With nearly two million people living on an island of less than twenty-three square miles, privacy was both rare and imagined. Apartment windows faced each other, with scarcely any distance between them. Often those windows remained uncovered, exposing private lives to anyone who chose to look. Telescopes were a popular item.
It was a New Yorker’s way to live within a bubble, minding their own business with the expectation that others would do the same. The other option was to feel claustrophobic, the antithesis of the spirit of freedom that was the foundation of the Empire State.
We reached the Crossfire and I exited the Bentley with Lucky. Angus followed me through the revolving doors and we crossed the lobby in silence. The security guards stood as I approached, greeting me briskly by name, while darting glances at the tiny puppy tucked under my arm. I smiled inwardly as I caught my reflection. Dressed in sweats and a T-shirt with shower-damp hair, I doubted any person not in the know would believe I owned the building.
The elevator shot us up quickly and we were walking through the Cross Industries headquarters within moments of our arrival. Most offices and cubicles were dark and empty, but some ambitious employees were still getting things done—or didn’t have a reason to go home. I could relate. It wasn’t long ago that I’d spent more time at work than the penthouse.
Entering my office, I turned the lights on and activated the opacity of the glass wall. Then I went to the seating area, settling on the couch and dropping Lucky on the cushion beside me. It was at that time I noticed Angus carried a worn leather binder.
He pulled a club chair close to the coffee table and sat. His gaze held mine.
My throat closed as another possibility came to mind. Angus seemed too somber, the meeting too formal.
“You’re not retiring,” I preempted him, the words thick in my mouth. “I won’t let you.”
He stared at me a moment, and then his face softened. “Ah, laddie. Ye’ll be stuck with me for a while yet.”
Relief hit me so hard, I sagged back into the sofa, my heart pounding. Lucky, always ready to play, jumped on my chest.
“Down,” I ordered, which only made him more excitable. I pinned him in place with one hand and gave a brisk nod to Angus to get started.
“You’ll remember the dossier we compiled when you met Eva,” he began.
Focused by the sound of my wife’s name, I straightened. “Of course.”
The memory of the day I met Eva came rushing back. I’d been seated in the limo at the curb, seconds from pulling away from the Crossfire. She had been entering the building. I watched her, felt the pull of her. Unable to resist, I told Angus to wait and I went back in to find her, chasing after a woman—something I’d never done.
She’d dropped her name badge when she saw me and I retrieved it for her, noting her name and the company she worked for. By the end of the night, I’d had a thin folder on my home office desk containing a quick background check—again, something I’d never done for a mere sexual interest. Somehow, on a level I hadn’t yet recognized, I knew she was mine. Knew that however I deluded myself, she was going to be important to me.
In the days that followed, the dossier grew, encompassing Eva’s parents and Cary, then Eva’s paternal and maternal grandparents.
“We’ve kept a lawyer on retainer in Austin,” Angus went on, “to send us any reports of unusual activity with Harrison and Leah Tramell.”
Monica’s parents. Their estrangement from their daughter and granddaughter was just fine with me. Less family to deal with. But I also understood that while they might not have had any interest in Eva as an illegitimate grandchild, their minds might change when Eva publicly became my wife. “What have they done?”
“They died,” he said bluntly, unzipping the binder. “Nearly a month ago.”
That gave me pause. “Eva doesn’t know. We were just talking over the weekend about wedding invitations and they came up. I assume Monica doesn’t keep tabs on them.”
“She wrote the obituary that appeared in the local paper.” Angus withdrew a photocopy and set it on the table.
Picking it up, I scanned through it quickly. The Tramells had died together, in a boating accident during a summer vacation. The accompanying photo was decades old, with clothing and hair dating it to sometime in the seventies. They were an attractive couple, well dressed and expensively accessorized. What didn’t fit was the hair—even in a black-and-white newspaper printing I could see they were both dark-haired.
I read the closing sentence. Harrison and Leah are survived by their daughter, Monica, and two grandchildren. Looking up at Angus, I repeated aloud, “Two grandchildren? Eva has a sibling?”