Here’s your chance!
The ebook version of SECRET SHEPHERD is available to you absolutely free starting on Monday, March 23. The offer is good only for this week, March 23 to 27.
SECRET SHEPHERD is book two in a planned trilogy that chronicles the travels around the world of a wealthy young couple, Paul and Anne Winston, as they bring hope to scores of deserving people, while also overcoming determined efforts by a
spurned drug cartel to assassinate them and their two small children. The series began with THE MAIDSTONE CONSPIRACY, which won an international award as best mystery in a competition based in London, UK. SECRET SHEPHERD continues Paul and Anne’s philanthropic adventures and dangers.
Here’s the opening chapter and here’s the link: https://www.amazon.ca/Secret-Shepherd-James-Osborne-ebook/dp/B07VKBD2S8/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
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 his leather high-back chair to gaze at a picture on the wall beside his desk: their wedding, two and a half years earlier.
What a gorgeous bride you are, my lovely Anne! He thought, admiring his young wife dressed 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. 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 combative nature 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!”
A loud bang startled Paul. Experience left no doubt it was a gunshot.
Good Grief! he thought. I hope Mrs. Shackleford’s okay!
Paul leapt from his chair and sprinted across the enormous office toward the door. Halfway there the door flew open. A young man rushed in. He pointed a handgun at Paul’s chest.
“Back up!” the intruder shouted.
“Easy now,” Paul said as he lifted his hands away from his body, open palms toward the intruder. “What can I do for you?”
“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. His 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 intruder 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 sixteenth century portrait of King Henry VI. The gunman moved back warily. Paul could see the smaller man was intimidated by his height and fit two-hundred-pound physique. That was encouraging. He grabbed the sides of the portrait frame with both hands. It didn’t move.
“It’s secured to the wall, just like all the rest.”
Paul started toward to the next painting, intending to do the same.
“I told you, show me the bloody safe!” the intruder repeated. “Hurry up, goddamnit!”
Paul sensed the gunman was feeling pressed for time.
Mounted on the wall beside that painting was a souvenir stone axe a First Nation friend from Canada had given Paul. The axe, called a temahikan, was a replica of the ones used by the Algonquin peoples before Europeans began their colonization of 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 grasped the combat knife with a 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 managed to push 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 the deep pile of 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, he 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. 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 intruder’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 gunman 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 up 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.
His office door burst open.
In stormed a six-man assault team. They spread out, automatic rifles poised. One of them shouted: “Drop your weapons! Hands up! 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 extended 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. “As you wish.”
He introduced himself as Chief Superintendent Kenneth Hagerman from
the Metropolitan Police Service, AKA Scotland Yard. Paul guessed Hagerman was in his early forties, a decade older than he. Paul’s assessment of the cop’s seniority was reinforced by salt and pepper streaks in Hagerman’s
professionally styled dark hair and meticulously trimmed gray moustache.
“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 enroute to St. Mary’s
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, mother’s deceased, and he’s 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
“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 glanced 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 counterterrorism 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. Am I correct that’s your wife, Lady Anne in the picture?”
He pointed at their wedding photograph.
“Why, yes, that’s her,” Paul replied. “May I inquire as to why you’d want to know?”
“Would she be the daughter of Richard and Agnes Meriwether?” Hagerman asked.
“That’s correct,” Paul replied, feeling mild irritation. “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 to say, ‘someone’ else, and 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, perhaps a lover. 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 indeed her and, no, Mr. Meriwether does not know, as far as we are aware,” Hagerman replied. “We must keep it that way for the time being. And, Paul, under no circumstances can this information go beyond the two of us. With respect, sir, you may not 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,” Hagerman said. “But I must advise you that disclosing to anyone what I’ve just revealed would be illegal. We suspect Mrs. Meriwether may very well be in violation of national security laws.”
“Really?” Paul said. “How could that be?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Hagerman 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; he’d chosen to overlook her behavior as best he could. Her outspoken yearning for another grandchild, however, was also irritating since her primary interest was in the bragging rights it would give her with her society friends. Now this… it 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 felt both relieved and deeply troubled by the news of his mother-in-law’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.