Not as Much Nano Today…

Author’s Note: So in between errands and babysitting, I was mostly working on back and forth editing with Liana Mir today. I’d written some things last night that needed… tweaking to fit with her characters and backstory and then I felt my characters needed to say some things and act differently after hers did, so it went back and forth.

In the end, I didn’t get a lot done on Nano today. And I say that like it’s so terrible that all I managed was two scenes and 1,735 words. Not my best Nano day ever, but not my worst, either.

Getting Closer to the Problem

“This one.”

Nolan accepted it with a frown, flipping through the papers and then looking up at her. “Why this one? I don’t know why you pulled that one out of the dozens I worked before vacation. Oh, wait. You’re not jealous, are you?”

Shaelynn kicked him from the other side of the couch, glaring at him. “If either of us is jealous, it would be you, or have you forgotten what you pulled with Shaw earlier? For all your ship sunk talk, you are the one that still acts like you’re seventeen and obeying the rules of that farce.”

He kicked her back. “That was an isolated incident. You don’t see me picking cases that bother me based on what the client looks like. I’m not discriminatory—see? I worked for a beautiful woman once. Just because I only did it once doesn’t mean I’m prejudiced.”

“You have a thing against beautiful women?”

“Nora hates competition.”

Shaelynn snorted, leaning back. Sometimes he was impossible to work with. She had the hardest time trying to get him to focus, and back when they were kids, she used to think it was just him being difficult and stupid, but now she knew when he was avoiding things. “If this case didn’t bother you, why are you trying to distract me?”

“It’s not the case. Not the client, either. Incidentally, I am pretty sure most of that was fake, and I’ve got no interest in plastic women. Nora said if I wanted plastic, she’d buy me one from Mattel, and so there is a boxed special edition of Catwoman in my office.”

“She knows you so well.”

“She’s a decent sister sometimes. Why does this case bother you? It was rather mundane.”

Shaelynn shook her head. She wouldn’t call it mundane. She almost thought she’d been reading over the summary of some cheesy film noir story, and that femme fatale should have stabbed Nolan in the back before now. She didn’t like it, and she wouldn’t like it. “Was this woman some kind of actress?”

“Might have wanted to be one, but as far as I knew, no. I don’t see what is so important about her. She asked about where to start looking for something that had been stolen from her family. I looked over the case because it amused me, not because I believed her. I didn’t. I’m pretty sure she wanted to capitalize on someone else’s theft, but that’s in the notes, isn’t it?”

She shook her head. “It says here you helped her.”

“Oh. Nora. She must have typed the notes on that meeting and left some of the details out. Not a big deal at all. Quit getting all suspicious on me.”

“Isn’t that what I’m here for?”

“You mean you’re not here to pet my cats and look pretty?”

She hadn’t quite registered that she had Creamsicle in her lap again. She must have been petting the kitten for longer than she’d realized. “Did you really call me pretty?”

He snorted. “I’m not that crazy, and I don’t have that much of a death wish. No one calls you pretty and gets away with it.”

She laughed. “How do you come up with this stuff, anyway?”

“I told you—I’m your kind of crazy. It just comes naturally. Always has, from the first time I made you crack a smile when we were supposed to be doing a speed drill on how to put together our guns. ‘Excuse me, is this the firing pin? It looks kind of… odd.’”

“It was the grip, and I knew you were faking it, but you managed to stand there with a straight face for long enough that I gave in and laughed so that you would finally stop.”

“No, you smiled, called me an idiot, and then when I told Ambrose I wanted to know if there was a homeschool option for that class, then you laughed.”

She shrugged. She didn’t know that the details mattered. All that did was that they got along almost from the beginning. “Next file.”

He reached for it, opened it, and tensed. “Not that one.”

“Are you kidding? After that reaction?” She shook her head. “Tell me about that case. Now.”


“Nolan, if this thing bothers you that much, then it has to be the answer to all of this. You can talk me through it and by the time that you’re done, we’ll have pinpointed the problem and you’ll be able to sleep,” Shaelynn said, coming up behind him.

He kept his eyes on the window. He didn’t feel like discussing that—any part of it—and he hated to admit that he found it that humiliating. He should have pulled it from the files to avoid this conversation. He didn’t know why he hadn’t. “It’s more embarrassing than anything. I don’t know why I left that in there for you to see. You must have enjoyed that too much.”

She touched his arm. “Since when did I enjoy anyone’s humiliation? That was Ambrose, not me. Or maybe the other one. What was his name?”

Nolan shook his head. She hadn’t forgotten the name. She wouldn’t have. None of them could forget him or the way he’d followed her father around. “Coman.”

“Yeah, him. He might have liked seeing people humiliated.”

“Anyone but your father, maybe. That guy really drank the Kool-Aid.” Nolan looked back at her. “You don’t think it’s the least bit humiliating that I didn’t catch on to the fact that the guy worked for my competition the entire time? That I had to have that jerk come in and gloat about it to realize what happened?”

“A bit,” she said, her hands on his neck again. “Not quite enough to get this reaction from you. Come on. There’s more to this than that. Talk to me. There’s never been any kind of… judgment between us. Awkwardness, yes, lots of it, and some pain, but laughter most of the time, and understand the rest of it. We know each other, even when we don’t want to.”

He looked back at her, considering what he might say to that, things he hadn’t said in thirteen years and didn’t know that he could say them now, either, even if she was here again. “That’s not true. We barely talk.”

“Tell me. You know you will, so just do it now. Spare yourself the trouble.”

“Why is it, do you think, that I always give in to you?”

“Deep down, you’re too honorable to hit a girl.”

That made him laugh. He had missed her. He didn’t think he’d laughed like this since he got shot. She’d always been good at that, and he loved her for it. He leaned against the wall, studying her as he did. “Shouldn’t you be insulted? Someone’s implying you’re a girl.”

“That someone is me. I get a pass,” she said, shrugging. “Spill, or I will use what Ambrose taught me about torture.”

He let out a breath. “They’ve been trying for a hostile takeover since I got shot. Consider that their opening volley. I don’t have time to deal with their crap, and I don’t want to work for anyone else. I don’t see why anyone thinks I’m that valuable a commodity. I’m a one-man operation, more or less. Sure, Nora handles a few things. She screens the cases, but for the most part, her role in this partnership is doing the bookkeeping and the paperwork, scheduling and the rest.”

“Then why is it Sheppard and Sheppard on the door and the letterhead?”

“Nora insisted on it.”

Shaelynn gave him a look. “You are a terrible liar. You always were. I don’t know how Ambrose or any of the others believed you.”

Nolan grunted. “They never knew me like you do. They assumed I told the truth because they wanted me to. And if you really must know, it was because I did actually think we’d be working together. You didn’t tell me you were leaving until you’d already gone. Can’t blame you for that, not really, but it does prove I didn’t know you as well as I thought I did.”

“I needed time.”

Thirteen years was too damn much, he thought, but he didn’t bother saying it. “I still don’t see why I am worth taking over. I can’t possibly interfere with that much of their business—I’m one person. I don’t have enough time to do that kind of damage.”

“You don’t need time. You just need the right weapon.”

He nodded tightly, not wanting to point out that she’d quoted Ambrose at him. “I suppose. I can do enough damage with a fast turnaround—sometimes it doesn’t take much to see what’s going on—or in a more professional assessment than they’ve gotten before, but these people are global. They don’t need me. They have plenty of staff.”

“They might want a monopoly, not a staff. It might be such a thing where they want no competition, even if it’s ‘small.’ Or they just plain want you.”

He blinked. “That’s disconcerting. Perhaps even sickening.”

She forced a smile, not much of one, and quickly let it fall. “Not that, you goofball. You don’t use it, you hate it, but you have a reputation. You have an image. You’re marketable. You’re the guy who took down a cult at seventeen. A hero. They could take that and ride to town on it even if you don’t and never would.”

Nolan’s stomach twisted with those words. He forced his eyes back to the window, kept his voice almost calm when he spoke. “I am not going to be sold.”

“No, you’re not,” she agreed. “You have any strategy in place against them?”

“Does getting very angry count?”

“Only if you’re the Hulk.”

He grinned. “I knew it. You do want to see my comic collection, don’t you?”

She rolled her eyes, and he waited. She let out a breath and maybe a few curses before she cleared her throat. “Only if it means you’re going to let me help you fight off this takeover.”

That was almost too easy. He shouldn’t let it be, shouldn’t pounce on the offer like it was some damned life preserver, but a part of him felt like that was what it was. He gave her another shrug, fighting a smile.


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