The Moment of Truth

By: Tara Taylor Quinn

CHAPTER ONE

“COME ON, JOSH, it’s only a few weeks before Thanksgiving, please stay until after the holiday....”

Joshua P. Redmond III, heir to a conglomeration of holdings that spanned the globe, replayed his mother’s words as he stood alone in the elevator of the Rose Garden Residential Resort, watching the floor lights blink their way upward.

Two, three, four.

“My presence is a detriment to Father’s firm, and a source of incredible pain to the Wellingtons.” His stilted response followed his mother’s plea in his replay of that morning’s breakfast table conversation.

“You are our son, Josh. Your father cares more about you than he does about the firm.”

Six, seven, eight.

“And you are more important to us than the Wellingtons, too, you know that.”

And if tradition provided for a small family gathering at the Redmond mansion, Josh might have stayed—to please his mother who’d done nothing but champion him since the day he was born.

Nine, ten, eleven.

But Thanksgiving at the Redmond estate had always been a highly coveted social affair among Boston’s elite. To uninvite the Wellingtons would be in poor taste. Beyond indecent.

It wasn’t anything that would have crossed his mind six months ago.

Twelve, thirteen, fourteen.

“I’m leaving this evening, Mom. It’s for the best.”

She’d nodded then, blinking away tears. He knew she’d given in because his going was for the best. And because she’d already pushed him as far as she could in getting him to agree to relocate to the godforsaken desert town of Shelter Valley.

As godforsaken as he was, he should fit right in there.

Seventeen.

A bell dinged gently, followed by the almost imperceptible glide to a stop that preceded the opening of the doors in front of him.

Plush beige carpet greeted him. Stepping out, he hardly noticed the cream-colored walls with maroon accents, or the expensive-looking paintings adorning them. Michelle Wellington’s suite, one of four on the floor, was to the right. He headed in that direction.

Who would ever have believed, two months ago, when they’d arrived in separate cars for their combined bachelor/bachelorette party, that the vivacious and sexy, gracious and gorgeous twenty-seven-year-old brunette would be reduced to living in a long-term care facility? An expensive and elegant one, to be sure, but still a home for those who couldn’t function on their own.

Michelle should have been lounging on a private beach on an island off the French coast, enjoying her honeymoon—their honeymoon.

“Hi, sweetie.” He announced himself the very same way every time he visited.

Her vacant gaze continued to stare forward.

Approaching the maroon velvet-upholstered chair, he held out the sprig of colorful wildflowers in his hand. Michelle loved natural arrangements, colorful arrangements, not hothouse or professionally raised blooms. Something he’d learned from her mother while they were both sitting in the hospital waiting room two months before.

Dressed in a silk blouse and linen pants, she showed no reaction to the flowers he’d placed in her direct line of vision. The ties holding her upright and in the chair were discreet—and all that he saw.

“I brought flowers,” he said. He’d have brought chocolate, too, if she’d been able to taste it through the feeding tube that administered all of her nourishment these days.

No more decadence for Michelle Wellington.

No more sushi or expensive wine, shopping, traveling or any of the other things she’d loved.

And he, Joshua P. Redmond III, descendent not only of the Boston Redmonds, but also, on his mother’s side, of the even more influential Boston Montfords, was largely to blame.

* * *

“HEY, LITTLE FELLA, where’s your family?”

The soft, feminine voice floated through the balmy Arizona night, seemingly out of nowhere.

Stopping on the path behind the Montford University library, a shortcut to the parking lot where she’d left her car, twenty-five-year-old Dana Harris listened.

“It’s okay, little guy,” Dana heard the woman say. “I won’t hurt you.”

Dana hardly took a breath as she strained to pinpoint the direction the voice came from.

“Come on, it’s okay. See? I won’t hurt you. Where do you belong?”

The voice came from the right, and all she could see there was a huge desert plant of some kind. Still fairly new to campus, Dana didn’t know what lay behind the large desert bush that stood well over her head. She didn’t usually park where she’d parked that evening, didn’t usually take this route to her car and had never studied at the library this late before.

“You’re all right,” the voice crooned. “We’re a pair, aren’t we? Both of us out alone in the dark and cold? Don’t worry, little buddy, I’ll take care of you.”

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