Authors: Debra Webb
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #General
Joe sighed. “Doc, this situation isn’t the same. You came into this knowing the mission.”
Elizabeth’s gaze narrowed ever so slightly. “Did I really?”
He had to smile. “To the extent you needed to know, yes.”
“But you didn’t answer my question,” she countered, refusing to give an inch. “Would you have resorted to seducing me if necessary?”
“I had my orders, Doc, and seducing you wasn’t included.” When she would have turned to leave, he caught her wrist once more and drew her back. “Had I not been restrained by my orders, I can’t say I wouldn’t have tried. But the effort wouldn’t have been about the mission.”
There are people in our lives we encounter who make their marks. Those who leave some indelible influence on who and what we will become.
But if we’re really lucky, there are those whose presence in our lives makes a difference that goes so much deeper than the skin that our life would not have been what it was destined to be without them. This book is dedicated to one such person with whom I have had the pleasure of love and laughter and the overwhelming sorrow of loss and grief.
To my baby brother, John Brashier. You are my soul’s twin.
Never forget how very much I love you.
Debra Webb was born in Scottsboro, Alabama, to parents who taught her that anything is possible if you want it badly enough. She began writing at age nine. Eventually she met and married the man of her dreams, and tried some other occupations, including selling vacuum cleaners, working in a factory, a day-care center, a hospital and a department store. When her husband joined the military, they moved to Berlin, Germany, and Debra became a secretary in the commanding general’s office. By 1985 they were back in the States, and finally moved to Tennessee, to a small town where everyone knows everyone else. With the support of her husband and two beautiful daughters, Debra took up writing again, looking to mystery and movies for inspiration. In 1998, her dream of writing for Harlequin came true. You can write to Debra with your comments at P.O. Box 64, Huntland, Tennessee 37345 or visit her Web site at www.debrawebb.com to find out exciting news about her next book.
583—SAFE BY HIS SIDE
597—THE BODYGUARD’S BABY
634—SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: BABY
697—HER HIDDEN TRUTH
701—GUARDIAN OF THE NIGHT
718—HER SECRET ALIBI
732—KEEPING BABY SAFE
747—CRIES IN THE NIGHT
801—SITUATION: OUT OF CONTROL
837—JOHN DOE ON HER DOORSTEP
849—MAN OF HER DREAMS
891—PERSON OF INTEREST
HARLEQUIN AMERICAN ROMANCE
935—THE MARRIAGE PRESCRIPTION
948—THE DOCTOR WORE BOOTS
995—GUARDING THE HEIRESS
DYING TO PLAY
—One of the CIA’s finest field operatives. He makes Elizabeth restless in her own skin but she recognizes him for what he is, another dangerous man.
—The best restorative cosmetic surgeon in the country. But has her secret work for the CIA merely created a target list?
—Director of the CIA. Elizabeth is one of his greatest assets. He will do anything to protect her.
—Director of field operations with the CIA. He has only one goal: stop whoever is behind the hits on his agents.
Agent Craig Dawson
—Elizabeth’s CIA handler. Safe, quiet, those are the two words that best describe Dawson. Elizabeth wonders why she can’t be attracted to a man like him.
Agent David Maddox
—The man who broke Elizabeth’s heart even after his death. There are so many things she should have said to him…and obviously a few he should have said to her.
Agent Mike Stark
—A competent agent who guards Elizabeth with his very life.
—One of Elizabeth’s colleagues at her private clinic. Another example of just the right kind of guy she should be falling for. They have worked together for four years.
With a satisfied sigh, Dr. Elizabeth Cameron surveyed the careful sutures and the prepatterned blocks of tissue she had harvested from inconspicuous donor sites. For this patient the best sites available had been her forearms and thighs which had miraculously escaped injury.
The tailored blocks of harvested tissue, comprised of skin, fat and blood vessels, were tediously inset into the face like pieces of a puzzle and circulation to the area immediately restored by delicate attachment to the facial artery.
Lastly, the newly defined tissue was sculpted to look, feel and behave like normal facial skin, with scars hidden in the facial planes. In a few weeks this patient would resume normal activities and no one outside her immediate family and friends would ever
have to know that she had scarcely survived a fiery car crash that had literally melted a good portion of her youthful Miss Massachusetts face.
She would reach her twenty-first birthday next month with a face that looked identical to the one that had won her numerous accolades and trophies. More important, the young woman who had slipped into severe clinical depression and who had feared her life was over would now have a second chance.
“She’s perfect, Doctor.”
Elizabeth acknowledged her colleague’s praise with a quick nod and stepped back from the operating table. With one final glance she took stock of the situation. The patient was stable. All was as it should be. “Finish up for me, Dr. Jeffrey,” she told her senior surgical resident.
Pride welled in her chest as she watched a moment while her team completed the final preparations for transporting the patient to recovery. Yes, she had performed the surgery, but the whole team had been involved from day one beginning with the complete, computerized facial analysis. This victory had been achieved by the entire team, not just one person. A team Elizabeth had handpicked over the past three years.
In the scrub room she stripped off her bloody gloves, surgical gown and mask, then cleaned her eyeglasses. She’d tried adjusting to contacts, but just
couldn’t manage the transition. Sticking to the old reliables hadn’t failed her yet. She was probably the only doctor in the hospital who still preferred to do a number of things the old-fashioned way. Like working with a certain team day in and day out. She’d worked with Jeffrey long enough now that they could anticipate each other’s moves and needs ahead of time. It worked. She liked sticking with what worked.
Exhaustion clawed at her. The muscles of her shoulders quivered with fatigue, the good kind. This one had been a long, arduous journey for both patient and surgical team. Weeks ago the initial preparations had begun, including forming a mold from a sibling’s right ear to use in building a replacement for the one the patient had lost in the accident. The size and symmetry had worked out beautifully.
No matter how painstakingly Elizabeth and her team prepared, she wasn’t fully satisfied until she saw the completed work…until the patient was rolled to recovery. The time required to heal varied, three to six weeks generally with this sort of tissue transplanting. The swelling would lessen, the red lines would fade. And the new face would bloom like a rose in the sun’s light, as close to nature’s work as man could come.
As Elizabeth started for the exit, intent on going straight home and crashing for a couple of hours, the
rest of the team poured into the scrub room, high-fives and cheers of elation rumbling through the group. Elizabeth smiled. She had herself a hell of a team here. They were the best, each topping his or her field of expertise, and they were good folks, lacking the usual “ego” that often haunted the specialized medical profession.
“Excellent work, boys and girls,” she called to the highly trained professionals who were quickly regressing to more adolescent behavior as the adrenaline high peaked and then drained away. “See you in two weeks.”
Elizabeth pushed through the doors and into the long, white sterile corridor, still smiling as the ruckus followed her into the strictly enforced quiet zone. She inhaled deeply of the medicinal smells, the familiar scents comforting, relaxing. This place was her real home. She spent far more time here than inside the four walls of the little brownstone on which she made a monthly mortgage payment. Not really a good thing, she had begun to see. She didn’t like the slightly cynical, fiercely focused person she was turning into.
A change was definitely in order.
She hadn’t taken that much time off since—
She banished the memory before it latched on to her thoughts. No way was she going to dredge up that painful past. Two months had elapsed. She clenched
her jaw and paused at the bank of elevators. Giving the call button a quick stab, she waited, her impatience mounting with each passing second. She loved her work, was fully devoted to it. But she desperately needed this time to get away, to put the past behind her once and for all. She had to move on. Regain her perspective…her balance.
The elevator doors slid open and Elizabeth produced a smile for the nurses who exited. Almost three o’clock in the afternoon, shift change. The nurses and residents on duty would brief those arriving for second shift on the status of their patients. Orders would be reviewed and the flow of patient care would continue without interruption.
Dr. Jeffrey would stay with her patient for a time and issue the final orders. There was nothing for Elizabeth to worry about. She boarded the elevator and relaxed against the far wall. Her eyes closed as she considered the cruise she’d booked just last week. A snap decision, something she never, ever did. Her secretary had insisted she could not spend her time off at home or loitering around her office. Which, in retrospect, Elizabeth had to admit was an excellent idea. Hanging around the house or office, organizing books and files or personal items that were already in perfect order, would not be in her best interest. The last thing she needed in her life was more order.
Making a quick stop at the second-floor staff lounge to pick up her sweater and purse, more goodbyes were exchanged with coworkers who couldn’t believe she was actually going to take a vacation. Elizabeth shook her head in self-deprecation. She really had lost any sense of balance. Work was all she had, it seemed, and everyone had taken notice. One way or another she intended to change that sad fact.
Hurrying through Georgetown University Medical Center’s expansive lobby, she made her way to the exit that led to the employee parking garage. She could already see herself driving across the District, escaping everything. As much as she loved D.C., she needed to get away, to mingle with the opposite sex. To start something new and fresh. To put
out of her mind forever. He was gone. Dead. He’d died in some foreign country, location unspecified, of unnatural causes probably, the manner unspecified. His body had not been recovered, at least, as far as she knew. He was simply gone. He wouldn’t be showing up at her door in the middle of the night with an unexpected forty-eight-hour furlough he wanted to spend only with her.
Stolen moments. That was all she and Special Agent David Maddox had really ever shared. But then, that was what happened when one fell in love with a CIA agent. Covert operations, classified missions, need-to-know. All familiar terms.
Too familiar, she realized as she hesitated mid-stride on the lower level of the parking garage, her gaze landing on her white Lexus—or more specifically on the two well-dressed men waiting next to the classy automobile.
One man she recognized instantly as Craig Dawson, her CIA handler. All valuable CIA assets had handlers. It was some sort of rule. He’d replaced David when their relationship had gotten personal. There were times when Elizabeth wondered if that change in the dynamics of the interaction between them had ultimately caused David’s death. His work had seemed so much safer when he’d been her handler.
Stop it, she ordered. Thinking about the past was destructive. She knew it. The counselor the Agency had insisted she see after David’s death had said the same. Face forward, focus on the future.
Her new motto.
Time to move on.
If only her past would stop interfering.
What did Agent Dawson want today of all days? Annoyance lined her brow. Whenever he showed up like this it could only mean a ripple in her agenda. She couldn’t change her current plans. It had taken too long for her to work up the courage and enthusiasm to make them.
Her irritation mounting unreasonably, her attention shifted slightly. To the man standing next to Dawson. Another secret agent, no doubt. The guy could have been a carbon copy of Dawson from the neck down, great suit, navy in color, spit and polished black leather shoes. The only characteristics that differentiated the two were age and hair color.
Well, okay, that was an exaggeration, the two looked nothing alike. Dawson was fifty or so, distinguished-looking, with a sparkling personality. He’d never performed field duty for the CIA, was more the “office” type. The other guy looked younger, late-thirties maybe, handsome in a rugged sort of way, and his expression resembled that of a slick gangster. At least what she could see of it with him wearing those dark shades. The five o’clock shadow on his lean jaw didn’t help. Her gaze lingered there a moment longer. Something about his profile…his mouth seemed familiar.
She rarely forgot a face, and this one made her nervous. She looked away, settling her gaze back on Dawson and the kind of familiarity she could trust. Maybe she had run into the other man before. But that didn’t seem likely since her dealings with the CIA had always come through David or Agent Dawson, discounting her rare command performance with the director himself. A frown nagged
at her brow. It was doubtful that she knew the other man, yet something about him seriously intimidated her. Not a good thing in a CIA agent, to her way of thinking.
But then, what did she know? She was only a part-time volunteer agent whose existence was strictly off any official records. And she hadn’t even been subjected to the training program. Calling herself an agent was a stretch. She actually had no dealings whatsoever with the CIA other than performing the occasional professional service for which she refused to accept pay. To date, she had provided new faces for more than a dozen deep-cover operatives. It was the least she could do for her country—why would she allow payment for services rendered? Elizabeth saw it as her patriotic duty. The covert sideline was her one secret…her one departure from the dull routine of being Dr. Elizabeth Cameron.
“Dr. Cameron,” Dawson said when she made no move to come closer, “the director would like to see you.”
Elizabeth hiked her purse strap a little farther up her shoulder and crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m going on vacation, Agent Dawson,” she said firmly as she ordered her feet to move toward her car. It was her car, after all, he couldn’t keep her from getting in it and driving away. At least she didn’t think he could.
“The meeting will only take a few minutes, ma’am,” Dawson assured quietly while his cohort stood by, ominously silent, doing the
She considered asking Craig if he was training a new recruit or if he’d worried that he might need backup for bringing her in. But she doubted he’d get the joke. She wouldn’t have gotten it either until about a week ago. That’s when she’d made her decision. The decision to put some spontaneity into her life. She was sick of being plain old quiet, reserved Elizabeth who never varied her routine. Who stuck with what worked and avoided personal risk at all cost. She got out of bed at the same time every morning, showered, readied for work and ate a vitamin-enhanced meal bar on the way to the office. After ten or twelve hours at the office and/or hospital, she worked out at the fitness center and went home, took a relaxing hot bath and fell into bed utterly exhausted.
Same thing, day in and day out.
She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d gone to a movie much less had a simple dinner date.
But no more.
Still, she had an obligation to the CIA. She’d promised to help out when they needed her. Right now might be inconvenient but it was her duty to at least listen to what they needed. Growing up a military brat had taught her two things if nothing else:
always guard your feelings and never, ever forget those who risk their lives for your freedom. Guarding her feelings was a hard-learned skill, the knowledge gained from moving every two to three years and having to fit in someplace new. The other—well, patriotism was simply something every good American should practice.
“All right,” she relented to Mr. Dawson’s obvious relief. “I’ll see him, for a few minutes only.” She held up a hand when Dawson would have moved toward the dark sedan parked next to her car. “Anything else he needs will have to wait until I get back from my cruise,” she said just to be sure he fully grasped the situation. “Even doctors take vacations.”
“I understand, ma’am,” Dawson confirmed with a pleasant smile. But something about the smirk on the other man’s face gave her pause. Did he know her? She just couldn’t shake that vague sense of recognition. Maybe he was privy to what the director wanted and already knew she was in for a battle if she wanted this vacation to happen.
She was still a private citizen. She accepted no money for her work and she had never refused the Agency’s requests. But this time she just might.
Elizabeth settled into the back seat of the dark sedan and Dawson closed her door before sliding behind the steering wheel. The other man took the
front passenger seat, snapped the safety belt into place and stared straight ahead. Elizabeth was glad he hadn’t opted to sit in back with her. She didn’t like the guy. He made her feel threatened on some level. A frown inched its way across her forehead. She had to admit that he was the first Agency staff member she’d met who actually looked like one of the guys depicted in the movies. Thick, dark hair slicked back. Concealing eyewear, flinty profile. She shivered, then pushed the silly notion away.
She wanted spontaneity in her life, not trouble. This guy had trouble written all over what she could see of that too handsome face. Upon further consideration, she decided it was his mouth that disturbed her the most. There was a kind of insolence about it…a smugness that shouted
I could kiss you right now and make you like it.