Alpha Billionaire’s Bride, Part Four (BWWM Romance Serial) (2 page)

BOOK: Alpha Billionaire’s Bride, Part Four (BWWM Romance Serial)
7.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“I assure you I am very real, Jada. All of this is.”

“I know, but at the same time, you’re not, because I made up
this fantasy that it was okay to let you handle everything. I pretended not
have the responsibility of fixing anything myself. That’s not real, it’s not
who I am, and it’s not fair to either one of us.”

“That’s not entirely true that you left it all to me,” he
said. “You and Marina have been working together to track down other suspects.”

“No, Marina has been working. I played amateur detective for
a while, tossing out suspects like it was a game. The instant you told me you
believed CGTV was behind everything, what did I do? I said okay, and fell in
line with hardly a question, convinced you’d gotten it right.”

Ian winced. “I still believe CGTV is behind it all.”

“That’s fine, but it’s not the point. I have my own ideas
and I shouldn’t put them aside because they’re not the same as yours. I’m used
to taking charge and handling my own problems. It’s how I was raised and the
only way I know how to be.” She stood up and gave him a level look. “And that’s
why I need to borrow transportation so I can get home to my own car. Then I’m
going to solve this case and return to my normal life.”

Ian stiffened, an image of Jada walking away from him
forever bringing on a disconcerting, plummeting sensation in the pit of his
stomach. “You don’t have to do this alone.”

“Oh, I’m not. Marina and Agatha are going to stay here and
keep trying to contact Sasha’s enemies. And I assume your people will continue
putting pressure on CGTV.”

“I meant me, specifically.”

She seemed different. More assured, direct, powered by
conviction. “I won’t play games, Ian. I think you know how I feel about you.
You overwhelm me sometimes, but that’s over. You’re welcome to help if you
want, we can be partners, but don’t pressure me again to let you handle
everything like I’m a helpless child. I don’t need you or anyone to hold my
hand. It won’t go well for you if you try.”

Damn. Ian could only sit there and stare at this fascinating
woman who stood proudly in front of him telling him how things were going to
be. He wasn’t sure how to take it.

People didn’t gainsay Ian Buckley. If Ian said he’d handle a
problem, people let him, expected it, were grateful for it. He was the problem
solver, the man who got things done. It was who he was and people relied on
him. Women in particular liked him to take charge. They always wanted him in
charge. Always. Until Jada.

He wasn’t positive how to handle this novel situation. Did
he argue? Let her have her way? Try to reach a compromise?

The bottom line was, could he turn over the reins of this
investigation to Jada like she wanted? He was no follower. He was the
commander, in the past, now and forever. Might as well try to break the habit
of breathing as try to stop leading.

A thought tapped for attention at the back of his brain.
Jada said she had her own suspects her own ideas about who was behind the fake
marriage licenses. This meant she wasn’t totally on board with Ian’s own
conviction that everything had been orchestrated by CGTV.

Since that was the case, it wouldn’t be hard to step back
and let Jada follow the trail of evidence all the way to its end, where she
would discover that she was wrong and Ian had been right all along.

He turned the idea over in his head, checking all sides to
make sure everything lined up. Yes, he could hang back and let her take the
lead as long as he knew exactly where they’d end up. And he believed he
definitely knew that.

He smiled and stood. “I accept your conditions. So what’s
the plan?”

She returned his smile and maybe it was wishful thinking,
but Ian thought he saw a glimmer of relief pass over her features, which could
only mean she didn’t truly want to leave him.

“I need to get to Springers Glen as soon as possible to
question the clerks in the courthouse records department. I think I’ll get
better results if I speak to them in person,” Jada said.

“Good idea. Car or helicopter?”

Jada looked thoughtful. “How long will it take the
helicopter to get here?”

The game was afoot.



Chapter Two


JADA AND IAN MOVED OUT of the bright sunshine and into the
dark interior of the historic Springers Glen Courthouse. Ancient, scuffed wood
floors creaked under their heels as they walked down the narrow hallway. It
smelled like industrial cleaner and citrus bug spray, underscored with the hint
of mildew often present in old buildings.

Jada knew she looked a fool in her disguise. Agatha had
loaned her a giant floppy hat, Sasha had let her borrow some oversized
butterfly sunglasses, and Marina had added a scarf around the top of the hat,
tying it under Jada’s chin supposedly to add a classy Dorothy Dandridge touch.
Ha. More like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jada thought.

She reached up to remove the giant sunglasses.

“No,” Ian said, touching her arm, “leave them on. Best to
stay covered until we’re there.”

She pushed the glasses back up her nose. “But they’re so
dark, I can’t see.”

“Hang onto my arm and I’ll guide you.”

“I don’t know. You’re wearing sunglasses, too. It’s the
blind leading the blind, isn’t it?”

He chuckled softly. “So we bounce off a few walls. No big
thing. Point me in the direction of the records office and I’ll try not to get
us killed on the way.”

“Up ahead on the left, down the stairs. It’s in the

“Why are records departments always in the basement?” Ian

“No idea. In case there’s a tornado so all the paperwork
won’t blow away?”

“Maybe. But if there’s a flood, it’ll all get wet.”

“From the smell, I’d say a hundred floods have already come
and gone,” Jada said.

They decided it was best to risk discovery and lift their
sunglasses up so they could safely navigate the stairs. They survived the
journey without mishap and saw no one on the way.

“What does this woman look like?” Ian asked. “The D.A. who’s
meeting us?”

“Late twenties, taller than me. Pretty.”

“I think I see her but it’s hard to be sure.”

“I see a shadowy outline. Could be her,” Jada said,
squinting through the dark lenses.

They found their way down the hall and stopped in front of
who Jada could now see was, indeed, the district attorney, Ophelia Wyatt. She
was dressed in a tailored, navy power suit that complimented her mocha skin
tone. Beside her, a handwritten sign hung on the shuttered window to the
records department which said the office was closed.

Jada introduced Ophelia to Ian and they shook hands.

“Thank you for calling me in on this, Jada,” Ophelia said.
“It’s been quite the enlightening morning.”

“I knew you’d be the person for the job,” Jada said.

Ophelia ushered them down the hall and into a small
conference room, closing the door behind them.

Jada pulled off her disguise and looked around. They were in
a nondescript, beige, windowless room with a single table, six chairs and
little else. Fluorescent lights buzzed in the low ceiling. The most she could
say for the place was that it had been recently painted. It was a snug,
claustrophobic space and Jada was glad she wouldn’t be in it for long.

Two women sat on the far side of the table. Jada recognized
one, but not the other.

Jada, Ian and Ophelia sat down.

“These are both of the clerks who currently work in the
records department. This,” Ophelia gestured to the woman Jada didn’t recognize,
“is Violet Crow. She normally works in the county clerk’s office, but she’s
been filling in today for Sylvia Watson, who’s currently away on leave as I
told you when you called.”

Jada and Ian greeted the middle-aged woman, who returned the
greetings along with a nervous smile.

Ophelia turned to the elderly lady wearing a floral print
housedress, her snow white hair twisted into a tight bun at the back of her
petite head. “And this is Nell Wyatt, a part-time employee in records, and
she’s also my grandmother. I assume Jada has told you that, Ian?”

He nodded.

Jada recalled his reaction when she told him that a
Springers Glen city councilman, Frank Wyatt, was Nell Wyatt’s son and Ophelia’s
father. This was undoubtedly how the elderly clerk had kept her job at the
courthouse a couple of decades beyond the time when others had been forced to
retire. Ian laughed and said he was glad to see nepotism was as alive and well
in small town government as it was in city government.

Jada smiled at the elderly lady, who smiled back.

“You’re Kenya and Montpelier’s girl. How’s your folks?” she
asked Jada.

“They’re fine, thank you. On the road still. I haven’t seen
you in ages, Mrs. Nell.”

“No, you young people are always busy, busy, busy. No time
to sit and visit. Just like Ophelia. She hasn’t been by for Sunday dinner in

Ophelia grimaced. “Now’s not the time for that, Grandma.”

“It’s never the time,” Mrs. Nell said. She flashed her
pearly-white dentures in Ian’s direction. “And who did you say this tall drink
of water is?”

“Ian Buckley. Remember? We went over this a few minutes
ago?” Ophelia asked.

“Hmm. I like the look of him. You caught yourself a good
one, Jada. If I were forty years younger, er, fifty. Wait, sixty? Nah, fifty.
If I were fifty years younger, I’d set my bonnet for you, sir.” She winked at

Ophelia patted her grandmother’s hand. “That’s great, but we
need to get moving.” She turned to Ian. “We’ve already gone over what you’re
here to talk to them about. Feel free to ask whatever is necessary. We want to
get to the bottom of this as much as you do, I assure you.”

Jada bet she did.

Ian gestured at Jada. They’d decided on the way in to town
that she’d do the questioning.

She began with Violet. “How long have you been filling in
for Sylvia?”

“Only today, this morning,” Violet blurted in a rush.

Jada tried to set her at ease with a smile. “Thank you. Did
anyone come in this morning asking for copies of marriage licenses?”

“Yes, two people, and they both wanted the same thing,
basically. One of them, a polite young woman, was already waiting when we

Ian shifted in his chair, and Jada knew he was frustrated
that his own employee hadn’t been waiting, too.

“Can you remember exactly what she asked for?”

“Oh yes. It’s been all over the internet, so I’d heard about
it already. She wanted me to get her a copy of a marriage license recently
filed for Ian Buckley. She was very clear that she wanted a copy of the
original license, not a printout of the computer entry.” She shot a quick
glance at Ian, then back to Jada.

“And did you give her one?”

“I would have, except I couldn’t find the original license.
There was no license with Ian Buckley marrying anyone.”

“What did she do when you told her?”

“She asked about sending off for a copy, which was kind of
strange. I told her if the license was filed recently and wasn’t in the filing
cabinets, then we didn’t have it and that was that.”

“That’s odd,” Jada said.

“Not as much as you’d think,” Ophelia said. “You’ll
understand later.”

Jada accepted that and looked at Violet. “Anything else

“She asked me to search again, and to look for your name,
Jada Howarth. I did and I found a license that showed you as the bride. I made
a copy for the woman and when she looked it over she seemed confused, then she
paid me for the copy and left.”

“We have a copy of that license here,” Ophelia said, patting
a manilla folder on the table. “Everything in this is for you to take with you,
as you requested.”

Jada’s fingers itched to get hold of that smoking gun, but
she repressed the urge. There’d be time for that later.

“When did the second person arrive?” she asked.

“Not too long after. Maybe a half hour,” Violet answered. “A
young man.”

“What did he ask for?”

“He also wanted a copy of any marriage license which showed
Ian Buckley had gotten married. I already knew there wasn’t one, of course, so
I told him right away that we didn’t have what he wanted. He left looking
pretty happy.”

Ian shifted in his seat again. “Didn’t he ask how you knew
there was no license when you didn’t go look?”

“No,” Violet said.

Ian sighed.

Jada asked Violet one last important question. “Did you
think about telling the young man that you’d found a marriage license with my
name on it?”

“I did, but I decided it wasn’t my business to suggest what
someone might be interested in. It’s my job to give them what they request, if
I can, and nothing more or less.”

Jada maintained an air of approval while wishing Violet had
been a less diligent employee and given Zeke the heads-up about the other
license. If they’d had that, CGTV might have been stopped before breaking
another false story. It was maddening.

She raised an eyebrow in Ian’s direction. He nodded. She
turned back to Violet. “Is there anything else that happened which might
pertain to this situation?”

“No. Nothing.”

“Then we don’t have any more questions, Violet. Thank you
for being so helpful.”

After polite farewells, Jada settled in and prepared herself
for round two. Mrs. Nell. Oh boy.

While Jada had been questioning Violet, Mrs. Nell had pulled
out a pile of yarn and begun crocheting peacefully on whatever it was she was
making, probably booties. All the older ladies loved their booties. And tea
cozies. They made lots of tea cozies, even though no one under sixty had any
idea what they might be used for.

Jada wanted to keep the questioning as clear-cut as
possible. Mrs. Nell was still sharp, but she was over eighty years old, and
allowances had to be made. “Mrs. Nell, did you work your usual hours last

“Yes I did. I never miss a day,” she said, not looking up
from her work, peering down through a pair of thick-lensed glasses. “Monday,
Wednesday and Friday, I’m always there from opening until lunch.”

“Except for last week,” Ophelia prodded. “Remember how last
week was different?”

“I guess I do! I told you about it when you were asking me
all those questions. My memory’s fine, young lady.”

Ophelia’s brows drew together. “I’m not impugning your
memory, Grandma. I was—”

“There she goes with the big words. Im-pew-ning.” She
glanced up at Jada and Ian and rolled her eyes. “Big shot lawyer, big shot
words. But we love her anyway. Truth is, we’re pretty proud. First lawyer in
the family. Needs to get herself a husband, but she’s doing okay. Women these
days, I guess, they don’t need men the way we did.”

Jada struggled to keep from chuckling at Ophelia’s
long-suffering expression.

The DA took a deep breath. “Grandma and I have already gone
over everything this morning before you got here, so would it be okay if I give
you a synopsis and you can ask Grandma to confirm that I got it right?”

Jada was relieved. She’d dreaded interrogating elderly Mrs.
Nell. “Yes, that sounds perfect. Ian?”

“Agreed,” he said, settling back in his chair, his hands
clasped loosely over his flat stomach, a portrait of relaxation.

Jada never got used to how handsome he was, his dark hair
and strong jawline, his muscular arms and wide shoulders. The small room made
him seem even larger than usual. She tingled at the thought of how he kissed
her, how he took her in those powerful arms and ...

Well, she thought, how stupid was that? She pulled herself
together and concentrated instead on how relaxed Ian was, considering the
importance of this meeting. While she was glad he was enjoying himself, she
hoped his attention didn’t falter.

Wait. The man ran a multi-billion-dollar empire. Of course
he could look relaxed and still pay attention. He was probably deliberately
putting everyone at ease, or had some other, Machiavellian reason for his
position that Jada couldn’t comprehend.

Ophelia brought her back to the meeting by saying, “Grandma
and I had a long conversation about everything, and I think we have some
information that will be useful.”

“I should hope so,” Mrs. Nell said. “Been a lot of to-do
about your wedding, young lady.”

“I can’t argue with you about that,” Jada said.

“And for the record,” Ophelia said, “without Sylvia here to
corroborate what Grandma has told me, we can’t conclude anything for certain.”

“We understand,” Jada said. “What have you learned?”

“It started last Wednesday morning, not long before lunch. Grandma
remembers a woman coming in and talking to Sylvia for a while.”

“Did she overhear anything they said?” Jada asked.

“Not much. She was busy with her work.” She eyeballed Mrs.
Nell’s yarn pile, silently informing them that this undoubtedly was the work
Mrs. Nell had been doing.

“Did she get a look at the woman? Can you describe her at
all, Mrs. Nell?” Jada asked.

“She had on a big hat and sunglasses, kind of like you did
when you came in,” Mrs. Nell answered. “And she was tall. I remember that. You
don’t see many women that tall around here. We don’t grow ‘em that big.”

“Do you remember anything else about her? Hair color, what
kind of clothes she wore, what the hat looked like, anything at all?”

“No, none of that,” Mrs. Nell said. “I was at my desk and
she was all the way up front. I was wearing my close-up crocheting specs, not
my looking-out-there ones.”

“That’s exactly what she told me earlier,” Ophelia
confirmed. “The woman spoke with Sylvia for some time and Grandma believes they
were talking about a marriage license because she heard the word wedding
several times, and Sylvia kept studying the document the woman and she were

Jackpot, Jada thought. If Mrs. Nell’s story was true, and
Jada had no reason to doubt it, then Sylvia did know what was on that marriage
license. Therefore, it made sense to conclude that there was more behind the
bribe Sylvia accepted than merely calling CGTV with a tip, precisely as Jada
and Marina had speculated.

BOOK: Alpha Billionaire’s Bride, Part Four (BWWM Romance Serial)
7.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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