Steven Bloom silently sat in first class and opened up a non-descript folder. It contained information on the undercover assignment he would be working on in Paris. This would be the first time in a long time that he would be on a mission alone. Not that he would be working solo; Bill Hoyt was in the seat next to him talking non-stop about something in the file and he would be meeting Leo Nash when he arrived in Paris. It was, however, the first time he had worked without his soon-to-be-official ex-wife, Samantha, in quite some time.
Their marriage, which had been struggling for some time, was over. He was meeting with his lawyer to sign the final papers upon his return to California. All that remained was for him to decide if he would continue to work undercover or pursue another career. That decision would have to wait; he needed to learn all he could about the upcoming mission in the few hours remaining before they arrived in Paris. Steven leafed through the papers again and tried to concentrate on what Hoyt was saying.
Two days earlier…
At the Café de la Ville on the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle in Paris, Leo Nash and Carlton Shaw were having coffee with a fashionably dressed French woman. She was tall with short, tousled brown hair and teal blue eyes. As the waiter placed down their coffees and her pot of tea on the crisp afternoon the conversation revolved around where the two Americans should go next on their sightseeing tour of the city. When the garcon walked away the woman said, "Now, tell me why you need me on this." She already heard the official version from both her former employers and the American officials but she wanted to hear what the two men with her had to say. She had always found as information moved down the chain of command people tended to be much freer in their discussions.
"Mademoiselle D'Aubet let me remind you that you didn't quit, per se. I am aware that you've helped French intelligence in a technical capacity recently but you should realize those in charge didn't forget your previous accomplishments in the field," Shaw answered after stating his official version of things. "We need help and they recommended you. We're prepared to agree to your terms, as you know."
"Germaine, are you in or not?" Leo Nash asked and sipped his coffee. All this diplomacy and tact were overrated in his opinion. He had known Germaine almost a decade and they had worked together before. If she was in, he wanted to know so the two of them could get started. With any luck, they could have everything almost wrapped up before Bloom touched down.
"You'll know before you leave here," she quickly replied. "This isn't an easy decision, Leo. I have a bit more at stake if things go wrong; both of you know that. If I agree, this is a one-time deal. You do understand that? You don't come back and ask again. I do what is needed and I go back to my life."
"Understood," they both replied.
"Leo, I know you are aware of this and Mr. Shaw I have no doubt you have also been informed, but let me make it very clear, my daughter is off limits. There is to be no discussion, no casual conversation or off-hand mentions of her to anyone whether they are working on this assignment or not. Do you both understand that? Her safety is my first priority."
"So, am I to assume you accept our proposal?" Carlton Shaw asked, rising to his feet.
"Yes, this one time," Germaine stressed. She had stressed the same point to French intelligence when they had approached her about the assignment. She was well aware intelligence directors had set her up in her current job and she willingly assisted them in a technical capacity from time to time. But she made sure they understood that her being active in the field was not going to happen again after this.
"Agent Nash will fill you in on the details," Shaw responded as he left. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Germaine D'Aubet."
"It has to be a rush getting back into things," Nash said looking at her rakishly. Germaine was a natural beauty and extremely intelligent but tended to keep him at arm's length, especially while working. She was the consummate professional he had to admit. "Bet you haven't had this sort of excitement in a while."
"Leo, you needed someone who could get you where you need to be with no questions asked, possibly charm some information out of the men involved and maybe plant a bug or two. That's all I'm doing. There will be no breaking and entering in the dark of night, scaling rooftops or commandeering small yachts."
"When did you get so serious? You used to be the life of the party. And, I think it's only considering commandeering if people are aboard; otherwise it's just stealing," he answered and then gave her an evil grin. "Bet you're looking forward to seeing Stevie after all this time."
"I still am the life of the party. It's just not the party you're attending," she replied smiling. Most people found Leo Nash to be one of the most irksome people on earth but she had always found him more amusing than infuriating. Even now as he was dredging up a part of her past which she had tried to place behind her. "And yes, it will be very nice to see Steven; but that was a whole different lifetime, Leo."
"Nice! I knew it!"
"You knew what?" Germaine asked not understanding.
"Part of your joining this assignment has to do with him. Since when do you call anything nice … especially Steve?"
"You're crazy, do you know that?"
"Am I, Germaine? I don't think so," he said keenly looking at her, causing her to blush and look away. She suddenly felt like a schoolgirl whose secret crush had been found out but she knew better than to admit anything. Acknowledging that she still had feelings for Steven Bloom to Leo would only cause trouble and she couldn't afford trouble on this assignment. She wanted it over as soon as possible.
"Have it your way; I'm not going to argue with you. Part of me accepting has to do with Steven. Are you happy? Can we please go over what you need from me now? I told Amelie I'd make goujons for dinner and I'd like to get home."
"I thought we weren't mentioning her," he said winking.
"You know what I meant," she answered.
"I do know what you meant and I haven't ever mentioned her. Ever. To anyone," Leo said seriously with an unwavering gaze. Over the years they had become very close. Germaine had gotten Leo out of more than one tight spot with just a phone call and she knew, despite his recklessness, she could depend on him for anything she might need. He valued their bond too much to go against her wishes.
"Merci beaucoup, Leo. Je l'apprecie."
They spoke a bit longer and Leo said he would call to set up another meeting when Steven Bloom arrived. He was disappointed she wouldn't start immediately, just the two of them. She told him she was out of the game too long to take that chance and he begrudgingly admitted she had a point. As they rose to leave Leo asked, "So, am I invited for dinner?"
"Dinner. Goujons. Come on Germaine, I haven't seen Amelie in ages. I'm sure she'd love a visit. It will be some fun before we get all serious. Unless of course, you have other plans? A date perhaps?" he said pressing her.
She stood there looking at him. "Fine," she finally said. "Come for dinner. Vous etes incroyable."
"I know," he said. "And thanks, I didn't feel like eating alone tonight."