Disclaimer: I don’t own the boys and I am not making any money with them. The story below is written purely for enjoyment, mine and possibly others.

Rating: PG 13 violence and implied sexual scene

Thanks: to Mog for the ATF universe and once again, thanks Katy.

Main Characters: Buck and Ezra

Size: Approx 140K

Chris Larabee had called a conference with all of his agents for three o’clock. By three ten, all seven were assembled, waiting for the briefing on their new assignment. They had been idle for a week and they were all bored with the mundane activities they had to perform, like checking the small tobacco stores for stamped and taxed tobacco products. Vin and Josiah had been assigned to checking age restrictions in liquor stores. The team was definitely ready for a new assignment. They didn’t have to wait long.

Chris handed out the files he had stacked in front of him. He waited until everyone had one and then, he began. "Gentlemen, we have an undercover assignment. Unfortunately for some, the case is not in Denver. Three of you will be going to Aspen. The mark is a white male in his early fifties by the name of John Taylor. We have found absolutely no information on John Taylor so we must assume this is an alias. What we do know is that he is heavily into arms trading and he has a seemingly unending supply of money. The FBI has been watching him for over a year now and hasn’t been able to get inside. One of their men was assassinated and dumped along a road side. It is unknown how and why his cover was blown. Taylor lives in the mountains outside of Aspen in a very large estate with at least six bodyguards. He always has at least two with him. He lives with his wife and daughter. The wife’s name is Diana and the daughter is Cybil. He rarely goes into town. He has his own plane and he pilots it himself. It has been very difficult to track the man when he flies off at a moments notice so we need to get in tight with him. He doesn’t mess around with street stuff. All of his deals have been high buck and major armament, missiles, antiaircraft, new age stuff. We need to shut him down and quickly but…" He paused to emphasize his point. "I don’t want any dead agent coming back to haunt me, is that clear?"

All of his men nodded. This was an extremely close knit group. They considered their fellow agents ‘brothers’ and they would do almost anything to protect one another, even giving their own life if that’s what it took. Ezra Standish, the team’s premier undercover man, turned to his boss. He was eager to know who would be going to Aspen with him. He trusted all of the others implicitly but knew it would be one of three men that would be going in with him. Vin Tanner was a good undercover man and Ezra and Vin had done several operations together but Vin was still using a cane from a broken leg which had occurred a month ago in a car accident. So, he would be working this time with Josiah, Buck or Nathan.

Chris noticed Standish eyeing him and he nodded. "Buck, you’ll be going inside with Ezra this time. Josiah, you’ll be their surveillance man. And I don’t want to hear any moaning or groaning about it. Ezra, you’ll be Edward Smith. Your cover is already in motion. Mr. Smith has lots of money and a military contact. He has sold numerous stingers to the Iraqis. It’s rumored he has a dozen to sell." He handed Ezra a zippered case with Mr. Smith’s identification in it. "Buck, you’ll be Ben Williams, Mr. Smith’s right hand man. Mr. Smith rarely travels without Mr. Williams right beside him. You’ll drive down in the Jag, Ez. It’ll fit in perfectly with our Mr. Smith. Josiah, a suite has been reserved under Mr. Smith’s name for you. You will be his bodyguard if one is required. Any questions?"

"Shouldn’t all of us be going if it’s so dangerous? What if the shit hits the fan, Chris? We’ll be too far away to do anything about it!" JD was already worried about his best friend and roommate. Aspen was a good two and a half hours away from Denver. How were they supposed to back Buck and Ezra up if there was trouble?

"JD, we can’t waste man power like that. We have no idea how long it will take Mr. Smith to get in good with Taylor. They could be there for months. Ezra, please try to make it weeks, okay?" Chris half smiled at his con man extraordinaire. Ezra was one of the best in the country and Chris had every confidence in his getting the job done as quickly and safely as possible.

"Mr. Williams and I will be as expedient as possible, Mr. Larabee, as always. We shall leave in the morning. Will Josiah be traveling tomorrow as well?" Ezra was eager to get started with his new assignment. The sooner they got started, the sooner they would be done.

"Josiah will pack up all the equipment and join you late tomorrow. You and Buck need to memorize your covers and get packed. Remember, you’re rich and powerful. Should be a piece of cake for ya, Ez. The FBI has already made contact with Mr. Taylor through one of their most secure snitches and he’s expecting you to arrive in Aspen by the end of the week. Anything else you need, let me know before you leave in the morning. Buck, I want to talk to you alone. Meeting dismissed. JD, get on your computer and start looking for anything you can find on John, Diana, or Cybil Taylor."

Chris walked to his office followed closely by his oldest friend. He waited until Buck was seated on the couch and then he closed the door and perched himself on the corner of his desk. He hated sending Buck into this situation but he was the logical choice. Chris knew that Buck hated to be away from home and the Kid for any length of time. Buck had grown to love JD like a son, brother, and friend all rolled into one small package, and he worried about the young agent when he wasn’t around to guide his life.

"I’ll watch out for JD, Buck. You concentrate on being Ben Williams. You were the only choice, Stud."

"I know, Chris. I don’t like it but it’s part of the job, ain’t it. I wish we knew more about Taylor before going in. The fibbies ain’t always the most reliable source of info." Buck leaned back in the soft leather of the sofa. He knew that Chris, Vin, and Nathan would try to keep JD occupied so that he wouldn’t be constantly worrying about his big brother. He also knew he needed his mind on John Taylor and nothing else until the arrest was made. "I’ll follow Ezra’s lead, Pard. Don’t worry about us. We got it handled." He smiled his shit eating grin at his boss. They had known each other for fourteen years. He knew Chris would worry constantly until the three of them came back to the flock.

"I know. Just wanted you to know we’d watch out for him, that’s all. One more thing, Buck, stay away from the ladies. I understand they are both real lookers."

"Ah, come on, Chris. I ain’t always governed by that head. ‘Sides, Ez will be there to keep me honest. Believe me, Pard, I want to come out of this alive with all my body parts intact.!"

"Just be careful, okay."

"You got it, Chris. Guess I better get started with Ez. We got a lot to memorize. I’ll talk to ya later tonight." He got up and left the room.

Chris Larabee, shepherd of his men, his friends, began to worry.

Buck and Ezra arrived at their impressive hotel suite the next afternoon. They checked in and prepared to wait. It didn’t take long. Just after Josiah arrived that evening, the phone rang. Mr. Taylor was requesting that Mr. Smith join him at his estate the next evening for drinks and conversation. Mr. Smith accepted the invitation as long as he could bring his associate, Mr. Williams, along. He was informed that was perfectly acceptable. The limo would be around for them at eight o’clock the next evening. The next day, Ezra and Buck went shopping for some new, more appropriate, clothing for Ben Williams. They actually had a good time picking out shirts and slacks for the tall lanky agent. They even forgot for an hour or so that their lives were in peril and that they had to be on their toes until the assignment was over.

At eight o’clock the phone rang to inform them that the limo was at the front to pick them up. Both men looked very handsome and Josiah wished them luck as they headed out the door. The ride took longer then expected. Mr. Taylor lived in the shadow of Mount Massive, one of the tallest mountains in Colorado. The estate was bathed in blackness by the time they arrived so they couldn’t see the impressive gardens and landscaping. The house was lit up brightly however, and both men were quite impressed with the mansion they were ushered in to. It was dark red brick, three stories high with six pristine white pillars supporting the portico. The circular drive wound around and Buck and Ezra were let out of the car right by the front door. A butler met them at the door and ushered them into a dark mahogany paneled den. It was definitely the domain of a strong man. There were no trophy heads of wild animals in this den. Instead, it was lined with books on two walls. The third wall held glasses and numerous decanters full of any liquor a person may desire behind a gleaming brass bar with four bar stools. The fourth wall was made of glass with patterned drapes pulled back to reveal a view of the mountain.

"Magnificent." Ezra walked to the large window and gazed out into the darkness. A million stars could be seen shimmering in the night sky. He had always loved the galaxies and the clear night sky in the unpolluted countryside.

"You should see it during the day. Believe me, it rivals the heavens. You must be Edward Smith. I am John Taylor." The tall imposing man held out his hand and shook Ezra’s with a firm but not bruising grip. Ezra came to a quick decision. This was not a man you would willingly want to cross. He was tan, a dark golden brown, and he had short salt and pepper hair. He was dressed casually but even in a polo shirt and khakis he demanded attention. He was probably an inch taller than Buck and he was still trim although he must have been close to sixty years old. He wore a smile on his lips but it did not reach his piercing cobalt blue eyes. The eyes were busy assessing the two men before him.

"It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Mr. Taylor. My people have told me some very nice things about you although nothing personal. You appear to be a very private person, Sir." Ezra returned the assessing stare. "Allow me to introduce my compatriot, Ben Williams." Ezra used his hand to indicate Buck.

The tall man turned and faced the lanky mustached agent. He purposefully ran his eyes up and down Buck’s six foot four frame. Buck felt shivers run up and down his spine. The intense scrutiny that was bestowed upon the scoundrel was that of an enemy from the moment they lay eyes on each other.

"Mr. Williams, I have also been well-informed by the people who work for me. They tell me you are something of a ladies man. There are only two women on this estate, one is my wife and the other my daughter." Taylor said nothing else but Buck got the message loud and clear. No words were necessary for the threat to land on solid ground. Buck nodded slightly, letting the master of the mansion know his message had been received.

Ezra took note of the exchange between the two men. They seemed to take an instant dislike to one another and being the con man that he was, Standish didn’t like the implications one bit. He was going to have to have a serious discussion with Buck right away. Ezra hadn’t seen either woman yet, not even photographs. Whatever they looked like, Buck had to keep his hands off.

"You have a beautiful home, Mr. Taylor. Did you have it custom built?" Ezra had to get the conversation moving. He had to make up for the bad impression Buck was making on the elusive man that now stood before them.

"Thank you, Mr. Smith. Yes, I designed it myself. I will take you on a tour of the premises and show you some of the little extras that I incorporated. Perhaps tomorrow. Please, Mr. Smith, come sit down. I understand that you have some merchandise that my buyers are very interested in." John Taylor moved away from Buck and turned his entire attention to Ezra. He sat down in a wing chair by the fireplace and motioned for Ezra to take the matching chair. The move left Buck completely out of the equation.

Ezra eased himself into the maroon chair and smiled charmingly at the cool mercenary. "Please, call me Edward. My underlings call me Mr. Smith, not my friends. Since this is the first time that we have officially met, Mr. Taylor, I would like to learn a little more about my host for the evening. We can talk business in the future."

"Very well, Edward." He snapped his fingers and one of his bodyguards, a stocky man about six foot tall with brooding brown eyes and jet black hair, moved to stand beside the chair. "What can Simon get you to drink? We have anything you might want."

"Single malt with a touch of Perrier. Neat." Ezra relaxed back into the chair. Long ago, he had schooled himself to never show his emotions. As much as this man before him alarmed him, the man would never know.

"Simon, please make me the usual. And get Mr. Williams whatever he may like." He turned his full attention back to Ezra. "You may call me John. I understand, Edward, that you are from Atlanta? Is that true?"

"I have lived there on occasion but my place of birth is my little secret. My mother and I moved numerous times during my childhood, mostly in the south, so I like to think of Dixie as my home. And you, John, I would guess Chicago, perhaps Milwaukee, as your point of origin. Would I be correct?"

Taylor smiled. He liked this man. He was intelligent, humorous, and cultured. Taylor didn’t accept anyone at face value and he rarely tolerated any person, man or woman, after just one meeting but he thought he could deal profitably with the smooth debonair man sitting comfortably beside him.

"Chicago. You’re good, Edward. I appreciate intelligence in a person. Where are you staying during our negotiations?"

"We have taken a hotel suite in Aspen for the short time we will be here in Colorado." The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He didn’t like where this was going

"It’s too far away, Edward. I have a perfectly acceptable guest house near the back of the property that you and your associate can use. Simon will go back to Aspen and collect your personal items. I am looking forward to our negotiations." He accepted the drink that his man handed him. As far as he was concerned, Edward Smith and the other man would be staying on his estate.

"I’m sorry, John, but I’m afraid that Ben will have to inspect the property first before I can accept your generous offer. Maybe you can have someone show him the guest house now, before Simon makes the long drive for nothing." Ezra took a sip of his whiskey.

Taylor narrowed his eyes and tried to judge the slender man before him. He hasn’t gotten to the top by being stupid or trusting, he thought to himself. "Very well. Simon, see if Diana can take Mr. Williams out to the guest house so that he can judge its merits. Diana is my wife, Mr. Williams." He never bothered looking at Buck.

A few minutes later, the door opened and a woman Ezra would guess in her late twenties entered. Ezra stood immediately as did Taylor. Buck had been standing the whole time. The woman moved gracefully towards her husband. She stopped by his side and smiled at Ezra.

Ezra let out a sigh. The woman before him was his height, five foot ten. She glided across the floor effortlessly. She was dressed in a royal blue sweater and cream slacks that set off her coloring magnificently. She had short blond hair which was natural. Her lips were full and sensuous. Her high cheekbones and small nose and chin were perfection. It was her eyes though that held his attention. They were smoky gray and seemed to hold a promise of ecstasy for the man that she was examining as he was her. She was simply one of the most perfect women that Ezra had ever seen.

Taylor put his arm around his wife’s waist and introduced her to Edward Smith. "Edward, this is my wife, Diana. My dear, this is Edward Smith. I am trying to talk him into staying with us while we do business together. He would like his employee to scrutinize the guest house. Would you take Mr. Williams to the guest house and show him around."

"Of course, John." She turned to Buck and saw him for the first time. A smile spread across her features and she held out her hand to the handsome man who seemed to appear out of thin air. He took her hand and kissed it, his eyes never leaving hers. She felt her heart skip a beat and she swallowed hard, trying to get moisture back in her mouth before she had to speak to him. He exuded a magnetism that she had never encountered before. It wasn’t like John’s. His presence demanded attention but it was cold and disturbing. This man, this Mr. Williams, radiated heat, sexual tension that she was not used to. She took in a deep breath and said, "It would be my pleasure, Mr. Williams."

Buck had yet to release her hand. He never wanted to let her go. She was the epitome of femininity. She was soft and sultry, vulnerable and sensual, exquisite and approachable, all wrapped up in one woman. She was the woman he had been looking for all his life and it only took one touch, one look, for him to know it. He couldn’t speak for fear of saying the wrong thing and jeopardizing the whole assignment. So, instead, he threw out his hand, indicating that she should lead the way.

Ezra watched them leave and knew Buck and he were in deep trouble. It would take everything he could think of to get them through this case without one or both of them dying. He turned to Taylor who was watching his wife leave with the ladies man. ‘We are dead meat’ Ezra thought to himself.

Buck followed Mrs. Taylor down a path that was well lit. He didn’t trust himself to say anything in her presence. He had never in his lifetime been afraid to speak to or approach a woman but Diana was the culmination of his quest. He had to have her. He simply knew deep in his soul that she was the match that had just set his entire being on fire. And yet, he couldn’t touch her, couldn’t say all the things he had been keeping deep inside himself since his mother had died. He had to restrain his heart and he knew it would be the hardest thing he had ever done in his lifetime.

They walked for about ten minutes in total silence before Buck saw the elegant house ahead of them. It was a one story cottage, vines growing on trellises by the front door. It didn’t have a white picket fence but in Buck’s mind it was there. Diana took out a key and unlocked the front door. She reached out and turned on the table lamp just inside the entrance.

"The master bedroom is through there. It has two other bedrooms back that way. The kitchen is fully stocked but if there is something special you want, just mention it and I’ll have our cook buy it when he goes to the store. The fireplace works if you want to use it." She led him through the beautifully appointed rooms but she never turned to look at him and he never said a thing. Finally, she stopped. Slowly, she turned and looked up into his midnight blue eyes. She bit her lower lip. What was he thinking, she wondered.

"It’s exquisite. I, uh, we would be quite comfortable here, I’m sure but I have to, ah, look for bugs." With supreme effort, he pulled his gaze away from her and set about searching for listening devices, recorders, and surveillance equipment. He found a microphone in each room and cameras in the living room, kitchen, and master bedroom. Diana followed him as he pulled strange looking devices from the bottom of drawers, the backs of picture frames, and vents in the ceiling. They had other people stay here but none of them had known that her husband was watching everything that they did. Finally, he seemed satisfied that he had found everything. He stuck the small bugs in his coat pocket and again turned to her.

"I never knew those were in this house, I swear." She was genuinely stunned.

"I would imagine that your husband doesn’t tell you a lot of things. He is a very secretive man, Mrs. Taylor."

"If you are going to be staying here, you must call me Diana. And what can I call you?" She smiled at him and he crumbled inside.

‘My love,’ he thought but he said, "Ben."

"It’s a good, strong name for you. Ben. I like it."

"Diana fits you too. She was a goddess, you know." He fought with his arms, they wanted to pull her into an embrace. He fought with his hands, they wanted to reach out and touch her remarkable face. He stood stiffly before her.

"That’s a laugh! A goddess? Please, Ben, I’m far from a goddess, just ask my husband. He has several names for me, but goddess isn’t one of them. I don’t mind Lady Di, at least I take it as a compliment. Now, she was a goddess." Her face glowed with humor and the love of life.

"Now darlin’, you have to have looked in a mirror sometime in the past decade. Here, look at the woman I’m looking at and tell me you don’t see a goddess." He reached out and turned her so that she was facing an ornate mirror on the wall.

What she saw was the most wonderful creature on the face of the planet and he was standing behind her, his hands laying lightly on her shoulders. She looked at his eyes in the mirror. They held gentleness and kindness, not cold brutality like her husband’s. Again, she bit her bottom lip and then she closed her eyes, concentrating instead on the warmth that his hands brought her. His touch soared through to her soul and she quivered slightly beneath his hands.

He felt her slight tremble and wondered if she could feel the tension between them. If he didn’t release her now, he would turn her to him and take her into his embrace and kiss her incredible lips. Reluctantly, he withdrew his hands and balled them into fists at his side.

"We should go back to the main house. Edward will want to know what I found here."

Hesitantly, she nodded. "Ben, if you and your friend decide to stay here, maybe we could go riding one morning. We have a stable full of magnificent horses. I’m sure we could find one that would suit you." She held her breath. She didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do but she did know that she wanted to see Ben Williams again.

"Uh, maybe we could do that. Are you an accomplished rider, Diana?" Her name sprang from his lips like the most natural thing in his life.

"I can usually hold my own. How about you, Ben, are you good with horses?"

"Yeah, I been around ‘em a lot. Got my own gray mare back home. She’s as gentle and fun lovin’ as she can be. I don’t get to ride her as much as I want but I surely do enjoy it when I get the chance." He smiled for the first time and it lit up his face, his eyes danced with the joy he was feeling.

If it hadn’t before, it did now. Her heart melted at the sight of the handsome man before her sharing a smile, a laugh with her. She smiled fully in return and Buck thought again, She must be the most perfect woman in the world.

They slowly made their way back to the main house. This time, however, they talked all the way. She told him that she had been given a horse for her eighth birthday by her father. She had always thought that was to be the most perfect day in her life but now she wasn’t so sure. She opened up to him like she had never done in her entire life, except with the father that she had loved and lost too early in her life. Buck understood how she felt. He had lost his mother when he was only fifteen and she had been his whole world. His eyes looked sad when he talked about his "mama" and Diana laid a soft, warm hand on his arm. Even through his jacket sleeve, Buck could feel the heat and his arm got goose bumps. He sighed and then moved quickly toward the mansion.

The two of them entered the house and moved regretfully to the den where Ezra and John waited for them. Ezra still sat in the wing chair and when Buck and Diana re-entered the room, he looked up at Buck. For a split second, Buck saw anxiety in his friend’s eyes. Quickly it was gone but Buck knew that Ezra would have words for him later. He made his way to Ezra’s side and whispered in his ear. He then pulled the listening devices from his pocket and showed them to the con man. He then took a step back and stood waiting for Ezra’s next move.

"I am sorry, Mr. Taylor, but I regret that we will not be able to accept your gracious offer of hospitality. I do not stay where I am not trusted, Sir. Ben, say good night to our host. My associate and I have a plane to catch in the morning. If you would be so kind as to have your chauffer bring the limousine around, we will be departing now." Ezra stood and moved toward the door, Buck right beside him.

John didn’t move from his chair but he did wave his hand at Simon. The bodyguard hurried to open the door for the elegant stranger who was walking out on his boss. He had worked for Mr. Taylor for six years and he had never seen anyone walk away from his boss without being dismissed or killed.

Just as Ezra got to the door, John Taylor spoke. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Smith."

Ezra turned and tipped an imaginary hat to the ominous arms dealer. "Thank you for the excellent whiskey." Then he turned and he and the tall lanky agent with him strode purposefully to the front door. The limo was waiting for them and they climbed inside. Neither man said a word all the way back to Aspen.

"How did it go? Did you really get to meet him or was it a meeting with an underling?" Josiah met them at the door to the suite. He had worried about his two friends from the moment they left until he heard the key in the door.

"Oh, we got to meet the almighty John Taylor, all right. What an arrogant bastard! I can’t wait to take him down!" Buck was vehement. He made his way to the small bar and poured himself a tall glass of bourbon.

Ezra watched him and softly said, "Watch yourself, Mr. Wilmington. We will return tomorrow to Mr. Taylor’s humble abode."

Buck turned and glared at Ezra. "What’s that suppose ta mean? You got a problem with how I handled things tonight?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. I want to know right now if we need to get someone else to go inside with me. Mr. Sanchez is right here and I’m sure he’ll be more than capable to act as my associate. It will require some ingenuity on my part but I can handle it. The question looming before us right now is, CAN YOU?"

Steam rose from the scoundrel and his jaw tightened. His hands balled into fists at his side. He glared at the smaller man who now stood toe to toe with him. "Get out of my face, Standish."

Ezra didn’t move. "I want an answer." His voice was barely above a whisper but it carried venom.

Buck moved slightly forward until his chest touched Ezra’s. "You have no right to question me."

"I have every right for it’s my neck on the line here. I don’t intend on dying because you can’t handle the situation. I’m still waiting, Stud."

Buck took a step back like he had just been gut punched. His face turned red and his body trembled with the exertion it took not to ram his fist into his friend’s jaw. Suddenly, he turned and was out the door in seconds. Ezra made no move to follow him and Josiah stood in the middle of the room, stunned. He had never in the three years they had all worked together seen Buck or Ezra as tightly wound as they were tonight.

"What the hell just happened here?" he demanded from the Southerner.

"It was an intense introduction, Mr. Sanchez, and the details are not necessary at this point in time. Excuse me, I think I require a very hot shower immediately." He turned and left a puzzled agent standing alone.

An hour later, Ezra, now dressed casually, made his way down to the bar that adjoined the restaurant. He made his way to the bar and ordered a cognac. He sat down on the stool beside the ladies man. He didn’t say anything, just sipped his drink and waited.

"I can do it, Ez. She just took me off guard. Something about her…. And there’s something about him that immediately got under my skin. You have to admit, he’s an asshole." He turned his face and half smiled at his partner.

"An arrogant one, yes he is. He’s also a deadly one and one wrong move will get us both killed, I have no doubt about it. She’s not worth your life, Buck." Ezra spoke with compassion. He had been in Buck’s situation. He knew how much it hurt to be around someone that you couldn’t have.

"I think you might be wrong there, Pard. But, I know I have your life riding on this too so I’ll fight heaven and earth to restrain myself until the bastard is behind bars. You got my word on it." Buck held out his hand and the two men shook on it.

"I’m counting on you, Mr. Wilmington, for we are going to be staying at the guest house."

"WHAT? You just rejected his offer and I don’t think he was too pleased about it, Ez. What makes you think that he will offer it again?" Buck was totally amazed. Of course, he hadn’t gotten as acquainted with the man as Ezra had, but still…

"Because, my good friend, we rejected his offer and are still alive. He’s intrigued and he will remove all surveillance equipment, at least at the beginning, so that we will stay with him. He wants to study us, both of us. That’s why you have to do everything in your power to resist the exquisite Mrs. Taylor."

Buck looked down at his hands that now surrounded a tall glass of beer. How could he make his friend understand what Diana had done to him. It wasn’t just her looks although she was stunning. It was an instant chemistry between the two, a bonding of souls that one had to experience to fully understand what had transpired between himself and the radiant blonde.

Slowly, he turned to Ezra. "This ain’t got nothin’ to do with her looks or what’s south of the border, Ez. Its…..I don’t know the right word."

"Kismet." Ezra almost whispered the word, it was said so softly.

Buck looked at the man next to him and saw the sadness in his eyes. "Yeah, that’s it. I think maybe you do understand, that feeling that you get when something just feels perfect. That’s what I felt tonight, Ez. It was like she was the lost part of my soul. And I think she felt it too. She barely touched my arm tonight and it was the most sensual feeling I can remember."

"You feel like you could never even breathe again if she wasn’t right by your side. You’re tongue tied when she walks in the room but you never want to see her leave." The undercover expert stared into his glass of cognac, remembering. He took a large sip and then set the glass down.

"What happened to her, Ez?" Buck beseeched softly.

"She went to prison along with her brother. She died while inside, medical complications. I would have waited the three years for her. I guess in some ways, I’m still waiting for her." The Southerner looked closely at his friend. "If this is the way you feel, Buck, maybe it would be better if Josiah took your place. I can make excuses for your absence, both with Taylor and Larabee."

"No! Oh God, please no, Ezra. I have to be there to protect her. Can’t you see that? She needs me to be there for her when this all goes to shit. She’s not what she looks like. She’s vulnerable. I promised you, and I won’t go back on that. I won’t touch her until that bastard is behind bars. But, Ez, I got to be there, I need to be there with her." He pleaded for his very life.

Against his better judgment, Ezra Standish nodded. "Then in we go. As of tomorrow, Edward Smith and Ben Williams go to live with the devil himself."

The two men tapped their glasses together, sealing their fate.

Early the next morning, Ezra received a phone call from the front desk. A man was there, requesting his presence to deliver a message. Ezra sent Buck to deal with the underling. Buck retrieved the note and brought it directly to Ezra, not bothering to read its contents. Ezra would let him know what it said. Besides, Buck knew pretty much what the letter contained.

Ezra opened the envelope and took out the embossed stationary.

Mr. Smith,

I wish to apologize for my mistrust of you last evening and I hope that you will grant me another chance to negotiate with you. My guest house is still at your disposal and has been fumigated. Enclosed are directions to my estate. I hope to see you for lunch.


"The messenger is waiting for a response."

"Well, Mr. Williams, are we prepared to enter the lions den?"

"After you, Mr. Smith."

"Josiah, fax these directions to Denver. We will be staying at this location. I want you to locate it and become familiar with its surroundings. It’s about a forty-five minute drive from here so if the red flag goes up, the cavalry will need to be on its toes. Mr. Sanchez, inform Mr. Larabee that we will be out of touch with him until just before the exchange. At that point, Mr. Smith will need time to initiate the sale of the missiles and he will need to return home to accomplish this. I should be back in Denver by the month’s end. Mr. Williams, inform the messenger that we will be glad to accept Mr. Taylor’s kind offer of food and lodging. I shall start packing."

Edward Smith sat in khakis and a polo shirt by the pool. A scrumptious lunch spread was on the table at his left hand. The umbrella that curved protectfully over the table shaded him from the warm July sun. A tall sun tanned man sat and conversed casually across the table from him. It was a scene that could have been witnessed at any country club across America. But this was not a country club. This was the private estate of a murdering arms dealer who would have killed the man across from him without a moments hesitation if he had been aware that Edward Smith was an ATF agent.

The two men were talking about horses and polo when a woman came from the mansion, her eyes shaded by dark sunglasses. Ezra had never seen this woman before but he assumed that she was John Taylor’s daughter, Cybil. She had raven black hair which was pulled back from face and twisted into a long braid down her back. She was as tan as her father and tall like him, perhaps five foot ten. She moved with the grace of a gazelle, fairly gliding over the cobbled path. Her skin was flawless, her lips red and pouty. She had a small nose and chin and an elegant neck. As she neared the two men, she removed her glasses and roamed her dark brown eyes over Ezra’s body, stopping conspicuously at his groin. After several seconds, she raised her eyes to his face. She smiled tauntingly at him and waited impatiently for her father to introduce her to the stranger.

"Sweetheart, this is my new friend, Edward Smith. Edward, this is my only prodigy, Cybil." Taylor moved to her side and placed a loving kiss on her cheek. He whispered something in her ear which made her smile up at him, the picture of a truly loving child but when she again turned her head towards Ezra, she wore a completely indifferent half smile. Ezra could plainly see that he had been dismissed form her mind.

"I was told two men were staying in the guest house." She purred to her father.

"Yes, dear. I believe Mr. Williams is unpacking. He will probably join us soon if he is not other wise engaged. I believe I saw Lady Di making her way toward the back of the estate." The sarcasm could be seen dripping from his mouth.

Ezra felt his spine stiffen as John talked about Buck and his wife. He had not missed the way Taylor treated his daughter and introduced her as opposed to the way he had greeted his wife just last night. Perhaps Buck had picked up on that already. He certainly had a soft spot for the lady in distress. Ezra was glad that the raven haired daughter had already seemed to discount him as being important. He prayed she would feel the same about Buck.

As if on cue, Buck turned the corner of the pool house and made his way towards the table laden with food. He had finished unpacking the surveillance and detection equipment and now he was ready to eat. He slowed as he saw the young woman standing by Taylor. A sixth sense he had developed quite young about women, warned him that the dark woman before him was dangerous and to be avoided.

He smiled slightly as he stood beside Ezra. He saw the female devouring him with her eyes and then he saw her lick her lips. This was not a good sign. He slouched slightly, looking defeated.

"Darling, this is Mr. Williams, Edward’s associate." Ezra could tell from the introduction that Taylor wanted his daughter to stay away from Ben Williams. He could also tell that Taylor’s wishes were having the exact opposite affect on his daughter. A smile crossed her face that would have made the most licentious of men proud. She oozed to Buck’s side and laid a lecherous hand on his chest. "I’m Cybil. I hope we can get to be real good friends…?" She was clearly asking for his first name.

"Ben, Ben Williams." Buck attempted to move slightly away from her but he was up against Ezra’s chair and he couldn’t move.

"Father, I think I will take Ben on a tour of the estate. You can eat later." She gave him a hungry look that he knew only too well.

Buck looked quickly at Ezra but the con man could be of little help in this situation. The only thing he could say was, "We have work to do, Ben. Don’t be long."

Buck gave him a scathing look as he was led off by lascivious female. She led him to a small rose garden and then beyond to a beautiful man made pond with a statue of a naked man and woman spouting water in the middle of it. At the edge of the pond, Cybil stopped and turned to Buck.

"It’s magnificent, isn’t it?" She purred as she stroked his chest. Obviously she wasn’t talking about the statue.

"It’s very peaceful back here. Are we at the back of the estate?" He tried to ignore her wandering hands. He sensed nothing but pure depravity coming from the daughter of a murdering bastard. She was spoiled, hateful, and exotically intoxicating. "Miss Taylor, I don’t think you should be doing that."

She closed the gap between them and reached a hand behind his head. She pulled him to her and pressed her lips to his. Her tongue demanded entrance and she drove it inexorably deep into his mouth. She moaned deep into his mouth and her other hand dropped seductively to his lower body where she lightly caressed him. He pushed at her shoulders but he could feel himself responding to her enticing touch.

"NO!" He shoved her away from him and she stumbled backwards, tripping over a small rock by the pond’s edge. She tumbled backwards, Arms flying in all directions, she landed with a loud splash in the pond’s mossy water. She screamed a string of profanities, the likes of which Buck had never heard emanating from a female.

‘Oh God’ he thought to himself. "I am so sorry, Miss Taylor." He quickly moved forward to the water’s edge and reached out a hand to help her to her feet. She took it and with his assistance, she removed herself from the water. She glared at him with pure hatred in her eyes.

"No one rejects me!" Her breath can in deep gulps. She shook herself like a dog and started to walk away. Suddenly, she stopped and returned to stand before Buck. Once again, she grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him to her. She kissed him hard and brutal, the seduction gone. "I will have you, Ben. Get used to the idea." She released him and made her way to the mansion.

Buck stood silently for a few moments, the repulsion slowly ebbing, and then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and spat on the ground. He could taste the evil still on his lips. Hesitantly, he made his way back up the path towards the pool and Ezra. As he came out of the rose garden, he noticed the stable. Several horses were in a corral attached to the stable and he changed course to go stand by the corral. He reached out his hand and patted a black mare that came to see if he had anything for her to eat.

"That’s Sadie. She’s mine. Beautiful, isn’t she?"

Buck turned to see Diana standing before him and he answered, "Yes, she is."

Diana blushed ever so slightly and demurely looked at her boots. "I saw you and Cybil heading for the rose garden. You came back alone."

"You were watching me?" he asked teasingly. This was the first time he had seen her today. The feelings were stronger than yesterday but he didn’t feel quite so tongue tied.

"If I admit it, what does that make me?" She bit the corner of her lip and looked up at him, a sparkle in her eye.

"Curious. You have a little dirt on your face," He reached out and with his thumb, he brushed the dirt from her cheek. His thumb continued to caress her skin as if it had a mind of it’s own. With a gulp, he quickly withdrew his hand and took a step back from her.

Her hand went up to touch the spot on her cheek where his thumb had just been. Inwardly, she moaned and with her eyes, she begged him to continue. ‘Just a little longer,’ she thought but she knew he wouldn’t. It was too dangerous.

"Cybil is used to getting her way, isn’t she?" Buck ventured.

Diana laughed. "That’s putting it mildly! She’s spoiled rotten. John indulges her every whim. And what does she do? Just about everything he doesn’t want her to do. I take it he wanted her to notice Edward and not you? She has this way of irritating John but he can’t refuse her. Why, what happened between you two?"

Buck kicked at a small rock by his foot. He really didn’t want to tell Diana what Cybil had done to him. "She made her move and I made mine. She didn’t like my move, I guess. She ended up in the pond."

"You didn’t shove her in the water?" Diana’s hand flew to her mouth. She was trying to hold back the laughter because she knew Cybil and her temper. She probably threatened poor Ben. Cybil wouldn’t be letting this go.

"Yeah, I guess I kinda did. I have no interest in her that way and I don’t just shed my pants for anyone. Guess she didn’t understand that." Buck looked the beautiful blonde right in the eye. "Nothing happened between Cybil and myself and nothing will."

She looked into his midnight eyes and saw the truth. She smiled at him, her heart relieved by his admission. "How about I show you around the estate?"

He sighed. "I would love that."

They spent the next two hours roaming all over the ten acre steel fenced grounds. She showed him the kittens in the stable, the puppies in the kennel, her favorite flowers and her secret spot where she often went to get away. They ended up by the guest house.

"Oh, Ben, just one more thing. Back here, behind the garage, is the rear entrance. Nobody ever uses it but if you ever want to escape without security knowing about it, this is the way." She pointed out the gate that was mostly covered with bushes. Then she handed him a card with holes in it. "It opens with this keycard. Here, take it. You might want to go out some night. It can get kinda stifling around here."

He took it from her and slipped it into his pocket. "Thanks darlin’. Edward’s into this rich life but I sometimes like to get out among the common folk, go honkey tonkin’, have a few beers. This is really sweet of you." He leaned forward and kissed her quickly on the cheek.

Her face lit up and she laughed. "Wish I could go honkey tonkin’ with you, Ben. You are…. Well, I just have never met anyone like you before. I was pretty sheltered growing up and then when father died, I went to live with my uncle and aunt. My uncle knew John from some business dealings, I guess. He introduced us and John was unrelenting in his courtship. My uncle and aunt both encouraged me to marry him and finally, I just gave in. It was a mistake but I’ve never been mistreated and I’ve never wanted for anything, at least anything money could buy. I get awfully lonely sometimes but it’s what I agreed to. I just wish… Never mind. What about you, Ben? Have you ever been married?"

"No, I never found the right one for me. My best friend did and I saw how love and marriage should be. That’s what I want but I used to doubt that I would ever find it. Don’t get me wrong, Diana, I’m not a virgin. I love women, the way they look and smell and move. Mostly, I like the way their minds work. Most men can be very boring. They only think about work , sports, and getting laid. I guess being raised without a father, around a lot of women, I found out that women think of all sorts of things to occupy themselves. That’s why all my friends call me a ladies man, I guess. I know I don’t like to see any woman being abused, whether it’s physical or emotional. I wish I could make every woman happy and I wish I could find the one that would make me happy. When I find that one, I will be the most devout husband and lover in the world."

Inwardly, she cheered to the high heavens. He was the first man she had ever met that she thought she could love and she wanted to be his first too. She had no idea how that was going to happen. She could never leave John, he wouldn’t let her. She was his trophy wife, the one he enjoyed having on his arm at parties and functions but he didn’t love her. He only loved two people, one was Cybil and the other himself. Whatever he did in life, he did it to please one or the other, mostly himself. And for now, she pleased him. So Ben would have to remain only in her dreams. But they were the sweetest dreams she could ever remember.

"I’m sure you will be, Ben. And I hope you find her soon."

"I think I will, darlin’. I can feel it in my heart." The way he looked at her, he was sure she had to understand how he felt about her. He had promised his good friend, his ‘brother’ that he would not make a move on this woman until John Taylor was behind bars and he intended to keep that promise. But the second her bastard of a husband was arrested and put away, he proposed to tell Diana just how much he loved her. God, he hoped Ezra didn’t take too long.

"How did you meet Edward?" She needed to change the subject before she slipped and told him how she felt about him. John was an extremely dangerous man and she didn’t want Ben to do something with her that would get him injured or even killed. Diana may be innocent about some things but she wasn’t naïve. She knew her husband did things that were illegal and heinous. She had found out too late to save herself but she wasn’t too late to save Ben Williams.

"I met Ed about three and a half years ago when he came to Denver. He’s really something. He’s got brains and a wicked sense of humor plus he’s got a heart of pure gold. He would do anything for me and I guess I would do just about anything for him. We watch each other’s back. That’s important in a friend." They had reached the front door of the small house and Buck knew he should go inside and tell Ezra what he had found out. He needed to draw a scaled diagram of the grounds for Josiah and the others. Hesitantly, he declared, "I have to say good bye for now, Diana. I hope to see you again real soon, though. I can’t remember when I had such a wonderful afternoon."

"Me too, Ben. Maybe tomorrow or Sunday, we could go for that ride. I love to ride up the mountain trails first thing in the morning, before the tourists are out and about."

"I’ll ask Edward. Would you mind if he came along? He loves horses as much as I do."

"No, I think that would be a wonderful idea. I would like to get to know him more too. You talk about him so glowingly, he must be a very nice man." John couldn’t complain if she was showing both of his business associates a good time. "Well, until I see you again, Ben, good bye." She backed away from him, smiling. She was humming to herself as she walked down the path to the mansion.

Buck went inside, opened himself a beer and started to work on the detailed drawing. He was just finishing when Ezra came in. He looked up and smiled at his comrade.

"How was your walk with the lovely Miss Taylor?" Ezra got himself a beer and sat at the table beside Buck.

Buck’s face fell and he shook his head. "Screwed up bad, Pard. I ended up pushing her in the pond out back. She’s a psychotic, horny, bitch and she has her mind made up that I’m gonna be lunch. Sorry, just couldn’t make myself lay down and give in."

"I had a feeling that she was going to be a fly in the ointment. Just try to stay out of her sight for now, my friend. This is good!" He was looking over the diagram of the estate grounds.

"Thanks. We lucked out. There’s an old gate right behind the garage here that leads to a separate road. No cameras or security and we have the key!" Buck held out the keycard.

"You didn’t get that from Cybil. I take you spent the afternoon with Mrs. Taylor. Was that wise?"

"Probably not but I got one hell of a tour. By the way, you and I are going riding with Diana on Sunday. Get away from this beautiful hell hole for a while. Okay?"

"Sounds good. Taylor and I are going to spend tomorrow negotiating a missile sale. Try to keep a low profile. You now have the only two women in this county hot after your body. How do you do it?" Ezra shook his head. He had learned during his time with Taylor by the pool that the man was going out of town for a week and he wanted Ezra and Buck to remain as his guests at the estate while he negotiated with buyers. Ezra knew they would have to comply but he didn’t want any trouble from the women. He was well aware of the ladies man propensity for women and he had witnessed the female attraction to Buck. Ezra didn’t believe in animal magnetism. Instead, he believed that women could see through to Buck’s heart and were attracted to his genuine warmth and compassion. With the exception of Cybil Taylor who wanted Buck because her father despised him.

"Believe me, Ez, when Psycho Cybil is around, I’ll be right here in this house. And I know that being around Diana too much would cause an even bigger problem, so again, I’m house bound. Think I’ll check out where the back road leads and then try to make contact with Josiah tomorrow evening."

"Excellent. Tomorrow, I conduct the sale of twelve Stinger missiles. I hope to expedite the exchange of money so that we can, how would you say it, git the hell out of Dodge. You may be having an enjoyable time but I find our host daunting and intimidating and unfortunately, that is who I have to ingratiate myself to. I excused both of us for dinner this evening. Is there anything in the kitchen to eat?"


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