I slid into the window seat in the first class cabin, snatched the small packet of tissues from my Louis Vuitton purse, and dropped my purse on the floor. I nudged it with my foot beneath the seat in front of me, then fumbled with the packet of tissues, struggling to see past the haze of tears.
An older gentleman sat beside me, but I stared out the window at the rainy Paris afternoon. I’d so longed to return to New Hampshire, to take my place at the company, but not like this.
After the flight took off, the gentleman beside me turned my direction. The smile he wore faded when he caught sight of my face. I could only imagine how ragged I must have looked. “Oh, dear,” he said. “You’ve had bad news.”
The kindness in his tone brought a fresh wave of tears, and I dabbed at my eyes.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
With a total stranger? Certainly not. Except I needed to talk to somebody, to share my grief and the fears that wouldn’t be silenced.
“My mother was killed in a car accident early this morning.”
“I’m so sorry.” He seemed genuinely grieved. “What a terrible shock.”
Indeed. I’d spoken to Mum the day before. We’d discussed the business, as usual. As I had done so many times, I told her how much I wanted to leave Paris and return to New Hampshire to work at the company my parents had started before I was born. It had always been my dream to carry on her parents’ legacy, but ever since Daddy’s death when I was twelve, Mum had wanted me to stay in Europe. She’d even gone so far as to hire bodyguards to protect me, as if danger lurked around every corner.
The old man was watching me still, a kind look in his eyes. I don’t why, but I explained further. “She was up on the mountain near our home in the middle of the night, and nobody seems to know why. It’s all so mysterious. I just wonder…”
“Wonder what?” the man asked.
“It’s silly, really. Just because Daddy was murdered doesn’t mean Mum was.”
The man’s bushy gray eyebrows rose on his forehead. “Your father was murdered?”
“It’s not related to Mum’s death.” My English accent was strong as ever. I’d have to work on losing that when I arrived in the States. “With Mum gone, I’m to inherit the business.”
“What kind of business?”
I shouldn’t say. If I did, our casual conversation would change, and this man could share my private business with the world. But he didn’t seem the Instagram type, and there was something about him that made me trust him. I needed to speak the truth now, to be open and honest. When I arrived home, I’d need to be on my guard. “I am Chelsea Hamilton. My parents owned Hamilton Clothiers.”
The man’s jaw dropped. “I didn’t recognize you with those sunglasses. I heard of her death on the business news this morning. I am so sorry for your loss.”
“That’s quite a burden for someone so young.”
Twenty-five, and I’d never worked a day in my life. Instead, I’d spent years at a boarding school, then at university in England, now in an unpaid internship in Paris. I’d had everything I’d ever needed, all my bills paid, and a generous allowance that afforded me the opportunity to buy whatever I wanted and travel where ever I chose—as long as it wasn’t home.
“Do you have siblings?” he asked.
“I’m an only child.”
“Is there nobody you can count on now?”
“My Uncle Frank.” The thought of him brought a smile. Uncle Frank was my only remaining relative in the world. “He’s worked at HCI since the beginning. He’ll help me until I get my feet under me. It’s just… This was never my plan. I thought I’d have years to learn the business. I planned to work in every department, really get to where I understood the nitty gritty. Now… I’m so lost. How could this have happened?”
The man patted my arm. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”
My voice squeaked as I added, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
~ ~ ~ ~