Chapter 1

LATE RISERS

THEY HAD MADE IT BACK to Albany at five thirty in the morning—the small price they had to pay to enjoy another evening in Cancun. Coming into contact with the cold air had made Sean wonder if they came home too soon, but he knew things awaited him. Some matters still needed to be sorted out with the inheritance, and he had every intention of meeting the board members of Universal Acquisitions Corporation. He only knew the CEO, Edward Cranston, and they had met once. With all this time on his hands, he wanted to meet everyone who worked for Douglas Quinn, at all of his companies, not just at Universal.

The house was stale when they got in, but exhaustion made it easy to fall asleep. Now, with the sun shining brightly around the edges of his room-darkening shades, Sean figured it was mid-day. The clock confirmed it as two in the afternoon.

He rolled over, his chest to Sara’s back, wrapped his arm around her, then leaned in and nibbled on her earlobe.

She swiped at the air and let out a moan.

“Time to wake up, sleeping beauty.”

Another moan.

He laughed. Maybe if he put on a pot of coffee, she’d be more interested in getting up.

Before he got back to her, the aroma had filled the space and he found her lying on her back, wiping at her eyes with balled fists.

“It’s morning already?” A huge yawn.

“Technically, it was when we got here, so we’re really running behind.”

She tossed his pillow across the room and he caught it at his chest.

He dropped onto the bed beside her. “Why don’t we do some house hunting?”

“Darling,” her voice was groggy with sleep, “surely that can wait until I’ve had a couple cups of coffee.”

“A couple? One? All that caffeine’s not good for you.”

“Do you really want to mess with this? Today?” She gestured down her body. She wore a white silk nighty that reached mid-thigh, exposing skin that begged for his touch.

He cocked an eyebrow. “You should know the answer to that.” He moved across the bed and devoured her, starting at her neck, tracing up to her earlobes and then met her lips.

 

SARA LAY THERE AFTERWARD, admiring her husband. She smiled as she took in his face and put a hand on his cheek. She was never more content than she was at this moment. Today was the beginning of their real life together. The honeymoon was a test-run and it didn’t really count, although, she held no uncertainties as to their compatibility. Just like that line in Sleepless in Seattle, they were MFEO—made for each other.

“Thanks to you my coffee’s probably stale at this point,” she said.

“Now, don’t be like that. I do believe what just happened took the two of us.” He sulked and she laughed.

“I was thinking, why are we back already? I mean, what do we have to do? We have no job to report to.”

“It is a strange feeling.”

“It sure is. I mean, going to work every day for years, and then now, we can see the world.” She reflected on those words. “Why don’t we?”

“Oh, darling, you know why. I think it’s best that I meet with the employees of Universal so they can put a face with the name.”

“You were in the paper.” She tossed him another smile, but she understood his sense of responsibility. “When were you thinking of going?”

“Tomorrow.”

The answer didn’t even surprise her. Sean had always been focused and mission-oriented.

“All right then, why don’t we go pour ourselves a coffee and start looking at houses online? We can make some appointments for when we get back.”

He kissed her tenderly and then whispered, “I love you.”

“What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I’m thinking, for the type of house we’ll be buying, it’s best to just get a real estate agent looking for us.”

There was that flash of hunger in his eyes, the one she didn’t quite understand, the one that craved materialistic satisfaction.

“How big of a house were you thinking?”

“I want something that won’t require we ever move again.”

“Like ever again?” She giggled.

“Yep, we’re not going to be like your parents, who are partial gypsies, moving around when the urge strikes. You love Albany. So do I. If we get bored of the scenery, we’ll travel for a bit.”

“Sounds wonderful.” She bounded from the bed, the desire for a cup of coffee, strong. “Come on, let’s get on with the day.”

 

SEAN FOLLOWED HER TO THE kitchen, realizing they might have a debate coming up in the near future. While his newfound riches would see him buying a grandiose house, her ideals were more grounded. She would find contentment in a house that fit their needs, not something that exceeded them. He would work hard to make her see his way. After all, with a net worth in the billions, he wagered there would be large-scale entertaining in their future.

This time through to the kitchen, the flashing light on the answering machine beckoned his attention and he took the few steps back and hit the button.

Six messages.

Three were from television stations wanting to interview them, one was Sara’s parents, one was Edward Cranston, the CEO of Universal, and one was from Kate Brackett, his accountant.

His accountant—the thought reverberated in his head. He wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to this.

He found Sara sitting at the kitchen table, playing with the clasp on the chest he had been given from the executor of Quinn’s Will. Between their quick wedding and then honeymoon in Cancun, he had all but forgotten about its existence.

“What’s in here anyway?” she asked.

“Good question.” He slipped into the chair beside her, took the key from the table and twisted it in the lock. “Guess we’ll find out.”

“Oh, this is exciting.” Sara maneuvered herself, curling her legs beneath her to provide more of a vantage point.

Sean pulled the chest closer and peered inside. “Doesn’t look like anything much.” He took out a sealed envelope marked For Sean McKinley’s eyes only.

“Interesting.” He flipped it over, hesitating to open it until he felt the object inside. “It feels like another key.”

“Open it. I’m dying here.” Sara was smiling and perched on the edge of her chair.

Sean ran his finger under the seal and pulled out a tri-folded letter. Inside of it was a skeleton key. The handwritten note read:

For when you are ready, Douglas Quinn.

Sara grabbed the key from Sean’s hand. Her eyes were large, the flecks of green and gold, electric. “We have to find out where this goes. Is that all the note said? There’s nothing else in the chest?”

Sean stared at the base of it, wishing it to produce something more, possibly a clue as to where this key went. “Nothing. Why would he leave me a key without telling me what it was for?”

Sara kept it in one hand and lifted her coffee for a sip. “He didn’t want anyone to stumble across it. He knew you could figure it out.”

“From looking at it, I’d say it possibly fits an antique desk or a door in an old home.”

“We’ve got to go to his house, Sean. It’s got to be there.”

“Brilliant idea.”

“This has to lead to something great. He put it in a locked chest, for your eyes only, and then left it up to you to solve the puzzle.”

“I’d like to say my sleuthing skills were rusty—”

Sara smiled. “Doubt that, and you can’t. Cancun kept both of us sharp.”

“Let’s go, darling. No time like the present.”

She drained the rest of her coffee and got up. “Shower with me first?”

“You don’t ever have to phrase that one as a question.” Sean pulled her to him.

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