Summary: AU/What if? What if, with noble intentions, Lee had backed away from Amanda and started dating another woman? Would he give up his chance with Amanda forever?
Timeline: Mid to late third season. Takes place after Wrong Way Home.
Author's Notes: Portions of this story are told in flashbacks, set off by **********.
Author's Gratitude: Thank you so much to my fabulous betas, the Rockford Peaches, for their invaluable input, advice and encouragement. I couldn't have done this without all of you.
Lee Stetson sat across from his date at a cozy table in Emelio's. The candles were glowing softly, the wine was superb, and the ambience was perfect.
Taking her hands in his, Lee smiled at her and asked, "Did you enjoy your dinner?"
"It was wonderful," she answered, gently squeezing his hands, "but I'm stuffed.”
He shifted in his seat. “Still want that crème brulee?” he asked.
She grinned and shook her head. “I couldn’t possibly. Coffee sounds good, though."
The waiter passed by and Lee called him over and requested two cups of coffee. The man nodded and headed for the kitchen.
"Have I told you that you look fantastic this evening?" he asked her.
"Only four or five times," she teased. "Did you forget?"
Rather than replying to her gentle ribbing, he responded by leaning over the table and gently kissing her lips. Even as they kissed, however, his mind was elsewhere.
Amanda. He pictured her - her laughing brown eyes, porcelain complexion and soft brunette curls appeared vividly in his mind's eye. His pulse suddenly racing, he deepened the kiss.
He’d never kissed Amanda; he’d never taken that chance. They had flirted shamelessly, and he had reveled in their mutual teasing. They had been nearly inseparable, hands linked at every . . .
Tanya pulled away slightly, breaking into his train of thought. She whispered into his ear, "What do you say we forget about the coffee?"
Momentarily disoriented, Lee sat back. He shook his head slightly and forced a smile. "No," he countered with a small cough. "Let's stay a while and just talk."
The smile slowly faded from her face. "Okay," she agreed with a disappointed sigh.
Lee could sense her displeasure. He knew that she wanted to go back to his apartment with him, but he was simply no longer in the mood.
He shook his head, firmly telling himself to put his relationship with Amanda King behind him once and for all, but it was a feat that was easier said than done.
He had thought forgetting about having a relationship with her would be simple enough, but he had been wrong. Seeing her every day at work was extremely difficult, and he couldn’t stop thinking about her.
He still remembered the night he lost Amanda. He’d been sitting in his car, weeks before, watching her . . .
Lee pulled up to the curb a few houses down from Amanda's, pleasantly anticipating the chance to spend a few minutes in her company. Lately, his desire to be near her had been growing by leaps and bounds. He was amazed at how his feelings about her, and especially for her, had changed so drastically.
It seemed like ages since they’d been alone; the past few days had been spent in the company of her ex-husband and the enthusiastic Prime Minister of Estocia.
From his vantage point, Lee could see that Joe was just leaving. Amanda stepped out on the porch with him, and they stood there, appearing to be deep in conversation.
As Lee watched them, Joe pulled Amanda into an embrace and his hands settled intimately on her waist. Stunned, Lee shook his head and looked again, sure his eyes were playing tricks on him.
To Lee's horror, Joe leaned down and kissed Amanda firmly, wrapping his arms around her possessively. Amanda didn’t pull away, but rather placed a hand on Joe’s chest.
It wasn’t a friendly kiss or a peck on the lips. It was a full-blown, intimate kiss, the kind of kiss Joe and Amanda would have engaged in while they were still married.
"What the Hell . . ." Lee muttered in pained confusion. He resisted the urge to get out of his car and pry them apart.
He sat there, not able to stop gawking at the spectacle, and finally the kiss ended. Not able to tell who had pulled away first, he beat his fist against the steering wheel in agitation.
Amanda was looking down at the ground; she was certainly not upset or yelling at Joe. Joe reached out and caressed her arm, and she gave him a smile.
Then Joe walked away, turning back to wave at her. Amanda waved and smiled, then went back into her house.
Lee had no idea how long he sat there numbly before he started the
engine and drove away.
Lee walked into the Q Bureau to find Amanda working in the vault. She was busily filing and didn't notice him standing in the doorway of the tiny room.
"Good morning," he offered nervously.
She jumped and turned to face him, holding one hand over her heart. "Lee," she chastised him. "You startled me - I didn't hear you come in."
"Sorry," he apologized, feeling awkward in her presence, as had become the norm. "How are you?"
"Just fine, thanks," she murmured, returning to her task.
Lee watched her for a moment, noting her rigid body language. Clearly, she felt uncomfortable around him, too. They had lost their natural, carefree rapport.
He opened his mouth, about to say something, but the phone rang, delaying any attempt to clear the air between them. Striding over to the desk, he picked up the receiver.
"Q Bureau," he answered in a professional tone. “Stetson here.”
"Yes, she is," he responded after a moment. He couldn't believe how often Joe called her at work. "Yeah . . . Just a minute," he added.
Amanda stepped out of the vault, her eyes questioning. Handing her the phone, he said, "It's, uh . . . Joe." He could hear the irritation in own his voice.
Amanda accepted the receiver. "Thanks," she told him.
"Hi, Sweetheart," she greeted.
Lee cringed at her use of the endearment and stood there, openly watching her. She flashed him a look of mild annoyance and turned her back to him, speaking quietly. Undaunted, he remained where he was.
When she finished the brief conversation, she hung up the phone and spun to face him, her irritation clearly written across her face.
"Do you mind?" she asked.
"What?" he questioned defensively.
"I don't eavesdrop when you're on the phone with Tanya, do I?" she challenged.
Noting her belligerent manner, he retorted, "I wasn't eavesdropping, Amanda."
Amanda rolled her eyes. "Oh, please, Lee."
"Listen, I'm sorry, okay? I didn’t realize that you were on such cozy terms with Joe that you need to hold your conversations in private." He heard his voice rise and crack, and attempted to calm down while she absorbed his barb.
He watched as she took a deep breath. Her widened eyes blazed and she appeared to be struggling for control of her anger.
Amanda pointed her finger at him. "You have no right to make assumptions about my relationship with Joe," she asserted.
Fighting back his quickly rising defenses, Lee's eyes narrowed involuntarily. Against his better judgment, he asked, "So, you’re back with him, huh?"
"It's none of your business, Stetson," she warned icily. He'd never heard such steel in her voice before, especially when she added, "What if I am? I have a right to see whoever I want to, don’t I? It’s a right you certainly take advantage of, isn’t it?”
He took a moment to try to conjure a reply, but gave up.
Her gaze didn't waver but became more intense, and it seemed as though she were daring him to taunt her further.
"You're right, it's none of my business." He shrugged, doing his best to put on an act of nonchalance, effectively ending the conversation.
She laughed mirthlessly. “Well, how big of you to admit it.”
"By the way, Billy has an assignment for us," he added, sitting down at his desk.
"What is it?" she asked wearily, dropping onto the couch. She crossed one leg over the other, her skirt swishing about her. Lee felt his mouth go dry as he watched, mesmerized by the action.
"It's ah, an easy one, really,” he stammered. “He wants us to attend an art gallery opening and pose as a married couple interested in buying a sculpture. Apparently . . ."
She interrupted him mid-sentence, shaking her head and holding up a hand in warning. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"What? Why not? You haven't even heard the rest of the assignment," he protested.
Twisting her heart pendant between her fingers, she explained, "I don't think we should pose as a married couple anymore, Lee . . . what with Tanya, and all."
"Why should that make any difference?" he asked, annoyed and perplexed. "We've always done it, whether or not one or both of us was involved with someone else. It's business, Amanda - it's our job."
"I know," she conceded, sighing. "But this is just . . . different."
"Why? How is it different?" he demanded.
She sighed again, rose to her feet and picked up another stack of files. He got up, too, and followed her into the vault.
"Lee, Tanya is more than just your . . . casual girlfriend," she told him, her voice strained and her words stilted. "It's . . . it’s just different this time," she finished with a sigh.
"Amanda," he coaxed. "Be reasonable. We're still partners, and we still have a job to do. I don't understand what the big deal is." Pausing briefly, he added suspiciously, "Why does it matter to you that my relationship with Tanya isn't casual?"
"Never mind," she told him, shaking her head. "You won't ever understand, Lee; we think too differently."
"Well, if you feel so strongly about this, maybe I can get Francine . . . " he muttered, half expecting her to stop him, but she agreed.
Nodding, she replied, "That's a good idea . . . In fact, I’ve been thinking . . . and it might be a good idea for us to work apart once in a while, you know?"
"Wha- what?” he stammered. Dumbfounded, he stared at her, realizing she was serious. “Why?”
“I just think we could use some time apart,” she explained. “I feel kind of . . . awkward . . . around you. I think you feel it, too.”
“I . . . I guess so,” he faltered. “But it’s not . . .”
“I think it’s for the best, Lee,” she interrupted quietly.
He couldn’t speak for a moment, but finally found his voice and replied weakly, "Okay . . . If that's what you . . . really want."
Wordlessly, she nodded and turned away from him.
Was there no hope of repairing the damage he’d done? Just when he’d allowed his previously erected walls to fall, he had replaced them with even higher ones.
He sat down at his desk and tried to focus on the report in front of
him. Instead, his mind wandered again to that damnable night, and he wondered
if he’d blown the situation out of proportion.
Lee drove home on autopilot, replaying the torturous scene of Joe kissing Amanda over and over in his mind. Each replay was embellished, becoming more graphic and detailed.
‘If she wanted him, why didn’t she just tell me? Why would she lead me to believe that she wanted a relationship with me?’ Lee sighed in agitation; this was bothering him far more than he would have ever imagined.
However, he never had imagined Joe returning to Amanda’s life, to their children’s lives. He shouldn’t have been surprised, though. They were a family, after all. They needed Joe, and he probably needed them, as well.
‘Damn it!’ He slammed his fist against the steering wheel, ignoring the resulting pain.
Maybe he should try to talk to her. ‘No,’ he mused. ‘How would I ask her about something like that? How could I force her to make a choice between the father of her children and me? She probably feels guilty about this whole thing, and doesn’t want to tell me. Maybe I should just make it easy on her.’
Nearing his apartment, he pulled into the parking lot, trying to convince himself of the rightness of the situation. 'Well,' Lee thought. 'It makes sense. He's the father of her children. Maybe she’s been wishing to have him back all along. He’s not good for her, but then, am I?'
Stepping out of the car, he slammed the door, then leaned against it, tensely running a hand through his hair.
He felt as if his heart were breaking. They'd been making slow but steady progress in their relationship, transitioning from friendship to something decidedly more.
He shook his head in frustration, his anger rising again. 'How could she not tell me?' he raged silently. 'How could she not know how I feel about her?' In the back of his mind, however, he felt safe again. He didn't n't need her or want her, she would be free to take Joe back without guilt or recrimination.
If he had to sacrifice his own happiness to buy hers, then he’d just have to pay the price.
On his way home from the Agency that evening, Lee replayed his conversation with Amanda over and over in his mind. What had she said? ‘I have a right to see whoever I want to, don’t I? It’s a right you certainly take advantage of, isn’t it?’
Something about her words, and the way she’d said them, was bothering him. It had been almost as if she were accusing him . . . of what? Frustrated, he tried to put it out of his mind.
He returned home to find Tanya enthusiastically fixing dinner. She was temporarily staying with him while her condominium was being re-carpeted, and he was beginning to regret agreeing to the arrangement.
Determined to put Amanda out of his mind, he stepped up behind Tanya and turned her around.
"Hi," she greeted him with a smile.
"Shhhh," he admonished. Closing his eyes, he touched his lips to hers, then devoured her mouth hungrily. He intensified the kiss, his arms encircling her waist and pulling her up against his body.
She wrapped her arms around his neck. His hands heatedly roved her lower back, and she moaned slightly in response.
At the sound of her voice, Lee pulled away, confusion flooding his mind. He smiled weakly and resumed the kiss, but the earlier passion he'd experienced had dissipated.
“Dinner’s almost ready,” she told him. Flipping her auburn ponytail, she turned back to the preparations.
“Great,” he replied in a distracted tone, heading out of the kitchen. He couldn't believe how he'd just used Tanya, and was disgusted with himself.
In the bedroom, he pulled off his clothes, letting them fall to the ground. After retrieving a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, he went into the bathroom and started the shower.
Under the refreshing spray of hot water, his mind continued to hark back to when his life had gotten off track.
The night after he’d seen Amanda and Joe together, he’d gone to a club and met Tanya. She was nothing like the women he usually dated, but wasn’t much like Amanda, either. Lee had figured that she would help take his mind off of his partner, and asked her out.
Two days later, he had seen Amanda at work. Feeling extremely awkward
around her, he’d completely botched the entire conversation, probing for
information about Joe and blurting out that he was seeing another woman.
“Good morning, Amanda,” Lee said, struggling to sound natural and casual.
“Oh, good morning, Lee!” she returned happily.
“How was your weekend?” he asked, keeping his voice even. The overwhelming sense of loss made him ache, and he longed to take her into his arms and claim her as his own. He’d always been possessive when it came to Amanda, but that was nothing compared to the potent jealousy he felt now.
“Just fine. Joe came over and spent some time with the boys. They really enjoy having him around - they really need that,” she told him.
“And what about you?” he asked, a dangerously shaky edge in his voice. “Do you enjoy . . . having him around?”
She looked up, her expression unreadable. “Oh, well,” she paused, seeming uncomfortable. “I guess I’ll get used to it, you know?”
“Yeah.” Lee nodded, again recalling the sight of her locked in the arms of her ex-husband. “I guess you probably will.”
She looked up, her brow furrowed. “Lee, is something wrong?” she asked perceptively.
He straightened his back resolutely. “No, nothing’s wrong,” he replied. Making an effort to lighten his tone, he added, “Hey, guess what?”
“What?” she queried.
“I met someone Saturday night. A woman named Tanya Williams,” he replied casually. “We uh, we really hit it off.”
Amanda looked up at him sharply, a question in her brown eyes. She took a step backward and grasped the edge of the desk. “Oh?”
“Yeah,” he affirmed, smiling despite the pain in his heart. “We’re going to have dinner together tonight.”
“Y- you . . . you are?” she asked, her face displaying surprise, confusion and profound hurt.
Lee nodded and went on, despite the fact that she seemed extremely upset. “Yeah. I thought it’d be nice to get out, you know, on a date for a change.”
“Oh . . . I see . . .” Amanda paused and swallowed hard. “Um . . . so you . . . you and I . . . we . . . aren't having dinner tonight, then?”
“Did we have plans?” he asked airily, just as he’d rehearsed. He was fighting to maintain his composure, trying to remember that he was doing this for her.
She stared at him, crestfallen, and for a split second he wavered. She didn't seem happy to be off the hook, as he’d expected; she didn't seem at all relieved. Perhaps he'd been mistaken . . .
Then, remembering the sight of her locked in a passionate embrace with Joe, he continued. “I guess I forgot. We can reschedule, right, partner?” He took a step forward to lightly pat her arm.
“Right . . .Sure . . .” she agreed slowly, looking bewildered. She took a deep breath and released it shakily, then, without another word, she nodded awkwardly and turned, walking away slowly.
Lee let out a heavy sigh. Whatever he’d been expecting, it wasn’t
that. She’d reacted much as she had when, undercover, he’d inadvertently
slapped her at Nedlinger’s. Still, he resisted the urge to follow her.
After dinner, Lee had claimed to have a headache, and Tanya had agreed to postpone their evening out. After she left to take some things back to her own place, he finished cleaning up the kitchen, then sat down to watch a ballgame.
As hard as he tried, Lee found that it was impossible to get Amanda off of his mind.
Even though he’d thought that dating Tanya would give him a fresh start, he found that he missed Amanda’s companionship terribly.
He was sure that a small part of his guilt was due to how badly he felt over their earlier disagreement about the assignment. Picking up the phone, he dialed her number, a number more familiar to him than his own.
"Hello?" She answered on the first ring.
"Hi, Amanda," he greeted her with a smile in his voice.
"Oh . . ." she responded slowly. "Hi, Lee."
"Were you expecting someone else?" he asked in what he hoped sounded like a teasing tone.
She hesitated. "Oh, well, kind of. Joe's supposed to be calling . . ."
"Oh," he said quickly, the familiar jealous anger attempting to surface.
" . . . for the boys," she finished.
"Oh," he repeated, at a loss. Why wouldn’t she just tell him the truth? ‘Because you know there’s no truth to tell,’ responded an inner voice. "Look, I wanted to apologize, Amanda."
When she remained silent, he continued. "I'm sorry about earlier today. I, uh . . . I know how seriously you take relationships, and well, I shouldn't have pressed you to do the assignment. It's just that we . . . we never had a problem with it before, and I was kind of . . . surprised."
"I understand," she replied stiffly.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"Yeah, Lee, I'm sure," she affirmed, her tone again belying her words.
"Good," he said. Suddenly anxious to end the conversation, he added, "I guess I'll see you later, then."
After they had talked, Lee found that his mind was still consumed by thoughts of Amanda. His attempts to force his mind to focus on Tanya failed miserably.
He allowed himself to cast his mind even further back and recalled the
events of the evening of what he had thought of as their first date.
“Do you like Verdi?” Lee asked, escorting Amanda into the theatre. Her arm was intimately linked through his and he felt more contented than he had in a long time.
“To be honest, I’m not very familiar with his work,” she confessed, shrugging her bare shoulders. ”But I’m looking forward to the evening.”
She looked like a goddess, an angel. Her hair was curling softly around her face, tendrils escaping their pins and caressing her neck.
“You’ll love it, I promise,” Lee told her.
He was determined to take her mind off of Alan Chamberlain. He’d seen them kissing goodbye, and had worried that she would continue the relationship. He didn’t want to see that happen; in fact, he was determined that it wouldn’t happen.
Seeing Amanda with Chamberlain had been quite a wake-up call for Lee. He realized that he had never liked seeing her with other men, that he had never liked seeing other men show interest in her. It went far beyond a casual concern for his partner.
He'd invited her to the festival to make her forget all about the suave bachelor who’d seemed so intent on winning her heart. Now that she was here by his side, he felt incredibly contented.
Alan “Dull as a stick” Chamberlain could just find his own breathtakingly beautiful, intelligent spy.
The following evening, Tanya was once again waiting for him when he arrived home, even though she'd moved her things back to her condominium. He’d been wishing for a quiet evening, figuring he might drive over to Amanda’s if for nothing else than a quick glance in her window.
He knew he couldn’t continue this deception. He was no longer deceiving himself, but he was deceiving two women who deserved better.
After dinner that night, Tanya turned to Lee expectantly. "How about some dessert?" she asked, raising her eyebrows at him suggestively.
“Ahhh,” he cleared his throat nervously. “Tanya, I’m not really feeling that great tonight,” he began.
“Again?” she asked, backing away slightly.
He disengaged her arms and turned to face her. "I . . . uh," he stalled, sighing. It had to be done. "Tanya."
"I . . ." he replied. "Need to tell you something . . ."
She frowned slightly. “You can tell me anything.”
"Tanya," he said again, willing himself to be truthful. "I’m sorry, but I can’t go on like this. There's . . . there’s someone else."
"What?!" she exclaimed, drawing away from him.
He took a step towards her as she retreated. "I mean, not like that - I haven't been with anyone else. But I am . . .” he stammered, staring at the floor.
“What?” she prodded. “Tell me.”
“Tanya, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t realize . . . I’m so sorry. I can’t be with you. There’s . . . there’s someone else,” he finished in a rush.
"Who?" she demanded. She crossed her arms in front of herself in a protective gesture.
"Her name . . . her name's Amanda," he whispered, closing his eyes. A dizzying sensation washed over him at finally saying it out loud. “I . . . we work together.”
"I see," she replied calmly, her face red with emotion.
He glanced away from her anger. "It’s . . . It’s been Amanda, for a very long time. Tanya, I was confused. Her ex-husband came back, and I thought I should let her know that she was free to . . ." he trailed off, feeling incapable of explaining adequately.
"Is she in love with you, too?" she demanded.
"I don't know," he said miserably, flinching at her choice of words. "I thought, maybe . . . but when Joe -- her ex-husband -- came back, they seemed so . . . comfortable with each other. But I didn't give her a chance. I didn't ask her what she wanted."
"So you used me to forget about her?" She was horrified, the realization of his admission sinking in.
"No," he said, cringing. There was no way to make her understand or to make amends. “It wasn’t like that . . . I never intended . . .”
"I’m sure you didn’t," she remarked blandly, leaning against the kitchen cabinet.
He offered her a guilty look, unable to find the words to tell her that theirs had merely been a rebound relationship.
"Tanya, I'm sorry," he offered softly.
"So am I," she replied tersely. "I'm sorry I ever laid eyes on you."
“I don’t blame you,” he whispered.
“The thing is, I really thought we had something. What a fool I’ve been,” she murmured.
“I hate that I’ve hurt you . . .” he began.
She held up a hand. “Save it, Lee,” she warned.
She turned from him and ran into the bathroom. Lee remained in the kitchen, listening to the sound of the coffee percolating. He knew he should feel something - guilt, sadness, anything, but at the moment, he was simply numb.
Tanya returned to the living room. He leaned against the wall, watching her emptily. She gathered her coat and purse, and turned to him. "I'd say that I hope you'll be happy, Lee, but I'd be lying. I hope she breaks your heart."
She went out, slamming the door behind her.
"She just might," he replied quietly.
The following morning, Lee awoke early, having slept very little. He felt a need to get out of the apartment and didn’t have to be to the Agency for three hours.
He drove around aimlessly for over an hour, finally winding up at Arlington National Cemetery. He got out of his car and stood, stretching. Yanking off his tie and jacket, he threw them into the passenger seat and closed the door.
He found his parents' gravesite easily. As he stared at their names engraved into the cold marble slabs, he felt tears well up in his eyes.
"What am I doing?" he asked aloud.
Receiving no answer, he reached down and pulled a few weeds away from the markers, trailing his fingers over the names of his mother and father.
Sinking to his knees before his parents' final resting-place, he squeezed his eyes shut as the image of Amanda entered his mind. He sat there for a long while, trying to figure out how to repair the gash in their relationship. Would things ever be the same between them again?
Looking around him, he ran a hand through his hair as the realization hit him. "I need her," he whispered to the trees.
Again, his mind traveled to the past. The night of the Verdi Festival . . . It had been a time of self-revelation for him. He’d been searching for something and had finally found it, in the eyes of the woman on his arm.
He’d been gently questioning her, and she had said more with her eyes
than with her voice, but he had nevertheless received the answers he was
They arrived and parked down from Amanda’s house, which was darkened, its occupants long asleep.
“So,” Lee began, turning to look at Amanda. “Did you have a good time?”
“It was wonderful, Lee,” she told him. “Thanks again for inviting me.”
He smiled. “My pleasure,” he replied truthfully, looking at her intently.
“Well,” she said, licking her lips nervously. “I guess I’ll see you Monday, huh?”
Monday . . . it seemed so far away. He wanted to invite her over for dinner the following night, but refrained from extending the invitation. ‘This is Amanda,’ he told himself for the umpteenth time. ‘So?’ the answer came.
“Guess so,” he agreed.
She reached for the door handle, but stopped when he spoke again.
Turning back to him, she smiled. “Yes?”
“I, um. . . I was wondering,” he paused and sighed. “Well, I saw Chamberlain kiss you, and, ahh . . . did he ask to see you again?”
There, he’d asked her. There was no turning back, now. He held his breath as he waited for her response.
“Oh,” she whispered, blushing. “No . . . well, you know. It would never work out, and Alan knows that.”
Not having received quite the answer he was looking for, he continued. “But . . . he did kiss you. I guess you hit it off pretty well, huh?”
She brought her eyes up to meet his. There was something there, telling him his worry was needless.
“Not that well,” she told him with an enigmatic smile. “I mean, he was nice, but like I said . . .”
“Dull as a stick,” they finished together, laughing.
She nodded, her eyes conveying much more than her words had. Feeling much better, Lee grinned.
The morning after his break-up, Lee was anxious to talk with Amanda. He felt an almost urgent need to let her know he’d ended things with Tanya, though he couldn’t imagine what her reaction would be.
Amanda hurried out of an office and nearly collided with him. “Hey, what's the hurry?” he asked teasingly.
“Oh, uh, well Mr. Melrose wants these reports, so I was just taking them to him,” she explained, avoiding his intense gaze.
“I wanted to talk to you, if you have a minute,” he told her. “Alone.”
Sighing, she consulted her watch. “Okay, but just for a minute,” she conceded.
“Okay,” he agreed, following her into an empty room.
“What is it?” she asked.
Now that he had her attention and was alone with her, he found it difficult to breathe, let alone form actual words into sentences to tell her what he needed her to know.
“I . . .” he paused, feeling awkward. “I just wanted to let you know that it’s over, between Tanya and me. It just . . . didn’t work out.”
Her silence was unbearable. He studied her face, usually so revealing and open. Now, it was impassive and impersonal, remote.
She arched one eyebrow as she studied him. “Well, I hope you informed her that it was over,” she said without sympathy for the other woman.
“Well, yeah . . . I mean, of course I did. I told her . . . I told her that it wouldn’t work out,” he replied, confused.
Amanda shrugged. “Well, then,” she remarked. “May I go now?”
“Yeah, sure,” he agreed, not knowing what else to say.
As Lee made his way towards Billy's office the following day, Francine and Amanda both exited and headed in opposite directions. Francine headed towards the Bullpen, but Amanda turned to the right and collided head-on with Lee.
He held out his arms to steady her, feeling a thrill at having her in his arms, albeit briefly. Her eyes widened in surprise and she disengaged herself quickly.
“Excuse me,” she said in embarrassed agitation. “I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.”
"It's okay," he assured her. "I was wondering if you want to grab lunch together later."
"Lunch?" she repeated, as if the very idea were foreign to her.
He attempted a smile. "Yeah, lunch."
"Sorry, I have plans," she replied, shaking her head. Turning, she headed out of the Bullpen as if it were on fire.
Lee stepped into the office and saw Billy sitting at his desk, chuckling to himself.
"What's goin' on?" he asked.
"Those two are a riot," Billy managed to say through his laughter. "I swear, it's the hardest thing in the world to keep a straight face when they're in here bickering like a couple of sisters. They can't agree on a single thing!"
Lee grinned at Billy's description of the two. "Yeah, I thought they were finally coming around," he said.
"They were, until I paired them up," Billy added with a mirthful grin.
Lee smiled. He’d been worried at first that Amanda and Francine would kill each other, but they’d appeared to be doing all right. That had caused him to worry even more.
But a conversation with Amanda on the subject had helped him to realize
that she wouldn’t be asking for a partnership with Francine any time soon
. . .
“So,” Lee began. “How do you like working with Francine?”
“Just fine,” Amanda replied. “But I have to tell you that I really appreciate the fact that you never called me in the morning to make sure we weren’t planning to wear the same color.”
Lee chuckled. “No way.”
“Uh-huh,” she confirmed. “On the other hand, she seems to enjoy telling me to stay in the car as much as you did.”
“As much as I do,” he corrected. She was acting as if their days of working together were over.
She gave him a small smile. “As much as you do,” she repeated.
“Did you need something?” she asked.
He slid his hands into his pockets and replied, “No, I just wanted to say hi.”
“Lee,” she paused. “I’m sorry about how I responded the other day . . . when you told me about . . . about breaking up with Tanya.”
“No, it’s okay,” he assured her.
She looked at him for a long moment. “It’s just that . . .” she began.
“Good morning,” Francine greeted them as she walked over to Amanda’s desk. Giving Amanda a look, she added, “I thought you weren’t going to wear blue today.”
“Good morning, Francine,” Amanda replied, ignoring Francine’s complaint about her choice of clothes. Then, with an apologetic glance at Lee, she left the two of them standing there alone.
“What’s with her?” Francine asked. “And what’s with you?” she added, taking in Lee’s look of annoyance.
“Nothing but your impeccable timing, Francine,” he told her, then walked away.
Lee went through the rest of the day without seeing Amanda once. She'd become something of an expert in avoidance patterns.
He looked for her before heading for home, but was informed that she had left early. Feeling strangely empty, he drove home, resisting the temptation to drive over to her house.
He found that he couldn't stop thinking about her. In his mind's eye, he pictured her the first time he had seen her, at the train station. She'd been startled, unwilling to help him at first.
He could remember in detail how her expressive brown eyes had widened in stunned surprise, how her voice had sounded, how he'd known the very second she'd decided to go ahead and help him.
Then he recalled the situation with James Delano. He'd been worried that Amanda had fallen for the cad. She'd accused him of being jealous, but he had denied it. At that point, he hadn’t realized that what he’d felt were the first twinges of jealousy.
His mind traveled further along in time, and an unpleasant memory presented itself. Anger welled up inside of him afresh as he remembered how she'd almost been purchased, like an object to be owned.
He remembered how indignant he’d felt over someone wanting to own her. Shame filled him as he remembered accusing her of carelessly losing the microdot, ridiculing and humiliating her in the process.
As he fell asleep, he dreamt of the more recent experience of nearly losing her in the explosion that occurred at the 'Save the Bay' rally. He relived, not for the first time, the relief he'd felt when he found her safely standing alone, away from the chaos.
In his dream, he held her close for a very long time. Then, he slowly released her to look at her again, assuring himself that she was fine. His gaze moved to her lips. Hesitantly, he moved his head towards her and heard her intake of breath. Their lips met, and he held her closer, feeling her respond hesitantly but willingly.
One hand strayed into her hair as he held her close to him. Suddenly, they were no longer at the park but in Amanda's bedroom, having climbed her trellis to warn her about Franco Necci and Chamberlain.
Lee was perched on the edge of her bed, holding her hand in his. Slowly, he pulled it away, his fingers lingering on hers.
"I'd better go," he told her, feeling more than a little unnerved.
But instead of standing to leave, as he had actually done, he moved towards her and captured her mouth in a captivating kiss. His hands caressed her through her silky nightgown. She returned his kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck. They leaned back into the pillows and . . .
With a thudding heart, Lee shot up in bed in a cold sweat, fully awake. In a near panic, his pulse racing, he switched on the light to ensure that he was in his own bedroom.
Placing his fingers to his lips, he could still feel the effects of that dream kiss. He remembered how he had wanted, desperately, to kiss her that day in the park, as well as that night in her bedroom during the Chamberlain case.
Suddenly, it didn't matter to him whether or not Joe wanted her back. He knew that he had to fight for her, convince her that he needed her. Joe had left her before; he didn't deserve a second chance.
Lee had to see her right away. Glancing at the clock, he knew she'd probably be asleep, but he couldn't wait.
Getting out of bed, he dressed quickly, grabbed his keys and ran out of the apartment.
He drove like a madman to her sleeping neighborhood and parked in front of her darkened home. Making his way around to the side of the house, he hoped fervently that the trellis would hold his weight one more time.
Climbing quickly, he reached the top and stared into her bedroom through the slightly open window. It appeared that she had fallen asleep without changing into pajamas, and was lying on top of the still-made bed.
Pushing the window further open, he swung a leg over the sill and pulled himself into the room with effort. Remembering her reaction the last time he'd crept into her bedroom, he pulled the shade down. Walking over to the bed, he watched her as she slept.
She was lying on her side, looking peaceful and beautiful. A small sigh escaped her lips. He fought a strong desire to lean down and kiss her.
"Amanda," he whispered.
She stirred, rolled over and hugged her pillow to her body, moaning softly.
He reached out a tentative hand and touched her shoulder gently. "Amanda," he whispered again as he sat down on the edge of her bed.
Her eyes flew open and she gasped. “Who’s there?” she demanded.
"It's okay, it's only me!" he told her.
"Lee?" she asked, her voice sounding confused and groggy with sleep. "What are you doing here? What's happened?"
"I need to talk to you," he told her nervously.
She ran a hand through her hair. "Can't it wait until tomorrow?" she requested.
"Please, Amanda, this is important," he pleaded.
Rubbing her eyes, she switched on the bedside lamp. Blinking several times against the sudden illumination, she looked up at him in confusion.
"Are you okay? Is something wrong? Is it a case? Something important?" Her voice cracked hoarsely.
Lee chuckled quietly. Even half-asleep, she could fire off a healthy round of questions.
"Shhhh," he intoned, placing a finger to her lips.
Her eyes widened at the contact and he saw her swallow hard, but she nodded her consent. "Sorry," she replied.
"Amanda," he whispered, removing his finger reluctantly. "Shouldn't we be whispering?"
"No," she responded. "I'm here alone."
"Oh," he replied. "Where's your family?"
"They were supposed to come back from camping with the Trailblazers, but there was too much rain and the roads are flooded. They should be able to come back tomorrow," she explained.
"Oh," he replied. He found himself unable to stop staring at her. Her dark tousled locks and creamy skin were a devastatingly lovely combination.
She self-consciously looked down at her clothes, then at the bed. "I guess I fell asleep before I could put my pajamas on," she said needlessly.
"I guess so," he agreed with a small smile. "Listen, Amanda, can we talk?"
She stared at him for a moment and then nodded reluctantly. "Why don't we go downstairs?" she suggested.
"Okay," he acquiesced.
"You're sure this can't wait 'til tomorrow, huh?" she asked him with one last longing glance at her bed.
"If it wasn't important, would I have climbed up your trellis in the middle of the night?" he teased gently as they descended the stairs.
She laughed nervously. "No, I guess not."
They reached the kitchen and Amanda turned on the burner under the teakettle.
Lee watched her as she darted around the kitchen, collecting mugs, tea bags, spoons and honey. After she had these items compiled, she glanced around the room, avoiding looking at him, as if desperate to find something else with which to keep busy.
Spying a loaf of bread, she gestured to it and opened the knife drawer. "Would you like a slice of banana bread?" she asked.
"No, thanks. Amanda . . . just stay still. Why don't we go into the family room?" he suggested.
"Okay," she agreed.
She led the way, pausing to turn on a couple of lamps. She let him sit down first, then chose a spot across the room. He was disappointed, but not at all surprised.
"So . . . what is it you wanted to talk about?" she queried.
"Well, it's kind of complicated, Amanda," he hesitated.
She frowned slightly. "Okay," she said slowly.
"First of all, I need to ask you about Joe . . ." he began.
"Joe?" she questioned, clearly taken aback.
"Yes," he said firmly. "Amanda, are you in love with him? Are you going to take him back?” He sat forward. “Please . . . tell me the truth."
Frowning, Amanda ran a hand through her hair. "Lee . . ." she began,
shaking her head in frustration. "I'm not in love with Joe. And neither
of us wants to get back together . . . I don't know where you're getting
all of this."
He sighed in relief, amused at the way she'd systematically answered each of his questions. Then, apprehension returned. He'd done what he had for no reason, needlessly damaged their relationship, just as he’d suspected.
He stared at her, striving to find the words to tell her what he'd done. "Amanda, I've been so stupid . . ."
"What do you mean?" she asked, looking acutely uncomfortable.
"Well, you know that . . . I mean, I told you that I broke it off with Tanya," he told her, staring into her eyes and searching for the warmth he normally found there. What he saw, instead, was a sudden edginess, a reluctance to listen to him. "I need to explain some things to you."
She stiffened warily. "Okay," she said.
"I . . . I made a horrible mistake, Amanda," he whispered, swallowing the nervous lump in his throat.
"Lee, what are you trying to say, exactly?" she asked. "Because if you're worried about my feelings or something, don't be. There was nothing between us."
Lee noted her mocking, caustic tone. She was mimicking him, throwing his own words back in his face.
"You’re wrong," he ventured quietly. He knew what she was doing.
"I’m wrong?" she repeated, shaking her head as if she'd misheard him. “How am I wrong?” she asked him dryly.
"Amanda, I thought that you would go back to Joe," he began to explain. "It was stupid of me not to talk to you about it, but I . . . I saw you, um . . . kissing him.” He paused and ran a hand through his hair.
She waited silently, one eyebrow arched in curiosity.
“Then, I saw how often he was here, and . . . I made some assumptions and thought that you just didn't know how to tell me it was over between us."
"Between us?" she asked incredulously, her voice shaking with emotion. "How could it be over between us? There was never anything between us." Her voice grew more agitated and sarcastic as she spoke. "We weren't involved, remember? All business, all for cover?"
He knew that she didn’t believe what she was saying, any more than he did. She'd been humiliated, confused, and hurt, and now she was trying to save face by hurting him in return. He knew he deserved it.
"You don't believe that, do you?" he asked pleadingly. "Amanda, please try to understand. I thought that Joe was what you wanted."
She closed her eyes for a moment and then reopened them, her gaze unwavering. "Joe kissed me. I didn't kiss Joe," she informed him in a matter-of-fact tone. "We'd been talking about old times, and I guess we both were just feeling a little nostalgic. You . . . You saw us? You were there, watching us?" Her voice shook as she followed her line of thought, her eyes widened as she asked each question. "Spying on us? What right do you have to do that?"
"Amanda, please. You have to understand . . . It made sense to me at the time.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I . . . I really thought that Joe wanted you back and it seemed that you wanted him, too.”
“But, Lee . . .” she began.
He cut her off as if he hadn’t heard her. “When Joe came back . . . That day, in the Q Bureau, and later at Dooley's, I asked you what went wrong with your marriage. You never said you didn't love him anymore, that you didn't want him anymore.”
“Now, wait a minute . . .” she held up a hand.
Lee continued, not wanting to give her a chance to point out the flaws in his carefully constructed defense. “The whole problem was that he wanted to stay in Estocia - that he didn't want to stay here with you. Now, here he was, back in the States . . . I don't know, I just felt like I should let you go, if that's what you wanted."
He looked at her miserably, feeling as if he were entirely exposed before her.
"But you never asked me what I wanted, Lee! You assumed. You made the decision for me. 'Guess what?' you said. ‘I met a woman.’ That’s how you told me you didn’t want me, Lee."
Her eyes were glistening with tears she stoically refused to let fall. Her hands were shaking badly, and tea sloshed out of the cup as she set it down with a clang.
"You know," she went on, "I was going to tell you about that kiss. I knew I had to be honest with you, and I was trying to find a way to tell you about it in a way that wouldn't make you run away. But you ran anyway, Lee. You didn't even give me a chance!"
She broke off and looked away from him. He felt almost physically ill, knowing what a complete mess he'd made.
Lee wanted so badly to hold her, but he knew that she would never let him near her now, and maybe not ever again. With crushing certainty he knew what a horrendous mistake he'd made, and he had no idea how to fix it.
"Amanda," he pleaded, hearing the emotion in his voice. "I'm so sorry.
Please . . ."
"I think you should leave now," she stated tonelessly, once again in control of her emotions. But all of the color had drained from her face. She stood and headed upstairs, leaving him alone on her couch with his head in his hands.
He let himself out, fighting the desire to rush back in and make her understand. But he knew he couldn’t do that, so he got into his car and sat there, too numb at first to drive.
She seemed to be closing him out so much lately, and he knew that the blame lay with him. It was his thoughtless actions and words that had pushed her away, and now she was pushing back.
His mind wandered back to the morning Amanda had been about to open up to him. Naturally, they were interrupted, this time by Francine.
Later, he’d tried to continue the conversation, but having had some
time to reconsider, Amanda had apparently changed her mind.
“Amanda,” Lee called.
She stopped in mid-stride, looking his way. Slowly, she made her way over to where he stood.
“I’m sorry Francine interrupted us earlier,” he told her. “Was there . . . Was there something else you were going to say?”
She glanced around thoughtfully. He could tell she was trying to stall for time, come up with an evasive answer.
“Nope,” she replied, shaking her head. “Don’t think so.”
She started to continue down the hall, but he caught her arm. “But . . . before Francine came in, you said, ‘It’s just that . . .’“ he reminded her.
“I did?” she queried, looking perplexed. “I don’t remember that, Lee.” She shook her head to emphasize her words.
“Amanda.” He studied her face. He knew her too well to believe what she was trying to tell him.
“Honest,” she insisted. “I remember apologizing for my behavior, but that’s about it.”
Lee sighed. “You said, ‘It’s just that,’” he repeated, anxious to get her to open up and tell him what she’d been on the verge of saying. ”You were going to say something else. What was it?”
Amanda smiled. “I think you’re confused,” she placated.
“No, I . . .” he began.
“Oh, look,” she interjected, holding her watch up for him to see the time. “I’m running late. I’ll see you later, Lee.”
He watched her hurry away, and stood there, feeling further away than ever from reconciliation.
A few evenings later, Lee sat on his couch staring blankly at the news on television. He felt tense and impatient, wishing he could think of a way to fix what he'd broken.
Amanda had been avoiding him at the Agency and had claimed not to have received any of his messages.
He hadn't eaten a thing all day, and his stomach was grumbling in protest. Ignoring his body's demands for food, he turned off the television and poured himself a drink.
How could he have been so dense? Looking back now, it was so easy to see that she'd been hurt and upset with him. Her jealousy had been so obvious, right from the start. If he hadn't been so stubborn and allowed his own jealousy over her relationship with Joe to overtake him, he would have seen it.
But there had been more to it than that. He had been afraid of letting her get too close. His deep connection to her had frightened him and he ran from it, grasping anything he could to justify putting some distance between them.
Well, he'd gotten his distance, all right. More than he'd ever wanted. If he'd been looking, it would have been easy to read the signs she'd given him.
Especially the time he’d been stupid enough to suggest, in so many words,
that they double date. Her strong reaction should have clued him in.
"How are you, Lee?" Amanda asked, sounding as if she was asking only out of duty.
"Fine, thanks. And how are you?" he returned.
"Oh, I'm okay, thanks," she replied with a half-hearted smile. The smile disappeared as she asked, "How's Tanya?"
Was it his imagination, or did she seem a little jealous? As she said Tanya's name, her eyes hardened and she looked away from him.
"She's doing okay,” he remarked cautiously. He didn’t want to discuss Tanya with Amanda. “How's Joe?" he asked her pointedly.
She frowned. "He's all right, I guess," she answered slowly. “Why’re you askin’ about Joe?”
"No reason," he replied, shrugging. "We should all get together some time," he suggested, thinking, even as he spoke, what a stupid idea it was.
For an unbearably long moment, she simply stared at him, as if he were crazy. Then, slowly, she shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"And why would we want to do that, Lee?" Amanda questioned bluntly, scrutinizing his face.
"Well, you know . . ." he stammered, wondering why he'd made such
an inane comment. "I just thought it might be fun, you know, to go out
evening . . ." he trailed off lamely.
"What exactly would be fun about it?" she asked directly, crossing her arms over her chest.
“You know . . .” he plodded on, feeling foolish. “Get to know each other on a new level . . .”
She laughed derisively, as though something he’d said was vastly amusing in a dark way. “On a new level,” she repeated. “That’s a good one, Scarecrow.”
Lee shrugged, feeling ridiculous. "Oh, I don't know. Forget I mentioned it," he mumbled, waving the idea away.
"I will," she responded dryly.
Lee shook his head to clear it of the unpleasant memory. “Stupid,” he muttered.
After fortifying his resolve with a large amount of Scotch, he ambled into his bedroom and pulled off his clothes, slipping into a pair of sweat pants.
Heading back into the living room, he stared at the phone. He couldn’t find the nerve to dial her number, and knew that if he did he probably wouldn't have the nerve to talk to her.
He poured himself another glass and drank it as he watched television. Some furry Muppet-like creature from outer space was trying to eat a cat, and Lee wondered idly how such shows made it on TV.
After a few more drinks, however, he started to appreciate the subtle humor of the bizarre scenario, and was laughing hysterically. Then, the show ended, to Lee’s immense disappointment, so he turned the set off with the remote.
He eyed the phone again, feeling much braver. A moment later, he picked up the receiver and dialed her number.
Three rings sounded in his ear before she answered. "Hello?"
“It’s me,” he replied. “Lee Sssstetson.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I wanna see you,” he told her, not realizing how pathetic he sounded.
“Not today,” she countered. “Have you been drinking?”
“Yes,” he answered truthfully. “I wanna come over an’ see you.”
“Don’t do that,” she said, raising her voice. “Stay home, Lee.”
“Nope,” he argued. “I’ll be over inna jiff.”
“Lee, stay there,” she told him with a sigh. “I’ll come to you.”
“Oh, okay,” he said as he dropped the receiver.
Lee heard Amanda’s soft knock a short while later. He’d just known she’d come over to forgive him. Everything would be fine, now.
"Aaaahmandah," he greeted her warmly.
"Hi, Lee," she returned. "Why aren’t you wearing a shirt? How much did you have to drink?"
"I only hadda liddle," he told her, indicating about an inch with his forefinger and thumb. "I think," he added, studying his fingers.
"Uh-huh," she responded.
"Come an s'down," he invited.
"Why didn't you just go to bed, Lee?" she asked.
"I can' fin' my bed," he confessed with a hiccup.
"That's pretty bad," she told him with mock sympathy. “But you could’ve slept on the couch.”
“I wann’ed to see you,” he said again.
“So I gathered.”
She followed him into the living room, nearly bumping into him when he tripped on an area rug.
"Oopsy!" he exclaimed loudly, grabbing onto the couch for balance.
"I'm going to put on some coffee," she told him.
After starting the coffee machine, she came back into the living room. Lee patted the space next to him on the sofa, and she sat down.
"I'm glad you came," he said earnestly. "Please don' be mad at me."
"Lee, this is something that we should talk about when you're sober," she recommended.
"But you’re here now," he replied.
"I think you should try to get some sleep," Amanda told him.
"But I wanna tell you that I never wann'ed to hurt you."
"I know," she said sadly.
"I really wanna kiss you," he offered, slowly moving towards her. "I've wan'ed to kiss you for a looong time."
"Well, I don't think that's a . . ."
Lee leaned towards her and covered her mouth with his in a clumsy attempt at a kiss. He inadvertently pushed her backwards on the couch and took advantage of the development by covering her body with his.
"Lee," she attempted to get his attention. "Please, get off of me."
"Amannnnda . . ." he uttered her name as he fought to stay awake. Suddenly, all he wanted was to sleep. "I need you. Don' be mad ‘nymore."
“Lee, scoot over and lay on the couch,” she instructed. “Do you want some coffee?”
He rolled over as she had told him to do, feeling sleep overtake him. “Wanna . . . sleep.”
He felt her cover him with a blanket and tried to sit back up, but she
made soothing noises and he quickly drifted off to sleep.
Lee woke up feeling groggy and dehydrated and fighting an attack of nausea. His head ached with a dull but constant pain and his eyes had no tolerance for light. It felt as if his mouth were coated with a thick layer of cotton.
He made his way into the kitchen and poured himself a glass of water, then stared uncomprehendingly at the pot of sludge-like coffee.
'I didn't make any coffee last night,' he thought in confusion.
Frowning, he poured a cup of the strong brew into a mug and placed it into the microwave. Setting the timer for two minutes, he leaned against the counter and closed his eyes.
He had tried to call Amanda last night. Had she answered the phone? Had they talked?
Vaguely, he started to remember talking with her on the phone. Searching his memory, he took another gulp of water and concluded that not only had Amanda spoken to him on the phone, but that she had come over.
"Oh, no." He groaned as the microwave shrilly beeped, letting him know that the coffee had been heated and at the same time causing the pain in his head to peak at an all-time high.
Fragments of last night's events fit themselves together in his mind. 'I kissed her,' he realized, mortified. Try as he might, he couldn't recall what her reaction had been.
He showered, shaved and dressed while trying to remember more of the previous night's events.
Feeling a little better, at least physically, Lee went back into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Normally not a breakfast eater, his stomach was still grumbling angrily and he figured he'd better eat something.
He located a container of leftovers and dubiously checked the contents.
Finding the remnants of noodles and sweet and sour pork, he shrugged and
ate the concoction cold, straight from its takeout box.
Arriving at the Agency an hour later, he found Amanda in the Q Bureau, searching for a file.
He stood watching her for a moment. "Good morning," he greeted her quietly.
"Good morning, Lee," she returned, glancing at him briefly.
"Did you have a nice evening?" he questioned, watching her carefully.
"Oh, sure," she nodded. "Just the usual, run-of-the-mill evening at the King house."
Lee nodded; apparently she thought he didn't remember anything. "Typical evening, huh?"
"Yeah," she confirmed. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
"Look . . . Amanda," he began. "I'm sorry about last night."
She looked up from the file nervously, biting her lower lip, and said nothing.
Continuing, he advanced into the office, closing the door behind him. "I remember almost everything. I can't believe what an ass I made of myself."
"Don't worry about it," she replied, somewhat tightly.
He flexed his hands at his sides, the embarrassment an unusual feeling for him. "I can't believe I . . . acted like that. Or that I . . . kissed you." He cringed, feeling his face redden.
Amanda remained quiet, and he was afraid that she was upset with him. He watched as her eyes moved around the room, resting anywhere but on him.
"Amanda," he prodded. "I didn't - hurt you last night, did I?" He balked at the possibility, knowing he would never forgive himself if he had.
"No," she assured him. "I wasn't sure if you even remembered that I was there. You called me, and were going to drive over, so I told you I'd come to you instead."
"Thank you," he said sincerely, then added, "I wouldn't have blamed you if you hadn't come."
"Lee," she dragged out his name emphatically. "You're still my friend, no matter what else happens. I didn’t want you getting killed trying to drive over to my house."
Deeply affected, he only nodded. "Thank you," he said again, feeling as if a great weight had been lifted from his chest. He'd been sure he'd lost her in every way.
She nodded and looked down at her feet, shifting uncomfortably. "It's okay."
"Is it?" he asked suddenly. "Is it going to be okay with us?"
He felt his heart thumping wildly in his throat and swallowed it back down, watching her. She seemed to be struggling for an answer.
"I don't know; I hope so," she admitted. "I . . . I don't want to lose your friendship, Lee. I just need time. I'm trying to work a few things out for myself."
He didn't know what else to say except, "Take all the time you need, Amanda. I'll always be here."
"Thank you," she whispered.
The phone rang, startling both of them. Amanda answered it.
"It's Billy," she told him. "He, uh, wants you down in the Bullpen."
"Thanks," he replied quietly. Their eyes held for a moment, then he wordlessly headed downstairs.
On his way downstairs, Lee felt somewhat relieved. She still wanted to be friends, at the very least. He wanted so much more, but had to give her whatever time she needed.
Still, she looked gorgeous today in her red blouse. It was his favorite, and reminded him of a gown she’d worn to a play he’d escorted her to a few weeks after the Verdi concert.
He could recall the events of that night with startling clarity.
Lee looked down at Amanda's fingers, entwined in his own. It felt so natural, so right to hold her hand, and he found himself reaching for her more and more.
He wasn’t even focusing on the play. All he could think about was Amanda, and how it felt to have her hand resting in his.
Their flirting had escalated from mild to teasing, and he wanted to be in her company as often as possible.
He couldn't even remember his last date with someone other than her; all of his attention was focused on his partner. The feeling of an all-consuming desire to be with her was a relatively new one, but one to which he was more than willing to adjust.
Ignoring the overwhelming desire to lean over and kiss her, he settled instead for squeezing her hand and giving her a smile.
After all, they’d only been out together a few times. Ever since he’d invited her over for dinner after bailing out on Leslie, he couldn’t get enough of Amanda’s company.
Her red dress was both exquisite and torturous. He found that he literally couldn’t stop himself from stealing constant, lingering glances at her.
She must have felt his eyes on her, because she smiled nervously at him and self-consciously smoothed the front of her dress.
“You look stunning,” he whispered. “You should wear red more often.”
She blushed lightly, evidently pleased by the compliment. “Okay,”
she whispered back, and then returned her attention to the play.
Sighing, Lee cast off the pleasant memory and stepped into his superior’s office. He found it difficult to concentrate on Billy's words and shifted uncomfortably in his seat the entire time.
After meeting with Billy, Lee left to meet with some of his contacts, wishing that he could take Amanda along with him, feeling that if they could work together, some of the tension would dissipate. But Billy had informed him that Amanda was accompanying Francine on a 'milk run'. Lee felt strangely uneasy, but by the time he was finished talking with Billy, they had already turned in their ID badges to Mrs. Marston.
After meeting with two other contacts, Lee met Augie in back of a gas station. Augie had a real penchant for meeting in unusual locations, and today was no different.
"What's goin' on, Augie?" Lee asked as he pulled up.
"Lee," Augie greeted heartily. "William Davidovich is back in town."
"Davidovich," Lee repeated, alarmed. "What's he doing here?"
"Looking for agents to trade," Augie shrugged. "He seems to think he's nabbed himself a couple already, according to what I just heard from Sal. Just a little while ago."
"How'd he hear so soon?" Lee inquired.
"Beats me," Augie shrugged. "Words spreads," he added, gesturing vaguely into the air as if news was transmitted in some mysterious, otherworldly manner.
"Who's Davidovich got?" Lee demanded.
"Don't know," the contact shrugged. "I might be able to give you a little bit of information, though, given the right motivation." Augie rubbed his thumb and forefinger back and forth, indicating that he could be bought.
"All right," Lee agreed in aggravation. Half the time, he got a raw deal from Augie's revelations.
Pulling a number of bills from his wallet, he told Augie, "Spill it."
"Word is both agents are female," the snitch informed Lee casually. "They were picked up 'bout an hour ago near the Foxy Flamingo."
"Amanda and Francine!" Lee uttered between clenched teeth. Their 'milk run' had been in the same neighborhood as the Foxy Flamingo.
Without as much as a parting word for Augie, Lee got back into his car
and tore down the alley, heading for the other side of town.
"Francine," Amanda whispered, "these ropes are tied really tight."
"I know that, Amanda," Francine huffed. "Just hold still, will you? Only one of us can work on the knots at a time."
They were tied back to back, sitting on the floor in a darkened room. Amanda's shoulder had been carelessly gouged as one of the thugs had tied them together.
They had simply been picking up information when a van screeched around the corner and two men jumped out, roughly yanking them into the vehicle.
No one had told them why they'd been taken. They'd been brought to an enormous house, taken downstairs to the basement and tied up.
"I think we must have been followed," Francine told her. "I don't know what they want with us. If we can just get loose, we might be able to make a run for it. How's your shoulder?"
"I think it's bleeding, but not too much," Amanda answered. "I don't think it's a very deep cut."
"Good," Francine replied, relieved. "The last thing I need is you passing out."
Amanda smiled and shook her head in the darkness. At times like this,
even Francine's smart remarks were welcome.
Lee arrived at the Foxy Flamingo, a seedy strip club whose logo was a cartoon rendition of a hot pink, leggy, luridly attired female flamingo.
Reclining against the building was a transient, whose face, at the moment, was covered by a grimy, misshapen hat.
"Excuse me," Lee addressed the man.
The man stirred and glanced up, shielding his face from the sun. "Whaddaya want?" he slurred.
"I'm looking for two women . . ." Lee began.
"Then what’re ya doin’ standin’ around out here? Plenty of women in there, sonny." He tipped his hat up and gestured towards the neon pink door leading to the club.
"No," Lee persisted. "Not strippers. These women would have been down the street a bit, maybe were harassed by some guys?"
"Oh," the vagrant perked up. "There was two pretty little things - a blonde an' a brunette - coupla guys pulled 'em into a van an' took off."
"Which direction did they go?" Lee demanded. It would do no good to ask him why he hadn't tried to find help for the 'two pretty little things'.
As the bum pointed vaguely down the street, Lee caught sight of a man in a gray tailored suit watching him surreptitiously from the entrance of a nearby liquor store.
"Thanks," Lee muttered, distractedly throwing down a ten-dollar bill.
"Thanks!" the old drunk exclaimed happily.
"You!" Lee called to the other man.
Looking startled, the other man started racing down the street. Lee took off after him and followed him down a dead-end alleyway.
Before the man could pull his gun, Lee reached for and extracted his own. "All right," Lee began. "You're with Davidovich," he stated.
"Yeah," the thug admitted, fear evident in his eyes. "Don't kill me, man!"
"I'm not gonna kill you as long as you give me the information I want!" Lee told him threateningly.
“Okay, okay, fine! What do you want to know?”
“Who are you?” Lee asked.
“My name’s Hank. My brother’s in with Davidovich. He said he’d kill me if I didn’t help ‘em out.”
“Well, Hank, are you going to cooperate?”
"Yeah, yeah,” Hank agreed quickly. “What do you want to know?"
"I hear Davidovich is in town looking for trade victims. Who's he got?" Lee demanded.
"I ain't heard nothin' . . ." Hank began.
"Don't tempt me," Lee said evenly, raising his gun. Fortunately, the man seemed to scare easily and was only interested in saving his own skin.
"Okay, okay! So far they got two broads. They were spotted and followed - we recognized the blonde from a picture Daavidovich has - I was waitin' here in case other agents were sent lookin' for 'em. I swear to you that's all I know."
"Where are they?" He took a step closer to the coward, who was backed up against the wall.
"1530 East Fourth," Hank said. “Don’t tell ‘em I said nothin’, huh?”
"You'd better not be lying to me," Lee warned, advancing upon the man.
Hank's eyes widened in fear. "I ain't lyin', buddy, I . . ."
“Shut up,” Lee demanded, pulling out a pair of handcuffs and chaining
Hank to a barred window. “You try to warn them that I’m coming,” Lee told
him, “and I’ll find you.”
"I can't believe this," Francine huffed in frustration.
"Let me work on it for a while," Amanda offered.
"Oh, sure, Amanda," Francine replied sarcastically. "Okay. You get the ropes untied."
Amanda maneuvered her hands into a position where she could reach the knots, feeling her wrists burn and sting from the effort.
Ignoring the pain in her wrists and Francine's derisive comments, she started working to loosen the ropes. It felt as though there were knot upon knot upon knot, each tied forcefully.
From above them, they heard yelling and then a brief scuffle. Holding still, they listened closely, recognizing the familiar voices of Lee and Billy, as well as Agents Jim Fredericks and Tim Mason.
Moments later, the basement door was opened, a light was switched on. Fredericks called out to them. "Desmond, King!"
"Yes, we're here," Francine called out. "Amanda's injured, but I'm fine."
“Get a first aid kit,” Lee instructed frantically, then rushed down the flight of stairs to the basement. "Amanda, Francine," he said, relieved to see them.
“Nice of you to show up,” Francine quipped.
He knelt beside them and quickly untied the ropes, wincing at the sight of Amanda's shoulder. "You're both pretty scraped up," he said in concern.
"I'm fine," Francine asserted. "Amanda's the one that got in the way of a knife."
"It's not that bad," Amanda protested, rolling her eyes.
"Your shoulder," he whispered in dismay.
"I'm fine," she insisted softly.
Mason came down the stairs and handed the first aid kit to Lee, then went back up to assist the other agents.
Francine stood. “I'll go upstairs and find a sink to rinse my wrists - I think they're okay. Maybe Amanda should get to a hospital," she said as she ascended the stairs.
Left alone, Lee and Amanda’s eyes met and held.
“I really don’t think it needs stitches, Lee,” Amanda informed him. “If I could just go somewhere and clean up before I go home . . .”
“Well, I could look at it, if you want,” he offered. “It looks like it’s bleeding.”
She waved away his concern. "I think it'll be okay until . . ." she began.
Opening the first aid box, Lee faced her again. "Amanda, please . . . I'd feel much better if you let me take care of it now."
After a moment, she nodded. “Okay,” she replied quietly.
"Um, can you . . .?" He looked at her shoulder meaningfully. “Can you, maybe . . . pull your, um, shirt down a little bit? You don’t have to . . . to take it . . .” he swallowed nervously, then continued, “. . . take it off, I mean . . . you know.”
She glanced at her shoulder and nodded her understanding. Placing her fingers on the top button of her blouse, she looked at him uncertainly.
"Oh," he remarked in sudden comprehension and turned his back to her. “Sorry. I didn’t mean . . . I mean, you know, um . . . I wasn’t trying to get you to . . . in front of me, I mean, ah. It's just that I can’t take care of it through your shirt.”
“Right,” she agreed.
Not sure whether or not he’d heard a note of amusement in her voice, he laughed self-consciously, feeling like a complete idiot.
"Okay, Lee," she said quietly a moment later.
He turned back around and saw that she had pulled her arm out of the sleeve of her blouse, tucking the loose end under her armpit and holding it to herself.
“Oh, I uh . . . Okay, good. . . Let’s see here,” he fumbled, cautiously edging closer to her.
Cringing at the two-inch gash crusted with dried crimson and oozing fresh blood, he asked her "Does it hurt?"
"A little," she admitted.
Lee suppressed the anger he felt over the rough treatment she had received. The wound was neither as drastic as Francine had implied, nor as small as Amanda had suggested.
"I knew you were coming," she told him quietly, averting her eyes.
How could she have such unwavering faith in him, after all he'd done? He didn't deserve it. And there was always the underlying possibility that he wouldn't get to her in time.
"How could you know that, Amanda? What if . . . What if I hadn't come?" he asked her, frowning slightly.
"But you did," she reasoned. "You always do."
He carefully applied peroxide to her bare shoulder, trying to keep his mind on her wound. "Yeah, I did. But I worry that the next time, I won't get to you in time. I . . . I would never forgive myself."
He felt incredibly vulnerable admitting this to her. Looking at her face again, he saw such faith and trust in her eyes that he had to look away again, focusing instead on her shoulder.
Only that didn't help matters. The unmarred flesh around the now-clean wound was creamy and flawless. Her silky pink bra strap did nothing to diminish his wandering imagination, rather it led him to wonder if the rest of her bra was also silk . . . or maybe lace.
From her sculpted shoulder to her perfect collarbone to the slight swell of her breast above the bunched fabric of her shirt, he found the view fascinating to the point of distraction.
His vision began to blur, and he tried to focus on the task at hand, knowing he was taking longer than necessary to clean and dress her wound. Exhaling gently, he saw her shiver slightly as his breath caressed her skin.
Suddenly, he became aware of the direction his thoughts were taking and chastised himself silently.
"I don't know how you can trust me at all," he murmured, voicing his concerns.
"Lee," she said gently, with a slight tremor in her voice. "I never lost trust in you as my partner. Maybe some day . . . you won't get to me in time, I don't know. I don't think that'll ever happen, but if you don't, I'll know that it won't be because you didn't try. I have faith in you."
Lee was deeply affected by her words, and for a moment could not reply. He swallowed hard, incredibly grateful that, at least in some way, she still trusted him completely.
The very fact that she was sitting there allowing him to care for her under these circumstances, knowing what a modest person she was, was in itself a true and touching display of trust. This made his earlier gawking seem all the more inappropriate.
However, he couldn’t stop himself from reacting to her. He resisted the urge to plant a kiss on her shoulder, forcing his eyes away from her body and meeting her gaze again. Had things been different between them, he would have risked such a display.
His fingers, previously active in soothing antibacterial cream onto her injury and then affixing a bandage, were now stilled, resting lightly on her shoulder. As though realizing the change in his touch, Amanda avoided his gaze, staring instead at the dingy basement floor.
"I'll always do everything in my power to find you, Amanda," he told her, surprised at the intensity of the emotion behind his words.
Her cheeks were immediately tinted with a rosy pink. Looking up at him, she whispered, "I know you will. But what I'm telling you is that . . . I knew you were coming today."
Lee was taken aback at her words. Unable to respond, he looked down at her wrists. "Amanda, you're bleeding," he stated.
"What?" she asked, looking at him in confusion.
"Your wrists," he told her, picking up the free hand in her lap.
"Oh," she answered, as if just realizing that they, too, required attention.
He turned away again so that she could put her shirt back on. When she was finished, she cleared her throat, and he turned back toward her.
She held out her wrists to him. "Do you mind?" she asked.
He shook his head, taking one hand tenderly in his. He reached for the salve again. Squeezing a small amount onto the raw skin, he gently rubbed in the soothing medicine.
He held her hand in his as he completed the treatment on her left arm and then reached for her right one to repeat the procedure.
Their eyes met as he did so, and neither spoke. When he was finished, he held both of her hands in his and she didn't pull away. It seemed as if she had something to say, so he just waited patiently, kneeling in front of her.
"Lee . . ." she began hesitantly. "I just want to tell you that I . . ."
A noise from the stairway broke the moment. "Lee? Amanda? What in the world is taking you two so long?" Francine called down.
Amanda's eyes closed in resignation.
Annoyed, Lee answered her. "We're coming, Francine."
Later that evening, Lee sat down to a solitary meal of a hamburger and French fries that he'd picked up on his way home after his debriefing.
He hadn't had a chance to talk with Amanda yet, as she had gone through a more extensive debriefing than he had. After waiting for her for about an hour, he had finally decided to head home.
Wondering if she was awake, he glanced at the clock across the room. His burger sat on its wrapper, no more than two bites smaller. The remainder of the French fries had congealed to a greasy, salty mass. The ketchup he'd squeezed onto them had long since been absorbed, leaving an unappealing red glaze adorning the pile of woebegone potato slices.
Lee picked up the remainder of his fast food nightmare and tossed it into the trashcan.
It wasn't all that late, he decided. Even if she'd been home for a while,
she liked to have some time alone after her family had retired upstairs.
What harm would it do if he stopped by? His mind made up, he left the apartment
and drove the familiar route to Maplewood Drive.
He watched her for a moment. She was alone, sitting on the couch. An open book was next to her, but she didn’t appear to be interested in reading.
As he observed her, she slowly turned her head in his direction and graced him with a smile, as if not at all surprised to see him standing there. He gave her a sheepish smile and waved. He could almost pretend that things were back to normal, but he knew that they were far from that.
She smiled knowingly and stood, crossing the room to open the door.
Seconds later, she was outside with him. "Hi," she greeted him quietly.
"Hi," he replied. "How did you know I was here?"
"I just knew," she told him. "Maybe I'm developing some kind of intuition," she joked, shrugging. "Ow!" she exclaimed, having forgotten about her injury.
"Are you okay?" Lee stepped forward, concerned lines creasing his forehead.
"I'm okay," she assured him, lightly rubbing her sore arm. "I just forgot."
He covered her hand with his. "Be careful."
"So, what brings you by, Scarecrow?" she asked, shivering lightly.
"I, uh, just wanted to see how your shoulder's doing," he explained casually, dropping his hand from hers. "Guess it's worse now, since I made you shrug, huh?"
"Oh," she replied, her eyes downcast. "No, it really is feeling better, except for just now. But, Lee, you could’ve waited until tomorrow to find out how I was doing."
Leave it to Amanda to call him on his flimsy excuse. "You're right; I could have," he paused, taking a deep breath. "To be honest, I just wanted to see you . . . and I didn’t want to wait."
The smile slowly returned to her face. "Really?" she asked.
"Really," he assured her, stepping a little closer. "How'd your debriefing go?"
"Oh, you know, it was fine," she told him. "Just long and boring, and all I wanted was to go home."
"Yeah," he agreed, then admitted, "I waited around for you for a while."
"You did?" She looked into his eyes, her smile widening slightly.
"I did," he confirmed. "Listen, Amanda . . ."
"Yes, Lee?" she prompted.
"I know that I don't deserve it, but I'd really like to start working together again," he confessed.
He held his breath as she gave herself a moment to think about his request. She didn’t say anything for so long that he was sure she would reject the idea.
"Okay," she finally agreed, barely audible.
"Okay?" he repeated, afraid he'd misheard her. He felt his face light up with a happy grin. "Really?"
"Really." She nodded. "I do miss working with you. Besides, Francine's really kind of a high-maintenance partner."
Lee laughed, then brought her hand to his lips, kissing it gently. "Thank you," he murmured, suddenly serious.
Amanda nodded and looked down. Her hand still in his, she met his eyes and told him quietly, "I've really missed you, Lee, not just working with you."
"I've missed you, too, Amanda," he replied, his voice deep with emotion. "More than you know."
“I still don’t understand, Lee, why . . . why you . . .” she broke off.
“I know. We still have a lot to talk about,” he admitted.
She nodded and looked up into his eyes, her face inches from his, and he wanted to kiss her so badly that he could almost taste her lips.
But he didn't kiss her. Instead, he tentatively held out his arms and she stepped into them willingly. They embraced for a long moment, holding each other close. Lee kept his touch light and careful at first, due to her injured shoulder. But he noticed that despite her pain, she held him very tightly.
"Well . . . I'd better go," he reluctantly whispered into her hair.
"Okay," she agreed, stepping back.
"I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked gently, missing the contact.
She nodded. "Yeah. See you tomorrow, Lee."
Lee returned to his car with a spring in his step. He smiled as he recalled the feeling of her hand in his, of her fingers under his lips. The temptation to kiss her had been almost irresistible, but he'd been afraid to take the chance. It wasn't worth the risk of her backing off again.
He didn't think she'd minded him kissing her hand. Any time they touched, he felt a physical manifestation of the bond they shared, and he knew she felt it, too. She'd even alluded to it. As close as he’d thought he’d been to Dorothy and Eva, he'd never before experienced such an intense connection with any woman as he did with Amanda.
He drove home thinking about her, recalling how it had felt to hold her. Thinking of the times he'd held her and kissed her in the past for cover, he smiled as he remembered the kiss they'd shared in San Angelo. He had been dumbfounded at the effect she had on him, even then.
Arriving back home, he let himself in his apartment and checked his
messages. There were none, a marked change from the Lee Stetson of the
past. He already missed Amanda, and wondered if it would always be this
way when they were apart.
The next morning, Lee awoke feeling better than he had in a long time and looking forward to seeing Amanda.
He dressed quickly and left earlier than usual. Upon arriving, he couldn't help but smile in anticipation as he saw Amanda's car in the lot. Accompanying the happiness he felt at the prospect of seeing her, though, was the knowledge that he would be on thin ice for a while.
He knew that he would have to let her set the pace. She had said she missed him, but he had no idea what she expected of him. Hopefully, things would fall naturally into place.
He hurried upstairs to the Q Bureau, smiling broadly when he found her there. He still wasn’t sure that he’d gotten through to her.
“Hi,” he greeted her.
“Hi, Lee,” she replied. “How are you?”
He clasped his hands. “Good. And you?”
She nodded. “I’m fine, thanks.”
They stood in uncomfortable silence for a moment, then Lee impulsively broke the spell.
"Listen, do you want to get together tonight? I mean, for dinner . . . You don't have to, if you don't want to."
She started to open her mouth, but he cut in again. "No big deal, just two friends having dinner," he added, feeling stupid. Here he was, feeding her the same old line, only for new reasons.
"I can't," she told him, again looking at the floor. "Not tonight. Sorry."
"Oh . . ." He glanced down at the ground, disheartened. "I understand."
"Not because I don't want to," she added hastily, lightly touching his arm. "I promised the boys Friday night pizza and a movie. Maybe tomorrow night?"
Lee grinned. "Okay," he agreed happily.
"What time?" she asked.
"Six?" he asked.
"That's good for me," she agreed. "Umm, where?"
"Emelio's?" he suggested, immediately regretting the idea. He'd taken Tanya there several times, and didn't want to taint the experience with memories of her.
He didn't end up having to come up with a better idea, however, because of Amanda's next words.
"Well," she said hesitantly. "We really need to talk. Wouldn't it be easier to talk at your apartment? I could bring something to cook . . ."
"No," he cut in. "I mean, it's a perfect idea, and you're right. But I'll cook for you."
"What can I bring?" she asked.
"Just you," he replied.
"All right," she agreed with a small smile.
Saturday, Lee awoke much earlier than he usually did, anxious to see Amanda that evening.
He filled his day with as much activity as possible. He cleaned the apartment from top to bottom, and took care to really put things away rather than sticking everything in closets and drawers.
Next, he spent a couple of hours at the gym and then went back home and showered. After planning the menu, he went out for flowers, groceries and wine for the evening.
With a few more stops left on his agenda, he noted with satisfaction that half the day had sped by. An hour later he was back at the apartment. He set the table, placing candles in the center.
The doorbell rang at five after six. He mentally ran through his list, checking frantically to ensure that everything was perfect. The candles were glowing softly, light jazz filtered through the apartment from the stereo and the roses had been delivered and graced the coffee table.
He crossed the room quickly and opened the door. Amanda smiled hello
as he stepped back to allow her to enter.
"Hello, Lee," she greeted him.
"Hi," he returned, unable to keep the happiness off his face and out of his voice.
"Dinner smells wonderful," Amanda told him, moving into the apartment.
"Thanks, I hope you'll like it," he said. "I'm making shrimp scampi with fresh vegetables and French bread."
"Wow, sounds delicious," she remarked. As she caught sight of the flowers, she stopped for a moment and then turned towards him. "The roses are beautiful."
"Not half as beautiful as you," he replied sincerely. He stepped over to the arrangement and extracted the tiny card, handing it to her.
She read the card, on which he’d written, ‘To my partner and friend. Love, Lee.’
She blushed. "Thank you. It's a shame I can't take them home with me."
"Well," he said slowly, "that's all part of the plan."
"Plan?" she asked curiously.
"Yep. You'll just have to come to dinner tomorrow night to see them again," he explained, afraid that she would refuse him.
Amanda grinned at him and shook her head. "That's quite a plan," she teased.
"Did it work?" he asked seriously.
"Let's see how tonight goes, huh?" she asked softly.
"Sounds fair," he agreed.
They stared at one another for a moment, neither of them speaking. Finally, Amanda broke eye contact, her gaze drifting towards the kitchen.
"I'm sorry!" Lee exclaimed. "Would you like some wine?"
"Yes, please," she replied.
Grateful to have something to do, Lee headed for the kitchen and poured two glasses of Chablis. He hoped fervently that the wine would help to settle his nerves.
"Here you go." He offered her a glass.
She accepted it with a slightly shaky hand. "Thank you," she murmured, and took a sip.
"Dinner's almost ready," he informed her, his nervousness growing.
"Okay." She nodded and followed him to the table.
He held her chair out for her.
"Oh, thanks," she said nervously and she sat down.
"You're welcome," he returned, feeling oddly formal. Heading into the kitchen, he returned with two plates of shrimp and vegetables along with a small basket of bread.
"Lee, this looks delicious," she told him. "It must have taken a lot of work for you to do all of this."
"It was my pleasure," he replied.
When they’d finished, Lee suggested, "Why don't you go into the living room and let me clean up?"
"No, let me help you," she told him, standing.
"Amanda, you're my guest!" he protested.
"I'm also your friend," she said quietly, picking up her plate and heading into his kitchen.
When they'd finished, Lee asked, "So, what now? Do you want to watch a movie?"
Amanda shrugged her good shoulder. "Why don't we just talk?"
"Yeah," he agreed nervously. Clearly, she wanted the explanation he had offered earlier.
They sat down on the sofa in his living room. Amanda placed her wineglass on the coffee table and Lee followed suit.
Another bout of silence settled upon them as they both cast nervous glances around the room. Lee caught Amanda watching him and he stared back, unsure of what to say or do.
"Amanda," he began, but paused, suddenly unable to find the appropriate words.
"So, maybe we should watch a movie after all, huh?" she joked half-heartedly, suddenly acting antsy.
"If that's what you really want to do," he agreed reluctantly and started
to stand up.
She stopped him by placing her hand on his arm, and he sat back down and looked at her.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "That's not what I really want. Take your time."
"Okay," he replied quietly, clasping his hands together. “Look, Amanda, I was so wrong to start dating Tanya,” he began.
She waited, watching him while he gathered the courage to continue.
He cleared his throat. “I should have asked you about Joe, but I was so . . . jealous I couldn’t see straight,” he paused, looking into her eyes. “I thought . . . that the best thing to do was to . . . let you go.”
He sighed, running a hand through his hair. She didn’t say a word, but when he looked at her, he could see that she was waiting for him to go on.
“It seemed like the perfect opportunity when I met Tanya. I know . . . I know how ridiculous it all sounds, Amanda, but you have to believe me. I think I was . . . afraid of how close we were getting, and I jumped at the first opportunity to back off.” He rubbed his hand over his face and mouth, hoping she’d understand. “But . . . it didn’t take long for me to realize that that wasn’t what I wanted.”
“Lee, I can’t believe you thought I wanted Joe back. I told you. He
kissed me, and I regret that I didn’t stop him. But, Lee . . . he was my
husband at one time. We’d been talking, and he caught me off guard, and
. . . well, it was
nice . . . like a pleasant memory.”
He flinched, and she quickly laid a hand on his knee.
“But it didn’t mean anything to me. After he kissed me, he even apologized. There was nothing to it at all, and if you’d only asked me about it, none of this would have happened. But . . . it has.”
“I’m so sorry,” he replied desolately. “Amanda, I hadn’t realized until I saw you with Joe just how much a part of me you’d become. I just wanted you to be happy. I’m so used to losing everyone that I care about, I guess I just felt that it was inevitable.”
He finished and looked up at her.
“Lee, you should have known me better than that. I would never have
let things progress to the point they had if I had any inclination of taking
Joe back. Please don’t ever jump to conclusions about me again, Lee,” she
“I . . . I really thought that we had moved past all that, you know?”
“I know,” he acknowledged simply.
“Why were you afraid?” she asked him.
Had he said that? He tried to remember. It was true, but he hadn’t intended to admit it to her just yet. “What?”
She sighed. “A minute ago, you said you were afraid of how close we were getting, and that ‘s why you were looking for an excuse to back off.”
“I did?” he questioned, stalling.
“Yes,” she confirmed gently. “You did.”
Encouraged by her tone, he exhaled softly. “It’s true. I was afraid to get too close to you. I don’t know . . . I just panicked, I guess.”
“And now?” she prodded.
“Now I know how wrong I was. I should’ve asked you about Joe, should’ve told you how I felt. I know I really made a mess of things, Amanda. I hope I can win your trust again.”
“Well,” she paused nervously. “I guess that’s something to work on, huh?”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
They looked at each other for a long moment, attempting to find one another again.
Lee waited to see what she would do. He was determined to let her set the pace.
“Dinner was really good,” she said finally.
He was taken aback. “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” he told her, wondering if she’d even tasted any of it, she’d eaten so little.
"So . . . what did you do all day?" she asked.
Lee licked his lips. "Oh, uh . . ."
She was staring at his lips. He watched her closely, wondering what she was thinking about. He could see the hesitancy in her eyes, and nearly leaned in closer to her.
Despite their conversation, they seemed to have drawn inexplicably closer in the last few minutes. The tension between them was almost palpable.
Finding his voice, he answered. "I cleaned up around here, then went to the gym. After I came back here and showered, I ran some errands to get ready for tonight, came back home and started cooking."
As he spoke, he saw her shake her head slightly, as if trying to pay attention to what he was saying.
"Yes," she said, nodding as she spoke. "It was a little warmer than normal today."
"What?" he asked, confused. He hadn’t been talking about the weather. Looking back at her, he could see that she was still staring at his lips.
"Oh." She flushed. "Never mind."
"I didn't say anything about the weather," he continued, confused. Again, he found himself wanting to take her into his arms. He felt a physical ache to do so, and it took all of his resolve to restrain himself.
He lightly touched her arm, feeling desperate to ease the awkwardness. "Hey, how's your shoulder doing?"
She looked at his hand on her arm. "Oh, much better, as long as I'm careful," she told him.
"And your wrists?" He reached for her hands and took them into his,
tenderly examining the healing abrasions.
"Umm," she faltered. “I . . .”
He continued rubbing with a light touch and heard her breath catch in her throat.
He ran his thumbs over her wrists and hands. She looked down at his hands caressing hers, then met his eyes again.
"They look better," he offered.
"Yes," she agreed, nodding vigorously. "Much better."
"Good," he said approvingly.
He was about to let go, but she grasped his hands in hers, keeping the contact.
"What, uh . . . Your turn. What did you do today?" he repeated her question to him in an attempt at saving the waning conversation.
She blinked and tightened her possessive hold on his hands. "Well, I did some shopping and picked up the boys' new baseball uniforms. Then I cleaned a little bit and . . ." she paused, thinking. "Balanced the checkbook."
"Sounds like we both had pretty exciting days," he joked lightly.
"Oh, yeah," she agreed with a chuckle.
Lee reached over and picked up his wine glass, taking a sip, feeling Amanda’s eyes on him. He still held one of her hands in his, hoping she wouldn’t break the contact.
He set the glass back down and looked at her. She picked up her own glass with her free hand and downed half its contents.
"Hey, um . . ." Lee said slowly. "How about if we have some . . ."
"Dessert!" she gasped.
He was amused. "You took the word right out of my mouth," he teased.
"Yeah," she murmured, looking away.
"Coming right up." He squeezed her hands gently and then released them. Standing, he smiled at her again and went to the kitchen.
Lee removed the cheesecake from the refrigerator and pulled out two dessert plates.
Licking his lips, he recalled how he'd felt his face heat up as she stared at his mouth. He allowed his mind to wander and imagined how it would have felt if she had licked the wine from his lips.
Coming to his senses, he sliced two wedges from the confection and placed them onto the plates, then replaced the remainder of the dessert back into its box.
Taking a deep breath, he returned to the living room. "Dessert is served," he enunciated in his best butler voice.
"Thank you, James," she teased.
He grinned at her and took a bite of cheesecake. He felt as if they
were teetering on a precarious cliff, comfortable one moment and awkward
They enjoyed their dessert together, taking about inconsequential things and laughing over old cases. Amanda shared some of her recent adventures with Francine.
Still laughing, Lee set their empty plates on the coffee table and turned back to Amanda.
Her face was serious again, and he noticed with some trepidation that she was staring at him strangely.
"Everything okay?" he asked.
As he watched, she nodded slowly, then closed her eyes, swallowing hard. Looking down, he saw that her hands were clenched into fists.
"Amanda?" he said in concern.
"I'm sorry." She stood. "I just realized that it's really pretty late, Lee. Thanks for dinner; it was great. I'll uh, see you later, okay?"
"It's not that late, Amanda," he countered gently. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, honestly," she assured him. "It's just . . . I really need to leave . . . I mean, uh, to get home." She had gathered up her coat and purse and was at the door.
"Amanda," he said again. "Please, don't leave like this. Tell me what's bothering you."
She hesitated for a long moment, her eyes wide and staring. "Okay," she agreed, resignedly.
"Come sit back down," he invited.
"No. Just give me a second," she pleaded.
"Sure," he agreed, at a complete loss now.
“I’m probably going to regret this, but . . .” She broke off.
Amanda took a deep breath, keeping her eyes on his face. She approached him slowly, watching for his reaction.
Lee stood perfectly still, waiting to see what she had in mind. As she advanced, he felt his lungs struggling to take in air, his breath coming in short, nervous gasps.
When she was mere inches away, she reached out and cupped her hand to his face, trailing her fingers along his jaw line. She swallowed, not breaking eye contact, and began to close the distance between them.
She closed her eyes and he followed her example. He waited breathlessly for her lips to meet his. Right before she finally kissed him, he felt that he had never before experienced such an agony of anticipation.
All too soon, she ended the contact and Lee opened his eyes. He thought that she would back away, but she stayed where she was.
After a slight pause, she pressed her body snugly against his and wrapped her arms around his neck possessively. His breath caught in his throat at the intensity he saw in her eyes. Pulling his face down to hers, she placed her lips on his again, kissing him firmly.
A wave of explosive pleasure swept over Lee, causing his entire body to shudder. He encircled her slender waist in his arms and held her close, tightening his grip when she deepened the kiss.
He found himself leaning against the wall for support, feeling her fingers run along his scalp. Her tongue swept along his lips and he gasped as she entered his mouth. He groaned softly at the intimate contact.
Finally, she released his lips and stepped back, breathing raggedly. He exhaled roughly, wondering what had hit him. Where had she learned to kiss like that?
“You’re not the only jealous one, Lee Stetson,” she informed him shakily. “I’ve never felt so jealous in all my life as I did when you told me you’d met Tanya. You really hurt me, Lee.”
"I’m sorry," he whispered, stung by her candor. “Why . . . Why did you say you’d probably regret what . . . that . . . what you just did?”
“Because it was way too soon. We’ve only just reached an understanding, Lee, and it’s still going to take a lot of time to work through all of this. But we were taking things so slowly before . . .” she paused, blushing. “I just didn’t think I could wait any longer to kiss you.”
“Oh,” he replied dumbly.
“And I wanted to give you something to think about,” she added.
He nodded. “I’ll definitely think about it,” he agreed hoarsely.
"So, goodnight," Amanda said as she retrieved her coat and purse from
the floor. She approached him; he was still holding up the wall.
She kissed him on the cheek and smiled slowly. "So, do you still want me to come over tomorrow night?"
He felt himself nod and pushed away from the wall, testing his rubberized legs. "Yes. You don't have to leave now, you know. You could stay. I mean . . . you can come over tomorrow, too. I want you to."
"Okay," she laughed gently at his rambling. "But I do need to leave now. What time tomorrow?"
Lee consulted his watch; it was ten-thirty. "Um . . . midnight?" he
suggested with a small smile.
Amanda cupped her hand to his face. "How about five?" she suggested.
"Okay," he replied. "Amanda?"
Her hand had moved down his arm and taken hold of his hand.
"You don't . . . regret it, do you? Us kissing? I mean . . . kissing me? Do you?" he asked hesitantly.
"No," she assured him, stepping back over to where he stood. Shaking her head, she told him, “I will never regret that kiss.”
He smiled weakly, wishing they could kiss again. As it was, he couldn’t
wait for his dreams.
The doorbell rang, causing Lee to nearly jump out of his skin. Glancing at his watch, he wondered who was at the door. If it was Amanda, she was over an hour early.
`Not that that would be a bad thing,' he mused with a smile.
Lee opened the door and grinned broadly. "You're early," he stated happily.
Amanda stood on the threshold stiffly, her arms folded across her chest. She looked as though she'd been crying. Not returning his smile, she said quietly, "May I come in?"
"Of course." He stepped back to allow her to enter, aware that something was terribly wrong. "Amanda, are you okay?"
"No," she said as she moved past him, shaking her head. "No, I'm not
"What's wrong?" He could feel his pulse racing. Was she going to break this off before they even began?
"Lee, I don't know how to tell you this," she began hesitantly, turning to face him.
"Tell me what?" he asked apprehensively.
"I wanted to say . . . to apologize . . ." She faltered.
"For what?" he asked. Tell me what's wrong."
"Lee, I'm so sorry that I kissed you the way I did last night. I never meant to mislead you. I had no right . . ." Her words trailed off and she shrugged helplessly.
"Amanda, don't apologize for that. That kiss was amazing," he told her. "What do you mean, you never meant to mislead me?"
Her sad gaze tore at his heart. "Lee, there are a lot of reasons why something between us would never work."
"What are you talking about? Tanya? I told you, Amanda, that's over! And I didn't even . . ." he began, desperate to change her mind.
"Lee, please," she pleaded with him. "It's not that. Well, I mean, it’s not just that."
"Then, what?" he asked, aching to fix whatever was bothering her. He would do anything she asked.
"For one thing, I just can't deal with your past; your reputation. I've tried, and I just know it won't work out," she explained shakily. "For another thing, I'm afraid you'd just get tired of me like you did of all the others. I can't risk getting hurt like that, Lee."
"Amanda, I would never . . ." he tried to interrupt, taking a step towards her.
"Shh," she admonished. "It's no use. I've given this a lot of thought. You've been with so many others, what chance would I have of holding your affections? Besides, there's also the matter of Joe."
"Joe?!" he questioned incredulously, his mind reeling from all of her objections. "Amanda, you said there was nothing between the two of you!"
"Well, I only said that because I thought things would work out with you and me. But now I know that they won't. The truth is, Joe does want me back, and I think it's for the best."
"No," Lee heard himself protest. He tried to reach out to her, but she seemed so far away. "Amanda, please listen . . ."
"No, Lee," she insisted. "Everyone you've ever loved has died. It's a wonder Billy and Harry are alive! What if I get to close to you? My boys need me, Lee. There are just too many risks."
Feeling as though she'd stabbed him through the heart, he tried again to reach for her as tears spilled out of his eyes. "Amanda, please!"
As he grasped her hand, she began to fade, murmuring, "Too many risks
. . ."
He took a step forward, attempting to hold onto her, but she was nearly gone. He'd lost her, after all.
The doorbell rang insistently, followed by loud knocking. "Lee?"
Through the mass of clouds in his brain, Lee tried to concentrate on what was happening. Knocking, the doorbell ringing, Amanda calling to him.
"Amanda?" he mumbled.
Sitting up on the couch, he remembered he'd lain down to rest for a while before cooking dinner, but instead he'd slept for hours.
"Lee?!" came her worried voice.
He looked around for his discarded T-shirt and called out, "Just a minute, Amanda." Deciding to find the shirt later, he ran to the door.
Relief flooded through his system, followed by the fear that he'd actually dreamed what was about to happen. Could he, on some subconscious level, know that he was about to lose her forever?
`No,' he told himself. `I won't let her go this time!'
He pulled open the door, his eyes hungrily sweeping over her features. "Come in," he told her hurriedly, grabbing hold of her hand. He released a quaking sigh as he assured himself that she was flesh and blood, not some apparition.
"Lee? Are you okay?" she asked in concern, her eyebrows raising as she took in his bare chest.
"I am now," he told her. Unable to resist, he stepped closer and cupped her face in his hands, running his thumbs over her smooth skin.
"What happened? What took you so long to answer the door?" she asked.
Not trusting himself to answer her questions, he brought his lips to her face, bestowing upon her cheeks a series of feather-light kisses.
"Lee?" she repeated, a tremor lacing her voice. She placed her hands on his chest.
"Hmm," he responded incoherently, moving his lips sensuously over her eyelids. "You're really here," he mumbled.
"Of course I'm really here," she whispered shakily, leaning into his body for support. "You invited me, remember?"
"Hmm, yes." His words were muffled as he moved to her neck, nearly being driven wild by the sensation of her hands on his bare skin.
She didn't say another word for several minutes. Lee took advantage of the situation, continuing to dust her face, throat and ears with kisses, his arms drawing her as close to his body as possible.
"Umm, Lee?" she finally whispered.
"Yes, Amanda," he acknowledged, finally pulling back enough to look at her. He searched her features for the rejection she'd given him in his dream, but all he saw was concern.
Frowning slightly, Amanda reached out a hand and touched his face. "Lee, are you okay?" she asked once more.
"Fine," he lied. "Why?"
Silently, she held up her hand so he could see her glistening fingers.
Horrified, he quickly wiped his face off. "I just woke up. I fell asleep, I guess, and uh, I overslept, and well . . . I don't have anything ready. I haven't even changed."
"But, why . . ." She paused, running her thumb along the underside of his eye. "Why were you crying?"
"I wasn't crying," he replied quickly, his hand covering hers. All he wanted was to resume the journey his lips had begun.
"Okay," she said uncomfortably, starting to draw away. "It's none of my business, anyway."
Lee could tell she didn't believe him. It was also obvious that she was hurt that he wouldn't tell her the truth. Sighing, he relented. The last thing he wanted was to push her away again.
"No, it is your business. Come here." He offered her his hand and led her to the couch, where they sat down side by side.
Haltingly, he recounted his nightmare, holding onto her hand the entire time to ensure that she was still with him. "I couldn’t believe it. . . you were listing reason after reason why you didn't want me. And all I could think of was that I was going to lose you. I just don't understand," he told her. "I thought I'd worked through all those feelings, but this was so real, Amanda. But I didn't realize,” he paused, unwilling to say the words that would admit weakness. “Until. . . until you touched my face."
He glanced down at their entwined fingers, feeling vulnerable and emotionally naked before her. Striving to regain his composure, he forced himself to take slow, steadying breaths.
"Well," Amanda said slowly, stroking his hand, "it seems like we still have some issues to work through."
"Maybe," he admitted. "Amanda, I've never shared anything like this with anyone else. It's not easy, but there's no one I'd rather have here with me now, than you."
"Thank you, Lee," she acknowledged. "I just want you to know that I don't feel at all the way that you dreamed that I did. I'm not with Joe, and I'm not afraid of being close to you. Lee, you make me feel safer than I've ever felt in my life. It's taken us a long time to get to this point. I wouldn't just change my mind and hurt you like that."
Lee felt his heart beat faster as she rubbed his hand soothingly. The contact seemed more intimate than usual. Instinctively, he leaned over and brushed his lips against hers, waiting to see if she would give him permission to continue.
Permission was granted as she scooted closer to him and took his lower lip between hers, kissing him with excruciating sweetness as she ran her hand over his chest.
Pulling away, he drew a deep breath and looked deeply into her brown eyes.
Looking away, she said, “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” he asked, puzzled.
She sighed. “I just said last night that we have a long way to go. We really need to slow down, Lee.”
He nodded, agreeing with his mind, if not his heart. “I know.”
“Good,” she replied in relief.
“I just . . . don’t want to lose you,” he told her.
"I don’t want to lose you, either, Lee," she replied. "I hope that if nothing else, we'll always be friends."
"Amanda." He was worried again.
"I know we don't know exactly where all this will go," he gestured vaguely between them. "But I've never felt like this before. I want . . . I want this to last. I don't want to be just friends, ever again."
"Neither do I," she replied, smiling softly as she leaned towards him.
He smiled at the sincerity in her voice and shifted to accommodate her actions. "I'm sorry about dinner; are you hungry?" he mumbled as her lips covered his.
She backed away for a second and smiled slowly. "Kinda," she admitted.
"How about we go out to eat?" he suggested as she began an assault on his jaw, obviously ignoring her own words about slowing down. "Anywhere you want."
"How about we order in?" she countered, her breath caressing his neck.
"Even better," he murmured, pulling her closer.