The sound of thunder echoed over the top of Zugspitze while dark clouds embraced the late afternoon skies. Over five hundred mourners crowded around the family cemetery as Father Altman performed a service over an empty grave.
Hannah laid across Cassie’s shoulder, her thumb in her mouth, snoring softly as she napped. Anne stood next to Cassie with Liam by her side and L.J. in his arms. The tombstone was put in place next to Rosa’s, though the service was just a formality. It was a way of putting to rest the grief and sorrow of those who knew and loved Hans von Hennhofen.
Everyone was assembled around the wrought iron fence that enclosed the graves of all the Hennhofen ancestors. Hannah and Dolf were there, as well as Elenore Applebee. Each of the former Barons lay beneath an elaborately carved tombstone, while their wives - former sex slaves, except for Hannah - bore little more than a stone slab with a name and a date.
Hans’ two young aunts lay buried close to their parents, with Rosa, and now Hans’ tombstones, next to their mother. Being Konrad, the former Baron insisted on a display of elaborate dedication for his grave, though Cassie’s stomach churned with anger every time she looked at it. Beneath a large statue of himself, the man was hidden in eternal rest, though Cassie was certain his rotten soul was much farther below, then the typical six feet where his body lay.
The group listened silently as the priest blessed those who mourned Hans’ loss, causing the sound of sobs to grow louder. The castle’s staff mingled in with mourners, crying or sniffing back the tears. Anne wiped her swollen eyes with a damp handkerchief, and even Liam found it difficult to hold back the sorrow.
Sophia and Jorgen were there, along with all six of Cassie’s girls, and the men who had bought them. Former buyers, and their women, came from all over the globe, offering their condolences to Cassie and Hannah. They began assembling in Hennhofen, as soon as the authorities announced they had exhausted their prospects of finding anyone on the chartered flight, alive.
Three years ago, everyone was certain the plane would be found with survivors. They talked about Hans as he is and had hope for a happy ending. A year ago, nobody spoke about Hans without saying he was, and hope was growing dim. Today, everyone spoke of him in quiet, solemn voices and said if only. Everyone believed Hans was dead. Except for one lone person.
Cassie was angry that they had given up the search for her husband. Despite popular opinion, she refused to give up hope, and spent a great deal of money to continue looking. She didn’t care if it took ten days or ten years, she wasn’t quitting until every square inch of the planet had been inspected. She wasn’t going to give up until there was no other choice, and right now, she had Hannah to help her hold onto the slimmest glimmer of faith.
A loud clap of thunder startled Hannah, giving Cassie something new to focus her attentions on. She patted her daughter’s back gently, shushing her softly to help sooth her nerves. Even as young as she was, Hannah was a strong-willed child, much like her mother. She had her own mind, her own personality, and she was growing tired of everyone wanting to hold her or trying to kiss her soft pink cheeks.
Cassie knew it was getting close to lunch, and the faint aroma of food drifted out of the castle doors, lingering on the warm breeze. She was anxious to get this day over with, so she could spend some time alone, sorting through her thoughts.
She may appear brave on the outside, but inside, beyond the anger and frustrations, was a fear she refused to embrace. She knew the chances of Hans being alive was slim at best. That annoying part of her conscience she had silenced for so long, whispered that she was just fooling herself, and she was too smart to ignore facts. But she also knew, so long as the plane was still missing, there was a chance. For that reason alone, she would never surrender until there was no hope left.
Glancing around, Cassie drew a deep sigh. She could feel the sorrow and grief of those closest to her, and she felt the frustrations growing. Everyone was present at the memorial service, including the staff and guards. The kitchen staff had spent the past four days preparing food, and the villagers opened their homes and spare bedrooms for those who needed a place to stay. Hans had been very well liked and thought of highly. It was only natural that his hometown would put forth an effort to show their condolences to his widow and only child.
Cassie looked up as the first drops of rain began to fall. The sound of the church bells rang at two o’clock, bringing the service to an end as Father Altman said one last prayer. It was ironic, Cassie mused to herself. Hans would be amazed by the number of prayers being spoken for him. For a man who didn’t believe in God, she knew he would find it a monumental waste of time.
The dark clouds opened, and rain began to fall, forcing everyone back inside the castle. The meal was served in a buffet style, allowing everyone to choose their own dishes among the twenty or so recipes that had been prepared. Champagne was served, and Hans’ memory was toasted, then the soft hum of voices began buzzing through the large formal room.
A lot of speculation was being whispered, about what Cassie would do now that her husband was legally dead. There was nothing holding her to the castle. True, she was the dowager Baroness, but that wasn’t reason enough to keep her in Germany if she didn’t want to stay. Without Hans to dictate to her activities, she could easily return to her former life, a bit richer perhaps, and somewhat wiser, but free from the late Baron’s domination.
Cassie made her rounds through the room balancing her daughter on her hip. She thanked everyone for coming, and accepted their well wishes and condolences, with as much decorum as possible. She was growing weary of the sadness and tears and was thankful when Hannah said she had to use the potty. The small child had been potty-trained since she was a year old, but her lack of diaper offered Cassie the excuse she needed to escape the crowd.
Taking Hannah upstairs to their private chambers, Cassie closed the door and collapsed in Hans’ chair in the sitting room. She held the child on her lap for several long moments, allowing her to play with the diamond teardrop hanging from the silver chain, around her mother’s neck.
The events over the past week had been a whirlwind of activity. The ceremony was planned, the menu prepared, and the castle scrubbed from the ballroom to the dormitory on the lowest training level. The new applicants for the training sessions were put on hold temporarily, while the castle focused on the memorial.
From the moment the newspapers reported on the court’s decision to officially declare Hans deceased, Cassie began receiving telegrams, phone calls, and emails from people she’d never even heard of. Princes, Dukes, and businessmen alike, offered her their support, and Cassie felt a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach as she considered the reasoning behind their offers.
Hans told her a long time ago, she would have brought a hefty price if he had chosen to sell her, instead of keeping her for himself. She couldn’t help wondering now, if that was the reason so many men were offering her their aid. Three former buyers were bold enough to offer her their assistance in bed if she found herself in need of companionship.
Flowers filled the castle rooms as everyone wanted her to know how special Hans was to them. They all said the same thing. He will be missed greatly. It was bad enough that Anne hadn’t stop crying, since the newspaper reported the lack of support to continue searching for the plane, but to hold her emotions in check while everyone who wanted to know if she was alright, was beginning to get on her nerves.
Cassie had spent the past three years trying to keep her hopes high, assuring everyone that Hans was alive and would be found sooner or later. When Wilhelm came to the castle to tell her the search had been called off, she found her waning faith replaced by seething anger. She knew the only reason her husband was being declared dead, was for his money.
Hans had been a very successful man, who made a lot of money over the past several years. It was only natural that people would want to know what he was doing with his fortune. There were two managers of his security firm that hoped to be named his successor, and given control of the company, and neighboring farmers who wanted to know if the castle’s grounds would be sold.
Even here, there were whispers about the Baron’s will, and what would happen to the village with him gone. Nobody took the time to consider that Cassie was his wife. If anyone would receive Hans’ fortune, it would be her, and only for the sake of his daughter. Though she never wanted his money, she was glad she knew where a large amount of it was hidden. It offered her an ample supply of cash to continue searching where the authorities had left off.
Hannah began to squirm on Cassie’s lap and whimpered softly. She had exhausted her restrain long enough and had to use the toilet. She climbed off her mother’s lap, then took Cassie’s hand and walked with her to the bathroom. She stepped up the wooden stepstool placed in front of the toilet, then looked at her mother with a scowl.
“Go away,” she told her in a demanding voice. “I can do it myself.”
Cassie smiled and turned around, leaving the child alone, but kept the door open. She was willing to allow her daughter freedom, but she would never let her out of her sight. She was all that was left to remind her of the love she shared with Hans.
That thought brought a dry lump to her throat as she sat down on the bed, fighting the tears that stung her eyes. She couldn’t bring her heart to accept the possibility that her husband was really gone. It seemed like a nightmare. She would go to bed at night, praying for good news in the morning, and wake with sorrow to discover she was still alone.
A soft knock sounded at her bedroom door and she looked up as the wooden barrier opened, revealing Anne on the other side. Her eyes were red from crying and the skin on her nose was starting to peel, from all the tissues she’d used the past week. She carried a small tray with a variety of desserts and sat it down on the bedside table.
“I saw you leave and thought you might like something to snack on,” she told Cassie, glancing to the sound of Hannah singing on the toilet.
“Thank you. I think I’ll keep her up here for a while. We’ve both had about all the tears we can handle for one day.”
“I understand,” Anne said as the moisture formed in her dark eyes again.
“After the guests leave tomorrow, I’m going to take Hannah to the villa in Veneto,” Cassie said, pushing her irritation with the woman aside. “I promised Eva I’d bring her for a visit, and now is as good a time as any. Besides, it’s sunny in Italy. Not wet and soggy like it is here.”
“Would you like me to go with you?” Anne asked, watching Cassie shake her head.
“I’d like to be alone,” she answered honestly. “I’ll have Liam fly us to Innsbruck, and I’ll arrange a car to meet us at the airport in Italy. We’ll only be gone a couple of weeks. We’ll be back after the next ceremony is over.”
“You shouldn’t go alone. What if someone…”
“Recognizes me?” Cassie asked with an amused chuckle. “My photo has been in every newspaper from here to Timbuctoo. I have old friends from New York sending me messages, asking how it is I’m alive. My old boss asked if I’d be willing to write an article on my life, for the paper, and I spent an hour on the phone last night talking with Pop, trying to convince him that I’m not an impersonator. Trust me, meeting a few curious tourists is nothing.”
“Hans’ lawyer was going to come by in the morning. Would you like me to reschedule the reading of the will until you get back?”
“I forgot about that,” she answered with a frown.
She stood and looked in on Hannah, smiling when she saw the little girl on the toilet, still singing and swinging her legs back and forth. She felt sorry for Hans. Because of that stupid trip, he was missing his daughter growing up. Every day she learned something new, and he would have to spend months trying to catch up once he returned.
“I’d like to postpone reading Hans’ will indefinitely, but I suppose it has to be done. Everyone is so curious about what is going to happen with his money. I’ve never seen so many people offering false sympathy, while their hand is out expecting it to be filled.”
“You don’t believe that,” Anne asked in the same gentle scolding voice she used with her son. “The girls came back to support you. Hans’ buyers are genuinely sorry for your loss. Everyone wants to help you…”
“Do you know how Hans’ buyers want to help?” Cassie snapped, glancing back to Hannah who stopped singing and stared at her mother.
“If you’ve finished, you need to come eat,” she told the child. “Auntie Anne brought you up some brownies.”
“I’m not done,” Hannah answered, swinging her legs again.
Cassie wasn’t in a hurry to make the child obey. She didn’t want her to overhear the conversation with Anne and having her distracted was the best way to converse.
“I’ve had multiple men asking if I needed help satisfying myself,” she told Anne in a low voice as she walked to the opposite side of the bedroom. “I’ve been propositioned and had my ass rubbed by every man who has offered support. It’s disgusting. This is supposed to be a funeral, and yet these so-called friends are acting as if it’s one of Hans’ minglings. Now, I’m a rich widow in the eyes of every man on the planet. That obviously makes me a frustrated harlot who’s looking for a quick fuck.”
“Cassie, I’m sorry,” Anne told her. “I didn’t know…Liam needs to talk with them…”
“I don’t want any problems, so don’t say anything to Liam. I’ll deal with the leeches on my own. As for tonight, I’m going to keep Hannah up here and let her play. It will give me a chance to clear my mind and calm down. I’ll meet with the lawyer tomorrow and leave for Italy afterwards.”
“I’ll bring supper in a little while,” Anne promised as she walked toward the door. “And I’ll help you pack when things calm down. If you need me…”
“I’ve learned to use Hans’ phone system. I’ll call if I think of anything.”
Anne smiled then left the room and the woman to deal with her emotions alone. She moved through the sitting room and out the door, then looked over the banister to the ballroom. There were more people here than she’d ever seen before, and it was a bit daunting, but the guards were there, as well as those loyal buyers and friends to Hans. If any of the others got out of line, they would act as a barrier between Cassie and the men who offered her their assistance.
Morning brought with it the crisp clean air of spring. The rain had continued throughout the night, causing Hannah to have a fitful sleep. Cassie wasn’t eager to move her into her own bed, so she let her sleep on her father’s pillow all night. She woke up with her usual chipper morning Mommy and stretched her arms above her head, yawning deeply.
Cassie filled the large tub in her bathroom with enough water for her daughter to play in, then took a quick shower. It was going to be a very long day, and she wasn’t willing to postpone a moment of it. The sooner she got the legalities of Hans’ estate out of the way, the sooner she could move forward with Hannah.
She called Eva before bed last night and arranged to have the house prepared for their stay, then called Pop and invited him to join her. Hans didn’t want her to connect with her past, and she knew it was more out of fear that she might decide to leave him. But he wasn’t here to stop her. It was just another act of defiance she would deal with when he did come home, but one she would willingly face.
With her bags packed and Hannah dressed in a comfortable jumper for traveling, the two went down to breakfast. The castle was much quieter than it had been last night, with most of the guests returning to their own homes. Sophia and Jorgen stayed on, as did Cassie’s girls and their men. They all wanted to make certain the Baroness and her daughter were dealing with Hans’ death before they returned to their own lives.
Cassie walked down the hallway toward the formal dining room, then paused when she heard the voices inside. She frowned angrily as she listened for a few moments to what they were saying.
“I’m worried she’s not going to be able to cope when reality strikes and she realizes Hans is dead,” Sophia was saying.
“You don’t think she’s…I don’t know…mentally unstable, do you?” one of the two Australian brothers asked, though Cassie was unable to tell which one was speaking.
“Cassie is fine,” Anne interjected sternly, speaking up for her friend in a way she never had before. “She’s trying to be brave for Hannah’s sake.”
“She didn’t cry at all yesterday,” Justina said in a quiet voice.
“She cries when she’s alone,” Anne answered. “Yesterday was an unusual day. She had more buyers propositioning her then offering her their condolences.”
“Can you blame them?” Antonio’s deep voice asked. “She’s a beautiful woman.”
“But she’s not for sale,” Liam said, adding his voice to the mix.
Cassie looked down when Hannah tugged on her hand, then forced a smile across her pink lips. They entered the dining room, as Cassie looked around with an accusing expression. The chairs were filled with those few guests who had been invited to stay over, leaving Hans’ chair vacant for her, and Hannah’s highchair pulled close beside it. She felt awkward about sitting in the Master’s chair, but as she was temporarily in charge until he returned, she supposed it was only natural. Once he was home, however, she would return to her seat by his side.
The room grew quiet when she entered, forcing her to smile with more friendliness than she felt. She wasn’t eager to start another argument about her mental state, or how she had to come to terms with her loss. She had dealt with that subject for three long years, and she was over it. If they wanted to give up hope, then so be it. But she would never surrender until there was no other choice.
Hannah reached up for Cassie to lift her, then looked at the babies in their mothers’ arms. She loved her dolls, and these small creatures were just like them, only they moved and cried on their own. She ooed and awed, saying hi baby to Sophia’s new son. Once she was in her chair, Elizabeth began to serve the breakfast plates.
Since Tabitha had left to start her own life with the man Hans found for her, Elizabeth was asked to assume her position. The woman was a natural leader, and the others admired and respected her, so there was no discord or discontent.
Cassie smiled a she accepted her plate, glancing down to the woman’s attire. Soon after Hans disappeared, Cassie began making changes to the castle, insisting that she was going to make him aware that he was needed once he returned. The first of many was the change of the kitchen staff’s uniform.
The women were all young and beautiful, but the Grecian style togas were obscene. The new choice was more comfortable and practical, with black slacks or skirts, white blouses, and comfortable shoes. Elizabeth decided on which days the staff could wear pants, and arranged a work schedule, that offered everyone two days off a week. So long as they were comfortable and got the work done, Cassie didn’t care if they wore jeans and tee-shirts.
Hannah picked the sausage up with her hand, as soon as the plate was set in front of her and took a large bite out of it. Just like Hans, the child loved the German food that had become the normal menu. Cassie was pleased that she ate so well, even if she was picky when it came to cabbage and beans. She had no worries of her gaining weight or becoming lazy. There was always so much to do at the castle, it kept her active.
The conversations picked up with safe subjects such as the weather, some horror movie most of them had seen, and the latest news about the American presidential elections. Cassie knew they were avoiding anything to make her frustrated, or cause her to come to Hans’ defense, and personally she wasn’t disappointed. She really wasn’t in the mood to deal with any more of their insistence that she accept facts as they were and move forward with her life.
Cassie continued to listen as she ate her eggs and toast. She glanced around the table with a frown, wondering once again, how things would have been for her if she had not met Hans. In a way, she couldn’t believe five years had passed since she first came to Hennhofen to look for Sophia, yet in another way, it seemed like an eternity.
Maria and Justina were both pregnant with their first babies, and Francesca was the new mother of a two-month-old son. Isabella had undergone surgery to correct a heart defect, and just learned that she was pregnant, and Violetta had a ten-month-old daughter. Bianca wasn’t able to make it to the memorial because she was bedbound, with a high-risk pregnancy. She and Jacob would be welcoming triplets into their family in the next few weeks, giving them four children of their own.
“Are you alright?” Sophia asked, leaning closer to Cassie.
“I’m fine,” she answered sharply, ignoring the eyes that turned in her direction.
Cassie looked to Hannah and wiped her mouth as a distraction from the sudden silence, then glanced up to the doorway when Spangler stepped into the room.
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” he said with an emotionless expression. “Your lawyer is here.”
“Show him into Hans’ office. I’ll be right there.”
“Cassie, come stay with us for a few weeks,” Sophia suggested. “Hannah will have a blast with our kids, and you can relax.”
“How much more relaxing can a person do?” she asked with a sarcastic laugh. “I live in a castle, for God’s sake. I have everything I could wish for, and everything taken care of for me. If I was any more relaxed, I’d be in a fucking coma.”
The room remained silent as she stood up from the table, pushing the chair aside. She lifted Hannah out of her seat and wiped her hands and mouth with the cloth napkin, then took a pastry and carried the child out of the room. She didn’t care if they continued to talk behind her back, or not. She was tired of having people feel sorry for her, and she was sick of smiling and pretending everything was alright.
Irritated, she continued down the hallway and around the corner, walking at a steady pace until she reached Hans’ office. The door was open, and she could hear papers rustling inside. She paused for a moment and drew a deep breath to calm her nerves, then squared her shoulders and went into the room.
Oscar Peters stood behind the desk where Hans would sit, sorting through the papers he had brought with him. He was an older man with a round belly and a nearly bald head. His chin was covered in a white beard, and Hannah gasped when she saw him.
“Santa!” she squealed, struggling to get out of Cassie’s arms.
“No, my love, that’s Mr. Peters,” she told her. “Santa is home with his reindeer.”
“Santa. Santa,” Hannah called out, ignoring her mother’s story. “I want to talk to Santa.”
“It’s alright, Baroness,” the older man said with a deep chuckle. “My own grandchildren do the same thing.”
Cassie put Hannah down and watched her run to the lawyer, who sat down in the leather seat behind the desk. He lifted the small child up on his lap, chuckling when she wrapped her small arms around his neck. The smile Cassie felt pull her lips apart was the first genuine smile she’d given in a very long time.
Liam entered the room and glanced to Cassie, then followed her stare to Oscar. He chuckled softly, bringing Cassie’s attention to him.
“It looks like she’s making next year’s list,” he told her, causing Cassie to laugh.
“It’s not like she doesn’t already have everything.”
“True. She is a bit on the spoiled side. But at least she’s cute. It helps when she gets temperamental.”
Cassie sat down in one of the four chairs that faced the desk, listening to her daughter ramble on about dollies and play dishes. It didn’t take long before the lawyer had her convinced to be very good and obey her mother, and he promised to see what he could do next Christmas.
Hannah jumped down from the man’s knee and ran around the desk, as Liam sat down in the second to last chair. She hugged her mother, and accepted the pastry she was given, thanking her politely in front of St. Nicholas. She then went to the sofa, near the veranda doors, and pulled out her coloring book and crayons from the drawer in the bookcase, where she kept them. It was the best entertainment for the girl during the long hours Cassie was forced to work on the budget, pay bills, or answer requests for reservations in the lower levels.
Oscar watched the girl for a moment until he was certain she was occupied, then turned back to the couple in front of him. He smiled as politely as he could but resisted telling Cassie how sorry he was. He knew from the last time he spoke with her, to arrange this meeting, she was not willing to hear it.
“I’m sorry to pull you away from your guests,” he told her, then turned and glanced at the open door.
“No worries. They will be leaving soon anyway.”
Liam straightened out his legs and crossed one ankle over the opposite knee. He felt awkward for being here, but Cassie told him the lawyer wanted to speak with them both, together.
They watched the older man walk to the door and close it, then return to the desk and sat down. He looked comfortable in Hans’ chair, and Cassie wondered if she looked as uncomfortable when she was in it, as she always felt.
“The Baron’s will, was written shortly after Hannah was born,” the man began as he took out a pair of glasses and perched them on the end of his nose. “After being shot, I suppose he realized he was mortal after all. At any rate, it’s far from being elaborate or outlandish. Obviously, he left the castle, the furnishings, and the bulk of his money to you, Baroness.”
Cassie felt a sudden stab of uneasiness settle in her stomach. She jokingly referred to herself as a wealthy widow, but it never seemed real until now.
“He left the helicopter and plane to you as well,” Oscar continued, “with the stipulation that they be available for business when they are needed. The cars and the village were attached to the property, which is also yours. As for his security business, you will be the primary owner, but he requested Dieter Borne be made responsible for them. Liam was his partner with the other businesses, and he has asked that he take over. He also stated that the money from those businesses be divided between yourself and Liam. He said you would understand what he meant and didn’t bother listing them.”
“I know what he means,” Cassie said, ignoring the frown the man offered her by her choice of words.
“Yes. Well. Hans set up a trust for his daughter in the sum of four hundred million euros, which is to be divided out for her in ten-year increments, until she reaches the age of forty. He was worried about men trying to manipulate her for her money, so the stipulation that she enter into a prenuptial agreement, when she decides to marry, will be the only way she will continue receiving her money.”
“That sounds like a safe agreement,” Liam said.
“He left a small stipend for several individuals. The managers of each of his security firms will receive a check for fifty thousand euros as a thank you for their dedication and hard work. Each of his guards will receive a hundred thousand euros for the same reason. He listed the household staff by number, and said again, you would understand who he was referring to. Each of them will receive twenty-five thousand euros, with a monthly allotment in the hopes they will choose to remain at the castle.”
“I would like to discuss that with them myself, if you don’t mind,” Cassie commented.
“That’s fine. Just let me know when you’re ready to have the checks written out, and which name belongs to which number.”
Cassie nodded and glanced to Hannah, who had stopped coloring in her book, and was using the crayons as airplanes.
“Liam, Hans left you a hefty sum of half a billion euros, with the understanding that you are responsible for the safety and welfare of his wife and child. Like Hannah, you will receive a portion of the money yearly until Hannah has reached the age of eighteen. As for your wife and son, Hans set up a trust of one hundred thousand euros for L.J. and has left Anne one hundred and fifty thousand euros. He wanted her to continue working with Cassie as her assistant, with the monthly allowance of five thousand euros. If she chooses not to continue, she will have her inheritance divided into yearly increments until L.J. is eighteen.”
“I’ve already spoken with Anne,” Cassie interrupted. “Her and I have been through a lot together, and she has assured me she wants to continue working as my assistant.”
“Good. I know that was a concern of Hans’. He was afraid the staff and guards would want to leave once they received their money, and you would be alone in this old place.”
“Some of them might leave, but I’m certain most of them will want to stay here,” Liam added. “They are loyal to Cassie and Hannah, as much as they were to Hans.”
“I’d like to meet with them before I take Hannah to Italy,” Cassie told him. “I’d like to present them with an offer to remain here, myself.”
“I can arrange that.”
“As for the village,” Oscar continued. “Hans decided to gift each owner with the title to their business, but the land will remain part of the castle. There will be a yearly tax on the properties of one thousand euros, but the upkeep and maintenance of the buildings will be in the hands of the owners.”
“If it’s alright,” Cassie began with a thoughtful expression, “I’d like to gift each of them with some money to help with repairs. I know the tavern needs a new floor, and the lodge had the ceiling collapse in the sauna last month.”
“Just let me know how much and I’ll see it gets done,” Oscar answered with a warm smile.
“If that’s all…” Cassie began, lifting Hannah to her lap when she walked to her mother’s side.
“Not quite,” Oscar added. “Hans made several charitable gifts to a handful of companies, including three organizations for the search of missing and exploited women and children, twelve children’s hospitals across Germany, Italy, England, and America, and the preservation of wolves. He also left half a million euros to a man named Jack Lawson, from New York City. He said you would know how to contact him.”
“Pop,” Cassie said as tears formed in her eyes.
“Hans said he knew you would want to keep in contact with the man, if anything were to happen to him, and he hoped Mr. Lawson would be alive to receive the money.”
“He is,” she told him, forcing the tears back.
“Well, that’s it,” Oscar told her, stacking the papers together. “I will need names to issue the checks to those named in the will, and I need your signature to transfer Hans’ accounts and holdings into your name.”
“How much do I owe you for your service?” Cassie asked, taking the stack of papers from the man.
“Hans already paid me,” he smiled. “The first condition of the will was the payment for my services, so you wouldn’t have to worry about it.”
“I hope he paid you well.”
“Two million euros,” Oscar told her, smiling cheerfully, then chuckled as he continued. “Once taxes are taken out, I’ll have enough left over for coffee and strudel.”
“Thank you for all your help,” Cassie told him, smiling at the man’s humor. “May I contact you in the future if I need your help?”
“Absolutely. I’ll always be available for you.”
The next half hour was spent reviewing the papers and signing the documents that legally made Cassie the sole owner of the castle, and more than fourteen billion euros. It was daunting and frightening to think of having so much money, but it was more than enough to keep the search for her husband alive, and that was all she cared about.
Oscar took the papers and tweaked Hannah’s chin, then handed Cassie a copy of the will and walked out of the room, with his briefcase and Liam. Cassie stayed behind for a moment, staring at Hans’ signature on the top paper. It seemed odd to think that he had signed this form with her and Hannah in mind. His love for them reached out beyond the grave, and she had to make certain her love stretched even further.
Shaking the grief from her mind, she took the papers and Hannah and went back up to their chambers. She put her daughter down at her table of blocks and pulled the portrait of Konrad and Elenore open. She typed in Hans’ code and tucked the will inside, then close the painting again.
With a heavy sigh, she walked to the bar and opened the small fridge, taking out a bottle of water for her and a juice box for Hannah. She glanced up at the crystal carafe of bourbon, Hans’ favorite drink, and felt a guilty stab in her stomach. She once accused him of drinking too much, and now she kept it full for when he returned.
Cassie snapped out of her private memories when she heard the familiar three rap-knock on the door. She watched the door open and Liam step inside. He had a stern expression on his face, but it wasn’t one of anger, just…emotionless.
“I’ve asked the guards and staff to meet in the ballroom in ten minutes,” he told her, glancing to Hannah. “I can have Anne watch the kids if you’d like.”
“That’s alright. I’ll take Hannah with me. I want to leave for the airport as soon as I’ve finished talking to them. Would you ask the pilot to get the plane ready?”
“I already have,” he assured her.
Cassie smiled at the man, knowing he was getting nearly as good at reading her mind, as she was with him.
“What about you?” she asked the man as she walked to Hannah and picked her up, patting her back as she laid her tired head on her mother’s shoulder and yawned.
“What do you mean?” Liam answered with a slight frown across his dark eyes.
“Are you going to stay at the castle?”
“Of course, I am.”
“Because of the money?”
Liam drew a deep breath and folded his arms across his muscular chest. She was a very insightful woman, but she didn’t know him as well as she thought she did.
“I won’t lie to you. The money is very attractive. But Hans was my best friend. I gave him my word, before he left, that I would protect you and Hannah, and I have never broken my promise to him. I know you’re convinced Hans is still alive and…maybe he is…I don’t know, but I do know that he trusted me, and I won’t let him down.”
“Thank you,” Cassie said as her eyes filled with tears. “He’s not dead. I know it. I can feel it in my heart.”
“I hope you’re right, Cassie. I can’t imagine living the rest of my life without him.”
“I have to find him, Liam. Please, help me.”
Liam drew a deep breath and watched her struggle to regain her composure as Hannah drifted into a quiet slumber. If Hans was alive, he was missing everything his daughter was learning. He left Cassie to be both Mother and Father, and it wasn’t fair on her. Even as strong as she was, Cassie was still just a woman, and she needed Hans as much as she needed air to breathe.
“I’ll do everything I can, you know that,” he promised her. “I’ll talk with Dieter after the staff meeting. Maybe there’s something we’re overlooking. At the least, he can go to India and see what’s happening with the searchers you’ve hired.”
“Thank you,” she said with a deep breath to steady her nerves. “I’ll take all the help I can get.”