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Title: Blue Champagne  

Author/pseudonym: Tinnean  

Fandom: JAG  

Pairing: Clark Palmer/Clayton Webb  

Rating: FRAO  

Disclaimer: All things JAG belong to Bellisario. However, Wills and Theo are mine, as are all members of the DSD, various cops and paramedics, Senator and Mrs. Wexler, and Peter Lapin, the Senator's rabbit-y aide. Modesty Blaise belongs to Peter O'Donnell.  

Status: new/complete  

Date: 1/06  

Series/Sequel: This is number 14 in the Soundbyte series. It follows It Had to be You.

Summary: 'Someone' is messing with people Clark Palmer cares about. Or is it some *two*? Either way, really not the smartest idea.  

Warnings: m/m, AR, in that this universe presupposes that the DSD was never disbanded.  

Notes: Soundbytes are an off-shoot of the Mind Fuck universe. They are not necessarily in chronological order. This starts after the events of Be It Ever So Humble and encompasses some of what happened in Blue Velvet. This link will take you to the recipe for Monte-Cristos that Clark used for brunch:,,FOOD_9936_27636,00.html

Thanks to StarR2night, who wondered if drugs could have caused those nightmares that Clay was having, getting me to thinking it might not have been simply bad memories. This is for Gail, with many thanks for her encouragement and for the beta. She's the best.


Blue Champagne

Part 1


I didn't need a gun to kill. I was lethal with anything from a paperclip to a doctored cigarette to my bare hands.  

So when a hand lashed out and smashed me in the face, waking me out of a sound sleep, my training kicked in.  

Clayton Webb never knew how close he'd come to death.  

Although he and I had been lovers for a number of months – and I'd spent any number of nights at his townhouse in Alexandria – I was still getting used to having someone sleeping in my bed.  

It was a bad night. I'd never known my lover to be so restless. Usually, when we slept together, he curled in on himself, with me securely wrapped around him, but this night, he tossed and turned and flailed around…  

I reacted unconsciously. My fingers curled and the heel of my hand stiffened, ready to crush my adversary's windpipe.  

Only to realize it was no adversary, no foreign agent, no enemy. It was the man I… respected above all others.  

I couldn't stop the forward momentum of my attack, there was too much power behind it, but I could divert it.  

My hand shot past his adam's apple harmlessly, and I went with it, flying past to land on the floor, half the bedclothes tangled around me.  

"Goddammit, Webb… " I sat there, rubbing my sore shoulder, and looked up, half-expecting him to lean over the edge of the bed and raise a bemused eyebrow at me.  

He didn't – he was still asleep, still tossing restlessly. I untangled myself from the sheet that had been wrapped around my lower body, and sat beside him.  


Hazel eyes opened and stared up into mine, but Clay wasn't seeing me. "Non!" His voice was hoarse, filled with pain. "Non! Il ne peut pas être mort! Qu'avez-vous fait?"  

Automatically I translated the words. 'No! He can't be dead! What have you done?'  

His accent was flawless. Of course. His first male lover had been French, and what better way to learn a language than in bed? Although knowing Webb, he was probably pretty damned fluent even before that bozo.  

I brushed the hair off his forehead, which was cool and clammy with sweat, then pulled him up against me. "I'm here, Clay; I've got you."  

His body stiffened, but I just held on, absorbing the tremors that rippled through him.  

"It's okay, baby. It's okay." What nightmare world was he trapped in?  

"Clark?" My name whispered past his lips. He stopped struggling and sagged against me.  

"You were expecting someone else?"  

"No." His arms came around me, and his fingers dug into my back.  

"Good thing. I'd have had to kill him then."  

"I was having another nightmare." Not a question. "Goddammit." But there was defeat in the word.  

I lay down, drew him against me, and smoothed my hands over his bare back, thinking back to the first time he'd woke me, shortly before midnight.  


"I'm sorry I woke you." So fucking polite.  

"You could always make it up to me." I stripped off his shorts and undershirt and covered his mouth with mine. As I'd hoped, all the tension left his body. Well, except where I needed him to be tense. I curled my fingers around his cock and squeezed. Like steel wrapped in hot velvet.  

I began to make my way down his body, pausing to lick and nip his very sensitive nipples.  

"I tho… I thought… " He couldn't prevent a small groan. "… I was supposed to make it up to you."  


"It… it seems to me that… that I'm getting the better of this… " He moaned as I nibbled my way around the crown of his cock. "… this bargain… "  

"Are you complaining, baby?"  

"Why am I the… the only one who's be… becoming incoherent?"

He was the one who needed to be incoherent.  

"It's my call, right?"  

"Oh… Ye… yes… " He was panting, and his hips shifted as he tried to prevent them from rocking up.  

"Then shut up." I closed my hands around his hips and held him still. He made a soft sound as I took him in my mouth, relaxed my throat, and swallowed him down.  

I knew I could make this last long, but I wanted him relaxed and able to fall back to sleep, the nightmare completely forgotten. I kept him distracted – tickled his balls, slid a finger into his mouth to tease his tongue, then eased that spit-slicked finger into his ass in search of his prostate, hummed – I had a feeling it was the three in combination that finished him off.  

He gave a surprised gasp and poured himself down my throat. As I was licking him clean, he whispered, "Thanks… "  

"You're welcome." I smoothed back his hair and leaned in to kiss him.  

"You… you didn't come… "  

"You can make it up to me later."  

His palm cradled my cheek. "Know … 'm …. good for it."  

"Damn straight you are."  

He didn't answer. His hand dropped to the pillow beside his head, and he slipped back into slumber.  


"What time is it?"  

The digital numbers of my bedside clock were big and red. "4:04." Almost an hour since the last nightmare.  

"How many times has it been tonight?"  

"Beats me." This made three, but who was counting? How long had it been since he'd had a decent night's sleep? "Want to talk about it?"  

"No!" He sighed and reached up to turn on the bedside lamp, then settled himself in my arms. "It always starts the same," he began. "I'm in that warehouse in Paris. Gaston and Etienne come to get me. Gaston tells me you're here, and he describes what you're going to do to me, rape me until I'm torn and bleeding, then fuck my mouth. In that order."  

"And that's what has you tossing and turning?" I was stunned by how it hurt that he'd think, even in his dreams, that I'd do that to him.  

"Of course not." He glared at me. "Asshole. It's what I see when I get to the White Room. You've been beaten. I can hardly recognize you, you've been beaten so badly. An eye is swollen shut, blood is dripping from a cut on your forehead, your lip… " He touched his fingertips to my mouth. "Your lip is torn. Your arm is shattered, hanging uselessly, the bone gouging through the skin, and your fingers have been broken."  


"You bastard!" He hit me. "It wasn't funny!"  

"I know." I smoothed the hair off his forehead. "I wasn't mocking you, Clay. I've… " I bit back my words. I wouldn't tell him I'd been beaten like that, minus the broken fingers. It had been so long ago that it made no never mind. "I'm sorry. Is that the worst of it?"  


"So what happens then?" I should have known not to push him, but I hadn't become a senior agent by not pushing.  

"George shoots you between the eyes. The bullet blows out the back of your head." He turned his face away, and the movement caused his cheek to brush against my arm, leaving behind moisture.  

Clay couldn't sleep because in his nightmare I was killed? "Oh, baby… "  

"Fuck me, Clark." He shifted, spread his legs, and I fell into the space between them. He gripped my waist with his knees. "Please, Clark," he whispered against my neck, and I shivered from the moist warmth. "Take me now."  

My cock was at his hole, and all it would take for me to be inside him was just a single thrust of my hips.  

There would be nothing between us, no latex barrier, nothing to blunt his heat and tightness, the feel of his internal muscles clenching and relaxing, caressing my cock. I'd be surrounded by him, and when I came, he'd be filled with my semen.  

That thought made me so hard I ached.  

And because I wanted it, because there was nothing in the world that I wanted more at that moment than to be buried balls deep inside my lover, without a goddammed condom separating us, I said, "No."  


"I'll make love to you, Clay." I shifted off him and scrabbled in the draw of the night table.  

"Clark!" There was desperation in his voice and in the way his hands reached for me.  

"Not without a condom."  I smoothed on the condom and coated it with lubricant, then turned him on his side and worked a lubricated finger into him. It was his turn to shiver, and he thrust his ass toward me, easily accepting the second finger I eased into him.  

"Please. I don't need you to be careful… "

"I know what you need, baby." I spooned up behind him, parted his cheeks, and drove into him, and we both groaned. For long minutes we just lay like that.  

"Are you… are you going to move, Clark?"  

"No. I told you I knew what you need."  

"And you think what I need is to be tortured like this?"  

I nipped his ear. "No. You need to know you're safe. That we're both safe." I rocked my hips, his internal muscles clenched around me, and it was enough to keep me hard. "I've got you."  

"Yes, you do." He shivered again.  

"Now that we've got that settled, how about you go to sleep?"  

"Always think you know what's best, don't you?" he murmured.  

"Can I help it if I do? Go to sleep." I kissed the spot just below his ear, and he hummed in drowsy pleasure and went limp in my arms.  

And he didn't have any more nightmares.  


It was almost three hours later when I woke up. I disengaged us without waking him, dropped a kiss on the back of his neck, petted his flank, then rose and stripped off the condom.  

I disposed of it and used the john, then returned to the bedroom and turned off the lamp. Clay was still sleeping, a relaxed look on his face. I put on a pair of sweatpants and a New England Patriots sweatshirt and went to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee.  

I'd hold off on breakfast until Clay woke up. I'd never had the time to cook for myself when I'd been in the field – if I couldn't do it right, I wasn't going to do it. Anyway, I hadn't needed to cook; there were plenty of restaurants that did take-out, and McDonald's had a pretty good breakfast menu.  

Now I had the time. Besides, Clay had cooked for me on more than one occasion.  

I looked from the bag that held the coffee beans to my grinder and swore under my breath. This place was so freaking small. The noise would be sure to wake Clay, and I wanted him to sleep as long as he could.  

There were no outlets in the halls of this building, so I found a long extension cord, plugged in the grinder, and took it and the bag of Peaberry Kona Viennese roast beans that I'd found at the Koffee Klatch, and went down a flight.  

I sat down on the stairs and set the grinder beside me, filled the chamber with enough beans to make a single pot, and turned it on.  

It echoed in the stairwell, sounding like a machine gun.  

The door of Theo's apartment was thrown open and Matheson stood there, pointing his 9mm at my head. When he saw it was me, he eased his finger off the trigger and lowered the gun.  

"Good morning, sir."  

"Wills, what the fuck… ?" It was Theo, grumbling from inside the apartment.

"Mr. Palmer is grinding his coffee."  

"Huh?" Theo came up behind him, running his hands through his chestnut hair and yawning. "How come?"  

"I have no idea. You want to ask him?" Matheson lounged against the doorframe.  

"Palm? Why are you grinding coffee on the stairs?"  

"I have a house guest. I didn't want the noise to wake him."  

Matheson's eyebrow climbed, but he said nothing.

"I have a hand grinder." Theo hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his pajama pants. "You could have used it."  

"I didn't want to wake you." I scowled at him. He could have told me about it when I was picking his brains about the best coffee to buy.

"Too late for that."  

"Sorry. Theo, I need a favor."  

"You've got it. What can I do for you?"  

"I've bought a condo in Aspen Reach. The woman who used to own it liked pink, and ..."  

"Jesus! Don't tell me you bought Delilah Carson's place!"  

"You're familiar with it?"  

"Are you kidding? I was *there*!"  

"You were there, babe?" Matheson's attitude was no longer relaxed.  

"Well, we'd tricked with her once or twice, and she called to ask if we'd mind working a threesome with her."  

"When was this?"  

"Oh, around the beginning of the year. Maybe a little earlier."  

Matheson turned white. Lines bracketed his mouth, and he growled under his breath.  

"So? Oh, what? You're worried I may have been fucked? That was my job, smart guy!" Theo smacked his shoulder. "But just to set your mind at ease, I wasn't fucked. That time. I was in her crawl space, and I filmed it. Spike got to fuck this gorgeous babe's ass while she deep throated Pretty Boy, and the two of them kissed while the john jerked off. Hot stuff, I wanna tell you! I made them a copy. They took it with them, but if you want me to look for the original… You could take it with you on one of your troubleshooting trips out of town and jerk off yourself."  

"Don't bother. Mr. Palmer." Matheson gave a brief nod and reentered the apartment, his stride stiff and angry.  

"Y'see, Palm? I knew he was living in a dream world! It's dawning on him what I did, and he can't deal with it!"  

"You think so?"  

"What else am I to think?" He looked miserable.  

How could he be so dumb?  

"Bascopolis, her murder was all over the front page of every newspaper in town around the beginning of the year. You think maybe he was worried you could have been in her condo at the same time she was killed? That maybe it could have been your body found there as well?"  

"Yeah, but… "  

"You said you were up in the crawl space? How come?"  

"He was a new client. Delilah said she was a little unsure of him. After he left, she laughed and said she felt really silly about at how nervous he'd made her before hand, but I could see she was still nervous. I asked her if she wanted me to make copies of the tape. She said yes, and Spike begged me to make one for him and Pretty Boy too." He looked sad. "She was dead before I had the chance to give her the original and the other copies."  

"Yeah, well… "  

"Funny thing. I happened to see a picture of him in the Post a couple of weeks later."  

"Who, the john?" That startled me.  

"Yeah." He snickered. "He was with the Pres in the photo, and he had his clothes on, but it was him. And y'know what was even funnier?"  

"No, but I'm sure you'll tell me."  

He went on as if he hadn't noticed my sarcasm. "The Pres was commending him for being such a morally upright member of the CIA."  

"Really." Now that was a very interesting tidbit. "Do you happen to remember his name?" You could never tell when information like that could come in handy.  

"No. Sorry. You know I'm not into politics."  

I knew that, but it was worth asking. "What happened to the original tape?"  

"It's around somewhere."  

"Mind looking for it for me?"  


"Thanks. I appreciate it."  

He didn't ask me why I wanted it, and I wasn't sure how I felt about being thought a voyeur.  

"Uh… You really think Wills was worried about me? I… I never even thought of that."  

"Yeah, well, check with him before you start assuming you know what he's thinking."  

"Yeah, you're right." He started to turn to go into his apartment. "Oh, good luck with the condo. It really was pink."  

"Thanks. It still is. If you have some time, would you be interested in overseeing the redecorating?"  

"I'd get to choose the colors and arrange all that neat furniture you bought? You bet!"  

"Thanks. I'm taking some time off… Oh, very funny." He had staggered back, his hand on his chest, as if the shock had given him a heart attack.  

"Well, I've never known you to do that before. Anyway, I'll go to Home Depot and pick up some paint chips. Maybe I'll pick up some power tools too. For Wills." He grinned and winked at me, then entered his apartment.  

I looped the extension cord over my arm and went back up to my apartment. Did he think buying his lover toys would make it up to him?  

Maybe it would, but I knew if Webb misjudged me that badly, I'd mop up the apartment with his skinny ass…  

His ass really wasn't skinny. Under those deceptive suits he wore, it was actually one of the best I'd ever seen.  

Well, I'd just fuck him into next week.  

Maybe Matheson would do that, although from what I'd learned, he usually bottomed for the rentboy.  

I shook my head, locked the door, and started a pot of coffee brewing.  


I was sitting in bed, propped up against the headboard, my feet crossed at the ankle, reading the Washington Post. A bare arm had been flung across my waist, and a dark head was buried against my hip. My hand rested on his hair, and occasionally I'd run my palm over the soft strands.  

On the night table, a cup of coffee was steaming gently, and I reached for it, took a deep sip, and replaced it.  

The grip on my waist tightened and just as quickly relaxed, and I knew he was awake.  

"Good morning, sunshine." I tossed the newspaper to the floor.  

"I'm sorry, Clark."  

"For what?"  

"This can't have been the most restful of nights for you." He rolled onto his side and pushed the hair out of his eyes.  

"Not for you either. How are you feeling?"  

"All right. Better." Clay sounded surprised. "I was actually able to sleep."  

"Good. Want some breakfast?"  

"I'd like that. Is that coffee I smell?"  

"Yep. Fresh ground, too." I took the cup from the night table and offered it to him.  

He took a cautious sip. Usually he preferred his coffee with a little milk and sugar. "This is good."  

"Don't sound so surprised. Of course it's good."  

"Of course." He laughed, gave me back the cup, and got out of bed. I did too. What was the point of staying in bed if he wasn't there with me? "I'm going to shower." He eyed the casual sweats I wore. "Why don't you get changed? As soon as I'm done, I'll dress, and we can go out for breakfast."  

"I'd rather stay home today."  

"Oh? You don't have to baby me, Palmer. I've had nightmares before, you know."  

"Look, Webb. Me wanting to stay home for a change has nothing to do with you. Did you ever stop to consider that *I* might have had a shitty week?"  

I didn't like playing the guilt card, not with him, but as I'd hoped, he didn't question the fact that I never complained about how my week went.  

"I'm sorry, Clark." He blew out a breath. "I don't want to come off like a prima donna, but I'm really not in the mood for Aunt Jemima or Jimmy Dean."  

"I'm going to cook you breakfast." I glanced at the clock. "Brunch."  

"You don't cook, Clark."  

"What makes you say that?"  

"You're not the only one who can have a dossier on someone, you know."  

"You've been looking into my background?" I put all the affront I could into my expression.  

"Ass." It didn't work. He knew me well enough to know I'd expect nothing less from him. And that from him, I'd accept it.  

"Trust me, baby." I ran my knuckles under his chin, and his eyes slitted and he just about purred. Damn, I was good. I leaned down and licked his lips. I could taste the coffee on them. "Just take your time. Meet me in the kitchen when you're done. Dress is optional." I waggled my eyebrows at him.  

He rested his palm against my cheek, then slid it to the back of my neck, pulled my head down, and kissed me.  

"Thank you, Clark."  

"For what?"  

His lips twisted in a lopsided grin. "For getting me through the night?"  

I shrugged. "Well, you would have done it for me, wouldn't you?"  

"Yes. I would. I hope you know that."  

"Well, there you go." This was getting too sappy. I whacked his butt. "Go take your shower."  


About half an hour later, Clay sauntered into the kitchen. He looked more relaxed than he had since the weekend we'd first gone riding together.  

"Good timing." I put a couple of small crockery pitchers of maple syrup into the microwave to warm.  

He gave me an absent-minded smile and held out his arms. "How did these get here?" He was wearing the clothes I'd left on the bed for him, a pair of casual black slacks and a turtleneck jersey that brought out the green in his eyes. "I don't remember leaving these the last time I slept over."  

"You didn't." I'd picked them up when I'd realized that most of the times he came here, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and he had to go home in the same clothes he'd worn that day. I studied him carefully. "Those clothes look good on you."  

Color warmed his cheeks. "Thank you. Let me know how much I owe you."  

"Sure." I grinned at him.  

"I'm serious, Clark."  

"Did I say anything that would make you think I wasn't taking you seriously?"  

"You don't have to say a word. It's in your expression. Look. My clothes aren't your responsibility." He frowned. "I should have brought a change of clothes with me. I don't know why I didn't."  

"Probably because we usually spend the weekend at your place." And we would have done that last night if he hadn't been so exhausted he'd picked a fight with me, revealing the level of his exhaustion. I decided to change the subject. "Wait until you see the closet in my new master bedroom. There will be plenty of room for your stuff. You could practically move in!" I thought about him moving in, living with me, of us making love every day – maybe even twice a day – working side by side in the kitchen, but then the reality of our situation descended on me. DSD. CIA. I sighed and let it go.  



He was smiling. "Nothing."  


He glanced around the kitchen. "What can I do to help?"  

The table was already set. "I've made a fresh pot of coffee. Pour us a couple of cups, would you?"  

"Sure." He went to the cabinet that held the cups, and I got a funny feeling in my gut. I realized it was because he knew where stuff was in my home. "Something smells good. What did you make?"  

"Monte-Cristos." I figured breakfast would be a fairly simple meal to prepare, so I checked out recipes online and printed the ones that looked interesting. "By the way, I called the Lexus Dealership."  

"Thanks, babe. When did they say it will be ready?"  

"Monday afternoon."  

His mouth tightened. "The oil filter was supposed to be replaced this morning."  

"Yeah, but apparently some bolts sheared off."  

"Don't tell me. They had to call New York for replacement bolts. Dammit."  

"Not to worry, baby. I made a phone call, and a rental car will be in your driveway when I take you home tomorrow night. Of course, it'll be there anyway if I take you home Monday morning."  

I arched an eyebrow and waited for him to tell me tomorrow night would be fine, that he had work in the morning.  

Clay watched me steadily. "I'd like that." He gave a huff of laughter at my surprise. "I have plenty of vacation and personal time. I'll take the day off."  

"Cool." I'd thought about taking the day off too and going down to the dealership with him, maybe having a little talk with them, but he was a big boy, and I wasn't sure how he would react to that, so I'd rented the car for him instead.  

Meanwhile, it shouldn't be hard to find things to keep him occupied after our ride with his mother tomorrow. Maybe I'd build us a fort of sofa pillows and blankets in the living area. Clay could supervise. On second thought, he was too intense to settle for just supervising. He'd want to be a hands-on kind of …  

My mouth went dry at the thought of him being hands-on with me, and my cock twitched.  Oh, yeah. We'd definitely have to build that fort. With an effort, I brought my mind back to the present.  

I took a stuffed sandwich off the griddle, humming under my breath, and slid it onto a plate.  

"Blue Champagne?" Clay sounded surprised.  

"Yeah. Someone I know has it for the ring tone on his cell phone."  

"Really." There was a smile in his eyes. He was pleased that I'd recognized it.  

I sliced the Monte-Cristo from corner to corner so I had four triangular pieces. The melted cheese oozed from the edges. I did the same with a second sandwich, then lowered the heat so the two remaining would stay warm but wouldn't burn, and took the plates to the table.  

Clay had the half and half and the sugar I kept for him already there, and he took a seat.  

The microwave dinged, and I went to it to retrieve the maple syrup. He fixed his coffee, then took the pitcher I handed him and drizzled the warm syrup over his sandwich.  

I made a production of doing the same, wanting him to take the first bite, watching out of the corner of my eye to see his reaction.  

A slow smile crossed his face. "This is delicious! You did good, Palmer."  

"I keep telling you I'm the best." I sliced off a corner of the sandwich, dipped it in some of the syrup on the plate, and put it in my mouth.  

It was good.


Part 2


I kept him distracted during the day. There were CDs in the player by artists I knew he'd enjoy: Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn. I'd first taken note of them when I'd broken into his townhouse this past spring.  

As the music started, I opened the board for the game on the coffee table in the living area and made myself comfortable on the floor.  

"Monopoly, Clark?"  

"I like Monopoly. Sit."  

"I just didn't expect you to have the kind of game that took two or more players." He sat across from me  

"Hey, I've got Trivial Pursuit and Jenga around here somewhere too, you know."  

"What? No Clue?"  

"Nah. Once I saw the movie, I could never take it seriously again."  

That made him laugh. His hand hovered over the game pieces.  

"I'd like the horse and rider, if you don't mind?"  

"Knock yourself out." I took the cannon. "Okay, let's roll the dice to see who gets to be the banker."  

Clay won that roll, and once he doled out the cash, we began to play in earnest.  

He bought Park Place as soon as he landed on it, and Boardwalk, as well as Pacific, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania Avenues, enabling himself to build houses and hotels on those choice properties.  

On the other hand, I was able to monopolize the railroads and the Electric Company and Water Works.  

"Are these dice loaded?"  

"Clay! I'm cut to the quick!"  

"Yeah, I'll bet. You didn't answer me, though. Are they loaded? No one can roll boxcars six times in a row."  

"No one who isn't me. Here!" I tossed the dice across to him. "Check them out for yourself."  

Bastard actually studied them, turning them over and over carefully.  

"I don't get it."  

"You will later." I waggled my eyebrows at him. "Never mind. If you're satisfied the dice aren't loaded?" He nodded. "Good. It's your turn now anyway."  

We played to a draw, then decided to break for a late lunch.  

"How do heroes grab you?"  

"Sounds good. Where are we going?"  

"My kitchen. I'll make us a couple."  

Clay gave me a puzzled look. "You never have food in your refrigerator. Oh, maybe there are some containers of take-out, or a couple of eggs, but ... "  

I took a large loaf of Italian bread from the bread box, then retrieved cold cuts from the fridge, as well as stuff to top the heroes, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, peppers, onions, and a vinaigrette dressing.  

His mouth dropped open.  

"Get us a couple of beers, okay?" I looked at the onions, then decided to go for it. We were both going to have them, after all.  

"How did you manage to get all this here? And how could you know we'd be here today?" Clay took the beers from the fridge and put them on the table, then came back to the counter to watch as I assembled the heroes.  

"I did used to be a Boy Scout, you know." One of my old lady's men had been a scoutmaster. He'd lasted longer than most of the others, but even after she'd kicked him out, he still looked out for me.  

"I can see you as always being prepared, Clark, but you in one of those uniforms?" He shook his head.  

"I looked pretty damn good in khaki." I brought the plates with our heroes to the table and set one in front of him.  

"Yes, I imagine you did." He smiled, pulled my head down, and kissed me.  

I was breathing heavy when he let me go, and he was looking like the cat that had swallowed the cream.  

"Now, how about if we eat? I'm starved!"  


After lunch, we cleaned up the kitchen – he wouldn't let me shoo him into the living room while I wiped up crumbs and put the plates we'd used into the dishwasher – then I picked out a DVD and inserted it into the player his mother had given me as a token of thanks for getting him back.  

I picked up the remote, sat on the couch, and put my feet up on the coffee table. Clay made himself comfortable by toeing off his shoes and stretching out beside me, his head in my lap.  

The movie started, and he laughed. "'Clue'?"  


Leslie Ann Warren hadn't even made her appearance as Miss Scarlet before Clay's breathing had deepened, evened out, and he'd fallen asleep.  

I petted his hair and settled in to watch the movie.  


Someone was shaking my shoulder.  


"C'mon, Clark. Wake up!"  

"Clay? Shouldn't you be asleep?"  

"I was asleep. It's almost 7."  

"AM or PM?"  


"Okay, baby. I'll make you dinner in a second."  

"Never mind dinner. You're going to get a crick in you neck if you keep sleeping that way."  

 That was so sweet of him, to worry like that. "Okay. 'm awake." My eyelids slid shut again.  

"I'm not being sweet." He poked me. "Where's my cell phone?"  

That woke me up. "Why? Are you going to call your mother to cancel tomorrow's ride, I hope?" I stretched and yawned.  

"In your dreams, Palmer." Of course he wouldn't do that. "I need to check my messages."  

"I thought you said barring a national emergency… "  

"I still need to check my messages."  

"I promised your mother you wouldn't go anywhere."  

He held out his hand and tapped his foot on the carpet. It didn't have quite as much impact, since he was still without shoes.  

"You're too damned conscientious, Webb."  

"My phone, Palmer." He waggled his fingers impatiently.  

"Damned spook." I went to the cabinet where I kept paper goods and took out a roll of paper towels. Clay watched, his eyes getting wider and wider, as I slid back the plastic wrap and shook his slim phone free of the cardboard tube. "Here. But don't think you'll be going anywhere."  

"What about dinner?"  

"I'm making you a steak. Along with a baked potato and steamed green beans."  

"What, no dessert?"  

"I've got an apple crumb pie in the freezer."  

"I knew Aunt Jemima would put in an appearance."  

"It's Mrs. Smith, Webb."  

Clay ran his fingers over my ear. "I know. I was just teasing you." He tugged my ear lobe. "Thank you." He flipped open his phone, punched in the code that would give him access to his messages, and held it to his ear.  

I wrapped my fingers around his wrist.  


"Why is there a green light flashing on your cell phone?"  

"What are you talking about? There's no… "  

"No?" I took it from him and turned it around.  

"I never saw that." Clay sounded shaken. I shut the receiver slowly, and as soon as it started to come down, the light went out. He never would have seen it.  

"Do you keep your phone on you at all times?"  

He frowned at me. "Of course. What kind of officer wouldn't?"  

"At all times?"  

"I told you, yes. What are you driving at? The only time I don't is if I'm at… " He turned pale. "At Langley. And Director Watts has been giving me a particularly difficult time lately."  

You just couldn't trust the C fucking I fucking A.  


"I don't know. Markov suggested… Jesus, I can't believe I'm talking about this."  

"To me? Why? Because I'm DSD?"  

"Asshole. Because I never talk to anyone about this."  

I could accept that. "What does Markov think is the problem?" The former FBI agent was a pain in the ass, but he'd been good then, and he was good now.  

"He thinks you're the problem."  

"Fuck. Now why doesn't that surprise me?" I took back my good thoughts about him.  

"No, he thinks Watts is pissed because you, a DSD agent, rescued all the personnel who had been kidnapped by Prinzip."  

"My name was never mentioned. As far as any of the other organizations know, Section One handled the whole operation. I'd have thought he'd just be grateful that he got his people back in one piece."  

He squeezed my arm. "Unlike the DSD. I'm sorry, Clark. If he'd moved faster… "  

I shrugged. It was bad enough the DSD lost three good men and the little finger of Browne's right hand. To think we'd lost them because of a fucking waste of a CIA director… I pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind.  

"Do you have someone you trust who can see what that flashing light is all about?"  

"Yes. Markov."  

"Okay, then." I felt as if I'd bitten into a lemon. But if Clay trusted him… "See that he gets the phone."  

"But… "  

"I'm going to change."  

"Clark… "  

"Put your shoes on. You're coming with me."  

"Where are we going?" He followed me into the bedroom and watched as I shed my sweatpants and pulled on a pair of jeans.  


"I thought you told Mother we weren't going out."  

"Change of plans." I stepped into a pair of loafers, slipped my arms into my shoulder holster, and clipped my own cell phone onto my belt. "We're getting you a new cell phone."  


Clay had his new phone. It was a cute little toy, with advanced voice recognition, picture, text, and enhanced messaging, a VGA camera with LED flash, and Web access capability.  

"What are you going to do about Watts?" I asked him as I unlocked the door to my apartment in the sequence that wouldn't get us blown up.  

"Nothing. I'll play dumb for the time being, and wait to see what his next move will be." He saw my scowl. "Yes, I have no doubt you'd deal with him differently… "  

"*Much* differently!" I opened the door.  

Clay walked in, switched on the light – and I got that funny feeling again because he knew where things were in my apartment. He continued as if he hadn't heard me. "… but for the most part, what he's been doing has been petty and annoying."  

"You call being sent to Bangkok for no good reason a petty annoyance?"  

He looked at me sharply, but I wasn't about to tell him how I'd known the trip had been useless from the getgo.  

His expression smoothed out, and he shrugged. "Well, I returned home in one piece, so I have to consider whatever else happened to be petty."  

"All right," I growled as I locked the door behind us. "I'll give you that. Y'know, I could… "  

"No, Clark." He removed his jacket.  

"Yeah, but… " I removed my jacket, took his, and hung them both in the coat closet.

"No. This is my problem. I'll deal with it."  


"You're giving up awfully easily."  

"Geez, there's no pleasing some people," I griped. "I wanted to do something, and you said 'no.' I said 'okay,' and you're suspicious."  

"I can't imagine why."

"There, you see? You're even confusing yourself!" I jumped. "Hey!" He'd pinched me.  

"Don't make me have to get tough with you."  

"Oh, yeah?" I swung him around and backed him against the wall, and leaned into him, kneeing his thighs apart and bracing my forearms on either side of his head. "Show me," I murmured against his lips as I nuzzled them.  

His arms came around me. "I thought you were from Massachusetts. Hey!"  

It was my turn to goose him. "Smart ass."  

"That's why you like me." He rocked gently on my thigh, and I shivered as his erection nudged mine. "Now, are you going to feed me or make love with me? Because, you know, I'm up for either one."  

I licked his lips. "Decisions, decisions."  

"Let me see if I can make it easier for you then. Have I ever mentioned how incredibly hot you look in a shoulder holster?"  

"You… you think I look hot… " My cock pushed against the confines of my shorts, the skin over my cheekbones felt tight, and heat rose from my collarbone to my eyebrows.  

"Oh, yes." He rubbed his lips back and forth over mine, the light friction driving me crazy. "Do you remember in Paris, when you brought me my guns? You already had yours back in place. It was all I could do not to drop to my knees in front of you, unzip your fly, and go down on you right there." His eyes locked on mine. "In spite of the fact that we had an audience."  

And abruptly, our positions were reversed, and I was up against the wall. Clay's fingers ghosted over my fly.  

"You're killing me, baby." I reached for the button that fastened the waistband of my jeans, but he brushed my hand away.  

"Have a little patience." He slid down to his knees and ran his palms up and down my thighs.  

The quiet of the room was broken by harsh breathing, the sound of him lowering my zipper, a moan as he mouthed the material covering my cock.  

And then somehow my jeans and shorts were down around my knees, and he stroked the flesh where thigh and groin joined. He licked and nibbled up and down the length of the hard flesh that he'd freed, blew across the tip, then began to take me in, inch by quivering inch, until I was lodged in his throat.  

Clay swallowed, and the movement was a visceral caress. Electric shocks zapped up my spine to the base of my brain and short-circuited any rational thought.  

Garbled vowels and consonants spilled from my lips, and I tipped my head back, closed my eyes, and fisted my hands in his hair while I tried not to buck into his mouth, tried to concentrate on breathing.  

His finger teased its way between my ass cheeks and dipped into my hole, and I shook and battled back the urge to come. It was too soon. I didn't want it to end. I wanted to stay like this forever, leaning against a wall in my apartment, the harness of my shoulder holster digging into my back.  

What did that matter with Clay crouching at my feet, working that finger into my ass and sucking on my cock as if it were his only hope of survival?  

I let his hair sift through my fingers and grabbed for the base of my cock. Clay growled, and my hand stopped in mid-grab. He hummed in approval – I felt the vibration through every nerve in my body – and his teeth lightly scored my cock, his tongue curled around the crown and tugged, and then he returned to sucking me off.  

His finger found my prostate and rubbed across it relentlessly, and between that and the suction of his talented mouth, I found myself teetering on the brink of orgasm.  

Last night I hadn't come; it had been about Clay, about making sure he was relaxed and sated enough to sleep.  

Now, I looked down, to find Clay watching me, his pupils so dilated with passion that his eyes were almost black, and I knew he'd be there to catch me.  

I let myself go and came so hard that for the first time in my life, I blacked out.  

When I recovered enough to know what was going on, it was to find myself lying on my front, a pillow under my hips. My shoulder holster had been removed and my jeans and shorts dragged down my legs to my ankles, but my shoes were still on, and so they were trapped there.  

Clay leaned over me, stroking the curves of my ass, the material of his clothes rough against the nakedness of my lower body. He ran his lips along the curve of my jaw, and I thought he was going to tongue my ear, but instead he whispered, "I want to fuck you."  

"Ye… yes." I got my knees under me. I knew it wouldn't take much for him to have me ready.   

He worked a slicked finger into me, and then another one. I groaned at how good the stretch felt. The hand on my hip that was steadying me was shaking.  

"I don't need careful, Webb." Unwittingly I repeated his desperate demand from the early hours of the morning, and he responded the same way I had.  

"I know what you need." He nipped an ass cheek, and then his cock was at my hole, and he entered me with a slow, steady push.  

I rested my cheek on my folded arms and let him have his way with me, too relaxed to wonder where the lube had come from or when he'd put on a condom.  

"I used to be a Boy Scout too, Palmer."  

I would have laughed to have my earlier words tossed back at me again, but I was feeling too good. His cock kept brushing past my prostate, and though I couldn't get hard again so soon, waves of pleasure inundated me.  

He pushed my sweatshirt up under my arms, slid his hands around my torso, and ran his fingertips through the hair that sparsely covered my chest. While one hand followed it down the center of my body, circled and dipped into my navel before closing securely around my cock, the other teased my nipples. They weren't as sensitive as his, but they did enjoy the attention.  

Clay gasped and panted and growled in my ear, words of want and need and passion, but I was feeling so good that he could have been reciting the Gettysburg Address for all of me. I spread my legs as far as the prison of my tangled jeans would allow, and all the while his cock drove in and out of me, again and again and again.  

I shivered and clamped down on his cock, milking it for all I was worth, and his movements became erratic, his breathing harsher, and with a final gasp he stilled and came.  

Finally, he eased us onto our sides.  

The aftermath of sex, no matter how good, tended to be a little awkward. Even the men I'd taken to bed would want to talk it to death, or – what was worse – cuddle, which was why I'd never encouraged the partner of the moment to stay longer than it took for both of us to achieve satisfaction.  

Clay was different, though. The sex was the best I'd ever had, and the quiet moments afterward were as good. Maybe it was because we were in the same line of business. Maybe it was just my age, and I was ready to stay with one person for longer than a night.  

Either way, I was in no rush for him to move, and for long seconds he lay there, his lips grazing from my shoulder to the base of my neck and up to the hinge of my jaw.  

"Thank you," he murmured in my ear.  

"Shouldn't I be thanking you?" I didn't want him to get a swelled head, but… "Jesus, that was awesome."  

"Yes." From his movements I could tell he was grasping the condom before he slid out of me. He got to his knees and stood, and it was only then that I realized he was still completely dressed. All he'd done was unzip his fly.  

My cock twitched. We both thought that was pretty hot.  

He went into the bathroom, and I stood up. My shorts and jeans had gotten twisted, and it took a minute before I could wrestle them up my legs.  

Clay came out of the bathroom, looking cool and unruffled.  

"There oughta be a law, Webb."  

He grinned at my disheveled appearance. "I could say the same for you, Palmer. You look like the reason the riot started."  

"I'll take that as a complement."  

"That's how it was meant. Now, didn't you say something about a steak?" 

He followed me into the kitchen, and we worked in companionable silence, getting the potatoes ready, steaming the green beans, putting the steaks in the broiler. In about forty-five minutes, everything was ready. Clay took out a bottle of red wine, and we sat down to eat.  

After dinner, we cleared off the table, and I started the dishwasher. We went into the living area, sat down on the couch, and made out to CDs until it was time to go to bed.  


Clay had a good night. I didn't know if it was because he hadn't used his cell phone or if it had to do with something else.  

The next morning, we made breakfast together, scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast, and then we changed to go riding.  

Before driving to the stable where he and his mother kept their horses, I stopped by Aspen Reach and gave him a quick tour of my condo.  

"Powder room, kitchen, living room, den, guest wing… "  

Clay blinked. "Jesus, Clark!" He cleared his throat. "I mean… Um… This certainly is pink."  

"I know. That door leads to the roof. One dark night we'll go up on it and screw our brains out."  

"Sounds like a plan to me."  

"The master suite is this way." I led him back through the living room and into the bedroom. "Try to picture it beige or buff maybe, or a blue gray."  

"Anything will be better than this pink. Nice fireplace. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"  

"That a rug would go great in front of it? My first thought."  

"And us on that rug, naked and making love?"  

"That was my second thought."  

He laughed softly and wound his fingers in mine. "What happened to the carpeting?"  

"Someone ripped it up."  

"Obviously. Why?"  

"Delilah Carson, the previous owner, met her demise here."  


I shrugged. "It got me the place cheap."  

"I remember reading about her murder in the newspapers. It was pretty nasty. Her boyfriend got the blame."  

"Yeah, well, dead men can't defend themselves, now can they?"  

 He gave me a sharp look. "You're not planning on investigating it, are you?"  

"As long as she doesn't haunt me, it's not my business. Come on, the closet is this way, and the bathroom."  

He was suitably impressed by the size of the tub. "We'll both fit in here." The man had his priorities straight. "How many square feet did you say this place has?"  

"Two thousand. There are a couple more rooms." I led him through the kitchen, past the alcove that housed the laundry room, and into the formal dining room.  

"This is going to be very nice." He seemed excited.  

"You think?"  

"Definitely. This room is large enough for some nice-sized dinner parties. Do you have a dining room set?"  

"No. I never was one for dinner parties, and I never had a dining room. I was actually thinking of using this room for something else. An exercise room, maybe." 

"But… " His face closed off.  

"Clay? What is it?"  

"I thought… it was stupid. Forget it."  

"Webb, don't make me knock you on your ass. What's bothering you?"  

"I just thought maybe we'd have Thanksgiving here, or… But this is your place, and of course what you'll want to do or not do is your choice."  

*We*? "You want to have Thanksgiving with me?"  

"Well… well, I was hoping… "  

I shut him up with my mouth. He sighed and leaned into me.  

"That's a great idea." Especially if Clay was going to be here. I'd usually been out of the country, and never celebrated Thanksgiving or had anyone with whom I wanted to celebrate the holiday.  

"But you were going to make this room into an exercise room."  

"It was just a thought." There was a state-of-the-art gym at DSD headquarters. What did I need one for in my home? "We can invite your mother. But not Markov!"  

"That's all right. Gregor visits with his cousins up in New York."  

"What about your uncles?"  

He tightened his hold on me. "Jeff and Ludo are going to London to spend some time with Ludo's family. Tony and Bryan may be free. I'll give them a call."  

"Okay, we can bring it up to your mother when we see her. If I order soon, there should be plenty of time for the table and chairs to come in. Will I need this other stuff, too?" I pointed to the buffet, hutch, and China cabinet.  

"That's up to you."  

I grinned at him. "How about we go today? We could drive over to Rockville this afternoon, and you could help me pick it all out. And a new rug too. I *hate* this rug!"  

He laughed softly. "I can't imagine what Ms. Carson was thinking when she chose it."  

"It was probably someone else's idea."  

"Why do you say that?"  

"Well, it isn't pink."  

"That's true."  

I glanced at my watch. "We'd better get going now."  

"Thanks for showing me around, babe."  

I stole a quick kiss. "It'll look better in a few weeks."  

"I have no doubt."  

I tripped the lock and shut the door behind us, and we left.


Part 3


Porter Webb was waiting for us as we strode up to the stable. She was already mounted on the horse she'd ridden the last time I'd allowed my lover to torture me like this. Her eyes studied her son sharply, but she said nothing beyond, "I'm glad you felt rested enough to go riding today, Clayton."  

Clay smiled up at her, then gathered the reins in his left hand, put his toe in the stirrup, and swung his leg over his mount's back with an elegant economy of motion.  

"Come on, Clark. Mount up." He'd caught me watching him.  

"Where's Blue?" I pretended I'd been looking for the horse I'd ridden the last time.  

"I told you I was going to give you an easier mount. This is Kathy Thorn."  

"You didn't have to do me any favors," I muttered under my breath.  

The horse the groom held was dark brown with black legs, mane, and tail. She stood there looking as if she were about to fall asleep, and I scowled at her. I didn't know whether or not to be insulted.   

I took the reins from the groom, copied Clay's movements, and settled into the flat saddle. The horse turned her head to look at me, her expression clearly surprised. "Clay?"  

"She won't give you a hard time."  

"She'd better not!" I leaned forward and whispered, "Your brother didn't believe me when I said I'd shoot him. I didn't, but only because Clay wouldn't have been happy about it. You'd better have more sense." I sat up and found Mrs. Webb was watching me, a small smile on her face. I cleared my throat. "By the way, ma'am, Clay's talked me into hosting Thanksgiving. I'm hoping you'll join us?"  

"Why, thank you, Clark. I'd love to."  


"I'm going to call Uncle Tony and see if he and Uncle Bryan would like to fly east."  

"I think they can be persuaded to." She nudged her horse with her heels, and we began to move forward at a sedate walk. "That is, if you don't mind inviting Cara Mia and Sunday as well."  

"Sure." I shrugged. I knew who they were.  

DC was a small town, and people Anthony Sebring had worked with were shocked that a man his age would get involved with such a young woman, and one who was saddled with a child.  

I'd wondered about it myself.  

Allen Ford, Cara Mia's father, had worked under Sebring at the NSA. He had a weakness for single malt Scotch and blue-eyed brunets, although he tried to keep that hidden. He also had a tendency to have a routine, and to follow that routine religiously.  

He had been working on a code the DSD wanted. A week following him, and I'd had his routine down pat. He'd leave work, his briefcase cuffed to his wrist, and stop at a dark little bar for a drink. Every night, like clockwork.  

So I'd put in a pair of blue contacts, and put on a pair of skintight jeans that emphasized the fact that I wore nothing beneath them, and every night, like clockwork, I was there too. I'd made sure he saw me, and I'd give him a sultry look. After a few days, he was looking for me to come in, and he'd smile and nod at me when I did. Finally, I'd let him pick me up and buy me a couple of drinks, and when he'd rested his hand high on my thigh, I'd licked my lips and leaned toward him. 'I know of a place nearby,' I'd said, my voice deliberately husky.  

He was eager to go with me, and afterwards, while he was dozing, I'd picked the lock on his briefcase and photographed the papers within. I thought the exchange was fair. I'd got the code, and he'd got the fuck of his life.  

I heard he kept looking for me in that bar. He even went back to the no tell motel, but of course the clerk had no idea who he was talking about.  

He wasn't a bad man, just a weak one, and I wasn't surprised when I'd learned he'd been killed a year or so later.  

Clay reached over and closed his fingers around my wrist, bringing me back to the present. "I'm sorry, Clark. I didn't mean to saddle you with such a crowd."  

"Hey, it's not a problem." I'd have the whole thing catered. "The more, the merrier."  


Breakfast on Monday was simple, just coffee and toast.  

"You don't have to go all out for me. I can fix myself something at home."  

"Will you try to get more sleep today?"  

"I think I'm about caught up. I have some errands I'll need to run before I go to pick up the Lexus."  

"Do me a favor and turn in early tonight."  

"Yes, mother."  

"Smart ass."  

Clay glanced at the clock. "You're going to be late." It was 8 AM. "You really don't need to drive me home, you know. I can call a cab."  

"Don't give me a hard time, okay?"  

"Okay. Thank you."  

"Ass. I just need to make a phone call."  

"So do I. I'll wait for you on the stairs."  

I called my office. My secretary was away from her desk, and I got her voice mail. "Ms. Parker, I'll be in a little late. Put off my meeting with PR until 10." And if the new guy didn't like it, he could bite me. "If anything pressing comes up, turf it to Matheson." It was time he learned being a senior agent wasn't all fun and games. "You have my cell phone if you need to contact me before I get in."  

I flipped my phone shut, clipped it to my waistband, and locked the door behind me. Clay was waiting at the top of the stairs, a satisfied expression on his face.  

"You're looking very pleased with yourself." We started down the stairs.  

"Watts had left a message with my secretary. A laundry list of things he wanted done."  


"It's things more suited for a raw rookie – her words – to handle. I told her to find a raw rookie and let him or her handle it, I was taking the day off."  


"As I said, I have time due me. I'll take off a day here and there."  

"You need next week off," I reminded him.  

"I already put in for that. I'm looking forward to spending the week at Key West with you."  

"Yeah?" I was too. I'd never gone away with anyone.  

He glanced around quickly, then kissed me. "Yeah."  


The week flew past.  

On Monday, I went for the final fitting of my tux at Putting on the Ritz. The tailor had done a good job, and I brought it home and hung it up in my closet.  

On Tuesday, Theo stopped by to show me the paint chips he'd selected. He seemed to favor blues and greens. Since I'd always rented, painting had been out of the question, and the walls of my apartments had been bland, to say the least.  

"I like this Nurture Green, but this blue – Drizzle – is interesting too," he told me, "and I think Leather Bound," surprisingly, a shade of brown, "might be a good color for your study. As for the kitchen and the dining room… "  

"Enough! Enough! Just no pink!"  

He laughed. "When can I get started?"  

"Closing is Thursday. The executors of Delilah Carson's estate have a week from then to remove the furnishings." Clay had told me that his mother didn't care for Lladro, so those figurines would go too, and I'd find another way to show my gratitude for her help in getting this condo.  

"It would be a good idea to have the walls painted first."  

"I'll let you know when the condo is empty."  

"Okay. Will you be getting rid of the cotton-candy carpeting?"  

"Oh, yeah. I want hardwood floors throughout, but I'm not too sure about the master bedroom."  

"You could do that, and have area rugs as well. I've got my eye on a rug for my living room." He waggled his eyebrows. "I have plans for Wills on it. I… uh… I thought you'd want to know you were right about him, Palm. I talked to him about it, and he *was* scared that I could have been killed along with Delilah. It was worth the misunderstanding though, if only for the make-up sex."  

"I noticed you've been limping."  

"He rode me pretty hard."  

"Jesus, Bascopolis, I don't need to hear that!"  

He laughed and went back to his apartment.  

On Wednesday, I received a phone call from Francesca Dashwood.  

"The Condominium Owners Association of Aspen Reach would like to see you today at the community club house."  

"That's cutting it a little close, isn't it? With closing tomorrow, aren't they afraid I'll be upset if they turn me down?"  

"It's merely a formality, I assure you. They just want to meet you."  

Yeah. "What time?"  

"They'd like you to be there around noon. They'll give you lunch."  

I drummed my fingers on my desk. That gave me an hour and a half, less the twenty minutes to make the drive there.  

"All right. Will you be there?"  

"Oh, no. I'll be with another client."  

"Okay, thanks for letting me know." I hung up and continued drumming my fingers on my desk. Contrary to what La Dashwood might believe, I wasn't a babe in the woods. I knew I'd need to bring some paperwork with me – proof that I could afford to live there, that I was willing to follow the Condo Association's guidelines, references.  

I put in a call to Bixby in HR. "This is Palmer. I need some references."  

"You have references."  

"I need them under my name. I'm buying a condo."  

He laughed. "They definitely wouldn't be happy to hear from the apartment house in Forest Heights."  

"Yeah, yeah." That wasn't my fault. My apartment had blown up when that shit Sperling had tried to break in. "Have them ready as soon as possible."  

"Like yesterday? Got it. I have all the form letters, including a statement from Bradenhurst that you've been employed by them and they're more than satisfied with your work. I just need to add the personal touch – your name, the length of time you've been with them, stuff like that. Give me about half an hour."  

"Thanks." I had no doubt he'd come up with some glowing letters of reference, and each one would be irrefutable.  

At noon I walked into the club house at Aspen Reach to find five men and women waiting to question me. "I'm Palmer." Under my arm was a manila folder with all the paperwork I should need.  

"We're the executive board of the Condominium Owners Association." A stout man in the center of the group introduced them, then frowned at me, apparently trying his hand at intimidation. "We've been trying to reach you through your realtor all week. This is cutting it very close, you know."  

"I was about to say the same to you. I didn't learn about this meeting until earlier this morning."  

His mouth tightened. "If that's true… "  


He shied back. "That is… "  

"What Chester means to say," a middle-aged, chicly dressed woman spoke, "is that we'll look into Ms. Dashwood's actions. If she doesn't have a valid excuse, then we here at Aspen Reach will not be dealing with her again. Now, if you'll have a seat, Mr. Palmer? This shouldn't take too long."  

It didn't. They were impressed with my references not only from Bradenhurst but from the managers of the apartments where I'd lived since I'd moved to DC, and from friends and family as well.  

"We'll need to get in touch with the people listed on these references, but that's really just a formality. Welcome to Aspen Reach, Mr. Palmer." They each shook my hand – Chester gingerly – and then offered me lunch. Chicken a la king.  

On the way back to DSD headquarters, I stopped at my bank to finalize the arrangements for the mortgage.  

And on Thursday, I closed on the condo.  


Friday morning I woke in a really good mood. As a bonafide, first-time home owner, I was looking forward to treating my lover to dinner that evening.  

I called him to verify and was shunted to his voice mail. "Webb. Go."  

"Hi, baby. I hope you've been sleeping well. Let me know if we're on for tonight."  

The morning sped by. I went down to the cafeteria for lunch and ordered a Reuben. The agents and support staff were getting used to seeing me there, but they still had a tendency to give my table a wide berth.  

I returned to my office as Ms. Parker, my secretary, put down the phone.  

"I was just about to call you, sir. Mr. Wallace wants you in his office. As soon as possible. I'll hold your calls, and I've rescheduled your meeting with Romero for later this afternoon."  


I went down the corridor to the stairwell and then up the stairs to the floor that housed the administrative offices.  

The Boss' secretary peered at me over her glasses, gave a sour nod, and returned to transcribing what was on her steno pad. If she ever smiled, I was positive her face would break.  

I knocked on the door, opened it, and walked into the office. "Good afternoon, Mr. Wallace."  

"Mr. Palmer." There was a bottle of Mylanta on his desk; he scowled at it and pushed it to the side. "Help yourself to a cup of coffee."  

"Thank you, sir." It looked like this was going to be a meeting of two.  

"And get me one while you're at it."  

I glanced at the antacid but just said, "Yes, sir."  

On the lowboy in front of the window was a stainless steel urn. I poured the coffee – he took it the way I did, black, no milk, no sugar – and placed it before him.  

He nodded toward the chair on the opposite side of his desk, and I sat down and sipped my coffee. If this had been a year ago, or even eight months ago, I'd have been champing at the bit, knowing he was going to send me out to do what I did best, liberate intel or teach those who screwed with the DSD the error of their ways.  

Now I knew that if it came to that, I'd be sending Matheson out into the field.  

The Boss raised his cup to his mouth, and I waited. He put the cup down, rubbed his diaphragm, then folded his hands on his desk. "There's a rumor that the majority of Bradenhurst's contracts with the Federal government are about to be terminated."  

"That rumor has been going around for the last fifteen years – every time some politician gets a bug up his ass about runaway spending." Funds for the DSD came through the Bradenhurst contracts with the government. Since there was no such organization as the DSD, that would be the only way to disband it. The few who knew about the Defense Security Division would never allow that.  

He looked grim. "This has just come to my attention. Senator Wexler is using the excuse of the mounting deficit as the reason behind his decision for these cut-backs."    


He raised an eyebrow, and I realized I'd said the word aloud.  

"Sorry, sir."  

He waved aside my apology. "Senator Wexler has gone from being a minor irritant to becoming a major … nuisance, shall we say? He will be at the Bahsrani embassy tomorrow evening. I know I've told you to make things difficult for him." His lips curved in a smile, but his eyes were stone cold. "Make them even more difficult. Be there every time he turns around."  

I matched his smile. "It will be my pleasure."  

"Very good, Mr. Palmer." He rose to refill his cup, then sat down.  

"I always took Wexler for a womanizing fool."  

"Yes. I saw him that way too. However, I've learned that he has connections with someone at the CIA." He studied me with hooded eyes.  

"Wexler is on the allocations committee, sir." I wasn't even going to wonder if he knew *I* had a connection, albeit a personal one, with someone at the CIA. "Maybe it's just that the CIA wants a larger slice of the pie?"  

"Perhaps, although… " He ran his hand through his hair.  

"Do we know who his connection is?"  

"It's someone high up in the chain of command."  

"How high?"  

"As high as you can go."  

That meant Watts. "Can you trust your source, sir?"  

"I believe so." He told me who it was, and after a moment's thought, I let out a slow breath. Clever. The CIA had any number of women working as officers, and Granger made a very believable woman. He was six feet tall, but then so was Nicole Kidman. "Either way, I'm not inclined to turn a blind eye to this. If you were still in the field, I'd assign you to investigate exactly why Wexler has sought this connection to the CIA at this point in time. However, because of this regulation of mandatory retirement from the field, you'll have to delegate this."  

I'd been doing a lot of that since I'd received my promotion. "All right, sir. I'll put Matheson on it." I raised my cup to take a sip.  

"Do you know, Watts and I went to Yale together, were fraternity brothers? He used to be a friend of mine."  

I swallowed my coffee wrong and couldn't avoid choking. "Excuse me, sir." I put the cup down, found a handkerchief, and blotted up the moisture.  

"Yes. That's about how I see it now."  

"I imagine killing him is out of the question then?"  

"If I thought we could get away with it… No matter who handled his erasure, it would come back to the DSD."  

I understood. If Watts was in a car accident, if he had a stroke at a wedding, if he tripped over a fucking wrinkle in his carpet – the DSD would take the blame for it.  

"I'll give it some thought. Maybe we can get at him through Wexler." I had an uncomfortable thought. "*He* wasn't a friend, was he, sir?"  

"Good god, *no*! The man is a worm." More of a worm than Watts? "It never fails to amaze me how politicians manage to hoodwink their constituents. He's been elected with almost no opposition for the past thirty-five years on a family values platform. The hypocrite. Word is that he's been making a play for Porter Webb."  

"Yes. I had the opportunity to observe him in action at that embassy ball last spring. That has to piss off his wife."  

"She appears to be too busy chasing the fountain of youth. Porter Webb, on the other hand… What a shame we never recruited women. I met her once, back in the late 50s. She was still Porter Sebring then, working with that older brother of hers at the NSA. Such a lovely lady. But then she met Neville Webb… " He became lost in thought for a moment, his smile slightly wistful.   

"Yes, sir." I'd never seen him look like that. I wasn't surprised to learn he had once had a thing for Porter Webb – she was an amazing woman – but rather that he hadn't acted on it.  

He cleared his throat. "Now then… "  

And I knew that topic was closed.  


I kept my cell phone on me at all times, but I'd set it to etiquette mode so it wouldn't ring during my meeting with The Boss. Any calls would go directly to my voice mail. When I finally had the opportunity to check my messages, there was one from Clay.  

"Dinner tonight is out. I'm sorry." There was real regret in his voice. "I'm out on the West Coast, paying a visit to my uncles. Since that matter we'd discussed over the weekend is internal, I wanted to run it by them."  

Clay was a straightforward type, and him being cryptic was interesting. And a turn-on. If he'd been here I'd have kissed him stupid and then fucked him over my desk.  

"I have a return flight for tomorrow afternoon. That was the only one I could get at such short notice. I know, you could do better, but I'm trying to fly under the radar here." I grinned at how aggrieved he sounded. "I should be back in town for the ball, but I may be late. I'm looking forward to next week." His voice lowered, deepened. "Pack light. All you really need is your toothbrush. I plan on us being naked for most of the week – "  

My face flushed, and my cock got hard.  

He became serious. "I've been sleeping well. Other than missing you. Take care of yourself, okay? Bye, babe."  

I pressed the option to save the message, shut my phone and put it away. Briefly, I wondered what Markov had discovered about Clay's cell phone – it had taken him long enough – and then I buzzed my secretary.  

"Ms. Parker, get Matheson in here, would you?"  


Saturday was the day I got caught up on things – did the laundry, paid the bills. This Saturday, I also put my mail and newspaper on hold, emptied the fridge, and generally got my apartment ready to be unoccupied for the next week. I packed for our week away – some casual shirts and slacks on the off-chance we might decide to tour Key West or go fishing, and a suit and nice shirt in case Clay wanted to dine at one of the Key's restaurants.  

Finally it was time to shower, shave, and put on my monkey suit. As I tied the bowtie, I found myself humming the tune Clay had programmed into his phone.  

The invite and my cell phone were in my pocket. I missed my Beretta, but there was no way security at the embassy would let me get through the door with it.  

Not to say I wasn't armed. R&D made some interesting weapons out of plastic polymers, and Romero had given me one the day before.  

I avoided the worst of the traffic and parked my sedan myself on the embassy grounds, preferring to walk the distance to the embassy rather than let anyone else drive my car.  

A pale gold Lexus was driving up just as I reached the steps. I recognized Clay's car and waited while he got out, accepted the chit from the parking attendant, and came to join me.  

"Palmer." //I'm glad to see you,// his eyes told me.  

"Webb." //So am I.//  

We waited for the parking attendant to park the car and return Clay's key, and then we turned to walk into the embassy, passing through a metal detector.  

"I'm surprised to see you here," he said, for the benefit of anyone eavesdropping.  

"Part of my job now."  

He lowered his voice. "Just don't drink any champagne."  


He raised an eyebrow, and I laughed, remembering the evening he'd come to my apartment just after I'd been promoted to deputy director. He'd brought a bottle of champagne to celebrate, and the damned spook had seen that most of it went into my glass. Whatever reaction he'd been expecting wasn't the one he got, though.  

I'd realized how champagne affected me after the first time I'd drunk it, back when I'd been in the Army. It was at the wedding of my commanding officer's daughter. Because my old lady was a lush, I'd stayed away from hard liquor, but the champagne was pale and fizzy and went down very smooth, and I'd had a few glasses before I realized I was feeling pretty damned good. I was turned on just from the feel of my skivvies against my cock, and it reached a point where I knew if I didn't jerk off I'd disgrace myself by coming in front of everyone right there at the table, so I'd discreetly excused myself to go to the men's room. Only I hadn't been as discreet as I'd thought. One of the bridesmaids deliberately followed me, locked the door behind her, and growled, 'I love a man in uniform!' She'd raised the poof-y skirt of her gown, revealing crimson garters edged with black lace – and nothing else – and I'd been so horny I'd wrestled on a condom and rammed into her. She was coming before I'd managed more than a couple of thrusts, and I wasn't far behind her.  

After that, I'd been careful to limit my intake of champagne when I was in public.  

I hadn't been in public with Clay that evening, so I hadn't been careful. I wound up jumping his bones and fucking him through the mattress.  

I tucked that memory away for another time, cleared my throat, and shrugged. "Half these people need to be cancelled."  

Clay followed my gaze just as Senator Wexler, his wife, and aide crossed our line of vision.  

"I'd better find Mother." He sighed. "Wexler has been making it abundantly clear that he wants her and won't take no for an answer."  

"The man's a … " I started to say 'fool,' but then I noticed him pausing to chat with a man whose back was to me. "I'll see you around, Webb."  

"What's he… " He was frowning. "Hmmm? Oh. Sure thing, Palmer."  

Wexler wasn't talking to Watts, as I'd first thought. This man was unfamiliar to me; he had to be a newcomer to DC.  

I'd looked into the background of everyone on Senator Wexler's staff and in his family. His sons-in-law were all nonentities, fitting matches for the daughters his wife had popped out every year until she'd smartened up and found a doctor who would take care of any future little inconveniences.  

I'd wondered why she hadn't taken advantage of the Pill when it came on the market, especially since the Senator was so rabidly pro-life. He'd almost strangled on his righteous indignation, according to my source, when Roe v. Wade was passed.  

The Senator nodded to the man he was with, concluding the conversation before I could get close enough to hear anything beyond, "Keep me informed, Marks."  

The man gave a brisk nod and walked toward the alcove that led to the restrooms. Wexler saw me and paled. He turned on his heel and nearly collided with one of the waiters who wove through the crowd bearing trays of hors d'oeuvres.  

"Look where you're going, young man!" And he stalked off, his stride so stiff it looked as if he had a baseball bat up his ass.  

I decided to see what I could learn about this 'Marks', but when I reached the alcove, there was no sign of him. I chewed the inside of my cheek for a moment, then signaled a passing waiter. It was Howard, again pulling undercover duty. He held out the tray containing what looked like wontons, except the crust was very flakey.  

"These are very good, sir." He pointed out the various types. "Crabmeat, lobster, shrimp."  

"Thanks." I took one and brought it to my mouth, and lowered my voice. "Did you see the man who came this way? Six feet, dark complexion, flowered cummerbund?"

He made a show of handing me a napkin, and dropped his voice as well. "He went through that door." It was concealed by shadows. "Shall I go after him?"  

"Yeah. He was chummy with Senator Wexler. See if you can learn anything about him." I raised my voice slightly. "You're right, these are good." I took another one.  

He smiled and went off to continue his rounds. Within a matter of minutes, he had vanished.  


I turned around, a grin pinned on my face. "Lieutenant Commander Rabb." No one else could make my name sound like a curse.  

"I wasn't expecting to see you here!"  

"I could say the same. How's your ass?"  

It took an effort for him not to reach for the butt cheek that had been tattooed. He glared at me.  

"*Harm*!" It was Colonel McKenzie. "Don't start!"  


"And don't whine! Come on, I see Bud and Harriet over there with the Admiral and Commander Turner!"  

What was this, a JAG reunion?  

She gave me a curt nod. "Palmer."  

"Colonel. Rabb."  

With a final glare, Rabb stalked away, muttering under his breath.  

"Clark, have you been annoying the Lieutenant Commander?" Clay's breath was a whisper in my ear, and I wanted to wallow in the sensation.  

I didn't, however. I grinned at him, knowing that grin was different from the one I'd given Rabb. "I was just standing here, minding my own business. Can I help it if he doesn't like me?"  

Clay frowned at me, but his eyes were laughing. "Leave the man alone. Oh, jesus, Wexler is trying to corner my mother again." He strode across the room – the man did striding very well – got to her before the Senator, and led her onto the dance floor.  

Wexler's expression darkened, and for a second I thought he was going to go after Clay and his mother. He spotted me and must have decided a drink was a better idea. He turned on his heel and went to the bar, and gestured to a bartender.  

He studiously avoided looking in my direction – I would have wanted to be aware if someone who didn't have much use for me was in the same room, but that was me – and he didn't notice when I joined him. He was taking the daiquiri he had ordered.  

"I'll have a club soda," I told the bartender.  

Wexler jumped, spilling some of the drink onto his sleeve. "Dammit!"  

"I'm so sorry, Senator." I took a paper napkin from the stack on the bar and wiped at the spill. If it had been my intent, I could have doctored the drink without his ever being aware. "Let me help you with that."  

"No, no. That's fine. I didn't see you there. Er… Accidents will happen."  

"I thought gin was your poison, Senator."  

"This drink is for a lady."  

"Ah. The lovely Mrs. Wexler."  

He turned red and choked.  

"You did mean your wife, didn't you, Senator?"  

"Yes. Of course that's who I meant. Who else would I be getting it for?"  

"Oh, I don't know." I let it drop for the time being. The bartender brought my club soda. A wedge of lime was on the rim of the glass. "Thank you." I squeezed the lime into the soda, stirred it with a swizzle stick, and took a sip. "Are you enjoying yourself, Senator?"  

"Yes. Oh, er… there's my wife. I must get her this before the ice melts."  

"Sure, Senator. Don't let me keep you."  

He hurried to his wife's side. She looked surprised when he handed her the drink, gratified, and then her face darkened in irritation.  

The man *was* a fool. Elizabeth Wexler wasn't the one who drank daiquiris


End Part A

To Part B