For a moment, the room was silent as they each took stock of one another. Then the NSA man cleared his throat and said in a hoarse voice, "I'll let Doyle bring you up to speed on recent domestic developments. You'll find a summary of current information and analyses in the binder." He began to pass prepared folders to each of them from a stack he had carried in with him. "From a national security standpoint, we're concerned about the President's upcoming summit meetings on the global warming agreement with the European council members next month. In addition, he'll be attending the World Trade Organization meeting in Quebec in just a few days. Any act of terrorism, including an attack on Egret, would obviously disrupt those plans."
"We don't have anything to indicate that Lover Boy is a member of any group, national or international, with a political agenda," Doyle said, his voice hard-edged with a hint of Midwestern accent. His tone and expression suggested that he wasn't overly interested in Owens's national security issues.
"Nothing in the psychological profile suggests that he is philosophically or politically motivated," Lindsey Ryan, the behavioral scientist, interjected. "'The message content - poetic verses, sexual ideation, the fixation on knowing where she is and what she's doing - these things indicate a distorted sense of reality. Nevertheless, his ability to make repeated contact with her, and effectively elude capture for a prolonged period of time, indicates an intelligent and highly organized personality. Nevertheless, all of his focus has been her. He's obsessed with her. This isn't about the President."
"We have to assume that anything directed at Egret, even remotely, is related to the President," Owens said testily, his remarks clearly directed at Doyle.
Cam, working hard to contain her temper, listened to the two men engage in verbal debate while ignoring the obvious importance of Ryan's assessment. It was clear to her that Blair was of much less concern to either man than establishing who had the greater stake in seeing the UNSUB captured.
"Exactly where do we stand on the degree of penetration as far as Egret is concerned?" Cam asked, barely managing to keep the wrath out of her voice. She needed to know how close this psychopath had managed to get to Blair this time.
Doyle, looking impatient, raised his voice a notch and continued as if no one else had said anything. "Until the last ten days, all contacts from Lover Boy have occurred via electronic transmission, specifically Internet messages, delivered directly to the subject's personal email accounts. Despite our attempts to trace the point of origin, we have been unable to verify a source. Changing Egret's accounts, rerouting through substations and aliases, and erecting electronic filters has all been ineffective. His messages to date have been," he hesitated a moment as if considering how to phrase his comments, then continued, "mostly of a sexually suggestive nature."
"Is he escalating?" Cam questioned, her breath constricting in her chest. This was why she had been recalled. And if the task force had been ongoing for months, something had changed recently. She tried not to think about the fact that Blair had almost slipped their surveillance yesterday.
Doyle shuffled a few papers, looking annoyed. "He was inactive for a period of time following the shooting last year. Of course every government agency including the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA were involved in the manhunt, and he didn't have much choice but to go under. He surfaced again three months ago."
"Three months," Cam repeated, her eyes boring into Doyle's. "Three months and you're just advising her security detail now?"
"I knew," Stuart Carlisle said, unable to completely conceal his discomfort. He wasn't about to explain that his decision to have the task force run out of New York, and by his people, had been overruled by the Security Chief. He was still bitter, but he had orders to follow too.
Cam turned to him, knowing better than to break rank in mixed company and question his judgment or his authority, but there was criticism in her eyes, and she knew Stuart saw it.
"The Secret Service isn't equipped to handle this kind of scenario," Doyle said dismissively.
"We're on scene," Cam retorted, "and we're the ones who know the day to day situation best. A threat like this demands we increase our readiness level." Everything about the way they guarded Blair needed to change. For god's sake, she'd been underprotected for months!
"We've had a presence," Doyle snapped. "We're more than capable of securing her."
"Not the way we can," Cam answered, still unable to believe that Stuart Carlisle had let this happen. But she couldn't back down, not when it was Blair's life at stake. "We need to take the lead in this investigation."
Doyle's color darkened as his lips curled slightly in derision. "You people knew about him in the beginning and your security was so ineffective it almost got Egret killed. I don't think you're up to it."
Cam's voice was cold, her words razor-edged. "By excluding the Secret Service from your intelligence, you put Egret at severe risk. Unacceptable risk. Untenable risk."
"Roberts," Carlisle warned from beside her. She had effectively accused the FBI task force leader of endangering the life of the President's daughter, which at the very least constituted dereliction of duty, and according to strict interpretation, could be considered an indictable offense.
She continued as if her supervisor hadn't said anything. "I want every piece of data, every transmission, every record, every projection and profile that you currently have. I want-"
"You'll get whatever I say -" Doyle began, leaning forward, the muscles in his formidable neck straining.
Cam stood quickly, placing her hands flat on the table, looking down at him. "Every single word, Doyle, or I'll personally file a report citing your negligence and hand carry it to the Oval Office."
Doyle came out of his chair faster than a man his size ought to be able to move. "You threaten me, Roberts, and I'll find the dirt you think you've been able to hide and I'll bury you in it."
Cam smiled faintly, her voice quiet but very clear. "You don't know me very well if you think that will frighten me."
Neither of them heard the door open behind them as they stared at each other, taking measure for the fight that was sure to come.
"From what I hear, you shouldn't even be on this detail," Doyle said derisively. "I'd like to know whose piss-poor excuse for a decision that was."
"I assume that would be mine," a deep male voice said calmly.
Cam straightened and turned toward the voice as the others hastened to stand for the President of the United States.
Eleven hours later she was back in NYC, having reviewed as much of the information regarding Lover Boy's recent activities as she could access through channels. She knew there was more, but it would take her a while to get at it. Now that she understood why she had been recalled from Florida, her work really began. But first there was personal business she needed to put to rest.
Cam stopped just inside the door and stared at Blair, who had clearly not been expecting her. She looked like she was dressed to go out, wearing a patterned silk blazer over a thin pale camisole and loose black trousers. Cam wondered fleetingly if she were meeting someone. She pushed that thought away, because she was in no position to change it.
"What is it?" Blair said, a quick surge of fear produced by the stony expression in Cam's eyes. "What's happened?"
"Why didn't you tell me?" Cam said, her voice low and deadly. She was struggling so hard to contain her anger she could barely get the words out.
"I'm not sure what you mean," she said, stalling, hoping that it wasn't what she thought. But she knew it was, it couldn't be anything else. She had hoped, with Cam out of NYC, away from her detail, she could keep it from her. Keep her out of it. Keep her safe.
"You let me make love to you, you let me that close, and you couldn't tell me that he was back?" Cam seethed, her apprehension for Blair's safety and her fury at being excluded both by Blair and the FBI nearly made her mad. "How in God's name could you do that? I thought -" she meant to say, I thought I meant more to you than that. I thought we had something.
She took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a second, and gathered her strength. This was not about her. Her relationship with Blair wasn't the issue anymore. She had to separate her personal feelings from what was happening now. The clear and present danger that Lover Boy presented to Blair was what mattered. Not how she felt, not her disappointment, nor her sense of betrayal. She concentrated on her duty, the one thing that always focused her, the one thing she always depended upon to drive the anger away.
She straightened with effort, working to hide her turmoil. She forced her fists to unclench and when she spoke her voice was cool, her command voice. Calm and steady, uninflected, impersonal, infinitely professional. "You should have reported it to Mac when it started again three months ago, Ms. Powell, and you should have told me yesterday. At your earliest convenience, I need to discuss the security protocols. In light of the new information, we have to assume a higher level of alertness. If you could check your schedule now please, I'd like to do this in the morning - as early as possible."
The silence deepened.
While Cam had been talking, Blair watched the flurry of emotions race across her face. She had seen her go from anger and frustration to this implacable façade that she recognized as the barrier Cam placed between her emotions and everything else in order to do her job. In the rational part of her mind, Blair understood that that was what made Cam so good at what she did, but it was not what she wanted between them. She did not want Cam to distance herself in order to care for her. She wasn't sure exactly what she wanted, but she was very certain it wasn't that. Her own frustration and fear surfaced, and she said caustically, "That's your solution to everything, isn't it, Cameron? Tighten the security, tighten the restraints around me. That's a simple answer, and easy for you. However, it doesn't work for me."
With effort, Cam said quietly, "This isn't something that's negotiable. This man is serious. He's persistent and clever and talented and he's fixated on you. By all rights, you should be secluded somewhere until he can be apprehended."
At that thought, every survival instinct Blair had emerged on a wave of irrational terror. She would not be made a captive. She had been imprisoned in one way or another her entire life. Nothing mattered more to her than her freedom, nothing except one thing. "I don't want you on this detail, Roberts. I can't work with you. I won't work with you. If you won't resign, I'll do what I have to do to get you pulled off."
"I spoke with your father this afternoon," Cam said darkly. "He seems to feel that I'm the best person for this job. So do I. This is one time your influence is not going to have any effect."
Blair stared at her, opened-mouthed in astonishment. When she could find her voice, she said incredulously, "You spoke with my father?"
Cam walked a few feet towards a nearby sofa and leaned against the back, trying to work out some of the tension in her body. She felt wound so tight she was afraid she'd lose control, and at this point, Blair's very future could depend upon what happened between them in the next few minutes. "It was unexpected. He showed up at the briefing about this - situation."
Thinking back, it had been a strange encounter.
The President had acted as if Doyle and Cam hadn't been about to fling themselves over the table at each other, merely motioning to the people gathered with one hand and saying, "Sit, please."
They had done so, and the NSA representative introduced the others and hastened to assure the President that everything possible was being done to protect his daughter. Andrew Powell said nothing, listening quietly and studying each face carefully. After a minute or two he said, "I'm sure that everything is being done appropriately. I'm on a tight schedule and I'd like to speak with Agent Roberts, if your meeting is concluded."
That was clearly a dismissal.
Lindsey Ryan stood immediately and began gathering her things, as did Stewart Carlisle. Doyle and Owens looked like they might object for a moment, and then with slightly disgruntled expressions, filed out of the room. When the door closed, for the first time in her life, Cam stood alone facing the President of the United States. Their eyes met and Cam asked, "What may I do for you, Mr. President?"
A very faint smile flickered across his handsome face. She saw Blair in him as his features briefly softened, and in that instant, her anger turned to hard resolve. She would not allow Blair to become a pawn in some ambitious bureaucrat's political game, nor would she see her become the object of a psychotic's obsession.
"It seems that I need to rely on you again, Agent Roberts, to look after my daughter. I'm sure the task force is doing everything they can, but I know my daughter, and she is not going to make this easy for anyone."
"Sir," Cam began, intending to defend Blair. Given the circumstances, her security team had had the least problems of any working with her.
He raised his hand as if he knew what she were going to say. He looked past her for a moment, as if seeing something she couldn't. "She didn't choose this life - I chose it for her. It's been hard for her. I know that. She's strong and she's stubborn and I wouldn't change anything about her. I'm counting on you to see that both her freedom and her safety continue."
"Yes sir, Mr. President," Cam said very quietly, her eyes never leaving his. "I'll do that, sir. You can depend on it."
He had nodded, thanked her, and left the room. Had she not had her own motives for needing to be involved, his unspoken command would have been enough. But she did have her own reasons. And they were very personal.
Cam looked at Blair and said softly, "I'm sorry, Blair. I'm staying."
I'm staying. The words screamed in Blair's head. Words she wanted to hear from her, but not this way. Not like this. Not because of this. She couldn't have this conversation any longer. She couldn't think about what it meant for either of them. I'm staying.
She grabbed her bag from a nearby table and snapped, "Well, I'm not. I'm going out."
Cam made no move to stop her. She would not be her jailor. But when she spoke, her voice held a question. "Blair?"
Something in the almost defeated tone of Cam's voice stopped her. It was a weariness she had rarely heard in her, even after she'd worked days on no sleep. Blair turned from the door, looking back at her where she still leaned against the back of the sofa. She had been almost too angry to see her clearly before, but now the shadows in Cam's face stood out in gaunt relief. It was her eyes, though, that gave her away. They were dull with fatigue, flickering with something close to despair. She hadn't looked like that even when she'd been in the hospital recovering from her wounds.
"What?" Blair asked, softer than she had meant, struggling with a nearly irresistible urge to go to her. It was so hard to hold onto her anger when she so wanted to hold her.
"Have you told them downstairs that you're going out?" Cam asked, pushing herself upright.
"No," Blair answered curtly, just as quickly irritated again as Cam resumed her official role.
"Is it a personal engagement?" Cam continued, keeping her voice carefully neutral. She had to ask in order to do her job, but she didn't need or want to know the details if Blair was seeing someone. "Will you need the car?" She searched her memory for the day's itinerary, which she had reviewed the night before. After the day she had just spent in Washington that seemed like a month ago to her now. And of course it was before she knew that Blair wasn't really safe anywhere. They would have to provide much closer coverage than they usually did even for non-official functions. "We didn't have you scheduled for anything tonight."
"It was a last minute thing," Blair informed her. She always hated discussing her private plans with her security people. It made her feel so exposed. This was worse. Reluctantly she added, "It's a party at Diane's."
Cam's expression didn't change, but she knew what Blair was saying. A party meant it was not 'official'. If it were a date, it was none of her business. "Can you give me a few minutes to get someone for you? Stark and Grant are both off-duty, and you'll want a woman."
Blair opened the door and stepped into the hallway. "Fielding and Foster can wait in the car outside Diane's apartment. They always have before."
Cam followed her out of the loft, already activating her radio. "Fielding, bring the car around, and find Ellen Grant or Stark for me. ASAP." She crossed to the elevator and said flatly, "I need someone inside."
"It's Diane's, for Christ's sake," Blair replied with irritation, punching the lobby button. "Do you think he's going to show up in drag?"
"I don't know what he's going to do!" Cam retorted in an uncharacteristically aggravated tone. "Until twelve hours ago, I didn't even know he was active."
Blair had no answer for that. She had ignored the first few messages she received by post, hoping they were just random crank mail, unrelated to what had happened before. She got them from time to time, usually from disgruntled individuals who didn't like her father's politics. Sometimes from overenthusiastic supporters. Occasionally from people obsessed with her, asking for photos or dates or even articles of clothing. But never anything quite like these messages. Intimate, suggestive, and most frighteningly, knowledgeable. When the email started, she had confided in her friend at the Bureau and that had been a mistake. Friendship has it limits, and her old school chum had decided that it was news she couldn't keep to herself.
"You didn't need to know. Doyle knew," Blair retorted as the elevator opened onto the lobby, still angry with AJ for reporting it.
Cam didn't bother to point out that she needed to know for any number of reasons, not all of them professional, because it was done. Blair had shut her out, and there was nothing to do now but regain control of the situation.
Blair walked toward the front door, acutely aware that Cam had moved slightly ahead of her to go through first. Unexpectedly she saw it all again in slow-motion replay - the bright sunlight, the screams of frantic men, the spreading blossom of rich red on Cam's chest as she dropped first to her knees, then collapsed to her back on the sidewalk. By then the other agents had pulled Blair inside, behind the glass doors, and she couldn't reach her. She couldn't hold her.
"Blair?" Cam asked, concerned by Blair's sudden pallor.
Blair jerked at the sound of Cam's voice and hurried to cross the sidewalk, the image of Cam's ashen face as she lay dying mercifully beginning to fade. Cam opened the car door and Blair brushed her fingers lightly over Cam's sleeve, reassured by the solid presence of her. She didn't trust herself to speak but just slid into the rear of the black sedan parked at the curb.
Diane Bleeker kissed Blair lightly on the cheek as she admitted her to a room already filled with people. The lights were conversationally dim, female servers in white shirts, black bow ties, and tailored black trousers moved carefully through the crowd with trays of hors d'oeuvres balanced in front of them. Soft music accompanied the murmur of voices.
"Your choice of escorts is improving," Diane remarked, a hint of surprise in her voice as she watched Cam move to one side of the spacious living room.
"I'm alone," Blair responded, slipping past her and heading for the bar that had been set up in one corner.
Diane threaded her way through the crowd in Blair's wake, reaching for a glass of white wine as Blair waited for the very attractive redheaded bartender in the tuxedo shirt and tight black leather pants to mix her a drink. "If you needed a date, I could have found you one. Marcie Coleman has been trying to get you to go out with her for weeks. You could do worse than a successful young surgeon, you know."
Blair took her drink, scarcely noticing the appraising glance that the bartender gave her along with the glass, and turned to look at the other women in the room. As always at Diane's gatherings, the women were a mix of aspiring artists, many of whom were Diane's clients, young professionals, or bar dykes from the Village who were there as escorts or just tagging along with someone they knew and hoping to get lucky. Diane always managed to provide something for everyone.
"I'm not interested in a date," Blair said acerbically, making an effort not to look in Cam's direction. She had years of practice at ignoring her security detail. Once she had gotten used to their ubiquitous presence, they had simply become background noise. When she was a preteen, it hadn't been as difficult, because her father had only been a governor then. Other than the fact that state troopers often drove her to school and parked nearby while she engaged in after-school activities, she had been able to pretend she was like everyone else. Unfortunately, at fifteen she learned that she wasn't. That was when she and her prep school roommate had made love for the first time, and Blair had learned that there are certain things best kept secret.
When her father became Vice President, and it was apparent that he would be the party's nominee for President after eight years, the security around her had intensified. She became very good at convincing herself that she wasn't being watched almost twenty-four hours a day, but there was nothing she could do to ignore Cameron Roberts's presence. She could feel her as strongly as if they stood touching.
Diane smiled knowingly. "I was trying to be polite when I said date. I'm sure the very charming Dr. Coleman would be just as happy to spend the night with you, if that's what you had in mind."
Blair turned and met Diane's eyes, replying caustically, "If and when I decide I want someone to fuck, I'm quite certain I can manage the arrangements on my own."
If Diane was taken aback by Blair's sharp retort, she didn't show it. She knew from long experience that the best way to get Blair to talk about anything substantial was to anger her. Blair had gotten much too proficient at disguising almost all of her emotions, but when she was angry, she forgot to hide them. Diane was one of the few people who could actually goad her into revealing herself, which was probably the reason they were still friends. "Well, if I had that criminally good-looking number watching me all night with that smoldering expression in her eyes, I probably wouldn't be looking for anyone else either."
Blair didn't have to look at Cam to know exactly what Diane referred to. Cam had a way of looking at her that made her feel as if she were the only woman in the room. She reminded herself that Cam was only doing her job, but no one else had ever looked at her in quite that way. Paula Stark, for all her competence, and despite the night they had shared together, never looked at her that way. Blair's hand trembled as she raised the martini glass to her lips. "Don't, Diane. Not tonight."
Diane relented. Blair's voice was raw, and her eyes were wounded. She touched Blair's hand fleetingly, and said quietly, "I don't care what you think is happening between you two, she cares. She can't hide it anymore than you can." She tossed her head in a practiced motion, her blond hair sweeping her shoulders, and began to move away. "You may not be in the mood for company tonight, but I am. It's time for me to prowl."
Blair watched Diane move sinuously off through the crowd and wondered how long it would take her to make her way around the room to Cam. And she wished to god she didn't care.
When the well-built brunette in the tee shirt, jeans and Nikes walked in the door at a little before one a.m., more than a few heads turned in appreciation. She looked like an ex-soccer player, which, among other things, she was. It had taken Ellen Grant a little over an hour from the time Ed Fielding tracked her down at her mother-in-law's in West Chester to make it to the party at Diane Bleeker's Upper East Side apartment. She had considered changing her clothes and then decided not to, figuring she'd probably fit in with at least some part of the gathering.
Cam sighed with uncharacteristic relief at the sight of her backup. It wasn't so much her bone-deep tiredness that was wearing at her, but the necessity of watching Blair dance with the same woman for the last half hour while trying to ignore the fact that the woman's hand rested very subtly on Blair's left breast.
"Sorry, Commander," Ellen Grant said quietly when they managed to work their way over to one another. "I was at my husband's birthday party."
"No apologies required, Grant. I regret the need to call you away from your family." Cam passed her hand across her eyes, rubbing them briefly, then smiled thinly. "I'm afraid I got caught short tonight. You're bailing me out."
Grant glanced at her in concern, catching the strain in her voice and wondering if she was all right. Cameron Roberts was a legend to every agent in the field because of what she had done that day in front of Blair Powell's apartment, but to her own team, she was a flesh-and-blood hero. "Not a problem. I can take over now, Commander."
"Yes," Cam said. "Thank you."
Instead of leaving, Cam walked through the room and out onto a small iron-railed balcony with a view of Central Park. She took a deep breath of the crisp night air and rested both hands on the railing, aware of the ache in her left side along the ten-inch scar between her fourth and fifth ribs. It didn't usually bother her, or at least most of the time she could ignore it.
"Off duty now, Commander?" Blair asked quietly from beside her. "You look like you could use some sleep."
Cam, still leaning forward, turned her head and glimpsed the quick flicker of moonlight playing over Blair's face. The sight caught at her heart. Surrendering for just an instant to the soft undercurrent of warmth in Blair's voice and the real concern in her gaze, Cam let herself relax.
"Yes," Cam answered eventually, "airplane seats are always a little short for me to sleep in very well. Grant's taking over now."
They both knew that wasn't strictly true. She was never off duty, through choice as well as convention.
Blair stood next to her at the rail, close enough to touch her, but being careful not to. She didn't trust herself enough to do that. She wasn't even sure why she had followed her outside. But the night was disappearing and they were here, almost alone. Tomorrow people would surround them again, and she had no idea when they would have even a few moments of privacy. She couldn't bear to see her go, not yet. "What's going to happen now?"
Cam watched the headlights far below trace patterns of lights through the treetops and considered the future. It never even occurred to her not to inform Blair of her plans, although some might consider that inappropriate. It was Blair's life that was affected, and she deserved to know. "We'll need to go to high alert status. I'll talk to Mac and Stark about that tomorrow. You'll need agents physically with you whenever possible, extra security at public functions, and less information about your travel plans made available to the press."
"Everything will be closing down around me, won't it?" Blair asked, sounding nearly as done-in as Cam appeared.
"These are the things that will impact you most directly, yes," Cam allowed. There was much more that needed to be done, and she hoped she could accomplish them without making Blair even unhappier. "I'm sorry."
Blair believed her. It had taken more than raw physical attraction to capture her heart. Cam, as no one before her, understood. Cam understood how she felt to be never alone, to be never free, to be never capable of spontaneous action. Cam understood even though she couldn't change it.
Blair did touch her then, a brief brush of her fingers over Cam's hand. "I know."
She caught her breath as Cam captured her fingers and caressed them gently. The light pressure of their palms sliding together was more achingly sweet than another woman's naked body pressing against her in the heat of lust. She stood there, buffeted by the chill night air, her head light with wanting her, and dared not move. Dared not break the fragile bond.
Finally Cam sighed and released her. She was so very tired and she couldn't trust herself with Blair so near. She had just needed to touch her so much. And now she needed to go.
What she had to say next came hard. It was hard for her to even think it, but she had to. Everything between them had changed drastically almost overnight. They'd spent five frantic days trying to assuage a yearlong thirst, and nothing had really been settled when they'd parted, except they both believed there'd be a next time. She thought then that they'd have time to tackle the issues of Blair's notoriety and her own professional ethics, but the reappearance of Lover Boy had changed all of that. Now whatever personal relationship they might have had was secondary. She knew Blair was hurt and angry, and she'd seen Blair in the arms of too many lovers not to know what she did when she was hurt. She said what she had to say. "If you don't plan on going home tonight, please tell Grant. Let them protect you."
Staring straight ahead so that she would not see the goodbye in Cam's eyes, Blair replied quietly, "As you wish, Commander."
And then she was alone, the wind whipping at her tears.
At precisely 0700 the next morning, Cam walked through the command center toward the conference room. "Stark, Mac-" she called as she passed each of them, "-with me. The rest of you will be briefed later."
She closed the door to the conference room after they followed her in and waited until they took seats. She was crisply attired in a steel-blue suit, a tailored white linen shirt, and imported black loafers that matched the belt at her waist. There were faint shadows under her eyes, but her gaze was clear and sharp and glinting with something hard. She remained standing, leaning forward slightly with her hands on the back of a chair. Had they been looking, they would have noticed that her knuckles were white where she gripped the leather. It was the only sign that she was distressed.
"This is what I know," she began, her tone and demeanor completely composed. "Approximately three months ago Lover Boy contacted Egret via the U.S. mail. His messages consisted of short rambling notes professing his undying love for her, his desire to make love to her - put quite a bit more crudely, and his intention to be alone with her so that he could convince her of his passion." At her first few words, Stark and Mac sat up straight, clearly shocked.
"Commander! This is the first-" Mac began, his face pale.
Cam held up her hand to silence him. "We'll get to that. Six weeks ago he began electronic contact, this time in addition to his verbal descriptions, he sent short video clips of explicit sexual activities he hoped they might share."
Stark couldn't contain her disbelief. "It's impossible. She would have told us. She's difficult, but she's not stupid. She would know that we had to be informed."
"The FBI knew. They formed a task force to monitor the situation," Cam began. At that announcement, Mac's mouth fell open. She continued, preferring to save the considerable explanations for later. "They've set up their own surveillance system with vehicles and agents tracking her whenever she's outside this building. They've attempted to set up alternate e-mail connections in the hopes of backtracking his messages to their source. So far, they've been unsuccessful."
She forced herself to let go of the chair back when her fingers began to cramp. Her voice still quiet, she said, "I was called back because ten days ago his messages changed. He's becoming more violent; he threatened her." She was surprised to feel her voice catch and hoped that Mac and Stark hadn't heard it. Quickly she continued, "The behavioral people at Quantico feel that he may be decompensating, either because he's been unsuccessful at gaining access to her or just because he's coming unglued. In any event, we must consider her at risk at any time."
"Oh my God," Mac breathed, "how could they have kept us out of the loop?"
Struggling now to contain her own anger, she answered, "They were investigating us." That wasn't strictly true. The FBI had been investigating everyone on the security team with the exception of Cam. She was exonerated by virtue of the fact that she had been an unintended victim of Lover Boy's presumed attack on Blair.
Mac stood up, too agitated to sit any longer. "That's insane. Some of us were with you when it happened. We couldn't have been the shooter!"
"I agree with you," Cam shrugged. "But I don't have to remind you how paranoid our brethren in the FBI can be. They were floating the theory that if it was one of you, it might have been a hired hitman who did the shooting. A stand-in to deflect suspicion from you."
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Stark muttered, rubbing the bridge of her nose as she frequently did when upset. "I don't believe I'm hearing this."
Cam almost smiled at that. Over the past year, Paula Stark had become the agent closest to Blair Powell. Cam could only imagine how furious she must be having her professional integrity maligned and her efficiency undercut by people who were supposedly on the same side. She also believed that Stark cared for Blair, and she didn't think it had anything to do with the night they had spent together. She didn't encourage any kind of personal attachment between her agents and those they guarded, but it privately comforted her. Blair deserved to be cared for.
"I'm sure members of the task force will be showing up soon to convince you that this is all quite real," Cam went on. "Our official policy is one of cooperation."
Mac and Stark looked at her expectantly, waiting for her real orders.
"We are the Secret Service. We are the people assigned to guard her. We are the people with her twenty-four hours a day. This is our ball, our game, our rules," she said decisively. "Stark, you will choose a replacement to lead the day shift. Until further notice, you are Egret's primary guard. If at all possible, when she's outside this building, you will be with her. That means physically within sight of her. You'll be working split shifts, so review her itinerary carefully."
It was a tough assignment, and Cam watched Stark closely as she spoke.
"Yes ma'am," Stark said immediately. "Understood."
"Mac, we need an agent, not just the video cameras, stationed in the lobby around the clock. The surveillance tapes need to be backed up every twelve, and I want them analyzed for repeat visitors, delivery people, public service crews - anyone who doesn't live or work here. Run the backgrounds again on everyone with access to floors above the lobby."
Mac and Stark were taking notes, but Cam had nothing written down. As she spoke, her gaze was distant, her mind clicking down the list of priorities as automatically as she dressed in the morning. She understood intuitively what few citizens of the United States did. The illusion that the President and those close to him were untouchable was part of the image of invincibility essential to a world power. Unlike the leaders of many nations, the President of the United States was incredibly accessible. He could go jogging through the streets of Washington D.C., he could stand on an open podium and give a speech, and he could ride a bicycle through the dunes on Martha's Vineyard with only a few Secret Service agents nearby. He was at risk in ways that few people ever considered, unless, like her, it was their job to do so.
In many ways, Blair's security was even more critical than his. The presidency was not a man, but an office. If the President were incapacitated, the line of succession was clear. But the President was susceptible to manipulation through his affections. It was the policy of the United States government not to negotiate with terrorists. But what if the hostage were the President's daughter?
For an instant, Cam remembered waking with Blair in Diane's apartment. Blair had still been asleep, naked and warm in her arms. All her fury and fierceness had quieted in slumber, and Cam shivered inwardly at the image of her vulnerability.
Not Blair. Not on her watch. Not ever.
She cleared her throat and picked up where she had left off with barely a moment's hesitation. "Her mail needs to be visually inspected before she picks it up. Any package, any delivery of any kind, requires verification of its point of origin before it goes to her, including ID checks for all delivery people. I'll arrange for a portable x-ray machine to be set up downstairs."
She took a breath and began to relax for the first time in days. It felt good to be in charge and comforting to know that the right people were providing Blair's safety.
"We'll go over the rest of the details with the team later today." She looked at Mac and asked the question she had avoided thinking about since she had awakened at five am after a few hours of restless sleep. "I'll need a special briefing this morning with Ms. Powell. Is she on-site?"
"No," Mac said carefully. "Grant checked in at 0600. She's requesting relief for continued surveillance at an off-site location."
She didn't come home. Cam had to work to ignore the swift surge of disappointment, but she said without inflection, "Right. See to it then. I'd like a full report ASAP."
After Mac and Stark left the room, she finally sat, resting her face in her hands, and tried to dispel the image of Blair in the arms of another woman.
Diane Bleeker eyed Blair speculatively across the small glass-topped table in her breakfast alcove. She watched her start on her second cup of coffee and decided it might be safe to try conversation.
"Are you going to tell me why Roberts is your head spooky again?" Diane asked offhandedly, reaching for a croissant and hoping that she would live to eat it.
Blair looked up from the cup she had been mindlessly staring into, searching Diane's face for some hint of the motive behind the question. She wasn't up to verbal sparring at the moment. She definitely wasn't up to hearing Diane talk about how much she'd like to get Cameron Roberts into bed. It had never been enjoyable, but now it actually hurt.
She didn't think Cam would be susceptible to Diane's brand of casual seduction, but she wasn't entirely certain. Diane was very beautiful, and Cam gave no hint of entertaining celibacy. All you had to do was look at her to sense her sexual energy. Blair recalled the rumor that her FBI contact had recounted to her about Cam's secret lover in DC. For all she knew, Cam might still be involved with someone there. She didn't want to think about that, not when she couldn't get the feel of Cam's hands out of her mind. But Diane merely regarded her solemnly, patiently, without the slightest hint of confrontation. Friends then, for the moment.
"Why?" Blair asked, trying not to snarl.
Not too bad, Diane thought. She didn't throw anything.
"Because I got the distinct impression that while I was in Europe you made good use of my apartment, and I presumed you were with her," Diane answered. She'd seen the way the two of them had looked at one another for weeks before the shooting - as if they were struggling not to jump on each other and start tearing off clothes. And she'd seen Blair frantic with worry those first few days after Cam was wounded, until it was clear that she would survive. Even while the Secret Service agent was recovering and they'd had no contact, Diane had seen the change in Blair. Her notoriously restless friend hadn't been out hunting for a one-night stand in months. Blair must have wanted to be with someone very badly if she'd arranged for them to spend more than a night together somewhere. Since she couldn't bring a woman to her own apartment, at Diane's they would have at least some privacy. "It was her you brought up here, wasn't it?"
Blair just nodded, seeming to have forgotten that she still held the coffee cup raised in front of her. Her mind balked at returning to those brief days and her wild hope of happiness. She wasn't sure she wanted to remember, not until she stopped aching every time she thought of her.
"Then we crossed in the air and by the time I got back from Europe, you were off to China. I never heard the juicy details." Diane spoke carefully. Blair's expression was haunted. "The next thing I know we're sitting in a café, Roberts is across the room watching you on full spooky status again, and you're a mess."
Blair's hands trembled slightly as she set the cup down. In the past three days she'd begun to wonder if she hadn't dreamed those five nights in June. Five nights, and then Cam had returned to Washington for her new posting as a regional director in the investigative division. They both expected it to be weeks before they saw one another again. Blair had the China trip with her father, and Cam would be in the field soon. She might have believed it a dream, she supposed, if her skin didn't still tingle with the memory of their last morning together.
When she awoke, she was alone. The shower was running in the adjoining bathroom. She turned on her side, toward the empty space beside her, imagining she could still feel the heat of her, still smell her - rich and dark and powerfully enticing. Her stomach tightened, and she lingered for a moment, eyes closed, remembering.
She was drifting, pleasantly aroused, replaying the feel of Cam's fingertips along her thigh when warm lips brushed over her ear.
"Are you awake?"
She smiled, stretching under the light sheet that was still twisted from their passion the night before. "Only in some places."
"I was going to get breakfast," Cam said, leaning closer to kiss the sensitive spot at the base of her neck. "There's a service elevator in the building, isn't there? No need to announce my presence to whoever's on shift now."
She turned over on her back -- struck as she always was when she saw her -- by a surge of pure physical longing. Her body was already tingling. She rose and grasped Cam's hair in one hand, tugging her down for a kiss. She had only meant to say hello, but she wasn't used to the feel of her lips yet, didn't think she'd ever get used to them. Firm and hot and wonderfully responsive. The first meeting of smooth warm flesh became a light bite and then a serious exploration as she sucked and licked and tasted her, afraid she might die if she couldn't have more.
"God," she gasped when she finally dropped back to the pillow, her fingers still wrapped in Cam's thick hair. "I'm hungry."
Cam was breathing hard and her charcoal eyes burned as she looked down at her, her fine mouth curling into a smile at one corner. She ran a finger between Blair's breasts and murmured, "Why don't I think it's bagels you're talking about?"
Blair arched under her touch, the muscles in her stomach twitching as Cam stroked slowly lower. "I can have bagels any day," she managed, her hips lifting of their own accord as heat burst between her legs like a bonfire that had smoldered for hours, then roared to life on a whisper of wind. She hadn't wanted anyone to touch her in so long, and now she couldn't stop wanting it. She couldn't think, was afraid to think. God she was losing her mind.
"You have far too many clothes on," she whispered, reaching for the buttons on Cam's shirt. She needed to distract her, because if Cam moved any lower and touched her just once, she would lose it. Her nerve endings were already screaming for satisfaction, and it would be over far too quickly. That was something else she was afraid to think about. She had absolutely no control over her body with her. She'd made love to countless strangers, but it had never touched her inside. She'd walked away barely aroused, but with Cam, one slow smile, one brief caress, and she was wet and ready.
"You're not helping," Blair half-moaned as Cam's hands slid upward from her belly, cupping her breasts, her gifted fingers rubbing over her nipples.
"Oh yes," Cam murmured, her voice heavy and smooth, "I am."
Blair lost patience and pulled the last button off Cam's shirt, then pushed it roughly down her arms. "Get your clothes off," she ordered, having trouble catching her breath. Her blood was boiling, and a terrible pressure pounded along her spine. She'd come without Cam touching her if she weren't careful. "Cam, please," she pleaded before she could stop herself.
Something in her voice must have penetrated Cam's awareness, because suddenly she stood and threw off the shirt, her hands fumbling with the buttons on her jeans. "Hold on to it," Cam urged, her breathing ragged, as she stepped out of her pants and reached over to fling the sheet off Blair's body in one motion. She moved over her, naked now, and slipped one long, lean thigh between Blair's legs, sighing as their flesh met. They were both so wet, and the moisture flowed along their skin, fusing them.
"You are so beautiful," Cam whispered, both hands framing Blair's face. Holding Blair's gaze, she began a steady rhythm with her hips, pressing into her, then away, then down again, harder, faster, each thrust working them both a little higher.
Blair bit her lip, struggled to ignore those first spasms deep inside. "You're making me crazy," she cried brokenly.
"I want to make you come," Cam groaned, her voice hoarse, her eyes dimming with desire. She shivered, made a choking sound, and her lids flickered closed for an instant. "Ah, god. If - I- can last."
Blair, arms tight around her, back arched, trembling on the brink of dissolving, stared up into those dark, wild eyes, so close now, and wanted to believe. "I lo-," she stopped, too many years of guarding her secrets and hiding her fears standing in the way of the words. She ran her hands along Cam's back, found her hips, pulled her closer. "Take me away," she whispered into Cam's neck.
And Cam did. Even as she lost the battle with her own raging senses, she brought one hand between them and grasped Blair's nipple, squeezing hard, timing it to the rhythm of her hips. Blair cried out as Cam jerked violently with the first rush of her own orgasm, and then they were shuddering in each other's arms, lost and, finally, found.
Blair stared at Diane as if she'd never seen her before, drained by the memories.
"Wherever you just went," Diane commented dryly, "I'd give a lot to visit."
Blair laughed, but there was pain in her eyes. She shook her head ruefully. "So would I."
"So what happened?" Diane asked. She tried to remember the last time she had seen Blair so hurt, and couldn't.
Blair pushed back in her chair, running both hands through her hair, sighing. "She needed to go back to DC, and I had to leave the country. We talked on the phone, planned to meet as soon as we could."
She stood, walked to the small window that looked down upon the street. The nondescript black sedan bristling with antennae on the rear trunk that screamed 'undercover car' was still parked opposite the entrance to Diane's building. She could make out a shadowy figure in the front seat. Probably Stark by now. She wondered where Cam was, if she had slept.
"We knew it would be hard, but I thought --," her voice trailed off as she recalled their last conversation before parting. I thought we agreed she couldn't be on my detail. I thought we were going to work out a way to see each other. I thought she cared.
"So, what happened?" Diane asked from behind her, persisting gently.
Blair didn't turn, just kept looking off into the perfect spring morning, not seeing a thing. "The next time I saw her, she was at my door - and back on the job."
"Just like that?" Diane sounded incredulous. It didn't seem like Cam's style. She'd always impressed Diane with her regard for Blair's feelings, even when she was pissing Blair off by insisting that she follow orders. She must have known how devastated Blair would be to be left out of that kind of decision, something that affected her so personally. Blair's trust was so fragile, and Cameron Roberts simply didn't seem that cruel.
Blair finally left the window, stalked to the counter, grimaced when she found the coffee pot empty. "Yes. Just exactly like that."
Diane wanted to ask more, but the moment had passed. Blair's fury had returned, and in a way, Diane much preferred it to the pain. At least Blair had learned to survive with her rage. She wondered if Cameron Roberts had any idea how impossible Blair would be to control when she was not only angry, but wounded.
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