General: This story is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in this work are a figment of my imagination. Some of the places in this story are real, as is the CIA, but the resemblance is the name only because I made everything else up.

Subtext: This story depicts sexual relations between two women who are in love. If that offends you there are plenty of other stories you might want to read. If you are under 18 or it is illegal where you live, please stop and read no further.

Domestic Abuse/Child Abuse: Chapter 18 has a graphic scene of domestic/child abuse.

Violence: This story is darker than my other stories and does have some scenes that depict violence.

Thanks: A special thanks to my wonderful beta readers, Day, Inga, Lois, Lunacy, and Pam for helping me to make this a better story with their great feedback and editing.

To the Reader: Comments and questions are always welcome and feedback is encouraged!

© January 10, 2001


Downtown Baghdad

A VIVID BLUE EYE calmly gazed through the high-powered scope, its crosshairs centered on the forehead of a dark-haired man. Surrounded by bodyguards, he was walking from a building at the end of the block to a waiting black Mercedes Benz. The sniper unhurriedly squeezed the trigger of the fifty-caliber rifle before dropping beneath the window and departing the barren room, purposely abandoning the instrument of death. Disguised to blend in with the local populace, the tall figure was on the streets within minutes, mingling with a large gathering of people that had begun to surround a prone body on the sidewalk. Verifying the kill, the sniper then disappeared among the growing crowd.


CIA Headquarters

SHELBY CARSON WALKED down the sterile halls of CIA headquarters to the bank of elevators on the north side of the building. She smiled and spoke to each person she passed along the way, but was seldom greeted in return. Shelby had worked here for almost six months, and often passed the same people in the hall daily; yet they remained strangers. Ruefully, she decided that perhaps paranoia was the rule of the day, because friendliness certainly wasn't. Well, at least a few of the people she worked with directly seemed friendly enough.

She got off on the third floor and saw a woman that worked in the office next door to hers. "Hey Maggie. How's it going?"

Maggie grinned at Shelby. "Good. You?"

"Okay. Glad it's Friday, though. I hate feeling so closed in. Wouldn't be so bad if we had windows."

"I hear you! See ya later."

Shelby grinned, knowing that was unlikely. "Yeah, right."

Over ten hours later, Shelby brushed a lock of blond hair from her brow as tired green eyes studied the computer printouts spread across her desk and the list of names she had jotted onto a tablet. She had uncovered a very disturbing pattern in a worldwide rash of assassinations of high government officials. Her normal optimism faded at the implications of the tentative connection between the killings.

It was the third time she had come up with exactly the same results. None of the names could be ruled out. Every operative on the list could have traveled the distance required to have been on location at the time of each assassination. Atlas, Astera, Blue, Celt, Dragon...she looked at the twenty-seven names until the print became blurred and the code names were burned into her memory.

Shaking her head to clear it, the young woman stood up, and stretched to work the kinks out of her body. She picked up some change lying on the desk and walked through the doorway, smiling up at a Marine guard posted in the hall just outside of her office. His mouth turned up in a fleeting response before his official military face fell back into place. He had never been able to ignore her warm smile.

Shelby felt sorry for the tall man who towered over her own 5'5" by a good six inches. How boring to be required to stand outside a doorway for hours on end. She understood the necessity of the guard, but couldn't imagine ever being still or quiet for hour after hour. She walked to the vending machine, inserted eighty cents and plucked a can of cranberry juice from the tray before slowly meandering back to her desk.

Six months previously, Shelby had accepted a job as a psychological analyst for the Company. Her responsibility was to analyze information, look for patterns, and then render a psychological profile to be disseminated once an archetype was identified. In some ways her job was similar to that of FBI profilers, but Shelby's duties were wider ranging in scope. Her superiors quickly discovered she had an uncanny knack for spotting tiny clues frequently overlooked by her peers. Subsequently, she was assigned more divergent challenges and now worked on the Company's most sensitive cases.

Her thoughts turned back to the profile she had been developing. This was one time she sincerely wanted to be wrong. Shelby knew the only reason she'd found the pattern was because she'd been granted unlimited access to all of the Company's computers.

She hoped it was just a coincidence, but still wasn't looking forward to telling her boss what she'd uncovered. If the proximity of any of the field operatives was not happenstance, it meant one of three things, and Shelby was loath to speak any of them aloud.

Dennis McNabb watched one of his rising new stars walk into his office. He considered himself an expert on reading people, but she had surprised him the day he met her and continued to do so. She possessed maturity beyond her years, and he had been concerned when she uncharacteristically requested an urgent meeting. Despite the nature of her work, the normally laid back young woman had maintained a sunny demeanor and optimistic attitude since she had been assigned to his group of analysts. It puzzled him how she could remain so positive in this line of work and it was always a pleasure to meet with her.

His stomach sank as he saw the lines of worry etched across her face and the usual bounce missing from her step.

Keeping his expression neutral, he nodded. "Shelby." His concern did not preclude him from noticing, as he did every time he met with her, how refreshingly attractive she was. Her blond hair was cut in a very attractive shaggy style that accentuated the curves of her face and lent age to an otherwise youthful appearance. Bangs ended just above well-shaped eyebrows, and intelligent green eyes gazed out at the world.

Smiling, Shelby said, "Hi Dennis. Sorry to bother you on such short notice, but I think I found a pattern in those assassinations."

Dennis' thoughts were yanked back to the meeting at hand, and he riveted his eyes on the analyst. "And that would be?"

An hour later, after painstakingly reviewing her findings and being unable to fault her reasoning, he sat back in his chair and gazed at her. "What are your conclusions?"

Shelby met the brown eyes gazing at her and answered confidently. "If it's not just a bizarre coincidence, I'd say rogue, mole or double."

Dennis nodded. "I agree." He suddenly stood up and began pacing across the room. "Just what we need. Another scandal."

Tentatively, Shelby said, "Maybe not. If the investigation is small enough, word might not get out."

"There is always some disgruntled employee just waiting for something to run to the papers with. Each time you request information from someone, there will be that risk. And I need to assign an operative to work this case with you."

Dennis sat back down and sighed. "Field operatives hate this kind of work. They're used to working on their own and assigning them a desk job always causes a lot of friction. More than one of them has dropped a dime on us to the media to get out of an assignment like this. It could get ugly real fast."

"Why do I have to work with a field operative? Because I'm new?"

"That's only part of it. I'd probably assign one regardless. We've got to eliminate some of the names on your list. No one better than one of our own to determine what is and isn't possible in the field. What's feasible on paper isn't always, in reality."

At least he wasn't pulling her from the case. Shelby had been worried about that, and her mind worked quickly trying to come up with a solution that would prevent a public debacle. "Why not chose one of the operatives on that list? Can't very well run to the papers if they're under suspicion."

Dennis' eyes drilled into his subordinate's. "And what if they are guilty?"

"It's possible, but come on, Dennis. There are twenty-seven operatives that were within traveling distance of those assassinations. Twenty-seven to one are pretty good odds."

Leaning back in his chair, Dennis thought over his very limited options before nodding. "It would be a long shot."

"I'm willing to take the chance. We don't know for sure it's anyone on that list anyway."

Dennis was warming to the idea. If it were one of the Company's own, it would probably prevent a scandal and the likelihood of Shelby being paired with the killer was statistically small. "I'll talk to Jeb and get back to you. Now go on home. You've already been here twelve hours."

Shelby smiled, pleased. Jeb was short for James Evan Benton, the Director of Coordinated Operations. "Thanks, Dennis."