He probably went home at night and fantasized. Eewww. Maybe Emily was lucky to be dead. Personally, she saw it as a viable alternative to sex with Sloane. He gave real meaning to the phrase 'fate worse than death.'
Today they'd outdone themselves. She felt like she should be auditioning for the remake of Barbarella. Thigh high boots with four inch heels, the better to break her ankle in, a leather mini-skirt so minuscule she wondered why they didn't just dress her in a G-string, and a skin tight red net top over a black bra finished the 'outfit'. She had the raccoon eyes again, blood red lipstick, and a choppy purple wig. Marshall had handed her a dozen silver bracelets that included a miniaturized transmitter, a computer code picker, and a wire garrote, along with a silver studded dog collar to wear around her neck. Sydney had just looked at it until Marshall's flustered explanations trailed to a stop. With a sneer, she'd donned it and stalked out to stop in at the conference room and meet with her 'partner' for this op: Sark.
If he made one snide remark, said one suggestive word, the world was going to be missing one blond, double crossing, terrorist/rogue operative, right along with his sexy British accent.
The sight that greeted her inside the conference room guaranteed Sark's survival for the night though and lightened her mood—considerably.
Sydney felt her lips twist up into a smile as she took in Sark's outfit. He was leaning against the edge of the conference table, his arms folded, worrying his lower lip with his teeth. He had on black lipstick to match his fingernails. His blond hair had been gelled into spikes. For once, it wasn't just her in a tacky get-up. Not that the outfit made him look bad. It didn't. He looked just … fine. The clothes showed off his lithe body and the black eyeliner stood out and made his blue eyes blaze. He also looked disgusted and no happier than Sydney.
Sark had on a sleeveless black zip-up vest, leather pants, Wolverine boots, and a spiked dog collar much like hers. The latter would make strangling him uncomfortable, Sydney reflected. Obviously, the tech guys and girls had been watching The Crow lately, right along with Barbarella. Unless the techies were just following Sloane's orders and Sark's outfit was his suggestion too.
Maybe she and Sark did have something in common. She'd seen him sort of slide away from Sloane's touchy-feely hands more than once.
"Hello, Goth boy," she purred, running her fingers up his bare arm. Sark snapped his head around, as startled by her touch as she had ever seen him. "Looking good." Very nice definition there, there and everywhere else she could see, and she could see a lot more than those Armani suits had ever displayed. The black leather pants clung to his legs and ass and stopped at his hip bones, displaying a silver ring in his navel. She wondered if he'd had it pierced for the mission. Her hand was still on his shoulder. She left it there.
A small smile tugged at Sark's lips.
"You, Agent Bristow, are an evil woman."
"Why? Because I enjoy seeing someone else, anyone else besides me, dressing up like a cheap hooker?"
"I assure you," Sark said silkily, rising to his feet and stepping close enough for her to feel the heat from his body, "I am never cheap. And I'm well worth the price."
Sydney looked straight into those blue eyes, and then let her eyes drop to his lips. She leaned a little closer and whispered as sultrily as she could, "How much?"
The sound of a clearing throat had both of them stepping back and looking toward the conference room door.
Her father and Marshall stood there. Marshall was gaping. Her father was glaring.
Nothing new there, Sydney thought, muffling an embarrassing giggle.
"Are we interrupting?" Jack asked frigidly.
Sark shrugged. "Only Agent Bristow's critique of my appearance." Another neat shrug highlighted the disguise he wore. Sydney swallowed hard.
Her father looked from Sark to Sydney and back. Then he did the unthinkable.
Sydney glared at him.
Damn it, she knew that snort.
He was trying to hide a laugh, the bastard.
Okay, he was her father, but he was also laughing at the way she looked, and she hadn't picked this teenager's wet-dream outfit, and that made him a bastard.
She glanced sidelong at Sark and noticed he'd gone still, his eyes narrowed and glacier cold. Mr. Sark did not like being laughed at either. He must have felt her glance. His eyes met hers. Perfect understanding passed between them. Her father, Sloane, and everyone in tech support would have to pay for this humiliation. Revenge was a necessity.
Sydney nodded to Sark once. He gave that backwards, chin lifted nod and a slow blink. Funny, she knew exactly what that meant without exchanging a word. They were in an agreement. When they finished this mission, they would run one of their own. They might even rope Dixon in on it. That Rasta hair and the big Afros had to be getting on his last nerve.
Jack cleared his throat. "Shall we go over the mission?"
"Again?" Sydney asked. "I think we could do this in our sleep. —Let's see, we waltz into the club, cozy up to the target and plant a monitor on him to tap his password security, then when we have that, we take out his guards, loot the information we want, and scram. Right?" She raised an eyebrow at her father. Sark had his head ducked, a smile lurking at the corners of his mouth. Sydney flashed a grin at him. "The only difference is we know Cornelius swings both ways, so Sark's going in with me to cover all the bases. It should be a piece of cake with two of us inside."
Her father's frown was back, but he didn't argue. "Essentially." He looked at Sark. "I assume you can handle this."
Sark raised an eyebrow.
"I'm sure Sydney is competent to protect my virtue." He smirked and Sydney bit the inside of her cheek to keep from bursting out in laughter. Virtue? Sark? The man was born guilty! But, oh, the expression on her father's face was priceless.
She patted Sark's arm. "That's right, baby. I'll keep you safe."
She wondered what her father's blood pressure looked like right now. This sudden, easy alliance between herself and Sark looked like putting it through the roof.
"Baby?" Sark whispered to her in an aside.
Sydney smiled brightly and offered, "Snarkums? Sarky-Poo? Blondie?" He was looking more and more horrified as she went on. "Sparky? Pretty Boy?" She batted her long, false eyelashes at him. "Hot stuff?"
She could tell he was wondering about her sanity. She had some questions herself.
"Baby's fine," Sark said cautiously.
"Good," she announced and linked her arm with his, leaning close.
He stiffened up and shot a rather wide-eyed look toward her father. A look that said, Don't blame this on me. She's freaking me out. Sydney snuggled closer.
"Sydney?" Sark asked. "Did anyone by chance slip an inhibition lowering drug in your drink recently?"
"Did Agent Yawn dump you in favor of his old girlfriend because you can kick his ass with both legs tied together and your mother is an international terrorist and ex-KGB agent who offed his daddy?"
Sydney frowned. "Nope."
Sark's voice rose slightly. "Then what is effing wrong with you? You hate me."
She walked her fingers up his arm again. Sark shivered. His eyes dilated, whether from desire or the visceral fear elicited by someone who has gone off their rocker in a spectacular fashion wasn't clear. Sydney shook her head and said thoughtfully, "I think it's the pants. How did you get in them?" She just knew he was commando under the leather.
Sark chuckled. "Baby powder."
Sydney leaned close and sniffed. Somewhere else in the room, Marshall gasped and groaned. Yes, she could just detect the hint of Johnson & Johnson, along with the scent of leather, sandalwood soap, and cinnamon. Very nice.
"Agent Bristow? You just sniffed me," Sark said.
"And you smell good."
He seemed to waver between panic and amusement. Amusement won. "Do I get to sniff back?"
"Go for it."
He bent his head toward her, then jerked back, rubbing his eye and grimacing in pain.
"Your wig just stabbed me."
Sydney gaped, then pouted. The damn thing did have enough hairspray shaping it to qualify as a fire hazard. Apparently it could double as a weapon too. "Sorry."
Jack interrupted, "Do you think you could lay off the mating behavior long enough to perform this mission?"
"Of course, Dad. We're professionals." Sydney sashayed past him, patted Marshall on the cheek, and went out the door. She could hear Marshall gulping and garbling. She gave them all a Mae West look over her shoulder and husked, "Coming, boys?"
Sark gave her hard look, then actually laughed. She hadn't known he could laugh; she'd never seen or heard him do more than smirk or sometimes smile.
"Oh, I like this new you, Agent Bristow," he said, loping after her with enviable grace. How he could move silently wearing those heavy boots mystified Sydney. The damn things she wore clacked.
"Don't get used to it," she snipped.
He laughed again. "I like the old you too."
She looked at him in surprise. That had sounded almost honest.
He went on, "But I'm not going to call you Agent Bristow if you keep calling me Baby."
"Oh, and what are you planning on calling me?" she asked with a ‘you better watch what comes out of your mouth next, buster' bite to her tone.
His eyes slid up and down her with frank admiration.
Well, shit. Kind of hard to get pissed over that. Sydney shrugged, pretending the compliment meant nothing. "Whatever trips your trigger."
"Speaking of which, where do you have your gun?" Sark asked curiously. "Doll-face."
"Top of my boot," Sydney replied. She smirked at him. "I don't have to ask where you've got yours. Baby."
Hell, those pants answered the question of whether he dressed left or right. Left. Sark let the innuendo float right on by, where another man might have come back with some comment about bringing out the ‘big guns'. He bit his lip again though. She thought about offering to do that for him. Teasing Sark was proving to be the most fun she'd had in years. He didn't get that damned, kicked puppy look Vaughn got when he thought she was making fun of him.
Vaughn. Hah. She'd like to see him dress up in skin tight leather. Actually, she would like to see that, but she knew it would never happen. He was going to frown and frown some more and then really frown hard when she told him they'd run an op right here in LA.
And Kendall would have another apoplectic attack. Sydney reminded herself to make sure she was there when he did. He turned such interesting colors. Too bad she couldn't take Sark over to the Ops Center with her. She was sure he would say something that would push the Assistant Director right over the edge.
She strolled through the SD-6 offices snarking with Sark, sharing personal space, oblivious to the raised brows and dropped jaws, and took the private elevator down to the parking garage, where a lime green Miata waited for them as part of their cover. Dixon would rendezvous with them at the target's location and run comm and over-sight from one of those big black vans that scream ‘nefarious intentions'.
"Here," Sydney said, taking the keys from the postage stamp-sized excuse for a purse she'd been issued. She handed them to Sark. "You drive."
Sark held the keys like they were a dead mouse.
"Contrary to popular opinion, I am not a chauffeur," he said.
Sydney tottered on one foot and extended her leg to show Sark the heel of the other boot. "You try shifting wearing four inch heels."
"Oh, all right," he agreed with a huff of frustration.
Like the gentleman he was when he wasn‘t busy assassinating folks, Sark held open the Miata's door for her. Sydney did her best to slip into the low slung seat without flashing her underwear at him. Well, any more of it than the damned outfit already showed. At least it all matched.
"Let's just get this done," she said once he'd joined her in the car. "The sooner we do, the sooner we can get out of these ‘clothes'."
"You do know how to offer an incentive, don't you?"
"If you say we're destined to shower together, I'm going to hit you."
"I suppose you prefer bubble baths?"
"Wouldn't you like to know."
He gunned the Miata and burned rubber heading out of the parking garage and onto the streets. The corner of his mouth had kicked up again.
"I could wire your house for video surveillance and find out for myself," he offered.
"I could kill you."
"You could try."
"I have," Sydney said darkly.
"I think you'd miss me."
"Like a hangnail."
"I'd rather be a fever, thank you."
Well, he was hot enough, Sydney had to admit. Damn, he had nice hands. She kept looking at them on the steering wheel and when he used the stick. Just quick little looks out of the corner of her eye because she didn't want him to know she'd noticed anything about him.
And when had she started liking the lethal blond bombshell, anyway? Oh, right, the day in the conference room when Sloane started in about serving their country and how proud he was … Even Dixon had looked green around the gills after a while and poor old Dix still thought they were working for the CIA. Sark, of course, knew better.
She'd looked over at Sark and had to laugh when he'd rolled his eyes and mouthed, ‘I‘m going to take a nap. Want to join me?'
Except for her father, he was the only one in SD-6 who had clue one. Talk about sad situations. When the bad guys start looking like the only ones who could understand you, things are definitely heading into the toilet.
She really liked the way Sark said her name. It had to be the accent. And the voice.
Definitely the voice, so sweet and smooth and soft . . . He sounded like candy tasted.
Now he was shaking her shoulder. The car was parked. A little frown pleated between his brows and he almost looked concerned. Snap out of it, Syd. Sark did not do concerned. He raised an eyebrow when he saw he had her attention.
She snapped, "What, for God's sake?"
Sark gestured to the club building, another industrial tech monstrosity like a child's block outlined in blue neon. "We're here. At least I am. I don't know where you just went."
Sydney swung out of the Miata. "Well, I'm back."
Sark joined her on the pavement. He fiddled with the silver ear clip that held his radio receiver.
"Then let's do it."
Sydney adjusted her wig and turned her receiver on too. A touch to the dog collar opened the throat mic hidden there.
"Are you getting this, Dixon?" she asked sotto voce.
"Loud and clear, Mountaineer. Ask Bad Boy to give me a sound check."
"Dix wants a sound check, Bad Boy," she murmured gleefully.
"Effing Sloane," Sark muttered.
"Did you get that?" Sydney asked.
"Nothing. Tell him to turn on his mic," Dixon replied.
Sark was already twisting one of the silver spikes. "—next thing you know, he's going to have us both wearing leashes," he complained softly. "Am I getting through?"
"Loud and clear, kiddos."
"You know," Sark said conversationally, as he wrapped an arm around Sydney's waist and they strolled toward the club's front door, "this mission really tops it in the humiliation department. Whatever I've done in the past, I believe I have now paid my debt to society-—Sloane showed up at tech support when I was being fitted for these damned pants."
Gag. Shudder. Sydney did not want to contemplate just how ‘inappropriate' Monkey Man had gotten with Mummy's little bit of crumpet.
"Sometimes I'm damned grateful I'm married," Dixon commented. "He used to ‘check on' me before I got together with Diane."
The bouncers looked Sydney and Sark over and let them in directly. A wall of noise and syncopated lights hit them. Sydney was still thinking about what Dixon had just said. That implied… Eeeww, eeeww, eeeww.
"I need a drink," Sydney declared. "Right now."
Sark leaned closer. His mouth moved. The music overwhelmed whatever he said. In her ear, Dixon was whimpering, "Loud, loud, loud," and he wasn't even inside with them. The crowd filling the dance floor looked like a giant blob creature from a cheap sci-fi B movie. Something with lots of arms and no brain, intent on absorbing everything in its path.
"Drink," Sydney shouted at Sark. "Now."
He grabbed her wrist and began elbowing their way toward the bar. Sydney contributed by driving her four inch heels into the instep of anyone who tried to grope either of them. A wake of pain filled grunts and hopping soon trailed behind them.
At the bar, Sydney covered Sark's back while he ordered. The press of bodies meant she literally covered his back, plastered against him as he leaned forward and yelled something to the bartender. She glared balefully at anyone who got too near.
Finally, Sark slithered around and handed Sydney a shot glass of something pale blue and vaguely fluorescent. She eyed it suspiciously for a moment, then shrugged and downed the contents in one gulp. It burned going down.
Sark sipped his drink in a much more moderate fashion. Sydney felt disappointed. She would have loved to see Mr. Cool and Collected drunk off his ass. Oh well, hope springs eternal, maybe another time.
"Shall we?" Sark gestured across the club to where Cornelius held court from an elevated booth above the dance floor.
Sydney left her drink on the bar. "We shall," she replied, locking her elbow through Sark's and holding on tight.
When they got close enough to see that Cornelius was, indeed, ensconced in his dimly lit booth, Sark and Sydney both came to a stop. They slanted glances at each other. Cornelius was huge. Shaquille O'Neal crossed with an albino rhinoceros huge but more irritable looking.
They just stood there and stared at the man in mutual horror. They were supposed to cozy up to that?!
"Just how pissed would I have to be to actually contemplate cuddling up to that?" Sark asked sardonically. "Because I don't think there's enough alcohol here to do it."
"We don't get paid enough for this shit."
"We could just shoot each other."
"Nah," they chorused together.
"We could shoot Cornelius?" Sydney suggested.
"I left my elephant gun in my other pants."
"Ah, Mountaineer, Bad Boy, I can hear you, you know?" Dixon interjected. "Just barely, ‘cause these new ear plugs Marshall made me are great, but still … And this is being taped."
"Shit," Sydney whispered. "Okay. I can do this. —I don't want to do this. Why isn't there some other way to do this?"
She squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, held it when her tits threatened to leap out of her bra, and headed for the stairs up to Cornelius' booth once things stabilized again. She felt Sark's rather comforting presence right behind her and heard him whisper, "Once more into the breach, dear Sydney."
Cornelius' bodyguards, a set of bookend twins only slightly smaller than a pair of bull elephants, both with shaved heads and tattooed thews, met them at the top of the stairs.
"This is a private area," Thug Number One lisped in a voice so high Sydney wondered if someone had his balls in a vise.
"Silenko sent us," Sydney said breathily. She hadn't the faintest idea who Silenko was, but her father had sworn up and down that the name would get them in to see Cornelius. She really had to thank him for that. And she would, just as soon as the devil started selling snow cones.
Thug Number One faded back to see if his boss knew anyone named Silenko.
Sark slid his arms around her and pressed close to whisper in her ear. "Tell me you didn't just say Silenko sent us?"
She twisted and whispered back, "Why?"
Sark shuddered. "Because he runs the kinkiest escort service on three continents. Cornelius is going to expect us both to… Perform. -—How on earth did you ever come up with his name?"
Sark shuddered again. "Don't tell me any more. You have the most dysfunctional family."
"Aren't you the one who said Irina was like a mother to you?"
"You would remember that."
Thug Number One minced back. "Mr. Cornelius says to join him."
"Oh joy," Sark mumbled into her wig. The feel of his hot breath on her ear lobe made Sydney squirm. Maybe, if Cornelius just wanted them to perform for him, it wouldn't be too arduous a chore. She could lie back and think of England… English accents, blue eyes, that sleek body all wrapped up in black leather like an S&M Christmas present. Really, it was a hard job, but someone had to do it.
"You're on," Dixon whispered over the radio, reminding Sydney she was there to do a job and not Sark.
She strutted over to the table, deliberately bumping her hip into Sark's as he stepped up beside her.
Cornelius was leaning back against the crushed red velvet upholstery, arms spread out, leaving space on each side of him. Sydney had a bad feeling he meant for her and Sark to take their places there. He really was an albino, too. The colorless skin stood out shockingly against the black suit he wore, turning variously blue, green, and yellow as the lights slid over him. His eyes were pink and had no lashes.
"Pretty, but I don't recall asking Silenko to send me anything tonight," Cornelius rumbled. Rumble was the only word. The voice issuing from that barrel chest best resembled the San Andreas Fault really cutting loose. The vibrations were deep enough to set it off, too. The silver necklaces he wore round his neck were thick enough to double as the Queen Elizabeth's anchor chains.
Sydney was still trying to think of a way out of getting next to the crime boss and froze. Sark picked up her slack though. He really did make an excellent partner.
"We're new. Silenko told us to come here and if we pleased you, we'd have a job."
"Yeah," Sydney added in a bubble gum voice. "We're like a, you know, matched set? Buy one, get one for free?"
Cornelius surveyed them the way a butcher checks out a side of beef. Sydney could just see him thinking, Fresh meat. They were in soooo much trouble.
"Come," Cornelius finally ordered. "Sit with me."
She knew it, damn it.
Reluctantly, Sydney slipped into the booth and next to the albino rhino. She noticed Sark wasn't in much of a hurry either. Immediately, she missed the warm feel of him next to her, the rhythm of his breath, the way he fit against her, the way he smelled. Bad, Sydney. Cornelius, in contrast, smelt of cologne. A vat of cologne, which cooled her jets considerably.
"Marion," Cornelius addressed Thug Number One. "Get my both of my guests a drink. Something from my special stock. —Vivian, make sure no one disturbs us."
Marion? Vivian? She caught Sark's eye and mouthed both names at him. Then it hit her. They were going to be alone with Cornelius. Alone.
Thug Number One—Marion, Sydney reminded herself—arrived at the table bearing a tray on the fingers of one ham-huge hand. Two tall, crystal wine goblets, frosted with cold, containing a golden-amber liquid that nearly glowed, rested on the silver tray. He placed one in front Sark and one in front of her.
"What is it?" Sydney asked suspiciously.
Sark was already grabbing his and tossing it down fast. "Who cares?" Cornelius had taken the silver D-ring hanging from the zip at Sark's throat, hooked one finger through it, and begun tugging. Slowly. Sark looked at his empty goblet in obvious surprise and commented, "That was extraordinary."
Sydney took a cautious sip. She had, after all, already imbibed. Wow, she thought, that really did taste good. She tried another swallow and ignored Cornelius' running a hand up her thigh.
How many hands did he have, anyway? Was Cornelius a relative of Sloane's? Sloane always seemed to have more hands than you could account for.
He was still pawing Sark, wasn't he? She looked. Yeppers. Sark was sort of leaning back in the booth, staring at the ceiling lights, and she thought, holding his breath. Boy, he had good lungs. She bet he could kiss forever without coming up for air.
Time to put the brakes on that line of thought, before she broke out in a sweat.
"Jeez, yeah, it's really good," she said.
Cornelius grinned. So did Marion. So did Vivian. Somewhere, she had a bad feeling, Sloane was grinning.
"It's a very old and secret recipe, my dear," Cornelius said. "I have had people killed for trying to steal it."
"Steal it?" Sydney squeaked stupidly. "Why would someone steal your wine?"
Cornelius began laughing. "Not the wine, my pretty, but the extra ingredients I've had added: Love Potion #47, Rambaldi's greatest discovery!"
Sydney's eyes went wide.
Was it getting hot in here?
Breathe. Okay. Breathe. Air. Lungs need it. Sydney gulped hard. She'd just drunk an aphrodisiac mixed up by Milo Rambaldi. She wanted to whimper. Sark had just drunk a whole glass of Rambaldi #47. Holy Mother Mary on a motorbike… Sydney did whimper.
She managed to ask in her dimwit persona, "So, like, now I'm gonna just fall in with love you, stud muffin?"
"Not quite," Cornelius replied, somewhat distracted by opening up Sark's vest. "But you and your friend are going to have a very good time tonight."
Sark was blinking very, very slowly, Sydney noticed, and not exactly trying to get away from Cornelius. The stuff was already getting to him. He was whispering something to himself she couldn't hear. He was also playing with Cornelius' collar, slipping the silk back and forth between his thumb and forefinger.
"Smooth," he murmured.
Cornelius smiled. Sydney hadn‘t realized rhinos could smile. "I'm glad you like it, pretty."
Sark laughed. Not the laugh that Sydney had heard at SD-6. This laugh sort of sounded… Inviting… And slightly drunk.
Was that good or bad? It was getting sort of hard to think. The music was really loud, though it was a song she liked. She felt like dancing. Slow dancing. Maybe Sark would dance with her, close and hot and with his arms around her. Sydney blinked.
Whoa. Cornelius had his big, pasty hand on Sark's nipple. That was just wrong.
Sark belonged to her. And Irina. But Irina wasn't here, so Mummy was shit out of luck tonight. Sark was… What was Sark doing? Oh. Oh God. He was reciting poetry. The Earl of Rochester. Not the stuff they put in the anthologies, this was the gloriously prurient stuff the old boy penned about his various mistresses. When had Sark found time to read that?
Cornelius pulled Sark a little closer. Sark wiggled and licked his lips.
Cornelius' eyebrows shot up.
Sydney crawled right over his lap and into Sark's, straddling him and batting Cornelius' hand away. "Mine," she snarled at the crime boss.
Sark had his hands on her hips, holding her close enough she could tell the aphrodisiac was definitely working on him. Either that or he hadn't forgotten his elephant gun after all.
He smiled at her like an angel and began quoting Baudelaire. In French. She'd thought Vaughn sounded good when he whispered little sweet nothings in her ear in French. He had nothing on Sark.
"'To wine, to opium even, I prefer the elixir of your lips on which love flaunts itself; and in the wasteland of desire your eyes afford the wells to slake my thirst,'" he murmured and kissed her.
Sydney closed her eyes and melted closer, hands roaming over hot, smooth skin, completely uncaring of who was watching or where they were. Sark tasted of cinnamon, of sex and sin, and she wanted more. She wanted all. Sark pretty clearly had no problems with providing it, either.
A hand on her shoulder had her growling again and trying to shrug it away as she was forcibly pulled off Sark. She glared up at the bodyguard who had just detached her from her new favorite toy. Vivian—or was it Marion?—just shook his head.
"That's lovely, my dear," Cornelius drawled from the other side of the both, recalling Sydney to his presence and their mission. "I think you should continue your performance in one of the private rooms, though." She'd totally lost track of the mission. Then she spotted the tiny silver pinhead of the passive transmitter under the collar of Cornelius' shirt and realized Sark had slipped it into place already.
When had he done that? She thought he was gone on the aphrodisiac. His eyes were dilated now and he moaned under his breath, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like, "Damn these pants."
"Vivian, Marion, take these two to my suite," Cornelius directed. "I have a meeting I can't delay. They can entertain themselves until I'm ready to join them."
Marion-—or was it Vivian?-—hoisted Sark to his feet with a salacious smile. "Do we get to watch, boss?" Sark was just swaying in place to the music, head tipped, while the talk went on around them. Sydney didn't feel much sharper. She just wanted to slide next to him and figure out how those damn pants came off.
Her fingers itched.
"Not now, but there is always the video," Cornelius promised.
Cornelius was going to video tape her and Sark. Sydney tried to remember why this was bad idea. It was, wasn't it? She should ask Dixon. She'd do that when they were alone again. Right then, Vivian-—Marion—who the fuck cared?—was lifting her out of the booth and holding her up. Damn it was hard to balance on those four inch heels. Sark would hold her up though. Sydney fell against him and starting licking his throat.
Marion and Vivian were snickering.
"Damn, boss, are you sure you don't want these two to give you a show right here?"
"They're too lovely not to immortalize. Silenko must want something from me badly to let me have the first taste of them."
Sark wasn't so out of it he didn't hear the dreaded name Silenko. He cringed. Sydney noticed and held onto him tighter.
Marion and Vivian took hold of their arms and began marching them away, to a discreet door that led into a red lit corridor interspersed with electronically locked steel doors. At the very end of the corridor, one of the thugs tapped a code into a keypad and they were ushered into a luxuriously appointed bedroom.
"Have fun, kids," Marion squeaked—she thought it was Marion because of the high voice—and locked them in.
Sark looked around the room in something like shock. There was gilt framed mirror on the ceiling. He tipped his head up and stared at it.
"Brothel chic. I must find out who does Cornelius' decorating," he murmured. "And shoot him."
"Sark? Sark, " Sydney hissed at him. "We've got to get out of here!"
Sark began playing with her hair, er, her wig. "What?" he murmured. His fingers found her ear. Very nice fingers. Doing very nice things. She might redirect them lower, though.
No. Business. Mission. Danger.
"We have to get out of here!"
"Why?" he asked plaintively. He gestured gracefully to the bed. The bed with the red velvet coverlet. The really, really big bed that looked sinfully comfortable and perfect to roll around on, Sydney noticed. "I want to lie down."
"You can't lie down now," she snapped, even while a film strip of him doing just that whizzed through her head. "We have to get out of here."
"You keep saying that, Sydney," Sark said, "but I don't know why."
"Why," he repeated.
"Because," she spluttered. She waved her arms around in frustration. "Because … Because. Uhm. Just because, damn it!"
"I think," Sark said dreamily, slipping closer to her and dipping his head, "that I would rather kiss you again."
"Okay, then we get out of here," Sydney said.
Sark paused and seemed to think about that. "Why?"
"Would you quit asking me that?"
"All right." He kissed her instead. Sydney decided it was only fair to do her part and kissed back. She ignored the little voice in her head gabbling about the mission and escaping and what was wrong with her and Sark. It might have been her conscience. Or it could have been Dixon. Sometimes she got them confused.
"Sydney, Sark, if you don't get out of there, Cornelius is going to show up expecting to join the festivities! " Dixon shouted into both their earpieces.
As a bucket of cold water, it worked wonderfully. Sydney and Sark sprang away from each other. Of course, Sydney caught her heel in the Turkish carpet's edge, wobbled, and fell on her ass with a pained ooof. Sark stumbled back several steps, started to snicker, and ran into the edge of the bed and ended up sprawling half on it, half on the floor.
Sydney just stared, hardly aware her mouth had fallen open. "Wow." There he was, Sark the Arctic Prince, flang dang on that red velvet, no shirt, black leather pants, absently stroking the velvet like some Sultana's favorite, wanton blond love slave. The silver naval ring glinted.
Sydney slapped herself. No more romance novels for you girl!
Sark squirmed up onto the bed and sat up enough to see her, resting back on bent elbows. His eyes were still dark and glassy, but he looked a little more alert. He also looked hungry. It was a very good look on him.
"We could do it on the floor," he said conversationally, "but the bed's more comfortable."
"Sark, Dixon is listening to us," she reminded him.
"And taping it all," Dixon added helpfully. "I think I can sell this to Mr. Sloane and buy Diane the vacation house in the Caribbean she's always wanted. You‘re father might pay to keep it away from Mr. Sloane, too. I‘ll probably auction it off."
"Oh, right," Sark said. "And Cornelius has cameras in here too."
"Great, now he's got pictures of me falling on my butt," Sydney muttered in a sulk. "And Dixon, if you don't burn the tape of this mission I will tell Diane what you did in Blackpool."
Sark looked interested. "What did Agent Dixon do in Blackpool?"
"Turning off the tapes right now, Syd. Damn shame the way this cheap Government Issue equipment shorts out sometimes."
Sydney grinned nastily. "It's too good to waste by sharing it with you, Baby."
He pouted. "Tease." Then he smiled and patted the bed.
Sydney looked at him narrow eyed and suspicious. "Do you remember why we're here, Baby? "
A look of regret crossed his face and he nodded slowly. "Unfortunately, yes. The first rush of the drug seems to have receded. You're safe from me."
Oh, like hell, Sark, she thought. A nun wouldn't be safe with you, dressed like that.
But Sark was off the bed and offering her a hand up, so she kept mouth shut and got to her feet. His hand was warm and dry and fit around hers perfectly.
"You said something about getting out of here," he said softly.
"Yeah, I don't think we're going to find any Rambaldi devices in here."
Sark looked around again, smiling slightly. "Probably not," he agreed. "But I could wish you had drunk just a little more of Cornelius' special vintage."
Sydney punched him in the arm, but without any real force. He tipped his head and said lightly, "Ow."
"You did just hit me."
"Come on, Baby, I've hit you harder than that plenty of times and you never said, Ow," Sydney said.
"Yes, well, that would have just ruined my cold-blooded killer image," Sark whispered, leaning close. "I'm afraid this mission has done for it anyway, though."
The locked door took Sydney about thirty seconds to defeat, thanks to the handy set of automatic lock picks Marshall had made for her to carry in the heel of her boot. Sometimes she thought they should just have Marshall build a remote controlled agent and let his gadgets take over all the missions. She was sure he could do it.
Sark slunk out into the hall behind her. He was still breathing a little harder than would be normal for him, but seemed to be in control.
"By the way," she whispered, "good job with the transmitter."
He shrugged. "You know how it is; every good agent learns to operate while being groped."
"Yeah, but not while zonked on Formula 47."
"So where do you figure Cornelius has it stashed?"
Her turn to shrug. "His office?"
"He's probably in there. He said he had a meeting," Sark pointed out.
Sydney stopped and glared at him, arms akimbo and hands fisted at her hips. She tapped her foot temperamentally. "And do you have a better idea, Mr.—"
Sark's hand was over her mouth.
"Don't use my name," he hissed.
Sydney opened her mouth and licked his palm, watching his pupils dilate until only the darker rim of the blue iris showed. He tasted of salt. He jerked his hand away and took in a gulp of air. "Don't do—that, either," he gasped.
"Whatever you say, Baby," she said with a smirk, satisfied she had gotten to him.
"I don't know what you two are doing, but quit doing it in the hall," Dixon said from their earpieces.
"You're just no fun," Sydney jeered.
"That's what happens when you get married," Dixon agreed.
"I'm never getting married," Sark immediately commented.
"Like anyone would marry you," Sydney said.
Sark cocked an eyebrow at her. "I've had offers."
Sydney ran her eyes over him again. "Oh, yeah, that I can believe." Damn, she wanted to fit her little finger through that ring in his navel and tug, just a little. She gave herself a shake. It was just Formula 47, she assured herself. She was loyal to Vaughn and the CIA and the forces of righteousness and good. She was not getting a case of the hots for the poster boy for Assassins Anonymous. Even if he was blond, suave, and very available.
And drugged, she reminded herself.
"The mission, my little lovebirds, remember that thing you both came here for?"
She swore she heard Sark mutter, "You get off on making sure neither of us does, don't you, Agent Dixon," under his breath.
They snuck down the hall. Well, Sark snuck. Sydney's boots made an alarming amount of noise. Sark gave her an irritated look. "No wonder the guards always find you and you have to fight your way out," he sneered.
"Well, how the hell do you walk so silently?"
"I asked Marshall to come up with an anechoic coating for these boots." Sark flashed her a smile. "He has such a crush on you."
"Be nice to him," she hissed.
"I promise not to kill him, since he asked so politely when I joined SD-6." Another smile. "Besides, I really like these boots."
Sydney felt her mouth drop open. Mr. I-Wear-Bruno Magli liked boots? Baby, baby, baby.
Sark's cocky smile just got wider. Damn it, he'd just screwed up her image of him again.
Well, they'd just see about that. With a haughty sniff, she spun on her heels and stalked off to the door at the end of the hall that presumably opened into Cornelius' private office. They were going to get the stupid Rambaldi formula, get out, and Mr. Blonds-Have-More-Fun would have to admit who was the better agent. So there!
Of course, when they got there, she remembered Dixon hadn't relayed the security codes to get into Cornelius' safe yet. Sydney's shoulders slumped.
"Let's get out of the hallway, shall we?" Sark murmured. He entered a series of numbers into the keypad lock next to the doorknob. The telltales flashed green and the lock released along with the door with a faint shush.
"Where'd you get the code?" Sydney asked suspiciously.
Sark said absently, "It's the one our escort used on the bedroom lock. I took a chance."
"You remembered it?"
"Of course." He glanced at her in surprise. "Sydney, I have a photographic memory."
Sark opened the door and slipped inside. Sydney sidled in behind him. The office looked like … An office. Nothing like the harem tent extravaganza they'd been locked in before.
Sydney thought about what Sark had just said.
"Dixon," she whispered. "Going radio silent."
She keyed off her throat mike. Sark followed suit without a word, clearly intrigued that she had something to say that wasn't for Dixon's ears. "So that time at FAPSI headquarters, you really didn't need the post card, just to look at it. That's how you made it to Madagascar and ambushed—"
"You and Agent Yawn," Sark finished.
"Stop calling him that," she said, annoyed.
"Well, really, Sydney, ‘Boy Scout' is as bad a codename as ‘Bad Boy'," Sark pointed out reasonably, "And I don't believe Sir Galahad and I have ever been formally introduced."
Sydney giggled, imagining it. Vaughn did like to play the White Knight. Did that make Sark Mordred? He was certainly a bastard sometimes. Irina would be a kick-ass Morgan Le Fey. But if Irina was Morgan, then Sark was Sydney's bro—whoa, no way! Taking the metaphor a little too far.
Sark wandered over to the polished black desk and examined Cornelius' computer. With a magician's flourish he produced a CD and loaded it, then started the computer. "Marshall swears this will defeat any security Cornelius has on his computer," Sark said. "I'll download everything he has here and then—"
The telltale light on the keypad beside the door flashed yellow, catching Sydney's eye.
"Sark, someone's coming in here," she blurted. She pulled the derringer Marshall had customized for her—just as useful as silent boots—and looked around the room wildly. "We've got to hide."
"I need an—"
Sark grimaced and pointed toward another door. "Through there."
Sydney heard the lock start to click open and nodded. They both sprinted for the other door, threw it open (lucky it wasn't locked too) and squeezed through it.
And into a closet. A cramped, black coat closet.
Sark pulled the door shut behind them. Sydney clearly heard it lock.
Sark wrapped his arms around her and they blindly shuffled behind a row of hanging coats, trying not to make any noise. Sydney was vividly aware his body and her own. Good sense was packing for a vacation, while impulse moved in to house-sit for the night and started planning to party.
She leaned closer to him. She couldn't see, but she could feel and there was so much to feel since Sark had lost his vest somewhere along the way.
She could barely breathe and when she did, it was leather and sandalwood and a hint of sweat filling her lungs. She was slathered up to Sark's sleekly muscled chest close enough to feel every breath he took. The thundering heartbeat in her ears was probably her own, though.
Sark moaned very quietly.
"Sydney, could you not—"
She squirmed, trying to put a little space between them. There was no room to move at all. Sark's skin felt so hot and silky … She moved again and felt his hips move to match hers.
The leather had to be confining. Even painful.
Another couple of deep breaths and Sark murmured almost humorously, "Yes. Oh. Rambaldi is still with us. Me, anyway."
He moved against her again and breathed into her ear, "I'm not, dear Sydney."
Sydney catalogued the situation in her head. She was stuck in a dark, hot, claustrophobic closet the next thing to skin to skin with a doped up Sark. His hand was splayed over the small of her back and sliding down . . . With a shrug, she decided to go with the flow and squeezed a hand between them to tug on the navel ring the way she‘d wanted to do since she saw it. Really, she would be stupid not to take advantage. Sark sighed against her throat and began tracing her jaw with his tongue.
"Are we going to do this?" he asked softly.
"Why not?" she whispered back.
She could hear the cocky grin on his face as he replied, "Indeed." Kissing it off seemed like a good strategy and she began to employ it. Oh, Christ, Sark knew what to do with his tongue. And, yeah, she'd worry about consequences later. The man was making her toes curl in her boots.
She liked the feel of leather (not as much as she liked the feel of Sark), but she wanted to get her hands under it. She slid her hands around, trying to find a way to get into his pants. Damn it, how did the damn pants fasten?
With a huff of frustration, she asked, "Did someone sew these damn things on you?"
"There's a zipper. Let me—" He hissed, twisted, and then said something foul in Russian. He wriggled around, jamming an elbow into Sydney's ribs, and muttered something creative and obscene in Cantonese. He grabbed her hand and guided it to the zipper tab. "—Here, see if you can get it to—" Sydney jerked on the offending zipper, feeling frustrated herself, and felt the little metal tab break off.
"Sydney, you didn't just—"
"—stupid, stupid zipper—"
"—Jesus, you did. Sydney, I'm going to go insane here—"
"—damn it, it's—"
"—stuck, I know—"
"—maybe I can get it to come loose if I slip my fingers underneath …"
Sark wasn't moving at all, Sydney noticed. He wasn't even breathing, she thought. His skin felt like it was on fire where she had her hand inside his pants. Her thumb was on his hipbone. She stroked the pad over the faint prominence, eliciting a rippling shudder that ran through his entire frame.
He said very huskily, "I really don't care if the effing zipper comes, Sydney."
Sydney left her hand where it was.
"Sydney?" He sounded a little desperate. Poor lamb.
Slowly, reluctantly, Sydney withdrew her hand.
"Sydney?" Was that a whine?
"You're not getting off without me," she said. "And I'm not doing it in a closet, okay?"
Sounding defeated, Sark said, "I hate you, you know that?"
"I hate you too."
"We're on the same page."
"We have to get out of here, finish the damn mission, and then we can get you out of—"
"—these damn pants," Sark finished. "You know, I never thought I'd say I was eager to come out of the closet."
Sydney muffled her giggles against his chest and Sark wrapped his arms around her.
"We'd better turn our comms back on," Sark murmured into her wig. He made no move to do it. Neither did Sydney. It felt too good, just holding each other. She still wanted him and she could feel how much he still wanted her, but the insane urgency was easing off again. She was pretty sure what she was feeling had nothing to do with Milo Rambaldi's formula for success, either.
"Dixon may have the security code by now."
"He'll be worried," Sydney agreed.
"Can you hear anyone out there?"
Sydney listened and heard nothing from the office. "No. You?"
Sark held his breath for a long minute.
"No. We'll just have to take a chance."
"Okay, let's do it."
Sydney felt him laugh silently.
"Now, you say that."
Sydney unlocked the closet door by feel and ducked her head out. The office was empty once more. She pushed the door open and came out of the closet. Sark followed her, immediately examining the offending zipper.
"Turning my comm back on," Sydney told him.
Sark was still fiddling with the damned pants. Trying to unstuck the broken zipper. Unsuccessfully.
"I heard you," he snapped. Sydney shrugged and opened the link to Dixon again just as Sark added disgustedly, "I'm going to have to cut these things off."
"Mountaineer, what's going on?" Dixon asked anxiously.
"Mountaineer? Bad Boy?"
Sark reactivated his own comm. "Mountaineer's having a bit of a laugh at my expense," he said.
Sydney leaned close and said, "Well, at least this way, Cornelius can't get into your pants."
Dixon said, "I don't want to know, do I?"
Sydney giggled again.
Sark stalked over to the computer and finished the job he'd begun before their little closet tête-à-tête. One corner of his mouth quirked up as the download finished this time. "Got it," he declared, slipping the CD into a case.
"So where to now?"
"While you two were doing each other—or whatever," Dixon said, "The transmitter you planted on Cornelius had him in the office. He accessed his safe. It's behind the photograph on the wall."
Sydney looked at the picture. Then she looked again. Was that …? With four people? And a hamster. Oh, that was just disgusting.
Sark glanced at it and grimaced, muttering sotto voce, "Looks like a Silenko special."
Her father had a lot—a lot—of explaining to do.
So did Sark.
"You seem to know a lot about that," Sydney commented.
"More than I ever wanted to," Sark replied. He began checking to see how the photograph came off the wall, trying not to set off any alarms.
"Why?" Sydney asked curiously, watching the muscles in his back move sinuously as he ran his fingertips along the top of the picture frame. "I mean, how do you know?"
"My second—" he paused, finding the catch that released the frame so the they could see the face of the safe, "—that's got it—mission for, ah, The Man I had to pretend to be part of Silenko's stable."
Just how far had the pretense gone? And, God, he had a great ass. The leather clung to it the way Sydney wanted to.
Sark turned and quirked a smile at Sydney that made her stomach flip-flop. As though he'd read her mind, he said, "It sucked. I didn't."
In her radio ear piece, Dixon snorted and choked. "Oh. Ah. Good," she mumbled.
Sark turned back to the safe. "I need the access code now."
Dixon relayed it and Sark went to work, opening the safe smooth as cream on strawberries. No alarms. Once he had the lock undone, he carefully lifted out a crystal flagon containing a glowing amber liqueur.
He held it up to the light.
"Formula #47." His eyes took on a wicked gleam. "Want a shot?"
"Could we just get the hell out of here?" Sydney snapped.
Sark shrugged and handed her the flagon, pulling a musty bunch of old papers out of the safe next. "Looks like a Rambaldi goldmine." Lacking anyplace else to stick them, he shoved the papers down the front of his pants. He pushed the safe closed with one finger and set the picture back in place over it.
Despite herself Sydney looked at the photograph again. Leather. Clamps. Handcuffs. Check. Feather duster? She slid her eyes over Sark and wondered if he was ticklish.
"You don't like that sort of stuff, do you?" she asked.
Sark blinked at the picture and then her. A wide smile bloomed across his features and he began laughing. "Considering the bondage scenarios we've both gone through in this business, that could get a little uncomfortable, not to mention embarrassing, Sydney."
She snickered and gave her best leering look. "More for you than me."
"Mountaineer, Bad Boy, Cornelius is headed back to the offices. You need to get out of there."
"Back to the bedroom?" Sark suggested.
"Sure. We can give him a little show."
Sark raised an eyebrow.
They slipped out of the office, down the hall, and back into the bedroom like the smooth, professional spies they were. Sydney only turned her ankle once. As soon as they were in the bedroom, Sark hid the flagon of Formula #47 under the bedroom. Sydney admired the way the leather stretched over his ass until he reared back and sneezed.
He wrinkled his nose.
Sydney began to laugh. She couldn't help it.
Sark sat back and wrapped his arms around himself with a convulsive shiver. "Is the a/c turned up in here?" he asked crossly. He looked so cute Sydney couldn't resist ruffling his hair, dodging back when he batted at her hand.
"Cornelius is going to be there in a minute, kiddos."
"So, Goth Boy, got a plan?"
"I thought I'd distract him when he came in and you could knock him out."
"Oh, great plan, Einstein."
"About on par with most of your missions, love."
Sydney glanced around the room and found a bronze statuette. Nice. The base felt like it had lead in it. It would do the job.
The lock on the door clicked as it disengaged. Sydney dodged over to the blindside of the door and hefted the statuette high.
Sark scrambled to his feet and moved in front of the bed, donning a come-hither smile and hip-cocked pose that made Sydney's mouth water.
"I don't know, baby," she joked. "I think Cornelius might have liked the look of you on your knees."
Sark calmly gave her the finger. "Line of sight."
The door opened and Cornelius stepped inside, a smile lighting his face at the sight of Sark's extremely edible figure. "Ah, where is your little play—"
Sydney lifted the statuette a little higher—suddenly glad for the height the heels gave her, because otherwise she'd have been aiming for Cornelius' kidneys—and swung a baseball player, hitting the base of Cornelius' skull.
Cornelius jolted forward a step, slowly turned his head toward Sydney, and slurred out, "—mate?" Then the albino swayed like a redwood in a hurricane, pink eyes rolling in their sockets.
Sydney waited, wondering what it would take if the big man didn't go down.
As Cornelius fell straight forward and face-down, Sydney said, "Timber!" and Sark danced out of the way of the body. The albino mob boss hit hard enough a puff of dust rose out of the carpet.
"Someone," Sark said and stepped over Cornelius' unconscious form, "needs to vacuum more often."
Sark bent over, pulled a silk handkerchief from Cornelius' suit jacket and handed it to her. She blew her nose while he fished the flagon from under the bed.
Sydney looked at the used handkerchief in her hand. What the hell were you supposed to do with it, anyway? A Kleenex you threw away, but a silk handkerchief? Fuck it. She dropped the hanky on Cornelius' back. She'd write Miss Manners later. Tonight she had other plans.
"Come on," Sark said, taking her arm and pulling her close. "Let's go. I'm cold."
Sydney didn't bother dislodging his arm from her waist, though.
"Dixon, we're on our way out."
"I'll follow you back to the offices, Mountaineer. Good job, both of you."
Sydney reached over and rubbed her finger over Sark's lower lip where he always bit it.
He gave her a narrow-eyed and suspicious look.
"Your lipstick's smudged," she told him with a grin.
A few minutes later, Sark burned rubber out of the parking lot, then turned to her with the most innocent expression he could muster as the Miata hit traffic.
"So, Sydney, what did Agent Dixon do in Blackpool?"
The radio comms in their ears squawked. "What? No, Syd, don't tell him—-"
They both switched the comms off.
"It's like this," Sydney began. "We needed to retrieve a set of plans for a small bioweapons distribution device and the middle man handling the sale liked strip clubs. Op-tech kitted me up to go in and then we found out it was an all male strip club. Dixon ended up doing the full monty for a dozen arms dealers…."
Behind them surveillance van flashed its lights and honked its horn. Sydney raised her arm up and waved back at Dixon.
Sark was laughing.
"I hope they tipped well."
"Oh, yeah, but I don't think he ever told Diane how he paid for that diamond earring and necklace set."
Sark snickered and hit the gas before Dixon could rear-end them.