Rating: R (violence, language and sexual situations)
Summary: Adelle and Dominic are still in Paris to try and flush out an enemy of Adelle’s, among other things, but things have become somewhat more complex. Third in the Let’s Pretend series (second is Pretending to Pretend. Links to first two are below this summary. Link to the third is below the dedication.
Spoilers: Season 1 a tiny bit and 2 a little bit through episode 12. Set somewhere between 1.06 and 1.09.
Disclaimers: The toys are Joss Whedon’s. The idea is mine.
“Wake up, sleepyhead,” called a soft, feminine voice. “This is day one of my three bonus days and I intend to enjoy every minute of it.”
Giselle? Laurence Dominic opened his eyes, squinting against the bright sunlight streaming in the window. Giselle sat on the edge of the bed, wearing his white linen shirt and a sinful smile.
The headache slammed Dominic without warning. A harsh, nasal voice said, “He’s coming around, Thomas.”
“Let him,” said someone else, presumably Thomas. “I’d love an excuse to pound someone, drawing this shit detail, today of all days.”
Dominic realized he was on his back on a gurney of some sort. Am I in the hospital?
This doesn’t feel like a hospital. Orderlies don’t casually threaten to pound people. But, if not a hospital, then where? A flash of memory hit him broadside. Adelle yawning. Adelle falling backward. Where? Damn it, Dom! Where? The memory came again. A car? No, a cab. We were in a cab and I couldn’t lift my gun. I couldn’t protect her. So where the fuck am I now? And where’s Adelle?
Taking a deep breath, Dominic tried to clear his mind. He needed to think. Sooner or later these clowns are going to either move me to something without wheels or leave me someplace on this gurney. I need to be ready. Relaxing his body, steadying his breathing, concentrating on every movement, Dominic slowly clenched and unclenched the muscles of his arms. Then his legs.
“Are we supposed to just leave him in here?” said the nameless clown as they wheeled his gurney through a door.
“Yeah,” replied Thomas the clown.
“Shouldn’t we move him there and take this thing back?”
“Fuck that,” said Thomas the clown. “Let the med staff do it. I get paid to kick the shit out of people, not wheel empty carts around.”
Thomas the clown gets to go first. Dominic exploded off of the gurney. Thomas was down with a damaged knee before he could register shock and unconscious courtesy of Laurence’s elbow before he could scream in pain. Dominic shot the nameless clown in the right wrist with Thomas’ gun to disarm him and then the left ankle to slow him down. Unclipping Thomas’ keycard from his lapel, Dominic stood and shot both men who stormed into the room in the abdomen, target carefully selected to hurt like hell but not kill. He rounded out his spree by clipping Thomas the clown and the two newcomers in the calf for good measure. Collecting weapons and ammunition, Laurence tabled his plan to interrogate someone. There’s too much fucking noise in here. God, you’d think all four of them were dying.
Dominic poked his head out the door and saw no one. Taking a deep breath he slipped out, hugged the left hand side wall and proceeded left down a narrow, dimly lit corridor, heading back the way the gurney had come. He saw movement up ahead on the right. A woman held a rifle that looked too big for her, but Dominic had the feeling it wasn’t. He dropped to one knee and took his shot the instant she reappeared. Rolling to his right, Dominic jumped up the moment he hit the far wall and advanced at a dead run firing twice to mask the noise of his approach and make her wonder what in the hell he was doing. When she peeked around the corner again, Dominic was already there. The rifle went flying on impact. He pistol whipped her across the face and reached for the rifle. His left arm was yanked behind him with incredible force. Instantly on his feet, Dominic head butted a tall, solidly built woman, breaking her nose with a satisfying crunch. Left arm free but in incredible pain, Dominic raised his pistol to point at her bleeding face. “Where in the hell am I?” he demanded.
“You’re empty,” she said.
Dominic did a mental count. Damn. “More where that came from,” he muttered, tossing the pistol aside, blocking her lunge for the fallen rifle, wrenching his sore shoulder in the process, drawing a second pistol. Grabbing her by the hair, he yanked her around to face him, nearly losing concentration for a moment from the pain. Taking a breath, Dominic angled his body so he had a sightline to the woman on the floor. “Where am I?”
“Paris,” she said, slight smile and big attitude really starting to piss Dominic off.
“Where in Paris?” he demanded. Sighing, he considered strategies to speed up the disclosure of information. “Do you want it in the knee or ankle?” Eyes widening, she began to struggle. Shoulder on fire, Dominic chose knee. Dropping to a crouch beside her, he put the muzzle of the gun against her forehead. “Where?”
“The Paris Dollhouse you fucking lunatic,” she panted.
Didn’t see that coming. “Which way is Renee Deveroux’s office?”
He admired her effort at a nasty smile under extreme duress. “Your keycard won’t get you anywhere near there.”
“The Dollhouse itself then?”
Her chin jutted down the hall they were crouched in. “That way. Stairs are at the end of the hall. Up two flights.”
Dominic regarded the woman for a long moment. “You did better than all the rest of them combined. What’s your name?”
“I’ll mention it to Guy.”
Nodding slowly, she murmured, “Merci.”
After following Monique’s instructions at a jogging pace, Dominic slowly opened the door onto the main floor of the Paris Dollhouse and looked out on … pandemonium. There were people everywhere, talking, shouting, laughing. They’re having a party? Closing the door behind him, Dominic stared at the scene, rifle at his side, wondering what in the hell to do next.
Dominic brought the admired rifle to bear on a young woman, probably early twenties, five feet, six or seven inches tall. Training surging to the fore, Dominic noted many things about her in an instant—blonde, blue eyes, pale perfect skin, silver lace camisole, extremely short black skirt, impossibly high heels, hands raised, one of them holding a martini glass, amused smile.
“Not that the rest of the package isn’t,” she said.
“What’s going on here?” Dominic said, moving toward the woman slowly, forcing her to retreat to position them both behind a column and out of view of most of the open area.
“What’s that mean?”
“No clients. Just us. Partying however.” Smile sliding to a smirk she said, “I’m Alexandra, but everyone calls me Alpha.”
I’m talking to a freaking doll! Perfect! But, wait a minute. That makes no sense. She’s too … too … something … non-vapid? “Have you had a treatment, Alpha?” he asked.
“Right before the party,” she said. “I wanted to be my best.”
“Of course you did,” Dominic muttered, scanning the main room. “For whom?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” Alpha said, lowering her hands after taking a sip of her martini. “Could be you.” Stepping closer when he lowered the rifle, she asked, “What’s your name?”
“The Dominic?” His quizzical expression inspired her to continue. “The big bad security dude everyone’s all atwitter about.”
“A … all … atwitter?”
Alpha gave him a slow once over. “American. Big gun. Nice suit. Bluer than blue eyes. You’re him.” She frowned. “So you’re with the Brit wearing the slinky dress and amazing shoes?”
“You’ve seen Adelle?” he asked, eyes raking the room once again, widening slightly at the group undressing each other in the near corner.
“Exclusively?” she asked.
Gazing thoughtfully at him, Alpha asked, “Are you with … Adelle, exclusively?”
“Why are you attending this party, Alpha?” he countered.
“To make people happy. That’s what we pretty ones do. Make the others happy.” She smiled up at him. “You don’t look happy, Laurence.”
“Happily not qualifying as pretty,” he muttered under his breath, shaking his head at the orgy getting underway to his right. I sincerely hope this doesn’t appeal to Adelle. The thought of Topher, for example, in that context is nauseating.
“That’s not a word I’d use to describe you,” Alpha admitted. “Pretty, I mean.”
Satisfied his location was defensible enough for his purpose, Dominic took a steadying breath. “You might want to step over there, Alpha,” he suggested, resting the rifle comfortably in his right hand, aiming it at the ceiling. “I need to get Guy’s attention.”
“I like being here with you,” Alpha said.
“Suit yourself,” he said, firing several rounds into the air. “Guy,” Dominic said, giving voice to his anger at his Parisian counterpart, raising the rifle to his shoulder. “If your ass isn’t out here in two minutes, I’m going full automatic.”
“You’re upset with him,” Alpha said. “Was Mr. Guy not his best?”
Dominic blinked a few times before muttering, “Is he ever?”
She laughed. “I’m sure he tries,” she said. “When Ms. Renee’s around, anyway.”
“Sensible of him,” Dominic said, eyes everywhere.
“Dominic, do be careful around our star,” a tall, thin to the point of gaunt man advised, stepping into view, brushing undoubtedly invisible lint from his expensive yet hideous suit coat.
“Where is she?” Dominic demanded.
“Such concern from the man who let her be taken from him in order to satisfy the urge to put his tongue in her mouth.”
“I haven’t killed any of your people today.” Dominic smiled at Guy and then at Alpha. “To this point, anyway.”
“True.” Guy inclined his head in acknowledgement. “You have, in fact, done me a service for which I am immensely grateful.”
Dominic lowered the rifle. “What service?”
Smiling broadly, gesturing expansively with his hands as he was wont to do, Guy said, “The men and women you undoubtedly humiliated on your way here were disciplinary problems of mine. The least I can do is offer you a drink in compensation.”
“Monique is the only keeper in the bunch,” Dominic said.
“A point of view I’m beginning to share,” Guy allowed, gesturing vaguely at someone, using a signal Dominic failed to recognize or interpret.
“Where. Is. Adelle?”
“Chatting with Renee, Dominic. Nothing more.”
“People who want to chat call you on the phone or leave a message at your hotel.” Dominic glanced briefly down at Alpha when she took his arm. “They don’t drug you and haul you in.”
“Interrupting at something of an inopportune moment as I’m given to understand.”
Meeting Guy’s challenging smile with a bland expression, Dominic said, “Why drug us?”
“Adelle wouldn’t have come otherwise and Renee wanted to see what would happen if we had all the players in the little drama-to-be on the same stage.” Guy smiled in a way Dominic didn’t like. “On our stage.”
“I want to see Adelle,” Dominic said, not because he suspected Guy was lying—
staged melodrama suited he and Renee perfectly—rather to see what reaction insistence would get.
“Soon,” Guy said.
“Now,” Dominic countered.
Guy let out a long suffering sigh. “How did Ms. DeWitt seem to you, Alpha?” he asked.
“Annoyed but resigned to hearing Ms. Deveroux out, I think,” Alpha said without a glimmer of evasion or hesitation. Expressive blue eyes on him, she added, “She seemed to enjoy towering over Renee in those fabulous heels.”
“I’ll take that drink then,” Dominic said, gently extricating his arm from Alpha, pulling out the three remaining pistols, numerous spare clips and four knives. “Where do you want these?”
“Jefferson will see to them,” Guy said, gesturing to his left. A tall, magnificently dressed black man appeared. Dominic loaded him up with weapons. Smiling somewhat ruefully, Guy offered Dominic his own gun back. “Do run along, Alpha,” Guy said. “Dominic and I need to have a private conversation.”
“Goodbye, Laurence,” Alpha said, smiling, waving.
“Bye,” he muttered, surprised into politeness by her knowledge of his first name. Turning to Guy, he asked, “You have your actives service your employees?”
“Once a quarter,” Guy said. “Does wonders for morale. Shall we step to the bar?”
* * *
“I have given you my answer, Renee,” Adelle DeWitt said, rubbing the temples of her fiercely aching head. “To reiterate, it is, ‘No.’ Now I expect an answer to mine. Where is Mr. Dominic?” Renee Deveroux laughed, a sound Adelle found discordant. “I have been eminently patient in listening to your proposition and endeavoring to ignore your thuggish tactics in quite literally dragging us here,” Adelle said. “My forbearance is at an end.”
“It is most unfortunate you felt the need to refuse my very reasonable offer, Adelle.” Sighing dramatically, she said, “Most unfortunate for Dominic.”
“What ever do you mean?” Adelle asked, sipping her lukewarm tea to give her hands something to do other than go for Renee’s throat. “My refusal has no bearing on Mr. Dominic whatsoever.”
“I beg to differ.” Leaning forward, Renee patted Adelle’s hand in a decided, “There, there,” fashion, even as a smile that could only be described as diabolical appeared on her pinched, I’ve-had-far-too-many-plastic-surgeries face. “Your refusal has led directly to a little chat of some significance to Dominic. You see, Adelle, Clive Ambrose is in town to meet with me concerning the project I mentioned to you. Foxtrot, our tall, green eyed brunette active, had the unpleasant duty of breaking the news to him. Fortunately, she could also confirm that both of you would be here for our House party.”
“News?” Adelle asked, suspecting what was coming but wanting to hear it spoken aloud nonetheless.
“Of your infatuation with your Chief of Security.”
Arming herself with a slow developing smile to irritate Renee and mask her annoyance at her French counterpart’s choice of word, Adelle said, “That will go over splendidly with Clive, I’m sure.” Adelle silently congratulated herself for the ploy of using Ambrose’s first name. “He’s tried to hire Mr. Dominic away from me at least twice.”
“Excuse me?” Renee said, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
Widening her eyes, Adelle laughed. “You … oh, Renee, you don’t believe Clive’s interested in me, do you?” When no response was forthcoming other than continued dismay at the first name basis, Adelle adopted Dominic’s trademark pose, crossing her arms in front of her. “Did you send Foxtrot to Clive, because you suspect he might desire her or to rub salt in the wound?
“Rub salt in the wound?” Renee ventured.
“I really shouldn’t say more. It’s a subject for Clive to broach with you, after all.”
“What subject?” Renee looked so desperate for information, Adelle feared she would begin to claw at her own face at any moment.
Lowering her voice to a conspiratorial level, Adelle said, “Clive is a homosexual, Renee. Laurence avoids him like the plague.”
“Ambrose and … Dominic?” Renee looked as though her world had been shattered beyond repair.
“It will be nothing, if not entertaining,” Adelle said. “We should go down and watch.”
* * *
“Dominic,” Clive Ambrose called, approaching rapidly, hand outstretched. “This is a surprise. What brings you to Paris?”
Standing, shaking the offered hand, Dominic shrugged.
“Felt like a bit of time away from LA?” Ambose said, practically radiating good cheer. Fully on the alert, Dominic sat back down, surveying the room, instantly picking out Ambrose’s men of whom there were far too many. “Can’t say that I blame you,” Ambrose said. “I find it … stifling despite all of the pretty faces.” Placing a hand on Guy’s shoulder, Ambrose asked, “How are you, Guy?”
“Is Adelle here, Dominic?” Ambrose asked. Dominic nodded, trying to determine the objective of the numerous newcomers beyond providing security for Ambrose. Is he just that paranoid or up to something … or both? Lowering his voice, Clive said, “Why don’t you go find something to secure, Guy?” The Head of Security of the Paris Dollhouse left without a word, clearing several sightlines to Dominic.
“Hello again, Laurence,” Alpha said, stepping right into those sightlines. Aiming an incredible pout at him, she climbed onto his lap, her back to Ambrose. “You promised to have a drink with me and I waited while you talked with Guy.” Kissing him lightly on the lips, she added, “Impatiently.” She whispered, “Guy won’t let them risk hurting me,” into his ear in French.
Ambrose is gunning for me? Why and how does Alpha know?
“Living dangerously, Dominic?” Ambrose asked, tone still more or less genial, eyes cold.
“Always,” Dominic countered, gesturing to the ridiculously pretty boy bartender with cobalt blue eye shadow. “For you?” Dominic asked Alpha. Following her gaze, he glanced over his shoulder and met Adelle’s eyes.
Alpha patted Dominic on the shoulder as she stood. “Just keeping the seat warm,” she said, surprising a chuckle out of Adelle.
“Thank you,” Adelle said, inclining her head to Alpha, stepping close to Dominic. Taking Laurence’s arm, focusing on him to the obvious annoyance of Ambrose, Adelle asked, “Are you ready to go?”
“Sure,” Dominic said, rising to his feet. Is Ambrose really jealous of me? Jealous enough to contemplate a hit in full view of the woman in question? That doesn’t track. What’s really going on here?
“What’s your hurry?” Renee Deveroux said, staring daggers at Adelle. Dominic didn’t even want to speculate about the latest disagreement between the two women. “Have a drink with us, Adelle,” Renee said. “Enjoy our hospitality as Dominic so obviously was.” Renee stepped behind Dominic’s barstool. “What do you think of our Alpha, Dominic?”
Feeling more than a little penned in, Dominic said, “It’s interesting she thinks Alpha is her nickname.”
Clive Ambrose’s derisive laughter sounded loud. “You have a body like that squirming in your lap, impressive chest prominently displayed, and that’s what you find interesting? I’m beginning to doubt you have a Y-chromosome, Dominic.”
Dominic looked at Adelle. Their eyes held for a long moment. He smirked. She smiled. “Do I have a Y-chromosome, ma’am?”
“I’m convinced,” Adelle said, shrugging eloquently. “Every time I turn around it seems, I see you or hear of you with another woman.”
“You tolerate promiscuity, Adelle?” The moment the words exited his mouth, Clive Ambrose looked mortified for uttering them.
“So long as he’s where he belongs when I have need of him.” Adelle aimed an indulgent smile at Laurence. “A knack for which he has proven to possess.”
“When you have … need of him,” Ambrose muttered, as though saying the words would imbue them with a different, more palatable meaning.
Eyes on Ambrose, Dominic leaned on the bar and noted the young bartender’s seemingly avid interest in the proceedings. Raising his hand to his chin, Ambrose leaned slightly forward. “Tell me this—.”
Gunfire erupted throughout the room. Shouting, “Down,” Dominic grabbed Adelle, pushed her to the floor and shielded her. People fell screaming in pain, others without uttering a sound. Which was worse is a matter of personal taste.
Dominic looked for targets. Every time Dominic sighted one of Ambrose’s men, someone gunned them down. Grabbing Adelle by the arm, he pointed in the direction she was facing and shouted, “Move around the corner of the bar.” Eyes darting about, she nodded. Dominic shoved Adelle ahead of him as they half-crawled, half slithered around the bar. Attaining their goal, Dominic met the eyes of the pretty boy bartender who was using an assault rifle like he’d been born to it. The boy pointed to the right—the direction from which Dominic had entered the Dollhouse.
“Go that way,” the bartender shouted. “Sounds like only one shooter at that end.”
Dominic agreed. “What about you?” he asked.
The kid grinned. “I’ve got an arsenal back here. I’m good.”
“Why help us?” Adelle asked, eyeing the bartender with mild interest.
“Clive Ambrose is a small minded prick with a small prick.”
Adelle and Laurence shared a look that held more amusement than ought to have been possible under the circumstances. The picture coalesced for Dominic. Ambrose had been posturing as only the truly paranoid can. Enter new shooters having a moderate preference for Clive’s men and an apparent intention to thin the Paris Dollhouse herd. Tapping Adelle on the shoulder, he shouted, “We’re heading for the door you can see just to the right of that far column. Ok?” The quiet strength in Adelle’s nod called to Dominic. Holding up the requisite number of fingers, he said, “On three.” Impressed with Adelle’s demeanor in light of the current situation being the antithesis of her preferred scenario—one within her complete and utter control—Dominic kissed her hard, regretting it had to be fast.
Adelle grabbed Dominic’s jacket for balance as she shifted into a crouch. “One,” Dominic murmured, admiring pretty boy’s consecutive head shots. “Two.” Dominic rose to a crouch as well. “Stay low,” he directed. Glancing down, he said, “Lose the shoes.” Smiling, he added, “Carry them. You’ll need them after you run your sprint full out without breaking an ankle.” He waited for Adelle to comply. “Three.”
They ran for the door on a more or less straight path. Pretty boy bartender covered them. Dom wondered if the kid was the NSA agent in Paris until he caught sight of a shooter raining down bullets on the orgy he’d witnessed commencing earlier. Dominic’s shot to the throat ended the carnage. He and Adelle were three or four strides from the door when an incendiary exploded, sending bits of shrapnel everywhere and them into the wall next to the door. Wincing in pain, Dominic asked, “Are you hit? Adelle, are you hit?”
“No. Are you?”
“We’ll worry about me later,” he muttered, helping Adelle to her feet. Dominic looked back and saw a familiar figure weaving toward them. “Alpha,” he muttered, taking a step toward the active. Adelle gripped his suit jacket with both hands.
“She’s not your responsibility,” Adelle said, chin jutting in a different direction. “Nor are they.” Clive Ambrose and far fewer of his friends were making their way toward the same door as was a small contingent of shooters.
“Alpha tried to protect me,” Dominic muttered, squeezing Adelle’s wrists to cause her to release him. “I have to …”
“Go with me now,” Adelle shouted in his ear as Alpha and Guy fell victim to a huge guy wielding a flame thrower of all things.
Adelle and Laurence crashed through the door, down the stairs, along the corridor and back the way Dominic remembered the gurney traveling. Passing through an emergency exit, Dominic stopped, panting lightly. “Put your shoes back on,” he shouted over the screams of sirens. “We’ll head out to the street and walk away as though we were never here.” Without a word, Adelle did as he bid. “Walk at a normal pace,” Dominic instructed, putting his arm around Adelle, pulling her close, feeling her tremble. “Look around a lot, as though you’re wondering what the hell is going on. Stay with me, Adelle. We can do this.”
As they walked, Laurence whispered in her ear. “You’ll be all right. The ringing in your ears will stop shortly. The memories won’t, but we can’t afford for you to slip into shock right now, Adelle. Talk to me. About anything.” When she didn’t speak, he said, “Tell me what Renee wanted.”
“To … to make me an … offer.”
“What kind of offer?” Dominic asked, scoping parked cars along the street for a likely candidate. “What could that woman have that you’d possibly want?”
“I can’t … I shouldn’t tell you,” she whispered. “The knowledge could get you killed.”
“Adelle,” Dominic said, laughing softly. “Walking down the street with you tonight could get me killed. A little knowledge doesn’t change things much.”
“I’m cold,” she whispered. “Is it cold, Laurence?”
“Not really,” he admitted. “You’re body is trying to make sense of all the stress chemicals flowing though it. That’s all.”
“You must think me pathetically weak,” Adelle said, wrapping her arms tightly around Dominic’s waist.
“After what you’ve been through tonight, the fact that you’re still moving proves otherwise.” Dominic found what he was looking for—a nondescript sedan parked in an alley to their right. Steering Adelle toward it, Dominic shot out the rear window on the driver’s side. He reached in to unlock the driver’s door and slid in. Leaning over, he unlocked Adelle’s door and hotwired the car in an impressively short time. Just like riding a bike. As he started the engine, Dominic took a moment to envision a map of Paris streets. Their hotel wasn’t that far from the Dollhouse, but Dominic wasn’t sure of the route.
“You take the road we were on in the direction we were walking until we reach a lovely café with amazing scones,” Adelle offered, the odd ability to sometimes read his mind evidently unimpaired by trauma. “We make a right turn there and proceed to a fountain and … and then I’m not sure.”
“It’s a start,” Dominic said, smiling over at her. “When’s the last time you were in a stolen car?”
“This is the first,” she murmured, returning his smile a bit tentatively, but Dominic would take it at this point.
“A virgin,” he mused. “I’d never have suspected that of you. Not one boyfriend back in the day showed up in a very recently previously owned Ferrari to impress you?”
“The men I saw owned their own cars, Laurence.”
“Boring,” he said, smiling, deliberately not looking at her. “I always wondered how it was possible someone as beautiful as you is still available. Now, I get it. You’re waiting for someone who excites you.”
“What about you?” she asked, looking sidelong at him. “You charm when you wish to, seemingly effortlessly. Why are you alone?” He refused to meet her eye, hoping to bring her curiosity to the fore. “Laurence?”
He sighed. “Divorce hurts, Adelle, even when it’s your fault. Even when you work too much, travel too much, drink too much. And it costs too damn much.” Shrugging, he stifled a yawn. “Kind of soured me on the whole relationship thing.”
“High school sweetheart?” she ventured.
Triangulating on their hotel in his mind’s eye, Dominic said, “Not quite as clichéd as that. We met in college. I was in med school. She was pre-wed and aced all the sex courses on her way to that degree.” Frowning he said, “I never knew what hit me until I was married, she was pregnant and I was scared to fucking death of being a father.”
“What happened to medical school?” Adelle asked.
“Couldn’t afford both it and a kid, so I dropped out of the program and found a different way to make a living.” Reaching over, he squeezed her shoulder briefly. “Boring, middle America, fucked up kind of life.”
That smile he couldn’t suppress. “She has a shot at competing in the summer Olympics next time. Freestyle’s her best bet. Maybe back.”
“Do you see her often?”
“No. Her mom freaks every time I do. I’m not sure what she expects me to do to Alex or she to me. We talk pretty regularly, though.”
Adelle seemed charmed. “Alex? Alexandra? Alexis?”
Adelle closed her eyes. “Alexis Dominic has a nice sound to it.”
“It would if Kara hadn’t changed Alexis’ last name back to hers.” Seeing their hotel but unsure how to get there, Dominic cursed. “Can we talk about what Renee wanted now?”
Silence fell. Dominic drove, increasingly tired and frustrated. Catching sight of their hotel again, he said, “Screw this.” Double parking the stolen car, he helped Adelle out. “We keep the damn hotel in sight, we’ll get there.” Lowering his voice, he said, “I’m asleep on my feet, Adelle, talk to me. What’s Renee up to? Does she hope you can be persuaded to split the cost of a two for one deal on a nip or a tuck?”
“It goes a bit deeper than that, Laurence,” Adelle said.
“So to speak,” Dominic muttered. Plastic surgery humor from Adelle DeWitt? Ok, I started it. I admit that, but still.
“I told her Clive Ambrose wanted to sleep with you,” Adelle said, sliding her arm around his waist.
“With me?” Dominic stopped, looking at Adelle as if she’d taken complete leave of her senses. “She bought that?”
“How do you think I escaped her office? She wanted to see the fireworks for herself.”
“What did she want from you, Adelle?”
Adelle’s expression of utter and complete distaste took Dominic off guard. She said, “Renee sought my agreement to participate in an endeavor which can be characterized as nothing less than despicable.”
“Despicable is a fairly harsh term,” Dominic observed.
Adelle shuddered, prompting Laurence to help her into his now somewhat battered, deep green silk jacket. “They plan to make wedges for themselves, Laurence. Make wedges, update them weekly, imprint their personalities on whatever active catches their eye, update their wedges weekly from their new body and repeat ad infinitum.”
Wishing for his jacket back, Dominic held Adelle as close as possible while walking. “They want to live forever and don’t mind the … inconvenience to the actives they use to do it,” he said. “Damn.”
“It’s worse than that, Laurence.”
“It can get worse than that?” he asked, the vulnerability in her eyes frightening him.
“If I make a wedge of you,” she said, hand running along his breast bone to his abdomen, “I can make as many copies as I want and put you in as many people with active architecture as I can get my hands on.”
“Storm troopers,” Dominic muttered. “You could make your own storm troopers.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“If I’m remembering right, they took this one guy and made an army of clones from him,” Dominic said. “In the movies. I forget which Star Wars it was. Fuck, Adelle, this is serious shit.” Laurence thought hard, breathing a sigh of relief when their hotel hove into view as they rounded a corner. “Renee is a mouthpiece,” he muttered. “The patsy should things go south. There’s no way she’s behind it.” Looking a challenge at Adelle, he asked, “Who is?”
“My money is on Harding or maybe Simone Gagne,” Adelle said, tension in her shoulders easing, perhaps with the relief of sharing the information.
“One thing’s for sure, Clive Ambrose is on board or will be,” Dominic said. “Which begs the questions—who were the other shooters, why did they shoot up the Paris Dollhouse and target Ambrose’s men?” Nodding to the doorman, Dominic asked, “Could your so called enemy be someone who is opposed to abuses of the technology but thinks you’ve thrown in your lot with Renee’s group?” Dominic frowned. “If the shooters were there for Ambrose and you, why cripple the Paris House? To hamstring Renee somehow? Discredit her?”
“Perhaps, Laurence, I don’t know,” Adelle muttered as they entered the elevator.
Pressing the number for their floor, he said, “We don’t have to figure everything out tonight. This morning. Whatever. Did Renee say anything else about how they plan to use the tech?”
“Not in so many words.”
“What’s that mean?” They stepped out of the elevator and strode down the hotel hallway in perfect unison. “Adelle?”
“This stays between us,” she stipulated.
“The technology hasn’t advanced this far, but their ultimate goal appears to be remote wipes and remote imprints en masse.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Adelle,” Dominic hissed. “If … if that happens and goes anywhere near global, you’re talking … chaos. A … a freaking return to feudalism at best, at worst a goddamn apocalypse with not much of a nod to the Book of Revelation.”
I know as spoken, clearly heard as I fucking know, dumbshit. Only Adelle can pull that off and make it sound civilized. “What are you going to do about it?” he asked.
“Do?” she whispered. “What can I do?”
“Hold that thought,” Dominic said, opening the door to their hotel room. “I need to sweep for audio and video pickups. Why don’t you sit down, have a bourbon and some chocolate or rest a bit if you can?” Once Adelle settled on the couch, Dominic took his detector from his briefcase. “There weren’t any when we arrived,” he said. “Maybe our luck will hold on this front at least.”
“Why should this front differ from the others?” Adelle whispered, staring into her glass of bourbon as though the key to keeping the technology from getting loose in the world might be found there.
Dominic scanned the large living area of the suite and found nothing. The bedroom was a different story. What kind of show do they expect us to put on in here? Seven camera angles seem excessive. And seventeen audio pickups? Do they really want to hear us breathe? “This is going to take a little while,” he called. No response. Dominic immediately moved back to the living area, stopping abruptly. Adelle was sound asleep on the couch, clutching the tiny box of chocolates protectively. Smiling, he returned to his task, removing and deactivating all twenty four devices and depositing them on the coffee table next to his computer. I’ll enter the make and model numbers, if any, in my program. Absent identifying marks, I’ll describe the units themselves. Sooner or later something’s going to ping.
He went back into the bedroom and pulled down the comforter, blanket and sheet. Hoping his injured shoulder was up to the task and grateful Adelle hadn’t noticed he was limping, Dominic returned to the couch. He lifted Adelle in his arms and carried her into the bedroom. Her eyes opened as he settled her onto the bed. “Sorry,” he whispered, “I didn’t mean to wake you. Go back to sleep, Adelle. I’ll be in the other room for a while entering data.”
“Stay,” she whispered, maneuvering herself into a sitting position. “I can’t believe I fell asleep in this dress. I must look a sight.”
“There’s nothing wrong with how you look.” Kicking off his shoes, Dominic retrieved his sidearm and settled in next to her, back supported by pillows, gun on the bed next to his thigh. With a small sigh, Adelle slid closer, head resting on his bad shoulder, hand on his chest. Wincing in pain, grateful she couldn’t see it, Dominic slid his left arm around her. “Some day, huh?” he whispered.
“Master of the understatement,” Adelle murmured, but Laurence thought he felt her smile against his body.
“I’ve had worse,” Dominic murmured, resting his eyes for a moment.
“Many?” Adelle asked, shifting her head, undoubtedly to look at him.
Mind drifting with fatigue, he said, “Far too many.” A gentle caress of his cheek inspired Laurence to open his eyes. “I’ve never had a day remotely like this with anyone like you, though. That’s something new.”
“Anyone like me?” she said.
“Beautiful, intelligent woman in a great dress with universally admired shoes who doesn’t mind taking them off to further the cause.” Chuckling softly, he added, “I meant the shoes. I really did.” He took a deep breath. “Eases the pain.”
“I don’t mind taking the dress off, Laurence.”
She used his shoulder to pull herself up. Gritted teeth didn’t keep the groan of pain inaudible. “You’re hurt,” Adelle whispered. “Let me see.” When he simply looked at her, she tugged at the bottom of his silk T-shirt. “Take this off.”
“I can’t,” he said. “I can’t lift my left arm above my shoulder. Not without a ton of pain.” He sighed. “I’m not in the mood to hurt that much right now and shirt’s too tight to take off another way.”
“I must say, Laurence, I’ve never been challenged to rip off a man’s shirt before.”
“I didn’t say anything about ripping it off,” he muttered, refusing to be drawn into Adelle’s amusement.
Gentle fingers pushed the sleeve of his T-shirt up onto his shoulder. “My word,” she whispered. “It’s badly bruised and somewhat swollen down to here,” she said, forefinger gently tracing a line slightly above his bicep. Smiling, she bent down and placed a feather light kiss on the exposed injury.
“Feels much better now, Adelle. Don’t worry about it.” Pulling her close once again, he murmured, “You have enough on your plate right now.”
“Well, yes,” she admitted, maneuvering so she could look him in the eye. “But I enjoy worrying about matters likely necessitating forceful removal of your clothing.” Frowning exaggeratedly, Adelle spoke in her most stern British tone. “Much more than pondering why you said, ‘Please, don’t,’ when I obliquely proposed taking off my dress.”
“I want to be fully conscious the first time I see you naked, otherwise I’ll never hear the end of how I didn’t properly appreciate you.” He smiled and tucked a lock of Adelle’s hair behind her ear. “And I’d rather you didn’t fall asleep on me while I’m appreciating you. Kills the mood.”
“Good.” Stroking her bare arm lightly, Laurence asked, “Why do women always put a negative spin on anything a man says about their appearance?”
“The best defense is a good offense, Adelle.” Taking her hand, he brought it to his lips.
“A woman should just assume the guy’s a moron if he meant whatever he said in an insulting sense, because she knows he’s really beneath her notice anyway.”
“You continue to surprise me, Laurence. I must find a way to slip a reference to Laurence Dominic offering sound advice as to male-female relations into my next conversation with Topher.”
Eyes widening in horror, he said, “You wouldn’t?”
“I most certainly will.”
“You’ll ruin my reputation, Adelle.”
“The more male than male, insensitively insensitive, discipline and violence are my life persona would become a thing of the past, yes.”
Dominic laughed. “I haven’t heard that description before.”
“I took the liberty of stringing together a few characterizations to give you more of an idea of the myriad perceptions my disclosure will alter.”
“Hmmmm,” Dominic muttered. Cupping Adelle’s chin with exquisite gentleness, he kissed her on the mouth in exactly the same fashion. “Can I persuade you to keep that between us?” he whispered, before relaxing into a thorough, lazy sensual kiss.
“That was nice,” Adelle whispered against his mouth.
“Very,” he said. “Tired?”
“Quite,” she admitted, tugging at his bottom lip lightly with her teeth.
“Get some rest,” he advised. Adelle shifted to a more horizontal position and ran her hand invitingly on the bed next to her. Shaking his head, Dominic said, “I’ll watch over you for a little while.”
“Please.” That word on Adelle DeWitt’s lips devastated his commitment to his intention. Dominic lowered himself gingerly to face her, his weight on his injured shoulder. Her low, full throated, “Thank you,” launched him along the road to perdition. His hands found her waist, thumbs stroking her abdomen.
“Thank me by keeping your mouth shut vis a vis Topher,” he muttered.
“Would you rather I disclose your inability to remove your T-shirt?”
Dominic contemplated, comparing and contrasting likely reactions and outcomes. “Yes.”
“Why?” she asked before initiating a long, slow kiss.
“I can replicate my injury in him by slamming Topher into a wall or some similar sturdy object and he’ll be stuck with the sweater vest from Hell or plaid from the eleventh dimension for at least a week.” His hands moved over her back. Stop touching her, Dom. Let her sleep. “God, you’re gorgeous.”
“I wonder if my physical beauty will aid me in navigating the dangerous waters in which I now swim.”
“It’ll get the attention of the lifeguards,” he said, smiling at her chuckle.
“There is that, I suppose.”
“Sleep, Adelle,” he suggested, kissing her forehead. “Although I doubt a night’s rest will improve the outlook much.”
“What will?” she whispered, snuggling closer, eyes closing, energy draining.
“I don’t know,” Dominic muttered, feeling her relax into sleep. “Something unexpected, maybe.” He sighed, checked his gun and stared at the ceiling. Lowering his voice to the merest whisper, he said, “Or someone.”