1 Chapter 1

“Fucking piece of shit!”

At the muffled curse from the office across the hall, Jonathan Banks froze in front of his computer, his fingers silently curled over his keyboard as he listened. The voice belonged to his business partner and best friend, Peter Giles, who had said goodbye not five minutes earlier and then, as far as Jonathan knew, left for the night. When the front door had opened moments ago, Jonathan assumed it’d been the cleaning lady, though thinking on it now, the stomping and banging should’ve clued him in. Why had Pete come back?

There was a metallic jangle as the phone in Peter’s office was snatched off the hook, then Jonathan could hear his friend jabbing at the phone’s number pad angrily. Pete had a bit of a temper on him, particularly when he got riled up about something. Jonathan debated whether or not to go in and see what was the matter, but decided against it. If he couldn’t figure it out from eavesdropping on the phone call, Pete would come in and tell him, for sure, if only to let off a little steam. They’d known each other long enough that Jonathan knew better than to walk into the office when Peter was in full hissy fit mode.

But sometimes Pete could be deceptively calm, particularly when speaking on the phone, and when someone answered the other end of the line, he spoke softly, so low Jonathan couldn’t overhear the conversation. He had to fight the urge to stroll across the hall to stand outside his friend’s door to listen in. From the tone of Pete’s voice, though, things didn’t appear to be going very well, so he should just stay where he was and wait. Pete would come in and bitch at him about whatever was going on soon enough.

Slowly Jonathan resumed typing. As part owner of the consulting firm Giles and Banks, he usually worked late into the evenings—it was the only time he could find to catch up with the sheer volume of email he received. His days were spent in meetings with Pete or clients, or dealing with administrative issues that might crop up among the staff. For such a small firm—eight full-time employees, including Pete and Jonathan—they oversaw million-dollar projects, mostly funded by government grants, to improve towns and cities around the state. Giles and Banks were the planners who coordinated all the various players involved in the projects, from the architects to the construction firms, providing support where needed and managing all aspects of the work, from writing the grant to drawing down the last of the funds once the project was complete.

It kept them busy, and the only time Jonathan ever seemed to sit down at the office was after hours, when he could finally catch his breath and reply to the plethora of emails that had been building up all day. By contrast, Pete was an early riser, coming into work two or three hours before anyone else arrived to deal with the incidentals on his own plate, then usually leaving around six o’clock in the evenings along with the rest of the staff.

Except today.

In the other office, the phone slammed down in its cradle, punctuated with another, “Fuck.”

Drawing in a deep breath to steel himself—there went any chance he might have had to unwind tonight—Jonathan called out, “That you, Pete?”

He heard a chair scrape across the floor, a desk drawer open and shut, then hard-soled shoes on the thin carpet as Pete came over to stand in his open doorway. “Who the hell else would it be?” Pete snapped.

With a grimace, Jonathan asked, “Bite my head off, will you? All I did was ask a simple question. What’s wrong?”

Pete sighed lustily, obviously perturbed. Without waiting for an invitation, he came into Jonathan’s office and plopped down into one of the two chairs situated in front of Jonathan’s desk. Crossing his ankle over his knee, he leaned back and glared at the ceiling as he steepled his fingers in front of him. “Fucking car won’t start, that’s what’s wrong.”

“Do you need a jump?” Jonathan knew shit all about cars, but he had a set of jumper cables in his trunk that were a free gift for opening his bank account back in the day; he’d selected them from all the other options because he thought they might come in handy someday. His reasoning? If he ever really didneed them, hopefully the owner of the other car would know how to use them. “I have a set of cables. I’m parked near you in the deck.”

But Pete shook his head. “I think it’s the alternator. Damn piece of shit.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” Jonathan admitted.

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