A Necessary Lie
Search and Recover, Book 1
August 2017
Lyrical Press Books

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The Investigative Collection Unit is one of the world's most renowned agencies, solving cases with-or without-the law on its side. And the Unit's men are special agents in more ways than one, with secrets that can make or break them-and the hearts of those who fall for them...

He's known only as Cowboy. A successful rodeo star with a string of women behind him, the ICU has given him a chance to stay put instead of constantly running away-from the past, from love, from the blood on his hands. And he's not going to screw that up, even if it means going back home to Texas to investigate the disappearance of the woman who made him start running in the first place...

The political exposé of a popular senator should have been Grace Irvine's story, but she thought it would be good for her best friend Jessie's career. Now, Jessie is missing and Grace will do anything to find her. But her path keeps crossing with a mysterious and charismatic cowboy who has his own reasons for finding Jessie. And as intrigue draws Grace and Cowboy deeper into danger, passion starts to play by its own rules-making promises it might not be able to keep...

 

Excerpt from A Necessary Lie


Cowboy stared at the name in the file handed to him by his pain-in-the ass boss. Was this a joke? If so, what the fuck? Then again Ryan Sheppard
wasn’t one to play games, at least not when someone’s life was at stake. “What would you like me to do with this?”

“Read it. It involves your new case,” Ryan said, looking up from the pile of papers on his desk, apparently confused by Cowboy’s reaction.

Maybe he was totally clueless as to what that name meant to Cowboy.

You could never be certain how much the dickhead knew. He slid the file across the black marble desktop, back to Ryan. “I don’t do missing people.” That wasn’t entirely true, but his expertise was more about being the go-to guy. Whatever the team needed to get the job done, Cowboy found. A tank, halfway across the world by noon? No problem, he had a guy. Time-sensitive explosives? He knew a guy who knew aguy. Shit, he knew a guy for most anything. That metaphorical little black book had become his way of life because if you couldn’t do it yourself, you had to find someone who could. It had been this way since he’d started surviving on his own at fourteen. But taking a lead on a missing person, especially this missing person, nope, not his thing. Although he had to admit he was curious—ok, more than curious—why Jessica Cook went missing.

“It’s not what we’ve been hired to do,” Ryan was saying. “Not entirely. You’re to keep an eye on the missing woman’s friend.”

“And nor am I a babysitter.” That was a job for Dozier. Strong and silent, with hawk eyes; compared to him, panthers were pets that slept on your bed.

“You are now. Everyone else is either busy or not qualified.”

 “Then give this to Beck. It’s what he lives for.” His fellow operative, Christian Beck, had a knack for finding and retrieving missing or kidnapped victims and dealing with damsels in distress.

“Can’t. He’s asked for time off. His wife is expecting their first child
and he doesn’t want to leave her side.”

“It’s a baby, not a ticking time bomb.” Sheesh, he’d met Christian’s wife. She was no shrinking violet. He slung a booted ankle across his
knee to stop it bouncing, hoping to God he wasn’t coming off as antsy as the name on that file made him.

“I’m not about to recall him when I have you doing nothing. Jesus, Cowboy, what’s the problem?”

He wasn’t going to admit he knew the missing woman because then Ryan, nosy prick that he was, would want to know how he knew her.
“Nothing, but what I do for ICU doesn’t involve a pulse.”

“Since when? True, everyone on the team has their niche, but you’ve done security detail before. Is that what this is about? You don’t think you
can handle it?”

“Shit no.” After living on the street, he sure as hell could handle anything Ryan threw his way. He opened his mouth to argue but his boss cut him off.

“Good, because I wouldn’t trust you with this,” he said, sliding the file back to him, “if I didn’t think you could handle it.”

“Trust? What is this, personal?”

“Not really. Chief Irvine asked for our help.”

“Since when do we help the cops?” At least openly anyway.

“Since my father told me they went to school together.”

And that was that. Cowboy dropped it.

Ryan’s father had retired after twenty years on the force prior to opening ICU, and Ryan may have had control of the company for the past five years, but when Sheppard Sr. spoke, his son tended to listen. It was a matter of mutual respect, Ryan said. Unlike Cowboy’s father, Sheppard Sr. had earned it. Ryan had complete autonomy to run the agency as he saw fit. Hell, he’d turned his old man’s Investigation Collection Unit into one of the most sought-out agencies in the world. With Ryan at the helm, the tentacles of the company reached further than his father dreamed, beyond the blurring of rules and legalities, solving the cases no one working within the law could. If a case was mission impossible, Ryan made it possible. The governments were happy to look the other way if it got the job done. And ICU got the job done. It wasn’t that they broke the law, only that they didn’t allow red tape, policies, and protocols to impede their hunt. So the cops took a hear no evil, see no evil approach when it came to Ryan and his team, though open cooperation was rare.

“And,” Ryan continued, “this is personal for the chief.”

“The missing girl? Or the one you want me to babysit?” If Ryan made him take the case, having the law monitoring his every move while he tried to pretend he didn’t know Jessie Cook wasn’t sitting high on Cowboy’s to-do list.

“Jessica Cook, the missing woman, is a friend of his daughter, Grace Irvine. Both women work for the Dallas Star. She convinced her editor it was a good idea to allow her friend to write this political piece. Two weeks later, Jessica Cook falls off the radar. Time is not on Ms. Cook’s side and Irvine knows his daughter well enough to believe she’ll get it in her head to look for her friend on her own. And she needs to stay out of it.”

“And he doesn’t want her to know I’m her paid guardian angel?”

“Exactly.”

“And he doesn’t want our help finding the girl?”

“He claims to have that covered. But…if along the way you find anything useful, he’d appreciate you sharing.”

He should be relieved he wasn’t being hired to find Jessie. But this wasn’t the type of missing person case Ryan normally took on. For starters, their missing people weren’t usually missing, but rather misplaced by some not-so-nice folk, as in taken for ransom or bargaining purposes.
Unless Jessie’s circumstances had drastically changed, he doubted she’d disappeared for either of those reasons. This looked to be a job for the
police, not ICU.

As for playing bodyguard to a woman who didn’t know daddy had hired a watch dog… Well, getting his ass chewed out by an angry woman wasn’t high on any of his lists. “Have the cops linked the story Cook was working on to her disappearance?”

“It’s complicated. His daughter’s apartment, one she shared with Ms. Cook, was broken into two days ago. One day after Ms. Cook failed to return home. Irvine doubts it was a robbery. Read the file.”

“Okay, then tell me how I’m supposed to keep the other one from going missing without her knowing I’ve been hired to watch over her?”

“You’ll figure it out. Now get your butt out of my office and on to this case.”

He opened his mouth to argue but if the Sheppard men shared one thing, it was the don’t fuck with my orders scowl. He could tell Ryan off, but he liked his job. It and his boss had given his life focus when he’d needed it the most. He’d been so hell bent on proving to the world he was better, faster, and stronger, that he hadn’t cared if he killed himself doing it. “Fine,” he said through gritted teeth and grabbed the file.

“See Elaine.” Ryan picked up his phone and started dialing. “She has everything you need and your plane reservations.”

“Dallas?” he asked, not bothering to turn around.

“San Antonio.”

Cowboy froze, his hand on the door handle. “Why San Antonio?” Fuck, fuck, fuck. Could this get any worse? He dared a glance over his shoulder, hoping like hell his body language didn’t read full-blown panic.

“That’s where she disappeared and that’s where Irvine’s daughter is heading to ignore her father’s orders. A couple of months ago, the women relocated from Atlanta to Dallas so Ms. Irvine could take a promotion with the Dallas Star. But Ms. Cook’s assignment was in San Antonio, her hometown. And Chief Irvine lives in San Antonio. Don’t get arrested andmake me look bad.” Ryan’s call went through. “This is Sheppard,” he said to whoever was on the other end of his call. “Hold on.” Ryan, Mr. Too Observant for Cowboy’s good, gave him a hard look. “Anything wrong?”

“No.” And he left before his boss caught on to how much he hated
this assignment.

San Antonio. Of all the shit-ass luck. And damn, what or who had happened to Jessie Cook? He picked up the envelope with his boarding pass and hotel information, headed for the stairs, and walked the three flights down to the lobby—anything to exert energy into something other than thinking about the pile of shit his boss had just shoved him into. Never in his life had he planned to return to his hometown, at least not in
broad daylight.

He consoled himself with the fact that San Antonio was a big city and no one would recognize him. He’d just stay far away from ranch life. Sixteen years was a long time and he wasn’t that pip-squeak who’d run with blood on his hands. Not only had he grown beyond five foot nothing to seven feet tall, but he’d also stopped searching for unattainable approval. For starters, he didn’t give a shit anymore. He was his own man and if you didn’t much care for him then it was tough titties for that person. Just because barroom brawls were a thing of the past. Someone looking at him the wrong way no longer detonated the bomb in his head. His self-destruct mode was permanently disabled. Still, what was left of his family, if you could call them that, lived near San Antonio.

He got into his car telling himself the gloom and doom hovering over his head was his imagination. He’d snuck back for his father’s funeral to check up on his mom and hadn’t been caught. He’d dragged Monty from one of his many computer screens and forced ICU’s top hacker to return
home with him. While Cowboy watched from a distance, he’d shoved Monty into the crowd of mourners to act as his eyes and ears. It wasn’t that Cowboy gave a hoot about what the town thought of him. He simply hadn’t wanted his mother to have to deal with his sins on top of burying her husband. His father had been a well-respected rancher and in the eyes of the community could do no wrong.

Well, that wasn’t true. He’d done one reprehensible thing. He’d had him, the troubled son.

Cowboy returned to his Manhattan condo. Because New York was the busiest office followed by Vegas, he’d decided to purchase a place six months ago, and the apartment served its purpose nicely. All those years on the run, Cowboy had lived in hotels, motels, and dumps not even worthy to be called dives. If Louis, the rodeo clown who’d saved his ass, hadn’t come along when he had who knew where his life would have taken him. Now the only time he paid for a room was when he was sipping margaritas south of the border.

Packing, he reminded himself he owed Monty those flying lessons he’d promised in exchange for scoping out his dad’s funeral. As it turned out, it had been pointless. As far as his hometown was concerned, he was no longer worth the black paint they’d enjoyed smearing him with. As for his mother, the only words she’d spoken throughout the service were thank you and nice of you to come. Say what you will about his parents, they’d loved each other. If only his father had thought to spread that love to all his children.

Bag in hand, he left the condo and headed to the airport. He really should come up with a contingency plan. What if someone did recognize
him? He’d had Monty hack into the old police records. Edward Stanton’s killer was never found. The only blood on the scene had been Jessie’s and Stanton’s. Any sign that Cowboy had been there, he’d disposed of in the river, including the rock he’d used to kill Stanton. He’d been wanted for questioning because his disappearance coincided with Stanton’s murder. As for Jessie, that little girl had kept their secret, although he suspected that was more for her sake than his.

As far as the world was concerned Edward Stanton was a savior, the one who’d stumbled upon Jessie being attacked and nearly raped. The scumbag had a hero’s funeral and Cowboy took off before the story he and Jessie concocted unraveled.

He’d left partly for Jessie, partly for himself. Neither had started out
wanting to lie. As a preacher’s daughter, she’d been taught better, and although he’d done a lot of things deserving of a whooping, he’d never lied. But would the locals believe he’d acted in her defense? Considering Edward’s family practically owned the town, odds weren’t in their favor. And to rule out Jessie’s skin color would’ve been foolish and naïve. And him? He’d been the troubled teen who was destined for jail. She’d have been painted a whore and he a murderer.

He paid the cabbie and went inside the airport, wishing it were him who’d be flying the plane. He shook off the silly fear no pilot in his right mind would admit to because then his friends would razz him until he’d want to return to his old ways and kick their sorry hides. Assholes.

He handed his airline reservation to the pretty blonde smiling up at him from behind the airline counter. It wasn’t too long ago that he’d have asked her for her number. But he didn’t do that anymore. Mindless, never-see-you-again sex was fine as long as no one painted it for what it wasn’t—love. But lately he’d had his fill of one-night stands. When she could no longer think of another reason to detain him, he tipped his hat to her and went on his merry way.

He cleared security and found a quiet spot to review the file. Jessica Cook, age thirty, born in San Marcos, fifty miles north east of San Antonio. Parents: Reverend Thomas Cook, 58; Emily Cook, 55, homemaker. He knew them and hadn’t had a hard time believing her parents would blame Jessie for what had happened to her. Maybe if he himself had come from a loving home, he’d have convinced her she was wrong, but he’d been a
kid, two years younger than her. What the hell did he know? Then again, maybe she was right. Maybe her father was the laying blame kind of preacher. What he definitely hadn’t known was that her parents were both dead. No date as to when or how they died. He’d have to ask Monty.

He scrolled through the papers and read about her life. She’d done well for herself, and he was glad. She’d been employed with the paper
for three months, doing what looked like human-interest stories mostly. Yeah, that sounded like Jessie.

The one picture in the file looked like it had been taken at a birthday party, streamers and a crowd of people in the background, a half-eaten cake on a table. Jessie had her arms wrapped around another woman, both smiling with such an expression of joy that he was a little jealous. He’d never had a best friend, could never risk anyone getting that close to him. He flipped the picture over and written on the back was “Grace Irvine and Jessica Cook.”

Both women were beautiful. Jessie now wore her dark hair in shoulder length curls. She had a young Angela Bassett thing going on. The other
woman’s long, auburn ponytail swept around one shoulder and down clear to her hip and if her tan was any indication, she spent a lot of time outside. Cowboy smiled. Used to be all a woman had to say was, “Can I ride your horse?” and he’d be in heaven.

The information on Grace was just the basics. She had a degree in journalism, oddly from a Canadian university. He shrugged. Maybe she liked snow. In fact, for the past few years she hadn’t done much of anything except focus on her career. No hobbies that anyone knew of, not even a boyfriend. Strange, considering how pretty she was. But maybe she wasn’t looking. Could be she was one of those workaholics he’d
heard tell about.

Monty had supplied a flash drive with a more detailed file, including something they’d just recently started to do, psych profiles. Workups were done on any breathing targets or assignments, protecting the team from surprises. Monty had added a PS note that said, “Don’t slack off, read it.” Monty had a lot of nerve. Cowboy took his job seriously and he never slacked off…when it came right down to it. This was just one little girl he had to babysit without her knowing it. How hard could it be? But once he got his computer booted up, he’d take a peak or never hear the end of it from his nerdy pal.

Cowboy continued to flip through the files, telling himself not to get any preconceived ideas about either woman. Jessie had always been a delicate little thing, afraid of her own shadow, too preoccupied about what others thought of her. Was she that same sweet girl who would do anything for anyone, putting everyone else’s needs ahead of her own? For her sake, he hoped not. Could be she’d finally decided to take life by the horns and ride the SOB. She’d become a reporter. She had to get out of the office and report, right? Though he doubted reporting on community events took much guts. Something told him she hadn’t changed and that wasn’t good.

He slapped the file on his knee. “Fuck me.”

Someone gasped. He looked up and realized his once empty corner was no more.

“Sorry,” he said to the woman, who was now grabbing her kid’s hand and dragging him off to find another seat.

He’d been making an effort to watch his cussing. He did it far too often, but when you’re fourteen and the only way to protect yourself is to fake it, a nasty mouth came in handy. Which brought him back to Jessie. If she hadn’t changed, and she was still alive—he hoped she was still alive—then she’d be right back where she was all those years ago, a target for scum.

Some people just couldn’t stand seeing perfection. If there was a tidy bed, they’d mess it up. A perfectly iced cake, they’d swipe a finger through the icing. Edward Stanton was one of those people. Build a perfect house of cards, he’d knock it over. He’d been a bully and that son of a bitch couldn’t stand anything, no matter how inane, being better than his spoiled, rotten ass. Jessie had been a ray of sunshine that he had had to stop from shining.

Cowboy turned back to her picture. Had Stanton succeeded? She looked happy, but did a woman ever get over being raped? He made a mental note to do his homework on that particular topic. It might not help find Jessie, but it might tell him what kind of woman she’d become and if she stood a fighting chance of surviving whatever had happened to her now.

His flight was called to board. He tucked the file under his arm and stood. That was one good thing about being seven feet tall, Ryan flew him first class. Which was fine by Cowboy. If he couldn’t be the one flying the plane, at least he couldn’t wipe his nose with his knees. He passed his ticket to the gate agent, then made his way to the plane. Inside, a male flight attendant took his bag and offered him a drink while he grabbed his seat. He ordered a bourbon and waited until they were in the air and his drink delivered before reopening the file. Luckily no one sat beside him. People in first class tended to keep to themselves, but occasionally you’d find a talker.

The police report on the break-in turned out to be interesting. The place was generally ransacked. Two computers had been stolen, along with an e-reader and an old iPhone. Jewelry and a Bluetooth Bose speaker, found on the kitchen table, were left behind. Although Irvine was a tad overprotective of his daughter, he had good reason to think this wasn’t a robbery. Jewelry, well, maybe they were only interested in electronics—easier to pawn and less traceable. But then why take a worthless phone and leave a thousand-dollar speaker? No, they were looking for something. Something that could be held on an e-reader, phone, or computer. A story, perhaps?

He skimmed through a list of Jessie’s articles. She wasn’t an investigative reporter but who knew what she might have discovered. As he read, nothing stood out, except her last assignment, the one Irvine’s daughter had had a hand in getting her. Why give Jessie a political story— one she had no experience reporting? And more important, why would she have taken it? One would think that Jessie Cook would’ve stayed as far away as possible from Senator Presley Stanton.


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