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Authors: Julia McDermott

Underwater

BOOK: Underwater
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Also by Julia M
c
Dermott

Make That Deux

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Text copyright © 2014 Julia McDermott

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle

 

www.apub.com

 

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

 

ISBN-13: 9781477826201

ISBN-10: 1477826203

 

Cover design by Scott Barrie

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014941532

For my mother, Sally

H
er first memory was of being underwater, of moving her arms and legs and struggling to push herself up to the surface. Her eyes were open and she could see the world above her, blurry and unreachable. The force of the water kept her down and away from the dry world. Panicking, she kicked and pulled and held her breath. Then she felt her legs going limp, her arms getting tired, and her resolve fading. Her strength was gone. The world and its comforts were close. Yet she couldn’t break through the cold, transparent ceiling of water.

She couldn’t breathe.

Full of terror, she saw a solitary figure staring down at her, smiling. Her mother? She couldn’t tell. It was a woman with blonde hair and colorless eyes. The woman motioned to her, encouraging her.

She felt her lungs burning and saw a trail of blood floating up next to her. Then she felt the water force her body farther and farther down.

1

The Bluff

C
andace Morgan’s mind wouldn’t stop racing.

Eyes closed and head resting on a spa pillow, she exhaled, trying to focus on her senses as the therapist finished peeling off her mask. The dim lighting, soft music, and faint citrus fragrance were intended to soothe, but Candace found the odor annoying and the atmosphere distracting. She wiggled her fingers as the woman smoothed her forehead and temples with a light, practiced touch.

“I hope you enjoyed your facial. Take your time and I’ll see you out front when you’re ready,” the therapist said, exiting the room and closing the door quietly behind her.

Candace dressed and checked her cell phone for messages, hoping to see no more from her brother, Monty. There were none—good. She certainly wasn’t going to return his earlier call, and she would wait before sending him yet another email. She studied herself in the mirror, then shook her honey-blonde, shoulder-length hair and checked the roots. It was almost time for a coloring appointment with her stylist.

Emerging from the treatment room a few minutes later, Candace paid for her service, left the day spa, and unlocked her Mercedes. Just as she was fastening her seat belt, her phone buzzed. She glanced at the screen. It was Monty.

Staring straight ahead, she gripped the steering wheel. What could he want now? She’d just signed another check for twenty thousand dollars, and she was getting fed up. This pattern was one she needed to halt once and for all. But how?

She let the phone go to voicemail, wondering if he’d leave her another message or just hang up and expect her to call back. She needed to talk to David, her personal financial counselor. Her money man. She and David talked several times a week about how her investments were doing. David also handled her credit cards and other obligations and, when asked, offered his financial advice. He had warned her repeatedly about investing in her brother’s real estate venture. For some reason, she hadn’t listened to him, and she had let Monty suck her into his mess.

At the time, the real estate market was hot, and prices had been increasing for a decade. Candace was still reveling in the success of the company she’d founded before her twenty-ninth birthday, back in 1999. How had her life become what it was now, despite the fortune that she had worked so hard to build? No one except David knew exactly how much money she had or what her assets were worth. Monty would probably love to know, and his guess of eighty million wasn’t too far off. He thought that she had more money than she could ever spend. But Candace knew better. She didn’t think it was all that much, not compared with her friends: the beautiful and super-wealthy, some of them minor celebrities.

Her iPhone vibrated, signaling an email message. Candace looked down and saw it was from David. Stopping for a red light a few seconds later, she clicked on the message, scrolling down to read the one he had forwarded to her first:

From: Monty Carawan
Sent: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 9:34 AM EST
To: David Shepherd
Subject: Question
David,
I thought I had been clear with you at our recent meeting. We have nothing to talk about until you answer my question. What amount will your client settle for upon the sale of the property?
Rest assured that if I do not get a satisfactory answer within the week, I will take steps that will be both devastating to your client, and public.
Monty Carawan

Alarmed, Candace read David’s message:

From: David Shepherd
Sent: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 9:58 AM EST
To: Candace Morgan
Subject: FW: Question
Candace:
See below. I don’t know how to assess it, other than he seems to be very confused. You have no risk on the $845,000 you’ve invested so far, as I believe there is sufficient equity to cover it upon eventual sale of the property. Though it’s not fully drawn yet, the $500,000 home equity loan you cosigned is another matter.
My take is that he is trying to bully you into prematurely writing off your investment and the monies owed.
Let me know your thoughts.
David K. Shepherd
Elite Financial Planning
4900 Capstone Road
Atlanta, GA 30305
www.efp.com

Candace dialed David’s number.

“David Shep—”

“David.
What the fuck?

“Candace, calm—”

“I am calm, David. What in the
fuck
is Monty doing? ‘Devastating’ and ‘public?’ ”

“This isn’t the first—”

“I know it isn’t the first time he’s threatened me, David, but I’m starting to worry. What the hell happened during your meeting with him on Friday?”

“Well, he went nuts,” said David. “I brought up all of your concerns, but he wouldn’t answer any of my questions. Then he got belligerent and demanded to know what amount you would take to erase everything.”

“What do you mean,

belligerent?’ ”

“He spouted profanities and threatened me physically. I had to call security.”

“Are you
kidding
me?”

“I wish. He insisted that I give him an amount to settle all his debts to you, since he knows he won’t get anywhere near his asking price.”

“David, you know I’m not about to agree to that.”

“I know, and I wouldn’t counsel you to. Before the meeting, I sent him a list of issues, copying you. He wrote me back Thursday night. I forwarded it to you. I also left you a voicemail—”

“I didn’t listen to it. I saw your email to him, but I didn’t have time to look at his response. Read it to me now.”

“Let me pull it up.” After a short pause, David continued, “Okay, here it is: ‘Monty: Six weeks ago, you agreed to provide Candace with your complete personal financial information, an updated overall construction budget, past vendor receipts on the renovation, and ongoing monthly progress reports. You have not complied with this as of yet, so—’ ”

“Skip to the list,” ordered Candace.

“ ‘Number One: You did not earn any income during the past three years—’ ”

“What else is new? Sorry, David, go on.”

“ ‘During the past three years, so I don’t understand your basis for this year’s projected income.’ He answered, and I quote: ‘It is true that I did not claim any income for 2007, 2008, and 2009. My projected income for this year is based on my plan to get a job with an Internet company that is about to launch on the West Coast. I will of course be working from my home.’ ”


What
fucking Internet company?”

“I don’t know. He didn’t mention it at the meeting.”

“Find out. And google it. I want verification, for once.”

“ ‘Number Two: In addition to Candace’s investment of six hundred thousand dollars, you owe her another two hundred and forty-five thousand dollars—’ ”

“I know this, David.”

“ ‘You should have one hundred thousand dollars available to draw on the home equity line, so why are you asking her for another one-hundred-thousand-dollar loan?’ ”


What?

“Just wait,” said David. “Here’s his response: ‘We have closer to eighty-five thousand dollars available to draw, but we will not do so or move forward with the renovation until we receive an additional hundred from Candace. The eighty-five thousand is a cushion, a safeguard which we will not use.’ ”

Candace gritted her teeth. “Go on.”

“ ‘Number Three: Based on your lack of repayment so far, I cannot recommend that she make an additional loan. Given your unstable financial position and unreliable track record, you have put her investment in the property at risk.’ ”

“And he said?”

“ ‘I disagree about her investment being at risk. We do not plan to get behind on payments to the bank, so we are not in danger of losing the home. Based on comparable sales, listings in the neighborhood will sell for over two and a half million. As you know, our plan is to sell the house, pay all creditors including Candace—’ ”

“Damn right.”

“ ‘—and buy another home with the profit we will make.’ ”

“He’s delusional. I don’t know why I ever subscribed to such fantasy.”

“ ‘Number Four: Whether Candace agrees to an additional loan or not, we need an updated construction budget, monthly progress reports on the project, and all vendor receipts through today and in the future.’ ”

“Good.”

“And he responded: ‘If you think that I am going to provide any such documentation or receipts, you are dreaming. This is my project and I will carry it out with no further harassment from you or your client.’ ”

Candace’s stomach dropped. Her voice rose. “David, what can I
do
?”

“Here’s a solution. You take it over and get the renovation done yourself. He and Helen move to a rental they can afford on her salary. You get a new general contractor, complete the work, and sell the place yourself.”

“I don’t want to do that. You know I can’t throw them out. What about the baby?”

“She’ll survive, Candace. They all will. Helen, at least, will see to that.”

“But I don’t want to take it over. I just want my money.”

“Well, you should get it back, ultimately. It just depends on how long you’re willing to wait. If they can’t sell it, or won’t, and if they don’t keep up with the all the payments—”

“Which they won’t be able to, on her salary.”

“If they don’t,” continued David, “then we’ll buy the note from the bank, foreclose on the property, sell it, and recoup your investment.”

“Foreclosure? I can’t do that to them.”

“It’s not the ideal solution, but effectively the result would be the same for you. And with the epidemic of foreclosures now, the stigma’s not the same as it’s been in the past.”

“But their credit will be ruined. For years.”

“Yes, but then they’ll be forced to live on only what they can afford, without the benefit of credit. Live within their means, as you’ve said they ought to do. I don’t mean to be harsh about it, but it may be the best thing for them. It would be the best thing for you. You know if this were anyone else, purely a business deal, you wouldn’t hesitate—”

“You’re right. I wouldn’t. But I let myself get sucked to this deal at a weak moment. Back when they bought the house, my portfolio was up, and I just let Monty talk me into it, damn it.”
No

guilt me into it.

“That was then, though. Your stocks are lower now, and more important, the real estate market is way down. Especially the high-end segment.”

Candace grimaced. “Even before it crashed, Monty was an idiot to think he could ever sell the house for over three times what he paid. I knew that then, and so did you. But I didn’t listen.”

“That’s in the past. You’ve been extremely generous to him, I’d say, going deep into your pocket to allow him to get into it, with only a two-hundred-thousand-dollar mortgage. Gifting them twelve thousand apiece, every year since. Cosigning the home equity loan last fall, then making the additional loans.”

“I didn’t feel I had much choice, after things got so out of control.”

“Well, you’ve gotten in deep, but I don’t really understand why. I know he’s your brother, and with your parents gone, you’ve tried to help him. But in all truth, at least in this case, he’s made some very bad choices.”

“He’s a master manipulator. If he would just work half as hard at some job—any job—as he has at getting other people to support him, he’d be fine. I don’t see how Helen has any respect for him. I hate to think what their marriage is like.”

“In any case, we need to make a decision going forward, and I’m counseling you to decline this last hundred thousand. Let them draw down the eighty-five they have left, if they must.”

“I certainly don’t want to shell out another hundred. But let’s go back to today’s email from him. That threat.”

“Candace, I think he’s bluffing. He’s just being a bully. Besides, what can he really do to you?”

She paused. “I don’t know. I hate to imagine what he could do online.”

“Well, I have no idea how his brain works, but I do believe it’s all bluster, bravado, and more manipulation. If he did put anything online, who’s going to see it? No one that’s important to you would take any rumor on the Internet or on social media seriously. Anything he said would reflect badly only on him. You’re a well-known CEO and a public persona. A decades-old story or reference would be quickly discarded and buried under new scandals.”

“Coming from my own brother, though, it could bubble up into a major embarrassment, especially during a slow news cycle. What could something like that do to my stock price?”

“Candace, relax. I really don’t think it’s going to happen. He’s just trying to scare you, I promise.”

“Logically, I agree with you. But I’m worried. Don’t send him any more emails. I’m not going to contact him, either. He’ll figure out he’s not getting the money.”

“Got it. Anything else?”

“No. Thanks for your thoughts, David. We’ll talk later.”

Candace clicked off the phone and let out a deep breath. At the next red light, she checked her appearance in the rearview mirror. She shook her head slightly, inspected her teeth, and flinched at a short honk when the light changed. Accelerating, she glanced at the dashboard clock. She was going to be late to the luncheon at the museum in Midtown.

Without warning, her mind switched to an image of herself as an overweight teenager of twenty-plus years ago. Her stomach clenched as she remembered her constant fear of catching her reflection in a mirror. She had graduated high school a year early, but no funds were available for college—her parents’ bleak financial situation had been frustrating, at best. In an indirect way, it had been the cause of everything. Stuck at home, she had found a job as a clerk at a travel agency and started saving her money.

BOOK: Underwater
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