I spent all of Thanksgiving weekend in Minnesota without Internet. I got back yesterday but had to catch up on some emails and work on the budget (something I do at the first of every month when I pay the bills). So I couldn’t hop on here until today.
Good news though… I finished the first draft to Perry’s story. It turned out a lot better than I expected and does a great job of wrapping things up for the series. (Remember what I said about dividing up more of my books and putting them into a series? I decided to lump The Earl’s Inconvenient Wife, A Most Unsuitable Earl, His Reluctant Lady, and The Earl’s Scandalous Wife into the same series. Her Counterfeit Husband is now a standalone novel.)
Now that the immediate update is aside, here is the conclusion to Kent Ashton’s Backstory…
Kent sat on bench, head in his hands, as he waited for his father at the train station. So many things went wrong. The future he had looked forward to for so long was shattered and there was nothing he could do to fix it. He felt like such a fool. Why didn’t he understand what Ann had been trying to tell him when he saw her in November? That she was happy with Todd. That she no longer loved him? Looking back, it was so obvious. There was nothing else she could have done to tell him she no longer wanted to be with him.
He brushed more tears from his eyes and focused on the pain in his arm. It was easier to deal with physical pain than the pain in his heart. He inspected his wounds and noticed no glass got into his arm. Well, that was good. While he was bound to have scars, at least he didn’t require a doctor.
He mentally cursed himself for being such a fool. He should have known Ann had moved on. He should have known she wouldn’t be pining for him.
Never again would be open himself to someone the way he’d opened himself to Ann. From this moment forward, he vowed never to fall in love again. It was too painful. And the pain wasn’t worth it.
Someone sat next to him. He didn’t have to look at his father to know it was him. The grunt of grave disapproval was all he needed to hear. He blinked back more tears, determined his father wouldn’t see him cry.
“I’m sending you to your uncle,” his father said, his tone indicating that he had no choice in the matter. “Maybe while you’re living the life of a peasant, you’ll get an appreciation for all I’ve done for you.”
Kent let out a bitter laugh then looked at him. “All you’ve done for me? All you’ve ever done is use me to get what you want. That’s all you do to anyone you come across.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to ask him what he’d told Todd and Ann so he looked innocent of everything but decided he didn’t want to know. His father had manipulated things. He knew it as sure as he knew his name and that was enough.
“Before you got back on your horse,” his father continued, “I took the liberty of retrieving the money you brought with you.”
Kent stiffened and checked the leather sack he had placed beside him. It was empty. “You stole my money?”
“No, I took back the money Mr. Johnson gave you. You think it’s a small matter that you’ve made a fool of me and of him? Not only have you disgraced me but now Rebecca’s long gone to who knows where.”
“It’s because of you all this happened. If you’d just let me be with Ann—”
“Who’s better off with Todd. You and I both know that’s true so don’t pretend that her being with him is worse for her.”
“She could have been happy with me.”
“Not as much as she is with him. Whether you want to admit it or not, I did the best thing for you.”
“Including manipulating things so I almost married Rebecca?”
His father shrugged. “If you had followed through and married her, you’d be on your way to being one of the wealthiest men in Virginia.”
“What good is money if neither she nor I would have been happy?”
“You will never be rich if you insist on being happy. Wealth means sacrifice. It means doing whatever is necessary to obtain it.”
“Including hurting people?”
“If it must be, then it must be. Had you listened to me to begin with, you would have pursued Rebecca instead of Ann. The only one to blame for your unhappiness is you.”
The comment was so absurd that Kent couldn’t help but laugh. He never met anyone who could explain away his actions as well as his father could. “You know what?” Kent finally said. “Take the money. It’s tainted because it’s connected to you. Some day I will build up wealth, but I’m not going to do it the way you did, through lies and using people. I’m going to do it honestly, and when I have it, I’ll use it to help others instead of manipulating them.”
His father chuckled and shook his head. “You won’t be anything but a pauper for the rest of your life.” The train pulled into the station and he rose to his feet. “I sent your uncle a letter. He’ll be expecting you at the end of next month.”
Refusing to look at him, Kent stood up and boarded the train. He wouldn’t see his father ever again once he got on the ship, and that suited him just fine.
At the end of the next month, Kent stepped off the ship in Ireland, exhausted but relieved to have finally completed the long journey. America was a long way behind him. In some ways, everything that happened over the past year seemed like it happened in another lifetime. Ann, Todd, Rebecca, his father… All of it was behind him. Exactly where it should be.
He scanned the faces in the crowd of people gathered to greet the passengers of the ship, focusing on the men who looked as if they didn’t have any money to their name. His uncle had written to his father that he’d be wearing a red bow tie, saying it would be easier to spot him in a crowd that way. And Kent did find someone wearing a red bow tie, except this was a man of means, not a peasant who needed help on his farm.
Kent turned his attention to the brass tag in his hand and wondered if he should collect his trunk, which currently contained all the things he owned, which wasn’t much. Just his clothes. He decided to wait on giving the tag to the person retrieving luggage and turned his attention to the men in the crowd. But none of the men who looked like farmers were wearing red bow ties. He tapped the tag in his hand and sighed. Maybe his uncle forgot to come.
“Pardon me, are you Kent Ashton?”
Kent turned and saw the same well-dressed man with the red bow tie he’d seen a couple minutes before. Eyebrows furrowed, he wondered what the man wanted with him. “Yes, I’m Kent.”
A smile spread across the man’s face and he gave him a friendly pat on the back. “I’m Patrick Ashton, your uncle.”
“But,” he glanced at the man’s clothes that spoke of wealth and abundance, “you can’t be my uncle. My uncle is a poor farmer.”
“That is what I told your father so he wouldn’t interfere in my life.” He gestured to the tag in Kent’s hand. “Let’s get your trunks then I can explain everything.”
As they headed for the man who was bringing people their luggage, Kent said, “I only have one trunk.”
His uncle waved to a man who hurried over to them. “This is my footman. He will bring it to the carriage.”
Kent handed the tag to the baggage handler who went to get his trunk. When he brought it to them, the footman picked it up.
“You don’t have much,” his uncle commented as they headed for his carriage. “I expected something larger.”
He shrugged. “I thought I would barely have room for that trunk in my bedroom.”
“It’s alright, Kent. You can tell me the truth.”
“Your father left you with little else but the clothes on your back because you refused to do what he wanted.”
Kent hesitated to answer. While he had no respect for his father, he had a hard time voicing his thoughts about him.
They stopped in front of the carriage with gold trim, and his uncle turned caring eyes in his direction. “I know what your father is like. I grew up with him.”
Unsure of what to say, Kent remained silent and sat in the carriage.
His uncle waited until they were out of town before he continued to speak. “When your father left for America, he had stolen a significant portion of my half of the inheritance.”
“But he said that your father didn’t have anything.”
“My father left both of us a fortune. My mistake was trusting him when he said he wanted to be partners with me and ran off to America with most of my money. If he didn’t have any money left, it’s because he made bad investments, gambled it away, or lived beyond his means. Maybe it was a little of each one. It took time, but I built back my wealth and then some. I never told your father because I was afraid he’d come back.”
Kent stared out the carriage window as they traveled down a path in the country. Rubbing his eyes, he said, “I don’t understand why you want me to be here. I thought I was supposed to help you with a farm because you have no wife or children to help you.”
“It’s true I don’t have a wife or children, but what I have is a nephew. When I heard what happened in New York, about Wilma and how your father wouldn’t let you marry her because she didn’t come from a wealthy family, I knew your father was trying to use you the same way he’d used me.”
Looking at his uncle, he noted the concern on the older man’s face. “So all that time you wrote those letters…”
“I was hoping to save you from a bad situation.”
Kent’s gaze went back out the window where a large estate appeared on the horizon. He leaned forward to get a better view of the manor, the grounds, and the gazebo. Never in his life had he seen anything so luxurious. If his father had any idea how much wealth his uncle possessed, he would have never let him come here. He would have kept him in Virginia and had him work for him.
“Kent,” his uncle began, his voice soft, “I don’t know exactly what your father put you through, but I hope you can put all of that behind you and move on. It does no good to dwell on the past. I brought you here for a fresh start.”
Tears welled up in Kent’s eyes as he stared at the manor, which was coming closer into view as the carriage proceeded down the path. “I never knew money could cause so many problems.”
“It’s not money that causes problems. It’s what people do with it that causes problems. You’ll learn that in time.”
“I’ve made such a mess of things. Did my father tell you that I went to North Dakota? I tried to break up a marriage. I frightened the woman I love. I made her think I was going to hurt her when that wasn’t my intention. She hates me now, and who can blame her?” Though he tried not to cry, the tears fell. He grabbed the handkerchief in his breast pocket and wiped them away. “I thought she wanted money. I waited until I had enough before I went to her, and now I know she could have been happy with me without it. She’s happy with a farmer who can’t give her much more than a simple gold band.” He wiped more tears away and chuckled at the irony of it all. “If I’d only known that, I would have married her and taken her with me to New York as soon as I could. But every decision I made was the wrong one.”
“Kent, I know that you’re ashamed of what you’ve done, but you can’t change the past. What happened is already done. Grieve it, learn from it, become a better person because of it. But don’t stay trapped in the cycle of wishing you’d done things differently. You can’t let your past ruin your future.”
“You really think I can be a better person?”
“I wouldn’t have insisted your father send you here if I didn’t. You have a decision to make. Either you’re going to be a better person because of this experience or you’re not.”
“I want to be a better person.”
His uncle smiled. “Good because I brought you here for a new start. Everything that happened in America is behind you. When the carriage door opens, you will get an opportunity to be the person you want to be.”
The carriage pulled to a stop in front of the manor and a few seconds later, the footman opened the door. Kent studied his new home with the green hills that spanned around them in all directions. It was nothing like New York or Virginia, and that meant, he wouldn’t have anything to remind him of the past. In this place, he’d get another chance and there was nothing he wanted more.
He glanced at his uncle, feeling a glimmer of happiness that he hadn’t experienced in a long time. “I want a new start.”
His uncle’s smile widened.
Returning his uncle’s smile, he stepped out of the carriage to begin his new life, leaving the past where it belonged—in the past.