Ingrams & Assoc #1: Double Bluff
Chapter 1

Caution: This Action/Adventure Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Mult, Consensual, Reluctant, BiSexual, Heterosexual, Fiction, Cheating, Slut Wife, DomSub, MaleDom, FemaleDom, Spanking, Rough, Oral Sex, Anal Sex,

Desc: Action/Adventure Sex Story: Chapter 1 - April integrates herself into the state department to investigate a negotiator, who's children aren't apparently his. Once there, she finds all is not as it seems.

April Carlisle took a deep breath, steadied her nerves and opened the office door, entered the room and sat down in the easy chair on the near side of the desk.

She smiled as sincerely as she could at the woman on the other side of the desk, who sat back in a deep plush leather chair, looking her over.

Both were dressed in office best; trim skirts, hose, heels, fitted blouses and both had their hair done – April's resplendent red hair was styled so it draped around her neck, and the other woman was currently sporting a blond bob that highlighted her eyes and cheekbone - and immaculate but sparse makeup.

April was a slim woman, 26 years old, unattached and very aware of her place in the world. She was a 34b and not over endowed in the chest area, and her rear end, honed through many volley ball games and rock climbing, was pert and also rock hard. She was tall – 5'9", elegant and moved like a gazelle. She had long legs and wasn't afraid to show them, but didn't flaunt them either. She thought of herself as elegant and classy, but like everyone, she had her slutty moments. April had green eyes, red silky hair that reached down to her neck. She spent a lot of time on her hair, because it did tend to get away from her if she didn't. One thing she was grateful for was the fact that she didn't have the traditional extremely pale skin that went with red hair – she tanned just fine in fact, and she had a good one currently, since she'd just come from her apartment in Arizona, where there was no shortage of sun.

Educationally, she had a double degree in criminal investigation and behavioral psychology, further studies in therapeutic psychology and plenty of other investigative qualifications. Her original plan was to sign up with the FBI, but on discovering the background to her uncle, or, rather as she discovered later, her father, she'd rededicated herself to helping those in a pain they could never reveal. And that had led her to this meeting.

The woman behind the desk was typing at a laptop, and peering through glasses – she looked up as April entered the room, tilting her head forward and looked over her glasses. She looked back at the screen, waved her hand at the chair on the other side of the desk and finished typing as April took her seat.

As always when she was in this room, April couldn't believe the amazing view of the Potomac that was outside the windows behind the desk of her potential employer. They were on the 7th floor of a low-rise office building in Washington DC and she did idly wonder what floor space must run too around here. It had to be at least a $100 a square foot. They – the company - were obviously doing ok, but then she already knew that.

She thought back to the preceding weeks. Ever since she had got the business card from the woman behind the desk – the shiny hard metal jet black business card, with almost completely indecipherable inscriptions that you could only see in just the right light – and she had called the number, she'd been in a hotel in Washington DC the next day, and then the testing had begun. There'd been psychological testing, where they'd wanted to know about her relationship with her father and uncle – that was a pretty quick meeting since she'd never really known her dad. There'd been physical exams, - a real in depth prodding, - there'd been mental aptitude tests, and there'd been obstacle courses, even a night in locked room where they'd played weird sounds at her. It had gone on and on and she still wasn't sure what some of them were for. Oh, she'd worked out what most were for and what they were looking for, or not looking for, and she'd been careful to display exactly what they'd expect to see from someone being tested as a field agent, but still, it had been tedious and lengthy and she was glad when it was all done. She'd even had her ability to perform a blow job tested, which was really hard to do when there were three people in lab coats and clipboards on the other side of the one way glass. The poor sap she was supposed to make cum was nervous and that had made it even harder. But she'd done it. With flying colors. And she'd even shown them the mouthful of cum she'd got out of out of him in the mirror before swallowing it and showing them she had. She'd surprised herself there – she'd known this kind of testing was coming but when it had, she hadn't hesitated – she'd just gone for it and she felt no guilt or insecurity about it afterwards. She'd found that really interesting and spent the evening looking up papers of the lack of sexual morals on the internet, knowing full well she was probably being monitored at the time. She figured that would give them something else to talk about.

The woman behind the desk finished typing and then closed the lid of the laptop and gave April her full attention.

"Dr. Ingrams," said April, with a small touch of deference.

Jessica Ingrams smiled at April and said, "April. So nice to see you. So what do you think? You've had time to digest it and God knows we've prodded at you enough."

April chuckled. "Oh, it's been educational. I think I've come to a decision though."

Jessica leaned forward and said, "Good. Would you like a drink?"

April nodded. "A bit early in the day for me, but sure, why not."

Jessica stood and walked over to the built in bar in the corner of her office. She started making a martini and said, "Dirty, right?"

April nodded. Of course they knew how she liked her drinks. They knew everything else.

Jessica fixed the martini and made herself a Manhattan, neither woman speaking while she played bartender. She brought the drinks over and said, "Let's talk in the easy chairs. It's more ... intimate."

April took her drink and followed Jessica over to the small couch and easy chair. Before sitting down, Jessica stuck her head out of the door and said, "Angela, no calls for the next hour, ok?" and shut the door. Immediately all sounds of the outside office ceased. More evidence of money being spent.

"So, April, tell me your thoughts," said Jessica, taking a sip of her drink and not taking her eyes off April.

April took a sip of her own drink and then put it down on the coffee table, being careful to use a coaster. "I think I'm going to like it here," she said.

Jessica laughed, then stood up and walked over to April. She embraced the other woman and said, "I think so too! We are lucky to have you. Now, for the unpleasant part. Before we put this on record, I have to give you the downsides here. Yes, there are some. I'm sure you've worked out some of them yourself.

"Firstly, there's the sex. Yes, I know you know that – God knows we've all been through that. But, even though you passed the testing phase, I doubt you realize how this can ... change you. This job is intense and it stops any real relationships forming. It may be years before you can settle down, and even then, the nine-to-five soccer mom routine will never be for you – you just won't be capable of it.

"After this, everything pales, and honestly, unless the man you marry knows everything about you, the marriage will fail. Mine did and so did most of my ex field agents. I need to warn you, seriously, about this. While you will be out there doing good and fixing up marriages, relationships and lives, yours will take a back seat. Not to mention some of the weird things you may be asked to do that may give you either some strange tastes or sour you forever on other things."

April nodded with the over emphatic nod of someone who thinks they know something, but is dismissive of it; the nod of every impatient person.

"Then there's the sense of manipulation. Now, I know you have strong character – the tests indicate that – and you also have a strong sense of justice, but sometimes things ... happen to field agents. The sense of superiority, of godhood almost – the God-given right to exploit and manipulate people. This can sometimes have an effect on people and we can never predict who they will be. We know the signs, but I'm letting you know up front, if we see it in you – and we'll be looking, be sure of that – then we'll be on you like a ton of bricks."

Jessica stopped to take another sip of her drink and April jumped in with, "Oh, I'm not worried about that. I know I can handle it. The sex thing, well, I'm sure the tests showed how I can divorce from that too."

Jessica put her drink down and leaned back in the chair, considering before speaking. "Yes, the tests did suggest a casual arrogance – a tendency to overestimate yourself and underestimate everyone else. Oh, you thought you were so clever with those tests, giving us exactly what you thought we wanted? Did it ever occur to you that those tests were there exactly to see what you'd do? We don't care about the results in terms of appropriateness. We only care about what you actually wrote or did. You were a psychology major, you should know this. We have been at this a while and we weren't all entirely stupid before you showed up you know."

Jessica leaned forward and put her hands on April's knees. In a low voice she said, "You aren't as smart as you like to think you are. Or maybe you are, but you aren't out of the ordinary here. There are people out there who could manipulate you into dressing up like a clown and doing a gig at the Presidential inauguration if they wanted to."

April was taken aback. and Jessica pushed back again, taking her hands off April's knees and picking up her drink again. Jessica considered that drink, examining the way the light refracted through the liquid inside, before saying, "But a little arrogance is good, I think. Particularly at the beginning, when you really need it. A couple of missions and you'll have that knocked out of you. Now, questions?"

April was trembling slightly – after the weeks of testing, she knew Jessica Ingrams' reputation and to be so squarely in her sights was quite a scary prospect. She controlled herself because she also knew that this was likely her only time to get real answers to all her questions.

April took a deep breath. "Firstly, why me?"

"I thought I answered that when we met in Arizona, my dear. We've been watching for people like you. You have the skill set we want and you also have the background of desire to help. We know what happened with your father and uncle and we've a good idea of what that did to what you want to do. Sure, we could be wrong, but we are exceedingly good at figuring this stuff out. You need what we offer because it puts you on the ground and helping directly, all on your terms. And helping people you normally wouldn't because they'd never come to get help. They'd just go on being broken and doing damage everywhere."

"Isn't what you do a bit ... well, it's more than underhanded, isn't it?" asked April after digesting this response. It was pretty much what she'd expected but it was good to hear it.

"Underhanded? Of course it is, April. That's the point. I founded this agency specifically to do those underhanded things, because no one else would or could. Do you imagine that CIA agents who've spent three years in the field are seriously going to entertain talking to a shrink on their return? Without playing mind games? People who've had to survive on their wits aren't about to sit down and talk about their relationship with their father or their wife. Those are the people I want to help, and there's no way we can do it overtly, since they won't let us. So we do it covertly instead. Now, I know this doesn't honestly bother you – as I said, I've seen your test results. So I can only assume this is an attempt to prod. Very well then, this once, prod away."

"Ok, fair enough. Yes, I'm not that bothered. I was just wondering if you were," replied April.

"If I was, I'd hardly be running this company, would I?"

"Yes, I suppose not. OK. So, what about the ... um ... illegal stuff?"

Jessica steepled her fingers. "The illegal stuff. Yes. Well, we have been known to break the law on occasion. There's two degrees here – one is the treatment of people without their knowledge. This is a clear breach of traditional medical ethics. I would argue that the results justify it – certainly we've helped people who would never have been helped otherwise. My feeling is that ethics, like most things, are contextual. There is no blanket statement that you can make that covers everything. But that is just justification. Yes, we do break that commandment, although, as I said, I look at it as more guidance than a commandment.

"Secondly, while most of what we do here isn't illegal – there is no law about you passing yourself off as someone else, unless you are passing yourself of as a government officer, and most of what we try to do flies below the radar of legal/illegal. But on occasion we will do things that might be construed as illegal. Looking people up, gathering credits scores, occasional breaking and entering. If that offends you or scares you, then now is the time to go. Not that I think it does. I think it excites you."

April smiled at that. Jessica had her there.

"No, I'm not worried about that. I think it's all very exciting – very cloak and dagger. OK – if we get caught, then what?" April asked.

"Well, that's a good question. Worst possible case is that we all go to jail. However, in most cases where this has arisen we've had good lawyers and we've also been hired by people who have the power to make a lot of these kinds of charges go away. To date, we've been careful and it's never really come to that point. We've never been caught. That could change though, depending on the operation we embark on. You should know that."

Jessica unlaced her hands and took another drink.

"How many times have you been caught?" asked April on impulse.

"Caught? Oh, you mean, it was discovered what we were doing? Twice so far. We've done about forty-five operations since we formed the company, and we've been discovered twice. Once was an ex-CIA operative who was highly unstable. He'd come home from a deep field assignment where he'd had to do some fairly horrible things to maintain his cover, to discover his wife had moved on and was pregnant with his neighbor's child.

"We tried to help him, but he was so unstable that he suspected everyone. His combination of instability, operational brilliance and paranoia eventually led him to figure out that we were an organization.

"He didn't understand we were trying to help him – he even penetrated our office here. It took three people to talk him down from killing everyone in here. He's currently incarcerated in an NSA facility in Virginia, where he will be for the rest of his life, I'm afraid. He is truly broken and we should have seen that before we took the case. I was very sad about that. One of the few times were we've not only failed, but made things worse."

There was silence for a minute, and then April prompted, "And the other?"

There was another silence and then Jessica cleared her throat. "That was ... a computer IT guy out in Washington State. I was personally involved – it was in the early years of this agency."

April was incredulous. "You got caught helping someone by an IT guy? Seriously? All this tech and people and an IT guy caught you?"

"Yes, well, he was very smart and he ducked his profile. It all still worked out in the end. You'll read the case notes I'm sure."

April nodded and another question occurred. "So, how often have you failed? To accomplish your mission, I mean?"

"So far, we've completed forty-three operations and we have three ongoing now. In that, we've completed all operational requirements in about thirteen operations. That doesn't sound like a lot, but most of the time the extended desires of the client are never going to be met anyway. Most of the time we do a pretty good job of patching up whatever issue we have to deal with, but frequently we simply cannot wish away what has happened. Most of the time we make things better to some degree. I'd say that we probably, for want of a better word, 'fix' the situation about seventy five percent of the time. We've only made things worse twice, and in all those cases, I don't honestly know what else we could have done – they were going to deteriorate anyway, and all we did was hasten the end.

"Really though, it depends on the clients requirements coming in. If they say something like 'Make it like it was before X cheated' then no, it's unlikely that we are going to be able to hit that operational objective one hundred percent. There's just almost no way to do that. However, if the client says, 'Make it so this couple can forgive each other and move on, ' then that's a more realistic goal in the first place. In that case, we can often hit it a hundred percent.

"I work with the clients to refine the initial operational requirements, but you know how it is. Some clients just don't want to listen and, of course, it's their money."

April nodded. She knew exactly what Jessica meant.

"Also, you have to understand," Jessica continued. "The best we can really do here is a large Band-Aid, or in the worst-case scenario, triage. The kind of healing that lots of our clients need is years in the making. You know yourself that when there's a serious breach of trust in a relationship, it takes years to overcome that. We don't have the time for that.

"What we need to do is get in there, sort out the immediate issues and put the respective parties on the path to healing. We can't be there for the whole process – we are usually hired to get someone past a specific situation, and we'll do our best to get them pointed in the right direction for them to heal themselves. But, this is not an exact science. We do the best we can. Which, I have to say, is usually a hell of a lot more than other people can." Jessica paused at the end to take another sip of her drink and toyed with the ice in the glass.

Something else occurred to April. "Aren't you taking a hell of a risk here? I mean, I've gone through all the testing, I know people here, I know who you are. You've just got done telling me you break the law. What if I didn't like this idea? What if I went to the authorities or the press?"

Jessica chuckled. "Again April, do you not think we do our homework? If there was any likelihood of that in your profile, we would not be having this conversation. We didn't just drop out of the trees yesterday, you know. But since you ask – on day one of testing we dropped twenty five thousand dollars in your savings account. Its there now, a gift from us to you. Call it a service fee for the testing you indulged us in. Even if you walk away from us now and turn us down, it's a gift. However, if you go to the authorities, well, you've been here for three weeks. You have twenty-five k in your account traceable from us. How do you think that would play if someone were to inquire where that came from?"

"That's pretty underhanded," pouted April.

Jessica shrugged "Yes, well, as you pointed out, we are underhanded. The thing is, April, I know you want to do this. I know you are just testing the limits and that's ok. I would expect and encourage that. But we are also experienced at this and I would like you to not forget it. I'm not going to give you any crap about us being a happy family or any shit like that. We are a business, we help people, we go covert to do it and we are good at it. The people here are the best I could find and we are offering you a place in it, as an operational field agent. The hardest job we have. You are alone, in the field and making life-changing decisions for other people. It's hard, scary and you second-guess yourself constantly. But when you get it right, you change multiple lives forever for the better, maybe even save them. What do you say?"

April put down her drink, straightened her skirt and looked up. "When do I start?"

A week later, April was ensconced in her new office, on the 6th floor of the building that, she'd found out since her hiring, Ingrams & Associates owned.

On reporting to work on the next Monday morning, she'd been introduced to Dermot McConaughey – an able and older Scotsman, complete with a soft burr in his voice. Dermot was a huge man, graceful in his movements, but large in the extreme, he was tall – over six feet six inches- and he was replete around the stomach, but he knew his business. He was Ingrams' Operations Chief – all operations were planned with his input and run under his auspices.

Dermot was Jessica Ingrams' right hand man, responsible for ensuring that operations came off without a hitch, that resources were available when needed and basically running shotgun on all operations in the building. He was also her immediate manager. She found out quickly that Dermot was icily efficient. He knew every nut and bolt of the building – who did what, how often and with who. If she asked for something via email, it was done that day, and if it couldn't be she was given daily updates as to when it would be. She began to realize the care with which Jessica had chosen her people.

Dermot was wed to his job. He had an iPad permanently glued to his hand and was the fastest typist she'd ever seen – he kept laughing and saying the sooner he could get some Google Glass input devices, the happier he'd be. He was a congenial man, quick with a joke and then straight down to business and very easy to be around. She couldn't help feeling he was judging her, and it was probably true, he was. She noticed he didn't wear a wedding ring but refrained from asking.

On entering the office, April had been greeted by Dermot, shown her office, set up with email and given the paperwork common to all new employees – insurance forms, payment forms and so on, a copy of the company handbook – she had to smile at that. She was then presented with a dump of thirty plus project reports – project plans, profiles, analyses and final operational reports. And told to read them all – there would be a quiz at the end of the week.

Before she was allowed to start, she was taken around and introduced to the department heads as 'the new field agent newbie'. She met the head of Research – a mousey woman named Talia Cronkite - who ran five analysts who did the background research for an operation. Talia was the kind of soft-spoken woman who blended into the background. Pale, brunette with short hair, no makeup and huge glasses. The epitome of the female nerd. When April encountered her later as the in house self-defense instructor, she was astounded, and had to remind herself once again to not judge by appearances.

Then she was taken to the field operations center – there were three of them, with full on monitors over the wall and desks with people in it 24/7. It was straight out of a spy movie. She couldn't help but gape as she was led in, and everyone craned their necks to look at the visitor blinking their eyes as the light came in from the open door. April was introduced to each of the operations center managers, all of whom reported directly to Dermot. She learned that the operations center kept tabs on agents on the field, responded to calls for information, resources or requests for help and also presented the front end of any companies that the agents claimed to be representing.

Next up was the resources center, where agents were given communications and monitoring devices. She looked around the lab and picked up devices and wondered what they were for and if she'd be instructed in their use. The owner of the room looked like another nerd and April realized that the more people she met, the nerdier the entire operation seemed to be. The head of this department was Tom Mercy. He was the archetypal nerd, even wearing a Lord of the Rings t-Shirt when she met him. He had greasy long hair that hid half of his face. He wore black jeans and a studded belt. She could barely stop herself from shaking her head at just how much of the stereotype he embodied.

It was only a week later when he showed up in slacks and a polo shirt, with his now clean hair neatly tied in a ponytail, nodded at her in the kitchen while getting coffee that she realized she'd been had.

Then it started to perk up. She was introduced to the field agent's pool, of which she was now one. There were seven currently between operations – three who'd just come out of the field and four who were in the midst of preparations to go out. The moment she was led into the briefing room – complete with top-shelf coffee and donuts, she noticed, no expense shared here – she knew she was being sized up. Dermot introduced her, "Hey guys. This is the newbie. This is April. Now each of you remembers your first time out, if you want her to avoid that, take her under your wing. Give her whatever help she needs, ok?"

He nodded at April and said, "Make yourself at home. Remember, quiz at the end of the week. After that, we are going to pair you up with an ongoing operation, so you can sit in the co-pilot's seat and see how it's done. It'll be a while before we send you out yourself. You have some training first." Then he looked at his iPad and left the room.

Everyone just looked at her. "Umm..." she said, brilliantly. "Hey. I'm April. So, what's going on?"

The group of seven people, most in the process of helping themselves to coffee or donuts looked at each other and she saw some barely suppressed smiles.

One of them – an attractive blond woman with large boobs that seemed to approach April by themselves – came over and held out her hand. "I'm Megan. Nice to meet you. So, investigation or psychiatry?"

"Excuse me?" said April, a little confused.

"Everyone here has a post graduate degree in one or the other. It's one of the things this place looks for. Coffee?"

"Yes, please," responded April, understanding. "And it's both."

Megan looked at her, appraisingly and said, "Well, aren't you just the purpose-made catch then?" She did it smiling broadly to ensure April understood she was not making fun of her. Not knowing what to say back, April said nothing and just smiled, tightly.

They got coffee together, and Megan started introducing April to the others. Everyone made an effort to make her feel welcome, and a couple of the men commiserated at her career choice. She noticed that while most were relatively attractive, none of them were stunning. It made sense – these agents were pretending to be real people out in the world. Being model-pretty would detract from that. They had to be attractive enough that they could insinuate themselves in the lives of their targets, but not so hot that everyone would be hitting on them.

She asked a few of them what cases they were working on. Megan told her, "I'm just back in. Had a college professor – widely tipped to be the researcher who cracked cold fusion. But his repressed bi-sexuality just came rampaging out when he was seduced by one of his TA's. He was confused, messed up, guilt ridden and his wife had no idea what to do. It took a while to sort out. I think all three of them are living together happily now though." She smiled when she was done talking and April could quite see why she was a field agent. Her smiled was genuine and infected all of her face, including her eyes. She wondered if she'd be able to do that.

Sitting down at the conference table, April took a sip of coffee and asked, "So, who is it that hires us? I mean, who knows we exist?"

One of the guys, Ryan, put down his smart phone and said, "You'd be surprised who knows about us. Most of the major government institutions do. We get hired by universities, the military, the NSA and FBI, sometimes even the CIA. We've done work for MI6 in the UK, Mossad in Israel and other places. We've worked for private individuals – anywhere, really. Anyone who needs someone's life fixed up without them knowing they are being fixed."

April asked a question that had been on her mind for a while. "But why? I mean, I get it. I know what we do. I understand that. But is there really that demand? If people are so fucked up, why not just get them to a shrink? Why do we have to go sneaking around so much? It feels like too many people have watched too much Mission: Impossible."

Ryan chuckled and said, "April, you'd be surprised at how many bosses and managers care. How many want their people to be doing well. And everyone is fucked up in some way or another. The interesting part is that often the people who are going to make the most difference are often the most fucked up – or has the potential to be, anyway. And they are almost always the ones who won't accept help, either. So someone has to help. Someone has to care. Someone has to have the skill and sheer balls to sort it out. And that's us. Believe me, there's the demand."

"I'll bet my balls are bigger than yours," said Megan to Ryan, eyes sparkling.

"Only because you play volleyball. I play golf. My balls might be smaller, but they go further, and no one is slapping them around a net," Ryan joked...

"So, you admit you enjoy having your balls slapped with a steel rod, then?" retorted Megan.

April watched the interaction. She could see Megan and Ryan liked each other – there was a comfort level here that was easy to ignore and just accept as 'the way things were, ' but April was smart enough to know that this happened because Jessica had set up the company and employees to think that way. A company's culture always came from the top and once again, April had to revise her opinion of Jessica Ingrams.

Changing the subject, April asked, "So, are there social events? Do we have a softball team or anything? Barbecues?"

Megan answered her this time. "Well, we don't have anything official. We can't have sports teams since people will ask who Ingrams is and what we do. We do enough lying professionally, no point in adding to it. But yeah, we get together every now and then for casual parties and stuff. That's about the extent of it. We all help out on each other's cases when we can. It pays to know everyone here. Trust me, you'll find out about everyone just through osmosis."

April thought of the reports and said, "I need to get going. Those reports won't read themselves." As she got up to go, Megan said, "If you need help going through them or have questions, I'm in the next office. Don't be a stranger. We are all here to help."

April smiled and said, "That's awesome Megan, thanks. Thanks, everyone!" and went back to her office to get started. Once inside, she sank into the comfortable Aeron chair, put her coffee down and looked at the desk covered in files – real files, not digital format – and sighed, then reached for the top one and opened it.

At the end of the week, Dermot quizzed her on the reports with written and verbal questions; April scored 89%. It was judged sufficient. April was a little sore because she knew she could have got 100% if she'd been allowed to take the reports home and study them, but Ingrams had a strict policy of not allowing any data home, which made sense. The information sitting in Ingrams archives could bring down governments and ruin any number of marriages.

When she was done, April sat back and looked at Dermot and said, "Ok, so past history is understood. When do I get my first case?'

Dermot finished a flurry of tapping on the iPad and looked up at her. "April, there's a lot more training before you go solo. I want to put you with Charlie's case right now. I want you to shadow her preparation – see what she is doing, who she interacts with, see the profile she comes up with and how she builds it, and then look at her operational plan. I expect you to comment on it and offer suggestions. There is a briefing tomorrow at nine a.m.; be there. Go find Charlie and get started, then take the rest of the day off. You've done ok so far – it's got to be stressful. Have you found an apartment here yet?"

April shook her head. "No, not really had time to look."

Dermot reached into his pocket and said, "Here, check this place out. I just moved out of there. They have a vacancy in the penthouse suite. It has a hell of a view and you get roof rights, too."

She took the card and thanked him. She knew she could afford it – her salary was outrageous. She was going to make more in her first year than any of her tutors at college did in five years.

She spent the afternoon talking with Charlie, a small brunette who was slim, lithe and had the dirtiest laugh she'd ever heard on another human being. It was genuine too, which made it even sexier. Charlie went over her case, a four-star general whose wife had been seduced by a professional lothario. He was entirely unprepared for this and had no idea what to do about it, and had gone to pieces while in charge of an operation in Iraq. The Army and the Chiefs of Staff felt responsible and had requested Ingrams' help. Charlie went over her profile of the general, his wife and the lothario, and outlined the plan she had started to put together.

When she was done, April went to look at the apartment. It was lovely, and she signed the lease documents there and then. Next she hit a furniture store, bought what she wanted and arranged for expedited delivery. Within a week, she was moved in.

Over the next four months, April shadowed Charlie, absorbing all she could. She learned how she was expected to request background from the IT group, get out and interview people, in a very roundabout way, gather intel and then generate a profile of the target / victims. She was expected to prepare an operations plan or what she intended to do to resolve the situation, alternates and contingency plans. She was expected to generate resource requests and basically plan the entire operation.

She learned that every operation was overseen by Dermot and also reviewed by two other field agents for validity and new ideas. She saw how information leading to a profile of the target and others around him was gathered – how other field agents that weren't on a current operation were drafted in to go out into the field to befriend those involved, learn about them and generally dig for information. Of course the primary agent couldn't do this, because they'd blow their cover before the operation had already started. This was done in conjunction with the IT department who did online footprint gathering.

She learned that the resources department had a set of throw-away identities already built for this process in the operation – that finding background information on people was a time-consuming process and required a bunch of different ways to do it. Getting close to people took time, so Ingrams had learned how to do it quickly – become someone's assistant, the 'security services interview' – where the agents pretend to be agents from some covert alphabet agency, doing background interviews on the prospect for a potentially secret job. That one required some finesse, since it required them to be scary enough that the interviewee wouldn't alert the target about an interview for a job that didn't exist. That approach had to be used judiciously.

April watched as, once the profiles were written and the plan formulated, it was reviewed, modified and then approved by others. Once it was finalized, Charlie went out into the field. April sat in the operations center and watched Charlie's requests of help or information. She even got in the act herself in the principal operation, playing the part of one of Charlie's girlfriends and being introduced to the couple Charlie was trying to help. It was only a peripheral part, but it got her feet wet.

April also discovered a whole army of part-time contractors that the agency had on call. People that specialized in following others, Breaking and Entering, security work, the whole shebang. She was further astounded to discover that almost none of these people knew the agency for which they did occasional work – beyond the fact that it was an agency dedicated to helping people behind the scenes. Ingrams was very good at protecting themselves.

In her personal life, she'd finished transferring her life from Arizona to Washington – she'd moved what little furniture she had that she cared about – most she'd just sold in a weekend estate sale she'd flown back to organize. The only thing left in Arizona was her uncle Marcus's large antique Cadillac. It was vintage 1965, in immaculate condition and had been left to her in her uncles will. She honestly didn't know what to do with it, but she couldn't part with it either, since it had so many memories in it, of him taking her to the Grand Canyon and other places. In the end, she'd just left in storage in Phoenix and decided to make a decision later.

April did allow her self one indulgence – a new car. She'd gone down into the building parking lot to look at the cars everyone else drove, at least while they were not in field. They were nice. Lexus, BMW, Porsches – not one car was over 2 years old and none of them under $50k. She knew she wanted something nice, above normal, but not too flashy. One of the instructors in seduction had explained how, for some people, cars were an extension of their personality. She wanted something that said Fun, Elegance but not Ostentatious. She loved convertibles and in the end she settled for a convertible Nissan 370z. It was powerful enough to push her back into the chair if she let it go, and feminine enough to complement her personality. She enjoyed driving it and sometimes went on weekend excursions to New York just to do that.

She liked her new apartment and never got tired of the view, particularly at night. She even took a couple of cooking classes, attempting to be able to make the perfect soufflé, failing every time but having fun trying. It was five weeks before she realized that not one other person besides herself had ever been in her apartment besides the delivery furniture guys, not even friends from work. After that, she organized a roof barbeque the following weekend, just to have company.

Professionally, her skills training had also started, in between observing Charlie at work. She was instructed in lock picking and the use of everything the resource department provided: how to hack phones, how to install bugs and there were even evasive driving lessons. She received self-defense training – hoping she'd never need it, and boy, did it hurt. She was given tasks to prepare false personalities and backgrounds. She'd probably never use them, since each identity they created internally was usually specific for the operation undertaken, but it was good to know how it was done. She was tested on the identities, to prove she had learned them and could 'be' that person.

She'd spent an instructive afternoon with the R&D networking guys. They'd gone through her Facebook accounts looking for pictures of her to remove; Ingrams didn't mind people having an online presence, but drew the line at pictures, where they could be identified. They went through old websites, removing pictures, and April got a whole new appreciation of just how good some of these 'white hat' hackers were, since they didn't own any of the websites where the pictures were removed or corrupted.

The most outlandish training was the whorehouse. She was assigned to shadow a couple of high-end call girls. She learned the arts of sexual release and gratification – she ended up fucking one of the girl's johns herself, to see if she could get away with it. She learned the finer arts of a blow job, how to slowly seduce a man or a woman, how to dance provocatively, how to make sex last or to get it over with as fast as possible.

She had thought she was pretty hot stuff before this, but after this, she knew she could make a night memorable for anyone. She began to see what Jessica had hinted at in their initial conversation– the more she learned about the mechanics of sex, and got better at it, the more it felt like a planned act than a spontaneous one. It was less about the moment and the partner and about working out how to do what in what order.

Directly following that, she was given some training in seduction. She was told to read 'Rules of the Game', and then go out and seduce several people, to prove she knew what she was doing. She would go out for dinner with one of the other agents, who would select a target at random and she was told to go get a phone number, or make an rendezvous with them (that she would never follow through on.)

At first it was exciting, but then she got some of the agents with a wicked sense of humor. Attempting to seduce a man who was on an anniversary dinner with his wife was a hard call for anyone, let alone someone with no time. She had to do it while he was on the way to the bathroom. She felt bad about doing it, and made a point of paying for the couple's dinner, anonymously, once she'd got his number. She'd only managed to do it by suggesting that they have a threesome –she wasn't going to potentially destroy a marriage on an anniversary night at the whim of a co-worker.

Once the seduction phase of training was complete, she was assigned two targets– one knew she was coming and the other did not. She was given the task of extracting a specific piece of information from both and came through with flying colors. The unaware target was the wife of a local city councilman and she had to get the minutes of a specific meeting from him. That was a first for April, seducing a woman. When she was given it, she'd raised an eyebrow and made some acidic comments about the automatic assumption of female bisexuality, and how a man would never be assigned to seduce another man. She'd been told that, in fact, all of their male agents had experience with another man; it was just part of the job. She'd shut up after that.

The job was complicated by the fact that the woman identified as strongly heterosexual and had never had an experience with a woman before, and although April had, she'd never pursued a woman before – her experiences had been purely in passing. It was new for both of them and April enjoyed it – a woman was an entirely different kettle of fish from a man; she had to totally change her style of seduction to get where she needed to go. Strangely enough, once it was done, April felt like she'd done the wife a favor. She'd not expected her to enjoy it as much and she did worry a little bit about what she'd awakened. When she looked in on them three months later, she found both her and her husband sharing a girlfriend. She had to smile internally at that.

It was at this point, when she was out with Megan one Friday night and they were both fending off would be suitors, and playing mind games with them, pitting one potential interested party against another – just because they could, not because it was any part of any training – when April had another enlightening conversation.

The two of them were sitting at a bar, dressed in their Friday night finery, perfectly made up and just eating nachos, drinking coke and doing shots and people watching in the rest of the bar. They made jokes about the other patrons and took turns shooting down the men that approached them.

After doing another shot of tequila, Megan reached out and grabbed April's arm. "Wait, wait. I've got a good one. The next guy who shows up, we throw this glass of water on the floor, and then tell him he has to throw down his jacket on it, so we can walk to the bathroom!"

They both dissolved into the giggles that comes of too much alcohol and not enough food.

After they finished laughing, April wiped her eyes, then looked around at the bustling bar scene, at couples and people hitting on each other and suddenly got subdued.

"Megan, what do you do for fun? Besides bar hop?" she asked.

Megan took her question seriously. "Not much, to be honest. The job ... it doesn't leave much time for anything else. Then there's no way you can join any kind of club that requires regular attendance. I was on an operation once that required me to be a part of an amateur dramatics play – it's how I met the target. I found I loved it. I loved going to rehearsals and belonging to something, you know? I had a speaking part and everything. And then the operation concluded before opening night, and I had to drop out, once the job was done. You know the rules, and they are there for our protection. I think that's one of my big regrets, letting the cast down. I went to the opening night in disguise and sat at the back and watched. They did such a good job and I wasn't there. Wasn't part of it, if you know what I mean? Sometimes this job demands way too much sacrifice."

April nodded. "I know. I've tried to join some clubs around here. I'm part of a volleyball league, but I'm an alternate on a team. I just can't let them depend on me. You know something else I did? I've always wanted to learn archery. I have no idea why. I think it's because it's a solitary sport, not a competitive one. Well, I thought so, anyway. You know what? I'm really good. I barely need to practice; I can just do it. A few weeks back, there was an internal competition and I went in for it, just for kicks, and I realized half way through that even though I could win it, easily, I couldn't. I couldn't get into the competition set – articles get written and my picture in places it shouldn't be. I had to throw it. And it sucked. It was then that I realized exactly how much this job takes from you. I don't even want to think about having a relationship."

Megan nodded and they both sat there for a moment in silence, fiddling with their shot glasses.

After a moment, April asked Megan point blank, "Do you have any friends that aren't at Ingrams?"

Megan looked at April with a look April couldn't identify. Sadness mixed with relief?

"Not really. I have a couple of friends back in Idaho, where I come from. I have to keep them at arms length most of the time. It's nice to go home and see them though, with their normal lives. No one around here though – the job makes it very difficult to meet people who you aren't scoping out, and frankly the amount of lying I'd have to do would make it a friendship that wasn't based on honestly or reality, so what's the point?"

April nodded and took a sip of her coke. She had come to the same conclusion. "What about family?"

"My family won't speak to me – I come from a religious family and you can imagine how they would take my sexually liberated personality. I was thrown out of the family home at eighteen. The only person who still talks to me is my brother, and even that is rare. He knows I'm in Washington and that I do something hush-hush, but that's it. What about you?"

"I have no family. My parents – well, my mother and who I thought was my dad, died when I was an infant. I was raised in the system, but my Uncle Marcus – who, it turns out, was my dad all along, unbeknown to either of us – kept an eye on me and made sure I was ok. He's the closest thing to family I ever had. The only person who's ever loved me, in fact."

Megan's eyes widened in sympathy. April nodded at her, gave her a smirk and an eye roll, "I know, my life is a like a bad soap opera in some respects."

Megan didn't say anything - she just leaned over and put her hand on April's. "I don't know what to say. You are one tough lady, you know that?"

They just looked at each other for a moment, and then April broke eye contact. After a second, she looked back and said, "You think either one of us will ever find someone to love us? With what we do? I mean, what man would understand, be ok with it? How could you possibly have a relationship with someone who is out there, screwing and using sex to manipulate people? How could you trust that person not to do it to you?"

April bit her lip. This was more than she had planned on revealing. She knew it was the alcohol speaking, but she had been thinking a lot about this recently, as the job training was opening her eyes to new ways of being. She was smart enough to know what she might be giving up. She saw understanding, acceptance and experience in Megan's face.

"April," said Megan, in a low voice, "I completely understand what you are thinking and what you are saying. I grapple with this every day. I mean, look at you, what are you, twenty-seven? Twenty-eight? I'm thirty three. My clock is ticking even louder than yours is. I've been doing this a while now and I totally get what you are talking about. But there are guys out there who could handle this. And if you find one that can't, well, that's a decision you have to make at the time.

"This job is not forever, no job is. If I met someone I really couldn't be without, then this job is toast. It's all a question of priorities. Right now, my priority is this – I get excitement, I get intrigue, I get to live on my wits and I get to help to people. And the sex isn't too bad either! But I'm not blind to what this job is. That's why there is so much bed-hopping going on among the field agents. We are all looking for a connection we can't have in real life. Don't tell me you haven't been hit on?"

April smiled at that. She had been, but she'd been respectful and ensured that her relationships with the other guys in the office was purely based on professionalism.

Megan caught the smile and then said, "April, you know all the training you've had to make a guy happy? Think about this. The guys have had the same training to make a woman happy."

Megan signaled the waitress and ordered another round of drinks and said to April, "Enough soul searching, babe. You need to come up with the next torture for a guy hitting this table!"

April smiled back. She had a lot to think about, but Megan was right, it was Friday night. Time for fun, not navel-gazing.

Four months from when she was initially hired, the call came. Dermot knocked on her door as she was re-reading the report that Jessica had mentioned, where Ingrams had been caught, fair and square. She liked that one – it was a textbook operation that had gone off the rails and had required some inspired improvisation. Her respect for Jessica had gone up yet again when she realized that even though Ingrams had been discovered, she had still managed to get the job done.

Dermot stood in her doorway and said, "So, think you are ready? Because it's your turn. Here's the background." He threw the file onto her desk – with astonishing accuracy, she noted - and then said, "There are emails coming in. Read that, have thoughts and there is a briefing tomorrow at 0800."

April always smiled when Dermot used military parlance – it was so out of place with everything else he was. She reached for the file and said, "I'll be there..."

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