Disclaimer: This story is based on characters copyrighted by Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. This story is meant for enjoyment purposes only and cannot be redistributed without permission from the author. I retain the rights to the plot, not the characters. No infringement is intended.
A special thank you to Andrea for your insight, suggestions, and encouragement.
Synopsis: It's love at first encounter for our favorite couple-and we don't have to wait three years for their first kiss!
Date Written: July/August/September 2000
Author's Note: The beginning of the first season never took place. Inspired by the episode "Always Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth." Of course all SMK fans love the slow-blooming romance between Lee and Amanda, but I thought I would tinker with time a little for this story. This isn't really an alternate universe story, but rather I "condensed" three years into three weeks so the characters (especially Lee) would fall in love sooner.
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It was a beautiful Monday morning in Washington, D.C. Cool and sunny with the smell of spring in the air. Lee Stetson found himself in a most unusual situation this morning. He was emerging from Calvin Elementary School in Arlington. He had just met with the principal, Mrs. Foster, regarding the upcoming visit of Princess Rheza Khan of Sakhir to this school in a few weeks. The Prince and Princess were coming to D.C. on other national business, but the Princess would be making several visits to public agencies, this school being one of them. Because of the Prince's high profile in the Middle East and throughout the world, Lee's agency had been placed in charge of security for the royal couple during their visit. The handsome secret agent was more accustomed to tracking criminals, evading Russian agents, or arranging security for events such as embassy receptions than he was for a royal visit to a grammar school. He was not really comfortable in this suburban environment. He liked children, but never spent much time around them, so this current assignment was not one he was looking forward to handling.
He was so engrossed in his thoughts as he came around the corner of the building, that he collided with a woman coming from the opposite direction. She too had been deep in thought and had not noticed him. The box and papers she was juggling fell to the ground, scattering spelling tests with gold stars and the makings of a spring bulletin board onto the sidewalk. She nearly lost her balance, but Lee reached out strong arms around her waist to steady her as she instinctively reached out for his arms to catch herself.
"Are you all right?" he asked politely, somewhat annoyed, but realizing he should have been more observant. He looked into a pair of lovely warm brown eyes.
The woman was embarrassed. She flushed slightly and stammered, "Oh, yes, yes, I'm fine, just fine. So clumsy of me. I wasn't even paying attention. I was in such a rush as I didn't want to be late and-"she stopped abruptly, realizing she was rambling on in front of a total stranger. She rambled whenever she was nervous or flustered, and his hazel eyes holding hers flustered her. He was also standing much too close to her. She had let go of his arms but he was still holding her. His initial look of annoyance had changed to one of amusement as she prattled on. "I hope I didn't lose any of those spelling tests!" she said as she glanced at the papers littering the sidewalk.
"Let me help you collect everything, Miss..." he offered as he realized he was still holding her and looking into her eyes. He released her reluctantly. She was beautiful. Tall and slender with dark curly hair, delicate features and very expressive eyes. Beautiful women were his specialty. This must be one of the teachers rushing to her classroom. He could envision her working with children. He usually preferred glamorous, sophisticated women. But he appreciated beauty in any female form.
"Mrs. King, and thank you very much." They bent together to gather up all the papers and then they stood, he still holding the box. He thought disappointedly, oh, so she's married. There was something familiar about her-he almost thought they might have met before, but he felt sure he would have remembered her face if he had.
She felt awkward standing there now that the papers had been picked up. His eyes had perused her up and down and were now staring into hers again. He certainly was handsome. He was quite a bit taller than she, had perfect hair, brown in color, and of course those mesmerizing hazel eyes. He was impeccable in a three-piece suit. Mother would classify him as a "catch" she couldn't help but think, smiling inwardly.
She flushed again under his scrutiny, but managed to compose herself enough to say, "Well, thank you very much for your help. Again, I'm sorry for being so clumsy." She smiled shyly as he handed her the box.
"Not at all-it was my fault." He flashed her a dimpled grin which made her eyes open wider and her heart skip a beat. "Well, I was just leaving. Nice to have bumped into you," he teased. He lightly touched her arm, and then turned and strode to the parking lot, still smiling.
Get a grip, Amanda King, she told herself. It's not as if you've never met a handsome man before. But this man was different. She felt like she knew him already. Had she seen him at the school before? She suddenly realized she didn't even know his name. Probably another parent. As she began to walk into the school office, a sudden thought hit her. Oh my gosh, she hoped he wasn't the new assistant principal who was transferring in this week, she suddenly thought in a panic. She would rather have been introduced to him in a more conventional way.
Three days later, Amanda was again on her way to her sons' school. On Monday, she had been on her way to volunteer in Jamie's classroom. This morning she was just returning from driving Dean to the train station and hoped she wouldn't be late. A government agency was arranging security for the upcoming visit of Princess Rheza Kahn to the school in three weeks. Mrs. Foster had asked her and several other parents to come to a meeting about the visit this morning. She was curious to know how this involved her. She often volunteered, so they probably wanted her to organize something or other.
She glanced at her watch, it was just before 9 AM, so she was going to be okay. She hated to be late, especially for something this important. But just getting two kids off to school and herself out of the house sometimes felt like a major accomplishment, not to mention throwing in an extra trip to the train station during rush hour. She parked in the school lot, gathered up her purse, a portfolio, a large envelope for Philip's teacher with things she had worked on at home, and a plate of homemade brownies. As she made her way precariously up the walk towards the front entry, she couldn't help but smile as she wondered if she would bump into any more handsome men this morning!
She greeted the office staff by name, and breezed into the small conference room next door to Mrs. Foster's office. The other parents were already there talking by the coffee maker and greeted her warmly as she entered. She managed to get all her paraphernalia onto the table without dropping anything, a major feat. She cheerfully acknowledged everyone at once by talking in her usual mile-a-minute manner, "Good morning, everyone, isn't it a gorgeous day? I hope I'm not late. I had to take Dean to the train station before coming in, and then the traffic was just awful getting here and....well, you all know how it is. I thought you might like some brownies to go with your coffee," she said as she placed the brownies near the coffee maker. She paused for breath, sorting out her papers, and glanced around with a friendly smile on her face before sitting down. Only then did she notice someone else standing at the table next to Mrs. Foster.
The principal began to introduce her to Mr. Lee Stetson, the government agent in charge of security. Her eyes widened in surprise. She blushed crimson as she realized he was the handsome stranger she had collided with a few days ago. She secretly hoped the floor beneath her would open at that moment, but unfortunately, it seemed very solid. She extended her hand to Mr. Stetson, who took it with an amused grin on his face, and held it for a moment longer than was necessary, looking directly into her eyes as he did so. "Nice to meet you, Mrs. King," he acknowledged the introduction, mercifully making no mention of their previous encounter. She didn't know why it flustered her so much. After all, people do bump into each other. Maybe it was the way her body was reacting to his touch and his gaze. This Mr. Stetson was just too handsome for his own good. Amanda, pull yourself together, she told herself. She would have to be careful around this man.
Mr. Stetson began the meeting by briefing the parents on the upcoming royal visit. As all knew by now, the Princess was the former Penelope Squire from New Hampshire. This would be her first visit back to the States since her marriage several years ago. The Princess took a personal interest in social reforms, and had asked to visit a school as well as other public facilities during her visit to D.C. "One of the Princess' requests is that she be able to visit children in their classrooms and be shown around by a bona fide mother from the school. Mrs. Foster, I believe you mentioned that you would arrange this for our agency."
Amanda's gaze went to Mrs. Foster for clarification, but everyone else's eyes went to Amanda as Mrs. Foster began to speak. "Yes, Mr. Stetson, our PTA Board has unanimously recommended Mrs. King for this great honor. She's one of our most dedicated parent volunteers. She has an excellent ability to organize and work with people, and has used those abilities on numerous occasions to the benefit of our school community. We're hoping she will accept this additional assignment on behalf of our school."
For once, Amanda was tongue-tied. Amanda thought, oh my gosh, she's telling everyone how organized and dedicated I am, but I'm always talking too fast, running into people, and entering rooms as if a hurricane had blown me in. I wouldn't know how to act in front of a princess!
But everyone around the table was looking at her expectantly with smiles on their faces. Feeling the now-familiar blush creeping onto her cheeks once more, she shyly smiled and said, "I don't know what to say." Everyone laughed, as Mrs. King was never at a loss for words. She continued graciously, "I'd be proud to show the Princess the hospitality of our school family. Thank you all so very much for giving me this honor." She needed to change the subject to try to regain her composure. "What will my duties be while the Princess is visiting?"
Lee was all business now. He mentioned that he and his staff would be working with Mrs. King over the next few weeks to arrange the visit. Mrs. King was to make herself available to the Princess on the morning of her visit, and that would be the end of her responsibilities. As he spoke, with Mrs. King watching him intently, he was again aware that she was really quite attractive, in a suburban sort of way.
Mrs. Foster ended the meeting by saying, "All of us involved with Calvin Elementary School are so proud to be a part of such an important visit." The meeting ended then, with Mrs. Foster and the other parents congratulating Mrs. King.
Lee and Amanda stayed behind to discuss arrangements. They would be meeting over the next three weeks to plan the details of the visit. Amanda inquired if she might work with school staff on her own first to plan activities for the Princess to observe. Lee reluctantly agreed, as he did have other responsibilities during this time frame. He wasn't sure how much this housewife would accomplish on her own, but they would still have plenty of time to coordinate the event by their next meeting in a couple of days.
Before saying good-bye, Amanda gave Lee a tour of the school plant. He made a few notes on his diagram of the school layout. She noticed his take-charge attitude and imagined he was very good at his job. Her mother would approve of him. Of course, she had Dean, and her mother approved of him too.
By their next meeting, Amanda had arranged several special activities that she and the teachers thought would be of interest to the Princess. She had planned how much time would be allotted for each activity to keep within the time frame the agency had given her. She had organized the event so that each child would be involved in an activity, and she knew which staff would be on hand to assist.
In spite of himself, Lee had to admit it seemed she had done much of his work for him. She spoke excitedly about the planning, and even though this was just another job to Lee, he had to admit her enthusiasm was contagious, and he found himself looking forward to the visit and to working with her to iron out the details. He noticed the way her eyes sparkled while she spoke excitedly about the event and the beautiful smile which often graced her lips. Lee reluctantly admitted to himself that this assignment would be a piece of cake due to all the pre-planning she had carried out. Maybe she wasn't quite as scattered as she first appeared.
Over the next two weeks they met often to coordinate the event. Amanda functioned as his assistant and was especially invaluable during the dress rehearsals with the children. She began to grow on him. He was impressed by her intelligence and knowledge of every detail of school procedures and how children were likely to act.
Amanda had to be the most cheerful person Lee had ever met. She was fun to be around and was well-liked by everyone at the school. Lee had become very comfortable around her and looked forward to seeing her on an almost daily basis. They had lunch together several times. Had it only been two weeks since they had met? They got along so well it seemed like he had known her for much longer. And he noticed again how very lovely she was. Although definitely not his type. He preferred glamorous, exotic women and Amanda King was definitely not in that category. Besides she was already married to....what was his name, Dan, Dean? He tried to imagine what they looked like as a couple. He shook his head to re-focus himself. Why should he care? He had lots of women over the years, but he drew the line at married women. He didn't like complications in his romantic life, as he had enough complications to deal with in his daily work.
For her part, Amanda was enjoying every bit of this volunteer project. Working with Lee Stetson was lots more exciting than correcting spelling tests and putting up bulletin boards. She could tell he wasn't exactly pleased to have her "helping" him at first, but sensed that as the days went on, he appreciated her more. She admitted that she was attracted to him. He was gorgeous-- what woman wouldn't be? Those hazel eyes seemed to look right into her heart, and whenever he smiled that dimpled grin her heart all but stopped. But she would not allow herself to become emotionally involved. He obviously had this effect on women all the time. He probably had lots of girlfriends who were beautiful and sophisticated, and after the royal visit, she would never see him again. A suburban mother was not the sort of woman a government agent would want to become involved with. She still had Dean, nice, dependable Dean. She felt slightly guilty indulging herself in these thoughts about another man while she was dating Dean. But it was not like they were married, or even engaged, and she didn't plan to act on her feelings. She felt fortunate to have worked with Lee even for this short time. He was a wonderful man. They had developed the beginnings of a friendship in these few short weeks. They had felt comfortable with each other right from the beginning, often kidding around like old friends.
Plans were finalized for the Princess' visit as the date drew near. Agency personnel had finished up background checks on all school personnel involved. Lee did not review the reports personally, but he knew everyone had come out clean. The big day was quickly approaching and all should go smoothly.
During the course of working together, Lee learned that Mrs. King had two young boys at the school and her mother lived with them. She hadn't mentioned her husband since that first day. Dan, er, Dean was a lucky man to have such a charming, warm and intelligent wife. She was easy to be with and to talk to and had a great sense of humor. One day he had found himself standing very close to her while they were examining the lighting panel for the multipurpose room. Her soft hair brushed against his face and he was aware of her exquisite fragrance. Lee had wanted to reach out to touch her cheek to see if the skin felt as velvety as it looked. He found himself wondering how it would feel to hold her in his arms. He was surprised to feel this physical attraction for her since she was so different from the women he was used to being with. Fortunately his training helped him to conceal these feelings. He wondered, if she wasn't already married.... Of course he wasn't the marrying kind. He told himself he was perfectly content with the status quo when it came to his numerous female friends. He felt relieved that Mrs. Amanda King was off limits.
Amanda got to know Lee better also. He did seem a bit stuffy at first, like he was looking down on them just a teeny bit. She figured he was used to working with professionals all the time, so working with normal people was different for him. He seemed to be a loner. She could tell he was not eager to work with her at first, but he had seemed to warm up as the days progressed. Especially when details involved working with the children. She knew he was out of his league in that regard so he was grateful for her help. They seemed to work so well together. Of course she knew she wasn't his type. And she did have Dean who loved her and the boys. But there was something about Lee that intrigued her. For one thing, whenever she was close to him, she found it hard to concentrate and her heart began to race. He, on the other hand, did not seem to notice their proximity. She hoped she wasn't getting emotionally involved. She had forbidden herself to do so. She didn't want to fall for someone who was unattainable, and who she would never see again when this event was over. Dean had asked her to marry him on more than one occasion, and she couldn't really think of a good reason not to. She had told him she needed a little more time. He couldn't understand her reluctance, and for her part, she couldn't understand why she didn't just get it over with and tell him "yes."
Tomorrow was the big day. Lee and Amanda did a final run-through with the children and everything went very well.
When she felt that the day was about to wrap up, Amanda asked, "Lee, is that about it for the day? I need to call Dean for a ride home when we're finished here. His car's in the shop today so he borrowed mine since he had some meetings out of the office during the day."
"I'm about finished up here myself. It would be no problem for me to give you a ride home on my way back to the Agency."
"Oh, no, I don't want to put you out. Dean won't mind coming to get me."
"Nonsense, you don't live far from here. I insist." A thought struck him. He knew that after tomorrow he would never see her again. He wasn't quite ready for her to walk out of his life just yet. He thought he could prolong it a little. "Amanda, maybe we could stop for a cup of coffee on the way home. We could...um...there might be some last minute details that we think of." Good going, Stetson, that was lame. They had already finished up all the last minute details. But he had thought that having coffee with a married woman would be pretty safe. He just wanted to be with her for a little longer. He enjoyed her company.
Amanda said regretfully, "Oh, Lee, I'm sorry, I would love to, but I can't today. As soon as the boys get home from school, I have eight little guys coming over for a Cub Scout activity. I hope to finish that up early as Dean and I are going out for dinner tonight since Mother will be home to watch the boys. We don't usually go out in the middle of the week like this, but he said it was important to go somewhere special, so we are going to try that new French restaurant Chez Vous." She noticed a look of amusement appear on his face as she was talking, and thought, oh my gosh, here I am babbling on again. He was merely being polite; he didn't want to hear every detail of my social calendar. She would have loved to go for coffee, or anywhere else, with this exciting man. She was devastated that today wouldn't work out. There might never be another chance.
He enjoyed watching her expressive face as she talked. He had never met anyone who talked as fast as she did. She was enthusiastic about everything and was fun to be around. His mood lightened whenever she was with him. That must be why he enjoyed her company so much. She gave him a lift.
He was disappointed about the impromptu date. But it was just to be a quick stop for coffee. No big deal. Why did he even suggest it? Amanda King was a nice woman, and very attractive, but as he told himself before, even if she wasn't married, they came from different worlds. Keep your objectivity, Agent Stetson. This is just an assignment. As a professional, you know better than to get involved with a civilian you are working with. Especially someone who is already spoken for.
Lee also had a date for this evening. He hadn't seen Randi for several weeks and was looking forward to it. She was gorgeous and he had a romantic evening planned for the two of them. First dinner, then...
Suddenly an idea popped into his head. The words flowed from his lips before he even had time to think about them. "Amanda, did you say you are going to Chez Vous? What a coincidence! My date and I also have a reservation there for tonight. Maybe we'll run into each other--although I don't mean literally," he laughed and so did she, recalling their first encounter.
Amanda smiled, "That would be nice. So I'll either "run into" you this evening or see you bright and early in the morning. It's hard to believe that the big day is here already," she said somewhat wistfully. After tomorrow, she would never see Lee Stetson again. Why did that bother her? Wasn't she going to marry Dean anyway? She secretly hoped she would not see Lee and his date at the restaurant. She didn't want to know how beautiful his girlfriend was. Imagining her was enough. Maybe she and Dean should go somewhere else. But they already had a reservation and she knew Dean was looking forward to going there. She sighed.
They left the school grounds together and headed for Lee's car. He unconsciously placed his hand at the small of her back as they walked. Amanda was aware of the gesture. It made her feel special and protected.
They drove the short distance to 4247 Maplewood Drive. Lee noted the quiet, tree-lined suburban street and the tidy home with the white picket fence. So different from the apartment building he called home. He went around to her side of the car and took her hand to help her out. He was such a gentleman. He walked her to the door and they said good-bye until later.
Lee immediately headed for a phone. He had to confirm plans with Randi and try to get a reservation at Chez Vous instead of the restaurant they had planned to visit. He shook his head in bewilderment. He didn't know what had possessed him to lie to Amanda about having a dinner engagement at the same restaurant she was going to. What did he care where she went to dinner or with whom? A nagging voice inside his head said, "You want to see what type of man she is married to." Maybe, but why should he want to do that? What possible difference could it make to him what her husband looked like? He absently ran his hands through his hair, annoyed with himself.
As luck would have it, he was able to get a reservation and Randi liked the idea. While he showered, Lee tried to imagine what Dean was like. He wondered how long they had been married. Let's see, she said her oldest boy was 8... Lee shook his head to get the picture out of his mind. He really did not care how long Amanda King had been married or what her husband looked like. It was not the least concern of his.
Lee let the warm water cascade over his body as he tried to focus on Randi. She was beautiful and he was looking forward to his date with her. He hoped the restaurant would be elegant and romantic so they would have a memorable evening. As he lathered up, Lee found himself wondering how Amanda would wear her hair. Some days she wore it pulled up with some wispy pieces hanging down and other days... Whoa, now slow down here just a minute! Get the woman out of your head! She is nothing to you. A simple housewife. You are a trained professional. Keep your emotions in check and get on with the job. You have a date with a terrific woman who is frequently mentioned in the society pages. You should count your blessings. You really should go to a different restaurant, you know.
Lee and Randi arrived at Chez Vous and were seated in a romantic out-of-the-way corner of the restaurant. He did not notice Amanda inside. They made small talk and Lee thought how good it was to be with Randi again. While they were waiting for dinner to arrive, she talked about her society goings-on and which beautiful people she had seen recently. Lee found his mind wandering. Amanda's smiling face appeared to him. She was laughing up at him and looking into his eyes. After tomorrow, he might never see her again. She would go back to her normal life with her husband, kids, mother, and PTA meetings. He would return to his regular duties once the Princess was safely out of his jurisdiction. That was fine--he liked his life the way it was. Then why did he have this churning feeling in the pit of his stomach?
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Amanda and Dean arriving in the entry. Amanda looked breathtaking. She wore a long white gown with spaghetti straps and intricate beading embellishing the front of the very elegant gown. She wore her hair swept up off her neck and pinned with a glittery hair clip. She was lovely.
He sized up Dean. Good-enough looking, but not really handsome. Several years older than she was. But any fool could see Dean was head-over-heels in love with his wife. He looked at her adoringly and had his arm around her while they walked. She was smiling graciously, but her body language told him she did not return Dean's feelings in the same way. They must have been married for quite a few years. He didn't know much about married couples. Maybe after a few years, things cooled off. Although it was evident that Dean had not cooled off toward his beautiful wife.
Lee knew that Amanda had not seen him and Randi. That was just as well. Amanda was seated such that he could see her from the side. He could see Dean very well. He was abruptly called back to the present as he realized Randi had asked him something and was waiting for an answer. He tried to cover with, "Sorry, what did you say? I thought I saw an old friend across the room, but I was mistaken." Dinner arrived as she repeated her question.
Lee had a sudden pang of guilt. He had invited Randi for an evening out, yet found himself paying not the slightest bit of attention to her. Just a few weeks ago he felt lucky to have found her. Not only that, but he had for all intents and purposes followed Amanda King and her husband to this restaurant to spy on them. Why was he so curious about them? Why did he care that they were having a quiet dinner out on their own? He had never stooped to such tactics before. Something was wrong here, but he wasn't sure what.
He ran his fingers nervously through his hair. He was experiencing a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. One thing was sure. He wanted to finish dinner, leave the restaurant and get Randi home as soon as could be arranged. No romantic evening at his apartment. He wasn't in the mood. He wasn't sure how he would accomplish this, as Randi knew what was planned.
Amanda and Dean had just placed their dinner order. Dean was holding her hands across the table and they were talking intently. Lee became exasperated with himself for continuing to observe them. He turned his head away. He wouldn't look at them any more. He gave his attention to Randi as they were finishing up their meal. She said to him, "Lee, is anything wrong? You don't seem like yourself tonight. Are you feeling all right?"
Ah, that was an idea! "I'm sorry, Randi baby, I'm really not feeling very well. I've been working awfully long hours lately and maybe I'm just tired. But I don't seem to feel my usual self. I'm sorry I'm being such bad company for you tonight." He patted her hand and gave her a weary smile. "Maybe it would be best if I took you home when we finish dinner. I don't really know what's wrong with me (at least this was the truth!). But if I am coming down with something, I should probably turn in early."
Randi baby was a little miffed. She was looking forward to going to Lee's apartment after dinner. He knew how to show a girl a good time. But he hadn't really been showing her a good time so far tonight, so maybe it was just as well. He seemed distracted. He wasn't acting like the Lee Stetson from a few weeks ago. Something about him had changed. He must be working too hard.
Lee couldn't resist another glance over at Mr. and Mrs. King. Dean was talking to Amanda very earnestly with a look of anticipation on his face. He pulled a tiny box out of his pocket and opened it to reveal a ring. Lee nearly fell off his chair! What was going on? To a casual observer, it would appear that Dean was proposing to his own wife! But they were already married! Maybe this was an anniversary or some other special occasion and he was giving her a ring to commemorate that event. But no, it didn't look that way.
Lee's mind was on overload trying to converse with Randi, observe the scene between Amanda and Dean, and sort out his own confused thoughts. Now Dean was trying to place the ring on her finger-the third finger of her left hand! That could mean only one thing. He was asking her to marry him! Amanda, however, seemed to be trying to gently keep the ring off her finger and let it remain in the box. Dean's face showed disappointment. Maybe the ring was the wrong size. He closed the ring box, placed it in her hands, gave her hand a loving pat, and continued to speak to her. She nodded her head seemingly in agreement to something. Dean settled back into his seat with a concerned look on his face. A few moments later, Amanda started to rise and left the table. For a few seconds, her face was clearly visible to Lee. She appeared to look worried and somewhat confused. She left the room.
Lee turned his attention back to Randi for the moment. At least he appeared to do so. Mentally he was trying to sort out his thoughts and make sense of the scene he had just witnessed. It sure seemed like Dean was proposing to Amanda. That could only mean that she was not married. Thinking back, Lee tried to piece together parts of their conversations to see if this could make sense. When they bumped into each other, she had said her name was Mrs. King. Then she mentioned she had to take Dean to the train station. When she told him about her family, she had mentioned her boys and her mother, but not Dean. Then she had said Dean's car was in the shop so he had borrowed hers. And they were going out for dinner tonight. Thinking back, she had never said she was married to anyone! He had just made inferences and jumped to a conclusion. He had never even noticed if she wore a wedding ring. Every time he was with her he had found it difficult to take his eyes away from her lovely facial features and those luminous dark eyes of hers that he could easily lose himself in. Now he wished he had looked at the security clearance on her. The boys had said she appeared "squeaky clean" but no one mentioned her marital status. So she must be divorced, or possibly widowed.
A feeling of relief washed over him. Now wait a minute, why was he relieved? A feeling of fear quickly replaced the relief. Could he...he couldn't possibly have feelings....romantic feelings...for Amanda King, could he? Was that why he had followed her here? Why her face popped up so frequently in his thoughts? He had only just met her-things didn't happen this fast in real life. Besides he didn't want to fall in love with a mother of two from Arlington with a live-in mother and a station wagon. He liked his life the way it was. He enjoyed being with a different beautiful woman whenever he chose. Although he had to admit he wasn't having such an enjoyable time tonight with the woman he was with. He found her rather shallow and beautiful in a flashy sort of way. Amanda had a natural beauty which radiated from within. She was warm and intelligent and cared about others. Randi didn't seem capable of having an intelligent thought. She lived for her society parties, spending absurd amounts of money, and encounters with men like him. He used to find that sort of woman attractive, but meeting Amanda had changed his perspective on lots of things.
Amanda returned to her table and their dinner arrived. Lee had just paid the check for his and Randi's dinners. He drove Randi home. She tried to prolong things in the car, but his heart just wasn't in it. He walked her to her door, gave her a perfunctory kiss, and headed back to his apartment.
On the drive home he had more time to think. It was entirely possible that after tomorrow's royal visit, he would never see Amanda again. How would that affect him? He felt an ache in his heart and realized that he very much wanted to see her again. But did she feel the same? He thought back to the last brief weeks. Had there been any signs that she felt as he did? He was so used to women falling all over him just because he was good-looking, he didn't know if he could tell if a woman really cared about him for himself. She would hold his gaze briefly when he looked at her and then lower her eyes shyly. When they had stood so close together, she had seemed uncomfortable and he had tried to cover his reaction as well. Once when she was talking in her animated manner, she had unconsciously reached out for his hand, and had been embarrassed when she realized what she had done. She genuinely seemed to like working with him. But did these things mean she had romantic feelings for him? Even if she did, she didn't know how he felt about her. Lee didn't even know for sure how he felt about her. So what if she had already accepted Dean's proposal. Was it too late for him to have a chance with her? Did he want to have a chance with her? His head was spinning as his thoughts were flying out of control.
Still going over the confusing evening in his mind, Lee considered stopping off at a park near his home to take a short walk to try to clear his head. While checking his location to see if he had passed the park, he was surprised to discover that he was nowhere near his apartment, but back in Arlington, not far from Calvin Elementary School. How had he gotten over here? He had driven this way so often in the past few weeks that he figured his mind went this way on auto-pilot. That must be it. But since he was here, and since the school was only a short drive from Amanda's home, he thought he might as well drive by her house just to make sure she was home safely. Lee knew her dinner would be finished by now, but of course they may have gone somewhere afterwards to celebrate their engagement. However, he thought she would return home early as she had a big day tomorrow.
So Lee slowly cruised down Maplewood Drive. Sure enough, when he came near number 4247, he could see a car he didn't recognize just pulling up in front of her home. Dean's car probably. Lee parked two houses down the street so he wouldn't be observed, but close enough so that he could see the couple. Now he really was spying on them. He did have a few misgivings about this, but not enough to leave the neighborhood. Dean went around the car to open the door for Amanda and they walked up the sidewalk to her front door. They stood on the porch and Dean kissed Amanda good-night. She smiled at him and let herself into the house. Dean drove off. Well, that settled it. He had been mistaken in his original assumption. Amanda King was not married to Dean whatever-his-name was.
Lee thought about their parting kiss. Just one kiss. And not a very romantic kiss. More of a platonic kiss. Lee thought it was not the way he would have said good-night to his Amanda. He would have pulled her into his arms and kissed her passionately. She would have put her arms around his neck and he would.... He broke the thought abruptly. This situation had really gotten out of hand. He absently ran his fingers through his hair. What was he doing sitting in his car in front of the home of a woman he worked with, a woman he had only known for three weeks, spying on her and her fiancé and imagining what it would be like to kiss her? Had he completely lost his mind? Angry with himself, he pulled away from the curb and headed home.
The big day was finally here. The children arrived scrubbed and in their best clothes. Amanda met Lee for a last minute discussion in the vacant computer lab. Amanda looked elegant in a lovely sapphire blue suit with a cream-colored silk blouse. And Lee of course wore another beautifully tailored suit. As they were about to leave the lab, she noticed the knot of his tie was a little off-center. "Lee, wait just a minute, let me straighten your tie." She stepped closer to him and adjusted the knot. "There, that's perfect." She smiled up at him. She hadn't thought about it, just acted instinctively. But as she finished, she realized how close she was standing to Lee and how he was looking at her with an odd expression on his face. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that," she said softly, embarrassed that she had been so forward.
Without thinking, he lifted her hands and brought them to his lips. He looked straight into her eyes while he kissed them tenderly. She began to tremble and thought she might faint her heart was beating so fast. She whispered, "Lee..."
He came quickly back to reality at the sound of her voice. "Amanda, please forgive me. I don't know what came over me. " He stepped quickly away from her, feeling an awkward tension between them. What on earth was he doing? Had he completely lost his senses? Had he really fallen in love with this woman he had known so briefly? His professionalism and objectivity seemed to have deserted him when he needed them the most. He was on an assignment, for god's sake. Running his fingers nervously through his hair, he coughed and cleared his throat to cover his nervousness. He quickly told her, "I'll take a last minute check of the library. Why don't you check out the multipurpose room as that will be the first room the Princess visits. I'll meet you there in say, 10 minutes," he said as he consulted his watch. With that he left the room without looking at her again. He needed to distance himself from Amanda immediately. With the Princess arriving imminently, he could not afford to be distracted.
Amanda felt like she had been stung. She was sure she had seen something in his expression, she couldn't define exactly what. Then he was kissing her hands, looking for all the world like he would rather be kissing her mouth. The next thing she knew, he was apologizing and then was gone. What had happened? Could he possibly have the same feelings for her that she was discovering she had for him? The sensations she felt when he kissed her hands were almost overpowering. If she felt this way when he kissed her hand, how would she feel if he put his arms around her, kissed her on the lips..... She sighed deeply.
Last night at dinner Dean had proposed to her for the third time. But this time he wanted her to accept an engagement ring to make it official. Amanda had always figured she would end up marrying Dean. She knew he cared deeply for her. He loved the boys, and even her mother, and was stable and dependable and had a good job. So why had she never given him an answer? Last night she had felt trapped, knowing she had to make a decision and yet not sure she wanted to say "yes." She had not allowed him to put the ring on her finger, but they agreed she would keep the ring and think things over in the next few days so she could give him a definite answer this weekend. She knew Dean expected an affirmative response, but she just wasn't sure. Did Lee have anything to do with this ambivalence? She thought they were too different for a romance to develop between them. There had to be more than physical attraction between two people to sustain a life-long relationship. But it was a good place to start. Maybe that was it. With Dean, there were no sparks. She liked him as a person and as a friend, but there was no chemistry between them like she had felt with Lee from the first moment they met. She had told herself not to fall for Lee as he could never be interested in her. But her inner self didn't listen. She knew she was in love with him.
She shook her head and went out to meet him in the multipurpose room. The Princess would be here shortly. Now she was getting nervous about what to say to her when she arrived.
She met Lee and they both felt the awkwardness stretching between them. They carefully avoided eye contact with each other. Everything was in order, so they went to wait at the front of the school with the other agents for the Princess' entourage to arrive.
The limousine soon drove up. Amanda had seen pictures of Her Royal Highness, but was surprised at the warm greeting she received when Lee introduced them. The woman was about her age, and Amanda's nervousness disappeared instantly when they met. They started talking, and by the time they got to the multipurpose room, Amanda felt like she had found a friend. She momentarily forgot about Lee and their awkwardness as she attended to making the Princess feel comfortable and welcome.
The visit went very well. They visited several classrooms and saw many special projects the children had worked on. The Princess genuinely seemed to enjoy the visit and meeting the children and staff. It was over all too quickly. The Princess was next to visit a daycare center and then to attend a catered lunch. Impulsively, she took Amanda's hand and asked earnestly, "Amanda, would you be able to accompany me to the daycare center and then to lunch at my hotel? I think it would be fun for you, and I would enjoy it more if you could be there with me." Amanda looked at Lee, who smiled and nodded affirmatively. He had noticed how the two had hit it off right away. They could not have asked for a better goodwill ambassador. Amanda's warmth and sincerity were immediately apparent to everyone who met her. It seemed like everyone fell in love with her at first sight! Now slow down, he told himself, that was a figure of speech, that did not mean that he had fallen in love with her. Or did it?
Lee was to accompany the two women and the Princess' armed guards for the rest of the day. The two women fussed over the children at the daycare. The Princess even read a story to a group of toddlers. She seemed to greatly enjoy herself.
After lunch, the Princess graciously thanked Amanda for acting as hostess to her, and hugged her as they parted. "Amanda, it's been great to be back in the States again even if it's only for a visit. I've missed so many things. This has been such a wonderful day. Thank you so much for sharing it with me." She was next off to meet her husband and they would make a few stops together on her whirlwind tour of the city.
Before leaving, the Princess said to Amanda, "My husband and I will be guests tonight at a reception at our country's embassy. I would be honored if you could attend. I feel like we've become friends in this short time, and I would like to see you again."
Amanda didn't know what to say. An embassy party? She had never attended such an event before. What would she wear? How would she act? Again she looked to Lee. He was shaking his head in amusement at something, but communicated to her that it would be fine if she wanted to attend. So she thanked the Princess and accepted the invitation. "Thank you, Amanda, for being so kind to me today. I'll look forward to seeing you tonight." And with that, she was off to the next event on her itinerary.
Lee had one of the other agents drive Amanda back to the school where her car was parked. She had a busy afternoon ahead of her. Go home and tell her mother about her exciting day, have Mother help her decide what to wear to the reception, pick up the boys after school, take them to the dentist, and then get ready for the reception. She exhaled a deep breath. At least if she kept busy, she wouldn't have time to be nervous about tonight. Or to think about Lee Stetson and imagine herself with him.
Around dinner time the phone rang. It was Lee. She could hear the amusement in his voice as he asked, "Is Cinderella getting ready for the ball?"
"Oh, Lee, stop it. You have no idea how nervous I am, and how excited at the same time. I couldn't believe how the Princess and I got along so well. Imagine, she was once just a regular person like me, only from New Hampshire, and then she married a Prince and went off to live far away from her home and family and now--" Lee laughed as she paused for breath, and she realized she had been babbling again. What must he think of her?
"Amanda, I called to say that if you want to go to the reception a little early, I could drive you there. I have to be on duty a half-hour before the royalty arrives. So I could pick you up around 7:30." The awkward tension of earlier this morning had seemed to dissipate between them.
"Oh, that would be wonderful, Lee. I was a little worried about going into a place like that by myself. You know, never having gone to anything like this before. Yes, I could be ready early. I'm just now deciding what to wear. I suppose this is a very dressy affair?"
"Oh definitely. I'll be wearing a tuxedo. The white gown you wore last night would be perfect."
"Okay, I was thinking the same thing." She paused for a moment as something occurred to her. "How did you know what I was wearing last night? Do you mean at the restaurant? I didn't see you there." Had he witnessed the scene between her and Dean?
Oops, open mouth, insert foot. But Lee was a master at thinking on his feet. "I didn't see you either until we were ready to leave," he lied. "Then I saw you leaving too, but you were a ways ahead of us. You and Dean looked very deep in conversation, so I didn't interrupt to greet you." He couldn't help but add, "You looked very beautiful in the white gown."
Amanda felt the familiar flush creep onto her cheeks again. It seemed like she could dispense with blusher when she was around this man!
Lee arrived promptly at 7:30. Dotty hovered over her daughter and the boys watched as Lee helped her with her wrap. Dotty couldn't help but be charmed by Lee as he kissed her hand and treated her to his trademark smile. Amanda had never mentioned this charming man to her. Where had she been hiding him? Her daughter certainly could keep a secret!
Lee helped her into the car. There was that tingle again as he touched her hand and his arm was around her back. Amanda glanced his way when he was occupied with merging into traffic. Surely he was the most handsome man she had ever met. She couldn't believe she was sitting next to him in this tiny passenger compartment. Why had he offered to accompany her to the reception? He was probably being his polite charming self as he knew she was out of her league tonight, as he had been out of his when they worked with the children. He was such a wonderful man.
Lee stole a glance at her face when they passed a street light. She was so very beautiful. Not at all what he imagined a suburban mother would look like.
They made small talk on the drive. Neither could seem to think of much to say as they were preoccupied with each other's nearness. Lee parked the car and turned to look at her. "Amanda, you look very beautiful. Don't be nervous. Just be yourself."
"Thank you, Lee. I appreciate you picking me up so I don't have to walk in alone. I'm a little intimidated by all these important people."
He helped her out of the car and placed his hand around her back as they made their way into the party. Amanda asked if he would be working for the entire reception and would she be on her own. Lee replied, "I mainly just have to be here and be alert for possible problems. We could spend most of the evening together if that is okay with you."
"I 'd like that very much," she smiled up at him. He took her by the arm as they made their way around the room.
They enjoyed the lovely buffet and talked to some people from Lee's office. She met Lee's boss, Mr. Melrose, who seemed like a very nice man. A beautiful blonde woman named Francine was also there. She seemed quite surprised to find that Amanda was the "PTA Mom" and that she was here with Lee. But Amanda herself was surprised by both of these occurrences, so she didn't give Francine's comments much thought.
Then Lee asked her if she would like to dance. Amanda loved to dance. He swept her into his arms, marveling at how wonderful it felt to embrace her. He held her close and enjoyed the sensations her nearness evoked within him. She was exquisite. Her hair brushed softly against his face and her skin felt like velvet to his touch. Amanda felt weak being this close to him, and was glad that they didn't talk as she seemed to be incapable of speech. She wasn't positive, but she thought she felt his lips brush against her hair. She hoped he didn't feel her trembling. Being in his arms like this and moving to the slow music was almost painful in its intensity, yet exhilarating at the same time.
Soon afterwards the Prince and Princess came to greet them warmly. Lee and the Prince stepped aside to converse privately for a few minutes. Penny, as she had asked Amanda to call her, gave her a hug and told her how lovely she looked. Amanda thanked her shyly. Penny observed with a conspiratorial grin, "I noticed you dancing with that handsome Mr. Stetson. It would appear that he's quite taken with you. I noticed it this morning too. He could hardly take his eyes off you."
Amanda was embarrassed and tried to brush off her comment. "Oh, I don't know how "taken" he is with me. I think he's just being polite. You know we've only known each other for about three weeks-since we started planning the school visit."
Penny was a born matchmaker. "That doesn't matter. You have the look of a couple in love. Sometimes two people just know they are right for each other from the moment they meet. Their feelings continue to grow stronger as they get to know each other better. But they just feel that magic right from the beginning." She perused Amanda's face with a big smile on her own. "You do care for him, don't you? You're positively glowing."
"Is it that evident?" Amanda worried. "I've been trying to keep my emotions in check, but it's nearly impossible when you're in the arms of a man like Lee. I feel like a schoolgirl."
Penny laughed. "And to think it is all because of me that you two are together! If you both hadn't worked so hard to make this the perfect day it was, you would never have met and gotten to know each other." She squeezed Amanda's hand affectionately. "You two have a future together, I can just feel it," she predicted.
The men returned and Penny went off with her husband to greet more guests, giving Lee a knowing look and winking at Amanda as she turned to leave. The look was not lost on Lee.
"What was that all about?" he teased.
"She thinks you're handsome," Amanda answered evasively.
"Is that all?"
"Isn't that enough? She's a princess--you should be flattered with the compliment."
"Oh, I am, but I'd be more flattered if the compliment came from you. But that wasn't why she winked at you, was it?"
Amanda looked around the room as if she would find an answer there. Lee put his arm around her and led her to the patio. It was secluded and the heady scent of spring blossoms hung in the air. He pulled her closer to him, his hands around her waist, his eyes holding hers as they had that first time they met. "She thinks we're in love, doesn't she?" he asked directly.
Amanda looked up at him with surprise. He continued, "If it's that evident to a total stranger we only met today, maybe we should admit it to ourselves. I think I'm in love with you, Amanda King. I have no idea how or why it could happen so fast, but suddenly there it was. The moment I bumped into you, I felt a bond between us. I wanted to kiss you that first moment I saw you on the sidewalk." They smiled at each other. "In my opinion, three weeks is long enough to wait."
Amanda held her breath as he bent his head to kiss her lightly on the lips. They were so intoxicatingly sweet, he wanted more. Another light soft kiss. He then searched her eyes for a sign that she wanted the kiss as much as he did. She slipped her arms around his neck and he pulled her tightly to him. She instinctively parted her lips and closed her eyes as his mouth found hers again, this time kissing her possessively. She eagerly returned the kiss and time stood still for the two of them. Lee was the man who would belong to her and she to him for all time. They may have just met, but she knew that with certainty. She, too, had felt the bond he spoke of.
When she finally found her voice she whispered, "Oh, Lee, I felt the same when we first met. You held me at the waist and looked into my eyes, and my heart just melted. Then you gave me that wonderful smile of yours and that was it. I knew I was falling for you even then."
They stood closely together, she with her arms around his neck, and he with his arms around her waist. Lee shook his head in wonder. "I feel like I've known you forever, and yet there are so very many things I still have to learn about you. I can't wait to sign up for "Amanda King 101." She laughed up at him. Just like in the pictures that had been running through his head for the last few weeks.
"And what about Dean? He proposed to you last night. I did see you in the restaurant," Lee admitted sheepishly. "Somehow I just can't see the two of you together." His lips brushed her hair, her forehead, and the tip of her nose.
She felt like her heart would burst. She smiled. "I think he has waited long enough for an answer. He has been so patient with me. I never could tell him "yes," although I didn't understand why. I think I was waiting for a handsome stranger to sweep me off my feet."
It was Lee's turn to smile. He took both of her hands in his and kissed them gently. He then placed her arms back around his neck and pulled her to him. Their lips met in a lingering kiss full of the promise of things to come. They would take this relationship slowly, ascending together one step at a time. He took her hand and they re-entered the world together.