Old Characters Make Another Appearance in Nano

Author’s Note: So… I don’t know if this is a plot, but I did manage to get more, and Raleigh got to make an appearance this time around (well, so did Kaplan) and I liked that a lot more than I should have.

I was told to get to the important stuff.

I had to ask what that was…

Once More with Guests of Honor

“Sheppard? Anything missing?”

“Would you please go away?” Nolan muttered, grumbling to himself as he tried to crawl under the bed. Shaelynn had Boots in her arms and Creamsicle on her shoulder, and Nora seemed to have reclaimed Hazelnut, but Patchwork refused to come out with everyone in the apartment, and Nolan would not be satisfied until he was able to see for himself that she hadn’t been hurt. “I want to find my cat and then I’ll give you an inventory.”

“I can help with that,” Nora said, not letting go of Hazelnut. “Nolan has three paintings in the front room. None of them masterpieces. Their combined value is less than that of his television, which I believe was still sitting there. Table is nice, but inexpensive, since he figured he’d break the glass one that went with the living room set—vase is not even a cheap knock off—Nolan picked it up at some department store—the flowers, of course, are fake. The cabinet there is an antique, but Nolan repainted it and ruined its value…”

Shaelynn moved further into the bedroom, not wanting to hear all of Nora’s commentary on the stuff that her brother owned—she didn’t figure that the cops wanted it, either, but it was their job to listen, not hers.

“People really spook her this much?”

“She’s not the most outgoing cat, but this is worse than usual,” Nolan said, cursing as Patchwork hissed. Shaelynn figured he’d gotten scratched, but he managed to crawl back out with her in his arms, hissing and fighting the whole time. “I think she’s all right, but this is not going to be easy on her. She doesn’t like disruptions to her routine.”

“Sounds kind of high maintenance to me. Not quite what I’d figured for you when you said she was the love of your life.”

He snorted. “If I wanted a simple woman, I would never have married you.”

Shaelynn glared at him, but he ignored her as he tried to get Patchwork calm, talking to her in quiet tones but avoiding baby-talk as he rocked her, pacing the room. He stopped in front of his closet and frowned. “Um, lieutenant?”

From the way the other man rushed in, he was all too glad to have an excuse to leave Nora’s inventory. He stopped, frowning at Nolan. “I see you got the cat. You are allowed to take them, if that was your question.”

“No,” Nolan said, nodding toward the closet. “I locked that this morning. Shaelynn was threatening to destroy my suits, so I figured I’d slow her down an extra half-second with that. Someone has definitely been in there.”

The lieutenant turned to her. “And was that you?”

She shook her head. “I took this one from his office—haven’t been back here to deal with his closet yet. I was busy with other things. I even have an alibi if you want it.”


Nolan shifted Patchwork in his arms. “I have a feeling that I won’t like what’s in my closet now.”

“They would have had to clear the room when they looked for the intruder,” Shaelynn reminded him. “No bogeyman’s waiting in there for you, and they should have seen anything the guy left behind.”

Nolan pushed the door open. With his shirts and jackets stored on individual hangers, the bottom of the closet was clear other than the one space with the shoe caddy, and it was clear no one was there. He forced the clothes apart, creating a gap that revealed a crude drawing of a circle with several smaller ones inside it.

“That mean anything to you?”

“I’d assume it refers to the ninth circle,” Nolan said, getting a frown from the other man. “Dante. The Inferno. Required reading once. It’s the area of hell reserved for betrayers and mutineers. And me, I suppose.”

Shaelynn grimaced. “When we find this guy, I am going to hurt him. My father didn’t have anything worth upholding—you were a saint compared to him—and you didn’t betray anything. You did the right thing. That’s something Boath never knew—he doesn’t know the meaning of the word right.”

“No, he just twisted it very well.”


“I can’t find a sign that they did anything to my place,” Nora said, shaking her head. She sat down on the couch in their new suite, glaring at the supposedly luxury around her. Nolan didn’t want to think about what her adding machine of a brain was calculating for the real value of anything in here. He knew it was probably helping her stay calm, though, so he didn’t stop her. “I don’t think I believe that they weren’t there, but I just don’t see where they did anything.”

“Maybe the idea is just to unsettle us by letting us wonder,” Nolan told her. That was a rather effective strategy, unfortunately. Not knowing could be a lot worse than actually knowing—as he’d just gone through with this not sleeping business.

“And maybe they don’t have any intention of hurting Nora, just you,” Shaelynn said, getting a glare from both of them. She shrugged it off. “Nora was only ever slated to be one of the wives. They never saw her as a threat. Maybe as something to reclaim, but to fear? No. You’re the one that the cult hates, Nolan. That’s not something you can deny.”

“They should hate you,” Nora said, and Shaelynn’s eyes narrowed at her. “Come on—you were only Boath’s favorite daughter. Then you marry the outcast and help him take down the whole cult? Why don’t more of them hate you?”

“Because they still think she was just a helpless woman bystander for all this who followed her husband without a choice because that was what she was supposed to do.”

Shaelynn gagged. “That is so not anything I would ever do. I chose not to turn you in, and half that damn escape plan was mine. I helped. I planned. I would have shot someone if I had to. Idiots.”

Nolan shook his head. “I just explained why they would think that you had no part in it—I keep telling you—I could never have done that on my own. I needed you. I still do.”

Shaelynn let out a breath, leaning back against her chair. She took Creamsicle down from her shoulder and held him in her hands. “Where does this leave us, then? I think the police are completely convinced that this is about the cult. Between the ‘traitor’ on the car and the explanation Nolan gave for that message in his closet, and the fact that they didn’t even bother with the safe or any of the valuables at the apartment, I’m sure the police won’t want to spend a lot of resources on the unlikely possibility that it’s nothing to do with the past.”

“Assuming our contact can find any sign of listening devices or what they might have been, there is a small possibility of tracking them back to the source, but mostly what we have is what we had before—nothing. We can keep digging into the files for stuff I’ve worked lately, and we might get more from that, but our biggest ‘lead’ was Cunningham, and we all seem to agree that he’s sleaze but not behind this, right?”

Nora ran her hand over Hazelnut’s fur, mouth thin. “I doubt he is. I don’t have the same expertise that you do, but all I got from him was the need for a few extra showers. I don’t think he actually can think with anything above his waist.”

Shaelynn laughed. “No, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t.”

Nolan grimaced. He didn’t really want to think about Cunningham ogling either of the women in his life. He’d like to punch the guy, though. “We did bring the files we were arguing over with when we left. Shaelynn can have her catfight—sorry, Patchwork—with that former client of ours, and I guess I’ll look into one of the others again.”

“You still have Agent Kaplan’s number?”

He nodded. “Yes, but I don’t see the need to call her into this. We still don’t have a connection between anything we know and what she’s investigating. I’m being threatened by someone from the cult—or so all the evidence suggests. Even if someone wasn’t trying to frame the cult for this, why would they be after me when I know nothing about those missing girls?”

“Except we all jumped to the conclusion that Kaplan and Shaw were there about a cult. Shaw might have been an idiot, but he thought it was about the cult. It is possible that someone is trying to use your connection to the would be politician to obscure a kidnapping or murder by making it look like the work of the cult.”

“The cult whose leaders are all dead or in prison? That’s a dumb plan,” Nolan said. “Worse than one of mine.”

Shaelynn smiled a little at the last part, but she shook her head all the same. “Criminals aren’t always rocket scientists. Police shows have made them smarter than they would be so that they get an entertaining hour or so, but most of the time it’s not half as complicated as they show. It’s simple, and it’s almost always personal. This person could just assume that the cult angle will work even if it’s unlikely as all get out.”

“True.” Nolan reached into his pocket and dug out the card. “Anyone else want the honors?”

“Honestly,” Shaelynn muttered, annoyed. “Give it to me. I’ll make the damn call.”



Shaelynn frowned. “Morton?”

“Yes. Do you want the Raleigh or the agent to go with that?”

“Well… I think I prefer the agent, but I must have the wrong number. I was trying to reach Agent Kaplan,” Shaelynn said, pulling the phone away from her ear when she heard a curse.

“Damn. I have Geneva’s phone again. That’s the third time this week. Moonshine, I swear, if you don’t stop switching my phone with your stepmother’s, I’m going to shove socks in your mouth while you sleep.”

Shaelynn wasn’t sure she’d heard that right. “Excuse me?”

Morton coughed. “Sorry. My daughter. She thinks this is hilarious. Right now she’s rolling on the floor laughing while her stepbrother keeps giving her the ‘Carolina is nuts’ look, and I find myself in need of either my wife or one of my brothers to keep me from harming my own child.”

“Oh, come on, Dad. You know you love me.”

“You are so grounded. Go to your room, and no eavesdropping. That’s you, too, Tim,” Morton said, and Shaelynn heard him sigh. “My daughter is either going to take over the world or become the first female president. She scares me.”

Shaelynn was tempted to laugh. “I take it Kaplan is your wife?”

“Yes, and I apologize for the confusion. She’s not home right now—missing persons cases means she’s usually not home at night unless they find them—so you can try the office, but if she’s in the field and has my phone, well…”

“This might pertain to her case.”

“Still going to have to call her office. I’m not giving you my cell number. Call me paranoid, but we went through a lot and—”

“In case I don’t reach her, tell her Shaelynn Sheppard called. Someone is threatening Nolan, and while it is unlikely that it’s about those missing girls, with someone making it look like the cult is after him… it could be, if they thought they could obscure the truth behind the girls’ disappearance with the cult angle.”

“This wouldn’t be Nolan Sheppard who is facing a hostile takeover from Channing Cunningham, would it?”

“It might be. Why?”

Morton grunted. “I actually was meaning to talk to him about Cunningham for one of my cases. I’d be interested in talking this all over, but without a babysitter that can’t get manipulated by an eight year old hellion…”

Shaelynn frowned. If Cunningham was being investigated for racketeering—that seemed well above what he was capable of, though he seemed like a good puppet to her—then they had another reason why someone might be after Nolan. She figured they needed to know about that angle, too, and now rather than later. She wasn’t a babysitter—Nora would throw a fit if she was put in that position—but both of them could more than handle this supposed hellion. They’d grown up in a cult, after all.

She paused, thinking she might be the wrong choice since she actually felt like doing some target practice today. She looked down at Creamsicle. “Does this child of yours like cats?”

“I think so. Why?”

“Nolan has four.”

“I’m not sure even four cats is enough to distract my daughter from being her nosy little—I heard that, Moonshine. Guess what? You’re now grounded for a month. Tim, you’ve got two weeks, and you better start thinking about this peer pressure thing because she’s taking you right down the garden path, and you will regret it.” Morton cursed. “Oh, the hell with it. I apparently can’t handle them on my own today. Where can we meet?”

Shaelynn gave him the name of the hotel and their suite number before hanging up. She walked back into the other room. “Agent Morton’s coming to see us.”

“Morton?” Nolan asked. “Is that the replacement for Shaw, then?”

She figured that would have pleased the hell out of Kaplan, but that had to be against their agency’s regulations. “No. Kaplan’s husband.”

Nora frowned, but Nolan grinned, clapping his hands together. He hadn’t forgotten about that insane idea of pairing his sister up with one of Morton’s brothers. Shaelynn didn’t know why he’d still want to do that, but maybe he just wanted the distraction at this point.

“He’s bringing their kids.”

“Well… That could be interesting.”


Nolan beat Shaelynn to the door, ignoring her glare. He didn’t care to let her open the door for him all bodyguard-like. She was not going to take a bullet for him. He wasn’t about to let that happen. If the person threatening him was outside that door right now, they could get him because he was not going to let anyone else open it.

He glanced at the kids and then at the man with them and smiled. “Agent Morton. Come in. I’m Nolan Sheppard.”

“Figured. I saw that article.”

“Yeah, we’re considering litigation on that,” Nolan said, letting go of the door as he jumped after Boots. “Damn it. Catch him if you can.”

“I got him!” the girl cried, but he escaped and kept on running. The boy started running with her after the cat, and Nolan sincerely hoped that the stairwell had a door.

Morton glanced toward the kids, shaking his head before he shrugged. “Well, that will wear them out, I guess. That should help.”

Nolan laughed. “He’ll keep them going in circles if he can’t get down the stairs. It’ll do more than wear them out. He’s fast and likes to escape whenever he can, though I thought that was over after I got Creamsicle.”

Morton blinked. “Creamsicle?”

“That ball of fluff that Shaelynn has.”

“Ah, yes.” Morton looked at the cat, apparently passed on trying to pet it, and helped himself to the other open chair. “Geneva said she’d be here in a few minutes. She can take over then. I think I’ll play the injured card tonight and go to bed early.”

“You can’t handle a couple of kids for a few hours?” Nora asked, shaking her head. “Men. You are all such babies.”

“Says you,” Nolan told her. “I’d like to see you try recovering from being shot.”

“One word,” Shaelynn said as she set Creamsicle down. “Labor.”


“Before they get to bond over that moment,” Nolan said, turning to Morton. “Neither of them have had any children. I think your wife is the only one that gets bragging right. You and I still have the whole being shot thing.”

“Let’s not discuss that too much. The subject still upsets my daughter, a lot. I am actually here to talk to you about Cunningham.”

Nolan grimaced. “I hate him. Still—Shaelynn had to talk to him today, so you might as well start with her. She has the freshest memory, most recent contact… All that fun stuff. Me? I haven’t seen him since that conference where I told him off—No, I take that back. After he sent his ‘spy’ into my office, I went in and told him off.”

“Any fireworks?”

“Only verbal ones.” Nolan picked up Patchwork and sat down next to Shaelynn. “Cunningham and I have never gotten along. I don’t know if he assumed I told Nora not to date him, but she generally makes up her own mind about that.”

“Generally?” Nora asked. “I don’t let anyone tell me who and who not to date. It has nothing to do with my overprotective older brother. I happen to have standards. Cunningham doesn’t even get close to the minimum I require.”

“And what exactly is that?”

Nora frowned. “I thought you were married, Agent Morton.”

“I am, and very happily so this time around, but I have to admit, I’m just enjoying a chance to converse with adults for a change. My daughter thinks she’s thirty, but she’s not an adult yet, and since I had to spend the day trying to avoid the question of when Geneva and I will give them a younger sibling, I want this interview to last forever.”

Nolan laughed. “Oh, well, we can talk about plenty of things unrelated to the case or the threats. I’d prefer that myself. I like distractions.”

“He’s only spent the last three days avoiding anything that might really be what’s going on with him,” Shaelynn muttered, shaking her head. “Don’t let him.”

“I’m not going to make any promises. I’d rather Geneva was here for any of the important conversations, and I figure I have to drag myself up out of this chair to check on the kids in a minute.”

“Oh, no, let Nora do that,” Nolan said, grinning at her. “She loves kids.”

“I just hate you,” she snapped, getting to her feet and stalking toward the door. She slammed it shut behind her, and Nolan shook his head.

He turned to Morton with a bright smile. “So… You think your brother would like her?”


“They’re out there chasing a cat.”

“I know,” Morton said, taking his wife’s hand and pulling her close to his chair before giving her a tug that got her into his lap. “It’ll wear them out, and we’ll have some peace for sleeping tonight which you know you could use. You’re burning the candle at both ends right now. I’m not sure I can take you working missing persons for much longer.”

Kaplan rolled her eyes, patting his cheek. “Racketeering got you shot. If you can stay working there, then I get to keep missing persons. It’s what I’m good at, Raleigh.”

“I just miss you, that’s all,” he said, wrapping his arms around her and rocking her a bit. “I’m making us both look completely unprofessional.”

“You usually do, Morton,” she said, trying to straighten up, but she didn’t manage it before he tightened his hold.

Shaelynn shifted, uncomfortable with all these displays of affection. She didn’t know why this was setting her off—normally she could care less what people did, but Kaplan and Morton had something that made her want to get up and check her gun.

Nolan lifted Creamsicle out of her lap. “Those two really love each other, don’t they?”

She shrugged. “I suppose.”

“You going back to that whole love doesn’t exist philosophy?”

“It doesn’t, Nolan. We’ve seen plenty of proof of that,” she said, taking the kitten back from him. She looked over at Morton and Kaplan. “Would you rather discuss the racketeering angle or the kidnapping or the threat to Nolan’s life?”

“I vote for none of the above,” Nolan muttered. He put a hand to his head. “I still don’t think there’s a connection, but Shaelynn takes paranoid to a new level—might have gotten that from her father—Damn, that hurt.”

She glared at him. “You deserved that.”

He shrugged. “Maybe. That doesn’t mean you’re not very, very paranoid. The idea that someone arranged an elaborate frame of the cult to cover up a kidnapping is almost ludicrous. I don’t see it. I think it would be an excellent cover for someone who wants me personally dead, but for something distantly connected to me? No. Then we have all the fun complications of the fact that Cunningham is trying for a hostile takeover while I’m being threatened, and I just think that somewhere, someplace, I really messed up to have all this hit at once.”

“It’s probably not a coincidence,” Kaplan said. She looked at Morton, who nodded. “We’re not big fans of coincidence.”

“Some good came of it,” Morton said. “I got you.”

Shaelynn shook her head, and Nolan took Creamsicle again. She frowned, but he rose, preventing her from getting her kitten back again. She considered getting up and going after him, but she didn’t feel like moving. She just wanted this conversation finished.

Kaplan cleared her throat. “Let’s ignore coincidence for a moment. Focus on what we do have. You’re at the center of all this somehow, Sheppard. If we play connect the dots—”

“I look suspicious?” Nolan finished. He should be glad that Nora hadn’t opened the door to come back in until after he’d said it, though she might still figure it out and get angry anyway.

“Shaw did suggest it was all an elaborate way of making us think it wasn’t you,” she told him. “That would be why I’m here alone—well, not quite.”

Morton grimaced. “We should have let DC put him through that wall. It might have actually proved that there was a brain in there somewhere.”

“And cost DC his commission. No.”

“I think you should have let him,” Nora said, coming back into the room, shoes in hand. Her hair was down and her cheeks had a bit of red to them. “Nolan, that cat is doing this on purpose, and I think you’re going to have to face facts—Boots is not meant to be an indoor cat. He wants to run around.”

“Don’t say that. You’re going to move and take Hazelnut back, I already know that, and Shaelynn’s claimed Creamsicle—I can’t lose Boots, too.”

Kaplan looked at her husband. “You know Timothy will be asking for a cat next.”

“Yes, but you’re the one with the no dog rule, not me.”

“Do you have a house?” Nora asked. At Kaplan’s nod, she smiled. “Good. I think you just got a cat. He’ll love that.”

“Nora! That’s my cat,” Nolan said, shaking his head. “She’s not allowed to give away my cat even if he wants to be an outdoors cat. He’s still mine.”

“Nolan,” Shaelynn said, crossing over to him. “No one is giving away your cats. Nora’s just saying that because she got stuck with the kids for a bit and they managed to get her out of her business Nora doll look so she’s annoyed with you.”

He looked down at the cat and back at her. “I am so sick of losing everything. I don’t know… Maybe it’s more that this finally really hit me that someone was in my apartment today. I haven’t had my privacy invaded like that since back in the days of no privacy at all in the cult.”

“We dealt with it then. You can do it now,” Shaelynn told him. “Think it through like we would have if this was one of Ambrose’s pass or die tests. Cunningham. When did you first meet him? When was he first an issue? What do you know about his business?”

“Met him thirteen years ago when I was still establishing the firm. He laughed at me, said I’d never make it as a consultant, and that this kind of work belonged to the grown ups.” Nolan laughed. “I told him maybe it did because a kid would still punch him in the face. He’s been asking for it ever since.”

Morton smiled. “And his business?”

“He doesn’t turn down a paycheck. He has no ethics to speak of. What I turn away, he accepts. He never looks past the surface story as long as the check is good.” Nolan shrugged. “When Shaelynn mentioned you wanted him for racketeering, I wasn’t exactly surprised. I don’t think he’s the brains, though. I think he’s just a good patsy.”

Nora snorted. “He’s a guy who thinks with the wrong head constantly and has a business. He’s the perfect patsy. All they have to do is dangle a pretty woman in front of him and he does whatever they want. He fell for Shaelynn’s act, didn’t he?”

She glared at Nora. “You say that like I am incapable of passing myself off as a simpering idiot like you, and I’m not.”

“Point of fact, he should have seen through that,” Morton said. “You don’t relax even when you seem relaxed. You’ve got the same look that both my brothers have—that awareness of all that’s around you and the readiness to jump to action. We agents have it, too, but Kaplan’s isn’t showing because she’s tired and mine needs work or I would never have gotten shot in the first place.”

Nolan nodded. “Like yesterday at the restaurant and how you memorized the room. You still do that, and I bet you could recreate a vivid picture of his office right now if I asked.”

Shaelynn’s jaw tightened, and she realized she was ready to hurt him. “Don’t.”

“I won’t,” he said, giving her back the kitten. He turned to Morton. “I’d almost be willing to let Cunningham take the firm temporarily and work for him if I could get at what he’s running behind the scenes—I’m not too bad at working things from the inside—”

“Absolutely not,” Shaelynn snapped. “You are not risking your life like that. How many times have we had this conversation? You’re not a cop, not an agent, not a hero, and you do not have to use what Ambrose taught us for anything. The whole point of escaping was to be free, damn it. Why would you put another bulls-eye on your back?”

“It would have been one way of saving the firm.”

“No. What is with you? When did you get so unreasonable?”

“And when are you going to stop overreacting to the idea of me working in tandem with law enforcement? It’s my life, isn’t it? You gave up having any say in it when you walked away thirteen years ago. You don’t get it both ways. You can’t say you’re no part of it and then expect to have a say in what happens. I offered you a partnership. You turned it down. You have no right to decide anything for Sheppard and Sheppard and none to decide things for me.”

“I am trying to keep you alive, remember?”

“And all of that was hypothetical.” He shook his head. “You overreacted.”

She closed her eyes. “I can’t accept you drinking the Kool-Aid. Not now. Not ever.”

He pulled her close to him. “I didn’t. You know that. I wouldn’t. You know that, too.”

She tried not to shudder. She didn’t like being weak. She just knew that Nolan was the only good that ever came out of her childhood, and she didn’t like the idea of him being corrupted. That was the same reason she hated his suits. She didn’t want to see him become something he wasn’t.

“You say that, but I hear him, and I have a very hard time believing that.”

Nolan reached up to cup her cheek. “I can’t go to the dark side with you here to stop me. Especially since you overreact to anything that comes close to the idea.”

“Don’t make me hit you.”

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