Fool Me Forever

By: Ainslie Paton

Chapter One


Halsey Sherwood stood outside the closed door of Dollars for Daughters, took a deep breath, and tugged at the cuffs of his shirt. The shouting from inside was disturbing. This qualified as fieldwork, and Halsey didn’t do fieldwork. He sat in his own temperate office and juggled numbers, shuffled spreadsheet calculations, created sexy charts, and sent emails with fake investment reports attached to them.

He worked out how to make money to save the planet from behind a silver and glass art deco desk by ripping off privileged, rich bastards. He used the phone when he had to. He saw clients when he had to. Under sufferance, he wore a tux, went to society events, and made hideous small talk, but he didn’t do fieldwork.

Standing outside Dollars for Daughters while someone inside shouted wasn’t his idea of a good time. He’d rather wear one of Mom’s ugly Christmas sweaters in public for a straight month in summer.

He’d tried to refuse when his eldest brother and the company CEO, Cal, asked him to check in with Lenny Bradshaw and Dollars for Daughters. She’d essentially thrown Cal out when he’d tried, and Cal was famous for getting what he wanted from anyone with a pulse and quite a few who were rumored to not have one.

Lenny was furious her charity had been used by her business partner, Fin, to launder money Fin had stolen from Cal. Which was fair enough. Fin hadn’t exactly been upfront with Lenny about the money being stolen, or that it was the cut, run, and go-into-hiding cash Cal had accumulated from being one of the world’s best cons. But since Cal was lying on a beach in an undisclosed location with his soon-to-be wife, Fin, for an unidentified amount of time, he’d made it Halsey’s problem to see that Lenny’s accounting didn’t raise any red flags.

So here he was, in the field, trying to make out what the angry male voice behind the closed door was shouting about and wishing he was anywhere else. All because a bunch of highly suspect transactions had to look legal, so no one went to jail.

He was considering a strategic retreat when the door flew open and a man said, “I’m not asking, Lenore. I need that money now, and you need to find a way to get it to me.”

Business casual, rude as fuck, the guy strode past, exiting without even an eye flicker to acknowledge Halsey’s presence.

Now there was no backing off, because what he’d heard was extortion, and no matter how much he didn’t want to be here, he couldn’t let smart, ambitious Lenny Bradshaw deal with that alone.

He stepped inside. There were two rooms. A kitchen-come-meeting area and an office. Lenny was standing in the kitchen by a beaten up, wooden table with a spiral notepad in her hands and an expression he read as fearsomely resigned.

He smiled. “Hello, Lenny.”

Resigned shifted to surprised, followed by annoyed in a kaleidoscope of expressions. Lenny Bradshaw’s life had hit a wall hard, and whatever just went down was one more crisis for her to deal with.

“I’m here to—”

She tapped the notepad on the edge of the table. “No, I don’t think so.”

“It will only take—”

“No, it won’t.”

“It’s—”

“Do you have a problem understanding the word ‘no’? She touched a finger to the side of her head. “A hearing problem?”

He could see why Cal had crashed and burned.

“I’m having a really bad day and since you’re a Sherwood, that can only make it worse.”

Holy hell. Cal owed him one. “It’s for all of our security. Please let—”

She smacked the notepad on the table.

“Bad notepad, huh?”

She held the pad in front of her face and peered at him over the top of its edge. “What do you want? Whatever it is, now is not a good time. I’m busy.” She brought the pad down on the desk with another vengeful smack. “Since you’re a Sherwood, I’m always going to be busy.”

“You’ll break that.”

“Do I look like I care?” She smacked the table again. “You people break everything you touch, and you get away with it. I’m trying to run a respectable not-for-profit, I’m trying to help people, but now I’m tangled up in Sherwood confidence games, because your brother romanced the smarts out of my partner.”

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