CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

The next day Jenny conducted an internal debate. Yes, she'd call Alex, but not today. She wasn't certain he was back in Chicago. I'll wait a few days, she told herself, but on the other hand, if he wanted to talk to me, he'd call. And if he didn't wish to talk on a personal level, he was a professional and he did have a case to settle.

       Of course, she reasoned, it was possible that their seeming attraction for each other had been because of the disaster that had rocked their steady world. Doubtless, it would fade into oblivion once they were settled on solid ground in their own environment.

       Later in the week, she hit on an idea. She'd call and concede that naturally he had a duty to the agency. She shouldn't have been so stubbornly unyielding when he'd hinted that her father might be involved in some way. Yes they should go to Charlie's apartment together, read his note, and there he'd discover that the sealed envelope held no evidence for further investigation. Then he'd be forced to apologize for his accusation.

       That evening, after Carole left the bookstore during a blinding snow storm, Jenny stayed after to complete the inventory. If the storm grew worse, she decided, she'd leave her car in the parking garage and call a cab.

       Dimming the lights in the shop, Jenny turned the open sign to closed and settled behind her desk. She hadn't had the heart to work in her father's old office and had arranged a small room in the front of the store for her office.

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       She was inputting data into the computer when a soft tap on the front window startled her. She looked up. It was Alex.

       Under the slanting snow, snowflakes pirouetted like ballerinas on his dark hair. He tilted his head toward the door. Her heart lurched as she unbolted the door and invited him in.

        Sheer exhaustion lined his face, and she felt a sudden urge to reach up and wipe away the flakes clinging to his lashes. She sternly reminded herself that he was here to complete their unfinished business. But oh, how she longed to throw herself into his arms and tell him what she could no longer deny. Instead, she stepped back.

        "Cold out there," he said. An ordinary remark spoken between strangers during a brutal winter storm. "I'm glad to see you're getting on with your life."

        "What else can I do?" She cleared her throat. "I was wondering if you were back in town. We need to talk about... you know, Uncle Charlie's apartment and investigate the mysterious note together."

        "Yes, we should and we will."

        "So, when shall we go?"

        "As soon as possible. Where does Uncle Charlie live?"

        "That address in his note was for an apartment on the north end."

        "Tomorrow morning suit you?"

        "Yes, that's fine."

        "Have you eaten dinner?"

        "Actually, no."

        "Put on your coat. We can discuss our strategy over a plate of pasta.     I'm starving."

        Jenny took a deep breath and suddenly felt lighthearted. She shut down her computer and went to the closet for her coat and boots.

        "I'm hungry myself," she smiled. "Pasta sounds perfect."

        He held her arm and led her to his Volvo. Opening the passenger door, Alex settled in the driver's seat. As he looked over at her, an ethereal warmth spread through her. Jenny, she thought, you are madly in

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love with Kendall. You must remember that he's here on official business. And I have only myself to blame for his distant manner. I was rude and distant to him. If he thought he was in love with me, he certainly doesn't show it now.

        Alex looked deeply fatigued, distracted, lost in his thoughts as he guided the Volvo through the cold, blustery night to Florentine, a small Italian cafe. They were seated in a quiet corner of the restaurant.

        They ordered the lasagna special. "You're looking well Jenny."

        So formal, so rigidly proper, as if they hadn't experienced a disaster together, as if he hadn't held her close, his lips hadn't touched hers, as if there had been no sparks between them."

        Now she wondered if his cool manner was because he had a girl at home and upon returning he'd renewed his commitment.

        "I was given two weeks vacation," he said. "I'm putting it on hold until next week for a specific reason."

        "Oh?" Perhaps the mythical girl insisted he spend time with her. Silly, she rebuked herself, you're creating a scenario that might not exist.

        "Are Gavota's men all behind bars?" She stammered over the mobster's name.

        "Yes, but Sammy Gavota will try and rule from prison. He won't give up until he knows what happened to his missing funds." His face became intently serious. "Jenny, I'm afraid they'll be after you."

        Jenny stared at him. "Oh, no. It's not over?"

        Alex shook his head. "Let's talk about this in the morning, after we find your uncle's note. Perhaps it will answer our questions. It wasn't smart of you to work in your bookstore alone, late at night. Until further notice, I want you to be more careful. We have a man available to watch you."

        "You want?" Jenny straightened. "What about what I want Alex."

        "And what is it you want, Jenny?"

        You, Alex Kendall, I want you, her thoughts screamed. "And just who is the man who will be watching me?"

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        "I am."

        Jenny couldn't stifle a bubbling joy. She laughed and the tension was broken. "You?"

        Alex smiled. "You are the specific reason I've put off my vacation. I won't let you out of my sight until we've arrested the last of the Gavota mob. Didn't you know I've had a man watching you until I returned? As far as we can tell, there are three members on the outside."

        "I thought...." Jenny sputtered. "I thought they were all behind bars."

        "It doesn't work quite that way. But my partner and I are following some promising leads."

        Over two plates of steaming lasagna they fell silent. Perhaps it was because of the old winter air or the warmth of the crackling fireplace in the small dining room that a dizzy, powerful feeling of euphoria swept over Jenny. This silence was much too intimate.

        "You look exhausted, Alex," she said. "You need a week in the sun. Hawaii, or...." she laughed lightly, "California."

        Alex laughed with her. The tension was broken. "I've been wrapping up some personal business as well and, yes, it has been exhausting."

        Personal business? She wanted him to continue, to explain what kind of personal business? A girl? She flushed, and though she'd been hungry, her appetite disappeared.

        Once or twice he looked at her plate. "Finish your dinner, Jenny. I'll take you home. You can leave your car at the bookstore parking lot, can't you?"

        Jenny nodded and pushed her plate away. "I'm not as hungry as I thought."

        As Alex steered his Volvo into diminishing traffic and toward her apartment, Jenny looked at him with a sharp curiosity. "How do you know where I live?"

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        "I told you, Jenny. My man has been right behind you these past two weeks. Besides, it's my business to know. Come, I'll walk you to the door. I'll be here at nine in the morning."

        They stood awkwardly at her door while she fished her key from her purse. He took it and held the door open.

        "Sleep well," he said before he turned to stride briskly to his car.

        Jenny struggled with her thoughts in the shower and as she slipped into bed. I musn't read anything personal into his words, she mused, he feels responsible for me and that's why he's assigned himself as my bodyguard. Of course, that was it. Nothing personal. The thought struck her. Had Alex seen her and Bruce going out to dinner the other night?

        Tomorrow, she said aloud, the puzzle should be complete. She desperately hoped that Uncle Charlie's note would explain something to help resolve the case.

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