He left her a cottage in England...and a photograph with the words "I'm sorry" written on it...
Marjorie Maitland was used to a certain routine — she'd built her life around the safety of predictability. Then the unexpected happened — her husband died. But grief was not the only emotion that overwhelmed her. The mystery her husband left behind puzzled her — a deed to a cottage in England. Where had that come from? And who was the woman in the photograph? Margie knew trouble when it knocked on her door.
The old Margie, safe in her suburban home, would have avoided this potentially humiliating situation. But things were changing. The new Margie had to unravel this tangled web and get to the truth. And that meant a trip to England to find out if her entire life had been a lie...or to discover the best parts of the rest of her life.
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About the Author
Doreen Roberts was born in London before the onset of WWII, and spent many days in bomb shelters, where she entertained her classmates by making up stories. She contributes her love of writing suspense to those perilous times, when just waking up in the mornings was a major victory. Doreen now lives in Oregon with her husband, Bill, and Bella, a chihuahua who's the boss. Doreen has written over sixty books, and has made the Waldenbooks Top Ten Romance list seven times.
Read an Excerpt
It's strange how a single sentence can totally change your life. That's all it took to change mine.
I sat in James Starrett's immaculate office, mistakenly thinking that the worst shock of Brandon's death was behind me. Outside the window, rhododendrons soaked up the sun after a long bout of Seattle rain. I wished I could be out there with them, instead of trapped inside that stuffy room. James's voice was enough to send me to sleep as he droned on about the will.
He sat behind a massive desk that gleamed in the rays of sunlight pouring through the window behind him. When he finally paused in his lengthy commentary and raised his eyebrows at me, it took me a moment or two to realize I might have missed something important. I leaned forward. "What did you say?"
He frowned at me over his rimless glasses. "I was saying, I'd think about selling your property in England."
I groped through the fog in my head to make sense of his words. They seemed to hang in the air between us, about as clear as if he'd spoken in Japanese.
I'd had trouble making sense of anything the past few weeks. At first I couldn't convince myself that Brandon wasn't coming back. Or maybe I was afraid to accept it. As long as I floated along in my little cushion of denial, I wouldn't feel the pain that I knew was waiting to crush me.
I missed him, of course. I kept expecting him to walk in the house, demanding his double-malt scotch, and grumbling because dinner wasn't ready. The house seemed so lonely and empty without him, yet I wasn't hurting the way I thought a new widow should hurt. I kept waiting for that to happen.
I seemed to live in a vacuum, where no one could reach me, and I had to give myself orders so I wouldn't forget to eat or shower or comb my hair. It was a strange existence. I felt like a character living in a book, waiting for the reader to turn another page.
No wonder I couldn't understand James, even though he'd said it twice. I gave him an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?"
I didn't like the uncomfortable expression that crept into his colorless eyes. "I said, you need to think about selling your property in England."
I sat staring at him for the longest time, letting the words sink in. Even then, they still didn't make sense. "Property?" My voice sounded as if I'd swallowed sand.
"Yes." He cleared his throat. "The cottage in Miles End, Devon. It's on half an acre of land, so it should fetch a good price. It's occupied at the moment...ah... Eileen Robbins is the name...but you should be able to get around that. The woman might even be willing to buy it from you. I can put you in touch with a good agent over there, if you like."
I pulled myself upright on the hard chair and shook my head in a vain effort to focus.
James went on in his dry voice as if he were totally unaware of the havoc he was creating in my muddled mind. "Three bedrooms, living room, kitchen and bathroom. I'm told that's considered quite sufficient in a small fishing village like Miles End."
"Village?" I seemed to be repeating words without understanding any of them.
James looked at me as if I were stupid. I felt stupid. How in the world had Brandon kept property in England a secret from me? Why had he kept it a secret from me?
My late husband was an investments consultant and wrapped up in his work most of the time. I guess most people would call our life together comfortable. Maybe mundane. Certainly predictable.
Every Friday he and I ate dinner at one of the excellent restaurants in the city. Once a year we'd drive up to Vancouver or take the ferry to Victoria for a week's vacation. That was about the extent of our social life together.
But then Brandon died, and life as I knew it vanished as completely as an early-morning mist on a hot summer's day. Now, three weeks after my husband had been laid to rest, I listened to James drone on and wondered what in the world I was doing there.
I jumped, aware James had asked me a question that had dissolved in my ears before I'd registered it. "Sorry. I didn't get that."
He gave me a pitying look. "I know this must be hard for you. It was a shock to us all. Fifty-four is far too young. We had no idea Brandon had a heart problem. He seemed so healthy and vital."
I doubt even Brandon knew he had a heart problem. If he had, he hadn't thought it worth mentioning to me. It wasn't until the autopsy they found the clogged arteries. My late husband was one of those people who avoided doctors like a vegan avoids mink.
"Marjorie, how much do you know about your financial situation?"
Apparently not enough. Apparently there was a whole lot I hadn't known. I wondered what else he'd kept from me. I had a sudden urge to run from that dismal office with its leathery odor and that awful sickly cologne James wore. I wanted to breathe fresh air, and feel the sun warm on my head. I didn't want to sit there and answer his probing questions.
"Not much." I looked him in the eye. "Brandon took care of all the finances. He was an expert, you know. He didn't trust anyone with his money except himself."
If James detected a slight bitterness to my tone he didn't let on. "Yes, that's what I thought. Judging by your reaction, I assume he neglected to tell you about the cottage."
Good word, neglected. Covered a lot of sins. It definitely sounded better than out-and-out lying, though technically, I suppose, Brandon hadn't exactly lied. He'd just gone to incredible pains to keep this enormous secret from me. No wonder he had so many business trips to Europe.
I remembered then, something else James had said. I wanted to know more about this woman living in my husband's cottage. Was this a simple business arrangement, an investment, or was she the reason he'd kept it all a secret?
I fought to control my rising suspicions. Calm down, I told myself. There could be a lot of reasons why Brandon hadn't wanted me to know he owned a cottage in a foreign country and that a stranger was living in it.
A female stranger.
I couldn't think of one good reason. Except for the obvious. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's being made to look like a fool. Right then I felt like the biggest fool on the planet. "How long has Brandon owned this cottage?"
James flipped over pages for so long I thought he intended to ignore the question. Then he cleared his throat again. "Your husband bought the cottage shortly after your wedding. Three months later, to be exact."
Three months? Was that how long it had taken before Brandon went looking for a diversion? No, I couldn't believe that. Brandon wasn't the type. Besides, I would have known. Surely I would have known?
I sat staring at James for quite some time before I finally managed to ask, "Did he say why he bought it?"
"I imagine for an investment."
There. So it was possible. Okay, maybe I was grasping at straws, but I was drowning in a sea of bewilderment and desperately looking for dry land. "So this woman is renting the cottage? Is that it?"
He seemed to have something wrong with his throat because he kept having to clear it. "Not exactly. I believe she's living there free of rent."
"I see." I pulled in a deep, deep breath and let it out slowly. Seconds ticked by while I fought the waves of anger and disbelief. I'd been married twenty-seven years to a man I thought I knew at least reasonably well. Now it seemed I hadn't known him at all. "Marjorie, you should understand that your financial situation is somewhat delicate."
It took all my willpower to sound indifferent. "I suppose you're going to tell me I'm bankrupt now."
James seemed offended by that. "Bankrupt? Of course not. Brandon was too good a manager to allow that. There are, however, certain matters which have to be addressed."
"What kind of matters?"
He looked down at the papers in front of him. "Well, for one, I'm sure you know that Brandon has made you sole beneficiary of his will."
Well, that came as no big surprise. Brandon had no family living and, to my everlasting regret, we never had children.
"Sole beneficiary," I murmured. "How considerate of him. You're sure he didn't include Eileen what'sher-name?"
Ignoring that completely, James went on talking in that wooden voice of his, seemingly unaware of my growing need to throw something at him. "He's left all his worldly goods to you, with no exceptions. The life insurance should provide you with enough funds to settle immediate matters. You will be receiving a small pension, enough to pay for necessities, though I should caution you that your income will not be as favorable as the one to which you have become accustomed.
Since you have at least another fifteen years or so until retirement age, you will most likely have to make some changes."
I was in no mood to sort through all that lawyer-speak. "I assume what all that means is that I have to sell my home."
I could no longer hide my resentment and James's ears turned pink. "By no means. It's a big house for one person, however, and the upkeep must be quite expensive. You might want to consider selling it, yes. Brandon lost money on the stock market and refinanced a couple of years ago, but there should be enough equity left, around thirty thousand or so, to give you a down payment on something a little smaller."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In Seattle, attorney James Starrett informs Marjorie Maitland that her late spouse fifty-four years old investments consultant Brandon left her a cottage in Miles End, Devon in England. She had no idea that they owned property overseas that he bought three months after their marriage, twenty-seven years ago. The final shockers are an Eileen something or other resides rent free in the cottage and the photo of a strange woman with the note 'I'm sorry' on it.----------------- Though one not used the venturing out, Marjorie decides she must know the truth by uncovering the secret that her spouse hid from her in their almost three decades of marriage. The truth is across the ocean in a little cottage where Eileen something or other lives. Marjorie knows what she might learn could devastate her, but England is her destination.------------ Readers will accompany Marjorie as the audience will want to know what happened and why Brandon hid what he did from his wife. The mystery is clever as it enables the reader to observe a middle age woman forced to put her grief aside because her emotional pull is the truth and its potential affect that her married life was built on a lie. Doreen Roberts provides a strong character driven tale.--------------------- Harriet Klausner
The main character in this story was so whiny in the first person narrative of this book. I would have enjoyed it much more if it were written in third person. Storyline is solid and the characters are interesting. If you like first person narrative in your romance novels, then you will probably like it more than I did.