"Anything new?" Cam asked, standing behind the two people seated in front of an array of computers, voice analyzers, video monitors and other electronic tracking devices. Both swiveled in their chairs and looked up at her. Both of them looked weary but there was also an unmistakable sense of exhilaration about them, as if they were enjoying themselves immensely. The ebony skinned woman, whose bearing was nothing short of regal, spoke first, her voice modulated by a slight accent that belied her European schooling.
"We've replied only twice since first contact twelve hours ago, Commander," Felicia Davis told her. "As discussed, I've made no attempt to engage him in any way other than a few verbal probes - who are you, what do you want, why are you contacting me. Things Egret would already have said, but the kind of thing someone might ask when they were getting tired of the attention. I've tried to attach a tracking packet to my responses, but he's using some kind of anonymizer program that is preventing me from inserting any kind of bug into his machine."
"If you could, could we locate him?" Cam asked her newest team member.
The woman who looked like she might have come directly from a Paris fashion runway shrugged, a small frown line darting quickly between her arched brows. "Theoretically, yes. With what I've been able to gather from the FBI's attempts to do the same thing, he's very well hidden. My guess is even if we get a fix on his machine, it will show up somewhere in Rumania or the like. He's rerouting his messages through a gateway, probably several. It's still worth trying though."
"This could go on for quite some time," Cam observed. "The two of you are going to need a break."
Mac protested, "We're fine, Commander."
Cam appreciated that Mac was reluctant to relinquish his seat as the communications coordinator in the unfolding operation that the FBI had cleverly named Love Bug because he was concerned that his position would be usurped. It had taken a call to Stewart Carlisle along with a threat to go over his head to the Director before Cam could get Mac and her new computer expert, Felicia Davis, online with Loverboy to begin with. She had argued that her team could more easily and efficiently provide the kinds of information that an online encounter would require. Carlisle had agreed with her and had pulled a few strings of his own. So, despite Doyle's objections, Cam at least had her people in on the ground floor of the operation. Nevertheless, the FBI were hovering, and Cam had a feeling they were just waiting for the slightest excuse to take over. She couldn't afford to have her agents burning out in the first few days of what might be a protracted campaign.
"Remember, Lindsey Ryan told us that Loverboy is very astute, and in all likelihood he's been studying Egret for years. Granted, there isn't all that much information of personal nature available on her in the public domain, but he'll still be suspicious if 'she' begins to behave out of character. She would be very reluctant to have any kind of dialogue with him, and any abrupt change in that pattern is going to tip him off."
Felicia nodded in agreement. "Understood, Commander, and we have been watching both the length of the exchange and the exact nature of our responses very carefully. Nevertheless, I don't want to miss an incoming."
"Agent Ryan should be here within the next hour and I would like to conference as soon as she arrives," Cam said flatly. "After that, you're both off for six hours. And I mean 'out of here' off."
They barely acknowledged her order before they turned back, heads close together, to a stack of printouts, intent on reviewing all of the previous communications from their intended contact. She knew she was going to have to force them out of the command room later.
"I'll be upstairs in the Aerie," Cam said as she passed the agent who was monitoring the building surveillance cameras. None of them had strayed far from Command Central for the last eighteen hours. Once they had decided to go forward with the FBI's plan to lure Loverboy into a public confrontation, she had put them all on twelve hour shifts, but she noticed that no one was actually gone for more than a few hours at a time. Everyone had a personal stake in catching the man who had cost them all a friend and colleague.
She glanced at her watch. It was ten-thirty in the morning, and it had been twenty-four hours since she had last seen Blair. She had been at the command center most of the previous afternoon, enduring another meeting with Doyle while they hammered out their respective roles in the upcoming endeavor. She had been forced to accept that the decision regarding Ellen Grant's participation was out of her hands. She had let it go, choosing instead to focus her energy on assuring Grant's safety. If she needed to be on site twenty-four hours a day monitoring events to do that, then she that's where she planned to be.
It had been close to three AM the previous morning when she had finally headed across the square to her apartment. She had stopped at the corner and glanced up at Blair's window. A faint glow illuminated the double panes of glass. She had wondered if Blair were working, and had wished for a moment that she were sitting nearby, quietly watching, as she used to watch her mother work when she was young. It was the kind of memory that brought a longing for something she hadn't known she missed and couldn't afford to consider now. She had shrugged it away and continued up to her small, impersonal apartment for a few hours of sleep before the battle truly began.
Blair stood before the canvas, a fine sable brush in one hand, lost in the sensation of color and contour, not thinking of anything at all. It took her a few seconds to recognize the sound at her door as knocking. She put the brush down and glanced once more at the painting, knowing that when she returned, she would have it. She turned and crossed the polished wood floor, glancing at the clock, surprised to find that she had been working for several hours. She hadn't thought she would be able to. She hadn't thought that she would be able to do anything at all except wonder what was happening downstairs. That and think about what she intended to do about being crazy in love with her security chief.
She glanced through the peephole out of habit and, as it always did whenever she saw her, her heart rate seemed to triple. She pulled the door open and leaned against the doorframe, regarding the tall, dark-haired woman in the immaculately tailored suit.
"You're early for the briefing, Commander," she commented, blocking the doorway. "We aren't scheduled until three."
Cam nodded gravely. "I'm aware of that, Ms. Powell. However, I have some pressing matters to discuss with you."
"Oh?" Blair said with a shrug, stepping back from the door and closing it slowly. When Cam turned, Blair had silently moved very close to her.
"And what matters would those be?" Blair asked, sliding her fingers under the edge of Cam's jacket, her voice a husky murmur.
Cam very slowly put her hands on Blair's waist and drew her near. Captivated by the variations of blue in her eyes, she answered deliberately, "Personal matters."
Then she lowered her head and kissed her. It was a long, slow, thorough kiss that spoke of longing and desire and something else. Something beyond words, at once tender and heavy with need. When Cam lifted her mouth from Blair's, they stood silently, arms around one another, just feeling.
Finally, Blair stepped back, a crooked smile on her lips. "I'm glad you had them turn off the surveillance cameras in here."
Cam grinned. "So am I - although this wasn't what I had in mind at the time."
"Can you talk about what's happening with - all of it?"
Cam laughed, trying to ignore the insistent throbbing deep in her gut. "Well, my attention is on something different at the moment. I'd better have some coffee if you want me to think."
Blair took her arm and started to pull her towards the kitchen. Then she hesitated, turned, and grasped Cam's face with both hands. She pulled her head down and kissed her, hard and fierce. When she pulled away her knees felt weak and Cam looked slightly stunned.
"Well," Blair gasped softly, running her hands over Cam's chest. "Now I guess I'd better have some of that coffee, too."
A few moments later they sat facing one another at the counter, their hands lightly touching.
"What's going on?" Blair asked quietly.
Cam told her about Doyle and Grant and the operation underway.
Blair watched Cam's face while she talked, listening for the things she wasn't saying. She had spent her life listening to her father and his associates discuss everything from foreign policy to armed intervention, and she knew something about strategy. She also recognized when some things were being glossed over or omitted altogether.
"You can't intend for Grant to take him on herself?" Blair said when Cam finished outlining the basics of the plan.
Cam shook her head. "No. Once we establish rapport and convince him that he really is speaking to you, we hope he'll reveal something to help us trace him. Some reference to location, some historical fact -- something to give us a fix on his physical location."
"And if that doesn't work?" Blair asked quietly.
"Then we'll set up a meet under the pretext that you don't want anyone else endangered, and lay a trap for him that way."
"He might just lay a trap for -- me," Blair stated. And he lays his with bombs.
"He might," Cam allowed. "But we'll have dozens of agents securing the area, and if he's anywhere near the meet site, which Ryan assures us he will be, we'll have him."
"What about Grant?"
Cam's stomach tightened but her voice was sure. Uncertainty could not be entertained once an operation was underway. "She'll be wired and armored and hopefully she won't get close enough to be in any real danger. We just need her to leave here as you, in case he's watching the building, and to be visible approaching the meet location."
Blair was silent for a moment, then she asked, "Who's going with her as back up?"
"Savard," Cam said. She met Blair's eyes and added softly, "and me."
Blair stood abruptly and walked to the far side of the loft, her back to the room, looking out the tall windows toward the park. Cam sat for a moment, her good sense warring with an uncomfortable need to make Blair understand. She stared across the room at Blair's rigid back, telling herself that she should simply go back to work and do what needed to be done. But if she did, she knew that she would only be bringing part of herself to the job. The other part would be wondering about Blair, and that fact aggravated her almost as much as the cold silence in the room.
"Blair," Cam said quietly, crossing to stand behind her. She did not touch her, because the anger was nearly a palpable barrier between them.
Blair held up a hand, not turning, her voice harsh and clipped. "Don't, Cam. Do not tell me it's safe or any other such fairy tale about the brilliant planning of our security agencies. I know the track records."
Cam did touch her then, because she had to. She was finding that distance between them was harder and harder to bear. She didn't want to think about what that might mean, particularly not now. She rested her hands very lightly on Blair's waist, stepping near but not trying to hold her. "Everyone agrees that the risk is low."
Blair made a faint choking sound that might have been a laugh, or a sob. She turned abruptly to face her, pushing Cam's hands away. "Just when did you start thinking that I was stupid, Cam? Before or after we fucked?"
"Goddamn it, Blair," Cam growled, trying hard to hold onto her temper, "I know damn well you aren't stupid. The risks are low."
"I suppose you think that it wouldn't occur to me that Jeremy Finch is dead and you were almost killed once already? Or do you think I've simply lost my mind?"
"If anyone has lost their mind, it's me," Cam snapped, her dark eyes flashing with fury. "And it wasn't when we fucked. It happened the first time I walked into this room and you had the arrogance to come on to me like I was some rookie you could lead around by my proverbial dick."
"Well, that didn't work very well, did it?" Blair seethed, looking pointedly at Cam's crotch and then back to her face. "And it has nothing to do with the particulars of your anatomy."
"Actually, it must have worked," Cam said with irritation, running a hand through her hair, tousling the dark locks into the disheveled look that Blair found so sexy, "because I haven't been able to make a single decision since that morning without worrying about you."
Blair stared at her, remembering their first meeting and her surprise at discovering that her new security chief not only wasn't intimidated by her but actually seemed intent on working with her. "I never asked you to worry about me," she remarked, the sharp edges of her rage softening as she looked at her.
"I know that," Cam said, her voice intense, "but I do." She waited a beat, and then said even more quietly, "I didn't want you to care."
"I know that," Blair whispered, and added even more softly, "but I do."
They both moved at once, closing the distance, slipping into one another's arms.
"I'll be careful…"
Cam kissed Blair's temple, murmuring, "I'll wear a vest, and I'll have Savard. She's good. We'll have plenty of backup nearby, too."
Blair pressed her lips to Cam's neck, feeling her blood pulse through the arteries just under the skin. So fragile. She took a deep breath, forcing the fear away, burying it deep inside.
"She'd better be as good as she looks," Blair threatened, "or I'll be forced to hurt her."
Cam leaned over an array of printouts on the table in the glass-walled conference room, talking to Patrick Doyle and working hard to ignore her intense dislike for the man.
Just get the job done and make sure Grant is well protected in the process. That's all that matters, she reminded herself.
When Doyle failed to respond to one of her questions, she glanced up from the transcript of the last communication with Loverboy and caught the FBI agent staring past her out into the main area of the command center. The look on his face was a startling mixture of displeasure and something that looked very much like lust. She turned and followed his gaze and when she saw that he was looking at Blair, her simmering anger flared hotly into fury. The way he stared at her was almost an invasion.
"Do you have a problem of some kind, Doyle?" she demanded.
"You don't seem to have much control over her, Roberts," Doyle said derisively. "She shouldn't be down here."
"It's not my job to 'control' her," Cam said as evenly as she could. "And there is absolutely no reason that she shouldn't go anywhere she likes."
He turned and studied her as if she were some strange life form. "Civilians complicate matters, Roberts. Especially civilians with opinions - and friends in high places."
"I'm not concerned about anything that Ms. Powell might have to say to anyone about anything," Cam remarked. She folded up her notebook and turned to leave.
"You might change your mind before this is all over," he called after her.
She closed the door without looking back. She threaded her way through the desks and the mountains of monitoring equipment that seemed to grow in number and complexity every day. Their working space had been adequate for routine day to day matters, but now that Doyle's team had practically moved on site, and Lindsey Ryan was staying to monitor the Internet communications with their UNSUB, and the ATF bomb squad was coming and going with information about the latest analysis on the bomb fragments from the park, the room was crowded with people and makeshift workstations.
Nevertheless, the communications station at the far end of the room remained somewhat insulated from the rest of the activity. Everyone knew that Felicia Davis should not be distracted. Mac was with her most of the time, primarily to retrieve any data that she might need to respond to Loverboy. At the moment, Blair was leaning down over Felicia Davis, speaking to her with a serious expression on her face.
It was the second full day of the operation, and there had only been sparse e-mail exchange between Felicia Davis, posing as Blair, and Loverboy. A temporal analysis of his previous communications revealed that he sent a message nearly every day. Frequently it was only a few words or a single line. Lindsey Ryan hypothesized that he not only needed to satisfy his own compulsion to communicate with Blair, but he wanted to prove that he could reach her. His skills extended beyond bomb making and marksmanship, and, despite all attempts to thwart him with shields and aliases and rerouting her mail servers, it never took him long to track her down.
Blair tolerated his messages because she refused to give up her own access to the Internet, and in an oddly understandable way, she had not want to be cut off from him either. She would not live in a cocoon as if nothing were happening. She wanted to 'hear' his voice if he was threatening her.
As Cam drew near, she heard Blair say, "I'm the best one to do this."
Immediately, Cam's stomach began churning uneasily, because she had a feeling she knew what Blair was talking about. She had defended Blair's presence in the command center to Doyle, and in fact she believed precisely what she had said. Nevertheless, she had hoped that Blair would stay away, if only because the tension and uncertainty was wearing for all of them, and she wished to spare her that. But in her heart, she had expected something like this.
Blair straightened and nodded to Cam, her face revealing none of the quick pleasure she took in seeing her. "Good morning, Commander."
"Ms. Powell," Cam said warmly, stopping behind the chairs occupied by Mac and Felicia Davis. "Is there some way I can be of service?"
Blair struggled not to smile, but she knew Cam could see the laughter in her eyes. She resisted the urge to make a clever comeback, only because she didn't trust her voice not to give her away. Being around Cam never failed to arouse her, and she knew it would show in the timbre of her voice. It was bad enough she could feel the liquid heat beginning between her legs. "It occurred to me this morning, Commander, that I should be the one emailing Loverboy. There's no reason to use a go-between in this exchange."
Cam hesitated for a moment, needing the time to formulate an answer that would be both honest and convincing. She wouldn't lie to her, not only because she had never been able to, but because she could not bring herself to even try. On the other hand, the thought of Blair being involved so intimately with this man, even when there was no chance of physical connection between them, made her almost physically ill. "The reason we're using an agent is because our people know how to manipulate the conversation to get the information we need. Plus, Agent Davis is aware of the things we need to know to secure the meeting site."
Blair listened, watching Cam's face carefully. Her security chief was very good at keeping her emotions completely compartmentalized. Her lover, however, was not. There was a flicker of worry in Cam's eyes - worry for her - and Blair saw it. She smiled softly, and nodded patiently in agreement. "That makes perfect sense, Commander. However, I don't propose to start emailing him from my apartment. I would do everything right here with Mac and Agent Davis by my side. They could certainly coach me in any procedural things I might need to say much more easily than Agent Davis could pretend to be me. It seems to me there's far less likelihood that he would become suspicious if it actually were me."
Cam glanced at Mac, who raised an eyebrow slightly and nodded even more imperceptibly.
"You've caught me somewhat unprepared, Ms. Powell," Cam said quietly, and this time Blair could read nothing in her eyes. "I need to discuss this with Agent Ryan and some others."
"I understand that. Would you let me know what you think once you've done that?"
"Certainly," Cam said.
Blair watched her walk away and wondered just how angry she really was.
"You outflanked me down there," Cam said when she stepped into the loft.
Blair leaned against the arm of her leather sofa, regarding Cam carefully. Cam hadn't moved once the door was closed, and her hands were in her pockets. She definitely had her game face on.
"You know," Blair said quietly. "I haven't touched you in almost a day. I don't think I have the energy to fight."
Cam sighed and took her hands from her pockets. She shrugged out of her blazer and released the buckle on her shoulder harness, easing it off her still sore right shoulder and placing it with her jacket. As she walked the few steps toward Blair, she pulled her shirt from beneath the waistband of her trousers. She didn't stop moving when she reached Blair, but put one thigh between Blair's legs and a hand behind her back and tumbled her over the arm of the plush leather sofa onto the seat. Cam ended up on top of her, and pushed herself up with her good arm so she could see Blair's face. Her voice was slow and deep when she said, "You can touch me now."
Blair slid both hands under the tail of Cam's shirt and raked her nails up Cam's sides, drawing a swift gasp from her. When she found her breasts, she caressed them softly, then tightened her fingers on Cam's small, hard nipples. Cam closed her eyes and groaned. Blair kept up the rhythm, squeeze and release, squeeze and release, until Cam was stiff with the pleasure-pain of it and trembling.
Their legs were entwined, and Blair felt Cam's heat against her thigh even as she felt her own arousal soaking into her jeans. When Cam lowered her head and caught the tender skin at the base of her neck between her teeth, Blair cried out once, sharply, and then managed to speak. "Bedroom. Bed. I need you naked on me."
Cam could hear her, but the words weren't registering as she thrust her hips faster into Blair's. After they had been apart it was always like this. She couldn't control the rocketing surge of excitement that brought her too high too fast, until she was teetering on the brink and ready to go off in seconds. She was ready now, she could feel it curling in the base of her spine, tingling down her legs, cramping in her muscles. Oh yeah, she was going off soon.
Blair pushed Cam's hips away, breaking their contact, dragging Cam back from the edge. Cam gasped, lowering her forehead to Blair's chest, shuddering uncontrollably. "I'm sorry," she groaned. "I can't hold it back."
Blair eased away from her, one hand caressing the damp strands of hair at the back of her neck. "Yes, you can," she crooned softly. "Remember, you're a Secret Service agent."
Cam laughed shakily and sat up, her hands falling open by her sides, her shirt open, her body on fire and glistening with sweat. "I'm afraid I'm compromised."
"Just the way I like you." Blair held out her hand, her color high and her eyes blazing. "Let's go do that some more."
By the time they reached the bedroom, Cam had regained a slim thread of control and managed to undress and lie down next to her.
"Let me just touch you for a minute," Cam said, her voice still unsteady. "I don't trust myself just yet and I don't want to come right away."
"It's a tough order to follow, but I'll try," Blair said with a smile.
Cam started at her shoulders and ran her hands down Blair's body, watching in wonder as the fine muscles shimmered under her fingertips and the blood rose to warm the skin beneath her hands. Blair's breath came fast, and every now and then a small sound of pleasure escaped her. When Cam trailed her fingers lightly up the inside of Blair's thigh, Blair arched her hips and the fingers she had laced through Cam's hair trembled with urgency.
"You have the sweetest touch," Blair whispered, her voice choked with need.
Cam was barely breathing. Every time they were together like this the pleasure was so intense, she felt like she was bleeding. She had never felt so vulnerable nor so helpless nor so blessed. It was almost more than she could tolerate. She slid one finger between Blair's legs, tracing the delicate folds and swollen ridges. Blair's pulse raced against her fingertips, and when she brushed lightly along the underside of her clitoris, Blair jerked in her arms. Cam circled her harder and put her mouth to Blair's, wanting her breath, wanting her blood, wanting all of her.
Blair wrapped her arms around Cam's shoulders, pressing her breasts to Cam's chest, clinging to her, desperate for the sweet release. She rocked her hips faster against Cam's hand, knowing she would come any second.
Cam felt Blair's heart hammer against her own and sensed the rising tension in her body. When she knew Blair was there, she lifted her lips from Blair's and said softly against her ear, "Touch me now."
Ready to explode, Blair reached for her blindly, and when she found her - hard and swollen and so ready - she couldn't stop her own momentum. Even as it began, wrenching through her, forcing her almost double with the clench of muscles deep inside, she pressed her fingers along Cam's length the way she knew Cam needed it. Cam jerked and groaned and came with her.
Then they held one another and rested.
Cam slept, her head on Blair's chest. Blair ran her fingers absently through Cam's hair, marveling at the sensation of being able to hold her. One floor below them a dramatic tableau played out, but here, for the moment, all that mattered to her was the woman in her arms. It was unnerving, and more than a little terrifying.
She had spent most of her life surrounded by people, alone. She had learned to ignore the isolation and had discovered in her solitude the creative insight that inspired her art. Her work centered and defined her, and she would not change that. But each time she opened herself a little more to Cameron, she discovered another place in herself, another dimension of emotion. What frightened her most was knowing that without Cam, those places would ache - empty and waiting - a deadly wound she would never be able to heal. She shivered and held Cam closer.
"Are you cold?" Cam murmured.
"No," Blair said, her voice still unsteady. Loving was a dangerous thing, the cost so high, and she struggled not to flee.
Cam moved her hand from Blair's thigh, where it had lain since she had fallen asleep, and brought it to Blair's breast, softly caressing the firm warm flesh. She moved her head an inch and lightly kissed the tight pink nipple. "What is it then?"
"Nothing," Blair said quietly.
Cam nuzzled her face against the side of Blair's neck and whispered, "Blair." She kissed the curve of her jaw. "I love you."
Blair caught her breath, trapped between need and a lifetime of denying it. "Cam," she breathed, amazed and still uncertain.
Cam pushed herself up on one elbow, gently tracing her fingers over Blair's face and down her neck, finding in her unguarded gaze what Blair could not put into words. "It's all right," she murmured.
"So you say," Blair whispered, wishing she could just keep her there, where it was safe.
"I should go," Cam said reluctantly, moving away a little because the heat of Blair's skin was arousing her again. She kissed the tip of Blair's chin, and then her mouth. "I'll be back."
"Good," Blair said softly, raising her head to claim Cam's mouth one last time.
A few moments later, Blair sat curled up on the sofa in nothing but an oversized T-shirt, watching Cam pull her clothes into order and strap on her weapon.
"Are you very angry about this morning?"
Cam stopped what she was doing and looked at Blair, who still wore a slightly bruised and hazy expression from their recent lovemaking. She wanted nothing in that moment as much as she wanted to touch her again. "Probably," she said evenly, reaching for her jacket.
"I thought you might be," Blair said dryly.
Fully clothed, Cam regarded Blair steadily. "Then why did you do it?"
"Because I thought it was the right thing to do."
Cam blew out a breath and looked past Blair toward the wide, tall windows and the golden afternoon sun visible beyond. She forced herself to ignore her concerns and consider the facts. She tried not to think about Blair talking to him. She tried not to think about the fact that this nameless, faceless man wanted her, that he lay awake at night thinking about touching her, that during the day he set traps to destroy her. She finally looked back to Blair, who had been watching her silently and waiting. "You were right."
She turned and started for the door and Blair rose quickly, following her. She reached her just as Cam grasped the doorknob, stopping her by threading her arms around Cam's waist from behind. She laid her cheek against Cam's back. "I'll be down in a little while."
"Yes," Cam said.
"It wasn't my intention to make your angry," Blair said softly.
Cam turned and gently lifted Blair's face in both hands. She looked into her deep blue eyes and smiled faintly. "I know it wasn't, but I have a feeling that you would have done it no matter what."
Blair asked, her voice completely serious, "Is that a problem then?"
"Only when I'm not thinking with my head," Cam murmured, feeling herself fall into those eyes.
Blair smiled, smoothing her hand down Cam's chest and hooking her fingers under the waistband of her trousers. She tugged lightly and replied, "Well then, hopefully we can count on that kind of problem fairly often."
"Apparently that would be the case," Cam said, resisting the urge to slip her hands under Blair's T-shirt. If she did that, she wouldn't stop until she had her again, right there on the spot. She kissed her once, hard and sure, and then pulled away. As she stepped through the door, she said briskly, "I'll see you shortly then, Ms. Powell."
"Certainly, Commander," Blair called after her, lingering just a moment to watch her walk down the hall. Then she closed the door and went to prepare herself.
Blair sat at the long console table in loose cotton pants and an open-collared, pale blue linen shirt, flanked by Mac and Felicia Davis. Partially full styrofoam cups of coffee, long cold, sat interspersed with keyboards, headsets, and monitors. She stretched and sighed.
"Tired?" a familiar deep voice asked from behind her.
So quickly she might have imagined it if her skin hadn't begun to tingle, Blair felt the fleeting brush of fingers across her arm. She slowly turned her chair and glanced up at Cam. She smiled softly. "A little."
"Why don't all of you take a break," Cam said to the three of them. "I'll have one of the FBI people watch the incomings for a few hours."
"What did Agent Ryan say our approach should be?" Blair asked, ignoring the suggestion to leave. She, Mac and Felicia Davis had been alternating breaks and she was fine. "We should have contact any time. It's been almost twenty-four hours."
"She said it was time to push," Cam reported almost reluctantly. What the profiler had in fact said was that they were running out of time. Ryan anticipated that he would make another strike imminently. His pattern suggested an extremely low tolerance level that was rapidly deteriorating. Since Blair had not been outside the building in over seventy-two hours, he was completely cut off from her. If Blair didn't engage him verbally, he was very likely to take action and Lindsey admitted that she had no idea what form that attack might take.
Cam studied Blair, acutely aware of the faint circles under her eyes and the weary set to her shoulders. She wanted to tell her to go upstairs and get some sleep. She wanted to tell her to stay away from all of this. She wanted to tell her that this was her job and she would damn well handle it. What she said was, "Lindsey said it's up to you. She said follow your instincts."
Blair straightened, staring at the monitor as if she could will a message to appear. "Well then, let's get down and dirty."
Three hours later, it began.
A001@worldnet.com: I've missed you. Are you hiding?
NYC1112@freemail.com: I got your message. Let's talk.
The four people watching the monitor held their collective breath. It was the first time that Egret had suggested a real time chat. If it spooked him and he terminated all email contact, they might lose their only route of communication at a time when information was critical.
"Come on you prick, bite," Mac murmured. He rocked in his seat, his body so tense he vibrated. God, he wanted this guy.
Cam looked at Blair, who sat with her hands poised on the keyboard, focused and intent. Cam clenched her fists and shoved her hands into her pockets, torn between wanting him to answer and wishing he would disappear into the amorphous world of cyberspace.
Felicia Davis calmly readied the back-up drives and prepared yet another worm to launch. "One of these times I'll get you," she said under her breath. He was out there, not so very far away, she could feel him on the line. Her fingers raced on the keys with the speed and sixth sense of an expert cracker.
Blair waited. She knew what none of the others understood. This was about her - it had always been about her. She was the woman the cameras captured and the newspapers wrote about, just as she was the woman who painted late into the still night, and the woman who trembled helplessly in Cameron Roberts' arms. He simply wanted the woman that the world had made its own.
She breathed out slowly as the lines appeared.
A001@worldnet.com: Go to www.privatetalk.com, the game room.
NYC1112@freemail.com: How will I find you?
A001@worldnet.com: Don't worry. I'll find you.
Blair didn't hesitate. She typed quickly, I'll be waiting.
Lindsey Ryan sat alone in the conference room, a can of soda by her right hand, and stacks of papers and folders scattered around her. She was leaning her head in her left palm, staring at a computer printout. She jumped at the sound of the deep quiet voice from behind her.
"What do you think?"
Lindsey looked up as Cam approached, noticing the very fine lines of stress around her eyes. Other than that small sign, she didn't appear to have a concern in the world. Except that Lindsey knew that she hadn't slept more than an hour or two in the last three days, unless she did it with her eyes open. She was rarely out of the command center.
"I think he's crazy as a loon."
Cam smiled grimly. "Will he show?"
Ryan sighed, and looked back at the critical portion of the transcript for the hundredth time.
A001@worldnet.com: Why won't you believe me?
NYC1112@freemail.com:: About what?
A001@worldnet.com: That I worship you. You're all I care about.
NYC1112@freemail.com:: Maybe because you're killing people and threatening my friends.
A001@worldnet.com: You don't leave me any choice. You ignore me.
NYC1112@freemail.com:: I'm not ignoring you now.
A001@worldnet.com: This isn't enough.
NYC1112@freemail.com:: What do you want?
A001@worldnet.com: I want to see you. I want to make you understand.
NYC1112@freemail.com:: Do you really love me?
A001@worldnet.com: I live for you.
NYC1112@freemail.com:: If I come, will you stop the killing?
NYC1112@freemail.com:: Do you promise?
A001@worldnet.com: I have been patient long enough. You know what I'll do if you deny me.
Lindsey pointed to the last line. "Here's the problem part. Until this point, he's negotiating. But the minute Egret questions him, which, by the way, I'm glad she did - it's in character for her - he reverts to threats."
Cam's stomach clenched. "Is he threatening her?"
Lindsey hesitated. "Probably. Yes - I think yes. He's had his fill of substitutes, I think. He wants her and no one else. If he can't have her now, I'd say that she'll become his target, and he won't stop until you catch him."
Cam pulled out the chair next to her and sat, rubbing her eyes. "What does that mean for the operation? Will he show?"
"He's highly intelligent, so he must suspect a trap. On the other hand, he's arrogant and believes that he can't be caught. It depends on the balance between his ability to think rationally and his need to see her - to touch her - in the flesh. By now he must be wild for her. So - maybe."
"I need better than 'maybe', Ryan," Cam said quietly. "I've got an agent going into that meet alone. And I've got Egret locked up in here and I can't keep her here forever." She repeated, "Will he be there?"
Lindsey considered the image of the man she had formed in her mind after spending dozens of hours reading his messages to Blair Powell. He was completely and totally obsessed with her, and he spent every second of every day thinking about her. He fantasized about her returning his affections, about her fulfilling his needs; he had built an elaborate delusional system with her as his psychosexual center; he had resorted to violence to make her recognize his desires.
"He'll be there."
Cam stood, satisfied. They had less than a day to prepare, and even though Doyle was coordinating the teams, she was reviewing everything herself. Ellen Grant was going in with every bit of protection Cam could give her.
"Why is he doing this?" Cam asked finally. "He must know we'll be all over that place."
Lindsey shrugged. "Ms. Powell assured him that she would not reveal their plans. He needs to believe that, because he needs to believe that she desires him, the way he desires her. The rational part of him will be suspicious, but the psychotic part desperately needs to believe that she is coming to him out of mutual love and desire."
"What if he discovers that she betrayed him?"
Lindsey Ryan said quietly, "Then he'll kill her, or anyone we send in her place."
Stark found her in the workout room down the hall from the command center. She was wearing black lycra shorts and a sports bra and she was punching hell out of a heavy hanging bag. The sweat on her skin made its coffee color shine like bronze and Stark felt her mouth go dry watching her. She'd looked like a gazelle running that day in the park - Jesus, was it only six days ago? - but now, with her muscles tensing under her smooth skin and the swift, even recoil of her limbs as she danced around the swinging bag, she looked more like a leopard running its prey to ground.
Savard looked over and saw her standing there, an expression on her face that would have surely made her blush if she'd seen herself. She smiled as she thundered one last right hook into the leather. Then she wiped her forearm across her face, shook most of the sweat from her hair, and walked over to her.
Stark shook her head. "Still a green light for tonight."
"Good," Savard grunted, working at the laces on her right glove with her teeth. "It's time to put this bastard away."
"Here, let me get that," Stark said, reaching for the ties on the heavy boxing glove. Her hands were shaking. God.
Savard stepped back a pace and looked at her. "You okay?" she said, her voice surprisingly soft. The bruises had faded from around Stark's eyes, but the stitches were still there, a neat row of tiny black ants marching across her smooth pale forehead. "Does your head still hurt?" she asked even more gently.
"No," Stark said, not looking up, her head bent as she worked at the stubborn knot in the laces. "It's fine."
Savard raised the glove until it rested under Paula Stark's chin and then gently pushed, forcing her head up, forcing Stark to look at her. "Do you want to tell me what's wrong?"
Stark stood very still, struggling to express emotions she scarcely understood herself. "It's going to get hectic later. I'll be in one of the back-up cars. I probably won't see you alone again before you go."
Stark swallowed. "I just wanted to remind you that we -- that later -- when you get back…"
"We have a date. I won't forget," Renee said tenderly. She leaned forward and kissed her very lightly on the mouth. "You're brave, you know." She wasn't talking about the job.
"Not so very," Stark whispered, trembling in a place she had never trembled before.
"I'll see you when it's over," Savard murmured, then stepped around her and disappeared.
Stark closed her eyes, feeling the kiss still soft upon her lips. Please just come back.
Cam stood to the rear of the room, listening while Doyle outlined the operation assignments to the FBI, ATF, SWAT and bomb squads. The State Police would be assisting with road blocks once the assault and capture teams were in place, and their captain was there, too.
Eight hours to go.
She was there because she wanted to know where everyone else would be if things started to go bad. Grant would not be caught in anybody's crossfire, because Cam intended to be right on her heels. She had been involved in the planning from the minute Loverboy took the bait and gave Blair the location - an abandoned amusement park. Doyle couldn't keep her out since he was using her agent.
Cam looked at Grant now, and motioned with her head to the hallway outside.
"You okay?" Cam asked.
Grant nodded. "Fine."
"Savard will wire you before you armor up," Cam reminded her. "I want to hear your voice every step. Everything you hear, everything you see, everything you think you see - I want to know about it."
"You key on my voice. You do not engage, you do not intercept, unless you hear it from me."
Grant looked at her, a question in her eyes. SAC Doyle was supposed to be relaying her orders from a surveillance post on top of a warehouse five hundred yards from the contact point.
"I'll be on the ground with Savard, closer to you than anyone else," Cam said. "I'll hear the directives at the same time you do. And I'll have a better read on the situation than he will. You go when I confirm, understood?"
"Yes, ma'am, I understand," Grant said. "Thank you." She hesitated a second, then added quietly, "Commander, my husband's on patrol tonight. I'll leave his number-"
Cam interrupted firmly. "The only person calling your husband tonight, Agent Grant, will be you when this action is over. Are we clear on that?"
Grant smiled gratefully. "Yes, ma'am. Quite clear."
"Good, then go get some rest."
Cam watched her walk away and checked her watch. Then she went in search of Savard.
Savard was laying out body armor and sorting rounds of ammunition in the small weapons room next to the main command center when Cam found her.
"Everything in order?"
Savard glanced up at her and nodded. "Yes ma'am. Locked and loaded."
"Good," Cam replied, leaning against the doorway, her arms folded over her chest. "About tonight," she began.
"Yes?" Savard replied, studying her, noting the hard stillness in her eyes. There was a finality there that told her whatever was coming was not going to be negotiable.
"Ellen Grant is mine," Cam said quietly. "No one is going to order her into danger except me."
Savard thought about that. She could go to Doyle now and tell him that there was a conflict in command, because she knew that he expected to control Grant's movements. Roberts was giving her a choice. Which meant that she was also giving her the responsibility, and the accountability. Once they reached the rendezvous, there would just be the four of them. Grant, Roberts, her and - Loverboy. It came down to who she wanted to make the final call, and whose judgment she wanted to rely on in the heat of the moment.
"You'll be the senior agent in the field, Commander," she said quite clearly. "I have no problem with you making the call."
Cam nodded and straightened up. She still needed to go over the com links with Mac, and then review the construction plans they had received from the city planning office for the amusement park. She needed-
"Commander?" Savard said, breaking into her thoughts.
"Yes?" Cam asked.
"You'll need to be fresh, too, and you haven't had much sleep the last couple of days."
Cam raised an eyebrow, surprised by her frankness.
"There's still a few hours before we have to gear up," Savard remarked.
"I'll take that under advisement," Cam said. "Thank you, Agent."
Savard took one step forward, reached to touch her, then stopped. "We're all trained for this. It must be very difficult for someone who isn't - the uncertainty of it all." She hesitated, then added, "She'll need to hear that you'll be back."
Cam stared at her, expressionless for what seemed like an interminable length of time, before a grin lifted one corner of her mouth. "They certainly are not making FBI agents the way they used to."
Savard grinned back. "No, ma'am, they're not."
original fiction index | xena homepage | what's new | amazontrails.com