The tuxedo-clad waiter stood waiting for an answer, "Madame, for dessert you will have?"
Nikita paused, her eyes twinkling as she looked at Tip Wellesley, "I really shouldn't, but I think I will have the Mousse Chocolat."
"Tres Bon, Madame." Pierre bowed and left them to admire his majestically stride, and Nikita dissolved into giggles.
"He's grand, isn't he, and I'll bet he's from the Bronx or somewhere else that mundane."
Tip grinned at her outrageous evaluation, and the skin around his blue eyes crinkled attractively. "You should be more respectful, Nikita. Pierre is the maitre'd, and should be treated with the utmost dignity. I may have to report to Madeline that you need a refresher class in proper deportment."
The smile that had been on Nikita's face the entire evening, faded. "It was a joke, Tip. I know how to act in public." Tip's remark had hit too close to home and reminded Nikita of that time too many years ago. Tonight, she simply wanted to forget there was a Section.
"Nikita, I was joking, too. I'm sorry." Tip reached across
the table to touch her hand. "Really." Nikita attempted another
smile, but Tip could see the hurt still there in her eyes, her luminous
Nikita fiddled with the linen napkin in her lap, straightening the non-existent wrinkles. "I guess I need to lighten up a bit. I'm so used to falling short of what Madeline expects of me, any mention of her--well, you've met her. You must know what I mean."
Tip smiled again, "She's a scary lady, all right. Beautiful, but deadly, I think, given the opportunity or necessity."
Nikita frowned as she remembered Madeline canceling her own husband, Charles Sand. "You have no idea how deadly, Tip. No idea whatsoever."
"And you do?" he asked.
"First-hand knowledge, believe me." Nikita replied, then softened her face with a smile, "Need to know basis only."
"Of course," he said tersely, but with the same twinkle in his eyes, followed by a wink of his right one.
Nikita wondered if all Class Five Operatives used the same ‘Section Speak." Except for the accent being English instead of French, Tip sounded remarkably like Michael with his curt response. ‘Of course,' Michael never followed his with a wink.
An absurd idea occurred to Nikita, and she proposed, "Maybe there should be a manual written for lower level operatives, detailing appropriate answers when dealing with superiors. "I'm fine" means "I will recover from this sucking chest wound in a matter of hours." "You wanted to see me" means "What do you want with me now you slave-driving SOB."
Tip was charmed by Nikita's sense of humor and by her on-target characterizations of Class Five operatives. He responded in kind, "How about "Sorry, we had to cancel your Mother. It wasn't personal" means "Watch out, Bozo, you're next for abeyance."
Another shadow crossed Nikita's face. Tip could have kicked himself for bringing up the word ‘mother,' given his knowledge of her history. "It would be really funny, if it weren't so close to home," he said, reaching for her hand again.
"Ah, here we are, Madame."
"Merci, Pierre," Nikita said as her blue eyes widened at the sinful confections
before her. Mousse Chocolat and Tip Wellesley were both looking very
yummy at the moment.
The Mousse Chocolat was history, but Tipton Wellesley stood at Nikita's door. He was entranced by the lovely young woman in front of him, but he knew her pain remained close to the surface, and he feared rushing her would push her in the wrong direction.
Nikita, too, ‘was conflicted.' She wanted to invite him in to sample the wine he'd brought earlier, but did not want her invitation to be mistaken for more than it was. Her heart rate increased as she deliberated, and a pink flush rose from her neck to face.
Unable to stand the awkward silence for another second, Nikita said, "Uh, the wine--would you like some wine? I mean would you like to come in--for some of the wine you brought?" Nikita then laughed. "I don't guess I could mangle the invitation anymore than if I tried."
The Brit's deep voice rumbled with good humor, "Ah, the age old question. Do I ask him in or not? Well, to answer. Yes, I would like some wine, and to answer the unasked question. No, I don't expect more than that."
Nikita looked at him sharply. "Are you sure you're a real Section
operative? You seem too damn nice." Nikita unlocked the door
to her apartment. She'd left one soft light burning, and the ambiance
was immediately one of intimacy. Too intimate, Nikita thought as
she busied herself with turning on several more lights.
Tip's already deep voice, deepened further as he said, "Why do you say that I'm too nice, Nikita. Just because we all started out as murderers, doesn't mean we aren't able to evolve into something else. Maybe I wasn't so bad to start."
"Oh, sorry. I wasn't prying. I think I meant to say that this night seems so normal, and I'm not used to normal." Nikita's face was now a brilliant red, the bane of all very fair-skinned women, as she had a brief image of the last time Michael had been in her apartment--and bed.
Tip was on the verge of asking Nikita what ‘was' she used to, but managed for once to say nothing instead. She was a breath-taking beauty, but still so wracked with emotion over Michael that he knew instinctively that this was not the time to press his suit. He accepted that he was fortunate she consented to have dinner with him.
"Nik, I'll have some wine, and then I'll go." He wanted to touch her hair or caress her bare shoulder, but did not dare. He had thick blond lashes that, as he looked at her through them, gave him a puppy-dog expression.
Nikita took a deep breath, "Maybe I don't want you to leave. Maybe I don't know what the hell I want."
Tip shrugged and gave her a puzzled grin. "I'm yours to command, Nik."
Nikita smiled and said, "I like the sound of that."
Nikita's grin grew wider as she considered ‘commanding' him. "Since you're mine to command, pour me a glass of that wine," she said with a wink. There's more than one way to exorcise a memory, she thought. More than one way, and two of them are right in front of me in the form of a bottle of a nice Beaujolais Nouveau and one Tipton Wellesley. Nikita decided she had done without long enough, and once she had made up her mind, she acted. She took a sip, then drank deeply of the 98 Nouveau, then placed the glass on the counter. "Refill, please."
Tip promptly complied with a look of surprise on his face. He wondered what she was thinking, but only for a moment.
Nikita quickly drained the second glass of wine and said, "Take me to bed, Tip." I've got to get Michael out of my mind, and I'm going to do it tonight, she thought. I'll make new memories for this apartment, and soon the old ones will fade from my mind and ...from my heart. She watched him and waited to see his response to her new ‘command.'
"Is that another command, Nik?" This side of Nikita was certainly not what he expected.
"Yeah," she said in her husky voice, as she walked closely to him and put her arms around his neck and kissed him. "It is," she added after breaking the kiss.
Tip pushed her away, "Are you sure, Nik? There's no rush. This could be the wine talking, and you might regret it tomorrow." It took all of his self-control, but Tip managed to counsel wisdom.
Nikita's hurt erupted in a rush. "Tomorrow? Tomorrow we could be killed on a mission. What's the matter, don't you want me either?"
Tip took a deep ragged breath. "What man in his right mind wouldn't want you. You're beautiful and desirable and somehow still innocent. What's this about, Nik? Is this about us or about trying to forget Michael?"
"Tip, there won't be an us, if I don't forget Michael. I need you to put him out of my mind, to erase the memory of his touch. And you're wrong, I'm not an innocent. I haven't been innocent in years." To prove her point, she began unbuckling Tip's pants.
As aroused as he was, Tip was taken aback by Nikita's bold action. "Nik!" He grabbed her hands and brought them to his lips and placed soft kisses on their backs. "You're going to hate me in the morning, if we do this tonight. I don't want you to hate me, and I don't want you to do something you only think you're ready to do."
Nikita jerked her hands away. "Get out of here, now," she said coldly. Why she expected anyone to care for her, she didn't know. Her mother hadn't loved her, why in hell would anyone else.
"No, Nik, I'm not leaving you like this. I don't know everything Michael did to you, but he must have been some twisted SOB to hurt you like this. He must have been stupid and blind." Tip held Nikita in his arms and walked her to the blue sofa and made her sit. Walking over to the kitchen, he asked, "I'm going to fix you some--coffee, tea?
"Tea," she said, then the tears began to trickle down Nikita's cheeks.
"Yeah, stupid, blind, twisted--that's Michael all right," she began with
her lopsided grin, as she sniffed.
Operations rushed down the long corridor toward Madeline's quarters. He was furious, and he was intensely jealous. He stopped at her door to take a deep breath, as he tried to consider what he should say and ‘if' he should say anything. He knew his own impulsive nature and was aware he could make his relationship with Madeline worse by saying the wrong thing. He'd certainly done it before.
He tapped at her door. No answer. He knocked louder. No answer. With angry jabs of his forefinger, he entered his access code to her quarters. No response. Finally, he heard the answering beep and knew that Madeline had unlocked the door. He entered with a touch of trepidation.
Madeline walked out of her bedroom in a thick, white terry cloth robe, with a similar towel wrapped around her head turban-style. "Good morning. You're here early. What's up?" she asked with her matter of fact style.
Operations had completely forgotten his original reason for coming to see her. After a brief pregnant pause, he said, "The Rimsky profile is completed. There's a briefing at eight."
Madeline gave him a quizzical smile and gave a slight yawn. "There is email, you know."
Operations could not help but notice that dark circles stained her eyes and there was a slight red rash along the lower jaw and neck . "You look lovely this morning, Madeline," he said as he reached to touch her elegant jaw line. Damn, he wasn't lying. Except for her circles and rash, she looked radiant. Her eyes even sparkled.
Madeline raised an eyebrow, as any woman just out of bed would, at his
compliment. Something was bothering Paul, and she wondered if he
had met Michael in the hall. Perhaps, he had. Madeline gave
an inward smile. The session with Michael had gone well, better than
she had thought it would. It had been their first time to be ‘together'
in years. Their initial session had been adequate and satisfying,
but it had not been the ‘elemental' Michael; however, the second round
had been quite elemental, and he had shed formal technique for a more primal
expression of passion. That he had called her ‘Nikita' at the zenith
of his ardor told her that he had experienced a release of great
magnitude. She doubted he had any idea of his lapse.
Operations watched Madeline during this brief reverie and knew exactly what was going through her mind--Michael's lovemaking, of course. The cat-like smile on her face told him how satisfying it must have been. For the moment, he hated her, and he hated Michael and wished with all his heart that he could tear the younger operative limb from limb. He knew he would have to be more subtle than that. He also knew that subtlety was not a major force in his nature.
Madeline cleared her throat. "Is there anything else?"
Operations could barely speak, for he wanted to shout. "No. See you at the briefing. There may be some changes."
"Yes, changes." Operations turned on his heel and left.
Madeline nearly laughed as the door closed. Her plan was coming together
quite nicely, but she did wonder about his ‘changes.'
As Michael walked away from Operations, he considered what effect the early morning meeting might have on his relationship with the head of Section One. The relationship between Operations and Michael had always been one fraught with tension. Michael knew that Operations held him to a higher standard than any other operative. Michael knew it and accepted it because of the standard he set for himself, but there was more to the tension than standards.
As a new recruit, he had not been aware of the relationship between Operations and Madeline, for he had been too busy trying to survive his training with Jurgen. When he had been given to Madeline for special training, Michael had at first been surprised at what the Valentine training entailed. Then he had become mesmerized by the lovely Madeline, who at twenty-eight had been enchanting, graceful and the most sensual woman he had ever encountered. She had tortured him with lessons in the art of seduction without ever allowing him to do more than touch her, and then only as she instructed.
This torture had lasted for months, or so it seemed. Then one magical night she had allowed him into her bed, and he had been initiated into a realm of passion that he had never dreamed existed. It all came crashing around his head the next morning when she presented him with a stroke by stroke video critique, and asked him for suggestions on improvement. When he had none to give, she launched into a two hour lecture before she would allow him to escape, red-faced and sweating to his quarters. He remembered that he would have rather had Jurgen beat him to a pulp than see that surveillance tape one more time.
That had been his first time with Madeline and his last until the previous night. Madeline, however, had always maintained a proprietary air around him. It was later that he heard through the Section rumor mill that Madeline and Operations were lovers. Michael had noticed an increased coolness emanating from Operations, who was not a warm, fuzzy person to start.
During the ensuing years Operations had seemed to put aside the knowledge of Madeline's and Michael's one night. Now, however, what would his response be? Michael had mixed feelings about Operations as well. At times Operations was a father figure to him, who guided him and prepared him for leadership. Contrarily, Operations had also tested him in situations with Nikita and berated him when her performance was not exactly as it should be.
Ah, Nikita, he thought. His experience with Madeline had assuaged his need for comfort, but not his need for Nikita. She was a flame that flickered in his mind and heart, and he wanted more than anything to see her. She had been ‘very' busy on missions and had not been assigned to his team. Michael had thought it would be easier for both of them, if they didn't have to interact on a daily basis. He kept to himself in his office or in his quarters when not on missions. She did not seek him in either place, and he was relieved.
He knew he could continue to work and perform to Section's expectations, as long as he knew that Nikita was alive. He did not have to have her at his side. If he felt slightly incomplete without her there, that was his problem.
Where things would go with Madeline, he did not know or care. He would take her comfort when it was offered, as long as there were no price tag attached. He was human, after all. At least Madeline was safe from the devastation that seemed to affect everyone else that cared about him. And his heart was safe this time--safe because it was already irreparably broken.