They had camped out in itthough Michael would hardly call it camping, in something as sturdy and weatherproof as thatand it had been a self-important clubhouse for some secret society at one time. It was kept in good order, but no one used it at all now Ben's friends were all grown up. They had held barbecues, played cricket and croquet on the lawns, messed about in boats on the lake, and everyone had had great fun. Ben might want to live here when he got married and had kids, which he would do sooner or later. No, he'd hang on to the Grange for the moment.
Anyway, he liked being able to host parties and business gatherings herehe was very fond of Stoke Weston, and enjoyed showing it off. And he took not a little pride in the fact that he was a one-man job provider; wherever possible, he employed people from the village in his various enterprises. He knew who he could trust, and what capabilities they had to offer, so it suited him, and the resentment that might have been felt at this upstart in the villagers' midst was totally absent.
Fine snow began to fall, shaking Michael from his reverie. As he went into the house, he could hear Ben on the phone to someone. He had come home for the weekend for a friend's twenty-first birthday party, and was going back tonight. Michael leaned the golf bag silently against the wall, and listened.
". . . but I'll be gone by then, I don't want to go without seeing you at all. I've missed you. I always miss youyou know that. Can't you get the time off? Ask to leave early? Good. So you'll meet me there? You know where they are, don't you? Nonot them. The ones on Waring Road. They're only about five minutes from the bingo club. They're emptyhe's just had them done up, but they're not on the market yet. Yesthat's the ones. It's quicker to come on foot through the alleyway from Murchison Placethe one-way system takes you miles off the route. I'll be in number three. OK, Stephen, see you at half past eight or so."
Michael frowned, then let the door close with a bang, and went along the hallway to the sitting room. Perhaps he'd misheard. He'd thought Ben had finished with that sort of nonsense years ago.
Ben rose from the sofa with the easy grace that he had inherited from Josephine, along with her dark hair. Michael's was sandy and, these days, sparse.
As he thought of her, Michael looked quickly down at the thickly piled carpet. It had been seventeen years since she'd died, and he still felt tears prick the back of his eyes when she came into his mind. She had married him when he was twenty years old, and hadn't enough money even to take her out for a meal, and she had given him the capital he needed to open his first betting shop. She had been ten years older than him, and everyone had thought she was mad, that he'd married her for the money, but that wasn't how it was at all.
And she had been right to believe in him: the betting shop had turned into shops in the plural, and he had expanded into bingo clubs, nightclubs, and the Lucky Seven casino, making himself a millionaire several times over. That was when he'd bought the Grange. Now, as Ben had just mentioned on the phone, he was moving into property development. He had repaid Josephine's investment with handsome interest, despite her protests that she was his wife, and didn't want the money back. She had put it all into a trust for Ben, then just a baby, to be paid out on his twenty-first, and that, unbelievably, was just three months away. Time moved on at an alarming rate.
He looked up with a determined smile, not wanting to embarrass Ben with his show of emotion. "Not really. Ray sees me as some sort of income supplement."
Excerpted from Unlucky for Some by Jill McGown Copyright © 2005 by Jill McGown. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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