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"Agnew," Sheridan Weaver said, plunking down the printout she was going through, "it's bad enough that I have to spend my lunch hour working on the Johnson report. I don't need you breathing down my neck. Go lust after someone else's window."
All in all Sheridan thought her rebuff good-humored. Donald Agnew, the major reason the Johnson report was late, would understand. Not that it mattered if he did since he reported to Sheridan, a senior financial analyst with United Commercial Insurance in Boston. She and Agnew got along all right and understood each other. He wanted Sheridan's job, which she didn't mind and considered a good attitude on his part. But he would have settled for her cubby by the window. This she did mind. She had an impressive view of the city and, across the harbor, Logan Airport. Agnew had an irritating habit of coming by and staring dreamy eyed out her window. On a warm, clear day in May, like today, he could imagine he was going to Paris. Sheridan had already been to Paris. She was also not given to daydreaming. Throughout United Commercial, Sheridan Weaver was known as a woman with both feet flat on the floor. She knew it and approved.
When the shadow remained stubbornly over the page she was trying to read, she sighed. "You're in my light."
That was not Agnew's voice and certainly not something Agnew would have said. He was never so simple or so direct. He would have said, "And here I thought I was your light, Sher." He liked to think he was witty. Sheridan had worked with worse.
Finally she looked up at the man leaning against the divider to her cubby. Her eyes widened. "You're not Agnew."
The man said without smiling, "No."
Whereas Agnew was lanky, almost skinny, her visitor was solid and muscular and topped by six inches the United Commercial calendar hanging on the divider. Agnew came to the steeple of the New England church in the May photograph. And Agnew dressed conservatively during his hours at U. C, usually in clothes much too rich for his budget. He was a true Yuppie. This man, however, wore a classy eye-catching combination of pleated pants, an unstructured linen jacket and a T-shirt. He looked as if he could afford to wear anything he chose. He had a straight, regal nose, an arrogant turn to his full mouth and hair that was thick and very dark, offset by black eyebrows and large black eyes.
As far as Sheridan could see, he didn't belong on the thirtieth floor of the United Commercial Insurance Building.
She reminded herself she was a responsible member of the management team of the international insurance firm and decided to act like one. "May I help you?"
"You're Sheridan Weaver?"
He had a deep, quiet voice, but it was rough at the edges and noticeably confident. Involuntarily Sheridan pushed back a few strands of her own dark hair, aware not only of him but of herself, too, and what he must be thinking of her. But who was he? Not Floyd Johnson, she hoped. No, no, that was impossible. Anyone who made her do a useless report like the one she was slaving over wouldn't wear T-shirts.
No executive within fifty miles of Boston would wear a T-shirt.
"Yes, I'm Sheridan Weaver." Her voice was steady, but her stomach was not. She liked order in her life. She didn't like surprises. Especially surprises that were distinctly male and distinctly inappropriate for the office.
"My name is Richard St. Charles," he said and paused, as if expecting a reaction. He received none. Sheridan had never heard of Richard St. Charles.
"I'm from San Francisco," he went on. "I would like to talk to you in privateelsewhere."
"Why? What's this about?"
"It's about your father."
She tensed, her entire body going rigid at his words. "My father? Is he all right? He isn't"
"Then your father is J.B. Weaver, the San Francisco private investigator? Jorgensen Beaumont Weaver?"
There could be only one. Sheridan nodded dully. She was no longer thinking about Richard St. Charles's im pressive voice or his T-shirt. J. B. had never contacted her at work before. Never. Something had to be wrong.
Richard St. Charles went on in that mild, captivating tone. "I understood he was here in Boston visiting you."
The tension in her body was released just as suddenly as it had manifested itself. She sagged, her hands trembling, and erupted with something between a laugh and a sob. "Thank God," she mumbled. "I thought he'd been hurt."
The man moved, just a fraction of an inch, but he had the kind of body and presence that made even the slightest movement noticeable. "Then obviously he's not here with you."
Sheridan winced; now she'd done it. J. B. had a bothersome habit of leaving word with his secretary to tell anyone he didn't want to seepolice detectives, district attorneys, lawyers, rival investigators, clients, thugs that he was visiting his daughter in Boston. Even more irksome, he never gave Sheridan any advance warning. Irate people would call her at all hours of the night.
But never had one actually come to Boston and tracked her down. She wondered who Richard St. Charles was and how much trouble she'd just gotten her father into by not stonewalling for him.
"Are you a client?" she asked hopefully.
His face remained impassive. "No."
Sheridan chewed on the corner of her mouth. It was parched; the rest of her was drenched. She could feel the perspiration soaking into her white pinpoint oxford blouse. Her colleagues at U. C. didn't know about J.B.
Weaver. He belonged to another life, was the father of another Sheridan Weaver. This Sheridan Weaver had an MBA and wore pale-gray structured linen suits and black pumps to work. She kept her nails manicured and polished in neutral colors and her thick dark hair knotted at the back of her head. She wore pearl earrings and dull cosmetics. She was successful, competent, dutiful and proper.
That other Sheridan Weaver was brash, daring and devil-may-care. She was also, like her father, a licensed private investigator. Before coming to Boston a year ago, she had been J.B. Weaver's renowned, cocky and very capable partner.
It had been the two of them for so long that Sheridan couldn't begin to guess what J. B. had taught her and what she had learned by osmosis, just from being around him and his work all her life. When he had agreed to make her his partner, not an associate but a full-fledged partner, she had been thrilled. That had been the culmination of all her dreams. Then one day she asked herself if maybe it had been the culmination of all /. B.'s dreams. She wasn't sure of the answer. But she had to find out.
Breaking away from that world had been difficult for both father and daughter, though J. B. had insisted he understood: Sheridan needed to find out what the world was like outside the doors of a private investigator's office. When she found out, she'd be back, he was sure. Better and stronger, but still the daughter he knew. He'd given her six months, tops. He and his poker buddies had a pool, a wager on the day she'd dust off her license and resume her place at Weaver Investigations.
Almost a year had passed, and Sheridan was still working in Boston. Happily. The days of sharing J. B.'s office and coming up with new and often outrageous schemes to gather necessary information for their investigations were overat least as far as she was concerned. She wasn't so sure about J. B. He had been making noises about getting her back to San Francisco by hook or by crook. Knowing her father, that could mean anything.
Including a tall dark-haired man in a T-shirt who was still staring at her impassively.
"I feel my ulcer acting up," she said.
Richard St. Charles didn't appear to care one way or the other. "I need only ten minutes of your time, Ms Weaver. Perhaps we could go for coffee."
She glanced around, checking for eavesdroppers, but saw no one. Explaining this striking individual to goggle-eyed secretaries and account executives and any other female who worked at United Commercial was going to be a heroic task, but, she knew, inevitable. He couldn't possibly have arrived at her cubby without being observed. She didn't, however, want to have to explain their conversation. As much as she loathed doing so, she would make up a lie. "He's my accountant," she'd tell them. No, that would never do. She'd think of something.
She gave him a look. "Are you from the police, Mr. St. Charles?" she asked archly.
"The district attorney's office?"
He just looked at her, and she sighed. If only she had said in the first place, "J. B. who?" Or, "Of course, my father. Yes, he stayed here overnight, but now he's on his way to Iceland. He left this morning."
"I suppose it doesn't matter who you are," she said in a businesslike tone. "I'm not going off with you, for coffee or anything else, so you can forget that. If you want to talk to me, talk."
He straightened up, and she realized she'd been mistaken: he topped the calendar by a half foot. She herself was fairly tallup to the bicycle leaning against the church, or five-foot-seven. He had eight inches on her. "I don't believe you'll want anyone to overhear what I have to say."
The man was stubborn, but that almost got Sheridan to relent. "I have a report to finish," she said tartly. "As it is, people are going to ask about you. What would they say if I went waltzing off with you in the middle of the day? I'm sorry, Mr. St. Charles, but I have a reputation to maintain."
"You're stonewalling, Ms Weaver."
Yes, that was true, but she didn't find his astuteness the least bit endearing. "I'm a cautious person. I don't go off with strangersespecially ones looking for my father. Now good day."
"Ms Weaver, you have nothing to fear from me."
"Are you implying other people do? Like my father perhaps?"
His eyes flickered, but with what she couldn't guess.
Annoyance? Interest? Surprise? "I'll take you to lunch," he suggested in a tone that indicated he wasn't accustomed to refusal. "We'll talk."
She went back to her printouts; he remained where he was. Clearly he expected his will to outmuscle hers, his stubbornness to outlast hers. This, she thought, was a grievous mistake on his part. She could be neither outmuscled nor outlasted. She was nothing if not tenacious, and long ago she had learned how to defend herself. J. B. had seen to that. He'd taught her everything about guns and fast-talking one's way out of a jam, as well as paying for her first judo and karate lessons.
But escorting Richard St. Charles out by his ear, although undoubtedly satisfying, would draw considerably more attention than merely having lunch with him.
She stuck a pencil into her electric sharpener, pulled it out and blew the dust off; it hadn't needed sharpening. "If you see J. B., give him my best."
He didn't make a sound, and when Sheridan finally looked up, he was gone. She counted to sixty before she grabbed her pencil and broke it in half. Her knees had been tensed in one position for so long that they buckled slightly when she got up, yet she didn't stumble as she made her way down the hall to the women's bathroom. She wanted to bang on the wall for a while, then wipe her hot face with cold wet paper towels, but two secretaries were there, smoking cigarettes and gossiping.
"Hey, Sheridan, who was that guy looking for you?"
"No kidding? Wouldn't mind him doing my taxes."
People will believe anything, Sheridan thought, dashing into a stall.
Calming down wasn't easy. J. B. was a damned good detective, and she adored him for being the man and the father he was. But he was stubborn. He'd actually liked the idea of his daughter studying part-time to get her business degree, and even the thought of her spending her hiatus from detecting working for United Commercial in Boston had tickled him. But when the hiatus had gone beyond six months and showed signs of being permanent, J. B. had opened his mouth. In no uncertain terms, he told Sheridan she didn't belong in a cubbyhole office with a bottle of Maalox in her desk and an endless stack of printouts to read.
And in equally uncertain terms she'd told him she was out of the investigative business. When he had dropped none-too-vague hints about clients and cases, trying to whet what he considered her natural appetite for the business, she had decided enough was enough. "Just leave me out of it. I'm not your sidekick anymore!"
She was a sharp, businesslike financial analyst, and she liked her life. That was just something J. B. would have to get used to. And if he'd sent this Richard St. Charles as part of some new offensive to lure her back to the streets of San Francisco
But what if he hadn't? What if this time J. B. really was in trouble? What if this time he really did need her?
"Don't worry, kid," he had always said, "when I need your help, I'll let you know."
Maybe Richard St. Charles was his way of letting her know. Or maybe J. B. wasn't in a position to contact her.
Sheridan washed her hands and practically ripped the towel container off the wall when she pulled out a paper towel. How was she going to get any work done? How was she going to get St. Charles and J. B. off her mind?
She stormed back to her cubby, where the Johnson report lay unfinished. Donald Agnew wandered by in his impeccable three-piece suit. "Noticed you had a visitor."
"Mmm." She tried to sound nonchalant. "A family friend." The accountant line would never work with Donald. "On the Johnson report"
"I liked his clothes. Pretty cool." He grinned knowingly. "Must be quite a family friend if he took the trouble to come all the way up here."
Sheridan plopped down in her chair. "Agnew, don't be a jerk." She attacked the latest stack of printouts from data processing, but stopped suddenly, shooting a look up at her colleague. "Wait a minute! Agnew, say that again."
"What? Listen, Crabby, I was just suggesting a man who would take the trouble to look you up at work"
"How did Richard St. Charles know I work at U. C? My father always leaves word he's visiting his daughter in Boston. He never mentions where I work." She laughed, delighted with herself. "Ha, that's it!"
"Sher, you know something? You're nuts."