I confess, I was possessed by Peter Burke. As I waited in his outer office for my appointment, I was appalled that I’d submitted to him—the very idea that he was going to “discipline” me was maddening, crazy and totally against everything I believed about myself as an independent, free-thinking and assertive woman of the 90’s.
But there I was, shaking like a leaf as Peter Burke drew the moment out to the bitter end. I’ve decided that it’s one way he gets the respect he wants being this intimidating tyrant with the cool demeanor, the focused blue eyes and the steel of an express train in his unyielding voice. I’ve known him to be softer than that but I suspect that was only a ruse to get me where he wanted me.
You might say I got stuck in a trap, a veritable “Catch 22”, first finding myself totally mesmerized by the “prick of the century”, the most backwards, underhanded and undoubtedly sexual man I’ve ever met; and then, caught in the midst of a 19th century employee contract that allows Peter Burke to wield this unusual power over his unsuspecting employees.
For a time after I joined Burke & Liggett, as a cracker-jack legal secretary to the senior partner, Mr. Burke, I imagined that my relationship with the blonde-haired god of masculinity might become more than just cordial and businesslike. I was engaged by his engaging smile, how smooth and crisp his manner was, how it seemed to spark my working days with fantasies that I’d never have entertained if Peter hadn’t been so damned attractive. When he’d lean over me from behind, place his hand on my desk, and I’d gaze at the cuff of his starched white shirt and his handsome tanned hand, I’d shiver as though there was sexual electricity firing between us. I wondered if I was the only one that felt it, or if perhaps I was stupidly smitten like a thirteen year old girl.
I admit, I wasn’t particularly good with men. In the previous three years, I’d had three sorry relationships that began with outrageous sex and ended up with me feeling hurt and disappointed because “the man of my dreams” didn’t give me all that I needed. I was afraid that Peter was the epitome of that kind of man who looked great, made love like a maniac, but cared nothing for a woman’s real feelings. Still, as his ever faithful secretary, I was destined to be with him for many hours every day, and forced to deal with my sexual fantasies which usually meant keeping them firmly in check.
About two months into my employment, Peter asked me to dinner after we’d worked until nearly nine o’clock on an important brief needed for the following day. I know it was just a causal meal, a little compensation for having kept me late, but still, I was delighted with the prospect of sitting on the other side of a dinner table from Peter and gazing into his blue eyes. By then, a shock of his blonde hair had fallen uncharacteristically in his eyes, and his tie was loose and he was far less intimidating than he was the first thing in the morning, when he looked like a GQ model. Make no mistake however, Peter Burke was not some empty headed pretty-boy. His razor sharp mind and cunning court room style had made him the most sought after corporate attorney in the city by the time he was in his late thirties.
Dinner with Peter was more than I ever expected. He talked quite liberally about his past, his struggles to get to the top of the legal world. And he attentively listened to me, as I gave him the “entry-level” chronicle of my life that I usually offered on a first date.
“Well, now that you’ve told me all the unimportant things,” he responded to me when I was done with my speech, “tell me something real about you.”
I was startled, but only momentarily undone. I liked his style, even if he might not be completely sincere. Though I had to admit, looking into his provocative eyes, he seemed honestly interested in me, Kathleen McGovern.
“Well,” I began, just a little chagrined. “I like men that take risks and chances with women.” I’d said the first thing that popped into my head, and instantly regretted it once I heard my words.
“Really?” he replied, apparently impressed. “What kind of risks are those?”
“Emotional ones,” I said. “I like men that can be vulnerable and still be self-assured?”
“You like sexual risks in bed?” he wondered.
I paused a moment, a little suspect of his motives.
“Is that too forward?” he asked.
“No, not at all,” I said. I was lying. Certainly it was forward of him, but then I’d begun this chancy conversation. “Yes, I like men who take risks with sex. I’m certainly not a honey-coated lover in bed or out.”
“And why would you ask?” I inquired.
“For future reference,” he replied.
I thought about what he said for a few minutes. I was feeling uncomfortable, surprised that we’d taken this sudden turn in what I thought would remain a strictly professional relationship.
“And what’s that suppose to mean, future reference?” I had to know.
“Perhaps nothing,” he replied.
“You’re being evasive, Peter Burke. I’d rather you lay things on the line with me, after all, this is not a date. I am your secretary, and I’ll be sitting behind the desk outside your office at eight tomorrow morning.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it, Kathleen. But I don’t think either of us can ignore the fascination we seem to have with each other.” He raised his eyebrows, the body language a way to seek my response.
It was then that I first realized that our “fascination” was mutual; and my heart was suddenly doing flip flops, my loins taking tumbles. I was worried that if I wasn’t careful, we’d end up in bed that very night; and I knew that that would complicate things completely—something that I didn’t think I could handle. No. I needed the job, and the generous paycheck too much to do something stupid with the boss so soon.
I smiled, the best I could do for the moment. Then I took the last sip of wine in my glass and ate the last bite of carrot cake on my plate. It was a way to avoid his intense scrutiny of me, but it would last only as long as I could busy myself with the end of my meal.
“Or perhaps I was mistaken?” he interrupted my activity.
“I’m afraid, Peter, I don’t trust my first exhilarated responses to men,” I finally answered. “I’ve ended up hurt too many times to put much faith in them.”
“So you’d rather be cautious?”
“Don’t you think that’s a good idea given our working relationship?”
“I thought you liked men that took risks with women,” he said, spouting my words back at me.
I had to smile again. He looked amused. I wondered if he was toying with my real feelings.
“I don’t want to create an uncomfortable situation for you, Kathleen,” he said. “But I do think it’s wise to own up to the attraction, whether we act on it or not. Yes, it would be sensible to keep our feelings in check for a while. We are just beginning our working relationship, and certainly there’s a lot we don’t know about each other.”
Peter said exactly what I expected him to say, but I have to admit I was disappointed. Half of me would have loved for him to pursue me more. Now with him backing off, I was all the more intrigued and aroused.
“Just remember,” he added. “I don’t expect that my feelings for you will change. I doubt yours will either. Eventually we both need to deal with them.”
How strange it was to have a man talk about feelings so boldly, when I was used to men who were practiced in ignoring them.
I wish he’d kissed me when he dropped me at my car in the parking garage, but I was not that lucky. He left me with suggestion and desire but little concrete to hang on to. Peter Burke was as mysterious as he was bold, as he was good-looking. I was more charmed than ever.
After our dinner out, Peter and I spent a cozy but brief lunch together a week later. I was meeting him when court recessed with a stack of papers I’d just completed for the trial. In the midst of reviewing the case, Peter seeming so totally focused on the notes I was sharing with him that I was surprised to find his hand on my thigh. Was it affectionate or friendly? I wasn’t sure. And for a moment, I was reminded that since our dinner together, on several occasions while we were working I’d discover his hand resting on my shoulder as he was leaned over my desk. The familiarity was not unwelcome; though I was never sure if it was just Peter being fatherly and supportive, or something else.
It’s only fair to point out that it was a gesture I’d seen Peter use with other female employees. I suppose, when he could sometimes be so brutally cold with people, this hands-on affection was a clue that he did have another side to his nature.
The dinner, the conversation, the lunch, the hands-on display did nothing to squelch the fantasies that absorbed my waking hours. With all the titillation, I felt on the brink of something really special with this man. Though I was cautious, perfectly willing to wait, I secretly hoped that each day Peter and I worked together might bring us closer to the relationship I really wanted.
I’m afraid I ignored the rumors, the innuendoes and even the clues that were readily available to me that Peter Burke’s other side would at some point stun me with its ferocity. If love is blind, I was as blind as a bat when it came to assessing the man that would come to wield a terrifying power over me.