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DIAMOND HARD


Prequel to Denim & Diamonds



Lori L. Robinett

Copyright © 2017 by Lori L. Robinett



All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.



Printed in the United States of America



First Printing, 2017



Three Creeks Press

1880 State Road E

Auxvasse, MO 65231



9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Other books by Lori L. Robinett:



Fiction:

Denim and Diamonds

Diamond in the Rough

Fatal Impulse

Fatal Obsession

Train of Thought



Non-fiction:

The Novel Idea Generator

Reader's Journal

PART ONE



Elizabeth Jameson stared out the large window at Bartle Hall and drummed her manicured nails on the arm of her chair. Her ear ached where the handset of her phone pressed against it. Her chest rose and fell with a sigh as the attorney on the other end of the phone pontificated about what he perceived as weaknesses in her client’s position.

When Scott Crawford paused to take a breath, Beth broke in. “Let's cut to the chase. You and I both know Mr. Brown has a long history of making unwanted sexual advances against the women who work for his company.”

“Now--” He drew the word out. The condescension in that one word made her want to scream.

Before he could continue, she said calmly, “I have videos.” She fingered the diamond stud in her right earlobe.

The phone line buzzed hollowly as her counterpart considered her words. A quiet knock at the door sounded. Beth swiveled her chair towards the sound. Her assistant, Jodie, strode into the room and handed her a slip of paper.

“Urgent call. About your father.”

Beth blinked rapidly. Her father? She hadn’t spoken to him in years. She traced her finger over the word urgent, then looked up at her young assistant whose eyebrows rose in question. “Crawford, I’ve got to go. If you meet our demand, great. Otherwise, I’ll see you in court.” She hung up without waiting for a response.

Jodie spun on her heel and hurried out to her desk. She transferred the call and Beth picked up the phone, hesitating for just a second. “Elizabeth Jameson.”

“Miss Jameson, I am so sorry. I know this probably isn’t a good time, but your father asked me to call. My name is Cooper. Your father and I’ve been friends a long time.” The man’s voice had a trace of southern drawl.

Anger flared. She sucked in a breath. “I’m very busy. You told my assistant this was urgent?”

“There’s no easy way to say this.” The man paused, then huffed out a breath. “Your father passed away this morning.”

Her chest felt as if it was imploding, squeezing in on itself. “How?”

“Heart attack. He didn’t suffer.”

She expected sadness, but it didn’t come. Then again, they’d been estranged for years. No reason to expect grief the way most people would. “That’s good. That he didn’t suffer, I mean.” Her voice sounded as if it were a million miles away. Disconnected. She closed her eyes and could picture her father. Tall, sturdy, broad shoulders. Thin lips pressed in a line, dark eyes narrowed.

Cooper continued, “He didn’t want a big to-do. The funeral is going to be Thursday at 3 pm, with a dinner following at Friendship Church just the south side of Wilder.” His voice sounded tight.

Beth scribbled the info on a yellow legal pad. “I’ll try to make it.” Her mind raced at the thought of having to rearrange her schedule. Besides the meetings scheduled, she needed to be preparing for the trial she’d just been talking to Scott Crawford about, because she was fairly certain that Richard Brown was too full of himself to accept a settlement offer. The man couldn't conceive that anything he did was wrong.

He cleared his throat and said, “Besides being your daddy’s friend, I was also his lawyer. We need to talk about a few legalities, and I’d rather do it in person. Maybe we could meet tomorrow, depending on when you’ll be gettin’ into town?”

She glanced at her monitor and moused over to the next day. A 9 o’clock hearing, then back to back meetings. It would be hard enough to reschedule all of Thursday’s appointments. “I’d rather just come down for the day. Could we meet Thursday morning?” She tapped out an email to Jodie, asking her to clear Thursday.

“How ‘bout 11 o’clock?”

If she left Kansas City by 9, she should make it in plenty of time. “That’ll work.” She asked for directions to his office.

As they ended the call, he said, “Lizzie, I’m so sorry for your loss.” His voice broke.

Her mouth went dry. No one called her Lizzie. No one but her father, when she was a little girl. So many, many years ago. When he was her daddy . . . Before the affairs, before the divorce, before he started a new life without her and her mother, before he abandoned them. Goosebumps pimpled her skin as a wave of nostalgia washed over her.



PART TWO



Two days later, Beth pulled into the little town of Wilder, Missouri, and found the attorney’s office in an old building on the town square, facing the red brick courthouse. The faded green awning over the door sagged. The door opened with a squeal. Beth stood a moment, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior. An elderly woman seated at an L-shaped desk greeted her. As soon as Beth identified herself, the woman’s face fell. “I’m so sorry about your daddy. He was a wonderful man and we’re all gonna miss him.”

Beth blinked at the emotion in the woman's voice. Her father was a forbidding, controlling man who rarely had anything good to say about anyone. Most of her memories revolved around him correcting her, telling her to study harder, stand up straighter, practice more. It always felt as if she were never good enough, that she didn’t live up to his expectations.

The woman picked up the phone and said, “Ms. Jameson is here.” After she hung up the phone, she looked up at Beth. “Can I get you anything to drink? Coffee? Water?”

“No, thank you.” Beth sat on a well-worn blue chair. She felt overdressed in her black pencil skirt and gray silk blouse, compared to the receptionist’s floral t-shirt.

Almost instantly, a portly man with a halo of gray hair and a double chin appeared from a hallway. The black suit jacket he wore gave him a somber air, but he wore it over crisp jeans with a knife crease instead of dress pants. He zeroed in on her and strode across the room as he offered his hand. “Ms. Jameson, sorry it’s under such unpleasant circumstances, but it’s good to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“I find that hard to believe.” Beth reached out and shook his hand.

He chuckled. “Come on back.”

His office was large, but claustrophobic. Bookshelves lined the walls, filled with banker’s boxes and 3-ring binders. Loose papers littered his desk, spilling over onto the floor, where stacks of file folders teetered precariously. She settled on a straight-backed wooden chair. Cooper sat in a leather chair that creaked with every move he made. He leaned forward, pulled a manila folder out of a thick accordion file and opened it. Beth’s eyes settled on the thick off-white envelope with the words “Last Will and Testament” spelled out in a formal font. Suddenly, her mouth felt dry and she wished she’d taken the water when it was offered.

“Hope you had a nice trip down.”

She smiled tightly and twisted the diamond solitaire on her left ring finger. Maybe she should've accepted Quinn's offer to come with her. “No offense, Mr. Cooper, but we can skip the pleasantries and get right to business.”

“Of course.” He slipped the blue-backed Will out of the envelope and flattened it out on his desk. “As I’m sure you know, we don’t read the whole Will like they do in the movies. You’re quite capable of reading the document yourself.”

She lifted her chin in acknowledgment, and fought the urge to let him know she graduated second in her class from Mizzou's law school.

“But there’s a section in here that bears discussion. As you no doubt knew, your father loved the Diamond J Ranch. It was more than a business, it was his home. He poured his heart and soul into that place, and he wanted to share it with you.”

She blinked. “Excuse me?” If he wanted to share any part of his new life, it was news to her.

He tapped the Will with a stubby finger. “He’s leaving the Diamond J Ranch to you.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he held up a hand to stop her. “Now, I have to tell you, there is a stipulation. He wanted you to live on the ranch for a year, to show that you really care about it, and then, if you’re successful running it, it’ll all be yours.”

“I see.” Beth leaned back in the chair and cocked her head. “My father is still trying to control me, just like he always did.”

Cooper’s heavy eyebrows pushed down into a V. “I don’t think--”

“Ha!” Beth barked a laugh. She snagged her purse strap and slung it over her shoulder as she pushed to her feet. “You obviously didn’t know my father as well as you think.”

“I know this is a difficult time for you.” The attorney rose and handed her a thick envelope. “After you’ve had a little time to grieve, take a look at the terms of the Will. You have ten days to make a decision.”

Beth gave her jacket a tug to straighten it, then accepted the envelope. She turned on her heel and strode out the door.

No way was she going to let her father dictate where she lived and what she did. She was a junior partner at one of Kansas City's biggest firms, moving up the ranks fast. She worked multi-million dollar deals every week. For Pete's sake, she was engaged to be married. The last place she would live would be some po-dunk horse ranch in the middle of nowhere. She tucked the copy of the Will in the glovebox, then drove to the funeral home.

Time to get the funeral over with.

PART TWO



Beth stepped off the elevator and strode down the wide hall, her heels clicking smartly against the tile. As she walked, a few people nodded to her or greeted her. When she reached her assistant’s work station, Jodie spun in her chair, flipping her blond hair over her shoulder as she stood.

“I’m so sorry about your father. I hope the funeral went well.” She extended her hand, holding several pink slips.

“Fine.” Beth took the phone messages and flipped through them as she walked into her office. The last thing she wanted to do was discuss the funeral. It had been something she tolerated. Survived. She was glad to be back in her world.

Jodie followed. “The partners’ meeting at 9 am has been pushed back to 10 am. The agenda is on your desk. I printed out the attachments and put them in order, double-sided and hole-punched.”

“Thanks.” Beth sat in her black leather chair. Her mail had been stacked neatly on her desk, organized into piles of responses required, things to read and urgent. “Any word back from Scott Crawford on the Brown matter?”

“Yes. On top of the urgent stack. He accepted your offer. I’ve drafted the settlement agreement for your review.” One corner of Jodie’s mouth twitched up. “I included a memo of talking points, which is with the agenda. I thought you’d want to mention it during the partners’ meeting this morning.”

Beth looked up at her assistant. The woman was fresh out of college, but tough and smart. Most people disregarded her, because she was so pretty, long blonde hair, big blue eyes, but she was quick on her feet. Best of all, she thought ahead. “Good thinking. Anything else?”

“No.” Jodie turned to leave, then paused in the doorway and looked over her shoulder. “Today’s Michelle’s birthday. Cake in the conference room.”

The door shut with a click as Jodie left the room. Beth glanced over the agenda for the partners’ meeting. The usual stuff. Active cases. Big wins. Purchase of a new server. She scooted that folder out of the way and began to work her way through the urgent stack. After she reviewed the Brown settlement agreement, which required very few revisions, she glanced at the time on her telephone. 9:12.

Though she hated frivolous social gatherings, making an appearance was good office politics. And Michelle was the senior partner’s paralegal. With a sigh, she pushed to her feet, then dropped the marked-up settlement agreement on Jodie's desk before she made her way to the conference room. As she clicked along the hallway, no one was there to greet her. Ahead of her, laughter spilled out of the conference room. Everyone must still be celebrating.

She slipped into the big conference room unnoticed. Light spilled in from floor-to-ceiling windows, framing a panoramic view of the Kansas City skyline. The polished wooden table served as an anchor for the crowd of people gathered around it. Some were in chairs, some were leaning in, hands resting on the slick surface. Everyone’s attention was directed to the large screen on the wall. The muted images that danced across it fluttered just a bit as the air handlers kicked on. The assistants and paralegals and secretaries were all smiling and laughing. Beth caught herself smiling along, then looked closer at the images on the screen.

She recognized the man first. Quinn. Her boyfriend. Her fiancé. The man she loved. His head was up, his dark hair mussed, facing the camera. He was leaning forward slightly, his dress shirt unbuttoned. His hips moved rhythmically, back and forth. His white teeth were exposed in a grin. He was lit from the side with sunlight, forming shadows on his face. On front of him, on the expanse of a polished wooden table -- this table! -- a woman leaned back, knees raised, head thrown back. He grunted with every thrust, and the woman groaned. Skin slapped against skin. Quinn’s fingers twisted in her long, blond tresses. He tugged her head back further, exposing her face.

Jodie!

Beth blinked as she looked at the faded images on the screen. Her gaze shifted from Quinn’s face to Jodie’s and back again. Her jaw went slack. She reached back, felt for the wall, for anything solid, then sagged into it. Her vision narrowed to a small spot and the laughter in the room faded away. It sounded as if she were underwater. Her chest squeezed in, making it hard to breathe. Her head hung as she blinked away the tears that threatened to spill over.

Gradually, she became aware that the laughter had stopped.

Someone hissed, “Turn it off, for God’s sake!”

She raised her head and saw a sea of faces turned towards her.

Pity.

Her face burned as heat spread through her, flushing up her chest and neck and face. She spun and left the room. In her office, she yanked her lower left desk drawer open and tugged her purse out. On her way out, she stopped at Jodie’s desk, picked a black Sharpie out of the mug and scrawled “You’re fired” across the front of the settlement agreement she’d been working on. Moments later, the gold elevator doors slid closed and she stood alone in the small space. A tear streamed down her cheek, and she swiped it away. She punched the lobby button, hard. Her gaze pinned the display, watching the numbers tick down.

She sat in her BMW 3 series and sobbed. Embarrassment burned through her. As the tears subsided, the anger grew. How could Quinn do that to her? How could Jodie do that to her? Her crying gradually dissolved into hiccups. She sucked in a few deep breaths, pulled the Will out of the glove compartment and read it.

She pulled her phone out and punched in the number from the business card stapled to her copy of the Will.

“Mr. Cooper? This is Elizabeth Jameson. When can I move to the Diamond J?”


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