SEVEN

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Virginia gazed out the front windows of the grocery store with a frown as the cashier finished up. Lately, she couldn't shake the feeling of being watched. She would have been quick to blame Mark but for the fact that she'd been raked over the coals by the captain two weeks ago for her secret night visits to Gus's place. It hadn't taken a genius to figure out where Cap had gotten that little piece of intel. She'd had to pull off of Gus for the time being.

Whatever. Gus was a dead end anyway. She should have known the guy was a top-down type, not wanting to get his hands too dirty.

His minion, Enzo, was her target now.

Perhaps the sensation was just a side affect of having the cameras in the gym. Except it stayed with her wherever she went. And cameras didn't explain the whole suffocating love fest she had been receiving from those closest to her.

Walt had been put on as her partner—Cap's idea. When she had questioned the rationale, Walt's possible promotion to lieutenant was the excuse. Hands on experience, evaluation of his readiness, blah, blah, blah. Something didn't sit quite right. But she had agreed, mostly to keep the peace. Besides, she'd been working on her own since Jack's death. Having a partner again was a nice change . . . apart from the fact that he accompanied her everywhere, only drawing the line at the ladies' room door.

Sometimes she wondered if he was going to follow her in there too.

Dominique was just as bad. He insisted on joining her every time she stuck her nose outside the gym to run an errand. She couldn't even walk to the corner coffee shop alone anymore. It was getting annoying.

And Paul, the man who hooked up with a different woman almost every night, had suddenly turned into a homebody, making her little trips out to shadow Enzo impossible.

It couldn't all be a coincidence. She wanted answers, and unfortunately for her brother, he was the one she was going to get them from.

)l(

Paul looked up from his dinner plate to catch Virginia studying his face. He lowered his fork, bracing himself for what he knew was coming. "Yes?"

"Tell me what's going on."

He dabbed at the corners of his mouth with his napkin. "What?"

"Night after night having dinner at home? This has got to be a record for you."

He shrugged. "Maybe what you said was true. I need to re-evaluate my"—he shifted his gaze to his niece sitting across from him—"habits." He wasn't lying. He had sworn off women for the time being, deciding to wait until he met one he found interesting, an attempt to try to have a more mature outlook on relationships. The timing just happened to be perfect.

"Aren't you getting . . ." Virginia's voice drifted off with her own glance at Janine.

He arched his brows and waited, letting her struggle. It was good to see her smile again. She'd been doing better lately, well, better than two weeks ago anyway, when he'd been sitting in the exact same spot. Virginia had suddenly rushed in, closing the door behind her, thinking she was alone. Her hand covered her mouth as she tried to stifle the sob that had her half-bent. He hadn't asked. He hadn't needed to. He'd crossed the room and taken her into his arms, letting her cry into his shoulder.

She cleared her throat. "You know . . ."

The censorship did not go unnoticed by Janine. Her eyes began darting between the two of them as her mother struggled to find the right word.

Paul laughed, deciding to let her off the hook. "I can control myself."

Virginia looked down at her lap and the smile disappeared. "I hope I didn't make you feel bad with what I said about you and your buddies. I mean, what do I know? Maybe you have the right idea. I certainly ended up being wrong."

"Don't do that," he said firmly.

She raised her stare. "Don't do what?"

He grabbed her hand and squeezed it. "Don't let him change what you believe in."

She seemed to draw strength from his words, her face brightening. "Well, I'm grateful for the company."

The topic was dropped, although he sensed it wouldn't be for long. She was getting suspicious, but at least she was safe. For now, he said to himself. How long could they keep this vigil up?

Ringing interrupted his thoughts. Paul excused himself from the table and walked to his room to answer his cell, receiving the bad news in private. Assigned to a case that involved a Marine stationed at Quantico, he had to fly east for a week of interviews.

Back on the phone, he waited for Captain Beal's gruff "hello" and said, "I'll be out of town next week."

"I'll let Spinelli know."

There was a sinking sensation in Paul's gut, as if the steak he'd just eaten had turned into rocks. "Spinelli? What the hell?"

"How do you think I found out about all this? He called me, offering to help. He sounded, I don't know . . . broken." Guilt weighed down the captain's voice, making it rougher than usual.

"We don't need his help, and you don't owe him anything."

"We killed his nephew," the captain all but hissed. "It was my fault. I never should have thrown a rookie into that situation."

Paul closed his eyes and muttered a curse. He'd met Simon only once, but even with the brevity of their conversation, he'd come across like a solid kid, sensible and hard working. His death had affected all of them.

"You were just doing your job." Man, how many times had he said those words to himself after successfully defending someone whose innocence was questionable. Small comfort when your own morality was keeping you up at night.

There was a long silence before the quiet, "He cares about her."

Fuck that. "You have no idea what—"

"Yes, I do," the captain gritted. "I could tell where the two of them were headed right from the start."

Shit. As far as Paul knew, only he and Dominique were in on their dirty little secret. How many others had seen through the just-friends act? "If this gets out, it could ruin her career."

"Let's hope it never comes to that." A sigh was heaved into Paul's ear. "Anyway, he sounded sincere. Besides, he has the man power and I can't allocate public resources on a rumor."

"Fine," Paul bit out.

"Louis, his chauffeur, is the one coordinating things. Do you want me to call him?"

"No." If he was being forced to accept their help, at the very least Paul wanted his view on the matter heard. "I'll do it."

After Captain Beal gave him the number and hung up, Paul stood in the middle of the room with his heart hammering. "Damn it," he muttered, tightening the grip on his cell phone. There was no other way. He had to make the call even though it killed him to put his trust in a man he hated.

It picked up on the second ring.

"We'll have somebody watch the house at night," Louis assured him after being briefed.

"Can I trust you guys to handle this? This is my sister we're talking about here."

"We'll take care of it. Believe me, he's not going to let anyone hurt her."

"Yeah, right, he's got the market cornered on that."

"Don't be too quick to—"

"Do me a favor and give that asshole a message," Paul spat. "Tell him, when this is all said and done, he and I are going to finish what we started, and my sister won't be there to stop me this time."

Paul ended the call, waited for his pulse to calm, checked the mirror over the dresser to assess the smile he'd jammed on his face . . . and walked back to the kitchen to tell her about his upcoming trip.    

END OF CHAPTER SEVEN

Do you think it's smart to accept Mark's help? Paul seems to be struggling with it. What do you think?

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