4.

He's gone from the suite by the time she steps out of the shower in the morning. Sydney checks all the rooms to make sure—his computer still on the center table by the balcony, suitcase at the foot of his bed, sheets untouched. He'd told her once that he was an insomniac. Something like that.

In London, the Saudi embassy, well past midnight and raining. She'd just made it to the roof to find him there, alone for once, already holding the disks she was sent to retrieve, neatly repairing a hole in the skylight.

"Isn't it past your bedtime, Sark?"

Caught unarmed, she took her time in assessing him. Rappelling equipment beside him and very obviously packed heat in an ankle holster. She very much needed those disks. Under-the-table deals to skirt OPEC regulations.

"I never sleep, Ms. Bristow. It's what keeps me ahead of you."

He stood fluidly and gave her his own once-over. Drew the same conclusions.

She considers looking through his suitcase, knows he'll know if she does, decides there will be plenty of time to do that later.

There are other things. Prep work that the CIA has heaped on them, claiming ignorance and Sark's inhibition towards full disclosure. There are room numbers to discover, then to bug, phones to tap, cameras to be placed in the conference hall, she still has seven dossiers to read, and she finds a stack a paper next to Sark's portable printer.

Hotel blueprints of all relevant rooms, even a few she wouldn't have bothered with, a full reservations list, a tech sheet inventorying bugs and wire taps placed throughout the building, a diagram of the conference hall, detailing placement of surveillance cameras.

"Not far ahead enough." Audacious words and they both knew it, but he played along. She stalked a bit closer, watched his hands, where he was looking.

"I never expect less than a run for my money from you," eyes darted to where her rope was still anchored on the roof ledge, a challenge emerging in his stance "Are you feeling game this fine evening?" There was water running along his cheekbones, trickling off his hair, pooling at their feet.

She was even with him when he made a dash for the ledge, close enough to make a good leap at the backs of his legs, bringing them down hard, the loot they were both chasing flying through the dripping air and into an impenetrable night. He twisted at the hips, throwing her onto her back, slid wetly behind her to hook his arms around her shoulders. The weather was making her complacent, and she didn't struggle much at first, feeling not quite unsafe. She relaxed, waited for him to let his guard down.

"Nice job, butterfingers."

"Yes, clearly I should take all the blame for this," not loosening in the least.

She thinks that maybe she'll check out the beach. Changes into a hastily-bought and flowery swimsuit and wraps a sarong around her hips, toting a Carlos Fuentes novel and an oversized towel to complete the image.

There are children building a castle and a few older women swimming against the tide. The sand isn't empty of people, but it's not as packed as it will be in the afternoon. The texture is almost silky- soft and pliant under her toes, just supportive enough to walk or run comfortably on.

So she tosses down her towel, her book, and wispy skirt, and she runs. First down to the wet sand where the water sweeps over it quiet and smooth; foaming turquoise that warms her up to her ankles with each wave. Then along the edge of the ocean like a tightrope walker, weaving to keep her fleeting footprints along the line where the ground changes in color and consistency. She runs until Sark calls out her name and she stops and turns to see him, propped up on an elbow, a white button-down abandoned beside him in the sand, bare footed, lounging as far from the other beach-dwellers as he could get.

She'd like to think he looks incongruous here, but the sun, the intensely azure sky, and the crisp color of the sand surrounding them match the stark white of the shirt thrown down beside him, the mild tan of his pants, leaving his skin almost glowing in reflection, the lines of his chest and stomach highlighted in the brightness of it all. Looking like this, relaxed, he is natural here, as natural as all black was while he was dark and clandestine.

He didn't let go and didn't relax and she was becoming aware of the feel of his shirt and hers, both soaked, sliding together over skin, of just how hard his chest and stomach were, and just where her ass was fitting so snugly.

"Are you going to let me go or do I have to make this more painful for you?"

"Do you plan to behave yourself when I release you?"

She laughed shortly, short of breath, "I don't make promises to liars."

She felt him smile behind her, the way his mouth moved by her ear, "I'm delighted."

He broke the hold suddenly and got to his feet before she could adjust to the draft at her back, and he used her shaky standing to knock her down again—a hand barely brushing her collarbone and a knee at the back of her knee. She jerked a leg in the fall, catching him in the side, sending him reeling. They could start out cordial, but somehow they were always brought back to this—the visceral truth of body against body, without restraint, hurting and being hurt. She got up faster the second time and reached through the rain for the back of his neck, lacing her fingers through the short hair there and bringing his head down to meet her knee, then throwing him to the floor. That night he won, righting himself quickly enough to knock the wind out of her with a swift, well-placed kick, water splashing around her as she fell at his feet, and he stayed just long enough to hear her call after him.

"Sark, you-"

From the top of the ledge, "Please, Ms. Bristow, call me Andrew."

She parts with the ocean, approaches him, watches him watching her, and wishes for her sarong in a sudden bout of modesty.

"What are you doing here?" It's the easiest question.

"Becoming the first Irishman in all of history to tan well," she looks him over again and can believe it, "Also keeping an eye on our first attendee," pulling a photo from under his crumpled shirt, "Lilith Neujahr. Arrived this morning," she's about 40 and gorgeous, of a hard-to-place ethnicity and intelligence that's alive in her eyes, "I was considering how to say hello."

"So you know her already?"

"Vaguely, from a contract I negotiated with her former employer years ago. A very refined woman, and not easy to get along with," sparing Sydney a glance before looking back at Neujahr's swimming form, "Let me handle her."

There's no need to argue, really. She starts to walk off, then remembers, turns back awkwardly.

"Sark. Um, you know, thanks. For doing all that work last night. I appreciate it."

He looks at her now, takes in the grudging sincerity of her expression, the curve of her hip where the swimsuit ends, the beads of sweat formed on her forehead from the sun and the exertion.

"For God's sake, Sydney," he looks abruptly back to Lilith, "Call me Andrew."

It was not until later, walking down a cold, damp street in search of the Underground, that it occurred to her that she ought to be dead. But he'd never touched his gun.