The Sisters in Peril Trilogy, Book Two
Corporate lawyer Damien Sharpe is tasked by his top client to find her unknown granddaughter, Arianna Choktaw. Finding the hot-air balloon pilot is simple, but getting her to meet with her paternal grandmother problematic. Add in a death threat against Damien that endangers Ari, and they must depend on both her piloting and survival skills to live through a crash landing in the Arizona desert.
In Ari, Damien finally meets a woman who helps him find freedom and love. Yet, when her life is threatened, he keeps her safe by walking away. Ari has sworn she will never let a man flit in and out of her life the way her father had. When Damien finds a way into her guarded heart and then leaves her, she locks him out. Only a new threat to Damien moves her from her determination.
Will she risk her heart to rescue him, knowing he might still disappear?
Page Count: 278
Word Count: 74522
Damien Sharpe glanced at his high-tech watch as he moved into the salon just ahead of Stanley, the O’Shaughnessy butler. He’d been there numerous times throughout his life, and could find his way through the vast mansion alone, but Brigitta’s butler was a stickler for formality.
He saw the woman in question the second he entered the room.
Tiny, with age dragging at her fragile bones, the CEO of one of his biggest clients—the O’Shaughnessy Foundation—exuded a dynamic energy. Brigitta O’Shaughnessy sat on an embossed love seat, her back straight, her hands folded in her lap. She rose when he entered. Like a queen, she set her hand in the one he extended and indicated he take the chair facing her. “Tea? A drink?” She tilted her head, waiting for his answer.
“Coffee, if I may.” He sat, his feet planted on the floor side by side, his hands resting on the arms of the chair.
After nodding at the butler, Brigitta turned and scrutinized Damien. Eyes the brilliant blue of ice, so pale as to look silver at times, studied his rigid body. “You look a little harassed, Damien. Did I drag you away from something important?”
There was the pile of briefs waiting on his desk, his father’s insistence they meet for dinner at 7:00 p.m., the interview with the FBI he’d just left. His recent discovery that his biggest client, Blackstone National, was a cover for money laundering, and a shell company hiding dozens of mafia-related activities, had just made him the star witness in a case that would send Richard Blackstone, CEO, and several of his executives and board members to jail.
“Not at all, Brigitta. You know I’m always at your service. I take it this is about one of your missing granddaughters.”
“Yes. Since I learned Erik had three daughters by three different women, and never told me about any of them, I am most anxious to find them and bring them into my life. My godson, Adam has located Ashley, the eldest for me. I asked you to find the middle daughter, Arianna, in February, and now it’s late March and I still have heard nothing. Are you unable to locate her? I know I gave you minimal information, but I thought by now you’d have some idea of where she lives.”
“Your granddaughter lives in Sedona, Arizona. As you suspected from the letter you found in your son’s effects, she hasn’t moved far from her roots. Her mother, Anna, lives on an Apache reservation nearby. Arianna operates a hot air balloon business out of Sedona, taking tourists on flights over the desert, and to the Grand Canyon. I believe she also instructs the sport of ballooning and takes part in races for prize money. She appears to have a solvent business, no police record or misdemeanors, not even a speeding ticket. I sent her a letter requesting she contact my office six weeks ago.” He brought up a file on his phone. “Yes, and sent another ten days ago. I haven’t heard back since.”
“Well, of course you won’t. If she feels half as hostile to Erik and the idea of meeting his mother as Sky did when Adam found her, then she will never respond. If only Eric hadn’t hidden the letters and birth certificates their mothers sent him. He even had the gall to intercept their letters to me. I could have known my granddaughters for years, if he hadn’t been so wary of taking on responsibilities. He knew I’d insist he help these women and their daughters and give up his extreme lifestyle. Now I am still waiting to meet Arianna.”
“I would think a letter from a lawyer, referencing a possible family connection, would make her consider an inheritance, and…” He paused as Stanley set a cup of coffee and plate of petit fours at his elbow.
“Black and strong as you like it, Mr. Sharpe, and Nancy sent up your favorite biscuits,” the butler said, sotto voice, as he arranged the plates to his satisfaction.
“I’ll move in here one day, just because you all care for me so well.” Damien smiled at the aging retainer. “Thank you, Stanley, and please tell Nancy I’m salivating already.”
“It won’t do.” As soon as the door closed behind Stanley, Gita expressed her dissatisfaction. “I’m not getting any younger. I want eyes on my granddaughter before I’m gone. You must go there and persuade her in person.”
“Go to Sedona?” Damien took a sip of his coffee just as she spoke and burned his tongue and lip when he inhaled with surprise.
“Of course. I want the personal touch. My granddaughter deserves that, and certainly I do.” She straightened, injecting power into every inch of her small frame. “If tracing her was my goal, I could have hired any P.I and had answers weeks ago. I asked you because I don’t want her upset by my bungling approach, as Sky was when I pushed myself into her life. You must go there and use that persuasive power you wield in the courtroom, on my behalf.”
Unspoken was their mutual awareness of the huge portfolio he handled for the foundation she’d built and ran in her husband’s name. Damien knew of the important projects it funded, and those, more than any threat of lost revenue, would influence him to keep Gita happy.
He toyed with giving her several viable excuses why he couldn’t go, thought of explaining the critical situation resulting in the FBI debriefing him daily, but in seconds dumped both ideas as unworthy of what they had built together as client and lawyer. He sat on the Board of the foundation, admired Gita’s immense body of goodwill, and respected her work ethic. Despite sliding closer to her mid-seventies, she put in long workdays, not asking from any employee what she wouldn’t give herself.
“It will take me a day or two to clear my calendar, but I’ll talk with your granddaughter by the end of the week.” Setting his empty coffee cup on its saucer, he eyed the plate of dainties. Eating one would require more energy than he had at the moment.
“Damien, you look tired. Is Dirkson pushing you too hard? I thought when your mother died you’d get out from under his yoke, but you’re working longer and harder than ever. Maybe it’s a good thing you’re making this trip, it will give you a bit of down time.”
Damien smiled. Rising, he crossed to Gita’s side and leaning in, kissed the petal-soft cheek she angled toward him. Her arms closed around his back, and the urge to drop his head on her shoulder and draw comfort from her hit him. Rejecting the unexpected weakness, he jerked upright. His spine rigid, he gave her the smile to which she’d alluded earlier.
“This time next week, I’ll introduce your Arianna to you,” he said with total confidence. He’d achieved every goal he’d ever set, except one—his freedom.