Inherited by Her Enemy

By: Sara Craven

CHAPTER ONE

GINNY MASON SENT a wave and grateful smile to the last of the departing well-wishers, then closed the heavy front door against the raw chill of the late January afternoon with a deep sigh of relief.

That, she thought wryly, leaning a shoulder against the doorframe as she listened to the car draw away, was the worst part of the day over. At least she hoped so.

The crematorium chapel had been full, because her stepfather Andrew Charlton was popular in the locality and well respected as an employer too, being the recently retired head of his own successful light engineering company. But only a handful of those present had accepted Rosina Charlton’s invitation to return to the house for the lavish buffet she’d arranged and few had stayed for very long.

They still think of us as interlopers, Ginny told herself, pulling a face, and they probably feel that Andrew should have been buried next to his first wife after a church service.

Or, maybe, word of Mother’s plans has probably got around. Today Rosina had been the wistful, gracious chatelaine, fragile in black. Last night she’d declared peevishly that she couldn’t wait to sell Barrowdean House and get away from all these stuffed shirts, to somewhere with a bit of life.

‘The South of France, I think.’ She nodded. ‘One of those really pretty villas in the hills, with a pool. So nice for the grandchildren when they come to visit,’ she’d added with an arch look at her younger daughter.

‘For God’s sake, Ma,’ Lucilla had said impatiently. ‘Jonathan and I have only just got engaged. We won’t be thinking of a family for absolutely ages. I want some fun too.’

Nothing new there, then, Ginny had thought to herself. Although she supposed Cilla could hardly be blamed. She was ‘the pretty one’, whereas Ginny, as her mother often pointed out, took after her father. Her creamy skin and neat figure did not compensate for the fact that her hair was light brown instead of blonde, and her eyes were not blue but grey. And her face could best be described as unremarkable.

Cilla on the other hand was a true golden girl, spoiled since birth by everyone.

Even Andrew had not been immune, because, when she’d returned from completing her education at an expensive establishment in Switzerland, while he might have muttered about her doing some proper training and getting a job, he’d never insisted that she become gainfully employed.

And when she’d caught the eye of Sir Malcolm and Lady Welburn’s only son, and courtship had proceeded rapidly to engagement, he’d nodded in a resigned way, as if weighing up the probable cost of the wedding.

An occasion he had not lived to see, thought Ginny, her throat tightening as she remembered the tall, thin kindly man who’d provided such safety and security in their lives for the past ten years.

As she began to recover from the immediate shock of Andrew’s death, she was already wondering why they hadn’t been warned about his heart condition.

But, as yet, she’d had no real opportunity to grieve. Her mother and Cilla’s hysterical reaction to their loss had demanded all her time and attention to begin with, and then had come the bombshell of Rosina’s decision to sell Barrowdean and move as soon as a buyer could be found, which had knocked her sideways all over again.

There was, her mother had claimed defiantly, nothing to keep her here, because Cilla, marrying darling Jonathan, would be well taken care of.

‘While you have your job at that funny little café, Virginia,’ she’d added. ‘I’m sure someone in the village will have a room you can rent.’

It had been on the tip of Ginny’s tongue to say that the café was no longer just a job, but a prospect for the future, and accommodation might not be an issue. However, on second thoughts, she decided to keep quiet.

She moved away from the door and stood, irresolute for a moment, listening to the murmur of voices and chink of china and cutlery from the dining room, where Andrew’s elderly housekeeper Mrs Pelham, and Mavis from the village were clearing away the remains of the buffet.

Which we’ll probably be eating for the rest of the week, she told herself ruefully.

Mrs Pel, of course, was another problem for her to worry about. Not that the old lady was under any illusions. She knew quite well that Rosina had been trying to get rid of her ever since she’d come to live at Barrowdean House, using Mrs Pel’s age and growing infirmity as her excuse. But Andrew had ignored all hints.

Apart from his personal fondness for her, he said, Mrs Pelham was part of Barrowdean, and ran the house like clockwork. When she decided to retire, she would tell him. Until then, no change would be made.

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