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Beautiful distraction, p.44
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.44

           J. C. Reed

  “But…you’re risking losing millions and I don’t understand why. The place is not worth that much money.”

  “You don’t need to. I’m giving the all clear and it’s happening. That’s my final word. Anything else I can do for you, Brooke?” He was brushing me off like an annoying fly. My temper flared, and I threw my hands up in exasperation. Jett Mayfield was stubborn, I got that, but unless he had a pretty good motive for moving forward with the acquisition, his obstinacy was unfounded, and I was hell bent on making him aware of it.

  “I was a realtor before you hired me. And a pretty good one, you said so yourself.” I paused, waiting for his reaction—any reaction—but it didn’t come. So I continued. “The airport is only an hour away, meaning there’s bound to be some noise. The view is stunning but it’s just one lake. You’d have to divide the waterfront land into ten, which doesn’t leave much space for spreading out your beach towel, let alone go water skiing and sailing, and what else rich people do. It’s a mistake. It’s far too—”

  He cut me off. “Brooke.” He wasn’t listening. How the hell could I make him pay attention? I began to type furiously on my computer, opening accounts to quote examples of asking prices so I could finally drive my point home. I wasn’t willing to give up. Not in this matter. I wasn’t going to lose the company forty million and risk sending them into a large black hole.

  “I’m paying out of my pocket,” Jett said so low, I wasn’t sure I heard him right.

  My hand froze over my keyboard as my brain fought to grasp the meaning of his words. He had that much money in his back account? And he could part with it just like that, in the blink of an eye? I knew he was rich, but I never realized to what extent.

  I shook my head in disbelief at how easily he could throw money out the window. It was his money, and he had a right to do with it as he pleased, but still. There was no guarantee he’d make a profit. There wasn’t even a fifty-fifty chance he’d earn his investment back. He was more likely to make a loss than if he tried his hand at gambling.

  “But why?” I tried to control my voice as I tried to rack my brain for the best reason. “You’re acquiring a potential murderer’s estate.”

  “My father wants it. Thinks he can make a fortune in Europe. I have no choice.”

  “Does he know you’re spending this much money?” I don’t know what made me ask that question. Probably my desperate subconscious clinging to any possible argument that could change his mind. The longer we talked this over, the more he might be inclined to change his decision. Regardless of whether our relationship lasted, I cared about him enough to try to stop him from making stupid mistakes. And buying this place was a mistake, whether he wanted to acknowledge it, or not.

  “Does he know, Jett?” I asked again.

  He still continued to hesitate, and in that instant I had my answer.

  “Oh. My. God,” I said, burying my head in my hands. “You haven’t told him.”

  “My father wants this estate and I’m getting it for him. Apart from you and my lawyers, no one knows how much I’m paying and I’d like to keep the actual price undisclosed,” Jett said. “Look, I wish I could explain but can we do this another time? I’ll take you to dinner tomorrow and then we can talk some more.”


  He cut me off again. “No, Brooke. I’m in a meeting and the clients are waiting. I’ll call you later.”

  “Okay,” I whispered, but the line was already dead. I closed the file and locked it away in my cabinet, my mind circling around the grave edge in Jett’s tone.

  The strain in his voice didn’t go unnoticed. Maybe he was stressed, or maybe worried. Either way, he was being stubborn about the whole situation. For the first time I wondered whether there was more to that estate that Jett didn’t tell me.


  I arrived at the café with ten minutes to spare and parked near the entrance where I could both keep an eye on my car and make a fast exit if need be. It didn’t surprise me that the place was empty. Most people were either still at work or stuck in rush hour traffic. Signaling the barista to take my order in a few minutes, I slumped into my usual spot at a four-seat table and fished out my cell to place it on the table so I wouldn’t miss an important call or text message.

  Heart Strings Café opened in my first year of college. I discovered it when Sylvie tried to hook me up with a blind date and the guy invited me to meet him here. The place hadn’t changed one bit: it was small but flamboyant, carrying the colored furniture and checkerboard tile floor trademark of the retro sixties. I loved this place, not just the food but the whole Night Fever atmosphere, and tried to come here often. Taking in the vintage records on the vintage harvest gold colored wall, I realized this might not be the right place to meet a lawyer from London.

  Too late for that.

  I spent the next few minutes in edgy silence, alternating between watching my car through the window, and watching the door. At six sharp, a tall guy carrying a briefcase walked in and stopped in the doorway to scan the café. Given the fact that there was no one in here but me and an elderly couple, my chances of being overlooked were pretty slim, and yet for some reason I found myself standing and waving him over.

  Jake Clarkson was a tall man in his forties with sandy hair, a strong jaw, and sharp, gray-blue eyes. His tailored suit fit him to perfection as he stretched out a manicured hand to greet me.

  “Miss Stewart. It’s lovely to meet you.”

  “Brooke,” I offered, returning his confident smile, and pointed at the seat opposite from mine. “Please.”

  “Thank you. Please call me Jake.” He lowered himself into the plush chair and undid the first button of his suit jacket, as though he wanted to infuse a sense of ease into this meeting but not too much. My gaze followed him as he pulled a few sheets out of his leather briefcase and placed them neatly in front of him, resting an expensive-looking pen on top of them.

  “Good,” he said by means of starting the actual conversation.

  The air was charged with foreboding, which I attributed to the fact that lawyers scared the crap out of me. I knew my fear was unfounded, and yet I couldn’t help the slight tremble of my hands.

  The waiter appeared, and we ordered—a tall latte for me, espresso for Jake—and then we waited in silence until our beverages were served. I watched him take a sip of his coffee, indifferent to the heat that would have burned my tongue. My people knowledge was pretty basic, but it was good enough to help me draw the conclusion that Jake Clarkson was a tough guy, and not just when it came to sipping hot beverages.

  “My firm has been trying to get in touch with you for two weeks, Brooke.” The thin skin beneath his eyes crinkled, but I didn’t quite feel his amusement.

  “I was away on business. Europe.”

  “Ah.” He nodded sympathetically, as though he knew exactly what I was talking about.

  “I gather you had a nice trip?”

  “I did, thank you.” My cheeks flamed up at the sudden memory of lazy days in Jett’s arms. You said you flew over from London?”

  He nodded. “Yesterday morning. Your roommate told me when you’d be back, and I decided it might be the best way to share the news.” His gray-blue gaze flickered to life as he pulled out a sheet of paper. My curiosity killing me already, I peered over the rim of my cup.

  “Did I win the lottery? Because if I did, I can tell you it must be a mistake. I don’t do lotteries.” I laughed to mask the nervousness in my voice.

  “No, Brooke.” He pushed the sheet of paper toward me so I could read it. “It’s a testament.”

  “A what?” I frowned, grabbing the paper. My eyes almost jumped out of their sockets as I read the title, and all of a sudden, my vision blurred and I almost fainted. It couldn’t be. But there in front of me, it said: The last will and testament of Alessandro Lucazzone.




  I, Alessandro Lucazzone, of Bellagio, being of sound and disposing mind, do hereby make, publish and declare the following to be my last Will and Testament, revoking all previous wills and codicils made by me. This Will may at any time be revoked by me at my sole discretion.



  I declare that I was married to Maria Agrusa, to which I have referred herein as my ‘spouse’. We had no children, living or deceased.

  All of the properties of my estate (the “residue”), after payment of any taxes or other expenses of my estate as provided below, including the property subject to a power of appointment hereby shall be distributed to BROOKE MARY STEWART.

  I sucked in a sharp breath at seeing my name. My mind was spinning. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I was in shock because I couldn’t think clearly. My brain was numb.

  “Do you understand what this is, Brooke?” Jake asked, forcing me to look up.

  “Yes, it’s Mr. Lucazzone’s last will. But…why are you showing it to me? I don’t know him personally.” My voice sounded choked as I fought to grasp the meaning of what looked like the photocopy of an original will written in legal English. In theory, I had read about the old man’s life in Jett’s files. But the whole situation was too huge to grasp. I was supposed to handle the case, not meet with a lawyer and talk about the next of kin. If there was proof of alien life on another planet, I would have been a lot less surprised.

  I shook my head. A will, my name, and Alessandro’s—three things, and all on one paper? That was impossible. Insane.

  “This must come as a bit of a shock but,” Jake tapped the end of his pen on the paper, right where Alessandro had signed his name, “you are the heir.”

  “It can’t be.” I shook my head in denial. “It must be a mistake.”

  The will declared Maria Lucazzone’s relatives as the beneficiary, even though according to Jett’s file there was none.

  “Initially Mr. Lucazzone decided to pass the estate on to various charities,” Jake said. “However, a few weeks ago it came to his attention that his deceased spouse had relatives in the United States. It took us a while to ascertain your father’s identity, but since he’s no longer with us and he has no siblings, you’re the next of kin. In a gesture of goodwill, Mr. Lucazzone changed the testament in your favor upon one condition.” He paused for effect and smiled. I stared at him, open-mouthed, still not getting his drift. “My client is a very ill man, who could pass away any minute. He wants to meet his heir before he dies.”

  I knew the answer, but I still had to ask. “How can I possibly help you?”

  He pushed an envelope across the table, toward me. “Brooke, we’ve wasted enough time searching for your father, and when we discovered he had passed away, it took us a while to get hold of you. We’d like you to come with us straight away, so you can meet with your great-great-uncle and sign the necessary paperwork. I took the liberty to purchase two tickets for you, in case you want to bring a person of your trust along.”

  I peered inside the envelope at two first class flight tickets, and all blood drained from my face. He wasn’t joking. I shook my head, forcing huge gulps of air in and out of my lungs.

  “I’m—” My speech eluded me. I felt stupid thinking that I was the heir to an estate, let alone utter the words that burned a hole in my head.

  An estate worth millions—millions Jett offered Alessandro Lucazzone.

  A thought entered my mind that maybe it was all a con. Maybe Jett tricked Alessandro into thinking I was the heir, when I wasn’t. The old man might not want to sell his property for the original, more than generous offer, but the heir was more than likely to. And Jett always told me he trusted me. Maybe he’d go this far to get the estate. It was a possibility I couldn’t discard. Countless questions and theories flashed through my head, but there was little time to think them all through.

  “Are you interested?” Jake asked.

  Hell yeah, I was. Who wouldn’t be?

  “Yes,” I said slowly.

  “Very well. I’m glad to have made your acquaintance.” Jake smiled and reached out his hand to shake mine, then pushed yet more sheets across the table. I caught a glimpse of financial reports, plot measurements, and contracts. “Congratulations, Brooke. You’re the future heir of the Lucazzone Estate. Clarkson & Miles couldn’t be more delighted to represent your interests and, I hope, build a thriving and long-lasting relationship for the future.”


  Half an hour later, I maneuvered my old Volvo through the slow traffic. I was still hyperventilating from the shock. The more I thought about it, the more everything felt surreal. Almost like a dream. Maybe it was nothing but an error, a case of mistaken identity, a scam. Maybe Clarkson had the wrong Brooke Stewart, because inheriting a large European estate sure didn’t sound like something that would happen to me. To my surprise, the first person I wanted to share my news with was Jett. I tried to reach him on my cell, and when he didn’t pick up I left a voicemail to call me as soon as he got my message. The second person in line was Sylvie.

  My head was giddy with excitement as I parked my car across the street and dashed through the lobby of our apartment complex, then up the stairs because the elevator was busy. When I entered—half-breathing, half-choking—Sylvie didn’t even look up from her comfortable seat on the couch. My heart was beating so fast, I figured it was only a matter of time until it burst. But Sylvie noticed none of it. Only when I bent over, trying to catch my breath, did she look up surprised.

  “Hey. Did you run a marathon?” She sounded rough and looked the part, dressed in sweatpants and a washed out, oversized tee. Under normal circumstances I would have paid attention, but her face looked okay and her hair was its glossy self, so I figured it was nothing but post binge drinking depression or something. Whatever was going on, it couldn’t possibly beat my news.

  “Guess what.” I kicked my high heels off and slumped onto the couch, minding her outstretched legs. She pushed them onto my lap and leaned back against the pillows with a bored sigh.

  “You got sacked.”

  “No.” Frowning, I shook my head. “Why would I be happy about that?”

  Sylvie shrugged and let out another bored sigh. I made a mental note to help her find a job so she finally had some meaning in her life.

  “I met with that lawyer today.” Of course that barely managed to spark a glint of recollection, as though it hadn’t been the subject of our obsessive compulsive speculation the night before. I stared at her, realizing even though she was sitting inches away from me, she wasn’t here mentally.

  “Yeah?” She sounded about as interested as a five-year-old listening to a long and drawn out PhD thesis.

  “Want me to switch on the TV instead?” I tickled her feet in mock annoyance, knowing she hated it.

  She pulled her legs up to her chest and sat up. Her blue eyes glowered at me. “Sorry. I’m so tired and bored. This day’s been dragging on forever.” She had reached the unemployment slump. I nodded sympathetically. “I need something to do. Like—”

  “Find a job?” I suggested. She returned my smile and I continued, “Or you could come with me to Italy. I know this magical place with mountains and lakes and the most amazing Tiramisu you’ve ever tasted.”

  She eyed me carefully, not quite sharing my enthusiasm. “Another business trip?”

  “Nope. I’m the sole heir of the Lucazzone estate.”

  Her jaw dropped. She opened her mouth, and then closed it again, and a frown creased her forehead. I could almost read her thoughts in her fast changing expressions, as she tried to make sense of my statement. Eventually, she said, “The Luzzone what? You don’t mean that place across the lake?”

  Of course she was stunned. And in disbelief. I had been too, but speaking out the unspeakable helped me wrap my mind around the sheer incredulity of it.

  “It’s Lucazzone,” I corrected her. “The attorney kept ca
lling to arrange a meeting and discuss the will’s content. The old man, Alessandro Lucazzone, wants to meet me. Jake’s secretary’s booked two flight tickets for tomorrow night.” I jumped up and grabbed Sylvie in a hug. “We’re going to Bellagio. How about that?”

  Her expression didn’t quite catch on to my enthusiasm. “Are you sure you’re not being scammed? You know, like getting an email telling you you’ve won or inherited a million, and then you’re supposed to enter your bank details.”

  I shook my head, ignoring the urge to groan. “It’s a legitimate law firm. Jake never asked for my bank details. And may I remind you he knew my name, address and so forth prior to contacting me?”

  From the glint in her eyes, I could she was having a hard time believing it. To be honest, so was I.

  “You’re right,” Sylvie said. “But just to be on the safe side, let’s ask Doctor Google.”

  She booted up her laptop, and I entered Clarkson & Miles in the search engine. After less than a second, a picture of Jake popped up along with his company’s details. A few minutes later, I found some mention of the Lucazzone Estate and that Clarkson & Miles had been the appointed law firm for the last five years. Everything looked legitimate.

  “That’s him and that’s the estate,” I pointed at the screen and inched forward to regard the tiny picture of Alessandro Lucazzone and his deceased wife. Even though it was blurred, and probably old, I could make out a few details about her, like her stubborn jaw and the way her brows arched in a slight V shape, just like my father’s.

  Maybe I was beginning to see similarities where there were none. Or maybe half of my family descended from Italy and no one ever bothered to tell me.

  Sylvie leaned over me and sucked in a sharp breath. “Jesus, Brooke. You’re rich!”


  “Didn’t Jett take you to that place?” Sylvie asked.

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