A Sinful Seduction

By: Elizabeth Lane


San Francisco, California, February 11

The headline on Page 2 slammed Cal Jeffords in the face.

Two Years Later

Exec’s Widow, Foundation Cash

Are Both Still Missing

Swearing like a longshoreman, Cal crumpled the morning paper in his fist. The last thing he needed was a reminder that today was the second anniversary of his best friend and business partner’s suicide. And he didn’t need that grainy file photo to help him remember Nick and his wife, Megan, with her movie-star beauty, her designer clothes, her multimillion-dollar showplace of a home and her appalling lack of human decency that let her steal from a charity and then leave her husband to carry the blame.

With a grunt of frustration, he crammed the newspaper into the waste basket.

He had no doubt that the whole ugly mess was Megan’s fault. But the questions that still haunted him two years later were how and why? Had Megan coerced Nick into complying? Had the demands of their lavish lifestyle driven Nick Rafferty to embezzle millions from J-COR’s charity foundation? Or had Megan embezzled the money herself and forced her husband to take the blame? She’d had plenty of opportunities to siphon off the cash her fund-raisers brought in. He’d even found evidence that she had.

But Cal would never know for sure. The day after the scandal went public, he’d found Nick slumped over his desk, his hand still clutching the pistol that had ended his life. After the private funeral, Megan had vanished. The stolen money, meant to ease the suffering of third-world refugees, was never recovered.

It didn’t take a genius to make the connection.

Too restless to sit, Cal unfolded his athletic frame and prowled to the window that spanned the outer wall. His office, on the twenty-eighth floor of the J-COR building, commanded a sweeping view of the Bay and the bridge that spanned the choppy, gray water. Beyond the Golden Gate, the stormy Pacific stretched as far as the eye could see.

Megan was out there somewhere. Cal could feel it, like a sickness in his bones. He could picture her in some faraway land, living like a maharani on the millions stolen from his foundation.

It wasn’t so much the missing cash itself that troubled him—although the loss had cut into the foundation’s resources. It was the sheer crassness of taking money earmarked for food, clean water and medical treatment in places rife with human misery. That Megan hadn’t seen fit to make amends at any point after her husband’s death made the crime even more despicable.

She could have returned the money, no questions asked. Even if she was innocent, as she’d claimed to be, she could have stayed around to help him locate it. Instead, she’d simply run, further cementing Cal’s certainty of her guilt. She wouldn’t have run if she didn’t have something to hide. And the woman was damned good at hiding her trail. Not one of the investigators he’d hired had been able to track her down.

But Cal wasn’t a man to give up. Someday he would find her. And when he did, one way or another, Megan Rafferty would pay.

“Mr. Jeffords.”

Cal turned at the sound of his name. His receptionist stood in the office doorway. “Harlan Crandall’s outside, asking to see you. Do you have time for him now, or should I schedule an appointment?”

“Send him in.” Crandall was the latest in the string of private investigators Cal had hired to search for Megan. A short, balding man with an unassuming manner, he’d shown no more promise than the others. But now he’d come by unannounced, asking for an audience. Maybe he had something to report.

Cal seated himself as Crandall entered, wearing a rumpled brown suit and clutching a battered canvas briefcase.

“Sit down, Mr. Crandall.” Cal motioned to the chair on the far side of the desk. “Do you have any news for me?”

“That depends.” Crandall plopped the briefcase onto the desk, opened the flap and drew out a manila folder. “You hired me to look for Mrs. Rafferty. Do you happen to know her maiden name?”

“Of course, and so should you. It’s Cardston. Megan Cardston.”

Crandall nodded, adjusting his wire-rimmed glasses on his nose. “In that case, I may have something to tell you. My sources have tracked down a Megan Cardston who appears to fit the physical description of the woman you’re looking for. She’s working as a volunteer nurse for your foundation.”

Cal’s reflexes jerked. “That’s impossible,” he growled. “It’s got to be a coincidence—just another woman with the same name and body type.”

“Maybe so. You can decide for yourself after you’ve looked over this documentation.” Crandall thrust the folder across the desk.

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