Chapter One - Sebastian

"Goodnight, Agent Hunter. Have a nice weekend."

Sebastian looked up from his paperwork but didn't answer, instead raising a dismissive hand at the junior agent. She looked uncertain for a moment, then nodded and disappeared, exactly as he'd hoped.

It might be Friday night but he wasn't in the mood for casual chat. The reams and reams of paperwork that had somehow clogged up his in-tray over the last few hours had his full attention.

He groaned quietly as he rolled his shoulders back, easing the ache that had set up camp between his shoulder blades. He stared long and hard at the words on the paper in front of him, his head thumping as they swirled and jumbled, blinking rapidly as he tried to regain his focus. It was deathly quiet in the open office area, other agents having long since packed up their belongings and hightailed it out of there, desperate for some downtime from the pressures of the job.

Thrusting a frustrated hand through his hair, he pushed himself out of his chair and strode towards the nearest window, resting his head and hands on the cool glass, staring out at the lights of the buildings lining the street below him. He breathed deeply, the coolness partially soothing the ache in his skull. While he enjoyed his job, this was not the way he'd thought his life would go. His gut tightened painfully as he remembered all the dreams he'd had as a young green agent. He'd wanted to save the world... or at least to aid in saving the world.

What he'd never imagined was going home to an empty apartment. Sitting alone night after night because the thought of inflicting the kind of life he led on any woman was more than he could stomach. Long, hard hours... danger, not only for the agents but for their families as well. He'd seen more than his fair share of agents lose their families to the job. Not to mention his undercover assignment had blown any chance he had of finding someone to go home to.

From inside his desk drawer his cell phone began to ring. He was tempted to ignore it but the unique ringtone he'd assigned to this particular caller was not to be ignored.

The tune was onto its second play by the time he finally swiped across the screen and placed the phone to his ear.

"Yes, sir?"

"We need you undercover tonight, Agent Hunter. We've had word that something big might be going down in the next few days. Agents Pierce and Winters will be there as well. We've got a large team keeping watch on the establishment. I want a senior agent in place."

Thank goodness the deputy director wasn't standing in front of him or he would no doubt question the complete lack of interest on his agent's face.

"Can you give me any more details, sir?"

"Not at the moment. We're waiting on intel." Sebastian could hear a scratching sound and could imagine his boss running this palms over his stubble as he often did when agitated. "I just want you in there. No investigating, no arrests. Just be around. Do that kinky shit you've been trained for; get your leg over and keep your ear to the ground."

"That's some gymnastics right there, sir," he muttered dryly, already shuffling his papers into manageable piles that would now have to be dealt with in the morning… on a damn Saturday.

"You know what I mean," the Deputy Director growled. "I want you there a couple of hours maximum. If you hear anything get out and report back. I don't want any of my agents in there when it all goes down. That's what the drug squad for."

"Yes, sir." He sighed. "I'll pack up my desk, get changed and-"

"You're still working?"

"Yes, sir."

"Get off home, Sebastian. Enjoy your night of kink."

The line went dead and Sebastian shoved his cell into his pocket, sitting back in his desk chair and contemplating spending his night at the club.

What had started off as an undercover assignment several months ago had slowly turned into something more. How much more he had no idea, but he no longer attended Velvet simply because it was demanded of him; he no longer had to pretend to be interested in the kink. He got a huge kick out of it. If that made him strange then so be it. Although he still wasn't completely comfortable with everything that happened in the club, he'd certainly reconciled himself to certain aspects of dominance he'd never thought he would be into.

He didn't keep his lifestyle choice a secret anymore. Secrets could break people. He'd kept it a secret from Melly and look where that had gotten him. When he'd finally admitted to her, two months into their relationship, where he went most evenings she'd hated him for it… accused him of cheating. And he hadn't been able to deny it because, in a weird way he had been. Their relationship had ended and Sebastian had been subjected to her cruelty in a way he'd never imagined possible.

A small group of people now knew what he was into, although they only knew what was on the surface… that Sebastian liked his sex a little kinky. No one knew he was going undercover.

With his head still banging, Sebastian headed for the elevators. He wasn't in the mood for this tonight.

"Oh thank goodness you're still here."

The exclamation from behind threw him out of his funk and he span around instantly, forcing a smile to his face that felt oddly out of place considering the thoughts that had been attacking him.

"Michelle. I thought all you lab techs were gone for the night." He chanced a glance at the clock on the wall to his right and sighed, shoving his hands into his pockets and lounging back against the doorframe as though he didn't have a care in the world. "It's 9:30. Shouldn't you be home with Thomas?"

Michelle shook her head, her eyes narrowing on him. He couldn't help the loathing in his tone as he said her husband's name – the name of a man who had taken him under his wing several months ago, then stabbed him in the back.

"His name's Tom," she said with a long-suffering sigh, perching on the edge of his desk. "And he's working tonight." Chewing on her lower lip she smiled suddenly and it instantly put Sebastian on guard. "I need to ask you a huge favor, Seb."

Now it was his turn to frown. He and Michelle were what you might call friends... although friendly colleagues was probably closer to the truth. They had worked together on several occasions and they trusted each other's judgement. But that was as far as it went these days. Sebastian wasn't interested in forging a friendship with anyone outside of work. He was happy - well okay, maybe not happy - but he was okay with his life and he didn't want anything complicating it. So, "What?" he asked, somewhat abruptly.

It didn't seem to put her off as she stood up and grimaced. "It's kind of a favor for Tom rather than me." Now she sounded worried and rightly so.

"Why the hell would I do anything for that sonofabitch?" he snapped before sucking in a deep breath and blowing it out slowly, trying hard to focus on keeping his temper. "Come on, Michelle, you know there's no love lost between us."

She approached him, her hands held out palm up as she tried to appeal to his better nature... not that he had one of those when it came to Tom Randall. "Oh come on, Seb. You could pretend it was for me if that makes it easier?"

"Just tell me what the hell you want." He was fast succumbing to the anger that festered away inside of him.

Dropping her hands she shrugged. "Tom's little sister is flying in tonight from London and I promised him I'd meet her at the airport, but this missing persons case has just come in and I'm needed…" She paused to take a breath. "Would you do a huge favor for me and pick her up? Tom's working and if she's left at the airport he'll hit the roof."

"Haven't you people ever heard of a cab?" Sebastian closed his eyes as a wave of weariness washed over him. The last thing he needed was to be forced to play nice with Tom's brat of a baby sister. His eyes sprung open suddenly as a thought occurred to him and he frowned at Michelle. "You'd better not be talking about Melly?"

"No, definitely not Melly. I wouldn't do that to you."

He released the breath he hadn't even been aware of holding. That woman was the reason for every shitty thing that had happened to him recently. "So who? I thought she was Tom's only sibling?"

Michelle stared at him for a moment, hesitation written all over her face. He was just about to ask if she was okay when she shook her head slightly and smiled, but this time it was completely fake, just as his had been earlier. "Tom would never let Francesca take a cab." Her eyes widened pleadingly and he knew he was in trouble. "I'll never ask anything of you ever again if you do this for me... please, Seb?"

He wasn't stupid. He knew she hadn't answered his question and it made him damn curious. He found it difficult to say no when someone really truly needed his help. But right now it was curiosity about the mysterious Francesca that had him agreeing. A sibling but not a sibling of Tom's. "Okay, fine," he muttered, holding up his hands in the classic gesture of surrender. "I've got somewhere to be until midnight, then I'm free. Tell me where and when and I'll be there."

"Thank you," Michelle muttered, her relief obvious as her shoulders relaxed. She gave him the flight details and turned to walk away. She'd reached the door on the far side of the office when she turned back and closed her eyes briefly before staring at him hard. "Don't take your dislike for Tom and Melly out on Francesca. She's a lovely girl, Seb. Take care of her."

The clock hanging from the ceiling of the small open concourse at Tweed New Haven airport ticked over to 2:00am and Sebastian groaned, forcing his body out of the enormously uncomfortable metal chair he'd been sat in for the last hour, stretching his arms above his head and yawning. The flight he was waiting for had been delayed for nearly two hours now and he was beginning to lose the will to live. Whilst paperwork on a Friday night hadn't been the most attractive of prospects, it was one hell of a lot better than spending the whole night stuck in this place waiting for someone who may or may not hate his guts depending on the stories she'd been told. He'd been briefed by Michelle...

'Pick her up, take her straight home, then call me,' and he had no plans to do anything other than that… when she finally arrived of course.

The arrivals board above his head clicked again and he forced his eyes to focus on the word next to her flight number. A moment ago it had said 'delayed', now it said 'landed'.

With a sigh of relief he grabbed hold of the makeshift name plaque and made his way over to the correct gate. Hopefully within half an hour he'd be able to drop her home and be well on his way to climbing into a nice warm bed and sleeping Saturday away.

Twenty-five minutes later, and with still no sign of the enigmatic Francesca Randall, Sebastian had given up the idea of going to bed altogether. Sleeping in the day only made him cranky and he didn't want to add more shit to this already shitty day. In fact, in his somewhat sleep deprived state, he'd already begun to plan all the work he could get done in the many hours until he could feasibly crawl into bed.

As he stared at the gate he realized his eyes were going in and out of focus and he could feel himself swaying slightly from side to side where he stood. As a tactical support agent he'd spent many a night on stakeouts in and around New Haven and Connecticut in general and survived to tell the tale. This was no different and most certainly wouldn't kill him.

Finally, after what felt like at least a couple of hours, he heard the murmur of voices and footsteps on the other side of the gate and he straightened his spine, sighing with relief. Now alert he forced himself to concentrate on the people beginning to pile haphazardly through the door, all fighting for the chance to be first through... maybe first in the queue for the cabs. He had no idea what Francesca looked like, his only clue being that she was a single woman travelling alone. He held her name in front of him and, although people glanced his way every so often, not one person acknowledged the sign or changed direction towards him.

The crowd thinned out and Sebastian was just beginning to wonder if it hadn't all been some kind of very unfunny practical joke when his brain suddenly stopped functioning as his eyes focused clearly on a woman walking through the gates. She'd obviously waited until the very last to collect her bags. Her head was down, her eyes darting nervously around the open space through lashes that were long and dark and... Christ, she was beautiful. Sebastian felt a soft smile curl up at the corners of his mouth as every protective instinct in him roared to life and he surged forwards at the same time as her eyes latched onto her name.

Other than her beauty, the first thing he noticed was that she was tiny. She was possibly a foot shorter than he was, putting her at around 5ft 3. But it wasn't just her height; everything about her was petite. Her long dark, softly curled hair hung to her waist... a waist that he thought he might just be able to wrap his hands around. Her face was fuller, her cheeks dented, and he knew she would have the cutest dimples when she smiled. And she looked so young. He knew she was young... twenty-one was a full eight years younger than him... but somehow she looked even younger than that.

She lifted her head in recognition of her name, their eyes met, and Sebastian's world ground to a halt. His breath left his body in a whoosh as his heart stopped beating for a moment before thumping hard in his chest. Her eyes darted around his face and then her posture changed completely, as though a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She relaxed and a smile so bright it almost blinded him lit up her face like the early morning sun, proving him right about the dimples.

"Hi," she whispered almost inaudibly, and Sebastian had to strain to hear her even though he was standing directly in front of her. "I guess you're here to collect me? What happened to... to Michelle?"

Was it his imagination or had she hesitated slightly before she'd said Michelle's name? And had he noticed a slight hint of anxiety in the softly spoken words? He smiled back hoping to put her at ease... and maybe catch a glimpse of that beautiful smile again. "Sorry, Michelle got tied up at work, so she asked yours truly to collect you." Reluctantly he held out his hand towards her. Not because he didn't want to be polite, but because he felt as though he might combust if she touched him. "Special Agent Sebastian Hunter at your service, ma'am."

She glanced down at his hand and this time the sound that came out of her mouth was a chuckle that made his insides flutter. He didn't think he'd ever met anyone as goddamn cute as Francesca Randall.

"Ma'am?" she laughed, her dark brown eyes shining happily through those luscious lashes. "I don't think I've ever been called ma'am before." The smile diminished slightly as she chewed nervously on the inside of her cheek, then she lifted a delicate hand and placed it in his larger one. "I'm Francesca." She glanced at the name plaque. "But you know already know that." Christ, she was blushing. It had been years since he'd seen a woman blush. "It's really nice to meet you, Agent Hunter. My brother has talked a lot about you."

Sebastian knew he should answer but he was having difficulties making his brain function. The moment he'd felt her soft skin touch his hand he knew he was in trouble, his body's reaction instantaneous and unavoidable. Sparks were firing through his bloodstream heating him up from the inside out, his heart racing in his chest, his palms clammy and his stomach churning. He'd felt this kind of awareness before, but never with such intensity, and he was struggling to rein in his inner caveman. She somewhat vulnerable and his alpha-male stirred to life like never before. She wasn't just beautiful, she was stunning, her dark hair covering her face as her cheeks flared red again, and she dropped her gaze from his to stare at their joined hands. He knew he'd been holding on too long but he couldn't bring himself to care.

"Call me Sebastian," he murmured thickly as he continued to study her, his free hand itching to reach out and trace the contours of her face, see if he could feel those twin dimples in her cheeks he'd spotted earlier. She ran the tip of her tongue along her lower lip and he almost groaned out loud.

He wanted her. He wanted to see that dark curtain of hair spread over his crisp white pillows. He wanted to press his lips to every inch of her body and see if she tasted as delicious as she looked. And he wanted to bury himself inside her and watch her lose herself in the pleasure he would give her.

"You can call me Frankie if you like," she responded shyly, her face heating up even though she was oblivious to the erotic direction of his thoughts. "Most people do."

But I'm not most people, he wanted to yell at her, his insides turning somersaults as he struggled to contain thoughts and feelings that were suddenly fighting to get out. What the hell was happening to him? One glance at her beautiful face, with that air of vulnerability about her, and he was a goner. Michelle's words echoed around his head... 'Take care of her'.

So instead of doing what he really wanted to do - which was take her back to his place and keep her in his bed for the remainder of the weekend - he smiled in what he hoped was a friendly manner, pulled his hand from hers, reached out to take her bags from her and turned away.

"Frankie it is then," he said in a firm, uncompromising tone. "Let's get you back to your place. You must be exhausted."

They barely spoke a word to each other walking to the car, nor for most of the journey home, the silence making the atmosphere strained. Sebastian's whole body was on high alert, and he wondered if she could feel this thing between them too… whatever it was. She looked so defenseless curled up in the passenger seat of his SUV, staring intently out of the window as though she was watching and waiting for someone to jump out of the shadows and attack her. And, despite telling himself to keep his distance, he found that he desperately wanted to know more about her. What had she been doing in London for the last... well however long she'd been over there? Why had she come back? Why did she leave in the first place? And how the hell could someone so sweet and gentle possibly be related to a man as cold and heartless as Tom Randall?

He was so lost in his thoughts that when his cell began to ring he answered it without checking the caller ID. "Hunter."

"You touch one hair on my sister's head and you're dead, asshole!"

The instant the words were out, Sebastian felt all the color drain from his face and he glanced awkwardly over at Frankie. She hadn't responded other than to stare out of the front windshield rather than the side window, and yet she must've heard her brother's crass threat. The hackles on the back of his neck rose, stiffening his spine and fueling his anger.

"Shut the hell up, Randall," he growled, his hands clenching the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were white. Normally he didn't care what other people thought of him, but for some reason it mattered that Francesca knew he was one of the good guys. He wanted her to know she was safe with him. "I've picked her up just like-"

"Michelle had no damn right to ask you to pick her up, not without my fucking consent!" Tom raged, and if Sebastian hadn't been so angry, he would've laughed at Tom thinking he had any influence over his life.

"Tom, please don't speak to Sebastian like that," her soft voice piped up from beside him and his eyes widened at her tone. For some reason he'd assumed that Frankie would defer to her brother in every single way, and yet it sounded as though she was actually defending him instead. Of course he didn't need it but... his heart began to race uncontrollably... she was trying to protect him and... damn if that wasn't unbelievably hot.

"Frankie, come on honey, I was only trying to-"

"I know," she sighed resignedly. "You were only trying to protect me. But listen to me, Tom, I don't need it right now. Sebastian has been nothing but kind to me and-"

"Yeah I know just how kind Sebastian can be," Tom muttered angrily and Sebastian decided he'd had just about enough of this damn conversation.

"It's three o'clock in the fucking morning," he grunted. "I'm tired. Frankie's tired. I'm going to take her back to her apartment, drop her off and get home. And you can tell Michelle not to ask for any more damn favors." Then he disconnected the call and gritted his teeth as the dial tone sounded loudly in the suddenly quiet interior of the car.

There was silence for a few more moments then, "I'm sorry about Tom. He... he can be a bit protective of me. You really have been very kind picking me up and everything. Please don't think I don't appreciate it. He does too, I know he does."

He'd desperately wanted to dislike Thomas Randall's little sister but Francesca was nothing short of adorable. And that was dangerous. So instead of disagreeing with her, he simply shrugged and gave her a small self-deprecating smile before forcing his mouth back into a severe line. "Tom knows me better than you, Francesca. Maybe he's right to be worried."

He'd expected her to recoil from him - after all hadn't that been his goal? But instead she stared at his profile for a moment or two before a chuckle or two escaped from between her soft twitching lips. "So serious, Agent Hunter," she laughed, and as he pulled up at a red light he spared a second to glance into eyes that were currently dancing with humor. "I don't need to know you very well to know you're one of the good guys. I mean I'm a good judge of character," she finished quickly, the sparkle disappearing from her eyes. "So thank you." She glanced around and smiled. "If you drop me around the corner there my apartment's just across the street."

Sebastian scrubbed a hand across his face, shaking his head. Hopefully he was just tired, because this girl was disturbing his world. "Like hell I am," he muttered, the idea of leaving her in the middle of the street simply not on his radar. "We're a block away from your place at the moment. That's not 'just around the corner'. Besides," he added quickly at her look of surprise. "Your brother would pound me into the ground if something happened to you."

"You look like you can take care of yourself," Frankie answered quickly, her face flushing as she turned away and staring once more out of the window. Was that her very roundabout way of saying he looked fit or that she'd been checking him out?

Sebastian bit his tongue and stayed silent until he pulled the car up in front of her building and cut the engine. Something she'd said to him earlier had been bothering him. Keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the steering wheel he licked his lips. "Does everyone call you Frankie?" Because he wasn't looking at her, he didn't catch her reaction, but he felt something in the air around them change.

"What do you mean?" she asked hesitantly, obviously confused by his question.

"Earlier you said I could call you Frankie if I liked. What I'm saying is, I like Francesca." This time he turned to face her and caught the small frown drawing her eyebrows together. It was almost as though she'd never given it any thought before. Or maybe no one had ever asked her.

"Um... I guess I do prefer Francesca. I like my name," she added almost shyly, a small smile on her face as she lifted her head to meet his eyes.

"Does anyone call you Francesca?"

She shook her head and shrugged. "It's a bit of a mouthful."

Sebastian couldn't help the next words that fell out of his mouth, although they came out huskier than he'd intended them to. "It's beautiful... like you."

Her face instantly flamed red and Sebastian knew he would pay a small fortune to see her flustered like this on a regular basis.

"Thank you," she whispered back, her face lighting up. "Your name's nice too. Tom calls you Hunter and Michelle calls you Seb. But I like Sebastian. It suits you."

Was she flirting with him? Hearing her say his name in that soft whisper did funny things to his insides and he struggled to force the feelings back where they belonged. "Thank you," he reciprocated, suddenly desperate to be out of her presence before she looked down into his lap and saw his more than obvious arousal pressed against the seam of his jeans. He wasn't a kid anymore and he certainly hadn't expected her to affect him in this way. "Would you like me to walk you up to your apartment?"

She glanced out of the window and he thought he saw a shiver shake through her small body. But it must have been a mistake because she squared her shoulders and turned back to him with a shake of her head and a grateful smile. "No, thank you, I'll be fine."

He felt ridiculously disappointed when little more than a moment ago he'd wanted to get the hell away from her. He really had to focus on quelling the frustration as she smiled again then turned away to get out of his car. Just before she slammed the door she turned and leant back inside. "Thanks again for coming to pick me up, Sebastian. It was really nice to finally meet you."

"It was lovely to meet you too, Francesca," he replied thickly, his heart in his throat as he realized this was it. Tom would ensure she would know to stay away from him from now on. "Sleep well."

"You too," she murmured sweetly. "Goodbye."

Then the door slammed and she was gone.

Sebastian waited until she'd disappeared inside the building before he started the engine and put his foot to the floor.

In record time he was back inside his own apartment, pouring himself a generous measure of scotch and chugging it down his throat, relishing the burn of the single malt. His eyes closed as he leant his weight against the counter, his head hanging wearily between his shoulder blades. And all he could see was Francesca; those dark, nearly chocolate brown eyes melting him with the intense shyness of her gaze. She was stunningly beautiful and, whichever way he looked at it, he couldn't ignore the rush of longing that flared inside of him when he thought of her.

The urge to take care of the issue was strong but he resisted, heading instead for a cold shower and maybe a few hours of blissful sleep, where maybe he might dream about long dark hair and gorgeous dimples.