The Hitman's Guide to Tying
The Knot Without Getting Shot
**Giveaway at the bottom
“It’s Fiancé,” I interrupt Mason, who gives me a look.
He slow blinks, then turns back to Jackson. “So, Fiancé, one of your clients dropped this off.” Mason, the man who runs the detective agency along with Jackson and me, turns back to me. “Was that better?”
I beam at him. “Much.”
“You do realize that my name hasn’t changed to Fiancé, right?” Fiancé asks, and I feel like this is a trick question so I just give him a sweet smile from where I’m sitting at my desk, my feet on Fiancé’s chair. I like it when he stands anyway so I get a better view of him. When he’s at the desk, he’s all slumped over it like he’s trying for a leading role as a ninety-year-old man. He’s still handsome, though, so I forgive him.
“He’s giving you that look like he’s not listening to a thing you’re saying,” Mason says.
“Ohhhh. Believe me, I know that look far too well,” Jackson says.
“You know nothing. So I’m done for the day. I have PI’d the shit out of all of my clients and have nothing left to do because I’m just that amazing. Say it with me, ‘Leland, you’re amazing.’” No one says it with me.
Jackson leans into my desk. “Do you mind taking my two o’clock then? Mason wants help with something,” Jackson says as he viciously pulls his chair away from my feet.
“So… let me get this straight. I got up early to make sure I was done by noon. You just strolled in here an hour ago and now you want me to do your work?” I ask as I narrow my eyes. “I don’t even need detective skills to see that something smells fishy.”
“Might be the tuna I packed for lunch,” Mason says as he pulls out a sandwich. He’s literally done nothing besides walk in, sit down, and start taking his lunch break.
“It’s a good thing you have money,” I tell him.
Mason looks over at me like he’s confused about what that means but doesn’t care enough to ask—it might require him to use his brain. But it’s thanks to his contributions that this place was able to open up before I came along and tossed money at it.
“I’m… rich? Didn’t know that, but thanks,” he says as he takes a bite. “Want some?”
“No. Not at all.” I turn back to Jackson. “That’s fine, I’ll take the client for you, but you owe me something in return. What time do you need me to probe their brains again?”
“Two. Try not to probe anything. We got a bad review last time you did that,” he says.
I wave him off. “Some people are so sensitive. But we did get that one customer who raved about us underneath their post.”
“That was you using Tucker’s account,” Jackson reminds me.
“Ah shit, it was, wasn’t it?” I like to pretend that I don’t remember this to make us look better than we are.
“That was a good one!” Mason says as he turns to his computer and starts clicking on things. “Here we go… ‘Tucker here. Five huge stars! Best PI place eva! And I’ve been to a lot since my wife hates me! First off, the one man was so handsome I could barely look away, but then I learned that he was already taken, and I could never be good enough for him. I didn’t get to see the second one because his face was buried in his computer game since he thinks the relationships he gains in video games are the best he’ll ever get. And he’s probably right! And then the third man, don’t get me started on how he took my breath away with his amazing detecting skills. A++++, that man was fine.’”
“So helpful,” Jackson says, like the review astounded him.
But I know sass when I hear sass. “Do I hear a hint of sarcasm in your voice?”
Jackson leans back in his chair as he stares at me. “You made us sound like sex workers. You basically spent the whole review talking about our physical attributes and said nothing about our actual business.”
“Huh.” Didn’t think about that. “But I called you handsome.”
He can lie to me all he wants but I see the little smile under that look.
“Jackson, you know you love it. Don’t give me that sass. I promise I’ll be good with your client. I’ll even pretend to be you.”
That strangely makes him concerned. “Please don’t. And Cassel is coming over at some point. He’s going to do some maintenance work on our computers so we can do more stuff online,” Jackson reminds me. “He did ask if he could come when you’re not around, so don’t be surprised if he’s a bit shocked you’re here.”
“Why would he want to come when I’m not here?” I ask, a little hurt.
“Because he said last time you grabbed him in a headlock and pummeled him to the ground,” Jackson says, as though this is something to be concerned about.
My level of hurt immediately diminishes. “He missed our sparring session because he was, and I quote, ‘sick.’” I think about it for a moment. “Okay… in retrospect, pummeling a sick man to the ground does sound a bit… harsh, but I was not aware he was still sick.”
“It was the same day,” Mason inputs.
“Shhh. Shhh. You two go do your thing. Fondle each other like I know you’re planning on doing, and I’ll do my thing,” I say.
“You’re the only one I fondle,” Jackson assures me.
“Aw, thanks, babe. I’m dealing with supper tonight. Text me if you’ll be late.”
He gets up and slides his chair in before walking over to me and giving me a kiss before pulling back and caressing my cheek, his eyes warm. “Got it. Love you and be careful.”
“I will. Love you too.”
“I love you too!” Mason mockingly calls back.
“Aw, I love you too! Jackson, give him a kiss for me.”
“He smells like tuna, I’m not kissing him,” Jackson says as he heads for the door, leaving me in the office alone.
Since I’m pretty much done and bored, I slide over to Jackson’s desk and start going through some of his stuff to see where I can help out. It at least kills time and I clear up some of his junk emails. Just as I go to text Cassel to see when he’ll be in, the door dings as a man and a young girl walk in. It’s a quarter till two, so I assume this is Jackson’s two o’clock.
The man looks around at the little bookshop we converted into our office after the former owner decided she wanted to be a supervillain. We used to be upstairs, but with more room downstairs, we moved everything down here and now use upstairs for storage and guns. Jackson and Mason don’t seem to know about the gun part, but there are definitely plenty of guns hidden about in secure places. It’s like a little Easter egg hunt whenever I want one of them.
“Good afternoon,” the man says with a smile. “I’m here to see Jackson Stein.”
He’s a man around Jackson’s age with dark hair and blue eyes. At his side is a girl of about seven or eight, with huge blue eyes and curly brown hair. She almost looks like a little doll; the frilly dress doesn’t help.
“Hi, I’m Leland Clarke. Jackson passed the appointment over to me because of some pressing matters on his end. I hope that’s alright with you?”
The man hesitates, then nods. “Yeah, of course.”
The little girl stares at me, and I find myself staring back. It’s extremely strange for someone to bring their child to talk about their wife cheating, but I’m not a parent, so what do I know? It’s more bonding time than either of my parents ever spent with me.
“What was your name again?” I ask, even though I know it’s David Parker, as Jackson had written it down, but I like to get a feel for the person before I start digging into things.
“David,” he says as he holds a hand out for me to shake. “And this is my daughter, Kaia.”
“Hi,” the little girl says quietly.
I try to give the child a smile because I feel like that’s what you should do with children, but she looks a bit wide-eyed when I do. “Anyway,” I say as I hurry back to my desk and sit down. “You’re here about your wife?”
The “my wife’s cheating on me” or “my husband’s cheating on me” thing seems to be quite popular here to the point where I’m getting sick of it. There are only so many times that I can stare at men and woman who are being unfaithful without wanting to strangle a few. I miss the action and the guns and the torturing of others when I was a hitman. But I’ll do whatever I can to make sure Jackson stays safe and by my side. And according to Jackson, I’m not allowed to make cheating cases more fun by chasing, threatening, or harassing the cheaters. Unless the client pays extra—Jackson doesn’t know about that part.
“Yes, she left last week and I’m positive something happened to her. I went to the police but they said that there’s no case to open because there’s nothing to point toward something happening. They keep telling me she just left me.”
“Why do they say that?” I ask.
He bites his lip. “I mean… she did send me a text that she’s going to stay with her sister, but I know her! They barely get along! I can’t imagine she’d just go stay with her and there was nothing bad going on at home. Are you sure you can handle this? I heard the other detective’s been around the longest… my friend recommended him.”
I wave him off. “Yes, I can handle it, I assure you. Can you give me some photographs of her, her sister’s address, the police report, or anything you have that could help?”
“Uh… yeah, of course. Sure,” he says. “Do you know when the other detective will be back?”
“I promise you I can handle it,” I say, wondering why this man is so adamant about Jackson. Only I am allowed to be this obsessed with Jackson. I wonder if he read the review and heard about how handsome he is. “I have like a ninety-nine percent results rate.” I don’t tell him that all of those results aren’t necessarily positive, but I get results.
“I think she might have talked to that Jackson guy before, though. Maybe he recognizes her.”
Hmm… interesting. So maybe she’s not the cheater but he is. “She came here for something?”
“Yeah, maybe… I was going to have him look.”
“Well… we keep our customer’s stuff private, but if I can find what she came here for, it might help us,” I say as I turn to my computer and type in the woman’s name. Her name doesn’t come up, but before I was here, Mason was in charge of keeping stuff filed which means it didn’t get filed at all. “Give me a moment. While I look for that, please compile some photographs and anything else you might know into an email on your phone.”
I head upstairs and over to the filing cabinet that was once upon a time used to store stuff in. Right now, it’s just a fucking mess, but there is a small portion organized that we paid Cassel to do. He did about a quarter of it before disappearing and starting on something he deemed “more fun.” I don’t blame him. Literally anything would be more fun than dealing with a Mason-made mess.
I don’t see her name on any of the organized files, and I’m not about to go wading through the rest before I talk to Jackson, so I decide I’ll look after the man leaves. I start down the stairs but hesitate when I see the girl still in her chair but not the man. She’s staring off to the right, telling me that she’s probably looking at her father, but the only thing off to the right are Jackson’s and Mason’s desks.
I slow my descent so my feet are nearly silent as I make my way down the stairs. When I’m about halfway down, I can see him standing at Jackson’s desk, but I know the laptop is locked.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
He jumps and looks over at me, an expression of guilt on his face. “I was just… looking… I wanted to see what she was here for.”
“Why don’t you go back to your seat and sit down?” I say, tone clearly telling him that I’m not dealing with his shit. Especially when someone thinks they can invade my fiancé’s space. He’s lucky I don’t throw him out on his ass.
He holds up his hands. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I just… I know she was here, and I wasn’t cheating on her but maybe this Jackson guy thought I was and that’s what he told her and that’s why she left me.”
I walk up to his chair and stare down at the man, eyes narrowed. “Jackson is the best at what he does and he’s never wrong. No matter what he told or didn’t tell your wife, I can assure you it was correct, got it?”
He nods. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m just… I didn’t cheat, okay?”
“Give me the information. I’ll look into it and while I do that, leave before you do something else that irritates me,” I decide.
He nods as he stands up and pulls his daughter over to him. “I know my wife wouldn’t leave my daughter… I know there’s something more to it. Please, will you please help us?”
I look down at the doe-eyed child who is trying to stare into my soul like the wider her eyes go, the more I’ll forgive her father for nosing when I’m over here contemplating murder.
“Okay. Fine. Sure… whatever. I’ll help, just force your gremlin to stop trying to make me feel guilty when I’ve done nothing,” I say as I wave at the child. Then I hand him a business card. “Here’s my email address. Send me the information and let’s finish up here.”
Once the man leaves me with the information, I stare at where he’d been sitting and wonder what the hell that was all about. Clearly, he thinks we did something wrong and wants to blame us for his wife leaving.
Wouldn’t be the first time.
“Leland? Why do none of the lights work?” I ask as I use my hands to feel my way into the kitchen. While it’s not overly dark outside, all of the blinds have been pulled shut for some odd reason. Cayenne, our dog, dances excitedly at my feet as I question whether I should be concerned about any of this. Since meeting Leland, when something strange is going on it’s generally one of two things. One, there are bad guys breathing down our necks, ready to obliterate us, or two, Leland has schemed up some bizarre and absolutely ridiculous plan that will likely lead me to feelings of anxiety.
Leland strikes a match and holds it before his face. “Because it’s date night.”
Ah yes. The power not working generally has something to do with date night. Silly me.
“Did you shut the power off to the whole house?” I ask, trying to figure some of this out.
“No, just the front room since I knew that’s where you’d try first. Now, come, come,” he says as he lights a candle. “I have a secret hole for you to crawl into.”
“Sounds creepy, but I’m going to trust you.” It’s just what you do for the person you love. And he knows that. He knows that I love him so much that I will, without hesitation, go along with whatever ridiculous thing he’s schemed up.
“You know you love crawling into secret holes,” he says, pulling out his creepy voice. I even love that creepy voice.
“I know I love words other than ‘secret holes.’”
“You’re so silly, secret hole seeker.” He reaches for me in the dark and instead of gently grabbing my arm or taking my hand, he jabs me in the chest. “Whoops. That’s your nipple. Where’s your hand?”
“Are my hands usually this high?” I ask.
That’s when I feel him pat down my knee. “Dammit, Jackson. Where’d you go? I can’t find you!”
I reach out before I feel him give my cock a light squeeze. “Huh. Definitely not your hand but I suppose it’ll work.”
I grab his hand as he snickers and pulls me toward him while using the candle to light his way. Once upon a time, I thought date night couldn’t get weirder. But then I quickly realized that it could because Leland will never let me get bored.
I’m pulled deeper into the house and through a door that I know is his “gun shrine.” Why I know this is because he has about half a dozen red candles lit around the room making me question if I walked in on a dinner date or a demon summoning. I wouldn’t even bat my eye about the latter one.
“I… don’t think you’re supposed to have open flame around gunpowder.”
Leland looks around and just goes, “Huh.” Then he waves to the ground where he has two pillows set up and a cardboard box in the middle with two plates of food on it. “Is this not just the most romantic setup ever?”
Romantic is probably not a word I’d have picked but the steak looks absolutely delicious and I know nothing makes Leland happier than being surrounded by things that could kill him.
I just smile as his eyebrow rises.
“You didn’t answer.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was just admiring how delicious this looks as I watch the candle flicker ridiculously close to that gun,” I say as I sit down opposite him.
“Thanks, it’s all for Cayenne since you’re evil.”
I look down at the steak. “No…”
He cuts off a piece of my steak and pops it in Cayenne’s mouth. The lights from the candles are more than enough to show the drool running from her mouth and pooling on the rug. If I were to even spill a glass of water in here, I’d never hear the end of it, but Cayenne can slobber all over the room and he’d be delighted.
“This looks amazing and by the amount of saliva running out of Cayenne’s mouth, I have to say she concurs.”
“She was a little excited as I was cooking,” he says as he cuts off a piece for himself.
“Did everything go alright with the client?” I ask curiously. I did feel bad I left him to deal with it when he was already done for the day.
“Hmm… I suppose. It was strange. The man really thought you had his wife as a client before. I’m almost positive he thinks you told her a mistruth about him cheating on her and he thinks that’s why she left him. At first, he was trying to claim she was missing, but the more I got out of him the more I realized he just wanted to blame us, and he thinks their relationship is perfect. I even drove by the sister’s and there’s the wife looking happy as can be.”
“You didn’t recognize her name?”
Leland shakes his head. “No. I didn’t recognize her face either, but oh well. We’ll worry about it later. Tonight, it’s just about you and me and Cayenne and my guns.”
“One of those things really doesn’t need to be in there.”
He grabs Cayenne and pins her to him before cupping his hands over her ears. “Don’t listen to him, baby. You’re meant to be here. Jackson, how can you sleep at night saying that? Are you proud of yourself?”
“I’m positive you know I’m talking about the guns.”
“It’s okay, baby,” he says as he rolls the red dog onto her back and holds her in his arms like she’s a baby. She couldn’t care less. The only thing she does care about is how happy she is that she’s so close to the steak her ear is nearly touching it. “Don’t listen.”
I just chew my steak while judging him. He seems to enjoy it, so it doesn’t really help a whole lot. I think he thrives on the odd looks I give him. He puts Cayenne down and she rushes over to my side of the box in case I dropped a whole T-bone while she was gone.
“So… I kind of want to talk to you about something, but I also kind of don’t,” I admit. Especially when supper is going so well.
His smile plummets. “What’s that?” he asks.
I grimace because I really don’t want to ruin supper. “My mom is trying to dictate our wedding.”
Leland points his fork at me. “Like… crash it? That’s so Ava. Tell her that if she needs help, I love making scenes.”
“No, she can’t crash it since she’ll be invited, but she wants to control it.”
“She is the definition of passive-aggressive. It seems that she doesn’t want us to get married but if we’re going to get married, she wants to make sure she controls all of it.”
“Exactly. I mean… I guess I’m a little happy she’s prepared to step in and acknowledge our union but…”
“She sent me a URL to a venue the other day. Want to guess how many Google reviews it had?” Leland asks.
“No, like a hundred saying ‘Worst place ever.’ Another was like ‘Next to a shooting range, my mother-in-law got shot, would definitely recommend.’ So then I was like, ‘Huh, that doesn’t sound too shabby. We could profess our undying love then go over to the gun range and play pin the tail on the donkey with bullets being the tail and your mother being the donkey. She’s already got the ass part down.”
“How much of this actually happened? I literally can never tell when you’re involved.”
His mischievous grin tells me that I was smart to question it. “Good. I like to keep you on your toesies. Jackson… as long as you’re there, I really don’t care where we get married, when we get married, or how we get married.”
I’m honestly surprised by that. He’s been so hyped about this wedding that I assumed he’d pour his millions into making it as extravagant and painful as possible. In the nightmares I’ve been having recently there’ve been elephants and guns. So many guns.
“As long as,” he starts, and I realize that this right here will be the kicker, “The Fence is there.”
I narrow my eyes while trying to pretend that I have no idea what fence he’s talking about. “Oh? You want fencing as a wedding gift? I mean, I suppose if you want to fence in more of the backyard I’m not going to stop you. Or were you talking about the sport fencing? That’d be kind of fun too. I don’t know much about it and I’m sure you’d kick my ass, but I’d enjoy it.”
“You jest, you jest, you silly man. I’m talking about The Fence with a capital T and a capital F. Let me paint the picture for you.”
“Dark night. Lone man.”
Not this again. “Please stop.”
He’s clearly not planning on stopping. “Hitman poised. Gun ready. That’s when it happens! Out of nowhere a PI clambers up—”
“What would it take for you to forget this story?”
He’s raised his hands theatrically in the air now. “Grasps onto the top of the fence and heaves with his mighty strength.” So many hand motions accompany this. “Muscles bulging as he pulls himself up, but wait! That’s when the pants snag.” He stares at me, and I realize he’s waiting for a reaction. “You’re supposed to gasp.”
“Oh wow. I wonder what happens next,” I say as dryly as I can.
“Never fear, Leland will tell you,” he says, and I know once he starts referring to himself in the third person there’s no coming back from it. “He tumbles! But wait! Instead of falling—”
“My ass was on display. I got it. I got it. Let’s forget about all of that and move on.”
Leland is clearly pleased with himself as he resumes eating. “Fine. Back to what I was saying. I’m being honest, Jackson. I don’t need all of that stuff. I just need you. I mean, yeah, it’d be fun to force Henry to walk me down the aisle, but that’s just because I know he really wants to.”
“Does he?” I ask, highly uncertain.
I smile at him because I feel the same way. I really would be happy doing anything as long as he’s by my side. “I love you so much. I would follow you to the ends of the earth.”
“And I would protect you and love you the whole way,” Leland assures me.
“I know you would.”
His phone starts ringing, and he sighs as he pulls it out of his pocket. “It’s Tucker. He texted me earlier about a job, but I’ll just tell him to fuck off and that we’re having too much fun with cheating cases to do anything like that.”
I stare at him, wondering if he really needs to tell him to fuck off when it could be something innocently exciting. “I mean, you can at least hear him out.”
Leland shrugs. “Yeah, but baby, we have another cheating case tomorrow. And remember the other cheating case you need to look into?” It’s clear he’s just toying with me at this point.
“Answer the call. What if he’s being held at gunpoint and they told him he can call one person and he picked you?”
Leland’s eyes get wide at the idea. “What a dumb, dumb man. I mean… I literally forgot about him a couple of times now. I would be the worst person ever to call.”
“More than once?” I ask in surprise.
He shrugs. “Only like three times at this point but I’m positive he deserved it at least six times. I mean, you’ve met Tucker, right? Just one look at his face and you want to leave him with the bad guys, so it’s really not my fault. He should have a better face and attitude.” He swipes the call. “Are you being held at gunpoint and/or have I forgotten about you somewhere?”
Since Tucker is on speaker, I can hear him loud and clear as he goes, “What the fuck are you talking about? You said you were interested in the job and to have me call at exactly six thirty.”
“What? Who? Me? No. I would never do that,” Leland says while refusing to make eye contact with me. “Anyway. What are you calling for? Make it short because I have no idea why you’re calling. No idea at all.”
“I take it Jackson’s there, and he wasn’t in on this?” Tucker asks.
“Remind me to punch you when I see you,” Leland says as he pushes away the box with our empty plates before scooting over to me and leaning into me, like it’ll make me forget that he exaggerated the truth about the whole Tucker thing.
“I’ll give it to someone else,” Tucker threatens.
I run my fingers through Leland’s hair as he leans into me.
“Tucker, you poor delusional man, leave the threats to me. Now spill,” Leland says.
“The police were called a few weeks back about some girls getting harassed in Hyde Park after dark. The path through the park is a shortcut for high school kids after football games. The police, finding nothing, waved it off and told the kids the parks are closed after dark. Happened again last week to the daughter of a friend of mine. The guy pinned the girl against a tree and might have assaulted her if someone hadn’t heard them. My client wants solid proof before going to the police because she’s positive the police are going to brush it to the side again.”
I run my fingers down Leland’s back as I realize it sounds like a similar hit he dealt with as a teenager that Lucas sent him on. One where he nearly died.
“Let me consult with my sexy beast, and I’ll get back with you. No one has been identified yet, right?” Leland asks.
“That’s correct. I talked to the high schooler and she said he was all in black and had a black ski mask on. That he didn’t talk to her and she couldn’t remember how tall he was beyond being taller than her.”
Leland glances up at me and I wrap my arms around him. He has to know there’s no way I can say no to that. Not when there are youth at risk of encountering a perverted man. Who knows what might happen if he actually gets ahold of one? So I give him a nod and he returns it with a sweet smile.
“We’ll deal with it. I’m going to assume he’ll likely strike on nights where school activities run late. Maybe we could put a decoy out for him to snatch,” Leland says. “Jackson, do you think a pervert would try to take Tucker if he was in a dress?”
I shrug. “He might. You never know what perverts might like.”
“Oh, fuck off. Do a good job and don’t get hurt,” Tucker snaps before hanging up.
“He’s so dramatic,” Leland says as he melts onto my lap. He’s literally the king of drama, but if he wants to pretend it’s Tucker, then so be it. I wrap him in my arms, and he pushes against me until I’m lying on the floor, him tucked up against me. “I’ll start looking into it tomorrow. I checked and there are no school events tonight. Until then, let us stare up at our beautiful children.”
I glance at the guns, red candles flickering around them, and wonder when he lost his mind. Maybe he’s never been sane. That’s not at all unlikely. Even so, I kiss his forehead, unbelievably happy to have stumbled into this man.
“Can they call you Daddy?” Leland asks.
“Shhh… let’s just enjoy this moment.”
I hug him to me as we talk about mundane things, but even times like that are special to me when Leland’s involved.
“This is really nice but the night’s not over with.”
“You mean, ‘oh yes.’ Now come… join me in the dungeon.”
Here we go again.