It’s Nano Time

We haven’t done Nano in a while. For years there, it was our staple, and we did Camp Wrimo in April, too, but that has been some time as well.

With all the struggles we have had in getting things going again, it seemed like a good time to try it again.

For anyone unfamiliar with what Nano is, it is the National Novel Writing Month. Your goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. I did it from 2009 to 2012, and I did succeed each time. The second nano I did became Just a Whim. A few other novels not yet released are also nano projects.

This time I plan on doing what I did with the last nano, posting each day’s progress (or nearest complete scene) as I go along.

I admit, I have a bit of a wacky mashup in mind this time, but I enjoyed its inspiration so much I hope it will go well in this version.

Alternate Universes, Nano, and the Loss of a Cat

Yesterday we lost a cat we’d had in the family for twelve years. He was fifteen. He was very sick, but that doesn’t make it easier. He was a sweetheart and a favorite and I used to spoil him almost as much as I do the namesake of Kabobbles. (I’ve been telling that cat he’s not allowed to die and better not even be thinking of it. He glares at me, but he’s gotten very skinny in his old age and he worries me.)

I flailed desperately for some kind of distraction. I was having a hard enough time before we came home from my sister’s, but when we were home, everything reminded me of Leo and it was worse.

Incidentally, crying with a chest cold is very painful.

So while we watched a movie, an old standby favorite that is one of our cheer up or “feel good” movies, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t have the ability to play computer games or read, couldn’t focus.

I wanted desperately to write. I started considering every possible angle I could after I failed to find any prompts online that I could use and annoyed a few friends asking for them. I thought of trying to create an alternate universe for some of my characters, only the ones that need it the most were ones I couldn’t bring myself to write for, much as I like them.

I would have done things with the original Effie Lincoln and Nick Tennant because their story is tragic and they should have a world where they have a happy ending, but I couldn’t get myself to do anything on it.

I almost went back to this project I had… a project I shouldn’t have started, in retrospect because I did it for all the wrong reasons (albeit subconsciously, my conscious mind didn’t think of them until much after the fact.) I’d just ended it the night before because I figured stopping myself was better, and I was only going to take away from it the basic satisfaction that if it had been my Nano project I’d have gotten 50,000 words on it. I don’t think I would have counted them, but I did have that. Only thing is… I did so much wrong with it that I couldn’t go back in even with the loose threads and the possible domestic cuteness it offered.

So then I went back to a few older pieces, not thinking I would do much of anything, but my brain actually came up with an explanation for the world in Even Better than Dreams that I liked and could run with. I talked it over some this morning, and I think I will try to resume my edits there. I really like Tolan, and I am looking forward to doing more with him, though it’s dangerous because he could end up taking over the story.

I owe Leo, I guess, because even in the darkness of that moment when I was missing him so much and needing a distraction… a bit of light came, and when I feel up to it, I’m putting him in a story to honor him. I don’t know when I’ll be able to do that as thinking of him still makes me cry, but I will.

About Nano

I don’t think I’m going to do Nanowrimo this year.

I usually do, have since I found out about it and thought it was a step toward getting me to finish something.

I thought I’d need it this year to get me back to completing stuff, but the more it loomed out in the distance, the more I realized that I’m already drowning in enough stress, and I’m not going to add to it artificially by imposing a deadline and a goal I’m not capable of reaching right now.

I can’t sustain a 50,000 word novel. It galls me to admit that, but it’s true. I only had one get that far since last Nano, and that has become a disaster in several ways, and I just don’t think Nano is a good idea this year.

I went ahead and deleted my nano account. I was already frustrated because I couldn’t change my username, and I haven’t gone by that one in over two years anyway, so why not make another clean break? I’m done with livejournal, done with Nano.

Sometimes I rather feel like being done with myself, but that doesn’t quite work. Still, I think it’s better if I don’t try and force myself through Nano. I may even shut down the website for the rest of the year because I’m not so sure any of the upcoming events/time will be a good mental place for me. Holidays, even though I don’t celebrate them, make my life miserable at my other job, and as long as I have it (which might not last though the date is currently December 22 when I’ll lose it) and the winter months and a certain other event I won’t specify because then people want to celebrate it, will all combine into making me a very unhappy person, and it will likely mean no writing or at least none worth showing.

So that’s where things stand now.

No Nano.

Possibly nothing new until next year.

I’ll see.

From Gap to End… Nano Complete

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.

Yes, done.

Wrapping it All Up

“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?”

“That’s sick.”

“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.”

“I know.”

“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.”

The End

Today, Instead of Nano…

So here’s a bit of irony today: I managed to write a scene for a story I got stuck on at the beginning of the month. I might have a way toward an ending.

I did not get unstuck on this Nano story.

I still have no bridge for my gap.

I guess it needs more time?

I don’t know.

I know I was very bad and started something new last night that I’ve been working on with excitement today.

I still took the time to write the scene for the one I was stuck on, so that’s something.

It’s just not Nano.

One More Scene, but the Gap Remains…

Author’s Note: This one continues to be like pulling teeth, but I have been trying to put the last few scenes together anyway, still being about as stubborn as it is, and maybe that means I will get it finished after all.

Or maybe not.

I have spent most of the day trying to figure out where to go now. I finished writing the scene after this and edited my epilogue, but no. I don’t have the scene that goes between this one and the next one. I can’t end this.

I can’t bridge that stupid gap.

Denials and Determination

“What do you mean, he’s my father? That’s not possible,” Nolan said, wanting to blame the concussion and the fact that he’d been kidnapped for the confusion and sheer unwillingness to believe that’s churning through him. He did not want to have heard what he knew he’d just heard. “Oh, I grant that my mother was not exactly… selective in who she had sex with—okay, let’s face it, she whored herself out for money to pay for her drug habit, but she always made it seem like that was all after my father was out of her life. I mean, it’s a lousy thing to tell a kid—even in implication—that he’s the reason why she got addicted, that she couldn’t cope with being a single mother and having her boyfriend ditch her, but that’s always been the understanding that I had about the whole thing. I know my father wasn’t Nora’s father, but that has never mattered to us.”

He heard something shift in the darkness, and he assumed one or more of the girls was moving, but he didn’t know where they were or how big this room was. He was still trying to come to terms with everything that had happened to him today—if coming to terms was anything close to being tempted to plug his ears and run around screaming that it wasn’t his father right out of that infamous scene in Star Wars. Hell, he already had said just about the same thing as those lines that everyone knew.

He shook his head. He was insane. That was all there was to it. None of this was real. He’d just cracked under the pressure of Shaelynn leaving him for good and now he was full on delusional.

“You know,” the second voice, the more sarcastic of the two—Nolan should have gotten her name by now—said, and he swore she would have rolled her eyes or worse at him if he could see her. “None of what you said just then excludes him from being your father. Not one bit. Fact is—if he was your father, as she insists he is, he’d have had to have set all that in motion before he adopted the public face he thought he could use for government. Not to mention that you’re significantly older than either of us. You’d be… a teenage indiscretion, which isn’t all that surprising, but if you think about it—you’re the one he’d least want to surface because he did do all that. He got your mother hooked on drugs. He knocked her up. He abandoned her. She turned to prostitution to support her habit. Hell, she might even have sold her children for that—”

“No. My mother never sold Nora. That is just… wrong. Mom was messed up, and I don’t deny that, but the closest she came to that was joining the cult and basically signing Nora up for a role as a teen bride and baby-maker. That’s not the same thing at all.”

“Yeah, but that’s just what you say. There’d be no way of disproving the rumors if they got out there. If your mom was desperate enough to sell herself, they’d think she’d sell both of you as well. That’s just the way it would look. It doesn’t matter if it was true or not. He’d be condemned for leaving you in that situation, for creating it. Even being young and stupid doesn’t excuse it—he should have gone back and done something for your mother and you after he straightened himself out. He had the resources from the beginning. He was just too much of a dick to use them for anyone other than himself.”

Nolan closed his eyes. “My mother told me my father’s name was Sheppard. That’s the name on the birth certificate—I checked when I went back to it, since Boath had given us all his name when he ‘married’ Mom and supposedly became our legal guardian.”

“I didn’t just say you were like my dad because you wore the same kind of suit,” the other girl said. “You both have this unconscious thing you do when you’re talking, and I swear you looked exactly like him in this video I saw—different hair, and you do have a lot of your mother in you, but there’s enough of him in you that when I rewatched that video, I was sure. When I confronted him with it and asked him how many other bastard children he had out there—well, two of us ended up here.”

“I don’t understand.” Nolan forced himself to swallow, trying not to argue about it again. “If we’re all his children, why do this? Someone was going to figure out the connection between you two eventually—I saw the pictures; you are almost obviously sisters—plus they’d have DNA for comparison to bodies and they’d make the connection. They’d have to know that you were both his daughters, and if he was trying to cover up his indiscretions, he just ended up drawing more attention to them. He made them a federal issue, and the agent working your case is not an idiot. She’s a determined woman who hasn’t given up on finding you even though the window where you’d be alive has come and gone, at least in terms of statistics.”

“I don’t know that he did much thinking this through—he knew enough not to rush into getting you, I guess, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t plan on making sure that the worst of his indiscretions disappeared for good. He just had to find the right way to do it.”

Nolan shuddered. He had a feeling the second daughter had grown up in a world almost as twisted as his own, and she was damaged enough to frighten him with only a few words. “I don’t care what his plan was. He was an idiot. It won’t work. He miscalculated. Badly. He doesn’t know what I have done and am willing to do for my sister—and since you’re both family… Well, it was a mistake.”

“You’re a prisoner, remember?”

He snorted. “Do you think I don’t know that? I actually spent a good part of my life as a prisoner—oh, the cult never called it that, never dreamed to imply it, but I know what I was and how thin a line there was between my supposed ‘obedience’ and my death. I survived that, I escaped, and I brought it down. I might not have Shaelynn at my side this time, but I can do it again.”

“None of us know where we are,” the first one reminded him. “We don’t know how to get out of here, and they have weapons. Or something. They got you once, didn’t they?”

“They took advantage of the fact that I was distracted,” Nolan said. “I don’t need a weapon. I was trained to be one. Ambrose was twisted, but I know how to fight. I know how to disarm people. What I need is an opportunity. That’s it. I can do the rest as long as I have that.”

“You sure? You were unconscious for a while, and you’re probably injured.”

He was. He did have a concussion, and he would be at a disadvantage no matter what—the dark, the pain, all of that was working against him. Still, he’d had similar fights before—Ambrose was not a man who played fair, not once in his life. “I am, but I was trained for that, too. I will need your help, though.”

“We’re not trained.”

“I don’t need you trained—I need you to help me find the door.”

Progress of a Sort in Nano

Author’s Note: So all I can really say at this point is that I am still trying to finish this. Really, I am. It’s just… very difficult.

Progress of a Sort

Shaelynn hadn’t expected finding one car in thousands to be easy, not with only a broken tail light and tinted windows to go on. She didn’t figure she’d find anything, not when she was honest with herself, and so she hadn’t allowed for a lot of honesty while she drove around, frustrated. She would have loved to find that car sitting out in the open, leading her right to where they were keeping Nolan, but that wasn’t going to happen.

She stopped her car, shaking her head, tempted to scream or smack the wheel—anything let out some of this anger and fight against the rising sense of helplessness that was trying to catch up with her. She didn’t do helpless. That was not and never had been her. She’d had a few moments of fear, but she’d known she wasn’t helpless.

If she’d been forced into marrying Ambrose, she would have killed him, or she might have killed herself, but she wasn’t helpless. She had ways out of that nightmare.

She didn’t seem to have any out of this one. Nolan was missing, and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do to find him. She could drive the whole city over and over again and never find the car that might maybe have done this. Even if she found the car, there was no guarantee that it would be sitting out in front of the building where Nolan was.

Time was speeding away from her, and she was no closer to finding Nolan than she’d been when he first disappeared. She didn’t know that she could do to change that, either. She was going to lose him, and that was something that had never been acceptable, not from the beginning, from that stupid joke that he knew better than to make and she knew better than to smile at.

Someone knocked on her window, and she jumped, cursing her own stupidity as she did. She reached over and rolled down the glass, shaking her head. “Don’t you feds have better uses of your time than tracking me down again?”

“I gave Kaplan the danger to yourself and others speech when your man is missing, and she agreed with diverting our attention for a moment. Would you like the rundown of what our federal resources came up with?”

She considered that. “I don’t know, Morton. Does it end in dead ends or in you being here to take me with you when you raid wherever you think Nolan is? I won’t ask for a chance to be in on that raid, but damn it, I will be there when you pull him out of wherever he is. Alive.”

Morton opened up her door. “Videos plus forensics confirmed your town car theory. More videos got us a good look at the license plate, but we weren’t exactly lucky there—the plates were stolen yesterday. Someone went into this prepared.”

“A professional? You think that maybe the cult is behind it this time? That they managed to get at some of the assets Cyril’s been hiding for years and pay for a hitman to go after Nolan?”

“I don’t know. I lean toward saying no since a pro would have noticed all the attention that he got lately and backed the hell off until it died down. A pro wants to leave no trace. This? It’s an attempt to be professional, but it’s still sloppy. The accident might not have happened on camera, and our driver might not be on it, either, but there are cleaner ways of doing a kidnapping—and the kidnapping angle bothers me as well. I don’t know that I see your former tormentors taking him like this.”

“Anything they did to Nolan would have to involve some kind of ritual that made him suffer for being a ‘traitor,’” Shaelynn reminded the agent. “They’d have to take him. There’s no way they’d just kill him. He’d have to be tortured before he died—they’d also have to give him opportunities for repentance.”

“Oh, that I agree with,” Morton said. “I just don’t think they’d be at all concerned with hiding what they were doing. They’d want to prove they had that kind of power even locked away in prison. They’d want to show themselves a part of whatever was done to him if only for the sake of keeping the faith of their believers. You let someone else do that torturing for you and you might as well be handing the reins of the organization over to them. Hello, new prophet. Let’s get ready for armageddon.”

She winced. Morton had a point there. “Yes. My father would need to have done something that said he set it in motion or approved of it. If he had… He would have contacted me. He’d either ask me to change Nolan’s mind for him, or he’d be wanting me to pledge my loyalty to him and not my ‘husband.’ He’d want an answer for the question of whether or not I was with him, and if I was against him… I’d be with Nolan. I’d have lied and exploited the situation to get close to him if my father had contacted me, but he hasn’t. Cyril hasn’t. No one has.”

“Yeah, we figured as much. So we went back to the drawing board suspect-wise,” Morton went on, gesturing for her to get out of her car. “Cunningham seemed likely for a bit as he had an airtight alibi in being interviewed by me at the time of the abduction. We turned our attention to tracking his connections to the car and to possible locations where he could be holding Sheppard, and that left us with… well, nothing. Not that ties back to him, anyway. He’s got property, yes, but other than one corporate building, it’s all residential—all meant to show off. Penthouse apartments, beach houses, secluded cabins by lakes, mansions to make celebrities jealous, that sort of thing. It’ll take longer to go through the shell companies we think are part of the racketeering aspect, but with what we know now and the fact that we can’t trace any cars or rentals to him, can’t find any likely professionals who’ve been in contact with him, can’t find that he did anything out of the ordinary for him in the past week—no, we’re reasonably sure that he’s a dead end as far as the kidnapping goes.”

“Did you go back to Monroe, then?” Shaelynn asked, getting out of the car. “Track down any connections she might have made?”

“She’d have had to have set that in motion before she got arrested. The Interpol file on her has her in a secure lockdown waiting extradition. Let’s just say your guy got off easy with her setting up Harrison instead of going for him directly. I actually think she only intended to coax him into being a convenient fall guy, but she didn’t count on how far Harrison was willing to go for the girl he loved or how badly he’d botch an attempt on Nolan before she could do that herself to pin it on him.”

Shaelynn grimaced. “I should have gone after her myself.”

“Vengeance aside, it wouldn’t have gotten you much. She’s cold, and this slip up is like a miracle for our international friends.”

“So what have we got, then? Nothing? Why am I leaving my car and walking with you if you have nothing for me?”

Morton grinned. “I never said we had nothing.”

Two Scenes, No End, but More Nano

Author’s Note: So this morning I was a bit uncertain about what I’d written to follow Nolan’s scene last night. Nolan’s scene actually went over well with a couple readers, so that’s… good. The bad? Trying to get the next scene done seems to be almost as difficult as getting through the last one.

What is with this stretch of the story? Why must it be so uncooperative?

Well, I suppose I can’t complain too much. I got two scenes done today, and I wasn’t expecting that.

The Missing

“You can call it stalking if you promise to get some kind of federal or local support out here immediately,” Shaelynn said, looking at Nolan’s rental and tried not to let the emotions running through her get the better of her. She didn’t panic. That wasn’t what she did. She was raised a soldier, maybe even an assassin, and if not that, she was supposed to be someone who could accept being nothing more than a baby maker. That kind of person… She didn’t panic.

Only Nolan wasn’t anywhere near the rental.

While a part of her wanted to be able to gloat somehow about the fact that she’d been right, about the fact that Nolan was still in danger and that her reason for staying was exactly what she’d said it was, she was in no state to do that.

“Someone staged a car accident and took Nolan. He lost me on one of his turns—I knew he’d spotted me so I hung back a bit, but if I hadn’t—it was still fast. He’s gone, and so’s the other car.”

“Damn,” Kaplan muttered. “I’ll start coordinating with the locals, but you need—”

“I need to find him. If this was Monroe—”

“She’s still in custody. She didn’t get bail after her Interpol records came back. There’s an extradition mess going on now that I want no part of,” Kaplan said. “And Raleigh is speaking to Cunningham as we speak. Just stay with the car. We’ll get what forensics we can from it and pair that up with the traffic cameras from the area—”

“And Nolan will be dead by then.”

Kaplan didn’t say anything for a moment. “That is a possibility, but you didn’t see the accident, so you don’t know what kind of car took him. You don’t know who might have done this or why. Your best leads are useless. Stay put. We’ll be there soon.”

Shaelynn lowered the phone, looking back at Nolan’s car. She hadn’t been that far behind him, but that gap was enough for the guy to move in and take him—she was assuming it was a man, since that made sense with the speed of the attack. With Nolan’s door open like that—he’d gotten out to look at the damage, and as soon as he did, he’d either been hit or drugged by the other driver and then dragged to the other car.

Damn it, he had said he was bad at big picture stuff, but he should have known better than to let his guard down like that. He should have listened to her. He should have known that he was still in danger. He shouldn’t have let himself be in this situation.

She was just as angry with herself. She should have been here. That was why she’d stayed, after all. She had wanted to prevent this. She was supposed to be stopping this for good and all, supposed to be keeping him safe, and yet she’d lost him.

Her eyes went to the front of the car, to the bits of broken tail light in the road. Wait. To be able to set this accident up, they had to have been following Nolan, too. He’d been almost home when he’d changed directions, and her best guess was that he’d been about to stop at the store when he changed his mind about that as well. She wasn’t sure if he’d spotted her—he almost drove like he had—but she assumed he had since he’d missed the other car that had been following him.

Still, if there was another car, she should have seen it. She just needed to remember what it was. She took out her keys, running back to her own car. Kaplan and the feds could do the forensic thing. She wasn’t going to wait around—she had to be doing something. She had nothing to contribute to the legal side of things, and she didn’t know that what she was considering doing would make any difference, but she’d feel more like she was being useful if she was on the move.

She opened her own door, climbing inside as she ran through the cars that she’d seen while she trailed Nolan. She’d figure it was something smaller, not too noticeable, probably a sedan with tinted window, at least for the rear windows.

She’d seen one of those, a dark colored one that looked like it belonged to some sort of businessman. That would work for what they’d done to Nolan while keeping a relatively low profile. They wouldn’t have wanted something that drew too much attention to itself, but they’d need a way to keep people from knowing that the person in the back seat was the victim of a crime.

She dug out her phone, pushing the button to call Kaplan back as she pulled away from the rental. “You can have your forensics verify it, but I’m thinking you’re looking for a dark sedan. Possibly a town car. Something with tinted back windows.”

“That makes sense, I suppose, but what leads you to that conclusion? I thought you didn’t see the car or him being abducted.”

“I didn’t see that part. I saw a car when I was following Nolan that fits. I think it’s missing a tail light, now, too.”

“Why do I get the feeling that you are about to do something that you shouldn’t?”

“I’m not going to sit around when Nolan is missing. I’ve told you all I know, and if I happen to see a car with dark windows missing a tail light, I’ll give you another call.”


“I am going to find Nolan. Or at least I will do as much as I can to find Nolan. You already knew that, though.” Shaelynn almost ended the call, but then she stopped. “I didn’t look to see if Nolan’s phone was in his car. You might be able to trace that.”

“If we get a fix on him, I am not giving you his location.”

Shaelynn nodded. She understood that. She didn’t care. She didn’t think that was going to be the answer. She didn’t know that she’d find that car, either, but she knew that she wasn’t going to stop looking, not yet.

Nolan’s head ached as he opened his eyes, trying to identify where he was, though the darkness seemed to want to make that impossible. Without light, he couldn’t be certain of anything except that it was somewhat… damp. He didn’t want to make too many assumptions about where he was, but damp suggested underground somewhere. Basement? He’d go with basement rather than cellar because he should feel more dirt if he was in a cellar—well, that wasn’t a guarantee, but the cellars he was used to always had dirt floors, not concrete.

He was almost certain this was concrete. He didn’t want to think about what else it might be, even though he knew that identifying everything that he could around him meant that he would be closer to finding a way out of wherever he was.

That assumed, of course, that he could move, and his head objected to that idea with a throbbing reminder of how stupid he’d been earlier. He should not have turned his back on the other driver. Remembering the possibility of road rage alone should have kept him more cautious, but he’d been distracted by the car he’d thought was following him—and maybe it was, maybe it meant that he was being set up for that accident in the first place—and he hadn’t thought about the other driver being a threat.

He should have. He should have seen this coming.

Shaelynn had said it wasn’t over, but he wanted it to be, and even if he hadn’t, he’d been so caught up in trying to get over her that he hadn’t even thought about the fact that the person who’d threatened him could still be out there—or that maybe someone different wanted him dead.

He groaned, shifting so that his position stopped hurting his back like it had been.

“You’re awake, aren’t you? I can hear you moving around.”

He lifted his head up, frowning. He needed to see who had spoken. The voice sounded a bit familiar, and he knew he should know who it belonged to, but somehow he didn’t. Maybe that was his headache. Maybe that was the fact that he’d been kidnapped. He’d ignored Shaelynn’s warning, and now he was going to pay for it.

At least it wasn’t Monroe’s voice he heard. He didn’t know what that meant, but he didn’t think he would consider it a great thing, either. Monroe hated him, had set him up to die, but he didn’t know what was behind this. He didn’t know why he was here or what might happen now. If this was about the cult…

He refused to think about that. He wasn’t going to let the cult rule his life. He hadn’t then, and he wouldn’t now. He wasn’t that afraid of them—the worst of them were either imprisoned or dead—and even if the woman was one of Boath’s wives that had succumbed to what she’d been through—couldn’t be, she sounded too young for that—he’d put that slight high pitch around sixteen or seventeen, though he’d never thought Shaelynn’s voice had that kind of squeal to it.

Then again, most girls weren’t like Shaelynn was at seventeen.

He tried not to curse himself for bringing up the subject of Shaelynn again, hating how she was still always on his mind. He was supposed to be getting over her, even if he was now kidnapped and likely to die. He could die over her, couldn’t he?

Yeah, he didn’t think that was going to happen.

He cleared his throat. He should have responded to the girl before now, but he’d blame his distraction on his apparent concussion. “Where are we?”

She laughed. “I don’t know. If I knew that, I think I’d already have gotten out of here and found someway home. Well, not home—I’m never going back there again—but I’d be free and gone if I knew where I was.”

“She’s all talk,” another voice—another girl—said. “She doesn’t know east from west, and she’d never get home even if we could get out of here.”

Nolan rubbed his forehead. He couldn’t hardly think with the fog in his head, with the pain, but he could only come up with one explanation for that. The missing girls. Kaplan’s case. He was with them—they were alive, which was good—but he didn’t understand. He didn’t have any real connection to them. He’d been saying that all along. None of this made sense.

“Why are we here?”

“Because someone opened her big mouth,” the second voice said, annoyed with the first from what he could tell. “She just had to go getting her father all worked up about his indiscretions, and here we all are. Well, she’s not an indiscretion, but she’s indiscreet, so it’s almost the same thing.”

Nolan had missed something here. “Okay, so we’re all here because you know something about your father’s past that you shouldn’t? Am I getting this right? I think I have a concussion—no, I know I have a concussion—but still, that makes no sense. I took one look at his file and knew that he was too much of a philanderer to get elected, but that doesn’t mean I know anything about what he did before that I could prove or that I’d take to anyone or that could be used against him or—”

“You are the proof,” the first girl interrupted. “You’re his son.”

One Very Uncooperative Nano Scene

Author’s Note: Honestly, I don’t know what it is about this scene. I have been staring at it for more than a day now. I had the idea of where to go with it earlier today. I was quite pleased, and had I not had some other work interfere with it and not had access to my computer, I might have gotten it written instead of a scene for the collaboration.

Or I might not have. Despite the fact that I knew where I was taking it and started working on it again this evening, I ended up coming up with a line for what is probably the next scene after and running with that for a good three/four paragraphs before stopping to try and get myself back on track.

Instead I went to reread the scene for the other story which made me have to read another flashback from that one, and then I zoned out for a bit toying with a concept I think has to be explored a bit… I even let myself be distracted by snuggling my cat rather than get back to this scene. I suppose part of that is because it’s action, but still…

This scene should not have been so hard. Maybe if it wasn’t, I’d have gotten more done.

Nolan on His Own… Difficult for Him and Me…

Nolan said goodbye to his sister at the restaurant, ignoring her protests and attempts to say she should stay with him again. If he was going to get over this, he needed to be alone sometime, and Nora hadn’t left his side much, not since she learned Shaelynn was gone, not even when he was working. The whole thing was rather awkward, but he knew she was trying to help. He even appreciated it.

He was just tired of having her hover, and he would not get over Shaelynn if his sister was watching over him. He’d start lying to appease Nora like he always did, and he did not want this cycle to continue, so he needed to be on his own.

He would survive one night—it was only the night, and he needed to learn to sleep again, without Nora’s presence or interference, and he might as well start now. He didn’t know that it would work this time, but he’d try it anyway.

He was almost done with the drive home when he remembered that the cats were out of food. He couldn’t go home without that. Not unless he wanted a mutiny, and since he had so few cats left as it was, he couldn’t afford to alienate them. He had to get something, even if it was just a small bag or a can to tide them over for the night.

Shaelynn would have laughed at him for his need to stop at the natural market for their food, but he hadn’t been able to consult for a company that made inferior cat food—how could he give that to his own cats? He’d barely had scraps for the ones he fed growing up, but these days he had the money, and his cats were family. He owed them the best food he could buy, and he would give them that.

He turned onto the side street, using a shortcut to cut down on his drive time across town. He should invest in the store’s chain so that he could help them open up more branches—one closer to the office or his apartment would be nice. He supposed he could move. That might be an option. His apartment had been broken into, after all, and he had told him himself he didn’t care, and mostly he didn’t. His main issue with his apartment these days was that somehow, despite the fact that she’d only been there for a couple of days, Shaelynn’s presence lingered. He had found her shampoo in his bathroom, and he knew that was what had contributed to the scent on the second pillow on his bed.

Some of the dishes she had used were still in the sink—Nora did lots for him but she would not do his dishes and he didn’t blame her. He just should have been capable of doing them himself. He could blame not doing them on the fact that he was a guy, though, and pretend it had nothing to do with being hung up on a woman he should have gotten over when he was still a teenager.

He was almost to the store when he saw the same car behind him again, one he’d seen behind Nora’s car a couple times. He didn’t want to get paranoid—that was Shaelynn’s job, not his—but it didn’t seem like much of a coincidence that it was behind him this time. He would have thought that maybe him having a rental would throw things off somehow, or maybe he wanted to believe that the make and model of that sedan was just familiar, so popular that it kept showing up again, but that kind of frequency wasn’t right.

He was not capable of convincing himself it was nothing.

He swung abruptly into the other lane, deciding to see if he knew this area of town better than the person following him, and if he didn’t—well, he didn’t know that he needed much more than confirmation that he was not being paranoid. He’d call his new fed friends and get them to deal with the situation beyond that point. He wasn’t going to be able to evade his pursuer like a NASCAR driver. He’d never been trained in that, and that was mostly a movie thing anyway.

Two blocks to the left was one of those one way streets, and he could use that to cause some trouble if he wanted to. All he had to do was make sure that the sedan wasn’t able to follow him, and that would be simple enough if he did it right.

He made the second turn, preparing to fake a turn onto the one way, and frowned. The car wasn’t behind him anymore. That didn’t make sense unless he was just paranoid. He slowed down and turned onto the one way, letting it take him back toward the store. He still needed to get cat food, and maybe they knew he was onto them somehow.

He didn’t know what to think at this point.

His eyes were on the rear view mirror, looking for the sedan when he felt something jar him, and he let out a curse when he realized he’d hit the person in front of him. He should never have let himself get so distracted, not when he needed to be careful.

He put the car in park and turned on the flashers before opening his door and stepping out to get a good look at the damage he’d done.

“Well, the good news is that I think it’s only a couple of scratches. The bad news is that this is a rental, and that’s going to make it a bit complicated dealing with insurance and all that,” Nolan told the other driver without looking at him. He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I was looking in the rear view mirror and didn’t see what was right in front of me.”

“Yeah, I think that’s a habit with you.”

Nolan frowned, but before he could turn around and ask about that, something impacted the back of his head. The whole world took on the same dark shade as his rental as he lost consciousness.