by Kathryn Charles
Author's warning: Adult content
"Cruel folk you are, unmatched for jealousy, you gods who cannot bear to let a goddess sleep with a man."
The early autumn day was crisp, sunny with just a trace of frost in the air. The two women riding the fields were a sight to behold. The older, blond with large violet eyes, rode a chestnut mare while the younger, tall with auburn hair and twinkling brown eyes sat astride a very large black stallion whose own high spirits seemed reflected by that of its rider. The pace at which they now rode belied the reckless abandon with which they had just completed their assigned tasks. Knowing that if they returned to the Manor they would be assigned additional duties, they had slowed in the back meadow, walking their horses and taking the time to catch up.
Charlotte Whitelaw, at twenty-three had seen and heard many wild schemes, but this one went far beyond anything else her younger cousin Emma had thought up, executed, and for the most part gotten away with.
"You are going to WHAT?"
Just shy of her twentieth birthday, most casual observers would have thought her the older of the two women. She had the self-assurance and maturity of one many years older.
Charlotte knew that Emma had always been analytical, intellectual to the point of seeming unemotional at times. However, this scheme was definitely taking intellectual curiosity a bit too far. Charlotte was trying to picture Emma's plan, but couldn't believe that her cousin really meant to follow through.
"You can't ASK HIM. Emma, no matter what you may think, there are some things that just aren't done. There are limits, boundaries to what is acceptable. What would you say?"
Emma's smile made it plain that this was neither a whim nor an idle threat. She had thought long and hard about the subject.
"Char, I'll just ask him to show me, to teach me. Its not like I haven't asked him to teach me things before."
Emma's eyes twinkled at the thought of the entire unusual thing she had learned over the years.
"You'd think he was my personal tutor, not one of my father's vice presidents with all the things he's taught me over the years."
Char's violet eyes reflected a growing horror that Emma actually meant to follow through with this. She stopped her horse under a large maple, dismounting meaning to dissuade her headstrong cousin from this course of action before they returned to the rest of the family.
"Emma Kathryn, get off that horse. This is love you're talking about. You can't learn love like you would mathematics, gymnastics, or even picking a lock. Why him, there are dozens of men who want you? Why in God's name do you think that he'd agree? Your father would kill him, and you if he found out."
Emma dismounted lightly, wrapping Ransome's reins around a tree limb she moved to join Char on a tree trunk that had fallen in last winter's storms.
"Char, its sex, not love and the men you refer to are boys, grinning, panting boys who don't have anymore of a clue than I do. Tony is a man, he's experienced, he has a great sense of humor, I trust him, and I like him. Not to mention, he has a body like a Greek God. Why not him?"
Char stood hands on hips looking down at Emma. She was imagining the row that would erupt if Emma's father ever found out what his daughter was considering. She didn't even want to contemplate what would happen if Emma followed through and Sir John found out.
"Have you taken total leave of your senses? He is almost old enough to be your father. Women are an addiction with him. He's known you since you were eight. Even if he wanted to, your father would kill him if he found out."
Emma sighed; Char usually was a lot quicker than this. She'd have to explain again.
"Char, I know all that. You know my father; he'll most likely kill the first man I sleep with, even if I'm married to the poor man at the time. For God's sake, its not like I'm planning on telling him. Tony will have as much reason as I to be discreet."
Pouting, although not at all upset, Emma continued, "Am I so unattractive that Tony will be repelled?"
Char knew and Emma did too that her being unattractive to Tony was not the issue.
"Besides what do I have to lose, I can't see that either you or Tina have had much success going about this the "proper way". Falling in love and falling in to bed. I haven't heard any tales of the earth moving from either of you. By the time I fall in love, I expect to know what it takes to please a man and more importantly, know what I like. Men aren't expected to be inexperienced when they marry. Why should we be? Where's the advantage. Maybe our inexperience is why it seems that most men prefer their mistresses to their wives."
Char sat back down, thoughtful. Emma was right. Neither she nor Christina had tales of wonder to tell as a result of their dating. Christina must never find out what Emma was planning. She'd tell Daniel and telling Daniel would be the same as telling Sir John. Tony did have a body like a Greek God. Charlotte could see herself responding positively to an overture if Tony showed any interest. If Emma could pull it off, maybe she'd share the details. Smiling to herself at the thought she said simply,
"Okay, I see your point, but Emma I don't think this will be near as simple as you think. Sex, whether with or without love tends to get complicated."
In the end it was both as simple as Emma expected and as complicated as Charlotte predicted.
Emma Peel was almost twenty-seven. Love, indeed sex itself, no longer seemed a subject for rational study or blithe decisions. When love finally blindsided her, Venus herself struck Emma with a passion nothing like what Emma had envisioned. A passion she didn't understand and for the first time in her life couldn't control in revenge for her earlier cavalier treatment of the subject. Peter Peel had come into her life five years earlier, sweeping her into a emotional and crazy relationship, bringing her both indescribable joy and immeasurable pain. Their relationship had caused rifts among her family that to this day had not been healed.
Peter had been eight years older than Emma. A tall, contoured blond with startling blue eyes, his body had appeared sculpted as if from marble. He had a persistent daredevil grin and enthusiastic personality. He was already a successful test pilot and a man who got what he wanted. He wanted Emma. Though it had taken persistence and more than a little persuasion, he had eventually won her over. Their courtship had been full of false starts, conflict, and an attraction that Emma couldn't ignore. Despite his faults, Peter Peel excited her and interested her in a way none of the young gentlemen who had attempted to capture her fancy ever did.
Though it hadn't been without its problems and challenges, life with Peter had been exciting and fulfilling. Their relationship had eventually over time become one of partnership, with Emma as the 'junior partner'. Comfortable, still incredibly passionate at times, but solid more than anything else. Unlike Emma's earlier image of her ideal mate, Peter never was what one might call an adventuresome lover. However, the passion and absolute adoration he felt for his wife made up in many ways for his lack of variety and refusal to go beyond what he saw as proper boundaries. Emma had seen these restrictions as the price to be paid for everything else that he brought to her life. In the slightly less than three years they were married their love had matured. No longer dewy eyed newlyweds, they had actively began pursuing their dream of a family. Indeed, Emma had, at the time Peter disappeared, believed that she might be pregnant.
Peter's disappearance had been the beginning of her present never ending nightmare. She had watched him take off for what was to be a routine test flight. It wasn't until much later that she learned the truth. Her last sight of Peter had been that damned grin and cocky wave with which he went through life. Two hours later the crash team came to their door. When she saw them she knew. The senior Aero-Tech scientist on the project and the RAF liaison started to explain, but she didn't really hear them. It was as if the entire world crashed down around her. She never even realized that they had the chaplain with them. Official reports speculated that he had crashed into the Amazon. As neither the plane nor his body had ever been found no one knew for certain what had caused the accident. Witnesses to the accident said that it appeared that the plane simply disintegrated.
Shock had gotten her through the first week. She was simply too stunned to react. For the first time in her life, Emma had let others decide thing for her. What kind of ceremony, where to put the memorial stone, what to put on it. Peter's mother had organized everything. Lady Caroline and Lord Robert had been kind, but an unspoken accusation had been ever present. Peter's parents had expected her to get their son to stop flying. She hadn't even tried.
All the rituals and sympathy that one normally takes comfort from meant nothing to her. By the time the memorial service was held ten days later, Emma had unconsciously convinced herself that he was going to walk back into her life. After the ceremony, it took her three months to believe that he wasn't going to walk through the door. On his birthday, the dark oppressive reality finally hit. Her cousin Charlotte found her curled into a little ball, crying uncontrollably, unwilling or unable to move for two days. Her first action after this uncharacteristic fit was to sadly remove the rings that Peter had placed so lovingly on her finger. She imagined she could still feel him kissing them gently during their marriage ceremony to seal his pledge.
Though no one unacquainted with her private life, casually watching her as she zipped along in her Lotus, commanding a meeting or mingling with guest at social events would realize it Emma struggled daily to deal with her grief, the guilt she felt, and the emptiness of her life. When Peter disappeared, Emma lost her belief that she could exercise control of her life. Eight months later she hadn't regained that belief. Past realities from her Father's lessons about self-control, duty, and responsibility were ignored. They meant nothing. Her responsibilities to the firm and various charities were laid aside as if they didn't exist. For twenty-six years she had been in control, using her intelligence to make sense of life. Now she fell into a black hole of despair, suddenly unsure of everything she believed and held dear. Anger, grief, guilt, and raw nerves dominated her days, and tormented her nights. She withdrew from society to avoid exposing what she saw as a shocking lack of self-control. She particularly avoided her friends and family to hide her inability to regain control of her emotions in the months after Peter's death.
Over the last couple of months, more to shut up the nagging of her friends, family and business associates than out of any real attempt to move on, she had slowly started to resume some semblance of her normal activities. Her demeanour lacked the fire of old, rather she moved through the world in a distant, even slightly desperate manner. Rather than an impediment, this new vulnerability made her even more attractive that she had been before.
The easiest part of her life to reclaim had been work. Overseeing Research and Development at Knight Industry, of which she was the majority stockholder, occupied her time, she remained quite successful at it, but research no longer held her interest in the way it had before Peter's death.
Her social life was another issue altogether. Being around she and Peter's friends was too painful to contemplate; her own friend's sympathy drove her mad. Parties with strangers didn't interest her and most of the people she met bored her. She tried the fast lane and found it populated by losers. People so unsure of their own value, they turned to artificial stimulation to pass the time.
Emma knew that something vital was missing, both from her life and herself. She was becoming increasingly restless, lacking any real direction for the first time in her life. She needed something to stimulate her and someone to share her interests. Someone with whom she could share her love of dancing, riding, shooting, fencing, travel, mountain climbing. Someone she could talk to. Someone who didn't reek of sympathy. Someone who wouldn't try to smother or protect her. Her female friends and local family members shared few of her more athletic and daring interests. Those who did were occupied with their own lives. Charlotte, her favorite cousin, now roamed the world as a photographer gaining increasing fame and prestige with each new assignment. Char called and spent as much time as she could with Emma, but it was not much. Tony, a dear friend, business associate and former tutor was trying to help, but even he couldn't reach beyond Emma's grief to re-ignite her passions or her former level of self-confidence.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. The kind that normally fed Emma's need to be active. However, the day was not destined to be one spent enjoying outdoor activities. Emma was expected at Knight Industry headquarters for a meeting to prepare for the upcoming stockholder's meeting. The meeting had been tentatively scheduled for 11:30 AM. Emma dawdled a bit, wanting to put it off as long as possible. By the time she left her penthouse, traffic was a mess. It had remained so all morning so that a trip that should have taken thirty minutes had now taken almost three hours. She called to let them know she would be late. Daniel Sheldon, who headed the three-man team that managed day to day business, had recognized her lack of enthusiasm and would still be angry when she arrived. Daniel's and her relationship still had not recovered fully from Peter breaking up with Daniel's daughter then pursuing Emma. They were, however making progress. Daniel had been the most persistent nagger in the campaign to force her back among the living. She loved him for it, but wished that he would once in his life understand how she felt. To minimize any unpleasantness Emma was concentrating on getting to the offices as quickly as she could.
Emma sat stopped at the light two blocks from the office when she couldn't help noticing a very unusual man getting into his car in the next block. He stood well over six-foot tall. He had brown hair, and a pleasant, if not overwhelmingly handsome face. She also couldn't help noticing how well proportioned he appeared to be, wide shoulders tapering to lean hips. Not a Greek God by any stretch of the imagination, but quite attractive. What originally caught her eye was the way the man had so casually leapt over the door of his very old, very traditional car. Mrs. Peel smiled. Her social and business circles were quite vast; she could recall only one person whose description was anything quite like the man she was observing. Steed, John Steed. One of her father's wartime friends, if that's what you wanted to call them. One of the many men that her father had taken great pains to ensure that Emma never met. Her father had been like that; attempting to protect Emma from people and situations that he felt might incite Emma's more passionate or reckless nature. If rumors were to believed, Steed, as he preferred to be called was a dangerous man. Emma had a sudden impulse to meet him. She sped up, passing the car in front of her on the left so that she could be right behind him when he pulled out. Maybe, just maybe this was the tall, dark, stranger the fortune teller had mentioned. Emma laughed to herself at the thought.
As Steed pulled from the curb his eyes casually glanced into his rear view mirror. There was a beautiful woman in a Lotus convertible behind him. He hadn't noticed the car as he started Fido. Idly he wondered where she had come from. She was someone he knew for certain that he had never met, yet she looked very familiar. She drove with the top down on the car, giving him a magnificent view of auburn hair, an attractive face, highlighted by a somewhat strange off center smile, and dark brown eyes. He was watching her rather than the road when he realized that the light ahead had turned red. Slamming on the brakes, his Bentley came to a sudden stop. The car behind him was not quite quick enough in responding to his sudden move and he felt himself being slightly forward as the cars collided.
Hopping over the door, Steed immediately moved to ensure that the lady, who by now had exited her car to inspect the damage, was unhurt.
"Are you all right?" Steed voice echoed his concern.
The tall beauty smiled slightly and nodded yes that she was fine.
"I'm terribly sorry about this. I missed the light changing."
He didn't mention why he had missed the light, that he had been distracted staring at her in his mirror. He joined her in appraising the damage to her front bumper.
"I see," the vision spoke, no hint of reproach in her voice, "it seems your decision was fated to ruin my front end."
Steed swallowed his impulse to tell this nymph that her "front end" looked fine to him. She didn't strike him as the type to enjoy such a sophomoric response.
Emma was not angry with him. She realized that if she hadn't let the sudden urge to meet him overcome her, she could have braked sooner and avoided hitting him at all.
"May I have the pleasure of knowing whom I've bumped into?" Her voice held a hint of mirth, rather than the anger Steed had expected.
"Steed, John Steed, at your service," he said, tipping his bowler slightly, "And you are ?"
At those words Steed felt a rush of recognition, Sir John's mysterious daughter. The one John had bragged about for years, yet kept out of England as much as possible. Married a test pilot, hadn't she? Her husband had crashed somewhere less than a year ago? Although Sir John was dead and the Hermes group no longer held their quarterly poker games, Steed had heard both of her marriage and that she had been widowed.
The woman continued her introduction, "Mrs. Emma Peel."
She was much too young and too beautiful to be a widow, he thought, and felt a brief touch of regret. Then suddenly Steed had an inspiration, If everything that Sir John had said was true, this might be a very fortunate turn of events.
"I believe I knew your father, Sir John Knight?"
Steed wanted very much to verify her identity. The smile on her face became one of bemusement as she nodded yes.
"Let me make this up to you?" Steed voiced his idea eagerly, "I'll have a tow come for your car, I'll pay for the repairs. As I'm currently at leisure let me entertain you while your car is being repaired."
Steed spoke quickly, not his normal manner of speech, but something told him he didn't have much time to make this work. "Today would be a perfect day for a ride, I have horses nearby. If I remember correctly your father said you were a demon on a horse. You do ride don't you, my dear? Afterward, perhaps you would care to join me for a quiet gourmet meal at this little bistro I know about fifteen minutes from here."
Steed seemed harmless enough. He certainly wanted to entertain her, even if only as long as it would take to repair her car. He was very polished, she gave him that. His verification of knowing her Father made her curious. She'd always been curious about her Father's poker buddies. The Hermes group. The one place he had never allowed her to accompany him. She knew it wasn't because of the gambling. Her father had taken her to Monte Carlo enough. It had something to do with the men in the group themselves. Emma found herself seriously wishing she could play along with Mr. Steed's plan.
"I'm sorry, I have a business meeting, one that I am already late for," Mrs. Peel said. "Mr. Steed, I do appreciate your offer to take care of the car, but it isn't truly necessary."
"Oh, I am sorry to hear that. Well, perhaps another time. As for the car, no gentleman would allow a lady to take financial responsibility for something that is entirely their fault," Steed grinned, "And, please, call me Steed. Everyone does. May I at least deliver you to your meeting?"
"Actually, I "
"Emma, are you all right?"
The tall black haired Greek who spoke these words put his arm around Mrs. Peel's shoulders. He seemed quite possessive, and very familiar. Mrs. Peel's reaction surprised Steed. She seemed slightly peeved, rather unhappy that this gentleman had appeared when he did. The mystery was quickly cleared up as introductions were made.
"I'm fine. Tony Anastophalus, meet John Steed. Mr. Steed, Mr. Anastophalus is one of the gentlemen I am supposed to be meeting with right now."
George's son, Steed smiled, what a day, meeting two of his oldest friends' children. He wondered not so idly what the Anastophalus's had to do with Knight Industry. Mrs. Peel hadn't noticed his distraction, but was continuing her explanation.
"Tony is on our board. I'm afraid I'm more than a little late. He and my management committee have been waiting for me for close to an hour."
Emma stopped and pointed to a rather imposing building in the next block. Three gray haired men stood on the front steps. Watching.
"Regretfully, I'm afraid I shall have to decline your kind offer of a ride. I believe the posse has discovered me."
"Emma Kathryn," Anastophalus's voice was sharp, his offence at the tone of Mrs. Peel's voice quite apparent. "We were simply looking out the window when we saw the accident. I will inform the others that you'll be up in a few minutes."
With that said he stalked off. A suspicion began to form in Tony's mind. Steed; Tony knew he had heard that name before, but couldn't quite place it. Emma seemed to know him, although Tony knew for a fact that she had never mentioned him. What was Emma up to?
"I suppose I should explain." The smile on her face was one of wry resignation.
Steed found her reaction refreshing. Smiling back at her seemed inordinately easy.
"Actually, it's not necessary. Why spoil a delightful interlude with unpleasant details."
Steed took her arm in his and escorted her to the front desk inside Knight Industry's corporate headquarters.
"If you'll just give me your key and allow me to borrow a phone, I shall endeavour to have your car repaired before you finish. Oh, about what time will that be?"
Mrs. Peel looked over to the elevators where the four men now stood, seemingly arguing over whether to return and drag her upstairs or to go up and wait. She sighed, obviously not relishing the thought of the afternoon's meeting.
Turning back to Steed, she smiled brightly, "given their mood, I'd say about the time hell freezes over or 8:00 PM, whichever comes first."
"I'll meet you here with the car, then."
She watched him as he bowed and turned to leave. He moved silently to the door, away from the bustle of her headquarters, an athletic elegance about the way he moved made him quite enjoyable to watch. As he moved out of sight she sighed and turned to go upstairs and deal with her board.
The meeting was long and quite stressful. Knight Industry had 'only' shown 8.7% growth in net earnings during the last fiscal year. Although this figure beat the industry average by half, it wasn't the double-digit increase that the shareholders had come to expect under Emma's leadership. Company shareholders were the one group of people that Emma knew would have no sympathy. Not this year or any other year. Lewis Carlton would again call for her resignation. He did every year, Emma couldn't see why this year would be different or why her four advisers should be concerned. They had the votes and the confidence to defeat any motion that Carlton made. They didn't adjourn the meeting until she finally became angry at the four men's dogged insistence that they needed to be prepared, with their insistence that they cover every point over and over again.
Emma slammed the annual report she was holding down hard on the oak table in Knight Industry main Boardroom. They had been covering the same territory for almost nine hours. The four men looked up, stunned. Emma never let her anger show in public, at least not without warning.
"Gentleman", Emma started, her voice quiet, but the anger quite evident, "We are going round and round over nothing. Our earnings beat the average. We have three projects slated to come to fruition during the next two quarters and we just won the Brantwell Prize for Innovation. This board has nothing to apologize for. Carlton and his cabal try to incite a rebellion every year. He'll make his usual demand that I resign for the good of the company. I can't help the fact that I am a woman. If he and his cronies don't like our results they can sell out. Hell, I'll buy them out at a premium if they want. I will not however resign or allow them to force me out. Period, end of discussion."
Emma seemed taller and there was more animation in her eyes than at any moment since Peter died. As she looked at the four suddenly grinning men Emma realized that it hadn't been the stockholder's reaction to the earning news that they had been concerned about, it was her reaction to the stockholders. They were afraid that she might give up. Had she really become so meek that four of the men who knew her best would actually consider that she would give up her father's legacy? That was a very uncomfortable thought.
Emma didn't finish until well after ten. Tony walked her out. Her car as promised was at the front steps of the building. Steed was no longer there. Emma hadn't really expected him to be, but felt disappointed all the same. In the car she found a note. "Mrs. Peel, Sorry, I had to leave. I will endeavour to make it up to you when I return. J. Steed
Emma Peel's public image was one of a somewhat arrogant, unemotional and untouchable creature. Part of it was her height, her beauty, and the way that she carried herself. Her studied aloofness and the fact that she never tried to hide her intelligence made her quite overwhelming at times. Even Tony felt it on occasion. While Emma took pains to remember and greet every Knight employee by name, many employees held with the notion that she memorized their files so she could impress them. Several employees of Knight Industry's had christened her the Ice Queen when she joined the company part time when she was only eighteen. The nickname stuck. Very few people looked beyond the public persona to the private person. Even with the death of her husband most employees were too intimidated by her to properly express their sympathies. It was probably better that way. Emma was very uncomfortable with expressions of sympathy and public displays of emotion.
Tony Anastophalus knew that the words "cold or frigid" should never be used to describe the company owner and Managing Director of Knight Industry's research division. Emma religiously followed her father's life long dictates about proper behavior, self-control, and never showing weakness or fear in public. Nonetheless, her private behavior was very far removed from her public image. She was funny, mischievous, laughed easily, and cared sometimes too much. Tony knew too that no matter how very good Emma was at presenting an outward image of self-contained poise and unshakable composure, there came a point when she subtly betrayed her actual emotions and desires, even in public. These unguarded moments were rare and often unnoticed by people who didn't know her well. Often these feelings and desires were conveyed by something as subtle as a look, or a smile. Tony couldn't help but note the excited look on Emma's face as she anticipated meeting Steed and her look of disappointment as she read the note. Obviously, Emma was even more taken with Mr. Steed than Tony had thought earlier in the day. Tony had seen that mixture of curiosity and confident expectation on Emma's face before. Seen it with Peter and earlier with himself. He recognized, even if she didn't exactly what Emma was interested in and it had nothing to do with the car.
As Emma drove away Tony stood contemplating this turn of events and remembering their shared history from when he had been the object of that look.
It had all started innocently enough. A request, tell me, show me, teach me. Emma must have made those requests a thousand times during the slightly more that twelve years that Tony had known her. As she grew from the mischievous waif that he first knew to the then twenty year old woman who addressed him, Tony had watched her, explained more things than were probably proper and enjoyed his role of surrogate older brother, mentor, and full time friend. She was a very beautiful young woman, of course, but Tony had never really seen her in that light. She was just Emma. Now she was asking him to teach her some of the most sensuous dances that the Mediterranean had ever produced.
Tony wasn't sure that Emma was really ready for these dances, he knew he wasn't prepared to teach her. She was twenty, in many ways mature beyond her years, but romantically Emma was a neophyte. Her reaction to the young men who swarmed around her was one of disinterest. She didn't even flirt with them. Somehow, that seemed to make them work harder to get her attention. Tony couldn't imagine how she would react to some of the more physical aspects of the dances. Saying no worked for a while, but once Emma set her mind to something there was no dissuading her. Tony eventually gave in when he believed that Emma was preparing to learn them from his younger brother. Stan was impetuous, hot blooded, and Tony had no doubt that he would be inclined to attempt a pass if he came in close contact with Emma. . It wouldn't do at all for Emma to break Stan's arm. Tony told himself that he was capitulating to avoid any unpleasantness between the families. It didn't occur to him until after Acapulco that he had been jealous that Emma might turn to Stan.
Dancing, not the polite socially acceptable waltz or even a fox trot, but dances filled with hot erotic rhythms and physical interactions designed to make the blood boil and to excite the senses. The beat of the music and the closeness required to complete complex movements required one to be very comfortable with physical contact with one's partner. In many ways Tony found Emma was as close to perfect as a partner as he had ever danced with. Her years of martial arts training and memory made it easy for her to remember the movements after they had blocked them out without the music just a few times. Her gymnastics made her very supple and fluid when moving. The lessons went very well and Emma didn't seem at all disturbed by, but rather amused by the need to move ones hips and torsos together while in physical contact. She easily melded her body into Tony's where appropriate, but expressed no untoward physical excitement or desire to go beyond the physical contact necessary to be very good during the lessons or during the couple of months when they later went to clubs to practice. It was the one thing that Tony found kept her from being the perfect partner. Her dancing was too bloodless.
Shortly after their last lesson, just as the two families were enjoying themselves on vacation, Emma dropped the next bombshell.
"Tony, teach me. Please? Now!"
First Bridge, then sword fighting, then the backstroke, later picking a lock, with each new country a new language, and finally even dancing. Tell me, show me, and teach me Tony, please? Insatiable curiosity combined with a rare intelligence and grace had allowed her to be the most apt of pupils. Show her once, maybe twice and she made it her own. Mostly the subjects were ones that she could research, learn the rudiments from books. This though was completely different. Never in Tony's dreams would he have believed that she would ask him to teach her about love, or to be completely accurate sex. At first he thought she was joking. Then he didn't know whether to be flattered or angry. His male ego didn't relish the thought of being Emma's latest science project.
Though the night was late, Tony continued to stand before Knight Industry headquarters. He stood remembering the first times that he and Emma had been truly alone.
It had all started with those four little words. Tony, Please teach me. Then when he didn't appear to take her request seriously, her dive from the cliffs. The look that Emma had given him as he yelled at her for her irresponsibility, both extremely lascivious and full of naked desire unnerved him. Never before had he experienced the sensation of thinking of Emma as a woman. The knowledge that her desire for him wasn't just intellectual caused an erotic spasm of recognition throughout his body, starting with his realization that Emma was not only serious about her request that he teach her about making love, but that he wanted very badly to do just that. This irresistible desire that he felt didn't fit with his self-image as a mature, experienced man, it belonged to one of the callow, sex-crazed adolescents who hung about Emma as flies to honey. But his body wasn't paying any attention to him. He felt himself grow hard at the thought of initiating Emma, knowing that, sex, like everything he had taught her would be something that she would excel at. How to manage it without Sir John or his father finding out. Now that was what Tony saw as the real challenge and the real danger. He didn't count on Emma's skill at planning a campaign, or her ability to appear completely innocent.
Emma broached the subject of the Inca ruins at Tepaxa during dinner later that evening. Anthropology was one of her varied interests, one that neither her father, nor anyone else at the table shared. Sir John, never one to let Emma stray too far refused to even consider her going on to Tepaxa alone. When Emma suggested that Tony could accompany her as a chaperon, he'd been so astonished at the ease with which Emma was attempting to be alone with him for almost three days that he had almost given the game away. It took him a few moments to convey the proper level of irritation that Sir John would expect at this interruption of his vacation. Secretly, he was delighted at the thought. In the end of course, he'd grumpily agreed and Sir John had thanked him for his willingness to indulge his daughter at the expense of his own plans. It occurred to Tony that Emma was better at hiding her real motives than anyone had ever imagined and that Sir John, if he found out the truth would kill him or worse.
Less than twenty-four hours later Tony and Emma were at the ruins. They would meet back up with the rest of the family in three days time. The couple spent the afternoon exploring the temples, climbing the pyramids and viewing sites where ceremonial human sacrifice took place. Tony was surprised that Emma seemed to move from site to site without exploring them completely and that she took almost six rolls of film. As the sun started to go down, Emma turned to him, her eyes were sparkling. Deep dark eyes gazed at him from a perfectly sculpted and surprisingly mischievous face. Holding out the film, she raised her right eyebrow and used her free hand to lazily flick back an errant strand of auburn hair.
"I think these pictures should be enough to convince Daddy that you had a miserable time being dragged among the ruins for the "whole three days", don't you?
'Cunning she-devil.' Tony's thought didn't get any further. Emma leaned over and kissed him. Shyly at first, but then as he responded she let her enthusiasm show. Tony broke away knowing that he needed to continue this in private. The hurt look he saw in her eyes made his heart break a little. Emma didn't yet realize her power to entice. He kissed her check and whispered.
"In private, Emma. In private."
Her answering grin told him that she understood completely. That night they had dinner in a small, but luxurious hotel where Sir John's secretary had booked them a two-bedroom suite. Afterwards, they went dancing. Hot Latin music. The danced many of the dances that Tony had taught Emma over the last months. There was nothing bloodless about the heat that was generated between them. Tony could feel Emma's desire, a sexual hunger that Tony knew she had never experienced before begin to grow. Tony continued to dance, softly describing what all he wanted to do to her long after it became apparent that Emma was ready to retire. Tell me, show me, teach me. Tony was teaching her his first and perhaps most crucial lesson about sex. Waiting and wanting, is a very effective aphrodisiac.
Now, almost seven years later, Tony could feel himself grow hard as he remembered that first night and the nights that followed.
Naked Emma reminded Tony of a statue. The small triangle of silky hair that proved, beyond any doubt, that Emma was a natural redhead accentuating the paleness of her breasts. Her breasts while smaller than Tony's ideal were in Tony's eyes, close to perfect in every other detail. Her nipples stood up proudly; hard little buds demanding attention even though Tony hadn't yet touched them. Her years of physical activities made her body compact, her skin soft. Tony could feel the hidden power in her limbs and the pent up energy contained within Emma's lithesome body. Slowly that first night, Tony explored her body, gently exploring her subtle curves, while he gently kissed her face, her mouth, and caressed her breasts. Tony luxuriated in the knowledge that no man had ever touched her this way, knew that Emma was content at this point to let him set the pace. Knowing that when it was time she would give up her virginity to him. She would give it to him because she liked him, because she trusted him, because she wanted him. Tell me, show me, teach me. Tony, please .
Tony felt her fingers tangle in his hair, felt her body shift impatiently under his touch. He heard her soft moans of pleasure. Gently he searched for the moistness that he knew he would find within the pale red triangle between her legs. Once he found the soft cleft between her legs, he began to massage it, then to probe the opening at the base of the triangle. First a finger, then two. Felt her rise up to meet him, to attempt to take what he offered. Her eyes were glazed; he could read her surprise at the strength of the physical and emotional feelings that his actions were engendering. As her breath became more ragged, Tony shifted position to add his mouth and tongue the activities. As his tongue entered the tight area between her legs, Emma's sharp intake of breath made it quite obvious that she was on the brink. Tony backed off for a few moments and then returned to take her as high as he could this first time.
Tony felt Emma began to shake, the muscles within her vagina began to contract around his fingers. He felt her alternately attempt to push his head away and pull it closer. Her moans escalated to the point that Tony feared that Sir John might hear them from almost two hundred miles away. Tony held her until the shaking stopped and her breathing returned to normal.
"Wow! I don't recall the headmistress mentioning anything like that when she taught us about the bird and bees. When she advised us to be prepared to do our wifely duty. Makes me wonder if its true those who can do and those who can't teach."
Emma's grin was impish and her voice still excited as she expressed verbally to Tony everything she had felt. Tony discovered that both her enthusiasm and the sheer delight that she was expressing were very erotic. It was as if a key had unlocked something within her soul. Tony had never seen or heard her be so open, even in private.
"Tony," Emma suddenly turned serious, "what about you? I mean isn't this supposed be a two-way street?"
Emma placed one hand on Tony's chest as she asked. Tony didn't know when a single touch had so enflamed him. And so they began again with Emma exploring Tony's body as he explored hers. At first, Emma's touch was playful. Then as she became comfortable with Tony's reactions she began to explore his body in earnest, intent it seemed on bringing as much pleasure to Tony as he had to her. Emma began to stroke his penis, seemingly mesmerized by the growth in length and girth that these actions engendered. She used her other hands to cup his balls, gently rolling the stones within the soft skin. It was too much to bear. The added pressure was too much. Tony knew that there was no way he could ignore his own desires this time. Carefully he disengaged from Emma, laying her back on the bed, telling her what he wanted to do next. She smiled seductively.
"I'd say you are either very perceptive or your reading my mind Tony."
Then she said those words that for Tony had permanently taken on a whole new meaning.
"Teach me Tony, Please .!"
Tony positioned himself to enter her. Deflowering virgins might be fun for the man, but Tony knew from experience that the first time could be very painful for a woman. That was one reason why he had made sure that Emma experienced her first orgasm without penetration. No way was he going to betray the trust she had placed in him. He intended to proceed very slowly and to stop if it appeared he was hurting her. Emma however had other ideas. She bucked her hips up when he was less than a quarter of the way taking him fully. Tony found himself with a she tiger on his hands. Passions and emotions that Emma had kept locked tightly within her for years were suddenly free to run wild.
The remainder of the three days were spent exploring, but not the ruins. Emma had read every book about sexuality and sex that she had been able to find. She came up with ideas and positions that Tony had never tried.
"But Tony, if you read Japanese ."
Was one of her explanations. Maybe sex was a subject one that she could research, learn the rudiments from books. Tony had never considered that her resourcefulness and thoroughness would pay such dividends. Their "lessons" continued for almost six months. Everything was light, carefree except for Tony's concern that Sir John would figure out what was going on. Emma's assurances that her father hardly thought of her as female, much less a young woman didn't make Tony feel any better. Then Sir John died and Emma suddenly found herself with too much responsibility. Tony rather unwillingly reverted to his former role of friend and advisor. Six months later Emma met Peter Peel.
Yes, Tony had seen that look on Emma's face before. It might not be now, but eventually, Emma would recognize her desire and when she did .. Tony wondered if John Steed had any idea what he was in for. And if he were man enough to appreciate it.
Forty-eight hours later, John Steed knew a lot more about the elusive Mrs. Peel. She had the skills, but he didn't know for sure if she had the right temperament for the job, or the interest. At noon he was meeting with Lord Stanton about replacing his old partner. Mrs. Gale, after one close shave too many, had first left for a long holiday, then without returning to England, had decamped to America three months ago. Steed didn't really expect her to return, at least not in the foreseeable future. Steed, partially for appearance sake, and partially because of his own sensibilities preferred using a female for those times when he needed a partner. Much to the discomfort of his bosses, Steed made a habit of involving trusted amateurs. People who had no association to undercover work. It made it infinitely easier to travel throughout the country with fewer suspicions arising than if he and one of the blue suiters showed up. Steed knew people wondered about his comings and goings. Working with a woman made his sudden trips and disappearances seem less suspicious, even if it did give him a reputation as something of a bounder. From Steed's perspective, Emma Peel had much to recommend her as his next partner.
The Director's reaction surprised Steed.
"I can't believe your audacity. You want to WHAT? Steed have you totally lost your mind?"
Lord Stanton was not normally quite this animated, even when angry. Steed sat nonchalantly watching the big man stalk back and forth. He had been listening for almost five minutes to Stanton's explosion. Stanton must have repeated these three statements at least ten times. Steed decided it was time to redirect the matters into his own hand.
"Lord Stanton, I would respectfully submit that you aren't looking at this clearly. Mrs. Gale proved to be an excellent addition. Mrs. Peel if everything I've learned thus far is to be believed presents us with an even greater opportunity. She already knows most of the players in the defense industry and the major power players in the city. We'd need to research her more fully, test her first, of course, and there is no guarantee that she'd even be interested, but if she were " Steed let the rest of the sentence hang in the air, unspoken.
Stanton sat down. Steed was going to insist. Bullheaded, wrong minded, but the best the Ministry had. His use of amateurs had been very successful in the past, but this time he was wrong, potentially dead wrong. Well, Stanton would make one more attempt at dissuading him, this time calmly.
"Steed, Emma Peel is very high profile. Her own achievements make the papers on a regular basis. Plus, she was born into not one, but two very distinguished families. Her family tree is as long as my arm. The Whitelaw family has had ties to royalty for more than two hundred years and the Knights appear on all the "richest" lists. With her marriage she entered a third. I don't think that Lord Robert and Lady Caroline would be pleased to find out that their daughter in law was working, even unofficially as a spy. Her friends and family rank among the most powerful in England. You get her killed and there will be hell to pay."
Stanton stopped talking for just a moment. He seemed to be arguing with himself over what to say next.
" Look, both you and I knew Sir John. I knew him well for over forty years. Sir John kept Emma away from most of the people he worked with during the war. I think George Anastophalus, Adrienna Mauro, and Daniel Stanton are the only exceptions. Admittedly, I don't know Emma well. However, I know enough to recognize that there is no doubt she has the intelligence and the courage to be your partner."
Stanton paused slightly, hi face taking on an almost pleading look. "Steed, there are things that you may not be aware of that make Emma a much greater risk, both to herself and to you, than either Dr. Keel or Dr. Gale. Please reconsider?"
Steed smirked a little. It was a smile that was meant to discomfort the Director. In the last forty-eight hours several of the people Steed had talked to had made the same statement in one form or another.
'Things that you may not be aware of make her a risk.' "Funny you should say that. Please enlighten me as to the "things", if you would?"
The Director got a by now very familiar, strange look on his face. "Steed, I can't or more accurately won't discuss this with you. If you go ahead with this, ask Emma. If she won't tell you, then I have to respect her wishes."
Steed stood. He wanted to make it perfectly clear to the Director that he was moving ahead with the project.
"In the last forty-eight hours all of my contacts have had nothing but praise for the lady's intelligence, her physical skills, her accomplishments and her personal integrity. This warning that you are giving me. I've heard it before. No one has been willing to explain, to betray what you see as the lady's trust. I should think that a woman who inspires such loyalty would be an asset this group could really use. Unless you expressly prohibit me I am going to sound her out." With that he turned to leave.
"Steed, wait." Stanton seemed on the verge of making a full disclosure, then thought better. "Steed, before you talk with her, do a complete investigation. Test her in the real world. George Anastophalus can help you. Then, if you still want to go ahead, you'll have my blessing."
Stanton's tone changed drastically, Steed had never actually heard him sound threatening before.
"Steed, one other thing. Hands off, she's not to be one of your casual flings. Either this is a professional arrangement or you leave her alone. You don't and you will answer to me. Are we clear?"
Steed's eyebrows arched in disbelief. No way would Steed ever deny to himself that he was attracted to Emma Peel. She was definitely beautiful and he'd felt an allure that was unusual, both in its strength and in the unusual emotions that being around her engendered in him. Steed wasn't used to having a woman impact him emotionally. He had promised himself long ago that sex was fine, but love was way too complicated.
Still Steed prided himself on his professionalism. He had proven over and over that he could work with women that he was attracted to, never acting on the attraction. Now, the Director was implying that he couldn't or wouldn't behave with a woman that he had met only once. Nothing that he learned thus far made a casual fling seem at all likely from the lady's point of view. He had expressed nothing but a profession interest to the Director. Certainly nothing he had said or done would imply that this was a personal attraction. This compulsion that all the men he spoke with had to try and protect her intrigued him. She didn't seem at all to need protecting. Mrs. Emma Peel was becoming more of a mystery with every person he spoke with. A mystery he very much wanted to solve.
Charlotte Whitelaw cutting short an assignment had returned to London the day before. Sir Arthur Doyle had called her in Prague, requesting her assistance. Sir Arthur was one of Emma's Godfathers. He had been there when she was born. Emma had been avoiding Arthur, even skipped his last two parties and Arthur was very concerned. Char made it her mission to make sure that Emma attended Sir Arthur's party. It had taken her all day to convince Emma, and then Emma had only agreed to attend for an hour or so. Just enough that Arthur would know she was there, but not long enough to have to actually mingle.
Emma and Charlotte made quite an entrance. Both beautiful accomplished, charming, but there was more. In the years before Peter, they had been 2/3rds of what society euphemistically referred to as the "Furies". Three cousins who seemed to bewitch and bewilder most of the men they met. Now, Christina no longer spoke to Emma and so it was just the two. Society, being the polite creature that it is, gossiped mightily and not at all kindly about the events that had led to the split. The fact that Peter was dead silenced the roar to a murmur, but did not extinguish the gossip.
While the cousin's stood by the doors to the back garden, silent, sipping wine, and watching the guests, Sir Arthur found them. Mouthing a silent thank you to Charlotte, he turned to Emma.
"Emma, my dear child. I was beginning to think that you no longer liked me. It's been so long. I'm very pleased you're here tonight, You've brightened an old man's day," he said, both his words and his smile were sincere. Putting his arm around her waist, he hugged her gently, then fondly kissed her cheek.
Emma was touched by his both his sincerity and his kindness. "Sir Arthur, it's always a pleasure," she said.
Then what Emma feared most happened. Arthur looked at her, his eyes filling with compassion.
"How are you doing, Emma?" he asked.
Emma hated these moments. Truth be known, she preferred the cruel whispers of the gossips to the pity of her friends. How could she honestly answer that question? She smiled weakly. The she did something that went against her basic nature. She lied.
"Fine, Sir Arthur. I'm fine." She hoped he wouldn't see through her.
Sir Arthur knew she was lying. Emma had never been able to tell a convincing lie. Keep a secret; refuse to answer, yes, but lie, no. Knowing she was lying as much for his benefit as her own Sir Arthur let it drop.
He instead turned to Charlotte, "I'm glad to see you're taking good care of Emma; she's quite precious to me, you know."
He and Charlotte spoke for a few moments as Emma wandered off, deep in her own thoughts.
"Sir Arthur, she really is better honest, at least compared to how she was." Charlotte attempted to reassure Arthur. She knew he considered Emma to be more a grandchild than the daughter of a lifelong friend.
"Charlotte I know she's trying, but be honest. You had to drag her here tonight didn't you?"
Reluctantly Charlotte admitted, "Yes, but she did let me and she is working again."
"Charlotte, my dear, Emma exists, but she isn't really alive inside. She's a shell. I sure that her achievements at work will be up to her normal high standards. I hear her amuse others, she is as charming as ever, but I haven't heard her laugh in eight months. Until I hear her laugh and laugh often I'll know that however much she tries to hide it, she is not all right."
Sir Arthur looked over to where Emma stood staring with obvious fascination across the room.
"Emma?" Charlotte asked, and then followed her eyes. "What on earth are you looking at?"
Sir Arthur also followed Emma's eyes, "John Steed?"
Emma looked quickly at Sir Arthur; "Do you know him?"
Sir Arthur decided to tread slowly. Emma's more than casual interest was evident by the look on her face. John Steed was not, however someone that Arthur wanted to make Emma's acquaintance. Particularly now.
"Both your Father and I had dealings with him during the war."
Charlotte, noting the hungry look on Emma's face, was curious what lie behind her interest. "It seems you know him."
"Well, we've met once, a few days ago. I ran into the back of his car," she said, "But, no, I don't know him."
Sir Arthur was pleased that Emma didn't actually know Steed. It wasn't that Arthur didn't like the young man, just that he didn't want Emma to like the young man. Arthur, himself not only liked Steed, but also respected what he did.
"I don't think anyone really 'knows' him. He's rather a bit of an enigma."
Emma smiled cautiously, trying to hide her interest in Steed. "Do tell."
Sir Arthur knew he couldn't lie, but he could make it sound as if Steed was otherwise occupied.
"Well he has quite a reputation, you know. He's wealthy, but no one knows how he came by his money; probably gambling if his fortunes during the quarterly Hermes poker game was any indication. He's quite a lady's man, I think he's involved with an anthropologist at the moment. Of course, one can never be sure he seems to have a new woman on his arm almost every time one turns around."
Arthur added this, knowing that Emma would never consent to being any man's conquest. He saw the interest in her eyes fade a little and felt bad. Emma getting to know Steed might be the boost her recovery needed, but the two of them was too dangerous a combination to even consider.
Too bad, Emma thought. He was very attractive and he had been quite charming. A passing thought caught her attention. Arthur had been part of the quarterly poker group. He would certainly know if the rumors about Steed's profession were true. She'd never known Arthur to be less than candid. When she looked into his eyes, for the first time in her life, he knew that Arthur was coloring the truth. Curiosity reared its head. What did Arthur have to hide and why didn't he want her to get to know Steed?
Taking an ice cream cone from the stand set up on the edge of the room, Emma sat and contemplated this rather strange turn of events. Arthur was lying. That fact in itself made Emma very curious. Deep in thought, Emma slowly licked around the edges of the cone, savoring the flavor, texture, and coldness of the cone. Ice Cream and chocolates, her comfort food. Chocolates for enjoyment and ice cream for the sheer delight of it. Every so often she flicked the top of the cone with the tip of her tongue, a habit she had picked up from her Grandfather Samuel when she learned how to eat ice cream without making a mess around the age of twenty-six months. Not a drop of ice cream escaped as she slowly melted it into her mouth. By the time she covered the top of the cone with her mouth to suck the ice cream from it before biting into the cone, half the men in the room looked ready to leave their wives. Emma, becoming more and more intrigued by the idea of getting to know John Steed was oblivious to the reaction from the males present. Steed, still watching her from across the room felt a profound envy of the ice cream cone.
Thirty minutes later Steed searched out and found Emma standing on a second floor balcony. Obviously, she wanted to be alone. It appeared she was taking sanctuary against the crowd. Not wanting to disturb her, yet intrigued, Steed slowly moved toward her. He was more determined than ever to gain her co-operation, to make her his partner. His Nibs, while disapproving had given his tentative assent. Steed couldn't avoid noticing how her cloths emphasized her slenderness, how her hips were womanly from the back, but as slim as a boy's when she turned. Steed found that everything he had learned strengthened his conviction that she would make a most excellent partner. Emma's life was filled with achievements. Starting with what could only be described as her intellectual genius and three degrees before she was twenty-one in subjects that Steed he had no interest in. Her athletic aptitude was apparent in everything that she did, martial arts, gymnastics, and horseback riding. Her ability to run a large corporation had shocked even the most jaded of observers. She had taken a successful company and turned it into one of the most progressive industry giants in Great Britain. Plus, it seemed that she had an impressive resiliency to recover from tragedies, first her stepbrother when she was seven, then her mother when she was eight, her father when she was just short of twenty-one and now her husband. George would say that the Fates had dealt harshly with this beauty.
Steed stood back, remaining in the shadows watching Mrs. Peel, run her hand through her hair, brushing it from her face. Even with the pensive look that illuminated her face, Steed knew that she was the real thing. A woman who knew her worth and who didn't need artificial artifices to attract a man. Everything about her had a feline, sensual air to it. Even now her movements were sultry yet full of a kind of raw innocence It was rare to find these qualities in one so young. While Steed was determined to keep him mind on his professional reasons for wanting to recruit Mrs. Peel, he couldn't help the attraction he felt.
Both of their quiet contemplation's were broken when Mark Stone lumbered, or rather staggered up to Mrs. Peel. He was drunk or at least well on his way. Stone was a world-renowned journalist and a Whitelaw family friend. He had known Charlotte, Emma and Christina since they were small. Indeed, Charlotte Whitelaw had gotten her first photography assignments through him. He had been firmly in Christina's camp when Peter had dropped her to pursue Emma. Sober, he was generous and gentlemanly. Intoxicated he was a boor.
"Hey Red," Stone put his hand on Emma's shoulder, then letting it slide down her chest he caressed her bosom while a look of pure lust lit his face.
Mrs. Peel looked at him frostily.
"How's about you and I doing the horizontal mambo. Get you back in the saddle. Warm you up a little bit!"
Steed's natural outrage surged. Gentlemen didn't treat women as whores. He started to move, but then something about Emma's appearance and attitude made him stop. She didn't react, not even a muscle twitched. Her eyes had taken on sharpness. She had the appearance of a panther lying in wait of its prey.
Stone stepped back; her non-response seemed to anger him.
"Damned Ice Queen. Guess you really do think you're too good for all us mortals. You know, Peter really was an idiot. Dropping Christina for you, he didn't have the sense God gave a goose. I can't blame him for forcing that last flight. He was probably trying to get away from you when he died."
The speed with which Mrs. Peel moved shocked Steed. He watched, astonished as Emma Peel literally picked Mark Stone up and threw him off the balcony. By the time Steed got to her side, he heard the splash as Stone hit the indoor / outdoor pool below. Emma Peel was smiling. It was a grim satisfied smile.
Steed considered that discretion, would in this case, be the better part of valour. He couldn't imagine how she would explain her actions when questioned. He didn't want her to have to. He wanted to get her out of there before anyone came looking for the cause of Stone's fall.
"Come with me." he said, urging her down the stairs to the other side of the mansion and into the back gardens.
After about 100 feet, Mrs. Peel realized what he was doing. She broke away from his grasp, and stood still, her hands on hips, her eyes flashing in anger.
"Mr. Steed, what the hell do you think your doing?"
"I thought it best if you not be found at the scene of the crime."
And then he said no more, leaving Mrs. Peel wanting him to go away and yet wanting to find out what would make him react this way. Sir Arthur didn't do him justice, she thought, less annoyed now at his handling of her.
"I'm going back inside," Mrs. Peel stated, turning towards the lighted manor house.
"Wait," Steed urged, "Let's at least talk. We can take a short walk.
Mrs. Peel wanted to be rid of him, yet was intrigued that even after observing her treatment of Stone he dared to challenge her.
"And what would you like to talk about?"
"Your rather interesting display inside?"
Mrs. Peel eyes narrowed, her demeanor showed no embarrassment, yet she was watchful.
"A small lesson, nothing more. Mr. Stone was being an ass. I know it, he knows it sometimes he needs to be reminded that actions have consequences."
"And should he return the favor?" Steed wondered how she would react if Stone pressed charges.
Emma tossed her head back, laughing at the outrageousness of the thought.
"Steed," she forgot to call him Mr., "if Stone has the cajones to stand up in court and repeat what he said, it would be worth the bother. No, I think once our friend Mark sobers up, he'll decide to forget all about it. Besides, who would believe him?"
Steed noted that her eyes were dancing with mischief. She had a very engaging laugh. It appeared that she knew that no matter what happened; she had just assaulted a very famous and influential reporter and gotten away with it. The thought obviously gave her great pleasure. He looked at her again, his eyes unreadable.
"Are you always so impulsive when a man insults you?"
Emma nodded once.
"And when it comes to other things?" he added his true meaning hidden by his nonchalant air. He could see incandescence in her eyes, a smirk played around her lips. She seemed to be disclosing ever more attractive combinations, he thought. What would come next?
Mrs. Peel's hands were on her hips, her head tilted to the side. Sudden distrust shone in her eyes. What in God's name does he want from me? He wants something. It can't be a date. He'd just ask if that were what he wanted. She instinctively knew Steed was testing her, sizing her up for something. She didn't much care for the feeling, but there was something about him that made it hard to stay angry. Something about him gave her a long dormant, but well-remembered feeling of aching sexual desire deep within her.
Sir Arthur interrupted their discussion. "Emma, dear can we talk?"
Stone hadn't said anything, but Arthur knew without a doubt that Emma had something to do with Stone's sudden desire to take a swim. After the two left, Steed quickly left the party before anyone could ask him any questions.
What happened at Sir Arthur's party had been instructive. However, his nibs had been quite clear. Full investigation, then a field test. Steed still needed to test her reactions further; as his partner she would be called upon to do various investigations. Generally, the danger level was fairly low, but she would have to be able to quickly respond with both anger and physical force if necessary. Her move against Stone had been driven by blind emotion. How would she react to a physical threat from someone she knew? Could she get beyond former feelings to react to betrayal? If not, he could not in good conscience continue to consider her as a partner.
There had been Anastophalus's in Greek intelligence since the time of the Gods. Or at least that was how it seemed to Steed from the stories. Steed had met George Anastophalus during World War Two. At the time he had been so depressed over events that he courted death, hoping death would take him, sparing him anymore torment. Anastophalus and his unique view of life had been integral to Steed's eventual recovery. Even during the worst days of WWII, when they had been trapped behind enemy lines, expecting to die any moment, George had remained upbeat, daring death to come take him. George, at the time, boasted that he was most skilled hunter of both men and beasts that currently lived. He was equality as modest about his skills as both a husband and lover. In his mind, the Earth herself would kill him for his bravado, he would die for challenging someone once too often, or the God would kill him out of jealousy for his love life. No matter how it cam, his life and death were in the hands of the Gods so he didn't worry. Steed hadn't understood how George, who unlike Steed, had so much to live for could be so cavalier.
When they had eventually made their way clear of danger, they had celebrated by getting very drunk. A life long friendship had been born from the fires of Hades. George's explanation of his cavalier attitude, given after their rescue have been full of mythology. George believed as firmly in Greek mythology as most men did in religion.
"Steed, Fate is a cruel mistress. She toys with you, taunting you, and just when you think you know her mind, she changes it. We Greeks believe in the three sisters, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. They are more familiarly known as "the spinner", "the apportioner", and "the inevitable". They control the destinies of all mortals. Each has their own job: Clotho, the youngest, spins the thread of life and has control of the hour of birth, she made me a Leo; Lachesis measures the thread and spins out the events of human lives; and Atropos decides the moment of death and cuts the thread of life. Even the gods were subject to the decisions of the Fates. So why shouldn't I?"
Now, almost twenty years after these events the two men sat, smoking cigars and sipping fine Madera, on the balcony of George's villa, overlooking the Aegean. Once again they were discussing the Fates. And a certain auburn haired beauty. George had had three phone calls in the prior twenty-four hours. Stanton explaining what Steed was looking for and how the Ministry felt about it. One from Sir Arthur who had found out from Stanton what was happening, asking him to make sure Emma wasn't hurt, and one from Steed with few details, just a request for his assistance. George, having known Emma since she was three and knowing both her mental state and probable answer had not yet made up his mind how he felt about the subject.
"Steed, you know why Stanton sent you to me for help testing Emma, don't you?" George's eyes were as serious as Steed had ever seen them.
"Not really, why?" Steed was very curious. George's reaction to his plan had been as atypical as everyone else he had spoken to.
"He wants her to fail. He knows if you ask, she'll do it, and he wants me to make sure that she fails so miserably that you won't ask."
"Why is Stanton so adamant? Why does he want to protect her so badly?"
Steed was very impressed by George's candor. He could have kept quiet and just rigged the test.
George looked thoughtful. He took a few moments to answer.
"I'm not sure that its just Emma he wants to protect. She can be quite difficult. Stanton believes that she could be a threat to you, as much as you could be a threat to her. He told me you want to know why he considers here such a risk. Do you?"
"Yes," Steed couldn't believe that someone was finally willing to divulge the answer to the question that had nagged at him for days.
"She refuses to color within the lines!"
Steed's eyebrows shot up. His look was incredulous. He couldn't help himself. He began laughing.
"She refuses to color within the lines? "What kind of "
He never got to finish as George silenced him with a look. George didn't seem at all amused with Steed's reaction.
"Steed, I will tell you three stories. Then we'll discuss why her refusal is dangerous." You know of her martial arts prowess, yes."
Steed nodded yes.
"Do you know why she is so good?"
Steed nodded no.
"When she was four, her father gave her a coloring book. She steadfastly refused to color within the lines. Elizabeth, Emma's mother, was an artist. She thought this was funny. John wasn't amused. He and Emma fought over it."
Seeing the look on Steed's face George grimaced. "I know, the thought of a four year old fighting with Sir John Knight, even more the thought of the ever so controlled John Knight fighting with a four year old seems frightfully ridiculous. But it's true. Even at four Emma could be the most stubborn person I ever met. Emma eventually tore the book up in anger. Sir John put her into martial arts training the same day. Said it would help her to learn to control her temper. What he didn't count on was that she loved the discipline, the artistry. He had just given her a different palate to paint on. Oh, it did help her control her temper, but it also made the results much more devastating when she actually loses it. Did you hear about Mark Stone?"
Steed smiled broadly, "Actually I witnessed it. Quite impressive."
"I was afraid that you might have. Arthur didn't find it impressive. Since Peter died there have been too many occasions where Emma has lost control, if even for a moment of her emotions, and reacted inappropriately."
"You can't all expect her to " Once again George interrupted.
"No we don't expect her to control her emotions all the time, but she expects it of herself. Makes it very hard to reach her, she withdraws from all of us when it happens."
Steed frowned, "It didn't seem to bother her the other night. In fact, I'd say she took great satisfaction out of it."
George smiled broadly; "well maybe this is progress. Story two Steed. Have you ever been to Acapulco?"
"Yes, lovely place."
"Have you seen the cliffs? The cliff divers?"
"Certainly, one can't go to Acapulco and not admire the cliff divers. They are magnificent."
Quietly, "Steed, did you ever have the desire to be a cliff diver? To throw yourself off the side of the mountain, into the water, even at your most reckless, would you have done that?"
Steed thought for a moment, "For fun, no. If I needed to, had to save myself or someone else I could."
George leaned back, he seemed lost in another time, another place.
"Sir John, Emma, and my family vacationed together often. When Emma was eighteen we went to Acapulco. My son Tony and she wanted to learn to cliff dive. Sir John agreed very reluctantly with the proviso that Emma not go above the twenty-foot dive. She solemnly swore to honor that boundary. And she did. Then."
George stopped for a moment, seemingly measuring his word carefully.
"Shortly before Emma's twenty first birthday we returned to the same place. The second day we were there, most of us spent it pursuing leisurely inactivity and enjoying each other's company by the pool. Tony and Emma were restless, so they spent the day water-skiing, at least most of the day. About four o'clock they returned to the hotel to dress for dinner. While Tony returned the boat, Emma met us on the palazzo and told her father she felt like taking a dive. Sir John agreed as long as it wouldn't take too long. He didn't want to be late for our dinner reservations. Emma took off. The rest of our party went down by the edge of the water to watch. When Tony joined us, John told him that Emma was going to take a dive. Tony has always seemed to understand Emma better than most of us. He seems to have a better handle on her impetuousness. That day he definitely was a bit quicker than the rest of us. He asked John if he had reminded Emma of her promise. John had never considered that she might go higher than the twenty-foot level, Tony instinctively knew that her promise of three years ago was moot. She was going to ignore the boundary John had set. Tony had jumped from the forty-foot level three years earlier. He described it at the time as exhilarating until you hit the water. That he described as hitting cement. He guessed that that was where she would head. He was wrong." George paused to let Steed absorb his words, then continued.
"Five minutes later, Emma dove, not jumped mind you, but dove from the sixty foot level. I though John was going to have a stroke right there and then. Longest five second of my life. When Emma came up her whole being was ablaze. It was as if a fire within her soul had been loosed. I can only imagine the adrenaline rush that she got. We could hear her laughter. God, it was so clear, so vibrant. Tony lit into her even before she reached the edge of the water. An angry Greek should have been enough to intimidate her, but she just smiled at him. Then she gave him a look that, Steed, I have never seen on the face of a child before. A look that " George stopped.
"Go on?" Steed could see her diving. A part of him could imagine what this look had been like.
"Steed, the Gods are my witness. Emma gave him a look that would have inflamed the coldest of men. It was as if that dive had been some sort of declaration of adulthood, or her womanhood, or something. Steed, my wife was standing beside me and if Emma had looked at me that way. I would have gone to her, consequences be damned."
"I should imagine that Sir John wasn't pleased."
"Actually, he was so relieved that she was okay he missed it entirely. He made her promise not to do it again, which she readily agreed to. Tony was the one in shock. He still thought of her as a child, we all did. Suddenly, he could no longer think of her as a child. They spent a lot of time away from the rest of us during the remainder of the trip. I never have found out what that was all about. Tony won't discuss it and Emma; well Emma makes the Mona Lisa look like a blabbermouth.
Steed leaned back, taking a rather large drink from his glass and contemplated the two stories that George had told him. Brave, bold, daring. All these traits were ones that Steed considered necessary for a successful field agent. Impetuousness, however was something that would need to be tempered with caution. Steed felt sure that he could impart that lesson to Emma. After all, he hadn't heard anything that made him fear that she didn't want to survive.
"So George, the third story?"
"Ah, Steed that is a different matter altogether."
George poured Steed and himself another drink before starting the third story.
"I knew a man once. Emma reminds me of him in many ways. Intelligent, headstrong brave, impetuous, and not very good as expressing emotion. At least not verbally and never in public. Their pain and their desires tend to express themselves in actions that may not be in their best interest."
Steed unexpectedly felt a warning tingle of danger. He looked around, but everything was quiet. George noted Steed's reaction and smiled to himself.
"This man won many medals for bravery during the war. He wiped out a machine gun nest, risked his life for his friends and for strangers many times over. He should have been a man that I admired. Everyone else did."
"And you George, how did you feel about him."
"At first, I pitied him. He was a fool. He was given the gift of life and he tried to waste it, rather than savor it. He was in pain and rather than deal with it he tried to bury it, run from it, even die from it. His actions were meant to end in his death, not prolong others lives. He had no purpose, no direction. It took his almost dying to make him want to live again."
Quietly, "I know this man, don't I?"
"Intimately, I'd say!" George's eyes told Steed all he needed to know.
"And the point?"
"Steed, if you ask Emma to be your partner how will you make sure that she won't follow the path you tried to take and perhaps take you with her?"
Steed sat silently for the next ten minutes contemplatively turning George's question around in his mind. It hadn't even occurred to him that Emma might be unconsciously suicidal. Apperently that was one of the things that her friends and business associates feared. She certainly didn't seem that way to Steed, but then George had been the only one to see through Steed's bravado.
George was secretly pleased at Steed's reaction to his question. That he took it so seriously meant that he had come to grips with his own actions during the war and that he had matured to the point where he would take that potential problem into account before deciding to what to do about Emma. If he recognised that vulnerability and the need to handle Emma with a loose, but firm hand, this plan of his might be just what Emma needed. That was not to mention the possibility of a true partnership for Steed. Finally Steed stood, leaned against the balcony and began speaking.
"George, do you believe that Emma is dangerous to herself?"
"Do I believe that she would try to get herself killed, no. Do I believe that her pain and the impetuousness that she shows could put her into danger, yes."
"George, if I gave you my word on something, would you trust me."
"With my life."
"What about Emma's?"
"Depends on what you intend to give me your word on?"
"If she passes your test and consents to be my partner I will be as good a friend and partner to her as you were to me during the war and after."
George grinned. "I couldn't ask for anything more. I'll make the arrangements for the test."
Orion Anastophalus V, better known to his friends as Tony, couldn't believe what had just happened. How had Emma come to be in this alley and why would his father have asked him to arrange an attack on her? Something didn't make sense. Slowly, he shook his head to clear it. That right hook was new; at least he had never seen her use it growing up.
"Well, I glad to see that your head is as hard as ever," Emma sat watching Tony carefully, "now would you like to tell me what this is all about?"
Tony shook his head again, this time to signal that he didn't know.
Steed and the senior Anastophalus stepped from the shadows. Steed knew he'd have to make this up to Anastophalus somehow. Maybe cigars, Cuban Cigars, rolled on the sweaty thighs of virgins.
"I think I can clear it up for you."
Steed's voice was a tad too cheerful. Both remaining participants in the little battle George had arranged looked as if they could kill him.
Emma leaned down to help Tony up. He shook off her hand and rose by himself. His pride was more than a little bit hurt. His father signalled for Tony to join him. His look told Tony that he would explain, but that they needed to leave. Emma stood hands on her hips glaring at John Steed.
"Just what the hell was this supposed to prove?" Emma held her anger in check with only the greatest of self-control.
Steed ignored her question for one of his own.
"Will you have dinner with me?" Then, before Mrs. Peel could respond, he continued on in a more serious vein.
"I have a proposition to discuss with you, Mrs. Peel.
The unmitigated gall of the man, Mrs. Peel rolled her eyes in mock surrender.
"Steed, propositions are usually made with much more discretion and with much less bother. There better be more to it than that."
Her voice was soft, but it held a definite threat. One that Steed was quite sure she was capable of following through on.
Steed smiled. He liked her spirit and her sense of humor. She was doing just fine - she seemed to come by a bit of a suspicious nature naturally. He hadn't really expected her to overcome Anastophalus and his friend. Her reaction had been swift, not for a moment had she hesitated to fight someone she knew as a friend. However, her anger did seem genuine and was understandable. Certainly there would have been easier ways to test her reactions. Steed didn't want to lose her before he'd had a chance to explain his plans for her. He decided that sincerity would be best at the moment.
"Mrs. Peel, I can assure that once we have had a chance to talk, all this and the reasons for it will become quite clear. Please join me."
Emma thought she had never met a more exasperating man in her life. Emma considered his statement; she believed it was true. Knowing full well the answer she asked anyhow.
"If I don't you're not going to explain anything about all that back there, are you?"
Steed turned, gave her a small mysterious smile, and held out his hand. Emma deliberated her response. She was torn between anticipation and a strange sensation that she should flee before she got in any deeper. What on earth could his mysterious proposition be? Sighing, Emma gave in and followed him. Curiosity had always been one of the more prominent traits of her personality.
"It's a little early for dinner," Steed said, glancing at his watch, "but I, for one, could do with a good meal. After you, Mrs. Peel?"
They went to the back door of a small, rundown restaurant. It wasn't yet opening time, but Steed seemed to be expected. They were ushered through the kitchen to a small dining area. The inside of the restaurant was delightful, decorated much in the same style as Adrienna's in London. Emma felt quite at home. The proprietor gave Steed a hug and said it had been too far too long since he had paid a visit.
Emma was surprised to realize that her irritation with Steed was already dissipating. It wasn't just curiosity. She knew that she couldn't seem to stay mad whenever he behaved outrageously. She didn't understand why. What was it about him that left her wanting to know more and accepting behavior that in any one else would have caused a major temper explosion? It was a mixture of too many things, too many indefinable qualities, and of too many paradoxes. She knew that he fascinated her. She understood that her reaction was the same at their first accidental meeting; he fascinated, bewildered, and excited her. She'd spent an awful lot of time thinking about him since that first meeting. Maybe it was just the rumors. Secret Agent man. Someone her controlled and controlling father made sure she never met. Maybe, just maybe it was the temptation of forbidden fruit.
Silently, they sat themselves at the table by the fireplace.
"Lamb or do you prefer vegetarian dishes? They do an excellent Souvlaca here." He asked Emma, not even glancing at the menu.
Emma shook her head slightly, dismissing his question, "An explanation please. This isn't a date, Steed."
"What? Friends having a good meal together, discussing an opportunity?" The tone was mild, honest, but there was a strange light in his eyes that Emma couldn't quite interpret.
"Friends?" Emma said sharply.
"Hopefully, friends and partners."
"Partners?" Emma felt a sudden pang of excitement, not sexual, but real anticipation.
Steed smiled at the look of anticipation that lit up Mrs. Peel's eye, if only for a moment. Then her mask was back in place. Casually, he leaned his arms on the table, coming very close to Emma.
"I am a man of my word, Mrs. Peel. Let me explain why George arranged to have you attacked and why I asked you to dinner."
"George arranged that little surprise." Emma seemed very skeptical
Steed took a deep breath and suddenly Emma watched as he transformed from the seemingly insolent man that she thought him to a focused and serious warrior. All trace of light-hearted conviviality was gone. She found herself leaning forward expectantly.
"Let me preface my words by warning you that what I am about to say is for your ears only. Complete secrecy is expected and anything less is unacceptable. George, Lord Stanton, and several other men that I respect have vouched for your reliability. Do you agree to keep our conversation entirely secret?"
"Have you ever heard of the "Hermes Group?"
Emma's eyebrows rose at that, her father's poker buddies. The men she never met. It sounded as if she was going to learn the secret that tied them together and made her father ensure she never met them.
Steed went on before she could speak. "George, Stanton, your father and I along with others were members of an elite group during the war. While most returned to civilian life, I have continued to work as an agent in a one of Great Britain's security organizations. You haven't heard of it. It is its own entity, entirely legal yet entirely top secret. I work both in and out of the country, on my own or in concert with other organizations as the need arises." Steed paused to take a deep breath.
"You said partners? What exactly do you have in mind?"
"Mrs. Peel, I am asking you for your assistance, in an unofficial capacity. We would be teamed as partners. I would call when and only when I decide you would aid me in my investigations. That might be regularly or infrequently. It might involve travel or investigating those you know as friends. Mrs. Peel, the work can be dangerous, sometimes violence is necessary. Frankly, It is my opinion that you would be an invaluable asset to us and that the work will provide you with some of what you are looking for.
Emma's heart went to her throat. How did he know she was looking for direction? She had told no one about her restlessness, her feeling of helplessness. Suddenly, Emma felt as if this man could see directly into her soul. Her mind was calculating, evaluating everything he'd said. Instinctually she knew that they would make good partners, that what he was offering was everything she needed. Direction, someone to talk to, someone to work with towards a goal and an opportunity to make a difference in a way she never had before. Her first instinct was to say yes, but his presence made her stop. She'd seen him three times and already he seemed to understand her better that Peter ever had. It was thrilling and scary. He was offering a business, not personal relationship. If she took him up on it, could she keep it friendly? Could she resist the temptation to try to make something more of it?
"Mrs. Peel...? You look as if you're miles away. Mrs. Peel, what do you say?" he asked as he delicately began cutting up his lamb.
"Sorry," she said quickly, a little flustered. "It's a lot to think about. George?"
"George knows and approves. You can ask him if you like?"
"No, if George didn't approve you wouldn't be here, at least not with me. George can be very protective."
"I know," Steed said rather expressionlessly, "with me too."
Calm gray eyes watched her neutrally. Steed had made his case. He wasn't attempting to influence her decision, wasn't trying to control or manipulate her. "Steed," Emma said, but the words wouldn't form. Finally she nodded, Yes.
Steed and Emma spent the rest of the evening and the next two days wandering around the city, getting to know each other. When they returned to London, Emma went to Whitehall where Lord Stanton tried to talk her out of working with Steed. She again signed the Official Secrets Act and brushed up on her languages. Then she waited to hear from Steed again.
Two weeks later, she came home to find her teapot on the stove. As she turned it off, she felt rather than heard someone behind her. As she turned to see who it was, a now familiar voice spoke.
"Mrs. Peel, We're Needed.
I know this is all supposed to be cloak and dagger, still
"You could have just rang me up," Mrs. Peel said, crossing her arms.
© Kathryn Charles 2002
No aspect of this story may be used elsewhere without the expressed prior written consent of the author. These stories may not be altered in any way or sold; all copyright information must appear with this work at all times. Please read disclaimers and warnings on top of each story. Feel free to send constructive comments to the author.. :o)
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