“I’ll just be a few minutes,” I murmured to Clara, brushing a kiss over her forehead even as it wrinkled in concern. Norris had given us a fair amount of space during our limited family time. We both knew that his sudden appearance meant news out of England. Getting to my feet, I crossed the room to him, Elizabeth taking dozens of tiny steps to try to catch up with me.
“There’s been a development,” Norris said under his breath. We both glanced toward Clara who was watching us with wary eyes. She didn’t like to be kept out of the loop, a fact which had been a sore point since the day we married. Her contention that we should keep no secrets from each other was valid, but I couldn’t bear to burden her with some of the knowledge I carried. She scrambled up and caught Elizabeth as I stepped into the hallway with Norris behind me. I met my wife’s eyes for a moment, hoping she understood my need for privacy, before I closed the door.
“Is it about Hammond?” Nearly a year after his murder and we were no closer to the answers that might lead me to our common enemy. Whoever had murdered him hadn’t done so as a favor to me. That was becoming clearer with each stone we turned over.
“No. I’m not even certain what it means.”
“You’re going to have to give me more to go on,” I informed him. It wasn’t like Norris to be mysterious, which meant that whatever news he had to deliver wasn’t good.
“The team combing through your father’s personal effects uncovered something.”
“That would seem to be good news.” When I’d asked for a discreet team to dig further into my father’s personal life, I’d hoped to find links to the people responsible for his death. Whatever secrets he’d kept could be the key to discovering the truth about what happened that day.
“I’m afraid it only raises more questions.” Norris looked torn and my pulse ratcheted up as adrenaline surged through my blood.
“What did they find?” I forced the question past gritted teeth.
“Not what,” Norris corrected gently. “Who.”
“Who?” I repeated. “They found a person?”
“They found your brother.”
“Edward?” I asked even as sensation of vertigo gripped me.
“No.” Norris paused to allow what he was saying to sink in.
“I have another brother?” My words were so strangled I barely recognized my own voice.
Norris drew a deep breath as if steeling both of us for what came out next. “It seems you do, indeed.”
The Christmas season was proving to be less a blessing than a headache for Belle’s fledgling company. While the business had seen exponential growth in recent months, subscriptions had tripled in the first week of December alone. Thanks, in part, to a number of editorials her partner had managed to arrange in major magazines, but also due to the number of upcoming holiday parties. It seemed that Belle’s brain child, Bless—a couture clothing rental company that kept its clients’ closets stocked with the latest high end fashion—was headed for success. The trouble was that their operation was quickly outgrowing their office and their two-woman staff.
Lola, her partner and her best friend’s little sister, appeared before her with a clipboard. Unlike Belle, who had paired a creamy cashmere jumper with tight, black trousers, Lola was dressed to the nines in a body skimming black dress that stopped far too short for propriety. The leggy brunette had mitigated this fact by wearing opaque black tights and suede boots that came to her knees. She looked as though she might dash from this meeting straight onto the runway. Her make-up was perfect down to the brilliant ruby lipstick she sported. Belle, on the other hand, hadn’t bothered with anything but a little mascara and lip gloss. She was too fair and her lashes too blonde to get away without it. She supposed it was a perk of being married that she no longer felt the need to get dolled up every morning, even if she routinely did.
“I leave from New York right after Christmas.” Lola began to rattle off her schedule with such speed that Belle redirected her focus so that she caught all the details.
Lola was the face of their fledgling company. She had pushed Belle to be the one to sit for interviews and attend photo shoots, but the founder had decided against it. In a way, Lola was famous in her own right. Whereas her sister was soft and welcoming, Lola was polished with an edge. She was a formidable business woman, and, in the end, it proved to be a marketing coup. Lola Bishop was an it-girl almost overnight. Of course, it didn't hurt that her sister was the Queen of England. What woman wouldn't take fashion advice from her?
It had garnered her a little more attention than they'd planned, however. Lola had found herself the subject of tabloid fodder ever since. If she walked next to a man in public, all the gossip columns speculated if he was the love of her life. Only Belle knew the truth. Lola had sworn off men for the time being, preferring instead to keep her nose to the grindstone and build an empire. There just wasn't time for dating when a girl was out to rule the world. Thankfully, she didn't mind the limelight, which left Belle free to focus on building the business the way she had wanted. It also made her more comfortable.
She’d had no idea when she got involved with Smith Price that her life would change forever. While many good things had come out of it—like the business and their marriage—Belle had also been the target of several attacks aimed to keep her husband under his crooked employer’s thumb. They were free of that now, but she was more than happy to stay behind closed doors.
“I also need you to look at those resumes.” Lola pointed to the stack of papers she'd printed from an online search. They’d been sitting there for the better part of the week. Apparently, she felt it would take pointing them out before Belle would acknowledge their existence.
“Wow,” Belle said, picking up the stack. “It looks like more than a few people are interested in working with us.”
“Those are just the contenders,” Lola told her proudly.
Belle sifted through them, trying to find the motivation to look.
“We have to hire people,” Lola reminded her.
Belle knew that, but it didn't make it any easier. With more people came more responsibility. Neither Belle nor Lola needed a salary, so there were many months where they'd gone without one in order to continue to grow the business. Lola had her trust fund to fall back on, and Belle had Smith's bank account. Adding employees felt a little like willingly putting themselves in shackles. They'd be responsible for other people's welfare. Not to mention that Belle trusted Lola. That wasn't always an easy dynamic to achieve.