Title: Incidental Daughter
Author: Val Stasik
Format: Paperback, ebook
Length: 280 pages
Publisher: Armery & Hallquist Publishing
Purchase at AMAZON
When successful publisher Liz Michaels’ marriage to blue blood, Addison Tiffin Payne, fails after the loss of their baby and his growing alcoholism, she pours all her creative energy and passion into her work and finds comfort in her friendship with the co-owners of her company as well as the appearances of the spirits of her Polish mother and grandmother, who never speak except in dreams she cannot remember. Only her feelings from those dreams linger.
When Liz’s ex-husband plans to stage her suicide by pushing her off the balcony of her high-rise home in order to collect on a life insurance policy, he topples to his death instead. When the police arrive, Liz, the potential victim, becomes the prime murder suspect. She meets Pittsburgh Police Detective Jim Shannon, who may threaten her freedom or possibly gain her love. Her life is further complicated by her former mother-in-law’s attempts to destroy her reputation and damage her career. Her swirling feelings are complicated by the simultaneous appearance of a talented, familiar-looking intern at her workplace. He turns out to be her half-brother, but he is unaware of their connection. Although Liz is finished with a past that included a botched meeting with her biological father, the past is not done with her, for the intern and Shannon link her to that past. The cause of her ex-husband’s death is determined and Shannon and his partner, Santello, arrest the person responsible for what led to his death.
Internal conflict is soon compounded by external threats created by her former mother-in-law as well as someone seeking revenge on Shannon and his fellow detective. Just as Shannon and Liz are getting better acquainted, he is gunned downed, but survives. When Liz is leaving Shannon’s hospital room, she passes a woman whom she doesn’t realize is her dead father’s wife. The woman, Eileen, is also Shannon’s sister and notices the resemblance to her dead husband. Eileen did not learn of the existence of her husband’s daughter until after his death. This encounter sets in motion a series of touchy revelations and family get-togethers. All seems to be going well until Payne’s grieving mother decides to make Liz pay for Payne’s death. Warned by the mother’s housekeeper, Detective Santello and another detective rush to Liz’s office. In the shootout, Payne’s mother is killed but not before killing Santello who took the bullet meant for Liz. Will Liz be destroyed by this vortex, or will she use the crisis to open the door to a second chance at love and family?
A FAMILIAR BELLOWING in the outer office captured Liz Michael’s attention. She slipped the contract for the purchase of William Penn Press back into its folder and navigated through the precisely-stacked piles of manuscripts to lift a slat of the blinds covering the door and floor-to-ceiling windows that faced the outer office. Addy Payne strained toward Mandy, pounded her desk, and demanded to see Liz. Paper clips, pens, and papers flew off her desk like hard rain.
Liz glanced at her watch. Only 2:17, but the flush of booze had already spread from her ex-husband’s face to his scalp in sharp contrast to his sleek, white-blond hair. This bloated caricature was not the man she had once loved. She shook her head. No, she could not possibly have fallen in love with that.
As he headed for her office, trailed by Mandy, Liz considered escaping through the other door in her office, but she knew he’d keep coming back—best to deal with him now. She whirled back to her desk, sat, and pretended to peruse the documents in the William Penn Press folder. Addy whipped the door open, but held it, and peered at Mandy as though she were the intruder. Mandy’s hazel eyes pleaded with Liz, and she shrugged her plump shoulders.
“It’s okay, Mandy. Call Miriam and tell her I’ll have the contract ready for her before four.”
Mandy scurried out of the room like a rabbit frantic for cover. Addy smiled, shook his head, and closed the door. He removed a stack of manuscripts from a tan guest chair, sat, and adjusted his perfectly pressed pants. “You look well,” he said.
Liz stood, marched to the blinds, and opened them. Mandy glanced up from her phone call to Miriam and nodded her readiness to call security at Liz’s signal. Liz returned to her desk, sat, folded her hands, and calmly stared at him a moment. “What brings you here today, Addy?”
He glanced back at the open blinds, raised his brows, and looked back at her with a slow, feline smile. “What? No ‘How are you? It’s good to see you, Addy.’”
Liz stared back at him, unsmiling.
He shook his head. “Poor sales technique, Lizzie.”
“I’m not selling anything. What do you want? I’m busy.”
Addy glanced at the stacks of manuscripts and nodded. “I can see that. You used to be a lot neater.”
She continued to stare.
He relaxed back into the chair, placed a leg over his knee, and rested his hands on the arms of the chair in one graceful movement. He considered her a moment. “I need money.”
“You’re wasting my time. Get a job.”
His gray eyes darkened. “Pittsburgh isn’t exactly the center of the advertising world.”
“Not my problem. I told you the last time, no more loans―as if I’ll ever see the money I’ve already given you.” She cocked her head to one side. “Tell me, Addy, whatever happened to all of your contacts? Why don’t you go to your family?”
He looked away from her and studied the awards on one wall and then the print of Cassatt’s The Boating Party on the opposite wall. The muffled ring of Mandy’s phone in the outer office underscored the silence.
“They don’t know, do they? They think you’re still the Great Ad Man, pulling off one outrageous magic trick after another.”
He returned his gaze to her. “I want to start my own agency.”
She gave him a tight-lipped smile and shook her head. “You don’t know you’ve dropped off the edge, do you? You had quite a run taking risks with your accounts. . . . Oh, you had us all fooled. Me. Your clients. We thought your three-martini lunches fueled your success, till your lack of follow-through took everything south. . . . Lay off the booze, Addy. Then go to New York, LA, Chicago. Find a job with an agency where they don’t know you.”
His whole body deflated. “It’s been too long since the last job. Even if I were hired, I’d have to start at the bottom.”
Liz leaned back in her chair. “Screwed everybody who could give you a good reference, huh? Why don’t you try something else? Maybe banking? Or drive a cab? Who knows? You could end up head of the company.”
He looked worse than he had the last time if that was possible. Now that he was sitting across from her, she could see tiny veins were beginning to sprout on his nose. “By the way, as I’ve said many times, AA has quite a history for turning people’s lives around. Why don’t you give them a try? What could it hurt?”
He sprang from his chair and, hands fisted, leaned on her desk. She scowled at the stink of whiskey on his breath. “Look, I’m not some jerk barfly from a dirty Pennsylvania steel town.” His eyes bulged. “You know I come from one of the oldest families in Ohio. I have an MBA from Harvard. I’ve made three different agencies big money. And I know I can create the best ad agency this town that thinks it’s a city has ever seen.”
Liz rose from her desk. “Then I suggest you create a business plan―they did teach you how to write a business plan at Harvard, didn’t they―and take it to the bank for a loan.”
She jerked the hem of her linen jacket. “Now, I have work to do.” She strode to the door, but before she could open it, he grabbed her arm.
“You’ve never forgiven me, have you?
She froze, her face a rigid mask. “Let go of me.”
Addy freed her and she opened the door. He left without another word.