Conditional Loveby Cathy Bramley: Chick lit meets Grand Designs in this hilarious debut novel
In the centre of the desk, lay an open file. I shuffled forward to the edge of my seat and managed to read my own name at the top of the page. I inched closer still, squinting to read more. ‘And you are?’ The deep voice made me jump so much that I panicked, slid off the chair and down onto one knee, thus greeting the tall, thin man with dark hair, glasses and a bushy beard in some sort of weird marriage proposal stance. I scrambled up off the floor, mortified, and sat back down. ‘Nothing! Just waiting for Mr Whelan.’ His lips twitched and he gave his beard a scratch.‘I’m Thomas Whelan.’ He extended a hand towards me. ‘And you are?’ ‘Oh! Sophie Stone.’ I shook his hand and pulled up the collar of my coat to hide my glowing cheeks. ‘Ah yes,’ he said settling himself at his desk. He glanced at the file that I’d had been trying to read. ‘You’ve come about your aunt’s will.’ I processed this new information, hitherto unaware I had an aunt. Alive or dead. ‘My aunt?’ Mr Whelan blinked furiously, referred back to the manila file and adjusted his glasses. ‘My apologies, Miss Stone, your great aunt.’ Well that was that then. She had to be one of my father’s relations. There were definitely no great aunts in Mum’s family. There was no one at all in her family. I sighed. I had been hoping… well, I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d been hoping. Maybe that she was an old lady I’d done a good deed for once when I was in the Brownies or something. Although, I couldn’t think what I’d done to warrant a mention in anybody’s will. But any tenuous link would be better than being a relative of Terry Stone’s. Still, I’d better be absolutely sure. ‘Would you mind just running me through the family tree?’ ‘Of course not,’ said Mr Whelan, pushing his chair back and standing up abruptly. ‘But first, have you brought your passport?’ I jumped to my feet too. ‘Why? Where are we going?’ I had been told on the phone to bring my passport when I arranged the appointment and the request had been troubling me ever since. ‘Only to the photocopier,’ he chuckled. ‘Need to verify you are who you say you are before we continue with the reading of the will.’ Thank heavens for small mercies! I had had visions of having to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice to take ownership of some mystery item. Identity checks complete, we resumed our positions either side of the d
esk. The solicitor took off his wristwatch, set it to one side and then, elbows on the desk, clasped his hands together and made a steeple with his forefingers, resting his long nose on the tip. ‘This office holds the last will and testament of Mrs Jane Kennedy. She was Terence Stone’s maternal aunt. Your great aunt.’ I stared at him, mesmerised by the end of his nose which was protruding over his fingers.I should stop him from going any further. There was no point in hearing what he had to say. My father had been absent for all of my thirty- two years. Mum and I had managed perfectly well without his or his family’s help, thank you very much and I knew instinctively that she would resent any intervention at this stage in the game. Besides, why would the old dear leave anything to me? It didn’t make sense, we’d never even met. ‘Long and tedious documents, wills.’ My eyes must have glazed over for a moment. I shook myself and Mr Whelan’s eyes twinkled at me. ‘There’s been a misunderstanding,’ I said, scooping up my bag as I stood. ‘My mother is estranged from her ex-husband. I’ve never met Jane Kennedy; in fact, I’ve never met my father.’ ‘I’m aware of all that,’ he said, not unkindly. ‘However, it falls to me to ensure that you are fully informed as to your inheritance. Please sit.’ He flapped a hand at the empty chair. ‘Would you like me to read the whole thing or cut to the chase?’I blinked my green eyes at him. Was he allowed to say things like that? I sat back down obediently. ‘The main bits, please.’ ‘Righto.’ Mr Whelan extracted a document and a small sealed envelope from the file. He pushed his glasses up his nose and cleared his throat. I held my breath.‘Your great aunt Jane has bequeathed the bulk of her estate to you. You, Miss Stone are the main beneficiary of her will.’ An estate! Visions of strolling through manicured gardens like someone out of Pride and Predjudice, against a backdrop of a Chatsworth-style mansion, on Marc’s arm, were somewhat dimmed with Mr Whelan’s next sentence. ‘There’s a bungalow in Woodby and several thousand pounds. We haven’t finalised the amount yet.’ Woodby? That was a village in the sticks somewhere north of Nottingham. A bungalow and some money. I repeated the words in my head. That was a house and some actual money-in-the-bank type dosh. My chest had been getting tighter and tighter with lack of oxygen and now I was all panicky. Breathe, Sophie, in out, in out. I probably looked like I was in labour: face all red, and puffing like Ivor the engine. A house. My great aunt had given me a house. Of my own. And that meant a home. How long had I been dreaming of my own home? Only all my life, that was how long.Mr Whelan’s lips were moving. He was still speaking and I hadn’t been listening. He was holding an envelope out to me and I took it automatically. ‘As I say, there is a condition to the inheritance, but I think it would be better if you read Mrs Kennedy’s letter yourself. I’ll leave you in private for a moment. Can I get you some coffee?’ ‘Tea please, two sugars.’ Condition? I wasn’t sure I could take any more surprises. Life was so much gentler without them. My heart rate was already registering at least a seven on the Richter scale. ‘Actually, make it three!’
his book is very content. There were heart-wrenching moments and happy moments. It makes for a very strong book. The characters are solid, the writing was fantastic, and the story was seamless. I really look forward to another round of Sophie and Nick!!