© 2017 Melissa L Gibson. All rights reserved.
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“Hey, Sarah, there’s someone here to see you,” the hostess called from Sarah’s office doorway.
Sarah spared a glance at the waitress to say, “Send him back, please.”
Her gaze returned to the figures on her spreadsheet, trying to make sense of their cost versus profit for the past month. While the best at computers, her skills soon showed the results she’d been hoping to see: their profits far exceeded their costs for the previous month. While her eyes and mind remained locked on the screen, she heard movement outside her door, reminding her of the visitor waiting to see her. She felt sure one vendor or another had come to verify her monthly order.
A single tap on her door came before her visitor walked in as if he owned the place.
Annoyed by his arrogance, she looked up from her computer, ready to give this person a sharp reprimand, but it died as she glanced at the man before her. Definitely not a vendor, she thought as she took in the dress suit the gentleman wore. While not made of the finest material, his suit clearly didn’t come off the rack either. It fit him to perfection. She wondered what he wanted with her.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Miss Kingston, but I was told you could be reached here. May I have a minute of your time?” He stepped up to her desk and held out his hand as he introduced himself, “I’m Gabriel Samson. I’m an attorney from Fayehallow.”
Her hand froze as the name of her hometown slammed into her, threatening her with so many memories she hadn’t imagined or recollected in almost a decade. At the last second, her manners returned as she clasped his hand in greeting and asked, “How can I help you?”
She gestured to the chair across from her. She watched as he sat down and pulled out two folders, glancing at the notes he’d made on their covers. Curious about them, she held her breath as he rearranged them for his purposes and said, “You are the oldest child of Esme and Patrick Kingston, correct?”
At her nod, he continued, “Well, Miss Kingston, I regret to inform you that your father has passed away from a heart attack. I’m truly sorry for your loss.”
It took her a moment as the news sank in, causing her the barest amount of pain. She blew out a breath and edged her chair closer to her desk as she replied, “My father threw us out like garbage nine years ago, Mr. Samson. We never heard from him after that, so his death isn’t something I’ll mourn.”
The sadness she read in the attorney’s eyes lit a match on her temper. She didn’t want or need his sympathy for her family’s plight. While it’d been hard for a few years, they’d reached a good place and she refused to dwell on that past or consider any what-ifs where her father was concerned.
He coughed to break the sudden tension in the room before opening the top folder and pulled out a stack of papers. He leaned forward over her desk so he could present her with the papers, saying, “This is your father’s will. Within these pages, you’ll find he’s left the entirety of his estate to you and your brothers, including his home, all bank accounts, and other assets he’d obtained over the course of his life. The amount is fairly substantial as you’ll discover.”
She couldn’t read past the first page as she realized the import of all Mr. Samson was telling her. Her family had gone from being okay to wealthy in just a few, short minutes. While she hated that her father had to die for this new windfall, she couldn’t help but feel some relief as her family wouldn’t have to worry about anything in the future.
She barely heard Mr. Samson as he continued to speak about stipulations and other addendums her father had placed upon his assets in order to protect them from bad investments and wasteful spending, including trusts for her and her brothers along with monthly allowances to be withdrawn for them by Mr. Samson. It all soon became too much for her, causing her to interrupt Mr. Samson.
“Mr. Samson, I have no desire to keep the house, but I need to talk with my brothers and see how they feel. Should we want to sell the house, is there a way I can reach you? This is a lot to absorb right now and I won’t make any hasty decisions without consulting them.” She handed the papers back to him, only to have him refuse them since he’d made them for her to keep. Instead, he gave her the folder he’d had them in along with his business card before picking up the last folder and reading over his notes on its cover.
Wishing his business was complete but knowing it wasn’t, she waited as patiently as she could for him to spit out the other reason for his presence in her office. He’d made her world tilt on its axis, which made her vulnerable. She’d worked hard for control over her life and his news was taking away that control. She hoped whatever he had in the second folder wouldn’t disturb her as much as the first one had.
“I know you need to get back to work, but I do have one more item to discuss with you.”
She took a breath and nodded her acceptance of his presence for a short time longer. “Go on.”
Within the last folder, he pulled out an envelope and another stack of papers, not quite as thick as the first set he’d given her. Before he presented her with the paperwork or explained what it contained, he handed her the envelope. “Read this first please.”
Lifting a brow in wonderment and wariness, she picked up her letter opener and ripped through the top seal of the envelope, pulling out a sheet of stationery. She hadn’t seen the handwriting in almost a year, but the smile it formed caused a warmth in her heart as she read the familiar script. It came from her long-time friend and pen pal, Mark Scot, a family friend from Fayehallow.
Dearest Sarah, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m writing to you after a year of nothing. I’ve found myself in a bit of a conundrum. Since the fire nine years ago, I’ve resigned myself to never getting married. However, my father has other ideas. It would appear I need to marry before my thirtieth birthday or I forfeit my inheritance. With that being said, you are the first and only woman I can picture as my wife. So, would you do me the honor of marrying me? Yours, Mark.
Her jaw dropped as she reread the contents of Mark’s letter. Unbelieving, she looked up at Mr. Samson for confirmation. This was all too much for her. While she’d known Mark from childhood, he was still a virtual stranger after a nine-year absence. Her eyes bounced from the letter to Mr. Samson as she tried to absorb it all.
Rather than give her an explanation, Mr. Samson handed her the folder with the second set of paperwork and allowed her a few minutes to read through it.
Needing a moment, she took a fortifying breath before she opened the folder and dived into the heart of the marriage contract as laid out by Mark. He wanted her to commit to at least a year and would be rewarded in abundance if they made it. He also covered his responsibility to her in the event of a divorce as long as they made it past their first year together. No matter the outcome, he’d provide for her, she read, if only she’d help him keep his inheritance.
“Mr. Samson, I don’t understand.” While she could accept the inheritance her father had left her, she found herself troubled by this newest development. Marriage hasn’t been the biggest priority on her list at that moment since she’d been focused on setting herself up with a career to provide for her and her family.
“From what I’ve been told, Mr. Scot and you have a history. Because of that history, he feels you are the best person to help with this situation. He has expressed his greatest hope that you’ll accept this marriage proposal and contract, but also understands if you’d like to say no.” Mr. Samson gathered his few belongings as he prepared to leave her, sensing her need to consider and look over everything he’d presented her in his short visit.
Before he walked from her office, he turned towards her and said, “Take a few days, discuss it with your family, and let me know what you’d like to do. I’ll hold off Mr. Scot until you have made a decision, Miss Kingston. I hope you have a good evening.” With that, he took his leave of her.
Sarah could only stare after his disappearing figure as she tried to absorb all the information he’d given her. With all of this information, it would seem her life was about to take a new direction and that direction pointed right at Fayehallow. While she’d never considered moving back to her hometown, she wondered if maybe this wasn’t a sign that she needed to follow. She couldn’t imagine her family’s reaction because she didn’t even know how she should react or feel about this new information.
Not only has her father died and left them a fortune, she has the opportunity to help out an old friend by marrying him, which would also provide her with more wealth and security for them that has been sorely lacking for the past nine years.
As she considered what moving back to Fayehallow would mean for her and her family, her mind conjured up an image of Mark Scot as a young man of twenty. Of all she could recall about him, his eyes stood out the most. They were the greenest eyes she’d ever seen, mirroring the clover that grew wild in her mother’s gardens despite hours of pruning and weeding. His compassion and intelligence came second as she remembered the times he’d sat with her, telling her stories when she was a timid child and keeping her company after school as her parents went from one social function to another for her father’s work.
He’d be twenty-nine now to her almost twenty-one, a huge difference in many minds, including her own. Though she’d been closer to his younger brother, Kenneth, growing up, her written correspondence over the last several years with Mark had bridged a gap between them. They’d shared things that their families didn’t know about them, but was that enough to tie one’s self to another?
If she decided to pack up her family to return to Fayehallow, what would happen to them? While they would have a home of their own, would she still be welcome within the community if her marriage to Mark failed? He’d been the golden boy of the town as he’d won the hearts of many with his novels and with his volunteer work. Could she marry the town’s prince and be happy? What about her career? What would she do with her time without work?
So many questions swirled through her mind, causing a dull ache to start at the base of her skull. She knew there was only one thing she could do to make the questions stop and get the ache to retreat. She needed to discuss this momentous decision with her family, but first, she needed to request some emergency time off from work until she could decide what she’d do.
She picked up her phone and dialed her boss, Joan Perkins, who was also one of her best friends, and dialed Joan’s number in Austin, knowing Joan would still be in her office, working late as usual. She had to wait two rings before Joan’s sweet voice came over the line.
“Hey, Joan, I know this is incredibly short notice, but something’s come up and I need some time off from work, starting tomorrow.”
Joan listened to Sarah’s retelling of what had just happened with Mr. Samson. At the end of Sarah’s story, Joan agreed to give Sarah as long as she needed to make some decisions, declaring Sarah would always have a position at the Golden Age restaurant chain, which Joan had started not three years ago.
Sarah hung up and left her office soon after, knowing her next battle lie ahead with her family as she related the events to them. She could only wonder at what their reactions would be when she told them.
Sarah’s drive home proved too quick for her taste as she pulled into the driveway of their duplex and found her brother, Derek, and his daughter, Amy, playing in the yard. She smiled at the image they created as father and daughter played at the small outdoor table they’d purchased for Amy for Christmas. The little girl had just adored the table and made sure they used it at least once a day for one of her imaginary parties or games she’d created in minutes with her active mind.
When Amy caught sight of Sarah’s car, she jumped up and tried to race across the yard on her still wobbly legs, falling to the ground a few feet from the table. That didn’t stop the little girl from pushing herself up and taking several more steps towards Sarah before falling again. Sarah met her halfway, fiercely hugging her niece as her chest threatened to burst with such pride. She kissed the little girl on the cheek and started talking to Amy as if she could understand every word coming from Sarah’s mouth.
She must have held on too long to Amy because she turned towards Derek and saw his concerned expression as she walked towards him. Rather than provide him with an answer, she continued past him into the house and into the kitchen, settling Amy into her highchair, knowing dinner wouldn’t be long in coming.
After greeting her mother, Sarah sat next to Amy and tried to picture a child of her own, which proved rather easy to do. She imagined her little one with chestnut hair and bright emerald eyes, filled with compassion and intelligence to match its father. She sucked in air as she realized she was imagining Mark’s child, which caused her to wonder how he’d feel about having a child of his own. She didn’t even know if he’d want one, especially when their marriage could end after just one short year.
If he didn’t plan on marrying before his father’s interference, could he even want children?
Her mind settled on that question as her family worked around her, setting the table and placing the food in the center for easier serving. She’d hoped for children of her own one day, but she hadn’t thought about having them just yet. However, with Mark’s marriage contract sitting in her briefcase and Amy sitting next to her, Sarah felt a yearning for children build within her, threatening to overwhelm her as that need grew stronger.
“How was work today, sweetheart?” Esme, their mother, asked as she sat down on Sarah’s right.
Sarah jerked as her mind came back to the present and found her family watching her closely. She tried to come up with an evasive answer, but decided the truth needed to come out sooner rather than later. Taking a calming breath, she dived right into her day with a nonchalance she didn’t feel. “A lawyer came to see me today. Dad died and left us everything, including the house in Fayehallow.”
She glanced at each of them in turn as they froze in place at her announcement. She searched their faces for a hint of what each of them was thinking in that moment, but found herself with just guesses. She could only wait as they digested her news and found their voices in their own time.
Derek seemed to recover the fastest as he demanded, “What did you tell this lawyer?”
“I told him I had to talk with you and Jeremy before anything is decided. Dad left us quite a sum, but there are plenty of rules about how we’re able to handle it. I can go over them with you if you want or we can turn everything down, including the house.” Her eyes rested upon Derek and then Jeremy as they thought about what she’d told them. While she didn’t want the house herself, it could be a wonderful home for Derek and Amy with plenty of room for her to grow along with any other children Derek may have in the future. Jeremy could also benefit from the small town lifestyle as he decides his future. To help them, she decided to nudge them, “We could always go back and take a look around before we decide, too. We might even find ourselves happy to go back.”
Esme’s fork clattered to her plate, causing her children to turn their stares upon her. She couldn’t tell them how much she dreaded the idea of going back. Not only had it been her children’s hometown and even hers, but the amount of humiliation she’d suffered at their father’s hands had been enough for her to vow nine years ago that she’d never return. However, as her gaze focused upon her children, she wondered if that vow had been more self-serving than she’d meant. Maybe, she considered, it would be a good idea to go back, even if it’s just to gain some closure for her children. Who knew? Maybe she’d find some closure of her own, gazing upon her old home, before turning it over to new owners.
Firming her decision, Esme conceded, “I’ll support whatever you three decide. I do agree with Sarah about seeing the old house before making any decisions.”
Sarah smiled at her mother, thankful for the support, as she turned once again to Derek, who’d been stubbornly silent about his own thoughts and feelings. She knew he harbored the most anger towards their father, never forgiving him for tossing them out like they’d been garbage. While she had her own feelings towards their father, she learned that her father had made his decision, which seemed to haunt him based on the will she’d seen and all he’d left them. There hadn’t been one mention of her aunt or half-sister that she’d seen within the few paragraphs she’d read.
“Derek, what are you thinking?” Sarah prodded him. She needed to get out of her head if she wanted to get through this conversation so they could make a decision about what to do.
“We don’t owe that man anything. He didn’t want us back then. Why should we do this for him now?” He slammed his fist against the table as his anger towards their father rose. He’d hated the man since the day he’d thrown them out. It was because of their father that their mother had ever met their horrible stepfather, who’d damaged their family almost beyond repair in a short amount of time. “I have no desire to go back, but I’ll go if Jeremy wants to go.”
Sarah turned to Jeremy and asked in a soft tone, “What do you say, Jeremy?”
“I want to see our old house. I barely remember it. I know you and Derek have all these memories, but what few I have are fuzzy. I do remember us being happy there, which is what I want to see. Peter took that from us and I want it back. So, can we please go?” Being the youngest, Jeremy had learned not to ask for much, but he was asking for this, which made their decision for them. On the cusp of fifteen, his words struck a sad chord within each of them.
With their decision to return to Fayehallow now set, they made plans on when to leave and what they’d need to survive for the week or so they’d be there. Since it was summer vacation, their days were much freer at that time, allowing them to decide the weekend would be soon enough for them to leave for Fayehallow. This would give Derek time to ask for time off and Sarah a chance to update her own boss.
They finished dinner and cleaned up, talking further about all they’d need to do and pack over the next two days for their time in Fayehallow. Sarah and Esme got to work on their many lists of things to complete while Derek and Jeremy readied Amy for bed.
When the time came for everyone to turn in, Sarah realized that she hadn’t mentioned the other bit of news she had for her family. While she hated keeping secrets from her mother and brothers, she also didn’t want them to know just yet since she remained undecided about her answer to Mark’s marriage proposal. She wished she could talk to him, but she’d see him soon enough. She’d make up her mind after she talked with him in Fayehallow.
She smiled as she considered how everyone would react should she decide to say yes to him, knowing it was sure to create quite a stir between their families and the whole town. She wondered how Mark would feel about her as his wife since it had been so long. She’d changed so much in the nine years she’d been away from Fayehallow. She just hoped she didn’t disappoint him when he saw her.
Needing some form of reassurance, she pulled out the folder Mr. Samson had given her that contained Mark’s letter and the marriage contract. She reread the letter before she read through the contents of the contract Mark had created for them. His thoughts on their potential marriage helped to assure her that Mark wanted this marriage to work, including the small section she found on any potential children that could result from their union.
Feeling better, she neatly restacked the paperwork and stored it back within its folder before she changed into her pajamas and snuggled deep under her covers. She fell asleep, dreaming of meeting Mark and seeing his smile once again as she accepted his proposal. Even in her sleep, her lips curved into a hopeful smile.
Mark couldn’t focus on anything, but the clock on his desk. As much as he hoped for time to speed by, it seemed to relish tormenting him as the seconds ticked away, one by one. His deadline fast approached, but it took a backseat to his current distracted state.
Mr. Samson should be meeting with Sarah right about now, he thought, shoving away from his desk in disgust and frustration. He stalked around his office, ignoring the overflowing shelves of books that lined the walls of the room. While he usually gained some peace from their presence and their old, comforting smell, he found himself in a deep quagmire as he contemplated what Sarah would say to his proposal and his subsequent marriage contract.
Sighing roughly, he sought an escape from the confinement of his office and went in search of something to occupy his mind or even his hands. He needed something to distract him until he heard some news from Mr. Samson. He could only wonder when that time would come as he made his way to the kitchen for something to eat.
He never made it to the kitchen as his father waylaid him in the hallway, asking for a moment of Mark’s time.
Sensing Mark’s hesitation, his father waved Mark into the family’s main sitting room and said, “It’ll only take a moment.”
Mark followed his father with some reluctance since his stomach could use some refreshment, but he supposed it could wait a few moments more. He noted his father took a seat on his favorite chair near the fireplace and beckoned Mark towards the matching one across from him. It had been his mother’s favorite place to pass the time during the evening hours after she’d handled her children and all of their activities for the day. Mark could almost picture her there, reading one of the many books she’d picked up for the month to add to their vast collection within the library and his present office.
He sat down and waited for his father to state the reason for pulling him aside when Mark was clearly distracted by other matters. Something his father rarely did anymore.
“I just wanted to touch base with you, my son. We haven’t really talked since the inheritance issue came up.” Edward looked pointedly at his son, trying to gauge where his son’s thoughts rested upon this subject. He only wanted the best for his children and that included marriage and families of their own.
When Mark had announced his lack of intentions in this enriching area of life, Edward’s heart had broken. He didn’t want his son to miss out on this great blessing from life just because Mark had some physical scars that did little to diminish his attractive features. While the scars weren’t the comeliest, they weren’t the worst aspect of Mark’s countenance. That would be the dark cloud that has enshrouded Mark since the fire that had claimed Mark’s once-flawless skin and several people’s lives, including Edward’s wife and the mother of his children.
Edward wondered if that cloud hadn’t been worsened by Bethany and her own problems after that infamous fire since Mark has since become a recluse within their small town. He worried that his son would never meet a woman, who could make him laugh with his past ease and bring some light and hope back into Mark’s eyes. Edward would do anything to have his son back to his former self or as close to that young man, including threatening to take away his inheritance.
“I have proposed if that’s what you mean. I’m just waiting to hear back from her. Is that all, Father?” Mark asked with such sarcasm that Edward’s brows shot upward. Mark had never been so quick to use sarcasm in the past, but then, there was a lot Mark did now that he hadn’t before.
Not to be deterred, Edward continued, “So, who is she?”
“You’ll have to wait and see, Father.” Mark stood to pace around the sitting room as he caught sight of the clock and its slow passage of time. He wanted, needed, to get out of there before he completely lost his control and snapped at his father for something he considered wholly unfair where his inheritance was concerned. “May I go now?”
Not to be outdone or cowed by this snappish behavior, Edward commanded, “No, you can’t. Sit down, son. We are going to talk.”
With a frustrated breath, Mark resumed his seat across from Edward and stared into the fireplace, waiting for Edward to ask his questions so Mark could leave. He sat for so long and his father remained quiet that Mark looked up and caught the look of sadness upon his father’s features. Feeling guilty, Mark finally confessed, “I’ve asked Sarah to marry me, dad. She’s the only woman I know any longer that I can halfway tolerate.”
Edward mulled over this news, surprised by Mark’s confession. He wondered if his son was adamant about not marrying as he claimed to be since Mark’s distraction seemed to be centered around this young woman from their past. While Edward could only speculate as to their current relationship, he did know that Sarah was quite a bit younger than Mark and hoped that wouldn’t be problematic for them as it had for other couples in Edward’s acquaintance.
A thought struck Edward in that moment as he asked, “Patrick just passed away. Is that what made you think of her? Does she inherit the Kingston home?”
“I don’t know what she gets, dad, from her father’s will. I asked her because she’s the only option I have. I’ve kept in touch with her because I knew Kenneth wouldn’t. He’s never been much for following through on anything. I never expected her to keep writing me back after so many years.” There was a faint hope in his voice that sprang a mirroring one within Edward.
Maybe there was hope for Mark after all, Edward mused. He vowed to keep his eyes and ears open to their budding relationship, hoping against hope that it would progress to a loving and lasting one for them. He had a feeling that Sarah had suffered some tragedies of her own over the years and wondered if she’d shared them with Mark or not.
It had been bad enough watching Sarah and her family be kicked out by her father all those years ago. Edward had been grieving and not in the position to help them as he would have if Esme had asked. Esme and his dear Martha had been the closest of friends for years. It had nearly killed him when his beloved wife had died. The thought of taking in her best friend and the children had been too much for him since he had his nine children to contend as well.
Mark had no idea the speculation taking place within his father at that moment and wondered why his father has remained relatively quiet upon this most important subject, as Edward has placed upon him. Marriage wasn’t something Mark had considered because demons chased him night and day since the fire that had changed so much for Fayehallow. He couldn’t imagine sharing his life with someone with the scars that marred his body and face. They were hideous and not something he wanted to subject upon someone, but it would seem his father had other ideas for him.
Edward broke the silence at one point. “So, do you think she’ll say yes?”
“I don’t know, dad. I just don’t know.” Mark stood and walked across the room, lost in his own tormented thoughts as he worried about her reaction. The death of her father should have been enough to deter him from asking, but he’d thought it the best way to get her back to Fayehallow.
It’d been a year since his last fateful letter. He’d hoped for something with her back then, but he’d heard nothing from her. He figured she’d changed her mind about him and thought lack of contact would deter him, which it had. He hadn’t written to her since and hadn’t planned to do so, but then, inheritance loss propelled him into action.
He glanced out the room’s large window into one of the three gardens his mother had kept for years. His oldest sisters, Kate and Mary, had taken over the task since her passing. They tended to the gardens of flowers on alternating days since they had their own husbands, professions, and even a child to also tend. While Kate’s stepdaughter wasn’t their blood, Mark would do anything for the little girl. The same went for the rest of the family. They simply loved the sweet little girl, who’d lost her mother in the fire.
The summer had done some miraculous things to the garden he could see. Brilliant colors abounded as the different flowers bloomed with their full majesty for all to see and to appreciate. He wondered if Sarah would like them as much as his mother had. He wished she would since it would be something they could do together despite it being years since he’d stepped foot into any of them. It hadn’t been the same without his mother.
“Do you want her to say yes, Mark?” Edward asked from behind. He’d snuck up as Mark had become lost in his own thoughts.
Before Mark could answer the question, a knock on the entryway alerted the men to another’s presence. Glancing over, they encountered Ashleigh, Mark’s almost sixteen-year-old sister, holding a phone in her hand. She gestured towards Mark and held out the phone to him, whispering the caller’s identity as he came closer to accept the phone.
Mark rushed down the hall to his office in order to be alone as he received the news he hoped to hear from his lawyer about Sarah’s decision.
“Hello, Gabriel. What news do you have for me?” Mark asked into the phone, gripping the landline tight in his anxiety to hear Sarah’s answer.
“Well, Mark, I don’t have much. She’s overwhelmed by all I’ve given her. Frankly, I’m a little worried about her.” Gabriel paused in hesitation to explain further his reservations about the interview he’d had with Sarah and providing Mark with any details pertaining to it.
“Go on, Gabriel. Spill it.” Mark could hardly handle the anticipation of hearing her answer. He needed to know it so he could breathe again. Either way, he had plans to make and things to accomplish before they could marry so his inheritance would stay intact.
“She didn’t say anything. I told her to take a few days before making a decision. She needs time, Mark.”
“She can have all the time she wants after she gives me an answer. Call her and demand an answer from her.” Mark threw his hand into the air in exasperation of this daunting news. He couldn’t believe that she hadn’t given Gabriel anything. It was an easy decision, wasn’t it? She either wanted to marry him or she didn’t.
“Calm down, Mark. I won’t do any such thing. I will stop by to see you tomorrow when I return to Fayehallow. How about lunch at the inn? We need to talk about this marriage contract.”
“No, I’ll have Nina make up something when you get here. What is there to discuss?”
“Your sudden hurry in getting married and your choice of wife.”
Mark blew out a breath as he realized that his burgeoning friendship with his lawyer was going to cost him some pride. Knowing he couldn’t dodge the man’s questions forever, he agreed to the meeting and the topic Gabriel had in store for them. He owed Gabriel that much as the man had done what Mark had asked at the absolute last moment before his trip to Abilene to see Sarah.
They hung up a few minutes later.
Mark sank into his office chair and stared at his clock once again as a new countdown began.
Everything could wait as he tried how best to answer the questions he knew were coming, keeping him awake well into the wee hours of the morning.
Mark didn’t roll out of bed until late the next morning, shocked by the time he read upon his bedside clock, and dashed through his morning routine. With the way his morning started, he’d be lucky to have a few minutes alone before Gabriel would be joining him for lunch within his home office. As luck would have it, he was able to gain just five, brief minutes before Gabriel entered the room and took a seat across from Mark at the desk.
While they exchanged short greetings, Nina brought in a tray of cold cuts and all the trimmings to make themselves some gourmet sandwiches. She soon followed that tray with another, weighed down by beverages and sides to complete their meal. She smiled at them and bantered with Gabriel for a few moments before retreating to the kitchen to tidy up for the next meal.
They exchanged small talk over their meal, which ended much sooner than Mark had wanted or even anticipated.
Having placed their dishes back upon the trays, he set them on a side table close to the door before he walked back to his desk to resume his seat. He glanced up at Gabriel and waited for the questions he knew were coming about his relationship with Sarah and his motivations where she was concerned. Though he didn’t want to answer them by any means when they were so personal to him, he knew he owed some answers to his new friend and acting lawyer in this matter.
When Gabriel didn’t immediately jump into the questions burning most in his mind, Mark placed his hands on the desk and said, “Let’s get this over with, shall we? What do you want to know about Sarah and me?”
Gabriel chuckled at this. He hadn’t expected Mark’s cooperation in this inquiry, let alone expected Mark to want to dive in so quickly as if the bandage couldn’t come off fast enough. Shaking his head in derision, he asked, “Why don’t you start with why the rush? Why did you want me to present the marriage contract to her at the same time as her father’s will?”
Gabriel settled back in his chair and waited for Mark’s response.
Mark swallowed hard as he tried to find the best way to word his response. Turning his chair towards one of the windows, he glanced out for several seconds, seeing past another of his mother’s gardens. While the blooms of the first garden had drawn his attention, this one failed to capture his attention or send him back in time. He thought only of the past few weeks.
He recalled the shock of discovering the death of Patrick Kingston and the subsequent knowledge of Patrick’s children gaining their inheritance, including Sarah. He knew she harbored resentment towards her father, making her decision to return one he couldn’t guess. It hadn’t been until he’d recalled his father’s ultimatum concerning his own inheritance that a thought had occurred. Maybe by proposing to Sarah, Mark could get her to return to Fayehallow and back into his life.
Gabriel coughed to bring Mark’s attention back to the present.
Flushing slightly, Mark turned back to his guest and confessed, “I wanted her to come home. Her father had hurt her deeply and I didn’t trust her to come back just for him. I thought I could get her back if I added a second incentive. It’s stupid, I know, but I’m desperate at this point.”
“Why is that? I don’t understand this sudden need to marry.”
“My father wants me to marry. In order to gain my cooperation, he’s threatened to withhold my inheritance from me. I need to be married before my next birthday. I barely have a year left.”
“So, that’s the main reason? Your inheritance?”
“Well, I make a decent living as a writer, but I’m not well-known yet. My inheritance would help through any lean years I may experience.”
Mark doubted that, but then, he had no plans to further explain his motives where Sarah and his inheritance was concerned. If Sarah wanted more information, then he’d find a way to make her understand, but he didn’t owe anything to anyone else in his opinion.
“She looked good.” Gabriel stated in a quiet voice as he prepared to take his leave. “She asked for the key to her childhood home this morning before I left.”
“So, she’s coming back?”
“I think so, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. She mentioned selling the house.” Gabriel moved towards the door of Mark’s office and paused for a long moment, saying, “If you want her to stay, you’ll have to convince her better than you have me.”
Mark watched Gabriel leave the room in surprise as he considered the implications of Sarah coming back to town. Sure he was alone after several minutes, he pulled open one of the top drawers of his desk, searching for one item in particular. On top of a stack of letters from Sarah, he located the object he most wanted to see: a picture of Sarah from two years ago.
The surprise of receiving the photograph had enveloped him upon opening the letter and finding it. While he remembered a small, rather timid child, the young woman staring back at him seemed anything but timid. Her chestnut hair and blue eyes had drawn him to her in a way he never expected of someone so much younger. Deeper than her looks was her determined will and spirit, which had shown through the still shot of her. She looked ready to battle any demon or threat thrown her way despite the smile upon her face. A saddened smile that showed how much life had thrown her way, but a smile no less.
The picture renewed him in ways he hadn’t felt in the past few days. He had a battle to win when she arrived in town and needed time to prepare for that battle. He had to win her over and have her marry him or his inheritance would be lost. In order to achieve this, he had work to do.
First on his list was meeting his deadline ahead of schedule for his next novel. Setting to work, he settled deeper into his chair and turned on his computer, opening up the correct file and getting down to it. He worked for several hours until he’d typed the last two words and his eyes blurred from the long hours of staring at the screen.
At long last, he shut down his computer, satisfied with this accomplishment, and decided to get a decent meal before calling it a good night. He had more to do if he wanted Sarah as his wife.