Manhattan, New York, 2007
If not for insubordinate ones, William Castle would have no children at all. First, his oldest, Sydney, had taken off to make wine in Napa with that lowly vintner years ago. Then his nearly thirty-three-year-old twins had betrayed him. He had coerced Alexandra during college to keep her sexual appetites out of the public eye, but she had defied their arrangement twice in recent weeks. Pawing a woman in public at his retirement announcement last month and then the other night at his own San Francisco hotel, of all places. As for Andrew—he had suddenly resigned from the company last month, leaving him without a child he could trust to carry on his legacy.
William had put his retirement on hold, hoping to get to the bottom of his son’s hasty departure and entice him back into the business before he would have no other choice but to hand over his empire to a daughter who had proved that she didn’t deserve it. Andrew had blamed his leaving on not being named as William’s successor, but his failure to look William directly in the eye when he resigned meant that there was more to the story. Meant that the oblique comments Alexandra had made weeks before Andrew’s resignation about something being amiss with the books had meat to them.
His desk phone buzzed to Gretchen’s soft voice. “Mr. Castle, Ms. Georgia Cushing is here to see you.”
Finally, he’d get some answers from the one person ideally suited to ferret out the truth. His gaze drifted to the bookcase to his left and settled on an old, framed photo. He’d assembled the entire staff at the Times Square’s front entrance for a ribbon-cutting ceremony thirty-seven years ago. That day marked the first day of business for Castle Resorts and the first day of his and Georgia’s secret affair. She was a competent bookkeeper when she first came aboard and had evolved into an indispensable accountant. Though their affair ended decades ago, having Georgia looking into his family’s dirty laundry was his best option. She was already part of it and wouldn’t dare chance spreading gossip.
“Send her in,” William said.
After closing the door, Georgia strode toward William’s desk clutching a company folder filled with documents. It had been years since he’d had reason to read her expressions, but he quickly recognized the determined one she was wearing now.
She slammed the folder atop his mahogany desk. “In summary, your son is a thief.” The shock value of her one-liner was par for the course. Besides Alexandra and Andrew’s mother, Georgia was the only one brave enough to hit William with both barrels, reload, and fire again.
“Please explain.” He bit back the bitter taste of her arrogance long enough to get what he needed from her.
“I uncovered what appears to be a significant embezzlement scheme involving duplicate services never performed by V.P. Construction, nor goods received from Suite Hospitality. Both are owned by an individual named Victor Padula. Andrew’s signature approved each outlay.”
William recognized the name. His son’s long-term bookie was associated with last month’s shooting at their Times Square hotel. Heat rose in his chest as the picture became clear. His son had involved himself with a gang of ruffians to feed his out-of-control gambling addiction. “How much and for how long?”
Georgia pointed to the folder she’d flung on his desk moments earlier. “A quarter-million dollars since the commencement of the Times Square renovation, but there’s an interesting twist.”
“What kind of twist?”
“The day after Andrew resigned, Alexandra transferred that same amount from her personal account to the company’s general fund.”
“What does Alexandra have to do with this?”
“I don’t know. I’m not even sure the two are connected. She’d simply marked the transaction as ‘repayment.’”
“Have you spoken to either of them?”
“Of course not. You made it quite clear: my job was to audit and report, not make accusations.”
“I’m sure the thought never crossed your mind.” William straightened his tie and spine to tamp down the storm brewing inside him. Betrayal by one child was bad enough, but it appeared Alexandra had known what Andrew had done and had covered for her thieving brother. That was unforgivable. Her complicity was an act he couldn’t overlook, the last straw. “You are to tell no one about what you’ve found. Since all the money is back in place, I’ll handle the matter personally.”
“You’re going to let them slide, aren’t you?” Georgia reloaded for another shot across the bow. “You’re blind when it comes to those two.”
“What I do with my children is none of your concern because only a Castle can correct a Castle mistake. Am I making myself clear?”
William ordered Georgia out, activated the office intercom, and instructed Gretchen to get Robert Stein on the phone. “Tell him it’s an emergency.”
Minutes later, Gretchen connected Mr. Stein.
“Robert, thank you for returning the call. I need to change my trust, will, and beneficiaries to my business holdings immediately.”
“Of course, William. May I ask what this is about?”
William was never one to discuss sensitive topics over the phone, preferring to meet people in person to gauge their responses and ensure a mutual understanding of the issues at hand. This situation called for a patented vague answer, even to a friend of forty-plus years. “Let’s say my twins won’t be pleased once all is said and done. Can we meet in your office in an hour?”
William disconnected the call, slumped back in his plush leather chair, and wearily regarded the picturesque view of Central Park that had taken him a lifetime to earn. Was it all a wasted effort if he had no child worthy of taking over what he’d built?
“Where did I go wrong?”
He ticked off in his head the things that needed to be done to settle this ugly matter. He’d already checked off one of the to-do items, summoning Alexandra to his office tonight to address the matter of her public disrespect. The rest of the list, though, was long and required special handling. Following a detailed call to his private investigator, he arrived promptly for his meeting at the law firm of Stein, Levy, and Keller.
“May I get you some coffee, Mr. Castle? One sugar, one cream with two English biscuits on the side, right?” asked Laura, Robert’s personal assistant.
“Normally I would, but I need to get right down to business today.”
Laura escorted him into Robert’s stately, masculine office before politely excusing herself and closing the thick oak door behind her. Surprisingly, his Parkinson’s-ridden stride seemed steadier than it had been in recent weeks; his mounting anger was likely fueling his surge in energy, he decided.
Robert greeted him with a firm handshake and directed him to sit with him at the two high-back black leather guest chairs. “So, what’s this about the twins, William?”
“I’ve unearthed some alarming information about them. Disturbing enough I’ve decided that it’s time to cut all ties. My will, their trusts, the company, everything.”
Robert leaned forward in his chair, placing both elbows on his knees and shifting from lawyer to friend. “I’ve been your attorney for thirty-seven years. Of course, I will follow any direction you give me regarding your legal matters. However, I’ve been your friend for longer, and I can’t in good conscience do so without first making a very salient point.” He gently tapped William’s knee with a hand to emphasize his next words. “Will, my friend, if you later change your mind, we can easily undo the legal aspects, but they will surely leave a tangled, emotional mess.”
William smoothed the jacket of his custom-tailored, double-breasted, navy blue suit. A gift from Alex, it was his favorite until today. Normally calming, the habit failed to clear the mounting agitation from his tone. This suit would soon find the trash heap. “I appreciate your years of legal counsel, but do not presume to lecture me on dealing with my ungrateful, depraved children.” Not since his wife’s expected long, drawn-out death had William been this determined to settle his affairs straight away.
“Will, you know me better than that. Now, what is so troubling that it has prompted such a dramatic change?”
“Andrew stole a quarter-million dollars from the company, and Alexandra covered it up by repaying the money. They have disappointed me for the last time.”
“Do you want to involve the police and file charges for embezzlement for Andrew’s part?” Robert asked.
“I can’t have the world knowing I’ve raised a thief. Castle Resorts has an impeccable reputation, and I won’t have him tarnish that. Alexandra covered for him and has defied me for the last time. Her judgment is irrevocably flawed, to the point I no longer trust her. I want to sever all current and future ties with them financially. They get nothing, not one penny more from me.” William pounded his fist on the chair’s leather arm. “Do you understand? Not a penny more.”
“William, I realize this is upsetting, but unless Alexandra altered the financial records it’s not as if she committed a crime like Andrew.”
Robert’s attempt at reason fell on deaf ears. If he only knew the depth of Alexandra’s betrayal with that woman, he wouldn’t question William’s motivation. But that was a humiliation better left buried. Anger far outstripped his disappointment in his twins. He pounded his fist again to emphasize his next point. “No, dammit. It’s the same. Both have betrayed me repeatedly. I have given each second and third chances, but they have proven to be incapable of self-control. I will not have them benefit from their immorality.”
“There’s nothing I can say to change your mind?” Robert pressed.
“Nothing. Make sure everything goes to Sydney.” William stood. His oldest may have left the family fold to follow her heart, but she was the only child he’d raised who hadn’t betrayed him. Sydney wasn’t a thief, nor was she a degenerate as he’d discovered, years after her death, Alex’s mother had been.
Robert placed both hands on his knees, pushed himself to a standing position, and walked to his desk. “Very well. This will take some time, but I will have all the documents ready for your signature tomorrow afternoon.”
“I would prefer you do it today, but I trust you won’t dawdle.” William walked out, more frustrated than when he walked in. Explaining his children’s scandalous behavior had been more distasteful than expected. He resolved to not rest until he’d cut his ungrateful twins out of his life.
Returning to his waiting town car, William received a call from the private investigator to whom he’d assigned several urgent tasks. “Did you reach him?”
“Yes, Mr. Castle. He’ll meet you at the Key Grill in an hour.”
“That’s fine. Did you locate my son?”
“Yes, but I haven’t approached him yet per your instruction. What time shall I tell him to be at your office?”
“Eight o’clock. And have her there at eight thirty.” Disconnecting the call, William became more determined to conclude this ugly business as soon as possible. If Robert and his man did their jobs, he could sleep easily by tomorrow night. “Change of plans, David. Drop me at the Key Grill.”
“Yes, Mr. Castle.” His driver weaved the town car through the light midafternoon city traffic, landing across from the construction mess known as his office building.
The stately Key Grill had been William’s favorite place for conducting business for decades; it would serve as the ideal location for his next distasteful task. He may not have been streetwise or familiar with the protocols of calling on a well-connected criminal, but he was a shrewd businessman. And the primary lesson he had learned over the years was that he needed to conduct business on his home turf to get the upper hand. This was business, and he definitely needed leverage.
William expected the stereotypical Hollywood wise guy to show up at his table, decked out in a flashy suit and wearing enough bling to set off metal detectors. He didn’t expect the well-dressed, clean-cut compatriot who arrived punctually.
“How may I help you, Mr. Castle?” The man seated himself on the opposite end of William’s curved booth. His tone was polite yet cautious.
William pulled out copies of two Castle Resorts invoices from his inside breast pocket, one from V.P. Construction and another from Suite Hospitality, the shell companies Andrew had created to direct payment of his gambling debts. He slid them across the table toward the man he assumed was Victor Padula.
“These are just the tip of the iceberg. A quarter-million dollars siphoned from my company’s coffers in all. At this point, I don’t care about the money. I only want answers.”
Victor stared at William as if he were insane or just plain stupid. “What do you want to know?”
“I know this was my son’s doing, a way to pay off his gambling debt to you.” Victor’s eyes narrowed. “All I want to know is what was my daughter’s involvement.”
“What’s it to you?”
“It’s a matter of trust. I demand loyalty from those around me, and right now, I’m not sure if I can trust her.”
“You’re talking about Alex, right?” William offered a simple nod, and then Victor continued, “She settled his debt.”
“What do you mean by settled?”
“We agreed to a final amount to close out his debt and she paid it.”
“Did she have anything else to do with this?” William pointed to the papers on the table. “Anything before paying it off?”
Victor answered with a simple “no.”
“I think we can both agree that neither one of us wants this information reaching the public’s eye, especially those of the authorities.” William slid an envelope containing twenty thousand dollars in cash toward him. “Can we consider this matter closed?”
Victor grinned his reply. “Yes.”
After the bookie left, William stepped outside, southern winds nipping at his cheeks and signaling that scattered clouds would soon replace the afternoon haze and usher in the forecasted evening spring thunderstorm. He crossed the street to Castle headquarters, his arm muscles turning rigid as he stepped onto the curb. His symptoms had become impossible to hide in public, making the need to settle things and hand everything over to Sydney that much more urgent.
Once through the main entrance, William faced a dozen construction workers, all busy with the extensive remodeling project that had irritated him for months. Whirring power tools, clanking hammers, and a pervasive smell of construction dust disrupted the lobby’s usually elegant, professional atmosphere.
He waited with four well-dressed businessmen at the bank of elevators for the next car to arrive. The one standing closest to William broke the customary silence. “How much longer do we have to put up with this mess?”
William would have preferred to ignore the question, but based on the man’s head lean the comment was being directed to him. “I believe another month,” he said stiffly.
The idiot shook his head. “It’s a pain in the ass. Never know from day-to-day which elevator will be working or what stairwell they’ll have blocked with their damn plastic sheets.”
The arrival of the elevator averted the need to respond—and saved the speaker from possible injury. Given the ire William was feeling today, one more crass comment might have been enough for him to throttle the man—a ruffian response he hadn’t considered since his Parkinson’s raised its ugly head when Alexandra and Andrew were still at Yale. He sucked in his impatience, waited for the others to enter, and took a position on the other side of the car, creating a two-person buffer between him and the immediate source of his irritation.
The ride up to the twenty-third floor was thankfully silent, giving William time to mentally prepare for what would be a busy evening. At last, the door whooshed open to the jarring reality that would last another month—the incessant buzzing and thumping coming from the adjacent stairwell.
Pushing through the double glass doors leading to his company’s office suite, he made his way to the executive wing. At the reception desk guarding his private office, he saw, as expected, Gretchen, his loyal secretary of eighteen years. Garbed in fashionable yet professional attire, her graying blond hair perfectly coifed as usual, she looked up from her computer. Before she could greet him with as much as a smile, he barked, “Grab your pad.”
Without delay, Gretchen grabbed her memo pad and pen and stayed on his heels into his office. He had no time to waste. He went directly to the wall safe behind his desk, carefully entered the combination, and opened the thick metal door. He removed a vintage camera and two legal-sized leather document folios, which would drive home his point when he met with his two disgraceful children tonight.
“What a lovely camera, Mr. Castle. Is it a family heirloom?” Gretchen’s question, while not overly intrusive, wasted precious time.
“Yes. It was Rebecca’s and, at one time, Alexandra’s.”
“It must be very special to you.”
“It is, but it has taken its last photograph.”
“Is it broken?”
“No, but the last person who used it is.” His stomach turned at the thought that both his wife and daughter had used this exact camera to memorialize their respective sinful exploits—Rebecca with that loathsome Abigail Spencer and Alexandra with that tramp, Kelly Thatcher.
“I’m not quite following.”
“Nothing to concern yourself over.” He placed the camera on the corner of the desk. “I have one action item for you. I plan on making a dramatic change around here. I need you to schedule a meeting for ten o’clock tomorrow morning with all the executives. Everyone except Alexandra.”
Gretchen cocked her head. He long suspected she had a soft spot for his daughter and preferred her management style over his. After tomorrow, that partiality would no longer matter. “Shall I have refreshments available for the meeting?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. I don’t expect it to take that long.”
“Is there anything else, sir?”
“Has Alexandra confirmed my meeting with her tonight?”
“She has. If her flight isn’t delayed, she should be here at eight.”
Good, William thought. He’d deal with both of them at the same time.
He waited for Gretchen to close the door behind herself before opening the first leather folio. He organized the documents chronicling his daughter’s sordid affairs, including the final straw—video stills from the San Francisco resort last night. All the trouble he had gone through to get the camera back had been for naught. He then thumbed through the second folio, which contained years of private investigator reports documenting Andrew’s gambling exploits and considerable debt. He added Georgia’s audit to them and returned everything to the appropriate folders and then to the safe, along with the camera. He was ready to deal with his ungrateful offspring.
Those two have disappointed me for the last time.
When I read Ms Miller’s first novel in this series, Despite Chaos, I just loved the story and characters and thought the book was very well written. This book just reiterates all those same feelings and thoughts. The first book in this series spent a lot of time getting to know Alex Castle and Tyler Falling as individuals, this novel really shows them as a couple going through a stressful situation as Alex fights for her freedom and life when she is arrested for the murder of her father. I really love these two women and they seem so right for each other. I am looking so forward to reading the next book in this series. I give this novel 4 ¾ stars.