I poked my head out into the hallway, looking both ways down the corridor. “Hello?”
I returned to the window and stared out over the grounds. “I need to go home.”
Bennett had snuck up on me again, and I jumped when he asked, “Don’t you like it here?”
Was everyone going to surprise me from the doorway?
“Thank you,” I said, “for taking such good care of me.”
He gestured to the two seats Jack and I had vacated earlier. “The least I could do.”
As we sat, I decided to broach a difficult topic, “About what Frances has been telling you . . .”
He leaned forward. “Just one question: Is it true?”
In a million years, I would not have expected to be having this conversation with Bennett, especially not while wearing a long pink sleep shirt and bare feet. I took a deep breath. “I don’t know.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Frances thinks you might have doctored your grandmother’s personnel record.”
“I didn’t,” I said, my anger flashing. “But if believing that makes everybody happy, then so be it.”
He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “I really want to know, Grace. Frances hasn’t yet shown me anything. I got the story secondhand. And, knowing that woman the way I do, I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions without checking the facts first. My apologies. I admit, I’ve become jaded over the years. So many people try to prove a familial relationship. They’re out for money, prestige . . . whatever that elusive thing is that makes people happy.” Lost in his own musings, he seemed to forget I was there. Bringing himself back to the present, he said, “Tell me what you found.”
I shrugged. “I just looked up my grandmother’s file because I was nosy.”
He laughed. “That you are.”
“In it was a letter from your aunt, suggesting that my grandmother Sophie might have gotten too . . . close . . . to your father.”
“My grandmother was fired,” I continued. “She was pregnant.” I held up a hand. “That’s certainly no proof, to be sure. But things started to make sense all of a sudden . . .”
“At home I found a picture of your father, holding a baby. And a letter, unsigned, that said he couldn’t leave his fortune, or young son.” I pointed. “I thought he might be talking about you,” I continued. “I kept digging and found the document that awarded the house to my mother.”
“The old Careaux house.”
“The trust was prepared by your law firm.”
He nodded. “My father loved that old house. Drove past it all the time. I always wondered about his fascination with it.” Looking pensive, he said, “Now I see what you mean about things falling into place.”
“So, what now?” he asked. “Should I expect a court order for a DNA test?”
For the first time, I smiled. “No.”
He seemed genuinely surprised. And that surprised me.
“No?” he asked. “Why not? You have enough evidence to support a claim against the manor. Why not get the final proof?”
We had both scooched forward as we talked, and I placed my hand on one of his. “What good would that do? If your father is really my grandfather, he knew about his daughter. And he provided for her. Just as he chose to provide for you. You have your inheritance, and I have mine. I don’t plan to make any claim against you.”
His eyes narrowed. “Do you have any idea how much I’m worth?”
“I run the manor, remember? Of course I do.”
“And you’re willing to give that up?”
“I can’t give up something that was never mine to begin with,” I said. “And here’s the thing: If we’re related, it’s on your father’s side. It’s mothers who carry mitochondrial DNA. We could take a test and still not know any more than we do now.”
I went on. “And . . . I like believing that we may be related. A test may take that all that away.”
“You’re a strange girl,” he said.
“Is that a compliment?”
He smiled then but his eyes grew red, and tears pooled in their pale blue depths. “I miss Abe,” he said.
I patted his hand. “I do, too.”
He swallowed. “I told him once that I would never let anything happen to him. I failed at that, didn’t I? Failed completely. But he didn’t. He took a bullet for me.” Bennett wiped his eyes looking embarrassed by his show of emotion. “And now you did, too.”
I didn’t know what to say to that.
After a moment, he composed himself. “Gracie,” he said. “May I call you that?”
“I like it.”
“This has been a very tough time. I haven’t been terribly kind to you, you’ve had to deal with the wrath of Hillary, and the cattiness of Frances. You’ve even been shot . . .” He took a breath. “I wouldn’t blame you if you left here and never returned. But I’ve come to recognize that you’re exactly right for Marshfield Manor.” He gave me a pointed look. “You belong here. Is there anything I can do to convince you to stay on?”
Overcome by the enormity of everything that had happened, relief washed over me, taking my breath away. But even stronger was the awareness of all I’d accomplished in these crazy couple of weeks.
Bennett waited for my answer, looking anxious, little knowing how determined I was to hold on to his hard-won trust and my newfound strength. “I’m not so wild about having been shot,” I said, “but these have been the most exciting weeks of my life. I wouldn’t trade this job for the world.”