Authors: Helen Hardt
This book is an original publication of Helen Hardt.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not assume any responsibility for third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2016 Waterhouse Press, LLC
Cover Design by Waterhouse Press, LLC
Cover Photographs: Shutterstock
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic format without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
his book contains
adult language and scenes, including flashbacks of child physical and sexual abuse, which may cause trigger reactions. This story is meant only for adults as defined by the laws of the country where you made your purchase. Store your books and e-books carefully where they cannot be accessed by younger readers.
For my two amazing, handsome, and talented sons,
Eric and Grant.
May you find happiness in every moment.
, Wendy,” I said into the receiver. “This is Jade Roberts again from Snow Creek.”
A heavy sigh whooshed through the phone line and into my ears. “What can I do for you, Jade?”
“You can tell me about the relationship between Larry Wade and Daphne Steel.”
Silence for a few moments. Then, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I have reason to believe that Larry Wade and Daphne Steel were half-brother and half-sister.”
And again, silence.
“Look, Wendy, I know you don’t want to get involved in this, but I care about the Steels.”
“You’re just doing Larry’s dirty work.”
“Yes, and no. I’m researching them for him for classified reasons, but as you know, I have my own agenda.”
“Why did someone tamper with Daphne’s birth certificate and marriage certificate? Why didn’t anyone think to change her father’s first and middle names while they were in there?”
“I’m not sure what tree you’re barking up, Jade, but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Look, I’m not stupid. The last name on Daphne’s marriage certificate is Wade. Her birth certificate notes that her father’s name is Jonathan Conrad Warren. Larry Wade’s father is Jonathan Conrad Wade.”
Another heavy sigh. “Well, you’re the attorney,” she said. “Piece together the evidence.”
“I already have pieced it together. What I want to know is
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that.”
“Because I’m not sure I know myself.”
I didn’t believe her, of course. In my mind’s eye, I saw her stroking her cheek with her index finger. But I wasn’t ready to pack up everything and fly out to talk to her again if she wasn’t willing to cooperate.
“All right, Wendy. I understand. If you ever feel differently about things, please call me. You have my number.”
We said our goodbyes and ended the call.
I shifted my focus to a couple of DUIs for the remainder of the day. I was due in court in the morning for arraignments. Besides, I had to let go of the Steels for a few hours. As much as I loved Talon and the rest of his family, I needed to escape it all, if only for a few hours. This research was taking its toll.
When I finished work on the DUIs, I got on the Internet to look at tattoo shops in Grand Junction. Maybe I’d drive into the city over the weekend and check one of them out. Maybe find a new image. One that wouldn’t upset Talon so much.
I was sipping from a bottle of water when Larry stuck his head inside my office.
“I’m taking off early, Jade,” he said. “Did you need anything before I go?”
I pushed some documents across my desk. “Just your signature on these.”
“Sure, no problem.” He entered my office, clad in shorts, a Hawaiian-print shirt, flip-flops.
“Going to the beach?” I smiled.
“I wish. Nope, just taking the grandkids out for the afternoon. Do you have any plans for the weekend?”
“I might go into the city.”
“Yeah, what for?”
“I’m thinking about getting a tattoo.” My phone buzzed. “Excuse me for a minute.” I picked up the receiver. “Yes?”
“It’s a Ted Morse for you, Jade,” Michelle said.
Colin’s father? Why would he be calling me? “Okay, put him through.” I turned to Larry. “I’ll just be a minute.”
He nodded, took the documents, and sat down in the chair opposite me, perusing them.
“This is Jade,” I said into the phone.
“Jade, Ted Morse. I need some answers.”
Would I ever be free of this family? “What do you mean?”
“Where the hell is my son, Jade? He was supposed to fly home after that court appearance. No one’s seen him since he left here.”
My blood froze in my veins. “He didn’t show up in court. The last time I saw him was Saturday evening.”
Silence for a few seconds, and then, “I’ll be in touch.” The line went dead.
Where was Colin? Dread crawled up my spine and lodged in the fine hairs on the back of my neck.
Larry sat across from me, staring. “Everything okay?”
“Yes, yes. That was my ex-fiancé’s father, just looking for him.”
“I see.” Larry scribbled his signature on the last document. “So your tattoo. May I ask where you’re getting it?”
“I don’t know yet. Maybe a shop in Grand Junction.”
He laughed. “I mean where on your body.”
“Oh. Sure. On my lower back.”
“Good spot. Your first?”
“They hurt like hell.”
“So I’ve heard. But I’ll be fine.”
He turned to leave, and my pulse raced double-time.
Don’t let him go.
I needed to know things, things that only he could tell me. And now Colin had disappeared. I doubted Larry had anything to do with that, but I feared Talon might. Damn it, I wanted some answers. So I risked losing my job and my access to all the databases. I needed to start now. For my own sanity.
He turned around. “Yes?”
“Before you go, I need to ask you some questions about the Steel investigation.”
“Well, as I’ve told you, most of that’s classified, but I’ll help if I can.”
I drew in a breath, gathering my courage. “I want to know about your sister. Daphne Steel.”
His eyes grew dark, and he walked around to my side of the desk. I trembled. But what could he do? We were in a public office, and Michelle and David were right outside. I met his angry gaze and then dropped my own to the floor, berating myself for not being able to look him in the eye.
Cheap flip-flops. But something was off.
Larry was missing a toe—the little toe on his left foot.
you just say to me?” Larry’s voice was dark with anger.
I lifted my gaze from his feet and looked straight into his fierce blue eyes. “I said I want to know about Daphne Steel.”
“Are you sure that’s all you said?”
My heart hammered wildly. Could he sense my nerves? Looking at him—his frozen blue eyes, his mouth a straight line, his creepy balding head, anger strained around his edges—I saw him for what he was.
Larry Wade was a sociopath. And I feared I had just crossed a line into dangerous territory.
I gulped and nodded. I berated myself for fearing this unethical piece of shit. But he was so close to me. The irate cold drifted from his body, frosting the air between us. Even though David and Michelle were right outside the office, I couldn’t go forward with my questioning about their probable familial relationship. That would take bravery I didn’t possess at the moment. So I decided to play it down, ask again without the “sister” reference, and relate it to the mysterious five-million-dollar withdrawal.
“Yes, I want to know about Daphne Steel. I think it will help the investigation.”
“I thought you said something else.”
I cleared my throat. “No. You must have misunderstood me.”
He raised one eyebrow. God, he looked sinister. For a moment I wasn’t sure he was going to say anything.
Then, “Daphne Steel died almost twenty-five years ago.”
I chewed on my lower lip. “I know that. That’s also right around the time when that five-million-dollar transfer was made out of one of the Steels’ accounts to an unknown recipient.”
Larry backed away slowly, and my panic lessened, but just a bit. If I had to, I could leapfrog over my desk and run out the door. Though in my pencil skirt and high heels, it would be a feat.
“Interesting,” Larry said. “I hadn’t considered that angle.”
I didn’t believe him for a minute. I was investigating the Steels on the city’s dime, but this was very personal to Larry, despite the fact that he’d said the Steels were “good people” the first time we’d met. Why would someone want to cover up the fact that he and Daphne Steel were half-brother and half-sister? Of course, I could certainly understand why the Steels wouldn’t want to be associated with him. He was a true sleazebag. Ethics meant nothing to him, and now his coldness was scaring the hell out of me.
“You told me to look for anything that was out of the ordinary. I think that’s out of the ordinary.”
He nodded. “It does seem odd. Have you had any luck finding out where the withdrawal went?”
I shook my head. In truth, I hadn’t had the chance to investigate the withdrawal any further. I’d been too busy exploring the link between Larry and Daphne and the cover up of Talon’s heroism. “They cover their tracks pretty well. I haven’t been able to come up with anything.”
I doubted, however, that the withdrawal had anything to do with Daphne Steel. I suspected it was related to whatever Wendy Madigan wasn’t telling me about what happened twenty-five years ago.
“Honestly,” Larry said, “I wouldn’t go delving into Daphne Steel anymore. From what I know of her, she was very troubled. Investigating a dead woman won’t lead to any pertinent information.”
Maybe not for him. Besides, he hadn’t shared with me the reason why he was investigating the Steels, other than his idea that they were allegedly involved in organized crime and laundering funds. I didn’t believe that, not for a minute. Then again, I knew very little about Talon’s father. Maybe Bradford was the place to start. Clearly, Larry didn’t want me uncovering anything else with regard to Daphne.
I’d continue to do his dirty work because it meant I could help Talon, Marj, and their brothers in the process. I’d also keep my ears and eyes open for another job. I wasn’t going to work for this asshole one minute longer than I had to.
I no longer felt safe here.
“Of course,” I said, “if that’s what you want. I won’t look any further into Daphne. Enjoy your afternoon and evening with the grandkids.” I hoped he’d take that as an invitation to leave.
Instead, he stared at me with his icy eyes, never blinking. Not once. I turned back to some work on my desk.
And then, “Jade?”
I looked up and met Larry’s gaze. “Yes?” Invisible snakes slithered over my flesh. Just being in this close proximity with Larry made my skin crawl. Something was off about him, and it had nothing to do with his missing toe. If my instincts were correct, it went way beyond his bending of legal ethics as well.
He curved his lips upward in a sleazy half smile. “You have a good weekend.” He turned and walked slowly out of the room.
A full twenty minutes passed before I felt secure enough to stand and leave the office.