Author's Note: For those that requested my version of the first date alluded to in my story Forces of Nature. In which a perfectly good hotel room is not wasted. Is it still called an epilogue when it's longer than the original story? Oh well, on with our show ...
The doorbell rang at exactly 7pm, and Amanda donned her dress coat and checked her makeup one last time in the foyer mirror.
"Alright, mother. My date is here. Don't let the boys watch TV until they're both finished their homework. I left a number where I can be reached by the phone. Just tell the message relay service to contact Lee Stetson."
"And where are you and the handsome Mr. Stetson off to tonight? It must be some fancy film premiere, considering that dress you're hardly wearing …" Dotty asked, hoping to get a rise out of her daughter.
"It's not a film premiere, mother. Lee is taking me to the Smithsonian Ball."
"Well. Yes. That would warrant a dress like that. As would … Lee." she said, placing extra emphasis on his first name. Clearly, something was in motion between Amanda and her long-time colleague, and Dotty heartily approved.
The doorbell rang again, and Amanda realized she'd left Lee standing outside while she dealt with her mother's persistent curiousity.
Opening the door wide, she felt her heart flutter then take up a faster rhythm at the sight of Lee in his best tuxedo and car coat, hair brushed into submission and one long stem white rose in his hand.
"Hello, Lee." she breathed, making no move to invite him in or take the rose from his hand.
"Hello." He was staring, and he knew it, but he couldn't seem to stop himself. She was a vision, her hair piled on top of her head like she had worn it when they'd first met, her make-up subtle enough not to be garish, but bold enough to make her dark brown almond-shaped eyes seem almost cartoon-like in their expressiveness. In her black high heels, she was almost as tall as he was.
"Ahem. I hope you two have fun tonight. You know, if you ever make it out of our foyer." Dotty interjected, laughing as the two of them looked guiltily away, as though they'd been caught doing something more incriminating than undressing each other with their eyes.
"You're right, mother. Lee, thank you for the lovely flower. I'll just put it in some water and then we can be going."
"Oh, this isn't for you, Amanda. Mrs. West, this is to say thank you for sparing me your daughter for the evening." he gallantly offered the rose to Dotty, who blushed and simpered like a schoolgirl before thanking him profusely.
Amanda rolled her eyes. Another West woman falls victim to the Stetson charm. She had to admit, ingratiating himself to her mother was a smooth move. If their relationship was going to last longer than this one date, as she fervently hoped that it would, having Dotty on his side was going to net Lee lots of fringe benefits like overnight babysitting. She stopped her thoughts short. It was far too early to start thinking about spending the night with Lee. Glancing at him surreptitiously as he extended his hand to lead her to his car, she decided she'd wait until at least after dinner to consider that option.
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Arriving at the Willard Hotel, Amanda felt momentarily overwhelmed by the crush of fur stoles, heavy perfume, and the quiet din of cultured voices raised over the percussion of crystal ware. She glanced at Lee, who had checked his coat and was exchanging pleasantries with a passing acquaintance as though he was born to this life, rather than one where he hid in shadows and carried a gun.
"Hey. Everything okay?" His familiar concern brought her back to herself, and she smiled and shook her head to show that she was being foolish. He stepped behind her and began to assist in easing off her coat, but as he lowered it down her arms, he exposed nothing but bare skin. What had appeared to be a relatively modest black outfit from the front was in fact a backless bib dress held in place by a narrow collar of fabric around her neck and a lot of goodwill. There's no way she's wearing a bra under that dress, was the first coherent thought he could muster. She glanced at him over her shoulder, and he knew she was perfectly aware of her effect on him. As she stepped away from her coat, she made certain to extend her right leg far enough to demonstrate that the dress's skirt had a slit that cut almost the full way up her impossibly long thigh. He let out a silent groan and then risked being scalded by placing his hand on her gorgeously bare back to lead her into the main dining room.
Lee felt the need to get back onto a familiar playing field, not used to Amanda being the provocative one, although it was certainly an adjustment he was willing to make. As they walked, he ran his fingernails up and down her spine like spider webs, not satisfied until he felt her shiver in response.
"I suppose it would be redundant of me to use words to tell you how incredibly beautiful you look?" he whispered close to her ear as they approached their table. Her answering smile made him regret the myriad times he could have paid her a similar compliment, but had kept his admiration to himself instead.
"You don't clean up too badly yourself." she replied, letting him see her gaze drop to take in the full effect of his tall, lean form in his perfectly tailored tux.
He pulled out her chair, and then settled in the seat beside her. It wasn't until his wine was served that he realized that he'd continued to hold her hand on the tablecloth between them, running his thumb gently over her knuckles.
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After a pleasant dinner during which they divided their time between staring at each other out of the corners of their eyes and making small talk with their tablemates, the party adjourned to the grand ballroom.
The orchestra struck up a slow tune and the dance floor soon filled with elegant couples.
"Would you rather dance, or watch?" Lee asked quietly, wanting to give her the option of being inconspicuous, as she had seemed a bit skittish since their arrival.
"As I recall, you promised me dinner, compliments and dancing. I can't declare this evening a complete success until I experience all three." she teased, more at ease now that she and Lee were in their small bubble of privacy afforded by the giant ballroom and his close proximity.
"So I did." he smiled, remembering the unexpected events of that past Tuesday at the Watergate Hotel that had led to his asking her out on this, their first official date. He led her onto the dance floor and spun her easily into his arms, holding her just slightly closer than propriety dictated. He wondered whether he found dancing with her so effortless because of how she made him feel, or if it was merely a coincidence that the woman who fit perfectly in his arms also happened to be the one who fit perfectly in his life. Small mysteries to ponder the next time he was alone.
"Alright, here's a question I've always wanted an honest answer to: where did you learn to dance so well?" she asked after the first few songs.
"Cotillion." he answered, his eyes daring her to make fun.
"Seriously? Debutantes? I can just imagine the support group of girls named Missy and Gloria meeting at the end of the season to cry over their dashed hopes of landing their handsome dance partner. You started in the heart-breaking business early."
"Hey! That's totally unwarranted. I was brought up to be a gentleman, and I've never led any woman on with false promises." he leaned back from their tight embrace, hurt flashing in his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Lee. I was only teasing. But you have to admit that your social life is very … active, to say the least." She was thinking of the many women at work who had made it amply clear to her that they had sampled the famous Scarecrow's many attractions, not to mention the ones who had been giving her dirty looks since she'd entered the room on his arm tonight. From the beginning of their partnership, it had bothered her, but now that they were on the cusp of a relationship of their own, it needed to be addressed head on.
"Used to be very active, you mean. You might not have noticed, but I've only been interested in one woman for quite some time. Spending time with anyone else started to feel … hollow." he confessed.
She drew him back against her as they continued to move gently to the music, and whispered into his neck. "I noticed. We wouldn't be here if I hadn't noticed. But it's still a bitter pill to swallow. Take tonight, for instance. We're attracting a lot of attention. How many of those women trying to burn holes into my back with their eyes right now have you slept with?"
"Amanda …" he sighed, wishing he had considered that possibility before inviting her here, of all places, on their first real date. He unconsciously covered her spine with both hands, as though shielding her from unwelcome thoughts.
"I'm not chastising, Lee. Truly. You were a grown man with no commitments to honour. But I need you to understand what happens when I'm out with you. I feel like the understudy who gets called up on opening night, and everyone is turning to their programmes, trying to figure out what claim I have to be here."
"Your claim is that I want you here with me. No-one else. If you can't wrap your head around that, then I think we're going to have a problem, because I can't bear the idea of you feeling judged and coming up lacking every time we're out in company."
"How many, Lee?" she persisted.
"Three. Amanda, I lived that life for a long time before I realized that no number of pretty socialites could fill the void with casual sex, smooth words and disposable emotions. I had to stop the leak first, and the only person who motivated me to do that was a beautiful brunette from Arlington. That's why I'm dancing with you, holding you, while they look on." He wasn't used to being so forthcoming about his past or his emotions, but the stakes at this particular table were very high, and brutal honesty with Amanda had served him well so far.
He felt her relax under his hands, and her voice took on the teasing tone that drove him to distraction time and time again.
"The platinum blond in the sequined mermaid gown is particularly glamourous, and particularly intent on seeing me burn in hell."
"Elisa. That was a very long time ago, before we'd even met. You could be my ninety year old aunt, and she'd probably still be glaring daggers at you. She doesn't like to share her toys, even the discarded ones."
"Mmmm. I bet no-one ever told her about the competitive nature of the American housewife." she murmured, bringing her hands up to play with the ends of his hair and parting her legs so that one was on either side of his strong thigh as they danced pressed together like two pages of a decidedly erotic novel. The new positioning of her leg meant that the slit of her skirt had opened fully, and Lee ran his hand over her right hip to her exposed thigh. Drawing his fingers upward slightly, he encountered the top of her stockings and then nothing but smooth, naked skin. He drew back to look into her playful eyes, shock warring with arousal on his face.
"I said I felt like an understudy. I didn't say this was my first play."
"Mmmm, Amanda. As much as I'm enjoying being a gambit in whatever game you are currently winning, I desperately need you all to myself. Come with me." he reluctantly released her from his arms and offered her his elbow to lead her towards the lobby. He took advantage of the momentary absence of her body pressed along his to run a finger beneath his bowtie and take a few deep, cleansing breaths. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so affected by simply dancing with a woman.
Standing face to face in the lobby, Lee forced his hands into his pockets to avoid touching her for the moment. He had something important to say, and his delivery would make all the difference. Rocking back and forth on his heels in an uncharacteristic outward sign of nervousness, he approached the subject sideways, as any good federal agent would do.
"It's far too early to take you home, and I was thoroughly enjoying driving Elisa nuts with you, but much more dancing like that and I'll likely find myself doing something that isn't condoned by the debutantes' handbook."
She smiled beguilingly, smoothing imaginary dust from his lapel because it gave her an excuse to touch him again. It had been at least sixty seconds, and her hands were bereft.
"We could go back to your apartment …" she suggested, wondering what they had put in the wine that made her so uncommonly forward. Or perhaps it was something chemical that passed from his body to hers every time their skin came in direct contact. It was a plausible theory that she was more than willing to fully investigate.
Emboldened by her suggestion and its accompanying look, he ventured, "Or we could go upstairs to the hotel room I rented …"
"Hotel room, singular?" she asked nervously, wetting her lips.
"Well, suite, actually. With two sleeping areas. I'm a gentleman, remember? I would never have presumed…" he trailed off, not willing to vocalize the difference between what he might have presumed and what he ached for.
She relaxed, comforted by his steady thoughtfulness. He really was the most complicated man she'd ever known. She couldn't rationalize all his myriad contradictions: raw physicality and empathic understanding, abrupt changes of mood and acute perceptiveness, genteel manners and, she had long suspected, a hedonistic approach to pleasure. But despite his perplexing personality, or perhaps because of it, she knew he was worthy of her trust.
"What if I don't want you to be a gentleman?" she whispered, looking up at him through her eyelashes in a way she now understood drove him insane.
"Then I think that elevator can't get here fast enough." he growled, letting his eyes speak of all the things he wanted to do with her.
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She stood in front of the bay window in the seating area of Lee's suite, looking out on Pennsylvania Avenue below, the glow from the White House floodlights off to her right.
His hands spanned the narrowness of her waist from behind, raising flutters of sensation that began low in her belly and then rose to get trapped inside her ribs, beating against them like so many startled birds in a cage.
His cool lips made contact with the ridge of her shoulder, trailing sparks and frost along her skin as he slid them towards her neck.
Struggling to find room in her chest to breathe, between her pounding heart and the frantic fluttering, she turned towards him and met his gaze. She needed to see him as they took this ultimate step from friends and partners to lovers, to read on his face that she wasn't part of a set piece seduction. Mercurial at the best of times, his eyes were hazy with competing messages. His pupils were dilated with arousal, but around them she could also read apprehension and something dancing on the fine line between devotion and a deeper emotion than she dare not name. Seeing nothing there that she didn't mirror back tenfold, she leaned into his body and brought her lips to meet his.
Amanda experienced a strange sense of déjà vu as they began to kiss. The feel of his mouth against hers brought back whispers of memory of a faraway time when kissing was just a vague concept that she'd tried to conjure in her imagination. Completely devoid of any concrete experience, those juvenile fantasies had taken on unrealistic expectations of what a kiss could be.
The impression vanished as Lee nipped against her bottom lip, followed immediately by a flick of his tongue, which she imagined was intended to be soothing, but was in fact exactly the opposite. Her hands had found their way from his shoulders into his hair, and she pulled him down against her as her mouth opened. Her pulse was beating so wildly in her ears, she could swear she felt it vibrating in his mouth, before she realized he was making a low sound in his throat that was its echo.
They broke apart after endless seconds, breathless and each a little shocked by the other.
"I think …. that it's a very good thing we never tried that at the office." he grinned.
"Yeah." she murmured, still not anywhere near gathering her composure.
He took her hands in his and led her towards the lounge chair placed on an angle near the window. He'd taken off his tuxedo jacket, and now rid himself of his bowtie, loosening the top button of his shirt before taking her hands again, reclining and extending his long legs before pulling her down close beside him.
"Your hands are shaking."
"Indescribably so. I can't remember the last time it mattered quite as much that I get something right."
"You're. Getting. It. Exactly. Right." she punctuated each word with a soft kiss to his lips, and felt him smile in response.
They necked like teenagers in the backseat of someone else's car, re-discovering every familiar landmark and charting unexplored terrain. His hair really was as silken as it looked – no wonder he was always running his hands through it. Her earlobes were uncommonly sensitive, and if he sucked on one just so, she turned to mercury in his arms. Soon enough Amanda was seated across his lap, and the hand that had been caressing her back had found itself under the bodice of her dress, teasing the bare side of her breast. She pulled away from the magnet of his mouth and read the question in his eyes.
"I need to call my mother." she murmured, surprising him with her non-sequitur.
She stood on shaky legs and made her way to the phone.
"Hello mother. Yes. Yes, it's lovely. Uh huh. A wonderful dancer. But he's had a bit too much to drink, so I think I'm going to just get myself a hotel room, and …. Would you? That would be wonderful. Give the boys a hug for me when they wake up. I love you. Goodnight."
While she was talking, Lee had come up behind her and began nuzzling her hair, his breath running warm and quick against her sensitive skin. As she hung up the phone, he murmured against her neck.
"Think she bought it?"
"Not a single word."
"I don't know. I am feeling a little drunk." and she chuffed out a laugh, loving his offbeat sense of humour.
He turned her to face him and left his hands on her shoulders, lowering his chin to look her straight in the eyes.
"I think …. before we take this any further, that we need to make certain we're on the same page."
"What exactly does your page say, Lee?"
"It says that you have my undivided and enthusiastic attention: today, tomorrow, for as long as you want it." he ran a lazy hand down her arm. "That you matter more to me than I am capable of finding words to say." he pulled her against him, their bodies adhering with electric precision. "And that I'd much sooner show you than tell you how much I want you." Reading her acceptance as it flowed across her features and down along her limbs, Lee lifted her into his arms and carried her towards the bedroom.
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Lee's memories of the rest of the night were impressionistic, a blurred collage of senses. He remembered trying to memorize the vision of her nude form rising from the cascading black circle of her dress like a phoenix from the ashes. Clever fingers and lips running over his ribs and hips and thighs, as though the riddles of the universe were coded on his skin. The sensation of sinking, into the cool feather down bed, into her impossibly igneous body, and finally into a welcoming abyss of release, the waves of her pleasure ebbing and flowing over him in echo, washing away layers of regret.
Amanda, for her part, remembered every moment of their first time together with sharp, vivid recall. The next day, pulling laundry from the dryer, she flashed back to a point when she had been above him, his hands and his voice urging her movements and the look on his face as he watched her so naked and so intent, she'd had to close her eyes to limit the rush of feeling to her heart. Late in the night, emptied of every pressing emotion except contentment, she had been falling asleep when Lee began scattering butterfly kisses against her skin. In her dreamlike state, she thought they were snowflakes.