"Are we going to the lake today, papa ?"
"Papa? !...Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't papa French for daddy?", Cassie asked puzzled as she entered Cross' office with Shane and D.D. voicing everybody else's interrogation.
For a moment Quentin Cross looked uneasy, but he quickly gathered himself as was his habit and answered:
"Ladies… Duncan… Please meet my 4-year-old daughter Charlotte…."
"Hi, everybody," babbled the little girl with a cute accent. Her blond curly hair reached her hips and she was wearing a long red cotton dress with a white border. A red headband with a red rose and little ballet shoes completed her outfit.
"Are you serious or is that a scam, Cross? I mean it's hard to believe you have a daughter when we don't even know that you have a wife….," Shane said.
"This is not a scam Shane, she is actually my daughter. Charlotte, Honey can you go wait with Duncan for a minute, please?"
The little girl sprang on her feet and left the office, shutting gently the door behind her. Cross' eyes followed for a few seconds, then returned to the three women standing in front of his desk, the eyes shining with questions.
He decided to break the silence and explained quickly:
"She was brought up in France and just arrived in America. Her mom dropped her here one hour ago and decided that from now on I'm the one in charge as her new … boyfriend… doesn't appreciate children's company… And, before you ask, no, I'm not married."
"Wow, I would have thought you would be the last man to have a daughter without being married to her mom. That doesn't sound very much 'Cross like'…", Cassie said, still hesitating on whether she was being played or not.
"How come we never saw her?", D.D. added.
"I believe I already answered that question Miss Cummings. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll take Charlotte shopping as her mom didn't seem to think it was important to bring her with other clothes than the ones she is currently wearing."
"There is a beginning for everything Miss McBaine," he answered with a smile.
He opened the door and let his agents out. Charlotte was quietly waiting outside, sitting on Duncan's desk, and watching his computer's screen with adoration. However when she heard the adults getting out, she jumped on the ground and ran towards Cassie.
"This is a really nice dress you are wearing; it looks soft, can I touch it?"
"Sure, so you don't have any other clothes than that with you? "
"No, but it's all right, I know whatever Daddy is gonna get me it's gonna look good. All of the outfits I've seen so far look so good…"
" Honestly Cross, we can't let you go shopping alone and let you disappoint that little girl," D.D. said.
"Yeah, we surely don't want you coming back with a little Cross-clone", Shane said, teasing her boss.
"Shane weren't you suppose to pick up that new car of yours and try it on road? As for you D.D., I believe you had work to finish with Duncan… So I think I'll just have to do my best."
That said, he gathered his things and got ready to leave when Charlotte asked:
"Can Cassie come with us daddy? It would be good to go shopping with a woman, mom never took me…"She looked at him with a pleading pout, her huge green eyes fixed on him.
Cross didn't know what to say this time; he had no idea what Cassie was supposed to do this very day. He turned to her: - "I am not the one deciding; you should ask her", he said looking straight at the blonde agent.
"Well, I've never gone shopping with a little lady, but I guess that can be fun; and as Shane said, I don't think it would be wise to leave you alone on that delicate matter."
" Ok. So that's settled, he concluded. Let's go."
Opening the march, he smiled wondering if the little girl had already put her baby finger on something. Maybe, she just picked her on sheer luck, he thought.
"So what do you think of this one?", Cassie asked with a smile, holding a little sailor dress in front of Charlotte.
"That's awesome; I'm trying it right now!"
When Charlotte got inside the changing room, Cross sat on a chair with all the dignity he could and mopped his forehead:
"It is a good thing my daughter has been perceptive enough to pick you to go shopping with us. I honestly don't think I would have managed that on my own….
Cassie gave him a sidelong glance. Receiving such compliments from him was rare enough to be truly appreciated when it came along. But he truly looked exhausted after only two hours of shopping… exhausted and a little disappointed.
" ' Want to talk about it?, she offered."
"I don't know what you are talking about, he answered without looking at her."
She moved her chair to face his and explained: "You look disappointed, almost sad, and don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about; you don't play a con. … So… What's up?"
"It's just …. She likes everything you offer but doesn't appreciate any of the outfits I chose for her. You can understand it's a little hard on me…"
"But Cross, I am the shopping master; you can't expect to beat me on that!"
"I know… it's just that…maybe I should have let you two go on your own, you're doing a great job… and you two seem to get along…"
"Cross, she wanted to go shopping with her dad; she only requested me as backup, which indeed proved to be clever, but I'm only a backup. ..
And you're wrong; she did pick that little purple outfit with butterflies you chose.
Why don't you take her somewhere cool for lunch? This mall has a good restaurant down the alley with good food for the adults and playroom for the kids, if you want a tip." She smiled and picked up her handbag.
- "Daddy, Where is Cassie going?"
- "Yes, Cassie, where are you going? Would you care to join us for lunch or do you have anything to do that can't wait? "
The look in his eyes called for help. Cassie smiled and replied:
"I'll be very glad to have lunch with you two." Then she lowered her voice, got closer from the little girl and added: "Do you know it takes you for me to be finally invited for lunch with Mr Cross. "
"You think I don't hear you? "Cross grinned.
"Well you know, I'm just saying…"
The restaurant was a great idea; everything went well and they left one hour and a half later, Cross carrying the shopping bags and Charlotte a pink balloon.
"Can we go to the lake, now? "
"Hon, it's already 2 p.m.. I need to get back to work, and…"
Both girls frowned.
"Cassie, can you help me on this, please?" he prayed.
"I would actually gladly go to the lake, it's a beautiful day and it's warm. You know your office is not going to blow up just because you take one day off. Plus D.D. and Duncan are over there; they will call us if there is anything."
2 pairs of green eyes were turned towards him, the exact picture of great expectations.
"All right, he surrendered, let's live the bags in the car and drive to the lake. Would you like to cross it with one of the little boats, Charlotte? "
The little girl jumped in his arms, claiming: You're the best daddy in the world!
He blushed and Cassie grinned at the touching picture. It felt good some time to realize he was human and could feel love for someone. She had never thought of him as living like everybody else, and seeing him cuddling with little Charlotte reassured her. He was not so cold as he tried to look. She always knew, but there came the proof.
"You want me to row?"
"My leg got injured, not my arms; it will take a lot more before I let a woman row for me! But I would be glad if you could make sure Charlotte doesn't fall in the water", he replied with a look of pride in his eyes.
He had changed the subject but she knew she had touched a sensible point. Cross didn't like to be reminded the reason why he was no longer a field agent.
The day was beautiful and the boat ride was appreciated by everybody as it brought a little freshness in this warm afternoon. As they were turning around to get back, a man on another boat shouted:
"Cross! I thought I had recognized you! What are you doing here?"
Then he noticed Cassie holding little Charlotte on her knees: "Man, you didn't tell me you got married and had a kid. I know you have never been much of a talker but this is not the kind of wife you hide from your friend! I hope I'll see you around some time, maybe you'll introduce me then!"
After his friend left, Cross continued rowing without a word and hardly looking at Cassie. As ever she decided to break the ice:
"So he thought I was your wife and Charlotte your child; he got one right out of two, what's the big deal? If you keep that face on, I'll start thinking you don't appreciate being seen with me. Unless there is something else…"
She planted her green eyes inside his brown ones until he blinked, ill-at-ease.
"I apologize. This was just very awkward for me. I think I have just not yet persuaded myself that I do have a daughter; hearing someone else voicing it made it real, and I just need to get used to it. "
Then he looked at the two feminine figures facing him and acknowledged what his friend had noticed at first sight:
"She does look like you though, I am not astonished he thought she was your daughter. The resemblance between you two is actually stunning."
"Really? I would like to be like Cassie when I'm older! I would like to have a mom like her she is so cool!"
If only…, he thought lost in his thoughts.
While driving to the beach house, he thought again of the picture of Cassie and Charlotte in that boat on the lake. It had seemed like a dream but it already started disappearing. He shook his head; this was not bound to happen so why bother himself with it?
When he stopped in front of the garden, Charlotte jumped out of the car to greet D.D. and Shane who were resting near the swimming pool. Thus, leaving Cross alone with Cassie.
The blonde agent broke the silence:
"I had a great day, thanks for taking me with you. I hope I didn't bug you…"
He turned to her and grinned: You have been incredibly helpful today Cassie. I don't know what I would have done without you…
Cross recognizing he was helpless… that was odd, she thought. His daughter seemed to make him show sides of his personality he usually kept hidden. She started getting off the car. He got off too and followed her towards the house:
"Actually I was thinking… If you have nothing planned for tonight, I would like to take you out for dinner to thank you for helping me out this afternoon…"
For the second time of the day, she saw him blushing.
"All right, without I guess. For what time do you want me to be ready?"
"I'll wait for you, just take your time."
He entered the living room as Cassie climbed the stairs followed by her roommates who were apparently dying from asking her questions.
Leaving Charlotte in front of the television, he went upstairs to use their bathroom. Apparently, the ladies had gathered in Cassie's room while she was changing.
" - So he asked you out? This is wonderful, Cassie!
Well, you know Dids, it's not actually a date, he just wants to thank me for helping him out with Charlotte…
Are you actually believing what you are saying or are you only trying to convince us, Shane teased.
Oh, come on, girls, you all know Cross!
Yeah and we all know you! Shane mocked. You are just waiting for him to give you a wild night so that you can stop fantasizing about him.
I'm not fantasizing!
Yeah right! He is the only man who ever resisted you, I'm sure a part of you wants to take him down!
Well you know, if you had told me that a few months ago, maybe that's what I would have said. But Cross has always been a real stand-up guy with us, very gentleman-like and I have to say I didn't think of taking him down his pedestal after that….And.. this afternoon, he was different: gentle, caring, even loving, not towards me of course, but you could tell he would be a great catch for whoever would manage to make him fall for her. He appeared to me more human I thought he would ever be, that was astonishing!
So, does that mean you are starting to like him? D.D. asked with a grin.
Yeah… I appreciate his company, but I don't think I'm the right woman for him. He's just way too good for me…
Cassie, you're talking about Cross…! Shane exclaimed.
Yes, and although I'm beautiful, this is not a thing that matters so much for him… Anyway, this is not even a date so I don't know what we are doing talking as if it was.
Cassie... I think your goldenboy is on the move, Shane announced.
What? … But he promised he would wait…"
She ran off the stairs and threw the door open just on time to catch him closing the gate.
"What do you think you are doing?"
He looked away and answered: "I just thought maybe this was not such a good idea; I should go home…"
"I already left one guy dropping me in front of the altar; this is not going to happen again. You don't want to have dinner anymore? "
"I….I overheard you girls speaking and…"
Cassie passed a hand on her forehead: "Then you must have heard me saying: this is not a date, no pressure. Don't worry I'm not going to jump on you. I even offered to take Charlotte with us… if that makes you feel better, the offer still holds…
"Why are you dressed like a cowboy?"
Once again, he had changed the conversation. She smiled:
-"I'm taking you somewhere I know. It required a specific outfit. Maybe you'll want to leave that vest and tie here."
Without waiting for his answer, she took off his vest and loosened his tie.
"There. Now you are ready to go."
She sat in her car and waited for him to jump in. During the ride, he could not prevent himself from detailing her: she was wearing a red and blue squared, shirt on a blue pair of jeans, and coiffed with a brown cowboy hat. Her makeup was light but perfectly fitting the outfit. It looked both casual and sexy. The car parked in front of a ranch, pulling him from his thoughts.
A tall cowboy guy came greeting the couple: Little Cassie McBaine! Haven't seen ya fo' a while! Is that yar boyfriend?
This is actually my boss. He needed some rest so I thought here would be the perfect place…"
"You got it girl! I'm getting yar favorite horse ready. What will it be for yor…hmmm.. boss?"
"I'll let you choose!"
The cowboy came back with two beautiful horses. He handed one to Cassie, the other one to Cross but more suspiciously. The latter climbed on it with grace and smiled at his partner.
"So, what are you waiting for?", he grinned.
Cassie climbed on hers and laid the way. Suddenly, she took off and left him behind. He let his horse galloping freely to catch up on her. When he reached her, she was laughing, very pleased he made it.
"You didn't think I could actually ride, did you?"
"Well, let's say I hoped you could 'cause this was worth a good ride!"
She went down her horse and tried to help him down, but he refused and went down with a grin. She attached both horses to a tree and took him by the hand:
"Now, close your eyes, I'll guide you."
He followed her cautiously, but when she took her hands off his eyes, he saw the most beautiful landscape he had ever seen. They were standing on top of a cliff; next to them, a waterfall sang in the wind, under them, a little lake welcomed its water. He turned to Cassie, amazed. Her face was shining.
"This is beautiful, … I don't even know what to say…"
"My parents used to take me to that place. It's very private, not everybody is allowed in. We would ride for hours and then come and rest here, or swim in the lake…"
Her eyes became dreamy as she was reviving those moments.
Then she ran to her horse and brought back a blanket and some food.
"How do you feel about a picnic?"
Her eyes sparkled. He had never seen her like that. This day seemed to be a perfect dream from beginning to end. He helped her get the dinner ready.
When everything was ready, she let herself fall on the blanket and let the rays of the sun play on her golden skin. He sat next to her, appreciating all the beauties surrounding him. Of all, she was the one he was never tired to look at, but he managed to look around him without staring at her too much. Finally, she reopened her eyes and they started eating. They talked of simple things. He never would have thought it would be so easy to talk to her. After dinner, they cleaned the ground and packed everything before watching the sun setting. The wind had arisen and she shivered. He got up, went back to the horses to get the blanket and wrapped her in it. She smiled at him. Opening the blanket, she ordered him to sit and as he did, wrapped him in it against her.
"You are not getting a cold because of me. That would waste that beautiful day", she said as a justification.
Both turned their eyes back to the sky. She put her head on his shoulder and felt him tensed. But she left her head there and the tension soon disappeared. As the sun vanished, she turned to him and looked him straight in the eyes. This time he didn't blink. Their faces were a few centimeters one from the other. The tension between them was so thick it could have been touched. A lock of hair fell in front of her eyes. Without stopping looking at her he pushed it gently behind her ear and left his hand follow it in a caress to her chin. She opened her lips to say something, troubled. His eyes on hers drove her crazy but she wouldn't lower her gaze. She even came closer….
They both startled and broke the imprisoning glaze. Cassie looked down and grinned as he answered.
"The Chairman needs us now…", he stated.
She already knew, she was sitting on her horse waiting for him. The ride back and the drive back were silent. They arrived in the office with relief and joined Shane, D.D. and Duncan who were already waiting.
Cross presented the mission, the covers, and let his spies go. He leaned back in his chair, dreamy thoughts of the evening rush in his head. They had been so close to… but luckily his phone had rang…He refused to think about what could have happened and buried himself in the thoughts of what had actually happened. Luckily he had not crossed the line. At least, not yet.