Authors: Kristen Ashley
Now, Sean was
gone, which was one less worry but perhaps the reason for
Why on earth
had Tamsin and Gavin given joint custody to Douglas? Why had they
asked Julia to move into this enormous, ghastly house with their
kids and share that responsibility with a brother who was
responsible to no one?
Tamsin loved her brother and saw the best in him.
didn’t see it.
And how on
earth did Tammy convince Gav?
A tremor went
up Julia’s spine just thinking about Douglas Ashton.
It wasn’t an
unpleasant kind of tremor, not in the slightest. It was a pleasant
kind of tremor, exciting and slightly wicked.
Any time over
the many years she’d known him, when her mind wandered to Douglas,
that same thrilling, illicit tremor would chase its way up her
Julia had had
a screaming crush on him the moment she’d first met him. Perhaps,
if she was completely honest with herself, she always had one. He
was just that type of man.
To a girl of
twenty-one, this tall man with his powerful body, thick, dark hair,
strong jaw and eyes so intensely blue they were nearly black… well,
he was exactly what one would think of as a titled English
aristocrat. He had a posh accent and was so arrogant and sexy, she
squirmed just being in the same room with him.
But then had
come Sean, then Douglas’s mysterious disappearance.
learned a great deal from the mistakes she’d made with Sean,
mistakes she vowed to herself (on a daily basis) she would never
Sean was a
great deal like Douglas, reserved, handsome, edgy. Julia knew now
that it matters not how dangerous they seem, how attractive,
exciting and wealthy they are, or the challenge they represent with
their ice-cold aloofness that you were certain you could
What a woman
needed in a mate was a companion. Someone who would clean the cat
litter, pop to the store for milk or fix the sink.
passion and intensity was overrated, and in Julia’s experience hid
biting cruelty and extraordinary selfishness.
The very idea
of her and Douglas was ridiculous, Julia knew. Not to mention
Douglas Ashton would never in a million years want her. An Indiana
girl who’d lived her entire life in a small town where you could
drive the length of Main Street waving continuously because you
knew every driver in every passing car (and if you didn’t wave,
once they got home, they’d call your mother and ask, “What on
earth’s wrong with Jewel? I just saw her driving along Main Street
with her head in the clouds. She didn’t even wave! She drives like
that, she could have an accident!”).
not like Tammy at all. He wouldn’t consider lowering himself to a
girl born to and raised by a divorcee. Douglas vacationed on the
Riviera. Douglas flew to Paris in a private jet for a one hour
meeting. Douglas’s gorgeous but stoic face was printed in magazines
(normally while escorting catwalk models or Hollywood starlets or
debutantes sporting hairstyles that cost more than Julia used to
earn in a week).
to the enormous windows and stared at the dormant garden, still
thinking of Douglas, the man with whom she was now forced to live
for at least the next twelve years.
mother, he was always courteous to her, often gallant and sometimes
fleetingly friendly, but never warm. She learned not to be
concerned by his demeanour, that, she soon discovered, was how he
treated everyone and was quite like his father’s behaviour (for the
short time she knew Maxwell Ashton before his untimely death).
Douglas’s cold indifference was legendary, he rarely smiled and
even more rarely laughed.
After he came
back from whatever he was doing those two years, something had
changed in him. He had a strange, yet magnetic, sinister quality.
She couldn’t put her finger on it but whatever it was made him no
less attractive, in fact, this mysterious allure, including his
remoteness, added to his appeal. He used to be quiet, watchful, you
could almost, but not quite, forget he was in a room and then be
startled when you caught him watching you.
And Julia had
caught him watching her a great deal, probably wondering
(undoubtedly somewhat clinically) how she had managed to insinuate
herself into the Ashton Family Fortress.
he’d come back from his Disappearance (made notable in her mind
with a capital “D”), even if you hadn’t seen him enter a room, you
knew he was there. His very presence was forceful and the moment he
cut his dark eyes to you, Julia could think of no other way to
describe it, except,
though, that her ex-husband had been the beginning and the end of
dealing with those kinds of men, handsome, arrogant and entirely
self-centred. She’d rather be alone for the rest of her life than
endure even a smidgen of the heartache Sean had bestowed on her or
the relentless days of piecing together your life and
self-confidence when they were gone.
Come on children, it’s all served up. Get it while it’s hot.”
Mrs. K had
walked into the drawing room. The room was enormous, could easily
and comfortably fit thirty (maybe even forty) people. Decorated in
ice blue and white, unflinchingly formal with three gigantic
crystal chandeliers running the length of it, it was chilly, even
with the fire that now burned in its colossal grate.
The kids had
headed to that room straight after tea. Not to the warm
leather-couched entry, or the slightly more comfortable, book-lined
library or the definitely more suitable billiards room or
Grandmother Monique says kids are seen and not heard, the
drawing room is the farthest away from Grandmother’s morning
Douglas’s study,” Lizzie had explained while Julia tried not to
show any reaction, least of all her extreme, albeit exhausted,
quietly trooped into the dining room. Quiet, Julia was learning
quickly, was very important not only for the children but also the
staff. The young Russian girl so excelled in it that Julia had been
startled by her twice. Veronika drifted about like a ghost.
room, Julia thought while entering it, was the most extravagantly
appointed room in the house. The walls richly covered with embossed
paper that was created to look and feel like leather and was hand
painted in deep moss green, black and rich bronze with accents of
gold. The room not only held a long, shining walnut table that
seated eighteen but also had two semi-circular windows along one
side that held tables that each sat an additional four apiece and
an enormous fireplace in which Ruby could set up house.
Kilpatrick had gone all out, as best she could without forbidden
fattening sauces and delicious desserts. Halved avocados filled
with succulent shrimp to start then fillet steaks, steamed
broccoli, Brussel sprouts, boiled potatoes and carrots and to end,
a fruit parfait separated with layers of thick, rich,
honey-sweetened Greek yogurt.
Julia and Mrs.
K both tried to make it into an event and the food, even without
butter, salt or sauce to season it, was still delicious.
wonder,” she told Mrs. K with all honesty when the older woman
whisked the dishes away.
one’s best. Now, it’s one hour of television or computer and then
you know what to do,” she told the children who rushed to have
their very short bit of fun.
Julia asked once the children left, her irritation growing.
doesn’t want their brains turned to mush by telly or computer
games,” Mrs. K explained.
tightened at the very idea that three grieving children were not
given an opportunity to lose themselves in pleasurable pastimes,
but she held her tongue and nodded.
If she heard
one more word about what Grandmother or Lady Ashton did or did not
want, her exhaustion and jetlag would cause her to lose her
ever-loving mind and she’d scream the house down. Something which,
she understood, would not help her impossible, inconceivable
situation one bit.
children’s short hour of fun, Mrs. K and Julia put them to bed,
first Ruby and then Willie and Lizzie.
Lizzie’s bed, Julia tucked her in tight all the way down her sides
just as she knew Gavin used to do because that was what Patricia
used to do.
you’re here, Auntie Jewel,” Lizzie murmured sleepily, but even
tired, she didn’t sound happy at all.
too,” Julia lied, bent forward and gave her niece a kiss on her
Julia rose and
crossed the room but stood uncertainly at the door for several
moments after she’d turned out the light, completely at a loss of
what to do for the girl. She wished Gavin was there to tell her
but, of course, she wouldn’t have had to do anything if he was.
With a heavy
heart, she went to find Mrs. K.
“I’m off to
the husband,” Mrs. K. announced when Julia arrived in the kitchen
and saw that Mrs. K was putting on her coat. “Breakfast for the
children is at seven o’clock. They have to leave no later than
seven thirty. I expect you’ll have a lie in tomorrow, you must be
at the clock. It was ten after nine. If Mrs. Kilpatrick was here in
time to feed the children by seven, she was working incredibly long
“I’ll be at
breakfast, Mrs. K,” Julia, resolute, told the housekeeper and
something in her tone made Mrs. K’s head come up.
woman regarded Julia closely. “I suspect you will, luv, but it
doesn’t have to be tomorrow. Give yourself a wee bit of a break.
And don’t you worry. You’ll get settled in, you all will.” Julia
heard more hope than certainty in Mrs. K’s voice but she had no
time to worry about it because with that, Mrs. K left.
headed out of the kitchen, she noticed that Mrs. K had put the
house to sleep just as she did the children. Curtains were drawn
and small lights were on here and there that did nothing to break
the dark and everything to extend the frightening shadows of the
big house with its large rooms and high ceilings.
House, her home for the next decade.
at the thought.
beautiful, haughtily and even brashly so, but it was not welcoming.
Indeed, it was not welcoming in a tangible way, as if it had its
own personality, its own set of eyes with which to look down on her
In fact, the
house reminded her a great deal of Douglas.
She shook off
that thought as she made her way to her rooms.
Julia had not
been surprised to see that she had been put in the guest suite,
which was off the dining room and down the back hall that lead to a
small Chapel (a lovely little Chapel which was really its own
building but attached to the house, it nestled snugly in the
sloping hill in which the curving drive was cut over a century
Julia was not
placed upstairs with the children or the other members of the
family, even though all three children had their own room, as did
Douglas and Monique. Douglas’s rooms (in plural, Tamsin told her
after her and Douglas’s father died, and by tradition, Douglas had
moved into the master suite when he’d inherited the title, the
estates and all they contained) included his own private sitting
room although Julia had never seen it. Julia knew that upstairs
there were still four bedrooms besides and still, she was isolated,
away from the rest.
loved the guest suite but now she felt as Monique meant her to
feel, separate and not a part of the family.
suite was decorated in periwinkle blue and clover green with
accents of mushroom, silver and gold. This strange colour
combination worked, in fact its interior designer won awards for it
(according to Monique).
was an antique, tall tester bed that was kept in pristine condition
by Carter, (chauffer, errand-runner and handyman extraordinaire).
The bed was draped in blue and green curtains and covered with an
undoubtedly three billion-thread-count, clover green, sateen duvet.
It was headed with twin stacks of three fluffy pillows with an
enormous European square resting in front and a plethora of toss
pillows encased in beaded, embroidered, tasselled or ruched satin
or silk. There was an ornate, ivory marble-manteled fireplace with
a chaise lounge covered in mushroom velvet with a clover green
cashmere throw artfully decorating it which sat invitingly in front
of the fire. There was a circular window that was the base of the
turret that rose up the side of the house and in it were two
comfortable chairs with a shared ottoman, this time in a sateen
clover specked with periwinkle, one with another throw, this in
blue, and a small, circular, intricately carved table in the
middle. There was a writing desk facing the room with an ornate
chair that had curved legs that matched the desk. The gleaming
parquet floor was covered in a variety of thick, silk
fire was a doorway leading to a dressing room that started with a
hall which was lined on both sides in rails, inset drawers and
shelves. This led to an opening that contained a dressing table
built into one side with a huge mirror surrounded entirely with
bright lights and fronted by a swirly-legged stool padded in
periwinkle velvet. Behind the dressing table, a floor to ceiling
three-way mirror was set into the opposite wall. Walking further
down, there were more rails, drawers and shelves ending in a
sparkling white bathroom which featured a mosaic-tiled floor, a
claw-footed, roll-topped bath with gleaming silver taps and sprays
and a separate shower cubical. Sumptuous towels in blue, mushroom
and clover were hanging from heated towel rails and wrapped, rolled
and tucked in various cubbyholes with thick piled rugs strewn
appealingly about the floor.