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Second Chance with the Millionaire

By:Penny Jordan

Second Chance with the Millionaire
Penny Jordan

       CHAPTER ONE


'BUT why do we have to move out of the Manor and into the Dower House?'  six-year-old Tara protested stubbornly, the full lower lip so like their  father's trembling ominously.

Across the tousled fair head Fanny gazed despairingly at her  stepdaughter, and Lucy automatically suppressed her own tiredness and  irritation.

'Tara, you know why,' she said patiently. 'Now that …  Now that Daddy's …   gone, we can't live here any longer. The house belongs to someone else  now.'

It had been a long day-a long and wearying month in fact since her  father's death from a third and long-dreaded heart attack, but then he  had never learned to live quietly as his doctor had advised him-but  beneath Tara's belligerence she sensed the six-year-old's fear at the  way her small world was being destroyed, and it was this fear she sought  to ease.

Ironic really that Tara should turn to her and not to her own mother,  Lucy's stepmother Fanny, but then, as the late George Martin had known,  Fanny was one of the weaker vessels of this life, not the stronger. Some  of his last words to his elder daughter had been a warning that she was  the one on whom the small family would now have to lean-not Fanny.

'It's not fair.' Another voice joined the chorus, the face of Fanny's  ten-year-old son setting in lines of stubborn resentment, familiar to  Lucy. 'If you had been a boy we needn't have lost the Manor. You could  have inherited it.'

Repressing a sigh Lucy shook her head.

'The Manor has always been entailed to the closest male heir, Oliver,' she reminded her half-brother. 'You know that.'

'Yes.' The boy's gruff admission wrung her heart. Unwittingly her eyes  met Fanny's and, reading the guilt and misery in them, slid quickly  away. She felt like a conspirator involved in some dark and unseemly  crime, and Fanny's attitude of guilty misery only served to heighten her  feelings.

She wished more than she had wished anything in her life that her father  had not chosen to burden her with his death-bed confessions; but he  had, and in doing so had put on her shoulders a responsibility she was  not sure she was able to carry.

The promise he had extracted from her to look after Fanny and the  children, she could accept; but this other burden, this 'secret' that  only she and Fanny shared …

Her mouth compressed slightly as she looked across the packing-case  strewn room at Oliver. Up until just over a month ago she had believed  Oliver to be Fanny's son from her first marriage to a local MP, but now  she had been told that Oliver was in fact her father's child, conceived  during an affair with Fanny which had begun while she was still married.

Her father had been quite free to marry Fanny, but it seemed that Fanny  had been unwilling to risk the shame of a divorce from her husband who  at the time had been newly elected to Parliament.

In the event, Henry Willis had been the one to do the divorcing when his  affair with his secretary became public knowledge, leaving her father  and Fanny to marry after a decent interval of time had elapsed.

However, by then Oliver had been four years old, and once again rather  than risk any scandal Fanny had insisted that he should continue to be  thought Henry's child.

In a surge of bitterness during his last hours, her father had confided  to her that it was a damn shame that Tara had not been the child to be  born outside the marriage and Oliver within it, because then he would  not have been put to the necessity of realising as many of his assets as  possible to ensure that very little more than the Manor House itself  should pass out of his family's hands.

Privately Lucy had been appalled when she learned what her father had  done and if he had not been so dreadfully ill, she would have been  tempted to point out to him that it was Fanny, rather than Saul  Bradford, who had deprived Oliver of his birthright.

After the funeral, Fanny had come to her weeping copiously to plead with  her never, ever to reveal the truth about Oliver. She could not endure  the trauma of the scandal there would be if the truth were to come out,  she had said tearfully, and Lucy had weakly agreed.

Privately, having had a long talk with her father's solicitor, she felt  that, even if Oliver had inherited, within a very short space of time  the Manor would have had to be sold. The roof was in need of repair,  some of the windows needed attention, and it grieved her to walk through  the once elegant rooms and see how shabby they had become.                       
       
           



       

It was far too large to be maintained as a private home, unless of  course one was a millionaire, which her father had been far from being.

By anyone else's standards, the Georgian Dower House was a very elegant  and spacious dwelling, and much, much more manageable. She herself, the  eldest of her father's three children and the one who had lived in the  Manor the longest, was the least reluctant to leave it. Perhaps because  she had long ago outgrown childhood, and could see all too clearly the  headaches attached to owning the Manor.

The oldest part of the house was Elizabethan, its pretty black and white  frontage hiding a warren of passages and dark, tiny rooms with sloping  floors.

A Stuart Martin had added the panelling and more imposing entrance hall  with its Grinling Gibbons staircase, but it had been left to a Georgian  ancestor to completely overshadow the original building by adding a  complete wing and restructuring the grounds so that a fine carriageway  swept round to an impressive portico in the centre of this new wing,  leaving the Elizabethan part of the house as no more than a mere annexe  to this fine new development.

Now damp, seeping in through the damaged roof, was causing mould to  darken the fine plasterwork in the ballroom on the second floor, the  creeping tide of deterioration so slow that it was not until quite  recently, looking at the place through the eyes of her cousin Saul  Bradford, that Lucy realised just how bad it was.

Really the house was more suitable for a hotel or conference centre than  a private home, and she privately had little doubt that Saul would sell  it just as soon as possible.

She remembered quite well from his one visit to the Manor how derogatory  and contemptuous he had been of her home. They had met only once-over  twelve years ago now, and the meeting had not been a success.

She had found him brash and alien, and no doubt he had found her equally  alien and unappealing. They had neither of them made allowances for the  other. She had still been getting over the shock of her mother's death  in a riding accident-she had always been closer to her mother than her  father-and Saul, although she hadn't known it, had been sent to them by  his mother so that he would be out of the way while she and his father  fought out a particularly acrimonious divorce.

She sighed faintly, grimacing inwardly. It was too late now to regret  the various snubs and slights she had inflicted on a raw and unfriendly  American boy all those years ago, but she did regret them and had for  quite some time-not because Saul was her father's heir, but simply  because with maturity had come the realisation that Saul had been as  hurt and in need of comfort as she had herself and it grieved her to  acknowledge that she had allowed herself to be influenced in her manner  towards him by someone who she now recognised as a vindictive cruel  human being.

At twelve she had not been able to see this, and in fact had been held  fast in the toils of a mammoth crush on her cousin Neville.

Still, it was too late for regrets now, but not too late hopefully to  make amends. Despite the antipathy her father had felt towards Saul, and  which he seemed to have passed on to his son and widow, Lucy was  determined to make life as uncomplicated as she possibly could for her  American cousin and to give him whatever help he needed.

It was not as though, by inheriting, he had deprived her of anything  after all-she had known very early on in life that the Manor was  entailed; but Oliver, whom her father had spoilt dreadfully, seemed to  be finding it difficult to adjust.

Privately Lucy thought the adjustment would do him no harm at all. In  the last couple of years she had begun to detect signs in him that her  father's spoiling and his mother's complete inability to institute any  form of discipline were changing him from a pleasingly self-confident  little boy into an unpleasant, self-centred preteenager.

Fortunately she was fond enough of her half-brother and sister for her  father's charge that she look after them not to be too onerous a burden.  Fanny, however, was another matter. Although they got on well enough,  there were times when Lucy found it exasperating to have a stepmother  who behaved more like a dependent child.

'I don't want to go to the Dower House.'

Tara's bottom lip wobbled again, tears glistening in the dark brown eyes.                       

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