Feel Me - Chapter One
I stare at the name plate perched on my father’s desk: District Attorney Miles Fenske. It proclaims his position, allowing those who read it a glimpse of what he’s accomplished. Yet it’s only a glimpse. It’s not a true representation of all he is or all he means to me. The name plate is cheap, unlike the generous soul who looks back at me with the same gentle gaze he’s carried since the first moment I saw him. What are you thinking, Melissa? He signs to me, moving his hands in beautifully fluid motions.
We’re alone in his office. He doesn’t need to sign to keep our conversation private. He could whisper, and I would still be able to read his lips. But he knows I’m more comfortable communicating with my hands, probably because American Sign Language is one of the many things we learned together. As a child, I considered it our very own secret language, something he and I could share away from the hearing world.
That you’re making a mistake, I sign back.
My comment earns me a smile, but I can see his concern, despite the crinkles around his eyes that deepen when he grins. “You’re going to have to trust me,” he says aloud.
I let out a breath. He knows I trust him. How could I not?
I was brought to the Lehigh Valley District Attorney’s office when I was about six years old, after my biological mother had attempted to sell me in exchange for drugs. My mother probably thought it was a brilliant plan. Being born with profound hearing loss, I couldn’t speak or communicate, and there was much I didn’t understand. I wouldn’t be able to tell anyone what happened. Not that I didn’t know it was wrong.
My primal instincts ordered me to run, that I was in danger, so I did―thank God I did. I kicked and fought, dodging the hands trying to grab me, scurrying out a window and onto the fire escape.
To this day, I remember the way the cold metal grating felt against my bare feet, and how I struggled to form what I thought were words as I banged on my elderly neighbor’s window. Miss Lena, the lady with too many cats and twice as many grandchildren, yanked me into her apartment when she saw me. She called the police, but by the time they arrived, my mother was gone.
I never saw her again, not that I regret it.
My eyes sting as I look to my father. My mother’s actions were horrific. Her callousness still haunts me. But my escape forced her from my life and led me to this wonderful man who’s only ever shown me kindness.
I was placed in foster care, confused and frightened about what was happening and certain I’d eventually return “home.” Instead, I was brought before the young Assistant D.A. Miles Fenske. He was supposed to handle my case, dispose of it, and move on. He was never supposed to welcome me into his heart. Yet he did.
“Melissa,” he says. His words aren’t clear―not as clear as they can be. My hearing aids can only do so much, but I hear enough to sense the emotion in the way he speaks my name. “Why are you so sad?”
I raise my chin. “Declan O’Brien will never be the man you are. He’s not the right D.A. for this position.” I shake my head. “He belongs in the Trial Unit, Arson, Fugitive, anywhere else but where you’ve placed him.”
“I know you don’t like him . . .”
I raise my brows.
“. . . and that your interactions with him haven’t always been positive . . .”
“That’s because he was an asshole,” I mumble.
He chuckles. “I assure you, he never meant to offend you and deeply regrets his actions. Declan is smart, resourceful, and kind.”
I don’t agree. Not completely. Is Declan intelligent? Brilliantly so, and absurdly astute in court. With short wavy blond hair and a dashing grin that lights his blue eyes, he’s also gorgeous and he knows it. My problem is, he probably knows I know it, too.
As far as being kind . . . I don’t know. I just don’t know about him. “He’ll never be the man you are,” I repeat.
“I’m not asking him to be. I simply want the best person for the job, someone who will help the victims who need him most.”
“That’s what you claim. But he doesn’t have experience handling delicate cases where offenders often inflict irreparable trauma.”
“No, but as the head of Victim Services, you do,” he offers with a knowing grin.
My nails dig into the wooden armrests. “If you’re trying to hook us up, I’m going to be seriously mad at you.”
The edges of his mouth curve. “I’m only asking you to help Declan as he transitions into his new role. This new assignment won’t be easy on him.”
“Because he doesn’t want it. He wants to be the head of Homicide.” I stand with my hands out, pleading. “Daddy, please reassign him. The Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit is not where someone who seeks glory belongs.”
My voice trails as I catch a glimmer of his pain. “Daddy?”
At once, he grimaces, his face flushing red only to grow alarmingly pale. I race around his desk, clutching his shoulders to keep him upright.
Perspiration gathers along his receding hairline as he presses his hand to his side. It’s only because he lifts his bowed head and a healthier shade of pink flushes his cheeks that I’m not screaming for help and dialing 911. “Daddy?”
He offers me a weak smile and pats my arm. “I’m all right,” he says, leaning back in his chair.
“No, you’re not,” I say, my throat tightening. His light blue dress shirt clings with sweat along his arms and plump midsection. He’s not well. My father is . . . sick. “What aren’t you telling me?”
His hand slowly eases away from his side, his eyes scanning my face as they’ve done a thousand times throughout my life. “The doctors discovered new tumors along my colon,” he finally says. “They’re planning to resection my bowel and dispose of the affected area with the hope of avoiding chemo this time.”
Very carefully, I straighten. My heartbeat slows to a dull thud, and my legs feel unsteady. I want to cry, and maybe scream, but nothing comes except that awful silence that accompanies bad news.
My father was diagnosed with colon cancer years ago and barely survived the aggressive treatment. If it’s returned, now that he’s older, and not as healthy . . .
“When were you going to tell me?” I ask, my fear worsening my speech impediment and causing the words to spill in shaky spurts.
He sighs. “Friday, over dinner.”
To give me the weekend to absorb it, no doubt. “And your surgery? When is that?”
“A few weeks.” He frowns as if debating what to say. “I’ll be out of commission for a while. In my absence, Declan will lead the office as acting District Attorney.” He looks at me then. “I need you to help him, Melissa. Regardless of your feelings toward him, you have to help him.”
“This isn’t where I fucking belong.”
I’m beyond pissed, and spent the last hour typing my resignation letter. Each version I drafted ranged from a polite no thank you to a professional fuck you. I deleted each one. As much as I don’t want to head the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit, I’m not a quitter.
“Fuck,” I mumble, pinching the bridge of my nose. “Fuck.”
My brother Curran crosses his arms over his chest, not caring how it creases the shirt of his Philly PD uniform. Curran doesn’t care about shit like that. He would perform official duties in jeans if given the choice. “It’s still a promotion, Deck,” he says. “You got this D.A. spot straight out of law school and have made more of a name for yourself than most douche-bag attorneys ever will.” He holds out a hand. “No offense to the douche-bag attorneys of the world.”
“That’s my point. After all I’ve accomplished, I should be leading Homicide.”
I shove away from my desk and pace. When Miles gave me these new digs, I thought it was the start of all the good things coming my way. When he assigned me a county car and personal assistant, it reinforced that my hard work had paid off. I was on my way, until I wasn’t.
“I spent months dismantling a mafia empire, Curran.”
“I know,” he says. “I was there.”
“I brought down a major crime boss―and another one after that.”
“Yup. Saw that, too,” he agrees.
“And I received international attention for putting the Kensington Strangler away for twelve consecutive life terms. All that work, all that sacrifice, for what? To be shoved someplace I don’t belong.”
“Why don’t you think you belong there?”
Out of my five brothers, Curran is probably the biggest ball-buster. Wren, our sister, is a close second. But he’s not messing with me now. He’s dead serious.
“Do you want to hear about babies being beaten or women dragged into alleys and raped? Day in and day out?” I ask. “These are the cases I’m going to be dealing with.”
“Someone has to do it, Deck. It’s the right thing.”
“I’m not saying it isn’t. I’m only saying I’m not the man for this job. These low-life assholes shouldn’t be allowed to breathe the same air as us.”
“Is this about Finnie?” He huffs when I straighten and don’t answer. “Christ,” he mutters. “I suppose it’s about Wren, too.”
Just like that, my brother nails it on the head. For all he sometimes pisses me off, Curran isn’t stupid. “Finnie didn’t deserve what happened to him,” I say, my anger burning down to my gut. “And neither did Wren.”
“Of course they didn’t,” Curran snaps. “No one does. But as their brother, you owe it to them to put these pricks away.”
I sit back in my chair and rub my jaw. “I don’t know if I can.”
Our youngest brother was sexually assaulted by a neighbor when he was ten. It screwed with his mind, and despite his jokes and his good days, those demons he buried deep came close to killing him. Yeah, we knew he was in trouble and tried to get him help. But we weren’t enough, and spent too many sleepless nights waiting for that call that told us he was gone. Finnie . . . he fought his way through it like the brawler he is. We thought we were going to be okay. But after what happened to Wren, it’s like all of us took a step back right into hell.
“Shit,” I mutter, leaning back in my office chair.
Nothing bad was supposed to happen to Finnie. He was the baby. The one who counted on us. And Wren, as the only girl in a family with seven kids, she was supposed to be safe from harm. But she wasn’t, even with six hulking brothers ready to step in if anyone tried to fuck with her.
With this new assignment―hearing stories like Finnie’s on a regular basis? Talking to women who’d been abused—God damn it. Wren and Finnie just barely survived and the rest of us barely survived right along with them.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I say yet again.
“Deck, you have to, man.”
A knock to the door interrupts us. I know who it is before I even ask. “Come in,” I say, assuming my attorney pose because for now, I have to. For now, I’m a professional. Even if all the Philly boy in me wants to do is rage.
My boss, Miles Fenske walks in, followed by his daughter Melissa. Miles smiles warmly, nodding my way.
Mel? What can I say? She’s the one person who’s never been taken by my charm. Today’s no different. Unlike the other women who work here, from interns to attorneys, she doesn’t meet me with a grin, flash a little leg, or pretend to flirt. Her hair is brown and her eyes are almost as dark. Nothing extraordinary about her appearance, right?
Damn, I wish that were true. Her creamy skin makes her hair and eyes stand out, as if that killer hourglass figure isn’t enough. And don’t get me started on her lips. They look like they’ve been dipped in honey and soften her look further, despite her steel-hard exterior.
She walks in with her hips swinging, her bright red dress hugging her curves. With an unyielding stare she meets my eyes, giving nothing away, no matter how hard I’ve chipped at that armor.
Mel doesn’t like me. Not that I blame her considering the way I keep wrecking each rare moment we find ourselves alone. Of course, she has to be the one woman I can’t get out of my mind . . .
“How are you, Declan?” Miles asks.
I reply with a stiff nod rather than the grin I usually offer him. This is a man I admire the hell out of. Not just because of what he’s accomplished in the political arena and in the judicial circuit, but because he’s a good man. Not someone trying to be good. Just someone who is, a rare entity in the circles we frequent.
Today that smile is not going to happen. Whether he meant to or not, the old man screwed me. Yesterday, when he called me into his office, I thought it was to tell me I would head Homicide or maybe White Collar. SACU was not where I expected to land, ever.
“I’m well, Miles. And you?” I ask. Pissed or not, I won’t disrespect him, especially in front of his daughter.
“Fine. Thank you,” he responds. His deep voice is pleasant as always, but for some reason Melissa bristles. As her father looks to Curran and shakes his hand, my eyes trail to her.
“Mel,” I say, adding a subtle tilt of my chin. It’s not much of a greeting, but it’s more than she’s ever offered me. I don’t think she’s ever smiled in my presence. But it’s not like I don’t deserve it. Hell, I still cringe when I think about the first time we met, and every moment that followed.
“Declan,” she replies. Her voice is clear enough to understand, but similar to those with significant hearing loss. Miles mentioned she learned to speak late in life, and that she articulates in the way she hears others. But her voice isn’t what gives me pause.
This is the first time she hasn’t addressed me by my title.
Miles laughs at something Curran says before Curran turns and lifts his hand. “Gotta run. See youz later.”
“Later, Curran,” I say. I keep my attention on Melissa, motioning for her and Miles to sit as I resume my professional pose.
Curran grins at Melissa. Before she can take a seat, he signs something I don’t understand. Whatever it is brings out a smile I’ve never managed to stir. She signs in return, her reply making him laugh out loud.
I don’t have to guess they’re talking about me, because that’s what they do. The hard stare I toss my brother’s way is enough to let him know today is not the day to piss me off. He winks and grins anyway since sometimes, no matter what, Curran could give a damn.
Miles waits for Curran to shut the door behind him before speaking. “So, from what I’ve gathered, SACU isn’t the unit you expected to lead,” he begins.
“No,” I agree. “Head of Homicide is the position I’ve always sought. You’ve known that since I was first sworn in.” I’m all about being professional. But professional doesn’t equate to pussy.
Melissa’s attention cuts to her father, every speck of her gorgeous face reflecting her disappointment. She knows SACU is the last place I want to be. It’s also the last place she wants me.
Miles maintains his pleasant demeanor, but he’s not a pussy either. “I want the best attorneys I have to run SACU and Homicide. That’s you and Zabrinski.” He considers me for a moment. “It’s only fair to tell you that for the time being, Zabrinski isn’t stepping down as Head of Homicide.”
None of this makes sense. Zabrinski’s been talking about retiring for as long as I’ve known him. He told me last week he’s putting his house on the market. As soon as it sells, he’s moving to Florida where he and his wife built a house along the coast. “Why?”
“He’s staying on as a favor to me,” Miles explains, all traces of his smile gone. “I’m taking a leave of absence in the coming weeks. I need Zabrinski where he is and you in SACU until he steps down.”
“Are you saying my assignment in SACU is temporary?” I keep my tone even, unsure where he’s headed. Miles could have told me all this shit yesterday when the new assignments were given instead of letting me stew in my rage.
“It can be whatever you want it to be,” Miles answers. “The choice is yours. During my absence you’ll be assigned as acting D.A.”
“I know it’s a lot to ask to head a unit you’re new to, and run the office. But I know I can count on you and that you’re up for the challenge.”
He’s not asking me if I want the promotion. He’s handing it to me, believing I’ll take it.
He motions to Mel. “Melissa will work with the victims of each case you’re assigned, as well as continue to run the victim services division statewide. Chief Lee will manage his detectives and any matters involving law enforcement personnel, and Shayleen will see to the non-legal staff as their duties have always required.”
So business as usual minus Miles, and with me front and center. “Is the governor aware of your plans?” I ask, trying to gauge what he’s giving me versus what she knows.
“She is. And if you prove yourself like I know you will, she’ll back you as D.A. when my term is up and swear you in should I step down.”
Everything grounds to a halt as I latch onto those last three words he said. “Why would you step down?”
Melissa glances down at her hands when he doesn’t answer right away. Now I know this offer isn’t good despite the silver platter he’s serving it on.
“I may be leaving the public sector earlier than I intended.” He shrugs. “After a lifetime of serving, it may be time.”
Before his term is up? No way. Miles Fenske is one of the hardest working men I know. He’s either being asked to leave, which is impossible if he’s calling the shots, or he can’t stay.
My neck tenses in that way it always does when I know shit’s going downhill fast. Without actually saying it, Miles is handing me everything I’ve wanted. I should be losing my damn mind. But I can’t. Something’s really wrong here.
Miles maintains his cool demeanor, and although Mel’s trying not to give anything away, I can tell she’s upset. I take a good look at her. No . . . she’s not upset.
Her heart is breaking right in front of me.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
The corners of his mouth tilt. “I’m giving you the chance to take over. After the years I’ve spent grooming you, I think you’re ready.”
“I meant with you.” My attention skips to Melissa since Miles is holding back. As always, she adds another coat of mortar to that wall she’s built around herself. But this time I see it, a crack in that protection she keeps so firmly in place. She’s seconds from losing it.
I meet Miles square in the face. “Are you sick?” I ask.
His stance grows rigid. In the silence that follows he takes a moment to gather his words. He doesn’t want to tell me. But I need answers and no one is leaving until I have them.
“I have cancer,” Miles answers me simply. “I have to make sure this office is taken care of, no matter what happens.”
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