Dylan half expected to see a southern belle sweep down the steps in her hoop skirt to greet them, but instead a receptionist in a dark suit with a silk blouse and pearls smiled up at them from her tidy mahogany desk.

Kate waited by Dylan’s side while he dealt with the security guard. The alarm had been triggered when he’d walked in, but as soon as he showed his badge, the pulsating noise stopped.

She didn’t have to give her name to the receptionist. The young woman already knew who she was.

“Good afternoon, Miss MacKenna. Mr. Smith will be right down. He’s most anxious to meet you.”

Anxious? Was that a good anxious or a bad one? Kate wondered.

Less than a minute later, the attorney rushed down the stairs. His smile seemed genuine. Still, he was a lawyer, she reminded herself, and from his surroundings, a very successful one at that. Therefore, he had to be quite good at masking his real emotions.

Extending his hand, he said, “My name is Anderson Samuel Smith, and I am delighted to meet you, Miss MacKenna. Simply delighted.”

He was quite polished, for he quickly put her at ease. He shook Dylan’s hand, and the two men exchanged polite greetings.

Speaking to both of them, he said, “I was your great uncle Compton’s attorney for seven years, and I do believe the firm took great care of him. He was quite an interesting fellow. Perhaps we might have dinner sometime, and I’ll tell you what I know about him.”

“Did you know his brother?” Kate asked.

“Yes, I did, Miss MacKenna. Our firm did not handle his affairs, however.”

“Please, call me Kate.”

He flashed another brilliant smile. “Kate. A good name,” he added with approval. “And you must call me Anderson.”

“If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to freshen up.”

“Good idea,” Dylan said.

Good idea? What did that mean? She must either look a mess, or Dylan wanted to talk to the attorney alone.

Anderson showed her the way to the powder room and returned to Dylan in the foyer.

Kate washed her hands and checked her appearance in the full-length mirror. Okay, she was a bit disheveled, but she didn’t look that bad, did she? She didn’t look that good, either. She could make herself a little more presentable, she decided.

She brushed her hair, and since there was some curl, she didn’t clip it back again but let it fall around her shoulders. Digging through her purse, she found her blush and lipstick and freshened her makeup. She checked herself again. It was the best she could do without a complete overhaul.

She wanted to give Dylan another couple of minutes with the attorney. She stopped near the door and gave herself a quick pep talk. Try to be optimistic and stop looking so worried. It was going to be fine. Anderson wouldn’t have been so happy to meet her if she owed the estate a lot of money, right? No, that wasn’t logical. He could have been thrilled because she had shown up, and he knew he had a good shot at getting her to pay the money back—and she would pay it back even if it took the rest of her life to do it.

Wait, that wasn’t optimistic thinking. Kate wanted to latch on to something that would make her feel better. The photos. Yes, there were photos of her father as a little boy. That was definitely something wonderful to share with her sisters, something that would give them a connection to the man who had loved her mother and had given them life.

All right. The pep talk was working. She took it a step further. Maybe she would actually like these cousins. She might.

Straightening her shoulders, she whispered, “Here goes,” and opened the door.

Dylan barely spared her a glance as he listened to the attorney who was very seriously explaining something to him. Kate didn’t want to interrupt, and so she waited by the receptionist’s desk until they finished their discussion.

The smile was back in place the second Anderson spotted her. “Shall we go upstairs?” he said as he led the way.

Kate hung back and whispered to Dylan, “You’re frowning. What’s wrong?”

Should he warn her? Or should he let her go in cold without any preconceived ideas about the vipers Anderson had just described to him?

He decided to give her a little forewarning. “I don’t think you’re going to like your cousins.”

“Maybe I will,” she said, determined to hang on to the burst of optimism she’d mustered up.

He smiled. “I’m pretty sure you won’t.”

“You can’t predict . . .” She suddenly stopped. Oh, who was she kidding? Her bubble of enthusiasm was slowly deflating.

He saw the disheartened look in her eyes and realized he shouldn’t have said anything. “You stay tough,” he whispered.

“I am tough,” she responded.

They had just reached the landing when they heard a man shout a gross obscenity. Kate stopped cold and looked at Dylan. He shrugged as if unfazed.

Anderson looked mortified. “Give me a moment, please,” he said.

He hurried down the hall, probably intent on getting his guests to shut the hell up, Dylan surmised, but the damage was done. Kate had gone from worried to fearful.

She grabbed his arm. “Did Anderson tell you why I received a letter?”

“You know why. The reading of the will.”

“Yes, but did he say anything more?”

“We didn’t talk about the will at all,” he said. “I needed to know what we’re going to be walking into, and so he filled me in on your cousins. And by the way, he wants to assure you he doesn’t represent any of them.”

She continued down the corridor. She heard another obscenity and whispered, “Good Lord. What have I gotten into? Maybe it’s not such a good idea to meet any of them just now.” Or ever, she silently added.

Dylan didn’t want her facing the nest of vipers looking worried. If they sensed vulnerability, they’d strike. The cousins needed to see what a strong woman she was.

Anderson opened the door and motioned them to come forward.

“Kate.” Dylan touched her arm to stop her.

She looked up and was shocked by his grin. “Yes, Dylan?”

He lowered his voice so only she would hear and asked, “How much do you want to bet Anderson Samuel Smith never uses his initials?”

She didn’t get it for a couple of seconds but then put it together. “Good heavens, only a man would think of that.” She was laughing when she walked into the office.

The air was thick with hostility, but the shouting and the vulgarities stopped when one by one the brothers noticed the couple and fell silent.

Roger was the first to get past his surprise. “What the—” he muttered. “Who are they, Anderson?”

“Who cares who they are. They don’t belong here,” Ewan said with a sneer. He took a threatening step toward them.

Did he think he could scare her out of the office? She wasn’t going to put up with that nonsense. She looked him right in the eye and kept walking.

Anderson put his hands up. “If you’ll calm down, I’ll make the introductions. Kate, I’d like you to meet Vanessa MacKenna.”

The striking woman was unlike the others clustered together across the room. She didn’t seem angry, only curious.

“Hello,” Vanessa said politely.

“Vanessa,” Anderson continued, “is married to Bryce MacKenna.”

The man Anderson gestured to didn’t speak. He acknowledged Kate with a curt nod.

“Standing next to Bryce is Roger MacKenna, and on his right is Ewan MacKenna. And now I would like all of you to meet your cousin, Kate MacKenna.”

“Our cousin?” Ewan roared. “She has to be a fraud. We don’t have any cousins.”

“Ewan’s right,” Bryce said. “We don’t have any cousins.”

“Obviously you do,” Vanessa said with a hint of amusement in her voice.

The brothers ignored her.

“And who is he?” Roger asked. “Is he passing himself off as a cousin, too?”

“Who is he? He’s with Kate,” Anderson said and refused to explain further.

“Do they think they’re going to get a piece of the pie? How absurd,” Bryce said.

Anderson held up his hand again. “Your uncle assured me the video will explain everything to your satisfaction. None of you will be left with any questions. He also requested that each of you get a copy of what you’re about to see. Terrance, please distribute the disks to everyone.” He noticed the sun was shining on the television screen and hurried over to the windows to adjust the blinds. “Is there a disk in the player?”

“Yes, sir. Everything’s ready,” Terrance answered.

Anderson clasped his hands together and tried to sound enthusiastic. “All right then, shall we get started?”

“It’s about time,” Bryce said.

“Everyone, please take a seat.” His gaze moved to Roger and Ewan. “And try not to comment or interrupt while your uncle is speaking.”

Roger slumped into his chair. “We have to listen to that old buzzard lecture us before we get our money?”

He’d addressed the question to Ewan, who promptly answered, “He’s still trying to control us, even from the grave. What a hard-nosed bastard.”

Vanessa turned on Ewan. “Your uncle isn’t here to defend himself. Only you would stoop so low as to defile the dead.”

Ewan wasn’t fazed by her contempt. He turned to Roger and whispered loud enough for everyone to hear, “Only a bitch could love a bastard.”

Kate felt as though she was watching a horror movie. How in heaven’s name was she going to tell Kiera and Isabel about these vile, contemptible brothers? She was appalled and nauseated that she was actually related to them. They were horrible human beings.

Bryce seemed to be in a hurry to get drunk. He was gulping liquor like water, and the more he drank, the nastier he became. The other brothers seemed to appreciate his twisted wit, and their laughter only encouraged him. How would she describe them to Kiera and Isabel? “Repulsive” came to mind. And creepy. Definitely creepy. No one could become this obnoxious without years of practice.

Her attention turned to Vanessa. She was most curious about her. One could easily assume that the poised, sophisticated woman had wandered into the wrong office by mistake. She seemed so out of place here.

Anderson stood behind Vanessa’s chair. He nodded to Terrance, who immediately picked up the remote and pushed the play button.

The bickering stopped as Compton Thomas MacKenna addressed his audience, but the silence didn’t last long.

“Did he just say he changed his will some time ago? Why weren’t we informed?” Ewan demanded.

“Shut up and listen,” Roger said. “We’ll talk later.”

“Start the damned thing again,” Bryce snapped. “I didn’t hear a word, thanks to my brothers’ yapping.”

And the fighting started all over again.

Kate didn’t know how much more of this she could take. “Oh, my,” she whispered.

Dylan heard her. He draped his arm protectively across the back of her chair and leaned down to whisper, “Do you want to leave?”

Oh, yes, she certainly did. But she also wanted those photos, and she wanted to know why she and her sisters had been invited to this freak show.

“I have to see this,” she whispered back.

Anderson got them to quiet down, and the DVD began to play again. The brothers kept quiet until their uncle gave a history of the family. One of them groaned then.

Kate was fascinated to hear about her father’s ancestors, and she listened intently. But then he brought up her mother. In a heartbeat Kate’s attitude went from curiosity to outrage. The old man’s words, said so callously, reverberated in her mind. No better than a street beggar. The insults didn’t stop there. His contempt for her mother was apparent in everything he said about her.

Did the uncle want Kate to see this so he could slander her mother? Was that his purpose for summoning her here?

She stiffened when he talked about her sisters and was shocked to hear that he had someone checking up on all of them. She couldn’t believe the audacity of the man. The comment that stunned Kate the most, however, was his assessment of her. She heard his remark that she was the most like him. Dear God, how could he think such a thing? And he was smiling when he said it, as though he thought it a wonderful distinction to be his spitting image.

Kate didn’t think she could be more stunned than she already was. There simply couldn’t be anymore surprises, could there?

Obviously there could.

“The bulk of my estate . . . eighty million dollars . . . will go to Kate MacKenna . . .”

No, no, that couldn’t be right. She started to stand and fell back. The disk dropped off her lap. She couldn’t hear the rest of the video, and she was oblivious to the bedlam going on around her. She sat there paralyzed . . . and sickened.

No better than a street beggar. How dare he say such a thing about her mother.

She shook her head. “No,” she said. “No.”

They turned on her like a pack of rabid animals. She didn’t realize how dangerous the situation had become. Dylan certainly did. He stood and quickly moved in front of her.

Bryce was blubbering and cursing; Roger was screaming and crying, but Ewan was the real threat now. His face was contorted with rage. He came out of his chair like a crazed bull on steroids, and he was completely controlled by his temper as he charged at Kate.

“How did you do it? How did you get that demented old man to change his will?” He tried to push Dylan aside, and when Dylan wouldn’t budge, he screamed, “Get out of my way.”

Dylan responded quietly. “Go sit down.”

Ewan tried to throw a punch at him, but Dylan knocked his fist away and said, “I don’t want to do this. I’ve got my nice suit on, and I’m in this nice office with my girlfriend. I don’t want to get into a fistfight.”

“You think you can take me?”

He was behaving like a sixteen-year-old bully, and Dylan was not amused. “You’re going to sit down, one way or another.”

With a roar, Ewan took a wild swing. Dylan dodged the hand, but he was through being nice. When Ewan tried again, Dylan gave a right jab to his midsection. As the man was going down, Dylan shoved him toward the sofa, and Roger got out of the way so Ewan could land on the cushion next to him.

Dylan smiled. “Okay. Now he’s sitting down.”

“Call the police, Anderson,” Ewan gasped. “Have this man arrested for assault. Call nine-one-one. I’m pressing charges. Why aren’t you calling? I want the police here now.”




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