Jamieson Cantrell sat at his massive desk—made from two hundred year-old English oak inlaid with the rarest black Italian marble—and irritably punched the button on his keyboard that brought his son’s face into view. He frowned at the unfamiliar room in the background.
“Where are you?” he asked, his deep voice gravelly, demanding.
“I’m fine, Dad. You?” Dominic tossed back.
A small smile flashed for a moment as he gazed at the broad-shouldered, handsome man who filled the monitor’s screen. “Sorry, son. Business. I've got a lot on my mind.”
Dominic raised an insolent brow. “And that's different from any other day because...?”
The fact his son never cowered, never gave ground, never feared him, was often a source of intense satisfaction to Jamieson. Other times it just pissed him off. This was one of those times. Irreverence, even a dash of rude sarcasm, he could put up with, but he drew the line at blatant disrespect. “This is how you speak to your father?”
The two men glared at each other, then Dominic lowered his eyes to hide his anger. “Mea culpa, Pops,” he said softly.
“Pops? What is the matter with you?”
His father’s outrage made Dominic laugh out loud, lessening the tension between them.
Jamieson scrutinized his son before asking, “Seriously, boy, what’s wrong? And you still haven’t answered my first question. Where are you?”
Prepared for the question, the lie flowed smoothly off his tongue. There was no way he could let his father know he was in Seattle. Adept at covering his tracks, Dom was confident that even his father’s best IT people wouldn't be able to trace him. “London,” he said easily. “I had a taste for fish and chips.”
“You took one of the private jets and flew to London. For fish and chips,” his father said crossly.
“Would you believe bangers and mash?” At the impatient growl, he held his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay. I caught the first commercial flight I could get because it would have taken too long to explain why I wanted to use one of the planes, and no doubt you would have said no in the end anyway. As it turned out, I had a two-hour layover in New York and ended up with the most beautiful Swedish model, also on her way to London. We drank great champagne on the flight, and had a very…” he paused for effect, “well, let’s just say we parted as very intimate friends this morning.” His grin was wolfish.
“Why? Jesus, Dad, you really need to get out more.”
Jamieson sputtered. “Damn it, I’m asking—as you well know—why you’re in London?”
Dominic sighed, reached off screen for a glass, then took a long swallow of what would look to his father like whiskey. It wasn’t, of course, but had he really been in London, the time difference would indicate the cocktail hour, not tea and toast, though in fact, it was tea in his glass. He was slow to answer. “Truth, or edited for your benefit?”
“What do you think?” his father snapped.
“All right, if you must know, I’m pissed.”
Dom snarled, “Oh, come on Dad. You’re the brilliant tactician, the genius behind one of the world’s great corporations, one of the top five in the Fortune 500. You don’t know?” He was unable to hide how supremely pissed he was, though beneath the anger, he also wanted to hear what his father had to say. But as the moments dragged, Nick surged to his feet, moving out of sight and away from the intense scrutiny of his father's stony silence. Running a hand through his hair, he took a deep breath, then refilled his glass, his thoughts in turmoil. Does there ever come a time when a son can eclipse the father? Perhaps not, if the father is Jamieson Cantrell.
“Dominic? Get back here and sit down,” his father barked. Dom smiled grimly at the tone, like he was a child instead of a grown man in his thirties. To take down the Alpha, the challenger needed strength, purpose and the element of surprise. Now was not the time. What he needed most was information.
Seating himself back on the couch, he tipped his glass toward his father and said with a thin smile, “Present and accounted for.” Pause. “Sir.”
“I’m losing my patience with you. We’ve gone over this, more than once these past three weeks.” Cantrell narrowed his eyes, “I’m assuming this childish tantrum is due to Valentine. Correct?”
Dominic struggled to keep a tight rein on his building resentment, though it was touch and go for a moment. After what happened at the dry cleaners, he couldn’t risk exposure, especially not to the man glowering with barely concealed anger himself.
Leaning forward, Dom set the glass on the coffee table before resting his forearms on his thighs, hands dangling between his knees. “Look, Dad, I’m pissed because you haven’t clued me in about Valentine’s objective, or why you want some mysterious woman’s book stolen from the Library of Souls. I’m pissed because you didn’t give me the assignment, like that fucker Valentine is better than me. I’m pissed because I feel like you don’t trust me, your own flesh and blood, your only son.” He stopped. Best not to lay it on too thick. His father wasn’t a fool, nor could he be fooled—except perhaps by the one closest to him, which is exactly what Nick was counting on.
Jamieson sat back in his chair, steepled his fingers, then pressed them against his lips. Dominic waited. He’s said his piece, now the ball was in his father’s court.
Making a decision, Cantrell quietly murmured, “I need his expertise. The reason I trapped Valentine, setting him up for the blackmail scheme, is because he’s one of the few people—if not the only one—on the planet who can go to nearly every level in the Ethereal like the rest of us go to the grocery store.”
“How does he do it?”
“I don’t know. I’m not even sure Valentine himself knows. It’s enough that he can, however.” Jamieson paused, pressed a button on his desk console and requested a large coffee from his secretary. “I heard from an…associate…not too long ago that there was someone out there able to follow threads, listen for plots, able to steal from the rich and giv—”
“Oh, don’t say it!” Dominic barked a laugh. “Give to the poor? C’mon, Dad, the guy’s an idiot. Do you honestly believe he’s a mastermind?” At the look on his father’s face, Dominick realized he’d said too much, revealed more than he wanted to.
“What do you know about this?” Soft, menacing.
He hated that tone. It always made him feel like a small, cringing child. Inwardly he cursed himself for the mistake. He was supposed to be gathering the intel, not giving it away. Deciding on casual, nonchalance, Dom smiled. “Dad, really? Everyone in the free world, and probably the ones not so free, know about him. It’s said he can walk through walls, hide in shadows, move through a room with such stealth there isn’t a whisper of sound.” He scoffed. “And you think that oaf Valentine is the greatest thief in the world? Please.”
Relieved when his father was diverted by the coffee that appeared like magic on the desk beside him, Dominic took a pull from his glass and wished suddenly it actually was whiskey. He looked at his father while he was occupied with his secretary and couldn’t help admiring the bastard. His black hair was going slightly gray at the temples, but it just made him look more handsome, distinguished; deep, black eyes, creases around his eyes, again making him look like a man comfortable in his skin, at ease with his life. His Italian suit fit his strong athletic frame perfectly; his nose straight and aristocratic. In truth, there was nothing not to admire about Jamieson Cantrell, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world. Dominic felt overwhelmed for a moment, wondering how he could think for a single, solitary second that he could take this man. On the heels of his hesitation, however, he remembered what had set him on this course; who the man was behind the mask, and he mentally shook himself, stiffening his resolve.
“I’ve got to go, son, something’s come up.” His father was sealing a large manila envelope, the kind usually delivered by couriers.
“What? Just like that, before we’ve even finished talking?” Dominic balled his fists, struggled to walk the fine line between restraint and rage.
“Come home. We’ll talk then.” Already distracted, Jamieson glanced up, surprised Dominic was still staring at him on the monitor.
“No, Dad. Your specialty is cutting to the chase. Give it to me now. I’m not coming home, I’m staying in London for a week or so.”
“What for? Are you going to the London office?”
That wasn’t going to happen. “No. Let’s just say I’m taking some vacation time. And Dad? Start talking.” Dominic hesitated for a moment, then added, “Please.”
His father frowned, clearly wanting to blow him off, then with a rush of words, he said, “I discovered, contrary to your assessment of the man, that Valentine was somehow able to use the Ethereal to discover secrets about people, follow them back to the real world, and then steal back what had been stolen--the artifacts, relics, paintings. And although most of these people are rich, influential pillars of their various communities, what could they do about the thefts? It’s not like they can contact the police.” Jamieson paused briefly, and Dom knew his father was choosing just how much to tell him. “I laid the trap as you know--you were there when we caught him--and though it was almost too easy, with the very real threat of serious repercussions the idea of stealing a book for me was the least of his worries.” Cantrell had a cruel smile. One look, and it was clear a man with that smile would not hesitate to follow through on any threat he made, and wouldn't be bothered by something so mundane as boundaries.
“Okay, Dad, but blackmail aside, what makes you think he’ll do it? And frankly, it might have been too easy to trap him because Valentine isn’t the Whisper at all. Have you considered that? Remember the stupid look on his face when we busted him in your hidden treasures room?”
“How do you think he knew about the room, or about the relic, in the first place?”
“Because you practically had neon arrows pointing the way!” Dominic rubbed his face, agitated. “What’s more surprising is that we didn’t haul in an entire net full of thieves, let alone a dumbass like Valentine. And steal from the Library of Souls? Surely it isn’t even possible--no doubt why it’s never been done before--and absolutely can't be done by that joker.” But as he studied his father, he saw a look of desire and…something else he couldn’t identify, flit across his face, shine in the black depths of his eyes. Now was the moment for the big Kahuna question. “Why do you want this book, Dad?”
But suddenly his father was all business. Daddy and son were apparently finished with their bonding. Jamieson’s face hardened, he straightened in his chair, once again the corporate persona firmly in place as he said dismissively, “I’ve got an important call to make.” Reaching out to sever their connection, his father paused, spared him a glance, then said, “Leave this to me, it doesn't concern you. By the time you get home, things will have fallen into place. See you next week sometime?” At Dominic’s brooding look, Jamieson didn’t wait for a reply, just gave his son a curt nod and broke the link.
Leaping to his feet, Dom stomped to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a two-fingered portion of a very nice malt whiskey. He swallowed a decent mouthful, then walked to the windows overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. It was a busy morning in Seattle. Ferries coming and going, traffic crawling in gridlock on the Viaduct, people below his window busily scurrying to and fro. He knocked back the whiskey, set the glass on the window sill, grabbed his jacket and headed out the door. He needed to do some legwork, get some on-the-ground details about Enchantments, talk to some people who might know the two women who worked there. He knew the Internet would be faster, but right now he needed to move, get his father out of his head, get back on track with his own agenda. And he preferred direct contact to impersonal information spouted by Google.
Walking toward the bank of elevators, he began to smile as an enticing face rose in his mind, banishing his father’s in a instant. He could almost smell the ginger blossoms, feel the silk of her braid against his palm. Dominic was whistling as he crossed the lobby, his thoughts swirling with the myriad ways he was going to tempt, entice, debauch the delicious Katy Montgomery.