Friday, March 2, 2012

Hidden Assets

Nick Rossi was busy working the vineyards. It would be several years before the Hightower Vineyards would be producing the quality of grapes necessary for the truly exceptional wines he envisioned. The same wines as his father's vineyards in Tuscany were known for. Nick had saved some money and was being well paid by the Hightower brothers for his work in their vineyards. The brothers had inherited millions from their uncle who had been a recluse for most of his life. He knew Lucinda McCoy was also a beneficiary of Mr. Howard's estate. He assumed she had received a pittance because her daughter, Cassandra was the great granddaughter of Shane Howard. He was happy for her since Lucinda and her late husband had struggled to make ends meet since the day they left the orphanage where they both grew up.
Nick had fallen in love with Lucinda and her daughter. He was holding onto the ring his father sent with him when he came to America several years before. The ring belonged to his father's beloved Aunt Nicoletta and as the second born son, it was given to Nick for his future bride. He had no doubts that Lucinda was the woman for him but he wanted to be able to provide for her financially so she would never have to worry about money or the lack of it again.
Nick had been investing in the vineyard since it's inception. The project wouldn't make a profit for a few years and the expenses were enormous. Work had begun on the winery. The Hightowers spared no expense in the building but the the brothers had enough money to cover any costs and still come out ahead. Nick's knowledge of the business was invaluable and he oversaw every detail.
Lucinda was working at the vineyard too. She acted as bookkeeper and general office manager. Cassandra had started school and since they lived in Caroline Watson Bentley's boarding house where her new husband, Jamison had hired both a maid and housekeeper, there wasn't enough to keep Lucinda busy. Not only that, she enjoyed being so close to Nick all day. She loved watching him work in the fields. He loved the work and it showed. Lucinda knew he would be popping the question any day now and was getting anxious to start their life together. She thought it was high time Cassandra had a houseful of brothers and sisters. One of the reasons she still lived in the boarding house was because of Kenny and Betsy Bentley, the newly adopted children of Caroline and Jamison.
Lucinda had been shocked when she was notified that Mr. Shane Howard had remembered her in his Will. She and Cassandra were millionaires. It didn't seem possible that less than a year ago she and her precious daughter had been living in poverty in New York City. Lucinda turned over her finances to Leland Harvey, the local banker. He kept close tabs on the investments he made for her and her money kept growing. Mr. Harvey encouraged her to spend more on herself but all her life she had been frugal and found it very difficult to change.
It was a rather warm fall day and Lucinda had made pitchers of lemonade that she carried out to the fields for the workers. One of those workers, Marcus Flint added whiskey to his canteen and it was starting to show. He flirted openly with Lucinda. Lucinda brushed off his advances but Nick didn't like it one bit. Marcus lifted weights when he wasn't working and it showed in his oversized muscles. The men all helped themselves to the lemonade and Lucinda left to go back to the office.
“That sure is one fine looking woman” Marcus said rather loudly.
The other men tried to quiet him but to no avail.
“Not only is she a knock out, she's loaded too”.
Nick walked over to Marcus and in no uncertain terms told him to shut his mouth.
“Hey I didn't see a ring on that little filly's finger so I'd say she was up for grabs. Who knows what she did for that old man, Shane Howard to get put in his Will. He left her millions and I wouldn't mind taking some of that dough along with her”.
The other men knew that Nick was ready to strike a blow to Marcus and they also knew Marcus was capable of killing a man with his fists. They all grabbed Marcus and forced him away from Nick.
“I don't need this hick town anyway” shouted Marcus as he mounted his horse and rode towards the village.
Nick was furious. He didn't like anyone talking about a woman that way and especially Lucinda. Harold Hightower came over to see what all the commotion was about. Harold knew Marcus Flint was a troublemaker. He would have Lucinda make out a final check with an additional bonus check. Harold was certain Marcus would be at O'Sullivan's Pub and would deliver them personally to him. The bonus would be given only if Marcus agreed to leave town and not return.
Nick was trying to calm down. He didn't realize how protective he felt toward Lucinda. He would gladly have faced the beating he would surely have received from Marcus had they fought.
“Harold, what's this about Lucinda being a millionaire? I know Marcus was just shooting his mouth off but why would he say a thing like that?”
“It's true Nick. My Uncle Shane was a strange man. He never acknowledged that Cassandra was his grandson's daughter. In fact he never acknowledged his grandson or even his son. Lucinda is worth a fortune although she hasn't spent much on herself or Cassandra.”
Nick was shocked and knew he had to confront Lucinda right away. She was busy cleaning up the pitchers from the lemonade when she saw Nick walk through the door. She knew something was wrong the minute she looked into his eyes.
“Why didn't you tell me you were rich?” he said frowning at her. Before she could answer he said “You know I can't marry you now. I would never be able to give you what you couldn't buy for yourself. Why weren't you honest with me Lucinda? Never a mention of the millions of dollars you have in your bank account. If there is one thing I can't abide, it's dishonesty. What other lies have you told me?”
Without waiting for an answer, Nick turned on his heel and walked out leaving Lucinda with her mouth open in disbelief.
Harold saw Nick stomping out of the office and knew there was trouble. He quickly ran to Lucinda. She was shaking and seemed to be in shock. He helped her close up the office and took her to the main house where he knew Dahlia and Hyacinth would be able to comfort her. He didn't understand Nick but would catch up with him and find out what transpired between the two of them. He had his suspicion that Nick was overreacting to the fact that Lucinda hadn't shared her financial circumstances with him.
Leaving Lucinda in the sisters capable hands, he left the house to find Nick and try to calm him down. Lucinda was still in shock.
“He accused me of being dishonest. The subject of the money never came up and you know I don't think of that money as being mine. I have been waiting for a good use for it and planned all along to give it away. I have never seen Nick like that and I'm not sure I ever want to see him again.”
Hyacinth wanted to wring Nick's neck.
“How could he do this to our dear Lucinda? I hope Harold finds him and gives him a good talking to.”
Nick climbed on his horse and rode to town. He was tempted to go to O'Sullivan's Pub but knew he didn't need to be imbibing when he was angry. He was sorry that he had spoken so harshly to Lucinda but how could she have kept quiet about having all that money. Rosa was surprised to see her brother in the middle of the day. It was just after the lunch crowd left and it was the quiet time of day for her before the early evening diners started arriving.
“What in the world is wrong with you Nicola? You look like you are ready for a fight.”
Nick told her about Lucinda and her money.
Rosa replied “How could you not have known about the inheritance? Everyone in town knew that. Lucinda doesn't talk about it because she doesn't think she is deserving of the money but it's a known fact. You are a darned fool if you have accused her of being dishonest. Oh Nicola, how could you?”
“Maybe I did overreact but the fact remains that I cannot and will not marry someone who isn't completely honest with me.”
Rosa knew her brother and knew there was more to his anger than Lucinda's money.
“What else happened today Nicola?”
Nick couldn't keep anything from his sister. “One of the workers was openly flirting with Lucinda and she did nothing to stop him. I couldn't help thinking of Marietta, she acted the same way when anyone flirted with her and and look what happened to our relationship.”
“Nicola, that was so long ago and there is no comparison between Marietta Keene and Lucinda McCoy. Do you remember that Lucinda spent most of her childhood in an orphanage? She told me once that the only way to avoid being bullied was to ignore the bullies. I'm sure that is what she was doing with that degenerate today. Have you ever seen her flirt or carry on with anyone before? Nicola, what has gotten into you. I haven't seen you act like this since you were 16 years old and had your heart broken by that insipid creature, Marietta Keene. I hope you haven't ruined the best thing that has ever happened to you. Now, go find Lucinda and beg her forgiveness before it's too late.”
Nick gave his sister a hug. She was right. He had been a real jerk. He only hoped Lucinda would be in a forgiving mood. He made his way back to the vineyard and passed Harold on his way to O'Sullivan's Pub to settle the account with Marcus Flint.
“I don't know if she will see you Nick but I hope you can straighten out this mess.”
Nick gingerly knocked on the Hightower's front door. Hyacinth showed him in. He could tell Lucinda had been crying but was doing her best to hide it.
“Can we talk Lucinda?”
“I don't know what there is to say Nick, you said enough this afternoon.”
“I don't know why I spoke to you that way. I was frustrated because I want to be able to build a big beautiful house for you and Cassandra and I simply don't have the money to do it. Just when I was feeling like a failure, Marcus started making remarks. I guess I thought you should slap his face or something and you had no reaction at all. I was jealous. Marcus is a good looking man, the type any woman would be able to fall for and then he said that about you having so much money. I didn't believe it but Harold confirmed it and everything blew up in my head. I know that isn't any excuse for the way I spoke to you but I hope you will forgive me.”
Lucinda was quiet for a moment and then she said
“Nick, I understand that sometimes frustration can be overwhelming. I have felt it too. When Cassandra and I lived in New York and I didn't know where I would get the money to put food on the table or whether her tiny feet would grow out of her only pair of shoes. I don't think you have ever missed a hearty meal or limped because your shoes were too small. I'm not judging you Nick, but I don't understand why you lashed out at me. I never tried to hide the fact that Mr. Howard left us money. It's money I don't feel deserving of. I don't want Cassandra growing up thinking that money is the only important thing in the world. I don't need a big sprawling house. I'm perfectly happy in one room of Carolyn Bentley's home although I know we can't live there forever. As far as Marcus Flint goes. I couldn't tell you what that man looked like let alone whether he was good looking or not. I knew he was saying inappropriate things to me but I didn't find it important enough to respond to. Nick, I think we shouldn't see each other, at least for awhile. It will give you time to think about your true feelings. Maybe your blowing up today was a sign that you are not ready to start a life with me and Cassandra. Now, if you will excuse me, school will be letting out soon and I must leave to meet Cassandra.”
She thanked Hyacinth for her hospitality and was out the door before Nick could think of any response at all. Hyacinth and Dahlia didn't hide the fact that they had been standing in the doorway listening to everything that was said.
Nick looked at them sheepishly “You ladies don't have to tell me what a heel I am, I'm well aware of it”.
He too was out the door.
“Don't worry about those two Hyacinth, this is just a little bump in the road. I think we should start planning a wedding”
The sisters giggled as they walked up the stairs to the nursery where four babies were not so quietly awaiting their arrival.

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