Home > Austenland (Austenland #1)(3)

Austenland (Austenland #1)(3)
Shannon Hale

Jane hung up and sat down, forcing herself not to think about the will, spending a few moments with the thought of the woman who’d loved Harold’s face, who’d wasted three decades of loving, who’d ripped open Jane’s chest and laid out what she saw. She had not known Carolyn well enough to grieve, only to feel softened, mystified by the idea of death.

And yet, Carolyn had thought of Jane enough to scratch her name into the will. What would she leave a near-stranger relative? Carolyn had a large family so the amount couldn’t be much, but then again the rumors of her great-aunt’s wealth were legendary. Enough to move her into an apartment with air-conditioning? Enough to retire?

Jane balked at that thought. It wasn’t so much that she loved her job—it wasn’t bad work, doing graphic design at the magazine, but it was, you know, a job. She couldn’t knock such a nice piece of stability somewhere to go every day, something (unlike men) that didn’t rip the rug out from under her and send her sprawling. But on the subway ride to the attorney’s, Jane wondered, if she were tempted with a huge sum, would she fold? Would she quit her job and buy a house in the Hamptons and adopt a miniature poodle named Porridge who peed on the carpet?

These questions and alternate names for the poodle kept her mind busy as she traveled up into the law firm’s sleek gray building, up into the conservative burgundy and tan office, down into a stuffed leather chair to hear the extraordinarily pale lawyer say, “You’re not rich.”

“What?”

“In fact, she didn’t leave you any money at all.” His every blink was slow and deliberate, reminding Jane of a frog. “People often hope, so I like to get that out up front.”

Jane laughed uneasily. “Oh, I wasn’t thinking that.”

“Of course.” The attorney sat down and sorted through a stack of papers with no wasted movement. He was saying something in lawyer-ese, but Jane was distracted. She was trying to figure out what besides the measured blinking made him seem so amphibious. His taut, shiny complexion, she decided. And his eyes being so wide apart. And his salad green tone. (Okay, he wasn’t actually green, but the rest was true.)

He was still talking. “Our client was . . . eclectic . . . in her will. She made purchases for a few friends and family members and left the bulk of her money to charities. For you, she arranged a vacation.”

He handed her a glossy, oversized pamphlet. On the cover was a photograph of a large manor house. A man in jacket, cravat, and breeches, and a woman in an empirewaist dress and bonnet were walking in the foreground. They seemed awfully content. Jane’s hands went cold.

She read the elegantly inserted text.

Pembrook Park, Kent, England Enter our doors as a house guest come to stay three weeks, enjoying the country manners and hospitality—-a tea visit, a dance or two, a turn in the park, an unexpected meeting with a certain gentleman, all culminating with a ball and perhaps something more.

Here, the Prince Regent still rules a carefree England. No scripts. No written endings. A holiday no one else can offer you. “I don’t get it.”

“It’s an all-inclusive, three-week vacation in England. From I gather, you dress up and pretend to be someone in the year 1816.” The attorney handed her a packet. “It also comes with a first-class plane ticket. The vacation is nonrefundable, my client saw to that. But if you do need cash, you could exchange the first-class airfare for economy class and pocket the change. I make such suggestions whenever I can. I like to be helpful.”

Jane hadn’t looked away from the pamphlet. The man and woman in the photo held her gaze like a magician’s swaying watch. She hated them and adored them, longed to be that woman but needed to stay firmly in New York City in the present day and pretend she had no such odd fantasies. No one guessed her thoughts, not her mother, not her closest friends. But Great- Aunt Carolyn had known.

“Pocket the change,” she said distractedly.

“Just make certain you report it to the IRS.”

“Right.” Seemed odd, that Carolyn would point out this flaw in her poor, pathetic great-niece and then send her right into the belly of the beast. Jane groaned. “I’m hopeless.”

“What was that?”

“Um, did I say that out loud? Anyway, I’m not hopeless, that’s the problem. I’m too hopeful, if anything.” She sat up, leaning against his desk. “If I were to tell you my first dozen boyfriend stories, you’d call me screwy for ever going out with anyone again. But I have! I’m so thick-headed it’s taken me this long to give up on men, but I can’t give up completely, you know? So I.. . I channel all my hope into an idea, to someone who can’t reject me because he isn’t real!”

The lawyer straightened a stack of papers. “I think I should clarify, Miss Hayes, that I did not mean to flirt. I am a happily married man.

Jane gaped. “Uh, of course you are. My mistake. I’ll just be going now.” She grabbed her purse and split.

The elevator dropped her back at street level, and even after stepping through the doors, the ground still felt as though it were falling away under her feet. She fell/walked all the way back to work and into her gray rollerchair.

Todd the manager was at her cubicle the moment her chair squeaked.

“How you doin’, Jane?” he asked in his oft-affected pseudoSopranos accent.

“Fine.”

She stared. He had a new haircut. His white blond hair was now spiked with an incredible amount of pomade that smelled of raspberries, a do that could only be carried off with true success by a fifteen-year-old boy wielding an impressive and permanent glare. Todd was grinning. And forty-three. Jane wondered if politeness required her to offer a compliment on something glaringly obvious.

“Uh. . . you, your hair is different.”

“Hey, girls always notice the hair. Right? Isn’t that basically right?”

“I guess I just proved it,” she said sadly.

“Super. Hey, listen,” he sat on the edge of her desk, “we’ve got a last-minute addition that needs special attention. It may seem like your basic stock photo array, but don’t be fooled! This is for the all-important page sixteen layout. I’d give this one to your basic interns, but I’m choosing you because I think you’d do a super job. What d’you say?”

“Sure thing, Todd.”

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