The Missing Heir(3)

By: Barbara Dunlop

“My personal apologies for the delay in scheduling this reading,” Max opened, his gaze going around the room. “But there were several complexities to this case due to the number of deaths involved.”

Amber’s throat thickened. She quickly swallowed to combat the sensation. Poor Coco had only been twenty-one.

“I’ll start with Jackie Henderson’s will,” said Max. “I’ll follow that with her son, Samuel’s, which was written jointly with his wife, Coco. In addition, there is a small codicil, executed by Coco alone. I would caution you all to draw no conclusions until I’ve finished reading all three.”

Max straightened the papers. “Aside from some small bequests to friends and long-time staff members, and a generous donation of ten million dollars to the Atlanta arts community, Jackie Henderson has left her estate to her son, Samuel, including her twenty-five percent ownership of Coast Eagle Airlines.”

Nobody in the room reacted to Max’s statements, and they gave only a cursory glance to the list of bequests handed around. That Samuel was Mrs. Henderson’s heir was completely expected. And though Mrs. Henderson had been an exacting and irritable old woman, she had long been a patron of the arts.

“As to the last will and testament of Samuel Henderson...” said Max.

Everyone stilled in their seats.

Max looked down at a page in front of him. “Mr. Henderson has also left a list of small, specific bequests, and has made several charitable donations, also ten million dollars to the Atlanta arts community, along with an additional ten million dollar scholarship to the Georgia Pilots Association.”

Max took a sip of water. “As to the bulk of Mr. Henderson’s estate, I’ll read directly from the document. ‘My entire estate is left in trust, in equal shares, to my legitimate children. So long as my wife, Coco Henderson, remains guardian of my children, and until they reach the age of majority, business decisions pertaining to the children’s interest in Coast Eagle Airlines will be made by Dryden Dunsmore.’”

There was a collective intake of breath in the room, followed by murmured sidebar conversations.

“Well, there’s a complexity,” Destiny whispered to Amber.

It was obvious Samuel had not contemplated Dryden Dunsmore dying along with him.

Max cleared his throat, and everyone fell silent.

“‘Should my wife predecease me,’” he continued, “‘guardianship of my minor children will go to Roth Calvin.’”

The room went completely silent, and a dozen gazes swung to Roth. He held his composure for a full ten seconds, but then an uncontrollable smile curved his thin lips, gratification glowing in the depths of his pale blue eyes.

A buzz of conversation came up in the room.

Roth turned to the lawyer on his right. His tone was low, but Amber heard every word. “With Dryden out of the picture, do I have control over the shares?”

The lawyer nodded.

Roth’s smile grew wider and more calculating.

“The codicil,” Max interrupted the various discussions.

People quieted down again, and Roth’s expression settled into self-satisfaction.

“To give some context to this...” said Max. “And I do apologize for being so direct on such an emotional matter. Samuel Henderson was pronounced dead at the accident scene, while Coco Henderson was pronounced dead during the ambulance ride to the hospital.”

Amber’s stomach tightened. She’d been assured Coco had not regained consciousness after the crash, but she couldn’t help but be reminded of the fear and horror her stepsister must have experienced in those final seconds while the plane attempted to land in the storm.

“As such, Samuel is deemed to have predeceased his wife.” Max held a single sheet of paper. “Given that fact, Coco Henderson’s codicil is legal and valid. It modifies the joint will in only one way.” He read, “‘I leave guardianship of my child or children to my stepsister, Amber Welsley.’”

Amber could feel shock permeate the room. Jaws literally dropped open and gazes swung to her. Roth’s glare sent a wave of animosity that nearly pushed her backward.

Beneath the table, Destiny grasped her hand.

“What about business decisions?” Roth barked. “That woman is in no position to run the company. She’s an assistant.”

“Assistant director,” Destiny corrected.

Amber was in a management position, not a clerical one.

Roth sneered at them both. “Samuel clearly wanted someone qualified in charge of business decisions on behalf of his son.”

“It’s a valid question,” said Max. “For the moment, Amber Welsley has guardianship over Zachary, including all rights and responsibilities to manage and safeguard his ownership position in Coast Eagle.”

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