Author’s Note: I have, I think, very good news. The scene I started yesterday lead to more scenes, and I have, I believe, bridged the gap.
That means… The story is done.
“Tell me you’re kidding,” Shaelynn said, staring at Kaplan, starting to wonder if that idiotic kid had managed to shoot her because everything after that had a bit of a surreal feel to it, and the truth was that she could convince herself that none of it had been real, that she was all in a delusional fever—Nolan had said he loved he loved her, both Kaplan and Morton had tried to tell her she loved him, and then Nolan had been kidnapped. No, it would be easier to believe that none of that had happened.
“I’m not. Nolan mentioned the possibility of Bavelier having other children, and we all agreed with it, but while we expected the second missing girl to be his daughter, none of us would have guessed that Nolan was his son.”
“How did you even have his DNA to test it against?”
“That little incident with the cops that didn’t believe him about Harrison,” Morton explained. “Someone was trying to convince Harrison to sue regardless of him being in the wrong—some kind of bogus excess force charge, so they had all of Harrison’s clothes from that day analyzed, and there was enough of an exchange when Sheppard held him that they could use.”
Shaelynn nodded. She supposed that made a twisted sort of sense. “Fine, but that doesn’t explain why anyone thought to check it against Bavelier’s.”
“It came up when we had a couple of Jane Does to identify. They were tested against Bavelier’s, and it flagged when it came up related to someone in another crime, so they looked at it and called me to suggest that Nolan had another reason for being involved in this whole mess.”
“Those idiots actually thought Nolan would hurt his half-sisters? Do they not realize that Nora’s only a half-sister and he is beyond devoted to her?” Shaelynn demanded. “Nolan would never hurt anyone. Well, not unless he had no other choice and was defending himself or someone else. He knows how to hurt people, but he doesn’t want to.”
“Agreed. As soon as I saw the results and the conclusion the techs wanted me to jump to, I almost laughed. Only it wasn’t funny,” Kaplan said. She let out a breath. “What I wanted to know, about half a second later, was if Bavelier had any idea that Sheppard was his son when he hired him.”
Shaelynn grimaced. “You’re thinking premeditation. That Bavelier hired Nolan with a bogus claim of going into politics so that he could see if his son knew who the hell he was.”
“I’m not so sure the politics thing was bogus,” Morton disagreed. “I think he did want that, and if he did, then he had to know that his son would be a major obstacle. Nolan’s history is public, or at least it would be easily accessible. If anyone could connect Bavelier to his mother—”
“And that was not hard, actually,” Kaplan said. “If Sheppard had dug deeper, he might have found they went to the same school, and while there aren’t photos of them as a couple in the yearbook, with more digging, we could probably find plenty of people who knew they were involved. Running down that connection wouldn’t be hard, and an investigative reporter who wanted dirt or a campaign manager working against Bavelier would have found it—even by implication it’s bad enough. The idea that he could have gotten his girlfriend strung out, pregnant, and left her and his son to the life they had—prostitution and later a cult… That would have destroyed any attempt at getting any kind of power.”
Shaelynn thought about her own father and bit back a couple of responses to that. “I don’t see why anyone would be stupid enough to go into politics after having done crap like that. The secrets always come out.”
“It’s about the power,” Morton said. He shrugged. “I think they start feeling invincible long before they get to office, and if they know the right kind of people… Well, there are crooked cops and other people that can help this sort of crap disappear. I knew an agent who had retired before we realized he was crooked. Bavelier probably thought that he could keep getting away with what he’d already done, and if he needed to get rid of anyone else along the way, he’d be able to escape being connected to that as well.”
Shaelynn turned to Kaplan. “You think he kidnapped all of his children?”
The agent nodded. “What better way to run a successful political campaign than the sympathy vote when he loses his daughter in a very tragic way?”
“So’s Bavelier, by all indications,” Morton said. “After we had him as a suspect, a few avenues came together for us, and we learned that his Lincoln recently got a new tail light.”
Shaelynn figured they could have started with that and told her all this later. She wasn’t sure she cared about the whys. She just wanted to know that Nolan was alive, that they could find him and get him back. “Do we know where Nolan is?”
Kaplan nodded. “We think so.”
“Should have killed you when she first told me about you,” Bavelier said, and Nolan would have told him he agreed if he could talk. He hadn’t expected the old man to have as much fight in him as he did. The guy was supposed to be a simple businessman. He was not supposed to have the kind of training that could rival Ambrose’s—or maybe that was just because Nolan was concussed and out of practice—he’d like to think so, but at the same time, he didn’t want it to be because he was injured and out of shape. He needed it to be training—only if it was training, if Bavelier was in good shape, then Nolan was in trouble because he couldn’t fight like this.
He couldn’t quite breathe like this.
He regretted telling his half-sisters to run when the door opened and he caught Bavelier. He could have used some help, even if they weren’t trained. He needed them.
Maybe they’d get all the way out of wherever this was. Maybe they’d find the door to the outside world. Maybe they’d get that kind of help. He could hope for that, couldn’t he?
Except, he didn’t know that he’d survive that long. He was having a lot of trouble breathing at the moment, and that was going to be an issue.
“Should have killed her the moment she threatened to tell everyone, but no, I thought I’d let her live. I thought she’d be so strung out that she’d never tell anyone or be believed even if she did, and it worked for a long time. A long, long time.”
Nolan managed to shift his knee, jamming it up into the older man’s stomach, loosening his grip for a moment. Able to breathe again, he sucked in air and rolled over, getting himself free from underneath his so-called father. He sat, taking a moment to continue drawing in air, needing to gather his air and his strength to fight again.
“Why leave it up to the drugs?” Nolan asked, rubbing his sore throat. If he could get Bavelier talking, that might buy him some time, and if the girls were free, if they’d gotten out, then he could delay until they got help. That might be enough. “Why not pay her? Or pay for an abortion?”
“My money wasn’t mine yet, and even if it was, my parents would have stopped the abortion or the payments. They weren’t the sort to allow that,” Bavelier muttered, annoyed. “Not that she would have agreed. Bitch. She didn’t want one. Neither of them did. They’d just keep asking for more. The last one did. Had to make sure she stopped.”
Nolan grimaced. He did not want to hear this, yet he needed to keep the conversation going. “Did you kill her. or did you get someone else to do it?”
“There’s one that has a stake in seeing that no one else can come forward to claim my fortune when I’m gone.”
“Another son? And you got him to kill for you?” Nolan felt sick. What kind of family did he really have? What kind of monster was in their blood?
He heard Shaelynn’s voice in his head, repeating their old arguments about how she wasn’t poisoned by her father and his blood. If he believed that when he said it to her, then it had to be true of him, too.
“There was at least one useful child in there.”
Nolan glared at him. He didn’t care what the bastard thought of him, but he wasn’t about to agree that some random killer was the only child Bavelier had fathered that meant anything. “I suppose your legitimate daughter doesn’t count because she’s a girl?”
“Exactly. You could have been a good son, but you weren’t. You ruined everything,” Bavelier said, and Nolan knew their chat was over. He tried to move, but he wasn’t fast enough. His father caught him, slamming his head back as he cut off his air again.
Thanks to the renewed pain in his head, his ears seemed to be ringing, and he wasn’t sure if it was a hallucination, but he thought maybe there were shouts. Maybe voices. His sisters come back? He didn’t know. He was still trying to figure it out when he heard a shot.
Bavelier fell away. Nolan sucked in air, staring at his father’s body for a long time as he tried to understand what had just happened. He wasn’t sure any of it was real, but then he looked up, and he knew he was hallucinating because he didn’t know how Shaelynn could be here.
“You idiot,” she muttered as she touched his face. She looked worried. Why would she be worried? “I told you it wasn’t over so why didn’t you listen to me?”
He had a dozen reasons that he could give her, but he didn’t use them. He shrugged. “I suppose now it is over and I can die because you’re here?”
“No. You don’t get to die. Not on my watch.”
He nodded. It figured she’d make him live, hallucination or not. “Okay, but I get to pass out, right? You have to let me… because I don’t think I can stop myself.”
She wrapped her arms around him, and he wanted to make a comment about snuggly toys, but he passed out first.
“What part of wait for us to clear the scene do you not understand?” Morton asked, folding his arms over his chest as he looked down at Shaelynn with disapproval. She thought the look might have been better coming from Kaplan, but she was still in agent mode, checking out the rest of the basement where Nolan and the others had been held.
Shaelynn shifted her hold on Nolan, trying to find a more comfortable spot. Holding him was a lot easier when she could sit in a chair or on a bed, but all she had was a concrete floor. She should just be glad that he was alive. She looked toward Kaplan. “If it were her, would you have stayed back?”
Morton shook his head. “Hell, no, but then I admit to loving her with all I’ve got.”
Kaplan looked back at him over her shoulder. “Well, you love me enough to risk disciplinary review, at least.”
He shrugged, giving her a grin that seemed to take over his face whenever he was looking at her. Someone other than Shaelynn would call that stupid happy in love. She would agree to the first part at least. “I happen to think I should be with you on every raid. I want you backed up by someone I trust. I’d prefer it if it were me, but I suppose I might settle for Simpson, DC, or Richmond.”
Kaplan glanced toward the other agents, and Shaelynn figured that the dark looks weren’t the only comments that they’d like to make, but not even Shaw said anything, letting Kaplan continue her conversation with her husband. “Your brothers aren’t agents.”
“So?” Morton asked, still grinning. “That didn’t stop you before.”
Kaplan returned the grin. “DC is good backup.”
Shaelynn shook her head. Those two had one hell of an odd sense of humor—and their flirting was unnecessary. “Someone should call Nora and tell her that Nolan is okay.”
“Why don’t you let us decide that?” A man asked, and Shaelynn looked up at a couple paramedics with a frown. He gave her a reassuring smile as he stepped closer. “Ma’am, if you don’t mind letting go, we’d like to get a look at him.”
“Sisters…” Nolan muttered, stirring in Shaelynn’s hold. He pushed at her, and she turned her fingers in his hair, trying to soothe him.
“We’ll call Nora. You just calm down,” Shaelynn told him, but Nolan shook his head. He gagged like he might puke, and she almost shoved him away before she realized what he wanted. She turned to the EMT. “The girls that came out of here, they were okay, right?”
“Yeah, they’re fine, considering,” the paramedic answered. He started looking Nolan over, and Shaelynn didn’t think he was lying, though she would have hoped he would for Nolan’s sake no matter what had happened to them. She wanted the girls to be fine—she did—but she wanted Nolan calm more right now. She was that selfish. “Dehydrated and undernourished, but we’ll get them fluids and monitor them overnight just to be sure.”
“You hear that, Nolan?” Shaelynn asked, smiling down at him. “They’re okay. You can rest now.”
He nodded, curling up against her, and she figured he’d stay out this time. She wasn’t sure if that was good or not. She should have learned more than basic first aid, and she should have kept up with it over the years.
“How bad is it?”
“He’ll be all right. He’s got a concussion, for sure and a bit of bruising, but that looks like the worst of it.” The paramedic’s words were more reassuring than his smile. “Should just mean monitoring him overnight.”
She nodded, relieved. Then she saw Bavelier and winced. “That one?”
“Dead before he hit the ground,” Morton said, looking over at Agent Shaw. “Not sure if I feel like congratulating you for that shot or pitying you. It’s hard to take a life, even if it’s in self-defense.”
“Or justified,” Kaplan added, shaking her head. Shaelynn knew there was a story there, but she didn’t feel like asking about it. She just wanted to get Nolan over this damned concussion so that they could talk. He was alive, and that was good, but it was not enough.
“Well, at least you know he can shoot,” Shaelynn said, though that fact didn’t do much to improve her opinion of Shaw. “I need to call Nora, tell her to meet us at the hospital.”
Kaplan nodded. “She’ll be notified. The only reason we didn’t call her before was that we didn’t know enough, but it’s over now. We can give her all the details and wrap it up.”
“There’s still plenty of paperwork to do,” Morton said, but his lips curved into a smile as he looked at Shaw. “Then again, since you’ll be on desk duty, I think that’s something you can do.”
Shaw grimaced, but he was at least smart enough not to argue with that.
“Ma’am,” the EMT said, touching her arm. His partner had set down the board next to Nolan. “We need you to let us take him. You’ll have to move.”
“She’s riding with you,” Morton told him. “She’s his wife.”
For once, Shaelynn didn’t correct that statement.
“We’re keeping the name Sheppard,” Shaelynn said as Nolan forced his eyes open. He had to be better about getting hit over the head. That was probably impossible, but his head hurt, and he didn’t want to think about how easy it had been for all of that to happen. He knew he’d turned his back on most of his training, but he hadn’t thought that he’d be so easy to take. He shouldn’t have been. Ambrose had trained him better than that.
“What?” Nolan couldn’t remember what she’d said now. The concussion had taken away whatever that had been.
“I said—we’re keeping Sheppard. I like it, and I don’t care who your father was. You’re not taking his name. He was scum, and he doesn’t deserve that.”
Nolan nodded. He agreed. “I don’t think—I think I would rather have gone on never knowing who my father was than know it was him. I still… Are we sure it was him? I know that the girls believed it, and he even said something about it in among his ramblings, but I didn’t think—I didn’t believe it.”
“I suppose we’ll have to get you the results of the test so you can be sure, but everyone seemed pretty convinced.”
Nolan closed his eyes with a wince. “I suppose in some way, it is a twisted motive for being behind all this. He probably suspected before he came to have me ‘consult’ for him, but I don’t know for sure. It would make sense, though. He might have known thirteen years ago, but he wouldn’t have been worried until he decided to get politically ambitious. Then the whole thing could have come out—how he got his girlfriend hooked on drugs and turned her out to support their habit. How he got her pregnant and abandoned her and the baby… Yeah, that would have gone over well with his constituents.”
Shaelynn shrugged. “He was an idiot.”
“Yes, he was,” Nolan agreed. He wanted to reach for her hand, but he didn’t know that she’d let him take it. “I guess I don’t understand—why are you here?”
She frowned. “You have to ask?”
“Yes, I do, actually. I remember telling you to go. I remember thinking that you were gone. I remember going on with my life.” He looked at her. “It’s not that I’m not grateful because I am. My father was apparently just as insane as yours, and he wanted me dead, and he probably would have made that happen. I just… didn’t expect you to be there to help me.”
She lowered her head. “Nolan, you know I didn’t exactly want to leave. I left because you asked me to, because I understood why you were asking, and because you were right to ask. I couldn’t stay when you loved me and I didn’t love you. That wasn’t right. It wouldn’t have been fair.”
“Yet you’re here.”
She nodded. “I… I didn’t think the threat was over, so I stayed. I followed you. I watched over you. I didn’t love you, but I didn’t want you dead, either.”
He forced himself to swallow. This conversation was going to be as painful as their last one, wasn’t it? “Well, then, I suppose I owe you my thanks and I have to admit that you were right about the whole thing. So I can—Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You’re talking like you expect me to leave.”
“Aren’t you going to?” He didn’t know why she wouldn’t be planning on it. She’d done what she needed to, hadn’t she? She’d saved him, she’d ended the threat for good, and he was safe now. He couldn’t even have that bad of a concussion.
“Oh. I’m stuck with you until I’m out of the hospital? Is that it?”
She shook her head. “I had some unpleasant conversations while I was supposedly ‘stalking’ you. I had a lot of time to myself to think. I reached a few conclusions, and I know a few things. I just—I don’t feel comfortable walking away from you. I don’t want to. I’m not willing to lose you. I’m not just talking about your life being in danger.”
“I told you—this only works if it’s a clean break. The last thirteen years of limbo have proved that.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Shaelynn. I am going to ask you to go again. I can’t do this with you. I need you to let me get over you.”
“I’m not so sure I’m willing to do that.”
“You don’t want me.”
She studied him for a long moment. “I don’t want to want you. I’m not just talking about love. I am talking about friendship, partnership… All those things we had and shared—I don’t want to want that. I don’t like the idea of needing anyone else, and I don’t want to care about anyone. My mother was the only good part of my childhood before you, and I lost her. I had my father, and we all agree he was a monster. Caring about him or even wanting to was just… wrong. Ambrose kept trying to tell me that I should care about him—as a trainer at first, as something far more disgusting later. I had plenty of half-siblings, but the ones my age I was in competition with, so I knew I couldn’t trust them. The younger ones were okay, but I didn’t want to get close because when I showed any interest in them, my father and the others started talking about how ‘maternal’ I was. That word was… frightening in that place.”
“Then there was you. He brought you and your mom and your sister in off the streets, and you started to be my main competition. Only you were different—you knew a life outside of the walls. You had a sense of right and wrong that wasn’t dictated by my father, and you had… goodness in you, I guess is the only way to describe it. You didn’t drink the Kool-Aid, but that just made it so that I had to worry about you. You were either going to get yourself killed or you’d break, and I didn’t want to see that happen.”
Nolan shrugged. “I wasn’t your responsibility.”
“I know that. I just… I was protective of you even then. I know that you don’t want to hear that, but if anything, that was what it was. I didn’t want to let the one good part of that place get corrupted.”
“I understand that, but I really don’t—”
“Kaplan and Morton both insist that my protectiveness goes deeper than that,” Shaelynn said. She let out a breath. “I told them I didn’t believe that. I don’t want to love you. That’s still the way it is.”
He jerked his head in a quick nod. “I know that. That means that you have to go. Now.”
“No. I’m staying, Nolan. I don’t know how this will end up working, but I know that I’m not going to leave again. I don’t like worrying about you from a distance, and I know you just get in trouble without me. We have to find some way of… making it work if I stay.”
He looked at her. The hell with it. He wasn’t going to go for half-measures. “Marry me, Shaelynn. For real this time. I’m not interested in anything less than everything. I told you—I can’t do it. So if you want to stay, if we want to work this out, it’ll be us working towards forever.”
“You have to have a commitment?”
“Yes.” He wasn’t all that proud of it, but he couldn’t deny it, either. “I’ve already lost you too many times to do this without it, and you already know I love you. I haven’t stopped in more than thirteen years. You know how I feel about you, and you know it won’t change. I don’t have that kind of reassurance. You just told me you don’t want to love me. How am I supposed to take that? As a declaration of love and a vow of eternity? I’m sorry. It doesn’t work that way. I know you, and I know that you do care in spite of wanting not to care, and I would like that to be enough, but it isn’t. You’ve left me too many times for that. I’m pathetic, and I’m insecure. I’ll admit that. If I am going to stop all the work I did in trying to get over you and let you back in, I need something. I can’t let myself go back to that cycle again because if you did leave this time, you’d break me for good.”
“I never meant to break you.”
“I know that. I don’t blame you. I do understand, but I asked you to go for a reason, and that reason hasn’t changed. I can’t do this in any half-measure. You have all of me. I should be able to have all of you, or I should be trying to find someone else, someone who is willing to put as much into it as I have. I want you. I want that person to be you. I don’t want anyone else, but I also know that it’s not—it won’t work if you won’t give as much as I am. We have to go in equal or not at all.”
She nodded. “I know that. I’m not leaving, Nolan. Not again. You mean too much to me to lose, and maybe I don’t know much about love—anything about it, really—but if there was anyone that I could ever love, if I’m capable of that—it’s you. Maybe you were right and our friendship was heading for more before the whole marriage thing screwed it up, maybe we could even have made the marriage work, but I was still messed up from it. I had to take time and get distance from this to know how I felt, and I know it took longer than you’d hoped, but even if nothing else is clear—I know I won’t accept not having you in my life. And I think we may as well face that we got ruined for anyone else… It would only work with each other.”
“So you want me because we’re ruined?”
“Damn it,” she said. “Don’t make this harder than it is. I am not going to tell you I love you and always have because you know I don’t believe in it. Maybe you and I can find it together, but don’t make me lie.”
“Asking for a yes or no answer is not a lie.”
She laughed a little. “Fine, you idiot. The answer is yes.”
Nora came out of her office, frowning. She ignored the echo from her heels as she did, intent on only one thing: getting those feds out of her office. This was her firm, and they did not do this. “I thought my brother told you that we don’t consult on cases like this.”
The female agent glanced at the men with her—one was her husband, but the other Nora didn’t recognize. He was not the one that had been there before, not Shaw, mercifully, because she might have had to use her stilettos for something other than being stylish if he had been—and then back at Nora. “I think someone forgot we had an appointment.”
“No, we don’t. I don’t have anything on the books, and I wouldn’t. Nolan doesn’t do law enforcement consulting. That’s not what this company is about. I told you that before. Not that I’m not grateful for all you did in helping end the threat to Nolan’s life, but that still doesn’t mean that we’re going to help on some other case. No. It’s not happening.”
Kaplan almost smiled. “He didn’t tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
Morton turned the wedding band on his hand as he gave the man next to him a sympathetic look. She thought they might be brothers—though if she was right about it, the one was older than Morton. “This is going to be awkward, isn’t it?”
“I’m still not sure why I’m here,” the brother said, frowning a bit as he did. “First you said it was a case, then you said we had to meet someone, and now I’m getting the unpleasant feeling that—what exactly is this?”
“Oh, we didn’t tell you?” Morton grinned in a way that Nora was good for no one, even if she barely knew the man. “DC, this is Nora. Nora, DC.”
Nora frowned. “I don’t know why we’re being introduced, but I think you need to—”
“Say hello to your date,” Nolan said with a grin, and she glared back at him. Oh, she was going to kill him. Slowly. Mercilessly. “Kaplan very generously offered her brother-in-law, and I passed along the name of that babysitting service—excellent woman, nothing gets by her—”
“Which is what everyone needs when dealing with my daughter,” Morton said. “So now that Geneva and I can have a date night, we’re going out. It wasn’t fair to leave you at home by yourself, DC, so… yes, we did volunteer you. Sheppard was very helpful on Geneva’s case, so we figured we’d help him with his sister’s problem—”
“Excuse me?” Nora shook her head. “I do not have a problem. I can date whoever I please, and I don’t need help finding a date, and I am not—”
“A sucker for a man in a uniform?”
“I hate you, Shaelynn.”
She smiled back, and Nora glared at her. She and Nolan deserved each other. She heard someone clear their throat, and she turned around, facing the one they called DC and trying not to wince.
“I have to admit, Raleigh finally managed to pay me back for most of what Richmond and I did to him when he was a child. Sorry about that. You should never have gotten in the crosshairs there.”
She shrugged. “I was already in them from the other side. Not sure I’ll apologize for my brother, though. I stopped doing that years ago.”
“Sure you did,” Nolan scoffed. “You’re only my business partner and secretary. You apologize for me all the time.”
She grimaced. “I hate you, too, Nolan.”
“I know. Still, if you really want me to believe that you’re not all about the money… Let’s go have dinner.”