I hesitated a touch too long for my father’s liking, and I watched as his cop instincts kicked in. His hand reached for his shoulder holster, and he tapped his nose twice. It was our code for trouble, and I felt a wash of bitter nostalgia that came with it. A long time ago – or not so long ago when I thought about it – we needed that code. Now, not so much.
“Stand down. I’m fine,” I said before he could draw his weapon. “I have a guest and didn’t expect you to bring in to cavalry so soon.”
My dad’s face when I said “guest” was less than amused, but he would just have to deal.
“What guest?” he growled, his fingers flexing as if he’d really like to reach for his gun.
I ignored his question and smiled at Uncle Rich.
“Nice to see you again. Why don’t you both come in and take a load off?” I offered, gesturing to the small sitting area.
Noah was naked in my bathroom with a pile of soaked clothes as cover, and I had a feeling he wasn’t going to be able to hide in there long enough to let them dry.
“I’ll just be a minute,” I muttered, cringing at how bad this was going to look. Okay, not ‘bad’ precisely because it was going to look exactly like what it was. In front of my dad. This day was vying for one of the top ten slots of shittiest days.
As discreetly as I could, I peeked into the bathroom. Noah seemed stymied at the lack of options. There was a towel, a hotel robe, or his wet clothes. None of those were optimal.
At the latch of the door, he met my eyes.
“My dad and Uncle Rich are here,” informed him, wincing.
Noah nodded like my words were just a matter of course. “I brought my gym bag up here with us. If you could grab it for me, that would be a sight better than meeting your father in a towel.”
He’d brought his bag up here? How had I not noticed that?
I snicked the door shut before spying the rather conspicuous small black duffle on my rumpled sheets. I snagged it and brought it back to the bathroom, handing it off to him and stepping fully inside. Did I want to talk to my dad in a robe with Uncle Rich looking on? No, I did not.
A pile of sweats and underwear was on the counter beside the sink. A pile I had not realized I’d brought in with me when I’d started my shower. Without looking at Noah, I slipped off my robe and got dressed. While he was finishing up, I ran a brush through my hair, twisting it into a bun on top of my head.
“One thing. Uncle Rich is—uh—with the FBI.”
Yeah, I said it when my back was to him. And yes, I could feel it when his whole body locked.
“You know who I am, don’t you?” It was phrased as a question but with zero inflection at the end. The jig was up.
“Yep. But to your credit, I only learned that fact today.”
I didn’t want to tell him Carson knew long before I did. It might sting to know that the man he saw as a frat-boy yokel was actually an undercover state policeman.
“Wait… You don’t mean… Please, dear God in heaven do not tell me your Uncle Rich is SAC Rich Shephard. Please don’t tell me I’m going to have to meet this man in my freaking gym clothes.”
“Okay. I won’t,” I muttered before pressing my lips together so I wouldn’t laugh. I really wanted to laugh, too. I needed that laugh.
But Noah’s face was white as he stared at the door like it was a personal affront to him, and I figured it was just good karma to hold my giggles in.
Noah took a second to gather himself before opening the bathroom door and striding out into the hotel room. Dutifully, he shook my father’s hand first before moving to Uncle Rich. Dad’s face was set in stone, but Rich was holding in a snicker just like I was.
I decided to save Noah before my father exploded. It’s one thing to know his daughter was a fully grown woman, and quite another to see it paraded around a hotel room. I still lived at home, for fuck’s sake. My father was ready to breathe fire.
“I take it you know about Carson Westwood?” I began saving Noah from my father’s wrath.
“About how you dragged a Westwood to safety after he was shot in the chest? Yeah, Sport, we know all about it.” My father turned his evil eye on me, but I glanced off. Years of that look had inured me, and what else was I gonna do? Let the bastard die in the middle of the street?
“What you don’t know is he is a state police officer undercover to investigate corruption in Harebrook—possibly to also look into his family. He gave me a card to his handler,” I said before biting the inside of my lip.
That tiny pinch helped ground me to the now instead of letting me fall back in the memories of this afternoon. I went back to the bathroom, plucked the bloodstained card from my ruined clothes, and brought it back to the trio of men who were looking at me as if I might break.
“I think we should call the number. Carson seemed to think it was really important, and…”
I bit my lip harder that time. I would not break down again. I wouldn’t let the memory of Carson’s pale, frightened face stop me from helping him.
“Okay, Sport,” Dad said softly.
I shook my head, shrugging off his softness. “If you could pretend this afternoon didn’t happen, that would be best. I’m gonna be in a solid state of denial for the foreseeable future. Cool?”
“No problem, Gemmy-bean,” Uncle Rich said, gently punching me in the shoulder.
He hadn’t called me Gemmy-bean since I was five. I struggled not to tear up as I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Quit it. If I dissolve into woman tears, it’s on you, old man.”
Rich held up his hands like he was surrendering, but I knew more softness was coming. Ugh.
“Anyone have a secure cell I can borrow?” I asked, realizing the phone might be bugged. Hell, this whole room might be.
Dad’s eye lit up in understanding, and he nodded before dropping to his suitcase before pulling out what looked like a walkie-talkie. I knew better. The hand-held device was an RF signal detector. If there was fiber cable in this room, it wouldn’t pick up on it, but I doubted anyone would have had the time to bug the room that thoroughly. The device would pick up on any short-range bugs, though.
Dad methodically swept the room before giving me the all-clear. Then I got to choose between the offered Uncle Rich’s phone and Noah’s. I picked Uncle Rich’s—not because I didn’t trust Noah—it was just Rich was an SAC, and the likelihood his phone was bad was slight. Hell, Carson knew Noah was a fed. It was only a matter of time before other people knew it too.
With shaking hands, I dialed the number from the bloodstained cardstock. The line rang twice before someone picked up. They didn’t say anything for a solid second.
“Hello?” I asked.
“You’re not Carson. Where’s my boyfriend?” a husky woman’s voice demanded.
Cute. If anyone got the card and called the number, they would assume it was a girlfriend and not a handler.
“He’s in the hospital. GSW to the chest. He told me to call you.”
“Did he now?” she asked coolly, reacting not at all what a real girlfriend would, and I told her so.
“If you want to keep up the girlfriend shtick, you should show a bit more emotion, sweetheart.”
The woman gave me a mirthless chuckle. “You might be right about that, but I figure you know I’m not Carson’s girlfriend. How is he?”
Last I checked he was still critical, but that had been hours ago. “He’s a fighter, but last I heard, he was critical.”
“Dammit.” She sighed heavy into the phone. “He has evidence stockpiled in a storage unit at the edge of town. We were supposed to meet tonight for the handoff, which I assume won’t be happening. I need that evidence, Gemini. It will bring the lot of them down.”
So she knew who she was talking to. Interesting. But I’d stuck my neck out enough for one day, and this shit was well above my pay grade.
“That may be so, but if you know where the evidence is, why don’t you g get yourself?”
“I would if I could, but I’m certain sirens would go off the second I stepped one foot across the town line.”
Who the hell was this woman? And why would her being here send everyone in a frenzy?
“Bring me the evidence, and I’ll tell you who Carson believes killed you sister,” she offered like she was dangling a juicy steak in front of a Rottweiler.
I knew I was being baited, but I couldn’t take the chance she was telling the truth.
Thank you for reading this chapter of Seek You Find Me! New episodes will release on the last Tuesday of each month. If you enjoy this story, you should check out the Shelter Me Series.