Still Mr. and Mrs.by Mary McBride
Meet Angela and Bobby Holland - the creme de la creme of the Secret Service. For their latest assignment, they have to go undercover as married housekeepers to protect the President's mother. There is only one major flaw in their plan: Angela and Bobby are on the verge of divorce!
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Still Mr. and Mrs.
By Mary McBride
Warner BooksCopyright © 2002 Mary Myers
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAngela Holland was disgruntled, and she had a gun. Of course, how she was going to conceal a semiautomatic weapon under a stupid apron was a mystery yet to be solved. This morning when Special Agent in Charge Dolph Bannerman had called her into his office and asked if she'd like to be reassigned to protective detail, undercover no less, Angela had leapt at the opportunity. She'd almost given her supervisor a high five and exclaimed "Would I!" before she bit her tongue and accepted the assignment with a proper and professional "I'd like that very much, sir." It was only after Bannerman had outlined the duty that Angela realized she'd made a big mistake. A real boner.
She was probably looking at weeks, maybe months, of wearing slacks and an itchy, cumbersome ankle holster. She was definitely looking at weeks, maybe months, in the Siberia of the Secret Service, in the musty armpit of the universe-Hassenpfeffer, Illinois.
"Hassenfeld," her roommate called out from the living room, making Angela realize that she'd been grumbling out loud while she trudged back and forth between her closet and the open suitcase on her bed.
"Hassenfeld," she muttered, aligning the sleeves of a linen jacket, folding the garment carefully, and laying it into the already stuffed case. The black linen would be just right for September weather in Illinois. Her wardrobe would be perfect, in fact, as long as this September stint didn't stretch into late October or November.
The timing couldn't have been worse. Just when she was really beginning to enjoy L.A., dammit. Well, enjoy was probably a stretch. Tolerate was closer to the truth. Maybe she was just too uptight for the West Coast, where her colleagues all looked like surfers and tended to call one another "babe" or "dude."
"How long do you think this assignment will last, babe?" Special Agent Suzanne DiCecco, alias Surfer Girl, wandered from the living room to stand in the bedroom doorway, spooning yogurt from a carton, apparently amused by her roommate's rotten disposition. "Are there any leads on the guy who made the threat against the president's mother?"
"None that I know of." Angela was shoulder deep in her closet now, hunting for the scarf that went so well with her eggshell blouse. It wasn't where it should have been, in the top left drawer of the dresser, along with her other scarves.
"Any idea who you'll be working with?" Suzanne asked.
"Nope. I'm guessing that when Bannerman talked to me this morning, they still hadn't found anybody else dumb enough to do it." Like me, she thought.
The opportunity to work undercover had had an immediate appeal, especially when it involved protective duty with the president's mother. She'd been pleased, really gratified, thrilled as hell to be singled out for such an assignment. It was only after she'd agreed to do it that her supervisor had told her she'd be working undercover as domestic help. A freaking maid!
Aha! The sought-after scarf had been left threaded under the collar and lapels of her navy blazer for some odd reason. Angela yanked it out.
"Ask me how much I'm looking forward to playing house with somebody I don't even know in Hassleville, Illinois."
"Whatever." She smoothed out the wrinkles in the scarf, folded it, and laid it gently between the linen jacket and a pair of slacks. She wrapped the cord of her earpiece loosely around her radio and tucked it gently between several pairs of slacks. As always, her Kevlar vest went in last, although how she'd ever conceal it under an apron was another mystery. "That's it. I'm officially packed."
"So, how long do you think you'll be gone?"
"I don't have a clue, Suze. But don't worry about my half of the rent. I'm going to have them do a direct deposit of my paycheck, so I'll send you as many checks as I need to from Illinois. With any luck, it'll be just one, two at the most."
The buff little brunette shrugged and licked her spoon. "I wasn't worried about that. You haven't been late with your half of the rent since we moved in together. You're the best roommate I've ever had, to tell you the truth. Compared to you, all the rest were total slobs." She laughed. "Actually, compared to you, babe, everyone is a total slob."
Angela, aka babe, smiled as she closed and zipped her suitcase. It was nice, she thought, having someone appreciate her organization. Normally her attention to detail tended to irritate people, to really get on their nerves. Some people more than others. Her siblings called her Miss Prim. Her own mother had once suggested that they might have brought the wrong baby-the offspring of a CPA and a crossword puzzle fanatic-home from the hospital. And then there was Bobby. Bobby. As soon as he entered her head, she banished the thought.
"You might as well use my health club membership while I'm gone, Suze. I'll leave the card on the dresser. Right beside the lamp. Oh, and will you forward any mail that looks important or interesting?"
"Sure. No problem." Suzanne took another bite of yogurt, then cocked her head, grinning. "Can I also have Rod Bishop while you're gone?"
"Rod! Oh, my God!" Angela looked at her watch and swore softly. It was six-thirty, and Rod was sending a limo for her at seven. "I'm supposed to go to his premiere tonight. I completely forgot."
"You forgot something?" Suzanne laughed. "How could anybody forget about going to a premiere, especially when they're Rod Bishop's date?"
Angela shook her head even as she was frantically calculating driving times and distances, no mean feat when freeway traffic patterns corrupted every equation. It was another reason she didn't like L.A. Its sprawl of communities and tangle of highways struck her as disorganized, just plain messy. In her next life maybe she'd come back as an urban planner. Or not. Since this life wasn't working out so well, maybe she wouldn't even bother with a next one.
To the best of her recollection, the premiere was in Culver City. Her flight to Chicago left LAX at 1:00 A.M. If she scrambled into her long black jersey dress and dragged a brush through her hair right now, she could do it. The last thing she wanted to do was stand Rod up on such an important evening.
No. The last thing she wanted to do was admit that she was really looking forward to seeing him, or confess that his sappy campaign to win her heart seemed to be making headway, or-worse-that part of the reason she had accepted the assignment to Half Ass, Illinois, was to put a bit of distance between herself and temptation.
She looked at Suzanne, who was perched on the bed, wearing not the standard-issue sober expression of a Secret Service agent but the fully glazed, semiconscious expression that always came over her whenever the actor's name was mentioned. Suzanne and a couple million other women, no doubt, all of them smitten with Hollywood's Hunk of the Year.
"He's just a guy," Angela said irritably.
"Just a guy." Suzanne sighed like a dopey teenager in the throes of puppy love. "That's like saying an AK-47 is just a gun." Her glazed expression turned slightly elfish. "Or that Rod Bishop puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everybody else."
"I really wouldn't know about that," Angela snapped as she headed for the closet to get her black jersey dress.
"Oh, come on," Suzanne called after her. "You've been seeing him for at least three months now, Angela. The guy is absolutely gorgeous, and he's obviously crazy about you. Are you telling me you're not-"
"I'm married, Suze." She waved her left hand for emphasis before reaching for her dress. "That's a minor detail you seem to have overlooked."
"You're separated," the other agent said. "For an entire year."
Actually, Angela thought, she'd walked out on Bobby eleven months, two weeks, and three days ago, but who the hell was counting? She snatched the plastic hanger off the closet rod with such force that she broke its little plastic neck.
"Well, okay then, if you won't share Rod Bishop, how about if I take Bobby off your hands?"
"We're still married," she snarled, and immediately regretted the harsh tone that sent Suzanne scuttling off the bed and heading back toward the living room. "I'm sorry, Suze," she called to her. "I didn't mean to sound so abrupt."
"That's okay," her roommate called back. "Hey, divorce is tough. Been there. Done it. Believe me, I understand."
No, she didn't, Angela thought. How could her roommate understand when she didn't even understand it herself after all this time? She wasn't divorced. But then, in spite of what she'd just told Suze, she wasn't really married either, was she? She was just ... well ... separated.
"Separated? What the hell is that?" her father, the excop, had exclaimed when she told him about her decision last year on the phone. "You're either married or you're not."
Her Little Limbo, as Rod kept calling her situation, much to her irritation. Her Current Confusion. Her Marital Mess. You need to make some decisions, my love.
Yes, she did, didn't she?
Angela drew in a deep breath and decided to get dressed for the premiere. At the moment, it was the best that she could do.
The red-eye flight to Chicago was on time and almost empty. For a woman who was a crack shot with a pistol and could take down a man twice her size with a few deft moves, Angela was a wimp when it came to flying. It had something to do with being at the mercy of an unseen pilot and a host of invisible, possibly incompetent mechanics. It had more to do with her tendency to be a takecharge person who knew she was out of her element, not to mention her league, in the air. Plus she just didn't like being cooped up with a bunch of sneezing, coughing strangers for hours on end.
Tonight, though, first class was empty, and she sighed gratefully as she settled into her dim little corner, buckled her seat belt, closed her eyes, and then finally-finally- got the big 757 into the air by fierce concentration while brutalizing a wad of strawberry bubble gum and saying half a dozen Hail Marys.
When the wheels came up, she opened her eyes and gazed out at the carpet of lights below. Dear God. An hour ago, somewhere down there, Rod Bishop had asked her to marry him.
He'd been waiting for her in front of the theater, smoking one of his long, thin cigars, standing just behind a police barricade that wasn't doing much to discourage a legion of screaming, camera-wielding fans. Rod was wearing standard Hollywood black-tux, silk shirt, and tie-clothes that fit his lean six-foot-two-inch frame as if he'd been born to wear Armani or Versace. Amazingly, the man looked just as good in faded denim and washedout flannel. Maybe better.
His handsome, angular face was softened by the beginnings of a beard, and his dark hair grazed his shoulders, all in preparation for the western he was due to begin work on in Mexico the following week. Framed by all that dark hair and his perpetual tan, his lovely light blue, oh-so-expressive eyes had taken on a translucent, almost haunting quality.
"I'm late," she said, grasping his warm hand and climbing out of the limo.
Ah. He made her feel that way. He really did. Beautiful to the marrow of her bones. It was just that Angela kept wondering how important feeling beautiful was to her in the grand scheme of things. Certainly not as important as feeling strong and competent at this point in her career. Certainly not as valuable a quality as skilled marksmanship or speed or upper-body strength. Beauty was nowhere on the list of requirements for a Secret Service agent. It just wasn't important to her, and yet ...
When Rod drew her against him in front of the theater, when he whispered, "Don't fly east tonight, Angel. I need you here with me," and kissed her in full view of several hundred screaming young women, any one of whom would have worked a quick deal with the devil to be in Angela's sling-back pumps just then, she couldn't help but think that she didn't really appreciate her situation. Here was a man who needed her, who actually said so, out loud and in front of witnesses. Wasn't that what she wanted? Wasn't that one of the reasons she'd left Bobby, because he was incapable of such demonstrations of affection?
Then, after the premiere, on bended knee in the back of the limo, with tears in his aquamarine eyes and a diamond the size of a skating rink, Rod had asked her to marry him. Marry him! She hadn't even slept with him! In many ways, she barely even knew him. But to Angela's utter amazement, she hadn't told him no.
She hadn't said yes exactly either. What she said was, "I'll talk to a lawyer."
"When?" he asked, quite unashamed of the rough little catch in his throat, of the tremor in his hands as he held the diamond ring she'd just declined to wear for now, of the tears shining in his eyes.
"I don't know. As soon as I get back from Illinois."
She'd promised. God. Had she meant it?
Out the window now, far below, the twinkling lights of L.A. had disappeared. Everything was black, opaque. It matched her mood.
The proposal wasn't supposed to happen. Rod Bishop was meant to be a fling, a distraction, a Band-Aid for her wounded ego, and-yes-even a way to make Bobby jealous and bring him to his knees. When she was assigned to his movie set as a Secret Service adviser, she never dreamed that Rod Bishop would be anything but a beautiful cardboard cutout, a tan Adonis made of papier-mâche and styling gel, an egocentric jerk. Instead, he'd turned out to be sort of sweet and smarter than most and always sympathetic. Most of all, though, he was patient and persistent. And he loved her! Or so he said. Repeatedly.
In the past few months, Angela's little fairy-tale fling had somehow turned into the real thing. The prince was more than charming. The glass slipper was a pretty good fit. Shit.
"May I get you something to drink?" The flight attendant sounded ungodly cheerful for half past one in the morning.
"Coffee, please. Black." It would keep her awake, Angela thought, as well as obliterate the lingering taste of Rod's champagne and cheroot kisses.
A moment later the flight attendant was back. "Here you go, Ms. Holland. Coffee. Black. Careful, it's hot." She perched on the armrest of the seat across the aisle. "The manifest says you're a federal agent, flying armed."
"That's right." Angela blew on the steaming coffee. "Is there a problem?" Please let there be a problem so I don't have to sit here and think anymore. Well, not a problem with the plane. Not that kind of problem. She didn't mean that. Jeez. She needed to be a lot more careful what she wished for.
"Not yet. We have a passenger in back who was pretty tanked when he boarded.
Excerpted from Still Mr. and Mrs. by Mary McBride Copyright © 2002 by Mary Myers. Excerpted by permission.
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Because he withdrew within himself rather than talk to grief counselors or even his beloved spouse, Angela Holland left Bobby. He remains in DC while his wife now works in the LA office of the Secret Service. When a threat considered viable by the Secret Service occurs to President Riordan¿s mother, Director Mateiro arranges for Bobby and Angela to pretend to be husband-wife servants in order to protect the First Mom. Bobby and Angela arrive in Hassenfeld, Indiana to temporarily work for and keep safe Margaret ¿Crazy Daisy¿ Riordan. As the couple squabble and bicker, their love remains strong. However, both knows duty is first and that means keeping the First Mom and her son safe from a viable threat before exploring their future potentially together. Though many readers will be skeptical that a First Mom can reject secret service protection, fans will enjoy the action packed romantic suspense thriller. The story line never slows down as it plays out on two levels: that of a serious threat to Crazy Daisy and that of the relationship between the two undercover agents. Readers who delight in a fast-paced thriller filled with plenty of romantic tension and political intrigue will enjoy Mary McBride¿s STILL MR. AND MRS. Harriet Klausner