- Those Christmas Angels
“So, you’re telling me that you were in no way responsible for her…fall?”
“In other words, you happened along shortly after the accident, and out of consideration for this biker you stopped your vehicle and saw to her welfare?”
The attorney was describing a rather different scene than the one that had actually occurred, but Roy let him. “Yes,” he said slowly, thoughtfully.
“Your concern is?” Williams asked.
“The woman claims I caused her accident.” Just thinking about it irritated Roy. Although there was no evidence to validate her accusation, Julie Wilcoff had insisted he’d run into the rear of her bike. But he hadn’t even seen her until the last second and had instantly slammed on his brakes. In mentally reviewing the incident, Roy had decided that the sound of his car behind her must have startled Julie; she’d lost focus and hit something in the road, which was the reason she’d catapulted off the bicycle and into the tree.
That, however, didn’t explain the damage to her ten-speed. The bicycle clearly showed there’d been an impact from the rear. The back wheel was destroyed, the metal twisted and crumpled. Anyone looking at the bike would believe he’d hit Julie. But Roy knew otherwise, and there was no evidence on his car to suggest he’d collided with her.
“What injuries did she sustain?”
“None. She was unhurt. In fact, she refused medical treatment from the paramedics.”
“I took her to my personal physician and he couldn’t find any injuries, either.”
The attorney scribbled furiously. “What have you heard from her since?”
“Nothing.” That concerned him the most. With his name and his money, he was a natural target for frivolous lawsuits. However, any suit Julie filed might find a sympathetic jury. She could have a case, innocent though he was. It certainly wasn’t unheard of for a jury to award a huge settlement for a minor infraction, depending on how effectively the case was presented.
“I did feel bad,” Roy said cautiously. “The accident occurred on company property and I replaced her bicycle.” The new one was twice the machine her old ten-speed had been.
Again Williams made a notation. Roy worried that replacing Julie’s ten-speed might be seen as an acknowledgment of guilt. He should’ve thought of that earlier.
“Did she have a reason for being on company property?” Williams asked.
“I employ her father.”
The frown was back, creasing his brow. “I see.”
“Wilcoff was only recently hired.” Roy had let chance make the decision. He’d studied the applications, chosen the top three and written the candidates’ names on slips of paper, which he’d placed in an empty coffee mug. He’d drawn one name—Dean’s. So perhaps all of this was fated….
“Have you spoken to the father since the incident?”
Roy hadn’t. “Any suggestions on what I should do now?”
“I wish you’d said something sooner,” the attorney murmured, his expression darkening.
Roy probably should have, but until now he hadn’t seen the need. It hadn’t been a serious accident. By her own admission and confirmed by his doctor, Julie was perfectly fine. This sort of situation had never occurred before. Williams was probably right; Roy should’ve consulted a lawyer immediately.
“Trouble?” he asked, unwilling to borrow any. He had problems enough.
Williams nodded abruptly. “Even if you haven’t heard from this woman, that doesn’t mean she isn’t filing a lawsuit against you.”
“She hasn’t got a case,” Roy argued. But she did have the damaged bicycle….
“You and I know that, but didn’t you say she claims you were responsible for the accident?”
More times than Roy cared to count. Julie had accused him of running her down. It had become her mantra on their ride to Dr. Wilbur’s.
“That tells me there’s a good possibility of a nuisance suit.”
Roy should have known, should have guessed. “What do you think I should do next?” he asked, tension tightening his jaw. The thought of paying this money-grubber a dime went against his principles.
“Offer her a settlement.”
He didn’t want to do that, not in the least, but he knew it was better to take care of such unpleasantness quickly. Otherwise he might end up dealing with her in court. She had the damaged bike in her possession. A long, drawn-out trial would drain him emotionally and threaten him financially. And, needless to say, it could destroy his reputation.
“How much?” he asked bluntly.
The attorney hesitated, then said, “My expertise is corporate law, so perhaps we should let a litigation expert answer that question.”
Roy refused to waste another minute on this. “How much would you suggest?”
Williams shrugged. “Twenty-five thousand should more than compensate her for any pain and suffering.”
As far as Roy was concerned, that was twenty-five thousand too much. But gritting his teeth, he agreed. He’d order the check cut right away.
“Anything else?” Williams asked, picking up his briefcase.
“No, that should be all.”
The attorney gestured at the Griffin papers in front of Roy. “You’ll get back to me this afternoon?”
Roy nodded. He’d read over the figures and make a decision by the end of the workday. He stood, and the two men shook hands. Williams saw himself out as Roy returned to his chair.
He leaned back and steepled his fingers, his mind spinning in various directions. Shaking his head, he opened the Griffin file. Try as he might to focus on the facts and figures regarding the buyout, his thoughts wandered to Julie Wilcoff. Part of him wanted to take her at her word—to believe she had no intention of suing him. But his experience with women said otherwise.
“You know by now you can’t trust a woman.” Until he heard the words, Roy didn’t realize he’d spoken aloud.
Hoping to get a better feel for the situation, he called his executive assistant, Eleanor Johnson, and asked her to have Dean Wilcoff sent to his office. This potential lawsuit would bother him until he had some sense of what was likely to happen. The best way to find that out was through Julie’s father.
Within minutes, his new head of security was shown into his office.
“Good morning, Dean.” The older man stood by his desk, shoulders squared in military fashion.
“Sit down.” Roy motioned toward the chair recently vacated by his attorney. “I asked to see you on a personal matter.”
The other man didn’t react at all. That was good. “I assume you heard about your daughter’s bicycle accident.”
Dean nodded. “She told me about it herself. I want you to know how much I appreciate the way you took care of her.”
Roy dismissed his thanks. “She received the new ten-speed?” He’d had it delivered on Monday.
“She did, and I’m sure she’ll want to thank you personally for your generosity.”
“That isn’t necessary.” Roy paused, uncertain how to phrase the next question. “Uh, how is Julie?”
“How is she?” the other man repeated as if he didn’t understand. “Oh, do you mean does she have any lingering aches and such from the fall?”
“Yes,” Roy said without elaborating. He didn’t want to tip Wilcoff off about his fear of a lawsuit. Sure as anything, Julie was talking to some fancy lawyer who’d promise her millions. Roy’s millions. The tension gathered in his shoulder blades, tightening his muscles.
“Julie’s tough,” Dean answered, seeming to relax for the first time since entering the office. “As a kid, she had more scraped knees and bruises than any boy in the neighborhood. I will admit that when I saw her bike, I was a bit concerned, but she doesn’t seem to have any ill effects from the accident.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Like I said, Julie’s tough.”
“She’s been able to work all week, then?” That was another important question. If she was badly hurt, as she might claim, her showing up at work would be evidence that those claims were only an effort to bilk him out of as much money as possible.
“Oh, sure. She went to school every day this week.”
This was sounding better all the time, but it was no guarantee that she wasn’t planning legal action at some later point. No, it was best to deal with this once and for all.
“Your daughter’s convinced I caused the collision.” There, he’d said it. He watched the other man closely, wondering how he’d respond.
Wilcoff dropped his gaze. “Yes, she did mention that.”
Aha! Roy knew it. This was exactly what Williams had warned him about. Not hearing from Julie didn’t mean he wasn’t being set up for a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.
“I feel bad about the accident,” he said, selecting his words with care. “While Julie and I have a disagreement as to the cause, I’d like to remind you she was riding on company grounds.”
Wilcoff heard the censure in Roy’s voice and reacted accordingly. “I’ll make sure she doesn’t do that again.”
“I’d appreciate it.” He shuddered at the thought of another accident on his property.
“Consider it done,” Wilcoff said. He seemed eager to leave. “Was that all, Mr. Fletcher?”
“Actually, no,” Roy said slowly. This next part nearly stuck in his throat, but he had no option. “I’d like to offer Julie a small settlement to compensate for her pain and suffering.”
Shocked, his head of security held up both hands. “That isn’t necessary. In fact, I think Julie would be upset—”
“I insist. I’ll have my attorney draw up the papers and we’ll consider the matter closed.”
Wilcoff shook his head. “None of this is necessary. Anyway, you should talk to Julie about it, not me. But I know she’ll feel the same way.”
“Perhaps,” Roy said, although he didn’t believe it. He was a prime candidate for a lawsuit. He’d behaved stupidly in not getting his lawyer involved earlier. That oversight was a rarity for him; he hadn’t come this far in the business world by ignoring the obvious.
“Whatever you decide, Mr. Fletcher, is between you and my daughter, but I’m certain Julie isn’t interested in a settlement.”
That’s what they all say, Roy thought cynically. Julie Wilcoff was no different from any other woman he’d ever met—or any man in the same situation.
He was worried, but he didn’t dare let it show.
Wilcoff left, and Roy started to read over the Griffin paperwork, but he still couldn’t concentrate. The truth of it was, he’d quite enjoyed his exchanges with Julie Wilcoff. True, she wasn’t the most attractive woman he’d encountered, but she possessed a quick wit and a quirky sense of humor. He couldn’t recall the last time any woman had joked with him about her size or weight. He had to admit he found it refreshing.