Read The Object of His Protection Online
Authors: Brenda Jackson
“Not as clean as I did. And unable to deal with the tension between me and Dad, they threw themselves into their careers.”
Drey nodded. “So you and the congressman were not on good terms when he died?”
Malcolm held his gaze. “No, and if your next question is going to ask me if I had anything to do with the accident—”
“No, I wasn’t going to ask you that, Malcolm. That hadn’t crossed my mind. I was at the funeral, remember? I saw how badly you took the congressman’s death. The two of you may have had your differences, but you loved your father.”
Malcolm didn’t say anything for a moment, and then, “Yes, I did.”
Before Drey could say anything else, his cell phone rang and he stood to retrieve it from his pocket and flipped it open. “Excuse me,” he said to Malcolm before glancing down at his phone. He was surprised to see his caller was Charlene. He hadn’t expected to hear from her until later that day. “This is Drey. What do you have for me?”
“Trouble. Can we meet somewhere and talk?”
rey walked into the coffee shop and glanced around, then sighed with relief when he saw Charlene. She had refused to go into any details over the phone, but he had heard the nervousness in her voice.
As he headed toward her table in the back of the restaurant, he knew she hadn’t seen him yet, which gave him the chance to study her. Looking every bit of eighteen instead of twenty-seven, she wore dark brown slacks and a beige cotton blouse. He was still finding it odd seeing her without her lab coat, although he was enjoying doing so.
His face went back to hers and he saw she was wearing very little makeup. She didn’t need any either. Something nagged inside him, reminding him of their kiss and causing sensations to flow through him. He frowned. Now was not the time to remember how she had felt in his arms or how she had tasted in his mouth. He was in the throes of an investigation that seemed to be getting more complicated by the second and the last thing he needed was thoughts of getting Charlene Anderson in his bed.
He wasn’t surprised that he wanted to take her to bed. After all, he was a hot-blooded male who enjoyed sex as much as the next guy. Unlike most guys, though, he wasn’t getting any on a regular basis and seeing Charlene was reminding him of that fact.
As if she sensed his presence, she tilted her head in his direction and their gazes met. While lust was probably glinting in his eyes, he saw something altogether different in hers. There was anxiousness there, a tenseness that immediately pushed any thoughts of sex from his mind…for the time being. Instead he couldn’t help but wonder what had her so worried.
“Charlie?” he said, sliding into the seat beside her. And he knew whatever was bothering her was massive because for the first time she didn’t glare at him for the use of his play name for her. “What’s wrong? What kind of trouble were you alluding to earlier?”
She took a sip of her coffee before putting her cup down and giving him her complete attention, turning those intense, beautiful eyes on him. “Nate caught me going through Dennis’s file.” She paused a second before asking, “Are you aware what Nate stated in the report he released to the police earlier today?”
When he couldn’t stop drowning in the allure of her eyes quickly enough to respond, she said, “It said Joe Dennis’s death was the result of a heart attack.”
That got his absolute attention. “What!”
“You heard me,” she said tersely.
He frowned. “Why would he lie about such a thing?”
She shook her head. “I have no idea. I saw Joe Dennis’s body, Drey. I saw the bruises and I saw the key. Now the key is nowhere to be found.”
Drey didn’t say anything but it was clear from what Charlene was saying that a cover-up of some sort was going on. Why had Charlene’s boss lied about the cause of Joe Dennis’s death?
Drey looked at Charlene. He saw the nervous way she lifted her cup to her lips to take a sip of her coffee. There was more. He felt it. “What did he say when you questioned him about it?” he asked. There was no need to ask if she had questioned him because he knew that she had. It would go against her grain not to do so.
She met his gaze again. “He denied it. He said I’d made a mistake about what I thought was the reason Dennis died. Then he suggested that I take time off to clear my head. Three weeks. And he went on to suggest that I leave town.”
She paused for a moment and then added, “Something is going on, Drey, something that I don’t like. Nate was acting strange. Creepy. It’s like he was warning me off, making veiled threats, alluding that disappearing for a while would be in my best interest. I think we should go to the police.”
“No,” he said, squashing that idea quickly. “You’re right, something is going on, but I don’t think going to the police is the answer, especially when they are the ones backing up a faulty report. It can’t help but make you wonder if perhaps they are somehow involved.”
He saw the way Charlene was looking at him and knew he had gotten her to thinking the way he was doing now. Until they uncovered more information they were on their own. Then another thought entered his mind regarding the veiled threats her boss had made. If there had been foul play in Joe Dennis’s death, more than likely that meant Congressman Braddock’s death was no accident either. And if someone was out for more blood as a way to keep things quiet, Charlene could very well get caught in the crossfire and he refused to let that happen.
“Are you planning to take your boss up on his offer and leave town?” he asked, taking a sip of the ice-cold water a waitress had placed in front of him.
He hadn’t thought so. “Disappearing for a while might not be such a bad idea, Charlene.”
He watched as a frown formed around her lips. They were lips he had tasted last night and would love sampling again today. “What good will disappearing do?” she asked.
He had a quick answer for her. “It might keep you alive. Think about it. Without evidence we don’t have proof of anything and who’s going to take your word over your boss’s? And if there is a cover-up, then whoever is behind it got to your boss somehow, and there’s a possibility the police are somehow connected.”
She shook her head. “What you’re saying doesn’t make sense. Why would anyone be interested in what happened to Joe Dennis and why go to that extreme with me, Drey? If there’s more to this mystery I would appreciate hearing it.”
He knew that was fair enough since, thanks to him, she might have unknowingly placed her life in danger. After the waitress came to take his drink order, he said, “Joe Dennis was the personal driver of Congressman Harmon Braddock. As you know, the congressman was killed in an auto accident a few months ago. I was hoping that Dennis could shed some light as to why the congressman was driving his own car that night instead of Dennis and—”
“Wait! Hold up. Back up,” Charlene said, using her hand to give him a time-out signal. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Yes. I have reason to believe the congressman’s death was intentional.”
Charlene didn’t know what to say. Like everyone else in Houston, she had read about the congressman’s car accident but hadn’t had a reason to think much about it. “And is that what you’re investigating?”
“Yes. I was hired by his family. When they approached me I was doubtful that I would find anything, but after Joe Dennis died mysteriously I really got suspicious. And now…”
She nodded and waited until the waitress had placed his beer in front of him before saying, “But it’s hard for me to believe that Nate could be involved. He’s a family man with a wife and children.”
“Yes, but what if the person behind all this is using blackmail or threats? Nate warned you to disappear and you would be wise to heed his warning.”
Charlene nibbled on her bottom lip. A part of her knew Drey was probably right, but another part didn’t want to disappear. She wanted to go to work, continue her life as she knew it. Besides, where would she go? She could go visit her mother and her new husband in Florida, but she preferred not to. And her father’s place in Detroit with his wife of three years was a definite no-no since she and Monica could only tolerate each other in small doses.
“Okay, I’m convinced you might be right about me getting lost for a while,” she finally said. “Especially now that I remember the argument Nate was having with that man.”
Drey frowned as he glanced over at her. “What argument?”
She took another sip of her coffee before answering. “A few days ago. In fact it was the same day I discovered the key. Nate thought I had already left for the day, but I was in the autopsy room snooping around. When I came out I heard Nate and another man arguing. They were practically yelling at each other.”
“Do you know what about?”
“No. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. However, at the time I thought it rather strange for Nate to be arguing with anyone since he has a tendency not to get upset about anything. He’s always said it’s not good to get stressed.”
“Did he act upset with you today when he discovered you going through Dennis’s chart?”
Charlene sighed deeply as she remembered her and Nate’s conversation. “Not as much upset as he was nervous, like he hated me finding out the truth. He was trying so hard to convince me that I was wrong. It was rather creepy seeing him that way.”
Drey didn’t say anything as he studied her. Yes, her disappearing for a while was for the best considering everything she had told him. If someone was out for more blood, he didn’t want it to be Charlene’s. The thought of anything happening to her didn’t sit too well with him and he wasn’t about to take any chances.
He leaned back in his chair. “How long will it take you to pack?”
She lifted her head from studying the contents of her coffee cup and met his gaze. “Am I supposed to be going somewhere?”
She arched a brow. “Where?”
“My place. For your safety, I think it’s best for you to move in with me for a while.”
harlene blinked. “Excuse me?”
Drey knew she had heard him but figured what he’d said deserved repeating so there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings. “I said I think it would be for the best if you were to move in with me for a while.”
She frowned, actually glared at him. “Thanks, but no, thanks. I have my own place.”
He leaned back in his chair and before taking another swig of beer he said, “It’s not safe to disappear there, Charlie.”
She gave him a disapproving glare. “The name is Charlene and I see no reason I can’t stay put.”
“I can name several reasons and none of them is pretty. In fact all of them are rather dangerous, to say the least. If Nate has mentioned to anyone that you know anything, they’ll figure it’s best for you to become a casualty.”
The thought of that happening made her skin crawl. “But why would he do that?”
“For the same reason he gave you a clear warning, which he really didn’t have to do. Whatever he’s into, he’s in it over his head and trying not to get you involved. Think about it, Charlie. We’re not talking about the cover-up of just anyone’s murder. We’re talking about the cover-up of the murder of a well-known politician, a congressman.”
My biological father,
he didn’t add as he looked down at his drink.
His true relationship to Harmon Braddock was still rather new to him and he still had a number of questions he wanted answered. The only person who could do that was his mother. He had tried calling her that morning and hadn’t been able to get a hold of her. He knew she was deliberately avoiding him, trying to evade his questions.
“Did you know him?”
Drey glanced back at Charlene when her question invaded his thoughts. “Who?”
Drey didn’t say anything at first, tempted to tell her just how well he knew him, but instead said, “Yes, for years he had been my mentor.”
He lifted a brow. “Why what?”
“How did you get a U.S. congressman to be your mentor?”
Drey sighed. That was a good question, one he hadn’t thought of before. He couldn’t help wondering if anyone else was curious about that same thing. The Braddock siblings perhaps? They had known of his relationship to their father, but none of them had ever asked why and how it had come about.
A part of him would never forget that day right after his father had died and he’d been walking home from school when suddenly a big black shiny car had pulled up beside him and come to a stop. Suddenly the back passenger door opened and a man stepped out. It was a man whom he had never seen before, but the man knew him because he had called him by name. That was the day Harmon Braddock had become a part of his life. Drey could truly say that although Harmon had never claimed him publicly as his son, he had done enough for him behind the scenes to engrave his presence and existence into Drey’s life. And no matter what, he owed it to the man who was his biological father to bring to justice anyone responsible for his death. Just as he felt he owed it to Charlene to keep her safe.
Drey realized he hadn’t answered Charlene’s question. “He had been a family friend,” he said simply, hoping she didn’t want any more details than that.
“It must be hard on you to investigate his death, knowing how close the two of you were.”
“Yes, it’s hard. Just like it’s hard for me to turn my back on the fact that your life might now be in danger because of me.”
“You don’t know that for certain. Whoever is responsible for the congressman’s death didn’t hesitate to kill Joe Dennis, probably because they thought he knew too much. Evidently he did to have put a key in his stomach. I wish there is a way we can get our hands on it. Are you sure your boss had taken it out of Dennis’s file already?”
“I didn’t see it. He might have passed it on to an interested party or it might be in Nate’s office somewhere. He has a habit of getting busy and leaving stuff around at times. That’s how I came across the key in the first place.”
Drey nodded, very much aware she had not yet agreed to move in with him until his investigation has been resolved. Of course she could very well move in with family or friends, but for some reason he felt he might need her around if he had additional questions about what she’d seen in her boss’s original report.
“I can’t force you to move in with me, Charlene,” he decided to say to bring the matter up once again.
She gave a little laugh, one that he found rather sexy. So sexy he could feel the tightening of his abdominal muscles. “I’m glad you know that, Drey.”
His mouth quirked. So she wanted to play hard. He would show her just how hard he could make things. “But I can move in with you.” He watched the frown that formed around her lips. Lips he could distinctly remember tasting last night. Lips that he could honestly say he would love sampling again.
“No, you can’t.”
“Yes, I can, and haven’t we been down this road before? I can appoint myself as your bodyguard. If you don’t let me stay inside your place, I can always sleep outside in the car just as long as I keep an eye on you. And I hope you’ll think twice before calling the police since right now we don’t know whose side they’re on.”
She tilted her chin and he thought it was another sexy move. “You are so quick to think the worst of them, yet you used to be one of them,” she said.
He couldn’t help but wonder how she knew he used to be a part of the force, but decided he would find out later after they moved in together. “Because I used to be one of them I know there are good cops and there are bad cops. My father was a good cop. My partner and I were good cops and there are others I can vouch for. But I can’t and won’t vouch for every one of them, and I don’t plan on taking a chance by letting you assume you won’t become a target. So I’m going to ask you again. Do you move in with me or do I move in with you?”
“I won’t even consider such a thing until we get something straight.”
“Like the threat you made last night.”
He had an idea what she was talking about, but he didn’t consider those words a threat. He considered them a fact. “And what threat was that?” he asked, feeling an intense thudding of his pulse.
She hesitated, then expounded in a low voice. “The one you made after we kissed. What you planned to do the next time.”
“As far as I know there’s no law against saying something you intend to make happen eventually. But if it makes you feel better, I promise not to touch you until you’re good and ready. It will be your call.”
“Then I don’t have anything to worry about,” she said triumphantly, as if all was well.
“And why do you say that?”
She tilted her head and said in an irritated tone, “Because I’ve never been that forward with a man.”
He shrugged, not the least bothered by her attitude. “You will with me. I’ll encourage it.”
Charlene snorted. “Encourage what you want, it still won’t happen.”
He decided to set her straight about a few things so they could move on. “Since the first there has been sexual chemistry between us and we both know it. The reason we bicker back and forth as much as we do is to play it off. All I’m saying, Charlene, is that us being sexually attracted to each other is a fact, just like the fact that your life may be in danger. My main concentration now is to make sure nothing happens to you and to complete my investigation. You have no reason to fear me because I want you. I won’t touch you unless you say it’s okay and if you’re certain you won’t be doing that, then there shouldn’t be a problem.”
He saw the expression on her face and knew she was about to put up yet another fight. She was one stubborn female and at any other time he would have appreciated that quality since he didn’t run across many women like her. Most of them, he found, gave in too easily, especially when it came to him.
When time ticked by and she still didn’t say anything, he said, “Okay, just don’t be surprised when you find me parked outside your house tonight. As of this very minute I become your bodyguard.”
Her gaze narrowed. “You can’t watch me every minute while investigating the case,” she said smartly.
He smiled. “Yes, you’re right. I guess I’ll just have to drag you everywhere I go.”
She pushed her coffee cup aside and threw up her hands. “Fine. I’ll move in with you, but I’m not going to like it.”
Drey motioned for the waitress to bring him another beer while thinking he probably wouldn’t like it a whole hell of a lot either.
A few minutes later Charlene walked into her apartment with Drey following behind. “It’ll take me but a minute to pack,” she said over her shoulder as she kept moving toward her bedroom. When he didn’t say anything she stopped and turned around and was hit with a multitude of sensations, swift and fierce, when she saw him leaning against her closed door staring. “What are you staring at?”
He met her gaze. “You. But more specifically the shape of your backside. I like it.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Not that I care whether you like it or not, but I prefer you not to think of me as only a sex object.”
“I don’t. You’re smart, intelligent and attractive. You also have a body that I find fascinating. Why were you hiding it behind lab coats?”
“Everyone who works in the coroner’s office wears lab coats. At home I dress like any normal person. Until last night you had no reason to see me anywhere other than where I work.”
Drey lifted his broad shoulders in a shrug. “You’re right, of course,” he said smoothly. “Now I’ll be seeing you all the time.”
“If you’re going to have a problem with it, please let me know now. I won’t move in with you only to feel uncomfortable being around you,” she said firmly.
“I won’t have a problem with it and you’ll have no reason to feel uncomfortable. I told you where we stood. However, as a man I find it hard to ignore some things when it comes to a woman, but I’ll cope.”
Charlene saw the way he was looking at her and wasn’t so sure. Her uncertainty blended with apprehension.
“I told you nothing will happen between us until you want it,” he tried assuring her. “But I can promise you that when that time comes I will be ready.”
His statement caused a deep stirring in her stomach and she fought the sensations, despising her traitorous body for responding to his words, his promise. She sighed deeply. He wouldn’t be making such promises if he had any idea just how limited her experience was.
Instead of saying anything else to him she turned and went into her bedroom, closing the door behind her.
Drey watched her departure and shook his head, refusing to give in to the lust that tried overtaking his mind and body whenever he was around Charlene. That wasn’t good, especially since she would be moving in with him. Like he’d told her, nothing would happen unless she issued an invitation and with her stubbornness, he couldn’t see that happening any time soon, which was fine with him since he needed to get his mind back on the investigation.
That meant he needed to talk with his mother.
Taking his cell phone out of his pocket, he punched in his mother’s business number. A few minutes later he hung up after being told she had left work early that day. He tried her cell number but she didn’t answer there either. He decided not to leave a message. Maybe he’d make it his business to drop by his mother’s home tomorrow so they could continue the discussion they’d started a few days ago. He wanted the whole story about Harmon and he intended to get it. He refused to let his mother evade him any longer.
Flexing his muscles to ease away the frustration he felt, he walked over to the window and glanced out just in time to see a white Maxima slow up when it passed by Charlene’s condo. He stood and watched, making sure he wasn’t seen. His features hardened. Had Charlene’s boss put out the word on her already? The car momentarily came to a stop before moving on.
“I’m through packing.”
Charlene’s voice got his attention. He turned around and saw the overnight bag she held in her hand. “Am I to assume you were able to fit all your belongings in that?” he asked, pointing at her bag.
“No, of course this isn’t everything. I’ll come back for the rest at some other time.”
“No, you can’t.”
Before she could gear up to give him the retort that would probably blaze his ears, he asked, “What kind of car does your boss have?”
He could tell his question threw her for a loop.
“I asked what kind of car your boss has.”
Her brows arched as she considered his question. “A white Maxima. Why?”
Drey glanced toward the window. “He just drove by. It’s my guess he needed to see if you heeded his warning or not, so it’s a good thing we came in my car.”
He looked back at her. “Chances are he was probably concerned as to whether he would have to report to someone what you may or may not know and he was trying to avoid doing that.”
He saw the tenseness that filled her eyes and knew it was time for her to realize just what kind of dangerous situation she was in. “I know you don’t want to leave here, Charlene, but I hope now you see that until I discover who’s behind those deaths that you’re not safe staying here.”