Elaine Gadarn swept her badge into the scanner and the bullet-proofed door unlocked: it was only the last of the security systems to go through in order to enter the headquarters of Section 20, a special unit of the British intelligence service; she had been working there for about six months as an analyst specialised in several languages, among them Arabic, Korean and Russian, and also as a specialist in secret codes.
What no one knew, was that she was actually working for the Ministry of Defence and that she was placed into Section 20 to seek out a mole. Fourteen months earlier, the Defence Secretary Barbara Townsend realized that there was an alarming leak of intel coming out of that unit, and she had Elaine placed there with the task to identify the traitor. Only Mrs. Townsend knew about Elaine’s mission, who now, after months of intensive work, had narrowed the suspects down to three persons: Layla Thompson, James Middleton and Clarence Holfield, three people in key roles in the establishment of Section 20. Now she needed only to find irrefutable evidence to nail the guilty, whoever he or she was among those three.
Making for her office, Elaine bumped into SAS sergeant John Porter; very tall, with short dark hair and grey-blue eyes capable to pierce a steel plate, he struck the young woman since their first meeting when, being introduced to her, he gazed at her and she felt literally nailed to her chair.
That morning he was in battle dress uniform, meaning that he was programming a session of recruit training.
“Good morning, Elaine”, he greeted her, friendly as always, with that deep voice of him that sent her heart in fibrillation each time, “Today you are especially pretty”, the added winking, hinting at the playful ponytail in which she tied up her long brown hair. Elaine smiled back, pretending a nonchalance she was far from feeling: this man was able to make her feel upside down with just a glance, or a single word.
“Thank you, John”, she said cheerfully, “but I was hoping you would notice my legs instead”, she added, winking and referring to the miniskirt shaped like a kilt she was wearing. Porter promptly glanced down and his grin became more mischievous.
“Those I notice at all times”, he stated. His tone was witty, but nonetheless his gaze caused a warm shiver to run down her spine.
“See you around”, the soldier concluded, completely unaware about the effect he had on her, resuming his path wherever he was going. Elaine nodded a goodbye and left toward her office, feeling frustrated. They had been joking like this ever since almost the beginning: once it was him complimenting her, another was it her; but not a single time the situation had gone further, like instead she would have wished after a few weeks…
John Porter had been a divorced man for six years, and a few months ago his ex wife died, leaving their not yet eighteen years old daughter Alexandra an orphan; for this reason, he asked to retire from active service, which was granted to him after a last, very dangerous mission that almost ended up in disaster. Sergeant Porter had been a highly trained soldier of the British Special Air Service, or SAS, comparable to the American Navy Seals or the Russian Spetsnaz; as a soldier earlier and an operative agent of Section 20 later, he was used to anything, tough and even ruthless at times, if necessary, as Elaine was able to ascertain, having followed closely his last mission five months earlier; but as a person, Porter was instead capable of incredible tenderness: Elaine had seen him with his daughter and thought that she had hardly ever met so affectionate a father. Furthermore, John Porter was also a man endowed with a very high sense of honour: thinking to be guilty of some of his men’s death during a dangerous mission in Iraq, years ago, he resigned immediately from SAS; called back on duty for Section 20, finally they found out that the true one to blame was Hugh Collinson, chief of the same Section 20, who redeemed himself by saving Porter’s life in Afghanistan at the cost of his own. Completely rehabilitated, Porter obtained the reinstatement on SAS and the advancement to first sergeant. Now, retired from active service, he was taking care of the new agents’ training.
In those six months, Elaine ended up respecting and admiring him highly. Not only: after a while, the young woman had to admit to herself that she was madly in love with him; but she never dared to approach him, because despite the double-meaning jokes, Porter never let her understand he was interested in her as a woman. Besides, he recently got out of a relationship with a colleague of Section 20, Danni Prendiville, who broke off with him soon after his return from Afghanistan, when they offered her to be part of a joined task force with the Americans, and maybe therefore he would have no desire for some time to commit to someone else; and this just supposing that he would like her, Elaine, which was not sure…
With a disheartened sigh, the young woman sat in her chair and turned on her computer; after typing her password, waiting the system to boot-up she rose and went making her a tea. Every office in Section 20 had a mini-bar – obviously lacking alcoholic drinks – with hot and cold beverages offered by the government. She already had her morning tea for breakfast, but an aromatic infusion would improve her mood, somewhat dimmed by her sense of frustration. She chose a citrus fruits infusion, a Mediterranean flavour that reminded her about her motherly granny’s homeland, Sicily; from that grandmother she had inherited her brown hair and her olive complexion, while her eyes were green-gray, identical to her father’s ones, who was Welsh.
* * *
A couple of hours later, while she was in the middle of the translation of a phone conversation recorded in Russian, filled with several somewhat graphic idiomatic expressions that had her laughing more than once, the door of her office opened abruptly. Elaine jumped to the sudden noise and jerked around: on the threshold there was colonel Eleanor Grant, who replaced major Hugh Collinson to lead Section 20. She had her regular Glock – a semiautomatic 9x19 parabellum with 17 bullets – and was aiming it to her. Her facial expression was icy, but her bright eyes were flaring furious flashes.
“Freeze!!, she sharply ordered her, moving two steps forward. Behind her appeared sergeant Michael Stonebridge, a big man as tall as Porter but stronger built,also threatening her with his gun.
Elaine gaped at them in complete disbelief.
“What’s up, colonel?!”, she asked in a shocked voice.
“We know everything”, Grant seemed to spew out the words, so great was her disgust, “We had been guessing for some time that there was a mole, among us, and finally we discovered it! Get back from your workstation, come on!”
Automatically, Elaine obeyed, too stunned to even complain. Stonebridge put away his weapon, approached the computer and pulled out the plug from its socket.
“Hey, what are you doing?!”, Elaine rose up instinctively, “That way you risk to lose important data…”
“Shut up!”, hushed her Grant, while Stonebridge grabbed the computer, pulled out all the plugs and connections and carried it out, “You’ll stay here until the military police will come and take you, afterwards you will be escorted to prison, the only place where people like you deserve to stay!”
“There’s a mistake!”, protested Elaine vehemently, regaining her usual spirits, “I’m not the mole! They framed me!”
“Yes, of course”, Grant scoffed her; Stonebridge came in again and she hinted to Elaine’s purse, which the sergeant took and searched, confiscating the smartphone and the badge. He ransacked also in the desk drawers, then checked the shelves and the filing cabinets.
“No weapons”, he stated laconically, “Not even a nail file.”
Grant nodded and addressed Elaine again:
“Fine. In a short time, one hour at most, they will be here. If you’re clever, you’ll prepare a full confession, and maybe – I say maybe – the authorities will be indulgent.”
She and Stonebridge left the room and Elaine heard the click of the lock. She stayed there staring at the door, like petrified.
* * *
“What’s up?”, asked John Porter, crossing Stonebridge who was coming toward him, grim faced.
“We found out that Gadarn is a spy”, he informed him in a clearly furious tone, “What an asshole, we caught and locked her in her office waiting for the MP to arrest and transfer her to jail.”
“Elaine… a spy? I can’t believe it!”, Porter exclaimed, bewildered. The other one shrugged:
“I wouldn’t believe it, too, but colonel Grant showed me the evidence: tapping, e-mails, text messages… Everything was enciphered, of course, but we were able to decode the messages. Besides, the leaks began immediately after her arrival. There’s no doubt: she is the culprit.”
“I want to talk to her”, announced Porter categorically. Stonebridge shook his head:
“By the colonel’s command, nobody can go and see her. Let her go, Porter: I know you see her as a nice person, I did, too, but she’s guilty, believe me.”
The two stared at each other defiantly: two alpha males, two men as hard as rocks who confronted one another, and no one was willing to give in.
“The proof you have… is absolutely positive?”, Porter investigated.
“Crushing”, confirmed the other one. Porter shook his head, feeling his confidence waver:
“I can’t believe it …”
He liked Elaine from the beginning, not only as a woman – she was a really nice female specimen – but as a person, too: smart, funny, cultured, scrappy, and at the same time plain in a charming way. The idea that she was a traitor made him sick.
* * *
Elaine got herself out of the dizzy condition she was fallen into. They accused her to be the mole she came to drive out on behalf of the Ministry of Defence! That would not have been a big problem, if she could have been able to contact secretary Townsend; but not only did they confiscate her cell, the lady was on a diplomatic trip on the other side of the world, supervising with her Australian and Canadian equals a jointed drill of the three Navies. From the newscast of the previous day, Elaine knew that the lady secretary was on board of the Canadian flagship, and contacting her would be a huge trouble; supposing that they would believe her, so to consider appropriate to bother the highest ranks of two countries in order to ask Townsend if what she was stating was true.
Not easy at all…
The true spy had surely found out who Elaine really was and what she came actually to do at Section 20, and acted so as to frame her; but he knew poorly his victim, if he thought that she would give in without reacting. Elaine had an ace in the hole: she knew the building of Section 20 even in classified specifics, such as secret passages in different rooms. Among them, her office, which had been the reason why she saw to it would be given to her: this was not her first undercover mission, and she liked to have at her disposal a way of escape unknown to others. She never needed one, so far; but there is always a first time…
She went to listen at the door, in order to make sure there was no one outside arriving. She took her purse, got to the desk and rummaged the drawer looking for the flashlight she kept there; then she approached the filing cabinet next to the desk, unlocked the brake at the wheels and moved it sideways: behind it there was a mobile panel which opened turning a wall light. “Exactly like in the best movies about gangsters in the Thirties,” considered Elaine with a hint of sarcastic humour.
Squeezing herself in the tunnel behind the panel, she lighted the flashlight and readjusted the cabinet into place; it was a shame not being able to lock again the brake, it would be a clue less, but from that position it was impossible. Finally she shut again the panel, while automatically the wall light returned on its original place, removing all evidence of unusual activities in the room. A ferocious smirk stretched Elaine’s lips: she would have literally paid gold to see Grant’s face when she would discover that she had disappeared into thin air…
She let go OF those thoughts – completely unproductive in that moment – and pondered where she had to take shelter; she had no hope to exit the building in the next few hours, in a short time they would realize she was gone from her office and they would search each and every corner of the building to find her. She had to wait in a safe place that the waters would settle – probably until night, when human vigilance would decrease because entrusted to the electronic one. The problem would then be to leave the building avoiding being spotted: deprived of her badge, Elaine could not exit without breaking open a door or a window, which would obviously activate the alarm; but she would cross that bridge in due time.
She moved down the tunnel, which was only about twenty-five inches wide, forcing her to go on sidelong. It was filled with cobwebs, which normally would have disgusted her, but she had no time now for this.
She arrived to the narrow winding staircase and began to descend. At every floor there were other tunnels, but she ignored them all, determined to reach the basement: there was an old laundry there, which was put out of order and converted to a storeroom, now fallen into disuse, but where still any kind of odds and ends were stocked, included old camp beds, mattresses and blankets; there was even water: she could make herself comfortable until night would come, then she could try to escape.
* * *
Porter had returned to his office, but he felt like a caged lion. Elaine a traitor? As he stated to Stonebridge, he could not believe it. Yet he knew colonel Grant enough to know she would not proceed without incontrovertible proof.
In that very moment, the alarm kicked off. Porter looked out of the door into the hallway, soon enough to see Grant hasten out of Elaine’s office and bark:
“Close all the exits! Gadarn has escaped, we must find her now!”
Porter pulled back swiftly while an MP squad – evidently those who came to take Elaine away – rushed down the corridor. The escape did not come out in favour of the analyst, he thought: it could look like admitting guilt. On the other hand, if he would be in Elaine’s shoes and innocent, he too would disappear leaving no trace and would work secretly to find out the true culprit. It was a matter of character: there are people who let others act, and there are people that take the lead on the issue and work it out. Maybe it was the same for Elaine; of course, presuming she was innocent, but there was no evidence of this, on the contrary. Porter shook his head, uncertain: his brain told him something, his instinct another one. He hated that feeling. He was a man more used to action than to thinking, although his actions could not be free of thinking, otherwise he would have died thousands of times during his missions as a soldier before and as an operative agent of Section 20 later.
He made up his mind: he would find Elaine and talked to her, solving his doubts. If he found her guilty, he would hand her over to the authorities; if instead she would persuade him of her innocence – what he after all hoped – he would help her.
He took his gun from the drawer, a semiautomatic 9 mm calibre Beretta, and after checking it he inserted it in the holster on his belt, behind his back, then put on his jacket, concealing the weapon. He was about to exit the office, but he stopped to ponder: there were surely a lot of people who were combing the building room by room, hallway by hallway: he had to focus on areas the other may overlook, but which ones? He frowned, struggling to examine every option. First of all, where would he go? He thought about the roof, but from there, without a helicopter, she could go nowhere, and certainly Elaine could not call for air support because, as he had learned, they confiscated her cell phone and computer. Where, then? If you cannot go up, you go down… But sure, the basement! There were a number of closed rooms there, no longer in use, and if the research teams that checked them would find sealed doors, they would not bother to look inside: but Elaine had disappeared from the inside, so it could well be that she could reach those rooms from the inside. In which way, Porter had no idea. Secret passages?, he asked himself. It looked impossible to him: Section 20 headquarters were located in a recent structure, not in an ancient medieval castle, and not even in a modern government building where there were safety rooms for the officials, that they could reach, in case of an emergency, through tunnels concealed in the walls; nor the blueprints of the edifice showed anything like that. Unless to take away Elaine had been Doctor Who himself with his unlikely trans-dimensional call box, the girl had to be somewhere. Therefore, paraphrasing Sherlock Holmes, once you exclude the impossible, what remains, even if unlikely, is the only answer.
Porter marched determined out of his office and took the lift.
* * *
Elaine arrived with no incident to the ex-laundry; she found the secret panel covered by a shelf, luckily empty and therefore light enough so she could easily shift it suitably to wriggle into the room. She explored it: the exit, a heavy metal fire door, was closed from the outside: from there she had no chance to escape. She found a little restroom which she did not remember – perhaps it had been added later and it did not figure in the original classified layout she assimilated before the beginning of her mission. She made sure there was running water, and to her relief she ascertained that from the taps of the two hand basins it poured out normally. Even the flushes worked, and that was a nice convenience, having to stay there for many hours as she planned.
Going on with the exploration, in a corner she found a single-place mattress, worn out but still useable, and inside a closet she located some military blankets in a somewhat rough wool. She took two of them and, after laying the mattress on the floor, used one as a sheet and the other, folded, as a pillow.
Elaine looked toward the basement window on the wall opposite to the one she entered through the secret passage: she had no idea about what time it was, because she did not usually wear a watch and had no cell phone. Considering the time they locked her into her office and the time it took to arrive there, it could be around noon; the emptiness she felt in the stomach confirmed it. Well, that day he would surely skip lunch, there was no choice: she had not the habit to bring some snacks at work, like other co-workers did. She even had nothing to read – her favourite hobby along with Facebook – thus with a resigned sigh she went to lay down on the mattress. It would be a long day.
About twenty minutes later, the sound of a key turned in the keyhole had her sitting up abruptly. She rose hastily to run to the secret passage, where she could hide putting back in place the shelf, but she was not fast enough: the door was spread wide open and she froze, heart in throat.
From behind the corner, Porter appeared, aiming his gun to her.
“Don’t move”, he said harshly. She immediately rose her arms in surrender.
“I’ve got no weapon”, she stated in a shaky voice. He moved forward, without letting her out of sight nor shift the aim. Determined to talk to her without intrusion, in order to make up his mind for himself, he closed the door behind him and locked up twice, leaving the key in its hole. Now, if someone would want to open the door, he would not be able to, except breaking it down, and that was not easy, considering that it was in steel almost one-and-a-half inches thick. He saw Elaine’s surprised face, but gave no explanations.
“They say you are a traitor”, he informed her, again in a hard tone.
“It’s not true!”, she blurted out, feeling on the edge of despair: she did not give a fig about Grant or Stonebridge considering her like that, but not Porter, this she could not stand.
“The leaks began soon after your arrival, and they say they have incontrovertible evidence”, he replied, unyielding.
“They framed me!”, Elaine stood up for herself, “John, do you really think I would be so stupid to let them catch me, if I were the spy?”
She referred to the fact that more than once she had proven to be a terribly good hacker, entering the confidential databases of foreign countries so as to copy secret documents and then cancelling every trace of her passage. No one had ever suspected a violation of the electronic safety systems.
Porter pondered only briefly: he had seen her in action more than once.
“No”, he admitted, relaxing only slightly his posture, though keeping her in his line of fire, “but you didn’t persuade me completely.”
“The true spy is somebody else”, revealed Elaine, “I have some suspicions, but I cannot tell you who it is, not yet, not without proof. I am here on demand of secretary Townsend herself: there have been leaks from Section 20 for over a year now, not for a few months only, and she had me settled here to figure out who the mole is. Clearly the mole unmasked me, or suspects me in an enough serious way to want to get rid of me…”
Already not much convinced about her guiltiness, Porter hesitated: her tale was plausible, it was well-known that she had been recommended by the Ministry of Defence, even if not by the secretary herself. Besides, her lost look and the hint of despair in her voice stroke him straight in the heart.
Elaine saw puzzlement in Porter’s bright eyes and hoped to be able to persuade him; however, she had no other topic to her defence, except truth, and that she had already told him. If it was not enough, what else could she do?
She reminded the most classic move played in spy stories: seduction. Well, what else had she left? She could not think of anything different.
She moved some steps toward Porter, wiggling her hips slightly more than required on her not too high heels.
“Please, help me”, she begged him in a low voice, looking into his eyes and trying to appear afraid and sexy at the same time; the first was easy – she was indeed scared – the latter less, because she had never been a seductress, “It will be enough to get in touch with Townsend to prove my innocence.”
Porter let her come closer; only rarely he had been looked at with such an intensity by a woman, and not any woman at all, but one he liked, he truly liked. All his SAS training could not protect him from the flowing wave of emotion he felt in that moment. He lowered his gun a little.
Elaine was now very near. She saw his yielding and untied the top button of her shirt, then she stretched out slowly her hand to pull away the gun barrel.
“I’ll do whatever you want”, she whispered, staring into his eyes and untying another button, “Anything, John… as long as you help me.”
She had no idea where that cheekiness came from. Surely, if it would not have been Porter, she would not even have dreamt to behave so unashamedly.
Porter saw her black bra peering out from the neckline and felt his throat go dry.
“Really… anything?”, he croaked.
Elaine wrapped her arms around his waist and made her body stick to his. Good heavens, those soft breasts crushing against his chest, the scent of her brown hair…
“Absolutely anything”, confirmed she, looking at him from down under. Her warm breath caressed his neck. His training screamed to distrust her, but his intuition screamed even louder that she was honest, even in that obvious seduction attempt which could easily been misunderstood for a cynical plot simply meant to save her skin.
Porter could not resist; he did not want to resist. He embraced her with his left arm – the not armed one – and crushed her against his body, then he lowered his head and covered her mouth with his. Under his demanding lips, he felt hers open, inviting him to the kiss he longed for. He felt her tongue slip against his and almost lost his head. Almost: he kept enough wits to insert the safety lock on the gun before letting it fall on the ground to wrap Elaine also with his other arm. Lost in one another, they kissed deeply, breathlessly.
They broke off just for the sheer need to breathe. Elaine threw her head back, and Porter stooped lower to place his lips on her exposed neck; he brushed the tender skin at the base with his tongue and he heard her gasp. Undoubtedly, hers was not a simulation, it could not be: no woman, however good, can pretend so perfectly even in the smallest detail.
Elaine felt the evidence of Porter’s longing against her belly. Good heavens, she had dreamt about a moment like that so much! Of course not in such circumstances, but if it had to be that way, she would not refuse it only because there were no flowers or candles or romantic music. Impatiently, she rubbed herself against him and she heard him groan; his grasp around her increased, while his lips wandered lower, on the soft mounds of her breasts.
Elaine felt like she was bursting up in fire. She shoved her hands under his jacket and pulled it down from his shoulders; Porter shook it off, then, with trembling fingers, finished to unbutton her blouse and took it off, letting it fall to the floor. She pulled his shirt out of his trousers and pushed her hands under it, caressing the bare skin of his back. Under her fingers she felt some scars, surely mementos of some close encounter with death he had during his active service in SAS. A lump stuck in her throat, and as a reaction she hugged him tighter: the one she hold in her arms was an extraordinary man, with an exceptional courage and a rare devotion to duty. In other times, he would have been called a hero. Oh, could he be her hero? After all, she was the damsel in distress of the situation…
He took again possession of her lips in a fiery kiss; Elaine’s thoughts flied away like butterflies gone crazy. She pulled back and, blindly, fiddled on his belt-buckle. She wanted him, she wanted him right there and then, in spite of the situation, of the fear, of the danger.
Porter undid quickly his shirt, messing nervously with the cuff-buttons, harder than the other ones; finally he managed to get rid of it and remained bare-chested. Lifting her eyes, Elaine saw the long, jagged scar on his shoulder, reminder of an old gunfight. As before with the wounds on his back, the young woman felt a lump in her throat: she did not dare to think how much and what Porter had faced and got over in the name of duty toward his homeland. She leaned over and brushed her lips on the scar, reverently. How could one not love such a man? How could his wife – her soul may rest in peace – leave him, when he quitted the army because they believed him responsible of his mates’ death? How could Prendiville prefer her career to him?
Porter sensed Elaine’s devotion and felt touched and moved by it. He did not realize his valour, because he was simply made that way: he did not choose SAS, he did not accept to go back on active duty through Section 20 because he was a fanatic or because he wanted to boast around, but because in that way he could make a difference, and that somebody would revere him because of it touched him deeply. Should he need more evidence that she was not pretending, not seducing him just to get him help her, now he would have achieved it. Maybe all their teasing around had concealed a real interest from her, of which he had been unaware… in which he did not dare to hope?
He cupped her face in his hands and made her raise it to stare into her eyes. Her adoring gaze turned his knees into jelly. Unable to utter a word, he wrapped her in his arms and pulled her to his heart. Literally. It was no longer only sex, he wanted to make love to her, body and soul; but he did not want to screw her there, fast, against the wall or on a chipped dusty table: she deserved more. It was then that, on the other side of the room, he saw a carefully arranged bedding, only a mattress and a folded blanket as a pillow, but it was better than nothing. He swept Elaine off her feet to carry her; with just a few steps of his long legs he reached the bedding, knelt down and gently laid her down.
Elaine was amazed; after her offering of sex in exchange of help, she had thought that he would take her without much consideration, and the way he began, he seemed to have been inclined to rip off her clothes and bang into her against the wall; instead after only a few moments he softened, first he hugged her like he did not want to let her go anymore, and now he even carried her in his arms to the bed – or that resemblance of a bed she had arranged.
Porter searched for the side zip of her miniskirt, opened it and shoved the garment down her legs; then he took off also her shoes, leaving her with only her underwear. He gazed at her lying on the mattress, gazing back to him, her lips disclosed, her eyes shining with longing. Longing for him, as a man, as a person, not only for his body. How much time had it been, since a woman gazed at him like that? He did not remember.
He stooped on her, took her by her shoulders and kissed her hotly.
He was in love with her, he suddenly realized. How could he not understand it earlier?
Elaine put her arms around his neck and reciprocated the kiss with the same eagerness. She felt Porter’s hands slipping from her shoulders to her back and lifted herself from the mattress to let him unhook her bra easier. Porter pulled back, slipping the straps of that piece of underwear down her arms and revealing her soft female mounds to his devouring stare. Goodness, she was so beautiful! Much more than he had imagined, and he had a rather vivid imagination, regarding female beauty.
Under his hungry gaze, Elaine felt an intolerable heat spreading in her lap. She was no longer able to wait, she wanted to feel him on top of her, inside of her. She stretched out her hands and resumed fingering the flap of his trousers: prior she had been able to unbuckle his belt, now she wanted to finish the task. After opening the button, she unzipped the closure with a certain trouble due to the swelling it barely contained. Inevitably, she touched him, and Porter let slip a gasp that seemed almost a sob. As soon as the zip was completely open, he got rid of his trousers and boxer shorts, finally naked in all his masculine glory. Elaine felt her breath taken away: he was a Greek sculpture! Nothing, in all the fantasies she indulged about him in the last months, could have possibly prepared her for this vision.
Her openly admiring stare pleased him. Obviously he knew he had a handsome physique, but he did care about it only because it was useful for his job; now he was happy that Elaine liked it.
The young woman watched him again in the eyes. From the first kiss they shared, they had not spoken anymore, nor they felt the need to: they communicated perfectly with gazes and gestures. And it was with a gaze that she told him take me.
Porter did not need further encouragement; forcing himself to move slowly, he stripped her from the last piece of clothing that still prevented their union, undressing her at last completely.
Once more, he took his time to look all of her. She was simply gorgeous. He wanted to tell her, but something held him back from breaking the pact of loving silence they came to. So he put a hand on her ankle and lifted her foot, kissing its back.
At that unexpected gesture, Elaine flashed him a surprised smile. Encouraged, Porter kissed her ankle, beginning to climb along her leg, laying a chain of little kisses on the outer side of the calf, while at the same time he caressed its inner side with the other hand. As he reached the knee, he brushed its backside, from one side with his fingers, from the other with his tongue, and she started: so far she had been totally unaware that that specific point of her body was so sensitive.
Porter went on along her thigh, his lips caressing its outer side, his fingers the inner one. It was clear where those fingers would end up, and Elaine tensed in the anticipation of his touch. When he brushed her most intimate place, she was not able to stop a cry of pleasure.
Finding her by now ready for him, Porter felt his breath go away. He lingered some moments more, teasing her, but by her second moan he was not able to control himself any longer: he had to have her, now, or he would burst for too much desire. He lay down on her and she instantly welcomed him between her arms and her legs; but surprising even himself, Porter did not immediately enter her, like he had considered to do. So far it had been so wonderful to feel like a dream, and now he did not want to ruin everything by too great a hurry to conclude.
Elaine addressed him a begging look; therefore Porter lowered himself on her, placing his lips in the exact position where her shoulder curved into the neck, and pushed lightly. Slowly, very slowly, he began to enter her; but he did not consider Elaine’s yearning: she placed her hands on the lower part of his back and lifted her pelvis to meet him, de facto completing their joining. Porter gave off a groan that stated both surprise and pleasure. Finally understanding the true range of her craving for him, equal to his for her, made him dizzy.
He moved, leisurely, but he heard Elaine utter a whimper of displeasure, so he increased the pace. He lifted on his elbows to look at her face and spy her expression: he wanted to be perfect for her, absolutely perfect. He saw her, eyes closed, lips ajar, the picture itself of ecstasy. Unexpectedly, tears stung his eyes: he felt that way, too.
Elaine was in heaven. At almost forty, she was of course no inexperienced virgin: she had had her share of men, in her life; but nobody had ever made her feel like John Porter made her feel now. It wasn’t a matter of skill in bed: it was the sentiment she was feeling for him. She loved him like she thought she never had loved someone, before: with all the passion of a romantic teenager, but at the same time with all the awareness of a grownup woman.
But the way he was making love to her… could it mean that he felt something for her…? She didn’t dare to hope so…
She cracked open her eyelids and caught him watching her; she got lost in those incredibly clear blue eyes, unaware that he, too, was getting lost in hers.
Pleasure mounted, initially a barely perceptible tingling in the depths of her femininity, then a sensation rapidly increasing; unstoppable like a tidal wave, it grew inside of her, rose, rose irrepressibly, taking her with it to finally fling her straight to the top. With a cry, Elaine surrendered to the most complete fulfilment she ever felt, because not only of her senses, but also of her sentiments.
Porter felt her twitch all around him and clenched his teeth to endure a little longer and prolong her pleasure, then yielded and let himself be overwhelmed by his own delight.
They laid embracing tightly for long minutes, panting, their hearts racing, reluctant to separate one another even for only a few inches. It was as if both of them had missed something, and now that they had found it, they didn’t want to lose it ever again.
Finally Porter lifted just enough to look into her face.
“But where have you been, all this time?”, he asked in a low voice, “Why didn’t I got to know you twenty years ago?”
Elaine felt her eyes wetting. Was it a love statement? If he would express his eternal devotion to her with the words of the most romantic poet, he could not have her more moved. She shook her head.
“I’m here, now”, she whispered, caressing his face with light fingers, “And I have no intention to go anywhere, without you.”
The situation in which they found themselves suddenly occurred to Porter again.
“Instead we must do exactly this”, he contradicted her, pulling back some more but without leaving her, “You will stay here, safe, while I’ll go to Whitehall and contact Townsend, in order to free you from blame. Then I’ll bring the recording to colonel Grant and everything will be alright.”
It was a plan simple as well as efficient; Elaine nodded showing her acceptance.
They dressed up again, and Elaine gave Porter the necessary instructions, particularly to whom he had to turn to and which code phrase he had to use to make himself identify as her emissary. She explained him, too, that the lady secretary was not easily reachable, but he too knew that there were communication channels suitable to pass the problem.
Before leaving Porter hugged and kissed Elaine one last time.
“I’ll be back as soon as possible”, he told her, then he rummaged his pocket and handed her his cell phone, “I’ll keep you updated.”
She took the smartphone and nodded. Porter turned quietly the lock and lowered the handle, opening cautiously. Making sure that the hallway was desert, he turned back again toward Elaine, winked to reassure her and exited. Elaine closed again the door, double turning the key. Still a few hours and that nasty story would be over, she thought with relief. Then she smiled: at the same time, a new story would begin, where the protagonists would be Porter and her.
* * *
One hour and a half later, Porter’s cell phone vibrated, signalling an entering call. Of course the number was unknown, because Porter was using a recycled mobile, that he borrowed or bought expressly.
Elaine took shelter in the secret passage and entered it for some yards.
“Hello?”, she answered.
“It’s me”, Porter’s deep voice reached her, “I’m at Whitehall, in a few minutes I’ll talk to secretary Townsend via satellite. It was not very easy to convince her assistant to contact her: where she is now they’re in the middle of the night and he didn’t want to bother her, but I firmly insisted.”
Elaine imagined John Porter firmly insisting, addressing all his ferocious SAS determination on the assistant who, even if a powerful man, did not possess the tremendous willpower of a special force member.
“You had her knocked out of her bed”, she giggled.
“I would knock out from her bed the Queen herself, for the sake of you”, he stated with conviction. Elaine’s heart jumped in her throat: was that another love statement, John Porter style?
“Is it alright, there?”, he asked her, turning her away from those thrilling thoughts.
“One hour ago I heard a research team in the hallway”, she answered, trying to sound casual, “They tried to open the door, but of course they weren’t able to, and they gave up. I don’t know if they left a guard, though. I set the ringtone on vibration only and I am talking to you from where they cannot hear me.”
“You’re a crackerjack”, Porter complimented her, “Better be careful. I’ll call you again after I’m done talking to the lady secretary”, he concluded, “Hear you soon.”
“Hear you soon”, Elaine replied.
Forty minutes later, as promised Porter called back.
“Mission accomplished”, he told her, “I’m coming back to headquarters. Problems?”
“No, outside all is silent. Maybe there is nobody, but I preferred to continue not to make any kind of noise.”
“You’re very good, baby”, he praised her again, “Go on like this, by now it won’t last long.”
Indeed, less than one hour later Porter called for the third time.
“It’s over, Elaine”, he told her, “You’ve been exonerated. Open, I’m right outside.”
She hurried and did it, and as soon as she saw him, she threw her arms around his neck. Despite her complete faith in him and in his abilities, the long hours of anxiety had her worn out, and the relief she felt now was overwhelming.
Porter reciprocated her, grasping her tightly; Grant, who was just behind him, considered amused:
“I see that in these hours other things happened…”
The two broke up their embrace and Elaine looked the colonel frowning, awaiting.
“I apologize greatly, miss Gadarn”, the older woman said, sincerely, “Unfortunately the evidence we collected against you seemed really convincing, and very heavy. I admit anyway that I’m glad to learn that it was absolutely false.”
Elaine nodded, accepting the other one’s apology: Grant was renown to be hard but fair, like every good officer must be, even more the higher rank he has.
“Unluckily my cover has gone, and the mole has not yet been discovered”, she stated with regret.
“Not at all”, the colonel contradicted her with a ferocious grin, “Porter didn’t tell anyone save me: as long as the others know, you, miss Gadarn, are still suspected. We’ll show to have captured and arrested you, and the traitor will feel safe again. Then with your help we’ll continue the investigation and frame him.”
Elaine thought it over.
“I like it”, she stated. Grant nodded:
“Very well, we agree then. But now you must explain me how the hell you were able to vanish from your office and arrive here with no one seeing you…”
* * *
They had Elaine exiting under escort of MP, handcuffed, visible to all; except that, instead to transfer her to jail, they took her to a safehouse, where later Porter caught up with her. Officially, he had the task to protect her, but Grant had well understood what had developed between them and thought better to see that they could be together, for the serenity of both.
Porter arrived while she was watching TV. He recognized Doctor Who and asked:
“You like the Doctor, too?”
“Oh yes!”, she answered enthusiastically, “Especially since David Tennant plays him, but even Matt Smith isn’t bad…”
He looked askance at her:
“Must I be jealous?”
“Absolutely”, she laughed, rising and meeting him, “because nobody can try to win with the Doctor, in my heart: I am madly in love with him since I was six and Tom Baker played him, you remember?, the one with the a-mile-long scarves…”
“I think I’ll have to learn to live with it, then”, muttered Porter, pretending to worry, “How can I compete with the Doctor?”
She put her arms around his neck and made him stoop, approaching her lips to his:
“Oh, I could imagine a thing or two… As for a start, you’re here and he’s not…”, she whispered before kissing him. Porter surrounded her with his arms and reciprocated the kiss. In the beginning sweet, it became soon very passionate, and he was just striving to understand where the bedroom was located, when the doorbell rang.
Elaine pulled back from Porter and, without getting close to the door, cried:
“I’m corporal Wilson, miss Gadarn”, a female voice answered, “I come from Gallifrey.”
Porter glanced at Elaine, confused, and she smirked amused:
“Password”, she explained, “Wilson, too, is a fan of the Doctor. If there were trouble, she’d say I met the Daleks.”
Porter could not stop himself from grinning: his Elaine was really clever.
The young woman opened the door – not without looking anyway through the peephole – and let corporal Wilson in, a strong built blonde woman about thirty, who brought an enormous pint trolley. As she saw Porter, she sprang to attention, but he signalled her to stay at ease.
“I found everything exactly where you told me”, Wilson informed Elaine, “I think I didn’t forget anything.”
“Thank you very much, corporal”, Elaine said, taking over the baggage.
“I go back to sentry service”, announced the female soldier, taking leave with a wave.
“Now I can take a good shower”, Elaine proclaimed, pushing the big suitcase on its wheels.
“But what did you leave room into it?”, bantered Porter, “Your whole wardrobe?”
She laughed and stuck out her tongue to him, then she vanished in the night area.
Porter headed to the kitchen and opened the fridge; there was not much in, but he was able to arrange a ham sandwich: like Elaine, he skipped lunch, and now he was starving. As he finished, he considered to drink a beer, but then he opted for a tea. He put a kettle on the stove, and while waiting for the water to heat up enough, he called his daughter.
“Hello?”, she answered at the third ring.
“Hello Lexie, this is daddy.”
Alexandra gave up scolding him because he still used her childish short name: she had realized that, like it or not, for him she would always be his baby girl. It was also a way to express constantly his love for her; like it would not have been enough having given up active service for her. She had an incredible father, but she realized it only recently, when she got over her immature resentment toward him because of the divorce.
“Hey, there! Why d’you call?”
“I’m sorry, darling, but tonight I can’t come home.”
“Oh, but our pizza?”, the girl complained, disappointed.
“I’m sorry Lexie, it’s important: I must protect a special person.”
Alexandra sharpened her wits: her father’s tone prompted something.
“Special, uh? A woman was finally able to find a way into your unassailable SAS armour?”
Porter was flabbergasted: was it so obvious?
“Hey, how’s it you know that??”
“Feminine instinct, daddy! You’ll introduce her to me soon enough, I hope.”
“If you’re sure to want to, I’ll be more than happy to do so, darling.”
“Of course I want to! She has to be really very special, if she could succeed in so big a task. When you’re finished with – well, whatever it is you’re doing, you’ll invite her home for dinner and I’ll cook my best roasted chicken.”
“Yes, ma’am, at your orders”, Porter joked laughing, “Take care of yourself. You’re grown up already, you can do it.”
“Right, I turned eighteen last month”, she reminded him, “Don’t worry. Good night, and sleep well… if you’ll sleep at all”, she concluded, giggling.
“Lexie!”, exclaimed her father, shocked; but she had already hung up. He made a face: he doubted he could ever got used to the fact that his baby girl was already a woman.
With a sigh, he laid the smartphone on the counter and, looking up, he noticed Elaine on the threshold of the kitchen, wrapped in a bathrobe. She must had heard the conversation, because she had a thoughtful and at the same time touched expression.
“Now I know why we didn’t meet twenty years ago”, she said in a low voice, “You had to have your daughter, before.”
Porter felt a sudden lump in his throat: she was right, if they would have met and fallen in love twenty years before, he would not have had Alexandra. But to which woman would occur to say something like this? Elaine was indeed very special. And it was about time he told her how truly special she was for him.
The kettle began to whistle.
“You’d like a tea?”, he asked her.
“Gladly”, she answered, moving toward him, but he shook his head:
“No, go in the parlour, I bring it there.”
Soon after he arrived, bringing a tray with two cups, which he laid on the coffee table in front of the couch where Elaine was sitting. The young woman checked the labels on the teabags immersed in the hot water.
“Earl Grey”, she stated, “My favourite.”
“I know”, Porter smiled, “I noticed it at work.”
“Oh well, look at that…”, she muttered, lifting an eyebrow, “And… what else did you notice?”
“That you prefer it straight, no sugar nor milk”, he replied, sitting down, “As well as you have the most attractive legs of the whole Section 20”, he added, glancing appreciatively to the portion of thigh that the bathrobe, opening, had left bare. Elaine smiled, but did not give a sign of intending cover up: by now, Porter did see much more than just a bit of one leg of hers…
Then Porter became serious again; he leaned over to her and took her hands in his.
“I have to tell you something, Elaine”, he began, “And I assure you that it isn’t something I said often, in my life”, he paused to give more emphasis on what he was about to declare, “I love you. I understood it only today, but I think I’ve been in love with you for months, maybe since the first moment on. I don’t know why it took me so much time to realize it. Perhaps I didn’t remember anymore how you feel, being in love…”
He brought her hands to his lips, one after the other, and kissed them.
Elaine stared at him wide eyed, wordless. From the way he made love to her, in that basement room, she presumed that he had to feel something for her; but hearing him telling her straight out that he loved her, well, that went beyond her most bright hopes.
“You say nothing?”, Porter urged her, worried about her silence. Elaine snapped out of her reverie.
“Oh goodness, John…”, she whispered, freeing one hand to caress his cheek, “I think I lost my head for you the same split second I looked into your eyes, the first day. In the beginning I thought it was just a fleeting crush – after all, you’re a really handsome hunk and I’ve been single for too much time – but then I got to know you, and it didn’t take me much time to realize that I was in love…”
He laid his hand on hers, turned his head and kissed her palm, never leaving her eyes with his gaze.
“I… don’t think I could… behave like I did today, in the storeroom, would I have not been in love with you”, she confessed him, “I am not that kind of woman. Not to save myself, at any rate. To save someone I love, maybe, but not for myself…”
“There’s no need to justify yourself”, Porter stopped her, “It is understandable: survival instinct. I know something about it”, to her surprised look, he made a face, “Well yes, once I had to sleep with a lass – a Kosovan soldier – to save my butt. I don’t remember it proudly, but at least I’m here, alive, for Lexie, and now for you, too.”
“Oh”, she breathed. She had read everything about the missions he had been involved in, but that was surely not a detail you could find in a debriefing report, “Extraordinary circumstances need extraordinary behaviours”, she stated calmly. He nodded, earnestly; then, re-thinking the sentence under another point of view, his expression became mischievous:
“As for that, today you have been truly extraordinary, baby...”
IT was clear on what exactly he was referring to. Her lips curved in a pleased grin, while in her eyes flashed a naughty sparkle.
“You, too, didn’t joke around, soldier”, she retorted, before jumping at him and toppling him on the couch.
The tea would grow cold.