Authors: Hilary Wilde
Tags: #Large type books, #General, #England, #Inheritance and succession, #Fiction
The Golden Maze by Hilary Wilde
Cindy Preston arrived at the lovely Lake District castle as its prospective owner, but wound up staying as guest of the real heir. On discovering the cause of his long-standing estrangement from his father, she earned his gratitude and love.
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TORONTO · LONDON · NEW YORK · AMSTERDAM · SYDNEY · WINNIPEG
Harlequin Omnibus 58
Copyright © 1977 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the permission of the publisher, Harlequin Enterprises Limited, 240 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, M3B 1Z4, Canada.
All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone hearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all the incidents are pure invention.
Copyright @ 1972 by Hilary Wilde
First published in 1972 by Mills & Boon Limited
Harlequin edition (#1624) published September 1972
First Harlequin Omnibus edition published June 1977
The Harlequin trademark, consisting of the word HARLEQUIN and the portrayal of a Harlequin, is registered in the United States Patent Office and in the Canada Trade Marks Office.
Imagine inheriting a castle! The very idea thrilled Cindy. Especially the Lake District castle, which had been the scene of a happy time in her life. It was like a dream come true. Then, suddenly, the real heir appeared and Cindy no longer had any claim. But meeting Peter Baxter proved more than compensation for her shattered hopes!
CINDY frowned as she gazed up at the names on the board, high up on the wall, that she could not see properly. She had almost run up from Ludgate Circus, hardly hearing the roar of traffic, for all she could think of was the Castle.
The castle of her dreams !
And now here she was to learn all about it and she couldn't even see which floor the solicitors were on !
"Having trouble?" A deep masculine voice interrupted her thoughts. Startled, she swung round and saw the man standing by her side. She couldn't see his face clearly, but he was tall, with broad shoulders, and blond hair. He towered above her.
"Why not wear glasses ?" he asked, sounding amused. "Then you could see."
"I do usually." She gave an excited little laugh, "but I was in such a hurry to get here I forgot them. I mean, it isn't every day you inherit a castle !"
"A castle ?" He sounded surprised, then paused before continuing : "You've inherited a castle ?"
The condescension in his voice irritated her, but she answered : "Yes, a real castle . . ." then she corrected herself : "At least it will be mine if his son doesn't turn up."
"His son? So there's a son." For some odd reason, the man sounded more amused than ever, so Cindy frowned.
"It's quite simple. If the son can't be found after three years' searching, I'll inherit the castle."
"If there's a son alive, where do you come into it?"
"Well, you see they don't know. I mean if the son is alive or not. It seems he quarrelled with his father years ago and walked out and—well, I suppose the father was sorry. Anyhow he left everything to his son, but if the son wasn't traced for three years, then it comes to me. I honestly don't know why." Cindy shook her head thoughtfully, her long chestnut-brown hair swinging. "I hardly knew him—Mr. Baxter, I mean. I was about seven when Mummy, who was a widow, met him and we were asked there for a holiday. She hated the quietness. I loved it . . ." Remembering, Cindy half-closed her eyes. "It was absolutely super. A real castle ! Of course I had the usual absurd dreams." She laughed and then looked grave. "They weren't just dreams at the time. I persuaded myself that I was a princess and that my so-called parents had found me in a dustbin and that one day, the truth would be discovered and I would live in the castle and it would be mine . . ." As she spoke, her voice rose excitedly. "And now this ... this has happened."
"The son might turn up," the stranger said dryly.
Cindy nodded. "Of course he might, but they've been hunting for him for three years and the solicitor's letter said only three weeks were left of the search . . ."
"Where is this wonderful castle."
"Cumberland—in the Lake District. I can just remember the lakes and the mountains and the . . ."
"Castle." He gave a funny little laugh. "How will you run it? Castles cost money, you know."
Cindy tossed her head, her hair swinging. "I'll find
a way." She twisted her hands together, her brown handbag hanging from her shoulder, her little oval face framed by the pale pink woollen cap. "It's so wonderful, you see. I woke up this morning feeling . . . feeling so unhappy. So . . . well, rejected. No one cared for me. I was all alone, and then—then this letter came. I couldn't believe it. Uncle Robert—that's what he made me call him—hadn't forgotten me. He said he wanted the castle to go to someone who loved it as he did. Just think, he hadn't forgotten me all these years. Ever since I was seven."
"How long ago is that? Eight years?"
Cindy's eyes blazed, for she hated this kind of joke. Just because she had a young look ! Her cousins were always teasing her about it, too, just as they did about her miserable five feet two inches height.
"I'm nineteen years and ten months," she said with dignity as well as anger.
"Is that so? You don't look it. Well, I'm thirty-three and seven months."
"Well, you . . ." she began indignantly, and stopped, having to laugh instead. "I'm afraid I can't see you properly," she admitted, and looked at her watch. "Help ! I must hurry and see the solicitor. I told my boss I'd be as quick as I could."
"I thought you only got your letter this morning?" "I did, but I rang my boss at once. He's always to at work himself, so I rang his home and
he quite un
derstood. He told me to be as quick as I could, so I must ."
"How can you have a castle in Cumberland and a
ob in London? Rather an expensive distance to commute," the stranger said dryly.
Cindy laughed : "Oh, I'll give up my job, of course. Could you tell me which floor Ayres & Bolton are on?"
"Certainly. Third floor. The lift's over there. Do you think you can reach the button ... ?"
Her face flamed. "Of course I can," she said angrily.
"Well, watch your way. You're moving in a golden maze."
Even as she started to turn, she paused. "A golden maze ?" she repeated, puzzled.
He smiled. "Dryden. 'I think and think on things impossible, And love to wander in that golden maze'."
"Oh." Cindy hesitated. "You mean dreams. What's wrong with dreams?" she asked defiantly.
"Nothing—except that you get hurt when the balloons burst."
"This one isn't going to," she told him, and hurried to the lift.
Inside it, she wondered at herself. How could she have talked so easily to a complete stranger? Why? She must have bored him terribly. That was another thing her cousins were always telling her : that she talked too much. What must he think of her? she asked herself as the lift stopped and she hurried down the carpeted corridor to a door with the names Ayres & Bolton on it. 'Please walk in', she read underneath them.
Obeying, she went through a glass door that swung open as she touched it and a girl with blonde hair, piled high on her head, looked up.
"My name is Luc
inda Preston," Cindy said. "I
rang Mr. Ayres early this morning in reply to his letter."
The girl smiled. "Of course. Please sit down and I'll see if Mr. Ayres is ready."
Cindy obeyed, looking round her curiously. It was all very modern and luxurious so it must be a reliable firm, she decided.
The girl returned. "Mr. Ayres will see you now. This way."
Cindy followed her down the carpeted corridor and into a large room with an enormous picture window that showed St. Paul's Cathedral in all its dignified glory, but Cindy was looking at the lean, handsome man who came to meet her, holding out his hand. His hair was dark but greying at the temples, his eyes were dark too and he had a pleasant friendly smile. She liked him at once.
"How good of you to contact me so quickly," he said, shaking her hand, leading her to a chair, then sitting opposite her on the other side of the large walnut desk. He ruffled through some papers and then looked up with a smile. "You are Miss Lucinda Preston, daughter of the late Bartholomew Preston and of Winifred, his wife? You are, I understand, an only child? Your father died when you were very young and your mother when you were ten years old?"
Cindy nodded, her eyes misting: Would she ever forget the awful loneliness when her mother died? The knowledge that she was a nuisance to her cousins, and an unwelcome burden to their parents, for she had been tossed from one aunt and uncle to another: Maybe she had been stupidly sensitive, but she still inwardly squirmed at the memories of her older cousins'
teasing. `Goggly-eyed Cindy'; 'Tiny Cindy'; 'Brainless Cindy'. Her height had been a handicap, for they were all tall; all bright at school, flowing effortlessly through exams while she, working like mad, just managed to squeeze past the final posts. That was why, as soon as she could, she had learned shorthand and typing, got herself a good job and a bedsitter in Earls -Court. Living sensibly, she had saved enough money to buy herself a car—small, grey and efficient. It made all the difference in the world to her life, for every weekend she could slip away to the quietness of the country she loved.
She realised with a shock that she hadn't been listening to the solicitor. Her cheeks hot, she apologised.
"I am sorry, I was thinking . . ."
He smiled. "That's all right. I asked if you could remember Mr. Baxter."
Cindy shook her head slowly. "Not really. Just as a big man with a kind voice. I know he was a friend of Mummy's—they met somewhere and he asked us to visit him. I loved it, but Mum hated it, so we never went back again."
"You loved it ?"
Her eyes shining, Cindy nodded. "It was super. The most exciting and romantic thing that ever happened to me. Living in a castle !" She sighed ecstatically.
Mr. Ayres smiled. "It's not a real castle, you know. It's what is called a mock castle . . . built years after
' real castles were built."
"It may be mock or real, but I remember it as a castle. It looked just like one—with a drawbridge and
a moat and vaults and . . ." Cindy stopped. "I expect you've seen it."
"No, I. haven't. My uncle was alive at that time and Mr. Robert Baxter was his client."
"I'll never forget it, ever. There were mountains and a great lake and then this lovely castle . . . Mummy had always read me fairy stories and, of course, I felt like a princess in her castle, waiting for my handsome prince to come."