One day before my eighteenth birthday. My third day of summer vacation—that lazy rite of passage between high school and college. The only one I’d ever have. Ruined. All because of that private investigator showing up at my door. I never should have let him in—although, technically, my aunt invited him inside.
“Are you Emma Winslow, daughter of Franklin and Anne Winslow?”
“Yes.” I didn’t like the way his dark eyes tried to bore a hole in my head, like I’d done something wrong. Nothing came to mind, anyway. Maybe this was a prank, courtesy of my friend Jenna.
“And you were born in London, England?” He pressed on, despite my aunt hovering now like a chicken with ruffled feathers.
“Yes, she was,” Aunt Martha answered when I didn’t reply quickly enough. “What’s this all about?”
He flashed a smile full of teeth and reached inside his jacket pocket. I admit I flinched, expecting to be kidnapped or shot or something else straight out of a horror movie. Instead, he pulled out a thick envelope and handed it to me.
“Just confirming your identity for my client. Happy birthday.” He turned and let himself out, leaving me to stare at the envelope with some fancy solicitor name printed on the front.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” my aunt asked, wringing her hands. Not a good sign.
A little voice in my head told me to burn it and bury the ashes in the backyard. Like a fool, I teased the flap open with fingers that trembled and pulled out the sheets filled with incomprehensible legalese. After reading the first page three different times, while my aunt did a funny little dance next to me, I handed the sheet over to her.
“I think it says I’ve inherited a house in England.” Flipping my long brown hair back over my shoulder, I waited for her to confirm what I’d read.
“What? That can’t be right. Your father didn’t own any property when he died.” Aunt Martha read further. “Oh, it says your father’s brother, Albert, died three months ago and left it to you. I didn’t know Franklin had a brother.”
My father. I didn’t know anything about him, except that he was British and died when I was only a few months old. That’s when my mother and I left London and came back to Chadsville, Georgia to live close to her family. When she died the following year, my aunt and uncle were left to raise me. An unexpected wave of gratitude passed over me. If they hadn’t taken me in, who knows where I might have ended up? I blinked back the tears that threatened to spill and gave my aunt a hug.
“Mercy! What was that for?”
“Nothing. I don’t tell you that I love you often enough.” And it was true. They were the only parents I’d ever known.
She dabbed at her eyes and patted my shoulder. “Don’t start packing for England just yet. We’ll talk to your uncle about it when he gets home.” She hurried off to the kitchen—no doubt to bake cookies. My aunt’s cure for anything that ails you. I hoped they’d be peanut butter chocolate chip.
My uncle had the opposite reaction from my aunt when she thrust the papers in his face that evening. “Well, congratulations. That’s quite a birthday present.”
“You don’t find it the least bit peculiar?” Aunt Martha’s eyebrows wiggled up and down as if not sure what position they should stay in.
“Not really. We never knew that much about Franklin or his family. If I were eighteen again, I’d see it as a grand adventure.” He gave me a wink and started rooting through the fridge. “Are we having dinner soon? Maybe there’s a college nearby you could attend.”
Aunt Martha huffed and flounced from the room. Uncle Dan straightened up and looked at her disappearing back. “Did I say something wrong?”
I hid a smile and shrugged. “Dinner’s ready. I’ll go get her.”
The silent dinner that followed left me with time to think. Now that I’d gotten over the initial shock, it did sound like fun. I’d always wanted to do some traveling and using England as a base would be perfect for exploring Europe. My college fund could handle a month over there. Maybe I even had more family in the area that I didn’t know about.
Suddenly I couldn’t wait for dinner to be over. Jenna had to hear about this. She often had crazy ideas too; she wouldn’t think I was nuts for wanting to go. With my uncle backing me up, my aunt would come around. She’d lived in Chadsville all her life. The two-hour drive to Atlanta was the farthest she’d ever traveled.
Not so with my mom—her only sibling. Mom was only my age when she went to London and met my dad. And look what coming back to good old Chadsville did for her—dying while crossing the street. Nope, not for me. I was going to follow my dream before my number was up.
The clang of silverware startled me out of my reverie. I glanced up, shoving my hair out of my face. Aunt Martha uttered a sigh and looked at me.
“You’ve made up your mind—you’re going, aren’t you? Just like your mother did.”
I smiled, not bothering to conceal my excitement over it all. “Yes, but just for a few weeks. I’ll be back before school starts, don’t worry.”
She nodded and tried her best to give me a smile. It was all the invitation I needed to run around the table and give her a kiss. “Thanks for understanding. I have to go call Jenna and give her the news.”
Thoughts crowded my head as I flew up the stairs to my room. What should I pack—oh, and I needed a passport. How long did that take? And there were plane tickets to buy…
My stomach curled into a ball and dinner threatened to come back up. Was I ready to do this? Or was I crazy for even contemplating it? Now that the idea had been planted in my head, the lure of going to England seemed almost irresistible. I had to go.
Stay strong. It’s a good thing to do this. My hand shook a little as I punched in Jenna’s number. Must be excitement, not nerves. What was there to be nervous about? I was going to England!