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By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 MRK Productions
All rights reserved.
Earlier that summer
In Manhattan, Mace Carlisle stepped out of the door of the Dakota, where he lived, and looked at the new day. A perfect early summer day, the temperature just right, he thought. Perhaps not at six o'clock in the morning but certainly by nine o'clock, just three short hours away, the day would be bright and sunny, with marshmallow clouds moving lazily across the sky. The trees in Central Park would whisper and do their dance for all the tourists, dog walkers, and joggers trying to take advantage of the golden day.
Mace stood a few minutes more to savor the early morning air before he walked to the curb and hailed a taxi. He could have driven, but today was a secretive kind of day, a day when he didn't want to be followed or watched. A Mace Carlisle day.
He was headed to the office of his lawyer, Oliver Goldfeld. Oliver was the only other person he knew who arrived at his office by six thirty, just the way he, Mace, did. For over twenty years, the two men had convened for coffee and Danish at Oliver's office two days a week to discuss Mace's affairs. It was something Mace looked forward to, because he always seemed to have a good day after meeting with Oliver.
Oliver and Mace weren't just lawyer and client. They were friends in the true sense of the word. While Mace wasn't Oliver's only client, he was his biggest and richest client. In fact, most of Oliver's clients had signed on with Oliver because of Mace's endorsement of the lawyer. Goldfeld and Associates was an eight-man law firm whose specialty was corporate law.
It was six twenty-five when Mace stepped out of the elevator and walked to the plate-glass doors he knew would be open. No one else would be in the offices yet, so they would have the place to themselves.
The reception room was neither lavish nor shabby. There were shiny green plants and a lot of mahogany. The lighting was subdued and the carpeting soft. Once, years ago, Mace had told his friend that he needed to "slick up the place," and this was the result.
Mace looked up at the sound of footsteps coming down one of the halls. He fixed a smile he wasn't feeling onto his face and moved forward.
Some people meeting both men for the first time might take them for brothers, or at least close relatives. Both men were tall, six-two and -three. Both weighed in at one-seventy or thereabouts. Both liked to dress in custom-cut Savile Row suits. Both had gray hair, and both had summer blue eyes even at their age, which was, in both cases, sixty. Both had hawkish noses and strong chins. They had both been bachelors until three years ago, when Mace had gone off the rails and married his masseuse, a marriage he had regretted the moment he returned from his Hawaiian honeymoon.
Oliver led the way to his private conference room, where he already had two containers of Dunkin' Donuts coffee and a bag of sugary donuts sitting on the table. "Your turn next week, Mace," he said as he handed over napkins and paper plates.
"Shouldn't you be serving this on fine china, with all the money I pay you?" Mace grumbled.
Oliver laughed, a great, booming sound. "Mace, you say that every time we picnic here in the conference room. One of these days, I'm going to surprise you and haul in some fine china just for you. Spit it out, buddy. You look like hell, by the way."
"I feel like hell. Where's Andrew? I thought you said he wanted to sit in this morning, so he could do a hatchet job on me." Andrew was the firm's CPA and a lawyer in his own right.
"It's his turn to carpool this morning. I don't know what more he can say except to say it in person. I faxed his report to your office. You need to get rid of her, Mace, before she does a number on you from which you cannot recover. Wall Street is already rumbling, but then you know that. I have the divorce papers drawn up; they just have to be filed and served on her. I did the restraining orders for her and her son. You hired that weasel, and he's biting you big-time. The eviction notice is prepared and ready to be served. The thing is, I want you out of here, far away, when all this goes down. Tell me you understand, Mace?"
"I understand. Did she really divert twenty-seven million dollars to her own bank? I almost lost my lunch when I read that. Yes, yes, I know I never should have put her son in charge of the legal department. Look, I was stupid, okay? I'm sorry I didn't listen to you. I admit to being the biggest fool to walk the face of the Earth. What more do you want me to say, Oliver?"
Oliver massaged his chin as he stared at his friend. "Do not worry about the money. We can freeze the money. I have a very good man who excels at such things. But I want her out of your apartment before I do that. At the proper moment, her credit cards will be canceled, right along with everything else. The minute she walks out of the building, it will get done. Everything has to be synchronized, and you have to be gone. The weasel will also be escorted from your corporate offices by your security. I need you to tell me you are okay with all of this, Mace."
"What about the prenup?" Mace asked.
"Ten million dollars if the marriage lasts five years. It's cut-and-dried. When I draw up a prenup, I draw up a prenup. No way on this Earth can it be broken. She gets nothing other than what you've given her in the way of jewelry and her own personal bank account, which, by the way, has over eight hundred thousand dollars in it. That, plus what you paid her son for doing nothing and screwing up your legal department, is more than fair for three years of marriage. I also took the liberty of canceling the lease on his apartment in Trump Towers that you're on the hook for. What I mean is, it will be canceled the moment your security walks him out of the building."
"Should I worry about any of this, Oliver?"
"Hell, yes, you should worry. Your wife is a greedy, vindictive woman. She's already saying you're over the edge and doing insane things to the detriment of the company. Your shareholders are not going to like that. As I said, the boys on the street are making rumbling noises. No matter how you look at it, Mace, it's a mess. Now, when are you planning on leaving?"
"As soon as I walk out of here. I can't go back to that place. The minute she's out, put it up for sale and be sure to get the locks changed. You have someone who can handle all of that, right? Oh, and have someone pack up my things and put them in storage. In the meantime, I can buy what I need when I get to where I'm going."
"Where are you going, Mace?"
"I don't know. When I arrive, I'll let you know. Here," he said, tossing his cell phone across the conference table. "I bought a new one. When I call you, you'll be able to see the number. Here are my credit cards. I've seen enough spy movies about people going on the run and the good guys tracking them by their cell phones and credit cards."
"Take mine, Mace. At least take my passport. The picture is bad enough that no one will look twice. We could pass for each other anytime, anyplace. You need cash, too."
"Yes, I know, but I didn't want to risk going to the bank and taking money out. I didn't want to tip my hand. Give me some cash out of one of my escrow funds. One last thing; I want you to have my power of attorney, Oliver."
"Not necessary. The old one is still good, Mace. How much cash do you want?"
Mace grimaced. "A wad. I can always call you if I run out. Okay, now what is my cover story?"
Oliver blinked. "You're asking me? You're the one taking it on the lam. I thought you had a plan."
"Well, if getting in the car and driving somewhere is a plan, then I have a plan. I'll just drive till I run out of gas, and that's where I'll end up. Can you come up with something better?"
Oliver shook his head. "No, actually, I can't. What car are you planning on driving, Mace?"
Mace slapped at his forehead. "Crap! My car will stand out like a daisy in a manure field. How about I take one of yours?"
"Mine are just as noticeable as yours. In case you forgot, we bought our cars at the same time. So take your own and don't worry about it. When whoever it is gets around to me, I will have all the answers. You better get going, Mace; it's almost seven o'clock. No matter which way you're going to go, you are going to hit rush-hour traffic. Let me get the cash for you, then you need to go. Check in from time to time, okay?"
"I will. So, from this moment on, I am going to be Oliver Goldfeld, right?"
"Just don't go practicing law and giving out advice. I don't relish being hauled before the bar. What about her and the kid's cars?"
"Take them," Mace snapped.
"Sell them to the highest bidder. I really don't care what you do. Just get rid of them."
"I have this vision of the mother and son riding the subway. Now, there's something I would pay money to see."
In spite of himself, Mace laughed.
Five minutes later, Mace had a manila envelope full of cash.
Five minutes after that, the two old friends gave each other a manly hug.
"This is going to turn out okay, isn't it, Oliver?"
"Well, if it doesn't, it won't be for lack of trying. Everything is set to go. She won't even know you're missing until you fail to show up this evening. That puts you in a good position. Keep a low profile, and I'll take care of this end."
"Oliver, why hasn't either one of us used her name? We refer to her as her or she. We don't even call the boy by name."
"First of all, he isn't a boy, he's thirty-three years old. His name is Eli. Her name is Eileen. There, does that make you feel better?"
"Not one bit. See ya when I see ya, Oliver."
"Go on, you big lug, get out of here before I go all mushy on you. Hey, on your way out, why don't you go to the SPCA and pick up a dog. Pick the ugliest one they have, the one no one else wants, and that dog will love you forever. You have enough time to do it."
"You know what, Oliver? That's the best advice you've given me since I got here. Do me a favor; call them and tell them I'll be by to pick her or him up in an hour. I'm going to do it. Thanks for the suggestion. Man and his dog. I like that. I really do."
When the door closed behind Mace Carlisle, Oliver Goldfeld picked up the phone to call the SPCA. While he waited for the call to go through, he muttered, "Good luck, Mace."
Ninety minutes later, Mace Carlisle roared into the SPCA parking lot. He climbed out and literally sprinted toward the door, to be greeted with barking and howling dogs. A frazzled attendant looked up and said, "You must be Mr. Goldfeld." Mace nodded, then looked around. He had a bad moment when he realized he was there just to rescue one dog. He blinked, and in that instant he knew if he wanted to, he could save every animal in the shelter. He blinked again and yanked out his brand-new cell phone and called Oliver. He turned away and spoke quickly and quietly. A huge smile split his features when he turned back to the attractive blond woman behind the counter.
"Here she is," the woman, whose name tag indicated that she was Connie Toulouse, said. "Her name is Lola. She's a mix of God only knows what. She's timid, and she needs some TLC. Actually, she needs a lot of TLC. Are you up to it, sir? Owning a dog is a huge responsibility. Lola is going to depend on you. I don't have any stats on her. Someone found her and brought her here, so I have to assume she's been on her own for a while. I cleaned her up, and she's had her shots. I'd have your own vet look her over. That will be seventy-five dollars."
Mace whipped out two one-hundred-dollar bills and laid them on the counter. "Give me one of everything she's going to need." Then he bent down to look at the skinny, trembling dog, who was trying desperately to be invisible to the huge man standing over her. Mace dropped to his knees. When he looked into Lola's eyes, it was love at first sight. He picked her up and held her close to his chest. He couldn't ever remember anything feeling this good, this right. He stroked her head and whispered words he would never remember later. Lola continued to shake, but, gradually, she seemed to calm down. Mace continued to croon soft words in her ear.
Mace looked at his $1.38 million Maybach Landaulet, which generated 543.1 horsepower. Lola was certainly going from rags to riches. He grinned, something he hadn't done in a very long time. He opened the door and set the dog down in the front seat. He threw her gear into the back and slid behind the wheel. He buckled up and set Lola on his lap. He babbled nonstop to the dog until she relaxed and curled into a ball on his lap. "Don't you worry, little lady, you're mine now. I'm going to take good care of you, and I'm not going to feed you those rabbit-poop pellets Connie Toulouse gave us. We're going to stop at the first place we come to when we get out of Manhattan and get you some real food. Later, we'll adjust your diet after the vet checks you out."
It was almost noon when Mace peeled into a fast-food stop in New Jersey and went through the drive-through. He ordered basically one of everything, then pulled the ultra-luxurious high-end car over to a shaded area. Lola sniffed at the bag of food but didn't move. In the end, Mace fed her by hand. She ate daintily and looked up at him with soulful brown eyes. She had completely stopped shaking by then. After eating as much as she wanted, Lola sat up, put her paws on Mace's shoulders, and licked at his face. Mace could feel his eyes mist over. After hugging the dog, he opened the car door.
Lola cringed. "No, no, we're just going to go over there under the tree. I'm going to carry you. It's okay, Lola. Shhh," Mace said as he cradled the dog against his chest.
Once they were under the tree, Mace sat down on a bench and lowered Lola to the ground. "I think this is where you pee or something since you just ate and drank. You have to do it."
Lola tilted her head to the side, listened to the words, and squatted. "Good girl! You ... ah ... have to do anything else?" Lola tilted her head again and moved off to the base of the tree, where she proceeded to do the something else. Mace laughed. When she was finished, he scooped her up, and they were back in the car within minutes and on the way south to God only knew where.
By late afternoon, Mace and Lola had entered the state of Virginia. He stopped for the night at a roadside campground whose sign said that dogs were welcome. The cabin was a far cry from the Ritz, but not only was it clean, it even smelled clean.
In the lobby of the main cabin, Mace picked up a road map and took it with him back to his cabin. He spread it out on the floor and told his dog, "Pick a place, Lola." He never knew if Lola had understood him or not, but she obligingly planted a paw on the map. Mace looked down and laughed. "Okay, Lola, Alabama it is!"
Julie Wyatt looked down at her dogs and wagged her finger. "Listen up, you guys. I am just going to the market and bank, and I'll be back in an hour. You chew even one string, and you both get punished. Bark once if you understand me, twice if you plan on defying me."
The two Chesapeake Bay retrievers looked up at their mistress and barked. Once. Julie laughed. "Yeah, right! Listen to me, Cooper. I know you have separation anxiety when I leave, but I am coming back." Then she looked over at Gracie, who was swishing her tail importantly. "Bite his ear if he starts chewing, Gracie."
Normally, Julie took the dogs with her when she ran her errands, but the A/C in her truck was on the sluggish side, and the big dogs had trouble with the high humidity. So she was leaving them behind.
Outside, on her flower-bedecked veranda, Julie looked at the golden day, then at her yard. Yep, with all the rain they'd had lately, her four-acre yard was beginning to look just like Jurassic Park. She groaned when she thought about how much extra she was going to have to pay the gardener just to trim everything up before it got out of control.
As she looked around at the different flowerpots and the comfortable furniture on the veranda, she found herself smiling. Once the sun went down, she loved sitting out with a frosty glass of iced tea and watching the paddle fans overhead whir softly, causing the luscious ferns hanging from the beams to stir in the light breeze. The dogs loved it, too, especially when she gave them bacon-flavored chew bones to chew on. Sometimes she even dozed off with the dogs.
Excerpted from Gotcha! by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 2013 by MRK Productions. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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