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In a sleep rough voice, Alex answers her ringing telephone, “Yes?”

“Alex Reardon, please,” the female caller asks.

Not caring to offend the caller, Alex does not clear her throat, although the temptation to do so is great. “Yes, may I help you?”

“I am calling for confirmation of the 10:30 appointment with Mr. Aeolus P. Cerigo.”

“Yes, I can confirm that time,” Alex says, prepared to answer further questions, hoping her rough voice does not make her sound ill.

“Thank you,” is followed by a click, and then the dial tone.

Alex groans as she sits up and puts both hands on her cheeks to idly brush her hair out of her eyes, finally able to clear her throat. “Damn,” she croaks, and walks across the room to close the window. When she stays up late, she sleeps on her back, her mouth open, and wakes up with a raspy voice and a dry throat.

After a shower, extra time spent French braiding the sides and back of her hair, and a light application of makeup, she is moving from her dresser drawers to the open door of her closet, mumbling to herself. “Suit, make that a dark suit, white blouse, no cleavage, plain underwear, dark stockings, and low heels.” After closing the latch on her wristwatch, the last thing she looks for is a piece of jewelry to wear on her lapel of her suit. She wants something plain, sedate, but definitely not frivolous, “Oh yes, the antique silver filigree bow. Now where are those earrings?”

Standing in front of the full length mirror, she takes a deep breath and a critical look at herself. Although she is slender, at less than 120 pounds, the double breasted suit hides some of her figure, which is the intent. It is impossible to hide that she is a female, but the cut of the coat, which she had tailored to fit, disguises her generous breasts without allowing the front of the coat to gap. It was well worth the expense. The slight flare of the skirt, rather than being pencil thin, hangs straight, without being skin tight and fully covers her knees. If she does not stoop, her 5 foot 8 inch height will not intimidate any man, unless he is very short, and there is no solution for that event.

Alex considers wearing the dark framed glasses, to appear more business like, but she does not put them on. Instead she puts them in her briefbag, just in case she changes her mind. She uses them for magnification, not vision correction. In her opinion she looks as much like a business person as is possible, for someone her age. Short of drawing artificial lines to her face, she cannot hide that she is just barely twenty-two years old. This is, after all, her first job application. She has no work experience, absolutely none, not even flipping burgers in high school, or even a research assistant in college.

Catching the door before it closes, she goes back into her apartment and takes her large artists portfolio case, too. She submitted the drawings the letter asked for, but Aeolus P. Cerigo may want to see more of her work. She will show him all of the work she did before she selected the four to send with her application. ****

Suffering through the typical job application process, most of which she managed to do by mail, and telephone, Alex hopes this is the final step. She arrived a few minutes early. Although the middle aged woman sitting at the desk seemed a little unsure Alex was in the right office, she did look at the list of names on a printed sheet at the corner of her desk and acknowledged that Alex has a 10:00 o’clock appointment. Now, Alex has sat through four other applicants going in and out of the door at the other side of the room. One after another, each applicant followed the middle aged woman who opened the inner office door, announced the applicant, closed the door behind the applicant, and returned to her desk, where she has sat typing on a computer keyboard, while listening to a dictation machine. Without exception, each of the four applicants to precede Alex has remained in the inner office for less than fifteen minutes. Alex sits, as patiently as possible, growing slightly more nervous as the minute hand on the clock slowly moves upward.

A few minutes before 11:00, the woman stands and asks, “Alex Reardon?” She turns and walks to the inner office door, opens the door, steps inside and announces “Alex Reardon.”

Across the room, a man is sitting behind the desk, with several large sheets of vellum spread on the surface of the desk. From behind one drawing, which he is holding up to eye level, he announces, “This job you will have, if you match this signature. This drawing, I like. Others, they are childish trash.”

“That is my drawing,” Alex acknowledges. She can see through the vellum. It is her drawing of a staircase inside a historical building downtown.

The hands holding the sheet of vellum slam the paper on the desk as the man rises to his feet, “You are a girl.” His eyes flash at Alex. If she were any nearer the man, she would be singed around the edges by the flames of his anger.

Swallowing, Alex lifts her chin, “Actually, I bakırköy escort am a female. I am a little old to be called a girl.”

Growling, the man advances around the desk, “This position is not for a female.” His faint accent makes each word hard and crisp, leaving no doubt to his preference. He did not want a female as his artist. His slightly lopsided mouth smirks at her. She suspects it is an effort to intimidate her.

“That, Mister Cerigo, is discrimination.” Alex reminds him. Her knees are wobbling. She is sure of her information, but the man’s size and anger is startling.

Alex had expected to meet a man much older than the one she sees standing before her. Aeolus P. Cerigo has a local, national, and international reputation, for the work he does in designing private residences for the famous and infamous. He is at least 6 foot 4 inches tall, or more. He is dark haired, dark eyed, and the suit he wears makes him look like he has football pads on the shoulders, if not on the thighs, hips, and across the chest. The man is intimidating. He knows it. And he is using it, right now.

Tempted to take a step back, because this man is towering over her, Alex stands where she is.

This is the best job she could ever hope to have and if she has to challenge this man, she will do so. Before applying for the position, Alex studied his work, spent hours in the library looking through reference books and out of date magazines, at descriptions and photos of some of his creations. His style, use of materials, design, and follow through on his projects, is legendary. To work with a man like this would be a dream come true. Alex is not going to allow a little fear to keep her from giving every ounce of effort needed to convince him she can do what he wants.

“What is this name, Alex? Isthis the feminine of Alexandria, Alexia, Alexis?” He spits each name out, disdain in every syllable, as he waves one large hand in the air.

“No. My name is Alex Maria Reardon. Alex is not a shortened form of any other name.”

“Who would do this to a girl? The father, he would do this, expecting a son?”

“I’m not sure that is any of your concern. But I will answer. I do not have a father.”

Grinning, instead of laughing out loud, the man looks her up and down. “This is not possible. The woman does not have the child without a man.”

Gritting her teeth, Alex stares at him, “He was killed before I was born.” She is not going to give him any more information.

“You,” he commands, pointing to a chair in front of his desk. “Sit.”

Alex takes two small steps forward and must stop because the man stands in her path to the chair he wants her to occupy. “Excuse me?” Alex looks up at the man’s dark eyes, indicating she wants him to step aside. She is not going to give him the satisfaction of walking around him and the chair to do as he asks.

His about face would satisfy any drill sergeant. Although he returns to the other side of his desk, he does not sit down. Instead he lifts the 24×36 drawing and turns it, sliding it across the desk. “This? This is your work? You sign this, again, now. I watch.”

Alex slides to the edge of her seat and holds out her hand. As if it is not a part of her body, she dares her hand to tremble. “May I have a pencil, please?”

Rather then place the pencil in her hand, the man slaps it on top of the drawing. Alex picks up the mechanical pencil, tests the lead on the lower right corner of the paper, where several other test marks appear and easily signs her name, directly below the signature she applied before she submitted the drawing. Rather than return the pencil to the man, she lays it down and slides back in her seat. She crosses her ankles, moves her feet to the side of her chair, and folds her hands loosely in her lap.

Finally resuming his seat, he pulls the drawing toward him and turns it around, placing it on top of several others. Taking his time, he glances through the stack of drawings on the top of his desk. The corners of his mouth occasionally turn down with disgust, or disappointment. He takes his time going through the stack. After all, it is his time.

Using the knuckle of his forefinger, he taps the top drawing, “You have more? Like this, there are others?”

Alex nods, picks up the large artist case she placed by her chair, places it on her lap and begins to pull the zipper along one edge.

“Here,” Cerigo commands, slapping the top of his desk. Startled, Alex lifts the flat leather case to the top of his desk and catches her breath when he takes it from her hands. He pulls it toward him and finishes opening the case. With a practiced flip of his wrist, he lays the top over and proceeds to go through every drawing in the case, one at a time, lifting them, and examining each one. Some are rough drawings, incomplete sketches, black and white, and a few are color. He examines some of the landscapes, laying one or two hands on the drawing as if to block out one small portion başakşehir escort of the drawing to see what remains. There are others, unique structural details of houses around the city, which she completed for this application and decided, for one reason or another, not to submit. He examines one other drawing she did of the staircase, taking a moment to look at the top step, where a portion of the upstairs floor is included. He nods as if he agrees the one she submitted is a better drawing.

As she sits watching the man examine her work, Alex thinks to her self that the man’s name, Cerigo, fits his personality. He is “Sir Ego”. Bringing her attention back to the man, Alex’s face pales when he picks up the next drawing. She can see through the opaque paper. It is her drawing of the discus thrower. It is not the drawing of the male model that disturbs her. She knows it is good, showing muscle definition, the male model’s serious expression, and good anatomical size relevance between the length of his leg, the size and tilt of the head, and the width and angle of the shoulders. Her concern is the eight different drawings surrounding the model, of his penis, scrotum, and pubic hair.

The drawing was done for a private class. The model was hired for three hours. At one point during those three hours, the male model had an erection. Alex roughly sketched the man’s erection as it progressed. Before she left the studio, she completed the small drawings, adding more definition and shading. In two of the small depictions, she used colored pencils to show the faint tracing of blood vessels, the ruddy color of the scrotum and the lighter shade of the head of his penis, as it began to emerge through the foreskin.

Alex did not recall this drawing was in her case and hopes the other life series drawings are in the thicker folio at her apartment. When Cerigo slides the discus thrower aside, she knows she should have looked through the case before she decided to bring it. The man’s swiftly indrawn breath is proof he has found her self portrait.

He looks up from the drawing, stares at her hair, and compares it to the drawing. Similarly, he looks at the neck, face and hands. She is sure he would like to ask her to stand and turn around, just as one of her fellow students asked. It took her own full length mirror and one she borrowed from the girl in the next apartment, to get all the views she wanted as she worked on the drawing.

Holding the drawing in his hands, Cerigo leans back in his chair. Alex can see the top edge of the paper slightly wavering, as if his hands are trembling. Unconsciously, he licks his lips, takes a deep breath, and slowly exhales.

“This is you, no?” he asks and then answers his own question. “This is you,” he announces. “Yes,” he agrees with himself.

“I apologize,” Alex says, fighting a deep blush which works its way up her neck and across her cheeks. “I did not recall I left those in my case. They are part of a series. There are several others, children, an older man and woman, and a baby.” What else can she say?

As if it is a fragile piece of china, he places the drawing back on his desk. He puts his elbows on the arms of his chair and tents his hands together, lightly tapping his forefingers against his wide, full, lower lip as he looks at her. He looks down at the two drawings on his desk, and then back at her face.

Sitting forward in his chair, he taps the drawing of the man. “This man, you know this man? He is your lover?”

Alex shakes her head. “No, he was a paid model.”

Shaking himself, as if he is coming out of a daze, he slides her drawing of the staircase from under the case and places it on top of the discus thrower and the self portrait. “This is what I seek, this stairway, I know it. This is the Beaufort House, yes?”

Alex nods as he lifts the staircase and looks at the two nude drawings, which lay side by side beneath it. She is tempted to fold her case, take it from him, and walk out the door.

Gently, he pats the drawing of the staircase and one of the landscapes he set aside. “For me, you can do similar work?”

“If you are asking about architectural details and landscapes, then yes, that is what I can do for you.” She does not know why she equivocates, perhaps it is because of his reaction to the two nudes, or she just wants to get back at him for his dismissal of her, as being a “girl”.

Cerigo reaches to a button on his telephone and tapes it two times. The woman from the exterior office appears and takes notes as Alex’s new employer issues instructions. ****

“Stupid,” Alex grumbles as she follows the driver, who is carrying her luggage, down the stairs. “Five o’clock in the morning is too damn early to fly anywhere,” she mumbles and hears the driver snicker. The 3:30 alarm awakened her from a sound sleep, in the middle of a dream, where Cerigo had looked through her case, examining every sketch she made for her self portrait. He was walking around the pedestal where bayrampaşa escort she stood, examining her body to see that her drawings were true to what he was seeing and touching. His warm hand was much more erotic than the drawings detailed. The alarm sounded when his hand was slowly sliding up the inside of her thigh. She awoke wet, throbbing, and breathing hard, her thighs tingling from dreaming about the man’s hand as it moved across her skin. She knows it was his hand. The heavy ring with the large coin, showing a Greek god’s profile, held securely in a custom shaped bezel, disappeared between her legs as he cupped her sex. It was the ring he was wearing while she was in his office.

She is further agitated when the driver leaves her at a private airport lounge, where Cerigo sits, comfortably working on a laptop computer. He does not speak, but he does nod when Alex sits in a nearby club chair. A steward appears with a tray, offering her a cup of coffee, served in a delicate china cup, with a matching saucer. There is no disposable Styrofoam in this rarefied atmosphere.

People, who travel by private jet, do so with one, or two pilots, lounge and flight attendants, and more luxury than most people will ever know. Everything is new and strange to Alex. Her employer does nothing to help explain what is happening. He is in his own world, shut off from what is going on around him, his face a solid, solemn mass, without expression, or comment. Occasionally consulting a paper or photo taken from a large briefcase beside him, he seems to be using some industry specific software to add design details to a room or several rooms. Only when he turns slightly, to go through the briefcase, can Alex see the monitor. However, the image is so small she cannot determine any detail.

Alex spent several hours with the middle aged woman, completing her employment documents and receiving instructions on clothing to pack for a three day site examination. The woman, who introduced herself as Miss Compton, shepherded Alex to an office, asked for a list of supplies she would need and arranged for some of the paper, pencils and a few other items to be delivered to Alex’s apartment because she would need them for this trip. Mister Cerigo did not intend to delay the planned trip, just to allow his combination artist and sometimes draftsman to acclimate herself to her new job.

A laptop, provided by the company, is in her personal briefbag. It will take her hours to become familiar with some of the software. She had less than an hour with the technician to get the laptop customized for her own use. She gave the technician a list of the software she frequently uses and found the laptop on the seat of the car which picked her up less than an hour ago.

As Alex sets her coffee cup on the small table beside her chair, a young woman steps out of a glass enclosed office and suggests Alex visit the ladies room, as their plane will load in about ten minutes. When she returns from the restroom, a young man is carrying her briefbag and larger portfolio case to the airplane. He is followed by a second young man, carrying Cerigo’s obviously heavy briefcase and computer case. The man, himself, is wandering around the long waiting room, occasionally stopping to look out the large windows at the airplane and landing strip. It is the last opportunity they will have to walk, or stretch their legs, before they get aboard the airplane.

Alex may not be aware that when Cerigo stops at a tinted window, he watches her, almost as if he is looking in a mirror. She stands near the door, watching the final steps taken, by the various airport personnel, before take off. Her arms are wrapped around her waist, with her elbows cupped in her palms. Nor is she aware of the number of times he looked up from his work to examine her, from head to toe.

He is not immune to the charms of a woman. He is pursued, for his size, a challenge to some women to see if the old adage of what is behind a man’s zipper is related to the size of his hands and feet. Or he is pursued as a man, available to pampered women who are not satisfied by what they find at home, or elsewhere on the estates where they live. He has had his flings, accepting them for what they are, temporary, exciting, and often enhanced because of the clandestine atmosphere in which they take place.

However, none of those sexual encounters affected him as violently as Alex Reardon. She has already crawled under his skin. She managed to do that by walking into his office and contradicting him when he called her a girl. He had an almost instant arousal, hard and throbbing. At the veiled threat about his discrimination, his arousal grew. When he saw her drawing of the progress of the man’s arousal, his own went beyond the final drawing and he could not withhold his question asking if she had experienced sexual pleasure from a man who was not circumcised. He barely managed to avoid a groan, when he saw the self portrait. It shows three quarters of her slightly bent back, with a glimpse of the side of her breast and erect nipple. Her chin is nearly touching her shoulder, with that arm raised and her hand rested at the back of her head, holding most of her hair off her neck. A few soft curls, with their hint of warm auburn color, hang down her neck and beside her backbone. The arm hides most of her face, but he knew, instantly, it is a self portrait.

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