Lee Stetson, for once had woken early, earlier than his wife in fact. He was rather surprised by the fact that he woke to find her still slumbering next to him in bed. There was a bit of a chill in the air from the open window. He slipped out of the bed and tucked the cover more securely around his wife. He tiptoed to and closed the window. Hearing again the slight noise that woke him he went downstairs to investigate. He thought briefly of obtaining his gun from the locked drawer in the bedroom but for some reason he didn’t feel threatened by this noise. It was probably just Dotty up rambling for some reason.
In the kitchen was a very familiar sight. It wasn’t Dotty. It was a bit of a surprise but familiar just the same. Phillip with his head in the refrigerator. Lee smiled in affectionate annoyance. He cleared his throat. “Uuhum”
Phillip quickly turned and greeted his stepfather while gathering his culinary finds and closing the door. “Oh hi Lee. Did I wake you? Uh sorry, of course I woke you. You’re never up this early.”
He took his early morning breakfast to the table and sat down to eat.
Lee turned the coffee pot on and sat down next to his oldest stepson to wait on it to finish.
“So Phillip, what brings you home? I mean, so soon, you were just here a few weeks ago.” As he waited on a response, he mused about the differences in his two stepsons. Phillip had gone into college with every intention of enjoying it fully. He threw himself into campus life and rarely came home more than once every two weeks or so. Jamie, on the other hand, even after moving in with his father and starting college early, was still seen at the Stetson home at least twice weekly.
“Oh well Lee, you see, I, uh we had something to tell you guys and…”
Lee interrupted, “We?”
Both men turned at the shuffle from the basement door. “Phillip, why are you up so early?” Natasha stood in the doorway and blinked as she stared at Phillip. Suddenly seeming to focus on Lee, she stuttered in embarrassment. “Oh Mr. Stetson, you’re up. I’m so sorry about busting in on you like this. Phillip said it would be ok but I wasn’t sure. I mean it is a lot to ask of someone.”
“Wow, wow, kids, slow down. What are you talking about?” Lee laughed and held up a hand. “Start at the beginning, ok? Phillip, when did you get here?”
“About three hours ago. Mom let us in and then went back to bed.”
“Well at least that explains why the security system didn’t go off and why I didn’t wake up when you came in. I was getting worried.”
Phillip hung his heed sheepishly, “Sorry, Lee. I think Mom was up and saw us pull in. Natasha was dead on her feet and so Mom told us to go to bed and we could talk in the morning.”
Amanda spoke up from the head of the stairs, “I guess it’s morning, huh?”
All eyes turned up at the sound of her voice. She came down the stairs, kissed Lee on the cheek, crossed to Phillip and gave him the same. “Good morning, sweetheart. Natasha, good morning.”
“Good morning Mom. I hope you were able to sleep after we woke you.”
“Oh sure, no problem. I can sleep through most anything. And go to sleep most anywhere.” Amanda leaned against the counter and looked at the obviously nervous girl before her. She noted again the characteristics of the young woman who seemed to have won Phillip’s heart. Natasha was a small young woman, with short blond hair. She wore very little makeup and seemed to prefer rather soothing colors in her choice of clothing. She was very quiet and rarely spoke or joined in the conversations unless prompted by Phillip or someone else.
Not that she was shy or uncomfortable, exactly. She was just very observant. Amanda bet that she could close her eyes and tell her what everybody was wearing without even thinking. Not a bad quality, but odd in one so young. Right now she seemed very nervous about being in the company of men in only her nightgown. She kept looking at Phillip and Lee while attempting to hide behind the fabric of the light blue cotton garment.
“Yes, Mrs. Stetson?”
“Why don’t we get dressed? All of us. Then we can have breakfast and talk about whatever brought you two here in the middle of the night, in the middle of the week.”
Phillip and Natasha briefly made eye contact. At Phillip’s nod of assent, she shrugged her shoulders and turned back down the basement steps to the guest room.
The remaining trio made their way upstairs to their respective rooms to dress.
Behind the closed door of their bedroom Lee and Amanda exchanged a much more intimate good morning kiss. Lee circled her tiny waist with his arms and pulled her against his body. He ran his hands up and down the soft cotton of her robe and gown. Standing on her tiptoes she placed her hands on either side of his face and pulled him down to press her lips against his. Opening her mouth slightly to allow him entrance, she sighed as she felt his warm tongue within her mouth. His hands moved up and around her ribcage to brush against the underside of her breasts. His thumbs grazed the peaks of her nipples through the thin fabric of her exposed gown.
Gasping she pulled back and away from him. “Whoa big fella. We have two kids downstairs who seem to be in a bit of trouble if you ask me. We can’t start this right now.”
“I know. I just couldn’t help myself.”
“Well, it’s a good thing that one of us has some self control.”
Hearing a challenge in her voice Lee stepped forward quickly and regained possession of her mouth. Swiftly taking the kiss to a mind-blowing depth, he held her more securely when he felt her knees buckle. Breaking the kiss and holding her until she regained her equilibrium, Lee pulled away just enough to see her face. She opened her eyes and saw his slightly mocking ones.
“Self control huh?”
“Oh, you, you, man you! Get dressed.”
“I will as soon as you let me go!”
Amanda moved to stand behind him and gave him a push toward the closet.
“All right, I’m going!”
He pulled the closet door open and looked for clothes while Amanda sat at her vanity to apply her make-up. She picked up her hairbrush but stopped in mid stroke to watch Lee quizzically in the mirror. She debated silently to herself and finally asked…
“Lee, what do you think of Natasha?”
“What? I told you before, she seems like a good kid. Quite, but I guess that isn’t so bad. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know, exactly. I like her, too, I suppose. She is quiet, very quiet. It seems like she spends all her time listening and no time talking. I still don’t know much more about her than her routine background check told me.”
“I thought you said her background check was clean?”
“It was. It’s nothing that concrete. It’s just a feeling, maybe just over protectiveness. You know how the mind of a mother works.”
Intrigued now by her apparent concern, Lee replied, “I don’t know about the mother’s mind, but I know your mind. If your concerned maybe we should look into this a little further.”
“No Lee, I’m sure that it’s just my overactive protective instinct. It’ll pass. Let’s just get ready and go see what we are facing here, ok?”
Lee agreed and soon they were discussing other matters, mostly work
Neither one heard the bathroom door open and close nor were they aware of the listener at the door as they discussed Billy’s late night phone call concerning the change in plans for the housing of the Russian delegation that was expected this New Years. The Agency was in charge of security, and they were once again heading the team. They were being given another chance to prove that they were an effective team. This would be the third time that the Russians had attempted to send a delegation to the US. The previous two attempts had been unsuccessful. Each time, an unknown source had leaked information about the party’s arrival and of their accommodations.
And at each appointed place, major upheaval had taken place. The first site had been burned to the ground two days before the delegates were scheduled to arrive. The second attempt had been aborted when the liaison had received death threats in the form of dozens of pictures of the poor man all altered to show him in various poses of death. They had been accompanied by a note stating that these would be all too real if the delegation truly arrived and the negotiations began. When the Russian politicians had heard of the threat, they had backed out once again. They reasoned that they maybe next on the list if they attempted to make contact at that time. Piotre Rominav had been behind all these subversive measures. It was well known that he abhorred all thoughts of interaction between the USA and is beloved Mother Russia. He had sent his calling card with the photos and left it at the scene of the fire. The bloody scythe and sheaf of grain, imbedded into the plain tan card, was recognized as his signature by all members of the intelligence community.
They had been unable to find the leak and although no one had been injured from the Russian parties as yet, the Agency had been left looking quite foolish and the blame had been placed squarely on Lee and Amanda. This time they were determined that nothing be left to chance and they had changed the location twice already in an effort to find the most secure place for the Russian emissaries.
“Amanda, where did Billy say the new location was?”
Her response was muffled by the sweater that she was pulling over her head. The listener in the hall strained to hear more.
“Are you sure that’s what he said?”
“Of course, I wrote it down last night in the office. Go look if you don’t believe me!”
“No, Amanda, I believe you. Of course, I believe you. I just want this to go perfectly. Smyth is still bucking to separate us and it may be the final straw if this doesn’t go off perfectly!”
“Now look Lee, we have taken every precaution possible this time. It is going to go off without a hitch. Now let’s get to work so we can come home and try to fix Phillip’s mess. What ever it turns out to be!”
Now it was his turn to comfort her. “Hey, it’s going to be OK. We can handle this together, just like always.”
Together they could handle anything Life threw their way.
Phillip stood in his boyhood bedroom and stared at the reflection in
the mirror. A man stood before him but somehow he felt more like
a boy than ever. He sure hoped he was doing the right thing.
Natasha stood at the entrance to the home office. She fingered the keypad lightly but didn’t dare try to gain access now. She was sure that the others would be down soon. They would be expecting her to join them quickly. Later when they went to work, she would convince Phillip to go to his late class. Then she could again use the gadget that Piotre had supplied. He had assured her that it would continue to gain her access to the office even if the access codes had been changed since she last visited.
Hopefully this time she could find out where the Russian delegation would be staying for their next attempted visit to the US. She had not been able to acquire that information as yet. Although, in her last two trips home with Phillip, she had acquired enough to make life tough for the American Agency. Piotre insisted that they find and sabotage the latest diplomatic entourage once again. He refused to believe that his beloved Russia could ever need assistance from the US to feed her people. This conference, if successful, would open the way for an exchange of information and teaching methods like never before seen by either side of the world, East or West. Piotre was determined that it would fail, that the relations with the US would deteriorate back to the old distrust.
She hoped he would be satisfied with that. Phillip was becoming
very dear to her. He had an open, honest soul. He always treated
her with respect and true affection. She was not accustomed to treatment
like that from the men in her life. Her brother Piotre barely spoke
except to give commands. Even her beloved Andre had not treated her
as well as Philip did. She would regret betraying him and his lovely
family. But for her own sake as well as Andre’s and the baby’s, she
must do as Piotre insisted. All of their well-being depended on it.
She shivered briefly at the remembered threat Piotre had issued yesterday
on the phone. **Get me what I want this time or you shall all suffer,
you, Andre, and your precious illegitimate whelp**. Natasha laid
her hand protectively over her still flat stomach. At nearly five
months pregnant she was barely showing. Her small size was a blessing
in this case. She must be able to keep Phillip convinced that she
was only three months pregnant and that the child was his. At least
until she had the information that her brother wanted and he released her
fiancé, Andre and they were free to live openly as a loving couple.
She must protect her child at all cost. If it meant betraying Phillip
and his Agent parents, so be it. More than one life she loved depended
The predawn gray had given way to early morning light when the two couples once again gathered in the kitchen. With cups of coffee in hand, Lee and Amanda stood side-by-side and waited for an explanation of the unexpected visit.
Nervously Phillip cleared his throat and began to speak. ‘Uh Mom, Lee, first let me say that I know this is going to shock you but I have thought this through and I know it is the right thing to do.” He moved to stand next to Natasha. He took her hand and looked into her eyes, almost questioningly.
She leaned against him comfortably. He was about to put the next phase of Piotre’s plan into action for them. Hopefully, Lee and Amanda’s innate good grace would agree to allow her to stay here in the home over the Christmas break and she could really dig into the investigation of the Russian diplomatic entourage.
The older couple traded wary glances. Something was very wrong here.
“Tasha and I are getting married, right Tash?”
Natasha stared at him in wonder. This was not supposed to happen. That was not the right question! What was he thinking?
Quickly she gathered her wits and replied, “No Phillip, we’re not.”
Too stunned to intervene, Lee and Amanda can only stare as Natasha continued to speak, “Phillip, I told you that I wasn’t going to marry you last night. You promised not to mention it again. Why are you doing this?”
“Natasha, it’s the right thing to do. I want to take care of you and the baby.”
A loud crash indicated that Amanda had finally roused from her stupor.
Her coffee cup had slipped from her hands and landed on the floor.
Together she and Lee spoke, “The baby!?”