Lee Stetson leaned back in the driver's seat and sighed. He had just spent the last week working a case involving a taxicab company that was being used as a front to smuggle illegal aliens into the US. He had infiltrated the company, found out how they were doing it, and brought them down. Now, having made the bust at the airport, he was on his way back to drop off the cab, and get his beloved Corvette back.
Turning onto Acomac Drive, he noticed a woman walking down the sidewalk. There was something about her figure and the way she walked that rang a bell and, telling himself that is was just professional curiosity, Lee drove closer.
The rain had let up momentarily, but a sudden gust of wind had Amanda clutching her groceries tightly as she tried to hold onto her umbrella at the same time.
Glancing up the street before crossing, she caught sight of an approaching cab and momentarily thought of hailing it. But her practical nature reminded her that the house was only a few blocks away, so she adjusted her bags one more time, and stepped off the curb.
As soon as heíd caught sight of her profile, Lee had instantly known it was Amanda. Watching her walk across the street, he smiled. He accelerated a bit to catch up with her and honked the horn.
Surprised by the noise, Amanda stumbled a little, and loosing her footing on the slippery street, fell to her knees--dropping her bags in the process. She turned as the cab pulled up next to her and stared in disbelief to see a laughing Lee behind the wheel. Shaking her head, Amanda smiled ruefully and slowly got to her feet.
"I suppose you think that was pretty funny?" Amanda asked, as Lee quickly got out of the cab and helped her pickup her groceries.
"Just a little," he grinned, watching her brush at the wet knees and seat of her jeans. "Come on and let me give you a ride home."
"Thatís okay, I can manage," she insisted, reaching for the bags Lee held. She had noticed the cab and Leeís dress, and assumed he was on assignment.
"Amanda, itís at least three more blocks to your house. Itís raining and cold out and you are *not* walking home in it." He stated, leaving no room for argument.
"Really, I'm fine."
"Amanda King, will you please get in the car. Iím not going to stand in the rain and argue with you about this," he said firmly, taking her bags.
"Well, since you put it so nicely, how can I refuse?" She followed him to the cab, and shaking out her umbrella, settled herself in the backseat.
Lee stood there looking at her for a second, oddly disappointed that she didnít get in the front with him. Suddenly realizing that Amanda was looking at him expectantly, he quickly handed her the groceries then slipped behind the wheel and started up the car.
"Why are you out walking in the rain anyway?" Lee asked, as he smoothly eased the car back into the street.
"I needed to pick up a few things at the store."
"Why didnít you take your car?"
"It's in the shop having some bodywork done."
"Didn't they give you a spare to use?"
"I didnít want one, the wagon will be ready sometime tomorrow."
"What about your mother and the boys? Wouldn't you need it to drive them around?"
"Mother and the boys went on a Boy Scout trip to the mountains. They won't be back until Sunday night."
"And you didnít go with them?" Lee asked, a little surprised.
"No, Mother thought that it would be nice for me to have a weekend to myself, with no boys around."
Lee nodded his head in understanding. Having a mother and two young boys constantly underfoot--relaxing weekends were probably few and far between for her. He thought about his own empty apartment waiting for him but unlike Amanda, weekends alone were more often the rule than the exception.
Looking up at the rear view mirror, he watched her rummage around in her packages, checking to make sure theyíd picked up everything. The thought of her on her own suddenly gave Lee an unexpected twinge of protectiveness.
"You know, if you needed something, you could have called," he said gruffly.
Amanda looked up in surprise. "You were on an important case. Besides, Iíd never bother you while you were undercover unless it was important. I just needed to pick up a movie and few things for dinner tonight--nothing life threatening."
Lee smiled, < Dinner and a movie, now that sounds like a good evening. > He thought about asking Amanda if she would mind some company, but then thought better of it. This was her weekend alone, he reminded himself as he turned down her street.
Amanda bit her lower lip uncertainly. < Maybe I should ask him to join me, > she thought for a minute. < Nah, heís probably got some big date lined up or maybe he just wants a quiet evening alone after ending his assignment. > She glanced down at her groceries, the thought of eating alone had suddenly lost its appeal.
Pulling up to her house, Lee got out of the cab and went to help Amanda.
"Thank you," she smiled at him. She started to turn toward the house, then impetuously turned back to face him. "So what do I owe you?"
"What?" Lee asked a little confused. < She doesnít really expect to pay me for giving her a ride home? >
"How about dinner?" She blurted out.
"Amanda, you donít need to..."
She mentally cringed and scolded herself for asking him. < Of course he would have a date, a man as good looking as Lee probably had them lined up for the next month. >
"Thatís okay, I should have known youíd have plans," she said hurriedly.
"No," he quickly answered. "I donít have any plans. I just didnít want to intrude on *your* plans."
Amanda shook her head and smiled. "They werenít anything great. Besides, Iím not used to a quiet house -- it will be better to have someone there."
"Okay," Lee smiled. "But on one condition -- that you let me cook."
"Youíre on!" she replied happily. "I canít remember the last time I *didnít* have to cook."
"What time shall I come back?"
"Whenever you can get here," Amanda smiled. There was a sudden crash of thunder in the sky, telling them that the rain was about to fall again.
"You better get inside before the storm hits."
"See you tonight," Amanda called after him, quickly heading into the house.
Lee sprinted to the cab and ducked in as it began to pour. Despite the weather and a hard day, he suddenly felt light-hearted. Itís just the satisfaction of finishing that case, he told himself. But as he backed out of her driveway, he found himself smiling as he looked at Amandaís house and saw the lights go on upstairs.
Walking into his quiet apartment Lee quickly shed his wet clothing and hopped into the shower.
On the drive back to his apartment, he'd decided that he would make Amanda one of his world-class gourmet dishes, to thank her for inviting him over. As he stood under the soothing hot water, he mentally went over the extra ingredients heíd need to take with him.
Stepping out of the shower, he stood wrapped in a towel and stared at his closet in unaccustomed indecision.
"Itís just dinner between two friends," he said, reaching for a light blue pullover and a pair of jeans. As if sheíd be interested in someone like me, he thought, snorting softly as he recalled meeting her boyfriend Dean. "How is it the Deans of this world get lucky and IÖ
"Well, sheís not exactly my type either," he said aloud, tugging his sweater into place. As he looked in the mirror and smoothed his hair, he found himself smiling. Running into her had reminded him how much he'd missed Amanda; he hadnít seen her in over a week. < Eight days, to be exact, a tiny voice in his head prompted. > He had to work this case alone, and things have been rather slow at the Agency, so Billy hadnít called her in. And while he didnít needed her help, he had to admit that things were rather dull at work without her there.
Snatching up his keys and a jacket, Lee flipped off the light and left, shutting the door on his perfectly decorated, impeccably ordered, empty apartment.
The logs crackled and sputtered in the dim room, sending a shower of fiery sparks up the darkened chimney. But the scents and sounds coming from the fireplace were hardly noticed by the couple on the couch.
The fire cast a rosy glow on flashes of skin as clothing was removed. She squirmed with pleasure as he nuzzled his way down her smooth throat and began kissing her delicate collarbone. As he pushed her back onto the soft pillows, she gasped -- relishing the heat and solid weight of his body as he moved onto her.
"Lee," she breathed, looking up in to his clear blue eyes.
"Amanda," he murmured, lowering his mouth to hers.
Amanda sat bolt upright in the tub, blinking her eyes in confusion.
"Amanda? Are you upstairs?"
"Oh gosh!" she exclaimed, looking down at the bathwater, now barely warm with just a sprinkling of bubbles bobbing around her.
"Iíll be down in a minute, Lee," she shouted, as she climbed out of the tub. Grabbing a towel, she padded quickly into the bedroom.
"Darn! I leave him a note to come on in and start cooking and here I am, daydreaming in my bubble bath." She blushed as she recalled the particular daydream. "As if Lee would ever be interested in someone like me."
If Francine hadnít made her derision clear, Amanda had certainly overhead enough gossip in the coffee room to know what the other agents thought of the "new" recruit -- as well as the ridicule Lee put up with for having a "housewife" tagging along with him on assignments.
She pulled out the dresser drawer and as she reached for a pair of briefs, she paused, her hand hovering over a black lace camisole. Sheíd bought it out of self-defense after hearing one too many snide remarks from her mother about "serviceable cotton underwear." But once sheíd bought it, sheíd not had the nerve -- or the occasion -- to wear it.
"Well, no time like the present," she said aloud. She slipped on the camisole and matching bikinis and warily ventured a look at herself in the mirror.
"Well," she said, smiling in surprised satisfaction as she turned from side to side to admire her trim reflection. "Not too shabby for a mother of two."
She frowned as she caught sight of her hair, but knowing there wasnít much time, she just added a few more pins to keep the more wayward curls from escaping. At the sound of pots banging downstairs, she started guiltily.
"Amanda, stop wasting time fussing over how you look," she reprimanded herself firmly as she skimmed into a pair of worn jeans. "Lee is here to make dinner, not make a pass."
Throwing on a soft madras shirt, she took a last look at herself in the mirror. Her fingers paused at the top button as she wondered if maybe she should put on a bra instead of the thin camisole.
"Like Iíve got that much to worry about," she snorted, shrugging her shoulders. "Not like Dr. Bambi."
Leaving the room, she smiled to herself as she remembered that night. She had been out to dinner with Dean, and in his usual absent-minded way, heíd managed to lock his keys in the car. As they stood in the parking lot arguing, Amanda was chagrined to see a sleek silver Corvette pull up along side them.
"Need some help?" a familiar voice asked innocently, as the window slid down.
Amanda blew a stray wisp of hair from her face as she looked up. "Oh, no. Not really. Weíll manage."
Lee chuckled as he watched Dean pinch his fingers just trying to unbend a wire coat hanger Amanda had found on the ground. "Maybe Crystal can help you," he offered, glancing at the woman in the seat next to him. "Sheís veryÖdexterous."
Amanda did a double take as a tall, extremely voluptuous blonde unfolded herself from Leeís car. "Yeah, Iíll bet sheís good with her hands," she sniffed, giving Lee a dark look.
"Hey, I meant that in a professional sense," he said, with a wide smile. "Sheís one of the top neurosurgeons in the country, and is in town for a month long symposium."
"Brain surgeon. Right," Amanda said under her breath, watching as Crystal leaned forward, deftly inserted the coat hanger, and with one jiggle, popped the door open. She also noticed the glazed look on Deanís face as he stared into more cleavage than heíd ever seen in his life.
After that, whenever Lee kidded her about Dean, she threw him a barb about "Dr. Bambi".
That is, until one day when she had to rush Phillip, unconscious, to the emergency room after he and a much bigger boy collided heads at soccer practice. She was frantic with worry until the emergency room doctor assured her that a renowned visiting neurologist had also checked her son out and found him fine.
Amanda chuckled as she skipped down the stairs. She didnít know whoís face had been more shocked that day -- the ER doctorís when the famous neurosurgeon greeted Amanda by name, or her own, when she found herself face to face with the famous Dr. Crystal Bernhardt.
"Just goes to show," she said to herself as she rounded the corner into the kitchen. "Lee is one person I should never underestimate."
Lee looked up as Amanda entered the kitchen and shook a carrot threateningly at her.
"About time you came down to help," he chided her with mock severity.
She laughed and snatched it from his hand. "Donít you know itís not polite to point food at people," she said, taking a bite from the carrot.
"Amanda! Thatís supposed go into the broth!"
"Oh." She looked at the tip of the carrot critically. "It can still be used, just cut off the end where the teeth marks are," she suggested.
Lee rolled his eyes, and held out his hand.
"Oh my gosh!" Amanda exclaimed as he took the carrot and swiftly sliced it, scooped it onto the blade of the knife and then tossed it into the stockpot.
"Howíd you learn that?" she asked, her eyes wide.
Lee gestured broadly. "You didnít know that among my other, might I add -- numerous --accomplishments, my talents are quite well-known in the culinary circles?"
Amanda arched an eyebrow. "Uh-huh. But in your case, your sauces arenít secret -- theyíre classified, right?"
Lee grinned. "Cute. Very cute."
As Amanda grinned in return, he suddenly thought to himself, < She really *is* cuteÖ >
"Lee," she said, unknowingly interrupting his train of thought. "Can you show me how to do that thing you just did? Iíve always wanted to learn how to cut things the way the chefs do on TV shows."
"Oh. Yeah, sure," he said, giving himself a mental shake. "The secret is to hold your thumb here and bend it this way to steady what youíre cutting," he demonstrated on another carrot. "Then move the knife like thisÖ."
"I get it! Your thumb is out of the way and your knuckle acts like a guideÖ."
"Yep. Thatís all there is to it. Here -- give it a try."
He watched as she fumbled with the knife and nearly sliced her thumb.
"Whoa! Take it easy, Amanda! Here, let me show you how to position your hands."
Moving behind her, he circled his arms around and put his hands over hers. "Your thumb goes here, like this," he instructed, "and the knife is angled *this* way."
"Thatís much easier!" she exclaimed. She bent her head forward to concentrate on slicing, and Lee released her hands but stayed behind her.
"Thatís it, donít go fast, just get an even rhythm going," he encouraged, looking over her shoulder. As she continued slicing, Lee found his gaze wandering to her shoulder and then her neck. He could smell the soapy fresh scent of her skin, and as he stared at the wet tendrils of hair that clung to the nape of her neck, he had the oddest desire to curl one around his finger andÖ
"There!" Amanda said proudly, leaning back so that he could see her handiwork. "I know youíve seen better, but these arenít too bad, are they?"
Lee swallowed hard. While sheíd been energetically slicing, the top button of her shirt had come undone, and despite his best intentions not to look, he found himself unable to resist.
"No, not at all. Those are really nice looking, uhÖ"
"Carrot slices?" she finished, frowning at his distracted attitude.
"Huh? Oh, right," he said, clearing his throat noisily. Taking a deep breath, he stepped back and tore his eyes way from the unexpected sight of black lace and pale curves peeking out from the neckline of that prim plaid shirt.
Amanda stared in puzzlement as Lee looked around the kitchen in a preoccupied way. Shrugging, she tossed the carrot slices into the stockpot and wiping her hands, turned to face him.
"So, whatís for dinner? And whatís that small dark bottle you brought?"
"Ah, that," Lee said, relieved to get his thoughts back to cooking, "is raspberry vinegar. It will lend just a bit of tartness to the chicken stock and cream weíll be cooking the chicken breasts in."
"Mmm," she murmured appreciatively. "And how will you use those fresh raspberries?"
Lee opened the small container and wafted them under her nose, smiling as she closed her eyes and inhaled their pungent sweet scent. "A handful of fresh raspberries, poached briefly in the sauce just before serving, will add a subtle but elegant note."
Amanda opened one eye and then the other. "Handful of fresh raspberriesÖelegant note," she repeated, her brow creasing in thought. Suddenly her eyes went wide. "Lee Stetson! You almost had me going there!"
"What are you talking about?" he asked in confusion as he watched her rummage through a shelf of cookbooks.
"Ah ha!" she cried triumphantly, flourishing a thick paperback book. "Mother gave me this in hopes I might learn to cook something other than Hamburger Helper, but the recipes were kinda hard. The only thing that sounded remotely possible was a recipe called Raspberry Chicken."
Flipping through the pages, she came to the recipe and began reading aloud. "In this recipe, ready in minutes, raspberry vinegar lends a bit of welcome tartness, mellowed by chicken stock and heavy cream." She glanced up and shot Lee a meaningful look. "A handful of fresh raspberries, poached briefly in the sauce just before serving adds an elegant note."
She closed the book and hugging it to her chest, leaned back against the counter, a smug look on her face. "Gotcha!"
Lee gave her a small smile as he walked toward her. Handing her the raspberries, he took the book and turned it to the front cover.
"Julie Russo and Sheila Lunkins," Amanda pointed out, tapping the names of the authors. "They run a catering business called The Silver Palate."
"Yes, they do. Sheila runs it but sheís not the one who creates the recipes." He took her hand and moved her finger to the first name. "Did you notice this spelling?"
Amandaís retort vanished on her lips as she looked closely at the name. "Julee Rosso." She glanced up at Lee and wondered if his grin could get any bigger.
"You are Julee Rosso. *You*, Lee Stetson, are the chef behind the recipes for The Silver Palate?"
He shrugged, and put the book back on the shelf. "Now *that* would be telling."
Gesturing toward the island he inclined his head at Amanda and smiled. "Well, do you want to learn this recipe, or are you just gonna hold up that end of the counter with your rear?"
She pushed off from the counter and as she walked by, she hit him with the dishtowel sheíd thrown over her shoulder. "Lee Stetson, one of these days, youíre gonna get it."
"Is that a promise or a threat?" he kidded playfully.
Amanda frowned in mock seriousness. "Donít forget, as soon as I get my clearance, Iím starting my training sessions with Rubberneck."
"Leatherneck," Lee corrected with a laugh, dropping two chunks of butter into a skillet and handing it to her. "And donít get your hopes up -- the training youíll get is more along the lines of evasive action."
"Well, that could come in handy on a date."
"Oh? Dean getting out of hand these days?" Lee asked nonchalantly, slanting a glance at her as he quickly chopped an onion, and set aside a small portion.
"Dean? Actually, I havenít seen him much lately," she said, tilting the skillet and watching carefully as the butter melted. "How much butter is this?"
"About two tablespoons," Lee answered. "Why donít you take that off the burner and letís start on the chicken breasts."
Amanda nodded and moved to his side, watching as he swiftly cut two chicken breasts in half and pushed one toward her.
"So, is Dean out of town? Or just busy?"
"Oh, I guess youíd say busy. Why canít we just throw these in the frying panÖ" she stopped at a quelling look from Lee.
"These are rather large and we need to flatten them to make them more even in thickness," he explained. "Whoa! Not like that!" He snatched the large wooden meat mallet from Amandaís hand. "You have to be very gentle when you handle breasts."
They both colored slightly, and suddenly started talking at the same time.
"Yes, of course..."
"Yes, the chicken..."
As they both fell into an awkward silence, Amanda studiously stared down at the chicken breast on the cutting board. "So, whatís your, uh, technique?" she ventured tentatively.
Lee cleared his throat. "Well, just press the...er, press it with the palm of your handÖ." His voice tailed off as he self-consciously suited his actions to his words. He took a quick look at Amanda and although there was still a flush to her cheeks, she was gamely doing her best to follow his instructions.
"So," Amanda began, as she eyed a particularly large portion. "I havenít heard you mention Dr. Bambi, lately."
Lee shot her a wary look. "What brought that up?"
"Oh, I donít know," she said, taking what seemed to Lee as inordinate satisfaction in smashing and flattening the chicken breast under her hand.
"Thatís fine, Amanda," he said, taking the chicken and laying it in the skillet. He turned up the heat, and they both stood quietly and watched the chicken cook.
"So. You say Deanís busy?"
Lee turned the chicken over.
"New girl friend," Amanda offered, getting a platter for Lee to put the cooked chicken on. "How much onion is that?"
"Oh, about a quarter cup or so," he said, adding a small handful and stirring it into the skillet. "Weíll let that cook until itís tender."
He walked to the sink and washed his hands while Amanda checked the wild rice. "New girlfriend, huh?" he threw over his shoulder.
"Yeah, well, I canít blame him. Ever since I started working at the Agency, I havenít had much free time." She moved the pot off the stove and fluffed the rice. "Iím sure you must have the same problem sometimes. Or maybe not."
Lee shrugged. "Dating isnít hard. Thereís always time for that. Itís growing and keeping a relationship going, thatís difficult." He laughed shortly. "Make that impossible."
Amanda turned and studied his profile as he leaned against the sink and looked out into the darkened backyard.
"But Billy....he has a wife...kids."
"And a nice, safe desk job," Lee finished. "Iím out there in the field. Itís why I need to keep my ties to a minimum."
"It sounds lonely."
"You get used to it."
Amanda shook her head. "Lonely, I know. You *never* get used to lonely. You might try to ignore it, or distract yourself with work or kidsÖor drinking or affairs," she added, catching Leeís grimace, "but when it comes down to it, everyone needs family."
"I told you before, my family..."
Reaching out she squeezed his arm. "And sometimes Ďfamilyí isnít your relations -- sometimes theyíre the friends who care about you."
Leeís eyes flew to hers and he caught his breath at the acceptance he saw there. "And how did you get to be so smart, Amanda King?" he asked softly, a slow smile spreading across his face.
"Oh, just hanging around the right people, I guess," she said, giving him a wink. Suddenly she turned and grabbed the skillet from the burner. "Lee!"
"Good catch!" he exclaimed in relief. "A few seconds more and those onions would have burned. Now, if youíd hand me the raspberry vinegarÖ"
"No, let me measure it," Amanda insisted. "I canít cook by eyeballing the ingredients like you do."
"Okay, Iíll just walk you through the rest," he said, laughingly.
"Add four tablespoons of the vinegar," he began, watching as she measured carefully. "Now turn up the heat and stir until it gets thick and syrupy."
He watched as Amanda slowly stirred the sauce. He had never considered himself a nosey person, but somehow the question was out of his mouth before he could stop himself.
"So, are you...uh, dating now?"
Amanda turned and stared at Lee. "No. Please. Not you too!"
"Itís bad enough that Mother keeps trying to set me up with guys..."
"Your mother is setting you up?"
"...but I thought that you, of all people...."
"Me? What have *I* done?"
"...would leave me alone on this! I mean, first Mother, then Billy...."
"Billy? Whoís he trying to set you up with?"
"Francine! Do *not* even think of taking her up on..."
"...and now you!" Amanda took a breath to calm down and suddenly noticed the vinegar had reduced. "Lee, do you think weíre ready for the next step?"
"Us? Ready for the next step?" he repeated, blinking his eyes. "Oh, the chicken. Right." He shook his head to clear it. Sometimes having a conversation with Amanda was like playing multi-dimensional chess, he mused.
"Add a quarter cup each of the stock and heavy cream," he instructed, handing her a whisk, and tossing in a spoonful of chopped tomatoes. As she added the liquid and whisked the sauce, he picked up the platter of chicken breasts and laid them gently in the skillet. "Just baste these for a few minutes while I set the table and get the salad ready."
"This smells really great, Lee," Amanda said excitedly. She continued to baste the chicken, smiling as she inhaled the rich aroma. "I canít believe I helped make this."
Lee chuckled as he walked back into the kitchen. "You donít give yourself enough credit, Amanda. You have more untapped potential than anyone I know."
"Yeah, well, I never looked at it like that," she said modestly. "I mean, Iím doing well at the Agency, but only because of Billyís faith in me and your help."
Lee removed the chicken to the serving platter, and then motioned for Amanda to take the skillet. Tossing a handful of fresh raspberries in, he stepped behind her and guiding her hand, gently moved the skillet to swirl the berries around in the sauce. "Are you ready?" he asked, helping her hold the pan above the burner.
"Ready as Iíll ever be," she answered nervously.
With a flick of his wrist, Lee flipped the berries and sauce into the air, caught them in the skillet and then slid them onto the waiting chicken.
He grinned as Amanda squealed delightedly. Her unaffected joy and pleasure in doing something as simple as cooking this meal together had surprised and touched him in a way he couldnít describe.
"This is almost too beautiful to eat!" She exclaimed, gazing down at the plump bright raspberries dotting the cream covered chicken breasts.
"Well, we could always just drink the wine I brought and stare at our food," he suggested, as he filled their wine glasses.
Amanda laughed and brought the platter to the table. "I said *almost* too beautiful to eat," she reminded him.
Dinner went quickly as they talked about work and family and friends. Lee couldnít remember the last time heíd felt so relaxed or laughed so often. His dinner dates in the past had always been more of planned maneuver with the sole objectiveÖ. he paused and backed up mentally. < Whoa, wait a minute. Dinner date? This is dinner with Amanda, not a date. > He looked across the table at her and found her staring back at him.
"Lee? Are you okay? You look like you were miles away for a minute."
"Sorry, I was thinking about dessert. Would you mind if we had it in the den? I could start a fire while you make the coffee," he suggested.
"Are you sure that you don't need any help?" Amanda called from her place on the sofa.
"Yes, everything is under control, just sit back and relax."
With a contented sigh, Amanda turned and leaned back against the couch. The soft pillows and the cracking sound of the fire reminded her of her earlier daydream about Lee and she chuckled softly.
"Well, itís not as if things would ever get to *that*," she admonished herself. When she had first invited Lee over to share her evening, she thought that she might have been out of line. After all, they had never really seen each other outside of work. He was always busy with the Woman of the Week, and she was busy with her mother and the boys. But as she gazed into the fire she thought that this evening had moved their working relationship to the next level -- maybe even to friendship.
As Lee arranged the strawberries, he looked over into the den. Amanda had suddenly grown quiet and he knew she was lost in thought. He smiled, and shook his head, wondering when he had learned to read her moods so well. Setting the plates on the tray, he paused and looked into the den again. Her head was turned slightly, and the light from the fireplace outlined her profile in a soft glow.
Who would have thought she would turn out to be so complex, he thought to himself. There were so many layers to her; a man could spend his whole life trying to figure her out -- and still never even get close.
He smiled as he recalled how, when heíd first met her, he couldn't get rid of her fast enough. To him she had just been a suburban housewife who wouldn't know a KGB Agent if one walked up to her and flashed a badge. But after working with her, he had to admit heíd been wrong. Sure, Amanda was inexperienced in a lot of things --especially where the Agency was concerned -- but she had a sharp mind and had quickly impressed both him and Billy with the kind of uncanny instinct that not even some of the more seasoned agents had. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he grabbed the tray and headed into the den.
"Here we are," he announced, setting the tray down and handing Amanda her plate. "It's a strawberry hazelnut torte. I created this while I was working undercover as a chef in Buenos Aries."
"Of course, you did," Amanda said, the corners of her mouth twitching into a small smile. Taking a bite, she sighed and closed her eyes. "This is so good itís gotta be illegal."
Lee smiled broadly; although he often bragged about his culinary skills, he had never really shared his cooking talents with anyone before. Even when he invited women over to his place for dinner he usually had it catered -- especially since they rarely made it to the meal.
But tonight had been different. Somehow it had been important to cook one of his favorite recipes for her. And her wholehearted enjoyment of the food as well as his company had made the evening so, wellÖ special.
Amanda set her empty plate down and leaning back into the couch, turned her head toward Lee. "You know, I was just thinking."
"About what?" Lee asked, taking a bite of the strawberries.
"When I first invited you over here, I was afraid Iíd made a mistake."
Lee's fork paused in mid-air and he was surprised at how hard it suddenly was to swallow. He carefully set his fork on the plate and put it on the coffee table. "What do you mean?"
"Well, we never see each other outside of work, and I kinda got the impression that you didnít like me. That you think Iím Ö um, a nuisance sometimesÖ"
"But youíre always so nice to me and I was afraid Iíd put you in an awkward positionÖ"
"And I didn't want you to come here tonight just so that you didn't hurt my feelings..."
"Amanda!" Lee reached over to squeeze her hands and stop the flow of words.
Lee laughed. "When Iím on *my* time, I never do anything I donít want to -- and what I wanted to do tonight, was cook you a nice dinner." He smiled as he watched her blush and duck her head self-consciously. "I know I come off as a little gruff at times, but it doesnít mean that I donít like you -- and I certainly donít think youíre a nuisance. Well, not all the time," he amended.
Amanda huffed in mock insult and batted his hands away.
"Just kidding," he protested, handing Amanda her coffee. "I had a great time tonight."
"Yeah, me too," she said softly. They sat in silence for a few more minutes, sipping their coffees.
"Uh, Amanda about what I said earlier, you know the dating..."
"Don't worry about it."
"I didnít mean to pry..."
"I know, it's forgotten. Don't worry about it."
"Iím not worried, I was just wondering."
"Oh," she said in a non-committal tone of voice as she took another sip of her coffee.
"I mean your personal life is no concern of mine. Who you date is your business." He tapped his fingers on the cup he held in his hand and then set it down. As he glanced over at Amanda, he was startled to see that she was staring at him.
"Why the sudden the curiosity?" She raised her eyebrows.
"Call it keeping tabs on my friends," he smiled mischievously.
Amanda laughed. "Well you donít need to keep tabs on me! I figure that I have enough men in my life right now."
"Sure -- Phillip and Jamie. Since Joe isnít around, I want to be there for them as much as I can. And even though Joe isnít living here, heís still in my life because heís the boysí father. So what do I need with another man in my life?"
Lee nodded his head in understanding, but that didn't answer the question to his liking. She sounded like she never wanted to date again, and that bothered him. "What about if the right man came along?"
"You sound like Mother!" Amanda gave a short laugh. "But, yeah, I guess. If someone really special came along Ö sure."
Lee let out the breath that he had been holding. For some reason that made him lighter.
"And what about you?" She asked innocently.
"What about me?"
"How come you aren't with Dr. Bambi or..." she waved her hand aimlessly "uh, Ö Ditsy?"
"Betsy," He corrected. "And Iím not seeing her anymore."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"No big loss." He replied. Amanda glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Clearly he didn't want to talk about it, and she wondered briefly who had dropped who.
"So, did you want to stay and watch the movie I rented?"
Looking at his watch, Lee noted that it was close to midnight. "How about if I take a rain check? Itís late and I should be going."
"Oh, okay. Let me get this picked up and I'll walk you out," she said, gathering up the dessert plates.
"Here, let me help you with that," he took the tray from her hands and took it into the kitchen. "Need some help with the dishes?"
"Nope. Itís the least I can do -- after all, you did do the cooking."
"You sure?" He stood and looked down into her face, suddenly reluctant to leave.
"Yes, it's late and you need to get going," she said firmly, handing him his jacket.
They walked to the back door in silence and when she opened it he turned and smiled. "Thanks again for letting me crash your evening."
"You didn't crash anything. I'm happy that you came."
He turned to leave and then abruptly turned back to face her. "Oh, just to set the record straight. I didn't come just to spare your feelings. I wanted to spend the evening with an attractive and charming woman."
Amanda colored at the unexpected compliment but before she could respond, he leaned in and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Goodnight," he whispered. Then, giving her a dashing smile, he melted into the darkness.
Amanda stood in doorway, her fingers unconsciously stroking her cheek where heíd kissed her. "Goodnight," she murmured.
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