In the days that followed, the dossier grew, encompassing Eva’s parents and Cary, then Eva’s paternal and maternal grandparents.
“We’ve kept a lawyer on retainer in Austin,” Angus went on, “to send us any reports of unusual activity with Harrison and Leah Tramell.”
Monica’s parents. Their estrangement from their daughter and granddaughter was just fine with me. Less family to deal with. But I also understood that while they might not have had any interest in Eva as an illegitimate grandchild, their minds might change when Eva publicly became my wife. “What have they done?”
“They died,” he said bluntly, unzipping the binder. “Nearly a month ago.”
That gave me pause. “Eva doesn’t know. We were just talking over the weekend about wedding invitations and they came up. I assume Monica doesn’t keep tabs on them.”
“She wrote the obituary that appeared in the local paper.” Angus withdrew a photocopy and set it on the table.
Picking it up, I scanned through it quickly. The Tramells had died together, in a boating accident during a summer vacation. The accompanying photo was decades old, with clothing and hair dating it to sometime in the seventies. They were an attractive couple, well dressed and expensively accessorized. What didn’t fit was the hair—even in a black-and-white newspaper printing I could see they were both dark-haired.
I read the closing sentence. Harrison and Leah are survived by their daughter, Monica, and two grandchildren. Looking up at Angus, I repeated aloud, “Two grandchildren? Eva has a sibling?”
Lucky wriggled out of my lax grip and jumped to the floor.
Angus took a deep breath. “That mention and the photo made me take a deeper look.”
He pulled out a picture and set it down.
I glanced at it. “Who is that?”
“That’s Monica Tramell—now Monica Dieck.”
My blood turned cold. The woman in the photo was a brunette, like her parents. And she looked nothing like the Monica I knew or my wife. “I don’t understand.”
“I haven’t yet figured out what Eva’s mother’s actual name is, but the real Monica Tramell had a brother named Jackson who was briefly married to Lauren Kittrie.”
“Lauren.” Eva’s middle name. “What do we know about her?”
“For now, nothing, but that’ll change. We’re looking.”
I raked my hand through my hair. “Is it possible we’ve confused the Tramells and looked at the wrong family?”
Standing, I went to the bar. I took two tumblers off the shelf and poured two fingers of Ardbeg Uigeadail single malt into each. “Stanton would’ve checked out Monica—Eva’s mother—thoroughly before he married her.”
“You didn’t find out about Eva’s past until she told you,” he pointed out.
He was right. The records of Eva’s abuse, her miscarriage, the court transcripts, the settlement … they’d all been meticulously buried. When I’d tasked Arash with drafting the prenuptial agreement, we had verified her financial assets and debts, but that was all. I loved her. I wanted her. Discrediting her in any way had never been considered.
Stanton loved his wife as well. Her personal fortune, accumulated after two financially advantageous divorces, would have addressed the most pressing concern. As for the rest, I expect he and I had acted similarly. Why search for trouble when all indications were that there was none? Love was willfully blind and made fools of men.
I rounded the bar and nearly tripped over Lucky as he bounded in front of me. “Benjamin Clancy is damned good. He wouldn’t have missed this.”
“We missed it.” He took the glass I handed him. “If the Tramells hadn’t passed away, we still wouldn’t know. The background check was clean.”
“How can it be clean, for fuck’s sake?” I knocked back the whiskey in one swallow.
“Eva’s mother used Monica’s name, birthdate, and family history, but she never opened a line of credit, which is how most identity theft is discovered. The bank account she’s using was established twenty-five years ago and is a business account with a separate tax ID.”
She would’ve had to provide a personal SSN, as well, when she opened it, but the world was a very different place before the Internet.
The enormity of the fraud was difficult for me to grasp. If Angus was right, Eva’s mother had lived more of her life as another woman than she had as herself.
“There’s no trail, lad,” he reiterated, setting his tumbler down untouched. “No crumbs to follow.”
“What about the real Monica Tramell?”
“Her husband manages everything. In that sense, she hardly exists.”
I looked down at the puppy who pawed at my shin. “Eva doesn’t know about any of this,” I said grimly. “She would’ve told me.”
Even as I said it, I had to wonder how she would’ve told me. How would I tell her, if I were in her place? Could she keep such a huge secret, having lived with the lie so long she now believed it was true?
“Aye, Gideon,” Angus said, his tone low and conciliatory. He wondered, too. It was his job to do so. “She loves you. Deeper and truer than I’ve ever seen a lass love a man.”
I lowered back onto the sofa, felt the slight weight of Lucky as he scrambled up beside me. “I need to know more. Everything. I can’t bring information like this to Eva in bits and pieces.”
“You’ll have it,” he promised.
“It’s …” Wincing at the detailed sketch Cary had placed in front of me, I shook my head. “It’s pretty, but it’s not … right. It’s not the right one.”
Cary heaved out his breath. From where he sat on the floor at my feet, he dropped his head back on the couch to look at me upside down. “You’re kidding. I hand you a one-of-a-kind wedding dress designed just for you and you blow it off ?”
“I don’t want a strapless dress. And this has a high-low hemline—”
“That’s a train,” he said dryly.
“Then why can I see the shoes? You shouldn’t be able to see the shoes.”
“It’s a five-minute sketch. You can tell him to make the front longer.”
Leaning forward, I grabbed the bottle of wine we’d opened earlier and added more to my glass. Journey’s greatest hits piped out through the surround sound speakers, the volume on low. The rest of the penthouse was quiet and dark¸ the living room illuminated by two end table lamps.
“It’s too … contemporary,” I complained. “Too modern.”
“Uh, yeah.” He lifted his head to look at the drawing again. “That’s what makes it cool.”
“It’s trendy, Cary. When I have kids, they’ll look at it and wonder what I was thinking.” I took a sip of my wine and ran my fingers through his thick hair. “I want something timeless. Like Grace Kelly or Jackie Kennedy.”
“Kids, huh?” He leaned into my touch, like a cat. “If you hurry up, we can push strollers through the park together and plan playdates.”
“Ha! Maybe in ten years.” That sounded about right to me. Ten years of having Gideon to myself. Time for us to both grow a little more, smooth things out and find our groove.
Things were getting better every day, but we remained a volatile couple with a tempestuous relationship. What we’d argued about earlier in his office?… I still didn’t know. That was Gideon, though. As sleek, wild, and dangerous as a wolf. Eating out of my hand one minute and snapping at it the next. Which was usually followed by fucking me like a beast, so … it worked for me.
“Yeah,” Cary said morosely. “It’ll take ten years—and immaculate conception—for you to get knocked up if you don’t start nailing him again.”
“Ugh.” I yanked on his hair. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I rocked his world last night.”
“Did you?” He leered at me over his shoulder. “That’s my girl.”
I smirked. “Going to rock it again when he gets home.”
“I’m jealous. I’m not getting any. Zip. Zero. Zilch. My palm’s going to have a permanent indentation from my lonely dick.”
Laughing, I leaned back into the sofa. “It’s good to take a break for a while. Puts things in perspective.”
“You barely made it a week,” he scoffed.
“Ten days, actually. Ten horrible, hellacious, horrendous days.” I took another drink.
“Right? Sucks. Bad.”
“I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but I’m glad we were able to take sex out of the equation for a little bit. Made us focus on talking things out and enjoying just hanging out. When we finally let loose, it was …” I licked my lips. “Explosive.”
“You’re making me hard.”
I snorted. “What doesn’t?”
He shot me an arch glance. “I will not be ashamed of my healthy sex drive.”