Second Chance with the Millionaire

By: Penny Jordan

‘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.