Royce sat at his desk, trying to figure out where the error was in the latest plant projections. The noise in the background suddenly got his attention. The plant machinery didn't sound right. Since his office was located directly above the line, he'd grown accustomed to the normal sounds of the factory. Something was off. Even though it was technically lunch and the line was at half-speed--with half as many workers as normal--he could tell there was something wrong.
He turned around and checked the bank of cameras, which offered various vantage points of the complex machinery. Lunchtime was the only time when there weren't people stationed at every part of the line. Which was why he always took his lunch late, just in case there was a problem.
He inspected the twenty surveillance cameras one at a time, starting at the top and moving methodically through the monitors. As he scanned the top row of screens, something below on one of the monitors caught his attention.
It was a person. It looked like they were following the line closely. Below the twenty small screens was a large monitor. He hit the button to call up that particular camera onto the big monitor.
His gut wrenched. A woman, terrified, had her dress caught in the assembly line machinery and was being dragged along. She was headed for the choppers.
Leaping out of his chair, Royce flew out of his office, down the stairs and rushed to the scene. As he got closer, he heard her cries of desperation, but the machinery was drowning her out. Which was why no one had heard her.
Just as she approached the sharp blades that cut the cardboard, he slammed down the emergency shut-off switch. Just as a blade sliced through a part of her dress, the line ground to a halt.
She was nearly hysterical. Not to mention half-naked; her dress had been pulled almost completely off of her--jammed up in the assembly line. As alarmed as he was for her safety, he couldn't help but notice her long, muscular legs, her tight belly and her lovely bosom covered only by a lacey bra. Her rear end was also a sight to behold. Two high, rounded, taut buns were barely covered by a wisp of material. The sight made his loins stir.
He rushed to her side. "Calm down, calm down, you're going to be fine."
She cried out when she saw him and latched onto him. "You saved me! You saved me!" she squealed, nearly crushing him in an embrace.
He caught the scent of her long, blonde hair as she wrapped herself around him. She smelled wonderful. She was a little thing, too. Yes, he was a large man, but this woman was a mere slip of a girl. She couldn't weigh more than a hundred pounds, but the strength she used to cling to him was surprising.
He couldn't in all good conscience return her embrace. So he stood there awkwardly, his hands in the air, waiting for her to calm down. But it didn't seem as if that was going to happen any time soon. She was sobbing heavily.
He attempted to extricate himself from her, but she wouldn't let go. "Uh, Miss? I have to get your dress out of the machinery, or we'll be stuck here all day."
"You saved me! You saved me!" she cried as an answer, still crushing him in a hug.
"Miss," he said a bit louder. "I must get your dress out of the machinery."
She continued to sob and wouldn't let go.
Bob Jenkins, his floor manager, came rushing up to him. "Sir, sir! What..." He stopped and stared at the half-naked waif clinging to his boss.
Royce could feel his face flush. He shrugged and indicated that the woman would not let go of him.
Bob quickly understood the situation. Stifling a grin, he walked past the two and began working on the caught material in the machine assembly. Unable to pull the dress out, he withdrew a knife from his pocket and cut the material. The woman was free.
Royce patted her on the back. "Okay, you're free, you can let go now; you're going to be fine."
"You saved me! You saved me!" she cried, but would not let go.
Royce sent Bob a searching look. Bob shrugged, covered his mouth because he'd started laughing, and walked away, his shoulders shaking.
"For God's sake," Royce said.
Finally, with no way to extricate himself from the woman, he picked her up.
She moved her arms quickly to his neck. She got a near strangle hold on him and buried her face in his chest.
"You saved me! You saved me!" she cried.
Royce quickly carried her back to his office, kicking the door shut behind him. He walked over and tried to put her down on the couch, but she wouldn't let go.
"Miss, you're going to have to let go of me, please, you're choking me."
"I'm what?" she stammered.
"You're choking me," he said more loudly.
Finally, she seemed to come to her senses. "Oh. Oh! I'm so sorry!" she said, finally letting go.
Royce straightened up and loosened his collar. He could now breathe. He grabbed a blanket from the couch and threw it over her shoulders. She quickly wrapped it around herself.
She was still crying and shaking like a leaf. Royce got a bottle of water from his office refrigerator and handed it to her.
"Here, drink this, it'll make you feel better."
"I c-c-c-can't right now. In-n-n-n a m-m-minute." She shook so hard, he was worried she might come apart.
He put a hand on her shoulder. "You're fine. You'll be fine. Just calm down."
"I'm trying," she said, hugging the blanket tightly around herself.
He knew she must be in her early thirties, but she looked like a terrified child.
"Now tell me, who are you and how did you get your dress caught in that machine? No one's allowed near the line without the proper authority. And clothing, I might add."
"My name is Sophie McClain. I'm ... I'm new."
"New. How new?"
"I s-s-s-started about a week ago."
"In which department?"
Her eyes grew wide as she stared up at him; tears began to roll down her cheeks again. "Am I going to get fired? Are you going to tell my boss? Please don't! I need this job! I can't lose this job! I can't! The agency said they won't send me on any more interviews! It's not my fault! It's not my fault!"
Royce held up a hand for her to quiet. "Please, Miss McClain, I'm not going to get you fired; I just want to know which department you work for."
"But the boss is real strict! They all said, don't cross Mr. Meyers. Don't even get near Mr. Meyers. Don't get in an elevator with Mr. Meyers or you won't have a job by the time you reach the ground floor. You can't tell him! You can't tell him! I'll be fired, and I need this job!" she wailed.
"Miss McClain, please calm down."
His words had no effect. The woman was off and running.
"I haven't even met him," she babbled. "I don't know what he looks like. I've tried to avoid him because I heard he's real hard on people and I have this problem and bosses are always worried about me and I don't know why. I work real hard and I stay late and I get there early and then things happen and I always get blamed and it's not my fault. Well, maybe the truck going into that vat of cement was my fault, but why would they leave the truck open if they didn't expect people to get inside it? I'd never been in a truck that big before and it was really cool and I always just wanted to sit in a seat and look out because you can see so much in those trucks and who knew that the big lever in the center wasn't the gear shift but the brake? I mean who puts brake levers in the center of a truck? I just barely hit it and the thing started rolling and I barely jumped out in time--you'd think they'd be happy that I didn't die--but they weren't happy at all. They all screamed at me and ordered me out and almost didn't give me my last paycheck and my landlord is real strict about things like that. I was late once and he almost evicted me and my parents are dead and I don't have anyone in my corner to borrow money from and I can't live on the street! I couldn't make it on the street! Please don't tell! I won't go near the assembly line, I swear I won't!"
Royce stood there, stunned. When he finally became aware that his mouth hung open, he shut it. He'd never heard anyone talk that fast before, and he'd never met anyone like this person. The weird thing was, all he could think about was kissing her to shut her up. How could he possibly be attracted to a disaster area like this young lady? But with those big blue eyes looking up at him, her make-up running down her cheeks, her full red lips quivering in fear, the woman sucked him in. Who was she? And how the hell did she end up at his plant?
She apparently took his stunned silence as judgment.
"Please don't tell!" she wailed, breaking down into tears.
"Miss McClain, please, stop your tears. I'm not going to fire you. I just want to know what department you work for."
"Ac-c-c-c-counts Receivable," she finally managed to squeak out through her tears.
"Finally, an answer. You work for Martha Higgins, right?"
"Uh-huh," she sniffed, wiping her tears on the blanket.
Royce got a box of Kleenex and handed it to her.
"Thanks," she said.
"So how did you come to be stuck in that machinery? Your department is at the furthest end of this building. Didn't Martha tell you that this area is off limits to everyone but the workers who run the line? That machinery is very dangerous, Miss McClain."
"Oh, I know, but I wanted to see. I love machinery. My dad used to be a mechanic and I used to go to the auto plant where he worked in Michigan--we used to live in Michigan before all the plants closed--and he let me watch him and I really liked it and I love machinery and I just wanted to look."
"I see. So during your lunch break, you walked down here to get yourself a look. Why didn't you just watch from the windows above the line?"
"Well, I did, but then there was this gizmo that took the cardboard and folded it and it was really cool and I didn't understand exactly how it folded it and I couldn't really see from up there and it was lunch and no one was around so I..."
"So you came down to get a closer look."
"Uh-huh. But then, I don't know what happened, I must've got too close when I was checking that foldy thingy and the next thing I knew, the machine was practically strangling me and I was being dragged along and I couldn't rip my dress off or get untangled and I thought I was gonna die and then you saved me! God, how can I ever thank you for saving my life? Can I cook you dinner? I don't have any money to buy you a gift or anything, but I'm a real good cook. I can make all kinds of things--my favorite is spinach enchiladas--and I make my own sauce to go on top because canned sauce is just nasty."
Royce couldn't believe how much information she could impart in such a short period of time. "Uh..." he said.
"Just please, please, please don't tell Mr. Meyers because I didn't mean any harm and I know I broke the rules but the foldy thing was so cool, I just couldn't help myself but I didn't mean anything. I was just curious. And I heard that--"
"Yes, yes, that Mr. Meyers is a tyrant. Well, he's not a tyrant, I can tell you that, and he wouldn't fire someone for their first mistake, just make sure this doesn't become a practice of yours. All right?"
"Oh, no. I'll never get that close to the machinery again."
"Good girl," he said with a sigh. This little girl was a tornado! "Well, now that's settled. You need to go home and get some suitable clothes. In the meantime, I have a pair of coveralls that should suffice," he said, walking to a corner of his office and opening up a closet. He withdrew a pair of coveralls and tossed them to her. "Now put those on. You'll have to roll up the sleeves and the legs, but at least you won't have to walk through the plant half-naked."
"Thanks," she said, brightly. She flashed him a white-toothed smile that almost made his heart stop. My God, what a beautiful little thing.
"Where do you live?" he asked.
"Um ... on the corner of Middlefield and Jefferson. In that big apartment complex."
"Yes, I know the area. Now, I'm a bit concerned about you driving after you had such a shock ... what time is it? Oh, good, lunch is almost over. I was going to call you a cab, but since it's time for me to go eat, and one of my favorite restaurants is near your apartment, how about if I drive you home so you can get dressed?"
"Okay. Just don't let Mr. Meyers know I took all this time off, because he's--"
"He is not a tyrant. He'll understand."
"I hope so. I really can't lose this job because--"
"Your parents are dead, the agency won't send you out on any more jobs, and you don't want to end up on the street. Yes, you said that."
"I did? Oh, I did. Sorry, I forget what I say when I'm shook up. Every time I've almost died, I'm like this."
"Every time you've almost died? How many times has that been?"
"Uh ... I don't know. Ten or twelve?"
"Ten or twelve times? And you haven't learned from your mistakes?"
"Oh, yeah, I have. I won't ever roller-skate in parking garages, or get into big trucks near vats of cement, or ride a shopping cart down a hill or jump off a roof with an umbrella like Mary Poppins--of course, I was six at the time, so kids do stupid things like that, so that technically doesn't count--nor will I snorkel in shark-infested waters when there's big signs that say not to, nor will I ghost ride in my car, nor will I try to ride a bike without any hands, nor will I--"
"Stop. I got it. I got the picture. You never make the same mistake twice. You just..."
"It's not my fault if I'm curious."
"No, but it seems as if you need a healthy dose of self-restraint."
"Oh. Yeah. Don't have much of that."
"I haven't almost died in ... well, there was that truck thing. Okay, that truck thing was the first time in over two years that I almost died. Wait. That was the second time I almost died in a truck. I forgot about that. Okay, thirteen times I almost died. No, wait. There was that time with the skateboard and the windsurfing board thing. But who knew the wind gusts were so strong that day?"
"My God. How old are you?"
"Thirty-three. Almost thirty-four."
"It's amazing you're still alive. What does your husband say about this?"
"Nothing. He's dead."
She immediately said, "I didn't do it--"
"I didn't mean to imply that--"
"He did that all by himself. He was motorcycle riding and went off a cliff which he thought was a hill and it was but he thought the other side of the hill was a valley and it was but it happened to be a hundred and fifty feet down. That was five years ago. I miss him all kinds and haven't found anyone as good and as nice as him, so now I'm single."
Royce couldn't believe how charmed he was by this woman. While a fruitcake and a ball of energy, he'd never met anyone quite like her. For some reason, aside from her verbal avalanches, he found himself enchanted by her.
"Well, Miss McClain, how about if I take you home so you can change into something more suitable?"
"Okay, just can I call Miss Higgins and tell her that I'm ... wait. She won't believe me, I'm already late back to the office and I have this whole pile of things I need to get done by the end of the--"
"I'll call and explain it to her."
He chuckled to himself and picked up the phone and called Martha. "Martha? Yes, it's me. I have an employee of yours here with me--yes, Miss McClain. She's fine. She had a slight accident with some machinery--I explained that to her. Yes, it's fine, she's fine, but I'm afraid her clothes are not. Her dress got caught in the assembly line. No problem. We've had a long chat about it. At any rate, her clothes got destroyed, and I'm taking my lunch now. She informed me that her apartment is nearby a favorite restaurant of mine, so I'm going to take her home--she's still a bit shaky--and we'll be back in an hour and a half or so. Can you do without her for that long? Excellent. She was very concerned about letting you down. Yes, she is. Yes, she does. No, it's all fine. Thank you, Martha." He hung up the phone.
"She's okay with it?" Sophie asked.
"Yes. Now, before we go, I want to make one thing clear. You are not to go near that machinery again, all right? This time, I'm letting you off with a warning. Next time, you may not be so lucky. Do we understand each other?"
"Yes, sure, you betcha, I won't, I promise. But you aren't going to tell that nasty Mr. Meyers are you?"
"Who told you Mr. Meyers was such a demon?"
"This girl who sits next to me."
"Let me guess. Sherrill Mannis."
"Yeah, how did you know?" Sophie asked.
"Oh, she's had a few run-ins with Mr. Meyers. She probably didn't mention that she was slacking off, sneaking out to spend time with one of the workers in the auto shop."
"No. She didn't. She just said he was mean and that I should avoid him."
Suddenly, Sophie noticed something on Royce's desk and gasped in horror.
"What?" Royce demanded.
"We're in his office! Mr. Meyers's office! You have to get me out of here! What if he comes back and sees--oh, God, he's going to think I was coming on to you! I'm going to be fired! I'm--"
"Sophie! Quiet!" he ordered.
She instantly quieted, but still looked terrified. "But--"
"Quiet, now, just quiet. Damn, woman, do you ever calm down?"
"Yeah," she answered, looking sheepish. She still kept looking between his nameplate on his desk and the door. It was clear she wasn't convinced that "Mr. Meyers" wasn't going to come rushing in the door and fire her.
This woman was exhausting. He was afraid if he told her who he was, she'd scream and run.
"Calm down and come along, now," he said gesturing towards the door.
"Okay," she said.
Royce escorted her through the factory, towards his private parking space behind the back of the warehouse.
He finally took hold of her arm because she kept stopping to stare at the working machinery. He'd never seen a woman more fascinated with the assembly line before.
They were just about out the door when Bob Jenkins stopped him. "Sir, there's a problem with a customer. He's on the phone, and he wants to talk to you."
"Where's the nearest phone?" Royce asked.
"My office, sir," Bob said, indicating the small office off in the corner of the warehouse.
"All right. Now, Sophie, you stay here, and you don't touch anything, do you hear me?"
Sophie was intently staring at an opening in the wall that the assembly line passed through. It took the sheets of cardboard into the printing room.
"Stay here and don't touch anything! You hear me?"
"Oh, yeah. Yeah, I won't."
"Good. I'll be right back."
"Okie-dokie," she said, and turned her attentions back to the machinery.
Five minutes later, the problem solved, Royce walked back into the factory and didn't see Sophie anywhere.
He heard a little shriek, looked over, and was completely horrified to see Sophie riding a piece of cardboard on top of the conveyor belt, going through the opening in the wall, headed towards the printing press.
Royce ran down the hallway and smashed down on the emergency control lever. He flew through the double doors to see five workers desperately trying to extricate Sophie from underneath the massive press. If he'd been two seconds late turning off the line, Sophie would have been crushed.
She cried hysterically while the five men tried to calm her down and get her off the conveyor belt.
As Royce neared the scene, he heard her yell, "Don't tell Mr. Meyers! I'll lose my job! I need this job! It wasn't my fault!"
This time, because he'd already formed some sort of an attachment to the girl, he was furious. He could feel his blood rushing in his ears. All he could think about was spanking her into the middle of the next week.
Which was an excellent idea. Obviously, her near death experiences had no effect on her self-control. But a good solid paddling might just get through to her. It had worked on his ex-wife; she'd stopped all her shenanigans after he'd put the wood to her. Of course, his ex-wife's fiascos were completely innocuous next to Sophie's disasters. Miss McClain needed a keeper! And one with a strong hand. He had a feeling that he might be just the man for the job.
Just as he got next to the line, two men got her off the conveyor belt. She was still crying and wailing about her need to keep her job.
"Boss, this girl, she--"
"Don't worry, Joe, I know. I'll take care of this."
As soon as she saw Royce, she rushed to his arms. "I'm sorry!" she wailed as she embraced him.
This time, he pushed her away, hard, grabbed her by the arm and dragged her away from the machine. With her sobbing and crying and begging him not to tell "Mr. Meyers," he pulled her along with him to a place where he knew they'd get some privacy; the storeroom next to Bob's office.
He took her inside, slammed the door, pulled her over to a chair sitting in a corner and sat down. He yanked her down across his lap and began spanking the bejeesus out of her. As to be expected, she tried to fight him, but he increased his hold on her and whaled on her tight, little behind. He just wished that she wasn't wearing coveralls because all he wanted to do was to spank her bare bottom until it was redder than a beet.
All he could see was her lying on that conveyor belt, that press about to obliterate her head. She'd been two seconds away from death!
As he spanked her and spanked her, he became aware of something. He really liked this woman. Some part of him had planned on dating her. Some part of him had already considered them to be a couple. To have her almost die on him made him crazy. And he'd just met her! What was it about her? Was it true? Had he already fallen in love with her? That fast?
Well, he didn't know. But he did know one thing; from here on out, she was going to listen to him. From here on out, the little troublemaker was going to obey him. He'd make sure of that.
One bun than the other, he spanked her hard. Then, as a finishing touch, he swatted her sit spots with all he had. She shrieked with pain.
Finally, when it was clear she'd taken all she could, he stopped. He pulled her up and sat her on his lap. She was crying so loudly, she nearly deafened him.
When she wouldn't, he did the only thing he could think to do to shut her up. He kissed her.