As the owner of Shay Investigations, Ben is no stranger to hard work. He enjoys his quiet, orderly life and revels in the fact that he can pick and choose whatever case he wishes to take on. The only bump in his otherwise smooth road is his beautiful, yet incredibly frustrating assistant. Hailey was efficient, but she had a way of getting to him. Their relationship was based on a constant battle of wills, one he was determined to win.
Hailey’s one solace in her otherwise lonely life had always been her mother. But her mother was gone now and finding a path forward was proving difficult. Work gave her a place to go where she felt strong and capable, but she lost that when Ben accused her of stealing from him. Left with no choice, she resigns her position, knowing that any explanation for what was truly going on would fall on deaf ears.
It isn’t until Ben comes face to face with the truth of what Hailey had been dealing with that he realizes the mistake he made. But after fighting to get her back, he unknowingly places her in grave danger.
What began as a simple investigative case and one frustrating employee, quickly turns into a murderous theft and a connection to the only woman that ever challenged him enough to want more. Ben knows he would do anything to protect Hailey, even when she adamantly refuses to let him, but when things spin out of control, the fear of losing her becomes all too real. The only thing he’s certain of...he has to solve the case and quickly before he loses everything that has ever mattered to him.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)|
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She's stealing from me, Ben murmured to himself incredulously as he pulled his car to the side of the street, across from where his office was located, to watch what was happening.
It was by chance that he'd been driving down Worcester Street near his office and happened to glance over and noticed a glow coming from the front window of Shay Investigations. There was no mistaking the old beat-up Honda sitting in front of his office with its door open, or the long red hair of the petite woman standing near it with some of the most expensive camera equipment he owned being juggled precariously in her hands.
He watched as Hailey, his assistant, balanced the largest camera on her hip before placing it in the back seat of her car. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. Tolerating her overbearing attitude, her directing him in his own business as if she were the one in charge, plus her constant absences from work ... this was how she thanked him for putting up with her? By stealing from him!
No other boss would have made the allowances that he had made for her. Of course, the fact that she always made up whatever time she missed or that nothing was ever left undone was part of the reason he dealt with her poor attendance. Plus his clients, for some unknown reason, really seemed to like her. He knew he was a little harsh at times when he spoke to people and Hailey had a way of smoothing things over for him.
As he sat in his car looking across the street, he still couldn't believe what she was doing. Even given her bossiness, he always got the impression that she was a straight shooter and that he could trust her. She was all of five feet tall — a power-house in a small package — with the bluest eyes that seemed to see right through him. She frustrated him to no end but he had come to rely on her business acumen to keep him going. But stealing? That he wouldn't accept.
Getting out of his car, he quietly shut his door, hoping to sneak up on her and catch her in the act before she made off with anything. It gave him a certain sense of satisfaction when he stepped up on the sidewalk to see her jump in surprise when she realized she was no longer alone.
"Ben, you scared me," she said as one hand came to her chest and she tried to catch her breath. "What are you doing here this time of night?" she finished lamely.
"I think the better question is, what the hell are you doing here?" he protested. "I can't believe you'd steal from me," he said heatedly, moving closer to intimidate her.
Hailey stepped around him and grabbed the heavy camera she had placed on her back seat. Stupidly, she had tried to carry everything in at once, but when she almost dropped the expensive pieces of equipment, she placed one of them back on the seat, deciding to do it in a few trips. With the camera in her arms, she walked into the office, Ben closely following on her heels. "I wasn't stealing anything from you, Ben. I was returning what I had borrowed."
"I don't believe you for a second. And who said you could borrow my stuff anyway?" he asked angrily.
"You did," she answered as she placed the camera on a shelf and walked back outside to grab the last piece of equipment from her car.
"Like hell I did."
"Well, you did," she said as she grabbed the last item and shut her car door with her hip and made her way back into the office, Ben still following close behind. "The day I started working for you I asked if I could borrow anything from the office and you said I could."
"That was over a year ago ... and I thought you meant something like a pen," he nearly bellowed. "Not my expensive ... hard-to-replace ... equipment that I need in order to do my job."
"Seriously ... a pen?" she asked sardonically.
"Tell the truth, Hailey. You were stealing from me. After everything I've done to help you. I can't believe it ... this is how you repay me?"
"I've worked damn hard for you, Mr. Shay, and earned every cent you ever paid me."
"That's rich ... coming from you. Work? You didn't even bother coming in today, but you certainly feel well enough to sneak in here after hours and steal from me," he finished angrily.
If Ben hadn't been watching her so closely, he would have missed how her shoulders slumped forward slightly as she turned to face him. "You only see what you want to see, Ben," she stated quietly as tears formed in her eyes but never quite fell.
In shock, Ben watched as she made her way out the door. "Get back here; we're not done with this conversation," he stormed. When she continued to her car, he stepped out onto the sidewalk. "Fine," he yelled over the roof of her car. "Be here Monday morning at nine o'clock. We'll finish this up then."
"Not likely," he heard her whisper as she got in her car and slammed the door.
Ben stood on the sidewalk as Hailey started her car. He watched in shock as she drove off, her old car blowing smoke out of the tailpipe as it chugged noisily down the road.
Heading back into the office, Ben automatically went into the storage room to take mental inventory and see what else was missing. He stood there for close to twenty minutes, looking at all the shelves, but couldn't find anything absent ... much less find anything that was out of place. Hailey typically kept everything ultra-organized and today was no different.
Plopping into the chair behind his desk, Ben leaned back and went over everything that had just happened. Hailey ... stealing from him! He still couldn't wrap his head around it. It just didn't seem like something she was capable of doing. She was definitely flighty and a know-it-all, but he would have bet everything he had that she wasn't a thief. Obviously he'd been wrong.
Ben thought back to the day she had applied for the job he posted. He'd done all of his due diligence when he hired her. He checked her background ... thoroughly ... and even called her references. He pulled her financial reports and, while she certainly wasn't rich ... all of her bills were paid on time. Her credit score was excellent and nobody had a bad thing to say about her. While she drove him nuts, he'd had no complaints about the work she did, other than her absences, since the day she started working for him. So why steal from him?
Knowing he wouldn't get any answers until they spoke on Monday, Ben turned out the lights, set the alarm system, and locked the front door as he exited. He debated setting up a camera to watch the equipment room in case she came back to take anything else from him but after getting caught, knowing he was now alerted to her late-night acquisitions, he doubted she'd come back for more.
Ben made his way to his car and slammed the door before turning the ignition on. Staring across the street to his office, he sat in his car, thinking about Hailey.
It would have been so much easier to have just fired her on the spot. But nothing was making sense. They butted heads a lot but he would bet everything he owned that there was more going on than what he had witnessed. As he sat in his car, he thought back to her standing on the sidewalk. Now that he was thinking calmly, he realized what had bugged him. She seemed thinner than he remembered. Granted, they hadn't been spending much time in each other's presence in the past few months because of a case he was working on, but she had definitely lost weight. Her eyes were different, too. There were circles there that he couldn't remember seeing before.
There was definitely something going on with Hailey, and Ben was now relieved that he hadn't gotten rid of her on the spot. There had to be something terribly wrong for her to steal from him. Unfortunately, it would have to wait until Monday for him to figure out what it was. They were going to have a come-to-Jesus meeting and then, after he knew the story, he could decide whether or not he was going to terminate her.
Feeling better that he had a game plan, Ben put his car in drive and pulled out onto the street. He was already late for dinner with his brother Ethan and the rest of the gang that made up their lively group. A night with family and friends was just what he needed to get his mind off his infuriating, overbearing assistant-turned-thief.
Hailey looked at her mother's sweet face. She looked peaceful ... finally. After months of declining health and awful medications that didn't seem to help, she was finally at rest.
Leaning in to kiss her mother's cheek, Hailey whispered her final goodbye, then stepped back to allow the funeral director and his assistant to close the casket. They had wanted her to leave the room before they prepared the casket for the drive to the cemetery, but Hailey refused to leave her mother. Not until she absolutely had to.
With everything ready, the doors were opened once again and her distant cousins and a few of her mother's old friends were allowed back in the room. Silently, the coffin that carried Elma Carver was picked up and she followed behind as they exited the funeral home and walked the last few feet to the waiting hearse. Within minutes, she was in the family car with her Aunt Jenny, following the lead car that carried her mother to her final resting place.
Having lost her father at a young age, Hailey and her mother had been extremely close. While her Aunt Jenny played a large role in their lives, it had always been she and her mother that were the closest. They saw each other through broken hearts, financial woes, and Elma's many illnesses. They had their share of arguments through the years, too, but neither of them let much time go by before making up. They were an integral part of each other's lives and Hailey had come to depend on her mother's words of encouragement and gentle hugs as much as her mother depended on Hailey for her strength and companionship.
When her mother's health started declining, Hailey moved heaven and earth to find doctors who could help. Her life suddenly became consumed with accompanying her mother to medical appointments and hospital visits. Then her mother had a massive stroke that completely paralyzed her right side. She spent several weeks in the hospital, but when it became clear there was nothing more they could do for her, Hailey had to find a nursing home/rehabilitation facility that would take her mom.
While Hailey's first thought was to bring her mom home with her, she knew that her mother needed specialized care that she was not capable of providing. She spent a week visiting the options that were available to her and finally decided on the Grotto Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility closest to where she lived. The cost of keeping her mother there would wipe out her savings in a hurry, but their reputation made it worth the cost. Hailey got a second job to make up the difference and had spent the past year running between two jobs and spending time with her mom.
Within just a few months of entering the facility, Hailey began to see differences in her mother. Some of the function in her right side was coming back and she was speaking more and more. She was actually beginning to hope that someday her mother would be able to go home with her.
Then one day she got a call while she was working her job at Shay Investigations telling her that her mother had taken a turn for the worse. For the next two weeks, Hailey sat helplessly by her mother's side, watching as her health continued to decline. Suspecting that there was more going on with her mother and that the staff at the facility may have been involved, Hailey borrowed some equipment from Ben Shay and placed it in her mother's room, trying to see if the nursing home had been negligent.
Within three days of placing the equipment in the room, her mother died, leaving Hailey with a broken heart and more anger than she knew what to do with. The fact that her mother seemed to love being at the Grotto Nursing Facility and spoke highly about the staff did nothing to thwart the suspicions she had. And now she was burying the one person who had meant everything to her.
As the car came to a stop, Hailey looked around. Lost in her thoughts, she hadn't realized that they had arrived at the cemetery ... all too soon.
Ben paced back and forth between his desk and the door to his storage room. He couldn't believe she had done it again. He had specifically told her to meet him this morning to discuss her theft of his equipment and she had the nerve to blow him off. If anything, her absence confirmed what he didn't want to admit. He had misjudged her. She was a thief and he was going to have to fire her.
Even given their rocky working relationship, he was hoping that she would come in this morning, have a good excuse for what she had done, and then maybe he could set some ground rules for her and they could move forward. He could forgive a transgression if it was for a good reason, especially given the fact that he depended on her to keep his business life organized and running smoothly. But not showing up — after what she did — was unforgiveable and he was going to have to let her go.
Hearing the office phone ring, he walked over to his desk to answer it. Maybe he could get Bella, his brother's fiancée, to help cover the phones for a while until he could find a replacement for Hailey. Talk about inconvenient!
"Shay Investigations," he said brusquely into the phone.
"What's Hailey's last name," the voice on the other end asked.
"You know it's me. Now answer the question. What's Hailey's last name?" she asked again. "And by the way, after all the organizing of cookouts she's done for us over the past year, don't you think it's odd that I have to ask that question? Why don't I know that?"
"Because I try really hard to keep that prickly porcupine away from my personal life. And her last name is Carver. Why?"
"Is her mother's first name Elma?"
"Bella ..." he began impatiently.
"Just tell me, Ben."
"Hold on," he said, dropping the phone onto his desk as he went over to the filing cabinet, rifling through his files looking for Hailey's employee information. After a few minutes, he went back over and grabbed the phone. "Yes, her mother's name is Elma. Now will you tell me what this is all about?"
"Has she said anything to you, Ben?"
"No, and that's fine with me. As of this morning, she's fired. After the crap she pulled on Friday and then not showing up this morning, she's gone."
"Her mother's obituary is in this morning's paper," Bella said quietly.
"Her what?" he exploded.
"Her mother died on Friday, Ben. The funeral is today. It starts in an hour."
"It can't be her. Certainly she would have said something to me. I'm her boss, for God's sake."
"And you two have such a warm, fuzzy relationship," Bella replied sarcastically. "Look, do what you want, Ben, but Ethan and I are planning on trying to make it there. She's always so nice to us and helps with little things so it just doesn't seem right not to pay our respects."
"I'll meet you there," Ben answered as he hung up the phone.
Still not believing that it was Hailey's mother who had passed away, Ben went online to check the obituary for himself. Surely she would have told him that she was dealing with an ailing mother at some point in their discussions.
As Ben read the obituary, he knew that there was no mistaking that it was, in fact, Hailey's mother who had died. "Son-of-a-bitch," he whispered.
Why hadn't he known? Wouldn't common courtesy dictate that she at least explain to the man who employed her what was going on in her life? And if her mother passed away on Friday, what was she doing at the office that very night stealing from him? Nothing was adding up where Hailey Carver was concerned.
Making a note of the funeral home, Ben raced to his place to change into a suit. He had just pulled up to the front of the imposing building where the ceremony was to take place when his brother and Bella walked out of the front doors. It shouldn't have surprised him that they were followed by his sister Tessa, and her new husband Jack, who had his arm wrapped possessively around her waist.
He started to ask if it was over when an SUV screeched to a halt and the doors opened as Mitchell Beckett, Devon Rossi, and Travis Johanson spilled from the car. "Are we late?" they asked in unison.
The three men staring at Ben with the question in their eyes shouldn't have surprised him either. While they were closest to his brother, Ethan, having served together in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Special Forces group of the Army called the Unit, they had adopted him as a part of their group. They teased him unmercifully about serving in the Air Force as opposed to their chosen branch of the Army, but they still had a close relationship. Ben knew they were the reason his brother was still alive and respected the hell out of the fact that even after they all retired from the military, they opted to live near each other for support. Bonded in a brotherhood that only serving together under such harsh situations could cement, Ben knew that these men were lifelong friends.
"Evidently we just missed them by about five minutes. The funeral procession is heading to the cemetery," Ethan offered. "I know which one. If we hurry, we can at least pay our respects graveside."
Excerpted from "The Unexpected Truth"
Copyright © 2017 P. L. Byers.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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