Chapter Eight: County Show

"I'm still not sure that this was the best idea I ever had." Mason surveyed the busy, bustling estate grounds, his expression one of consternation. "Even till last night, Grace, I debated calling the whole show off. I know it's a tradition, but with Trevor out there somewhere..."

"There has been a county fair in Wissex since the Hawthornes were granted land and title by Henry V in return for services at Agincourt." Grace interrupted him gently, slipping an arm through her husband's. "You and I both know it's a long standing county tradition and one which your forefathers would want to see continued. People come from all over Wissex to take part in the festivities, to meet and greet and visit the house and just have a good time. We've had an overwhelming number of traders interested in bringing their wares to trade here today, and your son's band is a big draw too. You've no idea how much excitement it's caused, having Diablo playing here live."

"And that's another thing." Mason acknowledged. "I didn't think that they'd accept...from what you said about Clayton, I didn't think he'd even set foot near my estate."

"I don't think he had a choice in the matter." Grace looked thoughtful. "You did the right thing, Mason, issuing a personal invitation. Whoever's running his musical interests would be easily flattered by such a personal singling out, and with all the press speculation lately, I'm sure they saw it as a prime PR move. There are a lot of local and national press here doubt wanting to get a comment from you or from Clayton on the whole business."

"Well, the press have never had a quote from me yet about my son and they never will." Mason said firmly. "Grace, I know you always enjoy the show, but do you think that Trevor will show up? Are we at risk even being here in the open today?"

"There's as much security here as there can be, considering." Grace reassured him. "Don't worry, Mason. There are too many people here for Trevor to be able to make a shot at you."

"I'm not so afraid of him taking a hit at me." Mason admitted grimly. "But if he hurt you, Grace..."

"Yes, I know, the macho Hawthorne gene rears it's head." Grace laughed. "I'm not afraid, so why should you be? It's a bright, sunny day and we're about to open the biggest event of the year. Let's not worry about long lost uncles today, huh? Focus instead on long lost sons and their performances!"

On the opposite side of the grounds, Diablo were in equally hesitant mood. Clayton stood at the edge of the makeshift dais, staring out towards the house with a strange expression on his face.

"Do you think he is here?" He asked at length.

"Well, he lives here." Luca paused in his tuning, casting his friend a grin. "But if you're on stage playing, Clay, he can hardly get near you. Think of it is another tour date, and nothing else."

"Wish I could." Clay sighed, turning his back on the big house and heading back towards his drum kit. "It's frustrating me that I can't, to be honest. I don't want to mess up today and let you guys down again. Madame is already being the super bitch about our playing on this tour and we don't need any more of her nagging."

"Too true." Stefana said decidedly, slipping her guitar strap over her shoulder. "Which is why your Dad can go to hell, Clay, and let us damn well play our music. Mari, gimme a G, will you?"

"Sure." Marissa obediently fingered the chord. "Luca and Stef are right, Clay. It's just another show. Let's treat it as one, blow them away and then get out of here. Okay?"

"Okay." Clay sighed. "I guess so."

"Have they opened yet?" Madeleine clambered up onto the dais at that moment, her deft fingers occupied in tying a blue scarf into her thick curly hair. "The wind is driving my hair wild - I knew I should have braided it up last night but it was too much effort after our show. I'm not late up, am I?"

"No, they haven't opened yet." Marissa shook her head. "I like that scarf, Maddy. It suits you."

"Well, right now it's just preventing me from going blind." Madeleine said ruefully. "I'd like to be able to see the microphone."

"Are we all certain on the songs we're playing, by the way?" Luca asked. "I know we bounced it around, but I just want to be sure."

"I thought we were playing Heartbreaker first." Marissa glanced at him in surprise. "Because the crowd always likes that one. Then the new single...and the three first tracks from the Ressurect album, since that's about to come out over here. Sophie said to make sure it was something that people could relate I thought that's what we decided."

"Heartbreaker, Wish, Secret Soul, Rebel and On Angel's Wings." Madeleine pursed her lips. "And if we're called to encore?"

"There won't be any encores if I have anything to do with it." Clay muttered.

"Guess we'll just play the last two songs we released here." Marissa suggested. "The crowd will know them, and they can sing along."

"Suits me." Madeleine stretched, stifling a yawn. "Will we see Sophie again before we play, do you think, or is she going to be tied up with the press all afternoon?"

"The longer she's tied up the better." Clay remarked. "If she's dealing with them, I don't have to. And it's not like we need her to tell us how to play."

"Diablo?" At that moment, a man came to the edge of the dais through the crowd that was beginning to gather, slipping around the security lines and casting the group a smile. He wore an official badge on the front of his shirt, and Luca returned his grin.

"Hi...are you our cue card?" He asked genially.

"Something like." The man agreed, his voice tinged with the local accent. "They're just getting ready to open the show across the other side of the estate. You won't be able to hear them from here, but we want your set to begin sometime shortly. I will announce you, and then you just play your set through - I assume all the lighting and everything is fine?"

"Everything is great, and if it rains we won't get soaked." Luca laughed. "That's always a plus."

"Well, it never rains for the Wissex show." The man spread his hands. "I don't suppose it ever did, even back in the Middle Ages when it first began. It's charmed...the only guaranteed sunny day of the whole year."

"Well, there can always be a first." Clay murmured. He settled himself behind his drumkit, pulling a blue band into his thick dark hair and scooping up his drumsticks, twirling one idly. "We'll be ready when you are."

"Is Ms Devereux likely to return before we play, do you know?" Madeleine asked. The man looked blank.

"Excuse me?"

"Sophie Devereux - our agent."

"Couldn't tell you, I'm afraid." The man shook his head. "I haven't had the fortune to speak to her...I just wave my hands around and give people signals. Did you need her? I'm sure I could send a runner..."

"That's fine. I just wondered." Madeleine dismissed it with a wave, offering a smile. "We'll just wait to be announced, like you said."

From across the grounds there was the sound of cheering and applause, and the man winked.

"That'll be the Lady's address." He told them. "The show'll be open now..just waiting for the signal. I swear some people come here only to see Lady Grace speak - she's such a local mystery and it's about the only time anyone ever gets to see her."

"What about the Earl?" Marissa cast Clay a sidelong glance, then, "Will he be here today?"

"Funny you should mention it, but I think he is." The man rubbed his chin, nodding. "He hasn't been the last few times, but I seem to remember something in the Wissex Echo about his attendance today. I don't pay a lot of attention to the bigger press, but I think he's expecting to meet a long lost relative...though how he'll find anyone in this crowd is beyond me! I don't think it's ever been so busy!"

There was a clatter as Clay dropped the stick he had been twirling. Marissa turned to stare at him as he bent to retrieve it, a grim expression in his eyes as he did so. As their gazes met, he shook his head slightly, and Marissa sent him a sympathetic smile. There was no time for anything else, however, for in response to a signal from across the field, the official raised his hand in a wave, and then pulled himself up on the dais, taking the microphone from Madeleine's stand with a rueful grin and shouting for attention. As the crowd began to swell around the wooden stage, he announced the band in a booming voice, eliciting cheers and catcalls from the massing people. Then he handed the microphone back to Madeleine, jumping off the dais and into the melee.

"Professionally done." Clay muttered under his breath. Madeleine sent him a pointed glare, then turned her attention to the crowd.

"Good afternoon, Wissex!" She exclaimed. "It's such a thrill to be here! We're going to play a bunch of songs for you...starting with an old favourite of ours and I hope, of yours as well! This is Heartbreaker!"

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

"You weren't kidding when you said this place were busy." Jetta paused to stare across the milling fields, absently accepting a flyer that was pressed into her hand by an over-eager teenage boy acting as steward for the day. "Is the entire population of Wissex here, do you think?"

"Wouldn't surprise me." Laura shrugged her shoulders, linking her arm in her friend's. "Wissex might only be an hour or two from London, but it's a rural county, and closeknit because of it. I did a bit of readin' about this thing, and apparently it's been goin' for centuries. They like their traditions, the country folk."

"Well, I think it's got a nice atmosphere." Justin observed. "I've never been to a British county fair before. What do we do, exactly? Just wander around the place and take in the sights?"

"There's usually some fairground rides an' music and local radio stations will be 'ere no doubt." Laura responded. "There's a trader's market and games and stuff...but we're not 'ere for any of those things."

She raised a hand, gesturing towards the big house. "That's why we're 'ere. To get in through those doors on the one day when noone will ask us questions why."

"It does look like the photograph." Justin admitted. "Though they've made a few changes. Well, I guess you're right...though I hope there'll be time to explore the other things later. It looks like a lot of fun and I haven't sampled a whole lot of British traditions over the twenty five or so years I've been married to an English woman. I'd like to rectify that...I just wish I'd brought a better camera."

"You're not here to take snaps." Jetta scolded. "You're on 'oliday, not assignment. And Laura's right. We're goin' in that bloody ugly place an' pokin' around. Then we're goin' home. If you want to play at a county fair, Justin, that's fine...just find one what isn't in this particular county an' I'll be all for it."

Justin rolled his eyes.

"Fine." He said, resigned. "Let's do it, then. It's a shame, though. Laura said something in the car about pomp and pageantry and I was hoping to see the mock-mediaeval jousting."

"Well, when we get home I'll buy you a history book." Jetta muttered. "Come on, will you? It's bad enough being here without you loitering."

"All right, I'm coming." Justin held up his hands. "Lead the way."

"Do you suppose they're charging entrance?" Jetta cast Laura a questioning glance as they made their way towards the steady stream of people pouring into the big estate. Laura nodded.

"The proceeds go to a local charity...I forget what it is this year." She replied. "Some hospital fund I think...a paedriatric cancer ward? It's well known that they raise a fair amount from openin' their 'ome to the mob like this. I couldn't do it myself - but I dare say the most sacred stuff gets bolted away before they open the doors."

"Probably." Jetta smirked. "They probably live in three little rooms at the back an' sleep in the attic...jus' primp up the rest to show off to the common folk on fair day."

She headed up the flat pale steps as they approached the steward on duty.

"How much for three adults?" She asked.

"Two sixty each, Madam." The lady offered her a smile, and Justin produced a ten pound note from his back pocket.

"Here. And keep the change - it's for a good cause." He said, casting his wife a wink. Jetta rolled her eyes skywards, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him into the front hall of the house.

"You only did that because when they give you change, you lose it." She told him frankly.

"Well, it is for a good cause." Justin shrugged. "And not just the hospital, either. Your peace of mind is a worthwhile cause to me, Jetta...I have to share a room with you."

"Git." Jetta gave him a playful shove. "Well, 'ere we are. Inside the belly of the beast, as it were."

"It's bloody fine in 'ere." Laura glanced around her, awed. "I can't believe you stopped 'ere once, Sheila."

"I think the less we mention that whilst we're 'ere, the better." Jetta frowned. "I don't really want them makin' any connection between me an' the girl who was 'ere thirty odd years ago. All right? We're just tourists, like you said the other day."

"Welcome to Wissex Hall." A fresh voice interrupted their conversation, and as one person they turned to greet the speaker, who eyed them all curiously. " You look a little lost - can I help at all?"

"Well, maybe you can." Laura smiled. "My friend and I are local 'istory buffs, and we've been doin' a lot of research into the 'istory of the Hawthorne family for a...a local history society we belong to. My friend 'as spent a lot of time in the States, so it's been a while since she's been able to see the estate for 'erself. We, er, 'ad a point or two of disagreement, and we thought that it would be better to come 'ere and straighten it out for ourselves."

"Ah, I see." The woman's features broke into a warm smile. "Well, I'll do my best to help. I think I know as much about the history of this family as anyone." She held out a hand. "My name is Grace Hawthorne, by the way, Countess of Wissex - though tradition has me as Lady Wissex. I'm pleased to meet anyone with an interest in my family."

Laura's eyes widened, struck speechless and despite herself, Jetta stifled a smile. Justin cast his companions a glance, then took Grace's hand, shaking it firmly.

"It's good to meet you too, Lady Wissex." He said amiably. "My wife's told me a lot about this place, and about the Hawthornes but I'm afraid this is the first time I've been able to see it for myself. I'll tell you it's been worth it so far - you have a beautiful home."

"Thank you." Grace's eyes sparkled. "I think so too...but then I'm probably biased. My family are as much Hawthorne historically as my husband's - we're distant cousins - so it means as much to me as it does to him to be here."

She traced the pattern of the wallpaper idly, then, "What can I help you with? I have to admit that the recent history of the Hawthorne family is possibly not as glamorous or as chivalric as some of the older fact, I only hope it won't prove a disappointment."

She gestured to the winding staircase, up which many of the visitors had already gone. "See there? Portraits of family members long since gone. My husband's grandfather hangs at the top of the stairs, and his wife beside him. Along the gallery landing you can see his father and brother, and his mother Lady Evelyn. And further along is his father, who fought by Wellington's side at Waterloo."

"We're especially interested in the late Earl and his family." Jetta spoke quietly, meeting Grace's gaze with a sombre one of her own. "There's confusion as to the names of some of the family members. We 'oped comin' 'ere would set us straight."

"Oh, I see." Grace's face became shadowed. "Yes, I can imagine digging through recent history would prove confusing. I admit, there are a lot of things even we don't completely know. Mason - my husband, you know - his father died in suspicious circumstances and his mother was forced to flee Wissex entirely. Mason didn't return here until he was approaching twenty-one...and even when he did, well, he was fortunate to claim his title and lands unscathed. They were dark times for the Hawthorne family...dark times indeed. I'm not surprised that few local history books want to dwell on it."

"Meaning it's a cover up?" Jetta demanded.

"Jetta." Justin sent her a warning look, but Grace shook her head.

"Not on our part, I assure you." She said quietly. "You have to realise that there was never any conclusive evidence that the late Earl was murdered at all. There was only the testimony of his widow, Lady Regina...who was traumatised by the experience and whose account was dismissed largely as hysteria and grief at the time. For legal reasons, it's impossible to write what actually happened to my father in law...although as Hawthornes, we all know what did."

"It sounds like there's quite a story at work there." Laura regained her composure, offering Grace as polite a smile as she could muster. "It must've been very hard for your husband, to come here and inherit in those circumstances."

"It was, but Mason is a strong man and he knew his duty to his family." Grace shrugged her shoulders. "Thankfully for everyone, because he's a fine Earl and one of the best, so some have said, to ever run the estate here." She sighed. "But I'm not answering your questions, am I? You said something about names...that I'm sure I can clarify for you."

"Yes." Jetta bit her lip, then, "Was there ever a Jeremy Wilson Hawthorne in your 'usband's family?"

Grace looked surprised.

"Of course." She agreed. "Mason's uncle...the late Earl's younger brother. He was a naval man...very brave and dashing from all the accounts I've heard, though I never met him myself. He's also deceased, you see...well, it's not a very lucky family to belong to, all told." She laughed, though there was a slightly forced note in it. "If you follow me, there's a portrait of him in the front room."

She frowned, taking in Jetta's sudden pallor.

"Are you all right? You look pale."

"I'm fine." Jetta said quietly. "The picture?"

"Of course." Grace nodded. "It's just through here."

"You know, you can't be rude to Lady Wissex like that, Sheila." Laura hissed as they trailed after their guide into the big front parlour. "She's still the Countess of this place, whatever your personal feelings about the family."

"If I'm a bloody Hawthorne, and if what she's saying is true, she's no better than my bleedin' cousin in law and I'll speak to 'er 'ow I bloody well choose!" Jetta snapped back, only just remembering to keep her voice down. "And anyone who can marry that jerk Mason 'Awthorne deserves no respect from me, so shut your face."

"Both of you, quit." Justin said firmly. "She'll hear you, and then she'll know this is more than just local history interest, won't she?"

Jetta glared at her husband, but obediently subsided, and Laura led the way into the spacious parlour, where Grace was already waiting for them. She cast them a smile, gesturing up at the wall over the mantle.

"There." She said. "That's him...Jeremy Wilson Hawthorne. Sadly there aren't many pictures surviving of him - or anything else, for that matter. We found this one pushed away in the attic of his home in Mayfair after his wife passed away...It's generally thought she couldn't bear to look at it, after she lost him."

Jetta gazed up at the picture, trepidation in her heart. A tall man with a shock of near black hair stood before her, dressed in the smart blue uniform of a naval officer, medals adorning his breast. His expression belied the military solemnity of the image, however, for there was light and amusement in his eyes and a hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth. Not without misgivings, Jetta forced herself to meet the picture's gaze, knowing with a cold certainty that her real father stared back down at her. She gulped, swallowing hard.

"What happened to him?" She murmured. "You said he was"

Grace was silent for a long time. Then she sighed.

"Common history says he died in a boating accident." She said shortly. "A man who spent his life at sea was apparently stupid enough to go out on an unsafe, unchecked vessel and paid the price for it, along with two trusted and experienced members of crew. It's nonsense, of course, but again, circumstantial."

She glanced at her hands.

"If I was to name the person responsible for all of this, I'd probably find myself in court being sued." She said at length. "But when Mason's father died, there was a vicious struggle for the Earldom. Many people died and the one left standing tried to grasp control of the estate. He failed, thanks to Mason's own tenacity and the help of some friends. He went to prison for his plots against Mason, but nothing else against him was ever proved. We know it, but we can't prove it. That's why no pictures hang in the main hall of the last generation of Hawthornes. The circumstances are too tragic - Mason doesn't like to live in the shadow of the father he was never allowed to know."

Jetta bit her lip, her gaze not leaving the painting.

"That's somethin' I'm beginnin' to understand." She whispered.

"So Jeremy was murdered?" Justin asked, slipping a supportive arm around his wife's shoulders. Grace shrugged.

"Circumstantial evidence." She said simply. "But he was a smart man. I don't think he'd have thrown his life away so cheaply. Especially leaving his poor wife and children so alone in the world. He adored them, so it's been said. Loved his time at sea, but counted the days till he'd be home with Lady Patricia and spend time with the little ones. She'd travel with him a lot before his son was born...but obviously, when they became a family, that was less and less possible. From all accounts she missed it almost as much as he missed having her - her brother was also naval man and if you ask me, she felt almost more at home in that world than she did the society into which she married. It was a match based on love, not on titles, family or inheritance...a rare enough thing in the history of the Hawthorne family, it has to be said. But the late Earl brooked no objection - well, he and Jeremy were as close as two peas growing up, and I understand the Lady Patricia was a beautiful woman. I wouldn't know myself - Mason has no pictures of her at all."

"Isn't that unusual?" Laura looked surprised. "Not to 'ave any pictures of 'er at all?"

"Yes, somewhat." Grace nodded. "But after she died, a lot of things were lost. We don't know what became of the photographs, or certain other keepsakes. An old wooden trunk Jeremy took to sea, his medals...sundry bits and pieces that we've been unable to account for. And every likeness of Patricia May Hawthorne that ever existed."

"Strange." Jetta murmured. "As if someone didn't want people to know what she looked like."

"More likely there just weren't many photographs." Grace shrugged her shoulders. "It's more than possible whoever cleared the estate at Mayfair gave them to her family. Patricia didn't long survive her husband, after all - I suppose she never really had a chance to belong to the Hawthorne family in her own right."

She frowned.

"The shock of his death was too much for her." She added. "She died of pneumonia a few weeks later...though many say she lost the will to live when his body was brought in. Such a tragedy. Such a waste."

"And the children?" Jetta turned her gaze to Grace, almost dreading to hear the answers. Grace spread her hands.

"Noone knows." She admitted. "But it's believed they died, too. Drowned, probably, in the Thames. They were only small little mites. One no more than a baby. They wouldn't have stood a chance, without family to protect them. Like I said, an unecessary tragedy. A waste of life...we don't talk about them much."

Jetta swallowed again, and Justin squeezed her hand.

"Thank you for your help, Lady Wissex." He said softly. "I think you've settled the question my wife and her friend were unsure about, anyhow. I'm sure you're real busy, with the fair and all...we'll take a look around the rest of the house now, but we appreciate your time."

"You're most welcome." The shadow left Grace's eyes at this, and she smiled. "I'm always glad to help enthusiasts and I don't often get to meet so many people here, or show them my home. Enjoy the rest of your visit, won't you? I'm sure you'll find many things happening today that will interest you, if history is your bent. My husband managed to arrange a jousting show, and I'm told they're very good."

With that she cast them another smile, then withdrew, leaving the trio alone.

"See, even she said the jousting is worth the seeing." Justin pursed his lips.

"Oh, go watch the bloody jousting then, if that's all you care about." Jetta spat out. Justin put his arm around her, hugging her.

"Of course not." He reproached her. "I just thought, after that, you could use a distraction."

"A distraction from what, exactly?" Jetta demanded. "The fact I'm obviously Sheila Rose bloody 'Awthorne? That my father was murdered and my mother died of a broken heart?" Her voice shook. "And you know the worst of it, Justin? The worst of it is, I know who she was talkin' about. Lady Grace. I know who she meant, when she said who was behind it. She never gave no names away, true enough, but it occured to me as she was talkin', an' sent a chill right through me when I realised it. The man who probably killed my real father an' the late Earl, well, I met 'im. My folks bargained with 'im when I brought the Misfits 'ere. We were playin' with fire an' we never knew it. I know why the name Trevor means somethin' to me now, why 'is picture isn't 'ere, an' got taken out of Grandpa's book. Trevor was the man pretendin' to be the Earl when we were 'ere. He was Mason's uncle. I remember that. There was another' they've wiped 'im out of their lives."

"A brother mad enough to slaughter his way to an inheritance?" Laura's eyes became big. "Sheila, are you sure?"

"Positive." Jetta said grimly. "He was a nasty weasel of a man who sold us out when the crunch came. But it also explains why Mason was so bloody angry 'e took it out on Pizzazz, Roxy an' me when all we'd done was get mixed up in something we didn't know the 'alf of. He thought we were in on the plot to kill 'im."

She gave a bitter smile.

"It ain't so farfetched to me that a brother could be deluded enough to kill siblings an' the children of siblings to get money or power or influence." She said darkly. "Me own brother tried to kill me enough times, an' would 'ave killed both Taylor an' Nancy if it 'ad been necessary to do so to get my inheritance money. Things make a cold kind of sense, when you think about that. I'm an 'Awthorne - I'm from a family so inbred that they 'ave insanity flowin' through their bleedin' veins. An' that insanity killed my parents."

"It's a slight leap of faith, Jetta." Justin said reasonably. "We don't know that Trevor Hawthorne killed anyone. He might have tried to oust Mason from his title, but as Grace said, there's no proof that the late Earl or Jeremy were murdered at all. Patricia died of natural causes. And you spent time in the same house as this man and didn't come to any harm at his hands. Perhaps you're jumping the may be that there's a rational explanation for all of this."

"There is...I just told you it." Jetta shook her head. "Otherwise, why isn't Trevor's picture 'ere? Grace explained why the late Earl's isn't, an' she showed us Jeremy Wilson Hawthorne, right 'ere, over the mantle. Why not mention Trevor? I know 'e was Mason's uncle. Mason said as much 'imself when he was on our backs all those years ago. Why else would his picture be taken out of the photo album? It ain't anywhere at Pa's. I've looked. It's too much of a coincidence. I bet you anythin' you like that if Trevor 'ad reasoned out thirty years ago that I wasn't really Ma an' Pa's brat, 'e would've taken 'is chance to kill me. An' there's no reason to suppose that, once 'e'd got Pizzazz's money to pay off 'is gamblin' debts, 'e wouldn't 'ave done it anyway. He was interrupted mid-plot...but if 'e went to all those lengths to get Mason's title, an' even tried to knock of Mason 'imself...there's no way 'e'd 'ave just sold up the estate and disappeared into oblivion. We were 'is tools, that's all. Then we'd 'ave disappeared like Jeremy an' I supposedly did as children, an' noone would ever have known where we were."

She gestured.

This is a big 'ouse. Large estate. Plenty of room for skeletons in the closet...or anywhere else, for that matter."

Laura shivered.

"Don't." She said. "It's creepy enough. Justin's right, Sheila. You don't know you're on the right track. An' even if you are...well, Trevor Hawthorne is probably dead too now, or if he ain't, he won't know who you are any more than 'e did thirty years ago. We came 'ere to find out if you were related to this family' obviously you are, there are too many coincidences for it to be otherwise. But we don't need to dwell on murder an' all that stuff, do we? It was a long time ago. You've the answers you wanted...maybe we should just 'ead back to mine an' put it behind us."

Jetta turned to stare up at the portrait one last time, a sad, humourless smile touching her lips.

"Perhaps we should." She said softly. "Before I find something else out that I'm goin' to live to regret."

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Meanwhile, across the extensive grounds of the Wissex Estate, Mason had made his way slowly towards the small makeshift stage where, oblivious to his presence, his son and the rest of the band were coming to the end of their planned set. As he stood to one side, watching and listening, his gaze fell on the young man behind the drums and despite himself, his mouth twitched into a rueful smile.

"Maybe Grace is more right than she knows." He murmured. "The hardest choice in the world for me was the choice to give up my music and the Blue Bloods and do my duty as Earl of this place. But I miss it even now...there's some irony that the bastard son I pushed right out of my life has followed my footsteps almost exactly. Maybe he is more Hawthorne than I gave him credit for...and maybe Grace, as ever, is right. If Trevor is the enemy, then befriending Clayton is almost a safety precaution in itself. I can't risk the dissatisfied son teaming up with the displaced uncle and wreaking more havoc on our family."

As the band finished their song to rapturous applause, he slipped around the tent-like construction, casting a smile at the security officials on duty as he did so. They returned his smile, one of them giving him a mock salute and he grinned. Here, at least, he was safe and among friends.

"Afternoon, sir." One guard spoke to him. "Did you want something specific?"

"No, I was just going to speak to the performers and congratulate them on their show." Mason shook his head. "It was good of them to come at such short notice and I wanted to thank them in person."

"Good music." The guard grinned. "No wonder it's so busy here today."

"And there have been no reports? No...sightings?"

"No, sir." The guard shook his head. "We've kept a keen look-out, but the son of a bitch hasn't been anywhere near Wissex today. And trust me, if he dared, we'd get him before he was two feet inside."

"Yes, I know you would." Mason nodded his head, a sparkle of relief in his eyes. "Thank you, Francis. I feel much more secure knowing that you and your men are on the case."

Francis grinned, raising his hand in another playful salute and, with a smile, Mason returned it. He was fond of this bluff, dedicated man, who had served him and his family almost since the day he had taken over the estate.

The Earl turned on his heel, taking a breath to compose himself before marching determinedly towards the small marquee that had become Diablo's rest area now their performance was over. Pushing back the flap of the tent, he stepped inside, surveying the scene. For a moment he was not noticed, and his gaze ran over the group of musicians gathered there. The singer, a tall, willowy black girl was curled up in one corner, brushing out her thick waves of hair as she listened to another girl - Mason thought she had been on keyboard - discussing a passage from one of their songs. A girl with dark hair had lit up a cigarette, pushing her guitar carelessly to one side as she held forth to a young man of similar features about a member of the lighting staff that had tried to make a pass at her as she'd left the stage.

For a moment, he could not see his son at all. Then, at the far side of the tent he caught a movement, biting his lip as he watched Clay pulling on his jacket, sliding sticks into his stick bag as he obviously prepared to take his leave. As he turned, he seemed to see his father for the first time and he froze, his eyes widening with dismay and disbelief. A jolt of shock ran through Mason's body. So Grace had been right. Though Shona's thick black hair tumbled over his shoulders, there was enough in the boy's jawline and expression to mark out his Hawthorne heritage. Mason drew a deep breath, but before he could speak, Clay gathered his wits.

"I was just leaving." He said flatly. "So you needn't bother telling me. I already know how welcome I am in these parts, and believe me, the feeling is mutual."

A silence fell over the gathered musicians at his words, as all eyes turned to the intruder, registering for the first time that the Earl of Wissex was among them. Mason swallowed hard, for once feeling out of his depth. He was not used to having his own eyes glaring at him so coldly and accusingly, and somehow all of the words he had planned to say deserted him. Scrambling for the last scraps of his composure, he drew himself together.

"I didn't come here to deepen old wounds." He said softly. "I came to congratulate a fine band on a brilliant performance. You do yourselves credit, and I'm grateful indeed that you could come and play at such short notice."

"What old wounds would those be?" Clay raised an eyebrow. "Oh, wait a minute...would you mean the time you called my mother a whore and threw her out to raise a son she never asked to have? Maybe that's what you mean! Why you were so keen on us playing here I have no idea...but our business obligation is at an end and believe me, there's nowhere I'd prefer to be further from than Wissex and your damn estate. I don't care if you are the Earl of me you're more of a bastard than I'll ever be, and that's all I have to say to you on that subject."

He tossed his stick bag in the direction of the keyboard player, who caught it with some surprise.

"Mari, take care of those for me, will you?" He asked. "I think I need some air - company in here sucks...I'll meet you guys back at the hotel - if Sophie asks for me, tell her that I fulfilled my part of the show and that I had a pressing need to leave."

"We'll tell her." The girl labelled Mari agreed, her expression troubled and concerned. "But Clay..."

"Don't." Clay's eyes flashed with a strange kind of anger. "I'll see you later."

With that he made his way purposefully towards Mason, pushing him aside as he stormed out of the tent and into the Wissex sunshine.

Another uncomfortable silence followed.

Then, the tall singer whom Mason had observed before got to her feet, approaching him gravely.

"I'm sorry, sir." She said quietly, her accent tinged with a mixture of American and something Mason could not quite put his finger on. "I'm afraid that Clay isn't ready to make peace with this side of his family as yet. The recent press articles have unsettled and angered him...please know that he didn't come to Wissex or to England to seek you out or to make his family history public property. He's a proud man and I think it's best left alone."

"He is his father's son. My wife told me that." Mason said ruefully. "Thank you for trying to explain, but there really is no need. Clayton's wounds run deeper than mine, perhaps, on this occasion. But I did come to congratulate your group. I hope I caused you no discomfort by inviting you to play - you've been a huge draw for the people of this county, and they've loved to see you perform."

"We enjoyed the show." The keyboardist known as Mari put in softly. "But it's probably not a good idea that we stay much longer. I...I should go find Clay."

"Clay can take care of himself, he's probably long gone." The dark girl flicked ash from her cigarette, fixing Mason with a pointed look. "Okay, you've done your sucking up and whatever else...can you get lost now, so we can finish packing up and get out of this dump? Whoever told you hedges were a good look seriously needed a life overhaul!"

"Steffi!" Her companion's eyes widened with horror, and despite himself, Mason laughed.

"I can see where I'm not welcome." He said wryly. "I'm glad my son has better friends than he has had family, anyhow. Pass on my thanks to your agent, Ms Devereux, and I wish you much luck with the rest of your tour."

Before anyone could respond, he withdrew from the tent, taking a deep breath of air into his lungs as he considered the situation. Clay's rudeness and defiance coupled with the singer's tactful observations had told him more about his son than any of the press articles had...that Clay was obstinate and proud he already knew from his wife's accounts, but that he neither sought attention or connection with the Wissex estate surprised him.

"I thought this press blitz was something he initiated." He muttered to himself as he scanned the field for any sign of the angry drummer. "He probably thinks it was me who did the same thing...damn communications. Grace was too right for my liking, though...he is my son in more ways than I'd probably care to admit. Young, stubborn, defiant and determined to make his own way without the help of anyone else. Did I slight his mother so badly? I thought I rid myself of a woman who was after my title and my money. Lord knows there were enough of them before I married Grace. The question is, what to do about it now? Part of me hates the very thought of bringing my bastard into my father's home and accepting him as any part my son and heir. But desperate times...and these are desperate times. Clay is all there is between my death and Trevor inheriting Wissex and everything that goes with that. Perhaps I should have paid better attention to my wife all along...made overtures to Shona when she urged me to, tried to establish communications with my son and supported him in some way as he grew up. But she never asked for my help, and I never thought to offer it. Too preoccupied with duty and security...did I do wrong?"

At that moment, he caught sight of a familiar figure across the grass and quickened his pace to catch up with the drummer. Clay shot him a look of surprise, and there was nothing in his demeanour that suggested Mason was welcome, but the Earl chose to ignore it.

"Clayton, a word." He said quietly. Clay stopped, glaring at him.

"Which word would you like?" He asked flatly. "Bastard? Whore? Which one do you like best?"

"I'm sorry for any offence I caused to your mother, my boy."

"I'm not your boy. And you're no more sorry than I am for what I called you back there." Clayton folded his arms. "You want something from me, that's all. Your wife more or less gave that away on the two occasions I've seen her. You needn't play niceties with me, Mason Hawthorne. It won't work. I can't be sweet-talked."

Mason eyed his son long and hard for a moment. Then he sighed.

"Yes." He acknowledged quietly. "And no. There are two sides to each story, Clayton...did your mother never think to tell you that?"

"My mother raised me and supported me. You were suspiciously absent at every step..I wonder why I should believe her side of things?" Clay retorted.

"No, I can understand that."

Mason drew a deep breath into his lungs, then,

"When I met your mother, I was still singing with a band called the Blue Bloods. Did you know that?"

Clay stared at his father blankly.

"You played with a band? Give me strength."

"I did, and we were quite good, too." Mason nodded his head. "I must have been twenty four or twenty five...young still, and determined to be able to juggle Wissex with my music and all of the things that entailed. The rock and roll lifestyle and everything that went with it. I loved that life, and I loved your mother, too."

"Forgive me if I don't believe that."

"Oh, I understand your bitterness." Mason nodded his head. "For a long time I felt it too. Betrayed. You see, I inherited my titles fully at twenty one...despite the best efforts of my surviving uncle to eliminate me, I clung onto them and became Earl of Wissex. I had my duties here, of course, but I kept them seperate from my band concerns. My closest friends knew who I really was, yes...but I never made it publically known that I was an Earl as well as a singer. I wanted to make my own way, you see. I wanted my own life, regardless of what my father had left me. I had never known him - he had died before I was born. I'd grown up free and able to make my own choices about everything...I didn't see why I should have to give that up."

Clay said nothing, though there was a flicker deep in his eyes and Mason could tell that his son was considering his words carefully.

"I met your mother when we played a show in Edinburgh." He continued. "She was beautiful and charming and I fell in love with her as soon as I saw her. Before we left Scotland, she and I were seeing one another, and I was mad enough to think that I might even marry her."

He bit his lip.

"But it's hard to keep secrets, son, from those that you love. It preyed on me. Would she accept it? Reject it? Would I really be able to make her Lady Wissex and go against the traditions and expectations of my family? My mother never accepted her...but I was so determined to make my own choice. It was so easy to love Shona and be loved for just who I seemed to be...but was that really Mason Hawthorne? Was I being honest with her?"

"Get to the point." Clay's voice was terse, and Mason reined in his memories, nodding his head.

"My mind was made up about your mother when I discovered she was writing a letter to a friend in Aberdeen." He said softly. "She had left it on the desk, lying around, and I admit I stopped and read it, wondering who she could be writing to. In it she clearly stated that she knew I was the Earl and that it was exciting. It brought me back to reality with a bump. All this time I thought I'd found a woman who loved me for who I was...but in fact, she was only interested in the title and the money that went with it. We fought, and she threw out the fact she was pregnant, as if to make me think of keeping her. It only disgusted me more to think how I'd been played and manipulated. I threw her out and told her I never wanted to see her again. My lawyers advised me that I would be obliged to support any baby born, but I said that if she ever wanted money for the child, she could apply to me through them and I'd give what I felt was right. I would never see or speak to her again, or acknowledge the baby as my own."

Clay flinched.

"My mother loved you." He said softly. "And she knew you were the Earl, yes. But she never thought of using you. You broke her heart and left her with a baby to raise at twenty one years old. Thanks to my step-father, she didn't have to do it alone - but for eight years we struggled along by ourselves because she did not want to ask you for anything, let alone support money for a baby you obviously didn't want. I know that's true, because she would never tell me any of it herself. Everything I know about it came from her sister aunt, who still lives in Aberdeen."

There was an edge to the final words, and Mason's expression became grave.

"Youth and stupidity may account for a lot of things." He said absently. "If I did your mother a wrong, I am sorry for it. I believed that she had done me one, and I would never have acted that way if I had had any doubts in my suspicions. She was not the first woman I had encountered who had seemed to be after my title and lands. Many of them had. If Shona was different, then I am truly sorry. But these are old wounds indeed."

"Not old enough, clearly." But something in Clay's demeanour had changed, and Mason spied a chink in the drummer's defensive armour.

"You play very well, you know." He hazarded. "Seeing you up there made me remember my own glory days, I'm afraid. Grace told me you look very like me...and I see that she was right."

"That's not by choice, I assure you."

"I admit that my reason for inviting you...and your band, for that matter, to play at the fair did carry an ulterior motive." Mason pursed his lips, ignoring the barb in his son's words. "I couldn't think of any other way to bring you close enough to home...and Grace argued it out with me every which way until I agreed that I should approach you, and speak to you myself."

"You're obviously still keenly aware, then, of your paternal duties." A hollow smile touched Clay's lips. "I'm touched."

"Well, it had occured to me that you might be." Mason admitted uneasily. Clay frowned.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Touched." Mason bit his lip. "And involved with my uncle...the man who tried to put an end to me thirty years ago when I came of age to inherit Wissex in more than just name. We were estranged, you and I, and I had no way of knowing what kind of a son I'd spawned. When I saw the press articles, it nagged at me that this could be a ploy...some kind of strategy to take control of Wissex and reawaken all the horrible things that happened when my father passed away."

"Somewhere here you've lost me." Clay's brow furrowed. What do you mean, touched?"

"I should explain myself." Mason looked apologetic. "Since as long as family records go back, there has always been something of a curse in the Hawthorne line. A madness, which manifests itself in members of the family and is incurable. A desire for wealth and power over everything else drives them to destroy the things and the people around them. Many have killed brother or sister or father in their pursuit of the title of Wissex. Many others were forcibly put to death by frightened relatives, terrified of the shame that would be brought upon the house should a mad one inherit. We call it touched...and my uncle Trevor is definitely one who is. Thirty years ago he tried to blow me and my band up - not to mention several innocent bystanders - in a club called the Unicorn, in London. It's believed that before that he was responsible for the deaths of his two elder brothers - my father the Earl and my uncle Jeremy - as well as Jeremy's two children. That has never been proven, but it seems too likely a scenario not to be the right one. My mother fled north, and, had he known at the time that she was pregnant with me, she would no doubt have also come to a sticky end. Even Jeremy's widow did not escape - she died of grief, brought on by the loss of her husband. I am the only survivor of that generation, Clay...and Trevor still lives. More, he roams free. I was frightened that you had become intertwined with him in some way - knowingly or otherwise."

"You should sell that to Hollywood. They'd lap it up." Clay said sardonically, but his look belied his tone and Mason knew he'd struck a nerve. "Why does everyone seem to think I'm in league with this guy? I've never met this Trevor bloke, and that's the truth of it. Till your wife mentioned his name to me, I didn't even know you had an uncle. I haven't ever wanted anything to do with your stupid estate or you or anything Hawthorne. I'm Clayton Blake and I've made my own way for this many years. I don't want a title that doesn't belong to me. I know I'm your bastard." He said the word bitterly. "And there's no place in high society for illegitimate lovechildren."

"On the contrary." Mason shook his head. "Grace and I have no children - a fact I believe she conveyed to you herself. You are my son - albeit born out of wedlock - but the only son I have and therefore, in effect, my heir."

Clay opened his mouth to speak, but Mason held up his hand.

"If you will not be, then Trevor is the only other Hawthorne surviving with a solid claim, as per my father's will." He said softly. "And if Trevor inherits, it won't only be myself and Grace who will meet sticky ends. House staff. Tenants. Prices will rise. People's livelihoods will be destroyed and gambled away. In short, we need you."

Clayton fell silent, an expression of shock and dismay on his face.

Mason nodded.

"I know." He said quietly. "When I was young, and I was first told that I was the only one who could prevent Trevor from destroying Wissex, I railed against it too. But family is family and family duty sometimes comes above all things...even if that family is one that seems alien to you. It was alien to me, too...I'd grown up under my mother's maiden name until I was eighteen, and never told who I really was until then. Clay, this is about more than you and I and a complete lack of father-son relationship. It's about the people and the well-being of the whole of Wissex. It's important."

Clay turned, glancing across the grounds.

"This isn't my world."

"Nor is it mine, often." Mason acknowledged. "Listen. All I ask is for you to come dine with Grace and I at the Hall before you leave the area. Extend the invitation to your bandmates too, if you like - they're obviously good friends and ones with your best interests at heart. Come hear what Grace and I have to say, and then make up your mind what you want to do about it. But don't just dismiss it out of hand. Wissex is more than a father who slighted your mother...and a lot more may rest on it than just my life or my fortune."

He put a hand on Clay's shoulder, and his son did not shake it off.

"Tomorrow night." He said softly. "Do you have a concert, or will you be there?"

"We have no shows tomorrow night." Clay spoke slowly, reluctance clear in his tone. "Fine. We'll be there...or at least, I will, and any of my friends who can bear to spend a night in the devil's lair. But don't be too sure about changing my mind. I know who I am and it's not Clayton had your chances to claim me and you never did. Don't assume that you can try it now, and expect to be successful."

"I won't assume anything of the kind." Mason felt a mixture of relief and apprehension flood his heart. Well, so it was done now...and he could only hope that Grace was right in her judgement! "Tomorrow night, then. I look forward to seeing you."

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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All events in the stories on this site are based on original ideas and are not rooted in any existing Jem fiction nor in any real life event or person.