Secret Desires Pt. 03bymadam_noe©
From now on, each part will contain a single chapter. The part #s will still be in order and which chapter it is appears at the top of the piece. As always I welcome any and all comments/feedback.
Lucy had the conference room set up, a pitcher of water in the middle and five glasses. After Shannon shook hands with Thomas Lacroix, the city attorney, she eyed them as she sat. "Who else is joining us?"
"Well, the FBI is handling this. This meeting is for your benefit, as I owe Miss Beauchamp a favor, but they're the ones in charge," Lacroix said, adjusting is round-frame glasses.
He looked the same as she remembered, a thin man with mocha skin, short grey hair, and as usual he was wearing one of his four identical brown suits with a mustard tie. His face was permanently serious as if he would be more at home in a judge's robes, but for some reason he never aspired to soar past his position.
The bell on the door rang and familiar voices filled the lobby. Shannon's heart froze.
In walked Nick, again in uniform, looking like a model/biker at Halloween, his face darkly handsome and grinning. He winked at her before going to hug Lucy. Aiden was right behind him, his suit light linen, showing off his tan. His blond hair was shorter than she ever remembered, still showing a slight hint of wave, as light as it had been when he was younger, though his blue eyes has the beginnings of a few lines around them. It only edged his prettiness into handsomeness, she thought. He too hugged Lucy and then shook Lacroix's hand, nodding to Shannon as they took up the two chairs across from her. She tried to control her blush, and couldn't meet Nick's gaze.
"Sheriff, Special Agent Brunel."
"Special Agent!?!" Shannon blurted out.
Aiden grinned his lopsided grin, revealing a dimple. "No one's more surprised than me."
Lacroix cleared his throat. "I've agreed to share what I know with Miss Moreau, but only with you here, Special Agent."
"Please, just Aiden. Let's keep it casual. Go ahead, I think Shannon should know everything."
"All right. On April twentieth of this year the city comptroller, Miss Davidson, arrived at city hall to find the building locked. Inside she found the mayor's office in disarray. She had a voicemail from First National alerting her that the city's checking account had been emptied. The comptroller called Mayor Parker and his wife advised Miss Davidson Mayor Parker was missing. She then visited Sheriff Roche to report the theft. Mr. Roche, would you mind taking it from here?"
"Just Nick. We found dat he had left with Suzie Labeau and the money. Suzie left her mother a note, Parker left a note for his wife. Both indicated they were leaving for good, though Suzie's said she was heading for New Orleans. We found the mayor's office to be messy, but with the help of the city manager we found nothing taken in the office. However we did find dat in the records room there were several missing files. All dealt with the entire history of the plots of land bought and rezoned commercial, where the strip mall now sits. Aiden?"
"This raised some questions. The theft led to an investigation which showed embezzlement by Parker since the beginning of his term. The pattern was regular and does not match up to any personal accounts Parker had, nor Suzie, and the pattern suggests something nefarious. We contacted the developer who partnered with Parker, Charles Mingham, and though he's been implicated in some shady deals there was nothing connecting them after the development and sale of the land. However the FBI, suspecting Parker and LaBeau had crossed state and possible national lines, has taken commeand of the investigation."
"Suzie used her debit card north of here on forty-nine, but after dat there's nothin' for either of them," Nick added.
Lacroix steepled his fingers. "Miss Moreau, I want it to be made clear that I have no intention of pressing any charges against Miss Labeau, particularly if she surrenders herself and agrees to testify against Mr. Parker."
"She'll have to be taken in, but I don't plan to arrest her," Aiden added.
"Me neither." Nick nodded.
"And I'd be happy to represent her, explain all this," Lucy chimed in.
"Well," Shannon drawled, reeling. Theft, possible blackmail or extortion. Suzie, what the hell did you get mixed up in? "Gentlemen, my aunt has asked me to find my cousin. I have no plans to help her run, and if I find her I will encourage her to turn herself in, but I won't call you. I want to make that clear."
Nick and Aiden looked at one another.
"Give me a dollar," Lucy said.
Shannon understood and opened her purse, pulling out a dollar and tossing it. "There. Cheap retainer."
Lucy grinned and shoved the bill into her own pocket. "We aim to please. So when you find her you call me. Thomas, I'll make sure she comes in, but only after I've spoken to her."
"I'm satisfied with that." He stood and rebuttoned his jacket. "Good luck, Miss Moreau. Lucy, gentlemen."
They all stood and Shannon headed for the door.
"Shannon," Aiden stopped her, softly calling her name. "Will you be in town tonight?"
"I have a couple of stops to make. Unless I find anything different I plan to head for New Orleans after."
"Before you go, have dinner with me." She raised her brow and swallowed a lump in her throat. He smiled and looked at their two friends as if recruiting conspirators. "You had dinner with Nick, lunch with Lucy. You owe me one meal and a conversation."
Looking at the others Shannon's resistance crumbled as Lucy glared at her, obviously trying telepathy again though it had never worked once in their lives. She looked like she was trying to peel a orange with her knees. "All...right. I'll be free by seven."
"May as well meet at Randy's. Seven then." Aiden nodded and led Nick out.
Lucy whistled as the front door closed. "Girl, I know I've known them forever, Nick since we were born, and I think of them as brothers, and I know I'm head over heels in love with a good man, but, seriously, why aren't you jumping to have hot monkey love with at least one of them right this minute?"
Choking, Shannon shook it off hoping she covered the sudden flash of memory of Nick's hard body against hers. "Well I wouldn't want to muss up your table."
The redhead folded her arms. "Sarcasm is a defense mechanism."
"I'll be more direct, then. My sex life is none of your business."
"You're my friend, they're my friends, hell, Nick is family, and they were both eyeballing you...of course it's my business." Lucy smiled at her friend's stoic expression, backing down when she realized Shannon wasn't going to give away anything. "Later, then, but we will discuss this. So where are you off to? Little Johnny won't keep you busy until seven."
"Actually, do you know of a lawyer named James Finnegan in Porte Barre? I forget the name of the firm, maybe Barrow and something."
Lucy snorted. "Sounds familiar, but no. I could ask old Mr. Rousseau."
"I left Finnegan a voicemail. I'm going to stop by his office, but first I figured I'd see if Little Johnny might talk to me."
"Good luck. He's been a rat bastard to everyone else, but if he's gonna open up to anyone, it'll be you. You always did let him stay up past his bedtime."
"Why has he been so difficult?"
"Well, if his dad remains at large there's only a little shame his mother has to deal with, and then torture him about. Arrested, Little Johnny's life is hell because his mom's life will be hell. Oh, and he really hates cops."
Shannon smiled. "I think he and I might just have something in common."
The auto lot wasn't fully a used car lot. Three generations of Parkers had sold new Fords and Dodges as well as the trade-ins from other customers until they had more used stock than new. It was where Shannon had gotten her Mustang, buying it when she was seventeen. Big Johnny had let her keep it there and work on it in the evenings after babysitting Little Johnny until it was running.
It looked much the same, a small office in the middle of a large parking lot on the north end of town. The building looked better suited to an ice cream stand and before it had been a car lot that's what had stood there.
Little Johnny was grown up. Tall and skinny, he looked to be still growing, his dark hair shaggy and his short sleeved dress shirt was sweat soaked.
"Shannon Moreau. I would say I'm glad to see you, but I know why you're here," he said by way of greeting, stepping out into the hot May sun.
"You look good, Johnny."
"John, please. I don't feel so good. Pop pulled me out of college to run this joint, nobody's buying, he's running around with Suzie, shamin' my mama, and now we find out not only did he run off with her, he's stolen all the money in the town." His eyes flashed, reminding her of someone, but not quite his father. His moral outrage certainly didn't come from his old man.
"Look, I don't know what to say, so I'm just going to ask. Any idea where your father would go?"
"He doesn't get out much. Goes huntin' in the swamp, sometimes he'd take mama and they'd go to New Orleans. She likes to stay in at the Maison Dupuy but he always complained it cost too much. We already called and he ain't there."
"He hasn't called you?"
He folded his arms and kicked a pebble. Looking morose he again reminded her of someone, not his father, but Shannon couldn't place it. He had the same dark hair and dark eyes as most people in town, though he was on the pale side. The little boy she remembered was barely apparent in the young man she now faced. "Hasn't called, didn't even mention me in his damn letter. All it said was 'I'm sorry Madge, but I'm leaving you. I wish you luck.' Bastard." He spat again.
"I'm sorry to hear. Did he say anything, do anything before he left that might have indicated he was leaving? Maybe mention somewhere?"
"He acted nervous. Told us it was a budget problem, but he was twitchy. He jumped at every little sound, started sleeping with his gun on the nightstand, loaded. Drove my mom crazy. Took it with him, one suitcase of clothes, and twenty five thousand dollars or thereabouts. Sheriff Nick and the FBI say he took some property records from that land deal too.
"I tell you, I wish he'd never done that deal. The lot was flagging, and he got his heart set on doing better. I was going to JC over in Baton Rouge, I was working at a diner there, saving up for a real degree. If he just woulda waited, in three more years I could have gotten a job, helped out.
"Mama and me, we couldn't figure out why he suddenly got the idea. That developer guy, Mingham, he came sniffin' around but those people wouldn't sell. My dad being a local boy got a loan from the bank secured before they even agreed to sell, talked them into it. He turned it around and sold it to Mingham to develop, used the money he made not to fix up the house or treat mama right, but to buy his way into the mayor's office. Shoulda known, he was trying to impress Suzie."
Shannon nodded. "From what I remember, Suzie didn't need much from a man other than a good time on the cheap."
He gave a stilted laugh. "I don't want to speak ill of your cousin, but yeah. She got around. Don't get me wrong, she's pretty 'n' all, but I guess my dad thought if he showed her a better time, maybe she wouldn't leave him so fast. Three goddamn years she was fucking him. What a waste."
"I hope they come to their senses, return the money. I have a feeling no one's gonna be too upset if they return that money."
"I hope he never comes back. He's been nothing but a misery to my mama. They were married ten years before they had me. He used to run around on her and she only agreed to have a kid when he promised to stop. She's suffered enough humiliation, him comin' back and getting' arrested...I want to spare her that."
"I'm only after Suzie. I'm not a cop, I'm not going to turn your father in."
His familiar brown eyes finally met hers. "I hope you do find them. And when you do, you tell my father to go to hell." He turned suddenly and stormed back inside.
Shannon stood there for a moment as he kept his back to her. Soon came a shake of his shoulders that told her he was crying. She desperately wanted to comfort him, but it wasn't her place. Every moment of the last forty-eight hours had felt like this: she was needed, but it wasn't her place.
Turning, she left him there alone with his pain.
Another call to Finnegan's main office line had given her a machine saying the office was closed until Monday, due to some unspecified event. So she had some time to kill and she used it to catch up at Randy's talking to people she'd grown up with. Outside of Lucy, Nick, and Aiden she hadn't been very close to any of them, but had spent hundreds of hours of school time with them all. Now they preened to gossip, and none of it was helpful. No one knew anything about the shady land developer, but they had plenty to say on Suzie's exploits. Apparently her affair with Parker had been tolerated byt the town's wives as it was the first time she didn't chase their husbands around.
Just before seven she moved to the same back booth she'd sat at the night before and seconds later, Aiden was there. Out of his suit he looked even better in jeans and a t-shirt the same sky blue as his eyes stretching over his muscular build. He looked her up and down with a smile. "Damn, you look good."
She found herself blushing as he slid into the dark booth, looking light against the deeply stained wood and green leather. "You too. You look like you're in better shape then when you played football."
"I have more spare time for the gym now."
"Hey there," their waitress, Kelly, who had been two years behind them in school, arrived snapping her gum. "Glad you guys are back in town, it sure is a ton of excitement goin' on now. I think you'll have no trouble figurin' it all out." Though the blond addressed them both her eyes were glued to Aiden.
Shannon felt a flash of jealousy and quickly squelched it. "I'll take a Bud."
Aiden's smile was blandly pleasant for the girl. "I'll have a whiskey, neat. For now."
"Mmmm...kay." Kelly winked and was off, making sure to pop her backside and swing her hips.
Aiden didn't look, but Shannon did. "All right, tell me what happened to you in the last near-decade."
"Well, I was dating the prettiest girl in school and then one night she disappeared on me, breaking my heart. I spent the summer with my best friend getting into all kinds of trouble. Then came college. I threw myself in, luckily I had Lucy there with me, a ready-made friend. I majored in psychology."
That jerked her attention back to him. "Really?"
He nodded as their drinks were set down. Kelly again tried to catch his eye, pouting when she failed. As she walked away she swung her hips in time to the beat of Tim McGraw's latest, and Shannon's teeth went back on edge.
"I know, I know, dumb jock gets smart, but it started as an elective, and I was good at it. My professor was the only one who didn't volunteer to give me an easy ride just because I made the team. I didn't really know what I was going to do after, but then we went to war. I signed up, joined the Marines. If you don't mind, I'd rather not go into that, but when I was done the bureau recruited me. I got lucky, had the chance to get into the field office in Baton Rouge. Nobody else wanted it," he added with a laugh.
"I have a good partner, Dan's a great guy. He's injured, gone for the next six weeks, leaves me more time to sit around bored. Baton Rouge isn't exactly a hot spot. Mom and dad are still here, mom still heads the community garden and dad's business is doing okay. They've both have done a lot of work with displaced victims of Katrina. It's nice being this close, I get a home cooked meal every Sunday. How about you?"
They placed their order, this time Shannon opted for a chicken sandwich and Aiden got a burger, and she explained her simple story. From there he artfully skirted any serious talk, easing into funny stories just as Nick had. He told several tales of partying in college with Lucy, and even some of the stories of double dating with her, some other girl on his arm, made her laugh.
For long moments it felt like nine years ago for her. She could almost believe they hadn't spent so much time apart, but then he smiled, and her heart sped up. When that happened, her tongue seemed to trip. Those awkward pauses had also happened with Nick who'd given her a knowing grin, but Aiden just smiled patiently.
At one such pause his face turned serious. "Look, I've been assigned to find Parker. You're looking for Suzie. I think we should work together."
His direct comment surprised her. "I don't know."
Aiden nodded. "Nick has vacation time saved up. They're out of his jurisdiction but he's a little burned the case has been taken out his hands. I want him to come along too."
The thought of spending that much time with that much machismo...it was too much. "No."
"Hear me out. My expenses are covered. If you two are with me I can cover it all. And I have a feeling we can get a lot more done. You, Nick, and me, we all have a different way of looking at things. And you're not a cop, but you are an attractive woman. People will talk to you that won't talk to us."
She thought of her poor debit card, and the money from Charlotte she was loathe to spend. It was tempting to do this on someone else's dime, and now that she knew Parker was armed and scared, having two men with badges and guns seemed like a good idea but...
She'd always thought of Nick as a panther, Aiden as a lion. Apex predators, not the kind of men she should dabble with and move on from, despite her hormone surge the night before. Now that she'd had time to think Shannon knew that anything more serous would mean ruining their friendship. That she couldn't risk.
"We'll only end up looking in the same places, Shannon. Why not save time, and money, and pool our resources."
She bit her lip, considering. He was right to a point. They might go down the same roads but her money would run out in a few days and they could still both keep going. Damn it, it made sense, as long as she could keep her blood flow concentrating on her brain. "If I agree you have to promise me, and Nick has to swear, that this is just business. No horsing around."
His look was innocent, even as he fairly purred. "But we're friends. If I recall all we ever did was horse around. Of course you and I had some other fun times."
She blushed darkly. "I mean it. None of this flirting. I live in Chicago, I have a steady job, and a life there. I'm not starting some sort of contest between you two and skipping back home. You got the wrong cousin, Suzie's the one who breaks up friendships, homes, and businesses."
"You're worried Nick and I will fight? Shannon, we're just good ol' boys. When have we ever fought? I mean, really fought?"
She tried to think but for the life of her nothing came to mind, Since they were young kids the two men had been inseparable.
"Besides, I recall the last time we both took a cotton to you, we came up with a novel solution."
She thought of that long ago kiss, Aiden's words of acceptance. The idea he'd- they'd planted in her mind. As a girl in a rural town it had been shocking, forbidden. Older and wiser now, she'd seen some of the world and the idea no longer terrified her, but it still seemed like a dangerous proposition, no matter how darkly thrilling.
"None of that, either," her voice came out husky, and his eyes deepened to almost navy.
His hand reached for hers beneath the table, holding it tight. "If you can't bring yourself to even say the words I'm not going to push anything on you...tonight. But eventually we need to really talk about this. Shannon, I love you. I loved you then, and you just walked away. I've spent years trying to forget you, so has Nick, but you're not the kind of woman easily forgotten. We'll talk, but business first. Pleasure later."