"Yes." Asha handed the photograph of the scrawled note back to Logan. "That’s my mother’s handwriting."
"Okay. Good." Logan swiveled back to face the computer and began pulling up files. "So I think we can start by talking to—."
Asha leaned back against the table, arms crossed, and tuned out Logan’s enthusiastic babble as he made plans to follow up on the unexpected lead. She wished she could be that excited. She knew she ought to be: the scrap of paper in the photograph was evidence that her mother might still be alive after all this time. And yet....
I’ll never stop looking, Logan had promised her, four years ago. And she’d nodded her head and managed a smile, because he meant well. Because clearly that was what he needed to say for his own sake: there was a debt to be paid to her father, who’d been his editor and mentor in his cub years at the paper, a puzzle to be solved, justice to be served.
Even as she’d nodded and smiled, she’d known it wasn’t what she wanted any more; it wasn’t what she needed. What she needed was to stop dwelling on a past she couldn’t change and questions—after a year of dead-end investigations, this much at least was clear—she’d never know the answers to. She needed to go forward with her own life. She needed to honor her mom and her brother in her own way. Even if it wasn’t a way that met with the approval of most of her mother’s friends....
"A personal shopper at Neiman Marcus? Asha, my dear," Councilor Nelson put an avuncular hand on her shoulder, "if you need a job, I’m sure there would be an opening for an assistant in my office. It would be the least I could do for Margaret Curran’s daughter."
"Thank you, Councilor." Asha tilted her chin up, her expression determined as she met his gaze. She wasn’t a child any more, to be patted on the head and handed candy. "But I don’t need a job. My family left me quite well provided for. What I want is this job. Besides," she bit her lip, "politics killed my mother and my brother. Forgive me if it’s not where I want to spend... to end my life."
"Yes, of course." Councilor Nelson shifted from one foot to the other, his smile growing broader and less convincing by the second. "Oh, look, here’s your young man with your drinks. Well, it was lovely seeing you, my dear." He patted her on the shoulder again, before scurrying off into the melée of the cocktail party.
"Are you all right?" Logan held out a glass of wine to her.
"I’m fine." She affected a sniff, and then huffed out a deliberate breath: Logan expected to see grief, not irritation, so that’s what she’d give him. "I’m fine," she repeated. "Councilor Nelson was just... expressing some surprise at my choice of career."
"Yes, well...." Logan looked at her doubtfully as he sipped his drink. "You could do so much more, Asha, really you could. I know you didn’t do so well your last year at UW, but you did graduate. If I asked my editor...."
"Logan, we’ve talked about this." Asha cut him off with a shake of the head. "Thank you, but I’ve made my choice. This is what I want. Even if you do think it’s...."
"Frivolous?" he suggested quietly.
"Yes, frivolous," she snapped. "Don’t you think that if anyone’s earned the right to be frivolous, I have?"
Pushing the wine glass back into his hand, she stalked away, heading for the door. She knew she wasn’t being fair on Logan, but it wasn’t as if she could explain....
Tyler’s eyebrows shot up as he read down the list Asha had handed to him. "Steckler?"
"Oldest daughter." Asha shrugged. "Clothes, mostly. She likes to party. But she just comes in the store. Not sure it’s going to help."
"Wife." Asha wrinkled her nose in disapproval. "She seems to be on a schedule to redecorate at least one room every month. But I’ve been to the house twice already. Not had much time to snoop around, but—."
Tyler nodded. "It may be possible. Edgar Sonrisa?" Tyler sounded disbelieving.
"The man himself. Needs help picking out gifts for his mistresses." Asha shuddered. "Dropped some pretty heavy hints I could become one of them if I was interested." When Tyler swung his gaze up to meet hers, his expression a mixture of surprise and calculation, she added hastily, "No. No way. There are limits!" She shuddered again.
"Of course." Tyler gave her an apologetic grimace before he went back to studying the list. "You know, when you said we should stop talking and do something, infiltrate, I had no idea we could get this far in this quickly."
Asha shrugged. "My mother always said the best way to figure out how to beat someone was to figure out who or what they considered unimportant and where they weren’t paying attention."
Her voice caught as she thought about what happened once they did consider you important and you’d gotten their interest.
Swallowing down the lump in her throat, she went on, "That’s how she won her first campaign: street lights. The company that was supposed to fix them wasn’t doing it. She went and bought bulbs and a ladder, fixed them herself. Lighting got better, crime went down. Shamed the company into doing what they were paid for. I saw enough of these people," she waved a hand at the list Tyler still held, "to know most of them treat the hired help like dirt. Just took a bit of thinking about after that...."
With a start, Asha came back to the present. From the way Logan was looking up at her, she realized he must have asked her a question and was waiting for her answer. She shrugged. "Sorry. I was miles away."
"Of course." Logan put a sympathetic hand on her arm for a moment, before gesturing at the computer screen. "I was just wondering if...."
Asha focused on his question. She’d have a chance later to think about whether her mom would have approved of the way she’d fought the fight. Maybe even a chance, after all these years, to ask and get an answer.