The first novel in Catherine Coulter's acclaimed Legacy trilogy.
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April 12, 2004
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Excerpt from The Wyndham Legacy by Catherine Coulter
I'M VERY SORRY to tell you this, Miss Cochrane, but there is more and it isn't good."
Mr. Jollis, her mother's solicitor, didn't sound sorry at all. He sounded unaccountably pleased, which was strange, surely, but she held silent, not only because of her grief over her mother's death but because she was used to holding herself silent. It was a habit of many years. Over time, she'd learned a lot about people, simply listening and watching them as they spoke. She realized in that moment, in Mr. Jollis's meaningful pause, that her father didn't yet know of her mother's death. She'd forgotten him in the suddenness of it, in the numbness it had instilled in her. Now, there was no one else to tell him. She had to write to him herself. She could see him reading her words, see his disbelief, his bowing pain when he finally realized it was true. She closed her eyes a moment against the pain she knew he would feel. He would feel endless pain, for he loved her mother more than he loved any other human being. But her mother, alive and laughing one moment, was dead the next. Her death was so needless, so stupid really: a wretched carriage accident, the shaft snapping for no apparent reason, sending the carriage hurtling off the winding road that ran too close above on the chalk South Downs cliffs, near Ditchling Beacon. Those cliffs rose eight hundred and thirteen feet into the air, then plunged to the deserted beach below. Her mother was killed instantly, but her body was washed out with the tide and never recovered. At least it hadn't been recovered yet, and it had already been a day and a half. She looked up when Mr. Jollis cleared his throat, evidently prepared to finish his thought.
"As I said, Miss Cochrane," Mr. Jollis continued, that smug tone coming more to the surface now, "I am very sorry about this but Rosebud Cottage is leased and the lessor is your, er, father, Lord Chase."
"I didn't know that." Indeed, she'd always assumed that her mother owned the cottage. But then again, perhaps that was the way of it when a man supported and kept a woman. All remained his, thus he retained his power and all his prerogatives. It was merely another unexpected blow that she didn't feel at the moment. She waited, silent, her body utterly still. His face changed then, and he was looking at her differently, not as a man feigning sympathy for a bereaved daughter, but as a man assessing a woman for his own uses.
She'd seen the look before, but not that many times on that many male faces. She'd been protected, but now, she realized, she was unprotected. Her father was in Yorkshire and she was here, quite alone, except for dear Badger.
"I must write my father," she said then, her voice curt, colder than it would normally be, but she wanted him to go away. "I imagine that since the lease will run out soon that I will have to go to Chase Park."
"There is another option, perhaps," Mr. Jollis said, and he leaned toward her, like a hound on a scent, she thought, eyeing him with more hostility than she'd eyed anyone in her entire life.
"No, there isn't," she said, her voice as cold as the ice shards hanging from the cottage eaves outside.
"Perhaps," he said, still sitting forward, his right hand outstretched toward her now, "just perhaps his lordship won't want you to live at Chase Park."
"His wife died seven months ago, just before my yearly visit. I cannot imagine that he wouldn't want me there. She was the only one who didn't care for my presence, and that, I suppose, is very understandable. She held him as her husband, but she didn't have his regard. I have long understood her bitterness. However, now she is dead."
"Ah, but now his lordship must be very careful, you understand, Miss Cochrane. His lordship is in mourning, very deep mourning. All his neighbors will be watching him closely, indeed, all society, all those whose opinions are important to him, will be watching him closely."