(Please see the first section for notes and disclaimers.)

Legal research and attempting to control my temper cause the morning
and most of the afternoon to fly. I walk into the West Wing security
area to see Donna standing beside the desk, giving a rather stern
glare to the young man behind it. She gives me a big smile.

"Hi, Sabrina," she says, and turns to the security guard. "See,
Carlo, this is Sabrina. She's the one I was telling you about.
Remember? Say hello."

Carlo gives her a meek glance as I hand him my bag. "Yes, Miss Moss."

"She's Sam's sister," Donna continues as if she were addressing a
kindergarten student. "She'll be stopping by occasionally to speak to
Josh, or Leo, or CJ or me, and I wanted to introduce her to you so
that there won't be any problems, all right?" Her face is all
sweetness and light, but there is steel in her eyes that Carlo
doesn't question. I am dying to know what's going on here.

"No problem at all, Miss Moss."

"Wonderful. Thank you for all your help, Carlo," she says over her
shoulder as she steers me down the hall toward the Communications
bullpen.

My grin must stretch from ear to ear as I look up at her. "What was
all that about?"

"Oh, nothing anymore. The other day when Sam came over, Carlo gave
him kind of a hard time. He said he was `taking initiative.' When
Josh told me you were dropping off research, I didn't want him to
take the wrong kind of initiative again."

"Oh no, poor Sam. I'm so glad you were here to fix it. What would
they do without you, Donna?"

"I'm convinced the whole building would collapse," she says, flashing
a megawatt smile.

"I believe it would. I really do," I reply seriously. She starts to
peel off as we approach Josh's office, but I stop her by grabbing her
elbow. "Donna, thank you, for looking out for us. I really appreciate
it."

"Buy me a beer sometime and we'll call it even," she says over her
shoulder as she continues in that odd habit they have around here of
carrying on entire conversations while blasting down the hallway at
ninety miles per hour.

As I turn into Josh's office, his voice and Leo's drift out into the
hallway. I'm aware just because it's that time of year that the
President's State of the Union address is fast approaching, but
apparently they're having trouble working out some of the details.

"I want Joey Lucas to do the polling."

"What if you can't get Joey Lucas? You need a back-up."

"She'll come through for us, Leo, don't worry about it."

"Why am I not reassured, Josh?"

I clear my throat and they both turn around. Josh is standing behind
his desk and Leo is standing at the window, looking out at the gray
wintry city. They make such a funny pair, these two, and I'm struck
not for the first time at the way Josh unconsciously mimics Leo's
posture. A casual observer might actually think they are father and
son.

"I'm sorry, am I interrupting? I can drop this off, or come back
later."

Josh's face softens and Leo grins as they turn away from the windows.

"Hey, kiddo," Leo says with a wink. "Come on in, you're just the
person we were expecting."

"Uh oh," I laugh, handing Josh the file I've prepared. "Here you are,
Counselor, everything there is to know about divorce statutes in the
District of Columbia. You'll be glad to know that the length of
alimony payment is not dictated by either the Zodiac or the Farmers'
Almanac."

"Well, that's a big load off, I gotta tell you," he grins. He looks
over at Leo with his eyebrows raised in an unspoken question.

I begin to wonder what is going on, but fortunately they don't keep
me waiting long this time.

"Sabrina, what's this I hear about a trip to New York this weekend?"

First Sam was trying to act like my probation officer, and now Leo? I
have too much respect for this man to say the first thing that pops
to my mind, so I take a second to look down at my feet and gather my
thoughts before answering. "Excuse me, Leo. I'm not sure I heard you
correctly. What did you ask me?"

Leo and Josh exchange a look, and I notice that Leo is watching me
carefully as his deputy takes over.

"Sam called me this morning, saying something about a phone call
you'd gotten from a guy you both know. He doesn't like this guy at
all, and said that you're planning on going up to the City this
weekend to meet with him. Saying that your brother doesn't trust this
guy's motives would be putting it mildly."

"Look, Sam doesn't know Kyle as well as he thinks he does—or as well
as I do, I might add—and I have reason to believe he may have proof
Lisa fabricated her allegations. If there's even a chance that Kyle
has something that will help, I have to go up there. I just have to."

Leo regards me closely. "I didn't actually speak with Sam, Sabrina,
Josh did, but he seemed pretty sure of himself, didn't he, Josh?"

Josh nods. "Yeah, and he was really worried about your going up there
by yourself."

I don't believe I have to stand here and justify myself to these
men. "I can handle it," I say evenly.

"I don't doubt your ability, Sabrina," Leo says kindly. "But I do
understand Sam's concern. He's your brother and he's trying to look
out for you. Do you honestly believe this Kyle person may have
something useful?"

I nod confidently. "He didn't want to discuss it in too much detail
on the phone, but there was something about his tone of voice, Leo.
He's on to something. I can tell. And if it might help Sam, how can I
ignore the possibility?"

Leo nods. "Okay, you should go. But I'd feel better if you didn't go
alone. Josh, what are you doing this weekend?"

Josh looks stunned. "Wouldn't Sam want to be the one to..."

"Probably, but he's going to be overruled," Leo says. "The media
attention surrounding his situation has finally started to subside,
and I do not want him doing anything that might fire it up again. The
last thing he needs to do is show up in Lisa's hometown and get into
a fight with his sister's ex-boyfriend. And let's just say I can't
help noticing he's been a little short-tempered lately."

I open my mouth to protest—it's not like I need a baby-sitter, for
crying out loud—but Leo doesn't give me the chance.

"Don't worry about it, kid. I'll handle Sam. You just get what we
need. And you," he says as he fixes Josh with a glare, "keep an eye
on things. I'm holding you responsible. And be back by noon on
Sunday. We've got a lot more ground to cover on the polling issues
before the speech." With that he turns on his heel and walks out the
side door.

Josh and I regard each other silently for a minute.

"Well, that happened fast," I comment.

He raises his eyebrows at me, shrugs and shows me my favorite cocky
grin. "That's how it goes around here, Bri. Eventually you get used
to it."

<><><>

Lucky for me, having Josh in the car makes a four-and-a-half-hour car
trip pass in the blink of an eye. The conversational tone is light
throughout and helps me keep my mind off how I'm likely to feel when
I see my ex—the first man other than my brother and my father I ever
really loved—for the first time since our break-up.

I think Josh senses my nervousness, but he's well aware of my resolve
to follow the lead until the end, and so makes it his job to
entertain me over the 229 miles from D.C. to New York City. If Sam
were on this trip, we'd have gotten a long dissertation on the
virtues of I-95 versus other routes between the two cities, and the
thought makes me grin. What a dork. And I'm just nuts about him. We
may scream at each other occasionally, but it's never long before all
is forgiven and forgotten. That's one of the very nicest things about
having a brother like him.

Josh and I talk about our families, and about our childhoods,
favorite movies and music groups, the merits of a good cup of coffee
versus those of high-quality chocolate, and what it's like to be a
third-year law student. I tell him more about my years of serious
ballet study, and he admits to me in a rare moment of vulnerability
that when he was a very little boy, he wanted to be a ballet dancer
like his older sister. I laugh so hard I nearly wreck the car, and he
threatens me within an inch of my life, telling me that if word of
this ever gets out, he'll know where it came from and that I will be
very sorry. If I weren't completely crazy about this man already,
this road trip would surely have been enough to put me over the moon.

We decided to spend the night in New York after meeting with Kyle,
and arrive at the hotel early Saturday evening. Josh insisted that we
get adjoining rooms, just in case Kyle gives me any trouble. I
certainly don't plan on having Kyle in this hotel, but Josh's
overprotectiveness is kind of cute, I have to admit. For some reason,
if it were Sam acting this way, I'd be comforted, but slightly
annoyed; coming from Josh, I'm comforted, and slightly charmed.

I relish having a few minutes of privacy to change, primp and gather
my nerve before heading for the bar. Kyle asked me to meet him at the
Blue Elephant, one of the hottest new spots on the Upper East Side.
While I've never been to the place, Josh and I did some research on-
line and think it will be a good place for a couple to have the
illusion of privacy, while making it fairly easy for someone else
(Josh) to eavesdrop.

I step off the elevator and begin to cross the lobby, scanning the
crowd for Josh. I feel him staring at me before I see him. He's
standing beside the front door with the strangest expression on his
face. He looks almost like he's had the wind knocked out of him.

"Josh, are you okay?"

It takes him a minute to respond. "Are you...are you really going to
wear that out tonight?"

"What?" I ask innocently, glancing down at my slim black pants and
dark red ballet-wrap top. I look up again to bat my eyelashes at
him. "You don't like it?"

"It's...I've just never seen you...okay, look, I'm not going to be able
to say anything that's not going to get me in trouble right now, so
can we just go? Please?" he says, holding the door open for me.

I can't help laughing, and feeling extremely flattered. During the
ride to the bar, I give him the Cliff Notes version about Kyle and
me. We met at a party when I was an undergrad. He attended Harvard,
where he was a starter on the football team. We dated for almost two
years, until I found out through a girl that is now a dear friend
that he was sneaking into town on the weekends to sleep with somebody
else. The aforementioned friend was the roommate of the girl he was
sleeping with, and just happened to work with me. It was the first
time I ever learned that people, especially those of the male
persuasion, sometimes say things they don't really mean.

The Blue Elephant is a great first-date place, by the look of it, and
I quickly remember how charmed I was by Kyle's smooth style. It looks
like just the kind of place he'd like to take a girl he wanted to
impress. Large enough to be spacious while remaining cozy, the bistro
bar is decorated with earth-toned slate floors and padded beige
walls. Funky blue lamps by the door enhance the understated,
sophisticated ambience as you walk by the bar area. The house
specialty is called, appropriately enough, the Blue Elephant. Kyle
has two of them in his hands when we walk though the door.

Josh, who was right behind me when we came in, vanishes in the crowd.
I glance over my shoulder to where he was standing a moment before,
and am suddenly lonely here in this room full of people. I take a
deep breath and smile. It's show time.

Kyle sees me and breaks into a wide grin. It may have been some time
since I've seen him, but it's hard to deny the attraction. He is as
tall and broad as I am small, and even in the dim light of the bar, I
can see that he's kept up with his running. You might not think of
New Yorkers as sun-bronzed, but this one is. His tan sets off his
blue eyes and blond hair perfectly, and he winks at me behind his
wire-framed glasses. The clean-cut college boy I knew has become
every inch the Wall Street banker, and he still looks so handsome. He
looks like something right out of a Ralph Lauren catalog. He's so
easy on the eyes in fact; it's hard to remember just how much he hurt
me two years ago. I believe in forgiving and forgetting as much as
the next person, but holding on to the memory of how much his
betrayal hurt may be all that keeps me from traveling down the same
road again.

"Hey, Baby," he says by way of greeting as he comes toward me and
kisses me solicitously on the cheek.

Cut the `baby,' crap, asshole. "Hi, Kyle," I enthuse, showing him
what I hope is a charming smile. "It's good to see you."

"You look wonderful," Kyle says smoothly. "Really Sabrina—just
wonderful."

"You do too," I admit, much against my will, but it's the truth, so
there you go. "The bond business agrees with you."

"Thank you," he replies with a smile. It used to amaze me how
effortlessly he accepted compliments. It's admirable when you think
about it.

He hands me my drink and smiles again. "I ordered for you. Nothing
but the house specialty for my favorite girl."

I suppress a groan and accept the drink, trying not to think about
how ferocious Sam's scowl would be if he could see me now. I steal a
quick sip and sigh contentedly. The alcohol flows through me, and I
feel myself relaxing already. Oops. Better put it down. You need to
be on your toes now, Sabrina Seaborn. "So...Kyle..."

He stares back at me, completely without guile or expectation. Damn,
but he's good with that look. You'd almost believe, gazing into those
smoky blue eyes, that he's here to do nothing more than buy me drinks
and tell me I look good. "Yes?" he replies.

On the way here, I had resolved—and Josh had agreed—not to overplay
my hand, but I'm desperate. My brother's reputation and well-being
are on the line, and I cannot just sit here and make pleasant small
talk. I open my mouth to bring up the reason I'm here, but Kyle beats
me to the punch.

"It's been a long time, Sabrina."

Well, if that wasn't one of the stupidest, most clichéd remarks I've
ever heard, I don't know what is. I nod. "Yes, it has." And there's a
reason why, you slick, two-timing—

I'm suddenly aware of movement on the landing below us. Kyle and I
are seated at a small, cozy table for two on a landing that juts out
slightly above the second level, and there are more small, cozy
tables below. When I look down over the gold-plated railing, I see
the top of Josh's head not six inches from my feet. He's maneuvering
into a chair, holding The New York Times under his arm, a giant drink
with an umbrella in it in one hand and his jacket in the other. He
thrusts his jacket onto the second chair and manages not to topple
the fruity drink when he settles it onto the precarious tabletop. For
a minute he just looks at the drink with disgust, and I fight the
urge to laugh my head off. This is a man who never drinks
anything `girlier' than a margarita, and here he is staring down the
wrong end of what appears to be fruit punch with a kick. You gotta
love it.

Josh looks totally at odds here: his tousled hair, defiant posture,
and the fact that he's alone on a Saturday night with a newspaper in
his hand, paired with his blatant I-should-be-drinking-a-Heineken
demeanor, clearly send the message that this man does not belong in a
chic Manhattan bar geared toward couples. Anyone who took one look at
him would know that whatever he's doing here, it's has nothing to do
with picking up women. He might as well have a sign hanging around
his neck: `I don't belong here, but I'm trying to look
inconspicuous.' The thought makes me giggle.

My giggle is obviously not the correct response to whatever Kyle is
saying, because he frowns at me.

"Don't you remember, Bri?"

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Don't you remember how good we were together?"

"Well, I remember some good times," I say demurely, feeling like the
Southern belle my mother has always wanted me to be. I have no idea
what Kyle has said to lead up to this, but I can tell I don't like
where it's going. Time for a swift change of subject. "But let's talk
about the present now."

"The present," Kyle echoes, managing a look that suggests
disappointment, tempering it with a touch of wistfulness. "That's a
big part of why I called you in the first place."

I feel a rush of relief. We're going to talk about Sam now. "Kyle, I
appreciate this so much."

"Sabrina." He reaches across the table and takes my hand in his. I
have to fight the urge to melt at this sudden, intimate touch. "I've
missed you," he says breathily.

Oh God. This is not what I came for. I came for Sam, not for Kyle
Britton, no matter how strong his hands are or how good he looks in
his suits. I have a higher purpose. "Kyle," I say, drawing my hand
away. I speak firmly. "I'm here to talk about Sam. You said you had
information that could help him."

"Can we just talk for a minute?"

I feel my face twist with irritation, and yet—and yet there is a
touch of sincerity in Kyle's face and voice. I remind myself not to
melt. I don't need this right now. Kyle broke my heart not too many
moons ago, and it was only by the grace of God, Sam, and Stoli that I
got through those many painful months afterward.

Kyle's not a bad man; I've always known that. He's not like the free-
riding doctor jerk who took Donna's love and trust and threw them
away as if they were garbage. Kyle was just young and arrogant and
smooth, and led by, as my Southern grandmother might say, his little
head instead of his big one. Those aren't reasons to condemn the man.
They are, however, reasons to never trust him with your heart
again. "Kyle, I think it's best if we just stick to the reason we're
here."

"Just twenty minutes," he pleads. "Just twenty minutes of your time,
Bri, and then we'll talk business."

"Kyle—"

"Don't you remember, Baby?"

Not this again. "Kyle—"

"Don't you remember how good we were together?"

Don't laugh. Don't laugh, Sabrina. Ah, screw it. "Kyle, are you
getting these lines out of a Harlequin novel? I mean, really!"

He looks deeply offended, and sighs again, playing with his napkin,
tearing it to shreds. "I just...I think about you a lot, Sabrina. I
really regret the way we ended things—the way I ended things."

"But you did end them, Kyle," I remind him gently. I am trying
desperately not to explode at him. I don't have time for this! "It's
in the past. My brother, however, is in hell right now, and you said
you could help us."

"I was just hoping we'd meet," he says, as if I hadn't even
spoken, "have a few drinks, discuss old times, maybe have dinner at
my place...and then maybe have breakfast."

There is a sudden choking sound six inches from my feet, and I glance
down to see Josh spluttering into his drink. Okay, fight back that
smile, Bri. At least Josh did one thing right. The table he chose is
obviously the prime location for eavesdropping. Judging from the look
of irritated disgust on his face, Josh clearly heard every word of
that little exchange.

Okay, time to throw out the pleasant-Southern-belle routine and break
out some `Don't Mess With Me, I Can Kick Your Ass Six Ways to
Sunday.' "Kyle, I want to talk about Sam."

A muscle in his smooth jaw tightens involuntarily. "And I want to
talk about us," he says, giving me that piercing look that used to
get him just about anything he wanted.

I refrain from reminding him that there is no `us,' and decide to
take a risk by letting just a hint of my desperation sneak
through. "Please, Kyle," I say, reaching over and squeezing his
arm, "you may be the only one who can help me right now."

That idea seems to please him and he perks right on up. He takes my
hand in one of his and begins to brush his fingers seductively back
and forth across my palm. "I do want to help you, in spite of
whatever you might think of me. I've changed, Bri. I want a chance to
show you that."

My companion on the lower level snorts loudly into his colorful
libation. If he doesn't stop that, the non-verbal Josh Lyman
commentary, Kyle's going to catch on for sure.

I fight the involuntary shiver that runs down my spine at the thought
of what would happen if Kyle and Josh ended up in a
confrontation. "Then show me. You said you wanted to help and asked
me to come all the way up here. I came."

I try to pull my hand away, but he holds on to it, and after second
thought I let him keep it. I'd forgotten how tiny my hand feels when
engulfed by his long warm fingers. It's amazing how quickly the
sensation feels familiar again.

Kyle sighs, "Okay, a couple of days ago I overheard this chick in the
office talking to one of her buddies. The trading floor is famous for
giving you a false sense of privacy. There's so much noise and
everybody gets into their own groove, so it's easy to forget that
your neighbor is literally listening to every word you say."

He stops, giving me a `You'd better appreciate what I'm doing for you
here' look. I squeeze his hand again, ready to beg him to continue.

"The gist of the conversation was that one of them knew Lisa Taylor-
Seaborn when she worked at the firm. They've kept in touch apparently
and have been hanging out since Lisa moved back to New York.
According to what I heard, Lisa has had a slander campaign planned
against your brother for some time. What I thought you'd want to know
is this: According to what she said, Lisa wrote the whole thing down,
sort of like a playbook."

I'm stunned. Lisa's not a legal expert, but I'm absolutely amazed,
and elated, that she'd be foolish enough to write down her plan of
attack. Could this possibly be true?

"And what exactly is in this playbook? And how do you know it's for
real?"

"Supposedly it's got everything. What she's already done, what she
has planned next, her timeline, which media sources she wanted to
talk to and in what order. This friend hers was amazed by the
audacity and ambition of the whole thing. She stood not five feet
from me and swore this other girl to secrecy. I had my headset on so
apparently they thought I was on the phone. There's no such thing as
secrecy on the trading floor. That was just stupid. Of course," he
adds with a wink, "they didn't have any way to know that I have ties
to the Seaborn family."

I am reminded immediately of Rose and Jeanine from the DA's office.
Does every office in America have a pair like these two?

"Kyle, are you serious? Did this friend of Lisa's have a copy?"

He nods. Every nerve ending in my body tingles. The police officers
I've worked with often said that they crack most of their cases when
they identify that one stupid or careless move the perpetrator made.
They always said there is no such thing as the perfect crime. My God,
could Lisa really have misjudged her buddy's confidence that much?
Kyle would never be able to testify on Sam's behalf, as what he
overheard counts as hearsay, but if we could get a copy of the
playbook...I glance down at Josh, who is holding the Times open in
front of him, listening intently. I try to catch his eye before
glancing back at Kyle.

"Lisa gave her friend a copy?"

"No, I didn't get the impression Lisa handed over a copy. It sounded
like this woman made a copy of it for herself. She said it would make
a great book." He chuckles at the idea.

"Kyle, can you get it for me?"

He leans back in his chair, grinning widely and enjoying having
something I want. "If I do, will you go out with me again?"

I sit up a little straighter and pin my eyes on his face. "Are you
serious? Would you actually try to extort a relationship out of me?"

His eyes dance for a minute, but seeing the seriousness on my face,
he bites back what he wanted to say and changes tack. He reaches out
to touch me again. "Baby—"

"Don't `baby' me, Kyle. Are you serious?" I push my drink back and
snatch my hand away, ready to stand up and walk out. Or at least
that's what I want him to think.

He sighs and leans his elbows on the table. "You always were a hard
case. Look, just don't rule it out as a possibility, okay? And no, I
don't want to force you. I want you to come to me because you want
to."

Someone should really find Kyle's Harlequin novel and take it away
from him before he hurts himself.

I force a sympathetic expression onto my face, ignoring the choking
noises coming from the landing below. "Can you get me a copy?" I
insist.

He sighs, "I think so. Will you at least think about what I said
about getting back together?"

Sure, buddy, I'll think about it. And while I'm at it, I'll think
about having a root canal. Or driving nails up my arm. Sure thing. I
nod mutely.

Kyle nods briskly, standing and brushing napkin lint off his clothes.
This is typical behavior for him. He's gotten what he wanted, or at
least as close as he's going to get tonight, and he knows it, so it's
time to move on to the next deal. "I'll see what I can do. You'll
hear from me soon."

"Do you have to rush off?" I ask, blinking at him innocently.

"Well," he says, favoring me with a sexy smile, "you're not going to
come home with me tonight, now are you?"

"I don't really think that's a good idea right now, Kyle."

"Maybe I can change your mind at some point. But, if you're not
coming with me, the boss is having a party. You know how it is, Bri.
I have to keep up appearances to be seen as a team player."

Based on past experiences, I'm not even surprised by his willingness
to leave me in bar alone in a strange city in order to schmooze with
his work cronies.

"Can you get home okay?" he asks almost as an afterthought.

I nod. "Oh, sure, Kyle, no problem."

He shows me another smooth smile, and walks down the stairs. Kyle
moves with the grace of a cat, and I watch him as he walks past Josh
and out the front door. I notice that Josh is watching too, deep
brown eyes narrowed to laser beams. If looks could kill, Kyle would
be six feet under—dead and buried.

I wait a few seconds longer and sip my drink to give Kyle enough time
to move down the street, then follow Josh out the front door.

<><><>

 

 

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