Disclaimer: The characters in this story belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. The story, however, is mine. References are made to the episodes "No Thanks For The Memories", "A Lovely Little Affair", and "All The World's A Stage".
Timeline: Fourth Season, shortly before the marriage. This closely follows my story "Wrestling With Demons".
Summary: Lee lets something slip. How will Amanda react? AU Warning- While I choose to think this is within the realm of possibility, it doesn't quite mesh with what the writers put in the scripts!
Rating: PG13 (maybe)
Author's Note: This story was much longer, but after lots of gnashing of teeth, I decided that this part could stand alone. The rest is a somewhat darker story that I will rework soon. Thanks for reading!
Billy Melrose managed to stifle the chuckle that threatened, but could do nothing but duck his head to hide the grin that spread across his face. Lee Stetson and Amanda King had just entered the bullpen and were making their way toward the conference room for the nine o'clock staff meeting. Did those two really think they were fooling anyone?
For someone who could bluff his way through everything from the Monday night poker game to negotiations with the KGB, Scarecrow was hopelessly transparent when it came to the lovely Mrs. King. Right now he resembled an adolescent school boy with his first crush.
Billy had seen his top agent in the company of Washington's most glamorous women, but he had never seen him like this.
Francine Desmond caught the grin that Billy was so desperately trying to hide and looked around to discover its source. Catching sight of Lee and Amanda approaching, she had her answer and rolled her eyes. My, how times had changed! It seemed like only yesterday Lee had been oblivious to the charms of Mrs. King. Who would ever have believed the PTA mom from Arlington could make the mighty Scarecrow act like this!
It was really a shame, Francine thought. After all, Amanda really was a very nice person and quite pretty, she supposed, in a. . . .well, a suburban sort of way. What would she do when Lee tired of her? And that day would come; Francine was sure of it. In fact, she had tried to warn Amanda just a couple of weeks ago.
She looked closer at the couple, then straightened with a slight frown on her face. There was something about them today she couldn't quite put her finger on. Lee, as usual, had his hand in place on Amanda's back, but something about the way he touched her and the way they were looking at each other set off warning bells in Francine's head. Observing people was part of her job, and she was good at it. What those observation skills were telling her right now was that these two were involved in a big way! She made a mental note to have a serious talk with her old friend Lee before it was too late.
Unaware of the surreptitious scrutiny, Lee and Amanda entered the conference room, making a conscious effort to put on their professional faces. They took seats next to one another across from Francine and Effram Beaman and greeted everyone.
"All here but Fielding," Billy announced, "He should be here shortly."
"Nice work on the Parker case," Francine addressed her remarks to Lee, "Who would have thought harmless Harlan was up to his neck in blackmail!"
"Yeah," Lee grimaced, "right under our noses. Anyway, thanks to my partner's diligent research," he flashed a smile at Amanda, "and a few lucky breaks, we were able to nail him Friday night."
"So, did you have a nice weekend?" Francine asked innocently, looking from Lee to Amanda.
"We certainly did." Lee answered without thinking. Uh oh; did he say we? Belatedly realizing the implication of his words he glanced at his partner. She seemed to be fascinated by the top-stitching on her cuff and her face matched the pink of her blouse.
Francine smirked and mouthed, "Gotcha!" when Lee finally dared to look her way. Much to his relief, Fred Fielding chose that moment to make his entrance.
"Okay, people," Billy began as soon as Fielding was seated, "we've all had a chance to read through the weekend news. I don't have to tell you that there may be some bad p.r. as a result of this mess with Parker once it hits the press. We were able to buy a little time over the weekend, but I'm sure it will make this evening's network news."
A round of groans spread among the agents. "Just great!" Lee said through clenched teeth, "no doubt there will be some official mouthpiece who spouts off a bunch of double talk and winds up making us all look like a bunch of buffoons!"
"I hear you, Scarecrow," Billy commiserated, "but we'll just have to tough this one out. By the way, you two," he smiled at his favorite team, "let me add my congratulations on a job well done. Now," he said briskly, "on to more pressing matters."
Lee stole a glance at Amanda as Billy began to go over new assignments. She seemed to have recovered from his earlier faux pas, but he was sure he'd hear about it later. Just now she shifted in her chair, bringing her knee to rest against his. He smiled slightly to himself, realizing that she was telegraphing her forgiveness.
The past week had been a rough one. He and Amanda had spent a couple of days at each other's throats, partially because of the case they had been working on, but mostly because of doubts they were both having about their relationship. Fortunately, they had worked everything out over the weekend and now Lee felt like a new man. Saturday and Sunday had been spent with Dotty and the boys doing 'family' things, and Lee had had the time of his life.
Well, maybe not the time of his life; that particular title would have to go to the other unexpected event of the weekend. Lee allowed his mind to wander back to early Saturday morning when he and Amanda had made love for the first time. Incredible. . .
". . . .will it Scarecrow?" Billy's voice suddenly penetrated Lee's reverie. Damn! He didn't have the slightest idea what the question was.
"Ah. . . " he began, tossing a desperate look Amanda's way.
"No sir, that shouldn't be a problem," Amanda piped up, "See, you don't have anything down for Friday evening." She shoved Lee's agenda toward him, pointing to a particular page.
Recovering quickly, Lee nodded, "Yes, that's fine." He hoped and prayed that Amanda had a clue about what he had just committed himself to do.
"Fine then," Billy continued, "You can give me a list of additional personnel once you decide what's necessary. Okay, next item. . . ."
Lee forced himself to remain attentive throughout the rest of the meeting. As they all rose to leave, he leaned closer to Amanda, "Thanks for earlier. Nice save!" he murmured in her ear.
"Yeah, I thought so," her eyes danced with amusement, "What's with you, Scarecrow? Still stressed out over the Parker case? I thought we had a nice weekend to recover."
"Oh," Lee groaned, "I can't believe she tripped me up that way. I must be really losing it if I fall so easily into one of Francine's lures!"
"Well, unless you want another encounter with your favorite huntress, we'd better get out of here," Amanda motioned with her eyes, "she's headed this way and looks ready to pounce!" Making their escape to the elevator, the pair was relieved to see Francine's progress halted by one of the transcribers. Once the doors had closed, Lee positioned himself so he could take
Amanda's hand without observation from the surveillance camera. Giving his hand a squeeze in return, Amanda smiled up at him, her heart in her eyes.
Silently they progressed up the stairs to their office. Once inside, after closing and locking the door, Lee pulled his fiancee into his arms. "I think it's about time for a proper good morning, don't you?" he asked.
"Oh, by all means!" Amanda replied, pressing herself closer to him and lifting her lips to meet his. Quickly the kiss intensified until finally they broke reluctantly and breathlessly apart.
"Um, Lee?" Amanda struggled to regain her composure, "You'd better unlock the door."
"Huh?" Lee looked at her incredulously, "But what if someone. . . "
"That's just it," she said, At his look of confusion she explained, "If the door is unlocked, where anyone could walk in at any time, we have to be on our toes. On the other hand, if the door is locked, folks are sure going to wonder."
With a chuckle, Lee reached behind him to turn the lock, "How can I argue with that logic?" He followed Amanda as she seated herself at her desk and perched on the corner. "I've got my fingers crossed that you can fill me in on our assignment. What exactly did I commit myself to do on Friday night?"
"Well, I shouldn't tell you, since you were paying absolutely no attention to what Billy was saying," Amanda scolded, "but I guess I'll have mercy on you since I suspect- make that I hope- that I had something to do with distracting you." Her voice lowered and she leaned toward him slightly at her last words.
"Oh, my dear Mrs. King," Lee placed a light kiss next to her mouth, "you have no idea!"
Their eyes caught and held for a moment before Lee finally mustered up the will to stand and move to his own desk. "So, what's this assignment?"
"It's a plum to reward us for the drudgery of the last two weeks. All we have to do is coordinate security for the Western European dignitaries at the British Embassy's gala evening. We need to decide how many people we need, make the assignments, and, in Billy's words, enjoy ourselves."
"I missed all that?" Lee asked in surprise, "I'll have to thank Billy for this one. Assigned to spend the evening with my best girl at an Embassy party. Yeah, I think I can handle that!" he grinned.
"Well, not everyone was thrilled about it," Amanda murmured so softly Lee barely heard her.
"What's that? Who? Is Francine giving you a hard time?" Lee demanded.
"Not Francine," Amanda hastily assured him, "She actually seemed pleased about it. No," she sighed, "it's Beaman. He didn't say anything, but the expression on his face and his body language said it all. I think he resents the fact that I attend staff meetings routinely and get assignments he thinks should be reserved for full agents."
Lee shook his head. "But that's ridiculous! You're my partner, Amanda. Beaman should understand by now that yours is a special situation. The fact that you're not a full agent yet is a mere technicality."
"Still. . . " Amanda began, but was interrupted by Francine coming into the Q Bureau.
"We'll ask an impartial third party." Lee said turning to Francine.
"Lee!" Amanda protested.
"Ask me what?" Francine looked from one to the other.
"Amanda thinks Beaman resents her 'status' around here," Lee began, "and I'm telling her that's absurd."
"Amanda's right." Francine confirmed, "Effram's jealous if you ask me. The fact that one of his pupils has a higher profile than he does really gets his goat!"
"Now wait a minute," Lee protested, "Amanda has earned every bit of recognition she gets around here!"
"Hey, you'll get no argument from me," Francine agreed, "It's just that she doesn't fit into Beaman's neat little mold of what an Agent candidate should be."
Amanda's eyes widened at Francine's words. Was that a compliment she heard? "Well, ah, thank you, Francine," she finally managed, "so what do you think I should do about Beaman?"
Francine shrugged, "Nothing. He'll get over it. Beaman may not like your position here, but he's a fair man and would never undermine you. Now," she changed tracks briskly, "I've got to make some calls before meeting my lunch date, but I came up here to bring you these." She deposited a thin stack of file folders on Lee's desk and handed him a printout from the fax machine, "You'll need these to set up your security detail, and Billy just got this in," she gestured to the fax. "He said he hopes it's just rumor, but wanted to make sure you take extra precautions for Friday night."
"Thanks, Francine," Lee said surprised, "We could have picked them up."
"No problem; I had to come upstairs anyway. Besides, you won't be thanking me once you read that fax." Francine breezed to the door, "'Bye, you two. Stay out of trouble!"
After Francine's departure, Lee tossed the fax, unread, onto the pile of files and once again rose and migrated to Amanda's desk.
"This is getting to be a habit, Stetson," she reprimanded gently, "How am I supposed to get any work done if you're always over here distracting me?"
He flashed his best dimpled grin as he settled once more on the corner of her desk and took her hand. "I just wanted to apologize."
Amanda looked startled, "Apologize? I already forgave you your little slip to Francine."
"No; I wanted to apologize for not realizing what was going on with Beaman. I remember now how bent out of shape he was when we had that situation with Zhmed. I'll have a talk with him."
"Don't do that!" Amanda said quickly, "Lee, you can't come to my rescue all the time. If I want to become a full-fledged agent and have the respect due that position then I can't have you running interference for me!"
Lee ran a hand through his hair, frustrated. "You're right, I know. It's just hard to sit by and do nothing when the woman I love is being treated unfairly."
"Lee," Amanda laid her hand on his arm, "I appreciate your concern, I really do, but it's not that big a deal. I'm a grown up professional woman; I can handle this," she smiled wryly, "If I stood up to Martha Sizemore in the PTA for three straight years, I can certainly deal with Effram Beaman!"
"Martha Sizemore, huh?" Lee grinned, "Is she someone we should think about recruiting?"
Amanda shuddered, "Perish the thought! Besides she moved to Montana. Now," she stood, taking his arm and guiding him back to his desk, "You need to sit down and get to work looking through these files Francine brought us. You haven't even looked at that fax yet and she seemed to think it was pretty important."
Lee plopped down in his chair with a sigh, "Yes, ma'am." He quickly perused the printout and uttered a groan of frustration. "Well, so much for our easy little security detail!"
"What's the matter?"
"It seems that Red February is making rumbles again. Apparently they've managed to carry on even though Franco Necci is still out of circulation. The word is they plan to stir up some trouble here in D.C. in the near future."
"That's pretty vague," Amanda said thoughtfully. "I haven't heard anything about them since we got Necci at the National Archives."
Lee sighed, "Yeah, they've been laying low, that's for sure. But that's the way those sorts of groups operate; they go further underground for awhile and regroup. This changes the whole picture for this British Embassy party. It's exactly the kind of setting they would choose. It would hit both the Europeans and us. I guess the first thing to do is check with some of our eyes and ears and see if there's anything more to go on."
While Lee got busy on the telephone attempting to track down leads on Red February, Amanda finished up the week-old paper work that had been put on hold while wrapping up the Parker case. Finally, she sat back with a sigh of satisfaction. She had cleared up all of the old business and could now help Lee work on the security assignment.
Glancing his way, she was amused to see him staring into space. It still elicited a feeling of wonder in her to think that after a long, circuitous friendship they had reached this point.
Marriage. Just thinking the word sent a shiver of anticipation and fear down her spine. It was such a huge step for them to take, and the secrecy of their engagement made it seem unreal at times. Amanda suddenly had a compelling need to touch the man she loved. Deciding to give him a dose of his own medicine she wandered over to his desk.
"Just where are you today, Scarecrow?" she asked, circling behind him to gently knead the muscles of his shoulders. "You seem- oh, I don't know. . . distracted, I guess."
"I know it," Lee tossed his pen down in disgust, "I can't seem to get my mind in gear today. There's just too much to think about. Ahh!" he leaned back into the massage, "You can sure keep doing that!"
"I will if you'll tell me how I can help. I know this Red February thing has thrown you for a loop, but is anything else wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong," Lee turned in his chair and took her hands in his, "on the contrary, for once everything is very, very right." He kissed each hand he held in his own. "How about we break for lunch."
"Break from your daydreaming?" Amanda teased. Glancing at the clock she realized it was after noon. "Sure, I guess it is getting to be that time."
They gathered their coats and headed toward the door. Lee paused, his hand on the doorknob, "I don't suppose I could persuade you to have lunch at the apartment, could I?"
Amused, Amanda looked at him skeptically, "'Lunch', Scarecrow? You don't even have any food in your apartment!"
"Well, maybe I was thinking more about dessert," he said giving her his most persuasive dimpled smile.
"Lee," she said gently, her hand on his arm, "I would like nothing more than to spend the afternoon exclusively with you at your apartment, but you know we can't start doing things like that."
Lee sighed, bringing his arms around her waist. "I suppose you're right. The thing is, well, you know I enjoyed spending the weekend with your family don't you?" At her nod he continued, "It was great watching Phillip's basketball game and going out for pizza and renting family movies, but all the while a little part of me was longing to be alone with you." His hand came up to caress her cheek, "Let's just say I'm eager for an encore of Saturday morning."
Amanda wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his jacket. "Oh, Lee, that's what I want too. I don't know what we're going to do. It's always been hard for us to find time to spend alone together and now. . . " her voice trailed off. Finally she pulled herself up and busied herself straightening his tie, "Well, at least now my family definitely knows that you are more than a casual date and someone I work with. They'll understand if I want to spend time with you."
"How about tonight?" Lee asked, a hopeful expression on his face.
She shook her head mournfully, "No can do. Mother's playing bridge and there's an open house at Jamie's school. You know, I've relinquished most of my PTA duties, but I can't ditch the open house. Of course," she added softly, "if you wanted to make one of your famous appearances at my back door later on tonight I could probably be persuaded to spare you a few minutes."
"Oh, you think you can squeeze me in to your busy schedule?"
"You bet!" She planted a quick kiss on his mouth, "Now take me to lunch. That noise you hear is my stomach growling!"
Work was productive that afternoon as they worked their way through the dossiers on seven high-ranking European officials. Amanda got on the phone to the British Embassy to arrange for the security setup while Lee began to work on duty assignments for agents for Thursday night's event. There was still no further news about the Red February terrorists.
"We're expected at the British Embassy at ten o'clock tomorrow morning," Amanda reported as she hung up the phone at last.
"Good deal," Lee glanced up from the chart he was working on, "I figure that you, Francine and I can handle the up-front part. We will actually be attending as guests. A van will be set up outside for communication and backup. That leaves the behind the scenes people. We can use Beaman's agent candidates to supplement. It will be good experience for them."
"Great!" Amanda muttered under her breath. As Lee looked up at her in surprise, she gave a rueful smile, "You're right, of course. This is a perfect opportunity for them and will stretch agent manpower."
Lee put the chart down and looked at her. "Amanda, we already talked about this, remember? Beaman is just going to have to get a grip. Besides, I just had an idea," he grinned, "We can put Beaman on the list with us and Francine. That way he can supervise his candidates and attend the party as well."
"Francine will kill you, but it is a good idea," she smiled back at him. Looking at her watch she gave a groan of frustration, "Oh, no, it's already after five! I'm supposed to pick Jamie up from his Science Club meeting in fifteen minutes, and I need to get to the dry cleaners."
Lee got up to help her with her coat and ushered her to the door, "Go!" he commanded, one hand on the doorknob. "I'll either call or come by later on."
"How 'bout one for the road, pal?" Amanda reached her arms around his neck, drawing him closer.
"I thought you'd never ask!" He leaned in to kiss her.
At that moment, the door to the Q Bureau opened. Lee, his hand still on the doorknob was caught off balance and had to struggle to maintain an upright stance as he and Amanda hastily moved apart.
"Francine! Something we can help you with?" Flustered, Lee ran a hand through his hair and shrugged an apology at Amanda.
"If you'll excuse me, I really do have to go," Amanda said, quickly moving through the door, "I don't want to leave Jamie stranded for too long. Goodbye, Francine. Lee, don't forget we've got a ten o'clock at the British Embassy tomorrow morning."
"Yeah, uh, see you tomorrow, Amanda." Lee watched her disappear then cleared his throat nervously as he turned back to where Francine was watching him speculatively.
"My, she certainly seemed to be in a rush!"
"She's supposed to pick Jamie up, but we got so caught up with work that we didn't realize it was so late," Lee explained.
"Ah, 'work'; that explains it," Francine said smugly, obviously not buying any of it.
"Francine, lay off!" Lee warned, "Now was there something you wanted?"
"Actually, yes there is. I was hoping you and I could maybe stop for a drink before heading home," she said, "It's been awhile since we've had a chance to do that."
"Well, I don't know, Francine," Lee hedged, "I really should finish up these assignments for Friday night."
"Lee, the assignments can easily wait until tomorrow. I'd really like a chance to spend some time with an old friend I've been missing lately."
Trapped, Lee realized that going along with her was probably the best course of action.
Anyway, what harm could one quick drink do? Lots, he realized grimly, but nonetheless reached for his jacket. "Okay, but it will have to be a quick one."
"What's the matter, Scarecrow? Hot date tonight?"
"No, but I. . . "
"I didn't think so."
Ten minutes later Lee and Francine were in a booth at Randy's waiting for their drinks. An unusual and not very comfortable silence stretched between them. Lee was looking everywhere but at Francine, and tried to surreptitiously steal a glance at his watch. She waited patiently until their drinks had been served.
"You look like a man about to go before the firing squad," she said at last, attempting to break the ice.
"Or the Inquisition." He muttered.
"I heard that, Scarecrow!" she leaned forward, "Just what is it that has you suddenly afraid to come have a little drink with me?"
"I'm not afraid!" he said quickly, finally looking up at her, "I'm just not in the mood to have you start in on me, Francine!"
She stared at him silently for a moment, chin in hand. "You don't want me to ask about you and Amanda," she finally stated flatly.
He held her stare. "That about sums it up. It really is none of your business."
"Oh, I beg to differ. For one thing, you're my friend, Lee, and I care about what happens to you. Also-"
"Also, you don't think Amanda is right for me," Lee interrupted, his anger rising, "You know, Francine, you never have given her a chance."
"That's not fair!" she protested, "What I was going to say, before someone interrupted me, was that I also care about Amanda. Don't you sit there and shake your head at me like you know what I'm thinking, Lee Stetson!" Francine's ire was growing, "I know I was awfully hard on her in the beginning, but in case you haven't noticed, I've supported her every step of the way recently. I know that she and I are from two different worlds but I hope that she considers me a friend. She has certainly earned my respect. But no, you're so caught up in your little defensive cocoon, you can't see that I'm just as concerned about Amanda as I am about you; probably more so!"
Lee took a deep breath then let it out again as Francine reached the end of her tirade. He reached across to place a hand on her arm. "I'm sorry, Francine. I deserved that, and you're right; I've been overly sensitive about this. I just- I was afraid. . . well, I've never experienced anything like what I have with Amanda, and I know she's not the type of woman people are used to seeing me with. But don't you see? That's just it!" he announced triumphantly.
Looking confused, Francine shook her head slowly, "I swear you're beginning to sound like her now. What's 'just it'?"
"That Amanda is different from the rest," he explained patiently, "None of the other women I've dated has been what I truly wanted or needed. No offense, of course," he added hastily.
Francine gave a short laugh, "Oh, please! It's been ages since you and I. . . 'played backgammon' so to speak."
Grinning at her choice of words Lee continued, "Yes it has. And of all the women I've enjoyed the game with in the past, I think I can truly say that you are the only one I would call my friend." He paused for a minute before going on. "Amanda and I had a connection right from the start, but I wasn't ready for her then, and she probably wasn't ready for me. When I finally realized how much she meant to me it scared me to death. I stayed in denial an awfully long time but, as they say, love conquers all."
"Oh!" Francine groaned, "I can't believe it. The mighty Scarecrow just said the 'L' word! This is worse than I suspected! Lee," she said earnestly, "don't be too hasty about this. I'd hate for you to jump into something you weren't prepared for."
"Francine, I've known her for nearly four years," he reminded her. "We're partners. I hardly think we're being hasty. Do you realize how long it's been since I've dated anyone else?" When she shook her head he continued, "Well over a year."
Her jaw dropped open. " I had no idea." Her eyes narrowed suspiciously, "Just how long have you two been an item?"
"Well, let's see," Lee thought back, "We officially started seeing each other last May. You remember the Martinet case? It was about then."
"Huh!" Francine was searching her own memory, "Yeah, I guess that's about the time I began to wonder about you two. I just never really gave it much thought until recently."
Lee sighed, "I guess we haven't been too good at hiding it, have we? I know Billy's on to us, but he pretty much told us that it's okay with him."
"You'd have to be blind not to notice the way you two look at each other. It's really stomach churning at times." She shuddered at the thought.
"Aha! There's the old Francine I know and love!"
She sat back and once again shook her head doubtfully, "I just don't know, Lee. I always figured you and I were cut from the same bolt of cloth. We just aren't the type of people to make long-term commitments, and if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that Amanda King is not a short-term kind of gal."
"That's who I used to be, Francine. Amanda helped me see a whole new way to be, and I'm ready for that now. As for commitment, well, let's just say I'm in this for the long haul."
Francine set her empty glass down with a thump. "The 'long haul'? Does that mean. . . ." Lee ran a nervous hand through his hair finally blurting it out. "I asked her to marry me." At Francine's stunned expression he continued softly, "Believe me, I have never been happier."
"I can see that," she sat silently for a moment, still dazed by the impact of his words. "Wow, you're sure full of surprises tonight. Here I was all set to warn you not to break her heart and you're talking marriage!"
"I realize it's not what you expected from me. But Francine, I've never been more sure of anything in my life. Please try to be happy for me- for us."
"I am, if you're really sure. I don't know," she sighed, "maybe. . . well, maybe I'm a little bit jealous." As Lee's head shot up, she patted his hand reassuringly, "Oh, not over you, personally. I guess I'm a little jealous of what you and Amanda have together. Sometimes I think how wonderful it would be to find someone who makes me feel the way you obviously make each other feel. Then I remind myself that I'm Francine Desmond. I don't become attached to people. I don't need people that way."
"Francine," Lee said softly, grasping her hand in his own, "don't say that. Don't shut yourself off to the possibility. After all, would you have thought five years ago that I'd be where I am today? You're selling yourself short. Amanda has taught me lots of things; one of them being that as scary as it might be to love someone, it's even scarier to go through life the way I was with no real attachments." He bent down, trying to make eye contact. "Don't you get lonely?"
She shrugged and looked down to conceal the tears that moistened her eyes, "I- yes.
Sometimes it's very lonely," she said, barely above a whisper.
Lee nodded, "I know. I know because that's how I lived my life for years, thinking if I didn't get close to people then no one could hurt me. But I was cheating myself. Another lesson I've learned from Amanda is that I'm just as worthy of love as the next guy. And so are you, Francine Desmond; don't you forget it!"
Sniffing slightly, Francine looked away, "Maybe you're right. Thanks, Lee. I wanted to talk to you tonight because I was concerned about you and Amanda, but I see now that you two know what you're doing." She squeezed his hand, "I'm really very, very happy for you."
"Thank you, Francine," his face broke into a grin, "Hey, how about we stay and have dinner for old times sake."
"Oh, I don't know. . . "
"Come on," he urged, "It'll be fun. I might even let you grill me some more and give me dire warnings about the pitfalls of life in the suburbs!"
"Well, when you put it that way, it does sound like fun!"
The two friends enjoyed a leisurely meal laughing and talking about old times. The tension that had danced around them for the past few months melted away at last. Finally, Francine looked at her watch with a reluctant sigh.
"It's getting late. I really should be getting home now."
Lee nodded in understanding, "Yeah, so should I. I told Amanda I might stop by for a few minutes after her school meeting tonight. Um, Francine?" he began hesitantly.
She looked up at him curiously, "What?"
"Well, you know, what we talked about earlier? You can't. . . .I mean, I hope you understand that we. . . "
Understanding dawning, Francine nodded, "Of course, Lee. Your secret is safe with me. I am curious about something, though."
"Why did you tell me?"
"I'm not sure exactly," he admitted, smiling wryly. "Maybe it was your great interrogation technique."
"I don't think so, Scarecrow," she shook her head, "But whatever the reason, even if it was completely unintentional, I feel honored that you trust me with your secret."
"You know what?" Lee said as he deposited several bills on the table and stretched out a hand to help her up, "Somehow I feel a lot better. It's really pretty reassuring knowing that we have someone in our corner."
"Oh, rest assured, I'll still give the two of you a hard time!" Francine promised as they headed out the door.
"Gee thanks. Well, now I just have to hope Amanda doesn't kill me when she finds out I told you." Lee said grimly.
Francine laughed, "You might be in trouble there! Well," she stopped, "here's my car. Thanks for dinner; it really was fun, wasn't it?"
"Yes it was," Lee confirmed, reaching to open her car door for her, "I'm glad you're my friend, Francine."
"Me too. Here's to friendship!" she stood on tiptoe to place a kiss on his cheek. "Good night, Lee."
The Jeep was in the driveway and every light in the house seemed to be blazing when Lee pulled up across from the house on Maplewood Drive. He sat imagining the activity going on inside as things wound down for the evening. Shortly, a car pulled up in front and Dotty, calling goodnight to her friends, emerged and went up the walk into the house. One by one, the lights began to go out, and although he could hear nothing from his vantage point, Lee could sense a quietness stealing over the house.
Torn between his desire to see the woman he loved and his reluctance at having to tell her he'd spilled the beans to Francine, Lee lingered longer than usual in the Corvette. How was he going to explain it to Amanda? It would help if he understood what had compelled him to reveal the secret. It hadn't been that tough an interrogation; no threats of torture or truth serums had been used. So what had made the great Scarecrow crack? Realizing that no amount of analysis could undo what had already been done, Lee decided it was time to face the music.
He got out of his car at last and walked around to his customary place outside the kitchen window. Amanda was loading the dishwasher and talking over her shoulder to someone.
Shifting his position, Lee had a partial view of Dotty on the stairs. She was saying something, but it was just a low murmur of sound to his ears.
"Yes, Mother, I'll remember," Amanda's words came clearly through the window that was open just a crack. "Oh, before I forget, I won't be home Friday night. Lee and I have to attend a party at the British Embassy. Joe has the boys for the weekend, but I might not be here to see them off."
There was another indistinguishable murmur and Amanda rolled her eyes before replying.
"Yes, you know that IFF does a lot of work for the government." She listened for another minute, "No, I'm not sure yet; maybe the black one with the silver beading."
". . . .nice evening." A couple of words came through.
"Yes, I'm sure we will too. Goodnight, Mother." Amanda turned her full attention back to the dishes.
Lee observed her measuring the soap carefully into the dispenser and turning the dials. His heart gave a little lurch as he watched her going about the mundane chores. Wisps of dark hair were falling loose from the ponytail she had hastily put up. She had exchanged her daytime clothes for gray sweatpants and her pink Georgetown sweatshirt and wore thick socks on her feet. Shaking his head in awe, Lee realized that this woman of his dreams was as appealing right now as she would be all dressed up on Friday night.
Finally, Lee could stand it no longer, and quietly went around to open the back door. She had her back to him, wiping down the countertops, and he crept behind her.
"I know you're there, Lee," she said, not turning around. "You've been outside the window for the past five minutes!"
"Maybe you have honed your secret agent skills," He said, wrapping his arms around her from behind and beginning to rain soft kisses along the back of her neck.
"Umm," she sighed happily, letting herself relax into his embrace, "Or maybe you're losing your touch, Scarecrow!"
He chuckled softly and turned her around to face him, "Could be. Or maybe you've just got ESP where I'm concerned. I missed you."
Amanda took his face between her two hands and guided him down for a kiss. "I missed you too. It's been what- all of five hours since I saw you last? Have you eaten anything tonight? I could warm you up a plate of leftovers if you're hungry."
"No thanks. I actually had a very nice dinner tonight." He looked around with a great show of furtiveness and then whispered, "I was out with another woman!"
Amanda gasped in mock alarm, "Oh no! Two-timing me, huh? Who's the lucky woman? Should I be jealous?"
"Huh!" Lee snorted, "Believe it or not I had dinner with Francine."
"And you came away unscathed?" Amanda asked in amazement.
"Well, that's yet to be seen. Actually, it was quite interesting, but there is something I need to tell you." He looked around, "Here, let's go sit down for awhile. How about outside if it's not too cold for you. I really don't want any interruptions."
Apprehension began to cross Amanda's face, "You're getting me worried now," she said as he led her outdoors to the gazebo and they seated themselves on the bench. "What did Francine do?"
"Oh, Francine didn't do anything. It's more about what I did," he confessed sheepishly. He took a deep breath and then continued, "Amanda, I told Francine. Everything."
Amanda's eyes grew very wide as his words sank in. "Everything?"
He nodded. "She knows that we're engaged."
Unsure whether she should laugh or cry, Amanda simply stared at him. "You told Francine that we're engaged. Francine Desmond. Lee, what on earth possessed you to do such a thing!"
"I wish I had a good answer for that. Could I plead temporary insanity?" he asked, attempting a disarming smile.
Arms crossed in front of her, Amanda shook her head. "The dimples aren't cutting it this time, pal. Now as far as temporary insanity goes, I might just buy that. How else could you possibly explain this?"
Lee rose suddenly and began pacing the small confines of the gazebo. "I'm really not sure what came over me. She was grilling me about the two of us, as I suspected she would, and I just had to make her understand that this wasn't some passing fancy." He stopped abruptly in front of her and grabbed her hands in his own. "Amanda, believe it or not, I feel better having told her and I truly believe that this might even make things a little easier for us."
Still bewildered by this new twist, Amanda patted the bench beside her. "Come sit back down, please. Why don't you just start from the beginning and tell me the whole story."
Relieved, Lee sat down and complied with her request. Wrapping his arms tightly around her as she leaned against him, he related the evening's events from Francine's invitation to have a drink to the moment he put her in her car. When at last he finished his tale Amanda remained silent for awhile, gathering her thoughts. The gentle pressure of her thumb rubbing back and forth against his hand was somehow reassuring.
Finally, turning so that she could look into his face, she began to speak. "I think I understand. You're right, you know. The burden of trying to keep all of this a secret is almost unbearable at times, and if Francine is supportive of us- well, maybe it will be easier having someone else who knows."
"You're not mad?" Lee asked hopefully.
"No," she punched his arm lightly, "but you sure took me by surprise with this one! Francine really said that she was envious of our relationship?"
"Yeah," Lee looked down at their entwined hands. "You know, Francine and I go back a long way. I hate to see her making the same mistake I did for so long. Now that I've found you, I want the people I care for to be as happy as I am. Maybe that's part of the reason I told her."
"I love you."
"I love you too."
Their eyes caught and held for a long moment. With tantalizing slowness, Lee lowered his mouth to meet hers, barely grazing her lips at first. Amanda shivered with anticipation and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him in closer, demanding more. Responding immediately, he eagerly explored the familiar contours of her mouth, savoring the sweetness with which she welcomed him. Forgetting everything but the sensations they were creating with one another, they were lost in their own lovers' world.
Reluctantly dragging himself back to the present, Lee very gently held her away from him.
"Amanda," he sighed, "I want you so badly."
She rested her forehead against his chest, struggling to breathe normally, "Oh, Lee. . . "
"I know. I think I'd better go." He stroked her face tenderly and looked lovingly into her eyes. "The time will come, Amanda King, when we won't have to say goodnight this way."
"I'll hold you to that," she warned.
"You can count on it," he promised, then turned to walk away before temptation became too strong.
Tuesday morning, after checking in with Billy, Lee and Amanda headed over to the British Embassy to see what arrangements needed to be made. Since the Embassy had its own security and was accustomed to hosting such events, much of their job on this day was simply to make personal contact with those in charge of the party and make sure of cooperation without stepping on too many toes.
In spite of Lee's reassurance from the night before, Amanda was more than a little wary of encountering Francine. She needn't have been. Things were business as usual as far as Francine was concerned, and there was nothing in her demeanor to indicate that anything had changed. She joined them briefly at the Embassy before heading off to take care of other matters.
"Well, I'm sure you both saw that the Parker mess hit the press just like Billy predicted it would," she said after they exchanged greetings. "What do you think? Will it blow over, or will we be persona non grata for the foreseeable future."
"I can't even begin to guess, Francine," Lee answered her. "All I know is that we'd better dot every 'I' and cross every 'T' and make sure nothing falls through the cracks. The best way to deal with something like this is with total professionalism."
Francine's eyebrows shot up. "How interesting coming from you, Scarecrow! I don't recall you being exactly a paragon of professionalism through the years. In fact, let's see. . . there were the Romanian sisters, what were their names? Nadia and. . . well, you remember-"
"And there was that time you wound up in jail in Syracuse when you took on Vinnie Faragimo and his boys. What was the charge that time?" Francine's eyes were gleeful as she got caught up in her reminiscences.
"Francine!" Lee looked around quickly, having spoken louder than he intended, and lowered his voice. "You know very well those were all business. Legitimate business, I might add, and a far cry from what our former colleague got himself tangled up in."
"Oh, I know," she brushed aside his protests, "It's just so much fun to watch you squirm. Anyway," she changed tracks, "I just stopped by to see if you need anything from me before I get to work on this State Department business Billy dropped in my lap."
Lee glanced at Amanda and shrugged, "I can't think of anything, can you, Amanda?"
"No," Amanda shook her head, "I think we've got everything covered. We're meeting with people here most of the day."
"Okay, then, I'm off," Francine turned to walk away then turned back abruptly. "I almost forgot. Beaman wants you to call and confirm the time for the freshmen to come here and get the lay of the land."
"Sure thing," Lee nodded. "Thanks, Francine, we'll see you later."
The couple watched her departure and sighed in tandem before turning to face one another.
"Well?" Lee raised an eyebrow in question.
"Well. . . " Amanda let out a somewhat shaky laugh, "that was. . . normal. Same old Francine."
Locking eyes with the woman he adored, Lee said softly, "You were really worried."
"I- yes, I guess I was," she admitted. "It's just so complicated, Lee. I mean, no one knows, except of course now Francine knows, so that means someone else could find out, and I can't help thinking about how even Mother and the boys don't know yet, but if they ever found out that someone else knew first. . . Lee Stetson, what are you laughing at!"
Eyes twinkling, Lee took her by the arm and led her to a nearby room. After making sure that it was unoccupied, he closed the door softly behind them and pulled her swiftly to him.
"I'm laughing at you, of course." He placed a kiss on the tip of her nose. "Amanda, remember that keeping secrets is a big part of our profession. I honestly believe that Francine will be able to keep ours."
"Well, don't forget that you, the great Scarecrow, slipped up this time," she reminded him.
"You and your moment of insanity!"
"Amanda," his lips hovered over hers, "it's done; could you please let it go?" He touched her lips in a gentle kiss. "It's going to be alright. Could you please just forget about it?"
This time the kiss was more demanding, taking her breath away. Breaking apart at last,
Amanda smiled up at him, love shining through her eyes.