Stephanie looked into the mirror and sighed. She was five feet, eight inches tall and had auburn hair that was waved in a long bob. She was still thin, but she supposed her waist would never be 20 inches again, not after the baby. She also supposed she should quit calling little Sean, the ‘baby.’ He was four years old and old enough to have insisted that she stop using the pet name.
They had taken one of their solitary visits to the zoo. Sean was very fond of the polar bears and had tried to climb over the rail. She had made the mistake of saying, “Baby, don’t do that. Come down this instant.”
“Stop calling me that!” He had been so cute as he stomped his foot and shook his curly auburn hair. Then he gave a nimble jump, stood in front of her with his fists on his hips and glared at her with the crystal green eyes of his father.
Except for his eyes, Sean looked like Stephanie’s side of the family the Fogherty’s--red hair, fair skin and freckles that were just starting to be noticeable across the bridge of his nose. His flare for athleticism was a little frightening. He had walked at eight and a half months, and there had been no stopping him since. He climbed, jumped and begged to take karate classes. She supposed the athletic ability came from Michael, because she was certainly a klutz at anything related to sports.
Michael is coming home this evening, she thought. He had been on a business trip for the last three weeks, with only a weekly call to see if Sean was all right. When she considered the argument they had before he left, she was surprised to hear from him at all. He had left in a cold fury after her constant nagging to have another child.
“But, Michael, Sean is four years old. He should have a brother or sister. I came from a big family and I loved it,” she had protested.
Michael had turned away from her, but she could see that he was having difficulty maintaining his usual controlled demeanor. “No. No more children. We shouldn’t have had Sean. My business is too uncertain at this point. I don’t want to discuss it any further.”
She had not been able to stop herself from arguing with him. Finally, he had begun to pack for his trip and ignored her. By the time he had left, he was so upset she could see his body tremble with anger. He had never raised a hand to her. No, Michael was too controlled for that type of display, but his coldness scared her more than his anger. Her father had not been above giving her mother a smack once in a while, but there was a blank look that came to Michael’s eyes that was terrifying. It hinted of things she never dreamed, of danger and darkness of the soul.
Michael had seemed so different when they had first met at the art gallery. She had attended the opening of her close friend, Chloe’s dazzling geometric paintings. The canvasses had glowed with color, order and precision. Michael had been admiring one of them and had asked for an introduction to the artist. He had been charming and discussed the work with intelligence and a keen insight of form and composition.
Stephanie had thought he would be attracted to Chloe, who was petite with long dark hair and darker eyes--most men were. However, at the end of the evening, Michael had stopped her as she was about to leave and asked if he could take her to dinner.
She remembered looking into his crystal green eyes and melting. “Yes, I’d love to,” she had managed to say without gushing. He had handed her his card, Michael Samuels, Art Dealer, it had said.
“Good, Stephanie, then I will need your telephone number and address. Will you be available tomorrow night?” he had asked with his sexy foreign voice.
The rest was a dream. They had had a whirlwind courtship. Her family liked him, in spite of his not being Irish, he was at least a Catholic. Their wedding had been family only, but that included over two-hundred on her side alone. Michael’s family had not been able to come. He had no brothers and sisters, and his mother and father were deceased. His remaining relatives had not desired to make the trip from France for the wedding. It hadn’t seemed so odd at the time, but now his lack of family disturbed her. There had been wedding presents from the French relatives, but there had been no correspondence from them since. She supposed that customs were different in Europe than in America.
Anyway, Michael was coming home tonight, and she was certain that all would
be forgiven in a passionate reaffirmation of their love.
“Damn it, Michael! Your split personality is going to drive me insane. Asking me never to leave you, then you turn around and pull a disappearing act, without so much as a screw you!” Nikita felt like throwing something, but every object in her apartment was too precious. They had all been touched or seen by Michael.
Nikita looked around her apartment and knew that she had rushed out of Section too hastily. Section held the information she wanted on Michael’s whereabouts. If Michael had already left, there was no way to follow him. She knew her computer access at home would not allow her to trace him, but maybe Birkoff would help her, if she put the challenge to him the right way.
Birkoff had already given Nikita’s message to Madeline, who had merely thanked him for the intel. Madeline had not appeared too concerned that Nikita would actually kill Michael, and even Birkoff doubted that Nikita could find Michael, unless Michael wanted to be found. He guessed, that was always a possibility, but surely Michael would have left Nikita a message, if he had wanted her to know where he was going.
“Birkoff,” Nikita’s throaty voice came over his comm set. “I want you to do me a favor. I mean. I don’t know if you can even do it or not, but I need your help.”
“Uh, oh. What now, Nikita? First you leave me the privilege of telling Madeline you were going to kill Michael. Have you killed him, and you want me to break ‘that’ news to Madeline?” Birkoff was shoving an Oreo into his mouth. Why couldn’t Nikita act like the other operatives, go out on missions, kill people, and keep out of his hair.
“I need to know where Michael lives, Birkoff. That’s all. I only want to talk to him. You know I wouldn’t really kill him, although I wouldn’t mind roughing him up a bit.” Nikita’s voice took on a wheedling tone, then a tougher tone as she thought about ‘roughing him up.’
“No way, Nikita. Only Operations and Madeline have access to that intel. on the Class Five operatives.” Nikita always wanted something she had no business having, he thought. He was still of the opinion that Michael would be in big trouble, if Nikita found him while she was still upset.
“Now, Seymour, I need to know.” Nikita began to wheedle again. “Michael said certain things to me, and now he’s disappeared. I need to know what’s going on with him. I really need to know, but if you can’t do it, you can’t do it. I understand.”
Birkoff caved. “All right, but this is the last favor, Nikita. I mean it, the last!”
Birkoff’s fingers flew over his ergonomic keyboard. “Nikita, sign off, and sign back on and there will be an addition to your private menu. Lord Byron is the name of the file. Once you get the address, sign off again. I will erase my tracks and yours. Got that?”
“Got it. Thanks, Birkoff.” Nikita signed off and on as he had instructed. A flashing letter icon told her she had email. The total inability to leave an email unopened was one of Nikita's curses. She opened it. It was from Michael, short and sweet, 'Be Patient.' "Damn it, Michael. Not again. Not again."
She opened the 'Lord Byron file and printed out the address. "You're gonna think be patient, Michael, when I find you.!" With little deliberation, she grabbed her silver jacket and ran from her apartment.
Birkoff wasn’t sure Nikita would thank him when she found Michael. He hadn’t given her access to the entire file, just the address; however, he hadn’t been able to resist the temptation to snoop further. No, Nikita was not going to be happy when she found Michael.
The wind swept through Michael’s wavy hair as he drove ‘home.’ He wished the wind could blow the images of Nikita from his mind. It was becoming more and more difficult to change from Michael Sameuellle, class five operative of Section One to Michael Samuels, the art dealer, who didn’t spend enough time at home, according to his wife of five years.
As a courtesy, he had called Stephanie to let her know he was coming. What he had not told her was that he would be staying for a ‘while.’ He presumed she would be happy with his decision to join the family business. His deep cover mission had lasted too long and had become impossibly complicated by the child he had with Stephanie. He had never intended any of this to happen.
Simone had been livid, when Michael had told her he had to marry a civilian as part of his deep cover.
“You’re already married to me! I understand when you have to seduce someone for a mission, but this is long-term, Michael. What if you fall in love with her?”
Michael had done all he could to reassure her. He had gathered Simone into his arms, and told her he would never love anyone else, that his heart belonged to her.”
Simone had nonetheless challenged Operations about the scenario, and within a couple of months, the problem of Simone was moot. She was dead, or at least Michael had thought she was. Operations knew she had been captured by Glass Curtain, who tried to ransom her. Glass Curtain had held her prisoner for another three years, years that Michael grieved.
He had been given Nikita as his material, and had begun to recover from his grief, when during a mission to infiltrate Glass Curtain, Nikita had discovered Simone was still alive. Simone had died at the end of that mission by destroying the Glass Curtain compound and its leader. Again, he grieved, and again it was Nikita who helped him. The true torture had been when he was with Stephanie and not being able to express that grief. That was when the splitting in two process had first begun.
Infiltrate the Fogherty’s, had been his deep cover mission. The Irish family had ties to an extreme branch of the IRA, and Michael needed to access their files and network of contacts. The fact that he was not Irish prevented the Fogherty’s from trusting him with their business; however, the much needed offer to join them had been extended a month ago. Operations had been delighted beyond description.
“I told you this would work, Michael. It takes time to really set
Then the recent murders and the order for close quarters standby had interfered with his accepting the offer. Michael hoped it wasn’t too late. He needed to complete this mission before he could commit to Nikita, and he hoped to do it in less than three months, much less.
His relationship with Stephanie was on shaky grounds, and they argued whenever he was at ‘home.’ She wanted another child, and he didn’t. He was still uncertain how they had conceived Sean, because he had never failed to take precautions. Yet, still there was his son Sean, clearly his son by temperament and the green eyes they shared.
He had not been able to resist loving his child. He had no idea what would happen to Stephanie and Sean after the mission, but he hoped he would be able to disappear from their lives without a trace. He hated the thought of deserting his son, but Michael knew the quicker he was out of Sean’s life, the safer the child would be.
This first time he had returned home with a bullet wound, he explained it away as having been mugged while in Paris. The second time, Stephanie asked no questions, but had looked at him in a new way with caution in her eyes.
As his trips ‘buying art’ had taken him from home more frequently and for longer periods of time, Stephanie’s complaints increased, then ceased. It was tearing Michael in two, loving Nikita and not being able to share his heart and soul with her in the way he wanted, and coming home to make love to a woman he didn’t love and would never love.
Michael drove around the city by-pass twice, trying to summon the persona of Michael Samuels. Finally, Michael knew he would have to go home anyway, whether he could suppress the images of Nikita or not.
Michael drove into his driveway and looked at the trendy two-story house Stephanie had insisted on buying. Arched windows a la Palladio, and an intricate roof line made an attractive and expensive house. He parked in the paved driveway, took a deep breath and turned off the ignition.
He watched Stephanie come flying out the front door to greet him, then hesitate to gauge his mood. He gave her a half smile to encourage her. He had to complete this last part of the mission, and he needed a happy wife in order to do it.
She threw her arms around him, and he returned her hug with all the enthusiasm he could muster and kissed her on the lips.
“I’m so sorry, Michael. Please forgive this nagging wife,” she whispered in his ear.
“Nothing to forgive, Steph. I’m sorry, too. Where’s Sean?” he asked, knowing he could embrace his son with true emotions.
“I sent him to mother’s when you called. He’s going to spend the
night there,” she said softly in a voice rich with the suggestion of the
night to come.
Due to Michael’s hesitation in returning home and Nikita’s rush to find him, she was less than five minutes behind him, when she turned into a street that was perpendicular to Michael’s house. She looked at the attractive new houses. Section One must pay its C5 ops pretty well, she thought. She saw Michael’s Mercedes sitting in the driveway, and then noticed that Michael was still sitting in the car. She couldn’t believe her good luck.
She watched in disbelief as the front door opened and a beautiful redhead flung her arms around Michael and gave him a welcoming kiss. What was worse, Michael returned the kiss, and they walked into the house together. Nikita’s mouth hung open and she began to tremble. This was Michael’s big secret. This was the reason he couldn’t tell her what she needed to hear yet, except the SOB had told her ‘what’ she needed to hear earlier that very day as he carried her to MedLab.
The treacherous, two-faced, lying SOB had told her she was his life and his reason for living. Nikita banged her fists on the steering wheel. “Michael, now I really will have to kill you,” she said softly.
Nikita looked around the smart subdivision. The last thing she wanted to do was cause a scene and bring attention to herself. What if it were a mission? Right, a mission, but if it were a mission, why wouldn’t he have chosen her for his partner as he had before? Question after question crowded her mind until she thought her head would explode. She was powerless to leave. She had to sit there until she was sure.
Dusk began to descend, and the early fall colors started to dim on the young hardwood trees scattered throughout the trendy neighborhood. The darker it became, the deeper Nikita’s despair grew until the hot angry tears spilled down her face. She let them fall, not bothering to wipe them. There would only be more tears to follow.
By the time the night time darkness was complete, Nikita knew what she must do. It was reprehensible, but she was going to spy on them. Well, she was a spy, sort of, anyway, and that’s what spy’s did. She would leave her car, and using all her training and stealth, she would peek in a window, but her plan was foiled, when security lights all over the neighbor hood were activated.
“Damn, yuppies!” she said. She needed surveillance equipment, something she had not foreseen, when she had rushed headlong from Section in search of Michael. She would have given almost anything to have a tracker on Michael like he’d placed on her when she was seeing Jurgen. “See how you like having your privacy invaded, Mr. Suburbia!”
Nikita sat long into the evening. The car was chilly, but she didn’t
want to start the motor. She could see movement in the house, as
they moved from one room to another, but then the interior of the house
was suddenly dark. Time for beddy-bye, Michael? Nikita sighed.
She had no more tears. With one reluctant move, she started the ignition
and decided to go home.
Operations paced in Madeline’s office, smoking his ubiquitous cigarette. He had not been thrilled to hear of Nikita’s quest. “What do you mean she’s gone looking for Michael? You think she can actually ‘find’ him?”
Madeline gave Operations a cool glance. “It’s possible, if she has help.”
“She’ll blow his cover. The last thing we need right now is for Michael’s cover to be blown. She’s a wild cannon. How could you allow this to happen, Madeline?”
Madeline never took offense when Operations used an accusatory tone with her. She understood his frustrations with Nikita and the relationship that continued to deepen between Nikita and Michael.
“It may be a blessing in disguise. If Nikita finds Michael, she’ll find that he’s been deceiving her for a long time on the most basic level. I think that the knowledge of Michael’s deception will destroy any trust that exists between the two of them. Nikita is too smart to blow Michael’s cover. She will retreat, suffer her disappointment, and emerge stronger for herself and for Section..”
“And that will give Michael time to complete his mission with the Fogherty’s.”
Operations moved closer to Madeline with look of admiration, and perhaps something else, on his face. “I have to say, Madeline, that you consider all the angles.”
Madeline smiled, “That’s why I’m here.”
“Dinner tonight, Madeline?” he asked softly.
Her response was soft as well, “Not tonight. I think we need to be careful, don’t you?”
Operations emitted a sigh of frustration, “Of course.” He turned
and walked to the door, but stopped as if to say something, then shook
his head and left Madeline’s office without saying another word.
All through the evening Stephanie had made nervous small talk, as if consciously avoiding the problems between them. She watched Michael as he built a fire in the fireplace. The crackle and scent of the hickory logs brought back memories of happier times with Michael, times when she had been certain of his love and devotion. He had been a tender and passionate lover, her only lover. She had been raised in a strict Irish Catholic family, and difficult as it had been, she had remained a virgin until she had met Michael.
Michael’s sensuality had ensnared her. His touch, his eyes, and even the way he moved had set her on fire early in their relationship. She had not made it to the altar in a virgin state, for their union had been tumultuous and exalting for her. The state of their relationship now made Stephanie want to dissolve in tears, but Michael hated tears, like most men.
Stephanie sensed that Michael was avoiding discussion of their issues as well. While he had never been an outgoing and talkative man, the mask of silence that Michael had worn since dinner was a new one. There had been no discussion of where he had been and no pretenses about buying art for galleries. Stephanie was uncertain what Michael really did, but was sure it was illegal and dangerous.
Michael turned from the fireplace and said in a soft tone, “I’m not going to be leaving again. Your Uncle Liam has asked me to join his firm. I thought you might like that, if I did.”
“Oh, Michael!” Stephanie squealed. “That’s wonderful. I love you!” She threw her arms around him as he knelt before the fireplace and knocked them both to the floor.
Stephanie’s breath and lips were warm on Michael’s neck, but the thought of another’s lips and warmth lingered in Michael’s mind. He knew he had to go through with the charade of portraying the loving husband, and as his hands automatically caressed Stephanie’s breasts, he thought of a pair of slightly smaller, rose-tipped breasts whose owner possessed his heart.
Before the crackling fire, Michael made love to Stephanie, all the while
knowing he dishonored all three of them with his visions of Nikita.
When he climaxed, it was all Michael could do to keep from calling
Nikita’s name, but his control held; and once again Michael felt the shame
of using his body to manipulate one innocent woman, while loving another.
Nikita ambled into her dark apartment and flicked the light switch by the door. It was very late, she guessed, and she was tired to the bone. The day had started with her being kidnapped by a serial killer, a timely rescue by Michael, who had told her all the things she needed to hear, and ended with a devastating finality. She had ‘found’ Michael, a Michael who lived in the suburbs with his wife.
Everything she previously knew and believed about Michael was a deception, a Section One smoke screen. She thought she had been manipulated for the last time by Michael, but she understood now that manipulation was a part of Michael’s very being.
Nikita began to remove her clothes. She wanted a shower and to sleep for a hundred years, sleep without dreams of a green-eyed Adonis. “’Sleep, dreamless sleep that knits the raveled sleeve of care.’ Old Will really knew what he was talking about.”
She turned on the shower, let it run till hot and stepped into the tub. The water sluiced down her body, the welcome heat comforting her sore muscles. Until that moment, Nikita had not noticed the muscle aches that had resulted from lying on the floor, bound hand and foot for hours, until Michael had rescued her. She wondered why he bothered. She wished he had let her die. Death would be preferable to the pain she felt. Death of an illusion, the death of her dreams all in one shattering scene, because the mysterious and elusive Michael was married.
Nikita knew she had been only one more of Michael’s conquests or manipulations. It didn’t matter which, the result was the same. She had been the means to an end. What end? Who knew what part of a Section-driven plan she had been. First, Madeline had seemed to encourage their closeness, then had spent the last year trying to drive a wedge between them and destroy the trust they tried to build.
As she stood in the hot, soaking spray of the shower, Nikita could not avoid remembering the night they had spent on the boat in Lyons. Michael’s passion and strength had erased all her bad memories, and given her new ones. His need and desire for her made her feel complete for once in her life.
Now, she could finally admit to herself that it had probably been a plan to bring her back to Section, and she had fallen for it. She had jumped at the chance when Michael had found a way. True, he had saved her life on the Freedom League mission; but had he really, or was that part of the plan to gain her trust and then destroy it later in one grand display.
Nikita decided it really didn’t matter. Over is over, she thought.
She hit the shower button, and the water stopped. The bathroom was
warm and filled with steam as she stepped from the tub to the tile
floor. The shock of the cold tile sent cold shivers down her back.
She threw on her lilac robe and wrapped a towel turban-style around her
head. She didn’t want to leave the bathroom and go to the bedroom
where only a few days before she and Michael had made love. There
were too many memories in the apartment, she decided. She needed
another change of scene, but lacked the energy to do anything but fall
onto the bed in an exhausted heap.