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Endangered Species is book one in the Time Served series.
Each book follows a different couple and can be read as a standalone.
- Forced Proximity
- Shared Past
- Age Gap
After spending his formative years in an abusive home, Nicholas Webster has made a pretty good life for himself. He has friends, a lucrative job with Elite Protection Services, and a side gig that lets him help out those escaping the same abusive home situation he left behind. But no matter how many people he helps, he can’t escape the guilt over the one person he didn’t—his step-brother, Cyrus.
Cyrus Whitaker has spent the last twenty years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, put there by the very person he vowed to protect. On the inside, he’s made strides to better himself so he can have a future on the outside. But just when he thinks there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he receives a new cellmate—the boy who put him away all those years ago.
In trying to make things right, Webster has triggered a series of events that will ruin both their lives, or worse, end them. Somebody has framed him and sent him to a prison where they hope Cy’s need to get even will get rid of Webster for good. But they don’t know Cyrus or the bond they shared. A bond theystillshare. But can Webster figure out who’s doing this to them and why before Cyrus is forced to choose between hurting the one person he loves or spending his life in a cage?
LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE
LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE
Nicholas Webster flinched as an alarm blared air horn loud, and then the door buzzed, signaling it was unlocked. The guard pushed Webster through the steel barred doors, almost causing him to trip. He hated this place. Jail was a never-ending cacophony of noises. Men shouting, people fighting, metal doors slamming, whispered murmurs, and the slapping of skin on skin behind the makeshift curtains that separated the bathroom from the front of the cells.
It wasn’t just the noise; the fluorescent lighting hurt his eyes. They’d ‘accidentally’ broken his glasses when they arrested him, and without the coating on the lenses to block some of the light, his migraines were back. He’d tried to tell them this was all some misunderstanding. He’d asked to make his one phone call, which they’d eventually allowed twenty-four hours later, but only after he’d been strip-searched and thrown into an ugly pair of navy scrubs stamped with DOJ on the back.
Webster didn’t know what was happening, but with each passing minute, it was becoming clearer that these people thought he was somebody he wasn’t. He wasn’t imagining their hostility. People were overtly aggressive at every turn, stopping just short of actual violence, unless he counted the man who’d done his strip search. He certainly hadn’t been gentle.
When they reached a solid metal door almost at the end of the long bright hallway, the guard used his set of keys to open it and guided Webster inside. The lights were dimmer in the room with its dirty gray walls, peeling linoleum, and solid steel table bolted to the floor. Relief flooded Webster’s system as he saw his boss, Lincoln Hudson, and a woman in a jacket the same gray as the rest of the room, her hair pulled up into a tight bun that seemed like it would hurt.
The guard shoved him forward, unhooking the cuff on his left wrist and threading it through a metal loop on the table before reattaching the shackle to Webster once more, this time, tighter than before.
“Why do I feel like you’re not here to take me home, man?” Webster asked, looking at the haggard face of his employer.
Linc pushed a hand through his dark strands. “What the fuck have you gotten yourself into, Nicky?”
The use of his nickname caused a hollow feeling in his stomach. He was always Webster to Linc, unless he was in trouble or something bad happened. “Nothing. I don’t even know why I’m fucking here.”
Linc looked to the woman, who said, “Kelly Chao. I’ll be your attorney for the proceedings. Right now, they’re charging you with a number of things, but the one you need to worry about is the terrorism charge. It’s a class B felony that can cost you up to twenty years in a federal prison.”
“Terrorism?” Webster shouted before wincing, closing his eyes in an attempt to combat the throbbing in his head. “What are you talking about? Me? Who would I terrorize? The barista constantly fucking up my coffee order?”
Webster’s head was spinning. Terrorism? How? That would explain the hostility he’d experienced in the last forty-eight hours, he supposed, but not why people thought he was guilty.
“They claim they have proof you hacked into the FBI and threatened to distribute confidential information that could cause grievous harm,” Linc said.
“Thankfully, they’re not charging you with espionage. I’d be lucky to keep you out of supermax,” Ms. Chao added, all business.
“Linc, come on,” Webster said. “You know I’d never hack the FBI. Why would I? There’s nothing I can’t get my hands on with the people we know.”
“I didn’t hear that,” Ms. Chao said.
Webster ignored the woman, needing Linc to believe him. “I’m being set up, man.”
Linc nodded, rubbing his hand over his bearded chin. “Okay, but why? Who would want to set you up?”
That was a great question. Who would want to set him up? He wasn’t working on anything new. He hadn’t taken on any new side projects. Things had been so quiet lately, he’d started working on old cases. Well, one old case. But he’d been working on that off and on for years, almost since he was old enough to know his way around a computer.
“Fuck, man. I don’t know. I just know I definitely didn’t hack the FBI.”
“They’re offering you fifteen years if you agree to never use a computer again,” Ms. Chao said. “And I have to say, considering what they claim they have, they’re being generous.”
“What?” Webster asked. “No. No way. I can’t be without a computer. That’s my whole life.”
“We’ve got bigger problems than computers, Nicky. They’re offering you fifteen years as a bargain. If you’re being set up, they don’t just want to silence you, they want to fucking bury you.”
“Burying me would’ve been kinder,” Webster said. “I fucking hate this place.”
“You won’t be here long. They’re transferring you,” the attorney said, her face pinched.
Webster swallowed audibly, his mouth bone dry. “What? How? Where?” he heard himself asking, embarrassed at the panic in his voice.
“CSD,” Ms. Chao said.
Webster was stunned into silence. He’d heard the expression about the world crashing down around him, but, for the first time, he finally understood the experience. His chest tightened, and, for a minute, he wondered if he was having a heart attack or an anxiety attack. He was hoping for the former. It would be over much quicker. “Can they do that? Can they send me to a federal facility when I haven’t even been convicted yet?” The question was mumbled almost under his breath, his brain having checked out of the conversation.
“They’re blaming overcrowding in the jails, but it sounds like bullshit to me,” Chao said. “Honestly, if you’re being framed, you pissed off somebody pretty high up on the food chain.”
“It’s not a coincidence,” Webster said, brow furrowed in concentration. “It can’t be.”
“What isn’t, Nicky?” Linc asked. “I appreciate your Beautiful Mind moments as much as anybody, but I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s happening.”
“You have a brother?” Linc asked.
“Not really, no. My mom married his dad. They were only married for a year before…” Webster trailed off. “That’s not important. What’s important is that my stepbrother, Cyrus, is housed at CSD. He’s been there for a very long time.”
“And that’s a bad thing?” Linc asked.
Chao was doodling on her legal pad, but Webster had no doubt she heard every word he said.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence they want to send me to the same federal facility as my long lost stepbrother.”
“Why would they want you with family?” Linc asked.
“Because they clearly don’t want me out of the way. They want me dead.”
Linc leaned forward, his voice a sandpaper whisper. “Why would your stepbrother want you dead?”
“Because I’m the one who put him away for twenty-five years,” Webster said, his chest tight.
“Jesus,” Chao muttered.
Webster ignored her, thinking of flashes of honeyed eyes and the look of betrayal as they led Cy from the courthouse in his black pants and white button down shirt. The same clothes Cy had worn to his father’s funeral. It had been so long.
“It’s already done, even if you don’t take the deal. They denied bail. They’ll send you there until sentencing,” Ms. Chao said, her tone clipped, like she had somewhere else she’d rather be.
Part of Webster wanted to go. It seemed almost fitting. If he was going to get slaughtered by somebody, maybe it was some kind of poetic justice that it was Cyrus who wielded the weapon. What did he look like now? Would he still call Webster Nicky? Webster shook his head at the name. Nobody called him that anymore. Nobody except Linc.
“If they send me there, I’ll never make it to sentencing,” Webster promised.
“If they’re setting you up, there has to be a reason. What were you doing on vacation last week? Did you run into anybody? Did you flirt with the wrong person? Did you accidentally dent a judge’s jag? Call out the wrong senator on a social media post?”
“No.” Webster scrubbed his hands over his face, his head feeling like it was cracking in two. “This has to do with Cy. Somehow.”
“How do you know that?” Chao asked. “Did you remember something?”
“Look, there’s only one thing I’ve been working on, and it’s the same case I’ve been working on for the last twenty-years. Cy’s. All I did last week was create a program that looked for patterns in random data, and I fed Cy’s case details into the program.”
If possible, Linc frowned harder. “Why? What were you looking for?”
Webster sat back. “The same thing I’ve been looking for since he was put away. A way to prove his innocence.”
Chao was suddenly interested in the conversation once more. “Your testimony put your brother away, but you think he’s innocent?”
“I know he’s innocent,” Webster snapped, the pain in his head becoming almost unbearable.
“How?” Linc shouted. “We need to know what you know so we can help you.”
“I’m doing my best here, Linc. I’m not trying to be cagey. I just can’t think straight.” He dug his palms into his eyes, sighing as the lights overhead were blotted out, leaving only the sparks dancing behind his eyelids. “I was forced to testify against him. I tried to tell the truth, but it was a kangaroo court. The whole thing was a joke. Nobody cared about the truth. They just wanted Cy convicted. Everybody in that town knew who killed my stepfather, but they also knew they’d never get a conviction.”
“Who killed him?” Chao asked, her voice taking on an almost gossipy tone.
Webster sighed, dropping his fists to the table. “My mom.”
Chao was once more scribbling on her notepad. “The town protected your mom? Was she wealthy or connected?”
Webster gave a humorless laugh. “Hardly. Well, I guess she was connected in that she was sleeping with the Sheriff and the judge and probably the prosecutor. It was a real small town. But, like a lot of dying towns, we had a high rate of recidivism. Lots of crime. Lots of criminals. Somehow, most of them black, despite eighty-five percent of the town being white.”
“Your brother was black,” Linc said. It wasn’t a question.
“Half. His dad was white, but that hardly mattered in a shitty racist town filled with criminal biker gangs neck deep in everything from drugs to prostitution and a whole town with their hands in the till.”
“What did your computer program show?” Chao asked.
Webster stopped short. “I-I don’t know. I had it scanning all of California. It was still running in the background when the cops busted in and dragged me out.” Webster flinched as the sound of the lock disengaging filled the room. “You gotta figure out if my computer program flagged anything. That has to be it.”
The guard returned, and Webster gave Linc one last pleading look. It wasn’t like he’d never fought or taken a punch before. He was a fucking bodyguard as well as a computer nerd, but he’d never been to prison, never had a situation where he was going to be on the same side of the bars as a man he’d put away.
The guard once more uncuffed him so he could stand. As he was walking to the door, Linc started talking. “I’m calling in the team. In the meantime, watch your six and keep your head on a swivel. CSD is no joke.” Linc stood, calling after him, “There are a ton of gang members in there, and you look like the poster boy for the Aryan Brotherhood. They’ll try to recruit you or kill you straight out the gate. Don’t act like a target. Don’t use the word bitch. If anybody calls you a bitch, you fucking swing on them…”
Any other words of advice were lost behind the steel door as the guard shoved him back towards D-pod. “It doesn’t matter what your friend tells you, princess. They’re gonna love you in gen pop. You’re so pretty, they’ll have you wearing a dress before dinner time. Don’t worry, I hear you can still get makeup in the commissary.”
“Fuck off,” Webster snarled.
His head exploded as the guard shoved him face first into the door, his forehead connecting with the bars hard enough to make him see little cartoon stars floating around his head.
The guard yanked him back by the collar before pushing him inside with a chuckle. “Careful, inmate. Looks like you need to get used to those shackles,” he said loudly as they passed another corrections officer.
Webster was on guard until he was back in his cell. “Transport leaves at six a.m.,” the guard said with a smirk. “You might want to get some beauty sleep before your big debut.”
This time, Webster kept his thoughts to himself, sliding onto the thin pad that served as a mattress and staring at the words etched into the bottom of the top bunk.
Eyes up. Laces up.
Somebody’s always watching.
Webster had no doubt about that. Somebody would always be watching. It didn’t make him feel any safer. If anything, he felt like a fox the night before a hunt. There was no winning. If the hounds didn’t tear him apart, the men on horseback would simply shoot him between the eyes.
He was dead either way.