- Partners In Crime

- Chapter One

On June 23, 2005, at precisely 7:45 p.m. a black limousine came to a smooth stop in front of my tiny house, just as Mitch's note said it would. I hurried out of the house, nearly tripping down the stairs as I tried to put my silver earrings through my ears. In case you couldn't tell, I was running a bit behind. The driver started to open the door for me, but I motioned for him to wait a minute. I dashed into the large bank barn my two horses called home and hurriedly put the lanky bay and compact palomino in their stalls. My horses both behaved themselves and I was soon making my way back towards the limo. The driver was grinning at me with a twinkle in his eyes. I suppose I had made quite a sight running around the dusty old barn in my dress up clothes. He held the door open for me.

"I see that hasn't changed much. The horses are still more important than me."

That voice stopped me dead in my tracks. I closed my eyes briefly, as though looking at him would make him disappear into thin air again.

"Did you miss me Kat?"

I opened my eyes, only to be reeled in by that amber gaze. The look in those familiar eyes made me feel as though I was the only person on earth. He had no idea just how much I had missed him and my brother. I had spent countless nights laying awake, feeling urged to pray for their safety with no apparent reason why. It almost surprised me to see him alive.

"Mitch." Disbelief was etched into my voice.

"Yup." He agreed, the smile that melted most women coming to his face.

I glared at him. He looked worried for a minute. It was a good thing too. Not a second later I landed a solid sucker punch to his stomach.

"What the hell was that for!" He demanded, clutching his stomach and glaring at me.

"Abandoning me for a year." I answered flippantly.

He pouted. I scooted closer to him and wrapped my arms around him.

"And what was that for?" He asked, returning my hug.

"Abandoning me for a year." I said simply.

His warm chuckle resonated through the limo. I grinned. I had missed him and my brother immensely. Especially since Austin was the only family I had left. As soon as he had turned eighteen our parents had disappeared.

"You look really good Kat." Mitch told me, almost shyly as he toyed with the edge of my dress.

"I can say the same for you." I paused. "You really have no idea how much I missed you and Austin. Between the two of you, you're the only true friends I have. Of the human species anyway."

A strange look crossed Mitch's face. He secured an arm around my waist.

"You know neither of us would have gone anywhere unless it was necessary, right?" He asked, needing for me to understand, which I did.

"I know Mitchie. Don't worry about it." I smiled teasingly and leaned against his shoulder comfortably.

The rest of the ride was spent catching up. It was nice to be back like old times. I couldn't wait to see my brother. According to Mitch, he was engaged and couldn't wait to see me. It never crossed my mind to wonder why my brother and best friend were invited to a party like this. It never even crossed my mind to wonder how Mitch had the power to invite me. I was content to be around one of the few people I was truly comfortable with once again.

The black limo pulled up the drive to an immense mansion that left me in awe. There was no doubt in my mind the house was built to get that effect. The main building was four stories high with two wings stretching on either side that were three stories high. Everything was dark stone with white decorative fences and beautiful potted plants hanging everywhere. There was even a elegantly simple fountain in the middle of the drive where it circled around in front of the mansion. Mitch seemed completely unaffected by the towering building. He just allowed the driver to open the door for him, then he gently took my hand and helped me out of the low slung vehicle.

I could hear the sound of a full orchestra from where we stood. Other than that there was no sign that there was a party going on. Mitch smiled and offered me his arm. I gladly accepted and allowed him to slowly escort me towards the front doors. He seemed to know I was fighting the urge to hide behind him, because he kept a constant, soothing conversation going. We hadn't even reached the front doors and he had me calmed down enough that I wasn't even thinking about the mingling I was going to have to go through, no matter how miniscule it would be. My eyes narrowed suspiciously. He was good at that.

We walked through the doors and a man in an immaculate black tuxedo escorted us to the doorway of an enormous room that served as a modern day ball room. The wall across from where we entered was a magnificent glass contraption with sets of wide doors leading out to the breathtaking gardens. I let my eyes roam over the room. That could have been the reason I didn't realize the whole room had grown quiet upon our arrival. When I did realize it I subconsciously shrank closer to Mitch.

"Why're they staring?" I whispered out of the corner of my mouth.

"They're not used to seeing me with a girl on my arm. Especially not one that puts the rest of the women here to shame." He whispered back, giving the three hundred plus people a grin.

"Oh. When will they stop?" I asked, not as quietly as before.

My mother would have said it was rude, but personally, I found their staring to be more rude than that. It seemed Mitch felt the same, because he matched my voice level and glared at some of the men.

"When they realize they're being rude." He answered.

The orchestra picked up a livelier tune and most people went back to their socializing. Mitch led me farther into the room. I scanned the crowd for any familiar faces I might see. There were none. I didn't even see my brother anywhere. A petite brunette caught my eye. She sent me a glare that had me moving closer to Mitch and gazing at him adoringly, just to make her even more mad. Mitch just sent me an amused glance. I caught his eye and tilted my head a tiny bit towards the girl. A lazy grin spread over his face.

"Don't mind her." He whispered in my ear.

"Why does she look like she wants to kill me. Or eat me alive. She's not a cannibal is she?" I asked worriedly, whispering back in his ear while throwing cautious glances over my shoulder at the girl.

"Because she thinks I belong to her." He said quietly, guiding me so I stood with his broad hands on my waist, looking me in the eye.

"You don't do you?" I asked, disturbed beyond thought by that notion.

The disgusted look on his face made me laugh softly. I guess not.

"Dance with me?" He asked suddenly, a playful look in his eyes.

"Mitch, you know I haven't got a clue how to dance." I reprimanded. "Remember my senior prom?"

"Please?" He pouted.

I stared at him. How a grown man could pull off pouting and still look adorable was beyond me, but he did it. Somehow. And I could feel myself giving in. Thankfully we were interrupted.

"Son, care to introduce me to the lady?" A deep, powerful voice asked with amusement laced through it.

I whirled around to find a man that could have been Mitch in thirty years. I grinned at him. I don't know why, but I liked him immediately.

"I'm Katrina Nelson. And you must be Mitch's dad." I said, proud of myself for getting that mystery solved.

The man looked a little taken aback for a few seconds before letting a genuine laugh escape. I just stared at him strangely for a second. Nothing I had said was all that funny.

"So you're Kat. I'm extremely glad I've finally gotten to meet you. You're good for my son. He needs someone who can't be pushed around." He solemnly shook my hand before turning to Mitch. "And you son, be ready after the speech. We'll need to talk after I get done."

He walked away, pausing every few steps to acknowledge people who called greeting to him. I watched him walk away then glanced at Mitch. I swept my gaze over some of the women that were fawning over him from a distance then back to Mitch. He was studying my reaction with a worried look on his handsome face. I looked around the ballroom, not wanting to believe it. The look in Mitch's eyes confirmed my fears though.

I had always known his family was extremely wealthy. I mean, the boy was driving a Chevrolet '68 Corvette Stingray at seventeen. It had never crossed my mind that my Ashton Mitchell O'Malley was the only son of Thomas O'Malley. Who would have thought. No wonder girls literally threw themselves at him. And here I had complained when he got me a pair of real diamond earrings set in white gold for my sixteenth birthday!

"I get it now. No wonder you wanted your best friend's kid sister to come with you." I said, keeping my tone light, hoping he wouldn't catch onto the hurt that laced it.

Of course I would have no such luck. He sighed and took my hand, leading me towards the gardens. I just followed him silently. He didn't stop until we were perched on the edge of a lily pond in the center of the gardens.

"Kat, don't even think along those lines. I wanted you to come with me because you keep me in line. No one else would dare tell me if I was being an idiot." He traced my cheekbone with the back of his hand. "You're not my best friend's kid sister. Well, actually you are, but you're one of my best friends too. To tell you the truth, I'm more than a little nervous about my dad's announcement tonight. That's why I wanted you here, as well as your brother. Moral support, and to make the rest of the guys jealous."

I sighed. He was talking as though it was everyday news that one of your best friends is the heir to the most powerful empire in the world. So I was in a little bit of shock, get over it. Any normal person would be.

"Mitchie, just give me a minute. It's not everyday you realize just who your best friend is. I'm not going to freak out, but it's kind of funny. I gave the most sought after bachelor in the world a bloody nose." I giggled a tad hysterically. "Imagine that. Oh man." I realized something disturbing. "I really am a freak."

Mitch stared at me for a second before pulling me gently under his arm. I suppressed the rest of my giggles. He still smelled like my buddy Mitch, so I was okay. I drilled that thought into my head. He was still just Mitch. My Mitchie.

Enough of that. I wasn't going to be able to keep from giggling out of control if I kept that up. I frowned at myself. Why I kept doing things that enforced the freak comment, I don't know.

I don't know how long we simply sat and watched the fish darting around the lily pads, but I was willing to accept the fact that Mitch and I would never be anything but friends, seeing as he was going to have multitudes of women falling at his feet for the rest of his life. I scrunched my nose. He was most likely going to have to marry some girl to join two big companies or something as equally screwed up. I rolled my eyes and vowed to never let him get an over inflated ego, no matter were he ended up. If I had to, I would send him reminders in prison.

The people that had been mingling in the gardens began heading for the house and we followed them. Thomas O'Malley was standing before a microphone, his eyes searching the crowd for his son. I untangled my arm from Mitch's and sent him on his way up to the raised platform. He pleaded with me to go with him with his eyes. I sent him a stern look that had him on his way by himself.

A few women sent me looks, but I matched the glares and settled myself against the wall near the platform. Mitch stood beside his father and looked around. I caught his gaze and was flattered when he visibly relaxed when I sent him a reassuring smile. I flicked my gaze towards his father, who had effectively hushed the crowd. Mitch caught my meaning and turned his attention to his father. I did the same.

"I want to thank you all for attending tonight." This brought polite applause from the crowd. "Tonight is the night I will publicly state the terms that my son must meet in order to inherit the O'Malley business and fortune."

You could have heard a pin drop as over three hundred people waited with baited breath to hear what hoops Mitch would have to jump through to become the head of the empire.

"Over the past year my son and the man he has chosen to be his second in command, so to speak, have been in an apprentice type trial. They have increased profits and decreased expenditures. I feel confident in handing Ashton the reins to my family business. And I fully plan to with in the next six months. There is one condition I feel I have to enforce." He took a breath. I could see Mitch holding his. "In the next six months my son must find a wife. And not just a woman to parade around. Someone who will be happy with him and make him happy at the same time."

The whole hall was silent. Mitch was staring at his dad with wide eyes. Heck, I was staring at his dad with wide eyes. Looked like I was going to be losing him quicker than I thought. His gaze caught mine just as an arm clamped around my waist. Alarm spread through my body when I felt the edge of a knife pressed against my ribs.

"Now, please, let the party continue." Thomas commanded, as the orchestra began a rather haunting melody.

"Come quietly." A gruff voice whispered in my ear.

No one heard him over the rustling and whispers that had spread at the end of Thomas O'Malley's announcement. I threw a frantic look towards Mitch. His eyes narrowed.

The man dragged me through the same glass door Mitch had earlier in the night. I almost laughed at the irony of it. He still had the knife pressed to my ribs. I walked beside him with my head up defiantly and anger sparking from my eyes, even though I could feel the stick sensation of blood trickling from where the knife was pressed to my skin. The man, dressed in a black tux with, tossed me at the base of a tree. I glared up at him, pure malice in my eyes. I didn't even feel the relatively deep knife wound.

He was maliciously handsome, the bitterness that accompanied the meanness and malice in his eyes made him so. I had an overwhelming urge to growl and bite at him like a cornered wolf. Trust me to react like an animal.

"Ashton would have amazing taste, now wouldn't he." The man said, almost to himself. "Yes. I imagine you keep him on his toes, do you not?" He asked rhetorically. "Quite the wildcat you are. Beautiful, yet deadly. No doubt he will miss you." He reared back as though to through the knife at me.

I had no doubt I was a dead woman. There was no way he could miss. It was point blank. Even then, I refused to close my eyes. Let him be haunted for the rest of his life.

Instead of the knife burying itself in my heart it fell to the ground. I stared at him, confused. It wasn't until I noticed where his gaze had flown to that I understood. Right where his arm attached to his torso the black handle of another knife protruded grotesquely. His disbelieving eyes flickered to mine before he crumpled to the ground as well.

"Is he dead?" I asked dazedly, turning to where I instinctively knew Mitch was standing.

He strode forward and checked a pulse. He shook his head grimly.

"No." He paused. "Unfortunately."

Mitch's usually warm eyes were as cold as a polar ice cap and more deadly than a copperhead's venom. For the first time in my life I knew what fear was. He was the alpha male and expected to be treated as such. That included protecting his territory, a.k.a his friends, a.k.a me. I vaguely registered him gently cradling me to his chest as I wondered if every man that riled him felt the bone chilling fear I had. Actually they probably suffered more, his anger hadn't even been directed towards me. It was then that I tacked the 'dangerous' on my description of him.

"Mitchie? I'm bleeding." I said in a tiny voice.

He paused mid stride and placed me on a stone bench under the soft glow of a decorative lantern. I removed my hand from my side. He carefully examined the gash along my ribs. The blood was slowly trickling down my side. It startled me when he looked stricken and quickly scooped me back up into his arms. I frowned.

"I'll be okay. He only nicked me." I told him matter-of-factly, wondering why there were black spots in my vision.

"Yeah, only nicked you, but he nicked a bleeder. Meaning you're losing more blood than you think." He explained patiently, even though he couldn't hide the anxiousness in his voice from me. He could never hide anything from me.

I smiled goofily as he carted me towards the towering mansion. The black dots in my vision were fun to play connect the dots with!

"Kat, don't black out." Mitch commanded. I wondered what he was talking about. I wasn't going to black out.

"Hmm." I agreed lazily.

"You are not leaving me, not when I have to be married in six months." He said desperately.

I frowned at him. What in the world would I have to do with him getting married? He'd be married whether I was there or not. Stupid boy.

The dots grew larger until I could see nothing but black. I mentally slapped myself as I slid under. Guess I lied. Oops. I blinked twice before I was unconscious to the world.


Okay, apparently I did post this before, I'm really glad I did. So, anywho, I'll be posting the chapters up through six daily (sp?) and hopefully getting some reviews. I know everyone that already read this is probably ready to smack me. I honestly don't blame any of ya'll that are feeling that way... but please refrain. I need all the brain cells I can keep! Ahem. Anyway

Thanks for the reviews and please take pity on me and tell me what you're thinking. Smack me, not on the head, if I get too off track or end up making this stupid, because I finally got the personality of the characters down to where I want them. I'm excited.

Bye. I'm leaveing now...