Hidden Agenda – Chapter 16 to 20
By tacit agreement, they decided to spend the night lightly. They chatted about inconsequential things, occasionally acknowledging someone that Melissa or Nick knew. Before they were aware of it, the party was winding down. Melissa was plastered against Nick on the dance floor, their bodies easily swaying to the soft, slow dance. Nick’s warm hand was softly rubbing along her spine, up to her neck, and back. The band announced the final song of the evening and Melissa looked up at Nick.
The last several hours were torturous for Nick. The time spent with Melissa was like heaven, but it was harder and harder to maintain the objectivity he needed as a federal agent. It now seemed less important to indict the smugglers and more important to protect Melissa in whatever way was required. He didn’t want to let her go. Ever. He kissed her forehead and breathed in the subtle scent of her hair.
“What do you want to do now?” Nick murmured into her crown.
Melissa briefly squeezed his neck, and he obligingly dipped to sample her lips again. “I think we need to go back to the mansion.” Nick felt a stab of disappointment, and reluctantly, slowly, released her, and turned to head to the coat room to retrieve their coats. As they waited for the valet to bring the car around, Melissa snaked an arm under the open front of his coat and around his waist. Nick sucked in a quick breath, and obligingly draped an arm across her shoulders as she snuggled into his side.
When the gleaming car pulled up to the curb, Melissa was handed in by the gallant valet as Nick walked around to the driver’s seat. He glanced over to her and asked, “Top up or down?”
Melissa pulled the pins from her hair, tumbling the brown curls around her shoulders, and finger combed the locks. “Down, please.”
As they drove the winding driveway back to the road, Nick felt a tugging in his chest, a connection to Melissa he had never felt before. Afraid that the events of this evening, the meeting of his own professor and some of his staff, would somehow break this link, he felt grateful that Melissa was willing to continue the evening almost as if nothing had happened.
“I wanted to tell you,” Nick started with some difficulty, “that I appreciate you staying tonight. I know you have questions…” Nick stopped when Melissa leaned over and touched his lips with a pink-tipped finger.
“Reality will be here soon enough; for tonight, let’s enjoy the rest of the evening,” Melissa spoke, her cerulean eyes somehow seemed brighter in the pulsing light as they passed the driveway lights. Nick realized he was in real trouble, his imagination a picture of future nights like this all the way to…marriage??
Melissa thought about the events of the night as the car smoothly took the curves that would lead to the main highway. Although she still had doubts about Nick, it still seemed as if they had a connection. Just the thought of him caused her heartbeat to increase and her palms to tingle. The professor from UVA seemed disappointed that Nick hadn’t joined some federal organization, but she supposed not everybody was cut out to do some deep undercover stuff. She had a sudden vision of Nick dressed in jungle fatigues, green and black stripes painted on his face, clutching some big gun and walking through a steamy tropical locale while the birds shrieked in the trees. She looked at his profile and the business suit and snorted quietly.
“Did you say something?” Nick asked over the subtle roar of the engine and the quiet sounds of the wind over the windshield. Melissa shook her head, and then changed her mind.
“I was just thinking about tonight. It’s been wonderful to get away from the mansion and all the goings-on there, even for just a couple of hours. I wanted to thank you for coming along with me tonight. You made it really special.”
Nick smiled, and, surprisingly, blushed. Melissa was entranced by the boyish appearance he gave as his dimples winked again. Nevertheless, he was all man, and, at that moment, she made the decision to continue this evening much, much further.
Once they reached the road, Nick accelerated until the wind was a steady pressure around them. Melissa laughed out loud as her tresses wildly waved. Gone was the sophisticated woman who gracefully glided down the stairs; in her place was a sultry temptress with aquamarine eyes. Nick could barely keep his eyes on the road, and the miles flew by.
Upon arrival at the mansion, Nick pulled to the rear of the garage and turned off the ignition. The sudden silence was almost deafening. He climbed out of the driver’s seat and walked to the other side, where Melissa was already clambering out of the low-slung vehicle. Nick felt awkward and unsure, wondering what the next step in this incredible evening, or even if there would be a next step.
As he watched her, Melissa crossed over to him, her eyes dark and hooded with desire. She took his face between both hands, and guided him down to her lips. Her kiss was deep, with an almost desperate quality to it, as if years of guarded passion had finally found their release. His blood roared in his ears. He wrapped his arms around her waist, molding her soft curves to his hard chest, feeling her breathing quicken as they both spiraled into a sensual haze. She moaned into his mouth as her knees weakened, overwhelmed by the sensation of his arms and his drugging kisses. He quickly lifted her up into his arms, barely breaking off the assault to her mouth, and strode up the stairs to his apartment above the garage.
He lowered her to the deck to unlock the door; then, pressing her against the door, he turned the handle and opened it. Nick flipped the light switch, revealing a living room containing a sage green sectional sofa angled towards a large flat screen television. The kitchen was nondescript, oak cabinets and dark countertops ending in a breakfast-bar peninsula. That was the only impression Melissa got as Nick hustled her to the sofa and sat her down, removing her wrap to stretch her arms over her head and trailed kisses down her neck to her exposed shoulder. His erection pressed against her belly, causing her skin to quiver and liquid heat to pool between her legs.
Nick released her hands, stood up and proceeded to remove his jacket and tie, dropping them carelessly on the carpet. Melissa’s eyes were fastened on his chest as he quickly unbuttoned the shirt and yanked it out of his slacks. She scooted to the edge of the sofa, running her hands across the hard ridges of his abdomen and up to the sprinkling of dark chest hair. A small, surgical scar located above his right hip, and a puckered circle on his right shoulder, did nothing to detract from his beautifully sculpted body.
Melissa leaned forward and traced his navel with her tongue. A tightening of his abdominal muscles and a gasp was all the warning she got before she was physically lifted and crushed against the hard planes of his body. A moment later, she was on her back, stretched out across the couch, Nick’s delectable weight pinning her down. He quickly slid the dress from her shoulder; the silver rose a sharp imprint on his hand, and pooled the dress around her waist. His mouth unerringly found her right breast, laving it with his tongue, as his right hand ran along her side and gripped her hip. She moaned, and arched her back to give him better access. His hand continued to pull down the dress until she was naked except for a wisp of blue lace panties. Nick pulled back and stared at Melissa.
“You are so beautiful,” he breathed in a deep voice unlike his normal timbre. His eyes flashed topaz as he bent down to assault her lips again. His hand delved under the blue lace and touched her core. She closed her eyes as her body tensed from the waves of sensation flowing up from where Nick was touching her. Dimly, she heard the slide of a zipper and welcome pressure as Nick returned to cover her. He reached down between her legs, pushed aside the flimsy cloth, and pushed a long finger inside. Melissa exploded when his thumb rubbed her clit in time with his finger; white-hot flashes burst behind her lids. She heard herself mewing as a chuckle of triumph was felt more than heard against her neck. Then his hand withdrew from her sex, now moist and throbbing, to be replaced with his hard member, pressed against her core. She lifted her hips in invitation.
Nick swore he saw stars as he smoothly sheathed himself into her molten core and began rocking against her. Melissa wrapped her legs around his hips and held tightly to his neck as he deepened his rhythm. Soon, almost too soon, Melissa cried out and clenched around him, Nick shouting her name as he joined her in her climax.
As they fell back against the couch, their bodies slippery with sweat, Melissa whispered, “wow”. Nick looked down, his topaz eyes blazing, and said, “You are incredible”. He tenderly brushed her hair away from her damp face and cupped her chin. “Are you ok?” he asked.
“Never better,” Melissa smiled into his eyes, “but I would appreciate it if we continue on a bed.” Nick flashed a devilish grin and held out a hand to assist her from the sofa. They walked together to the bedroom door and to other sensual delights in each other’s arms.
* * *
Melissa quietly slipped from Nick’s arms and tiptoed to the bathroom. The harsh fluorescent light showed a woman well-loved, with slightly swollen lips and tousled hair. She quickly scrubbed her face clean of her evening makeup, drying herself with a beige hand towel. As she looked into her own eyes, slumberous and lidded, she wondered what would happen next. Her body was relaxed, well-satiated, yet her mind roiled from the implications of the evening. Her father would never understand her decision to spend the night with a hired hand, yet she felt a bone-deep connection with the man snoring softly from the other room.
Looking at her watch still on her wrist, she realized that the early morning staff would be arriving soon. She quickly but silently picked up her things, put them on, and, walking to the kitchen, found a note pad next to the telephone. She stared at it for a minute, trying to marshal her thoughts, then gave up and walked out of the apartment, leaving the notepad lying empty on the counter.
Making her way to the main house, she failed to notice the figure in the window above the garage.
Nick cursed under his breath as he watched the shadowy figure of Melissa glide across the driveway to the house. He woke up the instant she slipped out of bed, his body already missing the warmth and feel of her snuggled in his arms. Knowing how people gossiped, he understood it was for the best. Once she made it into the house, he turned away from the window and headed for the kitchen. There was no chance of sleep now without Melissa.
A buzzing sound alerted Nick to his cell phone. Looking at the caller ID, Nick cursed as he ran his fingers through his hair, then sat down on the rumpled couch next to the skewed coffee table, and answered its summons.
“Nick”. Susan’s cool voice came over the phone. “We have to talk.”
* * *
Melissa woke up from her brief sleep in her own bed and took a quick but bracing shower. She picked up the dress from where it was draped over the vanity chair and placed in a laundry bag to go to the dry cleaners. After the shock of the will, the emotions of last night, and the delicious ending in Nick’s arms, she was amazed at how energized she felt. Practically tripping down the staircase, she made her way to the main kitchen.
In the kitchen, she found the staff talking excitedly as they milled around the prep area. She looked in vain for Nick, but he did not seem to be among the chaos of the kitchen. She found Mrs. Keane in the small office in the back; she was talking earnestly to someone on the phone.
“No, sir, I don’t know where Mr. Shayne is. I will let him know you called again.” Mrs. Keane hung up the phone and turned around, startled to see Melissa. “Ah, good morning, miss.”
“Good morning. Is my father not here?” Since it was Saturday, Melissa knew his offices were closed.
Mrs. Keane looked concerned. “No, miss. He received a phone call from Mr. Livingston early this morning; I forwarded it up to his bedroom, and he left the house soon after.”
“Who was on the phone now?”
“That was Detective Hosick, looking for your father. He said it was quite urgent that he speak with him regarding the accident. I gave the detective your father’s cell phone number, though, so he might already be contacting him.”
“If the detective calls again, please let me know.”
“Yes, miss. I’ll let the rest of the staff know to get you.”
Frowning, Melissa walked down the hallway to the conservatory and called Detective Hosick’s phone number. After several rings, the voicemail picked up. Melissa left a short message with her cell phone number and hung up.
Melissa strolled to the deck around the pool and sat down, her hands around a cup of coffee, and thought about the recent events. The will all but guaranteed she could live comfortably for the rest of her life, but she wondered why her grandmother didn’t give the business portion of the estate to her father. She was thrilled with the prospect of owning the house in Port Royal, with its wraparound porch and river view. The rest of the holdings were a little bit fuzzier. She never paid attention to Shayne Enterprises; she thought of the family business as something she never wanted to be trapped into handling.
And the enigma that was Nick. Her body felt pleasantly sore after the workout it had last night, and yet, for all their intimacy, Melissa knew very little about Nick. She resolved to track him down this morning and find out exactly what he had done at UVA. As that thought crossed her mind, her cell phone let out a chime for an incoming call.
A deep, but kind voice spoke. “I’d like to speak with Melissa Shayne, please.”
“This is she.”
“This is Detective Hosick. You left a message?”
“Yes sir. I know you were trying to get in contact with my father, and I wanted to know if you could tell me anything about the investigation of the accident.”
There was a brief silence on the phone, and then he said, “It would be best if we speak face to face. Can you come to my office this morning?” Melissa felt a sudden drop in her stomach, but agreed to meet the detective in half an hour. She quickly finished her cooling cup of coffee, and headed back inside to pick up her purse and the keys to the Lincoln, and tucked the cell phone into her jeans pocket. She stopped by the kitchen to tell Ms. Keane where she was going and picked up a light raspberry-colored jacket against the morning chill.
Heading out to the garage, Melissa first went to Nick’s apartment. There was no answer to her knocking and the Lotus was no longer parked in the lot. Melissa shrugged, got behind the wheel, and drove to the outskirts of Richmond, where the regional state police headquarters was located.
* * *
The building that housed the police department was similar to many government buildings: brown, nondescript exterior, shiny beige tiles on the floor inside, a worn path leading to a glass-enclosed room identified as “Information”. Melissa waited in line for a few minutes, and then stepped up to the window.
“I have an appointment to see Detective Hosick.” The attractive woman behind the glass explained the path Melissa needed to take. After a few minutes, she found a set of double doors marked “Detective Bureau” and proceeded inside.
Detective Hosick, wearing a tan sport coat over a light blue golf shirt, stepped from behind his desk, shook hands and motioned Melissa into a faded blue chair across from him. Blue, slightly world-weary eyes stared into hers.
“I imagine you want to know how the investigation is going, is that correct, Ms. Shayne?” At her nod, he continued, “I have not been able to speak with your father regarding some important items we found in the car. Are you aware of what we have found so far?”
Melissa swallowed. “I know you believe the brake lines were deliberately damaged. My father spoke to our mechanic in regards to this. He’s been part of the staff for about six months, but I don’t know that much about him.” Melissa paused a moment as she thought about the professor at Cheryl’s party, and Nick’s guarded behavior there. “Is there anything else?”
Detective Hosick thought for a moment, drummed a pen on the desk blotter, then looked up at Melissa. “We discovered that there were several sophisticated listening devices in the Chrysler’s interior. So far, we haven’t been able to identify the manufacturer.”
Melissa slumped back in the chair, thunderstruck.
Nick scowled as he stared at the quiet warehouse owned by Shayne Enterprises. No, owned by Melissa. He was still reeling from the meeting with Susan this morning. Without any explanation, he had been summarily pulled from the Shayne estate and told to report to Rick Baker, the agent in charge of the stakeout of the Terminals. He was no longer part of the surveillance at the mansion. After a heated argument, he grudgingly drove to the team’s staging area.
He could still feel the warmth of Melissa around him and remembered how softly she snuggled against him, her hand against his chest, and her quiet little snore when she slept. His hand tingled as he thought how it looked tangled in the sable silk of her hair as he ravished her mouth and her breathless cries as she spasmed around him. His raging erection cooled as he drove the Lotus into the parking lot where the surveillance van and storage trailer was parked, not far from the warehouse. Dammit, he was going to have to explain everything to Melissa once this operation was concluded, and he could only hope she would understand.
Matt was already there, sitting in the van, his earpiece and microphone sitting securely on his head. His eyes widened as Nick stormed in.
“Uh, morning,” Nick muttered as he sank onto one of the metal chairs in the van. Mattie cleared his throat and said, “I didn’t expect you here today, especially after last night. There’s movement in the warehouse, but no vehicles have pulled up or left since yesterday afternoon. Um, not to pry but why are you here?”
“Susan pulled me out of the mansion and sent me here. Is something going on today?”
The young man turned back to the screens monitoring the building. “Not so far, although there are usually a couple of vehicles parked there by now. I’ve told Susan about the difference today, so it’s possible something may happen. Um, how was last night?” Nick frowned and looked at his team member, who was guiltily looking down at his keyboard. He suddenly felt a bolt of tension running up his back into his brain.
“What do you mean about last night?” Mattie flinched at the deadly tone of Nick’s voice, looked up at him, and took a deep breath. Nick waited with dread.
“The dress Ms Shayne was wearing last night was bugged when she was at the dress shop. I uploaded and analyzed the data stream first thing this morning…” his voice trailed off as Nick suddenly stood up, his hands clenched into tight fists at either side.
“Who else knows?!” Nick practically roared, knowing now why he had that little tête-à-tête with Susan. Matt turned pale and Nick realized how much he was out of control.
“Don’t yell at me, man. I gave Susan the original recordings. No copies. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
With an effort, he tamped down his ire and tried to rein in his reeling emotions. “Sorry, Mattie,” Nick spoke, “Not your fault.” He had to get to Melissa and explain before someone else contacted her. His muscles cranked tighter when he thought about how she would react.
Nick had turned to exit the van when an alert emanated from the speakers above the monitors.
“Car entering the yard at high speed from the east gate,” the voice reported. He wheeled around as the young team member quickly adjusted the camera at the rear of the warehouse. A burgundy sedan pulled into the loading zone, and T.C. Livingston stepped out of the driver side rear door. Several armed men walked to the passenger rear, and Nick saw Melissa’s father hauled from the car and hustled into the loading dock door. The door quickly closed, and all was quiet again outside the building.
“Crap.” Nick left the van and returned to his Lotus, opening the trunk to reveal the body armor, portable radio, and heavy weapons he had hoped not to need. He returned as Mattie called in the rest of the team.
This was about to get ugly.
* * *
Melissa sat there, her heart pounding, as the detective’s words sunk in. “B-but who would want to do that to my father?” she asked the detective.
He leaned back into his chair, thought for a moment, then said, “A man in your father’s position, with his businesses and his standing in the government, may have enemies anywhere. The sophistication of the devices seems to point to something more organized that your usual kook, though.”
“Is my father in danger?” Melissa asked. Her eyes began to burn as she thought of the accident and the ugly implications. Someone wanted her father incapacitated, or worse, dead. Why? As her eyes filled, the detective handed her a small box of tissues.
“We aren’t sure. We need to locate him as soon as possible and arrange protection until we can determine that. For him and you.”
A uniformed officer stuck his head in the small office. “Detective, the chief is requesting you go to the G-34 conference room.” Detective Hosick’s eyes sharpened on the officer’s face as he said, “Do you know what’s happening?”
“I don’t know,” said the officer, “but the FBI has requested our assistance. Something’s happening at the Terminals. They need us there ASAP. Briefing is starting now.”
“I’ll be right there. Ms. Shayne,” the detective turned to Melissa, “I’m afraid we’ll need finish this conversation later. I ask that you stay here for the time being, for your protection. This officer will get you anything you need.”
“Thank you,” Melissa choked out. “I’ll let you know if I hear from my father.”
“He nodded to her, grabbed his radio, and walked hurriedly out of the office. The officer followed him, but turned right toward the front desk while the detective went left.
Melissa sat for a moment to compose herself. She then dropped the crumpled tissues in the wastebasket, picked up her purse, and walked into the hallway. Halfway down the corridor, she thought she heard her name. She oriented herself, made a left turn, and saw an open doorway. Instinct made her stop against the wall as she heard the voices through the conference room door.
“…appears the feds have had him under surveillance for about six months now, with operatives both in his company and his household. This morning, he received a telephone call, left the house at first light, and drove the headquarters of Shayne Enterprises. About fifteen minutes ago, the FBI witnessed the Congressman being dragged into the warehouse by several men. Because the potential for a hostage situation is there, they have requested local assistance, which is where we come in…”
Melissa didn’t hear anything else as she stumbled back to the main corridor towards the front entrance of the precinct. Her mind buzzed with anger and hurt as the pieces fell into place: Nick under her father’s bugged car, his employment at the house, the conversation with the professor at Cheryl’s party. Nick had played her all along, in order to get information on her father. She walked out of the building and to her car. She bit back a sob as she opened the car door, slid in, and rested her head on the steering wheel.
Oh, God, how could she be such an idiot? In just, was it three days, Nick had somehow wormed his way into her heart. Last night, at the party, red flags were going up everywhere, but she dismissed them all. As the events seeped into her cloud of self-pity, the information she heard at the police station suddenly came to the forefront. She remembered her grandmother’s holdings; it must be the Shayne Enterprises warehouse at the Deep Water Terminals. Her father was in danger. She turned the engine over, threw it into drive, and pealed out of the parking lot, headed for the Midlothian Turnpike and her father.
Nick, Susan, Matt, and the group of officers from Richmond and the state gathered in a large room in a building one block from the warehouse. Nick nodded at one of the officers, recognizing him from the hospital. The officer returned the gesture, then focused on Susan, who was outlining the task force evolution using a projection screen and a laptop.
“The building has a glass front office area with two set of double doors, standard emergency exits, and the double loading docks at the rear near the river. The available information also shows a security desk with monitoring equipment. At this time, there is no indication they know we are watching. We have a team of four ready to infiltrate the building through the front doors in order to gain access to those security cameras. We are requesting SWAT’s snipers man the rooftops north and south of the target. We know of seven individuals inside, including the Congressman. This will be confirmed by our team once they are inside. Once they are in position, the SWAT Teams will enter through the emergency doors, Team Two on the north, and Team Three on the south. Please make sure all commanders and team leaders are on Tactical Channel 6.”
“The security guard at the main entrance is being instructed to close and secure the gates as quickly as possible. Otherwise, everything will be business as usual. We can’t tip our hand.”
“And the uniformed officers?” asked one young, hopeful officer. Susan turned to him as said, “They will remain posted on the outer perimeter to provide additional security. The primary operation at the warehouse will be done by SWAT and FBI personnel. Any further questions?”
As the rest of the plan was communicated, Nick was feeling antsy. Something was in the air, a tingle that said things were not going to go well. He checked his belt to make sure all his equipment was ready, then paced the perimeter of the conference room, waiting for the go-ahead. It was a relief when the signal was given and he and his team headed to the rear of the building to begin the infiltration of the building.
* * *
Melissa drove up to the main gate of the terminal, stopped at the guard entry and rolled her window down. Internally she was shaking, and hoped she could bluff her way onto the docks.
The older, portly guard stepped out, “May I help you?”
“I’m Melissa Shayne, here to go to the Shayne Enterprises building on Commerce Street.” She proffered her driver’s license and company ID, thankful that she had kept it after all these years. The guard looked over her credentials, gave her a visitor pass for the car, and opened the gate. “Thank you,” she murmured as she drove through the gates. The phone then rang in the guardhouse, announcing the order to secure the terminal gates.
As she drove closer to her destination, Melissa thought, I need to come up with a good story once I get there. I need to make sure my father is ok.
* * *
Inside the warehouse, in the office space area, Livingston paced back and forth, almost wearing a hole in the carpet. Congressman Shayne was sitting in an office chair next to the desk, his head loose on his neck, his hands trembling. Livingston stopped his furious pacing by Shayne, looming over the man.
“You have really screwed things up”, Livingston shouted, his normally even voice shaking with anger, “Everything was going smoothly until you showed up asking questions. You’ll tell me the name of the snitch before the end of tonight.”
The congressman’s voice was low and deliberate. “Maybe I have loyal employees who didn’t want to get involved with a man who supports gang warfare.”
Livingston snorted, and turned to the wall. “For two years this operation has been running smoothly, right underneath your pathetic nose. Now, I need to figure out what to do with you. Since you don’t own any of this, thanks to your damn mother-in-law, even if I kill you now, there’s no guarantee I would continue to run this company.” His cold, dark eyes took on a speculative gleam. “Maybe your precious daughter should have an accident as well. Maybe another car will break down while she’s driving.”
The older man’s voice suddenly became stronger. “Don’t you touch my daughter, do you hear me?!”
Livingston laughed, but there was no humor in it. “Well, we shall see, won’t we.”
* * *
With some trepidation, Melissa stepped out of her car and looked around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She entered the front door of the warehouse and wondered why it was dark. She flipped on the lights in the lobby, illuminating the front desk with its silent screens. Walking behind the desk, she turned on the computer, which started with a quiet hum, then flipped each monitor on in quick secession. The screens were blue squares, waiting for the computer to boot, and Melissa wondered if any of the security cameras were still in use.
Her question was quickly answered when the screens came on one by one. Melissa’s hope plummeted as each camera showed still, silent rooms; her interest sharpened on several screens to the left, which framed a group of men busily moving wooden crates towards the loading dock in the background. Melissa searched through the faces, but did not see anyone familiar. As she sat in the black leather chair, she heard a quiet “click” from the vicinity of the front door. Sliding out of the chair, Melissa crouched on the floor and froze, hidden behind the desk.
She strained her ears, listening for any other sound, but all she could hear was the frantic beating of her heart. She decided to stand up and head back to the rear offices, when a figure came around the corner from the security area, clothed in black and carrying a vicious-looking rifle. She let out a single squeak before she was pushed against the wall, slamming her head against the cool tile, a heavy arm across the throat. There was a pause as Melissa stared, wide-eyed, at the figure in front of her. The arm slowly released, allowing Melissa to slide bonelessly to kneel on the floor. The figure crouched down in front of her.
With a muffled oath, Nick yanked off his goggles and balaclava and stared into Melissa’s eyes, watching them cool to blue shards. The deep pain reflected in their depths lanced his heart.
“Melissa…what the hell are you doing here?” he hissed, trying to keep his voice quiet as the rest of his team clustered around him. One of them walked over to the monitors, stared intently, and began talking in a low voice into his microphone. The others flicked their eyes at the couple on the floor before fanning out across the lobby. Nick swore, wondering if they knew who this intruder actually was and what a disaster this could turn into.
“I came to help my father”, she whispered, a lump in her throat as the pieces fell into place. “So you were the spy in my father’s household. I should have known, since it was right in front of my eyes. And I walked right into it. Good job, Nick,” Melissa glared at the man in front her, the pain of his lies radiating from every pore.
Nick placed a hand on her arm, preventing her from rising. The touch sent a sensual jolt through them, even through the hurt. “We don’t have time for this…” He took a deep breath. “You need to stay here. We’ll take care of getting your father back, but you need to be safe too.” She jerked her arm away, as always feeling the electric tingle between them.
The agent by the monitors turned and walked towards Melissa. She quickly scrambled to her feet, ignoring Nick’s attempt to assist her. She looked at the tall figure. “Yes?”
He removed his goggles and face covering, his eyes a warm brown. He spoke quietly.
“I am Agent Robin Clarke. Miss Shayne, since your father isn’t showing in any of the monitors, do you have any idea where he might be in the building?” Melissa thought for a moment.
“If they haven’t changed things, the biggest office is through the doors, to the left, and down the end of the corridor. It’ll have a double-wide door and a window on the left side of the room.” The man nodded, thanked Melissa, and turned to Nick.
“We need to get you out of here. Miss Shayne, I need you to evacuate the building. Someone will meet you outside and escort you to safety.”
Melissa set her jaw and stared at the agent. “I’m staying, until I know my father is okay.” She ignored Nick completely. “I’m not going anywhere.” The agent frowned down at her.
Unexpectedly, the dim sound of gunfire erupted outside as the agents swore. Melissa looked at Nick as the team came together and simultaneously set their weapons. Agent Clarke stood in front of Melissa, eyes sharpened and focused on her. The radio crackled.
“The suspects in the back spotted the SWAT team and opened fire. Move!” Clarke turned to Melissa and commanded, “You stay here!”
Nick placed a gloved hand on her face and swiftly kissed her, murmuring, “I will keep your father safe.” With that, the four agents quickly ghosted through the doors to the offices, disappearing down the hall echoing with gun fire. Melissa swayed, collapsed into the swivel chair again and took a deep breath. The agents had disappeared so swiftly there was no time to say or do anything else.
Gone was the anger. It was replaced by confidence; confidence that Nick would take care of her father. However, she could hear loud voices shouting through the doors. Steeling herself, Melissa stood and disregarded Agent Clarke’s admonishment as she headed into the fray.
Nick silently cursed as they quickly moved down the corridor in tandem. The thought that Melissa was by herself in the lobby made him want to go back and make sure she was safe. That she was angry and hurt made it all the more imperative that they talk. However, he had a job to do, to find her father safe and neutralize the gang currently holed up in the building.
The team made it to the double doors at the end of the hallway. A single voice murmured, but it was impossible to tell who was talking. The voice seemed to change pitch as the person paced. The two agents by the door each took a knob, and simultaneously threw open the doors.
Melissa came to the end of the corridor just as the last agent disappeared through the next set of doors. The shouts of “Down, get down” reverberated down the corridor as she closed the rest of the way and peeked inside. What she saw stopped her heart.
Her father, slumped over in a leather swivel chair, the hulking figure of Livingston standing behind him, a handgun pressed into the back of the congressman’s neck and sweat pearling his brow. The FBI agents, including Nick, had arranged themselves in a circle in front of them, rifles unerringly trained on the CEO as they yelled at him to put the weapon down. Good Lord, is this the last picture she would have of her father?
She must have made some sound of distress, as the wide eyes of the CEO turned and locked onto her. She stared into those familiar eyes, shocked into immobility by the hate she found there in those dark irises, as the gun moved from the back of her father towards her. As if in slow motion, her father’s left arm, still encased in a cast, lifted towards the gun as the chair swiveled.
The whiteness of the cast was a blur as it struck the wrist holding the weapon, knocking it free. The big man bellowed and swung at Melissa’s father with the other hand, sending him sprawling to the carpet. The staccato beat of gunshots resounded as red blossoms appeared on the gray pinstripes of Livingston’s suit. He fell over backwards, to lie silently near the congressman. Three of the agents ran forward to cover the CEO, and help drag her father to safety. The fourth agent turned, and Melissa knew it was Nick even before the goggles were torn off, showing his topaz eyes blazing with anger. He grabbed her shoulders, spun her around, and hustled her down the corridor and several more law enforcement officers streamed past them towards the office.
“Just what the hell were you thinking!” he snarled as he all but dragged her unresisting body out of the building to the command post, “We told you to stay put!” He recognized the edge of fear in his voice and ruthlessly tamped it down. He slowed down as he approached the command area, and sat her down in a metal folding chair in the lee of the van. Crouching in front of her, he stared into her pale face, noting the tremor in her lips and the hands pressed together so hard the knuckles were white. He felt an overpowering need to touch her and make sure she was alright.
With one hand he closed it over her hands in her lap, the other reaching to touch her cheek, where tears threatened to spill, she pulled back, and his hand cupped empty air. He settled it on her shoulder in stead, mourning the lost intimacy.
“Leave me alone,” her voice barely a whisper, “And don’t touch me.” Unsure what to do, Nick searched her face, her eyes downcast, her spirit hurting, and decided to give her space. He gave her chilled hands a quick squeeze before she could draw them away, then backed away and stood up. Turning to one of the support team, he asked the volunteer to take care of Melissa, then slowly walked towards the scene commander to debrief.
* * *
Melissa sat, unmoving, as Nick walked away, her mind numb from the events that had transpired. She didn’t know whether to scream or cry, when a gentle hand touched her shoulder. She looked up into the kind eyes of an EMT, who completed a physical examination and advised she was OK. Physically, at least. She refused to go to the hospital but accepted a cup of coffee and a blanket. Was there anything about Nick that was the truth, she thought, or was I just a naïve and stupid pawn in his game to get my father. Too deep in her misery, she first missed the increased activity coming from the warehouse. The rising sound lifted her head as the crowd of officers opened to show her father escorted by several officers and followed by Detective Hosick.
Melissa dropped her cup of coffee and ran towards her father, sobbing. He enfolded her in his arms as they both sank to the pavement. The man seemed older now, trembling as he stroked his daughter’s hair.
“I am so sorry, kitten.” Melissa sobbed harder as the childhood endearment rolled off his tongue. “I’m so sorry to put you through this.”
“It’s ok, Daddy”, she hiccupped, “Are you hurt?” She pulled back slightly from his embrace and looked into his eyes.
“Just a few bruises and bumps, but I’m fine.” Melissa helped him up for the ground. He winced as he rotated his left shoulder. “I think I may have hurt my shoulder a bit, though, when I struck the bastard with my cast.” Melissa nodded and smiled slightly as the EMT bustled over to examine her father. She helped him into a waiting ambulance and climbed in after him, never looking back to the chaos of the scene. Nick, with his team by the command vehicle, watched as the ambulance drove off through the throngs. Once the vehicle was no longer visible, he straightened his shoulders and turned to Susan, piercing her with a glare. She nodded and ushered him into the back of the van.
Over the next several weeks, the news of the smuggling ring and the standoff at the warehouse caused an avalanche of local and national media attention and photographers hounded her steps. After a reporter followed her between Union Station and her office on 16th Street, peppering her with questions, she had had enough.
She spoke with the guard at the security desk to ensure the nosy reporter could not get to the upper levels of the complex, and made her way to her office. Once she sat down, she stared through the window at the scene below, but in her mind she was back in Virginia, driving a mountain road in a beautiful vehicle with a wonderful man. Not so wonderful, her mind insisted to her heart, just a callous government jerk that used you as a pawn in order to entrap your father.
Immediately after the warehouse incident, the smuggling ring fell like a house of cardboard. Theresa Coggins, head of the Logistics department at Shayne Enterprises, confessed her part in the operations, identifying both companies and individuals involved, going all the way up to CEO Livingston. Amazingly, Livingston survived that day at the warehouse. Although he was still hospitalized with multiple gunshot wounds, he had been federally indicted as the key player and looked to spend a long time in prison. Congressman Shayne had been exonerated during the course of the investigation, but decided to resign from Congress in order to shore up his company from the inevitable damage.
Although a tentative bridge was formed with her father, Melissa decided to leave the mansion and throw herself back into work to ease her heartache. It was easier said than done as she felt listless and had no appetite; even the satisfaction she had in her work was muted.
Today, after that yapping reporter, Melissa sat down at her desk, idly twirled her coffee cup, staring into the grounds on the bottom as she thought about her future. Her thoughts were interrupted when she received a phone call from the office assistant to schedule a meeting with her supervisor.
When Melissa arrived, the director’s assistant ushered her into the office, then left and quietly shut the door behind her. Melissa sat down in one of the leather chairs, and her boss got right to the point.
“Melissa, I’m concerned about you. Is there anything I can do to help?” the director leaned forward, “I sense that your mind is, understandably, still elsewhere.”
Melissa, grateful for his support, leaned forward in her chair. “Thank you for your concern. It has been very hectic, and I understand the disruption that this has caused here at the office.” Her director sighed, “We can handle the disruption. And we can do without you for a while longer, if you need the time.”
“I think that might be best” she replied, realizing that she needed to just get away and try to put her life back together.
“I took the liberty of requesting a leave of absence for you. All we needed is you to ask for it. We’ll be here when you’re ready.” She moved to object, but he held up his hand. This is a special situation,” he said gently. Overwhelmed, Melissa nodded. The director stood, shook hands, and walked her to his door.
Once she got to her apartment, she pulled out her suitcases, remembering the last time she used them. She silently packed some comfortable clothes, and ordered a taxi. With any luck, she would be far away in a short amount of time; Melissa hoped she would be able to make some long-term decisions in her life.