*N* is for Nonplus
Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs. King and all recognizable characters belong to Warner Bros. and Shoot The Moon Enterprises Ltd. I'm just borrowing them, since THEY won't do anything with them anymore, for my pleasure and hopefully yours! The story and the flannel shirt are completely my own. This story was originally written a very long time ago. I started it in January of 2002. I have recently read a few fanfics that have similar lines and situations. Any resemblance to any other fanfic or one of the episodes is entirely unintentional and no infringement is intended.
References to: A Lovely Little Affair written by Kathleen Shelling, Over the Limit written by Tom Roplewski, Sour Grapes Tagalogue by T.A. Miller, Utopia Now written by Robert Bielak, J. Edgar's Ghost written by David Brown, 'T-R-O-U-B-L-E' and 'Anymore' by Travis Tritt, 'Man, I Feel Like a Woman' by Shania Twain and Mutt Lange. No infringement intended
Rating: PG for mild language
Summary: A *night out* for Amanda leads to more than she expected.
Timeline: After J. Edgar's Ghost - just before Thanksgiving 1985.
Type: Filler, songfic.
Feedback: Yes, yes, yes! Constructive criticism accepted with a very open mind, on list or off, I could use the help. Flames will be used to light my husband's cigarettes as he is always losing his lighters. (Maybe if I get no flames he'll quit?)
Archive: SMKFanfic Archive, with the other ABC Challenge stories; SMKFiction.net.
Thanks: To Merel, who was the only person to see this story in its very first incarnation and didn't laugh her head off at me. This story wouldn't be here today if it weren't for her. Also to the KL girls for their comments. Y'all are great. And last, but most definitely not least, to my friend and super-beta, Kathy. Your support, brainstorming, and correction have been and will continue to be priceless and unquestionably the reason my stories are postable. ;) It is an absolutely incredible *working* relationship.
Notes: This started out a very different story. It was totally AU and I really didn't like where it went. It's been *reformatted* and hopefully stays within the canon of Lee and Amanda, even if the Amanda/Francine canon is off. I'm painfully aware that the country music of the late 80's was no where near the country music of today, and that none of these songs were released when the show was in its original run, but I couldn't help myself.
As Amanda readied herself for her latest assignment she felt strangely excited. Not the typical pre-case excitement, more like relief at getting away for an evening. She was partnered with Francine this time, assigned to meet a contact and complete an easy drop at a run-down country bar that evening. Both women had been working more overtime than usual lately and were feeling the stress seep into their personal lives as well. The ease of the job was going to be a reprieve from the previous week and although she and Francine weren't exactly friends they were both looking forward to the *milk-run* assignment. Amanda surveyed her reflection in the mirror-jeans, cowboy boots, her hair up off her neck and a T-shirt with one of Lee's plaid flannel shirts over it. She had worn the shirt home a few weeks ago after a stake out with Lee. The weather had turned cold that night and she didn't have a sweater. Lee had grabbed it out of the back of his car and put it around her shoulders. It was huge on her but would look better than anything she had in her closet. She shrugged as she knotted the bottom of the shirt at her waist. 'He'll never know.' As she pulled the collar up closer to her neck, the distinct smell of Lee lingered in the fabric, and she closed her eyes, inhaled deeply, and sighed. She had a hard time believing her life sometimes. Here she was working at the Agency for a little over two years and with the top agent in the country. 'Not to mention the most handsome, intriguing, frustrating . . .' Amanda shook her head in an attempt to clear her mind. Turning from her reflection in the mirror she noticed the illuminated numbers on her bedside clock. She took a deep breath. "Time to go." Grabbing her purse she left the room and headed downstairs.
"I'll be late mother, I'm . . . uh . . . going out with friends from work, remember?"
"Yes, dear. Have fun. Oh," Dotty raised her eyebrows and pointed at Amanda. "Will your Mr. Stedman . . . "
" . . . Mr. Stetson be there?" Dotty finished with a mischievous grin.
"Mo-ther." Amanda sighed "He's not *mine* and no, he will not be there. This is just the girls tonight."
'It would be nice to see him tonight,' Amanda shook the familiar thought out of her head. It would also do her good to be away from him . . . to just relax for one night. Trying to keep her mind off how he had been making her feel lately had become quite a job in itself. Half of the time she wondered why she was even trying. It seemed the more she tried not to think about her partner, the more frequently he showed up in her dreams and thoughts, not to mention her backyard. No, it was better that he would be nowhere in sight tonight.
"Good bye, Mother"
"Good night, dear. Don't do anything I wouldn't do!"
"Oh come ON, Billy." Lee was getting more annoyed by the minute. "Lee, what's the problem?" Billy shrugged and shook his head. "Amanda and Francine have the job. That's how it is." He cast a questioning glance at Lee as he turned to grab his coat. Lee sighed.
"Anyway, Scarecrow, I thought you'd be grateful." He feigned a hurt look. "It's a drop at a country bar. Take a good chunk out of your evening. I'm sure you have something much better planned." He said with a wink. Truth was he had heard the office gossip. Scarecrow, most eligible bachelor at the Agency, hadn't been seen with anyone in quite awhile. Hadn't been seen anywhere at all in quite awhile except with his partner. He had seen the growing attraction between his favorite team. Billy had a feeling it was something else but wasn't about to say anything to the other agent given his present mood.
"Yeah, you're right Billy." Lee acknowledged, not wanting to think about the implications of his arguing with Billy over this. He headed for the door and stopped with his hand on the knob. "Not my cup of tea. See you tomorrow."
As the door closed behind Lee, Billy shook his head with a huge grin. He knew why his agent wanted that assignment even if Lee himself didn't have a clue.
"This is getting ridiculous," Lee muttered as he slid into the Corvette. He thumped the palm of his hand against the steering wheel and leaned his head back on the headrest.
"Damn." The more time he and Amanda spent together working, or, lately, under the guise of working, the more he wanted to be around her. He physically needed to be within view of her. He found reasons to call her, show up in her backyard, and keep her working late. Daily. Up until recently he had convinced himself it was just because he felt the need to protect her. He brought her into this business; he needed to keep her safe. But he was losing the battle with his reasoning, and those reasons sounded more and more flimsy every time he pulled them out. No matter how high the walls he built to keep them out, or how he buried them, he couldn't help the thoughts and feelings that ran almost constantly through his mind. The almost insane jealousy he'd felt at the thought of Amanda being attracted to a stuffy, boring art restorer. He still couldn't believe he'd actually sounded so jealous while talking to Amanda. She must have noticed, he'd noticed. Who did he think he was fooling, when he showed up in her bedroom in the middle of the night almost two months ago? He could have called; he could have caught her in the morning. But he'd felt that urge, the overpowering need to see and touch her, no matter what the time or place. Then there was the kiss after the McNeil case. Regardless of how innocent he had intended it to be, it had stirred up things he really hadn't felt prepared to deal with just yet. Glancing up, he caught a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror. Unable to look himself in the eye, he turned away with a disgusted sigh.
"Come on, Stetson. Get it together."
Lee pulled the Corvette up in front of his building and headed inside. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into. And that was what bothered him the most. He knew, and it still wasn't enough to stop him. He waited impatiently for the elevator, jabbing at the up button repeatedly until the door opened with a ding. Although the confines of the elevator offered little room for his nervous habit, Lee paced inside the cramped space until the door slid open on his floor. As he unlocked and pushed open the door to his apartment, he stopped, tossing his keys on the small table in the entryway. Glancing quickly at a few half-empty glasses and scattered dirty laundry he headed for the bedroom, shedding his jacket, tie, and shirt as he went. A fleeting thought that maybe he should stay home and clean caused him to laugh out loud. Nothing could get by him anymore without causing thoughts of Amanda or what she would do. After finding and pulling on his jeans and socks, he rummaged through his closet in search of his plaid flannel shirt. It was the only one he had found that didn't make him look like the front seat of a DeSoto and he had gotten a little attached to it. As he pushed clothes out of his way, three plastic sheathed tuxedos caught his attention.
"Two black, one white," he chuckled wryly. "Essential to any good intelligence operative's wardrobe." He stopped abruptly as he realized it had been months since he'd donned one of them for anything more than an agency obligation.
Shaking his head, he reached further into the closet one last time, his shoulder getting caught on a silky garment. He pulled his arm back but found himself hopelessly entangled in the pink silk. Extricating his arm from the robe, he held it up and snorted as he recognized the elegant monogram on the front
"Crystal'" he whispered, with a smile and slight nod of his head. If he thought it had been a while since he'd worn the tuxes, it'd been even longer since this robe had been worn.
"Damn!" he ground out, not for the first time that afternoon. Wadding the robe up he threw it back into the far corner of the closet. With a sigh he realized the shirt was no where to be found. At least not in the bedroom. And he didn't have time to search the rest of the apartment. 'It could be anywhere in here.' Hadn't he just worn it recently? 'Oh well, no big deal. This'll do.' He thought as he settled on a blue denim shirt with a suede collar. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair again, leaving it there for a moment. This time he couldn't deny it. A relative stranger looked back at him. His outer appearance was the same but these glimpses of the man inside were disconcerting. The playboy image was slipping further and further into his past and he had recently begun to realize it wasn't something he was proud of anymore. It was a façade he slipped into - albeit for quite a long time – a role he'd been playing. Shaking his head slowly he turned and headed to the
Amanda and Francine exchanged amused glances as they walked into the run-down bar.
"This is not someplace I'd ever expect to see you, Francine." Amanda said with a laugh.
"Oh, and I suppose you're a regular?" Francine shot back with a grin. "Come on, we've got *work* to do," she said.
Amanda shook her head in amazement. This was going to be an interesting night, she thought with a smile. She had to admit Francine definitely looked the part in a camel colored cowboy hat, crisp white shirt with an embroidered yoke, tight Levi's, and snakeskin boots. Amanda had forgone a hat—she thought it was a bit much.
As they entered the main room of the bar, the twang of country music along with the smell of too much smoke and even more beer overtook them.
"Ugh, beer." Francine wrinkled her nose and stuck out her tongue. "I didn't think about having to deal with THAT. They do serve wine here don't they?"
"I don't know Francine." Amanda laughed as she followed the blonde through the maze of tables. Neither woman had seen the sleek silver Corvette in the very back of the lot behind a rather large, quite beat-up, baby blue pick-up.
Lee Stetson sat at the back of the bar, feet up on the seat of the empty chair next to him, and let his gaze sweep around the room again. He had a perfect view of the sawdust covered dance floor, the bar, and door. His attention was drawn again to the door as it opened for what felt like the hundredth time tonight. He had been there 45 minutes already and was beginning to wonder if the assignment sheet he had sneaked a glance at before leaving had been correct. It was becoming more and more difficult to look inconspicuous sitting there alone. It had been even harder to remain alone. He chuckled as he thought about what the 'pre-Amanda' Lee would have done with the offers he had turned down this evening. Especially the persistent little brunette he had cursorily fended off just a few moments ago. Lee laughed to himself and took a swig from his beer bottle. 'If I was about thirteen years younger . . .' He sobered as another thought struck him. 'Or had it been just a year ago . . . ' His train of thought was interrupted as first Francine and then Amanda strolled into the bar.
"Well, it's about time ladies," he muttered. Both were flushed from the cold and wore expressions he had never seen on their faces-when they were together anyway. He was a little stunned to see the two of them acting sociable. They certainly looked like they were out for an evening of fun tonight. A quick glance around the bar revealed he wasn't the only one watching these two women. Every time a female or two stepped through the door all male eyes were immediately trained on them. And this particular pair was no different.
Lee sighed heavily and downed the half- empty beer in front of him in one swig. "This is not going to be easy."
The two agents dropped their coats at a table and sat down. A waitress appeared and both placed their orders. The music was extremely loud but actually had a good beat and as the words of the song penetrated Lee's thoughts, he shook his head and chuckled to himself.
'I don't miss much if it happens on the dance hall floor;
Mercy, look what just walked through that door.
Hey, hey, good L-double O-K-I-N-G,
I smell T-R-O-U-B-L-E'
The male singer's voice reflected what Lee was thinking.
"You can say that again." Lee sighed as the rest of the song continued unnoticed to him. He had focused on Amanda and was watching her with rapt admiration. She looked right at home here, not uncomfortable as Lee had thought she'd be. She was quickly becoming a very good agent and partner. 'Partner,' Lee thought with a snort. It still surprised him that he thought of her that way. He'd had to admit more and more lately that she'd been an asset in every case she'd helped him with.
He motioned to his waitress for another beer and extricated his long legs from the chair next to him. He leaned his elbows on the table and tilted the bottle of beer to his mouth for a drink. He was still slightly unnerved by his actions. Amanda and Francine could handle this assignment alone and Billy was right, this wasn't his 'scene'. Nevertheless, he felt that somewhat unsettling, but familiar, need to be near Amanda tonight, even if he wasn't *with* her.
'They won't even know I'm here,' he thought. He watched as the waitress brought the ladies their drinks and Lee laughed out loud.
"Ok, Francine," he said quietly. "Let's see you drink that!" He smirked at the beer placed before her.
"Oh, I hope I don't have to drink more than one of these." Francine whispered to Amanda, who just laughed in response.
'I hope *I* don't have to drink more than one of these either.' She thought wryly.
They had observed their contact sitting at the bar and were discussing him at their table when a new song began.
'Come on girls,
The song caught Francine's attention and she smiled wickedly.
"I LOVE this song!" She then waggled a finger at Amanda. "Don't you tell a SOUL! Come on Amanda!"
"I don't know . . ." She began hesitantly.
"Come ON!" Francine grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the dance floor.
"Francine?" yelled Amanda.
"I love this song, too!" She said with a grin.
Lee nearly spit his beer across the table at the sight before him.
'I'm going out tonight
I'm feeling alright
Gonna let it
All hang out
Wanna make some noise
Really raise my voice
Yeah, I wanna
Scream and shout
Make no conditions
Get a little outta line
I ain't gonna act politically correct
I only wanna have a good time'
Lee couldn't believe what he was seeing. Amanda, his Amanda, was acting like, well, every other woman in the bar. This was a side of her he had never realized existed. Fleetingly, he wondered what other things about her he didn't know. He had thought he knew them all.
'Obviously not.' he thought. Sitting back with a satisfied grin on his face he thought, 'I'm definitely going to enjoy this!'
'The best thing about being a woman
Is the prerogative to have a little fun and
Oh, oh, oh go totally crazy
Forget I'm a lady
Men's shirts, short skirts
Oh, oh, oh, really go wild
Yeah, do it in style
Oh, oh, oh, get in the action
Feel the attraction
Color my hair
Do what I dare
Oh, oh, oh, I wanna be free to
Feel the way I feel
Man! I feel like a woman'
Lee gulped down another mouthful of beer.
'That's where that shirt went!' A slow smile crept across his face as he realized Amanda was wearing his favorite shirt and that it looked decidedly better on her than it did on him. He remembered now what had happened. They had been in his car on a stake out. It had been a very warm day and Amanda had just a T-shirt on with her jeans. After sunset, the night air had turned chilly, and he could see Amanda rubbing her arms for warmth. He had retrieved his flannel shirt from the back of the 'Vette, and Amanda had worn it for the rest of the evening. She had taken it home, saying she wanted to wash it before returning it. Lee had seen Amanda in his clothes before but normally it was just for convenience as it had been that time. The thought that she had picked it out to wear knowing it was his gave him a warm contented feeling.
" . . . Sir?" The waitress' voice broke through Lee's awareness.
"Hmmm? Oh. I'm sorry." He struggled to bring himself back to the present. She gave him a knowing smile. "That's ok, honey. I was just wondering if you needed anything else?"
"No, thank you. I'm fine for now." He answered. 'Real professional, Scarecrow.' He admonished himself as he turned his attention back to the dance floor, or rather one specific woman on the dance floor.
'The girls need a break
Tonight we're gonna take
The chance to
Get out on the town
We don't need romance
We only wanna dance
We're gonna let our hair hang down . . .'
The words of the song and how much Amanda and Francine were enjoying them was not lost on Lee, who snorted and took a swig from his beer bottle.
"We'll see about that Mrs. King," he said out loud.
The song finished and Amanda and Francine plopped down laughing and out of breath back at their table.
"Amanda, I'm glad Billy did this." Francine said with an uncharacteristically friendly smile. "I really can't do anything like this with my fri . . ." she paused, a contemplative look on her face. "Acquaintances, I guess you'd call them." She finished. "This is actually kind of fun." Francine smiled again at Amanda.
Amanda returned the smile and nodded.
"I know exactly what you mean Francine." She left it at that but felt the beginnings of a bond starting to form between herself and the normally pretentious woman next to her.
The music continued but they stayed seated, conversing as best they could about the assignment over the loud music in the bar. They continued to keep their contact in sight but hadn't yet gotten the signal from him to complete the drop.
Lee's attention was caught as he watched two men approach Amanda and Francine's table. Both women smiled brightly and said something, which caused the men to turn around and head toward the bar.
"There you go Amanda, keep your mind on the job." Lee smiled and relaxed a bit but froze again as the two men returned with drinks in their hands.
"Oh come on, give me a break!" Lee moaned as Francine smiled up at one of the cowboys and gratefully took the white wine that he offered her. The other cowboy had squatted down near Amanda's chair his arm circling the back of it. Lee saw Amanda and Francine exchange a glance and small shrug.
"No." Lee sat up quickly, almost knocking over his beer in the process. It took every ounce of strength to keep from moving across the dance floor in their direction. The DJ had started a slow song and the two couples made their way to the dance floor. Lee glanced at Francine to find a slightly dazed look on her face. But that wasn't who he was interested in watching. He searched the crowd and found the couple he was looking for. It suddenly felt a few degrees warmer in the bar. Amanda looked like she was really enjoying herself. Lee knew how much she enjoyed dancing and had foolishly told himself it was dancing with him that she enjoyed so much-not just dancing in general - but the look on her face told him otherwise. He felt his blood pressure rise as he stood and downed the remainder of his third beer. The empty bottle returned to the table with more force than he intended but he was already moving away from the table and toward the couple he was completely focused on. He got halfway to the dance floor before stopping abruptly.
"What the hell am I doing?!" He berated himself for his lack of control. The tempo of the song slowed a bit and Lee watched as Amanda's partner pulled her closer against him. Lee's fists clenched at his sides as he deliberately turned and went back to his seat.
Francine was casually scanning the bar, checking out her surroundings as she danced with the large, well-built cowboy.
"What the . . ." She could have sworn she saw Lee Stetson in the back of the bar headed their way. Had something happened in the case? Was something wrong? No, she would have gotten a signal-not Lee making a personal visit. What on earth was Scarecrow doing here?
'Can't be him.' she thought 'He wouldn't be caught dead in place like this on his off time.' She laughed to herself. 'Then again, neither would I!" She shook her head and passed it off as her imagination. He'd have no reason to be here.
"Damn!" Lee muttered. "Control, Scarecrow!" He could have sworn Francine looked directly at him but she showed no sign of recognition. Lucky for him she seemed completely enamored of her companion.
Lee sat and watched the ladies for another two hours as they danced and mingled, all the while looking relaxed and quite at ease with each other. He couldn't believe how hard this was to deal with. He'd never had trouble with women before. Hell, he hadn't had trouble just three hours ago. But now he was feeling claustrophobic and a bit ill at ease. He was trapped, though, as his reason for being there was between him and the only visible door. Weren't these places supposed to have emergency exits? He reached up with one finger to loosen his collar, only to find it all ready unbuttoned. Clearing his throat, he shifted in his seat and glanced around the room again. Nope. There was no way out. Not that he truly wanted to leave. For the hundredth time tonight, he asked himself why he had come here. His glance stopped on Amanda and he watched as she leaned in and spoke to her partner. Shouldn't that be him across the table from her? She was his partner, not Francine's. But there she was, doing a perfectly good job, regardless of whom she was with or the situation. She didn't need him to be with her every step of the way. Suddenly, it all became clear. He knew now that he'd follow her anywhere.
"Blind through a blizzard at midnight." He gave a slight laugh. "Or to a bar I wouldn't otherwise be caught dead in without good reason." Shaking his head, he gave another laugh and spoke to himself again.
"You've got it bad, Stetson. Now what are you going to do about it?"
Amanda had danced only with the cowboy from earlier and had turned down other offers. Until now. Another slow song started and he had returned to claim her again. Amanda threw a questioning look to Francine and was encouraged by the look on her face.
"Go for it." Francine mouthed with a sly smile and raised eyebrow.
"I need to have a talk with Ms. Desmond on Monday." Lee muttered under his breath. As he watched Amanda dance with the tall, handsome cowboy he couldn't help but listen to the words of the song they were swaying to. He stared at Amanda intently, suddenly not caring if he was spotted or not. This just wasn't working. The walls were crumbling faster than he could build them back up.
'I can't go on like this.' His thoughts were stopped by the words drifting back to him from the dance floor.
'I can't hide the way I feel about you anymore
I can't hold the hurt inside, keep the pain out of my eyes anymore
My tears no longer waiting, my resistance ain't that strong
My mind keeps recreating a life with you alone
And I'm tired of pretending, I don't love you anymore'
Amanda's thoughts were not on her current dance partner as they moved across the floor together. The words of the song they were dancing to were bringing to mind a different partner. She smiled softly and closed her eyes. A now familiar scene played out in her mind as the words of the song enveloped her--Lee telling her he loved her, holding her, kissing her. Not telling her later that it had been 'just business'. It was a fantasy that had begun to seem within reach. One that left her feeling a bit out of sorts. The sound of her dance partner's voice startled her out of her daze. She answered with what she hoped was an appropriate response.
"Hmmm? Oh, I'm fine. Just getting tired, that's all."
Her companion, seemingly satisfied with her answer, was quickly forgotten again as she felt an exciting, familiar warmth spread through out her body. She briefly scanned the room. She knew that feeling. It was the same feeling she'd had that night Lee had shown up in her bedroom and she'd been feeling it more and more recently. But no, it was just her fantasy making her feel this way. Lee wasn't here. Why would he be here? She was sure he could have had a much more entertaining evening going on at this very moment. However, that thought was quickly replaced with memories of the last few weeks. Breathlessly, she realized their recent encounters weren't that far off from her fantasies. It hadn't exactly been two cold people huddled in that swamp, nor had his abrupt dumping of Leslie gone unnoticed. Since before Leslie, there hadn't been any mention of his girlfriends. Her heart sped up at the thought of their dinner after her well-placed blackmail scheme just a few days ago. And with all the personal time they'd been spending together away from work lately, she knew he didn't have the time. Maybe . . .
I've got to take the chance or let it pass by
If I expect to get on with my life
My tears no longer waiting
Oh, my resistance ain't that strong
Oh, my mind keeps recreating
A life with you alone
And I'm tired of pretending
I don't love you anymore.
Lee could not believe his ears. That song! He'd never been into any of that romantic 'our song' type stuff but this one smacked him in the face with his very feelings. His feelings for Amanda.
Before he completed his thought, the song was over and Amanda was back at her table. Francine had been on the pay phone in the corner completing the drop and came back to the table as well. Their contact had left the bar while Amanda was dancing. They were now through for the evening. Lee shook himself out of his thoughts and got up, pulling on his jacket as he stood. Carefully, as Francine and Amanda stood talking, Lee slipped past them, obscured from their view by a group of people.
The cold air was refreshing after the smoke-filled bar and Lee breathed in heartily on his way to the 'Vette. He had to get out of the parking lot before Amanda and Francine came out and caught him. Hopefully they wouldn't stay any longer; Lee knew how Francine could get when she was having fun. She'd tried many times to get him to stay at parties after a case was wrapped up, just to have fun. But Lee had other plans for the remainder of Amanda's evening. He hadn't quite worked out the details yet but he knew he wasn't going home tonight without her.
"Well, that wasn't so bad." Francine said guardedly as they walked out into the parking lot.
"No, not bad at all." Amanda returned the smile.
"We may need to do this more often." Francine stated quietly, gesturing back and forth between herself and Amanda. Then her demeanor changed abruptly. "But let's keep it our little secret for now. People might think I've gone soft." Francine said gruffly and pointed at Amanda.
As they got into the Agency issued car, Amanda was sure she saw the taillights of a Corvette turning out of the parking lot.
'Oh, come on, Amanda.' She chided herself silently, realizing once again that thinking of Lee had become more than a daily thing lately.
" . . .Dropping me off at home?" Francine had been saying something to her but she only caught the last part.
"I'm sorry Francine. What were you saying?"
"Where were you Amanda?" Francine laughed. "I asked if you'd mind dropping me at my apartment and taking the car back to the Agency alone. I know it's not standard procedure but I have a hot date waiting tonight!" Francine raised her eyebrows and laughed huskily.
"You didn't!?!" Amanda started laughing and shook her head. "You will never cease to amaze me Francine."
After leaving Francine at her apartment, Amanda headed for the Agency to exchange the sedan for her station wagon. As she pulled into the underground lot her heart skipped a beat and her breath caught.
"Oh . . .my . . .gosh!"
She parked the car and turned it off. Taking a deep breath, she sat for a moment trying to compose herself.
'Why on earth is he here?' she thought frantically. 'I guess I'm going to find out.' Amanda grabbed her purse, got out of the agency sedan, and headed across the nearly vacant lot.
Lee took a deep breath.
"Get a grip Stetson.'"He muttered. But all he had to do was conjure up thoughts of Amanda in that cowboy's arms tonight and he was instantly filled with the same intense feelings he'd experienced earlier in the evening. He'd been sitting here for nearly an hour stewing and it had only caused him to get more agitated. As Amanda emerged from the sedan, Lee opened the door to the Corvette and stepped out. By the time she had reached her car and put the key in the lock, Lee had fallen into step next to her.
"Hi." Lee ran his hand through his hair and fidgeted as he gave her a nervous smile. He still wasn't quite sure what he was going to do now that he was with her. When had things become so awkward and strained?
"'Hi,' yourself," Amanda answered.
"Hey it's, uh, it's pretty cold out, you wanna go somewhere and have coffee?" Lee managed to ask.
"Ok, sure." Amanda answered, still slightly shocked to find him waiting for her at this time of night. "I'll follow you." She moved to get into the car.
"No." The urgency in Lee's voice stopped her. He cleared his throat and looked down at the ground. After a moment he looked back up at her with pleading eyes. "Ride with me . . . please?"
He spoke so quietly Amanda had to strain to hear his request. The look in his eyes was reminiscent of what had ultimately convinced her to help him two and a half years ago. She swallowed and answered shakily.
"Ok." Her head was spinning as she tried to figure out what he was up to. He still hadn't told her why he was here and she was pretty sure it had nothing to do with her case. That and the fact that he was standing so close to her had the butterflies in her stomach fluttering like crazy. If she didn't move soon she was probably going to faint. She placed one hand on the open door of the station wagon and turned her back to Lee. As she reached in for her purse, he stepped close behind her, reached in, and locked the door. At the same moment, she straightened. As her back came up against his chest, Amanda froze and found she could hardly breathe. Neither one moved for a moment. She was sure he could feel her heart pounding -- she could certainly feel his. The realization that he was as affected as she was sent shivers down her spine. But then the contact was broken as Lee abruptly shoved the door closed and turned away. Amanda turned slowly also and he put his hand at the small of her back and walked close to her as they headed to the 'Vette.
Amanda stopped as they reached his car. She was acutely aware of every move he made. He was so close . . .
Lee opened the door with his right hand and moved his left to her elbow. As she slipped into the warmth of the running car, he let his hand slide down to capture hers. He held it for a moment longer than necessary and Amanda looked up at him slowly. Smiling, he released her hand. As Lee shut the door and went around to get in the driver's side, she sank back into the seat and sighed. The music coming from the radio slowly seeped into her consciousness. It sounded suspiciously like the music she'd heard earlier at the bar.
'He doesn't listen to this stuff.' She thought. Maybe he hadn't noticed what station it was on.
"You can do this Stetson. It's just Amanda." He said out loud. With a grin and shake of his head, he sighed. "No, not *just* Amanda." Lee opened the door and slid into the car next to her. "Well," he said with newfound enthusiasm. "Where shall we go?"
"I'm not usually out this late Lee, you're more familiar with what's open, you pick," Amanda said with a slight grin.
"Ok." Lee was a bit too eager in his answer.
"How'd it go tonight?" Lee asked with a casual sideways glance in her direction. She sighed and laid her head back on the seat, looking out the passenger window. Noting her small smile he stiffened, thinking her reaction was caused by a certain cowboy she had met a few hours earlier.
"It was weird." Amanda shifted in her seat so she could look at Lee. "I've never felt so comfortable with Francine before. Well, only once, but . . . " Trailing off she smiled again then continued. "Not one jab tonight, Lee. Not one! She was nice, friendly, definitely not herself." She paused as Lee let out a hearty laugh. "And the assignment was so simple. I don't get many of those. It felt like we weren't really working at all. I needed the distraction, too. With everything . . ."
She stopped in mid sentence as the song on the radio caught her attention.
'The best thing about being a woman
Is the prerogative to have a little fun and
Oh, oh, oh go totally crazy
Forget I'm a lady
Men's shirts, short skirts
Oh, oh, oh, really go wild'
Amanda gave a quiet laugh and reached out to turn up the volume a notch. She missed the grin on Lee's face as he questioned her, their previous conversation forgotten.
"Like that song?"
"I just heard it at that bar," she said with a grin. In a quieter voice she continued thoughtfully. "I have a new appreciation for it." He glanced at her with a raised eyebrow and nodded.
"By the way, Amanda," he paused and looked back at the road. "Nice shirt." Amanda turned her head to look out her window again as a pink tinge crept up her cheeks.
"Sorry, Lee. I got the assignment too late to go down to wardrobe and I had nothing else to wear." She looked down and fingered a button on her coat. "Well, nothing suitable anyway. I hope you don't mind. I was going to bring it back next week after I'd washed it for you . . ."
"Don't worry about it." He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "Looks better on you anyway."
The last part of what Lee said was almost too quiet to hear but Amanda did and her heart skipped a beat. She chose not to respond to his comment at that point but couldn't ignore how it made her feel. More and more lately he had been making comments, saying things that almost had her believing he shared the feelings she had been trying to hide for months. Most had been during conversations over dinners that were becoming more and more frequent.
" . . . do you mind?"
Amanda realized Lee was asking her something. He had turned the 'Vette around and was headed toward his neighborhood.
Though she wasn't quite sure what was going on, she answered, "No, not at all." Whatever it was Lee wanted she was certainly in no mood to deny him tonight.
After determining that it was much too late to visit the usual haunts for coffee, Lee had decided to head to his apartment. Nothing was going to keep him from spending time alone with Amanda tonight.
"We haven't seen much of each other lately and I'm leaving for a few days. I'm on the duty roster for Thanksgiving weekend so I won't be around. I really wanted to touch base with you before I left." 'Lame, Scarecrow, really lame. She's gonna see right through that one'. He thought.
"Sure, that sounds fine Lee" Amanda repeated quietly. 'So that was his excuse for meeting me.' She thought with a small frown. Still, it seemed a bit much to go to the trouble of waiting around for her and taking her back to his apartment just to 'touch base.' She sighed heavily. Just when she thought she knew where she stood with him he threw her another curve. He'd been different tonight, somehow. She couldn't quite place it but there was something there that definitely hadn't been earlier in the day. Something that was becoming more and more familiar.
Lee heard her sigh and turned to look at her. He just caught the look on her face as she turned her head to the window-again. She had spent most of the drive looking out that window. He desperately hoped she wasn't having second thoughts about coming with him. The remainder of the short trip was spent in silence, except for the country music in the background, as both occupants of the 'Vette contemplated the approaching situation.
They pulled up in front of Lee's building and he stepped out onto the street. 'Well, here goes nothing.' He let his fingers trail over the smooth, warm hood of the Corvette as he rounded the front of the car to open the passenger door. Lee extended his hand to help Amanda out of the car and they walked silently to his building. He released her hand to hold the door open and immediately missed the contact with her. As they approached the elevator, he reached over and took her hand again. She looked at him with a small smile and he winked as the doors slid open.
"So where did Francine run off to tonight?" Lee once again realized how small the elevator was. "Shouldn't she have come back with you?" He gave a relieved sigh as the doors opened.
"I dropped her off at her place once we were done. I believe she was 'picked up' at the bar tonight." Amanda stopped and shook her head with a grin as Lee unlocked and pushed open the door to his apartment for her. "Make that I believe she picked up someone." Lee laughed and shook his head. Before he could say anything else, Amanda had taken off her coat and excused herself to freshen up in the bathroom. Lee took the opportunity to try and clean up the mess he had left earlier in the evening. In the process, he turned on the stereo and found a country station.
'May as well stick with the mood tonight.' he thought with a grin.
Amanda stood silently in front of the bathroom mirror. The conversation in the 'Vette suddenly caught up with her. 'Nice shirt' he had said. She'd still had her coat on. It was buttoned all the way up around her neck against the cold. 'How did he see the shirt?' She thought hard.
"Oh my gosh!" she gasped putting her hand over her mouth. That feeling she'd had while dancing.
No. He couldn't have been there. Could he? Why? How could he have known when she was going to return to the lot for her car? Amanda took a deep breath and walked out of the bathroom, determined to find out what was going on with Lee. As she headed for the living room she heard more country music.
'What is his deal tonight?' she thought. She composed herself and commented.
"Nice music Stetson. I wasn't aware your tastes had changed. Or are you getting your jabs in at not having to take that assignment tonight?" Amanda laughed at him as he feigned innocence.
"Moi?!" Lee put his hand to his chest. "I would never . . ." he stopped suddenly as the strains of a now familiar song started. His breath caught in his throat and he was suddenly nervous again. He dropped his hand from his chest and crossed to where Amanda was standing. Taking a deep breath he extended his hand to her.
"May I have this dance, Little Lady?" he asked with an exaggerated Southern drawl. Amanda smiled slowly and took his hand.
"I'd love to." She answered quietly.
'This song . . .it sounds so familiar.' She thought as Lee took her in his arms and started leading her slowly around the living room. She listened intently; blushing slightly as she realized it was the song her bar room fantasy was wrapped around.
'I can't hide the way I feel about you anymore
I can't hold the hurt inside, keep the pain out of my eyes anymore
My tears no longer waiting, my resistance ain't that strong
My mind keeps recreating a life with you alone
And I'm tired of pretending I don't love you anymore'
Lee couldn't believe the same song was playing on his stereo. Tonight was working out better than even he could have planned. Now if it would just continue that way. He sighed deeply and rested his cheek against Amanda's.
"Good song." He whispered huskily in her ear, pulling her tighter against himself.
Amanda listened, speechless, as Lee sang softly with the song. He certainly couldn't know, could he? He must have been there tonight.
'Let me make one last appeal to show you how I feel about you
Cause there's no one else I swear holds a candle anywhere next to you
My heart can't take the beating, not having you to hold
A small voice keeps repeating, deep inside my soul
It says I can't keep pretending
I don't love you anymore
I've got to take the chance or let it pass by
If I expect to get on with my life'
Lee pulled back to look at her.
"Amanda," he started. His eyes met hers and he was suddenly furious with himself for the way he'd been treating her the last few weeks. She was always so trusting of him and he could see that in her eyes as she stared back at him.
"Lee?" Amanda had said at the same time. She was about to ask him what was going on, how he had known she was wearing his shirt and about the song, but the look in his eyes stopped her dead.
"I'm sorry, Amanda. The way I've been acting lately . . ."
"Lee, don't. It's all right. You've apologized already." Amanda started quietly.
"No, Amanda. No it's not. I've spent all this time trying to protect you, keep you from getting hurt and I'm the one who ends up hurting you the most." He rested his forehead on hers.
"I've told you before, Lee, you don't need to protect me. I'm capable of taking care of myself. Mr. Melrose trusts me to take on assignments, why don't you?" Despite the seriousness in Amanda's voice, Lee grinned at the thought of her dancing with Francine earlier in the evening.
"I do, Amanda, it's just . . . I feel . . . well, responsible, you know that. I can't help it. But there's more now. With you on assignments without me I can't keep an eye on you. If anything ever happened . . . " He drew a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling before continuing. "I guess that's why I follow you around. To be near you, to put my mind at ease . . . to know you're not getting into trouble . . . " He met her gaze again and said quietly, "and to make sure I'm there if you do." Amanda's eyes widened as she realized with certainty he *had* been watching her tonight.
"You were there tonight, weren't you?" she said quietly. "I couldn't shake the feeling that you were there with me but I told myself that was silly. That you must have had something better to do." Lee brushed a strand of hair from her face.
"Amanda, I will never have anything better to do . . . " His voice had dropped to a husky whisper. He leaned in to kiss her when she suddenly jerked back and looked at him, horrified.
'Interrupted again,' He thought wryly. 'And there isn't anyone else around!'
"Oh my gosh!" She gasped, blushing. "You saw . . ." Lee gave a rueful laugh, the moment broken.
"Yes, I saw." His mood darkened almost imperceptibly and he looked away. "I saw everything." Amanda disentangled herself from Lee's embrace.
"That's how you knew I was wearing your shirt." She jabbed a finger at his chest before turning and plopping down on his couch deep in thought. "I didn't think about it when you first said something but when I took my jacket off I realized there was no way you could have seen what shirt I was wearing unless you were watching me either at home or the bar." Lee hung his head.
"Busted." He whispered to himself with a smirk. He moved to join her on the couch, determined to finish what she had just interrupted. "I think I was just interrupted--again." Lee said very quietly as he looked deep into Amanda's eyes. He saw the irritation slowly fade and the emotion that replaced it gave him the confidence to continue. "And I intend to pick up exactly where I left off." Amanda reached up and slowly trailed her fingers down Lee's cheek.
"Lee . . ." He again quieted her with a finger to her lips.
"Shhh . . . no more talking. I talked enough for both of us tonight." Lee said with a grin. He reached up to her hand still resting on his cheek and brought it to his lips for a kiss, never breaking eye contact. With a heavy sigh, Lee released her hand and brought his up to the back of her head. He leaned into her and brushed his lips across hers gently. Such a simple kiss. Much less of a kiss than some they'd had while they'd been 'working'; even less than the few they'd shared in the last few weeks but then again, much, much more. Every time he kissed her the feelings got closer to the surface. He had reached the point where he wasn't going to be able to push them down much longer. Lee was shaken at the intensity he felt in that kiss.
'When it comes to love, you have to be patient . . . ' Amanda's voice floated through his thoughts. 'Love? Whoa, slow down, Stetson. Patience.' He tried desperately to clear his head and form a coherent thought. He pulled back slowly, clearing his throat and averting his eyes. If he made eye contact with her again he didn't think he'd be able to keep his emotions or his actions in check. That wasn't what either of them needed at this point. Despite what he felt they both wanted, he knew they needed to take things slow. Amanda wasn't just a passing fancy. That thought brought him back to reality.
"I, uh, think I'd better get you home." He stammered. "It's awfully late and you're going to have a report to file in the morning." Lee stood. Maybe, if she forgot her car was at the Agency, he'd be able to pick her up in the morning. He grinned at his plan and offered her his hand. Taking it, she stood, shaking her head slowly.
"One of these days, Stetson." Amanda threatened quietly. He caught her smile as she brushed past him toward the door.
"One of these days . . . "
Nonplus; TRANSITIVE VERB: To put at a loss as to what to think, say, or do; bewilder. NOUN: A state of perplexity, confusion, or bewilderment.