A Maxwell Takes Flight by Gwen Kirkwood by Gwen Kirkwood - Read Online

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Shortlisted for the RNA Romantic Comedy Novel Awards 2013 A British romantic comedy by Jane Wenham-Jones, author of 'Perfect Alibis'. Laura Meredith never imagined herself appearing on TV- she's too old, too flabby, too downright hormonal, and much too busy holding things together for her son, Stanley, after her husband left her for a younger, thinner replacement. But best friend Charlotte is a determined woman and when Laura is persuaded on to a daytime show to talk about her PMT, everything changes. Suddenly there's a camera crew tracking her every move and Laura finds herself an unlikely star. But as things hot up between her and gorgeous TV director, Cal, they're going downhill elsewhere. While Laura's caught up in a heady whirlwind of beauty treatments, makeovers and glamorous film locations, Charlotte's husband, Roger, is concealing a guilty secret, Stanley's got problems at school, work's piling up, and when Laura turns detective to protect Charlotte's marriage, things go horribly wrong. The champagne's flowing as Laura's prime time TV debut looks set to be a hit. But in every month, there's a "Day Ten" ...
Published: Accent Press on
ISBN: 9781681467870
List price: $3.99
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A Maxwell Takes Flight - Gwen Kirkwood

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Chapter One

AS SPRING CAME AND the young lambs were born Ross wished they had been able to rent the extra land to provide fresh spring grass for the ewes and their offspring. It angered him to see the stretch of land which McNish and Jim Douglas had given up. It lay neglected on the boundary of The Glens of Lochandee. Already there were signs of bracken and reeds and the brambles and gorse would soon spread from the hedges into the fields.

‘Surely the Laird cannot know his land is being so shamefully wasted,’ Alice said. ‘No wonder he’s short of money, but he has only himself to blame. His father and grandfather always came to inspect their property from time to time, and they had far more reliable Factors than Mr Elder.’

‘It makes me wonder if there will be a future for Conan in farming,’ Ross said morosely.

‘At least he’s doing very well with his lessons, according to Mr Hardie, the headmaster,’ Alice remarked. ‘You should be proud of him, Ross.’

‘Rachel is proud enough for two of us.’

‘You must admit there is little he misses with such sharp eyes and ears,’ Rachel said defensively. She knew Margaret’s death had grieved him, as it had herself, but she had a feeling that Ross could not bring himself to express pride in his son. He never praised Conan and it had begun to cause tension between them. But it was the death of Sam Dewar which caused the most serious rift of all.

On a Saturday morning in August, Rachel received an astonishing letter from Sam Dewar’s lawyer.

‘Sam has left nearly everything he possessed to Conan!’ she gasped.

‘To Conan? Why would he do that?’ Ross demanded.

‘I don’t know. According to the copy of his will, which the lawyer has enclosed, Conan was only a few months old when he made it.’

‘I expect it was just the whim of a lonely old man.’ Ross shrugged. ‘I don’t suppose he had much to leave to anyone.’

‘More than you think. Listen to this. Shortly before he died he had added a request that three hundred pounds should be paid to Meg for looking after him.’

‘Three hundred pounds! I’m sure Meg was a good neighbour … but even so …’

‘She was a very good neighbour. But listen! He owned his house and shop and the fields. After his visit here, to Lochandee, he instructed his lawyer to sell them after his death. The proceeds, and the remainder of his savings, are to be put into a Trust for Conan. I am to be the main Trustee, but his lawyer, Mr Finlay, will be my adviser. The money is to be used for Conan’s future. A Trustee – whatever that means? Goodness! I can scarcely believe this. The total comes to one thousand, one hundred and eighty-nine pounds, ten shillings and sixpence!’

‘One thousand! Pounds? But where did he get all that? And why would he leave it all to a baby? Your baby, Rachel! Why your child?’

‘I don’t know. The solicitor requires Conan’s birth certificate and he has sent some papers for me to sign …’ She looked up and saw Ross’s face flush, but he scowled and his eyes narrowed.

‘What is it? Is something wrong?’

‘No!’ Ross said harshly. ‘Oh, no. Why should there be anything wrong? Some old man leaves your son all his worldly goods. Why?’ His tone was a mixture of accusation and sarcasm, and Rachel hated it.

Conan, cleaning his clogs in the adjoining scullery, had paid little attention until his father’s raised voice startled him. It was so unusual to hear his parents quarrelling. He listened curiously.

‘Conan is your son too. Surely you are pleased that he has been so fortunate?’

‘My son … Mine?’ Ross had not consciously intended to form a question.

‘What do you mean by that?’ Rachel demanded angrily.

‘Nothing … Except … Well why would a man leave everything he possessed to a young child, unless he had a particular feeling of … of responsibility? Or … or …’

‘Ross! What are you saying? What are you implying?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Yes, you are! You surely can’t think Sam Dewar had anything to do with …with …’ She stared at Ross, her eyes more green than blue now, and sparking angrily. ‘You can’t still doubt that Conan is your son? Not after all this time?’

Ross was silent. Pale, angry, guilty. Jealous? He could find no words to express the confusion he felt.

‘Is that why you never praise him? He tries so hard to please you – you more than anyone else, because you are his father. Have you ever told him you love him? Have you ever told him you are proud of his achievements at school? No, you have not. I blamed Gertrude Maxwell! I thought she had repressed your natural emotions. Now I know …’

‘Rachel …’

But Rachel was beside herself with anger and indignation. When Ross reached out a placating hand she brushed it furiously aside.

‘Just get me his birth certificate.’

‘Very well,’ Ross muttered stiffly. ‘But – I had better warn you...’ He bit his lip, wishing now that he had explained about the birth certificate long ago. Changing it to show he was the boy’s father had not been the simple matter he had anticipated. He had not wanted to upset Rachel just when she was settling in so well at Lochandee. But he ought to have explained later. He knew how it would seem to her now, especially right now, after his stupid outburst. Already he regretted his words, his petty suspicion, his fleeting jealousy. ‘It has not been changed. It still bears your maiden name – O’Brian.’

‘But you promised!’ Rachel’s voice rose.

Conan understood little of all this, but he did know the matter was serious enough to make his parents angry, and he was the cause.

Rachel’s face was white. Her green eyes flashed.

‘After all these years, you do not believe you are Conan’s father.’ She gritted her teeth. ‘You really think Conan is not your son? How dare you, Ross? How can you?’

‘I did not say that. It was not possible to change the certificate because …’

‘You have not added your name to his birth certificate,’ Rachel hissed. ‘That is what you said. There can only be one reason.’ Without warning she burst into a storm of weeping. All the old hurt resurfaced. Ross had let her down again.

‘It was not like that, Rachel!’ Ross reached out for her but she jerked away from him in anger. ‘Please, let me explain?’ His hand fell helplessly to his side as she dashed out of the kitchen. Why hadn’t he told her at the time? He knew how much the birth certificate had mattered to her. As time passed he had forgotten about it. Conan was known to everyone as Maxwell, and that at least was acceptable and legal.

Rachel felt even worse when she went into Conan’s bedroom later that evening. She had heard him tossing and turning restlessly.

‘Why are you not asleep, Conan?’ she asked softly, bending to stroke his wayward hair and kiss his cheek. He considered himself a big boy now and the only time he allowed her to kiss him was when they were alone and he was tucked up in bed.

‘Mama …’ He bit his lip and Rachel wondered if he had been crying. ‘Mama, I do belong to Dad, and to you, don’t I? He is my father …?’

Rachel caught her breath. ‘Yes!’ she said. Then more gently, ‘Of course you belong to both of us. We love you very much.’

‘Does Dad love me as much as he loves Bridie?’

‘I’m sure he does,’ Rachel assured him. ‘Would you like me to read you a story to help you get to sleep?’

‘Course not! I can read my own stories now.’

Bridie remained a happy smiling little girl, ever ready for a cuddle and a kiss, unaware of the undercurrents between her parents, but there was a change in Conan as the weeks went by. Rachel knew she was not imagining it. He had lost his mischievous smile and cheeky grin, in fact he rarely smiled at all. He was too thoughtful, too withdrawn for a nine-year-old. He seemed to be brooding over some secret anxiety.

Rachel was not aware that her own tension was equally plain to those closest to her. She did not discuss her concerns over Conan with Ross any more. Alice sensed all was not well but she could neither understand the reason nor bridge the invisible wall which Rachel seemed to have erected between herself and the world.

Ross was at a loss to know how to placate her. She had written to the lawyer enclosing Conan’s birth certificate. It hurt her to explain why it bore her maiden name. She did not realise her circumstances had been Sam Dewar’s main reason for leaving his house, and later its proceeds, in the care of a young woman he admired and respected. Sam had trusted her to use his legacy in the best interests of her child, even though the boy was no relation to himself.

Even when Sam Dewar’s affairs had all been taken care of, Rachel remained subdued and withdrawn. Ross had given up trying to explain why the birth certificate could not be changed, however much he might want it. In his heart he blamed himself. If he had been there when Conan had been registered, if he had been present to claim his son, then the certificate could have borne his name after they married. As it was, the current law allowed no more than a brief addition in the registrar’s records. Rachel had refused to listen to any explanations, or even to discuss it. She was convinced he was making excuses.

When Ross took her in his arms at night she no longer responded. He could not arouse her to the passionate lover he had always known. Even worse he missed her as his friend and confidante. They were like polite acquaintances. He knew she was brooding, blaming him, watching his reactions whenever he was with Conan. It made him strained and edgy with his son.

It was nearing the end of the spring term when Rachel met Mr Hardie, the headmaster of the village school. He mentioned his concern for Conan.

‘Ever since he returned after the last summer holidays he has seemed unable to concentrate on his lessons as he used to do. He’s an intelligent boy. He was so keen to apply himself. A change has come over him. He seems wary, nervous almost. He’s less sure of himself and his own ability. He’s more ready to pick a fight with other boys. I had such great hopes for Connor. I believe you call him Conan?’

‘Yes, yes we do …’ Rachel answered absently. Her mind was searching for things which might be affecting Conan. It did not occur to her that he had