SPRINGHILL MANOR -
who was that on the phone?" Dane Manchester asked as he stepped into the
room just as Joyce was hanging up.
"Oh, it was just...um..."
she stammered awkwardly as she tried to guess exactly how much, if any, of the
conversation that he'd heard. "It was just an old friend from New
York calling to see how I was doing. It's been ages since we last spoke
and she just found out about poor Thornton. She wanted to send her
"I see," he nodded, not
quite sure he believed her. "I never really took you for the type to
have close female friends."
"Oh, you'd be surprised,"
Joyce smiled warmly. "When Thornton and I were living in New York,
there was a group of us ladies who'd get together every Thursday night for a
lively game of bridge."
"Right," he muttered,
still not sure if he believed her.
"So, Dane..." she began tentatively
as she slowly walked over to him. "Have you thought any more about
what we discussed the other day---about Sara?"
He quickly shot her a look of
warning and the turned to look at Helga who was busy organizing the large
collection of books along the far wall. Of course, she had her ears tuned
into the entire conversation, too.
"Helga, would you please go
upstairs and get my jacket?" Dane asked curtly. "You know, the
blue one. I think I'm going out and it looks too nice outside to wear my
heavy winter one. I swear, this Illinois weather is something else.
It was a blizzard just a few weeks ago and now it almost feels like
sir," Helga nodded and hurried out of the room, but not before turning to
eye Joyce suspiciously.
"Now, that's better," Dane
sighed once Helga was gone. "We really don't need to be discussing
this with her hovering about."
"You're right," Joyce
nodded in agreement. "Anyway, have you given any further thought to
separating Sara from her ill gotten gains? You know that as long as she
has all of that money, she'll never be the kind of wife you need and want."
"I'm beginning to see
that," he muttered. "She's gotten a little too full of herself
and I'm tired of her trying to dictate my life."
"I mean, first she forces me to
marry her knowing full well that it's the last thing that I want. Then she
goes behind my back to take this job for your husband when I explicitly forbid
her to work. Of course, we know what that led to!"
"My husband," Joyce
replied icily. "And she conned him into taking me out of his will so
that he could replace me with you two. Now, she thinks that you owe
her. Because of her, you have all of this!" She spread her arms
wide to gesture to the large expanse of the home that represented their wealth.
"And now she's moved that
wretch of a cousin of hers in behind my back!" Dane's teeth clinched
as he thought about how he was forced to live in the same house as Stephanie
Lake. "I swear, I don't know how anyone as bright as Sara is supposed
to be can be so stupid as far as Stephanie is concerned."
that daughter of mine is bright," she observed with a nod,
"clever, too. After all, she did manage to scheme her way into my
husband's will and she has managed to put you right where she wants
you---trapped in a marriage you didn't want and right under her thumb.
It's clear who wears the pants in this family."
Dane's jaw tightened upon hearing
his mother-in-law's assessment of the situation. Sara did seem to have all
the control and that didn't set well with him at all. In fact, she
was making him look like a buffoon and a fool.
"It's time my wife was brought
back into line," he muttered as his eyes took on an intense glare of
determination. "She's the one who wanted this marriage.
It's time she was forced to accept everything that goes along with it."
"I agree," Joyce
smiled. "And once Sara has taken on her rightful role as a dutiful
wife, it shouldn't be any problem getting Stephanie bounced out on her
ear. I swear, from everything I've seen and heard, that girl is just like
her mother! I should have known that that rotten apple wouldn't fall far
from the tree. Of course, what do you expect from a girl who had Annabelle
as a mother?"
"So, you think you can help me
get my wife under control?" He eyed her closely.
"She'll wind up obedient beyond
your wildest dreams," she assured with a wicked grin, "and Stephanie
will be out of your lives forever."
"I like that sound of
that." Dane smiled slyly and took a deep breath as he thought about
how wonderful the idea sounded. "Joyce, I think you have a
"I was sure you'd see things my
"Here's your jacket,"
Helga spoke up as she walked into the room and handed it to Dane.
"Joyce, I have a few things to
take care of in town," he said as he slipped his jacket on and headed for
the door. "We'll continue this discussion later."
"I'll be looking forward to
it," she smiled and then went back to the sofa to continue with her leisurely
Once she'd heard the front door
close, she grinned with glee. It wouldn't be long before she finally got
everything that was rightfully hers. There was just one more little plan
to set into motion. Just then, the doorbell rang and filled the house with
its regal chimes. Joyce remained on the sofa and continued with her
reading as the doorbell continued to ring. Finally looking up from her
magazine she made a disgusted face.
"Helga! Would you get the
damn door?" she barked angrily. Why did she have so much trouble
getting Helga to obey orders? After a few more intrusive chimes, Joyce
took a deep breath to ease her rising temper. "Helga! Get the
"Yes, ma'am," Helga
muttered with a smirk as she sat her feather duster down and began to do as
requested. "Anything for you. After all, you are the---ahem---lady
of the house."
After stepping out into the foyer,
Helga rolled her eyes and let out a frustrated growl. She simply couldn't
stand Joyce Preston and was finding it harder and harder to deal with her.
Sure, Dane was nice enough, but she loathed Joyce and Sara. And now that
brat Stephanie had moved in? The manor was becoming a veritable three
ringed circus! Helga wasn't sure how much more she could take. Thank
god it couldn't get any worse.
"Hello?" Helga muttered as
she opened the door to find an unfamiliar face. "Can I help
Naomi Jackson smiled broadly as she
shifted little Aubrey's weight in her arms. "Yes, you can," she
replied matter-of-factly and pushed her way into the house. "I'm here
to see Thornton Preston and I'm not leaving until I do!"