Stephanie replaced the empty bottle of merlot on the large oblong table as the housekeeper cleared away the last of the dinner dishes.
Although Royce was stuck in London until Saturday, the remaining four board members of the Genevieve Fund were empowered to make decisions on this year’s projects.
“I like the school in West Africa,” said Stephanie. “Most of the kids in that region are from agricultural families.”
“Mom would like that,” Jared acknowledged, then caught Stephanie’s fleeting wince. This year in particular, he knew his sister felt a hole in her life where her mother should have been.
Along with their grandfather, he and Royce had struggled to keep their mother’s memory alive for her, showing videos, telling stories, displaying mementos. But there was a loneliness inside her that they couldn’t seem to fill. It had always manifested itself in hard work and a driving need to succeed. Jared only had to look at the row of equestrian jumping trophies along the mantelpiece to know how hard she pushed herself.
“Yes to the West Africa school.” Otto put a check mark on page three of his report. “And I think we can all agree on increasing the animal shelter contributions. Now, the South American clinic project?”
“I still think it’s too dangerous,” said Jared. He knew his brother, Royce, had advocated for the project after meeting a British university student who’d worked in the mountainous region. But there were too many unknowns, too many frightening stories coming out of the area.
“The rebel activity has been down in that area for six months now,” Anthony put in. “And we will use a contractor with experience in the area.”
“What about security?” Jared countered. It wasn’t the first time the Genevieve Fund had worked in an unstable part of the world, but the other projects had a multiagency, multinational presence, and security had been provided by experts.
“We will hire our own security,” said Anthony.
Jared wasn’t going to be easily convinced. “For the cost of private security, we could take on two other projects.”
“None that are as critical as this one,” said Anthony, warming up to the debate. The two of them settled into a familiar rhythm of point counterpoint, each trying to convince Stephanie and Otto of the merits of their respective positions.
Jared acknowledged it was a worthwhile project, while Anthony acknowledged the security circumstances were less than ideal. Still, on balance, Jared felt the situation was far too dangerous, and he made that clear in no uncertain terms.
Finally Anthony threw up his hands in frustration. “I am going for some air.”
Fine with Jared. It would give him a few minutes alone with Stephanie and Otto to solidify his case.
Stephanie stood to stretch, while Otto dropped his pen on the report in front of him, speaking before Jared had a chance. “Maybe we should go with Anthony and Royce on this one.”
“And if somebody gets kidnapped or killed?” It was a worst-case scenario, but it was also a realistic one.
“They have signed a ceasefire,” Otto said.
“Not worth the paper it’s printed on. It’s Sierra Benito, for goodness’ sake. The political situation could turn on a dime.” Jared’s gaze caught Anthony’s profile through the gauzy curtains.
“How many kidnappings last year?” asked Stephanie.
“Too many,” replied Jared.
“Nothing since December,” said Otto. “I don’t want to go against you on-”
“And I’m not looking for risk-free,” Jared stressed. “And I don’t mind spending the extra money on security. But do we really want to take Royce’s advice on what’s dangerous and what’s not?”
Neither Otto nor Stephanie had an answer for that.
In the sudden silence Jared caught another movement on the porch. But this time it wasn’t Anthony’s profile. It was…
“Excuse me for a moment.” He rose from his chair, ignoring their looks of surprise as he crossed to the front door.
“We still have the family home in Naples,” Anthony was saying to Melissa as Jared pushed open the screen door. “And I visit it as often as possible.” Anthony had planted his butt against the log railing of the porch, one arm bracing him on each side while Melissa stood in front of him.
“I’ve always wanted to see Italy.” She sighed. “The Colosseum, Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel.”
Jared scoffed. Pretty big dreams for a woman who couldn’t even make it to Seattle.
Anthony levered himself forward to standing, and Melissa didn’t back off.
“I would love to show you Venice,” he said in a voice that promised more than a tour of the Grand Canal.