Marnie Montgomery tossed her briefcase onto the antique couch near the windows of her office. She marched straight to her desk, removed an erring and grabbed the phone. As she punched out her fathers extension, she balanced a hip against the polished rosewood and waited, her fingers drumming impatiently, a headache threatening behind her eyes.
Victor Montgomerys office, a sweet voice sang over the wires. Kate Delany. Efficient Kate. Victors mistress and administrative assistant. Shed been with im for years and hoped to become the next Mrs. Victor Montgomery.
Is he in? Marnie asked.
Not yet. But I expect him any time. Poor Kate. So helplessly in love with Marnies father. Loving Victor was easy, as Marnie could well attest. But sometimes that love became overpowering, and Marnie felt as if shed lost a part of herself, handt been allowed to grow into the woman she wanted to be.
She heard Kate flip thoerugh the pages of what she assumed was Victors appointment book. Your dad called from the course about half an hour ago,Kate said thoughtfully. He should be on his way back here, and it looks as if his schedule inst too full this afternoon.
Marnies lungs constricted. She cleared her throat. Tell him I need to see him the minute he gets in.
Very, Marnie replied, replacing the receiver and suddenly feeling cold inside. Slipping her earring back in place, she noticed the expensive furnishings in her office, the thick mauve carpet, the panoramic view of Seattles skyline from her corner office.
Everything a girl could want.
Except Marnie didnt want any of it. She didnt want the forced smiles of the staff, she didnt want the knowing glances in the coffee room, she especially didnt want the engraved brass name plate that read: MARNIE MONTGOMERY, PUBLIC RELATIONS.
It could just as well have read: VICTORS DAUGHTER. The people who worked for her in her department could function well without her. Victor had seen to that.
She tossed pen into the empty IN basket. Was it ever full? Were there ever papers and messages overflowing onto the desk? Did she ever have to put in extra hours? Did she ever have to come back from lunch? No, no, no and no!
A nest of butterflies erupted into flight in her stomach at the thought of what she had to do. Rounding the desk she found a piece of letterhead and rather than have her secretary type her letter of resignation she started writing it out in longhand.
How did one quit being a daughter? she wondered, her brow puckering as she chewed on the end of her pen.
How did she tell a loving father, who had tried all his life to do everything for her, that she felt suffocated?
How could she explain that she had to do something on her own, become her own person, live her own life?
Absurdly to break down and cry tears of frustration, but because that was exactly what the weaker, dependent Marnie would have done, she gritted her teeth, refused to shed one lousy tear and started writing again in quick, sure strokes.
She couldnt quit being Victors daughter, but she sure as hell could quit being dependent upon him.
Adam Drake felt the skeptical gaze of every man who sat around the polished table. Theyd listened to him, scanned the thick sheaf of papers what was his proposal and leaned back in their chairs, without questions but exchanging knowing glances.
The three men in the room were potential investors from California, men who, so far, hadnt turned him down. Yet. However, Adam knew they each had doubts about his proposaland concerns about Adam himself. He didnt blame them. His reputation was more than a little tarnished.
It was surprising that these investors had stuck around this long.
The lawyer, Brodie, reached into his pocket for a fresh pack of cigarettes. It seemed to take forever for the cellophane to drop onto the table. I think I can speak for my associates, he said, looking to the other two men and receiving quick nods of approval. We like the idea of expanding to Seattle, but weve got some reservations.
This wouldnt be an expansion, Adam reminded the smooth man in the expensive suit. This was a point theyd haggled over before. Ill own the majority of the hotel. Your capital will be returned, with interest in the amount specified in ten years. He flipped to page six of his proposal and slid it across the table.
Brodie lit up, scanned the neatly typed paragraphs, then flipped through the remaining pages of the contract. He shot a stream of smoke out of the corner of his mouth. Right, right, he said thoughtfully. But for the next ten years well be part owners of your hotel.
Thats right, Adam replied, managing a tense smile. God, he hated this kind of politics. Depending upon other people, wealthy men to finance his business operation. The thought of being tied to anyone bothered him. That was his problem. Bucking authority. Refusing to bend to the power of the almighty dollar.
So why was he here?
Because he had no choice. Victor Montgomery had seen to that.
At the thought of Montgomery and especially the low lifes who worked for him, Adams blood boiled for revenge. He forced his thoughts back to the present.
Brodie, eyeing him still, thumped on the contract with one manicured finger. This looks good, Drake. Only a couple of clauses to reword, but whats really bothering me-- He blew more smoke toward the ceiling and squinted at Adam, sizing him up for the thousandth time, is what happened at Montgomery Inns last year . . .
There it was. The noose again. The rope that would strangle him.
Adam felt the tension in the room. Be cool, he told himself, not showing a flicker of emotion though the sweat was running down his back and her nerves were strung tight as piano wire. I was never charged with embezzling, he said evenly. His eyes moved from one man to the next.
But Montgomery never hired you back, a tiny, apprehensive man sitting to Brodies left, Bill Peterson, interjected. Behind glasses as thick as the bottom of a soda bottle, Petersons nervous gaze shifted to each of the other men around the table.
I didnt want to to back, Adam stated. That much was true. Hed never work for a snake like Montgomery again, though he itched to know who had set him up. The memory was still painful. Once, he respected Victor Montgomery and hed thought the older man had felt the same for him. Stupid, he chided himself silently. Victor had shown his true colors and fired Adam swiftly, pressing charges against him, then, when there was no indictment, sending a severance check to him through lawyerthrough his damned lawyer! Victor hadnt even had the guts to face Adam himself. Only the lawyer had been witness to Adams wrath and stared his uncomfortable silence as Adam had ripped up the check and tossed the confetti-like scraps into the air.
Brodies voice brought him back to the present. Look, Drake, before we go into direct competition with Victor Montgomery, I think we should clear this matter up. The way I hear it, there wasnt evidence to indict you, and yet the money that was skimmed off the Puget West project was never located.
The collar around Adams neck felt tight, the blood thundered through his veins.
The money had just vanished. No amount of going over the books had uncovered the missing cash. And in that respect, he was, as project coordinator, responsible.
Thats what we dont understand, Peterson said, while the third partner, a silent man with flat features said nothing. There should have been a trial. How could anyone have walked away withwhat was it? Half a million dollars?
Adam nodded tightly, though he hoped his expression was calm. Five hundred sixty-three thousand and change.
The silent man whistled.
That mustve taken some doing, Brodie said, stuffing his copy of the proposal into his briefcase.
I wouldnt know, Adam responded dryly.
Brodies brows jerked up as he jabbed out his cigarette in the hotel ashtray. Apparently he didnt believe Adam. You have to understand our position. We cant very well hand over several million dollars until were absolutely certain that what happened over at Montgomery Inns wont happen to us. He offered Adam a regretful smile. If you could ever clear up exactly what happened over there, then maybe we could talk business. In the mean time, I dont think we have a deal.
The other men nodded in silent agreement. Adam didnt blame them. If he were in their shoes he wouldnt trust a man whod nearly been indicted for embezzling, a man still proclaimed a thief by one of the largest hotel chains on the west coast. Trouble was, Adam was sick of being a scapegoat.
Pushing himself upright, Adam pulled together a grim smile and shook each mans outreached hand. He watched as Brodie shepherded the small group from the room. Only when the door slammed shut behind the Californians, did he let out a series of invectives that would have made a sailor blush. He yanked off his tie and threw it over the back of his chair, then loosened the top buttons of his stiff white shirt. What had he expected? This meeting had been no different than the two others hed put together.
Face it, Drake, he told himself, you were convicted even though you were never tried. With leashed fury, he knew that black stain on his reputation wouldnt disappear with time. No, he had to find out who had set him up and why? Otherwise, he was finished.
He had his suspicions, of course. There were several with whom hed worked at Montgomery Inns who had been jealous of his rapid rise in the corporation, a few who were desperate, and still others who were just plain greedy. Any one of those people could have set him up to take the fall. And fall he had. Once one of Victor Montgomerys golden boys, he was now t he black sheep. The Judas.
Until he could prove himself completely blameless, he would never be able to set himself up in business. As he saw it, he had no choice. He had to do some digging and find out just who had hated him enough to frame him for embezzling money hed never seen. For the past year hed tried to put the damned incident behind him, but it kept rising like a phoenix from the ashes of his career at Montgomery Inns, to torment and thwart him. Fortunately, hed already started an investigation to prove his innocense once and for all.