Above All Honor

by Radclyffe

Above All Honor by Radclyffe

Chapter One

"I don’t want this assignment."

"You don’t have a choice."

"With all due respect, sir, I am a senior agent, and I should have some say regarding my assignments."

He studied her silently. She was thinner than the last time he had seen her, and there was a new hardness in her dark eyes. She stared at him in thinly disguised challenge, the anger simmering very near the surface. The folder on his desk held her service record. It was flawless, exemplary in every way. It told the crucial facts, and none of the story. No one had ever known the whole story, and now they never would. Because she wasn’t talking, and no one really wanted her to. What everyone wanted was to get on with business as usual, and it was his job to see that that happened.

"You’ve been selected by the Security committee. They think you’re the best one to head up the detail. Their decision is not negotiable."

"It’s a goddamned baby-sitting assignment. Any rookie could do it," she seethed through clenched teeth. She was skirting the edge of insubordination. She knew it, and she didn’t care. There wasn’t a thing anyone could do to her that could hurt her any longer. Except maybe bury her in a bullshit detail like this. She needed a field assignment -- something that would consume her energy; something that would exhaust her mind; something that would obliterate her memories.

"Is it the injury? Do they think I’m not fit for active duty?" she demanded.

"Are you?"

"Absolutely. I’ve been released from rehab, and I’m done with the mandatory psych eval."

"Good. I’m glad to hear it. You start tomorrow. I suggest you review the available reports from the current commander before you leave for New York."

"Damn it, Stewart! You know I don’t deserve this!"

"This has nothing to do with you, Agent Roberts. That will be all."

Assistant Director Stewart Carlisle watched the tall, trim agent as she turned away, stiff with rage. He had no doubt she would give her best; she always did. What he wondered was where she would put her anger.

**********

"Booth seven is free," the firearms supervisor informed her.

She nodded, grabbing a pair of protective earmufflers as she walked through the small office to the long corridor that opened into the individual firing stations. She wore a gray tee-shirt and navy sweatpants from her two-hour workout at the gym, and the back of her shirt was still wet with sweat. The small bag she carried held her service automatic and ammunition. She looked neither right nor left as she strode rapidly toward the narrow glass enclosure.

There was a row of buttons that allowed her to set the target type and distance. She began with a medium range standard human form and fired off a clip at an easy pace, alternating between clusters in the mid-torso and head. As she rhythmically squeezed the trigger her mind slowly emptied of emotion, until all she felt was the recoil of her weapon and the measured beating of her heart. When she was no longer aware of her anger over an assignment that she perceived as an undeserved demotion, she moved the target fifty feet further away. Accuracy demanded even greater concentration, and as she began to fire in faster, tighter bursts the ever present vestiges of longing and loss began to fade. By the time she had moved the smallest target to its farthest distance, she felt absolutely nothing.

**********

Fresh from the shower, she walked naked across the carpeted living room to the bar. The apartment was on the twenty-first floor, and the floor to ceiling windows were uncovered, exposing the night skyline of Washington, D.C. The view was breathtaking. She poured an inch of single malt scotch into a heavy crystal rock glass and leaned against the bar, staring at the city lights mingling with the stars. There had been a time when this vision had moved her with its piercing beauty. There had been many nights when she had allowed the tensions of the day to drift away into that great expanse of flickering light, feeling the world settle back into some kind of order. It was often the last thing she saw before she slipped into bed, but then she hadn’t been alone.

She reached for the gray silk robe from the back of a chair as a knock sounded at the door. She had a flight to New York in five hours, and a meeting with her new team at eight a.m. She still needed to review the dossier that had been delivered by courier that evening. She didn’t have much time, and she knew she wouldn’t sleep.

She glanced at the clock as she crossed to the door. It was one a.m. Her visitor was punctual; she always was. She opened the door to admit a woman in her mid-thirties, casually dressed in a beige linen suit, a silk shirt open to expose the swell of her breasts, and low-heeled soft tan boots. The woman greeted her with a familiar smile, brushing her blond hair back with a long elegant hand.

"Hi."

"Hello. Can I get you something to drink?"

"That depends," the blond replied as she slipped her jacket off and laid it carefully across the back of a couch that faced the windows. "Are you in the mood for talking tonight?"

"I don’t have much time."

"Then I’ll have that drink another time," her guest replied softly. "Sit down in front of the windows."

The woman in grey dimmed the lights as she moved around to the sofa as directed. The room was in near darkness except for the shadows etched in the moonlight. She sipped her scotch and watched the stars revolve around her. She had been here before, but not quite like this. She was barely aware of the gentle tug that loosened the belt at her waist, or the soft parting of the silk that covered her. At the first light touch of fingers against her skin, she shivered involuntarily. Eventually the strokes along her taut abdomen and up the insides of her thighs became firmer, more insistent, demanding her attention. She arched toward the woman kneeling before her in the dark, tightening almost painfully as warm lips encircled her. Slow practiced caresses of a velvet smooth tongue swept the images from her consciousness, eclipsing thought with near painful pleasure. A groan escaped her as she dropped her head back against the couch, allowing the slowly building pressure to take her outside herself, beyond thought, past memory. The pounding of her heart grew loud in her ears as her breath came in short gasps, almost sobs. She struggled to contain the exquisite, piercing throbbing in her clit, and failed. When the explosion began, ripping at her control, she slipped one hand into the soft blond hair, moaning deep in her throat. Trembling, helpless, for a few moments she was mercifully unaware.

**********

She walked the blonde to the door, handing her a sealed envelope that rested on the table just inside the foyer.

"I’ll be away for a while. I don’t know how long."

"Will I see you again?"

"I don’t know."

The blonde studied the tall dark-haired stranger she had met countless times in the dark hours of the night - in this room, in elegant hotel suites - in rooms that might be anywhere, or nowhere at all. She knew virtually nothing of the other woman's life, except what she gleaned from the confessions of her body. She knew the hard, lean muscles and the angry red scar on her thigh. She knew the soft, sensitive places that left her gasping when touched. She wondered whose name she called when she came into the silence. She had never tried to find out, and she did not want to know now. Strangely, it was something else she wanted altogether. She wanted to leave something of herself.

Breaking every rule, the blonde said softly, "My name is Claire."

"Claire," the dark-eyed stranger whispered, the expression in her intense gaze unfathomable. She kissed her for the first time, a brief tender meeting of lips that spoke a greeting, or perhaps a good-bye. Then, breaking every rule, she said, "My name is Cameron."

When the door closed, leaving them to their own separate lives, the lingering memory of that kiss was all that remained between them.
 
 

Chapter Two

 

At six a.m. United States Secret Service Agent Cameron Roberts boarded a small jet bound for New York City. She wore her ID badge clipped to the pocket of her dark blue gabardine suit. She carried an overnight bag with a change of clothes, and her computer. The rest of her belongings would follow on a separate flight, and would be delivered to her new apartment in the Gramercy Park Hotel later that day by some member of her team. After four hours of deep sleep, undisturbed by dreams, she felt fresh and ready to work. That she didn’t like her assignment was now a moot point. She had a job to do, and that was all that mattered.

The flight was only partially full. It was Saturday morning, and only a few government employees were traveling. She took a seat across the aisle from a burly blond man with a badge that displayed FBI in bold letters. She saw him study her own badge as she sat down. Female agents were no longer rare, but she still drew attention. She was used to it.

"Investigative division?" he questioned as the plane taxied down the runway.

She nearly said 'yes', then stopped herself quickly. With a shake of her head, she replied, "Protective."

"Anybody important?" he asked curiously.

"Aren’t they all?"

He couldn’t tell if she was joking, so he stifled a laugh. And they said FBI agents were humorless!

She opened a laptop computer, subtly angling the screen away from him. He took the hint and opened a newspaper as she entered her password.

She entered the link to the USSS personnel division and brought up the bios on her new team. Nothing out of the ordinary. Four men and four women in addition to herself, all with more than five years experience in the field. All college educated, as were almost all agents except the rare few who came through military channels or some other unusual route. All had advanced emergency medical training, as had she, and all were expert marksman. Two of the men and one woman were married; there was one Hispanic and two black agents. She fixed a name to each face and exited the site.

Entering the protected password, she brought up the encrypted file she had downloaded last night.

___

Field Report, Fri 12/26, 21:30
Submitted by USSS Agent in Charge Daniel Ryan
 

Subject: Blair Jane Powell
DOB: 12/31/1972
Residence: 310 Gramercy Park, PH
New York City, 10021
Phone: (212) 295-0566

Marital Status: Single
Education: Washington Friends High School, Wash. D.C.
                Paris Institute of Fine Arts
Occupation: Artist
Business address: NA
Business Agent: Diane Bleeker

Code Name: Egret
Physical Description: WF, 5’8", 120 lbs.
Hair: Blonde, Eyes: Blue.
Distinguishing marks: 2 cm scar right eyebrow, 3cm tattoo
    right posterior shoulder ( purple and blue labyris)

Medical Conditions: None
Allergies: None

Significant relationships: (SEE ATTACHED REPORTS)
Romantic: Current - unverified
               Last known - classified, FYEO file

Summary: Standard twenty-four hour rotating shift surveillance. Subject schedule fluid, frequently unverifiable. Communication link: Team commander only per subject request. On-person com links refused.
___

The file was bare bones minimum, and Cam wondered what her predecessor wasn’t willing to commit to hard copy. She’d find out soon enough. He was meeting her at the airport for a debriefing.

She sipped her coffee and slipped the thin folder that held the Eyes Only report on Egret’s last known lover from her briefcase. She read it carefully, her expression betraying nothing. According to this, until eighteen months ago, the President’s daughter had been having an affair with the wife of the French Ambassador. For obvious reasons, the relationship had been kept under deep cover, although rumors had floated in the security community for years about the sexual leanings of Blair Powell. Part of Cam’s job was to see that those rumors remained just that. Her job would be doubly hard if the subject refused to cooperate.

She wondered briefly if her appointment as commander of the security detail assigned to Ms. Powell hadn’t been due to her own sexual preferences. It wasn’t a matter of record, of course, but no one really believed that any one in the government’s employ had any secrets. She had been careful, but certainly not paranoid, about her personal life. After the events of a year ago, she doubted there was much her superiors didn’t know. Speculation was futile, and pointless. She knew for certain she didn’t care.

She fed the file recounting the details of Blair Powell’s love life into the shredder at the front of the plane as she exited.

**********

"Sorry to transition on the run," Daniel Ryan remarked as they settled into a booth in the airport cafeteria. "I have to catch the next flight out."

"No problem," Cam replied neutrally.

"Mac Phillips, who will basically be your aide, has the apartment building plans, evac routes, and hospital info ready to review with you as soon as you arrive. Your NYPD liason is Lieutenant Marcia Landers; she’s Hostage Rescue. She usually interfaces with the police patrol division commander, Lieutenant Chuck Thayer, if Egret is travelling to some public function. Both good people. Otherwise, we cover her internally."

"Uh huh," Cam said casually. Everything he was telling her could have easily been relayed by anyone on the team. She was waiting for him to get to the point of this private meeting.

He watched her watching him. Her rep was that she was a real straight arrow, by-the-book agent. She’d have to be to get this post. She certainly looked the part. Her short dark hair was perfectly trimmed, neat around her ears, collar length in back; her suit was without a wrinkle, and perfectly tailored to her tight, trim build; she didn’t display a hint of nerves, or anything else - assessing him with intense, piercing gray eyes. Her bio said she’d been in the investigative unit for twelve years. Why she’d been reassigned to the protective division was anybody’s guess. Beyond that scant information, she was a cipher. He couldn’t find anyone who had inside knowledge about her, and no one had heard even a whisper that she was anything other than an obsessively dedicated agent. He met her gaze and made a decision.

"Can we talk off the record here?"

"Go ahead," Cam responded.

"Every day for the last six months I woke up wondering who I had pissed off to get this assignment," he said with a shake of his head. "Egret is practically impossible to protect because she doesn’t want us around. She’s had eleven years of practice misleading us, evading us, and generally humiliating us when it comes to surveillance. She’s like Jeckyl and Hyde. At public functions, she’s fine - cooperative, even friendly. Privately, she does everything she can to make our job hell. She refuses to discuss her schedule with anyone except the team commander. Congratulations. Then she changes plans without telling anyone. We almost never have time to adjust vehicle placement or equipment, so we have to shadow her on foot, which in New York City is a nightmare. She absolutely refuses to wear a microphone or any other tracking device, even on direct instruction from the President." He handed her two photographs. "Then there’s this."

She studied the shots side be side. The first was a standard publicity picture, a close up of Blair Powell at the opening of the Reagan Library earlier that year. As usual, she looked poised and confidant. Her blonde hair was swept back from her face, held with a silver clasp at the base of her neck. Her makeup was understated and flawless, serving only to accentuate the natural elegance of her sculpted face and clear, smooth skin. Her designer dress highlighted her sleek form, complimenting both her athleticism and her subtle softness. She was, in a word, beautiful.

The second photo was a candid taken when the subject was unaware. It was grainy, suggesting it had been taken from a unit with a telephoto lens. The details, however, were clear. The woman in the photo wore tight faded jeans and a white cotton tank top. Her breasts, firm and well-shaped, were clearly evident beneath the thin material and unencumbered by a brassiere. The clothes displayed her long legs, sleek torso, and toned limbs with brazen explicitness. Her collar length blonde hair hung free around her face, mildly curly, looking as if she had simply run her hands through it in lieu of a comb. She wore no make-up, and didn’t look like she needed any. She exuded an energy that was palpable even in the poor photo. She projected the sensuality of a jungle cat, and looked about as dangerous. She bore almost no resemblance to the contained, refined woman in the first shot.

Cam handed him the photographs silently. It was his show.

"No one in the general public recognizes her like that, and sometimes it even takes us a minute or two. In that time, she can disappear in the crowd, walk into a restaurant unnoticed, get into a cab without a fuss. That’s why it’s so easy for her to lose us. No one points a finger at her, or runs after her trying to get an autograph."

"But you and your operatives still know what she looks like," Cam pointed out. "You can find her." That was obvious, and she wondered when he would get to the real issue.

He nodded agreement. "Sure we can. Most of the time. The problem is, we also need to protect her privacy, as well as her reputation." He ignored the slight lift in Cam’s eyebrow at that line of bullshit. Blair Powell had no privacy. They both knew it was the President’s image they needed to keep untarnished. Any scandal regarding his daughter reflected on his parenting skills, and ultimately on his character.

Blowing out a breath, he cut to the chase. "She’s a lesbian. In certain situations, if we call attention to her, that’s going to get out. She knows it, and she uses it."

"How so?"

"She frequents some of the gay bars. It’s hard for me to put agents in there, even when they’re undercover. I never know when she’s going to duck into one. Plus, I don’t exactly want to announce to everyone there that Blair Powell just walked in. She picks up women - women we have absolutely no way of identifying in the moment. We have no way to know where they might go, no way to put agents in place in advance. We are constantly running in second place hoping to God she doesn’t get herself into trouble before we can get there."

"Is she promiscuous?" Cam asked evenly.

"She does better with women than I ever did," he remarked in frustration. "She doesn’t have a steady girlfriend. I wish to hell she did. Then maybe we could keep track of her. She doesn’t exactly sleep around, but she doesn’t go long without sex either."

"What are you trying to tell me here, Agent Ryan?" Cameron asked, tired of skirting the edges of the issue. "In addition to the fact that we have an uncooperative, high profile subject with a very problematic lifestyle?"

"She’s an angry animal in a cage, and you’re the new zookeeper. She’s been trying to escape for years, and when she does, someone is going to get hurt."

Cameron inclined her head in agreement. Blair Powell had lived with constant surveillance since her father had been elected Vice President for two terms, and governor of New York before that. Now that he was a newly seated President, she had at least three more years of even closer monitoring. She was a prisoner in all but name, and Cameron doubted anyone could tolerate that for long. The political pressure to hide her sexuality must make it even worse. If she had the luxury of empathizing with the First Daughter, she would have felt deeply for her predicament. But Blair Powell’s happiness was not her responsibility, and she couldn’t waste time or objectivity worrying about it.

"Some one may indeed get hurt," she responded. "I intend to see that it’s not her."
 
 

Chapter Three

"Agent Roberts?" a handsome Brad Pitt look-alike inquired as Cam stepped off the elevator on the eighth floor of a brownstone apartment building that faced the south side of Gramercy Park. He extended his hand with a disarming smile. "I’m Mac Phillips. The others are inside the command post. Welcome to the Aerie."

She took his outstretched hand, smiling at the play on eagle’s nest. "Cameron Roberts. What's on for this morning?"

She accompanied him into a large loft space that had been sectioned into work cubicles and equipment stations by shoulder high particle-board partitions. Their surveillance center occupied the entire floor directly below Blair Powell’s penthouse suite. A small conference room enclosed by glass filled the far corner. As they approached the group of people seated within, Phillips consulted a printout in his hand.

"Intro and weekly briefing now. You are scheduled to meet with Egret at eleven in the penthouse." He caught her faint expression of surprise and shrugged. "She won’t talk to any of us. She says if she must discuss her plans, it will only be once, and with the team commander."

"It’s her prerogative," Cam remarked. As she walked, she was making careful note of the banks of video monitors, multi-cassette recorders, computer simulators, and a large grid of New York City, digitally indexed and showing up-to-the minute placement of police vehicles. It was the same array of equipment used to monitor the White House and surrounds, and with the same reason. The President was vulnerable through his family. To avoid the appearance of that vulnerability, the First Family needed to be shown living as normal a life as possible, not shuttled about by armed guards. Hence, their protection needed to be provided at a distance, with as little visibility as possible. The semblance of freedom was a ruse they all conspired to perpetuate - everyone, apparently, except Blair Powell.

"Good morning, people," she said briskly as she strode to the head of the oblong table. She glanced at each face, making brief eye contact with everyone. "You have one hour to tell me everything I need to know about this operation, and everything you don’t think I need to know as well. Let’s get started."

At the end of an hour during which Cam listened, questioned, and issued a few directives, the agents who constituted her team sensed there was a new game in town. Everyone present took their responsibility seriously, for the sake of their future employment if for no other reason, and each had felt the frustration voiced earlier by the departing team commander. That dissatisfaction was heightened by the fact that they disliked Blair Powell, although none of them would ever say so, even to each other. Over the six months since Andrew Powell had been President, the obstructive, uncooperative attitude of his daughter had subtly undermined the confidence of the operatives. An hour with Cameron Roberts provided them with the first jolt of optimism they’d felt in weeks.

**********

"Allow me to summarize," Cam said as she stood and walked to the window looking down on the postage-sized private park that formed the heart of Gramercy Park. As she watched an elderly woman unlock the gate that surrounded the park, she spoke, her back to the room, but her voice clearly audible. "Ms. Powell resents our intrusion into her life; she resents our presence in every public and private moment of her day. She undoubtedly resents our observation of her personal liaisons and romantic encounters. I, for one, don’t blame her."

She turned to the group with a small shrug. "The fact that Ms. Powell does not welcome our presence is immaterial. Our job is to see that she is able to carry on her life with the maximum degree of security possible. No matter where she is, or what she’s doing. She has decided to make this a game. We have to play, and we have to win. We don’t get to throw up our hands and call foul if she changes the rules. There are no rain outs. We can’t expect her to help us win; we have to do that for ourselves."

She smiled faintly as she took her seat again. Now she understood at least one of the reasons she had been given this assignment. "Remember she is an uncooperative subject. Don’t expect her to smile and say good morning; don’t expect her to make your job easy. She has made it clear she does not want us around. She is not going to invite us along. We will switch from protective surveillance methods to investigative tactics. If she can’t see you, it will be harder for her to lose you. If you need to follow her to protect her, then you’ve got to fit in where she travels. You have to function essentially undercover."

She looked pointedly at each of her operatives, seeing them as Blair Powell must see them. Ivy league starched, polished and presentable. About as obvious as the proverbial bulls in the china shop.

"Except at scheduled public functions where Ms. Powell is acting in some official capacity, no suits, no ties, no skirts. Street clothes, preferably something appropriate for the type of locales she is known to frequent."

She saw the slight stiffening of a few shoulders, and continued unperturbed. It was time to stop circling the primary problem. "For you men, I think a slightly longer hair length would be helpful for starters. It's time for you to stop looking like tourists, or cops." She sipped the last of her coffee, gathering her papers with one hand. "A little research might also be in order. I want a summary of every gay bar and restaurant in New York City. Hours of operation, type of clientele, traffic patterns in the area, etc. Start with the ones you know she’s been to. Have it on my desk before the day is out. Know your subject, ladies and gentlemen, and you have won the first point."

Everyone relaxed slightly as she pulled open the door to the conference room. She paused at the sill, turning back casually.

"By the way Mac, does she know about the video equipment inside her apartment?"

He looked at her in surprise. How had she noticed that on a quick walk through the monitoring section?

"I doubt it," he said quietly. If she were aware of the micro-cameras mounted in the ceiling of her loft, she would hardly be walking around nude the way she did.

"Turn them off," Cam said flatly. "Video the elevator, the building exits, fire escapes, and garage only. On my responsibility."

With that she was gone, leaving them to wonder where one got the balls to countermand a direct order from the White House Chief of Staff.
 

**********
 

At precisely eleven am, Cam keyed the elevator to the penthouse, exiting in a small foyer opposite a carved oak door set into the rich wood panels. The wallpaper on the other two walls adjoining the lift was a cream fabric, intricately patterned and luxuriously textured. The effect was warm and sensual. Cam rang the bell beside the door.

Blair Powell opened the door a moment later. Her hair was wet from the shower, casually finger-combed and falling freely around her face. She wore a loosely belted blue silk robe that came to just above her knees. Her legs were bare, and Cam knew she was naked beneath the thin material. The front gaped enough to reveal the soft inner curves of both breasts. There was a trace of jasmine floating in the air. Cam was assaulted with the seething sensuality she had sensed in the photograph earlier. She kept her gaze carefully at eye level.

"I’m Agent Roberts, Ms. Powell. I’ll come back when you’re ready, " she said neutrally. "If you would just call the command room-"

"I won’t be available later," Blair interrupted, appraising the current commander assigned with her care. This one was somewhat of a surprise. She wore the requisite suit, a little better cut than most. You couldn’t see a hint of a bulge from the shoulder holster. Her hair was short, and fashionably styled in a roguishly faux-masculine cut. The double-breasted jacket was open to expose a fine white linen shirt that hugged a well developed chest and trim waist. The belted trousers were streamlined to the tightly muscled thighs. Blair found her startlingly attractive in an understated butch fashion. The Commander was either unimpeachably heterosexual or exactly what she appeared to be - a lesbian who didn’t care who knew it. Blair was intrigued.

"It’s now or next week," she continued, enjoying her control. There was no way the new commander could wait even a few hours to discuss her schedule.

"Now would be fine," Cam acquiesced graciously. She didn’t want a power struggle over trivial issues. She had no need to prove herself that way.

Blair stepped slightly aside, motioning Cam into the high-ceilinged open loft space. She smiled as Cam carefully avoided brushing against her. All business, she thought to herself.

"Do you have a first name, Agent Roberts?" Blair asked as she crossed to the kitchen area. A breakfast bar flanked by tall stools separated the cooking space from the large living room. She leaned down to pull two cups from the shelves under the island, quite aware that the movement afforded a clear view into her dressing gown.

"Cameron," Cam replied, keeping her face and voice expressionless. Her mind registered the striking perfection of the young woman’s body, an image of her soft, pink-nippled breasts indelibly implanted in her memory. She was being taunted, that much was clear. What she didn’t know was why.

Blair straightened slowly, searching for a reaction in the handsome agent's face. She was curious to find none.

"Cameron," she breathed huskily, "that’s nice. You can call me Blair."

Cameron continued unperturbed, "I’ll try not to take too much of your time, Ms. Powell. If we could just review your plans for the week, I can leave you to your day."

Blair stared at her, anger seething in her blue eyes. "Don’t patronize me, Agent Roberts. We both know you won’t be leaving me to anything at all."

Cam nodded assent. "Forgive me, I didn’t mean it that way. Of course, I can’t. But I can make my presence and that of my people as unintrusive as possible."

Blair was surprised by her conciliatory approach. That was a new tactic. Usually they tried to bully her with threats of unfavorable reports to her father, as if she were an unruly child in school. Either that or they promised her privacy while tightening the net around her. She had absolutely no reason to believe this one, despite the sincerity in her intense gray eyes. She walked around the island carrying the coffee until she was next to Cam. She reached to put the cups on the counter, brushing close to Cam as she did.

Cam didn’t flinch at the contact, although her body registered the pressure of Blair’s breasts against her arm and the heat of a naked thigh against her leg. She was annoyed by the twitch of arousal that occurred entirely involuntarily. She consciously kept her breathing light and steady. She knows about the video cameras. Putting the team commander in an embarrassing position on tape might conceivably benefit her at some point, or it just might be her idea of a game. Either way, Cam pitied Daniel Ryan. Blair Powell was a powerfully desirable woman, and if such attractions still interested her, it might become a problem. Blair had no way of knowing that despite the reflex arousal she provoked, Cam was completely immune to sexual allure.

Blair deliberately pressed closer, and Cam allowed the moment of contact to linger long enough to make it clear she was aware of it, and undisturbed by it. She’d gotten quite a lot of practice in the last six months saying no to attractive women. Then she stepped away, reaching into her inside jacket pocket for the computer log Mac had provided her.

"The schedule?" she said softly.

Blair stared at her, color rising to her face. She had just been rebuked, subtly, but very definitely. Rejection from women was a new and unwelcome experience. She’d never been as blatantly provocative with Daniel Ryan, but she had sensed his discomfort whenever they were alone, and she knew she had an effect on him. Something about Cameron Roberts’ cool, aloof manner made her want to crack that perfect self-control. If she must have a jailer, she wanted it to be one she commanded.

"Yes, let’s get that over with," she responded with irritation, taking her coffee and moving into the sitting area.

Cam followed, noting the large work area in the far corner of the loft. Easels stood open with canvasses mounted on them and other works leaned against every surface. Sunlight streamed through the skylight, illuminating the uncovered surfaces. From the brief glimpse she got, it appeared that Blair Powell deserved her reputation as a genuine artist. Cam took a seat across from Blair on one of two facing leather sofas. Blair tucked her legs under her as she curled gracefully into the cushions. Cam noted abstractly that she was much more beautiful in her unconscious moments than when she used her considerable sexual power as a weapon. In the next instant her mind had returned to the work at hand.

"I have you at a gallery opening tomorrow, dinner at the White House New Year’s Eve, and attending the Macy’s parade here in New York City with the mayor the next day," Cam read from the schedule. She looked to Blair for confirmation.

"Busy week," Blair muttered. "That seems to be it," she said tersely.

Cam regarded her thoughtfully. She would have hated such intrusion, but there was nothing to be done about it. The fact that Blair Powell did not choose this life - it wasn’t her after all who had run for public office - was beside the point. And the hard part was yet to come.

"What about your personal plans," Cam asked, her eyes on Blair’s face. She would not apologize for what she needed to do. Cam wanted it clear that she would not compromise her own responsibility or Blair’s safety because of Blair’s dislike for the situation.

"I don’t have any," Blair responded lightly.

Cam leaned back, tossing the schedule aside. She smiled faintly. "I need to know anything you have scheduled - dinner plans, a date for drinks, that sort of thing. If you don’t know, I’ll need you to tell me as things come up. All you have to do is check in with the command post -"

"I know all this, Agent Roberts," Blair said testily.

"Yes, but apparently you’re not fond of the routine."

"Would you be?"

"That’s not the point. You are the daughter of the President of the United States. You don’t need me to tell you what that means. Please let us do ours jobs, and I promise you we will be as discreet as we can be."

"Do you expect me to tell you when I plan on a sexual liaison too?" she asked bluntly.

"I don’t need to know what you’re doing so much as where you’re doing it," Cam responded smoothly. She knew Blair was trying to get her to back off, and she could not relent now. "It would be preferable if you would inform us when you planned to spend the night somewhere other than here, for example."

"And what if I don’t know where I’ll be spending the night?"

"Then I’ll improvise."

"You’re a lot more direct than your predecessors. Aren’t you afraid I’ll complain about you and you’ll end up guarding some minor foreign diplomat on their tour of the capitol?" Her tone was caustic, but she studied Cam with guarded respect. The new commander was in a class of her own. Impossible to shock, and clearly not intimidated by her. A refreshing change, but much more of a challenge than the others.

Cam laughed. "Ms. Powell, some people would consider that a plum assignment!"

"Compared to this you mean?"

Cam stood, refusing to be provoked. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Powell. Please call me at any time if there is anything you wish to discuss. I would like to review your itinerary each day. Let the command room know when it will be convenient for you to meet with me."

"Oh, absolutely," Blair responded with a smile, her tone implying just how little that request meant to her. She remained seated as Cam left the room, thinking how attractive her tight, graceful body might be under other circumstances.
 
 

Chapter Four




Mac Philips looked up as his new boss walked into the command center. He raised an eyebrow slightly in inquiry. She seemed pensive but displayed none of the thinly veiled discomfort Ryan tried to hide after one of his encounters with Egret. But then Mac didn’t expect her to reveal anything. He couldn’t remember the last time he had met anyone quite so impenetrable. He had a feeling this was going to be a "need to know" operation. He found he liked her unspoken respect for Egret’s position, and her basic assumption that they were there to protect her, not have an easy time. He was getting tired of the undercurrent of dissatisfaction and criticism that had been the daily fare around there for the last few months. If she could turn that around, he was all for her.

"Anything unexpected?" he asked as she joined him.

"Not so far. The public functions are as outlined. For the gallery opening tomorrow, I’ll be inside with two others. Have two people with the car outside. That means the afternoon and evening shift will split the extra duty."

He made a note. "Right."

"We can use some of the White House detail for the dinner on New Year’s Eve. Have one team stay here to meet her plane when she returns for the parade. All of that is standard, and in the future you can draw up the duty rosters. Just be sure I get a hard copy of who will be where."

"Done," he responded. He waited, wondering how she was going to deal with the real problem.

"Ms. Powell will not confirm any personal plans, which puts us in a reactive mode. I do not want her to get away from us, especially not now. I have a feeling she’ll be testing our new command. She is going to move, you can be sure of that. Keep a car accessible in case she grabs a cab, and have someone ready for foot pursuit, preferably a woman. If she goes to a gay bar, it might be easier if we have a woman on the inside."

"We’ve had lousy luck so far," Mac remarked. "Half the time we lose her in transit."

Can stood, stretching her cramped shoulders. "That is no longer acceptable. I’m going home. Page me the minute she steps out her door."

"Until what time?" Mac asked as he prepared to make a note.

"Any time," she said with finality. "If she isn’t in her apartment, I want to know about it."

"Yes, ma’am," Mac responded crisply. He watched her glance once around the room, assuring herself that all was in order, before she left. He had a feeling Egret was in for a surprise, and he was looking forward to seeing it.

**********

Cam stripped as she walked through her new apartment to the shower, eager to wash the effects of her flight and the first day of her new assignment from her body and her mind. The cool spray refreshed her, but did little to dispel the disquiet left from her meeting with Blair Powell.

It was not just the young woman's confrontational manner that had affected her. She was angry at herself for the physical response, however unwelcome, that the woman had provoked in her. She had been aware of an insistent pulse of stimulation long after she left the apartment. It may have been unbidden, but she felt betrayed by her own body. With an irritated shake of her head, she pulled on shorts and a tee-shirt. She could hardly be expected to control her involuntary nervous system! And here in New York there was no discrete way to relieve it. She would just have to run off the lingering remnants of arousal.

**********

Blair Powell looked down onto the busy streets below as Cam ran lightly down the steps of her brownstone and began her jog toward Central Park. She was very quickly swallowed by the crowds. An afterimage of her lean form lingered in Blair’s mind as she reached for her phone. It occurred to her that the agents downstairs might be listening, but she no longer cared. She dialed a number from memory.

"Hey, you," she said with a smile in her voice, "How come you’re working on a Saturday? ... Right! You’re still trying to be the youngest assistant director! ... Of course I need a favor! .... Background check - a Cameron Roberts. This might be a tough one. She’s secret service.... Yes, I know how much you’re sacrificing! Just get me whatever you can. ... Call me as soon as you have something, okay? And hey - I know I owe you, really .... Not in this lifetime you won’t!"

As she replaced the receiver, she contemplated calling downstairs to advise them of her change in plans. But then again, why alter the routine now. She slipped into a dark brown leather jacket as she left her apartment.

**********

The pager clipped to the waist band of the small pack Cam wore beeped just as she completed the first lap around the Central Park Resevoir. She dug out her cell phone, punching numbers with barely a break in stride.

"Roberts."

"Egret’s on the move."

"Do we know her destination?"

"No, ma’am."

"Are we covering?"

"So far. She’s on foot and we have her in visual."

"Good. Don’t attempt to make contact. Just stay with her. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. And Fielding?"

"Yes ma’am?"

"Tell them not to lose her."

"Yes ma’am."

Please god, don’t let us fuck up the first day, Agent John Fielding thought as he relayed his chief’s instructions to the two agents in pursuit.

**********

"Where is she?" Cam asked without preamble.

"At the Soho gym," Fielding replied with obvious relief.

"Do you have visual confirmation of that?"

"Yes ma’am. Paula Stark is inside."

Cam relaxed. "Good. I’m going to shower and change. If she moves before I check in, call me."

Twenty minutes later she sat across the street from the Soho gym watching the entrance. A metallic blue Ford diagonally opposite her held two secret service agents doing the same thing. She didn’t think they were aware of her. She wasn’t watching them. She trusted her agents for this type of routine surveillance. She was there because she wanted to get a sense of Blair Powell. She wanted to know where she ate, where she shopped, where she went for entertainment, and where she spent her evenings. Then she would begin to feel she could protect her.

Four hours later she was beginning to fill in some of the blanks. From a distance she had observed Blair dine with an exotic appearing dark-haired woman in a small Italian restaurant in the west Village. From there the two women had walked a few blocks to a neighborhood gay bar for a nightcap. They had taken their time, window shopping, stopping off at a bookstore, purchasing espresso from a curbside stand. They were in the bar now, and so was one of her agents. She didn’t really care if Blair saw him. Their presence should be anticipated. Cam simply told him to keep his distance and not to intrude upon them. Cam was considering calling it a night. It didn’t look like this was anything more than an evening out for Blair Powell, and the team assigned to shadow her seemed to have things under control. She was reaching for her radio to check out when she spotted Blair’s companion hurry from the bar and hail a cab. She was instantly alert.

"Young - this is Roberts. Do you have Egret in visual?"

"Negative. She’s in the restroom."

Cam switched channels. "Stark - get into that bathroom."

"I’m on it," the female agent replied as she exited the car parked just down the street from the small corner bar.

The moments passed slowly until Cam’s earpiece crackled to life.

"She’s not in here, Chief," Stark announced.

"Recheck the entire bar. If she’s not inside, start a sweep of the surrounding area. She’s on foot, at least for now." Cam punched in the numbers of the command center on her cell phone as she spoke. "Fielding, give me the addresses of all gay bars in a twenty block radius - start with known locales first."

While she waited for the computer to produce the information, she considered the situation. Blair had intentionally evaded them, which was not all that hard to do since they weren’t guarding her with the manpower a criminal surveillance would demand. That was because Blair was supposed to be a friendly protectee. Now that she was out of their range she was at potential risk for kidnapping, or if documented in some compromising circumstance, for blackmail. The fact that she was not easily identifiable as the President’s daughter was the only thing they had going for them. It was going to be a long tense night until they found her.

"I’ve got that list for you, Chief," Fielding said as he came on line.

"Go," she said. There were six potentials in the immediate area. "Get Mac Phillips in to co-ordinate the teams. I’m going to check out the ones at the top of the list."

"Got it. Good luck," he signed off.

Right, Cam muttered to herself as she locked her car and joined the crowds on the ever busy streets of Greenwich Village. An hour later she paid her third cover charge of the evening and thanked a leather-clad bouncer for a particularly garish skull and cross bones stamped on her hand. She was in a loft on a dingy block just off Houston in a massive bar that was dimly lit with recessed red lights. The interior space was divided into several levels, with at least two bars, dance floors scattered at random, and what appeared to be a warren of smaller rooms in the rear. It was women only and predominately but not exclusively a leather bar. Cam bought a beer and began to wander through the crowded main room. Toward the rear, twisting halls led off to other rooms, all of them full. She glanced into each of the smaller areas she passed, noting that the overt sexual activity increased the deeper she went into the building. At one point she had to move sideways along the wall to pass two women with their hands inside each others clothing, oblivious to those passing by or standing in the shadows observing their heated encounter.

As soon as she pushed her way into the dark bar at the end of the long hallway, Cam saw her. She was leaning against the bar, facing the room. Cam turned her back, stepping behind several women grouped along the wall. She whispered her location and instructions to the other agents before returning her gaze to Blair Powell. The President’s daughter had been joined by another woman, who pressed close against her in the crowded space. The stranger whispered urgently into Blair’s ear. Blair gazed past her into the seething crowd of bodies on the small dance floor, not answering.

Cam observed the women impassively. Blair looked remote, as if her mind were elsewhere. The leatherclad woman with her was obviously trying to interest her in something a little more intimate. As she leaned to kiss Blair’s neck, she ran a hand up the inside of Blair’s bluejeaned thigh, and would have pressed her hand to the triangle between Blair's legs if Blair hadn’t gripped her wrist, pushing her hand away at the last second. Throughout the entire time, Blair’s face barely registered a response.

It was clear to Cam that no one knew or cared who Blair was. Everyone was absorbed in their own pursuit of sex, or whatever particular thrill they were seeking. Cam needed to be sure Blair remained anonymous, and she wasn’t entirely sure how to do that. Calling attention to her by trying to remove her against her will certainly wasn’t the best course of action. Cam resigned herself to watching for the time being. That proved to be more difficult than she anticipated.

Blair’s companion was not easily diverted, and continued her insistent caresses. She had essentially trapped Blair against the bar with an arm on either side of her while she straddled Blair’s leg between her own. Blair turned her face away as the woman persisted in kissing her neck, one hand now inside Blair's shirt, fondling her breast. Blair did not seem particularly affected by the activity, but her ardent suitor apparently was. As Cam watched, the other woman began to ride Blair's leg harder, her motions jerky and tense. Can had no doubt the woman was poised to orgasm right there at the bar.

Blair could feel the woman’s heat through the material of their clothing, and heard the shaky moans as her companion pressed her damp crotch against Blair's thigh. It hadn’t been Blair’s intention to let her go that far, not until her eyes swept across the room and met those of Cameron Roberts. She was momentarily stunned. The agent leaned against the opposite wall, dressed in jeans, a white cotton shirt, and boots. She looked completely at home, and was easily one of the sexiest women in the room. The fact that Blair found the Secret Service agent attractive infuriated her, especially since she knew Cam was only there to watch her. Well, let her watch, she thought angrily to herself. She kept her eyes on Cam’s face as she cupped the woman’s buttocks in her hands, squeezing the taut muscles in small tight circles, lifting her leg hard into the other woman's crotch.

"Let me have it, baby," she whispered in her companion's ear, pumping her own hips now. "You want to, don’t you?"

"Oh Jesus, yes," the stranger panted against her neck. "Oh fuck, unhh – I need to come –" She was so far gone all she sought was that elusive instant of bone melting release. "Oh, god, yeah ---"

Cam’s gaze never strayed from the sexual display. Her faced revealed no emotion, nor did Blair’s, as Blair’s partner in the drama shuddered into climax against Blair’s body. Cam might have been embarrassed to witness the encounter had she sensed a shred of intimacy in it. It was erotic, of that there was no doubt. She knew she was wet, but the physical arousal did not penetrate her consciousness. She wasn’t the only one watching, although the interest of the others was of a different nature.

As the woman's spasms subsided, Blair extracted herself from her spent partner’s embrace, grasping her drink from the bar and pushing her way into the crowd. She did not look back at the woman sagging against the counter, gasping for breath. She did not acknowledge the occasional appreciative comments her performance had elicited. She took her time crossing to Cam.

"Enjoy the show, Agent Roberts?" she asked as she stepped to Cam’s side. The press of the crowds brought her within inches of Cam’s body. She could make out a light sheen of sweat on Cam's skin in the soft red glow of the lights.

Cam's eyes were impossible to read as she returned Blair’s gaze. "I have a car outside when you’re ready to leave," was all she said. She had no intention of involving herself in a conscious way in Blair Powell’s personal affairs. She might have to witness them, if Blair continued with this kind of public encounter, but she didn’t have to be a participant.

"And if I decide to walk home?"

"As you wish," Cam replied.

"I’m not sure I’ve had enough entertainment yet," she said pointedly.

Cam shrugged. "The car will be there no matter how late you stay."

"And will you be?"

"Yes."

Blair sipped her manhattan, the only drink she’d had all evening. She might like to walk on the wild side, but she wasn’t a fool. She tried to gauge the agent’s attitude from her expression and the tone of her voice, and found she couldn’t. Cameron leaned relaxed against the wall, her tone friendly, her face composed. To anyone watching, they might be any two women in the first exploratory stages of a typical bar encounter. Except Blair knew they weren’t, and as much as Agent Roberts made it appear that she had some choice in the rest of the evening, the truth was that the moment they found her, her freedom had ended. She set her glass on the nearest table.

"You don’t make it as my choice for an escort," she said bitterly. "I’m going home."

Cam followed Blair out to the street at a discreet distance, and once she saw her climb into the car with two of her agents, she headed tiredly toward home herself. As she walked, she tried not to replay the image of a strange woman surrendering to passion in Blair Powell’s cold embrace.
 
 

Chapter Five

Mac was surprised to see Cameron walk in at seven a.m. on Sunday morning. The report from the night watch said it was she who had picked up Egret’s trail and tracked her down in the late hours of the night. Interestingly, there was no report on the surveillance inside the bar. Roberts would have to do that herself. He nodded hello as she poured coffee and joined him at the large central work station.

"How long have you been on this detail, Mac?" she asked conversationally.

"Since the beginning of the President’s term," he replied.

"Have things been this out of hand the entire time?"

He held his breath for a second, trying to judge who he might potentially offend that mattered. He couldn’t think of anyone. "Worse. At least last night we found her. There’s been a half dozen nights, and one whole weekend, when we didn’t know where she was."

"Christ," Cam muttered. "How in hell did you keep that quiet?"

Mac shrugged. "Egret’s not stupid. She knew we’d have to hit the panic button if she were completely out of contact, so she called in every few hours, randomly, from pay phones, to prove she was okay. We ran around like assholes the whole time trying to find her."

"No repercussions?"

"Egret’s got a lot of pull with her old man. If someone complains about her, and it gets back to him, it better be serious, or you’re looking for a new job. And he doesn’t seem to think a little joy riding is too serious."

"I do," Cam said flatly. "And since we’re not going to get any help from above, we’ll have to stay tight on her, but not get in her way. She’s most likely to run if we crowd her."

"I think everyone understands the plan," he replied.

"See that they do."

"Yes, ma’am."

**********

At three p.m., Blair emerged from the apartment building and climbed into the back of the nondescript black car waiting at the curb for her. Cameron Roberts was inside. Blair was dressed for the gallery opening in a simple black dress that spoke of taste and understated elegance. The thin straps accentuated the toned muscles of her shoulders and arms, while the scooped neck revealed just a hint of cleavage. This was a pre-publicized event, and the presence of the secret service was expected. Blair noted that Agent Roberts looked well-attired for the gathering in a gray silk suit and monochromatic shirt, beautifully tailored and fashionably cut. This was one public servant who did not buy her clothes off the rack.

The guest list was a mixture of all the important art collectors in the city and quite a few of the artists as well. Cam had photos of all of them, and invitations would be required for admission to the Soho gallery. Nevertheless, this was the most dangerous situation for Blair - a public function, advertised in advance. At the very least, there would be a curious crowd gathered outside. Cam planned on being inside with two other agents, while the second team waited in the car.

"Good afternoon, Ms. Powell," Cam remarked as they traveled.

"Agent Roberts, we meet again. Are you to be my date today?" she asked mildly.

"I was planning on coming in after you were inside. It’s not the best idea for me to be too easily identified. For those times we’d prefer none of us be recognized."

Blair laughed with just a hint of bitterness. "Times like last night, you mean. When it might be embarrassing."

"For those times when you might like as much privacy as possible," Cam amended quietly.

Blair stared at her. "You’d like me to think you care?"

Cam shrugged lightly, a small smile flickering at the corner of her mouth. "The happier you are, the happier I’m going to be."

Blair laughed again, this time with no restraint. "You are honest at least, although I’m not sure how far that will get you."

"It’s the only card I have to play," Cam said seriously.

Blair surveyed her coolly. "Your approach is certainly novel. I’m used to strong-armed tactics – 'behave or else'. No one has tried the humble 'I’m just here to look after you' routine before. I suppose you think I’ll fall for that and suddenly bare my – soul—for you?"

Her tone was mockingly suggestive, and her frank survey of Cam’s body left little question of her intent. She shifted slightly on the leather seat, baring an expanse of smooth, well-muscled thigh.

Cam smiled, unperturbed. No matter how attractive Blair Powell was, and she was damned attractive, Cam had no intention of being sidetracked. "If I can do my job without getting in your way, I will. As much as that is possible, I’ll see that that happens. There’ll be times when it’s impossible. I’ll apologize in advance for that."

"But you won’t bend the rules – not even as a favor?" Blair questioned softly, her tone heavy with innuendo.

"No," Cam stated flatly. She bent her head slightly as a voice in her ear appraised her of their location. Looking up she caught the surprise in Blair’s eyes before her elegant features set into an expression of arrogant dismissal.

"We’re almost there," Cam informed her. "One of the agents will walk you in."

"I know the drill," Blair snapped, irritated at the agent’s implacable demeanor. Maybe she was wrong; maybe Roberts was straight after all. But the way she had looked in the bar! God, she was so hot, and seemed so comfortable there. Knowing Cam was watching from across the room while the stranger in leather took her pleasure from Blair’s body had been an incredible turn on for her. More exciting than anything the woman against her was doing. She wanted Cam to feel as unsettled as she had been the night before. So far, she hadn’t been able to crack the agent's cool exterior. If she couldn’t unbalance her in some way, it was going to be very difficult to elude her and her watch dogs.

"Enjoy the opening," Cam said quietly as Blair slid from the limo. Blair did not grace her with a response.

**********

Diane greeted her with an affectionate hug, whispering softly, "Hey, darlin’ – I called you all last evening. Out on the prowl?"

Blair shrugged imperceptibly, aware of the reporters nearby. "For a while."

They moved away from the crowd milling around the small bar which offered the obligatory wine and cheese. Blair smiled at the people she knew as well as those she didn’t. She had so much practice at this she barely registered the faces any longer.

"Get lucky?" Diane probed with the slightest edge in her voice. They had known each other for years, since prep school at Choate, where they had been lovers briefly as teenagers. There had been more than one time Diane wished they still were. There were moments when she caught sight of Blair unexpectedly and her breath would catch with sudden desire. Blair was beautiful, talented, and --most attractively-- emotionally remote. Just the kind of challenge Diane liked in her women. When she looked at the cool, self-contained woman beside her, she barely remembered the eager, open young girl with whom she had first shared love and simple unbridled sexual pleasure. She hadn’t caught a glimpse of her in years.

Blair’s smile was brittle. "Depends on how you define that. I enjoyed her."

"Did she enjoy you?" Diane pushed, knowing full well Blair rarely allowed her sexual conquests the pleasure of having her. Which was one of the reasons Diane remained attracted. Like the exquisite one-of-a-kind works of art she brokered, she lusted after the exceptional, the singular, the one thing that no one else had. She wanted to be the one to wrest a cry of passion from those beautiful lips, to break the silence of Blair’s isolation.

A warning flickered in Blair’s blue eyes. There were places where even her oldest friend was not welcome. "She got what she was looking for. She left satisfied."

Yes, but did you? Diane thought, but wisely did not say. She surveyed the room, pleased at the turn out. Whenever she showed Blair’s paintings, there was interest. Some of it, of course, was due to Blair's notoriety, but most of it was due to her genuine talent. The collectors were beginning to buy her work, recognizing its value. It wasn’t a solo showing this time, but Blair was the featured artist.

"Where’s your new Spooky?" Diane asked.

"Directly across the room. She just came in," Blair responded. Cameron was looking casually in their direction without seeming to focus on them. She was good. Blair knew perfectly well that she was the only thing Cameron was looking at. She also knew that the handsome agent saw her only as an assignment, an object to be moved, contained, and controlled on some giant chess board. Blair might be the queen, but she had been stripped of her power. She was ruled by pawns, and she hated it. Especially when her keeper was a woman so attractive Blair felt a twinge of desire every time she saw her. That made her even more eager to escape those intense grey eyes.

"Oh my," Diane murmured, following Blair’s gaze. She took in the lean physique and androgenous features in one swift appraising glance. "She is tantalizing."

Irked at the suggestive tone in Diane’s voice and even more irritated at her own surge of possessiveness, Blair snapped, "Yeah, if she isn’t being paid to watch you."

"I’d almost be willing to pay for that," Diane rejoined, ignoring the edge in Blair’s tone. She had never let friendship stand in the way of her attraction to another woman, and if Blair was interested too, that just intensified the challenge. This one looked like she would take some work. There was a nearly visible barrier around her, her indifference shouting look if you want to, I couldn’t care less. Diane loved bringing those untouchable types to their knees, so to speak.

"You need to mingle, darlin’," Diane said as she moved away, "and so do I if I’m going to sell anything."

Blair watched her lithe blonde friend melt into the throng, wondering how long it would take her to get around to Agent Roberts. She frowned at her own concern, and turned smiling to the director of the Museum of Modern Art, greeting him by name without a hint of her inner disquiet.

**********

"It’s a shame you can’t enjoy the artwork," Diane said softly as she moved next to Cam. "Not that watching Blair is not enjoyable. I’m Diane Bleeker, Blair’s agent."

"How do you do," Cam nodded politely, knowing full well exactly who the sophisticated woman beside her was. "I have managed a glance or two at the works."

"See anything you like," Diane queried teasingly. She didn’t see the point in being coy. She was well beyond that in her life. She allowed one leg to rest gently against Cam’s trousered thigh. It could have been the press of the crowd that brought her so close, but they both knew it wasn’t.

Cam registered the contact, and the heat of Diane’s body so close to her. If she glanced down she knew she would see the creamy expanse of the woman's breasts revealed by the low scoop of her black dress. She didn’t look down. She gazed instead past her, to where Blair stood in conversation with a young man who resembled every stereotype of "struggling young artist" she had ever seen, right down to the rumpled tweed jacket and scraggly beard. She kept her eyes on them as she spoke.

"Actually yes. There’s a series of sketches, nudes, on the far right wall. Charcoal on paper. They’re hers, aren’t they?"

Diane studied her in surprise. She doubted many people had paid the small sketches much attention in the midst of the large oils and other canvasses. But that wasn’t the real reason for her careful answer.

"The artist is Sheila Blake."

"Uh huh," Cam replied with a slight smile. "Ms. Blake’s strokes resemble those of Ms. Powell’s, as does the use of light and shadow. Of course, I’m sure the President’s daughter wouldn’t have cause to be doing female nudes. Are they for sale?"

"Yes," Diane replied, intrigued and immensely attracted.

"And confidential?"

"If the buyer desires. Once the works are consigned to me, the buyer becomes my client."

"The buyer wishes to remain anonymous," Cam stated smoothly, shifting her position slightly to keep Blair in sight.

Diane caught her breath as Cam’s arm unintentionally brushed her breast. She felt her nipple harden painfully, knowing it was visible beneath the shear material of her dress. Was it possible to be this aroused by someone who was practically ignoring you?

"I guarantee it," she managed, her voice husky.

"Thank you."

"Need we discuss price," Diane asked. She was a businesswoman, after all.

"That won’t be necessary."

"Perhaps you’ll allow me to take you to lunch then, to discuss the details."

Cam met her gaze fully for the first time, reading the invitation in them. "Lunch would be fine," she responded. "I’ll call."

"Yes, please do."
 
 

Chapter Six

"Are you awake?"

"Did you get what I need?"

"More or less – I don’t think this is going to make you very happy."

Blair sighed as she pulled her robe around herself and stumbled toward the kitchen and her first cup of coffee. "Tell me."

"She’s not going to be easy to slip away from. Twelve years in the investigative division. Her specialty was tracking Columbian drugs paid for by counterfeit US dollars. Crooks scamming crooks. Apparently she was very good at it."

Blair watched the coffee drip into the pot, her thoughts swiftly calculating. "Why is she suddenly assigned to protection? What aren’t you telling me?"

"There are substantial holes in the information on her. As a matter of record, she was involved in a multi-jurisdictional snafu last year. The secret service had surveillance units watching a drug factory on the outskirts of DC. Apparently the ATF was involved because they thought the same guys were trafficking guns as well as phony money. Unbeknownst to either Federal agency, the DC narcotics unit had an agent under cover with the drug boys. Somehow the Colombians got wind of it, the narcotics detective’s cover was blown, and she was killed in a shoot out. Cameron Roberts was shot trying to warn her off seconds before the whole place went crazy."

Blair’s stomach tightened. "She was shot?"

"In the thigh. That’s not the whole story though."

"What is?"

Her caller hesitated. Even friendship had its limits. "Roberts has a sterling reputation, Blair."

"I don’t intend to sully it," Blair snapped.

"There are rumors – not many, and no one will commit to knowing anything for sure. She’s well-liked by her colleagues-"

"All right! I get your point. You don’t want to tell me, but you will. Because if you don’t I’ll make sure you’re never an Assistant Director."

"Blair!"

"I’m kidding, and you should know that, if you don’t after all these years. Tell me who she is, AJ. She’s got control over my life!"

"Deep sources say the narcotics dick who was killed was her lover."

"Christ!" Blair breathed.

"That may explain the change in assignments. A thing like that can ruin you for field work."

Blair pictured the clear-eyed, focused woman who had tracked her down at the bar with seeming ease two nights before. None of the other agents had been able to find her once she'd slipped into the shadows. Or at least none had ever dared to.

"I don’t think she’s ruined for anything, AJ. She’s ice."

"That would fit."

"What do you mean?"

"There’s one other rumor, buried so deep I’m not even sure it’s her they’re talking about."

Blair sat on the edge of the stool at her breakfast bar, her coffee forgotten. "What is it?"

"You’ve heard of the very hush hush escort service that operates on the hill?"

"You mean the one that provides all kinds of companions- boys, girls, either or both - for senators, dignitaries, and supposedly my father?"

"I don’t know a thing about your father!"

"It doesn’t matter one way or the other to me. He leaves me alone, that’s all I care about. What’s this got to do with Roberts? Is she trying to shut it down?"

"Might be she’s using it."

Blair caught her breath, then laughed derisively. "Your sources haven’t seen Cameron Roberts. Believe me, she does not have to pay for sex!!"

"Maybe she wants to."

"Come again?"

"No strings – no attachment – nothing to lose."

"I forgot you’re a psychologist," Blair commented dryly. She finally sipped her coffee. "So what you’re telling me is that my new keeper has no weaknesses I might exploit to make a little breathing room for myself, huh?"

"None that I could find."

Blair gently replaced the receiver, her annoyance warring with her curiosity. Every one had a secret, and everyone had a weakness – even her. She had just been lucky enough to keep hers hidden all her life. So apparently had Cameron Roberts.

**********

At precisely eleven a.m. a knock sounded at the door. Blair answered, knowing whom it was.

"Always punctual, Agent Roberts?" she queried as she turned away, leaving Cam to follow her into the loft. As she walked she caught her wild blond hair back with a headband fashioned from a black bandana. She pushed sweats and other gear into a nondescript gym bag, ignoring Cam as she packed.

"I thought we might go over the plans for the trip to DC, and New Year’s Eve," Cam suggested, leaning against the back of the couch.

"What’s to review," Blair said dismissively. "You’ll escort me to the airport, another hired guard will pick me up at National and deposit me at the White House, where I will play dutiful daughter, pose for a few photos, and celebrate surviving another year." She glanced at Cam with a shrug. "I’ll tell you when – you be here."

"I would like to have the itinerary in advance so I can brief my team. Shall we plan on departure at 3pm Wednesday?"

Blair finally faced her fully. "I am in the habit of setting my own schedule."

"That’s why I’m here," Cam replied evenly.

"Do you spar, Agent Roberts?" Blair asked suddenly.

"As in hand to hand combat?"

"As in karate?"

Cam hesitated momentarily, at a loss as to where they were headed. Blair Powell did not make casual conversation. "Not exactly. I don’t point spar – I’m a mat stylist. I –"

"Then let’s talk about the travel arrangements after we work out. I was just leaving for the gym. You can use some of my gear."

Cam stared at her. This was not a good idea. She was paid to protect her, not socialize with her. She didn’t care how it might look to others, but she was worried about maintaining a professional distance. Blair was hard enough to handle without adding the confusion of any sort of personal relationship.

Stalling she said, "If you’re going out I need to alert my people---"

Blair grabbed her bag, brushing past Cam. "I’m outta here. You coming or not?"

Cam had no choice. She either went with her or allowed her to leave the building alone and hope one of her agents picked her up before Blair lost them in the crowds on the street. She hurried after her, activating her radio as she went.

"Mac, you there?" she whispered urgently.

"Yeah, boss," Mac answered immediately.

"Egret is flying – get someone downstairs in a car-"

"Roger that – you keeping her company?"

"Affirmative, but I want backup, and make sure everyone is mobile." She shouldered into the elevator just as the doors began to slide closed. Blair leaned against the rear wall watching her with an amused expression on her face. Cam clicked off the radio, clipped it back on her belt and stared at her. She was more annoyed than angry, but she kept her expression neutral.

"You don’t like it, do you?" Blair stated.

"Like what?" Cam asked evenly.

"Not being in control- not knowing what’s going to happen one moment to the next."

"If we’re speaking about my work, you’re right. It’s my job to be in the know – to have control of the situation. That’s what I’m paid to do."

Blair studied her, unable to read anything in her smooth even features or her calm modulated tones. The elevator doors opened into the foyer and she saw two agents waiting near the door. She shook her head impatiently.

"Tell them to leave us alone," she said unexpectedly. There was a hint of something desperate in her voice.

"The gym on Seventh Ave?" Cam responded.

"Yes."

Cam spoke into her radio. "We’re walking to Soho. Follow us in the car."

Cam and Blair stepped out into a brisk clear morning as the two men moved past them into the car that sat idling at the curb. It slowly drifted through traffic behind them as they turned south toward the gym.

Blair glanced at Cam who walked beside her, constantly scanning the street ahead of them and the cars that passed along side.

"Are you really serious about protecting me?" she asked.

"Of course."

"Why?"

"Because you need it, and because I have been asked to do it."

"Would you actually 'take a bullet' for me, as they say?" Blair said mockingly. A muscle clenched in Cam’s jaw, and a storm rose in her gray eyes.

"Yes," she answered curtly. She locked eyes with Blair, searching for some hint of what she was after. She had no doubt there was some point to this. Blair’s blue eyes were defiant, and just as searching.

"You’ve had some practice at that, haven’t you," Blair probed. Finally a swift intake of breath and a slight falter in Cam’s step rewarded her as the question struck home. She does have a weak spot, she thought triumphantly. When Cam failed to answer, Blair pushed.

"It’s a matter of record, you know."

"Then you know all there is to know," Cam replied stiffly. She fought to keep the image of Janet’s face from her mind.

"Really?"

"As you said – it’s a matter of record."

Blair laughed. "We all know how accurate the records are, don’t we, Agent Roberts?"

**********

Their destination was not the expected polished urban health club where Blair practiced yoga and aerobics. Blair led them swiftly past the entrance to the gym and turned down an adjacent alley. Cam groaned inwardly when Blair grabbed her arm and directed her up a flight of narrow littered stairs to a huge room on the third floor of a rundown tenement building.

The clientele was mostly male. There were worn punching bags hung from chains scattered about, men in torn tee shirts or no shirts at all pounding at them. Heavily- muscled lifters grunted and sweated at the free weight benches tucked into every conceivable corner. Two elevated boxing rings dominated the center of the space, one currently occupied by a pair of fighters making a serious effort to score off each other. Cam was willing to bet there were half a dozen felons in the room, any one of whom probably knew exactly who Blair Powell was.

"Have you been here before?" she asked as she weaved her way around bodies, following Blair toward the rear.

"Three times a week for eighteen months."

Cam was furious. No one had told her about this place – she had no background on the members, no idea of the physical layout, and no prayer of guarding Blair effectively. How in hell had this been overlooked?

As if reading her mind, Blair commented, "They don’t know about it."

"How?"

Blair grinned, an altogether spontaneous and disarming grin. Or it might have been if Cam hadn’t been so angry. "They think I’m at my therapist’s office around the corner most of the time."

"Back door?"

"Uh huh."

Cam didn’t ask her why. There was no need to. She knew why. Pointing out the danger would be meaningless. Blair obviously cared less for her safety than for her freedom, and that was probably the result of having people like herself constantly shadowing her for the last fifteen years of her life. What mattered to Cam now was that something similar not happen again.

"Here we are," Blair announced, pulling back the curtain to a small cramped dressing room not much bigger than a walk-in closet. A shower stall and toilet were visible behind a rickety screen in the back. Blair tossed her bag down and in one fluid motion pulled off her shirt. She caught Cam off guard and laughed knowingly as Cam’s eyes flickered once to her breasts before she quickly looked away.

"You can grab sweats and a tee shirt from my bag. There’s plenty," Blair informed her as she continued to strip. She watched Cam unabashedly as she changed. She knew Cam was aware of her scrutiny, although she gave no sign of it. Cam had the kind of body Blair expected – lean and hard-muscled, a tightly coiled machine. She imagined making those muscles quiver with desire, watching Cam's rigid control break with need. The power of the image stirred a flush of arousal so keen it made her gasp. If Cam heard, she gave no sign of it. She reached for a pair of sweats without hurrying.

Blair looked at the ten inch scar that ran down the outside of Cam’s right thigh. It was still fresh enough that it hadn’t lost the redness. As Cam pulled the pants up, Blair asked, "Is your leg okay?"

"Yes, it is."

Cam pulled on a tee shirt that said 'Ernie’s Gym'. She faced Blair, who stood appraising her. The President’s daughter wore a sleeveless tee, torn off a couple of inches below her high firm breasts, and baggy sweats. Sleek well-toned muscles defined her arms and legs. Her exposed midriff was taut, and she sported a small gold ring in her navel. Untamed blond strands escaped from the black headband, wilding around her face. Her blue eyes glinted with brazen sensuality. She was a beautiful animal.

"I take it this is Ernie’s?" Cam remarked dryly, refusing to be distracted by Blair’s open seduction. The time when the promise of a body like that might have interested her was past. The price of possession was too high.

"This is Ernie’s," Blair rejoined, pushing the curtain aside. She wasn’t perturbed by Cam’s rebuff. She would have been disappointed had it been easy. What bothered her was the undeniable throbbing in her own body. Desire was a weakness, one she exploited in others, but avoided personally. There were too many ways in which other people controlled her. She would not allow another.

**********

Cam’s head snapped back as a kick landed along her jaw.

"Are you sure you don’t want a helmet," Blair called, a hint of laughter in her voice. She moved lightly on the canvas, her gloved hands at chest level. Cam faced her, wearing no gloves or other protective gear.

"No thanks," Cam responded, gauging the reach of Blair’s legs with respect. When the next kick came she stepped off the line of the trajectory and deflected it with a forearm. She expected a follow-up punch, and she blocked that as well. She stepped back once again to a middle range, trying to get a feel for Blair’s tactics. Blair moved lightly on the canvass, agile and supple. Blair was a kickboxer, and used her feet as weapons in the ring. Cam was trained for the street. Blair attacked relentlessly, mixing kicks, double kicks and strikes with considerable skill. Some scored, although none would have done damage had they been full force.

Cam deflected, blocked and redirected her opponent’s efforts. She was trained to immobilize and neutralize, and those techniques were not designed for sparring. She knew she couldn’t defend this way for long – there was a good chance Blair would make serious contact with one of her kicks. As a sweeping round house kick approached her head, Cam stepped forward into Blair’s body, so close to her that the kick lost its force. She trapped Blair’s leg with her near arm, grasped the shoulder of Blair's shirt with her other hand, and swept Blair’s remaining leg out from under her. Cam held onto her to break her fall, following her down to the mat, and pinned her face down with a shoulder pin.

"Son of a bitch!" Blair muttered as she struggled briefly to lift her torso off the canvass. She stopped when the pressure on her shoulder increased slightly. She wasn’t damaged, but she was effectively immobilized.

"If you tap the mat, I’ll release you," Cam said softly into her ear. "But you must promise not to punch me as you get up. Rules of war."

Blair laughed as she slapped the mat. She rolled over and found Cam kneeling beside her, a half smile on her face.

"You okay?" Cam asked.

"Dandy. I suppose you’ll do that again if we start over?"

"I told you I didn’t spar," Cam said as they both got to their feet. "You’d annihilate me."

"No, I don’t think so," Blair replied softly, stripping off her gloves. "You mind showing me that technique?"

Cam glanced outside the ring, realizing they had drawn quite a crowd. She wasn’t sure this was a good time for a lesson, especially when she had no one inside the building. She couldn’t very well survey the people around them if she was flat on her back. Blair followed her gaze, her smile disappearing in irritation.

"They don’t know me," she said flatly.

Cam saw the resentment in her eyes, and shook her head slightly. "You can’t know that."

"I know," Blair insisted. "I always know." She took a deep breath, then added in a whisper, "please."

Cam swept the group leaning on the ropes one more time. "All right."

She demonstrated at half- speed several times while Blair watched intently. Then she launched a kick toward Blair’s head, ready to pull back if Blair failed to execute the technique. Blair quickly countered and took Cam down soundly to the cheers of the onlookers. Cam found herself on her back with Blair above her, Blair's bent forearm pressed to Cam’s neck. Blair pressed her knee between Cam’s legs and leaned forward until their faces were nearly touching. Her lips were a breath away.

"If you don’t slap the mat, I can make this feel a whole lot better," Blair whispered.

Cam gasped as Blair rocked her thigh against Cam’s pelvis. For a second all she felt was the fire, igniting instantly into a consuming ache. She caught back a moan, shook her head to clear it, and in one upward thrust, dislodged Blair from on top of her. She was on her feet quickly, and in the next instant had vaulted over the ropes and out of the ring.

"She’s too much for you, huh girl?" a burly man next to her said good-naturedly.

"You got that right," Cam responded lightly. She waited as Blair climbed down, then followed her into the dressing room.

"I need to shower," Blair informed her, pulling off her clothes. Cam struggled to quell the remnants of unwanted desire.

"I’ll wait outside."

"What are you afraid of, Agent Roberts?" Blair taunted lightly as she stood naked before her. "I felt you, you know."

"Take your time," Cam said evenly as she stepped out through the curtain. Blair’s laughter followed her even as the throbbing in her pelvis reminded her of her own weakness.
 
 

Chapter Seven

Cam slammed the office door hard enough that the glass enclosure rattled. Six agents sat slumped around the table, staring at their pens. Cam stood at the end of the table, breathing heavily, trying to contain her anger.

"How many of you have been on this detail longer than six months?" she asked at length, her words clipped. There was a moment of silence, then Mac cleared his throat.

"All of us, ma’am."

"All of you." She looked them over one at a time. "All of you."

"Yes ma’am," he responded.

"Obviously none of you are capable of this assignment, nor worthy of it. Blair Powell – the daughter of the President of the United States -has been criminally unprotected for months, and not one of you reported it? Even if I could overlook your lack of responsibility to her – which I can’t – it is impossible to excuse your silence regarding the potential danger to national security. Were she kidnapped it would threaten the presidency." Leaning forward, both hands flat on the table, she said succinctly, "I want a request for transfer from every one of you on my desk in one hour."

As Cam turned toward the door, Paula Stark stood abruptly. "Commander!"

"Yes?" Cam questioned.

"I don’t want a transfer, ma’am. I want this detail."

"Really? And why is that?"

Stark took a deep breath. "Because she is my responsibility, and because I can do what no one else can. I’ve spent months following her through half the gay bars in this city. I am recognized, and I’m accepted. I can go where most of the others can’t. You need an inside person, and that’s me."

Cam regarded her silently.

Paula met Cam’s penetrating gaze. "I should have filed a report sooner. We lose her regularly, and it’s always because we’re never informed of her route, or she changes it, or she intentionally lies to us. We’re all frustrated – but that’s no excuse."

"You’re right. That’s no excuse for what you all have been participating in. Regardless of Ms. Powell’s duplicity, it is your sworn duty to guard her. If you don’t have what it takes, you don’t belong here. I don’t want anyone on this team who doesn’t want to be here." She looked over the group. "I’ll see that there are no repercussions if you request transfer now, but I guarantee I will see you posted to an embassy in Somalia if you fuck up on my detail."

An hour later, Mac knocked on the door to Cam’s eight by ten office.

"Comander?"

Cam studied his boyishly handsome face. His blue eyes were serious.

"Are you staying or leaving, Mac?"

"I’m staying if you want me. Two men want transfers – they’re bringing the paperwork. I’m sorry I fucked up. If you don’t trust me…"

Cam stopped him with a raised hand. "I need a good coordinator, Mac. We have an uncooperative target – nothing is going to change that. We are going to have to be able to readjust personnel, vehicle placement, even motor routes at a moment’s notice. I need to be with her – consistently, persistently – until she figures out that we are not going away."

She saw the look of disbelief he quickly tried to hide. She laughed, the tension easing from her shoulders for the first time since she left the gym. "Yeah, I know. I’m dreaming. You’ll be the desk jockey most of the time we’re here, and the communication center when we’re not. Are you in or not?"

He favored her with a brilliant smile. "I’m in."

"Good – then find me replacements for the two who are leaving. I don’t even want to see the files until you’ve been through them. And Mac – we both know what the problem has been. If there’s even a hint of homophobia, I don’t want them on this assignment. Blair Powell’s lifestyle is not our concern, and shouldn’t affect the way we do the job. I want that clear."

"Yes ma’am. I understand."

"Good. We’ll brief for the trip to Washington at 0700."

As soon as her second in command closed the door, Cam leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She didn’t want to think about her response to Blair’s blatant sexual overture at the gym, but she had to. She could not afford to be distracted, and there was no denying the effect Blair had on her. Fortunately, it was purely physical, and they would be in Washington in two days. She could satisfy the insistent demands of her body then.

**********

Cam was the last one on the plane. The cabin space was small, and Blair sat alone near the rear. Three other agents had boarded earlier and occupied the area just behind the cockpit. Cam nodded to them as she moved toward the rear, finally settling in the seat across the aisle from Blair. She stretched her legs into the aisle and pulled a stack of memos from her briefcase.

"Do you have plans for tonight, Agent Roberts?" Blair asked. She liked the semi-casual look of Cam’s pressed khaki chinos and matching blazer over a cotton broadcloth shirt. The only way she liked her better was in the tight faded jeans she wore when she was off-duty. Blair remembered very well how good Cam looked in those. In fact, every time she thought about that night in the bar she wanted nothing more than to get her hands inside those jeans. For the moment at least, that seemed unlikely.

Cam smiled, shaking her head slightly. "No plans. Happy Birthday, by the way."

Blair flushed slightly, then reminded herself the agent was only being polite, like most of the people in her life. She leaned forward, lowering her voice as she spoke. "Why thank you. I don’t suppose a birthday kiss is in the offing?"

Cam glanced at her, aware of how attractive she was, then back at the papers before her. "No."

They did not speak for the rest of the flight.

Cam accompanied Blair across the drive to the private entrance to the White House. She stopped at the door as a guard opened it for Blair.

"I’ll see you in the morning, Ms. Powell," she said. The door swung shut with no response from the President’s daughter. The White House Security staff would be responsible for her welfare from this point until she was ready to leave the next day. Cam was looking forward to a day off, and a relaxing evening.
 
 

chapter eight

Cam stretched out on the couch with a drink and watched the traffic below on Pennsylvania Avenue. From her highrise apartment she could see the White House in the distance. She wondered fleetingly how Blair was faring, then put the thought from her mind. Tonight she did not have to worry about her. She reached for the phone and dialed a number from memory.

"This is number 38913," she said as a female voice answered. "I’d like to confirm my arrangement for tonight." She waited for a moment as her client ID number was verified. "Yes – eleven o-’clock at—" She hesitated as her beeper went off. "Just a second," she added, checking the number. It was the White House. "I’ll have to call back. It may be later. Yes, keep it open – I’ll take care of the time. Thank you."

She pushed the other line, keeping the scrambler engaged. "Roberts," she said tersely when the phone was picked up.

"Commander? It’s Mac – I’m sorry to bother you, but I thought you’d want a call."

"Mac?" she said in surprise. "What are you doing there? What’s going on?"

"I’m not supposed to be here. She’s gone, Commander. They lost her an hour ago. The commander here didn’t want anyone to know, so when it started getting late a buddy of mine called me on the sly."

"Goddamn it," she cursed. "Who else knows?"

"Just the inside team here. They haven’t a clue where to look."

She understood his message. "Right – we can’t very well call out our own people. We’re not even supposed to know about this. There are a few places I can check. Listen Mac, there’s a floating club – it travels around from one venue to another all over the city. Very trendy, only people in the know have the address. Find it for me. I’ll call you in an hour."

She interrupted his protests. "I don’t know how you’ll find it, but I’m sure you will."

Two hours later he called her with the address. Cam arrived at the warehouse close to midnight. She had been to every gay bar she knew of, and several Mac had come up with. It was New Year’s Eve. The bars were packed with exuberant men and women in various stages of intoxication and undress. She hadn’t found her. For all she knew, Blair was tucked away in bed somewhere with a girlfriend they didn’t know about. Cam hoped so.

It was worse than she expected. Wall to wall people, jostling bodies, smoke hanging in clouds below the dim spotlights, the air heavy with sex and booze. Cam pushed her way into the shadowy depths of the long room, hoping that each blonde she saw would be Blair.

Blair watched her drawing closer. She stood leaning against the wall in the narrow passageway leading to semi-private alcoves and niches which women were using for quick assignations and frantic couplings. She had been watching a young tough in tight black leather pants swagger about at the bar, trying to impress her friends with her bravado. Blair thought she might be fun to toy with. It was always so satisfying to humble the butches, and she made a bet with herself that she could make this one beg. She was about to go over when she caught sight of Cam. Taller by a head than most of the women, she cut a swath through the crowd like a sleek cutter through the sea. In a light windbreaker, dark polo shirt, the signature faded jeans and boots, she should have looked ordinary, but she was easily the sexiest woman in view. She moved with certainty and grace, lithe and powerful, a hunter searching its prey. It was only the darkness in the hall that gave Blair the advantage. As Cam moved closer, Blair’s pulse quickened. This time the hunted would have the hunter.

Cam stepped through the archway into the hall just as the countdown to midnight began. People were crushing in around her, searching for that elusive partner to claim at the dawn of a new year. Blair caught her by the arm and spun her against the wall, pressing into her, her hands around Cam's waist. Cam was momentarily stunned. Blair’s breasts were soft against her chest, her breath hot on Cam's neck, Blair's thigh tight into her crotch. Cam hadn’t been close to a woman this way in a year and her body surged with reawakened sensation. She caught her breath as a stab of desire pierced her. Her clit swelled, hard and ready in an instant.

"Happy New Year, Commander," Blair breathed into her ear, grasping Cam’s head and pulling her down into a kiss. Cam gasped in surprise as Blair pushed into her, fusing their bodies in the press of the milling crowd.

Can groaned as Blair's searching tongue invaded her mouth, adding heat to the fire that raged through her. Cam kissed Blair back, she couldn’t help it. For an instant she forgot who she was, or where she was. All she knew was the pounding in her head, and the ache in her belly, the throbbing in her clit driving her quickly toward climax. Blair pushed her hand between Cam’s legs.

"Oh Jesus!" Cam gasped, pulling her mouth away so abruptly her head banged against the wall. Her legs were trembling. She grasped Blair’s hand, dragging it away from her body. "No, goddamn it! That’s enough!"

"Are you crazy?" Blair exclaimed, her voice thick with her own urgent need. "You’re so hot I can feel you through your jeans! You’re almost there – let me do what I know you want!"

That moment was all Cam needed to find her control. She pushed Blair back a step, breaking their contact.

"I want to get you out of here."

Blair’s eyes blazed dangerously. She had come close to humiliating herself. The fire in Cam’s body had ignited her own, and she had been very close to coming herself. She throbbed still. "Go fuck yourself, Agent Roberts!"

As she tried to walk away, Cam grasped her arm. "Ms. Powell – please!"

"Leave me alone. No one knows I’m here."

"I know."

"Then pretend you don’t," Blair snapped, trying to escape into the crowd. She couldn’t move very quickly through the mass of revelers, and Cam stayed right beside her.

"I can’t," Cam stated with finality.

Blair turned to face her, her body rigid with fury. "Then do your job, but stay out of my way!"

Cam nodded, accepting the slight concession. She let Blair move ahead of her, wishing she could reach Mac for backup. The best she could do was stay close to Blair until she settled for the night, and then call for another team.

Which is how she came to find herself on the phone in the lobby of the Franklin Hotel at two am. "Mac?"

"Yeah, Commander. Tell me you got her – please."

"Send two of our people, not the White House detail- to the Franklin Hotel on the parkway. I’ll wait 'til they get here. She’s in Room 1302, and I think she’ll be here for the night. I need someone in the room across from hers – I’ve booked it- and a car downstairs. And Mac, keep this quiet for God’s sake. If the White House press corps catches on to her little foray, they’ll be all over us."

"Any info on who she’s with?" Mac asked hesitantly.

"No," Cam said curtly. Except that she was young, recklessly beautiful in an androgynous way, and had followed Blair without hesitation when Blair walked up to her, kissed her by way of introduction, and said, "I’m leaving. You coming?"

Cam had followed them the few blocks to the hotel at a discrete distance, hanging back in the shadows every time Blair stopped to grope and fondle her leather clad conquest. Blair never looked in Cam’s direction, but she had to know Cam was there, watching the display. If the seduction was meant to anger Cam, it did, but probably not for the reasons Blair intended. Cam was infuriated at the risk Blair was taking by picking up a stranger and checking into a hotel a few blocks from the White House. It was dangerous on more levels than she could count. Blair Powell was beautiful, bright, and talented. She didn’t need to waste herself on one-night stands. It was physically hazardous, politically suicidal, and willfully self-destructive. Cam came close to breaking up their little tryst at one point, but she reminded herself that Blair Powell had every right to do what she was doing, and any effort to intervene would only make her more reckless. The last thing she had seen was Blair backing her girlfriend up against the door to their room as she fumbled to fit her card in the lock behind them, kissing her with an intensity that echoed in Cam’s body. The door finally swung open and they disappeared breathlessly inside.

"Boss –you still there?" Mac’s voice interrupted her reminiscences.

"Yes," she retorted, her voice thick with the memory.

"I’ll have someone there in five minutes."

"Good."

**********

Cam was still seething when she stepped off the elevator into the foyer in front of her apartment. She stopped in surprise when she saw the stately blond put a book aside and smile in her direction.

"My god!" Cam exclaimed. "I didn’t mean for you to wait out here in the hallway!"

Her visitor stood, sliding the book into a stylish leather bag. "I know, but my evening was already planned, and it’s safe enough. I know I’m presuming, and I can leave if you like. But you did book the whole night."

"No," Cam said as she unlocked her door. "Come in." She hit the dimmer switch inside the door, giving them just enough light to maneuver by. She turned to the woman who stepped inside after her. "I’m sorry-"

"Don’t be," the blonde said, touching Cam’s cheek lightly. She felt the tremor, and the heat. She knew the signs.

"You need some attention," she whispered throatily. Without waiting for an answer, she pushed Cam gently back against the door as she worked loose the buttons on Cam's fly. She heard the swift intake of breath, a wordless assent. She leaned one arm along the wall beside Cam’s still form and reached into her jeans.

Cam grasped the handle for support, closing her eyes. She was aching, had been since the bar, and her body had never quieted. The first touch was excruciating.

"Oh god," she groaned, praying she could stay standing. The strokes were certain, commanding, relentless, and she heard herself moaning. She pushed back against the wall, rigid with the effort to control the mounting pressure as her hips bucked forward into the waiting hand.

"I’m losing it," she gasped, clenching her jaw until it ached. She cried out as the explosion spread through her, her head rocking from side to side with the pulsations. When it subsided she was amazed she was still upright.

"Oh, Christ," she gasped breathlessly. "I didn’t mean for that to happen so fast."

"I don’t think it was up to you," her companion laughed softly, moving away discreetly so Cam could regain her composure. The arousal certainly had nothing to do with her, which she suspected was most often the case.

"Will you have that drink now?" Cam asked dryly as she fumbled with the buttons on her jeans. Her hands were trembling.

"I would definitely like that," the blond said with a smile.

Cam moved over to the bar and poured them both a drink, then settled on the sofa in front of the floor to ceiling windows. They sat in silence in the near darkness for a few moments, each privy to her own thoughts.

"Does it bother you?" Cam said at length. "The lack of reciprocation?" When her guest failed to answer, she added quietly, "I’m sorry. That was inappropriate, and none of my business."

"No, it’s all right," came the soft reply. "I don’t expect any reciprocation, and most of the time I wouldn’t want it."

It was Cam’s turn to be quiet. As many times as they had met, they had never talked of anything personal. She had never wanted to know. She had no idea why she was asking now.

"You should know this is by my choice, and there is absolutely no abuse involved," the woman added.

Cam nodded – she knew all the details of the operation, right down to how often all the employees had health exams. What she didn’t know was who they were, or what they felt. Both of them kept their identities, and their secrets, hidden. It was a business arrangement, with a veneer of civility, and so far it had worked for both of them.

"So sometimes you would like it to go both ways?" Cam asked.

"I certainly wouldn’t throw you out of bed," her companion replied gently, her laughter making light of her statement.

"I’m not asking for that – I can’t, I haven’t-" Cam struggled with the words. How to explain that she didn't feel any desire for women, that the thought of wanting someone terrified her. It was too much, too close – and then to lose it. She swallowed the ache, battling the old pain.

The blonde stopped her with a hand on her thigh. "I don’t need you to make love to me. If it makes you feel any better, I enjoy what we do. Rather a lot. Exactly as it is."

Cam nodded in acceptance, placing her drink beside her on the table. She stood, reaching out her hand.

"Let’s move to the bedroom," she said, hoping eventually to sleep.
 
 

chapter nine

Mac looked up as his boss and the First Daughter boarded the plane. The air seemed decidedly chilly. Blair stalked down the aisle and threw herself across the seats at the rear. Cam took the first seat inside the cabin, leaned back, and closed her eyes. Mac figured she hadn’t gotten much sleep. None of them had. Between tracking Blair down, then shadowing the hotel the rest of the night, half the team had worked on the one night they all expected to have off. Blair hadn’t emerged to return to the White House until eight a.m., and that made it all the harder to get her past the press corps without announcing she had been out all night. She looked exactly like she had been out all night, and up all night screwing.

Cam had been called as soon as Blair stepped out of her hotel room, and she had been waiting for Blair at the side entrance of the White House. She didn’t look all that much better than Blair, although her attire was impeccable as usual. Neither of them acknowledged the other as Cam ushered Blair in through the service entrance and down the labyrinth of service halls to the family living quarters. The limo ride to the airport an hour later had been just as frosty.

When the plane landed in New York forty minutes later, Cam escorted Blair to the waiting car and climbed into the back with her. In an hour Blair was due to meet with the Mayor and emcee the New Year’s Day Parade.

"Where to, Ms. Powell?" Cam asked perfunctorily. Since Blair’s disappearance the night before and her late arrival this morning, their entire schedule had been changed. Cam had no idea of Blair’s plans, and being at such a disadvantage infuriated her.

For once Blair appeared subdued. "I need to go home and change."

Cam nodded, passed the message along to the driver and the car following them, and settled back against the seat. She clamped down on her anger. She wouldn’t give Blair the satisfaction of knowing how unsettling the interlude in the bar had been for her. The hours she had spent with Claire satisfying her body had not erased the memory of Blair’s mouth on hers, nor the demanding promise of Blair’s hands claiming her. It was not a sensation she welcomed, and the faint bruises around Blair’s lips only served to remind her that Blair had been up all night satisfying her needs with a stranger. Don’t be a fool, she thought in disgust. Anyone will do, as long as she’s in charge. You just happened to be handy!

**********

When they pulled up in front of Blair’s apartment, Cam sent Mac for coffee, while she waited in the limo. She closed her eyes and thought of nothing. When the door opened, she looked up and then averted her eyes as Blair Powell slid into the rear seat across from her. The woman who sat across from her looked nothing like the woman Cam had followed into a Washington gay bar the night before. That woman had been wild, untamed and untamable. Blair was a predator, all the more deadly because she was irresistible. She was beautiful in the way of the wild animals, and Cam had felt her power even as she tried to deny it. This woman was elegant, refined, and bore no resemblance to the creature she had been the night before, with the one exception being that she was just as unapproachable.

The ferocious hunger in Blair's eyes had been replaced by a glacial stillness. If there were thoughts behind the ice blue wall, they no longer showed. Her tailored coat was open to reveal a fitted suit, the jacket unbuttoned to reveal the flimsy silk camisole beneath. The skirt slid up as she crossed her legs. Cam found her every bit as attractive in this guise as she had been the previous night. She felt no safer, aware of the pounding of her own heart.

In defense, Cam decided to focus on the job at hand. This was one of the most dangerous kind of outings for Blair, with her in the public eye and visible to large crowds. When they arrived at the central viewing area, where the mayor and Blair would be commenting on the passing parade, Cam was greeted by the mayor's chief of security, a serious looking red head in her early 40s.

"I'm Marge Pierce," the red head said, extending her hand while openly appraising Cam.

Cam nodded in response as she returned the firm grip. "Cameron Roberts."

Cam surveyed the podium where Blair would be seated. She frowned slightly, noting that the rear of the platform was open on the side where the trucks and vans carrying the sound equipment and other video paraphernalia were parked. Anyone could approach from that direction and she motioned for Mac to station several of their people behind the stand. Pierce noted the maneuver, and quickly dispatched two of her own staff to join the secret service agents.

Blair watched in amusement as the two security chiefs surreptitiously checked each other out, the way two dogs would while surveying common territory. She was pretty sure that Marge Pierce was a lesbian, and from the way Pierce had looked at Cameron Roberts, Blair was even more convinced. For a brief instant she felt a flair of jealousy. There was no doubt that Roberts was one of the most arresting women she had ever seen, and she didn't doubt that there were plenty of women looking for her attention. The fact that it bothered her even for a second irritated her enormously. She turned her back on their activities, focusing on the mayor and his entourage. She certainly had no intention of allowing Cameron Roberts to occupy anymore of her thoughts than necessary.

She forced herself not to think about the fact that each time she had wrung a cry from her young leather-clad conquest the night before, some part of her wished it were Roberts responding under her hands. She had been keenly aware that the body writhing beneath her was not the lean tight body she had glimpsed at the gym and held against her own for just a fleeting moment in the bar. The desire in Cameron's body when Blair had pressed up against her had been breathtaking. Whether Roberts acknowledged it or not, Blair knew the height of her arousal. Frustratingly, that lightening response was what Blair couldn't put from her mind. That swift intake of breath against her ear as her palm pressed against Cameron's crotch had fired her own excitement in a way that no one had been able to do in longer than she could remember. Even thinking of it now stirred her.

Blair could do this sort of event without conscious thought. Since the time she had been an adolescent, she had been in the public limelight. She smiled at the appropriate times, she made the appropriate complementary remarks about the performers, and she was altogether gracious and presentable. To make things even better, the camera loved her. In any lighting, her face looked as if it had been sculpted on a Grecian coin. Because of her personality and her appearance, she was frequently asked to preside at such events. She did it because she had to, and because she cared about her father's image. Nevertheless, each appearance took its toll. She was aware of the men around her staring at her, and the thinly veiled looks of barely disguised lust. She would not have tolerated it under any other circumstance. Had it happened on the street, where she was not as immediately recognizable, she would have made it very clear she was not interested. As it was, she was the unwilling participant in the charade. It only demeaned her in her own eyes and heightened her anger. She never quite got used to it. Only at night, when she shed her public persona and grasped what little she could of her own life, did she feel genuine. For some strange reason that afternoon, she was acutely aware of Cameron Roberts standing just behind her out of the line of sight of the camera. Cam's presence reminded Blair of who she really was. The knowledge that Cameron knew the truth about her somehow made the entire event more bearable.

Blair didn't relax until they were in the limo again on their way back to her apartment. Cameron sat across from her in silence. However, it was not the heavy awkward silence of the earlier ride from the airport, but rather a comfortable regathering of energy after the stress of the afternoon. Blair had to admit that she had felt safe. Despite all the years of these kinds of experiences, she never quite got over the feeling of being vulnerable. There was something about Cameron Roberts' presence that allowed her to forget for the moment that millions of eyes were upon her. It wasn't that the dozens of others who had preceded Roberts didn't take their job seriously, but Blair had always known it was the job and not her they were working for. What made Cameron Roberts so compelling and at the same time so irritating, was that when she focused on you, you knew you had been seen.

"Come upstairs, Agent Roberts," she said as the limo glided to a stop in front of the brown stone. "We can go over the schedule for the rest of the week."

Cameron hid her surprise at the invitation. "All right," she said as she pushed open the door and stepped out. She glanced quickly up and down the street as she extended her hand to Blair. It was an automatic gesture, and she did it without thought. Blair hesitated for just a second and then took the offered hand in hers. The grip was firm and cool. Blair ignored the tingling in her fingers.

The other members of the team escorted them to the private elevator to Blair's penthouse, departing to take the second elevator to the control room one floor below. As the elevator door opened on the upper-most floor, Cam stepped out first and automatically glanced toward Blair's door. In one swift moment her gun was drawn. She turned abruptly toward Blair who had stepped out of the elevator after her. Cam grasped her around the waist, and pushed her forcefully back into the elevator.

"Stay behind me," she ordered as she slapped the lobby button. "Mac!" She said urgently into her microphone. "Seal the building. Have team one meet us at the elevator. We need to evacuate Egret."

"What's going on?" Blair demanded anxiously.

Cam held up one hand to silence her, still speaking to her chief assistant. "There's a package outside Egret's apartment door. Call the bomb squad."

The elevator door slid open and four other agents surrounded them. Cam led the way directly in front of Blair as the group hustled the startled woman across the lobby floor and into a waiting car. Within seconds they were hurrying through the late New Year's Day traffic.

"Clear the civilians from the building," Cam said as she listened to what was happening in the command room on her radio. "Keep them altogether for questioning. I want a list of every person who was in the building within the last week. I'll advise you when we reach the safe house."

The safe house turned out to be a large suite on a top floor of one of the more exclusive hotels in New York City. As soon as they entered, Cam was in communication with Mac once again. Meanwhile, Blair was left to pace in silence in the sitting room. The instant Cam hung up the phone, Blair confronted her.

"Do you mind telling me what the hell is going on?"

"Someone left you a present. Until we find out what, and who, you are not safe at home."

"And I suppose you think I'm going to stay here?" Blair asked incredulously.

"I don't have time to argue with you. Your safety, not your comfort, is what matters at the moment. Once I have some idea of what was in the box, and how someone was able to gain access to the penthouse without our video surveillance cameras picking them up, I can give you some idea of when you can return. The entire security system will need to be revamped, and your apartment needs to be swept."

"What about my work?" Blair asked intently. She couldn't quite keep the tremors from her voice. "All of my work is in my loft. It's protected from fire, but not from a horde of careless Secret Service agents tramping through my apartment."

Cam recalled the stacks of canvases and works in progress that filled over half of Blair's loft space. She realized that the work was irreplaceable, and quite possibly priceless. What she saw in Blair's eyes however was not concern for the material loss, but for the loss of her creations. For an artist to lose their work was the equivalent of anyone else losing a body part.

Cam nodded. "I understand. I'll talk to Mac and make sure that everyone is aware of what's in your apartment. We have to look at everything. There could be almost anything hidden almost anywhere. If someone was able to penetrate our security to leave something outside your door, we have to assume they had access to your apartment as well. I'm sorry. It's the best I can do."

Blair searched Cam's eyes, and found sincerity as well as empathy in the depths of her dark gray eyes. "Thank you," she whispered softly.

"As soon as we have things under control, I'll have someone bring your clothes. Is there anything else you want?"

Blair laughed sarcastically. "A different face? Can you have someone bring me one day of anonymity?"

"How about pizza and a six pack of Corona?"

Blair laughed in spite of herself. "If that's the best you can do Agent Roberts, you are a lousy date. However, considering the limited resources at hand, I'll take it."
 
 

chapter ten

As it turned out, it was six hours before Cam was satisfied that there was no immediate danger at the apartment building. The plain brown package left in front of Blair's door did not contain a bomb. The dogs sent in to investigate were completely uninterested, and there wasn't anything to excite them in Blair's apartment either. A half a dozen agents had scoured the loft and found no evidence of tampering.

Mac was on his way over with the package and supplies for a few days stay. Cam estimated it would take that long to change all of the locks on the building, recheck all the security clearances of the cleaning crews, maintenance men, and inhabitants of the other apartments, and to review all of the transient visitors to the building for the last week. She hadn't told Blair of the timetable yet, and wasn't looking forward to doing it. Until they had a better idea of exactly what had happened, she couldn't let Blair leave the safe house. Cam already had Mac arranging around the clock coverage. She intended to stay on site for at least the next several days. The suite had two bedrooms, a large sitting area, a bar, and wide screen TV. They would be cramped, but they would all have to manage.

A knock at the door brought her to attention. She crossed the width of the room quickly, reaching into her jacket to release the snap on her shoulder holster. She relaxed as Mac announced his arrival.

"What have you got for me?" she asked immediately.

Mac hefted a shoe-box sized parcel in his hands. "I've got this. Bomb boys and evidence techs are done with it."

"Excellent." She indicated that he join her at the table in the sitting area. Blair appeared at the door of the master bedroom just as Cam was reaching for the parcel. Cam looked over her at her and their eyes met. She read the question that Blair could not bring herself to ask.

"Join us, please," Cam said quietly.

Mac looked at her quickly in surprise. Cam met his gaze steadily but said nothing. Once Blair took the seat to Cam's right, Cam carefully examined the exterior of the package. The only address was Blair’s name written in block letters with black magic marker. The paper appeared to be ordinary packing paper sealed with scotch tape. A slight residue of fingerprint powder adhered to everything, inside and out. Cam carefully lifted the tape and removed the paper to reveal a cardboard box. She unfolded the flaps and lifted out a single sheet of paper. She looked at it for a second, then placed it flat on the tabletop so Blair and Mac could read the words printed there.
 
 

You are so beautiful.

Why do you waste yourself on those who do not appreciate you?

I know how rare and precious you are.

I can forgive your sins.

I am watching.

I am waiting for your sign.
 
 

"Oh Christ," Blair breathed.

"Have Taylor return this to the lab for handwriting analysis and a read out on the paper," Cam said quietly. "We need photo surveillance of the street in front of the apartment building. I want to see any repeaters, any loiterers, and anyone who seems the slightest bit out of place."

"It's a stalker, isn't it?" Blair questioned, hoping there might be another answer.

"I'm afraid so," Cam responded. This was the worst possible news. Stalkers were unpredictable, difficult to identify, and frequently did not have a previous police record. Everywhere Blair Powell went, she would be in potential danger. Cam’s job had just gotten ten times harder, and considering the difficulties they already had in keeping track of a reluctant subject, the work ahead looked dismal.

"When can I go home?"

"It will be at least a week," Cam said honestly.

"You've got to be kidding," Blair said incredulously.

Cam laughed humorlessly. "I really wish I were."

"Should I get the chief of staff on the line, Commander?" Mac questioned.

Cam sighed. "I'm getting to it. I just wanted to go over the tapes from the video cameras first. Have you got them?"

"Please don't do that," Blair said urgently.

"I have to. You must know that," Cam responded.

"Can't you wait? If you inform the White House, this will be all over the news tomorrow. I'll never have another moments peace."

Cam looked at her across the table. There was something close to pleading in her eyes. She looked over to Mac.

"Could give us a minute here?" Cam asked.

Mac looked as if he wanted to protest, but after a second he stepped out into the hall.

"This is serious. I can't keep something like this from my superiors."

Blair laughed in disbelief. "Don't tell me you're worried about being reprimanded."

"That's not the issue. If this escalates, I may need more help. I'm not willing to jeopardize your safety to protect your privacy."

"We're not talking about my privacy. We're talking about my private life, and that's what I don't want on the 6 o'clock news."

"Is it really the news you're worried about?"

"Perhaps it isn't. But in the end it's all the same."

Cam shook her head. "Even if I thought it was possible, I wouldn't do it. You haven't exactly made it easy for us to protect you. I simply can't trust you."

"And if you could? If I promised to follow the letter of the law? Would that buy me a few days?"

Cam walked to the windows overlooking Central Park. The decision should have been simple. Protocol demanded that at the first sign of any threat she intensify the security measures around the subject. Not notifying her superiors would certainly place her own position in jeopardy. On the other hand, this was the first time she had even the hint of cooperation from Blair Powell. She would need that corporation if she were to have any chance at all of containing the situation. That made tactical sense, and at least for the moment she had plenty of manpower to stay within the margin of safety. From 20 stories up she watched the horse and buggies winding their way through the lamplit streets of the park. Across the room Blair remained silent, but Cam could feel her gaze on her back. More than that, she could remember the look in her eyes. Blair had been vulnerable, and for a moment, afraid. Cam tried to pretend that didn't affect her decision.

"I'll keep it quiet for now, assuming there are no further threats. At the next sign of contact, I'll have to advise the chief of staff."

Blair relaxed perceptibly. "You've got a deal. Thank you."

Cam turned from the window, her hands deep in her pockets. She leaned one shoulder against the wall, watching Blair intently. She'd been up all night the previous evening, chasing Blair and then chasing away Blair's ghost with sex. She was weary, and she still had hours of work to do.

"You have any idea who might be doing this?" she asked Blair.

"Why should I?" Blair responded, surprised and defensive.

"Someone who might have approached you - at the gym, the gallery, maybe in a bar?"

"No, no one."

"Someone you spent the night with?"

Blair returned Cam's gaze steadily, her face expressionless. "Most of the women I go home with have no idea who I am. If they know anything at all, they know me by Allison."

"Your mother's maiden name," Cam observed. "And what about their names? Can you give me any kind of list, any addresses?"

"Not unless you think the names 'baby, honey, and sweetheart' will do you any good," Blair responded acerbically.

"What about someone you've seen more regularly?"

"There hasn't been anyone," Blair stated flatly.

Cam ran a hand through her hair and sighed involuntarily. She hoped there might be a lead among Blair's sexual liaisons. If the stalker were indeed completely anonymous, unknown to Blair in any capacity, it would only be through luck that they would catch him, or her.

"All right then, when Mac gets back, I'll need you to look at the security tapes with us. Perhaps you'll recognize someone going in or out of the building."

Blair nodded assent. She felt like she'd been up for 48 hours, and looking at Cameron, she could tell that she was exhausted, too. Cam's usually pristine suit was rumpled, and she had dark circles under her eyes. Blair had a sudden urge to brush the tousled hair back from her forehead. She had an even more disturbing desire to slip the suit jacket off Cam's shoulders and guide her toward the couch. The next moment she saw herself unbuttoning Cam's shirt. She stood abruptly, forcing the images from her mind.

"I'm going to take a nap if you're going to have me up the rest of the night," Blair said curtly.

Cam glanced at her stiff back as Blair crossed the room and slammed the bedroom door behind her. She slumped down on the couch tiredly, allowing herself a few moments of rest before the long night began. The next thing she knew there was a knock at the door, and movement in the room. She opened her eyes to see Blair about to open the door.

Cam was across the room before Blair could turn the knob. Grasping her forearm, Cam said sharply, "Let me do that."

Blair looked at Cam in surprise. The security chief had her gun drawn, and the look on her face was intent. For the first time, Blair appreciated the severity of the situation. She also understood that Cameron Roberts was completely serious about protecting her. She remembered the angry red scar on Cameron's thigh, a lingering testimony to the woman's willingness to put herself in danger to protect another. Her stomach churned at the image of Cameron lying wounded on the ground, and for a second she hesitated.

"Step behind me, please," Cam ordered steadily. Turning to the door, her gun now at shoulder level, she said, "Who's there?"

"Stark and Mac," Mac replied.

Cam opened the door to the length of the security chain and peered out into the lighted hallway. Mac and the young female agent stood outlined in the doorway. She lowered her gun and opened the door to admit them. As they passed her, she briefly checked the hallway beyond, then reholstered her service revolver and secured the door.

"Have you got the tapes?"

"The tapes and dinner," Mac responded, unpacking several bags. He looked at his boss, knowing that she must be tired and hungry. The President's daughter was watching the commander as well. He couldn't quite describe the look on her face, but it seemed to be a mixture of fascination and uncertainty. There was something else there as well, something that reminded him of the way men looked at women. It was the first time he had ever seen anything so blatantly sexual between women. He wondered for a moment if the Commander was aware of it, or even if Blair Powell was.

"Right," Cameron responded. "Everybody grab whatever you want to eat and let's start looking at these tapes. Ms. Powell, I'm afraid I'm going to a have to ask you to sit through this with us. It will be tedious, but you may recognize someone."

"Of course," Blair said in a strangely subdued tone of voice. "Didn't someone promise me a Corona?"

Cam of looked at Mac with a raised eyebrow. "Mac?"

"Coming up," he said as he reached for the phone to call room service.

Three hours later the pizza boxes were empty, a six pack of Corona was gone, and daybreak was not far away. They had watched tapes from the previous three days and had found nothing out of the ordinary. It was unlikely that anything would turn up in surveillance from earlier in the week. Beginning with the morning shift, the agents would have to begin the labor-intensive job of interviewing all of the building's employees as well as everyone known to have made deliveries.

"Let's take a break everybody," Cam said with a sigh. "Mac, Stark-brief the others on what we need from the interviews. I'll stay here with Ms. Powell. Let's plan on another update at noon."

When the two agents left, Cam turned to Blair. "You should get some rest. This evening, I want to go over anything you can remember from the past few weeks that might have been unusual."

"Right."

Blair stopped at the door to the master suite, turning to look at Cam. "You should get some rest too," she said quietly.

Cam smiled slightly. "My thoughts exactly." She gave Blair an oddly gentle look. "I know this is hard for you. Just bear with me for a few days, and hopefully we can get back to normal."

"Normal?" Blair said with a tinge of sadness. "Commander, I wouldn't recognize it."

Cam stared thoughtfully after her as Blair closed the door between them. She could feel the loneliness penetrating the air, surprisingly so much like her own. She pushed the thought away, and stretched out on the couch, finally giving in to her fatigue.

When she awoke sometime later, she found a light cover had been placed over her. She was momentarily disoriented. The curtains were drawn, and the room was in near darkness. There was the sound of quiet breathing in the still room. After a moment, she could discern the shape of someone sitting nearby.

"Couldn't sleep?" Cam said into the darkness.

"No, I always have difficulty falling asleep anywhere other than my own bed." A hint of sarcastic laughter followed. "That's probably why I never spend the night with anyone."

"Leave the door open, and try again," Cam suggested. "Sometimes the sound of another's breathing is all we need to hear."

Blair was stunned. She hadn’t meant to say anything, and the gentle response caught her off-guard. She couldn't remember the last time she had allowed anyone this close. It frightened her, and she resorted automatically to her long practiced defenses. "I think it might be better if you joined me in the bedroom. I can guarantee you at least one of us would sleep eventually."

Cam shifted to a sitting position, spreading her arms out along the back of the sofa. She looked towards Blair's face in the shadows. "I'm not available."

The words came quietly, and in a tone that might have suggested regret. Nevertheless, the rebuke stung. Blair knew that in her heart her offer had been serious.

"You certainly seemed available last night," Blair said sarcastically.

"That was just biology," Cam said gently.

"Biology!" Blair snorted. "Is that what we're calling it now? You were hot, and you were ready. Deny it if it makes you feel any better, but I know what I felt."

"I'm not denying anything. What I am saying is that nothing can happen between us."

Blair eased herself out of the chair and approached the sofa. She leaned down, placing an arm on either side of Cam's body. Their faces were only inches apart. "Relax, Commander. I'm not asking for a lifetime commitment. Why pretend you don't want me to touch you?"

Cam remained motionless. The air around her was charged with sexuality. Heat radiated from Blair's body, and the faint scent of excitement caused her own blood to surge. She was quite sure that Blair knew she was aroused. She couldn't alter the pounding of her heart or the quickening of her breath.

"Ms. Powell, I do not want you to touch me."

"I can assure you," Blair whispered as she leaned yet closer, "I am just as accomplished as any professional you might procure to take care of your needs."

"All I need from you is your cooperation for a few days," Cam said in an even voice. She was surprised at the rapidity and accuracy of Blair's information gathering. She was far from embarrassed however. There was very little difference between the casual sex that Blair enjoyed and what she herself sought in anonymity and privacy.

Blair heard the finality in her voice. She had been rejected before, but never by anyone she wanted quite this much. What angered her the most was that she sensed Cam's desire. Cameron Roberts represented everything she could not have in her own life - independence, self-determination, and freedom. Knowing this fueled her urge to strip the self-contained agent of her will. For just those fleeting moments at the pinnacle of release, she wanted to hold Cam's self-restraint in her hands. Slowly she straightened.

"If you keep me cooped up in this place for very long, I won't be responsible for my actions."

Cam recognized the concession in her voice. She laughed softly. "I promise to make this as short and painless as possible. I'm sure you can be trusted, no matter how long it takes."

Don't be so sure, Blair thought to herself. If I have to be this close to you 24 hours a day, I'm not sure I can trust myself.
 
 

chapter eleven

Blair winced as Paula Stark led yet another 10 in a suit where the aces hadn't yet been played. If she had to watch her "partner" make one more stupid play, she might have to take Mac's gun and shoot her. She had not left the apartment in three days. They had just finished a dinner of Chinese takeout, and Cameron had left Blair with Stark, Mac, and Taylor while she went to Blair's apartment building for a briefing with the other agents. Blair was keenly aware of her absence. The air seemed electric when Cam was around. She looked toward the door with relief when she heard the knock.

"How is your pinochle, Agent Roberts?" she asked as Cameron crossed the room to join them.

Cam raised an inquiring eyebrow. "Are you playing for money?"

Blair laughed. "If we were I'm afraid I'd be in big trouble."

"In that case, I'll play. Partners?"

Paula Stark pushed back from the table. "Please, take my place. I never was any good at cards, and I'm due back at the command center now any ways."

Cam sat down across from Blair. They played as if they had been playing together for years. Each time Cam bid, she had a sense that Blair knew exactly what she intended. It was both unsettling, and exhilarating. Before long, Mac and Taylor were complaining that the two women had some kind of secret signal going. The score became so uneven that eventually they called it quits.

"You are a great partner, Commander," Blair said softly. "I might have known. I'm sure you are equally good at everything."

Her tone was intimate, and the suggestiveness did not escape Mac's notice. His boss seemed unaffected as she stood and stretched. She had shed her jacket, and the straps of her shoulder holster stretched her shirt tight over her torso. Mac didn't miss the way Blair's eyes flickered over Cam's form.

If Cam had heard Blair's remark, or felt her appraising glance, she did not show it. She made no reply as she turned to her to agents. "Why don't you two take a break for a few hours. Have one of the night crew come by around midnight. I'll be fine until then."

After the two men left, Cameron took a chair in the suite's large sitting area with the day's reports. Blair sat opposite her on the couch with a sketchpad. The room lights were low, and Cam's face was partially in shadow.

"Do you mind?" Blair asked as she began to draw.

Cam looked over and smiled faintly. "No."

"Most people do," Blair said without looking up.

She was sketching the fine straight nose, the deep-set dark eyes, and the sculpted cheek bones and jaw from memory. It was a face that had caught her attention the first time she saw her, and it never failed to entice her. It was a face meant to be drawn. Unfortunately, the more she saw her, the more exciting she found her. Cam was everything Blair found attractive in a woman, and the effect she had on her was unsettling. Blair found herself listening for Cam's voice when she awoke in the morning, and looking for her figure when she entered a room. She found Cam's presence both disturbing and strangely reassuring. She tried to discount her feelings by reminding herself that it was only natural to find a good-looking woman appealing. She simply chose to ignore her racing pulse and unmistakable arousal whenever Cam was near.

"I'm actually used to it."

Blair looked up. "Really?"

"My mother is an artist."

Blair regarded her seriously. "Would I know her?"

"You might," Cam said softly. "Her name is Marcea Casalls."

Blair caught her breath. "You wouldn't be joking, would you?"

Cam shook her head.

"Well." Blair was momentarily at a loss. "I suppose I should be embarrassed to even let you see my work. She is quite wonderful."

"Yes, she is. From the little I have seen of your work, so are you. Of course, I only know what I have seen of my mother' s work, and that of her friends."

"Then you have been exposed to the best," Blair said lightly. "Did you grow up in Italy?"

A shadow flickered across Cam's face, then was gone. "Yes, until I was twelve. After that, I was schooled in the United States."

Blair spoke aloud without thinking. "I remember hearing something about her husband-"

"My father was the American ambassador to Italy," Cam responded. "He was killed in a terrorist car bombing attack went I was eleven."

"Oh god, I'm sorry. I had forgotten." Blair looked at Cam with true anguish in her face. As a child she had often been frightened that something would happen to her father. Growing up surrounded by armed guards had done that to her. She never gave any thought to her own safety. To do so would have forced her to accept that the constraining security measures taken to protect her were actually necessary. "It must have been horrible for you."

Cam looked into the distance, remembering. "It was much harder for my mother. They were completely devoted, and his death nearly destroyed her. If it hadn't been for her work, I don't think she would have survived."

"And she never remarried?" Blair questioned softly.

"No. I don't think anyone else would have compared. Fortunately, her art is her life. She travels a great deal, and has many friends."

"Are you like her?" Blair asked boldly. She couldn't help wondering about the rumors concerning the death of Cameron's lover. For an instant she was jealous, and then berated herself for her foolishness.

Again, that fleeting smile. "No, my mother is an artist."

"Meaning?"

"She is a mysterious combination of deep passion, volatile sensitivities, and uncommon vision."

"Is that how you see artists?"

Cameron focused on Blair's face. "Yes. I find them to be persons of rare fragility and unsurpassed emotional depths. Hell to live with, but worth every moment of the knowing."

Her words were delivered with a deep intensity, and Blair felt them to her core. Those words threatened to rock the foundation of her world. She had never wanted anything more than she wanted Cameron Roberts to feel that way about her. It was impossible, and the last thing she wanted to feel. This need would make her weak, and endanger what little independence she still had. She was torn between the urge to flee, and the physically painful attraction that was so much more than sexual. She wrenched her eyes away from Cameron's expressive face.

"I can't draw you when you're talking," she said thickly as she focused on her charcoal and paper.

Cam watched Blair's delicate hand stroke the textured surface, thinking how like her mother Blair was. She was beautiful, gifted, and an emotional minefield. One moment she was heat and anger, the next an ember radiating sultry sensuality, and then, just as suddenly, like now, withdrawn into herself. Blair's legs were curled under her, and she bent her upper body over her work protectively. Her blond hair fell free in riotous curls around her face. Cam's mind repelled from the image of anyone harming her. But then it was her responsibility to see that nothing did.

She returned to her reading absolutely certain that her sudden urge to run her hands through those curls was simply in response to their conversation, and had nothing to do with the compelling beauty of the woman herself.

**********

At 7:00 the next morning, Cam walked out of the second bedroom after finishing a shower. Across the room, Blair and Paula Stark were so engrossed in conversation they didn't notice her. She couldn't hear them from where she was standing, but Blair had one hand on Stark's forearm and was peering intently into her face. It looked as if Stark was trying to backup, but Blair had effectively maneuvered her against the wet bar. Cam had witnessed this particular seduction before. She wasn’t sure what made her angrier, Blair’s obvious attention to the woman or the fact that Paula Stark appeared to be fascinated by her. Any kind of romantic involvement between an agent and the individuals they were guarding was strictly forbidden. It wasn’t just policy, it made tactical sense. You couldn’t be objective in a dangerous situation if you were personally, particularly intimately, involved with the subject.

Paula Stark slipped past Blair to answer a knock at the door. Cam automatically stepped between Blair and the door, shielding her until she was certain it was Taylor. They had been there four days, and it was time for her to make a decision.

"We need to talk," she said to Blair.

Blair regarded her suspiciously, realizing she must have seen her with Paula. She hadn’t really given much thought to Paula Stark previously, although she had been aware of Stark shadowing her in the bars over the last six months. Stark was attractive, but Blair had never really been interested in her. It was probably because she guessed Stark wasn’t a lesbian, and she had learned at a very young age not to fool around with straight women. However, after having been cooped up in a three room suite for four days, with a woman who seemed to turn her on without effort, and rejected her with similar ease, Blair found herself trying to entice the pretty fresh-faced young agent out of boredom.

"It seems that one of the building cleaning employees delivered the package to your door. A nondescript ten-year old boy gave her ten dollars to do it. In all probability, the stalker used the boy as a go-between so he wouldn’t be recognized. There’s no way we’re going to ID him."

"So I can go home?" Blair asked. She had mixed feelings about that. She was sick to death of being confined, with people constantly around her, and she missed the freedom to work. On the other hand, Cam had rarely left the hotel in the four days they had been there. When she needed to sleep, she had several of the other agents stand guard. Blair had gotten used to her presence. Cam was there when she woke up, and when she went to sleep. In the many hours in between, they had talked together, read together, and shared silences together. It was the most intimate time she had spent with anyone since her days in school.

"Yes, but I think it would be best if you took some time away. A trip out-of-town might be good idea."

"Diane and I had discussed going skiing. Now might be the perfect time. I’ll call her and arrange something for this weekend."

Cam nodded in agreement. "That would work. This weekend might be a little too soon, since I'll need advance notice to inform the resort and work out the shift details."

"You can do that on the plane," Blair said with a hint of irritation. She wasn’t used to altering her plans, or delaying to accommodate her security teams.

"May I remind you that we had an agreement," Cam commented quietly.

"I think I agreed not to give your agents the slip," Blair responded pointedly.

"Actually, I believe you agreed to give us your cooperation," Cam countered, "as well as not giving us the slip."

Blair caught the quick smile that flashed across Cameron’s handsome features, and laughed in spite of herself. "Next time it will have to be in writing," she muttered. "How about if we work out the details tonight – over dinner."

Cam nodded, knowing she had been out-maneuvered, but accepting the token of co-operation.. "All right." She started to turn away, then added, "This is a first field assignment for several of my people. It wouldn’t look good for them if I had to reassign them."

"And why might you need to do that?" Blair asked suspiciously.

"If one of them were to compromise their objectivity- say through a ‘friendship’ with you – just for an example."

"Aren’t you worried about yourself, then?" Blair asked angrily. What was it to Roberts who she spent time with, as long as it didn’t get in the way. And so what if it did? She hated being dictated to!

"I’m not a rookie, Ms. Powell," Cam answered smoothly as she turned away.

Blair stared after her, seething. If she wanted to bed Paula Stark in the middle of the hotel lobby, she damn well would! Cameron Roberts might have control over her time, but she would never have control over anything that really mattered to her.

**********

Blair didn’t see Cameron again until that evening. The rest of the day had been spent getting settled back into her apartment. Her doorbell rang at 6:30.

"Let’s walk," Blair said by way of greeting. As usual, Cameron looked fit and trim in a khaki blazer over pressed stone washed jeans.

"All right," Cam said. She followed Blair to the elevator, noticing that her hair was down and the silk jacket and wide cut trousers she wore enhanced her slenderness.

Blair moved gracefully, with easy confidence, and Cam knew it was because she was going out not as Blair Powell, the President’s daughter, but as an ordinary twenty-five year old woman going to dinner. For an instant Cam regretted her job. She wished she could view the evening ahead as a simple dinner with a beautiful woman. But she couldn’t. Even though Blair could forget who she was, or try to forget, with alcohol or a never-ending series of sexual conquests, Cameron could not forget. No matter what Blair chose to show the outside world, Cameron knew her to be the many faceted, complicated woman she was sworn to protect. Nevertheless, she found herself looking forward to dinner with a sense of anticipation she hadn’t known in years.

As the elevator came to a halt and the doors began to slide open, Blair placed her hand on Cam’s forearm. "I don’t want the rest of the team to come with us," she said, an undertone of urgency in her voice. She had been watched constantly for days, with near strangers supervising her every moment. For just a few hours, she wanted to be alone to dine with a woman.

"I know you don’t," Cam responded quietly. "And I know why. But we can’t go alone. Not now, especially so soon after that package was delivered. I’ll tell them to stay out of sight."

"It’s not the same."

"I know it isn’t. Believe me, if I could change it, I would."

Blair brushed her fingers along Cameron’s sleeve, touching the back of Cam's hand with her fingertips for just a moment. She recognized the sincerity in her voice. "Thank you."

Cameron whispered a few words into her microphone as she stepped out of the elevator to take Blair’s arm. She wasn’t entirely certain this was a good idea, but she had a feeling if she didn’t allow Blair this small bit of independence, she would lose whatever chance she had of Blair’s cooperation. In truth, she didn’t have the heart to keep her constrained any longer. It wasn’t just the last four days, it was the last fifteen years.

As they stepped out into the brisk early evening air, she realized how much she wanted to give Blair these few moments of happiness. She caught her breath in surprise when Blair slipped her fingers into her hand, all too aware that at least three of her agents were watching.

"I didn’t think you were afraid of rumors, Commander," Blair said tauntingly.

"It’s not the rumors I’m afraid of," Cam said dryly, "it’s your father."

The agents threading themselves through the crowd ten feet behind looked at each other curiously, wondering what had prompted the laughter from Blair Powell.

**********

"I think we can manage it," Cam said as she leaned back in her chair. She was comfortably relaxed after a slow, quiet dinner in a small restaurant off Fourth Street in the West Village. They were sitting at a table for two in front of a large open wood burning fireplace. Blair had initially requested a table in the wide front window, but Cam had politely declined, requesting seating where Blair wasn't quite so exposed. She sipped her espresso while Blair finished her cognac.

Blair laughed softly. For once, it didn't bother her that she had to clear her plans with her security detail. Even she had to admit that Cam wasn't being unreasonable.

"I'm glad you agree," Blair said. She sipped the heavy brandy and studied her dinner companion. For two hours they had talked of art, which cities they enjoyed most in Europe, and the comparative value of various martial art forms. What they had not discussed was politics, the stalker situation, or their personal lives. It could easily have passed for a first date, filled with the anticipation and excitement of learning to know someone new. She tried not to allow reality to dispel the myth. She felt like someone she barely recognized. She finally realized what was missing was the burning anger, her constant companion. That in and of itself was frightening. If she allowed herself to get used to this feeling, the emptiness and disappointment of her real life would be devastating. She was acutely aware of Cameron's gaze upon her. Cameron had a way of looking at you that made you feel like there was no one else in the room. Her glance was as palpable as a touch, and Blair imagined that her skin tingled as Cameron studied her. She struggled to keep her tone normal.

"I spoke with Diane this afternoon. She can't wait to go."

"I'll see to the arrangements first thing in the morning," Cam assured her.

"She told me she saw you today," Blair added nonchalantly. That was far from the way she had felt when Diane casually remarked that she had had lunch with Cameron.

"Yes. We had a bit of business to do."

"I'm sure," Blair said sarcastically. She knew very well the kind of business Diane had in mind. She knew exactly the kind of woman Diane found attractive, and over the years they had often found themselves in competition for the same woman. When they were younger it had all been in fun, and no hard feelings whatever happened. This time, it felt like anything but fun. She was angry at herself for allowing her irritation to show. She kept her eyes fixed on the dark swirling liquid, afraid of what Cameron might see in her face.

Cam had a pretty good idea what Diane had insinuated about their lunch. The charming art dealer had certainly made it quite obvious what her interests were. Cameron was not offended by the blatant attempt at seduction, but she did not want Blair, for reasons she could not clearly define, to think she was so easily seduced.

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."

"I can’t believe you just said that!" Blair laughed, coaxed out of her anger by the ridiculousness of the image.

Cam laughed with her, thinking how luminescent Blair's features were when she relaxed. "Neither can I," she replied. "But in this case, it’s apt."

"I promise not to tell her," Blair continued smiling.

Cam inclined her head gratefully, "Thank you."

As they stepped out onto the street, Blair forgot for a moment that there were three Secret Service agents dogging their every step. It was one of those rare January nights when the stars could actually be seen over New York City. The meal had been wonderful, and the company better. She stopped in mid-step. Taking a chance, she asked, "I don't suppose I could interest you in a trip to the bar?"

Cameron took a deep breath of the brisk chill air. She knew very well what Blair was asking her. She refused to acknowledge her own wishes. "I can't accompany you. But if you want to go out, I will see that the team stays out of your way."

"You didn't mind having dinner with me," Blair pointed out, still not moving, not caring that they were creating a minor obstacle to other passers-by.

"That was business," Cam responded.

"Was it?" Blair stated.

Cam knew very well she was stretching the definition of business. They could have discussed the upcoming ski trip in the morning. She had allowed the excuse of the trip to give her reason to have dinner with Blair. She was on dangerous ground, and she knew it. She could not let things progress further. She certainly could not go to a gay bar with Blair as anything resembling her date. And she definitely had no desire to go cruising with Blair. Watching Blair pick up strangers for sex was not something she enjoyed.

"I can't. I'm sorry. Do you want me to notify the unit that you'll be staying out?"

"No thanks," Blair said bitingly. "When I go out, I don't want their company."

Cam supposed she deserved that. "Then may I walk you home?"

"Yes," Blair said with a sigh. "But for God sake, tell them to stay off our heels. I'm perfectly safe with you."

Cam nodded, whispering instructions into her microphone. She knew very well Blair could have been difficult about this. She was grateful that she would not have to worry about Blair's whereabouts, at least for the rest of evening. And on another level, she had to admit she would not have to worry about who Blair was spending her evening with.
 
 

chapter twelve

Five days later they were boarding a private jet for their flight to Colorado. They would be staying at a small, rustic resort not usually known as a tourist center. It was likely to be less crowded, and an easier setting in which to protect Blair. It was a fairly isolated location, with few of the amenities so popular in Colorado ski resorts. There would be no nightly entertainment acts, or any other similar diversions. What there would be was hours of good skiing on challenging trails. Blair was apparently an accomplished skier, and enjoyed skiing the semi-wooded less manicured downhill trails. For her it might be a vacation, but for Cam and her agents, it would be anything but.

Cam settled into her seat and was just opening the Washington Chronicle when someone eased in beside her.

"This seat looks vacant," the familiar voice announced.

Cam turned toward Diane Bleeker. "These are not reserved seats."

Diane smiled. "Then I take it you don't mind?"

"Not at all," Cam responded, folding her paper. "Whatever news there might be, it can wait until later."

Diane reached between them for her seat belt, brushing her hand along the length of Cam's thigh. There was a subtle tensing under her fingertips, but to her credit Cameron Roberts did not pull away. At least she wasn't going to pretend they weren't both adults. Diane could accept rejection, but she hated to have her advances ignored. "Do you ski, Commander?"

"Yes, I do."

"Our Blair is quite the expert, did you know?"

"It doesn't surprise me," Cam commented. "She is very talented."

Diane studied her, searching for hidden meaning. As usual, she could read nothing in Cam's expression. She couldn't remember ever having met someone quite so inscrutable. And yet the agent was anything but cold. She radiated energy, and seemed to do everything with an intense focus. In fact, she was seething with promise. The promise of passion, and intensity, that Diane very much wanted to experience. It was more than just physical appeal, even though Cameron was enormously attractive with her lean, tautly muscled body. She had daunting self-confidence as well. Is there nothing that can shake her composure?

Diane leaned against Cam's shoulder as she tightened her seatbelt. "Yes, Blair is a woman of many hidden skills. And then again, she doesn't bother to hide some of her interests. I'm sure you've noticed."

Cam had no intention of discussing Blair Powell with Diane Bleeker or anyone else. "And how is the gallery?" Cam asked.

"Ah, I see. Blair is off-limits. Actually, that's perfectly all right with me. I'm much more interested in you."

Cam laughed at the woman's persistence. It was hard to be annoyed with someone who was so blatant about their intentions. In another place, in another time, she would not have resisted. It was a combination of the past, and her strange detached present, which prevented her from responding. Any kind of intimate involvement was beyond her capability.

"I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you," Cam warned.

"Oh, I very seriously doubt that."

"I'm flattered-," Cam began.

Diane laughed. "Oh please, Commander. You needn't explain to me the many reasons why you think you are unavailable. I am quite patient, and I enjoy waiting. Otherwise, where is the pleasure when you win?"

Cam shook her head, smiling at the sophisticated, supremely confident woman beside her. "Then I shall say no more."

Diane wrapped for long, elegant fingers around Cam's wrist, squeezing gently before slowly withdrawing. "Good. It would be to no avail."

They both settled back in their seats for takeoff. In the aisle seat one row behind them, Blair studied the two women. She was completely familiar with Diane’s tactics. She had known her since they were girls, and had witnessed her many conquests. This was the first time it mattered to her whether Diane succeeded. The image of Diane's hand on Cameron's arm provoked a response she was finding hard to ignore. She hated the thought of Diane touching Cam, but even harder to accept was the possibility of Cameron returning the caresses. Instinctively, she knew that Cameron Roberts would not make love to a woman casually. What she couldn’t know was how much that fact controlled Cameron's life.

**********

The group was greeted at the door to the lodge by a tall, attractive woman in her mid-forties. Even in winter she showed signs of a lingering tan, and her lithe trim figure spoke of her vigorous lifestyle. She greeted them warmly and ushered them into a rustic room scattered with sofas and comfortable chairs in front of a large stone fire place. Overhead lights were hidden in the exposed wooden beams of the ceiling, bathing the room in a muted soft glow.

"I'm Helen Craig," she said, extending her hand to Cameron as Cam stepped over the threshold. "Just leave your gear here until we have the room situation straightened out. Then I'll have someone bring your bags up."

She looked from Cameron to Blair Powell, who was standing just to Cameron's right. Of course Helen recognized her, and knew that this was Blair's entourage. Without a trace of shyness, Helen offered her hand.

"I'm delighted to have you here, Ms. Powell. We have eighteen inches of packed snow with a three inch fresh fall from last night. The trails are perfect."

Blair grinned, pleased at Helen's lack of pretension and the genuine warmth in her greeting. "Just the news I wanted to hear. I can't wait to get out there."

Helen nodded. "First light at 5:30 tomorrow. After you’re settled, and have some dinner, I'll show you the trail maps. You can plan your runs for the morning."

"I was hoping to get in a run or two this afternoon," Blair stated.

"It'll be dark in an hour and a half. If you hurry, you could ski one of the shorter trails."

Blair reached for her gear bag. "Just give me someplace to change."

Helen noticed the sudden tension in the group of individuals standing around Blair, but it seemed to her that this was Blair Powell's party, and if she wanted to ski, she should certainly be able to ski.

"Right this way."

As Blair followed Helen across the room and disappeared down a hallway, Cameron turned to the others.

"All right everybody. Mac - you take care of the room arrangements. Make sure we have someone on either side of Egret's room, and across the hall. Preferably everyone on one floor. Stark, Taylor-you get suited up and find out which trail she's going to run. Make sure you take an emergency kit with you. I'm going to change so I can ski with her." For a moment, she had forgotten completely about Diane Bleeker. As usual, Blair’s lack of regard for the realities of providing her protection had placed them in a difficult situation. They had no time to adequately survey the area, and they had no sense of who might be out on the trails with her. Cam was startled to feel the touch on her arm.

"I should think you would be used to her by now, Commander," Diane said softly. "As long as I've known her, she has refused to accept that she cannot behave like the rest of the world. She has always wanted to be simply ordinary."

Cameron nodded, remembering her own childhood and what it had been like growing up among her father’s diplomatic friends and her mother’s world famous artists’ circle. She had watched the children walking to school from the windows of the limousine that took her almost everywhere. She had longed to be one of the anonymous crowd, knowing all the time that it was impossible. She knew the sadness of being different, and the loneliness of being separate, no matter how hard her parents tried to create the appearance of an ordinary life.

Diane watched the emotions flickering quickly through Cam’s dark eyes, astounded at the depth of the other woman's compassion and understanding. Her own response was more than a little frightening. She had long since abandoned the desire for anything beyond a casual physical relationship with the women in her life. This one was different. There was something almost hypnotic in Cam's reserve, something tantalizing in her secrecy. She made you want to know her, without consciously inviting you near. Diane thought if she had any sense at all, she would be trying to put distance between them, instead of hurrying after the elusive commander and her errant lifelong friend.

**********

"God, that was great!" Blair exclaimed, stomping the snow from her boots and shedding her ski parka. She made her way to the small bar tucked into one corner of the huge lobby. "I'd love a glass of red wine," she said to the bartender. She turned to Diane and Cameron. "What about you two?"

"Martini for me," Diane said.

"Just coffee," Cameron responded.

"That’s a fabulous trail, don’t you think?" Blair enthused, tossing her head back and shaking her hair free. Her eyes were glowing, her cheeks faintly flushed from the cold air.

"It was everything it was advertised to be," Cam responded. She had been skiing since she was three, and it had taken every bit of her skill to keep up with Blair. The younger woman was not only expert, she was fearless. Even in the waning light of late afternoon, she had blasted down the unfamiliar trail with abandon. Diane, also a very accomplished skier, had followed several hundred yards behind them, skiing efficiently but more cautiously. Cameron had posted agents at the head and foot of the trail, in constant communication with her via radio, but she was the only one actually in near physical contact with Blair. Despite the low-risk factor of this secluded resort, she did not want Blair very far from her sight. She hadn't skied quite so aggressively in ten years. She knew her muscles would be sore in the morning. Nevertheless, the sight of Blair's pleasure made it worth it. She was absolutely radiant, and Cam had a glimpse of what she might be like were the circumstances different. There was a joy and lightness about her that Cam had not seen before. Blair was more than beautiful; she was breathtaking.

Cam looked away, gently placing her coffee cup on the bar top. "I think I'm ready for a shower." She turned slightly, murmuring into her lapel microphone. Almost instantly, a stocky red-haired man appeared in the doorway. Satisfied that her replacement was nearby, she quietly walked away.

Diane watched her leave, wondering if she had any idea how revealing the expression in her dark eyes could be. Diane had watched Cam watching Blair, and the pleasure in Cam’s gaze was painfully evident. As quickly as it appeared, it was gone. Diane wondered what force of will it took to control her feelings so completely. She wondered too why it was necessary.
 
 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Shortly after 5 a.m. the next morning, Blair pushed open the swinging doors to the kitchen and followed the scent of coffee. She found Helen seated at the large scarred wooden table, sipping the steaming brew and working on a crossword puzzle. Helen smiled a greeting and gestured toward the coffeepot.

"Thanks," Blair grunted, reaching for a cup. Moving slowly, she sat beside Helen at the table.

Helen glanced at her, then asked, "Where are your friends?"

Blair grimaced, blowing across the top of the liquid to cool it. "I'm sure there’s someone right outside the back door, and another one in the dining room."

"Doesn't seem like much fun," Helen remarked.

Blair appraised her cautiously. She saw no hint of anything other than open frankness in her face. She allowed herself a brief smile. "Well, I could lie and say I’m used to it. In fact, I am used to it, but I've never learned to ignore it. It bothers me."

"I can imagine. On the other hand, I guess it is impossible to let you run around by yourself."

Blair laughed. "Apparently so."

Helen leaned back, scrutinizing the striking young woman across from her. This was not the sophisticated, perfectly turned out image she was used to seeing on the television and in magazine articles. This woman was naturally beautiful, with no makeup, untamed hair, faded jeans and a baggy sweatshirt that did little to hide the suggestive swell of her breasts. Helen would never have recognized her as the President's daughter. But she would not have overlooked her allure either.

"May I ask how you came to stay here?" Helen asked.

"Friends of mine, Sarah Hughes Whitley and Anne Perry, have stayed here."

Helen raised an eyebrow slightly, remembering the attractive couple from earlier in the season. "Two of my most favorite guests," she responded.

Blair met her gaze evenly, and was pleased to see that the other woman did not avert her eyes. "I'm very fond of them."

"As am I," Helen responded. "You needn't be concerned about my discretion, Ms. Powell. My only interest is in providing my guests with good skiing and privacy. My only hope is that you have seven days of excellent running. I couldn't care less about your personal life."

Blair laughed. "Well, you may be the only person in the United States for whom that's true."

Helen laughed with her. "I think you may be right."

*********

An hour later, Cam walked into the lounge and helped herself to a cup of coffee from the large urn which stood always ready on the side board. She turned, sipping gratefully at the hot liquid, and met the eyes of Helen Craig. Helen stood regarding her silently, a slight smile on her face. Cam nodded and settled into one of the large leather chairs before the fireplace. After a moment, Helen joined her with her own coffee.

"She's already out on the slopes," Helen commented.

"Yes, I know."

"I suppose you do," Helen said softly. "It must be very difficult for her."

Cam had been doing her job too many years to fall into the trap of casual conversation with a stranger. Especially a conversation about someone as high-profile as the President's daughter. However, there was something so genuine about the woman beside her, she felt strangely at ease. "I imagine it is."

Helen might not have any experience with the interpersonal relationships between a woman like Blair and those who guarded her, but she had plenty of experience with the attractions of one woman for another. She had had the opportunity to observe the reserved Secret Service Agent and the First Daughter together the previous night at dinner, and later as they moved about each other in an uneasy truce in the lounge. Blair Powell had scarcely taken her eyes off the tall lanky security chief, and it seemed that Blair's best friend Diane was captivated as well. The object of their attention, however, had revealed little, unless you were watching her. And Helen had been watching her closely. When the others were engaged in conversation the dark-haired woman with the smoky grey eyes watched the President's daughter with a penetrating intensity that should have left marks on her skin. Helen had seen that look before, in the eyes of women who thought they knew their own hearts, and their own minds. In the eyes of women who refused to acknowledge the truth of their own feelings.

"It must be lonely for her. She could probably use of friend," Helen remarked quietly.

Cam sighed, and gently replaced her cup on the coffee table. She walked toward the fireplace, watching the bark glow red and crumble from the logs as they burned brightly to their own destruction. "She has friends. What she needs is to be free. That's something no one can give her."

"There are more ways than one to be free."

When Cam looked back, knowing she had no answers, she found she was alone.

*********

"You really shouldn't let Stark play pinochle. She's god awful, and a danger to herself. If she had been my partner, I would have murdered her," Blair commented as she joined Cam on the wide front deck of the ski lodge. The night was frigid, the air so crisp it tingled against her skin. The sky was impossibly black, with stars so bright, and so numerous, it felt as if she were standing on the edge of heaven. Their breath left small clouds of white crystals in the air around them. Despite the temperature, she was not cold. She had been waiting all evening for an opportunity to be alone with her security chief. Now that the time had come, her pulse raised and her belly stirred with an excitement she tried to ignore.

"Card playing is a necessity for a Secret Service Agent," Cam responded seriously, although the corners of her mouth turned up in a rare smile.

"Yes, I'm sure." Blair stepped closer until her body brushed the shoulder of the woman beside her. She was surprised when Cameron did not move away. "Then again, I'm sure that Secret Service agents need to be talented in many things."

Cam turned to face her, her eyes serious. "Ms. Powell, I know how difficult all of this is for you..."

"I don't think you do," Blair said, resting her gloved hand against Cam's shoulder. "It's damned inconvenient finding a way to get one's security chief into bed without creating a national scandal."

"Perhaps there's a message there."

"There may be, but I have no interest in it. All I'm interested in is you."

Cam stepped back just enough to break their contact. Blair Powell was easily the most attractive woman she ever known. If that weren't enough, Blair was touchingly vulnerable in her unguarded moments. Cam wished there were some way to ease the younger woman's pain. But she could not allow her sympathy to interfere with her effectiveness. She reminded herself that the beautiful seductress before her was not truly interested in her, but rather wanted to use her as the tool to break the chains of her invisible prison. Cameron knew this, and because she did, she ignored the hammering of her heart and the rush of blood into her loins.

"I'm afraid you have mistaken my attentions. Your physical well-being is my only concern. I am not interested in anything other than that."

Blair felt the words rip through her. Although her tone had been light and teasing, she had been serious about her offer to Cam. She had not approached a woman with true desire in more years then she could count. It hurt, this rebuke. Her pain angered her, and as she turned and walked rapidly toward the door, she called caustically, "Don't mistake lust for affection, Commander. My interest in you, as I believe you once said, is strictly biological."

Cameron watched her go, struggling with her own disappointment. Of course she knew that she was only a potential conquest, but that did not lessen the pain of Blair's words.

**********

A knock on her door brought Cam from deep sleep into adrenalized arousal in an instant. She grabbed her gun from the night table as her feet touched the floor. The bedside clock read 4:44 a.m. Cam looked through the peep hole and cursed silently to herself when she saw the figure on the other side. She opened the door an inch and whispered, "What is it, Stark?"

Paula Stark stared white faced at her boss. She swallowed once audibly, and licked her suddenly dry lips nervously. "I need to talk you, Commander."

"Can't it wait?"

"No ma'am, it can't."

Cam opened the door to admit her young subordinate, replacing her gun in its holster on her table. She switched on the bedside lamp and motioned Stark to a chair at the small desk in front of the windows. She sat down across from Stark and looked at her inquiringly. For a moment, she thought that Stark might cry.

"I need to be transferred," Stark stated flatly.

"Is there some reason you felt you needed to wake me in the middle of the night to tell me this?" Cameron asked sharply. She had a bad feeling she knew where this conversation was going.

"I needed to tell you now. I need to leave in the morning."

Cam sighed and leaned back from the table. She ran both hands briskly over face, then peered intently at the pale young woman across from her. "Do you want to tell me what this is all about?"

"I--I don't feel I can continue to carry out my assignment."

"That's not what you told me two weeks ago," Cam stated.

Paula Stark raised her eyes to Cam's for the first time. Her shoulders stiffened slightly as she stated, "I hadn't slept with her then."

Something hard settled deep in the pit of Cam's stomach. She clenched her jaw to stifle the curse that leapt to her lips. She stood abruptly and paced to the other side of the room, turning so quickly in the small space that Stark flinched.

"Are you out of your mind?" Cam seethed, her fury barely contained. She knew instinctively she was handling this poorly, but her immediate reaction was one of deep-seated anger, and uncomfortably, something that felt a great deal like jealousy.

"I didn't know it was going to happen. It was--I don't know--it just, she--" Stark raised her hands in a helpless gesture. "She asked me, and I just couldn't say 'no'."

"Jesus Christ," Cameron muttered. Was there no end to the chaos that woman could create? Now she had to deal with the potential ruin of a very capable young woman's career. "How do you feel about her now?"

Stark looked at her in surprise. It was as if she had never considered the question before. "I don't know."

"Are you in love with her?" Cam asked quietly. For some reason, the words were hard to get out.

"I don't think so," Stark said, clearly embarrassed. "It was--physical."

"Yes, I'm sure it was," Cameron said under her breath. She refused to think about the two of them together, but it was difficult keeping the image of Blair making love with this woman from her mind. She shook her head, forcing herself to deal with the real issues at hand. "I wish that there was some way I could overlook this, but I can't. Even if you have no personal feelings for her, I can't trust you to be objective. I can't trust you not to allow your relationship with her to cloud your judgment. It could be dangerous for her-- and it could be dangerous for you."

Stark looked down at her folded hands resting on the tabletop, her expression one of abject misery. "I know. I've thought of nothing else for the last three hours. Ever since I left her room, I've been agonizing over what to do."

"Why did you tell me?"

Stark looked at her in surprise. "Because if you found out, it would ruin my credibility forever. I made a mistake, but I am not irresponsible."

Cameron looked at her with growing respect. Stark did not drop her gaze as Cameron studied her unwaveringly. "Can you swear to me that there is no romantic attachment between you and Ms. Powell?"

"Yes ma'am, I swear."

"You may continue with your post, Agent Stark. If I find that your judgment or performance is compromised in any way, I will transfer you immediately without regard for its impact on your career."

Stark stood, nearly at attention. "Yes ma'am, I understand ma'am. Thank you so much."

Cameron nodded, suddenly weary. As the door closed behind the young agent, Cameron stretched out on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Eventually she closed her eyes, and tried to ignore the image of Blair Powell naked, her legs entwined with the shadowy figure of Paula Stark.
 
 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

"May I join you?"

"If you wish."

Blair did not miss the stiffness in Cameron's voice, nor the cold smoldering anger in her eyes. "I take it you know I had company last night."

"I am aware of it."

For some reason, Blair took no satisfaction in making it clear to her aloof security chief that Cameron was not irreplaceable, especially in her bed. In fact, she had been plagued by an unfamiliar uneasiness throughout a restless night. For the first time in her memory, she felt regret. Regret that the woman beside her meant nothing to her. Regret that the entire time she had made love to Paula Stark, she had wished for another's body beneath her lips, beneath her fingers. Regret that even as the young woman lay spent and vulnerable in her arms, she felt nothing for her. Regret that the woman she had taken to her bed had been cheated by that very fact.

Cam gritted her teeth, trying desperately to control her temper. She wasn't certain whom she was most angry with - Paula Stark for her lack of judgment, or Blair Powell- for her total lack of discretion in choosing her bed partners. Looking at the woman across from her, Cameron had to struggle not to imagine the soft sensuous lips stroking her own. She had felt the power of Blair's embrace, and she was finding it difficult to banish it from her memory.

Blair pushed back her chair and stood, her breakfast untouched before her. She stared down at Cam with something close to remorse in her eyes. Nevertheless, her voice was bitter. "If it makes any difference to your sense of ethics, it wasn't exactly her idea. And I'm done with her now. It won't happen again."

Without waiting for an answer, the President's daughter turned away abruptly. She didn't so much as glance in Paula Stark's direction.

Cameron sat for a moment, watching Blair cross the dining room in angry strides. She struggled for composure, knowing that her anger would only cloud her judgment and make it more difficult for her to do her job. Two of her agents moved quietly from the room to follow Blair at a discrete distance. Cameron was confident that they would be ready should the President's daughter decide to leave the lodge.

**********

Half an hour later, Cameron gathered her gear and stepped out into a glorious Colorado morning. The air was crisp, the sun a blazing white light that forced her to immediately pull on her ski goggles. She knew from communications that Blair was on the upper slopes, preparing to spend the morning on a long and challenging downhill trail. By the time Cameron reached the peak, Blair was pushing off for her second run down the mountainside. Cameron stepped into her traces, and started after her, staying just slightly behind Blair to give her plenty of room to maneuver over the slope. Cameron was content to follow, keeping her eyes on the woman ahead of her. She felt only a momentary flicker of surprise when a dark form hurdled from a stand of trees 20 feet away and headed directly for Blair Powell.

Fear was not an emotion that Cameron allowed herself. It merely slowed the reflexes, and clouded judgment. In the second it took her to reach for her gun, she saw Blair go down as the figure careened into her. For a brief instant Cameron was struck with a sense of deja vu that nearly made her dizzy. Her stomach clenched as panic threatened to engulf her. As quickly as the image of Janet falling, a blossom of red on her chest, glided into Cameron's mind like a familiar slide on a well- viewed screen, Cameron forced it away. The assailant had fallen from the force of his impact with Blair, and was struggling to rise in the snow.

Cam skidded to a stop at Blair's side, shedding her skis before she had even stopped moving. She threw herself over Blair's prone body, her gun trained on the figure not far away. With her other hand, she pulled her radio from her belt, screaming hoarsely, "Red alert, red alert!"

Even as she curled herself protectively around Blair's still form, four agents emerged from the trees on either side, guns drawn, shouting for the assailant to get down. Within seconds, they surrounded him. As soon as Cameron was certain that the immediate danger to Blair had passed, she switched radio frequencies to that of the communications center at the lodge, and requested urgent transport and a medivac unit to meet them on the slopes. She eased herself off Blair's body, holstering her gun and pulling off her gloves.

Blair lay on her back, eyes closed. Cameron quickly ascertained that her pulse with strong and steady, but she appeared to be unconscious. With hands that trembled only slightly, Cameron opened Blair's parka and slipped her hand inside, searching for evidence of a wound. It was entirely possible that the assailant had slipped a knife or ice pick into Blair's body during the collision. One part of her mind worked efficiently, by the book, while another part warred with the terror rising within.

Jesus, don't let her be hurt

Cameron slipped her hand under Blair's sweater, finding no evidence of blood. She slid her fingers over the tight abdomen and tried to check Blair's back without turning her.

"What are you doing," Blair whispered, her blue eyes unfocused.

Cameron look down, relief clearly evident in her face. "Just lie still. Everything is all right. You're safe."

"I've been wanting you to do this, but this wasn't exactly the place I had mind," Blair commented weakly, a smile flickering uncertainly across her face. She started to push herself up, and winced as a barrage of cannon fire began in the back of her head. She fell back limply. "What the hell happened?"

Cameron zipped up Blair's jacket and started to remove her own. She could see Blair was beginning to shiver. "I don't know yet," she said grimly. "How do you feel?" She spread her jacket over Blair's body.

Blair gingerly moved each arm and leg. Her vision was clearing, and other than a phenomenal headache, she seemed to be fine. "I'm all right."

"We'll have you off the ground in just a minute," Cameron said gently. She lifted her radio, and barked into it, "Where the hell is medivac?" Static was all she heard for a moment, and then Mac's voice.

"The helicopter was delayed because of cloud cover," he said. "We have an ambulance on its way and there should be snowmobiles on site in approximately two minutes."

Cameron didn't like it. It was sloppy work. They should have been informed that the helicopters were unavailable. Nevertheless, at the moment there was nothing she could do. "I copy that."

Blair reached for Cameron's arm, gripping her with surprising strength. "I don't want to go to a hospital. The media will be all over this. My father is in Southeast Asia, and there's no need for him to be disturbed."

Cameron had no intention of arguing with Blair. Even now, her team was taking the suspect downhill to the lodge. She would question him herself as soon as Blair was taken care of. She had to approach this as if it were an attempt on Blair's life. Because that was all she could assume it was. The time for respecting Blair's wishes was past. This was not something she could compromise about.

Blair watched Cameron's jaw tighten, and she knew there was no room for negotiation. "At least let me call him and tell him I'm all right, before this is all over the news."

Cameron nodded. "Of course."

**********

Six hours later, Cameron nodded to the agent seated outside Blair Powell's hospital room and gently pushed the door open. She stood for a moment, trying to ascertain in the dim light if Blair were awake.

"Come in."

Cameron approached the bed, and stood looking down at Blair's pale face. "Did I wake you?"

"No. I was just lying here plotting my escape."

Cam laughed with just a hint of sarcasm. "Why is it that I believe you?"

A faint smile flickered across Blair's full lips. For an instant, her eyes sparkled with a youthful joy that had not been present for many years. "Perhaps because you're starting to learn my tricks."

Cameron edged the chair close to the side of the bed and sat, leaning forward so that Blair could see her. Softly she said, "I doubt very much that I will ever recognize all of your tricks."

"You might," Blair whispered, "if you gave me the chance to teach you."

It was Cameron's turn to smile. She chose to ignore the remark, instinctively sensing Blair's vulnerability, and recognizing that this was not a time for them to struggle. She stared at Blair's hand, lying motionless on the thin hospital-issue covers. She remembered the grace with which that same hand had moved across the sketch pad, capturing her own likeness with startling perceptiveness. No one since her mother had been able to portray her so accurately. Without meaning to, Cameron gently covered Blair's slender fingers with her own. She had meant to reassure her, and found herself reassured instead.

For a brief moment on the mountainside, she had thought that Blair was injured. Her choking fear was much more than just her concern for the person she guarded. She could not bear the thought of Blair being harmed, and she dared not examine too closely the reasons why.

Cameron cleared her throat, trying to ignore the sudden tingling in her fingers as Blair intertwined her fingers with Cam's. "Your assailant was a 16 your old boy who decided he was going to ski downhill through the trees from an adjoining trail. He wasn't even supposed to be there, but somehow no one was watching that particular part of the course. He had no idea who you were, and in fact I still don't think he does."

"So I'm safe for the moment?" Blair asked with just a hint of bitterness.

Cam nodded. "We've managed to keep this very low profile, and I don't think there's going to be much publication about it in the media."

Blair sighed gratefully. "Thank you. I want to get out of here this afternoon and go back to the lodge."

"Why does that not surprise me either?" Cam said with resignation. "I've taken the liberty of checking with your physicians, and they told me that if your headache is okay, they'd be willing to discharge you."

"Good. I feel like I'm in a fish bowl in here."

Cameron stood, resisting the urge to brush the errant strands of blond hair off Blair's cheek. "I'll see to the arrangements."

Cameron was almost to the door before Blair spoke. "Thank you for protecting me this afternoon," she said softly. She still felt the unexpected comfort of Cameron's embrace as she had lain in Cam's arms in the snow.

Cameron gripped the handle so hard her fingers ached. For a brief moment, she felt again the sheer terror she had experienced as she watched Blair fall. She could not afford to feel that for her. She could not afford to feel anything for her. In a tone harsher than she intended, she said sharply, "I was only doing in my job, Ms. Powell."

Then she was gone, and Blair was alone once more.
 
 

chapter fifteen

"How's your head?" Cam asked as she slipped into the seat next to Blair.

"I'll live," Blair responded, strangely subdued. In fact, the slightest vertical movement of the aircraft produced a wave of nausea that threatened to overpower her considerable self-control. Fortunately, the skies were clear and the jet streaked toward New York City with very little turbulence. Otherwise, she was very much afraid she would embarrass herself.

It didn't escape Cam's notice that Blair's face was chalk white, and her normally crystal clear blue eyes clouded with pain. Cam inclined her head closer, although the other agents and Diane were 10 rows further forward, engaged in conversation or napping. She and Blair were quite alone. Nevertheless, Cam did not want their private conversation overheard. "You don't have to be a hero, you know. Why don't you take a couple of pain pills and try to rest."

Blair started to shake her head, and abruptly stopped when the slight movement caused her stomach to lurch. "Believe me, Commander, I am no hero. The problem is, the pain pills tend to make me sicker than the pain."

Cam laughed softly as she shifted in her seat and pushed the center arm rest up out of the way. She laid her left arm along the backs of the seats and offered Blair her shoulder. "Just try to close your eyes for the rest of the flight. It's probably the only thing that will do any good. Believe me, I've been in your position more than once. The only way to get through it is pills or sleep."

Blair knew instinctively that Cam's offer of comfort was prompted by sympathy, and no special feelings for her. Nevertheless, what she needed at that moment was precisely what Cameron offered. Simple human comfort. She allowed her body to relax against Cam's side, and rested her head in the curve of Cam's arm. She knew she wouldn't sleep, but perhaps if she closed her eyes the pain would lessen.

Cam gently stretched her legs out in front of her and settled back into the seat. In only a minute or two, she knew from the rhythmic motion of Blair's breathing that she had settled into sleep. The faint background drone of the engines and the warmth of Blair's body along her side lulled her into a sense of peacefulness that she had long forgotten. She stared out the window, and thought of nothing. For those few precious hours, Blair's presence was all she needed. As she dozed, she rested her cheek on the fragrant softness of Blair's hair.

**********

As the plane touched down, Cam and Blair awoke together. Neither of them moved. Cam's hand had drifted down from the seat and was curled gently along Blair's side, resting just beneath her breast. In her sleep, Blair had turned to thread her arm around Cam's waist. She lay with her head tucked beneath Cam's chin, resting in her arms. They held each other as if it had always been.

As the others in the cabin began to stand and stretch, Cam lifted her arm from around Blair's body, acutely aware of how much she did not want to let her go. "Ms. Powell, we need to depart."

With a sigh, Blair pushed herself upright and brushed her hands through her wild tresses. She noted with just a hint of surprise that her headache was gone. "Yes, of course we do."

She glanced at Cameron, startled to see a fleeting look that might have been regret cross her handsome face. Then, the professional impenetrable mask returned, and Cam simply smiled in agreement.

Cam left her then to move forward and speak to her people regarding the plans for transportation back to the townhouse. Diane worked her way down the aisle to Cam's vacant seat. "You two looked very cozy together," she remarked dryly.

"Leave it alone, Diane," Blair said quietly.

Diane bit back the retort she had been about to make. There was something in her old friend's voice that warned her off. In fact, they had looked very good together. Too good together. They looked as if they had held each other a thousand times before. Diane simply shook her head and left unspoken her words of caution. Something told her that Blair was beyond hearing.

**********

Cameron sat her paper cup of coffee down on the worktable and glanced over at Mac with a quizzical lift of her eyebrow. "Is she still upstairs?"

"Yup, three days straight," Mac said with a shake of his head.

Cameron wasn't sure what to make of it, but she knew she didn't like it. Ever since they had touched down at JFK, Blair had not been herself. She had sent word that she intended to work in her studio, and would not require daily meetings with Cameron. Cam had not protested, feeling that to do so would be a further invasion of Blair's privacy. Nevertheless, the atmosphere in the command center resembled the calm before the storm. All of them expected Blair to burst forth from her isolation at any moment, and lead them once again on a merry chase. For her part, Cam almost wished she would. There was something unnerving about the sudden change in Blair's behavior.

Better the enemy I know, Cam muttered to herself. She picked up her coffee and headed to her small glass enclosed office. Mac looked after her, thinking that Blair Powell wasn't the only one who was not acting like themselves.

Things continued much the same for another week. The agents came and went, whiling away the hours of their shift reading, talking in hushed tones, and generally wondering when the bomb would drop. Cam spent as little time as possible within the confines of the command center. She jogged, she worked out, she read in her apartment. She left strict orders to be called the moment Blair gave any indication that she was preparing to leave the building. On the night of the eighth day, the call finally came.

"She just got into a cab and is headed downtown," Mac informed her.

"Shit," Cam cursed. "How did you let that happen?"

Mac's discomfort was nearly palpable, even over the phone. "There wasn't anything we could do short of physically stopping her. She just walked out of the building, stepped into the street, and flagged a checkered down. We were lucky to get the car out fast enough to follow her."

Cam sighed slightly in relief. "Then you have her in sight?"

"Roger that. Hold on a second--"

Cam paced the confines of her living room, the cellular phone gripped tightly in her hand. Although they had had no further contact from whoever had left the note outside Blair's door, she was worried that they weren't the only ones watching the President's daughter. Anytime Blair was without an escort, Cam was fearful for her safety.

"She just went into a bar on Houston," Mac informed her.

"Name and address?" Cam asked tersely.

"Rendezvous," Mac stated. After a second, he gave her the address as well.

"I'm on my way."

Less than 15 minutes later, Cam was in the bar, scanning the already crowded dance floor and surrounding tables for Blair. It was approaching midnight on a Saturday night, and the room was packed. The lighting was dim and the air thick with smoke, making it difficult for her to see across the room. She began threading her way through the crowd at the perimeter of the room, guessing that Blair would be in the shadows somewhere. Sure enough, she finally saw her talking to a young woman with impressive tattoos encircling both upper arms.

The woman with Blair was obviously a serious body builder, and her tight white tank top was clearly meant to display her hard-earned physique. She wore low-cut button fly jeans that showed off her muscular thighs to full advantage. At the moment, her hand was stroking the length of the Blair's bare arm, drawing closer to Blair's breast with each movement. Cam gritted her teeth, and tried to ignore the seduction in progress. She watched as Blair pressed closer to the other woman, remembering the moment when Blair had moved against her like that, claiming her insistently with a kiss. Cam's body immediately stirred to the memory, her clitoris hardening almost instantly.

Jesus Christ, what the hell is the matter with you? Cameron forced herself to ignore the throbbing in her belly. Nevertheless, she found herself averting her gaze when Blair cupped the woman's face in her hand and licked slowly along the edge of her jaw, finally thrusting her tongue between her lips. That was the moment when Cam finally admitted to herself that she couldn't do what she had come there to do. Anger surged through her as she spoke harshly into her collar microphone.

"I want the first team in here now to take over this surveillance." She abruptly turned her back as the two women began to kiss ferociously, their hands roaming over each other's bodies with abandon. As soon as she saw her people enter the bar, she pushed her way through the crowd and out onto the street. She crossed quickly to her car and radioed headquarters.

"Mac, I want you to take over for me for the next twelve hours. If there's an emergency, page me. Otherwise, I'm unavailable."

She didn't wait for his reply but drove directly to JFK airport. As she waited in a terminal for her flight, she dialed a familiar number in Washington D.C., and arranged for the only hope she had of driving Blair from her consciousness.
 
 

Chapter sixteen

"Ah, god – I can’t," Cam gasped hoarsely, "I’m sorry – I just – can’t."

The blonde raised her head, gazing up the long expanse of Cam’s torso. "That’s not what your body is saying." She rested her cheek against Cam’s thigh, one hand softly stroking between Cam’s legs. "Besides, I'm not done yet."

Cam gently insinuated her fingers into the hair at the back of her visitor's neck. She tugged softly. "Come up and lie beside me," she whispered.

Claire slipped from between Cam's legs and moved up to recline against Cam's body, resting her head on Cam's shoulder. Her hand lay lightly on Cam's belly.

Cam shifted slightly, brushing a kiss across Claire's forehead. "Let me make love you," she said softly. It was the first time she had ever suggested it.

"That's not what this is about. I don't need you to do that."

"I need to," Cam insisted. "After all this time, I want to give you something back."

Claire nodded, hearing what Cam wasn't saying. She knew that Cam wanted more than to thank her. Cam wanted to say goodbye. Over the years, there had been many goodbyes. This was one that was going to be hard.

"Just hold me," Claire requested. "That's all I need."

Cam was weary, too weary to protest. She cradled the other woman closer, closed her eyes, and tried to empty her mind. She tried not to think about her anger and confusion every time she imagined Blair making love to yet another stranger. She tried to ignore what she knew very well was jealousy. She tried to ignore the simple fact that she wanted it to be her that Blair was caressing.

Claire ran her fingers lightly over Cam's flushed skin, tracing the outline of her ribs and hip, stroking the soft curve of the underside of her breasts, smoothing the flat of her hand over the taut muscles of her stomach. Slowly, Cam relaxed under her touch.

Eventually, Cam's thoughts were eclipsed by an awareness of her body’s response to Claire's attention. Her skin began to tingle, her leg muscles tightened, and her hips began to rock slightly as her clitoris once again swelled in anticipation. This time, her urgency was gone, and she allowed herself the luxury of simply accepting the pleasure. Her mind collapsed into a single point of sensation, centered within the pulsating pressure between her legs. She groaned, and lifted her pelvis higher, silently urging Claire's hand lower. Her breath escaped on a sigh as two fingers enclosed the shaft of her clitoris, milking it slowly and firmly from the base to the tip. She felt wetness spread along the inside of her thighs, and when one soft stroke brushed the warm moisture over the exposed tip of her clitoris, she moaned again.

"God, that makes me want to come," she murmured breathlessly.

Clara smiled faintly, her fingers slipping inside, then back out and upward, a steady rhythm that matched Cam's unconscious movements. She sensed the building pressure, and felt the tender tissues beneath her fingertips thicken even more, swelling to the point of explosion.

Cam gripped the sheets convulsively in her left hand, her right arm holding Claire tightly. She turned her face into the sweet comfort of Claire's hair, and allowed her body to surrender to the inevitable. As her stomach clenched and a hoarse cry was wrenched from her depths, Blair Powell's face flickered across the inner surface of her eyelids.

**********

300 miles away, Blair stood in a small apartment on the fourth floor of a building in Greenwich Village. She casually studied the clothes hanging on a rack that had been pushed into the corner of a small bedroom, seeming to have forgotten the woman who had brought her there.

"Nice collection of ties you have here," Blair commented as she fingered the lengths of silk and cotton draped over a hanger at the end of the rack. Without looking at the other woman, she continued, "Let's see what kind of use we can put these to. Why don't you take your clothes off and lie face down on the bed."

The young butch stared at her in amazement. Clearly, Blair's shoulder length blonde hair, tight white T-shirt, full breasts and graceful carriage did not necessarily spell 'femme'. As much as she hated to relinquish her butch dominance, she was intrigued and more than a little excited by the commanding town in Blair's voice. Trying to maintain her fašade of nonchalance, the dark-haired body builder removed her leather and denim, pulled off her briefs, and shed her boots and socks. Naked, and feeling more than a little uncertain, she lay face down on her own bed, welcoming the pillow that allowed her to hide her face.

Blair crossed to her side, and slipped a loop fashioned from one of the ties around the woman's right wrist. She ran the length of fabric over the mattress and around the bed frame, quickly following suit with the other wrist and both ankles. Once the woman was totally immobilized, she removed the pillow.

"I want you to be able to breathe. But keep your eyes closed."

Blair stepped back, lit several candles she had noticed on the windowsill, and placed them on the small bedside table. In the flickering candlelight, she allowed herself to study the woman's body. She was beautiful. Smooth tight skin; muscles rippling under the sweat-slick surface; thick lustrous hair just beginning to curl at the base of her neck. Her face in profile was sharply defined and arrogant even in repose. Altogether she was a fine specimen of young butch sexuality. Still, Blair struggled not to compare her form to the long lean lines of Cam's body. She did not want to remember the alluring maturity etched into Cam's elegant features, or the smoldering sensuality in her dark eyes, or the aching softness of her full lips. Blair had tried to eliminate the memory of Cam's arms around her with hours upon days of work in her secluded loft, and she had failed. The only way she could drive thoughts of Cam from her awareness was to fill her senses with the sight, and sound, and feel of another woman.

Still fully clothed, she climbed onto the bed and stretched out on top of the woman. She ran her fingers over the surface of the bound woman's arms, her lips and tongue tasting the salt at the base of her neck, sucking her ear lobe into her mouth. Dimly, she heard a groan as she captured the soft skin along the jaw between her teeth, tugging lightly, quickly erasing the pinpoints of pain with a kiss. Blair's captive struggled to turn her face, desperately seeking Blair's lips with her own. Blair ignored her, sitting up slightly so that she could trace the muscles of the other woman's shoulders and back and flanks, ending at her well-formed buttocks. Blair moved down the bed, her fingers kneading the thick gluteal muscles, pushing and separating them, exposing the cleft between them to her view. She traced the puckered muscle with a fingertip.

"Oh please," the young stranger moaned, an edge of fear in her voice.

"Quiet," Blair said softly. "I won't hurt you."

She knelt between the strong quivering thighs, lowering her face until she could trace the delicate tissues with her tongue. The tight sphincter spasmed as she pressed inward, her lips softly stroking the outer rim. She sucked lightly, then ran her tongue deeper into the cleft, tasting for the first time the thick heady juices of her young lover's desire. She ran her tongue lightly over the swollen lips, tracing the folds and furrows, circling the thickening clitoris, moving tantalizingly from one spot to the next.

"If --oh god, you make me want to come -- so badly," gasped the young woman.

"Soon," Blair murmured. She was lost in the sensations-- the smell, the incredible softness, the welcoming heat and enticing juices. This was woman, any woman, every woman. As she pressed her face deeper, immersing herself, she felt her lover's impending orgasm begin to build. Blair stretched out full-length on the bed, her arms encircling the woman's waist, her lips and tongue frantically stroking and caressing the engorged tissues. As the body beneath her convulsed, amidst sobs and cries and choked moans, Blair squeezed her eyes tightly closed, wanting to know only this incredible moment of intense connection. Even with the woman climaxing in her mouth, Blair couldn't help but wish that it was Cameron Roberts surrendering to her touch.

**********

Cameron rolled over and fumbled for the phone on the bedside table. The digital clock read 4:45. She was disoriented as to where she was and exactly what time it was. The bed beside her was empty, but there was a lingering warmth that suggested it had recently been occupied. As the phone rang insistently, her eyes adjusted to the dark and she recognized her own bedroom in Washington D.C. As her hand lifted the receiver, her mind registered her recent flight from New York and her frantic attempts to forget Blair Powell in the embrace of another woman.

"Roberts," she growled, trying to ignore her unsettling thoughts.

"It's Mac, Commander. I'm sorry to disturb you, but I thought you would want to know--"

Cameron sat up abruptly in bed, her mind crystal clear, but her heart pounding. "Is it Egret? Is she secure?"

"Yes ma'am," Mac hurried to assure her. "We have her under constant surveillance, and we know exactly where she is. But we did receive another contact from Lover Boy."

That was the name the security team had given the UNSUB who had left the note at Blair's door.

"What is it?" Cam queried as she swung out of bed and began searching the room for her clothing. She noticed a folded sheet of note paper on her dressing table, and slipped it into the pocket of her trousers.

"Photographs," Mac said grimly. "There's a very good close-up of Egret leaving the apartment building yesterday afternoon."

"Son of a bitch. That means he's been watching the building, from somewhere close by. How did you get them?" Cam was hastily buttoning her shirt and threading a narrow leather belt through the loops of her pants. She had found one shoe and was peering under the bed for the other.

"Stark noticed a manila folder propped up against the mailboxes in the lobby. It had Egret's name on it."

Cam stopped abruptly in the middle of the floor, a shoe in one hand, her portable phone in the other. She felt a brief thrill of elation. "Then we've got him! There are video cameras all over that lobby as well as the entrance. We must have an image of him. I want all of the tapes brought up to the command center for review. Also, run a check on all the license plates of cars parked around the Park – then call the cab companies for recent fares to Egret's block. I'll catch the next commuter flight. Assemble the entire team, day and night shifts, at 0700."

"Yes ma'am," Mac snapped.

"And Mac," Cameron continued in a quieter voice. "Get Egret back to her apartment."

There was a beat of silence over the phone line. Mac cleared his throat, choosing his words carefully. He wasn't sure why, but he felt uncomfortable delivering the next information. "Uh, Commander--at the moment, Egret is with an unidentified female, who almost certainly does not know Egret's identity. If we roust her, there is no way we'll be able to guarantee silence regarding her identity."

Cameron flashed back to the young woman Blair had been fondling in the bar. Of course Blair would have gone home with her. And why not? She was just the kind of conquest Blair would thrill to.

"Then I want her in a car the minute she steps out onto the sidewalk. And Mac--if anyone loses her, it's their job."

"I guarantee I will have her back here ASAP." As he hung up the phone, he said a fervent prayer that he could deliver on his promise.
 
 

Chapter seventeen

At 06:59, Cam walked into the command center and strode to the head of the table where the other agents were gathered. Despite her lack of sleep, she looked focused and intent. Without preamble, she said, "Let me hear the analysis on the photograph."

Jeremy Finch, a short, mildly overweight, bespectacled agent cleared his throat. He was the resident nerd, the computer genius and technical wizard. "We've analyzed the potential elevation and angle of view by extrapolating from the available shadows and the known time of day. Basically, the photograph was taken from one of the buildings facing Egret's across Gramercy Park." He looked down at the tabletop uncomfortably.

"That leaves us with a lot of potential sites, Agent Finch." Cameron stared at him, biting back another sarcastic remark. It wasn't his fault that he couldn't manufacture evidence.

Finch nodded almost miserably. Like every other agent in the room, he had come to value his position on this team, and felt a sense of loyalty to his intense, demanding Commander. "Yes ma'am, I know that. What it does tell us is that the shooter has a fixed location, rather than a vehicle. Therefore, there is a better chance of finding him, since he may be relatively stationary."

Cameron nodded. "You're right. We need to get a list of every occupant of every building on each side of the Square, not just the street directly across from this building. You'll need to check realtors, building managers, and also any corporations which lease apartments for use by employees. It's possible that this UNSUB is only here intermittently when business demands it."

"We have people assigned to begin the reconnaissance at the opening of business hours," Mac interjected.

They spent a few moments reviewing other methods of narrowing down the list of potential perpetrators who might have access to the surrounding buildings. Finally, Cameron looked around the table, meeting the eyes of each of her agents.

"I'm going to have to report this to the White House. At this point, we must assume that Blair Powell is in imminent danger of either an assassination or abduction attempt. I'm going to recommend that she be secluded for the time being until we can carry out our investigation. It is possible that this investigation will be removed from our jurisdiction--" she held up her hand for silence as the agents shifted in their seats and murmured in protest.

"I know how you feel, and I think that we are the best people to protect her as well as to get to the bottom of this. But situations like this often become political, and it's possible we will have nothing to say about it. If it comes to that, I expect total cooperation with whoever is running the investigation. Remember, the bottom line is Egret's safety. There is no room for ego or personal gain where she is concerned."

Cameron stared, knowing she had everyone's attention. "As soon as Ms. Powell arrives home, inform me. I'll meet with her and let her know the situation. That's all."

Cameron walked through the command center to the elevators and left the building without speaking to anyone. She crossed the square to her own apartment and shed her clothes immediately upon entering. She went to the bathroom and into the shower. She turned the cold water on full and let it blast the fatigue from her body and her mind. She was furious. Furious that someone dare threaten Blair Powell for no other reason than the position she represented. She was furious at herself for allowing her feelings for Blair to interfere with her duty. She was furious that the thought of any harm coming to Blair terrified her.

When the phone rang two hours later informing her that Blair had returned to her penthouse apartment, she was seated in front of her large bay windows, dressed in a starched white shirt, black silk trousers, and a charcoal gray silk jacket. She had been waiting for the call, her mind uncommonly still. She felt sure of herself for the first time in weeks.

**********

"What's the emergency?" Blair asked more abruptly than she had intended. She stood across the room from Cam, having barely gotten out of the shower when she had been informed that her security chief was on her way up. "This isn't a very good time. Can't we do this later?"

She had not seen Cameron in the ten days since they had returned from the ski resort. She had worked feverishly, spending hours applying paint to canvas -- sweeping abstract vistas of anger and longing and frustrated desire. When finally her emotions had run dry, she looked up from her easel and felt the walls of her loft closing in on her. Cameron's unbidden image still haunted her. The comfort of Cam's embrace on the airplane had been harder to forget than the sexual desire she had felt previously. Lust was something she could control, ignoring it if necessary. What she felt for Cameron Roberts was something she hadn't experienced since she had been innocent enough to believe in love. More than anything else, it frightened her.

She thought her normally imperturbable security chief looked tense, and Cam's eyes showed a hint of shadow that spoke of fatigue. Blair's stomach tightened.

"What is it?" she asked quietly.

"There's been further contact from the stalker," Cam said flatly. "A photograph was left -- a photograph that makes it clear that he's been watching you. It may be nothing more than his way of letting us know that he's around – empty posturing. But it may also be an indication that he's escalating. I have to assume that to be true."

Blair took a deep breath. "What do you intend to do about it?"

"I thought it only right to inform you first that I am flying to Washington later this morning to conference with the Chief of Staff and my bosses. I would anticipate that a task force will be formed to investigate and apprehend this individual."

Blair said nothing, turning to look out her windows into the park below. She thought she knew how a caged animal felt. "What will that mean for me?"

Cameron saw the rigid set of her back, and heard the slight tremor in Blair's voice which she tried to hide. For an instant, Cam wanted to take Blair into her arms and comfort her. Instead, she forced herself to say, "I would imagine you'll be moved out of the city until he's apprehended."

Blair spun around, her blue eyes nearly purple with fury. "You mean they'll close me up in some compound with guards 24 hours a day, as if my life were so insignificant I could walk away and leave everything behind."

"No! As if your life were too important to risk for single moment!"

"Bullshit!" Blair spat. "The only thing you people care about is protecting the reputation of the United States government and the people who run it."

Blair turned on her heel and stalked to the opposite side of the room, stepping behind a half-wall partition that enclosed her sleeping area. After a moment, Cameron followed. Blair was hastily throwing clothes into a suitcase.

"Exactly what do you think you're doing?" Cameron said, a deadly seriousness in her tone.

Blair didn't bother to look up. She threw jeans and underwear into the bag, searching on the dresser for her wallet and keys.

"I'm getting out of here. I wouldn't suggest you try to stop me. I don't think my father would be pleased if I were man-handled by one of his Secret Service agents." Then she reached for her bag and was stunned when Cameron grasped her forcibly by the shoulders, stopping her in her tracks.

"You listen to me! I don't give a fuck what your father thinks! I don't even give a fuck what you think! You're not leaving this apartment."

For a brief second, Cameron became every person who had ever conspired to keep Blair a captive in a life she had never chosen. A life she had been forced to live by virtue of her father's ambition. She swung her hand at Cameron's face, lashing out not at the woman who had done nothing more than attempt to protect her, but at the faceless many who had carried out their orders despite her wishes.

Cameron intercepted the blow with her left arm, angry not at Blair for attempting to strike her, but at Blair's stubborn refusal to accept that she was in danger. Cameron's fear surfaced on a wave of uncontrollable desire. She pulled Blair into her arms and covered Blair's lips with her own. She kissed her roughly, her hands pinning Blair's arms to her sides as she pressed her body hard against Blair's. For a moment Blair was too stunned to react, but there was never an instant of resistance. When she felt Cameron's mouth on hers, she kissed her back, her tongue pressing urgently to join Cameron's, her arms clutching Cameron's waist, her legs straddling Cameron's thigh tightly.

Cam's breath rasped in her chest as reason threatened to desert her. She wanted Blair so badly, and her body was racing beyond her control. She groaned, moving her head enough to bury her face against Blair's neck. Blair arched her pelvis into Cam and tilted her head back, exposing her neck as if for sacrifice.

"Oh oh god, Cameron god please -- touch me," she managed to gasp.

The sound of Blair's voice sliced through Cam's consciousness, paralyzing her as awareness crashed upon her.

My god, what am I doing!

Cam halted her feverish caresses, but did not let go of the woman in her arms. Instead, she cradled her closer, pressing her lips to Blair's ear.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Forgive me," Cam whispered urgently, her body shuddering with arousal.

"No!" Blair choked. "Don't stop. God, don't stop."

"I have to," Cameron murmured in anguish. "I have to." She couldn't do this, not again. She couldn't feel this much, she couldn't want this much, she couldn't be this vulnerable. She had not touched another woman with passion since the morning she had last made love to Janet. Six hours later she had held her lover as she lay dying. She had vowed never to feel the longing, nor the loss, again.

Blair pushed away from her unsteadily, running her trembling hands through her hair. Her eyes were bruised, from passion and from the pain of Cam's rejection.

"No, of course you can't. It's not in your job description, is it, Commander? You can't feel anything for me because it would interfere with your duty. Isn't that right?"

Cam willed her voice to be steady. "When I meet with the others in Washington later today, I'm going to resign from this position. Whatever you may think of me, I will not jeopardize your safety by remaining. I can't do my duty, simply because I can't think of you as just another assignment."

Cam turned to leave.

"Wait!" Blair called.

Something nearly helpless in her voice caused Cam to stop.

"I have to attend the opening of the new children's wing at the city hospital this afternoon at three. Can't this wait until after that? It's been arranged for months, and there are children who might not – be there - later."

Cam nodded slowly. "I'll leave for Washington right after that."

**********

At two thirty Cam stood outside Blair’s door, dressed much the same as she had been that morning. She had changed shirts, substituting a pale gray silk for the white. Blair opened her apartment door, her eyes meeting Cam’s.

"Will you come in with me?" Blair asked in an unusual display of vulnerability.

"Every step," Cam said quietly.

Blair wore a simple black sheath, a string of gray pearls at her neck. Her low heels brought her to exactly Cam’s height. Together they were a striking couple. As Blair stepped to Cam’s side, Cam touched her hand softly.

"It will be all right."

Three other agents joined them as they exited the elevator and moved toward the lobby doors. Mac had the limo waiting at the curb, the rear door open. The bright afternoon sunlight outside the large glass doors cast a blinding glare directly into their faces. Stark and Johnson exited first, followed by Cam and another agent - Blair between them. Automatically, Cam looked up, squinting into the sun, scanning the buildings across the small square. She sensed rather than saw movement flickering somewhere in the haze that silhouetted the ornate cornices along the rooftops.

Cameron Roberts' instincts were her guiding force – the one thing in her life she neither questioned nor doubted. She stepped quickly in front of Blair, pushing her backwards into the shelter of the entrance. Blair looked more confused than frightened.

Cam must have tripped, because the next thing she knew, she was kneeling on the sidewalk, trying to catch her breath. A cacophony of cries filled her head as agents screamed into their mikes.

Code red, code red. …Oh fuckfuckfuck!….

"Get her inside," Cam ordered, but her voice came out a whisper on a plume of red mist. She had her gun in her right hand, but it was very difficult to raise her arm. She turned her head with effort, her vision oddly blurred.

Blair was surrounded by secret service agents who were half carrying her back into the building. Blair appeared to be struggling, screaming something, her hand outstretched toward Cam.

She’s safe

Cam’s mind was quite clear, and she relaxed, accepting the strange lassitude that suffused her. She rolled slowly onto her back, opening her hand, letting her gun rest gently on the sidewalk. She stared up into the bluest sky she could ever recall, then peacefully closed her eyes as her heart stopped beating.
 
 

Chapter Eighteen

Someone far away screamed her name, an agonized, animal scream of pain. Then – nothing.
 

"We need another line here ... Hang more fluid … Son of a bitch! … I can't get a blood pressure ... Where the fuck is the O neg... Push the intracardiac epi again... Here we go-- crack her chest ... Anything? ... I've got a rhythm... Shit, still no pulse ... Keep up the compression ... Nothing ... Pump more blood ... Come on, come on … Normal sinus rhythm... Oh, man – tell them to move it …"
 

Cam had no memory for the trip, or the frantic 40 minutes in the emergency room before she was transported to the operating room. For the first few days, she was kept sedated in the intensive care unit, a tube in her trachea delivering oxygen, larger tubes in her chest removing blood and tissue fluids. A machine breathed for her; she could neither move nor talk. Occasionally some stimulus would penetrate her consciousness, and she would register some small sensation - sound, a light, someone touching her. Always, there would be a soft voice, murmuring words of consolation that had no meaning, but were strangely soothing. Pain was a distant thunder, rolling slowly through the landscape of her awareness, ever present.

"Hurts..."

"I know, darling, I know ... Can't you give her something, for god's sake!"

"Cameron, you're going to be all right. Hold on… please. I need you to live."

The voice was so familiar, yet the face so elusive. Once, Cam opened her eyes and was certain that the tear-stained face bending near her own was Blair's. But that couldn't be right, could it? The next time she opened her eyes, she was lucid enough to realize it was only a nurse.

Cam listened to snippets of conversation, desperately trying to make sense of what was happening to her. Unfortunately, there were huge gaps in her consciousness, destroying any sense of reality.

A man's voice, "Let me drive you home. You need to get some rest."

"No. Not yet. They said another 24 hours before they were sure..."

"Please, it won't help..." The man again, insistent, but gentle.

"It helps me."

Cam was aware of people touching her. Turning her, covering her, bathing her. The single touch that anchored her the most, however, was a gentle hand that seemed to enclose hers for hours on end. Whenever she could summon the will, Cam squeezed the fingers clasping hers, and the voice would come again, murmuring tender words of love and encouragement in her ear.

"Who.. are..."

"It's all right, love, don't try to talk now."

"Stay .."

"I will."

******

Cameron lay quietly, eyes closed, taking stock of her situation. Most of the tubes she had been dimly aware of the last few days were gone. The noise level around her had also decreased, and she sensed that she wasn't in the intensive care unit anymore. A hand slowly stroked her hair. She opened her eyes and focused on the woman beside her. She was surprised at how bright the sunlight filtering through the window appeared.

"Hello darling."

Cameron reached for the fingers softly brushing her cheek. She was amazed, and not a little frightened, at how difficult a task that was. She hoped she didn't looked as weak as she felt. "Hello, mother."

Her memories converged all at once, and panic ripped through her.

"Blair Powell! Is she all right? Was she hurt?"

She actually tried to sit up, and found that she was unable to raise her shoulders more than a fraction of an inch. The pain she had been living with for days suddenly coalesced into a bright hot lance of fire searing through her chest. "Oh oh--," she gasped involuntarily, collapsing against the pillows.

"Lie still, Cameron," her mother admonished firmly. "Ms. Powell is fine. She wasn't injured. In fact, you were the only one--" she hesitated for a moment, steadying her voice. "You were the only one who was shot."

Cam closed her eyes briefly, sapped by the effort to sit up. Despite her fatigue, she felt peaceful and content. Sleep was coming quickly, but she needed to know, "Who is in charge? Who is looking after her?"

"I believe it's a gentleman named Macintosh, or something like that."

Cam nodded faintly, reassured. Mac would not let anything happened to Blair. Secure in that thought, she slept and healed.

**********

Marcea Cassells looked down at her sleeping child. She thought of the other young woman who had spent so many hours beside this bed, holding her daughter's hand, stroking her hair, whispering to her in low loving tones. She knew whatever battles her daughter had been waging, those long dark hours had been made lighter by this woman's presence.

Marcea wondered if either of them understood the depth of their connection, which perhaps could only be appreciated by someone standing outside the circle of their intimacy. She knew her daughter's sense of duty well enough to know that Cameron would not have allowed anything to transpire between them. It was just as clear to her that despite their best intentions, something very significant had.

Marcea walked down the hall to the pay phone, and held the slip of paper in her hand as she punched in the numbers that had been written there for her.

"This is Marcea Cassells," she began when a male voice answered. She was told to wait a moment, and then a woman spoke anxiously into the phone.

"Yes? Is she--"

"She's awake. Weak, but otherwise she seems to be quite all right."

A moment of silence, then a voice that shook slightly. "Thank you so much for calling me."

Marcea hesitated a second, then continued, "She asked about you immediately."

Blair took a sharp breath. God how I wanted to be there when Cameron awoke When it was clear that the Secret Service agent was out of danger, the White House and Secret Service had put unbearable pressure upon her to be sequestered in a safe house until the investigation could be carried out. She hadn't wanted to leave Cam's side, but she could not fight everyone alone. Even Mac had gently told her that Cameron would have wished for her to go. It was when he reminded her that Cameron had nearly died trying to keep her safe, that Blair finally relented. Nevertheless, leaving Cameron had been the hardest thing she had ever done. She felt like she was leaving her heart behind.

"Could you tell her--tell her--I--," Blair halted in confusion. Cameron would never believe her.

"I think you'll have to tell her that yourself, when the time is right," Marcea said gently.

"Yes, of course," Blair said swiftly, her emotions now firmly under control. She thanked Cameron's mother, and hung up the phone. She turned away, knowing that there would never be a time when she could share with Cameron what was in her heart.
 
 

Chapter Nineteen




"How did she take it?" Mac asked.

Assistant Director Stewart Carlisle studied Mac carefully, wondering how much he could disclose. What he saw was a look of genuine concern and something more, something that looked a lot like sympathy.

"She took it well-- she didn't argue, or put up a fight."

"Uh oh," Mac said hollowly.

"Yeah. Worries me too." Stewart didn't know what to make of the look on Cameron Roberts' face when he informed her that she would not be returning to the security detail assigned to Blair Powell when she had recovered. Her face had been a careful blank, but he thought he saw something dark pass through her eyes.

"Did the doctors say I wouldn't recover fully?" she had asked at length.

Carlisle had looked out the window, searching for words, wishing he had a different answer. He didn't understand it, but it wasn't his call. Cameron Roberts was a hero throughout the agency, and had been publicly commended by the President. She had done, without hesitation, what each of them had secretly asked themselves if they could do. She had been willing to die in the line of duty. They didn't come any better than her. What he had to say didn't make any sense.

"The doctors said you’ll be fine. Blair Powell requested that you be removed from the position."

Cameron's right hand gripped the covers tightly, but otherwise she lay without moving. "I see," she said in a voice devoid of emotion. She had been hoping – What you were hoping doesn't matter anymore. You were wrong.

He had tried to make light of the situation, assuring her that once she had made a full recovery she could have her pick of assignments. Hell, he reminded her, after what you did, you could sit out your days until your pension on a desert island for all anyone would care. She had let him go on, but he knew that she did not hear him. He felt like a fraud, but he did what he had to do. When he left the room, Cameron was staring at some distant point, her face and body so still he could barely see her breathing.

"Yeah, well, she'll be fine. She always is," Carlisle said sadly.

Mac wasn't nearly so sure.

**********

Nine months later, she was fully recovered, and back at work. It was almost as if the last year had never happened. She finished rehab, she completed her mandatory psychiatric counseling, and she sat in front of Stewart Carlisle discussing her newest assignment. She had been reassigned to the investigative division, where her true instincts and abilities lay.

It was deja vu, but everything was different, including her. She was more alone than ever. Once, as she was sorting through her things after being released from the hospital, she came across the note Claire had left that night a lifetime ago.

I have a feeling I won't be hearing from you for a while. I'll miss you – more than you know. If ever you need – anything, call me. C.
 

Cam had never called.

She brought her attention back to what Carlisle was saying. He briefed her on the counterfeiting/money laundering operation her team would be investigating. She told him she had no problem with any of the agents assigned to her. Her field exposure would be limited, although she was perfectly fit for the duty. When she pointed this out, Stewart made it clear that he did not want her taking any risks.

"Being shot twice in the line of duty is enough for any agent," he commented dryly. "Despite the fact that you're a hero, you'll give us a bad name."

"Heaven forbid," Cam said with a perfectly straight face.

"Well, just keep your ass out of the line of fire," Stewart said roughly. He looked to the papers on his desk, indicating that their obligatory meeting was over. He was surprised when she spoke.

"How is Mac handling the other detail?" she said quietly.

He was almost successful in hiding his surprise. This was the first time she had referred in any way to her previous experiences. He contemplated issues of security for a few seconds, and then thought, What the hell, she deserves an answer.

"No major security breaches, if that's what you mean. He's very circumspect with his reports, but I gather that the subject is still throwing up roadblocks whenever possible." He regarded her intently for moment. "As a matter of fact, I can use a straight briefing about what's going on up there. You're not due to report to this new post for a week or so. How about dropping in on Mac and getting the the real story?"

Cam stiffened, her displeasure clear. "I'm not going to spy on another agent. Mac is perfectly capable, and I'm sure if you speak with him, he'll tell you whatever you need to know."

"I'm not doubting Mac's ability. But I'm no fool either. I know damn well that he is soft-peddling the details of the reports to protect Blair Powell. Remember, the guy who tried to kill her is still out there, and we couldn't keep her secluded forever. She is still in real and imminent danger. Any information can only help us. If you don't want talk to Mac, talk to her."

Cameron stood abruptly. "No way." She turned and strode purposely toward the door.

"Roberts," he said in that soft deadly tone that meant he was completely serious. "Don't make me pull rank. Just find a way to do it that you can live with. Five days. Then I'll expect to hear from you."

She didn't answer. She didn't trust her voice not to tremble.
 
 

Chapter Twenty




As she drove through the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan, Cam reminded herself that she was in New York City for the sole purpose of attending the opening of her mother's gallery exhibition. It was the first East Coast showing in a number of years, and Cam knew it would please her mother for her to be there. She had absolutely no intention of visiting the command center, and certainly no desire to see Blair Powell. She reminded herself of this every few minutes, whenever she found her mind drifting to the images that she thought she had successfully eradicated. Images of Blair, in a smoky bar, her hair wild and her hunger unleashed; Blair, elegant and cool on the dais of the parade route; Blair, vulnerable and weary in the hospital after the ski accident. Blair's memory triggered a kaleidoscope of wistful wanting and explosive sexual desire. Cam forced her concentration back to the congested city traffic, grateful for something, anything, to distract her from the aching need that was never far from the surface of her consciousness.

She allowed the attendant at the Plaza to valet park her car, and gave the bellman her luggage to bring up to her penthouse suite. She was not traveling on company time, and felt no need to account for her expenditures. In fact, she felt unaccountable to anyone for the first time in her adult memory. She was between assignments, and despite Stewart Carlisle's edict, she had no intention of performing any duty for the United States of America for the next seven days.

She signed in, and as soon as she was alone in her suite, she showered off the drive’s dust and grit. She had an hour and a half until the evening opening of her mother's show. She stood naked before the bathroom mirror, trying to tame her unruly waves into position.

She surveyed her image unemotionally. Her hair was still short and sleek, with new touches of gray at the temples. Despite the lengthy convalescence, with vigorous physical therapy and workouts, she had maintained her muscle mass and strength. She was sinewy and taut. The only visible difference were the scars on her torso from the surgical incisions and the multiple tubes that had been necessary to reinflate her lungs. She looked at herself dispassionately, and wondered for a moment how she would appear to another. She dismissed the thought quickly. It was a moot point.

She went about the process of dressing absent-mindedly. She did not glance at her reflection again, knowing that the black silk jacket and trousers were perfectly tailored for her, that her loafers were perfectly shined, and that the French cuffs of her white starched shirt were exactly the right length. When the driver let her out in front of the address she had given him, she knew that she was precisely on time. Everything in her life was exactly as it should be - predictable, ordered, and under control.

**********

The room was already full when Cam entered, as she expected it would be. The crowd overflowed the first level, up the stairs to the second floor of the gallery, a noisy mass of murmuring critics, artists, and members of the press. Cam accepted a glass of wine from a passing waiter, and began a slow tour of the area, stopping to study each new canvas. It had been a long time since she had seen so many of her mother's works in one place, and she had not seen any of her most recent works. The hallmark characteristics of her mother style were clearly evident, but Cam was surprised to find that the paintings seemed calmer at their core, with less of the pain that had been so evident in the early years following her father's death.

Eventually, Cam heard her mother's distinctive voice, and gravitated toward it. Her mother was tall like herself, and Cam could see her face despite the crowd of people around her. Marcea appeared relaxed, although something in her eyes spoke of exhilaration. Cam knew it was because she was talking about the thing she loved most in life, her art.

When she had almost reached the group, Cam stopped short, her heart pounding. Blair was standing next to her mother. It was as if someone had struck her, driving the breath from her body. For one moment, her mind was numb. Then every sensation she had been trying to suppress regarding Blair Powell returned. Her pulse raced, her blood pounded, and her hands began to tremble. Blair looked up and their eyes met. Blair's lips parted in surprise, and her blue eyes widened. A faint blush stole across her cheeks. She took an involuntary stepped forward, as if intending to rush toward Cam, then halted uncertainly. Moments passed.

Surprisingly, Blair regained her composure first. She threaded her way through the intervening crowd until she stood in front of Cam. She tilted her head and smiled wistfully. "How are you, Commander?" She asked quietly.

Cam finally found her voice, and answered with as much control as she could muster. "I'm fine, Ms Powell."

Blair studied her carefully. Physically, she did look fine. As striking as ever. But there was a strange flatness in her gaze, and an emptiness in her voice, as if something vital were missing.

Instinctively, Blair touched her arm. She was shocked to feel her tremble. "Are you sure?" she asked again, unable to hide her anxiety.

Cam nodded curtly, trying to hide her turmoil. "You have me at a disadvantage. I didn't see any of our people outside or in the crowd."

"Ever observant, Commander. They're in a car parked across the street." She continued quickly, when she saw Cam frown. Blair's smile widened as she assured Cam that everyone in attendance had been thoroughly prescreened. "I'm quite safe."

Cam finally smiled, and began to relax. "Forgive me. It is not my place to question these things any longer. It was good to see you again, Ms. Powell." She turned to leave, needing to escape from the penetrating blue gaze and the searing touch on her arm.

"Wait, Cam," Blair said impulsively. When Cameron turned back to look at her questioningly, she continued, "I wanted to say -- ' thank you'. It is so inadequate, but - I - thank you."

Cam spoke without thinking. "You don't need to thank me. I couldn't have borne it if anything had happened to you."

Blair grasped her hand, and their fingers entwined instinctively. "Why do you think I would feel any differently?" She questioned, her throat closing on the words. "I was so frightened – don't you know I lo—"

"I should go," Cam said desperately. Her carefully constructed barricades were tumbling around her. Every defense she had so carefully constructed was shattering in the face of Blair's simple statement. She felt defenseless, vulnerable, and overwhelmed.

"No, I should go. You came to see your mother. I know she is looking forward to you being here." Blair tried unsuccessfully to hide her bitter disappointment. She didn't think she could stand to be in the same room as Cam and feel the great distance between them. It was like a physical blow. "It was good to see you again, too, Commander. Please know I'll never forget you."

And with that, she was gone.

**********

Marcea kissed her daughter on both cheeks, then grasped both her hands and leaned back, surveying her fondly. "I'm so glad you came, Cameron. I know these aren't your favorite events."

Cam tried to smile, still shaken by her encounter with Blair. "I'm sorry it's been so long. I'm so happy for you."

Marcea detected the turmoil in her daughter's eyes, and glanced briefly around the room. She did not see Blair. She hesitated for a moment, and then spoke gently. "I know that Blair was hoping to see you here, too."

Cam swallowed, replying softly, "We just spoke."

Marcea remained silent, sensing Cameron's struggle for composure. Instinctively, she continued, "I'm sure no one told you, Cameron, but Blair stayed by your side for almost 48 hours after you were injured. She refused to leave until the doctors told us that you were out of danger."

Cam gasped, and her eyes closed briefly. "It was her," she whispered.

"Yes," her mother said simply.

Cameron at looked her mother intently, a great weight suddenly lifting from her heart. She smiled, her eyes flickering with a light that had been absent for more than a year. "Thank you, mother. Thank you."

Marcea had no time to answer before Cam turned and swiftly made her way through the crowd and out the door.
 
 

Chapter Twenty-One




"I need to see her, Mac," Cam said much more calmly than she felt. "I've been leaving messages for hours."

Mac didn't even consider not telling her. "She's downtown. We know where she is, but it's awkward to make contact at the present time."

Cam didn't need an interpreter. "Okay, so she's in a bar." She took a deep breath, trying to ignore the sinking sensation in her stomach. "Or is it that she's gone home with someone she picked up?"

"No," Mac hastened to add clarify. "She didn’t. She’s still at the bar." He didn't think it was his place to tell her that this was the first time in months that Blair had been out to a bar, or that she seemed to have given up her penchant for one night stands.

"I'd appreciate it if you’d tell me which one," Cam stated quietly.

"The Hudson Arms," Mac said, indicating one of the seedier bars deep in the village. "Stark is inside somewhere."

Meaning Stark will recognize me if I show up, and he's worried about my reputation "Thanks, Mac," Cam said, not caring in the least what anyone thought.

**********

Thirty-five minutes later Cam was standing at the bar, surreptitiously scanning the room. It was Friday night, after midnight, and crowded with women of all ages, mostly in denim and leather. She didn't see her immediately, but she did see Stark. Stark saw her too, although Stark did not acknowledge her in any way. A slight raise of the eyebrow was all that indicated she had been spotted.

She's getting good, Cam thought with approval. She stopped searching faces, and allowed all of her senses to engage the room, feeling the damp heat of many bodies brushing against her skin; smelling the mixture of alcohol, cologne, and sex in the air; and hearing the murmur of the hunt swirling around her. She sensed rather than saw the ultimate huntress in the crowd.

Tawny blond hair, taut golden body, and a piercing, searching gaze that evaluated, then discarded, possible partners. Finally Blair's focus settled on a dark, lean warrior in tight blue jeans and a sleeveless black T-shirt. The young stud must have felt Blair's appraising glance, because she looked up and moved automatically closer to Blair. Cam didn't need to see any more. She knew exactly what would happen, and how quickly the capture would be consummated.

Not this time

Cam moved quickly, reaching Blair just as the dark-haired youth stretched out a hand to brush Blair's cheek.

Cam grasped the woman's wrist, firmly but not harshly. "Sorry, she's not available."

The younger woman attempted a show of bravado, stiffening as she turned to face Cam. "Oh yeah? Since when?" she said with a sneer.

Cam's voice was low, but steely. "Since right now."

There must have been something in Cam's demeanor that warned of impending danger, because the other woman hesitated for a brief second, then melted swiftly into the crowd.

"Thanks a lot. You just ruined my evening," Blair said by way of greeting. She was secretly shocked to see Cam, and even more at a loss to explain her actions. It was the first time Cam had ever overtly interfered with Blair's private activities. As if that weren't enough, there was a coiled tension in her ex- security chief's body that was impossible to miss. If she didn't know better, she would've thought it was sexual.

"Ruining your evening was not what I had in mind," Cameron rejoined.

Blair caught her breath, but managed to respond evenly, "Oh? And just what did you have in mind?"

Cameron reached for her hand and tugged. "Come with me."

Blair hesitated, so shocked she felt disoriented. "No, wait -- we can't. Stark is on the other side of the room."

Cameron looked at her coolly. "It won't be the first time she's seen you leave with a woman." Her tone was flat, but not unkind. She saw no point in pretending that they both didn't know what had happened in the past.

"Yes, but it would be the first time she's ever seen me leave with you."

Cam's face softened, and she linked her fingers gently through Blair's. "Don't let it concern you. It doesn't bother me. Please -- " she tugged on Blair's hand again, leading her through the crowd.

Blair felt strangely powerless to resist. Perhaps because she had absolutely no desire to.

**********

Blair followed, unprotesting, through the dark night to Cam's car, riding silently beside her, walking wordlessly through the lobby, until finally she stood in the hotel room, looking around her.

"I have no idea why I'm here," Blair said softly.

Cameron stopped and turned, their bodies mere inches apart. "Don't you?"

Blair caught her breath, acutely aware of the heat in Cameron's gaze, feeling her own heart race as a swell of desire coursed through her. "No." All her usual quick retorts and caustic replies had deserted her. This was a new experience. She was suddenly immersed in a scene she had not written, in a role she did not know how to play. She had only her instincts to fall back on, and the unavoidable demands of her own emotions. "I can only hope."

Her honesty made her touchingly vulnerable.

Cam shed her jacket swiftly, tossing it onto the couch. She moved just as quickly to take Blair into her arms. "Do I need to tell you that I want you? Is there anything words can convey that this can't?"

As she whispered the words, her hands dropped to Blair's buttocks, pulling Blair into her as her mouth came down heavily, possessively, on Blair's lips. There was no mistaking the message in her actions.

Blair was beyond surprise. How many nights she had lain awake, trying not to think about how much she wanted this elusive woman. The countless times she had attempted to ablate the need with her own touch. But even her familiar hands, and unerring caresses, could not still the longing in her body. The reality was so much more than her imaginings, she could scarcely absorb it. Something in her core was melting, surging white hot and molten through her limbs. She clutched Cam's shoulders for support, uncertain how long she could stand. She opened her mouth in response to the harsh pressure of Cam's kisses, instantly filled with Cam's probing tongue. She bit down hard enough to make Cam grunt, and sucked ferociously as Cameron yanked the blouse from Blair's jeans and trust her hands upward along Blair's rib cage. Blair moaned as Cam grasped her breasts, her strong fingers squeezing Blair's nipples. Suddenly, fear warred with desire. No one had touched her this way in years. She had never wanted anyone to touch her this way. She was close to totally losing control, and the small part of her mind that was still able to function rebelled.

"No," Blair gasped, yanking her mouth away.

Cam did not want to stop. She lowered her head and grasped the soft skin of Blair's neck in her teeth. She tugged, growling, as she thrust her thigh between Blair's legs. "I've wanted you for so long," she gasped, her teeth on Blair's earlobe now, biting lightly as her tongue swirled over the sensitive ridges. "Please -- "

Blair couldn't think, as each second her body pushed closer to the edge. Dimly, she was aware of the rhythmic motion of her own pelvis rubbing against the hard muscles of Cam's thigh. A terrible pressure was building between her legs, and she whimpered as spasms began to ripple outward.

"Oh no," she gasped, her voice quite different now. "I think I'm going to come -- "

Cameron laughed, a triumphant half sob, as she lifted her up, forcing Blair to thread her legs around Cam's waist for balance. Cam held the trembling woman in her arms as she moved toward her bedroom.

"Hold on to it," Cam whispered urgently. "Wait as long as you can --I want to taste you first."

Blair struggled to focus on Cam's face as Cam lowered her to the bed. Blair reached for the buttons on her jeans as Cam urgently stripped off her own clothing. She grabbed for Cam, pulling her heavily down on top of her, scissoring her legs around Cam's thigh again. She bit down hard on the skin and muscle of Cam's shoulder, rubbing herself desperately along Cam's leg.

"I don't think I can," Blair gasped, her fingers digging into Cam's back. "I want to come so much --oh, oh --Jesus, I need to --"

Cam braced her arms on the bed and pushed herself up, and in one fluid motion slid down between Blair's legs. She wasn't thinking, she was too hungry for that. It had been so long, so very long. She slipped the palms of her hands under Blair's buttocks and lifted, Blair's legs settling around her shoulders. Then Cam's lips were on her, sucking her heat, swallowing her desire, stroking her need. She could feel Blair's clit throbbing between her lips, and she knew that even as she began to lick her that Blair was coming. She didn't stop, even when Blair cried out repeatedly. She kept up the motion, stroking harder, faster, until once again she felt Blair's clitoris swell and pulsate. She drove Blair relentlessly, not caring about anything except her own ferocious need to consume her. Within moments, Blair was trembling, her hands twisted in Cameron's hair.

"Oh god, it feels so good --" Blair wailed as her body convulsed.

Cameron didn't move for many moments after Blair quieted, resting her cheek on the soft smooth skin of Blair's inner thigh. She listened to Blair breathe, as her own racing heart stilled. Her lids fluttered on the edge of sleep, and she drifted, content and completely satisfied.
 
 

Chapter twenty-two

Cam awoke with Blair slowly stroking her hair. It was dark, with a faint grey at the window that hinted at dawn. The sheets were twisted about her waist, and she still lay half upon Blair’s body.

"Are you cold?" Cam murmured, pulling the covers with her as she pushed upward, slipping an arm behind Blair’s shoulders as she moved.

"No," Blair whispered as she turned into Cam, resting her head on Cam's shoulder. There was a moment of silence as they tentatively pressed closer, each acutely aware of the others uncertainty.

"I can't remember the last time someone made love to me," Blair finally said.

Cam could remember precisely the last time she had made love to another woman. It had been casually, as if it were only one time in many, with many more to come. She hadn't known that early morning two years ago that it would be the last time she would touch Janet alive.

"It's been a very long time for me too," was all Cam said. She had no need to explain or relive the past. It had taken until now, and had taken this particular woman, to awaken a desire that had lain buried in pain and guilt for months.

If Blair wondered about Cam's past, she did not ask. What they needed to know of each other had begun with that morning when Cam had first appeared at Blair's apartment, commanding and certain and unyielding. The memory rekindled Blair's desire, and she lowered her head to softly kiss the tender skin just below Cam's right nipple. Then parting her lips, she nipped gently, eliciting a soft groan from Cam. She waited a heartbeat, then took Cam's nipple into her mouth, worrying it with her tongue and teeth. She continued until Cam pressed upward, her hips arching slightly off the bed. Blair moved lower, kissing and lightly biting along Cam's ribs, down the flat plane of her belly, until she circled Cam's naval with her tongue. Cam's hands were in her hair, urging her downward, but Blair resisted, taking her time, wanting to be sure that she had Cam's full attention. Lightly she trailed her fingers up the inside of Cam's legs, stopping just short of the heat that radiated from her.

"Jesus," Cam gasped, "are you going to make me beg for it?"

Blair nestled her breasts between Cam's legs. She could feel the slick warmth against her own nipples. "That was the general idea."

Cam rotated her hips, attempting to draw the teasing firmness of Blair's nipples across the tip of her clit. She groaned, a deep choking sound. "Just touch me a little, just a little--"

Blair brought her right hand upward, pressing her thumb against the ring of muscle encircling Cam's ass. She did not enter, but stroked over the slick tissues.

Cam pressed her head back against the pillows, gritting her teeth, wanting the pleasure to continue, not knowing if it she could bear it. "You're killing me, I swear to god --"

Blair smiled, flicking her tongue over the base of Cam's clitoris. "Oh, I doubt you'll go that easily, Commander," she whispered throatily. She was rewarded with a faint sob.

Taking her time, Blair traced the very edges of the swollen tissues with her tongue, sliding inside at the same time. Cam's muscles contracted violently around Blair's fingers, her clitoris lengthening and became harder still.

"Do it, please, do it, do it --" Cam pleaded desperately.

As much as she wanted to savor every instant of Cam's desire, Blair was starting to lose control herself. She had wanted this for so long, and the reality was so much more than she had imagined, her head was pounding and her thighs clenched and unclenched involuntarily. When she took Cam between her lips, she could feel an answering surge in her own clitoris. She never came without direct stimulation, but she realized that she was very nearly there just from touching Cameron. She squeezed her eyes tightly and tried to focus on Cam's rhythm.

Suddenly Cameron twisted on the bed, shifting so that she lay beside Blair, her face close to Blair's belly. Seamlessly, they moved to echo each other's caresses, lips and hands calling and answering as instinctively as their two hearts beat in synchrony. Cam was already too close, and started to come almost as soon as Blair began licking her in long steady strokes. Cam moaned, her lips encircling Blair's clitoris, sucking as her breath caught in her throat. Her fingers clasped Blair's buttocks, pulling Blair even harder against her face, trying to maintain contact as her body bucked and surged with the explosion between her legs. Distantly, she heard Blair whimper, and knew that Blair had been caught on the crest of their twin passions.

**********

When they awoke again, it was late morning

"I'm surprised Mac hasn't found you yet," Cameron remarked lazily.

"He's not as good as you are," Blair said quietly.

"You should probably call them."

"Why? Stark knew I left with you," Blair observed.

"I know. But they may not know that you're still with me, and there's no need to cause a panic."

Blair thought about it for a minute, then padded into the other room and made the call. While she was there, she called room service as well and ordered a late breakfast for them both. She stood in the doorway of the bedroom, observing Cameron propped up on the pillows, a sheet drawn up to her waist. She caught her breath, amazed at how much she wanted her.

"How long are you here for?" Blair asked, trying to appear nonchalant.

"Officially? Another four days. I have a new assignment and I'm supposed to report back to Washington for it."

Blair tried to hide her disappointment. What did you expect?

Cameron watched her carefully, finding her expression impossible to read. "Unofficially, I'm supposed to be here observing you."

Blair laughed, but there was an edge to her tone when she said, "Well, your methods are certainly unorthodox."

"I told them I wouldn't do it," Cam clarified.

Blair said on the edge of the bed, her hand resting possessively on Cam's thigh. "Why not?"

Cam lifted Blair's hand to her lips, and kissed each fingertip. "Because Mac is a good man, and I know he can do the job." She turned Blair's hand over, and pressed her lips to Blair's palm. "And because I respect you, and I know how little privacy you have left."

"But you came to the bar last night," Blair observed quietly.

Cam nodded, reaching for Blair and pulling her into her arms. "That wasn't business. That was personal."

Blair closer her eyes, fearful of how much she wanted to hear these words. "How personal?"

Cam's embrace tightened, and she rested her cheek against the top of Blair's head. Her voice was husky as she answered quietly, "As personal as it gets."
 
 

Chapter twenty three




After breakfast, they showered and dressed, Blair wearing clothes she borrowed from Cam.

"What happens next?" Blair asked, surprisingly uncertain.

Cam thought of a number of replies, but decided with a sigh that only the truth would do. She met Blair's questioning gaze squarely. "In a few days, I'll be back in Washington. You'll still be the daughter of the President of the United States. I'm not sure we have much to say about what happens next."

She held up a hand as Blair began to protest. "I want to see you again. But unless I'm assigned to your security detail, any relationship between us will be obvious, and suspect."

"I don't want you on my detail," Blair said with finality.

Cam leaned back against the door jam, hands in her pockets, studying Blair calmly. "Yes, you made that quite clear. But it does provide good cover."

Blair's eyes blazed. "Cover!? So I am supposed to put your life in danger so that no one will know I'm a lesbian?"

Cam's brows arched in surprise. "Put my life in danger? That was a one in a million occurrence!"

"Oh sure! Has it occurred to you that he's still out there? If not him, someone else?"

Cam shrugged. "You can't let something like that dictate your actions. You simply need to be cautious, and have good people around you."

"Good people --yes. But not you. I have no intention of letting you protect me at the risk of your own safety."

"That's what I do, Blair," Cam insisted gently.

"Not for me," Blair said, pushing the memory of Cam's bloodied body lying on the sidewalk from her mind. In a softer tone, she repeated, "Not for me."

Cam didn't miss the pain flaring in Blair's eyes. She now knew that Blair had spent those first tenuous hours in the hospital waiting by her side. Cam went to her quickly and encircled Blair in her arms. "Hey, it's over. I'm fine."

Blair kissed her firmly, a mixture of passion and relief. "And I prefer you stay that way."

Cam leaned back, a soft smile on her lips. "Then it appears we have a problem, Ms. Powell. If I can't guard you, what excuse do I have to be with you?"

Blair took a deep breath, and then took the biggest risk she had ever taken. "How about because you love me?"

Cam stood very still, her hands resting on Blair's waist. She thought of her career, she thought of Blair's reputation, she thought of the President's public image. She kissed Blair gently on the forehead, and whispered, "Well, there is that."

Blair released the breath she had been holding, and rested her cheek against Cam's shoulder. "Since the feeling is mutual, I'd say we have a plan, Commander."

Cam laughed, her heart soaring. "The fact that we agree is downright scary," she murmured.

Blair bit her just hard enough to make her jump. "I don't want you to get used to it."

Cam pulled Blair back toward the bed. "Oh, I might – in a century or so."
 

The End

Comments please to rdclyfhall@hotmail.com

This story is a work of fiction and is not intended to represent any particular individual, alive or dead. This work may not be printed or distributed for profit without the express written permission of the author.

 

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