Authors: M.V. Miles
By M.V. Miles
This publication has been years in the making. Literally.
But I didn’t give up and that’s my advice to you. Never give up.
I would like to thank my sounding board Cathi, Dave and Poco!! Without them I’m sure this would be buried on my desk somewhere.
I would like to thank two of my biggest supporters my sister Jennifer and my friend of …oh forever Lori! They listened to me complain, create, and build on ideas over and over again. They never gave up on me. Ever. Thank you!
Thanks to an awesome editor, Jeanne. She has always answered my emails or Facebook messages with positive and enlightening advice.
To the many beta readers out there: Crazy Girl, Jessie, Michelle, Kimbo-slice and T-Fig just to name a few, thank you! Your honesty helped this become a dream come true.
Also a big thanks to 81designs for the amazing cover!! Visit them at
P.S. To A.K.C., the realist, dreams do come true!!
P.S.S. To Susie, Dolores, and Genevieve….you may be gone, but you all believe in me! Miss you! Love you both always!
Cuban cigar smoke hung heavy in the hidden room behind the main office of Van Buren & Associates Law Firm. There was just enough space for a poker table that seated six, plus a dealer, and a mahogany bar that held nothing cheaper than thousand dollar-a-bottle liquor. Everyone was out but Remington Van Buren, the head of the successful business, and Stuart McDaniel, a longtime dedicated employee.
Van Buren surveyed his adversary with great interest. He noticed how McDaniel’s blue eyes zeroed in on the five cards in his hands. He glanced down at his own; he wasn’t worried about losing.
He knew that McDaniel’s win-loss ratio was five-to-one in the courtroom. Also that he showed up at every company event, never questioned authority, and did what was needed to get the job done. Just the individual he’d been searching for. He was ready to offer McDaniel a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, while providing himself the peace of mind he’d been seeking. He stood, placing his well-manicured hands on the edge of the green felt table. “Sorry boys, but this game has come to an end.”
“All right, you heard the man,” the dealer said, packing up the abandoned cards and chips. Ever obedient to Van Buren's demands, the lawyers made their way out of the room, chattering amongst themselves, with McDaniel bringing up the rear.
“McDaniel, stay, if you would. We have a game to finish and business to discuss.” Van Buren strode to the chestnut bar and poured two glasses of Glen Garioch, 1958 whiskey. He downed a shot of his favorite beverage and refilled before facing McDaniel. The dark burgundy walls and the lingering spicy scent of recently-smoked Gurkha cigars soothed him. “You play a good game of poker. Do you play often?” Van Buren approached the table with the drinks.
“Every Friday night.”
“It surprises me that I’ve never played poker with you before. Why is that?” He slid a glass of whiskey over to McDaniel.
“Good question. I was wondering the same thing,” he said, meeting Van Buren’s eyes with a guarded expression. It was obvious he knew something was up.
“Do you have any idea why you’re here?”
“No, not all.”
His gaze settled on McDaniel, and he was briefly reminded of a younger version of himself: an astute businessman who was willing to do anything—legal or otherwise—to advance his career. “There’s something important I wanted to discuss with you, but let's make it fun, shall we?”
What if the plan backfired?
He glanced at the Van Gogh painting on the wall. A gift from a grateful client, one whom Stuart helped defend. It eased his doubts.
“What did you have in mind?” McDaniel shuffled his cards, glancing up.
“I have a wager for you.” He pulled a cigar from the breast pocket of his tailored black Versace suit.
“Continue.” McDaniel studied a liquor stain on the felt.
“You have a daughter?”
McDaniel didn’t respond right away. Instead he raised his head, his face full of questions. “Yes, I have a daughter.”
“Let’s say if I win, then your daughter marries my eldest son, Jackson.” He paused, satisfied with McDaniel’s shocked expression, and then continued, “She’s what, a sophomore at Willow Brooke Academy?”
McDaniel’s mouth fell open.
Van Buren couldn’t help but smile, just a little. This was turning out to be a great night after all. “I like to keep close tabs on
of my employees; especially those I feel can benefit me.” As he watched McDaniel squirm, he rolled the cigar between his fingers. “There’s no harm in saying no. It’s just a wager, between colleagues.”
After a few monotonous moments, McDaniel found his voice. “This is not, ‘just a wager,’” he said, his tone wavering with fury. “You’re asking me to
daughter to marry your son. What are you after?”
“Let’s be frank,” Van Buren said, clipping off the end of his cigar with a loud crunch. “You possess nothing I want; it’s about what I can do for
. You have everything to gain by accepting my proposal. So what’s the problem?”
Again McDaniel hesitated, which confused Van Buren. He lit his cigar and tried to relax. The chair squeaked as he stretched out, watching the man closely, careful not to betray his impatience.
“No offense, boss, but your eldest son isn’t someone I see my daughter marrying, let alone associating with.” McDaniel slammed his fists down, causing the whiskey to slosh around in its glass. “I mean, wasn’t he just arrested for drug possession and assaulting an officer? And last year, didn’t he spend time in a mental institution for trying to kill himself?”
Van Buren calmly rested his cigar on a crystal ashtray and straightened his tie before speaking. Narrowing his eyes, he stood, hands gripping the edge of solid oak table. “Those charges were dropped. You’re mistaken about the other. My son was never in a mental institution. He was admitted to the hospital for observation, as a result of severe dehydration. There is nothing wrong with him other than the same teenage problems I’m sure you’re experiencing with your children.” He stared hard into McDaniel’s placid eyes.
McDaniel averted his gaze to the floor, unresponsive.
Van Buren needed to find out who was ratting out his personal business and fire them
. If McDaniel knew about Jackson’s suicide attempt, then who else knew?
He didn’t have time to worry about that now.
“You could consider this my way of saying thank you for all the hard work you’ve done. I promise your daughter will want for nothing the rest of her life. And I won’t have to worry about my son marrying someone who is after his money. I do have a legacy to keep together, and I’m asking
to be a part of it.”
McDaniel nodded. “As much as I want to believe you, I don’t. So why don’t you cut to the chase and tell me what my daughter really has to do with this arrangement?”
He laughed. He wasn’t expecting McDaniel to be so suspicious.
He watched as McDaniel lifted the glass and wrinkled his nose at the strong smell and put the drink down.
“Do you even think your son will follow through with your master plan?" McDaniel asked. "He seems to do as he pleases without a single regard to you or the rest of the world. He knows the rules don’t apply to him.”
Van Buren knew his son had troubles, but who didn’t? He considered bringing up McDaniel’s problem with infidelity and the consistent flow of young, attractive women coming in and going out of his office most weeknights, but chose not to. Instead he wished he had brought the bottle of whiskey to the table. Had he known McDaniel would drag his feet, he would have considered someone else.
But there was no one else, was there?
“You underestimate the power I have over my son.”
McDaniel drained his glass, wincing at the intensity of the drink as a chilling smile settled on his face. “You have a deal, but on the condition I get to be partner and if I win this game, you change the name of the firm.” He leaned forward, eyes glittering with greed.
Deep in thought, Van Buren tapped his silver lighter on edge of the table. He could use some help running the firm, but he didn’t know how he was going to swing a new partner by the Trustee board. Still there were ways. The Trustees were only a minor obstacle. He extinguished his cigar.
At least his legacy would be intact.
“So do we have a deal?” McDaniel pushed.
Van Buren nodded. This discussion had put a damper on his mood. “After you.” He gestured for McDaniel to turn over his cards.
McDaniel flipped over his cards one at a time to reveal a straight flush. Then he sat back in his chair, smiling like a kid at Christmas.
“Very nice.” Then he turned over his hand. He didn’t have to look at the cards to know he’d won. The blood draining from McDaniel’s face was proof enough. He left the room smiling. McDaniel could show himself out. He had some planning to do.
Sleet smacked against the barred windows of the county jail, as I awaited my fate on a cold metal chair in a dimly lit interrogation room. Running away seemed like such an easy task, but I hadn’t factored in getting caught. I rested my forehead on my hands and tried to imagine what was going to happen now.
I was so tired of drama
. The door opened and closed, but I didn’t bother looking up. Strong coffee mixed with men’s cologne tickled my nose and turned my stomach at the same time.
Probably another stupid officer ready to advise me of my options, if there were any.
“Addison?” a man asked, and I raised my head, expecting to see a black uniform, but instead a middle-aged man I’d never seen before sat down in front of me. His blue-green eyes were full of questions, as he ran his fingers through his dark blonde hair, a habit I’m sure he did a lot, because the hair stayed separated.
Who the hell was this guy?
A slight smile crept over his face as he slid a steaming Styrofoam cup over to me.
Coffee, thank god.
I wrapped my hands around the warm cup and stared into the dark liquid.
What if there was something mixed in it?
I didn’t know this guy. I stared back at the man.
Instead of speaking, he rolled up the sleeves of his dark blue Polo sweater, exposing a rather expensive-looking Rolex on his right wrist. Then he propped up his calculator-sized phone with a mini- kickstand and sat upright before taking me in.
Maybe he was some kind of detective?
Our eyes locked for a brief moment before I glanced down at his hands.
My mom said you could tell a lot about a person by their hands. His hands seemed smooth and well-kept. They certainly didn’t look like any working hands I’d seen.
“Uh so…Dr. Franklin informed me that you like your coffee black.”
Dr. Franklin, as in my mentor of six years?
She knew I was here and didn’t want to see me?
“That’s nice. Is she still here?” I glanced at the two-way mirror.
“No, but we did talk this morning. I’m sorry we have to meet under these circumstances.”
I’m sure he didn’t know anything about
circumstances. My only relative’s dead and oh yah, did I mention I was arrested?
Thunder clapped outside and the lights flickered, as if warning me of what was to come. The man didn’t say anything, just stared at me like I had devil horns.
I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I’d seen him somewhere, maybe a photo?
I picked at the black plastic lining of the table, and after a few moments of awkward silence, I wanted answers. “I don’t want to assume anything. So why don’t you begin by telling me who you are and why you’re here.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Stuart McDaniel, your supposed father.” He extended his hand, but I didn’t take it. All I could do was gawk at him with my mouth gaping wide. He had to be kidding. As far as I knew my father was dead.
“Where’s my daddy?” I asked Mom as we walked down an abandoned street one frosty November night.
“He’s dead. Died. Gone forever,” she replied.
It was freezing outside, but we didn’t have anywhere to stay, so to keep warm, we walked. Her teeth chattered against the wintry air, which made me wish she’d taken that abandoned jacket at the bus station we’d visited earlier.
She picked up speed. So I looped my arm through hers to keep her close. I didn’t want her disappearing again. “Where’s he buried?”
“In a cemetery, duh, where all dead people are.”
“Can we go see him?”
“Do you always have to ask so many questions?”
“Yes. It’s how I learn, duh. Can we go see him tonight? It’s not like we have anywhere to be.”
We hastened our pace and an hour later, she pushed open a squeaky iron gate leading into a graveyard.
“Wait. Are there ghosts here?” I latched onto her hand.
“No, you’re fine. There’s no such thing as ghosts. Now, do you want to see you daddy’s grave or not?”
Nodding my head, I straightened up and tried not to think about all the things that went bump in the night. To meet my father would mean the world to me. I’d dreamt about him ever since the Father Daughter dance at school.
We spent the next thirty minutes hunting around the headstones before stopping at Stewart Tilton James. He died May 1, 1997, just a year after I’d been born.
“Did he ever get to meet me?”
“Yeah, lots of times. Can we go now? I’m cold,” Mom complained.
I bent down and kissed the icy damp cement. “I love you, Daddy.”
“Addison, are you okay?” Stuart asked and I blinked few times, trying to focus on the man claiming to be my father.
Finding my voice, “When was the last time you talked to my
“I spoke with Elizabeth a few days ago, and she informed me of her situation.”
Elizabeth? Elizabeth wasn’t my mother that was my mother’s identical twin. It was obvious he didn’t know what was going on.
I frowned, “Her situation?” I tried to remember Mom using the phone, but it must have been when I’d left the room.
“I’m sure this is all very traumatic for you.”
I narrowed my eyes, leaning forward. “Don’t pretend to know me.”
“In that case, let me begin by saying that I’m not convinced that you’re my daughter. No offense, but your mom was with a lot of men, if you know what I mean.”
“If I heard the story correctly, you were the one sleeping around.” No one had told me anything, but it didn’t take Einstein to figure out what had transpired.
He choked on his coffee and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “How old are you again?”
Old enough to know an idiot when I see one.
“So why is it that I haven’t heard from Elizabeth in all these years? Does she need money or something? I mean she could have asked, and I would have sent it. She didn’t need to drag me all the way here.”
I couldn’t stop the laughter that escaped my lips. This whole thing was somewhat hilarious in a demented way.
“What’s funny?” He shifted uncomfortably.
“What? No one told you? Elizabeth killed herself when I was five, and my mom, Eve, raised me.” His mouth fell open. “And just to let you know my
would never ask anyone as mundane as yourself for
! There were many nights we did without.”
“Elizabeth killed herself?” he echoed.
“Yeah, as in slit her wrist in a motel bathroom, look it up in the paper if you don’t believe me.”
He tilted his head to the side, “Wow, so you’re looking for your father then?”
“Wrong again, Stuart.
not looking for anyone. I’m here because I was arrested for breaking and entering.”
“Breaking and entering?” he squeaked.
“Technically, I didn’t break-in. The door was already busted open. It’s more of a trespassing issue. At least that’s what I plan on informing the judge when I see him. It shouldn’t be more than a slap on the wrist being that this is my first offense.” I hesitated. “Of this nature anyway.”
I wanted him to run.
“So you’ve been arrested before?”
I shrugged. “A few times.” Four times to be exact. Three times for curfew and one for punching some kid in the face for making up lies about me, but this guy didn’t need to know that.
“A few times. That’s just great.” He ran his hand through his hair again. “So who did I speak to on the phone then?”
“Eve, my mother whose-”
“I know she’s sick.”
I shook my head. “Not sick anymore. She’s dead.”
“Dead? Are you sure? I--”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
I was in the room.
“Wow.” His face registered the disbelief I felt. Everything was going to change now.
My eyes went to the grey light of the window. Part of me wished it wasn’t so gloomy outside.
If the sun were shining maybe…no it would still suck
. “So the only logical explanation is that she called you and pretended to be Elizabeth.” I said.
His phone vibrated, and he answered, turning away from the table. I sipped my lukewarm coffee. When he finished, he sent a text message before returning the phone to its standing position.
I made out Van Buren Law Firm, printed in black block letters moving across the face of his cell phone, like a screen saver.
So he was a lawyer. Just fabulous.
I didn’t need anyone else in my business.
“I have a daughter your age, and I guess it’s possible that I could be your father. So I would understand if you were looking.”
Was this guy stupid or deaf, maybe both?
“Don’t flatter yourself.” I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “Besides, my mom obviously didn’t want me to know anything about you. Otherwise she wouldn’t have gone as far as taking me to a stranger’s grave and telling me you were dead.”
“Eve did that?”
“Yes. Truth be told, I don’t know why she bothered to call you. Maybe she was going crazy or something. Just so you know, I had no reason to contact you, or anyone else for that matter. I can take care of myself.”
“Yeah, I can see you’re doing a wonderful job of that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I held my hand up. “Don’t answer that. I don’t care. Why don’t we cut to the chase? I’ve had a shitty night and don’t have patience for you right now. So what do I have to do to determine you’re not my father?”
He stared at me for a few seconds before speaking. “I’ve already given blood and so once you give blood, we can get the ball rolling. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take a week for the results. I do have a job.”
“Paternity testing can be done in as little as 48 hours. You should know that, being that you’re a lawyer and all.” I pointed to his phone. He glanced down and nodded. I wasn’t finished. “Look, Stuart, I’m sorry you came all this way, but just so you know, I’m not interested in having a father. I’ve gotten this far on my own without any help.”
His face hardened. “I just wante—“
“It doesn’t matter what you want! This is about what
want.” I slammed my hands on the table, sloshing coffee onto the fake-wood table top.
This day couldn’t have gotten any worse.
I grabbed some paper towels from the metal dispenser hanging on the wall and cleaned up my mess.
Our eyes met after I returned to my chair, and I felt guilt rising in my stomach like a coiled snake ready to strike.
Get a grip.
Shifting my eyes to the dirty ceramic floor, I tried to relax.
This couldn’t be easy for him either. The possibility of having another mouth to feed, that must be hard.
“Look, I’m sorry. The only person I ever cared about was my mom, and now she’s dead. So why don’t you save yourself the trouble and go back to wherever you came from? Trust me when I say I can fend for myself.”
He rested his elbows on the table. “I’m not allowed to do that until I know for sure you’re not my daughter. Now I’m sure the test results will pan out just fine, young lady. But just for the record, from where I’m sitting, you aren’t handling yourself as well as you think.” He pointed to his eye.
“This,” I said touching the bruises on my face with my middle finger, “was out of my control.” I held the finger there just a second longer so he would get the message. My black eye was the result of mom’s junkie boyfriend, but I wasn’t going to waste my time trying to explain that to this tool.
“As are most things at your age. So why don’t we just try to make the best of this situation? Now, moving on, I must admit that you do favor your mother, except…” He paused.
“What? The eyes?”
“No. I was going to say hair.”
I rolled my eyes. Anyone could see that my hair was dyed black.
Heck, I had about three inches of dirty blonde roots showing. Maybe he was colorblind.
“Can I be expecting more of this bitchy attitude?” he asked, throwing me off for a second.
He couldn’t talk to me like that. I wasn’t some snot nose kid.
“Of course, you knew my mother.”
He seemed surprised by my coldness.
“This isn’t how I imagined things would unfold.” He shifted his eyes to the mirror.
Who was back there?
I glared over my shoulder at the glass and back at him. “Excuse me, but you couldn’t have possibly thought I would be happy to meet you? My mother
died yesterday. She was the only person who cared a rat’s ass about me, and that wasn’t guaranteed most days. So don’t sit there and stare at me like I’m the problem. I did
wrong.” I picked up my cup, drained it, and then crushed the cheap material in my hand. He didn’t say anything for a minute or so.