Georgiana eased the townhouse’s front door shut, wincing at the soft click of the latch. She tiptoed to the staircase and began to climb. Halfway to the second floor, her backpack swung off her shoulder and hit the railing with a thud. She froze, senses on red alert, but she heard no footsteps, no voices, no reaction. She exhaled and moved on. So far, so good. Most days she made it to her room without having to talk to anyone.
But as she reached the second floor landing, Elizabeth poked her head out of Sonya’s office. “Hi, Georgie. How was your exam?”
Georgiana halted, her hand gripping the railing. “Okay.” She frowned at her chipped nail polish. Gran always said you could tell a lady by her hands. You could also tell a lady by her clothes, her shoes, her posture, her language, even her luggage. Georgiana had commented that you could probably tell a lady by her lack of a criminal record, too. Gran hadn’t liked that.
“How many exams do you have next week?”
“Four,” Georgiana said, following her answer with a little sigh. She had learned that one-word answers usually discouraged them, as did sighing and staring at the floor. Her phone rang, the sound partially muffled by her backpack. She turned and sprinted up the steps before anyone could delay her further.
Once she was safely in her bedroom with the door shut, she checked her voicemail and returned the call quickly. “Hi, Courtney,” she said, speaking softly in case Gran was in the sitting room just across the hall.
“Are your exams done yet?” Courtney asked.
“I wish. They’ve barely started.”
Courtney laughed. “Let’s see … what did I do today? Oh, that’s right. Sunbathing. Same as yesterday, and the day before that. And the day before that.”
“Okay, okay, I’m jealous,” Georgiana said. That was obviously what Courtney, who was in the Bahamas, wanted to hear.
“Sorry I haven’t been able to call for a few days. Dad said the roaming charges were bankrupting him, so he took my phone away. It was her idea, of course. I had to steal her phone to call you today.”
“I wondered why it wasn’t your number. Aren’t you afraid she’ll catch you?”
“Oh, please. As if she would pay attention to a phone bill. And anyway, so what if she does? It’s not like The Bitch has trouble finding excuses to yell at me. I was, like, two minutes late coming in last night, and she caught me. Of course she told Dad, and there was major drama.”
“Just because you were two minutes late?”
“Well, maybe it was more like an hour. I was with this really hot guy, one of the pool boys. I mean, I was slumming, but who cares? He was seriously hot. We made out on the beach for, like, an hour, and then he wanted to go back to his room and do it.”
“Did you?” Georgiana was fascinated. If it hadn’t been for Courtney, she would have known almost nothing about sex. Gran hadn’t been any help at all; besides, she was so old she probably didn’t remember anything. And of course Will would rather die than mention the subject.
“I would have, but when we got there I found out he had three roommates. I’m not interested in doing it in front of an audience.”
“Yeah, me neither.” Georgiana hadn’t even been kissed by a guy, but she didn’t want to sound like a naïve idiot.
“So, anyway, by the time I got back from his place, I was a little late. But what’s the big deal? I’m on vacation. They should be glad I came home at all.”
“Yeah. Seriously.” Georgiana made a mental note to try that logic on Gran some day. As if. She’d be grounded till she died.
“And would you believe they’re threatening to send me to stay with her parents till school starts again? She’ll do anything to get rid of me.”
Georgiana collapsed on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. “At least you’d be away from her.”
“Yeah, but her parents are, like, 100 years old, and they live in some lame farm town in West Virginia. Like I want to spend my spring break in Hicksburg, milking cows.”
“Or feeding chickens.”
“Right. No way am I going there.” Courtney sighed. “It sucks that you can’t come down here. That guy last night? One of his roommates was really cute. He’d be perfect for you.”
Georgiana had hoped that someone—preferably William, but her aunt and uncle or even Richard would do—might take her to Pemberley for spring break when it started in a week. But they were all too busy to have time for her. Besides, none of them wanted to be seen with a thief. Not that it mattered. Gran would never let her go anyway.
As though reading Georgiana’s mind, Courtney asked, “How are things with the warden?”
“The same. No matter what I ask, she always says no. It’s, like, the only word she knows.”
“She sounds just like The Bitch.” It was the only name by which Courtney ever referred to her stepmother.
“It’s so unfair.”
“Is ElizaBitch there?”
“Yeah. I guess she’s staying for a while.”
“Is your brother still drooling over her like a stupid ass? God, I would puke if I had to watch that day and night.”
“He’s in London.” In a dark moment last fall, Georgiana had complained to Courtney about William’s obsession with Elizabeth. She regretted it now. It was one thing for Georgiana to roll her eyes when William kissed Elizabeth, held her hand in public, or talked about her nonstop when she wasn’t there. But she hated it when Courtney ridiculed him.
Besides, with William out of the picture, Elizabeth wasn’t so bad. She was at least trying to be nice, which was more than anyone else was doing. She had somehow gotten Gran’s permission for the two of them to go to a movie, and she had talked about her sisters who once got caught shoplifting. Unlike Georgiana, they hadn’t gotten into much trouble, but at least Elizabeth didn’t treat it like The Subject That Must Not Be Mentioned In Polite Company Or Really Ever, like Gran and Will did. But if she told Courtney that Elizabeth didn’t deserve a mean nickname, her friend would only laugh. It was better to go with the flow.
Georgiana’s mind had drifted away and she’d missed something Courtney said. She asked her to repeat it, blaming it on poor cell reception.
“I was saying, maybe you should act as bitchy as possible, and they’ll get sick of having you around and send you away to school next year. Then you’d be away from them. If they sent you to my school, you could room with me. It doesn’t suck all that bad if you know how to sneak around the rules, and that’s my specialty.”
Georgiana heard a knock at her bedroom door. “Warden alert,” she whispered. “Gotta go.”
She shoved the phone under her pillow and answered the door. Her grandmother stood there, wearing a gray silk dress and her heirloom pearls. Georgiana blocked the doorway and waited in silence.
In this ongoing contest of wills, today Rose blinked first. “Good evening, Georgiana,” she said. “How were your exams today?”
“They went fine, thank you.” Gran was an exception where one-word responses were concerned. Anything too brief annoyed her, often leading to boring lectures about ladylike behavior. It was worth speaking in complete sentences to avoid the lectures.
“I’m having friends over for cocktails and dinner tonight. I’m sure you have studying to do, so you are excused from attending. I’ve asked Mrs. Reynolds to serve your dinner in the family room promptly at seven.”
Georgiana shrugged, and then followed up with a tiny nod. She had been excluded from most of Rose’s dinner parties since the shoplifting incident. Apparently it was too embarrassing to have a convicted thief at the table. Not that she cared; who wanted to sit around with a bunch of old people?
Rose’s eyes narrowed and she stared at Georgiana. “Very well. I’m going downstairs now.”
Alone again, Georgiana dumped the contents of her backpack onto the floor, fished her Spanish book out of the pile, and flung herself onto her bed. She opened the book to a page depicting a beach in Ibiza, and her mind leapt immediately to Courtney on the beach with the pool boy.
In early February, Courtney had called Georgiana, blaming her father for her lies at the hearing. “He told me exactly what I had to say, or he’d send me to military school. Did you know they actually have them for girls?” Instead, Courtney’s father had sent her to a boarding school in Connecticut.
Georgiana was glad to have her friend back, even at a distance. She’d had few friends in the first place, and once news of her shoplifting arrest had filtered through the school, she’d felt the disdainful stares of the popular girls following her down the halls between classes. She had drifted into the orbit of the rebels, girls who chain-smoked on the athletic field during lunch, left an extra button or two—or three—undone on their uniform blouses, and wore too much eyeliner. She was learning more about their petty crimes than she wanted to know; thank goodness spring break was coming up.
“Quiero ir a la playa,” she sighed, and turned her attention to her book.
“I can’t believe there’s nothing available in this whole city.” Elizabeth drew a line through another apartment listing on the page in front of her. “Nothing affordable, anyway.”
“Especially not when you factor William into the equation,” Sonya remarked, glancing up from the computer. “He thinks you need a Fifth Avenue address with a good view of the park and a maid’s room.”
“It’s a shame our sublet fell through.”
Elizabeth had found the perfect solution to her temporary housing dilemma—or thought she had—when Charlotte accepted a job at Columbia University. Although her post-doctoral fellowship didn’t start until August, Charlotte had decided to move to New York ahead of time “to keep you company, Liz,” staunchly maintaining that her early arrival had nothing to do with being close to Richard.
Unfortunately, the small but cheerful Upper West Side sublet, located by Sonya in one of her everyday miracles, had been heavily damaged in a kitchen fire the day before Charlotte and Elizabeth’s move-in date. It would be uninhabitable for at least two months, leaving them scrambling to find alternate living quarters.
“Are you sure you need an apartment?” Sonya asked. “You seem to be settling in pretty well here, all things considered.”
“It’s still more than three months till the wedding.”
Sonya shook her head slowly. “It may take us longer than that to find a furnished apartment with a short-term lease that doesn’t cost a fortune. We might as well be searching Central Park for a unicorn and insisting on a specific color.”
“I know,” Elizabeth replied with a sigh. “But it’s awkward being here.”
Rose had invited Elizabeth to stay at the townhouse, and Elizabeth had accepted the invitation as a temporary solution. “Temporary?” Rose had replied, shaking her head. “Nonsense. This will be your home after the wedding in any case; there’s no need for you to live elsewhere.”
Elizabeth suspected that Rose had another reason for her hospitality. Certainly she knew that wherever Elizabeth lived, William would spend most of his time. By keeping Elizabeth under the Darcy roof, Rose could keep William there, too.
She wished he were there now. Two days after Elizabeth’s arrival in New York, he had departed for concert dates in London and Edinburgh. “How am I supposed to do without you for the next two weeks?” he had grumbled, pulling her into his arms during a stolen moment in his sitting room.
“I know. But at least I’ll be here when you get back.”
“Uh huh. Here, in the Darcy Family Monastery.”
Elizabeth would have found his long-suffering air comic had she not shared his frustration. But she hadn’t changed her mind about nocturnal activities in the house.
“I have to admit,” she said to Sonya, “if Mrs. Darcy hadn’t invited me to stay, I don’t know what I would have done.” Even Sally’s couch was spoken for at present.
“You must feel like you’re navigating shark-infested waters, especially until William gets back,” Sonya remarked. “I was surprised you didn’t go with him to London.”
“Char and I expected to be moving into the apartment, and I needed to be here for that. By the time we found out how serious the fire damage was, it was too late to change my plans.”
“Well, I give you credit; you’re handling things well so far.”
“I’ve only been here for five days. How much trouble could I have gotten into so soon?”
Sonya chuckled. “That’s more than enough time, in this house. But Mrs. Darcy seems to like you. That’s a major achievement, considering that you’ve come to steal her grandson.”
“She’s been kind to me,” Elizabeth replied, though Rose had also been cool and remote. But that was Rose in a nutshell.
“And you’re doing better with Georgie than you probably think. I know she acts like it’s a major inconvenience to utter two syllables in a row, but it’s not personal. These days, she’s that way with everyone.”
“She needs some time away from here.”
“I know,” Sonya said with a sigh. “Eleanor and Robert offered to take her to Pemberley over spring break.”
“That’s a great idea.”
“It would have been, but Mrs. Darcy said no.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Does Georgie know about it?”
“No, thank goodness.” Sonya lowered her voice. “Just between us, I think Mrs. Darcy’s going overboard with the restrictions. I’m not saying she should let Georgie run all over town unsupervised—that’s basically what happened last fall, and we know how that turned out. But the poor girl spends too much time alone in her room brooding.”
Elizabeth nodded. “It might sound weird to say, but thank goodness for her community service.”
“I agree. It gets her out of the house, and she seems to enjoy it.” Sonya straightened an already-neat stack of papers on her desk and then stood up. “I have to go. My son is home for a visit, and he actually set tonight aside for dinner with his ancient, decrepit mother. He’s even cooking.”
“Wow! His mother must have raised him right.”
“We’ll see. I hate to think what the kitchen is going to look like by the time he’s done.”
“How’s his cooking?”
“I’ll let you know on Monday.” Sonya paused in the doorway. “We’ll do some more apartment hunting next week. Just don’t get your hopes up.”
“I know. Thanks for the help, and have a great weekend.”
It was strange to be sitting in church with the Darcys. For one thing, Elizabeth had never been a regular churchgoer; for another, she still had trouble remembering that in only a few months, she would be one of the Darcys. For now, she was a “Darcy-in-training,” as Richard liked to call her.
Elizabeth yawned, earning her a glance from Richard, but fortunately Rose didn’t notice; her eyes never strayed from the rector. It amused Elizabeth to see bluff, irreverent Richard reduced to a cowering schoolboy by his grandmother. “It’s not that I’m afraid of her,” he had explained once when she teased him about it. “It’s just that things go more smoothly if you fly under her radar as much as possible.” That was easier said than done when you were the “promised bride of the heir to the throne,” another phrase Richard liked to toss around.
After the service came the second stage of the Darcy family’s Sunday ritual: brunch at the townhouse. Elizabeth had attended Sunday brunch over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and she knew what to expect: Bloody Marys and desultory conversation in the library, followed by a sumptuous meal in the dining room.
And so there she sat in the library, surrounded by William’s family, without his warm presence beside her. She could sense all three Fitzwilliams going out of their way to make her feel at home, and she did her best to chat brightly with them while Rose listened and Georgiana stared out the window. Conversation with Eleanor, Robert, and Richard would ordinarily have been an easy task, but a wave of longing for William washed over her, emptying her mind of everything but him. He belonged next to her, his arm resting on the sofa back behind her, his foot nudging hers when he thought no one would notice, his smile communicating a private source of amusement that only she would understand. She closed her eyes and inhaled a deep breath to calm herself.
When she opened her eyes, she found Rose watching her, eyebrows aloft in a silent question. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Darcy,” she said, mentally smacking herself for the show of weakness. “What did you ask?”
“I asked if you had a good dinner with your friend yesterday. What was her name?”
“Sally. Yes, it was good to see her.”
“Did you speak to William last night?”
“Um … y-yes, I did.” Elizabeth commanded herself to stop stammering. After all, Rose couldn’t read minds. At least, Elizabeth hoped not, given the heated nature of last night’s phone call.
“He said he was going to call me,” Georgiana mumbled. “Guess he lost my phone number.”
“I’m sure he’ll call you today,” Elizabeth said. “He didn’t call me till late, and he said he was tired.” She tried not to think about what she had done—or at least what she had said—that had left him too exhausted for anything but sleep.
Georgiana shrugged. “Whatever.”
“Have you both remembered that the Scofields arrive later today?” Rose asked.
“Yes,” Elizabeth said. “And I made sure I hadn’t left anything in the sitting room.”
Elizabeth was occupying one of the fourth-floor guest rooms. Rose’s friends, Dorothy and Hubert Scofield, were about to move into the other one. The two guest rooms shared a sitting room, but Elizabeth had volunteered to cede the room to the Scofields for the duration of their visit.
“Don’t expect to get any sleep,” Georgiana muttered, still looking out the window. “She talks all the time and he snores so loud they can probably hear him at the North Pole.”
“Georgiana Darcy,” Rose snapped, “you will not speak that way about my dear friends.”
“But she’s telling the truth,” Richard stage-whispered to Elizabeth, earning him a quelling stare from Rose.
Soon after that, they moved into the dining room. During the meal, Eleanor attempted, with great determination and at least some success, to get Georgiana to talk.
“How are things going with community service?” Eleanor asked.
“Good,” Georgiana replied.
“How many days per week do you go up there?” Elizabeth asked.
Elizabeth hesitated, but then plowed ahead with her request. “Would it be okay if I went with you one day next week?”
Georgiana cast a sidelong glance at Elizabeth. “Why?”
“It’s the teacher in me. I know their funds are limited, and I’m interested in seeing how their after-school program works.”
“I’ve heard that they do great things for the kids,” Eleanor said. “I’m sure it would be interesting to see it firsthand.”
Elizabeth nodded. “I also thought maybe the foundation could sponsor a music education program at the school.”
Georgiana’s eyes widened. “Oh.”
“That might be possible,” Rose said. “Of course, they would have to prepare a grant application.”
Georgiana’s eyes were already back on her plate, but she shrugged and said, “I guess you can come.”
Eleanor’s gaze met Elizabeth’s across the table and she mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
During her short time residing at the townhouse, Elizabeth had discovered two topics that could coax answers longer than two words from Georgiana: tales of William’s younger days, and stories of her community service experiences. Elizabeth used the latter topic to keep the conversation alive on the drive home from the elementary school in Washington Heights where Georgiana was assisting. In fact, as Allen steered the family’s Mercedes down Broadway through the usual heavy traffic, Georgiana became positively chatty.
“Did you hear Ms. Martinez ask if I wanted to keep helping them after my community service is finished?”
“No, I didn’t, but that’s great! Did you say yes?”
“I wanted to, but Gran hates that I come up here. She’ll never let me come back once I don’t have to anymore.”
“Maybe I can help you to convince her. You know, she just wants to keep you safe.”
Georgiana rolled her eyes. “Like I’m in so much danger with Allen driving me everywhere.” She shoved her hair behind her ear. “It’s so embarrassing, going outside with the students and he’s waiting for me in this big, ugly car.”
Elizabeth didn’t need to ask why it was embarrassing. Most of the students were children of Dominican immigrants, some struggling to afford the most basic necessities. The Darcy family probably spent more in a month than all of the students’ families combined spent in a year. “I talked to Ms. Martinez about applying to the foundation for a grant. She has some great ideas for music enrichment programs.”
“I heard you talking to her. Do you think Will and Gran will give them a grant?”
“With both of us nagging them, I don’t see how they can refuse. Maybe we can discuss some ideas with Ms. Martinez on Thursday.” Elizabeth had already obtained Georgiana’s consent to accompany her to the school again later in the week.
Georgiana turned a genuine smile on Elizabeth, who was struck by its resemblance to William’s most irresistible grin.
“In fact, maybe your services could be part of the grant award,” Elizabeth said. “You’re so good with the kids, Georgie.”
“I love working with them. I wish I could be a teacher.” Georgiana’s gaze dropped to her lap. “But that’ll never happen.”
“Why not?” Elizabeth wished she could withdraw the question the moment she asked it. She knew the answer.
“Gran might let me be a lawyer or banker. That wasn’t proper for a lady in her day, but she might say yes.”
“She’s modernized her views that much, at least.”
“But teaching? She’d say it was beneath me.” Georgiana shook her head, huffing air through her nostrils. Then she grimaced. “Oh. Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Elizabeth replied. “You know, once you’re older you can make your own choices.”
Georgiana scoffed. “Not if you’re a Darcy.”
“William followed his own path.”
“That was because of our mother. Besides, being a famous concert pianist is a lot different from being a schoolteacher.”
Elizabeth couldn’t argue with that. “Still, if it’s what you want to do, don’t give up. I think you’d be a fantastic teacher.”
Georgiana sat back and inspected her fingernails. Although she was obviously trying to suppress any response, Elizabeth could tell that she was pleased with the compliment.
“You were even good with the kids who didn’t speak English. Your Spanish is excellent—although mine is so rusty, I’m not much of a judge. I should have you tutor me.”
“Working at the school gives me lots of practice.”
“It’s lucky that you were already taking Spanish before you started coming up here.”
Georgiana was silent for a moment. “I guess,” she said softly. “But there’s another language that would help me even more.”
“Oh? I guess French is a more appropriate choice for a Darcy?”
Georgiana bit her lip, and from her intense stare, Elizabeth expected her to speak again. But the light in her eyes died and she turned away, staring out the window. They rode the rest of the way to the townhouse in silence, which Elizabeth filled by silently berating herself. Just when Georgiana was about to open up, she had said something stupid and ruined it.
Back at the house, as they reached the fourth-floor landing together, Georgiana asked, “Are you staying home tonight?”
“No, I’m meeting Charlotte for dinner.”
Georgiana continued up the stairs, but not before Elizabeth saw a flash of what might have been disappointment in her eyes, improbable as that seemed.
“Georgie, why don’t you join us? We can celebrate the fact that your exams are almost over.”
Georgiana’s answer was slow in coming. “No, I’m tired. Besides, Gran would never let me go.”
“I could ask her if—”
“No. But … thanks.” And with that, Georgiana sprinted up the steps.
Elizabeth shook her head and opened the door to her room. She had once thought William’s armor was impenetrable, but it was nothing compared to Georgiana’s.
“Georgie’s a tough nut to crack, all right,” Charlotte said. She and Elizabeth were sharing a table crammed into a corner at a tiny Indian restaurant in Tribeca. “Richard talks about it, too.”
“Sometimes I think it’s hopeless.” Elizabeth broke off a piece of naan and scooped up the last of the vegetable curry on her plate.
“On the other hand, the kid obviously needs a friend. Maybe if you just hang in there and don’t push, she’ll come around.”
“I’m trying, and sometimes it seems like I’m making progress. In some ways she’s just like William. When he decides to retreat into his shell, he’s just about impossible to reach.”
“But you got through to him.”
“Only because he learned to trust me.”
“Well, there you go.” Charlotte set down her fork. “Some day you may have Georgie eating out of your hand, too. Though I suppose it’s easier with a guy who wants to get into your pants.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Yes and no. Sometimes that complicates things.”
“If you’re talking about your bizarre celibacy rule at the townhouse, I’m on William’s side.”
“Imagine my surprise.” Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Easy for you to pass judgment, when you and Richard have all the privacy you could want.” In January, Richard had moved out of his parents’ Fifth Avenue apartment and into a spacious loft just around the corner from the restaurant.
“When William gets back from his trip, you two should borrow the place for a few days and have a shag-a-thon.”
Elizabeth winced, imagining Richard’s crude remarks in response to such a request. “How do you and Richard like living together?”
Charlotte’s retort was predictable. “As I’ve told you already, we are not living together. I’m just staying at his place temporarily.”
“Right,” Elizabeth drawled.
“Remember the apartment fire? The one that left us homeless?”
“Uh huh. But now that you’re living there—”
“How many times do I have to tell you that Richard and I don’t want to be joined permanently at the hip, or even at some other more intriguing location?”
“I’d remark that the lady doth protest too much, but I know how you hate being called a lady.”
“Cut it out, Liz. I admit, it’s good—no, make that fantastic—being with him right now. And his place is great. Well, you know, you’ve seen it.” Charlotte paused to sip her wine. “But eventually, we’d both feel trapped.”
“Has he asked you to stay?”
“Till I find another place to live? Yes. Permanently? Of course not. He knows as well as I do what a disaster that would be.”
“I don’t get it. You two are nuts about each other.”
“I know you don’t get it. You and Will believe in the happily-ever-after kind of love, and it might even work out that way for you. Richard and I are having fun, but we don’t believe in soulmates.”
Elizabeth grinned but didn’t reply. If ever two people appeared to be true soulmates, it was Richard and Charlotte.
Georgiana heard Elizabeth’s footsteps in the foyer and switched off the lights as a precaution. Elizabeth would probably investigate if she saw light coming from Sonya’s office so late at night. Everyone else was upstairs and safely in bed. In just a few minutes Elizabeth would join them, and Georgiana would be able to stay up reading the diary as late as she wanted with no danger of discovery.
As she waited in the darkness, she stroked its red leather binding, imagining another hand touching the spine and opening the cover. She had considered hiding it upstairs in her room, but what if Mrs. Reynolds found it while cleaning? And Georgiana was afraid to leave the house with it, for fear of losing her precious discovery. So before she went to sleep each night, she tucked it safely into its hiding place in a filing cabinet full of old grant applications.
Reading it was an arduous process. If only her school taught Italian! Spanish had some useful similarities, but she had to rely heavily on an Italian-English dictionary she had found online.
Georgiana had found the diary a few weeks before, after a painstaking search through Darcy Arts Trust files for information about her mother. She had missed the leather-bound volume at first, buried as it was beneath a stack of foundation records. Her investigation had awakened an interest in the foundation, but at first she had learned little about the woman behind its creation. Then, one night, she had found her mother’s diary.
She gazed at the page, tracing a finger over the words written in her mother’s bold, angular handwriting. I wish I could remember you, Mamma. I wish you were here. You would have loved me no matter what. You wouldn’t have hated me for embarrassing you. The words on the page blurred, and Georgiana blinked hard to banish her tears.
No one knew her secret—not William, not Courtney, and certainly not Gran. But what insanity had nearly led her to confide in Elizabeth that afternoon? Fortunately, she had stopped herself in time.
Georgiana heard the distant echo of a door closing. She waited in the dark, fidgeting with a paper clip, until she judged it to be safe. Then she switched on Sonya’s desk lamp. It was time to get back to work.
But first she opened her laptop and checked her email. Her eyes widened when she saw a new message. He had answered! Her heart pounded as she read:
Hey, there, Georgie Girl!
I was surprised to hear from you; I thought your brother would have poisoned your mind against me. I’m impressed that you’re deciding for yourself instead. I’m also impressed that you managed to find my email address at work. Smart and independent—I can already tell that you’re a lot like your mother.
I’ll be happy to answer your questions about her. She was a wonderful woman who meant the world to me, and who loved you with all her heart. And I promise to tell you the truth, unlike your family; they’ll only tell you what they want you to believe.
Ask away, but let’s use my personal email account; that’s what I’m using to send this email. And if you’d rather talk instead of emailing, you can reach me on my cell phone at 202-555-1234.
She clicked “Reply” and then hesitated, wondering what to ask first. It was going to be a long night.