Cherchez la Femme
The first thing Napoleon thought as he crossed the crowded room was, Mmmm, who's the blonde, and is she available? The next thought, that followed freely, as always, was Who cares if she's available or not? Little things like availability didn't matter to Napoleon; if the woman in question was busty, beautiful, blonde and breathing, like this one, such trivialities as whether or not she had a boyfriend, fiance or husband tended to fall by the wayside. Suffice to say, Napoleon Solo was used to success.
The woman was surrounded by a press of people, diplomats and their wives, delegates to the U.N. special meeting of oil-producing nations, and though she wasn't engaged in conversation with any of them, she was getting her share of appraising looks from the men. Napoleon carefully assessed the room before letting his gaze stray back to the blonde. As far as he could tell, she didn't seem to be attached to anyone.
He'd have to get closer to see, find out if she had a cute face and cute accent to go with her cute ass. Maybe she was Swedish. . . He let his mind wander to the last Swedish woman he'd bedded. Elka. Ah, Elka, sexually ambitious, cool and hot at the same time, blonde and stacked, six feet of unbridled lust—
On second thought, this woman wasn't tall like most of those Scandinavian types, though she was built like a brick. . . Napoleon's interested bits twitched at the thought, and he willed down, boy to his lower body. Okay, not Swedish. Maybe Swiss. Yeah, Swiss. Probably had one of those soft French accents, like Martinique. Hoo, boy, Martinique, with her clever fingers and even more clever mouth. . .
Napoleon groaned inwardly, tugged on his tie and pulled himself together. He'd been lectured before, by both his partner and his boss, about how he was a slave to his libido. Whereas Illya's annoyance merely amused him, Mr. Waverly's disapproval was a different matter entirely. Mission first, pleasure after.
He sidled through the crowd, keeping his eyes open for anything that would signal that THRUSH had indeed planted an assassin. The intelligence had been pretty certain of that, but the security for the cocktail party was tight, so hopefully this would be a false alarm, and. . .hmm. . .there was that woman again.
Quite unaware of his actions, he'd managed to move right up behind her, close enough to admire the gently rounded swell of her derriere and the length of her legs in proportion to her torso. He was hypnotized by the twitch of her hips as she moved through the crowd, the flip of her long blonde hair as she tossed her head. Damn. She looked good from the back, that was for certain. Unless her face looked like a crack in a pie, Napoleon was prepared to move in for the kill.
I really shouldn't be doing this, he thought, but just then she turned towards him and he took it as a sign to proceed. He smiled charmingly. "Excuse me." His voice was a mellifluous purr. "Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Napoleon Solo."
"Yes," said the woman. "We've met."
She had an accent, all right.
Napoleon had the brief sensation that his eyeballs had popped out, rather like a cartoon character's. "Illya?"
"Shh," his partner growled, sotto voce. "Napoleon, do you want to blow my—"
"I. . .uh," Napoleon croaked. "You're a, you're a woman. . ."
"Will you shut up? Clearly I am not a woman, I'm just—"
"—playing one on TV?"
"Quiet! I'm under cover."
"Several layers of cover, I would say," Napoleon babbled, staring at Illya's ample bosom.
"It was the only way I could get close to Emir Rashid." Illya blinked long mascaraed eyelashes. "Close enough to protect him."
"Close? You? Him? Hah?" Napoleon had the sense that there were words somewhere in his head, words that could be strung together to make coherent sentences, but at the moment they seemed inaccessible to him. He shook his head and closed his eyes, but when he opened them, Illya was still a woman. "Where do you keep your gun?"
Illya glared at him and muttered something.
"You put it where?" Napoleon persisted.
Illya rolled his eyes. "Where do you think?" Napoleon's eyes again flicked to Illya's chest, and he got another glare in return. "It's in my purse," Illya snarled, waving a small beaded bag in front of his partner's face.
"Why didn't they use an actual woman agent?" There was safety in pragmatic issues, Napoleon decided. "Like April?"
"April's in Paris," Illya muttered, pausing to smile flirtatiously at a passing Arab. Napoleon's head began to throb. "Besides," Illya said when the coast was clear, "The ambassador stressed to Waverly that it was unseemly for a woman to be that close to a devout Muslim. The Prophet would not approve."
"Ah." Napoleon was scarcely listening, because the visual was so wrong. Wrong, but strangely fascinating. Disturbing. Bizarre. Confusing. Napoleon tried not to stare, but it was a losing battle. Illya looked so, so feminine. But Illya wasn't feminine, not in the least. Illya was tough and muscular and manly. Except—
"What's wrong with you?" Illya demanded.
What indeed, Napoleon wondered. Illya's mouth was set in its familiar scowl, his very recognizable ice-blue gaze was the same as always, but the unfamiliar addition of lipstick and eyeliner and heavy lashes threw the image off so much that it was as if Napoleon were seeing double, Illya and Not-Illya superimposed on one another. The softness of his rear was obviously padding, as was the bustline, but the trim waist was his, and the length of leg--
"Napoleon!" The annoyance in Illya's voice was familiar, too. "Stop looking at my legs."
"Well, they're, they're nice." They were, too, a little muscular, perhaps, but trim and rather shapely, especially with the sleek red pumps that encased Illya's (all right, somewhat large) feet. "How do you walk in those?"
Napoleon blinked. "You've done this before?"
"I've even danced in them," Illya said, without further explanation. "Look, there's Rashid. Watch out—he's coming over."
A swarthy man of more than average height, Rashid pushed his way through the crowd towards them. "Ah, Miss Navratilova," he said, grabbing Illya's hand and pressing it to his lips. "I am enchanted to see you here." Napoleon repressed a gag reflex as the man kissed Illya's hand noisily and juicily. Fortunately the man didn't notice the size of Illya's hands, though perhaps the glittering jewelry and fake nails distracted him.
"How could I miss such a wonderful evening, Emir?" Illya purred in a totally convincing alto voice. "I could not bear to be away from you so long."
That's laying it on a bit thick, Napoleon thought, but Rashid didn't seem to notice. "Ah, my dear. You are a treasure."
Illya tossed his hair and gave a throaty laugh, then looked up at the Emir through fluttering lashes.
Something turned over in Napoleon's gut. He cleared his throat.
Rashid's black eyes slid over to him. "And who is your friend, my dear?"
"This is Napoleon Solo, Emir," Illya cooed. Cooed! "He has been most attentive."
"Unpleasantly so?" Rashid's face darkened. "Shall I have him removed?"
"Oh, no, no," Illya protested, his eyes glittering in amusement. "He's quite harmless."
I'll give you harmless, Napoleon thought darkly.
Which was the last thing he thought before the shooting started.
Chaos erupted, screams from terrified guests, shouts and bursts of gunfire from above. Napoleon looked up—the assassin was in the balcony, firing a THRUSH automatic weapon. Chips of marble flew through the air as bullets ripped into the walls and floor. "Get the Emir!" Napoleon shouted, and Illya swiveled and shoved the Emir to the floor, throwing himself on top, his left hand deftly flicking open the beaded purse while his right hand extricated his gun. Napoleon's own weapon was out of its holster and then both of them were firing together, pinpointing the killer with deadly accuracy.
There was a horrified scream from some woman as the assassin crashed through the railing and arced downward to crash on the ballroom floor. People scattered. Napoleon pushed himself upright and crossed to the man, toeing him to make sure he was dead. He turned to Illya--
Napoleon ran back over to where his partner and Rashid were still untangling themselves. "Are you all right?" Solo demanded.
"Yes, thank you," Rashid answered, struggling to sit up. "You saved my life."
I don't give a rat's ass about your life, Solo thought, ignoring the Emir. Kneeling, he grabbed Illya by both shoulders and shook him. "Are you okay?" he asked, somewhat breathlessly.
Illya pulled a face. "Of course I am, Napoleon. Get off me."
Beside them, Rashid twitched at the unfamiliar pitch of Illya's baritone. "Miss Navratilova?" he said uncertainly.
Illya stood up ungracefully and pulled Rashid upright with one strong movement. "If you're all right, Emir, we'll be leaving. Your security men are here now."
Rashid's mouth dropped open. He stared at Illya's hand, then let his gaze travel up his body to the blonde wig, which was slightly askew. "Miss Navratilova? You're not. . .you're not a woman?"
Illya shook his head and evened out his skirt hem. "No. Sorry."
Rashid's eyes narrowed to heavy-lidded slits. He leaned over Illya, leering. "I don't mind, if you don't."
The color drained out of Illya's face. "I, uh."
"I have a suite here," Rashid rasped in a throaty whisper. "Very lavish. Would you care to—"
"—He's busy," Napoleon said brusquely, pulling Illya away. "Prior engagement."
They were out the door in two seconds.
Illya was uncharacteristically nonplussed. He straightened the wig and then turned to his partner, flashing a grateful look. "Thank you, Napoleon."
"All part of the escort service," Napoleon said huskily. "Now then. The Rainbow Room? I hear they have a great orchestra."
"Rainbow Room?" Illya repeated, gaping. "You, we, whuh?"
"Just remember," Napoleon purred, his hand snaking around his partner's waist. "I lead."