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You shut the door on the sniveling little ragamuffin, shut out a wind so sharp it could pierce Kevlar. Kevlar. Absently, you run your fingertips across your chest, soothing the ever-present irritation of healing scar tissue.

All there is to do now is wait.

You shuffle back into the depths of your indigent’s lair, passing the old Selectric, fingers itching impatiently. Perhaps the muse would indulge a soul in limbo, for old times' sake? You reach for fresh sheet of Velvatone and feed it carefully behind the platen.


The champagne silk flowed over her body, the sinuous fabric draping her petite, yet voluptuous form in liquid gold. Flame gazed at the image in the mirror with a shy but approving smile. The negligee’s sheen highlighted the saffron threads in her tousled ginger locks. She reached for the sheer, caribou-trimmed robe that completed her evening ensemble. It floated over her bare shoulders and Flame knew she’d made the perfect choice for an intimate evening at home.

Yes. She nodded at her reflection. Tonight.

Tonight they would finally be together as they were always meant to be. One in spirit…and in the flesh. Phoning from the Coast last evening, he had promised in sweet, seductive tones that the moment his flight touched down at National, he would hail the first cab to Annapolis Georgetown.

Checking the delicate silver timepiece at her wrist yet again, Flame’s full mouth pursed despondently. Where the hell was that man? She threw an impatient glance toward the clock on her nightstand, just to be sure, but the glowing red display gave no encouragement.

You’ve waited years to invite Jack Colquitt into your lonely bed, Flame…what’s a few more minutes?

With a sigh and toss of her burnished tresses, she sauntered into the living room, gazing with a perfectionist’s eye at the sleek, modern furnishings. Would he take her on the narrow, bench-like leather sofa? Or would it happen on the polished Lucite table? Assuming they couldn’t wait to make it to the bedroom, she was glad now she’d laid thick-pile rugs here and there over the high-gloss flooring.

Finding all as it should be, Flame moved across the room to adjust the sophisticated track lighting to a cozy glow. She surveyed the titles of her music collection, chose a disc from the rack and flipped “Sweet Baby James” onto the hi-fi Brubeck’s “Take Five” into the player.

The spare, hypnotic strains of music carried her back…ah yes…that night in New York after her address to the General Assembly. The Rainbow Room That seedy little place in the Village. They were the only dancers on the floor. Or at least, she didn’t take note of anyone else, Jack so filled her senses as they swayed to the nobody combo doing their best to sound swank. It hardly mattered. Jack’s warm hand at her back, fingertips splayed to reach the flare of her bottom.

Flame tingled at the memory. Humming tunelessly, she fairly danced into the kitchen, her delicate slippers clicking across the floor to the refrigerator. She withdrew a tray of canapés and a deep green bottle of California Chablis set them on the marble counter, where the martini shaker and Tanqueray awaited.

She was sprinkling paprika over the deviled eggs when the knock came. Her heart raced. Flame hurried to the door. Her hand grasped the knob and she paused a moment to square her shoulders and breathe deeply. Tonight. She exhaled. Now.

As the door swung inward, Jack Colquitt’s lanky frame followed heavily. Flame gasped as Jack stumbled forward into her arms.

“Jack!” she exclaimed. “My God – what happened?” She reached behind him to slam the door and ushered him tenderly over to the silk chaise fronting the fireplace.

Jack grunted as he collapsed onto the chaise. “Water,” he rasped, pulling his already-askew silk cravat from around his neck. His broad chest rose and fell with labored breaths as he sank against the gunmetal-gray cushions.

Flame returned with a heavy tumbler in one hand and a first aid kit in the other. Jack drank greedily, his Adam's apple pistoning as he drained the glass. Flame’s intense sapphire gaze traveled over him as he gulped. Not too serious this time, she decided. Some redness around his right eye that would be purple by morning. A nasty-looking but shallow scrape marred his strong jaw. She reached down to finger the collar of his expensive, blood-spattered shirt.

“My cleaner’s kid needs braces,” he quipped with a hazel-eyed shrug.

“Mmm-hmm,” she soothed, kneeling between his splayed knees. Dr. Flame Fleming was a PhD in Economics, but that Red Cross emergency training really paid off with a man like Jack in her life. With cool, efficient hands, Flame gauzed over his injuries, and with warm, pillowy lips, caressed his bruised soul.

“The Russian,” Jack said by way of explanation after a few minutes of Flame’s tender ministrations.

She gazed up at him, eyes wide, chin trembling. “Alexei?” she whispered.

He nodded gravely. “Jumped Attacked me as I came up from the Metro. A little payback for our last encounter, I think.”

“Oh God, Jack!” Flame cried, throwing her arms about his neck. “What did he want?”

Jack wrapped her in a comforting embrace. “Said he had information I needed, and he was going to beat it into my thick skull if necessary.”

Flame’s heart lurched. Bolshevik bastard. “He’s lied to you before, Jack, led you straight into his traps so many times…” Her words dissolved as a single, frightened tear rolled over her delicate velvet cheek. Jack surely gave as good as he got one-on-one, but the thought of him at the hands of a gang of torturers like the Russian and his comrades was too much to bear.

Jack bent to lick kiss it away. “Hush, my darling,” he crooned. “I’m here now.”

“Yes, yes, Jack. Don’t leave again.” She burrowed desperately into his warmth, rubbing her face against the solid musculature of his chest.

“You know my life is dangerous. There are things I simply can’t divulge to you. But,” he continued, “You also know what my quest means to me. I can’t turn back now, after coming so far. I’m just one leap away from validating everything I’ve worked for all these years. I’m closer than ever now. I can feel it.” His voice dropped further as he murmured against her ear, ”But this I promise: I will always come back to you.” He paused, then chuffed, “Even if I don’t deserve to.”

“You deserve all I can give you and more,” Flame sighed, resigning herself again to the treacherous reality of their lives.

Though she despised the risks Jack took, the veil of secrecy that shrouded his past and fogged their future – and, most of all, the shadowy figures who never let them know a moment’s peace – she could scarcely deny that all those things added to an indefinable allure. A sizzling attraction which, combined with his devastating good looks, made it impossible for her ever to turn him away.

Flame nuzzled his neck and he responded with a teasing nibble to her lobe, noticing for the first time the sparkling gems fastened there. The white diamonds he’d presented her on another night when the promise of an intimate evening had been rudely interrupted. Another night they’d parted with things between them unfinished. Unfulfilled. Unsatisfied.

Pulling away slightly, an electric look passed between them. Jack stood slowly as if he didn’t quite trust his balance. Flame rose with him, sliding her hands over the silk lapels of his coat, steadying him even as her touch stoked the fire building deep within.

Like a laser an electric current a heat-seeking rocket, Jack’s mouth found hers. Flame’s ardor burst its bounds exploded, transforming her in an instant from a cool, sleek intellectual to a hot, writhing Venus.

“I want you, Jack,” she gasped between searing kisses. “Take me. Oh please, in the name of God, take me now.”

Grasping her firm buttocks sweet bottom womanly behind, he held her tightly against him and lowered them to the floor. Finally. Flame beamed up at him. She knew the rugs had been a good idea.


You read back over the afternoon's toil and grimace inwardly. Exactly the kind of sentimental crap that dissolves brain matter upon exposure. Who wants to read such utter tripe? Suitable for the likes of Oprah’s Book Club, perhaps.

With a furious rip, the thin stack of bond lies in shreds on the cold floor, saving the one page you set aside to curl into a taper to light your next cigarette.