Hidden Agenda – Chapter 21 and Epilogue
Chapter Twenty One
The rain made a pitter-patter noise as Melissa woke up. The storm had raged most of the night, but now there was just a slight drizzle. She arched her back and stretched, then pulled aside the duvet and slipped into her shoes. In the kitchen, she started the coffee pot and set some bread in the toaster. When both appliances dinged, she sniffed lovingly at the aroma from the coffee pot and poured some into her mug. She walked to the refrigerator, retrieved milk, margarine, and jam, and proceeded to create her modest breakfast. The fresh air felt good as she stepped outside and sat in the swing that her grandmother had attached under the porch. With one foot on the floor, she gently rocked back and forth as she watched the fat raindrops fall from the eaves.
The first week at the cottage in Front Royal had been spent in cleaning and stocking. Now, with nothing else to do, she was ready to do some serious thinking. Since Nana’s inheritance, even with the lowered value of her shares in Shayne Enterprises, was large enough to make working unnecessary, she knew would be ok financially if she decided to send in her resignation and restart her life. The trouble was, every time she thought about the future, a pair of tawny eyes would interrupt her thoughts. She gripped her mug tightly as the waves of pain coursed through her.
“Dammit, Nick, what part of us was real?” She was unaware she had spoken aloud until a soft voice from the side of the house said, “Everything important was.” With a gasp, she stood and turned so quickly that she spilled hot coffee on her hand. The sudden movement also caused her sneakers to slide on the damp wood of the porch floor, and she felt herself begin to fall forward. Almost before she registered what was happening, she found herself cradled against a hard, familiar body, Nick’s hands reaching around her waist to steady her. He pushed her back onto the swing, and knelt down in front of her to examine her hand, the coffee mug still clenched so tightly her knuckles were white.
“Are you alright?” Nick asked gently as he pulled the mug from her now unresisting fingers and characteristically rubbed a thumb across her knuckles. He thought she was thinner than he remembered, with bluish arcs under both her beautiful eyes, now staring painfully at him, shimmering in the pale light. He reached out to cup her head, which she greeted by leaning into his touch. Then, she withdrew. Nick sighed and stood, regretfully letting go of her hand as he back away a few steps.
“Wha…what are you doing here?”, Melissa whispered, unable to believe he was standing in front of her, wearing worn jeans and a black t-shirt, several days worth of stubble on his face.
“Obviously, looking for you,” Nick said, deciding on a more business-like tone. When he had first seen her, rocking on the swing, he was shocked by how frail she looked. There were lines bracketing her lovely mouth, and her shoulders were slumped. Had she been ill? Or was she hurting like he was, this past lonely month? “I had hoped we would have a moment to talk.” He sat on the porch steps and angled his body towards her.
She picked up a piece of toast in order to forestall conversation, even though she had lost what little appetite she had. What was Nick doing here? She took a sip of the coffee dregs to wet her throat, and repeated her question.
“What are you doing here, Nick? If that’s your real name.” She was proud her voice only held a trace of a waver.
Nick ran his fingers through her hair. “Nick is my real name.” He proffered his FBI credentials as proof. She took them in her hands, and there it was – Jason Nicholas Alvarez, Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Ok,” and she handed the holder back to him, “you haven’t answered my question.”
“Honestly, I’m not completely sure. To apologize. To explain. To beg your forgiveness. All of the above?” He held out his hands then dropped them to his sides. He crouched in front of her, his hair damp and raindrops dotting his face. “I started at the mansion. Mrs. Keane is a formidable woman,” Nick felt a spark in his heart as Melissa’s lips curved slightly, “but eventually she told me you had returned to New York City. When I discovered you were on leave from work, I figured you would come here for a while.”
He neglected to mention the time he spent haunting the front of her Manhattan brownstone, waiting for her. After several days, he had convinced a coworker to reveal that she took leave from her job, and deduced that she would head to her late grandmother’s house in Port Royal. He had hesitated intruding on her solitude, so he returned to his place in North Carolina. But he couldn’t get his mind off the woman who had stolen his heart, so he packed a bag and headed north. He was reconnoitering the property when she stepped out onto the porch, and his heart began beating again for the first time in many weeks.
Now she sat in front of him, waiting for answers that he knew she deserved, but he was desperately afraid she would just walk away. She was still there, though, so he decided to simply start at the beginning.
“I got my Masters from UVA six years ago and was immediately recruited by the FBI. I ended up in Criminal Investigations. We got word that your father’s company was being used to transport weapons from the South to New York. They implied that your father was directly involved; we had to investigate. I was assigned to get close to your father to learn what I could, and the chauffer position was the most logical choice because of my EVOC training. Other agents looked into the business itself. Then, we discovered that a large shipment was planned for sometime in April, so it became critical to pinpoint the details. Then,” Nick’s voice softened, “your grandmother died, and the timetables were affected, so we had to hold our positions.” Nick took a deep breath, wanting her to understand how his world changed the first time he saw her.
“Then your father ordered me to pick you up in Charlottesville. And everything changed, at least for me.”
Melissa sat in the swing, the gentle sounds of the receding storm around her, and tried to soak in what Nick said. When he didn’t resume his narrative, she looked up and was spellbound, once again, by the golden glow of his eyes. He must have seen something in her face, because he stood up and moved back to the swing, went down on one knee and framed her face with his hands. “Everything I told you about myself was the truth.” She closed her eyes on a sigh as he gently settled his lips over hers and angled them for that perfect kiss. After a few moments, he eased himself onto the swing.
Suddenly, with a clatter, the plate of toast slid off the swing onto the porch floor, startling them both, and their lips lost contact. Melissa took a deep breath and looked at Nick. His dimple winked as he smiled almost boyishly.
“Whups.” She couldn’t help but giggle. Nick then picked up her hand, rubbing his thumb across her sensitive knuckles. She went still, wanting to hear the rest of his story, feeling icy tendrils around her heart.
“When I saw you in on that bench in Richmond, you took my breath away. I had a job to do, but the lines blurred the more time we spent together. I’m sorry I lied to you, but I couldn’t jeopardize the assignment, even though I knew you would be hurt. I planned to tell you when everything was done, but the end happened so quickly…” Nick’s voice trailed off as he saw Melissa eyes harden into flashing blue spears of light. She stood up and stepped back from the swing, looking down at Nick, her hands folded across her chest.
“Really? You planned to tell me? Well, that’s just fantastic. You used me; you played on my feelings for you to get closer to my father. Well, congratulations, job well done, but I’m so happy you didn’t intend to hurt me…” Melissa’s voice trailed off on a sob as tears blurred and her shoulders sagged. As Nick stood up from the swing, Melissa stepped back, her left hand palm out as if to hold him off.
“Don’t. I can’t do this now. Go away.”
Nick knew she was right, but he couldn’t stop himself. Stepping in front of her, he grabbed her hand and held it to his chest, over the place where his heart was trying to jump out. At this touch, she looked up, her distressed eyes seeming to drill into his. He held his breath.
Then, with a sigh, she stepped towards him and rested her head on his chest. He released her hand, wrapped his arms around her waist, and allowed his tears to flow.
Two weeks later, Melissa was back at work in New York City. Her job was too important to leave, and she thought her grandmother would approve. The relationship with her father would never be an easy one, but they had started talking more often, and beginning to rebuild what they had lost when her mother had died. She was content getting back into her normal routine.
She hailed a cab outside One Police Plaza. She had just left a multi-borough conference between the 5 boroughs’ social services branches and the police department. Not one of the most exciting parts of her job, but necessary.
The passenger of the cab that stopped at her feet was occupied on his cell phone and did not look up as he opened the rear door and stepped onto the curb. He was speaking Spanish, and seemed to be in a heated conversation. She stepped back to avoid him, but he walked right into her.
“Excuse me,” she said. The man looked up and they both stopped dead in their tracks. Melissa broke into a smile as she recognized her beloved’s face.
“Melissa,” he smiled, then leaned over and kissed her. The impatient cabbie beeped his horn at them, and Melissa absentmindedly waved him off.
Nick’s phone was still on, a tinny voice coming out of the speaker. He lifted the phone to his ear and said (in Spanish) “Grandmother, I promise I will visit soon. But I need to go. I love you.” After a slight pause, he ended the call, deposited his cell phone in his pocket, and looked at Melissa.
“I’m completing the final debriefing of the case, which should hopefully take only a short time. Do you have any plans for lunch?” Melissa felt a bubble of laughter try to escape at the little-boy hopefulness in his voice.
“I think I can spare a few minutes with my man,” she chuckled, “Just call me when you’re done.” She gave him a quick hug and waved down another cab. Before she stepped into it, she turned and gave him a wink.
Nick’s breath came out in a whoosh at the sight of that smile, and, almost absentmindedly, he reached into his pocket and fingered the small velvet box he routinely carried. Time to make some important arrangements for the afternoon…