Authors: Ginger Voight
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Family Saga, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Sagas
of the Fullerton Family Saga
A novel by
©2013, Ginger Voight
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I returned to Los Angeles only three months after I left, yet it felt like arriving on another planet entirely. Everything was different, including me. I knew exactly what I was getting into when I stepped onto that commercial jet at DFW International Airport. I held no illusions how difficult the journey would be as I buckled into that first class seat next to Alex Fullerton, whose low profile as the “less important” heir of the Fullerton fortune allowed him to fly incognito.
We packed ourselves in among those who could afford a first class ticket, but not quite elite enough to fly in a private, chartered jet.
We didn’t say much during the three-and-a-half hour flight. I opened my e-reader and Alex perused the in-flight magazines, twice, before he resigned himself to watching the country pass by beneath us.
We arrived in Los Angeles as anonymously as we had departed in Dallas. Like Alex, I was dressed down in jeans and a nondescript shirt. He wore a sporty plaid, while I wore coral pink. He looked gruff and unkempt with his long hair and his stubbly beard, and I pulled my long hair back into a convenient ponytail. We both wore sunglasses as we walked, unnoticed, past all the people scurrying around the busy, crowded hub. Where Drew commanded attention everywhere he went, from his designer clothes to his flashy cars, Alex was perfectly content fading into the crowd. He carried my luggage silently as he led the way confidently through the sprawling airport.
There was no hired car or driver to meet us when we arrived. Alex had a work truck with a beat up exterior that lived up to its name. We picked it up from the parking garage after we landed at LAX.
I had no idea what to expect as he merged onto the 405 freeway and headed north. His radio was tuned to a country music station, which surprised me though I wasn’t sure why. We left Los Angeles in the rearview mirror, transitioning onto the 101 as we headed toward Ventura. Eventually Alex pulled off the freeway. Within ten minutes of driving through a less developed area of southern California, he turned down a private drive past a gated entrance, winding around the rolling green hills that felt so far removed from what I knew of the City of Angels that it felt like I wasn’t even in or near Los Angeles anymore.
Alex’s home was nestled on twenty acres within those hills, amidst vivid green pastures that reminded me of my grandparents’ farm. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting as we approached that enormous two-story ranch house, but nothing I knew of Alex thus far could have prepared me for the picturesque, palatial country home that featured its own
windowed turret stairway reminiscent of an English castle. I was speechless as the work truck rolled to a stop.
“You’re full of surprises,” I quipped as I spared Alex a glance.
He smirked in good humor. “What were you expecting? Some one-room cabin in the woods?”
“At the very least. You’re going to risk your reputation as a dirty socialist renegade living in a place like this.”
He laughed. “It was a gift,” he explained as he exited the truck.
I swung out of the passenger side. “Some gift. You must have been a very good boy that year.”
Alex’s blue eyes met mine. “It was my mother’s family home.”
“Oh,” I answered softly.
He hoisted my bag from the bed of the truck. “My grandparents had been itching to go back to England, so when I got married they gave us the house as a wedding present.”
I carried two of my bags into the spacious foyer, which definitely reeked of old money. The spiral staircase featured wrought iron in an intricate floral design, and priceless works of art adored the walls and the classic walnut furniture. I couldn’t picture Alex living here willingly. But then again, I couldn’t picture him being raised in the house in Beverly Hills, either. He was too understated, too casual… too bl
asé to fit into these surroundings.
As, I supposed, was I.
A middle-aged woman with a shock of silver hair and a smile like sunshine greeted us. “Alex!” she said as she stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “How was your flight?”
“Uneventful,” he replied as he gave her a warm hug. It reminded me of that first night with Drew, when he had used the same pat response to the same question issued by the help. Only instead of the stern dismissal, Alex treated this petite but rotund bundle of sunshine just like family.
“This is Rachel Dennehy, Jonathan’s teacher,” he introduced. “Rachel, this is Millicent DeJong. My mother-in-law and Max’s grandmother.”
I held out a hand but she wasn’t having it. She took me into a warm hug. “It’s so nice to finally meet you, Rachel. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Should I bother to unpack?” I asked with a wry grin.
Millicent laughed as she patted my arm. “I like this one, Alex. She says what she thinks.”
“You have no idea,” Alex teased.
Millicent reached for a bag. “Let’s get you settled in. You must be exhausted after dealing with air travel all day.”
Millicent and Alex led me up the stairs to my new room. Unlike Drew’s more stylish estate in Beverly Hills, Alex’s home was classically decorated. Each piece of furniture or décor had been selected for its heirloom quality. I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised if some of these pieces had been crafted for the family generations before. Walking along the hallway felt like going back in time.
My room was located at the end of the hall. It had a dramatic beamed ceiling and a wall of windows with its own window seat. Scads of natural light danced off of the ornate cherry wood wardrobe,
the matching dressing table and dramatic four poster bed. The bedspread was blue damask, and a Monet print hung above the bed. “This is very nice,” I said to no one in particular.
“You should give her a tour, Alex,” Millicent suggested as she placed my bags on the bed. “I can put away your things if you’d like.”
“I don’t want to put you out,” I began, but she was quick to dismiss any protest with the wave of her hand.
“Don’t be silly. I like to keep busy, and Max is still down for his nap. Let me take care of this and you just relax.”
“Thank you,” I said before I turned to Alex, who led me from the room. Once we were in the hall, I said, “She seems lovely.”
“She’s been such a godsend with Max,” he explained as we walked down the stairs. “I could have hired a nurse but it seemed redundant when he already had a grandmother. She was willing to take all the classes and
finished her nursing degree just to meet his needs.”
It reminded me of my Gram, who helped raise me. “Grandmothers are great. I can’t imagine my own childhood without mine.”
He nodded. “I had a special relationship with my grandparents, particularly my maternal grandparents,” he confided. “So it was really important to me that Max have a real relationship with her, especially since he lost his mom.”
He led me to the formal living room, which had an ornate fireplace as the focal point, with arched doorways onto the veranda on either side. Unlike the antique pieces at Drew’s house, the furniture was sturdy, comfortable and inviting, in the same neutral beiges as the rest of the house. Colorful pillows and throws covered the furniture and recognizable prints hung on the walls. A modern piece hung above the fireplace, one I hadn’t seen before. When I asked Alex who the artist was, he surprised me and said, “My mother.”
“I wasn’t aware your mom was an artist. That must be where Jonathan gets it.” I wondered why Drew had never said anything, even when we were fostering that particular talent in Jonathan.
Alex smiled. “He gets a lot of traits from his grandmother, particularly his big heart. It’s almost as though she was reborn through him. The biggest tragedy in our family was that he’ll never remember her. She died when he was a toddler. Come on,” he said as he guided me toward the large kitche
with cherry hardwood flooring and marbled green granite countertops. It was separated from an even more welcoming family room by a long island bar, its seating facing the Viking stove and dramatic marble vent and bricked backsplash that was illuminated by recessed lighting. “Would you like something to drink? I think Millicent made some lemonade.”
“That sounds great,” I said as I explored the family room below
the second story overlook with the same intricate wrought iron railing. I marveled at the room’s marble fireplace and the arched bookshelves on either side that were full of actual books. The sectional sofa was a rich hunter green, with beige throw pillows and faux fur throws. The large square ottoman was made of dark brown suede, and looked just as comfortable as the sofa behind it.
He pulled two glasses from kitchen cabinets with leaded glass doors, decorated with the same iron filigree pattern a
s the staircase. He poured us both fresh pink lemonade before directing me down the hall to show me the paneled game room with marble flooring and another ornate fireplace. It included a classic billiards table and walnut paneled bar with Italian marble in the wine cellar. Like Drew’s home, Alex’s media room featured cozy leather theater seating, though the room felt unused and forgotten. I attributed this to the flat screen TV in the homier family room.
Alex’s home also included a library, with bookshelves stocked full all the way up to the vaulted ceilings. A bay window faced the back yard. “I figured this is where you could work with Jonathan,” he said as he pointed to the large desk complete with wood file cabinets, its own phone and a desktop computer. “I do all my work here, but we can work out a schedule, if that’s OK with you.”
I nodded and he led me outside onto the brick lanai with dramatic stone archways and ceiling fans with large blades designed to look like palm frons. I sucked in a breath as I surveyed his back yard, which sloped down a hill to the stables where he kept his horses. The sky was so blue and the grass was so green that it looked more like a painting. It was nature in high definition. “This is truly beautiful,” I told him.
“I always thought so,” he agreed. “I hated growing up in the city, especially Los Angeles. It’s so plastic and so fake, full of people who want to continually outdo each other. Everyone has a smile on their face and a knife in their hands, just waiting for any excuse to plunge it in your back. So Mother would bring us here every summer, to show us there was another way. Nature is far more unassuming. It gives to you what you give to it. You plant a seed, life will grow. You cultivate land, it produces a harvest. It’s our
most primal promise. Of course, Drew stopped coming when he was about Jonathan’s age. He preferred to shadow Father at the office.” He glanced back out over his land. “I just wanted to ride horses, with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair.”
We walked past the gated pool, down the tree-lined dirt path leading toward the stables. “How many horses do you have?”
“Right now, four. There’s Topper Field, of course. She was sired by a stallion owned by our relatives in England, as was our new horse, Diamond Darling. Drew named her,” he confided with a crooked grin.
I chuckled, “Of course.”
Along with his thoroughbreds were two working horses, Dapper Dan, a quarter horse, and Angelheart, an American Paint horse. “Do you ride?” he asked.
I nodded. “My grandparents had horses.”
We saddled up, with Alex on Dapper Dan and me on Angelheart, as we finished the tour of his property on horseback. There were tree-covered trails that led to the sloping hills covered in vibrant vegetation, including groves of avocado, lemon and orange trees. We stopped under an enormous tree overflowing with teardrop shaped fruit I’d never seen before. “Loquats,” he explained as he plucked one from the tree. He pulled it open to reveal the light orange meat inside, with a cluster of brown seeds in the middle. “Wait till you try Millicent’s loquat jam. It’ll change your life,” he added with a grin.
“Looks like you have enough food here to feed a small army,” I said as followed his lead and plucked a bag full of fruit from the tree.
“Millicent is a rock star gardener,” he said as he pointed to a swath of land cultivated with care. “Most of the food we eat, she grows. Tomatoes, squash, eggplant, onions, cucumbers or peppers, you name it, we got it.”
“Now we’re talking,” I said. “That will give me something to do in between Jonathan’s lessons, and give Jonathan something else to learn. Speaking of which, when would you like me to start?”
He laughed. “Six weeks ago.”
“You’re scaring me,” I replied.
“You should be scared,” he shot back as he vaulted easily back onto his horse. I followed suit.
“It’s only been three months. How much could he have changed?”
Quite a bit, as it turned out. Jonathan arrived at the house that afternoon, just before dinner and just after Alex had completed his grand tour. Elise and Derek arrived with a child who looked like the boy I had left behind mere months before, except he wore a deep, petulant scowl, pen-drawn tattoos of skulls, and dragons on his hands and arms, as well as black clothing head to toe. He glared at me as I approached.
“What are you doing here?” he wanted to know. I could tell by the surprise on his face that they hadn’t told him about my return.
“We’ve decided to allow Rachel to teach you again, Jonathan,” Elise explained, though she looked mighty pained to do it. There was no love lost between us, even though she knew how badly I had been deceived by Drew. Instead of this linking us in an unfortunate sisterhood of the hearts littered in Drew’s wake, she still regarded me as the enemy. I wasn’t exactly sure why, especially when Jonathan stewed as he glared at me.