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"More surveillance," he said.
It had not been a question, but the man across the desk raised his head, leveling a pair of remarkably piercing eyes at him. "It is your area of expertise," Griff said.
John was careful to keep any hint of anger from his voice. He had worked for the National Security Agency for several years, but Cabot was well aware of the other skills he'd brought to this organization. And they both understood why he wasn't being allowed to use them.
"Surveillance is the one that's needed on this."
Griff's gaze fell back to the paperwork he had been in the process of completing. Perhaps because of his previous position as assistant deputy director of the CIA, Cabot kept meticulous records. Each of his operatives was still extensively debriefed at the end of a mission.
Actually, although the Phoenix was a private concern, it functioned very much like the old External Security Team Griff had run at the agency. John had not been a member of that team, and he'd often wondered if that was part of the problem.
As soon as he'd heard about the work the Phoenix was doing, he had approached Cabot with a request to join. In the beginning he had been utilized on a variety of the wideranging cases the group undertook. After he'd helped Elizabeth Richards escape, however, that had no longer been true.
He had clearly understood that he was going against Griff's wishes when he'd done that. He had felt, however, that helping Elizabeth reach Rafe Sinclair was important enough that he was willing to take whatever punishment his action would bring. He had just never imagined that chastisement would go on this long.
"Any idea how soon I'll again be allowed to do something beyond surveillance?"
Cabot's eyes lifted once more, regarding him steadily, but the head of the Phoenix didn't answer.
"If you want me to quit, Griff," John said, meeting that cold stare, "just say so."
"I'm not trying to run you off."
"Then forgive me for being dense, but what the hell are you trying to do?"
Griff's lips pursed. When he opened them, he said exactly what John had expected. "I'm trying to determine if you're capable of following orders. Especially those you don't like."
"If I hadn't helped Elizabeth, Rafe would be dead," John said patiently. "Would you have preferred that?"
"You believe the end justifies the means."
"In that situation. Rafe was operating under a handicap no one was aware of. You had given him your word that you wouldn't interfere. I'd made no such promise. Elizabeth's argument that Rafe shouldn't face that kind of danger alone made sense to me. In the end -"
"The salient point," Cabot interrupted, "is that I'd given my word the Phoenix wouldn't interfere. It was what Rafe wanted. I'd vowed to honor his wish in exchange for his undertaking a job no one else could have done. You were aware of what I'd promised on behalf of the Phoenix, and yet you chose to disregard it."
Which was all true, as far as it went. In John's opinion it didn't go nearly far enough.
"This isn't personal, believe me," Griff went on after a few seconds of awkward silence. "I'm responsible for the people who work for me. I have to know that when I send out an operative, he'll follow orders."
"You hadn't given me any orders. Not concerning Elizabeth."
"Which is the only reason you're still here. I gave you the benefit of the doubt. I won't do it again. If you no longer wish to participate in the Phoenix under those conditions, I'll understand."
John had been tempted to resign more than once during these past few difficult months. Openly faced with that choice at last, he realized he wasn't ready to give up.
And if he weren't, he knew his only option was to ride out Griff's displeasure. Even in the short time he'd known Rafe Sinclair, he had come to the conclusion that helping save the former agent's life was worth whatever it cost him personally.
Besides, he believed in the organization Griff, Hawk, and Jordan Cross had created four years ago. The Phoenix was a private agency designed to use the formidable skills Griff's former CIA antiterrorism team possessed to obtain justice for those who couldn't find it any other way.
"I'm not ready to quit," he said, meeting Cabot's eyes.
After another moment of silence, Cabot searched through the stack of manila folders on the corner of his desk. He extracted one and slid it across a vastness of well-polished mahogany.
"Surveillance, but not exactly the type you've been doing. Maybe this will be more to your liking," Griff said, tilting his head in the direction of the folder that lay between them.
"What is it?"
John deliberately left the file lying unopened. He had always learned more from Cabot's sound bites than from his own first reading of a file. He waited for this one, tamping down the excitement Griff's brief description had already created.
Surveillance, but not exactly the type you've been doing. In his opinion, anything that wasn't what he had been doing would be an improvement.
"Something that caused a blip on Ethan Snow's mental radar during his last assignment. A name that showed up where it shouldn't. All you have to do is some discreet nosing around. Very discreet. I don't want to set off alarms anywhere. This is a highly respected organization."
For a second John thought Cabot meant the Phoenix. It was unlikely that reference was to the agency, however, since most of their clients learned of them through the same kind of discreet word-of-mouth Griff had just alluded to. And if not the Phoenix ...
He reached out, pulling the folder toward him. When he opened it, the heading at the top, in Snow's neat handwriting, was enough to let him know Cabot's warning had been an understatement. His low whistle was an unthinking reaction to how respected the organization this file referred to actually was.
"Exactly," Griff said. "You do have a tux, I assume."
He didn't, but he wasn't going to admit that to Cabot, who probably owned a dozen.
"Of course," John lied, wondering how quickly he could have one fitted.
"Then I suggest you start with the enclosed invitation."
John slipped the heavy cream rectangle out of its envelope, quickly reading the information embossed on the front.
Excerpted from Under Surveillance by Gayle Wilson Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted January 1, 2004