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He didn't believe her.
Color her not surprised. You've got to go uptown to fight uptown. Minute the thought entered her brain, she should have shoved it aside. After all, bad ideas were a Roxy O'Brien specialty. But no, she opened the phone directory and picked the first uptown law firm whose ad mentioned wills. Which was why she now sat in her best imitation business outfit—really her waitress uniform with a new plaid blazer—waiting for Michael Templeton, attorney at law, to deliver his verdict.
"Where did you say you found these letters?" he asked. His gold-rimmed reading glasses couldn't mask the skeptical glint in his brown eyes. "Your mother's closet?"
"Yes," she replied. "In a shoe box." Tucked under a collection of seasonal sweaters.
"And you didn't know they existed before then?"
"I didn't know anything until last month."
That was putting it mildly. Her head was still reeling.
The attorney didn't reply. Again, not surprising. He'd done very little talking the entire meeting. In fact, Roxy got the distinct impression he found the whole appointment something of a trial. Something to get through so he could move on to more important, more believable business.
To his credit, disbelief or not, he didn't rush her out the door. He let her lay out her story without interruption, and was now carefully reading the letter in his hand. The first of what was a collection of thirty, all lovingly preserved in chronological order. Her mother's secret.
You have his eyes.
The memory rolled through her. Four words. Fourteen letters. With the power to change her life. One minute she was Roxanne O'Brien, daughter of Fiona and Connor O'Brien, the next she was Who? The daughter of some man she'd never met. A lover her mother never—ever—mentioned. That's why she came to Mike Templeton. To find answers.
Well, maybe a little bit more than answers. After all, if her mother told the truth, then she, Roxy O'Brien whoever, could be entitled to a far different life. A far better life.
You have his eyes.
Speaking of eyes, Mike Templeton had set down the letter and sat studying her. Roxy'd been stared at before. Customers figured ogling the waitress came with the bar tab. And they were the polite ones. So she'd grown immune to looks long ago. Or so she'd thought. For some reason, Mike Templeton's stare made her want to squirm. Maybe because he'd removed his glasses, giving her an unobstructed view of what were really very intense brown eyes. It felt like he wasn't so much looking at her as trying to see inside. Read her mind, or gauge her intentions. A self-conscious flutter found its way to her stomach. She recrossed her legs, wishing her skirt wasn't so damn short, and forced herself to maintain eye contact. A visual Mexican standoff.
To her relief, he broke first, sitting back in his leather chair. Roxy found her eyes drawn to the black lacquered pen he twirled between his long, elegant fingers.
Everything about him was elegant, she thought to herself. His fingers, his "bearing" as her high school drama teacher would say. He fit the surroundings, that's for sure, right down to the tailored suit and crisp white shirt. Roxy wasn't sure, but she thought she'd seen a similar look on the pages of a men's fashion magazine. Simply sitting across from him made her feel every inch the downtown girl.
Except, if what her mother said was true, she wasn't so downtown after all, was she?"
"Are all the letters this intimate?" he asked.
Cheeks warming, Roxy nodded. "I think so. I skimmed most of them." Like the man said, the letters were intimate. Reading them closely felt too much like reading a stranger's diary.
A stranger who was her father. Come to think of it, the woman described on those pages didn't sound very much like her mother, either.
"You'll notice the dates, though," she told him. "The last letter is postmarked. Nine months before I was born."
"As well as a couple of weeks before his accident."
The car accident that killed him. Roxy had read a brief account when doing her internet research.
The attorney frowned. Somehow he managed to make even that expression look sophisticated. "You're positive your mother never said anything before last month?"
He was kidding, right? Roxy shot him a long look. What was with all these repetitive questions anyway? She'd already laid out her whole story. If he planned on dismissing her, then dismiss her. Why waste time? "I think I would have remembered if she did."
"And she didn't explain why?"
"Unfortunately she was too busy dying."
The words were out before Roxy could pull them back, causing the lawyer's eyebrows to arch. Clearly not the best way to impress the man.
Seriously though, how did he expect her to answer? That while on her deathbed, her mother laid out a detailed and concise explanation of her affair with Wentworth Sinclair? "She was pretty out of things," Roxy said, doing her best to choke back the sarcasm. "At first I thought it was the painkillers talking." Until her mother's eyes had cleared for that one, brief instant. You have his eyes .
"Now you think otherwise."
"Based on what I read in those letters, yes."
That was it. Just hmmm. He'd begun twirling the pen again. Roxy didn't like the silence. Reminded her too much of the expectant pause that followed an audition speech while the casting director made notes. Here the expectation felt even thicker. Probably because the stakes were so much higher.
"So let me see if I have this straight," he said finally, drawing out his words. "Your mother just happens to tell you on her deathbed that you're the daughter of Wentworth Sinclair, the dead son of one of New York's wealthiest families. Then, when cleaning out her belongings, you just happen to find a stack of love letters that not only corroborates your claim, but lays out a timeline that ends right before his death." He gave the pen another couple of twirls. "Ties up pretty conveniently, wouldn't you say? The fact both parties are dead and unable to dispute your story?"
"Why would they dispute anything? I'm telling the truth." Roxy didn't like where this conversation was heading one little bit. "If you're suggesting I'm making the story up—" She knew he didn't believe her.
"I'm not suggesting anything. I'm simply pointing out the facts, which are convenient." He leaned forward, fingers folded in front of him. "Do you know how many people claim to be long-lost heirs?"
"No." Nor did she care about any claim but hers, which happened to be true.
"More than you'd realize. Just last week, for example, a man came in saying he'd traced his family tree back to Henry Hudson. He wanted to know if he was eligible for reparation from the city of New York for his share of the Hudson River."
"And your point?" Anger ticking upward, she gritted her teeth.
"My point," he replied, leaning closer, "is that he had more paperwork than you."
Son of a— The man all but called her a fraud. No, worse. He was implying she made up the story like it was some kind of scam. As if she hadn't spent the past month questioning everything she'd known about her life. How dare he? "You think I'm lying about being Wentworth Sinclair's daughter?"
"People have done more for less."
"I— You—" It took every ounce of restraint not to grab the nameplate off his desk and smash it over his head. "This isn't about money," she spat at him.
"Really?" He sat back. "So you have no interest at all in gaining a share of the Sinclair millions?"
Roxy opened her mouth, then shut it. She'd like nothing better than to say absolutely not and make him feel like a condescending heel, but they both knew she'd be lying. If it were only her, or if she lived in a perfect world, she could afford to be virtuous, but it wasn't only about her. And Lord knows her world was far from perfect. That was the point. Being Wentworth Sinclair's daughter could be her only shot at not screwing up the one worthwhile thing in her miserable life.
Try explaining that to someone like Mike Templeton, however. What would he know about mistakes and imperfect worlds? He'd probably spent his whole life watching everything he'd touched turn to gold.
Right now, he was smirking at her reaction. "That's what I thought. Sorry, but if you're looking for a payout, you'll have to do better than a stack of thirty-year-old love letters."
"Twenty-nine," Roxy corrected, although really, why bother? He'd already made up his mind she was some lying money-grabber.
"Twenty-nine then. Either way, next time I suggest you try bringing a document that's more useful, like a birth certificate perhaps."
"You mean the one naming Wentworth Sinclair as my father?" The battle against sarcasm failed, badly, and she mockingly slapped her forehead. "Silly me, I left it at home." When he gave her a pointed look, she returned it with an equally pointed expression of her own. He wasn't the only one who could do judgmental. "Don't you think if I had something like that, I would have brought it with me?"
"One would think, but then one would think your mother would have named the correct father thirty years ago, too." He was folding the letter and placing it back in its envelope. Roxy wanted to grab his long fingers and squeeze them until he yelped. One would think. Maybe her mother had been afraid no one would believe her either.
"You know what," she said, reaching for the stack of letters, "forget this."
What made her think uptown would want to help her? Uptown didn't care about people like her, period, and she'd be damned if she was going to sit here and let some stuffed-shirt lawyer look down his nose at her. "The only reason I came here was that your directory ad said you handled wills and estates, and I thought you could help me. Apparently I was wrong."
She snatched her leather coat off the back of her chair. If Mike Templeton didn't think her problems were worth his time, then he wasn't worth hers. "I'm sure another law firm will be willing to listen."
"Miss O'Brien, I think you misunderstood. Please sit down."
No, Roxy didn't feel like sitting down. Or listening to any kind of explanation. Why? Rejection was rejection regardless of how many pretty words you attached to it. She should know. She'd heard enough "thanks but no thanks" in her lifetime. And they felt like kicks to the stomach.
She jammed her arm into her coat sleeve. Emotion clogged her throat, and she absolutely refused to let him see her eyes water.
"By the way," she said, adjusting her collar. "Your ad said you welcomed all types of cases. If you don't mean it, then don't say so in the headline."
An unnecessary jab, but she was tired of playing polite and classy. Besides, being called a gold-digging fraud should entitle her to at least one parting shot.
She strode from the office without turning around, proud that she got as far as street level before her vision grew blurry.
Dammit. She'd have thought she'd be cried out by now. When would she stop feeling so raw and exposed? You have his eyes
"Why didn't you say anything, Mom?" she railed silently. "Why did you wait till it was too late to tell me?" Was she that ashamed of her daughter?
Not cool, Templeton, Not cool at all.
Mike had to admit, though, as indignant exits went, Roxy O'Brien's was among the best. Ten years of estate law had shown him his share of scam artists and gold diggers, but she was the first who'd truly teared up upon storming out. She probably didn't think he noticed, but he had. There was no mistaking the overly bright sheen in those green eyes of hers, in spite of her attempts to blink them dry.
Pen twirling between his fingers, he rocked back and forth in his chair. Couldn't blame her for being upset. Like a lot of people, she must have thought she'd stumbled across the legal equivalent of a winning lottery ticket. If she'd stuck around instead of stomping off like a redheaded windstorm he'd have explained that making a claim against the Sinclairs wasn't that simple, even if her story was true. There were legal precedents and statutes of limitations to consider.
Of course, he thought, stilling his pen, she didn't have to completely prove paternity for her claim to work. Simply put forth a believable argument.
He couldn't believe he was contemplating the thought. Had he fallen so low he'd take on an audacious case simply for the potential settlement money?
One look at the meager pile of case files on his desk answered his question. At this point, he'd take Henry Hudson's nephew's case.
This was what failure felt like. The constant hollow feeling in his stomach. The weight on his shoulders. The tick, tick, tick in the back of his head reminding him another day was passing without clients knocking on his door.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Templetons, as had been drilled in his head, didn't fail. They blazed trails. They excelled. They were leaders in their field. Doubly so if you were named Michael Templeton III and had two generations of namesakes to live up to.
You're letting us down, Michael. We raised you to be better than this. A dozen years after he first heard them, his father's words rose up to repeat themselves, reminding him he had no choice. Succeed or else. He took on the challenge of starting his own practice. He had to make it work, by hook or by crook.
Or audacious case, as it were. Unfortunately his best opportunity stormed out the door in a huff. So how did he get the little hothead to come back?
A patch of gray caught the corner of his eye. Realizing what he was looking at, Mike smiled. Perhaps his luck hadn't run out after all. He picked up the grey envelope Roxanne O'Brien had left behind.
God bless indignant exits.
Posted September 8, 2014