"Stark just radioed her position, Commander," Mac said when Cam walked over to the communications station at command central. "Egret is en route to the aerie."
"Good," Cam responded, glancing at her watch. "It's almost 1100 hours. I'll inform her of the security changes at my scheduled 1300 briefing with her. Would you confirm that meeting time with her upon arrival, please."
"Will do." He studied her as she stood glancing at the monitors, trying to read her mood. He couldn't miss the undercurrent of strain in her voice, but he supposed it could just be due to the sudden escalation of the situation with Lover Boy. Considering the recent revelations concerning the ongoing covert FBI task force, anyone else would have been raging about the outside interference and the infringement on their authority, but she looked just like she always did. Calm and controlled. Too calm, maybe. The kind of utter stillness you feel just before the bomb explodes.
"You can page me if you need me before then," she said, turning to leave. She needed to run off some tension. She had a splitting headache, which she attributed to her uneasy sleep. She didn't want to consider that the pounding ache behind her eyes might be due to the fact that she couldn't stop wondering if Blair had slept alone the night before.
As she turned to leave, Mac muttered, "Uh oh, this looks like trouble."
She turned back suddenly to the monitors, her heart racing. "What have we got?" She followed his eyes to the central screen that gave a view of the building's double entrance doors and the doorman's desk just to one side in the lobby. Taylor, on day shift, could be seen checking the identification of two individuals, one of whom she recognized immediately.
"Here come the cavalry," she complained under her breath. She rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Contact Stark and tell her I want her up here ASAP. Then bring our visitors back to the conference room. Get someone to take over out here for you."
"Yes ma'am," Mac said as he watched the man and woman cross the lobby toward the elevators. He had an almost irresistible urge to stand outside the door of the command center and bare his teeth. The first major battle of the turf war was about to begin.
"This is Special Agent Renee Savard," Patrick Doyle said officiously, indicating the woman with him. "She'll be assigned as personal guard to Egret until further notice."
Cam sensed Stark stiffen next to her. She commended her restraint but expected no less of her. She regarded Doyle implacably, happy to see that he was beginning to perspire. Her voice was totally even as she responded, "I have a full complement of experienced agents, Agent Doyle. Agent Stark is currently functioning as Egret's primary guard. I don't need anyone else."
Mac kept his mouth shut, watching the volleys flow back and forth across the table between the two senior agents. It'd been like this for the last thirty minutes, ever since SAC Doyle had arrived to 'inform' the Commander about the reorganization of Egret's security detail. It was clear that Doyle didn't have carte blanche from the security chief in DC, or he just would've walked in and taken command. But he was trying to bully his way to the top anyway. The Commander had been cool and composed and unyielding as stone. She hadn't given one inch, and he thought Doyle was starting to crack from sheer frustration. The guy clearly wasn't used to playing hardball.
"Look, Roberts," Doyle grated, his fists clenched on the stack of folders in front of him, "I can't run the task force effectively without an inside agent."
"You've been running it for months without one," Cam observed mildly, "although, as you say, not particularly effectively." She was still incensed that he had had the arrogance to keep the Secret Service on the outside when Blair was in imminent danger. On the other hand, she needed his intelligence as much as he needed her access. Her game, her rules, however. "I'll be happy to have Agent Savard come on board as a liaison. She cannot, however, function as Egret's security. She's not trained for it, and I don't know her."
Across from her, Doyle flushed. Next to him, the striking coffee- skinned woman lifted piercing blue eyes to Cam's with a flicker of anger. Cam continued, unperturbed. "In return, I expect daily briefings pertaining to any new information you might have."
"Are you suggesting that an FBI agent can't be trusted to secure the President's daughter?" Doyle demanded angrily, half-rising from his seat.
Cam stood, gathering her papers. She glanced at Doyle casually. "I don't know how an FBI agent would react if Egret's life were at stake. I do know how every one of my people would respond. This isn't the time for on-the-job training."
"With respect, Commander," Renee Savard said forcefully, "I am fully prepared to assume responsibility for Egret's safety. I would like the opportunity to carry out my assignment."
Cam studied her, impressed by her composure when it was clear that she was insulted. Still, this wasn't about personal feelings. This was about the willingness of one person to die for another. Secret Service agents were carefully screened and extensively tested to determine their psychological willingness to sacrifice themselves for an individual, or in many cases, an ideology. For better or for worse, this was what it took to do the job they did. The FBI and the Secret Service were not interchangeable, and she would not relax her requirements now, when the possibility of sacrifice was more than probable.
"Your request is duly noted, Agent. However, Agent Stark is primary on Egret's detail. If she can find a way for you to assist her, that's fine. And that's the best I can do for you."
She turned around and walked out, leaving the two Secret Service agents and the two FBI agents measuring one another across the expanse of the conference table.
"I want a close-up look at your surveillance system and an overview of your tactical routines," Doyle finally demanded of Mac, trying to regain some semblance of dominance.
Mac stood politely, taking a page from his commander's book, and said, "I can show you the relay station and the closed-circuit monitors. Right this way." He ignored Doyle's hard stare and his obvious displeasure. He wasn't going to offer any information on their video camera placement, building motion sensors, advance site preparation protocols or anything else without the Commander's clearance.
Stark and Savard sat in silence for a moment. Start considered any number of options, including her preference, which was to stick Savard with Mac in the control room. She was still smarting from the fact that she had been the object of an internal FBI review and had actually been considered a suspect in the shooting that almost killed her commander. She was also struggling with her own guilt over the fact that she had allowed Egret to unwittingly place herself in danger by eluding their surveillance. She needed to make amends, if to no one other than herself, and she wasn't going to miss her opportunity to do that. She didn't want any interference from the FBI.
"I'm not trying to take your job," Savard said, surprising Stark with her bluntness. "I'm just trying to do mine."
Stark blushed, wishing that she were better at hiding her feelings. She envied the Commander her ability to keep all of her feelings inside, something she had not yet learned to do. She regarded the other woman steadily, thinking that she didn't quite fit the standard FBI mold. She wore the requisite navy blue jacket and slacks, with a tailored pale blue shirt and the hint of a bulge over her left hip where her weapon was holstered. Cross draw, Stark thought absently. She was fit looking and projected an air of confidence, but Stark would've expected that as well. What she hadn't expected was the challenge in her intense blue eyes that was surprisingly without malice. She also couldn't help noticing that Savard was beautiful, beautiful in the way that cover models were beautiful, with elegant cheekbones and an exotic expression that suggested the Islands lingered somewhere not far in her background. Stark tried not to think about that as she answered, "My job is to safeguard the President's daughter. I'm not sure what your job is supposed to be."
"My job is to apprehend Lover Boy. Since Egret is what we have in common, I suggest we try to work together."
"I already have a partner," Stark said, but her resistance was wavering. It was hard not to respond to Renee Savard's compelling directness. "But there's room for a third," she finally relented, "as long as you don't interfere with me doing my job."
Renee Savard studied her opposite number. She envied Paula Stark. It was clear that Stark's formidable commander respected her abilities and awarded her with the appropriate responsibility. She wished very much that she could expect the same from Patrick Doyle, but she certainly didn't count on it. She had to admit, she also liked the way the dark haired, feisty young agent tilted her chin in a faintly aggressive posture as she staked out her territory. Under other circumstances, she might have considered her cute.
"That seems fair to me," Savard said, standing and extending her hand across the table. "Looking forward to working with you, Agent Stark."
"Is Egret in the aerie?" Cam asked the agent who was simultaneously watching a bank of six monitors displaying strategic points throughout the apartment building and running a real-time video of the previous twelve hours that had been captured by the cameras mounted at each corner of the external perimeter. He was able to view foot and vehicular traffic directly in front of the building for any time and from almost any direction he chose.
Without taking his eyes off the screens, he answered, "No ma'am. She went upstairs briefly and then directly into the park."
Cam glanced at the far upper-right monitor that showed a panoramic view of Gramercy Park, the block-wide private park across the street from Blair's apartment building. It was surrounded by towering pre-war buildings and completely enclosed with a high wrought-iron fence. She couldn't actually make visual contact with Blair, the foliage was too dense to permit that. Nevertheless, she looked for her.
"That's where I'll be," she finally said.
"Roger that," he said, making a note on his handheld personal unit about something he had seen on the video that he wanted to review from a different angle.
Cam was very much aware that Patrick Doyle was still on site, but she had absolutely no intention of being his tour guide. She had work to do, and her most immediate duty was to inform Blair that she could expect several new faces in her security detail. Unfortunately, that was the least difficult of the topics they needed to discuss.
She let herself into the park by unlocking one of the gates that permitted access to those with clearance and a key. The park was nearly small enough to see across. At the midpoint, in front of a small fountain, she could make out John Fielding. He was standing, statue-like, to all appearances staring vacantly into space. She knew, however, that he held Egret within his sight line and was in all likelihood turning at regular intervals to keep the entire square under careful watch. There was no way for a Secret Service agent to be unseen, and under some circumstances invisibility wasn't even desirable. The visible presence of a bodyguard was often enough to deter people from casual approach. On the other hand, Blair, like most in her position, understandably did not want every moment of her personal life witnessed. Because of that, the Secret Service agents were trained to walk a fine line between doing their job and actually impairing the lifestyle of those they guarded.
As Cam walked forward, she nodded briefly in his direction and he acknowledged her with an almost imperceptible motion of his head. She continued past him along a small gravel path flanked at discrete intervals by iron and wood benches to one of the most secluded and idyllic corners of the park. A riot of shrubs and flowers grew everywhere, a natural barrier offering privacy. Enough sunlight filtered through the overhead branches to outline Blair in a pale flickering glow.
Cam slowed as she approached, telling herself that she did not want to startle her. Actually, she wanted a few extra seconds just to observe her unaware. Blair was bent over a sketchpad, her legs drawn up under her on the bench. Her hair was loose, a tawny riot of curls reaching almost down to her shoulders. Cam knew how those tresses felt, flowing silken over her hands as she kissed her.
She was wearing a sleeveless shirt that exposed her arms, muscled from hours in the gym and tanned from the sun. She was striking in any lighting, remarkable in any pose, but never as much as when she was lost in her work. That was perhaps the only time, except after making love, when Cam had ever seen her at peace.
"Ms. Powell," Cam said quietly.
Blair lifted her hair away from her face with one hand and looked at the taller woman standing nearby. The sunlight was behind her, casting Cam's face in shadows. "Good afternoon, Commander."
"Am I disturbing you?"
Blair gestured to the bench beside her. "No."
Cam sat down, barely suppressing a sigh as she leaned back, warmed by Blair's presence as much as the afternoon sun.
"You wanted to speak to me?" Blair asked, knowing that she sounded stiff and formal, but unable to help it. It was so hard to be near her and pretend that there was nothing between them. It was even harder when she could see how weary Cam was. She was still angry with her - angry and hurt - but when she looked at her, she wanted to pull her down against her shoulder and stroke her. She pushed the image away with irritation. If Cam had needed that, needed her at all, she would never have let this happen. Besides, it wasn't what she wanted to happen either - this almost paralyzing ache that never seemed to lessen unless Cam was near. She had never wanted that, not with anyone. Ever since they had slept together, ever since she had allowed herself to hope, being near her had become something very close to constant pain. "More good news?" she asked again sarcastically.
"The FBI made an official appearance this morning," Cam began, watching the light play through the leaves of the trees above them. Blair was inches away, but she felt as if their skin touched along the length of her body. She knew it was only visceral memory, but the sensation was so acute that her blood was racing. She wondered how long it would be before she could be close to her and not respond. She feared that it would be a very long time.
"I take it you're not pleased," Blair said, wondering at Cam's odd stillness.
"That, Ms. Powell, is considered classified information. According to any number of sections in the manual, personal observations on internal matters should not be shared, especially with civilians," Cam said lightly, a half smile on her face. Her eyes, however, were wintry as she thought of the weeks that Blair had been a potential target and none of them had known.
"Well, we both know how dear the manual is to you," Blair rejoined sharply.
Cam didn't bother to protest. How could she? She'd chosen duty over Blair's wishes. She had no defense. And ordinarily she would never discuss matters of protocol with someone she guarded. But she and Blair had gone so far beyond the limits of acceptable professional behavior, it was ridiculous to stand on ceremony now. It was enough that she did not touch her. That was a hardship she had created herself and would learn to bear. She would not place Blair at a disadvantage because she had overstepped her bounds. "I thought that you should know."
"At least one of them will be working with our detail in direct contact with you. I expect they'll add their own car as well."
"That's not too subtle, is it?" Blair asked pointedly. "It's going to send a message that I give a damn what he says."
"It's going to send a message that you are well-protected and not a ready target," Cam answered immediately.
Blair looked away, across the park, wishing that she could be sitting there with nothing more on her mind than the sexy sound of Cam's deep voice, enjoying the flutter of desire that just being near her always produced. She sighed. "I guess it really doesn't matter. One more here or there won't change anything."
"They've been on surveillance for the last several months, and in truth, I don't mind taking advantage of their information-gathering capabilities. They've got access to much larger databases than we do, and at this point, I'll take everything I can get."
Blair sketched aimlessly as they talked, trying to absorb the words without letting them penetrate to her core. She couldn't live in terror every day. "Is this serious, do you think?"
It was a question she had avoided asking for months. Cam was the only one that she dared ask, because in spite of everything, Cam was the only one she trusted to see her frightened.
Cam watched Blair's hands move gracefully, with absolute certainty, over the surface of the paper, wishing she could touch her, just enough to comfort her. Her hands trembled she wanted to so much. The feeling was so strong, she pressed her palms flat against her thighs to hold them there. "I don't know," she answered, her voice low. "I have to assume that it is."
Blair nodded, not speaking. There was nothing she could do about any of it - the crazy lunatic sending her messages, the FBI dogging her steps, Cameron determined to accept the assignment her father directed her to take. She was uncomfortable feeling that helpless, especially when she had struggled her entire life for some semblance of independence. For the moment, however, she couldn't see any other course of action. "All right. I can live with it, if you can."
Cam laughed sharply. There was a tinge of irony in her voice as she responded, "We have something in common there, Ms. Powell. Neither of us has a choice."
Cam looked down at the drawing, surprised to see her own face appearing. She studied the image, taken aback by the fierce, reserved expression. She wondered if that was all that Blair saw of her. She knew the answer as Blair's talented hands sketched her eyes and captured the shadows in her soul.
"Blair," Cam said softly.
Blair's hand faltered on the paper at the gentle intimacy in Cam's tone. It was the subtle changes in Cameron Roberts that never failed to tear at her heart. In one moment she was professional, aloof, as impersonal as any agent who had ever guarded her. And then she would say Blair's name with all the feeling that Blair could ever hope to hear from another human being. It was everything she wanted, and everything she feared. She didn't raise her eyes, but continued drawing the sharp features and the wild eyes, unable to look at the woman, knowing if she did she would touch her. "What?" She queried quietly.
Cam took a deep breath, wishing she had did not have to ask. "I'd like you to reconsider the race on Sunday. I'd like you not to go."
Blair stiffened, the pencil finally stilling. "I have to go. I'm the keynote speaker."
"Would you consider just arriving for the speech, but not racing?"
Blair put her sketchpad aside and turned on the bench until she was fully facing Cam. For the first time, she looked directly into her face, directly into her eyes. "It's more than political, this event. This is personal."
Cam nodded, understanding all too well. She knew why. Sunday was the annual Race for the Cure, a huge fundraiser for the treatment of breast cancer. Blair's mother had died of the disease when Blair was nine years old. She understood what it was to lose a parent. "I'm asking you, recommending it strongly to you, that you do not run in the race."
Blair knew that Cam could not order her not to race. "Why are you asking me this?"
Cam hesitated before answering. It was her job not only to guard Blair physically, but also to give her some semblance of normality, as ironic as that appeared on the surface of things. She didn't want to worry her unnecessarily. That's what she was getting paid to do - the worrying. She hedged her answer.
"I'm not sure I can run 15 miles." She didn't intend to tell her that it was a security nightmare. That even coordinating with New York City police and the transit police, and putting agents physically with Blair along the race route, it was about as unsecured a position as Blair could be in. Under any circumstances it would have been difficult. Now, with the threat that Lover Boy posed, it was nearly impossible. She supposed that she could go to the director of the Secret Service and request that he contact the President's security chief - try an end run around Blair. But she new damn well that if anyone ordered Blair not to participate in anything, let alone something as important to her as this, they could expect her to do exactly the opposite. And probably with no cooperation whatsoever. She said nothing, waiting for Blair to digest the request.
"I need to do this," Blair stated calmly. "I've seen you run, Commander. You can handle the distance quite well. I'll be fine." She couldn't stop herself from adding, "And I'll enjoy your company."
Cam was silent a moment, considering the options. This was the reason that personal relationships were discouraged. She couldn't think clearly because she cared about how Blair felt. She was afraid that she might care more about Blair's feelings than about her safety, and that kind of involvement was undermining her position and her authority and worst of all, it was impairing her judgment. She cursed softly under her breath. "I hope to hell that Stark can make it, too, because we're both going to need to go with you."
"Thank you," Blair said softly. She knew that Cam had relented against her better judgment. She touched her hand briefly, a fleeting gesture of appreciation. "It will be all right," she said, wishing somehow that were true.
Cam knew that she should go. Blair had sought privacy and peace in a quiet corner of this tiny sanctuary, and Cam had brought danger and uncertainty into it. For the first time that she could recall, she resented her job.
"I'm sorry I had to bring that up," Cam said, surprising them both. "I should leave you to your work."
"You don't have to be sorry," Blair responded softly. "And you don't need to leave."
Before Cam could respond, her earphone crackled to life. She turned her head slightly away, listening a moment. The expression on her face became grim, but her voice was completely uninflected as she said softly into the tiny microphone clipped to the collar of her blazer, "Send him in then."
She turned to Blair and informed her, "It seems that we have company."
Blair looked past Cam across the tiny park as a large man hurried towards them. "This would be the FBI, I presume," she noted tightly, a look of faint repugnance on her face.
Cam laughed in spite of herself. "Very observant, Ms. Powell. Perhaps you should consider a future career in intelligence."
Blair smiled faintly, but there was no laughter in her eyes. "Believe me, Commander, by this time I can recognize every branch of our esteemed intelligence agencies by the cut of an agent's suit and the arrogance in their walk. At least the Secret Service has always been polite."
"Ms. Powell," the burly man said imperiously, looking down at the two women on the bench, but pointedly ignoring Cam. "I'm Special Agent in Charge Patrick Doyle, Federal Bureau of Investigation. I wanted to meet you in person since I'll be spearheading your security detail until such time as we have apprehended the UNSUB."
Blair saw Cam go rigid beside her, and she said very coolly, "Mister Doyle, my security is a matter for Commander Roberts. If you have something to relay to me in that regard, I suggest you do it through her. One daily briefing is all I can tolerate." She gathered her sketchpad and drawing pencils and stood abruptly, forcing Doyle back a step. She glanced at Cam, whose expression was most likely unreadable to Doyle, but she saw the hint of laughter in her eyes. She smiled softly at her and turned to go. "I'll leave you two to sort out your territory."
Patrick Doyle turned on his heel and watched the President's daughter walk away. A muscle stood out in his jaw as he ground his teeth. When he faced Cam again, his fury was tinged with contempt. "She doesn't know what's good for her," he said condescendingly. "I suppose you think you do?"
Cam stood, and when she did she was nearly eye-to-eye with him. "I don't pretend to know what's good for Ms. Powell, but I can assure you of one thing. I know precisely what's good for her security. I can also advise you that if you have any suggestions or recommendations regarding that matter, you bring them to me. That's the chain of command, and I suggest you follow it."
He moved forward a step, trying unsuccessfully to force her back. Their chests were almost touching. "Listen here, Roberts," he growled, his face livid. "You get in my way on this thing and there just might be a little leak to the media about what you like to do in your off-hours, and who you like to do it with."
"We've been down this road before, Doyle," Cam responded, her eyes never leaving his. "You're wasting your time."
"Your director and the Security Chief might not think so if your activities happen to involve the President's daughter."
She smiled at him, a thin smile, cold and hard as granite. "Doyle, you really are a fool if you think you can take on Blair Powell. She'll have you for lunch."
She stepped lightly around him and walked out of the park the way she had come.
She glanced across the street, thinking that Blair was probably already back in her apartment. She contemplated going after her and then stopped abruptly when she realized why she wanted to. She missed her already.
Nine stories up, Blair leaned against the window frame, staring down at Cameron Roberts. Her security chief was standing just outside the gates of the park, her hands in her pockets, one shoulder leaning against the stone pillar that marked the entrance to the square. Patrick Doyle stormed through the gate and passed her without a word.
She looks so tired, Blair thought to herself. She could only imagine how difficult it must be for Cam dealing with the FBI presence. She'd been around politics all her life, and she knew that interagency power struggles were vicious and self-interest paramount. Often agents lost sight of their objective in their eagerness to advance their own positions. She had no doubt that Patrick Doyle cared less for her safety than for his own desire to be the one to apprehend Lover Boy. She wasn't foolish enough to think that she really mattered to him, and she didn't care. She knew - more importantly, she felt - that to Cameron, she did.
She'd felt that caring the first time Cameron walked into her loft and made it clear that she would do her job, but that she'd try to make it tolerable for Blair. She'd seen it manifest in horrific detail the day Cam had stepped in front of her and almost died from the bullet meant for her. She didn't want to see that again. She didn't want Cam standing in front of her for any reason, but certainly not for a reason that could cost Cam her life.
Why couldn't you just have told him no? she wondered for the hundredth time. She knew the answer. Cameron hadn't accepted this assignment just because the President of the United States had requested her. She'd taken the assignment because that was what she did. That was who she was. Some part of Blair could respect that. Some part of her could even understand it. But knowing it and understanding it did not change what she felt. She didn't want or need Cam's protection. She resented that she needed it from anyone, but at least she had made some form of peace with that.
What she wanted from Cameron was the one thing that she had given up hoping for, or had simply stopped looking for, in another human being. Cam touched her in some deep place that others never imagined existed, and that's what she so desperately needed. Cam didn't try to tell her to accept her circumstances or to be grateful for her privilege, as so many others before her had. She was equally oblivious to Blair's status, a welcome respite from the solicitous attentions of so many. Most importantly, Cam understood her anger and forgave her fury.
She watched Cam walk around the corner toward her own apartment building, and after a moment, she turned back to her empty loft. Seeing Cam, being as close to her as they had been just moments before, had left her restless and edgy with the low throb of desire. It always seemed to happen when they were anywhere near each other. She didn't want to feel it, and she didn't want to think about it. Her gaze fell on a large oil canvas, and she studied it critically from across the room. She didn't consider the details at first, but rather the gestalt, the sense of it. She felt it, rather than saw it. Slowly, after a minute or two, she focused her attention on the elements of the painting - on the colors and contrast and movement of the eye over the images. By the time she advanced from the window to stand in front of her work in progress, her mind was clear and briefly, her heart was free.
Cam decided it was much safer to run - safer than seeing Blair again so soon. It had been the same since the first time she'd met with her, this rebellion of her body in the face of good sense. She was aware of it now, a simmering tension that ran along the tendons and the muscles and the nerves in her legs and twisted inside like a starving beast. She knew what it was; she'd felt it for months before she had finally relented. Being with Blair hadn't blunted the urgency, touching her hadn't lessened the wanting, making love with her had not muted the desire. She could feel Blair's skin hot under her hands and the hard beat of her under her lips. She could taste her still.
There were ways to deal with the body's demands - safe, simple, unencumbered ways. Pleasant, mutually satisfying, emotionally secure ways. She was reminded of Claire's note, left for her to find after their last night together.
If ever you need - anything, call me. C.
Cam tossed her jacket on the bed, shrugged out of her shoulder harness and began unbuttoning her shirt. Yeah, right, she muttered, stripping down to her briefs and pulling shorts and t-shirt from a drawer. Simple.
She wasn't certain any longer that Claire's admittedly talented ministrations could assuage the hunger. Still, physical desire - that she could deal with, one way or the other. It was more than just the wanting, and that was the problem. It was the aching in her heart that tormented her. Blair didn't just arouse her, she awakened her. Every emotion she had so carefully stilled came roaring back to life when she thought of her. Blair's ferocious will stirred her even as Blair's tenderness, so invisible to others, comforted her. Blair made her nearly mad with frustration and soothed her with the barest of touches. Blair devastated her with a smile.
She hit the pavement running, desperate to stop thinking. She just needed a few weeks to assess the seriousness of the threat to Blair. Once she had access to all the available intelligence, she could turn over more of the day-to-day security to Mac. Maybe then she and Blair could talk, maybe then they could - What? What? Carry on an affair under Doyle's nose? Risk Blair's privacy and the President's public image with a backroom love affair that the media would make tabloid headlines with? Perfect.
She pounded steadily along the East River, although the scenery barely registered. She'd hurt her. Knowing she'd hurt her, seeing it in her eyes, was harder than anything she'd ever had to bear. Even harder than when Janet had died, because then, and for months after, she'd just been numb.
Mercifully numb. Frozen with the senselessness, the stupidity, the guilt. She should have known about the raid that morning. It was her job to know those things; it was her responsibility to know those things.
But she had not been part of the plan. Despite the fact that she and her team had been investigating the same splinter faction of cocaine dealers as the other agencies, the DEA had orchestrated the entire scenario that morning. The ATF and the Secret Service had only been informed at the last minute of the impending maneuver. By some all too common breakdown in the local-federal law enforcement communication lines, no one had realized until too late that the DC Metropolitan police had an undercover narcotics agent inside the warehouse where the exchange of very authentic counterfeit money for a huge cache of drugs was to take place. Janet had already been on site when the assault began. The sting operation had gone bad almost from the beginning. A lookout no one anticipated had seen the armored cars approaching and radioed the Colombians in the building where the buy was going down. The men inside had been heavily armed and prepared to defend themselves. Shots had begun as soon as the battering rams cracked the wide double doors. Janet had been directly in the line of fire. Cam had gone inside right behind the first wave of commandos. The air had been heavy with the smell of cordite and thick with the sound of screaming. Orders, curses, cries of agony. Janet had taken one of the first bullets and was down before Cam shouldered her way past the splintered remains of the reinforced doors. By the time she reached her, Janet was almost gone. Cam would never be certain how to interpret the look in her eyes those last few seconds. She couldn't help thinking that it was an accusation.
If it had been, she deserved it.
She ran into the park, sweat pouring from her face, oblivious to the cramps beginning in her thighs or the faint ache behind her eyes. She should have known. She should have protected her.
At 0700 Sunday morning, Cam waited in the lobby of Blair's apartment building along with Stark and Savard. She had sent Mac on ahead to supervise the last minute details in Prospect Park and to advise the commanders of the municipal security teams that she wanted to meet with them personally before the start of the race. The New York City Transit Police would have squadrons of officers in the subway system, the New York Police Department would provide security along the race route, and the mayor's detail would be on the speaker's platform where he, Blair, and others would speak at the completion of the race. It was standard operating procedure for the Secret Service to coordinate all the security forces whenever any member of the First Family or the Vice President's family was making a public appearance. She was running through the details in her mind when the elevator door opened and Blair walked out.
Blair was dressed for the run almost identically to Cam - a light nylon windbreaker over a T-shirt, running shorts and shoes. She had caught her hair back at the base of her neck as she usually did for public outings, substituting a length of dark ribbon for the customary gold clasp. Her light make-up was superfluous on a face made for the camera. Even her attitude was different - she walked quickly, purposefully, with barely a glance at her surroundings. She too had a job to accomplish, one she had been performing in her mother's absence for over fifteen years. She was the reigning queen of her father's dynasty and often accompanied him to State affairs or represented him when the social circumstances required it. Today she was appearing as the President's daughter, and although not a role that was always comfortable for her, it was one she knew well.
She hesitated briefly when she saw Cam. They smiled at each other, forgetting for a moment that there was anyone else in the room. It was one of those automatic responses that neither of them could prevent, that brief surge of pleasurable recognition that was beyond volition or better judgment.
In an instant, their smiles disappeared and they greeted one another formally.
"Good morning, Ms. Powell," Cam said as she turned and began walking beside her, Stark and Savard falling in on either side.
Blair nodded quickly and continued toward the front door without breaking stride again. Per routine, Stark held the door open and Cam went through just slightly ahead and to the right of Blair. Cam hesitated fleetingly at the sidewalk as she looked up and down the street and then across the park, just as she had the day the shot was fired. It was so subtle that no one except another agent would have noticed. No one else except Blair.
Blair was always acutely aware of the way Cam positioned herself between Blair and any potential threat, even when they just walked down the sidewalk together. In this particular location, she would never lose that instant of stomach-churning fear.
Cam sensed Blair stiffen beside her and murmured in a voice too low for anyone else to hear, "It's just procedure. Try to ignore it."
"I'd like to be able to," Blair said just as softly as they crossed the sidewalk toward the black limousine. It would be so much simpler if she could. "But I can't."
Cam stood by the door as Blair slid into the back seat, then followed her in while Stark and Savard proceeded to the car idling just in front of theirs.
As they pulled away, Blair said coolly, "I'll be meeting some people when we get there."
Cam regarded her carefully, slightly surprised that she was volunteering information, while at the same time mildly annoyed that she hadn't told them sooner. Blair wasn't required to tell them everything, of course, but it was always helpful to have as much advance data as possible. However, she was grateful for this small improvement in communication. "Will they be joining you for the run?" Cam asked.
Blair nodded, watching out the tinted windows of the limousine as the city slid by. "Yes. I've invited Diane and another friend."
Cam didn't ask for the details. She wondered, however, if she would be spending another day watching the admittedly attractive Dr. Coleman pursue Blair.
You put yourself in this position, and you knew what it would mean, she reminded herself. But she couldn't help but think that she hadn't come close to imagining how difficult it would be. She also hadn't expected it to be so complicated for the two of them to talk. The lack of privacy didn't help, but it was more than that. She had to admit that part of it was pride, and some of it was pain, and a great deal of it was a lifetime of defenses, on both sides, standing between them now.
Cam tried to put her personal feelings aside until the day's work was done. "Savard, Stark, and I will be with you along the route."
Blair turned her attention from the window to study Cam. It was a face she never seemed to tire of looking at. Seeing her made something inside her pulse, swift and sharp and hot -- it was part desire and part longing and, so unexpectedly, part tenderness. It defied explanation, but in spite of everything, she welcomed the sensation. "Special Agent Savard is quite the beauty," Blair observed dryly.
Cam raised an eyebrow but decided comment was probably not required. Renee Savard was indeed an attractive woman, now that she considered it. She hadn't thought about it earlier, in fact, she hadn't paid much attention to her other than to consider what to do with her. Savard was an agent under her command by circumstance, but under her command nonetheless, and that was the only way she thought of her. When she noted Savard's appearance at all, it was merely to reflect that despite her photographic beauty, almost anyone paled when compared to Blair. Blair's beauty was fired by her passion and her temper and her absolute unwillingness to yield. She was beautiful in a way so primal that being near her made Cam's skin burn.
"What?" Blair asked quietly.
Cam blinked, uncharacteristically startled. "I'm sorry?"
"You were smiling," Blair said, a slight edge to her voice. "Thinking of Savard, were you?"
"No. Actually," Cam said before she could stop herself, "I was thinking of you."
Across the narrow expanse of the limousine where they sat facing one another on opposite seats, their legs nearly touching, Blair's blue eyes darkened to indigo. "You should try doing that more often," she said, her tone throaty with invitation.
Cam met her gaze, captivated by the heat in her eyes. For a moment forgetting everything else, she said, her voice husky, "No, Ms. Powell, I shouldn't. It's distracting."
"Well, Commander," Blair said very slowly, very quietly, staring at the pulse that beat rapidly in Cam's neck, "I like you when you're distracted. In fact, I like you that way very much.""You're distracting me," Cam complained playfully as she tried to read the newspaper.
"I like you when you're distracted," Blair responded, running her hand over the soft cotton fabric of the sweatpants Cam wore. "In fact, I like distracting you."
They were lying together on the couch in the late afternoon sun in Diane's apartment. They had finally managed to shower and dress, which for the first eighteen hours they had been together they hadn't been able to accomplish. Every time they made it into the shower one or the other of them would start something and they'd end up back in bed. Starvation finally drove them to get up. Cam eventually made a trip to a nearby deli for sandwiches and newspapers and something to drink.
"What do you imagine they think I'm doing up here?" Blair mused, her fingers tracing the seam along the inside of Cam's thigh.
Cam sighed, most of her attention focused on the light pressure of Blair's fingers moving rhythmically up and down the same fine line, over and over again, creeping higher up the inside of her leg each time. She settled back against the cushions, her muscles twitching faintly at Blair's touch. "They're not supposed to think anything about it at all." Her voice caught softly as Blair stroked closer to the heat between her legs.
"Maybe they're not supposed to, but they are human, aren't they," Blair continued. She lifted the edge of Cam's shirt and circled her hand over Cam's stomach, absently drawing one finger up and down the center of Cam's body. "I've come so many times in the last twenty-four hours I didn't think anything could excite me," she said in wonder. "But, God, you do." She pressed her palm swiftly to the triangle between Cam's thighs, making her jump, then just as quickly moved it back to Cam's stomach. "So, you were saying about discretion?"
Cam's voice was low, heavy with the urgency of mounting desire as she answered," Their jobs depend upon it. But it's more than that..." She was aware of the fact that her breath was coming a little faster and that her sentences were a bit choppy. She knew she was wet again and hardening with the rush of blood and need. She took a breath and added, "Believe it or not, we understand that what we do is an infringement. The very least we can do is not speculate upon what we observe."
She looked down, watching Blair's fingers move under her T-shirt. She wondered at the ease with which Blair was able to ignite every nerve ending with a caress. She had absolutely nothing to say about it. It was as if her body succumbed to Blair's touch as a tree yielded to the wind, bending to her will. "Blair," she warned huskily, wondering if Blair had any idea what she was doing to her.
"You have the most amazing body," Blair observed casually, massaging her palm over Cam's rib cage, brushing fleetingly over her chest, smiling as Cam's nipples stiffened rapidly. Cam groaned and reached for her, and just as quickly, Blair leaned away.
"I think you should just read the newspaper and ignore me," Blair said with a perfectly serious expression.
Cam's eyes widened slightly, her hands rubbing lightly up and down Blair's arms. Her skin felt hot. "I don't think I could concentrate."
"Try," Blair suggested with a hint of command in her voice. "In fact, why don't you read the headlines out loud? A synopsis of today's current events would be good. Make yourself useful."
"Blair," Cam said, ominously now. "I've been trained to resist torture."
Blair burst out laughing and loosened the ties on Cam's sweatpants, slipping to the floor to kneel between Cam's legs. "Oh really? Well then, Commander, let's put that training to the test. Go ahead - read."
Cam reached for the New York Times and held the folded newspaper in her right hand. The pages fluttered as her fingers trembled. "Uh - let's see. Uh -dot com stocks rose finally --" She gasped when Blair pulled at the skin of her lower abdomen with her teeth. "God-"
"I'm listening," Blair murmured, eyes nearly closed. She licked the red spot she had just bitten and pushed the cotton fabric farther down Cam's thighs. She pressed her palms to the inside of Cam's legs, bringing her thumbs very close to the visibly swollen clitoris. Cam's hips arched and she groaned again.
"Not until I hear the sports scores," Blair whispered, leaning forward and kissing the soft skin at the top of Cam's thigh. "How about them Yankees?"
"Blair," Cam gasped, tossing the paper aside. "I can't -- read. I can't talk - I can barely breathe."
Blair brushed her thumb lightly over the tip of her clitoris.
Cam pushed back against the couch, her neck arched, her hands fisted by her sides. "I'm ready -- do that again - to divulge -- ah, yes - right there - State secrets." She found Blair's face with one hand, moved her fingers into her hair, pulled her closer. "Suck me," she gasped, her voice cracking with need.
Blair held off another second, but not without effort. She was shaking. "God," she whispered, "I want to taste you."
When Blair finally circled her with her lips, Cam jerked, her fingers convulsing in Blair's hair. She clamped her jaws down on a moan and tried to think of anything except the waves of pleasure coursing down her legs, up her spine, through her guts. She wanted it never to end. She pushed against Blair's mouth, dimly aware that she might bruise her, trying not to press too hard. But she couldn't stop, couldn't get enough air, couldn't hold it back. "Blair-" she cried, lifting off the couch as her legs stiffened, pounded by the fury of the orgasm whipping through her.
Before Cam regained her bearings, Blair was in her arms, straddling her thigh, rocking hard on her leg, her face pressed to Cam's neck.
"You make me burn," Blair moaned, clutching Cam as she climbed frantically to her peak. "You make me -ooh-"
Her words were lost in a strangled cry and all Cam could do was hold onto her, embracing her securely while she took her pleasure.
The limousine pulled to a stop on the edge of the green in Prospect Park. Cam shuddered faintly, her dark eyes liquid with unspoken emotion. She struggled to keep her voice steady as she said, "I'm not interested in being distracted."
"That's your problem, Commander," Blair said softly, seeing the arousal Cam couldn't successfully hide. "Not mine."
As she slid across the seat toward the door, she ran her hand down the length of Cam's thigh. She smiled to herself as Cam gasped sharply. "I told you once your body never lies."
original fiction index | xena homepage | what's new | amazontrails.com