Trials and Tribulations – part 6







Fergus was pacing the lobby floor, looking nervously at the entrance to the room where the party was, wondering if he had time to…


“THERE you are,” he heard Sands say as she took one arm, and Holly the other, “shall we?  I’m sure you have a lovely room to show us…”


“Now girls,” he said as they walked to the lift, “how about a nice game of cards?  Or perhaps a drink in the bar?”


“Now now,” Holly said with a smile as the lift doors opened, “a promise is a promise, and we do so hate to be disappointed…”


Fergus looked between both of them as the lift doors closed…



“Thank you for the dance,” Dave said as he escorted Francesca back to the table.


“It was my pleasure.  So, sit for a while, tell me about yourself Dave."

"Well Francesca,” Dave said, “I work in an auto body shop, I'm a widower with seven kids, and never in a million years did I ever expect to see a sight like this!"   He waved at what was going on round them.

"Do the children take after your wife?"

"Mary does, she looks just like her Mom."

"Your wife was a beautiful woman then."

"She was...” Dave turned and said quietly “someone told me your husband was murdered?"

"Long after our divorce," Francesca shook her head sadly.

"I take it that it was not a 'good' divorce?"

"No...he got to keep our daughter...Last week was the first time I'd seen her since she was 6 days old."

"Now that isn't nice...should never separate a mother from her kids." Dave shook his head.

"Well,” Francesca said as she sipped her drink, “it wasn't totally his fault."


"It's a long story and I won't bother you with it..."

"If you do ever want to talk I'm told I have a good ear," Dave smiled as he interrupted.

"Now that boy over there must be your son," Francesca changed the subject and pointed across the room.

"Yeah that’s my David,” Dave said, “with his girlfriend Sally - he starts at Stanford in the fall."

"That's a fine university,” Francesca said, “you must be proud of him."

"I'm proud of all my kids...their mom would be too."




"I see your Mom is having fun talking to Dave," Carina nodded as she walked up to Charlotte.

"She does doesn't she?"

"I'm glad I told him to go ask her to dance."

"You told him?"

"Yeah,” Carina said, “he was looking out of it, but he's such a regular, and so nice, guy, that I thought he might hit it off with her."

"Yes she doesn't like false flattery...I've already learned that about my mother."

"Well Dave calls it just as he sees it." Juliette interrupted, "and darling that was clever of you to put them together."


“Gives her a different perspective on the day, at any rate…”


"Are you two enjoying yourselves?" Missy spoke to David and Sally.

"Well I know I am," David grinned, "I'm dancing with the most beautiful girl in the room..."

"Oh I wouldn't say that," Sally laughed and interrupted.

"Well he's not far from wrong Sally," Missy smiled herself, "in a room full of models you don't give up anything."

"Oh that's just this amazing dress and the makeup," the Los Angeles girl smiled some more, "Miss Thomas and her team can make any girl look great."

"Well I still say I'm dancing with the most beautiful girl."

"Not for now you aren't David," a voice chuckled from behind him, and House swept Sally onto the dance floor.

"ALRIGHT!" David shouted after them, "I WAS dancing with the most beautiful girl," he burst into laughter.



"Who is that rather distinguished gentleman you've been dancing with Mother?" Sandy asked Nessa as she walked over.

"Hmm?  Oh, you mean Max Storm?"

"If that's his name...he's not one of our usual set."

"No, but he's an old friend...he runs a stud out here in Kentucky, and the boys invited him to come to drown his sorrows following his horse’s lousy run in the Derby."

"Okay where do you know him from?"

"The Hampton's...he used to play polo each summer."

"Oh a polo player eh?" Sandy smiled, "is it true what they say that all polo players know how to use long..."

"Alexandra you have a positively filthy mind," Nessa laughed, "but maybe ask me tomorrow?"


“And what would David have to say about that?”


“What is the saying Alexandra – what happens in Louisville, stays in Louisville…”



“Juliette, do you have a minute,” Doc said as she walked over.


“Sure – what is it?”


"I just got a message from Kylie," Doc shook her head, "I don't understand it, but she said to tell you that Nicky Abata has found the General’s diary and is having it translated...Does that make sense to you?"

"It does Anna...and when the time comes it will do so to you as well."

"Alright," Anna looked doubtful.

"When we get back to New York,” Juliette said quietly, “I want you to visit the Public Library for me."

"Alright I can do that after school..."

"Not that kind of visit."

"Oh?" Doc's ears perked up..."Night work?"

"Yes.”  Juliette sipped her drink as she said “there is a map in their collection that is not available to the public. I want it photographed."

"I think I can do that," Anna smiled.  “What is it of?”


“I’ll tell you later…”




“Look girls…”


“Now Uncle Fergus,” Sands said as she sat on the recliner next to him, and stroked her gloved hand down his cheek, “you did promise…”


“And you should always keep your promises,” Holly said as she leaned over and kissed his lips, taking him by surprise.  Fergus kissed her back instinctively, before pulling back and saying “Girls, what are you thinking I will do…”


"You, silly boy, are going to have a night of sex like even in your dreams you never imagined." Sands smiled as she ran her gloved hand down inside his dinner jacket.

"I am?"

"You better believe it big man," Holly smiled at him, "even blackmailers like us give something back in return for the goodies.  So, which of us will it be first?”

"Girls,” Fergus said as he started to sweat, “it's not that you aren't both hot, but I'm really not interested..."

"He says differently," Sands grabbed his crotch feeling his huge erection.


"It's Alexandra remember darling," she contradicted him, "and doesn't the mere thought of doing it with someone as smoking hot, but still underage, like me turn you on so much?"

"No...NOT!" he visibly jumped as she unzipped his trousers.

"Liar," she purred in his ear as she eased his bulging cock out of his boxers, "you are dreaming of fucking my little tween brain out...aren't you big boy?" she asked as she squeezed his cock.


Fergus could only moan as he fought to control himself…


"I'm told I have the best rack of tits in New York City," Holly nibbled on his ear. "Can't you imagine holding them? Squeezing them? Sucking on them?"

"Oh dear lord...YES!" the words came out of his mouth as he gasped.  Holly reached round and unfastened the neck, letting her breasts fall out. 


“Well go on then big man – do it,” Holly said, laughing as Fergus held her chest in his hands, and started to gently squeeze and kiss them, as Sands used her hand to massage his throbbing cock.


“Oh sweet lord…”


“OH yes, that is good,” Holly said as Sands leaned over, and started to kiss him there, before placing her lips over it and gently sucking again.


“Oh no – no, you don’t know what you’re asking me to do…”


"Oh, but I do, Uncle Fergus.  No one’s cock has been inside me'll be my first," Sandy batted her long lashes, "doesn't that idea excite you? Being the first man to penetrate my virgin cunt?"


"I want that dirty long cock of yours inside me Uncle Fergus...I want you to fuck me...Fuck me so I'm no longer a virgin, but a real woman...your underage 'trophy' girlfriend." She practically purred the words in his ear.

"She wants that monster fuck tool in her tight, moist, beautiful vagina." Holly looked totally turned on as she started to undress 'their' victim.


Fergus offered no resistance as his jacket and shirt were taken off, then Sands removed his shoes and trousers as Holly kissed his chest and neck.   Once his boxers were pulled down, Sands stood up and unfastened her own dress, before she said “there now, I hope you’re ready, because I am.”  She removed her gloves, and stroked her damp petals, as Holly said “now can you honestly tell me you are not excited.”


He slowly shook his head from side to side as Holly pushed him down on the bed, and Sands climbed on between his legs, kissing his cock and tasting the pre-cum before she positioned herself, and let him enter her.  It felt so different, alive and exciting, before she started to move gently up and down, Fergus gasping as she did so.


"Oh dear Goddess I’m behaving like a total whore," Sands chastised herself in her thoughts, but this was the plan and as it led directly to the slime responsible for getting Laura raped, then losing her virtue was a small price to pay for creating this perception that she was a total bad girl.


“Oh yes, that is right,” Sands said with a smile before she suddenly thrust down, feeling the skin tear as Fergus penetrated her, and then gasping in sheer pleasure as the sensations rushed through her.


“OH GODDESS!” she called out as he expanded in her, and she felt her first true orgasm coming on as she thrust herself up and down on him, Fergus beginning to move with her as he lost himself.


When it came, it almost drowned her in the sensations that rushed through her, Fergus cumming at the same time as she exploded into her young body.  Holly smiled as Sands raised her head and looked at her, then leaned over to kiss her lips as her chest stroked over the older man’s head.


“Thank you Uncle Fergus,” Sands finally panted as she came off, and he sat up.


"Girls I'm going to need a drink..."

"So are we darling," Holly pouted..."Champers...PLEASE.  And then – it’s my turn…"



“Hey – is it all right if we come in for a few minutes?”


“Sure,” Suzie said as she opened the door, allowing Liz and Shawnee to come into the room.  “We were too tired to head down for the main meal, so Mary and Pops got some food sent up.”


Liz smiled as she saw the three girls in their pyjamas.


"So how did this afternoon go?" Shawnee asked the Clarke girls.

"Do you mean gambling?"

"NO!" Shawnee laughed, "How big a sinner is each of our latest recruits?"


“Well, I haven’t had much luck so far,” Alison said, “beyond Capricorn and me getting a couple of boys to feel us up and French kiss us.”


“Well it’s a start,” Shawnee said with a smile, “what about you two?”


Suzie and Vicky looked at each other, and both giggled as Liz said “NO!  Who?”


“A couple of the bus boys, if truth be told,” Vicky said, “but we got protection from them, and – it was fun.”


“Well, that’s good to hear.  Will you tell your pops?”


“We’ll tell Mary – Pops can wait a little while…”






Juliette smiled as she walked towards her room, and saw Grace standing in the hallway.


"Well,” she said with a smile, “how is it going Grace?"

"From the sounds coming out of that room Pelican,” Grace said as she nodded to the door opposite, “Holly and Sands are showing him the night of his life."

"Do we need to step in?"

"If we did young Sands might just want to kill us, she sounds like she's having the experience of a life time."

"I feel sorry messing with Fergus like this," Juliette shook his head.

"Well I am too, but since I know he first had sex aged 11, with the 12 year old daughter of one of the Bavaria Lodge maids, the age thing will probably shock him less than most..."

"Still there's a difference between two kids fooling round, and an adult having sex with a girl that age."

"There is, but at least Sands is willing, it's not rape, and we are trying to right a greater wrong."


“True – see you tomorrow Palamino.”


Sunday 8th May

8.30 am

Browns, Louisville


“Ah there you are,” Will said as he saw Grant and April walk in, “have you come down from yesterday yet?”


“Just about,” Grant said with a smile, “it was an incredibly special day.  But that was yesterday, and today we move on.  Where is Mandy?”


“She’s just discussing Australia with Angel,” Will said as Jan and Adam came in.  “Thanks for joining us for breakfast, both of you.”


“Well, I guess I’m the independent voice of reason in all this,” Adam said with a smile as Mandy came in.  “Apologies, darlings,” she drawled, “We have a very unusual few months ahead of us.  Shall we sit and order breakfast?”


As they sat round the table, a waiter came and poured fresh orange juice and iced water.  They sat for a moment, perusing the menu, before Mandy said “I believe I will have the baked eggs.  Will?”


“Huevas Rancheros.”


“I’ll join you in that,” Jan said.  Adam looked at the menu and then said “I will try the Hot Browns.”


“Make that two,” Grant said.  “and for you April?”


“I’ll have the classic, eggs over easy, ham and breakfast potatoes with toast.”


“Very good,” the waiter said as he went off, the group looking at each other as they sat round the table.


"I think it's time we talked as a group about Jack and Nicola's engagement," Will spoke eventually.

"Agreed," Grant nodded.  “I know it came as a shock to me, never mind April, but Jack talked to me yesterday and apologised for not asking my permission before.”

"They've been quite realistic keeping it quiet like this." Jan smiled, "it wouldn't do either of them any good if it was public knowledge."

"No it wouldn't darling." Mandy said in her lazy drawl, "and it’s not like it will be broken, yes they will fight like cat and dog, but if I've ever seen true love..."

"You are right." April smiled contentedly, 'he really is such a nice boy."


“The main problem,” Jan said quietly, “is if Pepsi gets dragged into the trial.  We’ve taken legal advice on what to do if it is threatened, but if it does, then they will be the centre of attention as well.”


“I agree,” Will said, “when is the trial scheduled for?”


“Two weeks’ time,” Adam said quietly.  “The hearing is due to start Monday the 23rd.”


“We would be over for it, but we have other commitments,” Will said.  “But keep us informed, and if need be, we will come.”


“Thanks,” Jan said quietly.


“So, if we deal with that risk,” Grant said, “I think what they said is right and proper.  We support them and say nothing until Pepsi graduates, and Jack completes his degree.”


“We will be joining you at Chateau de Ros for Abby’s eighteenth birthday party,” April said, “and I suspect Jack and Pepsi will appreciate time together then.”


“I think that is going to be a most amazing time – Pepsi is one of the party coming to Baby’s old school before, isn’t she?”


“She is – but they will be busy for that fortnight.  Grace told me the itinery…”



“Good morning Bev,” Marianne said as the young woman came into the breakfast room, “care to join us?  Charlotte and Francesca should be in soon.”


“Thanks,” Bev said as she sat down, “so when do yous ‘ead back?”


“Back to New York today, then Jo’burg tomorrow,” John said as he sipped his coffee, “I have to take care of a few things in the office, and Marianne needs to start work on the ranch.”


“I hear you may be made an offer,” Marianne said as Bev gave her order.


“Yeah – Shirley and Char spoke to me on Friday, and I may take it.  I saw what time there did fer Marina – it may do the same fer me.  But I wanna be the one to tell Trace, my housemate.”


“Of course you do, and I am sure you will be a great success,” Marianne said as they looked at the doors.


"After the Lord Mayor's Show..." Bev smiled as a gaggle of young girls wandered into the breakfast room.

"After the Lord Mayors what?" Marianne asked.

"Comes the shit-cart," John Vosloo laughed.

"I still don't get it," Marianne shook her head.

"It means after all those 'orses they 'ave to clear up the mess."

"It refers to something being a huge anti-climax my love," John patted his wife's hand, "and just look at all those girls and think how they looked yesterday."

"Oh now I get it...I must say they all do look so much younger stripped of their finery and makeup."


“Indeed,” Bev said, “but I get the feelin sum haf changed…”


“What do you mea…  Oh my.”


The breakfast room practically gasped as Sandy and Holly came into the room arms tucked under Fergus's, both wearing identical black minidresses that showed a considerable amount of breast, black hose on their long shapely legs and ultra high stilettos. In contrast to every other youngster they had obviously spent a good hour putting on makeup, and each had her hair pulled back in a kitten with a whip ponytail. They wiggled their tight asses, the dresses rippling with every step.

"Now that is how WE should look," the youngest of the Clarke sisters whispered.

“You’re too young,” Dave said, but Mary saw the look that passed between the three girls.


“We can discuss this later,” she said with a smile, “eat up now.”




“Good morning,” Eve said as she and the rest of the family came into the room.

"HOTS meeting in an hour," Aileen whispered to Poppy, "everyone thinks we have a lot to talk about."

"Agreed...  Erica and I will be there for sure."




“Thank you Uncle Fergus,” Sands said as she and Holly let Fergus join John and Marianne, and then walked slowly over to the buffet, smiling as she put some food on a plate.


"Well Sands?"

"Mission accomplished Aunt Ju...”  Sands didn’t look round as she said “Holly even got pictures."

"You both made quite an impression with that entrance." Grace laughed, "I've never seen Fergus look like that...Not sure if he was proud, scared, or just plain in a daze."

"Well he didn't get a lot of sleep." Sands giggled, "we sort of kept him awake."

"I bet you did," Grace laughed. "Whoops watch out here come your Mother and Heather."


“Talk to you tomorrow,” Juliette said as George said “Sands?  Did you get that yesterday?”


“Dammit Bestie,” Katy said with an admiring smile, “you make that work.”


“Indeed,” Heather said with a smile, “Sands, your mother and were wondering if we could have a word with you – that table over there?”


“We’ll join Mom,” Katy said as she and George exchanged a look.


“I can guess what this is about,” Sands said as she waited for the other two women to get some food, and then walked to the table.  “I know I was a little – forward yesterday and this morning.”


“A little?”  Sandy looked at her daughter and said “Not that I’m upset – just very surprised.  What brought this out?”


“Talking to Katy and some of the others, finding out from them what they felt like, and to tell the truth – that trip to Munich.  I just felt I needed to grow up a little now.”


“Well, all we’re saying is take it easy,” Heather said.  “You’re still…”


“A little girl?”


“I was going to say exploring and finding your way,” Heather said with a smile.  “Seriously, Sands, you know your mom and I are here to answer your questions, right?”


“I do,” Sands said with a smile, “and I will, when I have questions.  Right now, I think we’re all hungry, right?”


Sandy and Heather looked at each other, before Sandy said “one condition kiddo – you change before we head for home, all right?”


Sands smiled as she said “sure mom – no problem…”


“Listen,” Heather said, “the fact you came in with Holly.  Is there anything you need to tell us about, little padawan?”


“Nope – we agreed to meet with Uncle Fergus so that I could apologise for my behaviour yesterday.  And he took my apology very graciously…”


“All right,” Sandy said quietly, “so long as that is the end of it.  I know you are growing up, but give it time, all right?”


“Yes, mom,” Sands said as she rolled her eyes.


“Excuse me – need to have a word with Charlotte about something,” Heather said as she walked back to another table.


“Hey Heather,” Charlotte said, “what’s up?”


"Charlotte,” Heather said quietly, “is it true that there is a sister that builds drones?"

"She's a former Australian army officer Heather."

"Well if I was to give you an idea for a tiny drone we might need to explore some tunnels, do you think she could build it?"

"With your help with the software?" Charlotte paused, "I can but ask."

"Please do...and according to Juliette it is kind of urgent."

"Understood." Charlotte whispered.

"And what are you two conspiring about?" Francesca asked as she sat down.

"Us? Conspire?"

"Darling daughter I was a spy long enough I recognise the signs of a secret conversation."


“I wanted Charlotte’s help with a project,” Heather said lightly.


“Hm-mm.  How is young Alexandra this morning?”


“Perplexing – I’ll talk to you later Charlotte.”


“Sure – before we head back,” Charlotte said as Heather walked off.  "Okay what the hell is Juliette really up to?" she thought carefully, "why the hell does she need a drone, especially one for tunnels?"

"This project must be a tough one?"

"Ummm, not really Mother."

"Liar," Francesca smiled, "You just got the very same look on your face James got when he was confronted with a hard question."

"Mother even if I knew anything, you understand...?"

"Yes I know, you have secrets you must keep even from me."


“Thanks – listen, can we talk about tomorrow?  I want you to be there, but as my mother, not a lawyer, understand?”


“On this one, Carlotta, I agree entirely.  I know what my parents did, after all….”




As Mary and Denice walked back from the buffet, they saw Harriet Craig poring over various pieces of sheet music.


"What are those Harriet?" Mary Thomas asked as she sat next to the science teacher.

"Arrangements for the Jazz orchestra's end of year concert."

"I'm looking forward to it,” Denice said as she looked over, “Erica already sold me a pair of tickets."

"Well I hope everyone enjoys it. When you consider we started from scratch last autumn I think the girls have done amazingly well."

"That they have by all accounts," Diana sat down, "I've been meaning to say for days thank you on behalf of the Trustees for all your work Harriet."

"Oh its the girls do the hard work," the Englishwoman blushed.


“But with your guidance.  Do not sell your talents short, Harriet,” she said as she noticed Brooke talking quietly to Laura.





“Hey Cari – I have a favour to ask you.”


“Go on then Abby,” Carina said as Judith drank some milk.


"Do you think your rower friends will object if I hand around a bit and shoot some photos this summer?"

"I wouldn't think so...but can I ask why?"

"We have to present an album when school starts of what we did with our summer..."

"Modeled, made TV commercials, flew round the world a couple of times," Carina laughed.

"Yes, but given who I am that is what people will be expecting...I want to give them something unexpected."

"Well I can ask them."

"I can also make myself useful as a trainer, I can babysit, I can help out generally."

"Okay Abs," Cari laughed again, "I think they'll be shocked that you want to do this, but I'm pretty sure they'll be in it."








“Anna,” Juliette said with a smile, “so you fly back later this morning?”


“With Pepsi et al, yes,” Doc said as she looked round, then whispered "So when do you want me to visit the Library Juliette?"

"Tuesday night looks best, and I'll send Katy along as your minder as the Brits call it."

"Juliette I hardly need a bodyguard..."

"Yes, but we will all feel safer if you do take a backup."

"Have you asked Katy? Or do I have to?"

"I've asked her and she's free.  It will help her take her mind off the hearing in two weeks."




“Laura,” Brooke said quietly, “I know you may not want to talk about it, but Katy and Jan her mother have both told me something happened to you at a party recently…”


“They promised they would not,” Laura said as she looked round.


“Do not be angry with them – I was discussing an old case with Katy, and it slipped out.  I promise, nobody else will ever know – you have my word as a Federal Judge.”


Laura nodded and swallowed, before she said “was I bad girl, Judge Hatton?”


“No, of course you were not,” Brooke said with a smile, “you had had a drink, and you did not do anything wrong Laura.”


“But I wanted to do it, and I could not stop myself…”


“I know, I understand – and what happened, happened.  As much as I wish I could turn the clock back and stop it, I cannot.  So let me ask you – how are you now?”


“Well, I still have bad dreams…”


“I know – they can take a long time to go, but I promise you, they will do,” Brooke said quietly.  “Otherwise?”


“I got lucky – my time came, heavier, but it came.  But I see my friends yesterday, and…”


“Do not be hard on them – they got caught up in the excitement, and lost track of…”


“I’m sorry, Miss Hatton,” Shawnee said as she and Liz came over, “we wanted to see if Laura was all right?”


“Of course – Laura, if you do want to talk about it, get Aunt Sandy to call me, all right?”



"Mary I hate to be the bearer of ill-tidings..."

"What now Missy?" Mary said as she drank her tea.

"Snaffles has pulled out of going the Sydney show."

"Because I left her picture out of the last edition?"

"NO!  Because she has discovered she's four and a half months pregnant."

"Well it’s a reason...,” Mary said with a shrug, “not a good reason...but still a reason."

"I'm sending her and Jimmy a congratulations note on behalf of us all."

"Thanks Missy, but how the hell do I replace a girl with caramel skin was going to highlight the tribute to Australian beachwear?"


“Problem,” Juliette said as she and Pippa came over.


“Who could we get to replace Snaffles?”


“I heard she was expecting – a difficult one I grant you…”



10 am


“All right then,” Katy said as she closed the door, “this meeting of HOTS is called to order.  Are we missing anyone?”


“West coast contingent present and correct,” Capricorn said as she sat with the Clarke girls, Vicky and Suzie grinning.


“Irish chapter all here,” Orion said as she sat with Aileen.


“Super Six all present and correct,” Liz said as Louise and Sands walked in.


“Which leaves we two,” Poppy said as she sat with Erica.  “So – progress report?”


“I can report both Capricorn and I got to first base,” Alison said with a smile.  “While my older sisters…”


“Join you,” Vicky said with a smile as she looked at Katy.






Diana smiled as Abigail came over.  “And they are?”


“In one of the side rooms.”


“Ah,” Diana said quietly, “so our suspicions are correct.  They have gathered as a group of like-minded young ladies.”


“I think they are determined to put the sin in Sinners Mama."

"You really think so Abigail Cherie?"

"Oui...  Especially the way they dressed yesterday.  I think though they have enough responsible people watching they can't get in too much trouble."

"We can but hope so," Diana smiled, "now did you ask Carina?"

"I did,” Abby said, “and she thinks her friends won’t mind...I just want to show Cooper Union I'm not just fashion."

"So you show them that you are a sports photographer as well. As I said earlier darling I very much approve. You just need to fit it round your own working commitments."

Nodding, Abby sipped her coffee.  "Before I forget, did Missy ask you about me doing some catwalk in Rome?"

"She you want to?"

"Well the diary is free, and Ennio Parillo is a very hot new designer."


“So we go from Australia to Rome, and then to Munich?  It should be an interesting summer…”



“Sorry ladies,” Orion said with a smile, “no joy, but I live in hope – and under the eye of my aunt.”


“And as for me – I had to tell my darling sister and the Red Hand a home truth,” Aileen said with a smile.


“I heard,” Katy said with a smile, “and well done.  You and Sands here do appear to have a lot in common.”


“I think I’m a little more single track, if you catch my drift,” Aileen said with a smile.


Katy smiled and nodded, as she said “so from the home front…  Erica, how did you and Simon enjoy last night?”


“Oh very much so,” Erica said with a smile as Poppy clapped her on the back.


“Which leaves one question in my mind,” Liz said as she looked at Sands.


“Oh yes,” Sands said quietly, as the smile grew on her face, “in every way…”


“Right,” Vicki said.  “We next meet in June, right?”


“Correct – So when we meet, let’s all be on the same side of the room…”




“Ready to fly back,” Grace said as she watched Annie sit slowly down.


"Just about – can I ask a question?”




“Grace, just what are you going to be doing with the girls at your old school?" Annie asked with a little professional interest.

"In basic terms?  Showing each group the difference in how things are taught and studied."


"Well Harriet and Anna talking about how we can advance Anna's status quickly here, and how she can be doing college work before she leaves."


"And in your department Sarah and Pepsi can talk about the greater emphasis here on competitive sports."


“And the others?”


“Jeannie, Nikki and Doc have shoots over there, and Caroline has a very special surprise lined up for Ama.  The rest is a surprise – Denice, a moment.”


“Sure Grace – what’s up?”


“I had a text from Melinda’s family – will Tuesday night be all right?”


“To visit?  Sure – no problem…”





“Well, we need to be thinking about getting back to the airport,” Sandy said, “where are the kids?”


“I’m here Mom,” Sands said as she appeared, wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a jacket.


“Well – I see you’ve dressed down now.”


“Yeah – hey Katy.  You coming back now as well?”


“We are,” Katy said with a smile, “school tomorrow after all.”


“That’s right,” Sands said with a smile as she nodded at Holly.




“You all right Fergus,” Grace said as she sat next to him.


“Yeah – just a sleepless night,” he said with a smile.  “So can I see you during the week?”


“I thought you were heading back to South Africa?”


“I’m… staying for a few more days, Fergus said with a smile.




10 pm


As she sat in the dark jet, Charlotte looked at Piet and Francesca dozed.  John, Shirley and Maisha were talking quietly at the front of the jet.  Out of the window, she saw the dark sky, the only lights other planes.


“Well,” she said to herself, “if I am ever going to watch the first of these messages, now is as good a time as any, before the fun tomorrow.”  She stood up and retrieved her Jameson bag, opening it to take out one of the discs she had been given.  Plugging a set of ear buds into a player, she sat it on her lap and started the disc.


The screen was blank for a moment, and then she saw a well-furnished room, with silk hangings on the walls, and light coming through a large window.  As she watched, a grey haired woman, with a striking resemblance to her mother, sat down.  She was wearing a grey dress with a white cardigan, and smiled as she looked at the camera.


“Carlotta,” she said with a slight accent, “I must introduce myself - which sounds a strange thing to be saying to my grown-up granddaughter. I will talk in English since I don’t know if you speak Italian at all.”


“Very, very little Dona Carlotta,” Charlotte whispered to herself, “I really need to learn more.”


“This is being filmed in Roma, at the Palazzo Cambrello,” Dona Carlotta waved at the background, “this is the house your mother grew up in, and where I have my happiest memories of ‘Mia Francesca’.”


“Anyway I am Carlotta di Cambrello…and I am very proud to say that I am your Grandmother,” the older lady smiled at the camera.  Charlotte reached out and touched her face.  “There are some things I wanted to say to you, and to you only – some grandmotherly advice, if you will.”


“So – I suppose I should talk first about your mother.  Since I cannot be sure as to the condition of your Mother’s mental health at the time you see this, what I’m going to say is simply this - don’t judge her, however she is, she was not always that way.”


“I know Grandmother,” Charlotte said quietly, “and I am happy she is becoming herself again.”


“She was once the pride of my life,” Carlotta said quietly, “but something happened at the time of your birth that even today I barely know the sketchiest details about, and it tore your family apart.  For some reason, she deserted you and your father, and returned to Italy. I cannot but wish that things had been different, that your father had not been so hurt he prevented all access by your grandfather and myself to you. It broke both our hearts.


“As for your mother – it broke her as well, and she has never been the same since.  Our prayer is that when she sees a message we have left for her, she will be able to understand what we say – we can only pray for that.”


Charlotte looked over as Francesca smiled, and smiled herself.


“Anyway what is past is past,” the late Marchesa tried to smile at the camera.  “A wise person once said you cannot change what has happened – you can only learn the lessons and move on.”


“So find her if you have not already, and build the bridges.  You may need some help from old friends…  Can I commend the Baroness Buchenwald to you? Natalia has always been a good and true friend to Francesca.”


“She has, and to me” Charlotte said quietly.


“Anyway I suspect she knows a lot more about what really happened then she has ever been able to tell me.” The Marchesa paused. “I know your Aunt Marianne in South Africa has always meant a lot to your mother as well, hopefully at some time in your life she has shed some light on the craziness of that week after you were born.”


“Well, I know more now,” she said quietly.


“You may or may not know, but Natalya and I tried to see you when you were a baby.  If you are watching this, you will also have received the doll I brought that time.  Carlotta, I know you are an adult now, but when your first daughter is born, please let her have it.”


“To my sadness, James I know has had you raised as a protestant, not in the faith. Another hurtful thing that happened as a consequence. Do not get me wrong - I know James is a fine man, an outstanding engineer, a man of deep conscience, but also the man I have cursed more times then I care to remember for denying us access to you. I do know though that he has provided you with a fine education, and that you have a first class brain…use it Carlotta.”


“Oh if only you knew,” Charlotte said quietly.


“Now a subject very dear to my heart,” Dona Carlotta paused, “you are to see this before your wedding…”


“Here it comes,” Charlotte said as she looked at Piet.


“Can I make a plea that whatever arrangements you have made, can they please include a wedding in our families church of Santa Chiara in Naples. The women of the di Cambrello family have been married there for centuries, it is where I was married, it is where James married Francesca, and it is where I pray you and your husband to be will also in part celebrate the joining.”


“Why do I have the feeling this has been pre-ordained,” Charlotte said as she rubbed her eyes.


“I know there will be objections on the matter of faith, but if he is still alive go see Father Sergio Bettega, I have an outlined a plan to him, and if he is deceased he has pledged to me that someone else can and will outline to you what I have in mind.”


“You cunning old Dona,” Charlotte laughed, “I have to find out what scheme you’ve cooked up.”


“I know also that whatever her mental state Francesca will also not be able to bear the thought of you marrying anywhere else but in the Basilica.  LISTEN TO HER CARLOTTA!”   The Marchesa smiled as she said “we di Cambrello women are very strong-willed when there is something we want.”


“Oh don’t I know it…”


“Now I must deal with a subject that is necessary – and that is money.  Together your grandfather and I have combined to protect a lot of our inheritances that would have gone straight to your mother on our own passing. Thanks to her grandparents she is an extremely rich woman in her own right, but we decided that whatever was wrong inside her head should not cost you your rightful due. Therefore we bundled a lot of resources, and cash, into trust funds that will pass straight to you.


“When you received this, you will have received a document giving the general details.  I know you will have sought your own advice on this, but if all has gone as planned, they will tell you it is relatively straightforward.  I will not go into the details here – those will become clear in due course.”


Nodding, Charlotte smiled as the old woman leaned forward.


“You will find with all that wealth comes large responsibilities Carlotta, I want to tell you about a few things dear to my own heart that I hope you will continue to support.


“Your grandfather and I have always supported the arts, and we wish you to continue our support of certain opera and theatre companies.  I have also personally supported certain church missions that seek to support those who need help – a list is included on this DVD.  Always, Carlotta, look out for those who cannot help themselves, and seek to help them as much as you can.


“Why these things?  I adore opera, which I know always sounds a bit pompous, I love my various gardens that I have made and tend at our various houses. I take strength from my Christian faith, and I support what good works that I can.”


“I wonder if April can help…”


“I will admit to enjoying bawdy farces, both old and modern, and I have been known to drive cars very fast.”


“I really wish I had got to know you,” Charlotte said quietly.


“I commend you also to Claudio – he runs the business side, and will be delighted to meet with and advise you.”


“I have a fun weekend coming up,” Charlotte whispered to herself.


“Anyway what can I tell you about myself?” the Marchesa smiled again at the camera. “Well my grandfather was a great industrialist, and I was brought up to be a nice Italian upper-class girl. People think that my marriage to your grandfather was arranged to consolidate two family fortunes, but in fact for many weeks after I met him, I had no idea he was either titled, or wealthy. Contrary to many opinions ours was strictly a love match. I was this romantic art student, he was a handsome naval officer, and we fell in love the natural, the right way…Pray God you have done the same, and that your husband-to-be is as good and true a man as I married.”


“Oh he is,” she said quietly as she looked at Piet.


“Carlotta, the love your mother and father shared before that fateful day was as strong as ours – may yours be as strong.  I pray you can trust him with everything – save those few things we women must keep to ourselves.”  She smiled, Charlotte smiling in return as the Marchesa looked round.


“One thing more I will say in this message to you Carlotta – when you see your mother, ask her to tell you the story of how your parents met.  It was also a story of love at first sight.  For now, I merely say ciao, and know we are always watching you and your family.”







Monday 9th May

10 am

Brewster, Beddoes and Menzies, Madison Avenue



Charlotte sat in the plush leather armchair, fidgeting nervously as Francesca sat next to her.  The young redhead was wearing a grey jacket and skirt, with a white blouse, and grey heels, while Francesca wore a linen jacket over a knee length white dress.


“This is going to be a fun meeting,” she finally said as she looked round the oak panelled room.


“Oh I don’t know,” Francesca said with a smile, “this is a good office, it breathes character and history…”


They both looked over as a secretary came out.  “Mister Brewster will see you now,” she said as Charlotte stood up.  “I’ll see you in a few minutes,” Francesca said as she accepted a cup of coffee.


“If you will follow me,” the smartly dressed secretary said as Charlotte walked across the room, and walked into a large office.  As she looked at the man looking at the desk, Charlotte knew where the House had got his height from.


“Miss Gordon?  Thomas Brewster – I understand you know my grandson?”  Thomas Brewster was in his sixties, thin and tall, but smartly dressed and with a proud bearing.


“I do indeed,” Charlotte said with a smile as they shook hands.  “I saw him on Saturday – both he and Jeannie are close friends.”


“Ah yes – I do like his girlfriend,” he said as he indicated a seat.  “So, how can I be of help to you?”


“Well, you were recommended to me not only by my employers, Xavier International, but by Jeannie’s mother Barbara,” Charlotte said quietly.  “It’s a little complicated…”


“Often things which are apparently complicated are very simple,” Thomas said with a smile, “can you put it in simple terms?”


“In simple terms?  I am Carlotta, daughter of the Marchesa di Cambrello, and I was informed last week I am the beneficiary of a substantial portion of the estate of her deceased parents.”


Thomas had been about to take a drink, but he slowly lowered his cup as he said “Okay – that explains very succinctly why you have asked to see me.  How were you informed of this?”


“I was visited last week by a representative of my family’s legal firm in Naples,” Charlotte said as she handed Thomas the business card.  “He had some letters and other information from my grandparents, amongst which was the news they had placed a substantial part of their estate into a trust fund, which was to be passed on to me on the occasion of my twenty fifth birthday or my wedding.”


Thomas put his fingers together under his chin as he said “I imagine that must have come as quite a shock to you?”


“You have no idea,” Charlotte said quietly, “Well, my engagement was announced, and I am pregnant, so the process had begun in Italy to grant me access to the trust fund alongside other matters.”  From her Jameson bag, she took an envelope out.  “I have kept the original, but these are the terms of the trust fund as they were delivered to me.  While I have many skills, legal terms is not one of them – so you were recommended to me as someone who would be able to assist me with this.”


Taking the envelope, Thomas removed the papers and glanced at them.  “Is your mother aware of this,” he said quietly.


“She is outside – but as she is looking to establish herself after many years in service to the Italian navy as a legal consultant, she had to recuse herself from any involvement in this.  But she is aware of the documents, and fully supports any assistance that you can offer.”


“Oh – is she in partnership with someone?”


“Sigrid van Manschen has taken her on as a partner.”


Nodding, Thomas said “I know the Baroness – and your mother is right to recuse herself from involvement in this.  I will need a few days for my juniors to examine and determine the terms – may I ask where you may be contacted?”


“I am based in London, but I can be contacted at these numbers,” Charlotte said as she handed her own business card over.  Thomas nodded as he said “Well, our firm would be delighted to advise you on how best to manage the terms of the fund, and of any obligations under both UK and US law.  We will contact you with our considered opinion in the next few days, and then you can decide how to proceed.”


“That is acceptable,” Charlotte said as she stood, “I have authorised my grandfather’s legal representatives to continue to manage the trust until I have taken my own advice and come to a decision.”


“With your permission, we will contact them and inform them you have engaged our services,” Thomas said with a smile.  “May I escort you to the outer office?”


As they walked out, Francesca stood and smiled.


“Marchesa di Cambrello,” Thomas said as he took her hand and kissed it, “an honour to meet you.  We will be more than happy to advise your daughter in this matter.”


“Excellent – well, now we can relax for the rest of the day.”


“Until later, Mother – thank you Thomas,” Charlotte said as they shook hands, and then the two women left the building, “we still have the matter of the messages to watch.”




4 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“I will leave you to it,” Diana said as she closed the door to the television room, Francesca sitting back as Charlotte opened the pack of recordings.


“Have you watched any yet?”


“One – from Grandmama.  She told me a few things, including to ask how you and Dad first met.  But most of all, she wanted to share her love.”


“So – which of these are you…  Charlotte?”


"Mother, there is a DVD here labelled for your eyes first." Charlotte held it up and then passed it over.

"That is Papa's handwriting," Francesca held the disk up, "but it is very shaky looking.  Why...?"

"It is obviously something he wanted to say to you privately Mother."

"But what?"


“I think there is only one way to find out,” she said as she put it into the player, and pressed the play button.  It showed a hospital bed, and the Marchese looking over as a voice said “I strongly advise against this…”

“Your advice is noted,” the old sailor said as he tried to sit up in bed.

"Marchese you have had a stroke."

"I know,” he said in a slightly quivering voice, “and I will soon be joining Carlotta in a better place, but damn there is a message I must send to my daughter before I die."


A nurse came over and gently sat him up, using some pillows to support his back as someone adjusted the camera.

"Go ahead."

"Thank you Doctor.  Would you all please leave the room for this – I promise, I will try to remain alive until I am done."

"Alright,” the male voice said, “filming Marchese."


He nodded and waited until the room was clear, before he said “Francesca, if you are seeing this, then I know Carlotta has managed to find you, and given you it to watch.  I will never see her in this life, but I pray…  I pray…”


He paused for a moment, before he said "Admiral Fabrisi came to see me today…”


“Who was Admiral Fabrisi?”


“My commanding officer when they died, why would he…  Oh no…”


“Francesca…  Francesca my love,” the old man said quietly, “I apologise for everything I ever said or thought since the dreadful day you left South Africa.  He explained everything to me – he felt I should not go to my grave ignorant of the truth.”  He paused again and shook his head.  “How could I have not seen you had been recruited by Intelligence, that you were expelled from Pretoria, that you never deserted Carlotta, and most importantly you have been living under a cover all these years since..."

The old gentleman coughed and waited a moment.


“I know now the truth – I know the woman we raised as the clever, wonderful young lady has always been there, but we let our sadness, our disappointment, our anger cloud our judgement of you.  Francesca, please – forgive a foolish old man his sins.”


“I forgive you Papa,” Francesca said quietly.


“As you know,” he continued, “because of what we saw, we made arrangements for Carlotta and her children to be well provided for.  Francesca, heal the rifts, become the mother to her she never really had.  When I see your mother again – and I know it will be soon – I will tell her, so please, find it in your heart to forgive her as well.


“I do not know if James will still be alive when you see this – if he is, I wrote and explained everything to him.  If it is possible, Francesca, see him as well, and maybe, maybe you can be together again. 


“Your mother also recorded a message for you, before she died – please, bear in mind she knew nothing of this, and I hope she was not too harsh.  Above all, above all…  Francesca, when you see your own grandchildren, love them as we would dearly like to have loved Carlotta.  Do this and always, always remember us.”


“I will, Papa,” Francesca said as a tear rolled down her cheek, and he sat back, smiling and nodding as the film ended.




“Oh God Carlotta,” Francesca said quietly, “to know he knew, and he forgave me…  I still wish I had seen him once before…  Before…”


Charlotte reached round and hugged her mother as the tears came, waiting until she took a tissue and wiped her eyes.  “Thanks,” she said with a smile, “so, what shall we watch next?”


“Apparently, this is to me from Grandfather,” Charlotte said as she held up another disk, looking over as Diana looked in.  “I hope you do not mind,” she said quietly, “but I have invited Sandy and Heather to join us for dinner.”


“Of course we don’t mind,” Francesca said as she smiled.


“Are you all right?  You look as if you have seen a ghost.”


“I have – in a way,” Francesca said, Diana nodding as she closed the door.  As she did so, Charlotte put in the disc and started it playing.


The film this time showed an office, with pictures on the wall.  “Is that you,” Charlotte asked as she saw a large portrait with three people in.


“Yes – my graduation photo,” she said quietly as her father sat down in front of the camera.  He was younger, and not as grey in the face or hair.


“Hello Carlotta,” he said with a smile, “to put it simply, I’m your grandfather, the Marchese di Cambrello.  If we had met, you would call me grampa, I suppose, but fate and life had other plans – so we have not had the chance to meet, and if you are watching this, sadly we never did.


“But we have been watching from afar – I’m sure my darling Carlotta will say so at some other time – and I am sure she will say, as I do now, that we are extremely proud of the woman we have seen you become.


“Carlotta,” he said as he sat down, and smiled, “we know your father was very greatly hurt by what your mother did, and that as a result, we have not been able to be the part of your life we always wish we could have been.  But as I say, we have watched you grow up, and now you are a bright and intelligent young woman, with the world before you – and, if things have gone as we planned, soon you will be married, and with children of your own.  I know your grandmother will have much to say on this, but let me say this one thing.  Love them, care for them, and never let them feel abandoned – never do that Carlotta.


“What else can I say to you?  Your father…  Your father is a good man, but he was hurt very badly by what happened.  All we can do is pray that hurt eased somewhat, and perhaps, after we went to our rest, he found and reconciled matters with your mother.  But do not hate him or her for what happened – even though your grandmother and I do not understand.  Your darling mother, despite what the world thinks of her, has also suffered greatly.  Sadly, at our hands as well.  I pray she is recovered enough so that you may find her and talk to her…”


The two women looked at each other as the Marchese said “the past is the past.  You are watching this, so you are not only coming to the age of 25, but you have found a soulmate.  Your grandmother and I have a separate message for you on that matter, and I implore you to watch it with him so you may know what we have done.  Other things will have been passed to you – and they will have come as a shock, I know.


“Carlotta…  You are intelligent, you are wise, and from the photographs we have seen, you are beautiful – if small.  Be the woman you were meant to be – the rest will take care of itself.  But I ask you to remember us, in whatever we do.”


Charlotte wiped a tear away as he said “You are going to discover many things – take your time, be wise, be brave.  And know we always loved you.”


As the film ended, Charlotte whispered “thank you, Garmpa…”


“Hey – are you all right Roo?”


“Yeah, you big lunk,” she said as she looked at Piet in the doorway, “we were watching some of the video messages.  There’s one for both of us – want to watch it after dinner?”


“So long as others don’t mind…  Oh, I met Klaus,” he said as he handed Francesca an envelope, “he said Shirley would meet you at her office on Thursday, and give you everything else.”


“Why thank you – I think I know what this is,” she said as she opened it, and took out some photos and documents.


"What is in the envelope Mother? Some legal case?"

"No,” Francesca said as she held up a photograph of an old house, “these are pictures and details on the London flat Klaus says he will let me have."

"Let me see please," Charlotte said as she looked closely at a photo of the main room, "he's right when he says it needs work."

"But it's almost perfectly the right size. A master, guest, and a room for a housekeeper. Large enough dining room to entertain.”  Looking at the picture of the kitchen, which looked as if it had been designed in the seventies, she said “The kitchen will of course will need to be completely ripped out, but I can fit in a small home office and still have a great drawing room to enjoy."

"Well,” Charlotte said as she looked at the floor plans, “it will be far bigger then Piet and my little place in Highbury."

"Roo you do realise that now we can afford something different?" Piet said as he looked at the apartment pictures.

"I know, but I like our little flat, at least for now its home.  I don’t want things to change that much."


“And you are quite right too,” Francesca said with a laugh, “take your time over this.  I suggest we break until after dinner – save for something I need to do.”




8.15 pm

The de Ros Mansion


“Edith, that was wonderful,” Abby said as she wiped her chin.


“Thank you, Miss Abigail,” Edith said with a smile, “shall I serve coffee in the lounge, madame?”


“Please,” Diana said as the plates were cleared.


“So you fly back tomorrow,” Heather asked Charlotte.


“Yes – Shirley has offered to fly us all back with her and Maisha, while John does a shoot in Austin and flies back from there.  We leave later tomorrow afternoon.”


“And you Francesca,” Sandy asked across the table.


“I’ll be going to take a suite at the Savoy for a week or so – I have to start the business of renovating the flat I am taking, and also set up an office I can use in the short term.  Again, Shirley has kindly offered some space to do that in.”


“And then, next Saturday, she meets the in-laws to be,” Piet said with a grin, as Charlotte shook her head.


“Do not remind me,” she said quietly.


“Anyway,” Piet said as he stood up, “shall we see that message for both of us?”


“Why not – want to see it with us?  I don’t think there will be anything secret I want to hide – will there, mother?”


“Oh I very much doubt it,” Francesca said as Edith appeared.


“A telephone call for you Miss Abigail – Master Tony.”


“I’ll catch up with all of you in a few minutes,” Abby said as they went into the smaller room, Diana pouring the coffee as Charlotte found the disc she was looking for.


“Per Carlotta e il suo fidanzato – For Carlotta and her fiance,” she said as she read the writing on the silver disc, and then put it into the player.  As it started, the camera went through a magnificent entrance hall, with marble walls and sunlight streaming through the windows, and then through a large room and out to where the Marchese was standing, wearing a blue Naval blazer over a white shirt and light pants.


“Carlotta – I hope you are watching this with the man you are to marry.  Before we do anything, allow your grandmother and I to do this.”  He popped the cork on a bottle of champagne, poured some into two glasses and carried them out to where the Marchesa was sat in a white chair, wearing a cream twin set and knee length skirt.  Handing her a glass, they lifted them to the camera and said “Salut!”


“Well, they certainly plan in advance,” Piet said as he shook his head.


"Allow us to say a word to your fiancé.  Young man, we have no way of knowing who you are.  We can just hope that Carlotta has chosen a partner for life using both her head and her heart," the Marchese spoke as he and Dona Carlotta sat on a terrace high above an azure blue lake surrounded by high mountains.


“Wherever they are, it looks like heaven,” Heather said as she sat with Sandy.

"This," the Marchesa said as she waved her arms, “is our immediate wedding present to you both.  The lake you can see behind us is Lake Trevalli, and the terrace we are sitting on is part of Castel San Pietro, which we have had restored over the years for just this purpose, to be our wedding gift to Carlotta and her chosen one."


The room stared on in silence at the smiling older couple, before Piet said “I’m sorry Roo – did they just say we were getting a castle as a wedding present?”


“I think they just did…”


“Well, it is certainly an unusual present,” Diana said as the Marchese stood up, and took them on a tour of the inside.


"Did you know about this Mother?"

"No I didn't Carlotta," Francesca shook her head, “I knew it was a spot they loved..."

"With views like that who can blame them?" Piet looked amazed.

"And it keeps you out of my prying eyes," Francesca laughed, "my Villa dei Mille Fiori is on the opposite bank of the lake."

“So Carlotta – you are watching this, which means you received the first part of our package.  One of the next things you will receive is the document of ownership, and I hope you and your husband take the opportunity to visit soon.”


"Do you own any other property nearby?" asked Sandy as the film ended.

"Oh don't ask," the Marchesa rolled her eyes, “there is more than my little brain can remember."

"Road Trip," Sandy and Heather laughed as they spoke the words together.


“Dear lord, Roo,” Piet said as he rubbed the back of his neck, “Mum and Dad are going to be floored.”


“No!  You think so?  Piet, I just discovered I own a castle…”  Charlotte suddenly stood up and left the room, Francesca and Piet both starting to stand.


“No,” Diana said as she stood, “please remain here.  I will go and see if she is all right.”  She walked out, closing the door behind herself as Abby pointed to the library.  As she came in, she saw Charlotte sitting in a chair, her head in her hands.


Sitting next to her, she waited until she looked up, eyes red as she says “This…  This is getting ridiculous Diana.  Three weeks ago I was taking the call to go and clear out Dad’s office, and now…”


“I can understand that,” Diana said quietly.  “It has come as a shock to us, and it must be infinitely more so to you.  You need time to take all of this in, and time to consider how to handle the fact you are now a very wealthy woman, not to mention next in line to be Marchesa di Cambrello.”


Nodding, Charlotte said “but to discover all I have missed out on…”


"Losing the chance to know your grandparents was the cruellest part of this whole business, Charlotte." Diana looked saddened. "I knew them slightly, and really they were the true golden couple. They were happy, in love, blessed with a beautiful daughter, wealthy, and then fate decided they had too much and ripped you and your Mother away from them."

"I would just like once to have sat on his knee...or helped her in her garden," tears streamed from Charlotte's eyes.


“I understand,” Diana said as she placed her hand on hers, “but you have your mother back, and perhaps your own children will have the chance to learn from their example.”


Nodding Charlotte said “yeah – I need to take baby steps don’t I?”


“Yes you do,” Diana said quietly.  “Enjoy tonight, go home, take your time – and then enjoy the weekend.  I think it will be an interesting time.  The next time we are all due to meet is in Rosville – we can talk more then.”


“Feeling all right now,” Piet said as Diana and Charlotte came back in.


“Yeah – let’s have our coffee…”


“Father Richmond, Madame.”


“Alex,” Diana said as Edith showed him in, “what brings you here tonight?”


“To see Francesca before she goes to London – she called me earlier.”


“Indeed – will you come with me for a few minutes Alex,” Francesca said as she stood up, Alex nodding as they left the room.




“I will see you in a few weeks,” Alex said as she and Francesca came out of the library, Charlotte coming out of the main room.


“Alex, may I take a moment as well please?”


“Of course,” Alex said as Francesca headed up the staircase.


"Do you know a Father Sergio Bettega Alex?" Charlotte asked as they stood in the hallway.

"Let me  think...Hmmm...Oh maybe....There is a Father Bettega who is Dean Emeritus of the Chapter at Santa Chiarra...Why?"

"My Grandmother says I'm to talk to him."

"Now I wonder why that might be?" Alex stroked his own chin.


“She apparently talked to him about having some sort of ceremony in the church…”


“Well, that sounds like something he may have a view on…  He's now a VERY old man, but he became famous for the work he did on the slopes of Monte Cassino in the World War."

"What did he do?"

"He was out in those killing zones constantly comforting the wounded and dying of all nations and religions. He had words of comfort for dying Sikhs, words for both Hindu and Muslim alike.  American Jewish boys, Polish Catholics, English Anglicans, even German Lutherans from the other side." Alex shook his head, "he was held up to me as an exemplar while I was in the seminary."

"But why would Grandmother want me to go see him?"

"I don't know, but can I go with you…  It would be a chance to meet one of my own heroes."


“I’ll let you know when we get over there,” Charlotte said with a smile.  “Thanks Alex.”


“It’s what I’m here for,” Alex said as he put his coat on.  “But now, I hear my bed calling.  Safe travels to you and Piet.”



10 pm

Park Avenue


“So you fly out tomorrow,” Juliette said as she sat in the den with Shirley, while Klaus and John talked in the drawing room.


“Indeed – we leave early evening, hopefully arriving safe the following morning.  So,” Shirley said as she swirled her glass round, “The Manchurian Gold.  You really think you may know where it is?”


“I think I know the general location.  Kylie is doing some work for me, and Doc will get some plans for me later in the week.”


"Is what you have in mind even really theft Ju?" Shirley asked. "As far as I can work it out in my head, it was abandoned, and is therefore treasure...we recovered it the British government 'should' give us its full value under the law."

"Sigi isn't sure that the British treasure law covers this...And besides, it may be somewhere – difficult to find.”  Taking another drink she said "And I also think we may have some competition looking."

"Meaning what?"

"That we will probably have to fight for it."


“Fight who?”


“Let’s just say I have an interesting chat with Cathy and her contacts coming up…”


“Well, you can brief us more fully when we meet next month.  On another note, I hear you have a film night planned for Friday.”


“Oh yes – I’ll let you know…”




Tuesday 10th May

8 pm

Over New York


“You may now move around the cabin,” the pilot announced as Maisha unclipped and walked over to where Bev was sitting.


“I think I shall sleep,” Francesca said as she turned the cabin light off, while Piet lay back, his eyes closed as well.


Charlotte stood up, and took her bag from the overhead locker, before she selected another disc and put it into the player.  She watched for a moment, then started to cry as her grandmother spoke.


"Carlotta, try and have several children if you can please. What the doctors did when Francesca was born via a Caesarian left me unable to have any more...while she, despite all the men she sleeps least seems to have the sense not to get pregnant, and thus become a bad mother to any other poor children."

"Oh Grandmother if you'd only known the truth," Charlotte let the tears pour out.


“It would mean so much to us if children ran round this place again – it would be like a breath of fresh air…”




She looked up to see Shirley standing over her.  Stopping the film, she removed her earbuds and said “Sorry – I was…”


“I know – care for a drink before you sleep?”


She nodded as she stood up, and they headed to the bar.


“So – how are you feeling?”


“Did you hear what was on some of the discs?”


“You mean the present from your grandparents?  I have to admit, a castle in that part of Italy is something special…”


Shaking her head, Charlotte said “I don’t know Shirley.  I know one thing however – I am adding our charities to those I will support.”


“Known or unknown?”


“Both – we just need to find a way to do it – carefully.”


“Let’s talk about it later in the week – for now, I need to unwind…”



8 pm

The Village


“So they’re in the air,” Caroline said as she sipped her coffee.


“I think so yes,” Juliette said as the doorbell rang, Ama going down and returning with Katy.


“Indeed – and now begins the real fun,” Doc said as she stood up.  “So what exactly are we going in to find?”


“I need you to go into the Restricted section, Doc, and…”


“Get one of the forbidden books of spells,” Ama mumbled, everyone turning and looking at her as she smiled and said “sorry.”


“As I was saying,” Juliette said, “I want you to go into the restricted section, and find a map which I want a copy of.”


“Fair enough – what is it?”


“A map of the complete London Underground system from the 1970’s.”


“In the restricted section of the Public Library,” Caroline said, “why?”


“This is a special one – it is complete, with all the disused stations and tunnels.”


"Why is an old map showing the location of used and disused subway tunnels and stations a restricted document Juliette?" Doc asked.

"Well for starters a lot of them were converted for covert use as bomb shelters, underground command centers and other secret purposes in World War Two."

"I read about Churchill's war rooms in history this year."

"Some became nuclear fallout shelters later, and some others still have secret uses today."



"The British government doesn't want enthusiasts for old subway history, or treasure hunters, poking round down there too much, hence why these detailed maps are still VERY restricted."

"Alright, I can understand that...but why do WE need our own copy?"


“All in good time – come straight back here, and have fun…”



Wednesday 11th May

10 am BST

The Savoy, London


Jack Docherty stepped out from the main entrance to the hotel, resplendent in his red coat, and waited as the Bentley drove round and to the side of the pavement.  He opened the door and touched his cap as Francesca stepped out, wearing a grey coat over her blouse and skirt.


"Welcome back Marchesa," Jack smiled as he supervised the unloading of her cases from the limousine onto the trolley.

"It's nice to be back at the Savoy Jack...Did you get my reservation for my usual suite?'

"We did."

"Good.  Well, I think a shower and a change of clothing first."

As the cases went in, Jack tipped the driver, and watched as he drove off.  "If I may enquire, will you be throwing a party on this visit?"

"No," Francesca smiled, "I'm here to work, help my daughter get ready for her wedding, and start renovating a flat I'm taking."


“So you are taking a permanent residence in London?”


“I am – I have started a new phase in my life Jack.”

"Well,” he said with a smile, “I know the management will be glad there will be no repetition of what happened last time."

"I think they might," Francesca smiled, "just tell them there will be no more wild parties.  Those days are in the past now.   I must ask one favour however?"


“Of course, Marchesa.”


“I understand there is a block booking for the van der Byl family this weekend?”


“Ah – you future son in law?”


“Indeed – Jack, I would prefer not to meet them until Saturday, so if you could ensure…”


“Of course,” Jack said as they walked into the hotel lobby.  “I shall ensure discretion.”


10 am BST

Charlotte and Piet’s flat


“They’re here,” Lily said as they looked out of the window, both she and Penny walking out of the door and to the gate as Charlotte got out.


“Where’s the big guy,” Lily asked as the driver started to take the cases out.


“He had to go into the office to file a story – and then check some reservations in town.  Thanks for coming out and meeting me girls – I need the company.”


“Hey, no problem.  The others?”


“Bev is going straight to the Farm, Maisha and Shirley to their home.  So what have I missed?”


"What have you missed?  What have YOU missed,” Lily said in an exasperated voice.


“So is it all true?" Penny asked as she paid the taxi driver.

"Is what true?" Charlotte tried to ask innocently as they walked up the garden path...  "That we've agreed to send Bev to Hong Kong?  That’s true…"

"No and you know very well what we are asking about." Penny smiled her 'dangerous' smile.

"You leave for a weekend’s office clearing, and you come back one of the world’s wealthiest women three weeks later...What the hell do you think we are talking about?" Lily snorted.

"Oh that...  Got the coffee on?"


A few minutes later, as they sat in the kitchen, Charlotte smiled and said “okay – thirty second version.  Yes, my mother has been alive all this time.  Yes, I almost literally bumped into her in Marseilles, where she was helping some of the Sisters deal with the drug problem.  Yes, there was a reason she did what she did, and yes, she is in London, setting up an office and home here.”


“And,” Penny said quietly.


“And – I am Carlotta, the daughter of the Marchesa di Cambrello, and my grandparents set up a trust fund and a few other surprises for me and Piet.”


“Such as…”


Charlotte smiled as she said “our very own Castle in the Italian Alps?”


“Okay – you’re picking up the bill next staff night out,” Lily said with a smile.


“Well, I might – but seriously, Piet and I are still processing what all of this means.  There’s so many unanswered questions – why my father left a letter for my mother, how I manage what I have apparently inherited, trying to put a figure on just what I have inherited…  A castle as a wedding present, for the love of Lesbos!”


“Well, look at it this way – somewhere for those winter breaks…”


“True – anyway, Mother is staying at the Savoy at the moment, and this weekend the two families are getting together.  I think Piet’s family are in for a major shock.”


“Shirley called – she’s going to be working out of our office until her own place is set up?”


“Yeah – she’s giving her a pair of offices to work out of.  Listen – can you stick around for the rest of the day?”


“Well, we had no other plans,” Lily said, “coffee and then a long lunch.”


“Sounds good…  Oh by the way I bought a couple of bottles of Chianti Classico in duty free that we can try later."

"Chianti?" Penny asked, "any particular reason?"

"Well it seems I own a couple of vineyards near Florence...I wanted to see how good the wine we make actually is."


Looking at each other, Penny laughed and said “so who supplies the wine for the wedding?”


“Don’t go there,” Charlotte said as she shook her head, “that’s a whole other story…”



11 am BST

The Farm


Tracey looked round as the door opened, and Beverley came in.


“There you are,” she said with a smile, “I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to come back.”


“You and me both – here, a present from where I’ve been.”


“What’s this – French and Italian wine?  Someone felt flush?”


“Well, I won a bit of money down the casino,” Bev said with a smile, “teamed up wif Pru Stratton.”


“Very nice – so ready to do an honest day’s work again?”


“Yeah – but I need to talk to you first Trace,” Bev said.  “While I was in New York, Madam called me in for a chat wif Sooz.”


“That sounds serious,” Tract said, “what was it about?”


“Me development plan,” Bev said with a sigh, “Trace – they want me to be the next Marina.”


“The next…  They wanna send you to ‘Ong bleeding Kong?”


“Yeah – I’d be an idiot to turn it down, but it means breaking up the team…”


“Hey – go for it Kid,” Tracy said, “besides, I got some news for you as well.  Natalya wants me to be her Number Two at the head office – so I guess we’re both moving on for pastures new…”




Noon BST

Xavier International


“Marchesa di Cambrello?”


Francesca smiled as she stood up, brushing down her jacket and skirt as the blonde approached.


“Welcome to Xavier International, Marchesa – I am Angela, Miss Xavier’s secretary.  Miss Xavier is waiting for you in her office.  If you will follow me?”


“Thank you,” she said as the uniformed man at the front desk pressed a button, opening the gates to allow the two women to come through.  “I must say, Shirley has great taste in offices,” she said as they stood in the lift.


“It was actually Lilian Harmon who found the offices and arranged the refurbishment, but Miss Xavier had the final approval,” Angela said as the lift opened on the sixth floor, and they made their way to the double doors with “Shirley Xavier, CEO” on the front.


Knocking, Angela waited until she heard the deep mellow voice say “come,” then opened the door as Francesca walked in.


“Ah – excellent.  Welcome to my official place of work, Francesca,” Shirley said as she came round to greet her, “I trust you feel a bit more awake now.”


“A shower and strong coffee certainly helped,” Fancesca said with a smile, “although…”


“Strong coffee for two please Angela,” Shirley said, the secretary nodded as she left the room.  “Take a seat Francesca.”


“Nice office – have you been home yet?”


“Indeed – John and I have a place near the river in Chelsea, and Maisha is resting there now.  However, I know you wanted to hit the road when you arrived, so here are the keys and the agreement for the flat.”


She handed Francesca a package as Angela came in, leaving the coffee on the low table as Shirley sat and poured.


“Thank you, I can get the estimates for the alterations I need to made and get moving on that work.  The sooner I have my own place, the happier I will be.”


“The Savoy not that comfortable?”


“Very comfortable, but the last time I was there, we had a little party that got out of hand…”


She smiled as Francesca shook her head.  “It was necessary to get close to a certain party involved with espionage – and it is in the past.”


“Very well then – before I flew back, I took the liberty of asking Susan's mother if she knew someone suitable to keep house for you Francesca” Shirley said as she picked up a second file.  “Rose seems to have found a very suitable candidate."

"Oh,” Francesca said, “who might I ask?"

"A Mrs. Betty Harris...."

"Oh not a British cook," Francesca interrupted, "I can stand only so much..."

"No," Shirley laughed, "she's a widow, but she's Maltese by birth, and was raised in your beloved Naples."

"Ah....then she might have possibilities."

"Her late husband was an army sergeant,” Shirley said as she looked inside the file, “and according to Rose she can make anything from scrambled eggs upwards to a full banquet.”


“I must meet this paragon of culinary delights,” Francesca said with a smile.


“I have asked Rose to meet you with her tomorrow in the Savoy,” Shirley said with a smile.  “I will leave the rest in your hands – now, on a related matter, I have someone for you to meet when you are ready?”


“Oh?  I am intrigued – who would that be?  I thought Carlotta…  Sorry, Charlotte was at home today?”


“She is – but your new legal secretary is here, and eager to meet you.  If you are ready, I will show you your office here.”


“Of course,” Francesca said as she finished her coffee, and then stood up, following Shirley as she walked to an office with “Francesca di Cambrello” freshly added to the door in gold letters.  As they walked in, Shirley said “I hope this will meet your needs in the short term?”


“Very nice,” Francesca said as she looked round.


“I’ll have her call here,” Shirley said as Francesca went to the window, looking out onto the Holgate road.  She then looked at the personnel file on the desk.


“Excuse me – I was told to come here?”


“You must be Hannah,” Francesca said with a smile.


“That’s right – Hannah Cortez,” she said as she closed the door.  She was a pretty girl with blonde curly hair and an olive skin, dressed conservatively in a grey jacket and pants suit, with a black blouse underneath.  “A pleasure to finally meet you Marchesa.”


Francesca knew from her resume that she held an LLB degree from the University of Cape Town as well as their Postgraduate diploma in International Law. A phone call to an old acquaintance on the law faculty at UCT had confirmed she was one of the brightest of the bright, and that great things were expected of her once she chose her actual path in the legal profession.


“It’s good to meet you Hannah – and please, for the sake of our mutual sanity, call me Francesca.  Have a seat.”  She motioned to a set of leather chairs by a low table, the blonde sitting down and watching as Francesca looked at her.


“So, Francesca finally said, “do you understand the nature of the work we will be doing Hannah?”


“I do,” she smiled, “we provide scholarship and advice to clients regarding best opinion on any matter of law, in partnership with the Baroness von Masschen as well as your own clients.”


“Precisely. It’s our job to basically tell them what the law is and to speculate on likely outcomes of situations when the laws they are interested in are applied.”


Nodding, Hannah said “It’s going to be challenging.”


“It will be,” Francesca smiled. “You do understand, Hannah, that at first you will be really just a highly qualified paralegal?”


“I do…” Hannah leaned forward as she said “But I also know I’ll probably learn more law in a year with you, then I will in 5 anywhere else.”


“Then I think we will get on famously – now, let me set you a task relating to the copyright law case Sigi and I are working on.  We need an understanding of how EU Copyright law may conflict with US law in terms of software copyrights.”


“A nice simple question to begin with…  By the way, I need to introduce you to our private secretary?”


“I have a private secretary?”


“Indeed – come and meet her.”


“So I have a private secretary,” Francesca said as she and Hannah went to the secretary’s office.  As they came in, Hannah said “here she is,” as a red haired girl in a floral dress looked up.


“Hey Hannah – is this the boss lady?”


“It is – Francesca di Cambrello.”


'Hi my name is Peri," the girl stood up, "Madame thought that I might fit in with your new team running your office for you."

“Oh,” Francesca said with a smile, "and why might Shirley think that?"

"Well it's a small promotion from what I've been doing for Xavier's. I've been in her personal office for two years and I know my way round computers, mail handling, the minutiae that neither you or your assistant have time to handle."


“She would be of great use, Francesca.”


“True – very well, welcome aboard Peri,” Francesca said as they shook hands.


1 pm BST

Fifth Floor, Harvey Nichols


“Shirley’s assigned Peri to assist Mother?”


“Yup – she realized Hannah is going to be too busy to do the drudge work, and Peri is good as an admin assistant.  She should have met her and Hannah by now.”


“See, this is what I love about our work – you disappear for three weeks, and things go on as normal.”


“You haven’t seen the top floor – Shirley allocated her the best of the spare offices,” Lily said with a grin.


“Well, I don’t mind – I have bigger worries about my Mother than if she gets a bigger office than me.”


“Which she has,” Penny said as she sipped her wine.  “So come on Charlotte – just how much are you worth?”


“I honestly have no idea – that’s the really scary thing,” Charlotte said as she played with her fork.  “I’m only just beginning to realise who this person is, and then this lawyer turns up and says ‘Hey – got a letter for you from your grandfather.’”


“I was talking to Susan,” Penny said, “she said the look on your face when he took that tiara out was apparently priceless.”


“You should have seen my face in Marseilles,” Charlotte said.  “I could have killed her there and then, but to find out the truth…”


“She was a spy?”


“Not only a spy,” Charlotte said, “has Shirley briefed you?”


“Oh yes – as you say, not just a spy…  Anyway, now she is simply Francesca di Cambrello, Attorney at Law, and a Sister of the most special kind.”


“Okay, Okay – so again I ask, just how much are you worth?”


“You honestly want an answer to that, Lily?  At the very least, I am apparently on a par with Diana now.”


“Phew,” Penny said, “so I guess you will be moving up in the near future.”


“Maybe – I need to discuss it with Piet.  Maybe a place in the Cotswolds?”


“What – lace to my leather?”


“Nah – so I can have a shooting range out the back like Diana’s.”


The restaurant looked round as they heard the laughter.  “So,” Penny eventually said, “the wedding…”


“Oh that’s another story,” Charlotte said with a smile.  “Mother and my grandmother have made it clear Piet and I should marry in Santa Chiarra, but…”


“You and Piet are true Orange?”


“Well, not as such, but yeah – funny thing is, Grandmother apparently has laid a plan.  I need to take a trip to Italy soon?”


“Want some company?”


“I may take you up on that – so it may end up we have one ceremony in a church, then a blessing.  Anyway, I have other business to conduct there – a castle to visit, lawyers in Naples…”


“What did Thomas Brewster say?”


“Give him a couple of days – Alex is going to come out as well while I meet a genuine hero…”


“So Francesca,” Penny said with a smile, “what is she really like?”


“I’ll let you know when I have it figured out,” Charlotte said, “for now, she’s just my mother…”







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