Part VII

        Dazzling lights, beautiful women in splendid gowns and jewels, handsome men in their sedate tuxedos made a perfect backdrop for the most beautiful of them all.  The tall blonde beauty accompanied by an equally beautiful green-eyed god was winning at the roulette table.  She was hot.  Her excited squeals had drawn the attention of many jaded passers-by.  The men remained, attracted by her fresh beauty.  The women remained attracted by the sensual power of the man who stood smiling beside her.  They wondered what he saw in her and assumed it was merely physical.

        The croupier spun the roulette wheel.  Nikita held her breath.   The pile of colorful chips had grown enormously as she continued to win.  She'd never gambled before.  It was a heady experience to say the least.  Michael had explained the significance of the variously colored chips, but his tidy explanation was lost in the fever of the moment.

        "Un rouge impair manqué," the croupier said.  Nikita had won more chips.
She had been playing fairly safely and allowing the chips to grow in steady fashion, but decided to change her method.  She placed a square bet.   The chips lap on a two lines intersecting four numbers--17,18,21,20.  She had no idea how much money she had, but judging from the interest around her, she assumed it was a tidy sum.  She looked at Michael, who watched her with amusement, but gave a tiny shake of his head as he glanced toward the black.  "Let it ride on the black?" she asked for clarification.  A tiny imperceptible nod was his response.

        Nikita considered for a moment, shook her head and let her bet stand.  The wheel spun.  "Trois, rouge, impair, manqué."

        A uniform gasp escaped the crowd around her.  She had lost all her pretty chips.  She looked at Michael, who gave a rueful smile, took her hand and kissed it.  The onlookers about them applauded his gallantry in the face of a great loss.  Nikita allowed Michael to lead her away from the roulette table before asking.  "H--How much did I lose, Michael?"

        A twinkle appeared in his emerald green eyes.  "You don't want to know, Nikita."

        Nikita inhaled sharply.  "That much?"

        "Oui."  Michael continued to lead her from the main gaming hall.

        "Oh, Michael, I'm sorry.  I mean it was your money I lost."

        "Nikita, it is only money."

        "I should have listened to you and let it ride on black," she protested.  It must have been an enormous amount of money, but Michael acted as if it were nothing.

        "No, no.  Red won, you would still have lost.  It was only a game for our entertainment.  You enjoyed yourself, and I enjoyed watching you."

        "It's not like we're going to need it for our retirement, is it."

        "Probably not, Nikita. Probably not."  In order to evade thoughts of the future, Michael asked, Are you ready for dinner?  I made reservations while you were doing your makeup.  There are several restaurants here in the hotel, but the Louis XV is the finest."

        "It sounds wonderful, Michael.  Now that you mention it, I am a little hungry." Nikita added with a grin.

        Together they entered the fine restaurant, Michael's protective hand at her waist.  Two lost souls in paradise, each hungering for what the menu did not offer.  Freedom.

        Michael had not been able to keep his eyes off Nikita throughout the entire seven  course dinner.  She was an original, enchanting creature.  Her impeccable manners reminded him of their first outing, her graduation exercise.  Somehow he had managed to consume a few bites of the delicacies placed before him, but his overwhelming hunger had been for the woman who sat beside him in the banquette.

        Nikita had been right to choose the silver gown.  Indeed, she did look like a princess, born to royalty, destined to live a life of ease.  Her blue eyes sparkled with reflections from the candle light.  The silver evening dress shimmered, and the pale opals and sparkling diamonds at her ears were a perfect complement to her ethereal loveliness.

        Michael studied his cappuccino, while holding and caressing the back of Nikita's hand at his side.  He wished this night could last forever.  He brought her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss in the palm.  He felt her tremble in response.  The awe he experienced in the knowledge that this incredible woman had chosen to love him left him overwhelmed in gratitude.  The providence that had lead Section One to recruit her had saved him... physically....emotionally.... spiritually... more than once.

        Nikita deserved to hear the words from him.   Just as he needed to hear the words from her.  A simple tenderness.... He could see the tears that sparkled in the corners of her eyes as a result.  "Nikita...." he paused, gathering his courage.  He would say the words.  He watched her azure eyes grow wide in anticipation.  Then Nikita's head turned in the direction of the casino.  They could hear the sounds of breaking glass and.... of screams.

        Nikita watched as Michael pulled a 9mm from his jacket pocket. "You're armed?" she asked needlessly.  She could see the gun.  "Thank heaven, me too." she added as she opened her jeweled evening bag and removed a small pearl handled revolver.  "I guess old habits are hard to break."

        "We have to get out of here. Analyze the situation before we undertake any intervention," Michael responded tersely, slipping into mission mode before her eyes.

        Silently the lovers, now operatives, moved in unison as they slipped from the banquette.  Michael's panther-like grace was never so evident as he moved around the periphery of the room.  Nikita followed, as others were now becoming aware of the situation in the casino.  Excited female voices rose en mass in alarm.

        Michael and Nikita had barely slipped behind a service panel when the Louis XV was invaded by two tuxedoed waiters wearing masks and carrying Uzi machine guns.  The taller of the two ordered, in a European accent, "Cash and jewelry on the table, now!  Anyone who hesitates will be shot."

        "It's only a robbery, Nikita," Michael said in a whisper.  "We shouldn't get involved."

        "Only a robbery,  Michael.  How can you say not get involved?  We have to do something," she insisted.   People's lives were in danger.  How could he be so blasé?

        "Shh, we can't afford to get involved.  It could bring attention to Section One."  Michael's voice was intense with the effort it took to control Nikita's compassionate inclinations.  He took her arm in an attempt to keep her from rushing headlong into the fray.

        Nikita jerked her arm from his grasp.  "You can cower back here if you want to, but I'm going to do something."

        Michael's steel grip fastened around her wrist.  "What are you going to do?  You're going to get yourself and some of these people here killed, if you don't listen to me."