Disclaimer: The characters and events in this story are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or events is coincidental and not intended. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form without permission of the Author. Additional Disclaimer: There's a mixture of real and fake places in this story. The cities named are real. However, the places (such as addresses and Brier Wood, the exception being the Marion County Courthouse) are not – they are just figments of my imagination. Please no reviews about how there really isn't a 2487 #12 South Emerson Ave, Indianapolis, IN (or that it's actually a house, or whatever). If they are someone's residence, my using it is purely coincidence.

A/N: With that being said, welcome to my first story posted on FictionPress! With much encouragement from various folks (including a reviewer from another site where this is posted as well), I've decided to take the plunge and see what people here think of this story.

I encourage reviews and constructive criticism, but please bear in mind that, although I am simply a bunch of words on your computer screen, I still have feelings. I do not ask that you walk on eggshells, by any means, only that you concisely criticize the work, and not the author herself (can anyone tell I'm nervous?).

This story has taken me a long time to write and is nearly complete. I will try to post a chapter a day here until I have caught up with myself. Any Author's Notes will appear at the end of all subsequent chapters and, if I receive any reviews, I will reply to you there.

And now, I'll hush! Enjoy!



Brier Wood

Prologue

"Hello?"

The phone call wasn't the worst thing that had happened to Davi, but it certainly made the top five on her list.

"Davina Noelle Marshall?"

"Yes?"

The voice on the other end sounded tired. His words came out in a slow drawl and were almost painfully enunciated.

"My name is Bartholomew Adams. I have been appointed as the personal representative for your father, Mister Connor Marshall."

Like she didn't know her own father's name.

"I am calling to inform you that the execution of his last will and testament is being held at eleven o'clock on Thursday, the sixth of April, at the Marion County Courthouse, room three-twelve."

Silence.

"I'm sorry…The…what?"

"The reading of your father's will."

"I don't…think I understand. Why would you be reading his will if he isn't dead yet?"

There was a pause on the other end of the phone. In the silence, Davi felt her heart flutter painfully in her chest.

"Miss Marshall…no one called you?"

Dread threatened to choke her and she grabbed the orange prescription bottle that sat in the middle of the table.

"Miss Marshall…I'm sorry to be the bearer of such terrible news. Your father died two weeks ago."

The pills spilled out around her hand, making soft plinks against the table.

"No…no, that can't be right. I just talked to him…"

A little over two weeks ago, she realized. They had fought over…something…something so stupid that she couldn't even remember what it was now.

"I am sorry, Miss Marshall." Another pause. "Your presence is required at the execution."

Davi shivered at his words.

"April sixth…" Her eyes wandered to the calendar on the fridge. "That's in three days! There's no way – "

"As a possible devisee, you are required to attend, Miss Marshall. At the most, it will take a few hours. After that, you are free to return home."

She looked around her tiny apartment with its meager furnishings and even sparser decorations. This was her home?

Davi closed her eyes briefly. "Could you give me the information again?" she asked, softly.

***

The Marion County Courthouse was a red brick, square structure with flat granite columns on its face. From the front, it looked very small, more like a large house than a government building, but as Davi pushed through the heavy wood doors, she realized that it was longer than it was wide. Her heels made sharp clicks on the parquet and attracted the attention of a plump woman with a ready smile who sat behind a large desk.

"May I help you, dear?"

Davi's fingers tightened around the strap of her purse. "I'm looking for room three-twelve," she said, not liking the way her voice whispered from her throat.

The woman nodded. "Just down that hall and up the stairs until you reach the top," she said. "It will be the second door on your left."

Davi looked in the direction the woman pointed, trying to banish the sudden dizzy feeling that assaulted her. "Thank you."

The carpet along the hall and stairs deadened the sound of her steps, and her hand made faint squeaking noises on the metal banister. She dug a tissue out of her purse, wiping away the sweat that coated her palms.

Second door on my left, she repeated over and over, as though it were some sort of mantra that would put her nerves at ease.

She twisted the silver knob, pushed open the heavy door and stepped into room three-twelve.

There had to be over two-dozen people in the room and the weight of more than twenty-four pairs of eyes suddenly falling on her made Davi's breath come in shallow gasps. She didn't recognize any of them; at least, she didn't recognize their blurry outlines.

A firm hand gripped her arm and she felt herself led forward, felt herself pushed into a seat.

"Would you like a glass of water, Miss Marshall?"

The voice was the same one that she had heard on the phone three days ago. Closing her eyes, she nodded, blindly searching in her purse for her pills. She dry swallowed two before the water was set before her.

"Now that we are all here," Mr. Adams said. "We can begin the execution of Mr. Marshall's estate."

Davi opened her eyes and looked directly in front of her. A heavy man, presumably Mr. Adams, sat at the other end of the table. As he moved, his suit strained at the seams and Davi found herself holding her breath, waiting for one of them to split. He ran a hand across the top of his head, flattening the few wisps of hair that tried valiantly to cover his baldness. The sunlight pouring through the large windows to his right reflected from a pair of wire rim glasses as he looked down and opened a thick leather binder.

"'Last will and testament of Connor Matthews Marshall. I, Connor Matthews Marshall, a resident of Bradfordsville, Kentucky, being of sound and disposing mind and memory..."

Davi lost focus as Mr. Adams spoke. She watched as his mouth moved, felt a few people shift around her, but she couldn't seem to hear what was being said.

Her father was dead.

How could this have happened? Logically, she knew how it could happen – it happened all the time to people all over the world. It wasn't like death was a new concept. But how it could happen to her father…Davi just couldn't understand. The fact that one day he had been here and the next gone just didn't fit into any kind of reasoning that made sense to her.

The fact that no one had bothered to call her…that was another thing she couldn't figure out. Surely, her father had left contact information in case of an emergency…

Or maybe not. After sending her away, he had made it very clear that she wasn't to come back – not even for visits.

Davi twisted the tissue in her hands and she pressed her mouth into a firm line. She would not cry in front of all these people.

"…Noelle Marshall, resident of Twenty-four, eighty-seven, number twelve, South Emerson Avenue, Indianapolis, Indiana, I will, give, and bequeath Brier Wood Farm in its entirety-"

An enraged objection met this and Davi's attention focused again on Mr. Adams. His lips pursed as he looked over the rim of his glasses toward the source of the interruption. Something heavy slammed onto the table and a shadow fell over the dowdy man.

"She has no right to the farm!" The voice filled the room with textures of heated velvet that coated a furious burr. "She hasn't even been there in ten years!"

Davi furrowed her brow. That voice…she vaguely recognized that voice…Her eyes sought out its source, but with the large windows behind the figure she could only see a tall dark silhouette.

Mr. Adams cleared his throat. "If you will let me finish?" A disgruntled silence answered him. "As I was saying, 'I bequeath Brier Rose Farm in its entirety, provided the following stipulations are met. One: That my daughter, Davina Noelle Marshall, take up residence at the estate of Brier Wood Farm no more than one month after my death."

Davi blinked and drew in a breath between parted lips. No…

"'Two: That my daughter, Davina Noelle Marshall, remain in residence at the estate of Brier Wood Farm for no less than twelve months.'"

Oh, God, no…

"'After the term of twelve months, the estate of Brier Wood Farm will belong solely to my daughter, Davina Noelle Marshall, to retain or sell as she sees fit. Should any of the aforementioned stipulations not be met, Davina Noelle Marshall will receive no inheritance, any current monetary support given by me, the testator, will cease, and the ownership of the estate of Brier Wood Farm will be converted to Marion County.'"

Mr. Adams stopped talking, slowly closed his leather binder and then looked up. He seemed startled to see Davi staring back at him. The charged silence in the room stretched. Mr. Adams cleared his throat and nervously adjusted his tie.

"Is that it?" someone asked.

She stared at Mr. Adams' thin mouth as he nodded. In the light pouring into the room, she could just make out the sheen of sweat over his upper lip. He had said, three days ago, that she would be able to go home after this, but he…he had lied to her. And now…now she was being forced back to the one place she never wanted see again. Her father had been taking care of everything – perhaps out of guilt – and, without him to support her, she wouldn't be able to stay in school, wouldn't be able to pay her rent, bills, buy food, gas…wouldn't have anything.

Again.

"Miss Marshall?"

Mr. Adams' eyes were still on Davi. She knew that the blood had drained from her face, that her eyes were too wide. When had the room become so hot? When had it become so small? When had everyone huddled so close to her? Couldn't they tell she couldn't breathe? White began to hedge around the corners of her vision.

She wouldn't, couldn't, go back to the farm. Just the thought of it made her stomach twist upward toward her throat, made her mouth water in an unpleasant way.

"Miss Marshall? Are you ill?"

Of course she was ill. Couldn't they see that? Didn't they know that forcing her to go back to that place was the reason? The walls pressed closer around her, the white intruded farther, and Davi knew she was going to be sick all over the table.

She jerked backward, got unsteadily to her feet and stumbled out of the room. For the first time in three days, Luck shined Her benevolence on the young woman; she found the bathroom just as her breakfast heaved up out of her stomach and touched the back of her throat.

Because going back to Brier Wood would kill her.