"We'll be briefing at 0900, Agent Savard," Cam said calmly as Savard started out of the kitchen with a cup of coffee. Her voice was steady, but her autonomic nervous system was still responding to Blair's hands on her. She felt her own hands trembling and buried them in the pockets of her jeans.
"Yes, ma'am," Savard replied, looking back from the doorway. The Commander met her gaze directly, her gray eyes completely unreadable. It wasn't that hard to read Blair Powell's expression, however. She was still looking at Cameron Roberts like she wanted to swallow her whole. Savard figured if she hadn't walked in at such an indelicate moment, Blair might have been better able to hide her feelings. She usually was.
"Anything you need from me in advance, Commander?" Savard asked, withdrawing onto safer ground. She didn't imagine privacy was something either of these women had very much of, and it wasn't her job to infringe on what little they had.
"I don't suppose you have a report from the FBI field team on when I'll have their videotapes from the park, do you?"
For a moment, Savard looked away, embarrassed. She didn't want to admit that she was out of the loop, and had been ever since she had told Doyle that she would be happy to work on the inside with Egret's security detail, but that she wouldn't pass him information outside of channels. He'd been angry, but he couldn't order her to do it. It was a messy situation, but she was still FBI, and she'd keep their dirty laundry private. She simply shook her head. "I've had no updates since arriving here, Commander."
Cam nodded, having expected nothing different. She knew Doyle would keep his intelligence reports from her as long as he could. "That's all then."
Savard left without another word, and Cam turned to Blair, a rueful smile on her face. Blair's eyes were still deep with desire and it took all of Cam's willpower not to touch her again. "I had better get to work. We should have some food supplies within the hour, and your clothes will be coming later today. I sent Grant back to the city this morning. I thought she would know what you needed."
"What about Stark?" Blair asked, unsuccessfully trying to ignore the lingering ache of arousal deep within her. Much more of this torture and she was going to lose her mind. "Is she all right?"
"She was cleared for duty, but I suspect she's downplaying her symptoms," Cam said quietly, watching Blair's fingers caress the side of her coffee mug. She has such sensitive fingers. She always manages to find just the right spot, and then she strokes it so --. Cam swallowed, pulled her eyes away, and added, "Since we won't be traveling for a few days, she may be okay."
Blair tore her gaze from Cam's mouth, which she had just been imagining on her skin, and asked sharply, "You expect this to be an extended stay then?"
Cam moved, leaning against the opposite counter, needing the distance from Blair in the narrow space so that she could concentrate. She was having trouble thinking about anything at the moment except the way Blair touched her when she was hungry. "I don't know yet. At the very least, another day. I'm hoping to have preliminary reports from the ATF bomb center in a few hours. I expect that the FBI profiler and the ATF Commander will be here sometime later today for a briefing. All the videotapes from our cameras and the FBI teams, if they cooperate, will be arriving here along with our computer equipment this afternoon."
"Why can't I go home?" Blair asked softly, thinking that there she would at least be able to touch her, just touch her, without someone walking in on them.
Cam heard her unhappiness and wanted to hold her. Just long enough to comfort. "Your apartment building is being checked this morning, just to be certain we don't have any breach in security there."
Blair listened, trying to absorb the magnitude of the investigation, realizing that this was not something that was going to disappear overnight. It was like a huge machine, already set in place and running, and there would be no stopping it. She was at the center of the hurricane, and all she could hope was that the eye of the storm would be large enough to allow her to breathe - and to steal a few moments with Cam.
"Tonight then?" Blair asked hopefully.
Cam shook her head. "We don't know enough yet. We assume that the car bomb was some kind of message from Loverboy, but it could just as easily be a terrorist attempt on your life or a warning to the government from some extremist group that wants recognition. It could be the first of a series of bombings that don't involve you personally at all. You're safe here, and until we gather intelligence from the CIA and the anti-terrorist divisions of the NSA and FBI, and get an analysis of the bomb and a few hundred other bits of information, you can't go home. For the next few days, I'm using this as our command center. I'd like you to remain here for at least that long."
Cam waited, knowing that what she was saying was probably more threatening to Blair than the physical attack on her life. This kind of focus would mean an even greater assault on her privacy and a more pervasive objectification of her life. There would be very little time, and almost no place, for her to live normally in the midst of such scrutiny.
"Do I have a choice?" Blair asked angrily, imagining being surrounded by strangers twenty-four hours a day. Not just in the background anymore, but literally in the same room with her.
"We could have a helicopter take you back to the White House where the White House guard would be responsible for your security."
Cam held her breath, knowing that in theory Blair should be perfectly safe inside the White House. Except that she knew damn well that Blair wouldn't stay inside the White House, and there was no one there that she trusted to guard her. And she'd go crazy if she thought that Blair was likely to slip away from her security detail and inadvertently place herself in danger. And she didn't think she could stand being separated from her now.
"Why can't you come back with me to DC?" Blair asked, risking disappointment, but needing so desperately just to be with her.
"I need to stay here, Blair," Cam added quietly, hating to say the words that she knew would hurt her. "At least until I'm sure that I'm getting all the information that I need. It's going to make a difference in the future. Sooner or later you'll be visible again." She didn't add that Blair would be vulnerable again then, too.
"Well," Blair commented dully, struggling to hide the ache of rejection, "better the enemy you know. I'll stay."
"Thank you," Cam said softly. "A few days, and I'll try to get you home again."
Blair looked at Cam, anger warring with desire. "I hope so, because I'm not sure how long I can stand this."
Cam couldn't bear seeing the pain in her eyes. She couldn't bear being the cause of it one more time. "Blair," she whispered, her voice husky with the need to soothe her, "I'd give anything in my power to make this different for you. I can't."
Blair stared at her, uncertain whether she wanted to scream or cry. "God, Cameron. You don't get it at all, do you?" She took one step closer, clenching her fists to keep her hands off her. She wanted her so much! "I don't want you to fix it. I want you to touch me."
Cam didn't have the strength to look into Blair's eyes and lie to her. She couldn't say no to her, because she couldn't tell her she didn't want her. Not again. She wavered slightly on her feet as she lost the battle with sense and reason.
"Come with me," Cam said hoarsely.
Blair hesitated for half a second, staring after Cam as she turned abruptly and walked away. Then she hastened to follow, catching up to her at the beginning of the hallway that led to the rear of the house where most of the bedrooms were situated.
"Fielding is down there," Blair said in an urgent whisper.
"I know that," Cam said curtly. "I posted him there last night."
She reached Blair's bedroom door and opened it, stepping to one side so Blair could enter, then followed her through and closed the door. When Blair turned, confusion in her eyes and a question on her lips, Cam reached out with her left hand and gathered the fabric of Blair's oversized T-shirt in her fist, pulling Blair roughly to her. She lowered her head and captured Blair's mouth, swallowing Blair's gasp of surprise with a kiss. She kept her hand twisted in the material, forcing Blair against her as she slowly walked them across the bedroom toward the open bathroom door.
Blair had no choice but to hold on. She raised one arm and wrapped it around Cam's uninjured shoulder, threading her fingers through the hair at Cam's neck. John Fielding, and the fact that the house was filled with federal agents and other assorted individuals, were completely forgotten. At that moment, she couldn't have cared less. All she was aware of was the heat pouring from Cameron's body and the demanding press of Cam's mouth on hers. Cam's kiss was anything but gentle, but even in her haste, Cam was careful not to hurt her.
They were five feet from the adjoining room when Cam relinquished Blair's mouth and moved her lips to Blair's neck, biting her hard enough to draw a startled cry.
"God, Cam," Blair exclaimed, struggling to keep her voice low. "If you leave a mark everyone out there will know."
"Shut up," Cam replied, quickly releasing the shirt and in the same motion, driving her hand beneath it until she found Blair's breast.
When Cam's fingers closed firmly on the taut nipple, Blair's legs began to quiver so unexpectedly that she stumbled. She pressed her face to Cam's shoulder, eyes squeezed tightly closed, struggling desperately to contain a moan. They were still staggering towards the bathroom, and she reached between them, trying to work the buttons open on Cam's jeans. Her hands shook so much she couldn't manage.
"I'm going crazy," Blair gasped against Cam's neck. "I'm so hot I can't stand it."
Cam pushed her up against the wall beside the open bathroom door. She dragged down the loose cotton sweatpants that were the last tangible barrier between them. As she bared Blair's thighs, she looked into her eyes and said, "I know."
Then, still staring into Blair's eyes, she slipped her hand between Blair's legs, gliding smoothly through the wet heat, entering her in one fluid motion. She held her breath, watching Blair's pupils dilate and her lids flutter nearly closed.
Blair caught her lower lip between her teeth, arching her hips with the sudden pleasure as Cam filled her. Her head thudded against the wall and her entire body shook. "More," she managed to gasp.
Cam straddled Blair's thigh, pressing herself, swollen and hard, against Blair's leg. She withdrew her fingers, added another, and entered her again, deeper this time. Their lips were a fraction of an inch apart, their gazes locked.
Blair spasmed repeatedly around Cam's fingers, clutching desperately at Cam's hips, trying to stay upright. "I'm coming," she whispered brokenly.
Cam leaned her forehead against Blair's, stroking almost completely out and then moving into her again, pushing deeper still with each thrust. "I know," she murmured. "I know."
Blair clung to her, shuddering as wave upon wave of sensation flooded her body. She buried her face against Cam's shoulder, trying to contain her cries, whimpering softly as the last contractions fluttered through her belly. "Don't let go," she gasped finally.
Cam was still inside her, and they were pressed tightly together, using the wall as support. Her breath heaved through her chest as she hovered on the brink of orgasm. "You -- neither."
Blair managed a tremulous laugh and finally succeeded in getting her fingers to work. She pulled open Cam's fly and pushed her hand inside Cam's jeans. Immediately, Cam jerked into her palm. "Oh God," Blair whispered. "You're so wet."
"Uh huh," Cam grunted, pressing harder against Blair's fingers. She couldn't think, couldn't see; all she knew was the ferocious pressure pounding between her legs and the desperate need to release it.
Blair felt Cam shiver and knew she was on the edge. Another time, she might have teased her, but it had been too long for both of them, and she wanted her to come. She wanted to feel her lose control and she wanted to hold her, and she wanted to have her, completely, for just a few moments. She worked her hand deeper inside Cam's jeans until she could cup all of her in her palm. Then, she brought her thumb slowly and deliberately along the length of Cam's clitoris, massaging her rhythmically.
Cam braced herself with both hands against the wall, her body bowed, her head down, gasping. Her thighs trembled as the blood seemed to halt in her veins and every muscle clenched. The next knowing stroke of Blair's fingers sparked the explosion, and her breath burst out on a low tortured groan. Dimly, she heard Blair moan softly, almost in exultation, but all she could do was struggle to stand as her bones melted before the onslaught of sensation.
"Oh, yeah," Cam finally murmured, sagging against Blair. Her head was still pounding.
Blair laughed faintly as the last ripples of Cam's orgasm pulsed against her fingers. She ran her free hand up and down Cam's back, soothing her. She didn't think anything had ever satisfied her as much as having Cameron in her arms, trembling and so unguarded.
"I wish I'd known sooner that all I had to do was ask," Blair remarked breathlessly.
Cam sighed and straightened up, leaning back to look into Blair's face. Their legs were still pressed together and just the sensation of Blair's skin against her own was exciting her again. She grinned, but her eyes were very serious. "You don't need to ask. I can't even be near you without wanting you."
Blair was aware of Cam's hips rocking persistently against her own, and she realized they weren't done yet. She started opening the buttons on Cam's borrowed shirt, asking quietly, "Is that a problem for you, Commander?"
Cam hooked her fingers under the edge of Blair's T-shirt and lifted it upward, pulling it off over her head. She tossed it somewhere behind them and brought both hands down to cup Blair's breasts. "Not at the moment," she muttered distractedly, her eyes fixed on the tight, pink nipples under her thumbs.
"Cam," Blair said urgently. "You're bleeding."
For the first time, Cam was aware of a burning discomfort along her right palm. The gauze wrapped around her hand was bright red with blood. "It's nothing," she said, dismissing it, as she lowered her lips toward Blair's breasts.
Blair caught Cam's chin with her fingers, halting her motion. "We need to look at it - now."
"Blair," Cam warned, her eyes dangerously dark, her expression impatient with need. "Later."
Blair pivoted slightly and slipped out from between Cam and the wall, grasping Cam's good hand in hers. She dragged Cam through the doorway into the bathroom.
"I want to look at this."
They faced each other in the small space, Blair completely nude, Cam naked from the waist up with her jeans open. Both of them were flushed and breathing heavily. The air around them shimmered with urgency as they stared at one another wordlessly.
Then Cam advanced on Blair, her expression determined. "I'm not waiting."
Blair sidestepped quickly and yanked the knobs on the shower to full on. She turned back just as Cam reached her. She hooked her thumbs over the waistband of Cam's jeans and pushed down. "Get out of these."
Cam stepped free of her jeans as Blair backed into the shower. Cam followed, her eyes riveted on Blair's. She reached for her, and Blair gently captured her injured hand between her own.
"Let me unwrap this," Blair said quietly as they stood together in the streaming water.
Momentarily defeated, Cam held out her right arm so that Blair could remove the bandages. She set her teeth as the water hit the cracked and crusted patches. The skin was blistered and raw and still oozed blood slowly.
"How does it feel?" Blair asked, hoping that her voice was steady. The burns looked terrible, and even though she knew they weren't serious, for one horrifying moment she imagined what might have happened if someone hadn't been nearby to drag Cam away from Jeremy Finch's car.
Cam turned slightly so that Blair could not see the injury. With her other hand she caressed the side of Blair's face and said softly, "It doesn't hurt."
"Why don't I believe you?" Blair murmured, wrapping one arm around Cam's waist.
"Because," Cam whispered softly, her lips moving gently against Blair's ear, "you don't trust the Secret Service, Ms. Powell."
Blair tipped her head back, offering Cam her neck. "That's because you keep secrets, Commander."
As Cam worked her way along Blair's jaw and down the column of her throat, Blair found Cam's uninjured hand and brought it to her breast. She gasped faintly at the swift sharp pressure of Cam's fingers on her nipple. She was still aroused and her clitoris twitched rapidly at the renewed stimulation.
Slowly, Cam knelt.
As Cam leaned forward to taste her, Blair braced herself with one hand against Cam's shoulder. Dimly, Cam heard her moan as she moved her mouth over her. Blair was still swollen and firm and as Cam drew her between her lips, she knew it would not be long. She tried to make it last, sucking gently, careful not to work her too quickly or too hard, but it didn't matter. Blair was too sensitive and too close and almost immediately, she began to come. With the first pulse of release, Cam pressed harder, pushing Blair rapidly to another peak. She would have kept going if Blair hadn't fisted a hand in her hair and pulled her head away.
"Stop," Blair gasped hoarsely. "I can't."
Blair laughed, pulling Cam up next to her. She leaned into her, and wrapped her arms around Cam's waist. "You're right. I probably could, if I had a little more time and I didn't think that John Fielding was going to burst in here at any second to find out why I'm screaming."
"No one will come in," Cam said firmly. "They'll assume we're having a private briefing. It's perfectly normal under the circumstances."
Blair kissed the pulse at the base of Cam's neck. She wanted her again. She wanted to lie down with her and touch every part of her and taste her again and again. "There's nothing normal about any of these circumstances, Cameron. If letting you go now means that I'll be able to have you again, I'd rather stop."
Cam closed her eyes and held her tightly. "Will you believe me if I tell you there will be another time?"
"I'll try, because I have to believe it," Blair whispered.
"Your hair is wet," Blair commented as she watched Cam gathering her scattered clothing. She leaned against the bathroom door, wearing the terrycloth robe that she had donned the previous evening when Cam had appeared at her door. "If you leave my room and go to a briefing like that, you might as well wear a sign saying 'I slept with the First Daughter'."
Cam grinned as she buttoned the borrowed shirt. "It'll dry while I put on my own clothes. I've got a suitcase in the other room that Mac brought." She pulled on the jeans and smiled faintly. "Somehow I fell asleep last night before I got around to changing."
"That's because you were out on your feet," Blair remarked with a combination of irritation and concern. "Will you get someone to take care of those burns?"
Cam nodded. "I'll ask Stark. The EMTs left something for me to put on it." She crossed to her, and put her hands lightly on Blair's waist. "I'll take care of it, I promise."
"You'd better," Blair said, her voice husky. As much as she hated to, she added, "You should go, Cam."
Cam sighed, reluctant to leave her. "I'm going to be tied up all day with the briefings. Stark will see to anything that you need."
Blair smiled wryly. "As long as she doesn't make me play pinochle with her. That's where I draw the line."
"Understood," Cam said, lightly pressing her lips to Blair's forehead. She didn't dare do more, because she was afraid if she felt the softness of Blair's lips, she might not be able to stop with one kiss. For some reason, she couldn't seem to control herself the way she was used to. She couldn't seem to stop wanting her.
Finally, Cam stepped away and crossed to the door. She looked back, her hand on the doorknob, and said quietly, "By the way, Dr. Coleman is fine. She was shaken up a bit by the blast, and I think she might have ended up on the bottom of the pile when we all hit the ground, but she's all right."
Blair studied her silently for a moment, looking for some sign that there was a hidden message in Cam's words. She should have known there wouldn't be. Cameron Roberts did not play games. "Thank you. I was worried."
Cam nodded, and opened the door. "I thought you might be."
"Cam?" Blair said quickly.
Cam looked at her questioningly.
"You do know there's no one, don't you?"
"I'd hoped," Cam replied softly, and then she was gone.
Two hours later, Blair stood in the doorway of the makeshift command center and surveyed the people grouped around the long dining room table in the center of the room. Cam, attired now in a dark gray suit and silver silk shirt, sat at one end of the table while Patrick Doyle occupied the seat opposite her at the far end. Mac was to Cam's left and Stark, a bandage on her forehead and a very impressive bruise on the side of her face, was beside him. Across from them were a man and woman Blair did not recognize. Savard looked mildly uncomfortable situated between Stark and Doyle.
Patrick Doyle looked up and frowned. "Can I do something for you, Ms. Powell?" he said tersely.
Blair studied him silently for a moment, then walked around the table and pulled out a chair next to Cam. "I'd like to get some idea of what's happening," she said quietly.
Doyle cleared his throat and rearranged some of the papers in front of him. When he looked up at her, his gaze was wintry. "We've just started, and I think at this point anything I could tell you would be premature. I'll advise you of anything you need to know at a later date."
Silently, Blair turned to Cam. No one could keep her out of the briefing, although it wasn't routine for her to sit in on one. It was obvious that Patrick Doyle did not want her there, but it wasn't his opinion she cared about.
"We're just getting started," Cam said. She didn't even look in Doyle's direction, but instead, pointed to the redhead next to Blair. "Ms. Powell, this is Special Agent Lindsey Ryan, a profiler from the behavioral science division at Quantico. I've asked her here to give us an idea of what to expect from Loverboy in the future."
"I think we should discuss the crime scene evidence and find out what we have from the bomb," Doyle immediately countered. "We need is hard data, not theory."
Cam did stare the length of the table at him then, but responded evenly, "Everything is important. My primary objective is to anticipate the potential threat to Ms. Powell, and to that end, I'd like to have as much information about the perpetrator as we can get. However," she said, indicating the handsome, dark-skinned man next to Ryan, "Captain Lane is our liaison from the ATF bomb division and he'll fill us in shortly."
Doyle's color rose, and although it appeared that he wanted to object, it was difficult to argue that Blair's safety was not the main concern. It was also clear that he was irate at having been subtly outmaneuvered. He merely closed his jaws tightly and nodded once, curtly.
"If you would go ahead, please, Agent Ryan," Cam said quietly.
Lindsey Ryan sat forward slightly and began, "After the incident yesterday, I reviewed all the information available on the UNSUB beginning with the first contact. My specific intention was to track his behavior, looking for any kind of cyclical or repetitive pattern. I was hoping that I might identify some kind of trigger that could help us predict what he would do next. What we see," she continued, her voice low and steady, "is a fairly erratic temporal pattern marked by predictable sequential events. Namely, he attempts seduction, and when that is unsuccessful, he follows with aggressive retribution when his overtures are rejected."
"Does this explain why someone who is presumably obsessed with Ms. Powell would also want to harm her?" Mac asked, frown lines deepening between his brows.
Ryan nodded. "Initially, he left a written message delivered to Ms. Powell's door, suggesting that he was the most worthy recipient of her attentions. He also indicated underlying anger by suggesting that she was misguided in placing her affections with people who were 'unworthy'. In essence, he was offering himself as a suitor. Clearly, when this approach failed, his anger escalated and he made his first attempt on Ms. Powell's life. This is not inconsistent with his obsessive attraction, in that very often a rejected suitor resorts to aggression. It's the old case of 'If I can't have you, no one else can either'."
"Does the fact that he's changed his methods signify anything? First a sniper attack, and now a bomb?" Cam asked quietly. She did not look at Blair, but she was acutely aware of her arm resting only an inch from hers on the tabletop. It was difficult knowing that Blair was hearing herself being discussed by relative strangers. She wished she could spare her that. She knew, however, that that was neither feasible nor desirable. Blair had a right to know about the threat that involved her, and keeping her in the dark would only result in losing her cooperation. And if Blair didn't cooperate with them, she would be in even greater danger.
"I don't think so," Ryan said with certainty. "I don't think that he is attached to any particular form of violent expression, as some psychopaths appear to be. I think it's more likely that he chose a more dramatic method of expressing his displeasure because his tolerance for failure is decreasing. Nothing else he's tried has worked, so he's going to be sure that she takes him seriously now."
A hard fist of anxiety clenched in Cam's chest. "So are you saying we can expect an escalation in the violence?"
Ryan shrugged. "This latest action is a statement. He's reminding us that he has power, and that he's in control, and that he should not be ignored. Frankly, I'm surprised he hasn't made some attempt at personal contact before this."
"He has," Blair said quietly.
Cam stared at her, a muscle in her jaw clenching. It took all her effort not to raise her voice. "Has he approached you in some way?"
Blair hesitated briefly, then met Cam's penetrating gaze steadily. "Not exactly. He sent a message saying he wanted me to meet him."
Doyle rose halfway from his seat, barking out, "When did this happen? Why weren't we made aware of it? If this is some kind of attempt by the Secret Service to cut us out of the loop, I'll-"
"I didn't tell anyone," Blair interrupted him by saying.
He was left momentarily speechless as he slowly sat back into his seat.
"Why not?" Cam questioned softly.
"I didn't realize at the time that it was significant," Blair answered, her eyes shadowed with worry. "He'd been sending messages regularly, mostly e-mails and the - videos. You know that - I reported that. I thought it was just more of the same."
Cam's stomach turned as she recalled the explicit images that Blair had received, and the graphic messages describing in excruciating detail what this nameless, faceless man fantasized about her. "What was it this time?"
"It was just another message," Blair said, her voice trembling slightly. "At least that's what I thought. I just logged on and it came up on the screen. He said- he said he'd been waiting for me, and he couldn't wait any longer for me to make up my mind. He said he would have to do it for me."
Stark looked at Doyle accusingly. "I thought you had someone monitoring her servers? How did this message get through and we didn't know?"
"You're out of line, Agent," Doyle growled.
"She has a point. An important one," Cam stated. "Why didn't any of us know this?"
Savard looked the length of the table at Blair and asked, "When was this?"
"Ten days ago," Blair said quietly. She looked at Cam. "The day you came back."
Blair didn't need to say anything. Cam realized that part of the reason Blair hadn't informed anyone about the message was because she hadn't been thinking about the threat to her life. Her attention had been focused on Cam's sudden reassignment to the security detail.
Savard continued, "It could have been a virus implanted previously and activated by something as simple as a piece of code buried in an innocuous e-mail advertisement. Even though Ms. Powell's system has been swept, it doesn't mean he hasn't infiltrated something else more recently."
Blair looked at Lindsey Ryan, her face pale. "Did he kill Jeremy Finch because I ignored him? Is it my fault?"
"No," Cam said quickly.
"Commander Roberts is right," Ryan interjected. "You're not responsible for Agent Finch's death. The only one responsible for that is the individual who placed and triggered the bomb. There is no way you could've satisfied his demands, because he is not even aware of what actually drives him. Regardless of what you do or do not do, he will never be content."
Doyle took that moment to add contemptuously, "You are certainly not to blame. No one would have been able to plant a bomb if security measures had been adequate."
His criticism was clearly directed at Cam, but it was Mac who responded. "You son of a bitch," Mac exploded, rising from his chair.
"Mac," Cam said firmly, her voice carrying a clear command.
Mac remained half-standing, his hands braced on the table, his expression murderous as he glared at Doyle.
"Let's take a break," Cam said calmly, pushing back her chair. She stood but didn't move until everyone but she and Doyle had left the room.
"If you have something to say to me, Agent Doyle, say it now," she said, facing him squarely.
He shrugged, his expression smug. "You lost a man, Roberts, not me. I have no idea why you're still in command, but I wouldn't get too comfortable if I were you."
Cam waited until he had walked out before she sank slowly into her seat. She would have argued if he hadn't been right.
"Cam?" Blair said from the door of the dining room. "You don't believe that, do you?"
Cam had been staring blankly down at the table, and at the sound of Blair's voice, she straightened quickly, forcing a smile. "Eavesdropping on Federal business, Ms. Powell?"
Blair shook her head, refusing to be distracted by Cam's admittedly charming smile. Cam's automatic attempt to hide her feelings didn't mask the pain in her eyes. "I heard what Doyle just said, Cam," she said softly, crossing to stand beside the table. "He's wrong to blame you."
Cam sighed wearily. "No, he isn't. A man died under my command, Blair. That's my responsibility."
Blair's first instinct was to argue, because she couldn't bear to hear the anguish in Cam's voice. She understood Cam's feelings of accountability, even though rationally no one could be expected to anticipate every eventuality. It wouldn't matter to Cam, Blair knew. Not only was Cam trained to assume the blame, Blair knew that she was just made that way. It was one of the reasons she admired her, and, she admitted reluctantly to herself, it was also one of the reasons she loved her. Unfortunately, it was also one of the things that was keeping them apart.
"I talked to my father last night before you got here," Blair said quietly. She pulled out a chair and sat down on Cam's left, extending her hand on the tabletop until her fingers just touched the back of Cam's wrist. It wasn't enough, but it was all she could have at the moment. "He told me that he had every confidence in you, and that I should listen to you."
Cam couldn't help but grin. "Why do I think you ignored that last part?"
"Well," Blair laughed softly, "I don't always do everything he tells me." She stroked her fingers lightly over the top of Cam's hand and continued, "But I do agree with him that you are doing everything that can be done. And I'm so sorry for what happened to Agent Finch."
"So am I," Cam said softly, remembering the terrible silence on the end of the line when she informed Jeremy's family that he had been killed. Their stoic response and gracious thanks to her for calling them personally made it all the harder to bear. But that wasn't the worst of it. She looked at Blair, and there was naked torment in her eyes. "You could've been in that car, Blair. Another thirty seconds, and it would have been you."
"I wasn't," Blair whispered urgently, her fingers closing on Cam's arm. "Don't torture yourself."
"I don't know what I would have done," Cam whispered, trying hard not to think about the possibility.
"Don't do this," Blair insisted. "I'm all right, and as long as you're safe, I will be."
Cam smiled, Blair's presence, as always, banishing the nightmare images from her mind. "We seem to be the same situation then, Ms. Powell. Because as long as you're safe, I'm all right, too."
"Finally, we agree on something, Commander," Blair said softly.
For a moment, they simply rested with one another, their hands very lightly touching, but their connection much deeper than physical. Finally, Cam said reluctantly, "I need to finish up the briefing. Do you want to stay?"
"Will you fill me in later?" Blair asked.
"In that case, I think I've had enough of people and procedures for a while. Is there any rule against me going outside?"
"Not as long as you don't mind company," Cam said quietly. "And I'd prefer if you stayed on the grounds, at least for this afternoon."
"You know, I don't even know where we are."
"I'm sorry, I never thought to tell you," Cam apologized. "Croton-on Hudson," she added, naming a small, scenic community on the Hudson River.
Blair pushed her chair back and rose reluctantly. "I'll see you later, then, Commander."
Cam stood and watched her disappear into the other room, then squared her shoulders and followed her. Mac was waiting just outside the door. "Let's get this done, Mac," she said to him. "Bring everyone back in."
"Doyle is trying to make trouble for you," Mac seethed.
"Let him try," Cam said quietly. "We need to focus on Egret's safety, and I think he's got information we need. Let's use him."
Mac looked in the direction that Blair had gone, then asked in a low voice, "Are you going to tell her about the photograph?"
"Yes. She needs to know." She answered him because she liked and respected him. She didn't ask him if he approved, because she didn't require his approval. She also had a feeling that he did not agree, but then the decision wasn't up to him.
It was close to sundown when Cam finally finished the briefing and went to find Blair. She found her sitting on the side of a small dock on the edge of the river that ran along the rear of the property. Ellen Grant watched from under a small clump of trees twenty yards away. Otherwise, they were alone.
"Hello," Cam said as she eased down beside her.
Blair smiled softly. "Long meeting, Commander."
Cam sighed in frustration. "Not much yet. A lot of conflicting theories about the bomb, but not much hard data. It appears to have been a high order explosive, probably RDX, the current material of choice. Captain Lane says that the limited range of the blast indicates a small charge that could have been detonated with something as innocuous looking as a radio pager. We have no idea how or when it was placed, but the vehicle was serviced three days ago. Doyle has a team at the shop now - interviewing employees, tracking parts that might have been used - looking for anything. Something."
"But surely someone was watching the car while it was worked on?" Blair asked.
"Yes," Cam confirmed, "but Lane said it wouldn't take more than a second to slip something under the carriage with a magnet or even quickbond of some kind. It could have happened while the car was following us along the race route. Jeremy would have had to make multiple stops with people all around."
Blair shivered, but could find no words to express her horror.
"There's something else," Cam said quietly, handing her the small white rectangle she had been carrying in her pocket for hours.
"I don't understand," Blair said, staring at the photograph. It was an image of herself standing on the platform in Sheep Meadow, with Cam visible just behind her, clearly taken the previous day during her speech. Her eyes were riveted on the circled "x" inked in red over her chest. "If he targeted me while I was on the stage, why --?"
"Turn it over," Cam said gently.
Blair did, and read in chillingly familiar block print on the back, IT COULD HAVE BEEN YOU. She caught her breath, and her hand trembled. "This is what was in the envelope that Marcy was trying to give me, isn't it?
"Yes," Cam responded. "Agent Ryan believes that you were never the intended target yesterday. He didn't mean to kill you at all. He simply wanted to send you the message that he could have if he'd wanted to."
Blair stared at Cam, a horrible realization dawning upon her. "And the rifle shot outside my building? Was I the target then - or was it you all the time?"
Cam looked uncomfortable, but she wouldn't lie to her. "That's unclear. It's impossible to reconstruct the scene exactly, because we don't have adequate video documentation. I didn't realize there even was a reconstruction until this afternoon. The FBI had confiscated all of the tapes and none of us had ever seen them. You can't tell from the camera angle the precise sequence of events when the shot was fired. Even with digital remastering and time sequencing, it's unclear whether the trajectory line was toward you or me, because we were so close together, and there aren't good sightlines on the video. I just can't say for sure."
"Are you telling me you spent all afternoon watching a videotape of yourself being shot?" Blair asked incredulously.
"Well, not all afternoon," Cam said, trying to defuse the anger she heard brewing in Blair's voice. It hadn't been that difficult after she had seen it the first time and recognized how quickly everyone had responded, and how well protected Blair had actually been. It relieved a great deal of her anxiety about Blair's vulnerability.
Blair stood quickly, wrapping her arms around herself. Although the night air was still hot and humid, she was chilled. She tried but could not comprehend what it would take to sit there and watch something like that.
Cam stood and went to her side. "Blair, it's all right."
"No, it isn't," Blair snapped, unable to contain the storm of emotions buffeting her. "It most certainly is not all right. It's bad enough knowing that you might have been killed trying to protect me. It's worse thinking that you might have been killed just to get my attention."
She turned so suddenly in Cam's direction that their bodies touched briefly. Cam took a half step back, uncharacteristically startled, as Blair's fiery gaze locked onto hers.
"Now do you understand why I don't want you on my detail?" Blair demanded. "Can't you understand that I don't want to lose you?"
"Blair," Cam said, desperately wanting to reassure her. "We'll get him. I promise. We have thousands of feet of video from the park, and hundreds of still shots. We have Marcy Coleman's description of the person who handed her the envelope. Lindsey Ryan's profile is running through every database in the country right now. The ATF bomb squad is constructing a profile from the bomb remnants. Every hour that passes we have a better idea of how to find him."
"And until you do, you're in danger," Blair argued, her chest tight with panic. "You or Stark or Mac or Savard or someone whose name I don't even know might die."
Cam took her hand, uncaring that Grant would see them. "Every single one of us is well-trained and we're all aware of the danger. Nothing is going to happen."
"You can't know that."
"You're right, I can't," Cam said, her voice rising with a combination of frustration and sympathy. "But I don't intend to walk away. I know how to do this job, and I have more reason than anyone else to do it right." She clasped Blair's other hand and stared intently into her troubled blue eyes. "Damn it, Blair, I love you."
"If you did, Cameron, you'd leave me alone," Blair protested, pulling her hands free of Cam's grip. Then she turned and climbed hurriedly up the slope past Grant and disappeared into the house, leaving Cam staring after her.
When Cam walked back into the house it was just after eight p.m., and Patrick Doyle was piling folders into a large battered briefcase, obviously preparing to leave. He glanced at her as she entered the living room.
"My team says that Egret's building is secure. I told her she could go home any time she's ready," he said casually.
"What part of the fact that you don't have any say in her security don't you understand, Doyle?" Cam said, for the first time not bothering to hide her irritation. She'd had a hell of an afternoon, and her recent exchange with Blair had left her nerves raw. "You don't have a say in where she goes or when she goes or how she gets there. You don't have anything at all to do with her movement or her security."
"Just trying to help you out," Doyle replied smoothly, feigning surprise. "Since you're down a man, I thought I'd give you a hand with her."
She moved a step closer to him, a dangerous glint in her dark eyes. "I don't need your help with her, Doyle. All I need is for you to keep me apprised of any intelligence regarding Loverboy. That's it. That's all. Is that too much for you to comprehend?"
Mac walked into the room just in time to hear Cam's last remark, and the edge in her voice surprised him. He had never seen her give even the slightest hint of losing control. Anyone who didn't know her probably wouldn't notice anything amiss now, but he saw that her hands were clenched tightly by her sides and there was something just a little dangerous in her eyes. Savard must have thought the same thing because she was watching both Doyle and the Commander carefully as she stepped cautiously nearer.
Doyle closed the clasp on his briefcase and reached for his suit jacket, which he had left lying over the back of a nearby chair. Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Everyone wants us to catch this guy." He paused and grinned at Cam, a taunting grin completely without humor. "But you know, it's hard to catch fish if they don't bite, and they almost never bite if there's nothing on the hook."
Cam moved so swiftly that Mac and Savard were completely taken off guard. She had her hands on Doyle's shirtfront before he had a chance to stop her. In the next instant, she had shoved him up against the wall, her fists twisted in the fabric of his shirt, pulling the collar tight across his throat. His usual ruddy complexion rapidly turned crimson.
When she spoke, her tone was low and lethal, but everyone in the room could hear her. "Blair Powell is not bait. She is not part of this, and she never will be. Don't suggest it; don't even think it. You don't go near her without clearance from me. You don't talk to her; you don't brief her; you don't so much as look at her."
Doyle's face was purple and he was gasping for air, but he outweighed Cam by seventy pounds, and he was a trained agent. He chopped down on her right forearm with both of his fists, and even if she hadn't been injured, he probably would have broken her grip. Her face went white as pain exploded through her arm, and she let go of him as she reflexively took a step backwards.
Doyle grabbed for her, but Savard caught his right arm and Mac stepped in front of Cam, effectively separating the two.
"You're out of control, Roberts," Doyle wheezed. "And we both know why, don't we?"
Cam tried to step around Mac to get at Doyle again, but she was having trouble staying on her feet. A wave of nausea followed fast behind the burning pain that streaked up her arm. She marshaled every ounce of strength she had and said very clearly, "Remember what I said. Stay away from her."
"Commander," Mac said calmly, "you appear to be bleeding. You should sit down."
"Come on, sir," Savard said quietly, wedging herself in front of Doyle and widening the distance between the two senior agents. "Everybody's on edge. Let's all cool off."
Doyle looked at her as if just now realizing that she was in the room. "Just remember whose side you're on, Agent Savard," he warned as he finally picked up his briefcase and headed toward the door. He glared at Cam, unconsciously rubbing his neck where the collar of his shirt had left a raw spot. "Your reputation won't protect you forever, Roberts. Heroes are quickly forgotten."
Cam didn't answer. She was having trouble getting enough air.
"Savard," Mac said urgently, his voice a harsh whisper. "Can you please get the Commander out of here and see to her arm?"
Savard glanced once more in her superior's direction, assuring herself that he really was leaving, and then turned toward the Secret Service agents. She gasped before she could stop herself when she saw the widening stain on Cameron Roberts' jacket. A rivulet of blood ran from under the end of her sleeve onto her hand and was in danger of dripping onto the floor.
"Right," she said, stepping quickly to Cam's side and putting one arm around her waist. "Come with me, Commander."
"I need to speak with Ms. Powell," Cam said, attempting to pull away. Her head was spinning and there were spots flickering across her visual field, but she could still think. And all she could think was that Doyle wanted to put Blair out there so Loverboy could have another try at her. She'd kill him for this. Her voice was oddly flat as she said, "She can't leave yet. I need Taylor's report. I want to see the FBI -- "
She stopped, dizzy and in real danger of vomiting. Savard tightened her grip as Cam swayed, and sent Mac a warning look.
"I'll see to that, Commander," Mac responded immediately. "Go on, Savard," he urged. He was afraid that Cam was about to pass out. He hated to see her in pain, and he knew that she'd be furious if any of the other agents saw her when she was physically compromised like this.
To his great relief, Cam let Savard lead her away. That crisis averted, he steeled himself for a meeting with Egret. Hopefully, she would not ask why he was briefing her instead of the Commander. He had never been very good at subterfuge.
Blair knocked softly, but she didn't wait for an answer. She pushed open the door to the bathroom in Cam's room and stepped into the small space. She'd heard the raised voices from behind the closed door of her room where she had been pacing and trying to calm down. Cam's revelation that Loverboy had been intentionally targeting her security detail had shaken her badly. It was more frightening than the threat to her own life. She felt responsible, and guilty, and trapped by circumstances and she wanted to pound something. It didn't help her mood in the least that all she could think of was Cameron Roberts declaring irritably that she loved her. Because those few words had rocked her more than anything else that had happened, and that really scared her. Just when she thought she'd go stir crazy, Mac had come in, looking vaguely uneasy and asking her to please postpone any plans she might have for leaving until the Commander could speak with her. But he wouldn't tell her why Cam was unavailable, so she had come to see for herself.
Savard was kneeling on the floor in front of Cam, who was seated on the closed toilet, her shirt off and her head back, eyes closed. Her face was beaded with sweat and her skin looked gray in the harsh fluorescent light.
Blair's stomach tightened. God, she hated this. "What happened?" she asked sharply, moving around Savard to see what the FBI agent was doing. "Mac said she was indisposed."
Indisposed. That was a pretty word for this horror.
Savard held a gauze pad over a long, gaping laceration in Cam's forearm that was steadily oozing dark blood. The surrounding burn was blistered and weeping and her entire arm was swollen to twice its normal size. "She tore open a bit of the burn here. The bleeding's almost stopped."
Blair didn't need to see the discarded pile of soaked sponges to tell the wound had bled heavily. All she had to do was look at Cam. "She needs a hospital."
Cam opened her eyes and after a moment was able to focus on Blair's worried face. "I'm all right. Savard has it."
"Renee, either put her in a car and drive her, or I'll do it myself." Blair's hands were shaking and she knew her voice wasn't quite steady.
"Blair," Cam said softly, "if I check into a hospital I'm likely to be relieved, at least temporarily."
"I don't care," Blair stated more firmly as the initial shock of seeing Cam's injury began to wear off. "Mac is here. He can take care of things." She edged closer to Cam, stroking her fingers over Cam's forehead, brushing a damp lock of hair away from her eyes. "You're cold," she murmured, struggling with the fist of anxiety in her gut.
She looked around for something to cover her with, and finally focused on the fact that Cam was wearing only a thin sleeveless silk T-shirt. Her dress shirt was lying on the floor, rumpled and bloodstained. Blair's eyes narrowed as she regarded Savard leaning between Cam's outstretched legs, but she decided she probably didn't have to kill her just then.
"There's a blanket at the foot of the bed," Savard remarked without looking up, as she started to apply a topical antibiotic burn ointment to Cam's arm.
Blair was gone for a few seconds and when she returned, Cam was sitting up a little straighter, obviously working hard to hide her discomfort.
"That's not going to work, Roberts," Blair commented darkly, covering Cam's upper body with the blanket. "You still need to go to a hospital."
"Ma'am," Savard said quietly, efficiently wrapping a soft gauze bandage from Cam's palm to her biceps, "I'm certified as a physician's assistant as well as an EMT. They're not going to do anything for her at a hospital that I haven't already done."
Blair turned to her, an angry retort on her lips, but Renee Savard met her eyes calmly, a soothing certainty in her gaze.
"You're sure?" Blair asked quietly. She had moved back to Cam's side and without realizing it had rested her hand on the back of Cam's neck. She ran her fingers gently through the dark strands of hair, caressing her softly.
"Yes, ma'am, I am."
If Savard noticed Blair's actions, she gave no sign of it.
"I just need to lie down for an hour or so," Cam insisted, feeling better now that the pain was starting to abate.
Blair removed her hand and took a step away. "Will you see that she does, please," she asked Savard, her tone dull with resignation. She wanted to stay with her, and knew that she couldn't. Not here, not under these circumstances. It was agony to leave her.
Savard's voice was gentle with sympathy when she answered, "I will, Ms. Powell. You needn't worry."
Blair studied Renee Savard closely for a moment, then looked at Cam. "For once, Commander, let someone take care of you."
original fiction index | xena homepage | what's new | amazontrails.com