Here’s your chance! Get an e-book copy of my latest novel, SECRET SHEPHERD, absolutely free on Amazon. For this week only. No hitches! All you need to do is click on the link below and download the novel:
To whet your interest, here is a ‘blurb’ about the book, followed by the first chapter. Enjoy! Oh, the free deal ends Friday night.
A single act of kindness plunges young philanthropists Paul and Anne Winston into jeopardy. After rescuing a gifted youth from an international drug cartel, the gang retaliates with huge rewards for their murder.
And that’s just the start of the wealthy couple’s troubles: Paul has discovered the drug boss is having an affair with Anne’s mother. Then things get worse… police forbid him from telling newly pregnant Anne about her mother’s dalliance, forcing Paul to break a solemn vow between them.
Anne and Paul soon realize the gang has found a way of tracking their travels: repeated attempts by hitmen to collect $50,000 bounties for their murders keep getting closer to succeeding. When the impatient gang doubles the bounties, Paul and Anne find they are quickly running out of time to uncover who’s tracking them and how.
And here’s Chapter One:
September 9, 1994
Life was good… really good!
Paul Winston hung up the phone and leaned back from his huge oak desk, a happy man.
Oh, wow! he thought. We’re pregnant! At last!
Affection and excitement coursed through his athletic body.
Paul turned to admire a picture on the wall beside his desk: their wedding, 2½ years earlier.
What a gorgeous bride you are, my lovely Anne! he thought, admiring his young wife in her resplendent bridal gown.
Above the picture hung an aerial photo of the ranch in Colorado where he grew up. Beneath their wedding picture was a framed photo of his investiture three years earlier as Lord Paul Winston, the 12th Earl of Prescott.
His intercom buzzed.
“Excuse me, My Lord,” boomed the voice of Clementine Shackleford, his executive assistant.
“There’s a young man here to see you,” she said. “Won’t give his name. Doesn’t have an appointment. Shall I tell him to come back?”
American-born Paul chuckled to himself. His notion of protocol was more casual than his matronly executive assistant’s, once described by a visitor as ‘having the combativeness of a Sumo wrestler, merged with the heart of Florence Nightingale’.
He started to ask Ms. Shackleford to show the young man in when he heard her shout:
“Stop! You can’t go in there! Stop right now!”
Paul was startled by a loud bang. Experience from his early years left no doubt it was a gunshot.
Good Grief! he thought. I hope Mrs. Shackleford’s okay!
Paul leapt from his high-back chair and sprinted across the enormous office toward the door. Halfway there the door flew open. A young man rushed in. He raised a silenced handgun and pointed it at Paul’s chest.
“Back up!” the young intruder shouted.
“Easy now,” Paul said as he lifted his hands away from his body, palms open toward the intruder.
“What can I do for you?” he added.
“Where is it?” the gunman demanded.
“Where’s what?” Paul replied.
“The safe, asshole! I know there’s a bloody safe in here somewhere!” the intruder shouted. “Behind one of those pictures? Show me!”
The agitated young man waved his left hand toward more than a dozen portraits and landscapes that adorned the oak-paneled walls, some priceless, dating back centuries
“There’s no safe in here that I know of,” Paul replied.
He was surprised to see the young man’s dark brown eyes scan the oil paintings with appreciation.
Is this his first attempt at an armed robbery? Paul wondered.
He looked closer. The younger man, a head shorter, wore faded black jeans and a stained sweatshirt with a football (soccer) logo. The intruder’s eyes darted around uneasily. The features were Middle Eastern, his long black hair unkept and overdue for a trim.
“It’s behind one of those, right?” the skinny young man demanded. “Show me or I’ll slice up every friggin’ one of them until I find it.”
He pulled out a combat knife and held it poised to slice something… or someone.
Paul stepped toward the nearest painting, an original 16th Century portrait of King Henry VI. The gunman moved back warily. Paul could see the smaller man was intimidated by his height and fit 200-pound physique. That was encouraging. He grabbed the sides of the portrait frame with both hands. It didn’t move.
“See, it’s secured to the wall, just like all the rest.”
Paul stepped over to the next painting intending to do the same.
“Show me the bloody safe!” the intruder repeated. “Hurry up, goddamnit!”
Paul sensed the gunman was feeling pressed for time.
Mounted to the wall beside that painting was a souvenir stone axe a First Nation friend from Canada had given Paul. The axe, called a temahikan (Anglicization: tomahawk), was a replica of axes used by the Algonquin peoples before Europeans began to colonize North America.
Suddenly, Paul sensed movement behind him. He ducked and whirled, instinctively grabbing the intruder’s right hand with the gun. His attacker’s other hand held the combat knife with its razor-sharp blade.
Over his shoulder, Paul caught a glimpse of the knife streaking toward his lower back. He was off-balance, with just a split second to react.
In the outer office, Clementine Shackleford struggled to her knees. Her right arm would not respond properly to her wishes. She looked down at the searing pain in her right chest. A large bloodstain surrounded a hole in her dress.
My word, she thought. How am I ever going to fix that hole?
Realizing the irony of that thought helped keep her alert long enough to direct her attention to the security panic button on her desk. The middle-aged executive assistant pushed the button with her left hand, and then felt herself losing consciousness. She fought hard but couldn’t stop the darkness from coming over her… and that annoyed her to no end.
“Okay, fella,” Paul said, tightening a knot on the restraints while pressing his knee down firmly on the back of the gunman’s neck, forcing his face into the carpet. “This ought to hold you.”
The assailant was belly-down, his nose and mouth bleeding onto Paul’s beige carpet, arms tied behind his back and feet lashed together.
“Damn!” Paul said looking down at the blood smears. “That was a really nice carpet before you made such a mess of it.”
Moments earlier, Paul had realized just in time the intruder was about to stab him from behind with a combat knife. He’d caught the young man’s gun hand and forced it behind the intruder’s back sending the gun flying, allowing Paul to twist his body, seize the other hand and shake the knife loose. Then he’d leveraged the assailant’s arm into a hip-check, slamming the disarmed youngster’s face to the floor.
While kneeling on the stunned gunman’s back, Paul had removed the young man’s bootlaces and used them to bind his arms and feet.
“Lucky for me, I learned to wrestle calves on my parents’ ranch in Colorado,” Paul chuckled. “You picked the wrong guy, fella.”
He realized the intruder probably thought he was going to use the stone axe to defend himself. The kid didn’t know the artifact was attached securely to the wall.
Paul checked his captive’s pockets for ID.
Hmmm, he thought. Just £13 and some small change… and a pass to the Underground… nothing else? No wallet or other ID? Shit!
Paul grabbed the slender young man by the belt and collar, lifting him easily into an upholstered leather chair.
“Okay,” Paul said. “Let’s have it. Who the hell are you? Who sent you? What in the world were you looking for?”
“Bugger you!” the young man said, looking away, his eyes glistening. Blood oozed from one nostril and the corner of his mouth.
Paul looked closely at his prisoner.
This kid’s no thug, he thought. What the hell is he doing here?
The enigma piqued his curiosity.
It surprised Paul to realize he was feeling sorry for the young man. His instinct was telling him to be angry, but his intuition instructed him to help the kid, if he could.
Bizarre! he thought.
Paul’s office door burst open.
In stormed a six-man assault team. They spread out, automatic rifles poised. One of them shouted: “Drop your weapons! Down on the floor!”
Paul raised his arms and knelt, clasping his hands behind his head.
Behind the assault team came a man wearing civilian clothes.
“Looks like you have everything under control here,” the man said, chuckling as he offered Paul a hand to help him up. The man surveyed Paul’s handiwork.
“Where did you get your training? Special forces?”
“I grew up on a ranch in Colorado,” Paul replied, smiling. “Used to rope calves. I have to admit this was pure instinct.
“Paul Winston,” he added, extending his hand to the authoritative, well-dressed man.
“Yes, sir,” the man said. “Lord Winston, I presume.”
It was more a statement than a question.
Paul nodded self-consciously. “Please call me Paul, if you don’t mind.”
The man hesitated and then said, “As you wish.” He introduced himself as Chief Superintendent Kenneth Hagerman from the Metropolitan Police Service (a.k.a., Scotland Yard). Paul guessed Hagerman was in his early-40s, a decade older than he. Gray streaks in Hagerman’s professionally styled hair and meticulously trimmed gray moustache reinforced Paul’s assessment of the cop’s seniority.
“This intruder shot your secretary when she tried to stop him,” Hagerman added. “The guy’s an amateur… poor shot… that probably saved her from more serious harm.”
“Is she okay?” Paul asked, alarmed.
“Yes,” Hagerman said. “No need to worry. I’m sure she’ll be fine… hit in the upper chest… the bullet missed bones and major arteries. A bit of luck, I must say. I would imagine by now she’ll be under care at St. Mary’s Hospital.
Fifteen minutes later, Hagerman closed his notebook and said: “I should think that wraps it up for the moment. I’ll ring you with any further questions.
“That kid’s known to us,” he added. “His name’s Ahmed Mousavi. He showed up on surveillance recently… recruited just a few months ago by a local gang called The Peckham Boys. They’re linked to a Turkish crime syndicate. Father’s in jail… been living on the street. The gang distributes drugs in this part of London for the syndicate. They both have nasty reputations… been on our radar for a while and on MI5’s.”
“MI5?” Paul asked. “Is there a national security issue here?”
“Just a precaution, sir,” Hagerman said. His voice was vague and non-committal. “Just a precaution.”
“Any idea what might have brought him to my office?” Paul asked.
“Not at the moment,” Hagerman replied. “It’s quite possible he was being initiated. Gangs often force new members to commit crimes. He’s new enough.”
Paul looked at a business card Hagerman had handed him. It identified Hagerman as being in charge of the Counter Terrorism Command. That sparked Paul’s curiosity even more – why someone so senior and in counter terrorism was personally investigating a routine crime.
“Before I go, there’s one other matter we should discuss, Milord… ah, Paul,” Hagerman said.
“It’s rather awkward, sir,” he added. “Am I correct that is your wife, Lady Anne in the picture?”
He pointed to their wedding photograph.
“Why, yes, that’s her,” Paul replied. “May I inquire as to why you want to know?”
“Would she be the daughter of Richard and Agnes Meriwether?” Hagerman asked, ignoring Paul’s question.
“That’s correct,” Paul replied, his irritation rising. “Now, before we go any further, I think you’d better tell me what this all about.”
“What I am going to tell you, sir, is highly classified,” Hagerman said. “However, since you recently were appointed to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, I should imagine you’ll become privy to this information in the next few days.”
“What information?” Paul said.
“Our surveillance of Mr. Mousavi’s gang also revealed something else, that is ‘someone’ else, that surprised us,” Hagerman said.
“Someone, you said?” Paul asked.
“Quite,” Hagerman said. “A middle-aged woman has been seen frequently with the leader of Mousavi’s gang. That woman has been identified as Mrs. Agnes Meriwether.”
“What?” Paul said. “You can’t be serious! Are you absolutely sure? Does her husband, Richard, know?”
“Yes, it is her and, no, Mr. Meriwether does not know,” Hagerman replied. “And we must keep it that way for the time being.
“And, Paul,” Hagerman added. “Under no circumstances can this information go beyond the two of us. With respect, sir, you are not at liberty to share this with Lady Anne until you are authorized to do so, nor with Mr. Meriwether.”
“Good grief,” Paul said. “When will that be?”
“We have no way of knowing,” Hagerman said.
“Shit!” Paul said. “Anne and I, and our son Douglas, are having dinner this Friday at my in-laws’ house. We’re planning to tell Anne’s parents that we’re expecting a baby.”
“I’m terribly sorry, sir,” Ken said. “But I must advise you that disclosing to anyone what I’ve just revealed could put you in contempt of court. What’s more, we suspect Mrs. Meriwether could be in violation of national security laws.”
“Really?” Paul said. “How could that be?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Ken replied. “I’m not at liberty to discuss that further.”
Paul felt deeply sorry for Richard. He knew Agnes to be an obsessive and unrepentant social climber but she was Anne’s mother so he’d chosen to overlook it as best he could. Her outspoken yearning for another grandchild, however, was irritating since her interest was, as much as anything, in the bragging rights it would give her with her society friends. But this was over the top!
Paul wasn’t looking forward to what would have been a joyous dinner.
“One last thing,” Hagerman said. “I’ve assigned a security detail to you. Just a precaution you understand, until we sort things out with this intruder.”
After Hagerman left, Paul called Anne to tell her about the intruder, about Ms. Shackleford’s injuries, and to reassure her that he was all right.
Paul was feeling both relieved and deeply troubled by the news of her mother’s apparent infidelity… relieved the secrecy would prevent dampening Anne’s delight with being pregnant, but troubled by having to break their solemn vow to each other, to be honest no matter what.
He paused to collect his thoughts and then snuck out the back door, evading the interim security detail, to check on Mrs. Shackleford at St. Mary’s Hospital.