Their destination was not the expected polished urban health club where Blair practiced yoga and aerobics. Blair led them swiftly past the entrance to the gym and turned down an adjacent alley. Cam groaned inwardly when Blair grabbed her arm and directed her up a flight of narrow littered stairs to a huge room on the third floor of a rundown tenement building.
The clientele was mostly male. There were worn punching bags hung from chains scattered about, men in torn tee shirts or no shirts at all pounding at them. Heavily- muscled lifters grunted and sweated at the free weight benches tucked into every conceivable corner. Two elevated boxing rings dominated the center of the space, one currently occupied by a pair of fighters making a serious effort to score off each other. Cam was willing to bet there were half a dozen felons in the room, any one of whom probably knew exactly who Blair Powell was.
"Have you been here before?" she asked as she weaved her way around bodies, following Blair toward the rear.
"Three times a week for eighteen months."
Cam was furious. No one had told her about this place Ė she had no background on the members, no idea of the physical layout, and no prayer of guarding Blair effectively. How in hell had this been overlooked?
As if reading her mind, Blair commented, "They donít know about it."
Blair grinned, an altogether spontaneous and disarming grin. Or it might have been if Cam hadnít been so angry. "They think Iím at my therapistís office around the corner most of the time."
Cam didnít ask her why. There was no need to. She knew why. Pointing out the danger would be meaningless. Blair obviously cared less for her safety than for her freedom, and that was probably the result of having people like herself constantly shadowing her for the last fifteen years of her life. What mattered to Cam now was that something similar not happen again.
"Here we are," Blair announced, pulling back the curtain to a small cramped dressing room not much bigger than a walk-in closet. A shower stall and toilet were visible behind a rickety screen in the back. Blair tossed her bag down and in one fluid motion pulled off her shirt. She caught Cam off guard and laughed knowingly as Camís eyes flickered once to her breasts before she quickly looked away.
"You can grab sweats and a tee shirt from my bag. Thereís plenty," Blair informed her as she continued to strip. She watched Cam unabashedly as she changed. She knew Cam was aware of her scrutiny, although she gave no sign of it. Cam had the kind of body Blair expected Ė lean and hard-muscled, a tightly coiled machine. She imagined making those muscles quiver with desire, watching Cam's rigid control break with need. The power of the image stirred a flush of arousal so keen it made her gasp. If Cam heard, she gave no sign of it. She reached for a pair of sweats without hurrying.
Blair looked at the ten inch scar that ran down the outside of Camís right thigh. It was still fresh enough that it hadnít lost the redness. As Cam pulled the pants up, Blair asked, "Is your leg okay?"
"Yes, it is."
Cam pulled on a tee shirt that said 'Ernieís Gym'. She faced Blair, who stood appraising her. The Presidentís daughter wore a sleeveless tee, torn off a couple of inches below her high firm breasts, and baggy sweats. Sleek well-toned muscles defined her arms and legs. Her exposed midriff was taut, and she sported a small gold ring in her navel. Untamed blond strands escaped from the black headband, wilding around her face. Her blue eyes glinted with brazen sensuality. She was a beautiful animal.
"I take it this is Ernieís?" Cam remarked dryly, refusing to be distracted by Blairís open seduction. The time when the promise of a body like that might have interested her was past. The price of possession was too high.
"This is Ernieís," Blair rejoined, pushing the curtain aside. She wasnít perturbed by Camís rebuff. She would have been disappointed had it been easy. What bothered her was the undeniable throbbing in her own body. Desire was a weakness, one she exploited in others, but avoided personally. There were too many ways in which other people controlled her. She would not allow another.
Camís head snapped back as a kick landed along her jaw.
"Are you sure you donít want a helmet," Blair called, a hint of laughter in her voice. She moved lightly on the canvas, her gloved hands at chest level. Cam faced her, wearing no gloves or other protective gear.
"No thanks," Cam responded, gauging the reach of Blairís legs with respect. When the next kick came she stepped off the line of the trajectory and deflected it with a forearm. She expected a follow-up punch, and she blocked that as well. She stepped back once again to a middle range, trying to get a feel for Blairís tactics. Blair moved lightly on the canvass, agile and supple. Blair was a kickboxer, and used her feet as weapons in the ring. Cam was trained for the street. Blair attacked relentlessly, mixing kicks, double kicks and strikes with considerable skill. Some scored, although none would have done damage had they been full force.
Cam deflected, blocked and redirected her opponentís efforts. She was trained to immobilize and neutralize, and those techniques were not designed for sparring. She knew she couldnít defend this way for long Ė there was a good chance Blair would make serious contact with one of her kicks. As a sweeping round house kick approached her head, Cam stepped forward into Blairís body, so close to her that the kick lost its force. She trapped Blairís leg with her near arm, grasped the shoulder of Blair's shirt with her other hand, and swept Blairís remaining leg out from under her. Cam held onto her to break her fall, following her down to the mat, and pinned her face down with a shoulder pin.
"Son of a bitch!" Blair muttered as she struggled briefly to lift her torso off the canvass. She stopped when the pressure on her shoulder increased slightly. She wasnít damaged, but she was effectively immobilized.
"If you tap the mat, Iíll release you," Cam said softly into her ear. "But you must promise not to punch me as you get up. Rules of war."
Blair laughed as she slapped the mat. She rolled over and found Cam kneeling beside her, a half smile on her face.
"You okay?" Cam asked.
"Dandy. I suppose youíll do that again if we start over?"
"I told you I didnít spar," Cam said as they both got to their feet. "Youíd annihilate me."
"No, I donít think so," Blair replied softly, stripping off her gloves. "You mind showing me that technique?"
Cam glanced outside the ring, realizing they had drawn quite a crowd. She wasnít sure this was a good time for a lesson, especially when she had no one inside the building. She couldnít very well survey the people around them if she was flat on her back. Blair followed her gaze, her smile disappearing in irritation.
"They donít know me," she said flatly.
Cam saw the resentment in her eyes, and shook her head slightly. "You canít know that."
"I know," Blair insisted. "I always know." She took a deep breath, then added in a whisper, "please."
Cam swept the group leaning on the ropes one more time. "All right."
She demonstrated at half- speed several times while Blair watched intently. Then she launched a kick toward Blairís head, ready to pull back if Blair failed to execute the technique. Blair quickly countered and took Cam down soundly to the cheers of the onlookers. Cam found herself on her back with Blair above her, Blair's bent forearm pressed to Camís neck. Blair pressed her knee between Camís legs and leaned forward until their faces were nearly touching. Her lips were a breath away.
"If you donít slap the mat, I can make this feel a whole lot better," Blair whispered.
Cam gasped as Blair rocked her thigh against Camís pelvis. For a second all she felt was the fire, igniting instantly into a consuming ache. She caught back a moan, shook her head to clear it, and in one upward thrust, dislodged Blair from on top of her. She was on her feet quickly, and in the next instant had vaulted over the ropes and out of the ring.
"Sheís too much for you, huh girl?" a burly man next to her said good-naturedly.
"You got that right," Cam responded lightly. She waited as Blair climbed down, then followed her into the dressing room.
"I need to shower," Blair informed her, pulling off her clothes. Cam struggled to quell the remnants of unwanted desire.
"Iíll wait outside."
"What are you afraid of, Agent Roberts?" Blair taunted lightly as she stood naked before her. "I felt you, you know."
"Take your time," Cam said evenly as
she stepped out through the curtain. Blairís laughter followed her even as the
throbbing in her pelvis reminded her of her own weakness.
Cam slammed the office door hard enough that the glass enclosure rattled. Six agents sat slumped around the table, staring at their pens. Cam stood at the end of the table, breathing heavily, trying to contain her anger.
"How many of you have been on this detail longer than six months?" she asked at length, her words clipped. There was a moment of silence, then Mac cleared his throat.
"All of us, maíam."
"All of you." She looked them over one at a time. "All of you."
"Yes maíam," he responded.
"Obviously none of you are capable of this assignment, nor worthy of it. Blair Powell Ė the daughter of the President of the United States -has been criminally unprotected for months, and not one of you reported it? Even if I could overlook your lack of responsibility to her Ė which I canít Ė it is impossible to excuse your silence regarding the potential danger to national security. Were she kidnapped it would threaten the presidency." Leaning forward, both hands flat on the table, she said succinctly, "I want a request for transfer from every one of you on my desk in one hour."
As Cam turned toward the door, Paula Stark stood abruptly. "Commander!"
"Yes?" Cam questioned.
"I donít want a transfer, maíam. I want this detail."
"Really? And why is that?"
Stark took a deep breath. "Because she is my responsibility, and because I can do what no one else can. Iíve spent months following her through half the gay bars in this city. I am recognized, and Iím accepted. I can go where most of the others canít. You need an inside person, and thatís me."
Cam regarded her silently.
Paula met Camís penetrating gaze. "I should have filed a report sooner. We lose her regularly, and itís always because weíre never informed of her route, or she changes it, or she intentionally lies to us. Weíre all frustrated Ė but thatís no excuse."
"Youíre right. Thatís no excuse for what you all have been participating in. Regardless of Ms. Powellís duplicity, it is your sworn duty to guard her. If you donít have what it takes, you donít belong here. I donít want anyone on this team who doesnít want to be here." She looked over the group. "Iíll see that there are no repercussions if you request transfer now, but I guarantee I will see you posted to an embassy in Somalia if you fuck up on my detail."
An hour later, Mac knocked on the door to Camís eight by ten office.
Cam studied his boyishly handsome face. His blue eyes were serious.
"Are you staying or leaving, Mac?"
"Iím staying if you want me. Two men want transfers Ė theyíre bringing the paperwork. Iím sorry I fucked up. If you donít trust meÖ"
Cam stopped him with a raised hand. "I need a good coordinator, Mac. We have an uncooperative target Ė nothing is going to change that. We are going to have to be able to readjust personnel, vehicle placement, even motor routes at a momentís notice. I need to be with her Ė consistently, persistently Ė until she figures out that we are not going away."
She saw the look of disbelief he quickly tried to hide. She laughed, the tension easing from her shoulders for the first time since she left the gym. "Yeah, I know. Iím dreaming. Youíll be the desk jockey most of the time weíre here, and the communication center when weíre not. Are you in or not?"
He favored her with a brilliant smile. "Iím in."
"Good Ė then find me replacements for the two who are leaving. I donít even want to see the files until youíve been through them. And Mac Ė we both know what the problem has been. If thereís even a hint of homophobia, I donít want them on this assignment. Blair Powellís lifestyle is not our concern, and shouldnít affect the way we do the job. I want that clear."
"Yes maíam. I understand."
"Good. Weíll brief for the trip to Washington at 0700."
As soon as her second in command closed the door, Cam leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She didnít want to think about her response to Blairís blatant sexual overture at the gym, but she had to. She could not afford to be distracted, and there was no denying the effect Blair had on her. Fortunately, it was purely physical, and they would be in Washington in two days. She could satisfy the insistent demands of her body then.
Cam was the last one on the plane. The cabin space was small, and Blair sat alone near the rear. Three other agents had boarded earlier and occupied the area just behind the cockpit. Cam nodded to them as she moved toward the rear, finally settling in the seat across the aisle from Blair. She stretched her legs into the aisle and pulled a stack of memos from her briefcase.
"Do you have plans for tonight, Agent Roberts?" Blair asked. She liked the semi-casual look of Camís pressed khaki chinos and matching blazer over a cotton broadcloth shirt. The only way she liked her better was in the tight faded jeans she wore when she was off-duty. Blair remembered very well how good Cam looked in those. In fact, every time she thought about that night in the bar she wanted nothing more than to get her hands inside those jeans. For the moment at least, that seemed unlikely.
Cam smiled, shaking her head slightly. "No plans. Happy Birthday, by the way."
Blair flushed slightly, then reminded herself the agent was only being polite, like most of the people in her life. She leaned forward, lowering her voice as she spoke. "Why thank you. I donít suppose a birthday kiss is in the offing?"
Cam glanced at her, aware of how attractive she was, then back at the papers before her. "No."
They did not speak for the rest of the flight.
Cam accompanied Blair across the drive to the private entrance to the White House. She stopped at the door as a guard opened it for Blair.
"Iíll see you in the morning, Ms.
Powell," she said. The door swung shut with no response from the Presidentís
daughter. The White House Security staff would be responsible for her welfare
from this point until she was ready to leave the next day. Cam was looking
forward to a day off, and a relaxing evening.
Cam stretched out on the couch with a drink and watched the traffic below on Pennsylvania Avenue. From her highrise apartment she could see the White House in the distance. She wondered fleetingly how Blair was faring, then put the thought from her mind. Tonight she did not have to worry about her. She reached for the phone and dialed a number from memory.
"This is number 38913," she said as a female voice answered. "Iíd like to confirm my arrangement for tonight." She waited for a moment as her client ID number was verified. "Yes Ė eleven o-íclock ató" She hesitated as her beeper went off. "Just a second," she added, checking the number. It was the White House. "Iíll have to call back. It may be later. Yes, keep it open Ė Iíll take care of the time. Thank you."
She pushed the other line, keeping the scrambler engaged. "Roberts," she said tersely when the phone was picked up.
"Commander? Itís Mac Ė Iím sorry to bother you, but I thought youíd want a call."
"Mac?" she said in surprise. "What are you doing there? Whatís going on?"
"Iím not supposed to be here. Sheís gone, Commander. They lost her an hour ago. The commander here didnít want anyone to know, so when it started getting late a buddy of mine called me on the sly."
"Goddamn it," she cursed. "Who else knows?"
"Just the inside team here. They havenít a clue where to look."
She understood his message. "Right Ė we canít very well call out our own people. Weíre not even supposed to know about this. There are a few places I can check. Listen Mac, thereís a floating club Ė it travels around from one venue to another all over the city. Very trendy, only people in the know have the address. Find it for me. Iíll call you in an hour."
She interrupted his protests. "I donít know how youíll find it, but Iím sure you will."
Two hours later he called her with the address. Cam arrived at the warehouse close to midnight. She had been to every gay bar she knew of, and several Mac had come up with. It was New Yearís Eve. The bars were packed with exuberant men and women in various stages of intoxication and undress. She hadnít found her. For all she knew, Blair was tucked away in bed somewhere with a girlfriend they didnít know about. Cam hoped so.
It was worse than she expected. Wall to wall people, jostling bodies, smoke hanging in clouds below the dim spotlights, the air heavy with sex and booze. Cam pushed her way into the shadowy depths of the long room, hoping that each blonde she saw would be Blair.
Blair watched her drawing closer. She stood leaning against the wall in the narrow passageway leading to semi-private alcoves and niches which women were using for quick assignations and frantic couplings. She had been watching a young tough in tight black leather pants swagger about at the bar, trying to impress her friends with her bravado. Blair thought she might be fun to toy with. It was always so satisfying to humble the butches, and she made a bet with herself that she could make this one beg. She was about to go over when she caught sight of Cam. Taller by a head than most of the women, she cut a swath through the crowd like a sleek cutter through the sea. In a light windbreaker, dark polo shirt, the signature faded jeans and boots, she should have looked ordinary, but she was easily the sexiest woman in view. She moved with certainty and grace, lithe and powerful, a hunter searching its prey. It was only the darkness in the hall that gave Blair the advantage. As Cam moved closer, Blairís pulse quickened. This time the hunted would have the hunter.
Cam stepped through the archway into the hall just as the countdown to midnight began. People were crushing in around her, searching for that elusive partner to claim at the dawn of a new year. Blair caught her by the arm and spun her against the wall, pressing into her, her hands around Cam's waist. Cam was momentarily stunned. Blairís breasts were soft against her chest, her breath hot on Cam's neck, Blair's thigh tight into her crotch. Cam hadnít been close to a woman this way in a year and her body surged with reawakened sensation. She caught her breath as a stab of desire pierced her. Her clit swelled, hard and ready in an instant.
"Happy New Year, Commander," Blair breathed into her ear, grasping Camís head and pulling her down into a kiss. Cam gasped in surprise as Blair pushed into her, fusing their bodies in the press of the milling crowd.
Can groaned as Blair's searching tongue invaded her mouth, adding heat to the fire that raged through her. Cam kissed Blair back, she couldnít help it. For an instant she forgot who she was, or where she was. All she knew was the pounding in her head, and the ache in her belly, the throbbing in her clit driving her quickly toward climax. Blair pushed her hand between Camís legs.
"Oh Jesus!" Cam gasped, pulling her mouth away so abruptly her head banged against the wall. Her legs were trembling. She grasped Blairís hand, dragging it away from her body. "No, goddamn it! Thatís enough!"
"Are you crazy?" Blair exclaimed, her voice thick with her own urgent need. "Youíre so hot I can feel you through your jeans! Youíre almost there Ė let me do what I know you want!"
That moment was all Cam needed to find her control. She pushed Blair back a step, breaking their contact.
"I want to get you out of here."
Blairís eyes blazed dangerously. She had come close to humiliating herself. The fire in Camís body had ignited her own, and she had been very close to coming herself. She throbbed still. "Go fuck yourself, Agent Roberts!"
As she tried to walk away, Cam grasped her arm. "Ms. Powell Ė please!"
"Leave me alone. No one knows Iím here."
"Then pretend you donít," Blair snapped, trying to escape into the crowd. She couldnít move very quickly through the mass of revelers, and Cam stayed right beside her.
"I canít," Cam stated with finality.
Blair turned to face her, her body rigid with fury. "Then do your job, but stay out of my way!"
Cam nodded, accepting the slight concession. She let Blair move ahead of her, wishing she could reach Mac for backup. The best she could do was stay close to Blair until she settled for the night, and then call for another team.
Which is how she came to find herself on the phone in the lobby of the Franklin Hotel at two am. "Mac?"
"Yeah, Commander. Tell me you got her Ė please."
"Send two of our people, not the White House detail- to the Franklin Hotel on the parkway. Iíll wait 'til they get here. Sheís in Room 1302, and I think sheíll be here for the night. I need someone in the room across from hers Ė Iíve booked it- and a car downstairs. And Mac, keep this quiet for Godís sake. If the White House press corps catches on to her little foray, theyíll be all over us."
"Any info on who sheís with?" Mac asked hesitantly.
"No," Cam said curtly. Except that she was young, recklessly beautiful in an androgynous way, and had followed Blair without hesitation when Blair walked up to her, kissed her by way of introduction, and said, "Iím leaving. You coming?"
Cam had followed them the few blocks to the hotel at a discrete distance, hanging back in the shadows every time Blair stopped to grope and fondle her leather clad conquest. Blair never looked in Camís direction, but she had to know Cam was there, watching the display. If the seduction was meant to anger Cam, it did, but probably not for the reasons Blair intended. Cam was infuriated at the risk Blair was taking by picking up a stranger and checking into a hotel a few blocks from the White House. It was dangerous on more levels than she could count. Blair Powell was beautiful, bright, and talented. She didnít need to waste herself on one-night stands. It was physically hazardous, politically suicidal, and willfully self-destructive. Cam came close to breaking up their little tryst at one point, but she reminded herself that Blair Powell had every right to do what she was doing, and any effort to intervene would only make her more reckless. The last thing she had seen was Blair backing her girlfriend up against the door to their room as she fumbled to fit her card in the lock behind them, kissing her with an intensity that echoed in Camís body. The door finally swung open and they disappeared breathlessly inside.
"Boss Ėyou still there?" Macís voice interrupted her reminiscences.
"Yes," she retorted, her voice thick with the memory.
"Iíll have someone there in five minutes."
Cam was still seething when she stepped off the elevator into the foyer in front of her apartment. She stopped in surprise when she saw the stately blond put a book aside and smile in her direction.
"My god!" Cam exclaimed. "I didnít mean for you to wait out here in the hallway!"
Her visitor stood, sliding the book into a stylish leather bag. "I know, but my evening was already planned, and itís safe enough. I know Iím presuming, and I can leave if you like. But you did book the whole night."
"No," Cam said as she unlocked her door. "Come in." She hit the dimmer switch inside the door, giving them just enough light to maneuver by. She turned to the woman who stepped inside after her. "Iím sorry-"
"Donít be," the blonde said, touching Camís cheek lightly. She felt the tremor, and the heat. She knew the signs.
"You need some attention," she whispered throatily. Without waiting for an answer, she pushed Cam gently back against the door as she worked loose the buttons on Cam's fly. She heard the swift intake of breath, a wordless assent. She leaned one arm along the wall beside Camís still form and reached into her jeans.
Cam grasped the handle for support, closing her eyes. She was aching, had been since the bar, and her body had never quieted. The first touch was excruciating.
"Oh god," she groaned, praying she could stay standing. The strokes were certain, commanding, relentless, and she heard herself moaning. She pushed back against the wall, rigid with the effort to control the mounting pressure as her hips bucked forward into the waiting hand.
"Iím losing it," she gasped, clenching her jaw until it ached. She cried out as the explosion spread through her, her head rocking from side to side with the pulsations. When it subsided she was amazed she was still upright.
"Oh, Christ," she gasped breathlessly. "I didnít mean for that to happen so fast."
"I donít think it was up to you," her companion laughed softly, moving away discreetly so Cam could regain her composure. The arousal certainly had nothing to do with her, which she suspected was most often the case.
"Will you have that drink now?" Cam asked dryly as she fumbled with the buttons on her jeans. Her hands were trembling.
"I would definitely like that," the blond said with a smile.
Cam moved over to the bar and poured them both a drink, then settled on the sofa in front of the floor to ceiling windows. They sat in silence in the near darkness for a few moments, each privy to her own thoughts.
"Does it bother you?" Cam said at length. "The lack of reciprocation?" When her guest failed to answer, she added quietly, "Iím sorry. That was inappropriate, and none of my business."
"No, itís all right," came the soft reply. "I donít expect any reciprocation, and most of the time I wouldnít want it."
It was Camís turn to be quiet. As many times as they had met, they had never talked of anything personal. She had never wanted to know. She had no idea why she was asking now.
"You should know this is by my choice, and there is absolutely no abuse involved," the woman added.
Cam nodded Ė she knew all the details of the operation, right down to how often all the employees had health exams. What she didnít know was who they were, or what they felt. Both of them kept their identities, and their secrets, hidden. It was a business arrangement, with a veneer of civility, and so far it had worked for both of them.
"So sometimes you would like it to go both ways?" Cam asked.
"I certainly wouldnít throw you out of bed," her companion replied gently, her laughter making light of her statement.
"Iím not asking for that Ė I canít, I havenít-" Cam struggled with the words. How to explain that she didn't feel any desire for women, that the thought of wanting someone terrified her. It was too much, too close Ė and then to lose it. She swallowed the ache, battling the old pain.
The blonde stopped her with a hand on her thigh. "I donít need you to make love to me. If it makes you feel any better, I enjoy what we do. Rather a lot. Exactly as it is."
Cam nodded in acceptance, placing her drink beside her on the table. She stood, reaching out her hand.
"Letís move to the bedroom," she
said, hoping eventually to sleep.
Mac looked up as his boss and the First Daughter boarded the plane. The air seemed decidedly chilly. Blair stalked down the aisle and threw herself across the seats at the rear. Cam took the first seat inside the cabin, leaned back, and closed her eyes. Mac figured she hadnít gotten much sleep. None of them had. Between tracking Blair down, then shadowing the hotel the rest of the night, half the team had worked on the one night they all expected to have off. Blair hadnít emerged to return to the White House until eight a.m., and that made it all the harder to get her past the press corps without announcing she had been out all night. She looked exactly like she had been out all night, and up all night screwing.
Cam had been called as soon as Blair stepped out of her hotel room, and she had been waiting for Blair at the side entrance of the White House. She didnít look all that much better than Blair, although her attire was impeccable as usual. Neither of them acknowledged the other as Cam ushered Blair in through the service entrance and down the labyrinth of service halls to the family living quarters. The limo ride to the airport an hour later had been just as frosty.
When the plane landed in New York forty minutes later, Cam escorted Blair to the waiting car and climbed into the back with her. In an hour Blair was due to meet with the Mayor and emcee the New Yearís Day Parade.
"Where to, Ms. Powell?" Cam asked perfunctorily. Since Blairís disappearance the night before and her late arrival this morning, their entire schedule had been changed. Cam had no idea of Blairís plans, and being at such a disadvantage infuriated her.
For once Blair appeared subdued. "I need to go home and change."
Cam nodded, passed the message along to the driver and the car following them, and settled back against the seat. She clamped down on her anger. She wouldnít give Blair the satisfaction of knowing how unsettling the interlude in the bar had been for her. The hours she had spent with Claire satisfying her body had not erased the memory of Blairís mouth on hers, nor the demanding promise of Blairís hands claiming her. It was not a sensation she welcomed, and the faint bruises around Blairís lips only served to remind her that Blair had been up all night satisfying her needs with a stranger. Donít be a fool, she thought in disgust. Anyone will do, as long as sheís in charge. You just happened to be handy!
When they pulled up in front of Blairís apartment, Cam sent Mac for coffee, while she waited in the limo. She closed her eyes and thought of nothing. When the door opened, she looked up and then averted her eyes as Blair Powell slid into the rear seat across from her. The woman who sat across from her looked nothing like the woman Cam had followed into a Washington gay bar the night before. That woman had been wild, untamed and untamable. Blair was a predator, all the more deadly because she was irresistible. She was beautiful in the way of the wild animals, and Cam had felt her power even as she tried to deny it. This woman was elegant, refined, and bore no resemblance to the creature she had been the night before, with the one exception being that she was just as unapproachable.
The ferocious hunger in Blair's eyes had been replaced by a glacial stillness. If there were thoughts behind the ice blue wall, they no longer showed. Her tailored coat was open to reveal a fitted suit, the jacket unbuttoned to reveal the flimsy silk camisole beneath. The skirt slid up as she crossed her legs. Cam found her every bit as attractive in this guise as she had been the previous night. She felt no safer, aware of the pounding of her own heart.
In defense, Cam decided to focus on the job at hand. This was one of the most dangerous kind of outings for Blair, with her in the public eye and visible to large crowds. When they arrived at the central viewing area, where the mayor and Blair would be commenting on the passing parade, Cam was greeted by the mayor's chief of security, a serious looking red head in her early 40s.
"I'm Marge Pierce," the red head said, extending her hand while openly appraising Cam.
Cam nodded in response as she returned the firm grip. "Cameron Roberts."
Cam surveyed the podium where Blair would be seated. She frowned slightly, noting that the rear of the platform was open on the side where the trucks and vans carrying the sound equipment and other video paraphernalia were parked. Anyone could approach from that direction and she motioned for Mac to station several of their people behind the stand. Pierce noted the maneuver, and quickly dispatched two of her own staff to join the secret service agents.
Blair watched in amusement as the two security chiefs surreptitiously checked each other out, the way two dogs would while surveying common territory. She was pretty sure that Marge Pierce was a lesbian, and from the way Pierce had looked at Cameron Roberts, Blair was even more convinced. For a brief instant she felt a flair of jealousy. There was no doubt that Roberts was one of the most arresting women she had ever seen, and she didn't doubt that there were plenty of women looking for her attention. The fact that it bothered her even for a second irritated her enormously. She turned her back on their activities, focusing on the mayor and his entourage. She certainly had no intention of allowing Cameron Roberts to occupy anymore of her thoughts than necessary.
She forced herself not to think about the fact that each time she had wrung a cry from her young leather-clad conquest the night before, some part of her wished it were Roberts responding under her hands. She had been keenly aware that the body writhing beneath her was not the lean tight body she had glimpsed at the gym and held against her own for just a fleeting moment in the bar. The desire in Cameron's body when Blair had pressed up against her had been breathtaking. Whether Roberts acknowledged it or not, Blair knew the height of her arousal. Frustratingly, that lightening response was what Blair couldn't put from her mind. That swift intake of breath against her ear as her palm pressed against Cameron's crotch had fired her own excitement in a way that no one had been able to do in longer than she could remember. Even thinking of it now stirred her.
Blair could do this sort of event without conscious thought. Since the time she had been an adolescent, she had been in the public limelight. She smiled at the appropriate times, she made the appropriate complementary remarks about the performers, and she was altogether gracious and presentable. To make things even better, the camera loved her. In any lighting, her face looked as if it had been sculpted on a Grecian coin. Because of her personality and her appearance, she was frequently asked to preside at such events. She did it because she had to, and because she cared about her father's image. Nevertheless, each appearance took its toll. She was aware of the men around her staring at her, and the thinly veiled looks of barely disguised lust. She would not have tolerated it under any other circumstance. Had it happened on the street, where she was not as immediately recognizable, she would have made it very clear she was not interested. As it was, she was the unwilling participant in the charade. It only demeaned her in her own eyes and heightened her anger. She never quite got used to it. Only at night, when she shed her public persona and grasped what little she could of her own life, did she feel genuine. For some strange reason that afternoon, she was acutely aware of Cameron Roberts standing just behind her out of the line of sight of the camera. Cam's presence reminded Blair of who she really was. The knowledge that Cameron knew the truth about her somehow made the entire event more bearable.
Blair didn't relax until they were in the limo again on their way back to her apartment. Cameron sat across from her in silence. However, it was not the heavy awkward silence of the earlier ride from the airport, but rather a comfortable regathering of energy after the stress of the afternoon. Blair had to admit that she had felt safe. Despite all the years of these kinds of experiences, she never quite got over the feeling of being vulnerable. There was something about Cameron Roberts' presence that allowed her to forget for the moment that millions of eyes were upon her. It wasn't that the dozens of others who had preceded Roberts didn't take their job seriously, but Blair had always known it was the job and not her they were working for. What made Cameron Roberts so compelling and at the same time so irritating, was that when she focused on you, you knew you had been seen.
"Come upstairs, Agent Roberts," she said as the limo glided to a stop in front of the brown stone. "We can go over the schedule for the rest of the week."
Cameron hid her surprise at the invitation. "All right," she said as she pushed open the door and stepped out. She glanced quickly up and down the street as she extended her hand to Blair. It was an automatic gesture, and she did it without thought. Blair hesitated for just a second and then took the offered hand in hers. The grip was firm and cool. Blair ignored the tingling in her fingers.
The other members of the team escorted them to the private elevator to Blair's penthouse, departing to take the second elevator to the control room one floor below. As the elevator door opened on the upper-most floor, Cam stepped out first and automatically glanced toward Blair's door. In one swift moment her gun was drawn. She turned abruptly toward Blair who had stepped out of the elevator after her. Cam grasped her around the waist, and pushed her forcefully back into the elevator.
"Stay behind me," she ordered as she slapped the lobby button. "Mac!" She said urgently into her microphone. "Seal the building. Have team one meet us at the elevator. We need to evacuate Egret."
"What's going on?" Blair demanded anxiously.
Cam held up one hand to silence her, still speaking to her chief assistant. "There's a package outside Egret's apartment door. Call the bomb squad."
The elevator door slid open and four other agents surrounded them. Cam led the way directly in front of Blair as the group hustled the startled woman across the lobby floor and into a waiting car. Within seconds they were hurrying through the late New Year's Day traffic.
"Clear the civilians from the building," Cam said as she listened to what was happening in the command room on her radio. "Keep them altogether for questioning. I want a list of every person who was in the building within the last week. I'll advise you when we reach the safe house."
The safe house turned out to be a large suite on a top floor of one of the more exclusive hotels in New York City. As soon as they entered, Cam was in communication with Mac once again. Meanwhile, Blair was left to pace in silence in the sitting room. The instant Cam hung up the phone, Blair confronted her.
"Do you mind telling me what the hell is going on?"
"Someone left you a present. Until we find out what, and who, you are not safe at home."
"And I suppose you think I'm going to stay here?" Blair asked incredulously.
"I don't have time to argue with you. Your safety, not your comfort, is what matters at the moment. Once I have some idea of what was in the box, and how someone was able to gain access to the penthouse without our video surveillance cameras picking them up, I can give you some idea of when you can return. The entire security system will need to be revamped, and your apartment needs to be swept."
"What about my work?" Blair asked intently. She couldn't quite keep the tremors from her voice. "All of my work is in my loft. It's protected from fire, but not from a horde of careless Secret Service agents tramping through my apartment."
Cam recalled the stacks of canvases and works in progress that filled over half of Blair's loft space. She realized that the work was irreplaceable, and quite possibly priceless. What she saw in Blair's eyes however was not concern for the material loss, but for the loss of her creations. For an artist to lose their work was the equivalent of anyone else losing a body part.
Cam nodded. "I understand. I'll talk to Mac and make sure that everyone is aware of what's in your apartment. We have to look at everything. There could be almost anything hidden almost anywhere. If someone was able to penetrate our security to leave something outside your door, we have to assume they had access to your apartment as well. I'm sorry. It's the best I can do."
Blair searched Cam's eyes, and found sincerity as well as empathy in the depths of her dark gray eyes. "Thank you," she whispered softly.
"As soon as we have things under control, I'll have someone bring your clothes. Is there anything else you want?"
Blair laughed sarcastically. "A different face? Can you have someone bring me one day of anonymity?"
"How about pizza and a six pack of Corona?"
Blair laughed in spite of herself. "If
that's the best you can do Agent Roberts, you are a lousy date. However,
considering the limited resources at hand, I'll take it."
As it turned out, it was six hours before Cam was satisfied that there was no immediate danger at the apartment building. The plain brown package left in front of Blair's door did not contain a bomb. The dogs sent in to investigate were completely uninterested, and there wasn't anything to excite them in Blair's apartment either. A half a dozen agents had scoured the loft and found no evidence of tampering.
Mac was on his way over with the package and supplies for a few days stay. Cam estimated it would take that long to change all of the locks on the building, recheck all the security clearances of the cleaning crews, maintenance men, and inhabitants of the other apartments, and to review all of the transient visitors to the building for the last week. She hadn't told Blair of the timetable yet, and wasn't looking forward to doing it. Until they had a better idea of exactly what had happened, she couldn't let Blair leave the safe house. Cam already had Mac arranging around the clock coverage. She intended to stay on site for at least the next several days. The suite had two bedrooms, a large sitting area, a bar, and wide screen TV. They would be cramped, but they would all have to manage.
A knock at the door brought her to attention. She crossed the width of the room quickly, reaching into her jacket to release the snap on her shoulder holster. She relaxed as Mac announced his arrival.
"What have you got for me?" she asked immediately.
Mac hefted a shoe-box sized parcel in his hands. "I've got this. Bomb boys and evidence techs are done with it."
"Excellent." She indicated that he join her at the table in the sitting area. Blair appeared at the door of the master bedroom just as Cam was reaching for the parcel. Cam looked over her at her and their eyes met. She read the question that Blair could not bring herself to ask.
"Join us, please," Cam said quietly.
Mac looked at her quickly in surprise. Cam met
his gaze steadily but said nothing. Once Blair took the seat to Cam's right, Cam
carefully examined the exterior of the package. The only address was Blairís
name written in block letters with black magic marker. The paper appeared to be
ordinary packing paper sealed with scotch tape. A slight residue of fingerprint
powder adhered to everything, inside and out. Cam carefully lifted the tape and
removed the paper to reveal a cardboard box. She unfolded the flaps and lifted
out a single sheet of paper. She looked at it for a second, then placed it flat
on the tabletop so Blair and Mac could read the words printed there.
You are so beautiful.
Why do you waste yourself on those who do not appreciate you?
I know how rare and precious you are.
I can forgive your sins.
I am watching.
I am waiting for your sign.
"Oh Christ," Blair breathed.
"Have Taylor return this to the lab for handwriting analysis and a read out on the paper," Cam said quietly. "We need photo surveillance of the street in front of the apartment building. I want to see any repeaters, any loiterers, and anyone who seems the slightest bit out of place."
"It's a stalker, isn't it?" Blair questioned, hoping there might be another answer.
"I'm afraid so," Cam responded. This was the worst possible news. Stalkers were unpredictable, difficult to identify, and frequently did not have a previous police record. Everywhere Blair Powell went, she would be in potential danger. Camís job had just gotten ten times harder, and considering the difficulties they already had in keeping track of a reluctant subject, the work ahead looked dismal.
"When can I go home?"
"It will be at least a week," Cam said honestly.
"You've got to be kidding," Blair said incredulously.
Cam laughed humorlessly. "I really wish I were."
"Should I get the chief of staff on the line, Commander?" Mac questioned.
Cam sighed. "I'm getting to it. I just wanted to go over the tapes from the video cameras first. Have you got them?"
"Please don't do that," Blair said urgently.
"I have to. You must know that," Cam responded.
"Can't you wait? If you inform the White House, this will be all over the news tomorrow. I'll never have another moments peace."
Cam looked at her across the table. There was something close to pleading in her eyes. She looked over to Mac.
"Could give us a minute here?" Cam asked.
Mac looked as if he wanted to protest, but after a second he stepped out into the hall.
"This is serious. I can't keep something like this from my superiors."
Blair laughed in disbelief. "Don't tell me you're worried about being reprimanded."
"That's not the issue. If this escalates, I may need more help. I'm not willing to jeopardize your safety to protect your privacy."
"We're not talking about my privacy. We're talking about my private life, and that's what I don't want on the 6 o'clock news."
"Is it really the news you're worried about?"
"Perhaps it isn't. But in the end it's all the same."
Cam shook her head. "Even if I thought it was possible, I wouldn't do it. You haven't exactly made it easy for us to protect you. I simply can't trust you."
"And if you could? If I promised to follow the letter of the law? Would that buy me a few days?"
Cam walked to the windows overlooking Central Park. The decision should have been simple. Protocol demanded that at the first sign of any threat she intensify the security measures around the subject. Not notifying her superiors would certainly place her own position in jeopardy. On the other hand, this was the first time she had even the hint of cooperation from Blair Powell. She would need that corporation if she were to have any chance at all of containing the situation. That made tactical sense, and at least for the moment she had plenty of manpower to stay within the margin of safety. From 20 stories up she watched the horse and buggies winding their way through the lamplit streets of the park. Across the room Blair remained silent, but Cam could feel her gaze on her back. More than that, she could remember the look in her eyes. Blair had been vulnerable, and for a moment, afraid. Cam tried to pretend that didn't affect her decision.
"I'll keep it quiet for now, assuming there are no further threats. At the next sign of contact, I'll have to advise the chief of staff."
Blair relaxed perceptibly. "You've got a deal. Thank you."
Cam turned from the window, her hands deep in her pockets. She leaned one shoulder against the wall, watching Blair intently. She'd been up all night the previous evening, chasing Blair and then chasing away Blair's ghost with sex. She was weary, and she still had hours of work to do.
"You have any idea who might be doing this?" she asked Blair.
"Why should I?" Blair responded, surprised and defensive.
"Someone who might have approached you - at the gym, the gallery, maybe in a bar?"
"No, no one."
"Someone you spent the night with?"
Blair returned Cam's gaze steadily, her face expressionless. "Most of the women I go home with have no idea who I am. If they know anything at all, they know me by Allison."
"Your mother's maiden name," Cam observed. "And what about their names? Can you give me any kind of list, any addresses?"
"Not unless you think the names 'baby, honey, and sweetheart' will do you any good," Blair responded acerbically.
"What about someone you've seen more regularly?"
"There hasn't been anyone," Blair stated flatly.
Cam ran a hand through her hair and sighed involuntarily. She hoped there might be a lead among Blair's sexual liaisons. If the stalker were indeed completely anonymous, unknown to Blair in any capacity, it would only be through luck that they would catch him, or her.
"All right then, when Mac gets back, I'll need you to look at the security tapes with us. Perhaps you'll recognize someone going in or out of the building."
Blair nodded assent. She felt like she'd been up for 48 hours, and looking at Cameron, she could tell that she was exhausted, too. Cam's usually pristine suit was rumpled, and she had dark circles under her eyes. Blair had a sudden urge to brush the tousled hair back from her forehead. She had an even more disturbing desire to slip the suit jacket off Cam's shoulders and guide her toward the couch. The next moment she saw herself unbuttoning Cam's shirt. She stood abruptly, forcing the images from her mind.
"I'm going to take a nap if you're going to have me up the rest of the night," Blair said curtly.
Cam glanced at her stiff back as Blair crossed the room and slammed the bedroom door behind her. She slumped down on the couch tiredly, allowing herself a few moments of rest before the long night began. The next thing she knew there was a knock at the door, and movement in the room. She opened her eyes to see Blair about to open the door.
Cam was across the room before Blair could turn the knob. Grasping her forearm, Cam said sharply, "Let me do that."
Blair looked at Cam in surprise. The security chief had her gun drawn, and the look on her face was intent. For the first time, Blair appreciated the severity of the situation. She also understood that Cameron Roberts was completely serious about protecting her. She remembered the angry red scar on Cameron's thigh, a lingering testimony to the woman's willingness to put herself in danger to protect another. Her stomach churned at the image of Cameron lying wounded on the ground, and for a second she hesitated.
"Step behind me, please," Cam ordered steadily. Turning to the door, her gun now at shoulder level, she said, "Who's there?"
"Stark and Mac," Mac replied.
Cam opened the door to the length of the security chain and peered out into the lighted hallway. Mac and the young female agent stood outlined in the doorway. She lowered her gun and opened the door to admit them. As they passed her, she briefly checked the hallway beyond, then reholstered her service revolver and secured the door.
"Have you got the tapes?"
"The tapes and dinner," Mac responded, unpacking several bags. He looked at his boss, knowing that she must be tired and hungry. The President's daughter was watching the commander as well. He couldn't quite describe the look on her face, but it seemed to be a mixture of fascination and uncertainty. There was something else there as well, something that reminded him of the way men looked at women. It was the first time he had ever seen anything so blatantly sexual between women. He wondered for a moment if the Commander was aware of it, or even if Blair Powell was.
"Right," Cameron responded. "Everybody grab whatever you want to eat and let's start looking at these tapes. Ms. Powell, I'm afraid I'm going to a have to ask you to sit through this with us. It will be tedious, but you may recognize someone."
"Of course," Blair said in a strangely subdued tone of voice. "Didn't someone promise me a Corona?"
Cam of looked at Mac with a raised eyebrow. "Mac?"
"Coming up," he said as he reached for the phone to call room service.
Three hours later the pizza boxes were empty, a six pack of Corona was gone, and daybreak was not far away. They had watched tapes from the previous three days and had found nothing out of the ordinary. It was unlikely that anything would turn up in surveillance from earlier in the week. Beginning with the morning shift, the agents would have to begin the labor-intensive job of interviewing all of the building's employees as well as everyone known to have made deliveries.
"Let's take a break everybody," Cam said with a sigh. "Mac, Stark-brief the others on what we need from the interviews. I'll stay here with Ms. Powell. Let's plan on another update at noon."
When the two agents left, Cam turned to Blair. "You should get some rest. This evening, I want to go over anything you can remember from the past few weeks that might have been unusual."
Blair stopped at the door to the master suite, turning to look at Cam. "You should get some rest too," she said quietly.
Cam smiled slightly. "My thoughts exactly." She gave Blair an oddly gentle look. "I know this is hard for you. Just bear with me for a few days, and hopefully we can get back to normal."
"Normal?" Blair said with a tinge of sadness. "Commander, I wouldn't recognize it."
Cam stared thoughtfully after her as Blair closed the door between them. She could feel the loneliness penetrating the air, surprisingly so much like her own. She pushed the thought away, and stretched out on the couch, finally giving in to her fatigue.
When she awoke sometime later, she found a light cover had been placed over her. She was momentarily disoriented. The curtains were drawn, and the room was in near darkness. There was the sound of quiet breathing in the still room. After a moment, she could discern the shape of someone sitting nearby.
"Couldn't sleep?" Cam said into the darkness.
"No, I always have difficulty falling asleep anywhere other than my own bed." A hint of sarcastic laughter followed. "That's probably why I never spend the night with anyone."
"Leave the door open, and try again," Cam suggested. "Sometimes the sound of another's breathing is all we need to hear."
Blair was stunned. She hadnít meant to say anything, and the gentle response caught her off-guard. She couldn't remember the last time she had allowed anyone this close. It frightened her, and she resorted automatically to her long practiced defenses. "I think it might be better if you joined me in the bedroom. I can guarantee you at least one of us would sleep eventually."
Cam shifted to a sitting position, spreading her arms out along the back of the sofa. She looked towards Blair's face in the shadows. "I'm not available."
The words came quietly, and in a tone that might have suggested regret. Nevertheless, the rebuke stung. Blair knew that in her heart her offer had been serious.
"You certainly seemed available last night," Blair said sarcastically.
"That was just biology," Cam said gently.
"Biology!" Blair snorted. "Is that what we're calling it now? You were hot, and you were ready. Deny it if it makes you feel any better, but I know what I felt."
"I'm not denying anything. What I am saying is that nothing can happen between us."
Blair eased herself out of the chair and approached the sofa. She leaned down, placing an arm on either side of Cam's body. Their faces were only inches apart. "Relax, Commander. I'm not asking for a lifetime commitment. Why pretend you don't want me to touch you?"
Cam remained motionless. The air around her was charged with sexuality. Heat radiated from Blair's body, and the faint scent of excitement caused her own blood to surge. She was quite sure that Blair knew she was aroused. She couldn't alter the pounding of her heart or the quickening of her breath.
"Ms. Powell, I do not want you to touch me."
"I can assure you," Blair whispered as she leaned yet closer, "I am just as accomplished as any professional you might procure to take care of your needs."
"All I need from you is your cooperation for a few days," Cam said in an even voice. She was surprised at the rapidity and accuracy of Blair's information gathering. She was far from embarrassed however. There was very little difference between the casual sex that Blair enjoyed and what she herself sought in anonymity and privacy.
Blair heard the finality in her voice. She had been rejected before, but never by anyone she wanted quite this much. What angered her the most was that she sensed Cam's desire. Cameron Roberts represented everything she could not have in her own life - independence, self-determination, and freedom. Knowing this fueled her urge to strip the self-contained agent of her will. For just those fleeting moments at the pinnacle of release, she wanted to hold Cam's self-restraint in her hands. Slowly she straightened.
"If you keep me cooped up in this place for very long, I won't be responsible for my actions."
Cam recognized the concession in her voice. She laughed softly. "I promise to make this as short and painless as possible. I'm sure you can be trusted, no matter how long it takes."
Don't be so sure, Blair thought to
herself. If I have to be this close to you 24 hours a day, I'm not sure I can
Blair winced as Paula Stark led yet another 10 in a suit where the aces hadn't yet been played. If she had to watch her "partner" make one more stupid play, she might have to take Mac's gun and shoot her. She had not left the apartment in three days. They had just finished a dinner of Chinese takeout, and Cameron had left Blair with Stark, Mac, and Taylor while she went to Blair's apartment building for a briefing with the other agents. Blair was keenly aware of her absence. The air seemed electric when Cam was around. She looked toward the door with relief when she heard the knock.
"How is your pinochle, Agent Roberts?" she asked as Cameron crossed the room to join them.
Cam raised an inquiring eyebrow. "Are you playing for money?"
Blair laughed. "If we were I'm afraid I'd be in big trouble."
"In that case, I'll play. Partners?"
Paula Stark pushed back from the table. "Please, take my place. I never was any good at cards, and I'm due back at the command center now any ways."
Cam sat down across from Blair. They played as if they had been playing together for years. Each time Cam bid, she had a sense that Blair knew exactly what she intended. It was both unsettling, and exhilarating. Before long, Mac and Taylor were complaining that the two women had some kind of secret signal going. The score became so uneven that eventually they called it quits.
"You are a great partner, Commander," Blair said softly. "I might have known. I'm sure you are equally good at everything."
Her tone was intimate, and the suggestiveness did not escape Mac's notice. His boss seemed unaffected as she stood and stretched. She had shed her jacket, and the straps of her shoulder holster stretched her shirt tight over her torso. Mac didn't miss the way Blair's eyes flickered over Cam's form.
If Cam had heard Blair's remark, or felt her appraising glance, she did not show it. She made no reply as she turned to her to agents. "Why don't you two take a break for a few hours. Have one of the night crew come by around midnight. I'll be fine until then."
After the two men left, Cameron took a chair in the suite's large sitting area with the day's reports. Blair sat opposite her on the couch with a sketchpad. The room lights were low, and Cam's face was partially in shadow.
"Do you mind?" Blair asked as she began to draw.
Cam looked over and smiled faintly. "No."
"Most people do," Blair said without looking up.
She was sketching the fine straight nose, the deep-set dark eyes, and the sculpted cheek bones and jaw from memory. It was a face that had caught her attention the first time she saw her, and it never failed to entice her. It was a face meant to be drawn. Unfortunately, the more she saw her, the more exciting she found her. Cam was everything Blair found attractive in a woman, and the effect she had on her was unsettling. Blair found herself listening for Cam's voice when she awoke in the morning, and looking for her figure when she entered a room. She found Cam's presence both disturbing and strangely reassuring. She tried to discount her feelings by reminding herself that it was only natural to find a good-looking woman appealing. She simply chose to ignore her racing pulse and unmistakable arousal whenever Cam was near.
"I'm actually used to it."
Blair looked up. "Really?"
"My mother is an artist."
Blair regarded her seriously. "Would I know her?"
"You might," Cam said softly. "Her name is Marcea Casalls."
Blair caught her breath. "You wouldn't be joking, would you?"
Cam shook her head.
"Well." Blair was momentarily at a loss. "I suppose I should be embarrassed to even let you see my work. She is quite wonderful."
"Yes, she is. From the little I have seen of your work, so are you. Of course, I only know what I have seen of my mother' s work, and that of her friends."
"Then you have been exposed to the best," Blair said lightly. "Did you grow up in Italy?"
A shadow flickered across Cam's face, then was gone. "Yes, until I was twelve. After that, I was schooled in the United States."
Blair spoke aloud without thinking. "I remember hearing something about her husband-"
"My father was the American ambassador to Italy," Cam responded. "He was killed in a terrorist car bombing attack went I was eleven."
"Oh god, I'm sorry. I had forgotten." Blair looked at Cam with true anguish in her face. As a child she had often been frightened that something would happen to her father. Growing up surrounded by armed guards had done that to her. She never gave any thought to her own safety. To do so would have forced her to accept that the constraining security measures taken to protect her were actually necessary. "It must have been horrible for you."
Cam looked into the distance, remembering. "It was much harder for my mother. They were completely devoted, and his death nearly destroyed her. If it hadn't been for her work, I don't think she would have survived."
"And she never remarried?" Blair questioned softly.
"No. I don't think anyone else would have compared. Fortunately, her art is her life. She travels a great deal, and has many friends."
"Are you like her?" Blair asked boldly. She couldn't help wondering about the rumors concerning the death of Cameron's lover. For an instant she was jealous, and then berated herself for her foolishness.
Again, that fleeting smile. "No, my mother is an artist."
"She is a mysterious combination of deep passion, volatile sensitivities, and uncommon vision."
"Is that how you see artists?"
Cameron focused on Blair's face. "Yes. I find them to be persons of rare fragility and unsurpassed emotional depths. Hell to live with, but worth every moment of the knowing."
Her words were delivered with a deep intensity, and Blair felt them to her core. Those words threatened to rock the foundation of her world. She had never wanted anything more than she wanted Cameron Roberts to feel that way about her. It was impossible, and the last thing she wanted to feel. This need would make her weak, and endanger what little independence she still had. She was torn between the urge to flee, and the physically painful attraction that was so much more than sexual. She wrenched her eyes away from Cameron's expressive face.
"I can't draw you when you're talking," she said thickly as she focused on her charcoal and paper.
Cam watched Blair's delicate hand stroke the textured surface, thinking how like her mother Blair was. She was beautiful, gifted, and an emotional minefield. One moment she was heat and anger, the next an ember radiating sultry sensuality, and then, just as suddenly, like now, withdrawn into herself. Blair's legs were curled under her, and she bent her upper body over her work protectively. Her blond hair fell free in riotous curls around her face. Cam's mind repelled from the image of anyone harming her. But then it was her responsibility to see that nothing did.
She returned to her reading absolutely certain that her sudden urge to run her hands through those curls was simply in response to their conversation, and had nothing to do with the compelling beauty of the woman herself.
At 7:00 the next morning, Cam walked out of the second bedroom after finishing a shower. Across the room, Blair and Paula Stark were so engrossed in conversation they didn't notice her. She couldn't hear them from where she was standing, but Blair had one hand on Stark's forearm and was peering intently into her face. It looked as if Stark was trying to backup, but Blair had effectively maneuvered her against the wet bar. Cam had witnessed this particular seduction before. She wasnít sure what made her angrier, Blairís obvious attention to the woman or the fact that Paula Stark appeared to be fascinated by her. Any kind of romantic involvement between an agent and the individuals they were guarding was strictly forbidden. It wasnít just policy, it made tactical sense. You couldnít be objective in a dangerous situation if you were personally, particularly intimately, involved with the subject.
Paula Stark slipped past Blair to answer a knock at the door. Cam automatically stepped between Blair and the door, shielding her until she was certain it was Taylor. They had been there four days, and it was time for her to make a decision.
"We need to talk," she said to Blair.
Blair regarded her suspiciously, realizing she must have seen her with Paula. She hadnít really given much thought to Paula Stark previously, although she had been aware of Stark shadowing her in the bars over the last six months. Stark was attractive, but Blair had never really been interested in her. It was probably because she guessed Stark wasnít a lesbian, and she had learned at a very young age not to fool around with straight women. However, after having been cooped up in a three room suite for four days, with a woman who seemed to turn her on without effort, and rejected her with similar ease, Blair found herself trying to entice the pretty fresh-faced young agent out of boredom.
"It seems that one of the building cleaning employees delivered the package to your door. A nondescript ten-year old boy gave her ten dollars to do it. In all probability, the stalker used the boy as a go-between so he wouldnít be recognized. Thereís no way weíre going to ID him."
"So I can go home?" Blair asked. She had mixed feelings about that. She was sick to death of being confined, with people constantly around her, and she missed the freedom to work. On the other hand, Cam had rarely left the hotel in the four days they had been there. When she needed to sleep, she had several of the other agents stand guard. Blair had gotten used to her presence. Cam was there when she woke up, and when she went to sleep. In the many hours in between, they had talked together, read together, and shared silences together. It was the most intimate time she had spent with anyone since her days in school.
"Yes, but I think it would be best if you took some time away. A trip out-of-town might be good idea."
"Diane and I had discussed going skiing. Now might be the perfect time. Iíll call her and arrange something for this weekend."
Cam nodded in agreement. "That would work. This weekend might be a little too soon, since I'll need advance notice to inform the resort and work out the shift details."
"You can do that on the plane," Blair said with a hint of irritation. She wasnít used to altering her plans, or delaying to accommodate her security teams.
"May I remind you that we had an agreement," Cam commented quietly.
"I think I agreed not to give your agents the slip," Blair responded pointedly.
"Actually, I believe you agreed to give us your cooperation," Cam countered, "as well as not giving us the slip."
Blair caught the quick smile that flashed across Cameronís handsome features, and laughed in spite of herself. "Next time it will have to be in writing," she muttered. "How about if we work out the details tonight Ė over dinner."
Cam nodded, knowing she had been out-maneuvered, but accepting the token of co-operation.. "All right." She started to turn away, then added, "This is a first field assignment for several of my people. It wouldnít look good for them if I had to reassign them."
"And why might you need to do that?" Blair asked suspiciously.
"If one of them were to compromise their objectivity- say through a Ďfriendshipí with you Ė just for an example."
"Arenít you worried about yourself, then?" Blair asked angrily. What was it to Roberts who she spent time with, as long as it didnít get in the way. And so what if it did? She hated being dictated to!
"Iím not a rookie, Ms. Powell," Cam answered smoothly as she turned away.
Blair stared after her, seething. If she wanted to bed Paula Stark in the middle of the hotel lobby, she damn well would! Cameron Roberts might have control over her time, but she would never have control over anything that really mattered to her.
Blair didnít see Cameron again until that evening. The rest of the day had been spent getting settled back into her apartment. Her doorbell rang at 6:30.
"Letís walk," Blair said by way of greeting. As usual, Cameron looked fit and trim in a khaki blazer over pressed stone washed jeans.
"All right," Cam said. She followed Blair to the elevator, noticing that her hair was down and the silk jacket and wide cut trousers she wore enhanced her slenderness.
Blair moved gracefully, with easy confidence, and Cam knew it was because she was going out not as Blair Powell, the Presidentís daughter, but as an ordinary twenty-five year old woman going to dinner. For an instant Cam regretted her job. She wished she could view the evening ahead as a simple dinner with a beautiful woman. But she couldnít. Even though Blair could forget who she was, or try to forget, with alcohol or a never-ending series of sexual conquests, Cameron could not forget. No matter what Blair chose to show the outside world, Cameron knew her to be the many faceted, complicated woman she was sworn to protect. Nevertheless, she found herself looking forward to dinner with a sense of anticipation she hadnít known in years.
As the elevator came to a halt and the doors began to slide open, Blair placed her hand on Camís forearm. "I donít want the rest of the team to come with us," she said, an undertone of urgency in her voice. She had been watched constantly for days, with near strangers supervising her every moment. For just a few hours, she wanted to be alone to dine with a woman.
"I know you donít," Cam responded quietly. "And I know why. But we canít go alone. Not now, especially so soon after that package was delivered. Iíll tell them to stay out of sight."
"Itís not the same."
"I know it isnít. Believe me, if I could change it, I would."
Blair brushed her fingers along Cameronís sleeve, touching the back of Cam's hand with her fingertips for just a moment. She recognized the sincerity in her voice. "Thank you."
Cameron whispered a few words into her microphone as she stepped out of the elevator to take Blairís arm. She wasnít entirely certain this was a good idea, but she had a feeling if she didnít allow Blair this small bit of independence, she would lose whatever chance she had of Blairís cooperation. In truth, she didnít have the heart to keep her constrained any longer. It wasnít just the last four days, it was the last fifteen years.
As they stepped out into the brisk early evening air, she realized how much she wanted to give Blair these few moments of happiness. She caught her breath in surprise when Blair slipped her fingers into her hand, all too aware that at least three of her agents were watching.
"I didnít think you were afraid of rumors, Commander," Blair said tauntingly.
"Itís not the rumors Iím afraid of," Cam said dryly, "itís your father."
The agents threading themselves through the crowd ten feet behind looked at each other curiously, wondering what had prompted the laughter from Blair Powell.
"I think we can manage it," Cam said as she leaned back in her chair. She was comfortably relaxed after a slow, quiet dinner in a small restaurant off Fourth Street in the West Village. They were sitting at a table for two in front of a large open wood burning fireplace. Blair had initially requested a table in the wide front window, but Cam had politely declined, requesting seating where Blair wasn't quite so exposed. She sipped her espresso while Blair finished her cognac.
Blair laughed softly. For once, it didn't bother her that she had to clear her plans with her security detail. Even she had to admit that Cam wasn't being unreasonable.
"I'm glad you agree," Blair said. She sipped the heavy brandy and studied her dinner companion. For two hours they had talked of art, which cities they enjoyed most in Europe, and the comparative value of various martial art forms. What they had not discussed was politics, the stalker situation, or their personal lives. It could easily have passed for a first date, filled with the anticipation and excitement of learning to know someone new. She tried not to allow reality to dispel the myth. She felt like someone she barely recognized. She finally realized what was missing was the burning anger, her constant companion. That in and of itself was frightening. If she allowed herself to get used to this feeling, the emptiness and disappointment of her real life would be devastating. She was acutely aware of Cameron's gaze upon her. Cameron had a way of looking at you that made you feel like there was no one else in the room. Her glance was as palpable as a touch, and Blair imagined that her skin tingled as Cameron studied her. She struggled to keep her tone normal.
"I spoke with Diane this afternoon. She can't wait to go."
"I'll see to the arrangements first thing in the morning," Cam assured her.
"She told me she saw you today," Blair added nonchalantly. That was far from the way she had felt when Diane casually remarked that she had had lunch with Cameron.
"Yes. We had a bit of business to do."
"I'm sure," Blair said sarcastically. She knew very well the kind of business Diane had in mind. She knew exactly the kind of woman Diane found attractive, and over the years they had often found themselves in competition for the same woman. When they were younger it had all been in fun, and no hard feelings whatever happened. This time, it felt like anything but fun. She was angry at herself for allowing her irritation to show. She kept her eyes fixed on the dark swirling liquid, afraid of what Cameron might see in her face.
Cam had a pretty good idea what Diane had insinuated about their lunch. The charming art dealer had certainly made it quite obvious what her interests were. Cameron was not offended by the blatant attempt at seduction, but she did not want Blair, for reasons she could not clearly define, to think she was so easily seduced.
"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
"I canít believe you just said that!" Blair laughed, coaxed out of her anger by the ridiculousness of the image.
Cam laughed with her, thinking how luminescent Blair's features were when she relaxed. "Neither can I," she replied. "But in this case, itís apt."
"I promise not to tell her," Blair continued smiling.
Cam inclined her head gratefully, "Thank you."
As they stepped out onto the street, Blair forgot for a moment that there were three Secret Service agents dogging their every step. It was one of those rare January nights when the stars could actually be seen over New York City. The meal had been wonderful, and the company better. She stopped in mid-step. Taking a chance, she asked, "I don't suppose I could interest you in a trip to the bar?"
Cameron took a deep breath of the brisk chill air. She knew very well what Blair was asking her. She refused to acknowledge her own wishes. "I can't accompany you. But if you want to go out, I will see that the team stays out of your way."
"You didn't mind having dinner with me," Blair pointed out, still not moving, not caring that they were creating a minor obstacle to other passers-by.
"That was business," Cam responded.
"Was it?" Blair stated.
Cam knew very well she was stretching the definition of business. They could have discussed the upcoming ski trip in the morning. She had allowed the excuse of the trip to give her reason to have dinner with Blair. She was on dangerous ground, and she knew it. She could not let things progress further. She certainly could not go to a gay bar with Blair as anything resembling her date. And she definitely had no desire to go cruising with Blair. Watching Blair pick up strangers for sex was not something she enjoyed.
"I can't. I'm sorry. Do you want me to notify the unit that you'll be staying out?"
"No thanks," Blair said bitingly. "When I go out, I don't want their company."
Cam supposed she deserved that. "Then may I walk you home?"
"Yes," Blair said with a sigh. "But for God sake, tell them to stay off our heels. I'm perfectly safe with you."
Cam nodded, whispering instructions into her
microphone. She knew very well Blair could have been difficult about this. She
was grateful that she would not have to worry about Blair's whereabouts, at
least for the rest of evening. And on another level, she had to admit she would
not have to worry about who Blair was spending her evening with.
Five days later they were boarding a private jet for their flight to Colorado. They would be staying at a small, rustic resort not usually known as a tourist center. It was likely to be less crowded, and an easier setting in which to protect Blair. It was a fairly isolated location, with few of the amenities so popular in Colorado ski resorts. There would be no nightly entertainment acts, or any other similar diversions. What there would be was hours of good skiing on challenging trails. Blair was apparently an accomplished skier, and enjoyed skiing the semi-wooded less manicured downhill trails. For her it might be a vacation, but for Cam and her agents, it would be anything but.
Cam settled into her seat and was just opening the Washington Chronicle when someone eased in beside her.
"This seat looks vacant," the familiar voice announced.
Cam turned toward Diane Bleeker. "These are not reserved seats."
Diane smiled. "Then I take it you don't mind?"
"Not at all," Cam responded, folding her paper. "Whatever news there might be, it can wait until later."
Diane reached between them for her seat belt, brushing her hand along the length of Cam's thigh. There was a subtle tensing under her fingertips, but to her credit Cameron Roberts did not pull away. At least she wasn't going to pretend they weren't both adults. Diane could accept rejection, but she hated to have her advances ignored. "Do you ski, Commander?"
"Yes, I do."
"Our Blair is quite the expert, did you know?"
"It doesn't surprise me," Cam commented. "She is very talented."
Diane studied her, searching for hidden meaning. As usual, she could read nothing in Cam's expression. She couldn't remember ever having met someone quite so inscrutable. And yet the agent was anything but cold. She radiated energy, and seemed to do everything with an intense focus. In fact, she was seething with promise. The promise of passion, and intensity, that Diane very much wanted to experience. It was more than just physical appeal, even though Cameron was enormously attractive with her lean, tautly muscled body. She had daunting self-confidence as well. Is there nothing that can shake her composure?
Diane leaned against Cam's shoulder as she tightened her seatbelt. "Yes, Blair is a woman of many hidden skills. And then again, she doesn't bother to hide some of her interests. I'm sure you've noticed."
Cam had no intention of discussing Blair Powell with Diane Bleeker or anyone else. "And how is the gallery?" Cam asked.
"Ah, I see. Blair is off-limits. Actually, that's perfectly all right with me. I'm much more interested in you."
Cam laughed at the woman's persistence. It was hard to be annoyed with someone who was so blatant about their intentions. In another place, in another time, she would not have resisted. It was a combination of the past, and her strange detached present, which prevented her from responding. Any kind of intimate involvement was beyond her capability.
"I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you," Cam warned.
"Oh, I very seriously doubt that."
"I'm flattered-," Cam began.
Diane laughed. "Oh please, Commander. You needn't explain to me the many reasons why you think you are unavailable. I am quite patient, and I enjoy waiting. Otherwise, where is the pleasure when you win?"
Cam shook her head, smiling at the sophisticated, supremely confident woman beside her. "Then I shall say no more."
Diane wrapped for long, elegant fingers around Cam's wrist, squeezing gently before slowly withdrawing. "Good. It would be to no avail."
They both settled back in their seats for takeoff. In the aisle seat one row behind them, Blair studied the two women. She was completely familiar with Dianeís tactics. She had known her since they were girls, and had witnessed her many conquests. This was the first time it mattered to her whether Diane succeeded. The image of Diane's hand on Cameron's arm provoked a response she was finding hard to ignore. She hated the thought of Diane touching Cam, but even harder to accept was the possibility of Cameron returning the caresses. Instinctively, she knew that Cameron Roberts would not make love to a woman casually. What she couldnít know was how much that fact controlled Cameron's life.
The group was greeted at the door to the lodge by a tall, attractive woman in her mid-forties. Even in winter she showed signs of a lingering tan, and her lithe trim figure spoke of her vigorous lifestyle. She greeted them warmly and ushered them into a rustic room scattered with sofas and comfortable chairs in front of a large stone fire place. Overhead lights were hidden in the exposed wooden beams of the ceiling, bathing the room in a muted soft glow.
"I'm Helen Craig," she said, extending her hand to Cameron as Cam stepped over the threshold. "Just leave your gear here until we have the room situation straightened out. Then I'll have someone bring your bags up."
She looked from Cameron to Blair Powell, who was standing just to Cameron's right. Of course Helen recognized her, and knew that this was Blair's entourage. Without a trace of shyness, Helen offered her hand.
"I'm delighted to have you here, Ms. Powell. We have eighteen inches of packed snow with a three inch fresh fall from last night. The trails are perfect."
Blair grinned, pleased at Helen's lack of pretension and the genuine warmth in her greeting. "Just the news I wanted to hear. I can't wait to get out there."
Helen nodded. "First light at 5:30 tomorrow. After youíre settled, and have some dinner, I'll show you the trail maps. You can plan your runs for the morning."
"I was hoping to get in a run or two this afternoon," Blair stated.
"It'll be dark in an hour and a half. If you hurry, you could ski one of the shorter trails."
Blair reached for her gear bag. "Just give me someplace to change."
Helen noticed the sudden tension in the group of individuals standing around Blair, but it seemed to her that this was Blair Powell's party, and if she wanted to ski, she should certainly be able to ski.
"Right this way."
As Blair followed Helen across the room and disappeared down a hallway, Cameron turned to the others.
"All right everybody. Mac - you take care of the room arrangements. Make sure we have someone on either side of Egret's room, and across the hall. Preferably everyone on one floor. Stark, Taylor-you get suited up and find out which trail she's going to run. Make sure you take an emergency kit with you. I'm going to change so I can ski with her." For a moment, she had forgotten completely about Diane Bleeker. As usual, Blairís lack of regard for the realities of providing her protection had placed them in a difficult situation. They had no time to adequately survey the area, and they had no sense of who might be out on the trails with her. Cam was startled to feel the touch on her arm.
"I should think you would be used to her by now, Commander," Diane said softly. "As long as I've known her, she has refused to accept that she cannot behave like the rest of the world. She has always wanted to be simply ordinary."
Cameron nodded, remembering her own childhood and what it had been like growing up among her fatherís diplomatic friends and her motherís world famous artistsí circle. She had watched the children walking to school from the windows of the limousine that took her almost everywhere. She had longed to be one of the anonymous crowd, knowing all the time that it was impossible. She knew the sadness of being different, and the loneliness of being separate, no matter how hard her parents tried to create the appearance of an ordinary life.
Diane watched the emotions flickering quickly through Camís dark eyes, astounded at the depth of the other woman's compassion and understanding. Her own response was more than a little frightening. She had long since abandoned the desire for anything beyond a casual physical relationship with the women in her life. This one was different. There was something almost hypnotic in Cam's reserve, something tantalizing in her secrecy. She made you want to know her, without consciously inviting you near. Diane thought if she had any sense at all, she would be trying to put distance between them, instead of hurrying after the elusive commander and her errant lifelong friend.
Continued - Part 3