But that would all have to wait, because I had to take a call from my lawyer. The phone rang, right on time. Stephen was as tenacious as a dog after a bone. That was what I paid him for, after all.
“Are you sitting down?” Stephen began the conversation. It wasn’t like him to be so dramatic. I figured he must be joking around.
“Why, Stephen? Do you have something shocking to tell me?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Oh.” Well, then I’d sit.
“I’ve received a communication,” he continued. “From an attorney in New York. He’s under the employ of your late father’s estate.”
The drink I’d been sipping choked in my throat. I sputtered and spat the liquid out as if it had burned me.
“Are you all right?” Stephen asked.
“Yes, damn it.” I dismissed his question. The hell I was. My late father? In New York? “What are you talking about?”
“It seems your biological father has recently passed away. His attorney has been trying to locate you. He has been for some time. He was under the impression that your last name was Kavenaugh.”
“Kavenaugh?” The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place why.
“Yes, Kavenaugh, your late father’s surname.”
My head swam. What the fuck was going on here? Stephen was right. I was glad I was sitting down.
“There’s quite a lot to review, Declan. You’re going to want to do it in person.”
“I’m out in Bozeman.”
“Yes, I can meet you there tomorrow morning. We can go through it all together.”
I sat there, dumbstruck. The phone felt like an alien object in my hand, as if I’d never held one before. What was he saying again?
“My father died?” I repeated.
“Yes, your father, Richard Kavenaugh.” Stephen repeated it all, clearly understanding that I needed to hear it again. My biological father had just passed away, but his attorney had been trying to find me for a long time. There was an estate to settle. My father had been trying to find me. And now he was dead.
“Nine a.m. tomorrow, Declan. I’ll come to you.”
“All right.” My voice sounded wooden, my head felt packed with cotton as I ended the call.
“Everything OK?” Kara asked, emerging pink and concerned from the shower, a towel wound around her. Why she bothered with towels, I didn’t know. I’d just take them right off. Even in my shock, I still was a dirty dog.
“I just got some news.” My hand rested on the phone.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, taking a step forward. I must’ve looked shaken.
“My father’s dead.” I repeated the words, though they still sounded absurd to me. “He lived in New York. But he recently died.”
Turned out, I didn’t need to take the towel off of Kara this time. Her hands flew up to her mouth in shock and the towel dropped right off, falling to the floor around her feet.
Tomorrow morning, it wasn’t just Stephen who stepped out of the giant, black SUV. A small man accompanied him. He looked about 70 years old, but taut energy fueled his steps as he approached us. His formal suit contrasted starkly with the rugged, Montana wilderness.
“Nelson Armistead,” he introduced himself in a formal British accent, “attorney for the late Mr. Richard Kavenaugh.”
“Declan Hunt.” We shook hands.
“You’re a hard man to find,” he said, surveying me in my cowboy hat, jeans and boots.
“Not really,” I replied. I kept myself composed, my words and actions revealing no emotions. But if you looked close you could probably see the pulse pounding in my neck, the firm set of my jaw.
“I suppose it helps if you’re looking for someone under the right name,” the lawyer agreed.
I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I figured I was about to find out. We walked to a room in the resort’s main building, set up for business with leather arm chairs and a rectangular wooden table. Our guests came to get away from it all, but we’d discovered that ‘it all’ frequently came along with them, anyway.
Kara joined us. Last night when we’d received the news, I hadn’t assumed that she would. I was used to doing everything on my own.
“You think I’m going to make you learn about all of this on your own?” she’d questioned me, aghast. Guess I was going to have to get used to someone caring about me, looking after me. I was willing to give it a try. I was grateful to have her by my side.
Plus, Kara actually seemed excited about all of this. Due to my cold shock, she was keeping it in check, but I knew her well enough to see the subtle smile pulling at the edges of her mouth. She thought it was cool, a missing piece in the picture of my life. She’d been urging me to find my father, and now look what had happened. My father had up and found me. But not until after he’d already passed away.
Nelson the attorney didn’t waste any time. Brisk, efficient and to the point, he gave us the background story. Twenty-eight years ago, real estate mogul Richard Kavanaugh had traveled with some business associates from New York to Montana on a fly-fishing getaway. While vacationing, he’d met an attractive young woman named Celia Cruise at a local bar. They’d spent the night together. Then Richard had returned to New York where he lived with his wife and infant son.
“Oh my! He was married! And he had a baby?” Kara exclaimed at my side. I rubbed my hand across my forehead, feeling like I’d somehow just stepped into a trashy reality show. Only it was my life.
“Yes,” Nelson continued. He sounded slightly disapproving, but that could have simply been his English accent. “Nine months later, Richard received a phone call informing him that he now had a second son.”
“She didn’t tell him she was pregnant?” Kara asked, shocked but engrossed. Apparently she enjoyed trashy reality TV.
Nelson shook his head no. “I’ve been the Kavanaugh family attorney for four and a half decades. Mr. Kavanaugh did not know that she was pregnant.” He paused, then looked at me to add, “He did not know about you until after you were born.”
“How do you know I’m his son? Do you have proof?” I managed to still maintain my composure. All those high-stakes business meetings in my past served me well to perform under pressure, and I asked the question calmly. Under the table, though, Kara held my hand tight. Despite my stoic demeanor, she knew this was hard.
“We do.” I looked at him, awaiting further clarification. In response, he asked, “What did your mother tell you about your father?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Only that he left before I was born.”
“The day after you were conceived,” Mr. Harrison agreed. “With no knowledge that you had been.”
“But how do you know that he’s my father? My mother wasn’t exactly honest.”
“We’re aware of that.” Nelson pushed a legal-looking document toward me. I could see it was a birth certificate, for a baby named Richard Kavanaugh, Jr. “This was the copy of the birth certificate she provided to us. We didn’t realize at the time, but it was forged. You were not named Richard Kavanaugh.”
I looked at the forged document like I was seeing a ghost. It had my birthday on it, and my mother’s name and signature.
“She fooled us on that count,” Nelson continued. “But she eagerly cooperated with paternity testing. Under supervision. You are, without a doubt, Richard Kavanaugh’s biological son.”
I brought my hand up to my head again. Kara subtly rubbed my shoulder.
“I’m going to tell you everything, Mr. Hunt, without delay. It’s going to be a lot to process and I’ll be happy to review any details. But I always feel it’s better to get everything out in the open.”
“Go on,” I agreed. Kara leaned closer to me, her shoulder pressed against my arm. It kept me grounded, and I needed it because everything else seemed like crazy talk.
“Your mother lied about your name, making up both first and last so she could control and conceal your identity. This was b
efore the Internet, personal computers, social media, all of that. Identities were much more easily withheld.”
“She made up the name Declan Hunt?” Kara asked.
“Yes,” Nelson confirmed, then continued with his incredible story. “Mr. Kavanaugh wired Miss Cruise money every month, more than enough to keep both of you comfortable.”
“We had nothing,” I interrupted, shaking my head.
“You had nothing,” Nelson corrected. “She had her drugs.”
I looked down at the table. I wanted to walk right out of the room, but I couldn’t. I knew I had to sit, listen and learn the truth about my past.
“By the time you were eight or nine we’d become well aware that Miss Cruise was less than trustworthy. But she proved difficult to track down.”
“We moved all the time,” I recalled.
“Every time we were getting close to locating you.”
“Montana’s not that big a state,” I protested.