May 21, 2000

Zach looked up from his files as his assistant, Beverly, walked in. She handed him a cup of coffee. "I just brewed some coffee that my daughter brought back from Seattle. I thought you might like a cup." Zach grinned and picked up the cup. "I always tell you that bringing me coffee is not in your job description, yet you always insist on doing it." Beverly grinned back, but chose to change the subject. "That security expert you're eager to hire has just arrived." Zach slowly nodded his head. "Amanda Dover? Good work, Beverly. I'll be ready to see her in five minutes." Beverly walked out the door, and Zach took a sip of the coffee. Damn, it was good. Using his five minutes to the fullest, he took another look at the dossier of Amanda Dover.

What he already knew was that over the past two years she had slowly and quietly been making a name for herself as a top notch security expert. She obtained new clients strictly through word of mouth. She didn't advertise and she didn't do any networking. In fact, no one would even know she was in business if it weren't for former clients bragging about her excellent work. The dossier fleshed out her past, but only a very little bit. During the four years prior to beginning her business, she was taking classes and apprenticing with several of the leading experts that still preferred to fly solo. Before she started training, there was a record of her living in Canada for two years with a man named Bart Smith, who was apparently an adoptive father of sorts. Before 1992, however, there was no record of her at all. The private investigator suspected that this woman had not been Amanda Dover all her life.

There was a knock at the door. Five minutes, on the dot. Beverly entered, then held the door open for the woman who followed. She was on the short side of average, but she seemed to have a presence about her that made her seem taller. She had dark hair, dark eyes and looked to be in her mid 30s. She was beautiful and exotic, though she played down her beauty by wearing no makeup and her hair back in a sensible bun. She was wearing a severe, yet stylish dark business suit and carried a leather portfolio. The only thing missing was a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. He was glad that she wasn't wearing any – her eyes were large and expressive. Zach stood up and came around the desk. He held out his hand. "Zach Slater." She shook his hand. "Amanda Dover." From her accent, she was apparently English.

Zach indicated a corner of his office that was occupied by a loveseat and armchair. "Let's sit over here, shall we?" She nodded again and sat down on the loveseat, placing the portfolio on her knees. "Ms. Dover, I found out about you through Jeremy Braxton. He told me that he hired you to shadow the work being done by the agency who designed and installed the security system for his new casino. A typical thing for Jeremy to do. This was his first casino, and he is rather paranoid about his profits getting stolen out from under him. He said that your expertise and discretion were above reproach. I've heard similar reports from some of your other clients. Tell me, do you already have your next project lined up?" She shook her head. "I've had a few offers that I am considering, but haven't accepted any yet."

Zach leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. "I'll get right to the point. How would you like to design your own security system? I'm planning to build another casino, and I want everything about it be the most innovative and up-to-date in the entire business. I have a hunch that you are what I want." She raised one eyebrow. He smiled. Well, she didn't fluster easily, that was for sure. She leaned back with a thoughtful expression. "My own design, eh? That's certainly very tempting. What makes you think that I have the ability to carry it off?" Zach shrugged. "As I said before, it's a hunch. I was impressed by how quickly you've risen in the ranks of the security field. Only two years in business and already you have the savvy to accomplish things that usually takes years of experience." Her head cocked to one side. "I was in apprenticeships before I started my business." Zach nodded. "Only four years. And your style is very different from the people that you trained under. Its almost as if you already knew what you were doing before you came to them."

There was a lengthy pause as they assessed each other. Amanda licked her lips, whether as a sign or nervousness or irritation, Zach couldn't tell. "Mr. Slater…" Zach interrupted her, "Oh, one other thing. The casino I plan to build is overseas. Have you done much travel, internationally?" There was another pause. "Well, I am from Britain." Zach nodded. "So, you're a naturalized citizen?" She smiled coldly. "Naturally." He nodded again. "Any travel, besides that?" She swallowed. "I lived in Canada for awhile." Zach picked up a pen and started fiddling with it. "I don't suppose it was in Quebec? It would be a big plus if you knew French. The casino will be in Monte Carlo." She stared off in the distance for a moment. "Monte Carlo. The setting for one of my favorite films." Zach raised his eyebrow. "To Catch a Thief." She smiled, a genuine smile that lit up her face. "Exactly." Zach tapped the pen. "So do you happen to know French?" She stared at her portfolio for a moment, then said quietly. "Yes, yes I do." Zach smiled triumphantly. "Yet another reason that you're perfect for the job."

Amanda looked up. "May I ask a question? If your casino is going to be in Monte Carlo, wouldn't you want to have someone local working on this? Someone from Monaco would have the best understanding of the local businesses, the lay of the land, the necessary permits and licenses, the culture. I may know French, but I don't know…Monte Carlo." The hesitation at the end intrigued Zach. "Are you not sure whether you've been to Monte Carlo?" She pressed her lips together firmly. "I took a whirlwind tour through Europe once. After awhile, everything was a blur. Anyway, back to my question?" Zach tented his fingers. "The architect, certainly, is from Monaco. As will be the general manager and many other principles, including the person who will become the security officer. I wanted the security expert who designs the system to be from Las Vegas. It is my own personal method of checks and balances. This is my casino, I want some decisions to be mine, and under my control." Amanda gave him an approving nod. "I like the way you think. It is important for a client to have a similar level of paranoia to my own. That's why I enjoyed working with your friend, Jeremy." Zach grinned.

"Tell me something, Mr. Slater. Is it true you won this casino in a poker hand?" Zach nodded. "Yes, I did. One of the greatest turning points of my entire life." She tilted her head. "I'm sure. What did you do before that?" Zach waved his hand around. "I've had quite a full life. I've done cattle ranching, working on an oil rig, flying cargo planes, setting explosives to build roads." He shrugged. Her eyebrows went up. "That is full. I bet your parents are glad you settled down finally to become a casino mogul." Zach's smile was enigmatic. "My parents and I parted company a long time ago. They are no longer in the picture." Amanda's smile faded. "I have a couple of more questions about your plans for your new casino."

They talked specifics for a few more minutes. Then, Amanda cleared her throat. "Well, Mr. Slater, I'll consider your offer and get back to you tomorrow with my answer. If I am unable to do it, I'm sure I can recommend someone for the job." She stood up. Zach stood up and held out his hand. "I hope you'll take it. Think about it, Ms. Dover. If you are successful on this project, you could make quite a name for yourself." She smiled and shook her head. "I'm not interested in that, Mr. Slater. My goal is always to do a good job. I am only happy if I exceed my personal best." She shook his hand, and Zach had to forcefully prevent himself from holding on to her hand longer than necessary. Not only was he completely intrigued by her mysterious past, but he also found her incredibly alluring.

As she walked out the door, he wondered who she had been before she became Amanda Dover. Had she faked her death like he had? Was she running from someone? He was entirely confident that she would take the job. He was also confident that he would find out her secret. He longed to feel kinship with someone. Since the age of 17, half his life ago, he had walked through life completely alone. No matter how many people he met, friendships he formed, or lovers he took, he was always alone.

When Amanda walked out of the doors of the casino, into the desert air, she was finally able to take a deep breath. Being in Zach Slater's office hadn't been oppressive, but the air had felt heavy with something. Anticipation? She smirked. She certainly wasn't anticipating that he would pull her into a smoldering kiss, but he had held her hand a fraction of a second longer than necessary. Heavens, but he was an attractive man. She'd seen pictures of him in the newspaper, but when she walked into his office, his magnetism engulfed her.

She hadn't expected him to ask so many probing questions about her life, but she realized that she was stupid not to have anticipated them. A man like him didn't hire a security expert without looking into her past. Fortunately, until now, her clients had not cared about anything beyond her career-advancing activities. No one, until now, had noticed that her history hit a dead end eight years ago. Slater knew. He knew or he wouldn't have asked those questions. She wondered if he knew that she had probed into his past as well. As soon as she had gotten the call from his assistant asking her to meet with him, she had put her quickest-working source to finding out more about him.

Amanda was willing to bet that she found out more than anyone else in this town who had looked into his past. Otherwise, there would have been questions before now about why any concrete evidence of Zach Slater did not exist prior to six years ago. There were some phony paper trails, which her source saw through after a bit of digging. His past was a clean slate, just like hers. The big question was whether it was a clean slate in his head, the way it was in hers. People rewrite their history all the time, but Amanda had been forced to create a new life from scratch because she had no idea who she was. The farthest her memory went back was the morning she woke up in Bart's cabin, scared and in a great deal of physical pain.

Amanda had asked a couple of questions of her own, and had not gotten anything satisfactory. His answer about his parents had been particularly cagey. She could say the same thing about her parents, even though she had no memory of them whatsoever. The hardest part about creating her new identity was the lies she had to tell. She knew deep in her soul that at some point in her life she had been forced to tell a great deal of lies. Now, to tell one was like a knife in her heart every time. It was entirely possible that she had been to Monte Carlo at some point, but the whirlwind tour of Europe was a fabrication. When she left Canada and came to the U.S., she had stayed put. The fewer official documents she had to forge, the better.

Amanda sat down on a nearby bench. So that left the question of whether she should take this job. She definitely shouldn't take it. Not because she didn't really know French. Oh, she was quite fluent in French. She was also fluent in German, Spanish, and even Russian. She closed her eyes, and the images from her dreams flashed before her. She was gripping a gun, chasing someone down, holding the gun to his head when she finally caught up. A tear threatened to spill down her cheek as she wondered if the man from her dream had been a good person, or bad. Or did he not exist and it was just a stupid dream?

Amanda stood up and started walking again. If she went to Monte Carlo, would she run into someone she knew? Maybe not. She had actually taken a big risk in moving to Las Vegas. It was such a popular tourist and conference destination, that it would seem likely that someone she knew would end up there sooner or later. But so far her talent for blending in with the crowds had served her well. The fact was that she didn't want to know who she had been before. The dreams she had been having for eight years were always frightening, always full of disturbing images. What if she discovered who she was and found out that she was wanted for murder? She could be risking a prison sentence or even the death penalty. It wasn't worth it. But living in the dark certainly had its price. She was so alone. She ached from the emptiness inside her. That was one reason that Zach Slater intrigued her. He seemed to have that same ache. He was also missing a great deal of his history. And she wanted to know why.