At 1255 Cam approached Blair's building. Two things occurred simultaneously. The earphone connected to her radio transmitter crackled to life and she saw Blair Powell flag down a Checker cab, slide into the rear seat, and disappear as the vehicle pulled away into traffic.
"Commander, please be advised that Egret is flying solo," Mac's voice informed her. "Unit one has been detached but does not have visual."
She turned abruptly, stepped into the street, and hailed one of the many taxis passing by, practically walking in front of it to get it to stop. As she pulled open the front door, she extended a hand displaying her open badge folder and said, "I need you to follow that cab up ahead."
The taxi driver stared at her. "You're kidding, right?"
Cam shook her head, her eyes following Blair's vehicle around the square. "I wish I were. You're going to lose them if you don't get going."
It was something about the utter stillness in her face and the unnatural calm in her voice that made him face forward, sit up straight, and, with his hands gripping the wheel tightly, execute a performance of New York City driving that would have won him a trophy at Daytona. He pulled to stop ten feet and twentyfive seconds behind the cab that had carried Blair to a small coffee shop deep in the heart of Greenwich Village.
"Thanks," Cam said, handing him a twenty as she stepped out.
He leaned across the seat to look up at her. She looked familiar and he thought he finally understood. "You're making a movie, right?"
She didn't answer. She was already halfway across the sidewalk. She entered the small storefront cafe and immediately saw Blair at a small table in the rear with another woman. Blair looked up, her eyes meeting Cam's, but she gave no sign of recognition. Cam threaded her way through the few tables to the counter and ordered a double espresso. While she waited, she glanced around the room, noting the location of exits and the general position of the few patrons, mostly twentysomethings reading newspapers.
She paid and picked up the small espresso cup, moving to the far corner of the room diagonal to where Blair was seated. She sat at a small circular table for two, her back to the wall. From there she could watch the front and rear doors as well as everyone in the room without infringing on Blair's conversation. She would have been happier to have a car out front in case they needed to leave quickly, and she hoped that Paula Stark and her partner would arrive momentarily. She had seen them getting into one of the unmarked vehicles in front of Blair's apartment building as she went by in the cab.
Fortunately, most civilians didn't recognize Blair when she went out dressed casually, with her hair down and wearing little or no makeup. Today, in jeans, a cotton V-neck sweater over her T-shirt, and scuffed boots she looked like most of the younger denizens of the neighborhood. The man-on-the-street usually recognized public figures only when they were attired formally and placed in the appropriate surroundings. That was the one thing that made Cam's job easier. Because Blair Powell certainly didn't.
"Commander," Paula Stark's voice asked in her ear.
"Yes," Cam murmured, tilting her head slightly as she listened to Stark relay her position. She gave Stark her exact location and informed her that she'd stay inside with Blair. "Just maintain in the vehicle outside."
"Roger that," Stark replied morosely, wondering just how pissed off her commander was going to be that they had let Blair Powell walk right out of the building unescorted. Blair hadn't done anything like that in so long that when she said she was going to the lobby to get her mail, they hadn't brought the car around front in the event that she pulled one of her old tricks. They lost two minutes mobilizing when they finally realized that Blair had exited the building and was hailing a cab. Stark sighed and settled back to watch the door to the café and the people going in and out.
Forty minutes later, the statuesque blond with Blair stood up and crossed the room to Cam's table. She leaned down and said in her low throaty voice, "How nice to see you again, Commander. Blair tells me that you're back in charge of her."
Cam shifted slightly so that she could keep Blair in her sightline. "I'm not sure I'd phrase it precisely that way, Ms. Bleeker," she said, a faint smile on her face, her eyes following Blair as she gathered her things.
"Actually, Blair didn't put it exactly that way either. It was quite a bit more colorful the way she described it," Diane Bleeker said provocatively. In fact, Diane had sensed that Blair was on the verge of tears through much of the conversation, although she wasn't certain if they were tears of anger or tears of pain. Even if she were right, she knew that Blair would never give into them, particularly when the woman at the heart of her distress was sitting fifteen feet away. No one who didn't know Blair very well would even have realized how distraught she was. Diane knew because she and Blair had been friends since they were teenagers together at prep school, and she knew because six weeks ago Blair had asked to use Diane's apartment while Diane was in Europe. It had been a long time since Blair had brought a lover to Diane's, because Blair rarely slept with anyone more than once and rarely planned for it in advance. You didn't need to plan an anonymous liaison with a woman you met by chance in a dark bar or at a high-society fundraiser. When Diane had asked her whom she was planning on seducing, Blair's silence had been telling. Whoever she was, she mattered, and Diane had a very good idea just who the woman might be.
During a brief moment of madness, Diane contemplated informing the strikingly handsome, dark haired security agent that she was making the biggest mistake of her life. If she chose to be Blair's protector rather than her lover, no matter how noble her motives, Blair would never forgive her. But Diane knew she wouldn't say anything, today or any other day, and she wasn't altogether proud of the reasons why. Despite her long friendship with Blair, they had always been attracted to the same women, and most of the time they had been good-natured about the competition because it was all in fun. The chase, the seduction, the consummation. This time it was different. For Blair to admit any feelings at all for a woman, it had to be serious. Even knowing that, Diane couldn't deny the quick surge of attraction she felt every time she saw Cameron Roberts.
"It was nice to see you again," Cam said, rising, but her attention was on Blair, who was walking toward the front door. "If you would excuse me," Cam said politely, as she stepped away to follow Blair.
Out on the street, Blair turned and watched Cam come through the door. At the same time, Paula Stark stepped out of the car which had been idling across the street from the cafe. Cam waved her back and walked over to Blair.
"It makes it difficult when we don't know where you're going," Cam said quietly, although she knew very well that Blair was aware of that.
Blair shrugged slightly. "Apparently the rules of this engagement can change at any time. Fair is fair." She wasn't able to keep the edge of bitterness from her voice.
Cam nodded and met Blair's heated gaze. "I know it must seem that way, and I'm sorry. For the time being, we're both going to have to live with it."
Blair shook her head and turned her back, moving quickly away down the sidewalk. Cam caught up with her and fell into step beside her, automatically placing herself between Blair and the street. She knew without looking that Stark and her partner would follow slowly behind them in the unmarked vehicle.
"There's no point in putting yourself in danger because you're angry with me, Blair," Cam persisted gently. "If you'll just let us do what we need to do, I'll intrude on your private life as little as possible."
Blair stopped abruptly, turning to face Cam, heedless of the people complaining as they had to suddenly step around them on the narrow sidewalk. In a low, seething tone, Blair said, "Has it occurred to you, Commander, that I wanted you to intrude on my private life? You. Not strangers twenty-four hours a day. Just you."
Cam ran a hand through her hair, struggling with both frustration and temper. She wanted to explain to Blair that she did care, and that she didn't plan for this to happen, and that it was torture to see her and not be able to touch her. "Blair-"
Someone jostled her shoulder passing by and she swore under her breath. This was no place to have this discussion. If she had only managed to keep her own emotions under control when she had first been assigned to Blair Powell's security detail, none of this would be happening now. She had allowed herself to give in first to physical attraction, and then to emotional attachment. Now she had entangled them both in a situation for which there were no rules and only potential disaster. She grimaced because she could see the pain in Blair's eyes, and she didn't have the luxury of explaining herself at the moment. Not here, not now. "Can we talk about this in a somewhat more secure location?"
Blair laughed, unable to help herself. If there was one thing she could count on with Cameron Roberts, it was that no matter what was happening, Cam would never let it interfere with her duty. And she hated being Cameron's duty.
Blair started walking again. "I don't think there's anything left to talk about. You made your decision. I don't intend to adjust my life to make yours easier. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to the gym and beat the crap out of someone."
"Ernie's?" Cam asked, remembering the third floor hole-in-the-wall establishment that Blair had somehow managed to frequent for six months before anyone in the security detail realized that she was there and not at her massage therapist's around the corner.
Blair wasn't in the mood for company. "Ernie's is the one place where I can go that no one knows me and no one cares where I come from or where I'll be going back to. The only thing they care about is what I do in the ring. I'd like to keep it that way."
Cam continued to keep step with her through the narrow streets of the Village as they headed north towards Chelsea. "Are you trying to say that no one has been inside with you?"
She couldn't believe that Mac had allowed Blair to work out alone without at least one agent in the gym with her. Essentially that left Blair unguarded, which was something that was never supposed to happen, even in the most secure circumstances. Exceptions occasionally occurred, but they were rare. Briefly, she thought of those nights she and Blair had spent at Diane Bleeker's apartment while Diane was in Europe. None of the agents had actually been in the apartment with Blair, but there had been a car outside in the street. If the agents in the car knew that Blair was not alone, no one had ever given any indication of that. Cam didn't like to place fellow agents in situations they might later have to lie about, but at the time, she hadn't been assigned to Blair's security detail. Their few hours together each evening were personal, personal and intimate and no one else's business. She wasn't hypocritical enough to deny, even to herself, that she and Blair had tried to keep their meetings a secret, but they had not purposely eluded the Secret Service agents assigned to protect Blair either.
The gym was an entirely different situation. Blair would be in unsecured surroundings with two dozen men who, even if they didn't recognize her, might present threats. If she were recognized, absolutely anything could happen, from simple harassment to abduction. Cam shook her head, knowing how Blair would react. "I don't know how you've managed to keep them away from here, and I'm not certain I want to know, but I can't let you go alone."
"I know that," Blair said, turning down the alley that led to the unmarked, unpainted door that was the street entrance to the gym on the upper floor. "Usually a car waits just at the end of the alley. I've been coming here for years. No one will bother me."
"I'm coming up with you," Cam said grimly. It was too late to change plans now, and since she was the only one immediately available, the responsibility fell to her.
Blair stopped with her hand on the door and looked at Cam, her face completely unreadable and her eyes flat and expressionless. "You can come up if you want, Commander. But I would prefer that you stay away from me."
With that, she opened the door and took the stairs two at a time, leaving Cam to follow.
Cam stood against one wall, her hands in the pockets of her blended silk trousers, watching two fighters prepare to spar in the ring opposite her. The top floor of the warehouse was dimly lit by rows of dirty windows well above head level and fluorescent lights dangling from heavy chains in the cavernous ceiling. The combination cast the entire space in a harsh flickering haze. There were sparring rings at each of three corners of the room. In the fourth corner, an area partitioned off by plywood and exposed two-by-fours served as the business office and makeshift locker rooms. When she had first entered, Cam had given the entire room a thorough examination, noting how many people were present, and where they were. Blair had gone immediately to the tiny women's dressing area, which was nothing more than a closet with a curtain strung across the door.
Cam did not follow her for several reasons. She wanted to give Blair as much privacy as possible, and following her into the dressing room would only call more attention to them both. Furthermore, she had been in that dressing room with Blair once, and she knew just how small it was, and she knew exactly how Blair looked when she stripped off her clothes to put on her work out gear. Cam did not want to be standing two feet away from her when Blair did that, because regardless of her intentions, Cam knew she would be tempted. It had been six weeks, and not a day, hell, barely an hour, had passed that she didn't think about Blair. What she couldn't tell Blair, and what she didn't want to think about herself, was how many times in those six weeks she had imagined how Blair's skin would feel under her fingertips.
So she stood in the shadows against the wall where she could see the entire room and still be as close to Blair as she could be without actually climbing into the ring with her.
Twenty feet away, Blair jogged lightly in place on the soiled canvas cover of the ten foot square ring while she waited for her opponent to adjust his gloves and get his mouthpiece between his teeth. She had been free-sparring for almost three months with some of the men in her weight class. There were no other women who frequented the gym with enough experience at kickboxing to spar with her. She'd been coming long enough that the men accepted her as a regular, and no one thought anything of working out with her. After the first few times that she had put one of them soundly on the mat with a round house kick or a strong right cross, they forget that she was a woman and fought her with no holds barred.
She watched the young guy opposite her approach, happy at the moment to see a little belligerence in his attitude. She needed an outlet for her physical frustration and her mental turmoil. Cam's abrupt return and the sudden change in their relationship had left her reeling. Nothing would test her or distract her as much as being in the ring with someone who could potentially hurt her. She would need to focus and she would need to burn. She knew that somewhere nearby Cam was watching. She didn't look for her; she didn't want to see her. But she felt her, and part of her wanted her there.
She hated the fact that she was comforted by knowing that Cam was near. Cam was so very good at making her feel cared for, even when it was part of her job. From the very beginning, Cam made her feel that she was what mattered and not the status reports or job performance evaluations that seemed to motivate so many of the dozens of agents who had guarded her throughout her childhood and into adulthood. God, she hated that she loved every single thing about Cameron Roberts. She lifted her gloved hands and tapped them against those of her opponent, eager for the first contact, wanting desperately to drive Cam's face from her mind.
She's even better than she used to be, Cam thought, as she watched Blair dance lightly across the canvas. Unlike most male kickboxers who relied primarily on their punches for knockouts, Blair had to depend more on her legs, which were, for most women, more powerful weapons than their hands. It also gave her the advantage of staying beyond the range of most other fighters' punches. It was very possible that with a well-placed kick Blair could render a man unconscious. On the other hand, she wouldn't be able to weather too many direct blows to the face from a man her size or one even smaller. As Cam watched, Blair effectively countered a volley of punches and pushed her opponent back with a nicely executed kick to his thigh.
As one part of her mind kept a constant vigil of the people nearby in her peripheral vision, Cam allowed herself the luxury of simply looking at Blair. Blair had pulled her hair back away from her face and gathered it at the nape of her neck, securing the few remaining wild curls with a rolled red bandanna tied around her forehead. She wore loose navy shorts and a cropped white tee-shirt that left her midriff bare. The small gold ring in her navel glinted against the sweat sheen on her skin. As Cam watched the muscles ripple in Blair's stomach, she stared at the ring and remembered how it felt as she rubbed her palm over it.
It was the first night they had stayed at Diane's apartment, and the memory was not diminished by the many times Cam had relived it. She had been there close to an hour, waiting for Blair. She'd tried to read a magazine she'd found next to the sofa, but found she couldn't concentrate. She was too anxious. She was worried about Blair, knowing that agents would be watching her and wondering what she was doing at Diane's. Blair didn't make a secret of her sexual preferences, but it was never wise to give anyone too much information of a private nature. And rumors of Blair trysting with a Secret Service agent would make for powerful discussion around the water cooler. Cam reminded herself that she knew these agents, and believed in her heart that she could trust them to be discreet, but the habits of a lifetime of guarding her privacy were hard to change. Despite her anxiety, she couldn't wait to see Blair again. After resisting her for so long, now all she could do was think about her. When she heard the key turn in the lock, she got to her feet and crossed the living room towards the tiny foyer just inside the front door. Blair stepped through, breathless and smiling.
"Hi," Blair had said, depositing a bag and a bottle of wine on the small table nearby. For just an instant, she looked shy.
Cam remembered thinking that she had never seen Blair look quite so young. "Hi," she had answered. And then she had kissed her. She had meant it only as a kiss of greeting, but they had parted nearly a day before, and they had only had a night together then. It had not been enough, and at the moment it felt like it would never be enough. One of them had groaned, and both of them had begun frantically undressing each other where they stood. Soon, they were pressed together half naked, unable to stop touching each other long enough to finish the job.
With their mouths hungrily trading kisses and small bites, Cam's hands had found Blair's breasts as Blair worked desperately to loosen the buttons on Cam's jeans. They had both been in danger of falling in their eagerness to consume one another.
Finally, Cam had wrenched her head back, gasping, and said, "Wait! There must be a bedroom here. I really need to do this lying down."
Blair's eyes had been wild with urgency, and she had simply grasped the waistband of Cam's jeans where she had managed to get the top button open and tugged. "Come on," she had ordered, her voice husky with want. "Guestroom. This way."
Cam had followed, slipping one hand around Blair's body from behind, smoothing her palm over the silky tautness of Blair's abdomen. The small gold ring had rubbed lightly against her skin, and she didn't think she'd ever felt anything quite so sexy. She had stopped Blair just outside the door to the bedroom, pressing her bare chest to Blair's back, bringing both hands from behind to cup Blair's breasts. She'd brought her lips close to Blair's ear as she'd moved her fingers to Blair's nipples. "Yesterday you made me beg."
Blair jerked in her arms, arching into Cam's hands as Cam continued the pressure on her nipples. "Do you have a point, Commander?" Blair had finally managed, reaching back with one hand and searching for the rest of the buttons on Cam's fly.
"Could be it's your turn," Cam whispered, biting lightly at the skin below Blair's earlobe. She was about to slide her palm down Blair's stomach when Blair succeeded in opening her jeans and slipping her hand down the front.
"God!" Cam gasped as Blair's fingers slid through the wet heat between her legs. Her knees threatened to buckle as Blair tugged at her. She wrapped her arms around Blair's body, pressing her face to Blair's neck, floating for a moment on a wave of pleasure. Then she'd stiffened as the persistent pull of Blair's fingers pushed her suddenly to the brink of orgasm.
"Uh uh. No," she murmured, stepping back unsteadily, her head buzzing with the thunder of blood, forcing Blair to move her hand. "Not so fast." She shook her head, clearing the mist of arousal from her brain. She took a deep breath, trying hard to ignore the throbbing that began in her belly and spread outward through her limbs.
Blair turned in her arms, pushing at her jeans, ready to take her on the spot, and Cam had kissed her again. Distracting her by pulling her lower lip between her teeth, biting her lightly, Cam backed her up step by step, into the bedroom. She kept her lips firmly on Blair's and grasped Blair's wrists with her hands, keeping them away from her. She'd never last if Blair touched her again. She was already twitching with the faint tremor of preorgasmic spasms. When they hit the bed and fell backwards together, Cam had rolled onto her, pinning Blair's hands above her head with both of hers.
"Not so fast," Cam whispered hoarsely again, just before she caught Blair's nipple in her teeth.
Blair had cried out in surprise and struggled to get her hands free, thrusting her hips against the thigh Cam had driven between her legs. "Let me touch you," she'd groaned in Cam's ear. "Let me do it fast this time."
"Soon," Cam had murmured against her breast. It had been so long since she'd touched a woman that way, and she'd wanted Blair so badly all those months she'd been in charge of her security detail. She'd denied it then, but she didn't have to now. "I want you so much."
Blair's hands had been in her hair when Cam had finally put her mouth on her. Blair's fingers had opened and closed erratically as Cam sucked and licked and tortured her with her tongue. When Blair had pleaded, Cam had slipped her fingers inside; and when she'd begged, Cam had moved her hand slowly deeper; and when she'd cried, Cam had let her come, stroking and thrusting and turning gently until every muscle had clenched and relaxed a dozen times over.
Then she'd laid her cheek against the inside of Blair's thigh, exhausted and content and without a single ounce of regret. But even then, as she listened to Blair's breathing finally quiet, some part of her knew it was borrowed pleasure, because happiness, most of all, came with a price.
Cam flinched as Blair hit the canvas hard, the memory of that night dissolving in the demands of the moment. Instinctively, she took one step forward and then forced herself to stop as she saw Blair get to her feet. She clenched her fists when Blair swayed unsteadily for an instant, but then Blair seemed to shrug off the effect of the left jab that had caught her in the face, signaling her partner to come ahead.
Cam watched her carefully for the rest of the bout, which mercifully lasted only another few minutes. She seemed all right as she regained her balance and moved quickly to counter punches, even managing a spectacular leg sweep that put her opponent flat on his back, winding him for a minute. Still, Cam was happy when Blair climbed out of the ring and disappeared into the back of the gym.
When Blair emerged in a dry tee-shirt, ready to leave, Cam joined her. "Nice fight," she said, relieved to see that Blair's eyes were clear and her gait steady.
Blair shrugged, smiling faintly. "I didn't exactly beat the crap out of him, though."
Cam smiled. "Close enough." Before she could stop herself, she raised her hand and brushed her thumb across a bruise beginning to form on Blair's cheek where his glove had landed. "Maybe you should wear a helmet next time, Ms. Powell," she said softly.
Blair's eyes widened at the gentle caress. The touch was so tender it reached deeper than desire. "I'll take that under advisement, Commander," she whispered, unable to take her eyes from Cam's penetrating gaze.
"Good," Cam said quietly. "Because I don't want anything to happen to you."
"Yes, I know," Blair responded. "That's your job."
But there was no resentment in her words, and as they left together, they were both strangely comforted by the first moments without anger they had shared all day.
At a little before seven that night, Cam stepped into Command Central and walked wearily toward her desk in one corner of the room. She had finally finished the briefing with Blair that had originally been scheduled for earlier that day. Blair had been cordial but cool as they reviewed her official activities for the next ten days. When Cam had asked her about any personal engagements, she had merely smiled thinly and said she had none. Cam admitted to herself that she had probably appeared more abrupt than she meant to be too. It was hard seeing Blair after a six-week absence with everything between them suddenly in chaos.
Sighing, she looked at a stack of memos that Mac had left for her along with a binder filled with field reports from the time that Mac had been in charge and she had been on medical leave. Just as she sat down and pulled the pile of papers toward her, Paula Stark stepped up to the side of her desk.
"Excuse me, Commander," Stark said, her spine stiff and her tone formal. The only thin missing was a salute.
Cam looked up distractedly and said, "What is it, Stark? Problem?"
"No, ma'am," Stark said. "I wanted to apologize for the breakdown in security earlier this afternoon. I take full responsibility."
Cam leaned back in her chair, studying Paula Stark's serious countenance. Eight months ago, Stark had made what might have been the biggest mistake of her career. She had allowed Blair Powell to seduce her. That one night compromised her professionally and should have led to her transfer or even her dismissal from the service. But Stark had done something unusual. She had come to Cam immediately and she had accepted responsibility without excuse. She gave her word that it would never happen again, and as far as Cam knew, it hadn't. Cam didn't think about whether Stark still had feelings for Blair. That was none of her business. What had happened that morning, however, was very much her business.
"Stark, with this kind of detail, apologies are neither acceptable nor sufficient. You are in charge of the day shift and that means if something goes wrong, it's on you."
Stark's eyes widened slightly, but she merely said, "Yes, ma'am. I understand that."
Cam nodded. "I know that you do. I also know that Egret can be very difficult to predict. I told the team once before, and it bears repeating, that the safest course of action is to assume that she is an uncooperative subject. That means you have to plan for the unexpected movement. I'd say you got lazy today, and you got lucky. If I hadn't been walking across the street, you would have lost her."
"Yes, ma'am." Stark thought about that for a second, her stomach clenching. They had all been lulled into a false dense of security the past few months when it seemed as if Egret had been calming down. She hadn't eluded them for so long they forgot to be on guard. She remembered the sick feeling she'd had that morning when she'd watched on the monitor as Egret walked right past the front desk and out the door. What if the had lost her, and then what if something had happened?
Cam suppressed a smile. Stark looked like she was headed for the guillotine. Cam blew out her breath and said quietly, "Stark, you're a good agent. You're a valuable agent, because there are places that you can go with her that no one else can. Be careful, be vigilant, be alert. That's all."
She had already turned back to her paperwork as Stark replied, "Yes ma'am. Thank you very much."
An hour later she had looked through most of the documents and set aside the ones that needed more attention. She just couldn't read anymore. She'd left Florida the night before at midnight and had gotten no sleep for over 36 hours. Ordinarily, that wouldn't bother her nearly as much as it did currently, but the stress of seeing Blair again under such difficult circumstances had worn on her. She was tired, and she was lonely. She stood and stretched and headed for the door. She wanted a drink and to go to bed.
Just as she was about to step through the door, Hernandez, one of the agents assigned to the night shift, called out to her. "Phone call for you, Commander,"
She turned, suppressing a sigh, and picked up the nearest phone. "Roberts," she said sharply, no hint of fatigue in her voice.
"This is Carlisle," a familiar male voice said.
"Be in D.C. tomorrow for a briefing at 0800," her supervisor said. "We'll convene in the conference room at my office."
Cam was instantly alert, her exhaustion fleeing. This kind of request was unusual, and her suspicions were immediately aroused. Something serious was going on, and it must involve Blair if he was calling her to Washington. "I need to know if I should institute heightened security with Egret, sir."
There was a moment of silence that confirmed her suspicions. There was an information blackout and it involved Blair. Out of habit, she checked the monitors, which revealed closed-circuit video images of the entire building, every entrance, the parking garage, the elevators, the hallway outside of Blair's apartment. It was almost as if she expected to see someone attempting an assault.
"There's no need for any special action at your end. Just be at the meeting, Roberts," he said gruffly.
Then she was listening to a dial tone and cursing under her breath. This was one situation where she would know what was happening, because she could not afford not to.
At 0750 Cam walked down the deserted corridor outside Stuart Carlisle's office. Some of the rooms in the warren of offices that opened off the industrial-tiled hallway were already occupied, but many doors were still shut, awaiting secretaries and staff to arrive for the workday. She pushed open the door stenciled with the word 'Conference' and stepped into another of the generic rooms that seemed to comprise all government buildings. She nodded to the redhead, a woman she had never seen before, already seated at the table.
A long rectangular conference table crowded the center of the room, surrounded by a number of straight-backed chairs. A coffee caddie stood in one corner. She moved around the end of the table, helped herself to coffee, and settled into a chair opposite the woman who was reading a stack of papers she appeared to have taken from the open briefcase beside her. Neither of them acknowledged each other beyond their first neutral nod, assuming that eventually whoever would be running the meeting would make the appropriate introductions.
Over the course of the next ten minutes, the door opened three times, each time admitting a man dressed in the regulation garb of a government agent. Navy blue blazers, gray flannel trousers, white shirts and rep ties abounded in the Department of the Treasury building as well as the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and every other security agency on Capitol Hill. The last person to enter was Cam's direct supervisor, Stuart Carlisle. They had known each other for over a decade and were probably as close to friends as one could be in that kind of environment. Each understood that regardless of personal feelings, the system they served had the ultimate power, and, like all governments, was not immune to error. Error that sometimes destroyed careers and lives. They also both believed that however flawed, it was probably the best version currently available.
Carlisle nodded to her briefly and proceeded to the head of the table. From the end opposite him, a mid-forties, iron-gray haired man, thin and fit appearing, coolly appraised each individual in the room. Across from Cam, to the left of the redhead, a man about Cam's age with a faint five o'clock shadow who looked like he might have played football in college, sat staring at her, something hard in his gaze. Cam did not recognize any of the other people present, but she recognized the type. The woman, early thirties, short well-cut hair, understated make-up, conservative suit, had a look of self-contained confidence that suggested she didn't work for any of the men in the room. An independent consultant or perhaps a forensic analyst. She had apparently come to give an opinion, and she probably didn't care about inter-agency politics. The men were a different matter all together. The two men in addition to Carlisle were FBI, CIA, or both. They were unsmiling, faintly belligerent looking, and plainly annoyed -- probably because the meeting wasn't on their turf. That concerned Cam. Because if the meeting was here on her ground, it suggested that it had to do with Blair, and that worried her more than she cared to admit.
Carlisle, at precisely 0800, began to speak. "Let's get the introductions out of the way. Secret Service Agent Cameron Roberts, who commands Egret's security detail," he said, nodding at Cam, his eyes unreadable as they skimmed over hers. Indicating the gray-haired man at the far end of the table, he went on, "Robert Owens, National Security Agency. Special Agent Lindsey Ryan, from the behavioral science division of the FBI," signifying the redhead, "and," pointing to the man opposite Cam, "Patrick Doyle, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI task force investigating Lover Boy."
Cam stiffened but her expression remained carefully neutral. Lover Boy was the code name assigned to the man who had stalked Blair Powell the previous year, leaving her messages, photographing her, and presumably making an assassination attempt which had resulted in Cam being wounded. This was the first that she had heard of any ongoing task force. The fact that Mac had not mentioned it led her to believe he was unaware of it also. Which meant the investigation had been taken out of the hands of the Secret Service, leaving the people directly responsible for Blair's safety in the dark. She was furious, but she needed more information before she knew precisely where to direct her anger. So she listened, her fists clenched under the table, her jaws clamped tightly enough to make her teeth ache.
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