Wild Hawk

Wild Hawk

Justine Davis

February 2015 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-959

Book 1 of The Hawk Trilogy

 
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Jason Hawk only came to his father’s funeral to spit on his grave. That was the best the old man deserved from the bastard son he’d never given a damn about. The son whose plan for revenge had now been derailed by Aaron Hawk’s death. Or had it?

Kendall Chase was Aaron Hawk’s smart and efficient executive assistant, and had come to know a side of the old man that few saw. But convincing Jason there had been more to his father, more to his whole life’s story than Jason knew, wasn’t easy. He was as tough as the father he hated. And more compelling than any man she’d ever met.

Convincing him the mysterious Hawk family book, a history now chronicling treachery and murder, had answers even for things yet to occur, was a much bigger job. Despite his attraction to her, the only part of Kendall’s stories Jason believes is that his father’s vicious widow is determined to see that Jason gets none of the inheritance left him.

In the end, Jason has to make a decision. Is the magic real? Or more importantly, is the revenge he’s wanted for nearly 30 years, worth losing Kendall?

 

Author of more than sixty books, Justine Dare Davis is a four-time winner of the coveted RWA RITA Award, and has been inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame. Her books have appeared on national best-seller lists, including USA Today.
Find out more at her website and blog at justinedavis.com, Facebook at JustineDareDavis, or Twitter @Justine_D_Davis.



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Excerpt

 

Chapter One

IT SNOWED IN Sunridge for the first time in twenty years the day they put the old man in the ground, and Jason West knew damned well the bastard had summoned it up himself.

He wondered what they would do, these people in their somber dark dresses and respectable suits and ties and coats, if he gave in to the urge to spit on the old man’s grave. They were already staring at his jeans and boots, noses up, as if only good manners prevented them from sniffing disdainfully.

Or maybe it was just him they were staring at; he knew from a youth­ful photograph he’d seen of Aaron Hawk in a business maga­zine— accompanying one of those stories in which the old man had boasted of the Hawks’ extraordinary history—that he bore a strong resem­blance to the man who had fathered him. He’d resented it then, but he was enjoying it now. He liked knowing that everyone was wondering who he was, and that those who knew or guessed were wondering why he was here.

He lifted his head to look at them all, barely stifling a smile as he thought of their expressions if he were to follow through on the impulse to spit.

Or maybe not; there wasn’t a single one of them who looked like they were here because they wanted to be. They might have come, but it wasn’t to say a sorrowful good-bye. Good riddance, maybe. The smile threatened again. Then he wondered why he was bothering to restrain it, and let the smile loose. And savored the shocked looks he got.

Icy water from the rare snow, caught and melting in his hair, trickled down his neck. Yes, the old man had probably made a deal with the devil already, he thought as he tugged the collar of his dark, heavy coat up around his neck. But then, that shouldn’t surprise him; Hawks had been making deals with the devil for centuries. By all accounts the old man had been proud of it. If the stories were to be believed, they’d even sometimes beaten the devil at his own game. Jason had often suspected there were things in the Hawk history that were better left unexamined.

But no more. That history would come to an end. His plans were be­ing buried along with that old man today, but he could still see to the end of it all. He’d made his own deal, not with the devil but with life—if there was any difference, Jason thought sourly—long ago. On the day he’d bur­ied his far-too-young mother and sworn that someday his father would regret what he’d done.

But he’d left it too late. He’d been planning for that day of atonement for twenty years, and now it would never happen. He’d barely made it to the cemetery in time for the end of the funeral service. And the unexpected snowstorm that had hit the little town in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. He wasn’t sure which was colder.

He watched as the old woman standing closest to the edge of the grave stepped forward. She wasn’t weeping. Her face was stiff beneath the wide brim of the black hat that accented the somber elegance of her dress. A dress that probably had cost enough money to feed a family for a month, he thought, recognizing a public declaration of wealth when he saw it.

And the lack of grief when he saw it. It didn’t surprise him; he doubted that Alice Hawk had a tear in her. She wore the expression of a woman who’d lost the capacity for any soft feeling long ago. The only thing that showed in her face was hatred. And she looked as if she’d be very, very good at it. Better, perhaps, than anyone, except maybe the man in that hole.

And, he thought with grim satisfaction, his son.

The thin, straight woman lifted a hand clad in a black glove. Jason’s eyes narrowed when he saw what she held: a single yellow rose. She tossed it into the open grave. He heard the faint sound as it hit the polished cherry-wood surface of the coffin. He looked at her face, in time to see the flash of rage that, for a brief moment, distorted her features.

And then he did the unforgivable.

Jason West laughed out loud.

Alice Hawk’s head whipped around. She stared at him. The hand that had tossed the rose came up in a sweeping movement, tearing off the hat as if the wide brim blocked her vision, or she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. He saw heads turning, felt the puzzled looks, but he never took his eyes off the old woman’s face as she came toward him in a rigid-backed walk.

"You bastard,” she hissed.

"Exactly,” he agreed mildly. The epithet had lost its power over him years ago, when he’d come to terms with who—and what—he was.

"How dare you come here!”

He laughed again, finding her fury very satisfying. Her face reddened even more, and the hand that had held the rose came up as if to slap him.

"I wouldn’t,” he whispered, just loudly enough for her to hear and do­ing nothing to leash the menace in his low tone. "You just might wind up in that hole with him.”

She cursed, a low, graphic obscenity that seemed out of place with her elegant appearance, yet fit utterly with her obvious rage.

"Yellow roses were my mother’s favorite,” he said softly, again just loud enough for her to hear. "How many do you suppose he bought her in all those years?”

"You bastard,” she spat out again.

"I thought we’d covered that already. Surely you can come up with something better to call me. Son, perhaps?” he suggested in a tone that did little to conceal his laughter.

For an instant he wondered if he’d pushed too far, if his threatening words might come true. The woman’s face grew redder as he stared levelly back at her, and the not-too-upsetting thought of an impending heart attack or stroke crossed his mind. What irony, he thought, should Alice Hawk actually topple over into the yawning hole that held her bastard—in the finest figurative sense—of a husband.

"Alice, please. Calm down.”

The woman whirled on the source of the soft, quiet voice, none of her fury abated. The other woman—girl? Jason wondered, eyeing the slight figure he hadn’t noticed before—didn’t even flinch as Alice snarled at her.

"Calm down? Look at him! It’s obvious who he is. He dares to show up here, now, and you have the nerve to tell me to calm down?”

The shorter woman never moved, nor did she raise her low, pleasant voice. Impressed with anyone who could face down Alice Hawk so coolly, Jason looked at her with a bit more interest than before, trying to see past the shadowy black veil that hid her face. He really hadn’t seen her amid the small gathering, and wondered where she’d been; it wasn’t like him to overlook any details. Even small ones like this petite woman.

"It’s not worth making yourself ill,” she said.

"As if you care. You probably had something to do with this outrage.”

"Of course I care,” the woman said, ignoring the accusation. And it was a woman, Jason decided; that voice was too low and rich. And no mere girl would have the nerve to stand up to the old battle-ax like this.

"Then go get Carver to throw him out. I will not have him here!”

"Why don’t I just handle it?” the younger woman suggested coax­ingly.

"I know what you’re up to, and it won’t work.” Jason wasn’t sure who the ominous words were directed at, himself or the woman who was han­dling the older woman’s venom so calmly. "Just get him out of here.”

Jason stood motionless as his father’s widow stalked away. Then, as the smaller woman turned and began to come toward him, he crossed his arms over his chest, tilted his head, and watched her approach with inter­est. She was even smaller than he’d thought; of course, at six-two, many women seemed small to him. And as he saw the way she moved, he won­dered how he’d thought for even a moment that she was just a girl. No, this was definitely a woman. Definitely.

And you’ll find me a bit harder to face down than Alice Hawk, he prom­ised her silently as she came to a halt before him. She pulled back the veil that had hidden her face, looked up at him with a pair of huge, sad gray eyes beneath a fringe of dark bangs. There was no mistaking the grief there. Here, then, was at least one person who genuinely mourned the passing of Aaron Hawk. That it would be this somewhat fragile-looking woman surprised him.

And then this woman he’d never seen before spoke, and proceeded to startle him into a moment of unconcealed surprised reaction.

"I’m sorry, Jason. She’s very upset. But I’m glad you’re here. I’m Kendall Chase. We’ve been looking for you for a very long time.”

KENDALL WATCHED his eyes, in the way Aaron had taught her. Eyes that were so much like the old photos she’d seen of Aaron; eyes that gave the lie to anyone who would challenge this man’s parentage. Eyes that were like his father’s in another way as well; they held as much cold harsh­ness as those of the man who had bequeathed them. Perhaps more.

But for a moment they had held surprise. At least she thought so; the impression had been so fleeting, she couldn’t be sure. He couldn’t think he wouldn’t be recognized, not when, except for the nose, which in Aaron’s face had been much more prominent than his son’s nicely chiseled feature, he was the living image of a young Aaron Hawk. So it must have been something else she’d said. Perhaps he hadn’t expected her to know his name? Perhaps he hadn’t expected to be approached at all, not here, not now. Or perhaps, she thought, she was wrong and he hadn’t really been surprised at all.

"It is Jason, isn’t it?”

"And just how,” he said, his voice ominously tight, "do you know that?”

Kendall smothered a sigh. She’d known this wouldn’t be easy, but now, as she stood looking up at eyes that were also as brightly, piercingly blue as his father’s, as she stood looking up into a face that was set in lines of cold hatred, she began to see just how big a task Aaron had left her.

"I told you, we’ve been looking for you for a long time. Will you walk with me, please?” She gestured toward a narrow path that wound between the headstones and markers.

"So you can keep me from causing a scene on the old bastard’s final day?”

"Partly,” she admitted. "It won’t accomplish anything.”

"You don’t know the first thing about what I want to accomplish.” His voice was calm now, whatever other emotion she’d stirred vanished now behind that cool expression.

Kendall sighed aloud this time. "You’re very angry, aren’t you?”

"No.”

The denial was abrupt, and too sharp for Kendall to believe it was true. She studied his face for a moment. She’d developed a knack for inter­preting expressions, but this man’s face was unreadable, as if he’d had as much practice as Aaron at hiding himself from others, despite the fact that he was so much younger.

She wondered what had happened to Jason in the almost thirty years since Aaron had lost track of his son. Whatever the course of his life had been, there had been some hard stretches, to put that kind of harshness in his eyes, Kendall thought. That kind of coldness wasn’t inherited; it was learned. In unpleasant ways.

After a moment she began to move away, in the direction she had indi­cated. Jason waited, watching, and when she looked back at him he stayed motionless, long enough for her to understand he was telling her she couldn’t assume he would do anything she asked.

"This isn’t some power play, Mr. Hawk,” she said, retreating into for­mality, hoping it would convince him even as she acknowledged the oddity of addressing anyone other than Aaron by that name. His reaction was immediate.

"My name isn’t Hawk. It’s West.”

He didn’t raise his voice, but there was no mistaking the biting under­tone. West. So he had been using his mother’s name, Kendall thought. Aaron had said his son had carried the Hawk name, at least until they left Sunridge, and had even sadly admitted it had probably been an attempt to force him to acknowledge the boy. She wondered if changing it to West had been his own choice, or his mother’s. Knowing it for sure would have sped up the search, but they hadn’t known which name he’d be using now, and so had had to check both. But she didn’t comment, sensing he was in no mood to discuss his name. Or his father’s. She went on as if he hadn’t spoken.

"It’s a simple request. I’d rather not talk to you with an audience.”

He glanced at the several people who, although the service was over, had lingered, watching him. Some curiously, some with open shock on their faces. After a moment he followed her.

As if the interruption had never occurred, Kendall went on speaking in a speculative tone. "I think I understand. Admitting that you’re angry would give him far too much power over you, wouldn’t it?”

Aaron had always called the accuracy of her intuitive guesses uncanny; she’d always laughingly said she just put together clues that were there for anyone to see. But clearly she had startled Jason Hawk; this time he couldn’t hide his surprise before she was certain of it. Jason West, she corrected herself; she didn’t want to offend him before she had a chance to complete her task.

"That old man,” he said, his voice flat, "never had any power over me. None. Not when he was alive, and sure as hell not now.”

Kendall shook her head, but said merely, "Then why did you come?”

He gave her a level look that warned her she was about to hear a truth he thought she wouldn’t like.

"To spit on his grave.”

Yet again he looked surprised when she wasn’t shocked. She simply nodded. "Aaron expected that. He’d be pleased to know he was right.”

This man who looked so much like the man they’d just buried stopped in his tracks. His dark brows had furrowed at her use of his fa­ther’s first name, but he only asked, "He’d be pleased that I came to spit on his grave?”

Kendall nodded, her mouth curving into a slight smile. "It means he mattered to you. One way or another.”

"He mattered, all right. I’ve hated him all my life.”

She was surprised he had admitted that, and he didn’t look very happy about having done it either, so Kendall was careful not to let her expres­sion change. Nor did she point out that his words gave the lie to his claim that his father had held no power over him.

"Aaron could always appreciate a healthy hatred. And he’d be the first to admit he’d given you ample cause.”

Jason made an inelegant snorting sound. He backed up a step, and looked her up and down. For a moment Kendall felt as she did after walk­ing into a high-level meeting, when the people present watched with careful nonexpressions as she took a seat at Aaron’s right hand rather than starting to pour coffee or sharpen pencils. But she forced herself not to flinch or draw back from his intent study of her.

"Who are you, Kendall Chase?” he asked at last.

"Your father’s executive assistant.”

"Executive assistant?” The words were followed by a disbelieving laugh. "You’re all of... what, twenty-five?”

"I’m thirty-three,” she said carefully. "I’ve had the job since I got out of college.”

Something flickered in his eyes, but she couldn’t tell if it was surprise or amusement.

"And just what exactly did you do as his... executive assistant?”

She lifted a brow at him. "I think the title is self-explanatory.”

He laughed again. "Oh, it’s self-explanatory all right. I’ll bet you were... indispensable.”

She drew herself up to her full five-foot-two. She knew her size and gen­der sometimes made people—especially men—tend to belittle both her position and her intellect. She resented it, but hadn’t yet found a way around it other than working harder to prove herself. And occasionally slicing the hapless offender to ribbons with what Aaron had called a whip­lash tongue commanded by a razor wit.

"I was your father’s executive assistant for ten years, Mr.... West. There wasn’t a move made in or by Hawk Industries that I didn’t know about,” she said. "Aaron trusted me completely.”

"Went a long way with pillow talk, did he?”

For a moment Kendall didn’t understand. When his inference regis­tered, she felt herself pale, then redden as anger flooded her. With an effort, she fought it down, drawing on the control she’d learned in the early years of dealing with Aaron Hawk, who back then could have given even this arrogant son of his lessons in rudeness.

"Now that was an interesting parade of expressions.” Jason sounded mildly amused. "Can’t decide between righteous indignation and insulted fury?”

"What I can’t decide right now,” Kendall said, proud that her voice was steady, "is whether you’re worth all the effort Aaron put into looking for you.”

His amusement vanished. "That’s the third time you’ve said some­thing like that.”

"Pardon me, but it’s at the forefront of my mind, after spending all these months watching Aaron so desperately trying to find you.”

She’d thought his eyes hard before, but they’d been warm in compari­son to the icy blue she saw now. "To find me?”

"Yes.”

"Why?” he said, in a tone that told her clearly he didn’t believe a word of what she’d said.

"You’re his son,” she said simply.

"And you expect me to believe he gave a damn about that?”

Kendall had to remind herself of her purpose here in order to bite back a sharp reply. She managed an even tone when she said, "I can show you the bills from the investigator he hired, if you like.”

"Oh, I don’t doubt you can. You don’t look stupid enough to say that if you couldn’t back it up.”

She wasn’t quite as successful this time in keeping the snap out of her voice. "Why, thank you. You certainly are a flatterer, aren’t you?”

His mouth quirked. "I’m sure you didn’t reach your position as—what was it again, executive assistant?—by being stupid.” He looked her up and down in an assessing manner that was cool enough to be insult­ing. "Despite your obvious qualifications.”

"This is about your father and you, Mr. Haw—West,” Kendall said tightly, his exaggerated drawl of her title grating on her. "I would appreci­ate it if you would keep your assumptions about me out of it.”

"And what makes you think I care one bit about what you would appre­ciate, Ms. Chase? I’m not the sucker for a pretty face that my father apparently was.”

She drew in a breath. Forgive me, Aaron, she thought, but this is really too much.

"So that’s all your mother was? A pretty face?”

He drew back sharply. He stared at her for a long moment. His face held no expression she could read, but his eyes held more than she could interpret.

"Touché, Ms. Chase,” he said at last. "I think I begin to see why the old bastard kept you around.” Something must have shown in her expres­sion, because he added quickly, "In whatever capacity.”

She wondered why he bothered to ameliorate it, but decided not to pur­sue it; her feelings were hardly the issue here. Aaron’s final wishes were.

"No matter what you think, Aaron did try to find you. He’d been try­ing for months.”

"I repeat, why?”

"I told you—”

"And I told you that I don’t believe a word of it. If you’re going to try and convince me that old man had some kind of late in life change of heart, you can forget it. He didn’t even have a heart.”

With an effort, Kendall smothered a small sigh. "So most people think.”

Jason laughed harshly. "I noticed.” He gestured toward the milling peo­ple around the graveside. "Every one of them is here because they have to be, probably because that old battle-ax ordered them to come. You can see it in their eyes. There’s not a one who really mourns him.”

Kendall had no answer; it was true and she knew it. She stood staring at the gathered group, knowing each of them probably felt relief, if not actual joy, that the old man who had ruled their lives mostly by intimida­tion was dead.

"Except you,” Jason added after a moment.

"Yes,” she said softly. "I do mourn him. I knew an Aaron Hawk most people here would deny existed.”

"I’ll bet you did.”

Her head snapped around. He obviously hadn’t abandoned his theory of whom and what she had been to his father. And she’d had enough of it. More than enough.

"Do you insult any woman in a position of some power, or am I just lucky?”

"I never insult a woman who’s earned a position of power, because I know she probably had to work twice as hard as any man to get there.”

"I see. Insinuating, I presume, that I haven’t earned my position?”

"Oh, I’m sure you have. One way or another.”

She was known at Hawk Industries for her level head and her even dis­position, both having been necessities for dealing with the irascible Aaron Hawk. She’d thought herself prepared for this encounter. But while she’d expected Jason to be difficult, she hadn’t expected him to be worse than his father. And she was rapidly losing her grip on her temper.

"I will say this once, Mr.... West”—she drew the name out in the same exaggerated way he had said "executive assistant”—"I worked for your father. My duties were varied and extensive. But at no time did they ever include anything of a sexual nature. Your father loved only one woman in his life. And that woman was your mother.”

A chill swept her at the look that came over his face then. Had Aaron still been alive, even he would have shivered, Kendall thought. She had never in her life seen a man look so grim.

"You may be beautiful, Ms. Chase, but you are also either a fool or a liar. And I don’t suffer either gracefully.”

He turned on his heel then, and never looked back as he walked away.


 

 

Chapter Two

"HE’S BEEN USING the name West as you suspected. That should help. All of the other information is the same. And he’s here, now.”

"What?”

The startled query from the private detective Aaron had hired echoed in Kendall’s ear. She understood his surprise. Despite what had seemed to be a genuine effort on her part to remain hidden, and the extreme coldness of the trail, George Alton had managed to methodically trace Elizabeth West’s movements with her son up until her death in a traffic accident in Seattle twenty years ago, news that had devastated Aaron.

And he had discovered that after her dreary, meager funeral, her six­teen-year-old son had literally disappeared. When the county child services agency had gone to their small apartment to pick up the boy, he’d been nowhere to be found. No one had seen him since. He had, quite simply, vanished.

Alton had been unable to find even a thread to follow; he’d had to re­sort to simply searching out men of the right age, going on the assumption that the boy had stayed in the Seattle area. He had found a couple of Jason Hawks, whom he’d soon eliminated as possibilities, and far too many Jason Wests to check out easily or quickly. No footprint, paper or digital, seemed to match. He’d kept trying, but had honestly told Aaron success was unlikely for a long time. Time Aaron hadn’t had.

"He’s here,” Kendall repeated. "In Sunridge. He showed up at the fu­neral.”

There was a pause. "If you know where he is, why do you need me?”

"First, I need to know where he’s staying. And then, I want to know who he is.”

Another pause. Kendall waited; Alton, a onetime homicide investiga­tor, was usually a very perceptive man. She knew he had under­stood her request when he didn’t ask her to explain what she’d meant.

"Where he’s staying should be easy enough to find out, especially if it’s in Sunridge. Who he is could take some time. I’ll get on it. Do you know how he got here? Or where from?”

"Afraid not. But he left the funeral in a dark gray coupe. It looked like a rental from the sticker on the bumper, but I couldn’t see what company.”

"What kind of coupe?”

She thought for a moment, trying to remember. She’d watched Jason West pull off his dark, heavy coat, revealing a black sweater over black jeans and boots, toss the coat into the back seat, and fold his tall, lean frame into the car. She’d been so intent on him, more than a little fasci­nated by the fluid grace with which he moved, that she hadn’t really no­ticed the car.

"I’m not sure,” she said at last, regretfully. "Something racy, though.”

"Not a bottom of the rental scale compact, then.”

"No,” she said, "definitely not.”

"Interesting.”

She supposed it was, but she wasn’t exactly sure why at the moment. "Maybe he’s just too big for a compact. He’s over six feet tall, I’d say.” And nicely built, she added silently, with that kind of rangy muscularity that had always appealed to her.

"Maybe. Can you give me more of a description, now that you’ve seen him? It might help.”

She laughed. "Use any picture of Aaron from thirty years ago, pare down the nose to a nice size and shape, and you’ve got it.”

"That much of a resemblance?”

"Yes. There’s no mistaking him.”

"I’ll get to work on it. I assume now that Aaron is gone, you’ll be want­ing the report?”

There was nothing in the man’s tone except polite inquiry, but Kendall found herself a bit touchy lately, for reasons she hadn’t yet had time to explore. She had a feeling it was more than simple uncertainty about her position now that Aaron was dead. She felt a jab of pain as shethought the word. Dead. That final, irrevocable, and last word. It put an edge in her voice.

"Is there a problem with that, Mr. Alton?”

"Not at all,” the man said easily. "Aaron told me at the beginning that if it came from you, it came from him. I was just checking.”

"Oh.” Kendall felt a bit deflated, and more than a little silly for her reac­tion. "Thank you. Yes, I want whatever you find out. And I need to know where he’s staying right away. I don’t want him to leave before I have the chance to talk to him again.”

"Again? You’ve already talked to him?”

"Yes. Briefly, at the funeral.”

"But he didn’t tell you where he was staying?”

"Jason West,” Kendall said dryly, "stopped just short of telling me to go straight to hell.”

She heard a chuckle, and could picture the expression she imagined was on Alton’s face. While he had adequate computer investigative skills, he preferred a personal touch when possible. The silver-haired, rather rotund ex-cop looked like everybody’s ideal grandfather, a fact she sus­pected he used to wheedle information out of people who instinctively trusted his benign face and jovial personality.

"Like father, like son, is that it?”

"Precisely,” Kendall agreed, although she wasn’t sure if the son wasn’t worse than the father had been.

"Usually people cheer up at the mention of that much money.”

"We never got that far.”

"Really? I find that surprising. You could charm a vulture out of his feathers.”

Kendall laughed; Alton was given to absurd flattery couched in down-home observations that invariably made her smile. He was also very observant, and she supposed he had sensed her tension earlier and was trying to ease it.

"Well, that sounds like a very useful knack,” she said. "But Jason West would have to improve his disposition a bit before I’d lump him with the vultures.”

"That bad?”

"Worse,” she said ruefully. "You’d swear Aaron raised him, and then he went bad.”

Alton, who had dealt with Aaron by simply ignoring his explosions of temper, letting the old man run down before he went on as if it had never happened, laughed.

"Well, if anyone can get through to him, you can. You had that old cur­mudgeon wrapped around your little finger.”

"No one,” she retorted, "ever had Aaron Hawk wrapped around their little finger. I just knew him better than most people.”

And it hadn’t been easy, she thought as she hung up the phone. The man who had been a powerful, charismatic figure as he’d built his fortune had become a set-in-his-ways despot as he’d aged. It had been a long, difficult trek to get from the somewhat starry-eyed girl she’d been, thrilled to get a high-level job right out of college at a place the size of Hawk Indus­tries, to the coolheaded, unflappable woman who took Aaron Hawk’s temper in stride and got results when everyone else had given up on making the old man see reason.

The question was, was she cool-headed and unflappable enough to deal with Aaron Hawk’s son?

She didn’t know. Her complex relationship with Aaron had been built over ten years; she had only a very short time to convince Jason West to listen to her. And he didn’t seem to be in a very receptive mood. He’d laughed, hadn’t he? At a funeral. Out loud, and in front of the entire gather­ing. Not the act of a man who was sorry or grief-stricken. But then, why would he be? He’d never known Aaron. Had never known even the gruff, quarrelsome man the rest of the world knew, let alone the gentler man she had known, or the man who had become nothing less than repent­ant in those final months.

Jason West had never seen the softer Aaron, the man who had given an inexperienced girl the chance of a lifetime, the man who had taught her more than all her years of college ever had, the man who had spent hours in the evenings telling her incredible tales, legends of magic and the Hawks through the years, as if the two were inextricably and forever linked. Fanciful legends of his ancestors, and wizards and magic books, that she was half convinced the old man truly believed.

With a sigh, she went back to work. Her desk was cluttered with files, and papers buried her computer keyboard. She felt as if she were swim­ming madly through a sea infested with unknown threats. And one very large, very well-known shark. Aaron had warned her she’d have to move fast, because it wouldn’t take long for Alice to begin circling.

"She won’t even wait until I’m cold, girl, so don’t you either,” he’d said the day he’d begun to dictate to her the lengthy and involved list of things he wanted her to do when the inevitable happened.

By that time she knew he was truly dying, and hadn’t wasted any breath on efforts to deny it. And if he suspected that at night she wept in her room, he never let on. She knew he wouldn’t have welcomed her tears. Aaron Hawk had never had time for such soft emotions as grief and pain—or love—in his life. Except for once, years ago, in the affair that had resulted in his son.

She brushed at her eyes; crying was not going to get all of this done. But she found she missed the temperamental old man more than she would have thought possible. Aaron might have been considered a bull­headed, intractable tyrant by many, but he’d always been fair to her. More than fair on occasion, she thought. There had been times when Aaron had been nothing less than kind and generous to her, although few would believe it.

Especially Jason West.

He would never believe the Aaron she’d known, the Aaron who had one day called her into his office, telling her to put on the voice mail and close the door after her. She’d known he hadn’t been feeling well, knew he’d been seeing several doctors in the past few months, fearing a recur­rence of the cancer that had cost him a lung two decades ago, so she’d been appalled but not shocked by his first announcement.

"I’m dying,” he’d said in his typical blunt manner. Then, before she could even react, he had gone on to add the words that had startled her into not being able to react at all. "I only have a few months. I have to find my son before then.”

She’d gaped at him. "Your son? You have a son?”

He’d given her the patented Hawk glare, which had lost its power to in­timidate her the day she’d discovered the softness at the core of this ill-tempered man who had become so much more to her than a boss.

"You don’t know everything there is to know about me, girl, even though you think you do. This goes at the top of that list I gave you. Noth­ing else matters as much as finding that boy. Nothing.”

She had stared at him for a long moment, her only coherent thought be­ing that he’d done it this way on purpose, delivered the news of his impending death quickly, then followed it up with what he knew would be a shock that would take her mind off of that news before she could react with any kind of unwelcome emotion.

Then a series of things had clicked in her mind, like the last number of a combination causing the lock’s tumblers to fall into place. All the times when she’d come upon him sitting silently in his office long after the rest of the staff had gone home, looking at a photograph he always hid the moment she came in, all the times when she’d seen him searching crowds with eyes that had lost none of their quickness with age, when she’d seen him look sharply at a blond woman on the street, or in a restaurant, or a hotel... and what she had finally realized was a ritual on October twenty-seventh every year.

"The yellow roses,” she had whispered.

Aaron had stared at her as if stunned. "I swear, girl,” he’d muttered at last, "you’re as fey as that crazy grandmother of mine was.”

She wished it were true, she thought now. She could use some supernat­ural foresight. Or maybe a little magical help, out of one of Aaron’s Hawk family legends. Help to get this list of Aaron’s completed. To keep Alice at bay until she did. To figure out what she was going to do with her life now that Aaron was gone.

But she had a feeling she was going to need magic the most to deal with Aaron’s son.

"HE’S HERE.”

"Who’s here?”

Idiots, Alice Hawk thought. She was surrounded by them. And this law­yer was no different. "Aaron’s bastard,” she snapped.

"Oh?”

Alice’s grip tightened on the telephone receiver. She was paying Whitewood obscene amounts of money, and all she got was "Oh?” She reined in her fury; the man was the best she could do on such short notice.

"You’re certain it’s him?”

"Certain? Of course I’m certain. It was like looking at a young Aaron all over again. The eyes, the hair, the jaw, everything but the nose was Aaron—”

She broke off abruptly, hating herself for the pain that had crept into her voice. She steadied herself and went on.

"We have to move now, quickly.”

"Move? We have the will, and the—”

"I’m not talking about that, you fool. I want him followed. I want to know where he goes, what he does, why he’s here.”

"Wasn’t he here for the funeral?” Whitewood asked, sounding puz­zled.

The man was a bigger idiot than she’d thought. "For a man he hasn’t seen in thirty years? If you think he doesn’t have more than that in mind, you’re a fool.”

"You think he’s after something?”

"I know he is. Especially after he talked to that bitch of Aaron’s.”

"Kendall?”

"Yes, Kendall,”Alice spat out, sick of the effect that woman seemed to have on men even as stupid as Whitewood.

"Do you think she told him?”

"I don’t know. They didn’t speak long. But I can’t take any chances. There is far too much at stake.”

There was a pause before the man said hesitantly, "What do you want me to do?”

"I want you to use those contacts you’re always bragging about. Find someone to follow him. I want to know where he is at all times, in case we have to take action.”

Another pause before a nervous query. "Take action?”

"Yes,” she said, her tone biting. "A concept you’re no doubt unfamil­iar with.”

"Well, I—”

"Never mind that. Just do it.”

"Why don’t you just hire someone to—”

"I have. You.”

"I meant—”

"I know what you meant. And I don’t care to discuss it. You’re being well paid, now earn it.”

Slamming down the receiver did little to ease her rage. If she’d been on her cell phone she probably would have thrown it across the room. The man was too dense to realize she couldn’t hire someone who might be compelled to reveal her involvement later, or be tempted to blackmail her. She couldn’t allow herself to be connected to this in any way. She shouldn’t have lost her temper with the bastard at the funeral, but she’d been so startled—and outraged—at his unexpected appearance that she had, for one of the few times in her life, reacted impulsively.

But now she was back to her cool, far-sighted self. She would be pre­pared for anything, and she would deal with this as she dealt with every roadblock. Swiftly. And if necessary, permanently. Aaron’s bastard had made a big mistake, coming here. He should have stayed away, stayed out of her life.

But then, he also should never have been born. And she just might have to see that he paid for that mistake, as well.

JASON DIDN’T KNOW why he was hanging around. He should have gone straight back to the motel after the funeral, packed his things, and headed right for the airport. Instead, he’d found himself driving around the small town, up and down streets he hadn’t seen since he was five years old. Not surprisingly, nothing looked familiar; even if the town hadn’t changed, the perspectives of a five-year-old and a thirty-six-year-old were very different.

And he wasn’t scared now.

It hit him strangely, that sudden gut-level realization. He didn’t know where it had come from. But he knew it was true, knew that the five-year-old he’d been when he’d left Sunridge had been frightened. Very frightened.

Why?

He sat at the stop sign he’d halted for, turning the sudden insight over in his mind dispassionately. He felt no particular empathy for that child, felt nothing but a scornful disdain for his foolishness and naiveté. His vague curiosity was as much about what had brought on the revelation as the cause of that long-ago fear.

He lifted his foot from the brake and let the car begin to roll forward so he could see past the bus stop on his right. The street he was at was a small, narrow one, and he didn’t expect much in the way of cross traffic, but—

Gray Street.

The name fairly leapt off the street sign at him, triggering a surge of memories. Down two blocks to Simpson, just past the brick hardware store building and the chain-link fence that held back Monty, the German shepherd that had—

The German shepherd that had no doubt been dead for decades, Jason thought wryly, shaking his head to clear away the unexpected rush of remembered images. One of his earliest memories was toddling over to that fence, fascinated by the big black dog he’d seen romping with the owner of the building, tongue lolling joyously. He’d been lured by the sense of fun, a rare occurrence in his young life. But his adventure had taken a nasty turn when as he rattled the fence to get the dog’s attention, the animal charged him, barely missing his outstretched fingers with snap­ping teeth.

His mother had explained carefully that the dog was a guard dog, and that he hadn’t understood Jason had meant to be friendly, but it was a lesson that had stayed with him a long time: beware of smiling creatures of any kind. He’d encountered many friendlier dogs since then—more dogs than people—but the wariness remained. He figured it a blessing that he’d learned so early what many learned in a much harder way later in life, in a lesson that usually chewed them to bits.

And some, he thought as he made the turn, never learned at all. Some went through life trusting, giving, loving, never giving up even when it was all thrown back in their faces.

He hadn’t meant to do this, hadn’t meant to make this turn, hadn’t made a conscious decision to follow this old route. But now that he had, he kept going. He kept going, remembering the day his mother had been so furious with him because he’d slipped away from old Mrs. Brooks, who watched him during the day, and had gone down to meet her at the bus stop. The bus stop he’d just driven past. It had only been three blocks from their apartment, but she’d been alarmed when she’d seen him there. He’d been very proud of himself, until he realized that he’d somehow badly frightened her. Or something had.

And she’d been frightened from then on.

He wasn’t sure how he knew that; he’d been too young to really under­stand, but he didn’t doubt it. It made too much sense. It must have been her fear he’d been feeding on; at barely five, he hadn’t known enough to be afraid of anything except Monty. And the nights when he heard his mother crying in the dark.

The hardware store was still there, and a dog that could be Monty’s twin, and probably was a descendant, raced along the fence line, barking at him warningly as the gray coupe he’d rented at the airport slowed to make the turn onto Simpson Avenue. He suppressed an instinctive shiver that made his lip curl in self-disgust, and kept going. He pulled to a halt in front of the small, four-unit apartment building on the corner, and for a time just sat there, staring. The building was obviously old, the yellowing stucco that had once been pristine white was laced with cracks like meandering lines on a road map, and the narrow walkway that led around the corner to the tiny back unit where they’d lived was broken and overgrown with weeds.

It had been shortly after the day he’d sneaked out to the bus stop that they had left Sunridge. It had been a rushed episode, carried out in the night, when he was too sleepy to even respond to his mother’s attempts to make a game out of it. But even then he had sensed her fear, her despera­tion as she told him he had to be very quiet, because no one must know they were leaving. And her fear had transmitted itself to him, scaring him as only a child realizing an all-powerful parent is frightened can be scared.

He had his hand on the door lever, in his mind already out of the car and walking up to the building, before he realized what he was doing and slumped back in the seat.

"Jesus, West, you’ve really lost it,” he muttered under his breath.

Going to indulge in a little sentimental nostalgia after thirty years? Maybe go knock on the door and do one of those emotional little displays human interest reporters loved?

"Hi, I used to live here, do you mind if I look around?”

Hell, anybody who opened their door to that line deserved what they got, which was more often than not a burglary later on.

Shaking his head in disgust at this unusual bout of reminiscence, he made himself look at the dreary little building clearly. It was dreary, old and run-down. It hadn’t been new when he’d lived here; now it was a ram­shackle structure that looked on the verge of collapse. And his mother had worked herself ragged to pay the rent for this place.

While his father had lived in the huge, expensive house on the hill, with the big circular driveway, servants to cater to his every whim, a fancy car to drive... and Alice Hawk to come home to.

Jason chuckled in savage satisfaction. Perhaps the old man had paid af­ter all, he thought, remembering the furious, embittered woman who had confronted him at the cemetery. She was a forceful old broad, he admitted. She had to be—what—seventy something? Aaron had been sixty-eight, the newspaper had said, and he knew she was older. But she was as arrogant as her husband had been. More, even, judging from the imperious way she had ordered him thrown out. He hoped the old bitch had made Aaron Hawk miserable every day of his life.

And he wished he hadn’t left his own little piece of retribution until it was too late.


 

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