Their virgin secretary, p.37
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       Their Virgin Secretary, p.37

         Part #6 of Masters of Ménage series by Shayla Black
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  “What about him?” Helena frowned as she looked toward Tate’s body.

  Gates waved off the worry. “He’ll be out for hours. Don’t worry about him.”

  As her grandmother’s lawyer marched her up the stairs, Belle prayed Tate had the chance to wake up again.

  * * * *

  Kellan shuffled along the sidewalk, wondering if he was doing the right thing. It might be best if he just walked away. Belle needed a man who had a whole heart to give her, and he wasn’t sure he’d even been born with one.

  Fucking coward. Eric’s right. You like things easy. You like not having to open yourself up. You’re so fucking scared, you’re going to let the best thing that ever happened to you slip through your fingers.

  He might not have been born with a whole heart, but his inner voice seemed to be totally intact and brutally honest.

  Eric stopped at the small gate that separated the courtyard from the street. The moon had come out, washing the brick in a silvery glow. He never noticed the moon in Chicago. Somehow it seemed bigger in New Orleans. The air felt heavier, almost mysterious, but there was a sweetness to it. And the heat seemed to seep into his bones, drugging him until all he wanted was to toss off his clothes and be naked with Belle. If he stripped down, past his clothes, past his skin, if he offered her every piece of himself, would it be enough? Could Belle heal that essential piece of him that had been damaged for so long? He’d long thought that a part of him was missing, but now he wondered if maybe what he’d always been missing was Belle herself. What if that crap about soul mates was true and he wouldn’t ever feel whole without her?

  The thought of her holding a baby conceived from their love did weird things to him. His gut tightened and turned, then did a little dip that didn’t feel at all like anxiety. It felt more like anticipation. Hope.

  He would be a terrible dad. Wouldn’t he? But was he really willing to leave a child alone with Tate, who would have that kid geekified and speaking nerd before he even had a chance. Tate would dress his kid in snarky T-shirts and sweatpants that may or may not be clean.

  And Eric? Eric would try to teach the kid to get along with everyone. Eric’s willingness to compromise was a necessity to making this relationship work, but who would help the kid learn to stand up for himself, to protect his mom and siblings? Who would teach him how to throw a decent punch?

  Eric would teach him to toss a football, while Tate would instruct him on the finer points of wielding a lightsaber.

  Maybe he wasn’t so unnecessary after all.

  “You’re thinking about something serious, man. Want to talk about it before we go inside?” Eric asked.

  Yep. Eric would teach the kid how to express his feelings. That was nice and all, but there were times to man up and just do something.

  Except he wasn’t sure he was ready.

  “Nope.” He hated the way Eric’s eyes tightened in disappointment. “Just give me a little time, okay? I need a day or two. I don’t process shit like this the way you do.”

  “Shit like emotions?” The dry tone of Eric’s voice made him smile tightly.

  “Yeah. Shit like emotions. Just give me a day or two.”

  Eric sighed. “Fine. Take some brooding time. Just know that I’m willing to talk to you whenever you want. I know it probably sounds dumb, but you really will feel better if you talk it out. If it makes you more comfortable, I’ll find us a gym and we can spar while we talk.”

  Punching and talking. That might actually work for him. “Okay.” It would do him good to get out a little aggression. “Only if I can work Tate over, too.”

  Eric chuckled. “Oh, I think Tate would love to beat the fuck out of you for a while.”

  It was what men did, what brothers did. It was what he’d never done. In the past, a fight meant an ending. It had never been simply a way to work through conflict. Any fight had been nasty, low down, and permanent.

  His family could be different. He could be different, better.

  “I think I might love her,” he admitted quietly.

  Eric’s smile nearly lit up the night as he slapped him on the shoulder. “Of course you do. She’s incredibly lovable, man. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to any of us. She’s the one. And the best part is that she wants all of us, too. We can have everything we’ve ever dreamed of. All we have to do is reach out and take it.”

  A buzzing sound emanated from Eric’s phone. Frowning, he pulled it out of his belt clip and studied it.

  “What is it? Belle calling?” Kellan asked, more than a bit hopeful.

  He liked the idea that she wanted to know where he was or wanted to know what he was thinking, feeling. He wasn’t used to having anyone give a shit when he came home. He would have to change if he stayed. He would have to check in and let his family know where he was all the time. It wasn’t enough that Tate would likely hack into a satellite and direct it at all of them twenty-four seven. Kell needed to show them that he cared by checking in.

  “No. It’s not Belle. It’s a nanny cam alarm Tate set up. We placed it in the master bedroom, and it’s alerting me that something just triggered.” Eric flicked a finger across his phone. “Weird. I thought we agreed not to go in there. All the contractors should be gone by now.”

  “You set up a camera? In the master bedroom? Did Tate find more bugs in other rooms?”

  A massive wave of guilt crashed against him. He’d walked out when Belle was still in some sort of danger. They couldn’t be sure of when those bugs had been placed there. Tate suspected they’d been planted in the house a while back, but who knew for certain? Someone was trying to scare Belle, and no matter what she’d seen in the library, he couldn’t accept that a ghost had left a message on her bedroom wall from beyond.

  His departure at such a critical time proved how selfish he could be.

  Kell had a sudden and deep need to see her. He might have no real right to do it, but he wanted to hold her in his arms. To apologize.

  He glanced up at the house as they walked through the gate and into the courtyard. The glow of a light illuminated the living room, and a lithe figure moved across the shade, a shadow that was an illusion. His Belle wasn’t that twiggy. She was solid and sexy as fuck. But then again, shadows could be distorted.

  “I think Belle’s in the living room. Do you think Tate’s upstairs?” Kellan asked.

  “Maybe.” A concerned frown crossed Eric’s face. “They were supposed to be with the medium, who was cleansing the house. Why would they split up? Belle was a little scared about the whole thing. That’s why I left Tate with her. I didn’t want her to be alone with anyone we don’t know.”

  Kellan walked faster toward the house. Something wasn’t right. He didn’t like it. The sooner he saw Belle, the better he would feel. He was going to talk to her, try to get her to go back to Chicago. Not forever, just until they caught whoever sought to scare her. Wouldn’t Belle have a few things to clear up at her old apartment or something? He would bring her back to New Orleans, to her new home, when they were all certain it was safe. They could call in the guys from Anthony Anders. Surely, Dominic, Law, and Riley could figure out what was going on.

  He strode toward the door, Eric right behind him. As he clasped the knob, something stopped him. The air around him became icy cold, his breath visible, despite the fact that the humid autumn evening was well above freezing.

  Something moved through him that made him shiver. He felt his spine ping with fear. He could only focus on one thing: Belle. He wasn’t sure why being cold made him so very aware of her. Then he heard a whisper in his head.

  Save Annabelle.

  “Belle’s in trouble,” he murmured just above a whisper.

  The more he thought about it, that hadn’t been Belle in the window. The medium might be in the house, but why wasn’t his love with her? He suddenly felt certain that whoever he’d seen in the living room was dangerous. That woman threatened Belle.

  “Open the door quietly.
Eric’s voice was low, tense. “Stay next to the wall. The floor creaks in the middle. God, I hope you’re wrong, but I feel like she’s in danger, too. I can’t explain it.”

  Because some things defied logic. This was one of them. So was love. Reason told him to deny it, but his instincts were too pure, too strong. He might end up looking like a fool for bursting in on the house cleansing, but he’d look like an idiot a hundred times over to keep Belle safe because nothing was more important than Belle.

  That truth hit him like a sledgehammer.

  Kell turned the doorknob, his heart threatening to pound out of his chest. Unlocked. He prayed the creak of the old metal and wood wasn’t as loud as it sounded in his head.

  His warning instincts went off again when he remembered that Belle always locked the door behind her. She’d lived for far too many years in big cities to ever get into the habit of leaving any door to the outside unlocked.

  He pushed the door open, anxiety churning. He had to be quiet, had to get into the house without anyone knowing it. Surprise was his only weapon.

  The first thing he saw made his blood go cold.

  A big body on the floor, crumpled and still.

  Tate.

  Kell barely managed to restrain himself from running over to his friend. Dread torqued up his gut. Not knowing if Tate was alive ate at him like he’d swallowed battery acid.

  “Fuck.” Eric cursed quietly behind him before he stepped back outside.

  There was no question he had to call the cops, an ambulance—anyone who could help them. He couldn’t wait. They all knew the drill. Call for help, then intercede until reinforcements arrived. Kellan would do just that, fight until his dying breath.

  He tiptoed over to Tate and dropped to one knee, his whole body tense. God, what was he going to do if his friend was dead? The thought was surreal, unimaginable.

  He put a hand on Tate’s body. He was still warm. Kellan couldn’t see any blood visible, but there was something sticking out of his chest. A dart of some sort.

  Tate’s chest moved slightly in a shallow attempt to breathe.

  He was alive, but he’d been hit with some sort of tranquilizer. Who the hell was here? What the fuck did they want? Where was Belle?

  “Is he alive?” Eric whispered, his voice shaking. He was pale as he stared down at his best friend.

  Kellan nodded. “Yes. Cops?”

  “On their way,” Eric breathed.

  “Go around the back of the house and see if you can figure out where Belle is.” Kellan reached into the antique umbrella stand by the door. He pulled out a sturdy-looking umbrella and wished he knew exactly what to do in this situation. His friend Dominic Anthony would. He’d bet Dominic never got caught without a weapon. He would never have to defend his woman with a freaking umbrella.

  “Will do. If you can, search the third floor. Something tripped that camera,” Eric suggested, then slipped out the door again.

  The master bedroom. Of course. The alarm had gone off on Eric’s phone. He had explained the whole nanny cam plan to catch whoever was stealing into the room and leaving Belle frightening messages during their walk home.

  Someone had taken Belle upstairs.

  A million horrifying thoughts ran through his head. Why? What were they doing to her? Was she silently crying out for him? Was she hurting, and he wasn’t there to save her? Had she watched Tate go down and known she would be next?

  He hugged the dark wall, keeping his step light, but the person in the next room had no such qualms. He heard a squeaking from the living room as the woman he’d seen from the shadows exited the formal space, turning her back to him to call up the stairs.

  “If it’s down here, it’s hidden, Gates. Damn it. We’re running out of time,” she hollered up the stairs. “We have to get out of here.”

  Malcolm Gates, the lawyer. What the hell?

  “Keep looking, damn it.” The lawyer’s voice floated back down. “If we don’t get our hands on that fucking client list, my career is over. If I could kill that whore again I would.”

  The woman mere feet away from him gave a frustrated huff. “Why the hell did you kill Ehlers before you had her notes?”

  Fuck. Gates had killed the madam because she’d planned to go public. And they thought Belle had the woman’s client list? Kell wasn’t sure why they’d believe that, but no way he could leave Belle alone.

  Or had the lawyer already killed her?

  “Well, when I had my hands wrapped around her throat, she swore she’d brought it here,” Gates growled. “Shut up and keep looking.”

  “The bitch granddaughter hasn’t even found it,” the woman argued. “So maybe it’s not here. We need to kill her and her boyfriend, then get the hell out of here. You can set this place on fire in a few days after the cops declare the whole incident to be a murder-suicide. Call it faulty wiring or something. We can make that happen. Then if the list is here, it won’t ever be found.”

  There was a long sigh. “My client won’t accept that. The judge wants the list in his hands.”

  “Then we make one up, and we’re all off the hook. You don’t think very creatively for a lawyer. All I know is if we get caught in here, we’re all going to prison. We need to cut our losses. She doesn’t know where it is.”

  “One more chance,” Gates said. “I’ll give it one more shot—literally. Maybe if I put a gun to your boyfriend’s head, it will spark some memory, Miss Wright? Turn that idiot over, Helena. I want her to see his face when I blow it off. We’ll be down in a bit.”

  Kellan’s blood froze. He heard Gates moving upstairs. Belle must be with him and searching for the client list in her grandmother’s old bedroom. At least she was conscious.

  Kellan stuck to the darkest part of the gloomy foyer. The cover of shadow would buy him some time.

  Helena’s shoes clacked along the hardwoods, and Kellan made himself go very still. Silent. He had to be so quiet, not alert them that they were no longer alone. He had to save Belle and Tate. They were his family.

  God, what would have happened if he hadn’t come to New Orleans with them? If he’d listened to his fear and gone back to Chicago? Eric would have been here. Would he have been on the ground with Tate, leaving Belle alone to fend for herself. They would all likely die.

  He’d spent all his time wondering how a relationship between the four of them could work, but now he saw plainly that it would work however they worked it. The universe didn’t give everyone the same life. Love wasn’t some cookie cutter that he had to mold himself into. He’d spent his whole time on earth plotting and planning his life, ruthlessly controlling it to reach some grand destination, all the while not understanding that the ending he’d chosen wouldn’t make him happy. Belle was the destination he’d been unconsciously seeking. Her love and the family he’d share with his buddies were the end-all, be-all of his existence.

  He couldn’t control them, but hopefully, he could damn well save them.

  “God, how did I get into this shit?” The woman turned the corner.

  Kellan struck, cracking the umbrella over her head. It made a dull thud. Nothing that would register upstairs. Her eyes widened and her mouth fluttered open, but she didn’t emit a single sound. He caught her before she hit the floor, then he eased her down.

  She would live. More than likely, she’d have a massive headache, but the medic in the NOLA jail could deal with that. He pushed her body against the wall. In the shadows where he was hidden, it would be hard to see.

  Kellan heard a yip, and he whirled around only to realize Sir was trapped in the kitchen and barking behind the door.

  “Damn it!” Gates screamed from the top of the stairs. It was obvious to Kellan that he was losing patience. It would cause him to get sloppy, make mistakes. Unfortunately, it also likely made him more violent. “Shut that fucking dog up, Mike!”

  Mike was here? Mike had been the man on the ground, the one doing all the grunt work? It fit. No wonder neither he, Tate, nor
Eric had liked the asshole. Sure enough, Mike came rushing down the stairs, jogging toward the kitchen.

  Sir growled.

  Kellan crouched into a dark corner behind a grandfather clock just as the kitchen door began to open.

 
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