Hidden Treasure

By: Melody Anne

Prologue

She refused to cry. She hadn’t done that in eleven years.

So Brielle Storm inspected her fingernails, tapped her foot, and waited for the show to begin with all the coolness she could muster. It had been a couple of days since her last manicure. Yes, that’s what she would focus on. It was easier to focus on her nails, and to keep her family thinking she was nothing more than a shallow, spoiled brat, than to have them know what she really was.

But did she even know herself? No. Not really. She’d been lost for so many years, she didn’t think it possible to find herself. Finding yourself was a sixties thing, anyway. So she would focus on her fingers, look at the chipped paint on her nails, and tune out the people who used to be the most important ones in her life.

A spa was calling her name, wasn’t it? Of course it was.

As the sound of serial muttering floated around her, she looked up, annoyed that she had to deal with her family. Why on earth had her father summoned them? They’d been little more than strangers to each other for a long time. And Brielle liked it that way. Well… That was her story, and she was sticking to it. There was no room for emotion in the world she’d come to be a part of. These people in the room with her were little more than strangers now. Tuning back into the conversation, she made her face into a mask of boredom as one of her brothers spoke.

“Do any of you have a clue what this is about?”

“Nope. It seems the old man has gotten something up his keister again,” another brother said. “I still haven’t gone to bed yet — sheesh, I’d been up all night when my phone rang with dad’s summons. I seriously considered not showing up.”

Brielle smiled, the forced social smile she knew her brothers detested. “You might as well stop complaining about it, because you know how father gets. You don’t want your precious trust fund cut off, now, do you?”

“Shut up, Brielle. You’re the one who’d be hurting if you lost Daddy’s money.”

The comment stung, but she refused to acknowledge it. She wouldn’t show weakness in front of her brothers — no way. There was a time she’d thought of them all as superheroes, thought the sun and moon hung on them.

That time was long over.

So why was she suddenly fighting tears?

Nope. Wasn’t going to happen, because Brielle didn’t cry — not anymore.

She deleted that emotion and looked toward her oldest brother, Crew, with a subdued scowl. Then Lance spoke and she turned in his direction. Lance was the second of the boys their turncoat mother had popped out of her belly at regular intervals before she took off in the middle of the night.

“All of you should shut up before the old man walks in. The more compliant we are, the sooner this touching family reunion   can end, and the quicker we can get on with our lives.”

“That’s very good thinking, Lance. I know how important it is for you to run from my presence.”

Her father’s voice.

Brielle tensed as the man of the hour came through the doorway. He had once been the biggest hero of all to her. Now she barely spoke to him. As she sat motionless, she waited, wishing for only a brief second that she could turn back the clock, and be that little girl again who ran into her father’s arms without the weight of sorrow on her back that kept her from doing so now. But she quickly pushed that thought away. No emotions! That was her motto.

“Fine, you heard us complaining,” Brielle said. “We’re sorry, Dad, but we haven’t all been together in one room in years. So what’s the big emergency?” Even though it was morning, she stood and walked to the liquor cabinet and poured herself a scotch. It was just a dramatic gesture, really, all for show. She didn’t make a habit of drinking, especially at eight a.m.

If truth were to be told, she hated the whiskey, hated her life, hated the empty shell she felt she had become.

But she wouldn’t tell her father that. And she certainly wouldn’t share with her brothers. She was the baby of the family at age twenty-four, but she wasn’t about to act like one. She didn’t respect them — even her father. And she didn’t particularly respect herself. What was the point of even being there with them now? Tipping her glass back, she swallowed, enjoying the burn as the scotch slid down her throat. At least that was something else to focus on instead of these thoughts running through her head, instead of the pain of being in the room with a family she no longer felt was family.

“You’ve all been cut out of my will and I’m freezing your trust funds.”

It took Brielle a few moments to process her father’s words, but when she did, she found herself white-knuckling her empty glass. Had she heard correctly?

“Do you care to elaborate?” Crew asked, his face devoid of emotion.

It ran in the family, Brielle thought.

“My parents were hard workers their entire lives. They built not only one medical practice, but two. They scrimped and saved, and gave me a good education. When they passed, I was devastated, but I took my inheritance and I created something both of them would be proud of. Unfortunately, I’ve pampered and indulged the five of you, making you think that life is nothing more than one big party, and that you deserve to be handed everything on a silver platter. Well, that stops today. As I’ve just said, you’ve been cut from my will. Your trust funds are frozen, and your credit cards canceled —”

“You can’t do that!” Ashton shouted.

Amen, Brielle said silently.

“I can and I have. You may leave the room now and be on your way, or you can hear me out.” None of them budged as their father turned to each of them looked them in the eye. Much to her horror, Brielle again felt tears threaten.

No!

That was a weakness she wouldn’t show, especially in this room. Never again. She hadn’t shed one tear since she was thirteen years old. Not one!

“You haven’t really given us a choice other than to listen to you, have you?” Lance said. “Is this your way of saying you need some attention? You could have just scheduled a lunch date.” He was trying to make a joke, but the mood in the room allowed no break in the tension.

“You always have a choice, Lance. It’s your decision whether to make the right one or not. I’m really sorry you feel that way, though. It honestly breaks my heart. We were once a tight-knit family, laughing together, speaking often, living our lives. I don’t know where I went wrong, but somewhere along the way, you got lost, and now I’m allowing you to find yourselves again. I hope you do.”

Brielle rolled her eyes. “Okay, okay. What is this ‘journey’ you want us to take?” Good. She’d regained her composure and she could think more clearly. Best to just get this meeting over with.

“I’m glad you asked, Peaches,” he replied, reverting to the nickname he’d given her at birth. The sun-kissed color of her hair was as stunning as the beginning rays of a sunset, and it hadn’t changed as she grew older.

She hadn’t been called that in ages, and for one brief moment, she was knocked out of kilter. It was a name of love, of better times. And those days were over.

Brielle pulled herself together and looked back at her father with now-narrowed eyes. “I haven’t been Peaches in fifteen years, Daddy, but if you want to reminisce about the ‘good’ old days, then I’ll go ahead and play your game.”

The tone of her voice seemed to make her father stumble slightly, and Brielle couldn’t help but feel immense guilt. But she couldn’t feel that — wouldn’t feel it. She didn’t love her father anymore. He was just a weak old man, she told herself. He’d been as self-absorbed as the rest of them. Or just work-absorbed.

“I’ve sold the family business. I’ve decided it’s time for a fresh start, and I’ve chosen to do it on the West Coast. There’s nothing in Maine to hold me here any longer, and I’m tired of the tourist season. I’ve just finalized the paperwork on a failing computer tech firm, and I plan to turn it around. Doing that gave me an idea for the five of you.”

Rage simmered in Lance’s eyes. “Can this be reversed?” His voice was strained with the amount of control he had to exert to keep his temper.

“No.” Richard didn’t elaborate.

“The business was supposed to be mine.”

“Then you should have taken pride in it. You should have proved to me that you deserved a stake in the family business. I had hoped to pass it to you one day, but as of right now, you are unworthy to take the reins of any business of mine.”

Crew broke in. “Don’t you think that’s a bit harsh, Father?”

“No, I don’t, Crew. And you are no different from your brother Lance. None of you has worked for an honest dollar in so long, I can’t remember when last you did, and I would rather see my funds passed down to people who can appreciate them than leave them to you with the way you’ve been acting. You have time to figure this out — well, time for now, at least.”

“What is that supposed to mean — for now?” Tanner asked.

“Nothing, Tanner. You just need to pay attention. I want you to prove yourselves, make something of your lives. You are more than these spoiled brats I see before me right now.”

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