II: Kiss Me Once, Kiss Me Twice
Nedra held the towel around her body and stared, quite helpless as Victor took a couple of long strides back into the bathroom and scooped her up. Nedra said not a word; she was completely beside herself with the fact that he was much stronger than he looked. Being carried was a primordial weakness for her, as it was something that did not happen often. Victor carried her to the bedroom. She stared at him and wondered how far this thing was going to go.
He tossed her on the bed like a sack of potatoes and she took a moment to look in the mirror over the dresser. “You’ve utterly ruined my hair.”
“Your hair’s the least of my concern,” he said. He crawled over her and gently pushed her head into what were clearly goosedown pillows. In fact, the whole bed was extremely comfortable. Nedra closed her eyes and sighed. The man had some sort of taste. She opened her eyes to find him staring at her. It wasn’t in him to give certain kinds of compliments, but he was staring down at probably the most beautiful woman he’d been with in years. More beautiful than Sue even, and Sue was his benchmark.
Nedra lifted her fingers and ran them over his lips and beard.
“What are you doing?”
“I want to kiss you.”
Victor looked at her incredulously, like he’d never heard those words before. “You want to do what?”
Nedra continued to run a damp finger over his mouth. “I want to kiss you, Victor von Doom. If we’re being honest—and it seems you are—I wanted to do that in the shower, but then you pulled that fucking stunt and…it slipped my mind. I enjoy kissing. I don’t do it with every guy I’m with, but then not every guy has a mouth like yours…and right now it belongs to me. So give me what I want.”
He turned into a weak mass of male as she rolled him over and climbed atop him. She grabbed his hands and put them on her ass before caressing his beard. Tenderly, she kissed him and it was clear it was an experience he had not had for some time. A groan rumbled up from deep within his gut and he gripped her ass so hard that she gasped sharply before resuming the kiss. Her tongue danced over his, over his teeth and on the inside of his lips before pulling back and leaving a painful nip on his lower lip.
“If you call me that again, your dick won’t get anywhere near my pussy, which is swelling with anticipation…so don’t fuck this up. Pun intended.”
“Kiss me again, Nedra.” He liked it.
She was happy to. Then he rolled so that he was on top, between her spread legs and he had himself in hand, running the tip of his dick against her clitoris. Nedra moaned and bucked her hips.
“Don’t keep me waiting,” she said between kisses.
He didn’t and upon entrance, both of them sagged against each other at the feel of him comfortably and fully sheathed within her body.
“Nedra,” he said, in a rough whisper, ”I’m of a mind to get your boyfriend out of the way.”
“Dream on,” she said, and began to move her hips. “You wanted a fuck, so let’s have at it.”
He looked at her. “Kiss me again.”
After an awkward start, where they couldn’t get on the same rhythm, Nedra took control, locked her legs around his ass and flipped him. She adjusted her hips and closed her eyes as the feel of him within her changed. She put her hands on his chest and began to ride him. Victor lost all chill as he watched her perfect breasts bounce in tandem with her movements. He hadn’t had a chance to suck them yet, but that was definitely next on the list of the night’s events. He wanted to put his mouth all over her beautiful body and fill every hole she had. He seriously did not think that his request would actually take place; that she would have told him to fuck off and left him alone…but he was dealing with a woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer and the proof of that was him buried up to his balls in her hot body.
Promised Land, indeed. He was ready to start paying rent.
Nedra grabbed his hands and put them on her breasts. “Sue who?” she teased. She couldn’t help being a Petty Betty.
“Who?” Victor choked out as he caressed her tits. “What?”
Nedra grinned wickedly and squeezed, making him moan incessantly. “Exactly.” Then, in a way that showed finesse and skill, she reversed positions and rode him backwards. Victor was beyond delighted to see Nedra’s glorious ass in slapping reach and he didn’t hesitate.
The first slap caught her off guard and she paused mid-stroke. “Did you just—”
“You talk too much,” he said as he slapped her ass again. “Less chatter, more fucking. I’m so close; don’t stop!” He swatted her ass one more time.
Nedra rolled her eyes, increased her pace and squeezed harder. She reached down and caressed his balls and felt him go before she heard it. She arched her back and slowed down little by little, listening to his sounds as he deflated. “I want it all, including the sounds,” she commanded. “Give me your best efforts, hermit.”
“I just did,” Victor moaned, closing his eyes. Nedra dismounted and walked to the bathroom just as his semen began running down her legs. She had not come prepared to fuck, but she meant what she said when she told Victor she would do whatever was required to get him to Baxter. Franklin needed him, so she could deal with a little semen now and the rest later.
Nedra came back in the room with a damp washcloth and tenderly cleaned him up. Victor watched her, entranced. Yeah, he had requested sex, but this was more than that and he was curious. Who was this woman? He understood why Franklin trusted her because he was going to go to Baxter willingly with her when this night was over and Victor wondered if he would ever see Nedra again after that.
He would if he had anything to say about it.
“Kiss me some more,” he said.
“When was the last time you kissed a woman?” Nedra asked as she moved the washcloth over his groin.
“Not sure. Years. I don’t date.”
“That’s what happens when you drop out of the world, sweet thing.” She put the cloth to one side and crawled on top of him. “It goes on without you. Women who would have gladly graced those beautiful lips with kisses found someone else’s to grace. Women who would have happily clawed each others’ eyes out just to have the chance to know what I just experienced with you experienced it with someone else.”
He began massaging her breasts. “What are you talking about?”
Nedra kissed his nose. “While you were busy working at Baxter, there were plenty of women working at Baxter who wanted you, Victor. Badly. Why there have been actual spats on your behalf. In fact, I was present when some pretty raunchy conversations went down regarding you. There were women betting on who was going to turn your ass out. Beautiful women. Smart women. Talented women. Fighting over who was going to be your boo; over who was going to have you or die trying. You have a snarky, sexy appeal that a lot of women find irresistible, present company included. But your head was shoved so far up Sue’s nonchalant ass that between it and your work, you didn’t see it. You had no clue. But I knew.”
He looked bewildered as she pressed another kiss against his lips. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We weren’t on speaking terms, if you’ll recall. You didn’t know I existed, but we all knew about you.” She smiled, recalling an all-out catfight between Darlene Marsh in Biochemistry and Trielle Davis in Microbiology over Victor one Friday afternoon.
Victor wondered about that. Women fighting over him? He wasn’t dumb enough to ask why, but did smile secretly to himself. Maybe he had done himself a disservice focusing only on Sue. He'd certainly missed Nedra.
Nedra kissed him again, slowly, deliberately. Victor was here for every one of her kisses and met her each time. Her mouth was oh so sweet. Maybe it was dangerous to be kissing her so much. Like her sex, it was becoming addicting.
“We have to be after this,” he said. He was going to make sure of it. “Kiss me again.”
Nedra leaned in and kissed him once more. She had full, round lips that were softer than the clouds of heaven and to be kissed by her was like being forgiven by the God of every religion. She dragged it out, sweetly, tenderly, cupping his face as she graced him with her oral charms.
“Good Lord,” he whispered. He had already decided he wasn’t going to go without Nedra’s kisses.
“No we don’t,” she replied. “What is both good and bad about you, Victor,” she dropped another kiss on his lips, “is that you’re driven when you want something. Your project was damn near all consuming and your seriously out-of-whack feelings for Sue took care of the rest of your attention. When you return to work and you see what Reed has done with the transporter, you won’t give a damn about me or this, or anything else.”
“No,” he said. He gripped her breasts. “Not true.”
Nedra swatted his hands. “Be easy with them. They’re attached.”
“You just said that I’m driven when I want something. Do the math, Marine. You think I’m going to just let you disappear into the background after tonight?” After those kisses? After having been to the Promised Land, she actually thought he was just going to let this go? She was crazy.
Nedra was already bored with the conversation so she kissed him again. In moments, they were rolling around on his bed, liplocked, hands all over each other, laughter ringing out, when her phone began to ring.
Victor abruptly broke the kiss. “That’s your phone?”
Nedra blinked. “What time is it?”
“After 11,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. Give me more of your mouth.”
“Shit!” Nedra got up and ran into the bathroom. Victor watched her go, a smile on his face. She answered her cell and he rested his chin on folded arms and watched her lie her way out of whatever conundrum was on the other end.
By the gods, her ass was flawless and her waist to hip ratio was divine. He listened to her chatter.
“I’m working. I told you I had an assignment.
“Yeah, well it ran longer than I expected. I’m sorry, but I’m going to be late. Can you wait?
“Franklin needs me to do what I’m doing. You know how that is.
“You’ve done this shit to me before, remember? This is our thing; it’s how we roll…
“I’ll try to be there by 1, ok? I do want to see you; it’s been a long time.
“Well if you don’t want to wait for me, I get it. I didn’t know how difficult this assignment would be. Don’t be mad, okay?
When he heard that, Victor got up and walked into the bathroom. Nedra glared at him and put up a hand to block him, shaking her head.
“Don’t act like you don’t have anything that will keep you busy. Besides, I’m wearing that purple lingerie you like…
Victor stared at her and loudly asked, “Do you have a date or something?”
Nedra glared at him and showed him the hand again. “That’s my assignment, Jon. Franklin asked me to get him back to the BB and I’m here trying to convince him to do it. They need him over there and he’s being a dick about the whole thing.
“She’s doing a hell of a job convincing me,” Victor said in the direction of her cell. “In fact, she’s not finished.”
She glared at him. “Ignore him, Jon. He’s a dick. A huge dick. Anyway I’ll see you—“
Victor took the phone out of her hand. “She’ll see you tomorrow, maybe. Good night, friend.” And he hung up the phone. Then, for good measure, turned it off. “That’s your man?”
Nedra scowled at him. “You had no right!” Jon was her boyfriend, another former Marine and a man so fine he could stop traffic. They were good together.
“I’m still not convinced to go back to Baxter, so your job is not complete.” He grabbed her hand. “Come along, Nedra.”
Nedra was furious, but followed him. “I’m going to carve my name into your forehead with my Bowie when this is over.”
“Fine with me. Get on the bed, get that ass in the air.”
“You’re not controlling this.”
“Do you want me to do it for you?”
“I wish you would—!” she began before realizing it was as good as giving him permission. He picked her up and threw her on the bed. Victor’s bed was just the right amount of softness and firmness and Nedra had to admit she liked it. In seconds, he had his hands on her hips, drawing her to her knees.
Nedra found herself doggystyle, but he wasn’t making any move to penetrate her. To her surprise—and truthfully, she shouldn’t have been—she realized he was kissing and caressing her buttocks.
Words eluded her until he gently bit one of them and she hissed. She maintained her balance; remained as motionless as she could because she sensed that this was as important to him as being inside of her.
He was speaking in low tones; words she couldn’t make out, but her senses told her that whatever he was saying was utterly filthy and she was a bit frustrated she couldn’t hear his smutty worship. And of course, she began to get wet. She also realized that he hadn’t given any attention to her breasts and they were throbbing with need.
“My breasts have been ignored, hermit,” she admonished. “My nipples are aching right about now, so if you don’t mind sharing the love?”
“Don’t you dare move,” he ordered, slapping her ass as he adjusted to lie underneath her torso. Her breasts hung in his face. “Stay just like this. Ass in the air, tits in my face.”
“What, are you going to go all newborn baby on me?”
“As much as possible,” he said as he cupped both breasts. Nedra closed her eyes, wondering if his nipple suck game was as good as his pussy-eating skills and in seconds, she had her answer.
“Shit,” she murmured, sinking lower into the bed. He sucked hard; just the way she liked it and she was going to feel it the next day, which she also liked. This reclusive unstable genius was like a motherfucking Transformer.
Sue would have never been able to handle him. Of that, Nedra was sure. She knew Sue well enough that Victor’s sexual snark would have been a turn-off. Her, on the other hand…
“Oh God, like that…” she said, when his teeth grazed her tingling nipples. “Like that, just like that…make them hurt…”
His response was muffled by the fullness of her breast but he understood perfectly. Victor’s hands slid up and grabbed her ass again. He couldn’t keep away from it. His fingers went between her thighs and came away wet.
He let her breasts go and pushed her downwards, sending her face towards his groin. “Nedra, you’ve got pussy juice running over my fingers and I need you to sit on my face…”
“Oh shit,” she said as she quickly found herself in the 69. He was hard again and she licked her lips once more. Never let it be said that she was never up to the task of handling a hard dick.
Another battle ensued; who would climax first. They were both stubborn as hell. He was besotted with the taste of her and she was enamored with the taste of him.
Some time later, Nedra was the winner, but only by seconds. Victor made her come so hard she saw stars. Eventually, she rolled off him and to one side of the bed. She searched for the washcloth so she could wipe the semen off her breasts. He handed it to her, his face glistening with her juice. Nedra stared at him and he stared right back. There was something primal in seeing his face glowing like that, and that he was making not a single move to clean it off.
“You really do need a haircut, Victor.”
“So give me one, Nedra.”
“You can’t do shit on your own.”
“Not true. I can drop a deuce on my own. But my hair bothers you more than it does me, so you do something about it.”
“Would you want Sue seeing you like this?”
“According to you, Sue wouldn’t even notice.”
“You really want me to cut your hair? You trust me that much?”
“I trust what we just shared.”
“Well then you better feed me because I’m hungry as hell.”
He smiled at her. “Three rounds; I bet you are.”
“I’m not stepping foot in your kitchen.”
“You don’t have to. I have Sherpa’s on speed dial. What do you feel like?”
“Done.” He got up and went into the other room. Nedra watched him go; satisfied in a way she hadn’t been in a while. Then she went into the bathroom and put back on her T-shirt and turned her phone back on. Jon had called her several times and left text messages. She would have to make it up to him. As she relieved herself, she sent Franklin a text.
It’s taking some convincing, but I think Victor will come back. He really is stubborn, like you said.
Then she sent Jon a text. I’m sorry, baby. This job Franklin sent me on is a difficult one. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. Anything you want and can handle.
“Texting your wack-ass boyfriend?”
She frowned at Victor, who stood in the bathroom doorway, naked as sin and semi-turgid, leaning casually against the doorframe.
“PRIVACY???” She was on the toilet!
“It’s my house; the door is open…and I’ve seen everything you have to offer. Food’s ordered.”
“Get out!” Nedra snapped.
Victor shrugged and walked into the bedroom. Nedra put her phone back on top of her clothes, washed her hands and flushed the toilet. She opened Victor’s barber’s kit and pulled out scissors and an electric razor. She had the skill; she used to cut her father’s and brother’s hair all the time, as well as her own when she was in active service.
“Come on and get this buzzcut,” she said, evilly wondering what he’d look like with a reverse Mohawk.
He came back into the bathroom, staring at her T-shirt. “Why did you put that back on? We’re not done.”
Nedra shrugged as she grabbed a towel. “Come sit. How long til the food?”
He sat and put a towel on his shoulders. “An hour.”
Nedra nodded and began to comb out his hair. “I’m going to assume you want it like you used to wear it.”
“Trim your beard too?”
She worked surely and deftly, using the comb and shears to cut his hair in its natural curl pattern. As she moved around his head, Victor slid his hands under her shirt and found the scar on her belly.
“How you’d get this?”
“Afghanistan. I’d rather not discuss that, or any of my scars. Memories best left in the past, okay?”
“Okay.” He didn’t remove his hands, however; just continued to stroke her stomach and hips. She had soft, beautiful skin and he realized he hadn’t buried his face in her belly yet.
He needed more time with her.
She finished his hair in 30 minutes and adjusted the clippers to the right height. “I’ll just do a small square underneath your chin and you tell me if you like it.”
Victor stared up at her with different eyes. “Okay.”
“Hold your head back.”
Nedra worked quickly, trimming him close enough so that it wouldn’t scratch her face and body the next time he rubbed his face in her skin. Victor’s eyes followed her wherever she went. When she was done, she motioned towards the mirror.
“Check it out.”
Victor stood up and looked, turning his head and running his fingers through his hair and face. “You’re good at this. Many gifts, eh?”
“Quite the many. Come on, let me finish. I’m hungry as fuck and I’m getting tired.”
“Three more rounds,” he said, sitting back down.
“You’re tired too,” she said, turning on the clippers while blowing loose hair from the teeth.
“I haven’t had sex in over three years. And you, you walk your fine ass into my house and agree to fuck me…and then mention the number six. Then you have the nerve to feel the way you do and taste like my favorite fruit and the sex is awesome and you think I’m just going to let you walk out of here without giving me my due? I want to fuck you like an animal, Nedra. Hell no I’m not tired. I’d chain you to the bed if I thought I could get away with it.”
Nedra turned his head to one side, ignoring that last. “See you’re a Nine Inch Nails fan too. ‘Closer’ is quite the jam…and so fitting tonight. But let me get this done so I can eat.”
He stopped talking as she carefully ran the clippers along the planes of his face. He kept his eyes on her as she shaved him. Tufts of hair covered his chest and her shirt and when she was finished, she combed the loose hair out and stood back, smiling at her handiwork.
Victor looked in the mirror. “Not bad.”
“That’s the Victor I remember,” she said, dusting hair off her shirt and his shoulders. “The one them crazy bitches threw hands over.”
“You’ll have to tell me that story one day.”
“Nice try, sexy,” she said.
He paused to put on a robe and Nedra put on her panties and jeans. She followed him out into his dirty living room, regretting not putting on her socks. She sat in a chair and pulled her feet under her just as Victor opened the door. He pulled a wad of cash from a drawer and went to pay for the food.
A few minutes later, they were on opposite sides of his bed, eating. He was clearly a fan of Yang’s, and for her, Mediterranean antipasti. Nedra ate like she hadn’t eaten in days, with her fingers and not an ounce of chill. Victor watched her closely while eating noodles from a Yang’s box.
“When was the last time you had sex?” he asked. “Since we’ve established my history.”
“Yesterday,” she said. “I have to have it on the regular. I’m a healthy girl.”
Victor looked at her, eyebrow raised. “Is that right?”
Nedra didn’t return the look because she was fixated on the prosciutto, melon and olives. “I love sex. I make no secret of it. I’m not the kind of girl who’s shy about it either. My boyfriend—the one you crudely hung up on and keep disrespecting—is quite aware of this. He can keep up with me. I was supposed to see him tonight but you fucked that up.”
“Quite literally, in fact.”
She took a long sip of iced tea and licked her fingers. “That was good. I was hungry. Expended quite a bit of energy over the last few hours.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to do this again after tonight?”
Nedra looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“This. Us. Fucking. We’re good at it. Why stop?”
“This was a job, Victor. A task given to me by Franklin. He needs you at the Baxter building to continue your work. He knows I have a particular skill set and I take my job seriously. It was and is my intent to convince you to return to the Baxter building, which you said you would if I fucked you.”
“I said I’d follow your fine ass anywhere.”
“Which in this case is the Baxter building.”
“What if I change my mind?”
“Then I’ll be forced to change my tactics and shoot you in the leg.”
“You probably would.”
“I would. So don’t make this more than what it is and don’t complicate things.”
“Fine. You owe me three more fucks.”
“You’re not letting that go, are you?”
“Since this is our one and only night together, fuck no. I want everything you have; everything you give that punk-ass boyfriend you got. I even want the sex you don’t give him. I want you in every way you can be had; I want to feel you from the inside. I want to bend you over that chair and lick your pussy until it swells up and I want you to titty-fuck me. I want to go back to the Promised Land and I want that mouth on my dick again. I.want.it.all.”
Nedra rolled her eyes. “Crass much?”
“Best pussy I’ve had in a long time. I’ve no reason to lie. You, on the other hand…”
“I’ve never lied to you.”
“You lie to him.”
“No I don’t and he’s none of your business, so there’s the end of that conversation. You want to go back to the Promised Land? You want some more cherries? Then let’s go.”
Victor’s stubborn streak was in effect. “I want to visit that part of the Promised Land you don’t let him go to…otherwise I’m not going anywhere.”
Moments later, he had her bent over the back of the recliner and it was as if each position was better than the last. Nedra braced herself on the arms of the chair and throatily encouraged him to give her more, to go faster, to do it harder. He wound one hand in her hair and pulled enough that she felt it in her face and the cackle that escaped her drove him just a tad bit mad.
It seemed she had the ability to put him on that precipice.
Victor pulled her up and put one hand around her throat and the other around one of her upper arms.
“Oh baby,” Nedra said, unable to help herself. She lifted one knee on the back of the chair to balance herself. He pulled her head back by her neck and kissed her lips.
“Squeeze,” she panted. “A little more.”
Victor’s eyes widened. So she got down like that? Oh hell no, this wasn’t going to be a one-night stand. Former Marine Dr. Nedra Nix was a freak and he liked freaky shit. So he obliged and her climax was explosive. She ran out like water all over his dick and squirmed like a caught animal. He pushed her back over the edge of the chair and in moments, joined her on the other side of ecstasy. They ended up on the floor, entangled, sweaty, and satisfied. Nedra was the first to speak.
“Goddamn, that was good!”
Victor lay on the floor with his hands propped behind his head. “You’re into auto-erotic asphyxiation.”
“No,” she sighed. “I just like the sensation of a strong hand on my neck or head during sex. I like to be manhandled sometimes. I like certain things hard. I’m a Marine, and I ain't no lady.”
“The more we fuck, the more I learn about you…and the more I like it.”
“You’ll have forgotten about that and me twenty-four hours from now. That place and its power are going to suck you back in so fast you’ll forget about your three-year imposed hiatus. And me. And this.” With that, she looked at Victor and yawned. “It’s late and I’m too tired to drive home, so I’m going to bed. Screw your six. I’m going to sleep.” She got into his bed and burrowed under the covers. Victor stood up and watched her for a moment, a dreamy smile dancing over his lips.
'Wore her ass out,' he thought,and got in bed beside her.
The ringing of her phone awakened them. Nedra stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom where she left it. It was Franklin.
She walked back to the bed where Victor lay, fast asleep. “Hi Franklin.”
“Good morning, Nedra.”
“Up to his old tricks. He frustrates me so much, but he’s fine. Were you successful in convincing Victor to come back?”
Victor turned in the bed, throwing his arm over the spot where she’d been. Finding it empty, he opened his eyes. Nedra put a finger to her lips and mouthed Franklin’s name. “I think so. He just needed some encouragement.”
“So when will he arrive?”
“Well, he really needs to clean himself up, Franklin. He looks a hot ass mess. Hair all fucked up, hasn’t bathed in a dog’s age…just a big old messy mess. Damn shame, because he's so cute. So maybe in a day or so. He’s got to ease back into it all, you know. And I can’t imagine he’s going to be happy about Reed’s transporter. He already thinks the boy stole his design. Give him time, though. He’ll be okay.”
“You are a brilliant, brilliant woman, Nedra. I knew you could do it. You've never let me down.”
“No problem, Franklin. Look, I need to get a few more hours’ sleep. Victor took a long time convincing and I didn’t get home until late. He’s tedious and stubborn.”
“No worries, Nedra. See you later.”
Nedra clicked off and looked at Victor. “I bought you an extra day, so do us both a favor and make it count.”
“You misunderstood that. You bought us an extra day and right now I want to make love to you. Come back to bed,” he said in a semi-drowsy voice. He didn’t know what it entailed to make love to a woman like Nedra, or even why he’d said what he said. Perhaps he was still dreaming.
“No, I did that for you, Victor. I’m getting out of here in a few hours. We’re both tired. Let’s just go back to sleep.”
“Get back in bed, then.”
Nedra put the phone on the dresser and climbed over Victor to get back in bed. He pulled the covers over her and to her surprise, spooned behind her, fitting together like puzzle pieces. He put an arm around her and buried his face in her neck. Nedra was sleepy but couldn’t immediately go back to sleep. She was restless. The events of the evening bore deeply into her mind.
This man can really, really fuck. He complements Jon wonderfully. Like if I could put them together as one man...Even with Jon being as great as he is and so eager to please me, can I really give up dick as good as Victor’s? I would really love to explore this, but could I truly navigate it? How could I add Victor to my roster without him fucking shit up? He and I could have some truly decadent fun, but he doesn’t have it in him to act right. He would cause problems; huge problems because he won’t behave the way I need him to.
Nedra tossed and turned.
I need control and he can’t be controlled. It’s that simple. If I allow this to happen, he will ruin things for me. He won’t allow himself to be treated like a side-piece. He will work his way into my secret life and pick it apart. He will fuck up my relationship with Jon and I can’t have that.
God, but the dick is so good. So, so good. So damn good. Unbelievable that a man who has locked himself away from the world is still so very gifted at sex. I wonder how he pulled that off?
It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. I’m going to enjoy him with the few hours I have left and then I never want to see him again.
She turned again and found herself facing Victor’s chest. He put a finger under her chin and lifted her face.
“What’s wrong, Marine?”
“Nothing,” she said.