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By´╝ÜWinter Renshaw

Chapter 1


“She’s not taking visitors today.” A woman with thin red lips and a raven bun smooths her hand down the front of her dress and straightens her spine. “You’ll have to come back another time.”

She attempts to shut the door before I can object, but I block it with the polished toe of my black Oxford.

“I’m her court-appointed conservator.” I retrieve a business card from an interior breast pocket, white with Rosewood and Rosewood’s logo across the top. “Attorney Derek Rosewood. She’s expecting me.”

The woman purses her lips, apprehensively taking the card from my hand. Her sharp stare moves between the embossed logo and my face.

“She’s indisposed.” The woman hands the card back like I’m some vacuum peddler. “Please phone before you stop by next time.”

“My secretary called. Yesterday. Spoke with a Thomas Gambrel, house manager.” I glance up at the monstrosity of an estate house. The mouth of the front entry threatens to swallow me whole. “I was told to stop by at two o’clock.”

I lift my wrist, pulling my suit jacket sleeve back to show her the face of my timepiece.

“Three minutes early,” I say. “But I’m more than willing to wait if Ms. Randall needs more time to make herself presentable.”

I keep a neutral face, a self-assured posture, and my opinions to myself. No one knows how long this guardianship will last, but if I’m to check on Serena Randall on a regular basis, it’s imperative that I’m on good terms with her staff. The last thing Rosewood and Rosewood, LLP needs are frivolous rumors tarnishing our good name. Too many attorneys have seen their careers crumble to pieces because their egos got the best of them in difficult moments.

I choose my battles. Always have. Always will.

“I’m sorry, I don’t believe I caught your name.” I inject a bit of lightness into my tone, hoping to break down this foolish defensiveness she has going on. I’m simply here to protect the estate and Ms. Randall.

The woman pauses, taking a sip of a breath and then releasing it all at once. “Eudora Darcy.”

She steps back and raises her chin.

“All right. Come inside and wait in the parlor. I’ll see what I can do.” Eudora swings the heavy door wide and motions for me to step in. She doesn’t try to hide her displeasure, but I don’t let it bother me. Besides, it takes a lot more than a smug look on a sour, wrinkled face to spoil my mood.

I remove my hat and wait for my eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. It’s a postcard-worthy April day outside. Oaks are budding. Robins are singing. Tulips are in bloom. It’s a goddamned Disney movie.

But in here, I can barely see past my outstretched hand.

Dust and dankness fills my lungs and tickles my nose, and I stifle a cough. From what I’ve gathered, this is a centuries-old family estate, and Serena’s parents are requiring that she take up residence here for the duration of the financial conservatorship.

“Wait in there, please.” Eudora points to a room with shadowed outlines of furniture before taking a few steps and clicking on a small lamp. “I’ll do my best to send Ms. Randall out shortly.”

With folded hands, she drifts away, her shoes silently padding along the marble floors.

And so I wait.

A minute passes, then another, then ten more. I retrieve my phone and squint at the bright screen in the dark room. One pathetic bar. I try and send a text to my legal secretary regarding a stack of files I left on my desk this morning. The text fails twice but goes through the third time.

My phone dings as incoming texts fill my screen all at once. Within seconds, my thumb hovers over two topless selfies from some woman I hooked up with a week ago. What is it with women thinking a topless selfie fixes everything? I haven’t called her for a reason. And that reason is because our little rendezvous meant nothing. It was fun but now I’m over it. I could have sworn I made myself perfectly clear when she was choking on my cock for the third time that night. I don’t do repeats. I don’t do relationships. I don’t do the whole boyfriend thing.

For fuck’s sake, have a little respect for yourself, Amanda.

I delete her photos and spot a copy of Great Expectations lying on the coffee table. Judging by the cover, I’m willing to bet it’s a first edition. The thing is probably a hundred and fifty years old, and the Randalls have it sitting out like some coffee table book they picked up at Barnes and Noble.

Belcourt Manor is in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between Rixton Falls and Manhattan and definitely off the beaten path. Surrounded by lush, green thickets and groves of majestic oaks, its heyday was certainly in a bygone era.