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She’s an investigative reporter. He’s a CIA Chief of Staff. Their wants and needs clash like oil and water.
Shea is very good at her job. The trouble is that it often puts her in danger, which is why her husband left her. She would never listen to reason when he tried to protect her, so now she’s on her own. Her current story involves a crooked contractor, a dishonest building inspector and a serious elevator accident with casualties. They will stop at nothing to keep her from uncovering evidence of their crimes.
Blaze never stopped loving his stubborn little wife, although living with her had nearly driven him crazy with constant worry. The problem was, he still worried about her, but never knew where she was, whom she was with, or when she should be back home safe again. He just can’t stop worrying about her!
If they have any chance of getting back together, though, there are going to have to be some major changes in the rules, and he knows just how to enforce them – with a trip over his knee for a firm, old-fashioned spanking.
“Are you sure you want to follow through with this, Shea?”
“Are you kidding, Cyn? This is the biggest story I’ve uncovered yet! Of course I want to follow through and expose this jerk! It will give me great pleasure to bring him down.”
“Mason Collier threatened you, Shea. I do not want you hurt or dead for the sake of a story, and if that makes me a weak editor, then so be it! I love you, damn it!”
Shea smiled and then said, “I love you too, sister/cousin. You are the best ever, and I hope you will understand that I truly want to do this. This story will place us in league with the big boys, and you know we have dreamed of this since we were in college. So Mason Collier threatened me; did you expect him to say, ‘Go ahead and tell my deepest and darkest secrets to all of the city so that I get arrested and go to prison.’?”
Shea giggled as she pictured the man saying that. It was completely out of nature for the middle-aged man who’d worked on construction sites since he was a teenager. “Cyn, I want to expose this man. Do you know how often people like him get away with slipshod work, and it ends up hurting someone? Too often for words. Look what happened to Mom and Arthur; one second they were sitting on their balcony, having a glass of wine and talking about their day; in the next second, they were lying under a pile of concrete, both of them bleeding and dead because the balcony gave way! It was the contractor’s fault. He used materials that were inferior. That is precisely what Mason Collier has done, and I refuse to allow him to continue. Do you think I want another child to go through what I did? Dad killed by a drunk driver when I was six, and Mom and my stepdad dead from the balcony caving in when I was only ten years old! If not for you and your mom, Cyn, I would have been tossed into foster care. As much as the two of you loved me and sheltered me and cared for me, it was still hard. I think taking Mason Collier down is worth any risk to myself.”
“You’re certainly old enough to know your own mind, honey. Just promise me one thing? That you will be cautious and take care?”
“Of course I will.” Shea knew enough to be careful and watch her back.
They discussed other matters needing their attention, and made the reluctant decision to fire the last reporter they’d hired. Deciding there was nothing to be gained by waiting, they called him into Cynthia’s office. “Please have seat, Jeff. Shea and I have been discussing your probation and I am sorry to say that we have decided against hiring you full time.”
“But, why? I’ve done everything you asked of me, Cynthia. I think I’ve earned a position with the paper.” He was clearly stunned by the bad news.
“No, Jeff. We both want someone with some initiative, and not once did you come to us with something that you picked up on. You needed supervision, and your copy was always full of mistakes that someone else had to correct. We kept hoping that you would settle in and show us you had an instinct for investigative reporting, but there honestly hasn’t been any legitimate improvement.”
“I have plenty of initiative, but I was afraid you would think me too pushy if I went after my own stories. If you give me another chance, you will see a big improvement.” His blue eyes were blazing and Shea was positive he was considering violence. He would regret it if he tried anything. Both she and Cynthia had black belts and could defend themselves. It had been at the top of their to-do list when they started the paper, anticipating violence if they wrote the kinds of exposes they wanted to offer to the unwary public. They’d done a pretty good job of it so far, and thanks to their revelations, several school board members were discovered stealing money from a school system that was broke. They’d also brought a local judge to justice when they gave proof that he was accepting bribes from criminals. It wasn’t always easy, and Shea had been run off the road, locked in a freezer, and even threatened by two thugs who were ordered to beat her up. She was forced to defend herself, and she did it well. She knew she wasn’t invincible, but Jeff posed no threat to either of them, even with Cynthia six months pregnant!
“Jeff, I honestly don’t think you are meant for this type of work.” Cynthia was trying to be firm, but gentle.
“I can do so much more. I was waiting to be accepted. Will you give me two more weeks? If you still aren’t happy with me, then I will pack up and get out.” He had a stricken look on his face. “Please tell me you haven’t already picked a replacement for me?”
“No, we haven’t,” Shea answered, looking at him. He was a lot more upset than warranted, and she was suddenly suspicious. “Cyn, I have changed my mind. I don’t think that Jeff’s request for an additional two weeks is out of line. I am willing to give him a chance to prove himself.” She willed her cousin to read her mind.
“Very well. Jeff, you have an additional two weeks to wow us. Shea and I do not dislike you as a person, and I hope you know our concern is purely based on your work?”
“I am thankful for another opportunity. I will get to work, and try to make you proud of me. Not everyone would be willing to give a second chance, but you did, and I am grateful. Thank you both.” He practically ran from Cynthia’s office.
Shea looked at Cynthia and said, “I have a feeling there is more going on with Jeff than meets the eye.”
“Yes, I agree. His reaction was similar to someone who was told they have two days to live rather than someone who was fired,” Cynthia commented. “Do you think he was planted here in this office to get information on us?”
“He sure as hell is up to something.”
“Language.” Cynthia did not like cursing of any kind. It was the one thing she had in common with Shea’s ex, and Shea did not like being reminded of that man at all. She wondered if he would care if he learned she was in danger? Like it mattered, she scoffed at herself.
“You know you sound like the man so NOT of my dreams!” Shea complained, and Cynthia laughed.
“Did you want to keep Jeff so we can observe him?”
“Yes, and to keep him alive. I had a really bad feeling, Cynthia. It was as though I could see men beating on Jeff and killing him. He looked really ill at the thought of leaving here.”
“We don’t want that,” she agreed. “Shea, would you mind if I went home early today? I am feeling so jumpy, and I don’t know why. I can’t concentrate on my work.”
“You don’t need my permission to take off, hon. Are you feeling bad? You aren’t thinking you’ll lose the baby, are you?” Shea panicked at the very thought. Cynthia had lost a child two years ago, and it was devastating for all of them. She was much farther along now, though, and the doctor kept reassuring them that everything was all right this time. Still, Shea loved her ‘sister.’
“I feel fine, honey. I just feel big and lazy and like I need to start settling in, nesting,” Cynthia admitted. “Don’t worry; I would holler for help if I even thought it a possibility there was something wrong. I just need a day to be lazy.”
“That is very doable. I can work from here this afternoon.”
“You are so good to me, Shea. I don’t tell you often enough that I love you, but I do. You are like a sister to me, and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.”
“I feel the very same about you, Cyn. We are so fortunate to have each other,” she acknowledged. “Do you feel like driving yourself? I can take you, or I can call that handsome man of yours.”
“The whole point is to have a few hours alone, cousin. If you call Ted, he won’t leave my side at all, fearing something is wrong. I would like to make him a fancy dinner, and celebrate the two of us before I get so big I can’t make love to him,” she confessed.
Shea felt her face turn red as longing filled her petite body. She missed the intimacy of marriage. “Of course; I understand. I will walk you outside; I want to run a couple of things past you and get your opinion.”
“That would be fine,” Cynthia regally agreed. “I would also run something past you.”
“And that would be?”
“It is time to start dating, Shea. I do not wish to see you grow old all alone and have no one to share your life.”
“I am not interested.”
“I know. You are still wearing your wedding rings.”
“I still feel married; the piece of paper didn’t change that.”
“Then you need to call him-whose-name-is-not-to-be-spoken and find a way to get him out of your system.”
“I don’t know how to do that, Cyn,” Shea admitted as they walked out of the building and started across the parking lot to Cynthia’s car.
All of a sudden, a large man came charging at them and knocked them to the ground, shielding their bodies as bullets flew overhead.“Stay down!” he ordered in a tone that demanded instant obedience, and then he was shooting back. There were screams, and sirens in the distance as police hurried their way. The shooting stopped just as quickly as it began.
Shea rose to her knees and crawled the short distance to Cynthia’s side. “Are you all right?” she asked, searching Cynthia’s body for injury. “The baby?”
“I seem to be fine,” Cynthia answered, making every effort not to cry. “What about you, Shea?” she asked, and once Shea said she was fine, Cynthia burst into tears. “I was terrified!” she whispered.
“Let me help you to your feet, Cynthia.” The man turned his attention to the pretty blonde.
“What are you doing here, Blaze?” Shea demanded, her green eyes snapping with fury she didn’t bother to conceal.
“It should be obvious. You were in danger. I sensed it and came, and barely got here in time to keep you both from being killed.” He was gentle as he lifted Cynthia to her feet. “Do you need a medic, Cynthia? I’m sorry I had to be so rough with you.” His voice was soft and sympathetic, and before they could stop him, he’d called Theodore Cobb. “Ted, Blaze Daughtery here. Our ladies were shot at in the parking lot at their building. Cynthia is fine, but she needs her husband now.” Blaze clicked off his cell phone, and then turned to Shea. “What is going on here, darlin’?”
“Nothing you need to worry about!” the redhead sassed him.
“Shea Cooper Daughtery, Blaze just saved our lives. Be nice!” Cynthia scolded. “Thank you, Blaze. I mean the words,” she insisted. “I am very grateful to you for saving me and my baby.”
“You’re welcome, Cynthia,” Blaze said with a warm smile for the woman. “I am relieved I got here in time.”
The police appeared and there was chaos with the officers all trying to ask questions at once. Another car arrived, and a detective took charge. He gave orders, and the officers hastened to obey. “I’m Lieutenant Carson.” He was distracted as the officers stopped a man from approaching. The man was arguing and insisting he be allowed through. “Do you know that man?” he asking, pointing.
“Yes! It’s my husband!” Cynthia tearfully proclaimed. The lieutenant raised his hand, and Ted came running. “Ted!” She burst into tears, and he opened his arms and held her close.
“I’m here now, sweetheart. Don’t cry. Tell me what happened,” he ordered. “Shea, are you all right?”
“Yes. Cyn is fine physically, but she is afraid now that reaction is setting in. We had a very close call, and if not for Blaze, we would both be dead,” she confessed, a bit of fear settling in on her too. She hated seeing Cynthia so upset! And the look in Ted’s blue eyes spoke volumes.
“Is this because of Mason Collier?” Ted asked, and the detective’s eyes widened in surprise.
“He did threaten me,” Shea admitted. “I have no real proof yet that he ordered this.”
“Who is Mason Collier and why is he threatening you?” Blaze demanded, his dark eyes snapping with temper.
“He is a contractor who is paying off inspectors and using cheap products, Blaze, like the guy who caused Shea’s mom and stepdad’s deaths. He warned her to back off, and she isn’t going to do that. I’m glad you’re here, man. I’m in over my head trying to keep them both safe,” Ted said, holding his Cynthia close. “I don’t want to lose Cyn and our baby, or Shea, either.”
“I am not going anywhere, Ted. Not while my lady needs me,” Blaze answered.
“All of this is very touching, but I would like to have my questions answered. I am the detective here.” Lieutenant Carson looked peeved and Shea giggled.
When he glared at her, Shea said, “You might as well show the man your badge, darlin’. You know you will sooner or later, and this way you can put him in his place right here and now instead of letting him think he is in charge when you know he isn’t.”
“I’m here as your husband.”
“We are divorced.”
“Legally, but not in the eyes of God,” he told her with the deep conviction that he was right.
Shea felt herself shiver and tears suddenly filled her eyes. She tried to blink them away, but she wanted to cry so badly. Blaze pulled her close and held her tight. “I’m here, darlin’. You don’t need to be so strong now.” His deep voice was soft and soothing, and she leaned against him and cried. It felt so good to pretend for just a moment that he was truly her husband.
“Do you have any proof that Mason Collier did this?” the detective asked.
“Not at this time.”
“I could arrest all of you for impeding justice and interfering with an investigation. You can’t accuse someone of trying to kill you, and then not answer my questions.” He appeared ready to stomp his foot, and it was all Shea needed to start giggling again. “It is not funny, Ms. Daughtery,” he snapped.
“She is in shock, Lieutenant.” Blaze warned him off and the other man was shocked to realize he was sweating in the face of the big man’s displeasure. “We have given you a name. I suggest you do some follow up and see what you can find out. The odds are good this Collier person will deny culpability, but it won’t hurt for him to know you are watching his every move. If this Collier is guilty of using sub-par materials, we won’t rest until he is tried and convicted. No amount of threats will serve to dissuade us, so he might as well turn himself in.”
“You are awful cocky at accusing a well-respected businessman.” The lieutenant was not amused. Mason Collier was well respected and a close friend of the mayor.
“If he is innocent then he has nothing to fear. If he is guilty, we will bring him down. That is a bona fide promise.”
“Those are big words, mister.”
“That would be Central Intelligence Agency Chief of Staff Daughtery, Lieutenant.” Blaze pulled his wallet and offered his ID, which had the other man opening and closing his mouth in frustration.
“I knew you would do that,” Shea said with a smile. It felt comfortable to be in his strong arms.
“It saves time.” He smiled at her, and then said, “We are taking our wives home, Lieutenant. We’ve already provided our information to the officers. If you need to reach us, we will be there.”
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Shea! Cynthia!” Blaze turned to look at the young man who was trying to get past the police officers. “Let me through! I work for them!” he was saying.
The detective motioned and Jeff ran to where they stood. “Are you two ladies all right? I got the strangest message telling me to look into the parking lot, and warning me to run for my life. I saw the police out here. What happened?”
“Someone opened fire on us, Jeff. Do you know anything about it?” Shea asked, anxious to witness his reaction.
“No, ma’am. It makes me sick to think of you in trouble,” Jeff answered truthfully.
“We saw how sick you looked earlier when we were trying to let you go,” she continued. “We thought your reaction was more like someone who expected to be shot than to be without a job?”
“That’s because I was sick at the thought of losing this job. I can barely pay my rent as it is, and my stepdad won’t give me one more cent. He hates me. I need this job to prove I am up to the task and can make it on my own.” He looked at them. “I wouldn’t do anything to hurt either of you.”
“We believe you, Jeff, but you might want to reconsider working for us right now. We are not going to back down from Mason Collier.”
“If he’s the one doing this to you, then I’m your man. I want to help you bring him down.” His face was earnest. He suddenly saw Blaze. “Who are you? And how do we know we can trust you?”
Blaze grinned. “Boy, I could snap you in half with two fingers.”