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The Shepherd’s Crook Pt. 03

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Ass

Author’s Notes:

‘A Shepherd’s Crook’ is the fourth book in the Chronicles of Ben Shepherd. The chronological order of the stories is:

The Shepherd of Ashburn Court — Parts 1 – 5
A Shepherd in France — Parts 1 her eyes widened slightly, her nostrils flared, and her lips parted.

“Tatiana, I heard you sent three soldiers to the hospital yesterday,” he began.

“It was nothing. Some simple sparring,” the assassin immediately asserted.

Ben kept his voice quiet and calm, but he continued to look into her eyes. “You set them up. You knew they couldn’t take you, but with three against one and telling them to not hold back, it gave you an excuse to get rough with them. You need to stop abusing the soldiers. They aren’t the enemy.”

Tatiana’s eyes flared as she moved even closer. He could see she was trembling. “There hasn’t been an enemy since Las Vegas, and even then, I was held back from doing what I do best!”

Ben moved closer still and saw her trembling increase. “You’re more than a killer. The most effective weapon is one that wins the fight before it needs to engage. No more fighting with the soldiers!”

Her breathing became ragged, and Ben saw her nipples pressing firmly against her tight blouse. She was excited? He growled quietly as he didn’t know how to deal with this. A shiver went through her at the sound.

“We’re visiting my accountant today. Are you going to be able to be civil?” he asked quietly.

“Yesss,” she sighed, equally quiet.

Ben heard Liliya rushing down the steps toward them, so he nodded to Tatiana and leaned back. The brunette nodded and closed her eyes momentarily as she struggled to regain her earlier calm.

Liliya stepped up beside them and quickly assessed their physical and emotional states. She noted the signs of Tatiana’s excitement and glanced at Ben’s face, but he just looked frustrated.

“We have to go,” Ben said as he walked back to his place.

Evelyn quickly joined Ben to walk at his side. She glanced at his face and saw his grim expression. She needed to get him thinking about something else.

“I’m curious why you chose an accounting firm in a neighboring city instead of a local company,” she said.

Ben looked over at her with a small smile. “I have nothing against local firms. I’d just rather work with someone I know. I met Jerry Taggart in college. We clicked, and when he reached out to me once he set up his own company, I began to move my business over to him. He ended up handling all my finances. He’s a good guy. He’s only a thirty-minute drive away, and I rarely need a face-to-face with the man. We handle most transactions online or over the phone.”

Evelyn held out her hand as they approached his SUV, and he snorted in amusement at her little smile. He dropped his keys into her palm and headed for the front passenger seat as she rushed around to the driver’s door. Liliya slipped into the spot behind Ben, güvenilir bahis and Tatiana followed the Sergeant to sit next to Liliya and stare out the window sullenly.

They headed north out of the city and pulled onto the highway. Ben enjoyed watching the scenery as the Sergeant drove. The forests lining both sides of the expressway showed no signs of changing color yet, but he knew this corridor would burst into a stunning display of color not too long from now.

As they approached the southern edge of the neighboring city, the forest made way for the urban sprawl of suburbia. They remained on the interstate encircling the core until they reached the northern edge. Ben had Evelyn take the next exit and gave her directions to Jerry’s new office location.

They’d entered another densely forested area, and the road wove amongst the trees. The new development on the city’s northern edge was a business park for legal firms, architectural services, insurance companies, accountancy offices, and light tech companies. Ben recognized the name of a prominent software development house. Their office seemed to blend into the surrounding trees. He was very impressed.

The emphasis on the entire development area was much like Ashburn Court. There was a feeling of integration and cooperation with nature rather than the usual attempt to conquer it. There were no expanses of perfectly level, green lawns. Wildflowers could be seen covering any area not occupied by the trees and forest undergrowth

Aside from the software development house, which rose to two levels in some places, most of the surrounding buildings were just a single story but extended back from their frontages along the winding roadway. Most of them used as many floor-to-ceiling windows as possible, and their facades used natural materials like stone and wood.

Evelyn pulled them into the driveway for Jerry’s building and found a guest parking spot near the front door.

Getting out of the SUV, Ben inhaled the fresh air and picked up the scent of some nearby evergreens. He smiled as he joined the three women on their way to the entrance doors.

Once more, the construction materials were glass and highly polished wood, such as the tall handles on the front doors. He held one open for the Sergeant and Tatiana, Liliya gesturing for him to enter first as she brought up the rear with a scan behind them.

Ben moved toward the reception desk and returned the smile of the lovely young woman sitting behind the stone desk.

“Welcome, Mr. Shepherd!” she said. “I’ll let Mr. Taggart know you’ve arrived.

“Thank you,” he said as she glanced at the three women with him. She spoke into the mic on her headset and nodded to him. “Mr. Taggart will be here in a moment.”

Less than a minute later, they heard footsteps in the corridor to the right of the reception desk, and Jerry stepped into view.

“Thanks, Melanie!” he said to the young woman at the güvenilir bahis siteleri desk before turning to his guests. “Ben! Welcome to my new offices!” the man said with a wide smile.

Taking the man’s offered hand to give it a firm shake, Ben grinned at his college buddy, who hadn’t visibly aged much since those days. He was five-foot-seven, with a lean build, lightly peppered black hair, and a neatly trimmed beard. There were a few new lines on his face, but as an avid cyclist, he’d kept his body fit and maintained a healthy lifestyle to fight off the signs of aging. His infectious smile drew similar expressions from Ben and his group.

“So good to see you again,” Ben replied. “This is Sergeant Evelyn Killcade, my administrative assistant and my Liaison for the Military and Government offices.”

Jerry aimed his smile at the woman as he shook her hand. “I believe we spoke on the phone once.”

Evelyn smiled and nodded as she dialed back her usual grip.

“This is Liliya Sokolov and Tatiana Pushkin, my personal security,” Ben said, gesturing to the two lovely women standing behind him. They nodded to Jerry, so he returned the gesture and then looked back at Ben in surprise.

“Just the distraction factor of being surrounded by so much beauty protects you. If you weren’t so big, you might become invisible!” Jerry teased.

Ben snorted and grinned. “I often wish I was!”

Jerry chuckled. “Come on. I’ll give you the tour.”

Ben and his entourage followed Jerry into the hallway.

“We really lucked out snapping up the lease for this building as there’s been a huge demand to get into this new development, and this was the last building to open,” Jerry explained.

“The design is gorgeous!” Ben exclaimed as he admired the view of the surrounding forest through the wall of glass. He noticed that none of them opened, but he could smell the fresh air. His walking slowed as his brain latched onto that. “This building isn’t sealed?”

Jerry’s grin widened as he saw Ben’s wonder. “Nope. The old-style hermetically sealed office is unhealthy. Our air is fresh, filtered, and perfectly temperature balanced throughout the entire building year-round. No more freezing under a blast of air conditioning in the summer or sweltering in the winter’s stuffy, dry air.”

They moved forward, and Ben noticed the workstations had plenty of worksurface and were separated for privacy. The gentle murmur of conversation didn’t travel very far. He noted the strategic placement of sound-dampening panels around some of the workspaces.

Jerry’s eyes were twinkling with delight at Ben’s keen interest. “Ever the engineer! Yes, this building is a marvel of technology in the middle of nature. Imagine this level of attention over the entire development. You can see why it was in high demand.”

“It’s brilliant! I’m so happy for you, Jerry!” Ben exclaimed.

“It wouldn’t have happened without your faith iddaa siteleri in my business, Ben. You’re not my only customer, but I’m not exaggerating when I say you’re my most important one,” Jerry said sincerely.

Ben turned to the man to look into his eyes. “You’ve always been a straight shooter with me, Jerry. You’ve never given me anything less than the unvarnished truth, and I hold that as the highest quality of character.”

“Thank you,” Jerry said. He looked a little overwhelmed, so he quickly spotted a new hire he’d wanted to introduce to Ben. She was just entering her space. “Ah, Grace!” He gestured for Ben to follow him as he approached the lovely brunette, who smiled curiously at him. “I’d like to introduce our premier client and my good friend, Ben Shepherd.”

Grace’s eyes widened in surprise and recognition. “B-Ben Shepherd?” She looked at him, and a smile appeared. “I feel foolish now, as I saw your name on the client list, but I didn’t connect it to you.”

Ben shrugged with an answering smile.

“Grace Wilson is our brilliant new Forensic Accountant. We’ll be sharing her talents with Walter’s company–“

“Damn! I wanted to introduce her!”

Ben and the others turned to see Walter Greyson joining them with a grin.

“Too late! I got dibs!” Jerry teased, and Walter shook his head.

“Yeah, but who convinced her to leave that stuffy law firm to join Greyson and Associates?” Walter countered.

“I think what sold her was that she’d get to spend the majority of her time working with me from this lovely space in a building just fifteen minutes from her home!” Jerry asserted.

Walter threw his hands up in surrender. “Whatever the reason, we’re thrilled to have her on our team!”

Ben caught Grace’s eye and saw she was blushing. “Their squabbling to take credit for hiring you is praise of the highest order,” he said, and she grinned happily.

Turning his head back to Walter. “I wasn’t expecting to see you today.”

“I heard you were visiting Jerry, and I had some business in town, so I thought I’d drop in to remind you I need that medical report for the insurance,” the man said.

Ben sighed as he recalled reading the email. Truthfully, he had been procrastinating as some of the tests requested were rather personal. He rolled his stiff neck muscles. “I’ll get on that this week.” Walter nodded, and Ben looked back at Grace.

He moved closer to look into the area she’d been given to work from. She had a lovely view of the woods. Someone had set up a bird feeder outside as well.

“Do you like your new workspace?” he asked.

She smiled broadly. “It’s so much better than the cramped desk I had at my last job.”

Ben spotted some framed pictures on her desk. In one, three young girls, blonde, brunette, and strawberry blonde, grinned happily at the camera. He gestured to the picture as he smiled. “Yours?”

She nodded happily. Pointing to each child, she said their names. “Evelyn, Caelyn, and Brooklyn. They’re seven now.”

“Triplets!” Ben gave her a delighted smile as he looked at the picture of Grace being hugged by a tall, muscular blond man whose smile showed he was a man in love.

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