Authors: Nicole Luckourt
A Romantic Suspense Novel
Published by Nicole Luckourt
Copyright © 2016 by Nicole Luckourt.
All rights reserved.
Cover image by: Wicked By Design
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This book is a work of fiction. Any references to real events, establishments, organizations or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, events and places are products of the author’s imagination and not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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This book is dedicated to my children. For, in encouraging them to ceaselessly pursue their dreams, I somehow found the courage to realize my own. You are and will always be my greatest inspiration.
“Mr. Lancaster,” Jordan said, extending a hand to the older gentlemen. “I’m Dr. Clayton.”
He grasped her hand, his long bony fingers wrapping loosely around hers. “I’m sorry. I don’t recall meeting you,” he said, articulating each word deliberately while searching her face. “I’m not even sure why I’m here.”
“We haven’t had the opportunity to meet until now.” Her tone was warm and reassuring. Having already reviewed his file, she was aware of Bradley Lancaster’s potential memory lapses and confusion. “Let me tell you more about why we’re meeting today. I’ve been hired by the court to conduct a psychological evaluation to help determine if you may be in need of a guardian.” She passed him a consent form and went on to explain what having a guardian to oversee his care and financial affairs would mean and the limits of confidentiality, given the purpose of her evaluation.
“I’ll be glad to do this…though I’m not sure it’s necessary.” His speech was slow and hesitant. He pushed his pen painstakingly across the signature line on the form and returned it to her. “I know my son is worried about me but I’m fine.” His voice faltered on the last word.
“Why do you think your son is worried?” she asked, careful to keep her voice neutral and her posture open.
Mr. Lancaster didn’t return eye contact. Instead, he gazed around the room and, finally, down at his hands. The buttons on his shirt were misaligned, and he was wearing two different-colored socks. Looking more closely, she saw that his hair had been left uncombed and he had several days’ worth of growth around this chin. She jotted down notes on his appearance in the legal pad on her lap.
“I don’t know. I’ve been forgetting some things.” He paused to inspect a loose thread on his shirt cuff.
She waited until it was clear he wasn’t going to say more. “You were saying?” she prompted.
“I’m sorry. What was the question?” He turned a tired gaze back to her. His fingers lingered on the unraveling cuff as he sat in silence.
“What types of things have you been forgetting?”
“Oh, just some appointments, things like that. I was a little late on a couple of bills these past few months. It’s not like I don’t have the money. Hell, part of the problem is I have too much damn money!”
He was less soft-spoken and more on edge now, but she didn’t stop him. Whatever he was about to say obviously meant something to him.
“Takes more than one accountant to keep it all straight—can’t be surprised some things fell through the cracks. I don’t know why everyone has gotten so up in arms about it. My hard work has kept my son pretty comfortable all his life,” he said gruffly while jabbing a finger in the air. “If I want to slow down a bit now, I think I’m entitled. I’m eighty-one years old, you know. Not many people are doing what I am at this age. I should have cut loose years ago, when my wife was still here. There’s so much we could have done, but I was always too busy.”
She nodded as she listened. Everything he’d said so far was consistent with the records she’d reviewed when she’d been assigned the case earlier in the week. His son, Keith Lancaster, had reported his father’s current difficulties emerged following a knee replacement surgery about six months ago. Keith had assumed his father’s role as head of his multimillion-dollar corporation so that his father could focus on his recovery. However, despite the respite, the elder Mr. Lancaster had continued to suffer from colds and other viruses, eventually being hospitalized with pneumonia.
The mental problems had been reported to begin shortly thereafter. While he’d returned to work, Mr. Lancaster would misplace things, forget appointments and leave bills unpaid. His appearance had also changed. A once fastidious dresser, he began wearing clothing that was wrinkled and disheveled. The most significant event in his recent past was the death of his wife. Keith conveyed that his father had been rock-steady during that time, managing her funeral and their financial affairs and being a constant state of support for him.
But that was no longer the case and his son reported that nothing he’d tried had helped. He’d stated that he felt like his father’s condition was getting worse, and it would be only a matter of time before he left a burner on or fell victim to some scam artist trying to take advantage of his vast financial resources.
“When did your wife pass away?” she asked gently.
“Fourteen months ago. Four days before Keith’s birthday. He took it hard.” His eyes became watery as he spoke, but his memory regarding the timing of her death was accurate.
“What about you?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, a puzzled expression on his face. “I already told you I’m fine. I’m here, aren’t I?”
Jordan observed the unspoken message. He was here. His wife, however, was not. She didn’t delve into the statement though. She was performing an evaluation, not therapy—though a recommendation for grief counseling was certainly a consideration at this point. “I’m sorry, Mr. Lancaster. Let me clarify. How did you manage after her death?”
The older man took a deep breath and exhaled slowly before responding. “Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t stop, really. After she was gone, what would have been the point?” He raised his hands, palms up in front of him, rocking his head back and forth in answer to his question. “I should have stopped before it was too late, and now, I can’t go back and do it any differently. The best thing I could do for her was take care of Keith. We were her world, you know. Anybody who knew her told us that at the funeral. She was a good woman, a family woman. I was damn lucky she put up with me for all those years.”
“How long were you married?”
“Fifty-eight years. We were high school sweethearts, though I knew her when we were just kids. Used to spend every moment together swimming around an old dock by the bay where we grew up.” A faraway look took residence in his eyes as he continued. “I decided one of those summers I was going to marry her someday. Even told her so when we were about nine years old.” He chuckled at the memory. “She wasn’t so keen on the idea back then, but I pestered her for enough years that she eventually came around. Started dating our tenth-grade year and were never apart after that…” His voice drifted off, and he appeared to reluctantly return from the memory.
“Sounds like you were very fortunate to have had each other,” she said, her tone sincere.
In some ways, doing custody work had exposed her to the worst parts of relationships and the incredible hurt that occurred when they fell apart. Hearing Bradley Lancaster’s story was a beacon of hope for her. Despite the hardships he’d mentioned, he’d clearly been as much in love with his wife on the day she’d died as on the day they’d been married.
She spent a couple of hours with him completing the interview and administering several neuropsychological tests to assess his overall cognitive functioning and capacity to manage his affairs and property in various domains. By the time they were through, it was late in the afternoon.
“Okay, Mr. Lancaster. We’re done for today.”
Though his shoulders slumped and he’d stifled another yawn moments before, she caught a trace of disappointment cross his weathered face at her announcement. “That wasn’t so bad. I hope you got what you needed,” he said, giving her a nod. Using his cane for strength, he gradually raised himself from the chair. Once he was standing, he turned toward her. “You know, my son didn’t want you doing this. Tried to get his attorney to change the judge’s order. I guess some friends of his were talking—how these young people do…” He paused as a smile flitted over his lips. “Goes to show you money can’t buy everything. But I’m glad now. Glad it didn’t work.” He held his shaky hand out. “It was a true pleasure to have met you.”
She did her best to mask her surprise at his words. None of this had trickled back to her yet. She wondered at Keith Lancaster’s motivation to try to have her removed from the case. Filing the information away to consider later, she shook the elderly man’s hand. “Likewise.”
After escorting him out to the lobby, where his driver was waiting, she was ready for a break herself. She ducked into the small kitchen area and prepared a mug of green tea before heading back to her office to begin the arduous process of scoring and interpreting the battery of tests she’d administered. Luckily, she’d received his medical records while she’d been in session. The more pieces of the puzzle she had in front of her, the easier it was to put them together to form a clear picture.
The interstate lights cast an orangey hue on the night sky outside her window, signaling to her that she needed to wrap things up soon. She curled her finger around a tendril of hair while she pored over the remaining test scores and detailed her thoughts on specific findings. In any case, it was hard to witness an elderly person cope with a loss of functioning. In guardianship cases, these individuals lost a lot of personal freedom when they were assigned a guardian. Not that it wasn’t necessary. Many could no longer care for themselves and would face personal and financial devastation if someone didn’t provide for them. Be that as it may, it was still a humbling experience.
A car honked in the distance, jarring her from her thoughts. She sighed. It was possible that Mr. Lancaster was suffering from some type of dementia, but she wasn’t ready to conclude that he was in need of a guardian. There were still other possible explanations—his grief being one of them.
She glanced over at her desk clock. It was already almost seven thirty.
Ugh, I’d better get out of here
Earlier that day, she’d agreed to meet her two best friends and practice partners, Karen and Mike Conway, for dinner. Having all been close since they’d met in graduate school, the couple had grown accustomed to her tendency to put in extended hours at work. Whenever she became too deeply entrenched, they’d pry her away from the office with invitations like this one—invitations where there was really no choice to opt out, if she wanted to lay low and avoid any more well-meant attempts at an intervention.
She pushed the printed test reports and records onto the metal fastener and locked the reassembled folder in her file cabinet. If she hurried, she’d still be on time. Glancing at her reflection in the glass-covered prints hanging throughout the hall, she gave herself a once-over. Her dark hair was still held back in a tight ponytail at the nape of her neck, and her conservative navy-blue suit was free of wrinkles. Her work clothes would have to do for dinner, because there was no time to change.
On her way out, she noticed one lone door cracked open with light shining out. The ray traced back to their newest associate, Derek’s, office. He hadn’t been with them long, but he’d already become an asset to the practice, handling a fair share of the cases like a pro.