Psychologist Charlotte Phillips claims to be his comatose father’s legal guardian. Rich is determined to learn what has happened, gain control of his father’s money, and unmask Charlotte as the gold-digging schemer he’s certain she is. He is shocked to find his father’s crusty old attorney has been taken in by her along with everyone else.
Can Rich straighten out the mess his life has become?
“This is the Safe-N-Sure Security Monitoring Company. We have a confirmed alarm activation at the Richard Martino home. The Alamo Hills Police Department have dispatched a patrol car.”
A confirmed alarm activation? She wished she had asked exactly what that meant before hanging up the phone. In any case, she would need to check Dick’s house right away. Picking up her purse, she walked to her car, praying she wouldn’t arrive before the police.
It was normally a twenty-minute drive from Charlotte’s house to Alamo Hills. Because of pokey drivers and uncooperative traffic signals, it was more than twenty-five minutes before she pulled into Dick’s circular driveway. The huge, majestic home looked perfectly normal, except for the Alamo Hills police car parked in the driveway.
She hurried to the front door and found it slightly ajar. A strange ruckus sounded from a nearby room. A group of men, talking, and could they be laughing?
“...and then you kick him in the nuts,” Charlotte heard a rich baritone voice say as she walked quickly from the foyer into the spacious living room.
A young man in a police uniform sat on the couch, grinning. Another very young officer was lying on the floor, laughing so hard he was gasping for breath. Standing over the policeman on the floor was a tall, ruggedly handsome man, not as young as the others, and not in uniform. Tall, broad-shouldered, deeply tanned and muscular, with short blond hair and sky-blue eyes. Charlotte thought the man looked like an aging California surfer.
The two young policemen looked at Charlotte as if they had been caught smoking in the boys’ bathroom. Then the surfer looked Charlotte in the eye and spat, “Who the hell are you?”
Both police officers were busily standing, straightening their uniforms, smoothing their hair.
“I would never phrase it that way,” Charlotte responded mildly, “but I was about to ask you the same question.”
“Officer Johnson, ma’am,” said the better-looking of the two young men, suddenly all business. “We responded to an alarm at this location, Patrolman Ruiz and I, approximately a half hour ago. This gentleman—” he nodded toward the surfer— “has put forth an explanation that the alarm was a mistake and we were waiting for further instructions, ma’am.”
Charlotte considered the surfer. Granted, he didn’t look like a thief, and he wasn’t acting much like one. What was he doing inside Dick’s house? Other than burglary, what possible purpose could he have? There was something familiar about this tall blond, but she could not immediately identify what.
“Would someone like to explain the mistake theory?” she asked.
The surfer looked her up and down before he answered. With embarrassment, Charlotte remembered she was still wearing her house cleaning clothes—a pair of her son Chris’s old boy scout shorts that swallowed her and had a hole in one leg. A sweaty Spurs tee shirt, with washing machine grease smeared on the front. Flip-flops. And her hair in what Chris teasingly called her Pocahontas look.
“I’m the owner of this house. And you?” He was also the owner of that honey-baritone voice Charlotte had heard from the entry way.
“This house belongs to Dick Martino. And you’re not him,” Charlotte said evenly.
The man narrowed his eyes and glared at her. “I’m Rich Martino, Dick’s son.”
“That can’t be true either. Dick Martino’s son, his only child, died last year.” Thank goodness for the police officers, she thought.
“What? You’re out of your mind, lady. Where’s my dad? He’ll straighten this whole mess out in a New York minute.”
Should she tell this man Dick’s personal business? “Mr. Martino is in the hospital,” she said simply. “And I really think—”
“Hospital?” The surfer’s face contorted, clearly concerned, as one would expect from a real son. “What happened to him? Is he all right? I
have to go and see him. Right now! Which hospital?”
“I’m sorry,” Charlotte said and she really was. The man looked genuinely distraught. Probably he was upset at being caught red-handed breaking into a house, but she couldn’t stop some stirrings of compassion for him.
“Look,” the surfer said. “I don’t know who you are. But I do know who I am. The neighbors around here all know me. Ask them. Is Ernestine Longoria still alive? She knows me, so go and ask her. She lives right next door.” He gestured in the direction where the Longorias lived.
“I’ll try to verify this if you like, ma’am,” Officer Johnson said to Charlotte.
“Yes. Please. I would appreciate that very much,” Charlotte replied.
The policeman returned very quickly. “No one home,” he reported.
“Well, try the Robinsons on the other side,” the surfer demanded.
As Officer Johnson walked by, he laid a hand of comradeship on the surfer’s shoulder as if to say, “Game’s over, pal.”
An image flashed blindingly across Charlotte’s mind. The tall blond son in the picture by Dick’s bedside. The mother reaching to pin a gold bar on one epaulette. Dick reaching to pin one on the other shoulder. This surfer was an older version of the young man in that picture.
She stared, sure it was him. Of course, if he really was a burglar, she didn’t want the police to leave. But she didn’t want to send her friend’s son to spend the night in the Alamo Hills municipal jail, either.
“Do you think your father’s dog would know you?” Charlotte heard herself asking.
“Dog?” The surfer snorted. “My dad never had a dog in his life. Ask him. He’ll tell you he hates the filthy animals.”
Interesting turn of phrase—exactly the quote Anita repeated from Dick. “Well, why don’t we check the back yard and see?”
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