“What’s up, cuz?” Shane Wilson asked as he leaned back in his office chair, his cell phone to his ear. He was grateful for the excuse to take a breather from reviewing the current week’s accounting that sat on his desk. It was the one thing he hated about running the twenty-seven-hundred-acre cattle ranch he owned with his husband, Tucker. Shane would rather be outside, doing manual labor, instead of crunching numbers. With Tuck’s dyslexia, though, dealing with all the invoices was ten times more difficult for him, so Shane took care of the business end of things. But he only had to go through the stacks of paperwork on Monday and Thursday mornings. Thanks to their office staff, Shane labored alongside Tuck and the ranch hands for the rest of the week and loved every minute of it.
“Hey, Shane,” his cousin, Quinn Alexander, responded from somewhere in San Francisco. “Did you replace your housekeeper yet?”
That was just another thing on Shane’s ever-growing “shit I gotta do” list. Hannah Gilman, the ranch’s seventy-year-old housekeeper—actually, house manager was a better description—had begun to feel the effects of her advancing age. She’d reluctantly retired, recently, after two and a half years working in the three-thousand-square-foot, main house on the Red River Ranch in Hazard Falls, Kansas. Rheumatoid arthritis had started making routine tasks difficult for her, and she’d finally agreed to move in with her daughter’s family in Oklahoma. While Tuck and Shane were definitely missing the older woman, the one who seemed to be suffering the most was the men’s six-year-old daughter, Arianna. The little girl was still reeling from the death of her mother a little over twenty-six months ago, and, now, she’d lost the woman who’d been like a grandmother to her. At least Hannah was able to call Arianna several times a week just to chat.
As odd as it was to some, Tuck, Shane, and Arianna’s mother, Sarah, had been in love with each other—as in a three-way relationship. Shane and Tuck had both fallen for the beautiful brunette who’d captured their hearts, but they’d also fallen for each other. Hazard Falls was a small town, and there’d been some obnoxious gossipers who’d ridiculed their unconventional marriage, at first, but over time that had lessened as people had gotten used to the idea. There were others, though, who still referred to them as “those perverts,” among other things, however, Shane, Tuck, and Sarah had learned to ignore them. While the three hadn’t been able to make their ménage union legal, they’d found a way around the laws. Shane and Sarah had gotten married before the local magistrate, then they’d had a separate ceremony which had included exchanging vows with Tuck. Both Sarah Edelman and Tucker Jones had willingly taken Shane’s last name. After that, they’d had a lawyer draw up their wills, powers of attorney, and other paperwork to make sure, if something happened to one of them, the other two would be taken care of financially and have full say in any medical decisions. Unfortunately, a time had come where the latter had been necessary.
The threesome had had six years of marital bliss—and one adorable child—before Sarah had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It’d been so advanced and aggressive that by the time it had been discovered, Sarah succumbed to the disease only seven weeks later, leaving behind two devastated widowers and an almost-five-year-old little girl.
Propping his feet up on the corner of the desk, Shane answered Quinn. “No, we didn’t. We’ve had a couple of inquiries, even hired one for a few days, but they weren’t right for the job for one reason or another. Not many women have the experience to help run a ranch with fifteen workers to feed two or three times a day, plus keep the house clean, and watch Arianna when she’s not in school. A few had been more interested in getting into mine and Tuck’s bed, and that’s not gonna happen. Why?”
“Well, I’ve got a client who’s looking to make a fresh start where no one knows her.”
Shane’s brow furrowed. Quinn was a US Marshal with the Witness Security Program—or as most people called it, the Witness Protection Program. He relocated people who had to start their lives over after testifying in court or helping law enforcement investigate someone they knew—someone who’d probably want them dead. Quinn found them new places to live and gave them new identities. “I’d love to help, cuz, but I can’t have a woman hiding out here and possibly have someone show up looking to kill her—not with Arianna here.”
“I would never put your daughter in danger, Shane—I’m not a thoughtless ass.” He could almost hear Quinn’s eye roll through the phone. “Paige no longer has anyone after her other than the fucking press. Her husband was found guilty of running a multi-million-dollar Ponzi scheme and sentenced to twenty-five years last week. He committed suicide the next day by hanging himself in his cell. All their assets have been frozen while the courts figure out the awards to his victims. Paige knew nothing about what he was up to. When she did find out, she went straight to the feds. Without her, it might’ve been a few years and dozens more victims before he got caught. She filed for divorce after his arrest and wants all his victims to be reimbursed before she sees a cent of what might be left over—which won’t be much at all. Anyway, she wants to get out of San Francisco and start over in a place where no one knows her and isn’t looking at her like she’s to blame for what the rat-bastard did. Like I said, the only people who might try to track her down are a few jackass reporters and even they’ll forget about her after the next big scandal hits.”
Staring at the ceiling, Shane let out a sigh. “I don’t want to sound like . . . I don’t know . . . a reverse snob, I guess, but it seems like you want to send us a high-society, city chick who’s used to having her own maids and chefs, Quinn. We need a cook, housekeeper, and part-time babysitter, not someone who’ll want to call in a delivery order for every meal, need to ask how to use a vacuum, and pull her hair out when Arianna starts playing twenty questions.”
A horn blasting made Shane realize Quinn was driving somewhere. “I wouldn’t have called if I didn’t think you all would be a good fit. She’s from a small town in Nebraska, so she knows what it’s like to drive an hour to the closest Walmart. She went to college on a full scholarship, otherwise she and her parents would never have been able to afford it. That’s where she met her husband. She’s got a bachelor’s degree in business and had her own interior design company. Unfortunately, her husband’s name was on the paperwork, since he’d fronted the startup money, so that was seized too. I’m telling you, Shane, she’s a nice woman. Her folks are dead, and she doesn’t want to return to her hometown in disgrace. Paige just wants to find someplace where she’s not front-page news anymore, so she can figure out where to go from here. You can set it up on a trial basis. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll help her move on.”
Again, Shane’s eyes narrowed. “This isn’t on the clock, is it?” As far as he knew, Quinn wasn’t taking on any new cases. After fourteen years with the US Marshals, he was going into the private sector where there would be far less stress. It hadn’t been a decision made lightly, since he’d needed six more years to get his full pension, but he’d been afraid the job would kill him before that rolled around.
“Not anymore. I had her in protective custody until she testified against him. The FBI was worried he’d try to put a hit out on her. Once he was found guilty, then killed himself, she no longer needed to be in the program. I’m just trying to help her out, and after our conversation the other day, I thought if I sent her to you, it would solve everyone’s problems.”
Shane mulled it over for a few moments. His trust in his cousin was what finally swayed him. “All right—on a trial basis, though. I’ll tell Tuck about her later. How soon can she be here?”
“Is tomorrow afternoon too soon?”
He snorted. “You bastard—you knew I was going to say yes, didn’t you?”
Dropping his feet to the floor again, Shane sat up. “What’s her last name? I’m going to Google her and find out what you’re getting Tuck and me into.”
“Merritt—two Rs and two Ts. First name is P-A-I-G-E. She’s thirty-five. And don’t hold her husband’s crimes against her. Like I said, she knew nothing about what he was into and turned him in as soon as she did.”
He jotted down the name and age as he heard the front door open and slam shut. Seconds later, a blonde-haired, dark-eyed tornado came racing into his office. “Daddy! Look what I drew in art class,” Arianna exclaimed, holding up a piece of white paper with a multi-colored drawing on it.
He nodded, and she disappeared again. Holding up a finger, he smiled at his daughter. “Hang on, sweetie. I’m talking to Uncle Quinn.”
“Hi, Uncle Quinn,” the little pipsqueak shouted, causing both men to chuckle.
“I will. I’ll also talk to Paige and let you know what time to expect her—I’ll get her on a flight tomorrow and one of you can pick her up at the airport. Once you all are sure she’s staying, she’ll send for the rest of her stuff. Say hi to Tucker and give Arianna a hug for me. And, Shane . . . thanks.”
“You owe me.”
Disconnecting the call, Shane pushed his chair back from the desk and pulled Arianna into his lap as she began to chat about her day. She was the spitting image of her mother, and he was so grateful to have her in their lives. She was Sarah’s legacy. They didn’t know if her paternal DNA had come from Shane or Tuck, and neither man felt the need to find out. As far as they were concerned, she belonged to both of them, just as they belonged to each other.