Megan shuddered, not from the cold, but from the sudden premonition of what was to come.
She could feel her teeth clenching together in determination, and her graceful jaw hardened almost imperceptibly as she realized that everything she had worked so painstakingly to accomplish was about to go down the drain.
The door opened. Megan managed a confident smile as she brushed a wayward wisp of copper-streaked hair out of her eyes and concentrated on the small, wiry man entering the prestigious office of the president of McKearn Investments.
She studied the intense expression on the face of Henry Silvas as the balding accountant rubbed his thin shock of white hair. From the deep furrow on Henry's forehead, Megan sensed trouble. More trouble than she had at first suspected. She had to fight to keep her shoulders from sagging as she met Henry's disturbed gaze.
"Evening," Henry muttered, removing his overcoat and taking a seat on the opposite side of the desk. He settled uncomfortably into the expensive wing chair and smiled tightly. "Where's the rest of the crew?"
"Everyone left at five tonight," Megan explained. "I thought it would be best if I saw you alone."
Silvas nodded and opened his briefcase. "Good idea."
A shiver of dread ran up Megan's spine. She frowned. "I assume that means that you have bad news."
Henry Silvas's small face puckered thoughtfully. "That remains to be seen." He shook his head as if he had encountered the first financial puzzle of his life that he hadn't been able to piece together.
"What do you mean?" Megan crossed her arms over her chest, leaned back in her chair and observed the small man with the reputation for being as sharp as the pencils he used. Henry Silvas was the best accountant Denver had to offer. His fee was stiff, but he was worth every cent. A no-nonsense individual known for his accuracy, Henry left no stone unturned in his audits of financial records. Megan's father had trusted Henry in the past, and Henry had proved himself to be worth his weight in gold.
"I mean that nothing in the internal workings of your office seems out of the ordinary at least at first look."
"I know that much," Megan stated cautiously as she absently smoothed her sleek auburn hair away from her face. She could feel the hesitancy in the accountant's words.
Henry managed a thin smile and looked appreciatively into Megan's astute gaze. "And that's why you called me," he concluded with a shrewd smile.
Megan nodded, silently encouraging him to continue. Henry withdrew a cigar and rolled it between his thick fingers. "You don't miss much, do you, Meg?"
Her stern lips lifted a little at the corners. Henry Silvas wasn't one to hand out compliments casually. "I hope not," she admitted. "Now, tell me what you found." Before he could respond, she lifted her chin and cautioned him. "And don't pull any punches."
Henry's small dark eyes looked through thick glasses and studied the concern evidenced on Megan's face. Two points of color highlighted her cheekbones, and her smooth forehead was drawn into a concentrated frown. "Something bothers me," he admitted as he struck a match and held it to the end of the cigar.
"I knew it." Inclining her head, she met his worried gaze without any outward sign of the defeat she felt forming in the pit of her stomach. "What did you find?"
"Nothing I could put my finger on," Henry conceded with a shake of his balding head. "All of the books seem to be in perfect order and the clients' accounts look good "
"What then?" She had already guessed the answer but wanted his confirmation of the situation.
"It's some of the activity in the accounts," Henry replied with a frown. "It's good maybe too good." His wise eyes narrowed into shrewd slits.
"I understand." Nervously, she ran her fingers along the gleaming oaken edge of her desk. "I trust you've got the proof to confirm your theory."
"Look at these." Henry extracted computer printouts from his briefcase. Megan recognized the names of the account holders on the September statements. A couple of the accounts were very large. Megan groaned inwardly, though she had expected the worst.
As Megan scanned the thick stack of statements, she noticed red marks with notations of dates on a few of the most lucrative trades. "What are these?" she asked solemnly while reaching for her glasses and studying Henry's notes. Her fingers skipped from one red mark on the paper to the next.
Henry retrieved an envelope of newspaper clippings from his briefcase and without comment handed the yellowed articles to the winsome president of McKearn Investments. Megan's clear gray eyes skimmed the clippings knowledgeably. Across each newspaper article, Henry had scrawled an angry red date. "Date of publication?" Megan asked without lifting her eyes from the incriminating scraps of paper.
Adjusting her reading glasses on her nose, Megan reread each of the clippings before comparing them to the statements of her clients. "All the articles are from the Denver Financial Times," she murmured to herself. Henry nodded thoughtfully and puffed on his cigar as the meaning of the evidence became clear to her. "These trades were made two days before the columns appeared in the paper." She took off her glasses, set them on the desk and pinched the bridge of her nose as she thought.
"You expected this, didn't you?"
"Yes," she whispered. "I just hoped that it wasn't true." A headache was beginning to throb at her temples. "Who was the broker?" she asked calmly, reopening her eyes. The look she gave Henry was coldly professional.
"George Samples," Henry supplied.
Megan nodded, having anticipated the accountant's response. "So he was in cahoots with someone at the Times, got the information before publication, made his trades and "
" made a helluva lot of money for his clients."
"And himself as well, I'd venture to guess." Megan's eyes narrowed speculatively. "This is going to cause an incredible scandal," she predicted. "That's something I'd rather avoid."
"Because of your father's health?"
"That's one reason," Megan allowed. Her intelligent eyes searched the face of the small man sitting uncomfortably across from her. Henry lifted his eyebrows over the wire rims of his glasses.
"This is one helluva mess, Meg."
"You're telling me."
"It won't be long until the SEC gets wind of it."
Megan caught her lower lip between her teeth. Her thoughts were racing wildly through her mind. "I know." She released a disgusted sigh and rose from her chair. "I just need a little time to break the news to Dad."
Henry frowned and shook his graying head. "Impossible. You'll have to take this to the SEC immediately. Your reputation, along with McKearn Investments', is at stake, you know." He considered the ash on the end of his cigar. "As for Samples, you've got no choice but to fire him."
"Gladly," Megan replied. George Samples had been a thorn in her side ever since her father's retirement.
"I'm sorry about all this, Meg."
"So am I."
Henry frowned at the printouts. "I did some checking," he said quietly.
"More?" Her black brows rose inquisitively.
"More than I had to but I felt that I should because of everything your father did for me."
Megan nodded. The long-standing relationship between her father and Henry Silvas had spanned nearly twenty turbulent years.
"I took the liberty of checking out these accountsthe ones with the illegal trades."
"And what did you find?" For the first time since Henry had entered the room, Megan was uneasy. So far, she had suspected everything his audit confirmed. But the look in his myopic eyes gave her pause. There was moresomething that didn't jibe with the rest.
"That's what bothers me," Henry confided. "There are only nine accounts involved, and from what I can gather, eight of the accounts are directly related to Samples close friends, his fiancée, and even a dummy account that I suspect belongs to Samples himself."
"But ?" Megan prodded, sifting through the papers scattered on the desk.
"The ninth one doesn't seem to fit." Henry stubbed out his cigar and retrieved the statement in question from his briefcase. He handed it to Megan.
Megan's breath caught in her throat and her heart seemed to drop to the floor. "Garrett Reaves," she murmured, reading from the front page of the statement. "You think he's involved?" Her gray eyes fastened on the worried face of the accountant, and somehow she managed to hide the fact that her poise was breaking into tiny fragments of the past.
Henry shrugged. "It looks that way."
"But why would Reaves be involved in anything like this? It doesn't make a lot of sense," she muttered, trying to consider the problem from a purely professional point of view and ignore the turbulent storm of emotions raging within her. Megan forced herself to appear indifferent despite the shadowed memories that threatened to distort her objectivity. She had to forget the solitary black weekend filled with raging storms of passion and pain