Read an Excerpt
It was really going to happen.
Standing at the window of the bank, her back to the seats where Liam and Marie were sipping cheap coffee from takeout cups, public lawyer Gabrielle Miller gazed out at the snow-covered Denver sidewalks and focused on breathing. Not too deep. She didn't want to hyperventilate. But passing out from lack of oxygen wouldn't serve her well, either.
You'd think with five years of professional practice under her belt, and having personally vetted the contract they were all about to sign, she would be calm about the day's events. It wasn't as if they were buying a home that they were going to be moving into. No, they were simply transferring into their names the ownership of the historic Arapahoethe old apartment building she and Marie had been living in and that Liam had been visiting as regularly as he'd visited their dorm rooms in college eight years ago. She and Marie were still going to be sharing the roomy three-bedroom unit that comprised part of the second floor of the eight-floor building in historic Denver. Marie's coffee shop, a thriving business, was still going to encompass the entire bottom floor.
Liam would now be an official part of them, part of the family, instead of just an honorary member.
Gabi's portion of the down payment hadn't been a problem. She'd worked nearly full-time all four years of college in preparation for the law school loans that would eventually come due in her future. She'd continued to add to that account by working for Marie when she could during three years of law school, and when her loans had been paid off by the state as part of her employment agreement, she'd been able to slowly grow her savings.
Three-quarters of it was going into this deal.
But all but two of the thirty-eight apartments were rented on long-term leases that were transferring to them as the new owners, the majority of them held by residents who'd been in the building fifty years or more. They had guaranteed rent money coming. Most of them government checks.
Until the friends had made an offer on the place, most of the elderly residents had been trying desperately to find new homes. A few already had. The current owner's rent increase, coming in a matter of weeks, would have put most of the elderly occupants out on the streets or into government-subsidized nursing homes. Fixed incomes could only be stretched so far.
Those who could afford to move had done so.
Most of those left had been in tears when Threefold had held a meeting with the residents to officially announce that they would soon be making rent checks out to them instead. In the same amount they'd been payingnot the new increased price.
Threefold. The name she and Liam and Marie had chosen for the LLC they'd formed to purchase the somewhat decrepit building and manage it, too.
Marie had come up with the name.
Neither she nor Liam had argued.
Gabrielle felt someone come up beside her, but she didn't turn to look. Marie generally didn't let anyone sulk for long.
"You having second thoughts?" Liam's voice surprised her. He'd been over for dinner the night beforeat least a biweekly ritual for the past nine years. When he was in town. And not in a relationship. Not that he didn't come when he was in one. Just not as frequently.
The night before, the three of them had gone over all of the paperwork together. One more time. "No. You?"
His tone was too distant. Impersonal. Something was wrong. She'd known the second he'd come toward them in the bank parking lot.
Maybe that was when she'd started to panic.
And now he was seeking her out alone. That only happened when he was in need of analytical thinking without the emotional twist.
Liam might prefer to be a freelance journalist rather than a financier, and he might even be better at it if the current success rate of his stories was anything to go by, but business was in his blood. And first on his college degree, too, with journalism as a minor. Business, working for his father at Connelly Investments, provided his substantial paycheck.
"No second thoughts at all." Amazed at the instant calm that came over her at the words, she turned to look at him.
"You sure? Because I can't afford to make a mistake here, Liam. If our figures are out of line, if you think there's real risk here, I just can't afford to take it. I mean, we're looking at almost a solid year with no real income from rent. The elevator fix alone is going to eat up the first two months and "
His smile made her smile. And she heard what she was doing.
"We're going to be fine." He reminded her of the extra money that was being rolled into their loan to keep in an account for unforeseen maintenance. Of the monies she and Marie would be saving in rent that would offset the building's common utility costs. Of the down payment monies they'd all three contributed, which were keeping her third of the Arapahoe's monthly mortgage payments within her means.
He was right about all of it.
And "Something's bothering you." Were his suit and tie for the benefit of the real estate closing they were all about to attend? Or had he been at Connelly Investments that day? As his father's patsy, he had a nice office on the top floor of the corporate office building. And put in a minimum of forty hours a week. But a lot of that time was spent at dinners and functions that bored him. Or at his personal computer on the desk in his home office in the fancy high-rise condominium that was his as part of his employee benefits. He analyzed. He reported. He made innocuous decisions. His father wouldn't let him make any of the major ones.
"My father found out about the deal," he said now.
"I thought you told him." They'd specifically discussed the matterhe and she and Marie. They'd stressed to Liam the importance of keeping his father informed. The old man had the power to make Liam's life miserable if he chose to do so.
And, in retrospect, theirs, too.
Taking Liam on as a partner meant taking on the unhealthy and rocky relationship he had with his old man.
Rocking back and forth in his expensive leather shoes, Liam shoved his hands into the pockets of his gray pants and looked down. "I intended to. Right after the papers were signed."
She wanted to ask who'd spilled the beans to the elder Connelly, but the who didn't matter. Nor, really, did the why. When you lived in circles where money was the most important factor, people stabbed friends and family if it meant they had a chance to climb even half a step.
Which was part of the reason, she knew, that Liam had adopted her and Marie as his family all those years ago. Because they weren't part of that circle.
And didn't want to be.
"So what'd he say?"
Liam's shrug didn't tell her enough. "He didn't forbid it?" Which was what she and Marie had expected.
"He can't." Liam's jaw was firm, his gaze hard as he looked straight at her. "I'm using money earned from my writing, you know that."
Only for the down payment.
"You're living off your Connelly salary and living in a Connelly building."
Best that the deal fall through now. Before any of them were financially ruined.
But not really.
Because if they didn't sign those papers today, more than fifty elderly people were going to be booted from their homes. Many of them had raised their families in that building and still had penciled lines on the walls in the kitchens marking the growth of their offspring through the years.
Matilda Schwann had color-coded hers.
"If your father doesn't support you on this, you won't have the money to pay your third of the mortgage."
They weren't college kids anymore. He couldn't sign this deal and then capitulate.
Not that Liam would choose to leave elderly folks homeless. He'd give them the shirt off his back.
But Liam had never lived in the real world. His life, while not easy, had certainly been privileged.
"I have trust money that has been set up legally to pay my portion of the mortgage. I wanted to make certain that you both were covered if something ever happened to me." And she knew.
"That's how he found out, isn't it? Someone told him when you accessed your trust." But the money was his to do with as he pleased.
"I can only assume that George told him, though he swore to me that he wouldn't."
"Did you pay him, as your attorney, to handle the transaction for you?"
She was an attorney. And while she chose to work at a local legal services organization, making a pittance compared to what she could be making in average attorney fees in the private sector, Liam had always seemed to trust her abilities as much as he did those of the millionaire lawyer who'd worked for his family most of his life.
But she'd consider it a conflict of interest to represent him on this deal, as she was one of the involved parties.
"Of course I paid him. Separately and apart from Connelly Investments."
"Then legally and ethically he's in violation if he said anything."
And a pertinent piece of paper could have fallen on the floor at Liam's father's feet when the elder Connelly was in the office of his head legal counsel. She knew how the world worked.
"You should have hired someone outside the Connelly circle," she said now, though she knew the words didn't help anything. She was trying to think. To determine their next move.
Did they sign the papers? Or not?
"I trust George with my life. Or I did until today."
Hadn't he once said something similar about his father's feelings for George? Liam couldn't be blamed for believing the man would uphold his word. And maybe he had. They were only assuming George had been the leak. So often when something was amiss the obvious culprit was not at fault. At least in her experience. None of which was helping the current situation.
"So what did your father say? Is he going to be difficult?" The building was not going to be a money-maker. It was more in line of a community project that was hopefully not going to cost them anything out of pocket in the long run. And, best-case scenario, it would make them a few dollars apiece a year or two down the road.
It was also doubling as a home for Marie and Gabrielle. Marie's coffee shop would be paying them rent under the contract they were assuming from the current owner. Its success had provided her portion of the Arapahoe down payment.
"No, he's not going to be difficult." Liam stared out the window and Gabrielle thought about the cup of coffee she'd turned down when the three of them had arrived. She didn't need the caffeine. But now she wanted the warmth.
"I have his word that he will not, in any way, interfere with, hamper or attempt to destroy Threefold or its holdings."
She stared at him. Then this was good, right? So why that mixed expression of lost boy and grim defender on his face?
Until he caught her looking. Then he smiled. Gave her a soft fist to the shoulder of her blue suit jacket and said, "Let's go buy a building, partner."
Wishing, inanely, that she could hold his hand, Gabrielle followed Liam back to Marie.
They were her family. More so than the mother and two college-dropout brothers who'd moved down south a couple of years before and depended on her for financial help more months than not. Help she could give them, even on her salary, because she was good at what she did. She had already made enough of a name for herself to be able to pick up extra work, privately, when she had to. And her own living expenses were small since she still lived with Marie in the apartment they'd rented straight out of college.
But her financial obligation was about to change.
She was going to be a business owner.
She, the girl who'd had to wear thrift-store clothes and shoes for the first eighteen years of her life, was about to become partners with one of the richest bachelors in Denver.
Funny how life had a way of sounding like so much more than it was.