Georgina doesn't enjoy telling lies, but if her plan works, she'll make a quick win. As a result of her deception she nosedives deep inside the swirling pool of a wealthy California society's devious inhabitants: a shady vulture capitalist, a social-climbing diva, a wily racehorse trainer out of Kentucky, and scary smart detective, who is a uniquely beautiful woman in the grips of a strange obsession. What's more, the ever-so-agreeable Doctor Carmichael has just laid a smacker of a kiss right on Georgina's mouth.
Is it possible for her already crazy life get any more convoluted? Of course it can! Chuck in a dead body and an unexpected postmortem result, and watch Georgina's high-octane world come crashing down around her.
Georgina Graham inhaled sharply. Mark Weber was sporting a new look--his head was freshly shorn bald, in the vaguely menacing style popular on Wall Street with men with thinning hair. She watched him stride briskly across the forty-fourth floor elevator lobby, expertly elbowing his way through the throng of early morning arrivals. Mark's reputation as a serial destroyer of young careers was legendary at the storied investment bank in Lower Manhattan where Georgina worked, and, of particular concern to her, of late his behavior was becoming increasingly erratic. Georgina took this overnight change in Mark's personal grooming as a sign of (yet another) difficult day ahead. She slowed her pace to avoid encountering him at the firm's high security entrance. Before she had time to settle into her office, Mark's assistant called to summon her. Georgina's shoulders slumped. Not today Mark, she thought. Please, not today.
Waved in by the assistant, Georgina entered Mark's spacious corner office with its expansive cityscape view and lowered herself into one of the sumptuously upholstered club chairs in front of his desk. Purposefully, she sat up straight in the chair and folded her hands neatly in her lap. She fixed her gaze on Mark's mouth, to avoid the appearance of inspecting his scalp. Mark did not greet her. Instead, he took his time as he read through the contents of a thin manila folder laid out on the desk.
Looking up at Georgina at last, he asked what she knew about Rios Capital.
Georgina allowed herself to relax slightly into the chair. This unscheduled meeting was about a new assignment, not a reprimand. "Alejandro Rios," she said. "Buys and sells high tech companies out in California."
"Have you met him?" Mark asked. When Georgina shook her head, no, he went on, "You will, tomorrow. He's planning a takeover, some biotech startup. I'm giving you the deal. You can handle it by yourself, right?"
"Of course," Georgina replied evenly, a shiver flooding from her head to her toes. Ever since rejoining Mark's group she had wanted to get the lead on a transaction, but Mark had been very hands on, watching over her every decision, and second-guessing most of them. "What's Rios like?" she asked. "I've heard some things."
Mark scowled at her. "You know better than to pay attention to what people say," he said. "If Rios wants this startup, your job is to see that he gets it, and at his price. Didn't you major in hardball at business school?"
"No, Mark, I didn't," Georgina replied, coolly returning his gaze. "Everything I know about hardball I learned from you."
Mark abruptly closed the folder and handed it to her. "Here's everything you need to get started," he said.
Georgina recognized that she had been dismissed. "Thanks for letting me have this one," she said. "I'll make it work." Mark had already returned his attention to his computer screen and did not reply.
Georgina walked hurriedly back to her office. She closed the door and called Nick Fitzgerald, but the call went to voice mail. He would be airborne now, she remembered, disappointed. She was about to leave Nick a message, but, recalling their tense conversation earlier that morning, she decided that she should give him this news in person.
She called Pearl Blumenthal. "You won't believe what just happened," she said excitedly. "Mark has done me a huge favor."
"Hmm. Mark and favor in the same sentence," Pearl said. "Somehow I doubt that Mark Webber will ever do you, or anyone else, a favor. It's part of the investment bankers' code of conduct. No favors, ever. Mark's idea of rewarding your loyalty and hard work is to not demolish you. Helping you out has never crossed his mind."
"Pearl, why are you always so cynical?" Georgina protested.
"Because I'm a lawyer and I deal with the species on a daily basis," Pearl said.
"OK, I get it," Georgina said. "But it's all in how you handle them, and I know how to handle Mark. Remember, I'm a banker too."
"Putting aside your troubling career choice for the moment, what's this about anyway?"
"Mark has given me a deal! My very own deal. Please, Pearl, try to be more positive. This means a lot to me."
"All right, I'm positive that you will be very successful, and you will make a boat load of money. Does that help?" Pearl said, her tone softening. "Look, I'm happy for you, but I have to get back to work. Let's get together tonight and you can fill me in on the details. I'll call Millie and ask her to join us."
Mollified by her friend's conciliatory tone Georgina said, "Thanks, I'd like that."
After the call, Georgina sat at her desk and took a moment to calm down. When she was able to focus, she opened the file that Mark had given her. As she read, she learned that the company with the misfortune to draw Alejandro Rios' attention was called ZIFIX, and it was trying to commercialize a discovery made by its founder, Dr. Nathaniel Carmichael. Dr. Carmichael's credentials were impressive; he had risen swiftly in the professorial ranks at the medical school located near the startup, and he held a patent on his invention. The contents of the patent were described in the file but Georgina lacked the expertise to understand its significance. Stymied, she called in her assistant. She ordered him to have the bank's intellectual property group review the patent at once; then, she told him, he was to write a synopsis of its main ideas in lay language, to be in her hands before her flight to California early the next morning. She ignored the young man's stricken look.
Turning to the startup's financials Georgina saw that in less than three years Dr. Carmichael had burned through most of the capital that he had raised from a handful of local investors, largely family and friends. The company was running short of money and there was no product in sight. Georgina's confidence mounted. Dr. Carmichael was clearly a rookie. Skewering neophytes in deals was almost too easy, she thought, but this could not have come at a better time for her. She guessed that Mark had thrown her this plum as payback for returning to his group. In any case, Georgina sensed that Dr. Carmichael's struggling startup was shortly to be in the more capable--or a least better capitalized--hands of the formidable Alejandro Rios, and that she was on her way to a quick score.
Dr. Nathaniel Carmichael drove up the graveled driveway to his former home, a tidy, low-slung adobe in the style of early California. The house and the two-acre parcel of land on which it stood now belonged to his ex-wife Katy. Nate lingered for a moment behind the wheel, looking out over the garden and beyond to the eucalyptus forest that bordered it. It was the first peaceful moment that he had had all day. He got out of the car and walked up the brick pathway to the front door, already open in anticipation of his arrival. Poking his head inside he called out, "Is Gordon ready?" He heard the familiar sound of Katy's high heels on the terracotta tile floors.
"Almost," Katy replied from somewhere inside the house. "Gordon, hurry up. Your father's here." The tapping of Katy's heels on tile floor got louder and then she stood before him. She was dressed for an evening out, her softly curled auburn hair and trim figure enhanced by a perfectly fitted, teal-colored dress. Nate thought that she looked beautiful, younger than she had in years and more like the vibrant girl who had attracted his eye in medical school. "Gordon's coming," she said. "How have you been?"
"OK," Nate replied. He detected that Katy was wearing an unfamiliar perfume. "You?"
"I'm good," she said. "So, any news about more financing for ZIFIX?" Nate had continued to keep Katy informed about the startup, even though under the terms of the divorce she no longer had any financial interest in it.
"I've been talking to Rios Capital," he said. "We're close to making a deal."
"Rios?" she said. "Alejandro Rios?"
"You know him?"
"I've heard of him," Katy said. "He lives here in the Ranch. The talk is, he's a very tough customer." Katy was more attuned than was her ex-husband to the goings on in Rancho Secreto. A regular reader of the local newspaper, Katy often saw photographs of Rios' two teenaged granddaughters dressed in full English riding gear, jumping horses at the shows that were a prominent feature of Ranch life. Since Rios himself attended few social events, he was rarely photographed. But as one of the Ranch's wealthiest residents his activities, both business and personal, were a staple of the grapevine on which locals shared gossip with other locals but never with outsiders.
"Rios has cash and I need cash," Nate said defensively.
"Better count your fingers after you shake hands with him," Katy warned. "I mean it, Nate, you need to be very, very careful."
Gordon appeared, backpack in hand. An energetic six year old, he dropped the backpack and reached up to his father, who gave him a hug. Nate gamely wished Katy a "good time tonight." She waved them off.
As he drove to his apartment Nate listened absentmindedly to Gordon's long-winded narrative about events at school that day. His thoughts wandered to Katy. How had it turned out like this?