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Title: House of Cards
Author: Ainsley St. Claire
Genre: Contemporary Romance
About House of Cards:
She thinks she needs to put her family before herself. He’s determined to prove her wrong.
Maggie is the heiress to the Reinhardt Department Store fortune. Her father died and the board of the company expect Alex to run the company but they’ve never had a nonfamily member run the company. The board has a simple solution—she needs to put the family first and marry Alex. Forget the fact that she isn’t his type and she loves someone else. Jonathan Best has been in love with Maggie Reinhardt since high school. Everything he’s done has been for her including escaping from his family’s clutches and opening a 5-star hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip. He can’t forget their last time together and how after so long it was so right. So, after picking up the pieces he formulates his plan to stop the wedding and that when things get really interesting.
House of Cards is a standalone romantic suspense novel with a happy ending. It’s the first in the Billionaire Tech Series featuring the team members from the Venture Capitalist and Clear Security series.
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A little while later, I’m dressed, and as rested as I can get. I’ve worked out,
snacked on leftover Chinese, and caught up on my sports teams. It’s time to tackle
what’s left of my day.
Caden meets me outside my door, and I walk with him down to see Travis in
“All right, Travis, what the hell happened last night, and what did you learn over
the last twelve hours?” I ask when we arrive.
“Let’s start with the easy part.” He gestures to a guy sitting behind a computer.
“This is Kevin.”
“Thanks for your help, Kevin.”
Travis points to the closest fifty-inch screen, and the feed from the bar comes up.
It’s high-resolution digital and they’ve pieced together multiple angles. We watch a
customer enter, not real steady on his feet, and take a seat at a perimeter table. He
seems to talk to women as they pass, but they don’t appear to respond.
Karen, the server, arrives, and it looks like she takes his order.
“Can we pull the audio?” I ask.
“We’re working on that,” Travis says. “The guys are trying to clean it up some.”
That makes sense. We don’t record a lot of audio, but we do have devices set up
in certain areas. Mostly they just seem to pick up a lot of background noise.
We see Karen stop at several other tables and then put an order in. Everything is
going as it should. Now her tray is full of drinks, and she begins to deliver them.
The drinks she places in front of wobbly man is clear, on ice, and has a lime
“Did you see that?” Travis asks.
I shake my head. “Can you please play it back slowly, Kevin?”
Kevin rewinds the feed to where she walks up to the table and plays it in slow
“Watch his right hand at the back of her leg,” Travis says. “He slides it up and
tries to slip it underneath her skirt.”
I see the same thing, and I don’t like it. “It’s subtle, but she brushes it away,” I
“She’s graceful about it, which is a sign that this happens often,” Travis says.
“I’ll meet with the head of food and beverage and make sure we do some training
on how to address this. No one should have to work that way.”
We continue watching Karen help other patrons. She’s happy, smiling, and
seems courteous. A large group of young guys come in, and she cards them and scoots
“How long until she clocks him?” I ask.
“It’s coming up,” Kevin says. “It’s at the twenty-three-minute mark.”
We’re at twenty-one minutes when the man drains his drink and motions Karen
over. There’s talking between the two. His hands are wandering, and she keeps shaking
“We need to get the audio,” I say through clenched teeth.
“Agreed, and we’ll get it transcribed so the video and audio match. But just wait.
It gets better,” Travis warns.
“I know she slugs him,” I say.
Her tray is full, and she delivers drinks around the bar. When she comes back to
his table, she leans over to put the drink down, and we watch him reach right into her
top. You can tell she’s startled, and she dumps the remaining drinks in his lap. He
immediately stands and grabs her by the hair as his hand disappears down the front of
“Holy shit,” I say. We watch her nail him with a right hook.
He tumbles like a ragdoll and hits the table.
I shake my head. “Well, it appears to be a clear case of defending herself.”
We watch the interaction a few more times in slow motion, double speed, and
normal speed. It looks terrible every time.
“He was definitely the aggressor, but why didn’t she follow protocol and call
security when he sat down? He was obviously drunk. Why did she serve him?” I ask.
“We need to pull his drink orders, too.”
“I have that somewhere,” Travis searches through a pile of paper. “Here it is. The
first was a gin and tonic, and the second was just tonic. So it appears she was
addressing his drink situation.”
“That’s good. But I still want to know why she didn’t follow protocol. And it’d be
great to get the audio ASAP,” I tell him.
“Agreed,” Travis says. “Okay, now for the missing boyfriend. It’s not as climactic.”
“That’s good,” I mumble, rubbing my hand over my face. Assault, theft, and
kidnapping in the same evening is not a good night.
Kevin pulls up the new feed. “The boyfriend is playing blackjack in the third spot.
He’s having a good night with Tom Carpenter, the dealer at table forty-two.”
We watch as the evening pit boss, Vincent, changes Tom out for a break.
“This is when his winning streak seems to falter,” Travis says.
The man stands up and changes to a table where the bid increases to forty
“This is just bad luck,” Travis notes.
The dealer wins two hands in a row.
“Tough for the players,” I lament.
“Exactly, but it happens. You can see he runs out of chips.” The feed shows him
leaving the table and crossing to the ATM, but he doesn’t seem to get any money from
it. Either he’s over his daily limit, or he doesn’t have any to withdraw. He walks out of
the casino, stops and looks back, and then walks to the elevator.
“Does he think someone is following him?” I ask.
“I don’t think so. I think he’s looking at all the activity and still wanting to
participate. You’ll see why I say that in just a few minutes.”
Kevin fast-forwards, and the feed picks him up exiting the elevator alone on his
floor. No one else is present. He lets himself into his room with a thumbprint.
“It’s nine thirty-seven p.m., and he walks out at ten-oh-three,” Kevin says. “No
one comes after he leaves.”
He zooms in on what the man is holding, and it’s a pouch like his girlfriend
The camera follows him back to the lobby and out the front door.
“We checked with the cab company, and he caught a ride to Serena’s Pawn
“Did you see him come back?”
“Couldn’t find that. The room is accessed again at eleven forty-two p.m., and the
video shows it’s the girlfriend.”
Kevin switches to that feed, and the woman I met in the lobby last night sticks her
head out of the room and searches down the hall.
“In a minute she leaves her room, and she caught your attention at twelve ten
p.m. in the casino in front of table thirty-two,” Travis says.
“There’s a distinct possibility he pawned her jewelry and went gambling
elsewhere,” I say. “Get this to the officer overseeing missing persons on this.”
Kevin clicks a few keys on his computer keyboard and brings up the camera feed
outside Queen Diva’s dressing room.
“Now for the most puzzling one,” Travis says.
Queen’s shows are choreographed to the second, so we know she should hit her
dressing room at nine thirty-eight, which she does. She walks with two dressers
following her, one unzipping the costume and helping to remove jewelry and
adornments, and the other collecting the pieces she’s taking off. Her security guard,
who is standing outside the room, opens the door for her. It’s controlled chaos, and
Frankie is nowhere to be seen.
Queen emerges with her entourage in a different costume in less than fifteen
seconds, and then she’s back to the stage.
“We obviously lose her each time she goes into the room, but no one else enters.
I checked with the guard outside her door, and he confirmed that,” Travis says. “Could
she be trying to set us up? Trying to get out of her contract?”
I keep staring at the door, willing Frankie or anyone else to sneak in, but it’s just
the guard and an empty hallway. “I suppose anything is possible, but I don’t think so.”
I ruminate over his suggestion. She wanted this. This is a good deal for her. She
takes in half the money we collect on her shows, and she’s home each morning to help
her kids off to school and pick them up after and have dinner with them before she puts
in four hours here at the hotel. She wants her kids to put down roots, not have private
tutors and live out of a suitcase while she’s on the road. With this gig, she goes home
every night and makes more money than she would if she was traveling. Something’s
“Do you have this ready to go for the police interview?”
“Sure thing, boss,” Kevin says.
“What else happened today while I was sleeping?” I ask.
“Typical stuff—shoplifter at Louis Vuitton on The Boardwalk, two card counters
playing five-card stud, and a man tried to go skinny-dipping in the pool. A typical day at
I sigh. I need more sleep than I’m getting. I need quality time to sort out this mess
with Maggie, and I need to get laid. “At least it’s always exciting. I’m going to check in
with Gillian, and I’ll be back before the police arrive.”
Caden walks out with me, and I text Gillian.
Me: Where are you?
Gillian: VIP room 3. Come on by and let our big spenders feel your love.
I smile. They don’t care about me. It’s the thrill of outfoxing the fellow players. I
alert Caden where we’re headed, and he leads the way.
As we pass the craps table, I notice it’s three people deep all around. Someone’s
hot, and the crowd cheers. A tall, very sexy blonde sidles up next to me.
“Looks like someone’s beating the house,” she says in a sultry voice that wakes
up my cock.
I chuckle. “It happens all the time.” If I asked her, she’d probably join me for a
drink. But I only want my Magpie. I consider texting her, but I don’t know what to say.
Hopefully after I meet with Christopher, I will.
Instead, I walk into the VIP room to find six tables packed with Chinese women.
Smoke hangs heavily from the ceiling, and they’re deep in a game of pai gow. I love
watching them play. They move Chinese domino tiles around and laugh, speaking what
I guess is Cantonese. The game makes zero sense to me. I can’t tell which hands are
high and which are low—what wins one time and doesn’t the next is strange to me.
There’s a lot of pushing, so not a lot of money changes hands, but they’ve all dropped a
quarter of a million to play.
I stand against the wall as Gillian explains who’s here. They’re a group who
comes twice a year from mainland China. New money—I can relate to that. Gillian has
told me before that these women easily spend six figures each between food, shows,
shopping, and of course, the pai gow. This is a big win for us.
When they notice me, the game stops and thirty women pull out their mobile
phones and take lots of pictures. They speak excellent English, and I smile as they
bombard me with information.
“You’re much more handsome in person.”
“My daughter is single.”
“You have a beautiful hotel.”
“How do I get a discount?”
After their enthusiasm subsides, I thank them for coming and head down to
Queen Diva’s dressing room for our meeting with LVPD.
Travis, the police detective, and I stand around waiting. Usually people wait for
me, but as usual, we wait for Queen Diva. She arrives in a flurry. She’s wearing jeans
and a sweater, and without her wigs and makeup, she’s almost unrecognizable. But it’s
still as if the room was black and white and with her arrival came all the color. She
shoos her entourage out, including Frankie, and the policeman gets down to business.
“Queen Diva, I’m Detective Alan Kincaid,” he says, offering his hand.
“Nice to meet you,” she says.
Together we watch the video. As she told us, the ring is on her hand when she
goes into the dressing room and not there when she goes out. Detective Kincaid asks a
lot of questions—of us and her—but no one is able to explain how the ring disappeared.
“Queen, as you know, we don’t have a recording of anything in your dressing
room,” Travis reminds her. “It might help if we could set up a temporary camera that
only you would know about. It could be positioned in such a way as to capture the whole
room. The feed would go directly to a drive that is not on our main server, so it wouldn’t
be visible to anyone unless you permitted someone from my team or me to view it.
What do you think?”
She nods. “I think we have to. My costumes are brought in by your team each
day, so I only see them when I’m performing. If something’s going on in the room, we
need to see it.”
Detective Kincaid nods. “I’m sure this is something you want to share with your
family and staff, but I strongly encourage you to keep it to yourself. In my experience,
these kinds of thefts are usually perpetrated by someone cozied up to someone close to
you, and they don’t even realize it.”
I can see her wanting to fight the advice, but she nods. “I need to find out who’s
behind this and who’s not behind my success.”
We all agree on a timeline, thank her for her cooperation, and Detective Kincaid
walks out with Travis and me.
“Is there possibly another way in or out of her dressing room that we aren’t
covering?” he asks.
I shake my head. “I built this place. I don’t think so.”
“Do you have any suspects you didn’t want to mention in front of her?”
I smile. This guy is smart. “We think it might be her husband, Frankie, or
someone he knows.”
“Interesting. I was thinking the same thing.” He smiles.
When we reach the front door of the hotel, he extends his hand. “I look forward to
our next visit next week.”
He heads out, Travis returns to security, and I go back to my apartment.
Through an app on my phone, I order pizza for dinner from a hole-in-the-wall
place off the Strip. It’s my favorite spot, and I eat and enjoy a basketball game in my
underwear, sitting on my leather couch.
I’m tired, and I hope I can return to a normal sleeping schedule tonight, since
tomorrow will be a long day.
The following afternoon, I make myself comfortable on the plane. Squeezing ten
hours of work into less than five isn’t easy, but I’m a man on a mission, and I need to
get to Christopher. I’m even leaving a little earlier than planned for San Francisco. One
of our whales, Kevin Driscoll, was ready to return to the Bay Area, so it made sense to
“Mr. Best, so wonderful to share this ride to San Francisco,” he says as I stow my
“Mr. Driscoll.” I extend my hand. “How was your stay at the Shangri-la?”
“Excellent. This time I’m leaving with more money than I came with.”
“Great news. That’s what I like to hear.” Usually, whales tip my staff well and
spend all sorts of money—probably more than they ever win.
“What kind of business are you in, Mr. Driscoll?”
The flight attendant places our preferred drinks in front of us.
“I’m in semiconductors.” He proceeds to talk at me, not to me, for the duration of
the sixty-five-minute flight. After he explains his current business, he moves on to his
past businesses. Then I learn why he loves poker and that he and his wife are no longer
The flight lands none too soon in San Francisco. Kian exits the plane before me
and takes the keys to the waiting Range Rover. I’ve never been so glad to be off the
plane, though it was a gift that Kevin Driscoll talked the whole way, since it kept my
mind off why I’m here.
Kian navigates through traffic on the 101, and before I know it, we’re sitting in
front of a San Francisco row house in what Christopher describes as the Mission. All I
know is they’re above a neighborhood park and have a stunning view of downtown San
Francisco and the Bay Bridge. The last time I stayed in their guest room on the third
floor, I could see the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day.
We’ve barely come to a stop before Christopher is outside to greet me and direct
Kian to where he wants him to park. “I hope you’re hungry. Bella made authentic
tamales, chicken, and her grandmother’s pork green chili. Brother, we’re in for a treat
tonight. We’re going to eat well.”
Bella comes out behind him, and I give her a hug and a kiss. “I didn’t bring
anything. I’m sorry. I thought I was making this guy take me out for an expensive dinner.
Instead it sounds like you cooked all day, and he’s getting off rather easy.”
He puts his arm around her, and she smiles up at him. “I’m thrilled to cook for
you. I figure you aren’t served many home-cooked meals, and after dinner, I’ll go up to
my office so you two can have your secret conversation.”
I chuckle. Bella is nothing like the girls Christopher dated when we were growing
up. She’s absolutely perfect for him—an incredibly smart biochemist, beautiful long dark
hair and big brown eyes, and she doesn’t care a thing about the money in his bank
Dinner with Christopher and Bella is a lot of fun. I share plenty of his escapades
from when we were in school together.
“Here we were, from two of the wealthiest families at the Carlson Academy, and
rather than attend any old private university like many of our classmates, we went to a
state school. Talk about blowing the lid off of their stats.”
He laughs. “Well, if Hazel hadn’t pushed me, and if my grandfather hadn’t set up
funding for my college, I’d never have been able to afford even the U. The tuition was
ridiculous. My mother was so pissed at me for emancipating myself. She wouldn’t pay
for a thing.”
This is the opening I’ve been looking for. “Why didn’t Stevie and Maggie
“Self-preservation,” he says immediately. “My mother was not going to let that
happen a second time or a third, and I’m sure she made that clear to them. Plus, we’d
always known a son—well, turns out just an heir—in good standing must run the
company, and I obviously wanted nothing to do with it, so she had to keep them in her
“So is Stevie going to take charge now?”
“God, no! You remember that mess with Stevie when he graduated from high
school. He was wild, and that didn’t go over well at all. Doesn’t look good, you know.”
He rolls his eyes. “And he doesn’t have any business training either. He’s doing great,
though. Genevieve grounds him, and they stay far away from my mother down in Key
West. No brutal Minnesota winters for them.”
“I can’t blame him for that.” My heart sinks. “So it’s left for Maggie?”
“Well, yeah, unfortunately.” He sighs. “I mean, she’ll be great—she certainly
knows what she’s doing. We set it up so someone else is running the company, and she
just has to be board chairman. She’ll still be mostly focused on the Foundation. I’m sure
the marriage to Alex is part of the merger with Elite, but Maggie doesn’t talk to me about
that kind of thing.”
“You could call her and find out,” Bella reminds him.
“I should, because if my mother is forcing her to marry Alex, that is truly fucked
Bella stands. “Jonathan, thank you for coming. I need to get some work done.
She gives me a warm embrace and a kiss. “Come again soon.””
“That’s your cue, eh?” I laugh as I reach for her hand and give it a squeeze.
“Dinner was truly outstanding. I hope to see you very soon.”
“I’m guessing we’ll see you at Maggie’s wedding,” she says, looking at
Christopher as if transmitting a message with her eyes.
My heart clenches, and I’m sure it stops pumping for a few moments. We have
got to find a way out of this. If Christopher is against it too, maybe we can band
“Maggie’s here next week,” Bella adds as she goes, looking at me now.
“Foundation work for Bullseye. They’re working with a local nonprofit on a program they
want to take nationwide. She comes out every six weeks or so to meet with the director.
This time she’s squeezing in some time with her big brother.”
“I didn’t know she was due to come out and stay.”
I need to focus on how to fill Christopher in on Maggie’s situation, but I’m not
sure it’s my place. Plus, I’m not ready to admit my relationship with her just yet. Though
I don’t know quite what I’m waiting for now.
“She’s not just a pretty face,” Bella says over her shoulder. “The guest room is
ready if you need it, and the guest house has clean sheets for your team.”
“Thanks, Bella, but we have a flight at eleven.” I turn to Christopher. “I was out of
town earlier this week, and everything went to hell in a handbasket. I can’t be out of
She waves goodbye and disappears.
“Come with me.” Christopher leads me down the hall to his man cave, where we
sit in two leather chairs opposite a gas fireplace. “What’s going on?” he asks as he
pours twenty-five-year-old amber liquid into a glass.
I take a deep breath and prepare myself for yelling and possibly a black eye. “I
need some help.”
“Sure, anything. What’s going on?”
“You’ve been my best friend since we were five. Your family is my family.”
“I feel the same way.”
I take a deep pull of my drink and look him in the eye. “I’m in love with Maggie.”
He sits back in his chair. I can see his jaw set, and he looks away. I brace myself.
He slowly turns to me. “Okay, and?”
I’m so stunned that I don’t know where to start.
“Jonnie, you’ve been in love with Maggie since we were in high school. You were
more serious about keeping boys away from her than I ever was. Plus, I saw you
disappear with her after my wedding. I knew you’d tell me when you were ready.”
I feel my mouth fall open and quickly shut it. He’s known all along? “Are you okay
with this? I mean, I remember you threatening to cut off my balls if I got involved with
“You’re adults, not ridiculous teenagers anymore,” he says with a shrug. “She’s
the one you built the Shangri-la for, right?”
I nod and stare down at my now-empty glass. “She came to see me a few weeks
ago, and I was ready to ask her to move to Las Vegas. I bought an engagement ring the
day after your wedding. I love her, man.” I sigh. “But the moment I saw her, she shut
everything down and told me she was marrying Alex.”
He nods soberly. “So I’m guessing my mother is behind this marriage?”
“It sounds like she waited until you and Stevie left to inform Maggie that she
couldn’t get around the marriage clause—and then she presented her with a ready-
“I have the most fucked-up family. How does Maggie feel about you?”
“I feel like she cares about me too. For months after your wedding, we’d been
flirting and texting back and forth. We talked just about every day until she dropped the
bomb about marrying Alex and ran off. Now it’s hit or miss.”
“What’s happened since then?”
“She’s shutting me out, though I’m trying not to let her. We’ve connected a few
times, and she finally came clean about everything, but she’s convinced she’s the only
one who can preserve the company, and she has some sort of stupid loyalty to Alex, so
she’s resigned herself to going through with it.”
Christopher nods and looks at the ceiling for a moment. “My mother has her
hooks in everything Maggie does—she always has. But she can’t throw her life away,
especially when she has another option on the table—you.”
I almost feel relieved, but the situation still feels overwhelmingly awful. I sit back
hard in my chair. “Help me talk some sense into her. We have to find another way to
meet the terms of the will—or get them changed.”
He gets the bottle of scotch and pours me another glass. “The wedding isn’t until
next month, so let me see what I can find out when she’s here next week. That way we
don’t tip my mother off.”
It’s been one hell of a week, but it’s finally Saturday. I’m making today a pajama
day, but that doesn’t mean I’m not productive. So far, I’ve spent the morning going
through my to-do lists for the Foundation, and I reviewed the latest batch of Reinhardt
Hudson P&L statements so I’m not walking in blind when I take the job of chairman.
It’s late morning, and I haven’t even gotten dressed. I love that I can work from
Or not-work from home. I pause to daydream a little. It’s been several weeks
since I argued with Jonnie at the spa. He didn’t respond when I texted to apologize, so
I’ve left him alone. I’m sure this is for the best, though I still think of him every day.
But I shouldn’t. I lay back in bed, set aside my spreadsheets, and leaf through a
magazine. It is Saturday, after all.
A few minutes later, a knock at my bedroom door distracts me from the article in
Cosmo on “How to Make Your Orgasms Last.” Just as well, as it seems a bit cliché, and
thanks to my current life predicament, I won’t be having orgasms any time soon.
Opening the door, I find my mother’s private secretary standing with an acrylic
clipboard, wearing her usual sensible skirt and shoes.
“There’s a Mr. Patrick Moreau here to see you,” she announces.
“Me? Why is my mother’s attorney here to see me?”
She looks at me blankly. Her job is not to wonder, but to do, and do it efficiently.
She waits for me to agree to meet him.
“Have him meet me in the library.”
She gives a curt nod, turns, and leaves.
So much for a day in my flannel pajamas. I could meet him like this, but that’s
probably not the image of myself I want to project. I pick up the crumpled jeans I wore
yesterday from the floor and pull them on, making sure the underwear isn’t going to
creep out the leg later today. I grab an Irish wool sweater to complete the outfit. My
mother would turn up her nose, but I won’t be caught dead in one of her St. John knit
suits. He arrived unannounced. What does she expect?
As I walk downstairs, I consider what might bring him to speak to me. Maybe my
mother has melted the ice in Lake Louise and drowned? Not likely.
When I enter the room, his back is to me, but I can see he’s drinking coffee and
studying the shelf of first editions my father collected. I’ve always thought he was a little
smarmy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tucked a book into his briefcase before I arrived.
I’ll have Richard check the inventory after he leaves.
I take a big breath and paint a smile on my face. Extending my hand, I say
“Welcome Mr. Moreau. What brings you to Reinhardt House?”
He’s a slight man, barely equal to me in height. Rather than clasp my hand, he
does what he always does and shakes my fingers. His father was my grandfather’s
attorney, so we inherited him, though I’m not sure why we kept him.
“Thank you, Miss Reinhardt.” He opens his briefcase, which is sitting on the side
table, and extracts several packets of papers. “Your mother thought you might want to
go through the papers she gave you recently.”
My smile is tight. I may not have gone to law school, but I’ve been reading
contracts since I could read. I know what they say and why I’m screwed.
“I’ve been through them.”
“Do you understand your father’s will?”
“You explained his will to us when you read it after he passed.”
“You understand that with Christopher not interested or able to assume
responsibility of Reinhardt Corporation, and Steven unable to meet the requirements at
this point to assume leadership, the company falls to you.”
“That’s what you explained and what I read.”
“Did you read that you can only inherit the management of the company if you’re
married? Your grandfather was a man of a different generation,” he explains.
I’m seething. “I did notice that.” Does he think I’m marrying Alex because I want
“And you read the documents in which you authorized Herbert Walker of Elite
Electronics to extract over a million dollars from the Reinhardt Foundation for his
personal use? This action was against the rules of the Foundation and a violation of the
law. You’ve embezzled from the Foundation.”
Ah yes, here we go. “I did no such thing, as you know. And that isn’t my
signature.” I will myself to keep my cool. My mother is trying to pull a fast one here, but
I’m not going to let her get away with this. Smarmy or not, Moreau is an officer of the
court, and he needs to abide by the law.
“But it is your signature,” he counters. “I witnessed you signing that document. I
told you at the time that if anyone found out, you’d be fully prosecuted by the Reinhardt
Corporation and find yourself in jail.” He clasps his hands in front of himself and looks
me up and down like a piece of meat. “You told me no one would ever know.”
That’s complete bullshit. I walk toward him until I stand less than a foot away. In
the sweetest voice I can muster, I ask, “What does my mother have on you to make you
lie for her?”
“I was there. There’s nothing to hold over my head. I assure you that would be
against the law.”
“You know as well as I do that I didn’t sign this.” I can’t lose it here. That’s how
He shifts gears. “Did you read the paperwork Alex signed?”
“Those documents indicate that he’s stolen over a million dollars from his own
I shake my head. He’s among the Walkers’ fleet of attorneys too. “You control his
accounts; Alex couldn’t have done that without you.”
Moreau rocks back on his heels. “He tricked me. His mother contacted me, or so
I thought, and authorized the disbursements. But actually, it might have been you who
called. We can’t be sure, but she’s made it clear it wasn’t her.”
After a moment, he hands me an additional stack of papers. “These will be filed
by my office with the Hennepin County DA. They outline your misappropriations and
malfeasance with the corporation and Alexander’s embezzlement. It will no doubt result
in warrants for your arrest.”
He pauses, seemingly for dramatic effect. “Of course, these will never see the
light of day if you go through with your wedding to Alexander and remain married to him.
Any divorce will also set these documents into motion.”
There it is. Blackmail, plain and simple—well, not too simple. What on earth is
going on here? This is not just about the company. It can’t be. My mother has lost her
mind. It’s finally clear that I can’t just go along with this. Otherwise the whole rest of my
life will unfold this way—something new and horrible waiting for me around every turn,
anytime my ideas and my mother’s don’t exactly match up.
I need to talk to a professional of my own, but anyone here in Minneapolis will
likely report that to Mr. Moreau. I need to figure this out.
“I appreciate you stopping by,” I say absently, still evaluating how I’m going to
“I just wanted to make sure you understood the gravity of your situation.”
He’s not yet closing up his briefcase, and suddenly he licks his lips.
I want to vomit. “Thank you,” I manage. “Anything else?”
He steps forward and stares me down. I flinch as he moves the hair away from
my face, and I try to step back but find the wall behind me.
“I look forward to servicing you the way I do your mother.” The innuendo drips
from his mouth, and goosebumps cover my arms.
I’m flooded by the desire to knee him in the balls.
“You can leave now,” I seethe.
He closes up his briefcase and puts his coat on, watching me.
Mr. Moreau is clearly knee deep in this mess, and once I can prove that, I will
happily have his law license revoked.
He finally goes, but I remain in the library, pacing back and forth. I’m not sure
what to do. I didn’t sign the documents attributed to me, but I can’t be certain Alex didn’t
sign his papers.
I’ve made it clear I don’t want to marry Alex, but I’m still here, aren’t I? My mother
has to be reasonably certain I’m going to tow the line like always. Why the strong-arm
Fortunately I have a trip to San Francisco for the Foundation on Monday,
because I need to talk to Christopher. He knows what kind of crap happens in our
family. If anyone can help me sort this out, it’s him. If I have to get married to preserve
the future of the company, I’m for damn sure going to do it with eyes open. No shady
business, no blackmail, and no surprises about what lies ahead.
I read through the documents again, and Moreau has included a profit and loss
statement for the company as proof of my crime. I look through every line item, as my
father always taught me to do. Then I spot something.
My heart beats a bit faster. The gray clouds separate ever so slightly.
Finally, a bit of leverage for me.
I hear my mother at the front door and go to greet her. “Hello, Mother.”
“Hello, my darling.”
She’s looking way too smug.
“Your sleazy lawyer came by to see me.”
She gives me a plastic smile. “I thought it best that he go through all the
paperwork with you, so you knew what you were up against.”
“I’m perfectly capable of reading. I’m curious as to your deal with Herbert
“He’s been a long-time friend and ally to your father and me.”
“He was Father’s best friend. Did you fuck him to get back at Father for having an
affair with Nancy and fathering her child?”
It occurs to me that if Murphy hadn’t died in a car accident a few years ago, he
could’ve been the heir to run the business. He’s also the one thing my mother really
resented. She never cared that my father had affairs, but the fact that his relationship
with his secretary resulted in a child? That put it all right out in the open. And then
Father left Nancy a quarter of his estate, so clearly he loved her. And that’s not what his
arrangement with my mother was supposed to be.
“Your father’s relationship is none of your business.” She bristles.
“Well… Patrick offered to service me the same way he does you,” I tell her. “Do
you fuck him? I wonder what Herbert would think if he knew you were screwing him,
Her hand trembles, which I know is a sign she’s nervous. It’s her tell, as Jonnie
“You know I have great respect for the company and everything Father and
Grandfather built,” I tell her, moving closer. “You’ve played on my love, knowing I’m
loyal and not usually one to fight you. But you went too far when you pushed me to
marry Alex in some big society wedding. You don’t get to parade around like this is the
fabulous event of the century. This is a business arrangement. Alex and I will marry at
the Hennepin County Courthouse to meet the requirements of the will, and you’ll vacate
this house immediately afterward.”
She shakes her head and points a finger at me. “You will have the wedding I’m
I smile because I know I have her. “No, I won’t. While I may be willing to do
almost anything to sustain our family business and the Foundation it supports, you
depend on the company. Your stipend comes from the corporation. You have no money
of your own because Grandfather’s will set it up to go to Father, the direct heir, and he
kept the same structure in his will. I don’t know how I missed this at the reading, but no
part of it provides for you. And there are no requirements for a fancy wedding.”
Her face morphs from pained to horrified and angry. I’ve figured her out. My
mother never saw me as smart like Christopher. He went to medical school, but I went
to business school, and I’m successfully running the Foundation. I’ve prepared for being
on the board of my family company my entire life. My ridiculous mother aside, I do
believe in what my family has spent generations creating.
I take a deep breath. “If you force me into a big wedding, I promise you’ll never
see another penny from the Reinhardt Corporation.”
“Don’t you dare threaten me,” she growls.
“What are you going to do, Mother? Dissolve the company and lose everything?
Thanks to that enlightening session with your attorney, I just realized all the money you
support yourself with goes away if the company goes away. The will is clear that you
didn’t inherit anything. So, as I said, Alex and I will marry at the Hennepin County
Courthouse when we’re ready. I’ll let you know the date. You will move out and go to
Florida or wherever you want to go. And just remember, if you bother me, I’ll make sure
you don’t get another penny.”
I leave her standing in the foyer. I walk upstairs and feel better than I have in
months. This is still a tremendous mess, but I have a little bit of autonomy. Mother
inadvertently gave me all the aces in her house of cards.
I text Alex.
Me: I just learned something very interesting, and I need a high five
because I actually won an argument with my mother.
Alex: What happened?
Me: I‘ll explain in person sometime. We’ll talk soon.
About Ainsley St. Claire:
Ainsley St Claire is a Romantic Suspense Author and Adventurer on a lifelong mission to craft sultry storylines and steamy love scenes that captivate her readers. To date, she is best known for her series Venture Capitalists.
An avid reader since the age of four, Ainsley’s love of books knew no genre. After reading, came her love of writing, fully immersing herself in the colorful, impassioned world of contemporary romance.
Ainsley’s passion immediately shifted to a vocation when during a night of terrible insomnia, her first book came to her. Ultimately, this is what inspired her to take that next big step. The moment she wrote her first story, the rest was history.
Currently, Ainsley is in the midst of writing a nine-book series called “Venture Capitalist.”
When she isn’t being a bookworm or typing away her next story on her computer, Ainsley enjoys spending quality family time with her loved ones. She is happily married to her amazing soulmate and is a proud mother of two rambunctious boys. She is also a scotch aficionada and lover of good food (especially melt-in-your-mouth, velvety chocolate). Outside of books, family, and food, Ainsley is a professional sports spectator and an equally as terrible golfer and tennis player.
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