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“Congratulations, Cecily. Your father left you a very rich woman.” Malcolm Baxter shuffled the papers on his desk.
Her father’s lawyer flashed a soft, close-lipped smile, and she nodded in reply. This was as hard for him as it was for her. The old man had been more than her father’s attorney. Malcom was her father’s friend.
Cecily Montgomery plastered a mask of calm on her face and bit back the urge to cry. Malcolm met her gaze with a small nod and turned his eyes to the documents at hand. “There are a few particulars we need to address first. Minor bequeaths and such before we get to the family.” He looked up and shoved his glasses further onto his nose. “Nothing you don’t already know.”
She exhaled, squeezing her laced fingers until her knuckles whitened. “Business as usual, I suppose.” Back rigid, Cecily sat in the leather chair directly in front of the lawyer’s desk, ignoring the rest of her family sitting behind her in the posh office. Her stepmother and stepbrother especially.
They were the reason her father’s last will and testament was being read in Boston instead of in New York. Of that she had no doubt. They couldn’t wait to rush back to the Cape, their eager fists clutching at whatever her father left them, and anything else they could grab.
Malcolm cleared his throat and Cecily’s gaze moved to her father’s valet and a few others besides family asked to come today. They were people she knew and loved all her life. They weren’t young anymore, and the fact her stepmother forced them into the long train ride north from New York irritated her even more. Each looked as uncomfortable as if they waited for the executor to finish reading the legalese.
She shifted her eyes back to Malcolm, watching how he twisted his law school ring on his finger. She’d seen him do that plenty of times over the years, especially whenever her father gave him an unpleasant task. Something was up. Her brows knotted for a moment and when Malcom’s eyes met hers, she knew she was right. She didn’t need the telltale metallic tang on the back of her tongue or the tingle in her shifter senses to guess her father had put an unexpected twist into his last will and testament.
“Everyone, out.” She stood and turned to face the room. Her gaze concentrated on her stepmother especially. “I need to speak with Malcolm and it doesn’t require an audience.”
No one moved, and she focused her stare on her father’s attorney, not caring about the beads of sweat on his forehead. “Malcolm?” She inhaled again, steeling her shoulders at the ratcheted taste of his unease.
The man nodded. “Everyone, please. Cecily and I will be just a moment.”
“Her father’s body isn’t even cold and she’s already calling the shots.” Her stepmother sniffed. “George was a fool leaving everything he worked for to you.”
“Susan, that’s quite enough,” Malcolm chided. “Cecily’s instincts are as sharp as her father’s and she is right. As heir and alpha apparent, there are things I need to settle with her first. Have a seat in the waiting room.”
A deep snort followed the lawyer’s sentence. “Sharp? The old man was as dull as dishwater.”
Cecily’s gaze moved to her stepbrother and she stiffened at the snide comment. Her eyes narrowed. “I’d be careful if I were you, Jackson. I have no problem contesting whatever crumbs my dad left both you and your mother. Marcus Leeds is still on the payroll, and if memory serves, his investigative talents were put to good use in the last year of my father’s life. Don’t make me ask him about the dirt he found. Trust me, you’d rather I not know.”
Susan practically pulled her son out the door, shoving him ahead of her with a clipped exhale. Joseph, her father’s valet, filed out next, along with the other staff. They had been with Cecily and her dad since before her mother died, and they despised her stepmother almost as much as she did.
When the room was empty, she crossed her arms and turned toward the gray-haired man behind the large desk. “Okay, Malcolm, spit it out. My feline senses are tingling, and the scent of your agitation is burning the inside of my nose. What did my father do to make my life hell this time? What test of loyalty did he dream up now?”
“Cecily, please. You’re both angry and grieving, and with you that’s a lethal combination. Don’t shoot the messenger, okay?”
She exhaled hard. “Fine.” She sat down again, and despite the frown on her face, his words took some of the heated wind out of her sails. “Ever since Dad found out Jackson wasn’t his son, he’s been making me pay for the disappointment.”
Malcolm nodded. “I know, sweetheart.”
She tossed a hand in the air. “But instead of divorcing Susan, what did he do? He kept her around. He favored Jack over me though she lied about him being a Montgomery.” She snorted. “As if. A blind man could see he’s the spitting image of Rod Welsh. Leave it to that conniving bitch to sleep with my father’s partner and try to pawn off the pregnancy on Dad. There isn’t a drop of puma blood in Jackson’s veins. Anyone with half a nose could scent that. Did she honestly think no one would suspect his fully-human status the minute puberty hit?”
Malcolm cleared his throat again. “Your father may have been many things, Cecy, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew you were his flesh and blood, and while I admit he was hard on you, it was for a reason. He was a big proponent of keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”
Cecily slammed her hands on either arm of the office chair. “So, I’m the enemy?”
He quickly shook his head. “No, of course not. It may have seemed like he favored Jackson, but in truth, no. He realized Susan’s deception, but he was the alpha and needed to set an example. You were the one he groomed to take over. It’s why he was a perfectionist with you. How else could he to train you for the responsibilities that waited once he passed? He knew once he wasn’t around anymore, people would try and manipulate you. He gave you the strength to handle any situation. You are his daughter and as such, the heir to his fortune and his businesses, but more importantly, you are now the Alpha of the Mohican Pack. You are also now the target of every smarmy trick his enemies can devise. That includes your stepmother and Jackson. In order to preserve your line, he’s added a codicil to his will.”
Cecy exhaled again. “Of course, he did.”
“Don’t.” Lifting one hand, she shook her head. “I hate when you hedge, Malcolm. Please don’t patronize me. Just give it to me straight.”
He pressed his lips tight, eyeing her over the thin wire rim of his glasses. “You have to mate and produce an heir, or you lose everything.”
“That’s the condition of Dad’s will?” She chuckled, interrupting him. “Of course, I plan to marry and have kids.”
“You didn’t let me finish, Cecily. You have to do so within a year.”
Cecily’s lips parted, and she blinked. “I have to what?”
Malcolm pulled his glasses from his nose. “You heard me, honey. According to the stipulations of your father’s will, you must marry and conceive a child within one year of his death. A female alpha is uncommon. In fact, there are clan members who are dead set against you claiming the title. They know you’d never win against a blood challenge, but they are willing to take a chance on you, if you mate and produce an heir. Your father didn’t want this. The council forced his hand.”
Cecily shot from her chair. “You have got to be kidding me.”
He stared at her but didn’t reply.
“No.” She walked around the back of her chair, shaking her head. “He wouldn’t. They wouldn’t.” Her eyes turned and she searched the lawyer’s face. “Malcolm, please tell me this is some kind of sick, beyond the grave prank.”
He spread his hands apologetically. “I’m sorry, Cecily. You can always refuse to comply with the terms of your father’s will, but you forfeit your inheritance, thus leaving his estate open to contest, and the position of alpha up for grabs. Jackson would be only too happy to take the mantle off your shoulders.”
Dumbfounded, Cecily sank into one of the other chairs. “And what if I can’t conceive? Did my father account for that? He and my mother spent thousands of dollars on fertility treatments, and I was the only viable baby all that worry and pain produced.” She lifted shocked eyes to Malcolm again. “What then? Am I to be punished because of something I can’t control?”
The lawyer shook his head. “Your father provided for that, too. The terms of your father’s will state if fertility treatments are in play, including surrogacy, it’s all good. If you produce viable eggs and a surrogate is required to carry the child to term, then the terms of the will are satisfied, and no further action is required.”
“No further action.” She snorted. “My father basically branded me a brood mare.”
Malcolm put his glasses down. “I know it seems like that on the outside, but in truth George only wanted to ensure his line survived and that a Montgomery would remain the Mohican Alpha. For Montgomery Holding, especially.”
Cecily looked at the man she knew all her life. “Any child I have will be a Montgomery and a Mohican. It’s not like we won’t know who the mother is, so why is my father putting a time frame on me?” She exhaled, running a hand through her long, dark hair.
“He left you a letter explaining everything.” Malcolm held out a buff-colored envelope with the Mohican Pack crest embossed on the front.
Cecily took the letter and stared at her name written in her father’s hand.
“Maybe you should read that when you’re alone. Blood in the water will set the sharks to circling.” He gestured toward the closed office door.
Tears pricked Cecily’s eyes and she nodded. “You argued with him about this, didn’t you?” She lifted the letter.
The lawyer nodded. “Of course, I did, but he had his reasons.” His hand hovered over the intercom button on the side of his desk. “Let’s get the rest of this ugliness finished, and then I’ll take you to dinner. You look like you could use a drink.”