Authors: Judith McNaught
Also by Judith McNaught
To Holly and Clay,
with all my love
To Michael Bublé, my favorite singer, with gratitude and affection; Dana and Richard LeConey, two beautiful people who make everyone else beautiful; Dick Smith, pilot and friend; James and Nicole Trussell III, whose wedding I missed in order to get this book out; Tamara Anderson, my legal consultant, fellow writer, and wonderful friend; Joe Grant, my other legal consultant and dear friend; the Genest family—Jordan, Michael, Genevieve, Alexandra, and Anastasia—who sacrificed Thanksgiving together and a lot more for the sake of this book; Dick Huber, Bob Smith, and Ed Willis, three trustworthy real-life heroes who came to my rescue when I needed them most … and, most especially, the production department at Ballantine, which will never fully recover from the effort required to get this book out on schedule.
Most of all, my heartfelt gratitude to three Ballantine employees, who accomplished the impossible by getting this book done on time: Charlotte Herscher, Daniel Mallory, and my editor of twenty years, Linda Marrow. And a very special thank-you to Linda’s new twins, Callie Virginia and Matthew Clifton, whose feeding schedule was frequently disrupted because of me, and an equally huge thank-you to new daddy Jim Impoco, who is used to having his schedule disrupted by my deadlines.
IGH ATOP A SNOW-COVERED HILL, THE
perched like a regal crown, its Gothic stone spires pointing skyward, its stained-glass windows glowing like jewels.
A mile away, limousines and luxury cars paraded in a slow stream toward a uniformed security guard posted at the gated entrance to the estate. As each vehicle reached him, the security guard checked the occupants’ names off the guest list; then he issued a politely worded edict to the driver: “I’m sorry, because of the snowfall, Mr. Wyatt does not want any vehicles parked inside the gates this evening.”
If a chauffeur was at the wheel, the guard stepped aside, allowing the chauffeur to turn into the drive, proceed through the gates, and deliver his passengers to the house before returning to the main road to park and wait.
If the vehicle’s owner was at the wheel, the guard motioned him toward a line of shiny black Range Rovers parked up the hill at a cross street, wisps of exhaust curling from their tailpipes. “Please pull forward and leave your car with an attendant,” the guard instructed. “You’ll be shuttled up to the house.”
However, as each new arrival soon discovered, that process was neither as simple nor as convenient as it sounded. Although there were plenty of helpful attendants and available Range Rovers waiting within sight,
large snowbanks and parked cars had encroached on the winding residential lane so that it was almost impassably narrow in places, and the steady procession of slow-moving vehicles had churned four inches of unplowed snow from earlier that day into thick slush.
The whole ordeal was unnerving and annoying to everyone. … Everyone except Detectives Childress and MacNeil, who were in an unmarked Chevrolet that was backed into a driveway one hundred and fifty yards uphill from the entrance to the Wyatt estate. The two detectives were part of a handpicked team, formed earlier that day, assigned to keep Mitchell Wyatt under twenty-four-hour surveillance.
, they had tailed him here, to Cecil Wyatt’s estate, where he swerved around the security guard who was trying to wave him down, then turned into the private drive and disappeared from sight. Once Wyatt vanished, there was nothing for Childress and MacNeil to do but park and make a record of whom he was associating with. To facilitate that, Childress was observing the scene through a pair of night-vision binoculars, reporting license-plate numbers and miscellaneous information to MacNeil, who wrote it down in a notebook.
“We have a new contender approaching the starting line,” Childress murmured as another pair of headlights reached the security guard at the gate. He read the vehicle’s license plate aloud for MacNeil; then he described the vehicle and driver. “White Mercedes AMG, this year’s model, or possibly last year’s. Driver is a Caucasian male in his early sixties, passenger is a Caucasian female, early thirties, and she’s snuggled up against her smiling sugar daddy.”
When MacNeil didn’t reply, Childress glanced at him and realized MacNeil’s attention was focused on a pair of headlights slowly descending the hill from the right. “Must be someone who lives up here,” Childress
remarked. “And he’s not only rich, he’s curious,” he added as the black Lincoln Town Car came to a full stop and cut off its headlights directly in front of the driveway where they were parked.
The back door opened, and a man in his late thirties wearing a dark overcoat got out. Childress rolled down his window, intending to make an excuse for their presence, but as the man paused and put his cell phone to his ear, Childress recognized him. “That’s Gray Elliott. What’s he doing out here?”
“He lives nearby. Maybe he’s attending the party.”
“Or maybe he wants to pitch in and do some surveillance with us,” Childress joked, but there was admiration in his voice. After only one year in office as Cook County’s state’s attorney, Gray Elliott was a hero to the cops—a brilliant attorney who wasn’t afraid to take on tough, risky cases. The fact that he was also a wealthy socialite who’d dedicated himself to public service rather than the pursuit of greater wealth added another facet to his heroic image.
MacNeil liked him for all of those reasons but MacNeil had always liked Gray—even when he had been a carefree, reckless teenager whom MacNeil had busted for several minor youthful offenses.
Elliott finished his phone call, walked over to the car, leaned down, and looked inside. “You must be Childress,” he said by way of greeting; then he shifted his attention to MacNeil. “I’d like a word with you, Mac.”
MacNeil got out and joined him at the back of the car. The wind had died down, and the engine was running, pumping warm exhaust at their feet. “I asked that you be assigned to this case,” Gray told him, “because you headed the investigation into William Wyatt’s disappearance, and you’re familiar with all the players.”
“Not all of them,” Mac interrupted, unable to keep his curiosity in check. “I never heard of Mitchell Wyatt until
today. Who the hell is he, and why are we watching him?”
“He’s William Wyatt’s half brother, and I believe he’s responsible for William’s disappearance.”
“His half brother?” MacNeil repeated, his forehead furrowing into a doubtful frown. “When William disappeared, I interviewed all his family members and all his friends. No one ever mentioned a half brother. In fact, when I interviewed Cecil Wyatt, the old man repeatedly told me how important it was that we find his
, and bring William home to his wife and kid.”
“You were deliberately misled by an arrogant, devious old man who wasn’t ready to admit he had a grandson he’d never acknowledged. I’ve known the Wyatts my whole life, and I never knew William had a half brother. For that matter, neither did William until this past June.
“According to the story I was just told, William’s father, Edward, had an affair with his secretary when William was a couple years old and his mother was dying of cancer. The secretary got pregnant, and William’s mother died a few months later, but when the secretary pressed Edward to marry her as he’d promised, he stalled, then denied the baby was his. She retaliated by threatening to take the whole sordid tale to the
Elliott’s cell phone rang, and he paused to glance at the caller’s name; then he ignored the call and continued. “At the time, Cecil had big political plans for Edward, which a scandal would have destroyed, but allowing ‘a common little tart’ to marry into the family was unthinkable. Cecil tried to buy her off, but she wouldn’t budge about her child’s right to be legitimate, to be named Wyatt, and to be raised as a Wyatt. She hired a lawyer, and eventually a deal was struck: Edward would marry her shortly before the baby was due, and then divorce her immediately after the birth. She relinquished all rights to the baby, granting full custody to Cecil. Cecil, in turn, was
obliged to see that the baby was raised ‘with all the benefits associated with Wyatt money and social connections,’ including the finest education, travel abroad, and so forth. She received a substantial sum of money on the condition that she never divulge a word about anything that had happened and never again have contact with any of the parties involved, including the baby.”
MacNeil turned the collar up on his jacket. The bottom half of his body was reasonably warm, but his ears were freezing. “Obviously, Cecil later changed his mind about the grandson,” he said, rubbing his hands together before he stuck them in his pockets.
“No, he adhered to the letter of the agreement but not the spirit. He’d agreed that Mitchell would grow up ‘with all the benefits associated with Wyatt money and social connections,’ but Cecil never specifically agreed that the ‘social connections’ would be with the Wyatts themselves. A week after Mitchell was born, Cecil sent him to a family in Italy, along with a falsified birth certificate. When Mitchell was four or five, Cecil yanked him out of that family’s home and had him sent to an exclusive boarding school in France. Later, Mitchell was sent to prep school in Switzerland, and then on to Oxford.”
“Did the kid even know who he was, or who was paying for his fancy education?” MacNeil asked.
“The family he lived with in Italy told him what they’d been told, which was that he’d been abandoned as a newborn on a California doorstep and that his name was merely a combination of two names picked out of a phone book by a group of generous American benefactors who regularly put up the money to support and educate boys just like him. These supposed benefactors wished for nothing in return except the right to remain anonymous.”
“Jeez.” MacNeil shook his head.
“If that’s pity I hear, save it for someone who deserves
it,” Elliott said sarcastically. “From all accounts, young Mitchell enjoyed his life and made the most of his opportunities. He was a natural athlete who excelled at sports, he went to the finest schools, and he mixed easily with kids from Europe’s leading families. After he graduated from college, he put his education, his good looks, and his acquired social contacts to excellent use, managing to make himself a load of money. He’s thirty-four now, and he runs companies based mostly in Europe. He has apartments in Rome, London, Paris, and New York.” Elliott paused to look at his watch, frowning as he tried to see its face in the dark. “Can you see the time on your watch?”
MacNeil pulled up his sleeve and glanced at the large glowing green numerals on his Timex. “Eight forty-five.”
“I have to go. I need to put in an appearance at Cecil’s party.”
“How did Wyatt end up right here, right now, after all this time?” MacNeil said quickly, trying to make optimal use of the remaining time.
“Seven months ago, in early June, William came across the documents in an old safe, and he was outraged at the treatment his poor half brother had received from his father and grandfather. He hired detectives, and when they located Mitchell Wyatt in London, William took his wife and his son and flew to London to introduce them in person and explain what had happened.”