Chapter One: Andrew
“I don’t care how much you think it’s worth,” I said firmly. “The price is ten thousand. Take it or leave it.”
“You don’t understand,” Jonathan said. “I’m willing to pay the full price, Andrew, just not up front. I’ll pay half when I pick up the piece and then half in six months.”
“Is this a goddamn joke?” I snapped. “You’ve known me a long time, Jon. If you think I’m someone you can bullshit, then you don’t really know me at all.”
“I’m not bullshitting you!” Jonathan said quickly. “It’s a legit deal. You’ll get the money.”
“Up front or not at all,” I said simply. “That’s how I do business.”
“Well, I can’t swing ten grand right now,” Jonathan said with a defeated sigh.
“Call me back when you can.”
I hung up without another word. Clients were always trying to snake their way out of paying. Jonathan Haggen knew better. Trying to swindle me out of the true worth of the piece was ludicrous. I knew exactly what he planned to do. He would pay me five thousand now, take the piece, then come up with some reason not to pay for the additional five. The authenticity would be called into question or there would be a chip on the finish. He would try anything, and I wasn’t about to fall for it.
With a groan, I pushed away from my desk. My chair slid across the hardwood floors without a sound. I groaned again and got to my feet. There was still so much work to be done, but I knew dinner was waiting for me downstairs.
I flicked off the light in my study and made my way to the dining room. Liam was setting my plate down when I walked in.
“Evening, Mr. Andrew,” Liam said.
I nodded and slid into my seat. Liam helped me with my napkin and then stepped aside.
“Wine?” I asked, glancing at the empty glass on the table.
“Red or white?” Liam asked.
“Red,” I said simply.
Liam quickly hurried into the kitchen. When he returned, he was carrying a bottle of merlot. He poured me a sizeable glass and once again stepped away from the table.
“Have you eaten?” I asked him as I picked up my fork.
“Yes sir,” Liam said. “I ate around five o’clock this evening.”
“So early.” I shook my head. “I don’t know how you can stomach food any earlier than eight.”
“Not all of us are as glued to our desks as you, Mr. Andrew,” Liam said.
While I ate, Liam stayed close by. He’d been with my family since I was just an infant. He, more than anyone, watched me grow up.
“How was it today?” he asked after a short stretch of silence.
“Pointless,” I said. “No sales. And we just lost Margie.”
“Margie?” Liam asked.
“The new girl in the accounting department,” I said. “Third one this month.”
“Ah,” Liam said.
“Then, I spoke with Jonathan Haggen and he tried to dick me over,” I said with a shake of my head. “As if I can’t see through his bullshit.”
“Jonathan Haggen is a good man, Mr. Andrew,” Liam said. “Your father always admired him.”
“My father was a fool,” I said simply. “He admired all kinds of people. Most of whom didn’t deserve so much as a shred of admiration.”
“Your father was anything but a fool,” Liam said. He wasn’t arguing with me. Liam never argued. But, he often spoke to me with an air of authority that didn’t fit his position. After all, he was my butler and nothing more.
“You only saw one side of him, Liam,” I said. “When it came to the business, he was naïve. Why do you think we’re in this hole? I’m trying to dig us out but ever since he died, I don’t know. Things are just continuing to roll downhill.”
“You’ll get it sorted it out,” Liam said confidently. “You always do.”
I nodded and returned to my food. There were a million thoughts running through my head. Liam was right. I always managed to find my way out of sticky situations and yet, this was the most difficult position I’d ever been in.
My father passed away and in doing so, handed down the reigns to his antiquities firm. Hopper Antiquities was the largest company in the industry. We held power over every other antiquity firm in the country. I prided myself on being the new President. I loved the power and the position. What I didn’t love was the inability to right all my father’s wrongs.
Dad was the type of man to act with his heart. He formed bonds and relationships instead of making deals. When a friend needed help, he cracked open his checkbook without a blink of hesitation. He was a loving man. Forgiving. Generous and kind.
Everyone loved him, but his light-hearted nature often put the company at risk. I didn’t realize just how much until he died. When everything was handed over to me, I was faced with the true extent of our financial struggles.
“Thank you, Liam,” I said once I finished eating. “It was delicious.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Andrew,” Liam said. He quickly began to clear the dishes. I watched him move, noting just how old he seemed.
“What do you think about this mess, Liam?” I asked.
“Mess?” Liam asked, though I was certain he knew exactly what I meant.
“The company,” I said. “Do you believe we’ll be able to fix it?”
“Yes,” Liam said simply.
With that, he disappeared into the kitchen. I stared after him for a few seconds, letting my brain spin itself in circles. Finally, I knew it was time for bed. Lack of sleep would only serve to confuse me further.
I pushed away from the dining room table and quickly made my way upstairs. My bedroom was at the far end of the west hallway. It was the second largest room in the house, second only to my father’s library. He had it built especially for my mother. She loved literature and unique artifacts. Dad never said so, but I always suspected Mom was the reason he opened Hopper Antiquities in the first place.
I thought about my parents as I undressed and got into bed. They were both gone now. It felt strange that, at only thirty-two, I was an orphan. My mind spun itself in circles as I began to drift off to sleep. It never took me long. When I decided to rest, my body took over and put me to sleep without a fight. I was almost out when I heard a crash coming from downstairs.
“Liam?!” I called out loudly. There was no answer.
Quickly, I sprung out of bed and threw on my robe. I ran downstairs, taking the steps two at a time until I reached the main hallway. My study sat at the very end, the only door to the left. Just as I reached the downstairs, I heard another clang coming from behind the study door.
I steeled myself for the worst. There were countless artifacts in that room. Items that cost more money than most made in a year. I couldn’t afford to be robbed, not now, not with everything I already had going on.
I tiptoed down the hallway, searching for a weapon as I moved. I found a sharp-tipped candelabra on the table just outside my study door. Gripping it tightly, I threw open the door and rushed inside.
My eyes darted all around, searching for a sign of the intruder. It was a few seconds before I spotted him. He was knelt over behind my desk, only his ass sticking out.
“Don’t fucking move,” I said roughly.
I felt more than saw the man freeze in place. The air around us seemed to thicken as he slowly stood up straight and turned around to face me.
“Rick?” I blinked, dropping the candelabra a fraction of an inch.
“Hi Andrew,” Rick said with an embarrassed smile. “I see you’ve caught me red-handed.”
“What the hell are you doing here?” I snapped.
Rick sighed and walked around the desk. He looked up at me with a deep sadness in his eyes. I’d known Rick Newman for years. He worked with my father. He always seemed like a good man, trustworthy, and kind just like my dad.
“I won’t insult you with lies,” Rick said. “I’m looking for a piece your father was in possession of before he died.”
“Why didn’t you just call me?” I asked, anger seeping into my voice. “Why break into my office in the middle of the night?”
Rick didn’t answer. He just looked at me, that same deep sadness in his eyes. I didn’t know what to say. I was furious. My life was already complicated enough. The last thing I needed to contend with was a thief.
“You thought you would just steal it?” I hissed. “Just sneak in, take it, and I’d be too stupid to realize it was gone?”
“That’s not what I was doing.”
“I’ll give you two choices,” I said. I took a step toward him, raising the candelabra as I moved. “The hospital or jail.”
“What?” Rick blinked. “Oh Andrew, you can’t be serious.”
“Do I look like I’m kidding?” I snapped.
“You don’t understand,” Rick said calmly. “You don’t know what this piece means to me.”
“I don’t give a shit.” I snarled. “You broke into my home, Rick. I could throttle you right here.”
Rick took a small, nervous step away from me. His eyes flashed, fear suddenly springing to his face for the first time. It seemed he finally realized how serious I was.
“I’ll ask you again,” I said slowly. “Hospital? Or jail?”
Rick swallowed hard and shook his head. I could practically see the wheels turning in his head as he tried to make sense of his situation.
“I have a third option,” he said suddenly.
“I’m not interested in your third option.”
“I know about your accounting difficulties,” Rick said loudly. “All your financial problems.”
I froze. How could Rick Newman know anything? I narrowed my eyes and lowered the candelabra.
“I’ll get my daughter to come work for you,” Rick said quickly, taking advantage of my confusion. “She knows her way around finances. Better than anyone I know.”
“Your daughter works in a coffee shop,” I said dismissively. “My father told me.”
“Only by choice,” Rick said. “She has an accounting degree. Graduated top of her class. She’s brilliant. She can help you sort through your financial mess, I promise.”
Rick’s eyes were wide with panic. He was desperate for me to accept the deal. Anything to keep me from calling the cops or taking matters into my own hands.
“No,” I said shortly. “Absolutely not. Your actions tonight have already proven that your family can’t be trusted. Why would I let your daughter anywhere near my business after what you just pulled?”
“Because you need help.”
I spun around, almost tripping over my own feet. Liam’s soft voice had come from the doorway. He was standing there, wearing his night clothes and looking at me with obvious disappointment in his eyes.
“You need help, Andrew,” Liam said. He took a step inside the study. “We all know how much trouble your accounting department is in right now. If Mr. Newman’s daughter can help you, then you should let her.”
I glared at him. Not only was he intruding on something private, but he was siding with a thief over me.
“She can help,” Rick said. I spun back around to face him, the glare still on my face. “Sophie is brilliant, Andrew. She can help you.”
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