-Are you a book blogger?
Eveline Claude blinked slowly. “Come again?”
A muscle jumped in the jawline of the man seated on the other side of the conference room table.
“You don’t own the freehold to the Tokyo branch of Le Secret,” Malcolm Brooks repeated stiffly.
Eveline’s pulse started to race as she stared from Brooks to his poker-faced partner, Victor Kline.
“I’m sorry, did I just hear you say that I don’t own the tenure of one of my most successful business enterprises?” Silence greeted her stunned question. “Are you guys yanking my chain right now?” Eveline chuckled in disbelief. “You are, aren’t you? Because there’s no way my one-thousand-dollar-per-hour, top-notch city lawyers just informed me that they fucked up.”
Brooks glanced at Kline. “Told you she’d bring up the hourly fee,” he muttered.
Kline ignored his partner and studied Eveline with an impassive expression. “Of course, we’ll be working to resolve this matter pro bono. The mistake is ours and we cannot apologize enough on behalf of the firm.”
Eveline’s mouth went dry as she looked between the two men and realized they were serious. The first inkling that her day was going to turn out to be gloriously shitty began at six a.m., when the fire alarm in her apartment building went off. Having left Le Secret at two, Eveline wasn’t pleased that her much needed beauty sleep had been interrupted by some asshole who hadn’t figured out how to use his new waffle maker. Her ire rose tenfold when she went to collect her car from the underground garage and noticed the fresh scratch on her midnight blue Maserati. She’d made a note to ask the security guards to check the cameras covering the parking lot and had barreled out of the building and into the early morning Tokyo traffic at twice the allowed speed limit; she hated being late for an appointment and her nine o’clock meeting with Brooks & Kline was taking place on the other side of town. She’d made it to their office on the twelfth floor of the glass and steel high-rise housing their law firm with four minutes to spare and had waited impatiently in the conference room, curious as to why they’d requested the urgent face to face.
It was Brooks who’d called her the day before to set up the meeting.
“Something’s come up. We need to talk,” the lawyer said cryptically after Eveline’s assistant put his call through.
Eveline paused and lowered her cup of coffee, her gaze shifting from the busy dual computer screens on the desk before her, to the glorious views beyond the panoramic windows to her right. Her office was located next to a small, private flat she kept above Le Secret and overlooked Ginza, the most famous and exclusive district in Tokyo.
Eveline frowned as she studied the busy intersection outside, the first seed of unease stirring inside her.
“What’s this about, Malcolm? It’s rare for you to call me yourself.”
“I know. It would be best if we had this conversation face to face,” Brooks replied.
He’d refused to answer Eveline’s questions and gave her the details of their appointment before disconnecting. Though she’d been troubled by her enigmatic conversation with the lawyer, Eveline soon forgot about the exchange, the daily demands of running her internationally renowned and incredibly successful chain of upscale escort clubs consuming all her attention and focus. Business was booming, especially since she’d opened the latest branch of Le Secret in Singapore.
Eveline swallowed presently and leaned back in the sleek metal and leather chair of the conference room, her knuckles whitening where she gripped the arm rests. Maybe I should have thrown salt over my left shoulder before I left my apartment this morning. Or burned some incense or do whatever it is people do to ward off bad luck.
She studied the two lawyers with narrowed eyes. “Explain to me exactly how this happened.”
Brooks sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose while Kline slid a file across the table.
“It seems Mr. Nagato forged the documents his lawyers provided to us five years ago, when he sold you the plot in Ginza as a freehold,” Brooks said bitterly. “What you actually bought off him was the right to lease. His son-in-law works for the local land registry office and we suspect he made the counterfeit papers. According to one of our contacts in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, the Nagatos have connections with an organized crime syndicate that specializes in land rights grabs.”
Eveline tensed, her gaze skimming the folder before her distractedly. “You mean, they’re part of the Yakuza?”
Kline grimaced. “They are linked to them in a distant, convoluted fashion, yes.”
Eveline’s heart pounded as she digested the implication of the lawyers’ words. The Yakuza were the Japanese equivalent of the Italian Mafia. Having witnessed secondhand what the mob did to their business rivals in New York, Eveline had no desire to associate with the local criminal organizations here in Japan, even if she suspected several of the clients who had visited the Tokyo branch of Le Secret over the last five years had some kind of connection to them.
Eveline clenched her jaw. “What can we do about this? I paid Nagato a hefty sum of money for that land. We’re talking seven figures here, as you both well know.” She paused, an unwelcome thought bringing a bitter taste to her mouth. “Wait. Did he even own that plot? Don’t tell me the asshole sold me someone else’s—”
“He does,” Kline said. “Or he did.”
“We’ve already lodged an appeal in court to contest the new owner’s claim to the freehold,” Brooks said. He ran a hand through his hair. “It’s going to take some time to—”
“New owner?” Eveline scowled. “What the hell do you mean, new owner?” She jumped to her feet and leaned her hands on the table. “Are you telling me that conniving bastard sold my land to someone else?!”
“Yes,” Brooks said quietly. “And this time, the documents he provided were the legitimate ones.”
Eveline took a shuddering breath and closed her eyes briefly, her nails biting into her palms where she’d fisted her fingers.
“I’m gonna kill him,” she hissed. Eveline grabbed her bag and stormed toward the conference room exit. “I’m gonna strangle that lowlife with my bare hands and dump his body in Tokyo Bay! What’s his address?”
“Sit down, Eveline,” Kline said with a sigh.
Eveline stopped by the door and whirled around. “I’m not kidding, Victor! I hope you guys know a good criminal lawyer ‘cause I’m going to need—”
“Nagato is dead,” Brooks said.
Eveline froze. She opened and closed her mouth soundlessly, her eyes rounding as she gaped at the two lawyers.
“What?!” she shrieked.
“Nagato died three weeks ago,” Kline stated. “It was a heart attack, apparently.”
A light-headed feeling swept over Eveline. She made her way back to the table on unsteady legs and flopped down in the chair she had just vacated.
“He completed the sale of the freehold a few days before his death,” Brooks added.
Kline leaned across the table and opened the file in front of Eveline. “This is the letter we received yesterday from the new owner’s law firm.”
Eveline blinked before focusing on the top sheet of the paperwork before her.
“The land in Ginza is now the property of Lincoln Hudson, the President and CEO of the Hudson Group,” Kline continued. “His lawyers have given us formal notice that Le Secret’s leasehold rights will be revoked in thirty days.”
Eveline’s hands trembled as she picked up the letter and read it over, the words blurring in front of her eyes. Her heart sank as she finally absorbed its content.
It was just as Kline had said.
The new owner of the plot on which Le Secret stood had given her thirty days to dissolve her business and vacate his land.
“Wouldn’t a leasehold be for fifty years?” Eveline mumbled. “Can he even do this?”
“The new leasehold law that came into effect twenty-five years ago gives the landowner the right to refuse the leaseholder permission to run a business on his property,” Kline said. “Hudson is completely within his rights to issue a revocation order.”
Blood thundered in Eveline’s ears, the sound matching the emotions storming through her as she stared blindly at the printed text. She put the letter down, inhaled shakily, and stared at the men opposite her.
When it rains, it fucking pours.
“How long will the court appeal take?” she said, her voice growing steely as cogwheels started turning in her brain. She had not come this far in life without learning how to roll with some punches. Eveline frowned. Or how to get back up and knock the enemy right out of the ring.
“Six weeks,” Brooks said.
Eveline drummed the fingers of her right hand on the table, her polished, red-lacquered nails rapping an impatient tempo.
“Can we do anything to expedite it?”
“We’ve got a meeting with one of the judges this afternoon,” Kline said. “As to whether he will be willing to bring the case forward is not something I’d want to bet money on.”
Eveline gritted her teeth. “Do the Hudson Group President and his lawyers know the details of this affair? As in Nagato swindling me out of—”
“They know,” Brooks said. “We spoke to Lincoln Hudson’s lawyers and his secretary yesterday after we received the letter. Hudson’s secretary got back to us thirty minutes ago.”
Eveline leaned forward in her chair, her heart pounding against her ribs. “And? Is he willing to negotiate something?”
“Hudson said that it ain’t his problem,” Kline muttered.
Eveline stilled. “What?”
Brooks rubbed his eyes tiredly. “According to his secretary, Lincoln Hudson’s exact words were ‘I don’t give a flying fuck’.”