An Enticing Debt to Pay

By: Annie West

CHAPTER ONE

‘I’M AFRAID THE latest audit has thrown up an...irregularity.’

Jonas looked across his wide, polished desk and frowned as his Head of Finance shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

What sort of irregularity could make Charles Barker palpably nervous? He was the best. Jonas made it a policy only to employ the best. He didn’t have patience for underperformers. Barker ran his part of Jonas’ business enterprise like a well-oiled machine.

‘A significant irregularity?’

Barker shook his head. ‘Not in overall financial terms.’

Since the company’s total assets figured in the billions, Jonas supposed he should be relieved, but watching Barker loosen his tie, Jonas felt a prickle of foreboding.

‘Spit it out, Charles.’

The other man smiled, but it turned into a grimace as he passed his laptop across the desk.

‘There. The top two lines.’

Jonas noted the first entry—a transfer of several thousand pounds. Below it another, much larger entry. No details were provided for either.

‘What am I looking at?’

‘Withdrawals against your original investment account.’

Jonas’ frown became a scowl. He used that account now only to transfer personal funds between investments.

‘Someone accessed my account?’ But the answer was obvious. Jonas hadn’t made these withdrawals. He managed day-to-day expenses elsewhere and, though large by normal standards, the withdrawals weren’t significant enough to match his usual personal investments.

‘We’ve traced them.’ Of course, Barker would make it his business to have an answer before he fronted Jonas with the problem.

‘And?’ Curiosity rose.

‘You’ll remember the account was originally set up as part of a family enterprise.’

How could Jonas forget? His father had given him chapter and verse on how to run a business, pretending he, as head of the family, was the senior partner in the enterprise. But they’d both known it was Jonas’ talent for spotting a sound investment, and his ruthless hunger for success, that had turned the floundering investment company around. Piers had simply been along for the ride, revelling in the novelty of success. Until father and son had parted ways.

‘I remember.’ Memory was a sour tang on his tongue.

Barker shifted again. ‘The withdrawals were made using an old cheque book—one that had supposedly been destroyed.’ Jonas looked up, catching a faint flush on the other man’s cheeks. ‘The records show they were accounted for but this one of your father’s...’

‘It’s okay, I get the picture.’ Jonas let his gaze drift across the unrivalled view of the City of London.

His father. Jonas hadn’t called him that since childhood when he’d discovered what sort of man Piers Deveson was. Despite his bluster about honour and the family name, Piers had been no model of virtue. It shouldn’t surprise Jonas to learn the old man had found a way to access his son’s assets illegally. The wonder was he hadn’t used it earlier.

‘So Piers—’

‘No!’ Barker sat straighter as Jonas turned back to him. ‘I’m sorry, but we’ve reason to believe it wasn’t your father. Here.’ He passed some photocopied pages across.

Jonas scanned them. Two cheques with his father’s familiar flourishing signature.

Except they weren’t Piers Deveson’s signature. They were close enough to fool a stranger but he was familiar enough with that scrawl to spot the differences.

‘Look at the dates.’

Jonas did and to his surprise felt a punch to the gut that winded him.

Bad enough to think the old man had pilfered funds. But this was—

Jonas shook his head, his lungs cramping as unexpected emotion filled him.

‘The second one is dated a day after your father died.’

Silently Jonas nodded, his heart slowing to a ponderous beat. He knew the date, and not just because it was recent.

For years his father had been a thorn in his side, a blot on the family—living in gaudy luxury with his scheming mistress. They’d flaunted themselves among the rich and notorious, uncaring of any hurt they’d caused. When Piers died Jonas had felt nothing—neither regret nor an easing of the tension that had gripped him since Piers’ defection had taken its ultimate toll. He’d expected to feel something. For weeks there’d been nothing, just an emptiness where emotion should have been. Yet now—

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