“I thought I heard a familiar voice,” she said while rounding the corner.
Rob turned. His eyes widened.
His deer-in-headlights look wasn’t what stopped Monique in her tracks. The person standing beside him did the trick.
Well, well, well. Within seconds, she regained her composure and approached with a smile. “Fancy meeting you here!” She leaned in for a hug.
“Hello, Monique.” His embrace was lukewarm and brief.
Monique’s eyes slid to his lunch date.
“Ashley, we meet again.”
“Small world, isn’t it?” she said with a smile as fake as her weave.
Monique watched her ex study a menu board he knew by heart. “Rob, can I speak with you for a second?”
Ashley subtly entwined her arm with his. Rob remained silent. Monique’s brow arched.
“Now’s not a good time,” he finally said after clearing his throat. “Why don’t you call me later?”
“It will only be a second. I want your opinion on a…project. I’m sure Ashley won’t mind.”
“Oh, you want to speak with him privately? The way I wanted to speak with Niko when you were around?” Laughing, she turned to the menu.
Rob placed his order. “How long are you in town?”
“Call my office tomorrow. We can talk about your project then.”
The server came out with Monique’s order. Just as well since Rob’s back to her was a fairly clear sign that the talk between them was done. She exited the eatery, thoughts going in a thousand directions. What is Ashley doing here? With Rob, of all people! She reached her car and quickly drove off, the delicious falafel all but forgotten. Instead she chewed on what she’d just seen. A situation that required a second opinion. She dialed Lance and told him what had happened.
“What do you make of it?”
“It’s definitely interesting.” Monique imagined him squinting and rubbing his fingers together as he often did while deep in thought. “How did they meet?”
“I can’t imagine the coincidence of their meeting here. It had to have been during his last visit to Paradise Cove. We argued. He left early. Looks like Ashley was somewhere between my house and the airport.”
“And you say she’s friends with Niko?”
“They used to date, but are just friends now.”
“Convenient, wouldn’t you say?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your ex comes to P.C., spends a weekend, and weeks later you see Niko’s friend all cozy with him.”
“I’m not sure I follow.” Truth was, she didn’t want to.
“Niko met Rob. Niko knows Ashley. Niko’s an independent. Connect the dots.”
“You think he’s behind it?”
“A guy who was leading by more than ten points is now leading by three? With just a couple weeks until the election? Absolutely.”
“Do you still think I can win?”
“Good answer. I’m at the car-rental place, and when I get to the airport, I’ll be working on the script for tomorrow’s shoot. If I need you to come over tonight—”
“Just give me a call.”
“Don’t worry about a thing, Mo. We’ll get it done.”
* * *
Niko sat in his darkened home office, sipping a rare snifter of brandy. It had been a long day. His body was tired. But his mind was wide-awake. Who could have given Dick’s people the information on Monique? He rested his head against the office chair, slowly swiveled back and forth. Terrell was right. The Schneider family knew a lot of people. It could be anyone.
Deep in thought, he didn’t hear the doorbell. But when it buzzed a second time, he set down his glass and walked to the door. Rare that he had unexpected company. Monique, perhaps? He quickened his steps and looked through the peephole.
“What’s up, Terrell?” He glanced at the wall clock. “It’s rather late for visiting hours.”
“That rule doesn’t apply to family.” He followed behind Niko.
“Come on back. I’m in the office. Want something to drink?”
“No, I’m good.” Terrell plopped into an office chair. “Just left a little birthday bash over at The Groove.”