CAT AND MOUSE image created by Jordan McKenzie

CAT AND MOUSE

by Maggie LeMay

 

A/N: Were it not for much help and support from Jordan, Sarah and Hilke, this story would never have been written. Thanks, y’all! This story is ATF AU. Word Count 6,902.

 

 

 

"Who in the hell do you think you are, Vin Tanner! Ordering me to stand down like a green recruit? Screw you, pal!"

The angry brunette punctuated her sentiment with a kick to the sharpshooter's chair, knocking the front legs back down to the floor.

Gray eyes snapped with fury as she leaned close to the agent. "I had that shot and you know it, Vin. Why'd you make that call?"

An unnatural calm fell over the room as the other members of Team Seven waited for Tanner's reply.

"I knew you had the shot, and waited for you to take it." The soft Texas drawl had an edge to it. "But I never made that call. Larkin did."

Cat Simpson rose to her full five feet nine inches and looked at the smirking FBI agent. Brushing her hair over her shoulder, she walked toward him. A left hook landed the startled man on his ass, just outside the door to the bullpen.

Working his jaw, Larkin finally found his voice. "You work for me, Agent Simpson. Deal with it."

The livid female stood over her fallen superior.

"Larkin," she began. "If my choices were to work for you or the devil, I'd saddle a thunderbolt and ride straight to hell."

Picking himself up off the floor, Senior Agent Larkin pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the blood from his busted lip.

 

"Then I suggest you saddle up, Miss Simpson, because you're fired."

 

In his haste to leave, Larkin didn't pay attention to where he was going and slammed into Ezra. Not stopping to apologize, the Federal agent continued his hasty exit.

 

"Uncouth bastard." Standish commented as he entered the bullpen. "Ah, Miss Simpson. Still bucking authority I see." The undercover agent tipped an imaginary hat brim before settling at his desk.

 

Buck snorted a laugh before adding, "More like fucking up authority." The comment earned a glare from Cat and from Chris who had joined the woman beside Josiah's desk.

 

"Tanner, you and Simpson, in my office. Now." Larabee's tone left no room for discussion. "Standish, haul your ass in here, too."

 

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

 

"....you two have a history." Ezra overheard the last of Chris' statement as he walked in.

 

"History, hell." Cat snarled. "The only history we have is the number of times I handed him his ass at the firing range."

 

The corner's of Larabee's mouth quirked upward slightly at this, but Ezra wore a full-blown grin. Taking a seat on the other side of Simpson, he waited patiently for Chris to take control of the conversation.

 

"Okay, here's the deal. I need two agents to pose as a married couple." The leader of Team Seven steepled his fingers and looked at the three agents in front of him. "I can't send the two of you undercover," he nodded at Vin and Cat, "because the paperwork I'd have after you killed each other would be a bitch."

 

Cat smirked at the blond. "Then why don't you send these two pretty things in?"

 

"Damnit, Cat! You and that smart mouth!" Vin exploded. "One of these days..."

 

Leaning over and running her fingertips down his cheek, she cooed, "One of these days, what, Tanner? Think you can shut me up?"

 

Vin seethed in silence as Ezra fought valiantly to keep from laughing out loud. A glare from Larabee quelled that urge for the moment.

 

And then it dawned on him.

 

Mister Larabee, surely you do not intend for me to go undercover with Miss Simpson?" Ezra pleaded. "Why the very thought-"

 

The female agent whirled in her chair and narrowed her eyes at Standish.

 

"Just what are you implying, Standish?" Cat questioned.

 

Pasting on his best poker face, Ezra smiled at the woman.

 

"My dear, I am not implying anything. I am merely attempting to convey my concerns about the probability of anyone believing the sincerity of our connubial bliss."

 

Chris slammed his fist on the desk. "Damn it, Ezra!" He shouted. "Can't you ever just accept an assignment without trying to weasel your way out of it?"

 

"Weasel, Mr. Larabee?" Standish still had his poker face in place, but the accusation stung nonetheless. "I make an observation about something that could go wrong with the mission, and I'm trying to, in your succinct summation, weasel out of the assignment?" The undercover agent stood and walked to the door. "Thank you, Sir, for the confidence you appear to have in my character."

 

"Ezra," Chris sighed wearily. "Sit down. The Director is riding Travis on this one, and we all know shit rolls downhill."

 

Standish eyed the man behind the desk for a few seconds, as if trying to decide whether to do as he said or leave. He chose the former.

 

Larabee rubbed the back of his neck, grimacing when he felt the tension knotted there, then laid a packet in front of both Ezra and Cat. Ezra picked his up and opened it, but Cat stared at the envelope as if it might surely rise up and bite her.

 

"Everything you need is in there: back stories on your new identities, credit and identification cards, hotel reservations and plane tickets to Boston." Ezra raised an eyebrow, but Chris cut him off. "First class, of course." A satisfied grin settled on the undercover agent's lips. Shaking his head, Chris continued.

 

"You are now Edward and Alexandra Spencer, newlyweds. Sit down, Cat." He waited for the woman to lower herself back into her chair, then went on. "Edward, you come from old money, and you married Alexandra to consolidate your family fortune with hers."

 

"And now I suppose you are going to reveal our mission, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra questioned. "Or are we simply going to enjoy a respite from this place on the government's dime?"

 

"Patience, Ez." Vin drawled. "Cowboy's gettin' to the good part." The sharpshooter winked at Cat, who opened her mouth for a retort, but thought better after looking toward Larabee.

 

Chris tossed a surveillance photo across the desk. "This is Werner Richter, international financier and all around piece of garbage."

 

The three men gathered in the office didn't notice the tightening of Simpson's lips at the denouncement of the man.

 

"Illegal arms sales, drugs, prostitution, - you name it and Richter's got his fingers in it." Chris leaned back in his chair. "Your job is to get close to him and gather as much information as you can about his activities."

 

Ezra leaned forward and picked up the photo. The leader of Team Seven could see the wheels turning in Standish's head, and said as much.

 

"What?" Ezra looked up from the picture in his hand. "It may be nothing, but I had the pleasure, if one could call it that, of dealing with Mister Richter's offspring while with the FBI. Nasty piece of work, and I have the scar to prove it." The undercover agent frowned as the memory of his dealings with Stefan Richter came back to him.

 

Now it was Larabee's turn to furrow his brow. "Any chance Daddy would recognize you, Ez?"

 

Standish shook his head. "Thankfully I only had to deal with Junior, as I hear he pales in comparison to his sire.”

 

"Hell of a time to mention this." Chris leaned back in his chair.

 

"You only divulged the particulars of the assignment five minutes ago, Mr. Larabee." Ezra replied. "I am many things, but I am not in possession of physic abilities."

 

Pushing another envelope across his desk, Larabee stood and walked to the window. "Those are your tickets. You two will arrive at Logan and be taken straight to the hotel."

 

"Not a Motel 6, I would venture to hope." Standish commented dryly.

 

If it was possible for a human's blood to boil in their veins, Chris Larabee was certain that his was about to bubble the lid right off.

 

"You're staying at the Four Seasons." He answered tiredly. "But lay off room service and the honor bar, got it?"

 

Ezra gathered the materials in front of him and gave Cat a baleful look.

 

"No macadamias for you, my darling bride."

 

"Up yours, buddy." And she stormed out of the office. With a shake of his head, Ezra followed her.

 

Vin propped his feet on the corner of Chris' desk, ignoring the glare from the man behind it.

 

"Fifty bucks says they don't make it to Chicago before Ez tries to throw her out of the plane."

 

Larabee grinned. "I'll take that bet, pard."

 

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

 

The flight from Denver to Boston was mercifully short, and the four most boring hours of Ezra's life. Cat ignored him for the most part, unless it was to glare at him for some reason or other. As they left the plane, Standish noted the stretch limo parked on the edge of the runway. Dare he hope?

 

A liveried driver stepped forward and greeted them. "Mr. and Mrs. Spencer?" At the affirmative nod from Ezra, he took Cat's carryon and swept his hand toward the automobile. "Right this way, please."

 

The couple checked into the Four Seasons and with a bit of charm on the part of Ezra were upgraded to the Presidential Suite.

 

The bellhop loaded their luggage onto a cart and wheeled it ahead to the elevator. Cat grinned as she noticed that Ezra had brought more suitcases than her, but kept silent on the ride up to the twenty-fifth floor.

 

After tipping the young man, Standish opened one of his cases and withdrew a shaving kit. He looked longingly toward the bathroom, noting that Cat was wearing much the same look. An evil glint in his green eyes, he vaulted over the couch sliding inside the door a mere second before Simpson.

 

The irate female slapped the door in frustration before letting loose a blistering tirade which not only made the Southerner grin, but left no doubt as to her opinion of him, his heritage, and his manhood.

 

Cat busied herself unpacking her suitcase in her new 'home'. How she hated hotels, but at least this one was nicely appointed. Damn, she thought, I've been around Standish so long I'm starting to sound like him. A flash of something in her peripheral vision caused her to turn toward the bathroom.

 

The sight that greeted her seemed to rob her of all coherent thought. Ezra was coming out of the steam-filled room clad in only a towel slung low on his hips. In her wildest dreams she would never have thought that underneath the Armani suits lurked a body like this. His chest was broad, but not overly so. The puckered white scar on his left pec did little to detract from the skin beneath it. Washboard abs brought a silent gasp to her lips as did the slender hips which gave way to well-muscled thighs, and damn it to hell, even his feet were pretty.

 

"Manners, Miss Simpson." Ezra smirked.

 

"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about, Standish." Cat sniffed haughtily. "I was merely observing your scar. Is that the one you were referring to in Larabee's office?"

 

The undercover agent ran a finger over the scar. Funny, he thought, the worst reaction to it had actually been his own mother's. Not that she was overly concerned for the health of her only child. No, it had been more that she was worried that he would never find a suitable wife not that he was 'damaged', as she so thoughtfully phrased it.

 

"Well?" Cat's irritated voice brought him back to the present.

 

Ezra cleared his throat. "Yes, this would be my permanent reminder of my dealings with young Mr. Richter. It would seem that he was under the impression that I was a bit too charming for his female companion at the time. So he decided to 'fuck up the pretty boy'. His words, not mine."

 

Turning to open the closet door, Ezra missed the look that flitted across Cat's face at his words. A mixture of hatred and hurt, it was gone as quickly as it had arrived. Standing, she picked up her cosmetic bag and marched over to the bathroom.

 

"Don't forget, Alexandra, dear, time is of the essence." Ezra called to her. "We have reservations at seven o'clock sharp." Pulling the shirt onto his arm, he favored her with his most brilliant smile. "It's time for the upper echelon of Boston to meet Mr. and Mrs. Edward Spencer."

 

He couldn't quite make out her reply, but it sounded suspiciously like "go to hell, Edward" before she slammed the door.

 

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

 

 "Somethin' ain't right about her, Chris." Vin leaned on the corner of Larabee's desk, blue eyes clouded with worry.

 

 "I thought you knew her, Cowboy."

 

"I do, but not that well. I know she's damn good with a gun, but that's really about it."

 

"And you let me send her undercover with Ezra?" Larabee bellowed. "JD!"

 

 "Already got the kid checkin' on her, pard." Vin said quietly. "She's supposed to be one of the good guys, Chris"

 

"Even the good guys go bad sometimes." The blond replied.

 

"When we get Ezra out of there, I'll let him deal with her."

 

"Aw, hell, Chris. He'll kill her."

 

Dunne chose the moment to enter Chris' office, a stack of papers in hand.

 

"What'd you find out, JD?"

 

 "You ain't gonna like this, Chris."

 

"I don’t like a lot of things JD."

 

"Then this is gonna make you madder'n hell."

 

"Spit it out, kid." Vin reached for the papers JD held.

 

"It seems that Cat was involved with Richter's son--"

 

"FUCK!"

 

"Tell me you're making this up."

 

 "It's all right here. She was going by her full name back then and was working out of the Atlanta office."

 

 "How the fuck could we miss something like that?" Larabee slammed the drawer he'd opened earlier.

 

"We were looking for Cat Simpson, not Caterina Steiner." JD explained.

 

"So, what, she's setting him up?  Setting us up?"

 

"That's what it looks like." The computer expert responded grimly.

 

 "Fuck." Wilmington spat the word as he entered and heard the comment from Tanner.

 

 "He already said that, Buck." JD was rewarded with a smack to the head for his remark.

 

"Someone call Ezra, NOW!" Chris yelled.

 

 "Just did." Josiah replied. "No answer, straight to voicemail."

 

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

 

They were seated immediately upon arrival at Locke-Ober, the manager attending to them personally. Noticing the grim look on Cat's face, Ezra leaned in close and reminded her that they were supposed to be newlyweds. A hand on his thigh was her only response.

 

Ezra cleared his throat and attempted to ignore the gesture, but she was determined to punish him for the lecture he had given her in the hotel suite before they left for dinner.

 

A slight tremble of the leather-bound menu was the only sign that Ezra was close to losing his composure.

 

"Cat," he groaned quietly. "You must surely be intent on shortening my days upon this earth."

 

With a cunning smile, she ghosted her fingers across the closure to his trousers, reveling in the jump she felt beneath the expensive fabric.

 

The waiter chose that exact moment to return to their table, and stood patiently as he waited for the couple to give him their selections.

 

"Darling," Cat said, a pout on her full lips. "Why don't we start with dessert. I'm in the mood for something hot and creamy."

 

Standish bit back a moan and smile weakly at the young man standing beside the table. Insistent fingers tugged at the zipper of his pants, and Ezra shifted in the chair to try and dissuade her from her intent.

 

"Dear," He hissed. "I don't think now is the time for such a treat."

 

When her hand slipped inside and grasped his manhood, Ezra was lost to all reason. He closed his eyes and tried to remember that they were on a mission. But when her cool fingers wrapped around him and began to slide up and down, he was almost unable to remember his own name.

 

"Cat," he pleaded, “if you do not stop what you are doing right now...."

 

Leaning closer, she nipped his earlobe and whispered, "But we're newlyweds, remember? I'm just showing you how happy I am to be Mrs. Edward Spencer." She ran her tongue over her bottom lip as she gently squeezed his member.

 

The corners of Ezra's mouth quirked as he thought what a disaster this situation could be had Chris sent Buck in his place. Trying to get his body under control, he laughed to himself as he pictured the ladies' man clearing the table and throwing Cat up on it.

 

And the subsequent trip to the emergency room for Wilmington after the woman shot him.

 

Drawing in a deep breath, he reached under the table and disengaged Cat's hand from its current position. Able to concentrate on the menu in front of him once more, he studied it intently and waited for the tirade he was certain would be next.

 

But Simpson didn't explode, not at all. Rather, she looked like a child who had just lost its favorite toy. Was she? Ezra smiled. Yes, she was pouting.

 

Giving the waiter their orders, Ezra added a request for a double scotch, neat. A commotion at the front of the restaurant caught his eye, and when he turned around it was just in time to see Werner Richter and his entourage enter.

 

"Well, Alexandra, it looks as if we won't have to search for our prey." At her look of confusion, he discreetly indicated the gentleman passing their table. "It would seem that he has found us."

 

Ezra was unaware of the shade of pale his 'bride' turned as Richter walked past. But the distinguished gentleman in question took note of her and stopped, extending a hand to 'Edward'.

 

"Good evening." He said, with a trace of an accent that Ezra couldn't quite place. "I am Werner Richter. Welcome to my restaurant. My maitre'd tells me that you are newlyweds. Please, allow me to congratulate the two of you, Mr...?"

 

Standish pushed back his chair and took the extended hand. "Spencer. Edward and Alexandra Spencer."

 

Richter gripped the undercover agent's hand tightly, but his gaze had moved to study Cat with interest.

 

"Pardon my forwardness, Mrs. Spencer," he smiled “but I cannot help but think we've met before?"

 

Lowering her eyes, Cat blushed furiously before answering in a small voice. "I don't believe so, Herr Richter."

 

"Pardon my mistake." He responded with a smile which didn't quite make his eyes before focusing on Ezra once more.

 

"May I call you Edward?" At Ezra's nod, he continued. "Edward, you and your lovely wife must join me at my home later for drinks."

 

Icy fingers teased the back of Ezra's neck at the tone of the invitation. Looking to Cat, he replied, "We'd be honored, Mr. Richter."

The businessman laughed heartily. "Please, call me Werner. Mr. Richter makes me feel old!" Clapping Ezra on the back, he nodded to Cat before moving away from their table.

 

Standish leaned over to Cat and whispered, "You will pardon me, my dear. I must go report our good fortune to Mr. Larabee. I'll only be a moment, so try not to miss me too terribly." Keeping up the appearance of newlyweds, he rubbed his thumb across her lips, and immediately regretted the action. Simpson bit him.

 

Drawing back the wounded digit, he cursed under his breath before taking leave of the incensed woman beside him. A quick call to Larabee, which ended with a warning from Chris to keep his guard up, and they were on their way to Richter's estate.

 

 

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

 

Chris started around his desk, truck keys and cell phone in hand when the phone on his desk began to ring. He placed the phone to his ear, barked a greeting then listened intently. Larabee slammed the receiver back in the cradle.

 

“Damn it to hell! Grab your shit, we're on the next flight to Boston."  He shouted. “That was Ezra. They’re on their way to Richter’s mansion right now.”

 

"Maude's in town."

 

"What the hell does that have to do with anything, JD?"

 

"Nothing. 'Cept she's got that private jet of hers with her. That's all."

 

"Maude has a plane?" Buck muttered. "I figured she rode a broom."

 

 "I know I'm gonna regret this... someone call Maude.  And be... nice."

 

All of the men gathered in Chris' office looked toward the profiler.

 

 Josiah held up his hands. "Now wait a minute, fellas."

 

"She likes you preacher... she barely tolerates us." Chris picked up the phone and tossed it to Sanchez.  "Do it. You'll put a better spin on the situation than any of us will."

 

Vin swore. "Hell, how do you spin, 'we didn't cover your son's back and he's flappin in the breeze... can we borrow your jet?'"

 

"SOMEBODY CALL MAUDE!" Chris shouted.

 

 Five hands reached for the phone at the same time.

 

"Buck, damn  it!"

 

"JD, give me the phone."

 

"Hell, Vin, don't you ever file your fingernails?"

 

 "Nathan, get some bandages."

 

The roar started low and ended with "GIVE ME THE DAMN PHONE!"

 

 Buck slammed Chris' stapler down on Vin's fingers in his rush to get away from the large man.

 

 As Josiah dialed the digits, he smiled at the others. "Thank you."

 

After explaining the situation to Maude no less than three times, Josiah dropped the receiver back into the cradle.

 

"Let's ride."

 

"She's really gonna let us use her jet?" JD asked in disbelief.

 

Sanchez nodded gravely. "There's just one thing."

 

 "What?" Chris ground out. "She wants something in return, right?"

 

Buck grinned at Larabee. "Is a pig's ass pork?"

 

"She's going along. Gonna fly the damn thing herself."

 

"Aw, hell."

 

"Let me get this straight.... Maude can pilot a jet?" Vin asked, grinning at Josiah's affirmative nod.

 

"So she says. Something about her second or third husband being a pilot and insisting she learn, I think." The profiler stated. "Or was it her sixth or seventh?"

 

"If she flies like Ez drives, we'll be lucky to make it out of Denver alive."

 

"That just doesn't sound like the safest thing to me... Maude flying the plane." Nathan added.

 

"If she can get us to Boston, I'd ride on her back."

 

"That's just wrong, Buck." JD replied, shaking his head.

 

As the members of Team Seven left their office, heading for the elevator, anyone unlucky enough to be in the hallway gave them a wide berth. Piling into Chris' truck, the smell of burnt rubber permeated the air as they exited the underground garage, headed for the private hangar which held Maude's plane.

 

In a trip just shy of breaking every traffic record on the books Chris made record time getting to the airport. Maude would be furious when she discovered they'd left without her, but the team would help Ezra deal with her later; after they got him back safe and sound.

 

Mr. Larabee?" A pretty blonde smiled at Chris. "Mrs. Standish-Quinn would like to speak with you." She handed Team Seven's leader a cell phone. Chris put the phone to his ear and immediately pulled it away.

 

"Chris Larabee, I am on my way. Don't you even think about taking my plane without me. I'll fly the damn thing myself."

 

"Mrs. Quinn, we need to get to Boston. Now." Chris said in a tight voice.

 

“It’s Standish-Quinn and you know it. Now, Ezra is my son and I will not have you going off to save him in my plane without me!" Maude's voice rose to near ear-piercing levels. "I'll be there in thirty minutes, just you wait!"

 

Larabee smirked at the phone. "Fine, Maude. We'll wait." Disconnecting the call, he handed the phone back to the attendant.

 

 "Please tell the pilot that we're ready for takeoff. Mrs. Standish-Quinn has been unavoidably detained and will be taking a later flight." Larabee wore his most charming smile.

 

A white knuckle grip on the armrest and the thinning of his lips were the only visible signs of Vin's discomfort during the flight. The Transderm Scop patch that Nathan had suggested helped with the nausea, but the rest couldn't be controlled with medication. Unless you counted a double whiskey as medication. And thankfully Chris did consider it as such and chose that moment to hand a glass to Tanner.

 

"Much obliged, pard." The sharpshooter turned the glass up and gulped the contents, feeling his nerves calm a bit as the fiery liquid slid down his throat. "Maude's got good taste in libations." Vin grinned at Larabee.

 

"Hell, Vin," Chris laughed, "you're starting to sound like him."

 

The Texan placed the glass on the table in front of him. "JD having any luck tracking Ez?"

 

Larabee turned and called to the young man. Dunne looked up from his laptop and shook his head. "Nothing yet, Chris. Wait!"

 

A ping! brought the occupants of the small aircraft to the seat of the computer expert.

 

"I got something here." JD said excitedly. "It's Ezra's phone, and the location is....Beacon Hill?"

 

At the look of confusion on the youngster's face, Buck questioned, "Why do you say it like that?"

 

"Because Beacon Hill is an exclusive area of Boston. We're talking million dollar mansions-exclusive, fellas."

 

"What's he doing in that area?" Chris muttered mainly to himself, then to the others, "Can you get a fix on his exact location, JD?"

 

"Hang on. Let me do....then this...almost...wait...got it!" Dunne bounced like a child waiting for his presents on Christmas morning. "He's at 112 Mt. Vernon Street!"

 

 

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

 

As the limo pulled in front of Richter's estate, Ezra frowned at Cat's reaction. Or lack of reaction. Before he could question her about this, the car slowed to a stop and one of Richter's servants opened the door. A hand appeared to assist Cat from the vehicle. But as Ezra exited, a blow to his midsection doubled the undercover agent over. Two sets of hands grabbed him and dragged him roughly inside the mansion.

 

One of Richter's goons jerked Ezra by his ears, forcing his head up. The sight that greeted him brought a sick feeling to the pit of his stomach. Cat was standing beside the business man, seemingly comfortable in his embrace. A cruel smile twisted the German's lips.

 

"Welcome to my home, Agent Standish."

 

Richter cupped Cat's cheek with his fingers. "Du hast deine Rolle gut gespielt, Kleiner." The light grip tightened slightly. "Und nun wirst du das Vergnügen haben, ihn sterben zu sehen."

 

A knee to the side of his head sent Ezra sprawling onto the marble floor. Before he could catch his breath, he was lifted and his head was unceremoniously dunked in the fountain that stood magnificently in the midst of the foyer.  Strong hands pulled him out of the water and he gasped for air. But his reprieve lasted only seconds before he was shoved back under the water, this time lasting a bit longer than the first. Brilliant flashes of light exploded behind his eyes before dark spots began to appear in front of them.

 

Rolling up his sleeve, Richter walked over and grasped a handful of Standish's hair, pulling him from the water.

 

"Verstehen Sie, warum ich dies tue, Agent Standish?"

 

Bleary eyes tried in vain to focus on the man holding his head up, but slid closed. A hard slap urged him to open them once more.

 

 "Wegen Ihnen verottet mein Sohn im Gefängnis, während Sie frei herumlaufen."

 

Ezra saw Richter's pupils dilate and tried to take a deep breath before his head was plunged in the fountain once more. He was jerked from the water, coughing and gagging. The sound of flesh striking flesh caused Cat to flinch and try to look away. But the man holding her used a handful of hair to keep her from doing so.

 

Several more punches landed on the Southerner's face and body, and his head was held under water for a bit longer than the previous times. Cat closed her eyes, unable to stand the scene in front of her.

 

 

The blows were intensified by the wetness of his skin, until Ezra began to feel nothing at all; his body going numb as he slipped into a state of semi-consciousness. But he was still able to hear the conversation between Richter and Cat. What he couldn't do was understand it.

 

If only Mother were here, he thought wryly. Her fourth, or was it her fifth, husband had been from the Fatherland and Maude had learned the language. Granted, her main focus had been on financial terminology, but she knew enough to carry on a heated discussion with her in-laws on occasion.

 

Focus, Ezra, focus. He listened intently to Cat and Richter. Anger coursed through him at the next words out of Cat's mouth.

 

 "But Herr Richter, I tried to save Stefan! You must believe me!" Cat said, her voice frantic. "It was too late and he was exposed before I could cover up his involvement."

 

She knew Richter, and his son.

 

"Du kennst meine Toleranz für Fehler, Caterina." Richter said ominously. "Und du kennst auch die Konsequenzen."

 

Failure? What was the man talking about? Had this whole thing been a setup? Thinking back to the restaurant, he recalled how flustered Cat had been when Richter showed up at their table. And he'd thought the woman was virtually unflappable. Consequences. His heart sank at the word.

 

Think, Standish. Not that he could mount a defense in his current state. His only hope was that Simpson would come to her senses and save their collective skins. And that hope was paper-thin at best.

 

"Diese Spiel wird langsam langweilig, töte ihn."

 

"Und werdet sie los."

 

He didn't know what Werner said next, but the man's tone of voice left no doubt that things were not going to end well for Ezra and Cat. Lowering his eyelids, the Southerner bit back a groan as something landed hard beside him, jarring his aching body. Inhaling, he knew it was Cat without opening his eyes. He could smell her perfume. And her fear.

  

"Achtung!"

 

Cat's eyes flew open at the command. Ezra lay in a heap at Richter's feet, not moving. A gasp escaped the woman's lips and was greeted with a sneer from the businessman. A nod to the man holding her, and she was shoved forward into Richter's arms.

 

"He took Stefan from us, Caterina." Werner hissed. "And for that he will pay." Cat closed her eyes again, but the backhanded blow she received brought her attention to the man holding her. "You're not innocent in what happened to my son, either, my dear. Retribution must be made."

 

 "But Herr Richter, I tried to save Stefan! You must believe me!" Cat said, her voice frantic. "It was too late and he was exposed before I could cover up his involvement."

 

Simpson gave a cry of pain as Richter caught her arms in a bruising grip. "You were to use your connections with the FBI to make sure that my son was never implicated, and you failed." Twisting her toward Ezra, he growled. "And that animal was able to gather enough evidence to put my precious child away for the rest of his natural life." Released from his grip suddenly, Cat wasn't able to get her balance. Her temple met the marble fountain, stunning her, and she landed beside the fallen ATF agent.

 

"Du kennst meine Toleranz für Fehler, Caterina." Richter said. "Und du kennst auch die Konsequenzen."

 

Glassy gray eyes widened as she understood the meaning of his words.

 

"Diese Spiel wird langsam langweilig, töte ihn." Werner looked at Cat as if she were something he would scrape off the bottom of his shoe. "Und werdet sie los."

 

The command given by Werner sent chills down Cat's spine. She knew she had to do something, or she and Ezra wouldn't live to see midnight.


Reaching for the .38 strapped to her ankle, she was surprised to feel a hand cover hers. And even more surprised to see the agent's green eyes open slightly and look up at her. Wait, she read in his gaze.

 

7 7 7 7 7 7 7

 

The members of Team Seven disembarked from the Cessna and hit the ground running. The rental Chris had arranged for was waiting on the tarmac and as soon as they were loaded, doors slammed shut and Vin screeched out of the airport entrance eliciting several epithets from his passengers.

 

"That light was yellow, Vin!" JD hollered. "And that was one red!"

 

Tanner grinned at the excited youngster in the back of the vehicle. "Glad you know your primary colors, kid."

 

Wilmington held tight to the door handle to keep from smashing Dunne between him and Josiah as the Tahoe roared through the near-deserted streets of Boston.

 

As he balanced his laptop precariously, JD continued to monitor the signal of Ezra's cell phone. The purple dot began to blink rapidly as they turned onto Mt. Vernon Street, and the computer expert instructed Vin to turn left at the next driveway.

 

"Gates." Chris commented.

 

"Open." Vin smiled.

 

Tanner slowed to a crawl as they approached the estate. There were several metallic clicks as the men made sure they were ready for whatever they might encounter when they arrived at Richter's mansion.

 

"That's got to be Ezra's." Buck commented dryly at the sight of the stretch limo parked behind the Mercedes, which JD had identified as belonging to Richter, at the bottom of the steps. The mustached agent leaned up and tapped Larabee on the shoulder. "What's our plan, pard?"

 

Chris surveyed the landscape in front of them. "Richter is known to travel light, so his goons must be inside with him. Vin'll pick the lock and we'll join the party."

 

The agents exited the SUV, then silently made their way up the steps. Vin knelt at the door and took a small leather case from his jacket. After he selected the proper tools, he began to work on the lock.

 

Josiah shifted his weight from one foot to the other, waiting as Vin worked his magic.

 

"It's an art, Preacher." Tanner whispered, as he continued to manipulate the tumblers. "And like you say, patience is a virtue."

 

The sharpshooter jumped back as Josiah's boot splintered the door beside his head.

 

"Sometimes virtues are overrated, son." Sanchez called as they entered the house.

 

Chris and Vin handled Richter's associates while Josiah and Nathan headed for the fountain and Ezra. JD kept a gun trained on Cat although she appeared to be unconscious.

 

"Get 'em up, Richter." Buck called to the man standing in the doorway behind Cat.

 

"Get 'em up?" Richter mocked. "You sound like a bad Western, my friend." He walked closer to the woman laying on the floor. "Who are you, John Wayne? Aren't you supposed to call me pilgrim now?" A sarcastic bark of laughter followed as Richter stood staring at Wilmington.

 

Buck made long strides across the marble floor, his pistol aimed at Richter. The German sneered at the agent, whom he considered to be an inferior being. Narrowing his eyes, Wilmington squeezed the trigger. Werner gaped down at the hole in his chest then crumpled to the floor.

 

Ezra tried to pull away as a pair of hands turned him over. His efforts stilled at the sound of a gunshot and he waited for the searing pain he knew would follow. But it never came. Instead, he heard Josiah's baritone close to his ear.

 

"You all right, son?"

 

The profiler gently eased him into a semi-reclining position as Nathan knelt beside them, studying the mottled bruises on Standish's face.

 

The Southerner winced and tried to wink with an eye that was almost swollen shut.

 

"Never better in my life, Mr. Sanchez." Ezra quipped with a hint of sarcasm as he fought a hacking cough that stole his breath.

 

"No, that's good, Ezra," Jackson commented, "need to get all that water out of your lungs so pneumonia don't set in."

 

As the harsh cough subsided, the undercover agent wiped his eyes and looked around the foyer. Richter was on the floor, a pool of blood widening around him and Buck stood nearby holstering his weapon.

 

"Sometimes nothing conveys your heartfelt sentiments quite like a good ol' fuck you!" Buck hollered as he stood over the lifeless body of Richter.

 

"You have the soul of a poet, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra grinned from his position on the floor.

 

"Damn straight." The ladies' man wore a huge smile. "You gonna be alright, pard?"

 

"I shall be right as rain, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra groaned as Josiah and Nathan helped him to his feet. "That is I shall be all right as soon as Miss Simpson admits her duplicity." The agent looked down at the sodden mess that was once a designer original. "And reimburses me for my suit." Chris' angry voice reached the four men. "But for now I would like to participate in Mr. Larabee's interrogation."

 

"We were lured here under false pretenses." Cat stated. Chris made a sound of disgust, then turned to see Ezra standing between Sanchez and Jackson. A ghost of a smile crossed his face at the sight of Standish upright and moving mostly under his own strength. But it was fleeting as he turned back to the woman in front of him.

 

"Cut the crap, lady. You were working for Richter the whole time."

 

Cat shook her head. "No, you don't understand. I had no idea-"

 

Larabee leaned down until his face was even with Simpson's and growled, "Let me guess, they were going to kill your mother or your sister or hell, your little dog Toto if you didn't set Ezra up, right?"

 

She lowered her head, her hair falling down to cover her face. "No."

 

"No?" Chris repeated. "Then what did he have on you to make you turn on your fellow agent, huh?"

 

Her reply didn't quite reach Chris' ears.

 

"What? He was going to what?" Larabee asked impatiently.

 

Wet gray eyes looked at the man standing over her.

 

"He was going to kill me." She said softly.

 

The blond rubbed his hand down his face and sighed.

 

"I do believe Miss Simpson is being quite truthful, Chris." Ezra settled gingerly on the chair beside Cat. "Let us not forget that I have personally been witness to Mr. Richter's particular brand of, hospitality, shall we say? Not a pleasant experience."

 

"But she almost got you killed, Ezra." JD protested.

 

Standish held up a hand. "I am well aware of that, Mr. Dunne." The undercover agent smiled at the youngster, remembering his split lip a second too late. "But I am also aware that Richter could be very persuasive and exceedingly malicious when crossed."

 

"You're taking up for her, Ez?" Buck said, his voice rising in disbelief. "She damn near ended you!"

 

Ezra shrugged. "I am not saying she's innocent, merely that we are all guilty of some degree of self preservation at some point in our lives."

 

Vin shook his head. "Leave it to you to justify almost getting yer ass killed, pard."

 

"Get up." Larabee spoke to Cat. "Let's go."

 

Cat looked at the blond man then over to Standish. "What happens now?"

 

"Now we haul your sorry hide back to Denver and let Travis deal with you." Chris grinned cruelly. "Unless you'd rather we hand you over to Larkin."

 

Simpson turned the air blue with her opinion of  Larkin and then Larabee for suggesting she be placed in the custody of her former boss. "I'll take my chances with Travis. I hear he's a fair man."

 

"Fairly good at handling creatures like you." Ezra quipped as he stood. "Oh, and I do hope you enjoyed your little peepshow at the hotel as I don't believe you will be viewing many male forms in the near future, naked or otherwise."

 

JD's mouth dropped open and Vin guffawed loudly. Chris shook his head. "I don't want to know."

 

"Hell, I do!" Buck waggled his eyebrows at Ezra and was met with a piercing green stare.

 

"A gentleman never tells, Mr. Wilmington." A wink accompanied the reply. "I do wonder, however, how you boys managed to get here so quickly. I only called Mr. Larabee a few hours ago. Surely you weren't able to procure a commercial flight in that short amount of time?"

 

Chris ducked his head and Buck and Vin whistled softly, not meeting Ezra's questioning gaze.

 

"Anyone?"

 

Josiah walked over and placed an arm cross Standish's shoulders. "Well, son, it's like this." He cleared his throat before going on. "There's this nice lady named Maude, and it seems she's in ownership of a certain aircraft..."

 

"Aw, hell." Ezra groaned. "You miscreants appropriated Mother's plane?!"

 

Receiving six nods of agreement, Standish groaned once more.

 

"Aw, hell."

 

The End

 

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