Zan’s best friend Melissa Romani is also an FBI agent affectionately dubbed Mel. (Evidently, I have a thing for women with three-letter names.) In fact, Mel is Zan’s FBI partner. Zan went into the Bureau a badass because of skills she acquired in the army, but what she learned from Mel kicked it up to a whole new level.
When our story begins, outside of Zan’s army buddies, Mel is the only person in the world who knows what her friend has been through and what she’s done. A recovering alcoholic, Zan’s past is filled with ugliness. Her experiences in Afghanistan and her own behavior left her emotionally scarred, but she dealt with it. Over her roughly two years in the FBI, Zan has earned Mel’s respect. These women love each other.
Below is a scene between Mel and James Nguyen, the ladies’ boss at the FBI. This scene is not in the book, but one I imagined happening off-camera, so to speak, after Zan has left Rainer and is plunged into misery because of it.
Mel nodded and took the hot seat, as the agents called it, because of Nguyen’s habit of fixing its occupants with a slow-burn cat stare whenever he was annoyed. She pasted a sunny smile on her face and willed her leg to stop twitching.
“What can I do for you, sir?”
“You can tell me what the hell is wrong with Agent O’Gara.”
“Is there something wrong with her?”
That was all it took. Out came the unwavering glare. Nguyen probed her face with his dark eyes for a good fifteen seconds. He frowned.
“I know you have a close relationship with your partner, so your denial is not going to work,” Nguyen said. “The other day she came in all puffy eyed. She looked exhausted. The security guard downstairs told me someone sent her a truckload of flowers. Literally a truckload! Has someone died? Why wouldn’t she tell the Bureau?”
Damn you, Harry. I wanted you to keep that shit to yourself.
“No one has died, sir.”
“Then what's the matter with her?”
“Has her performance been suffering?”
Nguyen leaned back, put his elbow in the arm of his chair and rubbed his chin, sizing Mel up. “No,” he said, “but I believe in prevention, Agent Romani.”
Mel wanted to grab her boss’s hand and pour it all out. How Zan had fallen crazy in love with a man, a bizarre man. A ridiculously sexy man, who Zan left for reasons she wouldn’t reveal. How Mel was worried sick about her. She wanted to tell Nguyen this because she knew he had Zan’s best interests at heart, same as her. But she wouldn’t tell him because she didn’t know the whole story. She squared her shoulders to take the heat.
“I appreciate your concern, sir. You’re a rare boss, really. But if her performance isn’t suffering, I’d have to say it’s none of your business.”
Again with the cat stare, but then Nguyen forcefully blew a stream of air from his lips that was almost a laugh.
“I don’t know why I thought you’d tell me anything. The two of you wouldn’t give up each other’s secrets if I waterboarded you. Just keep this in mind. I’m on her side. The Bureau is on her side. We have an employee assistance program if she needs confidential help. If you could remind her of that, I’d appreciate it.”
This time Mel’s sunny smile did not need to be pasted. “I will, sir. Thank you for reminding me.”