CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Sleep eluded Jenny. Her thoughts were ambivalent, shooting in four or five directions. Alex had accused her father of stealing. Alex was all she'd ever dreamed of in a man. Alex needed evidence to convict her father and close his case. Alex was tender and gentle. Alex annoyed her. Alex charmed her.

       The contents of the briefcase stood between them. Jenny knew that he was reluctant to return it to her.

       "Oh, Daddy," she whispered aloud, "you left me in a dilemma. You insisted that I keep the envelope sealed. You must have had a good reason, but now I'm at a crossroads. The law demands that the envelope be opened."

       Jenny got out of bed, scrounged for an aspirin in her suitcase, crawled back under the covers and prayed for the blessed relief of sleep. In the morning, she told herself, I'll be rested, able to think clearly. Am I fearful of finding something in the envelope that will indict my father. Even though he's gone, am I unwilling to know the truth about his possible involvement with the missing money? Her thoughts embarked on a mental tangent until she drifted into a restless sleep.

       An aftershock awakened her. She jumped out of bed and glanced at the clock. It was eight and she'd asked Alex to come at nine. Her heart hammered from the sudden jolt of the earth and, just as powerfully, she came to a realistic conclusion. Whatever the envelope held, she must face the truth and then, as the saying went, the truth would set her free.

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       Alex rapped on the door precisely at nine and after a last glance at her reflection, Jenny quieted her thoughts and opened the door.

       He grinned and whistled.

       "Is that a professional good morning?" Jenny returned his smile and when she noticed he was carrying the briefcase, she opened the door wider. He set the case on the round table, took off his jacket and held out a chair for Jenny.

       "Did you sleep well?" he asked politely...almost too politely.

       Jenny nodded, trying not to avert her eyes from the briefcase. This was the moment of truth and they both knew it.

       "Quite an aftershock we just had." Alex opened the briefcase and withdrew the sealed envelope.

       He set it on the table between them. "There it is, Jenny, that for which your father risked everything. When you open it, we'll know why."

       Jenny looked at the briefcase and back to Alex. It seemed as if a fire would brand her when she opened the envelope. She clutched her hands on her lap. An uneasy silence feel between them.

       "Jenny, I know you're hurting. Believe me I understand the loss you're feeling. When I was a senior in high school, I lost my dad, my hero, my role model. He had just picked up my teenage sister at a youth camp and on the way home they were in an auto accident. They were instantly killed. My father was an FBI agent, he coached my Little League team, took me camping, taught me to bait a hook, and attended all my activities in school. When he died, a piece of my mother died with him. She was a stay at home Mom, cookies in the oven, made our home a haven. With Dad gone, she was forced to work. Suddenly home wasn't such a haven. And to compound the hurt, my little sister, Katie, was gone. She was cute as a button. Head cheerleader, a magnet to the boys in high school. It seemed so unfair."

       His eyes seemed to reach toward some haunted past. "Dad had left a trust fund for my education so I pursued my goals. So, you see, I do

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understand the pain you're enduring. I was angry and bitter toward God for a long time."

       "I'm so sorry." A shadow flitted across Jenny face. "But your father wasn't accused of theft, of having his good name slandered."

       "No, he wasn't. There was never any doubt about his integrity. But I shared my pain with you to let you know that I do understand loss."

       Jenny offered him a faint smile, reached over and touched the envelope. "I guess I'm afraid to open it, afraid of what I'll find."

       "It will release you Jenny. And you really have no option. If we don't open the envelope, headquarters will demand it as evidence."

       "I promised I wouldn't." Jenny's voice trembled. "Daddy told Uncle Charlie to make me promise not to open it."

       Alex frowned. "Uncle Charlie?"

       "My father's brother. He gave the envelope to me after Daddy left for parts unknown. Told me under no circumstances to open it."

       Alex's frown deepened. "And where is Uncle Charlie now?"

       "He travels a great deal. He left Chicago right after Daddy's trial. I'm not sure how to find him, but I must try. He'll be devastated to learn about Daddy."

       "They were close, were they?" Uncle Charlie was a new piece of the puzzle and Alex didn't know exactly how he fit into the picture. He didn't want to alarm Jenny by putting too much emphasis on him. He waited for her answer.

       "Well, yes, they were brothers, after all."

       "Not all brothers are close. He didn't inherit part of the business?" Alex asked casually.

       "Well, no, I guess my grandfather recognized his wayward, rather unstable lifestyle. But my grandmother favored him and left him a trust fund."

       "Ah." A thought stirred in Alex's mind."

"And your parents? How did they feel about Uncle Charlie?"

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       "My mother wasn't too fond of him." Jenny half-smiled at the memory. "He was like a phantom, in and out of our home, in and out of Chicago, a free spirit, I guess you'd say. My dad admired his adventurous spirit, but he really wanted him to stay and help in the bookstore." She laughed lightly. "Uncle Charlie in a bookstore? No way." Jenny grew pensive. "It's going to be difficult to see him again...whenever I do... he and Dad resembled each other so much. You'd think they were twins."

       "I see," Alex handed Jenny the envelope. "Okay, it's time. Open it."

       "I...I can't."

       "Yes, you can. Jenny, I know you're in pain. Do you think I want to hurt you anymore than you've been hurt?" He stood and paced the floor. Suddenly he turned. "Don't you know how much I care for you?"

       "You've been very kind, Alex, and I know you're just doing your job."

       He walked to her, leaned over, placed his hands flat on the table and stared into Jenny's eyes. "Yes, I'm doing my job, but there's something more between us and you know it."

       Jenny lowered her eyes and regretted her words the moment she spoke them. "There's nothing between us except this envelope."

       Alex straightened. "Then open it and let's get this settled."

       She made no move to unseal the envelope. "Jenny, you are one stubborn woman. You've been resisting me ever since we met."

       When Jenny didn't answer, Alex gazed out the window and spoke almost to himself. "My duty is to protect you, to make sure no harm comes to you and I've received nothing but disdain from you." He stood over her. "Perhaps you're right. Perhaps there isn't anything between us after all."

       Jenny clutched the envelope. She would open the envelope in a moment. As for Alex, he couldn't guess her ambivalent feelings for him. She was strongly attracted to him, and it was true, she did resist the feelings he invoked in her. And, yes, something profound had happened

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between them, she knew, yet how could she fall in love with a man who was looking to disgrace her father's name?

       Alex was pacing and as his masculine presence filled the room, Jenny marveled at her own persistent mutiny.

       She looked down at the envelope. "I'll need an opener of some kind."

       He stopped and handed her a pocket knife. Before she could change her mind, Jenny slipped it through the seal and tore the envelope open. She silently read the note, an incredulous expression on her face.

       The note was written in Uncle Charlie's sprawling handwriting. "Dear Jenny, Here is the address and the key to my new apartment. When you return to Chicago, go to the apartment. You'll find a letter on my desk. It will explain everything. Love, from your devoted Uncle Charlie."

       She handed the note to Alex and as he read it, his expression changed. He laid the note on the table between them with a paralyzing moment of insight, one he didn't wish to share with Jenny...yet.

       He cleared his throat. "Seems we were concerned for nothing. Though we will go to Uncle Charlie's apartment together. By the way, I've made flight arrangements for you and... your father to fly home in the morning."

       "Thank you. You're not flying with me?"

       "I have business to conclude here."

       "Oh."

       She told herself she'd been right to cut off any emotional involvement with him. After they concluded their visit together at her uncle's apartment, she'd probably never see Alex Kendall again. He'd had a job to do and now he suddenly seemed eager to conclude his business.

       Breakfast together was tense. Alex threw several dollars on the table and stood.

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       "I'll be back around five. Buy a good book and relax by the pool. Think how you can tell your friends back home how you sunned in January."

       Jenny watched him leave with a disquieting sensation of loss.

       He returned at six and rang her room. "Did you have a nice day?" he asked.

       "Except for a number of aftershocks, yes. And you?"

       "Meet me for dinner in the dining room."

       He sounded so distant, so stressed, she wondered if his business had not gone well. She wouldn't ask.

       At dinner, Alex asked. "Did you sit by the pool?"

       "I did."

       "Quite something, isn't it? To sit by a pool in January? Read a good book?" For a moment his old teasing grin appeared."

       "Yes sir." Jenny half-smiled. "I followed your orders precisely."

       Alex didn't explain the business of the day except to tell her that arrangements had been made for her father's body to fly to Chicago.

       "I appreciate your handling all the details, Alex." She managed to say. "What time is my flight in the morning?"

       "I called for a cab to pick you up at ten. The flight is at noon."

       Alex walked with her to her room, politely inserted the key in the lock, and stepped back. He left without another word.

       Two sleepless people tossed throughout the long night. Jenny's voice echoed in Alex's head. There's nothing between us except this envelope. He chastised himself for assuming she returned his feelings and tried to think why he'd made such a presumption when she'd given him no cause to think otherwise.

       Jenny tossed with unrelieved tension. Each second seemed like hours. Why, she asked herself, had she been so fearful that he'd be proved right about her father. Was that why she'd deliberately withdrawn from him. Yes, she had resisted him and from his cool and distant manner today, it looked as if he meant to stay away. That thought

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played like a sad song in her spirit. She felt like a lone survivor of a terrible accident.

       Jenny reflected on the sad story of his youth, of losing his father and sister and eventually his mother. He'd entrusted her with his loss, speaking in halting tones as though he'd never said the words aloud before. She tried to imagine the desolation he must have experienced.

       Her thoughts darkened, as if a dark black cloud had spread across them. Her father was gone. She longed for comfort and reached back to the scripture her mother's pastor had read at her grave side.

       "Death is swallowed up in victory," the pastor quoted, "through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ."

       Tears had flowed down her cheeks then. They returned now. On the appalling day of the funeral, she'd not only suffered the loss of her gentle mother, but had watched with despair as officers escorted her father to their vehicle. A chip had been taken out of her heart on what had been the darkest moment of her life. Now on this endless night, she felt as if she were dying of an emotional famine.

       A desperate prayer stirred. Three words, perhaps the most important three words ever spoken. Help me, Lord. And two words equally as important clearly responded in her spirit. Trust Me. In silent wonder, Jenny recognized that Voice. As the tears dried on her cheeks, she drifted into a peaceful sleep.

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