Merciless

By: Diana Palmer

1




The attractive blonde sitting on the chair beside Jon Blackhawk’s desk in the San Antonio FBI office was as irritating as most of the prospective brides his well-meaning mother threw at his head. He was impatient and half out of humor already, with testimony on an upcoming court case awaiting him. This woman’s fascination with the latest trend in hairstyles was leading him to think of bars. And he never took a drink.

“See, mine was done by Mr. James at Sherigan’s,” she continued, indicating her haircut, which looked quite frankly as if someone had put her head in a blender. He bit his tongue trying not to make the comment out loud. “He could do wonders for you. That long hair is so retro!”

There was a perfunctory knock at the door and his administrative assistant, Joceline Perry, stuck her head in the door. “Excuse me, Mr. Blackhawk, but you’re due in court in ten minutes.”

He nodded, forcing himself not to dance on the desk with glee. It would have been totally out of character, but the past thirty minutes of fashion information had left him feeling brainless.

He got to his feet. “It was good to see you, Charlene. Please give my love to my mother when you see her.”

“I’ll be seeing her tonight, since we’re going to the theater together. It’s a production of that romantic comedy that Shakespeare wrote, in a modern setting,” she enthused. “Your mother has three tickets to it,” she added with a hopeful smile.

He cleared his throat and tried desperately to think of an excuse.

Joceline, her blue eyes twinkling, interjected, “There’s that meeting with your informer tonight at seven,” she lied.

“Oh. Oh, yes, thank you,” he said, trying not to sound as relieved as he felt. “Another time, perhaps,” he told Charlene.

She shrugged. “I suppose your job requires you to do things at odd times,” she said. “You might think about another profession,” she said with a thoughtful frown. “I mean, if you get married, you won’t have time for these evening job-related thingies.”

His black eyes glittered. “I have no plans to marry.”

She gave him an odd look. “Your mother said you were ready to start a family,” she said blandly.

The glare darkened. “My mother has plans of her own. They are not mine,” he added firmly.

Charlene gave him a charming smile and touched the sleeve of his gray suit jacket with a well-manicured hand. “Well, most men don’t want to marry and have a family, until they realize how nice it is.”

He didn’t bend an inch.

Charlene sighed. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” she ventured.

“It was, however, sacked by Charles V and his forces in one of the most violent attacks in military history,” Joceline said with a sigh. “The Pope was forced to flee for his life.” Her blue eyes went dreamy in their frame of short, straight black hair that just covered her small ears. “Charles V was the father-in-law of Mary Tudor, who was the sister of Elizabeth the First. Mary was in her thirties and Philip II was in his twenties when they married. It was a very strange match. But royalty in the sixteenth century was somewhat different in attitude.” She smiled. “Do you study history?” she asked Charlene.

“Ugh,” Charlene said, and shuddered dramatically. “What a sick and horrible subject. Old dead people.”

Joceline’s eyebrows arched. “The past determines the future,” she said. “For instance, did you know that in seventeenth-century America, women were accused of witchcraft and hanged for any sort of misbehavior?” She cocked her head. “That blouse you’re wearing would have landed you in a river in Massachusetts in no time. You see, there was a common belief that only witches floated when thrown into bodies of water,” she added helpfully. She smiled again.

Charlene gave her a blank look. “This is the latest fashion,” she pointed out. She glared at Joceline’s neat black skirt, small-heeled black shoes and blue button-up blouse. “You might have been jailed for having such awful fashion sense,” she countered with contempt.

“No, no, they didn’t jail people for that,” Joceline replied smoothly. “They put them in stocks, but not for being conservatively dressed.” She cocked her head again. “However, women who cheated on their husbands were branded with a large letter A.”