Monster 20-29

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Chapter Twenty

Melanie stood besides Nick slightly nervous as they waited for their table at Chez Rouge. Things had been going so well. Melanie couldn’t remember ever feeling so happy being with one person before. While she would have been perfectly satisfied spending most of her time with Nick at his apartment, he insisted they get out and see the town. Melanie expected these trips to be rather lame, or at best, moderately amusing given what a small city Salem was. But Nick made it fun and interesting. He had taken her not just to the typical places like museums, art houses and parks, he had surprised her with untraditional dates like a picnic in the planetarium or visiting the butterfly museum. Nick being so unpredictable helped ease her fears on whether she could continue seeing him.

Which is why this dinner was so important. She already knew Nick didn’t like her father, but now Trent would grind his teeth when she mentioned Nick’s name. While Nick may be able to surprise her that monogamy would be something she would wind up preferring, she needed him to get along with her father.

As they sat down, Nick immediately reached into his pocket, pulling out his bottle of pills. Surprised at seeing them, Melanie asked, “You’re still taking those? Why do you need…”

“Please Melanie, to get through the evening with your dad, I’m going to need all the help I can get.”

That’s a bad sign. “Nick, I thought you said you were going to give tonight a fair shot.”

“I am,” he said while drinking the water that had been brought over. “That’s why I need these pills. I’m hoping to dull the pain, wherever it comes from.”

Before Melanie could argue with him, she caught sight of Trent. As he walked up, he kissed his daughter’s head, and then extended his hand to shake Nick’s. Nick complied.

So far, so good. Melanie thought.

“Thank you for inviting me,” her father said.

“Nice of you to finally join us, the invitation was for 10 minutes ago.” Nick said. Melanie’s mouth dropped, she couldn’t believe Nick. He glanced over at her, shrugging while taking another sip of water.

“Yes, well, sorry about that. I had a last minute business call.” Trent said, taking a seat.

Relieved her father was behaving, she asked, “Really? For the university?”

“Um, no. This is other interests, from my past.” He smiled. Melanie glanced at Nick who was outright glaring at her father. She tried to make eye contact with him, hoping to sooth whatever this hostility was, but the waiter came up. She flinched when her father decided to order in French for all of them.

“I’m sorry, Anthony, I’m afraid you will have to change my order to the club sandwich and tea.” The waiter wrote in his notebook, glanced at Trent who now was glaring back at Nick, and walked away.

“If you are worried about the cost of the meal, Nick, don’t worry. I’ve got it.”

“That’s not it. I just had my fill of French cuisine when we were in France.” Nick went on, “And you don’t have to pay for my meal. It’s covered.”

Melanie attempted to laugh, getting both men’s attention, “Yes, covered. Nick’s Aunt, you know, owns this place so he can eat here for free.”

Trent nodded his head remembering. “That’s right. That’s why we had your celebration party here.”

The mere mention of a party peaked Melanie’s interest. “Oh, a party? What were you celebrating, Nick?”

Nick looked down at the table, “It was for receiving the grant that finances my fuel project.”

“And how is that coming, Nick?” Trent asked with a smile. “You made any headway lately?”

Annoyed, Melanie answered for Nick. “Trent, you know Nick hasn’t been back to work since he’s been shot.”

“Yet he’s been all over town with you, sweetie. And if I’m not mistaken, he probably has been exerting more energy with you then he would on actually doing his job.”

Nick had been drinking more of the water but now he slammed it down on the table. “Trent, don’t talk to me on how I perform my job, I’ve seen your teaching style and it leaves something to be desired.”

“Nick!” Melanie exclaimed.

Trent laughed, “Oh, I think the desire is there but in a different way.”

‘Oh, that’s just…” Nick stopped and for a split second Melanie thought he was going to let it drop. But his expression changed and her heart sank. “Of course you would call it that. A man who pimps his own daughter out has no problems with pretending the students he sleeps with are desiring him.”

Trent got up. “That’s it. I’ve had enough. Melanie, dear, please let me know when you have tired of this boy scout. He clearly lives above everyone else and it won’t be long before he turns on you too.”

Trent got up but walked straight to the bar. Melanie saw Nick was busy glaring at his retreating form so she gathered her purse and headed out the door. She heard Nick yelling her name behind her.

Outside he caught up with her. “Melanie, wait!”

“There is no waiting. I can’t believe you said…how dare you! I told you what I did in France wasn’t like that.”

“Melanie, wait, I’m sorry. I know I got carried away. Please wait.” He grabbed her arm and Melanie stopped to look at him.

“Do you think of me like that? A prostitute? Is that why you like sleeping with me so much?”

“No, no, that isn’t what I meant at all!” Nick’s face showed genuine concern. But she had dated guys before who thought that was all she was about, a good time.

“Then why…”

“Oh, Melanie, don’t you see that Trent is a jerk and is not worth anyone’s time?”

Melanie turned on her heels and began walking again with Nick following behind her. She kept going, but she shouted, “I’ve told you he’s a great father. And we’ve been through a lot together. You know me barely for a few months and now you think you know me better then I know myself.”

Nick jumped in front of her, she attempted to go around him but he kept blocking her path. He shouted, “Listen to me!”

She stopped at his outburst, but she needed to catch her breath anyway. “Ok, I’m listening.”

“Melanie, I do know you. You have dreams and ambitions but you are scared of them. It’s easier to play the party girl, and since everyone expects that of you, you convince yourself it’s what you want. But deep down you want more out of your life, and I want to do everything I can to help you.”

She was taken aback. Nick’s intensity was just as alarming as his words were. She stepped back, not sure how to respond. She really didn’t know what to say. Tonight had blown up in her face almost as badly if Nick and Trent had drawn pistols on each other. Now Nick was saying this crazy stuff and she wasn’t sure where it had come from.

Deciding to ignore it for now, she leaned up against the wall. “I just wanted tonight to go well.”

Nick’s concentration began to calm down as well. “I know.”

“I just wanted my boyfriend to get along with my father. Is that too much to ask?”

“I suppose not, but…wait. Wait. Did you say boyfriend?”

Melanie colored. She had said boyfriend. She had been very careful not to let anything like that escape her lips. She had promised herself she wouldn’t lead Nick on. But it came out so easily and she hadn’t even thought about it beforehand…

“Melanie, does this mean?” Nick was smiling.

“Nick, I..I just…well, I don’t know, I…” Could you stop babbling?

“The two week deadline is up on Thursday. I didn’t want to bring it up because I wasn’t sure, but…are you going to stay now? Does this mean we can be exclusive?”

She knew the deadline was coming up, and she had managed to keep it out of her head. She enjoyed spending time with Nick, there was no denying that. But she had not wanted to commit so wholeheartedly either. In some ways, it was scarier then facing Claude.

Nick walked up to her now, his smile beaming. Melanie’s heart leaped as he got closer. What is happening to me?

“Melanie? You have to answer.” He was so very close. Close enough to kiss, and in spite of tonight she wanted to kiss him. She wanted to keep kissing him.

“The answer is yes. I’m staying.”

The kiss she received lifted her up and against the wall. All concerns and worries disappeared as she wrapped her arms around and just sank into him. Eventually she had to breath and they separated. Slowly she slid down his front, and she grinned at the sensations it caused.

Silently, he took her hand and they headed very briskly back to his apartment, Melanie smiling the whole way.

Chapter Twenty One

Nick waited for what seemed like forever to get into police headquarters. Security concerns had forced the Salem PD to take measures, forcing all visitors to go through a metal detector. Nick usually didn’t mind but today it seemed to take forever and he felt like he was wasting time doing nothing. Drinking from his bottled water, he reached down and felt the pill bottle. He hadn’t taken any today and was really going to try not to. But he felt better knowing they were there, just in case.

He and Melanie enjoyed the previous evening after they got back to his apartment. This morning that enjoyment continued as they took a shower together. Nick felt himself blush and wondered if anyone in line knew what he was thinking. With Melanie at his apartment, he didn’t have time to take his research with him because they left together. She was on her way to look at jobs, something he definitely approved, but he didn’t want Melanie to know he was researching into her mother’s background just yet, thus he left pretending to run regular errands.

Initially he was doing this to surprise Melanie. She had spoken only a couple of times more of her mother but it was clear she really didn’t know anything else. Nick wanted to surprise Melanie with as much information as she would ever need to know on her mom. Doing research was one of Nick’s true gifts, and he was glad to be able to use it to help someone he really cared about.

But since embarking on the mission, he was finding he was going down a side tangent. He had more then enough to give to Melanie on Celia Layton from Memphis, TN who had been born and raised there. She had been engaged to Trent Robbins since their daughter was born. She graduated Cum Laude from then MSU with a business degree, and had taken up a job of librarian at the university’s library. She was the only child of Thomas and Judy Layton who ran a bookstore. Celia was the first Layton to go to college.

It didn’t sound like much but that was quite a bit of background information in just two short weeks. Nick also had her birthday, the hospital she was born as well as where she graduated from high school. The problem was, every search kept taking him back to the same set of articles, on the fire that took her life. By itself, it wasn’t really that surprising but Nick learned the case was ruled an arson and Celia’s death was a homicide. Something Melanie most definitely did not tell him. At first he wondered if she was ashamed of that fact, and made up the story of the accidental fire to cover, but a few random conversations with her and Nick was sure that was not the case. So that meant Trent lied to her about the arson. Why would he do that?

Not many details were in the press and Nick wondered if this was why Trent never discussed it, the frustrations of never having the arsonist brought to justice. Doesn’t really sound like Trent at all. Nick was not sure he liked what his gut was feeling about this one, he hoped he was wrong.

Nick was finally through the line and was able to speak to the person he wanted to see. Since this was a police investigation, Nick could only go so far on the Internet. He needed someone with a connection inside, and he only hoped his would be source would be willing.

“Hi, Nick,” Bo said cheerfully. “What are you doing down here?”

Nick smiled, and extended his hand for Bo to shake. Bo Brady used to intimidate the younger man. Not just because Nick dated his daughter but also because he was such a well known authority figure in town. However, he really got to know Bo once Chelsea came clean about Ford’s death. Both men had been forced to watch helplessly as justice was dealing on Chelsea on her own. Being unable to help the woman they loved could bring anyone closer together. Luckily, her grandfather stepped in which meant the men didn’t have to fret too long.

“Hi, Bo, I hope I’m not catching you at a bad time. I probably should have made an appointment.”

“Not necessary for my wife’s cousin twice removed. I think. Is that right?”

Nick laughed, “I don’t know. You need a flow chart to keep track of the Horton family tree.”

Bo nodded, “Well, I never thought of it much while you were dating Chelsea. You know we miss you, which, Hope tells me my knuckleheaded daughter and Daniel broke up by the way.”

Nick flinched, he should have known this was coming, but he could handle it. “Yea, I heard.”

Bo gestured for Nick to sit down in front of his desk while Bo sat behind. Nick could tell Bo wanted to say more on the subject but he probably didn’t have enough time and needed to know what the younger man needed.

“Well, we miss you, Nick. I think she does…”

Nick interrupted, hoping it didn’t sound as rude as it felt, “I’m actually here about something else, sir. I wasn’t sure if you could help me.”

“No need to sir me, Nick. I don’t think I’m that much older then you, though Hope tells me I am. Anyway, I’ll be glad to help you with whatever I can.”

“Thanks,” Nick said, realizing he wasn’t quite certain where to start. “I guess I should first ask if you happened to have any contacts down in Memphis?”

“Memphis?”

“Yes, si-err, Bo, Memphis. I’m researching something, well someone and she was born, raised and died there. It seems her death was under mysterious circumstances.”

Bo sat there taking it all in. Nick was a bit amused; he would have bet money Bo didn’t expect him to ask anything like that. Bo scratched his ear for a second, and then said, “I see. Well, I might know someone but…it would be a big favor I’d have to call in. Who is the person you’re looking into?”

“Celia Layton.”

“Layton…” Bo repeated, obviously recognizing the name. “Where have I heard that…”

“She was Melanie’s mother.”

“Melanie! Max’s sister.” Bo said.

“Yes, sir.” Nick waited, but held his breath.

“I don’t understand, if Melanie needed help she and Max could have come to me…”

Nick shook his head, “Melanie doesn’t know. I’m doing this, well, honestly it started out as a surprise for her. To give her information about her, Celia died when Melanie was very young. Given the way Trent raised her, she never learned much about her mother and I thought it would be a nice gift…”

“It sure would. Most new boyfriends get flowers or candy for a girl they just start seeing.”

“I’m not like most boyfriends,” Nick said, feeling his face red.

“I know.” Bo said, sighing. “How did she die?”

“In a fire. Melanie told me specifically that the fire was accidental, but I found through old newspaper articles it was set deliberately. However, the police never got anywhere with the investigation.”

“When was this?” Bo grabbed a paper and pen, his detective curiosity getting the better of him.

“Twenty years ago. Actually July 15, 1989 to be exact. The fire was on the University of Memphis campus, well, actually it was Memphis State University then. She was a librarian there.”

Bo took it down, and glanced back up. “Nick, are you sure Melanie wants you to find this information out? She might have lied when she said it was accidental. People are funny about family histories.”

“No, sir, she was telling the truth. I tried asking Trent but he clams up and won’t speak of it.”

If Bo thought anything about Nick’s last statement, he didn’t say anything. Nick waited while Bo worked on his nearby computer. Eventually he sent something to the nearby printer.

“I’m afraid Nick I can’t help you with this, not directly. We’re tied up at the moment. However, I can give you the name of the person I know down there. I’ll send him an email letting him know to expect a call from you. He was on the police force at that time, but he’s no longer with the department, so he probably won’t have access to files presently but maybe he would remember the case. And put you into contact with someone who does.”

Nick couldn’t hold back his smile. He wasn’t sure how much Bo could help but this would definitely work. Standing up, Nick took the paper, thanking him.

“So, maybe you could stop by sometime for dinner.”

Nick stopped and looked at Bo, trying to find the man’s motivations. “Dinner? You and Hope?”

Bo shrugged, “Well, I would love to try to get you and Chelsea back together of course, but you’ve obviously moved on. And Hope said Chelsea just was asked out by someone who works for Philip and she agreed to go.”

Nick stared at the page, trying to act as nonchalant as possible. With forced effort, he smiled and said, “Well, I hope it goes well. I do want Chelsea to be happy.”

“I don’t know. She isn’t that into it, but…”

Unable to hear anymore, Nick grabbed his cell phone and said, “Oh, a phone call coming through. This is probably the university asking when I’ll come back to class.”

Bo nodded, waving him away. “I understand. Good to see you again, Nick. Good luck!”

“Thanks for your help!” Nick said, shutting the door as he made his retreat. He walked to the end of the hall, trying to force the image of Chelsea out of his mind. Right now he was having the time of his life with Melanie who seemed to appreciate everything he did for her, why would he be still so interested in who Chelsea might be dating?

Guilt set into Nick’s mind then, those last few months with Chelsea there had been no surprise picnics. Nick wanted to blame Chelsea 100% for that, or at least the circumstances since they went from Ford’s death to the plane crash to Bo’s illness to Chelsea’s surgery with maybe just a few days in between. He certainly couldn’t plan on romantic dates such traumatic times. However, he couldn’t deny, Nick was so busy with his grant proposal he failed to try to make anything special out of the little time he did have with Chelsea.

Deciding he needed a pill after all, he reached into his pocket and took out the pills. So glad I did bring these pills after all.

Chapter Twenty Two – Middle of October

Stephanie smiled as her mom left and headed back to the hospital. She was glad to finally do something nice and treat her mom for a change. Naturally, the older woman refused at first, but Stephanie was stubborn like both her parents so she won out. Of course, Stephanie was still trying to save up money to get her own apartment. Most of the places in the good parts of town were fairly high, even with the struggling economy, and Stephanie was doing her best to cut back everywhere she could.

If you had a roommate, you wouldn’t be stressing so much. Stephanie sighed. She knew a roommate would be ideal to help her budget, plus she might be able to get a nicer place. However, Stephanie hated to admit it, she didn’t have a lot of single friends. Though she appeared popular on campus, Stephanie didn’t connect with the girls at the sorority house like she hoped, and lately with her calendar showing Halloween was around the corner, Stephanie knew her past demons from Ford would make her want to spend even less time there.

“Hi, Stephanie,” came a familiar voice.

Stephanie looked over to see Chelsea. They hadn’t spoken to each other since that fight weeks ago. Stephanie swore she would never speak to Chelsea again. But time had done its job in healing wounds, and she missed Chelsea more then she thought possible. However, Stephanie wasn’t sure if she was willing to let bygones be bygones just yet.

“Hi.”

Chelsea showed surprise at Stephanie not jumping up and walking away but she wasn’t certain if this was a good sign or not. Chelsea looked around the restaurant, possibly to see if Stephanie had met someone for lunch. She opened her mouth to attempt to ask something, but it was clear she was still in the process of deciding what needed to be said.

“Chelsea, are you going to stand there all day or do you have something to say?”

“Oh, Stephanie, I wish we could be friends again. I’m sorry, you have no idea how sorry I am for that stupid stunt I pulled. It’s bad enough that Nick has cut me off, but to lose you too, my best friend. I don’t know if you miss me anywhere near as much as I miss you, but you would like to…”

“Oh Chelsea,” Stephanie said, she might regret it, but she did miss Chelsea. And it seemed like the brunette had really learned her lesson. She jumped up and the girls embraced.

Chelsea pulled back and said, “So are you having lunch with someone? Can I join in?”

Stephanie shook her head, “Sorry, I just had lunch with mom. I have to get back to work, but if you want to walk me back, maybe we can catch up a little, that is if you have time.”

“Oh, I have time!” Chelsea said brightly, smiling.

Leaving Chez Rouge, both girls wrapped their jackets up tightly, the fall cold moving in quickly. Outside, Chelsea said, “So what’s new?”

Stephanie laughed, “Sadly nothing. I’m still single and still working as an intern at Titan. I don’t get out much these days, and spend more time at my parents then the sorority house.”

Chelsea nodded, “I’ve been avoiding the sorority house too, but I was afraid to run into you. And it would make me miss you more. Seriously I’m so glad we can be friends again.”

Stephanie smiled, it was unnecessary for Chelsea to continue apologizing, but it did remind her of how sometimes Chelsea could surprise her. “Me too.”

“So just working, studying and eating I guess, huh?”

Stephanie nodded. “Pretty much. How about you? I hear around the office water cooler you are dating Sam Nelson.”

“Yea,” Chelsea said, her expression blank.

Stephanie waited to see if Chelsea would launch into an explanation of the relationship but she was strangely quiet. “He’s cute.”

“Yes, he is.” Again, Chelsea just kept walking.

“Ok, are you really going to force me to ask? How is it going? I must say if I didn’t want to push my luck at my job, I would have asked him out a long time ago. He’s cute, funny and smart. I was almost jealous when I heard he was dating you.”

Chelsea stopped walking, looking horrified. “Oh Stephanie! I had no idea you were interested. I’m sorry, I won’t see him anymore if you…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Stephanie said. “I was just kidding! Seriously, it’s fine. Chelsea you can stop looking at me like that, I promise, I have no problem with it. I just wanted to know, how things were going…”

“Um, well, it’s good. Great! Just great. I just…it’s wonderful, really. We’ve been going out for several weeks now and actually I just spent the night with him the other night.”

Chelsea then began walking again like she had just commented that it was a Tuesday. Stephanie followed, and after catching up, asked, “So…how was it? Did you enjoy it? He really is cute and he goes to the gym everyday so he must have a great body. Pity you can’t tell under his suits. We’ve tried to get Philip to give us a lighter dress code but he refuses.”

Chelsea remained quiet, staring across the street. Stephanie waited for an answer, but when none came she said, “Chelsea, did you hear me?”

“What? Oh yea, I just thought I saw someone over there…but I was wrong. What was I saying? Oh yea, Sam and I had a great time. It was nice and fun. And you’re right, he’s in great shape.”

Stephanie knew her friend enough to know when something was wrong. “Chelsea, what is it?”

“Nothing. I like him. He’s great. We have a lot in common. It’s great.”

“C’mon Chelsea, something’s wrong. Spill it.”

Sighing, Chelsea shook her head. “Nothing’s wrong. Dating Mark has been a very uneventful experience. Not that it’s completely unwelcome, its nice to date someone with no drama associated with it. Plus, he and I see eye to eye on how we want to spend our lives and how we view general stuff. Going out to dinner with him or to the movies or watching TV is fine. It’s just…”

“What?”

“He’s not Nick.”

Now it was Stephanie’s turn to stop. “Wow, did you really just say that?”

“Yea, I know, I’m still hung up on him.”

Stephanie laughed, “Actually I wasn’t surprised at that, just that you were willing to admit it so simply.”

Chelsea looked down, keeping her hands in her pockets. “Well, he’s moved on. And so I’m trying to move on. And it looks like I have, but it’s not working. I don’t know. Luckily Sam seems fine with things status quo. I don’t know. I’ve gotten offers at school and work, lots of guys are hitting on me and stuff. Sam and I aren’t exclusive so I’ve taken a couple of small dates here and there with other guys. But I think I like Sam as well as any of them so he’s the one I see the most. Also, we have those things in common.”

Stephanie smiled, “Plus he’s not so hard on the eyes.”

They began walking again, but Chelsea hook her head. “Actually, no. He’s not but I hardly notice really. I guess after the disasters of Jett and Daniel…”

“And Jeremy.”

Chelsea agreed, “Right, and Jeremy for you. I think now though, I would take a good heart over good looks anytime.”

Stephanie nodded, not wanting to think about Jeremy. They finally got to her building. “Well, here we are. So, Chelsea, maybe we can get together tonight, watch some movies or something. I have to babysit Joe but if you don’t have plans with Sam…”

Chelsea grinned, “No, if I did I would cancel to see you again. Sounds great. I’ll be…”

“Chelsea, I hope you aren’t here to bug Sam, he’s too busy to see you…oh” Philip appeared from around Chelsea, and it was obvious he hadn’t seen Stephanie. “You’re with her, I guess that’s better. If you waste someone’s time here, at least Stephanie costs me less.”

The girls watched Philip walk into the building, and Chelsea shook her head, “I see you and Philip have maintained that sweet and fuzzy relationship.”

Stephanie sighed, “Yea, for awhile I thought things had improved. He actually gave me a couple of professional compliments awhile ago. But now he’s back to his usual demeanor. We stay out of each other’s way unless work forces us to talk to each other.”

Chelsea laughed, “He’s really not so bad once you get him out of work mode. We’ve actually had some nice heart to hearts at granddad’s lately.”

Stephanie rolled her eyes. It was tough to image Philip having a heart. “I’ll take your word for it. See you later.”

“See ya!”

Stephanie walked inside, glad to have her friend back. As she got on the elevator, she began to feel guilty, she wasn’t completely honest with Chelsea. She had spent a good deal of time with Nick and Melanie as a couple. She wondered if Chelsea had really learned from the past and would be able to let things go. If not, then things would sadly get strained again, which would disappoint Stephanie. I’ve really missed my best friend.

Chapter Twenty Three

Nick checked his watch again, his frown widening. He had been in Dr. Brown’s office for 20 minutes, and he still hadn’t heard back on getting his prescription refilled. Nick walked in thinking it would be no problem, he still had some pain in his arm and he needed something to take care of it. The last month had been highly stressful, he had returned to work, started back on the grant project and seen Melanie as often as possible. Any spare time he had was devoted to working with Rich Brown in Memphis, Bo’s contact, over the mysterious death of Melanie’s mother.

It was good to be busy, but there was a lot of stress and strain from being gone so long, especially in regards to his project. Nick never meant to keep taking these prescribed pills but he couldn’t afford anything to slow him down now, and the pills helped.

“Excuse me, Nick?” Nick looked up to find Dr. Ruddell walking into the waiting room. Nick was surprised to see him, expecting only to see his nurses. It seemed like such a simple task, he almost called to request it, but the hospital was within walking distance of his apartment so it wasn’t a big deal to stop by.

“Hi, Dr. Ruddell, I didn’t want to disturb you.” Of course, having you come out is probably why it’s taking so long; just give me the prescription so I can be on my way.

“No problem at all. But I wanted to talk to you personally. You’re asking for a refill on Honazine?”

“Yes sir.” Isn’t that what I wrote?

“Well, I’m afraid, I’m not going to be able to do a refill on it. I’d like to talk about…”

“Why not? Didn’t my original prescription state I could get a refill if necessary?”

“Yes, but, standards in France are different than here, though I’m surprised they still prescribe this. Honazine is rarely used in the US anymore, there are known side effects…”

Oh for the love of… “Dr. Ruddell, I appreciate your concern. It’s very kind of you to be checking on me, but I assure you there are no side effects. It’s just some lingering pain and the refill should take care of it.”

The older man waited a beat, staring into Nick’s eyes. “Nick, I think I should check that out, why not come on in for a check up…”

Nick was doing his best to remain calm wondering if Dr. Ruddell had always been this incompetent? “You checked me up a month ago, sir, remember? I’m fine, I just still have some pain and now that with everything going on…”

“Still, better safe to be sorry. Let’s just step in here and get you looked at…”

Nick had a sudden urge to push his doctor into the appointment desk but decided against it. He stood his place while mulling over his answer, wishing very much to go off but holding some degree of civility and not doing so. Instead, through gritted teeth, he said, “I don’t have time for that. I didn’t expect to have to wait this long for something I was under the impression I had every right to receive. Guess I was wrong. I’ll come back later.”

Before the doctor could stop him, Nick walked out. He really had to get out of there, he felt like he was going to erupt at Dr. Brown’s rudeness.

Walking down to the lobby, Nick stopped when he caught sight of Chelsea. She was walking in and heading straight down his path, there was no way to avoid her. The last month, Chelsea apparently listened to Nick’s wishes and did not attempt contact again but it was impossible not to run into each other from time to time. However, those impromptu run-ins he always had Melanie with him. This was the first time he was facing her alone, and he wasn’t sure he could still handle it.

Chelsea awkwardly paused in front of Nick, holding her purse tightly. “Hi.”

“Hi,” he returned.

“What’s got you up here?” she shyly asked.

The previous anger returned but Nick knew Chelsea wouldn’t want to hear about his irritation with hospital red tape. He shrugged, “Just a follow up with my doctor.”

“Everything ok, I hope?” The concern was evident on her face, allowing Nick to soften.

“A-OK.”

She smiled and Nick wondered if her smile had actually gotten prettier. Curious himself, he asked, “What about you?”

“Oh, um, Kate is here again today.”

Guilt rushed in, he had completely forgotten that Kate was still battling cancer. “Oh, right. How’s she doing?”

Chelsea’s expression changed, letting Nick know things were not good without her speaking. She shrugged and said, “Well, it’s lung cancer and…we’re doing what we can to make her comfortable.”

Nick wanted to pull Chelsea into his arms, but of course, that wasn’t possible now. “I’m sorry, Chelsea. I’ll be praying for her.” And you.

“Thanks, she’ll appreciate it.” Chelsea blinked back tears that were forming. Knowing it was useless to keep standing there, Nick said a quick goodbye and walked on. Concentrating on the path before him, Nick wondered if he would get over Chelsea.

Chapter Twenty Four

Melanie walked into the Cheating Heart, glad to be finally off work. She had gotten a job at the Java Café, and she hated every bit of it. Dealing with people was never her strong suit, especially ones who could spend twenty minutes in line and still not know what to order by the time they made it to the front. The worst part was she was running into Chelsea Brady on a daily basis, thanks to the café’s proximity to the hospital. The idea of waiting on her boyfriend’s ex took every ounce of Melanie’s self control.

At least you are off work now. Melanie was glad to be finally done. Nick asked to meet at this bar, a place they had been only once before. She was surprised Nick frequented it at all; the seedy décor hardly seemed like a place he would care for. He took her there a while ago so to keep his promise of showing Salem, but they left quickly. It was a place many students hung out along with some less than reputable persons, and Nick didn’t seem quite comfortable.

Walking in, she scanned the main room looking for him. She frowned when he was nowhere in sight yet his car was parked outside. Believing him to be in the bathroom, she glanced back into the back alcove and smiled when she spotted him. He was talking to somebody she didn’t recognize. The guy had his back to her, but just from where she stood she was confused as to why Nick would be speaking to him in the first place. Nick’s eyes wandered, falling on her, and he quickly left the stranger.

“Hey!” he greeted, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Hi yourself,” she returned. “Who was that you were speaking to?”

“Hmmm? Oh, nobody really. He just needed directions.”

“Really? He doesn’t look like the kind to get lost.”

Nick shrugged, “I don’t know. So how was your day?”

She smiled, “Tough. I may have to quit this job. I feel like I’m beginning to hate coffee and we can’t have that.”

“Oh, no, we can’t,” he laughed.

She returned it. “I do think though that isn’t the job for me. But I’m at least doing well in it. The manager said if I keep this up, I might be promoted to muffin duty.”

“Hmmm, that’s because you’re so sweet.” Melanie rolled her eyes at him, but he leaned in for a quick kiss that she happily accepted.

“So how was your day?” Melanie asked. “Did you go to the doctor?”

Nick frowned, “How did you know I was going there?”

“Um, because you told me you were going to stop by there for a refill, remember?” Melanie was surprised that Nick forgot.

“Oh, right. Yea, I stopped by.”

“Did you get one?” She asked. She was a bit concerned if his arm and shoulder were still hurting.

He nodded his head, not making eye contact. She was about to follow up but his cell phone rang, and he took it. Immediately Melanie could tell he was discussing something related to the grant, so she looked at the menu trying to decide what to order. He quickly got off, and they finished their meal.

——————-

Back at his apartment, Melanie walked in putting away the food they had taken home. She had noticed Nick had been fairly quiet most of the evening. She wondered if he was upset about something. “What are you thinking about?”

There was a beat before he answered, “About how pretty you look in that dress.”

She narrowed her eyes, he was lying. Was something wrong? He seemed so out of it. Remembering the earlier conversation, she asked, “What did the doctor say?”

“He said ‘Hi Nick.’ “

“Nick.”

“Melanie, the doctor wrote out my prescription and I got it. What’s with all the questions?”

“It’s just I’ve gotten to know you well enough by now, and I know when something is on your mind. You’re acting weird.”

He joked, “I am weird.”

She didn’t like him being this way. “No, you’re not. Does this have anything to do with that guy at the bar?”

Scowling, Nick said, “No, it does not. And if you want to ask me who’s acting weird, it’s you.”

“Me?”

He nodded his head, glaring at her. Melanie felt so confused, where was this coming from? “Nick, I was just asking a couple of questions. Believe it or not, I do care about you, and given you got shot because of me, I want to make sure you’re alright.”

Nick’s face changed, and he walked over to her. “I’m sorry. You’re right. I just have a lot going on right now: the grant and my teaching. It’s tough to leave it behind at the office.”

Melanie calmed down, feeling a bit guilty herself. Of course, it was work. She wasn’t used to dating guys who had dedicated jobs that came with the attached stress. Shaking her head, she said, “No, I’m sorry. It didn’t even occur to me it could be work.”

She leaned in and kissed him. He deepened the kiss and she could feel his arms wrapping around her. Kicking off her shoes, he moved her towards the living room. Running her hands through his hair, Nick pulled slightly back. “So you want to keep talking…or should we move on to something else.”

She giggled, and provided the answer nonverbally.

Chapter Twenty Five

Nick stood waiting on the coffee to brew. Tapping his fingers, he was annoyed at how long it was taking. Looking into the bedroom, he knew Melanie was still sleeping peacefully. He wanted to wake her, but knew by now she would misinterpret what he wanted, thinking he would want her to join him in the shower. Instead, he was just anxious for her to leave. Jimmy, from the Cheating Heart, should be there in an hour with his “order”, and Nick didn’t want Melanie anywhere around.

After the coffee was done, Nick poured himself a cup, glad to have something to give him strength. When Dr. Ruddell passed on giving him a refill, Nick wasn’t sure where to really go. It wasn’t like he was looking for someone to score him some illegal drugs, these were prescription drugs and the bottle clearly stated he could have a refill. Why was the doctor being so stingy? Was it a competition thing? Another doctor calling the shots?

Nick took his cup and sat down at the small area he had designated as his office, just a small alcove between the kitchen and bedroom. Here he had his laptop, files from work, files for Melanie’s mother’s case and bills. Deciding it wouldn’t take long for the aroma of the coffee to wake Melanie up, he began glancing through the notes he made on Celia’s file, confident he could hide them quickly when Melanie arose.

Though Bo warned Rich was no longer on the Memphis PD, he still proved very helpful in piecing missing information. It would have been too easy if Rich had been assigned this case directly, but he did remember the case, as it took up a lot of his cohorts time. The problem was, they never had much evidence. The fire started around 10:30 pm, late enough when no one should have been in the building at all. Celia was a good worker, but not one to work so late into the evening. She did have a key, which they found, on her charred body. The body appeared to have fractures that led to the homicide investigation. The arson case was inconclusive so there wasn’t much to go on from there, except the fire did start near Celia’s body.

Overall, Trent was always the number one suspect but his alibi was ironclad. He was spending time with a local hooker in the midtown district. The police believed Trent had paid her off, but the girl always stuck to her story. Another theory had Trent badly in debt with gamblers in the West Memphis area over in Arkansas. They could have knocked his wife off to get Trent to pay up, but no money ever came directly out of Trent’s pocket.

Nick thumbed the file, his heart really not into it at the minute. Why won’t Melanie get the hell up? Nick’s mind went back to what Dr. Ruddell said about specific side effects. Using his laptop, Nick fired up Google and began researching his drug: Honazine.

It was easy to find how the drug was not prescribed often in the US but there were still known cases where it was used and it was easy to bring in from the French part of Canada. Probably how Jimmy can get his hands on it. Still concerned about the side effects, Nick looked deeper into the background of the drug. The only thing that stood out was it could cause erratic behavior conditions for patients. This concerned Nick wondering if he would qualify. However, it stated firmly that mental issues in the immediate family would raise up a red flag so Nick breathed a sigh of relief. He knew of no medical issues with either the Fallons or the Hortons.

“What’cha doing?”

The voice nearly had Nick leap out of his skin. Closing the browser quickly, he glared at Melanie, yelling, “Don’t sneak up on me!”

“I wasn’t sneaking up on you. I walked out of your bedroom and I was in your line of vision. Why are you so jumpy?”

Anger surged through Nick like a bullet, and he slammed his laptop shut. “God, Melanie, are we going to do twenty questions again?”

He walked away from her, ignoring the hurt look on her face. Why did I snap like that? She just asked a simple question.

Before he could apologize, Melanie said, “What’s this? Celia? Hey, this is my mom’s full name. What the…”

Nick snatched the file from her, cursing himself for leaving it out in plain view.

“What the hell are you doing with a file on my mom?”

Again, anger flared up in Nick. He held it back this time, reminding himself Melanie has every right to know about her mother. And father.

“I was doing research on your mother.” He said feeling stupid. How was the next sentence supposed to go? I was poking around in your mom’s personal history and found out your Dad might have killed her.

Melanie still was too shocked to take in what Nick said. She finally shook herself, and repeated, “You’re doing research on my mom.”

Sighing, Nick decided to just start from the beginning, “I’m sorry. I should have told you. But when you said you didn’t know much about her, I decided to see if I could. I can find a lot about someone through the Internet and making a few calls. It was obvious you didn’t know her at all and I just thought you might like to know…”

“Oh Nick!” Melanie grabbed Nick, hugging him. He was so shocked at her reaction he just froze. “Nobody has ever…”

Is she crying? Nick cringed. He doubted she would be this grateful when she learned the sweet gesture turned into a plot to take down her beloved father. “Oh, Melanie, don’t cry. You haven’t heard…”

“No, Nick. I can’t believe this. Nobody has ever done anything like this for me, not even Trent.” She didn’t notice Nick’s flinch at hearing her father’s name.

“S-Sure.” He wanted to tell her. He just couldn’t. The look on her face, she was so happy, and right now he didn’t have much evidence. He couldn’t prove any of it. Why should he tell her yet?

Of course, Melanie was too excited, and took the folder from him, trying to open it up. “No!” he yelled.

His quick response shocked her, and she stood curious before him. “What?”

“I mean, it’s not ready yet. Um, I wasn’t ready to show it until it was done.” He started to laugh nervously, hoping he could charm her into complying “I’ve come this far and presentation is everything!”

For a second it didn’t look like she was going to buy it, but then a grin spread across her face. “Of course. I’m looking forward to reading. Honestly, I don’t have time anyway, I’ll want to read it thoroughly and I’d barely have time to skim it through!”

She looked at the clock and cursed, “Damn, it’s later then I thought. Why did you let me sleep so late?” She playfully smacked Nick.

He nervously laughed again, and shrugged. He barely moved as he watched her run through the apartment getting ready. “I know, I need to take a shower, but I’ve got to run back to the house anyway. Can’t come in with the same clothes I had on last night!”

He nodded, but remained silent, fearful if he breathed a word she would change her mind to stay. Again, guilt overtook him as he realized the reason he wanted her out of the apartment wasn’t to protect her from Trent’s secret but to keep her from meeting Jimmy.

It wasn’t long before his fears were gone; Melanie had finally left, but not before giving him a huge kiss. He couldn’t believe what just happened. Sitting down, he put his head in his hands, groaning and wishing Jimmy would just get there. I need a pill more then ever!

Chapter Twenty Six

Melanie was on cloud nine. She had run home to shower and change before heading to work, taking the time even though she was already late. Part of her very much wanted to just call in sick, she couldn’t wait to be done so she could see Nick, or more importantly, see all the information on her mom.

She learned Celia was born on November 22, 1964. That was all she could see of the information Nick had gathered before he took the file back. It was more then she ever knew. All her life she wanted to know more, but it hadn’t been easy. When she was younger, she asked her father questions that seemed fairly easy, “How old was she? Where did she grow up?” But he found ways to keep from answering, sometimes getting irritated. Melanie hardly got to see Trent growing up, she was in boarding schools or with nannies, so she hated to ruin what precious time they had, ultimately learning not to ask.

Upon seeing her father drunk that night, Melanie now knew remembering her mom was painful for Trent. He must have loved her very much, she believed. Melanie imagined Trent and Celia having that great love which happens only in books. She was proud that her mother could tame her father into matrimony or at least an engagement. He wasn’t a man who gave his affection easily but she knew it was different for her mother. That was why he had a hard time seeing her, she obviously must look just like her mom. And the fire taking Celia’s life would have been devastating for him.

As she was leaving for work, she saw Trent coming home, and realized he must not have spent the night in the house either. She smiled when he walked in; he was shutting off his cell phone as he entered. She hadn’t seen him in the last couple of days and was about to give him a quick hug when he stopped her.

“What the hell is your boyfriend doing?”

Confused, Melanie asked, “What?”

“I just got a call from Memphis. Apparently someone has been asking around, asking questions about me. About what I did there and about your mom.”

Melanie was confused, was this related to Nick? It seemed very likely but why would Trent be so upset about it, other then bringing up painful memories of her death of course. “How do you know its Nick?”

“Because I had the person nosing around tailed, and he mailed some stuff and the records show it was sent to Fallon at the university.”

“Oh, well,” Melanie was sure this was a misunderstanding, “he has been researching. Now Dad, listen, this sounds bad but Nick actually decided to surprise with finding out information on my mom.”

“What?” Trent’s look frightened Melanie somewhat. Why was he so upset?

“Just her background information. I had told Nick that I didn’t know much about her and how I knew it hurt you to talk about her. So he went on his own to see what he could find. I find it very sweet…”

“Dammit, Melanie, this isn’t sweet! He’s not researching Celia! He’s investigating me!” Trent angrily marched around the house, the more he said the angrier he got.

Melanie wasn’t sure where Trent got this idea, she knew she saw information on her mom on Nick’s desk. She didn’t see much of the file but Nick had told her it was about her mom. “I don’t think so. I know you and Nick have your differences, but Nick isn’t the kind of guy to set out to hurt anyone intentionally.”

“I have no intention of just letting him do anything of the kind,” her father snarled, he walked over to Melanie with a look in his eye that actually scared her. “You tell your boyfriend to back off.”

“Trent, what…what are you so upset about? All he’s doing is researching my mom who died in Memphis twenty years ago. What could he possibly find on you back then?”

“What? Nothing. Nothing like that.” His face softened and he put on a smile she was used to seeing. “No, it’s just, well, back then I was young and quite ambitious to become a name in the academic world.”

“Which you have!” she said proudly.

He nodded, “Yes, but back then I was, um, I was trying to also take care of my family and we had to have food on the table. So I might have had some jobs with less then reputable people. It’s something I’m not proud of, but that part of my life is over. Of course, if it were to get out now, well, it could hurt my reputation.”

“Oh Dad,” Melanie said. “I’m sure Nick will understand, I’m sure he isn’t going to be calling anymore anyway, he said he was about done with his information on my mother. So you have nothing to worry about.”

“Right.” She heard Trent say. She had grabbed her purse, she really had to get to work, turned and blew a kiss at her father, then left.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Nick drank the beer Pete had given him, still going over his “presentation” for Melanie. Once Melanie saw the file on her mother this morning, he knew he didn’t have much time to get what he had on Celia’s background together, leaving out anything to do with her murder. He wondered if Melanie would notice the missing obituary.

Putting the beer down, Nick looked at the door waiting for Melanie to come in. He hoped using a public place would keep his girlfriend from digging in too much on the materials. He felt like he didn’t have that much and was quite nervous she would guess. If she knew he was investigating her father, she would not only be furious but probably tip Trent off as well. Nick didn’t want that, the man needed to go to jail.

Sighing, Nick rubbed his head, he had a terrible headache. He took the pills Jimmy had given him, and they worked for awhile, but wore off very quickly. Obviously these were a lower dose so Nick felt it would be better if he just took another dose again. As he did so, he could hear the door open, and Chelsea and Stephanie walked in. Seeing them together, he could tell the two girls had made up.

Nick’s eyes remained on Chelsea and she was giving him a strange look. Not in a “I miss you” sort of way she usually did but one that appeared confused. It wasn’t long before Chelsea headed his way. Irritation mounted in Nick, he had his hands full between work, pain, Melanie and Trent, and he didn’t need Chelsea on top of everything. Nevertheless, he tried to keep his face friendly.

“Hi, Nick,” Chelsea greeted.

“Hey,” he returned. Maybe if I don’t say anything else she’ll go away.

“Are you feeling alright?” she asked. “You don’t look good.”

Gee, Chelsea I’ve missed you so much. “I’m fine, Chelsea, a little stressed. But I really appreciate you coming over here and telling me that. Very helpful.”

She was taken aback, more over his tone then what he said. “Well, I noticed you were taking something when we walked in and if you don’t feel well, you should probably head home…”

“I’m an adult, Chelsea, I don’t need you telling me what to do.”

Stephanie walked up then, carrying a drink from the bar, “Hey, Nick. Everything ok?”

Nick dropped his hands to his sides, pressing them into fists to relieve the tension from the irritating questions. “Just peachy keen.”

Stephanie looked from Nick to Chelsea and knew something was off. Deciding she needed to change the subject, she looked down at the table. “What’s all this?”

“Just something I’m doing for Mel-DON’T TOUCH THAT!” Stephanie had just reached out her hand to straighten one of the papers, but Nick’s outburst had both girls jump back alarmed. They watched as Nick stood up and straightened the paper himself.

Stephanie was speechless and looked to Chelsea to say something. Chelsea also had to take a moment before she could respond. “Nick…, I think it’s clear you’re upset about…”

Nick sneered, “I’m upset because I was sure we were done with this. With talking with each other. Then I’m nice to you for 5 minutes and here you are thinking we can be best buddies again.”

“I didn’t think we were best…”

“JUST STOP IT, Chelsea. Can’t you take a hint? Do I have to draw you a picture?” Nick saw tears well up in Chelsea’s eyes and for a split second he wondered what had gotten into him. Then, Melanie walked in, and the irritation returned. “Now, my girlfriend is here now, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to spend time with her instead of mistakes of the past.”

Chelsea immediately bolted while Stephanie lingered for a few seconds, obviously torn between running to her friend but wanting to find out what exactly had gotten into Nick. Because of Melanie’s presence, Stephanie ultimately chose Chelsea.

“Hey, Nick. What’s going on?” Melanie asked, quietly.

“Nothing. Just same ol’ same ol’ with Chelsea Brady, STICKING HER NOSE IN WHERE IT DOESN’T BELONG!”

“Oh, ok,” Melanie glared back at her nemesis, confident she had done something to set Nick off in such a mood. Looking down at the table, she smiled when she saw her mom’s information laid out. “Well, let’s take a look at this shall we? I’ve been looking forward to this all…”

“Well it’s ruined now. You can forget it.” Nick began scooping up the files, while a confused Melanie watched on.

“Nick, it’s fine, I don’t mind…”

Get a hold of yourself. Don’t let Chelsea see you fall apart. “Um, well, maybe we can just get something on the way home and go over this back at the apartment. I don’t want to be here anymore if that’s ok.”

“Um, sure, that’s ok.” Melanie was relieved. Out of Chelsea’s presence, Nick no doubt would be back to normal very soon. She really didn’t want anything to ruin this wonderful gift he had given her. She debated about telling him of what Trent said earlier, but the only other person to annoy him more than Chelsea was her father, so she decided to wait. Now that Nick was done with the research, she was sure her father would calm down.

Nick was mentally counting as he left the pub with his girlfriend, a trick he learned to escape an angry mood. He was keenly aware that Chelsea was crying, just because she put her back to him didn’t mean he couldn’t tell that. Just let me get home and by then the pills will kick in. I’ll be better then, I’m sure of it.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Trent dropped his keys and cursed. Why must they make these things so oversized? Picking them up, he felt a woman pinch him and he turned, smiling at her. She was young, he liked them young. She was also cheap which he liked too. She laughed, “Do you need help with that?”

“Don’t worry, my dear, we’ll get in soon enough.” Opening the door, he let his “date” in. Following her, he threw the keys towards the kitchen counter, though he heard them miss. He didn’t care. He lunged for Natalie, or Nanette. Whatever her name is. As they kissed, he heard a key in the lock.

“Dammit!” What the hell is she doing here?

“Hey, Trent, just stopping in to…oh, hi.” Melanie stopped in her tracks. Trent glared at his daughter. She’s seen him with dates before, ok, maybe not so young. But she could get over it. She was staying for free at his house for months now and it didn’t look like she would ever leave. The least she could do was give him a little privacy.

“Well?” Trent asked annoyed. Melanie continued to just stand there.

“Yes, um, I just wanted to stop and get some clothes, I’ll be spending the night with Nick again.”

She ran off upstairs and Trent turned back to Nancy. Yes, Nancy, that was it. “Come here, Nancy.”

“It’s Mary actually.”

Whatever.

“Sure Mary. Come to the couch and let’s get started.” He led her over, pushing his papers off the couch.

“Shouldn’t we wait until she leaves?”

Annoyed, Trent jerked the girl into his lap, “She knows what sex is. And if she had any manners she’d go out the back.”

Trent didn’t hear Melanie leave, but she must have since she had plenty of time to get what she needed. The kissing continued but eventually he felt something in his pocket, something hard and vibrating. Damn.

Pulling out his cell phone, he was about to toss it aside but then he saw the area code: Memphis. He opened it, “This better be good.”

“Depends on what you consider good. They still have been making calls about you, Trent. Now the guy your buddy hired has gotten the Memphis PD working on it. They are making a link of you to us, and we don’t like that.”

Now Trent was sitting up and pushed Mary off his lap. His heart was beating very fast, and he cursed outloud. Melanie said Nick was done with his research, and that was last week.

“Can’t you take care of it?” He immediately got up and walked out of the room, leaving a confused Mary in the living room. She didn’t need to hear this conversation.

“Take care of it? It’s your problem, Trent. And we don’t owe you a damn thing anymore. We did you the favor. And you haven’t been paying up lately. You remember the deal?”

“Yea, yea, you take care of Celia for me, and I make arrangements to have your business partners entertained. You know, this has cost me way over what I originally owed.”

“Interest, buddy. And you learned how to save from time to time, using your own daughter didn’t cost you a thing…”

Hardly, it’s her damn boyfriend who’s figured this out. “Ok, look, I’ll think of something.” He hung up the phone quickly.

– – – in a car – – –

A cell phone rang, Nick saw the area code was from Memphis. “Hello.”

“Nick, it’s Rich. We got him.”

Nick wanted to smile but he was way too nervous. He fingered his pill bottle in his pocket. “You sure?”

“Yep, Bruce on the force knew exactly how to mimic one of Trent’s business partners. Of course, using Bruce means it’s an illegal wire tap and we can’t…”

“Yea, but we know we’re sure now, exactly what he did. Is it what we thought?”

“Oh yea. It helped he was drunk. Couldn’t have gotten luckier.”

Nick doubted it. The whole thing made him sick to his stomach. How was he going to explain all of this to Melanie? In the last week he and Rich had figured out what went down. Trent had gotten involved heavily with illegal gambling and acquired massive debt. At first Nick wondered if the mob had taken Celia out to force Trent to hurry up and pay, but Rich pointed out that from the looks of it, Trent was not broken up about the death whatsoever and no proof of payment was made. Further digging did uncover former “acquaintances” of Trent’s, and twenty years ago Trent managed to start up his own prostitution ring, which he rented out to the elite of Memphis’ underground. No money was ever exchanged and Trent’s debts were never paid off, so it seemed likely Trent arranged for his fiancée to be killed to make it easier for him to run the ring personally. Rich wasn’t sure enough on that being motive alone for the murder, but Nick’s opinion of Trent was at an all time low, and nothing surprised him anymore.

“Hey!”

Nick whipped his head around to see Melanie getting in the car. Smiling, he kissed her hand, but then returned to the phone call. “Ok, if you can send me that information, I’d appreciate it.”

“Sure, it’s a pleasure solving an unsolved case, not that we’ve exactly solved it.”

Hanging up the phone, Nick started the car, trying to ignore the guilt bubbling in him. He might be able to bring down a killer, but he could lose Melanie after he revealed her beloved father was a true monster. Could he live with that?

Chapter Twenty Nine

“You’ve hardly said ten words, Nick.” Melanie stated. They had gone to dinner at Chez Rouge. The whole time there, Nick had been acting strange like he was upset. She hoped bringing up their plans for later that night would shake him out of this mood, but so far it hadn’t worked. In fact, he seemed even worse.

He just weakly smiled and shrugged. “I’ve got a lot on my mind, that’s all.”

Well, at least he’s just sad, not mad, like he’s been all week, Melanie thought. Since that day at the pub where he blew up, Melanie felt like she had been walking on eggshells around him. Whenever she would ask, he would get just more irritated. Luckily she had the beautiful gift he had given her, the information about her mother, to help distract her from Nick’s odd moods.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Melanie asked nervously. This was one of the reasons she was hesitant about getting into a relationship in the first place, being patient and supportive. Reminding herself Chelsea had obviously been horrible in that position, Melanie vowed to do a better job. She really not had a good day herself, and then the weird moment with her father back at the house, she was hoping tonight would just be peaceful.

“No, I can get out of this. I’m sorry if I’m ruining dinner. The food is so good.”

“Yes, yes it was.” They sat in silence for a few minutes. With nothing better to do, Melanie looked into her purse for her compact, only to see her phone showed one missed call. “Oh, that’s weird, my dad tried to call.”

“Why is that weird?” Nick asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Well, he wasn’t alone when I left. He was with a gi-, woman.”

Nick caught her slip up. “A girl?”

“She just looked young that’s all. I’m sure she was older.” She has to be.

A dark shadow covered Nick’s face. Melanie recognized the look, he was going to blow up. She steeled herself, ready to defend her father to Nick.

Instead, Nick surprised her. “You should call him back, make sure he’s ok.”

“He didn’t leave a message, I’m sure he’s fine.”

“No, no, please. He might not have wanted to leave one since he knew you were with me.”

Melanie glanced back at her phone, unsure. “Well, that’s true.”

She dialed but his phone went straight to voicemail. She told Nick so.

Nick quickly got up and Melanie asked what he was doing.

He replied, “I’m going to let them know we’re done. Then I’m going to take you back to your dad’s.”

Melanie was so confused. “What are you talking about? We don’t have to…”

Nick had already walked away to talk to his aunt. Melanie didn’t want to go back to the house. And if her dad was doing what she thought he was doing, he wouldn’t want them back there either.

“Are you ready?” Nick asked.

“Nick, we’re not gonna go back to the house. Let’s just head back to your place like we planned and…”

“NO!” Nick said forcefully. His comment brought the room’s attention to them, including Maggie. Melanie felt embarrassed.

He sensed what he did wrong, and relaxed. “Melanie, you asked me what is wrong with me. Um, I didn’t want to tell you this but lately…um…”

Melanie waited. “What?”

“It has to do with your father.”

“What about him?” Melanie asked innocently. She knew he didn’t like Trent, but why was Nick so obsessed?

“Um, it’s…your relationship. It’s wrong of me to hurt your relationship with him. I can tell I have and…I’m not going to do that anymore.”

Melanie had to smile. Nick was being so sweet. Of course this was what he was worried about. “Oh, Nick, it’s ok. We can talk to him later, let’s just go home…”

“Melanie, please, can’t we just do this now? I mean,” he gave off one of his nervous laughs, “I’m afraid I might change my mind or something.”

She had to grin at that, for the first time, he looked like his usual earnest self. Suddenly, Nick leaned in and kissed her hard in the middle of the restaurant for everyone to see. When he pulled back Melanie felt light headed. Giggling, she shrugged, “Um, ok, but if he has company, we need to leave.”

“Deal,” Nick said behind her.

30-39

Title Page

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