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Daniella Renault watched in silence as Martin Fowler pulled on a lightweight jacket and made a grab for his car keys. The tension in the air was palpable and she no longer knew what to say to change it. Fowler had been getting edgier by the day, and the strain was starting to spill over into their relationship. Daniella pushed for answers Martin refused to give her, and they ended up walking around in the same rooms with no true contact. That had been the case since late the previous evening.
"I'm sorry," Daniella finally offered, unable to let Martin leave the apartment with this kind of anger separating them. She wanted to add something, but forced herself to wait for Martin's response to the cease fire.
Fowler had his back to the young woman when he heard the quietly spoken words, and he felt a painful twist deep in his chest. She was apologizing to him for something that had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with Martin's inability to rein in his reactions to what was going on around him. He ran a hand through his hair, pushing fine, dark brown strands off his forehead. He turned equally dark eyes to meet the shifting tide of blue that was his lover's gaze.
"You have no reason to be sorry, Daniella." When she gave him a confused shrug and turned to look out the window, Martin crossed the distance between them. He touched the golden silk of Daniella's hair and felt her slow exhalation of air easing some of the stiffness from her stance. Fowler dropped the keys into his pocket and stepped forward, standing at Daniella's side. "I'm the one who's sorry," he whispered. "This has nothing to do with you, honey."
"I want tohelp," Daniella murmured, facing Martin with an expression of unmistakable concern. "I know something is hurting you, and that hurts me, too, Martin. I hate it when you shut me out. It always feels like you think you can't trust me or count on me." She didn't bother adding that she frequently feared that the lack of openness from her handsome, worldly lover stemmed from the difference in their ages and experience. Daniella's twenty-one years had been spent sheltered and protected from the very life that made Fowler what he was. Daniella was a photographer and a drama student; her lover was considered to be one of the finest intelligence operatives in the world. Daniella's father, Andrew Renault, had been responsible for much of the agent's training. Martin, at forty, had lived through far more than most men his age--infinitely more than Daniella ever would. Fowler and Renault had gone into business together a few years earlier, private investigation, and in typical fashion, they'd been successful from day one. But, their pasts were never far behind them, and she suspected that this was yet another example of that darkness swallowing the light in her world yet again. Martin had taken freelance assignments from his old boss recently, things he was eminently qualified for due to his past training. But, she was more afraid now than she'd ever been in her life. Each time the Agency took him from her, the risk of his never coming back grew more real.
"I trust you with my life, Daniella," Fowler replied without hesitation. "And, I count on you every day, even if you don't always realize it." He smiled, brushing a gentle touch across the smooth slope of her cheekbone. "You keep me sane."
"You always said I made you crazy," Daniella pointed out with a weak grin. She slipped her arms around his waist and closed her eyes when Martin pulled her close, her head moving naturally to his broad shoulder.
"Just give me some time, Daniella," Martin requested. "I have to sort out what's going on at the Agency. Maybe then we'll take off for the weekend?"
"Why won't you talk to me?"
Fowler sighed and pushed down the flare of anger the words sparked. This particular question had preceded some rather loud arguments during the past couple of weeks; he was honestly tired of the dissension.
"I'll tell you anything you want to know," Martin answered, pulling back so Daniella could meet his eyes. "As soon as I know what there is to tell you. Let it go for now, Dani, please." She would have walked away from him if Martin hadn't tightened his hold. The injured defiance Martin saw in the wide blue eyes was becoming a much too familiar expression. Fowler hesitated a moment, then bent his head to cover Daniella's lips with a lingering, sensual kiss. Her initial resistance melted, and her tongue slipped into Martin's mouth, deepening the caress until they were both gasping for breath. Martin stared into the beautiful young face and felt his entire body stirring with familiar passion. He dragged in a deep breath and eased away from the enticing feel of the slender body pressed against his.
"I'll call if I have to be late," he said, then leaned forward to claim the tempting mouth again. Daniella would have been molded to him a second time, but Martin broke the kiss with a regretful shake of his head and spun on his heel before he could change his mind about leaving.
Daniella watched the gleaming, scarlet Corvette pull away from the curb, and she leaned forward in the window seat. Part of her was still annoyed at being put off another time, but at least there was some semblance of peace between them today. She hated the silences even more than the recent disagreements. She was used to Fowler being open and sharing with her; it had always been one of the most attractive things about him. But, Daniella was also perfectly aware that he wasn't going to relent on this point; if he were going to, it would have happened by now. That meant Daniella had to find out herself what was happening.
She unfolded herself from her uneasy slouch and went to the desk. A minute's thought gave her a potential target for her questions, and she reached for the phone, a smile slowly transforming her features into an expression of satisfaction.
Christian Baines opened the door and let his sharp gaze wander over his pretty friend. The expression in Daniella's eyes warned him that she was on some kind of mission, and he suddenly felt like he'd been caught in a well-set trap. He stepped aside and gestured Daniella into the house.
"When are you supposed to be at the hospital?" Daniella asked, strolling into the spacious living room. She loved Baines' house, she thought with a smile, looking around appreciatively. Chris had a large, sprawling, ranch-style home, and the entire feel of the place was warm and relaxed--a direct reflection of the man who owned it. Baines' hobby was in evidence in a far corner of the room; paints, brushes and easel scattered in the work area specifically designed for them. Daniella dropped into a comfortable seat on the leather sofa and crossed her legs, revealing an enticing length of shapely limbs.
"I've got a couple of hours," Chris answered. "Want a beer, or coffee?"
"Coffee's fine," Daniella rose quickly. "I'll get it."
Before Chris could object, she had disappeared into the kitchen. Shit! Chris thought, a flare of annoyance creeping into his mood. Daniella was being too cheerful, and too solicitous--that meant she wanted something. Not that the young woman wasn't usually generous and good-natured, but there was something in Daniella's voice on the phone that had put Chris on his guard long before she had shown up.
"I need your help, Chris," Daniella said once she was seated across from Baines, coffee cup in hand. Her other hand was filled with a huge Asian pear, lifted from the fruit bowl on Baines' kitchen counter.
Daniella's idea of a well balanced breakfast, no doubt, Chris thought.
"That much I figured out, Dani," Baines commented dryly. The startled expression on her lovely features actually won a small laugh from the physician, and he leaned back in his chair and nodded. "Okay, what's goin' on?"
"It's Martin," Daniella told him after a brief pause and a huge bite from the piece of fruit she was holding.
"Now there's a surprise," Chris remarked, softening the quip with a grin that told Daniella she was being teased, nothing more.
"I'm not joking about this, Chris," Daniella said quietly. "There's something wrong, and I can't get him to talk to me. I know it's got something to do with work, but that's it. You're involved with the Agency..."
"So you want me to ask a few questions," Chris finished with a nod. "I don't work for the Director, Daniella. My connections are flimsy, at best. If he doesn't want me to know what's happening, nobody will talk to me. What about Johnson?"
"He'll say it's up to Martin," Daniella retorted, quickly realizing she wasn't getting very far with Baines, either.
"Maybe he's right," Chris suggested carefully, measuring Daniella's reaction to his gentle resistance. She frequently felt like she was out of his league, and Chris did his best not to treat her with the same over-protectiveness everybody else seemed compelled to exhibit when dealing with her. When the familiar line of stubbornness became more pronounced along her jaw, Chris sighed and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees.
"Listen, Daniella, this really is something that you and Martin have to work out yourselves. You're asking me to put myself in the middle of your relationship, and to be honest with you, Dani--I'm not wild about that particular position."
"I'm not asking you to do anything except ask a few questions," Daniella protested, anger flooding her features. "What if he's in trouble, Chris? I need to know what's wrong before I can help him."
"Then wait for him to tell you, Daniella. You sure as hell wouldn't want me in the middle if your situations were reversed, would you?"
"I don't push him away!"
"He's doing what he thinks is best," Chris observed, certain that was the case. "Just like you think it's for the best that you should know what's going on with him. Same instinct, same motivation. He loves you."
Daniella stood up, nervous energy making her restless. She paced the living room before she dropped back into her seat on the couch. "I'm afraid for him, Chris."
The genuine misery in the sapphire eyes almost changed Baines' mind about a trip to the Agency, but he knew Fowler would be the one he'd have to deal with afterward. Martin wasn't thrilled about Baines' friendship with Daniella under the best of circumstances. If Fowler thought for a minute that she was using it to pry into his professional business, via Chris's connections, he'd make life hell for Baines.
"Then tell him and accept his decision, Daniella," Chris advised. "You and I both know that Martin's not going to be pushed into anything."
"Yeah," Daniella muttered, irritation resurfacing. "He's about as helpful as you are right now." She didn't wait for a response, simply rose and headed for the door. "Goodbye, Chris."
Baines sighed heavily, as annoyed with himself as he was with Daniella. Why did saying 'no' to her always make him feel guilty? Because Daniella so rarely asks for anything, he answered in the next thought. Even now, the request hadn't been made because of curiosity; it had been made out of love and worry. Maybe he shouldn't have been so quick to say no. He was on his feet and headed for the door when he heard the sounds of a scuffle on his doorstep.
Daniella was torn between frustration and anger when she swung the door shut and stepped onto the front steps outside Baines' house. Damn it! She'd thought she could count on Chris to help her; in fact, she'd been too certain of it, she suddenly realized. She was just turning around to go back and apologize when a hand closed on her shoulder. She whirled and barely had time to see the man behind her before pain doubled her over. She clutched at her stomach, choking on the need to draw in air that refused to filter into her lungs. She would have slipped to the ground except the same man who'd landed the solid blow now kept her on her feet.
The world did another disorienting spin on her when she was turned around suddenly, and a gun placed at her left temple. Chris Baines stood staring at her from the open doorway, fear written vividly on his handsome face.
"I want you to come with us, Doctor Baines, quietly, and without a fuss, or your lovely friend will die."
Chris nodded his understanding, shut the door to his house and allowed a second man to lead him toward the car waiting at the curb. Daniella was pushed into the vehicle ahead of him, and Baines climbed in and drew the shaking woman close to him. Daniella said nothing, and Chris suffered a moment of pain when he realized how often she had been placed in danger during her young life. There was a glaze of terror in the blue eyes, but beneath the panic was a sense of resigned hurt that was disconcerting and infuriating to Baines. Chris clenched his jaw and held her closer.