Chapter Three: Wissex

"You're tense today."

The man at the window turned, his trouble features softening as he took in his companion's concerned expression. "Mason, come talk to me. What is it? You've been on edge ever since yesterday and I don't understand. What's the matter?"

"Nothing, as ever." Mason Hawthorne chewed thoughtfully on his lip, hesitating and then coming to sit down on the end of the bed. "Grace, it's all just press nonsense, that's all. But I seem ever more susceptible to press interference of late. I don't know why, but it puts me on my mettle. I don't like it. It's all too convenient."

"Now you're talking in riddles." Grace raised a delicate white hand, resting it gently on his arm. "And that's not helping me understand any, so you may as well stop it now. What's in the press? Let me get up and then whatever it is, we'll sort it out. All right?"

"No, you're staying right here, and I'm not bothering you with any of it." Mason leant across to kiss his companion. "You weren't well all day yesterday and you know that you're far too prone to these attacks when you're under stress. Forget it, all right? You need a day in bed - Dr Allison was very firm on that point. He says you try to do far too much, considering."

"Considering what?" Grace's voice filled with impatience and she pushed back the bedcovers, clambering out and reaching for her dressing gown. "Mason, I'm not an invalid, and you know that I resent being treated like one. Anyone would think I'm at death's door, the way you and Dr Allison fuss me sometimes. I assure you that I'm a long way off that yet. In case you'd forgotten, you're the one with high blood pressure, and I'm fifteen years younger than you are! Yesterday was nothing more than a touch of a stomach bug, that's all. Martha's three sons have all had it and now I've had it too. I'm over it now."

"We've had this conversation before." Mason reached out a hand, pulling her down beside him once more. "Listen, Grace. I won't lose you. I don't have anyone else and I can't manage this whole crazy business without you giving me advice and supporting me along the way. We both know it. So if you'd humour me occasionally, it'd be appreciated. Dr Allison said a day in bed. So...a day in bed it is."

"Fine." Grace sank back against the pillows, but her discontent was clear on her face. "On one condition. You tell me whatever it is that's bugging you. If you care about my advice and my support, Mason, you won't keep things from me. I'm not going to faint or swoon with shock, no matter what you tell me. I'm Hawthorne as much as you are, and you know we're stronger than that. So tell me. What's got you looking ten years older than you are this morning?"

"You have such a way of phrasing it." Mason's tender tone belied the sharpness of his words, and Grace smiled.

"And that's why you love me." She said matter-of-factly. "So? What is it this time? Another committee impasse? Vandals on the estate? Someone asking for donations?"

"None of the above." Mason shook his head. "Though right now I'd take all of them over this."

"Sounds serious." Grace dropped the teasing tone in her voice, reaching over to squeeze his hands. "What, then?"

"My bastard son is in England." Mason's lip curled as he spoke the words. "It's been all over the American press and now it's all over our press too. His ties with Mason Hawthorne, exposed for the world to see. I bet his whore of a mother had something to do with all of this. I never trusted her motives in the first place. And it's too much of a coincidence that Clayton turns up in this country in the same week they release my uncle from prison. If that's not cause for concern, tell me something that is, huh? The last thing we need is them plotting insurrection together - the homicidal maniac and the illegitimate mistake."

Grace's pretty face took on a troubled look.

"I wish you wouldn't speak about him that way." She observed mildly.

"Who?" Mason looked startled. "Trevor? Just because he's a damn Hawthorne, do you think I'm about to..?"

"No." Grace interrupted him, reaching out to put a finger on his lips. "I mean Clayton. Your son, Mason."

"He's not my son." Mason said obstinately. "Not in the paternal sense. His mother tricked me and got herself pregnant in order to spite me, that's all. I never asked for it and I damn well never wanted it."

"Shona has never asked you for anything." Grace told him sensibly. "Whatever the past between you, Mason, you have a son. Trevor is an old man now, and maybe he'll just disappear to live out his time in peace and quiet. But in case you hadn't realised it, there is no heir to the Wissex estate. If anything should happen to you, all of this would still revert to Trevor as the last surviving brother of your father. You know it and I know it."

"Trevor isn't the type to sit back and let sleeping dogs lie." Mason said bitterly. "Aside from trying to blow me up thirty odd years ago, he's almost certainly the one who murdered my father and my uncle, and sent my aunt to an early grave with grief. God only knows what he did with the children. Just because they couldn't nail him for those deaths, Grace, it doesn't mean he wasn't the one behind them. And you don't kill your way through that many people to get an estate just to give up at the final hurdle. He should never have been released from prison and that's that."

"Then you see my reasoning." Grace squeezed his hand tightly. "I don't want anything to happen to you, either. If you only had an heir...but I can't have children. Dr Allison thinks I'm 'too physiologically unstable'." She said the words with bitterness in her tones and Mason pursed his lips.

"That doesn't make me love you any the less, Gracie." He said quietly. "You know that."

"Yes, I know." Grace agreed. "And I've never doubted it, Mason. But the fact of the matter is, you need an heir. Someone to stand between you and Trevor's inheritance. If he thinks there's others in his way...well, he's too old now to worry about starting his campaigns anew. Bumping you off would be one thing. But..."

"Clayton is no son of mine." Mason repeated firmly. "To acknowledge him would be to acknowledge that slut Shona's trick and I will never do that!"

"Sometimes you drive me crazy, with your obstinacy and your pride." Grace said with a sigh. "The boy is your son, by blood - whether you want to recognise him or not. Just think it over. All right? If just to please me. Otherwise I'll worry about you every minute of the day."

"Emotional blackmail is not fair." Mason protested. Grace shrugged.

"Sometimes it's the only way." She said simply. "And now, you said I had to spend the day here, and a deal is a deal. So I'm going to take a nap."

She settled herself, pulling her husband to her and kissing him gently on the lips.

"I'm asking you to do nothing." She murmured. "I know from long experience that you'll do what you want to do in the end, anyhow. But just humour me for once and think it over. It might not be as bad an idea as you think it is now...all right? Just consider speaking to him. That's all I ask. Maybe you'll find something that both of you can use."

"I doubt it, but I'll think it over. Just to please you." Mason rolled his eyes. "But I don't think there's much point. Clayton Blake will never be a matter how hard you try to convince me otherwise!"

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
It was raining as they gathered at the cemetary that morning.

As the minister finished his solemn address, and the men moved in to properly bury the oaken casket beneath the soil, the mourners slowly began to move from the graveside, each one silent with their own thoughts as to the day's event. Water pooled on the ground in the impressions left by shoes and boots as people made haste to get under the shelter of the seated area, where on better days mourners would gather to think and remember their loved ones.

Many long lost souls had memorial markers and engravings here and, as she stepped inside the greyish white construction, Jetta ran a finger along one of the walls, pausing as she came to one particular name.

"Charles Edward Burns." She murmured. "Well. It's still 'ere - noone's carved over 'im in all these years."

"That a relative of yours, huh?" Justin slipped an arm around his wife's shoulders. Jetta nodded.

"Grandpa." She agreed. "He didn't want no buryin' - told my Ma an' Pa he wanted to be cremated. 'Ave 'is ashes spread where Grandma's were, down in Essex where they first met. So this is all that's left of 'im really. This an' a plot of earth with a little slab where they buried 'is ashes. I thought that was a cheat - 'e wanted to be spread around, not buried in all that crap. But Ma said it was too expensive to arrange, so in the end that's what they did."

A humourless smile touched her features.

"An' now they're all 'ere together." She added. "Mum, Dad. Jeremy too. Just me left. Funny, ain't it?"

"You still call them Mum and Dad." Laura remarked, putting down her umbrella and shaking it to get the worst of the rainwater off.

"Don't really know what else to call them." Jetta shrugged her shoulders. She looked rueful. "Force of 'abit I suppose. I know they ain't...I mean weren't. But it don't seem to matter much. They raised me - if that's what they called it. And they're dead now. So it's not important what I call them."

She cast a glance back at where Bertie's grave was already being filled. A woman was talking to the minister a short way from the plot, and a few people Jetta remembered from her childhood were lingering at the site. As he caught her glance, one of them raised a smile and winked in her direction. Jetta returned it with a dark look, turning very pointedly so she had her back to him.

"I didn't realise Dad still kept 'is old company." She muttered. "Some people never change."

"They probably saw the note in the paper about his death and tagged along in the hope of free food." Laura said sensibly. "Just ignore them."

"People I should know about?" Justin looked curious. Jetta shook her head.

"Old friends of my Dad's, that's all." She said simply. "Not my favourite type of guy, if you catch my drift."

Justin's eyebrows shot up at this.

"You mean they...?"

"Oh, they wish." Despite herself, Jetta smiled at this. "No. They just 'ave a weakness for a young girl an' they'd always make comments when they were round ours, back when I were eighteen or nineteen. I could deal with them but I never liked them. Dirty old men, the lot of them. They were then an' they are now. An' just like then, they ain't got a cat in 'ell's chance."

Justin pursed his lips.

"Charming. In retrospect, maybe leaving Nancy in America was a good idea."

"Yeah. Well." Jetta looked sheepish. "Welcome to my part of London. Now you know why we don't come 'ere very often. Laura's lucky - where she is out at Ruislip ain't so bad. But you see why I want to make it a flyin' visit."

"Mrs Milligan!"

Before Justin could respond, the trio were accosted by a young woman, whom Jetta recognised as the lady who moments earlier had been talking to the minister. She cast Laura a startled look, but the redhead was smiling, holding out a hand to greet the newcomer.

"Miss Sutcliffe." She said warmly. "I'm glad you're here. There's someone I ought to introduce you to - since you've been asking so much about 'er."

She indicated Jetta.

"This is my good friend, Sheila Pelligrini, and her husband, Justin. Sheila - this is Hannah Sutcliffe. She's been lookin' after Bertie for the last few years - 'is social worker an' all that jazz."

"Oh, I see." Jetta's face cleared and she offered the woman a smile, holding out her own hand. "I should thank you. Laura says you've been very diligent in 'elpin' tie up 'is affairs."

"I'm glad to meet you at last." Hannah shook the proffered hand, returning the grin with a relieved one of her own. "I tried so very hard to track you down before..."

She faltered, then, "I'm very sorry for your loss. He was an interesting man, old Albert. I'm going to miss him."

Jetta pursed her lips, glancing out towards the half-filled grave.

"I haven't worked out yet if I will." She admitted honestly. "But I'm grateful for all you've done to support 'im. I didn't realise 'is heart was failin' as badly as it obviously was...but he knew where I was if he needed to get in touch with me. I guess 'e didn't think it that important."

"His mind wandered some." Hannah admitted. "He'd call me Flo or act like he was still looking after you in some you were still a child. He was old and confused, poor dear. But he seemed fond of his family. I couldn't understand why he wouldn't just tell me your address or your number - but he never seemed to remember the details. That or he'd say it didn't matter and change the subject. By the time I found Mrs Milligan here, well, I'm afraid it was rather too late."

"Laura told me you'd settled a lot of business regardin' 'is house an' stuff with the council." Jetta responded. Hannah nodded.

"He did tell me once that his will was in your name." She agreed. "But the house was council owned and I think they'd like you to visit the property and sort his stuff out as soon as you're able. I know it's insensitive, especially at a time like this - but there's such a waiting list for houses and so much to be done."

She looked apologetic. "I hope that's not going to be a problem."

"No. We planned as much ourselves." Jetta shook her head. "I wondered if 'is will would need me around - looks like it does an' looks like I'll be speakin' to the old geezer who did me Mum's will before the day is out."

She sighed, then shook her head as if to clear it.

"It's cold an' wet out here." She added. "And I've 'ad enough of death for one day. It was good to meet you, Miss Sutcliffe...I know Laura 'as your number and I'm sure we'll speak again before Justin an' I go back to the States."

"Absolutely." Hannah nodded. "And thank you for coming. I know he would have appreciated it. He seemed fond of you."

"Fond of me?" Jetta looked startled. Then she shrugged.

"Old age an' confusion will do many things to a man's brain." She said simply. "Thank you again for everything you've done."

She offered a slight smile, then she turned, heading back out into the rain and across the sodden grass towards the gravel area where Laura had parked her car. Laura and Justin exchanged looks, then as one they followed her, Laura struggling to put up her umbrella as she did so.

"Are we leaving?" Justin asked quietly, as he reached his wife's side. Jetta started, then nodded.

"I think so." She agreed. "I need to look up the number of the lawyer anyhow, and there's not much for us here. It's not like we've set on a party for him or anything. No. I think our business here is done. We should make our escape while we can and look at startin' settling everything up. After all, if the council is on our 'eels..."

She shrugged.

"I don't know if I give two craps about most of his stuff, but there might be some of Grandpa's things among the clutter...and some old photographs an' whatever. Those things I'd like, if they're there. The rest we can sort for auction or charity shops, probably. As soon as we 'ave clearance to do it, I want to get everythin' moving. But it depends on the old git lawyer an' how well Dad's affairs were organised."

She jerked a head in the direction of Hannah Sutcliffe.

"If that girl's been 'elpin, they might already be in good order. She seems fairly on the ball."

"Yes, she does." Laura agreed. "And genuinely fond of ol' Bertie, too."

"Well, social workers are funny people." Jetta looked rueful. "Laura, are we gonna stand out 'ere gettin' wet or do you 'ave your car keys?"

"Oh!" Laura blushed, fumbling in her purse and unlocking the vehicle. They climbed inside, and, once everyone was strapped, Laura put the car in gear, pulling out of the makeshift carpark and back onto the road out to Ruislip.

"I'm heading home." She said unecessarily. "Whatever we're doin' this afternoon, I want a cup of tea an' I'm sure you guys could do with one too."

"Does everything stop for tea in this country?" Justin looked amused. Jetta laughed.

"That depends 'ow well bred you are." She teased.

"Well, forgive me for likin' company." Laura added, a grin belying the tartness of her words. "I'm a bit lost these days, to tell you the truth. Cameron's settled in the States. Stephanie's at music college an' Kyle's off in the military now...I'm lucky if I get more than an email a week from the three of them put together. Avril's the only one I see anything of, but she's got a new bloke and they're off to Paris this week. With Keith at work, I'm all abandoned!"

"You don't have friends in Ruislip?" Justin looked surprised. Laura nodded.

"Plenty, an' old friends from the neighbourhood Sheila an' I grew up in, too." She agreed. "But they all work day jobs an' I ain't got used to the idea that I can go out in the evenin' without gettin' a sitter yet."

She laughed.

"I'll get my 'ead round it - God knows it's been comin' for years. But I've been a stay at home Mum for so long, I've forgotten what else I used to do before we 'ad Cameron."

"You used to manage a shop." Jetta remembered. "Don't you ever think about goin' back to work?"

"Sometimes, part time." Laura nodded, flicking on the indicator and pulling over to the right as the road forked ahead. "Though with the kids grown an' Keith's job, we don't really need me to. And I don't know who'd employ me now, at my age. They always want the young and sparky ones...preferably ones who can properly run a computer system. I 'ave enough trouble checkin' my wretched email. Kyle tried to give me a masterclass before 'e left, but God knows I only just remember the basics."

"You should make use of all your free time. Find a new hobby." Justin suggested. He glanced at his wife, then, "I know that there are a thousand things Jetta and I would do if we weren't always so busy."

"I can think of one." Jetta's grey eyes glinted with mischief. "Though whether you were gettin' paid for it or not, you'd still trot that bleedin' camera around all over with you."

She grinned at Laura.

"He brought it with 'im to England, too. I swear, sometimes I live in a photography workshop."

"You're always welcome to come and visit us in Cali, you know." Justin ignored his wife's remarks, settling himself more comfortably in his seat. "We'd happily put you up - you're as good as family to Jetta and you're more than welcome to consider our home your own. I'm sure Cameron would love to see more of you, and so would little Hollie."

"I know, and I'm grateful for that." Laura acknowledged. "Flights an' hotels are expensive when totalled together, an' I'd like to see my granddaughter a lot more than I already do. But the next trip I'm taking out to the States, Keith is comin' too. We're tryin' to work out some dates that are good for 'im and good for Cameron...but so far, no dice."

She sighed.

"It might 'ave to wait."

She pulled the car onto the front of the house at that moment, applying the handbrake and pushing open the driver's door.

"Well, here we are. No rain in Ruislip, thank God. I'll get the kettle on - you guys go in an' change. Then we'll look at the plan of action for this afternoon, an' see what can be done about ol' Bertie's affairs!"

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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