Such Friendly People Affair
by Linda Cornett
(Appeared in Eyes Only 3
Beneath the airplane's banked wing the ocean curved away, a dark blue quilt stitched generously with diamonds, the rising sun an enormous half-circle on the horizon.
I pressed my forehead against the small oval, looking for the edge of land to slide into view, the scythe of white beach and rough gray mountain that made up the tiny resort island of San Isobel. A comfortable and fragrant weight pressed against my right shoulder. “Um, looks like good bikini weather, Bev,” Napoleon Solo purred suggestively against my ear.
I turned to meet his warm hazel eyes. “What color is yours?” I purred back.
Solo grinned, patting his stomach. “I'm afraid I'm not in bikini shape,” he admitted. “Too much desk work.”
A soft sound came from the seat behind, managing to wordlessly convey sarcastic agreement. Kuryakin, overhearing everything, of course.
Amazing that the two were such a tight team, considering the differences in their personalities. “Oh, I know Napoleon,” I'd said with pleasure when I was given the current assignment by the Los Angeles station chief. “And I've met Kuryakin.” After a moment's thought, I realized that I'd actually spent about the same amount of time with each of them on that previous assignment, but Napoleon had become “Napoleon” while Kuryakin had remained a vaguely remembered stranger.
It looked like Napoleon and I might have occasion to become even friendlier on this job, since we were traveling as a jet-setting couple, chum for the sharks, while Kuryakin did whatever he was to do from the shadows. Well-suited assignments, all around.
Napoleon and I had checked into our suite at the Emperor top floor, vistas of the ocean and the small town and the mountains behind, carpets thick and soft as mink before Kuryakin caught up with us again. The rapped rhythm on the door must have been some sort of signal between the partners, for Napoleon pulled the door open without hesitation.
“All settled down below?” Napoleon asked smugly as the Russian stepped gingerly into the room, lifting his feet tentatively like a cat as he felt the thick carpet underfoot.
“I am checked in, room 223,” he said.
“Comfy, I hope.”
Cool blue eyes scanned the large elegant room, the curved windows facing the glittering sea. “Second class,” the accented voice replied drily,
Smiling, Napoleon crossed to the well-stocked bar. “Can I offer you something?” he asked politely.
I strolled out through a sliding glass door onto the wide balcony. The sun hovered above the horizon, promising tropical heat, but right now an off-ocean breeze made the morning just about perfect.
“Bev, anything?” Napoleon called from behind the bar.
I shook my head, leaving the view and the breeze behind for the mundane task of unpacking for what I fervently hoped would be a protracted stay. The bedroom was ridiculously large, with an enormous bed, complete with a drape of netting, filling the center of the room. My battered Samsonite looked pitiful resting on the silk coverlet. The warm scent of the cedar lining wafted up as I opened one of the dresser drawers. Oh, yes, I could live with this, no problem.
I was making the first trip from the bed with my hands full of my best underwear when Kuryakin was suddenly, silently in my path. I stifled a squeak of surprise.
“Excuse me,” he murmured, dodging around me as though I were an out-of-place piece of furniture. He crossed to the window followed by Napoleon. The two of them stood peering upward and speaking too softly for me to hear.
I had learned from frustrating experience how easy it is for a female agent to be picked up and discarded by male agents at their will. No thank you. I dropped the underwear and butted into the tete-a-tete at the window.
“Okay, let's hear it,” I said. “'What's going on? I don't know what you two were told about our job, but I got almost nothing out of L.A.”
Solo turned to me with a smile and a warm hand on my back, urging me closer to the window. “See up there?” He pointed with his free hand; the other remained, intimate and friendly, between my shoulder blades. Kuryakin eased away so I could join them at the window without touching him.
Halfway up the steep, rocky mountainside was the brushed concrete face of a two-story building, modern and cold-looking. The building was truncated, set back into the gray rock of the mountainside. A series of balconies jutted out on both levels. It looked like a perfect launching spot for birds of prey, which may have been apt.
“Cozy,” I said.
“A nest, from what we've been told, for a fairly unsavory pair of our feathered friends,” Napoleon went on. “Information is that they serve as sort of a mailbox for Thrush deliveries in this part of the world, a hobby for people with too much money and too much time on their hands. Normally, they wouldn't be worth the trouble, but we believe they may have in their possession a book containing some fairly damaging information access codes to about a quarter of our classified computer files.
I felt my eyebrows arching and Napoleon nodded. Bad breach of security.
“The book was in the hands of a Dr. Peter Haladjian who had been brought in, ironically enough, to improve security,” Napoleon continued. “Dr. Haladjian met with an accident. The book disappeared. U.N.C.LE. Kingston picked up a transmission that indicated it may be waiting here for pick up. It's in a fairly sophisticated code and we're hoping that Thrush hasn't realized yet what it has.”
“So, a little burglary?” I asked.
“Illya” Napoleon said, nodding toward his partner, “will be the little burglar, if that proves necessary. You and I, my dear, will try the front-door approach. The owners of the nest, Richard and Glennys Evans, are reported to be, well, approachable.”
“Swingers.” Kuryakin spoke for the first time, the word sounding silly and self-conscious on his tongue.
But it explained a bit, like the awkward warning I had been given that I might be called on for “exceptional involvement.” My reputation friends used the phrase free spirit, enemies probably used something shorter and more graphic probably had a lot to do with my assignment to this affair. Ah, yes, staff slut. Along with adoring wife and innocent victim, it was one of the few positions open to women in my profession.
There was no question in my mind why Napoleon Solo had been picked.
I turned and found Kuryakin's cold blue gaze turned on me speculatively. I glared back, looking for a sign of censure. I didn't find any, but all the same, I would be a lot more comfortable once we got him settled in his own room.
That apparently was not going to happen. Napoleon pulled a compact telescope from the lining of one of his suitcases and Kuryakin dragged a chair over by the window and sat himself comfortably to watch the bad guys. “I don't suppose you have much of a view from your room?” I hinted when he showed no signs of moving on.
“I have a fine view,” he answered, without taking his eye from the telescope. “Unfortunately, it is of the loading dock.”
I unpacked and slipped into brief white shorts and a crop top, got Napoleon to share his file on the “swingers” with me, memorized a map of the town and a floor plan of the hotel and talked Napoleon into taking a reconnaissance stroll with me.
It was immediately easy being with him again, natural to take his hand as we walked, comfortable making small talk about the aggressively picturesque town and the tourists who passed us chattering in a dozen different languages. If I were the settling-down type, I thought, this might be a good man to do it with. If he were the settling-down type.
As we headed back toward the hotel, Napoleon stopped in front of a diving shop. Pulling me into a loose embrace, he whispered in my ear, “I'm going to check in with the local agent who's been keeping an eye on things. See you back at the hotel, okay?”
The smile dropped from my face. I felt my jaw tighten. So, having been strutted around, I was being dumped while he got on with the real work. “Fine,” I said coldly, pulling myself away. “I'm sure I can find some way to amuse myself. Maybe I'll do a little shopping, get my nails done.”
He gave me a puzzled frown before stepping into the shop. Someday, I swear, someday I'm going to meet a man who gets it.
I returned to the hotel, too angry still to endure Kuryakin's cheerless company. I picked up a Scotch in the bar and wandered out to the pool on the ocean side of the hotel. It offered the sort of luxury wealthy tourists expected of their resorts an amoeba-shaped expanse of aquamarine water ringed with shaded tables and lounges, planters filled with fragrant flowers and exotic-looking trees. Waiters, sweating in crisp uniforms, moved gracefully through the maze of pale, greased flesh.
I glanced over the crowd, checking automatically for any likely-looking men. I was surprised to meet the same calculating glance in another pair of eyes. And surprised further to realize that the eyes were set in a lean, suntanned face that matched the photograph of Richard Evans in the file upstairs. He was lying back on one of the lounge chairs, pulled into a half-shaded comer, his long body clad in bright red briefs. His hair was thick and wavy, long at the neck, his face pleasing enough if you like predators.
Glennys was stretched out beside him, still recognizable despite the wet cloth laid across her eyes. Her small, trim body was displayed in a flowered two-piece. Her perfectly pedicured little feet waved rhythmically to the tune piped unobtrusively from hidden speakers. They both wore the uniform tan of those with time and money enough to pass a lot of time in the tropical sun being tended to by paid help.
What the hell were they doing here? I thought of Kuryakin, probably still glued to that chair up in my bedroom watching for these two, while they sunned themselves below. It improved my mood remarkably. With deliberate nonchalance, I strolled to an empty chair near them and settled in. Richard's eyes were on me, hot and amused, the whole way.
Crossing my legs, I studiously turned to watch another couple, newlyweds apparently, necking in the shallow end of the pool. It was just one or two minutes before a shadow fell across my shoulders and I looked up into Richard's face. Bingo.
“I'm sorry to bother you,” his voice was a bass rumble, “but are you American? My wife and I are expatriates and we are always on the lookout for our fellow countrymen. And women,” he added with a smile that drew attention to the issue of gender.
I gave him my best smile in return. “As a matter of fact, yes. Is it that obvious?”
“A certain...style,” he said. “Something in the walk, a freedom of movement, a confidence.” I felt myself warming to the compliments. Oh, this guy was good.
I glanced past his hip. Glennys was sitting up now, taking an interest in the proceedings. She smiled at me, warmly. No jealousy here. For the first time, it occurred to me that these two might swing a little higher than I was accustomed to.
“Won't you join us?” Richard continued. “We'd love to hear about home.” Reassuring touch, that slight emphasis on the last word.
I stood with my drink and Richard gallantly hauled my chair over next to his. “I am Richard Evans. My wife, Glennys,” he said, and she extended a cool, slim hand to me.
We chatted generally for a while the war, the anti-war movement, Nixon's haircut. I told them my husband Michael (who was going to believe a name like Napoleon?) and I were from Los Angeles, since I am; go with what you know when lying is my motto. They claimed childhoods in the Chicago area. I told them we were here for an open-ended stay at the hotel, hinting at a life of restless pleasure seeking. They pointed out their aerie and explained they had an arrangement with the hotel to use the facilities.
We all had another drink to cement what looked to be a budding friendship and moved on to step two. The talk turned to the arts, with particular emphasis given to “Tropic of Cancer” and “Oh, Calcutta!” and segueing into a philosophical discussion of the sexual revolution and the women's movement. Richard confessed to a fascination with the new “assertiveness” of American women.
After about an hour of such pleasantry and innuendo, I excused myself and headed upstairs, flushed with success and Scotch.
Throwing open the door to the penthouse suite dramatically, I announced, “I have met the enemy, and they are interested.”
“Yes, I know.” It was Kuryakin's voice, coming from the balcony. He had relaxed a bit as the day heated up, discarding jacket and tie and holster and shoes. “I was watching. Don't you think it might have been best to plan out that first meeting?”
I felt myself flushing at the mild reproof. “I wasn't aware we were doing any planning, as a team,” I said, emphasizing the last word angrily.
He cocked his head slightly, just the way my cat does when I've done some incomprehensible human thing. “You feel you have been...left out?”
Somehow, in the words and tone, he managed to make it sound like I was the sniffling loser in a playground squabble. “Forget it,” I snapped. “Let's just say I've dealt myself in. Where's Napoleon?”
Kuryakin shrugged. “He left with you and has not returned.” He padded across the room and began rooting in the well-stocked refrigerator, pulling out a bottle of mineral water. “Something for you?” His voice was impersonal as a waiter's, letting me know we were not close enough to argue.
“No thanks.” I headed for the bathroom to change into my bikini, which I was in shape for, thanks to heartbreaking deprivation and regular workouts at the U.N.C.L.E. gym.
When I emerged, he was back on the balcony, leaning casually on the railing and, no doubt, keeping a very uncasual watch.
“Still there?” I asked.
He turned to me, his face registering no reaction at all to my appearance in about a quarter of a yard of purple cotton. “The woman has left,” he said.
“Well, I'm going back to the pool, anyway.” I jerked open the door and found Glennys standing in the hallway, a flowing red jacket thrown over her bathing suit and high heels giving her legs another three inches, “Glennys!” I spoke loudly to warn Kuryakin off. Too late. Glennys was staring past my shoulder with a half- smile on her wide lips and acquisitive light in her eyes.
“Aaaaaah,” she purred, “you must be Michael.” I looked back to find Kuryakin standing in the open doorway. Seeing him as Glennys did barefooted and casual, with his shirt unbuttoned, sleeves rolled up and a drink in his hand I realized there was really no other explanation that would work.
“Darling,” I said pointedly, “this is Glennys. I told you about meeting her with her husband at the pool.”
A half-second's pause, and Kuryakin was stepping forward. “Of course. It's a pleasure,” he said, extending his hand.
Glennys allowed him to clasp her thin fingers, looking him over blatantly as he did so. “Just as charming as Bev told us,” she said. “I just know we are all going to be good friends.”
Kuryakin gave her an intense dose of the blue eyes. “No, doubt,” he murmured.
“Yes.” Glennys smiled in a satisfied way. “Richard and I were hoping you would be our guests for dinner in the hotel restaurant tonight,” she said. “They have a very nice dance floor, for later.”
Kuryakin didn't speak, so I jumped in. “We would love to. Wouldn't we, darling?” I showed him my teeth.
“Eight, then? Good.” Glennys turned and swayed toward the elevator, leaving a waft of coconut oil and expensive perfume in her wake.
I closed the door and leaned on it, giving Kuryakin a sour look.
“Well,” I said.
“Well,” he responded, dropping onto one of the couches.
“This could be awkward.” I sank down on a chair across from him. “I mean, first of all, Napoleon and I checked in together. The staff might find it peculiar if I am suddenly in the company of another man.”
He shook his head dismissively. “There are 300 rooms in the hotel. I doubt they would remember who belongs with whom. Or care if they switched. It could be awkward for another reason, though: Napoleon is not a skilled rock climber.”
I stared at him. Was he really missing the main point by that much? “And how are you as a 'swinger'?” I hinted.
“I am capable of playing whatever role is required of me,” he said somewhat huffily.
“Well, that's a comfort.”
Napoleon strolled in about 15 minutes later, whistling cheerfully. We were still seated in the living room, sunk in gloom, although apparently for different reasons.
“What?” he demanded.
We filled him in on the change of circumstances, and he joined Kuryakin on the couch, equally gloomy. “Getting up that mountain is going to be a challenge,” he sighed. Either he was also confident of Kuryakin’s acting abilities, or he was too polite to express reservations.
The agent sent in from Kingston to provide backup someone named Regan was apparently familiar to both men, and satisfactory. With Regan guarding our backs from whoever Thrush sent to pick up the “mail,” we would continue to focus on getting inside that concrete mailbox on the hillside.
Napoleon, the optimist, decided there wasn't much point worrying about rock-climbing, especially given Glennys' obvious interest in the nice couple in the penthouse.
“You've got a good nibble,” he said finally. “Now, go set the hook boy. I bet they're still down at the pool. You can borrow my trunks top right drawer.”
Kuryakin gave him a sour look, but headed for the bedroom. He came out a few minutes later in a pair of baggy green boxer swim trunks. They sagged at the waist and totally hid whatever attributes he had to offer as bait for Glennys. Or Richard, if it came to that. Napoleon looked him over, tsking. “They looked pretty darn good on me the last time I wore them, if I do say so myself,” he commented.
Kuryakin shrugged his pale shoulders. “They will do,” he said. “I can cinch up the waist a bit.” Here he gave Napoleon a smug look.
“Uhh-unh,” I said, firmly. “There's a shop in the lobby. I'll go get you something that fits.”
It was small and blue and, I had to admit, looked pretty damn good on a frame that turned out to be not quite as skinny as I had assumed. Napoleon whistled and Kuryakin blushed and pulled on an awful flowered shirt from Napoleon's closet.
A discreet peek over the balcony confirmed that our expatriate friends were still in their corner alone. We headed down to set the hook.
Richard stood over Kuryakin, looking down his long nose and smiling in a feral way as he held Kuryakin's hand just a beat longer than a friendly handshake required.
“Sit, sit,” he rumbled, indicating the two lounge chairs where he and Glennys had been sitting. With skillful speed, they soon had me stretched out in one, Kuryakin in the other. Richard perched beside me, his thigh pressed against mine. Glennys curled at Kuryakin's feet, one long hand resting on his knee. Such nice people, so friendly.
“I'm delighted you two have accepted our invitation for tonight,” Richard purred. “It is so hard to find interesting companionship in this backwater.”
“There was a lovely German couple visiting, has it been two months ago, Richard? So athletic.” Glennys closed her fingers around Kuryakin's leg. She might have been a housewife testing a melon for ripeness.
“The best part of traveling is the fascinating people you meet,” Kuryakin said, his voice offering just the right hint of unspoken meaning. I looked at him with new respect, but he was busy staring into Glennys' dark eyes.
“Bev tells us you are from L.A.,” Richard finally broke in. “What sort of work do you do, Michael?”
“Investments,” he answered, vaguely. Good cover, allowing them to assume anything from banking to inherited wealth to drug dealing. “You?”
“I am a photographer, actually,” Richard answered. He and Glennys exchanged a secret look. “Both of us are.”
“Investments must be a hazardous profession,” Glennys commented. She traced a fingertip, wet with moisture from her chilled glass, slowly along a white line of scar on Kuryakin's stomach.
He held still for it, although I could see the muscles tense beneath his skin. “I, um, have some hazardous hobbies,” he said tensely.
“Oh, you must tell me.” Glennys was making another pass over the scar
“Sky-diving, motorcycling, climbing, that sort of thing.”
Thoughtful Richard, not wanting me to feel left out, began rubbing up and down my thigh. The touch was expert, just enough pressure, just high enough to get my attention, but not so high as to offend. I found myself wishing he were on our side.
“Tell me about your house.” Kuryakin said. There was just a hint of desperation in his tone. “Construction must have been a challenge.”
“Indeed,” Richard said. “We brought in a rather daring young architect from Hong Kong. Getting permission for the excavation was actually the biggest challenge. A costly process.” He smiled. “The exterior walls were preformed and placed by helicopter, after the interior walls had been poured. After that, it was just routine interior construction.”
“But how do you get home?” I chimed in. “Helicopter?”
Glennys smiled indulgently. “There's an elevator. Perhaps we will take a trip up tonight?”
We all exchanged loaded smiles and ordered another round.
By the time Richard and Glennys headed home for a shower and a nap, Kuryakin had dazzled us all with his diving and swimming abilities his way of escaping Glennys' attentions, I suspected and I had acquired a vicious headache from too much Scotch under too much sun.
Napoleon was gone when we returned to the room. Kuryakin dropped his towel and the shirt on the couch and pulled out his communicator to discuss the afternoon's events. Napoleon said he had met again with Regan and learned a Thrush courier, so well-known as to be almost useless, had been spotted stocking up on rum in Kingston and inquiring about flights to our little piece of the Pacific.
“Petra? Still?” Kuryakin said incredulously.
“Yeah, well maybe they don't consider this pick-up important enough to require much caution. Maybe he's there to throw us off. And, maybe the real courier is already on his way. Or here already; Regan could have missed someone unfamiliar. At any rate, it puts a bit of a hustle on, doesn't it?”
Kuryakin grunted agreement.
I pulled a pop from the refrigerator and leaned on the bar, rubbing the cold bottle against my forehead and staring at Kuryakin's back. “...dinner and dancing,” he was saying, “and possibly an invitation to visit the nest afterward.”
I tuned out again, idly following the lines of his body against the bright light from the wall of windows. A drop of water from his hair traced a silvery path down his neck and along the valley of his backbone to disappear beneath the waistband of the swim trunks. Interesting.
I had always thought of Kuryakin the few times I thought of him at all as some sort of unobtrusive machine, efficient and adept, although rather difficult to steer.
Suddenly, here he was, all too obviously human. Male. Paradoxically, without his clothing he seemed larger, his bare shoulders and arms somehow aggressively masculine, his skin flushed by the sun. I found myself remembering vividly the sight of Glennys' red fingernail tracing intimately over the scar.
Well, this was an unexpected surprise from my libido. Kuryakin?
He had finished with Napoleon and turned, casually, to tuck the communicator away. When he saw my face he froze, staring back.
“Dibs on the shower,” I blurted, and hurried into the bedroom. “Cool down, girl,” I ordered myself as I stood under the hot spray. “You don't even like him. A little sun, a little Scotch, a little sexual fencing, that's all it is.”
I pulled on a ratty T-shirt and a pair of jeans when I had dried off. “Not interested” was the message and I headed for the living room to deliver it.
To my annoyance, he was stretched out on the sofa, sound asleep. He had obviously made a trip down to room 223, for his suitcase sat in the comer and he had traded the trunks for jeans and a black T-shirt. “Not interested” back atcha.
I stretched out on the big bed alone and found it ridiculously easy, considering the disordered state of my mind, to fall asleep.
Dinner was amazing. The meal, a banquet of perfectly prepared offerings sexy food like oysters and lobster, artichokes and asparagus, fresh mangoes and passion fruit, requiring a lot of finger and lip action. The setting, elegant and casual, lights low, soft music in the background, invisible waiters always handy but never intrusive.
Glennys wore a slinky black thing with spaghetti straps, her straight, black hair an ebony cap over her small head, her eyes smudged exotically and her lips moist and red as Max Factor could make them. I self-consciously licked my own meagerly lipsticked lips and fluffed hopefully at my willful brown mane. Still I glanced down to reassure myself this particular dress did nice things for my cleavage. At least, Richard seemed to think so. He was casual in a mandarin-collared shirt and sky-blue jacket. Kuryakin, as usual, was in black pants and jacket, but I had persuaded him, after an initial glance into the dining room, to stick his tie in his pocket and unbutton the shirt a scandalous three buttons. I was surprised and intrigued to see the glitter of a gold chain around his neck; he did not seem like the jewelry type.
Napoleon, like a proud parent on prom night, had come up to see us off. He had walked around me, humming admiringly, adjusted the hang of Kuryakin's jacket and held the door for us. “Now, you kids remember to be back home by midnight,” he had called as we stepped into the elevator.
When we had consumed the equivalent of a week's pay (my pay, at any rate) in food and wine, the chamber orchestra that accompanied dinner was replaced by a bigger band, well schooled in the latest hits from the states and Europe, with a little Calypso thrown in for spice.
Richard such a thoughtful host drew me out onto the dance floor. His nose snuffled warmly in the crown of my hair. His hand slid restlessly up and down my back, snagging occasionally at the zipper as though it were accidental.
Peeping over his shoulder, I caught a glimpse of Kuryakin and Glennys moving around at the darkened edge of the dance floor. They looked good together, with the contrast of coloring, although they seemed to be engaged in an unspoken battle over who would lead.
The next dance was a fast one, not recognizable as any particular type of music. Richard and I settled on a frug; he was enthusiastic, and I noticed that the other dancers gave us a wide berth as he swung his long arms around.
Kuryakin and Glennys were back at the table. She was leaning close, smiling into his eyes, one hand resting on the table and the other out of view. Kuryakin was clasping both hands dangerously around a wineglass, his jaw clenched.
When the music changed again, another slow one, I was surprised to find Kuryakin at my elbow. “Do you mind, Richard?” he said. With a shrug and a mock bow to me, Richard wandered away.
“Well,” I said, “to what do I owe the honor?”
He clamped me into a painfully tight embrace and set us in motion. “That woman…” His mouth was against my ear, but I could tell from the tone that his teeth were clenched.
“Darling! Was she taking liberties? I must go and have a talk with her.”
There was a moment's silence, then a soft chuckle. The bruising grip on my hand loosened and I wiggled my fingers gratefully. “Sorry,” he said. “The role is a bit more challenging than I anticipated.”
I shrugged. “Just relax and enjoy. You like sex, don't you?”
“Very much, but preferably in privacy and with someone I know.”
“Prude,” I teased, and he chuckled again.
He was still tense, holding me hard against his body. Ah, Glennys, what a pro.
He was moving us in dizzying circles just a bit faster than the music dictated, barely missing an elderly couple who might have been here celebrating their 50th anniversary. Newlyweds or the Geritol generation no wonder Richard and Glennys were so glad to see us.
Kuryakin might have been two inches taller than me, no more. I decided I preferred it to having Richard towering over me like a vulture waiting to see if a rabbit was finished twitching. I sniffed discreetly, drawing in the scent of soap and shampoo and some musky aftershave.
“English Leather.” He drew back enough to give me a puzzled look. “Are you wearing English Leather?” I explained.
He shook his head, his eyes alarmed. Either he misunderstood the reference to leather or he considered cologne an intimate subject, to be discussed in private with someone he knew.
I slid my hand along his shoulder and up his neck to wind my fingers into his hair. “What are you doing?” his voice was a bit hoarse.
“Just playing the part,” I said, wriggling against him. “We want to get invited home tonight, don't we?”
“Save it for Richard.”
He thought he would pull away, but I changed his mind. As I said, I work out.
“Darling,” I whispered, “Sometimes its more fun for them to watch.” I turned my head and closed my mouth over his lips. He didn't have much to do with the kiss, although I expect from the sidelines it looked pretty hot.
“If you don't loosen up a little, we're going to lose them,” I hissed, releasing him.
He gave me a glacial glare. Without warning, he grasped my face with his hands and pressed his mouth hard against mine. His tongue traced lightly along my lips, teased its way between my teeth. For some reason, breathing seemed to be a problem, and I reeled dizzily against him. When he finally let go, I stood staring stupidly at him.
The elderly couple waltzed past us again; the man's eyes were wide with shock behind his bifocals, but the white-haired woman smiled indulgently and, to my surprise, gave me a wink before they slipped out of view.
I turned my eyes back to Kuryakin, taking a deep breath. “Good, good,” I said. “I think you've got your stride now.”
He didn't say anything, just stared at me with a puzzled frown on his face, like an accident victim trying to piece together what caused the collision. We moved together tentatively, like students at an Arthur Murray studio. His breath was irregular against my neck, that peculiar pre-coital tremor that men get.
When the music ended, he pushed me away, gently. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes didn't want to meet mine.
Glennys and Richard waited for us at the table, holding hands and giving us a pair of heavy-lidded glances that spoke volumes.
“I think,” Glennys purred, “it's time we showed you our home.”
Their arrangement with the hotel apparently included a charge account, since we didn't have the bother of a bill. They led us out to the parking lot where a silver Jaguar waited in a parking space right by the front door. I glanced upward, a dizzying experience, and thought I saw Napoleon waving over the penthouse balcony six floors above.
Kuryakin crawled into the tiny back seat and there was a flash of panic in his eyes when Glennys slid in beside him. Richard handed me into the front seat like I was a princess and we roared away down the two short blocks to a formidable-looking garage pressed up against the foot of the mountain. A quiet click on some device tucked into the dashboard, and the heavy door swung wide.
“Open sesame,” I murmured, and Richard grinned proudly.
We pulled in smoothly beside a black Rolls Royce and the door swung silently closed. We all climbed out under the bright garage lights. Richard and Glennys led the way through a metal door with a combination lock, which opened without assistance. Our steps echoed along a hallway with natural rock walls and a gleaming black and white floor. Cameras were set discreetly into the rock of the ceiling and I caught Kuryakin's hand to draw his attention. He gave me a barely perceptible nod, but I was distracted by something sticky on his hand. A ring of red lipstick encircled the base of his index finger. My eyebrows rose. Now how did she manage that without gagging?
Glennys and Richard were waiting in front of a pair of gleaming black doors. There was another combination pad and again the door slid open without anyone touching it.
“How did you do that?” Kuryakin asked, casually. Just a sports-minded jock from the states, impressed by technology he didn't understand.
Proud Richard was glad to oblige. “We have a manned security system. We have been under surveillance since the garage door opened.” I widened my eyes in amazement; it's one of my best looks.
“The guard sent the elevator down for us, just in time for our arrival,” Richard went on. “Simple really. If the guards are busy elsewhere, we can punch in a security code and call it ourselves.” Regrettably, his helpfulness did not extend to showing us the code.
The elevator ride was short and silent, all of us staring at the indicator light just like in an office building, except this elevator served only one floor.
And it was a dandy. The place was even bigger than it looked from our hotel window. The space was wide open with groupings of furniture indicating the different areas living room with big, low couches perfect for reclining on; dining area with a table for 10 and a large bar; entertainment center with television and imposing stereo system and a movie screen. The twin balconies were encased in glass, like our suite, and provided a panorama of town and ocean and sky that gave even the buried half of the room a sense of openness. I began to feel very warmly toward the daring young architect from Hong Kong.
“Oh, Richard,” I breathed. “This is magnificent. What a view! But…I thought there were three balconies on each floor?”
“Yes.” His hands were massaging my shoulders in a friendly way. “The third on this floor is our bedroom.”
He apparently decided that was the information I was fishing for, and bent to nuzzle at my neck.
“What's upstairs?” I gasped it out, trying not to giggle; in a tickle fight, always go for my neck.
“Upstairs is our studio, a guest room, kitchen, maid's room, that sort of thing.” I suspected “that sort of thing” included a guard room.
I glanced around for my partner. Kuryakin was pinned against the stone railing of the corner balcony having his fingers sucked again. His head was bent, his rapt attention on Glennys. He must have sensed my gaze because he jerked his head up.
Making sure Richard's face was still buried in my neck, I made the motions of setting up a communicator. Kuryakin flicked his eyes at Glennys and gave a helpless sort of eyebrow shrug. I nodded and pointed to my own chest.
I turned into Richard's arms and we exchanged the sort of kiss that takes care of all worries of plaque buildup.
When he came up for air, I whispered, “Darling, I'm sorry, but I really need to visit your powder room.”
He groaned somewhere deep in his chest, but apparently decided I had some girly, pre-orgy business to take care of and escorted me through a nearly invisible door into a hallway. The bedroom, the huge bed bathed in moonlight like a stage prop, was on our right. The bathroom was on the left. Further down were two closed doors. Rising on tiptoe to kiss Richard's nose, I shut the bathroom door between us. I stood there for a moment, listening to him breathe deeply on the other side, before his muffled footsteps moved further down the hall, then back toward the living room.
I made a cursory check for cameras and bugs, but I didn't really think Glennys and Richard would want their privacy infringed on that much. I pulled my communicator out of…well, let's just say it was well hidden. Napoleon was instantly on. “Illya? Oh, Bev. I'm glad you called. I didn't want to contact you at a bad moment, but we've got a problem. Petra slipped away from the Kingston agent and hopped a plane. He's here. Regan is following him and is pretty sure he's heading for the nest. Presumably somebody there is expecting him.”
My hands and feet tingled and my heart thudded against my ribs; that good old adrenaline rush that gets agents addicted to this painful profession. “Okay, Napoleon. Why don't you come on over. Unless ole blabbermouth didn't tell us something about the security system, it's going to be pretty easy to take out. I'll send the elevator down for you.”
“I would appreciate it. But how did Illya stick you with all the work?”
“He's entertaining our hosts. Oh, Napoleon, I feel so guilty it's like bringing Peter Pan to an orgy.”
He chuckled. “Well, Tink, just send the elevator down and the Lost Boys will be right up to rescue Peter.”
We closed off.
Now, to find the guard station, take out the guards, shut down security systems, send the elevator and return to the orgy without being missed. Easy, housewives juggle this and more every day of their lives.
I eased open the door. Hallway, empty. I pulled open the first door, and stepped back. Whoa. A walk-in closet neatly fitted with shelves and hooks for the biggest private collection of, um, devices I had ever seen. The closet looked as though it had been custom made for the contents. A place for everything and everything in its place. Except for one empty hook. I gave that a moment's worry, as the smell of leather and strawberries wafted out around me. I carefully shut the door.
Next door, by elimination, must be the staircase. Bingo.
I hoisted my skirts and retrieved my gun a tiny thing with surprising stopping power from the lacy holster that doubled as a garter belt. There was a camera here. I tiptoed quickly back to the bathroom and rooted around under the cabinet something aerosol to obscure the lens. A can of spray paint would have been handy, but of course, there wasn't one. I settled on hairspray and hurried back to the stairwell. Staying off to the side, hopefully out of range, I gave the lens a good spraying of the gooey stuff, enough to blur the picture enough that I might pass for Glennys in 12-inch heels.
The upstairs hallway sported two more cameras. Apparently, security demanded that overnight guests forfeit their privacy. I was guessing security had the balcony up here above the bedroom, which gave them the doorway on my left. I set the hairspray down in a corner and strolled drunkenly up the hallway. Sure enough, the door popped open and a grim-looking fellow in a dark gray jumpsuit peered out.
“Can I help you, ma'am?” I ran my tongue over my lips and gave him The Look. He wasn't having any. “Mr. Evans doesn't like anyone up here in his studio unless he's with them. Shall I call him?”
“Oh, you don't want to interrupt him,” I purred. “He's very busy.” I swayed closer, peering around him into a room that was a schizophrenic mixture of bedroom and high-tech monitors. “But, you're all alone,” I said in tone heavy with sympathy and suggestion.
“Ma'am, I'm going to have to ask you to go back downstairs,” he insisted.
With a sigh of regret, I showed him the gun. His eyes widened comically in surprise, then narrowed as he underestimated the weapon. He reached for his own weapon, and I demonstrated the little gun's stopping power. He went down, clutching at his thigh. It wasn't too bad, although he seemed to think so. I used the handcuff on his belt to fasten him to the leg of a bolted-down counter for the monitoring equipment. I looked around for a handy cloth, and finally gave up and tore a piece off my slip. From his expression, he figured I was going to use my petticoat to bind up his wound; I gagged him with it.
By trial and, thankfully, no errors, I raised the garage door and sent the elevator down. As I was turning to leave, I glanced at a monitor screen and saw Napoleon cautiously peering around the edge of the garage, and blew him a kiss. The guard tried to kick me with his good leg as I left. I blew him a kiss, too.
Downstairs, the party had moved to the bedroom. I stopped in the doorway, taking in the situation. Glennys and Richard had made a Kuryakin sandwich. My temporary partner stood close by the bed, his jacket gone and his shirt gaping open to the waist. Glennys knelt on the bed in front of him, suckling her way across his chest, leaving smeared red O's in her wake. She was working her way resolutely downward.
Richard was pressed close behind him, his big hands rubbing up and down Kuryakin's arms, unobtrusively drawing them back. He had a pair of leather cuffs connected by a chain laid over his arm like a wine steward's towel.
Kuryakin's eyes were closed, his jaw clenched. The only sound in the room was flesh sliding over cloth and heavy breathing and the slight sucking sound from Glennys' lips. I drew in a settling breath, and “arrived.”
“Richard, you naughty boy,” I said, “are those for me?” With comical precision, they all turned to stare at me.
“Where have you been?” Richard demanded, looking past me to the closed bathroom door.
“I couldn't resist taking a peek at your studio,” I said, “but that awful guard chased me down again.”
Richard's eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he was distracted by the sound of a zipper opening. Our Glennys was not going to be dissuaded by a little breech of security.
Kuryakin was still watching me, looking a bit foolish, the way men do when they're wearing someone else's lipstick. I nodded and smiled encouragingly.
I slid up behind Richard, tugging him away. I didn't much like the look he gave me, all gallantry gone, replaced by anger and hunger and an unsettling menace. He clamped his hands around my arms, dragging me close. Trapping me in the circle of his arms, he jerked at the zipper of my dress. His knee was shoved between mine.
I tried backing away, but he came with me, looming massively. His mouth was on mine, forcing my head back. I felt cool air on my back and a sting as he snapped my bra open.
If he didn't run into unexpected security, Napoleon would be here in just a few moments, but this was really going too fast. I stiffened my muscles, trying to straighten and push him off.
Suddenly, I was on the floor, my head ringing. It occurred to me, in a vague sort of way, that the bastard had hit me. Hard. Through tear-blurred eyes, I saw Kuryakin move in on Richard, slamming his fists in from left and right. Richard grunted in pain, but he didn't go down. One of his long arms thrust out, catching Kuryakin on the cheek.
Kuryakin staggered backward and Glennys latched herself to his back like a limpet, clutching her red-tipped fingers into his hair. He staggered under her unexpected weight, and went down. Richard was drawing his foot back for a kick when Napoleon's voice came from the doorway: “Freeze!”
He moved into my line of vision, dressed in rugged black pants and shirt and hiking boots apparently he had been preparing to try his hand at rock-climbing after all. He held his Special in both hands, arms locked, as he moved cautiously, taking in the situation.
There was a muffled response, and Kuryakin pushed up, shoving Glennys off his back. She glared up from the floor, lipstick smeared and hair tangled in her face.
Richard moved abruptly, but froze again when Napoleon's gun fixed on his bellybutton.
“Let's all calm down, shall we?” Napoleon said. “If you would, up against the wall.”
Reluctanly, Richard and Glennys moved.
Napoleon shot a worried glance at Kuryakin, whose nose was bleeding. He eyed the red marks smeared across the pale face and chest. “Are you okay?”
“Fine.” Kuryakin self-consciously zipped his pants and tugged at his gaping shirt before crossing to me and offering me a hand up.
“Where's Petra?” I asked as Kuryakin zipped up my dress.
“Should be here any minute,” Napoleon answered. As if on cue, the familiar tones of a communicator sounded. Kuryakin pulled Napoleon's from his shirt pocket and opened it.
“Oh, hi, Illya,” a woman's voice, with a pleasant Jamaican lilt, came from the tiny pen.
“Regan, where are you?”
“We're at the Emperor, Mr. Petra and me. He just pulled a certain book from a locker next to the swimming pool and I've talked him into handing it over to me.”
There was a moment of silence, while we three closed our mouths.
“The hotel,” Napoleon finally said, sounding amused.
“A locker by the pool,” I chimed in. “They must have arranged the pickup and brought the book down when they came to the pool this morning.”
Richard glared silently but Glennys spat out, “Do you think we want those people in our house? Only invited guests come up here.”
Kuryakin dropped to sit on the corner of the bed and sighed heavily. “There was no need to come up here at all.” He seemed to be talking to himself.
“Cheer up,” I encouraged. “At least the Lost Boys got here in time to rescue you.” He gave me a questioning look, which I chose to ignore.
“Well, now what?” Napoleon asked.
“Now I call the police and have you arrested for burglary and assault,” Richard growled.
“Oh, I don't think so,” Napoleon answered. “We have already spoken to the police about our concerns and they want to be very helpful. Your best bet is to keep quiet and watch your future associations with international organizations and hope everyone is willing to forget this little incident.”
He was probably right; there wasn't much we could charge them with, certainly not enough to be worth the hassle. We had what we had come for. Time for a graceful exit.
“Hold them a minute,” I said, and stepped into the hallway. Five minutes later, we were headed out the doorway. Richard and Glennys glared from the bed, where they were extravagantly bound with leather and chains.
“Have fun, kids,” Napoleon said, waving. “We'll probably be gone by the time you get loose, so this is goodbye.”
I gave them a finger wave and Kuryakin exchanged a long and uncomfortable gaze with Glennys.
Napoleon and Kuryakin stopped in the hallway and looked back at me. “I forgot,” I said, “I left a security guard upstairs. I had to shoot him and really don't feel right leaving him there until those two get loose. I think I better take him to the hospital.”
Between us, we got him down and into the Rolls, after snagging the keys from Richard's pocket. By now, the guard wasn't up to kicking or causing any other disturbance, so I turned down the offer of help. I could use a little time alone.
I eased into the suite an hour later. A table lamp cast a circle of light, enough to show me Kuryakin's dirty clothes tossed on the foot of the couch. He was out on the patio, sprawled in one of the painted metal chairs. He had changed into jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. A glass dangled from one hand.
He didn't look around as I stepped into the doorway. “How is he?” he asked.
“Oh, fine. He claims he isn't Thrush, just some poor schmuck hired for security work. I tend to believe him. Anyway, he's decided not to hold a grudge.”
I pulled up another chair and we stared out at the dark ocean in companionable silence for a while.
“Where's Napoleon?” I asked, finding that I didn't care as much as I thought I would.
“That would be my guess. A couple of Kingston agents arrived and took off with Petra and the book.”
“How're you? Nose not broken?”
“No. Just a little bruised in the ego. I am unaccustomed to performing so ineffectively.” He took a long swallow from the glass.
“Oh, I don't know,” I said. “You kept the bad guys busy long enough to buy me and Napoleon the time we needed. And, you jumped on Richard pretty well when he turned ugly. Thanks for that, by the way.”
“You sure you're okay?”
He shifted irritably in the chair. “It has been an uncomfortable day.”
“You're not used to being treated like a piece of meat?”
I saw the faint glitter of his teeth as he smiled. “As a matter of fact, no, I am not.”
“Aaaaa, you get used to it.”
He turned his full attention on me. “Is it so bad, for women?”
I shrugged. “Like I said, you get used to it.”
“Will it help if I say I respect your skill and intelligence?”
“Sure. Will it help if I say the same?”
“I also happen to admire your dance technique.”
There was a pause. “That should not have happened.”
“Hey, you don't hear me complaining. You're pretty good for a novice. Of course, practice never hurts.”
He set the glass carefully on the small table nearby. “What does that mean?”
“Well… What were the requirements? We've got privacy. We know each other. Maybe there's some unfinished business we ought to take care of.” That's about as close as I've ever come to an engraved invitation. I held my breath, waiting for the RSVP.
After a moment, he abruptly stood and held out his hand. “May I have this dance?”
I smiled up at him in the darkness, and took his hand. He pulled me easily into an embrace. Humming some tune I didn't recognize, he steered me into a spinning dance, around and around in the narrow space of the balcony. The ocean provided a hissing backbeat. The night air had turned cool, but my body was warm all down the front where we touched. His arm was a band of warmth around my back.
It wasn't quite what I'd been prepared for, but nice. No snuffling, no groping. No hurry. I relaxed into his grip and we spun dizzily on and on.
Finally, the humming faded away and he lowered me smoothly into a low dip. I had time to stare up at the scattering of stars, sharp as diamonds in the clear, black sky, and the benign face of the full moon in their midst, before he swooped me upright again.
He was staring at me, the moonlight washing all the color from his eyes and making a halo of his hair. For a moment, he looked so insubstantial, ghostly, that I reached out a hand to touch his face. He turned and brushed a cool kiss into my palm. Such a little thing, and it set my knees shaking with fear the way Richard's aggression had not.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. My extensive experience told me we should be giggling drunkenly, tugging at buttons and belts, whispering obscenities. We should, goddammit, be in bed and naked and hard at it by now.
I grabbed his hand and pulled him through the doorway and into the bedroom. I was, by God, going to get this thing on track. I began shoving buttons through buttonholes, feeling the heat from sun-flushed skin beneath. I pushed the soft cotton off his shoulders and bent to plant a kiss on his chest just above the right nipple.
He pulled away abruptly.
"What the hell...“ But all I had to do was look at him for answer, his arms shackled by the shirt, the smeared ring of lipstick.
"Illya, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking.'
He was pulling the shirt up over his shoulders again, his face frozen into non-expression. 'It would seem," he said flatly, “that we have ended up with the wrong partners again."
The words stung like a slap. "What's that supposed to mean?” I growled in anger. "I said I was sorry.What are you so afraid of?"
"What are you afraid of?” he shot back.
We stood there in the dark room staring at each other for long, silent seconds. I heard my breath sigh out; this was definitely not the way it was supposed to be. “Look, I'm not interested in anything serious, okay? A quick tumble, a good time for one night. That's all. Why does it have to be so complicated?"
"Would it help if I say I won't respect you in the morning?" His tone was bitter and I felt the anger heating me.
I honestly didn't know what I was going to do until I felt my fist connecting with the muscles of his stomach. He doubled up and staggered back a couple of feet, but I had managed to pull the punch a bit at the last moment. “You son of a bitch! Don't you dare judge me. You wanted this, too, remember?"
He straightened slowly, still holding his stomach. "You are perfectly right, Bev, and I apologize."
"Accepted," I said, calming. "And me, too. Are you all right?"
"Well... I must compliment your fitness." He walked carefully to the bed and sank down. I dropped beside him, suddenly feeling 90 years old.
We sat side by side for a while. “This really isn't what I had in mind," I finally said.
“No," he agreed.
"What d'you suppose we're doing wrong?"
I felt him shrug. "I am no more interested in a long-term commitment than you are. But, I don't find a...what did you call it?...a 'quick tumble' satisfying." He sighed in frustration. "I'm afraid I am ill-suited for the times. Lovemaking should mean something. At the least there should be some care taken, something unique exchanged. Not just 15 minutes of anonymous frenzy. Do you understand?"
My stupid knees were doing their dance again. I clamped my hands around them sternly. "Show me," I said.
His hand touched mine, slid up my bare arm to the back of my head. He turned me, gently, and his lips were on my neck, soft as feathers, warm as sun. I shivered as they moved over my ear, along my cheek, almost casually arriving at my mouth. His tongue, tasting of toothpaste and vodka, eased tenderly past my lips.
I closed my eyes, willing myself into passivity. Show me. The bedspread slid smooth and cool beneath my bare back. But my dress was…around my waist. When had he...?
Aaaahhh. The feathers flickered across my neck and chest, closed warmly around the nipple of one bare breast, suckled slowly. I slid my fingers through the fall of hair that tickled my collar bone. More silk, cool and smooth.
His fingers fitted themselves into the hollows between my ribs, his thumbs curved beneath my breasts, a bustier of warm flesh.
I opened my eyes. He was staring down into my face, his expression solemn as a priest in the midst of some sacred ritual. He lowered his head slowly, resting his cheek against my bare belly. I felt the faint scratch of beard on my skin. Dress, slip, panties had melted away.
I curved my hands around his arms, sliding over long muscles and the delicate intricacy of the elbow joints to the bulk of his shoulders, the knobs of bone, the broad plates of shoulder blades, the cobbled flesh of a scar.
The muscles shifted and he slid away from my touch, easing my legs apart. For a moment I felt shamefully exposed, and peculiarly excited by the feeling. Then his soft lips covered me, hiding me, the tentative tongue began a leisurely exploration.
I moaned, my knees drawing up almost reflexively. I think I meant to push him away, and ended up pinning his head against me, my fingers buried in his hair. It was wonderful, heat and buzz, like electricity surging through my belly and thighs. And finally it was unbearable.
I caught his hands and hauled him up to lie on top of me, the brush of his pants between my legs agonizing. His lips, on mine again, tasted musky, salty.
My fingers were infuriatingly clumsy with the button and the zipper of his jeans. When they were open, I slid out from under him, pushed him back onto the bed, skinned off pants and underwear and socks in one sweep. The shirt must have vanished at the same time as my clothes.
He was hard and swollen already. I stretched out on top now, grinding our bellies together, trapping him tightly, and it was his turn to groan and squirm.
I caught his face between my hands and peppered kisses on his cheeks and eyelids and nose and chin before closing on his mouth, and all the while moving against him tightly, faster and faster.
His hands closed firmly around my wrists and we were rolling until I was pinned under him again. His body was taut, motionless, his face pressed against my shoulder and his hair brushing my cheek. His unsteady breath warmed my neck.
"Slow. Down," he finally growled through clenched teeth.
I freed my left hand and ran it gently over the rigid muscles of his back, easing him. Gradually, his body relaxed against mine. I felt his lips brush against the flesh of my shoulder and he shifted to the side to allow his hand to slide slowly down my body to tug gently at my pubic hair and move further, a finger teasing its way inside.
After a minute of this, I pulled his hand away and opened my legs, a silent invitation. He shifted easily and slid into me, smooth as cream. A long sigh of satisfaction emptied my lungs.
He was still for a long moment and then began moving, slowly, letting me feel all of him, feeling all of me. The roar of the ocean pounded against my ears, its sibilant rhythm matching our own. Illya murmured something, his breath tickling in my ear. Russian probably, since I didn't understand any of it, or maybe the ocean distracted me. The rush of waves seemed faster now, still keeping pace with our bodies.
Illya's hand was between us, his clever fingers massaging between my legs. Round and round they moved, in a perfect small circle. I dosed my eyes and saw the diamond stars circling against the backdrop of night, spinning dizzily, with the moon glowing bright in their center. It expanded, brighter and bigger and still brighter, with the stars all swirling around it like long-tailed comets, until it burst in an explosion of glorious gold.
I was lying on the silk coverlet, easing down my arched back, listening to the ocean fade away. Illya jerked against me, his arms rigid and his eyes dosed and his face clenched in a frown of concentration. Once. Twice, again and he was grinding his body into mine. There was a spreading warmth and he dropped against me, gasping.
I patted him emphatically on the shoulder and brushed a warm trickle of sweat from his forehead.
“Well, satisfied?" I murmured.
He raised his head to smile at me, then slipped free and flopped onto his back. I felt the warmth slide out of me, forming a cool pool beneath me on the silk coverlet. I shivered and Illya's arm was around me, comfortable as though we had done this a hundred times. By unspoken agreement, we squirmed up the bed to crawl under the covers. I pillowed my head on his shoulder and wrapped him snugly with an arm and a leg.
"And are you...satisfied?" he asked, the words rumbling into my ear, which was pressed against his chest.
I chuckled softly. Men are so awkward about that part, the ones that care to ask.
“Yes, I believe I am,” I said. "Although I certainly have enjoyed my share of...'anonymous frenzy,' was it? I just might try your style of lovemaking again."
“Yes. But I'm going to need some more practice before we leave; I want to be sure I've got it right." I raised my head to look past his shoulder at the clock I'd left on the bedside table. “Six hours ‘til the plane leaves. We've got time to run through it a couple more times.”
He shook his head. “Just once more, but verrrrry slowly."
And it began again.