So this is St. Dennis.
Ellis Chapman drove slowly along Charles Street — slowly enough to earn her a few short polite beeps from the cars following her. At the top of the street, where she’d turned off the highway, there’d been an old farmhouse and an orchard on the left side of the road, and woods on the right. Where the farmland ended, a residential area began with a long block of lovely old homes set on nice lawns surrounded by old shade, mostly maples and oaks. The fallen leaves had blanketed many of those nice lawns with yellow and red and brown, all just waiting to be raked into irresistible piles into which the neighborhood children would surely jump.
The commercial district crept up gradually: it took a moment for Ellis to realize that the clapboard houses she’d passed were actually a restaurant, an antique dealer, a bookstore, a gift shop, a children’s clothing store, and a candy store. The heart of the district had a handful of storefronts. There was a cupcake bakery, a women’s clothing store, another restaurant with an upscale look about it, a coffee shop, a flower shop, and a small newsstand that apparently sold beverages, judging by its name, Sips.
Nice, she thought as she drove along. All the basics, but with a slightly trendy touch.
She continued on through the town, past a sign announcing a marina, yet another restaurant, and an ice cream parlor.
Looks like the people around here like to eat.
“Works for me,” she murmured.
The drive from Massachusetts had taken longer than she’d anticipated, though she was still almost thirty minutes early for her appointment. She made a left turn and drove around the block. Once back onto Charles Street, she made a second pass through town, trying to decide how best to assuage her hunger. There was no time for a meal, but coffee and maybe a quick snack would be welcome. She parked across the street from the coffee shop — the sign read Cuppachino in a stylized script — and head down against the wind, dodged the mid-afternoon traffic to cross to the other side.
She pushed open the coffee shop’s red door and rubbed her hands together to warm them while she glanced around for an empty table. She was just about to head for one when a little wave from the teenage boy at the counter caught her eye.
“I can take your order here,” he told her. He went on to explain, “We’re counter service only.”
“Oh. Well...” She squinted to read the handwritten menu on the chalkboard behind him.
“Take your time. No hurry.”
“I’d like a large regular coffee with whole milk.” She paused to survey the edibles. She really shouldn’t indulge, she told herself, right before she heard herself say, “And one of the vanilla cupcakes with the pink frosting.”
“Excellent choice.” The boy nodded his approval and poured her coffee into an oversized blue mug. “Cream and sweeteners are over on the cart there behind you.”
“Oh,” she said for the second time, and turned to locate the station.
She paid for the coffee and the cupcake and took both to a table that sat off by itself next to the wall, then carried the mug to the cart where she added milk and a packet of raw sugar. She sat, sipped, and took a bite from the cupcake.
It was excellent, with tiny bits of strawberries in both the frosting and the cake. The coffee was equally good, and she sighed. If St. Dennis had nothing else to recommend it, at least there were great coffee and baked goods to be had.
The door opened and three chattering women entered the shop and went directly to the counter, where they were served coffee in mugs from what appeared to be a special shelf along the wall. Ellis watched surreptitiously while the ladies fixed their coffee at the station.
“...so really, Grace, what else could I have done?” one woman was saying as she added two pink packets of sweetener to her coffee.
“I don’t know that I would have done anything differently, dear.” The oldest of the three — Grace, apparently — shook her head slightly. “Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.”
“My gut would have told me to smack her over the head with something,” the third woman said dryly. “She’s lucky that you have more patience than I, because, really, Barbara...”
The voices trailed away as the women passed by. The woman called Grace, who had white hair tucked into a bun and a gentle face, turned to smile at Ellis.
“Hello, dear,” she said softly without breaking her stride.
Ellis returned the smile and felt an unexplainable lump form in her throat. She turned her attention back to the cupcake and her coffee. So far, it seemed that St. Dennis was much like her mother had remembered: a small welcoming town populated by nice people. For about the one-thousandth time, Ellis wished she’d accompanied her mother on at least one of her trips back, but for Ellis, there’d always been somewhere else to go.
“Why waste your summer in some little no-where place,” her jet-setting father would say, “when you could be in London...”
If not London, then Rome or Madrid, or on the small island they owned off the coast of Greece. There’d been summer classes in Cairo when she’d been majoring in archaeology, and another in Paris the year she’d majored in art history. He’d take Ellis anywhere she wanted to go, as long as it wasn’t St. Dennis, a place that no one who mattered had ever heard of. In retrospect, it seemed that her father had been manipulating both her and her mother for more years than anyone realized.
Well, those days are gone — not just the travel, but the manipulation — along with her mother, and any chance Ellis might have had to see St. Dennis through her mother’s eyes.
She downed the last of the coffee and bused her table as she’d seen another customer do, before returning the plate and mug to the counter.
“Thanks,” the young man told her. “Come back again.”
“I’ll do that.” Ellis tossed her crumpled napkin into a nearby receptacle and started toward the door, stood back while other patrons entered, then stepped out into the sunshine. She was standing on the curb, waiting for the light to change, when she had the inexplicable feeling that she was being watched. She turned back to the shop, and saw the white-haired woman seated next to the front window. The woman raised her hand in a wave. Ellis waved back, then realizing that the light had changed, crossed and went directly to her car.
She slid behind the wheel and glanced back to the window. The woman had turned from the glass and appeared to be once again engaged in conversation with her companions, but there’d been something about the way she’d looked at Ellis, almost as if she knew her. Impossible, of course, Ellis reminded herself, since she’d never set foot in St. Dennis before today.
She pulled away from the curb and drove east, watching for the street where she’d make her turn. The sign for Old St. Mary’s Church Road was larger than the others because it also sported a plaque that marked the historic district. She made a right and drove three blocks, made another right, and parked along the street, as per the instructions she’d been given. She got out of the car, locked it, and stood on the sidewalk reading the sign over the door on the brick Federal-style building.
Enright and Enright, Attorneys at Law.
This would be the place.
Ellis took a deep breath and walked along the brick path to the front door, pushed it open, and stepped into a quiet, nicely furnished reception area where an elderly woman sat behind a handsome dark cherry desk. The woman looked up when she heard the door, glanced at Ellis, then did a double take.
“I’m El...Ellie Ryder. I have an appointment with Mr. Enright.” Ellie Ryder, she reminded herself. From now on, that was who she’d be for as long as she stayed in St. Dennis, and possibly longer, depending on how long it would take before the shit-storm subsided.
“I believe he’s expecting you.” The woman at the desk smiled warmly and got up from her chair. “I’ll let him know you’re here.”
The receptionist disappeared into a room across the hall and stood behind the half-closed door. A moment later, a man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties emerged and came directly into the reception area, his hand outstretched to her.
“Ms. Ryder, I’m Jesse Enright. How was your trip? Can we get you some coffee? Have you had lunch?” His hand folded around hers with warmth and strength, and Ellis — Ellie — felt herself relax for the first time in days.
Reminding herself that he already knew the story, she smiled as she stood.
“The trip was fine. I arrived here in town with time enough to spare for a stop at the coffee shop in the center of town,” she told him. “I had a great cup of coffee and a delicious cupcake.”
“Vanilla with strawberry frosting?” he asked.
Ellis nodded. “You had one, too?”
“One last night and another at lunch. My fiancée is the baker.” He patted his waist. “It’s good news and bad news.”
Jesse turned to the receptionist. “Violet, hold my calls, if you would...”
He led Ellis to his office and closed the door behind them.
“So how do you really feel?” He held out a chair for her, and she sat.
“Strange. It’s strange to introduce myself as Ellie instead of Ellis. Ryder is my middle name, but I never use it, so that’s strange, too.”
“You don’t have to do this, you know.” Jesse sat behind his desk in a dark green leather chair. “I think you’ll find people here to be much less judgmental than you assume.”
“Over the past year, I’ve had more judgment passed on me than you could possibly imagine. Friends I thought for sure I could count on stopped returning my calls as soon as the news broke.” Her best effort not to sound bitter was failing her. “My father had very little family, but what he has turned their backs on me, as if somehow this whole thing was my fault. My home was confiscated, my car, my jewelry, my bank accounts — I lost everything I worked for. If not for the one friend who stuck by me, I wouldn’t even have had a car to drive down here.”
“The Mercedes you parked out front belongs to a friend?” Jesse raised an eyebrow.
When she nodded, he smiled. “Nice friend.”
“The best,” she agreed. “I don’t know where I’d have been this past year without her.”
“I understand that you’ve had a rough time these past ten months or so, but I’m asking you to keep an open mind as far as the people in St. Dennis are concerned. You’ll find them welcoming and friendly, if you let them.”
“I’m not here to make friends, and frankly, I hope I’m not here any longer than it will take to sell the house my mother left me.” She looked at him across the desk and added, “You don’t know what it’s like to have people judge you because of something your father did.”
“Oh, but I do.” Jesse leaned back in his chair. “My father was the black sheep of the Enright clan. Still is, actually. Suffice it to say, I had to earn my grandfather’s trust to join this firm, prove that I was good enough to call myself an Enright here in this town where Enrights have practiced law for close to two hundred years. So yes, I do know what it’s like to be judged because of something your father did. I overcame it, and so will you.”
“But you were still able to work as a lawyer somewhere, right?”
“In Ohio before I came here, yes.”
“I can’t get anyone to even give me an interview or return my calls. I ran public relations for a major corporation for eight years, and I can’t get anyone to hire me. Granted, the company was owned by my father — hence the confiscation of my worldly goods, since everything was considered ‘fruit of the poison tree’, as the FBI told me repeatedly — but still, I was very good at what I did. One of the investigators even said that one of the reasons the entire scheme came as such a shock to everyone was the fact that I’d done such a good job creating the company’s image. So even though I had no hand in the fraud, I did have a hand in the public’s perception of CC Investments.” She blew out a breath. “When I think about all of the lives my father ruined, I get sick to my stomach. All the retired people who’d trusted him with their pensions, their mortgages, their futures...”
“What your father did was unconscionable, but you’re not responsible for the decisions he made. As I recall, both the FBI and the SEC have totally exonerated you from any involvement in your father’s scheme.”
“Intellectually, I do know that I’m not responsible. I do. But then I think about all the suffering he’s caused, and I just feel sick all over again.”
“I understand,” Jesse said. “But you’re here to pick up the pieces and put your life back together again. I want you to know that you can call on this firm for anything, any time.”
“I appreciate that, Jesse. You’ve already done so much. My mother was wise to have entrusted the Enrights with her property.”
“Actually, it was your mother’s great-aunt, Lilly Cavanaugh, who first came to us, as best I can determine from reading the file and from talking to Violet.”
“Violet?” Ellis tried not to panic. Someone other than Jesse knew...?
“My receptionist. You may have noticed she’s a bit...advanced in her years.”
“She knows who I am?”
“She knows that you are Lynley’s daughter, and that you’ve inherited the house, yes.” Jesse held up a hand. “There’s no way she wouldn’t have known. Violet’s been here forever — she worked for my grandfather for many years. She typed up the original wills. But she also knows there’s a confidentiality issue here, and she will not discuss it with anyone, I can assure you of that. That woman has kept more secrets than either of us will hear in a lifetime. Your identity is safe with her.”
“I trust you, so I will have to trust her, I suppose. Though the way she looked at me when I came in...” She paused, remembering the woman in the coffee shop. “There was another woman, one in the coffee shop, who greeted me as if she knew me...”
“Don’t let your imagination run away with you. I told you, it’s a friendly little town.”
“Still, I’d like to stick to the explanation we discussed on the phone.”
“That you purchased the house from Lynley Sebastian’s estate and you’re fixing it up to sell it?”
“You’re the client.” Jesse pulled a thick folder to the center of the desk. “Now, I suppose you want to get on with the business at hand.”
He pulled a sheaf of documents from the folder, explained each, and showed her where to sign. Twenty-two minutes later, he handed her a small envelope with the address, One Bay View Road, written on the front in blue ink. She could feel the shape of keys inside, and her heart took an unexpected leap.
“The keys to your house,” he said. “I drove over this morning and turned up the thermostat, so it should be nice and cozy for you. There’s wood stacked outside if you feel like building a fire. The chimneys were all cleaned out four years ago and to the best of my knowledge, none of the fireplaces have been used since. The bank accounts your mother set up years ago have paid the taxes and utilities and for periodic repairs, and from time to time we’ve had it checked inside to make sure that all was well, that the faucets weren’t leaking, that sort of thing. It’s been vacant for quite some time, you know. The house is fully furnished, everything just as it was the last time your mother saw it, I suppose. She had had an alarm system installed but it kept shorting out so I think it’s been deactivated.”
“I can’t thank you enough for looking out for the place all this time. I’m sure my mother appreciated it.”
“She was the one who made it possible. She set up the accounts a long time ago, with money she made from her modeling career. Once it was verified that she’d earned that money before she was married and that she’d set it aside before your father even started up his business, the Feds weren’t able to touch the account. Because your father’s fingerprints weren’t on any of it, you still have that money to work with. I never personally met your mother but Violet spoke very highly of her.”
“Violet knew my mother?” It had taken a second or two for it to sink in that there were people in this town who had actually known Lynley. Ellis been under the impression that the time her mother had spent in St. Dennis had been brief, and that she’d been very young.
“Sure. I imagine there are more than a few of the old timers who knew her.”
“But she left so long ago, I didn’t think about people having known her.”
“I didn’t grow up here, so I can’t attest to how much time she spent here, but I assure you, I remember Lynley Sebastian. After all, she was one of the first supermodels. Back in the day, every boy on the planet had one of her posters in his room.” He smiled. “I know I did.”
“Let me guess. The one where she’s leaning on a fence and she’s wearing a very thin pale pink dress.”
“And the wind is whipping that long blonde hair around her.” Jesse grinned. “The very one.”
“If I had a dime for every time someone brought that up to me...” She rolled her eyes.
“Speaking of money...” Jesse pulled another stack of papers front and center on the desk. “Here are the bank accounts I told you about. One savings, a separate account for checking. There’s not a fortune left at this point, but if you’re careful, I think you can easily manage until the house is sold, and barring disaster, should have something left over.” He looked up at her. “You are still planning on selling the house?”
“Yes. The sooner the better. That’s why I’m here.”
“Well, keep in mind that it can’t be any sooner than six months. I probably don’t need to remind you that your mother’s will specified that you had to live in the house for a minimum of six months before you could sell it or any of the contents, otherwise, you forfeit everything and all the proceeds from the sale of the property will go to the charities she listed in her will.”
“I’ve read the will,” Ellie nodded, “and the lawyers in New York made that very clear.”
“I can put you in touch with a realtor when you’re ready. Now, there might be some minor repairs that need to be done or perhaps some upgrades you might want to think about before you put it on the market. There’s been no updating in maybe thirty years, so I’m sure it all looks very dated. I can send Cameron O’Connor over to talk to you about all that. He’s actually the one who’s been taking care of the place.”
“He’s the handyman?”
“You could call him that.” Jesse appeared to be suppressing a smile. “Now, here are the papers you need to take to the bank in order to have the accounts moved into your name.”
“But if I put my real name on the accounts, then the people at the bank will know...” She frowned. So much for her desire for anonymity.
Jesse tapped a pen on the desktop and appeared to be considering other options.
“We can do this: we can maintain the accounts as they are now, in the name of your mother’s estate. As executor, I’ve been signing the checks on behalf of the firm. I can continue to do so until the house is sold. You can submit any bills you have for repairs or whatever to me, and I’ll pay them. If you need cash, we can arrange that as well. We can work under the pretext that the estate has agreed to pay for any repairs to the property as part of your agreement of sale.”
“Perfect.” She sighed with relief.
Jesse gathered all of the papers and slid them into a brown legal envelope and tied the strings to secure it.
“Here you go, Ms. Ryder.” He handed it over to her.
“It’s Ellie,” she told him.
“Ellie, I wish you all the best.” He paused, then added, “I hope you’ll think about what I said earlier, and that you’ll give the folks around here a chance.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind.” She rose, the large envelope under her arm. “Hopefully, I won’t be here long enough to find out. Well, no longer than six months, anyway.”
Jesse opened the door for her and led her into the foyer.
“If you need anything, anything at all, let us know and we’ll do whatever we can to help,” he told her.
“Thank you, Jesse. I can’t even put into words how much I appreciate everything you’ve done.”
“You’re welcome. Maybe we’ll run into you at Cuppachino for coffee one of these days. It’s the place where all the locals gather every day.”
“I don’t know that I could handle one of those cupcakes every day.”
“They are lethal, but I’ll be sure to tell Brooke — she’s my fiancée — that you enjoyed it.”
“Please do.” Ellis craned her neck to see if Violet was at her desk so she could say goodbye, but the room was empty.
Jesse held the front door open and stepped outside with her. “Glad to see the sun came out. It’s been a little on the gloomy side the past couple of days.”
“It’s still chilly,” Ellis noted.
“November moving head-first into winter,” he said. “Hope you brought some warm clothes.”
“I did, thanks.”
Jesse accompanied her to the end of the brick walk, his hands in his pocket. “Check in from time to time and let me know how things are going.”
“Will do. Thanks again for everything, Jesse.”
He nodded and waited at the sidewalk while she walked to her car, then waved before turning and going back into the building.
Nice guy, she told herself, and said a prayer of thanks that her mother’s family had selected such a firm to represent them. She was well aware that another attorney might have been willing to sell her out. She could see the headlines now:
Daughter of Clifford Chapman found living under assumed name in small Maryland town!
King of Fraud’s daughter dumps his name, hides out on Eastern Shore!
Sad but true.
She slid behind the wheel and started the car. Following the directions Jesse had printed out for her, she drove around the square and made a left to head back to Charles Street. Once on Charles, she made another left and drove back through the center of town. Two blocks past the light, she took a right onto Bay View Road and drove all the way to its unpaved end. The number 1 was painted in dark green on a white mailbox that looked surprisingly new. She stopped in the middle of the street and stared at her inheritance.
The house seemed to have nothing in common with the others she’d passed on her travels through town, those imposing colonial and federal and Queen Anne styles that appeared on every block. This house was set at an odd angle to the road as if to gaze out upon the Bay and looked like an over-grown cottage, with misplaced gables here and there. The front porch didn’t look original but it was impossible to tell when it had been added. It stretched across the entire front of the house and sagged a little on one side. The white clapboard siding could use a new coat of paint and the shutters were faded. Three brick chimneys — one of which listed slightly to one side — protruded from the roof. At the end of the driveway — which was covered in what appeared to be crushed shells — stood an outbuilding, a garage or a carriage house, the windows of which had been painted black. The shades in every window of the house had been pulled down, making it look as if it had something to hide. Two sides of the property were bordered by some of the tallest trees she’d ever seen. All in all, the impression was far from inviting, and yet something about the scene felt oddly familiar.
Like it or not, this was home.
She eased the sedan into the driveway and sat for several long moments before bursting into tears.
Excerpted from The Long Way Home by Mariah Stewart. Copyright © 2013 by Mariah Stewart. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.