CHAPTER THREE -
I met with the private investigator a few days ago. He wasn't impressed with the information I gave him. Finding a blonde Australian named Kate Collins wouldn't exactly be easy. Considering that's all the information I have. I honestly don't like his chances and I'm happy if he doesn't find her. The last thing I need is another gold digger hanging around me. I've got enough of those already. Still, I'll play the game and see what happens.
Sitting at my desk going over the information I need for an upcoming meeting my email pings and I have a quick look to see who it's from. I notice the PI's name and out of curiosity, I open it. He's managed to get his hands on the CCTV footage from the hotel we were both at, I'm surprised they still had it two years later. He's sent stills of every blonde woman that was there that night. And that was a lot. Hundreds of photos he wants me to scan through, in the hopes I'd recognize her. That seems like way too much fucking work. There's a knock at the door and dad, Ryder and Verity all pile into my office.
“Did you get the email?” Dad asks. I sigh and nod. They obviously got it too. So much for ignoring it.
“Yeah I got it, but I've got a meeting, I'll deal with it later.” I tell him. Dad nods his head.
“Verity, print them all out, we will go through it together.” Dad says. I lean back in my chair and look at my dad.
“I'm more than capable of doing this myself.” I say. Dad shakes his head.
“It's obvious you don't want to find her. We will do it together.” He states. I roll my eyes. So much for trust. “Anything else you can tell us about what she looks like? We can start culling.” He asks. I lean back in my chair and run my hand over my face, bringing up the image I have of her in my head. It's not hard to do, it was by far the best sex I've had in my life to date.
“Blonde, petit, mid 20s but looked younger.” I say. Dad nods his head.
“Alright, that's a start. See you after the meeting.” He says. They disappear out of the door and I bang my head on the desk. I don't want to fucking find her. Why can't they just leave it the hell alone?
As soon as the meeting ends, I head to dads office. I'm not in the mood to deal with this shit, but I know dad won't let it go. I open the door and step inside, heading straight to dads office bar. I pour myself a whiskey and sit down on the table where dad, Ryder and Verity are sorting photos. Dad pushes a pile towards me and I take a sip of my drink as I pick up the pile.
“They're all petitish blondes.” He says. I nod and flick through the photos as they continue sorting. Almost three hours later, I come across a photo of her with her friends. It was taken in the hotel hallway, she's laughing and looking at her friends. I stare at the photo, remembering her baby blue eyes, soft skin, and perfect plump lips. That sexy Australian accent and her musical laugh.
“You got something?” Verity asks. Sighing I look up at Verity and toss the photo to the centre of the table.
“That's her on the left.” I say before leaning back in my chair. Ryder grabs the photo and whistles.
“Damn... she's smoking.” Ryder says. I stand up and pour myself another whiskey.
“Send it to the PI, let him do his thing.” Dad says to Verity.
“Yes sir.” Verity’s voice rings out. I don't turn around but I hear Verity leave the office. I hear dad shuffling the remaining photos as I scull my drink and pour another.
“Alright boys, it's late, I'm heading home.” Dad tells us. I don't turn around, just flick him a wave as I hear dad leave.
“Why don't you want to find her?” Ryder comes beside me and pours his own drink.
“I don't want a wife.” I tell him. He stares me down.
“It's me you're talking to, your bullshit may fool dad and Verity, but it doesn't fool me.” He says. Sighing I walk over to the couch and sit down, swirling the drink in my hand.
“That night... it was the single greatest night of my life. It was perfect, she was perfect...” I say. Ryder sits down beside me and sips his drink. “She had no idea who I was, I was just some random guy in a bar. It wouldn't have mattered if I had $20 to my name.” I continue. I look up from my drink and over to my brother.
“Why the fuck would I want to taint that memory by bringing her here and seeing the dollar signs in her eyes when she realizes she married a billionaire.” I say incredulously.
“Fuck man...” Ryder sighs. If anyone understands this shit, it's Ryder. Our entire lives we have been looked at as a walking bank, finding someone who doesn't see you like that is like finding a fucking unicorn. “She may not be like that though... she might not care about the money.” He says. I roll my eyes.
“When have either of us ever met a chick who wasn't a gold digger?” I ask, knowing full well what women are like.
“Verity's not.” Ryder shrugs.
“Verity hates me.” I tell him.
“That's because you're an asshole.” Ryder says, not pulling any punches. I chuckle. He's not wrong. I know I'm an asshole. It's just easier that way. “Well dads hell bent on finding her.” Ryder says.
I nod my head, knowing I don’t really have a choice anymore. He pats my leg and gets up, sculling his drink he puts the glass back on the bar.
“It'll all work out, one way or another.” He says. I stand and place my now empty glass next to Ryder's.
“I guess. I'm heading home.” I tell him. Ryder nods and we head out of dads office together.
It's less than a week later when I'm called into dad’s office yet again. Ryder meets me at dad’s office door and we walk in together. Dad, Verity and the private investigator, Steve Finch are sitting on the couches. Ryder and I make our way over, taking a seat with them.
“Find her already?” Ryder asks.
“Not quite. I ran facial recognition on the photo, nothing came up at all for Kate but I did find one of her friends.” Steve tells us. I lean back in my seat, not really wanting to hear this but resigned to my fate. Steve puts the photo on the table and points to the brunette in the middle. “Her friend is Lucy Taylor, nee Morgan, a bestselling author who lives in Perth Australia.” He looks to me and I nod in understanding.
“I contacted the office she works at to ask about Kate but they weren't exactly forth coming with information.” He continues. Well, I'm not surprised. What kind of friend divulges personal information about another friend? “I have the information on Lucy, if you need it. As for Kate, well she has absolutely no social media presence, without access to Australian databases there's not much else I can do.” I nod again, wondering if we could just leave it at that when dad pipes up.
“Well we are happy to fly you to Perth to speak to this Lucy in person and hopefully get in contact with Kate.” Dad says. I sink back in my seat. Dad is like a dog with a fucking bone when he wants something.
“Sure. I can leave tomorrow.” Steve replies, probably looking forward to his all-expenses paid trip to the land down under. Dad nods and we all stand and say bye to Steve before all heading our own way Ryder pats my shoulder on the way past and gives me a nod. I leave feeling deflated.
I storm into the house, throwing my bag on the couch and head straight to the kitchen. I grab a bottle of wine and pour myself a very generous glass. I don't care that it's only 1 in the afternoon. Today has been the absolute worst.
Walking back into the lounge room, I grab the laptop off the desk and sit on the couch, powering it up. The lunch shift at the cafe today was the last straw. On top of the usual arrogant customers who treat me like a lesser human being, my sleazy boss, yet again, hit on me. Only this time it wasn't just words, he had me backed into a corner and got a bit too handsy. I knee’d him in the balls and told him to shove his job where the sun don't shine and left him high and dry in the lunch rush. So now I'm jobless. Yet another thing in my shithouse life.
I jump on the net while sipping my wine and search for a new job. I really want to get into interior design, but jobs are few and far between at the moment. Not finding anything in my chosen field I apply for a couple of receptionist jobs and shut my laptop down. I lean back on the couch and flick on the TV. I don't really watch it, my mind going to all the things that make my life so... bleh.
The loud rumble of a V8 engine pulling into my driveway pulls me from my thoughts. I breathe a sigh of relief hearing my brothers’ car. He's been on deployment for the past six weeks and ever since he went MIA I get anxious that he won't come back. The door swings open and I jump up and run into his arms. He chuckles and hugs me back.
“Missed you too sis.” He says. I pull away and smile at him before walking back to the couch.
“Glad you're home.” I say. My brother is my world. It's been me and him for as long as I can remember. He's only 4 years older than me but he pretty much raised me. Our parents weren't good people, taking out their frustrations constantly on Ethan. They never hit me, not that they wouldn't have but Ethan never gave them the chance. One of my earliest memories is of him hiding me in the closet so they wouldn't find me. Ethan would have only been about 6 at the time. I owe everything to him. Ethan dumps his bag in his room and comes and sits next to me on the couch.
“Not working today?” Ethan says. I tense beside him.
“Actually... I quit.” I tell him, biting my lip nervously. Ethan's eyes widen in surprise.
“What happened?” he asks. I shrug my shoulders. I know I can't tell him about my boss. He will literally kill him.
“Constantly being treated like shit... I couldn't take it anymore, I've applied for a few other jobs. I have enough in savings to last a while.” I tell him. His jaw tenses and he studies me carefully. The thing with Ethan is that he can read people instantly. He has this uncanny ability to be able to walk into a room and know who’s legit and who’s not. So I know that he knows I'm leaving something out. Thankfully he doesn't press the issue.
“Seeing the boyfriend tonight?” Ethan asks. I shake my head. Ethan's not a fan of Liam's. He doesn't trust him. And, while usually I trust Ethan's judgement on people, when it comes to boyfriends his judgement is clouded by his need to protect me.
“Not tonight, he's busy.” I say. He nods but doesn't say anything. My phone rings on the coffee table and I pick it up looking at the caller ID.
“It's Lucy.” I tell Ethan. I hit accept and put the phone to my ear as Ethan grabs the TV remote and starts flicking channels. “Hey Lucy.” I say. Her voice is a whisper and a bit rushed, immediately putting me on edge.
“Hey remember that guy that called me a couple of days ago asking questions about you?” she asks. I tense even more. Lucy got a random phone call, the guy said he was trying to find me. Ethan notices my body language and looks over from the TV in concern.
“Yeah?” I ask.
“Well he's here… at the office.” Lucy tells me.
“What?” I whisper. I sit forward and Ethan immediately follows suit, his brow furrowed. “Hang on, E's here, I'll put you on speaker.” I say to Lucy. I pull the phone from my ear and hit the speaker icon before placing it on the coffee table.
“Hey Luce, what's going on?” Ethan asks, concern evident in his voice.
“Hey E, well a couple of days ago I got a call from someone saying they were a private investigator and they were looking for Kate. I didn't tell him anything.” Lucy says. Ethan looks at me concerned. “Well he's turned up here at the office, said he's been hired to find Kate and was hoping I could point him in the right direction.” Lucy continues. Ethan and I stare at each other in confusion. I mouth a question at him.
“Our parents?” I ask. He shrugs his shoulders.
“What's the guy look like?” he asks Lucy.
“Your stereotypical retired cop turned PI.” Lucy tells us. Ethan looks to me one eyebrow raised. “Oh and he's America.” She adds. We look at each other completely baffled. If it's our parents looking for me then why would they hire an American PI? And why come looking now? I haven't seen them since I was 15 and not once did they look for me then.
“He's still there?” Ethan asks.
“Yeah, in our waiting room.” Lucy tells him. Ethan sighs and runs a hand down his face.
“Would it be ok if we came to your office to meet with him?” he asks her. I look at Ethan confused, I'm surprised he's even entertaining the idea of meeting with this guy.
“Yeah that's fine, I'll give you one of the meeting rooms.” Lucy says.
“Thanks Luce. We will be there soon.” Ethan hangs up the phone and looks at me. “Any clue who would be looking for you? Apart from our parents?” he asks. I shake my head.
“I'm as confused as you are.” I reply. Ethan nods and stands up.
“Come on, let's get this over with.” He says. I follow suit, thankful that my brother is with me to handle this.
The drive to Lucy's office is silent. My mind going to all things that could possibly be happening. I won't lie, this is the most interesting thing that's happened to me in years. And a part of me is excited, wondering if something will change in my dull life.
We pull up next to the office and walk inside. The air conditioning hits me as soon as we open the doors and I welcome the change from the sweltering heat outside. Lucy meets us at the reception.
“Hey guys.” She says as she pulls Ethan into a hug. “I'm so glad you guys are home.” Lucy tells Ethan.
“Admit it, you're glad Seb's home, not the rest of us.” Ethan chuckles. Lucy laughs and pulls away from the hug. “How's Hayley and little Dick?” he asks. She slaps Ethan on the chest.
“Stop calling him that!” Lucy scolds. I can't help but laugh. Ethan puts his hands up in surrender.
“Sorry, Richie.” He corrects himself. Lucy smiles
“That's better! And he's good, so is Hayley.” She tells him. Ethan nods and Lucy hugs me before leading us to a small conference room. “He's just in here... yell out if you need anything.” She says. We both nod and Ethan opens the door. I hesitate briefly, nervous to find out what's going on, but step through the door anyway. A middle aged man dressed in a business suit stands as I enter. Lucy was right, everything about him screams retired cop. He steps forward and offers me his hand.
“Steve Finch.” He says. I take it and give him a small smile, unable to find my voice. “It's good to meet you Kate.” I nod as Ethan steps into the room. He looks to Ethan quickly then back to me.
“This is my brother Ethan.” I say shyly, having found my voice. He nods and gestures to take a seat
I look to Ethan who simply nods and we both sit down.
“What's this regarding?” Ethan asks. I can sense that Ethan is on edge, I can't blame him really, this entire thing feels surreal and I don't even know what's happening.
“I was hired by the Caldwell family to track down Miss Collins.” Mr Finch says. I look to Ethan and back to Mr Finch.
“Caldwell?” I ask. I search my memory but I'm pretty sure I don't know any Caldwell's.
“Yes. Does the name Chase Caldwell ring a bell?” Mr Finch asks. I furrow my brows, thinking, but I honestly don't recall hearing that name in my life.
“No, I don't know any Chase Caldwell.” I reply honestly. Mr Finch nods his head.
“Two years ago you met Chase Caldwell in Las Vegas.” He says. I shake my head.
“No, I'm pretty sure...” My voice trails off as images of our last night in Vegas flash through my mind. The memory of that chiselled back as I snuck out of the penthouse hotel room burning my brain. I swallow the lump in my throat. Mr Finch nods and Ethan looks at me in concern.
“I understand there was a lot of alcohol involved so you may not remember the details of your meeting.” Mr Finch says. I nod, my mind going over everything I do remember from that night. “It appears that you and Mr Caldwell were married that night.” He says. Ethan's eyes shoot up in shock and I imagine they mirror my own. Married? I'm married? To a complete stranger.