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The RiverCliffe Legacy

Chapter One


  Imagine, if you will, a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn, New York. Not too quiet — there’s the pleasant rumble of traffic from the highway at the end of the block, and the occasional high-pitched yapping of someone’s over-priced, designer dog. The brownstones on the street are all fairly uniform, until you come to one that looks, if not disheveled, at least more shabby than chic. The window boxes are filled with geraniums and sweet potato vine, two decidedly B-list annuals. The shutters are painted in a shade that was never, by any stretch of the imagination, a Pantone Color of the Year.

  That would be the house where I grew up.

  It’s the house I moved back to, at the age of thirty-eight, when I realized I could no longer afford to keep the nice, suburban bi-level that had once belonged to my husband and myself. 

 You’d think that living in a brownstone on a residential street in the heart of a vibrant city would not be the worst thing in the world. And normally, it wouldn’t. Normally, I’d be thrilled that my family and I were living there. Normally, I’d be grateful for the quiet, tree-lined streets and the lull of the traffic. I’d be glad that my kids could walk to a very good public school, as well as live only three subway stops away from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. And I’d also be thrilled at my own decent commute to Brooklyn College, where I was taking grad courses while psyching myself up to take the CPA exam.


  There’s always a but, isn’t there?

  The aforementioned brownstone still belonged to my mother, the smart, funny and decidedly strong-willed Marcella Castellano Harris. My children and I had moved into the bottom level. It was not technically the basement, but most of the square footage was below ground, and there was a noticeable lack of sunshine and cross ventilation. I slept on the foldout couch in what was ostensibly the den. The two girls shared another room, formerly called an office. My son made do with a large, windowless closet.   We all fought over one bathroom.

  It had not, as you can imagine, worked out well.


  My daughter, Lily, was always a bit of a drama queen, but at sixteen had really hit her stride. Any slight, real or imagined, resulted in a performance. As an example, consider a simple shower, taken during an otherwise peaceful Sunday afternoon. She emerged from our single bathroom, wrapped in a towel, and dripping on the cold tile floor.

  “I hate this bathroom, I hate this house, and I hate you.” Her voice was a low, furious snarl.

  I took a deep breath. “Did you run out of hot water again?”

  “Running out of hot water is what happens every time you turn on the tap,” was the answer. I could see her pale arms, puckered with goose bumps, trembling. “How could you bring us to this hellhole to live?”

  Kira sank down into the cushions of the couch, her shoulders shaking with silent laughter.

  “Is this really a hellhole?” I asked Lily quietly. I turned to Kira. “Is it?”

  Kira shook her head. “No. But Lily’s right, there’s never hot water.” Her voice was a giggly mess. 

  “Maybe if you didn’t take such long showers?” I suggested.

  Lily’s voice was still low, barely a whisper. “Ten minutes is not an excessively long shower.”

  Kevin made a rude noise from the other side of the couch. “You were in there twenty-six minutes,” he said. I didn’t doubt him. Timing Lily’s showers had become a favorite pastime of his.

  “You are a miserable excuse for a brother,” Lily hissed, and strode away, with all the dignity that a sixteen-year-old, wrapped in a towel, could muster.

  “We’re trapped in here like rats in a maze,” Kevin said conversationally. “And with a woman who belongs on Hoarders.”

   “Grandma has been very generous,” I reminded him. “She didn’t have to take us in.”

  He shrugged. “She’s the grandmother. Isn’t that her job?”

  Kira was still trying not to laugh out loud. She was six, and her normal state was mid-giggle. She had just turned three when her father left, and I don’t think she remembered him all that much. She had, at least, shown no outward sign of anger or hurt at Ed’s leaving, and tended to treat time spent with her father like a visit from some B-list celebrity —a reason to eat junk food and have fun, but nothing more.

  Kevin had recently turned twelve, and was a complete mystery to me. He’d spent his time in elementary school practicing to be a perfect jock. He tried out, and got on, every sports team available through school and the local Recreation department. I spent lots of time shuttling him to and from various practices and games. Since moving to Brooklyn last summer, however, he’d shown no interest in any activity aside from what he could play on his phone. Upon enrolling in middle school, he had joined nothing. He had also grown silent and judgmental, and he gained almost twenty pounds.

  Lily was Kevin’s age when Ed left. She went from a fairly goofy little kid to an intellectually and morally superior being who barely tolerated all those unfortunate enough to be around her. Since starting her new school, she’d latched on to no less than four Best Friends Forever. Those friendships, however, burned too brightly and flamed out quickly. Currently, there was no one she spent time with. And she was a total bitch. I can’t say I blamed her. She’d reveled in the role of Daddy’s Girl and Ed’s leaving hit her the hardest.

  I looked at my offspring. “You guys do remember that this is temporary, right? And I’ll be back on my feet soon?”

  Kira rolled over and buried her little face into the couch cushions. Kevin made another rude noise, adjusted his earphones, and stalked out.

  Lily came back into the room, still towel-wrapped, and stood directly in front of me. “I hate everything,” she whispered.

  Sometimes, so did I.


  Ed and I had been divorced for over three years, and I was still reeling. I had thought my marriage was working. I loved my husband. He came home every night and played with his kids, gave me back-rubs and took us all on day-trips on the weekend. I had felt us moving apart, emotionally, but figured that was what happened when you were married almost fifteen years. His level of emotional detachment was much higher, however. By the time he physically moved out of the house, he’d sold his business and moved most of the money into a separate account, under his own name. He hadn’t been a shrewd businessman for all those years for nothing. Then he moved to another state with another woman and filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.

  I felt like such a cliché—the wife and mother abandoned for the Hot Young Thing. So aside from my own broken heart and the equally broken hearts of my children, I had every eye in our affluent suburban neighborhood turned on my family, second-guessing every word and deed, past and present.

I could have stuck it out in the suburbs of New Jersey after my divorce, even with all the intense and unwanted scrutiny, but it took me less than a year to realize I couldn’t sit on my butt all day lamenting my poor choice in husbands. When my family became my unemployed self and my equally unemployed children, I quickly saw whatever savings I had salvaged being frittered away on things like food and electricity. One cannot live on child support alone. I needed to get out and find a well-paying job. Since I’d stopped working right before my daughter Lily had been born, and hadn’t gone back, I quickly found out that, even with an accounting degree, being a full time wife and mother was not the kind of experience corporate America was looking for. Granted, the Principles of Accounting were written in stone, but the software I had become proficient at in the brief years I had worked was obsolete, and no one seemed interested in re-training a woman in her late thirties whose most recent skills were carpooling and secretary of the PTA. I needed more than a quick brush-up on my accounting skills.

  I hadn’t liked college the first time around. I chose accounting as a major because a book about it came first, alphabetically, on my guidance counselors’ bookshelf, and when she asked me what my interests were, it was the first thing I saw while desperately trying to find an appropriate answer. My real interests, at the time, were drinking after school and trying to be popular, so I lied. Accounting served me well, and I earned a degree in something that, if nothing else got me a job. And I’d been fairly successful at it for the twenty-eight months I’d worked before giving up my glamorous life as a staff accountant for the equally glamorous life of mother.

  That was then. This was now. Now I needed an MBA/CPA kind of salary so my very smart children could go to good schools and have their own well-paying careers. I wanted my son to be happy and successful. I wanted my daughters to be happy and even more successful, so they would never be left high and dry by a lying husband who fled in the middle of the night with all the cash on hand and a waitress from Hooters.

  I made a plan to go back to school and get my MBA. It would take two years. So the house was sold. After paying off the mortgage, giving Ed his half (New Jersey being a community property state) and paying the realtor’s commission, I was not nearly as solvent as I thought I’d be. If I kept myself on a strict allowance the money would last just about two years, but only if I didn’t have to worry about paying rent. That’s when we all moved back to Brooklyn.

  My mother kept asking why I wasn’t looking for a rich husband. I kept reminding her that I’d already had one of those, and it hadn’t ended well.

  Now there was a light at the end of this tunnel. I’d have my MBA by next January. Then I could look for a real job and hopefully make enough money to get a place of my own. My personal goal was tonotbe living with my mother when I turned forty. I had nine months to make it happen.

  My children had heard it all before. I think they stopped believing. I think they felt, in their deepest heart of hearts, that they’d be living with Grandma until they were old enough to move out and get their own apartments. Just like they felt their father was not coming by anytime soon to take them out to lunch and to the zoo. I tried not to think about it too much, but sometimes the burden of causing their disappointment was so hard to bear I’d just sit on the back steps, a juice glass full of wine in one hand, crying. My mother would deflect the kids, often treating them to the movies or ice cream, giving me the time I needed to pull myself back together.

  Being a parent was rough.

  Especially being a parent during a long, hot summer, when the kids were not in school and there was no pool or beach, or any extra money to goto a pool or beach. Last summer, our first since moving in with my mother, the kids and I spent the entire month of July camped out on Long Beach Island, in the cramped, noisy beach house of my once-upon-a-time neighbor, Chrissy Muller.

  Chrissy and I were not particularly good friends. In fact, I had made no friends at all in the whole fifteen years I’d lived in New Jersey. I knew lots of women, mothers of the kids who went to school with mine, who were in the carpools, or helped with soccer. But no strong bonds were formed. I kept my family in a tight little circle, and was reluctant to let anyone else in. I’d learned that from my mother, and her you-and-me-against-the-world mentality. 

  So that made up for the long, boring August. Almost. But this year Chrissy was the one getting a divorce, and it looked like her husband was getting custody of the beach house, leaving me with nothing to occupy my children for ten weeks except a six-year-old Playstation 2. After all, there were only so many bike rides to be taken in a week.

  “Why don’t we know anybody outside of Brooklyn? Aren’t there any long-lost relatives I can get re-acquainted with?” I asked my mother. “You know, with a boat or a country house with a pool?”

  “Risa, honey, please,” my mother said, taking a long drag on her cigarette. “It’s really not my fault I was an only child.” She tapped her ash into her pretty china saucer, then expertly swirled the tip into a sharp, glowing point. “And my father never fooled around, so there’s not even a half-sibling we could suddenly discover.”

  We were sitting in her kitchen, frozen in 1972, but immaculate.

  My mother was not an especially good housekeeper. Her rooms, except her kitchen, were filled with clutter. She liked to save things. She wasn’t quite bad enough to have her own reality show, but that was a very close judgment call.

  She was a great cook, and her homemade gravy with meatballs could please even my oldest and most miserable child. As a second generation Italian, my mother prided herself on her Sunday gravy, her good wineglasses, and her carefully waxed upper lip. She was now in her early sixties She had married, at seventeen, a charming Irishman, spent a few tumultuous years being chased out of all five boroughs, and got pregnant the week before her husband got sent to state prison for a list of crimes and misdemeanors too long to remember She moved to Brooklyn when normal people could afford to, got a job as a secretary, and raised me alone. When I asked to come back, she merely raised both eyebrows and said yes. She did not say I-told-you-so, for which I will always be grateful.

  “What about my other grandpa?” I ventured.

  My mother did not like to discuss my father. But she would occasionally give me glimpses into his family, tantalizing peeks into lives I had only imagined throughout my childhood.

  “Your father did say he was raised on a plantation,” she said.

  “But I thought he was from upper New York State. Aren’t plantations a southern thing?”

  She nodded. “Yes. But he was never very good at geography. He used to talk about feeding chickens and herding cows.” She frowned. “His uncle did something with milk. He did not like country living, your father. He didn’t like getting his hands dirty.”

  Since she was feeling expansive, I pushed, just a little.“Is that why he moved to Queens?”

  She smiled. “Yes.” She got a wistful look in her eyes. “That’s when he started stealing cars.”

  “And he met you?” I prompted. This was usually as far as she got in the Greatest Love Story of All Time.

  “Yes. I was working at a hardware store. He came in for new crowbar.” Her eyes got misty. “Love at first sight.”

  I could see where my father could have easily fallen. My mother, even now, was a beautiful woman. Creamy, flawless skin, high cheekbones, big dark eyes and glossy hair. Any good looks I had came directly from her. In fact, when I was in my twenties, I looked very much like the woman who smiled from her wedding picture, the only picture she kept of her and my father together.

And I could see also how she could have been swept off her feet. My father was everything a handsome Irishman could be—thick, curling hair, wide blue eyes, and smile that could melt the hardest of hearts.

  “And he asked you out for coffee?”

  She sighed. “We spent the whole night talking. We walked through the entire city. He was such a charmer. He asked me to marry him at dawn, in front of Radio City. I said yes without even thinking about it.” 

  From there, the details became harder to pin down. I knew they moved around a lot. I knew her family never approved. I remember, as a small child, all the stories she would tell me of what our lives would be like “When Daddy Came Back”. Somewhere between second and third grade, those stories stopped, and I realized later that my father had probably been released from prison about that time, but had not returned home. Eventually, my mother stopped mentioning him at all. 

  But it was during those years that I came to love my father. She talked about him constantly, and from the glow in her eyes and the smile on her lips, I knew how special he was. I had his face in my head, and my mother’s words built the rest of him: clever and funny, full of dreams and plans for the future. As a child I believed in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I also believed in my father. Because my mother made him so real to me, I continued to believe, all into my teen years, long after he was supposed to have come back and rescued my mother and I. And because he was real, I never got over his abandonment. Maybe my mother did the both of us a great disservice for giving me a real father instead of just the idea of a father. Losing an idea could be disappointing. Losing the real thing was completely devastating.

  She tamped out her cigarette. She allowed herself five a day, and each one was a ritualized event. “So, what are we going to do with those kids? Cause I gotta tell you, honey, this summer is gonna be a hot one and I can’t be babysitting every day.”

  She had retired the year before, after working for thirty years in a small plumbing supply company that actually paid her a pension. She still worked, weekends only, doing data entry for a small law firm. She also kept herself busy by volunteering for a few choice organizations and had a brisk dog-walking business that was strictly an under-the-table enterprise. I think she welcomed us because she was somewhat lonely, but I also knew that she had enjoyed her life, and my family and I had really thrown her off her game.

  “I’m not taking any classes this summer,” I told her. 

  “Fine, fine, but what are you going to do with them?”

  “Lily wants a summer job,” I told her.

  “Then she should have been applying back in January. Just because everyone around here looks rich, that don’t mean those kids aren’t going to work anyway.”

  “I was thinking about camping.”

  She leaned forward and looked at me with interest. “And what, exactly, do you know about camping?”

  “It’s cheaper than trying to rent a house somewhere. Campsites are, like, ten bucks a night?”

My mother patted my hand. “Good idea, honey. And how much do you think it will cost you to rent a tent, sleeping bags, and all that other camping crap you’re gonna need?”

  “Can’t I borrow all that stuff?”

  “From whom?”

  My shoulders slumped. “You don’t know any campers?”

  She pushed herself away from her kitchen table. “Nobody in Brooklyn are campers, honey. Nobody I know, anyway. Didn’t any of your fancy Jersey neighbors camp?”

  My neighbors in New Jersey were not, by the way, fancy. But because my former home had been surrounded by a green lawn, and I could park my car in the garage instead of having to move it from one side of the street to the other, my mother always thought of my neighborhood as on a par with 90210.

  I sighed. “No. Nobody camped. I’ll never be able to go away. Where was this plantation? Does the Harris family still own it? Maybe we could pay them a surprise visit.”

  My mother raised a carefully plucked, then back-filled eyebrow. “Well, I know his mother died before Billy and I even met. He did mention his brother’s wife, who hated him and forbade him from ever setting foot on the old homestead again. The farm is upper New York State somewhere. Maybe you could find something on your computer. See if it’s still owned by the aunt. You could drive there and see if anyone in the family has changed their mind.”

  I narrowed my eyes. “That’s sarcasm, right?”

  She drained her coffee cup and pushed away from the kitchen table. She smiled. “Why, yes, dear. It is.”

  “What was the name of the farm?” I called after her as she swept out. “I’m a desperate woman.”

  “Forget it,” she called back.

  I sighed. She was right. I was going to have to figure something out, and fast.

  But then the family found me.


  The envelope was creamy white, with an embossed logo, Butterfield and Butterfield, and a return address on Park Avenue.

  Inside, a thick, single sheet informed me that the firm of Butterfield and Butterfield, representing the Cliffe Trust for sixty-three of the past one-hundred and eighty-six years it had been in existence, had important information for me, a direct descendant of the Cliffe family. The information needed to be discussed in person, and when would it be convenient for Mr. Butterfield to come by?

  “Mom? Who are Butterfield and Butterfield? And what the hell is the Cliffe trust?” I yelled.

  She came flying into what she called the upstairs parlor. It would have been a very pleasant room, with bay windows and a high ceiling, but every horizontal space was covered with something — books, papers, magazines, empty pots where green plants once lived. I insisted that there be room to sit on the sofa, and the coffee table be kept clear so I had a place to read my mail and occasionally put my feet up.


  “Butterfield and Butterfield.”

  “They’re lawyers.”

  I looked up at her. “I know. It says so right here on their stationary. You know them? You hate lawyers.”

  “These are the family lawyers. Your fathers’ family. He told me about them.”

  I stared at the letter. “What could they want? They mention the Cliffe trust. Was that his family? Do you think he died?”

  She snatched the letter from my hand and read it quickly. “No, they’d notify me. After all, I’m his wife.”

  “Ex-wife, you mean.”

  “No,” she handed the letter back. “He sent me divorce papers, about thirty years ago, but I never signed. We’re still married.”


  “Oh, don’t be so dramatic.”

  I struggled to get my jaw off the floor. “You and Daddy never divorced?”

  “Don’t call him Daddy. You never knew him. He never meant a thing to you.”

  “Well, he obviously meant an awful lot to you if you’re still married to him.”

  “Good Catholic girls don’t divorce,” she said, trying to look nonchalant.

  “Oh? When was the last time you went to mass?”

  She turned and walked out. I followed her through the dining room. Because we ate in the kitchen, the long, mahogany dining table was covered in several piles; magazines (select pages carefully removed, creating other piles) catalogs (appropriate pages dog-eared) and coupons (some dating back to the ’80s). 

  “Then what do you think this is about?”

  She shrugged. “Call and find out.”

  I did call, but the woman on the phone was not very forthcoming with information. She did tell me that Mr. Alan Butterfield was available to drop by to see me the following Thursday, and I agreed to be home.

  My children were intrigued by varying degrees.

  “Maybe its Dad’s lawyer, and he’s cutting back on child support,” Lily suggested.

  “Maybe you’ve won the lottery,” was Kira’s guess. Her understanding of what lawyers did was hazy, at best.

  Kevin actually took the letter and read it very carefully. “You’re probably being sued,” he said at last. “For lots of money. Did you do anything really dumb lately?”

  I took the letter back. “No, Kevin. At least not anything dumber than usual.”

   Alan Butterfield, when he arrived, looked exactly the way a lawyer was supposed to look. He was fairly bland-looking, with a calm, reserved air about him and a very soothing voice. He sat down across from me in the upstairs parlor, in a chair cleared of debris especially for his use, pulled a file from his briefcase, and opened it. I liked him for that. Paper always seemed so reassuring to me. I hated people who read off of their laptop screens. That may have been because of my on-going fantasy about tiny people living inside computers and making things up. But — whatever.

  “Theresa Anne Harris Armitage, my information states that you are the only child of William Henry Newsome, also known as Billy Harris, and Marcella Castellano. Is that correct?”

  I frowned. Also known as? What did thatmean? I nodded.

  He looked at a few more papers. “I regret to inform you that William’s mother, Catherine Hamburg Newsome, passed away three weeks ago.”

  My head exploded. I had a grandmother? Where had she been all my life?

  “How did she know about me?” I asked. “And more important, why didn’t she get in touch with me while she was alive?”

  Mr. Butterfield cleared his throat. “I believe she had, in fact, tried to find her son William’s family. Unfortunately, William got married under one of his many, ah, professional names. His real name was not, in fact, Harris. His real name was William Henry Newsome. But he was married under Harris, so that was his wife’s name, and yours.” He leaned forward and dropped his voice to a confidential whisper. “Finding you was a real bitch. We didn’t even have your mother’s correct maiden name. Cathy thought it was Costello, not Castellano. The only real facts we had to go on were a wedding date and your birthdate. Luckily, we had a very inventive clerk who found William’s rap sheet and started looking under all his known aliases. She found a marriage license issued at the right time, and we started really digging from there.” He sat back. “Without her, we might have never found you.”

  I stared at my mother, who was white as a sheet and had fire in her eyes. She had been standing in the doorway, trying not to look like she was bursting with curiosity, but had come over to stand behind Mr. Butterfield.

  “His real name was what?” she growled.


  “Were we even married? Legally?”

  He shrugged. “Well, it doesn’t really matter as far as the trust is concerned. He told his mother that he had married, told her your name, and acknowledged that Theresa here was his daughter. That’s all that’s important here.”

  “Maybe to you,” my mother said, her voice shaking, “but what about me?”

  He looked sympathetic. “I’m sorry.”

  “So,” my mother continued slowly, “he lied to me about his real name, his family… he told me his mother died before we even met. He told me he grew up on a farm. Was anything he ever told me the truth?”

My heart jumped out of my chest at the look in my mothers face. She had carried something of a torch for Billy Harris, because she had loved him in spite of his unlawful ways. She had excused and forgiven his various illegal activities, but I knew lying was something she could not forgive so easily.

  “Yes, there was a farm,” Butterfield said in a soothing voice. “There still is. That much is true.”

  I glanced at my mother. That one kernel did not seem to salve her anger.

  “Mom,” I whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

  She turned to me, still seething. “He didn’t just lie to me, he lied to you. You had a friggin’ grandmother. She could have been in your life. We could have had real Thanksgivings. Summers on a farm. She could have come to your First Communion. What a snake!”

   She was right. As much as he’d lied to her, I had also paid a price. “I guess I’m sorry about her dying,” I said to Butterfield. “But I never knew her.”

  “That may be, but she knew you. Or, she knew of you, which makes my job easier. Under the terms of the Cliffe Family Trust, at Catherine’s death, the entire Cliffe estate passes on to the next female related by blood. That’s you.” He closed the file and folded his hands. “Any questions?”

Hundreds. I was in a quandary. On one hand, I had long ago stopped being curious about the man who absented himself from my life all those years ago. Finding out now that his lies had added another layer of pain to my mother’s life made me want to add even more distance between us. But Mom had been very tight-lipped when I had been curious, and here was the possibility of answers.

  “Wasn’t there any other family?” I asked.

Butterfield opened the file again. “Catherine had three sons. He was the youngest.”

  “Aren’t any of them in line to inherit?”

  “The two older boys are both dead, and neither had children.” He closed the file and shook his head.        “The Cliffe Family Trust is very old, and has never been broken. Only a female can inherit. Catherine Newsome was the eleventh, or possibly thirteenth woman to take ownership of RiverCliffe. Now you are the oldest living female in the family line. After you, it would fall to your oldest daughter, and so on.”

  I sat back. “What exactly does the Cliffe estate consist of? You said it was a farm?”

  Butterfield folded his hands together. “The name of the property is RiverCliffe. It’s located about two hours from here, along the Hudson River. There’s the main house, several outbuildings, and almost three hundred acres, most under cultivation or being used as grazing land. Right now, there are four leases attached.” He opened the file again.

  Two hours away. All that, and a possible family, had been just two hours away. I looked up at Mom again. Her jaw was clenched so tightly I was surprised I couldn’t hear her teeth cracking.

  He shuffled through some papers. “Daniel Rugg runs his cheese factory from the main barn, and keeps all his animals on about one hundred acres. He also has hay and barley growing. Mackenzie Sutton farms almost one hundred fifty acres. Corn and winter wheat. Martha Newsome rents a cottage and has about twelve acres for her herb business.”

  “Wait. She’s a Newsome? Why isn’t she getting anything?” I asked.

  “Because she married into the family. For that reason, her lease is one dollar a year until her death. Then, there’s the cemetery. That is leased to Woodmark and Sons, funeral directors.”

  “A cemetery?” I asked. “I own a cemetery?”

  “Yes. The entire property is, of course, owned outright. There are currently no mortgages or loans against the property. Between all the leases, your income is roughly sixty thousand dollars a year. That goes directly to you, by the way. It is not in any way tied back into RiverCliffe House.”

  My ears, had it been physically possible, would have pricked up. “Sixty thousand dollars?” That was more more than three times what was left of the house sale money, and I'd worried about how I was going to make it stretch. Now, I didn’t have to worry about buying books for the next semester, how I was going to replace the air-conditioning in the mini-van, or if I could get Kevin braces.

  He nodded. “Yes. And the house itself has been run, very successfully, as an inn for the past twenty years. The staff is very, ah, concerned about your plans going forward.”

  “An inn? And a staff?” I had a sudden vision of myself, dressed entirely from the Land’s End catalog, sipping brandy by a roaring fireplace while my smiling and very well paying guests gathered around me.

  He pulled something from his folder. It was a brochure for RiverCliffe House. 

  I looked at it cautiously. Whoever put this together was a pro. The picture of the house itself was almost storybook: a soaring clapboard building with welcoming porches, surrounded by flowering shrubs and lots of green. The interior of the brochure highlighted a few beautifully decorated bedrooms, a great room, complete with my fantasy fireplace, and a pool pretending to be a woodland pond. There were even a few pictures of guests enjoying a picture-perfect countryside.

  “Wow,” I said. This was not for the economy-minded, I could tell. “So, I take it this is worth a boatload of money, right?” I tried not to sound too eager.

  Butterfield nodded. “Yes. Boatload is a very appropriate word.”

  I looked at my mother. “He told you it was a farm. Did he tell you anything about all this?” I asked her.

She shook her head. Her coloring and breathing had returned to normal, but her eyes still glittered. “I knew that Billy was from upstate, and he mentioned cows, but I had no idea he was from someplace like this.”

  Butterfield cleared his throat. “To be honest, it wasn’t always like this. In fact, at one point, it was a decrepit, failing mess. Catherine was quite a visionary. And a very strong personality. She built her little empire from nothing.”

  “And now it’s mine?” I asked. “Why would she leave it to me? I still don’t understand.”

  Butterfield shrugged. “She had no choice. I told you, the trust is very clear. Only a female may inherit. It’s been that way for almost two hundred years.”

  My mother was still obviously in shock, but she narrowed her eyes and twisted her lips, a sign of deep thinking. “Billy would never let a moneymaking opportunity like this one go untouched. Is he up there?”

  Butterfield shook his head. “Not now. He’s shown up briefly now and again over the years. As far as I know, Catherine hadn’t been close to her sons. To be honest, they were not very loyal. Or loving. I gather that Catherine was not sympathetic to any of their life choices. William is the only one still living, and, as far as I know, is not presently incarcerated.” He cleared his throat. “He was there for her funeral, and lingered for a while. A sheriff finally had to ask him to leave.”

  My mother rolled her eyes. ”Figures,” she muttered. “What a family.” 

  He nodded. “Indeed.” He handed me his card. “Have your attorney contact me as soon as possible, and we’ll transfer the property and funds.”

  “Funds?” There was cash too?

  He finally smiled. “Yes. A boatload.”

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