Fatal Game – Linda Ladd

The weather was absolute perfection. The sun blazed high in the sky, a bright fiery disk in an otherwise vast, cloudless blue dome that stretched up and down the coast from Malibu to Santa Barbara. California—the land of plenty, the land of movie stars, the land of milk and honey. Unfortunately for Junior, it was also the land of hell. Heaving a gigantic sigh, he dropped his head back against the red cushion of the double chaise longue and stared at his swimming pool. The azure water looked like a super clear blue mirror. After that, he shut his eyes so he wouldn’t have to see the woman who was floating in the shallow end. Living the good life in Beverly Hills wasn’t all that good, of course. At least, not for him. Other than his mom, Junior loved almost everything about it. She scored at the low end of his things-to-enjoy ladder; in fact, she dropped off the bottom rung into his very own black pool of abject hatred. Even worse, she was planning to stay home all day, no doubt in order to enjoy making his life super-duper miserable. He supposed that her endless charity affairs were not being offered today, ritzy venues in which she could show off her five-million-plus Botox injections, annual face-lifts, and liposuction procedures. When he heard water sloshing, he opened his eyes and lifted his new Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses. Mommy dearest was splashing water over her bare legs, immersed in her usual despicable display of female vanity.

She had turned over onto her back now, naked but for the itty-bitty bikini bottom, just out there displaying her reconstructed body on a blue raft. No ugly tan lines to mar her ultra-short, low-cut dresses. She was topless, and boozing it up big time. You name it, she slurped it down: beer, whiskey, vodka, gin, vermouth. Anything and everything. But her poison of choice had always been a martini on the rocks, with a twist of lemon and three olives speared onto one of her designer toothpicks, the ones she ordered out of Monaco that sported a tiny yellow tassel on the end. That’s what she was guzzling today. A whole pitcher full so far, in fact. She was pretty much as lit as a Hollywood marquee, but she could hold her booze with the best of them. Junior would give her that much credit.

Good old mom had a cocktail glass in her hand right now. She considered the olives her brunch, lunch, and dinner and the lemon her vitamin C. Yep, Mom was now in her mid-fifties, a freakin’ lush, for damn sure, but she didn’t look near that old. Basically, she was a carbon copy of all the other divorced Beverly Hills first wives, whose husbands had left them for twenty-something lovers or more beautiful and conniving gold-digging second wives. Mom took good care of her body, yes she did, which was her only ambition of late, and her whiz-bang plastic surgeon made lots of money turning her into a fake and forever thirty-something. Her skin was every bit as smooth as the Chinese silk in her movie premiere gowns, glistening with sunblock that smelled like coconuts and lime. Another deep desire of mommy: acquire the best spray-on tan in her exclusive country club and tennis club and book club and French cuisine class and pseudo charity, aka look-at-me-everybody L.A. havens of big money. While she bobbed around for useless hours in the pool, she hummed and sang along with her favorite music, which she listened to through white earbuds.

It was turned up loud enough for Junior to hear faint strains of Maroon 5 singing “She Will Be Loved.” But that was a laugh. She wasn’t loved. Not by anybody, not even him, and he was her only child. Her money was loved, though, that was for damn sure, and there was plenty of it to covet, mainly by Junior and all the young, buff lovers she picked up in bars and brought home for one-night stands. Nope, not only did Junior not love her, he had graduated to sheer abhorrence. She just looked so utterly content out there on that float, well into drunken oblivion. There was just a little bit of booze left in the pitcher that sat on the round, glass-topped table shaded by three towering palm trees. Okay, now the sun was really broiling. Junior loved the burn of it on his bare skin.

He had dark skin, anyway, and had always tanned easily. Now eighteen, he could drink legally at home, and his mom sure as hell didn’t care if he imbibed or not. But he didn’t. Well, not much, anyway. He was too intelligent to turn himself into some kind of stinking sot. He didn’t like feeling out of control of his mind, unsure of what he did or didn’t do. He watched his mother drain her glass, then pull the olives off the toothpick with her teeth. After that, she carelessly tossed the stemmed Waterford glass out into the water, lemon twist, toothpick, and all. No telling how much of that crap his mom’s pool boy/lover had to fish out at the end of the day. Probably enough to clog the drain.

Then her phone buzzed, yet again, and she quickly jerked out the earbuds and picked up the phone off her flat belly. God, he really did despise her. More anger built up inside him every day, each time he saw her floating around out there, completely ignoring him, as she’d done since he was a little kid. Disgusted by her, Junior took off his sunglasses, grabbed a towel, and scrubbed sweat off his face and chest, getting pretty riled up inside, pulse racing, but trying not to let his mom see his inner turmoil. If she detected how much he resented her power over him, she’d cut off his allowance again. Sometimes she did it just for spite. No reason. Just to teach him a lesson about nothing. Now she was getting one phone call after another. All probably about some stupid Hollywood gossip that didn’t amount to a hill of beans to anybody except her rich, shallow, and self-centered girlfriends.

Junior closed his eyes again. She had to be the biggest bitch in a town full of selfish bitches. She treated him, her only son, her only child, like dog crap on the bottoms of her Christian Louboutin heels, which she even wore at the pool with her bikini. Hell, she treated the damn pool boy ten times better than him. But that was because he was the fabled L.A. pool boy with benefits, and he followed her around like a puppy, besotted with her cash and an easy lay. Shielding his eyes with the flat of his hand, Junior searched the shady depths of the patio for the pool kid. For obvious reasons, he didn’t particularly like the guy. Yep, old Lucky was a real jerk.

Junior supposed he did get lucky, at least with Junior’s mom, and nearly every day. Junior and Lucky were seniors at the same private school, but they rarely ran into each other. They moved in totally different cliques. Junior was the smartest kid in the school, a real nerd. He was proud of that. He wore the egghead badge with honor, because he was intelligent enough to see how stupid all the other kids were, and that knowledge came in handy in a myriad of ways. Most of the other teenagers had little clue about anything, other than how to screw each other and screw each other over. He liked to study their habits, as if they were his lab specimens that belonged to a lower and rather ignorant species. That way, he knew pretty much everything about everybody, including what made them tick. That gave him leverage if he should ever want or need it, and Junior did like to wield power over the other kids at school.

Didn’t matter who. Anybody, really. On the other hand, Lucky was the best jock in school, a total chick magnet. His tuition was paid with a walk-on football scholarship. Nobody knew much about him, other than the fact that his parents were dead. Brains didn’t make an appearance much where he was concerned, but that was to be expected. He was a moronic jock. They had never spoken a single word to each other, not even when they passed each other in the hall outside his mom’s bedroom. Distaste, disrespect, and a mutual disgust. They were not two peas in a pod.

Today, Lucky, aka Mom’s gigolo, had pulled off his T-shirt, a move most likely designed to titillate good old, sex-starved Momma. It didn’t take much, especially when she was soused. Lucky had on long red surfer shorts, the kind that hung just below his knees, and a pair of ridiculous brown leather Jesus sandals. He was really tall, well over six feet, super athletic, and tanned to a beautiful bronze. Strong as a bull, or so it appeared. He had penetrating eyes, a sculpted, muscular body, and a molded six-pack that Junior envied. Junior was in fairly good shape himself, but he was shorter and certainly didn’t look like a Greek god when he took off his shirt. Not that he was jealous of anything else about Lucky. The other guy might be a sports star and a lover boy, but Junior didn’t give a rip about that. It was rather astonishing, though, that Lucky really was so lucky.

Yes, sir, when said Superman played basketball, he racked up the most points and looked great doing it. Graceful, even. Probably didn’t even sweat. When he ran track or jumped hurdles, he won all the medals and ribbons. No problemo, simply observe featured game and proceed to conquer. Like when he wanted the most gorgeous, sexiest girl in school; well, shit, easy pickings for a guy like Lucky. All the girls fell at his feet and kissed his dumbass sandals he wore everywhere. Lucky was the high school cock of the walk, all right. Junior pretty much ignored him as a mental peon until he walked right into Junior’s house and had sex with Junior’s drunken mother. Alas, Junior had no such good fortune in Lucky’s areas of expertise.

But he still came out on top of their dual equation, because he had an absolutely brilliant mind. His strengths were cerebral logic, ingenuity, and photographic memory. In fact, he was a damn near genius. His teachers and counselors praised him regularly and acted all awestruck and impressed by his superb intellect, especially with math and physics. And well they should. They were all a bit on the stupid side, truth be told. He had tons of trivia and scholastic team trophies down in the basement, where he lived inside his own personal and giant domain, a spectacular bedroom/library/game room. His mom allowed him lone access down there, his private area that opened up with his one key, but she didn’t fool him, not one bit. She didn’t want him upstairs, where she entertained her influx of lovers. More likely, they entertained her for the wad of cash she stuck down their pants on their way out of her bedroom.

Lucky the Unlucky Lover was how Junior liked to think of the pool boy. He was busy flirting with Junior’s mom at the moment, and was she ever lapping up his cloying and clumsy amorous attentions. Almost as much as she lapped up her pitchers of martinis. She made no secret of the fact that she preferred Lucky’s company to Junior’s, and she was doing the same thing now, laughing and flirting with him as he cleaned the pool, one tiny scrap from naked, with no shame. She usually tipped him big time for pulling a palm frond out of the water, and then invited him for dinner as if he wasn’t a servant. On those nights, Junior retreated to his basement sanctuary and left them to their romantic tryst, or whatever the hell they liked to call it. Blind animal copulation was what Junior called it. Sickening, but run of the mill for mom. She slept with every Tom, Dick, and tennis instructor in L.A.

County. It was a mental illness with her, or a million-man march. Lucky stood over in the shade of a palm tree and pretended to dip debris out of the pool with a long-handled net. What he really was doing was lusting after Junior’s mom. His eyes lingered on her body the entire time. He was salivating. Man, get a room already. Jerk. Mom knew what he was doing, too. She bent her knees and opened her legs so he could better see what he wanted.

Typical slut behavior. Might as well walk the stroll down on Hollywood Boulevard. Not that she needed money. When his famous dad had walked out on them when Junior was six, he gave her their huge estate and an ultra-generous divorce settlement. Sole custody of his son, too. Junior had never seen him again. Not on his birthdays, not on a single Christmas, never had laid eyes on the man again, and never had forgiven him for that. Oh yeah, Junior had hit the grand jackpot when it came to lousy parents. Clamping his jaw, Junior poked his sunglasses back on and tried not to look at his mom and Lucky. Let them ogle each other.

Do what they would. But he was going to stay right there so they couldn’t get it on in the pool the way they wanted. He’d already caught Lucky inside his mom’s bedroom a couple of times. The guy had just grinned at Junior and shut the door in his face. Out in the pool, he heard one of his dad’s songs come on his mom’s earphones. She still played his music, probably because she knew half the royalties were trickling down to her. His dad was famous, a legendary rock star, but also a crazy, tattooed, womanizing, drug-addled disgrace of a human being. But those songs he wrote, the ones about death and destruction and doom, brought in tons of money, each and every day, just like clockwork. Junior assumed his mom’s divorce lawyer had been better than his dad’s back then, so there was a never-ending stream of cash to replenish his mom’s bulging bank accounts. Hell, his runaway dad was more famous than Ozzy Osbourne and Mick Jagger put together.

Better singer, too. A wasted drug addict, for sure, but even he’d had the sense to see his first wife for a whoring gold digger. But hey, no problem. He had paid her off and then shrugged Junior off like a coat that was too small. All the hell Junior wanted now was a decent allowance like all the other kids at school got from their rich showbiz parents. But his mom eked out the dough as if they lived in a slum. He had to do chores to get his weekly money. Imagine that. Man alive, he really did hate her guts. Chapter 1 Beautiful snowflakes were fluttering down all around Detective Claire Morgan Black as she walked up the sidewalk toward the rear entrance of Cedar Bend Lodge.

It still seemed strange to have tied the marital knot with Nicholas Black, something she’d sworn she’d never do. But the die was cast and turning out to be one of the best moves she’d ever made. So far, anyway. She walked slowly along, enjoying the magical winter wonderland into which Black had transformed his luxury resort on the Lake of the Ozarks. Her former partner, Bud Davis, had only just now dropped her off behind the hotel after they’d spent a long day working homicide together at the Canton County Sheriff’s Department. The flu bug had slammed the lake environs big time this year, and Claire had agreed to temporarily fill in at Homicide. Even Sheriff Charlie Ramsay had been laid low with the illness, along with a good portion of his staff. Schools had been shut down because of illness in some communities. Good thing Black had insisted on giving Claire her flu shot early. Although work today hadn’t been particularly eventful, she felt tired.

No homicides turned up, thank goodness, so they had mainly rifled through dusty cold cases from days gone by, murders committed long before either of them knew Canton County existed. Not many incoming calls, either. It appeared that most people at the lake were too busy Christmas shopping to whack anybody. At the moment, she was cold, and more than ready to make it upstairs where Black and Rico were probably waiting for her. She swiped her card through the sensor and let herself into a downstairs corridor that would take her to the private penthouse elevator. Since her sweetie pie new husband owned the hotel and everything in it, she received many a perk, and there were plenty to enjoy. Claire supposed it was her hotel now, too, since he’d readily put all his holdings in both their names. Not that she wanted to be saddled with all his stuff. She still didn’t feel comfortable with all that “what’s mine is yours” crap—not yet, anyhow. Pulling off her departmental brown knit cap and scarf and gloves, she headed down the deserted hallway, leaving a trail of snowy footprints on the expensive red carpet.

Oh well, snow would melt. When she reached Cedar Bend’s rather lavish front lobby, she paused in the big archway and beheld enough Christmas cheer to knock one’s boots off. Cedar Bend Lodge had always been an unbelievably elegant, gorgeous five-star hotel, albeit in its own rustic sort of way. Today it was even more so. The row of giant crystal chandeliers fought off shadows cast by the heavy snow clouds building a gray shroud that hung low and threatening over the lake. At least a thousand crystal prisms sparkled bright pinpoints of light, and the bejeweled cut glass in the huge front doors reflected spots of color across the black and gold carpet. A wall of floor-toceiling windows presented Black’s guests with a gorgeous view of Lake of the Ozarks, which at the moment looked dark and foreboding and restless—a black and white snow-frozen tableau. It was still beautiful, though not quite as much as its glittering blue sheen under the hot summer sun. Still a sight welcome to Claire’s eyes, though, after their long Hawaiian honeymoon. It was Christmas, after all, and did Claire ever love this time of year.

Always had. Not as much as Black did, of course. Her guy had gone absolutely Christmas crazy this year. She stood back and beheld about fifty thousand blinking white and red and green and blue Christmas lights that covered just about everything not nailed down inside the lobby. It was a scene captured nearly everywhere else on the Cedar Bend grounds, too. Yep, nobody did Christmas like Nicholas Black. His holiday spirit made its appearance on nearly everything inside and outside of the hotel if he could find a way to attach it, and he usually did, by hell or high water. Festoons of pine and pinecones and holly berries and shiny gold Christmas balls lit up the mantels, the bannisters, the tables, the reception desk, and up the bannisters and across the balconies, with pine wreaths everywhere, all of which gave off the most delicious evergreen scent that wafted around in the heater currents and made her feel as if she lived deep in the magical Black Forest. He had ordered Christmas trees put up, all pines, because he loved pine trees. So pine trees of every size and shape imaginable were carried in and decorated, crowned off, of course, by the majestic, towering thirtyfoot super tree dead center in the front lobby.

Lights had come on and the holidays were sparkling everywhere, and when Black was giving the orders, that really meant everywhere. Claire stood a moment and smiled at the sheer joy of yonder old-fashioned and folksy Christmas, with all those lights and the twin giant rock fireplaces ablaze with huge logs and happy guests sitting around on leather couches and rocking chairs while sipping hot chocolate or warm apple cider, compliments of the hotel. Home sweet home it truly was, at least until her cabin on her own quiet cove across the lake was finished and ready for them to move back in. She missed the solitude of her place sometimes, no doubt about that, but it did not hold even a fraction of the Christmas cheer inside Cedar Bend Lodge, due to all those bottomless credit cards of her very own and dearly beloved. Claire was super glad to be home, but it had been great to see all her former colleagues at the sheriff’s office this past week. She had missed that kind of law enforcement camaraderie since she’d gone into private investigation with her partner Will Novak. The best part of this week was spending a ton of time with Bud Davis, one of her best friends in the world. Bud and Sheriff Ramsay both. Her badge was back in place, hanging around her neck on its chain. Her Glock 19 was snug in the shoulder holster under her brown winter parka, and her .

38 snub nose was strapped in place on her right ankle. Just to be safe, of course. All of that felt familiar, and damn good, oh yes, sir, it did. The office had been so quiet, and nobody in Homicide was complaining. Zero murders or attempted murders were a pleasant thing in Claire’s book. Black should be upstairs, waiting for her, with all the fireplaces in the penthouse roaring. Yep, Black liked his real log fires as much as his Christmas trees. They had enjoyed a long and lovely leisurely honeymoon on the island of Kauai, but she loved the lake more, and just about everything that went with it, so she was in highly content at the moment. Couldn’t possibly be happier, in fact. The lake was her true home now, her own private and peaceful haven, and its beautiful wooded hills protected her from the outside world and all the evils that she’d found there.

So all was good and fine and beautiful, and she was definitely a happy camper on this lovely snowy day. Claire took a moment to shrug off her parka and kick snow out of her boot treads. That’s when she first espied the horror awaiting her at the other end of the lobby—a large throng of paparazzi. They congregated near the bar and the fancy Two Cedars restaurant. She quickly ducked back out of sight. The last thing she needed was for them to see her and give chase. Her high good cheer zoomed down to the floor and lay prostrate, groaning. Good grief, there were cameras everywhere, already attached to tripods, microphones tested and clutched tightly in grubby little annoying hands. Damnation. What the hell was going on? Those bloodsuckers had not been at the hotel when Claire left that morning for work, but she guessed she shouldn’t be surprised.

Photographers had been dogging her and Black since their wedding day, due to the fact that he was the Nicholas Black, the handsome shrink to Hollywood stars and other rich and famous ilk, including philandering politicos. Not to mention the super big and lifethreatening trouble he’d gotten himself into last summer. That had been the serious kind, which had delayed their wedding and whipped up the media into pure hysteria, a journalistic furor like you wouldn’t believe. The same creepy gaggle of photographers had trailed them out into the mid-Pacific and drifted around in boats off the private villa where she and Black had attempted to enjoy a nice, quiet time alone so they could lick their collective wounds. After the newlyweds spent a couple of weeks inside, off of their lovely private honeymoon beach, most of the reporters had given up and hightailed it home for their next celebrity stakeout, thanks be to God. Now, however, they were back in force, and she didn’t like it. Hated it, in fact. Black was gonna like it even less. He’d had it up to his very sky-blue eyes with publicity and the way both of them had been hounded night and day. Claire slipped into her parka again and flipped up the hood.

She averted her face so the tabloid vultures wouldn’t recognize her. There had to be at least fifty of them milling around. Yep, like the hyenas they were, circling a wounded gnu; Claire, of course, being that gnu. But why now? What the hell had happened? And this close to Christmas? Jeez, she loathed them all right, each and every one, no exceptions. Seemed as if they’d been chasing her forever for one reason or another, but her life had pretty much been a super terrible horror story from birth, so she could understand their macabre interest. Still, she just wanted them to go away, disappear, never to return, and good riddance. They were disturbing Black’s guests and the holiday magic he’d worked so hard to provide for them. Black wasn’t going to like that much, either, and that was not good. He had been in one hell of a great mood since they’d gotten married, and he’d managed to push down the memories of the terrible things done to him last summer. In fact, since they’d recited their vows, he’d been as happy as a first-time kid at Disney World.

What’s more, he had a trip to Disney World planned for New Year’s Eve so that Rico could have some fun. Rico was a ten-year-old boy they’d rescued last summer during that horrendous fiasco with the Soquet family of criminal monsters, and he was the only good thing to come out of their Sicilian dark adventure from hell. Rico was living with them now, and Claire was happy he was. He had become an orphan last summer in one terrible moment, and they had brought him home with them. Black was trying to find any of the boy’s remaining living relatives, but secretly both he and Claire hoped he could just stay with them. So far, so good on that count. Another thing that brought out lots of Black’s big, happy, dimpled-up smiles, something that she did so like to see. Right now, however, she wasn’t so sure what the hell was going on. Something big must have happened to draw these creeps back into their lives. Lake of the Ozarks was not exactly a hot spot for paparazzi or celebrities preening for cameras, unless said celebrities had come to Cedar Bend for secret shrink attention at Black’s clinic.

Unfortunately, each and every reporter in the lobby looked way too agog and excited for something as simple as that. Never a good sign in Claire and Blackville. She wasn’t so sure she wanted to know what brought them running, either. Usually when the media showed up and created havoc it meant incoming big-time trouble for her and Black, and everybody associated with them. So now the trick was to escape upstairs before they caught sight of her. She kept her head down and walked swiftly toward the penthouse elevator. One of Black’s security people, a huge ex-Marine by the name of Isaac Ward, was standing in front of the elevator. He was as tough as hell and massive, with lots of hard muscles, and probably one of the nicest guys Claire had ever met. When he saw her coming, he pushed the button to open the doors, apparently also aware of the crowd of morons buzzing around in the lobby. “Thanks, Isaac.

What’s with all the reporters out there? I thought we shook them off months ago.” Isaac grinned. He was a handsome man with ebony skin, and he was pretty damn intimidating whenever the occasion called for it. Truth be told, he was a real teddy bear under all that gruff, a guy who loved to play video games with Rico. But that sweetness only showed if he really liked somebody. Fortunately, he liked Claire. He said, “I take it you haven’t talked to Nick yet.” “Well, I did have some delicious blueberry pancakes and whipped cream with him and Rico this morning. Everything was all good and dandy and smiley then. What happened?” Isaac shook his head, smiling again, rather devilishly this time, as she entered the elevator.

“Uh-uh. No way I’m gettin’ caught up in this thing. You’ll see. Word of warning, though. Nick is in one helluva foul mood.” “No way, Isaac. He’s been in a fantastic mood, ever since we got back home.” “Like I said, I’m not sayin’ nothin’. You ask him. Just beware the dragon.

” Claire had to smile. “Well, thanks for the warning. Maybe I ought to go hide at my cabin until he gets over his miff, whatever the hell it is.” Isaac kept his mysterious expression. All righty, now Claire’s curiosity was indeed piqued. Black had been absolutely ecstatic and happy-go-lucky for months now, especially since they got home and he was seeing patients and ramrodding all his clinics and hotel properties around the country. And especially now that they were legally married, which was what Black had always wanted. The icing on the cake? A certain little Rico, who was running around the penthouse, always available for Black to dote on and shower with Star Wars junk. Things at the lake had finally gotten back to normal, if anything about their lives had ever been normal. News coverage had died down about their wedding, and about Black being held prisoner by those three maniacs.

He was happy. She was happy. Rico was as happy as any child could be after having watched his parents gunned down. The boy still had nightmares, and so did Black because of a tiny bit of lingering PTSD, but it was rare now. He was good. They were both good. Black had even been in favor of her going back to work at Homicide, which he usually hated. Life was damn good. She wasn’t gonna let anything get in the way of that. Not today.

Not any day. When the doors of their penthouse apartment slid open with a whisper of well-oiled efficiency, Claire stepped out and nearly collided with Black’s longtime personal assistant, Miki Tudor. The young woman looked spooked, but somehow still managed to come off lovely and put together in a pink designer suit and matching high heels. Ms. Miki never had ruffled feathers. She was much too efficient and organized to let anything discombobulate her. Today, however, she was definitely rattled. There was even one loose lock hanging out of the smooth chignon coiled at her nape. Not a good sign, that. “I’m calling it a day until Nick calms down,” she told Claire breathlessly, pushing past her and stepping into the elevator.

“I’ll be back in the morning. I’m taking some comp time. I’m caught up, though, so don’t worry about things getting behind.” Claire sure as hell wasn’t worried about that. “What the devil, Miki? What’s going on around here?” “You don’t know yet?” “Well, I guess not. I’ve been holed up at the sheriff’s office all day. Tell me.” “Oh no, I’m staying out of this. Ask your husband. But be forewarned: ask him gently.

” Claire turned quickly when she heard somebody running down the hallway behind them, boots clacking loudly on the marble tiles. It was Rico, and he looked glad to see her. Their little white poodle, Jules Verne, was right on his heels, yapping like crazy, his claws clicking and sliding on the shiny floor as he tried to keep up. Boy and dog had become inseparable since Rico had come to live with them. Rico stopped long enough to give Claire a quick hug around the waist. He was tall for his age, with energy to burn. He was smart as could be, a handsome kid with an unruly mop of curly dark hair and big, expressive brown eyes. “Nick’s really mad, but not at me, so I’m going down to the sweet shop to get some candy canes to hang on our tree,” he told her, but didn’t elaborate further as he scooped up the dog and raced into the elevator with Miki. The door slid shut with no explanation. Claire looked down the hall toward Black’s office wing.

Okay, enough was enough. Guess it was up to her to calm the raging beast. Great. And the day had been so peaceful thus far—except for the media hounds downstairs. But if Black was raising Cain over something, enough that Rico and Isaac and Miki were scattering like spooked chickens, then she was going to have to make him stop with the drama and take a couple of deep breaths. She headed toward his office, walking at a fast clip, now intrigued more than anything else.


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