A Poisoned Legacy by Margaret Blake by Margaret Blake - Read Online

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Is someone trying to kill Belinda? There seems to be too many strange happenings but if so, whom can she trust? Could Jesse Crane be behind it or, as unlikely as it seems, the charismatic preacher Carl Nash? Slowly secrets are uncovered; the legacy is tainted, people are not what they seem and Belinda realizes she's being drawn into a web of deceit
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611607949
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16

A POISONED LEGACY

by

MARGARET BLAKE

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Published by

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

Whiskey Creek Press

PO Box 51052

Casper, WY 82605-1052

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Copyright Ó 2014 by Margaret Blake

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-61160-794-9

Cover Artist: Ester Rose

Editor: Dave Field

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication

In memory of my dad, Fred Glaiser who always believed in me.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to my editor Dave Field and cover artist Ester Rose Archer.

Prologue

I want to change my will. Jeremiah Nash had a commanding voice. When he said anything you jumped, but John Donlan was used to Jeremiah after a forty-year relationship. He might be just the lawyer but now and again he could take a few liberties.

You do? Glad to hear it. You going to do something for Jesse?

I done something for Jesse, the old man said, I planted him in his mother’s belly, that’s enough for any one.

John frowned.

Irascible as ever, he thought.

It wasn’t easy for the old man, not these days. He was confined to a wheelchair and his hands were all but useless. John knew it wasn’t how Jeremiah ever saw himself being. Yet there were times when you felt like punching him really hard. Rhinoceros and sensitivity came into John Donlan’s mind.

You write this down and don’t give me no sauce. I have to make amends for past deeds.

So, we come back to Jesse.

Leave Jesse out of this, it’s nothing to do with him!

"Not easy to do after the way you treated his mother. You just might want to make amends about that."

I did a little something for Jesse if you recall, and that’s it. What’s your fascination with that boy?

I just like him. Hard not to like Jesse, he’s a bit like you, you know. Only he’s a bit more generous.

The old man muttered something but he smiled as if remembering when he was Jesse’s age and life was sweet. Tall fit, his whole life before him, and what a life. Now was the exciting age, fast cars and even faster women.

Write this down. I intend, put that in your fancy sounding words, John, to leave this house and this land to Belinda Fenton.

John dropped his pen. Belinda who?

You heard me right. She’s Carolina’s step-kid and I owe something to Carolina.

Carolina? Now how come she gets into all this? You been hallucinating after too much bourbon? Carolina’s dead.

You’re one aggravating s.o.b, John. Sometimes you seem to forget you’re just my lawyer. I pay you to do what I want, not vice-versa. So shut your twittering and get on with what I want.

"Okay, I am not going to not do it; I guess you could call me curious. You see I thought you had one natural son and one you adopted. And I don’t recall that Carolina was ever your daughter."

"No she wasn’t but I did wrong with Carolina, I watched Anna waste away ’cause of it, now I want to put things right. And you’re right—I have one son, John, but as well you know I adopted Carl when I married his mother, just like I did with Carolina. Carolina was legally my daughter."

I accept that, Jeremiah. Why not leave this Fenton girl something but not everything? I can’t believe you’re serious anyway. John sighed then asked, "What you going to do about Carl, your adopted son?" he added sarcastically.

Carl’s got something coming. Money, that’s what he’s always on about, money for that damned church he has. He doesn’t need land or this house.

You think not? John sighed. I guess you are of sound mind?

You know damned well I am and if you think of ever saying that I’m not, well I guess I’ll just come after you. And don’t imagine I can’t get out of that damned grave!

I don’t doubt that, Jeremiah. I don’t think any grave’ll ever hold you. Give me the lowdown.

By the time he’d finished Jeremiah had tears on his leathery cheeks. John decided not to comment on it. He was moved by the old man’s testament. Carolina—he remembered her vaguely—a little girl with pale hair and serious eyes. Anna, her mother, was a widow but she owned plenty of land. He’d never thought that Jeremiah had really been in love with her when they married. After all he was a rough, hard rancher and Anna was refined in that southern belle kind of way. John thought he’d wanted the land but that was only the half of it.

He’d adored Carolina and gave the little girl everything. Only Carolina fell in love with the wrong kind of man and Jeremiah could never forgive that. Not only was Paul Fenton a widower who was older than Carolina, he had a very young child as well. That child was Belinda Fenton.

I wanted Carolina to have everything new. I gave her everything new but she chose a second-hand man and took on a second-hand family. I guess I was insane, cutting her off like that. Then when Anna died suddenly, there was no reason, I thought, for me to have ties. I married Marietta and she already had Carl, so I figured I’d be okay. Only Carl was a poor substitute for Carolina.

John thought it not prudent to mention that he had Jesse too, and before Carl came on the scene, but Jesse was from the other side of the blanket and never had been truly acknowledged.

The kid wrote to me, you know. Told me that Carolina had died, same thing as her Momma—cancer—guess it ran in her family. I never replied. I never heard again but recently… He looked tired now and sighed wearily. Things have happened…things I don’t like at all. I’m not happy as things stand, so let’s just say this is what I want. I have no intention of trading family secrets with you, you old renegade.

So you’re leaving everything to someone who isn’t even a Nash. You are going to stir up at hornet’s nest, old man.

The old man smiled. Aint I just. And I guess that makes me about as happy as I’ll ever get to be these days.

Chapter 1

Belinda left the bed where she’d been sitting. Crossing to the window, she flung back the shutters and looked out. It was beautiful. There were lush, green fields that seemed to fall off the horizon. The sky was true blue, with a large yellow sun and not a cloud in sight.

If she went to the other side of the room the view would be different. Beyond the roof of the lanai there was a lake and beyond the lake a tangle of trees. The remarkable thing was that it was all hers and she had no idea why. At first she wanted to refuse the legacy; it was ludicrous that the horrid old man, the man who’d made her Mum’s life such a misery, should leave her all of this. It just didn’t make sense.

The man who’d collected her from the airport had been furious about it. He didn’t say so exactly but he gave off a lot of hostility. In fact the only two people who’d been marginally pleasant had been the housekeeper, Consuela, and the lawyer, John Donlan.

She looked out again, beyond the dip at the horizon where the grove was and there were rows and rows of orange trees. That land belonged to the man who’d collected her, Jesse Crane. It had all been part of this acreage but the old man had left him that.

I’m in the process of fencing it off from your property, Ma’am; I just ask that you give me time.

Well of course, take all the time you need.

Appreciate that, he said, but not in a nice way. He was decidedly not nice or even remotely friendly. Her mother had told her they were friendly folk in Florida but it didn’t seem that way to her!

Are you…are you a Floridian? she’d asked him.

You could say I am in part. We call us Florida crackers.

For crazy?

A smidgeon of a smile played at his mouth. "Crazy? Sure, I guess I’ve always been crackers, otherwise I wouldn’t be here."

Picking me up, or in Florida?

A biddy bit of both, ma’am.

She decided to say nothing else and had sat primly until the large car turned off the road and through the gates of the Nash Ranch.

I didn’t know it was a ranch! she exclaimed.

"It isn’t anymore. It was a ranch. The old man had an accident, fell from a horse and hurt himself badly. Couldn’t ride no more; he said if he couldn’t ride the steers he wanted no part of ranching. He was like that, impulsive." She didn’t miss the intonation of his voice when he said impulsive but decided to ignore it. It was impulsive to leave everything to her; after all she was nothing to him, and neither was Carolina.

So he sold the cattle and just sat on the land. Prime land. People want to buy it, you know, turn it into a mall, and build homes. Turn this into another goddamn Florida theme park!

Surely that’s good business.

Yes, ma’am, but pretty soul-less, don’t you think?

No idea.

Exactly.

"What does that mean, exactly?"

It means, ma’am, that you know squat about us, about Florida, about farming, about just about everything.

Well, one thing’s for certain, she murmured.

And what is that?

"I know all about you."

Oh, really?

Yes, really, Mr. Crane. You are a cold and unfriendly, unwelcoming, and while I am about it, a miserable bugger.

He said nothing for a moment, and then questioned the word she’d used. Bugger?

Beggar if you prefer—I mean you are an unpleasantly rude person.

Well, thank you, ma-am, for that at least.

But then before she could think to say something else, the breath went from her body. The house honed into view. It was big and white and glowed in the sun. It had colonnades and balconies and the only time she thought she’d seen a house like that had been in the movie Gone with the Wind. The pillars alongside the porch were covered in green vines; there were pots of exotic plants giving a vibrant splash of color.

It’s Tara, she said.

It’s Nash House, ma-am, nothing to do with any Tara.

If you say so…but it’s beautiful.

Yeah, it is but I always think it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

You mean it’s a dump inside?

No, I don’t mean that. What I mean is what goes on inside the house. The people that live there. What they’re really like.

That’s me now, Mr. Crane, and you’ll just have to wait and see what I’m like. You have no idea the kind of person I am.

I don’t?

No you don’t.

You are the kind of person who comes and makes claim on something that isn’t yours to have, lady, that’s the kind of person you are.

What did you expect me to do?

I expect nothing of no one. Anyway, here you go—this here’s Consuela and she’ll look after you. Someone will bring up your bags. Good day, ma’am.

She hadn’t responded. Why respond anyway, he was determined not to give her a chance! There would be little to gain in being nice to him.

Before she let Consuela lead her into the house, she turned at the door. He was unloading her bags and dropping them carelessly on the tiles. There were only two cases, that was all she’d brought and there was nothing precious or breakable in either of them, but it was yet again evidence of his contempt.

When she’d first seen him at the airport carrying a sign with her name on it, she’d thought him interesting at least. He was tall, with very light brown hair that had natural blond streaks threading through it. His hair was longer than she liked but it suited him. He was tanned and she supposed, beneath the denim shirt, well buffed. It was his eyes that were very arresting being as they were extremely green, with a very slight Asiatic shape and very clear whites. But looks were deceptive and he was an unpleasant, sarcastic man.

Just who is Mr. Crane? she asked Consuela, a sensible middle-aged woman with a curvy figure.

Mr. Crane, why Mr. Crane he is… The woman blushed.

Yes? Belinda asked, her eyes widening. He’s important?

Oh, no, she said and shrugged. It’s embarrassing for me, ma’am.

I’m sorry.

No, you don’t need to be sorry, you need to know. I don’t like saying the word but he is—well, he was… I mean, the son of Mr. Nash.

"Carl? He’s Carl Crane—but I thought Carl was called Nash—"

Oh no…he’s not Carl Nash, he’s the other son. He’s the proper son. The one with the lady that Mr. Jeremiah Nash didn’t marry…

It took a moment for what Consuela said to sink into her brain; when it did Belinda felt sorry for the woman. She could understand how embarrassed she’d been.

Oh, Consuela, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.

It’s okay. I don’t like the rude word Mr. Nash used for the boy, he aint so bad, Jesse, but Mr. Nash he was so terrible to him sometimes. He’s a little like him, if you look at the pictures, at the nose and mouth.

I haven’t seen any pictures.

Oh, ma’am, you’ll see these in the library. Mr. Nash—Mrs. Nash, they’re there.

I don’t suppose there are any pictures of Anna Nash?

Oh yes, when Mrs. Marietta Nash and he divorced, he put back up the big picture of Mrs. Anna Nash in the study, Carolina’s mother, and you can see it there. And in his bedroom too. He has lots of pictures of Miss Carolina’s mother. I’m sorry, ma’am, he took away all the pictures of Miss Carolina when she married your father.

How interesting, Belinda said and mused for a moment or two. She’d seen the picture of Anna; Carolina, her stepmother had kept a picture in her bedroom. It was in a silver frame and Belinda had brought it with her. She supposed that Mrs. Nash the first was her step-grandmother.

Oh dear. She sighed.

What a complicated family life she had, and had she not then she wouldn’t be here.

No wonder he’s mad at me, she said out loud.

Who is mad at you, Ma’am?

Jesse Crane.

Oh pay no mind to Jesse, he’s okay. Consuela shrugged. He has an attitude sometimes, but he’s okay mostly.

I suppose I should get ready. You said Mr. Carl Nash was calling?

Yes, four o’clock he said. Will that be okay?

Certainly.

She hadn’t flown directly to Florida. Stopping off enroute, she spent two days in New York with friends. They’d taken her everywhere and she supposed she should be exhausted, but she wasn’t. Somehow in spite of everything she felt quite excited.

The warm heat had wrapped itself about her, it was wonderful. It was October and it felt like mid-summer in England. She’d like that.

It’s damned sweaty down there in summer, her friend Kathy had warned. As humid as hell and I tell you, you watch out for those hurricanes.

But she wasn’t apprehensive of either. She was a girl who was used to coping. She wouldn’t let either of those climatic problems get her down.

She dressed carefully in a plain, lemon cotton dress. She found the library easily and saw the pictures the moment she stepped into the room. They were large, almost covering the wall.

Such vanity, she thought a little primly.

It was the first time she’d seen a picture of Jeremiah Nash. He looked formidable. Certainly he was good-looking and he had a look of Jesse—it was in the nose and mouth, just as Consuela had said. But she didn’t think that Jesse Crane had such a cold or haughty expression. He was rude and objectionable but his eyes weren’t filled with chips of ice. Jeremiah was cold and autocratic. Instantly she took a dislike to him. The fact that she disliked him didn’t even make her feel guilty. He’d treated Carolina abysmally and Carolina had told her, he had all but broken her mother’s heart. Why didn’t she just leave him? Belinda remembered asking her stepmother once.

She couldn’t, she was too timid and afraid. My mother was pretty much an old-fashioned southern belle. She’d always been nurtured like she was a delicate orchid. I guess I took after my natural father; he was a bit of a rogue but at least he had guts.

Carolina’s mother, Anna, was beautiful and fragile-looking. She was just as Belinda remembered from the photograph; pale yellow hair swept up from her face merely emphasized the aristocratic bone structure, the high cheekbones and fine line of her chin. Her eyes were huge and grey and almond-shaped, just like Carolina’s had been. Little of Carolina’s warmth radiated from her; even in the picture she looked cool and regal.

Coming from an old North Carolina family, Anna had breeding but the family was short of real money. There was land but it was considered worthless. What little money she’d had her first husband, Carolina’s father, spent on the good life. Expensive trips abroad, good clothing, fast cars. Within months of him dying in a car wreck, Anna married Jeremiah Nash. It was considered scandalous at the time but she’d been desperate and on the point of bankruptcy. The land proved, under the right hands, to be profitable. Jeremiah made a fortune selling lots to builders. He’d jumped in at just the right time. People always said he’d known exactly what he was doing when he married Anna. It was no accident that he won and wooed her.

He was supposed to love you so much, Belinda said to the picture, but he broke your heart because he made Carolina go away. Is that the reason for leaving me this?

She looked up at Jeremiah Nash. I would never have liked you, she murmured, and you can’t buy respect, Jeremiah.

Imposing isn’t he?

She started. The voice was feminine, deep and southern. Turning, she saw a woman standing in the doorway. She was tall and elegant, dressed in a beautifully cut white silk suit. Belinda began to feel like a grubby little girl. A man joined her. He was tall too and as beautifully dressed. That they were related was obvious. They both had tobacco-coloured hair and coppery brown eyes. Long, rather elegant noses—they were attractive, both of them.

You have to be Belinda! The man stepped forward, his face wreathed in a warm smile. I’m Carl Nash and this is my mother, Marietta St Cyr.

Oh, hello, how do you do? Plucking up courage, she went forward, holding out her hand. Marietta merely touched it, but Carl’s clasp was firm and welcoming, only slightly moist at the palm. His hand was very small, with long fingers, but it was as if he’d grown but his hand remained a boy’s. There was something she did not like about those hands. It was ridiculous to be that way, yet it made her uncomfortable. It seemed to her a cruel hand. She was being stupid yet she felt it was the kind of hand that would slap you, that could kill.

Ludicrous, I have to be losing my mind to have such fanciful thoughts. The man’s a churchman, not a contract killer.

It was a little nerve-wracking to have to meet Jeremiah Nash’s second wife. The friendly lawyer had told her that although they had divorced, Carl had stayed close to Jeremiah. His stepfather had legally adopted him and he never saw his own father.

Please let me get you something? Tea or a drink?

Iced tea would be fine but I already asked Consuela, she knows just how I like things.

Marietta murmured, Well, so you’re Carolina’s step-daughter. I never thought I would see the day when you’d be in this room.

I suppose not.

No sir, added Carl. You have to know how things were. My daddy was a stickler for holding up his feuds.

Yes, I gathered that. But please, would you like to sit?

Not in this room, dear, too many memories, all of them sad. Could we go into the sitting room? Of course the imposing picture of the first Mrs. Nash had to be disturbing for the second Mrs. Nash to see, even though they had divorced some years ago. In a way,