Sophie Levesque stared at the attorney in front of her, waiting for some answers. She and her little sister, Mia, had been quietly sitting in Mr. O’Connor’s office for more than half an hour, learning about the details of their inheritance.
Once he was finished, silence hung in the air before she asked with raised eyebrows. “Who?”
“Clara Catherine Bellinger.”
Mia leaned closer to her elder sister and gave a soft tug on Sophie’s shirt. “Who is she?”
Sophie shrugged. “I wouldn’t have a clue.” Then turned her attention back on Mr. O’Connor and asked the same thing. “Who is she?”
The handsome attorney on the other side of the massive desk leaned forward and rested his elbows on it before he started to repeat his earlier speech. Although hearing his words, Sophie still found it all very hard to comprehend. Here she was in this old office, furnished with heavy antique oak furniture, the curtains in a pretty shade of aubergine, and the carpet beneath her shoes thick and warm in a matching shade, hearing about an inheritance from someone she’d never even heard of.
Startled by the subtle sound of the clock chiming across the road, Sophie’s gaze turned to the window, where she saw the post office building across the road. It looked impressive and old. It’d been only a few hours since they’d arrived in Hobart, the most southern capital in Australia, but she already liked it. A lot more than Sydney, the place she’d lived all her life.
Hauled back from her thoughts, she heard Mr. O’Connor say, “I believe she was a distant relative of yours. I’m afraid I don’t have any further details.”
Sophie arched an eyebrow in disbelief, doubting the accuracy of it all. Not only did she try not to question his competence as a lawyer, but she also hoped it wasn’t a dreadful misunderstanding.
With a slight shrug of her shoulder, she asked, “Why not?”
He met her gaze steadily. “Pardon me?”
Sitting up straight, she repeated, “Why not? Why aren’t there any further details?”
He rubbed his chin with his fingers, his unease now obvious, and although she almost felt sorry for him, she tried not to care. She needed to know more. And not just the what, but why and who as well.
Only a week earlier, Sophie had received the call from Mr. O’Connor telling her about an inheritance. Initially, she’d thought it had been a horrible joke when he’d given her details on where to pick up airplane tickets to Hobart. It was important for her to come, he’d explained. Some legality she hadn’t understood. Something about her having to sign documents for the transfer of ownership of some assets. It’d sounded too farfetched at the start, but after some research on the firm with the help of a friend, it sounded valid, and she’d hoped her life was finally turning around for the better.
Mr. O’Connor let out a long sigh. “Ms. Bellinger was one of the partner’s clients. I was only given the details shortly after the client’s death.”
Sophie drew in her lips, as her gaze drifted past him to the window. She took a few deep breaths, inwardly calming herself. Nothing had ever been easy in her life.
“Why isn’t the partner here?”
As she pondered on his reply for a moment, she began to imagine what life could be like with this inheritance.
Different. And better.
Another sigh escaped as she returned her gaze to the man behind the desk. “You can’t leave your assets to just anybody, can you?”
“Levesque,” she helped him.
Their eyes met.
“Are you refusing the bequest?” he asked hesitantly, and she clearly noticed how one of his eyebrows arched upward.
Staring blankly with her mouth open, panic rushed through her veins with every thump of her erratic heartbeat. An uncomfortable silence fell over them before she spoke with a rushed voice, “No. No, of course not. We’re accepting.”
She turned to look at her younger sister. “We’re actually looking forward to seeing it, aren’t we?”
He stood with one swift movement and went to a little cupboard near the window to retrieve a bunch of keys. “Would you like me to take you there?”
Still feeling a rush of excitement as well as caution within her, Sophie took Mia’s hand and inclined her head when she asked, “Is it far?”
Her voice sounded tired even to her. It had been a long day already. She stood and placed her arm around Mia assuming that, considering how tired she was, her little sister was most likely exhausted.
“No, not at all. Five to ten minute drive, I’d say,” the attorney replied.
“I still don’t understand. Why us?” Sophie asked quietly, meeting his gaze and, for the first time, actually taking in his icy blue eyes. He was very attractive, with a face tanned by wind and sun, and there always seemed to be a hint of a smile on his lips.
Her gaze fixed back on his mouth. Blushing, she quickly looked away.
He turned to them, raking a hand through his short, curling blond hair. “Ma’am, what I know is that both of you are in the will. What I know is that I was supposed to fly you down here to officially read you the will. What I know is that I’m supposed to hand over the keys to you, and to let you know that your expenses are covered for the next twenty-four months. I did not know Ms. Bellinger, as one of the retired partners wrote up the will. I do not know who she was or in what way she was connected to you. I assumed she was a distant relative of yours.”
Sophie took her sister’s hand as she thought about his last comment. She wasn’t aware of any distant relatives. Dead or alive. Her mother would have at least mentioned her once. Letting out a soft sigh, she made a mental note to table the question for a later moment with the resolve to find out the answers. And soon.
“Okay, let’s go then.”
He pinched his nose with his thumb and index finger and took a deep breath. “Look, Miss Lever—”
“Levesque,” Sophie helped him again, this time somewhat more firmly.
Running his thumb over his eyebrow, he stepped closer, but not so close as to be intimidating. “I’m sorry. It’s been one extraordinary week,” he said with his voice just above a whisper. “Once I get back I’ll check with the partners here to see whether anybody knows more about it.”
Did he say he’d had one extraordinary week? Annoyance crept in. His remark irked her to the very core. Holding Mia even closer to her side, she lifted her finger and pointed at him. “No offence, Mr. O’Connor, but it has been quite a week for us as well, and I was prepared to answer all your questions. I have one simple question, and you don’t know the answer. Wouldn’t there be something in the file?”
Sophie considered herself a kind person. Kindness could’ve been her middle name, but she met his surprised frown dead-on.
He seemed taken aback by her words. “No offence taken.” And then he let out a deep breath. “You’re right. I apologise. As I said, I’ll find out details and let you know.”
“Thank you, Mr. O’Connor,” she replied and then blew out a breath.
Tugging on Sophie’s shirt, Mia asked, “What about our stuff?”
Sophie shifted and looked down at her sister, but before she had a chance to say anything, Mr. O’Connor beat her to it.
“What stuff?” he asked as he opened the door.
“Considering what we inherited here, we brought all our things,” Sophie explained without looking at him.
Mr. O’Connor stopped in his tracks. “All, as in all your clothes?”
The underlying opinion in his words didn’t go past her. They were actually hurtful. Yet, it’d been like it most of her life. People judged her on what they saw. In Sophie’s case, it was a little girl about fifteen years her junior by her side. They were dressed well, but nearly everything was second hand. Sometimes people’s preconception hurt, but often she was able to take it in her stride.
Today, she wasn’t sure. There was something about Mr. O’Connor that she was drawn to.
Sophie’s eyes met his, and she squared her jaw as she tried to keep her composure and stood straight as she corrected him. “All, as in all our belongings.”
He simply nodded. They made their way to the front door and stepped outside the building, following Mr. O’Connor with their suitcases. Two teenage boys walked past them, eager to capture the interest of some girls across the road. Aware of the attention, the girls covered their mouths with their hands and broke into giggles.
Sophie’s stomach churned. So many things she had missed out on in life. The little things most took for granted. But it was going to be better from now on, she reminded herself. Better for both of them. She didn’t want Mia to miss out on so many things like she had, and the thought gave her some joy.
The drive through Hobart was mostly quiet as Sophie and Mia took in the scenery. It was certainly a hilly place, and Mt. Wellington with its 1270 meters in height, seemed to overlook every little part of this waterfront capital. It was definitely a different atmosphere from Sydney. They drove along the busy streets and, considering how small the town was, the car ride seemed to last forever.
Mr. O’Connor cleared his throat. “So what are the suitcases all about?”
Taken by surprise by the sudden start of a conversation, Sophie looked up and gazed back at him through the mirror. She wondered how old he might be. Even though Mr. O’Connor was dressed up neatly in a grey suit with a matching tie, his tousled blond hair gave him a casual look. But then her gaze drifted down to Mia’s hand clasping hers and resting in the younger girl’s lap.
“Just making conversation,” he clarified with a shrug of his right shoulder as if he knew what she was thinking.
He checked the traffic as he moved into another lane, but their gaze met again in the mirror. His expression told her that he was still waiting for an answer.
“I’ve already told you. Considering what we’ve inherited, we brought along everything.”
There was this churning in her stomach, and she wasn’t sure what it was all about. It was hard to pinpoint. Anxiousness probably. At least a little. It was a strange city to her, and here she was in a stranger’s car, being driven to an unknown location.
Yes, he most certainly made her nervous. At least a bit, because Sophie found him very attractive and his sudden need to talk surprised her.
She shook her head without looking at him. It was increasingly apparent to her that either there had been no details on them in the file, or he had been too busy to read it as well.
“You’re Mia’s guardian?”
“Yes,” she replied and gently placed a kiss on her sister’s forehead.
He nodded, and by the way he stared ahead, Sophie knew he was pondering her answers.
Through the mirror, she saw his eyes focussed on them. “My name is Mark. Nobody actually calls me Mr. O’Connor. It feels like my dad is around when I hear that term.”
A smile twitched at the corner of Sophie’s mouth, but she remained silent.
“Ever been to Hobart before?”
She shook her head.
Mark concentrated on the traffic again. He did a couple of turns, and Sophie’s excitement grew stronger. Deep inside she hoped for the house to be close by. It was a beautiful area. So much green around. So many beautiful and colourful gardens.
With a pounding heart, she was glued to the window, her palms moist with sweat.
And then he stopped in front of number sixty-four.