Authors: Sloane Kennedy
Copyright © 2015 by Sloane Kennedy
Published in the United States by Sloane Kennedy
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Academie des Beaux Arts
Flight for Life: Catholic Health Initiatives Colorado
Silence reined as the man studied the piece of paper in front of him. The light cast by the small but expensive lamp on the massive mahogany desk was too dim but he didn’t seem to notice. He held a thick, gold fountain pen in his strong fingers and moved it in quick, efficient strokes over the figures on the paper. The Grandfather clock in the far corner of the dark room gave off three lonely chimes but the man didn’t react to the reminder of the late hour. When his phone rang a moment later he didn’t seem to be surprised; he just pressed the speaker button and went on with his work.
“I found her…” said the voice on the other end. The man paused only for a second as he glanced at the phone. He returned to his work.
“Wisconsin – Ashland, Wisconsin.” The caller hesitated before saying “You want me to make contact?”
“No. Email me the details and leave your costs with Julia.” The man hung up the speakerphone and turned to his dual computer monitors. Within moments he had the email open and started scanning the dozens of pages. Without hesitation he tapped the speaker button on his phone and then a speed dial button. A woman’s sleepy voice answered.
The voice immediately snapped to attention. “Yes sir.”
“I’m going to Ashland Wisconsin tomorrow.”
“Yes sir – I’ll take care of it.”
“Have Howard call me on the plane for the board meeting but cancel everything else.”
“And when Jenkins calls with his fees, just add ten percent to whatever his final number is.”
“Yes sir. Anything else sir?”
He didn’t bother to answer before hanging up on her and returning his attention to the screens in front of him.
That’s a boy…good boy. No, stay. Good boy.” Twenty-one year old Casey Wilkes continued her soft praises as she struggled to keep the shampoo bubbles from creeping underneath the sleeves of her sweatshirt which had slipped past her elbows. She didn’t know how Sampson had managed to get himself covered in mud in near freezing temperatures but the proof that he had stood before her. The 180-pound mastiff gave her a long lick as she struggled to reach the top of his back. The dog stood in an elevated bathtub with a long nylon lead hanging over his massive neck. Shampoo suds mixed with his light tan coat and streaks of mud dripped off his underbelly.
Curiously though, the dog proved to be a lot cleaner than Casey. Her tattered jeans were soaked through at the thigh and waist. Her equally damp sweatshirt was caked with bits of mud – proof of her struggle to get the huge dog into the bathtub. The strands of hair that escaped her careless ponytail hung across her face and neck. She had to fight every instinct to wipe the annoying wisps away because even now, Sampson was planning his escape.
“Good boy, we’re almost done – just stay,” she muttered as she began searching the bottom of the tub for the still running hose with the leaky spray nozzle.
“Casey?” a voice came from the opposite side of the room.
Lanky, seventeen-year old Jonas entered the room and smiled when he saw the precarious position she was in. Too tall and too smart for his own good, Jonas leaned against the doorframe and said, “There’s someone here to see you.”
“Who is it?”
“Don’t know – he’s cute though.”
Casey muttered a curse as Sampson leaned hard against her. “I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”
“You want help?” Jonas asked as he struggled to contain his laughter.
“No, I’m already wet,” she replied good-naturedly, unable to see the grin on the young man’s face.
Jonas disappeared. Casey made another grab for the hose and let out a relieved “Yes!” when her fingers closed around it. Her victory was short-lived however as Sampson decided he had had enough. The huge dog easily pushed past her and was out of the tub within seconds. Casey grabbed on to the nylon lead. “Sampson, stay!” The dog completely ignored her as he made a dash for the door. Casey hung on but her slippery shoes on the wet floor were no match for the giant dog as he plowed his way through the swinging door to the front lobby. Sprawled flat on her chest, Casey closed her eyes when she heard a man’s surprised shout and a big crash.
Casey quickly climbed to her feet and ran through the door. Her hand went to her mouth when she saw the scene. Jonas lay in the middle of the room where he had made a dive for the dog and missed and Sampson was at the far end of the room sprawled on top of what appeared to be a very angry man in a very expensive suit. They were surrounded by an overturned display case full of pet supplies and the dog was happily licking the man’s face.
“Sampson!” Casey ran over to the dog and dragged him off of his victim. Jonas quickly joined her and helped her pull the dog back. “Oh my God, I am so sorry – are you okay?” she asked as she reached for the man’s arm. He muttered something intelligible as he tried to regain his footing. He was nearly there when Casey lost her balance once again on the wet floor and knocked him back down. More muttered curses as the man grabbed Casey’s arm and righted her, then proceeded to climb to his feet. As soon as he was up, Sampson made a beeline for him again. Casey and Jonas were fast enough this time and managed to drag the dog back into the back room. “Just finish washing him off and put him in the big kennel on the end. And make sure to put the dryer on him,” Casey said to Jonas. The young man nodded and disappeared behind the door, leaving Casey to deal with Sampson’s victim.
She turned back to the man who had managed to compose himself. His long overcoat was soaking wet and soapsuds and spots of mud were visible on the three-piece dark gray suit he wore underneath the coat. Even covered in filth he was distinguishable…formidable. Casey shook her head to rid herself of the thought. Formidable? He wasn’t her enemy. She didn’t even know him. But the description stuck as she began muttering apologies. She hurried around the counter to get a roll of paper towels.
“I’m very sorry about that sir. Sampson just gets a little carried away sometimes.”
“Sampson?” he said in disbelief.
“Yeah, Sampson – the dog,” she said as she pointed towards the back.
“I remember,” he muttered.
Casey came around the counter with paper towels and started blotting at his coat and suit. “Yeah, well, some jerk pushed him out of a moving car when he was just a puppy - nearly killed him. He’s been here ever since just waiting for someone to take him home.” She cast a curious glance up at him. “I don’t suppose…”
“No,” he cut her off, a hard look crossing his features. She nodded her head slightly and then went back to work on his coat. But her efforts were doing more harm than good since the cheap paper towel was coming apart and leaving bits of white, wet fuzz on the expensive fabric. She abandoned the task and set the paper towels on the counter as she walked around it.
“So what can I do for you Mr.-”
“Prescott. Devlin Prescott.”
“Mr. Prescott.” The name caught on her tongue for a moment as his hard gaze caught hers. He seemed to be looking for something. It caught Casey off guard and she felt a chill run down her spine. Formidable. The word penetrated her brain again but she shook it away and forced an artificial smile to her lips. A couple of minutes and this guy would be out of here.
“Well Mr. Prescott, can I interest you in a cat or perhaps a rabbit. I’ve got a really sweet chinchilla-” She made a move as if to get the animal but Devlin put his hand up to stop her.
“No, that’s not why I’m here.”
“Oh…okay.” She waited for further explanation, ignoring the cold fear that was settling in the pit of her stomach. She couldn’t help but study him as he casually moved around the room. He seemed to be in his mid-thirties, maybe a little older. His clothes screamed money but even dressed in rags she would have known he was well off. His grace in the way he moved, the confidence in his voice, the direct look in his eyes – they all exuded a power that only money could buy. Dark hair, dark eyes, strong features, and a well-defined build – he was everything she immediately distrusted in a man. Plainly put, he was too rich, too attractive, and likely too busy to be standing in the middle of her run down animal shelter located on the outskirts of Ashland, Wisconsin, population 8,130.
“Is this your shelter?” The question snapped her out of her thoughts.
“How long have you had it?” He started removing the leather gloves on his hands. Another jolt of fear slithered through her as she saw the strength and power in his long fingers. The damage he could do with those…
“About a year,” she said absent-mindedly, her eyes still on his hands.
“And you run it by yourself?” Casey’s thoughts finally returned to the present.
“Jonas helps me out.” Suspicion had crept into her voice.
“What about your family?”
Devlin wasn’t surprised to see her visibly stiffen at the question. In fact, he had noticed her fear of him as soon as she had had a chance to study him. She had hidden it well at the beginning of their conversation but he was a born businessman. The first thing he did in sizing up an opponent was find their weaknesses. Granted, with her he had a head start but she also wasn’t very good at pretending. For some odd reason, the notion pleased him. Not because it would make her easier to deal with but because it was a trait he didn’t see often. The people in his circle were trained to hide who they were. It was the only way to survive life in the public eye.
She was far prettier than he’d thought she’d be. And younger too. He had known she was twenty-one but seeing her up close, dressed in raggedy clothes with no makeup and a ponytail that unsuccessfully tried to hide a wealth of dark blonde hair made her look even younger. A small scar on her right cheek was the only visible flaw. What kept her from passing as an innocent country bumpkin was the weariness he had glimpsed in her green eyes when she had tried to help him get cleaned up – before she had really noticed how out of place he was in her little world here. But the weariness was gone now and in its place was a steely gaze that he grudgingly had to admire. No weakness there.
“Sir, I’m not sure I know what it is you want but I can tell you right now that I am not selling.”
“I can assure you-”
“I don’t know what you think gives you the right to come in here and try to intimidate me-“
“Just a second-”
“But I can tell you right now that I am not selling. Do you hear me? I have two months to make that payment and you can bet your ass that I will! Do you understand me? Now please get the hell out of my shelter!” She didn’t wait for a response. She rushed past him and headed towards the back.
“Miss Dane, wait.” Casey stopped dead. Several long, quiet seconds passed as she slowly turned to face him. She made no effort to hide her shocked expression.
“What did you call me?” He didn’t respond and she didn’t need him to. She had heard him the first time. Waves of disbelief and horror slammed through her as she struggled to maintain control.
Devlin watched her in silence but made no move to comfort her. He had been expecting this and knew better than to try to reassure her with cheap words.
Casey struggled to slow her ragged breaths as the reality slowly seeped into every nerve. He had used her real last name. He knew who she was. She felt her chest tighten and quickly glanced at him again. He wasn’t one of Mateo’s men - the coat and suit were too expensive. She had never used her real last name during the time she spent with Mateo. And the questions. Mateo’s men wouldn’t have wasted time with questions. That left only one possibility.
“Who are you?” she asked, wishing she could somehow delay the inevitable answer.
“My name is Devlin Prescott. I knew your sister.”
. Casey swallowed hard. Her sister. He was here about her sister. She hesitated. He had said he knew her sister. Knew…past tense. Her eyes slowly lifted to meet his. He hadn’t made a move towards her and his expression was blank. Cold realization seeped in.
“Is she dead?”
“Yes.” No theatrics, no beating around the bush. At least he was direct, Casey thought to herself as she tried to make sense of what was happening. Her sister was gone. A wave of pain crashed through her, threatening to send her to the floor but she bit down hard on her lip until she felt the warm blood against her teeth and tongue. She focused on the pain in her mouth until it dominated her immediate thoughts. Several long seconds passed as she found comfort in the distraction of her stinging lower lip.
With her head turned away from him, Devlin couldn’t see what emotions were playing out on her face but was caught off guard when she turned to face him and dry eyed and emotionless asked, “When?”
“Two months ago. It happened during a carjacking attempt.”
Casey nodded slowly even though she didn’t understand any of it. Her sister was dead. They would never see each other again. She would never get to tell Amanda how sorry she was.
“I understand you and Amanda hadn’t spoken in some time.” Devlin saw what appeared to be a small drop of blood on her lip and instinctively took a couple of steps towards her, not sure if his imagination was playing tricks on him or not. As soon as he moved forward he noticed that she automatically moved a few steps back. It appeared to be an unconscious movement on her part.
“Almost five years.” She shook her head slightly as if trying to clear it. “How did you know her?” she finally asked.
“I was her employer. She took care of my son.”
Another long silence as she absorbed the information. In almost a whisper she asked, “How did you find me?”
Devlin noticed the fear in her voice but ignored it. “A private investigator.” He saw the next question in her eyes but took it upon himself to answer when she couldn’t force the words past her throat. “Your parents don’t know where you are.”
Casey leaned back against the wall as relief sank into her bones. They didn’t know. He wasn’t here because of them. He had come out of respect for Amanda. The thought of her sister made the relief short-lived.
“Well, thank you for telling me Mr.-” His name had escaped her again. She needed to escape this…him.
“Right, Mr. Prescott. Thank you Mr. Prescott.” At a loss for words, she gave a quick nod and turned to leave the room. She managed to mutter, “It was a pleasure meeting you,” before she disappeared through the door.
In the back room Jonas had just finished rinsing Sampson off. He turned to see a pale Casey enter the room. Concerned, he watched as she grabbed a dry towel and walked towards him. She refused to meet his gaze but before he could question her, the door to the lobby swung open and the well-dressed man entered. Casey flinched when she heard him behind her.
“I’ll just put him in back,” Jonas said awkwardly. Casey helped him lift the dog out of the tub and watched as he disappeared into the kennel room, leaving her alone again with her unwanted guest. She tried to ignore him as she wiped the remaining water off the floor.