Read an Excerpt
'Thank you for coming to the last will and testament reading of Angus McLean.'
The solicitor looked around the room at the various scattering of people, some locals, some not.
Get on with it, thought Callan. He'd only come because the ninety-seven-year-old had been like a father to him. Thoughtful, with a wicked sense of humour, and a real sense of community about him. He'd taught Callan far more than his father had ever taught him.
He wasn't here to inherit anything. He could have bought the castle four times over. He'd offered enough times. But Angus hadn't been interested. He'd had other plans for the estate. And after pretty much living there for part of his life Callan was curious as to what they were.
The solicitor started reading. 'Some of you are here by invitation. Others have still to be contacted. As you may well be aware Angus McLean had a considerable estate.'
He started with some charitable donations, then moved on to the staff that had served Angus over the years-all of them left sizable bequests that would see them into a comfortable age.
Then he cleared his throat and looked nervously around the room, his eyes deliberately skittering past Callan.
Uh-oh. The castle. What has old crazy done now?
'Most of Angus McLean's friends and relatives knew that Angus was a bachelor. It was always assumed-at least by those of us who knew Angus well-that Angus had no children.' He hesitated. 'But it seems that wasn't the case.'
'What?' Callan couldn't help it. He'd spent most of his life around Angus McLean. Never once in all those years had Angus ever mentioned any children.
Frank, the family solicitor, was clearly not designed for situations like this. His legalese seemed to leave him and he laughed nervously. 'It appears that in his day Angus McLean was a bit of a rogue. He had six children.'
Heads shot around the room, looking back and forth between each other aghast.
But a few heads stayed steady-as if they'd already heard the news.
Callan couldn't believe his ears. 'Six children? Who on earth told you that?' This had to be rubbish. Was a bunch of strangers trying to claim part of the McLean estate?
Frank looked him clearly in the eye. 'Angus told me,' he said quietly.
Callan froze. Every hair on his body standing on end. It couldn't be true. It just couldn't.
Frank cleared his throat nervously. 'As a result of Mr McLean's heirs-and with some further research-we've discovered there are twelve potential inheritors of the estate.'
Callan shook his head. No. Twelve people all wanting a part of Annick Castle. It would be sold without hesitation to the highest bidder. Everyone would want their share of the cash. Angus would have hated that.
'On Mr McLean's instructions, all twelve potential inheritors are to be invited to attend a weekend at Annick Castle.' He bit his lip. 'With true Angus McLean style, they are to be asked to take part in a Murder Mystery Weekend- with the winner becoming the sole heir of Annick Castle. After confirmation of their claim with DNA testing, of course.' His eyes finally met Callan's. 'Mr McLean's last wish was that
Annick Castle stayed in the family and was inherited by one person.'
The words chilled Callan to the bone. It was exactly the kind of thing Angus would have said-the only thing they'd ever argued about in this world. But Callan had always assumed there was no real family to inherit, at best, or worst, a few far-flung distant cousins. Nothing like this.
Chaos erupted all around him. Voices shouting and asking questions, people talking amongst themselves, pulling phones from their pockets and dialling numbers frantically.
There was a reporter in amongst the mix who walked out with his phone pressed against his ear. Who inherited Annick Castle was big news-particularly when it was being decided in such an unusual manner. It was one of the few privately owned castles in Scotland.
Callan stood up and walked outside into the rain and biting wind. His eyes landed on the building in front of him. Annick Castle. The place he'd called home for the last twenty-five years.
From the first night Angus had found him cowering in the bushes, hiding from the drunken, abusive bully that was his father, he'd welcomed him into his home. It had become his haven. His safe place. And in later years, when Angus had become frail and needed support, Callan had been the one to provide it.
Annick Castle was the place he'd laughed, cried and learned to be a man.
And it was all, doubtless, about to be destroyed by some stranger.
'Sign here, please.'
Laurie looked up at the electronic screen placed under her nose. She looked around; her secretary had vanished and the courier looked impatient. She lifted the electronic pen and scrawled her signature. 'Thanks.'
She stared at the envelope. It was hardly unusual. A letter from another firm of solicitors. She put it on the pile on her secretary's desk. It would need to be logged in the system.
She rubbed her forehead. Yet another tension headache-and it wasn't even nine a.m. She would be here for at least the next twelve hours. She sighed and picked up the court papers she would need for later and headed back to her office.
Five minutes later Alice appeared at her office door. 'Laurie, did you see who signed for this letter?'
Laurie looked up. It was the heavy cream envelope. 'Yip. It was me.'
Alice looked a little embarrassed. 'Sorry I missed it.' Her hand rested on her slightly protruding stomach. 'I've been at the bathroom three times already this morning.'
Laurie waved her hand. 'No worries.'
Alice smiled. 'I think you should look at this yourself. It's not work-related. It's personal.' She crossed the office and laid the now opened envelope on Laurie's desk. Receiving letters from other solicitors was an everyday thing. But none of them had ever been personal.
Laurie looked up at Alice's retreating back as she closed the door behind her.
Why had she closed the door? Alice had already seen the contents of the letter and unless Laurie was in a meeting with clients her door was always left open. It felt kind of ominous. Was someone suing her? But if they were, surely that would be work-related, not personal?
She picked up the envelope and turned it over in her hands. She didn't recognise the logo on the outside. Ferguson and Dalglish.
She pulled the letter from the inside. Heavyweight white bond paper. Exactly like the kind they used for legal documents. Her eyes scanned the page 'as the daughter of Peter Jenkins you've been identified as a possible heir to the estate of Angus McLean invited to attend Annick Castle ' The next page gave contact details and a map of how to get there. The letter dropped from her hands. Her heart was thudding against her chest and she couldn't help but automatically shake her head. This was crazy. This was mad.
As the daughter of Peter Jenkins Her father had died more than ten years ago. He'd never known who his own father was and had always been curious, but apparently his mother had never told him and refused to discuss the matter. Who on earth was Angus McLean? Was he the father he'd never known?
Because that was what this letter implied. What a way to find out.
She felt her stomach clench a little. Angus McLean could have been her grandfather. Why hadn't he contacted her when he was alive? Why wait until he was dead? It almost seemed pointless. And it was certainly pointless for her father.
Her fingers flew over her keyboard, pulling up a search engine and typing frantically. He wasn't hard to find. Angus McLean, died aged ninety-seven, one month ago. Never married. And apparently no children.
She let out a stream of words into the air. Really?
She scanned the letter again. How many children did this guy have? And had any of the others actually been acknowledged?
The phone rang and she ignored it. Whatever it was it would have to wait. She typed again.
A picture appeared before her and she took a sharp breath, her head moving closer to the screen. Annick Castle. On the west coast of Scotland.
Only, it didn't really look like a castle. More like a beautiful stately home perched on a cliff above the sea with gorgeous surrounding gardens and a swan pond. It was stunning, made of sand-coloured stone, with drum towers at either end and complete with cannons on the walls overlooking the sea.
She looked at the photo credit. The picture was taken twenty years before. Did Annick Castle still look like that?
Her curiosity was definitely piqued. What kind of a man stayed in a place like that? And why would he have family that he never made contact with?
She scanned the letter again. In her haste to read she'd missed the last paragraph.
You are invited to attend Annick Castle to take part in a Murder Mystery Weekend along with eleven other identified family members in accordance with Angus McLean's Last Will and Testament. The winner of the Murder Mystery Weekend shall inherit Annick Castle, familial claim shall be verified by DNA testing.
It didn't say that. It couldn't say that.
Lawyers all over the world would be throwing up their hands in horror.
She screwed up her eyes and pinched her nose, then looked from side to side. This was a joke. This was an elaborate hoax. Somewhere, in this room, there must be a hidden camera.
She stood up and walked around. First to the bookshelves on the wall, then to filing cabinets next to the door. She couldn't see anything. But weren't cameras so small now that they could be virtually invisible?
She opened her door and looked outside. Everyone was going about their business. No one was paying her the slightest bit of attention. It was a normal day at Bertram and Bain, one of the busiest solicitors' in London. Twenty partners with another thirty associates, specialising in employment law, partnership law and discrimination law. The phones started ringing around seven in the morning and continued until after nine at night. Organised chaos.
The tiny hairs on her arms stood on end as if a chilling breeze had just fluttered over her skin. She closed the door and leaned against it.
What if this wasn't a joke? Eleven other family members. Who were they?
She was an only child, and as far as she'd been aware her father had been an only child too. After he'd died, her mum hadn't coped too well and was now living in the sun in Portugal with a little help from Laurie.
She walked back to the desk and ran her finger over the thick paper of the letter.
She'd felt totally lost since her dad had died. She didn't have a million relatives scattered around the world. There was just her, and her mum.
And now this.
What if she did have relatives she'd never met?
She tried to swallow the lump in her throat as she sagged back down into her chair. Dad would have been so intrigued to receive something like this. He'd always been curious about his father. It made her miss him all the more. She was going to find out the things he'd never known. Who was Angus McLean? Why did he live in a castle? And why on earth hadn't he made contact with his potential family members while he'd still been alive?
She was trying not to be angry. She really was.
She read the letter once more. Property law wasn't her forte, but could this even be legal? There were some differences between English and Scots law, but she wasn't sure if this was one of them.
A Murder Mystery Weekend to decide who inherited the castle?
There was no getting away from it: Angus McLean must have been stark raving mad.
She blinked. A bit like how she'd been feeling lately.
Maybe it was a family trait. The thought didn't really fill her with pleasure-only fear.
She watched as people marched past the glass in her office wall, all with a purpose, all with not a minute to spare.
Exactly as she felt.
How many holidays was she overdue now? She straightened in her chair, the thick paper between her fingers.
Her father had been a grocer, her mother a shop assistant. No one had been more surprised than Laurie when she'd excelled at school. She liked learning. She liked finding out things. And she'd got swept along with the potential and expectations of her exam results. The careers advisor who'd pushed her towards university. The teachers who'd encouraged her to excel. Her father had cried the day she'd been accepted at Cambridge to study law.
And it had only taken her two months to realise that she hated it.
But, by then it was too late. She couldn't disappoint her dad. Not when he'd spent every waking hour working to help her achieve what he thought was her 'goal'. And especially not when she could hear the pride in his voice every time he told someone his daughter was going to be a lawyer. Turning her back on law would be like trampling on his grave.
She'd been miserable here for months. Always smiling, always agreeing to do more, to work late, to help others out. Never mind the hours she put in at the office, there was never really time off at home. Aches and muscle pains, sleepless nights, tension headaches, all signs that her body needed a break.
And maybe this was a sign.
No matter how ridiculous it sounded.
Her fingers tapped out the email quickly- before she had a chance to think straight and change her mind. She picked up the files on her desk and carried them outside.
Alice was worried. Laurie could tell by the frown on her forehead and the way her pencil was banging on the desk.
Laurie took a deep breath and gave her a smile, lifting a pile of Post-its from her desk. She started slapping them on the files. 'I'm taking some time off. Pink for Frances, green for Paul and yellow for Hugo. After I've been at court this afternoon there's nothing they can't handle. Ask them just to pick up where I left off.'
Alice nodded, her mouth gaping open as Laurie handed her the instructions from the letter. 'Can you book me a train ticket and sort out some accommodation for me?'
Alice put her pencil to good use and started scribbling. 'You're going to go? Really? When do you want to leave?'
'Tomorrow?' Several heads poked up at the surprise in Alice's voice from the pods around them.
Laurie nodded. 'I'm supposed to be there Friday through to Monday evening.'
Laurie Jenkins taking a holiday. It was unheard of.
Maybe it was time for change.