The HEAT and humidity made sitting in the surveillance van extremely uncomfortable. Feeling as if he was slowly roasting, his rising anger at being stuck in this tin can while Amanda met their contact at the cocktail PARTY had his blood pressure near the boiling point. If he hadn't tweaked his bum knee horsing around with Phillip and Jamie, he'd be out there in the thick of it, instead of sitting by and twiddling his thumbs.
At least Francine wrangled an invitation to the shindig, and Billy slipped Duffy and Marshall in as wait staff, so Amanda had backup, if necessary. Lee hoped it wouldn't be necessary. He didn't like trusting anyone but himself to keep Amanda safe.
After one last check of the surveillance equipment, he picked up the high-powered binoculars. As he raised them to his eyes, the machine next to him began to beep. The tracker placed in Amanda's RING alerted him to her approach as she entered the outer edge of the transmitter's range.
Putting the binoculars back down, Lee picked up the radio, and called his fiancée. The phone barely completed one ring before Amanda answered.
"Hello, Lee." Her deliberately sweet voice came through loud and clear. The last time she used that tone with him was when she discussed the women in his past.
"How did you know it was me?" he teased.
"Who else would be calling?"
He could hear the amusement in her voice and smiled. "I guess you're right. Listen, I'm reading you five-by-five on the monitor."
Fear and paranoia reigned supreme, and their contact only agreed to the meet in a public setting. In case he searched her or had a jammer, Amanda didn't wear a wire. Refusing to take a chance the informant would back out, Amanda went in clean-without a wire. Lee insisted she have a tracking device just in case the worst happened. Leatherneck managed to place a transmitter/homing device in her jewelry, leaving Lee to rely on his fellow agents to keep her informed.
"Remember, your transmitter is unidirectional. I'll hear everything, but I won't be able to communicate with you."
"I remember. Relax Lee, I'll be all right." Exasperation leaked though in every word.
He realized he was going a tad overboard and tried for a little levity. "Easy for you to say, you're not stuck in the van."
She laughed so hard, she snorted. She only did that when she laughed uncontrollably. "It's not easy staying in the car, is it?"
She was never going to let him live that down. He laughed with her, "All right, wise guy, knock it off. Once you're inside, I'll be blind, so stick close to Francine. If I need to relay information, I'll do it through her or Duffy. Do you remember the recognition sequence?
Her frustrated voice rang in his ears. "Lee, we've been over this a hundred times. I know what to do. I promise I'll be careful. Now, let me do my job, and if you behave, I'll cook you dinner tonight."
"Deal. I'll bring the wine." He wanted to tell her he loved her, but not on an open channel. He'd tell her tonight, and if the opportunity arose, he'd show her, too.
He couldn't help but worry about her. After once more asking her to be careful, he disconnected the call, and tracked her progress on screen until she came into visual range. Once again, he reached for the binoculars, training his sights on the silver Corvette as she maneuvered the sleek sports car down the street, before stopping in front of the liveried valet.
The man hurried down the stairs, and around to the driver's side door, holding it open while Amanda exited the vehicle. Lee watched as first a very sexy, jeweled -strapped, sandal-clad foot appeared, followed by one shapely calf, and then a creamy thigh came into view.
While he took great pleasure in the scenery, the valet also got an eyeful of Amanda's legs, something Lee wished he could rectify. Finally, Amanda exited the vehicle, and her dress skimmed down a bit, modestly covering her. She looked stunning in the crimson-silk, thigh skimming, Mandarin style dress. He loved her in red. It brought out roses in her cheeks.
As she took the claim-check from the valet, and placed it in her purse, Lee let his gaze roam over her from head to toe.
She turned to enter the hotel, and he nearly swallowed his tongue. Amanda's back was bare from the nape of her neck to the base of her spine. He couldn't stop the wolf-whistle from escaping. Almost as if she heard him, she turned, and using the pretext of fixing her sandal strap, winked in his direction.
Once she entered the building, he put the field glasses down, and settled the headphones over his ears. It took all his will power to stop thinking about how sexy Amanda looked in that dress. Of how badly he wanted to pull the zipper down, strip the dress from her body, and LICK every part of her starting with her ankles and ending at that spot just behind her ear that turned her knees to jelly.
After running another equipment check, he settled in to listen while his fellow agents worked their covers. Ice tinkled against glass as Duffy filled drink orders. He could hear quiet conversations of the party guests as Marshall weaved his way through the crowd, offering canapés.
Finally, Marshall made his way over to Amanda. "Would you care to try a sample of Cervelat? It's considered the national sausage of Switzerland."
"Thank you, I'd love to try it."
The dulcet tones of his partner's voice came in loud and clear over the headset. He could picture Amanda selecting a morsel, and delicately nibbling on the snack. Before Marshall moved on to the next guests, he commented to Amanda on how sexy she looked in that dress. Lee wanted to poke the guy's eyes out, but settled on breaking the man's legs instead.
"Lee, leave Agent Marshall alone." Only Amanda would know exactly what was running through his mind. "He's a nice boy. Okay, I see my contact over near the dessert table. I'll head that way after a quick stop at the bar."
"Heads up, people. Amanda's spotted her contact."
"I read you, Scarecrow."
"I have eyes on the prize."
"I'm on it." The agents responded in unison.
He held his breath while Amanda walked over to the bar. She ordered a club soda, and thanked the bartender. He pictured her sipping her drink, and surveying the crowd.
Francine met up with Amanda. "Can you believe the number of hot men here?"
"Francine, we're working."
"You know what they say about all work. What's the harm in mixing business with a little pleasure?" Francine must have moved in a little closer to Amanda, her voice came in loud and clear over both transmitters like bad stereo sound. "Check out the naval officer over by the carving station. Boy, is he giving you the once over. I'd go make my move if I were you, before some viper gets her claws into him."
"He IS very handsome."
Lee growled. "Francine, you do remember this is an op, not a singles bar. Keep your mind on the job."
"Spoilsport," Francine mumbled. "Come on Amanda; let's get this over with, Attila the Scarecrow is chomping at the bit. Then once we're done we can concentrate on the Commander."
"Francine, I'm sure Lee is just very uncomfortable out there in the van all by himself."
Her deep breath reached his ears, and he knew she put her agent face on. "Okay, time to go to work."
He pictured her standing straight with her shoulders back. She must look glorious. His pride in his partner grew. She had come so far in four years. Now, she had senior agents following her lead.
Her silk dressed rustled as she walked. Any second now, she'd be meeting her contact, receiving critical information--alone. The knot in his stomach grew, especially since they still hadn't worked out how Amanda would use the code phrase in a conversation.
Lee sat up in his chair, straining forward in anticipation. It took all the will power he possessed to stay in the van. He really wanted to be inside, watching over her, while the exchange took place.
"Since I know you're about to jump out of the van. You can relax, Lee. I'm fine. It's just a milk run."
Her whispered words of reassurance had the desired effect. He settled back in his seat, and wished her luck.
Cheerily, she called out, "excuse me." Her voice lowered to normal conversational range. She must be face to face with the target. "Are you Mr. Iglehart?"
He seemed arrogant as he condescendingly answered, "yes, madam, I am."
Amanda remained her friendly, chatty self "My name is Amanda Kane." Lee pictured her holding out her hand for the stuffy man to shake. "This is such a lovely reception. Our host graciously informed me that all the credit goes to you."
"Thank you, madam."
"Will you tell me which nursery supplied the flowers? The Pulsatilla Vulgaris is beautiful, and would be perfect for my up-coming wedding."
"Beauty is deceptive; those PETALS can be very deadly. Perhaps, I can suggest another Alpine wildflower. Take my card. If you call in the morning, I'm sure my assistant will set up an appointment, and we can choose something more appropriate."
"Thank you. I'll do that." Her heels clicked on the pavement as she walked away from the man. The magnetic snap on her purse pinged. "Microdot secured. I'm heading out."
Lee let out a deep sigh of relief. Soon, Amanda would be safely in his arms where she belonged. He visualized himself walking beside her through the crowd, resting his hand comfortably on the small of her back, his thumb gently stroking her bare skin, guiding her around any obstacles. He pictured the subtle nod she'd give Francine while continuing toward the exit, keeping a tight but not obvious hold on her purse.
The knot in his stomach seemed to loosen a bit, as she stepped through the front door. Once again, using the binoculars, Lee watched Amanda hand the valet her claim check for the ‘Vette.
A few moments later, Francine exited the building. The women made idle conversation while waiting for their respective vehicles. The Corvette arrived first. After Amanda settled behind the wheel, she drove away keeping a sedate speed, allowing Francine a chance to catch up. As the trail car, Francine would shadow Amanda back to the Agency.
Tracking both vehicles on the monitor, he waited until they left the hotel grounds. Once they were clear of the grounds, and on the main highway, he flipped off his headset, muted his connection to his fellow agents, and turned the tape recorder off before calling Amanda on the two-way.
"Hello again, Lee."
"Hi, there. Great job. But, it's not over yet."
Her exasperation came through loud and clear. "I know. I can't help but worry about you."
"That's so sweet," she cooed. "I worry about you, too."
Her words send tingles through his system. His heart swelled and he smiled. "Francine's about a half-mile behind you, don't lose her. Head straight for the Agency. I need to wait for Duffy and Marshall."
"Lee, I know what to do. Stop worrying. You've been a good boy so far, don't blow it now."
"Okay, okay, you're right. I'll wait for you in the Q while you're debriefed, and then follow you back home for that dinner you promised me." His voice lowered, became more seductive. "Then, I'll show you just how good a boy I can be."
She made that sound in the back of her throat. That little moan of pleasure that he loved. "That sounds perfect." Her anticipation came through in her voice.
"Now, about that Navy commander."
She laughed, "Good-bye, Lee," and hung up on him.