Authors: Suzanna Ross
Trust In Me
Published by E-scape Press Ltd, England.
Trust In Me. Copyright ©2012 Suzanna Ross.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organisations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
All rights reserved.
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It's difficult to write a book - impossible, even, without support. So, I am very grateful to the following: Anouska and John, my lovely Minxes, everyone at W2W and, of course, lovely local coffee friend, Judy Jarvie. And not forgetting huge thanks to E-scape Press for all their hard work.
“Can I use the computer?”
At the sound of her sister’s voice, Rosie Farnham looked up from the spreadsheet she was working on and sighed. “Not now, Evie. I’m busy.”
Evie bounced further into the estate office, blonde hair flying. “I really need to get online.”
What was it with teenagers and technology these days? When Rosie herself had been fifteen, hardly anyone had used a home computer and they’d all managed to amuse themselves just fine. Her sister, on the other hand, couldn’t go five minutes without checking Facebook or sending an email. “Don’t you have homework?”
Evie smiled triumphantly and played her winning hand. “Yes, but I need the computer. I have a project I need to research.”
Normally, Rosie would have relented and stepped aside, finished her accounts later. Even if the ancient computer was intended for business use, Evie’s schoolwork always took priority. But this time was different. “I’m sorry, you’re going to have to wait. I have to finish this – it’s important.”
Evie folded her slender frame into a chair beside the old desk. “I need my own computer, really. If I had a laptop I could work in my room without having to bother you.”
“That’s not possible at the moment.”
“Don’t tell me,” Evie rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “We’ve no money.”
Rosie was aware her sister had heard that particular song so many times she must know the lyrics by heart, but Evie could have no concept of just how difficult their circumstances were. She had the intelligence to handle the truth, but there was enough going on in her young life with study and exams. The burden of the estate finances was the last thing Evie needed to fret about.
“I’ll see what I can do for your birthday,” Rosie promised, although goodness only knew where she would find the money. Perhaps she should speak to Harry. If he knew how crucial a computer of her own was to Evie’s studies, maybe he’d leave the estate funds alone this month.
Nah, that wasn’t going to work. If the situation hadn’t been so serious she’d have burst out laughing at her own ludicrous optimism. Harry would never consider something so selfless.
“How long will you be?” Leaning forward, a waterfall of blonde hair cascading forward over her face, Evie began to drum her fingers on the desk top. “Ten minutes? Twenty?”
“Look, Evie, I don’t know when I’ll be finished. And the longer you stay here and complain, the longer it will take me.”
“Can I do anything to help?”
Rosie was touched by the offer, but she really just needed a few minutes peace. “You can get out from under my feet for five minutes. Don’t you have anything to do at the sanctuary?”
“All done. Louise and a couple of others helped out today so we got finished quickly.”
“Well, why don’t you go and get some fresh air?”
“Okay, I can take a hint. I’ll take Jessie for a walk.”
“Thank you.” Rosie bit her lip as she watched her sister leave the office. Academically, Evie was very able and had her sights set on being a corporate lawyer. But, however bright she might be, and however helpful her teachers, she needed support from home. And she needed a computer of her own – one that wasn’t needed for estate business and didn’t keep crashing every five minutes.
Forcing her attention back to the spreadsheet, Rosie’s stomach began to churn as she studied the figures displayed on the ancient screen. There was no hiding from the fact she was in serious trouble. Despite operating a huge working overdraft, it was obvious the estate wouldn’t be able to meet its wages obligation this month.
She desperately moved the cursor down the row of figures, looking for something – anything – that might offer a glimmer of hope.
“How did it all get into such a mess, Dad?” The question was rhetorical. She knew exactly how this had happened and none of it was her fault. Besides, her father wouldn’t have been able to answer anyway – he’d been dead for five years.
It was no coincidence that five years was exactly the length of time Rosie had faced dire financial problems.
Since her father’s demise she’d struggled to keep things together, but it was proving an impossible task. The ‘b’ word hovered ominously in her thoughts – bankruptcy. She’d refused to consider it a viable option, not only because she didn’t want to admit defeat, but also because it would mean losing the estate, leaving herself and Evie homeless. But, if things carried on like this, she might not have much choice.
She glanced up helplessly at the large framed poster hanging above her desk in the estate office. Her dad was at the forefront of the picture, glaring angrily at the camera, the rest of the band looking equally cross behind him. All part of the image. At the time this had been taken the band had been doing rather well – they had been the angry rockers of their generation and attitude had been all.
She turned her attention back to the spreadsheet. Frantically, she scanned the figures again. Nothing had changed.
This was desperate. People depended on her. She needed a miracle by the end of the month. Even a tiny one would do.
She was praying for inspiration when a knock sounded at the door and a young farmhand popped his head into the untidy office. “Yes, George?” Distracted by money worries, she was brusque to the point of rudeness and George winced visibly. She immediately regretted her harsh tone and tried to soften the blow by offering an apologetic smile.
George’s answering smile was hesitant. “Sorry to interrupt, Rosie. Ran into a man wandering about the place. He said he was here to see you, so I’ve brought him up to the house. He’s waiting in the sitting room.”
Rosie’s eyes narrowed speculatively. She wasn’t expecting anyone. “What man?”
“Said his name’s Theo Bradley. Looks official – he’s wearing a suit.” George frowned as he took in Rosie’s expression. “Should I have sent him away?”
This was all she needed. She sighed loudly and pushed back from the desk in her swivel chair. It didn’t sound good. Rosie didn’t get many visits – particularly not from men wearing suits. This man had to be from the bank. She shuddered. The bank had taken to ringing at all times of the day and night, looking to schedule repayment of the estate’s overdraft. If she’d had any spare, she would have put money on this man being here in person to demand settlement.
She toyed with the idea of telling George to send the man away. But she was astute enough to realise the situation was unavoidable and, if she refused to see him, he’d only come back another day. “No, that’s fine George, thank you. I’ll be in to see him in a minute.”
Things had been desperate before, perhaps not quite this desperate, but she’d always managed something. For Evie, their staff and tenants she would manage something again this time.
Rosie sat for a few moments and prepared herself. This was going to be unpleasant, no doubt about it – but it had to be done. Head up, shoulders back, she pulled herself up to her full five feet and three inches, tossed her wild red hair away from her face and headed for the door. She might not be in a position to give this debt collector any money, but she was certainly capable of giving him plenty of attitude.
In that way, at least, there was no doubt she was her father’s daughter.
Theo Bradley’s displeasure was clearly visible in his frown as he prowled the shabby reception room where he’d been told to wait. From the numerous potholes in the driveway, to the unkempt farmhand who’d shown him into the house, this whole situation gave him an enormous sense of foreboding.
This crumbling Grade One medieval pile of stones would need serious attention if there was any hope of transforming it into the luxurious getaway his exclusive clientele demanded.
He shook his head. The project was unthinkable – even before taking into account the spinster sisters who were currently in situ. Besides, it was barely a twenty minute drive from here to Chudley House Hotel – the flagship of the hotel arm of Theo’s empire. Despite Lysander’s foolish eagerness, Farnham Manor was less than useless as a site for a new hotel.
Theo knew he should never have come here today, but the temptation to see for himself the evidence of Lysander’s lack of judgment had been too much. Until recently, he would have been too engrossed in work to have even bothered with such a diversion – he would have sent an advisor instead. But something had been missing from his life in the past few months. Work was no longer an all-consuming obsession – he was ripe for a new challenge. Sadly, the manor wasn’t it.
Glancing at his watch he wondered how much longer Miss Farnham would be. Even allowing for an elderly lady’s prerogative, she’d already kept him waiting far longer than politeness allowed. He needed to get away – the sense of decay hovering about the Manor had begun to seriously affect him.
Walking over to the window, he reached out for the catch – the room was unbearably stuffy and musty and... He gave a start as the latch came away in his hand.
Theo frowned again as he took in the sorry state of the place. From the damp visible under the peeling wallpaper, to the rotting window frames, the place was a disaster. He hadn’t been informed of Harry Farnham’s plans for his sisters, but there was one certainty: They couldn’t stay here while their affairs were put in order because the place was no longer fit for human habitation. Theo would immediately suggest they be dispatched to one of the smaller properties on the estate, until their brother’s arrangements could be put into practice. Anywhere would be more comfortable for two elderly ladies than this draughty old house.
At last the door opened behind him and he turned, prepared to greet whichever of the elderly Miss Farnhams who had deigned to meet him. The words expired deep in his throat and were expelled as some sort of low croak. Far from the elderly spinster he’d been expecting, the tiny vision of feminine perfection who stood before him was so lovely she’d, quite literally, taken his breath away.
Vaguely aware he should perhaps say something, Theo struggled for coherent thought – and failed. He stared, beyond anything other than absorbing her utter beauty. This had to be the emotional equivalent of being hit between the eyes with a brick.
She walked towards him, slender legs clad in faded blue denim, sea-green eyes maintaining steady contact. “Mr Bradley,” the vision spoke in a voice dripping icicles and he noticed, as she walked closer, the sparkle of pure hostility in those sea-green eyes. “I’m Rosie Farnham. How can I help you?” She tossed back her wild, red curls and placed her hands on her hips in a militant expression of standing her ground. Her pale, heart-shaped face offered challenge, her full, Cupid’s bow lips pursed in obvious irritation. He guessed she wasn’t wildly happy to see him.
His interest was captured. He wondered briefly who she was – a great niece of the ladies he was here to see, perhaps. He flashed his most brilliant smile, the smile that normally charmed the most hardened of his adversaries. No response at all from Rosie Farnham – he must be losing his touch.
She took one scathing look at his proffered hand. “Let’s not waste time on pleasantries, Mr Bradley – I’m sure we’re both far too busy. What do you want?”
“As you wish.” He had no problem with getting straight to the point although oddly getting out of here no longer featured on his list of priorities. “I understand I’m expected. I’m here to view the property.”
“To view the property?” A crease appeared between her eyebrows and she looked uncomprehendingly up at him. “I don’t understand. You’re not from the bank?”
“No, not from the bank,” he confirmed. “I’m from Bradley International Investments.”
She relaxed visibly, although it was obvious the name meant very little to her. “I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, you can’t march in here and demand to look around. Farnham Manor isn’t open to the public.”