Mia’s world has fallen apart. Then, just when she thinks it can’t possibly get any worse, it does.
Mia Harrington’s father just lost his brave battle with cancer. Naturally, she’s devastated. With her mother long-since dead, and no siblings, Mia has a great deal of responsibility to shoulder. She’s also the sole beneficiary of her father’s estate. Or so she thinks.
Unbeknownst to Mia, her father made a change to his will. She can still inherit, but only if she marries a suitable man within twelve months. If she doesn’t, her vile cousin will get everything. Determined not to lose her beloved childhood home, she resolves to find someone that fits the bill. What she isn’t expecting, however, is for that someone to be into sharing women with his best friend. In the meantime, Mia’s friendship with the estate gardener has blossomed into so much more.
She can’t possibly plan to marry one man, while also being involved with two others …or can she?
Mia Harrington thanked James, her father’s butler—her butler now, she supposed—as she stood from behind her father’s desk in the estate office—now also hers, to welcome her visitor.
“Mr Lenton. Thank you so much for coming, and on such short notice. Please, come in, and take a seat. Would you like something to drink? Tea, coffee, water?”
The grey-haired, bespectacled man gave a tight smile and bustled over to the chair Mia had indicated. “Thank you, Miss Harrington. A glass of water would be fine.” He took a seat, then began removing files and papers from his briefcase and placing them on the desk.
Once Mia had delivered two glasses of water to the desk and taken her own seat, the solicitor fixed her with what was undoubtedly an often-practised solemn expression. “Thank you. May I firstly offer my sincere condolences on the loss of your father? He was a wonderful man, and he will be greatly missed.”
Mia barely resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. She’d received so many condolences and expressions of sympathy in the last thirty hours that she was in danger of drowning in them. In many ways, of course, she deeply appreciated them—it was heart-warming and offered the merest sliver of comfort to know that she wasn’t the only one who’d loved Edward Harrington and genuinely mourned his loss.
It was the sound-bite condolences that drove her crazy, from people that had barely known him, and those she’d never even heard of, let alone met. How could it possibly help Mia to know that Mrs Pipes from the post office in the village was terribly sorry for her loss? And it would only get worse once the death announcement went into the newspaper.
She mentally shook herself. While Mrs Pipes might not matter, Mr Lenton most definitely did. He had been her father’s solicitor for many years now, and was here to discuss her father’s will with her. And, although she’d much rather not be dealing with the fallout, would much rather Edward Harrington was the one in the office with her right now, poring over paperwork; in the absence of a time machine or a magic wand, she had no choice. She had to hear what her father’s wishes were, and carry them out to the very best of her ability.
Her remaining family members—distant as they were—thought it odd that Mia didn’t already know her father’s wishes. It wasn’t as if his death had been a surprise, after all. The man had been valiantly fighting cancer for two years, and finally it had won, leaving Mia devastated. Just because she’d known it was inevitable didn’t make bearing his loss any easier. In fact, the only thing that made it remotely tolerable was knowing he was no longer suffering from what, especially towards the end, had been horrific side-effects and discomfort.
It was that overwhelming love and admiration, as well as simply not wanting to contemplate the “after”, that resulted in Mia’s refusing to talk to her father about what he wanted to happen once he was gone. Years ago, when he’d re-done his will following his wife—Mia’s mother’s—death, he’d basically told her she was the main beneficiary, as well as the executor, and that his funeral wishes were all there in black and white. With that knowledge in the back of her mind, Mia saw no need to further distress her father, or herself, by discussing something she wished with a fervent—albeit pointless—hope that she would never have to deal with. But here it was.
“Thank you, Mr Lenton. I appreciate that,” she lied.
The solicitor gave a tight nod, then indicated a bound document in front of him. “I have here your father’s last will and testament. I’m here to go through it with you, answer any questions you might have, and give advice on your next steps. Is that all right?”
Mia nodded, then slid a notepad in front of her and retrieved a pen from the holder so she could make notes if she needed to. No doubt there would be a great deal of legalese in the document, so if anything didn’t make sense, she needed to be able to remember it, so she could get the man to explain it.
“All right.” Mr Lenton cast his eyes down at the document. “This is the last will and testament of Mr Edward Harrington, born first of April, 1947. Last amended fifteenth of September, 2017.”
Mia flicked her gaze to the man’s face, frowning. “Excuse me? Amended? My father didn’t mention any changes.” She paused. “So… he had the amendment made while he was severely ill?”
With a nod, the man replied, “Yes. I visited him here myself.” He shuffled in the chair and seemed to be having some difficulty maintaining eye contact with her. “I’m sorry, your father told me he would discuss this with you before… the time came.”
“Well, he didn’t,” she snapped, then held her hands up. “I apologise, Mr Lenton, I didn’t mean to take it out on you. I’m just surprised, that’s all. So what is to discuss? What amendments did my father make? I’m not being thrown out of here, am I?” she joked, though as the words passed her lips, a splinter of panic worked its way into her mind. There was no way in hell he’d disinherited her. There was simply no reason to—she’d been the loving, dutiful daughter until his dying breath, and now beyond. So what had changed?
Oh God—was there a secret child? Did she have a brother or a sister out there somewhere? Or had he decided he wanted to be buried somewhere completely bonkers, like the summit of Everest or something?
Mr Lenton took a sip of his water, then put the glass down with a slightly trembling hand. Either the man had developed a condition since the last time she’d seen him, or he was nervous. And his being nervous made her nervous. What the bloody hell was going on? “No, Miss Harrington, of course you are not being thrown out. Please, let me continue, and all will become clear. After that, if you still have questions I will answer them as best I can.”
“All right. Please, go ahead. I’m sorry, I won’t interrupt again.”
The first part of the reading concerned her father’s wishes for his funeral and final resting place. She’d had an inkling, so it was no surprise at all to learn that Edward Harrington wanted a small service, held in the church on the estate’s grounds, and to be buried alongside his beloved wife in the small churchyard adjacent. Drinks and a buffet would be held at the house afterwards. Much to Mia’s relief, he’d even detailed what hymns and prayers he wanted. She wasn’t religious herself and wouldn’t have had a clue where to start in that regard.
So far, so predictable. No wacky burial site—that was that theory off the table. The solicitor moved on to the distribution of her father’s assets. Mia hadn’t known the precise details, but again, wasn’t surprised to learn considerable amounts of money were to be bequeathed to various charities—including smaller, local ones he had helped out for years, as well as larger, nationwide organisations. She smiled. That was her father—even in his death he’d managed to do some good in the world.
“Now,” Mr Lenton said, looking up at her with an uneasy smile, “this is the part of the document that your father had amended a couple of months ago. This… might come as a shock to you, Miss Harrington, I’m afraid, since it seems your father didn’t, in fact, discuss it with you. As the messenger, I can only apologise.”
Mia gripped her pen tightly and fixed a smile in place, even as her heart fluttered unpleasantly. With her other hand, she picked up her glass of water and downed half of it before saying, “Please, Mr Lenton, do continue.”
The solicitor cleared his throat. “As I’m sure you do already know, Miss Harrington, the remainder of your father’s assets go to you, as his beneficiary. That includes his money, his investment portfolio and, of course, his property and land. You are named as sole executor of the will—which is actually somewhat unusual, but your father remained convinced you could handle the organisation of his affairs on his passing.”
Bobbing her head, Mia said, “And he was correct. I have been working for my father, helping with his various business interests for many years already, and as his illness progressed I actually ended up dealing with it all by myself. Just before he died, he told me he was proud of how I’d dealt with all the responsibility. Proud of me.” She blinked. Why had she divulged that? It was like she was trying to justify her inheritance, for God’s sake!
“He was proud of you, Miss Harrington. Very much so. He told me that himself—and it was quite apparent in the way he spoke of you. Anyway,” he cleared his throat again, seemingly eager to get on with it, “the amendment is less of a change, and more of an added caveat.”
“A caveat?” she squeaked, now gripping the pen so hard that, had it been a cheap plastic thing, rather than a heavy, metal-barrelled Mont Blanc, it would have snapped or cracked. As it was, the hard metal resisted and made her hand ache. Why on earth had her father put a condition on her inheritance? And, more importantly, what the hell was it?
Suddenly, the prospect of a secret sibling was preferable.
Flicking an anxious glance at her, then turning back to the document, he continued, “All of the aforementioned concerning the transfer of assets to Miss Mia Harrington is subject to her marriage. Miss Mia Harrington has one year following the burial of Mr Edward Harrington to wed a suitable partner, one befitting of her status and social class. Only then will she officially inherit. The marriage partner in question must also agree to take the Harrington name, so that any children born from their union will carry the name and continue the Harrington line.
“Should Miss Mia Harrington fail to secure a marriage contract within the stated period, then the eldest male child of Mr Archibald Harrington may inherit. Should this scenario come to pass, Miss Mia Harrington will be required to move out of the family home, resign her role as estate manager, and be awarded a small allowance on which to live.” Mr Lenton stopped then, and Mia wasn’t sure if it was because he was finished, or because he was giving her a moment to allow his words to sink in.
For a moment, she was silent. She relaxed her hold on the Mont Blanc, and it fell from her hand and onto the desk, where it rolled sluggishly along the surface and clinked against the side of her water glass. The sound barely registered as she turned the solicitor’s words—her father’s wishes—over and over in her mind.
The first part had been fine and dandy—she had absolutely no qualms about a good portion of her father’s money going to charity. They were incredibly worthy causes, and besides, even the remainder of what she stood to inherit was more than she knew what to do with. She’d probably end up donating even more of it to charity.
In truth, it wasn’t really about the money. If the will reading had been about discovering her father had actually been penniless, it wouldn’t have mattered. She was no helpless damsel in distress, or simpering heiress in need of her daddy to fund her lifestyle. She was well-educated, ambitious, and smart—she’d figure something out. No—it was the principle of the matter. Her father’s considerable assets were as such because he’d worked for them. Yes, he’d inherited the estate, the main property of which she currently sat inside, and enough money to keep it ticking over, but he’d done more than just keep it ticking over. So much more.
She’d seen and heard of others in her father’s position who had allowed things on their estates to remain the same, spent the family money willy-nilly, then realised that the estate needed repairs, maintenance… and with no way of paying for it, homes and land fell into disrepair and had to be sold. She knew of some which had been made into luxury apartments, others which were being leased or given to the National Trust to restore and allow the public in to gawp, and others still which had been purchased by nouveau riche individuals who saw the properties and estates as nothing more than something to brag about.
Her father, on the other hand, had viewed the house and estate as his responsibility. Not the type of responsibility which becomes a millstone around a person’s neck, however. Edward Harrington had genuinely adored running the estate. It might have brought him and his small family a considerable income which kept them more than comfortable, but it was also a big provider and supporter of the local community. Many families in the surrounding area benefited from the estate in one way or another, either by working directly for the Harringtons and earning a highly-competitive salary, or by partnerships which were lucrative for everyone involved. Her father had been firm, but fair, and smart. He’d maximised the earning potential of the estate, and as such it had flourished. He’d made wise investments, supported fundraisers and charities, and given generously of both his time and his money—leaving behind an impressive legacy.
And now, if she didn’t marry a suitable partner within twelve months, all of that would be taken from her, and, more importantly, from the local community. For there wasn’t the slightest shadow of doubt in her mind that her cousin, Quinn, would not carry on with her father’s good work. He would greedily take what was bequeathed to him, then proceed to fritter the cash away and let the house and estate become yet another decaying pile, which he would then offload to the highest bidder.
“Over my dead body!” she said, slamming her hands down on the desk. The water glasses wobbled dangerously, but didn’t upset.
Mr Lenton, on the other hand, looked as though he was on the verge of bolting. He eyed Mia nervously, but remained silent.
Taking a couple of deep breaths, Mia recalled the solicitor’s earlier comment about him being the messenger. She reminded herself of the old adage don’t shoot the messenger. None of this was his fault, and besides, she’d been brought up much better than that—she didn’t treat people poorly, and wasn’t about to start now, even if they had given her information she disliked.
She gave another tight smile, had a drink of water, then said, “I apologise again, Mr Lenton. I blame it on the grief of losing my beloved father. And shock. Is there anything to add to that? Any… further specificity on what kind of partner would be suitable for me?” She couldn’t help the sarcasm that had seeped into her tone. Her brain was whirling with questions, but with one overriding all the others:
Why the hell is he doing this to me?