Lone Star Seduction

By: Day Leclaire

Alex took a swift step in his direction, only to be cut off by Darius who crossed the breach and held up a hand. “Easy man,” he said in an undertone. “This won’t solve anything.”

“Maybe not, but it would make me feel a hell of a lot better.”

Alex could hear his accent deepening, thickening, as it often did when he was angry or passionate. It only served to underscore the differences between them—differences in their cultures, their birthrights, their backgrounds. He was the son of a maid. And though some of the men present had worked for every dime they possessed, Justin Dupree and the Brody brothers had been born with silver spoons feeding them every elegant morsel they’d ever eaten. For the sake of his sister, Alicia, Alex would leave her brand new fiancé, Dupree, alone. In the past weeks the two men had established an uneasy accord. But as far as he was concerned, it was open season on the Brodys.

Alex addressed Lance. “You accused me of torching your refinery. Darius has evidence that proves you wrong. Are you man enough to finally admit it? Or do I need to beat the apology out of you?”

Amusement lined the other man’s face. “You can try. I guarantee you won’t succeed.”

“It will be interesting to test that theory.”

“Enough.” Kevin Novak cut them off impatiently. “This isn’t going to solve anything, and quite frankly, I’m tired of acting like we’re still in high school.” He turned his intense blue eyes on Alex. “We were wrong about you, and I for one would like to apologize.”

He offered his hand and Alex didn’t hesitate in taking it. “I appreciate it, Novak.”

Lance groaned. “Oh, for the love of—”

“Shut up, bro.” Mitch cut him off. “A dry well is a dry well. In our business, you have to know when to cut your losses. This is one of those times.”

One by one, each man followed Kevin’s example. Lance, the lone holdout, finally stepped forward and clasped Alex’s hand, as well. Considering Brody was built like a tank, he didn’t need to exert much pressure for Alex to feel the power behind his grip.

“I still don’t like you,” Lance said.

Alex inclined his head. “The feeling’s mutual.”

Lance’s mouth kicked up in one corner. “But I do respect you.”

The admission stunned Alex and it took him a second to reply. “I think we can both start from there and see where we end up.”

“Fair enough.”

“Now that we’re through with the warm and fuzzies, let’s get to work, shall we?” Darius suggested drily. He made a move toward the conference table and once everyone was seated, passed around copies of his report. “I need everyone here to understand that most of this is speculation. It’s solid speculation, but we don’t have enough to take to the cops. Yet. The one thing I can state categorically is that Alex is not responsible for the fire at Brody Oil and Gas. I have eyewitnesses and credit card receipts that place him well away from that location on the night of the blaze.”

“So, what do you have?” Lance asked.

Alex took over. “If we examine the timeline of events, what becomes clear is that there is an interesting order to these incidents. From what Mitch has been able to discover in his review of the books, money has been siphoned off to the tune of three hundred grand.”

Kevin emitted a low whistle. “How?”

“Just the way Darius thought. He’s been using a company with a name similar to Helping Hands. When an invoice comes in from the shelter, two checks are cut. One to the shelter and a second one to ‘Helping Hearts.’ Every last one of these checks was cashed at the same bank.” Alex eyed each man in turn. “And isn’t it interesting that a year ago—right before the first check went through—the president of that bank was approved as a brand-new member of the Texas Cattleman’s Club.”

“Who put his name forward?” Lance asked.

“Sebastian Huntington.”

Lance winced. “Oh, Kate’s not going to like this. She and Rebecca are closer than sisters.”

“It’s our belief,” Darius picked up the story, “that Huntington had his foreman, Cornelius Gentry, set the fires in order to pit the six of us against each other to keep us distracted long enough for him to replace the funds. Since he’s the treasurer of TCC, he could tidy everything up so that no one was the wiser.”

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