Authors: Catherine Winchester
What You Wish For
by Catherine Winchester
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents, other than those clearly in the public domain, are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by C.S. Winchester.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Cover art copyright © CS Winchester 2011. All rights reserved
To everyone who commented on this story and helped me believe that it was actually a story people wanted to hear!
To Margot, for patiently editing books that she has no interest in and for never losing her patience when I make the same mistakes again and again (and again).
And finally to my readers, who make what I do so worthwhile.
Most authors write because we love it. Sure, some probably do it solely for a paycheck but most of us love our craft and would continue to write even if we never sold another book. Sometimes we write things that we don't believe will be saleable; as a writing exercise, to help us understand a character better or even just for fun. This book started out as the latter.
I just couldn't get the idea of living in historical romance out of my head; would it really be as romantic as TV and books make it out to be? Women had almost no rights back then, how would a modern woman who is used to the freedom's we have today, cope when those kinds of restraints were placed upon her?
The idea kept plaguing me and eventually I had no choice but to sit down and write the story. I didn't think it would ever be good enough to publish so I began to post it online and to my immense surprise, it proved surprisingly popular, even with people who are unfamiliar with the book my heroine finds herself trapped in, Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South
So (two rewrites and three edits later) the rest as they say, is history!
I hope you enjoy this story. It won't change your life or enrich your soul but I sincerely hope it will entertain you for a while.
Carrie Preston looked at her reflection in the mirror and sighed. She honestly didn't know why she was going to all this trouble, getting herself made up and doing her hair just so. Her Aunt Imelda was not two weeks dead, surely she deserved to look a little downtrodden. But of course, that wasn't the Preston way.
No matter what was happening in your life, whether your husband had just left you, your business had collapsed or your child was ill, the show must go on. Heaven forbid any Preston appear in public showing visible signs of distress!
Carrie hated her family and yet, for an easy life when she was around them, all too often she played along.
Aunt Imelda hadn't been like that; she was the black sheep of the family, the renegade who was whispered about behind closed doors. She had been a free spirit, free with her men (scandalous!) free with her money (hence always poor) but most importantly to Carrie, she had also been free with her love and affection, something Carrie got precious little of from her parents.
She hadn't been allowed to see Imelda until she was seven years old when for some unknown reason, her mother finally took the children to see their aunt. Carrie never did understand why they were suddenly introduced to this relative who they had never heard of before, but she was ever so glad of it.
Today was the reading of her will and Carrie had been told she had to be there, meaning that she was mentioned in the will. She knew her aunt had no money, so she wasn't expecting to leave the solicitors office with new found wealth but she was hoping that Imelda had left her something of sentimental importance, like her handwritten recipe books. God, how she had loved those things, scribbling new recipes on each page as she found them or made them up. Some contained ingredients that weren't exactly legal but Carrie wasn't planning on using them for reference, rather as something to remember her aunt by.
As she looked at herself in the mirror, she felt like a hypocrite, for though she claimed to despise her superficial family, here she was dressed in Christian Dior, wearing thousands of pounds of diamonds, with flawless make up and smelling like Chanel No5.
Imelda would have turned up with no makeup, in her long, flowing, handmade skirts, her wooden beaded jewellery and smelling of incense. Carrie could only wish for such bravery.
She looked up to the ceiling, where she imagined her aunt would be looking down upon her from.
Sorry, Imm, maybe next time,” she apologised.
Carrie didn't really believe in ghosts or souls or an afterlife. Of course she didn't exactly disbelieve either, but what mattered here was that Imelda believed in all that kind of stuff, and if she could be watching events on earth wherever she was, then she surely would be, and probably having a right good laugh at her prissy baby sisters family!
Wish me luck,” she told the ceiling as she slipped her makeup into her handbag, just in case she needed any touch ups while she was out. Her mother hadn't been pleased when she'd cried at the funeral and hadn't brought extra makeup with which to repair the damage.
Carrie had started talking to her aunt the day after she died, just trying to say goodbye really, since she hadn't made it to the hospital in time, but it had comforted her to do so and ever since she had aimed the odd comment at her aunt, hoping that somehow Imelda would hear her.
Though he was not yet thirty, Daniel Winston was a very grave looking man. Carrie sat silently, almost afraid he would tell her off if she dared to laugh as he read the will. And laugh she truly wished she could.
To my sister, Patricia Preston, I leave my collection of marijuana plants in the hope that you will learn to lighten up,” Mr Winston read in his serious, queen's English accent.
Carrie bit her lip to keep from laughing.
To my niece, Annabel, I leave my art work. I know you think they are rubbish, but I thought that you might be able to laugh at them in my death as you did while I was alive, for joy is sadly lacking in your life.”
Imelda went on to insult a few more people posthumously, but to a few she left boxes wrapped in brown paper that were to be opened in private. Carrie received one such box, no larger than a shoe box really but, she hoped, chock full of happy memories.
She slid the box onto her lap where she held it protectively. She knew her mother and sister would be dying to know what was in there but opening it was something she wanted to do on her own.
Finally Mr Winston finished reading the will and with a very pointed, “Well!” he made it quite clear that the outrageous comments had not been his idea.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me before you leave or make an appointment with my secretary,” he said, standing, obviously pleased that his ordeal was over.
Carrie had arrived late and so, other than a few nods of welcome, she hadn't actually spoken to her family yet. She got up, hoping to get out of there before she was accosted but she wasn't to be that lucky a second time.
Dozy old bat,” Annabel said, linking her arm through her sister's. “Honestly, I knew coming here would be a waste of time.”
Then why did you come?” Carrie asked.
Because I was asked to.”
Carrie rolled her eyes, wondering if her sister had ever had an original thought.
So, what do you think she left you? Her crystal ball? Her tarot cards?” she cackled like a witch.
It's not heavy enough to be her crystal ball.” Carrie answered simply.
Oh come on, don't be so depressing! We all knew this was coming, it wasn't like the cancer came out of nowhere.”
No, but I wasn't expecting her to go downhill so fast.”
So what, you'd have cancelled your holiday if you had known?”
I'll bet Mark would have loved that!” Annabel snorted.
Mark would have understood,” Carrie argued, though in all honesty, she wasn't sure he would.
When are you two going to get married, anyway?” her mother said, coming up behind them as they exited onto the street. “You've been together almost three years; it's time he made an honest woman of you.”
I've told you before, not until I finish Uni, at the earliest.”
Her mother tutted, which Carrie translated to mean
'Why do you need a degree when you've got a rich stockbroker who is willing to marry you, and keep you in the lifestyle to which you are accustomed?'
Mum, I've got to go,” she said, withdrawing her arm from her sister and turning to face her mother. “I've got a paper due tomorrow and I'm so far behind it's unreal.”
I wish you wouldn't use such common language,” Patricia scowled.
If 'unreal' upset her, Carrie wondered what hearing her banter after a few pints at the Student Union would do to her mother.
Aren't you going to open it?” her sister pointed at the box.
It's probably just rubbish like you said; I'll open it when I don't have a deadline.”
Before they could argue, Carrie kissed their cheeks and dashed off across the road towards her car.
Patricia shook her head in consternation. “Honestly, that girl.”
She'll settle down soon,” Annabel assured her mother. “She's just sowing a few wild oats in college; she'll be fine once she graduates.”
I hope so. Anyway, darling, how are the twins and that lovely husband of yours?”
Oh, they're fine. We just got a new au pair actually.”
As soon as Carrie got home she stripped off her suit, pulled on jeans and a jumper, put her hair up into a messy twist with a butterfly clip, and poured herself a large glass of wine. She took a long sip and sighed, letting the stress of the day go.
She was home, safe at last and free to be herself. She settled down on the sofa, turned the CD player on and set about opening the box.
On top was a letter.
Darling Carrie, if you're reading this I have either eloped with George Clooney, never to be heard from again, and have been declared dead after seven years,
Carrie smiled, for Imelda's crush on George Clooney was legendary.
or as I fear, I really am dead and you've just been forced to listen to that arse, Winston, read my will without a trace of the humour it deserves.
If it is the second option, I just want you to know how very much I love you, and how much you mean to me. If I could have had a child, I would have wanted you.
In this box is just some old junk really, things that are of importance only to you and me. There's my favourite pictures of us, some nic nacs that have precious memories and one more thing that is very dear to me.
The amethyst earrings you'll find in here were a gift from a great friend of mine when I was in my twenties. You'll have seen me wear them a lot, especially when you were young. Now, I know it sounds crazy but those earrings gave me my heart's desire. No, I won't tell you what that was, but let's just say my life would have been very different if it hadn't been for those earrings, and I hope they will give you as much joy as they have brought me. And if you don't believe a word of this, then just treat them as my favourite pair of earrings and something I now pass down to you.
Wherever I am now, always know that I'm looking out for you, my darling girl.
All my love,
Carrie sighed and wiped the tears from her eyes before she put the letter away, then began going through the contents of the box. Imelda was right, it was mostly a bunch of junk, like the teeny teddy bear Carrie had wasted twenty pounds trying to win at a funfair. She'd wanted the giant teddy, but alas her skills meant that she could only win this two inch tall one. Still, they'd had a great time trying.