Always You (A Magnolia Falls Novel)

Always You

 

 

Ruth Roberts

 

 

Always You Copyright 2016 by Ruth Roberts

 

This book is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are the product of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

 

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded, or distributed via the Internet or any other means without the permission of Ruth Roberts. Please purchase only authorized editions, and do not participate in the electronic piracy of copyrighted material. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

Edited by Carolyn Boyles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

The staccato rhythm of Diana Mathison’s heels sounded on the pavement as she trotted down the crowded New York City streets. Her last case had run late.  She’d barely have enough time to change her panty hose, which had long runs down both legs, before her next client arrived. Then it would be an afternoon of depositions and one more court appearance. Whoever thought being a lawyer was glamorous had never worked grueling eighty-hour work weeks with hardly any food or sleep.

The frequent burning in the pit of her stomach started again as she ran up the steps to the law firm. She was on the fast track to become a senior partner. When the elevator doors closed she set her red briefcase down and sagged against the wall. Pressing a hand to her stomach she prayed there’d be a roll of antacids in her desk. She’d finished the one she had taken with her over the course of the entire morning in court.

As the elevator neared her floor she blew out a breath and ran her hand over dark brown hair she had firmly pulled back into a bun that morning to make sure no pesky curls would escape. Satisfied her hair was in place, she picked up her briefcase, squared her shoulders, and stepped out as the doors opened. She flew past her secretary, who was trying to stop her with a pile of messages in her hand. Diana ignored her, but her assistant, persistent as always, stood up and followed. “Your sister has been trying to reach you all morning.”

Diana took the messages her secretary held out to her and dropped them on her own desk without looking at them. A worried frown marred her forehead. “Jessica?” She asked. Why would her five-year-old sister be calling her at work?

“She said her name is Liz Mathison.
The
Liz Mathison is your sister,” her secretary said, as if Diana had forgotten.

Ah
!! That sister. Diana rolled her eyes at the awe in her secretary’s voice. “Yes, I
know
.” Her annoyance turned to concern. Liz never called. They hadn’t spoken to each other outside of family dinners in ten years. The phone on her desk started ringing. The call rolled over to Diana’s desk phone if her secretary didn’t answer.

“That’s probably her again. Would you like me to get it?”

“No, I’ve got it. Thank you.”

Her secretary nodded and left the office, closing the door behind her. Diana picked up the phone. “Diana Mathison,” she answered.

“It’s about time you answered. I’ve been trying to reach you all morning.” Diana ignored the desperation she heard in Liz’s voice.

“I’ve been in court all morning,” Diana said, having no problem making her tone icy.

“That’s what your incompetent secretary kept telling me, and I told her to pull you out.”

Diana was losing her patience. “What do you want, Liz?”

Liz didn’t say a thing, all Diana heard was a small sob come over the line. Her heart lurched. “Liz, what’s wrong?”

“It’s mom and dad.” Her voice had become soft. She was speaking past an obvious lump in her throat. “Their plane crashed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. They’re dead.” The sob coming over the phone felt like a punch in her gut.

Diana’s legs gave out, and she fell into her chair. Her own voice sounded far away as she heard herself ask, “Are you sure?”

“Yes. Dad was flying them out. They were going to spend a week celebrating their anniversary.” Their father had recently gotten his private pilot’s license. It was his latest hobby. “Was Jessica with them?” Diana held her breath as she waited for the answer.

“No. She’s with me. I was taking care of her while they were gone.”

Diana let out a sigh of relief, only to have it replaced by a wedge of pain lodge itself into her heart.

“Where are you?” Diana choked out.

“We’re at home. In Magnolia Falls.”

“I’ll get there as fast as I can,” Diana said.

“Today?”

“Yes. I’ll be there today.”

“Diana, please hurry. We need you,” Liz said, tearfully.

“I’m on my way.”

She heard the click of Liz hanging up yet she still sat with the phone to her ear, staring straight ahead, seeing only images of her father’s laughing face and her mother’s soft, patient smile. She was never going to see them again. The phone slid from her hand and clattered onto the floor. She covered her face with her hands and wept. Heart-wrenching sobs wracked her body, tears streamed down her face and through her fingers. If she cried like this for the rest of her life, there wouldn’t be enough tears to drown her grief. After twenty minutes of giving in to her pain she pulled herself together.

Things had to be dealt with, and she needed to get home. She went into the small powder room in her office and splashed water on her face. She dried it and looked at herself in the mirror. Her emerald green eyes had darkened with grief and now looked more like a tree in the forest. No amount of water splashed on her face would clear the redness anytime soon. She dropped the paper towel in the trash can, hit the light switch, and went back to her desk. She pressed the button on her phone to speak to her secretary.

“Yes, Miss Mathison?”

“Can you tell Rob I need to speak with him ASAP?”

“Sure thing.”

Diana sat back and closed her eyes as she waited. A few minutes later she heard the door to her office and opened her eyes. Rob Conners, the firm’s senior partner walked in.

In his mid-sixties with salt and pepper hair and ice blue eyes he looked formidable, but he was one of the kindest men she had ever met. “What’s happened?” He asked, concern evident on his face. He sat in one of the chairs in front of her desk.

“My parents were killed in a plane crash this morning. I have to go home.” The words coming out of her mouth sounded unreal.

“Diana, I am so sorry. Of course you need to go. What do you need me to do for you?”

While Conners and Birdwell expected their lawyers to sweat and bleed for the firm, they also truly cared for them. That’s why she had chosen to work for the firm.

“Right now I need my work distributed to the other attorneys. I’m not sure when I’ll be back. As you know, I have a five-year-old sister. I’m not sure what arrangements my parents made for her.”

“I understand. Take as much time as you need and keep me posted. If there is anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to ask. I mean it.”

“Thank you.” Diana stood as he did. He walked around her desk and gave her a quick hug.

“You’re going to be fine. I promise,” he said. She nodded as tears threatened to spill from her eyes again.

After he left she took a few more deep breaths to compose herself as she gathered her purse and briefcase. She pulled the files out of the briefcase and piled them on her desk. Someone else would be dealing with them now.

On her way out she stopped at her secretary’s desk. “Did Mr. Conners fill you in?”

“Yes. I am so sorry about your parents. Don’t worry about a thing here. Jerry and I will make sure everything is taken care of.”

“Jerry?”

“He happened to be here when Mr. Conners came out of your office and volunteered to take on your caseload. He said since yours is not nearly as large as his, he could easily take it on. Mr. Conners agreed.”

She doubted that, but Jerry Bittle had been in the race with her to make partner. They were neck in neck, but she was still beating him, despite his greatest efforts to sabotage her. She had long suspected her secretary was in bed with him, figuratively and literally. Now was his chance to surpass her. Right at this moment she didn’t care. Without another word she turned and walked away. She was going home to a home that would never be the same again.

***

Two hours later Diana was packed and sitting on the train. After the initial round of tears in her office she hadn’t cried, she let the numbness wash over her as she remembered hundreds of moments. Some sad, most happy. She closed her eyes and thought back to when it all began, when they had become a family.

The first time Diana saw her stepsister, Liz, was when they were both thirteen-years-old. Diana was an only child, so when her father told her she was getting a new mother and sister she couldn’t have been happier. Jesse Mathison had met Liz’s mother while working in Texas for one of his clients. He was a small town attorney, but this particular client had interest in Texas oil. He became part of a legal team for the oil company. Corine was a paralegal for the opposing counsel. He was in Texas six months that year.

The first couple of months he came home every other weekend, then he didn’t come home again until the case was over, bringing Corine and Liz with him. Before they arrived Diana went over every inch of the house, with the help of their housekeeper, making sure everything was perfect for their arrival. She’d even had her father discreetly discover what Liz’s favorite colors and band were, then she’d had her bedroom painted blue, and put up posters of her favorite band on the walls. In her father’s room, which he would now share with Corine, she had set vases with fresh flowers on every available surface. He had told her Corine loved flowers of every kind.

When she saw the car coming up the drive she ran out the front door. Her father parked his silver convertible, and the moment he stepped out of the car Diana launched herself at him. Being caught in her father’s strong arms brought tears of joy to her eyes after months of separation.

“There’s my ‘Princess Di.’ I’ve missed you.”

“I missed you too, Dad. I’m so glad you’re home.”

He held her at arm’s length and examined her. “My little girl has grown up on me. Why’d you go and do that?”

“I couldn’t help it.” She shrugged.

A discreet clearing of the throat had them both turning around to face the two blondes standing side by side. The young girl was an exact replica of her mother. Long, straight blonde hair. Big blue eyes, high cheekbones, a pert nose, and rosy heart-shaped lips. Diana had only seen such beauty in magazines. They were stunning, and they were her new family.

Diana had always known she was plain. Now she felt like the ugly duckling in a family of swans, even her father was handsome in a distinguished sort of way, but she had no hope of growing into a swan like the duck in the story. She’d always have mousy brown hair, big eyes and big lips. At least she could do something about her nose when she was old enough. Her only redeeming quality was her deep emerald eyes.

“Diana, meet your new mother and sister, Corine and Liz. Ladies, I am pleased to introduce you to my pride and joy, Miss Diana Mathison.”

Corine stepped forward first and pulled Diana into a hug. “It’s so good to finally meet you. Your father talks about you all the time. You are just as beautiful as he said you are.”

“Thank you. But it’s you who is beautiful, both of you,” Diana said, looking at Liz, who up until this point had been quiet.

“Can you show me where my room is, or do you expect me to stand out here all day?” Liz demanded.

Diana had only heard an accent like Liz’s in the movies. She wasn’t sure she liked it.

“Just because we are tired from traveling doesn’t mean you have to be facetious, darling,” her mother reprimanded.

“Let’s all go inside,” Jesse said.

Liz flipped her hair over her shoulder and walked up the wide front steps and in the front door, as if she owned the place, Diana noted. She was halfway up the stairs to the second floor of the house before Diana caught up with her.

“Which one is mine?” Liz asked.

“This one.” Diana opened the first door on the right with a flourish.

“I had it painted blue. Your mom told my dad it is your favorite color.”

Liz had a look of distaste on her face. “It used to be. I guess it’ll do until I can get a decorator in here. Do I have my own bathroom?”

“Yes. It’s that door right there.”

“You can go now. I want to rest.”

Liz practically pushed her out of the room and shut the door.

Diana stood in the hallway. What had just happened? Liz was nothing like she expected. Her father had said she was a sweet and quiet girl, very shy. She sure didn’t seem sweet and shy. Of course, she had just left her home and friends and moved halfway across the country. Maybe she just needed time to get used to things. If one thing Diana had learned being a motherless girl whose father traveled so much, was patience. She would be patient with Liz and make her feel welcome. After all wasn’t that what sisters were for?

Downstairs she found her father giving Corine a tour of the house. “Where’s Liz?” Corine asked.

“She said she wanted to rest.”

“The jet lag must be getting to her already,” Corine said.

“So what do you think of the house?” Diana asked.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous, and I haven’t even seen upstairs or the grounds yet.”

“We like it. Don’t we, honey?” Jesse put his arm around Diana’s shoulders.

She smiled up at her father and said, “It’s home.”

Other books
Snow Angel by Chantilly White
Peppermint Kiss by Kelly McKain
Bound By Darkness by Alexandra Ivy
Slammed by Hoover, Colleen
The Angel Side by Heaven Liegh Eldeen
Flower Power by Nancy Krulik
A Storm of Pleasure by Terri Brisbin