Grosham Manor by Nadia Kuftinoff and Rochelle March
It took a moment for Brigitta to realize the package that had been delivered required her signature, not her mother-in-law’s. In her mind, Mrs. Grosham was the lady of the house, Rosalyn – clad in outfits from fashion houses, draped in jewelry, slipping catty comments into conversations with her friends to gently remind them she felt they were beneath her. She was very different from Brigitta in many respects, though they both shared traits of tenacity, drive and loyalty. James had often said that if they weren’t on completely different sides of every argument, they’d probably be best friends. Brigitta had sharply dismissed the notion, though could see his point – if only his mother weren’t quite so morally bankrupt, she might be a nice person.
Her hand even tried to write her maiden name when the driver passed her the electronic signature device, her muscle memory insisting that she write Verdant instead of Grosham. It looked like a childish scrawl and she apologized sheepishly as she tucked the manila envelope under her arm, using both hands to close the huge, ornately carved front door. She shrugged off the embarrassment and crossed the large reception to the center staircase. Taking a deep breath, she started hopping quickly up the steps. It was a long way to her study on the third floor.
Grosham Manor was large and dark and mostly empty during the week. Don Grosham, a senator, usually stayed in the city to remain close to the office or was away on business trips. Rosalyn was either with her husband or whipping the campaign fundraising team into shape on his behalf. She had a knack for sales, which Don had noticed immediately when they met – she had been an assistant in the men’s accessories department of Neiman Marcus and had sold him a $10,000 watch. He had insisted that the one his father had given him for his 21st birthday a few months earlier was a perfectly good timepiece and could not be replaced due to sentimental value. Rosalyn’s sales techniques, however, had been so persuasive that they almost verged on underhanded. Don could not help but find the way Rosalyn dismissed sentimentality with such tact and poise attractive, all for the sake of a commission. The moment he set foot outside the store, he instantly went back inside to ask for her phone number. James technically worked from home, here at the large Grosham Manor, although he also spent many weeks in a row jet setting across the country at the behest of his father. The only people to be found in the house or wandering around the estate during the day were usually Brigitta, the housekeeper or the gardener.
Brigitta made a point of spending time in the empty mansion, even though the creaks and groans would sometimes startle her. She was Mrs. James Grosham now. This was her home. She had to make an effort to make it feel like one. Although she had spent much of her childhood and adolescence in this house, she had never considered it a comfortable place to be. There was a stiff, rigid atmosphere that hung in the gloom over everyone’s heads. Ever since they were children, Brigitta would spy James from the corner of her eye looking ashen and drawn, as though completely exhausted from living in this environment. Occasionally, he would turn up to school with dark circles under his eyes after staying up late to attend dinner parties with business associates of his parents and the bullies at school would say he looked like a vampire. More than once he found cloves of garlic stuffed through the grate on his locker. For the most part, it didn’t really seem to bother James – he would roll a clove between his thumb and forefinger slowly, smiling faintly at the prank. Brigitta would place a hand on his shoulder and ask if he was all right.
“Other people go through worse,” he would say and close his locker gently. She wasn’t sure where he inherited this Zen attitude, as it certainly wasn’t from either of his parents, but she was proud of him for rising above it.
Eventually, she reached her study. It was really just another guest bedroom, but it had a desk in front of the window and overlooked the perfectly manicured garden of Grosham Manor that melted into woodland. Beyond the woods was her childhood home, Verdant House. Although too far away to see in through its windows, she liked the sense of watching over the place and her ailing father. In case of an emergency and if she had no access to a car, she knew she could run from the manor to the house in 10 minutes. She and James had traipsed through the woods to reach one another so much during their teens that they’d created a path in the undergrowth. Brigitta could navigate it with her eyes closed. No matter the season, the walk through the woods was enchanting to her. In the winter when the sun was low, the shadows of the trees would leave long, dark scratches on the ground. In the summer, even a gentle breeze would cause the leaves to rustle calmly, diamonds of light glittering through them. Clumps of bluebells came every year, wild geraniums, starflowers. Ferns and fungus grew thickly around the bottom of the oaks and Brigitta had often spotted deer meandering near her path. She felt at peace in the woods. There, she could be away from her overbearing father, away from the tense atmosphere of the Grosham house she only endured in order to spend time with James. She was alone and she was happy.
Read the rest of this dark tale in Sheriff Nottingham 11: Collect Rocks – coming out September 16!