Till Death Do Us Part by Violet L Ryan by Violet L Ryan - Read Online

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Till Death Do Us Part - Violet L Ryan

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25

TIL DEATH DO US PART

by

VIOLET RYAN

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Published by

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

Whiskey Creek Press

PO Box 51052

Casper, WY 82605-1052

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Copyright Ó 2014 by Violet Ryan

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-61160-698-0

Cover Artist: Gemini Judson

Editor: Tricia Isham

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication

Thanks to Author Toni Cantrell for help with edits and tears for my hero.

Chapter 1

Thunderclouds had nothing on Victoria Haslett as she stormed from Mr. Rawlings’ office. I swear to God, I’m going to commit murder before the year’s out.

Her mutters reached the ears of Dick Grover in his adjacent cubicle. You talkin’ to me?

No, she snapped. I’m talking to God.

Dick’s friendly face, topped with neatly-cut, light brown hair, appeared at the edge of the partition that separated their work spaces. Getting any answers? Brown eyes sparkled with humor, a lop-sided smile confirmed his high spirits.

Victoria spared a glance. Through narrowed eyes, she noticed half of his side part had flopped left, leaving a crooked line. The slight imperfection took the razor-sharp edge off her anger. Don’t try your amateur psychology on me. She glared. I’m mad and I intend to stay that way.

Dick drew a deep breath, moved his trim five-foot-nine frame around the thin-as-paper wall and edged a hip onto her desk corner. What’s he done now?

Same as usual–tried to look down my shirt, put his meaty hand on my backside, chased me around the desk. That is so clichéd, but I swear I’ve worn out five pair of shoes running from that-that middle-aged, over-sexed, testosterone-crazed...

Neanderthal?

Victoria glared at her friend. Though they were both twenty-four, he somehow seemed younger. Nice looking guy like him should have a passel of girls hanging around. The glare softened. If he hadn’t wasted so much time wooing her, he probably would have. A small smile touched her mouth, allowed a hint of two deep dimples. Exactly. She shot a mock glower. Reminds me of you.

No way. I only wore out one pair of your shoes. Dick donned a superior expression. I know when to quit. He rested a palm on the desk and leaned forward. Now, tell your friendly psychiatrist all about it.

Victoria drew a deep breath and let the air out with some of her immense frustration. I don’t know how much longer I can put up with his relentless chase. Sometimes I’m tempted to bring a harassment suit against him–or call his wife. Only she’s not at fault. She gazed at Dick and wondered why she couldn’t fall for a nice guy like him–kind, generous, cute, endearing–especially when his hair misbehaved. What do you think I should do?

With your college degree, you’re over-qualified for this secretarial position. Tell the Schmitz Insurance Agency what he’s done and walk out the door.

I have thought about doing exactly that, only…

Only?

I hate to disappoint my dad. When I couldn’t find work after graduation, he recommended me for this job.

Wouldn’t he want you out of here if he knew what happens almost every day?

Of course. That’s the problem. See, his boss is involved.

Dick’s well-oiled antenna slid upward. How?

Victoria leaned back and laced her fingers together. I think he owns a piece of the company. I know he’s insured here. And Dad talked to him, asked for a recommendation. If I quit, Mr. Huntington might not be happy. I don’t want Dad’s boss mad at him because of me.

Dick whistled through his teeth, a habit he used to express incredulity. Calvin Haslett, your father, works for Huntington? The Huntington? Judd Samuel Huntington?

Uh, yeah. You know him?

Of. Lowlifes like me would never actually meet the man.

I’ve never heard you sound so awed before. Just how special is he?

You don’t know? A young woman like you? He’s only the most sought-after billionaire bachelor on this continent–maybe on all of them.

Well, of course I’ve heard of him. Can’t live in today’s world and not know about Mr. Huntington. Especially when Dad works for the man. But I’ve been preoccupied with school, finding a job, and taking care of my parent for the last few years. Besides, Dad’s position demands confidentiality. He’s never said a word, and I don’t pay any attention to tabloids.

Dick studied the woman he’d give just about anything to call his own. Black hair flowed almost to her waist. Dark-blue jewel-like eyes could hypnotize a man, draw his soul from his body. Dimples bracketed her mouth each time she smiled, which she did often. She couldn’t be much more than four inches shorter than his own five-foot-nine, the perfect height for him. Probably weighed in the neighborhood of one-twenty, and every ounce had toned muscles covered with smooth, tanned skin. He’d never seen a more perfectly proportioned girl. She had grace and strength and beauty galore.

He forced his mind back to their conversation. I’ve never been there, but I understand Huntington’s place is close to Green Farms. That where you’re going? His mind’s wheels turned faster and faster as he waited for her nod. Once delivered, he continued, saying, My Porsche—

Victoria laughed. Your what?

He flashed a grin. Okay. My Ford needed a tune-up, and the best mechanic on the eastern seaboard just happens to live and work in Green Farms. I dropped my car there last night and took a bus back to Fairfield. Mickey promised he’d finish by five. Tell you what. Give me a lift to collect my wheels from the garage, and I’ll tell you everything I know about Judd Samuel Huntington.

Deal, Victoria agreed. And when we swing by to pick up Dad, you’ll have a chance to see a little of Ambit.

Ambit. That’s the fancy name for the Huntington complex.

Uh-huh. Means realm or territory. She smiled. I looked it up.

Another impressed whistle sounded, then Dick stated, Probably an apt description for their personal kingdom. After a slight pause, he asked, Dad doesn’t drive?

She laughed. Of course he drives. I usually walk to work because we live so close, but once a week, I drop him at Ambit and do the grocery shopping on my lunch hour. Anyway, we enjoy the ride together. Gives us extra time to talk. She adopted a solemn expression. Only you can’t eat in the car. Dad’s one vanity is his classic ’69 Camaro. One speck of food or drink anywhere on that vehicle and he’d shoot us both.

* * * *

April had arrived on the Connecticut coastline with warn sunshine and salty sea breezes. Black cherry trees swayed to and fro, waved tiny pink buds and released fresh spring fragrances which competed with the sweet cinnamon scents from a nearby bakery. Tulip bulbs pushed short green shoots through loam-covered sand. Even the asphalt seemed happier now that March had marched past.

When they reached the parking lot, Victoria headed for a far corner.

Parked a little out of the way, didn’t you?

Out of harm’s way. No door dings or foreign paint smears on Dad’s baby. She pulled the plastic car cover off, did a quick fold, and stored the protector in the trunk.

Guess that’s why I haven’t noticed this beauty before. At the last spot, under the blanket of a low-hanging black oak tree, Dick had his first look at Calvin Haslett’s Camaro. White and turquoise shone with a highly-waxed finish. Through the side window, he noted white leather seats and dash. He whistled long and low. Snazzy. Makes my old jalopy seem mundane.

Victoria unlocked the door the old-fashioned way–with a key–then leaned across to pull the lever that gave Dick access to the passenger seat. I see you’re suitably impressed, she said as he slid in. Dad found his pride and joy in a junk yard eight years ago, bought the Camaro before the wrecking company demolished it, and did all the restoration himself. Good, huh?

I’ll say. Isn’t he an accountant?

Uh-huh.

I think he missed his calling.

No. He’s an excellent accountant. That’s why Winslow-Barton chose him to head the team that works on site at Ambit. She fired the engine and pulled out of the parking lot onto Post Road. If you’re impressed by Dad’s car, I can’t wait for you to see where Mr. Huntington lives. It’ll blow your whistle.

That grand, is it?

Can’t say how grand, but the place is huge. I don’t know how anyone could amass so much land in an exclusive neighborhood right on the coast.

I do. That’s a good place to start your Huntington education. Dick settled back, planted a right ankle on his left knee with every appearance of pleasure. Back in the eighteen hundreds, Samuel J. Huntington–I think he would have been Judd’s great-great grandfather–left New York under a cloud. Seems the lusty young man compromised a prominent man’s daughter–or so the story goes. He headed west, struck gold in Colorado, and returned home a very rich man.

Victoria started to whistle, realized she stood in danger of acquiring Dick’s habit, and stopped. So, Dad’s boss is old money?

Not by New York society’s standards. But money does talk, and the Huntington predilection for financial aptitude kept the windfall growing. By the turn of the century, the Huntington’s had made their first billion when millionaires were considered the pinnacle of wealth.

The female in Victoria had to ask, What happened to the wealthy man’s daughter?

Dick laughed. Old Sam married the little lady. Smart man, old Sam. He knew fortunes came and went, but real estate is forever. He started buying land as a side investment, sought prime locations around the world. Even back then, east coast property was desirable, and with his assets, he could afford just about anything he wanted, so he settled out here and every time a neighbor sold, he bought.

That’s how the present family owns such a large seashore property. With a delicate twist of the steering wheel, Victoria veered onto Pequot Avenue. How do you know so much about the Huntington family?

I’ve always loved history. When I started reading copies of the old titles and deeds on file at the home office, the longevity of Huntington properties–four generations worth–caught my interest, and I began a search to discover the how’s and why’s. In spite of my vast information, I’ve never driven past the famous complex.

I’ll show you what I can, which isn’t much since I don’t go to the house. But you can’t back out on your promise to tell me everything you know about Dad’s boss.

Oh, sure. Well, he’s a mystery man. Grew up with all that lovely money and joined the tradition of making more and more. He’s a Wall Street whiz kid, has the knack. Empires rise and fall when he buys and sells. He inherited his father’s fortune at twenty-one when his parents died in a pile-up on the Turnpike. Even though the elder Huntington already owned several companies, the son diversified into multiple fields, owns computer companies, automobile factories, fabric mills, publishing houses. Property, of course. Can’t think of anything he doesn’t have at least a pinkie in.

I had no idea. No wonder he needs around-the-clock accounting. Victoria chewed her bottom lip. How much money does the man have, anyway?

Don’t know exactly. I do know he passed the fifty billion mark several years ago. Strong as his market is, no telling how far he’s gone now.

Wow. I can’t even wrap my mind around that kind of money. What would a person do with so much?

What any handsome, rich playboy would do–buy million-dollar cars, a couple of planes, a helicopter, homes in most major cities, yachts, vineyards, fly to Spain for lunch, Paris for dinner, home to his New York penthouse for breakfast. And play with the most beautiful women in the world. I heard he did that a lot—had more girlfriends than Midas had gold.

I wonder why I don’t remember any of this.

"Like you said–you’ve had other things on your mind. Added to that, sometime last year–maybe as much as eighteen months ago–he dropped off the radar. No more personal appearances or grand openings. No more photos from the paparazzi. No more exclusive parties at his penthouse. In fact, no one’s heard much at all about his personal life since then. But he still makes plenty of news with his incredible ability to predict the stock market. Dick paused in his narration. Sure wish I had an inside line to the man’s mind–instant wealth."

Victoria flicked the turn signal and eased onto Beach Road. I can’t wait to impress Dad with my new insight. Of course, he can’t confirm or deny, but I read him pretty well. If I hit a nerve, I’ll know. She checked the rear-view mirror for traffic and slowed. Look to the left. All this parkland is Ambit.

Holy… After the single word, Dick became silent, taking in the concept of the rich and famous. Imbedded in a wide shoulder, lawn, flowers, and scrubs delighted the eye. A high stone wall stretched alongside Beach Road. White Oak, Pignut Hickory, and Fir trees peeked over the top and provided the only hint of the premises beyond.

As they approached a driveway, Victoria signaled another turn. This is the gatehouse where I wait for Dad, she said as she backed into a parking space. He gets royal treatment, chauffeured from the mansion in the splendor of a luxury golf cart while I wait here in solitary confinement.

Dick peeked under the visor. They were surrounded by cedars as high as the gatehouse, which looked about the same size as his parents’ bungalow. You were right. The place seems huge. They afraid you’ll get lost in space if you drive to the house? In spite of all his knowledge, he couldn’t believe one family had managed to build such an estate here on the coast. Maybe the grounds weren’t as extensive after one moved past the trees.

A pleasant gurgle of laughter bubbled past Victoria’s pink lips. I don’t think—

A solid tap on the glass at her left interrupted the sentence. She used the old-fashioned crank handle to lower the window. A middle-aged security guard in a brown and tan uniform raised a finger to his cap bill. He reminded Victoria of the livery-garbed servants of old England. Maybe he represented the modern version.

Ms. Haslett, he stated, though they’d never spoken. He bent, peered past her at Dick. I’ll need to see some I.D., please.

She looked at Dick. He looked back. Both knew their shock showed.

I’m here every week, Victoria said as she dug in her purse. I’ve never needed identification before.

Sorry, ma’am. Had to ask. He handed the plastic back. No one moves past the first gate without I.D. I received a message from the house. You’re to drive on up. He pressed a remote button. The white and gray wrought iron gate parted in the middle and slid sideways between two huge stone pillars. Follow the drive till you reach the second gate. Busby will give you further instructions.

Instant worry attacked Victoria. Has something happened to Dad?

I couldn’t say, ma’am. My orders are only to have you drive to the house. He touched the cap again and stepped away.

Oh, God, please let Dad be all right. Victoria started the car by rote and moved through the entrance. I’ve never been asked inside before, and never to the house. Something must be wrong. She cast a glance at Dick, then faced the windshield. Wouldn’t they have called my cell if Dad’s sick…or hurt? She chewed her lip. Of course, they would. Or.

No. They would. Must be something else.

* * * *

Even past the gate, Dick couldn’t see anything but manicured lawns, shrubs, flowers, a pond and a lot of trees. Finally, in spots between the virtual forest he spied acres of landscaped grounds spread before the dark blue waters of Long Island Sound. My research didn’t mention this. You’re right. This is mammoth for the area, or for that matter any area.

Victoria had slowed the car to a crawl and gaped at the beauty surrounding them. Tiny gardens enclosed in stone railings held trellis-covered benches. Two elegant white swans floated on a large pond in a semi-circle of cedars.

Then the house came into view.

The vehicle stopped.

The only sound inside the car was astonished breathing.

House didn’t come close to describing the building still some distance away. The pinkish-gray stone façade stood three stories high with peaked roofs at various heights. Four large chimneys climbed toward the sky. Too many windows to count were deep-set into granite and accented with black trim. Mature shrubs and decorative trees hugged the massive mansion. Even from the distance, they could see that a recessed part of the building protected the large double doors from ocean breezes.

As they continued to gaze at the incredible sight, Victoria allowed the Camaro to crawl forward. Ahead, the predicted gate blocked the road. On the left, through more jungle-like vegetation, they saw minute glimpses of other, smaller structures.

Still speechless, they arrived at the second gate, identical to the first. Another guard, younger this time, waited. When Victoria braked to a stop, he approached the car.

Ms. Haslett. He greeted her exactly the way the first one had, but his instructions were not the same. Please park in one of those spots. His finger pointed the way. Might want to try for shade. I’m afraid your guest will have to wait here.

Victoria wanted to take