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Authors: Becca Jameson

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BOOK: Redeemed
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“Fair enough.” Mr. Wightman leaned in to whisper something in Mr. Jerard’s ear again. When he sat back, he continued. “Would you give us a moment to confer?”

“Of course.” Evan stood abruptly, almost tipping his chair over backward. He straightened his shirt and turned to leave the room. As soon as the door snicked shut behind him, he took a seat on the plush chair in the hall.

A few people wandered past while he waited. None of them spoke, but they all nodded cordially and smiled. They must have thought he was in serious trouble to be waiting outside what was obviously the regular chambers of The Head Council’s main group of elders.

After several minutes, the door opened next to him and one of the younger elders who had flanked the right side of the group, Lucas Sheffield, leaned his head out. “Please. Come back in.”

Evan reentered the room and resumed his seat across from The Council when the younger man motioned toward the chair.

Once they were all seated again, Mr. Jerard spoke. “While the five of us admit we have some serious concerns with regard to your relationship with Ashley Rice, we are impressed with the work you’ve done and find you to be truthful and forward with your admissions. We believe it’s in the best interest of The Council, yourself, and Ms. Rice for us to retain your services toward the goal of apprehending Mr. Parkfield and bringing him in for questioning.

“Would you be agreeable to joining our payroll toward that end?” Mr. Jerard asked the question, but Evan didn’t get the sense it was really a question. It was more of a demand. The elders could be very persuasive if push came to shove and this issue necessitated extreme measures.

“I would be honored, sir.” Evan nodded. He’d been completely in the dark about The Council’s reasons for calling him in. Anything had been possible from reprimanding him for sticking his nose into the case to coercing him to give up all the information he had acquired thus far. Until Mr. Jerard had insinuated their interest in hiring him, that possibility hadn’t been on his radar.

This arrangement would solve a lot of problems, the most important of which was Evan’s financial situation.

“Good. We need you to sign a confidentiality agreement and then we’ll hand over everything we have on this case. Please use the utmost discretion when dealing with any issue concerning the apprehension of Mr. Parkfield and the confiscation of any drug paraphernalia. We don’t want to cause widespread paranoia, nor do we want anyone outside of this room to be informed about any aspect of this case. Is that agreeable to you?” Mr. Jerard asked. His eyes never moved from Evan’s as he spoke. The man didn’t appear to blink.

“Of course, sir. You have my word.” But why so secretive that the other twenty individuals who worked at The Head Council weren’t privy to any information?
Wouldn’t it have been beneficial to everyone if more hands, eyes, and ears were on deck?

And then it dawned on Evan. He raised his eyebrows and glanced at every man behind the long conference table. “You think it’s someone inside.”

Mr. Wightman tipped his head toward the table as he answered. “We don’t know that for certain, Mr. Harmon. But, yes. It’s a suspicion. We don’t want to take any chances.”

“Can you start immediately?” Mr. Jerard asked without elaborating.

“Yes. But I’d like a day to return to St. Louis if you don’t mind.”

The elders collectively stood as Mr. Jerard addressed the request. “We’re okay with that as long as it doesn’t interfere with the case in any way. We cannot emphasize enough the need to not jeopardize the research we have collected so far.”

He stepped around the table as he continued. “I’m sure you have a mountain of your own information regarding this investigation. That’s the main reason we want to hire you. It was only recently that we discovered the probable depth of this criminal activity. We’d like that to remain between the six of us, and seeing as you aren’t a man to be stopped in your own exploration of the case, we might as well bring you in to join the team.

“It’s our hope that by combining our research with yours, you will have a stronger case and be armed with the ability to track Mr. Parkfield with all haste.”

“I will do my best, sir.” Evan extended his hand as Mr. Jerard did. His shake was firm. The man’s piercing gray eyes were menacing, almost threatening as he portrayed the seriousness of this matter with a single glance.

“Mr. Wightman will escort you to human resources to sign some forms. You may return to St. Louis today. We’ve already purchased you a ticket on the next flight.” Mr. Jerard reached into his inner suit pocket and pulled out an envelope. He handed it to Evan as he continued. “There is a retainer check inside as well. Take today to look in on your loved ones and we will arrange for our research to arrive at your house tomorrow. We expect it will take you several days, or even a week to go through everything and combine our work with your own. Take whatever time you need before you travel again.

“We only ask that you remain in contact with us daily by phone or email and keep us abreast of the situation.”

Evan nodded. Somehow in the last half hour the seriousness of this case rose to a new height. He intended to get to the bottom of it if it was the last thing he did. He owed that much to Ashley and to any other woman out there who might be involved in a similar predicament.

A chill went down Evan’s spine as he followed Mr. Wightman down the hall. How many women? He pictured girls barely out of their teens, girls like Ashley, abused and held against their will. Drugged into submission by wolf shifters who insisted they were their mates.

Why? What was the motive?

Evan had no idea, but he intended to find out.

Chapter Eleven

Ashley set her paintbrush down and stared at the canvas in front of her. What was she painting? She’d meant to do a snowy day after staring out the window and talking to her brother, but whatever she’d created on that blank canvas was anything but snow. She hadn’t even used any white. It looked chaotic. And it represented what she imagined the inside of her brain looked like today.

Every day was a stressful day since the confrontation with Evan, but she usually kept her feelings at bay by ignoring them. After Josh left, she’d been bombarded with thoughts she’d have preferred not to entertain.

Her muscles ached from the stiff brush strokes. Even her neck and her back rebelled when she tried to pop her head from side to side.

Giving up, she headed upstairs.

During the day, her mother usually left her alone. She’d taken to hiding in the basement studying or painting and she’d made it clear she hated being disturbed. She knew she was hiding from far more than her parents and life. She was hiding from herself. And she was hiding from the reality she’d chosen not to accept.

“Hey, honey. Did you get a painting finished today?”

Ashley smirked. “You could say that. Though I doubt it’s going to sell at a famous gallery and set me for life.” She reached into the refrigerator for a bottle of water.

Her mother smiled as she looked up from where she chopped vegetables at the kitchen island. “I love all your work.”

“That’s great, Mom.” Ashley shook her head and leaned against the island, trying not to sound too sarcastic. It wasn’t her mother’s fault. Nothing was. Though she knew her parents felt intense guilt for not doing more to prevent the four years of torture she’d undergone.

“Did anyone call?”
Now why did I have to go and ask that?
She never questioned her mother on such things. She didn’t want to hear the answers.

Her mother lifted her gaze and set her knife down. “Yes.” She paused. “He calls every day, Ash.”

Really?
She hadn’t realized that. Her heart started racing and she stood upright. “You never mentioned that,” she mumbled.

“You made it pretty clear you didn’t want to hear about it.”

That was true. But every day? “What does he say?”

“He asks how you’re doing and if we need anything. He’s the nicest man I’ve ever met to be honest, after your father, of course.” Her mother smiled.

“Does he ask to speak to me?”

“No.”

Ashley’s chest deflated at that one word, though she had no idea why.

Suddenly she felt antsy. She needed to move. Her entire body came alive as she pictured Evan calling her mother every day to see if Ashley was okay.

She turned on her heel and fled the room, nearly jogging to her bedroom. When she entered, she shut the door behind her and locked it. She paced the floor, unable to move fast enough or far enough in the cramped space.

What she needed was to run off some steam in wolf form. She stopped at the window and grabbed the frame with both hands, squeezing until her knuckles hurt. The snow fell harder now than it had earlier. It drifted at a steady pace toward the ground, blanketing the world in white. Not a blade of grass or a stray leaf remained visible.

It would feel so good beneath her feet. But she wasn’t ready. Just imagining opening the window made her heart skip a beat. No. She couldn’t do it. And besides, a run of a hundred miles wouldn’t erase her thoughts of Evan.

What if she went to see him tomorrow? Josh had said he would be in town for the day. Maybe she could talk to him and ask him to stop calling. That would help rid her system of him.

She groaned, knowing she was lying to herself. Her knees threatened to buckle and she turned around, leaned her back against the wall under the window, and slid down to the floor.

She tucked her knees up against her chest and hugged them, her chin on her kneecaps.

Ashley closed her eyes, but all she could picture was Evan and the look in his gaze as he’d stared at her, grazing her face with one finger that Sunday morning months ago.

It was all she had of him, that one moment in time. And it wasn’t enough. She wanted more.

It wasn’t fair. She would hurt him; but he was persistent. It was his own fault he hadn’t heeded her warning that she was no good for him and left her completely alone. No, he had to go and call her house every single day and ruin everything.

Tears formed in the corners of her eyes and Ashley didn’t bother to wipe them away. She rarely cried. Hadn’t in months. Pent up frustration spilled out and dripped on her jean-clad knees. She wanted what everyone else did—a mate. Someone who would love her unconditionally for the rest of her days. Someone who would hold her in the night and not freak out when she woke up screaming, as she inevitably would.

She wanted Evan and to continue to deny that was ludicrous. Surely her infatuation with him was just that, lust.
Seriously, you’ve only spent a few hours with the man. You don’t know him
.

Perhaps the best thing to do would be to see him again and prove to herself he wasn’t the superhuman/supershifter creature she imagined him to be after months of blowing up his image in her mind until he was larger than life.

Yes, she’d been filled with lust for him every time she’d been in his presence, but it couldn’t be real. Of course, Josh said it was. He’d told her when he met Samantha they’d known in an instant. She shivered to think about her brother in that light. He’d implied they’d barely made it out of Samantha’s office and back to his place before…

Ugh.

And then Nathan had come along. Samantha had spent the entire next day with Nathan in an enclosed car. She said she’d managed to keep her hands to herself the entire drive to Alabama where they were headed to help Josh rescue Ashley.

Samantha had told her it was rough. Unimaginable. And that’s how Ashley felt about Evan now. But was it real?

Only one way to find out.

•●•

“What are you doing here?” Evan stood at the front door, holding it open only enough to allow Josh to squeeze inside and hopefully leave the snow outside.

“Came to talk to you… Ashley asked me to.”

Evan snapped his head up as he shut the door and turned to face Josh. “What?”

“Yeah.” Josh smiled. “She asked me to invite you over…if you want. No pressure. She wants to see you. She said, and I quote, ‘tell him he doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want to.’”

Evan smiled. Then he narrowed his gaze. “You aren’t just shitting me to arrange for us to be in the same room, are you?”

BOOK: Redeemed
12.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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