Summary of the last chapter: Our dashing hero, Tobin (aka Sin) drugged his night guard (who he regards as a fatherish type figure) in order to escape the confines of Sinclair Tower. As he's passing out, Frank the security guard reveals that he and Miriam in Housekeeping work for someone other than the Sinclair: the mysterious Mr. Craig.
Tobin gets out of the Tower only to realize that he has no idea what he's gotten himself into. Tobin gets knocked out by two guys in a shady flower van.
Os and Gino come to the rescue. And Gino strips Sin in the car and goes through his stuff looking for tracking devices as Samuel drives the three of them back to Gino's apartment.
"Why is Gino carrying a naked man?"
"Spoils from stripping. Samuel shook his ass so well, they gave him a free prize."
"I was asleep on my feet! You could have told me the building was burning down I wouldn't have cared. Besides that we all know Samuel can't dance, let alone strip."
"Bite me, asshole."
"Whose our favorite prude? Samuel's our favorite prude!"
"Roberto, shut up and get your crap off my bed so I can put him down."
Tobin moaned, his head throbbing as the world bopped at a slightly uneven clip. There were hands at the back of his knees, and a shoulder blade was digging into his stomach, but it was like his body was stuck in sludge, refusing to answer his commands as he struggled lethargically to wiggle out of the grasp. "He's waking up," a deep voice rumbled as Tobin's world went topsy turvy for a moment before he landed on something soft.
It took a second before he registered it as a bed. He blinked slowly, waiting a moment before things started to come into focus. Which led to the yelping as there were five huge guys in the small, bland room. Each towering over him in intimidating fashion.
"Quit crowding him."
Tobin recognized him.
"Gino." That smirking green eyed bastard! Tobin tried scrambling up out of bed to, well, he wasn't sure what he was going to do. Maybe something violent?
Not that Tobin thought he'd last long in any kind of fight, but it would be nice to at least land a punch to get the self satisfied grin wiped off the bastard's face. Why Tobin had let this guy's idiotic opinion bother him in the first place was beyond him. He'd spent enough time at corporate dinners to realize that the entire world was not enamored with the Sinclair name or the Sinclair way of doing things. He listened to just enough office gossip too, to know that no one was overly fond of his grandfather.
What did he care that this Gino was disappointed in him? The man should get in line. Tobin had been a disappointment from birth.
He knew that. Nannies had looked at him with thinly veiled pity. Tutors had treated him as if he were some sort of slow backwards animal. It seemed almost funny that Gino could be disappointed in Tobin without knowing what Tobin was. Life was hysterical even, that Gino could sense and see the flaw without even having an inkling of the truth.
Even when he was trying to be his own person and find his own way, Tobin failed spectacularly. Was it any wonder he'd been kept behind closed doors for his entire life? Maybe that was why Gino's opinion had hit home. After all, none of it had been stuff that Tobin hadn't already thought himself.
"Well, he's coherent and he recognizes you, that's good." One of the five guys put a hand on Tobin's chest and pushed him back onto the bed, bringing him back to the situation at hand. Of course, as he shined a penlight in Tobin's confused eyes, Tobin also came to realize something else.
"I'm not wearing any clothes!" He spat the words out, horrified, but the moment he did, he wished he could call them back. Especially since there were four amused faces looking back at him along with one that was blushing a violent shade of red. His own face was starting to feel like it was on fire.
"We had to make sure you didn't have any tracking devices on you," a voice at the door called. And Tobin whipped his head around at it, feeling dizzy as he did so and getting a light smack to the forehead from the penlight as he moved too fast.
"Os?" He sounded scared and lost even to himself.
"Hey man, I put Puppy out in the kitchen and gave her some water. It's a damned good thing you took the cat with you." Os walked over, pushing past two of the giant black haired men to sit on the side of the bed. "Now, I'm sure you've got questions, but I suppose some introductions are in order." Os looked pointedly at everyone in the room, and to Tobin's amazement they all looked a little sheepish.
The guy with the penlight stuck out a hand and reluctantly, Tobin shook it. He was thinner than the other four, and there were faint circles under his eyes. There were the beginnings of crow's feet at his eyes, but his smile was easy and he was probably in his mid thirties, Tobin decided.
"I'm Ira. I'm a surgeon, hence my poking at you. You were unconscious for a while, but your pupils are dilating just fine, and if you'd sit up and then touch your nose with each finger." Ira waited expectantly, and confused, Tobin hurried through the instructions. "Okay, good. We'll keep an eye on you just in case. I don't know what they used to knock you out, but at the moment you seem fine."
"I'm Samuel, I drove the getaway car," another guy stepped forward, grabbing Tobin's hand and shaking it before Tobin could offer. He was cleaner cut than the rest of them. Eyes sharp, Tobin could see the intelligence sparking in them.
Although he had no idea what the hell he meant by 'getaway car'. The last thing he remembered was the van with Bellissimo Blooms written on the side.
"Roberto," a third hand shook his, and Tobin glance up. This one weighed a bit more than the other two, and he had a mustache and goatee.
"Move your fat ass, Rob," the last person in the room elbowed Roberto aside good naturedly, offering Tobin a hand and shaking it lightly before he reached over and smacked Os upside the head. "You didn't tell me you were friends with the new Sinclair heir."
Just the name made Tobin cringe and his skin crawl. He shuddered at the thought, and then sighed as he tried to picture what Grandfather's response to both his disappearance and subsequent retrieval would be. On the off chance that his life hadn't been regulated down to the last minutiae enough yet, he was sure someone would be assigned to ensure that he ate, slept and pissed the way he was supposed to.
And oh god, the security cameras would come back, eliminating the last vestiges of privacy that Tobin could even pretend to have. What a depressing thought.
"Gee, and I wonder why that was, Mr. Corporate," Os retorted sarcastically to Wesley, pulling Tobin's thoughts back to the present situation. After all, they hadn't seemed to have called Grandfather yet. There was still the hope that he'd be able to waltz out of here and disappear. Os rolled his eyes and cuffed him gently on the shoulder. "No worries. Wesley's just a bit on the blood sucking side."
"Samuel's the lawyer," Wesley defended hotly. "I imagine he knows a great deal more about blood sucking than I do."
"Hey, I only go after them in court. You, however, are le pit bull when it comes to chasing down your corporate rivals."
The one with the goatee, Roberto, laughed uproariously at that, startling Tobin. "You remember the time he went through the dumpsters behind the Sinclair Tower when he was fifteen? Like he was some kind of crackpot private eye?"
"Oh, and you smelled so bad after that, Wesley," Ira joined in, his eyes crinkling in amusement. "You'd seen way too many spy thrillers than was good for a soul that summer."
"Uncle Craig just about strangled you for going into the Tower too. What idiot washes his hands at the place he's staking out?" Gino eyes sparking mischievously. "We all got the lecture on stealth and how not to be Incredibly Stupid While Spying."
"I don't know why he got all bent out of shape," Wesley huffed, looking less than happy with the amount of flak he was catching from the other four men. "The only person who saw me and cared was some little bratty kid. It's not like I attracted the attention of the security guards, let alone Sinclair or anything."
It was like a little flash went off in Tobin's head, and he boggled for a moment before he angled to get a better look at Wesley. "Actually," he said softly, drawing all of their attention in spite of the volume of his voice. "I did tell Frank, the night guard, later that day all about meeting you in the bathroom. Since you didn't come back, I don't think he cared much, but he did check the security tapes and took note of you."
Wesley's mouth gaped open and worked soundlessly before graduating to actual sounds of sputtering. Which the others, of course, found hilarious.
If his head didn't hurt so much, Tobin might have even been amused by it, too. He winced slightly as Os jostled the bed, standing up. "Okay, that's it. You lot are too dumb to be dealing with this. Out! Out, out, out!" For someone who was short and rather unimpressive looking, Os could clear a room when he felt like it, and with no small amount of relief, Tobin watched Wesley, Samuel, Ira and Roberto walk out of the room.
Unfortunately, Gino did not follow them.
"What, you think you're special or something?" Os raised an eyebrow as he glared at Gino.
"What, you think this isn't my apartment?" Gino retorted back. "Besides, you asked for my help on this. I'm seeing in through. To do otherwise would be sloppy."
"Sloppy?" Os roared, and even Tobin blinked, taken aback at the furious look in Os's face. He'd never seen Os so mad. "You could have gotten him killed!" He pointed, damningly, at Tobin, and Tobin desperately wanted to hide his head in his hands.
"How was I supposed to know he'd leave the Tower? You weren't exactly forthcoming on all the information, anyway. Uncle Craig's drilled into our heads that the amount of intelligence you have is the only way you have of guaranteeing how smooth a job will go."
"Yeah, and you did a bang up job of gathering that, didn't you?" Os spat back. "You just got little tidbits from me and Amanda and waltzed in without a care in the world."
"Os, I'm the one who left," Tobin finally blurted out. "I had it all planned out. It has nothing to do with this bastard here."
"Oh, and you," Os rounded on him, looking no less furious. "I could shake you! What the hell were you thinking? You know better than anyone, how many people would kill to get their hands on you and use you as leverage. You couldn't have asked me for help?"
"You said he searched your apartment! That if I ever fired you, he'd kill you. What was I supposed to do, get you involved? Are you insane?" Tobin shot back, face heating up. "Besides, you're just going to call him up anyway and send me back, aren't you?" The question came out more uncertain than Tobin would have liked, as his voice shook.
The look of disgust on Os's face tore at him. "You think I'd do that to you?" Os asked quietly. "No. No, I'm not calling that bastard, Sin. Why don't you lie back and get some sleep and when I can look at you without getting pissed off, we can talk about your complete lack of faith in me."
Os stormed out of the room, slamming the door as he left. Wincing, Tobin rolled onto his side, lying down on the bed completely. Miserably.
"Guess we both pissed him off," Gino said lightly, and Tobin squeezed his eyes shut. "Os, he yells a lot when he's scared. You gave him a good scare."
"Leave me alone," he mumbled into the pillow. He didn't want to talk about how he'd disappointed Os too. Bad enough that he'd let this green eyed bastard's opinion matter to him enough to do something so incredibly and obviously stupid.
"Suit yourself," Gino murmured, and a second later, the lights flicked off, and Tobin heard the door snick shut behind Gino. Just beyond the door, he could hear the rowdy voices of the five men accompanied by the occasional loud laugh or mock gasp of outrage.
Even when he wasn't in the Tower, even when he wasn't in a gilded cage, he couldn't seem to make himself break free. Os had told him once that if he could just get out, Tobin would see how different things could be.
He hated to admit it, even to himself. But it seemed to him that it was just too late for him. There were too many things that were wrong with him, too many barriers to break through.
And maybe, for someone like him, it was better to leave it this way. With him on one end and everyone else on the other. He itched to get up and draw himself into exhaustion, but his head was already throbbing hard, and his eyes were already slipping closed, so Tobin just gave in and let sleep overtake him.
Craig Marshall picked uncomfortably at the lapels of the designer suit Ennis had shoved at him the minute he'd walked through the door. He and Ennis were about the same height, same weight. His shoulders were a bit broader than Ennis's but Ennis had a narrower waist. So it wasn't like the suit was a perfect fit.
It was close enough, though. He tugged at the tie.
"Stop fidgeting," Carol, his sister-in-law admonished lightly as she strolled by, a thin glass of wine in her hand. "The party's winding down and then we can sit down and talk. The way Ennis talks about the old days though, I'd have thought you'd have taken to this kind of scene with ease. Like a bicycle, you know?" She grinned impishly.
Craig made a face at her. "As shocking as it might be, the last time I wore a suit was for your wedding. And I'm a far cry from the cocky young kid I used to be," he said matter-of-factly as he downed the rest of his wine. Of course, he felt like a huge monkey, too.
Chuck Medlock had cornered him earlier, smarmy bastard. He'd given Ennis a Look at that. Of course, Ennis had shrugged and Aaron had stopped by later with the comment, "keep your allies close and your enemies closer." Jonathan Hollingsworth was there as well, and Craig imagined that if he could have swung it, Ennis would have invited Sinclair to this little shindig, too.
"Why don't you head up to the master suite," Carol said, finally taking pity on him as she grabbed his empty glass. "Tell Ben—he's the butler—at the steps there that he looks sharp in black and he'll let you through."
"He's wearing blue."
"Yes?" Carol raised an eyebrow and laughed. "Just go. This is business, and we know you left it for a reason." She pushed him gently towards the grand stairway that wound its way up from the marbled floors of the entry way to the open hallway of the second and third floors. Ennis had kept entertaining in mind when he'd designed the house, Craig knew. The stairway was the only way up to the second floor with the exception of the servants' stair hidden away in the back of the house. Each of which were guarded by people like Ben, who had black belt mastery in some form of martial arts along with hand to hand combat expertise, so that no guest 'accidentally' wandered into a portion of the house that they weren't meant to be in.
Craig made his way to the top of the stairs and came face to face with Ben, a man who very much looked like he ate linebackers for breakfast and heavy weight champs for lunch. He was a good twenty years younger than Craig as well, so there was no doubt in Craig's mind who would win, fair fight or no.
"Er, you, ah, look sharp in black," Craig murmured softly, knowing his face was turning red. It was at that point that he realized Carol had done it on purpose.
The enigmatic Ben, however, must have had a sense of humor, because his lips quirked at the phrase Carol had given Craig. He stepped aside and gestured Craig towards the master suite. The suit jacket came off in quick fashion followed by the tie. After popping open four or five buttons on the stiff starched shirt Carol had coaxed him into, Craig felt marginally better.
Maybe he'd been born a Marshall, maybe he'd been groomed from birth to age nineteen to take over the company from his father, but things had changed when Silas and Isobel died.
His priorities had changed. Hell, his interests had changed. Finding out what had been hidden behind closed doors at Sinclair Tower had changed the way Craig looked at business.
Dad? Well, Dad had not exactly been cool about him giving up the business like that. They'd had more than a few rows about it until Ennis's second oldest, Wesley, had turned eleven and taken to the business world like a duck to proverbial water. With Wesley hungrily hanging on Dad's every word, Craig had then had the chance to peacefully go another route. Maybe it was a good thing Dad had passed on before Craig had gotten himself firmly established. Dad rarely saw the shades of grey.
The master suite was composed of a couple of rooms, and Craig tossed his jacket on the small sofa in the outer most room. Most of the décor was tasteful with a couple antique end tables, some impressionist paintings, hard wood floors and an oriental rug.
And then there were the clowns. Small ones, big ones, plastic ones, antique tin ones. Definitely had Mom's trademark all over it. No one else would inundate perfectly decent rooms with Bozo and Ronald McDonald, no matter how antique and valuable the collectibles happened to be. Her excuse was that she liked mixing it up, said it made people think.
Craig snorted as he got on his hands and knees. Made people think, he shook his head. Think they were crazy maybe.
Half an hour later found him knees cocked up in the air, inspecting the bottom lining of one of the three settees in the room. "You do realize that we already pay you good money to have your security team sweep the house once a week," Ennis's laughed, startling Craig into smacking his forehead against the wood frame of the settee he was under.
"A good boss checks to see how his employees are doing every once in a while," he grumbled, giving his older brother a dirty look as he rubbed the small lump forming on his head. "And I can now tell them with every confidence that they're doing an excellent job."
"I should hope so," Anne snickered, eyebrow raised. "That company is all Amanda can talk about when she and Os finally stop by for dinner. Silly children."
"She does have a sharp mind, and she's working her way up fast," Craig said diplomatically. Aaron was hiding a laugh as Anne all but puffed up in pride. "She's a right little pit bull. She can get information out of anyone. The office takes bets on how many times she can make them cry first." It was worth it just to see the look on Anne's face right before she hit him in the arm. Hard. Well, like mother like daughter. Craig fully expected that one day he'd be handing his business over to Amanda's capable hands. She had a nose for security and a feel for subversion.
"There's a reason she was always my favorite niece," Carol beamed, rubbing her feet as she took off what looked like three inch stiletto heels.
"She's your only niece," Ennis pointed out.
"Details, details," Carol waved away. "Is she why you showed up on our doorstep tonight and actually deigned to wear something other than those threadbare Levi's we usually see you in?" She glanced pointedly at Craig.
"Not exactly," he hedged. "Actually, I'm more concerned with the next heir to the Sinclair legacy at the moment."
"Sinclair was crowing about him the other day as he was bribing his way into a rather lucrative government contract," Aaron said sourly before taking a long drink of brandy that he'd just poured himself. "The kid's twenty, how freaking brilliant could he possibly be?" The derision was evident.
going to be hard going, Craig decided. There was no lost love between
the Sinclairs and the Marshalls and since Carol and Anne were
sisters, Ennis often counted Aaron Weinburg as family by extension.
"Well, the thing is, he's just gone missing." Four pairs of
eyes turned to
"And you know this how?" Ennis raised an eyebrow. "We've been trying to get inside information on Sinclair for ages. If just so that we can expose his lying cheating ass to the world."
"I've got a couple people on the inside."
"Who are they, James Bond?" Carol demanded. Craig managed to choke back a laugh, but couldn't keep from smiling at the thought of Miriam in a tuxedo demanding a martini—shaken, not stirred.
"And you couldn't have shared any of this with us?" Ennis demanded. He was starting to look a little pissed off, so Craig played the next card.
"Actually, I've been feeding Wesley inside information for the last couple years that I've gotten from my insiders." At Ennis's outraged look, he held up a hand to stave off the protests.
"You're a little too much like Dad, sometimes. You'd have wanted to go straight to the police, not realizing that a good chunk of them are already in Sinclair's pocket. Wesley's a little more cautious about it."
"Cautious. Wesley?" Carol raised an eyebrow. "You're kidding me, right?"
"Okay, shrewd, maybe is more the word. He knows how to put the information to the best use in order to draw the most blood while keeping himself lily white. Kid's a shark."
"What does all this have to do with the Sinclair heir?" Anne finally interrupted, a small frown on her face. Like Amanda, she was petite, but her eyes sparked with intelligence and if she weren't already perfectly content working from Marshall Industries, Craig would have happily considered trying to recruit her.
Craig hesitated. There was a lot there that he'd never told his brother. Ennis had been abroad the year Dad had arranged for the marriage between him and Isobel. In fact, Craig could remember Ennis telling him that it had been raining in London on the day that Isobel and Silas Sinclair had jumped from Sinclair Tower. "The kid's not cut from the same cloth that Sinclair is. The business world? It's not his world. I suspect Sinclair knows that, but as always, he doesn't care. One of my people called earlier tonight to tell me that the kid had flown the coop. He's with Gino and Os right now, I suspect. I hope. He and Os are pretty tight friends."
"Why?" Carol looked absolutely befuddled by the prospect.
"I don't want Os, or for that matter, any of the kids, dealing that closely with any of the Sinclairs," Anne added. "That family is a pit of vipers, you know that."
"Ah, it's a long story," Craig hedged once more. Anne didn't look convinced, but she at least looked willing to listen. "But I wanted to tell you because I need a favor."
"Anything," his brother promptly agreed. Craig grinned at that.
"I need you to not give the kids crap over this, if they come to you. I also need you to keep an open mind about the Sinclair heir. The road ahead of him is not an easy one, and I made a promise to look out for him. Sinclair's got as many friends as he has enemies, and trust me, his enemies are the ones most interested in getting this kid alone. And maybe I'm telling you all this for naught, but it would mean a great deal to me if you could not turn your back on this kid should your paths cross."
Ennis and Aaron looked conflicted, Anne looked thoughtful, and Carol just smiled at him. "Of course we wouldn't do that," Carol admonished lightly, gaining herself a few incredulous looks from the other three. "I trust my boys, and I trust Os. They're good judges of character. Besides that, he's just a baby."
"He's almost twenty one," Ennis told her.
"Just give it up, Ennis." Aaron laughed. "I think we can do that, Craig. As long as the kid doesn't give us reason to turn him over to Sinclair, we'll harbor him through whatever storm it is he finds himself in. I trust Os, but more so, I trust you. Hell, I should hope I trust you. You take care of the security for the entire business."
Craig silently nodded his thanks. Now that the hard part was over, he went over and poured himself some brandy and took a healthy sip. "I'm heading over to Gino's apartment from here. If the kid's not there, it's going to be a long night for me. So, if you'll excuse me?" He let the question trail off.
"Don't be a stranger," Carol told him as Ennis and Aaron stood up and slapped him on the back in lieu of goodbye hug, which he got from Anne.
"Before I go though, one thing. Clowns?"
Ennis barked out a startled laugh and Carol gave a resigned sigh. "Your mother insisted. She thinks they're cute."
"And you?" He watched as Carol made a face.
"I keep telling myself that they're there to ward off evil. Like crosses. Only uglier."
Shaking his head, Craig waved them goodnight and walked out. He'd return the suit later. And if Ennis was nice, he might even get it dry cleaned first. Of course, dry cleaning was far down on his to do list. Honestly, if he'd been smart, he would have stopped Ennis and Aaron when they first stumbled on the idea that kids might be fun. Because if either knew half of what their offspring got themselves into, it would scare years off their lives. As it was, Craig was half tempted to pick up the ugliest clown he could find and toss the damn thing to Gino. Brat couldn't keep his damned nose out of things he had no business snooping in.
He should have known it was a bad idea to give that kid his first camera. The other four at least knew enough to know when they were in over their heads. Wesley even brought intelligence to him so that they could discuss it and collaborate on it. Gino? Kid was a little too independent by half. Between him and Sin, Craig had his hands full.
Sighing, he ran a hand tiredly through his hair. He was never having kids. They were a pain in the ass.