It wasn't supposed to rain in October. Not in Southern California, anyway.
Alain Dulac was pretty sure it was a law written down somewhere, like the requirements for Camelot. As he tried to steer his sports car, a vehicle definitely not meant for this kind of weather, he found that his visibility was next to zero. Because, as the old song from the sixties went, it never rained in California—but it poured.
And that's what it was doing now.
Pouring. Pouring as if the entire Pacific Ocean had gotten absorbed into the black clouds that were hovering overhead and were now dumping their contents all over him. He would have been alert to the possibility of a flash flood—if he could see more than an inch or so in front of him. He wasn't even sure where he was anymore. For all he knew, he could have gotten turned around and was headed back to Santa Barbara.
By the clock, it was a little after 4:00 p.m. But to all appearances, it looked like the beginning of the Apocalypse. There was even the rumble of thunder, another unheard of event this time of year.
His windshield wipers were fighting the good fight, but it was obvious they were losing. A few seconds of visibility were all their efforts awarded him.
Alain swallowed a curse as the car hit a pocket of some sort and wobbled before continuing on its road to nowhere.
It would have been nice if the weather-man had hinted at this storm yesterday, or even early this morning, he thought darkly.
He gripped the steering wheel harder, as if that could afford him better control over his car. If there had been the slightest indication that today was going to turn into something that would have made Noah shudder, Alain would have postponed going up to Santa Barbara to get that deposition until the beginning of next week.
Archie Wallace certainly looked healthy enough to hang around until Monday. At age eighty-four, the former valet—or gentleman's gentleman, Alain believed the old term was—looked healthier than a good many men half his age. Alain could have waited to get the man's testimony instead of risking life, limb and BMW the way he was right now.
That's what he got for going into family law instead of criminal law. Not that, he'd discovered, there weren't a host of criminal activities going on behind the so-called innocent smiles of the people who came into his firm's office.
For the first time since he'd left Archie's quaint cottagelike home, a hint of a smile curved Alain's lips. Nothing wrong with camera time, he thought. As he turned the notion over in his head, he found that he liked the idea of getting his own spotlight instead of being in one by proxy. Heretofore his main claim to fame was being the youngest of Lily Moreau's sons. His mother, God bless her, was as famous for her lifestyle as she was for her exotically colorful paintings. At times her lifestyle overshadowed her work.
Alain had no doubt that the reporters who'd come to cover her last show were as interested in the dark, handsome, quarter-of-a-century-younger man at her side as they were in the latest paintings that were on display. Kyle Autumn was Alain's mother's protégé and, to hear her talk about him, the love of her life.
At least for this month.
The fact that Alain and his two older brothers each had a different father bore testimony to the fact that Lily loved her men with a passion. But that passion was anything but steadfast.
She was a better mother than she was spouse, and, luckily for the art world, a better artist than she was either of the two.
Alain had no real complaints on that score, though. Long ago he'd realized that Lily was as good a mother as she could be, and he and Georges had always had Philippe. As the oldest, Philippe was more like a father than a brother, and it was from him thatAlain had gotten most of his values.
In a way, he supposed that Philippe was responsible for his having gone into family law. Philippe had always maintained that family was everything.
Too bad the Hallidays didn't feel that way. The latest case he was handling was already on its way to becoming this year's family drama. All sorts of accusations were being hurtled back and forth with wild abandon. And the tabloids were having a field day.
To be honest, it wasn't the sort of case Dunstan, Jewison and McGuire ordinarily handled. The venerable hundred-and-two-year-old firm took pride in conducting all matters with decorum and class. This case, however, had all the class of a cable reality program.
But there was an obscenely huge amount of money involved. The firm's share for winning the case for the bereaved and voluptuous widow was something only a saint would have been able to turn away from. The company had had little to keep it going but its reputation these last few years.Which was whyAlain had been brought in. He was the youngest at the firm. The next in line was Morris Greenwood, and he was fifty-two. Clearly an infusion of young blood—and money—was needed.
Alain had been the one to bring the Halliday case to the older partners'attention. When they won the case—when, not if—it would also lure a great deal of business their way. Nothing wrong with that.
Like his mother, Alain was a wheeler-dealer when he had to be. He felt fairly confident that winning wouldn't present a problem. Ethan Halliday had become so smitten with his young bride that two months into the marriage, he'd had the prenup agreement torn up, and rewritten his will. The young and nubile lingerie model was to inherit more than ninety-eight percent of Halliday's considerable fortune. The will literally snatched away what the four Halliday children considered their birthright. Two men and two women, all older than their father's widow, found themselves in agreement for the first time in years, and had banded together against a common enemy: their wicked stepmother.
It had all the makings of a low-grade movie of the week. Or, in another era, a sad Grimms' fairy tale. And it looked as if the happy ending was going to be awarded to his client, if he had anything to say about it.
If he lived to deliver the deposition he'd gotten.
Another sharp skid had Alain jerking to awareness again, his mind on the immediate situation rather than the courtroom. He could all but feel the tires going out from under him.
The winds weren't helping, either. Strong gusts sporadically rose out of nowhere, fighting for possession of his vehicle. Fighting and very nearly winning. Once again he gripped the steering wheel as hard as he could just to keep the car from being shoved off the road.
It felt as if the wind had split in half, and each side was taking a turn at pushing him first in one direction, then the other, like a battered hockey puck.
Alain thought about the way the day was supposed to have gone before this sudden, spur-of-the-moment disaster had unfolded. He'd made arrangements to go antique browsing with Rachel, then grab an early, intimate dinner, after which whatever came up, came up.
Alain grinned despite the immediate trying situation. Rachel Reed was a wildcat in bed and pleasantly straightforward and uncomplicated when she was upright and dealing with life. Just the way he liked them. All fun, no seriousness, no strings. In that respect, he was very much like his mother.
He found himself struggling with the wheel again, trying to keep his car on course. Whatever that was at this point.
Where the hell was he, anyway? Though he knew it was futile, Alain looked expectantly at the GPS system mounted on his dashboard. It continued doing what it had been doing for the last fifteen minutes: winking like a flirtatious teenager with something in her eye. One of the arrival-time readings that had flashed at him earlier had him back at his house already.
He only wished. "What good are you if you don't work?" he demanded irritably. As if in response, the GPS system suddenly went dark. "Hey, don't be that way. I'm sorry, okay? Turn back on."
But it remained dark, as did the rest of his dashboard. He no longer had lights to guide him, and all that was coming from his high-definition radio was an endless supply of static.
Alain blew out a breath. He felt like the last man on earth, fighting the elements.
And lost, really lost.
Even his cell phone wasn't working. He'd already tried it more than once. The signal simply wasn't getting through. Mother Nature had declared war on him and all his electronic gadgets. It was as if she knew that without them, he had no sense of direction and was pretty much adrift, like a leaf in a gale.
There was a map tucked into a pocket of the front passenger door, but it was completely useless since it only encompassed Los Angeles and Orange County, and he was somewhere below Santa Barbara, on his way to Oz—or hell, whichever was closer.
He was crawling now, searching desperately for some sign of civilization. He'd left the city behind some time ago, and he knew there were homes out here somewhere because he'd passed them on his way up. But they were sparse and far apart and he'd be damned if he could see so much as a glimmer of a light coming from any building or business establishment.
He couldn't even make out the outline of any structure.
Squinting, Alain leaned forward, hunching over his steering wheel and trying to make out something—anything—in front of him.