Monica smiled wide as she exited the police station. It helped having one of Norman’s friends work here. She didn’t tell him about who she saw enter the drugstore, but discovered some helpful information nonetheless.
Apparently, Michael Zambino was the true owner of the drugstore, and the person who managed it was Damien Chiappa. The surname, Zambino, was well known around Chicago, mainly because of his wealthy Italian family. They owned a joint called The Pasta Cottage. She’d heard of this restaurant, too. Although the name gave the impression it would be more laid-back, the upper-class people dined there which made the place very ritzy. On the weekends, there would be a full band to jazz up the atmosphere.
Although she shouldn’t do it, determination controlled her thoughts. She would go to this restaurant tonight in hopes of hearing some important information.
Dolling herself up had always been a chore since she was as plain as any woman could be, but tonight she tried to dress as feminine as Anna. Monica chose one of Anna’s hand-me-down-because-I-lost-weight dresses; a lovely pastel blue with white trim that showed more of her knees and thighs than she’d wanted. At least the color accented her eyes, and the black-heeled shoes were the style all the girls wore because it made their ankles appear slim. She left her hair long and flowing down her back, but she pulled back the sides away from her face with fake diamond-studded combs. Most girls cut their hair in a cute bob-style, but Monica couldn’t bring herself to do it. Norman had always told her how much he loved her long hair. When she was younger and he’d read her bedtime stories, he’d always compared her to the fairy tale character, Rapunzel. He told her one day her prince would come to rescue her and they’d live happily ever after. Norman meant well, but she thought he was up in the night for believing in such nonsense.
It took only a half hour to drive to the restaurant, and another fifteen minutes before she walked into the establishment, and was seated. It was rather busy for a Tuesday night. The atmosphere was cozy; a place where families could come and enjoy themselves. The violin player walked from table to table, making his instrument sing beautifully which slightly relaxed her mood. The many pots of hanging plants didn’t take away from the brown and gray decorative wall colors in the room.
A waiter, dressed in black pants and a white shirt handed her the wine list. “Are you alone tonight?” he asked.
Embarrassed, she shook her head. “I’m actually meeting someone. He should be here any moment.”
“Take a look at the wine list, and order when you’re ready.”
“Actually,” she quickly stopped him before he left her table, “my friend and I would just like water to drink.”
He nodded. “As you wish. Here’s the menu.”
As she studied the menu, the waiter turned and left. Her heart hammered crazily, and she hoped nobody noticed how nervous she was. She also prayed she didn’t look too conspicuous sitting by herself. Then again, it had been the story of her life for many years, so she should be used to it.
She lifted the menu to hide her face, but peeked around it. As she glanced from table to table, she strained to listen to the many conversations circling the room. She waited to hear Michael Zambino’s name. Two minutes later, the waiter came back with her ice water. Instead of putting him off again, she ordered a salad and a turkey sandwich.
Sitting back in her chair, she took the opportunity to study the occupants in the restaurant. Nobody looked familiar, thankfully. Then again, her circle of friends didn’t frequent places like this, mainly because they couldn’t afford it. Neither could she, but she’d splurge just this once.
The front door opened and a group of women entered. Monica closely studied the five well-to-do women. They wore designer dresses with shiny pearls hanging around their necks—nothing but the Cat’s Pajamas for these ladies. Apparently, they came from wealth, and they were not ashamed to show it off.
Behind them, a man followed. Monica hitched a breath. It was that chauffeur she’d run into from the drugstore. Quickly, she rubbed her forehead, trying to hide her face so the chauffeur wouldn’t recognize her. Thankfully, she was able to peek between her fingers to watch.
The host of the restaurant greeted each woman with a hug and a kiss on each cheek then led them to the table right next to hers. Her gaze flew back to the chauffeur. He sat on one of the chairs in the waiting area and picked up the newspaper. Monica breathed a little easier. With any luck, he wouldn’t remember her at all since it had been nearly a week since they had their run-in behind the drugstore.
Out of the five women who were seated, only one could be considered really old. The silver-headed woman was possibly in her late sixties or early seventies, and although her body looked aged, her eyes did not. They were very much alive and extremely alert. For what her family did for a living, it was no wonder the woman was so observant.
Two of the other ladies were probably in their forties. The small wrinkles around their eyes and mouth, and the streaks of silver in their hair gave away their slightly older age. They were still very beautiful, and Monica was sure their money made them look that way. The final two women didn’t appear much older than Monica. Although passively pretty, their expensive clothes, hairstyles, and jewelry made them very attractive.
Monica glanced back at the chauffeur. Over the top of the newspaper, he kept his eyes on the women circling the table. Now she saw him in the light, it surprised her to see how young he was when just the other day she thought him to be older. If he was older than thirty, she’d be amazed. Beneath the brim of his chauffeur’s hat, his hair was black. Other than that, she couldn’t tell much more about him.
“Here is your meal, miss.”
Monica yanked her attention away from the chauffeur and to the waiter beside her.
“Would you like anything else?” he asked. “Or did you want to order for your friend?”
Sighing heavily, she frowned. “It looks like my friend isn’t going to show. Maybe he’ll come later.”
He gave her a dismissal nod before turning to the ladies at the next table. Monica lightly picked at her salad with her fork as she listened to their orders. When the waiter left, she slowly leaned closer, hoping to hear their conversation better. At first, the women were just beating their gums about nonsense, but Monica continued to listen for something—anything that seemed important.
One forty-year-old lady sighed heavily as she glanced at the older woman next to her. “I’m so upset with Michael. He fired my nanny today without any reason. I thought she was working out well, but then all of a sudden, Michael says she’s not good enough for his children, and she’s out the door. He made her leave before the children or I even had a chance to say goodbye.”
The woman with the silver hair patted the other’s hand. “I know my son, and he wants what’s best for his children. Not to worry, Mary. He’ll find another nanny very soon.”
“I just don’t know what to do with the children until then.” She moaned. “Six children are so very hard to handle alone.”
“Mary?” One of the younger women spoke. “George has told me that Michael put out an ad for a nanny, already. He’s going to make certain the woman has a lot of experience and is very educated. He thinks that will help make a better nanny for your kids.”
Mary threw up her hands. “I just wish he would communicate with me a little better. They are my children, too, after all.”
The silver-haired woman laughed. “Oh, Mary, how long have you been married to Michael? Don’t you understand Zambino men yet?”
As the women around the table chuckled, Monica’s mind took on a different path, and she didn’t hear anything after that. As she pieced together the conversation, her heart thundered in her chest. Michael Zambino was looking for a nanny. Some of her classes at the University were along the lines of child psychology and teaching children. Not only that, she had babysat for some of her neighbors while living with Norman, and she was paid pretty well for it. She’d be perfect for the job. The bonus of getting this position would be that she’d be closer to the man who was possibly responsible for Norman’s murder.
Moisture gathered in her palms as fear pumped through her. Six children were going to be hard to manage, but she must do it. No matter how scary, she had to meet the Big Cheese, Zambino. If he hired her, she’d be in a position where she could overhear any conversation. She could even do a little snooping. Of course, she wouldn’t do it right away. She’d earn the Zambino’s trust, first. But first things first, she had to do all she could to get this job.
She didn’t remember eating the rest of her salad and sandwich, or even when the waiter brought the check to her. Wheels in her head spun out of control, helping to formulate her plan. She would have to use her real last name instead of the name she’d used since she was six years old. But she had to make them believe she was Monica Jewell from Michigan, instead of Monica Lange from Chicago. As much as she hated her biological father’s name, she’d use it until it got her what she wanted.
Although she was not an actress, she’d definitely have to put on a performance of a lifetime. She must act as if she liked the Zambino family, hiding the deep hatred she had for them and all those who worked for him.
The waiter passed by Monica and brought her out of her thoughts. He served the women at the next table, chatting pleasantly while he handed them their plates of food. When he left, he returned to the kitchen and within seconds, came back carrying a brown paper bag. He walked to the chauffer and handed it to him. The chauffer nodded to the waiter, and then turned and left the restaurant.
Apparently, the chauffer was considered such an outcast that he was not allowed to eat in public. It did seem rather strange…or was there something else in the brown bag besides food? Monica’s over-active imagination went wild as she tried to come up with some answers.
When the waiter kept looking her way, she decided not to draw further attention to herself. It was time to leave. She pushed herself away from the table and walked up to pay for her meal. Hesitantly, she turned and exited out the front door, wishing she could stay and listen to Michael Zambino’s mother and his wife, Mary. But then, she didn’t want to get caught spying.
The first thing she noticed after exiting the restaurant was the 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost parked right out in front. The chauffer was out of the car, leaning up against the side, reading the newspaper underneath the lamp post.
Inwardly, she groaned. Walking by him to get in her car gave her the heebie-jeebies. Hopefully, he was so engrossed in the newspaper he wouldn’t notice her from last week.
Taking a deep breath for courage, she started on her way. She tried to keep her eyes on the sidewalk, watching her feet take careful, yet hurried steps. As she neared him, heavy footsteps pounded on the ground behind her, nearly sounding like a stampede.
She turned to glance over her shoulder to see who—or what—was coming her way, but a strong pair of arms wrapped around her waist. Before she knew what was happening, she was pressed against something solid, and incredibly male.
Tilting her head back to see who was holding her, she recognized the chauffeur. She gasped as fear immobilized her. He stepped back against the car, just underneath the streetlight. Now she was able to see more of his face.
He was the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Although she couldn’t detect what color his eyes were, she sensed danger. He was rugged and looked as if he could tackle a grizzly bear and win.
A smile slowly stretched his mouth. Suddenly, all of her previous thoughts disappeared. The image of his gorgeous face was imprinted in her mind, and for a moment, she hoped it would never leave.
His expression relaxed as he gazed down at her. His nose was straight, and his face sculpted by the Greek Gods themselves. When his attention moved to her mouth, all the danger she’d felt earlier came rushing back. This time, however, it was a different kind of danger. His full lips slowly turned up into a pleasant grin. She’d never seen such an incredible mouth in her life and she couldn’t look away. Never had she experienced the out-of-control desire to kiss a man like she did at this moment.
Within seconds, his grin softened. Slowly, he leaned his head towards her, his mouth inching closer and closer.
**READERS - if you know me well enough, you'll know how much I like to tease. So, if you can't wait another week to read the next chapter to see what happens, I have uploaded the next five chapters on RADISH https://radishfiction.com/ (or get the app for your phone - it's FREE, just search for Radish Fiction). It would be great if you can all support my writing by buying chapters. The chapters are really cheap on Radish, I promise!
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