A face to die for, p.9
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       A Face to Die For, p.9

         Part #6 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
 
“Neil must have been elated,” Donna said.

  “He sounded psyched. This is a huge boost for our campaign.” Abruptly, he cleared his throat, giving Brianna an apologetic look. “And here I promised you I was husband and dad in my home. I’m sorry about the interruption and the timing. From now on, I’m all yours.”

  “Please don’t apologize,” Brianna said. “Your news is wonderful. I’m honored that I was here to share in the joy.” She glanced at Lina, smiling fondly as she watched her friend calm down enough to sit.

  Donna had already taken her seat, crossing her legs and turning her full attention on Brianna. “Let’s talk about you. Tell us about your plans once you’ve completed your MBA.”

  The next fifteen minutes were filled with easy, light conversation. So was dinner, although Brianna did wonder if an additional eight guests were expected, given the amount of food.

  Donna Brando made a killer lasagna, one that filled half the length of the dining room table. Between that, the caprese salad, and the to-die-for garlic bread, Brianna thought she might burst—although she still found room for a chocolate-covered cannoli, a tiny sliver of the black forest cake she’d brought, and a cappuccino.

  Finally, she sat back in her seat, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly. “I don’t remember the last time I was this full,” she admitted. “But everything was so delicious that I couldn’t seem to turn away seconds and, in some cases, thirds. You’re an amazing cook, Donna. I can’t thank you enough for having me over tonight.”

  “It was our pleasure,” Lina’s mom replied, visibly pleased that Brianna had enjoyed herself. “I’ll pack you a doggie bag to take home with you.”

  Lina turned to her friend. “Just to prepare you, in our house, a doggie bag means enough food for a pack of Huskies.”

  Laughter bubbled up in Brianna’s throat. “Now why doesn’t that surprise me?”

  “It’s so good to hear you laugh,” Lina said quietly. “Lately, there hasn’t been much cause for it.”

  Silence hung in the air, a silence that was broken by Donna clearing her throat.

  She set down her coffee cup, clearly about to approach her next topic with caution. “Lina mentioned something about you going through a difficult time—one that involved a level of danger, or I’d never even bring it up. I know you’ve been staying at her apartment this week. If I’m intruding, please tell me. But we’d like to help if we can.”

  Brianna was touched by the offer—and surprised by the realization that she wanted to fill Lina’s parents in. Maybe it was because she was vulnerable. Maybe it was because they were so much like Lina—warm and caring—and making her feel like part of their family tonight. Or maybe it was because the urge to share was too strong to ignore.

  “I’m being stalked,” she heard herself say. “Not just stalked but closed in on. The situation is out of hand.” She proceeded to tell them everything, concluding with her hiring Forensic Instincts to ensure her safety and to stop Dr. Hanover.

  “My God.” Donna’s eyes were filled with worry. “I had no idea… You poor thing. Why don’t you stay here with us? I realize the commute would be lengthy, but our security system is far superior to Lina’s.”

  “That’s a very kind offer,” Brianna replied gratefully. “And I thank you. But I feel a lot less alone since I’ve been bunking at Lina’s. Between her and my other friends, I make sure there’s always someone with me. And Forensic Instincts assigned a security guard to me. Dr. Hanover won’t get past him.” She gave a tiny shiver. “I just wish this were over and he was in jail, where he belongs. He’s a sick man.”

  Joseph’s brows were drawn and his head was inclined as he processed Brianna’s every word. “I’ve certainly heard of Forensic Instincts,” he said. “They’ve solved some high-profile cases. Their reputation is stellar.” He paused. “Still, even the best investigative firm has just so much man power to go around. I have quite a few contacts, including some in law enforcement, some in private investigating, and some at NYU. I’d be happy to make a few phone calls—to give Forensic Instincts a little help.”

  “That’s a great idea!” Lina turned to Brianna. “Dad knows everyone. He’s got a ton of political supporters and zillions of contacts from his years practicing law.”

  “I…” Brianna was feeling more than a little overwhelmed. “I really appreciate your kindness. But I just hired Forensic Instincts and I don’t want to offend them by implying I doubt their abilities. Maybe if things aren’t going well…”

  “I understand,” Joseph replied immediately. “I didn’t mean to bombard you. I’m just not liking what I’m hearing. This Hanover guy sounds like a psychopath. But I understand you’re already on overload. So stick with Forensic Instincts for now. Just know that my offer stands if you change your mind.” A pause. “Also, I’m sure they’re expensive. I’d be happy to contribute to their fee—make it a loan if you’d prefer.”

  “Once again, I thank you.” Brianna met his gaze, hers filled with gratitude. “But so far, I’m okay. And I’m sure my parents will help out if I’m not.”

  “They don’t know, do they?” Donna asked.

  “No.” Brianna sighed. “I’ve been protecting them like crazy. I know how freaked out this will make them. But things have escalated to the point where I have no choice. I’ll go over there this weekend and fill them in.”

  “Do that. Trust me. No matter how much it upsets them, they’ll want to know.” Donna’s expression was nostalgic and tears glistened on her lashes. “Parents don’t stop loving and worrying about their children once they’ve grown up. You may feel like an adult, but to your mom and dad, you’ll always be their baby. That’s how we feel about Lina.”

  “Come on, Mom, don’t get all mushy,” Lina said, squirming a bit. “It’s embarrassing.”

  “I think it’s wonderful,” Brianna said, unused to such open displays of emotion, yet deeply touched by this one. “I also think your mom is right. My parents will take this hard. But they’d be devastated if I didn’t tell them. They’ll want to be a part of things, to do everything in their power to help.”

  “And if they need backup, we’re here,” Joseph reminded her. “I know we just met tonight, but you’re Lina’s best friend, you’re a fine young woman, and you’re now part of our family. Whatever you need, all you have to do is ask.”

  CHAPTER 9

  As much as Emma loved playing Spy vs. Spy with her cool earrings, it took her just till the end of the week to figure out the traffic pattern on the hall where Hanover’s office was.

  No surprise, daytime was a disaster. There was a ton of traffic—both students and faculty—setting up meetings, holding office hours, and chatting in the halls about coursework. After five o’clock wasn’t great, either, since professors seemed to show up then to collect material to take home.

  Surprisingly, nighttime was also busy, but for a different reason. The custodial staff was all there, doing their thing both inside the offices and up and down the hallways. It took Emma one trip to size that one up, hiding in the shadows so she wouldn’t be seen.

  So there were no weekday or weeknight opportunities for Casey and Claire to do their thing.

  Hands down, the overall best shot they’d have was Sunday morning. Eve
ryone was either at church or sleeping in, and the halls were deadly quiet. The biggest problem here was that the buildings were locked tight on Sundays. Which would necessitate Emma “borrowing” a faculty member’s ID card to enable Casey and Claire to swipe their way in. No sweat on that front. Emma might be a retired pickpocket, but she was a damned good one.

  Not so much on the grad student front; Emma was barely holding her own in Dr. Hanover’s course.

  There were two things working in her favor. First, the arrogant bastard loved to pontificate and to hear his own voice, which immediately cut down on the need for Emma’s participation. And second, she had Casey, Ryan, and her earbuds. Whenever Hanover did shoot a question at Emma and her mind registered a total blank, either Ryan or Casey filled in that blank. That was a godsend since Hanover was like a shark smelling blood. He knew that Emma was struggling. So he threw a disproportionate number of questions that required complicated analyses in her direction.

  The miserable shit had no idea that he was feeding right into Emma’s plan—a plan that was aided by the fact that, despite Hanover’s desire to humiliate her, he’d been eyeing her, subtly giving her the once-over every few minutes.

  Three sessions were enough for her to go for it.

  Right after Wednesday evening’s class, Emma walked up to Hanover’s desk and, with feigned nervousness, admitted that she was struggling with the coursework.

  “That’s quite clear, Miss Lowe,” he’d replied in an icy tone.

  Emma wanted to smack that smug look off his face. Instead she stayed on track. “I was hoping I could set up a meeting with you—at your convenience, of course—to help me catch up. I’m afraid I’m not up to your course expectations.”

  “Correct.” His bold stare strayed up and down her body, after which he nodded. “Very well.” He checked his electronic schedule, then began packing up his briefcase. “I teach on Saturday mornings. I have an opening during my office hours this Saturday at noon. Be there.”

  “Oh, yes, I will.” No hesitation on Emma’s part, although she was beginning to regret her promise to Ryan about no balls kicking. “I really appreciate it. I’ll be there.”

  “Make sure you’re prompt.” With that, he strode out of the room.

  “Prick,” Emma muttered under her breath.

  “Emma,” Casey cautioned in her ear. “Cool it and keep doing your job. You’re almost there. With any luck, you can drop the course next week.”

  “Can I drop Hanover on his head? Or better yet, on his dick? Hopefully, a good fall would snap it off.”

  Casey couldn’t choke back her laughter. “Not to worry. I’m sure his fellow prisoners will be happy to oblige. Keep focusing on the end goal. Brianna will be safe, and Hanover will be behind bars.”

  “You’re right.” Emma gathered up her things. “I’m getting something to eat. I’m starving. I’ll go to one of the local hangouts and check out the hot guys. Looking at eye candy will cheer me up. So will tomorrow, when I’ll go buy a new outfit for my Saturday meeting.”

  “Nothing too revealing,” Casey cautioned her. She was still protective of Emma after the outcome of her femme fatale role in their last case. “Just something… nice.”

  Emma well understood Casey’s concern. “Not to worry, boss. I promise to stay away from stuff that makes me look like I’ve been poured into it. All I need is something that will capture the scumbag’s attention—like a short skirt and a top that shows a little cleavage.”

  “Not too much cleavage.”

  “Yes, boss.” Emma grinned. “Why don’t you come shopping with me? It’ll make you feel better and it’ll be fun. I’ll even buy you lunch. Hey, it’s all going on the FI credit card. So the sky’s the limit.”

  “Good night, Emma.”

  “Is it a date?”

  Casey found herself grinning again. “Yeah, it’s a date.”

  * * *

  At precisely twelve noon on Saturday, Emma stood in front of Hanover’s office door. She ran her fingers through her hair, simultaneously inspecting her appearance. A pale blue V-neck top and a matching flair skirt that showed just enough leg, along with heels that were high enough to draw attention to her exposed skin. A tote bag rather than a backpack. Definitely a soft, feminine package.

  “Ready for action,” she muttered to Casey and Ryan.

  “Piece of cake, Kate,” Ryan replied in her ear. “Just find some target items and then get the hell out of there.”

  “Believe me, I’m not planning on hanging around.”

  She switched into Kate mode and knocked.

  “Yes?” Hanover’s cold response could have iced over the hallway.

  Pasting a nervous expression on her face, Emma slowly opened the door, pausing before taking a step inside. “Dr. Hanover?” The jerk was sitting behind his desk, wearing a sports coat and dress shirt, sitting as regally as if he were a king on his throne, and writing notes on students’ papers as if he were issuing edicts. “I’m here for our appointment.”

  He put down his work and turned his stare on Emma, swiftly eyeing her from head to toe—lingering a second or two on her breasts—in a way that made her want to take a shower.

  “Come in and shut the door,” he said. “Standing there like a terrified child won’t get you a passing grade.”

  Yeah, but unzipping your fly and taking care of you will, Emma thought with an internal shudder of revulsion.

  She walked into the room, closed the door, and immediately began to scan the place for items that were potential candidates for Hero’s scent pads.

  It was the typical boring educator’s office. Dull off-white walls. Heavy, ugly bookshelves filled with textbooks and other assorted course-related crap. A coatrack with a tweed sports jacket hanging from it. Unimpressive steel file cabinets. A matching steel desk with computer equipment that was archaic enough to make Ryan roll his eyes in disgust. No family photos. No personal touches.

  No surprise.

  The books and the computer keyboard had promise. Those would definitely be things that had Hanover’s scent on them. And the sports jacket—Emma had a few questions about that. But not just yet.

  She sat down across from Hanover, placing her tote bag on the floor and leaning over to search for a pad and pen, using that time to scrutinize the office more closely. There was a gym bag that had been carelessly tossed in the far right corner. The bag was unzipped, so Emma could see the sneakers and towel inside.

  Great find.

  “Are we going to get down to business or are you going to spend the time digging in your bag and shaking in your shoes?” Hanover demanded.

  Good, Emma thought. The scumbag assumes I’m rummaging around because I’m nervous.

  “I apologize,” she said, sitting up and arranging her writing material on her lap. “I’m not used to feeling so unprepared, either in a class or in a meeting with one of my professors.”

  Hanover sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers under his chin. “Have you had many meetings with professors? Am I to assume that means you were struggling in their classes, too?”

  Emma bit her lip. “Actually, no t
o both questions. I’ve always been considered to be an excellent student. Maybe the bar is set much higher at Stern—”

  “Or maybe it’s set much higher in my classes,” Hanover finished for her. “That’s quite probable, Miss Lowe. I’m a perfectionist. I expect the same from my students.” He slid open his narrow desk drawer to retrieve a pen.

  Emma leaned slightly forward to see as much of the drawer contents as she could, fully aware that Hanover thought she was offering him a closer look at her breasts.

  A comb, she mentally catalogued as she spied it. And the pen that he took out. Two more items for Casey to use.

  One more clothing item. Just in case he decides to take the gym bag home.

  That brought Emma’s thoughts back to the sports jacket. Why did he have it here when he was already wearing an equally serviceable jacket? She had a strong hunch—one it was time to pursue.

  The dialogue she was going for would require a delicate segue. But she had to pull it off so she’d know if the jacket would be an available option for Casey. And if her hunch paid off, it would be.

  With that, Emma’s curious gaze slid to the coatrack, and her eyes flickered over the sports coat—once, then twice.

  “Miss Lowe?” As expected, Hanover intercepted her look. “Are you seeking my help or assessing my wardrobe?”

  Emma’s tongue slid anxiously over her lips. “Both. I do want your guidance, and I’m willing to work hard to meet your requirements—any of them.” She crossed one shapely leg over the other, exposing a bit more thigh. “I’m also admiring your sports coat—I was thinking of getting something like that for my brother. He’s going on his first round of job interviews.”

  A slew of points for her. To begin with, Hanover had homed right in on her body language. His eyes were glittering, and he probably had a hard-on already. Also, he was visibly flattered that she’d considered his jacket—which was as bland as uncooked rice—fitting for a much younger man.

 
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