Excerpt Book One

 

Escape to Alaska Trilogy

Excerpt from Book One

NOT WHAT IT SEEMS

 CHAPTER ONE

 

Would today’s announcement justify six long years of hard work?

Cassidy Donahue’s red-soled Louboutin heels tapped out a rhythmic tempo on the tile floor as she strode down the familiar hallway on the way to her father’s office. Controlling her excitement proved impossible. With shaky knees, she teetered on her three inch heels and concentrated on placing one foot in front of the other.

The new partnership announcement had been forthcoming for weeks. And of the three potential candidates, everyone believed her to be a shoo-in for the position. Since passing the bar exam, Cassidy had toiled at her father’s law firm – Donahue, Charles and Bennett – serving as defense counsel for Chicago’s elite and providing pro bono representation to the less fortunate.

Under her father’s mentorship, her record of won cases was unmatched. There wasn’t a single reason for her father to deny her this promotion. She smiled in anticipation of attaining what mattered most: her father’s praise of her accomplishments and acknowledgement of her worth to this law firm.

“Donahue, Charles, Bennett, and Donahue. Has a nice ring to it,” she whispered to herself and smiled as she continued toward the main elevators.

Cassidy’s cell phone rang. Nothing could trump the importance of this meeting, she thought, and she didn’t stop to dig her cell out of her pocket and check the caller ID. A few co-workers smiled knowingly from their office cubicles while others waved discreetly or gave her the thumbs up sign. Had the news of her father’s summons travelled that quickly?

A minute later, she slipped into the elevator and punched the button for the high-rise office building’s top floor. As she ascended to the executive floor, she realized her career would ascend likewise from this day forward. She’d been decorating her new office in her mind for weeks, and she couldn’t wait to set her plans in motion. Everything she’d worked toward—the prestige, the recognition, the acceptance—would be hers in a matter of minutes.

Cassidy glanced into the elevator’s mirrored wall for a moment to ensure every hair remained in place and her eight-hour lipstick continued to fulfill the manufacturer’s claim. She rubbed her sweaty palms together and then adjusted the string tie on her aqua silk blouse. She buttoned her blazer and smoothed the skirt on her dark charcoal cotton-blend suit. The stylish and yet professional outfit set off her brunette hair and peaches and cream complexion perfectly. Rumors abounded that an official announcement was forthcoming at a press conference. Thankfully, she would look her best when the photographers recorded this momentous milestone in her career.

The elevator door slid open to reveal Jonathan Ward.

“Good morning, Cassidy.” A smug expression accompanied Jonathan’s greeting.

“Yes, it is,” she answered without questioning his presence on the executive floor. She attempted to brush past him, but her heel caught in the elevator opening. Jonathan caught her before she landed on the floor.

“I love it when women fall into my arms.” Jonathan smiled, wickedly.

“Let go of me.” Cassidy shoved him away. Her proper upbringing overruled her dislike for her co-worker. “Thank you,” she muttered between clenched teeth.

As she strode down the carpeted hallway, Cassidy realized her entire life revolved around this law firm. She recalled the endless lonely evenings composing legal briefs into the wee hours of the morning. How many weekends had she spent researching precedents in the firm’s library while the rest of the world played at the beach or skated on neighborhood rinks? She didn’t belong to any teams or participate in any sports. Twice a week, she dashed across the street to the gym, worked out, showered and hurried back to the office. And aside from the occasional lunch with a high school chum, she hadn’t cultivated any new friendships since her college days at Harvard. Her life had become all work and no play.

But today’s announcement would justify every one of those sacrifices, and Cassidy barely suppressed the urge to shout her joy to the heavens.

As she approached her father’s corner office, Ruby Littleton, his personal assistant, raised her eyes from behind the serviceable desk. The stylish matron, wearing a fuchsia silk blouse under a dark gray suit, had worked for her father since Cassidy started middle school. She couldn’t guess at the white-haired legal secretary’s age. With one hand, Ruby waved her toward the wooden double doors leading to her father’s office.

“Thank you.” Cassidy rapped on the door twice, turned the knob, and entered.

“Cassidy, my dear, good morning.” Theodore Donahue rounded the desk and greeted his daughter with a welcoming smile and a kiss on each cheek. “Please have a seat. There are a couple of things we need to discuss.”

“Good morning, Dad.” Cassidy gracefully lowered herself onto the upholstered chair beside the desk and then crossed her legs. From her relaxed outward appearance, no one would suspect there were hundreds of butterflies doing acrobatics in her stomach.

While her father returned to his black leather chair, Cassidy’s eyes roamed the familiar room, monopolized by an enormous walnut desk. Two suede upholstered sofas, separated by an oak coffee table, were anchored by a Persian rug and formed a conversation area to her left. She recalled a childhood memory, falling asleep in one of those sofas while waiting for her father to finish work.

Cassidy pulled herself from her musings and straightened in her chair to await the words she’d longed to hear for six years.

Her father cleared his throat and met her eyes. “We’ve finalized our decision for partner. We’ve offered the partnership to Jonathan Ward.”

Cassidy gasped, and for a moment she couldn’t breathe. If he’d punched her in the stomach, she wouldn’t have been more shocked. Those seven words crushed all of her dreams. We’ve offered the partnership to Jonathan Ward.

Had she heard her father correctly? Jonathan? How could this have happened?

Her father remained silent.

Cassidy slid forward in her chair. “All right. Admit it. You intended a little fun at my expense. Now it’s time to admit you are deservedly awarding the partnership to me.”

Her father shook his head. “No, Cassidy. The other partners and I agree: Jonathan is the best candidate for the position. We’ve called a press conference for two o’clock to officially announce his appointment as partner.”

Cassidy leapt out of the chair. “How could you choose Jonathan over me? My record of wins far exceeds his. I’ve worked longer and harder than anyone here, including Jonathan.” She recalled her co-worker’s smug smile when she’d encountered him outside the elevator. The miserable rat had accepted the position, and he hadn’t warned her about the shock that awaited her in her father’s office.

Clearly, his silence served as revenge against her for declining his marriage proposal. As long as she lived she’d never trust Jonathan Ward. She would compare him to a snake, but that would be bad-mouthing the snake.

Her father leaned forward in his chair. “The partners believed you’d prefer a lighter workload, considering your upcoming nuptials and all.”

“What upcoming nuptials?” Cassidy’s heart almost stopped. How had her father heard about Jonathan’s proposal? And had he actually thought she would accept? “There is no way in hell I’m marrying Jonathan Ward! Or anyone else in the near future!”

“You’ve turned down Jonathan?” Theodore Donahue blanched.

Cassidy stood and strode across the thick woolen carpet. Her feet hurt inside her new leopard print heels which she’d worn to the office every day for a week in anticipation of this announcement. Her hands shook as she poured ice water into a Baccarat crystal glass, and then quickly swiped at the droplets that splashed onto her jacket.

“Dad, I dated Jonathan for a few months at your insistence to appease you. But I soon realized Jonathan doesn’t come close to being the right man for me.” Cassidy returned to her chair, sat down, and crossed her legs.

“Cassidy Marie Donahue, Jonathan Ward is a talented attorney and a newly-appointed partner in this law firm. His future shines as bright as the North Star. The fellow is tailor-made for you.” Her father brushed a piece of lint from his custom two thousand dollar suit.

Cassidy recognized the familiar gesture as a sign of his annoyance. “Jonathan has evolved into a carbon copy of you. He works eighty hours on a slow week, and he’s confident to the point of arrogant. His affections toward me are totally insincere. He desires my hand in marriage solely to further his career and solidify his future with this law firm.”

“That’s absolute rubbish. There’s nothing wrong with the boy,” argued her father, sticking to his conviction like a dog with a juicy bone.

“I overheard Jonathan and Brent Masters commiserating in the copier room a few days ago. Neither of them noticed me standing outside the door.” Cassidy met his eyes across the desk. “Jonathan admitted to Brent he solely intended to propose to guarantee his position in this firm, even if it meant ‘the old ball and chain’, as he called it.” Cassidy white-knuckled the water glass to still her shaking hands. “Jonathan doesn’t love me, and I’m definitely not in love with him.”

“Cassidy, you must have misunderstood. Jonathan requested my permission to propose, and I consider the old-fashioned gesture exceptionally respectful. I’m certain Jonathan’s intentions are genuine.” Her father tapped his fingers on the desk. “I’m totally flabbergasted that you turned him down.”

“As usual, you haven’t heard a word I said. This is a prime example of your infamous selective hearing. Dad, he’s pulled the wool over your eyes, but he’s not fooling me. If you think so highly of him, then you can marry him!” Cassidy set the glass on the desk and crossed her arms.

“Cassidy, sweetheart, a dozen fellows aren’t breaking down my door seeking your hand in marriage.” Her father’s elbows rested on the black leather-upholstered chair’s arms.

Cassidy glared at her father. The day she’d passed the bar exam was equally the proudest day of their lives. If she’d only known then, what she knew now. Her father’s presence behind this desk unnerved all of his employees including his daughter.

But not today.

Enough was enough.

“Dad, I’m twenty-seven! A serious career woman wouldn’t even consider marriage until she turned thirty.” Cassidy recalled her father’s failure to compromise on previous occasions, verbally wearing down an opponent like a cat taunting a mouse before the final kill. She welcomed the challenge. After all, her father had taught her every winning strategy for arguing a case.

“Women should willingly forego their careers to marry a suitable fellow and produce grandchildren, not delay bearing a first child until her late thirties or early forties.” Her father tugged on his lapels, another familiar courtroom habit, while admonishing his daughter. “I desire grandchildren while I’m still young enough to enjoy them.”

Cassidy almost laughed aloud. Her strikingly handsome father had celebrated his fifty-sixth birthday last June, and although graying at the temples, he’d remained as physically fit as a twenty-year-old.

“Dad, a lifelong commitment to sports contributes to your tireless energy and excellent health. You’ll enjoy a healthy life and someday grandchildren for decades to come. As always, your whole argument revolves around you. It’s my life in question, and frankly, I deserve better than Jonathan Ward!” Cassidy sat, back straight and head held high. Her over-bearing parent wouldn’t win this argument.

“We’re never going to agree, so there’s nothing gained in continuing this conversation.” Her father rose from his chair and leaned forward, placing his hands on the desk.

Cassidy stared at her father. “The partnership is a done deal? There’s no negotiating? There’s no way I’ll change your mind?” She couldn’t believe her career had plummeted to this level, with no hope of a partnership any time soon. And her father would harp about marriage relentlessly, hoping she would renege on her refusal to comply with his wishes. That would never happen, especially if Jonathan was the intended groom.

“Jonathan Ward is partner…end of discussion,” declared her father. “The new letterhead for Donahue, Charles, Bennett and Ward is being printed as we speak.”

Cassidy’s cheeks flamed; she felt slapped in the face by her father’s pronouncement. For years he’d boasted that someday two Donahues would emblazon the corporate letterhead. And today, he’d shattered her dream by partnering with Jonathan instead.

“If that’s your final word on the matter, then I agree with you about one thing. This discussion is over. Mark my words. In many ways, you’re going to regret this decision.” Cassidy strode soundlessly across the carpet, opened the door, and slammed it shut behind her.

“Gracious, dear, is everything all right?” Ruby leapt to her feet.

“No, Ruby, everything most certainly isn’t all right.”

“Oh, dear,” whispered Ruby, paling.

Cassidy charged down the hallway before Ruby noticed her tears. And then she bawled her eyes out in the ladies’ room for twenty minutes. Her father’s announcement echoed in her mind and sliced into her heart like a knife all over again. Disappointed. Humiliated. Heart-broken. Devastated. All wonderful, descriptive words, but none of them conveyed her overwhelming sense of loss and betrayal.

Why had she poured her whole self into her job assuming hard work and commitment would guarantee her lifelong dreams would be fulfilled? Why did her father’s approval matter so much? Why had she permitted her father to control her future, to hold all the cards? Why had she ever given Jonathan Ward the time of day, planting that seed of hope in her father’s mind?

In an instant, her anger flared.

Cassidy charged into her office and slammed the door closed behind her. And then she noticed her assistant, Jeannie St. James, leaning over her desk, writing something in her black leather appointment book.

“There you are.” Jeannie straightened, smiling.

Without a word, Cassidy strode behind the desk and slumped into her executive chair.

Jeannie’s smile faded. “You heard, didn’t you? I called your cell phone to warn you about the rumors, but you didn’t answer.”

“Oh, there’s no rumor about it. Dad just informed me in no uncertain terms that Jonathan Ward has been promoted to partner. It’s a done deal, no turning back.” Cassidy recalled her cell phone had rung on her way to her father’s office. She regretted ignoring the call. But whether she had answered or not, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. She’d already lost the partnership to Jonathan. But at least she wouldn’t have been blindsided.

“I’m so sorry, Cassidy. You worked so hard.” Jeannie slumped into the chair in front of the desk, looking as deflated as Cassidy felt.

“Apparently, I lost the partnership due to my impending nuptials,” spat Cassidy. She loved her assistant like a sister, and she shared an apartment with Jeanie and considered her a lifelong friend.

“What?” Jeannie stared at her, incredulously. “You’re getting married?”

“No! I’m not getting married. Jonathan asked Dad’s permission to propose, and Dad started counting grandkids already.” Cassidy leapt out of her chair and paced. “I can’t stand that arrogant ass. I wouldn’t marry Jonathan Ward if we were the last two people on the planet.”

“Then how did your dad arrive at the conclusion you were engaged?”

“It never occurred to him that I’d turn down Jonathan’s proposal.” Cassidy continued to pace, hands fisted, temper raging. “Jonathan is such a wonderful catch: partner in a prestigious law firm, secure future. And such a splendid example of manhood would father the most remarkable children. If I married this brilliant lawyer and extraordinary male specimen, Dad’s personal project would be complete.”

“Cassidy, you’d better sit down or you’re going to pop your aorta.”

“I’d like to pop Jonathan’s aorta. That sleazy character stole my partnership.” Cassidy unclenched her fists, imagined her hands around the enemy’s scrawny neck.

“So what’s next?” asked Jeannie, leaping to her feet and guiding Cassidy back behind her desk.

“I honestly don’t know.” Cassidy slumped in her chair, rubbed her temples, and with a hoarse voice, bitterly whispered, “I worked my fingers to the bone for that partnership, and then my entire future disappeared into thin air with Dad’s announcement.”

“I can’t imagine anything so horrible.” Jeannie shook his head. “Doesn’t your father realize Jonathan’s a player and a womanizer?”

“Nope. Jonathan has completely fooled Dad.” Cassidy rested her elbows on the chair arms and tented her fingers. “Dad brushed aside all my hard work, never recognized any of my accomplishments. He’s totally fixated on marrying me off to the first suitable candidate and demanding grandchildren as his due.”

“Who would consider Jonathan to be a suitable candidate for marriage? An alley cat would win a morals contest with him. And I cannot visualize Jonathan as a father. In fact, the concept frightens me. He’s so incredibly irresponsible. He couldn’t care for a goldfish, never mind care for a child.”

“Probably kill the goldfish in a matter of days.” Cassidy grinned.

“He would never remember to water a house plant. Kill it just as quickly.”

“He could manage to kill a silk plant.”

Cassidy and Jeannie burst into laughter. Soon, they were wiping tears from their eyes.

“Goodness that felt good. I can’t remember the last time I spared a moment to laugh.” Cassidy grabbed another tissue from the box inside her top drawer.

“I never penciled it into your appointment book,” mumbled Jeannie, dabbing her tears, and then she met Cassidy’s eyes.

That set the two of them off again.

“To hell with it. Let’s go for a drink.” Cassidy tossed her soiled tissues into the garbage can, dug her handbag out of the bottom drawer, and leapt to her feet.

“We can’t just walk out of the office at eleven o’clock in the morning and head to a bar,” exclaimed Jeannie, the voice of reason.

“Why not? Nobody appreciates my hard work, so I might as well go AWOL. Nobody will even miss me.” Cassidy grabbed Jeannie by the arm and dragged her toward the door. “And nobody should drink alone.”

Four hours later, Cassidy and Jeannie, slurring some of their words, staggered slightly on their way outside to meet the cab that the bartender had called for them. During their drinking spree, they’d formulated a foolproof plan. Now, Cassidy looked forward to an independent future out from under her father’s thumb.

###

Buy Now on Amazon http://amzn.to/M9jeio

Not What It Seems-225x300

Leave a Reply