“I need an hour.”
“Ma’am…” The gravedigger paused when he saw the two crisp hundred-dollar bills in Madison’s hand. “I’m really not allowed—”
“Please,” she interrupted. “I’m just not ready to say good-bye yet. You understand, don’t you?” She glanced at his name tag. “Willard?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He took the tip and gestured for his helper to follow him. “We’ll be back in an hour to finish up.”
“Thank you, Willard.” Madison scanned the area, making sure none of the attendees had lingered. They hadn’t. No surprise there. She saw her own car parked in the nearby drive. Stephen, her driver, had the good sense to focus his attention elsewhere. He sat in the driver’s seat, staring intently at his phone.
Apart from Madison and Stephen, the cemetery seemed to be empty, and why wouldn’t it be, given the chill in the air? This was hardly a good day to visit deceased loved ones, but it was a perfect day to bury one.
She removed the black leather gloves from her slender fingers and tucked them into her coat pocket. She removed her coat next and folded it over the back of a chair. This would probably ruin her dress. Good. She’d burn it later in the fireplace. She ran her fingers over the string of pearls around her neck. Should she remove them? They were a gift, after all, but no. If they got sullied, so be it. She’d burn them too. That left the dark sunglasses. She tossed them on the chair and turned toward the gravesite.
Madison Prescott was thirty-six years old and sole heir to her family’s fortune. As of today, she had officially assumed control of the Prescott estate. On Monday, the board would vote to make her the next CEO of Prescott Industries. It was a formality, she knew. She’d been interim CEO for the past six months, and besides, everyone knew Madison Prescott had been groomed for the role her entire life. First though, she had other fish to fry.
She’d interrupted the gravedigger. The poor guy was only doing his job, but that hadn’t stopped her. The moment her father’s casket had been lowered into the ground, she’d opened her wallet.
Now as she stood above the gravesite, looking down at the dark oak casket that so closely resembled the humidor sitting on his desk, she found herself wondering if he’d purposely chosen to be laid to rest in a replica of the possession that was most important to him. She tucked her hair behind her ears and took a deep breath. She was ready. So very ready.
The first handful of dirt hit the casket like a gentle rainfall as she spread her fingers. It was an odd tradition, the throwing of dirt. Madison knew it was supposed to be some sort of symbolic closure for Catholics, like her father claimed to be. Still, she wondered if the person who thought up this little ritual wanted to do it for the same reasons she did. She picked up another handful, then another. On the third throw, everything changed. It felt as though the air had been sucked from her body. The perfume that lingered in the air was unmistakable.
“Ana,” she whispered.
Madison’s throat constricted. Eyes that had been dry since her father’s death filled with tears. She turned around and tried to find her voice. “Thank you for coming.”
Ana turned her attention to the hole in the ground. “I’m not here for you. I’m here for me. I had to see it for myself.”
Madison could barely speak, but Ana’s voice was forceful, her tone cold. The words cut to the core. She knew she had to accept them. How could she not, after all that had happened? Besides, there was no time to ask for forgiveness. Willard would be back soon.
Madison grabbed a shovel. With the pointed toe of her black, stiletto heel, she pushed deep into the dirt pile and threw the biggest shovelful she could manage. It hit George Prescott’s casket with a loud thump. She paused for a moment. Her lip quivered so hard, she had to cover it with her hand.
This was supposed to be easy. Just bury the son of a bitch, wipe your hands clean, and move on with life. Madison wanted to see Ana again, but not like this. Not now. Not here. Madison choked back a sob and filled the shovel again, trying to ignore the scent of Ana’s perfume lingering in the air.
Ana stepped up to the grave. She peered down at the casket and then met Madison’s gaze. “May I join you?”
Madison gave a nod, not sure exactly what Ana had in mind. It didn’t matter because at least Ana had looked her in the eye when she’d said the words. That was something, wasn’t it?
Ana removed her coat. Apparently, she hadn’t bothered to wear black. In fact, she looked as if she’d just come from work in a gray pencil skirt and white silk blouse. She grabbed another shovel, dug into the pile, and without hesitation, threw it on the casket.
Were they really going to do this together, or was it just a symbolic thing? Would one shovelful be enough? Madison watched in shock as Ana filled her shovel again. No, one shovelful was definitely not enough. Madison dug deep into the pile again, and without words, the two impeccably dressed women threw shovel after shovelful of dirt on top of George Madison Prescott III.
With most of the dirt pile gone, Madison threw the shovel to the side and wiped her sweaty brow. It was done. And if anyone ever reported what she’d just done, burying her father herself instead of letting someone else do it, she had an excuse ready. It was her job, as his only child, to give him the final respect he so deserved, she’d tell them. Sure, she doubted anyone would believe her excuse—that she just couldn’t bear to let a stranger do it, but she also doubted anyone would care enough to question it.
After they finished the task, Ana turned and started to walk away. Madison caught her sleeve, leaving a dirty handprint on the silk. “Could you stay a minute longer?”
Ana seemed to stiffen at the touch. She put her coat over her arm and held her chin high. “No. I got what I came here for.”
There was that cold tone again. Madison had never heard it before today. She wiped her cheek with the back of her dirty hand. She couldn’t stop the flow of tears she’d managed to keep at bay since the doctor gave the final nod, indicating her father had taken his last breath. Now, the tears flowed freely. If she could just stop crying, maybe she could tell Ana how sorry she was. How her only respite in fifteen years had been the few minutes she allowed herself in the shower each morning to imagine that things had turned out differently. If only she could explain. But those words were stuck behind the gigantic lump in her throat.
She was trying to think of a way to keep Ana there a little longer when the unthinkable happened. Ana turned back to the grave, stepped forward, and spat on it. When she turned back around, their eyes met for a few seconds. Ana’s were so full of anger and hate, Madison had to turn away. She waited until she heard a car door open and close before she turned back around. Ana was gone.
Spitting wasn’t something Madison Prescott ever did. But it seemed so damned appropriate, didn’t it? Yes. Ana had that much right. And if she could somehow honor Ana and disparage her father at the same time, well, that would be time well spent.
She put her sunglasses back on. She put her coat over her arm and stepped back over to the grave. How does one spit? Just pretend you’re brushing your teeth. Spit out the toothpaste.Sweat dripped down her back. Her hairline was soaked, but her mouth was bone dry. Hell, it could wait. The old man wasn’t going anywhere.
She turned to walk away, then thought better of it. Madison walked back to the gravesite and spat on her father’s coffin as if God meant for her to do it. And she suspected He did.
Stephen opened the car door for his boss and then got in the driver’s seat. He couldn’t believe what he’d just witnessed—Madison Prescott burying her father with her bare hands? It was unbelievable. He had no idea what to say to her, how to comfort her.
Then there was the woman who had parked the sports car behind him. He hadn’t seen her at the funeral, but from what he’d just witnessed, he had a pretty good idea who she was.
Stephen knew about Ana. Everyone knew about Ana. He’d heard the story many times, told by different members of the staff who had been there at the time. The details were usually different, depending on how salaciously a particular staff member wanted to tell it, but the ending was always the same—forbidden love gone horribly wrong.
He’d almost missed seeing her get out of her car, more concerned with texting for updates on his daughter’s school play. When he’d heard the car door open and close behind him, Stephen rolled down his window to get a better look. It wasn’t like him to intrude in this way, but in the Prescott household, Madison and Ana had the mystique of Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson. The difference, of course, being that Madison hadn’t abdicated the family throne for love.
Stephen had watched the woman walk toward the gravesite with her head held high. She looked as if she belonged at Mr. Prescott’s funeral, with her expensive German car and her designer clothes. That surprised Stephen since the Ana Perez he’d heard about was a maid’s daughter. With her short, sculpted hair and sunglasses so large they covered most of her face, she looked more like some of the executives Madison often lunched with.
One thing was clear, the woman knew how to bury a dead man.
Stephen waited patiently for instructions. He didn’t want to start the car until Madison was ready to leave. They sat in silence for what felt like an eternity. He finally cleared his throat. “Madison?”
Stephen always said her name with hesitation in his voice. She insisted that he, and all the other staff, for that matter, call her by her first name, not Ms. Prescott. After all they’d been through, he ought to be fine with it, but Stephen was a socially awkward sort. He’d always been most comfortable with a very clear set of rules to follow, so he usually addressed her as “ma’am.”
This time was different, though. He’d just witnessed about as traumatic a moment as he’d ever seen Madison involved in, and a furtive glance in the review mirror revealed a boss who was doing everything she could to keep from sobbing. He had a pretty good idea that those tears weren’t for George M. Prescott the damnedthird. The pompous bastard lived for that damned suffix, making sure everyone knew he was “American royalty.” So what if he could trace his heritage back to the Revolutionary War? It was Stephen’s opinion that the only person who cared was the man himself.
With no reply from the backseat, Stephen continued to wait, worried that maybe he hadn’t said her name loud enough. He’d often been told that he spoke too softly. Never by Madison. She only ever had kind, encouraging words for him. But other people, mostly Mr. Prescott, would rudely tell him to “speak up, son!” He hated the way he would jump when Mr. Prescott spoke to him that way, but the truth was, the man scared him to death, and he was glad he was gone.
Stephen glanced in the rearview mirror again. Madison was staring out the window, covering her quivering mouth with the edge of her index finger. He could see a tear running down her cheek, and he wanted to get in the back seat and hold her in his arms. Tell her everything would be fine like she’d done for him so many times. But he was just her driver. Not family. Not even friends. Just a driver. He swallowed the lump in his throat and willed himself to hold back his own tears.
It had been a hard week for everyone. Though Stephen felt crass thinking about it in those terms, the week had been made that much harder by a future that was suddenly unclear. Would Madison keep the Prescott estate and all of the staff that was required to keep it running, or would she downsize and move to the city? Everyone on the estate was on edge about it, and they all wanted Stephen to address their concerns. But he couldn’t. Madison hadn’t said a word about it, and he wasn’t going to ask. It wasn’t his place to ask.
“How did she do?” Their eyes met in the rearview mirror. “Kelsey. The school play,” Madison added. “I’m sorry you had to miss it.”
Stephen cleared his throat, choking back his emotions. Madison knew? And with everything she’d been going through, she cared enough to ask? His boss never ceased to amaze him. “Sarah said she did good. And I wouldn’t be anywhere else today.” He took a deep breath and blinked several times, but he couldn’t hold back the tears. He grabbed a handkerchief out of his pocket and dabbed his eyes. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Just give me a moment.”
Madison wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere. She’d planned this moment for fifteen years. It always ended with her in the same place: at the doorstep of the girl she had loved her entire life. Ana would open the door. And then, Ana would open her arms. How naïve did Madison have to be to think it would all go that smoothly?
That was the dream that had kept Madison going all these years. How could it have never occurred to her that Ana hated her with the same amount of passion she used to love her?
Of course, she knew exactly how she could have overlooked that minor detail. The Ana she’d known had never hated anyone. Today, for the first time, Madison saw that the girl she’d known was gone—replaced by a woman who had traded in trust for suspicion and love for disdain. This version of Ana was entirely Madison’s creation. And God, how it hurt.
Madison opened the car door, got out, and ran. She ran at full speed between the gravestones, trying to escape the pain, but she didn’t get very far. Her heel breaking off in the damp grass brought her to her knees. She looked up at the sky and screamed, “Goddamn you!” Gasping for breath between sobs, she screamed it again. “Goddamn you, George!”
Stephen walked up to her and knelt down on one knee. “Ma’am,” he whispered, his own voice filled with emotion. “I’m…I’m here.”
Madison took his offered hand and squeezed it as she heaved for air. He helped her to her feet. She took off one shoe and then the other. Stephen took them from her hand. “Let me.”
Madison leaned heavily on Stephen as they walked back to the car in silence. She steadied herself on the car door and turned to take one more look at her father’s grave. She could hear him in her head, expressing his disgust with her for showing any emotion. Get a hold of yourself,he would say. You’re a goddamned Prescott. Start acting like it.
“You don’t get to tell me who to be anymore, Dad,” she said under her breath.
Madison shook her head. “Nothing, Stephen. Let’s go home.”
Ana knew it was wrong to spit on someone’s grave. Even if that someone was George Prescott. Her mother would be disappointed in her. That was a given. She’d probably insist Ana go to confession, even though the only times she stepped into a church were on Christmas and Easter. Even then, it was only so her mother wouldn’t have to go alone. Maybe she’d just leave out the spitting part when she told her mother that he was really dead. That bastard, George Prescott, was really dead.
She imagined the confession she’d never go to. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been…um…seventeen years since my last confession. The love of my life’s father died. I spit on his grave and didn’t have a single word of comfort for his daughter. But really, Father, I have a good excuse! Ana looked down at her ruined manicure and shook her head. “There’s never a good excuse, my child,” she said in a low voice, imitating a priest from her childhood.
“Hi there, Ms. Perez,” Ana’s doorman, Tommy, called out in his typically chipper tone. “How’s it go—” He trailed off as Ana came closer. He looked her up and down. “You all right, miss?”
Ana glanced down at herself. Oh God. She was a disaster. Her Manolo Blahniks were ruined. She stamped her feet a few times to get the clods of dirt off before walking through the door Tommy held open. Note to self:Next time you bury a body, don’t wear eight-hundred-dollar heels.“I’m fine, Tommy. You should see the other guy.” Tommy gave her a confused smile and let the matter go.
In the elevator, she looked at the blister that was forming on the palm of her hand. She’d felt it at the time but couldn’t seem to stop shoveling dirt on that awful man. She could live with a blister. It was temporary. The satisfaction she felt would be permanent. She made the sign of the cross as the elevator door opened, hoping God would grant her a little mercy today.
Inside her east side apartment, Ana kicked her heels off by the front door so she wouldn’t track dirt onto the glossy white tile. She couldn’t get undressed fast enough, leaving a trail of clothing behind her as she made her way to the shower. She didn’t particularly care about showering off the dirt. It was her—freaking Madison Prescott and the feelings she stirred up that needed to be washed away. And the sooner, the better.
She passed through her bedroom in nothing but her panties and stopped short when she saw movement in the bed. “Kris? What are you doing here?”
Ana’s sometimes-on, sometimes-off girlfriend sat up. “How did it go?” She ran her fingers through her dark brown hair and blinked the sleep from her eyes.
“You don’t need to be here,” Ana said. “I’m fine.”
Kris got out of bed and followed Ana into the bathroom. She sat on the vanity, tucking her hands under her bare legs. “Really? You’re absolutely fine?”
“Don’t make me take your key away.”
“Like I haven’t heard that threat before,” Kris said.
“We’re not dating anymore. You don’t need to do this.”
“Yeah, you’ve said that a few times too, but here I am, with a key to your place on my keyring. What was it you said? So I could let myself in when it’s ‘convenient’?” She made air quotes. “I guess what you meant was ‘convenient for you.’”
Ana slipped her panties off and turned on the water, waiting for it to get hot before she stepped into the shower. She’d dated Kris on and off for three years, so of course, Kris knew the Madison Prescott story. And maybe being fineafter what she’d just done wasn’t in the cards, but why did Kris have to show up and throw it in her face?
That wasn’t it. Ana knew that. Kris wasn’t there to make her feel worse, but the last thing Ana wanted to do was talk about it. She turned to Kris and softened her tone. “You look beat. Long shift, doctor?”
Kris chuckled and looked at her watch. “It’s Friday, right?”
“Go home. I’m fine.” Ana stepped into the shower.
“You’re not fine!” Kris shouted. “God, Ana.”
Kris was right. Ana wasn’t fine. She stifled a sob, hoping Kris wouldn’t hear her over the water. The second sob she couldn’t hold in. She gripped the sides of the shower and just as she lost the will to stand, Kris caught her and helped her to the floor.
“I know what you’re doing.” Ana pushed her cup of tea away and leaned on the table.
“Oh, yeah?” Kris tucked her wet hair behind her ears. “What am I doing, Ana?”
“You’re waiting for me to talk about it.” She closed her eyes and lightly pressed on them. They were swollen from all of the crying. She couldn’t go back to work looking like this. She couldn’t sit here in silence for much longer, either.
Kris glanced at the trail of clothes leading to the bedroom. “A man you hated with a passion is dead, and you came home from the funeral looking like you buried him yourself—”
“We did,” Ana said, interrupting her.
Kris blinked. “Did what?”
Ana pushed back from the table. She took her cup to the sink and poured it out, then turned and leaned against it. She tightened her bathrobe and folded her arms. “We buried George ourselves.”
Kris shook her head in confusion. “Who did?”
“Me and Madison.”
Madison kicked a rock down the long drive to the main road. She knew there was no escaping. The huge iron gate would be locked, and she wasn’t strong enough to open it on her own. Heaven knows she’d tried. She’d even tried squishing herself between the bars, but her head was too big.
Climbing over it wasn’t an option, either. It was too slippery and too high. She’d learned that lesson the hard way a few days ago and had a bruised butt to prove it. If only there was someone she could show that bruise to now. Someone who would appreciate how gross it looked—all yellowish green and purple.
Her old nanny would tell her it was her own fault for being so silly. Her dad would just roll his eyes and go back to his newspaper. No, she needed someone who could truly appreciate the gore factor, but it was summer, and besides, she’d get into so much trouble for dropping her pants at school, even if it was just to show off the most awesomest bruise ever.
She stopped kicking her rock when she saw a little girl with dark brown braids running toward her. She squinted her eyes to get a better look. Her eyesight wasn’t so good, but she hated wearing those dumb glasses all the time. And maybe they were broken, anyway, due to a fall from her favorite tree yesterday. So what, she thought. Life went on, even if she couldn’t make out the leaves on the trees, and it was just one big, green blob. It was still a tree.
As the girl got closer, Madison had it figured out. She was the new maid’s daughter. No one else would wear their jeans that short. High waters. That’s what the kids at school called them. Chastising herself, she repeated what her mom had told her before she’d died. Don’t judge people by how much money they do or don’t have, Maddy. Some of the worst people in the world have pockets full of cash, and some of the best people in the world don’t have an extra penny to their name. Remember that.
And Madison had. She’d already decided the new maid, Carmen, was a good person. Maybe her daughter wasn’t half bad, either.
“Hi! I’m Ana.”
Madison had to laugh. The girl was gripping her banana so tightly she was smooshing it. Her navy-blue Keds had holes in the toes, and her toenails were painted pink. Madison didn’t reply; she just motioned with her head, letting the new kid with the missing front teeth know she could tag along with her.
Ana took a bite of her banana that was too big for her small mouth and mumbled, “How old are you?”
Madison found her rock again and gave it a good kick. “Eight. How old are you?”
“Seven. What’s your name?”
“Madison, but you can call me Maddy.”
“Want some banana?”
Madison grimaced at the ripe banana that was oozing out of its skin. “No, thank you. But I’ll probably have to call you Ana Banana from now on.”
“My name is Ana Margareta Maria Perez.”
Due to the missing teeth, Perez came out as Pereth, but Madison knew what she was trying to say. “Wow, that’s a lot of names. I’m Madison Prescott.” She sighed, not wanting to admit her full name. “Madison…George…Prescott.”
“That sounds like a boy’s name. And why is your hair so white?”
Madison had heard it all before. Towhead is what some people called her because of her white hair. She hated being called that, but her mom said it would darken over time. That had yet to happen. “Yeah,” she shrugged. “My last nanny said when I tell a fib, my hair turns white.” The other thing Ana said, about Madison having a boy’s name, well, that was true. “My mom said I got two boy’s names ‘cause that’s how bad my dad wanted a boy. Beats me what’s so great about boys.”
“Yeah, beats me too.” Ana shrugged. “And my mom says if I tell a fib, my eyesight will get really bad, and I’ll have to get glasses.”
Madison stopped short. “Really?”
“I’m so doomed,” Madison whispered. She’d be blind by the time she turned ten; she just knew it. She’d need to see about gluing her broken glasses back together.
“I like your names,” Ana said.
“You do?” That surprised Madison. Most people weren’t shy about informing her that her name should be Mary or Margaret or some other M name. Anything but Madison. No other girl in her whole school shared her name.
Ana finished her banana and stuffed the peel into her front pocket. “Hey, can I kick your rock?”
Madison gave her a nod. It wouldn’t hurt to see what this little girl was made of. She folded her arms and waited as Ana geared herself up to give the rock a good whack. It hit the iron gate with a loud clang. “Not bad for a pipsqueak.”
Ana turned around and covered her ears and then her mouth. Shoot, was she going to cry? Madison draped her arm over her shoulder and turned them back toward the house before any tears could fall. “Don’t sweat it. It’s just a gate. And that’s quite a leg you got there. You should play soccer.”
“I should?” Ana glanced back at the gate. “Don’t tell my mom I did that. She’ll be so mad.”
Madison patted her shoulder. “Stick with me, kid. I’ll show you how the world works.” She’d also show her the huge bruise on her butt when the time was right. She was sure Ana would give her the reaction she wanted—a total gross-out face.
“You sound like a grown-up,” Ana said, looking up at her.
“Yeah.” Madison had heard that before too. She’d gone through a few nannies who complained that she was “precocious” and “mouthy.” Whatever. They were just mad because she could out-talk them.
“Maybe we could play soccer in this park,” Ana said. “Except, I don’t have a ball.”
Madison giggled. “This isn’t a park, silly. This is my lawn.”
Ana scrunched her nose as she scanned the property from left to right. “Isn’t it for everyone? Like, the people who live in that apartment building?”
Silly kid. Madison just shook her head and smiled. “That’s my house.”
“Wow.” Ana looked up at the mansion in disbelief. “You must have a huge family.”
“Nope. Just me and my dad.”
“Oh.” Ana seemed to accept the explanation. “Well, do
you want to come to my new house and play? I have board games.”
Madison could’ve told Ana about the swimming pool and spa around back. She could have mentioned the horse stables that were just down the hill. And the putting green on the other side of the house. And her new set of golf clubs that were just her size. And all the toys she had, like the croquet set and the tennis rackets. Oh yeah, and the tennis court that lit up at night. She decided to slowly reveal them to her new friend. Maybe surprise her with something new every day. That could be fun. And having a friend who actually lived on the estate would be a dream come true. Bernard, her dad’s driver, was an okay tennis player, but who wanted to play with a grandpa all the time?
“I like board games, but I’ll probably beat you.” She gave Ana’s shoulder a light slug. “Just kidding, Ana Banana. Let’s go!”
They ran toward the staff quarters, Madison holding back slightly so Ana could keep up. Then, she pulled Ana by the hand to the back of the building. “Wanna see something gross?” She didn’t wait for Ana to answer. She pushed her shorts down and slowly moved her underwear out of the way, keeping a close watch for her new friend’s reaction.
“Oh! That’s disgusting!” Ana covered her eyes with both hands. Madison had to lean against the wall she was laughing so hard. Yeah, this would work out just fine.
Madison downed the last of the bourbon in one gulp. She pushed her empty glass away and clasped her hands together, leaning her elbows on her father’s desk. It was all hers now, including this library that smelled like old leather, cigars, and the spicy cologne her father had worn for years.
The walls were covered with portraits of her predecessors. Every Prescott man since the early 1800s had sat for a painting. They were all there, looking down on her. George in his three-piece suit with a Cuban cigar poking out of his breast pocket instead of a handkerchief.
She too would have her portrait painted when she turned forty. George was an enigma in that way. A misogynistic pig through and through, except when it came to Madison. His blood ran through her veins, and somehow, that gave her a free pass that the other Prescott women hadn’t been given. She’d been allowedto go to Yale. Allowedto enter the business world. She just had to do it all on George’s terms.
The appointment had already been set for the sitting. If the same artist who had painted her father’s portrait was still alive four years from now, he would also paint Madison. She was told to wear navy blue, just like her father and his father before that. A suit, not a dress. And no jewelry. Her hair was to be pulled back in a bun. That part was fine. She wore her hair in a long, straight style anyway, hitting just below her shoulders. It was long enough for a bun, though she never wore it that way.
The part that bothered her was the no jewelry rule. It wasn’t a rule in real life, so why for the portrait? Her great-grandfather wore a pocket watch that now belonged to her. Another heirloom she’d been entrusted to pass on to the next generation.
Her grandfather wore a pearl pin in his tie. She looked closely at every portrait, and they all had some sort of adornment. All of them except George. His only adornment was a goddamned cigar.
So, it was just George making yet another decision on Madison’s behalf. Well, fuck him. He was six feet under. Quite literally, thanks to Ana and Madison.
Madison would wear her pearl earrings and necklace for the sitting. She’d wear her Rolex. And she’d wear whatever dress she damn well wanted to wear. Maybe a loud print. Give the library some color. And maybe she’d pull down those heavy, hunter green, velvet drapes while she was at it. Matter of fact, she could just have her dress made out of those godawful drapes. That would certainly be one way to get George turning in his grave. One of many, Madison hoped. She looked around the room and saw her father’s humidor sitting on the desk. It could go right now, given a slight push. It hit the floor with a loud crash, and Madison scanned the desk to see what else she could ruin.
She’d suffered so many losses in that room. The arguments with her father were always intense. Madison would sit on one side of the desk while her father sat in his big chair, making threats she couldn’t possibly overcome. For all the money and power the world thought Madison had, she was helpless as long as George Prescott was alive. Her power was an illusion, and no one really knew it except George. And Madison, of course.
Madison jumped when she heard the door open. Scott poked his head in. “Can I come in?”
Madison took her hand off the crystal paperweight she was just about to throw and waved him into the room. “Just in time for a drink.” She went over to the bar and poured them both a bourbon, making hers a double.
He loosened his tie and sat on the leather sofa. “How are you doing?”
Madison shrugged and handed him a drink. She sat at the other end of the sofa with her knees up, facing him. She wrapped her long sweater tighter around her body and kept her eyes on the fire burning in the fireplace. Scott leaned over and rested his hand on her knee. “Is it just the stress?”
“What do you mean?”
Scott reached over and wiped a tear from Madison’s cheek. “You haven’t cried at all, so I just wondered…”
Madison huffed at the comment. “I can’t cry for my father? What kind of unfeeling animal do you think I am?”
“This is me, Maddy. I’ve known you since you were eighteen. Talk to me.”
Madison pulled her sleeve down over her hand and wiped her eyes with it. She could try all she wanted, but there was no stopping the tears. Scott had never let her down. He’d never betrayed her trust, and she would never betray his. She took a deep breath. “After you left. After everyone left, Ana showed up.”
“Ana.” Scott searched Madison’s eyes for answers. “The…Ana?”
Was there any other Ana? As much as Madison wanted to drown her sorrows in more bourbon, she knew she’d regret it in the morning. She set the glass down and picked up a bottle of water. “She hates me.”
Scott moved in closer and pulled Madison’s legs over his. He took off her sock and with a tender touch, rubbed her foot. “I don’t want to sound insensitive, but did you really expect her to just forget the past?”
“No.” Madison shook her head. “But I didn’t expect the hate I saw in her eyes. Not after all this time.”
“She went to the funeral. That’s something, right?”
That was probably generous. Madison was pretty sure Ana hadn’t been at the church for the service. Surely, she would’ve felt her presence there, just like she’d felt it at the cemetery. “It wasn’t like that. She didn’t come to pay her respects; she came to spit on his grave. And who can blame her?” Madison wiped her cheeks with her sleeve. “I paid off the groundskeeper to walk away, and we buried him together.”
“You should’ve seen her with that shovel. It felt like we’d murdered him and were trying to cover up the evidence. So, as burials go, I’d say it was a pretty good one.”
Scott shook his head in disbelief. “You and Ana buried George?” He chuckled as he leaned his head back against the sofa. “God, I wish I could’ve seen that. I would’ve helped you.”
Madison had thought about asking Scott to stay with her after everyone else had gone, but instead, she’d asked him to see to things at the estate. A lunch had been prepared for the guests, and someone needed to be there.
Scott turned to her. “What does she look like now? I’ve only ever seen that photo you keep in your drawer. How old were you, sixteen? Seventeen?”
“It was the summer before I went to Yale.” Madison pursed her lips together. There were so many things she would do differently given the chance. But would any of it have made a difference as long as George was alive? It was a question that would remain unanswered, and there were days when that reality had been almost too much to take. “Now? She’s beautiful,” she whispered. “I can’t even describe how beautiful.”
“When we were young…” Madison smiled. “She was my Ana Banana. My little sidekick with long braids that would bounce when she ran. God, we had fun together.”
Madison sighed. “Ana Perez, the adult, is stunning. Her hair is short now. It suits her.” Her eyes started to tear up again. “And if it weren’t for George, she’d be my wife, and we’d have a family and…” Madison remembered who she was talking to. “I’m sorry.” She looked down at her water bottle and started picking at the label. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, it’s okay.” Scott reached for her hand. “We both knew what we were getting into.”
Madison knew she was her “father’s daughter.” The genes had been passed down, good and bad. Every day, she tried to be a better person than he was, but sometimes, it felt as if she was fighting a losing battle. “I hope you don’t hate me as much as Ana does.”
“You’re exactly who you had to be, Maddy. But there’s so much more of you that I get to see that nobody else ever does. You’re so beautiful and kind and loving, and you don’t have a judgmental bone in your body. Yes, you’re damn tough, but you had to be. George wouldn’t take anything less from his only heir, and you’ll run that company better than any man could. Better than George ever did.”
“Scott.” Madison gave his hand a gentle squeeze and smiled. “I’d love to say I couldn’t have done it without you, but we both know I could have.”
Scott laughed. “Well, you are the smartest woman I know. That’s why I married you, after all.”
“Well, one of the reasons,” Madison said with a wink.
They sat in silence for a moment. Madison leaned her head against the sofa and closed her eyes. Only a few seconds had passed before she opened them again and sat up. “I forgot about Aunt Nora.”
“She took a sleeping pill,” Scott said. “She won’t be bothering you anymore tonight.”
Madison breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God. All that wailing at the gravesite was just so nauseating.”
“Seriously! Carrying on like Scarlett O’Hara.” Scott slid off the couch and fell to his knees. He raised his hands to the heavens and cried out in the worst possible Southern accent, “With God as my witness, I shall never be a penniless social climber who waits thirty years to call on her dying brother again!”
Madison laughed, giving him a good-natured kick in the ribs. “Now I remember why I married you.”
“My winning personality and irresistible looks?”
“No. It’s because you always find the most appropriate way to comport yourself in a time of mourning.”
“That’s true.” He grinned. “But I can’t take all of the credit. I learned everything I know about mourning from Aunt Nora.”
Madison didn’t know her aunt Nora very well. She’d seen very little of her until six months ago when George had been diagnosed. At first, Madison thought it was sweet when Nora moved into the mansion, insisting on staying in the room right next to her younger brother. She assumed Nora loved George enough to see him through his last days. It didn’t take long for her to realize that the insufferable woman was there for one reason only: to claim part of the massive inheritance.
Nora would be furious when she found out that George had left her an insultingly small amount of what should’ve been their shared inheritance from Madison’s grandparents. She still wasn’t sure how she was going to tell her aunt the bad news or if she should just give her what was rightfully hers. Then again, what had Nora ever done for Madison? Nothing. Less than nothing.
“You let Madison play with thatkid?”
George eyed his older sister over his morning paper. All he wanted to do was enjoy his coffee out on the veranda, undisturbed. That expectation had been shattered when his sister had shown up entirely unannounced two days ago. Two longdays ago.
George had hoped for an equally sudden departure, but he instead found yet another otherwise pleasant morning interrupted by Nora’s incessant need to chirp. One would think that someone who enjoyed hearing her own voice so much would prioritize the development of superior conversational skills. Sadly, this was not the case for Nora Prescott Moretti.
“That kid, Georgie. Why do you let Madison play with that kid?”
He glanced out at the two little girls playing with a soccer ball on the lawn and rolled his eyes. “For God’s sake, Nora, what do you want me to do? Tell the school she can’t make friends?”
Nora stared at him as if he’d lost his mind. “You can’t be serious!”
“Do you have any idea what kind of hell I’d pay for complaining about this?” George gestured toward the two girls. “That school’s full of rich liberals. Those assholes love to show the world how diverse McMaster Academy is. Never mind they think diversity is what happens when celebrities bring home babies from their bleeding-heart trips to third world countries.”
Nora stiffened in her chair and patted her perfectly coiffed hair. “Dear brother, do you seriously not know who that child’s mother is?”
George sighed heavily. “As it happens, Madison hasn’t been able to keep a nanny since her mother died, and that little shit seems to be keeping her out of my hair.” George folded his paper and dug into his scrambled eggs, hoping the conversation would soon be over. He had a ten o’clock tee time, and his sister’s unexpected arrival was damn sure not going to get in the way of that.
Nora’s patience with her half-wit brother had run thin. Just because there was no longer a woman in the house didn’t mean they should all turn into heathens. She smoothed out her skirt and picked up her cup of tea, holding it delicately, the way a woman of her social status should.
Maybe she shouldn’t have moved to Italy when she did. They’d lost both parents, and George had lost his wife, all while Nora was an ocean away.
The cold hard truth was, she had nothing left to talk about with her brother. The only side of George Prescott that Nora knew was this side. Cold, gruff, self-serving George. He’d been that way since birth, as if he somehow knew he’d been born into American royalty and also that his older sister would have claim to nothing that he didn’t generously give to her.
The Prescott fortune, made in the banking industry by their father and grandfather, was left solely to George thanks to their misogynistic father who firmly believed women were only good for one thing. Luckily, Nora was smart enough to marry into money. She didn’t need the mansion she’d grown up in. George could have it for all she cared. But she’d be damned if her own son wouldn’t get what was coming to him.
George didn’t have a male heir, and Nora couldn’t for the life of her see the little freckle-faced tomboy, who had been standing on her head for at least a full minute while that little girl egged her on, inheriting the company along with the family fortune. How could she possibly run a company of that size? Oh, no. Nora would not allow that to happen. “Alfio will be attending Yale this year.” A sense of pride washed over her as she said the words, but she held back the toothy grin that so badly wanted to pop out.
George snorted. “Bought his way in, did ya, Nora? He’ll have to brush up on his English. Last time I talked to him, he kept speaking that damned Italian.”
“He was probably just showing off, George. He speaks French fluently as well.” Nora smirked. George couldn’t speak anything but his native language, poor guy. “We hope you’ll do the right thing and give him a position in the company when he graduates.”
George set his fork down and picked up a pack of cigarettes. He took a long drag and glared at his sister while he slowly blew the smoke out. “Don’t waste your money on Yale, Nora.”
Nora’s jaw dropped. “What on earth are you talking about? Yale is the only choice for Alfio. Grandfather, father, and you, George. That’s where the Prescott men go. Period.”
“True.” He took another long drag on his cigarette. “Prescott men. Not Italian ruffians.”
Nora slapped the table with her palm. “Take it back, George. You know my husband has nothing to do with the mafia. He’s a banker, for God’s sake.”
“Be that as it may, dear sister, I have an heir.” George motioned with his head toward Madison.
Nora could see past the smarmy grin on George’s face. He knew it wasn’t the best plan. A son would be so much better. If not a son, a nephew, surely.
George ground his cigarette into the ashtray. “Nora, I’d rather give my fortune away to charity than give it to that Italian you married or his awful spawn.”
Nora froze. She couldn’t lose her temper, or George would call his lawyer right there at the table and cut her off completely. She needed her trust fund. It was smaller than she’d deserved, but she couldn’t risk losing it in case her marriage fell apart. Time had taken its toll on her body, and she knew it wouldn’t be long before her husband found someone younger than her forty-five years. To be honest, she was surprised it hadn’t happened already.
“Perhaps it was premature to bring this up,” Nora said, her expression tightening. “We’ll continue this conversation at a later date.” She stood up and started to leave, but her pettiness got the best of her when she saw Madison drop to the ground, her face bright red from standing on her head for too long. She turned back to her brother, and gesturing at the giggling girls, she said, “I’m sure your little heiress will be adequately prepared to take over the business one day. Surely there’s not much her own kind can teach her that she can’t learn from your maid’s daughter.” With a rueful smile, she leaned down and kissed his cheek. “Good to see you, brother.”
As Nora walked across the veranda toward the French doors, a grin spread across her face. Her smile grew even wider when she heard the unmistakable bellow of her brother’s gruff voice.
“Madison! Come here, right now!”
Madison reluctantly trudged up to her father, her face still pink from standing on her head, grass stains on both knees. “Yes, Daddy?”
George leaned in close and took his daughter’s chin in his hand. “You’re a Prescott. Repeat it.”
“I’m a Prescott.”
“I don’t play with the damned gardener. Say it.”
“Ana’s not—” George squeezed his fingers tighter on her chin. “I don’t play…with the damned gardener.”
George leaned back in his chair. “Good girl.”
Nora’s smile grew as Madison’s eyes filled with tears. She wiped them away and met her aunt’s gaze. Nora wagged her finger at Madison, letting her know she was a naughty little girl.