Love at Last

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Love at Last - Chapter 3

The memorial service over, Willow made her way out of the beautiful little chapel in the picturesque coastal village of St James, Cape Town. She took a moment to appreciate the exquisite view of False Bay as she gathered her composure. She wasn’t sure she was ready to face any one of a handful of people who had come to pay their respects to Meri. Grief cut sharp and deep.

            Willow felt as if there was an enormous weight lying on her chest. She couldn’t seem to draw an easy breath. Still reeling from the loss of her friend, she couldn’t seem to find ease of mind either. Meri’s twin girls were currently in a safe house as authorities waited to hear what the babies’ fate was. Willow was hoping that the other woman had made provisions for her children.

            Making her way down the church path to the parking lot, she noticed a dark-haired man leaning against her car. He faced away from her, apparently enjoying the same view she’d been admiring. In the moment it took to realise it was Adam Dawson, she went ice cold. For that very brief moment, she’d thought JJ was waiting for her. He’d been leaving her random messages and making threatening phone calls late at night. During the first call he’d made, he’d gone so far as to blame her for Meri’s death. He’d managed to twist it in his mind so no blame lay at his own door.

            In all the years Willow had known JJ, he’d never taken responsibility for his actions. It was always someone else’s fault that he behaved the way he did. Therefore, he felt totally justified in lashing out at her, threatening her.

            Coming to a stop in front of Adam, once more she tried to gather herself. She felt emotional, raw after all that had happened in the last two weeks. And later that day, she’d be going to the attorney’s office to hear Meri’s last wishes. She didn’t feel ready. It made it all too final. But she was the only one who could do it. It fell to her to make sure her lifelong friend’s behests would be carried out.

Other than the fact that her friend had wanted to be cremated, Meri had never actually shared with her what she wanted for her children should anything happen to her. No doubt Willow would be finding out soon enough.

            She avoided Adam’s gaze as he assessed her with the eyes of a seasoned policeman, eyes that missed nothing. An awkward silence ensued since neither could find the right words to break it. Willow wasn’t even sure how he’d managed to find her in the first place. Eventually, she broke the silence.

            “Good morning, Detective. This is a surprise.”

            “Ms Martin. I was wondering if you had a spare moment or two?”

            Unsure how to read the tone of his voice, Willow took a moment before she answered, weighing her words before responding.

            “Now isn’t a good time. I have an appointment in a short while. Is it something that can wait?”

            Straightening away from her vehicle, Adam nodded.

            “Yes, of course. Sure thing. Give me a call when you’re free.”

            Instead of walking away, as she’d expected him to do, Adam once again gave her a measured look. He looked like he wanted to say something but wasn’t sure how. After a long, uncomfortable moment, he spoke again.

            “Are you doing okay? You look like you’re not getting any rest.”

            A rather expressive eyebrow rose gracefully, a small smile tilting her lips.

            “Is that your polite way of telling me I look like hell, Detective?”

            A dull red crept into Adam’s cheeks, and he had the grace to look sheepish.

            “Sorry. That didn’t come out right. You look beautiful. I just meant you – um – never mind. I should probably let you get going. Don’t want you to be late for your appointment.”

            He looked so aghast at the words coming out of his mouth that for the first time in what seemed like forever Willow found herself laughing. She couldn’t help it. It felt rusty but so good.

            “Relax, detective, I’m just teasing. I know you meant well. But you’re right, I need to get going. I’ll give you a call as soon as I have a minute.”

            Willow pressed her car’s remote to unlock her door. Before she could open it though, Adam stepped around her and opened it for her.

            “Thank you.”

            Nodding, he replied, “Drive carefully,” before turning and walking away.

            Puzzled at the strange exchange, she simply sat and stared at the retreating figure for a moment before starting her car. She didn’t want to be late.

            Lame, Dawson. Lame! Could you possibly have embarrassed yourself any more? Adam derided himself as he made his way back to his own vehicle. He still had no idea what had possessed him to follow her all the way out to the southern suburbs of Cape Town, miles away from his northern suburb office. But he’d known that it was her friend’s memorial service today and had felt a strong urge to be there for her. This was so out of character for him.

            Something about this woman drew him to her. On the surface, she gave the impression of being a strong woman, but he also got the impression there was a fragile interior hidden deep within. So, he’d gone to the memorial service. Maybe he was crazy, but he’d wanted to make sure she was okay. He’d stayed out of sight, sitting at the back of the church. But it had soothed something in him just being there, knowing that if she needed a shoulder to lean on, he would be on hand to offer one.

            He’d wanted to go over and comfort her when she’d broken down during the service. It had taken willpower not to do so. Watching her cry had been difficult. Something he had thought he was long immune to. His ex-wife had used tears as a tool to manipulate – people and situations – to her will. He’d finally wised up and grown indifferent. She’d taken to calling him cold-hearted when it stopped working. But Willow Martin’s tears had been a genuine expression of how deep the hurt ran. And it had made him want to soothe the pain.

            Get a grip, dude! This is an active investigation. Just where exactly do you think this thing could go anyway? She’s off limits. Adam dropped his forehead to the roof of his car in disgust. What the hell was wrong with him? Where was the professionalism he prided himself on? As the complainant in her friend’s murder, Willow Martin was out of his reach. If his captain got an inkling that he had these thoughts, he’d take him off the case fast enough to give him whiplash.

            If he wanted to help her find justice for her friend, he was going to have to put thoughts of Willow out of his mind. When he saw her pull out of the parking lot, he climbed into his own car and drove the forty minutes back to his office. He had a ton of work to do, and none of it included mooning over the gorgeous Ms Martin.

            The offices of Fitzsimmons and Reed were elegant and understated. Willow had been greeted by the receptionist who then whisked her off to a private waiting area away from the hustle and bustle of the open reception room. Having barely waited five minutes, she’d been collected by the attorney’s personal assistant and escorted to the office of one Patrick Fitzsimmons.

            “Good day, Ms Martin. Please have a seat.”

            Murmuring a greeting, Willow took a seat in front of the large oak desk at which he sat.

            “Before we start, I would like to extend my condolences. Ms Davids was such a lovely young lady. I was sorry to hear of her passing.”

            Swallowing down the lump in her throat at his words, Willow replied, “Thank you, Mr Fitzsimmons. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks.”

            “I can imagine.” Pausing, he gave her a moment to compose herself before continuing. “Well, let’s get down to the business of why you’re here.”

            She simply nodded.

            “I have known Merida since she was a little girl. Her grandmother was originally my client, and when she passed, she left everything to her granddaughter. I was entrusted with looking after Merida’s affairs. A couple years ago, she came to me fearing for her life and asked that I draw up an ironclad, comprehensive will should anything happen to her. Sadly, it seems, she was right to be concerned.”

            Emotion crossed the older gentleman’s face, and Willow realised he’d been quite fond of Meri. She shouldn’t be surprised; Meri had always had that effect on people.

            “What I find so difficult to accept is that she’d left that situation. She’d been staying with me while trying to get back on her feet.”

            “No, my dear. She was staying with you because she needed you, not because she needed to get back on her feet. Merida was a rather wealthy young lady.”

            Reeling in shock, Willow simply stared at the man. She didn’t know what to say. How had she and Meri been such close friends from childhood, yet Meri had never shared something so personal with her?

            “I’m sorry, my dear. I can see that comes as quite a shock. Merida only learned of her inheritance when she turned twenty-one. She didn’t want it to change her life or the way people saw her. She’d seen the change in her parents before their passing, and she didn’t want the same thing happening in her life.”

            Needing a moment to gather herself, Willow went over to the window and stared out sightlessly. Her jumbled thoughts were focused inward. Her heart ached that her friend had felt she couldn’t share her good news. But as the shock started to wear off and she thought about it more, it made sense. JJ was possessive enough as it was. She could only imagine how much worse it would have gotten if he’d known. He would probably have felt entitled to a share of the money. She was sure he’d have found some twisted way to justify it in his mind. Taking a deep breath to settle herself, she returned to her seat.

            “I’m sorry. That was a bit of a jolt. I just needed a moment. Please, continue.”

            Giving Willow a kindly smile, the attorney went on.

            “Merida has divided her estate equally between you and her two infant daughters. You’ll each receive a third. In your case, the money will be transferred to you as soon as everything is settled. In the case of the twins, theirs will go into a trust I am in the process of setting up for them, until they’re twenty-one.”

            Mr Fitzsimmons continued to lay out the terms and conditions of the last will and testament of Merida Elizabeth Davids as finalised just a scant three months earlier. It seemed as if Meri had intuitively known she was running out of time. When he finally got around to mentioning what exactly her third entailed, Willow felt her jaw drop open but seemed incapable of remedying the situation. The bombshell had her reeling yet again.

            “Surely there must be some mistake?” she finally managed.

            “No, my dear. There’s no mistake.”

            “Are you sure?” Shaking her head, Willow held up a hand. “Of course, you’re sure.”

            Smiling, the older gentleman nodded.

            “Mr Fitzsimmons, what about Chelsea and Kelly? Did Meri make any provision for the girls other than financially?” she continued.

            “Ah yes, the twins’ custody. According to her wishes, she requested that the High Court be petitioned to appoint you as their legal guardian, should you be willing to accept such responsibility.”

            “Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely! How soon would we be able to start proceedings? How long would it take before I can bring the girls home?”

            Laughing, Mr Fitzsimmons replied, “It warms my heart to see you so eager, Ms Martin. Now that we’ve ascertained you’re willing, we’ll get the ball rolling. The court rolls are quite full, but we’ll see what we can do to get the matter expedited so we can get those little ones into your home and care as soon as possible. I know a few people. I’ll see what favours I can call in.”

            Willow filled in the paperwork required of her, and the meeting wrapped up not too much later. Getting to his feet, Mr Fitzsimmons held out his hand to Willow. Willow took it.

            “It’s been a pleasure, Ms Martin. Well, as far as it can be under the circumstances, anyway.”

            “Thank you, Mr Fitzsimmons. For everything.” As emotions rose up again, Willow tried to wipe a lone tear away as surreptitiously as possible. A bit awkwardly, Mr Fitzsimmons patted a fatherly hand on her back in silent understanding.

            “My pleasure, young lady. I’ll be in touch as soon as I have news for you.”

            Letting go of her hand, the older gentleman escorted her to the door, opening it for her when they reached it. Bidding him a final farewell, Willow made her way down to her car in a daze from all the news she’d just received.

            Better than most, Willow knew they all had their own demons to slay. Climbing into her car, Willow rested her head against the steering wheel. The emotions of the day crashed over her, and she had to take a moment to catch her breath. Closing her eyes, Willow vowed to Meri that she would love her children and raise them as if they were her own, giving them the best life she could.

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