Jack’s mother featured herself a Chalcott House staff member under more
situations than he was comfortable with.

“MaryBeth is coping with some beastly personal issues. Until they’re settled, I ‘ve
resolved to give her the space she needs.”

“Instead of space, you must give her an incentive.”

Monty looked up at Jack with dark, liquid eyes in which pools of evil lurked. Jack
said, “I don’t agree.”

“But MaryBeth is our bread and butter.” His mother perched on one of the chairs in front of his desk and put Monty down on the floor. “If she’s not writing what will happen? I’m worried for the future of Chalcott House.”

Jack’s immediate worry centered on the present and what Monty, who had begun to sniff at one of the scrolled legs of his side table, was doing. “Do you think if MaryBeth never writes another word that some unforetold terrible thing will happen to Chalcott House? I assure you, we are doing quite well.”

“I know that. You’ve made it quite clear I’m not ever to worry about finances. I
don’t.” She paused to pout. “I really must say, and you know how difficult this is for me, but I feel ignored. Your father considered my advice to be essential to every decision he made. I don’t know why you think my opinions aren’t worthwhile.”

Jack knew his father didn’t value his wife’s opinions though would never say so in the interest of marital peace. Carefully, with as much diplomacy as he could muster, Jack said, “Things have changed since Dad’s time. I don’t believe, considering how busy you’ve been, that you’ve had time to keep up with those changes.”

The way his mother’s nostrils flared, Jack knew, hard as he’d tried not to be, she’d taken his words as more than a bit patronizing. Regrouping he added, “However is there something you think it important that I know, other than MaryBeth missing her latest deadline? I’ll be happy to listen.”

Slightly mollified, she stood. “I want to be part of the decision-making process at
Chalcott House again. I want you to let me come to Board meetings.”


She held up a staying hand. “It wasn’t my fault. Lara assured me when she took
Monty for a walk he had relieved himself properly.”

When asked, Lara, his mother’s dog walker insisted she hadn’t seen Monty at all
that day. “Mum, we cannot have an animal, even one as beloved as Monty—”
“Monty was quite considerate if you think about it. He did his job in the corner of
the room, not underfoot. And dear, just think. Monty only did what was natural.”

“But Mum—”

“Yes, yes.” She waved one languid hand. “Everyone was disgusted. You told me.
But really, defecating indoors is so much better than smoking indoors.

Jack supposed there was some logic there, if nowhere else than in his mother’s
mind. “I understand, but—”

“Really, Jack, it was too bad of you to ban Monty from the boardroom. And you
knew, if he wasn’t welcome, I wouldn’t feel welcome and I want to remind you that I am one of the major stockholders.”

He sighed. “Come to the next meeting. It’s two weeks from Monday.”
“That’s very disappointing. My garden club is making a day trip to see the foliage
in the New Forest. Couldn’t you move the meeting?” She made clucking sounds for Monty to come.

“Sorry, I can’t.” Jack eyed Monty who trotted out from behind his desk. Picking
up the monster, his mother kissed its ugly face. Panting through his flat nose, tongue lolling out the dog glared up at Jack.

Starting toward the door, his mum said, “Well, I hope the subject of Mr. Browne
and the ideas he has for Chalcott House will come up at the meeting.”

Jack stopped thinking about the dog. In a sharp voice, he said, “Do you know
Robert Browne?”

“Oh, I don’t know him.” As she walked down the hallway, she kept kissing Monty.

“I’ve heard he has some wonderful ideas and that perhaps you should listen.”
Jack put a hand on her forearm. “Who did you hear that from?”

“Well, darling, let’s see…my recollection of what I heard and from whom…” She
looked up at one of the hallway’s sconces as if therein she’d find the answer…

“Whatever it was, it left me with very positive feelings.” She patted his cheek and stepped into the anteroom. “I suppose I will have to trust you to take care of my interests.”

“How would you think your interests would be any different than Alice’s or
Diana’s or Rose’s, even mine?” Jack asked. “Haven’t I always taken care of everyone’s interest?”

“Yes, darling. You have. But I am older, now, and I must worry about my future.”
She gave him her cheek for a kiss and swept out. After the delivery of that non-sequitur, Jack remained rooted in place. Max. That was who his mother had heard from concerning what Robert Browne’s ideas were for Chalcott House. An icy-cold resolve settled him. If it was true—and if Max had approached his mother and dragged her into his battle with Browne—he’d guaranteed his own dismissal.


Jack turned to Isabella, who had risen from behind her desk. “Is there anything I
can do for you?”

He needed a respite from thinking about Robert Browne. And he knew how he
was going to get it. “There is one thing.” He slipped his mobile from his pocket.

“Would you re-schedule tomorrow’s meetings for next week? I’ve decided to move up my trip to Brompton Court.” As he began his message to Henry to have the car ready, he added, “Oh, and please look behind my desk to see if Monty has left me a present.”

While Isabella did, Jack re-thought his next step. Until he knew, what it was, he
would have to be alert to every possibility.

Isabella was back. “I saw nothing but a tissue, chewed to bits. I’ve thrown it away.”

“Thank you.” He closed his eyes for a second. God, he was tired of wondering
what his mother was up to. And her dog, too.

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