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Title: Blue Velvet  

Author/pseudonym: Tinnean  

Fandom: JAG/Modesty Blaise  

Pairing: Porter Webb/Modesty Blaise, Porter/Neville Webb, Clayton Webb/Clark Palmer (implied)  

Rating: R  

Disclaimer: Porter Webb belongs to Bellisario, as do her son and his lover, and Modesty Blaise is Peter O'Donnell's. Lady Jane Clayton belongs to Edgar Rice Burroughs.  

Status: new/complete  

Date: 10/03  

Series/Sequel: This is four in the Soundbyte Series, and follows Palmer on My Mind. Soundbytes are an offshoot of the Mind Fuck Universe, and tend to be stories about the secondary characters. They are not necessarily sequential.  

Summary: Porter Webb is involved in an accident while riding in her son's car. Kismet, or set-up? While unconscious, she revisits various times in her life.  

Warnings: f/f, m/f, implied  m/m, minor spoilers for Webb of Lies  

Notes: We've been given very little information about Clayton Webb's family; I've tried to remedy that. J  ~~~~ indicates a break between the present and the past. The Network is the criminal organization that Modesty joined and later took over and ran with the aid of her second-in-command, Willie Garvin. I've altered things a bit so that she's helping Sir Gerald Tarrant at an earlier time than in the books and comics.  And I don't kill her off. The Modesty Blaise timeline can be found here: Gustave Le Gray's seascapes are actually on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum . If you'd like to see them, go here: Brief Encounter, the 1945 movie Modesty and Porter watched, starred Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. BWI is Baltimore/Washington International Airport. For those interested, the Polovtsian Dance #2 by Borodin may be more familiar as Stranger in Paradise . Clark Palmer's interview with Porter Webb was first revealed in Gail's prequel to the Mind Fuck series, Revelations on a Sunday Afternoon, which can be found at her site. The line: "I'm not going to ask your permission before I have a conversation. Is that clear?" is hers and is used with her kind permission. In case everyone is not aware, Neville Webb is among the dearly departed. Consider this a warning of character death. CIA Director Watts appeared in the episode "Need to Know". Lapin is French for rabbit. This is for Athea, who hated what Peter O'Donnell did to Modesty, for the real Tony, who needed to have a character named after him, and for Gail, beta, par excellence, and friend. These stories wouldn't be written without her.


Blue Velvet

Part 1


That woman moaning could not be me. Sebrings did not moan, and neither did Webbs, which I was by marriage.  

"Hang on, ma'am. We'll get you out!"  

It took the fire department's 'jaws of life' to extricate me from the wreck that was my son's Lexus.  

The paramedics eased a back board under me and raised me onto the stretcher. "We're taking you to the emergency room of George Washington Hospital , Mrs. Webb."  

While one of the paramedics worked on me in the back of the ambulance, getting my vital signs, assessing my condition, the other drove with the lights flashing and the sirens wailing.  

"Mark…" My voice was so hoarse. I swallowed and tried again. "Markov. How is he?"  

"Who? Oh, your driver? He's already on his way to the ER." That told me nothing. "You're going to feel a pinch." She started an IV.  

It was too difficult to breathe around the pain for me to question her further. I began to slip in and out of consciousness.  

The ambulance came to a smooth stop, and the stretcher was maneuvered out the rear door and wheeled past doors that slid apart to allow entrance.  

The lights in the ER were bright. "Bay three."  

I could feel the cool metal of scissors as they cut my gown from me.  

"Mrs. Webb, can you understand me? We can't give you anything for the pain, not until the doctors have examined you."   

"Well, tell them to get a move on, would you?"  

There was muffled laughter. "Yes, ma'am."  

As if from a great distance I heard the words, "Possible fractured hip." "Concussion." "Internal bleeding." "Possible pneumothorax."  

I was too tired to pay much heed.  

A hand took mine and held it tightly. I knew without opening my eyes that it was my son.  

"Don't you dare die on me, Mother! Do you hear me?"  

//Well, yes, Clayton. I imagine the entire emergency room can hear you.//  

"Will she be all right, Doctor?"  

"She'll be fine, Clay." Clark Palmer, and I wanted to laugh. His tone guaranteed that if I was not better than first rate, someone would pay dearly.  

"Does she have any allergies, Mr. Webb?"  

"No. Generally she's healthy as a horse."  

//Really, Clayton. So crass!//  

"Listen, Clay. I've got some stuff to do. You'll be here, right?"  

"I'll be here. Clark ." My son's voice was strained. "I'm not going to ask what you're going to do."  

"Good. You know I wouldn't tell you anyway. Mrs. Webb?" Clark Palmer's breath was warm in my ear. "You heard Clay. You'd better damn well be alive when I get back!"  

I was so pleased he was in my son's life. I'd need to tell him that.  

"Mr. Webb? We need to get your mother to the operating room now."  

His hand tightened around mine, and then released it.  

"Mr. Webb, DCPD. I have some questions…"  

I would have liked to hear those questions, but the stretcher was being wheeled away.  

And I was just so tired…  


The house I grew up in was an old Georgian manor in the western portion of Maryland . It had managed to withstand the ravages of both the War of Independence, and the War Between the States.  

Sometimes, when I knew Neville would be away for extended periods, I would take our son to visit.  

Clayton enjoyed that house, especially the hidden room beneath the stairs. Within were kept the family's treasures, the Bible with its record of births, marriages, and deaths, the original land grant from Lord Baltimore for service rendered, letters from at least eight presidents, a copy of the Declaration of Independence carefully framed to protect it. The silver punch bowl and eight goblets had been crafted by Paul Revere, as had the lead soldiers an early generation of Sebring boys had played with.   

There was also a miniature portrait of the man who founded our family.  

Barnabas Sebring sailed to the Americas with Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, when Charles I granted him the region that was to become Maryland , and he was my son's great- to- the- tenth degree grandfather.  

Barnabas' great-great grandson ran General Washington's spy ring in the central portion of the United States . According to family legend, if Nathan Hale had worked under Horatio Sebring, he never would have told a stranger of his mission and wouldn't have needed to speak his famous last words.  

From that time until the present, Sebrings had served their country, covertly for the most part. Because I was a woman, that did not mean I was excluded.  

I was named for my godmother, whose maiden name had been Porter. She and my mother had been girlhood friends in Baltimore , and that friendship had continued even after Lady Jane married into the British nobility.  

She was Mother's matron of honor when Mother married Anthony Sebring in 1920, and when I was born in 1935, the first girl in seven generations of Sebring males, she was my godmother.  

After I graduated from Wellesley with honors in International Relations, Lady Jane graciously offered to sponsor my debut in London . Father called me into his study.  

"Your mother tells me you have some reservations to being presented at Court."  

"I'm a little old for that, don't you think, Father? I turned twenty-two on Thanksgiving. And I had wanted to take some advanced courses in Russian."   

He waved aside my objections. "Porter, you could pass for eighteen, and you already speak Russian like a Bolshevik. I would much rather you delay your plans a few months." He was not a capricious man, nor one who felt a woman's place was in the home, barefoot and pregnant. I waited to hear his reasons. "You'll meet people who are in the government. A connection with them will prove most beneficial to the family. The Country."  

Father had served in the OSS during the War. Now he worked for the State Department.  

My oldest brother, Tony, had recently finished a stint in the military and joined the National Security Agency, while Bryan, who had been the baby until I was born, and Jefferson, who was the middle brother, had both chosen the CIA.  

"I imagine it will also give me a certain cachet with that community?"  


"Very well, Father."  

His smile was a mere stretching of his lips as he offered me a glass of aged Scotch. "Happy birthday, Porter." 

I touched my glass to his and took a sip.  


Lady Jane introduced me to the people I needed to know, keeping up the façade that I was simply in London to make my belated come-out. I became friendly with the men and women who dwelt in society, as well as those who had, or would one day have, sensitive positions in the government.  

I expected to see these people in the normal course of my day, and I did. However, there was another newcomer to the scene, who I seemed to keep missing.  

Modesty Blaise.  

Town was abuzz when Sir Gerald Tarrant, senior official of a rather obscure section of the Foreign Office, had suddenly appeared with the young woman on his arm, introducing her as his ward. That had raised eyebrows, but no one said anything. Too many middle-aged men had a tendency to acquire young 'wards'.  

Oddly, each time a photographer tried to snap their picture, her face was never clearly visible.  

What was even more strange was the way she apparently brought every conversation around to me. It became the most amusing topic of conversation of the Little Season, although I didn't think so.  

"Porter, my dear! You just missed Miss Blaise! Pity, she seems so interested in meeting you. Always regrets your absence. We really must arrange something!"  

Or I would pick up The Sun and read, //Miss M. B. attended Lady C.'s do with her guardian, Sir G.T. Everyone was breathless to see the long- awaited meeting between her and Miss P. S., but alas, it was not to be.// And I'd realize she'd put in an appearance after I had left.  

It made no sense. The odds that we should keep missing each other were too great.  

On top of that, I began to feel myself being watched. While sightseeing, while paying calls, while making the contacts my father desired. I was too much a daughter of my family not to be aware of covert surveillance, but I could never pinpoint the source.  

I mentioned this, as well as the elusive Miss Blaise, in one of my carefully coded letters to my brothers in the CIA.  

Bryan was the one who responded. Anyone reading it would think it simply dealt with family news. What it actually said was,  

//We couldn't learn much about M. B.'s early years; they seem to be shrouded in mystery. J's gone undercover and will look into it more closely. What we do know is that when she isn't doing occasional 'jobs' for Sir G., she runs The Network. It might be interesting to find out why T. is having her pose as his ward. The fact that you haven't run into her yet may mean nothing. 'The world is a small place, but London is a very large one.' Watch your back, little sister.//  

I worried my lip. He had paraphrased the line from Now, Voyager, Mother's favorite movie. I read the final line again.  

What was going on that I would need to watch my back?  


The first time I saw the leggy brunette, the group of young people I was with was just leaving the Victoria and Albert Museum , and she was entering it with her male companion, a craggy-faced blue-eyed blond. They made an interesting contrast. Her blue-black hair was severely restrained in a French pleat that swung down to the middle of her back, and her eyes were shielded by the wide-framed sunglasses that were currently the rage. Her breasts… I flushed. It had been some time since I'd been distracted by thoughts of sex, and I was surprised to find myself considering her very female curves. I wanted to test their weight in my palm, and my panties dampened at the thought of taking a taut nipple between my lips.  

I dreamed of her that night, and I awoke with my own nipples tight with need and the sheets sweaty and tangled around my legs.  

The second time, a couple of days later, they were leaving Madame Tussauds while we were about to climb the stairs.  

The third time, early the following week, she was strolling through Hyde Park while I trotted past her. She met my raised eyebrow with a raised eyebrow of her own, then lowered her sunglasses, gazed at me over the rims, and smiled. My breath stopped in my throat.  

The big blond touched her arm, and they vanished in the crowd.  

Our paths continued to cross, my dreams became increasingly more erotic, and I wondered if I should engineer a way to meet her.  

And then I received a wide, thin envelope from Jefferson . Within was a black and white photograph, taken with a telephoto lens. The subject was gazing pensively into the distance, unaware, but even the grainy quality of the picture couldn't diminish the beauty in her face. On the back, my middle brother had written, //From what I could learn, they see you as a new player, and they want to determine if you'll prove to be a threat. Keep them guessing, little sister!//  

It was the raven-haired beauty who had been turning up at the oddest times. Modesty Blaise.  


The ball Lady Jane sponsored for me was to be preceded by a dinner party. I was pursuing my acquaintance with Ludovic Rivenhall, a pretty young man who was being groomed for a position in his government.  

"Oh, I-I s-s-say!" the young man who was my dinner partner stuttered. "If it isn't Miss Blaise! Isn't she a smasher? N-not to say that you aren't p-pretty also, Miss Sebring."  

The general consensus was that I was 'pretty'. I had the fair looks of my father's side of the family, and the cool temperament of my mother's. More than once I'd been referred to as an ice princess.  

I smiled at him absently and turned to examine the woman who had just entered the room.  

Modesty Blaise wore a gown whose elegant lines proclaimed it to be a Dior. It was a deep blue velvet that matched her eyes. Her long hair was in a chignon. In spite of what I had learned about her, I was drawn to her.  

For once she was not accompanied by her blond escort.  

"That's Sir Gerald Tarrant with her. One would think he could find a woman closer to his own age. The bloody blighter! Oh! I beg your pardon, Miss Sebring!"  

I murmured something noncommittal.  

I studied the gentleman who was beside her, and I wondered if anyone else noticed the small distance she kept from him.  

He inclined his head toward her and whispered a few words, and she inclined her head in turn.  

From across the room, Modesty Blaise's eyes skimmed my figure, and my nipples tightened. She didn't smile, but I sensed her interest, and I thought she would join us.  

Instead, dinner was announced.  


I slipped out onto the balcony for a cigarette. It was damp and chill, but I'd needed to escape a baronet who felt that because I was American, I should be overwhelmed by his attentions. I'd met more than my share of men like that, and my brothers had taught me how to deal with them. I had even broken the nose of one when he'd gotten fresh.  

I thought about the young woman who had sat at the other end of the table from me. The distance between us had made conversation impossible, but each time I looked in her direction I'd find her gazing at me. Each time she looked in mine, I'd be watching her. Then we would take a sip of our wine and turn back to our dinner companions.  

The French door opened.  

"Miss Sebring?" As if she had been summoned by my thoughts. "I'm Modesty Blaise."  

I turned casually, raising the cigarette to my lips. "It's nice to finally meet you. I was beginning to think that would never come about."  

"I beg your pardon?"  

"We always seemed to be missing each other. You've been asking about me."  

Her smile was politely questioning, and I knew she wasn't going to answer me. "Your aunt sent me to find you."  

"Who? Oh, you mean Lady Jane. She's my godmother. It is bad of me to be hiding out here." I looked down at the stiletto-heeled shoes I wore. "If one more… gentleman… steps on my toes, I shall do him a violence."  

That made her chuckle. "Perhaps you'll show me the conservatory instead? I understand Lady Jane actually has a maze." She noticed I winced as I took a step toward her. "If we're alone, you can even remove your heels. I won't tell."  

"That sounds like an excellent plan." I stubbed out the cigarette in the standing ashtray that was to the side of the railing, and we reentered the ballroom. A wall of music engulfed us.  

She gazed around. "Is there a secret passage leading from the ballroom to the conservatory?"  

I smiled at her. The four inch heels on my shoes put us at eye-level. "No." Of course there was, but I was not about to tell that to a relative stranger.  

"That's rather unusual, don't you think?" She followed me around the edge of the dance floor, around the gracefully waltzing couples and out into the relative quiet of the central hallway. "I'm sure I heard all these old townhouses had at least one secret passage, if only from one bedroom to another."  

"I really couldn't say. I've only been here a short time."  

We strolled down the stairs and through the long vestibule on the first floor to the rear of the house.  

"How much longer will you be in London , Miss Sebring?"  

"Call me Porter, please." I ran a hand over the French twist in which I had chosen to wear my hair, making sure there were no loose strands. "Just a few more weeks, I'm afraid. I'd hoped to stay for the actual Season, but my older brother will be getting engaged…" Another lie, and I wondered if she'd call me on it."… and I'll have to return home for the formal announcement."  

"Pity. I had been looking forward to getting to know you."  


"I've been following your activities in the columns."  

"I would almost say you've actually been following me."  

"Will you forgive me if I admit I have?"  

"That would depend on why." Would she tell me the truth? I opened the door, and we entered the hot-house atmosphere of the conservatory. The scents of roses, jasmine, and violets blended together rather than clashing, and I inhaled the lovely fragrance.  

"I find you very attractive."  

"I?" I didn't pursue her statement. "The maze is this way." I led her to the far end of the room, taking a few steps into the twisting passageways that wound in upon themselves. It wasn't a large maze, but I'd gotten lost in it the first time I had tried to find the pretty fish pond that was at its center.  

"Have I shocked you? Americans can be so Puritanical." She caught my wrist and pulled me to a halt, then raised her hand and cupped my breast as I had dreamed of cupping hers.  

I leaned into her touch, suddenly unable to take my eyes from the lush bow of her lower lip. I traced my fingers along the smooth curve of her neck and drew her mouth closer to mine.  

"Why does everyone on this side of the Atlantic always assume Americans are straight-laced? We have our share of scandals, you know."  

"Do you?" she breathed against my lips.  

"The mayor's wife ran away just last summer."  

"Every politician's wife seems to run away at some time or another."  

"With another woman?" I laughed softly, and the sound turned to a breathy moan as her lips found mine.  

The kiss lasted too long and not long enough. Modesty Blaise stepped away from me, staring at my chest. I looked down, startled to see the front of my gown had come undone. Although the air in the conservatory was humid, my bared breast felt chilled, deprived of the warmth of her hand.  

And then the heat of her mouth was on me, sucking strongly on my nipple. A tiny whimper escaped my lips. I held her head closer, pushed my breast harder against her, shivered at the feel of her teeth gently biting down.  

A wall of greenery was at my back; it supported my weight as I leaned against it. I raised my leg and curled it around her thigh, opening myself to her touch, uncaring that the action would wrinkle the material of my gown.  

Modesty's hand stole beneath the hem and wrapped around my knee, drawing my leg higher, and then her fingers drew designs over the crotch of my silk tap pants. She made an approving sound at how wet they were, then slid a finger under the leg and touched me.  

I shoved the heel of my hand into my mouth and bit down so hard I knew I would leave teeth marks.  

She leaned into me and replaced my hand with her mouth, and swallowed the sounds I made while her middle finger stroked the length of my folds. I trembled when she paused at the top of my sex, found the knot of tissue that seemed to hold every nerve ending in my body, and scraped it with her fingernail.  

I tore my mouth out from under hers. "Don't toy with me, Modesty!"  

"Impatient." Her laugh was strained and changed to a moan as I stroked the palm of my hand over the sumptuous velvet to the swell of her buttocks, then flexed my fingers and explored the crevice that divided them.  

She rubbed her finger relentlessly against my clitoris, and I shook and gasped and came apart in her arms.  

When I was finally able to straighten, I left strands of pale hair tangled in the branches of the maze. I groaned.  

"Poor pet," Modesty murmured against my neck.

"No. Your turn, pet." I spun her around and pushed her back, then raised my skirts and dropped to my knees before her.  

She stiffened when she felt my hands on the flesh above her stockings. "Don't!"  

I looked into her blue eyes. "I'm not a man, Modesty; I won't hurt you."  

She shivered and remained tense. "I can't…" but she didn't push me away. I moved her gown out of my way, and then tugged down her panties, and touched my tongue to her for the first time.  

Modesty hadn't been excited by what she had done to me, even though she had given a good impression of it. Perhaps a bit of nonsense would relax her?  

"I'm from the South, but you knew that, didn't you, Modesty? Have you ever seen those hoop skirts the women used to wear? Yards and yards of material… If you wore something like that, I bet I could hide underneath, and do this to you." I licked at her, and was rewarded by the first taste of her honey. "And no one would even know."  

She moaned and parted her legs, giving me better access.  

"That's my sweet girl."  

Her fingers kneaded my scalp restlessly. I circled her opening with my thumb, then slid it into her sheath at the same time I pressed my forefinger against her anus and sucked on her clit, flicking it with my tongue. She shuddered and gave a shrill cry, taken by surprise by her orgasm.  

I rested my head on the curls that covered her groin and breathed in the scent of her climax. Finally I righted her clothes and pushed myself to my feet.  

"You were sent to seduce me, weren't you?"  

She met my eyes. "Yes. I'm sorry." She raised a hand to touch my hair, which was in disarray, but let it drop down.  

"I don't understand why. I'm just a li'l ol' Suth'n gal." I bent to retrieve the pins which had held my hair in place.  

"In certain, select circles, it is known that Sebrings will go to any lengths for their country, even going to bed with a member of their own sex. You're a Sebring. Sir Gerald worked with your father during the War. He warned his superiors that if Anthony Sebring ever found out what they were up to, allied status or not, he would go after them." She looked puzzled.  

Having been on her own more or less since approximately the age of 6, Modesty would not know the dynamics of a family, much less the Sebring family. Father might accept his little girl having to do certain things for the good of the country, but I was still the only girl and the baby of the family. If he deemed their actions capricious, they would find themselves in a world of hurt.  

"So all this was in aid of learning if I would have a problem with being seduced by a woman?" I kept my tone light, amused. I was disgusted with myself, although I refused to let her see that. In spite of my brothers' warnings, I had been taken in by a pretty face. It wouldn't happen again, but I needed to find a way to make this work to my advantage.  

"And you don't. Should they have sent Willie instead?"  

"Willie? Oh, your big, blond friend?" Carefully I made the repairs to my hairdo. "It wouldn't have mattered, unless he wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. He isn't my type."  

She looked at me as if I were mad. "Women love Willie."  

"You obviously do."  

She shook her head. "You don't understand. Willie is just a… what the English call a 'mate'."  

Telling little slip on her part. She was supposed to be English.  

"So what are you going to do?"  

"I'll tell them I failed."  

"Will they believe you?"  

"I may not be any good at sex, but I'm a damned good liar. They'll believe me. By the time I get done, you're going to have the reputation of being an ice princess."  

"Hmmm." I had no qualms about touching her hair. I pushed a lock behind her ear. "About not being any good at sex, Modesty. You were pretty good for a novice. I'd like to see you again. Whether you choose to have sex with me or not."  

"Porter… thank you. I think I'd like that too."  


I'd been seeing Modesty almost every evening for the past week, but we had always been surrounded by interested onlookers. I never had the opportunity to touch her, even if I hadn't given my word not to.  

This woman, who was strong enough to take over the Louche group, a minor crime organization, and turn it into the Network, seemed reluctant to be alone with me. I didn't know whether to be flattered or dismayed. All I did know what that I wanted her, at least once more before I had to leave.  

Now she had chosen this place for us to meet.  

I stood at the back of the cinema. At this time of the day, it was almost empty.  

On the screen were flickering images in black and white. Celia Johnson was saying to Trevor Howard, "It's awfully easy to lie when you know that you're trusted implicitly. So very easy, and so very degrading."  

She would never have made a good operative.  

My eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, and I spotted Modesty sitting at the far end of the row four rows down. There was no one this far back to question my choice in that spot, when there was the entire theatre available. I dropped into the seat beside her.  

She turned her face slightly toward me and smiled, her hand reaching for mine. "I wasn't sure you'd come."  

"Someone was following me. I had to make sure I didn't lose him."  

"I don't understand. Surely you'd want to lose him?"  

If I did, they would know I was aware of their actions. They would send someone else to shadow me, and it would take time to figure out who it was. "Oh, dear. That was foolish of me, wasn't it?" And if he was replaced at this point, I would know exactly how much I could trust her. "Why did you choose this movie?"  

Her shoulders shifted under the bomber jacket that was loosely draped over them, a marked difference from the furs she wore in the evening. "Willie told me Brief Encounter was playing here when I mentioned I was going to take in a film with a friend and had no idea what to go see."

I had seen it before. Mother loved this type of movie and insisted on company whenever she watched it.  

All that sexual tension, with nowhere to go.  

Rather like us.  

Modesty noticed my distraction. Before I realized what she was doing, she leaned over and kissed me. Her lips were soft and warm, and the caress was tentative. Desire pooled deep inside me and heat seemed to radiate off me.  

She gave a soft sigh and turned her attention back to the screen.  

But her hand had dropped to my groin and her fingers were absently rubbing the inseam of the Capri slacks I had chosen to wear.  

My head dropped back and my eyes closed, and while Celia and Trevor desperately searched for a place to share their bliss, I found mine.  


Part 2


"Telephone, Miss Porter. It's your father."  

"Thank you." I smiled at the man who took care of the Greystoke townhouse and waited until he disappeared into the butler's pantry. "Hello, Father. How's everything on your side of the Pond?"  

"Excellent, my dear! Never better!" His bluff tone told me it was anything but. "Regrettably, your brother's engagement has been called off, and we'll need you to cut short your stay with your godmother."  

"Of course. How is Tony holding up?"  

"As well as can be expected. He has missed you."  

"I've missed him too. How soon must I leave, Father? I haven't even had the opportunity to get a 'thank you' gift for Lady Jane."  

"There's a used bookshop near Fleet Street. I'm sure you can find something suitable there. Your flight is scheduled for 11 A.M. tomorrow, and your ticket will be at the BEA counter at Heathrow. I'll have a car waiting to pick you up at BWI. Be sure to give Lady Jane your mother's love."  

"Yes, Father. I'll see you all tomorrow. Good-bye."  

"Good-bye, my dear."  

I hung up the receiver and gazed into space. Code within a code within a code. I wondered what my brother wanted me for at the NSA.  


The Best of Times was a bookshop that was in a tiny cul-de-sac off Fleet Street. It was dim and musty-smelling. I climbed the circular metal stairs to the second level.  

"Hi, Breezy." The whispered voice came from a shadowed alcove.  

" Jefferson ." I moved closer as if browsing the shelves. "How on earth did you learn that name?"  

" Bryan dated one of your sorority sisters. Quite amusing what girls will call themselves."  

"Yes, well, it's no more amusing than Tony's frat brothers calling him 'Toenails.'"  

My middle brother laughed quietly. "That does make him sound like a member of the Cosa Nostra."  

I pulled out a volume at random and thumbed through it, watching him from the corner of my eye. "I thought you'd be home by now."  

"I'm not keeping an eye on you, if that's what you're concerned about."  

"Aren't you?" Father might have every confidence in my abilities, but until I actually joined the family business he'd make sure there was someone to look out for me.  

"You don't believe me? I'm cut to the quick!" He became serious. "Actually, little sister, I've learned something that you need to be made aware of."  

"About Modesty Blaise?" I replaced the book.  

"It's about Modesty Blaise. It seems the Special Intelligence Section intends to go beyond merely seeing if you're a possible player, and..." His brows met above his nose. "Wait a second! You do know?"  

I gave a prim smile. "How did you get this information?"  

"Let's say I've renewed an old acquaintance. You know how persuasive I can be."  

I also knew that Jefferson was the only one of us who took after Mother's side of the family. His hair was dark auburn.  

I glanced around quickly, but we were alone, and I took a step closer to him. He was wearing a dark suit, and I plucked a blond hair from his lapel.  

His smile was wolfish, and I knew he'd tell me nothing further. "I have to go. Oh, and Porter? Check the fifth shelf from the bottom midway as you come into the shop on the lower level."  

I didn't need to look into the alcove to know that I was alone. I went back down the metal steps, my footsteps ringing loudly on them. On the shelf, exactly where he'd told me, I found a first edition of Mrs. Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, the four volumes in excellent condition for being a hundred and sixty years old.  

Lady Jane had a weakness for 'horrid' novels.  

I was reaching into my purse for my wallet when I noticed a rather worn portfolio. Normally I would have passed it by, but this time I set down the books and reached for the portfolio.

The leather was cracked and dry, and the fragile cord that bound it frayed in spite of my careful handling. Fastened under the flap was a tattered calling card. The front was simply embossed, 'Chauncey Hare Townsend'. I tapped the card thoughtfully on my palm, wondering if he might be the nineteenth century millionaire art collector, then turned it over. On the back, in faded blue ink, was scrawled 'Gustave Le Gray- photographs taken 1856/1857.'

Within were two photographs, seascapes that were absolutely breathtaking. One reminded me of Father and would be perfect for him. The other... for some reason I was drawn to it, and I knew I had to have it as well. I slid them back into the portfolio and brought it to the counter.  

"How much?" I asked casually.  

The clerk looked up, a bored expression on her face. "You want the Mrs. Radcliffe too? Give me a hundred quid for the books, and I'll throw in that, luv." She nodded toward the leather envelope.  

"That's highway robbery," a light contralto just behind me murmured. There was amusement in the voice.  

It was Modesty.  

"The books alone are worth the cost. Hello." I hadn't expected to see her so early in the day; I assumed Sir Tarrant's section had learned where I was and passed the intelligence on to her. I took the pound notes from my wallet and paid for my purchases. "Why don't you join me for tea? We can discuss brief encounters," I flirted lightly.  

"It's early for tea, but I'd like that."  

At the other end of the cul-de-sac was a Tea Room. We took our tea and cakes to a table off to the side and chatted, comparing notes on the places we'd visited and the people we had met this Season.  

"Lord X pinched my backside last night," I remarked as I pondered taking the last of the cakes. "Dirty old man. Split this with me?"  

"No, I've had enough, thanks. I hope you didn't take it personally. He pinched mine also." She looked angelically pensive. "Her Royal Highness was making her entrance, and as I sank down in my curtsey, I spilled my drink down the front of his trousers. Of course I apologized profusely."  

"Ah. So that's why he made such a hasty retreat. I did think she seemed rather amused."  

"Although she had to hide it." Modesty chuckled, then fell silent. She toyed with a napkin, pleating it repeatedly, then gazed up at me. "Would you come with me?"  

The expressions that ghosted across her face, caution, desire, need, were so quickly gone that if I hadn't been looking at that precise moment, I would have missed them. My breasts suddenly felt heavy, and there was an ache between my legs. I moistened my lips. "Where?"  

"A friend of mine has a flat not too far from here. I want to take you there."  

"Yes, sweet girl!" My hands were trembling as I gathered up my belongings.  

The flat was in a terraced house not too far from the Tea Room, which was fortunate, because it began to drizzle. Modesty fished a key from a flower pot to the side of the shallow front steps and unlocked the door. We got inside just as the skies opened up.  

"That was close!" She laughed and shook the raindrops out of her hair. It was the first time I had heard her laugh. She stroked her fingers over my arm, then led the way two flights up. I watched the way the material of her coat shifted from side to side over her firm buttocks as she climbed the stairs.  

"This belongs to Willie."  

The flat was so small it would have been impossible to swing a cat in it. There was a kitchen with room enough for a stove and a fridge. The sitting room was crowded with only a loveseat and a console television that would air the few stations available to Britons. A door that stood ajar revealed the bathroom.  

She took our coats and draped them over the loveseat. "The bedroom is this way."  

The bedroom was so tiny there was barely room for the dresser and the narrow bed. She crossed to it and threw back the coverlet.  

"Willie's?" I held up a blond hair that I'd found on the pillow. Interesting that I'd found two such similar blond hairs in one day.  

Modesty smiled, a soft, fond smile, and suddenly she looked about sixteen. "His housekeeper is a good cook, but she can't keep house worth a tick."  

"Do you often sleep in his bed?"  

"I'm sure you're familiar with my past. I don't sleep in any man's bed. I'm an emotional cripple."  

I knew she had been raped at the age of twelve, and again at thirteen. I also knew she had killed both men.  

"But you've brought me here. Have I read this wrong?"  

"No. I want to make love with you, and this is the safest place. Sir Gerald's superiors don't pay much heed to Willie, more fools they. Of course, they also bought my story that you turned down my advances." She stood before me and unbuttoned her blouse.  

I was wearing flats and had to look up to meet her eyes. "I know you've had enough experience with the intelligence community to realize we're always under surveillance. How do they rationalize our unproductive chance encounters?" I was wearing a boat-necked cashmere sweater, and I pulled it over my head.  

She stared at my chest. "Don't you ever wear a brassiere?"  

"I'm not large enough to require the support." And the ones that were in style right now reminded me of something Brünnhilde would sport in Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen. "You didn't answer my question."  

"I often don't."  

"No. But this time I'm afraid I'll have to insist," I told her with an apologetic little smile.  

"Even though you'll be leaving tomorrow?"  

"Ah. So they told you that."  

"Would you have left without sleeping with me?"  

"I'm not the Bedouin, and I'm not Mahjoub. If what I want isn't offered freely, I don't take it."  

She swallowed. "Porter, I'm offering freely."  

"I didn't hurt you the last time. I won't hurt you this time either. And you still haven't answered my question."  

Her smile was rueful. "You never let go, do you? Very well. I've persuaded them that with time I can weaken your resolve. However, they're growing impatient."  

"And I'm leaving tomorrow. Will there be problems for you, because you were unsuccessful in their mission?"  

"Your country and Great Britain are allies. I imagine they'll shrug it off as a 'rum go' and settle for keeping the occasional eye on you."  

I unfastened the button at the side of my pencil-slim skirt, pulled down the zipper, and let it puddle on the floor around my feet. "Then let's forget about them. We don't have much time, and I'd rather be doing something more interesting."  


We made love, and I watched her, and I could almost come just from that. The startled whimpers and moans, the shudders that rippled through her body, the abrupt flush that covered her torso, the voluptuous sighs of satisfaction told me clearly how new and unexpected these feeling were to her.  

I used my mouth and fingers, taking my cues from her, taking her higher and higher, and before she realized it she was flying, and I was there to catch her when she came down.  

We showered and made love in the tiny shower. She pushed me against the wet tile of the wall and kissed her way down my body, then dropped to her knees and parted the curls that shielded my femininity, and licked and nuzzled and tormented that nub until I shattered into a million pieces, held upright only by her body as she surged up and leaned into me, her thigh pressed high against my heated core.  

I could taste myself on her lips. Openmouthed, she absorbed my gasps and moans.  

We staggered back to the bedroom and tumbled down onto the bed to make love again.  

Finally, between kisses, we fell asleep.  

I woke to Modesty trailing her fingertips over the indent of my waist, up to the curve of my breast. My nipples peaked, and her soft sound of pleasure echoed mine. She dragged her tongue across first one, then the other, and blew a warm puff of breath over each of them.  

"I never dreamed it could be like that."  

I stroked her black hair. "Now you just need to find a man who will help you realize how good it can be between a man and a woman."  

"Would you be jealous, Porter?"  

"Would you want me to be?"  

She hesitated a moment, then shook her head.  

The light was fading, and I sighed. "I'd better get dressed."  

My purse was on the dresser. I rolled off the bed and crossed to it, aware of her eyes on my nude body.  

"Cigarette?" I held the red pack of Pall Malls toward her.  

"No, thanks. I prefer Gauloises." The shoulder bag she seemed to favor was beside my purse. I tossed it to her, and she caught it in midair. "You could have looked in my bag for them."  

"That would be the height of rudeness, Modesty." I put my Pall Mall between my lips and lit it, then returned to the bed.  

Modesty was just taking her French cigarette out of the gold case. She saw me staring at it. "A gift from Sir Gerald."  

I stopped her from reaching for a book of matches. Perhaps I should have gotten her a cigarette lighter as a farewell gift. Perhaps another time…  

I tipped my head toward hers, cupped my hand around the strong fingers that had worked such magic on my body, and lit her cigarette with the glowing end of mine. The smoke we exhaled simultaneously intermingled and then dissipated.  

"It's getting late, and Lady Jane will worry."  

"And no doubt you need to finish packing."  

I drew in another lungful of smoke and swallowed it, and it dribbled out through my nostrils. All my packing was done. I left nothing to the last minute.  

"What will you do?"  

"Once I get home?" I looked around for an ashtray, and she laughed again.  

"In the top drawer. That's where Willie keeps it. There isn't much room for anything, as I'm sure you've noticed."  

Sure enough, a battered metal ashtray, souvenir of some seaside resort, was in the drawer, beside plain white undershirts and underpants. The ashtray was spotlessly clean, and I wondered briefly whose doing that was. Obviously not the housekeeper's, according to Modesty.  

I took it out and crushed the cigarette in it, and handed it to… to my lover.  

"Are you not going to answer me now, Porter?" She tapped the ash into the ashtray and brought the cigarette back to her mouth.  

The corner of my mouth sketched a grin. I sat on the edge of the bed and began to roll on my stockings. "Once I get home, no doubt I will eventually find someone suitable to marry."  

"Suitable to whom?"  

My family? My country? Me? I shrugged.  

"Will you tell him about us?"  

"Perhaps. Men seem to be aroused by the idea of two women together. Oh, I won't mention you by name, never fear."  

"I don't fear, oddly enough. I have to thank you for that." She reached for the sky-blue tap pants and pulled them on over her long legs. I watched, wishing there was time to strip them off and take her back to bed. "I think Sebrings are very good at keeping secrets."  

I shrugged again and slid my arms into the sleeves of my sweater, and tugged it down over my head.  

"You hair's gotten untidy. Let me plait it for you." Modesty took a brush from her bag and set to work on my hair. Once it was smooth and untangled, she separated it into three lengths.  

"You do that very well." I closed my eyes, relishing the feel of her fingers in my hair.  

"I learned how when I was a goat-herd." She left it at that, and I didn't pursue it.  

I heard the door to the flat open, and someone entered whistling a jaunty tune. There was a pause, and then a male voice sang out, "Oi, you lot decent in there?"  

"Yes, Willie. Sounds like he got lucky." She didn't seem at all jealous.  

"Damn. Want me to fry you and your friend a chop, Princess?"  

"No!" Modesty turned to me, merriment in her eyes. "Willie could burn water!" She grew serious. "He and I are leaving tonight."  

"Back to Tangier?" I stood up, stepped into my skirt, and pulled it up over my hips.  


"I planned on giving you this after our tea, but you distracted me." I reached into my purse and took out a small jeweler's box.  

Modesty pressed the catch, and the lid snapped up to reveal the jeweled brooch. She removed it from the box. "Violets."  

Three flowers, each with five flawless amethysts for petals. The leaves and stems were formed from emeralds.  

"That was the song the orchestra was playing that night." I hummed a few bars, and the words ran through my mind. 'I bought you violets for your furs, and it was spring for a while, remember?'  

"I didn't recognize it."  

"No." I smiled regretfully. "I wanted to give you the real thing, but they're out of season. They would only have lasted a few days anyway." I took it from her and pinned it to her breast. "I don't think we'll see much of each other, Modesty." I drew her head down to mine and kissed her. "And I'm sorry for that. I think… "  

"You think too much, Porter." She brought my palm to her mouth, then folded my fingers over the brief caress. "But I promise you this: if you ever have need of me, tell Sir. Gerald. He knows how to get in touch with me."  

Yes, he would, wouldn't he?  

I couldn't promise her the same. When it came down to it, Modesty Blaise answered to no one but herself. I didn't have that freedom.  

"Take care, Porter."  

"Istenhozzád, Modesty. Farewell."  

I left her there in Willie Garvin's flat while smoke curled in the kitchen from the chop that burned, and he watched in affronted impotence.  

Her laughter followed me out the door. Late the next morning I flew back to the States.  


It was 4:47 P.M. when my flight landed at Baltimore/Washington International. The country was still on Standard Time, and the sun had already set.  

It was my oldest brother who met me at the airport.  

"You look tired, Tony."  

"So do you. Only you've the excuse of enjoying the London nightlife."  

"Mmm." It was as good an excuse as any. I pointed out my luggage to a skycap, and he stacked them on his cart.  

"Did you buy out London ?" Tony asked dryly.  

"I'll have you know that this is only one trunk more than I left with!"  

"Considering all your other luggage were suitcases?" He laughed and shook his head. "The El Dorado is just over there." Our conversation remained desultory while there was a possibility of being overheard.  

"How are the parents?"  

"Doing well. Looking forward to their anniversary. How was London ?"  

"Well, although you'll be interested to know that the British Museum has lost its charm."  

"Ah." Tony bit his lip to keep from laughing and turned to the skycap.  "This is the car."  

Once my luggage had been piled into the trunk of the Cadillac, he tipped the skycap. The man looked at the bills in his palm, a broad smile on his dark face, and he touched his cap and strutted back to the terminal, whistling what sounded like a Fats Domino song.  

My brother opened the passenger door for me and waited until I had settled myself on the wine-red leather of the front seat. I crooked my finger, and he leaned down as if to assure himself of my comfort.  

"I wasn't kidding," I murmured. "You do look tired. Are you all right?"  

"Damn Commies. I'll tell you once we're on the road." He got behind the wheel and lit a cigarette, then started the car, switched on the running lights, and drove out of the airport.  

Tony had the radio set for a classical station, and I closed my eyes and let Borodin's Polovtsian Dance No. 2 wash over me. I knew he would tell me whatever I needed to know whenever he was ready.  

After a few minutes, he said, "You know the Hungarian Revolution failed."  

"That's yesterday's news, Tony." The Revolution had been over for at least three months.  

"Yes, well, there's been a lot of chatter between Moscow and the puppet government the Soviets established in Budapest ."

//Is that what's been keeping you up nights, Tony?// "I imagine they're doing this in code?"

"The NSA is…" His head whipped around to stare at me as what I said sank in. "Have you heard of Project Venona?"  

"Should I have?"  

"No. It's classified."  

"Then obviously I haven't. And please keep your eyes on the road. I've spent the last few months in England , and it feels like you're driving on the wrong side, I'll have you know."  

He laughed, and as I'd hoped, relaxed, but not for long.  

"I need as many people as I can find who are fluent in Russian."  

"Is that all that difficult?"  

"Two words, little sister: security clearance."  

"Ah. I see."  

"I hope so. You have that level of clearance, Porter. I need you to join us."  

"So this is why Father wanted me home?"  

"Yes. Do you mind?"  

"You're joking, aren't you? Tony, I'm flattered that you can use my expertise!"  

"No, I mean do you mind that you had to cut your visit short?"  

"Of course I don't! This is important!" But I thought of Modesty Blaise, and the brief time we had together, and I gazed out the window, seeing only my own reflection.  


The entire family was there to welcome me, even Jefferson.  

"I thought you were still in England ." I noticed his gait seemed a bit stiff, and I arched an eyebrow at him.  

"Father sent for me." He kissed my cheek and ignored my raised eyebrow. "I was able to get a flight out early last evening."  

"I'll bet someone was very disappointed," I murmured.  

He grinned and shrugged. "'Someone' was extremely grateful for the time we had together. Unfortunately, 'someone' had to leave last night also."  


Bryan looked from Jefferson to me, then studied Jefferson more closely. He smiled. "Strained muscle, big brother? I know a good masseuse."  

Bryan was the quiet one of the brothers, speaking only after he had weighed all the factors, taken everything into consideration, examined it from every angle. His position as analyst in the CIA suited him down to the ground.  

"Thanks, Bry. I might just take you up on that." Jefferson 's grin was rakish.  

"Your love life will have to take a back seat, Jefferson ," Father interrupted. "We need to bring Porter up to speed on this project. My dear?" he addressed Mother.  

"You have about an hour and a half before dinner, Anthony. It will be at 8, as usual. I'll see a tray of hors d'oeuvres is brought in to your study." Beyond the entertaining required by Father's position, Mother chose not to be involved in his work.  

"Thank you, my dear. All right, children. Let's retire to my study." Once the door was closed, he poured us each a glass of sherry. "Has Tony told you about Project Venona?"  

"He touched on it briefly. I'd help break the Russian codes?"  

"Yes. You'll be staying with Tony in Columbia , rather than driving back and forth. I've convinced your mother that's the safest thing."  

I took a piece of cheese and popped it in my mouth. "I don't get my own apartment?"  

"You stay with me, Porter."  

"But Tony, suppose you want to entertain a ladyfriend?" I couldn't resist teasing him. "Overnight?"  

"I take my dates to dinner and a show. I do not do overnight entertaining in my apartment."  

"Well, suppose I …"  

"I don't want to hear about my baby sister entertaining a man overnight." He scowled at the other three, who were laughing. "Don't encourage her! You aren't the ones who'll be there worrying!"  

"Ah, you're such a good brother, Tony." I put my arms around his waist and rested my head against his chest. "I'll behave. Aren't I a Sebring?"  

"But not for long, I'm sure," Father mused. "Some man is going to take one look at you and fall head over heels in love with you."  

Jefferson opened his mouth, and I wondered if 'someone' had told him about the time I had spent with Modesty, and if he was going to say anything about it, but then the corner of his mouth crooked in a grin, and he reached for his glass.  

"Here's to them all, the men and women who'll love us, in spite of what we do."  

We finished our sherry and went back to discussing Project Venona.  

Part 3


True to his word, Tony never brought a date home. I ran into him a time or two when I was on the town myself, and I'd met some of the women he squired around the DC area. I wondered if he realized how much alike they were. Whether blonde, brunette or redhead, they were all emotionally distant.  

I came home from a date one Saturday night to find him sprawled on the sofa. His eyes were closed, and he had a glass of scotch in one hand while the other was folded behind his head. Vivaldi's Four Seasons was on the stereo.  

"You're home early."  

"And I'm in a miserable mood," I snapped and threw my little clutch bag on the coffee table, where it bounced before it skidded off onto the carpet. I shoved his legs off the end of the couch, dropped down, and took his glass from him.  

"Hey!" he protested as I took a healthy swig.  

I glowered at him over the rim of the glass, then lowered it. "Why are men such asses?"  

"Problems in paradise, little sister?"  

"I thought Thomas Winston was a gentleman." I handed him his drink back. He cocked a brow at me. He had introduced us. "The first time we went out, he was so sweet. And then tonight we went to see the newest Hepburn and Tracy at the Valencia . He took me up to the balcony, and all of a sudden he grew octopus arms! When I told him I wasn't interested in being deflowered in the balcony of a movie house, he got nasty." I'd actually disposed of my virginity while I was away at boarding school, but that wasn't something Winston had needed to know. "He wanted to know if I thought I was Princess Grace! Called me an ice princess."  

He bolted upright, spilling some of his scotch. "Son of a bitch!" Tony never swore in my presence. "I'll tear him a new one."  

"Are you insinuating that I couldn't?"  

A slow smile replaced his scowl. "Does he have his teeth left?"  

"Yes, but only just. Mother would have been proud. I didn't raise my voice, much less my hand." I began to pull the pins from my hair. "Tony, have you heard anything regarding me?"  

"Regarding what about you?" he hedged.  

"You know, I hate when you answer a question with a question." I ignored the fact that I did that as often as he. "Lately, I seem to be hearing this quite a bit, that I'm an ice princess." 

He suddenly looked pensive. "You know, Richardson is in DC."  

"Should I know the name?"  

"Under-secretary to the under-secretary to the British Ambassador."  

"It's still not ringing a bell."  

"That's his official cover, little sister. He actually works for the Special Intelligence Section of the Foreign Office." Sir Gerald Tarrant's Section. "He was in London around the same time you were."  

I scrubbed my face, then stared at my palms, irritated that they were now covered with Elizabeth Arden. "No good deed goes unpunished," I muttered. I had told him how Modesty Blaise had attempted to throw up a smoke screen to keep the SIS away from me.  

"Well, Modesty seems to have done an excellent job in portraying you as emotionally frigid. Is there a possibility we can get her to work for us, do you think?" He saw my expression and held up his hands. "No, I imagine not. Why don't you wash that war paint off your face and get some sleep? Tomorrow we'll take a ride home and see what Father has to say about this turn of events."  

"Very well," I sighed, "but it's a waste of a perfectly good Saturday night."  

"You could always reread War and Peace in the original Russian. It's much less complicated!"  

But it was still a waste of a good Saturday night.  


Father had volunteered to vet my dates. "I know some rather nice young men in State, Porter."  

"Er… no, thank you, Father. I think I'll take a respite from dating."  

Tony knew better than to offer.  

I wouldn't have had the energy anyway; things in the intelligence community had suddenly heated up. It was a rare night that I arrived back at the apartment I shared with Tony before midnight , only to return to Arlington Hall by 8 the next morning.  

The Russians had launched their Sputnik I into space, and all hell had broken loose, with the American public terrified that the Communists would be able to fire nuclear weapons from Europe to the US . They were almost rabid in their demand to know how the government could have missed such crucial intelligence.  

In a joint effort with the CIA, the NSA had intercepted a code that revealed the Soviets would be launching Sputnik II early in November, and this time the payload would be the passenger it carried, a dog named Laika. It lit a fire under the Defense Department, who provided funding for Wernher von Braun and his team to begin work on the Explorer program.  

I was working a code that I'd been given earlier when the in-house phone buzzed. "Yes, Tony?"  

"How do you do that?"  

"Do what?" I laughed to myself, knowing full well what he meant. I could tell unerringly when my oldest brother was on the line.  

"Never mind. Listen, I need you in here right now. Jefferson 's forwarded a new code to us, and there's something about it that's driving me out of my mind."  

"I'm on my way." I pushed my chair away from my desk and stood, digging my fists into the small of my back and arching to work out the kinks. Then I made sure my suit jacket hung smoothly. Just because it was 9 at night, and everyone else had gone home, there was no reason for me to appear looking sloppy.  

His door was closed. I tapped briskly and walked in. "What have you got, Tony? Oh!" I stopped dead. He wasn't alone.  

The other man had one hand braced on Tony's desk, his attractive face tight with impatience.  

I had seen him occasionally in Arlington Hall, in the corridors, on the stairs. We'd passed each other with nothing more than cool glances. Occasionally I'd wonder if his glance concealed as much interest as I knew mine did.  

He was about average height and appeared to be a few years younger than my brother. He had sable brown hair and eyes a changeable hazel. His vest was unbuttoned over a flat stomach, his shirtsleeves had been rolled up and his tie loosened.  

Abruptly, I was reminded of the seascape that I'd purchased in that little London bookshop. I couldn't decide to whom I should give it, and I'd wound up hanging it on my bedroom wall, where it was the last thing I saw every night.  

There was something about this man that spoke to me of that expanse of sea, aloof, alone, contained, stretching to meet turbulent clouds.  

I shook that fanciful notion out of my head.  

He gave me a slow, deliberate smile and straightened, and my knees went weak with desire.  

"I'm sorry." I reached up to make sure my hair was neatly confined in its French twist, something I never did, and I felt my cheeks heat. I touched my tongue to my lips.  

His eyes seemed to catalogue each of my movements.  

"Porter, this is Neville Webb. He's been vetted to us from Bryan 's department. Neville, my sister." He became aware that Mr. Webb was staring at me. "Yes, we're aware there's a resemblance, so…"  

"Actually, she's much prettier than you or either of your brothers, Tony. Miss Sebring, it's a pleasure." He crossed the geometrically-patterned area rug that took up most of the floor in Tony's office, his hand held out.  

"Please, call me Porter."  

"Porter. And I'm Neville." The skin of his palm was smooth and warm, uncalloused, and I fought back a shiver as I wondered what it would feel like stroking over my skin. His eyes remained fixed on mine, and I was lost in them.  

Tony cleared his throat. "People?"  

How long had I stood there, staring into those mesmerizing eyes?  

Neville turned to my brother with an absent smile. "Sorry, Tony. You were saying?"  

"I was saying that if you'd release my sister's hand, maybe she could take a look at this code and make some sense of it." But he looked intrigued rather than irritated. He'd never seen me react that way to anyone. Ever.  

I withdrew my hand, and Neville's fingers caressed my palm. I stared down at it, certain I would see my heartline glowing.  

"Webb," my brother growled, "would you stop distracting my sister so she can see if she can make heads or tails of this code?"  

I shook myself out of my daze and approached his desk. "What is it, Tony?"  

"There's something about this line…" He handed me the paper, and I studied it, then spoke the Russian words aloud.  

A soft sound came from Neville Webb, and when I looked at him, there was an expression on his face that took me by surprise.  

"Do you find my pronunciation amusing?"  

"Not at all. I haven't heard anything that flawless outside of Mother Russia."  

"Mother Russia?" I read it over again, and it hit me all at once. "That's it! The key to this code is in Tolstoy's 'War and Peace'!" I went to the bookshelf and pulled down the huge tome.  

"Porter, are you sure?"  

"Tony, I'm more than sure; I'm positive!" I was almost vibrating with excitement as I thumbed through it and found the passage I wanted. "There! See, there! Oh, that sneaky so-and-so! This is Yaskov's work, isn't it? He did something very similar with 'Anna Karenina.' The man has a weakness for Tolstoy."  

"Nicely done. Nothing like a fresh pair of eyes!" My brother had a satisfied grin on his face. "I'll give this to the team to finish deciphering." He looked at his watch. "Webb, why don't you and my sister go out and grab a bite to eat?"  

I frowned at him. Was he trying to set us up on a date? "That's quite all right, I can have a sandwich at my desk." I was reluctant for my brother to see how eager I was to spend time with this man. "Besides, I'm sure you want him to work on his own code."  

"Porter." He growled at me this time. "It's been a long day, and I think you could do with a break. Now go. But remember, you both need to be back here bright and early in the morning."  

"I never say 'no' to the man in charge." Neville took his suit jacket from the back of a chair and slid his arms into it. "Miss… Porter?"  

"Just let me freshen up." I went back to my office for my purse, locked my desk, then hurried to the ladies' room and patted some cold water onto my wrists. I felt as if I was burning up from the inside out, but my reflection in the mirror showed just a hint of a blush. I took the compact from my purse and smoothed the powder over my cheeks. My hands were shaking slightly as I put on a fresh coat of lipstick.  

I moistened my lips, made sure I didn't have any lipstick on my teeth, moistened my lips again and swore. At this rate I'd remove the lipstick I had painstakingly applied. I glared at the mirror and returned to my office to lock the door.  


It was almost 3 when I got home. Neville stood by the elevator, watching as I searched for my key in my purse. I smiled at him over my shoulder, and he muttered something under his breath, strode purposefully to me, and kissed me a final time. My lips were throbbing when he finally raised his head.  

"Keep tomorrow night available for me." He refused to move until I sighed my agreement, then went back to the elevator. The operator, who was pointedly studying the carpet, held it open for him.  

Humming quietly, I let myself into the dimly lit foyer of the apartment I shared with my brother. Tony had left a lamp on for me.  

I smothered a yawn. I'd just turn it off and go to bed.  

"Have a good time, little sister?"  

I jumped. He stood in the doorway of his bedroom, his pajamas slightly rumpled and his hair standing out every which way. I should have realized the sound of the key in the lock would awaken him.  

"Actually, yes. We went to dinner at Casa del Vitello."  

"The little Italian restaurant in Baltimore ? They make an excellent Veal Saltimbocca."  

"That's what Neville recommended. He's eaten there before."  

"And then?"  

I raised an eyebrow. "And then, what?"  

"Porter, dinner only takes a couple of hours."  

I could have given him a hard time about answering, but I was feeling too good. "We went dancing at The Green Door. It was just a three piece band, but they were fabulous."  

They had played 'It Had To Be You,' and Neville had put his hand on my waist, and we'd danced. After the trio's last set, he had gone to the leader and handed him some cash, and they'd grinned and played for another hour, just for us, just 'It Had To Be You.'  

Tony was more awake now, and his eyes narrowed as he took in my appearance. I knew my hair was mussed and my lips had been kissed free of lipstick. I'd tucked my blouse into the waistband of my skirt, but I'd been too fumble-fingered to do a proper job of it.  

"Did something happen that I should be made aware of?"  

"Tony, you know I can take care of myself. Besides, I have a father; I don't need a second one."  

"Porter, Neville Webb is a damned good cryptologist, one of the best we've got, but the man … listen, the Antarctic is the Sahara Desert compared to him!"  

"What? Where did you get that idea from?"  

"Are you joking? Everyone knows Neville Webb is the original Mr. Freeze."  

I started to laugh at the absurdity, but bit it off when an unsettling thought crossed my mind. "If that's true, why did you suggest I go to dinner with him?"  

"I didn't really suggest. I just…"  

"I can only see two reasons, Tony, and neither of them makes you look good. The first is that both of us having such a frigid temperament, we'd be a perfect match. The second is that if he were cold, you could trust him with your sister, because he wouldn't try to get fresh with me."  


"Which is it, big brother? Of course, if you have a third reason, I'd be more than happy to hear it."  

"Get down off your high horse, would you? All I wanted was for the two of you to have a meal together, get to know each other as colleagues. I happen to think you'll work well together. If you have an affair… It just won't work out, Porter. Trust me on this!"  

"Are you telling me this as my brother or as my boss?"  

"I'm telling you as someone who's seen it happen." He looked tired. "Having a relationship with a civilian doesn't last longer than a few months, if that. Our job is just too demanding. As for getting involved with a colleague, you either wind up at each other's throats, or one of you winds up…"  

Dead. I was aware of that. In this business, it was impossible to be anything but aware of it. I went to him and hugged him.  

"Listen, I'm going to fix myself a cup of tea. Do you want one too?"  

"I'll have Darjeeling . I don't know how you can drink Earl Grey!" He followed me into the kitchen and took down the cups while I set the kettle to boil, and then put the tea leaves into two separate pots. "About Webb…"  

"If you don't like Neville, Tony, why did you practically throw me at his head?"  

"I do like him, Porter. It's just… He has a reputation for being cold. I've seen some of the women he's taken out, and by the end of the night they practically had frost bite on them. I'll be honest with you. I never expected you to come home looking as if you'd been necking in the front seat of a car!"  

The kettle began to whistle, and I turned to it, grateful for the excuse to avoid his gaze. That was exactly what we had been doing, Neville Webb and I.  

His car had been idling at a stop light. I glanced at him to find he was staring intently at me. The next thing I knew, he had shifted the car into neutral, pulled me into his arms and had his hands buried in my hair, kissing me as if he was a starving man who had suddenly been offered a banquet. No one had ever kissed me like that before, not even Modesty Blaise. I liked being kissed like that.  

I poured the water into the pots and left them to steep. "I don't know where he got the reputation for being cold, Tony. Maybe the same place as I did. Or maybe his father is as devious as ours. I'd like to follow this to its conclusion, whatever that might be. I'm not a child."  

"No, you're not. All right, Porter. I'll stay out of it. But if he hurts you, I'll kill him."  

"Thank you. You're such a good brother." I didn't tell him that he would have to stand in line behind me. "Here, have your tea. It's getting late."  

Tony glanced at the clock. "You have to be up in six hours. You're going to be like a dish rag in the morning."  

"I've gone to work on less sleep and managed to do my job, haven't I?"  

"Yes, you have. You're a Sebring after all."  

Yes, I was.  


Neville didn't hurt me, not then.  

We continued breaking codes for Project Venona, and in late 1960, when his talents were no longer needed by the National Security Agency, he returned to the CIA.  

I think my family was surprised that we remained together. Neville and I never spoke of love, but the physical tie that bound us together was stronger than words.  


"Yes, darling?" We were getting ready to go to the inauguration, and I stood before the mirror, screwing the sapphires my parents had given me for my eighteenth birthday into my ears. I watched his eyes, reflected in the mirror, almost grey-green now to match the muted colors in the tie I had given him as a Christmas gift.  

"What would you say if I asked you to marry me?"  

"Are you asking me?"  

"Do you know how insane it drives me when you do that?"  

"When I do what?"  


"I'm sorry, darling." I laughed at him through the mirror. "Do you have any doubt I'd say 'yes'?"  

His arms came around my waist, and he pulled me back to nestle against his groin. "Soon? Bryan is sending me on a mission."  

"Official cover, Neville?" A sham position which would afford him diplomatic immunity in whatever embassy he was assigned.  

"Yes." There was no hesitation. That didn't mean he couldn't have been lying to me, but I was able to see the truth in his eyes. "Porter, if I asked you to come with me on this mission? I know a justice of the peace. As soon as we've put in an appearance at the reception, we can slip out and get married today."  

"Mother would have wanted to pull out all the stops." I sighed. "This is the only chance she'll have to play 'mother of the bride.'"  

"All right, darling. I understand. Of course you'll want a fancy wedding. It was just a thought."  

"You didn't let me finish, Neville. I want you to realize that even if we do get married today, we're still in for a huge, formal wedding."  

"I beg your pardon?"  

"You've never really seen Mother in action. This is what she does best. First off, she's going to be adamant about a June wedding, and for what she'll plan, that will be a year from this coming June at the earliest. Banks of orchids all over the church. My sorority sisters as bridesmaids, and we're talking about twelve of them. The woman who I'd insist on having as my matron of honor has a set of four-year-old twins, boy and girl, so that means a ring bearer and a flower girl. The men in cutaways, and you in tails." I rrowled at him teasingly. The man was gorgeous in formalwear. "Me in a white dress with a train that will rival Princess Grace's. And relatives crawling out of the woodwork."  

Neville turned me in his embrace, looked down into my eyes, and said softly, "You'll look beautiful in white. I'm game if you are, Porter."  

"I'm very game." I reached up and kissed his chin.  

"Porter…" he breathed.  


His smile was a little crooked. He kissed me quickly. "Let's go. Jackie will hate it if we're late!"  


Neville's mission was based in Berlin .  

There had been rumors that the Communists were becoming increasingly agitated about the number of East Germans who were choosing to leave the country of their birth and make a life in West Germany , and he was assigned to look into it.  

We'd been in the American sector of Berlin for almost three months.  

In the hours just after dawn I was awakened by abdominal pains. They were so severe that I barely managed to get to the bathroom in time before the nausea overwhelmed me.  

The sound of my retching woke Neville, and he found me doubled over the commode. He held my head as I continued to vomit until finally there was nothing left to come up.  

"That schnitzengruben really didn't agree with me!" I tried to make light of the situation. "I don't understand it. I've never reacted to German food this violently."  

"I'm sorry, darling. I promise for our next honeymoon I'll take you to Paris ." He brushed sweat-damp hair out of my eyes.  

For two intelligent people, we were amazingly blind.  

"I'll cancel that meeting…"  

"No! You worked too hard to set this up; it's too important. If Bryan thinks I'm a liability to you, he'll try to make me go home. Go, please. I'll be fine, darling. I'm feeling better already, I promise you. Just help me back to bed."  

I expected him to set me on my feet, but he scooped me up in his arms and carried me to the narrow bed we shared. That was such a gallant action. Weak tears filled my eyes. I never wept, and that frightened me even more than the pain that I was keeping from my husband.  

He set me down on the bed and pulled the duvet up around my shoulders, then stroked my hair, leaned down, and pressed his lips to mine before I could turn away. I murmured a protest.  

"Porter, why wouldn't you want me to kiss you?"  

"I've been puking my guts out. My mouth is so sour."  

"Darling, I…" His smile held a touch of sadness, and if I hadn't felt so awful I would have questioned him about it. As it was, I just wanted him out of the room while I could still bite back the moans. "That's a rather inelegant manner of phrasing it. I'll be back as soon as I can."  

I nodded, and he dressed and kissed me once more before he left. And of course, as soon as he closed the door, the pain disappeared. I gave a sigh of relief and closed my eyes, determined to catch up on the sleep I had missed during the night.  

But the need to relieve myself became overpowering, and I growled a swear word, something I would normally never permit myself to do. I pushed aside the duvet and got to my feet.  

The tugging pain was back, coming in waves now, and I had just reached the bathroom when I felt a warm gush between my legs.  

Blood. Bright red, pooling on the floor. I was having a miscarriage.


End Part A


On To Part B