Terms of Surrender(6)By: Shirley Rogers
Mr. Danson looked at Tanya. "He cared very deeply for you, as well, young lady."
Trying not to cry, Tanya blinked. "I know, but I don't understand why I'm even here." She didn't look at David. She couldn't, not without feeling a rush of resentment and disappointment in him. And in spite of that, she had to deal with her damned attraction to him. It was insulting just to think about.
"I'm getting to that," the lawyer promised. "As I said, David, you stand to inherit the entire estate. However, there's a stipulation that involves Miss Winters." He glanced from one to the other, his face somber as his gaze paused on David. "Keep in mind that these were his wishes, and he was very specific about them. In order to inherit Cottonwood Plantation, you must live here—"
"What?" David came to his feet.
Danson held up his hand, staving further comment. "There's more. He's also stipulated that, in addition, Miss Winters is to be kept on as the manager for as long as she desires."
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"This is ridiculous! Hell, it's not even feasible!" David slammed his hands flat on his father's desk, confronting Clifford Danson. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "I have a business in Atlanta to run. My life is there. I can't live here."
The lawyer lowered his reading glasses to the edge of his nose as he shook his head, the look in his eyes indicating that he understood the dilemma but was powerless to help solve it. "I'm sorry," he apologized, as if the situation were somehow his fault. "The terms of the will are spelled out in very specific language. In order to receive your inheritance, you must live here. That's not negotiable."
Straightening, David looked around, then again leveled his gaze on the older man. "How long?"
"For the term of one full year."
"A year," he repeated with disgust. His hands went to his hips. "And if I don't agree to these ludicrous terms?"
"You'll forfeit everything."
The room fell into deafening silence. David's attention shifted to Tanya. Every nerve ending in his body came alive as he looked at her. Her eyes were wide with what he construed to be shock, her lips nearly white. The reading of the will had staggered her, as well.
Or had it? his mind taunted. Had Tanya been manipulating Edward, waiting for his demise, so she could benefit from his illness? Though his body seemed to respond to her on a million levels, he didn't really know her, did he? Was she capable of such deceit? When he'd pressed her about her relationship with his father, she'd unequivocally denied anything intimate. But that didn't mean that she wasn't after his father's money.
More determined than ever to find out, he turned his attention back to the lawyer. "If I don't accept these terms, what happens to Cottonwood?"
Danson cleared his throat. He picked up the will and flipped a few pages. "Pursuant to the terms of the will," he began reading verbatim from the document, "the aforementioned—"
"Skip the jargon and get to the point," David demanded.
"All right." The lawyer dropped the papers to the desk. "In the event that you decide not to make Cottonwood your permanent home for one year, Miss Winters will inherit the entire estate."
"What?" Tanya gasped. David whirled to face her, his expression furious. "I had no idea that Edward had done this," Tanya blurted out, floored by the terms of the will. David was staring at her as if she were the devil. And why not? What had Edward been thinking when he'd instructed his lawyer to make such a crazy stipulation? "I love my job and I want to continue working here, but the plantation belongs to you. No matter what's written in the will."
"Now if Tanya decides to leave on her own accord, you'll inherit free and clear." The lawyer gathered the legal documents in front of him, stuffed them into his briefcase, then stood and walked around the desk. "That's pretty much the extent of the terms. I've left a copy of the will for you to read." He shook hands with David.
Turning to Tanya, his expression gentled as he took her hand in his and held it a moment before letting go. "Let me know if I can do anything for you. Edward was very insistent that he didn't want you to worry about anything. Please contact me when you've made your decisions. I'll see myself out."
Tanya watched the lawyer leave, then flinched when she met David's hard stare. She could imagine how he felt, and despite the fact that he didn't seem to trust her, her heart went out to him. Edward had put them both in quite a predicament. "David, I'm telling you the truth. I didn't know a thing about your father's intentions."