Hidden Agenda – Chapter 6 to 10
Before Nick could do more than turn, Melissa was pulled up from the picnic table and enveloped in a perfumed whirlwind. A tall, attractive blonde in a white lab coat was hugging Melissa, who patted the back of her friend with a sardonic expression on her face.
“Oh, hello, Cheryl, how have you been? It’s been a few years.”
“It’s been almost a decade! You’re looking good, Mel.” Melissa disengaged from her friend and turned to Nick, who was now standing and staring at them both bemusedly.
“Nick, this is Cheryl Wolfe, one of my friends from high school.” Nick failed to miss the calculating flash in the young woman’s eyes as she held out her hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise”, Nick murmured as he shook her hand. Nick could well believe Cheryl was in Melissa’s social sphere. Almost painfully thin, wearing an expensive green silk dress underneath the lab coat, she exuded an attitude that could only come from a moneyed background. Immediately dropping her hand, Nick turned to Melissa.
“I’ll just gather and throw away the trash.”
Melissa smiled distractedly, “Thanks, Nick”, as she focused on her high school friend. When she was younger, Cheryl had always been one of the most popular girls she knew. It wasn’t until the end of their senior year when Melissa realized how shallow her friend could be. She was surprised at the UVA Medical Center insignia on lab coat. “So, Cheryl, how have you been doing?”
Cheryl’s eyes followed Nick as he ambled towards a metal trash bin. “Not as good as you, apparently. Wherever did you find him?”
Melissa decided not to mention Nick’s job, especially given the onceover that Cheryl had done. “Oh, my father introduced us.” She secretly smiled. “So, are you working at the MedicalCenter?”
Cheryl checked her watch. “Oh, I have to get back. Co-hosting a medical conference with VCU. Busy, busy. Listen, I’m having a little get-together the day after tomorrow at the house, and I want you to come, and bring that yummy Nick with you. We can talk about old times, and I’m sure you’ll know some of the people there. Here’s my card with my address and phone numbers; everyone’s coming by starting at around 7.”
Melissa’s first reaction was to decline; after all, she wasn’t in town to have fun. Then she glanced over to Nick, waiting by the Lincoln and decided it would be a good time to give him a surprise. “I’d love to. Thanks for asking.”
OK, I’ll see you then.” The blonde air-kissed Melissa’s cheeks and breezed towards the parking lot to a small sports coupe.
It wasn’t until after Cheryl’s vehicle had left the parking lot that Melissa realized her friend never said what she was doing at the Medical Center.
* * *
Driving back to Charlottesville, Melissa thought about tomorrow’s event at Cheryl’s place and how to ask Nick to go, when he spoke up.
“So, how well do you know Cheryl?” Nick asked. “She strikes me as a bit…well…dramatic.”
Melissa laughed, a pretty sound that both warmed Nick and sent an ache through his chest. “And I’m not like that at all,” she deadpanned. Nick sputtered briefly, and Melissa decided to give him a break.
“Cheryl has always been that way, flitting between boyfriends, jobs, careers, European countries. We were more acquaintances than friends, as our families were in the same social circles. I’m surprised she seems to have settled here. In spite of this, I’m willing to bet that she’s invited everyone and anyone who are fit to be seen. That’s how most of her parties were like before.”
“Are you sure you want to go?” Nick asked skeptically, “It doesn’t seem like your kind of social event.”
Melissa thought for a moment. “Maybe. It’ll be after Nana’s funeral and the reading of the will. It might be a good distraction.” She took a deep breath and decided to jump off a cliff. “And I want you to come with me as my escort.”
The Lincoln swerved slightly as Nick looked up at Melissa with open-mouthed shock. “You want me to do what??”
“Come with me to the party.” Melissa stated firmly.
The shrill ring of her cell phone broke the pregnant silence.
“Hello?” Melissa asked. Nick continued to watch her through the rear view mirror, when he suddenly saw her blanch.
“What’s wrong?” Nick asked in alarm.
“It’s…it’s my father,” she replied in a wooden voice, “There’s been an accident.”
Melissa remembered the antiseptic smells and quiet beeping during the final days of her mother. As a little girl, she watched her mother waste away from the ravages of cancer; in the final days, as her pain medication increased, every period of lucidity became precious. Now she sat in a corner of the crowded Emergency Department waiting room, surrounded by other anxious families, drinking a cooling cup of bitter coffee. Nick was a calm strength next to her; she leaned slightly against his shoulder, and felt a comforting arm wrap around her.
Nick felt a profound sense of peace as Melissa leaned trustingly against him, her arm wrapped around his waist. Tendrils of her hair teased his cheek as he discretely breathed in the wildflower scent of her hair. He knew he needed to contact his superiors to let them know what had happened; hopefully, they could find out through their contacts at the State Police the results of the accident investigation. The brief information they were given was that the Congressman was involved in a single-vehicle accident on Interstate 64, crossed into oncoming traffic, and struck a guardrail.
An older woman in a white hospital coat approached the couple.
“Are you Melissa Shayne? I am Doctor Gilbert, the ED resident here. Your father is doing fine.” Melissa swallowed a sudden lump in her throat. “He has numerous cuts and abrasions from glass, and a fracture of his left ulna. There are no signs of a concussion or brain injury, but, given the mechanism of damage to the vehicle, we would like to observe him overnight. Congressman Shayne refuses to stay, however, and I can’t force him. It would best if someone keeps an eye on him at home for the next twenty-four hours.”
“When can I see him?” Melissa asked in a tremulous voice, standing up from the plastic chair. Nick suddenly missed her warm weight against him.
“I’ll take you to his room. The nurses have already started the discharge paperwork; it will be about another half hour or so before he can leave.”
Melissa grasped the doctor’s hand, “Thank you, Doctor Gilbert.” The doctor smiled, and turned towards the double doors marked “Staff Only”. Nick sat back down, intending to watch Melissa follow the doctor before he would call his boss, only to have Melissa turn and extend her hand. Nick looked up at her.
“Come with me, Nick, please” she said, a hitch in her voice. Nick could only take her hand, marveling at the strength in that delicate palm, and allow her to pull him upright. She continued to hold his hand as they followed the white-coated figure into the patient room area.
* * *
Her father was sitting up in bed, bandages on his cheek and forehead, a heavy white cast on his left arm. He was talking to a uniformed state trooper, who was taking notes on a metal clipboard.
“…And that’s all I can remember. I had no problems with the car driving into Richmond. As I was driving back to the house when the brakes suddenly failed, I tried to slow down, but the car fishtailed. I think it went airborne when I crossed the median, but I’m not sure. Then I saw the guardrail, the airbags popped, and I finally came to a stop. I didn’t move until the ambulance people showed up.”
“Your vehicle has been towed to a secure lot for the accident investigation, sir. We will let you know the results once Forensics has completed their data collection and it has been reviewed by our Auto Detectives. I recommend you contact your insurance company; more than likely we can release the vehicle in a day or two.” The officer closed his clipboard. “Here is my card, if you can think of any other details at a later time.” The Congressman took the beige card.
“I’d like one too”, Nick interjected. The officer swiveled around, and Melissa’s father looked across at the two of them. He frowned at the sight of their joined hands.
“What are you doing here?” he barked, looking directly at Nick.
“I brought your daughter to the hospital.” To the trooper he said, “I do the maintenance on the congressman’s personal vehicles. I would like to have the contact information as well.”
The officer nodded, and handed him a business card as well. “And you are…?”
“Nick Alvarez. I am Congressman Shayne’s driver and general mechanic. I have maintenance logs for every vehicle, so please contact me for any information, officer.”
“Thank you, Mr. Alvarez,” the officer replied, “and Congressman Shayne. We’ll be in touch.”
“Thank you for your assistance,” Melissa said. The officer smiled at her and briefly touched her hand, causing Nick to feel a spurt of jealousy. As he walked away, Nick wanted to grab Melissa’s hand again and wipe any traces left there by the other man.
* * *
Melissa was standing next to the hospital bed, attempting to assist her father in getting dressed. His office secretary had sent over a spare suit from his Richmond office; the clothes he was wearing at the time of the accident were bloodied and damaged. Why she was hurt that he called the office and not her, she didn’t really know.
“Father, I think you should cancel the dinner meeting tonight, given the circumstances.”
“Nonsense”, her father said, as he struggled to button his shirt. Melissa had to cut away the left sleeve to facilitate the cast, but the jacket would hide the ragged edge. “I can’t cancel just because of a little accident.”
As she began to efficiently button the shirt, Melissa tried again. “Doctor Gilbert wanted you to stay in the hospital overnight.”
“I will be the judge of what I can or can’t do, and no female quack is going to tell me otherwise.”
* * *
Nick was in his room, using the equipment collected at the dress store. As he listened in on Melissa’s preparations, he was tortured by the sound of the shower and the image of warm soapy water sluicing down her exquisite skin. He hated using her like this, but Susan insisted it was an excellent opportunity for them to be in two places at once tonight. For someone he just met, he felt she had been dominating his thoughts forever. He sighed.
“You like her, don’t you.” A voice in his earpiece spoke out. It was Susan, who was at the main command center and monitoring the events tonight at the mansion.
“She is just a source of information” Nick replied, “Have you found anything interesting in the recordings from the Chrysler?”
“Just one thing. The audio and video pickups stopped after he left his office in Richmond, nothing but white noise and snow. The GPS show two other stops before the impact. It’s improbable that both would have gone bad at the same time, so we need to review the time sequence. Externally, it appears just as the Congressman said; there are no indicators that the tires were shot or any external factors. The State Police impounded the car almost immediately; we haven’t been able to do our own look-see without jeopardizing the operation. We don’t want to show our hand to the local law enforcement just yet.”
“What about his cell phone?” Nick inquired.
“He made several phone calls; one was to advise someone he was on his way, the rest appeared to be to his offices. Mattie is tracking down the phone number to see if it yields anything, but we are still waiting for that data. Another motorist called 911, so that’s not on his phone.”
“Ok, keep me posted.”
As Melissa fastened the string of pearls around her neck, she thought about the events of the day. It had been a hell of a rollercoaster ride, from a tortuous morning to an enjoyable afternoon, to the dread that followed the phone call from the hospital and finally this moment. Now she had to become a gracious hostess when she never felt less like entertaining her father’s clients and business partners.
She wondered if Nick was going to be at this party. Sometimes other employees assisted the main kitchen staff during special occasions, and she felt a tiny bit of hope that he would be there. For some reason, she also hoped that he felt the almost magical connection between them, too.
The final preparations were in full swing when she walked downstairs; the housekeeping staff vacuumed the already spotless carpet as Mrs. Keane walked towards Melissa with a smile.
“It looks like everything is ready, Mrs. Keane,” Melissa observed. “Do you know where my father is?”
“I haven’t seen him recently, miss”, Mrs. Keane replied. “You look lovely.”
“Thank you. The first guest should be arriving in about 15 minutes.” Melissa walked to her father’s bedroom and found him fumbling with his tie one-handed in front of his cheval mirror, his cast and sling glaringly white against the soft gray of the suit.
“Here, let me help.” Melissa began adjusting his tie, while he quietly waited. It was strange seeing her father so still; he usually fidgeted if he sat still for longer than a few minutes. It was probably the aftermath of the accident. As she completed her attentions, making sure he looked presentable, he placed his good hand on her arm.
“Thank you,” he murmured, surprising her, “I’m glad you are here, even temporarily.” Melissa felt her throat tighten as her father awkwardly patted her arm before squaring his shoulders and walking towards the door. She wondered how long this fragile connection would last.
* * *
Nick kept an eye on Melissa as he wandered through the crowd, holding a tray of canapés. He had angled the housekeeper to be a part of the wait staff today. His hidden camera was busily photographing the goings-on around him as his team, in a truck outside the estate near the fieldstone gates, reviewed each person at the party. Congressman Shayne was sitting in estate in a wing-back chair by the fireplace in the main living room.
Melissa was a cool shadow among the business suits, chatting amicably while keeping an eye on the buffet table and bar. Nick had felt her eyes on him on several occasions, but when he looked up, she was speaking to another guest. Nevertheless, he felt a connection between them, aware of her location at all times. She gracefully flowed from group to group while she occasionally communicated with the staff. He knew from the breakfast argument how much she didn’t want to be there, and yet, walking among these people, she seemed perfectly at ease and in her element.
The difference between their backgrounds was glaringly obvious; politician’s daughter, and immigrant grandson; yet they seemed to quickly become attuned to each others presence. Nick’s musings were interrupted when his ears picked up something.
“…the transport was safely processed yesterday and is at the primary location. The next delivery should be at the docks at midnight tomorrow…” Nick was so busy tracking Melissa with his eyes he all but missed the conversation between two figures as they walked into the ballroom from the conservatory. He instantly recognized the imposing figure of Livingston, CEO of Shayne Enterprises. The other figure, a spare, thin man in gray pinstripe, was an unfamiliar face. Nick clicked his throat mike and faced the pair as he offered them a canapé.
As they waved him off, the cool female voice in his ear stated, “That’s Oscar Angelino. His company contracts with the federal government for goods and supplies at various military commissaries and Exchanges. So far, we don’t have any links between him and any wrong-doing; Mattie is going to do his magic and see if anything comes up.” Nick watched at they shook hands and separated to different areas of the room. He was busily looking to see where Livingston was when a sultry voice whispered in his ear.
“You look really good tonight, Nick.” Nick started and turned to see Cheryl, dressed in a black business suit that hugged every curve, with a short skirt that bared a long expanse of leg. Her bright red shirt and red pumps screamed for attention; she appeared to be a woman here for business and on the prowl. Nick was surprised to see her and, after a quick appreciative look at her legs, wondered why she was there. He decided to chat with her, even though he was the ‘help’. Cheryl didn’t seem to mind.
“Good evening, Cheryl,” Nick replied. She purred a little, reaching up to fluff her hair. An action, Nick was sure, was calculated to cause his eyes to drift up her torso to her features. It was interesting to note that he felt no spark of interest between the two of them.
“I’m fine. What are you doing handing out food? Is Melissa here?”
Nick smiled. “Just helping out a bit. I think Melissa was near the kitchen last time I saw her.”
“Thanks, big guy.” Cheryl trailed her sharp red nails from his shoulder to his arm, with a quick squeeze to his forearm. “I hope to see you later.” She sauntered away, and Nick blew out a quick breath.
“Who is that?” Susan demanded from Nick’s ear.
“That’s Cheryl Wolfe, an old friend of Melissa’s, who we met yesterday in Richmond. I’m not sure why she’s here.”
Susan was silent for a moment. “Matt is pulling up her information now. It seems she began working in the ResearchCenter at UVA, in the Drug Formulary Department, about six months ago. There hasn’t been any odd activity noted going on there…hmm.” Nick became focused; Susan must have found something interesting.
“It seems she’s been seen leaving Shayne Enterprises main office several times since she started at the lab. Never seen with anybody though, so we don’t know who she sees when she’s there. This may bear additional investigation.”
As he followed Cheryl from a distance, it appeared she was the center of many admiring glances, but she didn’t stop to talk with anyone. As she slipped through the side door, Nick tried not to be obvious and he walked faster so not to lose her. As he neared the kitchen, Melissa came walking out and spotted Cheryl. The surprised look on her face told Nick she was not aware that Cheryl was going to be at this gathering. Nevertheless, her face broke into a smile as she greeted her high school friend.
“Cheryl! How nice to see you.” Melissa beamed, as Cheryl grabbed both her arms and pulled in for another air-kiss ritual. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I had heard about the accident and wanted to see how your father was doing. I actually came here with someone, but he’s talking with some other people and I thought this would be a good time to see your father. Is that ok?” While Cheryl was speaking, her eyes were flicking around, and Melissa wondered who she was looking for, as the two of them walked into the foyer from the back of the house.
Her father was currently alone, and fidgeting slightly, as Cheryl and Melissa walked up. Cheryl immediately stepped forward and performed her signature kiss to his cheek as she held onto his hand.
“I’m so glad you’re ok, Mr. Shayne,” Cheryl breathed, “When I heard about the accident I was worried. Was anyone else injured?” Melissa was surprised at the note in Cheryl’s voice. Did she think there was someone else in the car? Melissa wondered about this as her old friend and her father continued to chat.
“Can I have a moment with your dad, Mel?” Cheryl asked. Melissa quietly excused herself and walked back under the archway, turning back to see Cheryl crouched down in front of her father, looking earnestly up into his face. Melissa was still walking backwards, watching the odd conversation, when she suddenly struck a hard body.
The slight ‘oof’ sound told her who it was, and she blushed, feeling the strong and very warm body cradled against her backside. Melissa lacked the courage to turn around as a hand squeezed her hip in a gentle caress.
“Nick,” she choked out, “I didn’t see you.”
“No doubt, sweetheart,” his rough voice rumbled. She finally turned around and looked up to find him rearing back slightly, his right arm high in the air, protecting a tray of…shrimp skewers? She felt like sinking into the floor. “What is Cheryl doing here?” Nick asked.
“I don’t know. She said she wanted to see my father, but I don’t know of any connection between them besides our families both in the construction business.”
Nick heard Susan give orders to Mattie to look into Cheryl’s parents. He wanted to get closer to the congressman to hear what was being said. As he was occupied with Melissa, however, Cheryl stood up, shook hands with Melissa’s father, and walked towards the two of them. Nick subtly moved around Melissa so he stood beside her.
“Your father is looking great, Mel. I’m so glad of it. I’m sure my parents will be happy to know he’s ok. Have you heard anything about what happened?”
Melissa replied, “No. A police officer came by the hospital to take a statement, and a detective is supposed to contact us once they’ve looked at the car. I’ve contacted the insurance company, but they can’t do anything until the police release it, so we are in limbo. Anyway, the next couple of days will be busy, so I don’t know when we’ll get more information.”
“Ok, thanks.” Cheryl’s voice dropped lower. “By the way, why is Nick acting as the wait staff tonight? Isn’t that a strange way to treat your boyfriend?”
Melissa spluttered. “We aren’t…well…we are just friends. He offered to help out because we are short-staffed.”
Nick stepped back and smoothly put an arm around Melissa’s waist, and chuckled, “Well, that’s her story, anyway.” Melissa stared up at him in outrage, as the three of them walked towards the kitchen. He decided he needed to speak with Cheryl alone and see if there was any information he could glean from her, but it would probably have to wait until her party tomorrow. “I look forward to seeing you tomorrow at your party. I need to go back and see if Mrs. Keane needs me to do anything. Take care.” Nick gave Melissa’s trim waist a gentle squeeze and sauntered back through the double doors into the kitchen.
Melissa stood there, staring at the doors, when Cheryl suddenly hugged her from behind. “I like him! Wherever did you meet him?” Cheryl said.
“In Richmond”, Melissa answered automatically, still feeling Nick’s arm around her waist.
“I thought you had said your father introduced you two. I’ve never seen him in any of our get-togethers. What does he do?”
Melissa came back to earth and focused on Cheryl. “He works with cars.”
“Nice. I wonder if he would know what happened to your father’s car. Well, I’m going to have a quick nosh and head out the door. You still plan on coming to my party tomorrow right? It’ll be fabulous, you know.”
Melissa missed part of the conversation, her mind flashing back to that morning. She remembered Nick’s long legs underneath the Chrysler hours before her father drove it. Did he have something to do with the accident? She heard herself murmur an assent to attending the party and then absentmindedly said goodbye to Cheryl. She walked into the kitchen and, tracking down Mrs. Keane, asked about Nick.
“That young man has already gone back out to clear away some of the debris. He is a true hard worker. And,” Mrs. Keane’s voice dropped conspiratorially, “he’s got cute buns too!” She laughed as she pushed Melissa out of the kitchen. “Go find your man out there. I’m sure he would be glad to put his…eyes…on you”.
“He’s not my…” The kitchen doors closed in front of the housekeeper, and Melissa was suddenly talking to air. She bemusedly walked back towards the ballroom to continue the soiree.
The day of the funeral was a bit chilly, which suited Melissa’s mood. She glanced at her father. He was sitting across from her in the vehicle, talking in low tones into his cell phone. She brushed nonexistent lint from her dark grey pants, and wondered about the incident. The police were still investigating what happened, but a single vehicle accident usually implicates the driver as at fault. Her father claimed that the brakes failed, but with Nick working the garage, Melissa didn’t believe maintenance was the issue. Still she was glad he was not injured.
Her father closed the cell phone with a snap, reached for the crystal decanter, and poured a healthy dose into an old fashioned glass.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit early for that, father?” Melissa asked, “Especially given the doctor’s recommendations.” Her father replied with a grunt as he lifted the glass to his lips. Melissa resumed looking out the window.
She remembered so much about her vivacious grandmother. Whenever a sympathetic ear was needed, Nana would oblige. Many times during her piano performances and recitals, her family would be represented by Mrs. Keane and her grandmother. Her father was frequently absent, either due to his company or his public and civic responsibilities. Even after she left home, there would be frequent phone conversations and letters with Nana. As Melissa became more and more busy, communications dwindled to a few phone calls a month. Still, it was a shock to think that her merry grandmother and her positive attitude would no longer be a short call away. She felt her eyes prickle as tears threaten to escape.
Nick drove the family limousine to the private graveside service. The electronics hidden in the rear of the vehicle included both a small camera and a microphone in the upholstery. Through the silence in his earpiece, he could still feel the tension between the two people. He wanted to see what was going on back there, but, unfortunately, a monitor, even a small one, was out of the question. His backup saw what he could not, which frustrated him. He spoke softly, so the congressman and his daughter could not hear him.
“Anything going on back there, Mattie?” The surveillance van was paralleling the course being taken by the funeral procession.
“No”, said the tinny voice in his ear, “He is drinking Scotch; she is staring out the window.”
Nick could picture Melissa in that conservative suit, looking both serene and brittle. He knew from their conversations how much her grandmother meant to her, and he was determined to be there if she needed him.
What kind of help he could be without affecting his cover, he didn’t know.
As they drove through the wrought iron gates of Maplewood Cemetery, Melissa turned away from the window, wishing she could be anywhere but here.
* * *
When the graveside party returned to the house, it was just after noon. The reading of the will was scheduled at the mansion for two o’clock that afternoon. Melissa was feeling restless, and she wandered the grounds until she found herself at the garage. The doors were closed, but she heard someone inside and went in. In the sudden darkness, she paused as her eyes adjusted. She heard Nick’s voice in the office to the rear of the garage area. As she proceeded towards the office, she saw a silhouette between the slats of the blinds covering the glass walls. As she got closer, the murmuring became distinct words.
“…though it doesn’t look accidental, our plan doesn’t change. I’ll take care of them when it’s needed.”
Nick was finishing a conversation on his cell phone, his back to Melissa. As she neared the open door, she paused a moment to run her eyes from the scuffed running shoes, up to his lean hips, and muscular back. He looked like he had recently finished a run. Suddenly, Nick pivoted and crouched, his right hand going for his hip. Melissa jumped back with a squeak.
“What are you doing here?!” Nick asked abruptly.
Melissa shrank back further, her hand to her still-thumping chest, wondering why Nick appeared so upset. “I…I was taking a walk and heard someone in here. I didn’t realize it was you.”
Nick raked his hands through his hair, aggravated he hadn’t heard her approach. He looked at her, still dressed in the pantsuit from the service, her eyes wide and wary. He suddenly wanted to stroke her cheek, to see if it was as soft as it appeared.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to scare you,” Nick apologized, “I didn’t hear you come in. Did you need something?” He gestured, inviting her into the office.
As she stepped through the door, Melissa quietly replied, “I was just at loose ends. The attorney is expected soon, and I wanted to clear my head before he shows up.” Nick took several steps towards her, looking carefully to see her reaction. Her expression must have reassured him, because he reached out and took her right hand in his, his thumb making soothing circles around her knuckles.
“I know the morning was tough. I was surprised at how few mourners were there, just a few family members and employees at the cemetery,” Nick stated.
“My father wanted a private, simple service. I’m not sure about Nana’s friends; I know she was in several social clubs, but I never really met or spoke with any of her acquaintances.” Melissa took a deep breath, suddenly realizing how little she knew of her grandmother’s activities in the last several years. Most of their conversations revolved around Melissa’s achievements; with her grandmother gone, she might never know what kind of life Nana led. Her heart gave a sudden, painful squeeze.
Nick, seeing the look of anguish in Melissa’s striking aqua eyes, couldn’t resist the urge to comfort this strong young woman. He gently pulled her closer, using his other hand to stroke her brow, then trail down her cheek, finally resting his thumb on her full lower lip. She opened her lips in a small gasp, which was all the invitation he needed to swoop down and capture her tempting mouth.
Melissa moaned as Nick nibbled at her lips. She pulled her hand from his and put both around his neck to pull him closer and to toy with the smooth silk of his hair. Nick quickly backed her up so she was leaning against the desk, partially supported, while he ran his hands up her smooth curves to rest just under the swell of her breasts. She felt hot and aroused, the heat centered at her core, while he masterfully plundered her lips.
Nick swore he saw stars as he plunged his tongue into her willing mouth, her sighs and gasps telling him she was just as affected as he. Electricity seemed to shoot down his spine from the feel of her hands on the back of his neck, her breasts pressed against the angles of his chest. He resisted the urge to unbutton her jacket and take what was unconsciously being offered; his hands ultimately rested on her shoulders while his thumbs rubbed her delicate collarbones. He pulled back from her face, staring deep into her wide eyes, now dark with passion.
Melissa rubbed the center of her heat shamelessly against the hard ridge of his arousal as sensation after sensation poured over her, wiping the sharp pain of loss under a sensual haze. It took her several moments to realize Nick was suddenly still and tense.
“Alvarez! Are you in here?!” bellowed a voice from the side entrance just as the garage was flooded with light. Raymond Shayne, his jacket off and collar undone, was bearing down on the office with a determined stride. Nick quickly maneuvered Melissa into an office chair, closed the blinds, and stepped out of the office, quickly donning a t-shirt he had on the desk; the sudden appearance of Melissa’s father effectively cooling his ardor.
“I am here, sir. How can I help you?” Nick asked in what he hoped was a normal voice.
“What are you doing?” he fumed as he noticed Nick’s disheveled appearance.
“I…” Nick tried to reply and was cut off.
“Never mind. I want you to know I just spoke with Detective Hosick of the State Police. According to their investigators, someone deliberately tampered with my brakes! What do you have to say about this?? Who are you working for?” The congressman looked both angry and frightened, with his good hand clenched at his side.
Nick sensed a tiny movement of distress out of the corner of his eye. It was Melissa, crouched down in the chair but well able to hear the conversation going on outside the office.
“I don’t know what happened to your car, but I can assure you I had nothing to do with the accident, sir. I work for you. No one else. What exactly did the detective say?” Nick tried to stay calm. He didn’t know how much of his conversation with Susan that Melissa overheard, but he was aware of her listening now.
“Well, they said the brake lines were damaged, but his investigators weren’t able to determine if they were intentionally cut or damaged by a road impact,” Shayne admitted in a sullen voice. “And then there’s the matter of the police finding those…” his voice trailed off as he lapsed into silence for a moment. Then he squared his shoulders and resumed. “However, when you were hired, your references said you were a certified mechanic. I hired you in spite of your Mexican background. You should be aware that a man in my position expects my employees to work at their top performance. You obviously either missed the damage or deliberately allowed it for some purpose!” The Congressman’s voice grew louder as the tirade went on. Nick decided it was time to stop this.
“Congressman, if it was a maintenance issue, you have my utmost apology. I will contact the detective directly, and have the other vehicles inspected independently, if that is your wish, to ensure there are no further issues with the vehicles, and that this doesn’t happen again. If there have been any other complaints about my services or the work I do, I am available to you at any time to discuss it in detail.”
Melissa’s father appeared taken aback by this. After a moment, his eyes speared Nick. “While I’m here, I might was well discuss that little interlude I saw at the hospital. You had better not be sniffing around my daughter. She is a poor judge of character, and I won’t have some south of the border mechanic ingratiating himself into this family. If you subject us to any public scandal, you’ll regret it!”
Nick’s eyes narrowed, and he felt murderous. Bad enough that Melissa was hearing this, but hearing her father speak down to him and belittle her; he wanted more than ever to bring this man down. With an effort, he tamped down his emotions and inclined his head.
As the congressman stalked off, Nick risked a look behind him. The wounded eyes looking at him were like a punch to the gut. Once the outside door closed with a click, Nick pivoted and walked to the chair where Melissa sat, shocked at the previous exchange. He leaned back against the desk and cursed the current circumstances.
Melissa spoke first. “I think I should go.”
“Melissa, I think we need to talk about this.” Nick admonished.
“Talk about what?” her eyes glanced briefly at the office door, as if to gauge whether she could flee, then returned her gaze to him. Nick sighed audibly. “About us. About him. About what just happened.” He shifted slightly as Melissa stood up, and began to carefully walk to the door.
“I need some time to be alone right now.” Melissa said in a strained voice. “I…I can’t think about any of this. I have to get ready for the reading of the will.”
Nick took a small step back. That was all she needed to rapidly walk through the door and head toward the side entrance. She didn’t dare look back; if she, she would have seen Nick standing hipshot by the desk with a determined look on his face.
* * *
Later in the afternoon, Nick contacted his team to see if any patterns or links were found from the late night business party. As he sat in front of his laptop, headset in place, he discussed his observations with Susan.
“It was odd that Cheryl showed up, and her behavior seemed a little off as well”, Nick observed, “Did you find any connections?”
“Actually, more than a few, although I don’t think she’s any type of criminal mastermind.” Susan said. Her father’s company specializes in government contracts for building construction. Since the economic downturn, they’ve tightened their belts, but the company isn’t failing, and they are consistently paying their bills. There’s no suspicious activity at their warehouse facilities, or additional phone or email communication in the last several days. So, while we aren’t ruling them out, there’s nothing to go on.”
“And the other people who were at the mansion last night?”
“That’s where things get interesting. T.C. Livingston chatted with several different people, at least some of whom appear legitimate. There were a few that piqued our interest. If you recall, he spoke at length with Theresa Coggin, who is in charge of their logistics department. If the “product” that they were talking about is the shipment of guns and drugs, there’s a very good chance that it’s being stored on Shayne property, and she would be able to coordinate the transportation. That’s dependent, of course, if she is involved.”
“We’re still working on his dossier. But from a criminal standpoint, he could very well be the link between the suppliers in Columbia and Miami, and the retailers in New York. There’s something there, we’re just not sure what yet. We may have agents staking out additional company-owned warehouses over the next couple of days and see what comes up.”
They concluded their conversation and signed off, and Nick thought for a moment as he pulled up the data files on the case and reviewed them. His instinct was that the congressman, although a hardnose and a jerk, was none the less unaware that his company had been hijacked by an unscrupulous leader. Still, his behavior towards his daughter was enough for Nick to want to keep an eye on him.
And they needed to find out who damaged the Chrysler; the surveillance equipment Nick installed showed nothing but static after the Richmond stop, with the exception of the GPS. Without concrete evidence, the incident was going to be ruled accidental.