The Missing Heir

By: Barbara Dunlop

One

Cole Henderson propped himself against a workbench in Aviation 58’s hangar at the Juneau, Alaska, airport and gazed at the front page of the Daily Bureau. He realized news of the Atlanta plane crash deaths should make him feel something. After all, Samuel Henderson had been his biological father. But he had no idea what he was supposed to feel.

A nearby door in the big building opened, letting in a swirl of frigid air and blowing snow. At ten o’clock in the morning, it was still dark outside this far north.

His business partner, Luca Dodd, strode in, crossing the concrete floor alongside the sixty-passenger Komodor airplane that was down for maintenance.

“You looking at it?” Luca asked.

“I’m looking at it,” said Cole.

Luca tugged off his leather gloves and removed his wool hat. “What do you think?”

“I don’t think anything.” Cole folded the paper and tossed it on the bench behind him. “What’s to think? The guy’s dead.”

A drill buzzed on the far side of the hangar, and the air compressor started up, clattering in the background as two maintenance engineers worked on the engine of the Komodor.

“He was your father,” Luca pointed out.

“I never met him. And he never even knew I existed.”

“Still...”

Cole shrugged. His mother Lauren’s marriage to billionaire Samuel Henderson, whose family owned Atlanta-based Coast Eagle Airlines, had been short-lived and heartbreaking for her. She’d never hidden Cole’s heritage from him, but she’d certainly warned him about the Henderson family.

“Eight dead,” said Luca, spinning the paper so the headline was right side up.

“Sounds like it all went to hell in the final seconds.” As a pilot, Cole empathized with in-air emergencies. He knew the pilots would have been fighting to safely land the airplane until the very end.

“Early speculation is a combination of icing and wind shear. That’s freakishly rare for Atlanta.”

“We all know how bad that can go.”

“An Alaskan pilot might have helped,” said Luca.

Cole didn’t argue that point. Pilots in Alaska had more experience than most in icy conditions.

He glanced over his shoulder at the headline once again. On a human level, he felt enormous sympathy for those who’d lost their lives, and his heart went out to their friends and family who had to go on without them. But for him personally, Samuel Henderson was nothing but a stranger who’d devastated his mother’s life thirty-two years ago.

By contrast, when his mother, Lauren, had passed away from cancer last year, Cole had mourned her deeply. He still missed her.

“They put up a picture of the baby on the website,” said Luca.

The article had mentioned that Samuel and his beautiful young wife, Coco, had a nine-month-old son, who, luckily, hadn’t accompanied them on the trip. But Samuel’s aging mother and several company executives had been on board when the family jet had crashed into the Atlanta runway.

“Cute kid,” Luca added.

Cole didn’t answer. He hadn’t seen the picture, and he had no plans to look at it. He wasn’t about to engage in the Henderson tragedy on any level.

Luca leaned forward, putting his face closer to Cole’s. “You do get it, right?”

“What’s to get?” Cole took a sideways step and started walking toward a hallway that led to the airline’s offices. November might be Aviation 58’s quietest month, but there was still plenty of work to do.

Luca walked beside him. “The kid, Zachary, is the sole survivor of that entire family.”

“I’m sure he’ll be well cared for.” For the first time, Cole felt an emotional reaction. He wasn’t proud, but it was resentment.

Immediately after their secret marriage in Vegas, Samuel had succumbed to his parents’ pressure to divorce Lauren. As a young woman, she’d walked away, newly pregnant. With only a few thousand dollars to her name, she’d boarded a plane for Alaska, terrified that the powerful family would find out about her baby and take him away from her.

Hidden in Alaska, she’d scraped and saved when Cole was young. Then he’d worked night and day to put himself through flight school and to build his own airline. Zachary, by contrast, would have an army of nannies and protectors to ensure he had everything a little boy could need—from chauffeurs to private schools and ski vacations in Switzerland.

“He’s all alone in the world.” Luca interrupted Cole’s thoughts.

“Hardly,” Cole scoffed.

“You’re his only living relative.”

“I’m not his relative.”

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