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"He's not really going to do it," Griffin said, as he unlocked the door to his condo and stepped aside to let Dalton in. "Cain Enterprises means as much to him as it does to any of us. He'd never let the state sell off his share of the company."
"If it was any other man, I'd agree." Dalton waited until Griffin had flipped on the lights before walking into the living room. "But he doesn't bluff. You know that."
Griffin owned the penthouse condo of the downtown high-rise where Dalton also lived. When Portia had asked for a divorce, Dalton had purchased the condo two floors down from Griffin's. The building was close to work but overpriced. Its main appeal was that because he'd been to Griffin's condo, he could buy it without having to waste a day following around some Realtor.
Griffin's condo was decorated in sleek cream leather and a lot of chrome. It was expensive and modern and, Dalton also thought, overly stark. On the other hand, his own condo was still decorated in mid-century-kicked-out-of-my-house-style, so he had little room to criticize.
Dalton headed straight for the sectional that dominated the space in front of the TV. Griffin gestured toward the wet bar tucked into the corner. He nodded to the row of bottles. "What'll you have?"
Dalton glanced at his watch. "It's not even noon."
"Right. After Dad's little bombshell, I think a drink is called for."
"Fine." Who was he to argue a point like that? And maybe a stiff drink would steady the rug that felt like it had been jerked out from under his feet. "I'll have a scotch."
Griffin rolled his eyes as if to say he thought Dalton was an idiot. Then he pulled out several bottlesnone of which contained scotchand started pouring splashes into a cocktail shaker.
"Do you have any idea if he can legally do this?"
"Unfortunately, I think he can." Dalton ran a hand through his hair. "Of course, Mother will still get all of their co-mingled assetsthe houses, cars and their money. But all of his Cain stock is his to do with as he pleases. It would have been split evenly between the three of us. Now, who knows what will happen."
"I figure you have the most to lose here. What are you going to do?"
Dalton slipped out of his jacket and draped it over the arm of the sofa. Sighing, he sat down and scrubbed a hand down his face. When it came to this crazy scheme of his father's, he undoubtedly had the most to lose. He'd devoted his entire life to becoming the perfect future CEO of Cain Enterprises. Every choice he'd made from the time he was tenfrom his hobbies as a child to his extracurricular activities in high school, to his college education, to the woman he marriedhad been about Cain Enterprises. He wasn't going to let his father piss it all away on a whim.
"One option is to wait until the bastard actually dies and then take the matter to court."
Griffin popped the top on the silver shaker and then gave it a vigorous jiggle. "At which point, all Father's assets will be tied up in litigation for a decade or so. Good plan."
Dalton leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. "If he wasn't already on his deathbed, I'd kill him for this."
"I'd help." Griffin chuckled as he scooped ice into glasses and then covered the ice with whatever concoction he'd mixed up. "On the bright side, the board loves you. Even if Father's assets did revert to the state, all his Cain stock would be sold, right? He alone doesn't even have a controlling majority. The board would most likely keep you on."
"And then you could keep your job as VP of international relations as well."
Griffin gave a little chuckle. "Yes. That would be ideal."
They both knew Griffin's job was a cushy one and not the kind he was likely to find anywhere else.
Griffin sliced a lime into wedges, squeezed one into each glass and then tossed another on top. "Sure, you'd be less insanely rich, but you'd still be CEO of Cain Enterprises."
"That would be the best-case scenario, yes." Dalton took the glass his brother handed him and eyed the pale green concoction. "This isn't scotch."
"Two years as a mixologist in college. I think I can do better than pouring you a scotch. This is me broadening your horizons."
Dalton took a hesitant sip. It was surprisingly good, less sweet than a margarita and with enough punch to knock a grown man on his assespecially one who'd already been knocked on his ass once that day.
"Yes, the board might keep me on." In his experience, best-case scenarios were little more than daydreams. Reality was rarely so convenient. "It's far more likely that one of our competitors would snatch up all that Cain stock and make a bid to take over the company. Sheppard Capital is ideally positioned right now to do just that. In which case, I would most likely be fired and Cain Enterprises would be dismantled bit by bit."
For once, Griffin's characteristic charming grin was pressed into a grim line. He raised his glass and said bitterly, "To our loving father."
Dalton tapped his brother's glass and then downed a sizable gulp, almost hoping that this drink would do him in. He and Griffin had never been particularly close. Hollister had fostered too much rivalry between them for that. Even now, though they were united in their mutual disgust for their father's stunt, he had still pitted them against each other.
With the heat of the liquor still burning down his throat, Dalton voiced the question he had to ask: "Are you going to try to find her?"
Griffin made a face like he was about to spew cocktail across the room. "God, no. What would I want with Cain Enterprises?"
"Just had to check." Another thought occurred to Dalton. "There's one possibility we haven't considered. Cooper could find the girl."
Cooper was definitely a wild card in the equation. Dal-ton and Griffin had been seven and four, respectively, when Hollister brought home the then five-year-old Cooper and introduced him as his other son. He spent summers with them until Cooper's mother passed away when Cooper was sixteen. Cooper had lived with them for nearly two years, raising as much hell as he could, before going away to college. They hadn't exactly bonded.
Griffin tossed back the last of his drink. "Cooper could dismantle the company just as easily as Grant Sheppard could."
True enough Dalton stared at the murky green dregs of his drink. If Cooper found the heiress, Cain Enterprises wouldn't be Dalton'snot the way it was meant to be.
Griffin dribbled the last bit of the drink from the cocktail shaker into both of their glasses. "So how are you going to find this mysterious sister of ours?"
"That's the question of the day, isn't it?" Hollister had been a philandering jerk for his entire married life. "It's not an issue of finding the mother so much as it is narrowing down the possibilities."
Griffin gave a bark of laughter. "Who did he meet that he didn't sleep with?"
"Exactly. When we look at it from this direction, the list of potential mothers has to be" Dalton just shook his head, not even wanting to imagine how many women his father could have slept with. Hollister had had at least one long-term mistress when Dalton was a child, but he was afraid Sharlene was just the tip of the iceberg.
Griffin must have remembered as well. "She could be from anywhere. Any woman, in any bar, in any state in the country."
"Or from any number of foreign countries as well."
Cooper had been raised in Vale, but when Dalton had done the mathwhich he'd been very curious about at sevenhe'd figured his father hadn't been anywhere near Colorado at the right time. However, he had been skiing in Switzerland. Since Cooper's mother had been an Olympic-caliber skier, Dalton figured they must have met there.
Thinking aloud, Dalton said, "It would be impossible to track down every woman he might have slept with during the right time, even if we could narrow down the time frame."
"Did you happen to notice the postmark on the letter?" Griffin asked.
"Yes. No return address, postmarked from the local mail station. Which is pretty smart, if she doesn't want to be found. Maybe it means she lives right around the corner. Maybe it means she lives in Toronto and paid someone to mail the letter for her."
Dalton swirled the last of the drink around the bowl of the glass as he considered their predicament. "No, the question isn't who did he sleep with. The question is, which one of those women hated him enough afterward to do something like this?"
Griffin pretended to consider, then shrugged as if giving up. "I'd guess all of them."
But Dalton shook his head. "No. Say what you will about him, but our father was a charming bastard. So that eliminates all the one-night stands and casual hookups. Someone had to really know him to hate him this much."
Dalton stood and picked up his suit coat.
Griffin raised his eyebrows. "I take it you've had an inspiration."
"Of a sort. If there's someone who hates Father that much, there's one woman who would know about it. Mrs. Fortino."
"Our former housekeeper?"
"Exactly. She knew everything that went on in that house. She'll be able to tell me what I need to know."
"She retired five years ago," Griffin pointed out. "Are you sure you can find her? Maybe she's traveling the country in a mobile home."
"She's not the one I'm worried about finding." Dalton tossed back the last of his drink. "She's not the type to travel, and she was set in her ways even when we were kids. I'm sure she's still in Houston."
"Hey, you know who would know how to find her?" Griffin asked just before Dalton walked out the door.
"Our mother," Dalton stated the obvious.
"Sure, maybe. But I was thinking of Laney."
Dalton turned and looked at his younger brother, keeping his expression carefully blank, hiding the way his heart had leaped at the sound of her name.
"You remember Laney. Mrs. Fortino's granddaughter. Lived with her for a while when we were in high school."
"Yeah. I remember her."
"She moved back to town a couple of years ago. I ran into her at a fundraiser for Tisdale. Did you know she teaches there now?"
"No, I didn't."
"Yeah. Weird, huh? I can't imagine a firecracker like Laney teaching first grade at a Catholic school."
"Guess things have changed."
Again he tried to leave, but before he made it out the door, Griffin said, "I'm surprised you didn't know she taught there. Aren't you on their board?"
"Sure, but it's a position in name only since we donate so much to the school." Dalton pulled his phone out of his pocket and glanced down at it, as if he'd just gotten a text. Then he gave the phone a little waggle to indicate he needed to go handle something. "I'll see you later?"
This time, he didn't give Griffin a chance to answer but beat a hasty retreat to the elevator.
He could have gone back in to workhe certainly had plenty to dobut instead he headed back to his condo so he could start the search for Matilda Fortino. Logicas well as his guttold him it was the first step in finding the missing heiress.
But for the first time in a long timemaybe in his lifehe was questioning both. Was he seeking out Mrs. Fortino because she could lead him to the missing heiress or because she could lead him to Laney?
Of course, he knew where Laney was; at least, he knew where she worked. He hadn't yet gone so far as to hunt down her home address. That alone said volumes.
It said almost as much about him as the lie he'd told to Griffin. Not only had he known when Laney applied at Tisdale but he'd been the one to step in and make sure she got the job. At the time, he'd told himself it was just because she was an old family friend. Of course, at the time he'd been married to Portia. Any fantasies he'd had about Laney had been distant blips from his youth.
But now, nearly a year out from his divorce, with his entire future on the line, he had to wonder. He wasn't used to questioning his gut. But he also wasn't used to lying. So which was it: Was he looking for the missing heiress or for Laney?
At 3:00 p.m., Laney Fortino stood in front of Tisdale Elementary School cursing the hot sun, the parents who were late for pick up, Dalton Cain and the lack of specificity of fortune cookies.
Her fortune with last night's takeout had read: "Change is in your future."
Then today, she'd gotten a note from the school secretary saying Dalton Cain was coming by to talk to her after school.
It was the first accurate fortune she'd gotten in her entire life, and it had done her absolutely no good. Why couldn't it have said, "Dalton Cain is going to call" or even "Change is in your future, so tomorrow would be a great day to wear some kick-ass heels and that Betsey Johnson dress you bought on eBay. And your Spanx."
Of course, she would never wear Spanx or heels to teach intoo much bendingand if the fortune had referenced Cain directly, she probably would have booked a flight to oh, say, Tahiti, and been halfway around the world by now.
So instead, here she was, waiting for the last of the parents to pick up their kids, sweating in the blazing October sun in her vintage sundress she'd picked up at the thrift store and her bobby socks and Keds shoes. She was dressed like a Cabbage Patch Kid.
She didn't actually care how she was dressed for Dalton Cain. It was just costuming, really. She might not care about how she looked, but she cared desperately what he thought about how she looked. She needed to make the right first impression.
Because there was only one reason why one of the richest, most powerful men in Houston was coming to see her. He must know her grandmother had stolen nearly a million dollars from the Cains.
Money that Laney hadn't known anything about before she'd been granted power of attorney the year before.
Ever since discovering the extra funds in Gran's trust, Laney had been racked with guilt wondering what to do about it. There was no way Gran had come by the money honestly. Laney knew roughly how much Gran had had when Laney had graduated from high school. No amount of frugality or clever investing could turn her meager savings into well over a million dollars in a decade.
Gran must have stolen the money from the Cains.
Laney couldn't very well go to the authorities. It seemed unlikely they'd prosecute an elderly woman with Alzheimer's, but what if they did? Laney couldn't risk it. She certainly couldn't go to the Cains and explain. Hollister was brutal and vindictive to his enemies and Caro was little better. Every time Laney tried to think of a way out of the conundrum, she pictured Gran being led away to jail in handcuffs.
She couldn't even just give the money back. It was in an irrevocable trust, which Gran had set up to pay for her care at the assisted-living center. Laney couldn't touch it. Her power of attorney extended only so far. So there she was trapped with the knowledge of a wrong she had no way to right. And terrified that Dalton Cain had somehow discovered the truth.
Either he was going to prosecute her defenseless eighty-three-year-old grandmother or he was going to make her return the money.