by Cheryl B.

Walking down a busy London street on a cool spring morning, the woman's long blonde hair swayed back and forth across the back of her black leather trenchcoat in time with her quick, deliberate steps, her heels clicking on the pavement.

When she approached a small park, she sat on wrought iron bench in a quiet area, sheltered by trees. It was past 10 o'clock, but there was no sign of the stranger with whom she'd arranged to rendezvous.

As she looked to scan the area for anyone who might be her contact, she jumped as she felt a tap on her opposite shoulder. Instinctively, she stood up quickly in automatic defense mode.

She found herself face-to-face with a handsome man in a black suit. His hair was dark brown, slightly greying at the temples in a most attractive manner, and his eyes were a smouldering grey-green. His black overcoat was open and blowing in the breeze.

"Lenore, I presume?" the gentleman asked in a soft, seductive British accent.

"Yes, and you must be Raven." she replied. "Not very wise to sneak up on me like that. Besides that, you're late." And very cute as well, she thought.

The man glanced at his Rolex. "Just by five minutes, I'm sorry love." He smiled. "Have you got the money?"

She raised a brow. "I can get to it very quickly, I wasn't about to carry a million pounds on me, not until I felt out my contact.." She glanced at his amused expression. "You know what I mean..."

"Why don't you show me?" Raven said with a mischievous smile.

"In your dreams," she replied coolly.

"If I am merely dreaming, then may I never awaken..." He kissed her hand.

Lenore fought back the urge to dwell on the lovely gesture, and his beautiful eyes. "Where are the jewels?" she asked.

With a knowing grin, Raven looked at her and chuckled softly. "Like the money, the jewels are also best left in safekeeping until the right moment."

He leaned in and whispered in her ear "You never know when the bad guys might show up."

She felt a chill run down her spine as his warm breath teased her ear. "That's right,' she smiled, "You never know."

"Meet me for tea at 4 o'clock at the hotel across the street," Raven suggested. "We'll make our exchange there."

Nodding, she agreed. "Reservations under the name 'Poe,' I presume?"

He chuckled. "Fits our code names, surely enough. I"ll make the call."

"I'll see you then, Raven." she replied.

"Until then, lovely Lenore." He kissed her hand once more, and he was off.

She watched him disappear out of sight, and sighed heavily. It was going to be a real shame to kill this one...

At four, briefcase in hand, Lenore walked into the hotel restaurant, grand and exquisite with crystal chandeliers, fine Irish linens, the best china and silver, fresh flowers, and an attentive and impeccably- dressed wait staff.

She was about to ask the maitre'd to show her to their table when she saw Raven across the room, waving to her. She found her way to the table, and he arose as she was seated.

He sat back down and the waiter soon arrived with a steaming pot of perfectly-brewed darjeeling and a platter of assorted freshly-baked scones. After filling their cups, the waiter left them to their food and conversation.

Raven added milk and sugar to his tea, and spread an orange scone with clotted cream and boysenberry jam. He took a bite with a sip of tea. "This is lovely, isn't it?" he sighed contentedly.

"Yes, I suppose so," Lenore said absently. "I just want to get down to business." She sipped her tea, but wasn't eating anything.

"There's plenty of time for that, but for now, you simply must try one of these scones, they're the best in town." He held out a lemon scone to her with a smile.

"Alright, alright," she sighed with a shake of her head, "Pushy, aren't you?"

He grinned. "I can be."

Lenore looked at him for a moment, then took the spoon from the small crystal jar of marmalade and dropped a brilliant orange dollop of the sweet preserves onto her scone.

Then in her lap, out of his sight, she ran a long scarlet fingernail along the clasp of her silver watch to loosen it. When she raised the scone to her lips, the watch slipped off her wrist and to the floor beneath the table.

"Oh dear!" she feigned dismay, "Where did it go?"

"Allow me," he replied gallantly as he stood and knelt beneath the table to retrieve her watch, as she quickly slipped a tiny vial from her handbag and put three small drops of its contents into his cup.

"Here you go," he smiled when he popped his head up, watch in hand. "Be careful, you don't want to lose this again."

Still kneeling, Raven gently, tenderly placed the watch around Lenore's slender wrist and fastened the clasp. His eyes glowed with warmth, gazing into hers as he kissed her hand.

She remained captive to his sweet, seductive gaze as he arose and took his seat again. And as he reached for his cup, she made a split-second decision, one that she knew would change everything.

In a flash, Lenore stood, knocked the cup over with a sweep of her hand, grabbed the satchel by his feet on the floor beneath the table, leaving him the briefcase, and with a regretful "I'm sorry," she ran out of the restaurant.

Later in her hotel room, Lenore wondered if she'd done the right thing. She'd never let her emotions overtake her professionalism before. But she also knew the first cardinal rule of the business: always trust your instincts. And her instincts told her, in no uncertain terms, not to go through with it.

She could barely think, and she hadn't eaten anything all day to boot, so she called downstairs for dinner: grilled salmon, wild rice, asparagus and caesar salad. Soon there was a knock at the door.

"Room service."

She opened the door to find Raven, wearing a bellhop's uniform, a rolling cart with plates of food in front of him. He pushed the cart in to block her exit before she could escape, and locked the door behind them.

"Thought I'd join you for dinner and a little conversation," he said with a raised eyebrow, his eyes fixed on her as she stood across the room.

"Somehow, I've just lost my appetite," she replied, suddenly breaking into a run trying to reach the door. But he grabbed for her and knocked her to the floor. He landed on top of her, his hands pinning her wrists down, the weight of his body imprisoning the rest of her.

"Does this... approach... usually work... for you....." she spat out between heaving breaths as she struggled, "Because frankly... it isn't... doing anything... for me."

"My my, quite the little wildcat, aren't you?" he grinned as he tightened his grip on her wrists. "Well, I'll make you a deal, love. You tell me what I want to know, and perhaps I'll let you go."

He leaned in close to her, his gaze fiery and unrelenting. "Unless, of course, you don't *want* me to let you go?"

Writhing desperately within his captive embrace, Lenore hissed, "If you want to keep that pretty face in one piece, I'd suggest you keep it away from me, unless you want me to take out a chunk of it." She snapped her teeth at him in warning.

"Mmmmmm, no, I don't think so, love," Raven smiled softly as he placed his mouth over hers in a kiss. She gasped in surprise, but didn't protest. He backed off for a moment to look into her eyes and read her reaction.

She gave him his answer. Something inside her changed as she looked up into his hypnotic eyes. Her guard went down, and her cold gaze turned warm, betraying her emotions almost against her will and better judgment, as she tilted her head up towards him, like a flower turning to the sun.

Raven smiled and kissed her again, deeper this time, his hands off her wrists, fingers entwined in hers, making her more his prisoner now than she was before.

After savoring her intoxicating lips for several long moments, he arose and helped her up. "Sit, please," he motioned toward the small table and chairs in he corner. They both sat down, and he looked at her, taking her hands in his.

"First off, I think we can dispense with the formalties of code names." He smled lazily, seductively, at her. "My name is Richard."

"I'm Sarah," she replied.

"A pleasure, my lady." he said softly. "But now, I suppose we should get back to the business at hand," he said with a gentle smile.

"Indeed we should," Sarah replied "Shall we begin with the jewels in the satchel?" she asked knowingly, "They're beautiful, but I really don't think that glass replicas would fetch anywhere near a mil on the black market, do you?"

Richard looked at her and grinned. "Point taken. But I'd have to say that for a satchel full of counterfeit bills, it was more than a fair trade, wouldn't you agree, my darlin'?..."

Sarah chuckled. "I guess we're both... cautious. A good thing in our line of work, no?"

"Absolutely," He agreed.

She paused. "Richard..."


She looked down. "I.... I poisoned your tea at the restaurant."

He looked at her softly. "I know." He laughed quietly. "You don't spend as many years in the business as I have, and survive, without that instinct for danger."

He looked into her guilty blue eyes. "But you didn't finish the job...why?"

A trace of sadness clouded her delicate features. "Killing you was part of my orders, but there was just something about the situation, about you, that just made it seem wrong." She looked into his intoxicating eyes. "I... I'm so sorry."

Richard looked at her with understanding and kindness. "For what, not killing me?" he asked with a wink. "I appreciate it, actually.... not that I would have let you get away with it, mind you."

He smiled. "And those orders...from whom did you receive them?"

She stared at him for a moment, trying to read him. No, she didn't know him, not really, but something deep inside her heart told her she could trust him. Always go with your instincts...

"Colin St. Claire, the owner of the jewels," Sarah confided. "He hired me to put the word out about his stolen jewels, make arrangements to pay a tidy ransom for them, meet the contact, kill him and bring St. Claire back both his jewels and his money, while he also received a generous insurance cheque from Lloyds of London for his 'stolen' jewels."

"Clever little plan," Richard offered quietly, "Except for one small detail. Lloyds of London has its own spies, to make sure that little tricks like that don't happen. So when he filed his claim, I went to work on the case."

She looked at him. "You work for Lloyds?"

"Yes," he said. "I tracked down the thief and the jewels, but I had to kill him when he lunged at me with a knife. So I took the jewels and was about to bring them to Lloyds to return to St. Claire when I got the word on the streets that you were looking for them. I had copies made, and arranged to meet you."

Sarah laughed, shaking her head. "You're good."

"So I've been told...." he whispered as he leaned in and kissed her again, his strong arms making her feel safe, although her heart remained in mortal danger of being stolen.

"Beautiful Sarah..." he whispered as he scooted closer to her and continued his seductive kisses.

"Richard..." she breathed, his mouth on her ear now, his breath deep and ragged, his tongue tracing her earlobe, whispering the sweetest things in her ear as her world began spinning in delicious slow motion bliss.

When his mouth finally left her, she touched his cheek. "I've got to go back, Richard. Give St. Claire his money and jewels and tell him I'm through."

"No, Sarah," he said seriously. "You can't. He'd kill you in an instant. In his eyes, you betrayed him by deliberately failing your mission. And besides, you know too much."

"I have to go, Richard. What else can I do?" Tears welled up in her eyes. "I've done some terrible things, and I.... I just can't do it anymore, and I just don't care what happens to me..." Sarah began to weep, and Richard held her in his comforting embrace.

"But I do care," he reassured her softly, "I've only just now found you, and I'm not about to lose you so soon." He stroked her soft blonde hair and kissed her so gently and tenderly that she thought her heart would break.

When she'd settled a bit, Richard went into the bathroom to change out of his bellhop uniform and back into his suit, which was in a garment bag on the bottom rack of the cart. He called room service to take away the now-cold food, and bring up a hot meal.

"We're going to figure this out, together, Sarah," Richard promised her. "We'll come up with a plan."

And after a couple of hours to clear their heads, a couple of platters of crisp fish and chips, and several cups of tea, they indeed had their plan. It was now nearly one in the morning.

Sarah picked up the telephone and dialed a number. "Colin? It's Sarah. Sorry to call so late, but I wanted to let you know that it's done....yes it all went according to plan. I'll meet you there at the party around 9 this evening, alright? Good, I'll see you then, good night...."

"Well, that's all settled." she said, hanging up with a sigh. "I suppose we'd best be getting some sleep before Colin's elegant soiree. He always loves a dramatic setting."

"Alright, Sarah," he said as he arose to leave, "I'll see you in the morning..." He glanced at his watch. "...or later this morning, rather."

She stood and looked at him. "Wait, don't go," she said. "It would be silly for you to trudge all the way back home at this hour.... that is, unless you don't trust me?"

Richard took her into his arms. "No, it's not you, my beauty," he whispered as he kissed her, "It's myself I don't trust, I fear. You make it very difficult for me to remain a gentleman."

Sarah desperately returned his kiss, as if his mouth were a wellspring of life and refreshment to her parched soul, and she drank deeply of him. "Gentlemanliness is a highly overrated trait...." she whispered.

Richard's fingers ran through her blonde tresses. "You tempt me far too much with your beautiful words," he said softly, still holding her close, "But you're confused and vulnerable right now, and I won't take advantage of that, or of you." He released her and touched her cheek with a gentle hand.

Sarah sighed as he walked to the door. "You're right, of course... and you truly are a gentleman - thank you."

"Shhhhhh, you'll ruin my reputation!" Richard softly chided her with a wink as he lifted her chin with one finger and kissed her goodnight once more, smiled sweetly, and slipped away into the night.

She prepared quickly for bed and slipped between the cool sheets, but all she could do was toss and turn. Thoughts of her former life, things she had done, and her feelings for Richard all stirred torturously through her mind. She imagined the bliss they would have known if he had stayed, holding her, loving her, making her feel safe and warm, causing her past disappear for just one peaceful night in the whirlwind of sweet passion and desire.

With a heavy sigh, she realized that he was right, whether she liked it or not, and she knew it - in her cool, professional, analytical head anyway. But her heart, oh, how vulnerable her heart was, filled with deep, secret longings, the heady intensity of them overwhelming and even frightening to her.

Sarah reached over to the bedside clock radio and fumbled to find a station with soothing music. After finding a classical station and turning it low, she closed her eyes and finally succumbed to fitful slumber.

She awoke around ten that morning, and called for breakfast before heading to the shower. As she emerged from the shower, wrapped in a thick terrycloth robe and drying her hair, the bellhop arrived with coddled eggs, sausages, a basket of assorted muffins, and hot tea, setting the tray out on the small table on the terrace, per her request. As she tipped the young man, she smiled, recalling how handsome Richard had looked the night before in his uniform.

Sitting and relaxing over a cup of tea, and nibbling on a cranberry- walnut muffin, Sarah closed her eyes and let the cool morning breeze caress her face, as if the brisk air were blowing away all of her troubles.

Sleep, food and the perspective of a new day all helped to ease her mind somewhat. She went back inside and got dressed in jeans, turtleneck, wool jacket and leather ankle boots - all black - with a silver belt, necklace and earrings.

After pulling her hair back into a ponytail and applying a bit of rosy lipstick, powder and mascara, she went out to do some errands.

Several hours later, Sarah returned to the hotel room with a large shopping bag and a small paper bag in hand, and plopped down exhausted on the floral-upholstered sofa. She pulled a box out of the bag, pushed aside the tissue paper and admired the dress she'd selected for the party that evening...

Retrieving a large, fragrant peach from the smaller bag, she sat back and savored the juicy sweetness as it dribbled down her chin. Still full from her hearty breakfast earlier, the fruit sufficed for lunch.

Sarah prepared a few things for the evening when the phone rang. It was Richard, who was checking in on her and letting her know he'd stop by shortly. Happy to hear his voice, and even happier to be seeing him so soon, she went into the bath to wash the stickiness from her face, brush her teeth and refresh her powder and lipstick.

Richard arrived soon, a garment bag slung over his shoulder. He was dapper and dashing in a sharp grey suit with lavender shirt and tie. After closing the door, he took her into his arms and placed his lips on hers, betraying his desperate need of her embrace and sweet kisses.

"I've counted the moments, my beautiful darlin'" he smiled at her, his eyes soft and kind.

"So have I..." Sarah confessed. "I'm so glad to see you, Richard."

"And I you," he whispered.

She motioned him to the couch, and they sat together, his arm casually draped across her shoulder, her head leaning in and resting softly upon his strong shoulder.

"Have you everything ready on your end for this evening, love?" Richard asked, his thumb gently rubbing against her temple.

"Yes, and you?" she repled, closing her eyes and relaxing into his gentle touch.

"Of course, everything's in place," he assured her. "I've got my invitation for the party, and everything else I'll need."

Sarah merely sighed, barely registering his words as she lost herself in his caress.

He smiled and spoke softly to her. "You're so stressed, love... here, lie back on the couch, and let me help."

Sarah lay down, looking up at him with a grateful smile before closing her eyes. Richard began to rub her temples with his thumbs. He applied gentle pressure at first, then intensifying it at her urging.

"How does that feel, darlin'?" he whispered softly, working in small, deliberate circles.

"Mmmmmmmm, just divine..." she sighed, "It feels so good..."

Richard rubbed for a few more moments. "Turn over now, Sarah..." he said quietly.

Without protest, she moved so she was lying face down now, and he began to gently massage the base of her neck, where he could feel the tension knots like large marbles.

"Now this may hurt for a minute or two, but it will feel much better when I'm finished. Will you trust me?"

More than anyone else I've ever trusted in my life, she thought. "Yes," she said softly, "Please..."

Sarah felt daggers shooting through her head as he applied harder pressure to her neck, and she gulped down her sobs of pain, grasping the throw pillow she was holding and digging her fingernails into it.

"I'm sorry, angel, I truly don't mean to hurt you. It won't be much longer," Richard promised her in a kind, sympathetic voice as he stopped for a moment to tenderly kiss the hurting spot before continuing working the area.

"'s ok," she said quietly, bracing herself. "Go ahead."

The pain intensified for a moment as he continued to massage her with his gentle, skilled hands, then began to subside as she felt the tension began to flow from her body in waves.

As she felt a flood of relief washing over her, she let go of all the stress and inner pain that she'd held onto for so long, giving herself over to the feeling of release. "Oh Richard, yes...yes..." she cried out softly as she dissolved into tears.

Richard smoothed her hair tenderly and helped her sit up long enough so he could slide in to sit beside her, and then took her into his arms and held her as she calmed down.

"I'm sorry that it hurt you so, Sarah. But you had so much built-up tension inside of you, it had to come out or it would have just gotten worse."

She looked at him with a grateful smile. "Oh no, please, Richard, you made me feel so much better, I can't even begin to tell you. You have the most amazing, healing touch..." She lifted her head to kiss him.

"It's been so long since I've felt so safe or so completely, truly relaxed," she confided. "I haven't let anyone this close to me, physically or emotionally, in years. Or allowed myself to be this vulnerable. It... it feels wonderful."

"Do you want to talk about it, Sarah?" he asked kindly. "If you don't, I understand. But perhaps it would help."

Sarah snuggled into the pillow with a sigh. "I don't want to burden you with my problems..."

Richard touched her cheek. "It's no burden, my love. Tell me what's troubling you."

It was time to let go, to let someone inside, finally. And within Richard's sympathetic eyes, she found her sanctuary.

"About five years ago, I was a happily married woman here in London. My husband was a businessman, good money, long hours, business trips, etc. When Jonathan started becoming more aloof at home, and spending more and more time away, I thought he was having an affair. Turns out, he was a spy.

"I was furious at first, that he'd keep something as big as that from me, but we talked it over and he made me realize that, while he was sorry to have deceived me, he was trying to protect me. So we drew even closer now that I knew the truth. He even began to teach me a little about the 'business' so I could help him with some of his cases, and to be able to handle myself if we were ever caught in a dangerous situation.

"Well," Sarah continued, still lying in Richard's lap as he stroked her hair, "I was a quick learner, and we became partners. I loved it, the work itself, and standing beside Jonathan as a team. But then..." She paused. "He was killed. Assasinated while he was on some big case. Shot down like a dog by a cowardly sniper..." She closed her eyes, determined not to cry again.

"Nothing, nobody could console me. I didn't know what to do or where to turn or how I could go on. And then, at the funeral, I met Colin St. Claire.

"He told me he'd worked with Jonathan in the past, and expressed his sorrow over my loss. He called about a month later, we went for tea and talked for a couple of hours. Colin ended up offering me a job working for him.

"The first job I did was to investigate a new butler that he was considering for the job. His resume seemed to check out, but when I got to digging around, I found out that he was, in truth, a con man who'd robbed millions of pounds from several former employees. Colin was grateful, a bit too grateful for comfort, truth be told, but I could handle myself. And it felt good to have something to do again to keep myself occupied.

"But the next job was rough. A former girlfriend of his had a valuable painting he'd given her, and he wanted it back. She refused, and he sent me to get it. I snuck into her house one night, and was halfway gone with the painting when she came downstairs. She shot at me, and missed." Sarah's gaze turned dark. "But when I returned fire, I didn't..."

"After that happened, I couldn't do it anymore. I locked myself in my flat for a month, refusing to return Colin's calls. But when this jewel heist went down, he got desperate. He turned on the charm and flattery, using my grief, not only for Jonathan but the poor girl, to make me believe that this life was what I was destined for, that it was all I had. He made me think that with him and this bloody career, I was everything, but if I turned away from it all, I was nothing. A nothing who'd murdered someone. After that, it became easy.

"I had probably a dozen assignments, and nearly that many fatalities. It started feeling less painful and more uneventful, no more than swatting a fly. Colin had me so strung out on his mind trip that I didn't know who I was anymore, or who I ought to be. And that's when I met you..."

She looked up at Richard. "Your kindness and your gentle touch somehow freed me from his control, shook me into reality once again." Tears formed in the corners of her eyes. "But I'm not so sure it's a place I wish to be...or deserve to be"

Richard comforted her for several moments. "It's not your fault... Sarah, it's not your fault..."

"Yes it is," she said softly, wiping away her tears. "I didn't have to do it, I didn't..."

"He left you no choice." Richard said. "I know more about St. Claire than you've told me."

Sarah sat up and looked at him. "What? What about Colin?"

Richard took her hands into his, and looked into her eyes. "Colin is the one who assasinated your husband. Jonathan was a former associate of his, but certain things began to not add up, and he got too close to taking Colin down - so he killed him.

"It was probably the one case he didn't want you to know about or involved in because of the danger." He paused. "I'm so sorry, Sarah."

"I've been on his trail for many years, now," he continued as Sarah looked at him in shock. "I don't really work for Lloyds, I work for the government. St. Claire isn't just some rich guy looking out for his assets. He's a thief. A good one. A murderous one.

"The butler who turned out to be a thief was his main competitor, and he wanted to bring him down. Fortunately for the thief, you weren't programmed enough yet to take him out, so Colin had to settle for having him thrown in prison on the information you dug up.

"And the ex-girlfriend... Colin had his eye on that painting for a long time. He actually only met her once, at a party where she had the misfortune of mentioning the painting to him...

"Your other assignments were the same sort, people who he claimed had property of his or were out to hurt him in some way, yet they merely were people who stood in his way or had something he wanted. And he didn't care if they died in the process or not. I'm still not sure about the jewel thief's story, but I guess we'll never know now, will we?"

Sarah stood and paced the room, not saying a word.

"We don't have to do this, Sarah. We can turn it over to someone else..." Richard explained.

Sarah turned to face him, her eyes a maelstrom of rage and fury, sorrow turned to a steely determination. "Absolutely not," she said firmly, "The bastard is mine."

Richard and Sarah prepared for the party, she in the bath and he in the main room. Her eyes drank in the breathtaking sight of Richard standing there in a black tuxedo with matching vest, a red rose pinned to his lapel.

And Richard was obviously as enamored with her as she was with him, as he walked slowly around her, taking in all possible angles of the beautiful lady in the ice blue satin ballgown that matched her eyes, her blonde hair swept up into an elegant french twist, diamonds on her ears and at her throat.

"I've gone to heaven, and they've given me the most beautiful angel there..." he said softly as he kissed her hand, his eyes fixed on hers, leaning in to take her eager lips in a passionate kiss.

"Richard," she breathed, "No matter what happens tonight..."

"Shhhhhhh," he interrupted her, "Nothing's going to happen to you. I'm going to be there, and I won't let it."

Sarah looked deeply into his eyes. "Richard, you can't honestly promise me that. You know this business even more than I. There are no promises... except this..." She touched his face. "No matter what happens tonight, I want you to know that I'm so grateful to you for giving me my life back. And that..." She paused. "....and that I love you."

His face was radiant with tenderness. "And I love you too, my sweet Sarah..." He kissed her again, deeply and passionately. As she parted her lips to receive him fully, their tongues touched and caressed, speaking without words the desire and understanding they felt for each other.

He released her, and offered an arm. "Shall we?"

Sarah nodded and grabbed her small evening bag, took his arm, and they were off.

Richard's silver Astin Martin sped along the streets of London. Sarah leaned back in the plush, butter-soft black leather seat and let herself enjoy the ride. Richard smiled at her and rested his hand on her knee.

As they approached St. Claire's mansion, Richard pulled off to the side of the road. "Here, you take the car, and I'll be there in a few minutes." She kissed him and scooted over to the driver's side as he got out of the car.

Sarah pulled up in front, as a valet approached to help her from the car, and drive it around back to park it with the other cars. She took a deep breath and walked inside.

She handed the butler her invitation. "Sarah Wentworth," she said, as she gave the maid her satin wrap. The butler motioned to the double- doors just a few steps down from the foyer.

Another maid was waiting with crystal flutes of fine champagne as she entered the ballroom. An orchestra was playing, and people were dancing and drinking champagne. She spotted Colin across the room, who motioned her to join him, and she desperately wished Richard were already there.

St. Claire was 45 years old, tall, his sandy blonde hair slicked back, and he wore a black tuxedo with silver bow tie and cummerbund. He would probably seem attractive to a woman who didn't know him.

"Colin," she said, forcing a smile as she kissed his cheek. "Don't you look handsome this evening!"

He gave her a snake-like grin. "Sarah... you are truly a vision, my dear." Colin touched his cold lips to her hand, looking her over in a very discomforting manner.

"So glad you could come." he continued, "but we must get down to business, mustn't we?"

Motioning to a side door, he led her to a small room, closing the door behind them. "Now, tell me everything," he said, "You mentioned on the phone that all went according to plan?"

She sat on a small chair. "Yes, everything went off without a hitch. The contact is dead, and I have the jewels and the money."

"Splendid!" His clear, black obsidian eyes bored into her as he circled her. "Where are they?" he demanded.

She leaned in close. "They're under safekeeping," she whispered, trying to kindle his flame, "I didn't want to bring it here until I was sure everything was... safe. Is it safe, Colin?" She ran a painted nail softly across his cheek.

"Yes, my Sarah, it's safe," he replied, his face moving toward hers to kiss her. She wanted to bite off his lips and spit them on the floor.

But instead, Sarah coyly stepped away with a grin. "Now, now, Colin, there's plenty of time for that later, after we make the exchange." She caressed his face. "I can be back in fifteen minutes with the goods, where shall I meet you?"

Colin thought for a moment. "Meet me around the back, by the servants' quarters. I have a safe nearby in a secret passageway, not far from the entrance." He smiled. "We can have a bit of... privacy there."

Good, she thought, then nobody will find your stinking corpse when I'm through with you...

"Alright, I'll see you in a few minutes," she replied with a wink.

As she left the small room, her eyes swept the ballroom. She caught sight of Richard standing in the middle of the room, and motioned to the front door with a glance, which he acknowledged with a small nod.

The valet brought her car around, and she exited the long driveway to a small wooded spot where she'd arranged to meet Richard. She turned off the headlights and the engine. He arrived in a few minutes, and got in the passenger seat.

Sarah quickly explained the situation, and Richard adjusted the microphone wires that she had on, which would record all of her conversations back at the government office, and which Richard could hear in a small, inconspicuous earphone. He retrieved the briefcase of counterfeit money and the satchel of fake jewels from the boobytrapped trunk and put them on the floor by his feet.

Richard took her into his arms and kissed her. "Good luck, my angel. I'll be there if you need me, just be careful..."

"I will," she assured him. She started the car and let him off near her rendezvous point, then drove up to the servants' entrance. Colin was waiting for her.

"There you are, my dear!" he said. "Come with me."

Sarah nodded and took the bags in hand, following him inside, her heart pounding.

"Right this way," he motioned to her as he unlocked and opened a wooden door right inside the entrance. It was a small, dusty room, obviously unused for many an age. There was a small table with two chairs, a cot, and a bookcase.

Sarah felt a twinge of fear at being isolated here with St. Claire, but she fought it back, stepping toward him. "So, Colin," she purred, "this is where you have your safe hidden, hmmmm?" She glanced around the crude little room. "Is it behind the bookcase?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" he said smugly, taking her into his arms.

"Of course," she said. "I want to know everything. A fair exchange from the man who killed my husband, isn't it?"

Colin backed off slightly. "What?"

Sarah continued her performance, walking slowly toward him. "Oh, come now, Colin, I'm not that stupid. And I hated you for it, I really did. Until you made me see what I was missing all those years with him, all that wasted time doing 'goody goody' work. But this is where the action is."

She kissed his cheek. "And I like it. Very much. Being bad is so much more..." she leaned in close, feeling his hot, hormone-laden breath in her face, "...stimulating."

Sarah knew his weakness, and she played on it to the fullest extent. He kissed her, nearly making her sick, but she tried to feign enjoyment.

She whispered seductively in his ear as he kissed her neck. "Tell me what it felt like to kill him." she begged in whispered breaths as she played with the tiny hairs on the nape of his neck. "I want to hear the details, Colin. It excites me. Tell me, please..."

"It was good, baby, so very very good. That Boy Scout deserved it..." he breathed, grasping at the front of her dress.

"Oh Sarah, I want you, right here, right now..." he said, pawing at her. Suddenly he stopped, and he plunged his hand down her dress, pulling out a wire. "What's this?" His eyes burned into hers.

"You bitch!" he yelled as he slapped her hard, knocking her onto the cot. "You betrayed me! After I took you in and made you into somebody?"

Sarah spit on him. "How can a bloody two-bit criminal like you make me into a somebody, St. Clare?"

He slapped her again and threw himself on top of her. "My my, such a formal way to address me, considering how intimately aquainted we're about to become...before I kill you."

Colin ripped her dress and kissed her hard, his hands rough and cruel on her skin. Sarah's struggling only seemed to excite him more, as he whispered menacingly "I've been waiting for this for a long time, Sarah..."

Just then, there was a loud crash as Richard kicked in the door, gun in hand. "Leave her alone," he demanded coldly, his icy eyes afire, his eyes fixed unrelenting on him.

"Who the hell are you?" St. Claire demanded, standing up, pulling Sarah up with him, and holding a gun on Richard. "Just so I can notify your next of kin..."

"Me?" Richard asked smugly, glaring at him intensely. "I'm the man who has the *real* money and jewels stashed safely away, far from here. The man who has your murder confession on tape."

Colin stared at him. "Well, then, I guess I haven't anything else to lose by killing this little bird, is there?"

Instinctively, Sarah kneed him in the groin, causing him to drop the gun. She dropped to the floor, grabbed the gun, rolled over to where Richard stood and quickly rose to stand beside him. He smiled proudly at her with great relief.

"Clever girl," Colin moaned, still doubled over in pain, yet an evil grin crossed his face, "But not clever enough I fear." He reached behind him to pull out a second hidden gun, and aimed right at Richard.

But before he could fire, a shot hit Colin right in the middle of the forehead, and he fell to the floor in a puddle of blood, dead. Sarah stood there frozen, staring, St. Claire's dropped gun still in her hands, a puff of smoke rising into the air.

Richard gently took the gun from her hands, and led her out of the room. They went into the study, and after helping her sit down, he called his bosses in the government, informing them of what had taken place. They thanked him, and then he turned his attention to Sarah.

Sitting beside her, he held her hands and smiled softly at her. "Are you alright, darlin'"

Sarah smiled weakly. "Yes, I'm fine. It was awful, but there's a big difference between killing someone for no reason, and doing it out of self-defense." She looked into his eyes. "Or to save the person that you love."

Richard held her close and kissed her passionately. She held on tightly, returning his kisses with a new-found sense of freedom and release, savoring his gentle tongue, so tenderly exploring the exotic mysteries of her mouth, as sweet as wine. It was a whole new life, and it began today, right now, with him.

"I think I can get you a job as my partner. Would you like that?" he asked. "You'll be working for the good guys this time, and I'll be right there, by your side, every step of the way."

Richard grinned. "Besides, I need someone as skilled as you to watch my back." He kissed her again.

"Partners?" he asked.

"Partners..." she agreed.

"So tell me," Sarah purred within his embrace, "Is this the part where the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and the spy gets the girl?"

"Well, my love, two out of three ain't bad," Richard said with a soft, mischievous grin, feeding hungrily on her mouth. "But what do you say we try for a perfect score?"


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