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Dr. Colton&apos;s High-Stakes Fiancée
Cindy Dees

“So. Do you know Dr. Colton? I mean, to hear him talk about it, Honey Creek’s about the size of a postage stamp. He says everyone knows everyone else.”

Rachel nodded ruefully. “He’s right. And yes, I went to school with Finn.”

“Oh, do tell! He’s so private. None of the nurses know much about him. Gimme the dirt.”

Rachel winced. Nothing like being the dirt in someone’s past. “There’s not much to tell.” She paused, and then she couldn’t resist adding, “So, what’s he up to these days? Is he married? Kids?”

“Lord, no. If he wasn’t so … well, manly … we’d all think he was gay. He never dates. Says he has no time for it. But we nurses think someone broke his heart.”

Great. She was dirt and a heartbreaker. But something fluttered deep inside her. He’d never gotten seriously involved with anyone else? Funny, that. She commented lightly, “Huh. I’d have thought the girls would’ve been hanging all over him. He was considered to be a good catch in Honey Creek.”

The nurse laughed gaily. “Oh, he’s got women hanging all over him, and he’s a good catch in Bozeman, too. Thing is, he just doesn’t seem interested. That is, assuming he doesn’t have some secret relationship that none of us know about. But, it’s pretty hard to hide your personal life in a hospital. We spend so much time working together, especially down in the E.R., you pretty much know everything about everybody.”

So. No perfect wife and no two point two perfect kids yet, eh? What was the guy waiting for? He’d talked about wanting a family of his own when they’d been dating. Of course, in his defense, she’d heard that medical school was grueling. Maybe he just hadn’t had time yet to get on with starting a family. Well, she wished him luck. With someone emphatically not her. She’d had enough of Colton-style rejection.

“What do you think?” Carly asked. She came out of the changing room and twirled in the clingy black dress.

The nurse laughed. “It’s not even a contest. That dress was made for you. I’m not even trying it on. I’ll go find another one.”

Carly hugged the woman. “C’mon. I’ll help you. I have a great eye for fashion. I saw a red satin number that would be a knockout with your hair color …”

Rachel sat in the deserted dressing room. A few plastic hangers and straight pins littered the corners. Why was she so depressed to hear about Finn’s single state? Maybe because it highlighted her own lack of a love life. At least he was still a good catch. Truth be told, she’d never been a good catch, and everyone had thought their dating in high school was an anomaly to begin with.

His older sister, Maisie, had called her a phase. Said that Rachel was Finn’s rebellion against what all his family and friends knew to be the right kind of girl for him. Yup—dirt, a heartbreaker and the anti-girlfriend. That was her.

“Raych? You gonna sit there all day?”

She looked up, startled. “Oh. Uhh, no. I’m coming.”

“So when do I get to see this secret dress you’ve found for the homecoming dance?” Carly asked as they walked out of the mall.

Rachel rolled her eyes. “We’re not in high school anymore, you know.”

“Aww, come on. Don’t be a spoilsport. With the hundredth anniversary of the school and all, everyone’s coming back for homecoming.”

Rachel grimaced. At the moment, a party sounded about as much fun as a root canal. She replied reluctantly, “My dress is a surprise.”

“Fine. Have it your way. Maybe if you’re lucky, Finn will stick around long enough to go to the dance.”

“Oh, Lord. Can I just slit my wrists now?”

Carly laughed. “You’ve got it all wrong. This dance is your chance to show the jerk what he’s missing. It’s all about revenge, girlfriend.”

She sighed. “If only I had your killer instinct.”

“Stick with me, kid. We’ll have you kicking men in the teeth in no time.”

There was only one man she wanted to kick in the teeth. And now that Carly mentioned it, the thought of sashaying into that dance and telling him to go to hell made her feel distinctly better.

But by Monday morning, Rachel’s bravado had mostly faded. Another set of bills had come in from the nursing home and she’d had to empty her bank account to cover them. Thank God she’d landed this job at Walsh Enterprises. Craig Warner, the chief financial officer, had actually been more interested in her accounting degree than her tarnished reputation and past association with the Coltons. Her next paycheck would arrive this Friday, and then, good Lord willing, she’d be able to start digging out of the mountain of medical bills.

“Good morning, Miss Grant.”

She looked up as Craig Warner himself walked through the cubicle farm that housed Walsh Enterprises’ accountants and bookkeepers. He paused beside hers. “Good morning, sir.”

“How’s the new job coming?”

“Just fine. I’m so grateful to be here.”

The older man smiled warmly. “We’re glad, too, Miss Grant. Let me know if you have any questions. My door’s always open.”

Enthusiastically, she dived into the financial records of Walsh’s oil-drilling venture. Craig had asked her to audit the account with the expectation that she would take over responsibility for it afterward.

She’d been working for an hour or so when she ran into the first snag. Several of the reported numbers didn’t add up to the receipts and original billing documents. Who’d been responsible for maintaining this account? She flipped to the back of the file and frowned. Whoever had signed these papers had done so in a completely illegible scrawl. No telling who’d managed the account. She flipped farther back into the earlier records. Still that indecipherable scribble. Until fifteen years ago. Then a signature jumped off the page at her as clear as a bell. Mark Walsh.

Walsh, as in the founder of Walsh Enterprises. The same Mark Walsh who’d been found murdered only weeks ago. A chill shivered down her spine. How creepy was that, looking at the signature of a dead man? His hand had formed those letters on this very paper.

She went back to the more recent documents and corrected the error. Good thing she’d spotted it before the IRS had. It was the sort of mistake in reporting profits that could’ve triggered a company wide tax audit. Relieved, she moved on with the review.

By the time she found the third major discrepancy, she was certain she wasn’t looking at simple math errors. Something was wrong with this account. She double-and triple-checked her numbers against the original documents. There was no doubt about it. Somebody had lied like a big dog about how much money this oil-drilling company had made. Over the years, millions of dollars appeared to have been skimmed off the actual income.

What to do? Now that he was tragically dead, was Mark Walsh a sacred cow? Would she be fired if she uncovered evidence that maybe he’d been involved in embezzlement? Who had continued the skimming of monies after he’d supposedly died the first time? Had someone within Walsh Enterprises been in league with Mark Walsh to steal money for him? Had this been where Walsh had gotten funds to continue his secret existence elsewhere for the past fifteen years?

His family had already been through so much. And now to heap criminal accusations on top of his murder? Oh, Lord, she needed this job so bad. The last thing she wanted to do was rock the boat. And it couldn’t possibly help that for most of her life her name had been closely associated with the Coltons. There hadn’t been any love lost between the Walshes and Coltons since even before Mark Walsh’s first murder, the one supposedly at the hands of Damien Colton.

But what choice did she have? She would lose her CPA license if she got caught not reporting her findings. She scooped up all the documents and the printouts of her calculations and put them in her briefcase. Her knees were shaking so bad she could hardly stand. But stand she did. Terrified, she walked to the elevator and rode upstairs to the executive floor. Craig Warner’s secretary looked surprised to see her, almost as surprised as Rachel was for being here. The woman passed Rachel into the next office, occupied by Lester Atkins, Mr. Warner’s personal assistant. Rachel wasn’t exactly sure what a personal assistant did, but the guy looked both busy and annoyed at her interruption.

“Hi, Mr. Atkins. I need to speak with Mr. Warner if he has a minute.”

“He has an appointment in about five minutes. You’ll have to schedule something for later.”

Disappointed, she turned to leave, but she was intercepted by Mr. Warner’s secretary standing in the doorway. “If you keep it quick, I’m sure Mr. Warner won’t mind if you slip in.”

Rachel felt like ducking as the secretary and Lester traded venomous looks. She muttered, “I’ll make it fast.”

Actually, she loved the idea of not getting into a long, drawn-out discussion with Mr. Warner. She’d just float a teeny trial balloon to see where the winds blew around here and then she’d bail out and decide what her next move should be. In her haste to escape Lester’s office, she ended up barging rather unceremoniously into Mr. Warner’s.

He looked up, startled. “Rachel. I didn’t expect to see you this soon.”

She smiled weakly. “Well, I’ve hit a little snag and I wanted to run it by you.”

Craig leaned back in his chair, mopping his brow with a handkerchief before stuffing it in his desk drawer. “What’s the snag?”

“I was comparing the original receipts against the financial statements of the oil-drilling company like you asked me to, and I found a few discrepancies. I’m afraid I don’t know much about Walsh Enterprises’ procedure for handling stuff like this. Do we just want to close the books on it and move on, or do you want me initiate revising the financial statements?”

Craig frowned and she thought she might throw up. “How big a discrepancy are we talking here?”

She squeezed her eyes shut for a miserable second and then answered, “Big enough that the one person whose signature I can read would be in trouble if he weren’t already dead.”
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