Okay, it was only Monday and he was getting to her already.
Mary Travis took a deep breath and reminded herself why it was she was doing this job. She could have been flying from one end of the planet to another but instead she had opted to work at a local paper even though with her background she could be at the Washington Post or the New York Times. Instead she was the new kid on the block at semi-decent metropolitan paper in New Mexico. While she hated this puff piece she was doing on the agents of the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Bureau, she knew that if she could manage this then the rest was plain sailing. Mary was willing to try anything to build her life here because Billy was depending on her.
Ever since Steven had died, she had lost herself in her work, forgetting about the son that he had left her. For the last two years, she had become a distant memory to Billy, a face that occasionally dropped into to say hello at his grandparents' house, claiming to be his mother. A month ago, Mary had decided that she had enough of being a stranger in her son�s life and it was time to assume the responsibility of being his mother. Of course, being an international journalist was nothing like covering a set beat in one city. Nor was it made any easier by the fact that her first big story was being hampered by a sombre, brooding, egotistical civil servant with delusions of grandeur, especially when he was wearing the face of blond demi-god.
She could deal with this.
She had fought off libidinous Serbian guards who had attempted to strip search her in Kosovo when she was crossing the border. She had even manage to keep her temper as she was forced to watch helplessly as militia men gunned down innocent East Timorese voters. She could sure as hell put up with Chris Larabee, no matter how much of a pain in the ass he was attempting to be.
Still, it took a special kind of arrogance to match those previous experiences and she had to admit he was managing it quite spectacularly. When she had first met him, Mary had guessed he was going to be trouble. He had a pre-requisite image for her in mind and had not liked it when she appeared to conform to none of it. Not to mention that he wanted her, oh she knew that too. She had not missed how his jaw had dropped around his knees when she walked into the room that first morning and Mary was certain that it was this attraction, which he loathed but could not ignore that was making him behave like such a jerk.
Mary sat in her bath, scrubbing her skin raw and trying to rid herself of the stench of garbage that seemed to overwhelm her senses no matter how much scented bath oil and bubble bath she emptied into the tub. She knew what he was up to of course, Mary had been around enough pig-headed men to recognise that he was baiting her, pushing her to see how far he could go before she finally snapped and gave up this whole idea of writing her story. He may get more than he bargained for if he pushed her too far over the edge and she decided to kill him.
No matter how perfectly his dark jeans moulded to that gorgeous rump.
Mary glanced at the clothes piled on the floor, covered in grease stains and soiled from whatever she had picked up when she was down in the sewer with him. As she ran a wash towel over her face, she could picture the satisfied smirk on his face and felt herself flush with a mixture of anger and something else she could not define. There had not been a man that had been able to get under her skin so easily in years and Mary knew herself just how much it took to penetrate her thick journalistic hide.
You�re going to have to do better than that to make me crazy, Mary thought to herself defiantly. Much better than that.
+ + + + + + +
"You were kind of hard on her," Vin commented as he and Chris sat in the bar around the corner from the ATF office about the same time that Mary Travis was envisioning all the wonderful things that could be done to the human body with dangerous farm equipment. Most of Team 7 was scattered around the establishment with Buck only a few stools down, attempting to coax the new owner, a rather sultry and incredibly beautiful Latin American who was viewing his propositions with nothing less than contempt. Ezra was wrestling with a slot machine while Nathan and Josiah were gathered around the pool table as JD watched their game.
"She wanted to see everything," Chris said with a faint smile.
"I don�t think she had planned on being in a sewer for half the day," Vin pointed out, taking a sip of his beer and looking at Chris with amusement even though he valued his life too much to make comment that Chris seemed to enjoy tormenting Ms Travis during their excursion in the city�s sewer system.
"We ain�t in this job for the glamour," Chris remarked, feeling very pleased with himself and recounted the day in his head with fond memory. "By the way, did you get that background check I asked for?" Chris inquired, showing no more interest in the subject as he would if he were requesting a similar investigation into a known suspect.
"Yeah," Vin nodded, remembering the task that Chris had asked him on the quiet and slipped his hand into his jacket to retrieve the data he had printed before leaving the office that evening.
He was about to hand to Chris when the leader of Team 7 said coolly, "Read it to me," drinking down more of his beer with no signs of anticipation. In fact, he appeared as glacial as ever and Vin started to doubt that there was anything personal in the request at all. Maybe Chris just want to know something about the woman because they were going to be stuck with her all week. After all, it was prudent to know what she was about since she would be going into the field with them. It certainly was not out of character for Chris to be this thorough.
"Sure." Vin unfolded the paper and studied its contents before selecting what would be of most interest to Chris. "Let�s see. Mary Susanne Langley, born in Wisconsin 1967 on 17th October, no brother or sisters. Raised by her father, her mother died of cancer when she was ten. Attended UCLA and graduated with honours in political science and communications."
"Skip the resume," Chris said abruptly.
"Okay," Vin nodded and moved his eyes to the more recent information on Mary Travis. "She met and married a Steven Travis while covering a story in the Gulf in 1990 and had a son, William Travis in 1993. Steven was killed while they were in Bosnia in 1997, a stray artillery shell hit the jeep they were in. She walked away, he didn�t. Since then, the kid has been living in town with his grandparents and she has been overseas until last month when she took a job with the Clarion News."
Chris said nothing for a few minutes, absorbing the information before responding quietly, "Guess that explains why she is here." His voice remained neutral allowing Vin no clue as to the growing attraction he felt for her.
"I guess so." Vin was about to remark when he caught sight of Alexandra Styles entering the premises. "Gotta go pard." Vin climbed off the stool as he dropped some change on the bar counter to cover his tab. "I�ll see you tomorrow."
"Have a good time," Chris said politely as he saw the younger man bid the rest of Team 7 goodbye and went to join his lady. He tried not to stare as Vin and Alex offered each other greetings in gentle kisses before leaving the bar. Despite his jaded interior, Chris could not help letting a smile cross his face as they left. They made a good couple and Chris had never seen Vin happier.
Following their departure, Chris turned his attention back to his beer and to thoughts of Mary Travis, especially after today. . .
Earlier that day
She was killing his concentration.
Chris Larabee tried not to notice as he waited patiently for the arrest to go down. For two weeks, they had been tracking a shipment of illegal weapons being brought into the country from some former Eastern Bloc country that was now selling off Soviet hardware to anyone who could pay the price. The weapons were made from ceramic which made their viability as a weapon of assassination extremely attractive since they could pass through metal detectors without drawing any notice. Chris�s sources had pinpointed the transaction as taking place at an abandoned factory in the seedier part of town.
While studying the construction blueprints of the structure, Chris discovered that there was an access tunnel that led from the main floor where the purchase would be made leading directly into the sewer system. Chris had no intention of letting two months of hard work go down the drain, so to speak, and decided that it was wise to cover that exit point when the ATF agents finally converged upon the suspects. Unfortunately, Chris would not risk any of his men with a civilian nipping at their heels and thus found himself at the sewer juncture leading from the factory manhole with Mary Travis.
As in all weapons arrests, Chris anticipated a lot of firing and trusted his men to follow procedure as well as being able to take care of themselves without his step by step guidance. Besides, he could not expect them to baby sit a reporter and he knew there was no way in hell she would stay in the car. Of all the duty that was currently allotted for this situation, this seemed the least likely to endanger the woman and Chris took it upon himself as the leader of Team 7 to keep an eye on her.
"We�re moving into position," Chris heard Vin�s voice announce through the cackle of static on the two way radio.
"Good." Chris nodded, wishing he was up above instead of being stuck here surrounded by the rushing sound of foul water and the fetid stench of rotting things he did not wish to identify.
He glanced at Mary and saw she was fighting bravely not to be affected by their surroundings. Despite their less than glamorous location, Chris could not help but notice her. Through the near overwhelming odour of the place, he could still scent the light whiff of her perfume and instead of wearing her hair in a braid, she wore it loose today. He tried not to stare at the cascade of gold shimmering whenever she moved even though he wanted so much to run his fingers through it and breath its scent into his lungs.
"They�re moving in," he remarked, trying to say something clever and witty but barely managed coherent or intelligible when he was around her. It had been so long since any woman had sparked his interest that Chris no longer knew how to talk to the gender and Mary, well she was not like any other woman he had ever known. The opposite sex was normally predictable in their mannerisms but Mary was nothing like what he had been accustomed to. It made Chris uncomfortable just seeing how Mary looked at him with that bemused smile, like she knew everything he was thinking and could see through the facade of indifference he had been wearing like a second skin around her.
"I heard." She nodded and cringed involuntarily at the sight of a rat running on the walkway on the other side of the tunnel. The sight of it made her lean further back into the wall until she decided that she did not want to make contact with the grimy surface and returned to her original position.
"You could have stayed in the car you know," Chris remarked, seeing her discomfort at being in this place but could not help feeling somewhat entertained by her attempts to hide it.
"You could have let me go with the others," she returned, her blue-grey eyes sparkling with white heat and Chris suddenly had a sense of just how upset she was to be trapped down here with him. Still, despite himself, he was impressed that she had not complained as he would expect most women in a similar situation to do.
"I ain�t going to let you get under their feet," Chris said promptly. "You could get hurt or worse yet, you could get them killed." The remark was inflammatory and he knew it but he wanted to see if he could get a rise out of her.
Which he did.
Mary marched right up to him and found herself standing inches away from him as she declared hotly, "I am not some wet behind the ears amateur you know." She glared at him. "I have just as much sense as the next person to not walk into trouble. I know how to take care of myself Mr Larabee."
"That may be, but this is my team and I say what goes," he said, taking a step back because he did not like being so close to her. When she was near him, Chris became so aware of her he could not think straight. He had to keep looking at her forehead because if he looked at her hair, he�d want to touch it and her eyes could just drown him in colour. He was not even going to start with what her lips did to him because thinking about their soft, silken texture was almost bordering on arousal. Somehow, no amount of explanation was going to suffice if that arousal led to a more physical reaction.
"If you are attempting to bait me Mr Larabee," Mary stared at him, glad that he had withdrawn because she was somewhat taken back by how his closeness had effected her as well. How could such a devastating looking man end up being so damned annoying? Mary knew what he was doing and she was not about to let him get away with it, nor was she going to let him see that he was getting to her. "It has been tried by better men then you."
"Don�t flatter yourself Ms Travis," Chris turned his back on her, a sneer on his face as he turned away. "You�re not my type."
"Oh that�s a load of crap and we both know it," Mary found herself saying, unable to stop herself and wincing when she made that statement. However, he had done the impossible by provoking her temper into flaring. "You�ve been lusting after me over ever since we met."
"Lusting after you?" he retorted, bristling with ire that he had been caught out but there was no reason for her to know that. "If keeping an eye on that pretty little butt of yours constitutes as lusting�." Chris realised what he said and groaned inwardly.
"My butt, though pretty," Mary said with complete dignity and some measure of triumph. "Is none of your concern. I suggest you avert your eyes elsewhere and let me do my job."
"Your job," Chris said trying to restrain his temper for it was edging towards breaking point almost as precariously as hers,"is to sit and be quiet while I do my job and not get under our feet like some puppy."
"You had better not be calling me a puppy." She seethed at the description.
"Well you�re certainly behaving like a bit�.."
Fortunately, Vin�s voice on the two way radio interrupted Chris before he could quite finish that particular sentence (thankfully). "Chris! One of them is coming your way!"
The uncertainty that she had seen in his face seemed to vanish immediately and Chris immediately went for his gun . "Stay behind me," he said quietly as his eyes darted towards the direction that manhole lay.
Mary was not about to argue and immediately narrowed the gap that had been so disconcerting before. She found herself following him closely as he advanced up the tunnel without a hint of apprehension in his face. She wondered how he could be so tongue tied when speaking to her and be so self assured when facing down a criminal. The man was a puzzle, she had to admit and not only that, a rather attractive one. When he stared at her with that intense gaze of his she could be tempted into melting if not for the fact that he had such a rotten demeanour and antagonistic nature. Some women went for deep, penetrating looks, not her. Any woman falling for Chris Larabee would have a more pleasant time dashing herself against rocks than attempting to maintain a relationship with him.
"How many do you think they�ll be?" she asked.
"I don�t know," he replied with that maddening calm. "Be quiet, I can�t hear," he ordered.
Mary fell silent, observing him as he moved because he was an entirely new creature now. He moved like an animal, silent and predatory. Confidence oozing from every step forward, she felt slightly awed by the power of him. His movements were sleek and deliberate, being something of an achievement, considering where they were. For an instant, he reminded Mary of a jungle cat, moving through the trees with lethal agility and stealthy grace. She could sense the danger emanating from him as he continued up the tunnel with a predatory gleam in his eyes that made her heart beat faster in her chest.
Chris did not like this. He could not hear anyone and yet Vin would not give him the warning unless he believed that there was real danger. He especially disliked the fact that he had a civilian with him and if anything were to happen to her, he would be in a world of trouble. It was difficult to make out sound inside the passageway because the running water, rats and other vermin scampering in the dark was confusing. He should have heard someone coming this way already.
"Are you sure someone is coming?" she asked, breaking the silence and giving away their position.
"Do I have to shut you up myself?" Chris looked over his shoulder and issued that warning with a menacing stare.
"You don�t have to be so rude about it," she pointed out and saw him bristling with exasperation. "All you had to do was tell me."
"I�m telling you now," his voice sharpened. "Shut up."
"Alright!" she bit back when suddenly, she saw something moving in the darkness. "Look out!"
Chris turned around just to see someone coming at him. He barely had time to move out of the way when he saw a glint of light in the darkness that could only be one thing. "Get down!" he shouted and shoved her backwards, away from the line of fire. He did not notice what happen to her after that because Chris had less than a second to fire. His gun was already out and did not have the disadvantage of needing to be unholstered. He fired twice into the darkness and dropped to his knees, hoping that the position would give him some shelter from the returning fire. Fortunately none was forthcoming. All he heard were gurgling sounds in the nearby distance ahead and splashing sounds behind him. Chris started towards the former.
The man lay dying in a puddle of blood, choking on the fluid as it drained out of his neck and filled into his mouth. His throat was a mess of torn flesh, shredded by the two bullets that ended his life almost immediately after making contact with his skin. Chris watched dispassionately as the life slipped away from his open eyes and saw that his gun was still clasped in his hand. Picking up the weapon carefully, Chris bagged it and secreted it away for evidence.
"Bastard," he heard Mary�s voice and immediately turned back to her.
He had not seen where she had been during the whole incident and remembered pushing her away to safety. He swore under his breath when he saw her climbing back to the walkway, dripping with sewer water and other unmentionables after he had unknowingly pushed her over the edge into the sewer canal. She was covered in dark grime and the scent that he had found so intoxicating before was completely washed away with the rancid aroma of whatever was in the water. She was soaked to the skin and Chris had to bite his lip to maintain his composure. He had no doubt that if he laughed she would kill him where he stood. Quite an effort considering he was the one armed.
"Are you alright Ms Travis?" he asked with a perfectly innocent expression on his face.
There was a clump of soiled leaves in her hair and she picked it out of the tangle of golden strands before tossing it away. Lifting her chin up with the poise of and grace that could only come being a lady, she brushed the errant locks of hair out of her face and replied. "I am perfectly alright Mr Larabee, why do you ask?"
"No reason," Chris answered, allowing her dignity.
She was wearing a plain white t-shirt which was now grey and mottled, not to mention that it clung to her skin so tightly that Chris found himself clearing his throat at the sight and forcing his eyes to look elsewhere as he removed his coat. "Here." He handed it to her. "Wear this."
"I do not need it, Mr Larabee," she said stiffly and made no move to take the garment.
"Well I need you to wear it," Chris replied as he walked past her and shoved it into her hands, giving her no choice but to take it, all the while avoiding looking at her. "Bra-less and wet is not the way to win my cooperation," he declared as he walked towards the manhole they had used to get to this point. "Besides," he added with a perfectly devilish smile as he glanced her way again and Mary flushed with embarrassment he was not looking at her face, "you�re cold."
+ + + + + + +
"I�m cold," Mary grumbled as she eased back into her bath tub and finally rid herself of the stink from the day�s adventure. "As if he didn�t have a good look first." She snorted as she closed her eyes and allowed the warm water to coax the tension from her bones.
Suddenly the telephone next to the bath tub rang and Mary swore lightly under her breath as she edged out of the water long enough to reach it. Easing back into position once she had the receiver in her hand, Mary let the warm water swirl over her skin once more.
"Hello," she greeted.
"Well darling, I had no idea you have succumbed to the trappings of domestic living," the familiar voice responded.
"Julia," Mary exclaimed with genuine pleasure. "Where are you?"
"Would you believe I am in the same area code as you?" her caller responded. "I�ve had a job go frightfully wrong on me and I have to stay in town a little longer to explain to my client why I�m not delivering the goods."
"Well, it could not possibly compare to the day I�ve had," Mary retorted. "Do you know that ATF agents are more pain in the ass than FBI or CIA?"
"I gather we are talking about a man," Julia guessed accurately.
"Oh yes," Mary nodded. "He has to be the most annoying, exasperating, arrogant son of a bitch that has ever walked, no slithered across the earth."
There was silence following that statement.
"Julia, you still there?" Mary asked after the pause had grown quite lengthy.
"Yes I am but you are aware of course, that is the same description you gave Steven when you first met him."
Mary hung up the phone.
Continues in Tuesday
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