Joan Johnston

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His isolated compound—and his isolated lifestyle—made a powerful statement: Shaw lived a life without strings, a life without human connections. So Harry expected him to resist the idea that he had twin sons, maybe even to dismiss Harry’s suggestion as ridiculous.

Luckily, Harry had proof. DNA results made it 99.9 percent certain that Shaw was the twins’ father.

“Who sent you here?” Shaw asked.

“I want your promise to pay before I say anything more.”

“You’d take my word?” Shaw said cynically, lifting a brow.

Harry shrugged. “You have a reputation for sticking by it in business deals.” Which this was. Sort of.

“Bruce, escort this man from the premises.”

“Wait!” Harry reached into his jacket and found his wrist handcuffed by Bruce’s gigantic hand. How had the big man moved so fast? “I don’t have a weapon,” Harry babbled, afraid the monster was going to crush his bones. “There are papers in my jacket. And a photo.”

“Let him go,” Shaw said.

With a shaking hand, Harry pulled out the papers he’d been reaching for, which had been folded in his suit coat pocket. They rustled as he unfolded them and took the few steps forward to lay them on Shaw’s desk.

Shaw spread the papers apart and stared at them, his brow furrowed. “This looks like—”

“It’s the results of a DNA test,” Harry interrupted. “You can see that the first chart matches the second two almost exactly.”

“The second two?”

“You have twin eight-year-old sons,” Harry blurted.

Shaw’s brows arrowed down and his lips pressed flat.

Harry was afraid to breathe, waiting for Shaw to deny paternity despite the DNA results. He expected the businessman to ask how Harry had gotten his DNA. It had been easy, since the man ate most of his meals in restaurants. A fork he’d eaten from, a glass he’d drunk from, was all Harry had needed.

Instead, Shaw said, “Who’s the mother?”

Harry licked his lips. “Half a million.”

Shaw nodded curtly.

“Her name is Kate Grayhawk Pendleton. She’s the governor’s daughter-in-law. She lives in San Antonio.” He laid a 4"x6" photograph beside the DNA results on the table. It showed the smiling mother standing between her identical grinning sons, one slender arm resting on each boy’s narrow shoulder.

Harry watched several emotions flicker in Wyatt Shaw’s narrowed gaze, none of which were pleasant. The expected shock. Anger. Disgust. And then, a great deal more anger.

“Her husband?” Shaw asked.

“She was widowed eighteen months ago. Her husband died serving in Afghanistan.”

Harry was glad for the husband’s sake that he was dead. And he wouldn’t have wanted to be in the woman’s shoes when Shaw caught up to her. For half a million, he figured he owed Shaw a heads-up on the woman’s current situation. After all, the businessman had been back and forth to China a dozen times over the past six months and might not have kept up with the local news.

“Mrs. Pendleton was shot last October by that assassin trying to kill the governor. She was in a coma for four months and spent about six weeks in a rehab facility. She seems to have come out of it just fine. She went home ten days ago.”

“Tell my secretary where you want the money wired,” Shaw said through tight jaws.

Harry couldn’t believe it had been that easy. Couldn’t believe Shaw was actually going to pay.

Then he saw Shaw’s glance slide to Bruce, watched his chin drop the littlest bit, sending some kind of message to the big man. Harry felt the sudden urge to run. For a moment he was frozen, like a frightened rabbit, panting for breath.

Then he made his move.

His eyes darted from Shaw to the big man as he hurriedly backed his way out of the office, leaving the test results and the photograph on the glass in front of Shaw, letting the heavy wooden door slide silently closed behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, alarmed to see Bruce pass through the same door a few seconds later.

Harry paused at the secretary’s desk long enough to say, “I’ll give you a call and let you know where to wire the money.”

She didn’t ask “What money?” She must be used to business deals made on a handshake. Or in this case, a chin nod.

Harry hustled to the elevator, pushed the button and was relieved when the doors opened as though the elevator always waited on the 80th floor for Shaw. He stepped inside and pushed the button for the ground floor.

He felt his breath catch when he realized Bruce was headed for the same elevator. He stabbed the “Door Close” button several times. And breathed a sigh of relief when it began to close.

Several thick-knuckled fingers appeared between the nearly closed doors and they opened again. Bruce got on the elevator with Harry and stood facing the door, his hefty arms crossed over his substantial girth.

Harry felt his heartbeat ratchet up, felt the blood pound in his temples, and realized he hadn’t taken his blood pressure meds that morning. Hell, hadn’t taken them for a couple of days. He tried to calm himself, afraid he was going to have a heart attack. Or stroke out.

The elevator didn’t stop once on the way down, even though Harry prayed that it would pick up another passenger. It raced past thirty floors of offices, twenty-four floors of condominiums, twenty-one floors of hotel rooms (no thirteenth floor), the third floor hotel lobby, and the second floor boutiques, never once stopping.

He should have known Shaw would have a private express elevator. He managed not to pant, but he was having trouble catching his breath. He told himself he was being stupid. Big Bruce here hadn’t made a move toward him. In a few moments the elevator doors would open and he’d be safe.

Maybe he’d buy that beachfront property somewhere out of the country. He was just realizing how much fallout there might be once the governor realized what he’d done. Not to mention the girl’s two grandfathers.

Harry was out of the elevator the instant it stopped on the ground floor. The two-story-high glass-walled space was empty except for a black-suited guard behind a black granite desk who kept out the riffraff. Harry hurried past him.

Behind him, he heard the guard tell Bruce, “The Boss told me to remind you to take care of that business quietly.”

Harry felt a spurt of terror so great he nearly fainted. He should have known better than to try and extort money from a man like Shaw. He pushed his way through the revolving door, squinting against the glare of the sun off the mirrored building across the street. If he could just get outside onto the sidewalk, he’d be okay. He could see it was crowded with people.

As he left Shaw Tower, a gust of hot wind blew grit from the street into his eyes. He swiped at his stinging eyes and realized his face was dripping with sweat. He looked down and saw he’d sweated all the way through his suit jacket under his armpits. What the hell? He squirmed as a bead of sweat slid down between his shoulder blades. Oh, shit. That was a symptom of heart attack, wasn’t it? Profuse sweat?

Harry nearly giggled with hysteria. He was scaring himself to death. He had to control his panic or he was going to do Big Bruce’s job for him. He forced himself to walk more slowly. He glanced over his shoulder long enough to see that Bruce was still following him.

Harry was determined to put the width of the street between himself and Shaw’s enforcer. He weaved his way across tacky, sun-heated asphalt, in between honking downtown traffic, almost running by the time he got to the other side of the street. He realized Bruce was no longer behind him. The big man was still walking along the opposite sidewalk.

Harry heaved a quiet sigh of relief. He was done with his brief life of crime. It was too damned stressful. He put a hand to his heart, which was finally slowing down. He glanced once more at Big Bruce. Now he was talking on a cell phone.

Harry reached the corner and stepped off the curb, his gaze riveted on Bruce.

He heard a scream from the sidewalk catty-corner from him. His head jerked toward the sound. Harry saw a young woman, her eyes wide with horror, her hand urgently pointing to his right—in the opposite direction from where he’d last seen Big Bruce. Harry yanked his head back around to see what had frightened her. Adrenaline pumped into his veins, making his heart hurt so bad he put a hand to his chest.

As close as the truck was, Harry could see the rust on the metal grille, which rose as high as his shoulder. The driver had obviously run the red. Harry calculated the time it would take to get out of the way. And realized he was fucked.

In the final seconds before disaster struck, Harry’s gaze shot over his shoulder to Bruce. The big man was pocketing his phone. Harry’s head whipped back around as he heard the screech of brakes. Then the garbage truck hit him and he went flying.
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