Chapter Six

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"Nuh-uh. No way. Not under any circumstances."

Asprey studied his brother calmly, the pair of them facing off in the middle of the hangar, only one of them looking as though a thundercloud had landed on his face and was systematically jolting him with one-point-twenty-one gigawatts.

"So what you're saying is...no?"

Graff's mouth turned down at the corners. "I'm glad this is so amusing for you. But in case you missed the part about having an ex-con stalking our movements, this is pretty much our worst nightmare come to life."

"Maybe it's your worst nightmare," Asprey countered. "You know how I feel about haunted houses."

"I mean it." Graff said. "It was bad enough when that Natalie-Poppy woman was some kind of crazed gold digger asking us to run a poker scheme against Todd Kennick. But you saw the files Tiffany pulled up—that woman served two years in King County Adult Detention for third degree felony breaking and entering. She isn't messing around with this stuff, Asprey, and she knows who we are. We can't risk a partnership. We can't even risk her coming around here. She's a liability."

"You said the same thing about me once."

"You're family," his brother protested, as if that was all the explanation required.

"So what do you propose we do?" Asprey's patience, usually such a solid, immovable thing, was beginning to crack. "Do I take her for a swim with the fishes? You want to strap her to Louis and torture her with a marathon of Cops reruns until we're done?"

"She likes you," Graff said, his eyes not quite meeting Asprey's. "Can't you talk her out of it?"

"Sure. That should be easy." Asprey adopted a light tone. "'Gee, Natalie—it sure is swell of you to ask us for help. But we're a set of judgmental pricks who only look out for ourselves. By the way, your case files were really interesting. Would you like to murder me while I sleep?'"

Graff studied him intently. "Fine. How about this—why don't we just offer her the twenty thousand dollars for the necklace and cut the strings? Everyone knows that paying a blackmailer is worse than giving in to terrorists, but I don't see what other choice we have."

"You do realize you just compared a perfectly nice woman to international extremists."

"Do it anyway."

Asprey stared at his brother for a full minute, waiting for a break in that rough exterior. It didn't come.

"If you insist. But I'm going to do a little recon my way first. And I reserve the right to withhold payment if I find anything that might end up working in our favor."

"You have a way?"

"Yes, Graff," Asprey explained with a smile. "It's called the Not Being an Asshole method. You should try it sometime."

* * *

Poppy might not have ever noticed the man on the corner if not for Jenny's newfound love of squirrels.

"I swear, if Mike the Slumlord doesn't come fix the locks on these windows soon, I'm going to call the city and have them come condemn these buildings." Bea pulled her daughter away from the family of fluffy-tailed rodents that lived on their second-story stoop—as well as the rickety window that opened out onto said stoop at the slightest toddler touch.

Bea blew a raspberry on Jenny's little stomach, which protruded over the top of the cutest ruffly pink shorts ever, and both mother and daughter squealed in delight. "And you know I can," Bea added. "Remember the time I got them to shut down that Irish pub for twenty-four hours so we could convince that skeezy bartender he wanted to come away with us for the weekend instead?"

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