Loyalty Under Fire (Operation: Hot Spot #3) by Trish McCallan

Chapter One





Rebecca Blaine studied the return address on the certified letter as she pushed open the door to the post office and stepped into the sunny afternoon. Once upon a time, during her nine years of undergraduate and graduate classes, she’d received a generous monthly stipend from that New York address. It had come like clockwork, arriving in her mailbox the first of every month. But she’d finished her doctorate in psychology three years ago… Why in the world would Harold’s lawyers reach out to her again?

Settling into the driver’s seat of her Corolla, she absently started the engine and cranked on the air-conditioning. It was unseasonably warm for June in Olympia, Washington.

As she stared down at the creamy envelope, a thick weight congealed in her chest. The letter carried bad news; she just knew it. After a deep breath and a long exhale, she turned the envelope over and carefully peeled back the flap, then pulled out two swaths of thick, smooth paper. The sheets were folded in thirds. After unfolding them, she bent her head and read the first page.

Layton, Felder, Bach & Moore

Attorneys-at-Law

58 East 42nd Street, Suite 1800

New York, New York 10016

646-287-1876 ext. 21



Rebecca Blaine

1045 W. Rogers Street

Olympia, WA 98502



Dear Ms. Blaine,



I am acting as the executor of the estate of Mr. Harold Hopewell, whose Last Will and Testament was entered into probate in the Surrogate’s Court, New York County, State of New York. I write to inform you of certain assets bequeathed to you pursuant to Mr. Hopewell’s Last Will and Testament, to wit:



$500,000 and a Jacobean oak secretary bureau, drop front, circa 1620.



Please contact me at the above-referenced phone number at your convenience regarding these bequests.



Regards,



Frederick Bach, Esquire





Five hundred thousand dollars!

Harold had left her five hundred thousand dollars? Disbelief struck, drilling into her like a needle full of Novocain. Everything went hazy and numb. She read the amount again, but the combination of letters and numbers didn’t rearrange themselves into a more realistic figure.

Eventually the shock faded and sorrow swept in to replace it. The grief was followed by a mixture of anguish, anger, and guilt as her mother’s face surfaced in her mind. She took a deep breath and held it, letting the echo of ancient emotions wash through her. Memories of Harold were intrinsically tied to memories of her mother.

But this sorrow shouldn’t be about her mother; it should be about Harold. The man who’d stepped in to help her when she needed it most. While she’d kept in touch with him through Christmas cards and periodic thank-you notes, she hadn’t seen him since her mother’s death when she’d moved out of his La Jolla bluff mansion and into Château Fontaine, her father’s Mission Hills villa. Still, Harold’s kindness had made it possible for her to attend college and graduate school, which had turned her away from the destructive path she’d been on. She owed her psychology practice to his generosity, possibly even her life.

He’d been a good man, able to see past her teenage angst to the troubled, grieving girl below.

She dropped the letter from the lawyer onto her lap and fumbled open the second piece of creamy paper.

My Dear Becca,



I hope this letter finds you well.



As I’m sure you’re aware by now, I can no longer make such claims myself. Don’t grieve for me. My life has been a long and rewarding one, and I am ready to join my beloved Catherine. I have watched with great pride as you overcame the pain of your adolescence and opened your heart and practice to troubled children. Please accept my gift of $500,000 to use however you see fit. I will rest easy knowing that in some small way I have contributed to the wonderful work you are doing.



I’m also bequeathing you the antique secretary desk that enthralled you as a child. I hope you share my fond memories as we explored all the nooks and drawers. Oh, how much fun we had as we discovered secret compartment after secret compartment. It is my wish that you and your children will find as much pleasure in the desk in the future as we did back in the day.



My very best to you. May you find the happiness you so richly deserve.



H





A whiff of minty aftershave drifted up from the letter, blindsiding her. Becca sat perfectly still as the memories unraveled.