The Owner of His Heart

By: Theodora Taylor

CHAPTER ONE





LAYLA MATTHEWS had seen some off-putting work spaces in her lifetime. Back in Dallas, where she used to work before returning to Pittsburgh, she’d visited a few of her patients at offices housed in concrete buildings. But she had never seen anything as cold and sterile as the waiting room outside Nathan Sinclair’s office. Though expensively decorated, the chrome furniture and large black and white framed industrial photos seemed to emit a cold wind. Layla shivered just thinking about confronting the man who sat behind the closed, black office door.

“Will it be much longer?” she asked his assistant

“Mr. Sinclair is on a call. When he gets off, I’ll let him know you’re here,” the woman answered without looking up from her computer.

Layla eyed Sinclair’s assistant—an overly thin brunette in her fifties who wore her hair in a tight bun. She patted her own messy curls, wishing she had gone home after her shift to change out of her scrubs and subdue her wild hair into a more business-like style. She shouldn’t have rushed over here, even though she’d had an unexpected breakthrough in the mystery she’d come back to Pittsburgh to solve.

That morning, Layla had finally gotten around to sorting through her dead father’s paperwork. She’d sifted through all his bills, setting aside the ones she hadn’t known about and therefore hadn’t managed to pay off yet. But then she found a piece of paper that wasn’t a bill. To her great surprise, it was the receipt for a check made out to her father for more than what she earned in a year as a physical therapist and signed by someone named Nathan Sinclair. It was dated just a short time after her accident.

Layla immediately got on her computer, searching for Nathan Sinclair and Pittsburgh. Several hits came back identifying him as the current CEO of Sinclair Industries, a family-owned steel company. Unfortunately, she hadn’t had time to learn anything else about him other than his job title, because she had to get to work. But she’d been so excited about stumbling upon her first clue, she’d barely made it through her shift, much less thought about going home first to change, before heading to the Sinclair Industries downtown offices.

But now she’d been waiting for almost an hour in Nathan Sinclair’s sleek, modern outer office. She grabbed a black scrunchie out of her purse and pulled her hair into a simple knot. It made her feel a little better, however the longer she waited, the more out of place she felt in her purple scrubs and lime green Crocs. How had her father, a compulsive gambler, who had never been able to hold on to a job for more than six months, even known the steel magnate anyway? And why would a man in Sinclair’s position write someone like her father such a large check?

His assistant interrupted her musings with a clipped pronouncement: “Ms. Matthews, it’s now six o’clock, Mr. Sinclair’s cut-off for seeing unannounced visitors.” She peered at Layla from behind her large chrome desk. “I’m afraid you’ll have to go now.”

“What?” Layla couldn’t believe the woman had let her wait this long only to kick her out. “I hate to be rude, but did you even tell him I was here?”

The assistant pursed her lips. “Like I said, he’s on a conference call and I see no reason to disturb him. If you like, I can make an appointment for you, to guarantee you’ll be able to see him at a later date.” She turned to her computer and opened up what Layla assumed must be Nathan Sinclair’s calendar. “I have a 10 o’clock available for August seventeenth.

Layla’s heart sank. It was early May. “Would you terribly mind telling him I’m here? My name is Layla Matthews. I’m the daughter of Henry Matthews.”

The assistant leveled a cool glance on her. “Ms. Matthews, you showed up here out of the blue. This is the only appointment I have available right now. Would you like it or not?”

Thick desperation began building up inside her. This was Layla’s first big break in her case. She couldn’t wait until August to talk to Mr. Sinclair. “Please, just tell him I’m here. It won’t take long, I promise. I only have a couple of questions for him.”

“A lot of women just want to ‘talk’ to Mr. Sinclair,” the assistant said. “If you really have business with him, you can make an appointment. Or would you like me to call security? That can also be arranged.”

The woman tilted her body towards her large, black desk phone as if to signal that she wasn’t making empty threats.

Layla, in turn, sighed and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry…” she gave the assistant an apologetic grimace, “…for making you call security.”

Then without any further warning, she dashed toward the black door.

***



Nathan Sinclair had been on the phone with his brother, Andrew, for over an hour, trying to convince him to come home from…wherever he was.

“Is it Ibiza?” Nathan asked. “Your Spanish was always pretty good.”

“No,” his brother answered, sounding glum. “It doesn’t matter where I am. I’m not coming home.”

“This doesn’t make the company look good, Andrew. The Sinclair Ball is in a few months, and people will talk if Diana ends up hosting it alone.”

“Let them talk,” his brother said. “When did you start caring about what other people think anyway? You used to be the bad boy, and now look at you.”

Nathan rubbed a hand over his tired face. “You’re the head of our Global Initiatives team. You’re the one who brought Matsuda Steel to the table, and Matsuda just confirmed he’ll be attending the ball this year. So if we’re serious about partnering with them for a Tokyo site, we need to look like a strong, united family—not a soap opera with a missing brother and a wife who can’t say for sure where he is. What will it look like if you’re not there?”

“I’ve tried to make it work with Diana, I have,” his brother said, ignoring Nathan’s valid question. “But she’s not the one for me.”

“Fine,” Nathan said. “I don’t care. But can you tell her that after the ball? I don’t want all of Pittsburgh gossiping about your divorce when Matsuda comes through.”

“Wow, way to be sympathetic,” Andrew said. “It’s good you work in steel, because you have a lot in common with our main product.”

A good brother would have pretended to feel even a little bit contrite. But Andrew had disappeared over a week ago and was only just now calling to let him know he was still alive. Also, Nathan had never been a particularly good brother.

“I don’t care where you are or what you’re going through. Be back for the ball, or else.”

“Or else, what?” his brother asked, clearly wanting to be issued an official ultimatum, which Nathan would be more than happy to give. Their relationship had always been like this, contentious and competitive. One of his earliest memories was being pulled off of Andrew by a servant during one of the many fistfights they’d had as kids.

But before he could tell his brother exactly what kind of hell he’d bring down if Andrew didn’t come home in time for the ball, Nathan’s door banged open and then slammed shut.

“What the—” Nathan broke off when he saw who was now standing with her back pressed to his door. She was maybe ten pounds heavier under the ridiculous purple scrubs, and her hair was much longer, but he recognized her in an instant. It was Layla Matthews, a woman he hadn’t seen in nearly a decade. A woman who he still hated with every fiber of his being.

CHAPTER TWO





“I’LL have to call you back,” Nathan said to his brother.

“How will you call me back if you don’t know where I am?” his brother asked.

But Nathan just hung up. He dropped the receiver in its cradle without taking his eyes off of his unexpected guest.

“Come out of there, young lady,” Kate, his assistant, yelled from the other side of the door. “Security is on their way, and we’ll have you forcibly removed.”

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