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The blonde took a step backward, clutching at the collar of her blouse as if it had been wide open.
"I don't think so," she said.
"Come on. You look like you could use a dance." Bob Ferguson gestured to the side of the open piazza, where a small jazz band was playing. "They're playing our song."
"This isn't dance music," said the woman stiffly, "and you're very forward."
"Usually I'm not," Ferguson turned to the woman's companion and pleaded his case, "but I'm here on holiday. Tell your friend she should dance with me."
"I don't know."
Ferguson laughed and turned back to the blonde. "I'm not going to bite. You're British, right?"
"I am from Sweden."
"Coulda fooled me."
"As sure as the sun rises." He stuck out his hand. "Dance?"
The woman didn't take his hand.
"How about you?" Ferguson asked, turning to the other woman.
"No, I meant, would you dance?"
Thera Majed hesitated but only for a moment. Then, shrugging to her companion, she stepped over to Ferguson, who immediately put his hand on her hip and waltzed her into the open space near the tables.
"Hello, Cinderella," whispered Ferguson. "How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. What's going on?"
"I felt like dancing."
"I'll bet. What would you have done if Julie accepted your offer?"
"I would have enjoyed two dances."
Ferguson whisked her out of the way of a hurrying waiter.
"There's no one else dancing, you know," said Thera.
"Really? ‘But I only have eyes, for you.'" Ferguson sang the last words, grabbing a snatch of a song.
"Why are you contacting me?"
"Itinerary's changed," he said, spinning her around.
"What's up?" she asked as she came back to him.
"Everything's being moved forward. Some sort of push by the UN. You're leaving for Korea in the morning."
Ferguson danced her around, improvising a stride slightly quicker than a standard foxtrot to swing with the jazz beat. He'd learned to dance as a teenager in prep school—the only useful subject he picked up there, according to his father.
"We're not going to have time to get security people on your team," he whispered, pulling her back.
He felt her arms stiffen and started another twirl.
"You all right, Cinderella?" he asked her, reeling her back in.
"Of course," said Thera.
"We'll have people standing by. Relief caches will go in while you're down South, exactly where we'd said they'd be. Plan's the same; you're just not going to have anyone on the IAEA inspection team with you." He stopped and looked at her. "You cool with that?"
The IAEA was the International Atomic Energy Agency. After two months of training, Thera had been planted on the agency as a technical secretary; her team had just finished an inspection in Libya.
"I'm OK, Ferg. We shouldn't make this too obvious, do you think?"
"Hey, I'm having fun," he said, leaning her over.
He glanced toward the Swedish scientist, who was watching them with an expression somewhere between bewilderment and outrage. Ferguson gave the blonde a smile and pulled Thera back up.
"If you want to bail, call home. We'll grab you."
"I'm OK, Ferg. I can do it."
"Slap me, because I just told you how desperately I want to take you to bed."
"‘I only have eyes, for you . . .'"
"I won't," said Thera loudly. She took a step back and put her hands on her hips. "No."
"Come on," said Ferguson. "We're obviously meant for each other."
Thera told him in Greek that he was an animal and a pig. The first words sputtered. She imagined herself to be the technical secretary she was portraying, not the skilled CIA paramilitary looking for violations of the new Korean nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
And she imagined Ferguson not to be her boss and the man who had saved her neck just a few months before but a snake and a rogue and a thief, roles he was well accustomed to playing.
Though he was a handsome rogue, truth be told.
"Go away," she said in English. Her cheeks were warm. "Go!"
"Should I take that as a no?" Ferguson asked.
Thera turned and stomped to her table.
She seemed to take that well," said Stephen Rankin sarcastically when Ferguson got back to the table. "What'd you do, kick her in her shins?"
"I tried to, but she wouldn't stand still." Ferguson sipped from the drink, a Sicilian concoction made entirely from local liquor. It tasted like sweet but slightly turned orange juice and burned the throat going down, which summed up Sicily fairly well.
"You think she's gonna bail?" Rankin asked.
"Nah. Why do you think that?"
"I don't think that. I'm asking if you think that."
Ferguson watched Thera talking with the Swedish female scientist. He could still smell the light scent of her perfume and feel the sway of her body against his.
She wasn't going to quit, but she was afraid. He'd sensed it, dancing with her. But fear wasn't the enemy most people thought. In some cases, for some people, fear made them sharper, smarter, and better.
Ferguson thought Thera was that kind of person; she'd certainly done well in Syria, and there was as much reason to be afraid then as there would be in North Korea.
He jumped to his feet to chase the thought away. "Let's get going, Skippy."
"One of these days I'm going to sock you for calling me Skippy."
"I wish you'd try. Let's get out to the airport."
Copyright © 2006 by Larry Bond and Jim DeFelice. All rights reserved.