Chapter Twelve: Homecoming

It was almost two o' clock by the time Jetta drew her car onto the front drive of Wissex Hall, her heart full of misgivings as she gazed up at the big stone building that loomed over her. From that angle, it almost seemed to blot out the sun, and the image was not lost on her.

"Bleak an' doomed, just like the genetics." She muttered. "What am I really doin' 'ere?"

She reached over to the glovebox, pulling it open and tipping the contents out onto the chair where the white ice cream tub was already sitting. After much deliberation, she had taken the decision to bring with her all the little bits and pieces she had found, in order to prove who she really was, and she fingered the edge of the photo album wistfully, half wishing that she had not chosen to come here alone.

"But then, there ain't anyone to come with me." She mused, flicking it open and pausing at the end page. "There is just me. An' I do 'ave to warn Mason an' the others about Trevor...whatever else I do before I leave England. I know that. The game 'as already begun, and I can't pull out until the final whistle."

She put the photo album on top of the ice cream tub, gathering together the rest of her bits and pieces as she prepared to leave the car. As she did so, her gaze fell on the photograph of her grandfather and the late Earl outside the house and she swallowed hard.

"I wish you were here more than anyone." She murmured. "You were the only one who ever understood...who could ever properly explain to me everything I needed to know."

"Just one more time, Sheila, love. You've almost got the hang of it."

The teenage girl put the instrument to her lips, carefully running through the brief scale once more. She eyed her companion expectantly, and his expression broke into a warm smile.

"You have a natural talent for this instrument, you know." He said softly. "I'm glad that one of you takes after your mother."

"I didn't know Mum was ever musical." The youngster settled herself on the edge of her grandfather's old settee, gently taking the golden saxophone to pieces as she prepared to return it to it's case. "She tells me to shut the 'ell up whenever I say anythin' to 'er about the saxophone an' to keep the noise down on the radio when she's tryin' to sleep."

The old man's expression became shadowed.

"I'm getting confused in my old age." He said sadly. "Of course, I meant your Grandmother. She used to love music, did your Gran. Played, too, till her fingers were too stiff to get the notes out. It was always my hope that there'd be music in this family, even if there wasn't much else to go around. You're my only hope for it, my dear...and you know you are always welcome here to play my saxophone. In truth it's a pleasure to hear it being played - I don't touch it so often myself. Not these days."

Sheila glanced up at the big old clock on the mantle. She frowned.

"Jeremy will be here soon to pick me up." She said, chewing on her bottom lip. "He thinks it's silly, me spending so much time here with you and the sax. 'E doesn't get it, Gramps. He's too busy chattin' up some girl on the corner or workin' out 'ow to get a flash car on 'is dole money."

"Your brother is a very different sort of person." Charles nodded his head, moving to sit down beside her. "He has his own interests and you should beware of how far you follow them, my girl. You're still young yet, and I don't want you dragged into things you don't understand."

"I ain't stupid." Sheila objected. "I know more than you think I do, Grandpa. I know Jeremy sneaks out till all hours an' that he smokes an' drinks an' boasts to all 'is friends about layin' Jessica Parker. I'm not dumb."

Charles reeled at this, staring at her, and she frowned.

"What? I'm fourteen! I'm not a little kid - I know what lads get up to. Besides, Jeremy tells me himself. He's asked me to sneak out with him a couple of times but I ain't gonna get grounded goin' to one of his stupid parties. His friends stink and they're sleazes - they'd only grope me all over anyhow."

Charles bit his lip, sadness in his expression.

"Oh, my poor child." He said softly, slipping an arm around her shoulders and hugging her tightly. "What have I done to you?"

"Huh?" Sheila stared up at him, confused. "Gramps, what do you mean? What's up?"

"Listen to me, Sheila." Charles seemed to focus his thoughts, meeting his grandaughter's quizzical gaze with a grave one of his own. "You're a smart girl. We both know you are. You're capable of doing a lot more than your brother seems to want from his life. You've talent and talent can move you far in the world, if you work hard and are dedicated. I'd hate for you to lose sight of that, especially as you're growing older. I'm afraid of you growing away from me, child - that there will come a day when you won't be so keen to spend the afternoon with your old Grandpa any more."

Sheila snorted.

"Gramps, if I could live here, I bloody well would." She said flatly. Then her hand flew to her mouth. "Whoops."

"Your language." Charles sounded resigned.

"Everyone else does it." Sheila defended herself. "It's not like it's a crime or anything."

"No...perhaps not. Perhaps I am old fashioned." Charles pursed his lips. "But in my day, ladies didn't swear or curse."

Sheila giggled at this.

"I'm not a lady, Grandpa." She said reproachfully. "I'm still in school!"

"Did you mean what you said, just then? About living here, if you could?" Charles asked. Sheila nodded her head.

"Of course." She said dismissively. "I hate livin' at home. Ma an' Pa don't really give a damn what Jeremy an' I do, except if it involves their money an' us wantin' to spend it. Everyone else in my form is goin' on the end of term trip, except me because my folks are too broke or too stingy to foot the bill. It ain't fair an' I hate it. At least you listen to me. They never do, and Jeremy thinks I'm a baby. He calls me one all the time, because I won't smoke a stupid cigarette or come out with 'im at night."

"You're not a baby." Charles' hug became more protective at this. "You're wiser than your brother, Sheila, and you have the potential to do far more, so don't waste it, all right? You could do great things with the saxophone one day, if we keep these sessions up by the time you're eighteen you'll be good enough for music college without a doubt. And if that's the case, my girl, when you turn eighteen, you can make your own choices about where you live. My home is always open for you and you know it. You'd be more than welcome. When the time comes."

Sheila's eyes sparkled with hope.

"I won't forget it." She said solemnly. "So don't you either, Grandpa. The minute I turn eighteen I'm takin' my case an' I'm comin' round yours. Home just stinks of tobacco anyway."

"You don't like it, huh?"

"Don't care about it either way." Sheila considered. "But you said that the smoke was bad for you, if you were gonna play the saxophone. An' they're always smokin'. I sometimes think they do it on purpose. You know, to try and stop me. Like they don't want me to ever do anything important with my life or do anything that I want to do. Sometimes I wonder why they even had kids. They don't ever act like they want us around."

"Well, sadly, they're all you have." Charles said softly. Sheila shook her head, hesitating, then flinging her arms around her grandfather.

"No." She said firmly. "Because I have you, Gramps. An' the saxophone. And one day I'm gonna be famous an' play to hundreds of people an' I'll never have to come back home ever again. One day I will. You'll see!"

"And when that day comes, I will do everything in my power to help you." Charles assured her. "I have some money put aside - savings and such like - and when the time comes, it can pay for you to go to a good musical college. If you keep practicing, keep focusing, keep doing the things you're doing now, then I'll make it happen. I promise."

The sound of a dog barking in the distance jerked Jetta back to reality and she took a firm grip on her emotions and memories, pushing open the driver's side door and gathering up her pile of treasures as she stepped out onto the pale stone drive. She kicked the door shut, locking it and making her way slowly up the front steps of the hall, pausing at the top to gather together her courage to knock.

For a moment, it seemed like noone was coming to answer her call. Then, as she was about to give up, there was a creak and the door swung open to reveal an older man, dressed smartly in what was clearly the attire of a member of the house staff. Jetta gathered her wits, offering the man a benign smile.

"I'm here to see the Earl." She said calmly, though inwardly her heart was racing. "Mason 'Awthorne."

"Does he know to expect you, Ma'am?" The man seemed both bewildered and wary. "I don't believe we are acquainted...?"

"I don't visit often." Jetta said glibly. "But it's a matter of some importance."

"Can I take a name, Madam?"

"Yes." In a moment, Jetta made up her mind what she had to do. She nodded her head. "Yes. Tell him...tell him Sheila Rose is 'ere to speak to him."

A look of confusion flitted across the man's brow, but it was gone in a second, and he cast her a cool smile.

"If you wouldn't mind waiting, Madam." He said crisply. Then the door was swung shut, and Jetta found herself once more alone.

"Charmin' manners, these butler types." She observed to herself, almost amused by the man's attitude. "I wonder if 'e was 'and-picked for it...all smiles an' jokes, that one."

At that moment there was a commotion from inside the house and the door swung open once more. Jetta's smile died on her lips as she found herself face to face with the Earl of Wissex himself. Despite herself, she uttered a curse under her breath. Years had aged him, but his eyes were as piercing and as cold as they had been all those years before, when last their paths had crossed.

"Who are you?" Mason cut right to the chase. "What do you want, and what the hell do you know about Sheila Rose?"

"A damn sight more than you do, Mason 'Awthorne." Jetta snapped back, finding refuge in her indignation at his tone. "You don't remember me, do you? I sure as 'ell remember you."

"You didn't answer my question." Mason's eyes flickered with anger. "Who are you and what do you want with me?"

"Thirty years ago, you kicked me out of this 'ouse in disgrace." Jetta spoke in low tones. "You 'umiliated me in front of my family an' my friends. I swore then I 'ated you more than any man I'd ever 'ad the misfortune to meet. An' you don't even remember."

Mason stared at her.

"Excuse me?"

"My name is Jetta, Mason. Jetta Pelligrini." Jetta said coldly. "Jetta of the Misfits."

Recognition and alarm flashed into Mason's expression and he muttered an oath under his breath.

"Oh, now I remember you." He exclaimed. "You were in league with my uncle! You wanted me that why you're here now? To finish the job you both failed at so many years ago?"

"Shut your face, you dumb git." Jetta pushed him back into the hall of the house, taking her opportunity to enter. She kicked the front door shut behind her. "I didn't come 'ere to kill you any more than I came to Wissex to do so thirty years ago. I 'ad no idea then that 'e wasn't the real Earl, or that 'e wanted you dead...I 'ave more sense than to get involved in a murder plot. An' besides..."

She paused, then met his gaze firmly.

"There may be a curse in this godforsaken family." She said quietly. "But I assure you, it ain't touched on me."

"What do you mean?" Mason recovered himself. "How dare you barge your way into this house, and..."

"And what?" Jetta demanded. "Presume to warn you about your uncle's recent behaviour? About the fact 'e tried to put an end to me in a local cemetary just days ago? How he's still hot on the heels of your stupid estate, an' that if I were you, I'd be watchin' my step really carefully?"

Mason blanched.

"What?" He whispered. "You've seen Trevor?'re serious?"

"As the grave." Jetta nodded her head. "An' that's the only reason I came 'ere in person, because I realised I couldn't jus' go back to America an' leave you unawares. Much as I still 'ate you, Mason Hawthorne, I'm not that bad a person that I could let you get murdered because I 'adn't thought to tell you what I know. An' I know a lot more than you think."

Mason bit his lip, staring at her for a moment. Then he reached for the parlour door, swinging it open.

"In here." He said quietly. "I think you need to tell me everything you know about Trevor, and his plans."

Jetta followed him into the big room, pausing as her gaze fell on the portrait over the fireplace. Mason caught her gaze, offering a hollow smile.

"My uncle." He said quietly. "He's no longer with us. That is what my uncle Trevor is truly capable of, Jetta. He killed his own brother. My father too. If he really did accost you, you're lucky to be alive."

"No, I'm not." Jetta shook her head. "He's an older man now, an' it takes more than that to get the better of a former Misfit, even if it 'as been some years since I was last 'ere."

She gestured to the portrait.

"When I was 'ere in the eighties, that wasn't anywhere to be seen." She added. "Naturally, a man wouldn't want to live around the pictures of those he'd slain."

"I'd credit Trevor with a good many things." Mason said bitterly. "But you need to explain something to me. Why would he go after you? If you were just his tool...if you weren't involved in his plotting - what's his interest in you? He did time for the crimes back in the eighties. That's a done deal. There's no evidence you can give that would send him back to prison."

"Probably not." Jetta agreed, taking a seat and setting her burden down on the table. "But that's not why he sought me out. In truth, I hardly recognised him...time 'as changed 'im so much. But he knew me. An' not for events thirty years ago, neither. He badgered my poor father into his grave lookin' for me, Mason. He told me that, since 'e got out of jail, it's what he's been doing. Hunting me down. My Pa tried is 'ardest not to give me away, an' took it with 'im when he died...but then I came 'ere to bury him, and well, found a lot more than I bargained for."

"Trevor...was looking for you?" Mason looked non-plussed. "He's been nowhere near Wissex since he was released...yet he took time and energy to hunt you down? I don't understand."

"No." Jetta shook her head. "Of course you don't."

There was an edge to her tone, and she raised her eyes once more to the portrait over the fire.

"I never knew him, you know." She said softly. "Your uncle. Jeremy. Thanks to Trevor, I never knew him at all."

"Uncle Jeremy?" Mason's brows knitted together. "But..."

"Three years or so ago, my father told me that I wasn't really his daughter." Jetta said quietly. "He said my father was of rich' that he and my mother had left money in trust for my brother an' I, when we came of age. But he never told me what family my father belonged to. He never gave me a name...and I never thought to ask."

"Sweet mother of..." Mason trailed off, colour draining from his face. "Are you trying to tell me that you belong to this family? That somehow...somehow you're kin to me? Jetta, you tried that ruse in the you think I'm going to believe it now?"

"Yes." Jetta held out the photo album. "Because I'm going to make you, Mason. Because my name isn't Jetta. That was my stage name. My name is Sheila Rose. Sheila Rose Burns. Sheila Rose...Hawthorne."

This rendered Mason speechless, and in silence he took the photo album from her, flicking dazedly through the pages. As he did so, Jetta rummaged through the other pieces of paper, selecting the birth and marriage certificates and handing them over to him as well. He took them numbly, hardly able to register what he was reading.

At length, he looked up.

"I never saw a picture of Patricia." He said, his voice breaking slightly as he met her gaze. "But that's my uncle, sure enough. And if that's Patricia..."

He bit his lip.

"You are her daughter. It's obvious." He murmured. "Hell on earth, you are my cousin! You are Sheila I thought...we all thought..."

"That I was dead?" Jetta sat back in her chair, taking a malicious amount of pleasure from the mixture of expressions invading Mason's features. "Yes. So I understand. As for how? I was less than a year old. I don't really remember. But I know my grandfather was involved. Patricia's father. Somehow he got Jeremy and me away...convinced 'is surviving son and 'is wife to raise us as their own. Who'd look on a London council estate for the niece and nephew of a murdered Earl?"

"And to think how I treated you..." Mason looked stricken. "If I'd known then who you were..."

"You didn't, and nor did I." Jetta interrupted him. "They do say be careful what you wish for. For a long time, I wanted this kind of connection. Now I know I 'ave it, though, I'd rather be without. Your family is full of nutcases, murderers an' jerks. I don't want any part of it."

"That seems to be a common sentiment at present." Mason said ruefully. "To think, I've been trying to convince my bastard son to be my heir, when you were alive all the time. And Jeremy? You said Jeremy too?"

"Jeremy is dead." Jetta shook her head. "Taken down in police fire. He was mad, Mason. Just like Trevor."

"The family curse." Mason bit his lip. Jetta spread her hands.

"Who'd choose to be a Hawthorne?" She said dryly.

"So why are you here, really?" Mason set the album aside. "To claim something?"

"No, actually the reverse." Jetta shook her head. "I came to warn you about Trevor...and to return these to you."

She held out the box.

"I figured you wouldn't believe either what I said about Trevor or what these were without knowin' the full truth of it." She added. "I found them clearin' out stuff at my father's...well, the man I grew up callin' father. I think they're your Uncle's medals. My friend and I came here on the day of the Fair, to try and link up everything we'd found and your wife told us that his medals were missing. I think these are them. And they should be here. With you."

Mason opened the box, pushing aside the tissue as he lifted out the uppermost medal, cradling it in his hands.

"Oh my." He murmured. "And we thought that somehow they'd gone with him...or been pawned. I never thought...Pat's family..." He shook his head. "How much more is there I don't know?"

"Probably as much as me, in truth."

"Are you sure you don't want these? They were your father's."

"Not really." Jetta shrugged her shoulders. "I never knew 'im, remember? And I'm 'appy enough to let sleepin' dogs lie now. This world ain't any part of me, you' I'm no longer the kind of girl who wants to play pretend. I 'ave everythin' I need in America, with my 'usband, my kids, my work there. I don't need connections to an Earldom to make my life matter. Especially not this one."

Mason was silent for a moment. Then,

"I believe you." He said at length. "And I'm sorry...for what passed between us all those years ago. I seem to have developed a bad habit of jumping to conclusions."

"Apology accepted." Jetta smiled slightly.

"You do realise, of course, that this changes everything." Mason looked pensive. "I've badgered my son Clay to give up his life and his work and everything else to be my successor, but there was never any need. There are other Hawthornes. Your brother may be dead, but you're not. That makes you my legitimate heir. And you said you had children?"

"I'm no Hawthorne, and nor are my children." Jetta shook her head. "Besides, Jeremy 'ad a' that son 'as a daughter. I'm not your heir. If anyone is, Taylor is...but I can't see 'im taking up from home with his wife an' work an' movin' back to England to inherit an Earldom he knows nothin' about. We stopped bein' Hawthornes when Trevor saw to killin' your father an' destroyin' my parents. I grew up in a different world from this one. It's not a line that can be crossed back. I made myself what I am based on what I grew up knowin'. Even if most of those things were based on a lie, I can't take it back. I'm not a lady, an' I don't belong in a manor house. Jeremy an' me, we were Burns kids. Not Hawthornes."

"And I'm growing ever more sure that Clay is a Blake more than he will be a Hawthorne, either." Mason sounded troubled. "In truth, I understand it, too. I didn't grow up here any more than you did, Sheila. I found out I was an Earl when I was eighteen. I gave up my freedom to take on my duty. I just wish I had someone to pass that duty on to. But Trevor's actions had wide implications. He may not have killed as many people as he hoped...but he still destroyed their lines, didn't he? He still eradicated all the Hawthorne heirs, by inadvertently giving you and Jeremy your own lives to lead."

Jetta inclined her head slightly.

"That's probably true." She agreed. "I...hey, what's all that noise?" As a sudden commotion came from the hallway outside.

"No idea." Mason's brow creased into a frown. "Maybe Grace is back. I had to bully her this morning to go and see the doctor...she's the dearest person in the world to me, but she's always been delicate and she won't take her health as seriously as everyone else does. I'm sure all this business with Trevor has got to her...she's not been at all well in recent weeks."

"She seems a sane woman, your wife. Far too good for you." Jetta remarked. Mason nodded.

"Perhaps she is." He agreed. "But...Good Lord, that sounded like a gun shot!"

"Car backfirin'?" Jetta got to her feet, moving to the window.

"Not quite." The door of the parlour swung open and both Jetta and Mason turned, horror spreading across both their faces as they recognised the intruder. Trevor stood before them, a gun casually tucked into his belt and amusement touched his lips as he took in their reaction. One side of his brow was bruised and, as Jetta looked at him, he nodded.

"Yes. Bruised but not beaten." He said frankly. "You should have seen me off when you had the chance to, Sheila Rose. You caught me off guard. I expected you to be a weak, silly idiot like your stupid mother...but this time I'm prepared."

"Don't call me that." Jetta bristled. "I thought I made it clear to you once that, no matter how many people you killed, this title will never belong to you. Mason 'as a son. I 'ave kids. Jeremy 'ad kids. There are many, many people between you an' Wissex. People you will never find...people who you will never eradicate. It's a lost cause. You might as well give it up."

"You have no idea what it's like to be the youngest son." Trevor told her bitterly, banging the door shut and pulling the gun from his belt, idly running his finger over the barrel. "The eldest inherits the an accident of birth, he gets everything, and I get nothing. Jeremy had the house at Mayfair. That was my father's...but he gave it to Jeremy. Never to me. Noone ever gave anything to me. So I decided...take it. That was the only way. I would take it...and then I'd be the Earl, and everyone would have to grin and bear it."

"You're as crazy now as you were thirty years ago, when they locked you up." Mason said in disgust. "Did you not hear what Sheila said? It's not about you and me any more. Not even about her. There are others, Trevor. Others who can claim this estate before you ever can. Father made sure of that. His will still stands. You cannot inherit before my children, or Jeremy's, or Sheila's. And you can't eliminate them all."

"Can't I?" Trevor's eyes glinted. "I wonder at your certainty, Mason, when I took care of both of my brothers with such ease. Noone has ever called me to account for those deaths...why do you think this would be any different?"

He curled his lip.

"I never believed you superceded me, anyway." He said flatly. "You're Regina's bastard. You're not my nephew."

"How dare you!" Mason was incensed. "I am my father's son! The Earl of Wissex! And you won't speak to me like that in my own house!"

"Regina's little bastard." Trevor nodded his head. "Conveniently dreamt up out of nowhere! Regina wasn't pregnant when she left Wissex! We'd have known...I'd have known. Lord knows I stalked your family long enough. Patricia, now she puked her guts out for months before that was born..." He waved his gun at Jetta. "But Regina never changed at all. You're not my nephew, and this isn't your estate."

"Even if you were right, Trevor, you're still missin' a few apples from your basket." Jetta said acerbically. "Or are you forgettin' that, whatever you think about Mason's birth...there ain't any doubt about my father. Or my brother's. An' that bein' the case, my claim is greater than yours. As it that of Jeremy's son an' my own children. What are you goin' to do about that, huh? Kill me? Then my nephew or my son can inherit. You left loose ends too long ago to tie them up together now. All you do now is make a bigger fool of yourself...if that's even possible."

Mason shot Jetta a stunned look, but Trevor's expression had changed.

"This estate is mine." He said flatly. "I will take it, and if I have to kill the whole damn family to do it, so be it. It should always have been mine...but my father never liked me. He never wanted me to have anything, and my brothers were just like him. Always greedy, always grasping. Never anything for Trevor. Even when Jeremy took a common working class bitch as his wife, nobody even breathed the word 'disinherit'. My older brother even encouraged it, would you believe it? Supported it!"

He glared at Jetta.

"Do you really think, with that baseborn witch as your mother, I take your claim any more seriously than I do his?" He demanded. "Your father married beneath him. You're not really a Hawthorne. You're the daughter of a money-grubbing whore and a stupid fool who fell for it."

Jetta's eyes flashed fire.

"I don't think you'd find a claims court would be so understandin' to your case." She said, her voice dripping with scorn. "I am Sheila Rose Hawthorne, Trevor. The legitimate daughter of your older brother an' his legal wife, Patricia. Whatever you think of the match, it was bindin' in the eyes of the law. And that makes me and mine superior to you."

She eyed him up and down.

"If that was ever in any doubt."

"Why you..."

Trevor raised his gun, but Mason was quicker and, with a yell he pushed Jetta to one side as a single shot rang out. He let out a cry of pain, and fell with a thud to the floor, knocking the naval medals flying with a clatter as he did so. As Jetta stared at him in horror, she realised blood was beginning to seep from the wound in his shoulder onto his white shirt. Crouching down at his side, she struggled to pull him more upright, glaring up at Trevor as he did so.

"You really think this is goin' to solve anything, you moron?" She demanded.

"It's going to settle things which should have been settled years ago." Trevor nodded his head. "You should have kept your head down, Sheila Rose. You shouldn't have got involved...because now you're going to die."

Prologue: London, England
Chapter One: England's Rose
Chapter Two: Delving
Chapter Three: Wissex
Chapter Four: Grace
Chapter Five: Revelations
Chapter Six: Facing Shadows
Chapter Seven: A Change In Plans
Chapter Eight: County Show
Chapter Nine: Trevor Hawthorne
Chapter Ten: A Sea Chest
Chapter Eleven: Binding
Chapter Twelve: Homecoming
Chapter Thirteen: Hawthorne Blood
Chapter Fourteen: Mayfair

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