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Headcase is book four in the Necessary Evils series.
Each book follows a different couple and can be read as a standalone.
- Primal Play
- Touch Him and Die
- Secret Identity
Asa Mulvaney is half of a psychopathic whole. He and his twin brother live together, party together…kill together. In the Mulvaney family, murder is the family business and business is good. So, when an experiment separates Asa and his brother, Asa is forced to navigate the world on his own for the first time in his life.
Zane Scott is a small-time crime blogger, but he dreams of a byline in a major paper and his suspicions surrounding Thomas Mulvaney are about to make that dream a reality. When an invitation to a boring fundraiser lands him not beside Thomas, as he had hoped, but Asa Mulvaney, they share an intensely passionate encounter that leaves Zane trapped in a cage of his own making.
At a nearby college, a cluster of suicides isn’t what it seems. When Asa’s father asks him to look into it, he sees the perfect opportunity to exploit his little crime reporter and make him fall in line. And Asa needs him to fall in line. Zane is suspicious of Asa’s motives and half-convinced he’s dead either way, but he won’t say no to a chance to peek behind the Mulvaney family curtains.
As the two unravel a sinister plot, Asa’s obsession with Zane grows and Zane finds being Asa’s sole focus outweighs almost anything, maybe even his career—which is good for Asa because loving a Mulvaney is a full-time job. Can he convince Zane that he’s worth navigating a family of psychopaths and tolerating an almost too close for comfort twin? Or will Zane learn the hard way that the Mulvaney boys always get what they want? Always.
Warning: This book contains graphic depictions as well as frank talk about suicide and suicidal ideations.
LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE
LOOK INSIDE: CHAPTER ONE
“Are you at the office? Why’s it so quiet?”
Zane huffed out a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. Zane Scott didn’t have an office. He didn’t even have a cubicle. Because he didn’t have a job. Not a real one, anyway. Not that his mother knew that. “No, Ma. I’m working from home today.”
And every day.
“Do they have you working on any exciting stories? I told all the ladies in my bridge club about my reporter son. They’re very excited to read your first story.”
So was Zane. He just had to come up with one. “Ma, please stop telling people about my job. Being an investigative journalist requires a lot of research. It’ll be a while before my first major story hits the papers.”
His mother sniffed. Then there was the sound of her taking a big gulp of something. Gin, no doubt. It was noon, after all. “I’m allowed to brag about my son. We weren’t sure you’d ever make something of yourself. Poor grades. Skipping school. Your brother had sports and debate team and a 5.3 GPA, but you… We thought we’d end up supporting you forever.”
Zane knew that. Anybody who knew his mother knew that, too. This wasn’t a new conversation.
“Thanks, Ma,” Zane said with an eye roll.
She made a disgusted noise. “A writer. Ugh. Might as well be a fitness instructor. At least they have a shot at working with celebrities.”
Zane did work with celebrities. Just not in a way his mother would want to brag about.
“Yeah, Ma. I know,” he said, seeing the bend in the conversation coming but unable to hit the brakes before it derailed.
“Don’t ‘I know’ me,” his mother said. “When we lost your brother, we thought we’d lost any chance…”
No matter how much Zane tried to steel himself for this point in their conversations, it hurt no less. His brother, Gage, had been the heir, and Zane was most definitely the spare. The one they’d tucked into the closet and ignored on the assumption that their original was just too fucking perfect to die. Guess Gage showed them. All of them.
Zane stared down at the pic of a movie star sneaking out of a famous singer’s apartment, glancing up at the clock. “Yeah, I know, Ma. I’m just saying, I’m up to my eyeballs in research and I’m on company time. I’ll call you and Dad this weekend, okay?”
“Okay, doll. But don’t call on Friday. We’re having dinner at the Silvers’. And on Sunday, we’re having dinner at the Country Club. You know what? I’ll call you. Okay?”
Zane sighed internally. “Yeah, sure, Ma. Love you.”
His mother blew kisses into the phone. “Talk soon.”
Zane didn’t know why he said ‘love you’ every time they ended a call. His mother had never once said it back. Not when he was five, not when he was eleven, not when he was twenty-one, standing beside his brother’s casket. And not now.
The cold, hard truth was his parents didn’t love him. He and Gage had been accessories to them. Only Gage had been the designer brand and Zane the cheap knock-off. Which was why he lied to his mother about his glamorous job as an investigative journalist. Writing borderline slanderous articles for the tabloids and blogging about true crime stories was nothing his mother could brag about over brunch.
He pushed the thought away, refusing to give her any more real estate in his head. Shake it off, Scott. What he did wasn’t pretty, but it paid the bills. Just as he opened his laptop, the door rocketed open, Blake falling through, like the wind had blown him in off the street. Except, Blake was that wind. A big, bearded tornado with copper skin and inky black hair just a smidge too long.
“Took you long enough,” Zane grumbled.
Blake frowned at him. “You know what the lines are like at McKabe’s this time of day. You want it fast or you want it good?”
Zane sighed. He didn’t know why he was taking out his frustration with his mom on Blake. He was pretty much Zane’s only friend.
When Zane didn’t answer, Blake frowned. “What happened to you? Why are you suddenly so grumpy?” Blake gestured to the wall before them. “I thought you wanted to talk me through all of this.”
“Let’s just eat,” Zane muttered, unwrapping his tuna sandwich and taking a bite, closing his eyes and enjoying a tiny sliver of peace.
Blake made an aha noise. “Shit. Your mom called, huh?” Zane stared at him warily. “Yeah, she definitely called. Nobody but Bev can make you look like you just watched your cat get mauled by a bear.”
Zane winced. “You have such a way with words.”
Blake scoffed. “You’re the writer. I just take pictures. Why do you still take her calls? You could just stop answering. Hell, I cut my mom off years ago. Best decision I ever made. It hurt, but it’s like gangrene. Sometimes, you gotta cut off the infected limb before that shit spreads. Your mom…she’s spreading.”
Zane’s lips twitched with the barest hint of a smile. His mom really was like deadly bacteria. But she was his mom. “Your mom’s a two-time felon who runs with one of the most violent biker gangs in the US territories.”
Blake fell into the swivel chair in front of Zane’s desk, spinning it a few times before he peeled back the paper on his pastrami sandwich. “And your mom is a gin-swilling narcissist who spends her days sucking the hopes and dreams out of people like a dementor. The only difference in our moms, man, is capital. One’s rich, one’s poor. They’re both shitty people.”
Blake was right. He was one hundred percent right. But Zane still wouldn’t cut his mom off. He didn’t know if that made him a masochist or weak. His mom would say the latter.
Zane sighed, glancing up at the wall covered in string and multicolored pins. In the center, he’d tacked a map of the city, highlighting certain areas in a garish yellow. Thomas Mulvaney’s properties. Zane had taped the man’s picture to the top.
He’d reserved the sides of the map for the key players in Mulvaney’s life, starting with his seven children.
“Run me through this,” Blake said around his pastrami sandwich.
Zane finished his tuna sandwich in four large bites, then pointed to the silver-haired man in an expensive navy blue suit. “You know Thomas Mulvaney.”
“Everybody does,” Blake said, chewing obnoxiously.
“These are his kids.” He pointed to each. “The professor, the doctor, the architect, the designer, the gambler, the model…and last but not least, the loner.”
Blake scoffed. “Yeah, man. I photograph celebrities for a living. Tell me the ones I don’t know.”
Zane pointed at a photo taped next to Mulvaney’s youngest, the model. Adam. “The pretty freckle-faced one who looks like he should sell skin care? He’s engaged to the model. His name’s Noah. Noah Holt. Name sound familiar?”
Blake shook his head. “Should it?”
“Son of Wayne Holt. Suspected child molester and murderer. He died under ‘mysterious circumstances.’”
“Good fucking riddance,” Blake muttered.
Zane agreed. But it was only one small piece of the puzzle. He pointed to a man in a tweed coat. “That one there—that’s Lucas Blackwell, a former FBI profiler who had a mental breakdown.”
“It is a stressful job,” Blake reasoned. “I wouldn’t want to deal with all that stuff.”
Zane picked up the baseball on his desk and tossed it into the air. “He told his superiors he solved cases using psychic powers, then he pointed to another FBI agent as the perp in a dozen abduction cases.”
Blake barked out a laugh. “Shit. Did he get carted off to the funny farm?”
Zane nodded. “Thirty-day psych hold. Then they sent him to teach at a small liberal arts college where he met the genius professor and they fell in love, got married, and had two babies.”
“So, they’re living the American dream. What am I missing?” Blake asked.
“The former colleague—the one he accused of abducting and killing a dozen women? Well, he too disappeared under mysterious circumstances.”
Blake’s gaze shot to his and he sat up straighter in his chair. Yeah, now Zane had his attention. “Okay, I admit, that’s a little weird.”
Zane nodded, pointing to the redhead. “And this one, the doctor? Yeah, this is his husband. He’s a mechanic.”
Blake gazed at the picture of the dark-haired man, shrugging. “That’s it? Your big reveal is that the doctor married a blue-collar guy? Some people like a man who knows how to use their hands. Hell, if I could find a woman who knew a carburetor from a car battery, I’d probably marry her.”
Zane rolled his eyes. “That’s not the suspicious part. He owns that auto shop down the road. The one where there’s a dozen kids running in and out at all hours of the night.”
Blake shook his head. “So, what are you saying, man?”
Zane continued to toss the ball in the air. “I don’t know what I’m saying. Maybe the doc is a dope supplier and the kids are runners? Maybe it’s a chop shop.”
“Why would the son of a billionaire need to run drugs or chop cars? Hell, why would a doctor have to do that? I think you’re reading into shit. Your mom’s got you chasing ghosts, man.”
Zane shook his head. “Well, get this. The mechanic? His sister disappeared a decade ago, then turned up dead in the river, missing a kidney. No explanation given. Nobody even investigated.”
Blake frowned, staring hard at the picture of the man in question. “We live in a shitty neighborhood, man. People wind up in the river all the time. And not to put too fine a point on it, but she’s not white. We all know only rich white ladies get all the attention.”
Zane had thought of that. “Okay, but you don’t think it’s weird that three of Thomas Mulvaney’s sons ended up with men who lost somebody close to them under shady circumstances?” Zane asked.
Blake shook his head, threading his fingers behind his neck as he stared up at the board. “Not really, man. No. My Aunt Carol’s husband beat her to death with a toaster. Christabel, in accounting—somebody killed her cousin with a machete back in Haiti. Beach’s dad got shot and killed in a liquor store holdup. We live in a violent world. The only difference between us and Thomas Mulvaney is that nobody gives a fuck about our lives.”
“I’m telling you, there’s something suspicious about this fucking family.” Zane jumped to his feet. “See these red pins? Those are dead bodies found in the area over the last two years. Look at how many they found in or around Thomas Mulvaney’s properties?”
Blake smiled at him like he was hilarious. “The dude owns most of the city, bro. It would be harder to drop a body on a piece of property not owned by him.”
Zane shook his head, frustration burning through him. Blake was right, but there was something there. Zane’s gut was never wrong. “I need to keep digging. I need to get closer.”
Blake side-eyed him. “No, you need to stop playing Truman Capote and write the copy for the picture I took or you won’t be able to afford the rent on this hideous roach motel you call home. Do you want to ask Bev for money because you lost yet another job?”
Zane hadn’t lost jobs. He’d left jobs. Writing articles for tabloids wasn’t a job. It was a backup plan. If Zane wanted the world to take him seriously as a journalist, he needed to crack a huge story. A story so big even his mother couldn’t find a reason to negate his success.
“Don’t you want to be something more than just paparazzi?” Zane asked.
Blake scoffed. “I make a lot of money taking pics of celebrities. Enough to afford my camera equipment that lets me take the pictures I really want to take. The ones that will win me awards someday.”
Blake was a good guy. He was smart, talented, funny. But he didn’t have the instincts for this. “There’s something here. I know there is. Believing in an altruistic billionaire is like believing in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. They don’t exist.”
“That’s a bit classist, no?” Blake asked.
Zane thrust his jaw forward. “Not if I’m right.”
Blake crumpled the wrapper of his sandwich. “Okay, let’s just say Thomas Mulvaney is the devil. He’s some—what?—high-ranking criminal mastermind. What are you going to do about it? You think you’ll live long enough to even write the article? Pretty sure he once had Obama on speed dial.”
Zane pointed to a grouping of red pins. “Yes. I need to write it. Because of them.”
Blake frowned. “Them?”
Zane nodded. “These men were all killed in a fire on one of Mulvaney’s properties.”
“And?” Blake said.
“And they were a congressman, a priest, a teacher, and a police officer. People with pull. People who had families who miss them.”
“That’s not a story. That’s the start of a bad joke. The story of those men has been told. They were pedophiles. Serial abusers. Nobody misses them. Not even their families. If it turned out Thomas Mulvaney killed them, the city would probably throw him a goddamn parade.”
Zane shook his head. “I just need to get closer.”
“Closer to what?” Blake asked, exasperated.
“To Thomas Mulvaney.”
Getting to Thomas Mulvaney was the key to cracking this story, whatever it was. He needed clues. He needed a trail to follow. There was a difference between suspecting somebody was a criminal mastermind and proving it. To take down the Mulvaney clan, he’d need iron-clad evidence, and for that, Zane would need to get into Thomas Mulvaney’s inner circle.
If Zane could just meet him, convince him he was some altruistic bleeding heart, maybe it would give him just the tiniest peek behind the Mulvaney family’s curtains. But Zane had nothing in common with a one percenter like Mulvaney. Zane had been born middle-class and, through his father’s hard work and perseverance, he’d risen to upper-middle class. Mulvaney probably spent Zane’s rent payment on a tie clip.
“If you were to get to him, how would you do it?” Zane asked.
Nobody knew better than Blake how to get to people who didn’t want to be gotten. He’d seen the man hang upside down from a tree to get a shot of a celebrity.
Blake sighed, pulling out his phone. “You’ll never make it past the front door. Hell, you won’t make it through a backdoor. The best you can hope for is to slip through a basement window, metaphorically speaking.”
“What would Thomas Mulvaney’s basement window be?” Zane asked.
Blake shrugged. “Look at his social media. The man spends his life attending galas for shit like saving alpacas. He takes pictures with little bald-headed cancer kids. If you want to get to him, that’s how you do it.”
“Please, tell me you’re not saying I need to crash a fundraiser for cancer kids.” Zane had some principles.
Blake turned his phone towards Zane. “How about a press awards dinner? Seems he’s receiving some kind of award tonight.”
“How do you know that?” Zane asked.
Blake rolled his eyes. “It’s called the internet, Zane. We all have access to it now, you know?”
Zane huffed. “How do I sneak into a press awards dinner? I don’t think I can just stroll in.”
Blake shook his head. “All those major events are bar-coded now. You have to scan your phone at the door.” He hopped to his feet. “Thanks for lunch, but I gotta go. Oh, and Beach needs that copy in an hour.”
Beach. That was who he needed. She was their editor, and the definition of the word ballbuster had her picture beside it. He pulled out his phone and scrolled to her name, pressing send just as the door closed behind Blake.
She answered on the third ring. “Do you have my ad copy?”
He probably should have called after he finished writing that up. “Not yet. I need a favor.”
Beach scoffed. “No copy, no favor.”
“It’s a little favor. Just a teeny tiny one.”
Beach sighed. “What is it?”
“I just need to get into the press awards dinner tonight.”
“Are you nuts?”
“I can have the copy to you in literally twenty minutes,” Zane bartered. “Please? This could be a huge story.”
“Zane, I am a forty-year-old woman who spends my days playing Let’s Make a Deal with every publicist in the city to keep their celebrity clients either in or out of the public eye, depending on what benefits us all most financially. The only stories I care about are trashy ones. So, unless you’re going to bring me a story where you find Barbara Walters giving a handjob to Matt Lauer under the table at that dinner, I’m not helping you.”
Zane’s lip curled at the all too vivid picture she painted. “Thomas Mulvaney can be plenty juicy if you’d just help me find something.”
Beach groaned. “Are you still on about this? Leave it alone. Nobody cares about corrupt billionaires.”
“Please, Beach. Please? You don’t even have to do anything, I’ll just swap a couple of name cards when I get there.”
Beach scoffed. “You’re not even invited. There is no card swapping when your card doesn’t exist.”
“It’s an awards show for the press. Nobody will give a shit if I crash their little party. Surely, somebody at the paper was invited. We are technically press, right? Just put me in as a sub. I’ll be whoever you want me to be. Please?”
“You know what? Fine. But you better find a goddamn story so juicy you’ll be sticky for a week.”
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You won’t be disappointed.”
“I’ve heard that from almost every man in my life and it’s never true,” she muttered.
Zane heard a lighter flicking, and then Beach inhaled. “I thought you quit smoking?”
“What are you? My mother? Mind your business, nosey.”
“I only care about your health.”
“Fuck this up and it will be your health in question. And Zane?”
“Listen carefully because I mean this. I swear to all the gods and saints, if you get caught stalking Thomas Mulvaney, I’m going to pretend I don’t know who the fuck you are. I will smile and wave as they cart you off in handcuffs.”
Zane snickered. “Handcuffs? For crashing a press dinner? Somehow, I highly doubt that.”
Beach made a we’ll see noise. “Do you even have anything to wear that won’t make you look like a cater-waiter?”
No. No, he didn’t. He wasn’t even sure he owned a tie that didn’t have a stain on it. “That’s hurtful.”
She snorted. “Cry me a river.”
Zane grinned. “Just text me who I’m supposed to be.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she muttered.
“Thanks. You’re the best,” he said sweetly.
“Eat shit,” she said, voice equally saccharine.