First up is Jill Metcalf who writest tender, heartwarming romances. Jill and I first met at a Romantic Times conference. I was walking along the hall of the hotel and chatting with Virginia Henley, when Virginia (who refused to wear her glasses in public) veered off to chat with a lifesize cardboard cutout of a cover model leaving me to walk on ahead talking to myself. Jill was watching from a nearby lounge chair and nearly fell off, laughing We’d met briefly earlier in the day but this little episode sealed a friendship that has lasted…augh…over 20 years.
Lila’s Dance is finally live at Amazon and Smashwords, which made me very happy…I didn’t think I was ever going to have that puppy available. *g* I kept editing it, even as I was proof reading. I didn’t change the story from the original, but re-typing is a chance to fine-tune a few things.
It’s wonderful to see it available after all these years. The title came to me while I was attending my first Romantic Times Convention. Spring Blossom had just been released and RT had nominated it for an award as best first book in Historical Romance. So, there I was in Chicago, totally high with all excitement. Running up a massive telephone bill as I called home every night to report the great things that had happened during the day.
That was where I met Marsha Canham, btw. Marsha lived on the east side of Toronto and I lived west and we met getting into a limo to go to a book signing in Chicago! Huh.
Back to the title…I walked into my room at the hotel one evening, flipped on the TV and there was a ballroom dance competition going on. Watched that for a few moments and, voila, Lila’s Dance…jot that down.
So, I had a title and that was all.
A few weeks later I was enjoying a driving vacation and stopped for breakfast at a small place in the country that cooked wonderful food. But the conversation at the table beside us proved very interesting, indeed. Went back to my car…grabbed paper and pen and made a few notes.
Now I have a title and an underlying theme of small town, family life. From that, the romance between Lila and Daniel was born. And out of that story came one of my fav characters…Sammy. I don’t know where he came from in my imagination, but I love him. *g*
An Excerpt from Lila’s Dance
Mae Belle Willoughby thought Dr. Stone looked a little ridiculous marching across town carry a freshly cut pole and a wooden box late the following morning.
Mae Belle’s young companion of the moment, Beatrice Stern Bundy, thought he looked rather fetching, however. Daniel was wearing tan hide trousers that fit his long legs and lower torso rather well, from Bea’s point of view. And his brown cambric shirt set off the lightness of his hair, making him altogether too attractive. Beatrice knew there was hardly a woman in town, married or otherwise, who did not give the young doctor a second look when he perchance passed them by. “He’s going fishing,” she muttered.
“I can see that, child,” Mae Belle returned in incensed, hushed tones. Mae Belle was nobody’s fool. “It didn’t take him long to give in to the easy life, did it?” she speculated. “It’s the middle of the week and, instead of tending the sick, our new doctor is goin’ off fishin’.”
Daniel passed closely by on the boardwalk then; he smiled, nodded, and offered a polite good day to the two women.
Bea continued to look after him, her entire body turning to follow his progress. “He’s certainly entitled to his leisure time,” she said quietly. “I understand the medical offices are very busy lately. Why, half the women we know have come down with one malady or another since Daniel Stone came to town.”
Mae Belle sucked in a huge breath. “Beatrice Bundy,” she scolded with disgust. “What kind of a suggestion is that?”
Well, it was true from what Bea had heard. She had even found she had not been feeling well herself of late. “He is very good-looking,” she told the older woman.
“And you are a married woman,” Mae Belle reminded her.
Yes, Bea thought, as she watched Daniel disappear around a corner of a building, but I’m not dead.
Daniel walked to the front door of the Briggs house and tucked his wooden box under his arm before knocking.
Lila threw the door wide open and stood, stunned, as she inspected this strangely dressed version of the medical man. His clothes, the box under his arm and the pole in his hand, just did not fit; to her way of thinking anyway. “Hello, Daniel,” she said slowly. “This is a surprise.”
Daniel’s brow arched in surprise of his own. “Didn’t he tell you?”
“Sammy. Is he ready to go?”
Lila suddenly thought the change in climes, or perhaps overwork, had tipped the doctor off mental balance. Frowning in confusion, she inspected his eyes for signs of madness. “Go where?”
Daniel thought she was being deliberately dense and wondered if he had wakened her from a nap perhaps. “Fishing,” he told her. “It’s his birthday, if you’ll recall.”
It took several seconds before Lila questioned “What?” And then a dawning of the meaning behind his words caused her eyes to grow large and round with dismay. “Ohhh, no,” she moaned, briefly ducking her head. When she again looked up at him, Daniel was surprised to see a heated blush darkening her complexion. “You’d best come in, Daniel,” she said. She stepped back to allow him entrance. Once she had closed the door, Lila marched to the rear door across the room and disappeared outside.
Daniel was perplexed, to say the least. He set the wooden box on the floor and propped his newly cut fishing pole against the wall near the door before he ambled over and took a seat at the long, narrow table. The back door opened then, and Sammy charged inside, his face lighting up with delight when he saw his friend sitting there.
“Hi, Doc,” he chirped. His hands were stuck under his suspenders and into the waistband of his pants as he sauntered close.
He was all boy and very cute, and he never failed to make Daniel smile. “Hi, yourself.”
Lila followed her young brother inside and sat on the end of one of the benches, close to Daniel’s knees. Once seated, she reached for Sammy’s hand, squeezing lightly until he turned his attention toward her. “Sammy, do you remember why Daniel is here?”
Sammy looked from his sister to Daniel and then around the room, frowning until he spied Daniel’s belongs beside the door. With a brilliant smiled he turned back to Lila. “We’re goin’ fishin’.”
“And why are you going fishin’?” she asked softly.
Sammy couldn’t believe that Lila hadn’t figured it out. “To catch fish, Lee,” he groaned.
Lila shook her head in growing exasperation. “What did you tell Daniel to get him to take you fishin’?”
Daniel propped his elbow on the table and braced his chin on a closed fish as he patiently watched this scene being played out.
Sammy did not hesitate in answering his sister’s question; he remembered what day it was. He caught a handful of her skirt and pressed his fist into Lila’s knee as he reminded her. “It’s my birthday.”
Painfully embarrassed, Lila flashed Daniel a worried look and his expression said, quite clearly, “All right, I’ve been duped by a four-year-old.” He understood and he continued to watch.
Lila cupped Sammy’s small face between her hands and concentrated on making herself understood. “Darlin’, I’ve told you before, you can’t have a birthday just because you want one. You’ve already had your birthday, remember?”
The glow in Sammy’s eyes dimmed, but he had little choice but to look up at her. “That was before,” he muttered. “Now I’m this many.” He held his hand in the air, fingers splayed.
“You won’t be that many for a long time, Sammy. I’ve told you, you only get one birthday a year. Now, Daniel’s supposed to be workin’, and instead he’s here because you made up a story,” she said patiently but firmly as her hands dropped to his shoulders. “You can’t keep makin’ up stories to get people to do what you want.”
Sammy’s face began to crumble. “I didn’t,” he insisted as tears flooded his eyes. “It’s my birthday.”
When the child buried his face in her lap and wept, Lila shot Daniel a beseeching glance, which disintegrated the moment their glances met; he was laughing.
Daniel tried to dispel the silent laughter, hiding his grin behind his hand momentarily. He shook his head, still smiling at her as Lila tried to fathom what was going through his mind.
“He doesn’t understand that he wasn’t telling the truth,” she said apologetically.
“I can see that.”
“Sometimes he just gets an idea in his mind and he thinks it’s so.”
Daniel nodded his head. “I understand.” He reached for Sammy, pulling him away from Lila’s skirts. “Come here, son,” he coaxed and lifted the boy onto his lap.
Sammy immediately turned his tear-stained face into Daniel’s chest.
“It’s not as bad as that,” the doctor told the boy.
“It’s my birthday,” Sam wailed.
Lila leaned to the side and rested her arm on the table as she watched, hoping Daniel could make the child understand. Certainly, she had failed.
Daniel dipped his head, attempting to coax Sammy into looking at him. “What month is your birthday?”
“March,” he whispered.
“What month is it now?”
There was a drawn-out hesitation before Sam admitted, “I don’t know.”
“It’s not March, is it?” Daniel asked.
Again a hesitation. “No,” he drawled slowly.
“So it can’t be your birthday.”
The small face twisted again in genuine anguish as Sammy’s eyes flooded with tears once more. “I thought it was,” he cried.
Daniel folded strong arms around the small body and held the child close to his chest. “All right, Sammy,” he said quietly. “There’s no real harm done. But I don’t want you telling any more stories, do you understand? You don’t have to make up birthdays just to get me to go fishing with you.”
The boy rotated his head against Daniel’s chest.
Lila raised her hand and rested her chin in the palm, as she smiled ruefully. “I’m sorry, Daniel.”
“Don’t be,” he said kindly. “There is really no harm done.”
Quick to understand when he had the advantage, Sammy raised his head and tipped a tear-stained face upward. “Can we still go fishin’?”
“Sammy,” Lila groaned.
Daniel ignored her dismay. “You had better ask your sister about that,” he told the boy. “I think you’re in a bit of a fix with her.”
Sammy’s head turned slowly toward Lila; he obviously wasn’t quite so confident about her reaction. “Can we, Lee?”
With a dramatic sigh, Lila crossed her arms under her breasts and frowned. “I don’t think we should be keeping Daniel away from his patients,” she said.
“It would be a shame to waste all those good worms I dug up,” Daniel teased quietly.
“Pleeeease, Lee,” Sam begged.
Lila looked from boy to man and back to boy. “No more stories? No more inventin’ birthdays?” she asked. “You promise?”
Sammy hesitated on that one. “But how will I know when it’s my for-real birthday?”
“I’ll tell you,” she said. Lila could see the wheels of thought were turning within that little head, but he did promise. And to Daniel she said, “I’ll fix you a lunch.”
Before she had moved across the room, Daniel suggested, “Come with us.”
Check out all of Jill’s books at www.jillmetcalfebooks.com
And now for something completely different, I’d like to welcom Pat Rice to my blog. Pat and I both belong (well, so does Jill lol) to BacklistEbooks and together with well over a hundred other members of our growing group, we are venturing into the brave new world of self publishing.
I think I was possessed by an Evil Genius when I wrote this book. It is nothing like anything I have ever written before, but Ana Devlin’s story poured effortlessly from my pen (and yes, I often create with pen and paper–something about the motion of my hand overcomes my mental editor).
Unfortunately, those stories that come effortlessly are also the ones that need the heaviest editing, revision. and marketing because they’re stories outside of the norm. I’ve done my very best to control my whacky characters and shape them into a mystery plot, but I fear you’ll find them peering over your shoulder or looking back from your computer screen if you get too close to them! They’re looking for the next book, I believe, and I’m hiding under the bed in hopes Ana will write it for me.
An excerpt from Evil Genius
“You’re going to regret this,” EG warned for the thirty-millionth time since we’d leftAtlanta. She was hunched up with her arms wrapped around her skinny knees between me and Nick in the back seat of the taxi as it maneuvered D.C. traffic. The cab had no working a/c, and clouds of exhaust fumes and hot August humidity mixed with our anxious perspiration into a decidedly unwholesome atmosphere.
I was still astonished that sophisticated Nick was willing to accept my terms. I’d made him promise to handle nanny duties, using the excuse that I was the only one in a position to make a living at the moment. Have laptop, will travel, and all that. Apparently he really was depressed, or as curious about our past as I was. He’d agreed without a qualm.
“It’s time we met our grandfather,” I insisted over EG’s pessimistic attitude. “We can’t live like vagabonds forever. You need a real home.” That’s what I’d wanted when I was EG’s age, but then, I wasn’t on quite the same genius level. Maybe geniuses didn’t need homes, but at nine, even EG couldn’t live alone.
I had a small nest egg that might have set us up elsewhere, but if we had to be in D.C., my money wouldn’t last long. D.C. is an expensive town. I was still ambivalent about helping TediousTex, EG’s dad, but I was bouncing with excitement at the idea of someone else contributing to the family effort.
Grandfather had come to mind first, but now that we were here, Texhad a lot to account for as well. The man paid child support, but to my knowledge, he’d never otherwise acknowledged the existence of his brilliant daughter. I could easily believe a parent that pathetic guilty of murder, but he was EG’s father. She wouldn’t believe it. She was still a kid who wanted to love her charismatic dad. The grass-is-always-greener syndrome, I called it. Most children of separated parents suffer from it.
“You haven’t heard from Grandfather in how many years?” she asked. “You should have given me time to do the research.”
Grandfather Maximillian had been alive and well when I’d checked at Christmas. At the time, I’d been lonely and dreaming of family, but I hadn’t acted on my foolish dreams beyond research. Sentimentality is so not me.
I wasn’t about to house my half-siblings inAtlantafor the time it would take to run a full inquiry into our grandfather. There had been a bus leaving within hours of Nick’s arrival, and I’d made certain we were on it. Uprooting myself—again—required determination.
“If we live here, you could go to a real school,” I interjected, knowing the school argument would divert her from her gloomy prognostications.
“I do not need a school,” she grumbled, but the subject silenced her as anticipated.
I was feeling apprehensive enough without her wet blanket attitude.
I was curious about our grandfather, of course, but I figured anyone who had fathered our mother wasn’t the kind of stable authority figure little kids needed. Given what I’d learned in my research, I had him pegged for Mafia.
I also assumed my mother would never have left a luxurious nest if it was available, so there had to be a major flaw in the household, even though I had this vague memory of his home as a welcoming shelter. I’d just been three at the time and recalled the house only because I adored the heavy bronze spaniels guarding the fireplace. I’d never been allowed to have pets, so I must have thought of them as real dogs.
That Magda hadn’t mentioned her father’s name in a quarter of a century was proof enough that returning to the ancestral home was akin to opening Pandora’s box.
I don’t remember a grandmother, and our mother’s bedtime stories tended to end in the tragic death of the beautiful Hungarian queen, so I had to assume she was out of the picture.
“You should have checked the address again before we left,” Nicholas murmured as the taxi cruised down a narrow street of historic D.C. mansions. Half of them looked like foreign embassies—the substantial kind with turrets and enough brick and stone to pave a path to heaven. Or hell. We gaped like hayseeds. I don’t know about EG and Nick, but my mind boggled at the idea of Magda coming from one of those castles. Maybe she really was a princess.
“I think God must live here,” Nick continued in awe, echoing my impression.
“Or George Washington,” EG muttered.
Admittedly, the sense of history contained in the towering Gothic Victorians and eccentric Romanesque Revival houses was overwhelming, but unlike my siblings, I felt at home here. Maybe it was the familiar urban landscape of belching buses and tacky commercial signs that welcomed me. I just knew the old houses whispered security. Maybe in my heart of hearts I longed for the home that three-year-old child in me remembered.
“The man has lived here for over seventy years. Why would he move now?” I asked, dismissing their fears as if I had none. Big sisters are supposed to be reassuring.
“I can give you at least three reasons,” EG replied. “And if you had given me even half a second to check—”
“I don’t care if he’s dead, or in a nursing home.” I didn’t inquire into the third possibility. The first two were scary enough. “The fact remains, we are his only living kin. Whatever Magda did to him shouldn’t be blamed on us. I’m sure he’ll learn to appreciate our talents.”
Nick snorted at the reference to “talents” but generously refrained from a cocky remark for EG’s sake. “I can’t believe we really come from a background like this,” he said with a measure of awe as he gazed up at the historic mansions.
Our ensuing silence evoked our agreement. We’d really thought the “coming from wealth” part of Magda’s story was simply a line in her well-embellished fairy tale.
“By George, if he lives alone in one of those, he won’t even know we’re in the house.” Recovering, Nicholas smoothed a blond swathe of hair off his forehead, straightened his square shoulders, and morphed into his Prince Charming mode. It’s positively amazing how he does that. “These places are large enough to house a circus.”
“Which they will, if we move in,” I murmured as the taxi pulled up to the curb.
The houses on this block were more urban and less awesome, but we stopped in front of an impressive brown brick Italianate mansion complete with square tower, gingerbread gables, and a covered porch. Unlike many of the townhouses around it, it was on a corner and set off slightly from its neighbor by an alley. I recognized the black wrought iron fence overgrown with ivy and the green marble Chinese lions guarding the steps. I had nicked the ball beneath one paw with a croquet mallet.
In disbelief and astonishment, I realized I had once actually lived in a mansion.
Funny, how memories come pouring back when primed by a familiar sight or smell. I’d never pegged myself as a sentimental person, but gazing up at that ugly house as Nick paid the taxi driver, I was practically choking on a lump of nostalgia. We’d checked our luggage at the bus station until we knew what kind of reception waited for us. I was half inclined to return to the taxi and catch the next bus out. On my own, running away had always been the best strategy.
Did I really want to know why we had been banned from the Garden of Eden?
“I told you so,” EG gloated as I froze at the gate.
I drew a deep breath and took confidence from my geek shield of denim jumper and tight French braid. As a teenager, I’d adopted the quiet confidence of Princess Leia as my role model, but the braid was just to keep my waist-length, black Irish hair out of my face. Chin high, I strode up the short walk to wallop the brass knocker against a mahogany door. I wasn’t letting a house intimidate me, even if it was larger than the high school I almost graduated from.
I’d ordered EG to wear her blue jeans and a white T-shirt so she looked like a normal nine-year-old and not a tiny Goth, but I hadn’t been able to persuade her to put her long black hair in pigtails. Nicholas looked his usual spectacular James-Bondish self, although the yellow ascot was a dead give-away that he was as nervous as I was. What could I say? He deserved his armor as much as I did. We had good reason to hide behind stereotypes.
No one answered my knock.
“The shrub border has been weeded and watered,” Nick noted. “Someone lives here.”
“Not Grandfather,” EG warned—again.
“It’s our ancestral home. We have a right to visit.” I slammed the knocker in a rapid tattoo that should have echoed through the Halls of Montezuma.
I could hear air conditioning running inside. A place like this had to have servants.
“May I help you?” a voice intoned from the intercom hidden behind a pot of pothos cascading from a sphinx head near the door. I calculated the sphinx as a bronze original and not one of those cheap plaster things adorningAtlantagarden walls. I had an eye for historic detail developed over a lifetime of drooling over other people’s houses.
“Anastasia Devlin here,” I informed the disembodied voice. “I wish to see my grandfather.”
Nicholas elbowed me, and EG scowled, but I didn’t see any purpose in terrifying the old guy by telling him a regiment of Magda’s offspring was at the door.
The silence following my announcement was striking. I opted for the fantasy of imagining a supercilious butler progressing through marble hallways, dusting the woodwork in his anxiousness to garner the approval of the prodigal grandchild.
“There are no grandfathers present,” the voice finally replied, striking a blow to my comfortable reverie.
I am not normally a combative person. I say please and thank you when called upon. But there were times my Irish temper blew the top of my head—
Seeing the gleam in my eye, Nicholas grabbed my elbow and jerked me down the stairs. “Come along. We can take a hotel room and discuss this.”
EG scampered for the gate without waiting.
I shook him off and returned to slam the knocker again. “What have you done with my grandfather?” I shouted at the sphinx, rattling the door.
And I was serious. I remembered this house. I remembered a tall man with thick pepper-and-salt hair and a bristly mustache, and I wanted his hugs back again. If these monsters had done anything to my grandfather, I’d make them pay. Tears actually stung my eyes as I slammed the knocker, and disappointment and grief spilled into the fury. I wanted my childhood back.
I knew I couldn’t have it, but EG deserved a real childhood with kitchen tables and schools and laughing friends. No kid ought to be brought up as I had. I would claw the face off the damned sphinx to give EG the home she needed. This home. Ripped from my subconscious, it had become my reason for living. To hell with Magda and whatever argument had taken us out of our grandfather’s life. I intended to change all that.
All right, so I had a lot fermenting in the murk of my subconscious, and denial was my middle name. No one ever said therapy helped.
“Maximillian no longer lives here,” the voice intoned again in an accent more posh than Nick’s. “He passed on two months ago.”
EG gave her “I told you so” shrug, sat down on the gate step, and began searching the three-inch band of lawn for four-leaf clovers. I knew she’d been covertly hoping her hitherto unknown relative might help SenatorTex, but EG was not only smart, she’s a cynic. My heart bled watching her give up hope.
Apparently as affected by her plight as I was, Nicholas stepped up to the intercom, shot his cuffs to the proper width from his coat sleeve as if someone could see him, and purred with his best British accent, “Then I suggest you open the door to his heirs, or we will be forced to consult with our attorneys.”
The plural was a nice touch. Attorneys, as if we had an entire firm at our disposal. Nick had learned a few useful things in his ritzy schools besides how to discern sexual proclivity in the object of his interest.
If I could have packaged the silence that followed, I’d use it the next time Magda breezed through to tell me I needed a man. Such splendidly evocative stillness would quell a magpie.
To my amazement, one massive door creaked open. In its place appeared a stiff, barrel-chested man several heads taller than me. Graying hair, of indeterminate age, and his clothing of impeccable tailoring, he could have been a foreign diplomat.
I recognized him. “Mallard!” The name leaped to my tongue from the primeval ooze of my subconscious. I had come home. I immediately stifled that nonsense, but I couldn’t crush the excitement as I stood there idiotically awaiting a joyous welcome.
Mallard gazed uncomprehendingly at me in my nondescript denim, then to Nick, who had opted for aristocratic nonchalance. I doubt that he could see EG at the gate, fortunately.
“I beg your pardon,” he replied with a frozen expression. “Do I know you?”
“I’m Anastasia,” I repeated, foolish hopes neatly doused. “I put the nick in the Chinese lion, remember?” The gargoyles were staring at me reproachfully. “Why did no one notify us of Grandfather’s death?”
“Mallard, the door is open,” a mechanical voice proclaimed from the interior. “Do you need assistance?”
Looking as if he’d swallowed hot coals, Mallard glanced over his shoulder, back to me, and heaving a mighty sigh, stepped out of the way. “We have visitors, sir.”
I brushed past, grateful to be out of the sticky heat and in the cool dimness of a long corridor. No wonder I had a penchant for dark basements. I’d spent my formative years in a mausoleum. I immediately traversed the marble floor to the doorway of the front parlor. The bronze spaniels were still there, and my heart did a little pitter-patter of happiness. I almost expected my grandfather’s voice to call for me. He’d had an accent, I remembered now. Hungarian, perhaps?
“I don’t accept visitors,” the disconnected voice responded—definitely not Grandfather’s gruff baritone.
Now that I was inside, the voice was less mechanical and more male, but it contained as much inflection as a robot’s.
The confidence that I was on home turf intensified. The voice was the usurper. I walked straight up to the brass speaker in the wall as Nick and EG entered. “Then you may leave,” I said with the quiet authority I had to have learned from someone other than my excitable mother. “I will call the executor of my grandfather’s estate and demand an explanation of your presence.”
I would like to have known how that bear of a man died, but I was saving the big guns for last. Questions like that were fraught with emotions, and I wasn’t skilled at dealing with them.
It was far easier to calculate that if our grandfather had died only two months ago, an estate the size of his couldn’t have been legally disposed of without notifying his descendants.
Mallard looked as if he might expire at any moment. Unable to perform such unbutlerish acts as screaming or stamping his foot, he tugged on his stiff collar and turned purple during the ensuing silence.
I ran my finger over the eighteenth-century drop-leaf hall table and nodded approval at the lack of dust. As if I owned the place—which I was quite certain we should since I’d done the research and knew my grandfather had no other family—I swept into the Victorian parlor to inspect further. It hadn’t changed an iota. It still smelled of must, my grandfather’s hair pomade, and stale cigars. I’d never been homesick a day in my life, but I felt the tug of nostalgia now.
“I purchased the house from the estate the day it appeared on the market,” the cold voice informed us through the speaker in the hall. “I suggest you depart the premises and invade Brashton’s territory if you require explanations.”
I raised my eyebrows at Mallard, who tugged even harder at his collar. “The executor,” he whispered.
“You won’t find him,” EG said. Apparently having overcome her earlier fear now that she could see we wouldn’t be met with armed Nazis, she dropped onto the plush horsehair sofa, causing an explosion of dust in the fading sunlight seeping past the maroon velvet draperies.
Alarmed by EG’s warning since she seemed to be batting a thousand, I stuck out my hand to Nicholas. Understanding my gesture, Nick handed over his cell phone. Avoiding contact with my family meant I’d never seen the purpose in owning any additional means of privacy invasion —like cell phones. Besides, I never went anywhere to need one.
“The full name of the firm?” I asked of the air.
The disembodied voice ignored me. The owner was no doubt calling security or the cops. I disliked dealing with authority, but I’d done it enough times to know how, so I wasn’t particularly scared. I was simply trying to tamp down the swirl of memories and anxieties and the overpowering longing not to be ejected from this house that I knew was meant to be ours.
Ever efficient, Mallard produced a business card from a file in the hall table drawer. If I hadn’t grown up in a series of strange situations, this disastrous conclusion to our journey might have alarmed me. But living with my chameleon mother all these years had taught me that all is not as it seemed, which developed my healthy sense of curiosity.
Even dysfunctional childhoods could be useful.
Settling into a high-backed wing chair by the window, I pulled on a drapery cord to let in daylight. I didn’t mind basements, but this room was suffocating with all the heavy velvet and horsehair. The furniture was huge and overpowering. Two of me could fit into the chair.
As if I had all the time in the world, I regally punched in the telephone number on the card and worked my way through the phone tree until I had the extension for one Reginald Brashton the Third. A secretary answered. I gave my name and grandfather’s and asked for the executor of his estate. An awkward silence followed.
For the first time in my life, I disliked silence.
After putting me on hold, she returned. “Let me put you through to Mr. Johnson.”
I assumed she’d made a frantic call while she had me on hold. This couldn’t be good. EG’s bored expression said she knew it wasn’t good, but she’d bide her time while I proved it. She’d discovered a shelf of ancient tomes by the mantel, so she was making a good show of not caring if I made an idiot of myself.
Nicholas wasn’t in sight. Neither was Mallard. Presumably, he’d followed Nick to protect the silver.
“Blackwell Johnson,” a frosty baritone said into my ear. “May I help you?”
I repeated the routine in my best virtual assistant voice. I didn’t often have to use telephones, but I knew the clipped tones that commanded respect. Having lived around the world, I had no regional accent to label me, and business-like sentences worked better for me than my mother’s purring flattery. Granted, she could squeeze papaya juice out of barnacles with her charm, but it also came accompanied by voluptuous curves, Slavic cheekbones, and slanted, long-lashed eyes that promised naughty sex.
I might have the cheekbones and the eyes, but seduction had never been my style. I had long ago decided I wanted respect for who I am and not what I look like. Darned good thing since I looked like a twelve-year-old shrimp.
The baritone on the other end of the line cleared his throat. “Ah, Miss Devlin. We have been unable to reach you. Or any of your family. It’s only recently been ascertained that Reginald had not yet notified you. ”
I waited. I could hear the nervousness in his voice. This wasn’t going to be pretty, but it might be entertaining. He knew who I was. After years of anonymity, recognition was almost pleasing.
I was still struggling with the concept that Grandfather had died. I mourned the loss of the mustached figure in my memory. He couldn’t have been much more than seventy. Why hadn’t I come here sooner? Look at how much I had wasted, how much I might have learned, had I pulled myself out of my self-centered world. And now it was too late. What else had I lost while hiding?
Rationally, I knew why I hadn’t come here, and that Grandfather was more guilty than I in the avoidance department, but that didn’t alleviate the pall of sorrow and raw guilt.
“Could you please tell me how my grandfather died?” I asked, surprising even myself.
“A debilitating illness. He had been incapacitated for some time. I believe there were several factors, including heart failure.” The lawyer tried to sound soothing and sympathetic, but he failed utterly. He was hiding something. I was certainly in a position to recognize avoidance when I heard it.
The very real possibility that my grandfather had left his estate to the King of Mulgravia or Catholic charities or some such had occurred to me the instant I’d heard of his demise. As much as my instincts told me that this house ought to be ours, I didn’t intend to torment myself with it until I had the facts. But I wanted the facts, now. Blackwell Johnson had said he’d been looking for us. It must be for a reason, and I was frantically praying the house was it.
“We will need your credentials, of course,” the attorney stalled.
“My mother is Magda Maximillian Devlin Bullfinch Hostetter…”
EG produced an address book from her backpack, and I read the list of my mother’s various married names with aplomb, concluding with “the only child of Rathbone Maximillian and owner of this house where I’m standing. I can produce a birth certificate and passport, of course, but at the moment I am in the awkward position of defending my right to stay in my grandfather’s home. I wish to know at once why his direct descendants weren’t notified as required by law and how the estate could be sold without our knowledge.”
Johnson cleared his throat again, but before he could speak, the disembodied voice intervened—this time from a black marble lamp near the chair where I was sitting. “It seems we have a problem.” The intruder’s phrasing expressed no emotion, but his tone possessed a sumptuous male wrath that appealed to the female fury in me.
I glared at the lamp and waited for the lawyer to spit it out.
“It seems we have a problem, Miss Devlin,” echoed from the cell phone. I rolled my eyes. EG waited expectantly. Even Nicholas returned, sipping from an eggshell china cup imprinted with royal purple and gold, his pinkie finger delicately extended. Mallard followed with a silver tea tray of goodies.
We’d found our natural habitat—a mansion with a butler to take care of us and antiques to pawn.
“It seems the estate’s executor cannot be found,” said the attorney, “and we cannot locate his files for the Maximillian property.”
“I paid cash for the house, free and clear,” the lamp intoned ominously, as if he could hear every word said.
Cash? For a house like this? Furnished? Bullhockey.
“Under contract law, a purchase made in good faith is valid, and it is up to the wronged party to prosecute the criminal and recover the stolen proceeds,” the lamp recited.
I remembered that from an on-line contract law class I’d taken when establishing my business. That didn’t mean I had to believe it. I can be an optimist when it serves my interest.
“My grandfather’s executor sold the house without our permission?” I inquired, trying to sort out their wildly conflicting statements.
While I waited for explanation, I idly toted up the sum of the antiques in the parlor. I was certain they were the same ones that had been there in my childhood. Why would anyone move into a mansion like this and not bring their own furniture?
I calculated the furnishings alone would pay for a nice snug cottage in a small town inGeorgia. I might know antiques, but I couldn’t hazard a guess as to how much an entire mansion in D.C. might command.
More throat clearing on the other end of the line. I waited. “According to the bank, the Maximillian estate has been cleared from the books and the moneys disbursed,” Mr. Johnson finally admitted.
“Disbursed?” The Catholics win again? Or maybe Grandfather was generous and left it all to the homeless. That ought to include me. And just about all of his grandchildren. I sure hadn’t seen a check.
“Possibly inappropriately disbursed,” Johnson murmured apologetically. “We cannot determine.”