Kiss Me at Willoughby Close

By: Kate Hewitt

A Willoughby Close Romance

Chapter One

“I’m sure you understand.”

Four words, Ava Mitchell decided then and there, that were code for “you’re screwed and I don’t care”. So she did the only thing she could in response and lifted her chin a little, curved her lips in a small smile, and said, “Of course.”

Nigel Farraday, her husband’s solicitor, a man she and David had had over to dinner several times, gave her a quick, answering smile of apology before dropping his gaze. Bastard. Not that there was anything he could do. He was just the messenger. It was David, her husband of five years that had left this world a week ago, who had really screwed her over.

How could he have done this?

“I hope,” Simon said, clearing his throat, “you don’t have any notion of contesting the will.”

Ava swiveled to give her stepson—not that either of them would have ever referred to their relationship that way—what she hoped was a scathing look of disdain. It was one she’d mastered a long time ago, practicing it in the mirror, making sure she got it right. Mouth pursed, eyes electric before the lashes swept down, dismissing the person in question. It was important to have a look like that in her arsenal, to be able to dismiss someone before he or she dismissed her.

But now, for some reason, she couldn’t quite manage it. She did the downward sweep of her lashes and felt her eyes fill. No. No, no, no, she was not going to cry here, not in front of Simon and Emma, who had hated her from day one of her marriage to their father. They’d probably given each other a victory high five when they’d found out about the will.

Or maybe they’d already known? No, Ava didn’t think they had. Otherwise, she would have sensed it over the years—the smugness, the certain knowledge that all would be made right in their eyes. They just had to wait for their father to die first.

“Ava?” Simon sounded impatient now. “I’d advise against taking legal action, if you’re thinking about it.” He pressed on, an iron edge to his tone. “The will is watertight. Isn’t it, Nigel?” He glanced back at the solicitor, sounding so smug it made Ava want to choke.

Next to him Emma sat ramrod straight, her hands clenched together so tightly her knuckles were white. She hadn’t said a word to Ava since she’d entered the room ten minutes ago and had been lobbed this emotional grenade.

The solicitor shifted in his seat. “Ah... yes, I would say that it is. More or less...”

Ava almost felt sorry for him, squirming in his chair. He obviously didn’t want to be party to Simon and Emma’s—and David’s—ruthlessness. Or maybe it was just uncomfortable for him to feel so much hostility in the room. Either way, Ava didn’t have the energy to pity anyone else—her own situation was too dire.

She blinked rapidly, willing her eyes to clear, and then lifted her chin. Again. “I won’t contest the will.” She didn’t have the money for a court case, and she had no doubt Simon and Emma would fight tooth and nail to make sure she didn’t get another penny, a penny they didn’t think she deserved. Brother and sister, they were a perfect pair, each as bitter and resentful as the other, at least when it came to her.

The trouble was, she had no idea what she was going to do. How she was going to survive. After five years of fidelity, loyalty, and, yes, love, David had left her with ten thousand pounds, her clothes and jewelry, her car, and her Yorkshire terrier, Zuzu.

She supposed it could be worse. A lot worse, if she thought about it. He could have left her with nothing, although, was that even allowed? They’d been married.

Unfortunately, she had no idea of the legal ins and outs of wills and inheritance and, even if she did, she didn’t have the resources, financial or emotional, to do anything about it. It was just... she’d expected a bit more.

Simon cleared his throat again and Emma recrossed her legs. Nigel shuffled some papers and, in the ensuing, expectant silence, Ava realized they were waiting for her to leave. She wasn’t needed here anymore. She certainly wasn’t wanted. She’d been given her payoff and now she was meant to get out. She pictured them going over the rest of the will, dividing up all of David’s assets. The sprawling house on the outskirts of Wychwood-on-Lea, the chalet in Switzerland, the timeshare in Majorca. The bank accounts and the ISAs, the stocks and the savings, all the money.

She hadn’t expected all of it, not by a long shot. Of course she hadn’t. But she had expected a little more than what she’d got. All right, a lot more. She’d been his wife, after all. She’d expected David to see her provided for, to let her stay in the house for as long as she wanted or to leave her with enough money to buy her own modest place. Was that too much to ask? To expect? Apparently, it was.