Authors: Cherrie Mack
Little Black Box: Book 1
Published by Liquid Silver Books, imprint of Atlantic Bridge Publishing, 10509 Sedgegrass Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana 46235. Copyright © Published 2013, Cherrie Mack. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Liquid Silver Books
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
When Prince Charming comes looking for the woman who stole his heart at a Manhattan shoe store, he instead finds her stepsister, Allie. Allie doesn’t leave the best impression with the handsome Zach Brady, who quickly dismisses her as the maid. But an unusual fairy godmother with bulging biceps, long hair, and a cool demeanor has plans for her. Can Allie keep herself from falling for the wrong man and convince him to help her snag Zach? This duo quickly learns that sometimes if the shoe fits, the pair could be all wrong.
To my husband Keith, my happily ever after. To my children, Rachel and Maxwell, owners of my heart. For my siblings, Linda, Randall, Jeff, Diane, and Robert, my memories.
To LSB for yet another amazing experience.
Allie Adams shivered in the back seat of a yellow cab. New York City weather was tricky this time of year. The days were a tease, a reminder that spring was in reach, while the evenings delivered a bite of lingering winter. Her appointment at Martin and Slotsky, Esq. was scheduled for the end of the work day. The cold wasn’t the only thing making Allie’s skin prickle. A meeting with Gregory Chadwick’s lawyer to go over his estate was a chore she did not look forward to. And an appointment Allie knew would end her comfortable existence.
After paying the taxi driver, Allie stood in front of One Liberty Plaza and looked up at the high-rise building. Going in, she was clueless. But coming out? She would know her fate. She took a deep breath and entered the crowded lobby. Having to fight her way to the elevator through the throngs of people exiting the building was like shopping a sample sale at Bergdorf Goodman. Smoothing her hair down, she reached out with a shaky hand, pressing number eleven on the elevator panel. Gregory Chadwick had been a good man and generous to her and her mother.
Oh Mom, how I wish you were here with me.
When Allie exited the elevator, she noticed a bustle of activity. Boxes were loaded on carts, and moving furniture was being hauled up and out of the offices. As she squeezed by the moving men, one shot her a disgusted look. What had happened to men? No one waited for a lady to pass anymore?
And he looked like one too. Tattoos and a bandanna wrapped around his head made him look threatening. Allie liked the well-groomed, mannerly type of man. She had no use for rough-looking men who seemed to have too much testosterone and an insatiable appetite for proving their masculinity.
She approached the reception area. The secretary, without looking up, abrasively asked, “Are you Allie Adams?”
“Yes, I am.”
The secretary gathered her papers and tapped them on the desk to straighten them. She eyed Allie up and down. “Sorry for the mess. We’re in the process of moving suites.” She pointed above her head. “Another fifteen floors up.”
“Oh. Good luck,” Allie said.
“Thanks.” Her annoyed tone told Allie she didn’t welcome the extra work.
“You can follow me.” Walking behind her, Allie noticed her tight clothing. The skirt was so restrictive it made her walk like a duck. Why did women feel the need to show off their bodies by wearing clothing so snug? She was the opposite. Her clothing sometimes hung too loosely on her body, making her look bigger than she was.
“Mr. Slotsky will be with you in a minute. I’d offer you something to drink, but I’m afraid our refreshments have already been moved.”
“That’s okay. I’m fine.”
And isn’t it lucky for you? I wouldn’t want you to have to waddle all the way over to the tea for little ole me.
* * * *
Allie looked at her watch and two seconds later looked again. She had been waiting nearly twenty minutes already.
Lawyers! Why do they bother with appointment times?
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Allie dear.” Mr. Slotsky appeared in the doorway. His gray hair held remnants of black from the days of his youth. He had been a good friend to Gregory throughout her mother’s illness. The old college buddy still seemed shaken over the unexpected death of his friend.
“That’s okay, Mr. Slotsky.”
“Ed. You can call me Ed, dear. How are you holding up? I know it’s been quite a year for you.”
“As best I can. Ed.”
“And nursing school? How’s that been going for you?”
“It’s been keeping me busy. Between school and volunteering at Longwood Hospice House, I don’t have much time on my hands.”
He rubbed his chin. “I suppose that’s best.”
“Yes, it is. Look, Ed, I’m really nervous right now. I haven’t got a job, and I can’t pay the mortgage payments on the apartment. My boards are coming up, and I need to know what’s going on.”
“Yes. I’m afraid this is going to get complicated, Allie.”
“I figured. I wasn’t Gregory’s real daughter, and I’m of legal age, so I guess it’s just a matter of his wishes.”
Ed Slotsky got up and paced his office with his hands clasped behind his back. “Allie, Gregory and I grew up together. We played stick ball in the street as kids and were always as thick as thieves. He was a good man, and when he met your mother—and you, of course—his eyes shone with love for the first time since I’d known him. He was absolutely devastated when your mother was diagnosed. He had plans to ask her to be his wife, you know.”
Allie shifted in her chair. She didn’t want to be reminded of all the pain she had endured in the last eighteen months. Mr. Slotsky sat on the edge of his desk in front of her. He reached for her hand, and she cautiously allowed him to take it. He continued, “Anyway, when he focused on getting her treatment, everything else fell by the wayside. When she died, as you know, he fell into a depression and his life became empty.”
“I know. I lived with him. He couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning. Until
that is.” The distaste for Trudy Monroe stopped her from allowing even the name to roll off her tongue.
“Yes.” He stared away as if recalling the memory of seeing his friend fall into the trappings of an old lover and her ghastly daughter, Adrienne. His gaze traveled back to hers. “Allie, Gregory never updated his estate. Although I personally know he would have wanted you to have half of everything, my hands are tied legally. His will states that if he should have a biological child, the bulk of the fortune should go to his heir.”
“But he doesn’t have a biological child.”
“Hmm. How can I say this? Allie, Gregory has a child. He found out a few weeks before his accident. He was struggling with how and when to tell you, and I know in time he would’ve updated his will, but—”
“He didn’t,” she cut him off.
Mr. Slotsky slowly shook his head.
Allie sucked on her bottom lip to keep it from trembling. “Does this person know about me?”
“Yes, and this is where it gets—” He made quotes in the air. “—sticky.”
Allie hung her head.
This is life handing me another grenade! When will it end?
She lifted her eyes to his. “Can I stay in the apartment for a few weeks until I take my boards?”
“That would be up to the benefactor of the estate.”
“Can I trade my services in lieu of rent? You know, keep the apartment clean and ready to show for real estate and help clean out Gregory’s things.”
“This person wants to take possession right away.”
“Right away? Like when right away?”
Allie pulled her hand from his grasp. “What? Is that even legal? Mr. Slotsky, you know I have no one. I have no savings because I’d been volunteering at the hospice house. Gregory told me not to worry. He said he’d rather I volunteer and get the experience I needed to help decide whether or not I wanted to be a hospice nurse. What can I do? Can I talk to this person?”
Ed Slotsky moved to the door and called out to his secretary. “Send them in.”
They were here?
Suddenly she felt like this whole meeting was a set up. Anger boiled in her veins. Allie turned to the doorway and disbelief caused her to choke on her own saliva. In walked Trudy Monroe and her hateful daughter, Adrienne.
Allie Adams wore black. Her stepsister, Adrienne, wore black as well. But underneath Adrienne’s black trousers and dark purple, man-tailored shirt, she wore red. Allie wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it for herself. A red bra and frilly red panties adorned Adrienne’s beautifully-toned body. Allie thought it said volumes about her phony stepsister.
Thinking about how Gregory called them stepsisters was enough to make her gag. But she supposed it was his way of showing her she belonged. She wouldn’t be mad with Gregory; she couldn’t. Although their time together was short, he was the only father she’d ever known.
The luncheon at Chadwick and Fritz Web Design, one of the many companies he had started, was in honor of Gregory. She had no choice but to attend. Sitting at
was a slight she thought Trudy and Adrienne rather enjoyed. Allie uncrossed her legs and straightened her posture. She was tiring of watching the show in which Adrienne played the devastated little girl—and every man in the room was falling over themselves to console her.
Allie snorted. Gregory Chadwick would think this a mockery. Closing her eyes, she recalled Mr. Slotsky’s words. “Allie, Gregory had no idea Adrienne was his biological daughter. Trudy never told him. She was too busy marrying someone else.”
Allie opened her eyes and squirmed in her chair. Fidgety and impatient, she excused herself to go to the powder room for a breather. Trudy shot her a sympathetic smile as she got up to leave.
Once in the ladies room, Allie applied fresh lipstick while glancing at her reflection in the mirror. She really was unnoticeable. Her mousy, light brown hair lacked shine, and her eyes were drab. Her body was lean, but her clothing was outdated and too big. She never put any effort into taking care of herself. When her mother got sick, it was all about her care, and Allie had let herself go.
Taking one more look, Allie wondered why she bothered. Walking into a room where Adrienne was present was like sending a baton thrower into the big parade after the arrival of the winning team.
That I’m never on.
She shrugged her shoulders at her reflection and wondered when she’d become so angry and despondent.
Oh yeah. It was when life yet again kicked me to the curb.
On her way back to the luncheon, Allie stopped. Just on the other side of the double doors applause erupted for the late Gregory Chadwick’s daughter, Adrienne. Unable to bear it, she turned herself around and walked out. She had to make a change, the sooner the better.
* * * *
Allie pulled her long hair up on top of her head and tied it. She had put off cleaning for three days, and it was only a matter of time before Adrienne would say something. After scooting out of the luncheon early, she had decided to clean up before Adrienne came back. She was probably shopping anyway. She hardly missed an opportunity to stop and buy something lavish, and Allie had a hunch she’d reward herself very well for attending the luncheon.
As she finished her cleaning routine, she compensated herself with her favorite cup of peppermint tea. As she blew over the surface to cool it down, she smiled.
Ah … the first sip is always the best
. Until she heard the chatter. It was a sound Allie knew well, and it told her Adrienne wasn’t alone. Trudy, the evil queen mother, accompanied her daughter home from a hard afternoon of shopping, no doubt. Allie placed her tea cup down on the table without so much as taking a sip and looked longingly at the steam as it rose into the air. Why couldn’t she become like the smoky water and float above all the hot water down below? She pushed her chair back from the kitchen table and walked into the front room.
Both women held more shopping bags than they could handle and had been laughing at the expression on the driver’s face as they made him carry their purchases to the car.
Trudy smirked at her. “Where did you disappear to?”
“I had cleaning to do.”
So sorry I ruined your gloating time.