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Travis Riggs looked up at the imposing wrought-iron gate, and for the first time in his life he knew what the word awe truly meant. Who the hell had a gate like this? Who needed a gate like this? What was Daniel Logan protecting? This ostentatious show of wealth didn't jibe with the Daniel Logan he'd heard about, the one who'd spent six years on death row for a murder he didn't commit, the one who'd devoted his life to helping other men and women who'd been falsely convicted of serious crimes.
He wondered if this was some wild-goose chase.
Still, Travis had come too far to turn back. Whoever Daniel Logan was, he was the last hope for saving Eric. Travis had put on his best shirt and his newest pair of jeans, the ones that weren't yet paint spattered. His work boots weren't exactly classy, but it was that or beat-up athletic shoes. He didn't have much call for dressing up in his normal life.
Taking a deep breath, he pushed the buzzer.
"Yes, may I help you?" The husky female voice was unexpected. Whoever she was, she had an accent, not strong but exotic nonetheless. A picture came into his mind of a sultry Spanish flamenco dancer.
"Yes, my name is Travis Riggs. I've come to see Daniel Logan."
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No, I'm sorry, I don't." Every time he thought about his unsuccessful phone calls to Project Justice, his blood boiled. I'm sorry, you'll have to fill out the online form. No matter what he said, he got the same response. Even when he'd gone in person to the foundation's physical address in downtown Houston, he still couldn't get anywhere. An elderly dragon of a woman had barred his way and insisted the online form was the only method open to him.
"I'm very sorry," the flamenco dancer said, "but Mr. Logan's schedule is full. To see him, you have to have an appointment."
"I tried to make an appointment." Travis kept a death grip on his temper. "But they kept telling me I had to go online and fill out a form."
"Oh you're here because of Project Justice?"
"Yes, ma'am." If he could just keep the mystery woman from cutting him off, he was sure he could talk his way through this impenetrable gate. He was hopeless with online forms, but he could be very persuasive with women. Younger ones, anyway.
"So, may I ask why you didn't fill out the form?"
"I did. At least, I think I did." He'd gone to the public library to use their computer, but computer skills weren't his strong suit. "I got stuck in a loop that kept taking me back to the same page, and then I kept getting these error messages.. " By the time his thirty minutes were up, he'd been ready to bash his head through the computer screen. He'd hit the submit button, but he still wasn't sure exactly what he'd submitted.
"I'm sorry you had such a bad experience." The funny thing was she actually sounded like she was sorry. "Maybe you could get someone to help you?"
Like who? All of his many friends? He'd pretty much lost touch with everybody he'd ever been close to, except Eric. Eric was the one constant in his life. And he was not going to abandon his cause. Ever.
"With all due respect, ma'am, I've kind of run out of options. I'm up against a deadline. My brother's going to lose his little girl." Travis realized then there was a security camera above him. The woman with the sexy voice was probably watching his every move, yet he had no idea what she looked like.
"You have a friend or loved one who is in prison?" she asked, sounding curious.
"Yes, ma'am. My little brother, Eric. I can promise you on a stack of Bibles he didn't do it. He would never kill his wife. He loved her. He never raised a hand to her, and he certainly would never do what they said he did."
"Has he exhausted his appeals? Is he on death row?"
"He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. And he's still appealingbut like I said, he's about to lose his daughter. She's going to be adopted by her horrid foster parents. MacKenzie is the only link he has to Tammy. I have to do something. It's not fair."
Travis had intended to keep his emotions out of it. But every time he thought about MacKenzie moving on to new parents, calling some other people Mommy and Daddy, his throat closed up and his eyes burned. Eric had been the best father in the world. From the time baby MacKenzie had come home from the hospital, Eric had changed her diapers and fed her, helped with 2:00 a.m. feedings, gone with Tammy to take the baby for doctor visits. The sun had risen and set with that little girl. And now he couldn't even see her, except for sporadic and very brief visits with a glass partition between them.
"Just a minute," Ms. Sexy Voice said. "I will talk to Mr. Logan and see if he can spare a few minutes. Your brother is Eric? Eric Riggs?"
"Yes." She probably recognized the case. The entire trial had been televised on some cable station.
"Please be patient. Sometimes it takes a while to pin Daniel down to a conversation."
Travis would be patient. He would stand outside this house all day and all night if he had to. But somebody had to listen to him.
Elena Marquez turned off the mic, but she continued to regard their visitor on the monitor. He was a man of uncommon handsomenessnot like a pretty-boy movie star, but more like a cowboy riding the fencesdark, glossy hair, rugged, tanned. A face of harsh planes and angles that somehow fit together pleasingly.
But the world was full of handsome men. It was the emotion in his voiceand on his facethat moved her. Normally, if some stranger came to the gate, security turned them awayperiod. Daniel Logan, with his extreme wealth, was a target for all kinds of kooks and terrorists. Today, however, Elena was sitting in for their regular security guy while he was on his lunch break. They were short staffed; it was holiday season, and the flu was running rampant among the employees. She'd just gotten over it herself.
She would talk to Daniel.
Abandoning her post by the front-gate monitor, she made her way through the house to the elevator, then descended to Daniel's lair. That's what everyone called it. Down here he had his office, which looked something like NASA's Mission Control. He sat in the middle of a horseshoe-shaped desk he'd had custom-made out of some exotic wood. A minimum of three computers lined up on the desk. Then he had TV screens all around on the walls, tuned to the news and weather channels. And he always had at least three or four cell phoneswhy anyone needed to have that many, she wasn't sure. He only had one mouth, but she supposed he could text with one, talk with another and check email with the third.
When he wanted to take a break, he had his own fully equipped workout room. There was even a dining patio with faux sunlight that looked as if it could have been transported from a Tuscan sidewalk cafe.
Daniel's commanding voice drifted toward her as she strode down the hall. "I can see this is something I have to take care of myself. Give me an hour." He sounded thoroughly vexed about something, so this probably wasn't the best time to approach him with a request. But what choice did she have?
He was hanging up the phone as she rounded the corner and tapped on his open office door. "Daniel, can I have a word with you?"
"You can have ten words, as long as you can walk and talk at the same time." He stood and went to the antique armoire in the corner, where he had several sets of clothes on hangerssuits, tennis clothes, polo clothes. He grabbed one of the suits at random, pulled it out and hung it on the door. Then he started peeling his clothes off.
Elena was used to this sort of thing from him. She turned around and faced the wall. "Is something wrong?" Dumb question, Elena. Of course something was wrong. And she'd just wasted three of her ten words. She never knew if Daniel was serious about things like that. She'd always had a hard time deciphering his dry sense of humor.
"You could say that. There's a possible leak in Reactor Number Four."
"Oh, no." That was all Daniel neededsome kind of radioactive leak in the new power plant Logan Oil had recently acquired. Logan Energy, she reminded herself. The corporation had changed its name as it refocused on alternate forms of energy.
"I'm almost positive it's an equipment malfunction and not an actual leak," he said, more to himself than her. "But it's something I feel the need to micromanage."
"Understandable. But, Daniel, there's a man here who really needs to talk to you."
"You'll have to reschedule his appointment. Is it that guy about the intern program?"
"No, he's coming later. This man doesn't have an appointment. But"
"They why are we even talking about him? Tell him to make an appointment."
"He tried, but apparently the online form tripped him up, and Daniel, he seems so desperate. I feel you should listen to him."
"Desperate about what? You can turn around."
She did. He was in the process of tucking a crisp white shirt into his suit pants. Without being asked, she searched in the bottom of the armoire for an appropriate pair of shoes. It was one of the things she was good atanticipating his needs. She enjoyed her job, but it was demanding, and she was always glad that, at the end of the workday, she could clock out and his wife, Jamie, could take over. Not that he ordered Jamie around the way he did Elena.
"His brother is in prison for killing his wife, and"
"This is about Project Justice? Did you tell him to go online"
"He said he's done that. But he had trouble with the form, and there's a deadline involved"
"Death row?" Daniel knotted his tie without even using a mirror.
"No. Life in prison. But"
"An impending execution is the only excuse for anybody not going through the proper channels. Elena, you know the rules. Frankly, I'm surprised that you're bothering me with this."
She felt properly chastised. But if Daniel could just talk to him for five minutes Okay, she was pulling out the big guns. "I'd consider it a personal favor." She didn't ask him for much. He worked her hard, but he also paid her well and demonstrated his concern for her well-being every day.
That made Daniel stop. "Elena. I can't today. This isn't an ordinary crisis. If we can't get the new power plant on line, on schedule, it will cost us millions of dollars. And if this is more than a gauge malfunctionwell, it could be a lot worse."
Logan Energy's foray into alternative energies was a gamble, but Daniel thought it unwise to keep all his eggs in the fossil fuel basket. He wanted to do his part to reduce carbon emissions, too. Naturally he was more anxious than usual.
"Tell this man that if he can't manage the form on his ownthough frankly a trained monkey could do ithe can ask for assistance. If someone really needs Project Justice's help, they'll persevere." With that, Daniel strode toward the stairs, leaving her in his wake. "Call Randall and have him get the Town Car ready."
Clearly this conversation was over.
She hated the thought of going back to Travis Riggs and telling him that a meeting with Daniel was impossible. It made her boss sound so unfeeling, when really he wasn't. He just had so many demands on his time that he couldn't accommodate everyone; he had to set priorities.
Well, Elena wasn't going to give Travis the bad news over the intercom. That was just too cold. She understood what it was like to be desperate. At a tender age, she'd experienced the real risk of her father going to prison simply for speaking his mind. How much worse must it have been for Eric Riggs's little girl to lose her father to incarceration?
Brandon, one of Daniel's security guys, had come back from lunch, and now she could take her lunch hour. She threw a blazer on over her dress and exited the house through the massive front door. She made her way down the driveway, belatedly recalling that cobblestones and high heels didn't mix very well. She ended up taking off her shoes and walking in her bare feet. As she approached, she saw he was still standing there. How long would he have waited?
Travis was getting himself worked up. Who did this guy think he was, making him stand at the gates like this, not even letting him onto the property? Travis wasn't some criminal planning to steal the silverware.
Daniel was probably inside his climate-controlled mansion finishing off his filet mignon and caviar lunch, planning whether to spend his afternoon playing polo or tennis. Travis had heard that he actually owned his own string of polo ponies, like freaking Prince Charles or something.
Who cared about some poor schmuck standing out in the street? Let him wait. How long did it take to ask someone whether he could see a guy for five minutes? If Daniel was going to turn down Travis's request, why couldn't he just do it already? Then Travis could move on to his next strategy.
He wasn't sure what that strategy would be, but he wasn't giving up. Maybe he would go to the media, point out how cold and heartless the supposedly philanthropic Daniel Logan really was.
He saw a flash of blue coming toward him and refo-cused his eyes. It was a woman in a blue dress and a blue jacket. Carrying her shoes. A tall, shapely woman with long, golden-brown hair and the bearing of a queen. Could it be? Could this be the owner of that incredible, exotic voice from the intercom?
The closer she got, the more sure he became. Her looks were as exotic as her voice. Was she Brazilian, maybe?
She raised her hand in a little wave, but he was too transfixed to wave back.
"Still here." He was amazed his voice sounded so normal. "You're letting me in?"
"No. I'm letting myself out." She unlocked the gate with some kind of magnetic card plus a numeric code she quickly typed in on a keypad. The gates began to open, swinging almost silently inward. As soon as the gap between the gates was wide enough, she slid through. The moment she was through, the gates halted and then reversed direction.
"What's going on?" he asked. Her behavior seemed strange, to say the least.
"I wanted to talk to you face-to-face. I'm Elena Mar-quez, Daniel's personal assistant."
"You could have let me in, instead of walking all the way down here. What is it, a quarter mile?"
She ignored the question. "The staff isn't allowed to let anyone onto the property who doesn't have security clearance."
That told him all he needed to know. "Son of a bitch. He's not going to listen."
"Please, try to understand. He's got a lot on his plate right now."
"Oh, and I don't? My whole family's been torn apart."
"Some lowlife is out there walking free while my brother rots in prison. His little girl is so traumatized she won't talk about what happened, and she's about to be adopted by a couple of loons who actually like it that she hardly talks. I think the only reason they want her is because she's going to inherit a bunch of money from her great-grandmother."
"Yeah? Well, sorry doesn't cut it. I'll stand out here all day and all night. I'll chain myself to these damn ridiculous gates." He gestured toward the wrought-iron monstrosities. "What kind of egomaniac has front gates with their six-foot initials worked into the design?"
"Daniel didn't do thathis father did. Look, Mr. Riggs, I wouldn't recommend that you take up some kind of vigil here. It won't work. Daniel takes a dim view of people who use extreme tactics to try to pressure him into doing something. The result will be the opposite of what you want. He'll have you arrested for trespassing."