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By Karen Smith
SilhouetteCopyright © 2005 Karen Smith
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"I am not the father," Brad Vaughn stated in no uncertain terms.
The Chicago private investigation firm of Vaughn Associates was not where Brad wanted to have this discussion. However, with his dad standing in his office, newspaper in hand, Brad had no choice.
Phillip Vaughn, head of the firm, a man who was always right, a father who was grooming his son for his position, shook the newspaper at Brad. "Are you sure? Suzette Brouchard says -- "
"I don't care what Suzette Brouchard says. We had a brief relationship, but I never slept with her without protection. From the information I have so far, her baby was born forty-two weeks after our last night together.
She'd moved on to someone else, and that man is the father of her baby."
Suzette was a beautiful, sexy model, but neither of them had expected more than a few nights of good sex. She'd faded into the background after they'd stopped seeing each other, and that had been almost three years ago.
"Why would she do this?" Phillip Vaughn asked, still in an accusing tone.
"Money. She thinks if she makes enough noise, I'll settle and give her a bundle."
Brad had a bundle. Not from the fortune his father had acquired but from his own sweat. He'd earned an MBA and opted out of his father's plans for him for a few years to work on Wall Street. He'd done well and invested most of it, not in the dot-com of the moment but in solid, stable companies he'd researched. At the height of the boom, he'd sold most of it, bought real estate, sold that, reinvested in conservative investments for the future and constantly turned over the rest for profit. At thirty-five, he had more money than he'd ever need.
Money certainly hadn't been the reason he'd joined his father in his firm. Taking over Vaughn Associates someday hadn't been one of his aspirations. However, when his mother had phoned him and gently suggested his dad wouldn't be around forever, Brad had wondered if he and his father could set aside the adversarial relationship they'd always had and forge real bonds they could build on. But Brad had been vice president of his dad's firm for two years now, and the bonds were as thready as they'd always been. He didn't know any more now what made Phillip Vaughn tick than he had when he was twelve and his parents had divorced.
"I've already contacted Suzette's lawyer and informed him I'll be giving a sample for a DNA test today. This will be settled within a month," Brad said decisively.
"The reputation of this firm could suffer a hell of a lot in a month if articles like this keep appearing."
"That's what Suzette and her lawyer are counting on."
"A settlement could shut it all down today," Phillip insisted.
But Brad wasn't about to settle, not when his reputation was at stake. "No. I want to clear my name. I won't be thought of as an irresponsible playboy who doesn't care if he gets a woman pregnant."
"That's not what you are?" his father asked with a bit of an amused smile.
His dad often frustrated him. Now his question rankled in a deep place that unsettled Brad. "I have never been irresponsible."
Silence reverberated in the office until his father broke it. "Maybe you should think about settling down," he suggested, throwing the newspaper onto Brad's mahogany desk.
"You know how I feel about that." Brad couldn't keep the acerbic edge from his voice.
When his father had kicked his mother out of their home after her affair, Brad had lived with her during the week and with his father on weekends. He wouldn't take the chance of doing that to any kid. Besides that, he simply didn't trust women. That might have started with his mother's infidelity, but in college he'd given the fairer
sex a chance. That had been a mistake. His father had bought off the girl that he didn't deem appropriate for Brad, and Brad's eyes had been opened to exactly how little love mattered compared to the allure of money.
"With your paternity up in the air, what are you going to do about Thunder Canyon?" his father asked.
"Thunder Canyon can't wait," Brad answered, considering the client's case he was personally overseeing.
Thunder Canyon, Montana, was a small town near Bozeman. Since Vaughn Associates was acclaimed for its security work and all-around private investigation skill, the company's reputation was known across the country. Caleb Douglas, one of the most renowned citizens of Thunder Canyon, had hired Vaughn Associates to uncover the true ownership of a gold mine there.
"I got the history from Caleb Douglas yesterday," Brad went on. "Since the late eighteen hundreds, the Douglas family has claimed the property in Thunder Canyon that includes the Queen of Hearts gold mine. Now they can't find the deed. Caleb has always assumed he knew the truth and the land was his. I'm hoping I can wrap up the investigation in a few days."
A small voice on his shoulder, however, reminded him a missing deed could mean trouble.
"I'll need to find the deed or some proof of ownership. I'm going to ask Emily to go along."
"Your secretary? Is she necessary?"
"Caleb said he wanted this done quickly no matter how much it cost. If Emily's along, I can count on her to write up the daily reports and do preliminary interviews."
With a frown, his father checked his watch. "I have an appointment across town. I'd better get going." He cast a disdainful glance at the newspaper once more. "Maybe if you're out of town for a few days, the hubbub over that...situation...will settle down. I don't want to have to field calls about your personal life while you're away."
As if his father really knew anything about his personal life. "If you receive any calls, give the caller my cell number," Brad said curtly.
Phillip gave him a long look. "I'll do just that." Then he left Brad's office.
Crossing to the doorway, Brad's gaze didn't follow his father as he left the office suite. Rather, his eyes rested on Emily Stanton. His secretary sat at her computer, headset on, transcribing yesterday's reports.
Excerpted from Cabin Fever by Karen Smith Copyright © 2005 by Karen Smith. Excerpted by permission.
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