Retribution, Seven Style
If any of the criminals they put away saw them now, they would not recognize them. The seven men poked, prodded, pushed, and generally shoved each other toward their cars. Generally they behaved like seven adolescent boys but they had a reason to be charged up. Piling into three of their perspective rides, they drove their vehicles to park near the small car.
First, Ezra took pictures of the vehicle in its current pristine state. Bright yellow and only a year old, the Volkswagen New Beetle shined under the poor lighting, evidence of the care given by the owner. Only the recently replaced tire showed any problems with the vehicle.
"Sure is pretty," Buck was admiring the car.
"Almost a shame," Vin nodded.
"Nah...she deserves this," their youngest reminded them.
"I will be most gratified to watch her expression when she observes her vehicle for the first time after our improvement of it."
"He wants to see her face when we're done," explained Nathan.
"Boys, let's get started." Chris rubbed his hands together and clapped. He could not believe he was feeling so good about going along with such a silly prank.
"With pleasure, sir," replied the southerner. He was taking pictures of the vehicle from every angle before they started. He stopped as Vin professionally and temporarily disabled the alarm then unlocked the car.
"Vin, I don't think I want to know how you did that so easily," Larabee had a sudden questioning look on his face, feeling a bit nervous about this prank.
Vin grinned at him. "Then don't ask, cowboy, and hand me that incense."
The incense went onto the floorboard to burn and fill the car with the banana scent as they worked. Leaving only cracks at the top of the windows, Vin backed away.
JD and Buck pulled the tarp off the bed of Buck's pickup and removed the roof racks first. After attaching them to the roof, they enlisted the help of their snickering teammates under the watchful direction of their leader and photographer. Josiah, Nathan, Buck, JD, and Vin hefted the attachments and secured them to the roof.
"This is looking good, boys," Buck crowed as the attachments gave the impression of being increasingly realistic.
Next came the garbage bags of balloons from the trunk of the Jag. Each clear bag held a collection of one-colored balloons inside making them appear as one solid color bag. These were tied onto the roof rack between the attachments in the following order: pink, white, and brown.
By this time, the incense burned down and they removed the holder, passing it off to Josiah. Shaking his head, he admired the work-in- progress as Vin brought forward the garbage bags he kept in the back of his jeep.
They shut the driver's window but left the passenger's window open a crack in time for the security agent on duty to stroll up to them. "Howdy, boys," he said jovially. "Ask what you're doing?" Seven men turned as one with 'don't mess with me' glares. "Easy there, pards, just checking what's going on. Boss would have my hide if I didn't."
"We're not damaging anything," JD assured him.
"What are you making?" The agent walked around the exterior of the car.
"What does it look like?" asked Buck. He thought it was pretty obvious.
"I could tell you but I'm gonna keep quiet and go away just as long as nothing permanent's done to the car, okay? The less I know the better." With a backward wave, the agent walked off, chuckling as he went.
Seven unholy grins covered seven mischief-filled faces. Returning to work, they set up the assembly line. One person held the full garbage bags; the second lifted the body of the blower; a third made sure the long, thin funnel attachment filled the crack in the window and stayed there; a fourth kept the intake hose in a garbage bag, a fifth stood ready to change the bags, and the last two supervised and took pictures.
Turning on the blower, they slowly filled the car with the Styrofoam peanuts until the empty bags lay in the back of the jeep and the last peanut found a hand-placed home in the tiny crack.
Chuckling, the seven terrors then coated the exterior of the car in whipped cream and covered that in sprinkles, leaving only the windshield clear. Finally, Buck opened a jar of maraschino cherries and spread them on top.
Stepping back, they admired their handiwork - a banana split beetle. Satisfied the entire thing was captured on film for posterity, Buck attached his own live-feed camera on one of the support posts and activated it, all seven beating a hasty, hold-each-other-up- laughing retreat to their offices to await the payoff.
Finally, the long workday was over. Packing up the last of her take- home paperwork, she closed down her computers, locked up and carried the bags to the car, overfilling her hands.
Once she reached the garage, she aimed for her car and stopped in her tracks. Where was her car? That was not her car!! Those sons- of-a-bitches! They would pay for this...they do this to her and expect her not to insult any of them throughout the meal?
Approaching slowly, Harper carefully examined the exterior and found nothing permanently wrong with the vehicle. On top, two protrusions looked exactly like bananas stretching over the top of her car from front to back. The bags looked like ice cream scoops and the whipped cream covered the entire car with sprinkles and cherries on top.
Although it was undignified, she howled with laughter. Her sides hurt, her face hurt, everything hurt from laughing so hard. Dropping the sacks she carried, she dug in her bag, and found her camera to take pictures. She reluctantly had to give them credit; this one was up there.
By the time she finished, she discovered the peanuts filling her car from top to bottom. Shaking her head, she returned inside and fetched her vacuum and an extremely long extension cord. She managed to clear a hole for herself and drove the banana split to the hospital with all the bags shoved inside wherever she could find room.
Her visit went longer than she thought since the kids had to see her car and she passed out bags of peanuts for crafts. The streamers and balloons made a difference for the day, tied to every conceivable surface the nurses would allow.
Harper entered the saloon and ignored the open hostility from Mentral's supporters across the room. "I'm not late, am I?"
"Not at all, Harper." Nathan and Josiah stood for her to slide into the large circular booth. She ended up between Josiah and Buck.
"How was your sundae?" asked the grinning playboy.
"Just missing the nuts, but I see they're all here now," she gamely replied as JD scooted next to Buck, then Ezra, Chris, and finally Vin joined them. The Texan hated feeling closed in and sat on the outside whenever possible.
Josiah laughed at her quick wit, enjoying the questioning look on the newcomers faces. Buck and Nathan chuckled.
"Just commenting the only thing missing from my car sundae was the nuts but they're all here now," she supplied with a smile.
"An astute observation, myself excluded, of course," drawled Ezra.
"Of course," agreed Harper. "How could we forget the marshmallow, all puffed up and full of air?"
Ezra's green eyes sparked with the light of battle intent on making her pay forty dollars as the others snickered. "With such a sweet siren call, I find it fitting you are called a Harpy."
Chris held out his hand with a smirk and a quick check of his watch. She crossed her arms. "We haven't started yet. That was the last one."
"Yeah, right. Pay up, Harper."
"Double or nothing."
"Agent Standish, do you know exactly what a Harpy is?"
"Pray tell; I do believe you have our complete attention." He only saw the picture that day; apparently, Chris kept it hidden from them on purpose.
"A Harpy is a mythical creature bearing the body of a vulture with the upper torso and head of a woman. She has wings that let her swoop down on her prey and uses her magical voice to bring her chosen ones closer. She'll then torture, attack, and devour any creature she charms with her song. What she doesn't want she fouls. Now, do you see wings on my back? Does my speech enthrall you?"
Buck made a show of examining her back. "I see the wings of an angel."
"I can see the carrion mentality of constantly picking at something," Ezra drawled.
"Again, you learn, which is the most important thing."
Inez chose that moment to appear. "Hola, Senors. Hola, Senorita. What can I bring you?"
"What's the special?" asked JD. He felt hungry although they sat around all day.
"Prime rib." Seven pairs of eyes lit with anticipation.
"Seven prime ribs and what will you have, Senorita?"
"The same," she answered. "Do you have Harp's?"
"Si. One Harp's and the usual?" The men nodded. Their drinks arrived quickly and they discussed trivial matters, mutually agreeing not to verbally antagonize each other before the meal arrived. Harper had money on the line and the men wanted their dinner.
"Hey, Larabee!" Agent Jefferson's voice carried over to their table from across the bar. "Get over here."
She knew why Agent Jefferson called Larabee over: for the express purpose of reaming him out for supporting Harper and burying his man. "Sorry, Chris," Harper immediately apologized. "I never should have agreed to meet you here." Showing up was a mistake and now they would pay for it.
Chris ignored Jefferson. "Mentral's been out of control too long. About time someone reined him in."
"Yes, but I'll ruin your team's image - consorting with the enemy and all that political garbage."
Buck answered for the team. "Harper, we don't give two figs about politics. They don't like you eating with us, then to hell with them. Besides, you're nicer to look at." The rest of the men showed their support through nods and smiles.
Infuriated that Larabee failed to respond to his summons, Agent Jefferson stormed over to the table. "Larabee, you going deaf?" Chris continued ignoring him and the rest of the table's occupants followed suit with the exception of two.
"Ya ain't welcome here, Jefferson. Why don't ya leave?"
"Shut up, Tanner. This doesn't concern you." Vin bristled at the insult.
"Agent Jefferson," Josiah began, "this is neither the time nor the place. Go back to your team; they need you now."
"Not until I know why you're sitting there with that bitch after what she did to Bobby."
Nathan stood and shifted beside Jefferson. "Mentral got what he deserved for swinging at her." Vin matched his movement while Josiah and Chris stood.
Jefferson noticed the movements and aggressive postures while Harper remained cool and silent. "You'd sic them on me?" he addressed her. When she did not reply, he looked at the men with disgust. "Guess she sang that Harpy song and killed your free will. She that good in bed, Wilmington? Or has everyone taken a turn?"
Buck bristled and Josiah saw the hackles rising on every team member, he and JD included. A man should not stand by and let a woman's reputation get unfairly trashed based on lies and innuendo. Before Buck could move, trapped in the booth as he was, he felt a feminine hand on his knee squeezing hard.
"Agent Jefferson." A long pause then she continued, "These are independent men capable of making their own choices. Just as Agent Mentral was capable of not confronting me, just as you were capable of ending the conference and did not, and just as Agent Mentral had the choice of not hitting me. Each person stands responsible for their own actions, just as every leader answers for their people. It's said that some people are a reflection of their leaders." She let that hang for a moment before finally adding, "For the record, I am offended by your comment and give you notice the next one will fall under sexual harassment."
Chris allowed the 'up yours' twist of his lips to point at Jefferson while he admired her speech. He recognized the technique now that it was not being used on him; a collection of statement of facts interspersed with questions to make the receiver listen and think. The blond waited for Jefferson's reaction.
It was not long in coming. "You're a...." As insults go, it was two words that were rank and rude. Too low, involving an indecent act and the one word no one ever called a female and plan to breathe or speak normally again. In the two seconds after Jefferson said it, Chris watched his team as he clenched a fist.
Buck looked ready to lunge across the table.
JD's face showed his anger.
Ezra let his disgust show.
Josiah had that look - the look where someone was going to get pounded.
Nathan radiated displeasure.
Vin wanted to throw a punch.
Hell, he admitted to himself, he wanted to pummel the son-of-a- bitch and he was not even sure he liked Harper. However, it remained her call. The insults went to her so they felt obligated to give Harper the first chance in answering. It was not their fight - yet. One more sentence and it would be.
She stood and nudged Josiah aside to let her out of the booth. He complied. Two steps later and she invaded Jefferson's personal space. "Let's make this official. You are now on report for conduct unbecoming and sexual harassment. Leave now before you make things worse for yourself."
Vin tensed and gave the appearance of a coiled and ready to strike rattlesnake. He noted Buck now standing directly behind her, staring down at Jefferson over her shorter head, his chest to her back. Vin doubted any blow thrown at Harper would land because Buck would shove her clear, block it, or take it himself. Nathan looked ready to pull her out also, the dislike obvious on his face. JD and Ezra finished out the semi-circle, both prepared for a brawl.
The remainder of Jefferson's team gathered around their leader after hearing his shouted insult, looked between Team 7, their leader, and each other. For the first time, they were not entirely confident they could kick Team 7's collective, pissed-off butt. One brave soul took the initiative. "Sir? This isn't helping Bobby. Let's go see him before things get worse."
"At least you have one man on your team with some sense. Leave," Chris growled in his deadliest tone.
Jefferson considered her for a second then turned his back. "You're right. The (beep's) not worth it." There was that word again.
"That's another charge with your men as witnesses," she fired at his back. His men fell in behind him and she received a one-fingered salute. "Buck?"
"Grab my arms before I rip his face off." The ladies man complied, holding her right above the elbows. He felt her shaking and realized the insults struck harder than she let them see.
Having retaken his seat, Ezra sipped his drink. "I admit I admire your restraint, Agent Harper. I doubt I would be as self- contained." He took another sip then heard a stream of Portuguese and nearly choked, spitting some on JD. He finished coughing and said, "My dear, I do not believe that's anatomically possible."
Startled, Harper wheeled and smacked face first into Buck's chest. Hands splayed on Buck's sides while changed his grip and supported her, and leaving her poking her head around Buck's side and staring in surprise at Ezra.
"Geez, Ez, warn me next time." JD mopped the mess off his favorite shirt. "What did you say anyway?" He looked between the open- mouthed Harper clinging to Buck and the smirking southerner saluting her with his glass.
Josiah rumbled with laughter. He understood every third or fourth word and none of them flattered Jefferson. He especially liked the horizontal flat board but did not understand the verb she used with it. He guessed, though.
"You okay, Harper?" asked Nathan, bringing her head around the other side. Buck made no move to let her go enjoying her pressed against him.
"Fine, thank you." She tried straightening her appearance but realized the ladies man still held her arms. "You can let go now."
"Nope, come on." Buck pulled her out on the dance floor for a slow song keeping a polite distance and giving her a chance to collect herself.
Inez arrived at the booth with their dinners. She placed them in front of the six and set the other two platters where Buck and Harper sat. She looked over at them, seeing Harper laugh. She smiled herself.
"Inez, you're not jealous?" asked JD between bites. It was a long- standing, time-honored agreement that eventually, when Inez felt ready, the two of them would get together but until then, Buck could pursue other avenues.
"No, Senor, because he is calming her. I would need calming after hearing that...that...that word twice." They noticed it took all she had to control her temper. No one missed the heated glares she gave Jefferson's team on the way out and Ezra privately thought that team would be banned from coming back.
"I doubt that miscreant would be conscious if he attempted the use of that offensive term on you."
"Si. I do not have her restraint and admire her for it." Inez left for refills.
"She don't scare easy," commented Vin.
"Nope. Got right up in Jefferson's face. I admire that," the medic told them.
"She's gotten in my face more than once," Chris added with a twitch of his lips.
"Good Lord! And she lived?" Ezra placed his left hand on his chest feigning shock.
"Never said she left intact."
"That's the Larabee we know," Vin smirked. "Get-the-hell-away- from- me-Chris Larabee-or-'I'll-glare-ya-ta-death'."
"I don't think he scares her, Brother Vin."
Vin studied Harper then Chris. "Ya might be right. Sucks for y'all, don't it, cowboy?"
Chris made a face. "Josiah, let's hear it."
"Hear what, Chris?"
The big man shook his head. "Too soon to tell."
"Come on, Josiah. You have some ideas."
JD groaned. "Nope you don't, or nope, you're not sharing?" Sometimes getting Josiah to talk ranked up there with a dentist pulling teeth.
Josiah gave him a half-smile and continued eating.
"Call that a nope, not sharing, JD." Nathan grinned at the computer whiz.
"What about you, Ez? Any ideas?"
"I am contemplating the evidence already presented and evaluating her in a less formal social structure." The woman kept him guessing and for a change he had a hard time reading someone.
"He ain't made up his mind."
"Oh. What's your opinion?"
"Reckon I'll share when I know." For someone who usually had an easy time of reading people, she confused him more than once. He felt confident she was a good person deep down and that was plenty for him to start with.
"She's good at her job."
"Not saying anything else yet." He wanted to keep their conversation in the atrium private.
"Come on, Harper, one slow dance won't kill you."
"All right," she agreed and let him lead.
"You handled yourself pretty well."
"Instructors enforce the standards."
"And you have to be above reproach all the time. Must get pretty lonely," he commented.
"I'll live," she said with a shrug.
"I'm sorry about the telegram."
"Are you?" Sparkling hazel eyes looked up into his.
He chuckled and dipped his head. "Not really." Buck made sure he had her full attention. "Because I meant the first part."
"Oh, did you?"
"Is that a promise?"
"Only if you'll allow it to be," he responded, surprised at her flirtatious nature.
"We'll see, Agent Wilmington."
"Buck," she repeated, leaning into his chest. Right now, it felt good to be held.
"Why do you do that?"
"Do what?" she asked.
"Call everyone by their title, not their first name."
"It will sound strange to you."
"Darlin', with who I work with, strange is my middle name."
She laughed at that. "All right. My mother and father strongly believe that you should not call someone by their given name unless you have their permission to do so. They passed that trait to me."
He considered her words. "That's real respectful."
Harper smiled up into his face. "It helps because I'm not expected to call anyone by their first names. Besides, they pay attention better when they are called by a title than their given name. More professional, less informal, especially considering the authority my position gives me."
"Fair enough," he said, seeing her point.
The song ended and he escorted her back to the table under the watchful eyes of the other ATF Agents in the saloon. Ezra noticed the scrutiny and realized the rumor mill would be working overtime. As she started on her dinner, the Southerner presented an observation, "Agent Harper, please tell me if there is anything you can do without attracting undue attention. Just your mere presence here is feeding the tongues of the gossips."
Startled, she nearly dropped her fork and practically knocked over her drink. "I'm sorry; I should go."
Seven male faces nailed her in place along with the physical restraints coming from the men surrounding her. "You're not going anywhere," Buck told her, wagging a finger in her face.
"I was merely making an observation," Ezra advised, "not requesting you leave. I find someone who can be as fierce as a she-devil one minute and as juvenile as you have demonstrated fascinating."
"Must be all those drama classes I took in high school."
"Perhaps," he agreed.
"And did you ever play the lead?" asked Josiah.
"More than once, Agent Sanchez, more than once."
She inclined her head and shared a knowing look with Buck, who nearly choked on his beer. "Josiah."
Buck went through the list - himself, Nathan, Josiah, and Chris. He guessed Chris because of all the time they spent in his office arguing. He could not see Chris letting her call him "Agent Larabee" constantly. So far, Ezra, Vin, and JD would still be referred to by title. He did not plan to say anything and let the others extend the courtesy.
Harper continued working on her meal and impressed Nathan with her appetite.
"Harper, how can you eat so much and stay so thin?" The medic thought she ate next to nothing from her weight. That or something more serious. A few possibilities crossed his mind and raised his concern meter.
"Good metabolism, I guess," she answered, not telling him about the constant night terrors or the meditation and grueling exercise she endured and suffered for after every one of them.
"Must have one as fast as Vin's," the medic declared, privately deciding to check on her and make sure it was not an eating disorder.
Ezra's eyes sparkled as he exchanged glances with Chris and Vin. It was time to start provoking her in the spirit of fun, not anger like Jefferson. "Agent Harper, may I ask a question?"
He studied her with green eyes and prepared the opening volley. "Do you play poker?"
"Draw, stud or strip?" she answered back with an innocuous expression.
Various coughs and snorts sounded followed by spewed drinks launching around the table. Ezra wiped liquid off his coat and planned to send the bill to both Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Dunne. He recovered first. "Would you be interested in a few hands after we finish dinner?"
"I believe I would. Which type or would you allow me to pick?"
Inez joined them with refills in time to hear the previous exchange. "If you plan on the third variety, you may use the back room."
"Inez, darlin', if you want me out of my clothes all you have to do is ask." Wilmington's lopsided smile fell on an unreceptive host.
"Senor Buck, if you lose to Harper, I will not even give you a towel and make you drive home in your skin." She stormed off leaving Buck staring after her with a bemused expression.
He called after her, "Only if you're going home with me, darlin'."
"Nunca!" she yelled back as she ducked under the bar.
"Her favorite word to you, Buck," teased Nathan.
"The woman's softening up," crowed Buck.
Chris stared at Harper who was currently biting the inside of her cheek. "It's killing you, isn't it?"
"No comment," she muttered. She would not give him the satisfaction.
A server came through to remove the empty dishes and then cleared the table and took their dessert order.
"Harper, what does that golden harp do?" asked JD, his curiosity getting the better of him.
The smile scared him. "Trade secret, Agent Dunne."
"Then tell me how you found out who hacked into your system."
"You left a few clues behind. All I had to do was follow them back."
JD gave her a look saying that he did not believe it. "I don't think so. I didn't leave a trace."
"Actually, you did. I'll show you next week if you are interested in learning. Might be helpful..." she cut herself off to Larabee's amusement, "in your work," she finished. Their deserts arrived to be dispatched quickly.
"Nice save," Chris smiled at her, feeling she was going to break soon.
Ezra prepared the next round. "Where did you learn Portuguese?"
"On an assignment. I really did not have much choice," she answered.
He noticed her eyes tightened at the mention of the assignment. "May I assume you were in Portugal at one time?"
"You may assume whatever you wish," Harper replied.
Her mouth opened. "That was not an insult. That was a statement of fact."
Chris snorted. "Only you can take a statement of fact and turn it into an insult."
"Cowboy, she's right this time." Unfazed blue eyes met narrowed green ones.
Larabee considered then relented. He'd get her later. "I'll let you slide...once."
Josiah saw the clenched fist under the table and added the depth of her temper to his profile. He thought it best to remove her temporarily from this atmosphere before she lost what control she had; even he admitted her day was trying. Another slow song started from the jukebox and he looked at her, "Dance with me?"
She nodded gratefully for the excuse to leave the table. They planned to provoke her to make her lose the bet. Well, it will not happen.
After they scooted out of the booth and Josiah led her on the dance floor, he said, "You're holding up remarkably well."
"Regarding?" She tipped her head back to look at him.
"I learned quickly how to keep my temper in check; unfortunately, this is not a banner day for that."
"I think we would have tried the patience of a saint today with our shenanigans."
Harper smiled sweetly into his face. "Not a saint but a vengeful Harpy. Fair warning, profiler, my retaliation will be brutal."
"Any chance I could talk you out of it?"
"Nope. Any chance I could get you to stop analyzing me?"
He chuckled. "Nope. Know thy enemy."
"And am I the enemy, Josiah?"
That question required thought before answering and he finally gave her complete honesty. "Veritatem dies aperient."
"Time will reveal the truth," she automatically translated. A smile spread across her features. "I agree." She changed the topic. "You dance well."
"As do you."
"Just following your lead."
He gifted her with a smile. "Tell me, Harper, what is your first name?"
"Excuse me?" he said. What did she say?
"Nunya," Harper repeated.
"What language is that?"
He caught the joke and burst out laughing. Josiah squeezed her hands where he held them and replied, "I won't tell."
"It has been said that a name gives power over a person. I believe this is true; therefore, only a handful of people know my real name."
"Will I be one of them?"
She replied in Latin. "Omne ignotum pro magnifico est."
"Everything unknown seems magnificent," he said. It appeared he was not the only one that liked to talk in riddles.
They continued dancing until the song ended, finding comfort in silence and not having to fill the air with meaningless conversation. He led her back to the table and the men that waited for them for a poker game.
"So which is it, gentlemen? Draw, stud, or strip?"
"I know there's at least one or two studs at this table," Buck said with a lecherous wink.
Nope; she was not going to win this bet with an opening like that. This would be worth it. Silently she reached into her purse and pulled out eighty dollars. She handed it to Chris and said, "And a couple geldings and braying asses too but I'm not saying who they are."
The table burst into laughter until they thought about it and wondered whom she meant. Since she declared it open season, Ezra added, "And a shrew reminiscent of Katherine."
"First one that says Kiss me Kate will get a knuckle sandwich," she retorted.
"Then I won't say it," Buck replied and planted a kiss on her to the amusement of the others.
Harper let him continue until she got her hands in position. One wrapped around her lager and the other went to work. A sharp quick pressure somewhere very important drove home the idea of releasing her quickly.
Letting her go, Buck barely pulled in a breath when a shower of Harp's poured over his head. "Agent Wilmington, you try that again and you'll get more than a punch and a shower."
His teammates laughed uproariously at the now sodden, lager- dripping ladies man.
"Buck, you're supposed to drink it, not wear it," JD said between snickers.
He liked spirited women but could do without the cool-down. Ignoring his teammates, he said, "But it was worth it, darlin', and any time you want a repeat, I'll be happy to oblige."
A fresh Harp's arrived on the table in front of Harper. She looked up, surprised, at the smiling face of Inez. "Well done, senorita. I only wish I could have done that myself." With a final smirk, she left the table.
"Buck, as to your last statement, I only have one thing to say." Her finger crooked as she pulled him closer to whisper in his ear. The rest of the men watched the fascinating display.
Whatever she said, it caused Buck to blush. He started sputtering then downed his entire beer in one gulp. That was not sufficient, he grabbed the closest alcoholic beverage and upended it without looking at his teammates or the innocent looking Harper sipping from her Harp's.
Buck finally stopped drinking and just said, "Damn."
Chris narrowed his eyes at the Instructor. "What exactly did you say to him?"
"Well, if I wanted everyone to know, I would have said it louder," she replied with a sweet smile on her face.
Vin looked away with a half-smile because he knew Chris just asked for that one. He thought his friend brighter than to leave himself open like that.
"Harper, I'd like to see that," Buck told her.
"Haven't you already had one shower today, Buck?" she teased.
"See what?" asked Josiah.
"Nothing," she immediately replied.
"Damn," was all Buck could mutter.
"Changing the subject, would anyone care to try their luck in a few hands of cards?" asked Ezra, fanning the deck with his hands.
"I would be delighted," Harper responded. With the last of the dishes cleared away, they began their game of draw poker. After a few hands, they realized Harper had a bit of skill and slowly, over the next hour, each of them realized Harper possessed considerable bluffing ability.
Ezra thought he knew her card ability and once when he called her, she never backed down, presenting a hand with absolutely nothing in it. He stared at amazement, as did his teammates, because the way she bet they all believed she held something good in her hand.
"Ya know, don't know about the rest of y'all, but I wanna see them go against each other for a few hands," Vin nodded in her and Ezra's direction.
"Ms. Harper?" An inquiring eyebrow raised in her direction.
"Certainly," Harper responded. The rest of the men shifted to allow them to be across the booth from each other, leaving Harper between Josiah and Nathan while Ezra sat between Chris and Vin. They played every variation of poker over the next two hours and declared Ezra the winner by a single dollar.
The group called it a night at that point and walked Harper out to her freshly cleaned Beetle.
"Didn't like the detail job we gave ya darlin'?" Buck flashed her a grin as he opened her door for her.
She rolled her eyes at him and turned to the others, "Speaking of details, I hope you all remember enough of them at your self- defense refresher Monday. I would not want to see you lose to little old me."
There were several groans around the group. She caught Tanner's eye and he gave her a little half grin as he thought of the upcoming challenge. He was startled as Buck's arm wrapped around his neck from behind.
"Hey darlin', being an Instructor, maybe you'd be interested in a little education we have in mind tomorrow . . .oomph!!" The sharp elbow to his ribs cut off the rogue's cackling.
Harper was amazed at the change in Vin's expression and was sure that if the light was better she would see a beet red flush to his face. She was not sure what they planned but she knew she had plenty to take care of this weekend. Like moving. As her gaze took in each of the men watching the antics of the battling duo, she knew she had picked right in her choices.
"I think you can handle things on her own," she smiled further as Vin swatted the laughing Wilmington on his arm. "Besides I think you gentleman will see enough of me during the next month. Not including what you didn't already see this morning." They shuffled and looked away, knowing she now had them where she wanted them.
Something snagged her interest and she walked over to the still- shoving pair of Vin and Buck. They stopped long enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and stare at her. Nathan, JD, Josiah, and Chris waited for her next move. Especially Chris because he had an idea of what she was capable of doing with that in-your-face mentality.
She crooked a finger to bring them closer to her and both heads dipped. Once Harper felt certain that no one else was near enough to hear, she said, "I remember the thrill of pole dancing and there's nothing like watching a woman perform erotic moves in front of and above you. If you feel your field trip fails to teach you anything, I'm sure I can arrange something for you. After all, I am an Instructor and it is my job to teach." Harper placed a caressing palm on a cheek of each of them, tapping them lightly twice before stepping away. With a smile and wink, she settled into her car and rolled down the window. "For the rest of you, just so you know, I gave up pole dancing some time ago. I'll only perform under orders or in two other situations. Have a nice weekend and I can't wait to see you on Monday." Her full-mouth smile and low chuckle carried across the parking lot as she drove off.
"Why do I feel unsettled by that remark?" the undercover agent remarked to no one in particular as they watched the taillights. His mind also whirled with the thought of her actually pole dancing and wondered about the story behind that.
"Because we've just met our match," replied Nathan while shaking his head. "Not too many people want to go toe to toe with us but our reputation doesn't scare her. And that worries me. Think I'll double check my locks the next couple days." He thought about how easily she broke into their office after the CPR class and even though he examined the doorknob, he found no trace of her tampering.
"Harpy was a pole dancer?" said JD in an awed tone. "Nah. She's bluffing." He shook his head. "She's good at bluffing; we all saw that tonight."
Vin and Buck were too busy staring after the car then Buck glanced sideways at Vin. "Junior! You're as red as a beet! I wonder what you're thinking about!"
The fist came first followed by a hard shove to knock the bigger man on the ground. "Knockin' some sense inta yer fool head."
Buck started laughing and scrambled to his feet, flying into Vin's torso and pushing him back. Vin immediately twisted with the weight and dumped Buck on the ground. Instead of following up, he stared again at the Harpy's fading taillights.
The rogue straightened and pulled himself to his feet, reaching over and dusting off his knees with JD's cap. JD tried yanking it out of his hands and the ladies man gave over to juvenile behavior. He held it high about the kid's head and watched JD jump for it. Finally, the computer whiz got smart and landed a solid thump on Buck's midsection, forcing him to double over and JD grabbed the cap. He stepped away and made a show of straightening it on his head with a smug look on his features, a little half grin saying 'I beat you'. Buck shrugged and harangued Vin about the 'lovely ladies' they would meet the following night.
Chris looked over at each of his men and settled on Josiah who stood beside him. "You sure you don't want to share what you've worked up on her profile so far, Preacher?"
Josiah's eyes never left the fading lights as his grin broadened. He turned to his leader and friend and wagged his eyebrows, "Nope." His booming laughter could be heard over the parking lot as he turned and made his way to his Suburban.
Larabee sighed and stared thoughtfully after the departed enigma. He was vaguely aware of the others making their way to their own vehicles. Vin was still giving Buck grief over their plans for tomorrow and the others were adding their own brand of harassment to the young sharpshooter. However, their fun and games were the furthest from the man in black's mind. The blonde's thoughts were on a pixie of an agent that had turned his world upside down, and in his gut, he knew she was not through yet. She had provoked him, angered him, made him think, puzzled him, and damn it, made him admire and respect her. 'Hell', he thought, she even made him smile. He shuddered slightly as he thought of what she had in store for them, because he knew without a doubt she planned a payback. If it was him standing in her place, he would, and he would be ruthless. Maybe Nathan had a good idea about double- checking the locks.
"Hey, Stud," Buck yelled across the parking lot, "You coming?"
With a final shake of his head, Larabee turned and headed for his Ram. Why did he feel that woman was still on a collision path with his life, and he felt no hope for survival?
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Author's Notes: Lyrics from "Bitch" by Meredith Brooks, Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love To You", and Lionel Ritchie's "Stuck on You" reprinted without permission. All songs are the exclusive property of the respective artists and no copyright infringement intended.