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Of course the son of a bitch had to be buried in the rain. Leanne Fairbanks glowered at the mausoleum, then yanked her heel out of the mud and advanced toward it.
"Are they all gone, do you think?"
At her mother's question, Leanne surveyed Fields Grove Cemeterythe premiere spot for the dead elite of Chicago. Lionel Collins lay in the family crypt, a large domed building of gray granite, sporting Greek columns and two stone lions for guards. Leanne grimaced at the lions. The egomaniac.
No birds sang. Wet black trees supported branches thinly covered with April buds. Sprinkles of rain made hardly a patter. Dead silence, she thought, then quelled her ill-timed humor. The emptiness of the surroundings unnerved her. "I don't see anyone."
They hadn't attended the private ceremony held in the funeral chapel. Her mom had decided against seeing Gloria, Lionel's daughter-in-law, and her son, Mark, much to Leanne's relief. She'd have gone for support if her mom had felt the need, but personally, Leanne had no use for either of the Collinses. Much as they had no use for her.
They arrived at the mausoleum door, which Leanne was thankful hadn't been locked yet. Two workers turned at their entrance, then ducked out into the drizzle. Their portable floor lamps lit most of the fifteen by fifteen-foot-interior like high noon, illuminating the gaping hole in the wall. Shadows lingered in the corners. Leanne snugged her raincoat tighter.
Her mom closed the umbrella and smoothed her dark-blond hair back into its chignon. At fifty-four, she had only a few lines, although her green eyes had lost their sparkle during the past week.
Giving her mom a moment of privacy,Leanne inspected the crypt. Lionel would be interred above Helen, his wife of forty-seven years. Warren, their sonmy half-brotherlay at rest across from them. She probed the thought like a sore tooth but experienced no pain. He'd been a stranger, no more than a name to her. Below him was a marker with Gloria's name and birth year chiseled on it.
Leanne frowned. There wasn't a place for Mark.
She started to mention this to her mom, but stopped at the sight of the grief on her face. Her mother's fingertips hovered just above the mahogany casket, tears slipping down her cheeks.
Leanne placed her arm around her mother's shoulders, offering support but no words. She had nothing to say about this man. Other than generous monthly checks, he'd ignored her existence. Conscience money, she thought, then corrected herself. It couldn't have been. Lionel Collins hadn't had a conscience.
Her mother sniffed and dabbed at her tears with a tissue. Leanne hugged her tighter. "He was a good man. He was," her mom emphasized, as though Leanne had argued the point. She wouldn't, not today. If she hadn't changed her mother's mind in the past, debating "the Lion's" questionable merits wouldn't help anything now.
"Yes, he was," a male voice said behind them.
They spun. A tall man filled the doorway, his silky dark hair absorbing the illumination from the workmen's lights. As he stepped forward, she noticed his deep brown eyes and had to repress a shiver. Chilly air, she told herself, wanting to believe it. She recognized him from the financial section of the newspaper.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I thought everyone had headed to the hotel already. My mother lost an earring and is afraid it dropped" he eyed the casket "somewhere in here." He leaned forward, hand extended. "I'm Mark Collins."
Leanne gaped when her mother reached to take his hand between both of hers and held on.
"Jenny Fairbanks," she said in her quiet, dignified way. "This is my daughter, Leanne. We're so sorry for your loss."
He placed his other hand over her mother's. He hadn't reacted at all to the introduction. Smooth, Leanne thought.
Mark gestured to the man behind him. "This is Todd Benton. He's come to help me" again he glanced at the casket "in my search."
"Leanne Fairbanks?" Todd asked. He stepped forward, his thin eyebrows creeping up on his forehead toward where his hairline should have been. "As well as being a family friend, I'm also the late Mr. Collins's lawyer. I have information of interest to you."
Leanne frowned. "What might that be, Mr. Benton?"
"Your inheritance, of course. I'd like to speak to you in private. Perhaps we could set up a time for you to come to my office."
"What inheritance?" Leanne and Mark said at the same time.
She looked at him, and he glared back. She tried to digest the news while he pierced her with his gaze. His dark eyes narrowed before he turned to the lawyer.
"I seem to be a step behind, Benton. Why is Miss Fairbanks named in my grandfather's will?"
Leanne's mouth dropped open. The nerve of the man. She hadn't expected to inherit anythingnor did she want anything from a man who'd abandoned her mother when she became pregnant. But for Mark to question Lionel's mentioning her was appalling.
"Because she's Lionel's daughter, of course."
He hadn't known? Leanne would have accused him of deception if he hadn't gone pale beneath his tan. Emotions crossed his face, but on such short acquaintance, she couldn't interpret them. He frowned in what could have been confusion. His eyes widened, possibly with disbelief, and was that pain in the tightness around his mouth?
What had the Collins family been told? All these years she thought they'd known about her. If they hadn't, she could forgive their silence. She'd have only Lionel to blame. Perhaps they'd want to embrace her as a member of the family now that they knew.
"His daughter," Benton repeated. "You didn't ? Come on, Mark, you must have known."
Mark shook his head. Had he lost his power of speech? Leanne felt that way herself.
"Gloria and Warren never told you?" Benton asked.
"Mother knows?" Mark whispered, never breaking eye contact with Leanne.
"Of course she knows. Your entire family knew of Lionel's scandal."
A chill washed over Leanne. So much for being embraced. Benton drew himself upright. "This is obviously not the place for this discussion. Miss Fairbanks, if I may have your current address, I'll contact you with the details of your inheritance."
Leanne broke away from the hold Mark's gaze had on her. She hesitated to leave her mother with Mark, especially after his receiving such news.
After a few hesitant steps, she withdrew a notepad and pen from her purse and jotted down the information. She tore off the paper and handed it to the lawyer. "I wrote my home and work numbers, as well."
"Thank you, Miss Fairbanks. I know this is a hard time for you"
"Yes," Leanne cut in, then returned to her mother's side. The man had no idea.
"Ms. Fairbanks," Mark said to her, "my mother is waiting at the hotel where we're having the luncheon." He rubbed the back of his neck, then shook his head. "I'm rambling, sorry. I'm still processing this. I want you to come back with me so we can straighten all this out."
Leanne raised an eyebrow. "There's nothing to straighten out. Talking to your mother won't change my paternity. Lionel Collins iswasmy father."
"No one is arguing that point," said Benton. He glanced at Mark. "It would benefit everyone to understand what's at stake here. We could stop at my office."
He turned to her mother and hesitated. "I don't believe I'll come," her mother said with a slight smile. "I understand Gloria's feelings, and I'm not up to the stares and gossip myself."
"What do you mean 'what's at stake?'" Mark asked.
Benton peered toward the door. The workers stood smoking under the meager shelter of a tree a few feet away.
"I don't give a damn about someone overhearing"
Benton sighed. "Mark, you don't want it in the news that the Collins heirs were heard fighting at the interment."
"'Heirs?'" Mark voiced Leanne's thought. He looked at her, then her mother.
Leanne put an arm around her mom.
Her mother studied the lawyer. "You said you need to speak with my daughter, Mr. Benton?"
After a moment, she inclined her head, and Benton's shoulders relaxed. What private communication did they just have? Leanne wondered.
Her mother turned to her. "Why don't you go with them, honey? I've got my car. I'm sure they can bring you home after you finish."
"Of course," Mark said. "I'll see to it myself."
Leanne heard his formal tone and took it as reticence.
"That won't be necessary. I can afford a cab."
Benton studied his shoes while Mark frowned.
"He's only being polite," her mother said.
Leanne ignored the reprimand. "If we're discussing the will, shouldn't my mother come?"
Mark and Leanne regarded the lawyer, who remained silent. After a moment, Mark looked toward the doorway where rain continued to mist the air.
"Honey." Her mother laid a hand on Leanne's arm. "I don't think I'm mentioned in the will."
Leanne stilled. It wasn't possible. Even Lionel Collins couldn't be that cruel. She awaited the lawyer's denial, but Mr. Benton shook his head. "I'm sorry."
She gazed at her mom's tranquil expression, knowing the hurt it must conceal. Glancing around for someone to contradict this idiocy, she saw Mark looking at her with compassion. No, his concern wasn't aimed at her.
"My grandfather was a hard man," he said to her mother, "as you may know. I'm sorry he's done this to you."
Her mother's lips quavered. "You're a kind man, Mr. Collins."
"No, ma'am, I'm afraid I'm too much like my grandfather."
She cocked her head. "I don't think so. Not in the ways that matter."
Leanne stared at them, disbelieving. What kind of mutual-admiration crap was this? Granted, it wasn't Mark's fault her mother had been slighted, but she'd always thought of the Collinses as the enemy. Now here were her mom and the grandson making eyes at each other.
A kind man, she fumed. As though her mother knew anything about him. And him offering compassion as though he could possibly understand their lives. He'd grown up with his parents and grandparents, attending private schools, with privilege and wealth. Her mother had struggled as a hairdresser, living in a small house in a fading middle-class suburb.
"I'm going home," her mother said. "Call me when you can."
"Now, dear, you go on. Mr. Benton probably has a lot to explain to you."
Her mother disappeared after shaking hands with the men, while Leanne stood in disbelief. She's left me to the wolves.
Mark shook his head. He couldn't imagine even the Lion doing something this heartless. His grandfather's nickname came as much from his way of doing businessterritorially, with a snarl and show of fangs for anyone who got too closeas from his given name of Lionel or his mane of blond hair.
Leanne had inherited his hair, along with whatever else he'd left her. Her face had gone white when she'd realized Jenny had been slighted, and her lips had tightened. He had the overwhelming urge to caress her cheek, not only to comfort her, but to enjoy its softness against his fingers.
He cleared his throat, drawing Leanne's attention. Her green eyes appeared darker, with the black center more pronounced than before. Could she be in shock?
She turned to Todd. Her stiff posture and angry expressionnot shock, after allproclaimed her eagerness to get away from them. "Mr. Benton, if you would please send me notice of whatever Lionel felt guilty enough to leave me, I'd appreciate it."
"Well, you see, that may be a problem."
"Why?" she asked.
"The terms of Lionel's will are complicated. It involves two" He shot a look at Mark. "uh, inheritances. One is a cash amount. The other is "
"Spit it out, man." Mark nearly shook the lawyer. He didn't trust that furtive glance Todd had given him. Something was up.
"We should really discuss this in my office," Benton said. "Perhaps we could just ride over there"
"I need to get back to the luncheon," Mark said.
"And I have no intention of going anywhere with you two."
This startled Mark, as well as Benton, judging by the open mouth of the other man.
"I don't intend to be rude," Leanne said a little more quietly, "but I also need to go comfort my mother." She glared at Mark.
He hadn't meant to be insensitive. He wasn't even sure how he'd managed to ruffle her feathers, but she was incensed. Her first statement about not going anywhere with them rang truer than this half excuse of comforting her mothereven though the poor woman did need consoling, Mark thought.
"Just give her the highlights," Mark said.
Benton sighed, then nodded. "I suppose as you're the principles involved, I could do that here. I want you to know I did try to dissuade him, Mark." He cleared his throat. "Lionel has set you up in competition against each other."
Mark looked at Leanne. Her furrowed brow told him she shared his confusion. "What competition?"
"There are three tasks you must complete. Whichever of you completes two tasks first, to the satisfaction of the board of directors, wins."
Mark drew a breath. He had a long association with the Lion's manipulation tactics. This wouldn't be good. "Just what do we win?"
Benton straightened. "The winner gets all of Lionel's stock in the Collins Company and thereby his position as CEO."
Mark clenched his jaw. "That bastard."
"Do you mind?" Leanne said. "I really dislike that term."
He blinked, reminded of her presence. When he caught her meaning, he said, "Sorry. I meant, that son of a bitch."
She inclined her head. "Thank you."
He couldn't look away from her. His competition. For CEO. Dear God, he couldn't believe it. He'd been training for that position since his father had died ten years before, training with the Lion himself. Now it could all be snatched away from him at the whim of a controlling old basson of a bitch.
For years, he'd tried to prove himself worthy of the Collins name. He'd thought his position as successor secure, as he was the only Collins left, other than his mother.