In the Millionaire's Possession

By: Sara Craven

CHAPTER ONE

HELEN had never been so nervous in her life.

The starkness of her surroundings did not help, of course.

This was, after all, the London headquarters of Restauration International—an organisation supposedly devoted to historical conservation projects.

She’d expected panelled walls hung with works of art, antique furniture, and possibly a Persian carpet. Something with the grace and charm of the past.

Instead she’d been greeted by a receptionist with attitude, and dumped in this glass and chrome box with only a water cooler for company as the long, slow nerve-racking minutes passed.

And although she had to admit that the arrangement of canvas slats that formed her chair was surprisingly comfortable, it couldn’t make her feel at ease mentally.

But then, in this life or death situation, what could?

Her hands tightened on the handle of her briefcase as she ran a silent check on the points she needed to make once she came face to face with the directors of Restauration International.

They’re my last hope now, she thought. Every other source has dried up. So I need to get it right.

Suddenly restless, she walked across to the cooler and filled a paper cup. As she moved, she saw the security camera become activated, and repressed a grimace at the idea that unseen eyes at some control point might be watching her.

‘Look businesslike,’ her friend Lottie had advised her. ‘Get out of those eternal jeans and put on a skirt. Remember you’re making a presentation, not mucking out the ruins. You’ve had a lot of help over this,’ she added with mock sternness. ‘So don’t blow it.’

And Lottie was quite right, Helen thought soberly. So many people had rallied round with quite amazing kindness. Checking the draft of her written report and making suggestions. Providing quick facelifts to the outside buildings and grounds with painting and weeding parties, in case the committee came to see the place for themselves. And even offering films of various events held at Monteagle over the past couple of years to use in the video, itself the result of a favour that had been called in by Lottie.

But now, at last, it was all down to her. She’d taken her friend’s advice and put on her one good grey skirt, teaming it with a demure white cotton blouse and her elderly black blazer. Hopefully they wouldn’t look too closely and see the shabbiness of her attire, she thought.

Her light brown hair—which badly needed cutting and shaping, when she had the time and the money—had been drawn back severely from her face and confined at the nape of her neck by a black ribbon bow, and there were small silver studs in the lobes of her ears.

Not much there for the hidden spectator to criticise, she thought, resisting the impulse to raise her cup in salute.

She made the trip back to her chair look deliberately casual, as if she didn’t have a care in the world and there was nothing much riding on the coming interview.

Only my entire life, she thought, as her taut throat accepted the cool water. Only everything I care most about in the world now at the mercy of strangers.

Apart from Nigel, of course, she amended hastily.

Somehow I have to convince them that Monteagle is worth saving. That I’m not going to give up the struggle like my father and Grandpa and watch the place slide into total oblivion. Or, worse still, into the hands of Trevor Newson.

She shuddered at the memory of the fleshy, complacent face awaiting with a smile the victory that he thought was inevitable. Counting the days until he could turn Monteagle into the gross medieval theme park he’d set his heart on.

It had been those plans, as outlined to her, that had sent her on this last desperate quest to find the money for the house’s urgently needed repairs.

All the other organisations that she’d doggedly approached had rejected her pleas for a grant on the grounds that Monteagle was too small, too unimportant, and too far off the normal tourist trails.

‘Which is why it needs me,’ Trevor Newson had told her. ‘Jousting on the lawns, pig roasts, banqueting in the great hall…’ His eyes glistened. ‘That’ll put it on the map, all right. The coach parties will flock here, and so will foreign tourists once I get it on the internet. And don’t keep me waiting too long for your answer,’ he added. ‘Or the price I’m offering will start to go down.’

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