By Barbara Taylor Bradford
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2008 Beaji Enterprises
All rights reserved.
Cecil Williams made this announcement from the entrance to the dining room at Ravenscar, the great Elizabethan house in Yorkshire. Then closing the door behind him, he walked across to the table in a few quick strides. It was 1996, and this news was momentous.
Against her own volition, Elizabeth Turner jumped up. "When?" she asked in a voice full of sudden tension, her eyes riveted on his face.
"This morning, very early. Just before dawn, to be exact."
There was a silence.
Elizabeth took tight control of a rush of emotion; even though this news had been long expected, deep down she had not believed she would ever hear those words. She took a moment to absorb them, then said, "There's nothing much to say, is there, Cecil? Nothing at all, actually, and anyway, what would be the point? I'm not a hypocrite, I'm not going to pretend I mourn my sister's death."
"Nor am I. I understand your feelings perfectly, Elizabeth." He put an arm around her shoulder, kissed her cheek, and drawing back, looked deeply into her luminous gray-black eyes. At once he noticed they were glistening with tears and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the tears were not for the deceased woman. They were, in fact, tears of genuine relief.
"It's over, Elizabeth," he said, very softly. "Finally. Your torment is at an end, and you're safe, secure. No one can tell you what to do, not ever again. You're your own woman, and in control of your own destiny."
The tense expression on her pale face instantly lifted, and she exclaimed, "Yes, I am free. Free at last! Oh, Cecil, how wonderful that thought is! Yet, do you know, I can hardly grasp it." A quavery smile flickered around her mouth and was immediately gone, as if she was not quite convinced of her new status.
He smiled at her. "I believe it's going to take a few days to sink in."
She looked at him intently, her eyes narrowing slightly. He knew her well, truly understood her, and he was correct, it would take a few days for her to truly believe that everything had changed. She took a moment to steady herself before saying, "I'm being rude, Cecil. Let me get you some breakfast, you must be famished. Lucas has brought in enough food to feed an army, so what do you fancy?"
"I am hungry, I must admit. But I'll help myself. Go and sit down, drink your coffee and relax. You have every reason to do so today of all days."
Elizabeth did as he suggested, glad to sit down in the comfortable chair. She was shaking inside and her legs felt weak and unsteady. As she settled back, endeavoring to relax, she experienced instead an unexpected sense of dread. The future loomed up in front of her; it was an unknown future. Overwhelming. A wave of nausea swept over her at the prospect of leaving her old life behind, grasping her destiny with both hands. All those years of sleepless nights, early risings, often before dawn. Constantly worrying, always fearful, numb with anxiety, forever apprehensive. About her sister. Never knowing ... never knowing what tricks Mary would pull, what accusations the woman would level at her. She had been living on the edge, on the edge of danger, living on her nerves for as long as she could remember. Mary had tormented her since childhood.
A moment later, Cecil returned with a plate of food and sat down next to her. After eating a few mouthfuls of scrambled eggs, he remarked, "You must have been up when it was still dark outside. I was surprised when I found your door open and the bedroom empty at six-thirty this morning."
"I couldn't sleep, so I finally got up. This past week has been, horrendous, and I'm afraid my feelings did get the better of me.... It was the endless waiting and waiting, I suppose. Cancer is unpredictable like that."
He glanced at her, his steady gray eyes searching her face. He had worried about her for years, and he would always worry about her, he was well aware of that. His devotion to her was absolute, and his one thought at the moment was to protect her at all cost. But he made no comment, merely went on calmly eating his breakfast. He was a steady, careful man, and his plans were in place.
After finishing her cup of coffee, Elizabeth ran a hand over her mouth and confided, "I never worried about her being ill, you know. I didn't. What was the point? And, after all, we knew she was dying, that the cancer was eating away at her, that she was deluded about being pregnant. But last week ... well, I couldn't help remembering things from the past. The good things. And the bad. From our girlhood mostly ... the time when our father disowned us both. Well, we were close then, if only for a short while. And the rest of the time I spent with her —" Elizabeth broke off, shook her head. "The rest of the time was extremely difficult. She was impossible. I was the enemy in her eyes. She was so very possessive of our father. My mother had usurped hers, and I had usurped her, my father, of course, being the great prize, that great bull of a man, to be cozied up to and adored. Unconditionally. She was competitive, and as everyone knows, she always believed I was plotting against her." Elizabeth let out a long sigh. "No matter what, I was in the wrong with Mary from the day I was born."
"All that's over, don't dwell on it. You're starting a new life ... this is a new beginning for you," he said reassuringly.
"And I aim to live my new life well," she answered, mustering a positive tone, and stood up, crossed to the sideboard, poured herself another cup of coffee. A few seconds later, between sips, she asked, "Who knows about Mary's death? Everyone, I suppose?"
"Not quite, not yet." Cecil looked across at the grandfather clock standing in a corner of the dining room. "It's not yet eight, and it is Sunday, so I've kept my phone calls to a minimum. For the moment. Nicholas Throckman was the first one to phone, to tell me Mary was dead, and then immediately afterwards I heard from Charles Broakes, who announced the same thing."
Staring at him with a frown, Elizabeth exclaimed, "Your famous mobile! That's how everyone got in touch. No wonder I didn't hear any phones ringing."
"I asked Nicholas and Charles to call me on the mobile. Why should the whole household be awakened at six in the morning?" He shook his head. "Like you, I hardly slept last night. I knew she couldn't last much longer."
"I assume Nicholas is on his way here. With the black box."
"He is. Actually, he's had possession of the box since Friday. Mary's people sent it to him that afternoon, so that he could bring it to you immediately. They thought she was about to die that day, but it was a false alarm. This morning, within half an hour of hearing the news, he set off. He's driving up here right now, and he asked me to tell you he looks forward to joining us for Sunday lunch."
She smiled for the first time in days. "I'm glad to hear it."
"Sidney Payne also phoned. He was all for hightailing it up here, but I told him not to, explained we would be in London later in the week and I would be in touch then. He told me three people had called him already, so the news of Mary's death is spreading fast." Cecil grimaced. "Everyone loves to gossip, to speculate, so important news spreads like wildfire."
Leaning forward, Elizabeth asked with sudden eagerness, "Who are we inviting to our first meeting?"
"Your great-uncle Howard must be there, your cousins Francis Knowles and Henry Carray, Sidney Payne should come, plus some of the board members who have long been waiting for this day."
She nodded. "I know who they are, and I can't wait to see them. But what about those in the company who are against me?"
"What can they do?" Cecil asked, shaking his head. "Nothing! They cannot challenge you, Elizabeth. You are the rightful heir to Deravenels through your father's will."
"They can torpedo me, work against me, trip me up, do me in, call it what you will." She shrugged. "They're Mary's cronies, and they'll never like me. They never have."
"Who cares? Liking you is of no import! They have to respect you. That's vital, the only thing that matters. And I'm going to make damned sure they will."
Mary Turner, her sister, was dead. No, not Mary Turner, but Mary Turner Alvarez, wife of Philip Alvarez, the greatest tycoon in Madrid, a man who had used her money, weakened her resources, then abandoned her to die alone. But that was what men did, wasn't it? Used women, then discarded them. Her father had taken all the prizes for doing just that. Don't think ill of him now, Elizabeth warned herself. It was his last will and testament that had held in the end. She was his third and last heir. And now Deravenels was hers.
Toward the end, Mary had had no alternative but to follow Harry Turner's wishes. Nonetheless, earlier there had been desperate attempts on her sister's part to cheat her out of her rightful inheritance.
Mary had first named her unborn son, that nonexistent child she fantasized about, the one she thought she carried in her swollen belly, as heir apparent. It was not new life reclining there but an inoperable cancer.
After this had come her most brilliant brainstorm, as Mary had called it. Her Spanish husband must inherit. After all, wasn't he the most famous businessman in Spain, a seasoned entrepreneur; and who better than him to run the ancient company?
When this idea was promptly scuttled by those who could scuttle it, Mary had seized on their cousin Marie Stewart, she of Scottish-French descent and upbringing, a woman who was ninety percent French, barely English at all. At the time, Cecil had wondered what this Gallic vamp could possibly know about running an eight-hundred-year-old trading company based in London, one that was a male bastion of self-centered chauvinism. Nothing, they had agreed, marveling at Mary Turner's gall.
Marie Stewart had long claimed she was the rightful heir, pointing out that her right to inherit came through her English grandmother, Margaret Turner, elder sister of Harry. But it was Harry who represented the direct male line from his father; therefore, his offspring, whether male or female, took precedence over his sister Margaret's line. It all had to do with the rule of primogeniture and the eldest son and his descendants being the true inheritors.
Once again, this idea of Mary Turner's had been swiftly killed. The board of Deravenels wanted nothing to do with Marie Stewart, whom they viewed as the enemy for a variety of reasons. And that would always be their stance.
And so at the very end her sister, Mary, had finally acknowledged her, although not actually by name. Something seemed to prevent Mary from doing that. But ten days ago she had sent a suitcase with one of her assistants. It contained Turner family jewels and a lot of keys, for bank vaults, safes, and various Turner homes.
Her wise Cecil had pointed out, "This is her way of acknowledging you, Elizabeth. She is going to fulfill your father's last will and testament in the end. You'll see. Her actions are more important than any words she might utter."
But why couldn't her sister have said her name? Why couldn't she have said "my sister, my heir Elizabeth Turner"? Why had she merely muttered something about Harry Turner's rightful heir?
Because she hated you, Elizabeth now thought, and she couldn't bear the idea that you were about to take her place.
Let it go, let it go, a small voice said inside her head, and she endeavored to push these thoughts away. What did it matter now? Mary Turner Alvarez was dead. She, Elizabeth Deravenel Turner, was alive and well and about to become managing director of Deravenels. It was all hers now. The company, the houses, the jewels, the power, and the wealth. And she wanted it. Who wouldn't? Also, it was hers by right. She was a Deravenel and a Turner through and through. She was Harry's girl, and she looked exactly like him. Mary hadn't resembled Harry at all. She had looked like her Spanish mother, but she had also been much smaller than Catherine, somewhat squat and not half as pretty.
Moving across the floor of her bedroom, Elizabeth opened the cupboard door, pulled out the suitcase Mary had sent, and carried it to the bed. She found the key in her desk drawer, opened the case, and rummaged around, looking at some of the brown leather pouches, which had engraved silver nameplates stitched on the front. One said "Waverley Court, Kent," another "Ravenscar, Yorkshire," a third, "the Chelsea house," and all of them were full of keys. Then there were pouches pertaining to bank vaults at Coutts, the Westminster Bank, and Lloyd's, and keys for those vaults.
Cecil had told her that these bank vaults contained Deravenel and Turner jewels, other valuables, such as silver objects and tea services, canteens of silver, gold objects, and ancient documents. He had pointed out that she, as the new owner, would have to visit each bank vault when they returned to London, to check on everything.
Placing the pouches to one side, Elizabeth smoothed her long fingers over several red leather boxes from Cartier, then opened them all. One contained a superb diamond necklace, the next a pair of extraordinary emerald-cut emerald earrings, and the last a huge sapphire-and-diamond pin. It struck her that this jewelry was not only fabulous but obviously from the 1930s, and she couldn't help wondering which member of the family had bought such gems. And for whom. She also wondered if she would ever wear any of it. Perhaps not, but she would certainly wear the South Sea pearls she had examined with Cecil the other day.
Taking the pearls out of their black-velvet case, she held them up to the light. How lustrous they were ... truly lovely. Yes, these she would wear.
After returning everything to the suitcase, she locked it and put it back in the cupboard to be dealt with later. There were more pressing things to do in the next few weeks. The bank vaults would have to wait, and so would the two houses, Waverley Court and the house in Chelsea where Mary had lived for some years, and where she had died today. Later this week her sister would be buried in the family cemetery here, at Ravenscar, where all the Deravenels and Turners were buried. There was the funeral to be planned, people to be invited.
Elizabeth sat down at her desk, opened her diary, and turned the pages, came to the page for today: Sunday, November 17th, 1996. At the top of the page she wrote: My sister, Mary Turner Alvarez, died at dawn this morning. She was forty-two years old.
As she sat back in the chair, staring at the wall, Elizabeth's mind raced. Going to Deravenels and taking over the running of the company terrified her. But she had no choice. What would she do first? How would she and Cecil implement her plans? And his, which were complex? She had no idea how she would manage. She had worked at Deravenels off and on since she was eighteen, and had grown to love the company until Mary had kicked her out last year. She was about to go back and run it, and she was only twenty-five years old, and basically inexperienced. But she had to do it; she would just have to manage. Most important, she must succeed.
Elizabeth knew one thing — she had to prove to those who worked there that she was not like her sister, who had been befuddled, incompetent, and arrogant. It was bad enough that they were misogynists; Mary's lousy performance had simply underscored their inherent belief that women were not meant to be executives within that age-old trading company, that place of male supremacy.
I have to do it. I don't have a choice. I must be strong, tough, smart, and if necessary, devious. I have to win. I want to win. And I want Deravenels. I want it all. It was left to me. I must make it great again.
Closing her eyes, Elizabeth put her arms on the desk and rested her head on them, her mind still racing, plans evolving in her fertile brain.
Cecil Williams sat at the Georgian partners desk in the spacious study, a room which had been occupied by Deravenel and Turner men for many centuries.
Elizabeth had insisted he use it when he had come up to Ravenscar several weeks ago, since she herself preferred the smaller office which opened off the dining room. He knew she had always loved Ravenscar, the beautiful old Elizabethan house on the cliffs at the edge of the North Yorkshire moors, and over the years she had been able to make it her own in many ways. Her sister, Mary, had loathed the house for some reason and had never spent any time here, preferring to be in London. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Being Elizabeth by Barbara Taylor Bradford. Copyright © 2008 Beaji Enterprises. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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