Disclaimer: 'Scarecrow and Mrs. King' belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. I am simply borrowing them, with due respect to their creators, for a short duration. I am not making a profit from this story.
Timeline: Third season, shortly before All the World's a Stage.
Summary: A sequel to 'Read My Lips.' Just what happened at the ball? Was Amanda able to distract Mark Logan? How quickly did Lee go search Logan's office?
Author's Note: This is my second reworked story. The original, 'The Assignment,' is archived at SMKfanfic, but please don't feel compelled to read it; I don't!
And Now a Word of Thanks: To my amazing betas and friends. Thank you for asking valid questions, catching my errors, and making helpful suggestions!
"So." He watched as Amanda locked the door to the Q Bureau and turned to face him, an inscrutable look on her face. In an uncharacteristically sultry voice, she said,
"You don't think I'm the 'seducing type,' huh?"
"Uhhh . . . " Lee knew he should've kept quiet on that subject. Feeling his collar tighten like a noose, he yanked it, desperate for relief from the choking sensation.
What in the world had compelled him to make such unfounded allegations? He knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she could bend him to her will with a single look or word. He was painfully aware, and had been for some time now, that she was perfectly capable of seducing him.
She had started ambling toward him, and he felt himself backing away. He was overcome by an uncanny sense of deja vu. Hadn't this happened before? It all seemed so familiar, yet wouldn't he have remembered? Yes, he definitely would have remembered this.
Her hair tumbling around her shoulders, she had released a button so that her collar opened to reveal her creamy skin. Slowly and surely, she pursued him across the office.
Feeling his back meet the vault door, he helplessly waited for whatever she had in mind.
"Donít you find me attractive, Lee?" Her hands were on his chest now, moving up to his shoulders as her body pressed intimately against his. "Aren't I sexy enough for you? Tempting enough?"
Her lips hovered a mere inch from his and it was all he could to do to keep from closing the distance. Every nerve ending in his body was begging for her to kiss him. His arms, as if of their own free will, encircled her slim waist and held her tightly.
The blood was racing through his heart and he felt himself breathing faster to provide enough oxygen to his body. For a terrible moment, he feared he might actually pass out. Then he felt her lips on his, their softness and strength providing a delightful contradiction.
Without a doubt, his heart belonged to her. He knew it, and somehow it seemed as if she did, too. Much too quickly, she pulled back and gave him a brief, victorious smile.
"So? What do you think? Will I be able to distract Logan? Do you have credit problems? Are you tired of being harassed by bill collectors? Would you like to find relief from . . . "
"What?" Lee woke abruptly and sat up, automatically reaching over to shut off the clock radio in the process.
Placing a hand to his bare chest, he felt his heart racing as he recalled his dream.
Four days . . . it'd been four days since Amanda King had kissed him senseless, shattering the last barrier he'd built against her. Sinking back down into the pillows, he realized that tonight was the night of the ball.
Since their encounter, she had acted as if nothing had changed between them. He was intrigued. Every time they were alone, he was sorely tempted to pull her against him and taste her lips again. She had captured his interest and curiosity more than any woman ever had.
Throwing back the sheet, he stood and stretched. As he headed for his morning shower, he was filled with dread about the coming evening.
Lee handed over his keys to the valet and hurried up the steps of the Logan mansion. Amanda should already be there, mixing with the guests . . . possibly already mixing with Mark Logan.
Focusing on his assignment was going to be a challenge. He entered the foyer and glanced around. A few guests milled about with champagne glasses in hand. Beyond them, through vast double doors, he glimpsed a sea of men in tuxedos and women in colorful gowns.
When he saw her, his heart stopped and his breath caught in his throat. She was stunning in a form-fitting, burgundy velvet gown, dancing in the arms of an octogenarian who was clearly charmed by her. It took all of his self-control to keep from approaching and cutting in, but he knew that no connection must be made between Amanda and him.
He contented himself with watching her while he conversed with several politicians and made contact with George Forbes, to whom he would hand off the evidence he hoped to find in Logan's office.
An attractive blonde laid her hand on his arm and asked him to dance. Glancing at his watch, he accepted. There was no sign of Logan, yet, so he had a few minutes to kill, and this way he could keep an eye on Amanda.
"My name is Dina," she said. As lovely as she was, she paled in comparison to Amanda, who was now only a few yards away. "And you are . . . ?"
"I'm Lee. It's nice to meet you, Dina," he murmured distractedly.
"So, Lee," she said. "What do you do?"
"I uh . . . " He paused, immediately forgetting her question. Mark Logan had sidled up to Amanda and asked her to dance. He watched as she inclined her head in acceptance and the two went spinning onto the dance floor.
Dina cleared her throat, tapping on Lee's arm. "Are you okay? You seem a little distracted."
"Oh, I'm fine, just fine," he replied, his eyes still on Amanda. Her dress was practically backless, and he wished desperately that it was his hand caressing her soft skin rather than Mark Logan's. The jerk was holding her awfully close for having just met her. "Listen," Lee said to the woman in his arms. "I'm sorry, but I have to go."
The sooner he found what he was looking for, the sooner he could get Amanda out of Logan's arms. Without another word to Dina, he made his way through the dancing crowd.
Ascending the staircase, he was hidden from view by several large, potted plants.
Pausing in between two of them, he quickly crouched down and caught sight of Amanda and Logan. They were dancing very close, and Lee could see Logan whispering something in Amanda's ear. She threw her head back and laughed, then casually glanced up to Lee's spot on the stairs. He knew she'd seen him, and was filled with pride; she was going to make a good agent.
Grimacing at the sight of her in another man's arms, he continued to the top and didn't look back down into the ballroom. Running down the corridor, he easily located Logan's office. After picking the lock, he entered the enormous room. Dismayed, he looked around at the large desk, several filing cabinets and floor-to-ceiling bookcases.
He began with the desk, sifting through files and records as speedily as possible. When that yielded no results, he moved on to the first filing cabinet and flung open the top drawer.
After ten minutes, he hadn't found a thing to indict Logan. Frustrated, he fingered through the unorganized clutter, cursing Logan for not having a proficient secretary to keep his affairs in order.
Affairs. Logan was notorious for going through women like water. Slender, charming, brunette women. He couldn't help but wonder how Amanda was faring. He was considering a quick look over the railing when he heard voices outside the door.
"I just want to be alone with you for a moment," a male voice said, urgent and coaxing, as the doorknob began to turn.
"But . . . in your office?" he heard Amanda ask incredulously, her voice slightly louder, no doubt, for Lee's benefit. Swearing under his breath, he glanced around for a hiding place.
Deep laughter rumbled from Logan. "You're right, my darling. Let's go to my sitting room, instead."
'My darling?' Lee scowled. 'You take her to your sitting room, pal, and you'll spend the rest of your days in a wheelchair,' he thought viciously.
"Actually, I was thinking about how much I'd like to see your gardens," she suggested smoothly.
"Ah, perfect," replied Logan. "My gardens are quite extensive. Plenty of private gazebos. I even have a visitor's cottage on the far end of the property."
As the sound of their voices retreated, Lee could barely make out Amanda's next words. "Well, you don't want to leave your guests for too long . . . "
Clenching his fists at his sides, he hurried back over to the filing cabinets and resumed his tedious search. His blood was boiling; he'd never been this angry before. The thought of that Lothario attempting to seduce Amanda made him ill. Against his will, he found himself wondering whether Amanda had kissed him.
Again, he felt her lips on his, felt her body fitted against his. Sooner or later, they were going to have to talk. Being kissed by Amanda hadn't been a frivolous, momentary pleasure; it had been an eye-opening self-revelation. It had been . . . fiery and passionate, and had evoked emotions he hadn't known he possessed.
There would be time to dwell on Amanda later. With renewed haste, he moved to the next filing cabinet. Logan seemed to have kept every scrap of notepaper and each receipt he'd ever acquired. With growing anxiety, Lee moved on to the next drawer.
Folders labeled 'Banking' yielded no substantiation of the charges against Logan; everything appeared to be perfectly legal.
Glancing at his watch, Lee was shocked to see that forty-five minutes had ellapsed.
Slamming a fist against the cabinet, he cursed quietly. After shuffling through the last drawer, he discovered s false bottom.
"Aha," he whispered, fighting off the irritation of having found what he'd sought in the very last drawer. "Gotcha."
There was enough evidence to haul Logan away on the spot. Instead, he stuck to the plan and hurried back downstairs to find Forbes. Descending the stairs, he scanned the crowd for Amanda and Logan.
He barely said two words to Forbes before thrusting the papers into the other man's hands and rushing to the patio doors at the opposite end of the room. Standing on the balcony, his gaze swept over the softly lighted gardens. Without stopping to consider a course of action, he started walking through the grounds, hoping to find Amanda alone and safe.
Spotting a white gazebo covered with ivy and bougainvillea, he could hear voices coming from inside. A deep masculine voice, accompanied by a softly protesting feminine one, caused him to rush up the steps and into the structure.
Surprised and embarrassed, the blonde he'd danced with earlier - Diane? Dori? Dina? - and a middle-aged, balding man stared at him as they backed away from one another.
"Sorry," Lee muttered.
Leaving the startled, clandestine couple alone again, he resumed his search for his partner. Remembering Logan's snide suggestion about his hidden cottage, Lee headed toward the back of the property.
The 'cottage' was more like a large house, nestled among trees and bushes. Warm light glowed from the windows. Sneaking up to the largest window, he glanced inside, but saw no one. Frowning, he spied two half-filled wineglasses on the low coffee table.
Fear mixed with intense jealousy gripped his heart, and he backed away from the house to inspect the upper story.
No lights were on, but he grabbed hold of the trellis and began to climb. He lost his footing a few times, but finally made it up to the second story. There was a small balcony outside a bay window, which was open to allow the night breeze to waft in.
Movement from within the room caused Lee to freeze in place, and a voice chilled his heart to the core.
"You're absolutely beautiful," Logan's deep-timbered voice declared. "Stunning."
Unable to hear the response, Lee stepped into the windowsill and down into the room.
Sudden light from the bedside table flooded the room brightly, exposing Lee to Logan and his companion, who was definitely not Amanda.
"What the hell is this all about?" Logan demanded angrily. The brunette behind him gazed at Lee with obvious interest.
"I'm . . . uh, I'm sorry," Lee said, feeling ridiculous. Bits of leaves and cobwebs clung to his suit and hair, and he'd scratched his cheek on a sharp thorn. "Someone told me there was a special party out here. I, uh, I guess the joke's on me, huh?"
"Get out," Logan growled. As Lee headed for the bedroom door, he added, "The way you came in."
Five minutes later, Lee was even dirtier and more scratched than before. His tuxedo was ruined; no amount of mending and dry-cleaning would restore the suit to a usable state.
Going back into the ballroom was not an option, so Lee made his way to where his car was parked. He didn't see Amanda's car, so he figured she'd already left for home. He should have known she wouldn't put herself into a compromising position with the likes of Mark Logan.
Grateful that she wouldn't see what a fool he'd made of himself, he eased himself into his car and headed for home, but changed his course almost immediately. What if she wasn't at home? What if she'd gotten into trouble again?
He pulled up in front of the neighbor's house and got out. Glancing at the clock, he knew that her family was most likely upstairs; the boys were probably in bed, Dotty might soaking in the bath. Perhaps Amanda would be downstairs. It was worth a try.
As he rounded the corner, he saw her. She was standing in the kitchen, still decked out in her eveningwear, save for the jewelry. Her face reflected a faraway mood, and for a moment, he just stood, silently watching her, absorbing her beauty.
Finally, he tapped lightly on the windowpane. Not even appearing startled, she smiled gently, as though she'd been expecting him. Opening the door, she joined him outside.
"Hi," she said, lightly grabbing his arm and looking him up and down. "Oh, my gosh! Lee, what happened to you?"
Shaking his head to downplay the situation, he said, "Nothing. I'm fine."
"But your face is bleeding!" Then her hand was on his cheek, soft and caressing. "Let me get something for it."
Resisting the urge to turn his face and kiss her palm, he said, "No, Amanda . . . "
But she was already back inside the house, wetting a cloth at the sink and then gathering bandages and antiseptic. Within minutes, she was back outside. Taking his hand, she led him over to the bench. "Sit down," she instructed with quiet concern.
"Amanda, I'm fine; it's just a scratch," he protested weakly.
"Here." She pressed the cool compress to the side of his face with one hand and smoothed the sleeve of his jacket with the other.
He swallowed hard. "Um . . . you're still dressed up," he said unnecessarily.
"I just got home a little while ago. I left because I couldn't find you anywhere; I even sneaked up and checked the office. I was worried about you, so I waited downstairs for a few minutes, in case you came by, and, well . . . here you are." She smiled and then removed the compress and set about massaging antiseptic gel on the abrasions.
He closed his eyes, giving in to her touch and attention. "I was worried about you, too," he confessed, opening his eyes.
"How did this happen?" She met his gaze levelly. "When? Did someone find you?"
He wasn't ready yet to admit all that he'd done, so he asked a question of his own. "How'd it go with Logan?"
Her eyes narrowed as she smoothed a bandage over his skin. Then, running her fingers through his hair, she sighed and said, "It went fine. He was very . . . persistent, though."
He felt himself tense and swallowed hard. Taking her hand in his, he asked, "What? Did he try to . . . "
"Yes," she answered. "He tried. He brought me upstairs, supposedly to show me some family portraits. I couldn't get out of it without it seeming suspicious. Then, all of a sudden, he tried to get me into his office, and . . . "
"That part I heard," Lee said wryly. "What did he do? I swear; if he even laid a hand . . . "
"Lee," she interrupted firmly. "It wasnít *that* bad. It's what I was there for. I kept him from discovering you in his office, didnít I?"
He smiled at her demeanor. "Yes. Yes, you did," he conceded. "Thanks for getting him away from there, by the way."
"What are partners for?" She gave him a crooked smile. "Anyway, once we got outside, we walked around looking at the gardens and fountains for a while and eventually he tried to convince me to visit the cottage." She stopped, lifting his hand to the light, gasping in dismay. "Your hands are all scratched up, too. Lee, what happened?"
He squeezed her hand and brought it back down, keeping hold of it. She sat down next to him on the bench. "First, you finish. What happened then? What are you leaving out?"
"Nothing. I told him I wasn't interested in going to the cottage, and he very rudely complained that I'd misled him and wasted his time." She shrugged.
"I thought so," she agreed sardonically. "Well, it only took him five minutes to go back to the ballroom and find a willing participant, and that's pretty much it."
He knew she was withholding something, but figured he didn't want to hear all the details, after all. She'd proven to be a more than adequate distraction for the smarmy Mark Logan, not that he was surprised.
"Now you." She touched his face, turning him to look at her. "How did all this happen?"
He sighed, resigned. There was no lie he could devise that she would believe. "After I heard Logan outside the door . . . the things he was saying to you . . . I went back downstairs when I'd found the evidence and gave it to Forbes. When I looked around for you, you were nowhere in sight. So I went looking for you in the garden. First, I interrupted a romantic moment in a gazebo, and then I went to find that damned cottage Logan was bragging to you about."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "And . . . " She drew out the word.
"And nobody was downstairs, so I . . . well, I . . . " He cringed sheepishly, not having realized until now what his actions implied.
"Go on," she encouraged him.
He grasped her hand in his, willing her to understand. "I climbed the trellis and went into the bedroom."
Her brow furrowed as she took it in. "You thought I'd . . . You actually thought I'd . . . go that far? With that . . . that grabber?"
"Grabber?!" He looked into her eyes, trying to read there what she wasn't telling him. "Amanda, if he . . . "
"Lee, answer my question. You actually thought I'd be in that room?" Her face betrayed how hurt she was. "I can't believe . . . "
"Amanda, no." He tilted her face up and studied her eyes. "No. I was afraid that he might have . . . insisted. I was worried about you. I didn't think you'd willingly . . . go with him."
She relaxed a little. "Of course I wouldn't."
"Well." Starting to stand, he was surprised when she put her hand on his knee.
"Wait." Something about her tone made him wary, and he looked back at her to see her studying the grain in the table.
He settled back again, still holding onto her hand. Just the simple, warm contact was a joy he felt he'd never take for granted. "What is it, Amanda?"
She raised her eyes to meet his. Her face was slightly flushed in the moonlight. "I just wanted to say . . . Well, about the other day, in the Q Bureau . . . "
"Yes?" His heart rate had suddenly doubled, not only in anticipation of what she was about to say, but also at the memory of the kiss and the dreams it had since inspired.
Her glance was both hesitant and determined. "Well, I mean, you know. Ahhh . . . it was . . . it's just that . . . "
As sudden as it had sped up, his heart now plummeted. "Are you . . . are you trying to say it was for the case? Just business? Because I understand. I mean, I've said it to you enough. You were trying to prove you could do your job. Just business."
She stared at him, looking weary. She pulled her hand away and rested it protectively in her lap. Taking a deep breath, she turned to him. "That's not what I was trying to say," she told him quietly. Shaking her head, she averted her gaze. She stood up and folded her arms, as if waiting for him to leave.
Suddenly, everything was clear and simple. He had to show her that he knew what she was saying. He stood as well, and walked toward the gate. "Oh. I, uh, I guess that one *is* getting a little old, isn't it?" At her surprised look, he gave her a wink and disappeared into the night.