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"Really, Patrick, this won't be as disruptive as you imagine. The new computers and software are very easy to navigate. They will just take a little getting used to."
Patrick McClain stared at the Web site for the fancy new system as Sharon Hastings, the Economics Department staff administrator, pointed to the computer monitor sitting on her desk.
Sharon was efficient and talented at her job, but whenever Patrick entered her domain of scattered files and stacks of papers, he had to wonder how she accomplished anything. The array of clutter made him itch.
Patrick twitched his shoulders beneath his tweed sport coat. "What's wrong with the computers we have now?"
In her mid-sixties with graying hair held in a loose bun at her nape and rows of sparkly beaded necklaces hanging down her front, Sharon was a throwback to the seventies, despite her tech savvy. She sighed with a good dose of patience that always brought heat to Patrick's cheeks.
"The school received a grant to buy the new computers. We need to update and stay with the times," she stated calmly.
He understood, but that didn't mean he had to like the change. All of his work was on his computer. "This is going to be a nightmare."
Sharon's lined face spread into an understanding smile. "Don't worry. We have temps coming in to do the software integration. You won't have to do a thing until you have the new notebook computer in your hand. This will be very freeing and much more time-efficient, since you will be able to take your computer home with you and work there instead of coming on campus every weekend."
Taking a cloth from his sport coat's front pocket, he removed his glasses andcleaned the lenses. He thought about his apartment in Boston's Back Bay. His name was on the lease and he did sleep there occasionally, but he didn't consider the stark walls and stiff furniture home.
No, the house he grew up in was home.
But his mother had made it clear recently that she didn't want him coming "home" so often. She'd lamented that it was time for him to get a life. And for her to start living again.
Whatever that meant.
"Well, I just hope whomever you have working on this is competent," Patrick stated and replaced his glasses onto the bridge of his nose.
Sharon inclined her head. "I'm sure they will be." A knock sounded at the door of Sharon's office. "Come in," she called.
The door opened and a young woman, devoid of any hint of makeup, who looked to be in her early twenties, stepped inside. Her short burgundy-red hair spiked up in all directions and her big violet-colored eyes showed hesitance and wariness as she glanced at Patrick. She wore an ill-fitting dress suit and though the drab brown fabric hung off her shoulders, Patrick's gaze fell to the hem of her skirt where her shapely calves were emphasized by heeled pumps.
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to interrupt," the woman said in a soft voice.
"We were just finishing," Patrick offered, feeling the need to banish her uncertainty.
She smiled slightly, and the soft curving of her mouth unexpectedly grabbed at his chest. She turned her gaze to Sharon. "Mrs. Hastings?"
Sharon stood and came around the desk to offer her hand. "I am. And you are ?"
"Anne Johnson. The admin office sent me up."
"Ah, my temp. Did they explain the project to you?"
"Perfect. I was just telling Professor McClain about the new computer system."
A strange lump formed in Patrick's stomach. This young, fresh-faced student was not his idea of a competent person to handle such sensitive material.
He gave Sharon a sharp-eyed glance. If she noticed his disapproval she ignored it. Instead Sharon pretty much dismissed him by pulling Miss Johnson toward the computer to show off the new notebook-style system that would be arriving within the next few days.
The cell phone attached to his belt vibrated. He glanced at the caller ID. His sister. He needed to take the call, but he wanted to stay and learn more about this temp that would be working on the computer issue.
"I'll be going now," he said, unsuccessfully trying to hide his irritation at being ignored by the two ladies.
Sharon nodded distractedly. Patrick met Miss Johnson's wide-eyed stare for a moment before she hastily dropped her violet gaze. The impact of those interestingly colored eyes left him slightly off balance. He frowned some more. He didn't like being off balance.
He stepped out into the corridor and flipped open his phone. "Meggie?"
He listened to his sister's tear-filled tirade. Finally he interrupted, "Meg, have you talked to Dr. Miller about this? Hon, you know how the subway upsets you, so why do you insist on taking it?" He tried to keep the frustration from his voice, but couldn't quite manage it.
"No, I'm not upset with you. Things here are a bit stressful."
He acknowledged her suggestion that he see a psychologist for stress management. "I'll take that into consideration. Promise me no more subway rides. Take a cab or walk. Isn't that one of the reasons you moved to Manhattan was so you could walk instead of sit in a car?
"I love you, too, sis."
He hung up with a sigh. As proud as he was of his little sister for forging out a life in the art world which she was passionate about, he couldn't help but worry. Her obsessive-compulsive disorder flare-ups seemed to be more frequent the more she tried to push herself to overcome the disorder. But at least she knew he'd always be here for her.
As he headed back down the hall of the fourth floor of the main building on the lower campus of Boston College, Patrick's thoughts turned back to the new computer system and he decided he'd double backup all of his work, just in case. He was not going to trust the wide-eyed Miss Johnson with his life's work.
Lidia entered the outer office of the District Attorney, Christopher Porter, in the old courthouse of Atlantic City. The wood paneled walls and wooden desk made the small space seem cramped. In the corner next to the filing cabinet, where a woman in a blue sweater and navy slacks sat with an open drawer in front of her, a limp palm tree tried to bring some color to the room.
The woman turned as Lidia noisily closed the door behind her.
Lidia nodded and flashed her badge at the mousy brown-haired woman. Her pale face and unrefined features were dominated by wide hazel eyes. The name plate on the desk read Jane Corbin.
"You may go in, he's expecting you," Jane said, her voice low and timid. She adjusted her sweater over her ample chest and turned back to the filing cabinet.
So much for chitchat. Lidia gave one solid knock on the wood door before entering. Porter sat at his desk, his gaze on a report in front of him. His salt and pepper hair caught the late afternoon sunlight streaming through the window behind him. He looked up and pinned her to the floor with his intense gray eyes. "Hello, Lieutenant. Have a seat."
Lidia sat across the scarred pine desk. Porter didn't waste time with pleasantries but went right to reviewing the details of Domingo's arrest.
Domingo's DNA matched the blood found at the crime scene. They had him on tape entering the hotel and exiting through a service door during the time of the murders. And they had an eyewitness. It couldn't get better than that.
For over two hours, Porter shot off questions and she shot right back with answers.
But no matter how much he pushed Lidia, he wouldn't find any flaw in the investigation or the arrest of Domingo. They'd done everything by the letter of the law. No way would Domingo walk on a technicality from the homicide division.
From this point on, the burden to convict lay with the D.A.'s office.
Tired and hungry, she finally barked, "Enough." If she didn't get out of the musty office she was going to scream.
Porter started, his sharp gray eyes widening slightly. He wasn't accustomed to her abrupt manner but in time, if they continued to work together, she had no doubt, he'd get used to her.
"All right. Fine. For now." He closed the file lying in front of him with a snap. "We have a solid case. As long as our witnesses continue to cooperate, we should see Domingo behind bars by summer's end."
"They'll cooperate," Lidia assured him with confidence. The three witnesses all claimed to have held Jean Luc Versailles in high regard. All three were reluctant to come forward but thankfully were doing the right thing.
Frustration twisted in her gut. "Two are in WITSEC. One refused, but is in hiding. We've maintained contact with all three."
"I'm pushing to have the case moved up on the docket. But you know the system."
"Yeah, like molasses in a freeze."
Porter gave her a sidelong glance as he closed and then picked up his briefcase. "Where are you originally from?"
"You have a way about you that's different.
Heat crept into her cheeks. "O-kay."
"I like it," he said.
His grin disarmed her. He really was handsome. How had she not realized that before? Sharp, cool and calm under pressure. His thick graying hair once had been very dark but the lighter strands were attractive. She liked the way the corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled.
Lidia mentally stepped back and assessed the situation. He was a widower, like herself. They were colleagues, working toward a common goal. She'd seen him at church a few times. All pluses. Before she could talk herself out of it, she asked, "Want to grab a bite to eat?"
"Love to." He held the door open for her.
A confused mixture of pleasure and angst stretched through her system. "Great." Lidia walked out of the office and in the hall, very aware of Porter's hand at her elbow.
She couldn't believe it. She had just asked the D.A. out to dinner. She hadn't been on a date in at least five years and had no intention of starting a relationship beyond the confines of work.
So why was she so looking forward to the evening?
Two days after she'd first stepped onto the campus of Boston College, Anne found herself lugging Professor McClain's new notebook to his office on the second floor. She hefted the box a little higher so she could knock on the professor's door. She waited a moment before knocking again. When no reply came, she shifted the box to her hip and tried the door handle. Locked.
"Great," she muttered and bent to put the box on the floor. Once free of the encumbering box, she shook out her arms and stretched her back. She'd sent the good professor a note telling him she'd be delivering his computer at five o'clock, long after his last class of the day ended.
She checked her watch. Okay, so she was a few minutes early. Still.
She leaned against the smooth green-painted wall to wait. At least the halls were empty and peaceful. So far her job as a BC temp was going well. Boston College lay in the suburb of Newton, eight miles outside of Boston proper. Newton Center had lots of coffee houses and wonderful trinket shops. Plus a commuter train stop that could take her into Boston when she wanted. She really liked the area. Too bad she wouldn't be staying long.
And she hadn't come here without doing a little research. The current campus site on Chestnut Hill had been built in the early 1900s and featured examples of English Gothic architecture that Anne found fascinating. She'd spent countless hours wandering the walking paths that meandered through lush lawns and tall maples and evergreens to stare at the buildings.
There was something so moving about the majestic structures with their cathedral-like shapes made of stone and mortar. Where she'd grown up houses were made of wood or tin. When she'd moved to the city, she'd found only a concrete jungle that both intimidated and awed her.
In this New England setting, she was content with her life. No matter how short her time here would be. She smothered the anger that sprouted. What was done was done, she had to learn to live with it.
A movement at the far end of the long, empty hallway made her push away from the wall. A man stood in the shadows at the top of the stairs. She couldn't make out his features. He didn't look tall enough or broad enough to be the professor. She squinted. "Professor McClain?"
"Yes?" a deep voice came from right beside her shoulder.
She jumped with a squeak and whirled around to face the professor. Tall, overbearingand for some reason comforting. "What ?" Her gaze swung back to the shadows. No one was there. "Did you see that guy?"
"Who?" His gazed moved past her toward the stairwell.
Foreboding chased down her spine. She hadn't imagined the man in the shadows, she was sure of it. She tightened her hold on her purse, feeling the outline of her cell phone. Her lifeline. "No one, I guess."
Behind his glasses, Patrick's dark blue eyes regarded her with puzzlement. "Are you okay?"
She liked his eyes, liked how a darker shade of brown rimmed the irises, like layers of rich chocolate cake.