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       Hidden Deception: A Shelby Nichols Adventure, p.1

           Colleen Helme
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Hidden Deception: A Shelby Nichols Adventure


  hidden deception

  A SHELBY NICHOLS ADVENTURE

  Colleen Helme

  Copyright © 2016 by Colleen Helme.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

  www.colleenhelme.com

  Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

  Book Cover Art by Damonza Copyright © 2016 by Colleen Helme

  Book Layout ©2013 BookDesignTemplates.

  Hidden Deception/ Colleen Helme. -- 1st ed.

  ISBN-13: 978-1535311816

  ISBN-10: 1535311819

  Dedication

  To all my readers ~

  Thanks for taking this journey with me.

  You Rock!

  Acknowledgements

  I need to thank everyone who has read the Shelby Nichols Adventure series and wanted more. You keep me writing, and I’m so grateful for your kind words and amazing reviews! Thanks and much love to my family for your awesome support and encouragement. Thanks to my fantastic editor, Kristin Monson, who catches my mistakes and makes this a better book. To my supportive hubby, Tom, for pointing out a big omission so I could fix it. To Melissa and Erin, my fabulous beta readers and amazing daughters. Your encouragement and feedback is worth more than I could ever say! To Wendy Tremont King, my amazing Audible producer, for taking this journey with me and working so hard to bring Shelby to life. And last but not least, I’m grateful for that rainy day in April, when I had to stop at the grocery store for carrots…and it all began.

  CONTENTS

  Hidden Deception

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 1

  Today began like any other Monday.

  The routine of getting my kids off to school was just the same as it had always been, and I found it a little disconcerting to think that I’d just had the adventure of my life in Paris, and now it seemed like I’d never been gone.

  We’d gotten home on Friday, so with the weekend to get over my jet-lag, there was no excuse for not going back to my everyday life. It would have been depressing except for the fact that I had something to look forward to. Just thinking about it sent a thrill of excitement through me.

  My husband, Chris, had just made partner at his law firm. With that came a few other benefits, one of which was a big raise in pay. On the plane ride home from Paris, Chris had mentioned this to me, along with the news that the house I’d always admired from afar was for sale. Now, there was a real possibility we could afford it.

  I’d had my eye on that house ever since we’d moved into the area. It had a certain enchantment about it that fueled my imagination. It was situated on a beautiful, stately, tree-lined street, and was built in the Old Victorian style. It even had a round turret on one side that spanned two floors, and another in the back. A wrap-around porch had recently been added, making it even more inviting.

  It wasn’t a huge house, but big enough for our family, and I’d always thought it would be cool to live there. Even better, it was in our neighborhood and school district. So if we did buy it, our kids could stay in their schools and keep their friends.

  The only drawback I could see? People moved in and out a lot, so it might need some fixing up, especially the yard. But that also meant the price would be lower, so it could all work out in the end. Chris had called a realtor on Saturday, and I had an appointment to meet him there this afternoon.

  This fit into my plans perfectly, since I needed to visit Thrasher Development this morning and have a talk with Uncle Joey. He was the local mob-boss and my employer. And he wasn’t even my real uncle. But since he knew my secret, I was more or less coerced into working for him.

  Recently, he’d sent his hit-man, Ramos, to look after me when I’d accompanied a federal agent to Paris on a routine trip. It had turned out to be a heck of a lot more than I’d bargained for. In fact, without Ramos’ help and protection, I’d be dead.

  The last time I’d talked with Uncle Joey, he wasn’t too happy with me. And since he’d basically saved my life by sending Ramos… again, I owed him big-time, probably for as long as I lived. Or at least until my mind-reading abilities stopped. So far, that hadn’t happened. And deep inside, I hoped it never would.

  It had been a whole year since my life changed during a bank robbery at the grocery store while I was shopping for carrots. A bullet wound to my head had changed something in my brain, and now I could hear people’s thoughts. I could hardly believe how fast the time had gone since then.

  In fact, reading minds had become so much a part of my identity that I didn’t think I could ever go back to the person I was before. So, even though it might get me out of helping a mob-boss, and keep me out of trouble, and even keep me from getting killed, I’d hate to lose it. How crazy was that?

  On the other hand, Uncle Joey was getting older. He had to be over sixty-five. That meant he should retire at some point in the next few years. Maybe by then, he’d let me off the hook. Ha! Who was I kidding? Uncle Joey didn’t seem like the retiring type. He liked power way too much. And barring death, either his or mine, I didn’t think I’d ever be out from under his thumb.

  It also worried me a little that the circle of people who actually knew my secret had just widened to include French Inspector Gabriel Dumont. But since I’d helped save a chunk of Paris, he’d readily agreed to keep it to himself.

  So, including Uncle Joey, Ramos, my husband, Chris, and Detective Harris, whom I called Dimples, that still added up to only five people, so maybe it wasn’t so bad. Oh wait, there was one more… Kate.

  How could I forget her? She was the main reason I got involved with Uncle Joey in the first place. As a new lawyer at Chris’ law firm, she’d set her sights on Chris, even though she knew he was happily married to me. In order to stop her, I’d threatened to expose her ties to the local mob-boss, Joe ‘The Knife’ Manetto, whom she called Uncle Joey.

  That’s when it all went wrong, and I had to tell Uncle Joey my secret in order to stay alive. Kate had since been banished to run Uncle Joey’s operations in Seattle, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t pop back up in my life at any time.

  Just thinking about her brought a sick feeling to my stomach, but now that she was involved with Alec Passini and his shipping company, I hoped that kept her occupied. Still, I wouldn’t put it past her to ask for my help if she needed it. So, of all the people who knew my secret, Kate was the one I worried about the most. Good thing I had Uncle Joey on my side. Everyone else thought I had ‘premonitions,’ and I needed to make sure it stayed that way.

  Now that I was back in the real world, it hit me that I had a lot to worry about, so to alleviate those worries, I decided to change my focus to the possibility of purchasing my dream home. That helped revive me and, with anticipation, I jumped into the show
er to get ready for my day.

  An hour later, I pulled into the parking garage of Thrasher Development and gathered the special gifts I’d purchased in Paris for Uncle Joey, his secretary and wife, Jackie, and Ramos. I was excited about the gifts I’d bought for Uncle Joey and Jackie, but more than a little nervous about the one I’d bought for Ramos. I mean, what could I possibly give to the man who’d rescued me from a bunch of crazy terrorists?

  Not only that, but he’d stuck by my side when he could have easily been blown up. The little Eiffel Tower I’d gotten him seemed kind of silly, but it was also personal. The first time I’d seen it sparkle was the night he’d saved my life and took me there to help settle me down. Now, when I thought of the Eiffel Tower, it was always of that moment standing there with him.

  It was bad of me in so many ways, especially considering the kiss. Of course it wasn’t a personal kiss since Gabriel had kissed me too. It was kind of a French thing to celebrate not getting blown up; Joie de Vivre, and all that.

  Still, I had to admit that I’d liked it, and that I didn’t feel too guilty about it. That probably made me even more of a bad person, but it’s not like I’d ever do it again. I loved my husband more than I could say, and we had two great kids together.

  But Ramos was special to me too, and always would be. So giving him the Eiffel Tower was an okay thing to do, right? Still, maybe I should forget about it and just give him the extra chocolates instead. Then I wouldn’t have to worry that I’d crossed some sort of line.

  “Babe.”

  Lost in my thoughts, I didn’t hear him approach and nearly jumped out of my skin. “Wha… what are you doing here?” I clutched the bag of goodies to my chest with a guilty flush.

  His eyes crinkled at the corners, and his lips twisted into a small smile. He loved that I got so rattled around him. “Hmm… what’s in the bag? Something for me?”

  How did he know? “Um… yeah. And for Uncle Joey and Jackie, too.”

  “Nice.” I stood there like a dummy, and his brows rose. “Do you want to give it to me now, or wait until we get to the office?”

  I let out my breath and glanced at the bag. “Um… I was just trying to decide what to give you. I brought a couple of things, but I’m not sure which one you’d like the best.”

  “Let’s see what you’ve got,” he said, curious. But he was thinking why not give me both?

  “Oh, yeah. I guess that would work, except…” I didn’t finish that thought, since it was kind of selfish of me to want to keep the chocolates. I took out the bigger bag with the Eiffel Tower and handed it to him. “Here you go.” He pulled it out, and his face broke into a pleased smile.

  “There’s a switch right there at the base you can push,” I said, pointing to the underside. He flipped it on, and the tower started sparkling. Not anywhere as cool as the real thing, but it still made me happy just to look at it.

  Ramos chuckled, thinking he would never have been caught dead buying one of these things in Paris, but right now, it was pretty sweet. His gaze caught mine, and he thought about all the times we’d watched the real thing together. “This is great, thanks.” He turned it off and put it back in the bag. “So what else did you get me?”

  Since I couldn’t take it back, I got the extra bag of chocolate covered marshmallows from Henri Le Roux Chocolatier and held them up. Without hesitating, he grabbed them from me. “Nice! Aren’t these your favorite?”

  “Yes,” I said, my mouth salivating just to look at them.

  “Then I’m sure I’ll like them.” He stuck them in the bag with the Eiffel Tower and headed toward the elevator, not about to let me get my hands on them. “So how was the rest of your trip?”

  “Amazing.” I sighed and followed him, telling him all about it as we rode the elevator to the twenty-sixth floor. It surprised me when the doors opened and I’d talked the whole time. Ramos stepped out, and I followed, but I hesitated before entering Thrasher Development.

  “Wait,” I said. “How’s Uncle Joey doing? Will he be happy to see me?”

  “It depends. What did you bring him?”

  “Chocolates,” I answered.

  “No Eiffel Tower?”

  “Nope. That was just for you.”

  Ramos smiled. “That should be fine.” He opened the door to Thrasher Development, thinking that Manetto could use some cheering up today after what had happened to him last week. I hesitated and sent a questioning glance his way. He shook his head, thinking I’d find out soon enough, and ushered me inside.

  “Shelby! You’re back!” Jackie rushed around the desk and gave me a big hug. “I heard you had quite the trip. I’m glad you made it back in one piece.”

  “Yeah, me too. There were a few times it was a little scary, but it all turned out okay in the end. I brought you something.”

  “You did?” Her eyes lit up with excitement.

  “Yeah, I found this in a little shop and thought of you.” From my bag, I pulled a beautiful, blue scarf made from a gauzy material and edged with little tassels and beads at each end. The word Paris and little sketches of the Eiffel Tower covered the material. “I think the color matches your eyes.”

  “Oh, thank you Shelby. It’s gorgeous.” Jackie examined it closely and then wrapped it around her neck.

  “Wow. That even matches the top you’re wearing right now. It looks good on you.” She beamed at me, deciding to wear it in honor of my safe return, and warmth filled my heart. “Is Uncle Joey in his office? I have something for him too.” Maybe he’d have those same warm feelings about his chocolates and let me off the hook from a lifetime of debt. Ha! As if… but at least I could dream.

  “Yes. Go on down, I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.” She thought it might help him feel better to see me, and she hoped I could cheer him up after last week’s disaster.

  Yikes! What was going on? After hearing that, I lost my enthusiasm to see Uncle Joey and ended up dragging my feet down the hall. Still listening to both Ramos’ and Jackie’s thoughts, I couldn’t pick up anything useful about this so-called disaster, so I took a deep breath before knocking on the door. He called to enter. And with trepidation, I turned the knob.

  He stood with his back to me, looking out over the city through the floor-to-ceiling window. He spoke to someone on his cell phone and didn’t turn around until his call ended. As he glanced up, his eyes rounded with surprise and pleasure to find me standing right in front of him.

  “Shelby! You’re back.” He smiled and thought how good it was to see me alive and well. After what Ramos had told him, he knew it had been a close thing. And look at that, I’d even come in to visit him before he’d called.

  Of course, since I’d gone with Blake against his wishes and nearly gotten killed, he thought it was only right that I came in on my own. After all, he’d saved my life by sending Ramos after me. But since I’d returned safe and sound, it didn’t bother him too much. In fact, now there was no question that I owed him a huge debt, which pretty much covered working for him for the rest of my life. So, in the end, it all worked out great.

  “I know,” I said, with a sigh. “I do owe you, but I’m really glad you sent Ramos.”

  He chuckled, happy I understood, but equally grateful I was still alive to owe him. He’d missed me the last few weeks. Especially since the disaster… his thoughts stopped, and his gaze caught mine. “It’s true, I’ve missed you. But now that you’re back, I’m sure things will get better around here.”

  “Uh… thanks.” I wasn’t sure I liked all that responsibility, so I quickly changed the subject. “I brought you something.” Reaching into my bag, I pulled out the expensive box of chocolates and hoped he’d appreciate them. “These are the best of the best.”

  He took them from me and examined the label with a smile. “Thanks. They look wonderful, I’m sure I’ll enjoy them. Why don’t you sit down? There’s something I’d like to discuss with you.”

  “Sure,” I said, trying to keep my voice light. “What
’s up? Did something disastrous happen last week?”

  “What makes you say that?”

  “Oh… just that Ramos and Jackie were thinking about a disaster and hoping I could cheer you up.”

  His brows drew together and he sighed, wishing he could just forget about last week and move on.

  “What happened?” Now I really wanted to know, especially since Uncle Joey had a scowl on his face and didn’t want to talk about it.

  He let out a big sigh and decided he might as well tell me and get it over with. “I got called into jury duty last week and couldn’t get out of it. My friend, Jack, the one who’s a judge, thought it was pretty funny. You remember him? We played poker with him at my club?”

  “Oh yeah, of course. Jack the Judge. He’s the one who was dating Carlotta, right? Are they still together?” Carlotta was the mother of Uncle Joey’s only son, Miguel. Nearly a year ago, he’d saved her life and found out that he had a son. In return, she’d tried to squeeze five million dollars out of him.

  “Yes,” he said, not too happy I’d brought that up. “Anyway, I had to sit in on a two-day trial or pay a fine, so I thought I’d see how the judicial system worked from a jury standpoint. It didn’t go so well since everyone decided the guy was guilty. I knew he was guilty too, but on principle, I wasn’t about to convict him.” He was thinking that if he got him off, the guy would owe him a favor and come to work for him. Then his jury experience wouldn’t have been a total waste.

  “It would have been fine, except somebody leaked who I was to one of the other jurors,” he continued. “I think it was Jack… the bastard. Most of them were afraid of me and willing to change their votes, but one guy threatened to leak it to the press unless I changed my vote to guilty. Since I didn’t want the press involved, I… uh… gave in.”

  This was the source of his discontent, the fact that he’d given in and changed his vote because some guy was too stupid to know he shouldn’t cross Joey “The Knife” Manetto. It made him look weak, and he didn’t like his reputation sullied.

 

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