Above All Honour
Assigned to guard the President's daughter, a secret service agent finds duty warring with desire. 1999 (358KB)
"I donít want this assignment."
"You donít have a choice."
"With all due respect, sir, I am a senior agent, and I should have some say regarding my assignments."
He studied her silently. She was thinner than the last time he had seen her, and there was a new hardness in her dark eyes. She stared at him in thinly disguised challenge, the anger simmering very near the surface. The folder on his desk held her service record. It was flawless, exemplary in every way. It told the crucial facts, and none of the story. No one had ever known the whole story, and now they never would. Because she wasnít talking, and no one really wanted her to. What everyone wanted was to get on with business as usual, and it was his job to see that that happened.
"Youíve been selected by the Security committee. They think youíre the best one to head up the detail. Their decision is not negotiable."
"Itís a goddamned baby-sitting assignment. Any rookie could do it," she seethed through clenched teeth. She was skirting the edge of insubordination. She knew it, and she didnít care. There wasnít a thing anyone could do to her that could hurt her any longer. Except maybe bury her in a bullshit detail like this. She needed a field assignment -- something that would consume her energy; something that would exhaust her mind; something that would obliterate her memories.
"Is it the injury? Do they think Iím not fit for active duty?" she demanded.
"Absolutely. Iíve been released from rehab, and Iím done with the mandatory psych eval."
"Good. Iím glad to hear it. You start tomorrow. I suggest you review the available reports from the current commander before you leave for New York."
"Damn it, Stewart! You know I donít deserve this!"
"This has nothing to do with you, Agent Roberts. That will be all."
Assistant Director Stewart Carlisle watched the tall, trim agent as she turned away, stiff with rage. He had no doubt she would give her best; she always did. What he wondered was where she would put her anger.
"Booth seven is free," the firearms supervisor informed her.
She nodded, grabbing a pair of protective earmufflers as she walked through the small office to the long corridor that opened into the individual firing stations. She wore a gray tee-shirt and navy sweatpants from her two-hour workout at the gym, and the back of her shirt was still wet with sweat. The small bag she carried held her service automatic and ammunition. She looked neither right nor left as she strode rapidly toward the narrow glass enclosure.
There was a row of buttons that allowed her to set the target type and distance. She began with a medium range standard human form and fired off a clip at an easy pace, alternating between clusters in the mid-torso and head. As she rhythmically squeezed the trigger her mind slowly emptied of emotion, until all she felt was the recoil of her weapon and the measured beating of her heart. When she was no longer aware of her anger over an assignment that she perceived as an undeserved demotion, she moved the target fifty feet further away. Accuracy demanded even greater concentration, and as she began to fire in faster, tighter bursts the ever present vestiges of longing and loss began to fade. By the time she had moved the smallest target to its farthest distance, she felt absolutely nothing.
Fresh from the shower, she walked naked across the carpeted living room to the bar. The apartment was on the twenty-first floor, and the floor to ceiling windows were uncovered, exposing the night skyline of Washington, D.C. The view was breathtaking. She poured an inch of single malt scotch into a heavy crystal rock glass and leaned against the bar, staring at the city lights mingling with the stars. There had been a time when this vision had moved her with its piercing beauty. There had been many nights when she had allowed the tensions of the day to drift away into that great expanse of flickering light, feeling the world settle back into some kind of order. It was often the last thing she saw before she slipped into bed, but then she hadnít been alone.
She reached for the gray silk robe from the back of a chair as a knock sounded at the door. She had a flight to New York in five hours, and a meeting with her new team at eight a.m. She still needed to review the dossier that had been delivered by courier that evening. She didnít have much time, and she knew she wouldnít sleep.
She glanced at the clock as she crossed to the door. It was one a.m. Her visitor was punctual; she always was. She opened the door to admit a woman in her mid-thirties, casually dressed in a beige linen suit, a silk shirt open to expose the swell of her breasts, and low-heeled soft tan boots. The woman greeted her with a familiar smile, brushing her blond hair back with a long elegant hand.
"Hello. Can I get you something to drink?"
"That depends," the blond replied as she slipped her jacket off and laid it carefully across the back of a couch that faced the windows. "Are you in the mood for talking tonight?"
"I donít have much time."
"Then Iíll have that drink another time," her guest replied softly. "Sit down in front of the windows."
The woman in grey dimmed the lights as she moved around to the sofa as directed. The room was in near darkness except for the shadows etched in the moonlight. She sipped her scotch and watched the stars revolve around her. She had been here before, but not quite like this. She was barely aware of the gentle tug that loosened the belt at her waist, or the soft parting of the silk that covered her. At the first light touch of fingers against her skin, she shivered involuntarily. Eventually the strokes along her taut abdomen and up the insides of her thighs became firmer, more insistent, demanding her attention. She arched toward the woman kneeling before her in the dark, tightening almost painfully as warm lips encircled her. Slow practiced caresses of a velvet smooth tongue swept the images from her consciousness, eclipsing thought with near painful pleasure. A groan escaped her as she dropped her head back against the couch, allowing the slowly building pressure to take her outside herself, beyond thought, past memory. The pounding of her heart grew loud in her ears as her breath came in short gasps, almost sobs. She struggled to contain the exquisite, piercing throbbing in her clit, and failed. When the explosion began, ripping at her control, she slipped one hand into the soft blond hair, moaning deep in her throat. Trembling, helpless, for a few moments she was mercifully unaware.
She walked the blonde to the door, handing her a sealed envelope that rested on the table just inside the foyer.
"Iíll be away for a while. I donít know how long."
"Will I see you again?"
"I donít know."
The blonde studied the tall dark-haired stranger she had met countless times in the dark hours of the night - in this room, in elegant hotel suites - in rooms that might be anywhere, or nowhere at all. She knew virtually nothing of the other woman's life, except what she gleaned from the confessions of her body. She knew the hard, lean muscles and the angry red scar on her thigh. She knew the soft, sensitive places that left her gasping when touched. She wondered whose name she called when she came into the silence. She had never tried to find out, and she did not want to know now. Strangely, it was something else she wanted altogether. She wanted to leave something of herself.
Breaking every rule, the blonde said softly, "My name is Claire."
"Claire," the dark-eyed stranger whispered, the expression in her intense gaze unfathomable. She kissed her for the first time, a brief tender meeting of lips that spoke a greeting, or perhaps a good-bye. Then, breaking every rule, she said, "My name is Cameron."
When the door closed, leaving them to their own
separate lives, the lingering memory of that kiss was all that remained between
At six a.m. United States Secret Service Agent Cameron Roberts boarded a small jet bound for New York City. She wore her ID badge clipped to the pocket of her dark blue gabardine suit. She carried an overnight bag with a change of clothes, and her computer. The rest of her belongings would follow on a separate flight, and would be delivered to her new apartment in the Gramercy Park Hotel later that day by some member of her team. After four hours of deep sleep, undisturbed by dreams, she felt fresh and ready to work. That she didnít like her assignment was now a moot point. She had a job to do, and that was all that mattered.
The flight was only partially full. It was Saturday morning, and only a few government employees were traveling. She took a seat across the aisle from a burly blond man with a badge that displayed FBI in bold letters. She saw him study her own badge as she sat down. Female agents were no longer rare, but she still drew attention. She was used to it.
"Investigative division?" he questioned as the plane taxied down the runway.
She nearly said 'yes', then stopped herself quickly. With a shake of her head, she replied, "Protective."
"Anybody important?" he asked curiously.
"Arenít they all?"
He couldnít tell if she was joking, so he stifled a laugh. And they said FBI agents were humorless!
She opened a laptop computer, subtly angling the screen away from him. He took the hint and opened a newspaper as she entered her password.
She entered the link to the USSS personnel division and brought up the bios on her new team. Nothing out of the ordinary. Four men and four women in addition to herself, all with more than five years experience in the field. All college educated, as were almost all agents except the rare few who came through military channels or some other unusual route. All had advanced emergency medical training, as had she, and all were expert marksman. Two of the men and one woman were married; there was one Hispanic and two black agents. She fixed a name to each face and exited the site.
Entering the protected password, she brought up the encrypted file she had downloaded last night.
Field Report, Fri 12/26, 21:30
Submitted by USSS Agent in Charge Daniel Ryan
Subject: Blair Jane Powell
Residence: 310 Gramercy Park, PH
New York City, 10021
Phone: (212) 295-0566
Marital Status: Single
Education: Washington Friends High School, Wash. D.C.
Paris Institute of Fine Arts
Business address: NA
Business Agent: Diane Bleeker
Code Name: Egret
Physical Description: WF, 5í8", 120 lbs.
Hair: Blonde, Eyes: Blue.
Distinguishing marks: 2 cm scar right eyebrow, 3cm tattoo
right posterior shoulder ( purple and blue labyris)
Medical Conditions: None
Significant relationships: (SEE ATTACHED REPORTS)
Romantic: Current - unverified
Last known - classified, FYEO file
Summary: Standard twenty-four hour rotating shift
surveillance. Subject schedule fluid, frequently unverifiable. Communication
link: Team commander only per subject request. On-person com links refused.
The file was bare bones minimum, and Cam wondered what her predecessor wasnít willing to commit to hard copy. Sheíd find out soon enough. He was meeting her at the airport for a debriefing.
She sipped her coffee and slipped the thin folder that held the Eyes Only report on Egretís last known lover from her briefcase. She read it carefully, her expression betraying nothing. According to this, until eighteen months ago, the Presidentís daughter had been having an affair with the wife of the French Ambassador. For obvious reasons, the relationship had been kept under deep cover, although rumors had floated in the security community for years about the sexual leanings of Blair Powell. Part of Camís job was to see that those rumors remained just that. Her job would be doubly hard if the subject refused to cooperate.
She wondered briefly if her appointment as commander of the security detail assigned to Ms. Powell hadnít been due to her own sexual preferences. It wasnít a matter of record, of course, but no one really believed that any one in the governmentís employ had any secrets. She had been careful, but certainly not paranoid, about her personal life. After the events of a year ago, she doubted there was much her superiors didnít know. Speculation was futile, and pointless. She knew for certain she didnít care.
She fed the file recounting the details of Blair Powellís love life into the shredder at the front of the plane as she exited.
"Sorry to transition on the run," Daniel Ryan remarked as they settled into a booth in the airport cafeteria. "I have to catch the next flight out."
"No problem," Cam replied neutrally.
"Mac Phillips, who will basically be your aide, has the apartment building plans, evac routes, and hospital info ready to review with you as soon as you arrive. Your NYPD liason is Lieutenant Marcia Landers; sheís Hostage Rescue. She usually interfaces with the police patrol division commander, Lieutenant Chuck Thayer, if Egret is travelling to some public function. Both good people. Otherwise, we cover her internally."
"Uh huh," Cam said casually. Everything he was telling her could have easily been relayed by anyone on the team. She was waiting for him to get to the point of this private meeting.
He watched her watching him. Her rep was that she was a real straight arrow, by-the-book agent. Sheíd have to be to get this post. She certainly looked the part. Her short dark hair was perfectly trimmed, neat around her ears, collar length in back; her suit was without a wrinkle, and perfectly tailored to her tight, trim build; she didnít display a hint of nerves, or anything else - assessing him with intense, piercing gray eyes. Her bio said sheíd been in the investigative unit for twelve years. Why sheíd been reassigned to the protective division was anybodyís guess. Beyond that scant information, she was a cipher. He couldnít find anyone who had inside knowledge about her, and no one had heard even a whisper that she was anything other than an obsessively dedicated agent. He met her gaze and made a decision.
"Can we talk off the record here?"
"Go ahead," Cam responded.
"Every day for the last six months I woke up wondering who I had pissed off to get this assignment," he said with a shake of his head. "Egret is practically impossible to protect because she doesnít want us around. Sheís had eleven years of practice misleading us, evading us, and generally humiliating us when it comes to surveillance. Sheís like Jeckyl and Hyde. At public functions, sheís fine - cooperative, even friendly. Privately, she does everything she can to make our job hell. She refuses to discuss her schedule with anyone except the team commander. Congratulations. Then she changes plans without telling anyone. We almost never have time to adjust vehicle placement or equipment, so we have to shadow her on foot, which in New York City is a nightmare. She absolutely refuses to wear a microphone or any other tracking device, even on direct instruction from the President." He handed her two photographs. "Then thereís this."
She studied the shots side be side. The first was a standard publicity picture, a close up of Blair Powell at the opening of the Reagan Library earlier that year. As usual, she looked poised and confidant. Her blonde hair was swept back from her face, held with a silver clasp at the base of her neck. Her makeup was understated and flawless, serving only to accentuate the natural elegance of her sculpted face and clear, smooth skin. Her designer dress highlighted her sleek form, complimenting both her athleticism and her subtle softness. She was, in a word, beautiful.
The second photo was a candid taken when the subject was unaware. It was grainy, suggesting it had been taken from a unit with a telephoto lens. The details, however, were clear. The woman in the photo wore tight faded jeans and a white cotton tank top. Her breasts, firm and well-shaped, were clearly evident beneath the thin material and unencumbered by a brassiere. The clothes displayed her long legs, sleek torso, and toned limbs with brazen explicitness. Her collar length blonde hair hung free around her face, mildly curly, looking as if she had simply run her hands through it in lieu of a comb. She wore no make-up, and didnít look like she needed any. She exuded an energy that was palpable even in the poor photo. She projected the sensuality of a jungle cat, and looked about as dangerous. She bore almost no resemblance to the contained, refined woman in the first shot.
Cam handed him the photographs silently. It was his show.
"No one in the general public recognizes her like that, and sometimes it even takes us a minute or two. In that time, she can disappear in the crowd, walk into a restaurant unnoticed, get into a cab without a fuss. Thatís why itís so easy for her to lose us. No one points a finger at her, or runs after her trying to get an autograph."
"But you and your operatives still know what she looks like," Cam pointed out. "You can find her." That was obvious, and she wondered when he would get to the real issue.
He nodded agreement. "Sure we can. Most of the time. The problem is, we also need to protect her privacy, as well as her reputation." He ignored the slight lift in Camís eyebrow at that line of bullshit. Blair Powell had no privacy. They both knew it was the Presidentís image they needed to keep untarnished. Any scandal regarding his daughter reflected on his parenting skills, and ultimately on his character.
Blowing out a breath, he cut to the chase. "Sheís a lesbian. In certain situations, if we call attention to her, thatís going to get out. She knows it, and she uses it."
"She frequents some of the gay bars. Itís hard for me to put agents in there, even when theyíre undercover. I never know when sheís going to duck into one. Plus, I donít exactly want to announce to everyone there that Blair Powell just walked in. She picks up women - women we have absolutely no way of identifying in the moment. We have no way to know where they might go, no way to put agents in place in advance. We are constantly running in second place hoping to God she doesnít get herself into trouble before we can get there."
"Is she promiscuous?" Cam asked evenly.
"She does better with women than I ever did," he remarked in frustration. "She doesnít have a steady girlfriend. I wish to hell she did. Then maybe we could keep track of her. She doesnít exactly sleep around, but she doesnít go long without sex either."
"What are you trying to tell me here, Agent Ryan?" Cameron asked, tired of skirting the edges of the issue. "In addition to the fact that we have an uncooperative, high profile subject with a very problematic lifestyle?"
"Sheís an angry animal in a cage, and youíre the new zookeeper. Sheís been trying to escape for years, and when she does, someone is going to get hurt."
Cameron inclined her head in agreement. Blair Powell had lived with constant surveillance since her father had been elected Vice President for two terms, and governor of New York before that. Now that he was a newly seated President, she had at least three more years of even closer monitoring. She was a prisoner in all but name, and Cameron doubted anyone could tolerate that for long. The political pressure to hide her sexuality must make it even worse. If she had the luxury of empathizing with the First Daughter, she would have felt deeply for her predicament. But Blair Powellís happiness was not her responsibility, and she couldnít waste time or objectivity worrying about it.
"Some one may indeed get hurt," she
responded. "I intend to see that itís not her."
"Agent Roberts?" a handsome Brad Pitt look-alike inquired as Cam stepped off the elevator on the eighth floor of a brownstone apartment building that faced the south side of Gramercy Park. He extended his hand with a disarming smile. "Iím Mac Phillips. The others are inside the command post. Welcome to the Aerie."
She took his outstretched hand, smiling at the play on eagleís nest. "Cameron Roberts. What's on for this morning?"
She accompanied him into a large loft space that had been sectioned into work cubicles and equipment stations by shoulder high particle-board partitions. Their surveillance center occupied the entire floor directly below Blair Powellís penthouse suite. A small conference room enclosed by glass filled the far corner. As they approached the group of people seated within, Phillips consulted a printout in his hand.
"Intro and weekly briefing now. You are scheduled to meet with Egret at eleven in the penthouse." He caught her faint expression of surprise and shrugged. "She wonít talk to any of us. She says if she must discuss her plans, it will only be once, and with the team commander."
"Itís her prerogative," Cam remarked. As she walked, she was making careful note of the banks of video monitors, multi-cassette recorders, computer simulators, and a large grid of New York City, digitally indexed and showing up-to-the minute placement of police vehicles. It was the same array of equipment used to monitor the White House and surrounds, and with the same reason. The President was vulnerable through his family. To avoid the appearance of that vulnerability, the First Family needed to be shown living as normal a life as possible, not shuttled about by armed guards. Hence, their protection needed to be provided at a distance, with as little visibility as possible. The semblance of freedom was a ruse they all conspired to perpetuate - everyone, apparently, except Blair Powell.
"Good morning, people," she said briskly as she strode to the head of the oblong table. She glanced at each face, making brief eye contact with everyone. "You have one hour to tell me everything I need to know about this operation, and everything you donít think I need to know as well. Letís get started."
At the end of an hour during which Cam listened, questioned, and issued a few directives, the agents who constituted her team sensed there was a new game in town. Everyone present took their responsibility seriously, for the sake of their future employment if for no other reason, and each had felt the frustration voiced earlier by the departing team commander. That dissatisfaction was heightened by the fact that they disliked Blair Powell, although none of them would ever say so, even to each other. Over the six months since Andrew Powell had been President, the obstructive, uncooperative attitude of his daughter had subtly undermined the confidence of the operatives. An hour with Cameron Roberts provided them with the first jolt of optimism theyíd felt in weeks.
"Allow me to summarize," Cam said as she stood and walked to the window looking down on the postage-sized private park that formed the heart of Gramercy Park. As she watched an elderly woman unlock the gate that surrounded the park, she spoke, her back to the room, but her voice clearly audible. "Ms. Powell resents our intrusion into her life; she resents our presence in every public and private moment of her day. She undoubtedly resents our observation of her personal liaisons and romantic encounters. I, for one, donít blame her."
She turned to the group with a small shrug. "The fact that Ms. Powell does not welcome our presence is immaterial. Our job is to see that she is able to carry on her life with the maximum degree of security possible. No matter where she is, or what sheís doing. She has decided to make this a game. We have to play, and we have to win. We donít get to throw up our hands and call foul if she changes the rules. There are no rain outs. We canít expect her to help us win; we have to do that for ourselves."
She smiled faintly as she took her seat again. Now she understood at least one of the reasons she had been given this assignment. "Remember she is an uncooperative subject. Donít expect her to smile and say good morning; donít expect her to make your job easy. She has made it clear she does not want us around. She is not going to invite us along. We will switch from protective surveillance methods to investigative tactics. If she canít see you, it will be harder for her to lose you. If you need to follow her to protect her, then youíve got to fit in where she travels. You have to function essentially undercover."
She looked pointedly at each of her operatives, seeing them as Blair Powell must see them. Ivy league starched, polished and presentable. About as obvious as the proverbial bulls in the china shop.
"Except at scheduled public functions where Ms. Powell is acting in some official capacity, no suits, no ties, no skirts. Street clothes, preferably something appropriate for the type of locales she is known to frequent."
She saw the slight stiffening of a few shoulders, and continued unperturbed. It was time to stop circling the primary problem. "For you men, I think a slightly longer hair length would be helpful for starters. It's time for you to stop looking like tourists, or cops." She sipped the last of her coffee, gathering her papers with one hand. "A little research might also be in order. I want a summary of every gay bar and restaurant in New York City. Hours of operation, type of clientele, traffic patterns in the area, etc. Start with the ones you know sheís been to. Have it on my desk before the day is out. Know your subject, ladies and gentlemen, and you have won the first point."
Everyone relaxed slightly as she pulled open the door to the conference room. She paused at the sill, turning back casually.
"By the way Mac, does she know about the video equipment inside her apartment?"
He looked at her in surprise. How had she noticed that on a quick walk through the monitoring section?
"I doubt it," he said quietly. If she were aware of the micro-cameras mounted in the ceiling of her loft, she would hardly be walking around nude the way she did.
"Turn them off," Cam said flatly. "Video the elevator, the building exits, fire escapes, and garage only. On my responsibility."
With that she was gone, leaving them to wonder
where one got the balls to countermand a direct order from the White House Chief
At precisely eleven am, Cam keyed the elevator to the penthouse, exiting in a small foyer opposite a carved oak door set into the rich wood panels. The wallpaper on the other two walls adjoining the lift was a cream fabric, intricately patterned and luxuriously textured. The effect was warm and sensual. Cam rang the bell beside the door.
Blair Powell opened the door a moment later. Her hair was wet from the shower, casually finger-combed and falling freely around her face. She wore a loosely belted blue silk robe that came to just above her knees. Her legs were bare, and Cam knew she was naked beneath the thin material. The front gaped enough to reveal the soft inner curves of both breasts. There was a trace of jasmine floating in the air. Cam was assaulted with the seething sensuality she had sensed in the photograph earlier. She kept her gaze carefully at eye level.
"Iím Agent Roberts, Ms. Powell. Iíll come back when youíre ready, " she said neutrally. "If you would just call the command room-"
"I wonít be available later," Blair interrupted, appraising the current commander assigned with her care. This one was somewhat of a surprise. She wore the requisite suit, a little better cut than most. You couldnít see a hint of a bulge from the shoulder holster. Her hair was short, and fashionably styled in a roguishly faux-masculine cut. The double-breasted jacket was open to expose a fine white linen shirt that hugged a well developed chest and trim waist. The belted trousers were streamlined to the tightly muscled thighs. Blair found her startlingly attractive in an understated butch fashion. The Commander was either unimpeachably heterosexual or exactly what she appeared to be - a lesbian who didnít care who knew it. Blair was intrigued.
"Itís now or next week," she continued, enjoying her control. There was no way the new commander could wait even a few hours to discuss her schedule.
"Now would be fine," Cam acquiesced graciously. She didnít want a power struggle over trivial issues. She had no need to prove herself that way.
Blair stepped slightly aside, motioning Cam into the high-ceilinged open loft space. She smiled as Cam carefully avoided brushing against her. All business, she thought to herself.
"Do you have a first name, Agent Roberts?" Blair asked as she crossed to the kitchen area. A breakfast bar flanked by tall stools separated the cooking space from the large living room. She leaned down to pull two cups from the shelves under the island, quite aware that the movement afforded a clear view into her dressing gown.
"Cameron," Cam replied, keeping her face and voice expressionless. Her mind registered the striking perfection of the young womanís body, an image of her soft, pink-nippled breasts indelibly implanted in her memory. She was being taunted, that much was clear. What she didnít know was why.
Blair straightened slowly, searching for a reaction in the handsome agent's face. She was curious to find none.
"Cameron," she breathed huskily, "thatís nice. You can call me Blair."
Cameron continued unperturbed, "Iíll try not to take too much of your time, Ms. Powell. If we could just review your plans for the week, I can leave you to your day."
Blair stared at her, anger seething in her blue eyes. "Donít patronize me, Agent Roberts. We both know you wonít be leaving me to anything at all."
Cam nodded assent. "Forgive me, I didnít mean it that way. Of course, I canít. But I can make my presence and that of my people as unintrusive as possible."
Blair was surprised by her conciliatory approach. That was a new tactic. Usually they tried to bully her with threats of unfavorable reports to her father, as if she were an unruly child in school. Either that or they promised her privacy while tightening the net around her. She had absolutely no reason to believe this one, despite the sincerity in her intense gray eyes. She walked around the island carrying the coffee until she was next to Cam. She reached to put the cups on the counter, brushing close to Cam as she did.
Cam didnít flinch at the contact, although her body registered the pressure of Blairís breasts against her arm and the heat of a naked thigh against her leg. She was annoyed by the twitch of arousal that occurred entirely involuntarily. She consciously kept her breathing light and steady. She knows about the video cameras. Putting the team commander in an embarrassing position on tape might conceivably benefit her at some point, or it just might be her idea of a game. Either way, Cam pitied Daniel Ryan. Blair Powell was a powerfully desirable woman, and if such attractions still interested her, it might become a problem. Blair had no way of knowing that despite the reflex arousal she provoked, Cam was completely immune to sexual allure.
Blair deliberately pressed closer, and Cam allowed the moment of contact to linger long enough to make it clear she was aware of it, and undisturbed by it. Sheíd gotten quite a lot of practice in the last six months saying no to attractive women. Then she stepped away, reaching into her inside jacket pocket for the computer log Mac had provided her.
"The schedule?" she said softly.
Blair stared at her, color rising to her face. She had just been rebuked, subtly, but very definitely. Rejection from women was a new and unwelcome experience. Sheíd never been as blatantly provocative with Daniel Ryan, but she had sensed his discomfort whenever they were alone, and she knew she had an effect on him. Something about Cameron Robertsí cool, aloof manner made her want to crack that perfect self-control. If she must have a jailer, she wanted it to be one she commanded.
"Yes, letís get that over with," she responded with irritation, taking her coffee and moving into the sitting area.
Cam followed, noting the large work area in the far corner of the loft. Easels stood open with canvasses mounted on them and other works leaned against every surface. Sunlight streamed through the skylight, illuminating the uncovered surfaces. From the brief glimpse she got, it appeared that Blair Powell deserved her reputation as a genuine artist. Cam took a seat across from Blair on one of two facing leather sofas. Blair tucked her legs under her as she curled gracefully into the cushions. Cam noted abstractly that she was much more beautiful in her unconscious moments than when she used her considerable sexual power as a weapon. In the next instant her mind had returned to the work at hand.
"I have you at a gallery opening tomorrow, dinner at the White House New Yearís Eve, and attending the Macyís parade here in New York City with the mayor the next day," Cam read from the schedule. She looked to Blair for confirmation.
"Busy week," Blair muttered. "That seems to be it," she said tersely.
Cam regarded her thoughtfully. She would have hated such intrusion, but there was nothing to be done about it. The fact that Blair Powell did not choose this life - it wasnít her after all who had run for public office - was beside the point. And the hard part was yet to come.
"What about your personal plans," Cam asked, her eyes on Blairís face. She would not apologize for what she needed to do. Cam wanted it clear that she would not compromise her own responsibility or Blairís safety because of Blairís dislike for the situation.
"I donít have any," Blair responded lightly.
Cam leaned back, tossing the schedule aside. She smiled faintly. "I need to know anything you have scheduled - dinner plans, a date for drinks, that sort of thing. If you donít know, Iíll need you to tell me as things come up. All you have to do is check in with the command post -"
"I know all this, Agent Roberts," Blair said testily.
"Yes, but apparently youíre not fond of the routine."
"Would you be?"
"Thatís not the point. You are the daughter of the President of the United States. You donít need me to tell you what that means. Please let us do ours jobs, and I promise you we will be as discreet as we can be."
"Do you expect me to tell you when I plan on a sexual liaison too?" she asked bluntly.
"I donít need to know what youíre doing so much as where youíre doing it," Cam responded smoothly. She knew Blair was trying to get her to back off, and she could not relent now. "It would be preferable if you would inform us when you planned to spend the night somewhere other than here, for example."
"And what if I donít know where Iíll be spending the night?"
"Then Iíll improvise."
"Youíre a lot more direct than your predecessors. Arenít you afraid Iíll complain about you and youíll end up guarding some minor foreign diplomat on their tour of the capitol?" Her tone was caustic, but she studied Cam with guarded respect. The new commander was in a class of her own. Impossible to shock, and clearly not intimidated by her. A refreshing change, but much more of a challenge than the others.
Cam laughed. "Ms. Powell, some people would consider that a plum assignment!"
"Compared to this you mean?"
Cam stood, refusing to be provoked. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Powell. Please call me at any time if there is anything you wish to discuss. I would like to review your itinerary each day. Let the command room know when it will be convenient for you to meet with me."
"Oh, absolutely," Blair responded with
a smile, her tone implying just how little that request meant to her. She
remained seated as Cam left the room, thinking how attractive her tight,
graceful body might be under other circumstances.
Mac Philips looked up as his new boss walked into the command center. He raised an eyebrow slightly in inquiry. She seemed pensive but displayed none of the thinly veiled discomfort Ryan tried to hide after one of his encounters with Egret. But then Mac didnít expect her to reveal anything. He couldnít remember the last time he had met anyone quite so impenetrable. He had a feeling this was going to be a "need to know" operation. He found he liked her unspoken respect for Egretís position, and her basic assumption that they were there to protect her, not have an easy time. He was getting tired of the undercurrent of dissatisfaction and criticism that had been the daily fare around there for the last few months. If she could turn that around, he was all for her.
"Anything unexpected?" he asked as she joined him.
"Not so far. The public functions are as outlined. For the gallery opening tomorrow, Iíll be inside with two others. Have two people with the car outside. That means the afternoon and evening shift will split the extra duty."
He made a note. "Right."
"We can use some of the White House detail for the dinner on New Yearís Eve. Have one team stay here to meet her plane when she returns for the parade. All of that is standard, and in the future you can draw up the duty rosters. Just be sure I get a hard copy of who will be where."
"Done," he responded. He waited, wondering how she was going to deal with the real problem.
"Ms. Powell will not confirm any personal plans, which puts us in a reactive mode. I do not want her to get away from us, especially not now. I have a feeling sheíll be testing our new command. She is going to move, you can be sure of that. Keep a car accessible in case she grabs a cab, and have someone ready for foot pursuit, preferably a woman. If she goes to a gay bar, it might be easier if we have a woman on the inside."
"Weíve had lousy luck so far," Mac remarked. "Half the time we lose her in transit."
Can stood, stretching her cramped shoulders. "That is no longer acceptable. Iím going home. Page me the minute she steps out her door."
"Until what time?" Mac asked as he prepared to make a note.
"Any time," she said with finality. "If she isnít in her apartment, I want to know about it."
"Yes, maíam," Mac responded crisply. He watched her glance once around the room, assuring herself that all was in order, before she left. He had a feeling Egret was in for a surprise, and he was looking forward to seeing it.
Cam stripped as she walked through her new apartment to the shower, eager to wash the effects of her flight and the first day of her new assignment from her body and her mind. The cool spray refreshed her, but did little to dispel the disquiet left from her meeting with Blair Powell.
It was not just the young woman's confrontational manner that had affected her. She was angry at herself for the physical response, however unwelcome, that the woman had provoked in her. She had been aware of an insistent pulse of stimulation long after she left the apartment. It may have been unbidden, but she felt betrayed by her own body. With an irritated shake of her head, she pulled on shorts and a tee-shirt. She could hardly be expected to control her involuntary nervous system! And here in New York there was no discrete way to relieve it. She would just have to run off the lingering remnants of arousal.
Blair Powell looked down onto the busy streets below as Cam ran lightly down the steps of her brownstone and began her jog toward Central Park. She was very quickly swallowed by the crowds. An afterimage of her lean form lingered in Blairís mind as she reached for her phone. It occurred to her that the agents downstairs might be listening, but she no longer cared. She dialed a number from memory.
"Hey, you," she said with a smile in her voice, "How come youíre working on a Saturday? ... Right! Youíre still trying to be the youngest assistant director! ... Of course I need a favor! .... Background check - a Cameron Roberts. This might be a tough one. Sheís secret service.... Yes, I know how much youíre sacrificing! Just get me whatever you can. ... Call me as soon as you have something, okay? And hey - I know I owe you, really .... Not in this lifetime you wonít!"
As she replaced the receiver, she contemplated calling downstairs to advise them of her change in plans. But then again, why alter the routine now. She slipped into a dark brown leather jacket as she left her apartment.
The pager clipped to the waist band of the small pack Cam wore beeped just as she completed the first lap around the Central Park Resevoir. She dug out her cell phone, punching numbers with barely a break in stride.
"Egretís on the move."
"Do we know her destination?"
"Are we covering?"
"So far. Sheís on foot and we have her in visual."
"Good. Donít attempt to make contact. Just stay with her. Iíll be there in twenty minutes. And Fielding?"
"Tell them not to lose her."
Please god, donít let us fuck up the first day, Agent John Fielding thought as he relayed his chiefís instructions to the two agents in pursuit.
"Where is she?" Cam asked without preamble.
"At the Soho gym," Fielding replied with obvious relief.
"Do you have visual confirmation of that?"
"Yes maíam. Paula Stark is inside."
Cam relaxed. "Good. Iím going to shower and change. If she moves before I check in, call me."
Twenty minutes later she sat across the street from the Soho gym watching the entrance. A metallic blue Ford diagonally opposite her held two secret service agents doing the same thing. She didnít think they were aware of her. She wasnít watching them. She trusted her agents for this type of routine surveillance. She was there because she wanted to get a sense of Blair Powell. She wanted to know where she ate, where she shopped, where she went for entertainment, and where she spent her evenings. Then she would begin to feel she could protect her.
Four hours later she was beginning to fill in some of the blanks. From a distance she had observed Blair dine with an exotic appearing dark-haired woman in a small Italian restaurant in the west Village. From there the two women had walked a few blocks to a neighborhood gay bar for a nightcap. They had taken their time, window shopping, stopping off at a bookstore, purchasing espresso from a curbside stand. They were in the bar now, and so was one of her agents. She didnít really care if Blair saw him. Their presence should be anticipated. Cam simply told him to keep his distance and not to intrude upon them. Cam was considering calling it a night. It didnít look like this was anything more than an evening out for Blair Powell, and the team assigned to shadow her seemed to have things under control. She was reaching for her radio to check out when she spotted Blairís companion hurry from the bar and hail a cab. She was instantly alert.
"Young - this is Roberts. Do you have Egret in visual?"
"Negative. Sheís in the restroom."
Cam switched channels. "Stark - get into that bathroom."
"Iím on it," the female agent replied as she exited the car parked just down the street from the small corner bar.
The moments passed slowly until Camís earpiece crackled to life.
"Sheís not in here, Chief," Stark announced.
"Recheck the entire bar. If sheís not inside, start a sweep of the surrounding area. Sheís on foot, at least for now." Cam punched in the numbers of the command center on her cell phone as she spoke. "Fielding, give me the addresses of all gay bars in a twenty block radius - start with known locales first."
While she waited for the computer to produce the information, she considered the situation. Blair had intentionally evaded them, which was not all that hard to do since they werenít guarding her with the manpower a criminal surveillance would demand. That was because Blair was supposed to be a friendly protectee. Now that she was out of their range she was at potential risk for kidnapping, or if documented in some compromising circumstance, for blackmail. The fact that she was not easily identifiable as the Presidentís daughter was the only thing they had going for them. It was going to be a long tense night until they found her.
"Iíve got that list for you, Chief," Fielding said as he came on line.
"Go," she said. There were six potentials in the immediate area. "Get Mac Phillips in to co-ordinate the teams. Iím going to check out the ones at the top of the list."
"Got it. Good luck," he signed off.
Right, Cam muttered to herself as she locked her car and joined the crowds on the ever busy streets of Greenwich Village. An hour later she paid her third cover charge of the evening and thanked a leather-clad bouncer for a particularly garish skull and cross bones stamped on her hand. She was in a loft on a dingy block just off Houston in a massive bar that was dimly lit with recessed red lights. The interior space was divided into several levels, with at least two bars, dance floors scattered at random, and what appeared to be a warren of smaller rooms in the rear. It was women only and predominately but not exclusively a leather bar. Cam bought a beer and began to wander through the crowded main room. Toward the rear, twisting halls led off to other rooms, all of them full. She glanced into each of the smaller areas she passed, noting that the overt sexual activity increased the deeper she went into the building. At one point she had to move sideways along the wall to pass two women with their hands inside each others clothing, oblivious to those passing by or standing in the shadows observing their heated encounter.
As soon as she pushed her way into the dark bar at the end of the long hallway, Cam saw her. She was leaning against the bar, facing the room. Cam turned her back, stepping behind several women grouped along the wall. She whispered her location and instructions to the other agents before returning her gaze to Blair Powell. The Presidentís daughter had been joined by another woman, who pressed close against her in the crowded space. The stranger whispered urgently into Blairís ear. Blair gazed past her into the seething crowd of bodies on the small dance floor, not answering.
Cam observed the women impassively. Blair looked remote, as if her mind were elsewhere. The leatherclad woman with her was obviously trying to interest her in something a little more intimate. As she leaned to kiss Blairís neck, she ran a hand up the inside of Blairís bluejeaned thigh, and would have pressed her hand to the triangle between Blair's legs if Blair hadnít gripped her wrist, pushing her hand away at the last second. Throughout the entire time, Blairís face barely registered a response.
It was clear to Cam that no one knew or cared who Blair was. Everyone was absorbed in their own pursuit of sex, or whatever particular thrill they were seeking. Cam needed to be sure Blair remained anonymous, and she wasnít entirely sure how to do that. Calling attention to her by trying to remove her against her will certainly wasnít the best course of action. Cam resigned herself to watching for the time being. That proved to be more difficult than she anticipated.
Blairís companion was not easily diverted, and continued her insistent caresses. She had essentially trapped Blair against the bar with an arm on either side of her while she straddled Blairís leg between her own. Blair turned her face away as the woman persisted in kissing her neck, one hand now inside Blair's shirt, fondling her breast. Blair did not seem particularly affected by the activity, but her ardent suitor apparently was. As Cam watched, the other woman began to ride Blair's leg harder, her motions jerky and tense. Can had no doubt the woman was poised to orgasm right there at the bar.
Blair could feel the womanís heat through the material of their clothing, and heard the shaky moans as her companion pressed her damp crotch against Blair's thigh. It hadnít been Blairís intention to let her go that far, not until her eyes swept across the room and met those of Cameron Roberts. She was momentarily stunned. The agent leaned against the opposite wall, dressed in jeans, a white cotton shirt, and boots. She looked completely at home, and was easily one of the sexiest women in the room. The fact that Blair found the Secret Service agent attractive infuriated her, especially since she knew Cam was only there to watch her. Well, let her watch, she thought angrily to herself. She kept her eyes on Camís face as she cupped the womanís buttocks in her hands, squeezing the taut muscles in small tight circles, lifting her leg hard into the other woman's crotch.
"Let me have it, baby," she whispered in her companion's ear, pumping her own hips now. "You want to, donít you?"
"Oh Jesus, yes," the stranger panted against her neck. "Oh fuck, unhh Ė I need to come Ė" She was so far gone all she sought was that elusive instant of bone melting release. "Oh, god, yeah ---"
Camís gaze never strayed from the sexual display. Her faced revealed no emotion, nor did Blairís, as Blairís partner in the drama shuddered into climax against Blairís body. Cam might have been embarrassed to witness the encounter had she sensed a shred of intimacy in it. It was erotic, of that there was no doubt. She knew she was wet, but the physical arousal did not penetrate her consciousness. She wasnít the only one watching, although the interest of the others was of a different nature.
As the woman's spasms subsided, Blair extracted herself from her spent partnerís embrace, grasping her drink from the bar and pushing her way into the crowd. She did not look back at the woman sagging against the counter, gasping for breath. She did not acknowledge the occasional appreciative comments her performance had elicited. She took her time crossing to Cam.
"Enjoy the show, Agent Roberts?" she asked as she stepped to Camís side. The press of the crowds brought her within inches of Camís body. She could make out a light sheen of sweat on Cam's skin in the soft red glow of the lights.
Cam's eyes were impossible to read as she returned Blairís gaze. "I have a car outside when youíre ready to leave," was all she said. She had no intention of involving herself in a conscious way in Blair Powellís personal affairs. She might have to witness them, if Blair continued with this kind of public encounter, but she didnít have to be a participant.
"And if I decide to walk home?"
"As you wish," Cam replied.
"Iím not sure Iíve had enough entertainment yet," she said pointedly.
Cam shrugged. "The car will be there no matter how late you stay."
"And will you be?"
Blair sipped her manhattan, the only drink sheíd had all evening. She might like to walk on the wild side, but she wasnít a fool. She tried to gauge the agentís attitude from her expression and the tone of her voice, and found she couldnít. Cameron leaned relaxed against the wall, her tone friendly, her face composed. To anyone watching, they might be any two women in the first exploratory stages of a typical bar encounter. Except Blair knew they werenít, and as much as Agent Roberts made it appear that she had some choice in the rest of the evening, the truth was that the moment they found her, her freedom had ended. She set her glass on the nearest table.
"You donít make it as my choice for an escort," she said bitterly. "Iím going home."
Cam followed Blair out to the street at a
discreet distance, and once she saw her climb into the car with two of her
agents, she headed tiredly toward home herself. As she walked, she tried not to
replay the image of a strange woman surrendering to passion in Blair Powellís
Mac was surprised to see Cameron walk in at seven a.m. on Sunday morning. The report from the night watch said it was she who had picked up Egretís trail and tracked her down in the late hours of the night. Interestingly, there was no report on the surveillance inside the bar. Roberts would have to do that herself. He nodded hello as she poured coffee and joined him at the large central work station.
"How long have you been on this detail, Mac?" she asked conversationally.
"Since the beginning of the Presidentís term," he replied.
"Have things been this out of hand the entire time?"
He held his breath for a second, trying to judge who he might potentially offend that mattered. He couldnít think of anyone. "Worse. At least last night we found her. Thereís been a half dozen nights, and one whole weekend, when we didnít know where she was."
"Christ," Cam muttered. "How in hell did you keep that quiet?"
Mac shrugged. "Egretís not stupid. She knew weíd have to hit the panic button if she were completely out of contact, so she called in every few hours, randomly, from pay phones, to prove she was okay. We ran around like assholes the whole time trying to find her."
"Egretís got a lot of pull with her old man. If someone complains about her, and it gets back to him, it better be serious, or youíre looking for a new job. And he doesnít seem to think a little joy riding is too serious."
"I do," Cam said flatly. "And since weíre not going to get any help from above, weíll have to stay tight on her, but not get in her way. Sheís most likely to run if we crowd her."
"I think everyone understands the plan," he replied.
"See that they do."
At three p.m., Blair emerged from the apartment building and climbed into the back of the nondescript black car waiting at the curb for her. Cameron Roberts was inside. Blair was dressed for the gallery opening in a simple black dress that spoke of taste and understated elegance. The thin straps accentuated the toned muscles of her shoulders and arms, while the scooped neck revealed just a hint of cleavage. This was a pre-publicized event, and the presence of the secret service was expected. Blair noted that Agent Roberts looked well-attired for the gathering in a gray silk suit and monochromatic shirt, beautifully tailored and fashionably cut. This was one public servant who did not buy her clothes off the rack.
The guest list was a mixture of all the important art collectors in the city and quite a few of the artists as well. Cam had photos of all of them, and invitations would be required for admission to the Soho gallery. Nevertheless, this was the most dangerous situation for Blair - a public function, advertised in advance. At the very least, there would be a curious crowd gathered outside. Cam planned on being inside with two other agents, while the second team waited in the car.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Powell," Cam remarked as they traveled.
"Agent Roberts, we meet again. Are you to be my date today?" she asked mildly.
"I was planning on coming in after you were inside. Itís not the best idea for me to be too easily identified. For those times weíd prefer none of us be recognized."
Blair laughed with just a hint of bitterness. "Times like last night, you mean. When it might be embarrassing."
"For those times when you might like as much privacy as possible," Cam amended quietly.
Blair stared at her. "Youíd like me to think you care?"
Cam shrugged lightly, a small smile flickering at the corner of her mouth. "The happier you are, the happier Iím going to be."
Blair laughed again, this time with no restraint. "You are honest at least, although Iím not sure how far that will get you."
"Itís the only card I have to play," Cam said seriously.
Blair surveyed her coolly. "Your approach is certainly novel. Iím used to strong-armed tactics Ė 'behave or else'. No one has tried the humble 'Iím just here to look after you' routine before. I suppose you think Iíll fall for that and suddenly bare my Ė soulófor you?"
Her tone was mockingly suggestive, and her frank survey of Camís body left little question of her intent. She shifted slightly on the leather seat, baring an expanse of smooth, well-muscled thigh.
Cam smiled, unperturbed. No matter how attractive Blair Powell was, and she was damned attractive, Cam had no intention of being sidetracked. "If I can do my job without getting in your way, I will. As much as that is possible, Iíll see that that happens. Thereíll be times when itís impossible. Iíll apologize in advance for that."
"But you wonít bend the rules Ė not even as a favor?" Blair questioned softly, her tone heavy with innuendo.
"No," Cam stated flatly. She bent her head slightly as a voice in her ear appraised her of their location. Looking up she caught the surprise in Blairís eyes before her elegant features set into an expression of arrogant dismissal.
"Weíre almost there," Cam informed her. "One of the agents will walk you in."
"I know the drill," Blair snapped, irritated at the agentís implacable demeanor. Maybe she was wrong; maybe Roberts was straight after all. But the way she had looked in the bar! God, she was so hot, and seemed so comfortable there. Knowing Cam was watching from across the room while the stranger in leather took her pleasure from Blairís body had been an incredible turn on for her. More exciting than anything the woman against her was doing. She wanted Cam to feel as unsettled as she had been the night before. So far, she hadnít been able to crack the agent's cool exterior. If she couldnít unbalance her in some way, it was going to be very difficult to elude her and her watch dogs.
"Enjoy the opening," Cam said quietly as Blair slid from the limo. Blair did not grace her with a response.
Diane greeted her with an affectionate hug, whispering softly, "Hey, darliní Ė I called you all last evening. Out on the prowl?"
Blair shrugged imperceptibly, aware of the reporters nearby. "For a while."
They moved away from the crowd milling around the small bar which offered the obligatory wine and cheese. Blair smiled at the people she knew as well as those she didnít. She had so much practice at this she barely registered the faces any longer.
"Get lucky?" Diane probed with the slightest edge in her voice. They had known each other for years, since prep school at Choate, where they had been lovers briefly as teenagers. There had been more than one time Diane wished they still were. There were moments when she caught sight of Blair unexpectedly and her breath would catch with sudden desire. Blair was beautiful, talented, and --most attractively-- emotionally remote. Just the kind of challenge Diane liked in her women. When she looked at the cool, self-contained woman beside her, she barely remembered the eager, open young girl with whom she had first shared love and simple unbridled sexual pleasure. She hadnít caught a glimpse of her in years.
Blairís smile was brittle. "Depends on how you define that. I enjoyed her."
"Did she enjoy you?" Diane pushed, knowing full well Blair rarely allowed her sexual conquests the pleasure of having her. Which was one of the reasons Diane remained attracted. Like the exquisite one-of-a-kind works of art she brokered, she lusted after the exceptional, the singular, the one thing that no one else had. She wanted to be the one to wrest a cry of passion from those beautiful lips, to break the silence of Blairís isolation.
A warning flickered in Blairís blue eyes. There were places where even her oldest friend was not welcome. "She got what she was looking for. She left satisfied."
Yes, but did you? Diane thought, but wisely did not say. She surveyed the room, pleased at the turn out. Whenever she showed Blairís paintings, there was interest. Some of it, of course, was due to Blair's notoriety, but most of it was due to her genuine talent. The collectors were beginning to buy her work, recognizing its value. It wasnít a solo showing this time, but Blair was the featured artist.
"Whereís your new Spooky?" Diane asked.
"Directly across the room. She just came in," Blair responded. Cameron was looking casually in their direction without seeming to focus on them. She was good. Blair knew perfectly well that she was the only thing Cameron was looking at. She also knew that the handsome agent saw her only as an assignment, an object to be moved, contained, and controlled on some giant chess board. Blair might be the queen, but she had been stripped of her power. She was ruled by pawns, and she hated it. Especially when her keeper was a woman so attractive Blair felt a twinge of desire every time she saw her. That made her even more eager to escape those intense grey eyes.
"Oh my," Diane murmured, following Blairís gaze. She took in the lean physique and androgenous features in one swift appraising glance. "She is tantalizing."
Irked at the suggestive tone in Dianeís voice and even more irritated at her own surge of possessiveness, Blair snapped, "Yeah, if she isnít being paid to watch you."
"Iíd almost be willing to pay for that," Diane rejoined, ignoring the edge in Blairís tone. She had never let friendship stand in the way of her attraction to another woman, and if Blair was interested too, that just intensified the challenge. This one looked like she would take some work. There was a nearly visible barrier around her, her indifference shouting look if you want to, I couldnít care less. Diane loved bringing those untouchable types to their knees, so to speak.
"You need to mingle, darliní," Diane said as she moved away, "and so do I if Iím going to sell anything."
Blair watched her lithe blonde friend melt into the throng, wondering how long it would take her to get around to Agent Roberts. She frowned at her own concern, and turned smiling to the director of the Museum of Modern Art, greeting him by name without a hint of her inner disquiet.
"Itís a shame you canít enjoy the artwork," Diane said softly as she moved next to Cam. "Not that watching Blair is not enjoyable. Iím Diane Bleeker, Blairís agent."
"How do you do," Cam nodded politely, knowing full well exactly who the sophisticated woman beside her was. "I have managed a glance or two at the works."
"See anything you like," Diane queried teasingly. She didnít see the point in being coy. She was well beyond that in her life. She allowed one leg to rest gently against Camís trousered thigh. It could have been the press of the crowd that brought her so close, but they both knew it wasnít.
Cam registered the contact, and the heat of Dianeís body so close to her. If she glanced down she knew she would see the creamy expanse of the woman's breasts revealed by the low scoop of her black dress. She didnít look down. She gazed instead past her, to where Blair stood in conversation with a young man who resembled every stereotype of "struggling young artist" she had ever seen, right down to the rumpled tweed jacket and scraggly beard. She kept her eyes on them as she spoke.
"Actually yes. Thereís a series of sketches, nudes, on the far right wall. Charcoal on paper. Theyíre hers, arenít they?"
Diane studied her in surprise. She doubted many people had paid the small sketches much attention in the midst of the large oils and other canvasses. But that wasnít the real reason for her careful answer.
"The artist is Sheila Blake."
"Uh huh," Cam replied with a slight smile. "Ms. Blakeís strokes resemble those of Ms. Powellís, as does the use of light and shadow. Of course, Iím sure the Presidentís daughter wouldnít have cause to be doing female nudes. Are they for sale?"
"Yes," Diane replied, intrigued and immensely attracted.
"If the buyer desires. Once the works are consigned to me, the buyer becomes my client."
"The buyer wishes to remain anonymous," Cam stated smoothly, shifting her position slightly to keep Blair in sight.
Diane caught her breath as Camís arm unintentionally brushed her breast. She felt her nipple harden painfully, knowing it was visible beneath the shear material of her dress. Was it possible to be this aroused by someone who was practically ignoring you?
"I guarantee it," she managed, her voice husky.
"Need we discuss price," Diane asked. She was a businesswoman, after all.
"That wonít be necessary."
"Perhaps youíll allow me to take you to lunch then, to discuss the details."
Cam met her gaze fully for the first time, reading the invitation in them. "Lunch would be fine," she responded. "Iíll call."
"Yes, please do."
"Are you awake?"
"Did you get what I need?"
"More or less Ė I donít think this is going to make you very happy."
Blair sighed as she pulled her robe around herself and stumbled toward the kitchen and her first cup of coffee. "Tell me."
"Sheís not going to be easy to slip away from. Twelve years in the investigative division. Her specialty was tracking Columbian drugs paid for by counterfeit US dollars. Crooks scamming crooks. Apparently she was very good at it."
Blair watched the coffee drip into the pot, her thoughts swiftly calculating. "Why is she suddenly assigned to protection? What arenít you telling me?"
"There are substantial holes in the information on her. As a matter of record, she was involved in a multi-jurisdictional snafu last year. The secret service had surveillance units watching a drug factory on the outskirts of DC. Apparently the ATF was involved because they thought the same guys were trafficking guns as well as phony money. Unbeknownst to either Federal agency, the DC narcotics unit had an agent under cover with the drug boys. Somehow the Colombians got wind of it, the narcotics detectiveís cover was blown, and she was killed in a shoot out. Cameron Roberts was shot trying to warn her off seconds before the whole place went crazy."
Blairís stomach tightened. "She was shot?"
"In the thigh. Thatís not the whole story though."
Her caller hesitated. Even friendship had its limits. "Roberts has a sterling reputation, Blair."
"I donít intend to sully it," Blair snapped.
"There are rumors Ė not many, and no one will commit to knowing anything for sure. Sheís well-liked by her colleagues-"
"All right! I get your point. You donít want to tell me, but you will. Because if you donít Iíll make sure youíre never an Assistant Director."
"Iím kidding, and you should know that, if you donít after all these years. Tell me who she is, AJ. Sheís got control over my life!"
"Deep sources say the narcotics dick who was killed was her lover."
"Christ!" Blair breathed.
"That may explain the change in assignments. A thing like that can ruin you for field work."
Blair pictured the clear-eyed, focused woman who had tracked her down at the bar with seeming ease two nights before. None of the other agents had been able to find her once she'd slipped into the shadows. Or at least none had ever dared to.
"I donít think sheís ruined for anything, AJ. Sheís ice."
"That would fit."
"What do you mean?"
"Thereís one other rumor, buried so deep Iím not even sure itís her theyíre talking about."
Blair sat on the edge of the stool at her breakfast bar, her coffee forgotten. "What is it?"
"Youíve heard of the very hush hush escort service that operates on the hill?"
"You mean the one that provides all kinds of companions- boys, girls, either or both - for senators, dignitaries, and supposedly my father?"
"I donít know a thing about your father!"
"It doesnít matter one way or the other to me. He leaves me alone, thatís all I care about. Whatís this got to do with Roberts? Is she trying to shut it down?"
"Might be sheís using it."
Blair caught her breath, then laughed derisively. "Your sources havenít seen Cameron Roberts. Believe me, she does not have to pay for sex!!"
"Maybe she wants to."
"No strings Ė no attachment Ė nothing to lose."
"I forgot youíre a psychologist," Blair commented dryly. She finally sipped her coffee. "So what youíre telling me is that my new keeper has no weaknesses I might exploit to make a little breathing room for myself, huh?"
"None that I could find."
Blair gently replaced the receiver, her annoyance warring with her curiosity. Every one had a secret, and everyone had a weakness Ė even her. She had just been lucky enough to keep hers hidden all her life. So apparently had Cameron Roberts.
At precisely eleven a.m. a knock sounded at the door. Blair answered, knowing whom it was.
"Always punctual, Agent Roberts?" she queried as she turned away, leaving Cam to follow her into the loft. As she walked she caught her wild blond hair back with a headband fashioned from a black bandana. She pushed sweats and other gear into a nondescript gym bag, ignoring Cam as she packed.
"I thought we might go over the plans for the trip to DC, and New Yearís Eve," Cam suggested, leaning against the back of the couch.
"Whatís to review," Blair said dismissively. "Youíll escort me to the airport, another hired guard will pick me up at National and deposit me at the White House, where I will play dutiful daughter, pose for a few photos, and celebrate surviving another year." She glanced at Cam with a shrug. "Iíll tell you when Ė you be here."
"I would like to have the itinerary in advance so I can brief my team. Shall we plan on departure at 3pm Wednesday?"
Blair finally faced her fully. "I am in the habit of setting my own schedule."
"Thatís why Iím here," Cam replied evenly.
"Do you spar, Agent Roberts?" Blair asked suddenly.
"As in hand to hand combat?"
"As in karate?"
Cam hesitated momentarily, at a loss as to where they were headed. Blair Powell did not make casual conversation. "Not exactly. I donít point spar Ė Iím a mat stylist. I Ė"
"Then letís talk about the travel arrangements after we work out. I was just leaving for the gym. You can use some of my gear."
Cam stared at her. This was not a good idea. She was paid to protect her, not socialize with her. She didnít care how it might look to others, but she was worried about maintaining a professional distance. Blair was hard enough to handle without adding the confusion of any sort of personal relationship.
Stalling she said, "If youíre going out I need to alert my people---"
Blair grabbed her bag, brushing past Cam. "Iím outta here. You coming or not?"
Cam had no choice. She either went with her or allowed her to leave the building alone and hope one of her agents picked her up before Blair lost them in the crowds on the street. She hurried after her, activating her radio as she went.
"Mac, you there?" she whispered urgently.
"Yeah, boss," Mac answered immediately.
"Egret is flying Ė get someone downstairs in a car-"
"Roger that Ė you keeping her company?"
"Affirmative, but I want backup, and make sure everyone is mobile." She shouldered into the elevator just as the doors began to slide closed. Blair leaned against the rear wall watching her with an amused expression on her face. Cam clicked off the radio, clipped it back on her belt and stared at her. She was more annoyed than angry, but she kept her expression neutral.
"You donít like it, do you?" Blair stated.
"Like what?" Cam asked evenly.
"Not being in control- not knowing whatís going to happen one moment to the next."
"If weíre speaking about my work, youíre right. Itís my job to be in the know Ė to have control of the situation. Thatís what Iím paid to do."
Blair studied her, unable to read anything in her smooth even features or her calm modulated tones. The elevator doors opened into the foyer and she saw two agents waiting near the door. She shook her head impatiently.
"Tell them to leave us alone," she said unexpectedly. There was a hint of something desperate in her voice.
"The gym on Seventh Ave?" Cam responded.
Cam spoke into her radio. "Weíre walking to Soho. Follow us in the car."
Cam and Blair stepped out into a brisk clear morning as the two men moved past them into the car that sat idling at the curb. It slowly drifted through traffic behind them as they turned south toward the gym.
Blair glanced at Cam who walked beside her, constantly scanning the street ahead of them and the cars that passed along side.
"Are you really serious about protecting me?" she asked.
"Because you need it, and because I have been asked to do it."
"Would you actually 'take a bullet' for me, as they say?" Blair said mockingly. A muscle clenched in Camís jaw, and a storm rose in her gray eyes.
"Yes," she answered curtly. She locked eyes with Blair, searching for some hint of what she was after. She had no doubt there was some point to this. Blairís blue eyes were defiant, and just as searching.
"Youíve had some practice at that, havenít you," Blair probed. Finally a swift intake of breath and a slight falter in Camís step rewarded her as the question struck home. She does have a weak spot, she thought triumphantly. When Cam failed to answer, Blair pushed.
"Itís a matter of record, you know."
"Then you know all there is to know," Cam replied stiffly. She fought to keep the image of Janetís face from her mind.
"As you said Ė itís a matter of record."
Blair laughed. "We all know how accurate the records are, donít we, Agent Roberts?"
Continued - Part 2