Four sisters who, on the surface, appear so different from one another. Together with varying childhood experiences they grow into four very different women who discover, at the heart, they are not so dissimilar after all.
All around Gregory Webb spotlights were roving throughout the artificially lit yet otherwise dark room. Music blared and flashes from cameras were blinding. He sighed wearily and put his drink down on a near by table with a thud then, pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, he leant his substantially tall frame against a stone column. He didn’t usually come to these sorts of events, and the headache that was pounding away was starting to remind him why. The decision to attend the fashion event had been a last minute one based on being faced with another long evening alone, put up against the appeal of the opportunity to meet someone interesting. But so far the evening was proving fruitless in filling the empty void in him, like every day and night that had passed before and he had met no one of substance, just the usual groupies. As a result it was only relatively early and he had already consumed one too many glasses of warm champagne.
As a former Aussie Rules football star he was 6 foot 2 inches of muscled sinew, lithe, fit, and he knew women found him boyishly handsome, even if at 42 boyhood was far behind him. He had always had plenty of female attention, if not company and he had the ex wives to prove it. A media personality and sporting commentator with recent political aspirations it might seem to the outside world that he had it all. In fact Greg had been told many a time during interviews he did have it all. But Greg was left wondering how; if he had it all, when he really looked, the reality was…he had nothing. Nothing lasting, nothing whole, nothing real. Aside from his political dreams, he had no future plan, only a vivid, colourful and successful, career wise at least, past. For every woman who wanted to be bedded by him, there were twice as many people in line to crucify him for the latest brash off the cuff statement or opinion that was his trademark. And that week had been no different to any other. His answering machine had been blinking epileptically when he’d entered his apartment that evening after another afternoon on the set of his show and as was becoming a more frequent habit of late, he left them unlistened to. They were always the same anyway, “How dare you”, “Who do you think you are?”, “Better hope I don’t come across you in a dark ally”, “Misogynistic bastard” etc and so on. The very things that had made him famous, his scathing intellect and fast paced wit, were also the very same things that daily threatened to pull him down. He was tired of it, and if the truth be told, lonely. Greg knew it was the loneliness that caused the irritability that fostered the increasingly outrageous things he said. But he was also aware that without the loneliness his career as he knew it could be over, and in the past that thought had held him in check, but now he was prepared to let it go. The things he had previously sought after, no longer seemed to matter, they were hollow. If he really had 'made it' where were the people to share 'it' with him? His family had disowned him. They had supported him in his sporting career but as life had taken Greg in a direction that was a direct contrast to everything they believed in, everything they had brought him up to believe, slowly slowly the lines of communications had closed down. His father still tried, out of a sense of duty Greg supposed cynically, his mouth twisting derisively, but he himself held no interest in banging his head again against his fathers narrow minded religious brick wall.
Greg was dragged out of his maudlin musings by the shrieking gaiety of a group of women not far from where he was standing, at the foot of the catwalk, coinciding with a new wave of overly loud, base thumping music. Just as he was thinking about heading for the exit his attention was drawn by what was causing the group such amusement. It was the lingerie selection. Greg did an unconscious double take and felt his mouth go dry, but it wasn’t the gossamer garments that detained his attention.
Making her way very elegantly down the catwalk was the most beautiful woman Greg had ever seen in his life. She was a porcelain vision. Tall for an Asian woman, about 5 foot 8 inches without the stilettos Greg guessed, she had the slim build and petite bone structure, as one would expect. Her face was oval going down to a nicely shaped chin, high slanted cheekbones, with almond shaped brown eyes that beheld a piercing intensity. Her lips were full and painted cherry red. Her hair, which was shiny & black, hung in elegant waves to halfway down her back and over one straight finely boned shoulder, highlighting the delicate structure of her collarbone. She wore a bronze chemise with spaghetti straps, the skirt of which was slit up the front to the bust line which, as she walked, showed tempting glimpses of her flat, almost concave stomach and burgundy satin knickers worn underneath. The top of the garment was loose fitting and one strap slipped off the shoulder not hidden by her hair, exhibiting a peek of the burgundy satin bra that encased her small pert breasts. Over all of this she wore a billowing see through gold chiffon dressing gown cum jacket that barely covered the length of her attire, itself finishing just below her bottom leaving the expanse of her slim yet shapely legs on display.
The woman paused at the end of the runway, one hip thrust forward, and after blankly sweeping the crowd in front of her, her eyes settled on Greg. She tilted her chin defiantly at his blatant perusal then turned and strutted back down the runway in that jarringly brisk style that models do, heels clacking, narrow hips swaying enticingly.
Other models came out and Greg waited tensely with bated breath hoping against hope that the beautiful woman would come out again. His wait was rewarded about ten minutes later. This time she wore a floor length sheath of gold silk, the front dipped low to her navel. The top was a halter neck, tied behind her head leaving the expanse of her back bare to where her bottom swelled. When she reached the end of the catwalk this time she turned immediately then cocked her head over her shoulder, hands on hips, to give the full effect. Greg stood with his feet astride, hands in trouser pockets pushing the edges of his jacket aside, completely transfixed. Her eyes caught his briefly, this time her expression was measured. One appearance after another he watched her return to the catwalk during the hour-long segment, the details of the outfits blending into another, they were irrelevant. This woman could have worn a paper bag and she would still stop traffic.
Finally it was the encore and the models all returned to the catwalk together in a long line, wearing the original outfits they had modelled. They posed for photos and then exited the stage into the crowd via the steps at the front of the catwalk, mingling with the prospective buyers. Greg desperately wanted to approach the woman but hesitated. The paparazzi were everywhere. His reputation was notorious and for once he cringed inwardly at the thought of making front-page news, and dragging this exotic creature down with him. So instead he held back hoping for an opportunity to speak with her alone, away from the crowds and the media. A journalist approached him and asked for a quote on the future direction of his show, and Greg gave some banal vague responses.
Eventually an opportunity presented itself. There were large areas of free space opening up in the crowd now as people had started to exit. Greg saw his mystery woman break free from the group she was standing with and giving a furtive look over her shoulder to scout the crowd, she headed to the rear of the room and slipped backstage. Moving purposely through the crowd Greg followed her path. When he slipped behind the curtain he paused momentarily to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim light. When he could see clearly again he felt his heart race with elation and excitement. Not a couple of feet in front of him in the dimly lit access way was the woman he was seeking standing with her back to him, one hand braced against the wall. As he approached her soundlessly he noted the exact moment she became aware of his presence, her body stiffening in recognition, but she only turned her head slightly to confirm she was no longer alone. Her profile was exquisite, the lines, angles and proportions couldn’t have been more perfect than if a master painted them. Greg felt himself particularly drawn to the line of her gently rounded chin and the flowing line of her jaw where it met her neck. His finger twitched with the barely restrained urge to caress her there.
Fully intending to strike up a conversation Greg surprised himself when instead he reached out a hand and cupped her shoulder. As she regarded him, glancing behind her, a knowing gleam came into her eye. Greg took a step closer so that his body was almost touching hers and felt a frisson of awareness shoot through him from chest to groin. Pleading temporary insanity he pulled her back against the length of his body, his other hand grasping her hip anchoring her to his male firmness, making her aware of his arousal. He felt her suck in her breath and release it slowly, shakily. He didn’t feel that steady himself. She leant her head back against his chest and sighed as his hand on her hip moved easily across the silky fabrics she wore and rested against the flat plane of her abdomen, his long fingers massaging skilfully. Heat exploded through Greg as she wiggled her silk clad bottom against his arousal, firmly pushing, punishing. He moaned with torture and tightening his grip on her shoulder painfully, lowered his seeking lips to the cream expanse of her neck.
She cried out as his fingernails bit into her shoulder, back arching away from him in uncontrollable desire as his warm lips and tongue nibbled and suckled her neck and ear lobe. The hand that wasn’t supporting her weight against the wall reached behind her, behind him, grabbing the taught muscle of his male buttock through the expensive material of his suit, crushing it in her fingers. Lust was a fickle bitch, she thought disjointedly, of all the times to make itself known.
She had slipped out the back supposedly undetected searching for her target only to have Mr Wonderful follow her a few minutes later. For some inexplicable reason her attention had been drawn to him in the crowd, when she’d been up on the catwalk. His height she supposed made him stand apart from the others in the crowd. The minute she recognised him for the notorious womaniser he was she should have calculated that Gregory Webb would provide just the type of attention she didn’t need, to throw caution and propriety to the wind and follow her into a restricted access area just to get his rocks off. Contempt filled her as she turned her head and saw the telling flame of interest in his eyes, arousal in the flush of colour on his cheeks, and she easily guessed his intentions. Her fingers twitched with her enthusiastic desire to take him out. She longed to wipe the smile off his face and rid all women kind of his arrogance forever but a tingle of awareness, her sixth sense, told her she couldn’t. They were watching…She couldn’t blow her cover.
Then he’d had the audacity to touch her and she was shocked, experiencing a jolt of sensation she’d never known before that moment. Everywhere his hand had touched her body she’d felt sparkles of sensation zapping her, an awareness she’d never believed could exist. Then in the pit of her belly she noticed warmth radiating outward, upward to her breasts. The small mounds of her breasts suddenly felt unusually heavy, her nipples tightened traitorously in reaction.
When he had pulled her back against his body she no longer knew herself or believed herself to be in control of her actions. And now he whispered sweet nothings in her ear, suggestions of wicked things he’d like to do to her and her to him. His words and the touch of his lips and teeth on her earlobe brought her out in a prickly type of heat all over. His strong rough hand that was on her belly slipped downwards and under the hem of the flimsy chemise she wore. Arousal shot through her from the core of her womanhood to the nub of her nipple at the sensation of his hand sliding against her bare skin. He returned his hand to the flat plane of her stomach, skin on skin now, and continued his ministrations as before. The hand at her shoulder moved to caress her collarbone briefly with a firm touch before he reached down and cupped her small breast in his large hand. The heat from his palm seemed to burn through the flimsy fabric. Writhing under his touch the sounds breaking free from her throat sounded like the noises a wild animal would make.
She tried to muster her focus, fought valiantly to rally coherent thought back into play. She had always been so hard, always been so apart from sexual encounters, on the outside looking in, manipulating the situation to her own ends. Cool calm and collected, that was who she was, and who she had always expected to be. Then his fingers slipped beneath the cup of her bra touching the taught nub of her engorged nipple. He pinched the pebbled tip between two fingers and she gasped, bucking against him. She was on the verge of crying out for more, when she caught herself at the very last minute. When she did finally allow herself to verbalise what she was feeling she cried out in Mandarin, staying in character.
“Do you speak English?” His desire thickened voice husked in her ear. At the same time the hand at her belly slipped downwards to the core of her feminine heat, her centre. Through the silk of her panties he used his thick skilful fingers to rub against her there. Colour and heat infused her skin as she experienced the wet rush of liquid between her legs and knew he must have felt her reaction.
“Do you speak English?” He repeated and she shook her head wildly, continuing her foreign litany. Her world blurred confusingly as Gregory Webb suddenly spun her in his arms and pushed her forcefully back against the wall. She looked up at him, gasping for breath; his hands leaning against the wall on either side of her, and the enormity of his size overwhelmed her. He was huge! Almost two head lengths above her in height, her head only came up to the centre of his chest. Lowering her lashes coyly to mask her confused, aroused emotions she parted her lips and ran her tongue along her bottom lip. He leant in, pushing one knee between her thighs, one hand slipped to the small of her back anchoring her against the front of his steely body. With his other hand he gently lifted her face. She felt his gaze burning into her and she raised her eyes to his, struck by the full force of his passion. Then he kissed her.
Warm lips moved sensuously against her own, lingering tenderly. She felt the hot rasp of his tongue brushing the seam of her lips asking for entry. With a gasp she acquiesced and felt his moan of pleasure rumble through his chest under her hands that were pressed against the warm wall of his body. She tightened her fingers scrunching his shirtfront in her fists. Tentatively she returned his kiss, her tongue coming out to meet his own. He pushed his hips forward against hers and she felt his arousal pushing against her belly despite the barrier of his trousers. Her knees turned to jelly. The hand at her back slid down the swell of her outer thigh to slip again beneath the hem of her chemise and up to her hip where his fingers played with the thin elastic of her panties.
“Please tell me your name?” He asked, breaking off the kiss suddenly. His breathing was as hard and laboured as her own.
There was a sudden flurry of activity beside them as the curtain was whisked back and one of the Model Directors discovered them.
“Non, non, non!” He shrieked at them in French, a clipboard tucked under one arm, his finger waving back and forth at Gregory Webb in censure before carrying on berating him in English. “No messing with the models. Never! Not at all.” He stopped his advance and put his hands on his boyishly slim hips, waiting for them to break their embrace. She was slowly getting her wits back and Gregory Webb looked down at her frowning.
“Tell me your name.” He begged placing quick feverish kisses on her passion-swollen lips.
“My…name…?” She whispered haltingly. Focus…focus!!! Her mind screamed at her urgently. The director stepped forward and grabbed her arm prising her from Gregory Webb’s grasp. As she was being pulled away Greg tightened his hold on her wrist jarring her out of the other mans possession. He kissed her again, quickly, firmly.
“Tell me your name!” He demanded.
“My name…is…Isobel” She finally stuttered out her alias, her heavy French accent creeping in.
“Isobel.” He repeated, trying the sound of it out. The director grabbed her again and this time Greg let her go, now that he had at least some small hope at finding her again with a name to go on. The director let go an angry tirade in French directed at Isobel, which she shut out of her mind.
She was back. Her momentary aberration had passed. Now that she was free from Gregory Webb’s presence, from his possessive hold she could think clearly again. She couldn’t afford to let female emotion get in way of her duty. What she had done was stupid and in all likelihood had cost her a successful mission. She could be pulled off active duty for a slip up like this, an error more reminiscent of someone new to the field, not an agent of her calibre with years of experience under her belt. She had been deep undercover many times, kissed and groped many more times for that matter and nothing like this had ever happened before!
She could feel his eyes boring into her back as she was dragged away, stumbling in her heels, but she raised her head high, defiantly. She would not look back at him. She would not allow her eyes to roam over his ruggedly handsome face, his tall lithe frame, one last time. Chances were she would never meet him again. Would never be held by him again. Would never be kissed by him again. She would never again experience the riot of emotions that he had evoked in her. She felt her heart harden. The woman had to be pushed aside. The government machine that she was had to rule her body and mind. She had to remember who she was, how much was riding on her shoulders at any given moment. And she had to forget the man who would never know that her name was not Isobel. He would never know that she had in fact been named Precious by her parents, because once upon a time, a long time ago, they had thought she was…
“What the hell was that?” The angry voice of her boss demanded several hours later when Precious had returned to Headquarters.
“Give me a break Simmons. It’s been a truly lousy day.” She responded breaking from her usual monotone. Her flight from Sydney to Canberra had been delayed. It had been 18 hours since she had last slept. Precious couldn’t sleep on planes. She couldn’t sleep in public places full stop. She always had to be alert, always watching. Even when the government ran one of their own transports she could never sleep. Allies changed in the blink of an eye.
The man who stormed up to her as she approached her desk was short, stout, bald and fuming, his face so red Precious thought he was actually going to explode this time. Norman Simmons was head of the division, but he was a public servant and a statistician. He had never been in the field, he would never understand. He stopped in front of her, planting a hand on his hip, the other he pointed at her.
“You were compromised Agent Vasya. I’m pulling you!”
“No way Simmons! I was in no way compromised. I handled it.” She responded heatedly, throwing her bags down to the floor at her feet in anger. She heard her laptop make a thudding sound as it contacted the hard ground. Her frustration level was high.
“Have you forgotten Agent Vasya that your chip is more than just a homing device and birth control? Everything you feel, everything you come into contact with is analysed. I know exactly what was going on down there, and it wasn’t part of the plan.”
“I don’t see what the problem is. Gregory Webb’s unsolicited intervention turned out to be very fortuitous.” Precious replied between gritted teeth, trying her best to hold her anger in check. It wouldn’t do to let him know that he could get under her skin. She had a reputation to uphold.
“Intervention!” Simmons spluttered.
“They witnessed the whole thing and figured I was just some piece of skin. Obviously the kind of woman they were chasing for some fun. I was issued with an invitation to the after party where my mission was accomplished. Case closed.”
“I want a report on my desk by Monday.”
“Monday? That’s a little long isn’t it?” Precious questioned the break in protocol. Usually a comprehensive report of the mission would need to be completed within the next couple of hours so that the powers at be could spend the next week doctoring it to make it acceptable to table at the next meeting with the Minister for Defence.
“And your debriefing is going to have to wait.” She lifted an eyebrow in query. “You’re getting on a plane and going straight back to Sydney, tonight.”
“Just give me the brief.” Precious demanded barely able to contain the weariness behind her command.
“You are going to love this.” Simmons tossed a file onto her desk. The front cover of the manilla folder popped open and when Precious saw the picture inside she felt a wave of cold go through her body but she managed to restrain from outwardly shivering. She looked at her boss nonchalantly.
“So what am I this time? The hero or the hit man?” She held her breath awaiting his answer, while her posture and voice retained her blasé mask.
“The Australian Government doesn’t make a habit of knocking off its own citizens Vasya.” He chastised in response to her seemingly emotionless query.
“And yet it happens.” She pointed out gravely.
“Well not today. Today this man has friends in high places amongst other things, and no one wants him to get rubbed out. It doesn’t look good on the news.” Simmons explained rationally. “Make contact and get him to a safe house. I’ll be in touch.” He walked away. Once Precious was sure Simmons was occupied elsewhere she leant her hands on the desk in front of her; fingers splayed out, and hung her head. Her long hair bound in its ponytail flopped over her shoulder brushing her cheek, reminding her of the gentle hands that had caressed her there so recently.
She was tired. But she had to go on. Raising her head again she looked at the photograph of Gregory Webb on display in the open folder. It was a publicity shot. His light brown wavy hair was perfectly style, if a little on the long side, his hazel eyes were bright and staring directly at the camera. Laugh lines were chiselled deep around his mouth, but otherwise he could easily pass for mid to late 30’s instead of late 40’s. He looked tanned vibrant and happy. He appeared to be full of life. And now it was her job to keep him that way. ‘Fickle, fickle bitch.’ She cursed to herself.
Greg cursed inwardly again for about the millionth time since he’d let Isobel get dragged out of his arms. He had never felt so frustrated in his life. The previous evening he had watched Isobel exit the charity fashion show with a bunch of dubious looking guys in suits. Unable to get near her again due to the security of the group she was with he could only stand by and watch as they escorted her into their limo and then she was gone into the night. After that he’d started asking questions with some of the event organisers, who put him onto the modelling agencies. Greg quickly discovered no one had heard of a model named Isobel. Something screwy was going on. At the top of his list was the growing realisation she’d stiffed him with a fake name. As he’d gone about his day his inner tension had grown. He had met this beautiful, intriguing woman who had done things to his emotions he hadn’t felt in years, had maybe never felt before ever, and she was apparently no where to be found. In between sessions on his radio gig that day he had used the Internet to search the phone book and online search engines. But he’d come up empty handed. Now driving home from work it was starting to feel as if their meeting, the kiss, all of it, had never happened. And he hated that feeling because it meant the days were going to continue to stretch on before him as they always had. He’d had a 5-minute reprieve during which he’d hoped his life was going to finally change.
A horn blared from the car behind breaking him out of his reverie and Greg eased his vehicle on through the intersection. He drove along the dual carriageway onto a stretch of road that he knew had several school crossings on it and adjusted his speed accordingly. His attention was suddenly drawn to his rear vision mirror. It was completely taken up by the bright red bonnet of the car behind him. Whoever they were, they were close! Greg swore out loud at the idiot drivers’ stupidity. He tapped his breaks a couple of times hoping to put the wind up them and get them off his tail. His brows drew together as he watched the car drop back in response.
The next thing Greg knew a red vehicle popped into view in his right side mirror and it was moving fast! As it drew level with his own car Greg looked to the side quickly hoping to catch a glimpse of the driver but found he couldn’t see through the very dark, most likely illegal, tint on the windows. His irritation at the irresponsible driving conflicted with admiration for the very nice, very new, very expensive looking candy red Commodore HSV sedan. It made his own modest, mid range; couple of years old sedan look like a bomb!
‘The hoons have the best cars’ he thought to himself sourly, his mouth twisting in a grimace of annoyance. The car accelerated again to shoot past him seemingly oblivious to the approaching school crossing 500 meters ahead. Greg shook his head in disgust. As he watched the car speed away towards the crossing he saw it cross back into his lane without indicating. Then the lollipop lady stepped out, her flags raised. The chain of events that followed happened so quick that Greg had trouble piecing them together until much, much later. The Commodore braked suddenly and solidly, no gentle tapping for this guy. And Greg was so preoccupied with how bad the other persons driving was he was slow to process what was happening, slow to react, and even slower to brake. Cursing loudly, he pulled the steering wheel down to the left and swerved off the road, to avoid a collision with the offending vehicle in front of him.
Greg felt the steering wheel push into his chest on impact as his body slid forward, fighting the seat belt. Involuntarily his head whipped forward and whacked against his hands on the steering wheel. Somewhere in his mind he registered the sting of his signet ring cutting his forehead. While all this was happening his ears were filled with a metallic crunching noise, and quite suddenly Greg was pushed back into his seat again by his air bag inflating somewhat belatedly. Then just a suddenly everything stopped. The car was making ticking and hissing noises. The crumpled bonnet of the car filled his blurry field of vision through the windshield.
Through the increasing haze of pain in his head Greg fought to push the already deflating air bag out of his way so that he could reach the door handle. He tugged on the silver hand a couple of times and then it gave way with a satisfying click. The door swung open with a creak. Greg turned slowly in his seat so that he could thrust his feet out the door and rest them on the footpath. He hunched over to rest his throbbing head in his hands. Slowly sounds were filtering through the fog of shock to be registered; children shouting, sirens in the distance, other cars rolling past the accident site slowly. Then he heard the ‘clack clack clack’ of approaching heels, and his senses were overwhelmed by a decidedly feminine perfume. Through blurry pain filled eyes Greg looked up to address the woman approaching him, the driver of the red commodore.
“You stupid CRAZY BI…” Greg’s jaw dropped open and he cut himself off mid ranting tirade as his vision cleared and there before him, hands on hips, a chilly expression fixed on her face as she regarded him with unfeeling eyes, was Isobel.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
“Here let me help you.” She offered her small hand to him, deliberately ignoring his question. He stayed where he was a moment longer, obviously weighing up whether she was a psycho nut bag stalker or not, then must have decided to take his chances either way. With a groan Gregory Webb lifted his substantial frame slowly from the drivers seat of his car. Even slightly hunched over from pain, he towered above her slight frame. Precious moved towards him placing a steadying hand on one of his shoulders. The other hand she pressed against his chest, trying her best to block out the feel of the rippling play of his six pack beneath the thin cotton of his business shirt. She insinuated herself under Greg’s arm, assisting to support his weight until he regained his usual equilibrium, and started to lead him away from his car.
“Where are you taking me?” Precious felt him resist against her leading hold. He took a look around him surveying the commotion. Then he spotted his car. His body tensed beneath her fingers. He had driven into a power pole and his car had come off second best. Precious saw the front end was totalled. He was lucky he wasn’t killed. But she knew that at that very moment he didn’t appreciate quite how lucky he actually was. With that thought in mind she did her own reconnaissance of the situation, looking around her quickly.
Precious had been tailing Greg from a discreet distance from the minute he’d left the secure car park at the radio station. She had been going through different scenarios in her mind about how she might orchestrate a meeting as she followed sedately behind. When she had noticed that he was being tailed by another car, in front of her, much closer and therefore more brash, it had been time to shift to plan B. She had needed to intercept him immediately! It had been a risk. Precious had gambled that in creating an accident the hired gun would continue on their way, not wanting to draw attention to themselves with such a large crowd of people around. But they would stay nearby and watch. Someone was always watching.
“You have a pretty bad cut on your forehead.” Precious explained, schooling her features and allowing genuine concern to creep into her voice. “I have a fully stocked first aid kit in my car. Come and sit down and I’ll put something on it while we wait.”
“Wait?” He queried vaguely. Greg swung his head back briefly to look at her, then the crowd, and back at the car, through glazed confused eyes.
“For the authorities to arrive.” She finished patiently.
After a moment of hesitant resistance, he finally allowed her to lead him towards her car parked just a few metres away, but continued to look back at his own vehicle, trying to take it all in. Precious genuinely hoped she hadn’t given him a concussion. Simmons would rake her over the coals if she damaged someone she was meant to be protecting!
Greg faced forward and she felt the shift of his arm over her shoulders as he looked down at her inquisitively.
“You’re very beautiful.” He said weakly, his voice wavering.
“Should I take the word of a man with a head injury?” She bantered lightly. Getting him into her car and away from their present location was essential. She had a safe house prepared for him; she just had to get him there. She would say anything and do anything to get him into her car, and locked inside the safe house.
“I noticed you were pretty before I banged my head” He answered tetchily, his voice carrying more strength as he recovered. Hitting the button on her remote key the lights on the car flashed and Precious opened the passenger door, manoeuvring him into the seat. He eased into the comfortable cushioning laying his head back on the rest, his feet outside the door. Precious frowned. ‘He even manages to make my Beast look small.’ She thought.
Precious ducked around the back of the car, stopping briefly at the boot to retrieve her medical kit, then opened the drivers side door, sliding in. She fossicked around in the kit until she found what she needed. First she used some sterile water on a cotton wool pad to clean the wound. She was impressed the way Greg simply pressed his lips together in a thin white line but did not cry out or complain. Next she applied some disinfectant in response to which he allowed a hissing noise to escape as it obviously stung him. Then Precious applied some sutures to hold the edges of the cut together.
“You’ll probably have a nice scar to brag to the ladies about.”
“Shouldn’t we wait for the ambulance to do this?” He looked at her, really looked, and Precious felt her heart skip a beat. He was bloody and rumpled but she had never known anyone to take her breath away with a look. She’d never known anyone to take her breath away full stop! His hazel eyes did things to her, made her heart race, and reminded her of the feeling of his tongue in her mouth. She clenched her jaw. ‘This assignment was a bad idea.' She thought.
“To be honest I don’t think they’re coming.” She said lightly, conversationally.
“It’s only been ten minutes!”
“Your sense of time is out of whack,” She lied, “Thanks to the knock on your head. It’s been almost 30 minutes.” Greg raised his eyebrows, openly showing incredulity at what she said.
“My house is nearby. What’s say I swing by and grab my insurance details for you, and then I’ll drive you to a hospital to get looked at. How does that sound?” She saw his cautious hesitation and sent him a winning ‘you can trust me’ smile. She’d never used it before so it felt very foreign on her face, like her cheeks were stretching abnormally. In fact she decided to ease off on the wattage a little, feeling like a maniacal side show clown. “It’s the least I could do, surely, considering the accident was my fault.”
Obviously liking the logic behind what she was offering Greg nodded his head slowly looking her over thoughtfully.
“You were driving pretty fast…” He hedged.
“I really needed a latte.” She gushed widening her eyes enthusiastically, in the manner she guessed an irresponsible airhead would. He seemed to weigh up his options a moment longer before committing himself to her care.
“Say you don’t have any aspirin in that kit do you?” His voice was hopeful as he pulled his long legs into the car and closed the door firmly.
“Sure” her response was smooth and she hunted in the bag for pain killers. As she placed the little white pills in his hand her fingers brushed the centre of his palm. Precious bit her cheek to prevent her from crying out in shock in response to the jolt of electricity that went through her. She busied herself looking for a bottle of water in the back seat instead, feeling his eyes intently watching her as she twisted in her seat to reach behind her. She knew he had felt it too.
Less than five minutes later they were on their way through the streets heading towards the safe house. Forty minutes without mishap was all she needed to get the assignment back on track. Precious frequently checked her mirrors as discreetly as possible. She hoped he would simply assume she was instantly reformed and had now become an overly cautious driver.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the pain in Greg’s head lost its sharp edge and receded to a dull annoying throb. As the pain eased he began to take in the luxury of his surroundings and the woman in the drivers seat. The car was a gem. The interior was a startling red and black. Even the instrument panels were red, he noted. It was some fancy ride. His first assessment was correct. It was one expensive car. He figured she must be a very good model to be able to afford such a machine, if it was indeed hers.
“Is this your car?” He queried watching Isobel as she drove. Contrary to what he had witnessed earlier, she appeared to be a competent, patient, defensive driver, manoeuvring uncontrolled intersections expertly and changing gears so smoothly he barely noticed them. She took her eyes off the road very briefly to look at him and nod before returning her attention to the traffic. When Greg looked into her eyes he felt he was staring at a multitude of unanswered questions. She was an enigma. The self-contained way she was carrying herself was almost a contradiction to the wanton sexual woman he had held in his arms the previous day. “It’s pretty flash, even for a HSV. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it.”
“It’s a modified 2007 GTS Walkinshaw.” She told him as if that should mean something. Instead he latched onto just about the only word that had made sense.
“Modified?” His tone was clearly asking her to elaborate but instead she gave him another brief steady look.
“Modified.” She confirmed.
“It sounds expensive.” He hedged.
“You’re sitting in around eighty grands worth of car.” Isobel confirmed and he detected a definite hint of pride in her voice. ‘So cars do it for her huh?’ he thought with a wry smile.
“You must be highly sought after as a model then?”
“Everybody wants a piece of me.” She answered enigmatically with a secretive lopsided smile.
“You’re not from around here originally are you?” He changed the subject not wanting to think about anybody ‘having a piece of her’. It brought forth into his mind graphic images of Isobel’s pale naked body resting on red silk sheets, her hair loose and fanned out carelessly, his hand caressing her smooth skin… His new query was safer territory and something he’d been burning with curiosity about since he’d met her. Was geography going to prevent him seeing her again? Models travelled a lot after all, particularly the successful international ones.
“I’m an Australian citizen, but I was born in Taiwan, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“So you’re ‘made in Taiwan’ huh?” Greg knew it was cheesy but it just popped out unbidden, and unappreciated by the heated look she shot him.
“Me and everything else right?” There was an edge to her voice.
“Sorry…uh that was uncalled for.”
“You shoot from the hip. It’s who you are and what you’re paid to do, I understand.”
“No. It’s not who I am” he denied. For some reason her summing up of his character made him feel defensive. The look she threw him was snapping with fire.
“It is who you are.” She insisted. An uncomfortable silence settled around them in the car.
“I thought you said your place was only 5 minutes drive away. It’s been at least 30.” Greg started to look around him but they were no longer in an area he was familiar with. There were a lot of industrial type buildings, warehouses, storage facilities and such. He mentally cursed himself for not paying more attention to where she was taking him instead of ogling her like some sex-starved puppy. Then he decided to cut himself some slack. He had banged his head after all.
“You banged your head.” She said making him look back to her sharply wondering if she could read minds and well as fog them up. “Your sense of time is out remember?” Greg immediately held up his arm and pointed to his expensive gold Citizen watch.
“Yeah but my watch didn’t bang its head.” His tone was sarcastic. “So why are you feeding me a line lady?” Betraying nothing Isobel gave a deep throaty laugh in response to his ire.
“What can I say, I took the long way.” She admitted and slipped him a coy glance from beneath her lashes. “What woman wouldn’t try to spend a few extra minutes with Gregory Webb?” He knew she was laying on blatant flattery, but Greg was suddenly uncomfortable as to why. First she’d allowed him to come on all hot and heavy, then she’d given him a false name. Today she’d made him drive his car into a telephone pole, although he conceded equal blame could be placed there as he’d made the choice to swerve instead of rear ending her car. She had essentially whisked him away from the accident scene where presumably help would have arrived sooner or later…Had Isobel lied about the passage of time at the accident site as well?
“You told me you couldn’t speak English!” He blurted out suddenly as the realisation popped into his head.
“I lied. I was…overwhelmed…by your....charm.”
“You can let me out here. I’ll make my own way to a hospital.” Greg commanded suddenly, moving in his seat so that he was closer to the door and further away from her.
“We’re almost there. What’s the problem?” Her tone was light.
“The problem is I think you’re some psycho stalking me! No offence.” He tacked on, the comment thrown over his shoulder as he angled himself away from her, realising the perilousness of his situation.
“We’ve arrived. And you’re being silly.” Isobel said softly as she pulled the car around into the back alleyway of a row of warehouses. She slowly drew the car to a halt in front of a metal panel garage door. The grey door started lifting of its own accord. He sent her an inquiring look with eyebrows raised.
“Infra red.” She shrugged nonchalantly, moving the car forward again into the darkened interior.
“Modified.” Isobel agreed her expression now masked by the dim garage. There were no windows he noted. It appeared to be a concrete rectangle. The door closed quietly behind them as she drew the vehicle to a halt, leaving them in complete darkness. Isobel opened her door and the interior light popped on illuminating the interior of the car ghoulishly. “It’ll only take me a minute to find what I need. You might as well come up and relax.”
“What kind of house is this?”
“It’s an old warehouse. It’s been…”
“Modified.” He interjected mockingly.
“I was going to say renovated but that’s just semantics...” Isobel slipped out of the car gracefully, retrieving a bag from the back seat of the car, and shut the door behind her leaving him in darkness again. A rectangular panel of light opened up beyond the bonnet. It was a doorway out of there leading into a short hallway with a staircase beyond. Pausing a moment longer Greg mentally chastised himself. She was a woman. He’d had an accident and she was helping him. He’d spent the morning afraid he was never going to see her again, now he was creating issues where there were none!
He quickly exited the vehicle and followed her to the door where Isobel waited patiently for him. He followed her up the flight of stairs admiring the fit of her black jeans over her incredibly slim hips and legs. Most of the women he worked with in the entertainment industry would pay thousands of dollars in plastic surgery for the figure this woman had on Gods good grace. He moved his eyes over her straight back covered in a black cotton long sleeved tailored shirt with a faint, barely detectable pinstripe. It had a gathered section of material in the small of her back giving it a snug fitted look. His mind wandered back to the previous evening when he had held her small breasts in his hands and he felt himself going hard, being tortured by the sway of her hips. Her black boots didn’t make a sound as she ascended the staircase. Isobel was as lithe as a cat.
They reached a nondescript gunmetal grey door for which she produced a key from her bag. She motioned for him to enter ahead of her.
The minute Isobel shut the door to the apartment the peel of a telephone broke through the air. At the same time she seemed to shed her friendly manner like an unwanted second skin. He watched the change come over her, astonished by the sudden transformation, and how visibly obvious it was. In fact he hadn’t given credit for how friendly and accommodating she had been compared to the woman he was now faced with. Back was the cold aloof stranger who had appraised him calculatingly as he sat injured in his car. With surprising strength she rammed home three large steel bolts, top, bottom and middle, on the heavy door before answering the nondescript mobile left on the coffee table.
“Vasya” She answered tersely, her eyes meeting his challengingly, hand on hip as if she hadn’t a care in the world. Greg found her regard unsettling but could not look away. Instead he enjoyed the view of her long lean leg and the way it was nicely attached to her slim slightly cocked hip, where her hand rested.
“I have him.” She responded shortly, obviously to a query from the other end, and Greg suddenly felt a tingle of nerves. Who was she? “It was as easy as stealing a bebe.” She lapsed into French, noting the sudden tension in Greg’s body at her words. He watched her as she moved further into the lounge room, bending down to turn the TV on, affording him another great view of her firm rear. When she straightened up and turned back to face him she shot him a censorious look. “I can handle him.” She finished curtly before snapping the phone shut and tossing it back on the coffee table with a clatter that sounded loud in the otherwise silent room. Without further explanation Precious located the remote and turned up the volume on the television, drawing Greg’s attention to the screen which had his photo blazoned across it.
“…Reports of an assassination attempt less than an hour ago are still yet to be confirmed by the Chief of Police. However with rumours abounding in the underworld, from unnamed sources, that a contract has indeed been taken out on Gregory Webb, it seems likely at this stage that these reports are in fact correct.” Greg sucked in a shocked breath as Precious turned the volume back down. Precious tapped the remote against the palm of her other hand thoughtfully, waiting for him to speak.
“Who are you?” He asked forthright only to have her continue her emotionless regard. “Are you a hit…ma…woman?” He stuttered, eyeing her nervously now. His mind was reeling, and he had no idea if he needed to be afraid of this woman who had literally picked him up in the street.
“It’s okay to call me a hit ‘man’, I believe it’s politically correct. But I’m not your hit man, if that’s what you’re asking.” She smiled as she placed the remote quietly on the table, never breaking eye contact, but there was no warmth.
“So I’m guessing you’re not a model then...that was a...a...front?” He surmised correctly.
“I can be many things, all at one time, if you like.” She bandied then seeing his frustration at her riddles she cut to the chase. “Today is your lucky day. Today I’m here to protect you.”
“So are you some sort of…police person?”
“I’m from a branch of the SRS, Specialist Response and Security, part of the Federal Police.” When no comprehension seemed to be dawning she clarified blandly “I’m a secret agent.”
“So the police are protecting me.” It was a statement.
“For today.” She repeated as if she couldn’t care less.
“Wow,” Greg commented after a long pause, his eyebrows raising in surprise and then darting together into a V in curiosity. “I didn’t know we had secret agents.”
“Officially we probably don’t, but I’m not really an official kind of girl.”
“So, I’m making a giant leap here, but I’m guessing your name isn’t Isobel.”
“My code name is Vasya. Or you can call me Isobel; it’s one of my aliases. But it really doesn’t matter what you call me, I only answer if I want to anyway.” Growing bored with the conversation she effectively dismissed Greg with an offhand wave. “Make yourself at home; we’re going to be here for a while. Do me a favour and stay away from the windows. They’re protected but all the same…” she shrugged and left the rest unsaid.
Pulling a flat rectangular item out of her bag, Precious roughly snapped the top of her laptop open and pulled her satellite decoder out of her bag also, plugging it in to the computer. Reaching into the bag again Greg watched her pull out an earpiece much like the ones used on mobile phones, only this one looked much more expensive and was wireless. She held a small black remote; swallowed by the size of her tiny hand, such was its minuscule size. In Greg’s experience anything that small was unbelievably expensive, and advanced.
Realising he was being shut out Greg decided to have a look around the converted warehouse. It was a large open space with the main living area around 12 meters in length from what he could see. Walls were white and accents were polished wood. Furniture had been chosen for function over style. At the very back of the open living area there were 3 or 4 doors that would no doubt reveal bedrooms and the bathroom, he suspected. At the very other end, behind where he stood, was a kitchen that took up all of one wall with an island of benches marking the start of the lounge/living/dining area where Isobel sat. The living area itself would be bright and airy if it weren’t for the metal shutters on the outside of the widows. Paired with the Venetian blinds the light that filtered through was dim at best. He moved into the kitchen area as if to make a coffee but he was surreptitiously watching Precious as she clacked away almost maniacally at the keyboard with her free hand, while the hand that held the remote was flicking away. Greg wandered back into the lounge, a steaming mug of coffee in his hand.
“Is that good music?” Greg pulled his free hand from the pocket of his trousers to indicate her earpiece with a casual twirl of his finger, annoyed at being so effectively shut out. He was not used to being ignored, nor treated in such an offhand manner, as if his presence did not matter.
“I’m not listening to music.” She returned with barely concealed disdain, her eyes flashing with scorn. “I’m listening to the chatter.”
“Yes. The signals…the airwaves floating around in the sky,” she mocked as if her were an idiot, twirling one finger above her head descriptively, her expression surprisingly blank belying the contempt in her voice.
“And is it…interesting? This chatter?”
“Why it’s all about you of course.” She crooned teasingly as if she were stroking his ego again. “You’re suddenly a very popular man. Everybody wants a piece of Gregory Webb today.”
“What about you?” He asked tersely. “How come you don’t want a piece of me?”
“You don’t have to worry about me. They’re not offering enough money for me to risk my allegiance.”
“Whoever wants you dead of course.” It was always ‘they’. She never knew from minute to minute who was on whose side. Such was the power of money in her line of work.
“This is the part I’m having trouble with. I’m a likeable guy. Why would anyone want me dead?”
“Likeable?” Regard was unwavering. “You insulted the wife of a very powerful Mob boss on live public television. Repeated every minute of everyday since then on YouTube I’m sure.”
“That’s what this is about?” His tone was incredulous; confusion forced its way onto his handsome face as he recollected the incident she referred to.
“Don’t you understand it doesn’t matter ‘what this is about’? A bounty has been laid out. And people are going to try to collect.” She suddenly slammed the lid of her laptop closed in frustration. “And I’m stuck here like some babysitter! I’m a Hunter, I should be out there.” She gestured toward the window with obvious frustration, finally a small frown crinkling between the delicate black arches of her eyebrows. A human expression; Greg was stunned it had taken so long, and apparent lack of job satisfaction to do it.
“A Hunter?” If he never had to ask another question it would be too soon. He was way out of his depth, confused, and in the protection of someone who didn’t appear to care very much whether she succeeded in her mission either way.
“A Hunter. Outside this very complex someone is watching, waiting for the assassin to make an appearance. Out there somewhere in the city is many people, agents, looking for any trace of your would be killers. We call them Hunters. They hunt down the assassin before they reach their quarry.”
“You.” She confirmed. “For today. Tomorrow there will be a price on someone new.” Precious continued a philosophical lilt to her voice.
“I kind of hope I last longer than that.” His joke was humourless.
“You may, we’ll see.” Greg felt as if she was being deliberately non-committal to keep him nervous.
“So tell me, how does and Australian citizen born in Taiwan end up with such a heavy French accent?” He queried for want of keeping her talking instead of shutting him out again with her earpiece.
“I went deep…”
“Pardon?” He spluttered at her unexpected innuendo. Her brown eyes were steady liquid pools, as she held his gaze, not a hint of embarrassment or shyness was present. Instantly it came to him, why he found her perusal so unnerving. Her eyes were dead. Except for when they flashed with mocking derision, they were empty of emotion. They were bottomless liquid black pools, with no definitive indication of where the iris ended and the pupil began. If her emotions ran deep, there was a lid on them, keeping them hidden.
“Undercover.” She expanded her voice throaty, sexy.
“Err...I still don’t...” If he hadn’t have been experiencing it himself he would never have believed tell of it…he was blushing. He could feel the foreign warmth crawling up his neck to his cheeks. Still she held his gaze, only now a hint of amusement at his flustering shone through, though her facial expression had not outwardly changed for anyone to perceive her thoughts. She put down the gadget she was holding, still looking at him. Greg felt as if she was looking through his eyes into his soul such was the intensity of her attention.
“When you ingratiate yourself into a society, a culture; when you allow yourself to be swallowed up by all around you until your past is so far lost you question yourself as to whether it ever really even existed. They call that ‘going deep’. Deep cover.” She noted the fine sheen of sweat that had broken out on his skin, and the perplexed query in his eyes at her description. She shrugged nonchalantly. “I spent 6 years in France, post 9/11.”
“Oh” Was all he could think to say, inadequate as it was. Greg had actually never met anyone like her before; someone committed to not only the security of their own country, but also the security of the rest of the world. So committed that they were giving it their life, and sacrificing their past in doing so. It dawned on him suddenly that if she was meant to protect him, she might have to risk her own life to do so. His eyes shot to hers with the sudden knowledge.
“Yes…oh.” She mocked tonelessly before turning her back on him.
“Wait!” He called out to her. Precious felt his hand grip her arm and she allowed herself to be spun around to face him. He pulled her towards the wall of his chest and he gripped both her arms with his hands in an attempt to hold her captive. Precious knew Gregory Webb was yet to see her in action. If he had he would never even bother trying to restrain her; mostly due to fear for his own life she was certain. His size didn’t intimidate her on a combat level, or protect him.
As he continued to hold her, she felt her inner amusement drain away. The fingers that held her relaxed their biting grip and caressed her cold skin. Of her own violation she tilted her head back and her turbulent eyes clashed with his, desire burned in their depths. She parted her lips on a gasp and his eyes followed the movement.
“What happened yesterday, between us, was that part of this?” His voice was thick and rough with emotion.
“No,“ Precious answered honestly, “That was…something else.”
“Desire? Need?” His hazel eyes searched her face, her eyes.
“It had nothing to do with you. I only received your brief late last night. When I met you…what happened…I was working on something else.”
“Working!” He exclaimed harshly and she raised her chin defiantly at his censure. “You call what we shared working?”
“You call what you do working? Your father must be so very ashamed of you.” She spat, irritated by his opinion of her, of what she did. Her eyes flashed venom and a flush stained her cheeks.
“You know nothing about my father.” He snapped. Always that man was being thrown back in his face and he was sick of it.
“I know that he's a very great man of God.”
“You don’t strike me as someone who cares that much about God.” Greg sneered.
“I don't.” Precious confirmed. “But I respect your fathers commitment to his belief. He would never sell his belief out for money or street cred....”
“Like me.” Gregs nostrils flared in anger.
“Like...you...” she enunciated coldly. He started moving toward her, his countenance menacing.
“Well let me help you get on with your job. You don’t want my weak character to rub off on you now do we?” His angry words gave her scant heads up to his intention. Greg closed the last few inches between them, flattening her breasts against his chest. His mouth came down quickly denying her the chance to turn her face away. His lips were warm and they moved purposefully across her own. Precious lifted her hands up defensively only to find her fingers grasping his forearms. She opened her mouth and his tongue dipped inside. He explored the moist cavern repeatedly stroking his tongue against her own. Precious felt unwanted desire building inside of her. She felt a heat spreading in her belly and between her thighs. Her nails bit into the strong biceps beneath the rolled up sleeves of his shirt. Precious turned her head suddenly to break the kiss, gasping. Undeterred Greg’s lips found their way to the column of her throat.
“Don’t do this!” She cried out in a husky voice she barely recognised.
“I’m just helping you do your job sweet heart.” He murmured against her ear, the heat of his breath sending shivers down her spine. He reclaimed her mouth languorously, his tongue stroking her lips, asking permission to re-enter. When she refused, her teeth clenched together, he nibbled along her jaw. She tossed her head then gasped as one of his hands found her breast, rubbing against the taught nipple, cupping, pushing, moulding.
“You’re forcing my hand.” She tried to warn him one last time. “Please!”
“That’s it, beg.” He laughed bitterly. “There’s no angry French man to save you today. What are you going to do to me Isobel? Crack my skull again?” The lips that returned to her were aggressive, forceful; prising her lips apart, his tongue thrusting into her mouth uninvited. Precious was prepared for him, had been prepared for something like this happening since she’d intercepted him. He was arrogant and used to people falling at his feet, particularly women. That also made his behaviour fairly predictable.
Precious pulled back slightly from his searching lips. She lightly pressed her teeth together to check the little capsule she’d secured in her hollow lower molar earlier was still in place. Then she cracked it open with her incisor. Returning to the kiss she plunged her tongue between his lips making him gasp in surprise and satisfaction. The deep indrawn breath was his downfall. She could tell the exact moment he noticed that something was not right. His kiss lost its forcefulness, becoming almost distracted, then his whole body tensed. He pulled away from her just as his knees started to buckle as the drug took a greater hold over him. Tightening her grasp under his arms from in front Precious slowly lowered Greg onto the couch behind him. Accusing eyes accosted her as she made his head comfortable on a cushion.
“Plan B.” She said softly watching his eyes droop closed.