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A SIGNED MYSTERY PAPERBACK
Nikki Neal was damn good at her job. As an undercover cop, she had just about enough information to put the local crime boss away, but she needed more to make it stick. But when someone blew her cover, Nikki found herself on the wrong end of several guns. Aedan Harrison was on the fast track to winning the Governor’s seat for the state of Ohio. He had his whole life, or at least his immediate future, planned out. What he didn’t need was a mate he hadn’t made plans for throwing a monkey wrench into the mix. The last thing Nikki needed was an overbearing jackass ordering her about, and telling her how much he didn’t need her in his life right now. Well, she didn’t need him either. She had work to do and needed to get herself and her grandda to safety. It didn’t take long for Aedan’s family to convince him in the error of his ways, and when he saw what he’d done he felt like an ass. All he wanted to do was make it right, but could he grovel enough for her to accept him?
A SIGNED MYSTERY PAPCKBACK
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Aedan smiled when he saw all the flyers that had his name on them being put into yards. Aedan Harrison for Governor. Who would have thought that only a short three weeks ago he’d been working for his brother’s firm, and now he was not just running for governor, but he was also having a grand time. He saw his dad coming out of his political offices and had to smile when he showed him the new signage.
“I had to give them a little grief ‘bout the picture. You look like a little boy in them, and I thought about having them paint a mustache on you or something; but your mom, she liked them so we went with it.” He nodded at his dad, proud as he could be about what was going on, but also a little overwhelmed. “All you boys really take good pictures. It’s in your blood. I think it’s a trait that I passed down to you, what do you think?”
Four days ago there had been an ad on the television about Aedan running in the upcoming election. He was getting a late start, he knew that, but he was getting a lot of support too. The president had been in the commercial, saying that Aedan was a man of men and that he would do the best job possible for the state. Aedan had sat there for nearly an hour after it had aired just thinking about how fast this was all going down. Then he’d gotten up, done a little dance, and gone to run with his brother Darcy, who had been staying with him for a few weeks. He didn’t mention anything about seeing the ad until they were having beers and pizza at his house later. Then after polishing off two large with every kind of meat on them, they’d talked.
“You think that when the time comes, you’ll be sitting in the big house?” Aedan said nothing. Not that he hadn’t been having the same thoughts, but he was terrified to say the words out loud. Even to his brothers. Darcy laughed as he continued. “You have a sappy look on your face. The same one you get when you’ve figured out what you’re getting for Christmas from Mom and Dad. Just so you know, you’re going to have to be better at the poker look if you’re having thoughts that big.”
“I just want to get this election under my belt, then I can go from there.” Darcy only nodded, but he did have a smile that said a lot. “How are things going with you and the new building? I’m thinking that in no time you’re going to have your own mailbox out front. Not that I’m in any hurry for you to leave here. I love hanging out with you.”
“Storm is having it made up as we speak, believe it or not. She said to consider it a building warming gift. Did I tell you that she’s going to help me with finding furniture for the building? I asked for things that would blend well with the old building, and she had this amazing desk delivered yesterday. I’m going to love being in my own place but still working for the family. Christ, she really does know people who know people.”
They both laughed, and Darcy asked about his first duty in office when he won.
“I’m thinking we need more jobs, don’t you? But as for Storm, she really does know about everyone. And she’s being very pushy about things beyond the governorship. I’m not thinking along those lines yet. I have done some research on my opponent. He’s not very…well, I was going to say very trustworthy, but I think he’s underhanded and a jackass as well.” Darcy said nothing. “You know him?”
“I do, sort of. And this is between the two of us, but if you want to find some true dirt about him, you should look into the people who used to work for him. Both professionally as well as at his home. I understand that they’re the same, they both work for him, but I’m talking about his different staffers.” Aedan wasn’t sure that he wanted to sling mud, and Darcy handed him a file. “I got this in my inbox at work today. It’s a questionnaire. I’m pretty sure that as your brother I wasn’t meant to get it, but there are some pretty in-depth questions there.”
He told his brother that he’d look into the people but didn’t pick up the file just yet. He wasn’t even sure that he wanted to. Darcy took the decision out of his hands after it sat there for several more minutes, and picked up the paperwork and flipped through it to the back. Aedan wasn’t sure what he was doing until he handed it to him. Aedan read the first three questions, then looked at Darcy.
“They asked you what you thought my sexual preferences were?” Darcy nodded. “What the hell does that have to do with anything? I mean, how the hell does he get by with asking those sort of personal questions?”
“Don’t know, but there are a lot more in there. Read on. At one point they ask me if I thought you were going to have affairs while in the seat. I’m thinking that if they get one person to answer yes to that, you’re going to be labeled as a pervert as well as some sort of sexual deviant. Whoever sent this out is fishing, and they don’t care what sort of catch they get. I’m having someone look into it.” Aedan laughed. “No, not Storm. If she gets wind of this there will be hell to pay.”
“Yeah, she’s a little overprotective when it comes to us. But this shit, it’s not the way I want to do things, Darcy. You know me. I’d never want to stoop this low.” He read a few more questions until he got to the last one. “It asks if there are any things that the reader can think of that might be helpful to the people of this town. There’s a number here they can call.”
“Yep. And I called.” Darcy leaned back in the couch that had only been delivered that morning. “They’re asking more questions too. Like how long have you been a drug addict. They’re not asking if you were, but how long you’ve been using. And when was the last time I’d shot up with you, and where that might have been. I assured the person that I’d never even seen you take an aspirin and they laughed. This guy told me that he had enough people calling in to talk to them that they knew that wasn’t true. Whoever is working to smear you, they’re not playing very fairly. Like I said, any of this gets out, lies or not, it’s not going to go well for you or the family. Storm will be the least of their problems when Mom and Dad find out.”
“No shit.” He leaned back as well. “I wonder who it is. I mean, with this kind of work, someone is really out to make me look bad. I’m sure if I asked Ellison he’d say something like ‘well, I don’t know’ in his best you’re a moron voice. Any ideas who I might have to have murdered?”
“Nope. As I said, I’m having someone look. Mason, too, is having a little fun with this. He said to tell you when it hits his inbox, he’s going to answer all the questions in his own language and hopes someone there gets a kick out of it. He’s been in and out of the offices for a couple of days now; I’ve not really found out why, but it’s fun having
him around. Mason said that he’s helping out while Riordan is out of town.” Aedan asked when he’d be back. “Don’t know. Storm has been out of the country for a few days too. But I think she’s coming back tomorrow. The president has them doing something overseas, and I think they’re going to make a little vacation of it too.”
He’d spoken to Darcy, and now it was two days past when they were to have returned home and neither Storm nor Riordan was back yet. Something had come up, they’d been told. He’d never found out what it was, but he knew that it was like them to rest up after they were done working. Even Dad had been saying how he wished he’d had such perks. Then he and Mom had gone to wherever it was to help out.
Aedan was getting things put away in the kitchen when he heard someone in the drive. The house had a very long drive, lined with trees and a big fucking gate at the end, so he knew that whoever was here had made an effort in coming to see him. Going out to the back deck that wrapped around the entire house, he watched. While the car was in front of the garage, he stood there while whoever it was decided to either get out or drive away. The elderly man that finally got out of the car was no one he knew.
He stood with the car door opened and his hands on the door. Both of them. He looked more like he was hanging on rather than just taking in the view. Aedan decided that tomorrow he was going to have someone manning the gate house as Storm had told him to do weeks ago.
“Can I help you?” The man looked around like he was trying to decide if they were alone or not. Just as he was ready to ask again, another car pulled in the drive and he was relieved to see it was Darcy. Neither man spoke, but his brother did come up on the deck with him. “Perhaps you’re at the wrong address.”
“No, I’m where I’m to be. I’m here to meet someone else. It’s important that nobody knows where I am, you see, and I was told that I’d be okay here for a little while.” Aedan nodded. “You’re the boy, the one running for governor. I saw the signs in people’s yards. Congratulations on that. But you need to get yourself someone to man that gate down there. Doesn’t do you squat if anyone can come in here uninvited.”
“I was just thinking the same thing when you pulled up. Who are you?” The man looked worn out. Depressed, and like he wanted to curl into a ball and simply give up. Aedan had no idea where those thoughts had come from, but he had a feeling that they were all true. Making his way off the deck, Darcy was with him but he stayed back, like he was going to be ready should anything happen. When Aedan was nearly to the man he smelled it…blood. Old and fresh. “Are you hurt?”
“Yes. I got shot up a couple of days ago. I thought for sure that I was a goner, but I managed to get myself free. I’ve been on the run since, not able to stop the hole in me other than to press me a towel or two on it. Hurts like someone has been doing a jig on my insides. You’re not human.” Aedan shook his head and looked the man over. “I can manage to move in a bit, but I have to rest up if you’re planning to kick me to the curb.”
“All right, I won’t kick you anywhere so long as you don’t give me a reason to. Besides, I don’t think you’d make it if I did. I can help you, if you’d allow it.” He just shook his head and continued to hold onto the door that he was near. “Who are you meeting? Maybe I can call them for you.”
“It’s me, Aedan.” He looked at Mason as he made his way to the elderly man. “He’s a stubborn old coot, but I owe someone to keep him safe. Otherwise I would have left his sorry ass on the side of the road.” The older man laughed and then coughed hard enough to make Aedan think he was in a great deal more pain than he was letting on.
Aedan had no idea why he thought that Mason was lying about his feelings toward the stranger. But Mason picked him up in his arms and asked Aedan if he could use his house. Before he could figure out why the man was here or who he was, Mason had taken him to one of the spare bedrooms on the second floor and laid the now unconscious man on the bed.
“I’ll call Ennis.”
Darcy left the room when it was apparent that the man was really hurt. Mason pulled up his shirt and they both looked at the wounds. He had indeed been shot; twice, as a matter of fact. And both wounds were seeping enough to make Aedan realize that he might have used more than a couple of towels to try and stop the bleeding.
“His name is Neal. Paddy Neal. He’s an old friend of a friend that…Browning asked me to bring him here as they’re not home yet. I would have taken him to my place, but it’s too out in the open as yet. He needs a place to hide out until I can get him somewhere safe.” Aedan asked him why here. “Because, my dear friend, your house is built like a fortress and I have been here before, so had you not been home, I could have entered and put him up. It really is important that he is safe.”
“I don’t understand why he isn’t in a hospital, or at the very least a clinic somewhere.” Mason wasn’t one to explain himself, and this time was no different. As they both waited on Ennis to arrive with his black bag, they stripped Paddy’s clothing off. Mason told Aedan what he knew…or in this case, what he wanted Aedan to know.
“Just over a week ago there was a shooting. Nothing you would have heard about here, but an undercover agent was shot several times in the chest at close range. She was about the best there was, but the bad guys didn’t care for her. This is her grandda. Paddy was on the phone with her when she was taken out and presumed killed. She wasn’t, but not for lack of them trying. Just as they were ready to put one in her head, I arrived and took her away to someplace else.” Aedan felt like he was in one of those carnival rides that spun you about so quickly that you couldn’t figure out up or down. “She’s critical, in grave condition actually, but she is going to pull through. But as far as the world is concerned, the world that she works in, she’s dead. And we need to keep it that way for a little while longer. I also have her phone.”
“Her phone.” Mason nodded as he sat down on the other chair in the room. Aedan had already taken the other. “And this is making sense to me how? In the event you didn’t notice, this is not a hospital. I have no staff here that can help out, and I’m pretty sure that since you said you’d been here before, you know that this house isn’t equipped to have guests just yet. The only reason I have this room is because I got a great deal on this set at an auction.”
“This house is very old, and at one time, many decades even before your father was a glint in anyone’s eye, this house was owned by a very dear and close friend of mine. We had many…well, let’s just say that if these walls could talk, you’d be out of here in a
minute.” This wasn’t funny and Aedan said that to him. “No, it’s not. But as I was saying, when Nikki was shot and presumably killed, they went after her grandda when her body and the phone that she used came up missing. I took her someplace safe, as I said, to make sure she would get the care that she needed. Also, I have taken care that the phone isn’t found. She has some pretty determined enemies because of what she’s found out about one of the drug dealers in her city. And trust me when I tell you, his little Nikki is one hell of an investigator.”
“Okay, let me get this straight. This undercover agent was murdered but not. Her grandda was shot to hell and you brought him here. And now, for whatever reason, you think he needs to stay here while he either recuperates or dies, and I’m supposed to keep quiet about it.” Mason grinned and nodded. “You do know that I’m running for governor, right? And this is just the kind of shit that my opponent is looking for to bury me in, correct?”
“You will be fine, young Aedan. And I’d not worry about the questionnaires either. I’ve taken care that none of those questions ever get out in the public.” Aedan asked Mason how he knew that. “Let’s just say that I know more people than Browning does, and mine are a bit more ruthless than she is. And as for Paddy being here, it’s because the president and Browning asked me to bring him here for you to keep safe. They have a great deal more confidence in you than you appear to have in yourself.”
That wasn’t quite true, but Aedan was nervous about having a bleeding stranger in his house. He knew that his family would cover for him in the event someone found out. And if the shit hit the fan, like Mason was suggesting, then they’d be there for him as well.
When Ennis came in a few minutes later, Darcy asked to speak to Aedan. As soon as they entered the hallway, leaving Mason and his other brother to deal with Paddy, Darcy started pacing the long hall. Darcy was a thinker, one who did not blurt out whatever was on his mind until he was sure of his facts.
“I think this is my fault.” Aedan asked him how when Mason had told the man to come here. “I helped him. In a way. You know how I love the news? And especially ones that have to do with syndicates and shit like that? Well, Mason knew as well.”
“Go on.” His brother really did have a fixation on things in the news. He had an app on his computer both here and at home that would tell him every major thing going down. Even his phone and car were rigged up with it. “If you tell me that you called Mason when this went down, I’m going to brain you.”
“I didn’t. Mason called me. About a week before. He said that he had an idea that something was going to go down with a friend that was working undercover. And that he wanted me to keep an ear out for something, anything, that might have to do with this certain city…Chicago. So when the call came in that an officer was down, I contacted him right away and told him what I knew. I think he went to get him or something.” He told him it was apparently a woman. “Okay, that makes sense. He probably had some affair with her and now he’s protecting her or something. Whatever it is, I think this man had something to do with it. Because a couple of hours later, I hear the name again, this time
they say it’s at a residence and shots are being fired. I let Mason know and now the man shows up here. What do you suppose this is about?”
“I don’t know. He just told me that the president and Storm told him to bring the undercover person’s grandda here.” Darcy just nodded, but looked as confused as Aedan felt. “I’m guessing they have something to do with him then. All I know is that I have a wounded man in my house that I know nothing about, as well as some woman out there that may or may not be dead. And I’m to keep quiet about it so that they’ll be safe. I have no problem with that, but I wish I had more information.”
The door opened behind them and Mason stood there. He looked injured, and that was when Aedan realized it was daylight and he was out in the sunlight. When he leaned back against the wall, seemingly exhausted, he and Darcy helped him to the lower levels and away from most of the sunlight. He took a seat but refused their offer of blood.
“She is not my lover, though once I had a look at the little morsel, I had thoughts of changing her and taking her to my bed. But alas, I cannot. She is off limits to me.” Aedan asked why. “She is the niece and goddaughter of the president. The man presently in your bedroom is his uncle. They’re keeping their identities quiet because of what they do and did for a living.”
Aedan nodded then shook his head. Goddaughter and uncle of the president? What else would he find out, that they were also aliens from another planet? Shaking his head to try and clear some of it up only made it worse. He was beginning to have a headache right between his eyes. And he never got headaches.
“Why here? Why not in some other house, closer to him? Or for that matter, why not in a hospital? And what do you mean, did and do? This is like being on a loop de loop ride and you can’t get off; you know that, don’t you?” Mason said nothing but leaned back on the couch. Aedan started to demand answers, but he sat down too and thought about things. “It’s because of this woman being undercover, isn’t it? Something about that is why they have to be protected. She knows something or has…. The phone…you mentioned the phone. You’re thinking that whatever is on it might be something someone would need to bring them in. And those people, the ones on the phone, need to think them dead. For now, like you said, they need to be safe to heal and to be able to bring this to light later. And if the people after them knew differently, then shit would hit the fan.”
“I would say that you’re onto it, at least I think. As I said before, I don’t know a great many of the details. Other than I was asked by Browning to keep an eye out for her. It was most difficult since this cop mostly worked during the daylight hours. But I knew that young Darcy here had an ear for this, so I asked him to have a listen for me.” Aedan looked at his brother then back at Mason. “I only had to give him a name and the city. The rest, it was up to him. He might well have saved her life by being diligent in this. And most assuredly her grandfather. I’m sorry to say that I was too weak to bring him to you quickly. Taking Nikki away the way that I did drained me badly. Driving here was the only way he could have made it. Thankfully he had taken precautions, and had another car with money and clothing it in for them both.”
“And this man, he is involved how? I mean, other than being her grandfather, how is it he has been shot? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time?” Mason said he only knew a few details. “Do I need to know them? Or better yet, do I want to know them?”
“I would say not.” Mason stood up. “There will be staff coming here to care for him and your household. Not from me but the president. He doesn’t want you to have to worry about things, so he has asked a butler to come in and take care of things here should you want. He said to call it a thank you gift. I know Basford; he and his wife are good people.”
“All right, but to be honest, I’m not sure what I need at this point. I’ve only been here for a few months. I mean, Howard is a good friend of the family, but I don’t really need someone to take over my house.” Mason said he figured he’d say that. “How do I give him updates on his uncle?”
“That won’t be necessary at this point. He said that he will contact you when the time is right. But for now, it is safer for his uncle to not be associated with him. Not because he’s done anything wrong, nothing like that, but he should like to keep him safe. And he knows he will be here.” Aedan had a thought, not a good one. Mason laughed. “You have many things running through that head of yours, my friend. I would suggest that you not read anything into this other than a good friend needed your help. You know as well as I that Howard is a good man. If he had not been Browning would have ended him long ago.”
Aedan was still sitting on his couch when someone came into the room with him. He only stared at the man, not having any idea if he should have been frightened, taken cover, or put out his hand in friendship. His head was going in so many directions he wasn’t sure which way was up.
“My name is Basford, my lord. You were told that I was coming?” He nodded. “Mason sent us to help out around the house. Cook and clean for you should you need it, and hire a staff should you want that as well. I’m to understand from him that you have a large household and may need more than just me in residence.”
“To be honest with you Basford, I have no idea what I need.” The man only nodded. “Do you know what’s going on here, with the man upstairs then?”
“I do. I have been informed that should he need something more than he has at the moment, I’m to make a few calls.” More than Aedan knew, and he said as much. “Mason, he said that you were slightly overwhelmed and that you may need a little guidance until you are settled.”
“That might not ever happen.” Basford nodded. “I’d really like to have some breakfast, then while I’m eating, perhaps you and I can figure out what I do with a butler and cook. While I know the duties of both, I’m not sure how to go about getting things done. Does that make sense?”
“It does. I have met the new cook at your parents’ house, as well as their butler there. Mr. Shaw has been a good friend of mine for many years.” That was helpful. Shaw had been working for his family for decades. “Shall we go to the kitchen and see where we stand there? My wife, she’s here as well and has asked to do a bit of cooking for you.
She’s not up to the standards of the young new Mrs. Harrison, but she said she can fill your belly.”
He was talking about Andi, Mac’s wife. Nodding once, he got up to follow the man. Whatever was going on right now, he thought it best if he just played along. For now, anyway.
As they entered the kitchen, he thought again about why the president would have sent the man here. Aedan wondered if he thought that just because he had endorsed him for the governorship that he could take advantage of him. Not that it was a huge hardship having Paddy in his home, but it was odd that the man had been shot and needed to hide out. Then there was the undercover cop thing too. Why was she presumed to be dead? And who wanted her that way? As he sat down to wait for his breakfast, a notebook and pen was set before him. He looked up at the woman, who also handed him a large glass of orange juice.
“To make notes with. Winnie said that you were going to figure things out.” He asked her who Winnie was. “My husband. His name is Winfred, but I call him Winnie. My name is Rose, Rose Basford. Would you like for me to call him Basford as well?”
“No. I like Winnie too. It sounds less…I don’t know. Less stiff. I’m new to this having a staff thing.” She smiled at him and he felt comforted by it. “My parents, you know them as well?”
“Oh yes. Well, not personally, but I know of them. It’s Browning that we know better. Her family would hire us when the staff was in flux. Happened a great deal at the beginning of their tenure in the mansion. But Winnie and I were never up to snuff for them. Only good enough…I should not be speaking of her parents so poorly. Forgive me.” He told her it was fine. He’d heard they were a little cold. “Browning—it was what we called her for so long after they passed—she wasn’t what they wanted in a child. Daring and full of spit and vinegar. Once, when she was about four, we’d been there for a couple of days when she came into the house with not just a snake in her hand, but a turtle as well. Told us right off if we dared cook them for her supper, she’d have us put before a firing squad. I have never laughed so hard in my life.”
When Winnie cleared his throat, his wife moved to the stove. But before pulling out things from the fridge, she kissed Winnie on the cheek and made him blush. Aedan thought he’d enjoy having them around as much as he did his parents.
It took them two hours to get things squared away. And when Ennis came to join them, he was fed as well. Darcy had gone to work, saying that he’d be back late because he had to find him a place to live, and had his eye on a building or two in the downtown area. He’d been saying that for nearly the three weeks that he’d been sleeping over here.
“Your guest is resting right now. I took out the bullets and gave them to Mason when he came back for them. He said he’d take care that they got into the right hands. Mr. Neal is going to be down for a few more days, so I’ve made arrangements to have him a nurse brought in. Also through Mason. He’ll just need help getting up and down and his dressing changed. I’ll come see him a couple of times a day if you don’t mind. Just to make sure he’s healing all right.”
“You don’t want to do this.” Ennis said that he really didn’t mind. That he owed Mason. “Everyone seems to owe him. How is it he’s indebted to you?”
“The new building that I’m moving into? It has a lair in the sublevels. I mean, really, it’s an apartment with all the things that you’d find anywhere, except no windows. I’ve given him permission to live there for as long as I own the building. It’s safer for him, he said, than the aunts’ house.” Lynn and Sally, aunts of Stormy, had been letting Mason stay in their basement while he was in the area. And he’d been having repairs done on the house in return. “He said that he’d take care of the taxes for me, but I said I just felt better with him living there. Sort of a safety net should I need it in the event the place is robbed. I’ll have a lot of drugs in the place when I’m done moving in. Oh yeah, that reminds me, I have to talk to an attorney about something. I got this letter in the mail about something to do with drugs on the premises. Did you ever hear of a vault for drugs in a business like mine? Huge sucker, too, if I’m reading this right.”
“No. I mean, I guess that makes sense, but it’s not like you’re going to be selling them, right? We’re talking just things like samples and such.” Ennis said that was it, but he had to get one. “I’d check into it like you are. Probably just a precautionary letter they sent to all doctors.”
After his brother left, Aedan went to check up on his new guest and wasn’t surprised to find him resting comfortably. Getting ready to go into the office himself, Aedan thought about all the things that could go wrong with this. First and foremost, he could be out of the running for a job that he’d come to want very badly.