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Not My Spook! [MultiFormat]
eBook by Tinnean

eBook Category: Gay Fiction/Romance
eBook Description: Sequel to Houseboat on the Nile

Spy vs. Spook: Book Two

Highly ranked CIA officer Quinton Mann finds himself in a relationship with Mark Vincent--for exactly five days. At that point, Mark uses the excuse of going to Massachusetts for his mother's funeral to end it. But Quinn's a spook, and you can't fake a faker.

Mark fears he's getting in too deep with Quinn, hence the disappearing act. Then Quinn does something unexpected, something nobody has ever done before: he comes after Mark. Maybe being in a relationship with Quinn isn't such a bad idea. In the meantime, something strange is going on in the intelligence community worldwide. When Quinn disappears while investigating a rogue antiterrorist organization, Mark makes up his mind. Quinn might be a spook, but he's Mark's spook, damn it--and once he gets Quinn home, he intends to keep him. He just has to find him first.



eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2012, 2012
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2012


5 Reader Ratings:
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Promises, Promises

I

* * * *

I was familiar with the sense of devastation the loss of a loved one could bring. I'd first experienced it when my father had been killed in the crash of that jetliner in India when I was thirteen.

Later it was there when my grandparents passed away.

I was familiar with it to a lesser degree when a colleague wouldn't make it home from a mission.

But Mark Vincent wasn't family. He might be considered a colleague in that we both worked in the intelligence community, but Jesus God, we weren't friends. Granted he was more than an acquaintance, and certainly we'd--I'd--been enjoying this game we'd been playing for the past month or so. So often I was seen as the Ice Man, and of course that was fine, that was who I was, but I was also a flesh and blood man, and Vincent seemed to see me that way.

Perhaps that explained my reaction to the knowledge that he was dead, that his death had been caused by something as fucking stupid as undoing the locks of his door in the wrong sequence, resulting in an explosion--

All that vibrant, snarky energy snuffed out.

Yes, perhaps that explained it.

And yet, in spite of how he could irritate me at times, I refused to believe it--the man was too crafty, too cunning, to be that careless--and in the morgue I'd kept reiterating it couldn't be his body. No matter what the lab technician said, how could someone six three appear six inches shorter in death?

David Brendan "DB" Cooper was not only a fellow officer, but a friend as well, and we'd known each other for a long time. He'd accompanied me to the morgue, and he and the tech were in the midst of trying to convince me when Vincent came sauntering into the morgue, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn't his body lying there. I'd nearly been overcome by relief, followed closely by a wave of lust so powerful I'd never felt its like before. I'd wanted to throw myself on him, topple him to the cold tiled floor, and bury myself in his body to reassure myself he was really alive.

I hadn't, of course. Manns didn't do things like that; the Ice Man didn't do things like that. I'd reined in my emotions, said coolly, "Glad to know it wasn't you, Vincent. Let's go, DB. Good evening, gentlemen," and I'd left the room, a perfect exit.

I stood outside the morgue, taking deep, calming breaths, which, while they were deep enough, did nothing to calm me.

It took me a minute to realize DB wasn't behind me, and I dithered. I had no intention of going back in there to face Vincent again--how anticlimactic. The only thing that aided me in keeping my composure was the knowledge that Vincent had no idea how... troubled... I'd been.

Why the fuck hadn't DB followed me? I had no desire to stand here in the hall waiting for him.

DB came out before I had to make a decision.

"What took you so long?"

"Nothing."

"DB."

"All right." He hunched a shoulder. "I just let him know that I wasn't glad it wasn't him who was dead."

I would have taken him to task over that. Needless to say, the CIA and the Washington Bureau of Intelligence and Security weren't bosom buddies, but we were on the same side. However, DB was watching me carefully, and I decided it was better to let the matter ride for now.

Fortunately, when he saw I had no intention of challenging him, he let it drop. "Are you up to driving?"

"Of course."

"Don't of course me. I saw how shaken you were." Then again, perhaps he wasn't letting it drop. "I'm telling you, Quinn, if there's anyone who deserves to be canceled with extreme prejudice, it's Mark Vincent! The son of a bitch doesn't even have the courtesy to stay dead, goddammit!" We took the elevator up to the first floor and went out to the parking lot.

"No, but he wouldn't be Mark Vincent then, would he?" I breathed out a silent sigh of relief. I had myself under control once more.

He scowled at me. "Let's go. I've got better things to do than hang around the morgue."

We got into my Lexus, and I drove back to the Rib Shack, where DB's car was parked.

"Come on. I'm buying you a drink."

"Excuse me?" All I wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep for twenty years. "I don't need--"

"Quinn, get out of the goddamned car before I'm tempted to kick your ass!"

"There's no need to be so--" My cell phone rang, and I took it out and stared at the screen for a moment.

"You gonna answer that?"

"It can wait until later." I wasn't going to tell him it was Mark.

"Okay. Now, come on, Quinn. Have a drink with me." He was good at wheedling.

"Oh, very well." Suddenly I wasn't quite so exhausted. We went into a little bar down the street from the Rib Shack, found a small booth, and gave the waiter our orders--Jack Daniels for DB, ginger ale for me.

DB arched an eyebrow at me, but waited until the man left to get our drinks before saying, "There, you see?"

"See what?"

"You ordered a ginger ale."

"I'm quite aware of what I ordered. Has a law suddenly been passed?"

He scowled at me. "I'm worried about you, Quinn."

"Why?"

"Why? You're my friend, goddammit! And for half an hour, we thought Mark Vincent was dead. Shouldn't I worry when I've never seen you so shaken up before?"

"Surely not."

"Quinn." His look was impatient.

"DB, the man has a well-deserved reputation. As you said, it was like the end of an era.'"

"I don't remember saying that. Are you sure?"

"You know some of our younger officers regard him as something akin to Keyser Soze."

"Yeah, but--"

The waiter brought our drinks and set them on the table before us, buying me some time, and I shrugged, thinking fast. "Well, perhaps it was just that on top of a stressful week."

"Stressful how?" As I'd hoped, he'd risen to the bait.

"Drum called again." Major Jonathan Drum II worked out of the Pentagon, and he was an even bigger pain in my ass than Mark Vincent.

"That--what did he want?"

"What he usually wants: another favor. I wasn't home, so he had to leave a message. Needless to say, he wasn't pleased. He's got quite an interesting vocabulary." Lately it had seemed to me he was calling more frequently. Drum worked for the Office of the Inspector General and was a smart lawyer, but he was also good-looking, and he often got by on those looks. I didn't mind helping out on occasion, but now it was as if he expected me to drop everything to do his bidding. I wasn't about to permit him or anyone else to use me.

"Son of a bitch. Why doesn't he do his own legwork?" Fortunately, DB's question was purely rhetorical. He picked up his drink and finished it in a few gulps.

"You'd better take it easy, David. The last thing you need is to get stopped for driving under the influence."

"I'm okay. It's you I'm worried about."

"There's no need. I'm fine." I pushed back my sleeve to check the watch that had been my grandfather's--I'd been touched when Uncle Bryan had given it to me, telling me Grandfather had specifically requested I have it. "It's getting late, and I'd better go." I wanted to find out why Mark had called. "Are you staying?"

"No." He reached for his wallet.

I stopped him, took out mine, and peeled off a bill, which I handed to the waiter. "Keep the change."

"Thank you, sir."

"You should have let me get this, Quinn. After all, Jack Daniels is more expensive than ginger ale." He followed me out of the bar.

"I can afford it. Besides, it's only fair. I feel as if I ruined your evening."

"Not your fault things got exciting there for a bit. And you were right, much as I hate to admit it. Vincent wouldn't do something as dumb as blowing himself up. Although I can still dream."

"You--we--may not like him, but you have to give the man his due. He does get the job done." I unlocked the door to my car and got in.

"Yeah, only people die when he does." He leaned down, keeping me from shutting the door, and gave me one last warning. "Call me when you get home, Quinn. Or by God I'll come knocking on your door!"

"Yes, Mother. You drive carefully too." I grinned at him, and fortunately the light was dim enough that he didn't see how forced it was. I was relieved when he chuckled and shut the door.

I put the car into drive and started home, wondering again why Mark had tried to call me.

* * * *

II

* * * *

I returned his call as soon as I got in. He sounded tired, and I wasn't surprised when I heard myself tell him, "Come over. I'll make you a sandwich and something hot to drink. You can 'crash' in my spare bedroom."

After all, it was simply the right thing to do for a... colleague.

Now... toasted cheese and tomato soup?

No, that was a boy's comfort food. He'd need something more substantial--bacon, lettuce, and tomato, perhaps, and I had a fresh loaf of multigrain bread.

The last thing he'd need was caffeine. I had some Earl Grey that was decaffeinated. I'd brew him a pot of that.

It was drunk with milk, but I had none in the house. I did have half-and-half for my coffee, but that would make the tea richer-tasting.

Since I had no idea if Mark preferred it that way, I drove down to a small, all-night grocery store, which was only about a half mile away. Most of the milk was dated for the next day, but I found a pint bottle whose expiration date was still a few days away.

"You want a bag for that?" The cashier was bored and sleepy-looking as he took my money and automatically made change.

"No, that won't be necessary." I took my change and the bottle and returned home, garaged the Lexus, and let myself back into my town house.

After I put the milk in the fridge beside my half-and-half, I hung up my overcoat. Little, inconsequential things, all done by rote.

Once they were taken care of, I brewed the pot of Earl Grey and categorized what I'd need to do:

Switch on the fan in the hood above the stove, take out a frying pan and lay some strips of bacon in it, then turn the flame on beneath it.

I got that accomplished, then glanced at my watch. I really hadn't expected Mark to show up immediately, but... where was he? And what was he doing?

Well, it was just as well he wasn't here. I still had to put his sandwich together.

While the bacon fried, I washed lettuce and a tomato and put a couple of slices of bread in the toaster.

There were more things to do:

Drain the bacon on sheets of paper towels, wipe the frying pan down, wash and dry it, and then put it away.

Enumerating all the little tasks that needed to be done and then doing them did nothing to blot out the memory of Mark as he stood in the morgue. He'd been just so fucking nonchalant about the whole thing, as if bodies turning up and being mistaken for his occurred on a frequent basis.

I put the sandwich together, and the sensation in the pit of my stomach grew colder, the rigidity in my jaw tighter. How could he...?

My mouth was in a tight line, and my teeth ached from grinding them. I rotated my jaw, hoping to ease the tension.

And to whom, exactly, did that body in the morgue belong? A lover, perhaps?

A series of loud thwacks brought me out of my furious musings, and I stared, aghast, from the large knife in my hand to the sandwich. I'd had no intention of slicing off the crusts, but apparently my subconscious had other ideas.

I put the knife in the dishwasher and was distracted by the sight of my breakfast dish already in place. I knew I hadn't had the time to put it there, and it wasn't my cleaning service's usual day. That left Mark. He had been here at some point today--the photograph replacing JessicaTheDumbBlonde's was proof enough of that. Although why he'd tidied my kitchen.... And then it occurred to me: what better way of thumbing his nose at my security system?

But what had become of my coffee cup?

I opened the microwave, and as I'd half suspected, there it was. Smiling wryly, I dumped its contents into the sink, rinsed it, and put it in the top rack of the dishwasher.

As I closed it, I realized I was grasping at any excuse to interrupt my thoughts. I'd never lost my temper because a colleague had met with a near miss, and I'd certainly never been jealous.

Why now? Why this man?

Just then my doorbell chimed. I wiped my hands on a dishtowel and went to the door, pausing to peer through the peephole before opening it. Although I wasn't expecting anyone except Mark, it would not pay to grow careless.

Of course it was Mark standing there, and my breath caught at the sight of him, the lines at the corners of his eyes and bracketing his mouth deeply etched. I opened the door, and the weariness was wiped from his face, quickly replaced with a manic grin.

I could understand why Major Drum was uneasy whenever he came into contact with Mark Vincent.

"Come on in before you frighten the neighbors, Mark. You look like death warmed over."

His grin morphed into a scowl, but it took an effort. What had gone on with him today? Certainly it was upsetting to learn one's home had been blown up, but his weariness seemed out of proportion to that.

But then, someone had died in that explosion. Again I wondered if it had been a lover. I'd seen the way he'd curled his lip when regarding the deceased, but that didn't necessarily mean that at some point in time there couldn't have been warmer feelings between them.

"Go on into the kitchen; I'm sure you know where it is."

He took a step forward, paused and looked down at his feet, then removed his shoes and socks, which were obviously soaked through. For a moment he seemed uncertain as to what to do with his socks, and then he stuffed them into the pocket of his suit jacket.

That was... considerate of him. I reached for the duffel he carried. "I'll take your bag up to the guest bedroom."

"Jesus, Mann." He wouldn't let it go. "We're adversaries. Don't treat me like a fucking guest."

"Shut the fuck up!" I snapped. "I have no intention of getting some kind of vicarious thrill by searching through your clothes, so give me your fucking bag, go in the kitchen, and eat your goddamned sandwich. And for God's sake, call me Quinn!"

Of course I was stunned by my verbal assault on him, but I didn't know who was more surprised when he released his grip on his bag.

It was extremely lightweight. He'd said something about keeping a spare set of clothes in his office, but how much was in there?

I turned on my heel and went up to the second floor, left the duffel beside the bed in the guest room, and then stopped in my own room to retrieve a pair of heavy woolen socks that I hoped would fit him. I returned to the kitchen in time to see a grimace darken his face as he took a sip of tea.

"Mark, you drink that tea with milk."

"What?"

"Unless you've developed a taste for it straight?" It could be drunk plain, and just because I preferred it with milk.... I felt myself flush. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have presumed--"

"Don't go all insecure on me, Quinn."

"I'm not--" I had a reputation for being cool and unflappable. The Ice Man, I was called, although the younger officers who referred to me in that manner were unaware I knew of this. How was it that Mark Vincent, of all people, could so easily slip under that facade? "Drink it however you want."

"How do you drink it?"

I looked down my nose at him, easy for a change, since he was sitting down. "I prefer it with milk."

"Okay, fine. Have you got any?"

I was sure he knew the contents of my refrigerator as well as I did, but of course, as of this morning, I'd had no milk. I handed him the socks and went to retrieve the milk.

"What's up with the socks?"

"Your feet will get cold."

The expression that flashed across his face was gone in an instant, but it gave me pause. Hadn't he had anyone in his life who cared about his well-being?

I thought briefly of the file I had on him. According to it, actually, no. He was estranged from his mother and hadn't been in contact with his father's family, or any of the men who'd entered into his life when he was a child for periods of time brief and not so brief.

How sad. He must have been hurt to cut off all ties to them.

And I knew he'd hate it with a passion if he could read my thoughts.

"Is your sandwich to your taste?" I asked for want of a better thing to say.

"Yeah. It's fine."

"You haven't taken a bite yet."

He did so, probably larger than he'd intended, but it kept that mouth of his busy.

I turned and put the milk away.

* * * *

III

* * * *

He stepped into the bedroom to which I'd led him and gazed around. Was he annoyed that I hadn't shown him to my room? Dammit, I couldn't see his expression.

"This is fine, Quinn. Thanks."

"Don't mention it, Mark." I pointed out the attached bathroom, then told him, "I've set the coffeemaker to go off automatically at six thirty, in case you need to leave early."

"You call that early? Jesus, you spooks are soft."

Why was he trying to get a rise out of me? I didn't respond, and he blew out a breath.

"Okay, thanks."

"I--I have to go back downstairs to lock up the house, so I'll say good night now." I waited for a second to see if he had anything else to say.

Nothing. It was as if the night before had never happened, as if he hadn't driven me to heights of unbelievable passion, given me unimaginable pleasure. Well, if that was the way he wanted things....

I gave him a curt nod, said, "Good night," and left the room.

"Yeah. 'Night, Mann." He lounged in the doorway, and I could feel his eyes on me as I walked further and further away.

That was it? Not even an apology, even if it was nothing more than, Sorry for the inconvenience, for interrupting your dinner, for scaring the shit out of you, Quinn?

I found myself wheeling around and returning to him. He was about five inches taller than me and outweighed me by at least twenty pounds, so it was obvious I was not thinking too clearly when I seized the lapels of his jacket and tried to shake him.

"Mark," I growled, "if you ever pull a stunt like that again...."

"Yeah?"

I half expected him to tear my hands off him and fling me away, and I braced myself for it. Instead, he covered my hands with his, pressing them against his chest.

"Let's just say I won't be happy about it!" I could feel his heart beneath my palms. I curled my fingers as if to capture the steady beating.

"You won't--"

He was alive.

I kissed him, deep and hard, trying to imprint myself on his mouth. The taste of copper on my tongue made me realize just how hurtful that kiss was. I'd never hurt any of my partners with a kiss.

I dropped my hands and stepped back from him, furious now not only with him but with myself. "Goddamn you, Mark. I thought you were dead! Do you know why your sandwich had no crusts? I cut them off. I took a butcher knife, for God's sake, and fucking chopped those crusts off, because otherwise I would have been tempted to run it through your black WBIS heart!"

His eyes were hooded, and I wanted to hit him. Instead, I turned away once more, and this time succeeded in walking away from him.

By the time I finished securing my home and returned to the second floor, my temper under control once more, Mark was nowhere to be seen.

I sighed and went to my room.

* * * *

IV

* * * *

Mark Vincent was just down the hall from my bedroom.

How would he react if I knocked on his door, posed myself against the frame, and told him I'd come up to see him?

He'd probably laugh his ass off at my Mae West impersonation. I'd never been much good at impersonations.

Aside from that, he was my guest. It wouldn't be correct to approach him in my home.

However, there was nothing to stop him from approaching me. I put on the silk pajamas he'd bought for me and went to bed, leaving my door ajar on the off chance he might grow restless and want a glass of milk or a game of chess or to talk about what had happened or...

Me?

There was a small lake on my grandfather's property in western Maryland, and once my father had taken me fishing there. He was not a skilled fisherman, and I wasn't much better, but it was one of the rare times we were able to spend an entire day together. The words he spoke imbued me with his sense of honor.

As we walked back to the manor house late that afternoon, sunburned and sweaty, his arm around my shoulders, he told me that it was never easy doing the right thing.

That night I realized more than ever how true that was.

* * * *

V

* * * *

In spite of everything, I fell asleep almost immediately, and since I knew that if he'd come to me during the night, there was no possible way I would sleep through another earth-shattering experience, when I awoke the next morning, still in my pajamas and without the pleasurable ache in my ass, I knew he'd done no such thing.

* * * *

VI

* * * *

It was the sound of Mark walking quietly past my door that woke me. If I'd kept the door closed, as I usually did, I doubt I would have known.

A glance at the clock radio on my nightstand told me it was 5:00 a.m. Did he consider getting up at this hour a poke in the eye to the CIA, or did he always rise so early? I threw back the covers, paid a quick visit to the bathroom not only to relieve myself, but to do something about morning breath, and then I hurried down to the kitchen.

Mark was sitting in the breakfast nook, gazing off into space. He was concentrating on something so hard I was almost tempted to sniff the air to see if something was burning.

"Morning, Mark." I went to the cupboard and got a cup. "Did you sleep well?"

"Sure." His eyes ran over my body, which tightened involuntarily, and his eyebrow rose when he realized I was wearing the pajamas he'd given me. The temperature was comfortable in the house, and I hadn't felt the need to put on my robe. Or perhaps I just hadn't wanted to. Let him see what he'd passed up by not coming to my room last night. "I hope I didn't wake you up."

"No. I had to get up anyway. And no, Mark, I have no intention of telling you why." I was lying through my teeth. There was nowhere I had to go, other than State, where I'd just be pushing papers again today.

For a second, I wondered why my schedule had been altered. Had Edward Holmes, DCI of Threat Analysis, been behind it? He had nothing to do with Operational Targeting, but lately he'd been getting more and more involved with my department.

I pushed that consideration from my mind for the time being when I realized Mark was staring at the pajamas. Ah. I'd gotten his attention. "Like the way the pajamas look, Mark? You have good taste. How'd you guess my size? Or did you go rummaging in my drawers?"

"What do you think, Mann?"

What did I think? I had no clue. He could have made a lucky guess, but he could just as easily have examined my clothing to see what size I wore. After all, I had no idea how long he'd been in my house the night he'd cuffed me to my bed and....

He ran his eyes over the pajamas once again in an almost palpable caress, and I felt my cock stir even more. I turned away in hopes it would conceal my arousal. Was he regretting he hadn't wandered down the hall last night?

Good.

"Never mind, I'm sorry I asked. Anyway, thank you again." I took the container of half-and-half from the fridge, poured a dollop into my cup, then took the spoon beside Mark's cup and stirred it.

"I thought you took coffee with cream." His mouth tightened, and he picked up his cup.

Why would he think that? "If that's all that's available." I raised my cup to my lips and sipped my coffee.

"Huh. I need another cup." Mark rose and helped himself.

I put the half-and-half back into the fridge, not bothering to offer it to him; I knew he took it black.

From the way he appeared to be savoring it, I thought it was safe to assume he was enjoying this brew. I only purchased enough beans for a week at a time and ground them before each use, so the coffee was always fresh.

Something else I had learned from my father.

"I think it would be a good idea for you to stay here until something can be done about your apartment. You're not going to be stubborn about this, are you? There's a perfectly good guest room available here." I knew he was going to object, so I continued blandly, "And you can always tell the ubiquitous Mr. Wallace that you're staying here in hopes of getting Company secrets out of me." Trevor Wallace, who ran the WBIS and who was referred to as The Boss--one could almost hear the capitals--within that organization, seemed to be the only man Mark respected.

"Looks like you've got all the angles covered."

"That's why I was made deputy director." I almost expected him to make some snide comment about that, but instead he surprised me.

"Why don't I give you a call later? We could go out to dinner."

"I'm afraid I can't--"

"Right. Forget about it. I've got to go!"

"I wish you'd let me finish," I complained. From the expression on his face, I'd gathered he'd surprised himself as well as me with that unexpected invitation to dine out. "I have something on the calendar for this evening." I'd promised Mother a month or so ago that I'd accompany her to the State-sponsored reception and ball for the ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina. "And I can't get out of it, but I'd like to take a rain check, if I may?"

"Sure." He shrugged, rinsed his cup and put it in the dishwasher, and headed for the door.

"Mark." I followed him. I needed to disarm the security system if the entire neighborhood wasn't to be awakened by it. "Don't forget your overcoat." I opened the closet door, took it out, and handed it to him. "According to the weatherman, it's going to be another cool morning."

He grunted.

"Here." I held out a piece of paper with the name and phone number of a company that was excellent when it came to restoring homes that had been damaged by fire or water or as the result of a crime. "Call this number. This is a service I've used. They're quite good, and they'll see your apartment is habitable by the middle of the week. Of course, I've never had my home blown up." I wasn't certain if he'd accept my aid, and I wasn't really surprised when he refused to take the piece of paper. Disappointed, but not surprised. "Goddamned paranoid son of a bitch!"

"Quinn."

I spared him a brief glance, intent on showing him that he could do as he chose; it was immaterial to me.

He was holding his hand out. He was holding his hand out!

Very pleased, even though I hadn't expected his capitulation, I gave him the paper.

"Thanks." He was staring at my mouth, and for a second the wild hope that he planned to kiss me swept over me. "I'll see you later." He walked out the door, and I sighed in disappointment.

But still, he'd wanted to take me to dinner.

I gave myself a shake, pushed that from my mind, and turned my attention to other things.

The suit he was wearing, for instance. It was lightweight and wrinkle-proof, the best kind for unexpected trips out of the country, but it was a cheap suit at best, probably purchased at some chain store, and I knew he had others in his apartment that were more suitable for his new position as Deputy Director of Interior Affairs.

I picked up my phone and called my secretary at State. "Bette, it's Quinton Mann. I won't be in today. I've cleared off my desk, and I'm taking a personal day."

"Oh, but...."

"But what?"

"There's a stack of files on your desk." She sounded uneasy.

"Then of course I'll be in. Later."

"Yes, sir." And now she sounded relieved. "I'll see you then, Mr. Mann."

"Yes. Good-bye, Bette." I'd no sooner hung up than the phone rang again. "Mann."

"You were supposed to call me last night."

"Sorry, DB."

"Yeah, well, it's a good thing I--"

"Listen," I said, interrupting him without compunction. I was a big boy, after all, and had been taking care of myself for years. "I need you to do me a favor."

"Sure, Quinn." He'd picked up on the note in my voice and immediately became serious. "What's up?"

"I'm working at State today."

"There's nothing surprising in that. You told me the other day you'd be at State for the rest of the week."

"Yes, but all I wound up doing yesterday was paperwork that should have been assigned to any assistant to the undersecretary."

"That's bureaucracy for you."

That was true, but I ignored it. "I had my desk cleared off--"

"Well, yeah!"

I swallowed a smile, appreciating his confidence in my capability. "--and with no sign of anything more, only to learn there are more files waiting for me."

"Hmm. You want me to look into this?"

"If you don't mind?" I didn't really think anything out of the ordinary was going on--sometimes extra paperwork was nothing more than extra paperwork--but it would keep him from bombarding me with questions as to why I had failed to call him as I'd promised.

"I'll get on it as soon as I get to Langley. I'll... uh... I'll be leaving early this afternoon, though."

"Oh?"

"My ladies contacted me. I'm taking them out to dinner," he informed me smugly.

"They're actually consenting to be seen in public with you? My, my!"

"Consent my ass, it was their idea! And don't bother asking where, Quinn, because that's on a strictly need-to-know basis, and you don't need to know!"

"I was just going to comment on what very brave ladies they are."

"You were?" He sounded suspicious, and I couldn't help chuckling.

"I wouldn't have time to track you down anyway. I'm attending that reception and ball tonight."

"That's right, I remember hearing some mention of it. I understand the WBIS is going to have someone there."

"It will be Sperling." It always was.

"Yeah. And he'll be busy sucking down martinis and stuffing his face. Listen, I'd better get going. I'll put out some feelers and see what I can learn. I'll call you--"

"Not on my State line. If something is going on, I don't want anyone aware that I'm questioning things."

"Paranoid much, buddy?"

Why was he all of a sudden calling me buddy? "You have my cell number, don't you? Contact me on that."

"Okay. I'll call you whether I pick up on anything or not. Talk to you later."

"Thanks, DB. Bye." I wandered into the living room, in the mood for a little Dinah Washington. I put her Mad About The Boy CD on the stereo system and set one particular cut on repeat. The lady did have a smooth voice.

Whistling along with "What a Difference a Day Makes," I climbed the stairs to my bedroom.

What did he think of the vivid color I had selected to make up his bed? The blues and greens I'd seen in his linen closet had been conservative....

The thought suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what color sheets he'd had on his bed the night we'd made love. Not that the choice had been very varied: blue or green, and both fairly pastel.

Among others, I preferred rich jewel tones: sapphire, ruby, emerald, and for Mark, I'd selected a burgundy set. What had he thought of them?

Unable to resist, I decided to take a quick peek into the room I had given him.

The bed was neatly made. It was only when I breathed a sigh of relief that I realized I'd unconsciously been expecting to find the sheets stripped off and stuffed into a pillowcase.

I shook my head at how ridiculous that was. Of course Mark wouldn't do something like that. He'd tell me to my face if he didn't intend to spend another night under my roof.

I went to my own room to shower and dress for the day.


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