Authors: Sue Fineman
Tags: #General Fiction
“Yes, but it doesn’t matter. It has to be done.”
“I’ll be right there with you, Maxine.”
A soft smile touched her lips and he couldn’t resist a gentle kiss. It just made him want more.
Cara wore her new gray sweats with Nick’s dark blue jacket and a red baseball cap on the boat. She looked nothing like the famous heiress whose picture graced the covers of tabloids in every supermarket in the country. Nick wondered if anyone would recognize her dressed like that, with her hair an ugly, faded mess. The scabs on her face were gone, but the red marks remained. It looked like a bird with red feet had walked across her face.
She stood beside him as he pulled away from the dock. “What are you smiling about, Nick?”
She looked at him like he was crazy. He laughed, enjoying her company and the sunshine and cool breeze off the water. He’d been foolish to give up his boat for Lisa. She wasn’t worth the sacrifice.
Gerry met them at the dock in downtown Gig Harbor. Nick checked the lines and helped Cara off the boat. “Gerry Merlino, Cara Andrews.”
“Cara Andrews?” Gerry offered his hand to Cara and smiled like a cat who’d caught a fat robin. “Nick didn’t tell me it was you.”
Nick sat in Gerry’s waiting room, flipping through boring magazines, while Cara talked with Gerry in his private office. Time passed slowly. Gerry’s secretary left for lunch. Nick waited another half-hour, but he was hungry, his stomach growling. Cara must be hungry, too. He tapped on Gerry’s office door and opened it. “I’m hungry.”
“Have my secretary order lunch.”
“Then you order something.”
“Fine.” Nick pulled the door closed.
Minutes later, a large pizza was delivered to the office. Nick tapped on Gerry’s door and walked in with the pizza delivery man. “Lunch is here. Pay the man.”
Gerry looked surprised. “Me?”
“Yeah, you. I brought you a new client, and the least you can do is buy lunch.”
Gerry sighed and opened his wallet. Nick winked and Cara’s eyes danced. She didn’t offer to pay, but Nick knew she’d end up paying for it anyway. Gerry would figure out a way to include it in her bill.
Without waiting for an invitation, Nick put the pizza on the table in Gerry’s office and pulled up a chair. Cara looked tired, beaten down. She needed a break anyway.
Gerry stuffed his wallet in his pocket, took a piece of pizza, and leaned back in his chair. “So, Nick, how you been?”
“What do you care?”
“Come on, Nick. We were friends before the divorce.”
Sure they were. That was before Lisa asked Gerry to represent her in the divorce. Before they became enemies.
“Mmm, good pizza, except for the olives.” Cara picked them off and put them on Nick’s piece. “I don’t like olives.”
“I’ll remember that,” said Nick, and he was rewarded with a warm smile.
After lunch, Gerry drove them to the bank, where Cara and Gerry and Nick met with the bank manager. Cara set up an account for herself and one for Max and Company. Nick was surprised that she opened her personal account under the name Maxine Donatelli, but he didn’t say a word.
When they finished at the bank, Gerry drove them to
. Again, Cara used the name Maxine Donatelli. She insisted that Nick stay with her and hold her hand while the nurse removed her stitches. She refused to watch.
Nick gave her a look and shook his head.
“Shut up,” she muttered.
The nurse peered closely at Cara’s face. “You look a little familiar.”
“Everyone tells me that.”
“I know what it is. On the news last night, they showed a picture of that missing heiress, Cara Andrews. You look a little like her.”
“Imagine me, looking like her.”
Nick caught Cara’s eye and winked, bringing a little smile. Nobody in their right mind would believe a woman like Cara Andrews would be with a guy like him. A few weeks ago, he wouldn’t have believed it himself. Yet here she was, a rich celebrity, living in his little house and pretending to be his wife. In some ways, she was like a scared little girl, yet there was a strength about her that he admired. With quiet resolve, she’d do what had to be done. And so would he. If that bastard she married put one finger on her, he’d have a fight on his hands.
On the way back down the hill to the harbor, they talked about Lance’s television appearances and the message he was sending to the public about her being depressed or mentally ill.
“Cara, did you leave a note for your husband when you left Seattle?” asked Gerry.
“No, all I could think about was getting away before he realized I’d heard him.” She sighed heavily. “I thought about calling and leaving a message that I was with a friend, but what good would that do? He’d still say I was crazy or distraught, or whatever you want to call it.” She stared out the side window. “By the time he finds me, he’ll have everyone convinced I need ‘help.’ That kind of help I can do without.”
From the backseat, Nick reached up and put his hand on her arm. She put her hand over his and held it there.
Gerry asked, “Cara, where do your bills go?”
“Some go to the house in Seattle and others go to my accountant in California.” She slapped her forehead. “Oh, the accountant will know about the boat when he gets the credit card bill.”
“I’ll call him if you like.”
“I don’t think it’ll do any good, Gerry. He reports to the trustees of my grandfather’s estate, not to me. I don’t know if Lance is in contact with them or not.”
Gerry pulled into the parking lot at the marina and turned off the engine. “The trustees still handle the estate?”
“Until my twenty-seventh birthday. That’s next week, Thursday.” Cara opened her door and turned back to Gerry. “Are you licensed to practice in California?”
Gerry whipped off his sunglasses. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I may need your help down there, too.”
“Whatever you need, Cara. I’ll be glad to help.”
Of course he would
, thought Nick. Gerry smelled money. Big money. He’d better not take advantage of Cara. She had enough to deal with without a crooked lawyer trying to take her to the cleaners, too.
Nick and Cara boarded the boat and started for home. As they passed through the mouth of the harbor, he was aware of her standing beside him. “Do you want to take control?”
“Of the boat? No, thanks.”
“How did your meeting with Gerry go?”
“He said I may have to pay Lance off to get rid of him, unless we can prove he planned this from the start.”
Nick threaded the boat between a fishing boat and a tug pushing a barge in the other direction. “Okay, so let’s prove it.”
“You’d help me with this?”
“Sure. Hey, I’m always up for a good fight.”
She sighed. “I don’t know how to fight.”
He put his arm around her waist. “Maybe Cara Andrews doesn’t, but I’ll bet Maxine Donatelli does.”
“If there was such a person.”
“There is,” he said softly. “She’s inside you, Cara.”
She stood quietly for a few minutes, lost in thought. “I’ll have to go meet with the trustees next week, I suppose. Will you come with me, Nick? Please?”
With his bank account nearly empty, Nick didn’t see how he could go anywhere but back to work. He dropped his arm and she backed up a step. “I have to work, Cara. I have bills to pay.”
“Then work for me, Nick. Just until I get this thing with Lance settled.”
He shook his head. He couldn’t take money for helping a friend.
“I need your help, Nick. I need someone on my side, and there’s nobody else in this world I trust as much as you.”
He glanced at the worried look on her face and knew he couldn’t let her go to California by herself. What if her husband showed up? What if he hurt her, or drugged her again, or kidnapped her and took her to that sanitarium? She’d die in a place like that.
His house came into view and he eased back on the throttle. “Are you afraid to go back alone?”
“Terrified. What if you’re right? What if someone in the house is working for Lance? What if he’s convinced my household staff to help him?”
Who knew what she’d walk into down there. She needed someone to watch out for her. A friend. Someone who didn’t give a shit about her money. She needed
Nick eased the boat up to the dock and Cara jumped off with the line to tie up.
After they secured the boat, he said, “I guess I can wait another week or so to find a job.” So his house payment would be late. So what? He’d blame it on the earthquake.
He watched her walk up to the house. Her limp was gone and her right arm moved freely. He knew her shoulder was still sore, but she had, for the most part, recovered. Now she had another ordeal to get through, and this one could be worse than the last. She wouldn’t have to go through it alone.
The friend she trusted would be there.
Cara walked through the door of Nick’s house. This little house felt more like home than home, but it wasn’t the house. It was the man who owned it. This man she’d only known a few days had turned into her best friend. He believed in her like no one else. Did he have any idea how much that meant to her?
She reached out for a hug and stepped into his arms, soaking up his affection. His big hands held her gently, giving her the comfort she hadn’t had since she was thirteen. With her head resting on his shoulder, she sighed and relaxed. No place in the world felt as safe and comfortable as Nick’s arms.
She gave him a light kiss on the lips and pulled away. He held her hand and gazed into her eyes with such intensity she thought he’d kiss her again, but he didn’t. Just as well. If he gave her a real kiss, she’d probably never let go.
While Cara made a salad, Nick grilled salmon for dinner. It looked wonderful, but when they sat down to eat, she said, “I’m not very hungry.”
“Worried about your husband?”
“I don’t know what he’ll do when he finds out what I’m doing. He’s used to getting what he wants. He probably thinks that because he married me, he’s earned the right to take control.” Before they married, Lance had been gentle and even tempered, but that changed as soon as they got to Seattle. He had a vicious temper. One time someone cut him off in traffic, and she thought he’d ram into them. The incident had frightened her.
“To hell with him. Come on, eat your dinner. This fish is too expensive to waste.”
She ate a bite of fish. “Mmm, this is good.”
“Of course it is. I cooked it.”
She rolled her eyes. “You are definitely not modest.”
His eyes sparkled. “Of course not. I’m Italian.”
She laughed with delight. Nick’s casual manner and teasing put her at ease. She’d never felt as comfortable with anyone, man or woman. He treated her like a real person instead of a source of money.
Cara ate a little more and pushed her plate aside. “I wonder if his girlfriend is with him now that I’m gone.”
He stabbed his fork in the air. “I’ll bet she’s either in Seattle or at your house in California.” Nick finished his dinner and then ate the salmon on her plate.
Cara sat quietly for a few minutes, her mind on the staff. Mr. Pettibone knew everyone. He knew what they all did, how much they were paid, and how long they’d been there. Mr. and Mrs. Corinth had been hired by the trustees, so she assumed they were paid by the trustees. The others were paid from the household budget controlled by Mr. Pettibone. He was the man in charge, and he prided himself on his discretion.
As Nick cleaned up the kitchen, Cara walked outside and called her own home in California. “I’d like to speak with Mr. Pettibone, please.”
“May I ask who’s calling,” said a woman whose voice Cara didn’t recognize.
“Maxine. This is a personal call.”
She waited, wondering what was taking so long, then realized the staff didn’t consider this call important. Mr. Pettibone probably didn’t either, because he didn’t recognize the name. After several minutes, he came on the line.
“Mr. Pettibone, this is Cara Andrews. Please don’t let anyone know it’s me calling. I have a big favor to ask of you, but I don’t want anyone to know what you’re doing.”
“Yes, of course.”
Cara paced on Nick’s deck while she talked. “I’d like a list of the names of the staff. I want to know how long they’ve been there, how much money they make, and what their primary duties are. Not everything, just the high points.”
“I’ll be there one day next week. I’m trusting you not to speak of this to anyone—not the staff or the trustees, and especially not my husband. Trust no one, Mr. Pettibone.”