Authors: Claude Dancourt
World Castle Publishing
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
World Castle Publishing
Copyright © Claude Dancourt 2011
Library of Congress Catalogue Number 2011937351
First Edition World Castle Publishing October 1, 2011
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.
Cover Artist: Karen Fuller
Editor: Beth Price
To A., H., and K.
Shall you never be forgotten.
The rear lights disappeared slowly into the night as Arthur drove away. Maya wiped the fogging glass to follow the red glow through the falling snow a little longer. This diner (this date, as he insisted to call it) had been Arthur’s call. Despite her first apprehension, it had turned surprisingly comfortable. They had argued only once or twice; a Guinness Book record.
Oh Arthur did annoy her. He played her nerves like a maestro his fiddle, until she felt ready to explode. If the music would be a mad Caprice from Paganini or an ethereal Celtic ballad, however, she had no clue. And damn him, she was curious to find out.
He confused her. Who really was Arthur Pendleton? Was he the conceit, dutiful son of a greedy man, with an agenda of his own in their little masquerade? Or, were arrogance and sarcasm just a mask to conceal a more complex, hurtful character?
Some bits of their conversation came back to her mind.
I still don’t understand why you can’t simply say no to Robert about his marital ideas.”
Arthur reacted instantly.
You don’t know what it’s like to deal with a man who does not consider “no” as a suitable answer.”
She did not; but she could guess well enough. Be successful; be flawless; obey blindly. She had had her share when she was younger, when she was in high school and Robert still cared about the whereabouts of his goddaughter.
Their waiter presented Arthur with his coffee and left. She watched her companion more closely as he spooned his coffee unnecessarily; his stare fixed on the dark beverage, sailing away already. Maya refused to let him close up and teased: “You could do worse than Isobel. At least she is nice.”
After a moment, Arthur looked up. His expression was mocking again and she dreaded his repartee.
You are surprising me, Maya. You, of all people, are approving of arranged unions?”
Maya tensed: “I don’t-”
No, of course you don’t. You are a romantic at heart.”
If I was that romantic, I would get caught in this masquerade, fall helplessly in love with you, and nurse a broken heart for the rest of my life.”
Arthur laughed and gestured for the bill.
Fortunately for your tender heart, this has little chance to happen; hasn’t it?”
She liked his tone less and less and replied dryly.
Maya turned away from the window. Yes, her heart was safe with Arthur; still she wondered…
Some days earlier…
Maya felt bone-tired. She rubbed her eyes once more, but her vision stayed blurred. She was sure she would fall asleep if she dared close her eyes for only a second. She had been up since dawn, going through her list of daily chores, making sure breakfast would be ready for the children and parents alike. Then she had spent the afternoon at the Make-a-Wish aisle.
Most of the kids in that part of the house (she refused to call it a hospital) suffered from severe or incurable illnesses. Yet, when she listened to them talking about their wishes, Maya couldn’t stop her heart praying for a miracle.
She remembered little Sally, who had wished to visit Disney World and talk to Mickey Mouse. Two months after travelling back from Florida, the medical treatment had finally started to work on her, and now she was back home.
Maya smiled at the memory. And then there had been Jonathan, who was a soccer fan and wanted to meet with David Beckham. The superstar had invited him to the first England match at the World Cup as his personal guest at the stadium, if only the little boy fought until he could receive a new heart. And he had; Maya had pinned the photo of Jonathan with his hero on her fridge. And Sam, who hated when her brother called her Samantha, but wanted a cat to give to her brother so he would remember her. Lovely little Sam was gone now…
The young woman took off her glasses and pinched her nose to stop the moisture invading her burning eyes. A new patient had arrived the previous week, an eight-year-old boy called Matthew. The orphanage had sent him to The Vallon Hospital because he refused to eat and lost his breath all the time; they had believed it was serious asthma, but the doctor had finally identified a very rare form of throat cancer. The tumour had been discovered very late, thus chemotherapy was excluded. Surgery was costly, with poor chances of success.
The Gerald Finnegan Foundation, named after her father, had funds for these situations, patients without the resources to pay for medical assistance. Yet, when Maya had tried to fill in a form for Matthew’s operation, the system had informed her that the foundation account was unavailable. This was strange but the software was temperamental so she tried it a second time. And a third. At the fourth attempt, the system had completely frozen. This was why she was still at her office at one in the morning trying to overcome the computer’s irksome behavior.
The program beeped again, announcing another failure, and Maya snorted in frustration. She wanted the form to be completed and in the system as soon as possible; Matthew needed it. She did not fully understand why she was so drawn to the boy; she wanted to protect him, to keep him safe and feeling loved. Maybe it was her biological clock starting to ticktock. Or maybe it was just because of who she was, the Champion of lost causes, as Moira called her. Her sister didn’t say that in a bad way. Simply, it was something they didn’t have in common, that craving Maya felt to fight for those who could not.
The software finally unlocked, and she managed to access the bank account of the foundation. Her jaw dropped. The account was empty. The thousands of dollars her father had left and which they had used to build a charity foundation to help children in need of medical help were gone. Impossible. No one but herself, Moira, and their cousin Tristan had authority to use the money. Surely this was another flaw in the system. Maya pressed a key to refresh the data, and her computer froze again.
“You have the nicest way to welcome late visitors, honey pot.”
Maya jumped at the voice. Focused on her task, she had not heard her friend Colin coming into the room.
“What are you doing here, Colin?”
“Gavin needed a lift.”
She smiled at the soft inflexion in his voice. Gavin and Colin were still in the honeymoon part of their relationship, totally smitten with each other. It was really sweet. She was glad her friend had finally accepted his homosexuality, after years of self-torture, mostly because he feared his friends’ reactions, in particular that of his boss. Arthur represented the archetype of machismo, an arrogant playboy, selfish and shallow to a fault, more interested in looking at his pretty face in a mirror than in the well-being of those around him. But given that he hadn’t disowned Colin or fired him (and she had heard he sometimes hung out with Colin and Gavin), at least he seemed to hide some good sense in this inflated head of his.
Maya snorted again. She had more important things to do than waste energy thinking about Arthur.
Colin bent over her shoulder to check her computer.
“What are you doing?”
“I wanted to fill in a form for Matthew with the Foundation, but the system is not cooperating tonight. It had a crazy warning about the account being empty!”
The young man punched a couple of keys. The computer reacted at once, which annoyed her very much. She had been at it for hours…
“It’s not empty, it’s frozen. Wait a minute.”
Maya watched while Colin looked for more details.
“This line says the account is frozen.”
She didn’t understand. Who had ordered the freeze of the funds? Matthew needed the money! Colin shook his head.
“Sorry, there’s nothing about it in there.”
Maya sighed heavily, defeated.
“I will talk to Moira first thing tomorrow morning. Maybe she knows what the problem is.”
Colin squeezed her arm, worried at her tiredness in her voice.
“Do you want me to drive you home?”
She didn’t feel like taking the bus, and if she called for a taxi, it would take hours before getting one. The Christmas season was her favorite time of the year, but it was dreadful for someone who didn’t own a car.
Colin helped her with her coat, and she let him escort her through the silent corridors down to the parking lot.
“Are you coming to the Yule ball this year?”
He took the hint at once. Her relations with the Pendletons were tensed ever since Maya had chosen to take her sister’s side in the battle of wills between Moira and Robert. Her father had founded Pendletons & Associates with Robert and his wife Abigail. When her sister, coming of age, had announced her intention to use her inheritance to initiate the Gerald Finnegan Foundation, instead of reinvesting it in the firm, Robert hadn’t been pleased, to say the least.
Maya smirked, the effect spoiled by another yawn.
“I didn’t receive an invitation anyway.”
She pointed a threatening finger toward him before he even opened his mouth.
“And I don’t want one! Don’t even think about talking to his Majesty about it.”
Her friend offered an angelic smile, and put the car into gear.
Arthur groaned. The answering machine was blinking, announcing he had seven new messages, and he guessed every one of them was from Emily. The damned girl couldn’t understand the meaning of the word “Over”.
She had been more a distraction than anything; and wooing her when that idiot Luke had his eyes on her had been fun. But she had taken his interest a little too seriously, and started talking chapels and kids.