“Want to make a run for it?” he asked.
He didn’t give her time to answer. He grabbed her hand and took off. By the time they reached the corner, the drizzle had turned into rain.
She was keeping pace with him, which was no small feat. “I would prefer that you bring the car around.”
They sprinted across the street as he said, “No way, Pickle. You’re staying with me, and we’re getting out of here.”
They raced along the path through the park. Dylan was scanning the area, looking for anyone or anything that didn’t belong. His hand rested on the handle of his gun.
Kate’s high heels were taking a pounding and killing her, but pride kept her from complaining or asking him to slow down. She’d keep up or die trying.
When they reached the car, Dylan opened her door and practically tossed her inside. He removed his jacket and, just as he was handing it to her, the skies opened up. He managed to make it to the driver’s side without getting completely soaked.
Kate folded his jacket and carefully laid it on the backseat. After placing the thick binder and the envelope on the floor behind her, she sat back and tried to calm her racing heart. She couldn’t get the cousins out of her thoughts. She felt as though she’d just spent the past hour whirling in a blender.
Dylan checked the street and the buildings beyond. The rain had chased pedestrians under the awnings and into doorways. Two pickup trucks drove by, but the drivers didn’t look their way.
They were safe . . . for the moment.
A police car sped by and turned the corner. It came to an abrupt stop in front of Smith and Wesson.
Dylan started the engine and said, “Okay, let’s go.”
The windows were beginning to steam up as he pulled onto the street. He flipped on the air conditioner.
Kate wasn’t paying attention to where they were going until she noticed he missed the turn that would take them to the highway. When she pointed that out, he nodded but kept going.
It seemed to her that he turned left or right at nearly every corner. She soon lost her sense of direction. She thought they had started out going north, but he’d made so many turns she couldn’t get her bearings.
“Where are you going?”
“Nowhere yet. I’m making sure we aren’t being followed.”
She quickly turned around and looked out the back window. “I don’t see anyone.”
“Neither do I.”
“Then why . . .”
“Just being careful.”
The rain was already letting up. Dylan spotted a baseball field and pulled into a parking lot adjacent to a set of metal bleachers. There wasn’t a soul around, no doubt because of the weather, but the sun was already moving in, and with it came a renewed wave of heat and humidity. Steam rose up from the concrete path that circled the lot.
Dylan put the car in park, unhooked his seat belt, and loosened his tie. He took a deep breath and slowly let it out.
Kate waited a moment before saying, “Dylan? Do you remember I told you I couldn’t think of anyone who would want to kill me?”
A hint of a smile softened his expression. “I remember.”
“I believe I could come up with some names for you now.”
Kate seemed to have a knack for always knowing just what to say to take the edge off. And one of her smiles could cut right through the tension.
Dylan knew she had to be afraid. She’d already been through hell and still carried the bruises as a reminder that someone was trying to kill her, but when she got her back up, she was a force to be reckoned with. She was an amazing woman.
He, on the other hand, was a basket case. Real nice admission coming from a detective.
Her uncle had put Kate in a very dangerous position. Dylan didn’t care about the money or what the man’s motives had been. Knowingly or unknowingly, Compton MacKenna had given his nephews more than eighty million reasons to get rid of her.
The thought of anyone hurting her enraged him. And terrified him. Not good, he realized. Not good at all. He’d gotten too emotionally involved, damn it. Too . . . attached. Now how in blazes had that happened?
Kate studied Dylan’s face. He was glaring through the windshield at nothing in particular.
“Dylan . . . ?” she began.
“I’m not going to let anyone hurt you.” The promise was given with such intensity, his voice shook.
Kate jumped to the conclusion that he needed reassurance. “Do you think I’m concerned about your ability to protect me because you were shot in the line of duty?”
Man, was she dense. He actually laughed. “Yeah, that was my worry, all right.”
“I’m aware of all of your commendations,” she said. “And I know you’re excellent at what you do. I’m not at all worried.”
“That’s good to hear,” he said drily.
That problem resolved, she said, “I’m in a real mess aren’t I?”
“Yes, you are,” he admitted with a nod.
“For how long, do you think?”
“I can’t give you a timeline.”
She knew that, of course she did, but she still wanted one. Her entire life had been placed in limbo, and she couldn’t get anything done, personally or professionally, until this was settled.
She suddenly realized how foolish her thoughts were. Staying alive was the first priority.
Dylan grabbed his cell phone and opened the door. “I’m going to call Nate. Anderson had given him the names of the relatives, and Nate was going to run a background check on all of them. He should know something by now. You stay put.”
He left the motor running and the air conditioner on.
Nate had been anxiously waiting for Dylan to call. He picked up on the first ring and quickly filled Dylan in on what he’d found out about the brothers.
“Might as well start with the youngest, Ewan,” he said. “He’s a bodybuilder and has one hell of a temper. At last count he had three lawsuits pending, all for assault. He put one guy in ICU a year ago, shattered another man’s jaw, and beat the crap out of a bartender for cutting him off. His lawyers have been doing some pretty fancy dancing to keep him out of prison, and Ewan owes them major bucks. A couple of years back he went into business with some investors to produce and sell some sort of new exercise contraption, but that went bust, so now he’s banking on the inheritance to come through. If he doesn’t get it, he could be bench-pressing in prison.”
Dylan could hear him flipping papers.
“Let’s see,” Nate continued, “Bryce . . . he’s the oldest, right?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“No criminal record,” he said. “But he’s still bad news. He started drinking the hard stuff in college, and by the time he graduated, he was a full-blown drunk. He’s been hospitalized several times for liver problems. He won’t stop drinking, though,” he added. “About eighteen months ago he tried to get on the liver transplant list. He didn’t qualify because he was still drinking. From what I’ve been told, Bryce went crazy for a while, even tried to buy himself a liver. He’s as whacked as Ewan is,” he said. “He did some day-trading when the market was booming, but eventually he lost his shirt. You should see his credit report. It’s pages and pages long. His debt is staggering. He doesn’t seem to care that his wife is going to end up with all the bills. Anderson Smith said that the specialists give Bryce about six months tops before he keels over.”
“What about his wife?” Dylan asked. “I noticed she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. Are they separated or divorced?”
“No, they’re still married,” he said. “She was going to file, but then she was told that Bryce was dying, and she thought she should be there with him until the end.”
“Did you get that from Anderson, too?”
“Yes,” he said. “He respects . . . what’s her name?”
“Vanessa,” he answered.
Dylan could hear the papers turning over again. Several seconds passed and then Nate said, “Ah, here she is. No criminal record, not even a speeding ticket. She’s received several awards for her work in the community,” he explained. “She’s got a small interior design business. The uncle took a shine to her.”
“What about Roger MacKenna?”
“I was saving the best for last. You got to meet all of these people, didn’t you? You were there in the office with Kate, right?”
“Bet that was interesting. I heard Kate turned it all down.”
“Yes,” he said. “Sure wish I could have seen the brothers’ reactions.”
“She didn’t want the money. She was ready to sign it all away until she heard Bryce, Roger, and Ewan slandering her family. That got her back up, and she changed her mind.”
There was a long pause, then a burst of laughter. Nate was obviously tickled by the news.
“Good for her.”
“What did you find out about Roger?” he asked, trying to get Nate back on track.
Dylan paced the parking lot while he waited for Nate to find his notes on the middle brother.
Kate watched him from the car. She couldn’t hear his conversation because the air conditioner was making a racket and he was walking away from her.
Then he turned and smiled at her. The news from Nate must not have been so terrible. Dylan wouldn’t be smiling if he was hearing terrible things.
The smile didn’t last long, though. She took her eye off him for only a few seconds while she reached down into her purse to get her cell phone, but when she looked at him again, she couldn’t believe the radical change. He wasn’t calm now; he was furious, so furious in fact he was shouting into the phone.
“Good heavens,” she whispered. She thought she heard him yell a man’s name—Jack—and wondered who he was.
She turned the air conditioner off and tried to hear more of the one-sided conversation, but other than a roar or two every now and then, she couldn’t make out anything he was saying.
She frowned with disapproval. Shouting wasn’t very professional of him, especially shouting at the poor, overworked detective, and she was going to tell him so when he got back into the car.
A few minutes later she was screaming into her own phone, and she didn’t care.
She had just listened to a message from her box supplier, Haley, and unable to believe what she had heard, she had to replay the message again.
“We keep missing each other,” Haley began. “Please call me and give me some direction here. This woman . . . this crazy woman . . . keeps barging into my office trying to change everything. Her name is Randy Simmons, and she insists that she’s the new owner of the Kate MacKenna company. I thought it was some kind of sick joke. If you could see her and see how she was dressed, you’d understand why I would think it was a prank. She’s very . . .” The message paused for a couple of seconds. “. . . crude. She wouldn’t go away, Kate, and when I told her that I had recently talked to you and that you hadn’t mentioned anything about selling your company, she explained that of course you wouldn’t say anything because you were humiliated and embarrassed. She said you defaulted on your loan.”
It was at this point when Kate first listened to the message that she started screaming into the phone. The shock hadn’t worn off because she started shouting again the second time she listened.
“You can imagine my reaction,” Haley continued. “I was speechless. I think Randy was amused by my reaction. Oh, and get this, she told me not to worry. She didn’t have any plans to fire me as long as I did what she wanted. I reminded her that I own my own company and have quite a few clients. I explained in very simple terms that she couldn’t fire me because I didn’t work for her. I don’t think she understood, though. She said she was so excited about owning her own business, perhaps she was being a little overeager to get started. She kept telling me she was going to make big changes. And get this. She said your colors were too quiet.
“I finally got my wits about me, and I told her she would have to prove she was the new owner before she could make any changes. She assured me her husband was taking care of everything, and she promised to have the legal papers on my desk before the month was over. In the meantime she didn’t want me to order anything more for you that couldn’t be returned. Kate, you’ve simply got to call me and tell me how you want me to handle this. Oh, and by the way, I don’t know how she did it, but she found out the name of the company we use to make your ribbon, and she called them direct to cancel the order. She told them she was the new owner and that she wanted to change the color to something that would get more attention. She’s not sure what color the boxes will be yet, but the ribbons will be bright blue with fuchsia trim. The sales rep called me and asked what he should do. Please get back to me as soon as you can. I really need some help here.”
Kate was yelling at the phone when Dylan returned to the car. He knew she wasn’t talking to anyone because she was holding the phone at arm’s length and shouting incoherently.
“Kate, listen to me—” It was as far as he could get.
“She’s changing my ribbons. Do you believe that? She’s telling people she owns my company. The loan . . . that loan . . . she knew all about the loan my mother . . . it’s that weasel accountant, Simmons . . . this must be his wife.”
She was so angry she was shaking and talking so fast all Dylan got was something about a ribbon and a weasel.
“You need to listen to me,” Dylan said. “Forget about the ribbon—”
“I will not forget about my ribbon. I’m calling a lawyer, and I’m going to nail that little weasel. How dare he . . . and she . . . change my ribbon? She wants fuchsia? Can you believe the gall . . .”
She was waving her phone around while she rambled on. Dylan dodged it once, then grabbed it and placed it on the console.
Once again he tried to get her attention. “Kate . . .”
She was on a roll. “Do you think the loan officer at the bank is in on it, too? If he is, he’s going to prison with the weasel. How dare they—”
He cupped the sides of her face and forced her to look at him. “Kate.” He didn’t shout her name but he came close. He got her full attention. “You’ve got much bigger problems than ribbon.”
He let go of her, sat back, and waited for her to calm down. The impact of what he’d just said cut through her anger. She was suddenly so embarrassed by her raving lunatic behavior she apologized. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted . . . it was just a shock, you see. They’re trying to steal my company . . . those sneaky—”