Disclaimer: The following is a work of fanfiction. All characters and situations belonging to the animated feature film "Atlantis: the Lost Empire" are copyrighted to Disney Enterprises, Inc. This story includes dialogue and actions taken from the screenplay written by Tab Murphy. Major events occurring before the movie are based on rough timelines appearing in the book "The Journal of Milo Thatch," written by Jeff Kurtti. All character background information is also based on the "Journal" as well as "Disney's Atlantis: the Lost Empire: the Essential Guide," published by Dorling Kindersley (DK) Books. Everything else, including original characters, is of my own creation.

Author's Notes: The idea for this story came to me after my initial viewing of "Atlantis" in June. During the film, I had observed the way Helga behaved around Rourke, which was unusual for a mere second-in-command. To me, this spoke of a more than professional relationship between the two of them. There were many more indications of this, but nothing more overt than her reaction to his ultimate betrayal of her. Her final spoken line of "nothing personal" proved that there was definitely more going on between them than was shown onscreen. I left the theater convinced that there was a whole story just waiting to be told.
The proof that there was indeed a relationship between them came in the form of two books, DK's "Disney's Atlantis: the Lost Empire: the Essential Guide" and "The Journal of Milo Thatch". Through my reading, I learned that they had known each other for thirteen years by the time of "Atlantis" and that Rourke had personally trained Helga in many areas of combat and strategy. Using the information gathered from the books, I created a story that illustrates what I believe to be their past relationship. It is by no means supposed to be taken as "official", but I find it to be entirely plausible based on their behavior in the movie. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
This story contains violence, language, adult content, and sexual situations. It is not recommended for younger readers.
All comments and questions may be sent to me at:
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the story.

Love's Illusions
by
Julie Horwitz

She lashed out in a mixture of anger and heartache. She couldn't believe this was happening. Not after everything they had been through together. Not after what he had promised her mere hours ago...

The only thing that mattered to her now was making him pay for what he had tried to do. She was too distraught to think about anything else. She blindly kicked out at him, not bothering to remember any of the things he had taught her about combat. As long as she hurt him, she would feel like she had won this battle. Too late, she realized that this had been a mistake.

An ultimately fatal one.

He easily caught her foot, as he had so many times in the past. His face was emotionless. He radiated the deadly calm she had come to associate with him.

"Next time, get it in writing," he coldly told her. And then, he simply twisted her foot and tossed her over the edge once again.

As she fell, she screamed his name.

"Nothing personal," he cheerfully called after her, as if this had been a fight between strangers.

Upon hearing those words, Helga Sinclair's heart shattered into a million pieces as she realized that Lyle Rourke, the man who had taught her everything...the man she admired...the man she loved, had never cared for her at all.

((((())))))

Thirteen years earlier...

Helga took another swing at the heavy sandbag and watched satisfactorily as it flew backwards. She imagined the effect her punch would have had on a real opponent and smiled. It would not be pretty. She was definitely starting to get more power into her blows.

She had begun weightlifting about four months ago and it was beginning to become more evident in her fighting. She was able to hit harder than ever and was in the best shape of her life. She couldn't wait until the next family match. This time, she'd even be able to beat her father. She just knew it!

Fighting was her favorite activity. It was the one thing she was truly good at. She knew her mother disapproved, but she really didn't care. She enjoyed a good spar and that was all that mattered to her. After all, it was the only constant she had had for nearly all of her seventeen years.

Ever since she could remember, her family had always been on the move, never staying in one place very long. Once, when she was eight, they had moved three times in the same year. Her father was a major and reassignment was a big part of his career. She was truly what they called an army brat.

At an early age, she had decided that it was pointless to make friends. Why make attachments that wouldn't last for very long? She had often heard that friends were supposed to be forever. She had never seen any of her friends again after her moves and she had missed them terribly for some time. So, at age eight, she vowed to never to make another friend again.

She came up with a foolproof plan: she would be coldest, nastiest person in school. If anyone tried to be friendly, she would say something to scare them away. She created the perfect persona and, for nine years, it had served her well. She was caustic, sarcastic, and sometimes out and out rude. No one outside of her family knew what she was really like. And that was how she intended to keep it. At least, until she knew that she would never have to move again, which was possibly very soon.

Her brothers became her only friends. When they were little, they played together all the time. She was their bossy big sister and they adored her. But, as they got older, they started to make friends of their own and now the older ones were even dating. They were still close, but for the past few years she had been spending her days alone.

For a while, when she was younger, her mother had tried to encourage her to take dance lessons as she had when she was Helga's age. She had adamantly refused. She didn't want to be in a position where she could form possible friendships. It would be too painful when she had to move once again. Finally, her mother had given up and let her daughter remain the rough and tumble tomboy she had become.

Her intense love of fighting was her father's fault. When she was four, he had started to teach her simple combat moves and she had taken to it like a fish to water. As her brothers grew older, her father taught them too, and the traditional family fight night was created. For years, she had reigned over her brothers, but then they had started getting bigger and stronger than her. And, she had yet to defeat her father in a fight.

Her days after school were devoted to fight practice, exercise, and, of course, homework. She was at the top of her class and she never let her hobby interfere with her studies. Her parents could not complain, though her lack of friends bothered them. But, there was nothing they could say or do to change her mind. Besides, in a few more months she'd graduate from high school and she'd finally be free to start her own life.

She gave the punching bag a few more jabs and kicks before deciding she'd had enough practice for one day. She ran a hand through her sweat-slicked short blonde hair (another thing her mother was upset about) and she turned around to gather her gear.

That's when she noticed she wasn't alone.

There were seven of them in all, a group of men not much older than she. They were dressed in fatigues, marking them as military. She was a civilian and only wore a tank top and cut-off shorts. They were staring at her and she had the feeling she knew what they wanted.

"Can I help you gentlemen?" she asked in an icy tone.

The one standing in the front smiled in a way that sickened her. "You have some pretty sweet moves there," he told her.

"Thank you," she replied. Keeping her eyes on them, she bent down and retrieved her belongings.

"Where did you learn them?" the lead man asked.

Helga stood up and slung her bag over her shoulder. "Some from my father. Some on my own." She folded her arms. "Anything else?"

The leader took a step forward and leered at her. "Yeah. How about you and I go somewhere private and you give me a one-on-one lesson?"

She mentally rolled her eyes. Were all men this predictable? "Sorry, I don't give lessons. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have someplace to be." She started to walk away.

The leader reached out and roughly grabbed her arm. "Not so fast, sweetheart. I asked you for something and you're not going anywhere until I get it. I don't like it when I don't get my way. And when I don't like something, I can get very mean."

The man's cohorts began to chuckle and nudge each other knowingly. Apparently, this was a routine they pulled quite often. She had a feeling that it was usually successful. Most girls would have been afraid of them. Unfortunately for them, she wasn't like other girls.

Men had been trying this with her for the past five years and it was getting tiresome. It had started when she had, in her mother's words, "become a woman" and her body had filled out. Apparently it had filled out a little too well since just about every guy who saw her wanted to put the move on her. She couldn't understand why. Her most exotic feature was the wedge-shaped mole under her left eye, but other than that, there was nothing special about her.

It wasn't that she never wanted a man to find her attractive. She actually wanted it badly. She had had many crushes over the years, but her determination to keep herself from being hurt kept everyone away. Maybe when she was free of this uncertain way of life and never had to worry about leaving people she cared about again could she finally let down her guard and just be herself.

But, until that day, she had a reputation to protect and maintain. And, since her unappealing personality didn't seem to deter these men, she had usually had to resort to violence. She had lost count of how many men she had put in the infirmary this year alone because they couldn't take a hint.

Calmly, she looked her latest "suitor" straight in the face and said, "If you don't release your grip on my arm right now, I'm going to break your hand."

The other men made oohing noises.

"Come on, Eric," one of the others said. "Are you gonna let her talk to you that way?"

"Hell no," Eric grinned. "Come on, Baby. You're not gonna hurt me. You know you want this just as much as I do."

"Really?" Helga asked with feigned surprise. "I guess I don't know myself as well as you do." Without blinking an eye, she reached out with her free hand and practically crushed his as she pulled it away from her arm. Bones could be heard to crack as Eric screamed in pain. And then to add insult to injury, she kicked him forcefully in the crotch before he had a chance to recover.

Eric bent over, yelling louder than before.

Before the others could react, she made a dash for the door. She knew they'd be coming after her and she wanted to be ready for them.

She heard Eric shout the angry orders of "get her!" as she raced down the hall to the back entrance.

((((())))))

Lyle Tiberius Rourke, newly retired from the service, was on his way to see some general named Yates when his attention was caught by the sound of a large crowd's chanting coming from behind the building he was passing.

"Fight! Fight! Fight!" was being repeated over and over with the occasional cheer and applause in-between.

He sighed in exasperation. He could not understand why these things broke out. Fights were a waste of time and energy that could be better spent becoming the best soldier a man could be. And, if there was one thing he hated, it was waste.

He decided to put an end to it. General Yates could wait. Setting these future soldiers straight was far more important.

He followed the chanting to the back of the building, which happened to be the gymnasium, and, sure enough, he found a large crowd circled around something. The fighters, no doubt. The crowd was jumping up and down, hooting and hollering all the while. Obviously, this brawl was more exciting than normal. All the more reason to stop it.

He marched right up to the crowd and began muscling his way through. About halfway in, he stopped to observe the progress of the combatants and his mouth dropped open. The sight he saw was completely unexpected.

Standing in the middle of everything was a woman. No, he realized, girl. Her face was very young, indicating that she could be no more than sixteen or seventeen. Her body, on the other hand, possessed the most exquisite figure he had ever seen. She was posed in a fighting stance, waiting for her opponent to make his next move. She didn't even look the least bit winded.

Rourke saw that she was not just fighting one man, but four. They were standing opposite her across the surrounded area, appearing to be discussing their next move.

Two other men were laying on the ground, bloodied and bruised. Rourke could not tell if they were unconscious or not.

"What are you waiting for?" the girl taunted in a silky tone. "Someone make their move already. I'm getting bored."

One of the men charged her and girl looked unfazed. When the man got close enough, she launched into a vicious attack that mesmerized Rourke. He had never seen anyone move like her in his life. She was like a wild animal, both beautiful and deadly. The man didn't stand a chance and went down almost instantly.

"Next," she purred, urging one of the remaining three to try her.

"Take her," a voice in the crowd yelled. "Come on, you idiots! She's just a girl!"

Rourke just smiled. She may have been "just a girl", but she was the most talented natural fighter he had ever seen. Yes, her methods were undisciplined and her technique was sloppy, but with a little training, she could be the most dangerous living weapon alive. But, against these amateurs, she was still the obvious victor in this match. The three men would be wise to cut their losses and run.

The three men seemed to consult each other for a moment and then, without even a word of surrender, they ran away, leaving their fallen comrades.

"Cowards!" the girl called after them. She turned to look at someone in the crowd that Rourke couldn't see from his vantage point. "I suggest you listen the next time a girl asks you to leave her alone."

Sensing that the fight was over, the crowd started to break up. A couple of the spectators helped up the fallen men and they limped away in defeat without even a glance at the girl, who was looking quite smug.

Rourke remained where he was. He wanted to have a word with this girl. Soon they were the only two left.

The girl had her back to him, so he said, "You're an incredible fighter."

She turned around and folded her arms. "I should be. I've been training since I was four." Her tone was icy and cold. Very unfriendly.

He got his first good look at her face. She was beautiful. A woman with both a perfect face and body was very rare. A woman who was also a deadly fighter was even scarcer. If she wasn't so young...

"I can tell," he told her. "I've never seen anyone move like you do."

"Thank you," she simply said. She didn't sound affected by the flattery at all. That was a good sign. Maybe she'd be open to some positive criticism as well. If she was ever to become the best she could be, she needed to know what to work on.

"I do have two suggestions for you though," he said.

She raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And what would those be?"

"Your technique is sloppy," he told her. "And you're very undisciplined. You need to work on both. You could kill someone without meaning to, fighting the way you do."

Her face darkened. "Maybe that was my intent," she said coldly. "You don't know why I was fighting them."

"True," he agreed, "but a good fighter never lets her emotions get in the way. She needs to keep a clear head if she wants to win."

"Well, I did win," she told him. The irritation was perfectly clear in her voice. Obviously she had never been criticized before and it was making her angry. She didn't like the implication that there was a flaw in her fighting method. "Are you trying to say that I'm not a good fighter?"

He chuckled under his breath. This girl was something else. He liked her fire. "Not at all. All I'm saying is the only reason you won this fight was because you were up against amateurs. You were completely on the offensive. I didn't see one sign of defense in your attacks.

"You try something like that on the battlefield and you wouldn't even last a minute."

"Who said anything about me ever being on a battlefield?" she questioned him. "And, what makes my fighting style any of your business anyway? Do you fancy yourself some kind of combat expert?"

"Something like that," he told her.

"And, I suppose you think that makes you a better fighter than me?"

"I never said that," Rourke corrected, though he knew that right now he was. She wouldn't last a second against him in a fight.

"Would you like to find out?" the girl challenged him.

Rourke smiled thinly at this. She really had no idea what she was up against. "Maybe some other time," he told her. "I have an appointment to keep." He turned around and began to walk away. "Nice meeting you," he called over his shoulder.

He didn't hear her as much as sense her coming after him. He waited until he knew she was attacking before turning around and grabbing her by the foot. The expression on her face was priceless. "As I said, you wouldn't last a minute."

"How-how did you do that?" she barely managed in her surprise.

Still holding her foot, he shrugged. "I heard you coming. You have no concept of stealth or strategy." He glanced at the watch on his wrist. Noticing the time, he dropped her foot and stepped back. She fell to the ground in a heap. "You work on your technique, little girl. You have the potential to be the best." Having said his piece, he walked away.

He approached the side of the building when he noticed a figure standing there. It was a man in a major's uniform.

"That was a pretty impressive thing you did back there," the major said. He had a thick Scottish brogue. "No one has ever been able stop her without at least getting hit once. She didn't even finish her attack."

"As I told her, I was able to hear her coming," Rourke explained. "I take it you know her?"

The major laughed heartily. "I would hope so. She's my daughter."

Rourke was so surprised that he found he couldn't speak. That ill-mannered, fiery-tempered beauty was the daughter of a major?

"Helga's not really a bad girl," the major said, revealing her name. "She just acts like she is. She's had a rough life. She's been moving constantly since she was three."

"Does she always get into these kinds of fights?" Rourke wanted to know.

"Fifth one this week," her father told him. "I came as soon as I heard it had broken out. Saw the whole thing."

"Why didn't you put a stop to it?"

The major shrugged. "No point. She wouldn't have let me."

Rourke cocked an eyebrow. "She wouldn't have let you?" To this he had to hear the answer.

"I know my daughter. She never leaves a fight unfinished, especially when she's winning. You saw her back there. Would you really try to get into the middle of that?"

Rourke had to agree with him. The only thing that had saved him when she tried to attack from behind was her own sloppy technique. If she had been well-trained, he'd be in as bad a shape as the men who he had seen lying on the ground. He decided to change the subject.

He extended his right hand. "I'm Lyle Rourke."

"Rourke," the major repeated, sounding impressed. He accepted the hand and shook it. "I've heard of you. You have quite a reputation. My name is Alexander Sinclair. It's an honor to make your acquaintance, sir. What brings you to this neck of the woods? I heard you had retired."

"I did," Rourke told him. "But, you know how it is. Once an army man, always an army man. I'm just passing through on my way to Fort Dix. I've been selected to be an instructor in some experimental new officer's training program."

Sinclair nodded. "I'd heard about that. I've actually been thinking of sending Helga to participate. She's getting to be a little too much for me and my wife to handle. She may not be officer material, but at least she'd learn a little discipline."

"Yes," Rourke said, contemplating the possibilities of having Helga as a student. She had a wealth of raw talent just waiting for the right person to turn into the deadliest force the world had yet to see. The things he could do with her if she was his alone to train... "I think that this program would be the best thing for her."

And for me, he silently added.

((((())))))

Helga dragged her feet as she followed her father into the train station. She couldn't believe that this was happening. She was being shipped off to some stupid program that was supposed to teach her how to become an officer. She didn't even want to be an officer! It was completely unfair.

The school year was almost over and she wasn't even being allowed to finish it. She was supposed to finally graduate. Instead, she was starting all over again. All her hard work would be for nothing. Her plans to start her own life were lying in ruin.

Why did this have to happen now? she wanted to know. She knew her parents were upset with her for constantly getting into fights, but this was nothing new with her. She had been having these little scuffles for years. What had made this last one different enough to justify them sending her away?

That man. It had to be. The man who had humiliated her in front of her father. The man who had told her that she was a bad fighter and then proceeded to make her look like a fool. She had seen them talking. What had he said to convince Father to send her to this stupid program?

She heavily sat down on an empty bench while her father went to buy her ticket. She put her head in her hands and sighed. She didn't think things could get any worse.

"Hello, Miss Sinclair," a familiar voice said. A very familiar voice. "It's nice to see you again."

She looked up and couldn't believe her eyes. It was the horrible man! Thanks to her father, he now knew her name. So much for things not getting any worse. What was he doing here?

"Sorry I can't say the same," she told him coldly, as she sat up straight and folded her arms. Maybe if she was as rude as possible to him, he'd go away.

He chuckled, as if what she said was funny. "I take it you're not too happy to see me," he commented, and much to her horror, he sat down next to her!

"Glad you noticed," she said. What was it going to take to get rid of him?

The man smiled. "It would be hard not to."

"Ah, Rourke," came her father's voice, cutting her off before she could respond. "There you are. I've been looking for you."

Helga turned to see Father coming straight towards them.

"You found me," the annoying man, Rourke, said. "I just happened to see Helga sitting all alone and thought I'd get reacquainted with her before we board the train."

What is he talking about? Helga wondered.

"Good, good," Father smiled as he handed her a ticket. "It's a long journey to Fort Dix. I'm sure you two will have plenty to talk about."

"Excuse me?" Helga interrupted, unable to remain silent any longer. "Are you telling me I have to sit next to him?"

"It was your father's idea," Rourke told her good-naturedly. "And I agreed with him.

"I've been looking forward to our time together all week."

Helga held in the scream of frustration she desperately wanted to release. Now she knew things were going to get much, much worse.

((((())))))

Rourke glanced once again at his companion and admired the anger and hatred that was radiating from her.

Helga Sinclair was going to become the perfect soldier and she didn't even know it yet.

He had spent the past week formulating how he was going to place her firmly under his control. He knew that that was the only way he was going to be able to mold her into what he wanted. Right now, she was headstrong and arrogant and didn't trust anyone. He would have to change all that before he could begin her training.

He knew the key to luring her into his trap was understanding every aspect of her. He had met with her father two more times after their initial encounter. He had wanted to learn everything about her. She was as complicated as she was beautiful. Breaking her would provide an exciting challenge.

As he looked at her, he couldn't help but admire her beauty. He knew he shouldn't be attracted to her, especially given her age, but he was. He had been with many women over the years, even been married for a short time, but none of them could compare to Helga. She was unique in every way.

She hadn't said a word to him since they had boarded the train. He had expected as much. It was obvious just by looking at her that she hated him. He had, after all, defeated her in a fight, if it could even be called that. According to her father, she had never lost a fight to anyone outside of her own family. He had humiliated her and she resented him for it.

He would use her angry feelings towards him as a starting point, he decided. He would make sure that she was in all of his classes. He would push her almost to the point of breaking. He would become the only thing she could think about. He'd be her worst nightmare come to life.

And then, he'd have her exactly where he wanted her.

Helga seemed to sense his eyes on her and turned to glare at him. "Stop staring at me," she quietly said.

He leaned in closer to her. His plan was already working. "Why? Does it make you uncomfortable?"

She narrowed her eyes. "What do you think?"

He smiled at her. "I think you're just looking for a way to make me angry. Not a very smart thing to do, Miss Sinclair. You have no idea what I'm capable of when I'm angry."

"Is that a threat?"

"No," he said. He reached out and roughly grabbed her by the chin, keeping her from turning away from him. The first sign of fear entered her eyes. Good. "That was a warning. I've killed men under my own command for not following orders. And, I was perfectly calm at the time.

"Don't cross me, little girl. You wouldn't like what might happen to you."

He let her go and she actually cowered in her seat. She was learning to fear him. A wise thing to do.

((((())))))

"Cadet Sinclair, you call that a punch?"

Helga turned away from her sparring partner to look at Rourke. She folded her arms. "And, what's wrong with it this time?" She paused a moment before adding "sir" almost as an afterthought. She knew it annoyed him and that fact gave her pleasure.

"The same thing that was wrong yesterday and the day before that," Rourke told her matter-of-factly. "You're throwing too much of your weight into it. You're giving your opponent the perfect opportunity to defeat you."

"All right," she said as casually as possible. "I'll work on it." She hadn't been in the mood to argue with him at all today. She was tired and wanted to get out of class as soon as possible. An argument with him would only lead to his keeping her afterwards, which was the last thing she wanted.

He'd been trying to goad her into a fight with him all day without any success. In every single class with him, he'd found something to complain about, which was not unusual. He never liked anything she did. But, he'd been particularly hard on her today. Why? She had no idea.

She and Rourke had had a mutual hatred of each other from the start. She hadn't been surprised to find that most of her classes turned out to be with him. So far, he'd been making her semester a living hell. He singled her out from the class at every chance he got, mostly here in hand-to-hand combat. By now, the other students knew to stand back whenever he started in with her. Their arguments always got ugly.

Today she just wasn't up to one of their "word wars". Tomorrow she'd be extra smart-assed just to make up for today. That should be enough to satisfy even Rourke.

She turned back to her partner and shifted into the fighter's stance. "All right, Kurt. Let's try this again."

Kurt nodded and prepared to fight her again.

"I wasn't done talking with you," Rourke interrupted.

She dropped her stance and turned back to Rourke. Apparently he wasn't smart enough to take a hint. "Okay. I'm listening." What was his problem today? Maybe he just can't believe I'd turn down a fight with him, she mused.

"I want you to hit me," he suddenly said.

What? she mentally shouted. She knew he was a crazy son of a bitch, but even this seemed a little farfetched for him. "I beg your pardon, sir?"

"I want to show you what I was talking about," he told her, "and the only way for me to do that is if you throw a punch at me." He made a little "come on" gesture. "Show me what you're made of, little girl."

You can't be serious, she thought. The one day she didn't want to fight and he goes completely psycho on her. She remembered her only other physical "encounter" with him. It hadn't ended well for her and he'd been semi-sane that day. She had a feeling this one would be a lot worse.

"Let's get this over with," she muttered. The sooner she let him have his fun, the sooner she could go back to the barracks.

She walked over to him and eased once again into the correct stance. He just stayed as he was, acting like this was the most normal thing in the world. The size difference between them was tremendous, but as he had taught in the class, if you were a good fighter, it did not matter how big your opponent was. She hoped that he was right.

"Whenever you're ready, Cadet," Rourke told her.

Without a word, she threw a punch. It was not a powerful one and he easily caught her by the wrist.

He clucked his tongue at her. "You weren't even trying this time," he commented as he released his hold. "Do it again."

Helga sighed in exasperation. She was very tired and didn't have the energy for this. "Yes, sir." She threw another one, a little more powerful this time.

Again, he caught it. "Better, but still not up to par." He dropped her arm.

"What do you want me to do? Actually try to hurt you?" she asked in annoyance.

He leaned in closer. "Yes," he barely whispered. "You know you want to." He moved back. "Again."

This guy was nuts! He actually wanted her to really attack him? Fine. He wanted a fight, he'd get a fight. She was tired of him making her look like a fool. It was time to teach him a lesson.

Or die trying.

She had done a little research on Rourke after she'd arrived at Fort Dix two months before. His threat about crossing him hadn't been idle. He had a reputation for excessive violence and showing no mercy. He'd even executed prisoners against orders. He was not a man to piss off, which was exactly what she'd been doing ever since she'd met him. Sometimes she was surprised he hadn't killed her yet.

"Yes, sir," she said and took her position. She balled her fist and threw the most powerful punch she could.

He caught it. "Much be-"

Before he could finish his sentence, she kicked out and knocked his legs out from under him.

The room went silent.

The other students, who were by now used to Helga and Rourke's frequent battles, hadn't been paying much attention to this latest skirmish. Helga's unexpected physical attack had taken them all by surprise.

Helga and Rourke were down on the floor. He hadn't let go of her arm when he fell and he pulled her with him. In fact, he had landed on her arm, effectively trapping her. On purpose, no doubt, she decided. She was stuck on top of him.

She tried breaking free, but it was no use. He wouldn't release her arm.

"That wasn't a very smart move, Cadet Sinclair," he told her. His voice was emotionless, cold. This frightened her more than the expected rage would have and she couldn't even think of a snappy reply.

The next thing she knew was that she was face first on the ground with something hard pressing into the small of her back. Rourke had moved faster than she'd have ever thought possible. She still couldn't move and her arm had now been roughly twisted behind her back.

"I'll be seeing you after class," he sadistically whispered into her ear, sending a chill through her body. What punishment did he have in store for her?

She felt him shift positions. "No one is to speak of this incident outside of the classroom," he told the rest of the class. "Is that understood?"

"Sir, yes, sir!" the other students replied in unison. Helga bet they were just relieved that it wasn't any of them in her predicament.

"Class dismissed!"

She heard their footsteps as they all raced out of the room as quickly as possible. As soon as the last of the sounds faded, she felt the pressure leave her back.

"You can stand up now, Cadet," Rourke told her.

Helga slowly got up to her feet. She was afraid to look at him. She knew she had gone too far this time. She wouldn't be surprised if he had her thrown out of the program.

"Do you remember what I told you the first time we met?" Rourke asked her.

She looked up him, surprised. Of course she remembered. That day was permanently etched in her memory. But, what did that have to do with anything?

"You're still letting your emotions get the best of you," he told her. "Tell me, what made you attack me? Were you angry at me?"

"Yes," was all she said. She was afraid to say anything else, not sure of where he was going with this.

"And, because of that, you weren't expecting me to take you down with me, were you?"

"No."

To her complete shock, Rourke smiled at her. "You're finally learning. Very good. There, you see? That wasn't so bad, was it?"

"I'm afraid I don't follow you, sir," Helga said, confused.

He chuckled. "I know you think I hate you. That I only want you to fail."

"Well, don't you?" she cautiously ventured. Why else would he have treated her the way he had?

"Not at all," he corrected. "In fact, I like you, Helga. A lot."

Helga stared at him in disbelief. If she had thought he was crazy before, she had no doubts about it now. If he liked her, he sure had a funny way of showing it.

"The first thing I ever said to you was that I thought you were an incredible fighter," he continued. "I still think that. You're the best I've ever seen.

"But, I know you can be even better. You have so much potential. Don't let it go to waste because you're afraid to let anyone help you."

"I'm not afraid of anything," she told him. Her shock now turned to anger. How dare he assume he knew anything about her. He knew nothing.

"Then why do you refuse to let anyone get close to you?" he pressed. "Why is it that you're always alone? The only time I ever see you communicating with someone is when you're fighting with them."

"Maybe I just don't like anyone," she told him. This was exactly what she had hoped to avoid today. Damn Rourke and his amazing ability to manipulate her.

"I don't think so," he said. "I just think you're afraid of letting yourself feel anything other than anger. Or loneliness.

"I know you're very lonely. Why is that, Helga?" he asked, using her giving name for the second time. "Have you been hurt before? Is that why you'd rather always be alone? To keep from being hurt again?"

She turned away from him. He was close to the truth, but not completely right. Damn him for even getting this close. How could he know these things about her? No one knew them but her. She hadn't even told her own family.

She heard him move and suddenly felt him take her upper arms in his hands from behind.

"I want to help you reach your true potential," he told her quietly, "but the only way to do that is if you'll let me. Until now, the only way to reach you has been through your anger. You don't have to hide any more. Let me help you. I'll never hurt you, Helga." He pressed his body against hers.

"I promise."

((((())))))

Rourke observed Helga as she fought her latest sparring match. She had vastly improved in the past three-and-a-half months since she had begun working with him. He was even amazed at the progress she had made in such a short time. His instincts about her abilities had been dead on.

It had taken him two months to win her over, but it had been well worth the effort. His strategy of pushing her to her breaking point had worked. Once there, she had easily cracked and accepted the "friendship" he offered. Now she was completely under his control and the results were even better than he had hoped.

She was a faster learner than he had anticipated. He had begun her training by giving her extra lessons in the evening. At first, he only planned on advancing her hand-to-hand combat skills, but she had quickly absorbed it and was left thirsting for more. So, he had added curricula from his other classes and, eventually, ones he didn't even teach. Currently, she was so far advanced in her studies it would be unnecessary for her to return after the upcoming semester break. She was ready for the next year's materials.

But she would come back because he had so much more to teach her.

After extensively working with her, he had come to realize that she was best suited not for the regular military, but for covert operations. She had everything a covert agent and spy could hope for: brains, combat skills, and, most importantly, looks. Her physical appearance was her greatest asset, even if she had yet to realize it. She was as beautiful as she was deadly and any man would find it difficult to resist her. He himself could attest to that.

From the day he had met her, he had found himself sexually attracted to her despite her youth. If she had been of age, he knew he probably would have bedded her that very same day. As it was, his desire to have her had only grown over the months. Once she turned eighteen, it would be only a matter of time before he took her to bed.

He planned on beginning her training as a spy as soon as she returned from break. He wanted to have her ready as quickly as possible in case a job opportunity came along in which he needed someone of her varied talents. There was no real money in teaching. It had only been something to do until he could find something better. Preferably something that would pay him very well...

Rourke watched as she won the match in one smooth motion. Her fighting style had become streamlined and disciplined under his guidance. She had also taken his "nothing personal" philosophy to heart and treated each fight as a business transaction. There was not a single student who could beat her in combat. He was the only one who could still best her. But, he was sure that it was only a matter of time before she beat him too.

Her fighting style was not the only thing that had changed about her. Her behavior was different as well. She had become warmer and friendlier towards the other students. She even smiled most of the time now. These changes in personality had most of her classmates baffled. He was probably the only one who knew what had happened: she had developed a crush.

On him.

He had started noticing her new feelings for him very recently, within the last month-and-a-half. Although her behavior around him had not changed too much, there were little things that gave her away. He was very good at reading people. Even someone as good an actress as Helga couldn't escape his scrutiny. If a person was thinking something, he'd know it.

Helga had now left the sparring area and was walking towards him. She was smiling and kept stopping to talk with other students who had also finished their matches.

When she finally reached him, she asked, "How'd I do, Rourke?" She never called him "sir" or "Mr. Rourke" anymore. Just "Rourke". At first, it had been just another of her ways to try to annoy him. Now, it was just the way she referred to him.

"Excellently," he told her and put a hand on her arm. She flushed slightly at the contact before managing a smile. "I'm very proud of you."

"Thanks," she said. "Well, I guess I'd better go rest up for tonight. You have anything special planned?"

"I think I'm going to give you the night off," he decided. "You deserve a break."

"Thanks, Rourke," she smiled. "You're the best."

As I should be, he silently agreed as she walked off.

Although her crush on him was unexpected, it was most definitely welcome. She had become emotionally attached to him, which meant that she would do anything to stay with him. There was no greater insurance of loyalty than that. All he had to do was nurture these feelings by giving the illusion that he felt the same way towards her and she'd never leave his side.

He would make sure she fell madly in love with him.

((((())))))

Helga approached Rourke's office door and tried to calm the butterflies in her stomach. She was going home tomorrow for semester break and she wanted to say goodbye to him. Although they had started out on the wrong foot, he was now the person she cared about the most.

When she thought about how much she had hated him at the beginning, she felt like laughing. Rourke had made her first two months here a living hell. Then, suddenly, he had informed her that he was only doing it because he cared. He had told her that he thought the only way to get through to her was by getting her mad at him. And, he had been right.

Then everything between them had changed. He had taken her under his wing and taught her how to become the best fighter she could be. He had been stern with her, but also encouraging and helpful. He'd even shown her tenderness at times when she'd become frustrated and wanted to quit. Before she knew what was happening, she had found herself falling in love with him.

Rourke was the first person outside of her family who had shown that he cared about her. Everyone else had allowed themselves to be frightened off by her "tough girl" persona. Rourke had seen right through it and made an effort to tear it down. She appreciated that more than she could say. He made her feel special.

There were so many reasons why what she felt for him was wrong. The fact that he was her teacher, for one thing. The age difference was another. She was seventeen and he was forty-one. He'd live almost half a lifetime and hers was only beginning. But, none of these mattered to her. She knew what she felt in her heart.

Finally pulling herself together, Helga knocked on his door.

"Come in," came his familiar gruff voice.

She turned the knob and pushed the door open. He was sitting at his desk, intently reading something. He was not a particularly handsome man, but her breath still caught at the sight of him.

He looked up when he heard her open the door. "Helga," he smiled warmly, putting down his papers. "I had hoped you'd come before you left."

"I'm leaving tonight," she told him from the doorway. She took a deep breath. "I just wanted to say goodbye."

"Shut the door behind you and have a seat," Rourke said. "I have something I want to talk about with you."

Although his voice was still warm and friendly, his words made her uncomfortable. But, as always, she complied with his request. She knew better than to question him.

Once she was seated, he asked, "Are you looking forward to seeing your family again?"

She slowly nodded. Lately, it had become very difficult to be around him. But, luckily, she was a decent actress and could hide her nervousness easily. "I haven't seen them in six months. I've missed them terribly."

"I know you're all very close," he said. "I'm sure they missed you just as much."

She smiled slightly. "I don't know about that. I think my parents were happy to get a break from me. I had become quite the terror of the base."

He smiled too. "Yes, the fight queen. How many did your father say you'd been in the first time I met you?"

"Five that week." The conversation was friendly and comfortable. Her earlier nervousness was beginning to fade.

"And you won them all with that sloppy technique of yours," Rourke pointed out. "If they were afraid of you then, wait until they see you now."

"And, I owe it all to you," she told him, turning serious for a moment. "You made me the person I am today.

"I don't know if I ever properly thanked you. But, thank you."

"I'm the one who should be thanking you," Rourke said. "All I did was take your raw talent and shape it into something tangible. You're the one who uses it so well. As a teacher, that's all the thanks I need."

His words touched her and she involuntarily blushed. She quickly looked away, to hide her moment of weakness from him.

"I'm going to miss you when you leave tonight," he said softly.

She turned back to look at him. "I'm...going to miss you too. I've gotten used to spending all my time with you. It will be strange not to for an entire month."

"No, you don't understand," he said, shaking his head. "I'm going to miss you."

"Me?" she asked, baffled. "What do you mean?"

He pushed his chair back from his desk and stood up. As he walked around his desk, she got to her feet. He came right up to her, towering above her. She always felt so small when next to his massive frame.

He unexpectedly reached out and caressed her cheek. "You've come to mean a great deal to me. Not only as a student, but as something more...personal.

"You're a very special woman, Helga."

She tried to swallow, but she found that her mouth was dry.

"I try not to let too many people get close to me," he continued. "Not because I don't want them in my life, but because they would interfere with my career. My work has always been the most important thing in the world to me.

"Then I met you."

She stared at him in complete shock. Was he saying what she thought he was saying? Could it possibly be real?

He put his arms around her waist, pulling her closer to him. "You've made me rethink my priorities."

Her heart was racing faster than ever before now. Her eyes searched his face, desperately searching for some sign that this wasn't some sick joke on his part. His expression had always been hard to read. Now, it was completely impossible.

"There's something I've been wanting to do for a long time. I think now is finally the right time for it." He bent down and kissed her on the lips.

It was a tender, slow kiss. Helga was taken by surprise and found her mind couldn't function anymore. The kiss was the only thing she could focus on. And the feel of his arms around her waist.

Finally, Rourke ended the kiss. He drew back his mouth, but he didn't release her from his arms.

Helga couldn't speak. Even if she was able, she didn't have the words to express what she was feeling at this very moment.

"You go home to your family now," he said. "Have a wonderful vacation. Do everything you've thought about for these past six months. Don't waste a moment.

"I'll be waiting for you when you return."

((((())))))

Helga saw Rourke as she disembarked the train. As he had promised, he was indeed waiting for her. She smiled and resisted the urge to run to him.

Had it only been a month since he had kissed her in his office? Since she had realized that she was in love with him? She knew that's all it had been, but it had seemed like an eternity.

She slowly made her way over to him, hoping he would recognize her. She was, for the first time in many years, wearing a dress and makeup. She had asked her mother to help her look nice for her return trip, fabricating a reason that neither of her parents would question. She didn't want them wondering why their tomboy daughter suddenly wanted to look feminine. She only wanted to look good for Rourke, if only for one day.

She came up to him and, when she saw his smile, she knew she had worried unnecessarily. He knew who she was.

She formally saluted him. "Cadet Sinclair, reporting for duty."

"At ease, soldier," Rourke told her, saluting back. He shook his head as if in wonder. "You look absolutely beautiful."

She blushed at the compliment. "Thank you."

"It's been lonely here without you," he told her. "I'm glad you're back."

"I've missed you," she said.

"Let's go some place private where we can talk," he suggested. "There's a few things I need to talk to you about before you start classes in the morning."

She nodded. "All right."

((((())))))

Rourke led Helga into his office and shut the door behind them. For a moment, he just studied her. He couldn't get over how different she looked.

Her hair, although still short, had begun to grow out and was neatly styled. Makeup had been delicately applied to her naturally beautiful features. The dress she wore was simple yet elegant. Helga appeared to be nothing more than an attractive young woman, a misconception that could be very dangerous in the future.

"So, what is it that couldn't wait until tomorrow?" she asked him.

He walked over to her. "In a minute. There's something else I need to do first." He leaned in and kissed her as passionately as he could manage.

He felt her body go limp against his. There was no question that she had completely fallen in love with him by now. Perfect.

He ended the kiss and just gazed into her face with a loving expression. There had to be no question on her part about his feelings for her. She had to believe that he loved her. "I've been looking forward to seeing you just for that."

She smiled at him. "I love you, Rourke. I didn't realize how much until after you kissed me for the first time."

Wonderful, he thought. "I love you too," he lied. "You have no idea how happy it makes me to know you feel the same." He took her hand. "Sit down. I have something very important I want to talk to you about."

She allowed him to lead her to a chair and she sat down. He picked up another and placed it directly in front of hers before sitting.

"I've been doing a lot of thinking this past month," he started. "About us. And, there's something you need to know if you're going to be involved with me."

"What is it?" she asked worriedly. He inwardly smiled at the concern in her voice. She was completely under his power and she didn't even know it.

"You know that I'm retired from the military?"

"Of course," she answered. "I know everything about your career."

"But do you know why?" he inquired.

She shrugged. "Well, no, but I thought it was because you wanted to be a teacher."

Her naivety amused him. "The only reason I'm teaching right now is because I need the money until something better comes along. I've done enough for my country. It's time to do something for me.

"For us."

"I'm not sure I understand," Helga said, visible confused.

"There are people out there who are willing to pay someone like me to protect them on dangerous expeditions," he told her. "They are amateurs who know nothing of the dangers of the world, but want to explore it anyway. They hire experts to take them wherever it is they want to go and keep them safe in the process. A man could get rich very quickly by doing these glorified babysitting jobs."

Helga's eyes widened in realization. "You're talking about becoming a mercenary."

Smart girl, he thought. "That's one way of putting it, though the word 'mercenary' is such a broad term. Personally, I dislike it. It's much too misleading."

"What's so 'misleading' about it, Rourke?" Helga questioned him. "A mercenary is a hired gun who'll do any job for the highest bidder." She got up from her chair and walked towards the window behind his desk, keeping her back to him. "I can't believe I'm hearing this from you, of all people. I thought you were better than that."

Rourke had been prepared for this reaction. "I know what you're thinking and I'd never do anything like that. I may have retired from the service, but I'd never betray my country. I wouldn't even fight in a war that had nothing to do with America. All I'm talking about is leading some people who fancy themselves explorers to and from some remote archeological sites. There's nothing wrong with that."

Helga turned around. "And when were you planning on starting this new career of yours?"

Suddenly he knew what was bothering her and it wasn't the fact that he was turning mercenary. "You think I'm going to leave you."

"What else do you expect me to think? Christ, Rourke. First you tell me you love me and then you turn around and tell me you've decided you want to go off and be a mercenary. I'm just a student. I'm not even eighteen yet. I don't know what I want to do with my life yet. All I know is I want to finish school."

"I have no intention of leaving you, Helga," he told her. "I want to take you with me."

"What?" She sounded incredulous. "You can't be serious."

"I made a promise that I would never hurt you and I intend to keep it," he insisted. "To me, that means keeping you with me no matter where I go."

She laughed at this. "You'd take me with you on one of these expeditions? In what capacity? I have some skills, but my training is far from complete. I'd only hold you back."

"You know more than you think you do," he said. "You're at the top of your class. I've already taught you what you'd be learning this term. I can teach you everything else you need to know as we go along. You're far too talented to be a mere officer. Why waste your life here when you could be an invaluable help to me?"

She held up her hands. "This is a lot to take in at once. I can't give you any decision yet. I'll need time to think about this."

"You have all semester," he informed her. "My teaching contract isn't up until the end of the term. I can't start looking for a job until the summer starts and even then there's no guarantee I'll get one. I'll keep teaching until I do."

"So why tell me this now?"

"Because, if you do agree to go with me, you need to know exactly what I'll have you doing. And, you'd need to start training for it immediately."

"What kind of training?" she asked him. He could tell she was intrigued. Excellent.

"Exploration has become a competitive field these days," he explained, "and sometimes it's necessary to know the plans of your rivals so you can arrive at a site first. I need someone on my team who'd be able to go in and learn what they're up to." He got up from his seat and walked over to where she was standing.

"I want that someone to be you."

((((())))))

Helga sat in her barracks room thinking over what had just happened in Rourke's office. She felt so confused. On one hand, she loved him and wanted to be with him no matter what. On the other, what he was asking her to do was morally and legally wrong. She had done things in her past that she wasn't proud of, but she had never stolen anything before and didn't know if she wanted to start.

Rourke insisted she wouldn't be hurting anyone, but she knew that wasn't true. By taking their hard-earned information from them and giving it to someone else, she would be causing suffering. When she had injured people in a fight, it was only because they deserved it. The ones she'd be stealing from would not have done anything to her. It just wasn't right.

Then again, if it wasn't her, Rourke would just get someone else to do it. She knew him well enough to know that he didn't let anything stand in his way and that included her. He may love her, but she was not indispensable. His "nothing personal" rule applied to all aspects of his life.

It all boiled down to whether or not she wanted to go with him. Was this the life she wanted for herself? Could she be happy following a path of moral ambiguity as long as the man she loved was on it? Or, was this a sign that they were not meant to be together?

Her feelings for him were tearing her apart.

((((())))))

Rourke was shaken from his sleep by the sound of his telephone ringing. He noticed that it was still dark out and was annoyed that someone was calling him this late. He reached for the phone on the bedside table. "This better be good."

"Rourke," came Helga's unmistakable voice. "I...I've been thinking about your offer."

He sat up in bed. She sounded upset. "Have you come to a decision yet?"

He hadn't expected her to arrive at her final decision until the morning. He knew the moral implications of becoming a spy were plaguing her, but he was confident that her intense love for him would win out. He needed someone with her talents to be on his team. She would be his secret weapon.

"Yes," she quietly said. "This isn't easy for me to say, but..." Her voice trailed off.

For a moment, he began to worry that he had miscalculated and that she would turn him down. If she did, he'd have to waste valuable time trying to convince her to change her mind.

"The answer is yes," she finished. "I'll go with you when the time comes. I don't want to lose you over this."

"Wonderful," he said, not bothering to hide the glee in his voice. He knew she'd misinterpret it as happiness that she'd be with him because he loved her. "You've made the right decision, my love."

"I hope so," was the tired reply on the other side of the phone line. "I really hope so."

((((())))))

The first day of the new semester was finally over and Rourke had just dismissed his last class when he noticed Helga standing at the back of the classroom.

"How did your first day go?" he asked her.

"Fine," she answered, "considering I already knew everything all my teachers talked about. Yours?"

"Too well, actually," he said. "None of my students seem to offer me a challenge. They all want to learn."

Helga smiled at that. "Sounds like I spoiled you." She started walking over to him.

"There will never be another one like you," he sincerely told her.

She came to stand in front of him. "Well, are we going to do this?"

"As soon as I finish gathering my things, we can get started. I figured I'd go easy on you today and see how you do," Rourke told her.

She dropped her mask of confidence for a moment. "I'm still uncomfortable with this whole thing. I'm going to try, but if I can't, I can't."

"I understand," he said. She was going to do this whether she liked it or not. This was the kind of work she was best suited for. He'd make sure she came to realize this soon enough.

((((())))))

Training under Rourke in the art of covert operations was the most grueling experience of Helga's life. She hadn't realized that he had been going easy on her last semester. This term he frequently had her near tears for most of their early sessions. There was none of the kindness that had made her fall in love with him. He was once again the man she feared crossing.

He only gave her one day off and that was her birthday. He treated her to dinner and a night of romantic cuddling in his living room. For a while she had started to doubt his feelings for her, but that evening he had reaffirmed them. However, the next day it was back to business as usual.

Starting from her return from semester break, Helga had spent the next several months learning how to break and enter, eavesdrop, steal, surveille, break into conversations, and other important techniques used by covert agents. He frequently tested her and sent her out on small "missions," including those that had her breaking into his locked office and retrieving an item he had hidden. By the end of the term, he told her she was good as any professionally trained spy.

But he informed her that she wasn't yet completely ready to go out into the field.

((((())))))

Two nights before classes were scheduled to end, Helga sat with Rourke on his couch as he held her in his arms.

"I still can't believe I did it," she said. "I was not only able to pull off my classes, but you taught me how to be a spy. I don't know how I managed to survive in one piece."

He kissed her on the top of her head. "I keep telling you that you're a special woman, Helga. I never doubted that you could."

She turned around so that she was facing him. "There's something that's been bothering me and I have to ask you about it."

"What is it?"

"Last week you told me that I had completed the first phase of my training and that, although we were done for now, I wasn't ready to go into the field. I assume that means you have more to teach me," she said.

"A great deal more, but I didn't want to talk about it until after exams were over. You had to take yours and I had to give mine," he told her. "That's one of the reasons I asked you here tonight. To talk about the future."

"I remember your telling me at the beginning of the term that your contract was up at the end of the school year," she began. "That's now. Are you going to be here when I come back in the fall?"

"I don't know," he said. "It depends on you." He ran a hand through her now shoulder-length hair. "I want you to spend the summer with me, Helga."

Helga gasped in surprise. She had not expected this.

"I thought we could finish your training and then, when the fall came, I could start trying to find our first job," he told her. "You could become my teaching assistant. You already know everything there is to learn. There's no reason for you to remain a student."

"Rourke, I...don't know." The idea of being alone with him for the entire summer was enticing. She loved him so much, but she hadn't seen her family in a long time. She had wanted to spend the summer at home.

"Think about it," he pressed. "It would be just the two of us for three months. I have a place out in the country. No one around for miles."

It was so tempting. "What about my family?"

"They wouldn't have to know," he told her.

"That's not what I meant," she corrected. "I haven't seen them in so long. I wanted to spend some time with them. You know I love you, but I love them too."

"The sooner you finish your training, the sooner we can start our new life together," he added. "Your family is part of your past. I'm your future."

She looked away from him. She didn't know what to say. He seemed to want her with him so badly. How could she turn him down?

"How does a compromise sound?" she asked him.

"As long as you end up with me, I'll agree to anything."

She smiled at him. "Give me a week with my family, Rourke. That's all I ask.

"Then I'll follow you anywhere."

((((())))))

"This is it," Rourke announced as he led Helga into the house. "Our home for the next few months." He ushered her in ahead of him and waited for her reaction.

"Oh, Rourke," she breathed. "It's wonderful. I've never seen anything so beautiful."

He smiled at her. The house had belonged to an old friend of his who had been killed in one of the many battles they fought together. He had lent it to Rourke shortly before he died. The man had no living relatives to give it back to, so Rourke had kept it for himself.

The house was very nice, but nowhere as spectacular as Helga was making it seem. He had figured that since she had lived her entire life on army bases, she had never seen the country. He felt the privacy was necessary for one of the final things he planned to teach her.

"I'm glad you like it," he said. "Feel free to look around and get settled. The bedrooms are upstairs. You can pick whichever one you want."

She started heading towards the stairs before stopping and turning around. "You still haven't told me what kind of things you'll be teaching me this summer. I think it's time you told me."

Rourke had to admire her straightforwardness. Helga was never one to beat around the bush. "Don't take this the wrong way, but you are not exactly a people person. If you have any hopes of becoming a spy, you need to have the most incredible interpersonal skills. People must be drawn to you."

She nodded at him. "You have to admit I'm better than I once was," she lightly added.

"Yes, you don't beat up anyone who tries to talk to you on a regular basis anymore," he agreed.

She laughed at that. "I was really something before I met you, wasn't I?"

"You still are," he told her.

She blushed, something only he could make her do. "So, I assume that you are going to be giving me lessons in manners and etiquette?"

"Among other things," he confirmed.

"What kind of other things?" she wanted to know.

"You'll just have to wait and see," he told her. He didn't want to tell her now because he knew the knowledge would affect her performance on everything else. He would tell her when the time came, which would hopefully be very soon. He had been looking forward to that part of her training for a long time...

"All right," she shrugged. "I guess I'll have to be surprised."

"Now, go ahead and get settled. I'm giving you today off, but tomorrow we're starting bright and early," he told her. "Be sure to get a good night's sleep."

She saluted him. "Yes, sir." She turned around and headed upstairs.

He watched her as she ascended the stairs. Oh yes, he was most definitely looking forward to the last part of her training.

It would be a very pleasurable experience.

((((())))))

Helga sat in front of the vanity mirror in her room as she brushed her hair. Tonight marked the end of the first two months and Rourke had a very special test planned for her. All he had told her was that she was to look her very best and be prepared to put to use everything he had taught her since arriving here.

She was surprised at how quickly the time had gone by in comparison to the other two training sessions he'd had for her during the school term. This one, of course, happened to be much easier and more enjoyable, which was probably why it had seemed shorter. She had found that she liked learning how to be a lady. In fact, she felt it suited her better than being a tomboy.

Her hair had grown even longer and she was now able to pile it on top of her head. She finished tucking in the last bobby pin before sitting back to admire her handiwork. Instead of herself with a nice hairdo, she found a pretty girl staring at her back through the mirror. She hoped Rourke would like her look as much as she did.

She proceeded to apply a little makeup. Her mother had taught her how to put it on the last couple of times she had been home. Mother had been delighted that her little girl was finally showing some signs of actually being a girl. What she had thought to be an especially neat trick was taking some black eyeliner and darkening the mole under her eye, turning it into a beauty mark.

Finally, she was ready to put on her clothes. She slipped into the simple white dress she had bought the day before Rourke had come to pick her up. Again she looked at herself in the mirror and again she couldn't get over how pretty she looked. She wished her family could see her now.

Taking a deep breath to prepare herself for whatever curves Rourke tried to throw at her, she slipped on her shoes and left the bedroom.

((((())))))

Helga took the final step onto the first level and found the floor to be eerily quiet. "Rourke?" she called out. He usually was waiting for her with a smug grin when he had a test to give her. For him to be absent was very strange.

"In here," he answered from another room. To her trained ears, she believed it was coming from the dining room.

She walked through the house until she reached the dining room doors. For some reason, Rourke had shut them. Shrugging, she pushed them open and stepped into the room.

Her jaw just about dropped open.

The table had been elaborately set. The lights had been turned very low and the room was filled with candles. The smells of delicious foods drifted in the air.

Yet there was still no sign of Rourke.

"What's going on here?" Helga demanded of her absent teacher. "What kind of a test is this?"

"One that will prove to me that you can infiltrate high society," Rourke's voice came from behind her.

She turned around and it took all of her self-control not to gasp. Rourke stood there in full military dress uniform, something she had never seen him in before. He was a sight to behold.

"I want you to show me everything you've learned," he told her. "Including how to speak like a lady."

She curtsied to him. "It will be my pleasure, sir." She held out her arm for him to take.

He wrapped her arm in his and led her to the table. He released her and pulled out a chair for her to sit in. She gracefully sat down and let him push her in.

"I'll be right back," he told her.

She nodded and mentally crossed her fingers that she would pass this test.

((((())))))

Helga performed beautifully at dinner and Rourke knew he had succeeded in creating the perfect weapon. No one could ever guess that the gorgeous creature that sat across from him had the ability to kill him with her hands alone.

After they had finished eating, he had taken her into the living room to test her conversation skills. At the table, she had been able to dodge any inappropriate questions by asking him to pass something or commenting on how something tasted and then changing the subject, just as he had taught her. He had wanted to see how she could handle herself in the one-on-one environment. Again, she had easily passed his criteria. He now knew she was ready to be sent out into the field.

It was time to teach her the last crucial skill she would need.

"Test over," he announced as she correctly reacted to his last questions. "Well done, Miss Sinclair. I would have never guessed that you're anything but a lady."

"Thank you, Mr. Rourke," she said, still speaking formally. "I'm pleased that my performance was satisfactory."

He stood up and smiled at her. "Amazing. Absolutely amazing." He removed his uniform jacket before sitting back down. "Helga, you never fail to astound me."

"That's only because I have you for my teacher," she told him, blushing at his flattery.

He patted the couch next to him. "Come here."

She eagerly got up and came to sit by him. So innocent, he mused. And so blindly in love.

Rourke put his arms around her and started to kiss her. He wanted to put her in the mood before he told her what he had to say. He figured she'd be more receptive that way, though he knew she'd still be very resistant at first.

They had never gone much further than kissing. He had touched her through her clothes, but that was all. And even that had made her uncomfortable. She loved him, but she hadn't been ready to take their relationship to the next level. He knew she still wasn't ready.

But, tonight, she did not have a choice.

He moved his hands up her back until he found the zipper of her dress. Still kissing her, he slowly began to push it down.

Helga gasped in surprise and pushed away from him. "Rourke! What do you think you're doing?"

He smiled his most sensual smile at her. "I'm starting the last part of your training." He leaned back in, but she moved further away from him.

"What are you talking about? How can this be considered 'training'?" she asked him, clearly distressed.

"Remember what I told you when you asked me what I'd be teaching you this summer?"

"Yes," she hesitantly answered.

He put his hand on her arm. "This is part of the other things I mentioned," he told her.

"Shouldn't we talk about it first?" she suggested, shrugging off his hand. She was trying to dodge the issue, he noted with amusement. Here was a woman who'd kill without hesitation, but was unwilling to give herself sexually to the man she loved. Her resistance only served to make him more attracted to her.

"Okay," he said. "I know I should have mentioned this earlier, but I knew you'd react this way."

"You're damn right I would," Helga commented softly.

"There's an aspect of being a covert operative that we haven't discussed yet," he explained. "There are some situations where breaking and entering into your target's home or office is more trouble than it's worth. These are times when you must get yourself invited in. And, as a woman, there is only one way to make sure that happens."

Her eyes widened as she realized what he was telling her. "Are you saying what I think you're saying? And, if you are, I can't believe I'm hearing it."

"You're a very beautiful woman, Helga," Rourke insisted. "Most men will easily find themselves attracted to you. All you have to do is give them what they want and you get free access to everything you came for while they sleep. Besides, it's-"

"I know, I know," she cut him off. "It's nothing personal. Just business."

"Then you understand."

"I understand, but I don't like it," she told him. "Rourke, I'm not one of those women who think nothing of giving themselves to any man.

"I'm the kind who believes in waiting until marriage."

Exactly as I'd thought, Rourke mentally nodded. This will be easier than expected. "Helga, you must know that if you come with me, marriage is something not likely to be in your future. Life as a soldier of fortune is very unpredictable. People like us don't have time for families."

She looked a little crestfallen at his words. "Not even...with each other?"

"No," he shook his head. "As much as I love you, I have no intention of ever marrying you."

"Oh," she said softly.

This was exactly what had been holding her back. She had thought he was going to eventually marry her. He had known this would be a danger of making her fall in love with him, but he had gone through with it anyway. She was too important to his plans to be let go over a trivial issue such as this. She would just have to get over it.

"But," he said, taking her face in his hands, "that doesn't mean I don't want to always be with you. I promised I'd never leave you. That's a promise I intend to keep.

"Make love to me."

There were tears in her eyes as she nodded. He had hurt her by saying he'd never marry her, but her love for him was too strong to let that end the relationship. He knew she'd do anything to stay with him. Including sleeping with strangers in order to steal their secrets.

He leaned in and started to kiss her once again. His mouth pressed against hers harder than ever before, deepening the kiss. Her arms wrapped around him as if she were clinging to him for dear life.

He ended the kiss and pushed her arms away from him. "Take down your hair," he ordered.

She wordlessly nodded and started to remove the pins that held her hair atop her head. Her golden hair, now longer than ever, tumbled down her back and shoulders in gentle waves.

Rourke ran his fingers through it. "Much better," he decided. "I like you best this way." And then he kissed her again.

He once again slid his hands up the back of her dress and found the zipper. This time he was allowed to finish what he started. Still lip-locked with her, he pulled the top half of her dress off her shoulders and down her arms. He broke the kiss and admired his handiwork.

Helga sat with her torso exposed with the exception of what her white bra covered. Her eyes were downcast and her hair had fallen into her face. In that moment, she looked much younger than her eighteen years.

He decided to give her a small break from his ministrations as he removed first his tie and shirt and then his boots.

Helga looked up as the boots made a muffled sound as they hit the carpeted floor. Seeing what he had done, she followed suit and removed her own shoes.

He gave her a small smile and kissed her again. This time, he didn't stay on her mouth. His lips traveled down her face, onto her neck and shoulders, and finally made their way to her chest. He reached out with a hand and gently cupped one of her breasts through the flimsy bra. She moaned at this and he kissed the exposed area above the bra.

He sat back up and locked eyes with her. "I think it's time we moved upstairs."

"I'm...ready," she whispered, though he knew she wasn't. She was terrified of what was yet to come.

He stood up first and reached out to her. She grabbed his hand and he helped her to her feet. Her dress fell down the rest of the way and she was left wearing nothing but her bra, panties, garter belt, and stockings. She looked very ashamed to be seen like this, but she said nothing. However, by the time this month was over, she'd have no qualms about being seen completely nude. He would make sure of it.

He moved in and started kissing her again. Her response had stiffened somewhat, but he knew that would change once he had her on the bed. Without breaking contact, he swept her into his arms and started walking towards the stairs.

Once on the second floor, he carried her directly into his bedroom. He took her to the bed and gently deposited her on it. He sat down on the edge and pulled off his undershirt. Then he started to unbuckle his belt. His eyes never left hers.

Helga, looking a little pale, decided to busy herself by removing her garter belt. She twisted on the bed until she unfastened it and then pulled it down. Then she started fumbling with her thigh-high stockings.

Rourke, having fully removed his pants, moved closer to help her. One at a time, he pulled the thigh-highs from her feet. Once she was free of them, he tossed them onto the floor and then he moved so that he was face to face with her on the bed.

"I'm scared, Rourke," she whispered as he cupped her face.

"I know, my love," he murmured. "But, you know I'd never hurt you."

He brought her face closer and kissed her. Her arms went around him and he dropped his hand from her cheek. He rolled over so that she was pulled on top of him and he reached back to unfasten her bra.

He succeeded in unhooking it and then pulled them both up into a kneeling position. He removed her bra. "You're so beautiful," he said. "And you're mine." And he meant it.

"Forever," she told him.

She didn't object when he gently guided her to lay back down against the pillows and removed her underpants, although she still looked frightened.

He started kissing her neck and then continued down the entire length of her body with his mouth. She moaned when he made contact with her untouched regions. He saw how ready she was and lingered there a few minutes, manipulating her gently.

She let out a cry and he knew he had brought her to climax. It was time to make her a true woman.

As she breathed heavily in the aftermath of her first orgasm, he took the time to remove his own final article of clothing. There was a momentary reprieve from the strain on his groin as he freed himself. He had been waiting for this moment for a long time. Helga was the epitome of femininity and he was about to make her truly his.

He positioned himself for entry. He knew this would be painful for her. He was her first and there would be tearing. But once the pain faded, he knew she would enjoy it. He had never failed to pleasure a woman.

"Helga," he spoke her name softly.

Her eyes met his. "Do it."

Without acknowledging her permission, he thrust his way into her and she screamed. After a few moments of silence, he kissed her neck. "Are you all right?"

"God," she muttered. "It hurts, Rourke. It really hurts."

"The pain will fade," he promised. "You'll never feel it again." He moved his lips back to hers.

As he started to kiss her, their bodies started to rock in unison. He knew she would forget the pain as soon as she hit her second climax. He began to move them faster as they established their rhythm.

Just as he thought he couldn't hold anymore, he felt her spasm around him. Her orgasm set him off and he exploded inside her. Their sounds of pleasure were muffled by the kiss they still shared.

He broke the kiss and pushed her hair back from her sweaty brow. They were both breathing heavily from the exhaustive effort. "I love you," he told her, meaning it in that moment. She had been the most incredible partner he had ever had. This would definitely be a regular activity between them if he had his way.

She looked at him, her initial fear replaced by an expression of pure bliss. "I...had no idea that...it could be...like this," she said between breaths. "God, I love you too."

He smiled at her. He had broken down her last wall of resistance. She would do anything he asked her now.

In less than a month, this perfect weapon would be ready for any mission he sent her on.

((((())))))

Helga lie awake in Rourke's bed, his arms tightly around her. She found that sleep would not come to her. Not after what she had just done.

She felt like crying. Although it had been a wonderful experience and she loved Rourke with all her heart, she had betrayed her mother. She had broken a promise she had made years ago and there was no turning back. And she had only allowed it because the man she wanted to marry didn't want to marry her.

Her mother had been a traditional woman. The day she had gotten her first period, her mother had taken her aside and they had had "the talk". Mother had told her all the possible consequences of having sex, specifically pregnancy. She feared that since Helga was such a wild girl she would become promiscuous and made her promise to keep her virginity until she was married. Helga had agreed, never believing that it would be a problem. Of course, that was before she met Rourke.

Rourke had stolen her heart and she knew she would never get it back. He was her first and true love. There would never be another man for her. She would do anything to be with him, apparently even betray her own beliefs. So why wouldn't he marry her?

She had been shocked to hear that he had no intention of ever making her his wife. Why couldn't he have said something sooner, before she became as involved with him as she had? She had taken it for granted that he would eventually marry her based on the strength of their feelings for one another. He had told her he loved her as many times as she had told him the same. She had done everything he asked of her so far. Why couldn't he give her the one little thing she wanted?

She found she could no longer hold back her tears. It wasn't fair. She had sacrificed so much for him, given him whatever he wanted, even when she knew it was wrong. For some reason, she could never refuse him.

She worried that her love for him would one day lead to her own destruction.

((((())))))

"I don't believe it," Rourke said in disbelief. "You've just beaten me again."

"Third game in a row," Helga smugly told him. "Looks like you're losing your touch."

"I think it's more of a case of a student learning a little too well from her teacher," Rourke decided.

"Oh, really?" Helga questioned as she began resetting the pieces on the chessboard. "Care to start a fourth game and find out?"

"You're lucky I'm in a good mood right now," he informed her. "There are only two other people still alive who have beaten me at this game. I was in a good mood when I played them too. The rest are all dead."

"Is that a threat, Mr. Rourke?" she asked him in her sultriest voice. She looked up at him with a small smile. "Because you know I don't respond well to threats."

"It might be," he teased her. "Why don't you come and find out?"

Helga stood up from her seat and sauntered towards him. He pushed his seat back from the table as she approached. She straddled the chair and sat down on his lap. "Well? Are you going to tell me what I want to hear or am I going to have to torture it out of you?"

He chuckled under his breath and placed his hands firmly on her hips. "Using my own techniques against me, I see."

"Just another case of a student learning too well from her teacher," she repeated his own words to him. "You're the one who told me my body is my most powerful weapon. I'm just putting your theory to the test." She lowered her face down to his. "How am I doing?"

"Perfectly, my love," he said and closed the distance between them.

Helga broke off the kiss and sighed. "This is our last night together here. Tomorrow it's back to Dix. I don't want all of this to end."

"All good things come to an end," he told her. "And even better things come to those who wait."

Not always, she thought sadly.

"What are you thinking?" he asked her. "You look unhappy."

"Oh," she said, forcing a smile back onto her face, "nothing important." Time to change the subject, she decided, putting to use yet another tool he had given her. "So, are you sure the directors will let me act as your training assistant?"

"They'd be foolish not to," Rourke said. "You finished top of your class this year. They know you have the skills. They'll probably be reluctant to let such a promising young woman end her training so soon."

"And you're going to start looking around for our first job?" she asked him.

"I'm going to put the word out that I'm interested," he told her. "It will probably be some time before anyone starts to seriously consider hiring me. I currently hold a steady job. That doesn't look good. The explorers are looking for agents with no current responsibilities. There is no guarantee of how long these expeditions will last."

"So, we wait," Helga said.

Rourke moved his hands from her waist and placed them on her upper back. "Enough with business. This is our final night here. Let's make it count."

"Your wish is my command," Helga smiled as she leaned in to kiss him.

She spent the rest of the night using on him everything he had taught her about pleasuring a man.

((((())))))

Rourke was in the middle of lecturing his advanced survival tactics class when there was a knock on the door.

"Miss Sinclair," he said to Helga. She nodded and went to answer the door.

He continued speaking but he watched Helga out of the corner of his eye. She was speaking with a young officer who kept pointing at him as he spoke. Helga said something and then she headed back over to him.

"He says there's a man named Donning here to see you," she whispered to him.

Rourke couldn't believe it. Donning had been one of his first commanding officers during his tour of duty with the Rough Riders. They had gotten to know each other pretty well. He hadn't seen the man in over ten years. What could he possibly want after all this time?

He turned back to his students without saying a word to Helga. "Something's come up and I have to end class early today. Read chapters 43 and 44 of your textbook for next time. Expect a quiz. Class dismissed."

"Who is this man, Rourke?" Helga asked. "It's not like you to end class early."

"He's the one who taught me just about everything I know about war," he explained. "'Nothing personal' was one of the first things I ever learned from him."

((((())))))

Rourke, with Helga in tow, quickly went to his office where he knew Donning was waiting for him. He entered through the doorway to find his old commanding officer sitting in his desk chair.

"Hello, Lyle," Donning drawled in a thick Southern accent. "Been a very long time."

"Andrew," Rourke acknowledged. Donning was the only person in the world who could address him on a first name basis. Although Helga would have been allowed to if she wanted, she preferred calling him by his last name. It was her name for him. "What brings you back after all these years?"

Donning motioned with his head towards Helga. "It's something I'd prefer to discuss in private."

Rourke shook his head. "Miss Sinclair is my personal assistant. She's privy to all my dealings."

"Very well," Donning shrugged. "Lyle, it's come to my attention that you are looking to make a career change."

Rourke exchanged a glance with Helga. Could this have something to do with his quest for mercenary work? Had Donning gone professional after he disappeared? "It's been something I've been planning for awhile," he said cautiously.

"Good, good," Donning commented. "I may have a job for you. Are you interested?"

"That depends. What kind of job is it?" Rourke wanted to know. He had his rules about what kind of jobs he'd be willing to take. Some things were not worth the money.

"The British National Museum is funding an expedition into Egypt to excavate in the Valley of Kings," Donning told him. "They need a strong leader to get the team in and out in one piece. Apparently some private collector is taking his own group in at the same time and he isn't too keen on sharing."

"Why come to me?"

"They need the best they can get on short notice. They leave in a month," Donning explained. "You're the only man good enough for the job."

"What aren't you telling me, Andy?" Rourke pressed. "Why aren't you going?"

"I got a better offer elsewhere," Donning said. "The money was just too good to turn down. So, I was asked to find my own replacement. When I asked around for who was available, your name came up." He leaned back in his seat. "That took me by surprise. I never thought you'd go freelance. You seemed to like the army life too much."

"Things change," Rourke told him. "I got burned out. Twenty-six years in the service is a long time. I was ready for a change."

"I heard that you've been teaching for the past three years," Donning put in. "Sounds like a nice change to me."

"You know as well as I do that there's no money in teaching," Rourke told him. "I got talked into it by some of the higher ups. It was just a way to make a living until something better came along." He looked back at Helga, who was standing by the door and hadn't made a sound. "It wasn't a complete waste of time. It brought Miss Sinclair to my attention.

"She's the best damn fighter you have ever seen. Hand-to-hand, small arms, you name it. She can do anything. She's even been trained in covert operations."

Helga didn't react to the compliments, just as she had been trained. He knew if they had been alone she would have been blushing.

"Getting back to business, what kind of threat does this private collector pose to the expedition?"

"The man's name is Night. Timothy Night. He's a ruthless Wall Street tycoon with a love of artifacts. He's already cheated several museums out of spectacular finds by either getting to a site first or pretending he wants to share the site and then proceeding to take over. He has a bunch of ex-military like us on payroll. Some of them are like you, Lyle, and can get a little too violent.

"That's why I think you'd be perfect for this job," Donning explained. "If anyone can put Night in his place, it's you."

This was better than he could have ever hoped for as his first job as a mercenary. And Helga would have several opportunities to put her new skills to the test. He would have to make sure she and Night got to know each other. "Sounds like it's going to be a walk in the park," he said. "I'll take it."

"Wonderful," Donning said. "I knew you would." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope. "Here's a ticket on a boat leaving for London tomorrow. I only bought one since I didn't know you'd be bringing anyone with you." He slid the envelope across the desk. "But I have a feeling that there will be a second one in your name waiting at the ticket counter in the morning."

"Excuse me for interrupting," Helga put in, "but aren't you both forgetting something? The school term isn't over and Rourke has classes to complete."

Helga was right, but this was the chance of a lifetime. "A substitute can be found. We'll give them our notice as soon as we're finished here." He turned back to Donning. "There's still something you haven't mentioned."

Donning smiled. "Of course. Since this is your first mission, you can expect to be paid a minimum amount. I would say it's in the ballpark of five grand."

Rourke heard Helga gasp behind him. He turned to look at her and saw that she looked shocked at the amount of money. He made a small gesture with his hand and she composed herself almost instantly. Good girl, he thought.

"I'll leave you two to your preparations," Donning said, rising from the chair. "It was good seeing you, Lyle."

"You too, Andy," Rourke told him.

Donning made his way to the door, giving Helga a cursory nod. "Miss Sinclair." He paused at the doorway. "Oh, by the way," he said, turning back to Rourke.

"Welcome to the club."

((((())))))

Helga gave Rourke one last kiss before rolling off him and turning onto her side. It was late and she wanted to at least get some sleep before the boat docked at Cairo port in the morning. Rourke had been rather amorous with her tonight and she was worn out. She knew she'd need her strength for the long journey ahead.

"This is it," Rourke said, kissing her shoulder. "After all these years, I've finally gotten my break. And, I have you to share it with."

"Don't get too excited yet," she told him. "We haven't even gotten to the hard part."

He laughed. "My love, dealing with the suits was the hard part. Everything else will be a breeze."

Easy for you to say, she thought. You're not the one who may have to give your body to a stranger. "I hope so," she told him aloud. She turned over to face him. "All I know is that I'm going to be lonely at night."

He pushed an errant strand of her blonde hair out of her face. "You know we can't take the risk of anyone knowing we're romantically involved, especially if the need arises for you to-"

"I know, Rourke," she cut him off. "The less I think about it, the better."

He kissed her. "It still bothers you."

"God, how could it not?" she said. "You're expecting me to behave like a whore just to check out a strange man's belongings. I feel sick every time I think about it."

"You just have to keep in mind that it's just a job," he told her. "Remember, it's nothing personal." He kissed her again. "Not like what we have."

How was it he always knew what to say? She loved him so much. "Maybe it would help if I pretended I was making love to you."

He smiled. "That would make one happy victim."

She laughed. "So, you think I'm that good..."

((((())))))

The air was hot and dry and the cloudless sky unbelievably bright. Helga had never felt so sweaty in her life. She longed for the cooler temperatures she had left behind in the States.

She was standing outside of the cheap hotel the British Museum had chosen for them before they began their journey down the Nile to the Valley of Kings. They had stopped over in Cairo for three days to rest and stock up on supplies. In the morning, they would board yet another boat that would take them to the final destination. Not so coincidentally, she was sure, it was the same boat that Timothy Night's expedition would be on.

"Penny for your thoughts, Miss Sinclair?"

Helga turned to see Rourke standing next to her. She had seen very little of him for the past few days. After they had disembarked from the first boat, he had spent most of his time conferring with his second-in-command, a man by the name of Matthews, and the head archaeologist. "They're not even worth that much, Commander," she said, using his new title. It had been given to him when he assumed command of the expedition.

"Oh, I doubt that. So," he said, changing the subject, "what do you think of our team?"

"The people I've met seem capable enough," she told him. "No one is particularly friendly, but I guess that's because they're not here to socialize. They're all in it for the money."

"Like us," Rourke said.

Not necessarily, she silently added, but refrained from commenting out loud. She was only here because of him. She thought he knew that. The money didn't matter as long as she was with him. In fact, she had preferred being his teaching assistant.

She had actually liked being a teacher. It was strange to think of herself that way, but she had really enjoyed it. Teaching might actually be her calling. And, if it hadn't been for Rourke, she would have never known.

"Have you seen Night or any of his crew yet?" he asked her.

"No," she shook her head. "I've been keeping a low profile like you told me."

"Very good. I think tomorrow at dinner you should introduce yourself to Night," he told her.

Shit, she thought. The one thing she had hoped to avoid was going to happen. "So, you've decided that you want me to check him out?"

"I've been asking around and there seems to be the impression that he's going after something in particular. I need you to find out what it is so we can get to it first," Rourke explained. "I think you know what you have to do."

She nodded, keeping her unhappiness to herself. "How long's the entire boat ride?"

"Less than a week. So you're going to have to move quickly if we're going to have a chance of getting to whatever it is before he does," Rourke instructed her. "I want that information in three days.

"Less, if possible."

She nodded again. That meant he hoped she could bed him as soon as tomorrow night. Unfortunately for her, that could also mean she'd have to keep up the act of seeing him for the duration of the cruise. The very thought made her ill.

Rourke reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of the local currency. "Here," he said handing it to her, "go buy yourself some clothing." His hand lingered on hers for a moment and he rubbed his thumb along the side of her hand. "I want you to look more irresistible than you already are."

Helga took the money and shoved it into the pouch on her utility belt. "I'll do my best."

"I know you will," he smiled at her. He leaned closer. "I love you, Helga. I miss you."

"I miss you too," she said.

"I'll make it up to you as soon as this is over," he promised. "We'll have however long it is before the next job comes up to be together."

"I...better get going if I'm going to find everything I need," she said, reluctant to leave his side.

"I'll see you tomorrow on the boat so I can show you who Night it," he told her.

"All right," she nodded. "Until tomorrow, Commander."

((((())))))

"Mr. Night," Helga purred in her sexiest voice, "I'm so glad I bumped into your table this evening. I've had such a lovely time."

Timothy Night was a weaselly-looking man most likely in his mid-thirties. His black hair was slicked back from his forehead in a severe style and he wore an expensive business suit. "As have I, my dear Miss Sinclair. I hate the thought of having it end so soon."

Helga demurely looked at the floor. "So do I." Then she moved her eyes back up to his. "I find your company most...stimulating."

She was wearing a very tight black dress she had found in one of Cairo's few modern stores. It was strapless and cut very low. She moved closer to Night and thrust her breasts against him. "Do you find my company to be the same way, Mr. Night? Do I...stimulate you?"

For a moment the man became speechless and Helga knew her tactics were working. She would indeed find herself having sex with him tonight. She smiled seductively to hide the wave of revulsion coming over her.

It's nothing personal, she reminded herself. Just business. I'm doing this for Rourke. He's counting on me.

Night swallowed visibly a few times. "Would you...like to come to my cabin...for a nightcap?" he stammered.

"Actually," Helga said, putting her face very close to his, "I had something a little more...active...in mind." She stepped back from him and folded her arms so that her bosom was slightly lifted.

Night swallowed again. "Right...this way."

((((())))))

Helga lied next to the snoring Night feeling so dirty and disgusted with herself that she wanted to vomit. She had spent most of the night using every sexual trick Rourke had taught her on the man, some several times in fact. Once hadn't been enough for him. He had made her go five times with him. She was lucky she knew how to fake an orgasm.

Careful not to disturb him, she slipped out of the bed. After she finished here and gave Rourke whatever she found, she was going to go back to her room and thoroughly wash herself. She tiptoed around the room until she found her dress. She slipped it on. She'd grab her undergarments and shoes before she left.

Night's cabin was very large. The bed was along the far wall next to the portholes and a desk was on the opposite side of the room, near the front door. Hoping he was a heavy sleeper, she turned on the single desk lamp and began to rummage through his papers.

((((())))))

Helga knocked on Rourke's door. The folded piece of paper listing everything she had found in Night's things was safely in her small evening purse. As soon as he answered the door, she'd give it to him and be on her way. As much as she wished she could stay and talk, she knew it was unwise to risk being seen with him, even at this late hour. Besides, she had a date with the wash basin that she didn't want to be too late for.

He'll be so proud of me, she told herself. I bet he didn't think I could do the job this fast.

The door opened and, much to Helga's shock, a woman wrapped in a white sheet was standing there. "Yes?"

The only thought that came to her mind was that she had accidentally gone to the wrong room. "Oh, I'm sorry, I think..." Her voice trailed off when Rourke appeared behind the woman, also wrapped in a sheet. Oh, god was the only thought she could manage.

"Go back inside," he told the woman.

"But Baby," she pouted.

"I'll be there in a minute," he said, his eyes never leaving Helga's. The woman, whom Helga noticed was absolutely beautiful, disappeared back into the darkness of the cabin. Rourke stepped out into the doorway and pulled the door mostly shut behind him. "What did you find?"

At first, Helga couldn't find the words to speak. She was too shocked to do much more than just stare at him. Rourke, the man who claimed he loved her and would never hurt her, had cheated on her while she was doing something that sickened her just because he had asked her to. Silently, holding back the tears that she knew were going to come as soon as she walked away, she reached into her purse and handed him the piece of paper. "It's all here."

He took it from her and unfolded it. "This is better than I had hoped," he said as he read down the list. "Night's got some pretty big aspirations for this trip."

"Uh-huh," she murmured without having listened to what he had said. She was too upset to focus on anything but his betrayal. How could he be acting like nothing had changed between them? Didn't he realize the pain he was causing her? Or, was it that he just didn't care?

He refolded it and looked up at her. "Excellent work. I'm very proud of you."

She turned her gaze down to the floor, unable to look at him anymore. He had said the words she had been hoping to hear, but now they only wrenched her heart. She knew he didn't mean it.

"Thank you," she said softly. "Well, I guess I better head back to my cabin now. I've had a long night and I want to-"

"Helga," he cut her off, "look at me." She did. He gestured to the door behind him. "What you just saw, it-"

"It what, Rourke?" she cut him off. "It isn't what it looked like? We both know that's not true."

"It just happened," he told her. "She means nothing to me. You're the one I-"

"Save it," she said, preventing him from finishing. "I don't want to hear another word from you. You lied to me."

"If you'll just let me explain," he tried again.

"Explain what? Explain why while I, the woman you promised you'd never hurt, was out doing something that disgusts me beyond words just for you, you picked up some strange woman and fucked her?" She backed away from him, the tears starting to fall. "I loved you and this is how you repay me?

"I don't ever want to speak to you again."

"Helga, please," he said. "Don't leave without hearing me out."

She shook her head. "No. Goodbye, Commander." She turned away and started walking towards her cabin.

"Helga," he called after her. "Wait!"

She refused to turn around. She couldn't bear to see his face again.

"Helga!" Rourke called again and this time his voice sounded almost anguished.

She continued walking away.

((((())))))

Rourke watched Helga from the shade of his tent. She was having a conversation with one of the archeologists about his latest find, looking as beautiful as ever.

She had not spoken to him at all since she had found him with another woman on the boat. For three weeks, she had avoided him altogether and he only caught brief glimpses of her as he had now. In fact, she was avoiding mostly everyone from what he had been told. She had turned into a recluse, much worse than she had been when he had first met her.

He knew she was hurting terribly and it was because he had made an unfortunate mistake. He had never expected her to complete the job right away knowing how much she dreaded going through with it; and assuming that he wouldn't see her for another couple of days, he had picked up an attractive woman he had been admiring all night. She paled in comparison to Helga, but she turned him on just the same. And since he was not committed to Helga, he had no qualms about taking her to bed.

The problem lay in the fact that Helga was so deeply in love with him. His plan to ensure her loyalty had worked too well. She was willing to do anything for him, even violate her moral principles. The fact that she had expressed a desire to marry him spoke of how much she truly loved him. To find him with another woman had devastated her.

He had no feelings for her other than that of a proud owner of a highly valuable possession, because that's what she was to him, a possession. For all intents and purposes, he owned her. He had taken a rebellious tomboy and created a femme fatale. She was a weapon, nothing more.

Her love for him what was kept her tied to him. If she hadn't any feelings for him, she would have been gone a long time ago. Because he needed her special talents, he told her the words she wanted to hear. In return, he had the most gifted fighter and spy he had ever met doing whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it done. He couldn't afford to lose that because of a careless mistake he had made.

He had to somehow convince her that he had been a fool and would do anything to win her back.

((((())))))

The sun was setting and the desert temperature finally began to drop. Helga pulled her jacket tighter around herself as she emerged from her tent. The evening was quiet as all activities had ended for the day and most of the expedition crew had already turned in for the night. This was the time she had come to hate most over the past three months, because there was nothing to prevent her from crying over what she had lost.

During the day, she kept herself too busy to think about the past. She had made it her job to document the entire operation. She figured that it was her job to gather information anyway since she was the intelligence officer. She spent her time observing the progress made by the archaeologists and sometimes asking a question or two. Best of all, she kept her social interaction down to a minimum. And she had avoided any that would have brought her near Rourke.

Every time she thought of him, her heart broke all over again. There was no denying that she still loved him. He had been such an important part of her life and he always would be, even now after his devastating betrayal. He had single-handedly made her the person she was today. It would be foolish to try to pretend otherwise.

Avoiding him had been one of the hardest things she had ever had to do. No matter where she went in the camp, he was always there. She had pretended not to notice when she caught him watching her, which was often. If he came towards her, she had hurried off in the other direction. She refused to speak with him, afraid of what would happen if she allowed him to approach her.

Her biggest fear was that she'd take him back. Her love for him was still very strong despite what had happened. She longed for him to take her into his arms and kiss her, to tell her he loved him. Her body betrayed her whenever she thought of the nights they had spent together. He had been her first love in every way possible. And, without a doubt, he was her true love.

But he had hurt her badly, and she could never forgive him for that. He had broken his promise to her, destroying any chance of her trusting him ever again. She had given him everything without a second thought and he had thrown it all away for a one night fling with a strange woman he had met on a boat. She could not take the chance of that happening all over again.

She had decided, after those first days of endless crying, that she would never allow herself to fall in love with anyone else. Rourke was the first and last man she'd ever give herself to. She couldn't risk ever being hurt so badly again. She had once more become the eight-year-old girl who had vowed to never make another friend. Rourke had been the one who had gotten her to break that promise and it had been the biggest mistake of her life. She knew better now and there would be no more loss. She would make sure of that.

She had already reverted to the cold, unfriendly person she had been back when Rourke had first encountered her. She knew people purposely avoided her these days because of it. She saw them move away when she approached, much as she did when Rourke came near her. She had earned the reputation of "frigid bitch" over the last few months.

No more friends, no more lovers. From here on out, she was going to remain alone.

She was startled out of her thoughts when a pair of arms wrapped themselves around her. She began to struggle but began to relax when she recognized who had sneaked up on her.

"Let me go, Rourke," she demanded.

"No," he said from his position behind her. "Not until you listen to what I came to tell you. I can't take the risk that you'll run away before I finish."

"I told you I never wanted to speak to you again," Helga reminded him. "That includes listening to what you have to say."

"Please, just hear me out," he said in an almost pleading tone. "I need to explain what happened that night."

She sighed. "It won't change anything."

"I know," he said, "but that doesn't mean I can't try. You don't realize how much I love you." He kissed the crook of her neck.

The familiarity of his touch caught her off-guard. Her body began to respond immediately and she momentarily forgot that everything had changed between them.

"I miss you," he said softly, jarring her back to reality. "I know you miss me too, Helga. Come back to me."

"No," she whispered, "I can't. I won't."

"Why? Because I made a mistake?" he asked her. "I'm only human. You can't expect me to be perfect."

"Of course not," she said, "I just expect you to be loyal. If you love me as much as you claim, this wouldn't be an issue."

"I do love you," Rourke pressed. His arms tightened around her and pulled her closer against him. "I made a horrible mistake in a moment of weakness. It will never happen again, I swear. Forgive me."

"I can't trust you anymore," she told him, the closeness to his body affecting her more than she cared to admit. "You promised me that you'd never hurt me, but you did. How can I ever believe anything you have to say again?

"Besides, it doesn't matter anyway if I forgive you or not. I'm leaving as soon as we're done here."

He let go of her in surprise. "What? Leaving?"

She took advantage of her freedom and moved away from him. "The only reason I agreed to become a mercenary was so I could be with you. You know that. But, after what happened, I just can't stay anymore. It hurts too much."

"So you admit you still love me," Rourke said.

"I never said I didn't," she told him. "God, sometimes I love you so much I scare myself. But, what good is love without trust?"

"Give me a chance to rebuild that trust," he said. "I'll do anything you ask if you'll just stay."

"No you won't," she shook her head. "You already told me you'd never do what I really want."

"Helga," Rourke sighed, "you know why. How many times must we go over that?"

"Goodbye, Rourke," she said. "We have nothing more to discuss."

"No," he said, "I won't let you go. Not like this."

"Then marry me," she said. "That's all I ever wanted from you."

"No," he flatly told her. "I'll do anything else you ask, but not that."

Helga looked at him sadly. "I've done everything you ever asked of me. I never once refused you, no matter how much I opposed your request. I did it because of how much I loved you. And, you can't give me the one thing I want. I can't live like this anymore. It's not fair to me."

"So, that's it?" he asked. "You're not even going to fight for us?"

"What's the point if you won't marry me?"

He gazed at her for a moment. "You'll never forgive me, will you?"

"No."

He sighed and started turning to go. Then he stopped and faced her again. "Punish me."

"What?"

"Make me pay for what I did to you," he suggested. "Hurt me as much as I hurt you. Then we'll be even."

"Rourke, it doesn't work like that," she told him. "I'm not going to stay unless you give me a reason to."

"You want to play hardball? Fine," he said. "Let's play. I'm willing to do anything to get you to stay.

"Fight me. Right here, right now."

"That's insane," she said. "I'm not going to fight you for no reason."

"I haven't finished," he told her. "I have the perfect reason. If I win, you have no choice but to stay with me. If you win, I'll do whatever you want.

"Even marry you."

Helga just stared at him. Was he crazy? He wanted to have a fist fight with her over her future? If it wasn't so ridiculous, it would be pathetic. He seemed willing to do anything to have her stay with him.

Did he really love her that much?

"What do you say? Will you fight me?" Rourke asked.

I have nothing to lose, she told herself. He already possesses my heart and soul. I guess it was only a matter of time before he wanted my freedom as well. "You're on."

He smiled as he eased into the combat stance. "Just like old times."

"We'll see," she said as she mirrored his position. She took a deep breath and tried to clear her mind. Rourke was an incredible fighter, even better than her father. It would take a miracle to defeat him.

Praying for that miracle, she threw her first punch.

He blocked it effortlessly. Then his fist came flying at her.

Much to her surprise, she deflected it with a block of her own.

"Very good," Rourke praised her, as if they were back in the class room.

Remembering everything he had taught her, she used his momentary distraction to kick him in the solar plexus.

The force of the kick caused him to step backwards. It took him an instant to recover and he charged at her.

They continued back and forth like that for some time. They exchanged blow after blow, some making contact, others being blocked. For a while, Helga began to believe that she was finally evenly matched with him. Then came the hit to her left shoulder.

It caught her with such force that she fell over backwards into the sand, landing on her arm. She cried out in pain.

She groaned and tried to push herself up, but she found that she couldn't. Her shoulder throbbed and her arm, which hurt like hell, wouldn't support her. She couldn't even roll over onto her side. It must be broken, she thought in defeat. It's over. I lost.

She heard voices, and she looked around to see that her fight with Rourke had drawn a crowd. She hadn't realized they were being so loud.

"Are you all right?" Rourke's voice asked her.

She turned her gaze to see him standing over her, his legs straddling hers. His legs... Knowing this was her perfect chance, she braced herself and swung both legs to the right. Rourke's leg was knocked out from under him and he fell down to the ground, partially on top of her. "No, I'm not all right," she told him. "I think I broke my arm.

"But I also think I won this fight," she added.

She felt Rourke's legs untangle themselves from hers and saw him crawling to lie next to her.

"That was a dirty trick," he said, propping himself on his elbow.

She turned her face to look at him. "You never said this was a fair fight."

He gave a small smile. "No, I didn't." He lowered his voice. "What do you want to do now?"

"I'm still leaving, Rourke," she told him. "I'm not going to force you to do something you don't want to. I know you really don't want to marry me."

His face fell. "Then, why did you...?"

"You asked me to," she said. "I still love you. And, I probably always will."

"Then don't leave me," he pleaded. "I need you."

"No, you don't," she told him. "You just think you do."

For a moment, he said nothing. "Let's get you to the infirmary..."

((((())))))

Helga stood on the front porch of her family's current residence trying to gather the courage to knock. She hadn't seen them or spoken with them in over a year. She had only sent them the sporadic letter to let them know she was all right. All her time had been devoted to Rourke.

Her left arm was still in a cast and sling. She had shattered her upper arm when she had landed on top of it. It would be several months before it finished healing. Until then, it would serve as a reminder of her final encounter with the man she still loved.

She had remained with the expedition crew until the dig was completed as she had promised. She had continued documenting the events until the very end and then gave her notes over to the head archaeologist. She and Rourke had not spoken since he had brought her to the infirmary tent. He had left her in the care of the expedition medic and then disappeared. The last time she had seen him was in Cairo and it had been from a distance as he boarded his boat back to England.

She had decided to go home to her parents until she decided what to do. She was only nineteen years old and could use the stability her family would give her. She had dropped out of officer training school because of Rourke and had believed she was going to spend the rest of her life traveling with him. Now she was lost and had no idea of where to go next.

She reached out and knocked on the door with her good hand. She could hear footsteps from inside the house and then the sound of a lock being opened. The door was pulled in and she saw her mother standing there.

"Helga," Frieda Sinclair gasped upon seeing her long absent daughter. "Oh, my baby's come home!" She threw out her arms.

"Mama!" Helga smiled as she dropped her bags and fell into her mother's embrace. She hadn't called her mother that since she had turned eleven but she didn't care. She was just so happy to be home.

Frieda hugged her tightly, but stepped back when Helga winced. "What's wrong? Oh," she said as she saw the sling. "What happened?"

"An accident," Helga lied. She didn't want her mother to know the truth yet. It would be difficult to tell and she wanted her father to be present as well.

"My poor darling," Frieda said. "You go on inside and I'll get your things. Hans and Dieter are around here somewhere. Go say hello to them. I don't know where the other boys are."

"Is Father at work?" Helga asked, already knowing the answer.

"For a few more hours," Frieda told her. "Then he'll come home. I know he'll be as thrilled to see you as I am."

Helga smiled and walked into the house. It looked similar to all the other houses she had lived in over the years, but this was the first time she had seen this one. "When did you move here?"

"Oh, about seven months ago," Frieda said as she came in carrying Helga's bags. "Your father got transferred here to take over for someone who retired." She put the bags down by the steps to the second floor. "So, how long are you home for?"

Helga didn't know how to answer that. "It's hard to say, Mama. I...don't have anyplace else to go."

Frieda came over to her daughter and put her arms around her. "Something happened between you and that Rourke person, didn't it?"

Helga was surprised. "How did you know?"

"I could see it on your face when you came home that first break. It was obvious you had fallen in love with him," Frieda said. "Why else would you have asked me to teach you about makeup?"

Helga smiled at that. "Why didn't you say anything?"

Frieda laughed. "What? And risk having you beat me up? You may look like a lady now but you will always be my little tom boy. That's why I always say I have six sons instead of five." She started guiding her daughter into the living room.

"Come, tell me all about what happened."

((((())))))

"I can't believe it," Alexander Sinclair said upon hearing his daughter's tale. "Rourke seemed like such a good man. How could he do such a horrible thing to you?"

Helga had been surprised by both her parents' reactions to what had happened to her since she had last seen them. They had not gotten angry at her for her behavior as she had thought they would. Instead, they had showered her with sympathy and love in a way only parents could. Her mother had not even berated her for sleeping with a man before marriage.

Of course, there were some details she had left out of her story. She had not mentioned her activities as a spy for Rourke. She did not want to upset her parents even more by telling them she had slept with a strange man in order to go through his things. All they needed to know was how Rourke had hurt her terribly.

"He said he loves me," Helga said. "He even kept saying it after I...caught him. I can't help believing him. He sounds so sincere, but..."

"You can't trust a man who says one thing and does another," her mother told her. "Once a cheater, always a cheater."

"He said it was a mistake," Helga reiterated.

"They always say that," Alexander said. "That's how they get you back and then it happens all over again."

"You were right to leave him," Frieda emphasized. "You can do so much better than a man like that."

Helga looked down. She hadn't told her parents about her vow to never fall in love again much as she hadn't when she had decided to never make another friend again. "I still love him."

"I know, Sweetie, I know," Frieda told her. "And you probably will for a long time. He was your first love. They are always the hardest to get over."

Helga refrained from making a comment about how her parents were each other's first loves and that they had stayed together.

"I think the best thing for you to do right now is find something you like and spend some time concentrating only on that," Alexander decided. "It will keep your mind off of Rourke for awhile."

Helga nodded. "I guess I can always go back to fighting. It seems to be what I'm best at." She smiled wryly as she gestured to her broken arm. "Well, when I'm fighting an easy opponent, that is."

"It might be interesting for you to learn a new discipline," her father suggested. "I, and I'm sure Rourke, only taught you straightforward hand-to-hand moves. Have you ever considered one of the Asian martial arts?"

"No," Helga admitted, "but I'm willing to give it a try. It might be something different."

"It is," Alexander assured her. "It's not only physically taxing but mentally as well. I've had a few old friends who have studied it and they say it's the best thing they've ever done."

"First, you can stay here as long as you want," Frieda told her. "Then, when you're ready, we'll help you get started."

"Thank you," Helga told both her parents. "I love you two so much."

"And we love you," Frieda said. "Remember, no matter what happens, you will always be our little girl."

((((())))))

Rourke sat in his London apartment trying to read a book. He had just returned from leading a second expedition to the same location in the Valley of Kings. The museum had remembered him from their first successful dig and had asked him to go again for a better price. He had not hesitated.

This trip had been infinitely more eventful. His old "friend" Timothy Night had been part of his crew this time, having bribed the museum board of directors to let him go. He had heard of the success of the initial expedition-which had beaten his own to the site by three days-and wanted to make it his own. So, he had brought along some insurance. Unfortunately, he had not known whom he was up against.

When Night's men had tried to take over the excavation site by force, Rourke and his hand-picked crew had easily defeated them. There had been a great deal of bloodshed that day. Rourke himself had shot and killed five of Night's best men. A total of ten out of his personal crew of fifteen had been wounded and/or killed. Night himself had been taken into custody and been turned over to the American embassy once back in Cairo.

He put down his book and sighed. Ever since he had gotten back from Egypt, there had been only one thing on his mind: Helga.

It had almost been two years since he had last seen her. Until this trip, he hadn't thought about her for some time. He had been kept busy with job after job, starting after he had gotten back from the first expedition. Donning had been instrumental in dropping his name with various clients. But when Night had shown his hand, all Rourke could think about was how the double cross could have been prevented had Helga been there to check him out prior to the beginning of the journey.

For a long time he had been angry with himself for not being able to prevent her departure. He had been so certain that she would take the bait when he had claimed he'd marry her. He had underestimated the damage he had caused when she had caught him with the woman. The trust he had built between them was broken and he had had no idea of how to repair it.

He wondered what she had been doing with herself since they had gone their separate ways. He had been entertaining the idea of trying to track her down. He wanted her back with him so an incident like the one with Night could never happen again. She was his secret weapon, perfect in every way.

He had been thinking about how he could win her back. His only chance was to hope that she still loved him. If he could prove to her that he had "changed", it was highly possible she would come running back.

Then he would never let her go again.

((((())))))

Helga looked up from her drink and noticed in the mirror that the man was staring at her from across the room again. She quickly turned her eyes down and hoped he'd be gone next time she glanced up. Yeah, right, she thought.

The man had been watching her for several weeks now. He had arrived with the latest shipment of troops less than a month ago and she had been seeing him around the base. She had no idea of his name or rank. All she knew was that he had a fascination with her.

The first time she had noticed him watching her was while she had been working out in the gym. She had been spotting herself in the mirror while lifting weights when she had seen him just standing there several feet behind her, staring. She had shrugged it off as a one-time incident, thinking either he had never seen a woman lifting such heavy weights or he was the typical pervert she had been dealing with all her life. He had wandered off after a while and she had thought that was that.

Then she saw him again the next day. And the next. And so on, almost everywhere she went. And it was starting to bother her.

Most men who found her attractive did not waste any time on trying to bed her. They came right up to her and made their intentions very clear. This man was different. He kept his distance and just looked at her from afar. He even tried to hide when she returned his gaze, another unusual occurrence. The others took it as an invitation to make their move. What did this man want?

This dilemma was distracting her from her studies. Master Ueshiba, her Aikido instructor, had begun to comment on her deteriorating performance. She had been studying with him for the past three years and in that time he had gotten to know her very well. He knew that something was bothering her and repeatedly suggested that she take care of it soon. She had just nodded and said she would try. So far, she hadn't done a thing.

Normally, she waited for the man to make his move before she punished him for thinking she was some sexual object he could toy with, but her "stalker", as she liked to call him, had yet to even return her gaze. He was an enigma to her and she didn't know what to make of him. Because of this, she couldn't figure out what to do about him. She finished her drink and decided she had to do something. This foolishness couldn't be allowed to go on any longer. He was distracting her from the only reason she had come to the Philippines in the first place: mastering Aikido. If he wanted something from her, she wanted to know what it was already so she could either give it to him or thrash him for thinking he'd get it from her.

She put down her empty glass, hopped off the barstool, and stalked over to the table where the man was sitting by himself. She decided directness was the best approach for a situation like this. Hopefully, her standoffish attitude would deter him from trying anything cute.

The man visibly paled when he saw her coming towards him, a comical sight in her opinion. This was the time at which most of her usual victims started getting excited, thinking she was giving into his charms. This man seemed to dread the attention. This will probably be easier than I thought.

She walked right up to his table and put her hands on her hips. "You've been following me around for the past several weeks. Why?"

"I, um, well, you see," he stammered nervously, seemingly unable to form a coherent sentence. His behavior reminded her very much of the stereotypical nerds trying to interact with the popular kids back when she was in high school. He was most definitely not one of the typical sleazebags who pursued her. She never made them nervous until after she had beaten the shit out of them.

She looked at the tags on his uniform. He was a lieutenant named "Jenkins". "Look, Jenkins, I don't have all night to waste on you. Is there something you want from me or not?"

He stopped his stammering and looked at her in total astonishment. The expression on his face was hilariously shocked. "You know my name?"

Yep, just like a nerd, she mentally shook her head. "It's on your uniform."

Jenkins' expression turned to one of pure embarrassment. He looked down at the table. "Oh, god, do I feel stupid now. I knew that." He put his head in his hands. "You must think I'm a total idiot."

Watching his reaction, it finally dawned on her what was going on here: Jenkins had a crush on her. The signs were all there. She just hadn't been looking for them. The gazing from afar, the intense nervousness when she was around him. It all made sense now. Christ, she had been the same way when...

No, she sharply admonished herself. I'm not going to think about him. He's out of my life now. It's over. She hadn't allowed herself to think about him in over a year and she had no intention of ever starting again. The pain of her loss was still too recent.

She sighed. Jenkins seemed like a nice guy. He just had had the bad luck of finding himself attracted to the wrong woman. She was through with romance. She wasn't even interested in friendship. She was destined to be alone. She had to deter him from any further pursuit of her without hurting his feelings too badly.

"Jenkins," she said, "I don't think you're a total idiot."

He looked up at her hopefully. "Really?" He was very cute, if not handsome. His childlike enthusiasm made him look very young.

"But, I don't appreciate the way you've been following me around the base," she told him. "It has to stop."

"I'm sorry," he apologized, the hopefulness gone. "It was a really stupid thing for me to do."

"Yes, it was," she agreed. "Now, tell me. Why have you been stalking me?"

"Uh, well," he started, "I guess it's that I, um, uh, think you're pretty."

"That's it?" she questioned him, pretending she didn't already know. "Do you follow around all girls that you find pretty?"

"No!" he blurted out. He then looked embarrassed about his outburst. "Just you."

Helga smiled at him. "I'm very flattered that you think I'm pretty, but I'm afraid you're wasting your time here if you think I'm going to go out with you. I don't date."

"That's okay," he said, sounding a bit hopeful again. "I'm willing to just be friends. Friends can do things together."

"You don't know the first thing about me. What makes you think that you'd even want to be my friend?" she questioned him.

He shrugged. "You just seem like a nice person."

She laughed. "Me? Nice? Lieutenant, I think you're confusing personality with something else. I am far from being a nice person. Ask anyone on base. They'll tell you what a bitch I am."

"I don't believe that," he told her. "If you're such a rotten person, how come you're still talking to me?"

"Let's say I just feel sorry for you," she replied. She backed away from his table. "Good evening, Lieutenant. I hope you'll take my advice and stay away."

"Wait," he said, voice slightly wavering as he stood up. "At least tell me your name so I can ask about what you said."

"Helga Sinclair," she told him as she turned and walked away.

She hoped that this would be the last time she would have to warn Lt. Jenkins off.

((((())))))

Rourke sat around the fire listening to the insane ramblings of a Professor Thaddeus Thatch. Here they were, sitting on some freezing mountain top in the Andes, and all the man could talk about was the legendary lost continent of Atlantis. If the money hadn't been so good, he would have never taken this job.

Thatch worked for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. His colleagues all thought he was a joke, which Rourke was beginning to agree with, and were willing to pay any amount to keep him out of their hair. Every time Thatch believed he knew where some artifact was, the museum board of directors jumped at the chance to send him after it. This current expedition was just another excuse to rid themselves of the crazy old man.

Rourke's involvement had begun three months earlier when a representative of the museum had contacted him. They had learned of his skills as an expedition leader through word-of-mouth and thought he could handle Thatch's crazy scheme. The artifact Thatch was after had no definite location, so the expedition would require multiple site excavations. The board of directors wanted someone who could keep the crew together for an unspecified amount of time.

He had turned it down at first. He had been planning on taking some time off to search for Helga. He had just gotten back from a particularly stressful job and needed a break. But he had decided to take this assignment when they had offered him five hundred thousand for his time. He had never gotten a better offer and would have been a fool not to take it.

The mission was relatively straight-forward but time consuming. Thatch believed the artifact he was searching for, called the Idol of the Sun, was hidden in one of the central cities of the Incan empire. There was a string of possible sites located in a stretch from Bolivia to Peru. Thatch's plan was to start at one end and keep going until he either found what he came for or ran out of places to dig.

Rourke's initial impression of Thatch had remained true over the course of meeting and traveling with him. The man was a dreamer and an idealist. He believed in the educational value of what he might find on this expedition. He had no concept of the money he could gain by selling whatever he found. He preferred to start thinking about what he could try to find next. Specifically, the lost continent of Atlantis.

Rourke had quickly learned that Atlantis was Thatch's obsession. It was practically all he talked about. And, frankly, it was getting annoying. He could sympathize with the museum for wanting to get Thatch out of their hair for as long as possible.

Thatch wrapped up his current spiel, which was about some ancient text called the Shepherd's Journal, and announced that he was turning in for the night. Rourke silently thanked the lord for small favors and stood up from his seat on the ground. He told the rest of the crew that they should follow Thatch's example and get some shut-eye too. He wanted to get an early start in the morning. And then he headed back to his own tent.

He had come to the decision that this was going to be his last job for a while. The money he was going to get would last him for a couple of years.

He would use that time to finally find Helga.

((((())))))

"Chris," Helga laughed, "stop doing that! You're making me lose my concentration!" She reached across the table and swatted his arm.

He stopped making faces at her for a second. "Good," Chris told her, "maybe I'll win this time."

"Cheater," she declared.

"Hey, it's the only way I'll ever beat you at this stupid game," Chris defended himself. "I was not born to play chess!"

"So why do you still play it after all this time, Lt. Jenkins?" she asked him in a mock serious tone. "If you know it's a lost cause, why don't you give up?"

Chris smiled. "You know very well where I stand on the issue of giving up on what appears to be a lost cause."

She laughed softly. "Indeed I do."

Chris' natural persistence had led them to the close friendship they now shared. He had ignored the advice she had given him upon their first meeting and continued to approach her day after day, trying to initiate a friendship. What had made it so pathetic yet endearing was that he tried to be suave but his nervousness around her kept getting in the way. Finally she had felt so sorry for him that she agreed to meet him one night for dinner with plans of scaring him off for good.

Helga had never doubted that Christopher Jenkins had good intentions, but she had not been interested in starting a friendship with anyone. She was determined to remain alone to prevent any repeats of what had happened to her with Rourke. Chris, as he preferred to be called, had seen her from a distance and developed a crush on her because he thought she was pretty. After meeting her, he had wanted to be around her because he believed she was a nice person, which she really was but didn't want anyone to know. She didn't want to risk getting close to him because there was no telling what the future could bring. And, for her, it was usually nothing but pain.

She had been on her worst behavior at that first dinner. Chris, however, tried to act like he didn't notice and kept trying to start a conversation with her. This had impressed her and she had finally dropped her act to ask him why he couldn't take a hint. And he had surprised her by telling her, in his shaky way, that he believed she was only acting like that because she was afraid of something. He felt that all she needed was a good friend to help her and he wanted to be that friend.

She had been so moved by his honesty and sweetness that she had finally come out and told him what she had been trying to do and why, without giving away too much of her past. She felt that she owed him an apology for her behavior. Chris had waved it off like it had been nothing and asked her if she wanted to try this again another time. She had agreed and that was the beginning of their friendship. Now, it was over a year later and they were closer than ever. Perhaps too close...

Helga looked at Chris and realized there was no denying that lately he had meant more to her than a mere friend. She found herself thinking about him in a way she had vowed never to do again about a man. But, she could not stop herself.

She had fallen in love with him.

She often looked at Chris and wondered how he felt about her. He had never said anything that would suggest that he cared for her in a way other than as a dear friend. Then again, neither had she. And she had gone to great lengths to conceal her feelings from him.

Six months ago she had finally told him about Rourke and what he had done to her. She felt that she owed it to him because of the way she had treated him at the beginning. Chris had listened quietly while she told the story of her first love and the heartbreak it had led to. He hadn't even commented when she confessed that she still loved Rourke despite the pain he had caused her. He had just continued to listen and held her when she cried.

She had explained why she never wanted to fall in love again. She told him of her fears of only ending up hurt and alone like before. Chris had told her he understood and left it at that. He hadn't even mentioned the crush that had brought them together in the first place.

The strangest part of the entire matter was the fact that she still did love Rourke even as her feelings for Chris grew stronger. She assumed it was because she had been so young when she had met and fallen in love with him. Their relationship had also been very intense. He had started out only as her teacher and then eventually became her lover. She hoped the feelings would fade in time.

"Your turn," Helga finally told him. She gestured for him to make his move.

"Okay," he said as he reached for a rook. He picked it up and swirled it in the air as he seemed to ponder where to put it down. Finally, he grinned and randomly placed it in a square. "Well, how much damage did I cause this time?"

"Hmm," Helga murmured as she surveyed the chessboard. She picked up one of her pieces and knocked one of his down. "You blew it again. Checkmate."

"So what else is new?" Chris groaned as he dramatically threw his hands into the air. "Maybe I really should think about quitting."

"What? And deny me the pleasure of repeatedly beating you?"

"Has anyone ever told you what a bitch you are?" Chris inquired lightly.

"On several occasions," she informed him.

Chris got up from his chair and made his way over to the couch. "Well, I think that's all the humiliation I can take for one night," he declared as he sat down.

"Oh, really?" Helga commented as she came to join him. "Then I guess there's nothing left for us to do."

"Actually," Chris said, clearing his throat, "there is this one thing I've been meaning to talk to you about."

"What is it?" Helga asked. She had known Chris long enough now to recognize when he was being serious. "It's not anything bad, is it?"

"No, no," he said, shaking his head. "At least, I don't think it is. The answer to that really depends on you."

"Me?" she said.

"Helga, remember when you told me you were not interested in ever getting romantically involved with anyone?"

"Yes," she said hesitantly. She had a feeling she knew where this was going and she was actually relieved about it. This would finally answer her questions about how he felt about her.

"Well, I was wondering if it was possible that you might change your mind," he continued. "You know, if the right guy came along."

"It's funny you should mention that," she said, "because I've been thinking about that too."

He gulped nervously. "You-you have?"

"Um-hmm," she told him. "I've met someone who's forced me to reconsider my policy on romance."

"Oh," Chris said, sounding a little crushed. He looked away from her. "I see."

She allowed herself a smile. Poor Chris thought she had met someone else. He really was in love with her! She had never felt happier than she did at this moment.

She reached out and took his hand. He turned to her. "I met him over a year ago."

Chris' eyes lit up when he realized that she meant him. "You mean...?"

Instead of answering, she leaned in and kissed him the way she had been fantasizing about for months.

((((())))))

Rourke was waiting on hold as the secretary went to see if Major Alexander Sinclair was available to speak with him.

He had just gotten back to the States a week ago. The expedition with Thatch had lasted much longer than he could have ever thought possible. But, then again, he had never expected for Thatch to find what he was looking for either, and the man had actually located it.

The success of the expedition had surprised him more than anyone else. Thatch had been correct all along in his theory. The fact that he had not given up until he found it caused Rourke to grudgingly respect him. But that did not change anything else. He still thought he was an annoying lunatic.

Two days ago he had begun his quest to track down Helga. He decided the best place to begin was with her father. If anyone knew where she was, it would be he. He doubted, though, she'd still be living with her parents.

Starting with the last known location, he had followed Sinclair's trail of transfers until he had found him currently stationed in North Carolina. He was sure Helga had told her parents about what had happened between them and was not expecting a warm reception. But, he knew exactly what to say to get her current whereabouts.

"Sinclair," came the familiar voice on the end of the line.

"Hello, Major," Rourke said. "This is Lyle Rourke. It's a pleasure to speak with you again after all this time."

There was a long silence. "What do you want, Rourke?" was the cold reply. Yes, Helga had indeed shared information about their relationship. The only question was how much.

"I'm trying to find Helga. I want to try to set things right between us," Rourke told him. "When we parted ways it wasn't on the best of terms."

"I know what you did to her," Sinclair said. "I don't think anything can ever 'set things right'. Your actions were despicable. You're very lucky you are no longer in the military. I would have seen to it that you were given a dishonorable discharge."

"I understand that, sir," Rourke said, trying to sound as contrite as possible. "I make no excuses for what I did. I just want to apologize to her."

"I think it's a little late for that," Sinclair told him. "You should have done this years ago."

"I know," Rourke agreed, "but I have been out of the country on business until recently. I don't know if Helga told you what I do now."

"She mentioned something about leading expeditions for museums."

Interesting. She left out the fact that I'm a mercenary. Makes me wonder what else she didn't mention. "I've had one job after the other. This is my first break in years."

"So, you want to spend your time off trying to make amends to my daughter?" Sinclair asked, sounding more than a little suspicious.

"Yes, sir," Rourke told him. "Despite all I did, I still love her. I want her to know that I never meant to hurt her."

"If you really love her, you'll remain out of her life," Sinclair said. "She's finally gotten herself together and is very happy for the first time in years. I don't want you ruining that for her."

"I have no intention of ruining anything," Rourke said. "I just wish to speak with her about a few things."

"If you want to apologize, you can send her a letter through me," Sinclair suggested. "I don't want you near her or speaking to her on the phone under any circumstances."

"It's important that I apologize to her in person," he pressed. Everything depends on it.

"I don't think her husband would appreciate another man speaking with his wife alone," Sinclair told him.

Husband? She's married? "I wasn't aware that she had gotten married."

"You had no way of knowing," Sinclair said. "As you mentioned, you've been out of the country for the past several years. Now can you understand why I don't want her seeing you?"

"Major Sinclair, I have no intention of trying to rekindle my relationship with Helga, if that's what you're afraid of," Rourke told him. It was a lie since that was the only way he could get her back. The fact that she had gotten married would only make his job a little more difficult, but not impossible. If she still had any feelings for him at all, she'd forget all about her husband once she saw him again. "I just want to tell her how sorry I am for what happened. I feel that this is something I need to do in person."

There was a long pause then a sigh on the other end of the line. "I know you well enough to know that you won't give up until you get your way. Do you have a piece of paper handy?"

((((())))))

Helga was listening to some music when there was a knock at her front door. She got up from her chair, turned off the phonograph, and went to see who it was. When she opened the door, she almost fainted from shock.

It was Rourke.

All of the emotions and memories she had worked so hard to bury over the years came rushing to the surface at the sight of him, and the strength of her feelings threatened to overwhelm her. It was as if they had never been apart.

"Hello, Helga," he said. "It's been a very long time."

She found herself unable to speak and took a step back. How had he found her? What was he doing here?

"Aren't you going to invite me in?" he asked her after a few moments of silence.

What other choice did she have? Turning him away would risk his anger and then there was no telling what he would do. Finding her voice, she said, "Sure. Come in."

"Thank you," he said in that smooth tone of his. That same tone that used to easily melt her resolve when coupled with a gentle touch. He came in and shut the door behind him. His eyes traveled around the front hall. "You have a very lovely home."

"Thank you," she finally managed. Her heart was racing in her chest.

"You're probably wondering what I'm doing here," Rourke said.

"The thought had crossed my mind," she told him, trying to sound as casual as possible. "I haven't seen or heard from you in five years. For you to suddenly show up at my front door without any warning is a little disconcerting." Especially given the fact that I told you I never wanted to see you again.

"I needed to see you again," he said. "You have no idea how much I've missed you."

"I've...missed you too," she slowly answered. God, how she wanted to run into his arms and let him show her how much he missed her. "But that changes nothing. I still don't want to have anything to do with you." Liar, she berated herself.

"I don't believe that," he told her, starting to advance towards her. "I didn't believe it five years ago either. I know you still love me."

"Rourke, I'm married now," she told him, desperately trying to push away the intense arousal she was feeling. How could he know how she still felt about him?

"I know," he said. "Your father told me."

"My father?"

Rourke smiled. "How else did you think I found you? I gave him a call last week. He was...reluctant at first to help me, but he eventually came around and told me what I wanted to know." He stopped just inches away from her. "Where you were."

"What is it you want?" she whispered.

"You," he answered.

She was breathing raggedly. "It's over between us."

"It doesn't have to be," he told her. "I still want us to be together."

She started to move backwards to get away from him. "It doesn't matter what you want. You hurt me and I don't trust you anymore. I can't be in a relationship where there's no trust."

He stepped forward, keeping himself exactly the same distance from her. "I'll do anything to rebuild that trust. I love you, Helga. I need you."

"I have a husband," she reminded him, trying to move away again. "He needs me too. And I love him now."

Rourke once again followed her. "Yes, but you still love me too. Don't deny it."

"I'm not," she said, her backwards travel finally halted by the wall. "I don't think I'll ever completely stop loving you."

"Then come back to me," he pressed.

"I don't trust you," she barely whispered.

"I'll make you trust me again," he said. He placed his hands on the wall, trapping her. "I swear it."

"Rourke..."

"I won't let you get away from me again," he told her.

"Please," she begged. "Stop-"

He cut her off midsentence by kissing her passionately.

She started to struggle violently, but he pressed his body against hers and dropped his hands to her waist. After a few seconds, she gave up and got lost in the emotions being brought back to the surface. Soon she found herself kissing him back, forgetting all the reasons why this was so wrong.

When he finally ended the kiss and released her, Helga was too stunned by what had just happened to say anything. How could she have let things get so far out of hand? Why was it Rourke was still able to manipulate her so well after all this time?

She knew by responding to the kiss she had betrayed Chris. Hell, she had started to betray him as soon as Rourke entered the door and her long dormant feelings became active. In a way, she was doing to him what Rourke had done to her all those years ago on the boat. Oh, Chris...

"Oh, my love," Rourke said, "you don't know how long I've dreamed of kissing you again."

She remained silent and walked away from the wall, trying to avoid him. But, he easily caught her in his arms and held her against him. "This is completely wrong," she murmured into his chest.

"No," he said, "it's not. We were destined to always be together. The fact that we still love each other after all this time just proves it."

"You keep forgetting something," she told him. "I'm married."

"I don't care about that," he said. "All that matters to me is that you still love me as much as I love you. I'm not losing you again."

"How do I know you won't hurt me again?"

"I was a fool," he told her. "I made a mistake and I almost lost forever the one woman I care about. I won't make that same mistake again."

She pushed away from his chest and looked up at him. "I wish I could believe you."

"You can," he told her. "And I'll do anything to prove it to you." He kissed her again. "Anything."

"No, I can't do this. I love my husband. I can't just leave him," Helga said. "It wouldn't be fair to him."

"He'll get over you," Rourke told her. "I can't."

"You're going to have to," she decided, breaking out of his arms. Thinking about Chris had helped to break the spell Rourke held over her. "Chris needs me. You never did, not like he does. I'm everything to him. He'd be destroyed if I left him."

"Someone that weak doesn't deserve you," Rourke decided. "He's not good enough for you. He could never appreciate you the way I can."

"Maybe not, but he's given me something you never could," she told him. "His complete and total devotion. With you, I was only getting a small percentage. Your love of money and power always came first. I just didn't realize it until it was too late.

"I need someone who puts me first for everything. Chris does that. You never did and never will. I know you love me, but not enough to give me everything I need and want."

"Come back to me and I'll prove how devoted I can be," he tried. "I love you so much."

"Rourke, please," she begged. "It's over. You need to move on."

"I can't," he said. "You mean too much to me."

"Please," she whispered, starting to cry. He was breaking her heart all over again.

"Then let me have you just for this afternoon and then I'll go," he said. "And then you'll never have to see me again. I promise."

"I don't know..." she started to say.

He put his hand on her cheek. "You don't know how badly I've been wanting to make love to you again."

She leaned her face against his rough hand. "It's so tempting. I wish I could, but..."

"Don't think about that," he told her. "The only thing that matters right now is the love we feel for each other."

"Rourke..."

"Shh," he said as he pulled her closer. His mouth met hers in another kiss.

She closed her eyes against the tears. She loved Chris so much, but she couldn't deny her feelings for Rourke. Her entire body wanted him. She would just make love to him this one last time and then she could move on. He'd be out of her life forever...

She felt Rourke reaching for her zipper when the sound of keys in the door lock echoed loudly through the house.

Chris!

She pulled away from Rourke roughly and tried to wipe the tears and expression of guilt off of her face. Oh, my god! What was I about to do?

The door opened. "Hi, Helga," Chris greeted his wife as he walked into the house. "I got off..."

"Chris," Helga said, trying to sound as casual as possible under the circumstances. "This is Lyle Rourke. The man I've told you about."

Chris met her eyes briefly before turning to Rourke. "Christopher Jenkins," he said, extending his hand. "Helga's spoken about you often."

Rourke took his hand and shook it. "I'm sure she has. We go back a long way."

"Rourke just happened to be in town and he wanted to say hello," Helga lied. "Which he did, so he was just leaving. Isn't that right, Rourke?"

"Yes," he said. "I was. Helga, it was a pleasure seeing you again."

"Goodbye, Rourke," she told him.

Rourke nodded and left without another word.

As she watched him leave, she completely broke down and began to sob. What had she almost done? How could she allow him to still have so much power over her?

She felt Chris come up to her and take her in his arms. "Oh, my darling, what did he do to you this time?"

"Nothing," she lied, not wanting him to know how she had almost betrayed him because of her own weak resolve. "It was just hard seeing him again."

"You still have feelings for him," Chris said, not sounding jealous at all, just concerned for her.

"Why is that?" she wanted to know. "I love you so much, yet I can't help but love him too. What's wrong with me?"

Chris hugged her tighter. "There's nothing wrong with you, Sweetheart. Nothing at all."

"I love you," she told him, moving so she could gaze into his eyes.

"I love you too," he said. "And don't you ever forget that."

She smiled. "I won't," she promised. And then she proceeded to kiss him with all the passion she could muster.

Chris left his office several hours later than usual. He felt bad about not being able to get home sooner to Helga, who was still upset after yesterday's visitation by Rourke. She had been badly shaken and refused to tell him what had happened during the encounter. He knew she would confide in him when she was ready. He would never push her into anything.

He had gotten a bad feeling from Rourke when he had shaken his hand. There was something not right about him. Although he had seemed friendly enough, Chris did not like him at all. It's probably because he hurt Helga so badly in the past, he decided as he crossed the parking lot.

As he approached his car, he did not hear the footsteps behind him until it was too late.

Before he knew what was happening, someone grabbed Christopher Jenkins from behind and snapped his neck.

((((())))))

"Are you sure he isn't there?" Helga asked Rebecca, Chris' secretary, over the phone.

"Positive," Rebecca told her, "which is strange considering his car is still in the lot."

"I'm really starting to get worried," Helga said. "Where could he be? Why hasn't he called?"

"You said he never came home last night?" Rebecca inquired.

"I waited up for him as long as I could. I knew he was working late, but he had promised to be home by eight. And Chris never breaks a promise."

"Look, you try and get some rest," Rebecca said. "If Chris comes in, I'll have him call you immediately. Okay?"

"Okay," Helga agreed.

"Don't worry, Honey," Rebecca told her. "I'm sure he'll show up soon.

"And then you can scream at him until the cows come home for making you worry to death."

((((())))))

Rourke sat in his hotel room and smirked at the front page headline of the newspaper. "Still No Sign of Missing Officer" was written in bold print above a picture of Christopher Jenkins. He knew that the man would never be found.

He had disposed of the body weeks ago.

((((())))))

Helga felt so numb inside. She had been unable to eat or go out of the house for weeks now. Chris had been missing for three months and there had been no progress on the case. He had vanished without a trace. The police were ready to give up and declare him dead.

That was the one thing she refused to believe. He couldn't be dead, not after the plans they had made for a lifetime together. The day before he disappeared, they had spent the night making love and talking about the possibility of starting a family. How could someone with such a wonderful life ahead of him be dead? It just didn't seem possible.

What could have happened to him? She kept asking herself that very question over and over. Chris was not the type to take off and run without so much as a word to anyone, especially her. He was too aware of her trust issues to do that. Someone would have to have taken him against his will. But, as far as she or anyone knew, he had no enemies. Everyone who met him couldn't help but like him.

She wished she wasn't alone at a time like this, but there was no one available to be with her. Her father was too busy at work and her mother could not get away from home. Her brothers were occupied as well. The two oldest, Johann and Christoph, were out of the country. Friedrich, Hans, and Dieter were all still in school. And she had no friends of her own. All her time had been spent with Chris.

The phone rang and she quickly rolled over in bed to answer it. Silently praying that it was someone with good news about Chris, she picked it up. "Hello?"

"Helga, it's Rourke. I'm so sorry to hear about your husband."

"Th-thank you," she stammered, never expecting to hear from him again. Especially not after what happened the day he came to see her. Ironically, it was the day before Chris disappeared.

"I was just calling to see how you were," he said. "I know I'm probably the last person you want to hear from right now. The way I behaved when I came to see you was despicable."

He really does sound sorry, she thought. "It's forgotten," she lied, not really wanting to get into a discussion about it with him. "I've had more important things to worry about since then."

There was a pause on the other end of the line. "How are you holding up?"

"I'm surviving, if you can call it that," she told him. "It's been really hard for me."

"I know," Rourke said. "Look, I know things haven't exactly been great between us for a long time now, but if you ever need anything, anything at all, I'm here for you. I'm still in town for a few months."

"Thank you," she said. "That's a very kind offer." She took a deep breath. "It's good hearing from you, Rourke. I really have missed you."

"I've missed you too. You don't know how many times I've wished I hadn't made that stupid mistake that pushed us apart," he told her.

"I know," she said. "I've...often wished the same thing. We really did make a great team, didn't we?"

"The best," he agreed.

"You know, I really could use some company about now," she slowly said. "It would be nice to have someone here to talk to."

She could almost see him smile on his end of the line. "I'll be right over."

((((())))))

Rourke was surprised by how terrible Helga looked when she let him into her house. She had sounded tired on the phone, but nothing could have prepared him for the wreck she had become. Her skin was very pale and she looked as if she had lost a lot of weight. Her hair was unkempt and she only wore a robe and nightgown. She had become a shadow of her former glorious self.

He had known that she would be devastated by the loss of her husband. She had demonstrated how much she loved the man when he had visited her three months before. She had shown him a level of resistance he would not have believed possible before their breakup. In his own way, Jenkins held her under his power in much the same way Rourke did. The only difference was that Jenkins truly did love her while he just loved what she could do for him.

That was why he had disposed of him as quickly as he did. As long as Jenkins was still in her life, Helga would never willingly come back to him. Removing him from the picture was the only way to win her back, providing him with the perfect opening to reenter her life. He would appear as the supportive friend and rebuild the relationship from there.

However, he hadn't realized how badly Jenkins' disappearance would affect Helga. She had always been such a strong person, a fighter, which was what had brought her to his attention in the first place. Now she appeared to have just given up. She hadn't even been this destroyed over their own breakup.

Helga didn't bother to say anything when she let him come in. She had just weakly smiled and disappeared into the next room. He closed the door behind him and followed after her.

She had gone into the living room and was curled up in a corner of the couch which, not surprisingly, was right next to a phone. "In case there's some news," she explained.

Rourke nodded in an understanding fashion and took a seat in a chair directly across from the couch. "You look like hell," he told her.

"Oh, thank you," she sarcastically replied, revealing a little of the old fire. "I thought you were here to make me feel better."

"Have you even left the house at all?" he asked her.

"Not for weeks," she told him. "I want to be here in case they find something about Chris."

He nodded again. It was obvious she was convinced her husband was still alive. He had no idea of what to say to her. He was afraid he'd upset her too badly and he'd lose his window of opportunity. It was better to keep his mouth shut for now.

"It doesn't make any sense, Rourke," she said after a few minutes of silence. "Chris has no enemies. Why would anyone want to hurt him?"

"I don't know," he lied. "Are you sure you knew everything about him?"

She looked at him as if he had said the stupidest thing in the world. "Chris and I don't have any secrets. We always tell each other what's going on. If he had a problem, I would have known.

"He's a good man, Rourke. An honest and wonderful man. And I love him so much."

He silently noted Helga's continual use of the present tense when referring to her husband. "I know." He decided to take a risk and ask her something that he had been wondering about. "I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but why aren't you out there looking for him, too? This sitting and waiting just seems out of character for you."

She smiled thinly. "What could I do? If the police aren't having any luck, what makes you think I would? Besides, I'm so out of practice when it comes to all the things you taught me, I'd probably just make a mess out of everything. Better for me to wait here and leave the search to the professionals."

"But you're not just waiting, Helga. You're letting yourself fall apart," he pointed out. "Have you done one thing to take care of yourself since Chris disappeared?"

She looked away from him. "What for? Ever since he didn't come home, nothing else has really seemed very important anymore. I can't eat or sleep. He's all I can think about." Suddenly, she began cry. "Oh, god, what if he really is gone?"

Rourke came over and sat next to her on the couch. She immediately fell into his arms and continued sobbing. He just held her, enjoying the feel of her against him.

"Shh," he said softly. "You can't think about that. You have to keep believing he's going to be okay." He spoke the words he knew she wanted to hear. He needed her to believe he really did care about her. "You need to be strong for him."

"But I'm not strong," she whispered between sobs. "I miss him so much. I don't think I can survive another loss.

"There've been too many already."

"You haven't lost me," he told her. "I'll always be here for you."

He spent the next few hours just holding her as she continued to cry, until she finally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. Then he carried her upstairs and put her into her bed.

Satisfied that he had made a great deal of headway in regaining her trust, Rourke walked out of the bedroom, returned to the first floor, and left the house.

((((())))))

Helga looked out the window at the rare December snow fall. A great sadness overcame her as she remembered how she and Chris had spent Christmas only a year before. They had run in their front yard like little children, throwing snowballs and building snowmen, laughing the entire time. And then there had been that stupid mistletoe he followed her around the house with, making her kiss him every chance he got. She remembered threatening to stuff it down his throat if he tried that again next year. Now she would have given anything to have him holding that little plant over her head.

It had only been a month since the courts had legally declared him dead and closed the case. She still remembered how she had become hysterical at the station and how Rourke had to practically drag her out to the car. How she had cried that day. She hadn't wanted to believe he was gone. She still didn't. But she had no choice but to accept that he was never coming back. She missed him so much.

She had gone home the next day to see her family, needing the comfort they could give her. She had spent the month with them, trying to pull herself together. It had been the hardest four weeks of her life. And now she had come back to the house she had shared with Chris to settle their affairs.

Because she didn't want to be alone here, Rourke had moved in with her. He had been so good to her during the last days of the investigation. In fact, he had been the one who kept her going through all of it. If it weren't for him, she was sure she would have died.

When he had called her back in October, she had been a total mess. She hadn't eaten or slept in weeks, and had refused to leave the house to prevent her missing any important phone calls. She had also been in total denial that anything bad could have happened to Chris. Rourke had shown up and suddenly the reality of the situation had sunk in. Things had not seemed like they could get any worse.

But Rourke had set her straight. He had resumed his role as her teacher and instructed her in how to start living again. He had forced her to leave the house every day. He had even made sure she ate three times a day. By the end of the first two weeks, she had already shown signs of improvement. And she owed it all to him. He had proved himself a true friend.

At first it had been difficult having him around. She still remembered the pain of his betrayal and did not completely trust him. Worse still was that her feelings for him were as strong as ever. Just being in the same room with him made her feel guilty, as if she were betraying Chris.

As the time passed and Rourke had not tried, thankfully, to rekindle the romance, she had begun to feel more comfortable around him. He had changed from the man she had first met all those years ago, and he had become someone she was proud to call a friend. He had saved her from herself, and for that she would be eternally grateful. But she still did not entirely trust him.

Helga turned away from the window and went back to the couch where Rourke was reading a book. She sat down next to him.

He put down his book. "Where were you just now?"

"In the past," she told him. "This time last year."

"With Chris," he supplied.

"Yes," she nodded, "with Chris." She laughed softly. "He spent the entire day chasing me with a mistletoe. I was ready to kill him by the end of the day."

"I'll bet," Rourke said. "How many times did he catch you with it?"

She smiled at the memory. "Too many to count. He was quite the romantic, my Chris."

"He was very lucky to have someone like you," Rourke told her.

"No," she shook her head. "I was the lucky one. He was the one who taught me how to trust again. After..." She looked up at him. "...what happened between us. I don't know if I ever told him that."

"I'm sure he knew," he told her.

She took a deep breath. "And I don't think I've ever properly thanked you for all you've done for me."

"It was nothing," he waved her off. "I did it out of friendship."

"I don't just mean now," she corrected him. "I mean everything. You made me who I am today. So, thank you." She reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. "Just...thank you."

"You're welcome."

((((())))))

"Again," Rourke ordered and Helga obeyed by snapping her foot against the pad for the third time. "Much better," he told her.

"Thanks," she said as she shook out her legs. "I don't think I'm too bad if I say so myself."

"For someone who's a couple of years out of practice, you're doing wonderfully," he told her.

Three months ago, Rourke had decided that it was time to start grooming Helga to once again take her place by his side. He had suggested that she start training with him again as a way to keep her mind off of other things, such as her late husband. She had readily agreed, thinking he was doing this out of the goodness of his heart. She had no idea what he was planning for her.

Her street combat and conventional weapons skills had become rusty from disuse. She had spent the last several years mastering Aikido and then had stopped fighting completely to become a housewife. However, she relearned quickly and soon regained the skills she had had when they had gone their separate ways. He believed she was just about ready to go back into the field. Already he had begun searching for his next job.

"All right, that's enough for one day," he announced. "Tomorrow I'm taking you out to the rifle range again.

"Fine with me," Helga told him. She walked over to the bench where she had left her stuff and sat down.

He put the pad down in the corner of the room before coming to join her. He glanced at her sitting next to him. She was covered in sweat and looking as good as ever. In the old days, he would have used her grimy state as an excuse to have sex with her in the shower. He knew that wouldn't happen while she just considered him a friend. He hoped he could step up their "relationship" to the next level very soon.

She was just starting to work through her grief. Her husband had been dead, as far as she was concerned, for five months. Although she showed no signs of wanting to love again, he knew she still had the old feelings for him. He could sense them whenever she was near him. It was only a matter of time before he could finally coax them to the surface and she would be completely his once more. But, one step at a time...

"There's something I've been meaning to tell you," he said. "I've started looking for my next job."

"Oh," she said, visibly saddened by this news. "I didn't know you were planning to leave so soon."

"I don't have one yet," he corrected. "I've just started looking." She was upset by the idea of his leaving her. Good.

"I guess I always knew you'd be going back to your own life sooner or later," Helga said. "I just hoped it would be later. I've really liked having you back in my life."

"You don't know how happy that makes me to hear you say that," he told her. "I was so lonely after you left me. These past months have been a joy. I love being with you." It was a hint of the "affection" she was supposed to believe he still felt for her.

"I...love being with you too," she slowly said. "You've been such a good friend to me. I couldn't have gotten through this without you."

She was so vulnerable in this moment. He decided to press her a little further, to see how close he could get her to admitting her feelings for him. "I was thinking," he started. "When I do get my next job, why don't you come with me? That way we'll never have to be apart ever again."

Helga looked away from him. "That's a...very generous offer," she said, "but...I don't think I can take you up on it. I'm sorry."

"Why not?" he questioned, although he wasn't too surprised by her answer. She was just getting over her husband. As strongly as she felt for him, she was not ready to commit to him in any way.

"It's too soon, Rourke. I'm not ready to jump back into anything right now. I need time to heal, to think about what's next. I still miss him so much." She turned back to him. "Am I making any sense?"

"Yes," he told her. "I understand where you're coming from."

"If things had been...different between us and I had never met Chris..." Helga began but did not finish.

Wonderful, he thought. This is the closest she's come to admitting her feelings since this whole thing started. "I still love you," he told her in his sincerest tone of voice.

She said nothing and looked down.

"Helga." Her head came back up. "I want us to be together again."

"I know," she told him quietly. "I know."

"Will you think about what I said?" he asked her.

She nodded.

He mentally smiled and knew it wouldn't be long before she completely gave into him.

((((())))))

Helga couldn't sleep. Her mind was filled with too many things to let her rest. She felt confused and conflicted and didn't know what to do. The reason for this inner turmoil? Rourke was leaving in the morning for his first job in months.

Two weeks ago he had received a phone call from a prospective client. A New York museum was looking for someone to lead a dangerous expedition to Antarctica and had been given Rourke's name as the best man for the job. Never one to turn down a challenge, Rourke had accepted right away. Besides, as he had told her, the money they were offering was just too good to refuse.

She had at first been happy for him, knowing how eager he was to get back to work. But then, the more she thought about his leaving, the unhappier she became. She had gotten so used to having him around. It would be extremely strange to be alone again.

She had told him this and he had again asked her to go with him. And she had once again turned him down. As much as she dreaded being alone, she wasn't ready to leave her home. Chris' loss was still too fresh in her mind. She needed to be near what she had left of him. At least until she decided what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

Another reason why she couldn't go with him was because she was getting ready to start a new job. She had applied for and gotten a teaching position at a nearby military academy. She had read in the paper that a hand-to-hand combat instructor was leaving and that the school was looking for a replacement. It had reminded her of how much she had enjoyed teaching for that brief period of time with Rourke. And since she had just refreshed her skills under his tutelage, she figured it would give her something to do.

She had gotten her job a mere three days before Rourke had received his. Until that happened, she had assumed he would be here to help her through this first major step she was going to take. She had just taken for granted that he'd be there as he had been for the last six months.

It hadn't truly hit her that he was leaving until she had seen his things in her front hall this past afternoon. She knew it was foolish to have expected him to stay forever. He had his own life and had just been here to help a friend in need. It had only been a matter of time before he left her. And now that time had arrived. So why was it bothering her so much?

She was not just sad that he was leaving. She was experiencing an inexplicable feeling of loss. It was very similar to what she felt when Chris had disappeared. To when she and Rourke had...

No! It couldn't be that. They were just friends. Nothing more. She did not feel that way towards him anymore, especially after how he had betrayed her.

Yet, why else would she feel like she was losing someone she loved? You didn't feel that way about a mere friend. These feelings were reserved for a family member or a lover and Rourke was neither of those. At least, not anymore. Then why...?

Oh, my god. I've fallen in love with him!

Helga sat up in bed as the realization hit her. When had this happened? How could this have happened? Especially so soon after Chris.

It was so ironic. Once again her vow to never fall in love again had been broken and it was because of the very man who had caused her to take it in the first place. After she had separated from Rourke in Egypt, she had determined to live a life without romance. Then Chris had come along and, in his innocent way, had swept her off her feet. Now after Chris had been so cruelly taken from her, Rourke had reentered her life and reclaimed her heart without even trying.

But, then again, she had never really stopped loving him, as their first encounter after the breakup had proven. She just didn't realize how strongly she felt until now. Now when he was leaving her.

She knew Rourke had never stopped loving her either. He had told her last month when he first let her know that he was looking for a mercenary job. That was why he had asked her to go with him. Because he was still in love with her.

She felt a twinge of guilt. Chris had not even been gone a year and here she was admitting she was in love with another man. It seemed so wrong, almost as if she was cheating.

Then she thought of what Chris would say about this. He was such a kind and generous person without a jealous bone in his body. He would want her to be happy. She knew that as surely as she knew herself.

She had to tell Rourke how she felt before he left her in the morning. She wanted him to know. He deserved to know.

She switched on her bedside lamp and glanced at the time. It was two in the morning. Rourke would be gone in seven hours. She had to tell him now, before it was too late.

Helga slid out of bed and slowly walked across the room. She opened the door and stood in the doorway.

Rourke's door was open and his light was on.

What's he doing up so late too? she wondered. She felt a little better knowing that she didn't have to wake him up herself. She stepped out into the hallway and looked into his room.

Empty.

Where could he be? She listened to the quiet house for any sound that would indicate movement. She was out of practice but she was pretty sure she didn't hear anything. Maybe he fell asleep somewhere else?

"Helga?"

She practically jumped as she felt a hand land on her shoulder. She turned around to see Rourke standing there. He was wearing nothing but boxer shorts and held a glass of water in one hand.

"Are you all right?" he asked her. "What are you doing up so late?"

"Well," she began but then she hesitated. She was unsure of how to tell him what she had to say.

"I've been having some trouble sleeping tonight myself," he said when she didn't answer. "I have a lot on my mind."

"Of course," she said, managing to find her voice. "You're starting a new job in the morning."

"That's part of it," he told her as he moved past her into his room. He briefly brushed against her and the contact sent shivers through her body. "The other part is you."

She followed him in, but hung in the doorway. She found herself unable to look at him. "There's something I need to tell you."

She heard him put the glass down and saw his bare feet come into her line of vision. She felt his hand touch her chin and her face was gently tilted up so that their gazes met.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I love you," she told him.

For a moment, he didn't react. Then he moved in closer and, before she knew what was happening, he starting kissing her.

These were not the kisses from him that she was used to. These were deeper, more urgent. They spoke of longing and loneliness, of how much he needed her. Of how much he loved her.

While they were still kissing, she felt him guiding her somewhere. He did not break contact with her for an instant. Finally, when the back of her legs hit something soft, she realized where he had led her.

The bed.

His mouth came away from hers. "I've been waiting for you to say that for so long. I thought you'd never come back to me." He stroked her hair. "Please tell me this isn't a dream."

She shook her head. "It's not, my love. I love you. I always have. I just didn't realize it until tonight and I wanted to tell you before you were gone." She paused. "In case I never see you again."

"I'll come back to you," he promised. "Just like I did before. I love you too much to ever let you go again." He kissed her again. "I want you." She felt his hands run down her back, arousing her. "Very badly."

Her body felt like it was on fire. His touch alone was enough to set her off. It had been so long since she had been with him yet her body remembered like it had only been yesterday.

"Make love to me," she breathed, saying the same words he had spoken to her their very first time together.

He started kissing her neck and shoulders, pushing down the thin straps of her nightgown. She let her head droop backwards as his lips traveled over her skin. Her eyes closed as the sensations washed over her.

His mouth continued down onto her chest and both of his hands clutched at her breasts, gently kneading them through the thin fabric of her nightgown. She moaned with pleasure, remembering how skilled he was as a lover.

Slowly, he worked his way back up to her lips. Then he gently pushed her down onto the bed, getting on it with her. She slid backwards towards the pillows as he crawled after her. She sat up on her knees and he followed suit, once again kissing her.

During the kiss, he slid a knee between her legs, causing them to slightly spread. Next he reached down and started gathering her nightgown. She aided him in liberating herself from the silky garment, only ending the kiss at the last minute to allow the nightgown to be pulled over her head. She then carelessly tossed it away.

Rourke then put his hands on her bare back and pulled her closer to him, initiating another kiss. His hands traveled downward until they reached the waistband of her underpants. Then he started pushing them down.

Helga leaned forward so that he could get her panties over her knees. She was breathing very hard now, knowing that he was readying her for his entry. Her body longed to feel him inside her again. It had been so long.

He finished removing her panties and threw them off the bed. He reached down between her legs and caressed her softly. "Is this as good as you remember it?"

"Better, my love," she told him between gasps. "Much better."

He smiled lustfully at her and helped her lie down, straightening her bent legs one by one. She watched him as he took off his boxer shorts and dropped them over the side of the bed. He then took his usual position on top of her, but did not enter her.

Instead he started kissing her again. The kisses were the most intense yet, taking her breath away. She guessed he was trying to prolong their passionate love making, not wanting it to be over so fast. Countless minutes later, he finally pushed himself inside her.

They started to move as one, quickly finding the rhythm they had established that first night years ago. It was as if they had never parted.

Helga was shocked by the intensity of her own orgasm as he brought her to climax. It was the most powerful one she had ever experienced.

A few moments later, she felt him release inside of her.

He stopped kissing her lips and started nuzzling her neck. A few minutes later, he said "That was incredible. Very much worth the wait."

"I'd forgotten what this felt like," she admitted. She had been with no one but Chris since parting ways with Rourke. Chris had been a very sweet and gentle lover while Rourke defied description. He knew how to pleasure her in ways no one else ever could. It was almost as if their bodies were designed only for each other.

Rourke ran his hands along her back. "Perhaps you'd like another reminder...?"

((((())))))

Helga trudged back to her office after another long day of teaching. She was very glad that it was Friday and was looking forward to a nice quiet weekend. A couple of days without the sound of gunfire were just what the doctor ordered.

As she entered the outer office, her secretary Jennifer waved her over. "Miss Sinclair, there's a man waiting for you in your office. He refused to wait for you out here. Said it was important that you spoke with him in private."

She groaned inwardly. This was the last thing she needed today. She really just wanted to go home. In a cool voice to cover her displeasure, she said, "Did he say what this was about or who he was?"

"No, ma'am," Jennifer informed her. "He just insisted that he see you as soon as possible."

Helga glanced towards her office door which was open. "Thank you, Jennifer." Straightening up to her full height, she strode into her office.

A tall man with brown hair stood up as soon as he heard her enter. "Helga Sinclair?"

"Yes," she confirmed. She had gone back to using her maiden name not long after Chris had been declared legally dead. It had been too painful to continue using her married one. "Can I help you?"

"Actually," he said, "I'm here to help you. My name is Michael Edwards and I work for Whitmore Industries. Perhaps you've heard of it?"

"No," she shook her head. "I have not." What would some strange company want with a rifle and shotgun instructor?

"Preston Whitmore, the company founder and owner, would like to speak with you in person about a possible job. I've been sent to bring you back with me for a meeting with him," Edwards explained.

"Really?" she questioned. "That was rather presumptuous of him. What makes him think that I'd even be interested?"

"I don't know," Edwards said, "but Mr. Whitmore specifically said that he won't take no for an answer."

"Uh-huh," she said, looking him up and down. Edwards was tall but very slim. There was no way he could take her by physical force. So unless he had a gun... "And just how are you supposed to get me to go with you?"

"I was just told to give you this." Edwards reached into his jacket and fished something out. It was a small envelope. He held it out to her.

She stepped forward and took the envelope from him. There was no writing on the outside. "Is this from Whitmore?"

"I'm not sure," Edwards told her. "It was already sealed when he handed it to me with my instructions. His personal envelopes always bear the company insignia, while this one does not."

Turning the envelope over and over in her hands, Helga went over to her desk. She sat down in her chair and reached for the letter opener that was sitting on her blotter. Very carefully, she opened the mysterious envelope.

Inside was a small piece of paper folded in half. She pulled it out and unfolded it. It took all her self control not to gasp when she saw whom it was from.

"My love, it is very important that you go with the man who has brought you this note. I will be waiting for you when you arrive."

Rourke. There was no signature but there was no mistaking the handwriting or the tone. She knew it was him as surely as if she had been standing beside him as he wrote it.

The last time she had seen him had been at the train station the morning after she had told him that she still loved him. He had kissed her a passionate goodbye and then boarded a train headed for New York City. She had not seen or heard from him in the two years since.

She refolded the note and looked up at Edwards. "When do we leave?"

((((())))))

Helga was quickly ushered through the plush hallways of Preston Whitmore's private residence. It had been a long drive from Quantico to wherever she was. She was exhausted from a long day of teaching and had fallen asleep in the car. All she wanted to do was find a place to lie down and take a nap.

For what had to be the thousandth time, she wondered what this was all about. If Rourke was involved, it was probably some kind of mercenary work. He had obviously mentioned her to Whitmore for some reason and it had somehow led to this mysterious job offer. She doubted she'd take it since she really enjoyed teaching, but the trip here would be worth it if it gave her a chance to see Rourke again.

She had missed him these past two years. It had been hard to say goodbye the morning after she had realized she was still in love with him. He had promised he'd return to her and she had been patiently waiting for him. Now, he finally had, and she couldn't wait to see him.

Her guide, a man by the name of Richardson, led her to a large set of double doors. "Wait here please. Let me see if Mr. Whitmore is ready to see you now." He opened the doors, went through, and closed them behind him.

Helga looked around to see if there was a place to sit while she waited. There were no chairs, just lots of items that looked like they belonged in a museum.

"Can I help you?" a voice asked her.

She turned around to see an old man standing in the hallway with her. He was well dressed and walked with a cane. Yet another employee of Whitmore's? "I was just looking for a chair," she told him.

"Let me guess. Richardson left you here while he went to speak to Mr. Whitmore," the old man said.

"Yes," she answered, "that's right."

The man chuckled. "Yep. He does that to guests all the time. No consideration. So, tell me, what brings you here?"

"Mr. Whitmore apparently has a job offer for me," she told him, deciding to make small talk with him since she had nothing better to do while she waited. "An old friend of mine appears to be involved as well."

"Have any idea what it is?"

"Not really, but if I know my friend as well as I think I do, it probably involves a lot of money. He won't take a job unless it does," Helga said.

The old man smiled. "Sounds like he's a mercenary."

She nodded. "He is. An ex-soldier."

"What about you? What do you do?"

"I'm a weapons and combat instructor," she told him. "I'm currently employed at Quantico where I teach rifle and shotgun."

"Do you enjoy it?" he asked her.

"Very much. It won't be easy to persuade me to give it up."

"Well, I do love a good challenge," the old man said. He extended his right hand. "Preston Whitmore. It's very nice to meet you, Helga."

Dumbstruck, Helga shook his hand. This was Whitmore? "You have quite an unorthodox way of conducting meetings," she said covering up her surprise.

Whitmore grinned. "I find that people are much more open and honest when they don't know they're in a meeting. I prefer doing all my business this way."

"Speaking of business," she said, "I think it's time you told me what all this is about."

"Of course, of course," Whitmore told her. "Tell me, Helga. What do you know about the lost continent of Atlantis?"

She shrugged. "It's just a myth. Why?"

"Well, I have a very dear friend who is convinced that it exists," Whitmore explained. "And I've made a little wager with him." He stepped forward and opened the double doors. "Let's go to my office. I'll tell you more as we walk." He went through.

Helga quickly followed. "Is this what the job is? Finding Atlantis?"

"Not exactly," Whitmore told her. "That's only if this first expedition is successful."

Expedition. So this was the reason Rourke was involved. "I assume Rourke is the commander," she said.

"Yes, Lyle Rourke," Whitmore confirmed. "My friend Thaddeus is the one who suggested him. Seems they spent several years together on an extended expedition in South America."

Must have been during our separation, she realized. She wondered if Rourke had disclosed the nature of their personal relationship to Whitmore. "Am I also correct in the assumption that Rourke is the one who gave you my name?"

"When I told him I wanted the best of the best on this expedition, he immediately told me he wanted only one person to be his second-in-command: you," Whitmore informed her. "He won't accept any other."

"That's crazy," Helga said. "I'm the last person Rourke should want as his lieutenant, especially on a mission like this. He needs someone with more command experience."

"On the contrary, Miss Sinclair. You have more command experience than anyone else I know." Helga looked up to see Rourke leaning casually against a doorframe at the end of the hallway. "As a teacher, you give commands several times a day that you expect to be obeyed without question."

"Rourke," she greeted him as casually as she could manage although her heart was racing with excitement.

"I see you got my note," he said.

She smiled at him. "I'm here, aren't I?"

"Mr. Whitmore," Rourke said, "have you told her about the Journal yet?"

"I was just getting to that," Whitmore waved him off. "Let's go into my office and have a seat, shall we?"

Rourke went in first, followed by Whitmore. Helga hesitated a second, unsure of what to do. She really didn't want to go on an expedition. Her one and only experience in the field had turned her off from that way of life. She was now finally doing something she liked. Did she really want to throw it all away, even if it meant that she would be with the man she loved?

Rourke reappeared in the doorway. "Are you coming?"

She looked at him. She loved him so much. She owed him so much for what he had done for her over the years. It was her turn to do something for him.

"Yes."

((((())))))

Rourke found himself returning to that particular page in the Shepherd's Journal once again. Although he couldn't read the strange text, there was no mistaking what the illustration showed. It was a gigantic crystal of some kind.

And it would be worth a fortune to anyone who could get their hands on it.

He thought of all the things he could do with that kind of money. He would be able to retire, for one thing. No more working for fools like Thatch and some of the others he had dealt with over the years. He'd be able to live the rest of his life in the lap of luxury. And all it would take would be one last job.

There was a knock on his door. He closed the Journal and hid it in a drawer. He did not want anyone to know that he had taken the book from Thatch's room while the old man was in the infirmary. He wasn't sure he could entirely trust his crew yet. Especially Molière. There was definitely something wrong with that man.

He got up and went over to the door. He opened it to find Helga standing there.

"Commander," she said, "I've just been to the infirmary. Sweet wants you to know that Thatch isn't doing too well. He says that the sooner we get him to New York, the better."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," he told her. "How bad is it?"

"It's serious," Helga said. "Sweet doesn't think he's going to be able to pull through unless he's immediately hospitalized."

Rourke nodded. "He was too old to go on this expedition in the first place. It's not too surprising that he got sick."

"Sweet says he keeps asking for his grandson."

She looked tired as she related the information about Thatch. She had been in command for the past five hours while he had retired to his quarters to examine the Journal. He decided she should take a break.

Rourke took a step back. "Would you like to come in for a while, Lieutenant? You look like you're in need of a rest."

"I'm still on duty," she reminded him.

"As your commanding officer, I'm hereby putting you off-duty until further notice," he said. Then he lowered his voice. "I know a great way to help you relax."

He could see by her face that she knew what he was suggesting. "It's too dangerous. You know we can't risk being caught."

"Most of the crew is asleep," he told her, "or on duty somewhere far across the ship. And it really doesn't matter anymore anyway. The job is over. We got what we came for. Now we're just on our way home."

"Oh, all right," she finally gave in. "Why is it I can never say no to you?"

He pulled her into his arms as she entered his room. "Because you know how much I love getting my way." He shut the door behind them and pushed her against it. "And you know how much I love you." He kissed her.

She broke away. "I bet you say that to all your lieutenants."

"Just you, my love," he told her as he kissed her again. He finished then backed away from her. "Come here. There's something I want to show you." If there was anyone he could trust with his discovery, it was Helga. She was too much under his power to ever betray him.

"What is it?"

"You'll see." He went over to where he had hidden the Journal and picked it up.

"The Shepherd's Journal," she breathed. "Does Thatch know?"

"Does it matter? He's too ill to study it anyway," he pointed out. "Besides, if we're going to lead the actual Atlantis expedition, I thought I should at least try to learn what we're going to be in for."

"But you can't read it," she said. "No one can. Not even Thatch."

"No, but I can look at the pictures." He turned open to the page. "Take a look at this."

Helga gasped. "My god. Is that what I think it is?"

"Can you imagine the price someone would pay for a crystal like that?" he asked her.

She nodded. "You'd never have to take another job again and you'd still be set for life."

"My thoughts exactly."

"Thatch and Whitmore aren't going to like it," she told him. "Whitmore will probably just want to add it to his private collection."

"Who said anything about either of them knowing?" Rourke questioned.

"You can't just hide something like this from them," she pointed out. "It's right here in the book. Maybe Thatch can't read it, but he's pretty sure his grandson can."

Rourke smiled and laid the Journal down on his desk. Gently, he tore out the page. "Not anymore. A man can't read what he doesn't see."

Helga looked a little uncomfortable. "What if there was some important information on that page that didn't have anything to do with the crystal?"

"Then we'll just have to make sure the grandson is with us when we go. When the time comes, we'll have to ask him to read it," he told her.

"I don't like this, Rourke," she said. "Something about it just doesn't feel right."

He went over to her. He knew how much she still disliked dishonesty and deception, which was ironic since that was the basis of their entire relationship. He'd just have to persuade her to see things his way.

He put his hands around her waist. "If you help me do this, I'll never have to take another one of these jobs again. I'll follow you wherever you go. I won't even care if you want to go back to teaching. All I want is for us to always be together."

He did mean what he said. In her, he had created the perfect companion for himself. She was both a weapon and a bedmate. He had gone through so much trouble to get her back that he would hate to lose her again.

"We can't do this alone," she finally said. "If it's as big as the picture makes it look, we're going to need a lot of help bringing it back with us."

That's my girl, he thought. Her acquiescence aroused him. They hadn't been together since the night before they left on the expedition several months ago. He still thought of her as the best sexual partner he had ever been with. And he wanted to be with her again at this very moment.

He started to kiss her heatedly. Helga seemed to sense what he wanted and he felt her body start to respond. Still holding her around the waist, he picked her up and seated her on the edge of his desk. She wrapped her legs around him.

She broke off the kiss. "We...shouldn't...be...doing...this," she managed between ragged breaths.

"I know," he told her, his own breathing heavy. "The danger...makes it...so much...better."

"What...about-"

"Later," he cut her off. He resumed kissing her again, reaching for her belt.

((((())))))

Helga trailed Whitmore into the small funeral parlor. She felt very uncomfortable being there. Although she had spent several months on the Iceland expedition with Thaddeus Thatch, she had never bothered getting to know him. That was because Rourke had instructed her to keep her distance and trust no one. Of course, that was how she always was, so it had not been any big deal.

Whitmore hung at the back of the room. He had been at Thatch's side when he passed away and it had affected him deeply. Helga knew that they had been close friends for many years and could sympathize with him. She had suffered two incredible losses in her own life.

"Are you going to sit down, Mr. Whitmore?" she asked him.

"No, no, I'm not staying," he waved her off. "I just wanted to see how Milo was holding up."

Milo was the grandson Thatch had often spoken of. According to Whitmore, his parents had died when he was a small child and the senior Thatch had raised him on his own. Both of Milo's parents had been only children so there had been no one else to take him in. His grandfather's death had hit him very hard.

Milo was sitting alone in the front row of chairs. He was hunched over in his seat, but Helga was unable to tell if he was crying or not.

"The poor boy," Whitmore said. "He's all alone in the world now."

"Why don't you go over and talk to him?" she suggested.

Whitmore chuckled sadly. "He doesn't even know who I am. Thatch never told him about me. He knew how much I value my privacy."

This was unexpected news. If Milo was the only person Thatch had believed could translate the Journal... "I thought he was supposed to go on the Atlantis expedition with us."

"Oh, he will," Whitmore told her, "but only when he's ready. It wouldn't be fair to disrupt his life just yet considering how far we are from launching an actual expedition."

"How will you know when he's ready?"

"That's where you come in, my dear Helga," Whitmore said. "I have it on good authority that you have quite the talent for surveillance and information gathering."

Rourke, she thought. Figures he would have told Whitmore everything he taught me. Must be the only reason I got this job. "It's been many, many years since I've even practiced anything remotely of that nature," she told him.

While still on the boat, Rourke had made it clear that he didn't want to lose track of her again. It had been very hard to find her this time and Whitmore had had to bring in some of his best people. So, he had decided that it would be best for her to acquire a position in Whitmore Industries. That way, he would always know where he could find her if he needed her.

A week before they returned to Washington, Whitmore's driver was killed in a freak accident that the police still couldn't determine the cause of. Rourke had immediately suggested to Whitmore that he allow Helga to take over the position. He had also sweetened the deal by telling him that her incredible weapon and combat skills would make her an ideal bodyguard as well. Whitmore had readily agreed and Helga had been put to work immediately.

Helga wasn't happy but she didn't want to argue with Rourke. She knew he was only doing this because he cared about her and wanted to keep her close. Besides, it was only temporary. After the Atlantis expedition and they found that crystal, she and Rourke would be gone.

Although she had not mentioned it, she had spent a lot of time thinking about marriage. She loved Rourke and she still wanted to marry him. Once they had sold the crystal and made a fortune, there would be no more mercenary jobs. His only reason for not marrying her years ago was because he was a mercenary and that he thought that kind of life was not conducive to a good marriage. Now this no longer had any validity. If he expected her to spend the rest of her life with him, he was going to have to marry her.

"Well, here's your chance to shape up in that department," Whitmore was saying. "The only way we're ever going to know if that boy is ready is if we keep an eye on him. Thatch told me that Milo was researching many of the same things as he was, including both Atlantis and the Shepherd's Journal.

"Thatch knew his grandson better than anyone else. He was sure that Milo would try to complete all his research after his death. Since Milo knows nothing about me and our own little trip, he will most definitely want to find the Shepherd's Journal himself. Thatch told me that when he figures out where it is is when we bring him in."

"What is it you want me to do, Mr. Whitmore?" she asked.

"I want you to keep track of his research. Keep me informed of his progress in any studies pertaining to either the Journal or Atlantis," Whitmore instructed. "I don't care what you do as long as Milo is unaware of the fact that he is being watched."

Thank god, she thought, relieved that Whitmore didn't expect her to bed young Thatch. There was only one man she was ever going to give her body to and that was Rourke. After her first seduction experience, she vowed never to do it again.

"I'll do my best, Mr. Whitmore," she promised.

"I'd expect no less of you," Whitmore told her. "I'm ready to go home now."

((((())))))

"And relax...he doesn't bite...often," Helga smirked at a very intimidated Milo Thatch. She closed the gates of the elevator and pressed the button to return to the main floor. As soon as she knew Milo could no longer hear her, she burst out laughing.

She had not been able to resist. He was such an easy target. She felt that she had gotten to know him over the past two and a half years. She had spent the majority of her time watching him and reading through his papers and personal journal. In fact, she had been to his apartment so often that his cat Fluffy knew her and greeted her.

Milo was the epitome of nerdiness. He practically screamed it, from his big glasses to his tiny bow tie. He had no friends and spent all his free time researching. That seemed to be his idea of fun. He had no social skills to speak of and really didn't seem to get why people never took him seriously. All in all, he appeared to be a nice if somewhat clueless guy.

In some ways, he reminded her a lot of Chris. He had that same innocence about him that Chris had always had. On the other hand, Chris had been a true people person and was always in a happy mood. Unlike Milo, he knew how to have fun.

One thing he had in common with Chris was cats. Chris had loved cats, but, unfortunately, had been extremely allergic to them. He had learned the hard way when he was a little boy. His family had found a stray cat that they had immediately adopted. Chris had bonded with the cat, named Captain Kitty, immediately, and spent all his time playing with him. Soon after Captain Kitty entered his life, Chris started feeling ill all the time, wheezing and coughing constantly. It took only one doctor's visit to trace the symptoms to allergies, and Captain Kitty had to be given away.

Thinking of Chris still saddened her. She missed him so. As much as she loved Rourke, he could never be a replacement for her sweet Chris just as Chris had never been a replacement for him.

Milo had never seemed more like Chris than he had tonight when he found her sitting in his apartment. She had determined the best way to get him to come with her was by a combination of seduction and intimidation. So she had dressed up and went to wait for him in his apartment. When she had been there earlier in the day with a moving crew, she had had the electricity, water, and phones turned off. When Milo had come in, the fact that his lights wouldn't turn on had allowed her to catch him completely off guard.

Milo had been extremely shocked to find a strange woman in his apartment, but he had handled it quite well in her opinion. He had readily agreed to come and meet her "employer", as she had put it. Whitmore had wanted her to keep his identity a secret as long as possible. It was part of some little test he had devised for Milo himself.

The elevator came to a stop and Helga opened the gate and stepped out. She let out the yawn she hadn't realized she had been holding and decided to head upstairs to her room. She had had a long day. Of course, compared to what was coming up in a few days if Milo passed Whitmore's criteria, it had been nothing.

She walked down the hallway until she reached the main staircase. (Whitmore's mansion had many.) She trudged up to the second floor and made her way to her room. She fished her key out from her purse and inserted it into the door lock. But before she could turn it, the door opened itself and she found herself quickly pulled inside. An instant later, she was being kissed.

There was no doubt who had broken into her room. When the kiss ended, she looked up and smiled. "Rourke! When did you get back?"

"A few hours ago," Rourke told her, caressing her cheek. "I hear you had a busy day."

"You have no idea," she sighed. "I'm looking forward to getting some sleep."

"Oh," he pouted. "I was looking forward to something else."

She gently swatted his arm, something only she could get away with. "You shouldn't even be in here. What if someone saw you break in?"

"No one saw me, my love," he told her. "I'm too good."

She smiled and broke out of his embrace. She crossed over to her vanity. "So, how was your trip? I heard from Whitmore that you got what you went after."

"Just another trinket for his collection," he told her. "You'd think someone as rich as he is would have better sense than to keep these things."

"Like you?" Helga questioned as she pulled off her earrings.

"Like us," he corrected as he came up behind her. He pushed her hair out of the way and kissed her right shoulder. "That crystal is going to make us richer than Whitmore."

"I wouldn't know about that," she said, looking at his reflection in the mirror. "But as long as it gets you out of the mercenary business, I'll be a very happy woman." She started taking off a glove.

"And I'll be a happy man," he told her. "I've worked like a dog my whole life. I'm ready to spend the rest of it in the lap of luxury." He caught her hands in his. "And with you in mine."

His romantic advances were starting to work on her. If she didn't get him to stop soon, she probably wouldn't get any sleep at all. He was in one of those moods, which he got every time he spent an extended period of time away from her. It was almost as if he had a sexual craving that only she could satisfy.

"Rourke, not tonight," she sighed. "Please. I really am very tired."

He acted as if he hadn't heard her and started pulling off her gloves one finger at a time. "This will be our last night together for who knows how long," he told her, kissing her neck. "We'll have to wait until after we return from Atlantis with the crystal. And then we'll never have to spend another night apart again."

Helga felt herself giving in to him. He had this control over her that she could not explain. There was nothing that she could deny him, not even her own body. She was powerless when he was around her.

"Damn you," she whispered as he finished with her gloves and moved on to the back of her dress.

"I love it when you talk dirty," he replied.

Helga closed her eyes and let him have his way with her.

((((())))))

Rourke slowly drove the truck behind the procession of Atlantean warriors. He barely listened as that babbling idiot Thatch rambled on about the language of the supposedly dead culture. He had a problem that needed to be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"Someone's having a good time," Helga commented from her seat next to him. She had been listening to Thatch as he talked loudly to himself.

He knew Helga liked Thatch as much as she allowed herself to like anyone (other than him) and it was because of the similarities to her late husband. Thatch was a weak man, just like Jenkins had been. Helga obviously had a soft spot for those kind of men. As long as it didn't interfere with her intense love for him, he did not care.

"Like a kid at Christmas," he told her.

Helga was quiet for a moment. "Commander," she began a bit hesitantly, "there were not supposed to be people down here. This changes everything."

"This changes nothing," he responded. The only reason he had agreed to lead this damn mission was so that he could get the crystal. It was his ticket out of the mercenary life and he wasn't going to let the remnants of some long dead society get in his way.

Even if he had to kill every last one of them himself.

He knew Helga's conscious was bothering her again. He had noticed how she had reacted when the Atlanteans ambushed them. It was obvious that she was no longer as enthusiastic about getting the crystal.

Helga's sole flaw was that she had a heart. Unlike him, she cared about other people even if she didn't outwardly show it. However, this one weakness was his key to controlling her. The only reason she had done all the things he had ever asked her to was because of her love for him.

He would have to take her aside and remind her of just how important this crystal was to the future of their "relationship". Then there would be no more hesitation on her part.

((((())))))

Helga knew Rourke was not happy with her. He had made it painfully clear by not speaking with her after she had made the mistake of telling him her concerns. Now she was at a loss about what to do next.

The primary reason why Rourke had agreed to lead this expedition was so he could find and retrieve the crystal that was pictured in the Shepherd's Journal. He wanted the money it would give him and he wasn't going to let anything stand in his way. Not even the fact that Atlantis was still a thriving culture.

She felt torn. On one hand, by helping Rourke take the crystal, she was ensuring that they would spend the rest of their lives together. On the other, she would be stealing something from a people who, for all she knew, possibly used it in their everyday lives. It was obvious that crystals in general were very important to them because every Atlantean she saw had one around their neck. It was wrong no matter how she looked at it.

This was a dilemma she had faced so many times before because of Rourke. He was always getting her to do things that she knew were wrong. He didn't even have to force her. She did them because she loved him and wanted him to be happy with her. And because she knew he loved her too, she could never refuse him.

But maybe this was one instance in which she should. In the past, everything she had done for him had only affected a small number of people at a time. This time they were dealing with an entire society that they knew nothing about because it had been isolated from the world for hundreds of millennia. There was no telling how taking their crystal would affect them.

She, Rourke, and Milo had been brought before the very old and frail king of Atlantis by the female warrior who had ambushed them. Helga had been surprised when she realized that they had been led to a palace. The warrior had just told them that she wanted them to speak with her father. There had been no indication that her father would turn out to be the king, meaning the warrior was actually a princess.

Rourke had immediately began to attempt to work his persuasive magic on the king, but, to Helga's utter amazement, the king had remained unaffected. In fact, the old monarch appeared to know exactly what they had come for and made it perfectly clear that there was no way that they would ever get it. More than anything, he wanted them to leave.

To Helga, this told her that her instincts about the entire trip had been right. They should never have come.

Rourke, as experience had taught her, was not so easily dissuaded. He wanted that crystal and he wasn't leaving Atlantis without it. Employing the charm that came so easily to him, he was finally able to convince the king to allow them to stay for one night.

It was all he needed.

The king dismissed them from his presence and the three of them left the throne room, Helga leading the way. She felt relieved to be out of there.

"So, how'd it go?" Sweet asked as they met the rest of their team in front of the palace.

"The king and his daughter don't exactly see eye to eye," Milo said. "She seems to like us okay, but the king... I don't know. I think he's hiding something."

No kidding, she thought. Milo was still in the dark about the expedition's secret agenda, but even he had picked up on the king's uncanny knowledge of it.

"Well, if he's hiding something, I want to know what it is," Rourke announced, feigning ignorance in front of Milo.

Knowing that she had to keep up her appearance of being one hundred percent behind Rourke for the benefit of the team, she said, "Someone needs to talk to that girl." If anyone would know the king's secrets, it would be his daughter.

The others immediately caught on to her train of thought. In fact, they took it one step further and unanimously decided that Milo should be the one to talk to her, which made perfect sense. He was the only one of them who both spoke and read the Atlantean language. Besides, it was obvious he had taken an immediate liking to the princess.

The subject of their discussion, Milo himself, was completely oblivious to what was going on around him, having already gone back to taking notes and studying the Journal. He practically jumped when Rourke came up behind him and clamped a hand on his shoulder.

"Good man, Thatch. Thanks for volunteering," Rourke told him.

Milo looked up in complete surprise, at a loss for what was happening.

"Go get 'em, tiger," Audrey encouraged and elbowed him in the arm.

"Huh?" Milo said, totally confused.

"The princess, Milo," Helga told him. "You need to get to know her a little better. You've come here to learn all about Atlantis, right? Who better to question than a member of the royal family?"

"Uh, yeah," Milo answered, starting to catch on. "Good point. I'll go see what I can find out. You guys can count on me."

"Just don't try to bore her too much with all your academic mumbo-jumbo, eh?" Vinny instructed him.

"Uh, sure, okay," Milo said. "Got it." He started walking back towards the palace. "I'll see you guys later then." He disappeared behind some columns.

"I think the kid'll do just fine," Sweet said. "The princess seems to like him already."

"Good for her," Packard commented dryly, taking a drag from her ever-present cigarette. "Now, let's discuss something of real importance: that crystal we've come all this way to get."

"I don't know how it's possible, but the king's onto us," Rourke informed the others. "I was able to buy us tonight, but that's it. He wants us out first thing in the morning."

"That there don't give us much time," Cookie commented.

"It will be enough," Rourke assured him. "Your new orders are this. I want a full recon of the city. See if you can learn anything from the locals. A crystal that big can't be hidden that well and someone's bound to know something. At dawn, we'll meet up with Squad B as planned. We'll decide our next move then. Everyone clear?"

There was a general affirmative murmur.

"All right. Dismissed."

As the others started heading out in various directions, Helga decided she'd have a look around as well. It would give her time away from Rourke to think about what she wanted to do next.

"Just a minute, Lieutenant," Rourke said, grabbing her arm. "I want to have a word with you in private."

"All right," she said, knowing what this was going to be about.

"You gave a good performance back there, but we both know that's all it was. A performance," he told her. "I want to know right now where you stand."

"I honestly don't know," she informed him. "I haven't made up my mind yet."

"Allow me to help you then," he said. "What exactly is it that's making you waver in your commitment to the plan? If it's the people, then I can solve that problem for you right now. Atlantis was wiped from the face of the earth thousands of years ago. These people are living on borrowed time. We have every right to take what we want from them. They don't exist anymore."

She pulled her arm away from him. "Maybe to you they don't, but I think the Atlanteans themselves would disagree. Look around you. Does this look like a dead culture to you?" She walked away and sat down on the palace steps. "We have no right to steal their crystal. If you haven't noticed, it seems to be very important to them."

"All the more reason why we should take it," Rourke pointed out, coming over to her. "The king wouldn't be trying to protect it otherwise." He crouched down in front of her and reached out to caress her cheek. "Think of what we can do with all the money we get from selling it."

"You know money doesn't really matter to me," she told him, placing her hand over his. "I only care about you."

"Then do this for me," he said. "You know how important this is to the future...our future."

"I...don't...know..." she said, feeling her resolve once again slipping away. She loved him so much.

"Lieutenant," he pressed, putting his other hand on her shoulder. "Helga. Just this one last job and we can spend the rest of our lives together. Just like we've been planning for the last three years. I love you. I don't want to lose you over this."

"But..."

"Please," he urged. "For me. Just do this last job. Play the cold-hearted mercenary one more time. Help me and I'll give you the one thing you've wanted ever since I've known you."

She gasped. If he was saying what she thought he was saying...

He leaned in closer to her. "I'll marry you."

Her eyes widened in shock. She couldn't believe what he had just said. He was going to marry her? Without her even asking him again? It seemed too good to be true. "How do I know you really mean it?"

"There was something you said to me six years ago when I first came to see you," he started. "You told me that I only gave you a small percentage of my love and that the rest was devoted to money. If everything goes well, this will be my last job ever. This crystal will make me a very rich man and I won't ever have to think about money again.

"That final percentage of my love and devotion will go all to you from now on. As my wife, you will be the sole owner of my heart. You have my promise."

She closed her eyes. He sounded so sincere, like always. There was no question in her mind that he loved her, but was he really willing to devote the rest of his life to her? Could a man like him ever fully give his heart to anyone?

She opened her eyes and locked her gaze with his. "You swear to me that you're telling the truth?"

"I would never lie to you, my love," he said. "Now, will you help me?"

God help her, she believed him. She loved him and wanted to be his wife more than anything. How could she pass this up? "Yes," she breathed. "God, yes."

"Then consider us engaged," he told her. He closed the distance between their faces and pressed his lips to hers.

Her arms flew around him and she pulled him closer to her. This is the happiest moment I've had in years, she thought. Oh, how I love this man.

Her eager embrace caused Rourke to lose his balance and he fell on top of her, pressing her back into the hard stone of the steps, still kissing her. He ended the kiss. "So, Lieutenant, what do you propose we do next?" He gently pushed up the right strap of her tank top that never seemed to stay on her shoulder for very long.

Once again she knew what he wanted, but this was one time when it really would be unsafe for them to make love. If she was going to help him get the crystal, they needed to get to work. "I say we stick to your orders, Commander. Search the city. See if we can learn anything about the crystal."

He nodded then gave her a quick kiss. "Good thinking, Lieutenant." He pushed himself off her and extended a hand, which she took. He pulled her to her feet. "But, of course we'll have to find someplace to spend the night."

"Of course," she smiled at him. My future husband, she mentally added. It feels so good to say that!

Underneath her immense happiness, there was still the feeling that what they were doing was wrong. As much as she wanted to do the right thing, her future with Rourke depended on her helping him steal the crystal.

But to her, in this moment, love was so much more important than morality.

((((())))))

Rourke watched as the cannonball hurtled straight up through the ancient volcanic shaft. Within seconds, a hole was punched through the igneous rock and a beam of light flowed down, illuminating the cavern.

"I love it when I win," he commented to himself. Everything was going better than he could have ever dreamed. The crystal, or whatever that damn thing now housed in the body of Princess Kida really was, was going to earn him a fortune, especially now that he didn't have to divide it among the team. The energy it provided could be used in any number of ways, from weapons to household electricity. Personally, he didn't care what it was used for as long as he could sell it.

He turned to see Helga giving orders to some of the men. He had come so close to losing his control over her. Now he would never have to worry about losing track of her again. The idea of getting married again was not very appealing, but he would do it to ensure Helga's loyalty. (She would never leave him like his first wife had.) She was much less likely to defy her husband than she would a lover.

He went over to where the shielded chamber containing the princess/crystal entity was sitting and gave the order to inflate the gyro-evac. As the massive hydrogen balloon began to rise into the air, he hooked the chamber to the propeller mechanism. In a few minutes, he'd be home free.

Helga came over to join him. "The rest of the men are going to follow us up in the planes. I've told them that their orders are to escort the evac to the nearest populated landmass."

"Very good, Lieutenant," he told her. "I think we're running ahead of schedule."

"We have...less people with us than originally planned," she said a little sadly.

He nodded. The Leviathan incident which had cost them most of their crew was still fresh in their minds. Of course, also missing were the traitors he had stranded back in Atlantis, including that annoying son-of-a-bitch Thatch.

"I'll go warm up the evac's engines. As soon as you're ready, we can leave," she informed him.

"I'll see you in a few minutes, Lieutenant," he told her.

She turned to go.

"Helga," he called out, deciding it was again time for a little "romantic" encouragement. She stopped and looked back at him. "We did it."

"I know," she said. Then she away and made her way to the ladder leading up to the evac's control ring.

Rourke was making one final visual sweep when he heard the strange noise coming from the tunnel leading into the volcano shaft. He turned to look when he saw an armada of flying stone fish swoop into the cavern. He had no doubt who was responsible for the pursuit. Thatch had a lot of gall for an academic.

Too bad he hadn't learned to quit while he was ahead.

"We've got company!" he shouted to his men before hustling to the ladder. He climbed up and landed on the upper ring. "Take her up!" he shouted down below to the control ring.

He looked to see that Helga was the only one left on the evac with him. The rest of his men had gone to fend off the Atlantean attackers.

He took a moment to observe the progress of the battle. His men had launched their planes and were engaging the enemy in heated dogfights, but, much to his dismay, they appeared to be losing. The Atlantean vehicles had an energy weapon similar to what the Leviathan had used to destroy the Ulysses and the subpods. As good as his men were, they didn't stand a chance against the raw power of that kind of weapon.

It was time to try and even the odds.

"Lieutenant," he shouted over the roar of battle, "get up here." He turned to see what kind of weapons were available to him and immediately spotted a machine gun. He was going to do a little target practice of his own.

He briefly glanced behind him and saw that Helga had made it and had her pistol in hand. He turned around and spotted a fish headed straight for them. "Lieutenant!" he shouted as he pointed it out.

Helga fired in the direction he had told her and then continued taking potshots at any targets headed her way.

He went for the machine gun and started sending out a constant stream of bullets. He successfully took out several of the Atlanteans before he found his gun blown out of his hands. He looked up to see Vinny Santorini flying by and, get this, saluting him. What he would have given for the chance to blow that annoying lopsided grin off the traitor's face at this very second.

He looked down to see that Thatch and Santorini weren't the only ones of the deserters involved in this battle. Young Miss Ramirez and the good doctor were attempting to free the princess by sawing through the chains attaching the chamber to the evac.

He turned back to Helga, who had just run out of ammunition, and commented, "Looks like somebody's working overtime."

"Let's see if we can get them to take the hint that it's time to go home," Helga said. She released one of the canisters attached to the railing. It missed hitting them, but it did give them a good warning.

Suddenly there was a violent ripping sound above them and the entire evac violently shuddered. Rourke looked up to see that something had severed one of the hydrogen tanks. It heavily plummeted towards the ground.

The evac began to sink in the air.

Damn! Rourke cursed. He was so close to getting out of this hellhole. He turned to Helga. "We're losing altitude. Lighten the load."

She looked around and noticed a single fuel tank left. She picked it up and obediently tossed it overboard. The difference was negligible and they continued their downward motion.

"That's it," she told him, her back to him. "Unless someone wants to jump."

Rourke knew what he had to do. In the end, his survival was the only one that really mattered. He had discovered the crystal. It was his right to be the one to sell it for a fortune.

Such a waste, he silently commented as he came up behind her. He had spent so much time and effort on her over the years. In his own way, he had become quite fond of her and enjoyed having her around to do with as he pleased. He'd miss her, but she had become expendable the moment the evac started going down.

"Ladies first," he said as he roughly grabbed her by both arms and lifted her over the railing...

((((())))))

Helga ached with pain, both mental and physical, and she felt like she had broken every bone in her body. For a moment she couldn't remember where she was or what had just happened to her. Then it hit her.

Rourke. Rourke had turned on her and tried to kill her at the last minute in an effort to save himself. The bastard! She should have known he would have done something like that when there was a lot of money involved. But, like the little lovesick fool she was, she had trusted him to never hurt her. Just like he had promised...

A thought occurred to her. Shouldn't she be dead? She had just fallen from a great height and landed face down. Why was she still alive?

She then realized where she was. The base of the volcano. The same volcano the convoy had landed in when the bridge exploded two nights ago. (Was that all it had been?) The pumice ash had once again broken her fall and saved her life. How she wished it hadn't.

The pain of the betrayal burned in her chest. For the third time in her life, her heart had been ripped to shreds. Why was she so unlucky in love? In life? Why didn't the world want her to be happy for long?

Rourke had entered her life thirteen years ago and had been in control of it ever since. The biggest mistake she had ever made was letting him get to her that first day. If she had just ignored him and let him walk away, none of this would have ever happened. She wouldn't be suffering like she was now.

Even as she thought of him, she realized she still loved him. It made no sense, especially after what had just happened, but she did. Would she ever be able to get over him?

As she lie on the ground, the last sounds of the aerial battle began to die away. She could no longer hear any of the fighter planes, meaning the Atlanteans had won. Thank god.

Slowly, painfully, she began to push herself over. She had to see if Rourke had been stopped. She couldn't let him get away with this. It was all her fault that he had even been able to get the crystal. He couldn't have done it without her help. If she hadn't been so gullible and blindly in love...

A wave of sadness hit her. She had loved him so much. And, he had never loved her at all. She had just been a thing to him. A tool to be tossed away when it was no longer needed or had become a burden. He had been using her since the day they met. Had anything he ever said to her been true at all?

She managed to get onto her side and looked up into the air. There, still slowly returning to the ground, was the bright red gyro-evac. Rourke was still alive and still had the princess in his grasp. Unless he was stopped, all of Atlantis would die. She couldn't let that happen.

She wouldn't let it happen.

Reaching behind for her gun belt, she pulled out the flare gun. It was the only weapon with both the range and power she needed. She carefully took aim.

"Nothing personal," she whispered to herself, knowing that it was a lie. Nothing could ever have been more personal to her.

She pulled the trigger and watched as the flare made contact with the highly volatile hydrogen gas and exploded into a raging fire. The evac started plummeting faster than before.

Satisfied that she had saved Atlantis, she looked around for a place she could crawl to rest in until everything was over. She did not want Thatch or the others finding her. She was too ashamed of her actions and felt guilty for almost killing an entire civilization because a man had made a promise to marry her.

She saw a small opening in the wall of the shaft that appeared large enough to accommodate her. It was not too far from where she lie on the ground. Summoning the last of her remaining strength, she pushed herself to her feet. She gave one last glance up at the gyro-evac and saw that it was nearing the ground. It would soon crash right where she was standing.

"Goodbye, my love," she said and then she slowly began to stumble towards safety.