Secret Desires Pt. 15bymadam_noe©
© Nora Quick 2013
Shannon was weak. Sighing, she looked out the window and wondered if she'd ever have the strength to actually walk away. Nick and Aiden certainly had her number, and they'd gotten her to agree to stay on a bit in Belle Trouver until Suzie was settled.
The extradition order had come down fast, and they checked out, loaded the car, and Suzie joined them on the drive back. Lucy followed behind as they drove out of New Orleans and headed back north to their little swamp.
It had been a whirlwind time, but Shannon knew she couldn't abandon Suzie even though her promise to Charlotte was fulfilled. Suzie looked thin and pale, her vital spark gone. Her eyes reflected deep pain, and it was easy to believe she had truly loved Parker.
Poor Suzie. After years of tearing through men like Kleenex, the woman had finally fallen in love. Granted, Parker was a fool. Blackmail and embezzlement had been foolish goals, but he shouldn't have had to pay for it with his life. Now Suzie had a raw, gaping wound no one could heal, and it made Shannon ache for her.
Looking at the men in the front seats her own heart stuttered in a strange little dance. Could she willingly turn her back on love and walk away? Every base, animal instinct she possessed screamed no, particularly when she looked at Suzie. But there were still problems she didn't know if they could all face.
"Suzie, tell me about Big Johnny," Shannon said to break the silence.
Her cousin startled and her eyes turned impossibly sadder. "I gave my statement already."
Shannon took her hand and squeezed. "I don't mean that. Tell me how you met. Tell me about him as a person. I knew so little about him."
"Why do you want to know?"
"Because he was my father."
Suzie seemed shocked but after a long moment nodded, dropping Shannon's hand. "I was getting tired of living life the way I did. I wanted to find a stable job, save up. You know, I wanted to go to a community college and then transfer. I thought I'd transfer up to a school in Chicago. We could be roommates, start fresh. You know those northern boys love our accents."
Shannon also knew the prejudices that came with it, which was why she'd worked so hard to adopt the Chicago accent. Still, she nodded encouragingly as did Aiden who'd turned in the passenger seat to look at them.
"It was good at the dealership. It was stable, quiet. Johnny let me study and do homework, I'd started taking night classes. I was good at bookkeeping, surprise, right? The town slut is good at math," she said with a bitter, forced laugh.
"Anyway," Suzie sighed, "Johnny wasn't my type. Nick is. God knows I tortured you over the years, Nick, and I'm sorry for it."
The Cajun smiled easily. "Oh, de horror of a beautiful woman wanting to get in my pants. Save me!"
Suzie managed a small smile as the other chuckled. "I don't know when it happened, but I fell in love with him. I thought I'd reformed. He was older, married, hell his son worked with us. I never touched him. But he was so kind, he knew all about me and never judged me. He encouraged me in my studies. He made me laugh, and he became my confidant.
"One day he walked in with papers. He'd gone to see that lawyer Finnegan and had papers drawn up. He meant it, he was leaving his wife. But he told me about the land deal. He wanted to do it and run for office, and he knew it would be hard to do it divorced. Plus the land deal was to finance his campaign and also he wanted to provide a large settlement for his wife.
"There were rumors but believe me, we hadn't slept together. Yes, sometimes we stayed up all night, but we'd talk. He told me about his life, always talked about Little Johnny. He was so proud of his son.
"Then the land deal happened. I didn't know what happened then, except he seemed stressed, almost scared. Instead we concentrated on his campaign for mayor. I threw myself into it, that was how I could show the world I loved him. Still there were rumors and I hated what it was doing to his wife and son. It got easier when we went to city hall. I came with as his secretary and he left the dealership to Little Johnny.
"I knew nothing until the night before we left. He came to me and told me he'd discovered bodies on the land he'd bought and sold. The only developer around was Charles Mingham and he discovered that Mingham was the Belladonna Killer. He' been paying off Mingham but also his lawyer Finnegan had started blackmailing him. Finnegan was stupid and blackmailed Mingham too.
"That's when people began to die, all the old landowners. Then when Finnegan died Johnny got scared. We grabbed the land records and messed everything up to make it look like a robbery. He'd been embezzling, the funds he had me routing to town charity projects were actually payout funds for the blackmailers. We took everything and left, figuring if Mingham was after us he wouldn't go after Mrs. Parker or Little Johnny.
"We stopped in New Orleans for the stupidest reason. He wanted fake IDs, but we didn't know where to get them. Then...we finally had sex. I won't say anything other than when you truly love someone, it's magic. We stayed holed up for days. Then Johnny went out for food and he saw Mingham.
"We followed him and saw he was visiting a woman who'd been with him back in Natchitoches often, his mistress. I went to her, trying to broker a deal. We hand over the records and he lets us go. But then Mingham found us and he..." Suzie trailed off, eyes full of tears as she looked out the window.
Everyone remained silent, not wanting to push her. When the tears began to fall Shannon unlocked her seatbelt, leaned over, and held her. Suzie turned and hugged her, head on Shannon's shoulders, and soon she was wet. A camisole was little protection from the flood.
Aiden found a few fast food napkins and passed them back to Shannon he gave them to Suzie.
"I'm sorry, I-"
"No, Suzie, don't be sorry," Shannon said. "We all need to cry sometime."
Her cousin looked at her with the saddest eyes Shannon had ever seen. 'It never gets better, does it/"
Shannon knew what she was asking. Pulling back she kept her hands on Suzie's arms. "It doesn't get better, no, but it gets easier with time. Just give yourself time, and allow yourself to grieve. Helping put Johnny's killer behind bars will help a little.
"Cher, how bout I take you two to your mama's for de night. If you promise not to run, we let Lucy work out a deal for you, keep you out of jail. Sound good?"
"Thanks, Nick," Suzie nodded. "That would be great."
"So where are these records?" Aiden finally asked when Suzie's sniffles and tears stopped.
"Suzie gave dem to me," Nick said. "We got de land records and payouts. It should be enough."
Suzie looked uncomfortable but Shannon didn't press it. They stopped for dinner and Lucy and John joined them inside the restaurant. The mood was strange: somewhat somber given recent events, but there was joy knowing Suzie was alive, that Nick and Aiden had respectively solved big cases at their career, and Shannon was still with them.
Shannon for her part stared at Lucy and John with a wee bit of jealousy. It was so easy for them. One woman, one man was the order of the south, and hell Lucy and John could run through downtown naked playing grab ass and it wouldn't raise much gossip because they were young, heterosexual, and in love.
But for Shannon and her two men...it seemed an impossible dream.
As they drove back to their home, towards the swamp, Shannon remained quiet, thinking long and hard. Love wasn't supposed to be easy, but was it supposed to be this hard? The thought shocked her as they pulled up to the pier where Charlotte waited.
Oh, God, she did love them. Fiercely. She loved Nick's raw personality, the darkness in him tempered by humor. She loved Aiden's strength, loyalty, the way he was always smiling. She loved the way they made her feel like an equal, yet loved and fairly worshipped. She loved the way they loved each other, tenuous and fearful, but deep. She loved Nick's sarcasm, Aiden's hope, the way each man could be so relaxed and happy and at a moment's notice became a dark and deadly force to be reckoned with. They made her feel respected and safe, and she knew she could trust them.
But could she ever trust herself?
Charlotte had no recriminations, just love when she saw Suzie. Lucy had given assurances she was going to talk to the DEA in a meeting with Nick and if jail time could be avoided it would, otherwise Lucy would return and escort Suzie when she surrendered herself the next day.
Back home in the house they'd grown up in Shannon helped Charlotte haul in warmed water from the kitchen to the tub and Suzie took a bath while Shannon helped her aunt make dinner. At the table over a home cooked meal there was no talk of anything dark. Charlotte insisted they talk only of events in the town, of Suzie continuing school.
Hours later Shannon and Suzie were in their old bedroom. Charlotte had moved a small cot in so there were two beds, and Shannon smiled thinking on how it felt like they were kids again. For all the differences between her and her cousin, at night they had often stayed awake long into the night, sweating and talking about boys.
"Shannon, I have to tell you something. But swear to me you will tell no one, and I mean no one."
Suzie turned over to look at her. Both the beds were beneath the pink-tinged mosquito netting, making it feel like a sleepover. "I know you're with Aiden and Nick, and Lucy is your best friend. I don't want them knowing."
Shannon reached out and took her hand. "Family first. I swear I won't tell anyone. I'm supposed to be a lawyer, I know how to keep a secret."
Suzie sighed, screwing up her courage. "Johnny thought he knew who the Don was of the Piementes. He never told me, but he said he had a photo and proof. It's insurance I want to keep. In case the don comes after me I need a bargaining chip."
Shannon bit her lip for a long moment, trying to decide how to answer. "If you turn it over Aiden can make sure the Don is put away for life. You don't have to be afraid."
Suzie dropped her hand. "No, Shannon. Trust me, guilty people like this go free all the time. At least with this I know I can be safe."
"Where is it?"
"At the dealership. Johnny's desk drawer had a false bottom."
Shannon turned over and braced her head on her hand. "At least tell Lucy. She's your lawyer. If you tell her no one can know she's obligated to listen. But someone should know. Lucy is smart, you should listen to her."
Smiling Suzie pushed hair from her eyes and wiped sweat from her brow. "God, I miss AC.
"You know Lucy told me her partner young Mr. Rosseau is retiring. She'd help you pass the bar down here and take you on. I know you hate working as a process server. Why don't you come here? Be with the boys? Have Sunday dinners with me and mom? Go shopping with me and Lucy? It could be a nice life."
"It's my turn for a secret, Suzie. Swear you will tell no one." Shannon waited for her cousin to nod before continuing. "I am in love with Nick and Aiden, they with me. But nick and Aiden are in love too. I'm not sure if they truly realize it, but we've...we've had sex together. They've had sex together."
Suzie smiled a true smile and lightly punched Shannon's shoulder. "You go girl. It's not fair, the two hottest men this Podunk town every produced and you get them both. And you get to spend every night have kinky, freaky sex the rest of us can only dream of."
Rolling to her back Shannon sighed heavily. "It's not that easy. This town is locked in many ways in a couple centuries past. You remember the shame I had to deal with in my childhood over my mother. I can't go through that again."
Suzie laughed. "I'm sorry, but you've been gone a while. Times have changed. Do you remember Donna Allen?"
"The redhead who hung with the stoners?"
Suzie nodded. "She and her girlfriend run the gift shop downtown. You know the Jacksons, that couple that run the fruit stand from their farm?"
"They're swingers. They have wild freaky orgy parties once a month, I guarantee tab A goes into slots B and sometimes C. Everybody knows and no one cares."
Shannon was shocked. "But Hank Jackson's the youth minister at the Lutheran church!"
"So? The good things about small towns is how forgiving they can be...as long as you support the community. The tongues only wagged about me because I poached. If I kept to just single men in my wilder days no one would have cared. Your mama was the same way, sug.
"See, Donna and the Jacksons can have all the kink they want. Donna and her girlfriend Maria are in love. The Jacksons only bring in swinging partners from Baton rouge and other towns, nobody local. See, mall towns are like big families and we protect ourselves. Because I fell for Johnny when he was married it wouldn't have worked for us, but at the end of the day when you're with someone you love, who gives a shit what people say?
"Oh, God," Suzie said at Johnny's name. "Shannon, love is a gift. I know you never loved anybody in Chicago. Don't let it go. When it goes and you know you can't ever get it back, that's the worst pain of all. Don't waste this chance."
She dissolved into sobbing and Shannon rolled over, drawing her into her arms. She held her cousin like that until the sobbing stopped and Suzie fell asleep. Only when she did, did Shannon let her own tears fall for the father she'd never truly know.
"So," Lucy opened as they sat down to brunch at the café.
The DA hadn't budged on Suzie being held so Shannon had delivered her to Lucy early that morning. While the women met and Nick processed them Suzie had used Lucy's shower and then debated long and hard about whether or not to let little Johnny know she was his sister. She would have to sooner or later, but she just wasn't ready.
Once Suzie was settled and a judge had been scheduled Lucy joined Shannon for late breakfast at the café. It was quiet now, still sweltering from the grills that had raged through the breakfast crowd.
"So what now?" Shannon asked as their drinks were set own.
"Suzie's hearing is tomorrow morning. The judge will probably let her go for little or no bond. She's looking at community service and probation, provided she cooperates with the FBI. She should be back out tomorrow evening and Aiden will let us know when they're set to go to trial.
"Now, I have a great idea for you and Suzie, Shannon."
"Young Rosseau is retiring. I need a partner. With Finnegan dead some of his business is coming my way and I can't handle it. The next Louisiana bar exam is in two weeks. Until then you can work as my clerk and help out, I'll pay a fare wage. And we'll need a secretary who can also do bookkeeping. Suzie is perfect."
"Yes, she is," Shannon said quickly. Suzie would need a job and it would be perfect. However, Shannon staying in town was another matter. "But I don't know about me."
"Chicago has bad parking, snow, endless road construction and an insanely high crime rate right now. Belle Trouver is usually quiet and safe. Now that the belladonna killer is behind bars it's perfectly quiet and safe. Your family is here, your friends. What's the holdup?"
Shannon could no longer say exactly. She was beginning to understand that just because life opportunities came from family and friends, it didn't mean she wasn't living her own life. But still she had the drive to make it on her own, prove herself. But who was she trying to prove her mettle to?
"It's complicated," she said as their food was set down. For long moments they ate in silence and then Lucy sat back, a twinkle in her eye.
"Look, I know you've been through a lot. Finding out Parker was your father after he'd been killed...I can't imagine what that's like. But I think what worries you isn't the fact you have a half brother now. I think it's my idiot cousin and his best friend."
Shannon smiled at "idiot cousin." "Nick's not an idiot."
"Yes he is.' Lucy looked around to make sure they were alone. The waitress and cook were visible out the back door, smoking, and no one else was inside. Still, when Lucy spoke she leaned forward and it was barely above a whisper. "You think I don't know Aiden has been in love with him for some time? Hell, one night after you'd gone Nick came to me and told me they'd fooled around. I told him then to grab onto Aiden with both arms, love him. If you came back or didn't, at least he'd be happy. But for years he's hidden that part of himself away.
"Now, seeing the three of you, I know you brought them together. They love each other, they love you, you love them, and it scares you to death."
Shannon just stared at her, open-mouthed. Lucy had never breathed a word of this knowledge in all their phone calls and emails.
"It scares you because all your life you wanted to be normal. Your mother was the town tramp, your step-father a hotheaded jerk, and when they died you got saddled with a Cajun throwback to the nineteenth century and Suzie who seemed determined to follow in your footsteps.
"You dressed like a republican, got good grades, dated the high school quarterback. But you know why you ran that night?"
Shannon felt like her skin was too tight for her body an gripped hr fork until her knuckles were white. "No, why don't you tell me?" she ground out.
"Because you knew you'd die a slow death being normal. You knew you'd go off to college, come back here, marry Aiden, have kids, and die the slow death of a coward. You knew every time you looked at Nick you'd wonder what could have been, and it would be hell. So rather than take what they offered and let yourself be happy, you ran away.
"No more grizzly bear of an aunt, no more Suzie, no more longing looks at Nick and tempered sex with Aiden. No, you could be miserable and alone, but at least you could tell yourself you were better off."
"How could you say this to me?"
Lucy scoffed. "I'm your best friend, who else is going to bitch-slap you with the truth? Tell me you don't feel alive when you're with them. Tell me it doesn't feel right in your bones."
Shannon blushed, stammering as she tried to speak.
"Shannon, life has been moving on without you, but there will always be a place for you here. If you decide to leave Nick and Aiden, do it for a good reason, not because you're scared. Now, you could have a full life here, a good one, or be cold and alone, barely scraping by up north. What will it be?"
Shannon pulled out a ten from her wallet, grabbed her purse, and scooted from the booth. "I need time to think.'
"Good. Think it over. Use your brain. You know where to find me."
On shaky legs Shannon made her way out into the hot sun. Lucy's words had shaken her, but was she cautious, or just a coward?
"Homme," Nick said as he opened the door.
Aiden stood there looking refreshed after a good night's sleep. "Sorry to barge in on you, can I come in?"
Nick stretched and nodded, noticing the way Aiden's eyes followed the movement. He'd taken the afternoon and had come home to nap, wearing just a pair of gym shorts he was otherwise naked, and Aiden's gaze made him hot.
Amazingly, for the first time, Nick felt no need to turn away and try to hide his erection.
The blonde man swallowed. Aiden recognized Nick's boldness for what it was, a wide invitation. Shock rolled through him. He never thought that alone, home, Nick would want him so openly. His own cock swelled in response.
"You hereon business?" Nick growled.
Aiden jerked a nod.
"Time for fun first?"