna?s efforts.

 ?Coffee! How the hell does she have time to do that when her systems are down??  These so-called intellectuals really have no idea of real life.  God give me strength.

?Want me to find out if she?s coming? Maybe I could get you some coffee too??  Joe had seen the thunderclouds in her eyes before and he knew what was coming wasn?t going to be pleasant.

 ?Yeah! And do it quickly or I will keep the fucking system down until next weekend.?

Joe fled the area and went toward the snack machines. He saw the small brown haired woman talking animatedly with a tall, thin, bespectacled co-worker. The man was clearly interested in her body more than the conversation, if his roaming eyes were anything to go by.

 ?Ms. Roman.?

She smiled at him with warm brown eyes and her plain features lit up as she did so.

?Yes Mr. Lancer, what can I do for you?? Mandrake was happy for the interruption. Ken Peterson?s eyes always gave her the creeps.

?My boss is here, Ms. Roman. Would you mind spending some time talking about your problems with her??

?Don?t tell me the high and mighty Anna Stephens has come down to operator level and on a Saturday, too? Must be a first!? Ken Peterson said sarcastically.

?Perhaps the problems we have require expert help.?

Joe smiled at the diplomacy of the woman. He hoped Anna didn?t do one of her usual numbers on Mandrake Roman.  He liked her.

?No, Stephens wouldn?t muddy those ?expert? hands on this type of project, right, Lancer??

?Ms. Roman if you wouldn?t mind my boss would appreciate your presence.? Joe declined to answer the odious man.

?Lead the way Mr. Lancer, I look forward to meeting your boss.?

* * *

The Manager of Operations watched through hooded eyelids as Joe and the librarian walked toward her. The woman had to take several steps to Joe?s one, in order to keep up with his long stride, but she still smiled in everyone?s direction as she sailed through the room.  So, this was Mandrake Roman!

As she waited patiently, Anna tapped a pencil on the side of her thigh. To others, it appeared to indicate that Anna was irritated. In truth, the unconscious movement had become a habit while she was in deep thought.

?Ms. Stephens, please meet Ms. Roman. Ms. Roman, Ms. Stephens.?

Anna?s gray eyes narrowed slightly. She needed her specs! In her haste to get this over with, she had left the glasses in her car.

?Ms. Roman?? Anna held out a hand, which was taken with a slight nod from the other woman, surprising Anna with its firmness as they shook hands.

?Ms. Stephens, I?ve heard a lot about you.? Mandrake smiled warmly at the rather morose looking woman tapping a pencil at her side.

Anna flicked her a quizzical look, ?All bad I suppose??

Mandrake gave a soft chuckle as she responded. ?No, far from it. You are considered an expert in your field.?

Anna gave a brief, tight smile and inclined her head toward the flickering screen.

?I reset all the programmes after someone wiped them out yesterday. Now it appears that the same situation has occurred. Care to shed some light on that??

Mandrake saw the shift in body posture. ?Yes, that would be me.?

Anna glanced at her quickly. Well, at least she didn?t lie about it!

?On both occasions??

Mandrake inclined her head, ?Yes, I?m afraid so.?

Anna gave out a sigh of exasperation. What can you say to honest acceptance of someone?s own ineptitude?

?Do you have any experience with computers at all, Ms. Roman??

?Actually, yes, I do! Does that surprise you?? Mandrake watched as Anna turned her lip at the comment, obviously not impressed.

?I did wonder, I must admit. So, exactly what did you do to erase the programmes? Perhaps, then, I can let you know what not to do in the future.?

Mandrake looked at the woman who was probably about ten years her junior. Although, Anna had a gloomy expression that made her features look quite harsh; she had a very attractive face.

?I?d better sit and show you, hadn?t I??

Anna moved aside to allow Mandrake access to the desk. The screen saver was flickering brightly with a multitude of stars.

?By all means.? Anna watched as the librarian entered her password. At least, there was a fail safe, if you could call it that.

* * *

Joe watched his boss discreetly from his monitor position and shook his head for about the fifth time in as many minutes.

Anna Stephens? stance was becoming more and more agitated. She tried to simulate the programmes and teach the head librarian how to use them without deleting everything. Two hours later, it was proving to be an up hill battle.

?Ms. Roman, for the tenth time, you do not use THAT command to move THAT information to THAT location. It?s simple you use THIS command. How many more times must I explain?? Anna Stephens was beyond exasperation; she was angry. This computer illiterate was preventing her from going home then eating a hot meal and tumbling into bed for a well-deserved nap.

Mandrake Roman heard the anger in the voice that was giving her quiet, but forceful instructions.  It was okay, but some things are more difficult than others to grasp. She just didn?t understand what this woman was trying to point out to her; too much jargon, definitely information overload.

?Ms. Stephens, I?m sure with your familiarity of the programmes, it is simple...for you. However, I am afraid that, for me, with my limited knowledge of the system, it is difficult to understand.  Perhaps your associate may have more luck in teaching me, as it appears I irritate you with my ineptitude?? Mandrake spoke softly; only the woman at her side heard her and noted the slight flush of the cheeks.

Anna stood up erect from her stooping position at Mandrake?s side, let out a heavy sigh, and spun around abruptly as she went towards her technician.

?Joe, my talents as an educator appear to be less than successful with Ms. Roman. Perhaps, you could help and go through it for the? Never mind, whatever, I will be at the coffee machine if you want me!? Anna turned away from Joe and stalked down the corridor.

Joe looked over at Ms. Roman and gave her a quirky grin.

?Guess it must have been something I said.? Mandrake tried to make a joke out of the fiasco and her inability to understand.

Joe stroked his chin; it was beginning to grow stubble at an alarming rate. He hadn?t bothered to shave this morning expecting to be here no more than a couple of hours. It was now four hours later, with no end in sight.

?I think it is more that Anna?Ms. Stephens is used to creating things than teaching them. Perhaps if we take a different approach and you tell me what you don?t understand.?

* * *

Anna jabbed her finger at the button that indicated the selection she wanted. As she waited impatiently, the coffee started to flow but the cup was not there to collect it.

?Oh hell! That?s all I need! This damned thing is broken!?

Looking around her, she saw that the other machine held cold drinks.  As she muttered and cursed a little more, Ken Peterson approached her.

?I see the great Ms. Stephens has been defeated, not only by our Head Librarian but by a fairly simple contraption. What, you can?t fix either??

Anna glared angrily at the man who was perhaps, four inches taller. He had asked her on a date several times but she always declined. That, she was certain, annoyed Ken Peterson to the point where he was determined to get even. He had done his utmost to crash programme after programme, until Anna was informed that her services for his department would no longer be required. The head office had been less than happy with the turn of events, although Anna had been adamant that he was the problem. Fortunately for her, in less than six months, Deputy Director of Services Peterson was demoted to Assistant to the Deputy Director.

?Is that what you call it? I call it another challenge, just like you, Peterson!? She hated the bastard; he had been nothing but trouble. What was it about this area of public service; did they employ all the awkward people in the city?

?Ah, well, that was one challenge you weren?t up to, was it?? Peterson placed his coins in the slot and selected a drink. Anna watched as the coffee again poured itself away down the drain, no cup evident. Unable to stop the smirk, she was shocked to find him in her personal space, his red cheeks indicating his anger.

?You think you are so clever, Stephens, but I know all about you! Think your buddies and boss will be happy once I tell them you?re a dyke??

Anna was stunned into silence for a few moments. Peterson moved closer and was now breathing down her neck. His breath was less than fresh and he had the stale body odour of a couple of day?s perspiration.

?No answer to that Stephens? Can?t wait for the fall out from that one when the bomb goes off.? Peterson was pushing home his perceived advantage and enjoying every minute of it.

Anna gained her composure and her ability of speech.

?You do know what happens to people when they throw around false accusations, don?t you Peterson??

Peterson grinned at her and edged away fractionally before he answered.

?Try to deny it and I have several people more than willing to say you have had affairs with them.?

Anna shrugged her shoulders at his malicious remarks. Let the bastard try that trick and she would have him kicked out altogether, not just demoted this time.

?Give it your best shot Peterson, I have nothing to hide.?

Peterson was disconcerted by the remark and he looked Anna straight in the eye to see if there was any hesitation in her rejoinder; there wasn?t. She really was an over confident bitch and he was going to see her go down. He had waited for the ideal opportunity and now he had the perfect scapegoat: Mandrake Roman. She had resisted his advances too, what better revenge than to sully both their reputations.

Smiling evilly, he walked away back down the corridor.

?Oh, I will, trust me and neither of you will show your faces around here again.? Anna looked at his retreating back as he went through the door to his office, and pondered his remark.

?Faces? Didn?t that indicate more than one person in this equation? Interesting!? Anna was still mulling over the acid conversation with Peterson as she looked at her watch, and smiled for the first time that morning. As she considered her upcoming chat session with Sentinel, at least that was something to look forward to.

Walking slowly back down to the librarian?s office, she saw Joe and Ms. Roman chatting and smiling. For some reason it made Anna feel disgruntled that she rarely managed that with anyone. Oh well, you can?t be brilliant and a teacher at the same time, can you?

She headed for the monitor Joe had originally been using. She sat down and began to work on other programmes that needed her expert attention. As she concentrated on her expertise, all other things were forgotten.

* * *

Joe watched as Anna Stephens? fingers sped across the keyboard. He looked at the changing programme fields and was struck by the fact that she really was a computer genius. At thirty-one, Stephens was a high flyer and totally committed to her career. Joe heard she had been offered several positions in other states, but opted to stay in Illinois because she loved Chicago and its atmosphere. Anna was an expert in her field and although, she knew it, rarely shoved anyone?s face in it, except maybe guys like Peterson, who deserved it, anyway!

He spent the last hour with Mandrake Roman and found her intelligent and quick-witted. However, some of the more complex explanations had become just too much terminology for her. Once they cleared up that point, it was easy. Now he was confident that Mandrake, as she allowed him to call her, was fully capable of using the programmes without wiping them out.

Joe cleared his throat to catch Anna?s attention. He knew it would be difficult if she was concentrating and with the speed of the changes seen on the screen, she was certainly absorbed in her task.

Mandrake Roman suddenly appeared at his side with a tray, holding three cups of steaming coffee.  Her eyes were like saucers as she watched the fingers of an expert seemingly caress the keys as they flowed across the keyboard. The screen changed at a pace Mandrake was unable to keep up with, not that she would understand it, anyway.

?How does she do that??

Joe turned to her and grinned as he saw her expression.

?She?s good isn?t she? I had bets with the other guys in the office that she was born with a laptop at her side.? Laughing, he selected one of the mugs and placed it near Anna so that she could smell the beverage, but it would not interfere with her hand movements.

?Can she read all that?that gobbledygook??

Joe looked at the screen and the modifications that were being made.

?Yep she sure can, and she wrote it so it?s even easier for her. You could always ask her to explain it to you.?

Minutes later, Anna moved her shoulders to relax them, and saw the mug of cooling coffee at her side. She swiveled in her chair and looked quizzically at the two people watching her, both appeared embarrassed at being caught in their observation.

?Can I help either of you?? Anna asked politely, as she reached for the mug of coffee and took a grateful sip from its depths.

Joe guiltily looked at his boss and shrugged his shoulders.

?Ms. Roman and I have finished, Ms. Stephens. She?s capable of using the programmes now.?
Anna looked at him shrewdly. It wasn?t in Joe?s best interest to lie to her, so she accepted his pronouncement.

?Is that so? Ms. Roman, are you happy with the situation now??

Mandrake looked at Anna calmly. A glacial gaze had pierced her, but it didn?t deter her. ?Yes.?

?Excellent news. That means we can get out of your hair and go home for what is left of our Saturday. Thank you for your time, Ms. Roman.? Anna stood up, drank another mouthful of the coffee, and placed the mug on the edge of the desk. She moved to switch off the computer and collect her palm pilot. As she did so, she accidentally knocked over the mug. It crashed to the floor and splintered all over the carpet.

?Oh shit!? Anna rasped out and bent down to pick up the larger shards of the pottery.

Joe went to help her, as Mandrake watched the two computer geeks picking up the pieces.  For some reason the sight of it made her giggle. Anna looked up from her task and winced as a piece of pottery embedded itself in her hand.

?Hell that hurt!? Anna exclaimed. She was amazed when a small hand took hers and examined the injury. There was a steady flow of blood and the shard was still embedded.

?Let me look at that for you??

The momentary shiver that went down her back perplexed Anna. Trying to pull away from the gentle touch, she was held firmly as they exchanged glances.

?I can look after that myself, it?s nothing!?

?I know you can, but why not let me help you? It?s still stuck in your hand. Let me pull it out for you, please. I will try to be careful.? Mandrake?s voice held the resonance of someone speaking to a frightened child who had hurt herself.

Anna looked at her again and then nodded her head.

Mandrake looked at Joe and spoke to him.

?Joe, there is a first aid box in my office on the wall. I think a pair of tweezers, some of the antiseptic wipes and a bandage might be useful, want to get them for me??

Joe nodded briefly and went over to collect the items.

?We could have gone over to the office.?

?Yes we could, but you are bleeding all over the carpet, and frankly one spot is quite enough on this beige creation, I can tell you.?

Still on her knees, Anna looked down at the floor and to the woman kneeling beside her. ?Yeah sorry about that, guess you can send my office the cleaning bill.? Her voice betrayed the tiredness that suddenly came over her.

Mandrake heard the weary tone of voice, as she looked at the woman by her side more closely. ?Are you okay??

?Sure, what makes you say that?? Anna was irritated at her own weakness, knowing that she had revealed her fatigue in the last comment.

?No reason, that?s fine then. Ah, here comes Joe.?

Two minutes later the bandage was in place and Anna was looking at the restrictive dressing and shaking her head.

?I would think that in a day or so you can replace it or remove it, if you?re a fast healer.?

?Thanks I will.?

?Joe, let?s go and leave Ms. Roman to finish her day.?

?Okay. Mandrake, I hope you remember everything I told you. I promise to send you those notes we discussed on Monday.?

Anna watched as the two exchanged a handshake of departure and again was unsure why it mattered to her. Spinning on her heel, she headed for the door and the parking lot.

?She?s a nice woman, don?t you think?? Joe was surprised that Anna allowed the librarian to tend to her hand. Anna Stephens rarely allowed people into her personal space.

?Mmmm, I guess so; didn?t really have that much contact?, Anna mumbled as she fumbled with her car keys.

?Are you going to be able to drive? I bet that kind of hurts now, doesn?t it?? Joe looked at her pale features. Although she pretended she could keep up a frantic pace twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, it was evident that she couldn?t.

?Yes, I should be able to do that small chore. I?ll see you in the office Monday, have a good rest of the weekend.? As she was about to get inside her vehicle, she glanced at the man who silently watched her. ?Joe, thanks for your help with Ms. Roman, if it had been up to me, we would still be on first base.?

Joe Lancer grinned infectiously at the woman and she reluctantly tugged a smile in place and then switched on the engine of the car.

?Thanks Boss, you have a good weekend, too.?

Continued in Part 2
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