The Embassy
  by Kathryn Charles

Author's warning: Adult content.

Washington was having one of those gorgeous fall evenings that belies the reality of fall. Indian Summer had made the last few days feel more like July. The colder weather that had arrived early in the afternoon signaled the final return to crisp autumn days. The leaves that had been starting to change color seemed to sense the end as the evening hues seemed quite different from their early morning color. The day spoke of a hint of winter and promised even cooler weather ahead. The sky was dark blue, with thousands of twinkling stars. The evening was perfect except for the mood in the expansive hotel suite serving as a temporary headquarters for Knight Industry. The mood was as cold, as dark and threatening as the sky would have been without the stars. The elder of its two occupants was pacing in front of the door to the balcony muttering under his breath while the target of his ire sat calmly, with an air of bemused indifference staring into the night sky.

Daniel Sheldon was in his early sixties. Tall, thin to the point of emaciation, with what most people viewed as a studious air, he had just the hint of a limp when he walked. A valued employee of Knight Industry since it was founded, he and John Knight had been lifelong friends, closer than most brothers. When World War Two broke out, Daniel had not hesitated to follow his trusted ally into combat. His belief in Knight and desire to live up to what he thought were expectations had cost him the lower half of his right leg and many months of starvation in a German POW camp. When the hostilities ceased, he had returned to help John Knight build their fledgling company into a powerful empire. Through it all, Daniel had understood Knight, the man had been a brilliant business man, loyal to his friends, ruthless when it came to getting his way, with an uncanny ability to select the right opportunities. Despite their differences, Daniel had always been able to reason with him. His heir was altogether another story.

When Sir John died Daniel had been named head of a three man management team with responsibility for day to day operations. John Knight's heir however, directed research and strategic planning for the company. Since Knight's death seven years ago, despite knocks from stockholders every year about the amount of money spent on research, the company had become even more successful. Pure research had fueled their additional success. As Daniel looked across the room at the tall, unruffled Knight who was now at the helm, he had to mentally admit that Knight Industry had been left in good hands. But this project…… and her attitude…. At this moment, he was having a hard time imagining E.K. as anything but a child. A stubborn and willful child who had directed this project, no, demanded this project be funded despite Daniel's misgivings. Now, on the edge of her greatest triumph, E.K. had turned inflexible with the negotiations that would make it profitable. He didn't believe that he had ever been this angry with her.

"E.K., we need this contract. It's the key to market dominance. With the United States signed up, ELF will become the gold standard for all transportation services. You're throwing it away and for what?" His companion's continued silence and air irritated Daniel further. "Do you want to face the stockholders next month and explain why we spent a quarter of a million pounds on this project and have nothing, but a demonstration unit and one piddling contract to show for it?"

The young woman that Daniel had always referred to as E. K. gazed placidly across the room at Daniel. This man who had been at different times, a surrogate father, a taskmaster, and a trusted ally, but who had never really understood her. Not when she was ten and braved rough seas with her father, not when she ran with the locals in Jamaica, not when she fell in love with the man who's death eventually broke her heart…. And definitely not now. She really couldn't blame him, she wasn't sure she understood herself sometimes.

"Daniel," his boss started evenly " if this falls through it will be me on the podium, not you. They can burn me at the preverbal stake. After all, you advised against the project. It was my decision to move forward, I'll see no one takes the heat except me."

Daniel was struck by her calm demeanor. Her calmness, the ease with which she was approaching the subject didn't make him feel any better. In fact, it made him feel worse. It was out of place. It didn't fit with either her personality or history. This project was too emotionally charged, too close to her loss. There were too many ghosts associated with it. It didn't matter that it was a huge leap for the company. They, no, she had no business involving herself. She should never have started it and now to insist on heading the final negotiations. What was going on in that beautiful, but perplexing head of hers? Although Daniel had known her since the day she was born, she had never been more of an enigma. A mystery, wrapped in a puzzle, surrounded by uncertainty.

"Besides Daniel," she continued totally unaware of Daniel's personal rather than business concerns, "the Americans are stonewalling. They want ELF. Remember they came to us. They have already chosen subcontractors and designated project management teams. They're jerking us around, expecting us to fold. The renowned General Brown just doesn't trust anyone who came to America after the Civil War, or maybe after the Mayflower. He believes that because this project is out of our usual expertise that we aren't serious. That we won't go to the wall. These transponders are worth every cent that we are asking for them. We, no, I have compromised as much as I am going to. The rest of NATO has signed. The U.S. will sign the contract as is or we will walk."

And risk the rest of NATO walking, thought Daniel, although he didn't voice it. He needed to choose his words carefully.

"Emma," Daniel called her by her Christian name to make sure he had her attention, "logically, name one reason we should be taking this hard line on the price?"

When Emma didn't respond, just scowled, Daniel continued, "The additional units through the factory and the maintenance contracts on the control units will make up the difference in the bid price with reduced costs and additional revenue inside of ninety days. This project becomes profitable within the first twenty days of full production. We can walk out of here with a major success story to tell the stockholders next month. If this contract is delayed, there will be a rebellion. Every stockholder there is going to question your motives." Daniel stopped speaking, he had seen what happened when Emma's eyes began to flash the way they were now.

"Even you Daniel?" The words were soft, but there was steel in the set of her jaw and frost in her tone.

"Yes, Emma, even me." Daniel saw the anguish in her eyes and regretted the pain these words caused as soon as he said them, but knew that nothing less than the truth would do. "You're father would never have allowed his personal feelings to cloud his judgement. I think you are. If Aero-Tech wasn't the American's choice for a subcontractor…."

His voice trailed off. Her reaction was as swift as it was unexpected. She quite simply walked out. No comment, no anger, and no sign that she would be back. Stunned, it took Daniel a few minutes to comprehend what had happened. He walked onto the balcony just in time to see Emma striding across the street towards the Washington Monument. Emma had never walked away from a fight in her life, so it had be something else. Her face was composed, but she had put on dark glasses and she appeared to have a bottle in one hand. Daniel instinctively knew that she was close to or in tears. He had seen her hide her eyes many times over the years so that people couldn't read her emotions. Why else would she be wearing dark glasses at midnight?

Daniel thought about following her, but stopped short. E.K. had always been able to take care of herself. Until Peter's death anyhow. Daniel sighed. He couldn't help her with those demons. God knows he, his wife, her family and friends had tried, but she had distanced herself from them, refusing to allow them to view much less assuage her grief. She had remained charming, but laughed little herself. In the last eight months or so she had seemed better, more of her old self. That was before ELF became a reality. Daniel thought, No, it was best to let her work this out herself and heaven help any mugger that might cross her path tonight.

As she strode across Pennsylvania Avenue, Emma Peel couldn't decide what had shocked her more. Daniel insinuation that she was attempting to sabotage the deal because of Aero-Tech or the fact that he had called her by her given name. In almost twenty-eight years, Daniel had only called her Emma twice, when her father had died and when he had found out that she was sleeping with Peter. Neither time brought back pleasant memories. The negotiations had turned quite nasty, something she hadn't needed on top of the project's inherent stresses. What she needed was some solitude and peace. Peace, funny she hadn't felt much of that in the last twenty-two months. The only time she felt truly peaceful was when she was with Steed, after they made love, when he held her, sated and…. Damn, this train of thought wasn't helping. Now, she was not only upset, but she could feel physical desire, a determined ache beginning to well up within her. Steed was several thousand miles away and most probably with Christina. Maybe she would pick up a sailor to satisfy her more urgent physical needs. It seemed to work for others. Even as she thought it Emma knew she wouldn't. Morality was such a pain at times like this. Maybe she'd just get drunk.

In London, Steed was indeed with Christina, but not in the way that Emma was imagining. He took her to breakfast to break it off. It hadn't gone well. Steed couldn't for the life of him imagine why Christina Baker had felt it necessary to make their physical relationship public knowledge. Steed prided himself on his discretion and expected the ladies he was intimate with to practice the same discretion. Prior to Christina's public declarations on the affair the relationship had been enjoyable, from both a social and physical perspective. Now, it wasn't worth the problems it was causing in his friendship with Mrs. Peel. Mrs. Peel hadn't said anything about Christina but there was a definite chill in the air.

Steed had expected a strong reaction, preferring to have the conversation in private, but Christina had insisted they go to breakfast at Halberton's restaurant in Soho. From the moment they arrived, Christina had taken offense at practically everything he'd said. The morning had ended with Christina making a scene, throwing a glass of champagne in his face. Her reaction had been anything but normal. Driving back to his flat, it seemed to Steed as if all the women in his life were just a little bit off lately. In the past, Mrs. Peel had laughed and teased him about his "cover women." Emma had made it clear that she understood that flirting was a part of his nature and was sure enough of her own position with him to not feel threatened or jealous by Steed's need for casual female companionship. When Mrs. Peel got back from this darned trip to America, Steed intended to find out what had caused her to react so differently. He promised himself that as soon as he arrived home he'd ring her up to find out if she were going to be delayed much longer. Normally she didn't devote quite this much time to Knight Industry business.

Joshua Hardaway had recently been promoted to Rear Admiral and assigned to Washington. He was still adjusting to his new surroundings as they were a major change from sea duty. He had just spent the evening dining with the senior members of the United States negotiating team and the proposed sub-contractor for the Air Force. The conversation had centered on the strange turn the negotiations had taken over the last 24 hours. Knight Industry's insistence on a firm base price regardless of units and General Brown's increasingly negative comments about their reliability had thrown the whole process off track.

Josh thought somewhat bitterly that dining with contractors and negotiating deals were not the reason he had attended the Naval Academy. The inaction was already driving him mad. After leaving the restaurant, he had stopped to light a cigar when he saw the President of Knight Industry go into the park. A junior member of the USN negotiating team, he had been watching her for three days during what had been prolonged and most recently heated negotiations. She had been calm, composed, and very professional. She knew her business and she knew how to negotiate. He had seen two things that didn't fit with his perception of her. The blatantly hostile attitude she had displayed when introduced to the Air Force Subcontractors who would be responsible for installing the ELF in USAF airplanes and that now, close to midnight, she didn't seem aware of where she was headed as she crossed the street. The Capital Mall at this time of night was no place for anyone, much less a lady to be walking alone.

Josh followed her, hoping to catch up with her before she got into trouble. He lost her as she entered the park. It took him almost an hour to search the mall. When he reached the steps of the Lincoln Memorial he was ready to give up and check the hotel.

"Are we boring you Admiral?" The voice came from his left, sounding slightly amused, and definitely British. "I was tempted to toss a mint at you around 1500 hours this afternoon. You looked as if you were about to fall off your chair."

Intrigued, the Admiral replied, "I'm not used to sitting. I'm new to flying a desk."

"Yes, I know. United States Naval Academy, then almost thirty years of action, first as a SEAL, then leading a battle carrier group as commander. Quite a distinguished career."

Josh knew that she had to be close. Her voice wasn't loud, but he couldn't get a fix on her location. He felt flattered, but somewhat puzzled that she knew so much about him. "How and why do you know so much about me? And while were at it where in the blue blazes are you?"

As the sound of her laughter filled the air Josh finally got a fix on her location. The sight was disconcerting, stirring a response that Josh would later describe as sensual and definably not honorable. Barefooted, holding a half-full glass of champagne, this tawny haired nymph bore little resemble to the cool detached businesswoman he had spent the last three days observing. She was sitting in the Lincoln Memorial, in Lincoln's lap! Lounging there as if in the arms of a lover, with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. Leaning down slightly she offered the Admiral the second glass.

"Aren't you concerned the Capitol Police may object to your accommodations?" Josh asked taking the champagne.

"My, my so many questions." Emma ran her free hand through her mane of long auburn hair and gave the Admiral a look that was inviting. "I tell you what. I'll answer one question at a time and then you can answer one for me. First, I studied the members of each countries' negotiating teams before we met. Second, my father taught me that it is vital that one know your opponent before beginning an engagement. And third, I'm having drinks with one of your presidents. I must say he's not much of a talker. He does seem to be a good listener though. As for the police….", she shrugged good naturally, "never seems to be one around when you need one, eh Admiral."

In the half light Josh could see that the woman had been crying and she seemed more than a little tipsy.

"Miss Knight," he started.

"Peel, Mrs. Emma Peel," she cut him off curtly.

There was no laughter in her voice now and the Admiral felt the brunt of the same reaction she had exhibited when Aero-Tech's executives were introduced to the negotiations. He knew the two issues had to be related, although he had no earthly idea how.

"Didn't anyone on your team do their homework?", she sighed. Her manner was definitely becoming unfriendly.

There was no way that Josh was going to apologize, although she was right, they should have known she was married. "Mrs. Peel, I saw you enter the park, I thought I'd make sure you were okay. The Capital Mall is not the safest place for a woman at night. If you would prefer to be alone, just say the word."

"Alone?" With one word she conveyed the scorn she felt for the process that brought her here and the idiot that was heading the American team. "Admiral I haven't been alone one moment since we landed in Washington. There is a very tired, very bored twenty-year old airman who has been trying to keep up with me for almost sixteen hours a day for the last three days. I thought he'd have a heart attack this morning when I brought him coffee. Turns out he doesn't drink coffee, champagne either. If he did you wouldn't be drinking it now." Sarcasm crept into her voice as she continued, "Your esteemed General Brown never considers that the people he is dealing with might actually be bright enough to spot a tail or to check whether their rooms are bugged. I must say it hardly makes one eager to do business with the Air Force. Maybe we'll only sell to the Navy. Your naval officers at least seem to have manners."

Admiral Hardaway had heard rumors about General Brown's distrust of all foreigners, and some of the tactics he used to gain an upper hand, but had never seen any hard evidence. The look on her face told Josh that in no way did she consider General Brown esteemed nor did she find this type behavior acceptable. Such behavior, if true would be a major breach of protocol, not to mention very damaging to a cordial working relationship. Josh's return look challenged her statement. He wasn't going to fall for an invisible tail. Almost as if she could read his mind, she glared at him. He imagined that this look had made many men quake.

Emma debated whether or not to respond, but after a few moments she replied coldly, "Call him if don't believe me."

"Call him? How? I don't know his name."

As suddenly as she had turned icy, she warmed. "Michael, would you please be a darling and step into the light for the Admiral." Her voice was almost seductive, definitely inviting. Josh found these mood swings of hers very unsettling.

"Yes ma'am," a young airman stepped into the light from behind a tree 25 feet from Lincoln's statue. His crisp salute belied the redness of his face. He was embarrassed and more than a little scared. The Admiral didn't look very happy.

Josh felt as if he was Alice and had fallen down the rabbit hole. This night was getting weirder and weirder. Feeling embarrassed that the rumors were true, the Admiral returned the salute and barked, "Go home, I will accompany Mrs. Peel back to her hotel."

"Sir," the young airman was scared, but determined to do his duty, "my orders are to stay with the lady until I am sure she is in bed."

The woman in Lincoln's arms smirked, her voice as she spoke had a smoky, somewhat acerbic tone; "I wonder just how he's supposed to make sure of that?"

Not liking the turn this encounter was taking the Admiral took command. "Son," the Admiral spoke firmly, "I believe that I can make sure the lady gets home safely and if there is any other reason that you were assigned except to protect her, you can't achieve your objective if she knows your there. Now can you?"

The Admiral's voice left little room for argument, so Emma's shadow turned to leave. Emma regretted having identified him. She wanted to make sure that he wouldn't be in trouble because of her bad mood.

"Michael," she called after the airman, "I'll be leaving the hotel around 6:00 AM. See you then."

Josh looked at her in amazement. He had known a lot of women in his time. This one was either one of the most fascinating or the craziest he had ever met. Right now he wasn't sure which.

"Why would you think that," Hardaway stopped, realizing that he hadn't got the airman's last name, "Michael or anyone else will be tailing you tomorrow?"

"Because, Admiral neither you or I are going to tell General Brown that I know I'm being followed. Its not the airman's fault that he's been pulled into a game he's is not prepared for. General Brown did the same thing to my father in Japan after the war, in South Africa in 1954, and in Sweden in 1958. We Knight's have played in this arena for a long time. That boy didn't have a chance. Now are you going to help me down or shall I jump?"

Silently, without discussion, Josh knew that she was right, neither of them would make things difficult for the airman. Hardaway stepped forward, first taking the champagne bottle and glasses, then reaching up to help her down. Josh was shocked as she slid off Lincoln into his outstretched arms. Her skin was soft, yet she felt firm, more solid to his touch than he expected, and her face was warm as it almost touched his as she came to ground level. He felt a surge of pure animalistic desire, desire that he hadn't felt since his wife died eight months earlier. He hoped she wouldn't notice the sudden bulge in his trousers, but it seemed unlikely as they were not more than an inch apart. If Mrs. Peel noticed, she made no mention of it.

"Admiral, are you going to let go?" There was no malice rather an amused lilt in her voice as she attempted to lean down to put her shoes back on.

"Sorry, I wasn't thinking."

They walked back across the mall quietly, neither feeling much like conversation. Emma was surprised when pure physical lust reared its head. Ladies or at least British ones weren't supposed to have such feelings. Noting the Admiral's physical reaction, she had been sorely tempted to kiss him, to let nature take its course. It didn't happen, never had. She had learned early not to behave in a manner that could embarrass the family, not in public and not with strangers anyhow.

As he said goodnight to Mrs. Peel at her door, Josh realized that she hadn't asked him the question she referred to before answering his. He wondered what it would have been. After leaving Mrs. Peel at her hotel, Admiral Hardaway didn't go home. He hated being caught unprepared. It felt like he'd been caught with his pants down. Neither the pre-negotiation packets nor briefings had mentioned anything about either E.K. Knight or Emma Peel. General Brown had told them after the first day not to worry about it. The owner was just there for window dressing. Hardaway hadn't liked General Brown when they met. The man was pompous, full of self-importance. Now Josh found out that he was arrogant to the point of stupidity. That made him dangerous. At three A.M. the Admiral entered Naval Intelligence, Knight Industry built ships, someone must know something about the owner. The three seamen and the Chief Petty Officer on duty knew that something had hit the fan from the way the Admiral slammed the door.

"Admiral on deck," barked the CPOIC.

The seamen sprang, or at least tried to spring to attention. Three O'clock in the morning is normally the mellowest time in any military assignment. The Admiral's voice was crisp, but not unfriendly as he ordered them about.

"As you were. I want everything that we have on Knight Industry, E.K. Knight and Emma Peel. Now!"

The packet was relatively thin but supplied Josh with several clues as to why no one thought to build a dossier on the owner. Until three weeks ago, Knight Industry did not, nor had they ever expressed any interest in doing business with the US government. They had holdings in over thirty nations, were know internationally as a reliable and progressive company, but had never according to the documents ever attempted to break into the US market. Indeed, their approach on ELF had been to NATO. It was the US who had initiated these meetings. There were only a few articles that mentioned Emma by name. There was one piece about the very public sacking of a Professor Keller from the Knight board shortly after Emma had taken over. He also found a couple of longer articles which raved over the success the twenty-one year old daughter of John Knight was having after taking over her father's business after his death. The British Press raved over her success, her intelligence, and the new directions that she was taking the company. Then, five years ago, all stories mentioning Emma Knight stopped. Frustration was not a feeling that Josh dealt with well. He had learned to cope during Denise's fatal illness, but still became angry when faced with the prospect of losing. He had a bad feeling. He didn't know why, but he knew the US was at risk on this deal. The key was there, but he needed to find out about Emma Peel before negotiations resumed at 0900 Hours.

"Sir," his aide had appeared from nowhere, "its 0500 Hours. Is there something that I can assist you with?"

"Banks, do you have a tail or ELF on me?"

"Sir? No Sir! When you weren't home I checked with central operations and the duty officer reported your presence here."

"Oh," the Admiral was thoughtful for a moment. "Banks, if you wanted information on someone that naval intelligence had nothing on where would you go?"

"Sir, would it be E.K. Knight that you need information on? Seeing the startled look on the Admiral's face Banks hurriedly continued. "She is an enigma, the key, and the wild card in all this ELF business isn't she?"

"Yes," Hardaway was impressed by Banks astute evaluation of the situation. "Oh, and she's married. Name is Peel, Emma Peel. Don't know the husband's name."

In the three years that Jerry Banks had served under Hardaway, the Admiral had never seen him surprised. Now he looked positively shocked. "Sir, I think you should call Mark Stone at the London Times. He can tell you all about Mrs. Peel." Banks stood back looking very thoughtful. He'd thought she'd looked familiar.

As the Admiral reached to dial a number that he knew by heart, he silently blasted himself for not thinking of it himself. Mark Stone had been a close friend since his last days at the Academy. Their ties had been cemented during Korea. Stone was a world-renowned journalist. If he didn't know, he could find out. Josh calculated that it was shortly after one in the afternoon in London. Hopefully Mark wasn't out on a story or a bender. Josh prayed he'd answer.

"Mark Stone here, whatcha want?" the newspaperman's growling greeting had never varied in the thirty years that Josh had know him.

No need for useless pleasantries. "Mark, its Jay. I need help and Banks says you're the man. Do you know anything about Emma Peel?"

"Tall, redheaded, with brown eyes that go so deep you could get lost and legs that make a man wish he was silk hose. Would that be the lady you're referring to?"

"Yes." Josh wasn't at all surprised that Mark answered his question with a physical description. Mark had always had an eye for the ladies.

"Jay, is this business or personal?" Mark sounded concerned, Josh missed Denise terribly and Mark was afraid he was vulnerable. Emma Peel was definitely not the woman that Mark would choose to introduce Josh to dating in the sixties. "Jay, be careful! I know her and she's not one to mess with. God made her a redhead to warn men and fools!" When Josh didn't respond, sounding slightly embarrassed Mark continued, "I learned my lesson the hard way. I was drinking one night and said something rude to her. She threw me out a second story window. I still don't know if she knew there was a pool below."

"Mark relax, its business," Josh appreciated Mark's concern, but couldn't quite picture Mrs. Peel tossing Stone out a window. She was so slim and Mark weighed at least 200 lbs. "What in God's name could you have said to cause that reaction?"

Mark Stone laughed ruefully, he knew he often made an ass out of himself while drinking. Josh knew him well enough to understand that. "It wasn't my finest moment. I made a rather crude pass. When she didn't react, I called her an "Ice Queen." Then just to make matters worse, I compounded my error by making a crack about her husband not having the sense God gave a goose and suggested he'd died to get away from her. Since he'd only been missing a few months I expect I got what I deserved."

Dead! Josh hadn't expected that. She was awfully young to be a widow. "Mark, I can't explain, but this is important, tell me everything you know." Twenty minutes later, Josh had heard all about shipping magnate's daughter, the dashing test pilot, and the love that was doomed to a tragic end. Listening to Mark weave a tale that most would have described as the script for a good tearjerker, Josh thought he understood why Emma Peel had become involved in the negotiations and why she had reacted so strongly to Aero-Tech's presence. He had to admire her spunk, but he seriously doubted her sanity. ELF had little or nothing to do with Knight Industry business. It was personal. What he didn't understand was why the hell she had started the project to start with. It had to be like pouring salt on open wounds better left to heal.

Banks, who knew part of the story, having been at the party that Mark Stone described, phoned the Project Director and scheduled a meeting for 0800 at the site where negotiations were to resume. He knew that the Admiral would need to brief Admiral Jones as soon as possible. Admiral Jones would know how to handle this. Diplomacy and tact were his expertise.

By the time Admirals' Hardaway and Jones entered the conference hall at 0845 a fracas had broken out in the hall leading to the conference room. General Brown was in Daniel Sheldon's face screaming as if Sheldon were a first year plebe. "What the hell are you limeys trying to pull? Your boss is having breakfast with the KGB and you sit here as if there is nothing going on. I'll have her deported so fast she won't have time to spit."

Daniel Sheldon was confused to say the least. E.K. hadn't been in her room. She had left him a message telling him she'd meet him at the conference hall, but dealing with the KGB, that didn't sound like Emma. Where the hell was she?

"I think that you'll find I'm a very fast spitter General." Emma entered from the rear of the hall. Dressed in a dark blue pantsuit, with a cream colored silk blouse, she seemed older than her years. She was not at all intimidated by the General's bluster. "Shall we resume discussions or shall Daniel and I head for the airport?" There was a slight smirk, maybe the start of a smile on her face as she sauntered into the negotiation room and sat at the table.

Daniel followed. "What on earth is going on?" he whispered as he sat down. Emma raised an eyebrow slightly and put one hand up as a stop sign. Something in her manner told Daniel that this was going to be one bumpy ride. Suddenly Daniel felt very old. He was no happier than he'd been when she had left last night. Last night he had been angry, now he was seriously concerned that this new attitude of hers was going to effect more than just ELF.

After the negotiators sat down, General Brown thundered, "damn it, you have no right to deal with the Russians!"

Mrs. Peel smiled sweetly. "General, we're British. We have the right to deal with anyone we please. Britain doesn't have an embargo against Russia. Knight Industry will deal with them if we wish. In fact, we will deal with Red China, or East Germany, even Japan if we choose to. You came to us on this project. Now, there has been another offer placed on the table this morning. Do you wish to continue negotiations or shall we leave?" The statement was made in a voice that was calm unconcerned but her body language left no doubt that she was serious about walking out.

Admiral Jones, who was ultimately responsible for the men this project was meant to benefit took the ensuing silence that resulted as an opportunity to take the bull by the horns. He'd deal with Brown later. "Mrs. Peel," he began.

Emma smiled inwardly at the recognition of her name. It looked as if Josh Hardaway had been busy. Jones had not attended any other sessions.

"The Navy, Marines, and," he paused briefly to glance at Major General Peterson who nodded his agreement, "the Army are ready to integrate ELF into our systems. The Air Force will have to speak for themselves. What would it take to finalize this deal, with the proviso that you don't sell this technology to any of the countries that you have just named and maybe a few others?"

General Phil Brown, never one of the calmest of men looked as if he was ready to kill. If the rest signed, he'd have to too. "Blast Jones, I had this under control" he thought, "why was a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff interfering now?"

Josh Hardaway held his breath, wondering who would respond, the calm assured businesswoman or the widow who didn't seem quite rational when it came to certain issues, such as Aero-Tech.

Daniel tapped E.K. on the shoulder, and whispered something in her ear. Mrs. Peel folded her hands under her chin, looking thoughtful. Josh thought that he saw the hint of a twinkle in her brown eyes, before she resumed an appearance of calm indifference. "I expect that our offer from yesterday is fair. We would be willing to settle for our bid price, plus we would expect a one time payment equal to 20% of the first year estimated value of the contract in return for the exclusionary clause you are asking for."

Admiral Jones wasn't certain, but after what Josh had told him about this woman he had the feeling that they were being had. The negotiating team had missed something. Something that meant extra costs to them in the long run. This solution was too easy. The price was fair, the system a breakthrough, and the exclusionary payment that Mrs. Peel was asking for was high, but far less than he would have expected. She hadn't mentioned excluding Aero-Tech either. Damn General Brown. If he'd done his job correctly, Jones would know whether or not she was bluffing. They'd have to settle now, rather than risk her selling to the United States' enemies. Brown, however was going to pay for this. Admiral Jones reached out to shake her hand and said, "Mrs. Peel, We have a deal. Shall we leave Mr. Sheldon and the lawyers to the paperwork?'

Everyone in the room was stunned. It had all happened so quickly that no one knew how to react. Only Admiral Jones and Mrs. Peel behaved as if this was the normal course of business. They seemed unconcerned by the pandemonium that broke out around them. Mrs. Peel stood, smiled brightly at the assembled brass and swept out with Daniel following. He stopped at the door. "I'll be right back."

Daniel could see Emma's shoulders shaking as she moved briskly down the exit corridor. Emma barely made it outside the building before laughter overcame her and she had to sit down. Daniel stared at her as if she had truly snapped. He hadn't heard her laugh like this in almost two years and he did miss it, but somehow he knew without a doubt that there were going to be future repercussions. He couldn't decide whether he should hug or strangle her. He was leaning towards hugging. "What in St. Christopher's name was all that and what is this about you selling to the Russians?"

"Daniel," her eyes were twinkling, no more like dancing with mischief. He'd seen the look often when Emma was small. When she had gotten away with something. "I may not be my father, but I am my father's daughter. Brown is both paranoid and stupid. That's a dangerous combination. He has been having us followed since we arrived. Yesterday I decided to turn his paranoia against him. I made arrangements to have breakfast with Yuri Gramiko this morning. He's probably the only Russian cultural attaché in the world who actually is a cultural attaché. He's a dear sweet man. He tutored me in Russian when I was at school."

Emma half shrugged and tilted her head ever so slightly before continuing. "Anyhow, Michov Anatoli is the KGB officer here in Washington. You must remember him, you and my father served with his father in the Mediterranean during the war." Daniel nodded slightly, he remembered both Michov and his father. Emma's grin dimmed slightly as she continued, "Michov's been trying to seduce me since I was sixteen. When he found out I was having breakfast with Yuri he came along. My shadow, a very nice, very naive airman named Michael reported the meeting to Brown. Presto, General Brown assuming the worst decided that we were going to sell to the Russians, I told them there was another offer on the table, Admiral Jones had to intercede and we have our deal. I told them the truth, there was another offer placed on the table. I just didn't tell them the offer involved a long weekend and very few clothes"

She paused, looking at Daniel fondly, "You taught me, it's called a bluff. You do remember don't you?" As Emma leaned over and lightly kissed Daniel on the check she whispered, "you were partially right. Make sure we keep Clause 19." Then louder, "Go make us some money. I'm going home. I'll see you at the hunt."

Daniel, feeling much better, but still unsure of what really occurred, turned to return to the meeting. Standing at the top of the stairs with a look of absolute amazement on his face was Josh Hardaway. He wasn't sure how much the Admiral had heard, but Daniel couldn't help but notice that the Admiral didn't seem to be able to take his eyes off Emma's retreating figure. Daniel had noticed Emma's frequent glances in the Admiral's direction during the last three days. Hardaway seemed a very decent chap, and as a widower, he was available. Maybe there could be something more to this deal. Daniel had never been accused of being a matchmaker, but a plan was beginning to form in his mind.

"Admiral, you said that you had to be in England next week. Do you have any plans for the weekend."

Dazed, the Admiral replied, "No."

"Do you ride?"

"Yes"

"Well enough for a fox hunt?"

"Yes, I'm from Virginia. I've ridden to the hounds more than a few times in my life."

Daniel smiled his friendliest and most innocent smile. "Good, good. Some friends of ours are holding their annual 'Children's Benefit Hunt'. Perhaps you would join my wife and I as our guest. As you're the designated Naval contact for this project it will give us a chance to get to know one another and we can deal with any issues that remain unfinished here." Daniel turned towards Emma as he made the last statement.

Josh followed his gaze and a broad smile slowly crossed his face. Risking embarrassment, he asked as casually as he could. "Any chance that Mrs. Peel might be there?"

"She'd better be. Failure to appear at the annual hunt is grounds for being horsewhipped in the Whitelaw family. Besides, she is co-hosting it this year with her grandparents." As the Admiral continued to watch Emma's retreating figure, Daniel assumed that the Admiral's reply indicated his ascent. "I'll give Banks all the details and make the arrangements with the Whitelaws." Whistling to himself, he then headed back into the building to make some money.

Chapter Break

Heathrow Airport at 3:00 AM reminded Emma of the Night before Christmas. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. Emma silently blasted herself for being so careless. If only she hadn't been in such a hurry to get out of America, to get away from the ELF project. First, the delay, then the realization that she hadn't arranged a car. Now it would take hours to get her bags and a taxi to Primrose Hill. As she rounded the corner after clearing Customs she got what was a decidedly pleasant surprise.

Lounging at a closed bar, drinking a large brandy and twirling a furled umbrella was the last person she had expected to run into.

"Mrs. Peel, I say this is an unexpected pleasure. Could you use a lift?" Emma could see a twinkle in his light grey eyes.

Suspiciously, she responded, "Unexpected? Steed, since when do you hang around Heathrow at 3:00 AM? Is this business or pleasure?"

"Why, pleasure of course." Steed had not seen Mrs. Peel look so tired and drawn since shortly after the first time they met. "I phoned your hotel in Washington. They said you were on the way to the airport. I took the liberty of phoning your office to let them know you didn't need a ride. Thought we might catch a late supper, but now I'd guess that an early breakfast or perhaps a simple ride home, then off to bed might be a better bet."

Emma was quite pleased that he had taken the trouble to meet her, but not sure that she had the energy to deal with him right this moment. The initial euphoria of actually completing the deal had rapidly given way to runaway memories that she had been unable to control. Days that she didn't want to relive and certainly didn't wish to discuss. "A simple ride home would be appreciated."

Taking her luggage, Steed smiled, "Then a simple ride home it shall be."

During the thirty minute that it took to get to Mrs. Peel's apartment, Steed studied her. She was tired, understandably, but there was more to it. She seemed to be miles away, submersed under only God knew what. He wanted to ask, wanted to take her into his arms and take away whatever was weighing her down, but he felt an invisible barrier between them. His banter was being met with polite, but distracted responses.

When they arrived at Primrose Hill Steed stopped and waited for her next move. "Thanks for coming to get me," she said sounding somewhat self-conscious. "I'm afraid that I'd actually forgot to tell the office I was coming home. We finished rather suddenly."

"Mrs. Peel, are you all right? Can I help?" Steed said it softly, hoping she wouldn't take offense, but needing to let her know he was there for her. Her eyes as she looked at him were troubled and her smile weak. She wore the look he had seen often in the first few months of their friendship. It said, help me and at the same time, no you can't help me. It was not a look Steed was comfortable with and one that he had hoped to never see again. What was going on?

"No Steed I don't believe I am." Her voice was barely audible as she continued. "There is nothing you or anyone else can say or do. I have to work this one out myself. I thought I had more strength than I do. I faced the enemy and it is I. Give me a couple of days, please? Okay? Steed nodded solemnly and Emma rewarded him by leaning over and kissing him lightly on the lips before going upstairs alone.

Steed sat watching until the light in her flat came on, then remained contemplating this rather strange turn of events until the lights went back off. Something was going on that went far beyond a temporary annoyance about Christina. He'd put a call into an old friend who had contacts in the Knight organization in the morning. Maybe he could find out what this was all about without Mrs. Peel telling him. Steed felt as if she were slipping away from him. He was losing Mrs. Peel and that was not something that he could sit by idly and let happen.

Chapter Break

Admiral Anthony Jones was in a foul mood. That idiot Brown had fouled up the entire ELF program. By the time the US had realized what Clause 19 meant, there was nothing that they could do about it. Not during the next five years anyhow.

Knight Industry had effectively prevented them from researching ELF as an offensive weapon by restricting the information that the installers would have and by making themselves the exclusive maintenance contractor. Brown had not done his homework, had failed to evaluate the contract properly, signing off on Clause 19 before negotiations had begun as routine. Then he had allowed his personal prejudices and unorthodox behavior to give Emma Peel the ammunition she needed to bluff them. Now, Brown stood in front of him behaving as if he were the injured party. Jones was having none of it.

"General Brown, per the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Judge Advocate General you will be subject to an Article 32 hearing at the government's earliest convenience to determine your suitability to command and to remain in the service of the United States Army." General Brown sagged a bit upon hearing these words. Even if he were found innocent, his career was over. Jones continued, "You are specifically charged with dereliction of duty, failure to maintain order and discipline, and the unauthorized use of intelligence assets during the period of September 15-18 of this year. Dismissed."

Brown started to object, to argue. He was a Brigadier General. His name was on the short list for Major General. It couldn't end this way. Jones however, no longer acknowledged his presence so Brown picked up his hat and stalked out of the room. He didn't even salute.

After Brown left, Jones stood at his window overlooking the Lincoln Memorial contemplating the events of the last five days. This had been the last straw. Brown had been an embarrassment for way too long. His political contacts would not be able to help him out this time. The thought gave Jones more than a little satisfaction.

On the plus side, ELF would eliminate a very practical and sometimes very demoralizing problem. Plus, the remaining Joint Chiefs had been impressed by Josh Hardaway's actions. Josh was an old friend and one of the few highlights to the ELF fiasco. He had identified the potential issues, taken action to warn Jones, and almost kept the fiasco from occurring. Initiative and instincts like Josh's were what the Joint Chiefs were looking for in the upper echelons of the command structure. Now Hardaway's very life was at serious risk. Admiral Hardaway was scheduled to testify at a trial in England in five days. The case was one that was very sensitive and indeed the witnesses had never been identified publicly for fear that the East German government might attempt to prevent their testimony. For more than two years they had successfully maintained security. In the last 24 hours, news of Josh's identity had leaked. Jones didn't like the timing. Jones also knew that Josh wouldn't accept a bodyguard. Wouldn't do for an Ex-SEAL to have any baby-sitters, at least not if he knew about them. Since Josh knew most of the American intelligence agents they couldn't slip one by him. Maybe the British could help. They were as invested in the outcome of this trial as the Americans were. Jones called a friend in the British Admiralty to see if the British government could help out.

His friend immediately forwarded him on to Lord Stanton at something that he referred to as the ministry. Jones was vaguely familiar with Lord Stanton. They had served in the same theater of operations during the later stages of World War II. Lord Stanton listened to Jone's story and asked only one or two questions before suggesting that perhaps there was something that Great Britain could do. Albeit in an unofficial capacity.

"Admiral Jones, I don't envy you your problem. I know the espionage case you are referring to. It wouldn't do. Wouldn't do at all to have your Hardaway popped off before he can testify. Tell me, does he like women?"

Puzzled Admiral Jones questioned, "Yes, but what does that have to do with protecting him?"

"He is available then?"

"I don't see what all this has to do with….?"

"Admiral, the only way to protect Hardaway without his knowing it is to put a close quarter bodyguard on him. But if we can't tell him, how do you suppose we do that?"

"Oh, I begin to see your point."

"We have a man, John Steed. Very good at his job. One of the best. He doesn't normally do protection and his partner isn't actually a member of our service, but they could pull this off. They are quite discreet so if nothing untoward occurs your Admiral need never know you intervened. Introductions can be made and I don't think that Mrs. Peel has ever had a problem getting and keeping a man's attention." The phone line went so quiet that Stanton thought that perhaps they had been disconnected. "Admiral?"

"Did you say Mrs. Peel, as in Emma Peel?"

"Yes, quite a delightful if somewhat odd lady. She assists Steed on occasion. Sort of a hobby you might say. Why, is that a problem?"

Lord Stanton thought that the American had totally lost it as the sound of laughter filled his ear. "No, Lord Stanton I don't think that getting Josh to notice Mrs. Peel will be a problem at all. They met here a few days ago. Josh is I believe, already smitten. I am curious however, she's the President and owner of one of Britain's top business concerns. Why should she agree to help us?"

"Admiral, if I understood the lady I would have already attempted to make her my mistress, or at least my wife. She and Steed have been working together for about a year. Steed prefers to select his own partners. He can be quite persuasive, but frankly I think she enjoys the game. She had a rather unusual upbringing and after her husband's death…. No one seems to know why she does the things she does." A brief pause, "Shall I set it up?"

"Yes." The two men spent the next five minutes going over the details of the arrangements.

Admiral Jones hung up at the end of the conversation feeling much better about having been bested by Mrs. Peel. Apparently, there was a lot more to her than the physical package. He'd love to see Josh's face if he ever found out that Mrs. Peel was in intelligence. As a Hobby to boot. What a hobby! Josh would flip if he knew.

Chapter Break

Lord Stanton had rung Steed up immediately following his conversation with Admiral Jones. After outlining the issues, he asked Steed if he thought that Mrs. Peel would help.

Steed didn't like this kind of assignment. There were too many unknowns. Too many risks that one couldn't anticipate. Normally Steed would have declined. Steed thought about it for a few moments, putting his reservations aside. It might be just the thing to get Mrs. Peel's mind off whatever was bothering her. When he approached her, Emma had been eager to assist, showing not even a hint of even feigned irritation at the disturbance of her normal routine. All she had said was she was familiar with the Admiral, having met him while on Knight company business. She didn't explain the business and Steed's contact had not been able to help. The ELF project had been directed from Mrs. Peel and Daniel Sheldon's offices.

Now, five days later Steed was regretting the decision to involve Mrs. Peel. Steed regretted his decision for two reasons. He didn't like exposing Mrs. Peel to a level of danger that he normally would have found unacceptable. More importantly, though he would never admit it to anyone but himself, things had been quite tense between he and the lady lately and quite frankly he was concerned that she might do something about the fact that she found the admiral attractive.

Steed, attired in his best tuxedo was mingling with the guests at the American Embassy less that twelve hours before Hardaway was due to testify. Marine Guards and metal detectors would ensure that a large armed force or a single man with a gun wouldn't enter the American Embassy, but did nothing to ensure that a one man suicide squad wouldn't attack the Admiral. The last three days had been quiet, with no sign that anyone wanted to execute the Admiral. Although after observing Emma and Josh for those three days, Steed was beginning to consider the idea himself.

Steed never had to see her to know when she arrived. The stuffy atmosphere of these functions became electric when she entered on the arm of a dignitary. Strikingly tall and slender, she had red hair and expressive brown eyes that sparked when she was angry and sparkled when she was amused. Her physical beauty alone couldn't explain people's reactions to her presence. Steed knew that what really drew people's attention was the way she moved. The best description Steed had heard was from an elderly Duke who once compared her to a jungle cat, beautiful to watch, a fantasy to bag, but dangerous to both a man's life and ego. She combined an athlete's body and grace with an attitude that was both sensual and aloof. It made her seem practically untouchable. Strangely enough men found that paradox a most potent combination.

Mrs. Peel, by birth and social position was one of the elite that populated these affairs. Most of the people attending the function would never imagine and frankly wouldn't believe it if it became public knowledge that Mrs. Peel was there, not looking for a second husband, but to protect the Admiral. In public Steed and Emma were very good friends, but asexual. People speculated that Steed had stepped in after the death of her husband to look after Emma out of respect for her deceased father, Sir John Knight. Steed and Emma never discussed their feelings for each other. In fact, they never spoke of being lovers, not even in private. It was just something that was. Although he had satisfied her "every" desire on occasions too frequent to count and to the point of mutual exhaustion, Steed had not once called her Emma in public. While polite society might not recognize Mrs. Peel's unique talents, John Steed did. The other advantage of Mrs. Peel's high public profile and their public image was that even her escort was ignorant of Steed and Mrs. Peel's true purpose this evening.

Society and the press buzzed with speculation whenever Emma appeared in public more than once with the same man. For the third time in less than a week that man was Rear Admiral Josh Hardaway. A former SEAL, the Admiral was in his early 50's , a shade over 6' 2" with bright blue eyes, steely grey hair, and the body of a warrior, muscular, but not bulky. His dress whites contrasted with a dark tan that set off his hair and eyes. Physical specimens such as he were rare among the Embassy set and everyone took note.

The society matrons standing next to Steed, knowing that Steed would have a better idea than they, opined that Josh and Emma made a very attractive couple and wondered aloud whether Admiral Hardaway would be the man to melt the "Ice Queen" or if she would continue to remain unreachable.

When asked his opinion, Steed politely demurred, "Mrs. Peel and I never discuss such thing."

Since Mrs. Peel's early widowhood the female half of British high society had partially forgiven her for being too beautiful, too intelligent, and too rich. The matrons that regularly attended these affairs decided that the tragedy had left her unspeakably sad, though she bore it well. For the moment, they had forgotten their normal jealousy of the woman who made their husband's face flush by merely smiling politely to acknowledge their presence. They did however, wish she would become reattached and as quickly as possible. That there was no evidence of a lover or any serious involvement with any man since her husband's unfortunate crash seemed to have heightened her appeal among the male population.

Steed quietly observed the couple as they entered the dance floor. He felt more than a little jealous. Mrs. Peel was having a very good time. Steed silently swore that he would make more of an effort to insure that he didn't neglect Mrs. Peel during those periods when he didn't need her, or more accurately didn't need her help with an assignment. He had long ago realized that he needed her. He'd also be more discreet about reinforcing his man about town reputation. Short affairs and causal flirting were okay, but in the future he would make certain Emma didn't have to hear the gory details.

Emma could feel Steed's attention and watched him out of the corner of her eye as she and the Admiral danced. He wore that look of slight aggravation he often had when another man was paying attention to her. Emma never apologized for her attraction to physically superior men. The Admiral was in fact, the kind of man that Emma found attractive, powerful not because of his position, but because of his person. Combat had hardened him, both physically and towards death. Living under a death threat seeking to prevent his testimony at a spymaster's trial, he was cautious, not afraid.

The last few days made it clear to Emma that what had happened between them in Washington hadn't been the result of her slightly inebriated state. There was a definite physical attraction. Josh's animal magnetism was not diminished by either his age or his being recently widowed after a thirty-year marriage. In fact, Emma had come to believe that he had that unique combination of experience, imagination, and stamina that she required in a lover. Casual sex wasn't her style, at almost twenty-eight she could count her lovers on one hand with room to spare, but staying the night with him would make protecting him much easier. That Steed would know made it more attractive and at the same time complicated the situation. If she were honest with herself Emma would have to admit that Steed's recent behavior was the main reason she was strongly considering getting to know the Admiral better. Steed's dalliance with Christina had been public knowledge for the last month. She knew he had broken it off. Her cousin Charlotte had called to tell her, to warn her that Christina was in a perfectly foul mood. Although his relations with other woman reinforced the image that they were just friends and though she had no claim on him, this last foray hurt more than she would admit, even to herself.

Josh ever the gentleman, put his arm gently around her shoulder and whispered to her as they left the dance floor. Steed was in front of them, slightly to their left. Emma remembered her father teaching her that it is more important to listen to what people are saying when they aren't talking than to believe everything that you hear. Steed's body language was speaking volumes. Maybe spending the night with Josh wouldn't be such a good idea. Making Steed jealous was one thing, but actually hurting him would be going to far. The look on his face as Josh had put his arm around her shoulder made it clear that an affair with the Admiral would hurt more than just Steed's pride.

As the evening wore down, Steed needed to discuss their next move, protecting the Admiral after the party ended. Everyone knew that he and Mrs. Peel were good friends so cutting in on a dance seemed a natural next step. Steed approached Josh and Emma before the next song began. He bowed slightly to Mrs. Peel, then turned to the Admiral. "Admiral, excuse me, but may I borrow the lady for a dance?"

Josh looked at Emma to get her reaction and when he saw her smiling, gallantly bowed. "Please be my guest."

Emma reached out, taking Steed's right hand, allowing herself to be led to the dance floor. The next song was a waltz. "Good timing Steed, it could have been a conga."

Steed loved dancing with Mrs. Peel. It gave them a chance to talk without being overheard and allowed them to connect physically. During their association, dancing often turned into foreplay as close physical proximity in public without allowing his hands, lips, and tongue to roam freely to all the places he desired led to certain pressures building up. He could feel it, Emma could too, and Steed could feel the subtle changes which occurred when Emma was aroused. Her building desire as they danced improved his mood considerably. There was still the issue of the remainder of the night to consider however.

Steed cautioned with much more levity than he felt, "Mrs. Peel, careful you don't lose your objectivity. We want the Admiral alive and in court tomorrow, not exhausted, in bed with you."

"Oh no!" Emma half grinned and threw her head back in soft laughter. "Sounds like you're a little jealous. If you remember, this charade was your idea. I'd strongly suggest that you quit worrying about my virtue and concentrate on the rest of the evening. You had better watch your hands as well. People are never going to buy this "Grand Romance" between the admiral and I if you and I get caught in a compromising position."

"My hands?" Steed's eyes widened as he realized that her building desire was due at least in part to the fact that he had begun stroking a particularly sensitive spot on the small of her back as they danced. "Mrs. Peel, I can't imagine you could think me jealous. I simply don't want to have to explain the Admiral getting killed while making love to his bodyguard. I know you find danger exciting, but I do believe that protecting the Admiral from a distance may be the way to go. You do tend to have a rather narrow focus whilst being intimate. That could get the Admiral killed tonight."

The flash in Emma's eyes told Steed that this tact was not going well. It might be better to take her suggestion and concentrate on the reason they were there. "There are six hours to go until the Admiral is scheduled to testify. What would you suggest?"

Emma gave Steed a half smile, raised her right eyebrow slightly and whispered softly, "well if you hadn't gotten us involved in this situation, I'd say we should find a very private room and " …….

The sentence remained unfinished as Steed caught her both her drift and sight of the Admiral coming to regain his date. Emma continued quickly, "I'd suggest that you invite the Admiral and myself to breakfast, that way we can keep an eye on him and you won't have to worry about what I'm up to."

John Steed had an uncanny knack for being charming, getting his way even when others were not inclined to have the same idea. Breakfast with Steed was definitely not on Josh's list of thing to do while in London. Breakfast, preferably in bed, with Emma was more in line with his plans. He was more than somewhat surprised to hear himself agreeing to join Steed at a small, quaint place that Steed swore came highly recommended.

The restaurant was indeed quaint. There was room for less than twenty diners. The owner, a quite attractive woman in her fifties who appeared to be Greek greeted Emma as if she were her oldest and dearest friend. Josh listened as Emma and the owner chatted in Greek. The conversation moving rapidly enough that it was clear that Emma not only spoke Greek but was fluent.

Steed leaned back in a large unusual chair, smiling contentedly as he watched the ladies. "Don't worry Admiral, Mrs. Peel will rejoin us momentarily. She and Adrienna don't usually take more than a few moments to catch up." Seeing the questioning look on Josh's face Steed continued, "Oh, did I forget to mention that it was Mrs. Peel who originally recommended this restaurant. This place and I think Adrienna herself seem to have been among Sir John's favorites. Ah Mrs. Peel, nice of you to join us." Steed's voice had a teasing tone to it as Emma came to sit beside the two men. "What is Adrienna up to these days?"

"I don't think we should bore Josh with all that." The smile that Emma turned to Josh with made his heart leap. "I hope you don't mind, I took the liberty of ordering for all of us. Steed doesn't normally eat breakfast so he has no sense when it comes to ordering."

A pang hit Josh as he wondered how on earth Emma would know Steed's breakfast habits. Perhaps they were closer than it seemed at first glance. "I'm sure it will be most delightful. Do tell me about this place, about Adrienna."

"My parent lived in Greece for about a year after their marriage. Adrienna and her husband owned a restaurant about a mile from their villa. Over time they became close friends. Particularly my mother and Adrienna. When Stavros was killed during World War II Adrienna was left alone with four small children. My parents; well actually my mother arranged to bring them to London. She invested in this place with Adrienna. According to my father the Whitelaws used their social connections to get people to try this place. Adrienna's personality and the cuisine did the rest. My mother left her share to Adrienna in her will. My father and I ate here every chance we got when we were in London. I think my father continued to come here because it reminded him of my mother. Most of the artwork on the wall are her paintings."

Josh turned looking closely at the paintings that lined the walls. They were a combination of landscapes and people. They were quite good. One particular piece caught his attention. It was of a small child about five years old sitting behind an oversized desk, happily engrossed in what appeared to be paperwork. The chair emphasized the smallness of the child. Getting up to cross the room to take a better look, Josh realized that the child was Emma herself. Adrienna seeing the Admiral's interest as well as the look that passed between Emma and John, came up beside him. "It was I think Elizabeth's favorite picture." Josh turned. He could still read even now after so many years the bond that must have existed between the two women. "Come, sit. Breakfast is ready."

Steed had been right, the food was excellent. Josh found himself enjoying this meal more than he would ever have believed. He also found himself thankful that he hadn't tried to seduce Emma tonight. If he had he would have had to leave way too soon to testify in the morning.

Emma had warned Adrienna during their conversation that there might be trouble. The owner hadn't asked for details, she had simply placed her staff on alert to look out for unusual activity. It was due to her actions that Steed and Mrs. Peel received advance warning of the attack that was to come. When her chef told her about the car that had been sitting outside for the last ten minutes with three men inside she knew the trouble Emma had warned of had arrived. Her signal to Steed was subtle. He read her concern as she raised three fingers. Emma read the look on Steed's face and followed his lead. He really did know best at times like this. The Wembly that she had in her purse was laid beside her where Josh couldn't see. By the time that the three gunmen burst into the restaurant Steed had moved into position. He grabbed the first as he came through the swinging him into the wall. Emma pushed Josh's chair over dumping him behind the table then she took the second out with one shot. After that things moved rapidly. Josh didn't even have a chance to raise himself from the floor before it was all over.

Steed was helping Mrs. Peel up from the floor when Josh regained his feet. "What the hell is going on?" Josh was in a blind rage. It was obvious that these two were more than friends and that this breakfast was a part of some scenario that no one had bothered to clue him in on.

Steed's face, which had seemed so unremarkable to Josh, now reflected Steed's true nature. The man had the look of a warrior. Quickly though, it resumed its courteous benign mask. "Sorry old chap. Your government didn't agree with your courageous if somewhat foolhardy stand in relation to the threats against you." Steed excused himself to make sure that the remaining gunmen were secure and that security would minimize any notice of the disturbance.

Admiral Hardaway was not an experienced man, at least not when it came to the number of women he had slept with, but he was no fool. He knew love and respect when he saw them. Looking into Steed's face as Steed was helping Mrs. Peel up after the fight he thought he detected both. He couldn't see what was on Emma's face. Physically, Josh wanted this woman wanted to explore her exciting body to find out if she brought the same passionate nature that she had exhibited over the last ten days to bed. Yet now he hesitated to make a move. He wasn't sure he knew who or what she was. Was there more to her relationship with Steed than he'd surmised. Josh took her hand, "Are there any other talents that I should know about? Do you juggle, or perhaps write steamy novels? Any other identities?" More sharply than he intended, he continued, "has everything about this week been staged?"

"Staged?" Mrs. Peel didn't seem to understand his implication, although she definitely had noted his tone. Her eyes betrayed a certain amount of irritation. "What do you mean by staged?"

Josh hadn't been on a date in over thirty years. He wasn't used to dealing with uncertainty, the unknown. He and Denise had been childhood sweethearts, they had known from the time they were ten that they were meant for each other. Used to command, he didn't know how to proceed except with a direct frontal assault. "I thought that we were having a good time, that there was an attraction…… I, do you want to sleep with me?" Josh suddenly felt like a schoolboy, Emma's gaze was intense, he felt she was looking straight through him. He was no longer angry, but embarrassed.

Knowing that she couldn't honestly answer that particular question and not sure how she should answer if she were to avoid the whole truth, Emma switched the subject. "You miss her very much don't you? Your wife, I mean." Emma's gaze softened as she spoke.

"Yes," Josh realized that he did. More than he wanted to admit. "I miss her, but why bring her up now?"

"Josh," Emma put one hand on his chest, "the attraction you spoke of, its real. Quite intensely real. In Washington, when you so gallantly helped me off the Lincoln Memorial I very much wanted to kiss you, to do things that most people only read about in books. Probably if I were more honest I would have. None of what has been happening between us was staged." As Josh started to reach for her, Emma backed up slightly. "None of it was staged, but it is physical, not romantic. We're not children, nor young lovers. We both have pasts, have memories that come unbidden. How often when we danced or laughed, or when we walked along the park did you think of Denise? How often did you compare me to her, wish she were there?"

Slowly, Josh understood that Emma too had thoughts of another while they danced, while they laughed. He wondered whether the one she thought of was spectral or perhaps more corporeal. There might be a future here, but it wasn't going to be easily or so quickly won. He leaned down, kissing her on the cheek. "Would you see me again?" A slight pause, "If I called?"

"Yes, I believe I'd like that." Emma smiled thankful he hadn't pressed her for an answer on whether she wanted him. Part of her most definitely did.

"Emma," he said softly as she turned to leave, "how would you describe your relationship with Steed?" The Admiral had seen many looks on a woman's face in his fifty plus years, but he had never seen a look like the one on Emma's as she turned her head back.

"Complicated!"

Josh looked over to where Steed had been standing, but the man was gone. When he turned back, so was Emma.

Chapter Break

The night had been a success, but Steed felt like it had been a disaster. The last sight he saw before leaving to come home had been Josh holding Emma's hand. He took the long route home not wanting to return to his empty apartment. The drive home had been unpleasantly quiet images of Emma laughing with Josh kept leaping to his mind's eye. These images mixing with disquieting images about what his imagination feared Emma was doing now had plagued his thoughts, depressing him to no end.

Steed entered his apartment, started to turn on the light then he realized that he wasn't alone. Mrs. Peel had beaten him back here. Pleasantly shocked, he could see her standing next to his red leather couch holding a brandy, wearing only her garter belt, silk hose and the enigmatic smile he had grown to love. She took a sip of the brandy, walked over to Steed and kissed him letting a small amount of the brandy pass from her lips to his. When their lips parted, Emma stood back, her half-naked body shimmering in the early morning sun.

Tonight Emma knew there would be no games, no thought of delay. She needed him too much. As much as she ever had. She wanted the anger and pain of the last few weeks to be washed away by the feel of his body in hers, to be fulfilled in the way that only Steed had ever fulfilled her. She wanted to arouse him, to feel his desire match what she was feeling. She wanted to lead him into bliss and to follow him wherever he wished to take her.

"Steed, you made a promise while we were dancing," she stated confidently. "I've come to collect".

When Steed didn't immediately respond to her comment she pressed the issue. "Steed, please," she whispered urgently as she wrapped herself around him, stroking his inner thigh.

Emma was impatient. It wasn't just sexual excitement, but something more. Steed knew he wasn't going to make her wait. Watching her with the Admiral all evening had crystallized his feelings. He didn't want her considering, much less bedding another man. He knew only part of the emotional forces driving Emma. Knew that she was almost as frantic as he to reconnect. Part of him wanted to apologize for whatever he had done to upset her, but knew that he couldn't without opening issues that neither of them cared to deal with. He felt desperate to be inside her. Steed wasn't sure how he got undressed, but soon found himself guiding himself into the moistness and heat between her hips. Laying Emma back on the sofa, he lowered himself both into her and onto her body, wanting as much physical contact between them as possible. He was acutely aware of the heat their bodies were generating, of the rhythm that made their bodies move as one. This was the dance he enjoyed most. Leading Emma into more intense, faster movements, making sure that they were building toward one final crescendo of desire and then release.

Emma felt her anger washing away replaced by pure desire and the beginning of a conviction that Steed was the man she was meant to be with, even if they could never acknowledge more than the moment. She knew that if they didn't slow down, she wouldn't be able to keep herself from telling Steed how she felt. That would be a disaster.

Steed sensed, then felt the change in Emma's breathing. He felt her attempt to regain control as she hurtled toward orgasm. He knew that she was in that state of pleasure and torment that precedes total release. Steed thought she was attempting to prolong this state, needing the intensity, not yet willing to give up the feeling. Wanting to meet her needs, Steed slowly backed off, matching his breathing to his lover's. His strokes were deep, but slower. Steed realized he wouldn't be able to maintain this control for long, his desire was too strong. His own need to re-establish the connection between them too great.

Steed stared into Emma's eyes, concentrating on her needs, reading her pleasure and the pain that often accompanied their mating dance. Her dark eyes were never more expressive than in the moment right before she surrendered all control and allowed her sensual nature to rule. These were eyes that a man could lose himself in. Eyes that mirrored her soul so clearly that even though she had regained enough control to not verbalize it Steed didn't need to hear her say she loved him. He read it in her eyes. Tonight they glowed with an uncontrollable inner fire. "Ice Queen," hardly, more like a volcano waiting to explode.

As Steed gazed into those eyes, lost to his thoughts, a deep moan escaped her lips. That moan cost Steed almost all the self-control he had left. It felt as though he needed to explode. He moved his face as closely as he could to hers and whispered softly, "I've missed you, I want to…. I don't know how much longer I can .… on the edge…I can't hold …..."

"Wait, please" she pleaded, but Steed could barely hear her as she struggled to maintain her own control, "just a little longer."

A moment later neither of them could resist the pull of their physical responses any more. Steed felt Emma's body take control from Emma's practical, sensible mind. Her responses became purely physical as contractions began pressing against his staff. Steed felt as if Emma was attempting to milk him, to take the seed that he so wanted to release. His strokes became harder, faster, her body matching him in rhythm and intensity. It only took a few more well orchestrated strokes to plunge them both over the edge. The release was all the sweeter for the delay as waves of pleasure washed over both their bodies.

They lay quietly on the couch for a few moments, basking in the heat from their encounter and the early morning sunlight streaming through the front window. Emma, no longer angry, estimated that she had about five minutes before Steed would recover. She was feeling playful. As she lay there listening to his breathing she was planning a long and intimate morning. Steed roused himself, looking into her dark brown eyes, noting both their shimmer and that she had the look of a cat about to eat the canary. Steed was curious about what she was planning, but had some ideas of his own about how the morning should proceed. He decided to take the initiative. Mrs. Peel had a very good memory and he was quite sure she wouldn't forget her plans if he put his into place first.

Emma realized that she had miscalculated as Steed stood up. Clothed, he was an attractive, if not obviously physical man. Naked, he was an impressive sight, muscular with narrow hips. The hair on his chest was curly, well defined while the hair on his abdomen had the appearance of a path to ease a woman's search for his most sensitive spots. The scars that his body wore only served to emphasize his masculinity. As his staff came to life Emma mentally thanked her lucky stars for the odd fact that Steed, unlike most men, was physically larger the second and third go around. What was a sturdy rod the first time they made love became a potent staff the second and third. She couldn't read his mood as he picked her up, but she knew that she trusted him enough to let him do exactly as he wanted. It was now his dance and she would follow his lead.

"Let the games begin." She hadn't realized that she said it out loud until Steed roared with laughter and replied,

"Indeed!"

Emma was physically tired from the long night. She was also emotionally tired from the strain of the last six weeks. She found herself thinking of the old saying; 'if peace of mind won't come to you, go to it.' With Steed, she was mostly at peace, as close as she had come in years. She allowed her head to rest on Steed's shoulder as he carried her up the stairs. Funny, he was so strong, yet so gentle. She had seen his ruthless streak on more than one occasion, she knew the violence he was capable of and yet she trusted him like she had no other man.

Steed could feel the heat of Emma's breath against his neck, her long hair gently brushing against his back as he climbed the stairs to the master bedroom. Steed examined his options; what he had planned would require more than a little self control and the feel of Emma's half naked body had caused a resurgence of his own desire. He could continue as planned or they could start with a quick, soapy, very hot shower. The thought of Emma's slick, soapy body and her tendency to get very oral in the shower made up his mind. A shower and then ……..

Steed started the shower and then completed undressing Mrs. Peel. He enjoyed removing her silk stocking, her legs were deceptively strong from years of self-defense training, yet so soft to the touch that had he not known better, Steed would never have been able to imagine the power they contained.

Steed had had the shower remodeled so that two could shower quite comfortably together and in no time they were wet, soapy, and exploring every inch of each other's bodies. Steed lifted Emma slightly so that they could join and Emma wrapped her legs around Steed's waist then lowered herself on to him. It took only a few minutes for them both to come as they enjoyed what is commonly know as a quickie. They both collapsed in laughter as they almost fell when Steed's knees buckled a bit at the end.

Emma chirped, "Times headline: Master Spy dies in shower slip - conspiracy suspected.

Emma turned, looking down and grinned at him, water was cascading down his tall, muscular body outlining every muscular curve. "I see our little encounter had left you with energy to spare," she commented as she leaned down to take him into her mouth.

Steed closed his eyes, resisting the temptation to lean back, but rather leaning into the water stream so that he could run his hands along the parts of her body that he could still reach. Her tongue slid up and around his half erect member. He knew what was coming. He had spent ten minutes during their second meeting watching her eat an ice cream cone. She had slowly licked around the edges, while every so often flicking the top of the cone with the tip of her tongue. Not a drop of ice cream had escaped as she melted it into her mouth. By the time she had covered the top of the cone with her mouth to suck the ice cream from it, half the men in the room had been ready to leave their wives. She had seemed oblivious to the reaction from the males present. Steed had felt a profound envy of the ice cream cone. One of his greatest pleasures had been learning for himself what the ice cream cone must have felt.

He could anticipate, could already feel her teasing him, taking him to the edge, then distracting him to prolong his pleasure. This was one woman who believed that anything worth doing was worth doing right. He hoped she was truly no longer angry, those nips that she took to distract him could be very painful if she decided to make her displeasure know.

When she finished fifteen minutes later, more than Steed's knees had buckled, the water was getting cold and Steed knew that he would be able to practice the self control he needed for the next part of his plan. "Damn," he only hoped he would be able to rise to the occasion again in the next few hours.

Steed turned off the water and reached for the large heated towels that hung outside the shower. He wrapped Mrs. Peel in one, then used a second to dry her thick auburn hair. Steed took her hand leading her towards his large, four poster bed, his gray eyes bright with anticipation. Emma didn't speak, didn't hesitate for a moment. The sly smile on her face, along with the anticipation Steed saw in her eyes told him she had some idea of what was to come and was looking forward to it immensely.

Emma instinctively knew that Steed planned to pamper, tease, and then devour her. She wasn't sure how he would start, but she knew he intended to take a great deal of time and effort. She only hoped she wouldn't fall asleep before he got started.

"Steed?" she asked.

Steed put his finger to his lips, "Shh… I want you to close your eyes, keep them closed, relax, and enjoy the show. Don't worry, I won't let you fall asleep."

She looked at him with surprise, "How did you know I was worried about …."

"Shh, relax, and enjoy the show." She had no desire to argue as this was exactly what she wanted, so she did as told. He walked away for a moment. When he returned, she felt rather than saw him approach. He could feel the heat rising from her body as he contrasted her tanned arms, legs, and stomach, with her alabaster skin where the sun had never touched. Maybe they'd go to a nude beach on their next long weekend. He stopped when he knew she could feel the heat of his breath.

First, a massage with warm oil. Not a relaxing massage, but one designed to stimulate much more than blood flow. The principal was simple. While massaging her tired muscles, he also began to explore her body with his lips and tongue. He started at the base of her neck. It began with soft butterfly kisses, so light that she couldn't be sure that they were real. He then proceeded to kiss every hidden pleasure point on her body. First softly, then with passion. The combination of his hands, strong and sure, and his tongue, soft and then demanding drove her wild. Steed marveled at how one woman could have so many erogenous zones.

Emma counted her blessings as Steed searched out and found all of them, even the ones most men never think of. By the time Steed gently parted her lips with his tongue, Emma was ready to go into orbit. Her eyes were moist, her breathing uneven, and her body arching to meet Steed's every move. Emma started to open her eyes, but felt Steed's hand cover them. She wanted to cry out, to beg him to enter her, but he put his fingers to her lips and silenced her. As his tongue continued to explore the most private of pleasure zones Emma lost her self totally in the feelings and emotions that Steed's actions were generating.

He didn't enter her. He wouldn't until she was in the grips of orgasm. When each stroke would send her far beyond what most people think of as orgasm. He could feel the spasms start, could feel her hands on his shoulders, alternately attempting to pull him tighter and push him away. Normally, Steed would have moved to lay on his back, allowing Emma to ride him, to control how fast, how deep, how far beyond this first orgasm she went, but tonight Steed wanted to possess her, to rid all doubt from her mind. Doubt, indeed all rational thought had left Emma's mind the moment Steed had started. Her entire being was being driven by pure physical pleasure. Steed had turned her entire body into one large orgasmic experience.

Steed slid up her body kissing her, first on her eyelids, then moving to lips that kissed back as Emma responded fervently to his kisses. Steed whispered softly into her ear. Emma rolled over, raising her hips so that she was on her knees, with her head on the pillow.

"Her stallion," Emma thought, she knew that Steed would mount her as a stallion mounts his mare. Would ride her until both of them were exhausted. As he entered her, she could feel his strength, his desire to possess her and with each stroke his balls smacked against that part of her body that Steed had so recently nibbled, sucked, and licked to bring her to her present state.

Emma's moans escalated until she gasped "Dear God" as Steed exploded, and they both collapsed. Steed held her and stroked her soft thick auburn hair, watching the spasm slowly subside, his eyes riveted to her heaving breasts. Unable to fully catch her breath, Emma tried to focus on Steed's eyes. When she couldn't focus she closed her eyes and instead snuggled into Steed's arms.

"Just give me a few minutes," she gasped, barely able to speak. It took a good twenty minutes for Emma's breathing to return to normal. By the time it had she was fast asleep curled up with her head on Steed's chest and her hand over his heart. It was the first completely peaceful sleep she'd had in almost two months.

Steed made it a habit to never sleep with the women that he was intimate with. The morning after always seemed forced to him and he enjoyed being able to stretch out when he slept. More and more lately, he found himself hoping that Emma would fall asleep in his arms as opposed to leaving. Tonight, he was doubly thankful that she was staying. It meant that the crisis, whatever had caused it was over. It allowed him to watch her as she slept. So serene, so inviting. Steed wondered how he had been so lucky to capture this goddess who made his days lighter, shared his very unusual life, and never questioned where their relationship was going. He knew that she would eventually want more, a family, a home, marriage, but for now she was his. He longed to be able to tell her how he felt, but knew he would never express it. He was confident she knew. Finally, exhausted Steed fell into an easy slumber.

The sun was almost directly overhead, when Steed was roused by the sound of someone rummaging around in his living room. Reacting, rather than thinking about what was happening, he started to leap from the bed but stopped when he heard Mrs. Carver singing to herself. His abrupt movement caused the woman beside him to stir slightly. Her arm encircled his waist as she curled up against his back. Molding her body to his. It was then that the full horror of the situation hit Steed. Earlier, he hadn't given a thought to what day it was. Mrs. Carver cleaned every Wednesday. Somehow Steed couldn't see either Mrs.'s Peel or Carver responding very well to an unexpected meeting. Steed knew that he was somewhat Victorian in his attitude about a lady's honor, but having Mrs. Peel be the object of gossip didn't appeal to him at all.

Emma was still half asleep, but when Steed didn't respond to her hug, didn't turn over and take her into his arms she realized that something was wrong. Generally that meant real danger. "Steed?" she whispered so no one would hear, "What's wrong? Enemy Agent?"

"Cleaning Lady!" Steed sounded worried.

"Cleaning..." Emma realized that Steed was worried about her, her reputation. It was so sweet, so Steed that she couldn't help but be touched. She started to say that it was okay, she'd just stay here out of sight until Mrs. Carver left, then realized that they had left their clothes strewn about the living room. There was no way that Mrs. Carver could miss the fact that Steed had a woman here. The thought of the look that must have crossed Steed's very religious, somewhat matronly housekeeper's face when she saw the living room so amused Emma that she began giggling.

Steed didn't find anything about the situation amusing. He knew that Emma wasn't going to giggle quietly for long. He quickly dressed and tried to think of a reason to send Edna home. One that wouldn't be too transparent.

Edna Carver had worked for Steed for almost ten years. Although he was a very discreet man there was not a lot that she hadn't seen. She knew he enjoyed the ladies and that the ladies enjoyed him back. In ten years she had never actually seen any woman in his bed or signs that one was upstairs when she arrived. The sight that had greeted her this morning was extremely uncharacteristic of her boss. Normally the neatest of men, Mr. Steed's tuxedo was on the floor. There was underwear on top of his tuba and the dress hanging in the closest had been in a picture on the society page that morning. Only the woman wearing it hadn't been at the Embassy with Mr. Steed last night. She had been with some American, a naval chap. Mrs. Carver hoped this meant what she thought it did. She wouldn't ask. She knew that his nibs valued his privacy and if indeed whom she thought was upstairs, he'd make sure that the lady's privacy was protected too.

As Steed descended the circular stairs, he was in a perfectly foul mood. Stupid mistake, forgetting that his cleaning lady would be in today. Just as he came off the bottom step he met Mrs. Carver.

"You must be starved, she said, handing him a platter with enough food for two, including one of his better champagnes."

"Mrs. Carver," he started.

"Mr. Steed, my aunt's taken ill. I won't have time to clean upstairs today. I'll come back in the morning." Two could play the discretion game. Edna Carver didn't have an aunt. The woman put on her coat to leave. She couldn't resist one gentle dig, "Mr. Jonathan, if you ask my opinion, its about time."

When Steed got upstairs, Emma was up and grinning. She had heard everything. "Well, so much for your honor." Spying the food her eyes lit up, "Bless Mrs. Carver I'm starved. Energy for round three then?"

Steed ad Emma spent the rest of the afternoon in delightful congress of the flesh, ceasing only when Emma had to leave to pack. Her grandparent's hunt was this weekend and Emma had to arrive early to help with the preperations.

Chapter Break

Thursday morning the call come less than an hour after Mrs. Peel called to let Steed know that she was leaving for her grandparents. Despite the capture of the intended assassins, Josh Hardaway was not out of danger and he was leaving London for some Fox Hunt in Sussex. Steed wondered how an American Admiral had scored an invitation to one of the hottest social events of the year. The Americans wanted he and Mrs. Peel back on the case. They were sending the Admiral's aide to explain the details and assist with the operation.

Less than an hour later, Steed picked Jerry Banks up outside of the American Embassy. As they drove down to the Whitelaw Estate Banks explained, "Daniel Sheldon met the Admiral in Washington, he invited him to the hunt as negotiations on the Knight project had wound down. After Jones called, Admiral Hardaway filled Sheldon in about why your presence was needed and Daniel agreed to act as our cover. The Admiral asked me to tell you that Mrs. Peel's name never came up."

As Banks spoke, Steed contemplated how he should handle the situation. Sheldon and his wife were driving down and bringing the Admiral with them. Hardaway would not be arriving until late that afternoon. That would give Steed time to find Mrs. Peel and explain what was happening. She wasn't going to be happy about her family being in the line of fire, and frankly Steed wasn't sure how she'd react to his being there. Neither of them had made any effort to introduce the other to their families. In fact, after an accidental meeting with a photographer cousin of Mrs. Peel's both had gone out of their way to make sure there wasn't any contact.

Banks finished the story with, "Mrs. Peel made quite an impression on the Admiral at the negotiations and I imagine Sheldon is trying to play matchmaker. He seems to be trying to get them together every chance he gets." If Banks wondered how Mrs. Peel fit into Steed's scenario, he didn't ask. Steed for his part, didn't remember ever meeting Daniel Sheldon, but felt the beginning of some animosity all the same.

It was shortly past noon when Steed and Jerry Banks drove up to the manor house on the Whitelaw Estate. Designed like the hunting lodges of the middle ages, the house was rustic, very large, and surrounded by a multitude of barns and stables. Everything was clean, neat, well cared for. Every building looked as if it wore a new coat of paint. Steed wondered if this was one of the places that postcard companies used on its product to advertise the quintessential British country estate. From Emma's descriptions, Steed knew that the Estate consisted of over thirty five thousand acres of rolling hills, meadows, and fields. It was actually a collection of smaller parcel's that made up multiple homesteads of various Whitelaw relatives. The Whitelaw family had controlled this estate for the better part of two centuries. Though the balls were not nearly as lavish as in years past, the Whitelaw's annual weekend was one of the social and charitable highlights of British Hunt Society.

As they alighted from Steed's Bentley the pair met Samuel and Sara Whitelaw. Both were in their seventies, but remained hale and hearty. They made a good couple. Samuel, at a little over six foot was stately, with a crinkled brow and bright blue eyes. His wife, a half foot shorter, had long silver hair, what looked like a permanent smile on her face and eyes that looked as if they could light the night sky, so defined was their twinkle. If the Whitelaw's thought Steed and Bank's inclusion at this late date strange, they showed no sign of it. Jerry and Steed were greeted as if they were long lost friends. Their bags were whisked from the car and rooms assigned within minutes of their arrival. Steed was used to dealing with old British families, used to the normal reserve that permeated most British Aristocracy, including his own family. The grace and warmth with which they were received surprised him. Steed started to apologize for the inconvenience and was met with Samuel's clasping his shoulder and declaring, "Nonsense, any friend of Daniel's is welcome here, we don't stand on formalities. Actually your arrival today is a Godsend. I understand from Daniel that you ride. Some of our grandchildren have been delayed. Perhaps you will help check the fields before Saturday's hunt. I'm sure one of the kids could use a hand." Samuel then turned to Jerry, "I understand that you and Jeffrey went to Harvard together. Would you like to join him?"

"He's here, is he?" Jerry Banks thought that everything about this assignment was looking up. If Jeff was here, then his sister might also be. Samuel laughed and the two men went off to hunt down one of the myriad of cousins working on the hunt.

Emma's Grandmother, Sara Cooledge Whitelaw took Steed under her wing. Sara had no idea why Daniel invited this tall, dark stranger, with the intriguing eyes at the last moment, but she liked him at once. Her instincts and the knowledge that not one but two of her granddaughters were involved with him told her that there was much more to this man than met the eye. Grandparent's aren't supposed to have favorites, but Sara admitted to both herself and her husband that Emma held a special place in her heart. Maybe it was due to the loss of own daughter, Elizabeth, Emma's mother or the fact that Sara was the closest thing to a mother that Emma had known since her mother's death when she was nine. It didn't really matter why. The fact was that Sara and Samuel, though he was loathe to actually admit, it spent more than a fair amount of time worrying about Emma. Although they lived in Sussex, both Samuel and Sara kept eyes and ears open for information about their vast brood. Sara had been hearing rumors for months about Steed, speculations about his relationship with her youngest granddaughter and was pleased to finally get the chance to judge for herself.

"I hope that you will excuse us Mr. Steed, the hunt becomes an all consuming monster around here in the last hours before we start."

"Perhaps, I can assist in some way." Steed noticed that Sara Whitelaw had familiar deep brown eyes. They sparkled as she spoke.

"Well, all the children are attending to their assignments. For the moment I could use some company and will try to fill you in on the operations if you like. Then later this afternoon, Samuel will fix you up so you can ride the trails with one of the grandchildren. I believe you know our youngest granddaughter. I'll assign you to help her."

Steed wondered if Sara Whitelaw was always so helpful of if someone had informed her of his purpose. "Could you tell me a little of the history of the hunt? I have read about it, heard stories from participants, but I must confess I know very little about how it came about."

Walking up to the verandah, Sara signaled for tea. As they were seated, she gave Steed a brief overview of the hunt. "It started as a business devise in the mid 1800's. It gave the family a chance to showcase our horses for potential buyers. Over the years as society and our vocations have changed, the hunt has been transformed from a business proposition to a charitable event. For the last twenty-five years it had been primarily a mechanism to raise funds for Children's Charities. She finished her description by explaining the extent and reasons for her family's involvement. "Samuel and I have been very fortunate in our lives. We have nine children, seven of whom are still living. These children have had thirty-seven children of their own. Not one of our family has had to live in hunger, been poor, or fell in with the criminal element. This hunt and the charities that it supports are our way of returning a little of what we owe for our good fortunes. Every year we give of our time, our resources to return the blessings that have been bestowed upon us. The people you see working, with the exception of our estate staff are all volunteers. Most of them are family members or close friends. Shall we begin the tour?"

Steed and Sara spent the early part of the afternoon touring the main grounds and the "control center", where the Whitelaw Foundation monitored the progress of the hunt. The idea of a charity function having a control center seemed strange to Steed, so he inquired about its purpose.

"The control center allows us to track not only the progress of the hunt, but to maintain the safety of our guests, Mr. Steed. We have two main concerns, accidents, and the potential for outside influences to cause harm to our riders."

"Just Steed please, all my friends call me Steed. What do you mean by outside influences, Mrs. Whitelaw?"

Sara smiled with a familiar deep twinkle in her eyes, and it occurred to Steed that Mrs. Peel would someday age as graciously as her grandmother had maintaining the glint of eye and that strange off center smile that so charmed him today. He wondered if he'd be there to see it. So intense was his thought that he missed the first part of Sara's answer.

"I'm sorry, could you please start over. I'm afraid I momentarily drifted off."

Sara had noticed the far off look in his eye and chuckled gently, "I said I will call you Steed only if you call me Sara. We have had some problems the last couple of years with anti hunting groups and there is usually a dignitary or two who believes that they need 'protection'. Our main concern however, is accidents. We ride the fields as completely as possible to spot problem spots prior to the beginning of the hunt. Then we post grooms at the tops of each hill so that we have a view, although not completely unrestricted, of the fields we hunt. This way should a hunter go down, we are able to summon aid quickly. We track the hunters by their horses. No one knows the names of all the horses so there is less panic if we use the horse's name. For example, my youngest granddaughter, Emma will be riding Ransome. Should she have a spill, you would hear Ransome down, rider status okay or whatever the status is. We have designated statuses that communicate what is needed without actually announcing it on the radio. It keeps casual observers from panicking."

After two delightful hours with Sara Whitelaw, she needed to attend to other details and left Steed on the verandah to await his assignment. Steed sat comfortably watching the assembled huntsmen and women preparing for the three day "Children's Benefit Hunt." Contemplating the history of the event and the manner of the people involved he felt it belonged to a more graceful age. Sara had told him that many of the old traditions were largely gone now with development, animal rights, and decreased reliance on one's trusty steed for one's livelihood. What remained had been modified, altered to suit modern society, losing much of its color and pomp from days gone by. It seemed to Steed that while the purpose and tone of the Whitelaw's hunt had changed, the spirit remained. The spirit and the unique camaraderie found here existed few other places. Young, and not so young gentlemen attended festivities, the hunt being the centerpiece, where if lucky, they could attempt to capture the fancy of one of the "Whitelaw Women."

Steed felt at home here, among horsemen and ladies. He found it easy at times like this, to relax, to think of pleasant times and things in his life. Mrs. Peel's face and the times they had spent over the last year kept making their way into his thoughts. So much the good days were now tied to her presence. He had fewer bad days since she had come into his life. Steed had never thought much about Mrs. Peel's maternal family. Everything about her, at least everything he knew of her history centered on her father and the Knights. "Whitelaw Women", Steed remembered tales of these mythical creatures from when he was a lad. He'd always believed them to be just that, myths designed to make good matches for the Whitelaw daughters. After meeting several of Emma's female relatives, especially her grandmother, Steed now had a different image. Now he understood there was a mystery, an essence about these women that sparked the tales of a family that breed fine woman the way most would breed fine horses. He smiled as he thought about the essence, the grace and warmth that made these women so delightful. He had seen this grace before, but combined with a presence that was no nonsense and at times ruthless. It was as if the romanticism of the Whitelaw's had found its perfect compliment in the no-nonsense command presence that the Knight's engendered. Idly, Steed wondered why he had not yet seen Emma.

Chapter Break

In a day already filled with unexpected events, Emma thought that this one had to be the all-time winner. Steed sitting on her Grandparent's verandah, sipping brandy looking as if he had lived here his entire life. She had over the last few days contemplated inviting him to attend the hunt as her guest, but hadn't been able to face dealing with the speculation that such an invitation would cause. As she completed her assigned tasks during the morning, her mind had kept turning to a single thought. Steed! How much nicer it would be if he were here with her and here he was. She wondered if Tina had invited him or perhaps fireworks were going to erupt when Tina found out he was here. What was he doing here, it had to be business, if it were pleasure surely he would have told her? She ambled slowly up the stairs, careful not to draw attention to herself. It seemed to Emma that Steed was cataloging mentally all the people he was watching, particularly the women. Emma decided to have a bit of fun as she made her way to the obviously enthralled man. For the first time in the last six weeks, Emma felt as if she were in control of the situation. After all, this was her home turf.

Slipping behind him, she covered his eyes. "Would you like a list? Maybe one with ratings?" she whispered playfully in his ear.

Steed turned slowly to face her somewhat embarrassed that she had taken him unaware, just as Emma had hoped "Mrs. Peel! How wonderful to see you, but a list! Pray tell, what for?"

"Well, if you're planning to sleep your way through all my female relatives, it might help if you had a scorecard." Emma said, a touch of gentle banter in her voice.

Steed took her firmly by the arm, fixing her eyes with his. This wouldn't do. She must be confused. "Why would you think that I had any intent…" Steed stopped suddenly. Rounding the corner of the far stable were two very attractive women. Steed knew them both by sight. The taller, blond one was Emma's cousin Charlotte, affectionately introduced to Steed some six months ago during a chance meeting as Char by Emma. The other made Steed's question unnecessary. It was Christina Barlow Baker.

Emma couldn't believe what she was seeing. Steed looked totally stunned, momentarily speechless as it were. "Cousin Tina," was all she said.

"I had no idea," Steed was taken aback. His practiced nonchalance and unflappability had been shattered. No wonder Mrs. Peel had been justifiably angry. For the first time in their relationship, Steed was totally at a loss for words.

Steed being unaware of her and Tina's relationship changed the landscape tremendously. If Steed hadn't known hadn't expected to see Christina here, then Christina must not be expecting him either. Steed had no idea what his presence here could mean. "I hope you brought your bowler, it is going to be rough sledding over the next few days." Emma knew too well the firestorm that could erupt in the next few days, but wasn't sure how she could explain it all to Steed. This particular path had been taken before and if history were any indication, either she or Christina would come out on the short end. The short end of what threatened to be a very nasty confrontation. Wanting time to think and hoping to defuse the situation by not present when Steed explained to Christina why he was here, Emma stood up to leave. "It will be better if Tina doesn't think I have anything to do with your being here. I'll pick you up by the fence in an hour. Wear something appropriate."

Steed gave her a quizzical look.

"To ride, I'll meet you at the stables in an hour."

Steed stared into her brown eyes, knowing full well that there was more to this story, but also knowing she wouldn't tell him until she was ready. She never did anything until she was ready. Pausing a moment to sip his brandy and gather his thoughts, he replied. "Right, Mrs. Peel. This trip did come up rather suddenly, you know. I'll deal with Christina but we must talk later. I need your help." Steed's tone had turned serious. He was once again in control of his emotions.

Emma wanted to pull him away, tell him everything and hope that this would all go away. Instead, she left him to fact Tina alone. Emma needed him to understand, yet worried at times that he understood too much. The influence Steed had over her, the intensity of her feelings towards him, even their non-verbal agreements were not a part of her normal relationships. The whole relationship was unlike anything she had ever known. Things went far beyond what she had felt with Peter. Peter! Had it really been only six years since that fateful hunt? Hard to believe the she had traversed the road that weekend had resulted in. The changes that had taken place as a result even Steed. She hated the way things were between herself and Tina. She had studied what had happened, looked for ways to repair the damage, but the truth was she wouldn't have changed anything, not even for Tina. She wondered, at times, if her true nature was that of a bitch. Internal introspection was not something that she enjoyed and now, just when she had gotten her feet back under her, the next three days promised to be most trying.

As Emma backed down the stairs so that the approaching women wouldn't see her, Steed reflected on the best approach to take. Charlotte knew he and Mrs. Peel were friends, Mrs. Peel said that she suspected that they were more. After all, how often does one have a chance meeting at a small bed and breakfast outside Cannes. Suddenly it became patently obvious that there had been some kind of falling out between Emma and Christina. Did Christina know more about his and Mrs. Peel's relationship that he thought? Could that have been the reason she went public with their relationship? To avenge some slight, inflict some wound? Why hadn't Christina mentioned that she was Emma's cousin the night they met when he mentioned having an engagement for lunch the next day with Mrs. Peel? What ever was going on went a long way towards explaining why Mrs. Peel had been so tense, so cold, she must have thought that he knew of their kinship. Would he need to do something to diffuse the situation? Probably, the question was could he?

Sara had watched as Emma slipped up the stairs, had noted the pleased look on the man's face at the sight of her, the ease with which they bantered. She had also noted Emma's reaction when Christina had come around the barn. Quickly she moved to Steed's side on the verandah. "Christina, Charlotte, could you come here a moment?" she called. A quick glance at Steed communicated her desire that he let her handle this situation.

The two women literally bounded up the stairs to where their grandmother was standing. They didn't see Steed until Sara had begun the introductions. "Charlotte, Christina, I would like you meet Mr. John Steed. Mr. Steed will be joining us as a guest of Daniel's for the hunt this year. Please help make him feel welcome, won't you. Steed, these are two of my favorite granddaughters, Charlotte, and Christina."

Charlotte smiled, then put her hand out. "Steed and I have already met Gran. Its quite nice to see you again." Charlotte couldn't help but notice that Steed's handsome face and eyes were a bit tense. Dressed in a three-piece suit, wearing a bowler, and carrying an umbrella on a bright sunny day, Charlotte had thought him attractive, but soft when she had met him outside Canne. Now, dressed more casually, she could see that there was a physicality to him that she had missed in France. Responding with warmth was her natural reaction, but her mind immediately went to other, darker thoughts. Why on earth would Daniel invite the man his step-daughter had just broken off a very public affair with to the hunt? More importantly, did Emma know?

Christina, on the other hand was not smiling, nor did she seem inclined to follow her Grandmother's directions. A dark rage appeared in her eyes. How dare she? Predictably she blamed Emma for Steed's appearance here. As she started to speak, Sara laid her hand on Christina's shoulder, a signal warning her gently that she would behave in a civilized manner if for no other reason than it was expected.

Steed didn't need to use his deductive power to realize that Mrs. Peel had good reason to be concerned about Tina's reaction. He decided that the best course of action was to be as charming as he could to all the ladies present. "Christina, Charlotte, my dears it is delightful to see you both. I must confess that I hadn't realized you were both "Whitelaw Women". Seeing you here however, it is quite obvious that you get your charm from your grandmother." Sara blushed slightly. Blatant flattery. It was an interesting tact to take. As both women were inordinately fond of their grandmother and saw the pleasure that this handsome rogue's comments had brought to Sara's face Steed's ploy was successful.

Christina calmed noticeably. "Steed, I don't believe that my father has ever mentioned you. Have you known him long?"

"No," Steed answered honestly. "We haven't actually met. There is some business that he, Joshua Hardaway, and I need to conduct. Since the Admiral was already coming and is scheduled to return to the states on Monday, your father suggested that we might complete it here. I couldn't resist the temptation. I've heard tales of your family's hunts since I was small. An opportunity to see it for myself was too much to pass up. Your grandparents," Steed smiled warmly at Sara, "have been most gracious. They have arranged for me to actually ride in one of the hunts."

While Christina never became what Steed would call friendly she remained cordial as Steed, Charlotte, and Sara spent the next forty-five minutes discussing details of the next three days. Steed was pleased that this crisis had been averted, but worried what Christina's reaction would be when she saw he and Mrs. Peel together. If Steed were a mind reader he would have realized beneath their calm exterior Sara and Charlotte were both contemplating the same potential disaster.

Sara Whitelaw saw an opening. She would be the one to decree that Emma and Steed should be together. Christina couldn't object to Steed helping ride the trails. "Steed, you said that you would be willing to help with the preparations?' Steed nodded his assent "Good, I believe you know my youngest granddaughter, Emma?"

"Yes," Steed liked Sara more and more as he realized her intent. "Mrs. Peel and I are acquainted."

"Good. Emma is riding the northwest section of the estate this afternoon to clear the jumps. I believe she is planning to start in about thirty minutes. Would you mind joining her?" Christina's face turned a little red as Sara spoke, but she did nothing to object, nor did she seem angry with her grandmother.

"Anything I can do to help. If you ladies will excuse me, I'll just change into my riding boots." Steed was pleased that none of the ladies present could see the grin that lit up his face when he turned his back.

Chapter Break

A little more than fifteen minutes later Steed strolled into the stable. It was cool, with a slight breeze from fans designed to maintain the cool in the summer, and circulate heat in the winter. The stable was old, but well worn as opposed to decrepit. The brass was polished and the stable smelled like tanned leather, oiled wood, cigar smoke, and horses. The head groomsman looking none too pleased met Steed at the entrance, "Sir, I've been told that you believe yourself a fine horseman!" The groomsman's look and tone indicated that he believed otherwise. "Miss Emma instructed me to give you Jackson, says that you and he are soulmates. No disrespect meant sir, but I'm not sure that I trust her intuition when it comes to men and horses. Let me see your hands. I can tell a horseman by his hands."

Steed smiled to himself. Emma must have picked out the most spirited horse in the stable for him. He raised his hands for the groom to inspect, smiling graciously. The groomsman inspected Steed's hands and the attitude with which he had proffered them. Only then did a broad smile cross his face. Handing Steed the reins to a very large black stallion, "Sir, you have the hands of a rider if I've ever seen them. Miss Emma is behind the second barn to your right."

Steed cantered out to when the groomsman had told him Mrs. Peel was waiting. She sat there, dressed casually, smiling on a horse that could only be described as a twin to the one Steed sat astride.

"Steed, I'm impressed. You seem to have survived your encounter with Tina without too much damage and I expected that you'd have a much harder time getting Jackson out of the stable. What did you do, tie up Martin and/or Tina?" Her eyes were full of mischief and her smile as wide as any Steed had seen.

Smiling back, Steed couldn't help feeling honored that she had chosen this horse. "Thanks for the confidence. Martin doesn't trust your intuition about men, but liked my hands. Tina, as you call her, was somewhat mollified by the fact that her stepfather invited me, and your grandmother worked some magic. Is your grandmother always so intuitive? She seems to know how to manage everyone and every situation she sees." Not waiting nor expecting a response from Emma, Steed continued jovially. "Now, what's first business or pleasure. We have about three hours before the Admiral arrives."

"The Admiral? Why would Josh be coming here?" Emma seemed confused and a little irate.

"Daniel Sheldon believes you two would make a good couple. He apparently is making it his mission in life to get you two together, or so I'm told. He invited Josh while you were in Washington. The US government has asked us to watch him this weekend. Evidently, there is something more than they thought going on. Those gunmen were mercenaries, not agents. They are steadfastly holding to their claim that they don't know who hired them. The US and the Ministry are afraid that the leak about Hardaway was deliberate and that someone else is trying to eliminate him. Oh, and this time he knows what's going on, He agreed and helped arrange it."

"Well I haven't," Emma seemed quite cross now. "Steed, this is my family. Why are you bringing the game here. Why would Josh come if he knows there may be trouble? This is a quiet village. These people don't involve themselves in espionage. I don't want them in the line of fire. Plus, how could I ever explain this to my grandparents?"

"My guess is the good Admiral wants to see you. Your grandparents are either very helpful or they seem to know why I am here. Hardaway specifically avoided mentioning you in the setup. They don't know about you. We intend to make sure they don't find out. Don't worry, all you have to do is be pleasant. We have the rest covered."

Emma felt doubtful, but knew that if Steed said he had it covered, he probably did. She'd have to trust his instincts on this one, besides she was looking forward to the pleasure part of the afternoon. She'd planned a couple of surprises for Steed. "Okay, but if it gets sticky I'm throwing him out. Plus, I think I shall have a serious heart to heart with Daniel. I don't need another friend trying to correct my lack of a social life."

Steed smiled, "Okay, on with the pleasure. What are we doing out here?"

"You mean besides avoiding Tina?"

"Yes, and while we are at it, what is the story?"

"Steed, it's too beautiful of a day to ruin with the sordid details. Let's just say that Tina and I are no longer close. Familial competition run amok you might say." Emma's face betrayed her disbelief as she asked, "Is she really okay with your being here?"

"Okay, but not happy. Why do you think that we won't run into her out here?"

Emma snickered, "Assignments Steed, Assignments. Gran runs this hunt like a military drill. Tina is working with the caterers. She'll be occupied until at least six o'clock. I am to check the jumps in this section. If we ride hard it we should be able to complete it in about an hour."

"And the other two hours?"

"Oh, let's say I have some thoughts about those. Race you….." With that Emma and Ransome tore off across the field as if in pursuit of some unseen fox. Steed didn't have to urge Jackson as his competitive nature quickly brought them even with Emma. The warm afternoon sun glinted overhead as for the next forty-five minutes they rode fast, hard over hills, through valleys taking every jump that they could find. They stopped only to remove debris at a couple of the jumps. Working quickly as a team, they didn't have to discuss when to stop or how to take the jumps. The horses, perfectly attuned to each other, complemented the riders completely.

It was only when they reached a small barn on the front edge of the estate that Steed discovered one reason that Emma had selected this horse for him to ride. Jackson and Ransome were well trained in a form of cavalry command that Steed had thought long dead. As Emma issued a whistle, then a series of hand commands, Jackson responded to her even though Steed held the reins. Emma led them through a concealed path to the back of the barn.

Dismounting, Emma couldn't help giggling at the look on Steed's face. "Are you coming?" she asked lightly as if there could be but one answer.

They entered the barn through a door that appeared as if magic when Emma pushed a brick at the side of the path. "This is the blacksmith's domain. The front of the barn is visible from the Manor house. I thought the better part of valor, not to mention discretion would be to come in from behind." There is a false wall dividing this area from the main part of the barn. Many of the Estate's buildings have hidden passageways and rooms. They were used in early days to hide visitors during various King's tirades and I think to facilitate assignations among the more adventuresome of my ancestors."

"Mrs. Peel, the horses?" Steed was leaning against the Blacksmith's bench, watching her intently.

"The horses will be fine Steed. They have plenty to keep them busy."

"That is not what I meant. Jackson responded to your commands. I didn't think that horses were trained that way any longer."

"They are named after their trainer. Jackson Ransome was a cavalry trainer from the old school. Probably one of the last true horse soldiers. He trained horses for the government for over seventy years He was also friends with my great grandfather for years. When he retired my grandparents moved him into one of the smaller guests houses on the estate. When twin stallions were born, my father bought them. As a favor father asked him to train them. They were a gift from my father on my eighteenth birthday. They were, I believe the last pair Ransome trained. I have never been sure whether the lesson my father meant to convey was about power or control." As she spoke, Emma had begun to allow the riding crop she was holding to drift gently along her partner's chest, down to his waist, then to his hips, and buttocks.

"I'm not sure that I understand?"

Laughing, Emma lightly stroked Steed's face with the flat edge of the crop. "Steed, you're twice the rider that I am. Didn't you find it strange that for the first time ever, I was able to keep up with you? Jackson is the faster, the more spirited of the pair and yet not once did the two of you get ahead of Ransome and I. Jackson was trained to follow the dictates of the rider on Ransome. I have often wondered if he resents it. On the way back I'll give him the liberation command. Then you'll see why Martin was concerned about your ability to ride."

Steed marveled at how her face could remain so innocent even as she was actively attempting to arouse him. Emma continued to discuss trivial matters, joking with Steed as she stroked different parts of his anatomy with the flat edge of the crop. The feel of the leather through his riding pants. The sight of Emma's nipples standing at attention through the silk of her blouse combined with the knowledge that Emma wouldn't move, wouldn't touch him with her body until his will was about to break made this treatment sweet torture for Steed. Their relationship had been like this from the start. Emma alternately challenging him silently to attempt to seduce her, then maintaining her distance. In the end, it had been her decision to become lovers. Steed had no doubt that it was she who totally seduced him. She was no man's mistress. He was in her bed because that was how she wanted it. And the day she no longer wanted it, it would be over. Today though she would bend him to her will, would in turn bow to his will, until each was unsure of who's will they followed.

"Steed, you're not paying attention to me," Emma's pout was more pretend than real as she judged the worth of Steed's response to her ministrations. "I said that it's just not done."

"What, my dear?" Steed's voice was slightly forced as he attempted to ignore the delightful pressure that Mrs. Peel was now applying to his testicles, lifting them with the crop, almost juggling them.

"I said that despite my belief that the Estate was designed to facilitate it having sex out of wedlock is something that is just not done any longer on the Whitelaw Estate. Not in one's grandparents house at least. Think of the scandal if one were caught."

Hunting for hidden meaning in his lover's eyes Steed could see that the danger, the sheer recklessness of it appealed to Emma. That she was telling him exactly what her fantasy, her desire for the weekend was. He arched both eyebrows in disbelief, "You never?"

"Never! One would have to be so quiet. So discreet."

Steed couldn't picture Mrs. Peel being quiet. She was most expressive, both physically and verbally when they made love. The thought presented a challenge, a most delightful challenge. Showing that he had actually heard at least part of what she said, Steed asked, "You did say something about hidden stairways and doors in the manor house, didn't you Mrs. Peel?"

With this question, Emma knew that he would solve the puzzle. He'd find a way to come to her. Maybe not tonight, but before they left her grandparents house, she would have him. Emma had inherited a great deal from her mother and father. From her father, she learned a great deal about duty, honor, self-control. He has infused her with both her practicality and self-reliance. It was from her mother, however that she inherited her greatest assets. Her beauty, her grace and her passionate nature. And from both of them, she had inherited the odd offbeat sense of humor that so delighted Steed. She was relying on these gifts and Steed's appreciation of them to make one of her fondest desires come true.

She would finally make love in her room. The one place where happy memories of both her parents existed. The only place that had remained constant during her life. The one place that she thought of as home. The room in the attic that her Mother had used as a studio, that Emma had claimed for a bedroom. Peter had never been interested, had disliked the attic, and flatly refused even after their marriage to even consider making love to her in the room above her grandparents' bedroom. He had insisted they take one of the rooms on the second floor. Now Steed would make one of her most secret fantasies come true. The look in his eye told her he understood what she wanted and would grant it to her even if he didn't know why she wanted it. So different from Peter. Steed was still, Emma moved to join him, to grant him release from the desires she had invoked by her actions.

The silence of the back stable was broken by the sound of the two way radio on Ransome's saddle.

"Emma, come in. Ma Kate, Where are you? The sound of Char's voice grated on Emma's nerves.

Moving rapidly to the horse, Emma glanced at her watch. Emma's transformation was quick silver and complete. Emma's whole body spoke of the irritation she felt and she could barely keep the sound of rage out of her voice as she returned the call. "Char, I'm in the back meadow. Close to the blacksmith's barn. What's up? No, don't tell me. Cleo's thrown a shoe and someone has to finish riding Robert's area?"

Charlotte could hear the barely disguised rage in Emma's voice, but discerned something else that she couldn't identify. "Your right on. Could you and Steed handle it?"

Emma turned back to look at Steed and a guilty look came over her face. They'd have to ride hard, but they could cover Robert's area before the Admiral's arrival. Steed looked so crestfallen. She was quite disappointed herself as her desire, her level of excitement, though not physically apparent, was just as great as Steed's. Moving towards him she called back to the house, "Char, I need to finish moving a rather large object. Steed and I will be over there in say," she stopped, looking to Steed, smiling back at him as he grinned and held up fingers indicating twenty minutes, "twenty minutes."

"Okay, but do you two need any help with that object?" came Charlotte's reply.

Charlotte thought that Emma sounded quite strange when she replied, "No I think I've about got it covered."

It wouldn't do to have hay on their cloths and in their hair. Steed swiftly put one arm around Emma's waist, lifting her onto the Blacksmith's table. A little over three feet high, it was made of stone. Quickly he pulled Emma's riding pants down so that they came below her knees. Pulling her feet up so that they were almost underneath her delightful buttocks he gently spread her knees so that he could stand between her legs at the edge of the table. He unzipped his own trousers letting his fully engorged manhood free. Wrapping one arm around Emma's waist to steady her, he looked into her eyes.

Her lips slightly parted, Emma read his desire and breathlessly answered, "Yes. Oh, Yes.

With one solid stroke, Steed buried himself into Emma as deeply as he could. He heard Emma's deep breath as he entered her and her moan as he filled her. Emma felt as if she might faint, so intense was the experience. There with only their genitals naked, they celebrated the primal nature of this mating. Steed covered Emma's face with kisses, then moved to dance his tongue with hers, while concentrating on maintaining long hard stokes with his hips. The added friction caused by the abruptness of their pairing was gradually replaced with moisture and heat as they moved in tandem. In all too short of time they had to give up to intensity of their feelings as they came trembling both from the physical exertion required to maintain the position and the intensely physical nature of their orgasm. As Emma's head draped over Steed's shoulder, she apologized, "Sorry Steed, I should have realized that Cleo would throw a shoe. She always does when Robert is supposed to ride the jumps. I'll make this up to you."

Steed knew that she wasn't apologizing for what had happened, rather she was apologizing that it was only going to happen once this afternoon. Drawing her into a long, lingering kiss, Steed made it clear he was looking forward to the continuation of the encounter, whenever it happened.

After their delay, both Steed and Emma realized that they would have to split up to ride Robert's section and make it back in time for Hardaway's arrival. At the end of the hidden path, Emma pointed out to Steed the area that he needed to ride. "You take the high country, I'll take the low. We should be able to meet by that large silo in about an hour. Once you get beyond the first hill, you'll be able to see the house. They will also be able to see you."

Steed had started to ride off when Emma called him back. As he and Jackson turned, Emma whistled, then signaled to Jackson. The black stallion's ears perked up and Steed could feel the horse's excitement. "As promised, enjoy yourself." Steed wasn't quite sure if she was speaking to him or the horse.

Steed spent the next hour marveling at the spirit his mount displayed. Steed and Jackson's speed in covering ground would have made most racehorses proud. Every jump was met with delight. They cleared most of them with twice the spare room needed. This horse was the most exhilarating ride that Steed had had in years. Except that Emma was no longer by his side the ride was perfect. As he neared the silo, the groom's words about Emma's reason for picking this mount for Steed came back to him. "She says you two are soulmates." He grinned proudly at the thought.

Emma had chosen the silo to meet at because you could see both the road and the area where Steed was riding. Now, she was in perfect position to watch Steed as he finished the last quarter of his area. She had taken the low country specifically so she could be here long enough ahead of him to be able to observe his reaction to Jackson. Not for one moment did she imagine that Martin would tell Steed about her reasoning. The sight of him on a horse always stirred Emma. He never seemed more at home than when riding. Today it was obvious that he was having the time of his life. He was beaming. His grin was so wide as he rode up to her that she thought perhaps the edges of his mouth might touch his ears.

A dark blue Mercedes convertable with the top down and three occupants was turning into the final lane to the house as Steed rode up. "Steed, Daniel's early. Shall we race them to the house?" A glance told her that Steed was up for the race. They both urged their mounts down the hill towards the lane.

Margaret Whitelaw Sheldon saw them coming first. The sight was unnerving as the two stallions thundered toward the car out of the sun. "Daniel, what on earth is Emma up to?"

Both Daniel and Josh felt a thrill as the horses rode down upon them. The sheer audacity with which the couple were riding. The idea that they would challenge the superiority of the Mercedes appealed to both men's sense of adventure. Coming in slightly behind the car, Steed jumped both fences so that he was on the opposite side of the road from Emma.

On the verandah, Sara, Samuel, Christina, and Charlotte watched with something akin to amazement as Steed, Emma and Daniel's Mercedes raced up the lane. The car's occupants were laughing, egging them on, enjoying the sight of the finely matched horses and handsome couple literally flying along beside them. Steed urged Jackson forward meaning to jump the final fence ahead of the car's arrival. Jackson surged putting twenty feet between them and the car. Jumping over the fence, Steed was able to rejoin Emma as the trio entered the main grounds. It had taken only a few minutes for the odd trio to arrive at the front steps. Josh swept Emma up into his arms as she alit from her horse. His hug spoke loudly of his attraction to her. What surprised the couple in the car as well as her relatives on the verandah was that Emma seemed to return the hug with as much enthusiasm as the Admiral. The two men, although more restrained seemed quite glad to see each other also. Steed gallantly offered to return the horses to the stable so that Emma might be free to make the introductions.

Martin met Steed at the side of the stable. This man rode like the devil himself. The groomsman signaled for two of the stable hands to take the sweating horses. Steed handed Ransome's reins over, but waved the other man off. "Martin, if you don't mind I prefer to groom my own mount. It only seems fair to return Jackson's favor." Their earlier encounter had raised Martin's respect for Emma's instincts about men quite a bit. Now he thought her absolutely brilliant.

When Steed returned to the house thirty minutes later the elder Whitelaws, the Sheldons, Charlotte and the Admiral were discussing the weekend and having a pre dinner drink. Christina was nowhere to be seen. Emma had gone upstairs to shower and change for dinner.

"Steed, please join us." Samuel walked toward the bar that had been set up earlier that day by the caterers.

Steed politely excused himself, "Thanks, but I really must shower before dinner. I'd hate your guests to think a goat had accidentally wandered in."

Charlotte, who seemed to Steed to be quite enamored of the Admiral, called after him, "Steed, its mainly family. Dress informally."

There were about forty people at dinner that night. It was as Charlotte had promised, very informal. The Whitelaws had set up a barbecue to roast several whole animals for the hunt dinner the next night. Tonight the family was cooking steaks. It seemed that each guest was to take responsibility for his or her own steak. Steed enjoyed cooking so he prepared one for Josh, Emma, Charlotte, and his own.

Charlotte decided that Steed must be a very fine cook as he whipped up not just the steaks, but flavorful dishes from what seemed to Charlotte a minimum of fixings. Charlotte couldn't help noticing that Steed had not bothered to ask Emma how she wanted hers fixed, what she would like with it, neither had he asked what she would like to drink. Rather, he simply served her as if it were the most natural thing in the world. As if he did it all the time! The four of them conversed happily about the people expected to attend. Charlotte was a renowned photographer. Her nature series were found in many of the world's finest museum. It had been one such project that had brought Charlotte to that small bed and breakfast outside Canne. Charlotte was surprised to learn that she, Steed, and the Admiral knew many of the same people. Indeed they shared some common friends. Throughout the evening they shared stories of how they had met these expected guests.

Both men were very attentive to the ladies and neither had any cause to complain. Charlotte knew that both men were attracted to Emma. She had seen it in the Admiral's greeting and read it in Steed's eyes. Emma had traveled the world from the time she was born, she spoke at least seven languages that Charlotte knew of, spoke them fluently. Her cousin was beautiful, graceful, intelligent and men just seemed to flock to her. That Emma seldom returned the interest seemed to inspire men to even greater lengths to get her attention. Charlotte saw the two men's interest as being as natural as the sunrise. Unlike Tina, Char didn't have a jealous bone in her body. She had never begrudged Emma. In fact, over the years, Emma had been one of Charlotte's favorite subjects for photographs. She had a collection spanning more than thirteen years. None of the pictures that she had taken were for public consumption. She just enjoyed the hidden textures of Emma's moods and appearance that emerged when she caught her in unguarded moments on film. Emma trusted her enough to allow the photographs, even the ones taken in the months after Peter died. Emma never viewed any but the ones that Charlotte specifically gave her as gifts. They were, Charlotte thought, the least interesting of the collection. What Charlotte didn't realize was that in her own way she was just as beautiful, as graceful, and as talented as her cousin. It was just taking her longer to grow into it.

Emma was enjoying herself. So far this was the most relaxing hunt that she'd had in a long time. Though Christina seemed disturbed, she had thus far been content to keep her distance, both from herself and Steed. Charlotte was blossoming. The travel and acclaim that her career had brought her in the last two years seemed to agree with her. Emma liked Josh. He was honorable and he had a delightful sense of humor. Despite the physical attraction she felt, Emma knew that nothing was going to happen between her and Josh. She didn't want to lead him on. Steed had mentioned that Charlotte seemed enraptured earlier, maybe Daniel had the right idea, but the wrong cousin.

The hour grew late. The foursome had consumed enough wine to be slightly inebriated. They decided to take a walk around the main grounds. Steed and Emma's banter became physical as they walked. Charlotte thought that she had never seen Emma quite this boisterous. When they reached the pool, Steed accidentally bumped Emma causing her to lose her balance, falling into the pool. The remaining diners, including Christina looked up when they heard the splash.

"Mrs. Peel, I'm so sorry. That was awfully clumsy of me," Steed sounded truly apologetic, but Charlotte thought that she detected a gleam in his eyes that belied his words. Steed and Josh, being the gallant gentlemen that they were leaned down to help Mrs. Peel from the pool. Emma; however had other ideas. As they took her hand, she put her feet against the side of the pool pushing out while executing a flipping motion with her arms. All her martial art training was not going to waste. The two men were somersaulted into the water along side her.

The three began a water fight, splashing and diving under the water to pull each other down. When Josh realized that Charlotte still stood on the side of the pool, he stopped to point it out to the others. The three shared a mischievous look. As they started for her, Charlotte thought, what the hell. She cannon balled into the pool splashing all three. Charlotte's grandparents, her Uncle Daniel and Aunt Meg stared in disbelief as the four seemingly sane adults frolicked like children in the cold water. After twenty or so minutes, Sara marched down to the pool with large fluffy towels and four luxurious bathrobes. She then ordered the four out of the pool. Giggling like school children, they complied with her order. The men had short hair so it dried quickly. Sara however worried that the girls would become ill if they remained in the rapidly cooling night air so she ordered them into the house to change.

The men, feeling slightly chastised decided that they needed one last drink before retiring. Rejoining their elders by the barbecue pit they accepted cigars and two large brandies that Daniel poured for them. "Delightful, just delightful. Samuel, your granddaughters are a joy. I can't remember when I've had a better time outside close friends and family. You must be quite proud of them." Josh meant it.

"Careful," Daniel warned, "Once a man captures a Whitelaw Woman's fancy he's likely to be invited back."

"What, pray tell would be wrong with that?" Steed, still exhilarated by his afternoon's activities, couldn't think of a single reason why one should object to a return invitation. That there seemed to be a hidden meaning in Daniel's voice made him quite curious.

"In the last century there are only two recorded incidences of a Whitelaw daughter or granddaughter inviting a man to a hunt and not ending up married to him. That's how Meg got me." Daniel's broad smile made clear that his warning came with no malice.

Samuel hoped that neither man would ask the next, most obvious question. Josh thought the situation quite amusing. "So who were these magicians who escaped their fate?"

Daniel abruptly realized that he had blundered into a sore subject. No way to get out of answering. "Tom Hamilton was the first. In 1913. He was killed during the war, before he and Kristen could be married. Peter Peel was the second."

Hardaway was bewildered, "but surely, Emma married him."

The silence that ensued was awkward. It was Samuel who finally spoke, "Yes, but it was Christina who invited him."

The festive mood was broken. The elder men soon departed to bed. Steed and Josh were still contemplating the bombshell that Samuel had dropped when Charlotte and Emma returned. Emma was disturbed by the change in the men's moods as soon as she sat down. Charlotte didn't notice at first. When she did she asked what was going on. Neither man answered, but Steed took Emma by the arm, tilting his head to suggest they take a walk. As they left Charlotte threw Josh a questioning look. Josh softly asked, " What happened that Peter married Emma instead of Christina?" Ouch, Charlotte couldn't believe that anyone had brought that up.

Emma was having trouble believing it as Steed asked her basically the same question that Josh had asked Charlotte. At first her temper flared, then she realized that there was no accusation in Steed's voice or his question. Just concern. She probably did owe him an explanation. He had, after all gotten caught in the crossfire. Steed watched her carefully as she paced back and forth, seemingly debating with herself if she should answer and if so, how. They had never discussed she and Peter's relationship.

Finally after five minutes of indecision Emma sighed and started, "Christina had been dating Peter for about six months when she invited him to the hunt. That was six years ago. I hadn't yet met him. Back then Knight Industry was a full time venture. I was in the Mediterranean most of the year, setting up new lines. When I arrived, Peter was one of the first people I saw. Steed, he took my breath away. Christina introduced us and we spent time together, much the same way that the four of us spent time tonight. I admit I did more than a fair amount of flirting. Char, Tina, and I often flirted with each other's dates at these things. I didn't know that Christina had invited him. That she had thoughts of marrying him. After the first evening I didn't see much of either of them. He and Tina were fighting most of the weekend. Two weeks later, Charlotte called to let me know that Peter had broken with Tina." Emma stopped to compose herself. "Two months later I was in the office when Peter stopped by to see Daniel. I don't know why Peter was there. It seemed odd after he broke off with Tina to be visiting her father, well stepfather. He was quite charming. When Peter started calling I wanted to say yes, but I turned him down the first few times. Out of respect for Tina I guess. He was persistent and I eventually agreed to go out with him. The rest is, as they say, history. Daniel came as close to violence as I have ever seen him when he found out. At the time, Tina was very calm about it. There were a few signs that she was irritated over the next few years, but she didn't become openly hostile until Peter died. I didn't mean for it to happen. I suppose I was quite selfish about it, but…" Emma's voice trailed off as she became lost in her memories.

Steed could see tears in her eyes and she was trembling. Inexplicably, Steed knew without a doubt that Christina's affair with him had been intended to wound Emma, to provoke the guilt and painful memories that were now overwhelming Mrs. Peel. He couldn't think of a single thing to say that would comfort her. Steed took her into his arms, wrapping her in the warmth of his affections, letting his presence comfort her the best he could. They stood there for what seemed like an eternity.

As Sara and Samuel retired to bed, Sara tenderly reminded Samuel to open the heat vent that ran between their and Emma's room. Emma seemed lighthearted, cheerful this trip, but both her grandparents knew that with Emma appearances were often deceiving. In over twenty years Emma had never realized that her grandparents watched over her while she slept. They had listened over the years as she often moved restlessly about the bedroom, heard her when she cried in her sleep. Samuel and Sara knew that the calm exterior that Emma maintained came at a very high cost. It was as if all the emotions, the cares, the worries that Emma kept so tightly under control when she was awake had a life of their own once she fell asleep. First when Elizabeth died, then after Peter crashed Sara and Samuel had used this unknown surveillance to go to her, to comfort her when her sleep became unbearably restless. When her tears became too much for them to bear. Many a night they had climbed the stairs to her room, taking her into their arms, comforting her as she slept. She rarely woke when these night terrors plagued her. Rather, she was tired, troubled the next day without knowing why.

Tonight, Emma was still out with the Admiral and Steed. Neither Sara nor Samuel was quite sure what to make of the evening's events. Both hoped that what they had seen was real. Samuel drifted off to sleep before Emma came in. Sara could hear her as she entered, heard only the sound of her granddaughter going to bed before she slipped off into sleep herself.

Chapter Break

The first day of the Whitelaw's affair was one of greetings. Their guests for the weekend would be arriving throughout the day, bring their horses to be stabled. The hundred and fifty of so that would be taking part in one or more of the three planned hunts would be taking rides to acquaint themselves with the lay of the land before the next morning's hunt. The day would end with the first official function of the weekend, a dinner and dance for over six hundred people.

Neither Josh nor Steed saw any of the ladies during the morning's busy activities. They were all too busy greeting and making arrangements with the guests. The two men spent their time comfortably enough, getting to know each other and talking with various friends or casual acquaintance as they arrived. The only awkward moment came with the arrival of one of Emma's closest friends. Sandra Wilson© had been unable to hide her glee at finding Steed at the hunt. Both men chose to ignore the subject when she left.

About ten in the morning Martin brought Jackson and a fine chestnut mare to them so they might ride awhile. "Miss Emma thought the two of you might be getting bored. She and Miss Charlotte will try to join you for lunch, but it is unlikely that they will have time." The Admiral, true to what he had told Daniel, was a fine rider. He and Steed alternated between comfortable conversation while walking the horses and a series of races. Jackson needed no liberation command today. The horse recognized Steed immediately and gave him just as much pleasure as he had the day before.

Emma had been fully aware, but unconcerned about Tina's continued rage during the family party the night before. Daniel's blunder and Steed's reaction had given her an opportunity to finally admit to herself the entire truth of what had happened. She was resolved to have it out with Tina before anyone else was pulled into what should have been a private affair. It was shortly after lunch when she tracked Tina down in the front hall of the manor. Christina stiffened noticeably as Emma approached. Sharply she lashed out, "What's the matter? Don't your boys want to play? Tell me, do you do them both at once or one at a time?"

"That's enough." Emma refused to let the anger she felt flare. She took hold of Tina's elbow, pulling her into the library of the manor house. Pushing her gently into one of the overstuffed chairs where her grandparents had read them stories as children. Last year Tina had slapped Emma. There had been no return blow, no physical response. Emma had just stood there letting Tina berate her. Now, taken completely by surprise by Emma's use of gentle, but actual force Tina stayed seated, unsure of just how violent Emma might get. "Tina," Emma used the old familiar nickname from better times, "do you remember what you and Peter fought about that weekend. The last weekend before he broke it off with you?"

Tina's eyes narrowed at Emma's use of her nickname. By the time Emma finished her question, Tina was ready to strike her. The fact that her cousin could break her arm as easily as Tina could slap Emma's face was the only thing that stopped her. "What do you mean, we didn't fight, he didn't break it off, you stole him." Then the accusation that she knew hurt Emma most; "He'd be alive today if you hadn't."

There was pain and resignation in Emma's voice as she softly answered, "Perhaps, but we will never know that for sure now will we. Have it your way then. What was it that you two discussed at the hunt?"

Christina, surprised and thrown off guard by Emma's mild response replied, "We discussed his taking a job with my father, with Daniel, as an executive."

"Did you expect him to give up flying?" Emma came to the crux of the matter.

"Well, he wouldn't have been a test pilot anymore. It was too dangerous. But he could have continued to fly. Tina was totally disconcerted by the response that her answer invoked. She had never seen her cousin cry, not even at Peter's funeral. Emma's lack of tears had rankled Tina. She had been oblivious to the fact that Emma was so deeply in shock that she hadn't had the capacity to cry. Tina had continued to believe that it was because Emma hadn't cared enough to break the rule. To show weakness in public. Crying just wasn't done in public, but now large tears were falling down Emma's cheeks and she seemed oblivious to them. Tina had to strain to hear as Emma started speaking.

"Tina, Peter may have loved you. I don't know. We never discussed it." Emma's eyes were kind, her voice gentle, no hint of maliciousness, no intent to hurt her cousin further. It was however, time for the truth between them. "Peter loved flying. Loved it more than life itself. To go higher, faster, farther, that was his goal and the more he pushed the limits the better it was. The more alive he was. You faced the possibility of his dying and demanded he change. Peter wanted, needed to be loved for who he was, not who he might be if he gave up flying. That's why he broke it off with you, he wouldn't for anyone even consider stopping flying. When he started to court me..."

Tina's snort of derision at this statement brought Emma close to her breaking point. Her voice as she continued was sharper now. "Make no mistake Tina, Peter pursued me not the other way around. Shortly after we started becoming serious Peter made sure that I knew. He made it very clear what had happened at the hunt and what if meant. I would have to make a choice, love him as he was or face losing him the same way you did. I faced his dying and chose to live with it, to love him as he was, to build our future on the belief that he would beat the odds. He made me feel secure with that decision, safe that he would beat the odds. Of course, we're never really safe are we? In the end both choices cost us Peter. Emma stopped for a moment, allowing Tina a moment to digest this concept. When she continued, her voice was firm, sure of the validity of what she had to say. "Tina, I did nothing to break you and Peter up. I am truly sorry you were hurt. However, I wouldn't change loving Peter for anything. They say that the true test of any decision is that if you knew the consequences would you make the same decision again. God help me, even now I would choose to love him. Tina, I don't know if you and I will ever be close again, but I will not remain a prisoner to your anger. I hope that you won't either."

Christina remained in the library contemplating this turn of events for a very long time after her cousin left. Emma's words had opened a window letting forth an awful truth. Christina recognized it, but wasn't ready to accept it just yet.

Chapter Break

The Whitelaw home, while spacious, had no room large enough to contain all the guests invited to the welcome dinner and dance. Large spacious tents had been set up on the back lawn. Dinner was served on fine china with crystal glassware. The combination of the informality of the tents, the delightful ambiance of the gentle evening breezes, and the enchanting company combined to put all but the most insensitive of the party goers into a fine mood. The sound of the orchestra that played from the verandah made the transition from dinner to dance seem as natural as the move from day to night.

Sandra, who never rode in the hunt, preferring to enjoy the company of the multitude of handsome men who seemed to magically appear at this event joined Emma, Charlotte, Steed and Josh at their table for dinner. The conversation was light and gay but Sandra was confused by the attentions Josh was paying to Emma and Steed's bland reaction to the same. Emma was going to have some explaining to do. It was late in the evening, after most of the elder guests had retired that Sandra had a chance to watch Steed and Emma dancing. She didn't hear Charlotte come up behind her.

"Good friends my arse." Sandra's voice had a touch of triumph to it.

"Sandra, what on earth are you talking about?" Charlotte thought it strange as Sandra was apparently talking to herself.

Sandra pointed to where Steed and Emma were dancing off to the side of the dance area. They were outside the main lights so their actions were not clearly seen. "When was the last time you were able to change leads during a waltz with out missing a step with your friends? I can't even do it with my lovers."

Charlotte realized that Steed and Emma were indeed changing who was leading as they danced. Their movements were graceful. The changes communicated without a word, so smoothly that they were not apparent unless one was watching very carefully. To move like that one would have to be very, very familiar with one's partner. Perhaps Emma might not mind so much if Charlotte let her know of her own interest in the Admiral. The thought cheered Charlotte immensely.

Chapter Break

Steed could hear the music from the band as he followed the hidden staircase to the attic. Most of the Whitelaw family had retired in anticipation of the early hunt, but the few family members and the remaining guests who were not riding continued to enjoy the evening. The party would last for a couple more hours. No one would miss him among the remaining party goers. Mrs. Peel was waiting for him. As he opened the door to Emma's attic hideaway, he saw her standing by the large window at the end of the attic space. The moonlight from the full moon bathed her in a celestial light. Steed thought that he had never seen her look more beautiful, or more desirable. She had taken her hair down, brushed it out. She was wearing a long flowing white nightdress that was translucent in the moonlight. Steed expected her to be rambunctious, eager to begin, but she appeared calm. As he approached her, he realized she was nervous. She was chewing on her lower lip, the way she did when she wasn't quite sure of herself. Steed wondered if he had made a mistake, if she had changed her mind. She raised both hands to him. As their fingers touched she smiled, a shy self-conscious smile. Steed gazed into her face and saw desire, soft, gentle desire.

This was no game. Emma was quite simply opening up a part of herself to Steed that she never had before. Inviting him here hadn't been impetuous. She wasn't being reckless. Here was the only place she had never needed to feel in control. She wanted to share a part of herself, her core if it were with this man. Most of her life she had lived abroad, first with her parents, then her father. This place had been the only constant in her life. The only place that she thought of as home. Making love here was important to her. She and Steed had been lovers for months. She knew his body by heart. Yet, she felt unsure whether she could give him what she desired. She hoped that last night's revelations wouldn't make it impossible. Emma's heart was beating so hard that she was afraid that Steed would hear it and laugh. She reached up shyly to unbutton his shirt. Steed stopped her. Her heart skipped a beat, would he reject her. His next words put those fears to rest.

"May I have the pleasure of this dance milady?" Gently he took her into his arms. They danced slowly to the sounds of the band far below. Steed could feel her begin to relax to melt into his arms. As they danced he kissed her, long gentle kisses. Emma made no attempt to control either the direction the evening was taking, nor her response. Burning desire that normally raged, overwhelming them when they were together, was banked in the glow of the moonlight. Held in check, not by elaborate games or forced subjugation, but luxuriated in as they explored each other's body quietly, moving in concert with the music.

Steed pulled her nightdress down over her shoulders so that he could kiss them, caressing her long, lovely neck. He could feel her fingers on the back of his neck her fingers entwined in his hair. Felt her head tilt back as she exposed her neck to his lips. This time when she reached to unbutton his shirt, he didn't stop her. She slipped his shirt off, running her hands down his arms. Then she began to slowly kiss his chest, gently working her tongue over his nipples, slipping her hands down his backside. Slowly they worked their way down each other's body, gently removing each other's clothes as they went until they were dancing naked in the moonlight. Eventually, their kisses became more urgent their gentle caresses more demanding. Until at last they retired to Emma's bed where Steed made sweet, passionate love to her.

Emma's moans of pleasure, her gentle pleadings for Steed's affection were soft. Her physical reactions were, if possible, more passionate than ever. Steed gazed with wonder into Emma's eyes, seeing only affection and desire. The pain she tried so hard to hide. That Steed saw only when she was at her most unguarded. The pain that Steed normally saw in her eyes during each initial session of their lovemaking was absent. The ghost that was Peter Peel didn't intrude upon them. For tonight at least Emma was his and his alone.

Even as they completed their first coupling, they started the second. Soft words, gentle hands that sought only to provide the other with pleasure. "Emma, darling Emma." Steed repeated the words over and over, entreating her, loving her, knowing that she had at last moved beyond the point where she needed to feel the first release of completed lovemaking before she could truly enjoy him without the pain of unwanted memories and undeserved guilt.

Afterward, lying in Steed's arm it seemed to Emma that whatever happened between them in the end, whenever that day came, she had made the right decision. Her own physical virginity had been long past when she met Steed, but her soul still clung to its innocence. To make love here, where she most felt the presence of her parents was honest. It felt as if she were introducing him, letting her parents know that this man was important to her. Things were different than they had been with Peter, of course. She was different There was something more about the difference between she and Steed, more than what she and Peter had shared…. something that until this moment had defied the analysis her intellect had demanded. Peter had been companion, lover, husband. She had loved him as deeply as she knew how. Steed would never be her husband, but they were as two half of one whole. Put simply Steed was her best friend - a friend who had become her lover.

Samuel and Sara had retired earlier in the evening. Even though they had been married for over fifty year and were both well into their seventies they still enjoyed each other's company and the joy of marital relations. They had made love and Sara had fallen asleep in his arms when Samuel heard Emma come in. Samuel was lying there watching Sara sleep when he heard the first sounds from Emma's room. At first, he feared that Emma was going to have a bad night, then slowly he realized that she was not alone, that the sounds he was hearing were sounds of passion, not pain. Samuel felt as if he were intruding, invading Emma's privacy, but knew that if he moved to close the vent he would wake his wife.

Shortly, Sara awoke and started to rise. She had been awaked by the sound of a moan from Emma's room and intended to go to her. She felt Samuel's hand on her shoulder, gently stopping her from getting up. His eyes as she turned held a gentle-hearted warning. "Shh, listen." When he saw comprehension dawning on his beloved's face he rose and closed the vent. Perhaps their granddaughter had found her heart again after all.

Chapter Break

The sun broke brightly over the meadow the next morning. In almost a century the weather had never failed to cooperate with the Whitelaws. Gentle breezes blew through Emma's hair as she sat curled up in a chair on the verandah contentedly watching the sunrise, waiting for the rest of the household to rise, for the morning's activities to begin. In her heart she knew that she couldn't guarantee that Peter, or his ghost wouldn't return to haunt her when she was with Steed. Couldn't be sure that the guilt she had felt so often wouldn't overtake her unexpectedly at some future date, but she knew it would never again be the overwhelming terror that it had been before. Once again, she marveled at Steed's ability to know her needs, what she wanted without her saying a word. She had purposely led him to believe that last night was a reckless fantasy, yet he had come to her, courted her within her home, and gently seduced her both physically and emotionally. It was as if he could see into her soul, knowing things that she herself didn't consciously acknowledge. His calling her Emma over and over had felt and sounded like the words; I love you that she so longed to hear.

Sandra Wilson was not normally one to rise early, but she had noted Emma and Steed's absence from the party. She had purposely risen early, hoping to catch Emma in bed. Preferably, with Steed still in it. Most of the people here were wondering about Emma and the Admiral, but Sandra had better instincts and information. It wasn't that she wanted to pry, but Emma had been different, more like her old self every since Steed had come into her life. For months Emma had insisted that she and Steed were friend, good friends admittedly, but just friends. Things had changed in late April. One particularly memorable evening Sandra had accused Emma of being green with jealously over one of Steed's conquests The next day stood out in Sandra's mind. Emma had finally admitted that she was attracted to Steed, but insisted that she would be no man's conquest. Then Emma had blithely trekked off to Wiltshire with Steed on one of those mysterious trips the two were always taking. Since that trip Emma hadn't insisted that they were only friends, but she had not been forthcoming about any details. The Sphinx's of Egypt had nothing on Emma when it came to keeping secrets.

Disappointed when she found Emma's room empty Sandra fixed on tracking her down. Now she stood watching Emma. "If you were any happier I swear you would be purring," Sandra's remark was greeted with an inscrutable smile and a nod towards the seat next to her suggesting that Emma wished Sandra to take a seat.

"Hmmm, he must have been something. I assume you'll be heading to bed now," Emma teased with a good natured smirk.

Sandra was not to be put off that easily. "No, No Emma you're not putting me off this time. I saw how the two of you were flirting last night. The two of you were changing leads during last night's dance as if it were the most natural thing in the world. You both disappeared awfully early." Quite firmly Sandra asked the question she had been dying to have answered for months, "Are you or aren't you and Steed lovers?"

Dear Sandra. Emma knew that if she admitted it Sandra would be the soul of discretion. She had proven herself a good friend many times over. Emma wanted to shout it from the
roof tops, to take out an ad. She needed to tell someone, but couldn't quite bring herself to actually mouth the words. Just when Sandra had given up hope, when she decided that Emma was going to continue her infuriating Sphinx act Emma did the most unexpected thing. A broad grin crossed her face, she nodded yes and then she began purring. Sandra almost fell off her chair.

Two hours later, Sandra watched as the riders gathered to begin the hunt. Emma was hunting with Josh while Steed stayed behind. Given Emma's disclosure Sandra wasn't sure what to make of it. She wanted some sign that Steed shared Emma's happiness. "Got you", she thought as she caught Steed brush Emma's cheek lightly when he thought no one could see them. When he noted Sandra watching, the smile in his eyes told her all she needed to know. She had been right, Steed didn't think of Emma as a conquest. The sound of the horn calling the riders to bear brought the end of she and Steed's silent communication.

Steed had arranged to be in the control center with Sara and Charlotte Whitelaw during the morning's first hunt. That way he could track the progress of the hunt and keep an eye on the men he had watching over the Admiral. Mrs. Peel was on Ransome and they had put the Admiral on Jackson in case Mrs. Peel needed to move him out of the way quickly. The call had come over the CB Radio about an hour after the first hunt had gone off. At first neither Sara nor Steed could believe their ears. The caller a young man named Washington repeated, Jackson down, rider okay, Ransome down, rider status unknown, jump 31. Rider status unknown was the most frightening on the list of possible statuses that Sara had given to Steed that first afternoon. It meant the rider was unconscious. Medical teams were posted several places on the estate but would need to be summoned. It was Charlotte who reacted first.

"Dr. Morgan, please proceed to Jump 31, STAT." Charlotte started to ask her grandmother if she would like to accompany her to the jump, but seeing the shocked look on her face thought perhaps that it would be better if Steed accompanied her. "Steed, would you mind coming with me? Martin, please get my grandfather to join grandmother."

It took them about five minutes to ride to the jump. For both Charlotte and Steed they were five of the longest minutes of their lives. Charlotte had always considered Emma to be indestructible, even after Peter. The thought that she might be seriously injured seemed unreal, too cruel a joke for even the fates that had buffeted Emma her entire life. Steed spent the time mentally berating himself for involving Mrs. Peel. If anything was seriously wrong, he didn't know what he would do. When they arrived, the medical team was already there. The Admiral stood off to the side holding both Ransome and Jackson's reins. Jerry Banks rode up at the same time from another direction.

Emma lay on the far side of the jump, she wasn't moving and there was blood from a nasty wound over her right eye. Dr. Morgan had reached her first and was surveying her injuries.

Steed wanted to go to her to make sure she was okay. They had the Admiral covered. What had gone wrong. Steed felt a great weight upon him. If he had done anything that had caused this. If she wasn't okay. As he moved forward, Washington intervened, taking his arm, pulling him over to where the Admiral was standing.

Hardaway was dirty. He had obviously come off his horse, but seemed unhurt. His face however was grim and ashen. "Steed, look at this." Hardaway led Steed to where Ransome's saddle lay. There was blood on one of the stirrups. Turning the saddle over, Hardaway pointed out the cut on the bottom of the strap. It had been cut ¾ of the way through. "We started at the jump, her saddle came off. She was thrown into the front of the top rail. Somersaulted over it, still in the saddle. I think the stirrup hit her in the head. Damn lucky that my horse stopped cold. Otherwise we would have landed on her when we completed the jump. Next thing I knew both horses were standing over her. It was as if they were protecting her. Kept any other horses from taking the jump."

Steed said a silent prayer of thanks to John Knight. Turning to Washington, "did you see anyone around their horses prior to the start of the hunt?"

"No sir, Mr. Steed. No one that you wouldn't have expected." Washington was a lawyer, but was working for British Intelligence for the experience before returning to Jamaica. Steed and Mrs. Peel had worked with him before. He was young, but extremely reliable.

Charlotte had followed Steed over. When she realized that this had been no accident, she looked as if she were in shock. "She couldn't have?"

The men turned to look at her, pulling her farther away from the medical team assisting Emma. "What do you mean?"

"Christina, they've always been rivals, but friendly ones. That was, until Peter Peel happened. Christina has been so angry with Emma every since Peter. She blames her for their breakup, Peter's death. Your presence here has been very hard on her. Both of you laughing, flirting with Emma. She can't stop comparing herself. She's jealous, but I didn't think that she'd physically try to hurt Emma."

Steed gently took hold of Charlotte's hand. "Charlotte, there is a lot more going on here than we can tell you about. Christina may not have had anything to do with this. Please keep your suspicions to yourself for now. Okay?" Charlotte looked into Steed's eyes, they were gentle, but she saw a coldness that made her fear for whoever had caused this 'accident'. She silently prayed that he was right, but worried that she was.

Steed was nowhere as sure of Christina's innocence as he had made it sound. Her affair with him, making sure that Emma knew. They were the actions of a very disturbed mind. The sound of Emma's painful moan jolted Steed back to the matter at hand. The three of them left the horses with Banks and Washington and moved as close to Emma and the doctor as they could without interfering.

The events of the morning refused to fall into place for her. The hunt had been going well. They were only fifty yards or so behind the fox. She'd come off Ransome, but he hadn't fallen and she hadn't lost her seat. Something went wrong on the forward side of the jump. Emma could remember hitting the jump and somersaulting over it, but little more. Emma wondered where she was and how long she had been unconscious. Her forehead hurt and she could taste blood in her mouth, but it was her right ribs that felt as if they were on fire. Breathing was painful and even the smallest movement made her want to cry out in pain. As her head cleared, she could hear Dr. Morgan, "Emma, Emma, can you hear me?

Steed thought that her opening her eyes was one of the most beautiful sights he had ever seen. "What happened?" Emma was trying to concentrate, but couldn't. The pain in her side was intensifying with every breath. Morgan had been the family doctor for thirty years, he knew every member of the family and how much they were able to take. Emma's injuries were serious, but not life threatening. He cautioned her to lie still and went to talk with Charlotte. He didn't recognize either of the men with her.

Charlotte's concern was evident on her face and in her voice. "Doctor, is she all right?"

"Charlotte, the head wound, although it looks bad is fairly superficial. Head wounds tend to bleed and often look worse than they are. I'm afraid it's going to leave a scar though. She doesn't seem concussed, but I am worried about her ribs. There are at two maybe three that seem to be cracked if not broken. She keeps going in and out of consciousness from the pain. We need to take her to hospital for x-rays. Moving her though is going to be painful. There is no way we can do so without jarring her. The terrain is just too rough."

Steed, ignoring every emotion that demanded he accompany Mrs. Peel, sent Washington along with Charlotte and Emma to the hospital. He took Josh back to the house with him. Gathering Daniel, Josh, and the Whitelaws in the library he informed them of Emma's condition. His face was grim as he continued. "This was no accident. Her saddle was tampered with." Sara gasped and Samuel held her tighter as if to protect her from this news. Daniel and the Whitelaw's utter shock at the statement were not his concern. He needed answers if Mrs. Peel was to be protected.

Daniel spoke first, "Surely it was a mistake. Jackson and Ransome are twins. Someone must have been after Josh. You are here to protect him aren't you? Daniel's eyes betrayed his concern that perhaps there were other forces at work. Ones he didn't want to face.

Josh was quite discomforted by the look that appeared on Emma's grandparent's face at the news that his presence may have put their granddaughter at risk. He wasn't happy with that thought himself.

Steed eyed him carefully, "There are three possibilities. The one that you suggest is the least likely although possible. Emma's saddle has her initials on it. Plus it would have had to be tampered with before it was on the horse. It was cut from underneath. The second possibility is that someone had a personal reason for wishing Mrs. Peel ill." Daniel turned quite pale at this statement. He knew this man meant Christina. "Now, tell me about ELF."

Daniel and Josh exchanged shocked looks. "What does ELF have to do with this?" Daniel didn't want to discuss the project in front of Sara and Samuel. They wouldn't be happy that he had allowed Emma to pursue it.

"Maybe nothing, but the timing is rather interesting. After thirty years of Knight Industry's deliberately refusing to do business with the United States, you two negotiate a contract with the US government. Suddenly military security breaks down. Hardaway's life is placed in danger. He is attacked. The attackers aren't agents, but hired thugs. Then Mrs. Peel has a most unfortunate accident. See what I mean.

Daniel was desperate that there be another explanation. One that didn't implicate Christina. "E.L.F. is actually an acronym for Electronic Locator Function. Eleven months ago E.K. came to me with an idea and some drawings. She wanted to develop a transponder that could be used to locate downed aircraft."

Sara's anger at this revelation filled the room. Her reaction reminded Steed of another beauty he was quite fond of. One who showed the same passionate streak. "Daniel, how could you have let her…..", the rage in Sara's voice was frightening.

"Sara, E.K. is stubborn. We fought for weeks about it. Nothing I said helped. I couldn't dissuade her. Once the project was going she agreed to let me monitor it. The team worked on it under my supervision. I tried to keep her away from it as much as I could. It was the best I could do."

Steed's mind jumped back. Eleven months, that would have been shortly after their introduction to the cybernauts. Could Emma's retentive memory and inventive mind have seen another more benign use for Clement Armstrong's technology? Certainly seemed so.

Daniel continued, "We succeeded beyond anything I would have expected. The key was the use of a satellite to fix on the signal. Plus the homing unit is mobile. It locks on the signal and follows it relentlessly. The signals themselves can be programmed individually so you can track one within an entire group. We have been able to track signals from over five hundred miles. Seven weeks ago I made a preliminary presentation to NATO. They were excited and signed a contract. Then the United States requested a meeting. I had to tell Emma. She insisted that she be involved." Daniel paused.

Both Whitelaws looked as if they could strangle Daniel. Admiral Hardaway then took up the story. "The system eliminates a very real and demoralizing problem for any military unit. MIA's hurt everyone. All branches of our services use aircraft. We had a joint committee delegated to secure the system. The negotiations were intense. We had some grave misunderstandings. One of our team went so far as to have Daniel and Emma followed." Steed didn't tell them that Jerry Banks had learned that the airmen who had followed Emma, Michael Tolliver, had been critically injured in an auto accident. The Admiral smiled ruefully as he finished the story. "In the end Emma ran a bluff on us. We signed a contract that restricts our use of the technology. We can't use it to develop offensive weapons. Our head negotiator's career, for all practical purposes is over."

"What's the name of the negotiator?" Steed's stance and the look in his eyes revealed the depth of his enmity for whoever had done this.

"Brown, General Philip Brown."

Daniel spoke again, apologizing to Sara and Samuel for his inability to stop Emma from this path. "I'm sorry. I don't understand to this day why she did it. It was very painful. I watched it tearing her apart, but I couldn't stop her."

"What we cannot erase, we face!" Steed's eyes had gone pale with emotion. His voice was quite unnatural, gentle, yet very disturbed. Looking around the room at uncomprehending faces, he explained. "I believe that Mrs. Peel was looking for a way to say goodbye to the husband that she wasn't able to bury. If she couldn't help him, perhaps she could prevent anyone else from going through the same agony." Steed didn't notice the looks that passed between Emma's relatives as he finished. He was too lost in his own thoughts. Christina's revenge, the completion of the ELF project, all the emotions that she had been dealing with when she returned from America. All of it had made last night possible. Now one of those threatened to destroy their future.

"Steed", Josh sounded like the SEAL he had been. "I want to help, I do know something about investigating and I feel responsible."

Steed acknowledged the Admiral's offer with a curt, " Suit yourself." The two men then left to talk with the groomsmen in the stables. Who was next? Daniel seemed the most likely candidate.

Emma's relatives sat silently for a long time after Steed and the Admiral left. Daniel seemed particularly discomforted. "Peculiar isn't it that a stranger should understand our Emma better than we do?" Sara and Samuel exchanged knowing glances. Daniel had no idea how extraordinary this situation really was.

Chapter Break

Normally a very patient and composed woman, Charlotte couldn't stop herself from pacing. Everything seemed to be taking too long. Dr. Morgan had sent a nurse out fifteen minutes earlier to give an update that hadn't reassured Char at all. She had called the house, but been unable to speak with either of her grandparents. In the meantime, the young Jamaican that Steed had sent with them had sat there watching her. She felt as if she were an animal at the zoo. Finally she snapped at him. "Don't you have anything better to do?"

"No ma'am", an easygoing smile crossed his face, "Don't fret, Mrs. P.'s a lot tougher than you give her credit for. The boss lady, she won't let this little thing get her down. You two are alike you know."

Charlotte couldn't accept what her ears were hearing. This man knew Emma. Char had thought him a groom. Called her boss lady. Who was this man? Was everyone and everything about this weekend to be full of surprises. Curious about his comment she queried, "What do you mean we're alike?"

Washington got up, gently guided her to a chair and handed her the tea he had gotten for her earlier. "Beauty, grace, charm in abundance, and you use it all to hide your feelings. You both pace when your frustrated, only Mrs. P., when she really gets frustrated, she tears up phone books. Would you like one?"

Charlotte unexpectedly trusted this tall Jamaican a great deal. If he were watching out for Emma maybe everything would be okay. Plus the mental image of Emma tearing up a phone book in frustration struck a cord within Charlotte. "Yes, I think I would, though I couldn't tear one up for the life of me." Just as Washington started to rise, Charlotte saw her cousin Robert coming out of the surgery. He was beaming. This startled her. When he reached them, Robert took Charlotte's hand. "Robert, what are you doing…."

The large man laughed. "Charlotte, I'm a surgeon remember. Morgan didn't want the scar on Emma's forehead to be anymore noticeable than necessary so he called me." What might have sounded like conceit any other time sounded like music to Charlotte's ears as Robert continued, "Charlotte, I'm one of the top plastic surgeons in Europe. Emma won't have much of a scar, I promise."

"But Christina?" Charlotte thought this might be the last straw.

"She's probably off pouting somewhere. Charlotte, I love my sister, but this obsession of hers has to stop. Everyone else understands it was Peter Peel who dumped her, not Emma. Emma just had the misfortune to fall for him too." Robert's tone and body language made it quite clear that he was not among the late Peter Peel's admirers. "Besides, I owe Emma for all the years she has covered me when Cleo threw a shoe." The wink Robert gave Charlotte made it quite clear that Cleo throwing a shoe had never been an accident. "I'll update the Grans, Emma should be ready to go in about fifteen minutes."

"Ready to go, surely they won't release her?", Charlotte was relieved, but couldn't believe that Emma was in any shape to leave.

Robert's chuckle made Char feel much better, "Release her? They can't even admit her. She's in one of her 'stubborn mule moods'. She doesn't yet appreciate how badly she is hurt. Tomorrow she's not going to feel like moving at all. Today, she thinks she's okay. I'm going to arrange for a charge nurse. Maybe we can at least corral her at the gran's house. Can we use your studio? I don't think she'll be able to climb the stairs?"

Charlotte quickly agreed and as Robert left, Washington grinned at Char, "Told you so. The boss lady, she is indestructible."

Emma wasn't feeling particularly indestructible as she joined Washington and her cousin. Morgan had insisted that she use a wheelchair to leave the hospital and though she wouldn't admit it Emma was glad he had. She felt like she had been run over by a very large truck. Steed had sent Washington. That meant that there must be something terribly wrong. Otherwise he would have been there himself. As they left the hospital, Daniel's Mercedes pulled up to the curb. After carefully lifting Mrs. Peel into the back seat, Washington excused himself. He would take the truck back to the estate. Emma couldn't figure why Charlotte and Daniel both looked so solemn. Her ribs were cracked, not broken. She was also badly bruised and her midsection was very painful. Robert had told her there would be a small scar on her face, but she was basically okay. The look on Steed's, Josh's and her grandparents faces as Daniel and the girls drove up to the manor house were just as grave. Between the combination of the pain medication that the doctors had given her and the natural shock of her injuries, it hadn't occurred to Emma that this might not have been an accident.

Martin had placed Jackson and Ransome in the pasture closest to the house. Both had been so agitated when Banks brought them back to the stable that Martin hadn't wanted them close to the other horses. He didn't want the entire stable to be infected. The horses ran to the front fence when the Mercedes drove up. Almost as if they knew Emma was home.

Steed would have preferred to put Mrs. Peel into the attic room. It would be easier to protect her there and the stairs would provide a measure of protection against Mrs. Peel going off on her own once she found out what was happening. During their working together Steed had quickly realized that telling Emma to stay put when there was danger was about as effective as using a water bucket to put out a major forest fire. As soon they had Emma ensconced in Charlotte's bed in the guest-house which Charlotte used as a studio the Whitelaws returned to their guests. Admiral Hardaway, sensing that Steed wished to speak to Emma in private, joined them.

Looking into Steed's oh so serious face Emma asked, "So?"

"So what?" Steed answered his face not quite the bland one he wished.

"Steed, don't be coy. What is going on here?" Emma was in no mood to play games.

"Truly, we don't know. Your 'accident' wasn't."

"Wasn't what?"

"An accident. Somewhat tampered with your saddle." Steed's anger was quite apparent now. The cause of everyone's tension became quite clear to Emma as Steed spoke.

"Everyone's afraid it was Christina, aren't they?" Emma sounded concerned rather than angry.

"That's one of the possibilities", Steed was being evasive. Emma sensed that there was a more likely cause. One that Steed didn't want to discuss.

"Steed, come here. Come lie down with me." Emma wanted to comfort him. To let him feel for himself that she was okay. The concern on Steed's face seemed to deepen. "Steed, I'm not some China doll, I won't break."

Steed wanted to lie down with her. Hold her. He needed the reassurance. As he sat on the edge of the bed, a pained look crossed Emma's face as the shifting of the mattress caused her some distress. He started to rise, but she put her hand gently on him, urging him to lie down. When they were both comfortable, Emma asked, "you said it was one of the possibilities, I know that it could have been a mistake. They could have been aiming for Josh. What's the other alternative?"

"E.L.F.!" Steed watched her closely to see if this subject would cause her pain.

"Oh," smiling slightly as she had heard of Steed's attempts to find out about the project, "so you know about that now." Emma didn't seem particularly concerned that Steed knew. She however, looked very thoughtful for a moment. It wouldn't be the first time someone had come after her because of Knight Industry business. Professor Keller had designed and built an entire house to try and destroy her after she fired him. If it were Brown, Daniel would be in danger. Her face reflected her concern as she inquired, "Daniel?"

"Under our protection. The problem is that Christina seems to have disappeared while you were at the hospital. Her car and all her belongings are still here. Daniel and Meg are out of their minds torn between worrying that she may be in the hands of whoever attacked you or that she may be the attacker. Either way, Christina is in trouble." Steed's handsome face took on an even more troubled look. "Incidentally, your relatives all seem to imagine that she is capable of tampering with the saddle. I'd have to agree. Our affair, her public declarations. They all seem designed to hurt you." Steed's eyes reflected his abject sorrow for having played a part in Christina's rebuke of Emma.

"Steed," Emma spoke carefully, she didn't want her own fears about what Christina might be capable of to distract Steed. "While I agree that Tina's behavior the last few months has been cruel, I don't believe that she caused this. If Josh hadn't been attacked, then I might look harder in Tina's direction. Daniel loves Tina more than anyone or anything except Aunt Meg. If someone has taken her, he will find a way out of our protection. He'll do anything, even give up his life if necessary to prove his love to Tina." Emma had no idea how prophetic her words would prove to be.

Steed remained with Mrs. Peel until the charge nurse; a very elderly white haired lady came. They lay quietly listening to the sounds of the returning hunters and the beginning of the evening's festivities. Steed didn't ask any questions about E.L.F. or the Cybernauts. How Emma had gotten the idea no longer seemed important to Steed. Her resulting improvement, her seeming new peace of mind was all he needed to know. All that mattered. Mrs. Abbot allowed Steed to continue to hold Emma while she administered an additional injection for pain, then changed the dressing on Mrs. Peel's forehead. Steed had never seen a wound closed so precisely, with such small stitches. Robert had done his job well. Steed quite forgave the man for Thursday's rude interruption. When the pain medication reached full effect, Steed carefully removed himself from Emma's side and went to find the Admiral and his men.

News of Emma's accident had filtered throughout the assembled guests. The fact that she was back at the estate made all present feel much better about continuing the festivities. The dinner and dance were less elaborate than the evening before as many of the guests remained in their hunting attire. The spirit was one of great revelry, although they hadn't caught the fox. There was still no sign of Christina. Meg was almost to the point of hysteria. Daniel did his best to calm her down, but it was up to Sara to hold the situation together.

Around midnight Charlotte and Josh returned to her studio to check on Emma. Reassuring themselves that she was sleeping peacefully they sat down in front of the stone fireplace to talk.

Charlotte, who was, it seemed, incapable of deception took the direct route to assess her chances with the Admiral. "You want Emma, don't you?"

Josh was taken aback by this directness, but intrigued by such openness he tried to answer as best he could. "I do, or at least I think I do. No, I thought I did." Seeing that Charlotte was as confused by his answer as he felt he continued. "When I met Emma in Washington she seemed unreal, a fantasy. Then I saw her sitting in Lincoln's arms." Charlotte's eyes widened at this image. "She'd been drinking. I think she must have been thinking about Peter, she'd been crying. When I helped her down I had one of the most intense sensual reactions of my life. It was so physical. If she'd given me a sign I would have made love to her right in the Lincoln Monument. Not at all honorable I know, but I would have." Josh paused thinking that Charlotte must think him unbalanced.

"Emma does seem to have that effect on men. What makes it so devastating is that she never seems to realize it. I know she didn't with Peter." Charlotte's affection for her cousin was evident in everything she said and did. "Please continue."

"In London, I planned to seduce her. Fate had other things in mind." Josh was unsure the extent of Charlotte's knowledge about Emma and Steed's partnership so he kept the details to himself. "Now, here I have gotten to know her. She is quite a woman. Probably the most complicated that I've ever met. Falling in love with her would be easy I think, but living with her would be hard. She and Steed seem to have a special chemistry, although I can't pin just what their relationship is down. I like her too much to have just an affair, but I don't see us as having any long-term potential so no I don't want her. Its funny, she seemed to know how this would turn out even while we were in London. What you said about Peter. What do you mean?"

Charlotte rose and took a very large photo album from the shelves beside the fireplace. "No one, not even Emma has ever seen these pictures." Josh and Charlotte started looking through the album. These were Charlotte's special collection. Charlotte showed Josh six pages of early photos, then skipped to the ones she had taken at the hunt six years earlier. The photos were extraordinary. They caught every hidden nuance of Peter and Emma's first meeting. The openness of Emma's expressions, her obvious joy of life looked to Josh as if they belonged to another person and in a way they did. The man in many of the photos with her was stunning. He was perhaps one of the most handsome that Josh had ever seen. Tall, a sculpted body with blond hair and robin egg's blue eyes. It was the devil may care grin that lit his face in every shot that really made him special. It appeared to Josh that every time Emma looked away, Peter's eyes had filled with desire bordering on lust.

Charlotte stopped at a picture of Emma, Tina, and Peter. "Peter and Christina were very mismatched. Their relationship was stormy from the get go. I can't imagine how Tina thought it was going to end in marriage. I believed then and still do today that she invited Peter to the hunt to show Emma up. With Peter, I don't think Emma ever knew what hit her. She has always been intellectual rather than instinctual in her behavior. Her father had definite ideas about what was and wasn't proper behavior. He started her in martial arts classes when we were all around seven. He thought it would help control her temper. I think it just made her bury her emotions where they can't be seen until they erupt when she can no longer bury them. Peter and she were so alike in their interests, their joie de vivre. Introducing them was like putting a match to gasoline. What happened was inevitable. The only thing that surprised me was that it took as long as it did."

"Have you ever told anyone, Emma or Tina this?"

"No," Charlotte seemed quite sad. "It wouldn't do any good and it would be cruel to both of them. Would you like a drink?" Josh nodded yes and Charlotte rose to fill their glasses. Josh thumbed through the remainder of the album. Most of the pictures in the middle section seemed to be of both Emma and Peter. They made a handsome couple. Mostly, they appeared to be very happy, but a few showed a tension on Emma's face that seemed out of place. Then Josh came to the photos taken after Peter's death. It was as if all the life had been crushed out of Emma. Charlotte returned, handing Josh a glass of wine. Pointing to a picture taken two years earlier at the hunt right before Peter's death, Charlotte identified the tension that Josh had noticed earlier, "I think some part of Emma knew that Peter couldn't cheat death forever. He was so considerate when he was on the ground. Give him a chance to get into the air and he became a mad man. That's what killed him. He refused to listen when Aero-Tech tried to slow down the testing schedule."

Charlotte's insight was amazing to Josh. It was at that moment that Josh recognized that Charlotte was the one who most of his thoughts had revolved around the entire weekend, she was the one who he saw when he thought about the future. "Char, I know this may sound mad and if you think me rude or out of line I'll understand, but I would like very much to kiss you." Josh held his breath, expecting her to slap him. The kiss that Charlotte gave Josh surprised him with both its sweetness and its passion. Emma's lighthearted laughter startled them both. Charlotte wondered how long Emma had been standing there and if she would be angry about the photos.

"Don't let me interrupt. I have been speculating all weekend about when the two of you were going to wake up." Emma's delight warmed them both. Charlotte rose and gave her a small hug, one that brought tears to Emma's eyes from the pain. "I don't suppose you could help me to the bathroom and then back to bed could you?"

Chapter Break

Daniel disappeared around two a.m. Meg had awakened to find him gone. Sara and Samuel could no longer deny that something terrible was happening. Steed couldn't either.

Things suddenly got a lot worse when Jerry Banks showed up, rubbing his neck. He had a piece of torn paper in his hand. "Mrs. Peel asked me to help her to the bathroom. Bang, the next thing I know I'm picking myself up from the floor and she's gone. This was next to me.

The note contained a series of numbers. Below them, in Mrs. Peel's handwriting was Blacksmith's - D/T/GB. Steed instantly knew that Daniel had gone to Tina and that Emma had gone after Daniel. In her present condition Steed didn't imagine she'd be of much help. General Brown appeared to be about to get his revenge. Martin had three horses saddled before Steed, Josh, and Washington reached the stable. "Sir, both Ransome and Jackson are gone. I think Miss Emma took them."

Two men had jumped Daniel as he entered the Blacksmith's barn on the northwest side of the estate. They had beaten him badly before dumping him beside his daughter. He had come because of a note he received from Christina begging for his help. Daniel Sheldon had seen men go mad before, both on the battlefield and in the POW camp. Brown was definitely deranged. Christina was huddled in the corner, terrified. Daniel wanted to kill Brown with his own bare hands. Only the Ruger in Brown's hand stopped him. "Now we'll see how much your boss cares. If she's not here in fifteen minutes you two are going to die." The General continued to rant and rave about the injustices that Daniel and Emma had caused to be heaped on him.

Daniel slowly eased his way into the corner where Christina lay. He placed his arms around her, comforting her the way he had when she was a child. "Shh, it's going to be okay. I won't let him hurt you." Fifteen minutes later it didn't appear as if he was going to have a choice. Emma had not shown up and the General looked keen to keep his promise. Daniel stood in front of Christina, shielding her with his body. As the General aimed his pistol, he started a countdown. He was enjoying their terror. Ten…nine….eight…..seven….six……five…. Daniel's body tensed in anticipation of the bullet. Christina's grip tightened on his arm.

"General," Emma's voice came from behind Brown. As he turned she hit him as hard as she could with a right cross. Unfortunately, it didn't pack its usual punch and the resulting pain caused her to crumple. When he picked himself up, the General kicked her where she lay. This gave Daniel time to jump the General. Daniel, in his sixties was no match for the General and took an additional beating. During this time there was sounds of a scuffle outside.

Washington and the Admiral had approached the barn from the front side. They were currently involved with dispatching the goons that Brown had hired. Steed had entered the barn through the hidden entrance, hoping to stop Emma before she did anything stupid. He was too late. Christina was screaming at the top of her lungs. General Brown fired a shot into Daniel's prone body and turned now to kill Emma. She was powerless to stop him. Steed sprung from the same hidden entranceway that Emma had used. He threw the General off balance, causing him to drop the weapon. Emma dragged herself to where Daniel lay. Christina rushed to Daniel's side grabbing his hand, begging him to speak.

Steed and the General fought furiously. The General fought with the strength of a mad man and Steed with a rage that frightened even Emma. As Steed got the upper hand, he began to beat the General unmercifully. Only when Washington and Hardaway pulled him off did he stop.

Daniel's hand reached out to stroke Tina's cheek. She was crying uncontrollably. Upon feeling his touch she looked up. "Never thought that this wooden leg would come in handy." Daniel grimaced in pain from the beating, but was unharmed by the bullet as Brown had indeed shot his right leg.

"Steed," Emma was gasping for breath, "did I tell you the General's specialty?" When Steed nodded no, Emma held up a wire. "Incendiary Devices!"

Washington and Josh carried Daniel from the barn with Christina still holding tightly to his hand.

Steed picked Emma up as gently as he could, but knew from her reaction that her ribs were no longer cracked, but broken. The men started to return for Brown when there was a whoosh, then a ball of fire erupted from the barn. The six of them could hear his screams, but there was no way to reach him.

Epilogue

Steed and the Admiral had managed somehow to remove Emma, Christina, and Daniel from the area of the barn before either the stablehands or guests that came to fight the fire arrived. Avoiding explanations had proven much harder. Fortunately for all involved, the clean up crew from the ministry arrived before the local constabulary discovered Brown's body.

Christina had needed to be sedated. Daniel looked as if he had gone five rounds with Sonny Liston, and Mrs. Peel, who was supposed to not even leave her bed now had two broken ribs. Morgan didn't even ask, just slapped them all in the hospital, going so far as to use a set of handcuffs on Emma, locking her arm to the bed. The good doctor hadn't counted on Mrs. Peel's ability to pick locks or Washington's inability to refuse an order from Mrs. P.

Now, eighteen hours later, the guests had all left the Whitelaw's, Daniel and Meg were with Christina, Emma was back in her room at her grandparents, and Josh held Charlotte's hand as they sat on the verandah. Steed stood with them drinking a brandy, discussing their future plans. Sara watched this scene then demanded that Steed and Josh tell them the whole story. As usual, the only one who could control Sara when she was in this mood was Samuel. "Darling, there will be plenty of time later. Let it rest." With that, he gently pulled his wife into the house.

Steed found his way up the hidden stairs to join Emma. She was quite pale and Steed needed to reassure himself that she was indeed okay. "You know Mrs. Peel, you really should give it up."

Emma was in no pain, but the medication made her thought processes slow. "Give up what?", her eyes asked.

"Knight Industry business. You seem to be developing a habit of angering your business partners to deadly rage. Keller, Brown, is there anyone else we should watch out for? These amateurs seem to be better at threatening you than the professionals we encounter." Steed's eyes and the tone of his voice made it clear that he has only half joking.

Emma motioned with her eyes that Steed should join her. Steed then did something that he hadn't done in over twenty years. Gently, making sure he didn't hurt Emma, he contentedly spent the night holding a woman with whom he didn't have sex.

 
©  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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