The familiar voice drifted across her subconscious and begged her to awaken. But, the dream pulled her too, and she couldn’t decide which one to obey.
This time, the call included a gentle but persistent shake of her shoulders. She cracked one eye and peered outside, the morning sunlight just starting to give the first signs of dawn.
"Yeah, who else would it be? Now will you wake up? We might have company in a moment if we don’t get moving."
That brought Amanda’s senses to full alert. "Company?" She sat up and threw off the blanket then brought her seat to an upright position. Lee had already tossed the other blankets behind him and now peered through the binoculars at the house across the street. "What do you see?"
"Nothing yet, but I think we should make ourselves a bit less conspicuous."
"There’s a park around the back side of the house. Phillip and Jamie ride their bikes there on occasion. We could set up in the bushes that line the back yard."
Lee nodded. "That might be our best chance to keep watch without being seen ourselves." He checked his gun then hung the binoculars around his neck and grabbed the radio transmitter before unfolding himself from the car.
Amanda rubbed the sleep from her eyes, patted her hair down, resituated her clothing, and reached for the small hamper on the floor at her feet. "No sense going out cold and hungry.
She joined Lee and ducked into the copse of trees at the end of the street. Making their way around back, they searched for a good spot along the property line where they could stay concealed and keep watch on the house. Lee led them to a small clearing with bushes on either side.
"This is as good as it gets, it looks like."
Amanda approached then dumped her load at his feet. He cast a disdainful look at the hamper, tarp and sleeping bags then looked up at her.
"We’re not here for a picnic, Amanda."
"I know that, Lee, but it’s cold out here, and neither one of us has eaten a thing since yesterday afternoon. You know as well as I do that we need to be prepared at all times." She gestured at the supplies. "So, I am."
"My wife, the Junior Trailblazer."
Amanda folded her arms across her chest. "Yeah, and just how many times have those same skills saved your backside?"
He sighed. "All right, all right. Enough already." Lee gestured toward the rear of the house. "Now, do you think we can get back to business?"
"Just as soon as I make us a comfortable place to lie down."
Lee shook his head. "Have it your way."
In a few minutes, Amanda had spread out the tarp under the sleeping bags and zippered the two of them together to form a large one. She placed the hamper in front of them then slipped inside. Her gaze shifted to where her husband sat, his hands rubbing his arms in a feeble attempt to ward off the nip in the morning air. "Are you going to join me, or do you intend to stay there and freeze?" She patted the empty spot beside her. "I can assure you it’s much warmer in here than out there."
Without a word, he knelt beside the bag then crawled inside and shifted to lie on his stomach. Amanda smiled and placed her hand at the base of his neck, giving it a gentle squeeze.
"Now, was that so hard?"
Lee remained silent. He reached for the binoculars and raised them to his eyes to watch the house. Amanda watched too, but saw nothing. So, she reached inside the hamper and retrieved two sandwiches along with an apple and an orange.
"Which one do you want? Turkey or ham?"
She held up the fare in front of his face. "Turkey or ham?"
"When in the world did you have time to pack those?"
"When you went into the den to gather the equipment we’d need for our surveillance assignment." She shrugged. "Sorry, I don’t have any day-old coffee or a stale roll, but this can make up for our missed dinner last night."
Lee groaned deep in his throat. "Not hardly!" He glanced at her and softened his expression, then reached for the turkey sandwich and gave her a quick kiss. "But, it will do wonders for an empty stomach. Thank you."
They ate in companionable silence, alternating between keeping a keen eye and ear attuned to their surroundings and using the binoculars to watch the house. When the food was gone and washed down with a container of cool tea, they rested once more on their stomachs and continued their surveillance.
"How long do you think it will be before they make an appearance?"
"I don’t know. It depends on what their plans are and what use they have for that equipment—"
The squawk of the radio interrupted his reply. Lee reached for the transmitter, turned onto his side and propped himself on his elbow, then clicked the button. "Scarecrow here."
"Scarecrow, we got a readout on that number you gave us last night."
Lee pressed the button. "Well, out with it, Beaman."
"It matches with a list for an order of new NORAD transmission equipment slated for delivery at Andrews. The shipment never made it."
"Did you find out anything more on the radio frequencies coming from this house Amanda and I are watching?"
"Yes. Two more transmissions were detected, but we weren’t able to nail down the exact location. Do you have visual?"
"Not yet. There hasn’t been any movement since we arrived late last night."
"Are you sure they didn’t slip away while you were snoozing?"
Lee took a deep breath before pressing the button to reply. "Beaman, Amanda and I know how to do our jobs."
Amanda could sense her husband’s growing aggravation at the agent on the other end of the radio. Animosity between Lee and Efraim had always been prevalent, but it had escalated in the past few months. If something wasn’t done, the situation would explode, and she would rather it didn’t.
Reaching toward Lee, she gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze then rubbed her hand up and down his arm in a silent show of support. He smiled and nodded, covering her hand with his free one.
"I’ll keep monitoring things here. You notify us the moment you see anything we can use."
"You got it," Lee answered in a clipped voice.
The radio went silent, and Lee dropped it to the ground beside him. He clenched his fists and groaned, the tick in his jaw showing his frustration.
"Don’t say it, Lee." Amanda intercepted the retort that would escape his lips.
She cupped the side of his face. "Lee, he’s just trying to get under your skin. You do it to him often enough." She shrugged. "Just like Francine and me."
Lee sighed, the expression on his face showing his silent agreement. "Yeah, well, does he have to be so good at it?"
She smoothed her thumb across his cheek. "Can’t you think of something better, or will I have to distract you?" Amanda trailed her fingers across his chin and up to the hair brushing his ear.
Lee shivered. "Aman-n-n-da..."
His guttural groan only encouraged her more. She brought her hand back around to trace the outline of his lips then leaned toward him and placed a lingering kiss where her fingers had been. Lee didn’t respond, so she kissed him again. This time, he returned the pressure, only to pull away a moment later.
Amanda pursed her lips and watched as her husband avoided her gaze. "What’s the matter? Aren’t my diversionary tactics working?"
"Too well," he muttered. "That’s why we have to stop, or we’ll get ourselves into a heap of trouble." Lee turned his head and leveled a meaningful glance in her direction. "There’ll be time for that—and much more—later. For now, we need to keep our minds on this case."
Amanda knew he was right—even if she didn’t want to admit it. With a resigned sigh, she shifted positions once again and snuggled against him. Lee draped his right arm around her waist and used his left to prop the binoculars against his eyes.
The fun would come later.
Three hours later, there was still no sign of activity inside or outside the house. Several times, Lee and Amanda had left the warmth of the sleeping bag to get up and stretch or creep alongside the property and get a closer look at the house. But, it revealed nothing.
Now, together again, their eagerness for this whole assignment to be done made them both edgy.
"Damn!" Lee pounded a fist against the ground. "I can’t believe they haven’t moved before now."
"Well, maybe they’ve got everything they need inside that house."
He nodded. "That thought did occur to me. And if that’s the case, we’re going to need some other way to get a look inside."
"Let’s stay here a little longer." Amanda glanced at her watch. "If they don’t appear by ten o’clock, we’ll move in."
Amanda placed her hand at his neck and kneaded the stiff muscles around the top of his spine, then moved to his shoulder blades. She could feel her husband relax under her ministrations, so she continued as best she could with part of her right arm immobilized by her position. After a few moments, she slid her hand down his back then moved lower. Lee stiffened and jerked away from her touch, turning on his side to face her.
"Hey! Watch where you put that hand!"
Amanda fought hard to control the grin that tugged at her lips. The incredulous expression on her husband’s face almost made her laugh. "I’m sorry," she said between chuckles. "I promise to be good."
"Yeah, that’s what worries me." Lee reached out and traced his finger along her jaw then lowered his voice to a husky timbre. "I think I know now why the Agency doesn’t make a practice of putting married couples together on assignment."
His eyes took on a dark intensity as his gaze bored into hers. The minimal space between them sizzled with charged emotion. He leaned closer, his eyes focused on her mouth. Amanda’s heart raced and she had trouble catching her breath. She tilted her chin toward him in anticipation. His lips brushed hers, and she released a sigh.
The slam of a door startled them both apart.
Lee jumped on full alert, whipping the binoculars again to his face. "We’ve got company!"
Amanda peered through the bushes and tried to make out the details of the two men exiting the house.
"Here." Lee handed her the binoculars.
She raised them to her eyes and looked through them. The men in the moving company uniforms walked from the back of the house to the truck. One of them unlatched the back. The other man hoisted himself into the back to retrieve one of the boxes stacked against the side. He handed it down to the first man, then hopped off the truck.
Amanda aimed the lenses at the edge of the box. "Lee, that box has a part that matches the piece of cardboard we found at the warehouse last night."
"Looks like we’ve got our visual." He paused. "Is there anything else we can use to verify these are the guys we want?"
She ran the scope over both men and took careful note of their clothing. The man who had climbed into the back of the truck paused as if he heard something and glanced in their direction. They both ducked and made sure to stay concealed behind the bushes. Amanda watched the man reach inside one of the pockets of his jumpsuit and pull out a handgun, check the clip and click it into place. A bird over their heads squawked and flew from the tree above them to across the yard and into another tree.
The man with the box turned around and said something. Lee and Amanda strained to hear the words. The wind changed slightly and carried to sound to their ears.
"That’s Russian, all right." Lee waited for the men to go back inside before reaching for the radio and patching through to the Agency. "I’d say we’ve got our men!"
"Melrose." The voice on the line cracked a bit.
"Billy, we’ve got visual. It’s the house at Dickerson & Arlington Mill Rd. Take route 244/Columbia Pike to S. Dinwiddie St. It’s about half mile on the right."
"Excellent, Scarecrow. Is there any concern about immediate movement?"
"Not at the moment, but two men just unloaded another piece of equipment from the truck into the house. Amanda got a close-up view of the box and it matches the piece we found last night. I think whatever they’re planning, they’re gearing up to put it into effect."
"All right. We’ll get our team right over there." A pause, and the radio crackled again. "And, Lee. You and Amanda stay put until we get there. We don’t want to lose them in between."
"Will do. Scarecrow out." He dropped the radio then turned his head toward her. "Anything else?"
Amanda shook her head. "Nothing." She handed him the binoculars. "Here, you can watch for a while." She turned to lie on her back, linking her fingers beneath her head as a pillow, and gazed up at the trees towering overhead. Despite the chill in the air, the blue sky and evergreens provided a beautiful complement to the bare limbs of the deciduous trees waiting for spring to arrive.
Footsteps sounded near them. The crackle of twigs and dried leaves made her and Lee both tense in alarm. He shifted to his side again and went for his gun, but Amanda identified the intruders and slapped her hand over Lee’s, stopping his movement. He drew his eyebrows together in question, but she didn’t give him time to say anything. Instead, she closed the gap between them and covered his mouth with her own, knocking him to his back with the force of her advance.
His surprise melted into desire as banked passion overtook them both. He wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss.
Amanda pulled back and watched the understanding dawn across her husband’s face. The silent acknowledgement of her tactic shone in his eyes. Only now, they had to do some quick thinking. She turned toward her two boys, taking note of the confusion on both of their faces.
"What are you and Lee doing all the way out here?"
"And what’s with the binoculars?" Phillip added.
"Bird watching," Amanda supplied, saying
the first thing that came to mind. She tried to calm her racing heartbeat
and catch her breath from the recent embrace, mentally giving herself
credit for her memory of standard codes. She never liked lying to her
sons, but at least her answer was halfway true.
"Yeah," Lee chimed in. "The early migration of Canadian geese back up north. Your mother checked out a book from the library the other day and she wanted me to come with her."
"But, south is that way." Jamie pointed over his right shoulder. "You were looking the wrong way." It was obvious her youngest son didn’t believe them.
"Well, you couldn’t have seen too many, the way you two are all tangled up." Phillip shook his head in disgust. "Sheesh, Mom. You know if you and Lee wanted to be alone, there’s a hotel about three blocks from you. Get a room."
"Well, it’s the truth."
Lee chuckled and pulled Amanda closer. "Well, Chief, sometimes things happen."
Her husband and Phillip shared a knowing look, one that didn’t sit well with Amanda. Her eldest didn’t look the least bit apologetic for his frank appraisal of the situation. She would talk with him about that later. Right now, Jamie concerned her. He continued to look at them both, his eyes narrowed as he mentally calculated everything. She only hoped the men in the house behind them remained inside until the boys left.
Jamie pinned Amanda with a measured look. "How long have you been out here? And where’s the car?"
She pretended to think about her answer. "Oh, since a little after dawn."
"We parked the car on one of the residential streets over there." Lee gestured behind him. "What brings you two out this way?"
"We were riding our bikes, then thought we’d go exploring."
"Grandma had Captain Kurt at the house and told us to find something to occupy ourselves." A fleeting grin crossed Jamie’s face but disappeared. "Phillip thought we should give them time alone."
"Speaking of Grandma," Phillip interjected, "she wasn’t too happy with that note you left her on the counter last night, saying something came up." He grinned. "Just wait until she hears about this!"
"All right, Chief, don’t make more out of this than is necessary."
"Are you kidding? This is great stuff! My mom and step-dad caught smooching in the park."
Amanda closed her eyes for a second and grimaced at the thought of what her mother would say when she and Lee got back home.
"Phillip, we better get back. Grandma will wonder where we went."
"Yeah, Jamie, you’re right." Phillip winked at them both. "You two behave yourselves."
The two boys headed back toward their bikes, but not before Jamie cast another glance in their direction. With a shrug of his shoulders, he followed Phillip, and in moments, the boys disappeared from view. Amanda groaned and buried her head against Lee’s chest. Her husband rubbed his arms up and down her back and kissed the top of her head.
"I’m starting to feel like we’re living a tale of two secret lives."
Amanda lifted her head. "Yeah, complete with a devious mother, two conniving sons, and the wicked witch of the west."
"Oh, come on. It’s not that bad, Amanda."
"How am I going to explain this to Mother?"
Lee shrugged. "Tell her the truth. She knows what we do anyway." He paused. "Just make sure the boys aren’t anywhere around."
Amanda propped herself on one elbow, the other resting on Lee’s stomach as she rolled her eyes at him. "That much is obvious. But, you know Phillip’s flare for exaggeration. I can only imagine what the story will be by the time he gets back home to tell his version."
He chuckled. "Well, you have to admit, it was funny to catch us out here like this. And you’re the one who decided to kiss me. Not that I minded, of course." He tapped her nose with his finger. "But, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself."
She nodded. "I know, but the one I’m really worried about is Jamie. Did you see the way he looked at us and the doubt written all over his face at our explanation?"
"Yeah. He’s always been the observant one. We have to be extra careful from now on." Lee paused and appeared to consider his words before proceeding. "But, you know...maybe it’s time to think about sharing some things with them. Break them in slow and easy."
Amanda shook her head. "I don’t want to discuss that now. What just happened was a close call, and before we think about sharing anything with them, we should talk about how we’re going to avoid situations like that in the near future."
Lee sighed. "Yeah, I guess you’re right." He shifted and glanced over his shoulder at the house behind them then twisted and almost dumped her off of him. "Damn it!" he exclaimed in a low voice. "They’re on the move. I can’t believe we missed it." He reached for the binoculars.
The telltale click of a gun being cocked sounded near them.
Lee and Amanda turned together toward the sound, their gazes moving upward from the boots to the overalls to the gun aimed at them, and finally to the face of the man who had looked in their direction a short while ago.
Now, they were in trouble.
"Well, well, well. What do we have here?"
Lee stumbled forward as the butt end of a gun shoved into his back. Amanda followed suit, only she wasn’t pushed with as much force.
"They were watching the house, Comrade. And he was wearing this." The soldier held out Lee’s sidearm and placed it into the leader’s hand.
The other Russian scrutinized the gun then leveled his gaze on Lee, looking as if he was putting pieces of a puzzle together. A cold, calculating triumph lit up his eyes. "Ah, yes. What would the great Scarecrow be without his weapon?"
Lee couldn’t keep the surprise from showing on his face. The Russian mercenary saw it, and an evil gleam formed on his lips. The light from the rear window highlighted the jagged scar along his pronounced cheekbone and cast a shadow across his face, making his sunken eyes appear like black holes.
"Why do you look so surprised, Scarecrow? Did you not think we would know about your identity?"
The boss looked away with smug assurance as he placed Lee’s weapon on the table beside him. Another soldier of fortune sat in a chair in front of a computer screen.
"In fact, I am surprised it took you this long to find us. Your skills must be in need of a refresher course, no?"
The man’s laughter at his own joke grated on Lee’s nerves. He scowled at the head honcho, his mind working to devise a plan to get himself and Amanda out of there. The Agency backup team would be there any moment, and they wouldn’t know he and his partner were inside. His gaze shifted toward the equipment then jutted around the room, where two other soldiers worked at their assigned tasks, each one either programming commands into or receiving data from a piece of equipment. That made five, the same number he saw last night. Maybe he could start a diversion and—
"So, you are interested in our little setup? Perhaps I should give you the grand tour. You are no doubt familiar with everything you see here. We intercepted it from your own government delivery trucks." The Russian scoffed. "It is amazing how easily your drivers can be replaced by people from our mother land and no one knows the difference."
Lee took one step forward, but a single nod from the leader and the man who found them outside raised the gun to Amanda’s temple.
"Ah, ah, ah! One wrong move and your pretty little partner will not be so pretty anymore."
"You leave her out of this!"
Delighted surprise crossed the Russian’s face. "Ah, I see I struck a nerve. So, the Scarecrow has a weakness after all."
Lee clenched his jaw and seethed, shooting daggers at the source of his current animosity. Amanda reached out and clasped his hand in hers, and he broke his glare to glance at her. She sent him a reassuring look, but he was too concerned for her safety to risk her life. No, he’d have to do something else or be ready to think fast when the Agency backup team arrived. Oh, how he hoped they’d arrive soon. Five against two weren’t great odds, but if he could get the head honcho talking, it would buy them some time.
"So, shall I show you just what we plan to do? I think you will find it quite interesting when you find out your new president and precious government are going to be blamed for starting a war with our Afghan neighbors."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Please, do come and look." He gestured with his hand and invited Lee to step closer. "But first, I believe introductions should be made. I am Vladimir Krajik." He nodded over his shoulder. "And the man who escorted you into our humble home is Padosev Manoilov. The other men joined us in our plight to keep our great motherland the way it is. We will not allow our regime to fall."
Lee scoffed. "It’s too late for that."
"Not yet. You see, we stole this particular equipment because we needed to authenticate our transmission. We intend to break into the system used to give relay orders to your bomber squadron in Turkey. By intercepting the transmission relays, we can program our own protocol and send it out instead of the original orders. Once we do that, your bomber squadron will focus all of their firepower on the Mujahadeem. The very people your military helped are now going to be the target of your next attack. The perfect revenge, no?"
"You don’t actually think you’re going to get away with this, do you?"
The military rogue turned with a haughty look in his eyes. "Ah, yes. Let me guess. You have already radioed in and the house is—"
A knock on the front door interrupted Vladimir from finishing his sentence. He nodded at the soldier closest to the door. Lee glanced at Amanda then darted his gaze out the side window where he saw two Agency men slipping through the shadows around the moving van. He returned his attention to Amanda and nodded.
"Hi, I’ve come by to bring you one of my home-baked delights and welcome you to the neighborhood. May I come in? Thank you very much."
Lee covered his momentary surprise at the familiar voice. It wouldn’t do any of them service if he gave away her identity.
"What is this? Who are you?" Vladimir turned at the intrusion.
"Hi, are you the new resident?" Francine stepped forward and held out her hand in greeting. "I’m Francine Daysman. My husband and I live about three doors down and we saw your moving van last night, but it was too late to stop by then. We wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood. There should be some others coming too." She glanced at Lee and Amanda and gave them a silent signal. "Oh, I see you’ve already met another couple. I’m sorry I don’t know them."
Lee choked back at laugh at the way his fellow agent was dressed. With a scarf holding her hair back and the plain sweater over nondescript jeans all under her dark-colored parka, she looked quite different from the highly trained agent she was. If one didn’t know better, you’d think she was a typical suburban housewife...but there was nothing typical about Francine.
Vladimir took a step toward her, the scowl on his face evidence of his anger at the interruption. "We do not wish to be welcomed to this neighborhood, as you call it, and we do not want anyone else to visit here." He placed his hand at Francine’s elbow and turned her toward the door. "Now, please—"
The leader cursed in Russian. "What now?"
Beaman appeared around the corner, dressed in a pair of khakis, a sweater vest, loafers and a parka as well. "Ah, there you are," he said and looked at Francine. "I told you we couldn’t stay long, dear. We have that lecture to attend at the university."
Amanda cleared her throat but kept the sound almost inaudible. Lee turned his attention from the scene playing out before him and glanced at his wife from the corner of his eye to see that Padosev had relaxed his stance and no longer held the gun aimed at Amanda’s head. Lee saw his gun on the table next to Vladimir, only the rogue leader had taken his eye away from him and the weapon.
"I know, sweetheart, I just wanted to drop off my famous poppyseed cake before we left."
At Francine’s words, Amanda snapped up her head and glared at the blonde agent. The little barb was an obvious dig at Amanda, and Lee knew his wife would get her back.
Vladimir’s anger changed to rage, and he raised his voice while glaring at both Francine and Beaman. "Look, I do not know why you are here, but we do not want you here, and we do not want any of your cake."
"Actually, you might want that where you’re going." Lee spoke with calm assurance, smiling with confidence when Vladimir whipped around to come face to face with Lee’s sidearm.
Before anyone could blink, Francine had dropped the cake, she and Beaman both with their guns out and trained on two of the rogues. An Agency man positioned himself in the doorway from the kitchen at the back of the house, his own weapon trained on Padosev. The younger soldier tried to aim at Amanda, but she picked up a board from the table behind them and knocked the gun from his hands.
"What is this?" Vladimir demanded, no doubt trying to hang on to a shred of his dignity and not admit defeat.
Lee smiled. "This is what you call a set-up. Or perhaps you would prefer: The house is surrounded. Drop your weapons and come along with us. Nice and easy, hands in the air, and no one will get hurt...not now anyway."
Slowly, each man stood, their hands raised as they were escorted by the Agency team outside to the waiting vans. Billy waited by one of the nondescript Agency cars, his arm resting on the open door and his other hand holding a pair of binoculars. Lee handed Vladimir over to one of the other agents then clasped Amanda’s elbow and led her over to the car.
"Nice job, Scarecrow. You too, Amanda." Billy smiled. "I saw your successful disarming of the one soldier in there. Good work."
Amanda shrugged. "All in a day’s work, sir."
Billy looked back at Lee. "So, did we stop them before they were able to enact any part of their plan?"
Lee nodded over his shoulder in the direction of the house, where agents were now carefully loading the equipment back into the moving van for transport to Andrews. "Yeah, Vladimir made the mistake of explaining the entire plan to us, which gave Francine and Beaman time to make their move."
"Did I hear my name?"
Francine approached with Beaman right behind her.
"Nice outfit, Francine. I especially like the curlers. But you really should become better versed in the wardrobes of housewives. Curlers went out with the last decade." Amanda touched the scarf. "The scarf though, adds the perfect touch."
"Really? I thought your poppyseed cake did that." Francine gave Amanda one of her patronizing grins.
"Only when I bake it, not when it’s store bought."
"And who says I bought it at a store." Francine placed her hands on her hips. "I’ll have you know, I’ve been taking classes over the years, and—"
Lee stepped between the two women. "All right, you two, knock it off." He chuckled and fingered the clothing Francine wore then glanced at Beaman. "Although Amanda’s right. Where’d you two get those outfits?" He paused and glanced at Francine. "And how did Billy ever convince you to let Beaman pose as your husband?"
"Actually, Stetson, it was quite easy," Beaman interjected. He removed his glasses and pulled out a handkerchief to clean them, then he placed them back on his nose. "Francine owed me."
"Ha! Owed you nothing!" Francine glared at Beaman. "You blackmailed me!"
Beaman gave her a smug grin and leaned back against the hood of the car. "She’s just upset because I had to come and rescue her after she hotwired my car in revenge for me leaving her at Federal Center Station two weeks ago. If my car is started without the key, after three minutes, the airflow and gas filter stops. It stalled in the middle of the road."
Amanda laughed. "I bet that did wonders for your ego, Francine."
Francine crossed her arms and frowned. "Harumph!"
Beaman assumed a cavalier air and smiled. "Well, I found a way to make it up to her."
"A passive theft deterrent, Beaman? I’m impressed."
"Yes, I’ll bet you wouldn’t even know how to install one on your car, Stetson."
Lee shot the supercilious agent a challenging stare. "Oh no? I’ll have you know there’s an anti-theft device and car alarm on mine, both of which I installed myself."
"I bet that came in handy when you had to spend the night in it last night while on surveillance." Beaman glanced between Lee and Amanda. "Wouldn’t want anyone interrupting anything."
"Ah, yes, I heard about how this case foiled your ‘plans’ for Saturday night, Lee."
"You’re not kidding!
"You must be slipping. I can recall times when a little thing like location wouldn’t stand in your way." Francine tilted her head, a mischievous grin crossing her face. "Somehow, I have trouble picturing the mighty Scarecrow taking vows of celibacy, obedience and silence while on assignment." She cast a disdainful look around the area. "Despite the primitive circumstances."
Lee offered one of his devilish grins. "Well, one out of three isn’t bad."
Amanda stepped closer to her husband and placed her arm around his waist. "We made the best of the situation."
Francine raised her eyebrows. "I bet you did!" She smirked and glanced between the two of them. "Although considering this case, given a choice of the three, I would think celibacy would win."
"All right, would the four of you knock off this tennis match and get back to business?" Billy had obviously had enough distraction from his agents. "We are still on assignment, and we need to get this thing wrapped up."
Lee stepped forward and urged Amanda to walk with him. "You’re right, Billy. Amanda and I will go with the van back to the Agency. Francine, you and Beaman can make sure the equipment gets delivered safe and sound to Andrews."
"What’s the matter, Scarecrow? Worried a trip to the base might prolong your time away from the plans you had last night?"
"You’re damn right, I am!" Lee stared at Francine, Beaman and Billy in turn, but kept his expression as neutral as possible. "We’ve been interrupted enough."
"We weren’t even supposed to work this weekend." Amanda shrugged. "But no one else was available."
"I guess that means we still have our four days off coming to us, right Billy?" Lee turned a knowing grin on his boss.
Billy hesitated, but glanced between the two agents. "I guess you do. After busting up this operation, you deserve it."
"Hey, what about us?" Francine stomped her foot. "Look at this getup I had to wear! And my homemade cake is probably being trampled by our own agents inside." She touched the scarf covering her head. "And do you know how long it’s going to take to get these curlers out of my hair?"
Amanda smiled. "All in a day’s work, Francine."
Billy laughed and Beaman snickered, but sobered the moment Francine sent an icy glare his way. Lee chuckled and wrapped his arm around his wife. "Come on, Amanda. Let’s get out of here before World War Three breaks out."
"Amanda, have you seen my pearl earrings?" Dotty called from upstairs. "I wanted to wear them tonight when Kurt takes me out."
"I think they’re in the bathroom, Mother!" Amanda rinsed the final dish in the sink and handed it to Lee who dried it and placed it in the strainer. With it just being the two of them, she didn’t want to leave them sit in the dishwasher. Besides, she enjoyed seeing the domestic side of Lee.
"All done!" Lee grinned in triumph then swung the dishcloth over his shoulder and reached for Amanda. "Now, maybe we can get back to the celebrating." He dipped his head.
"Ahh! Thank goodness!"
A second later, her mother’s footsteps echoed on the stairs. Lee paused and sighed. Amanda giggled at the expression on his face. She reached up and placed a single finger on his lips.
"Be patient," she whispered. "She’ll be gone soon."
He growled. "Not soon enough."
"Now, where did I leave my purse?" Dotty stepped into the main living area of the house and bustled around the room in search of the handbag. "Kurt’s going to be here any minute, and I don’t want to keep him waiting."
Amanda turned in her husband’s embrace. "Mother, this is the fourth time this week. Things are getting pretty serious between you two."
Her mother paused and a wistful smile crossed her face. "Mm, a little. Captain Kurt is the perfect gentleman when we’re together, but when we’re alone, he can light up the night sky with fireworks."
A look of innocence appeared on her mother’s face, and Amanda couldn’t believe what she’d just heard. "I don’t think Lee and I need to know what happens between you and Kurt when you’re alone."
Dotty grinned. "No, I don’t imagine you do. You’d much rather focus on your own secret rendezvous’."
"Just who is this 'Captain Kurt' guy? I mean, what do we really know about him?"
Dotty laughed and winked. "A woman has to have some intrigue in her life, Lee. That's something you should know all about! But, you don’t have to worry. You and Kurt would actually have a lot in common. And you both have excellent taste in women!" She snapped her fingers. "Back to rendezvous’, the next time the two of you decide you’re going to go off gallivanting in the woods for the night, I’d like you to leave more than a note."
Lee straightened. "We weren’t just off fooling around, Dotty. Amanda and I got called on assignment."
Surprise replaced the reprimand in her eyes. "Assignment?" She threw her hands in the air. "Well, for heaven’s sake, why didn’t you say something?"
"Mother, we couldn’t exactly write that on the note. What if the boys found it?"
"You could have written something that would have let me know. You had to go to the editing room or something." She grinned and raised one eyebrow. "Although the story Phillip and Jamie told me was much juicier."
"I bet it was," Amanda mumbled.
"So, what did the two of you do stuck out there all night?"
Lee pulled Amanda closer and rested his chin on top of her head. "Let’s just say we managed to make the best of things while seeing to our jobs."
Amanda tilted her head and gave him a loving smile. Lee placed a quick kiss on her lips.
Dotty gave them a knowing look. "Hmm, I’m—"
The doorbell rang, and she immediately left the two of them to answer it. Amanda heard her mother’s animated voice greet Kurt at the door.
"Maybe, she’ll finally leave, and we can get back to what we started last night." Lee leaned down and nuzzled her neck, then whispered in Amanda’s ear. "Maybe make some fireworks of our own."
Amanda shivered at her husband’s words and his warm breath caressing her skin.
"The next thing I want to hear is a goodbye called from the foyer."
"Mmm, I can go along with that." She turned around to fully participate in her husband’s embrace. She slid her hands up to his shoulders and grinned. "I’m sure glad Joe decided he wanted to spend time with the boys tonight and tomorrow."
Lee leaned forward and touched his forehead to hers, the soft look in his hazel eyes tugging at her heart. "Quite convenient, wouldn’t you say? He knows tomorrow is our anniversary."
Amanda raised her chin and trailed lingering kisses along Lee’s jaw and down his neck. She murmured against his skin, "I’ll have to remember to thank him later."
A groan started in the back of Lee’s throat, and he pulled Amanda tighter against him. His pulse raced beneath her lips, beating time with her own. "Amanda..."
"Yes," she mumbled, not breaking from her task.
"Don’t you think we should..." The muscles in his neck tensed. "Take this upstairs?"
"Hmm, I like it right here."
"Amanda, dear, would you...oh, I’m sorry!"
Lee placed his hands at Amanda’s waist and pushed her a few inches away. "That’s it! That’s the last time!" He swung Amanda into his arms.
"Not a word, Amanda." He looked at her mother and nodded at Kurt. "Dotty, you and Kurt can have the house if you like. Amanda and I won’t be spending the evening here. In fact, don’t expect us back for a couple of days."
"But, Lee, you don’t have to leave. Kurt and I were just—"
"Trust me, Dotty. We do." Lee walked past them and headed for the front door.
Amanda glanced over her husband’s shoulder at the amused look on her mother’s face. She shrugged, but smiled, pleased with the turn of events.
Amanda touched her fingers to her lips and blew her mother a kiss, then draped her arms around Lee’s neck and snuggled against his shoulder.
In a matter of minutes, he placed her in the front seat of the Agency loaner, snapped her seatbelt in place and situated himself in the driver’s seat. She knew he didn’t like going without his ‘Vette, but the accident with the moving van as it backed out of the driveway put his car in the shop for the fourth time that year. And it was only the middle of February.
The engine roared to life. Almost before it finished starting, Lee put it in gear and sped away from the house.
"Lee, where are we—"
"Not a word, Amanda. You’ll see."
Amanda shrugged and sat back against the seat. In no time at all, he had stopped the car and turned off the engine. A moment later, her door opened, and Lee reached in to scoop her once again into his arms. She reached back and grabbed his keys, dangling them in front of his face. He shook his head then kicked the door shut and headed for the building in front of them.
Amanda tore her gaze away from her husband’s handsome face long enough to see the sign at the entrance to the parking lot. "Lee? We’re at a hotel. Why did we come here?"
"Because, Amanda, I no longer have my apartment, remember? And we couldn’t catch a break back home." He gave her one of his disarming grins. "Besides, you remember what Phillip said when he and Jamie came upon us this morning?"
Amanda recalled the conversation, and a giggle bubbled up from within. "I didn’t think you’d actually take the advice of a fifteen-year-old."
"If it’s good advice, I’ll take it from anyone."
Lee fumbled with the latch on the side door, but Amanda grabbed the handle and held the door, allowed him to step through the opening. He walked down the hall and stopped in front of one of the rooms.
"If you’d do the honors?" He nodded at his shirt pocket.
She reached inside the pocket and retrieved a room key. "But how did you get this without stopping at the desk first?"
He grinned and winked. "Backup plan."
Amanda smiled at her husband. If she loved him anymore, her heart would burst. Just when she thought she’d seen it all, he managed to surprise her yet again. Then again, she should expect that from a top agent. She’d done her fair share of throwing curve balls herself.
Inserting the key into the lock, she reached down and turned the handle, then pushed it open. Lee clasped her to his chest and nudged the door with his shoulder. It drifted closed behind them, and he didn’t stop until they reached the bed, where he carefully set her down.
Amanda held up her hand with the room key, and Lee took it from her then set it on the table behind him. A moment later, he joined her on the bed, pulling her toward him and gazing at her lips. "Now where were we?"
"I just realized. We don’t have any luggage with us. You told Mother we’d be staying for a couple of days."
Lee reached out and traced his finger along her cheek, then replaced the area he touched with his lips. "Amanda...we won’t exactly be needing any clothes with what I’ve got planned."
Her breath caught in her throat at the low timbre to his voice and the way his warm breath fanned across her already warm skin. "Are you trying to seduce me, Mr. Stetson?"
Lee pulled back and flashed a heart-stopping grin. "I believe you did that to me five-and-a-half years ago, Mrs. Stetson." He kissed her lips. "And it only got better every day after that!"
She smiled then draped her arms around her husband’s shoulders. Tangling her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck, she leaned forward, a mischievous slant to her lips. "I wouldn’t have it any other way!"
Lee groaned. "Neither would I, Amanda. Neither would I," he whispered, then touched his lips to hers.
A firm knock sounded.
"Damn it! Don’t people believe in privacy anymore?"
Amanda watched as Lee yanked himself off the bed and walked to the door. She caught the stunned look of the maid in the hall when her husband wrenched the door open. Without a word, Lee ripped the ‘Do not disturb’ sign off the handle on the back of the door and hung it on the outside knob. Then, he closed the door in the woman’s face and twisted the lock.
"Taking extra precaution, Scarecrow?"
"You’re damn right, I am. Enough is enough."
Lee turned and approached her with slow, purposeful steps. When her husband was near enough for her to see the gleam in his eyes, a thrill of anticipation coursed through her. The last time she remembered that look, they hadn’t left their room for two days. Lee clapped his hands then rubbed them together, a wicked grin on his lips. Knowing what came next, Amanda inched back on the bed in preparation for her husband’s advance.
He leaped onto the bed and tackled her, tumbling with her in a haphazard tangle of arms and legs. His lips captured hers in an eagerness born of desperation and frustration, and she responded with the same level of emotion.
Without a doubt, Amanda knew this would be an anniversary to remember.