Chapter 3:

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 224

They sat stuck in traffic on the way to the meeting with their client. Cars had stopped in front of them and back of them as far as they could see in downtown L.A.

"How long have we been sitting here," Shayna asked.

"I think it's been an hour."

"The opening act should be hitting the stage at the Bowl now."

Austin looked ahead as the light turned green in the intersection ahead of them.

"Hopefully Julian and Buffy are having a good time," she said, "I don't think I'll be seeing Julian again."

Austin thought the neurosurgeon for all his advanced degrees was an idiot if he would not give her another chance.

"You liked him?"

She sighed.

"He was fine I guess, but I had hoped…"

He looked over as she glanced out of the window.

"He's not worth it if he's going to bail after one broken date."

She looked over at Austin.

"That's what I thought," she said, "but I still have a few men on my list."

Austin wanted to find that list and toss it out the window. He thought Shayna was going at this all wrong with this dating thing. You couldn't find someone who'd cut the mustard from an internet dating site, like...

"Shayna have you ever think about ditching that list?"

She looked at him suddenly.

"Why would I do that," she said, "Dylan's next."

Austin turned the car off of the gridlocked street into a dimly lit side street.

"Are you sure this is the right direction," she asked.

Austin peered through the windshield.

"I think it's just ahead," he said, "That building over there."

Ahead of them stood the two story concrete structure that constituted an office building that housed several different businesses. Their client owned several galleries in different cities and also had a late night radio show on one of L.A.'s alternative stations.

Austin pulled the car into the lot and parked in the visitor's section. They locked up after getting out and started heading towards the darkened building.

"There's no light inside," Shayna noted.

"Maybe he's in the back of the building."

They walked up the steps to the front porch and rung the doorbell. Inside, they could hear some rustling of blinds and footsteps and then the door opened. Alex Mondrian looked at them warily and then his mouth lifted in a slight smile. He stood as tall as the doorway and had salt and peppered hair, which framed his angular face. His body looked very fit from playing racquet ball and squash.

"You came…"

Austin and Shayna walked into the front room.

"You called and said you wanted to meet with us."

He led them to set down around a coffee table, and Shayna admired the artwork hanging on the walls. Mostly late Renaissance.

"Nice collection," she said.

He smiled wider.

"I collected them from auctions and galleries mostly in Europe," he said, "It's amazing what you can find at an artistic version of a garage sale."

"You've been at it for a while then," Austin said.

He nodded.

"Since I finished grad school at Yale," he said, "It's an addiction. Once you acquire your first painting, you can't stop."

Shayna smiled.

"I can see that."

"That painting that was missing, it was one of my favorites," Alex said, "Not the most valuable of course but a sentimental one."

"I see…we thought we caught up with the art thieves," she said, "but we got sidetracked."

"A few hundred miles," Austin added, "but we have a general area to look for it to pop up."

That was the nature of the beast he thought, a piece of art wouldn't stay in the shadows or under wraps for long before the thief would think about either fencing it or even seeking out unscrupulous art collectors to buy it.

"Where are you going to look for it," Alex asked.

"San Francisco would be my best bet," Austin said, "That's the tip that we'd gotten before we ran into those toughs at the train yard."

"Okay…so when do we get moving?"

Austin looked at Shayna.

"We've got some groundwork to do," he said, "I don't anticipate any movement before the end of the week on that end."

Alex nodded.

"Well call me if you need anything," he said.

"We'll do that," Shayna said, "Nice to work with you."

"You can call me whenever you want," he said, "Maybe we can get together."

Shayna looked at him and thought that could work. He was great looking and they both came had an appreciation for fine art.

"That'd be nice," she said, "after this case wraps up."

"Of course," he said, "I look forward to that."

Austin watched the two of them and then stood up.

"Shayna, we'd better get going," he said, "We've got a lot to do"

She looked over at him and nodded.

"Yeah, I've got some crosschecking to do on the latest information we received," she said, "Hopefully it's good news."

Alex took her hand in his and brought it to his lips.

"I look forward to a successful resolution to our working relationship," he said, "and the beginning of another relationship with you."

She smiled and he released her hand as she and Austin walked to the doorway. They said goodbye to their client and headed back to the car.

Traffic proved to be lighter on the way back to the office and the car soon reached the major street straight back to the building.

"He really seemed determined to bring this case to a close," Austin noted.

Shayna seemed distracted.

"I guess so," she said, "He seems like an interesting man."

"He really liked you," he said, "You going to see him after the case is done?"

She shrugged.

"I might if things with Dylan don't work out," she said, "and maybe Nathan."

He looked straight ahead.

"I doubt I'll be seeing any more of Buffy," he said, "I hoped she enjoyed the concert."

Shayna hid a smile.

"She really was looking forward to showing you her pom poms."

"Her what?"

"Never mind…I guess it's getting late."

Austin saw the familiar building up ahead and drove towards the underground garage. They parked their car in the empty lot and headed towards the elevator. The suite looked empty as they walked out and Shayna headed to her office to get on the computer. Austin headed on downstairs to get ready to take a hot shower He always did his best thinking while relaxing under the soothing waters.

Shayna had gotten herself some wine from the wet bar and settled on the couch, with her feet bare and tucked beneath her as she gazed at the computer screen. She looked up as Austin arrived dressed his robe, his hair damp from a shower.

"Are you…"

He grinned.

"No…though I could if you ask…"

She shook her head.

"I've had enough excitement for one night," she said, "I don't think I could handle anymore."

She admired his rugged body as she always did when she had a chance. She couldn't help herself, what woman could? But she looked and didn't touch and Austin sat down, closing his eyes to fully enjoy the release of his muscle tension.

"Sure you don't want to join me?"

It looked tempting but she could get into way too much trouble sitting in there with him. She had too much work left to complete and the minute she changed spent time relaxing here with him, he would dare her to do some silly thing guaranteed to make her blush.

"I'll pass," she said, "One of us has work to do."

"You know what they say about all work and no play…"

She chuckled.

"Austin, you relax here and I'll look up those case files."

"Doesn't seem fair that I have all the fun."

She glanced over at him, tempted but reminding herself…trouble lay ahead if she succumbed to his request to join him.

"I think the painting's going to show up in one of those underground auctions."

"Perhaps," he said, "Did Maureen book us a hotel suite close to the action?"

"Yeah…we got the executive suite for honeymooners," she said, "We're posing as a couple."

That piqued his interest. He wondered how much acting they would have to do to sell themselves in those roles.

"That means…"

She put up her hand.

"No it doesn't," she said, "Unless you want the bride to put the groom in the doghouse."

His brows rose.

"That might be fun," he said, "More cozy if you make it for two."

She shook her head at him, thinking he had to be serious; they did to adequately prepare for this assignment.

"Are you packed?"

He stretched his arms behind his head.

"I think so," he said, "I never know what to take to these indoor jobs. The rappelling gear of course is mandatory."

"Austin, I think we should only do that as a last resort."

He caught her grin though and remembered how much she had enjoyed it. The adrenalin rush that had filled them both after they had reached the ground and then had unhooked themselves and ran after their mark.

"Alex will be there too," Austin said, "That should make things more interesting."

"Why," she said, "He's just there to identify the painting."

Austin didn't say anything but he wasn't quite sure that he even trusted the art collector. It wouldn't be the first time a client tried to play them for fools. They both had friends or lovers who had even turned out to be on the wrong side of a case. A few painful lessons had been learned for both of them.

"Austin, is there something you aren't telling me?"

He hesitated.

"I just think we need to keep our eyes open…about everything."

Shayna nodded thinking that always made sense but Austin seemed preoccupied about something in this case…or someone.

"Maureen booked us on the train."

Austin glanced over, surprised.

"We're not taking the jet?"

Shayna shook her head.

"There's a guy we're supposed to meet and he's going to be on the Starliner."

Austin sighed, closing his eyes again.

"I thought we were finished with trains for a while," he said, "You know it might be part of our bail to stay off of them."

"Only applies to freight trains Austin."

"We going coach or business class," he asked.

"We got a cabin," she said, "It's a long trip especially since we're taking the historic train."

Austin had read about it in the Sunday section of the newspaper. Some eccentric millionaire had located the old train cars, dusted them off and then had them refurbished before donating them back to the company to do trips for the upper crust of society.

Shayna thought it sounded like a lot of fun. Especially since they would be traveling in much more comfortable accommodations than the last time.

"The cabins are nice," she said, "they fold out into berths and there's a mini bar."

"We have a reservation in the dining car to meet this guy," Austin said, "But there's not much information on even what he looks like."

Shayna shook his head, remembering how much she loved this job even though it did mess with her social life. But who knows, maybe after they finished the art caper, she might have a chance to find out if any sparks fired up between her and Alex. He looked promising enough to bump quite a few of the remaining men off of her list.

Except for one, but she had to put him out of her mind. She hadn't really included him on it anyway had she?

Buffy had called him and left a message at the office to pick up where they had left off but he had decided to tell her that he was leaving town for a while. She didn't seem too upset and said that Julian had turned out to be a good stand in for him.

Maureen and several other secretaries had crowded around him for signatures on various documents and he had deftly done them all in order. Dennis the accountant waited on line one to ask him why he and Shayna had decided to head off to San Francisco on such short notice.

"Well see it's like this Dennis, we have this really interesting case…"

Dennis sighed.

"Not again," he said, "Austin, you're supposed to be at a strategic session for the Mallory/Clark merger in a couple days in San Diego."

Austin pulled at his collar.

" I'm going to have to miss it but you know the file backward and forward."

"Austin you can't…"

"Dennis, you'll be just fine," he said, "You've spent hours practicing anyway for the final production and Max will help you with the details."

Austin could sense Dennis preening on the other end.

"Yes I have," he said, "Okay boss, I'm ready to handle everything, no need to worry."

"Good," Austin said, " Shayna and I will be leaving on the train to head up to look for that painting."

Dennis paused.

"I never knew either of you were that into art," he said, "The trip will be good for both of you."

Austin hoped it would prove to be successful at finding the location of the missing painting and getting it back. He hadn't been sure that adding Alex to the mix had been a wise idea. After all, he still wasn't sure how much he trusted the guy. And no, that had nothing to do with the fact that he had taken a shine to his beautiful associate.

He looked over at Shayna who was handling a phone call from one of the men on her list.

"Nathan, I'm not going to be able to make the movie premiere," she said, "I've got a prior engagement…no it's not with another guy…"

She shook her head at having to explain once again why her job came before her date. But really she had to begin setting some limits or she wasn't going to come close to even achieving her goal. As it was now, she had to extend her deadline out several more months at least.

"Is that Nathan," Austin asked.

He had gone to pour himself some Scotch as it had been one of those kinds of days. He wore dark jeans that hugged his build in a way that attracted her attention and a long-sleeved jersey with the sleeves rolled up. Another casual day at the office for the employees who worked inside the building including Shayna She wore a knit top that flattered her curves and hung softly over her faded denim. She wore her hair up which put her hoop earrings on display.

"Yeah…I had to cancel our plans because of this case," she said, "I'm really not good at this dating game."

He rubbed her shoulder.

"Things will settle down in a while," he said, "Why don't you take some time off after we finish this case?"

"Maybe I'll take you up on that," she said, "Maybe Alex will be up for something."

Austin arched his brow, surprised at the mention of their client. Was she really thinking about making him the focus of her five-point plan?

"You really like him?"

"He's the entire package Austin," she said, "He's nice, he loves what he does and he's sure not bad to look at."

"He's sure interested in you," Austin said, "but how well do you really know him?"

She looked him in the eye.

"How well do you really know Buffy?"

"Good point…but it's different," Austin said, "I don't think you should jump into anything with this guy."

She folded her arms.

"I'll consider your advice but you're acting like I'm two steps away from hitting the sheets with him and I'm far from it."

He looked away for a moment.

"It's none of my business," he said, "I just care about you and don't want you to get hurt."

She nodded.

"I feel the same way about you," she said, "So take it easy with Buffy."

"Oh she's hooked up with your concert date," Austin said, "They might have a good time together."

"Yeah…maybe," Shayna said, but a part of her wondered why she never would seem to make it work.

Austin put his empty glass down on the bar.

"We'd better wrap up some loose ends before we leave tomorrow," he said, "We've got a long trip."

The train ride would take almost 24 hours. They would leave the afternoon and be in the train station in the heart of San Francisco late the next morning. Besides meeting with their contact, she planned to catch up on some reading she had put off and relax in the cabin.

Austin looked over at her and thought about sharing close quarters with her for the long trip. They had done so before but somehow this trip felt different. He felt irked that Shayna had appeared so enthusiastic to hook up with Alex. Somehow, he felt that to be a mistake, better that she get together with someone like…no he couldn't be thinking about that. Not with the woman who had been his closest buddy for so many years but who had never strayed outside those lines with him.

They had flirted with those boundaries several times but one or both of them always pulled back. But somehow, he wondered if this case they worked on that would take them up to one of the most exciting cities in the country would turn out somewhat differently.

Because she was just too beautiful to resist.

The two of them boarded the train the next day and tried to find their reserved cabin.

"This one looks so much more comfortable than the last one we rode," Austin commented.

They passed the conductor who was dressed in an old-style uniform and walked down the narrow corridor of the rail car.

"It looks very impressive," Shayna. said, "Look at the décor on the walls and the trim."

They walked and looked at the numbers on the door. It had been a hectic day already as they had a last minute meeting with Max via phone conference to settle before they decided it would be quicker to take the helicopter to Union Station rather than try to navigate the busy streets. They landed on a helipad on a nearby building owned by a family friend of Austin and then they took one of his friend's car the several blocks to the station. Hundreds of travelers flocked the front of the station being directed by security and when they walked inside the historic building, they saw a similar site. People crashed in the chairs to wait, lined the bagel shop and the resident bird population fluttered around the rafters.

They stood in line, already having their tickets but were soon ushered to another line for those who booked cabins. Both had dressed casually for travel but they planned to dress up for their dinner meeting with their contact.

"Austin, I just want to crash for a little while," Shayna said, "Then maybe look around."

Austin nodded, thinking that sounded like a plan. They finally reached the right cabin and used the card key to access it. The inside of it looked spacious, with two opposing lounges that could be converted into a bed.

Shayna arched her brow at Austin.

"I guess we'll have to flip for it."

" Shayna …you can take it," he said, "I'll sleep on the lounge."

The cabin also had nice curtains on the windows and a small restroom which included an even smaller shower.

"It's pretty nice," she said, throwing her bag on the floor beside one of the lounges and sitting down on it. She reached to take off her shoes. Austin put his bags down and sat down as well, across from her. They eyed the fruit basket and Shayna walked over to it to get an apple, tossing one to Austin.

"Nice…is that wine?"

Austin picked up the bottle and examined it.

"Not a bad vintage either," he said, "We're traveling in style."

Shayna smiled, stretching out on the lounge while eating her apple.

"Better pillows too, not bags of grain."

He looked at her critically.

"I think you used me as your pillow as I recall."

"True…you weren't so bad either," she said, "I can see why the women like you."

He rubbed his eyes.

"Buffy called before we left," he said, "She and Julian are seeing each other so she said he had called to let me down easily."

Shayna chuckled.

"That was nice of her," she said, "Face it Austin, your tendency to have to take off from your dates at a moment's notice is going to put a damper on your social life especially since most of the time you leave, it's with me."

"Buffy did ask if you…we were seeing each other outside of work."

Shayna sighed.

"See, I've had three men I've dated in a row, all from the list, ask me the same thing," she said, "but they should just understand that just because a man and woman work together, doesn't mean they're sleeping together."

Austin stretched his legs out while looking at the activity outside his window.

"Well, we have slept together quite a few times."

"Not quite what they're talking about Austin," she said, "but nothing's happened between us and those we date should understand that and just accept it."

He agreed with that and then the train finally started to move.

Shayna had napped for a while, falling asleep without realizing it and then suddenly waking up to see Austin asleep on his lounge. She got up and stretched, then decided to go pick up something to snack on in the observation level. She left the cabin quietly and proceeded down the hallway, up to take a flight of stairs to the upper deck. The compartment was quite roomy with chairs and tables, where people played cards or worked on laptops. Glass surrounded on the sides and a huge skylight dominated the ceiling. Raindrops had splashed across it and Shayna noticed that the sky appeared grey and forlorn over the neighborhood that they breezed past each second.

She walked to the bar where they sold light snacks and drinks and brought a wine spritzer which tasted a bit fruity and then walked back to a seat where she could gaze out the window. A man dressed in a dark business suit sat alone in a seat towards the rear of the car. Shayna sat down and stretched out, looking out into the rain as emerald green hills replaced the previous urban scenery.

Austin probably would be out for the rest of the afternoon. He had spent hours the previous night doing the final recognizance for their trip and he had been very tired. A few hours of napping would make him right. On the other hand, she had felt groggy when she had awakened but walking for a few minutes had invigorated her.

"Excuse me," a man said.

She looked up and it was the man in the dark suit.

"Is there a problem?"

He shook his head and she saw that he looked quite handsome with ink black hair combed back and a muscular frame.

"I couldn't help but notice how beautiful you look sitting by the window," he said, "I'm Simon West."

She looked at him then shook the hand he offered.

"I'm…Claudia Jackson," she said, remembering her alias, "I've never seen a train so impressive."

"Ah she is, isn't she," he said, "I'm going to San Francisco on business and you?"

She smiled.

"I'm traveling up to the Bay Area with my husband Guy," she said, "We're on a second honeymoon."

She thought that was how their back story went for the latest characters they would be playing in this case. Looking down at the wedding band which was on loan, she thought she'd played tougher roles than this in her past.

"San Francisco is one of the most romantic cities in this country," Simon said, "You'll find there's much to enjoy, much to see."

She nodded.

"It's our second visit," she said, "We're going to all the sights in between doing other things of course."

He smiled back at her.

"I can imagine…a lovely lady like yourself…I hope he realizes how lucky he is," he said.

"Oh he does and when he doesn't I'm there to remind him."

He chuckled easily enough but Shayna noted some tension in his face, a trace of wariness in his eyes. Clearly something lay hidden there.

"How does he take care of a woman like you?"

She almost rolled her eyes at him but held them in check.

"We both work," she said, "In fact I make more money than he does…you see he's the creative mind and I'm the business mind."

"I see…so you involve yourself in business deals?"

She looked up at him.

"If they're prudent ones where I can get a lot more return than invested, then yes."

"I agree with your reasoning," Simon said, "I'm looking for a good business deal myself. I'm into well known painters…"

Shayna smiled, as she listened to him.

Austin woke up and looked around the cabin. He looked outside and noticed that rain had sprinkled the window and that the scenery had changed to more rural. Shayna 's novel was on her lounge and she had clearly left to go look around the train.

His cell phone rang.

"Hello Dennis…"

"Hi Austin…I'm just calling to tell you that the final paperwork for that merger is done," Murray said, "Do you want me to fax a copy to your hotel?"

"No that's fine. It can wait until I return but do send a copy to the other partners in the deal in case they haven't received theirs."

"Will do… How's your trip?"

"It's going smoothly," Austin said, "We'll call you when we arrive at the hotel."

"Fine…and Austin, I did put some money aside from the business account for Max to use as bail if it becomes necessary."

"I don't think it's needed but it never hurts to be prepared."

He said goodbye to Dennis and decided to go check out the train himself. It had been years since he had traveled on the heritage train.

The corridor had been filled with people earlier but looked empty too. He walked up the stairs to the observation deck and saw Shayna talking to a gentleman. She saw him too and smiled at him, turning to say something to the gentleman sitting with her.

"Honey, did you have a nice rest?"

She got up and wrapped her arms around and him, kissing him softly on the mouth which he really liked. Her lips only brushed against him but he liked how they felt. And he kissed her back, as she stroked his back.

They broke it off after a moment and then she took his hand in her own and turned to look at Simon.

"This is Guy…my husband."

Austin looked over at Simon, sizing him up and Shayna patted for him to sit next to her.

"We're just talking about business deals," she told him, "but I told him that you're of more of an artistic bent."

He looked at her and then nodded.

"I leave the business talk to the little missus," he said.

She raised a brow at him and he just smiled back just for her.

"Well…yes…I'm totally lost when it comes to discussing art," she said, "so I pretend to listen to be polite."

Simon looked at both of them.

"I see…well your charming wife had made this afternoon a most enjoyable one for me," he said,

Austin ordered a Scotch from the attendant who approached them.

"Very nice view outside," he said, "Weather's taken a turn I see."

Simon nodded.

"It's like this at this time of year," he said, "but it makes everything so green."

"I agree," Shayna said, "and honey, having such an artistic…bent, you can see all the possibilities for expression."

"I mostly paint horses," Austin said, "and I'm branching out into landscapes."

"I see," Simon said, "Did you bring any work of yours with you?"

"I'm strictly a hobbyist painter," Austin said, "An amateur but I collect various paintings from different eras."

"So do I," Simon said, "I'm going to check out a couple of galleries in San Francisco to add to my collection."

"That sounds promising," Shayna said, "Guy's going to tool around a couple places but we're here for other reasons."

Austin nodded.

"It's time to get the little lady pregnant."

Shayna almost dropped her wine glass.

"Excuse me honey?"

Austin winked at her.

"In between visiting all the tourist sites of course," he said, "but we're on a tight schedule here."

She nearly kicked him beneath the table and Simon looked at them a little oddly.

"I have to apologize to you for my husband's…frankness but he's been awfully stressed lately."

Of course Austin didn't miss a beat.

"That's what this trip's all about," he said, "to help me relax which I plan to do with my beautiful wife."

Simon furrowed his brow. Trying to figure them out no doubt, Shayna mused; Austin certainly was embracing his role very much. But he really needed to tone it down, not go overboard. Maybe a little nudge with the foot…

Austin looked up at her in surprise.

"Why honey, I thought we were going to wait until later…"

She sighed.

"Guy…darling…isn't the scenery breathtaking?"

Austin looked at the woman in front of him and couldn't argue with that.

"So you two have been married long," Simon asked.

The two of them looked at each other.

"Five…"

"Six…months," Shayna said, "Guy, you're not counting the original wedding with the justice of the peace."

Austin nodded.

"We couldn't wait…so we went to City Hall to make it official," he said, "and then held a ceremony a month later for family and friends right on the beach at sunset in Maui."

Shayna found herself envisioning that and lost her train of thought.

"Oh yeah…right…it was so lovely."

Simon nodded.

"I can imagine," he said, then looked at his watch, "Well I've got a conference phone call to make. It's been nice meeting you."

They said likewise and he walked away. Shayna turned to look at Austin.

"I could just…"

"Shhh darling, we're supposed to be blissful newlyweds here," he said, "Come on over here closer."

She looked at him side wise.

"Like hell I will," she said, "I can't believe you made that comment about…"

"Getting you pregnant," he finished, "Yeah…I thought that worked quite well."

She just stared at him, arms folded.

"Maybe we should have picked another cover," she said, "I don't think this is going to work."

"Of course it will," he said, "Besides it's too late now."

He did have a point there, and he amplified it by putting his arm around her and drawing her close. She just sighed and rested her head against him as they looked out the window, at the scenery flying right by.

"By the way, you sure know how to knock a guy off of his game," he commented.

"What…?"

"That kiss you just planted on me," he said, "Really something."

"Austin…it was just a friendly gesture," she said, "Hardly my best."

"We could…"

"Drop it or I'll drop you."

He let it rest but the feistiness it brought out in her just encouraged him to file it all away for a later time.

"How's the wine?"

"It's actually quite nice," she said, "This is actually quite relaxing. The past few days have been…hectic."

He agreed.

"We've got that dinner meeting and then I heard there's some dancing," he said, "or we could head back to the cabin."

"Maybe we should do that," she said, "We've still got a lot of planning to do before we reach the hotel."

He had to agree with that but there was no reason why they couldn't have some fun.

"How about a little dancing and then work?"

She looked at him funny.

"I don't know…"

He brushed the hair out of her face.

"What are you doing…."

He raised a brow at her and smiled.

"This…"

And he kissed her again, and this time his lips lingered on hers. She relaxed into it because after all, it was part of playing the role of newlyweds in public right? It was part of the case they had taken up involving a missing painting and a tendency towards spending time on trains.

He released her finally and they looked at each other. Then his eyebrows waggle.

"Got ya…"

Oh she so wanted to drop kick him about now but there were too many witnesses. So she did something else.

 


Submitted: April 04, 2012

© Copyright 2022 Marzy Dotes. All rights reserved.

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