architect in her appreciated the symmetry of the Greek Revival style as well as the quality workmanship of the brickwork. “It really hasn’t changed. Not much.” She studied the once-elegant antebellum house, its wide front steps missing a brick here and there, its six elaborate Corinthian columns and intricately carved woodwork surrounding the double doors. The property description listed ten bedrooms, four bathrooms dating from the early twentieth century, a gourmet kitchen, two parlors, an upstairs ballroom, and several outbuildings.
“It’s a real treasure.” The estate lawyer, Max Chandler, who had driven her out to the four-hundred-acre property, had barely spoken during the entire trip except to relay pertinent details of the surprise inheritance, including the fact she had also inherited her grandmother’s sizable and diversified investment account. She’d have preferred to drive her own car, especially since he drove one of those redneck pickup trucks. Sitting in a vehicle with an attractive man set her teeth on edge. Worrying about what might happen tensed every muscle in her body. He also didn’t need to know how edgy being with him made her, as if her skin burned the closer he drew. But he’d insisted until she ungraciously relented. She picked her fights, and that one wasn’t worth the effort.
The rolling Tennessee countryside had flowed past the window, immense fields dotted with horses and cows. Green shoots poked through the tilled earth in rows, reaching for the early spring sunshine. She’d noticed her surroundings automatically, but none of the hauntingly familiar sights held her interest. Once she no longer sat in the unfamiliar truck, her tense muscles eased, and she drew a deep breath as she studied the building. Why on earth had her grandmother, whom she hadn't seen in nearly ten years, chosen her to receive the grandiose house that stood for everything she would never have? The family she could never have? Pain combined with a deep-seated longing blossomed in her chest. Three front steps led up to a brick porch with its immense white columns announcing to passersby that the building was more than a house. Unlike the small, boxy ranchers and nondescript houses they’d passed on the drive to the plantation, this structure cried out for a large family. Her parents had often carried her and her sister Paulette from Memphis to visit Grandma when she was a child. Back when love and laughter echoed through the many rooms.
A great blue heron fished in the two-acre lake in front of the house, where they had once splashed and played. The huge yard, graced with several shade trees—
the site of barbecues and softball games, with the extended family arguing over who potentially cheated or whooping with glee when a good shot was made—now stood silent, accusing her of neglect and indifference. So be it. She stiffened her spine. She would not wallow in self-pity nor give in to the temptation to hug her arms around her waist and cry. She squinted at the glare from the windows nestled into the brick walls, noting the ivy climbing up one front corner. Willy would want her to move on, build a new life, but she couldn’t. Not yet. Even after a year, the grief and anger stewed in her brain, sizzled in her veins, and throbbed in her heart. “Shall we go inside?” Max leaned his tall frame against the hood of the green F-150 pickup, arms folded, his curiosity evident in his expression. The color of his eyes as he waited for her response reminded her of the crystal blue of glacier ice, and that thought evoked the bittersweet memory of her and Willy on their honeymoon trip to Alaska. The glorious clear sky that day had created a perfect backdrop to the pod of whales they watched blowing. She heard again the cry of eagles as they soared majestically above the surrounding mountains. The trip of her life with the love of her life. Back when they had their entire lives stretching before them, full of promise and hope. The weight of her wedding band drew her attention for a moment. She refused to remove it and lose the last connection she had with her husband.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, breaking the spell of Max’s intent gaze. She fished the contraption out and glanced at the screen before answering. “Hey Buddy, what’s up?”
“Just letting you know the Murphy job is put to bed.” Her boss’s brusque, businesslike voice helped her focus, steady her breathing.
“That’s good news. I left it ready to close out.” Buddy coughed and cleared his throat. “I only had to smooth out the final walk-through.” A chill spread through her at his words and the tone of his voice.
“What do you mean? It was all set up and ready to rock and roll.”
“Don’t worry about it. I took care of it.”
She bet. Like he always did. With the end result a mess she had to sort back out again.”
A flash of blue in an upstairs window drew her attention, and she peered at the pane. Blinked away the lingering image. An illusion. A pair of turkey buzzards spiraling high above reflected off the window, wings outstretched so that the tips of their feathers stood out against the sky. Bringing home memories of how she used to pretend to be dead to lure them in, and then jump up and scatter them on the breeze. Memories she couldn’t afford to resurrect.
Her stay in the rural community of Magnolia Grove, Tennessee, would last no more than a month, maybe two, tops. She could survive that long. “Fine. I’ll follow up with her when I get back to Maryland.” Meredith ended the call and slipped her phone back into her pocket as Max pushed off from his spot near the front of the truck.
“What is it you do again?” Max aimed mirrored sunglasses in her direction. “I’m an architect.” She slid her purse strap more securely onto her shoulder. She snatched the manila folder off the hood of the vehicle, a file Max had handed to her at his office. Inside were copies of the legal papers he’d reviewed with her across his massive mahogany desk. “Why?”
“Your grandmother said you were the perfect heir for this property.” He let his gaze drift away from her to scan the hundreds of acres of fields and trees, across the lake, and on to the various outbuildings surrounding the plantation house. A circle of trees nearly hid the old gazebo from view, but they couldn’t stop the surge of memories of afternoons spent with her sister playing under its roof. Glimpses of white painted boards and black wrought-iron trim appeared through the dense branches and limbs sprouting with new growth. Meredith dropped her attention to the folder, severing the thread of the past, and turned a page without reading it.
Why did Max care what she did? She slanted a questioning glance his way. “I enjoy designing beautiful yet useful buildings.”
“Listen, I hate to rush this,” Max said, his words clipped, “but I have a client to meet in an hour. Let me show you around.” He indicated for her to lead up the steps. Bristling at his tone, Meredith pinned him with a stare.
“Look, you don’t need to. It’s been a while, true, but I have been here before. I know the layout. We can go.” Then she wouldn’t have to go inside and relive the happy, carefree days of her childhood through the weary eyes of an adult while Max watched.
He shook his head, his dark chocolate hair touched with gray sweeping his collar, watching her. “Things have changed. You may be surprised by what you find inside.” He tapped a hand against one thigh and cocked his head to gaze at her for a long moment. “Either way, you should take stock of what you’ve inherited.” He didn’t appear much like a lawyer, truth be told. Didn’t lawyers wear prescription glasses and look nerdy? Not that she believed in stereotypes, but all that studying must make their eyes weak. Max was the other end of the spectrum. Perhaps her grandmother had a need for eye candy when she chose him as her estate planner. He was delicious to contemplate, that’s for sure. Probably a couple inches taller than a cornstalk with a soccer player’s physique, Max could double for a cover model. She appreciated his classic good looks, straight nose, and strong jaw. Dressed in khakis and a deep red polo shirt, he seemed more ready for a round of golf than a client meeting. He represented the unattainable type of man for her. The kind embodying something too smart, too handsome, too much for her taste. Even if she were in the market for a man, which she was not. None of that mattered since she would be staying in the area for a short while.
Despite her hard shell of indifference to the opposite sex, she couldn’t help a moment of succumbing to the temptation of drinking her fill of his appearance. But only for an instant. If she let her guard down, her personal destruction would soon follow. “I don’t want to keep you, is all.” Meredith waved a hand at the vehicle. “I’m a big girl. Take me to my car. I’ll come back on my own.” “Actually, your grandmother made it clear she wanted me to show you around when you claimed the place,” he replied. “She wanted to be sure you appreciate the extent of the inheritance and had an opportunity to see how much work is needed to put it to rights. So, if you’ll follow me?”
He nipped up the steps, obviously expecting her to concede the point.
“And Grandma always gets her way.” With a sigh, Meredith shadowed him through the white double doors into the chilly front hall. She stopped inside the doorway to look around. The sickly smell of mildew hit her senses like a wrecking ball, bringing tears that smarted the corners of her eyes. Crossing the threshold was like stepping back in time to another era. “It’s exactly like I remember. Well, except for the smell.”
Max nodded. “Mrs. O’Connell prided herself on ensuring any necessary repairs matched the original decor and architecture. But as time went on, she wasn’t able to keep up with the issues of an old, historic home. A few repairs will be necessary. Your talents, skills, and expertise are why she left Twin Oaks to you instead of your father. You know, so you can ensure the repairs are appropriate to its original grandeur.”
Dark wood floors reached throughout the plantation house. The stairs rose slowly from the left, boasting dark wood treads with white painted fronts, up to a wraparound loft. A cherry table sheltered against the wall beneath the stairs, showcasing a dainty crystal lamp centered on a lace doily. She smiled, spying the small door standing invitingly ajar, leading to the games closet tucked under the stairs. A colorful rug invited guests to cross the space toward the ladies parlor on the right or the double parlor on the left. In days gone by, the gentlemen would have adjourned to the larger retreat after dinner to smoke and drink. Farther down the hall leading from the foyer, light spilled onto the wood floors from the windows in the back rooms. A chill settled on her shoulders. The back room on the right had been her grandmother’s sewing room—her favorite spot in the entire house—and the room in which she’d died, according to Max.
Meredith shook off the thought and focused instead on the condition of the house. She moseyed into the parlor, noting the dusty, cobwebby, overstuffed chairs and dark wood furniture. Faded and peeling, the rose-patterned wallpaper competed with the brocade drapes for attention. Above the rose marble fireplace, she spotted the relief carving of the Irish Claddagh: two hands reaching toward
the center where a heart wore a royal crown. Her grandmother loved to tell stories about the Claddagh, representing bonds of love, friendship, and loyalty. She inhaled, smelling dust and cold ashes from the fireplace mingled briefly with a faint yet familiar scent she couldn’t place. She mentally shook her head. No matter. Scanning the room, Meredith let her gaze touch each piece of antique furniture, each grimy object d’art, each vase of tired silk flowers. The dismal scene before her contrasted sharply with how everything once shone with loving attention. She had started debating selling the property before she even packed her suitcase...
Secrets of Roseville
By Betty Bolte'
If her inheritance from her grandmother had come several years ago, she would have welcomed it as a new home for her family. But last year, in a horrible assault, a thief had murdered her husband. That was bad enough, but Meredith Reed had been pregnant and also been shot. She lived, but the baby was also murdered. Nothing had been able to allow Meredith to forget what she had lost and seeing what could have once been a place in which she would continue the family heritage was nothing more than a reminder of how many flashbacks still continued to haunt her...
The thing was that her grandmother had picked her out for the inheritance for a reason. Meredith was an architect and had won many awards on her work. Her grandmother anticipated that with the entire inheritance, including funds, that Meredith would work to bring their family home back to its original grandeur.
Family drama soon erupted, though, when Meredith's first decision was for herself--she wanted to build a memorial park to honor her lost family as well as all of her ancestors...and others... With Meredith being the younger child, her sister as well as her parents felt they had a right to try to stop her... The thing was that Meredith's plans included destroying their family home and turning the land back to natural use...
At first, I was concerned about the two main characters in particular. Meredith comes off as very selfish, yet as the story moves forward, she begins to open up to both the pain of her past as well as to being home once again, and with her family from whom she had pulled away from over the years...
The one character that also confuses us is Max, who is the estate lawyer. He was adamant that Meredith follow her grandmother's wishes and fulfill her duty! Not something Meredith was willing to even listen to at that time in her life. We do get to know more of Max's personal feelings and find that he has loved the property since he first saw it...and only wished that he had sufficient funds to have the ability to own such a home for his future... Of course, he also needed to find that wife to share that home. As is common, the two main characters do find themselves attracted to the other. But are arguing over much as the story proceeds.
The one thing that was able to pull Meredith into the present situation was that, first, she had seen a woman looking out from the second floor on the day she had arrived. Then as she started to clear things out, pending what she would do with the house, she found many books, letters and journals from her ancestors... When she arrived at the point where a family member had disappeared, she was hook into the intrigue and mystery of what had happened to her!
And when she realized that the missing woman had begun to be called the Lady in Blue, and it had been probably her at the window, Meredith wanted to know more, especially when she began to smell a scent--flowery, and nobody else seemed to be able to smell it, Meredith became convinced that she was being haunted...
Blending the historical past with its secrets is often an engaging read as we both go back into the beginning of the story hundreds of years ago, while at the same time, living in the present, trying to respond to today's issues within the historical background. There were hints throughout the book, but, for me, none of them stuck...so I was totally surprised with the conclusion of the Lady's secrets...
I was watching Meredith closely because everybody other than her thought it was crazy to raze the family home. Still with a tragic family loss recently that devastated the whole family, I could see and understand why Meredith could not--was not able to--deal with what everybody was expecting and pushing for her to do... It is a lesson that we must learn for ourselves, but which requires sympathy as well as empathy for those involved.
This multi-genre paranormal, historical, romance, mystery will pull you into the story after the first chapter or two. Max and Meredith are two independent, opinionated, and aggressive people who find a match in meeting each other. If you allow them to be themselves, with their own fears and desires, you'll be soon watching as the family drama, which includes, by the way, a wonderful couple who has helped on the estate for many years, pulls each character into merging, once again, as a loving family. Highly recommended.
Betty Bolté writes both historical and contemporary stories featuring strong, loving women and brave, compassionate men. No matter whether the stories are set in the past or the present, she loves to include a touch of the paranormal. In addition to her romantic fiction, she’s the author of several nonfiction books and earned a Master’s in English in 2008. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Historical Novel Society, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and the Authors Guild. Get to know her at www.bettybolte.com.
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