BY: DANIELLA BERNETT
A looted Nazi painting…A former IRA commander…The tie that binds is murder
Emmeline Kirby is back in London, determined to make a success of her new job as editorial director of investigative features at The Clarion. Three months have passed since her trip to Torquay and the devastating revelations that surfaced about her fiancé Gregory Longdon. The whole interlude has left a bitter taste in her mouth, and she is keeping him at arm’s length. But a suave and dashing jewel thief like Gregory is not easily daunted. After all, faint heart never won fair lady. It doesn’t hurt that Emmeline’s grandmother and her best friend, Maggie, are on his side. Only his shadowy past could ruin his chances.
All of these relationships are threatened as Emmeline stubbornly pursues a story about looted Nazi art and an IRA collaborator. When a stolen Constable painting belonging to Maggie’s family turns up in the collection of Max Sanborn, the chairman of the company that owns The Clarion, her personal crusade brings danger close to home. To find the truth, Emmeline and Gregory must untangle a web of deception, betrayal, and dark deeds. But will they learn too late that justice can be cold comfort if you’re dead?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In A Checkered Past by Daniella Bernett, Emmaline Kirby is investigating art stolen by the Nazis in World War II when her friend Maggie discovers that Emma’s own boss has a painting that belonged to Maggie’s Aunt Sarah and was stolen from her by the Nazis. The man denies it and threatens Maggie. When he ends up dead, Maggie becomes the main suspect, and Emma is determined to prove her innocence.
Fast paced, intense, and compelling, the story combines suspense, intrigue, and marvelous character development to create a tale you won’t be able to put down.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: A Checkered Past by Daniella Bernett is the story of British newspaper reporter, Emmaline Kirby, and her on-again-off-again fiancé, Gregory Longdon. In this episode, Emma is doing a series of articles on art stolen from the Jews in World War II, as well as trying to uncover the secrets of Gregory’s mysterious past, when the head of the newspaper where Emma works is accused of having art belonging to the family of Emma’s best friend, Maggie Acheson. When the man, Max Sanborn, is murdered, Emma and Maggie are on the suspect list, and while digging for the truth, Emma discovers surprising things about her fiancé.
With a marvelous cast of characters, an intriguing mystery, and page-turning suspense, A Checkered Past is a worthy addition to the series, another jewel in the crown of this talented author.
Nice, April 1943:
Guillaume was careful to cling to the shadows. His footfalls barely made a breath of sound as he dragged himself from doorway to doorway. He propped himself against the solid bulk of the building, resting his forehead against the cool stone. He didn’t have to look down to know that he was losing a lot of blood. The fingers pressed against his left side were sticky and wet. The waves of pain were becoming more intense, but he had to move. Otherwise, he would be caught. He had to get to the apartment.
Guillaume cursed his luck. The mist had cleared, and now a voluptuous full moon hung low in the inky cobalt sky. Ribbons of warm vanilla light drizzled down onto the warren of narrow, cobbled streets in Vieux Nice, the old part of the city. The darkness was softened by a moonlight kiss. At any other time, he would have found this scene enchanting. After all, he was a Frenchman by birth and a romantic by nature. But four years of war had changed him–had changed everyone. They had all lost their innocence. The old world was gone. It had been replaced by one where ugliness, brutality, and, above all, fear reigned. Everyone was afraid. Afraid of the sale boche, the dirty Germans, who strutted like peacocks along the Promenade des Anglais. Afraid of that knock on the door in the middle of the night. Afraid of being betrayed by a “friend.” Afraid of everything.
Guillaume turned his gaze skyward once more. The moon, inherently capricious, was determined to expose all of the night’s secrets, for better or worse. He shivered involuntarily. A single drop of sweat traced its slow, torturous journey between his shoulder blades and down his back. His heart was in his throat, and his mouth went dry. Nearly dying has a way of shattering one’s self-confidence.
He patted his pocket and felt the reassuring weight of the gun bump against his hip. Swallowing hard, he did his best to shake the demons from his mind. He had to warn the others that the mission was blown. That, despite all their caution and planning, they had been betrayed. It was too late for Jean-Luc and Antoine, but he could still save Paulette and Doyle. They were waiting at the apartment.
A sudden searing pain shot through his side and left Guillaume gasping for breath. His legs felt as if they would buckle under him. However, he summoned every ounce of willpower in his body and dragged himself from the doorway like a drunk on his way home from a bender. The Germans weren’t too far behind. He had to get to Paulette and Doyle. They had to get to the boat. London said that the boat would be waiting at “Zero one hundred hours.” One o’clock. It was midnight now. There was no turning back. Time to move.
Another part of his brain took over, and his feet seemed to grow wings. Within minutes, he was up the steep street and stumbling up the cramped staircase. The corridor was dark. He fumbled in his pocket for the key and slipped it in the lock. But the door was wrenched open before he had a chance to turn the key.
He tumbled into the room and fell to his knees, panting.
“Guillaume, my God. What happened? We were getting worried.” It was Doyle, the Irishman. He was the only foreigner in their little resistance group. Only they didn’t really consider him a foreigner because he had a French mother and spoke French like a native because he had spent his summers as a boy in Lyon with his grandparents.
“What happened?” Doyle repeated, his very green eyes bulging with concern. “Bloody hell. You’re hurt. We need to get a doctor.” He put a hand under one of his Guillaume’s armpits and tried to lift him to his feet.
Guillaume saw stars. The pain blinded him as he weakly shrugged off Doyle’s grasp. “No…doctor.” It was barely a whisper. “No–time.”
“Must go now.” Guillaume clutched at Doyle’s sleeve. “It–was a–trap. The Germans were waiting for us.”
“My God. What about Jean-Luc and Antoine?”
Guillaume shook his head.
Doyle squeezed his eyes shut, and a tiny tremor shook his shoulders. “And the paintings and everything else?” he said at last.
“On the way to Goering in Berlin. Don’t you understand? We were betrayed.”
“I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it.”
“Believe it, mon vieux. We must hurry. We’ve wasted too much time already. The Germans were not far behind me. The boat will be waiting for us at one o’clock. Where’s Paulette?”
For the first time since he had entered the apartment, Guillaume realized that Paulette was not there. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. “Where’s Paulette?” he asked again.
“Why, she’s right here,” said a male voice, as the door to the bathroom opened. The voice belonged to an SS officer, who held a gun jabbed against Paulette’s ribcage.
Tears were streaming from the corner of her eyes. “Guillaume.” It was a choked sob.
“Quiet,” the German shouted and slapped her across the face. The crack reverberated around the small room. A tiny trickle of blood appeared at the corner of her mouth.
Guillaume’s brown eyes widened in disbelief. He shakily rose to his feet and tried to hurl himself at the German, who merely laughed as Guillaume tripped and fell flat on his stomach with a thud.
Guillaume lifted his head and saw Doyle staring down at him, a look of pity reflected in those green eyes. “Mon Dieu, it was you.” His voice was low and harsh. “You were the one, the only one, who could have betrayed us. Why? This is your war too.”
Doyle hunkered down on his haunches. A lazy smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.
“My war? Oh no, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick there, Guillaume. This is definitely not my war. Why would a good son of Erin fight for the bloody English? Oh no. They’re the real enemy. And anyone who’s an enemy of my enemy is a friend of mine.”
Guillaume blinked. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His gaze strayed for a moment toward Paulette. She mouthed Je t’aime and then crumpled to the ground. The German had shot her without warning.
Paulette, ma cherie, Guillaume thought, at least you’re out of this cruel world. At least you can rest now. No more fighting.
The German loomed over him now, his finger on the trigger. Every muscle in Guillaume’s body tensed. He held the German’s blue gaze. He would not flinch. He would meet death straight on. He would not allow these vile creatures to see his fear.
“No, Johan.” Doyle stepped between them and relieved the SS officer of his gun. “I can’t let you do it.”
Guillaume’s body relaxed as that green gaze swept over him. Perhaps, there was still some good left in this man whom he had once considered a loyal comrade in arms.
“I couldn’t let a stranger kill you. Not after everything we’ve been through together.”
“Mon vieux,” Guillaume replied hoarsely as he attempted to pull himself into a sitting position.
Doyle flashed one of those brilliant smiles that lit up his entire face. “We’ve been through too much together, you and I. So I’ll do it myself.”
Before Guillaume had a chance to react, Doyle had pulled the trigger. The shot hit him in the chest. Dead center.
Guillaume slipped slowly back down to the floor. Bastard. He’d allowed himself to be betrayed a second time. At least Doyle wouldn’t get a third chance.
Everything went black. Now, there would be no more betrayal.
Paris, May 1944:
Lieutenant Cyril Watkins took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. His eyes were as gritty as sandpaper and burned with frustration. He pushed the ledger away and leaned back in his chair. The words had started to blur on the page. It was not surprising. He’d been at it for hours. He closed his eyes. What a hopeless, impossible task. They had to try, of course. But did London or the Americans, or anyone, really think that they would succeed? He very much doubted it. They were only going through the motions.
Watkins opened his eyes and sighed heavily. He pushed himself to his feet and crossed the room. He stared at the row upon row of neatly stacked paintings, porcelain, jewelry, and other treasures that the Allies had seized from the Germans. All of it was stolen. Stolen from Jews.
Watkins fingered some of the objects. He was part of a joint British and American military unit attempting to identify and trace the owners. It was a noble endeavor, but utterly hopeless. He shook his head sadly. In all likelihood, the poor sods were all dead. And their families were all dead too.
His perambulations, as always, ended in front of a beautiful country landscape. It made him think of his grandfather’s estate in Hampshire. His parents had sent him and his three older brothers there for their summer holidays. A smile touched his lips. What heady days those were. Unfortunately, at the time, he had been afflicted with the arrogance of youth and had been too foolish to appreciate it all. If only he could turn back the clock. He would appreciate it now. Oh, yes. After five years of this stinking war, he wouldn’t squander a single precious moment.
Watkins’s gaze roamed over the delicate brushstrokes of the painting again, taking in the contrast of light and shade. He lovingly caressed the frame. It was so beautiful it brought a lump to his throat and made him homesick. A sigh escaped his lips. If only he could keep it. But, of course, that was out of the question. Then a thought struck him, and he straightened up. Why couldn’t he keep it? Who would ever know? It would be just another casualty of the war. Lost. After all, the owner was probably dead. Right? He couldn’t allow it to fall into the hands of some philistine, who wouldn’t appreciate it. No, that would be a sacrilege and simply would not do.
And so, as a soft drizzle started to dance on the pavements of the Right Bank, Lieutenant Cyril Watkins turned up the collar of his jacket, pointedly ignoring the insistent whispers of his conscience, and slipped out into the night. With the painting.
London, June 2010:
Betrayal. Such an ugly word, Emmeline thought, as she tapped her pen absentmindedly against the copy in front of her. Work, she reminded herself. You do remember the concept, don’t you? She looked down at the article again, but it was no use. She had no idea what she was reading. Emmeline pushed away the copy in disgust. Disgust at herself, not at the article. It was written by one of her best correspondents and most likely only required a few minor edits. The trouble was she wasn’t concentrating today. Her mind kept wandering back to the same theme. Betrayal and lies. And secrets. Why were there always secrets? Why couldn’t everything be black and white? The world would be much simpler that way.
A mirthless laugh escaped her lips. Silly girl, when was life ever simple? Emmeline rose and walked over to the window. She had a magnificent view of the Thames and the back of Tower Bridge. The Clarion’s offices were located in one of those gleaming new glass towers on the South Bank. Today marked exactly six weeks since she had become editorial director of investigative features at The Clarion. It had been a lot of work, and she was still learning, but she certainly had been up to the responsibility and challenge. During her brief tenure, the paper had garnered a new respect–not that it wasn’t well respected before. But Emmeline brought a fresh perspective and had made several changes that had been spot on. And now her colleagues and the industry were beginning to take notice. She had many ideas percolating in her brain that she hoped to implement over the next few months.
She should be proud of what she had accomplished thus far–and she was. And yet…and yet one thing eluded her. The truth about Gregory. As a journalist, this rankled more than anything. It colored how she viewed everything.
Emmeline loved him. There was no use denying that anymore. She would probably go to her grave loving that dashing, charming, incorrigible, infuriating man. She had accepted that he is–correction was a jewel thief. He promised to find a new form of employment–a legal form of employment. With a supreme effort, she had come to terms with Gregory’s relationship and betrayal with the now-deceased Veronica Cabot. There was that word rearing its head again, betrayal. However, what Emmeline still could not get past was the fact that Gregory was keeping the biggest secret of all from her–the truth about who he really is. And that disturbed her. It shook her confidence in herself and their relationship. They were engaged again, technically. But how could she even contemplate a life with him, if he couldn’t bring himself to trust her?
Emmeline stood there staring out the window, watching the boat traffic on the river without really seeing it. The afternoon sun glinted off the water’s surface. It was the first sunny day after two consecutive weeks of rain. Unconsciously, she fingered the gold bracelet with the tiny rosette knots that Gregory had given her long ago and which she wore all the time. She treasured it more than the pink sapphire and diamond engagement ring that he had given on her birthday last month.
“Ahem,” a male voice said behind her. “I did knock, twice in fact, but you didn’t hear me.”
Emmeline swung around, startled by the sudden intrusion upon her turbulent thoughts. “Oh, Nigel. It’s you.”
“I must say that I’ve had warmer welcomes,” Nigel Sanborn, the corporate counsel, said genially.
Emmeline returned his smile. It was impossible not to. Nigel was the most amiable of fellows. He immediately put people at their ease. He had a sharp mind and a great sense of humor. However, he could be a tough adversary when negotiating a contract or in court.
“Sorry, that was rather rude. I was a million miles away.” Emmeline came to sit at her desk and gestured for Nigel to take the chair opposite. “How are you today?”
“I’m fine. But the question is, are you? I have a penny somewhere here in my pocket for your thoughts, if you’d like to share them, that is. If you’ll remember, I’m a good listener.” His warm brown eyes crinkled at the corners, and another smile curled around his lips.
Emmeline rested her elbows on the desk and leaned toward him. “Indeed, you are a good listener, but no. It’s just something I have to sort out on my own.”
One of Nigel’s eyebrows quirked upward. “This doesn’t have anything to do with Tob–with Gregory,” he corrected himself quickly. “Does it?”
Emmeline’s back stiffened. “Now, what made you bring up Gregory?”
Nigel shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing in particular,” he responded slowly–ever the cautious lawyer. “I was simply being polite. We here at Sanborn Enterprises have a vested interest in our employees’ happiness.”
“I see,” Emmeline said. Her dark eyes impaled his warm brown ones, making Nigel shift in his chair. “Well, you know what? I don’t believe you.”
He cleared his throat. “Of course, it’s true. Naturally, as one of our newest employees–and I’m proud to say my discovery–I have a particular interest in your well-being. So it was only natural to ask about your fiancé. The two of are still engaged, aren’t you? I mean, you seemed to have weathered everything that happened in Torquay.”
Emmeline sat back in her chair and contemplated him for a long, uncomfortable moment without uttering a word. Torquay. What should have been a lovely holiday had turned into a nightmare. A nightmare of betrayal and secrets. There was no escaping those words today, was there? And Nigel knew something. Knew something about Gregory’s past. Words overheard in the hotel’s garden in Torquay– words she had not been meant to hear–came floating back to her mind.
‘No, Nigel. For the last time, I’m not going to tell Emmeline. And neither are you.’
‘Not my place, old chap.’ Nigel had sighed. ‘I suppose there’s nothing left to say. Will I see you again back in London now that Emmeline works for The Clarion?’
‘I don’t think that’s such a good idea, considering everything, do you?’
‘No, I suppose you’re probably right. Take care of yourself at least and don’t give Emmeline too much grief. You’re very lucky to have her. Not many women would put up with you.’
Emmeline leaned forward again. “What do you know about Gregory?” she asked bluntly. “I know you’re hiding something.”
“Hiding something? Don’t be ridiculous. What should I know about him?” This was the first time in the two months that she had known Nigel that she had ever seen him flustered. “After all, I only met him when we were all thrown together by that nasty business in Torquay.”
“I don’t believe you. When we first ran into you in Torquay, you thought Gregory was someone else. A Toby Crenshaw.”
“What a memory you have,” Nigel murmured under his breath. Then louder he said, “Did I? I can’t recall.”
“You know you did. Don’t lie to me. I hate it when people lie to me.”
“I–I’m not lying. It was an honest mistake. I got muddled and mistook Gregory for this chap I once knew.”
“There’s nothing honest in this whole business. You don’t get muddled. You have one of the sharpest legal minds I know.”
“Why, thank you, Emmeline. That’s very kind of you to say,” Nigel said, hoping to divert her.
It didn’t work.
“Don’t try to change the subject.” Emmeline pressed her point like a dog with a flea in its ear.
“I’m not changing the subject,” he protested.
“You know, I find it all rather strange.” Emmeline tapped her pen on her desk in irritation. Tap, tap, tap. “At first, you and Gregory eyed each like a cat and mouse and couldn’t stand to be in the same room together. Mind you, I acknowledge that this tension largely flowed from Gregory. Then overnight the two of you became very chummy, and, suddenly, you were representing him against a murder charge. Doesn’t that strike you as being a trifle odd?”
Nigel swallowed. “No, I wouldn’t say so. I would say that it was rather civic-minded.”
“Ha.” She threw down the pen in disgust. “Now, you sound like Gregory when he’s being evasive. Stand warned, Nigel. I’m not going to stop until I find out the truth.” She held up a small hand to halt the protest bubbling in his throat. “You can tell Gregory that the next time you see him.”
“I have no intention of seeing Gregory.” The name still sounded strange on his lips. “He’s your fiancé. If you’re so sure that he’s hiding something, why don’t you ask him?”
“Well, that’s easier said than done,” Emmeline replied obliquely as she straightened some papers. “Was there something you wanted when you came in here?”
“Now, who’s changing the subject? I only wanted to give you the Harper story. I vetted it. It will pass muster in any court, if you make the revisions I indicated in the margins.” He handed her the copy and pushed himself to his feet.
“Thanks, Nigel. I appreciate it. Sorry for the grilling.” She smiled up at him and then asked, “Can’t you just tell me what you know?”
For a brief instant, the plea in her dark eyes made him waver. But Nigel recovered himself. No, it was not his place. Emmeline and Gregory would simply have to sort things out on their own. He wouldn’t interfere, although he believed Gregory was a fool to keep things from her.
Nigel grinned. “Have a nice afternoon, Emmeline.”
She watched as he quietly crossed to the door and let himself out of her office. Emmeline balled her small hands into tight fists and pounded them against her desk. “Ooh, men. They all stick together. Fine. If that’s the way they want it, the gloves are off.”
The shrill peal of her telephone interrupted her next course of action. She snatched up the receiver. “Hello, Emmeline Kirby,” she snarled down the line. “This had better be important.”
“Is that the way I taught you to answer the telephone?”
Emmeline’s face softened. “Gran. Hello there. How are you?”
Helen, her grandmother, was the dearest person to her in the whole world. Her grandmother had raised her from the age of five, after her parents had died while on assignment in Lebanon. Emmeline’s father was a well-regarded correspondent for The Times, and her mother was a photojournalist. They were a team, in life and in death. Emmeline had been devastated when they died. But her grandmother had swept in, and she never wanted for anything, especially love. Always love. Emmeline grew up in Helen’s lovely Tudor house down in Swaley in Kent. No one could have asked for a more wonderful childhood.
The woman that Emmeline was today was all due to her grandmother’s nurturing. Her love of art and classical music were all learned at Helen’s knee. Her grandmother also instilled in Emmeline a love and an appreciation of the written word. She became a voracious reader. Emmeline always had her head stuck in a book. Biographies, the classics, spy thrillers, but especially mysteries. Some of her fondest memories were of being curled up on the sofa with a mug of steaming cocoa on a chilly winter afternoon as she and Helen read Agatha Christie novels. Emmeline’s love of reading also led to her interest in history. For her, delving into the past helped her to understand all the interconnections that made the world the way it was today. With this background as a basis, it was only natural that Emmeline should follow in her parents’ footsteps and become a journalist. She hoped that they would have been proud of her.
“So, Gran, to what do I owe this pleasant surprise?”
“Don’t think you’re going to get around me by going all sweet and coy, my girl. That didn’t work when you were five, and it’s certainly not going to work now when you’re a grown woman of thirty-one,” Helen remonstrated. “You know perfectly well why I’m ringing. I want to know when you and Gregory are going to set a date. It’s taken you long enough to make up your mind. I’m sure Maggie feels the same.” Maggie was Emmeline’s best friend since university. Maggie and Helen had been plotting to get Emmeline and Gregory back together ever since his sudden reappearance in her life in February–this after vanishing for two years. Well, now she had an explanation for that. Bloody Veronica Cabot.
“Emmy, are you still there? Did you hear what I said? I can feel you not listening.”
“Yes, Gran. I’m listening to every word. As always.”
“Ha. Now, I know something is wrong. When was the last time you saw Gregory?”
Emmeline twisted the telephone cord around her finger. “Oh, I think it was…Yes, when we came down to Swaley for my birthday.”
“That was over a month ago. Why are you keeping him at arm’s length?”
“I’m not. It’s just…It’s work. You know that my new job as editorial director here at The Clarion is consuming most of my time these days as I try to take the paper in a new direction.”
“Rubbish. You make time for the people you love. Something happened in Torquay. I could see it in your faces when you came down here. If you don’t want to tell me–although it would be the first time that you’ve kept secrets from me–that’s your prerogative. It’s your life, and I won’t interfere.”
Really? And what’s this grilling in aid of? Emmeline thought.
“However, you and that good-looking devil better sit down and hash it all out. Nothing will ever get resolved if you don’t talk to each other.”
“Yes, Gran,” Emmeline responded dutifully. It was the only way when Helen was in full vent.
“Good. I’m glad to see you’re finally seeing sense. So when do you plan to speak with Gregory?
Emmeline groaned and rolled her eyes. “Oh, Gran.” Subtlety was not one of Helen’s strong suits. “I thought you said you weren’t going to interfere.”
“I’m not interfering, merely inquiring.”
Emmeline started to laugh. “Thanks, Gran.”
“For being you.” Her voice softened. “Did I ever tell how much I love you?”
“I believe you might have mentioned it upon occasion, but I don’t mind hearing it again.” Helen was chuckling now too.
“I love you. Now, I have to go. I’ll try to make it down to Swaley next weekend.”
“Bring you-know-who with you, and I can have a chat with him. To set him on the right path, so to speak. Bye, love. I’ll see you next week.” And, with that, her grandmother rang off.
An amused smile still played about Emmeline’s lips ten minutes later as she locked her office for the night. Gran was one in a million, and she was so lucky to have her.
“Good night, chaps,” Emmeline tossed out to the newsroom at large as she crossed the floor to get to the lift. “I’ll see all of you in the morning. Henry is the editor on duty tonight.”
A chorus of “Right, boss,” and “Good night, Emmeline,” floated to her ears and mingled with the usual hum of voices, ringing telephones and tapping of keyboards. She shot a look over her shoulder and beamed with pride. It was all hers. Her realm.
Emmeline took one step into the corridor and was nearly knocked down by a rather stout man, probably in his late sixties to early seventies, with iron gray wavy hair and hooded dark brown eyes. He wore horn-rimmed glasses that accentuated the sharp angle of his nose, which was bracketed on either side by deep lines. “Watch where you’re going, you stupid girl,” he grunted as he shoved her aside unceremoniously. “Some of us have important work to do around here.”
Despite the fact that this rude man was nearly a head taller than she was, Emmeline stood in his path. “I beg your pardon. You’re the one who careened into me. I think you should open your eyes and watch where you’re going.” If there was one thing that she couldn’t abide, it was rudeness.
He took off his glasses and stared down his nose at her. He smiled, but it didn’t touch his cold, hard eyes. “Will you listen to this? Do you know who you’re talking to? I could have you sacked just like that.” He snapped his fingers in front of her face, but she didn’t flinch.
Emmeline squared her shoulders and took a step closer to him. In that instant, she could have been ten feet tall rather than two inches over five feet. “I could care less who you are. All I know is that you could use a lesson or two in manners and common courtesy.”
“Oh, really?” the man snapped. He snatched her wrist and jerked her so hard that her head snapped back. “Well, I think you had better take care, dear.” He shook her again, his fingers biting into her wrist as he pressed her back into the wall. “Because I’m the man who can make your life a living hell, if I’ve a mind to. And at this moment, it’s a very tempting prospect.”
Emmeline sucked in her breath and struggled to free herself from his vice-like grip. His features took on a nasty, lupine aspect as his lips drew back from his smoke-stained teeth. She shivered involuntarily. In the space of a few minutes, she had gained an enemy.
They stood there eyeing at one another, an unspoken challenge hanging in the air between them.
“Dad, that’s enough. Let her go,” a male voice called sharply.
They both looked up to find a tall, slim man hurrying down the corridor toward them. In three long strides, he was at their side.
The older man glared at him. “Brian, this is none of your concern.”
“On the contrary,” Brian said as he loosened his father’s grip on Emmeline’s wrist and stepped between them, “as managing director, it is my duty to ensure that our employees are not terrorized and harassed. Now, why don’t you do what you do best? Take yourself off to your club or the nearest pub and drown your woes in a bottle like you usually do.”
“Why, you ungrateful–I’ve a mind to–” The older man raised his hand as if to strike, but Brian grabbed it in mid-air.
He jerked his head toward the lift. “Go on, Dad. Leave now before you make an even bigger fool of yourself.”
It was unnerving to watch as father and son warily engaged in a silent battle of wills. The older man’s brown gaze flickered toward Emmeline for a second and then back to his son. He leaned in close and whispered in Brian’s ear, “One of these days you’re going to push me too far, my loving son. You’re just like your mother, always sticking your nose in where it’s not wanted.”
“Well, luckily for Mum, she finally divorced you and is now enjoying a normal life,” Brian retorted coolly.
There was a soft ding as the lift doors slid open. “Your car awaits, Dad.”
A mirthless laugh escaped his father’s lips as he stepped into the lift. “This isn’t over. I’ll make sure you regret showing me up like this.” And then he spat at Emmeline, “In front of the help.”
Brian exhaled and shook his head wearily as the doors slid closed. “Every moment that I’m near you I regret it, dear old Dad,” he murmured. “Oh.” He turned to find Emmeline studying him closely. He had forgotten about her in the heat of the argument. “I’m terribly sorry about all that. My father is…well, a bit difficult.”
“It’s all right. I’ve met his type before.” But she wouldn’t forget the malevolent look in the older man’s eyes. “You’re Nigel’s brother, aren’t you?” She mentally compared him to Nigel. Both men were in their mid- to late-forties. Both were slightly over six feet tall with slim, athletic builds. The brothers both had brown eyes that danced with intelligence and yet reflected good humor and genuineness. Whereas Brian’s wavy dark hair was threaded with gray strands, Nigel was only graying at the temples, just like Gregory. Why had Gregory popped into her head again? Her thoughts always seemed to stray to him at inconvenient times. Well, if she were honest, he was never far from her thoughts. Emmeline sighed and tried to concentrate on the man standing before her.
For the first time since he had intervened in her little contretemps with his father, Brian smiled. “Yes, I’m Brian Sanborn. I hope little brother hasn’t been speaking ill of me.”
Emmeline returned his smile and shook the hand he proffered. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Mr. Sanborn. I’m Emmeline Kirby. I almost feel as if I know you. Nigel talks about you all the time. He’s always singing your praises. He’s very proud of you and looks up to you. You can do no wrong in Nigel’s eyes. It’s obvious he loves you very much.”
“Well, the feeling is mutual. There’s nothing little brother and I wouldn’t do for one another. We’ve always been very close. But please call me Brian. Only my father is Mr. Sanborn. Let me warn you that he never lets you forget that you’re in the presence of the great Max Sanborn–media mogul, political kingmaker, collector, and art connoisseur. But only his family knows him for what he truly is,” he replied bitterly, a muscle pulsing along his jaw. “A bully, a heavy drinker, a womanizer, and an all-round rotter.”
“Oh, I see. I’m sorry,” Emmeline murmured feebly, not knowing how to respond. She was so grateful that she had her grandmother.
“No, no. Please forgive me,” Brian said contritely, suddenly recollecting himself. “I shouldn’t have aired the Sanborn dirty linen in public. I can’t even begin to imagine what you must think of us. But that’s enough of that. I’m glad that I’ve finally met you, Emmeline. I would have liked to have personally welcomed you to Sanborn Enterprises, but I was out of town for a fortnight, and then one thing after another seemed to consume my attention. Naturally, your reputation precedes you. I jumped at the chance to hire you when Nigel suggested we make you an offer. I hope, despite your little encounter with my father, that you’ll be happy here at The Clarion for many years to come.”
“I’m sure I will be, Brian.” Unless your father has other ideas in mind, Emmeline thought.
© 2018 Daniella Bernett