PART FIVE – THE SPY IN A TUX
At five o’clock that same afternoon, having found herself having to be inventive and dream up an excuse to give her mother, Amanda walks into a fancy dress party which Lee has completely neglected to tell her about!
As she takes in the scene before her, she comes to the conclusion that maybe it might be better if she just heads for the door and leaves. However, a rather determined coat lady stalls her actions and rather than tell the woman that she is actually leaving, Amanda allows her to take her coat away rather than create a fuss. For the time being at least it seems that she is stuck where she is – certainly until she has spoken to Lee. If she can find him that is. She tries to espy him amongst the crowd but to no avail.
Lee, however, has spotted Amanda. Decked out in a tux and well aware of just how good he looks, he has positioned himself on the stairs waiting for the moment when Amanda’s eyes find him. However, she doesn’t think to look in his direction so he is forced to gain her attention himself.
Amanda immediately responds to the call of her name, instinctively turning to look up to find Lee standing there.
He gives her just enough time to take in his appearance before coming to greet her properly. It is the last thing Amanda is expecting, of course: a handsome man in a tux, just radiating confidence and attractiveness, his eyes smiling down at her. It is a little overwhelming and she can’t help but hide the shy smile that crosses her lips as he reaches her.
“Hello, Mr Steton.”
“Lee,” he corrects her, doing away with any sort of formality.
He’s in full-on charm mode, presenting her with the confident and suave Scarecrow persona he wears so well. He is confident in this guise and the effect it can have – particularly on women. There is no hint of the desperate waiter or stroppy pirate of their previous encounters. In fact, he is completely relaxed and genial. Putting his arm loosely around her waist, much as he did at the train station, Lee leads her into the party, watching her with a smile as she takes it all in.
As Amanda pauses to take in the people gathered before her, Lee takes a moment to look at the woman beside him – so naturally pretty and normally attired. Compared to the women around them, she could not look more different nor more attractive.
“These people are your friends?” She can’t help but ask.
“Yes,” Lee nods.
As they walk further into the room, Amanda glances back over her shoulder, wondering, even now, whether she really wants to be there.
As at the train station, Lee cannot seem to resist wrapping his arm around Amanda’s waist to guide her through the milling crowds. It is as though he needs to have some sort of physical contact with her. In her turn, Amanda accepts the gesture without any degree of awkwardness. It’s almost as if he’s been putting his arm around her for years, so comfortable and natural is the giving and acceptance of the gesture.
When a woman approaches him, Lee is flattered enough to let his attention stray from Amanda for a moment, although she isn’t prepared to stand there watching him eye every woman in the room whilst blithely ignoring her!
“Excuse me!” Amanda’s sharp intonation has the effect of bringing Lee out of his ruminations about the brunette in the red dress who has just shown such a blatant interest in him. She’s certainly not about to be left standing there like a spare part. “I’m expecting a very important phone call, so could you just tell me whatever it is you had to tell me?” After all, he was the one who made such a point of her coming to meet him.
Again Lee reaches out to her, seeking to re-establish the physical connection between them.
No sooner are the words out of his mouth than they are interrupted again – this time by one Celeste van Kreswinkle, a statuesque blonde with bobble antennas on her head.
Her sultry “Hi, Lee. Wanna dance?” causes Amanda to grimace and cast Lee a quick “give me strength” look. It doesn’t appear to matter that she might be interrupting them, but there again perhaps this is the way the women in Lee’s life behave – blatantly vying for his attention. Lee is all charm and civility, although he does have the good sense to decline Celeste’s offer. After all, he’s already had Amanda abandon him abruptly at Moby’s Dock so he’s not about to risk that happening again. Instead he makes a point of introducing Amanda, who manages to force a smile and say hello. Celeste, having done a critical scan of Amanda (no doubt to see whether she is any sort of competition worth worrying about) promptly proceeds to take a stab at what she’s wearing.
It’s not exactly what Amanda wants to hear. After all, she wouldn’t have dressed in normal clothes if Lee had actually told her they were going to a party. The awkwardness of the situation is not lost on Lee and he quickly takes the chivalrous route (even though he is actually responsible for Amanda feeling awkward) to avoid any further interaction and potential discomfort between the two women.
“Would you like to dance?”
“Yes.” Amanda doesn’t hesitate, grateful for the excuse to extract herself from Celeste.
And so dance they do. There on the dance floor Lee Stetson draws Amanda King towards him, appreciating not only the fact that he has a beautiful woman in his arms, but also how good it feels. From the moment they start to dance, his eyes are focussed solely upon her. It’s as though Amanda is the only woman in the room and although she returns his look with a shy smile, she cannot help but feel a little overwhelmed by the sheer nearness of him. As he leads her through the dance, he holds her very closely, effectively sweeping her along in the moment with him.
Amanda’s smile is radiant as they move to the music. It is all so unexpected. She would never have guessed that this was what her afternoon would be like: dancing in the arms of a suave and charming stranger.
For Lee their dance offers a interlude to let everything fade away. It is a moment of perfect peace as he lays his cheek against Amanda’s. On some unconscious level it seems that they find a connection with the other, although it isn’t realised or acknowledged.
Not that the contented silence between them lasts for long. Amanda, perhaps seeking to deflect her attention from Lee’s nearness, pulls slightly away from him to ask how on earth he managed to find her.
Amanda laughs at the casualness of his reply – which tells her absolutely nothing at all. “I thought only Nazis and spies said that,” she says.
Lee’s response, however, is definitely not what she is expecting. “Well, I’m not a Nazi.”
Does that mean what she thinks it does?
Lee’s revelation has the effect of pouring ice cold water on the moment, effectively catapulting Amanda into completely unchartered territory. Suddenly everything has taken a rather unexpected turn and she is struggling to keep up.
“Actually we don’t say “spy”, Lee replies.
That hardly helps. Surely a spy is a spy? Mind you, the thought has already crossed Amanda’s mind that he might be a gangster. Her admission causes Lee to give a little laugh of amusement, although you have to wonder how many women he has told about this particular part of his life. In telling Amanda who he really is he cuts straight to the very heart of the world that has helped shape him over the years: a world where secrets are the norm and walking into dangerous situations is an everyday occurrence. It is also the moment when he allows Amanda to walk further into his professional and personal life without even realising it, something that, unbeknownst to him, began at the train station when he gave her the package.
A lot of his lack of reticence is fuelled by the necessity to help Amanda understand the situation and the possibility of danger, of course. How else can he explain his obsession with getting the package back? He knows that he needs to tread carefully and measure his words – after all, the last thing he wants to do is to scare her witless.
And then there’s the issue of secrecy…
He is asking her to keep secrets (secrets he shares) in order to keep her family safe – something she is already doing to some extent by having to fabricate the story of being a member of a Clam Club.
“Boyfriend,” Amanda corrects Lee in response to his assumption of her marital status, although elaborates no further. There is, after all, no need to bring Dean into any of this. If he was her husband it might be different, but he’s not. At this point in time, whether she is married or not is pretty irrelevant to Lee. His focus is the package. He’s not expecting to see her again once she’s handed it over, despite enjoying their little turn on the dance floor.
Lee telling her that if her family don’t know anything then they can’t be targets doesn’t really answer the question that immediately springs to Amanda’s mind, however.
He’s not going to answer that and tries to distract Amanda with the offer of more champagne. After all, how can he tell her that she may already be a target to the people who are after the package? She’s just a suburban mother who has no notion of the sort of people he has to deal with on a daily basis. Amanda is left to draw her own conclusion – and it’s not a very comforting one!
However, she does have a confession of her own to make about the package Lee wants so badly and it is about to send their whole evening into orbit…