A/N: It has been so long since I've posted anything up on FP. In all honesty it feels kind of weird and I have been struggling to let this story loose. But none the less, here I am with something new! It's going to be different from what I usually write, and is filled with a bit more adult material. Nonetheless, I hope you guys enjoy and as usual, your feedback is much appreciated. Enough babbling from me and enjoy :)
CHAPTER ONE – THE ELLWOODS
Ardin Ellwood observed her surroundings in numbing silence, uncertain of how to react to the sea of strangers and people who were her 'family'. Her forest green eyes scanned the vicinity, only able to see an ocean of black as silent sobs echoed within the large, hollow church. In the background, the lovely sound of the church choir singing Amazing Grace rebounded off the thick walls, as the organist pounded the keys of the organ with deep feeling and precision.
She was unsure of what to do as she sat in utter shock, unable to fully comprehend the fact that her cousin, James Ellwood, was dead at the age of 24. Eyes darting towards her uncle seated with his immediate family, her throat knotted at the stoic expression etched across his once youthful face.
Uncle Charlie had always been a warm and rather happy man. Although her memories of him were few and vague, Ardin could always recall the genuine grin on his face during the few times he visited her with his two children, James and Preston. And now, the memory was nothing but forever tainted with melancholy as she realized James would never be a part of the picture again.
She had heard that cancer had been the cause for James' death and Ardin couldn't help but feel a deep sense of grief. For someone who was so full of life and aspirations, the disease had taken everything away. During the eulogies, there was one thing that was common in all the speeches: 'James Ellwood was bright, lively and had such a fire for life.'
From what she had heard, James had been great at what he did, even at such a young age he had made an impact on many peoples' lives. He had excelled in college, topping the class at number one. His name was known to the business world and many large corporate companies had offered him numerous high paying positions in their firms, but James had chosen to stay with Ellwood Empire. James Ellwood had high hopes of taking over the family business and everybody had believed he would be able to do it one day.
The thing that would forever disturb Ardin would be the simple fact that James' dreams of managing Ellwood Empire will never be fulfilled. His high hopes in excelling further in business, in travelling and marrying in the future would dissipate along with him…
It appeared there would always be something that got the better of us, and for James, leukemia had invaded his body and metastasized until he could fight it no more.
Feeling heaviness in her chest, Ardin inhaled deeply as an eerie silence engulfed her as the song ended. The shuffling of feet could be heard as the church choir exited the stage, but she wasn't really listening anymore.
A warm hand rested on her pale arm which caused her to break out of her reverie, her gaze lifting to meet her father's probing stare. Realizing the church was half empty and there were people leaving, she smiled weakly up at her father as he squeezed her hand in a reassuring manner.
"You okay?" came Alston Ellwood's soothing voice as his daughter Ardin nodded in response.
He took her cold hand in his warm one and led her out the frosty church, to their car. He may have been away from the Ellwood family for a long time, however his brother Charles needed him now more than anything, and he would face his father's wrath for him. Bracing himself for the turmoil that was to come, he recalled that there had been a lot of unfinished business between his father and him. Squaring his shoulders, he inhaled deeply, ready for whatever his father, Edward Ellwood, had in store for his return…
"My condolences Charles," Mrs. Bertie bid as Charles Ellwood could only nod in response.
He was grief-stricken as a few more relatives and close family friends gave their sympathies. He would have never predicted that this would have ever happened – the day when he would witness the death of his own child – the day when his son died before him. Able to feel a sharp pain in his chest at the thought of his eldest son, Charles rubbed away at the fresh tears that had formed in his eyes.
The pat of another's warm hand on his shoulder caused him to straighten, as he shifted his gaze to find his older brother standing beside him, a plate filled with sandwiches held in his hand.
"You need to eat," Alston commanded and took in the sunken features of his little brother. "You need to be strong for Preston right now," he said.
Robotically, Charles grabbed a small sandwich from the plate and took a bite out of it. Food was the last thing on his mind as he allowed his brother to lead him over to a vacant chair by the window. He took a few steps before noticing the figure of a tall, thin looking girl hovering a few meters away, and Charles' features brightened slightly in recognition.
"Is that Ardin?" He asked and the older looking girl stood before him, a sad smile on her beautiful face.
Charles managed a small smile in response and it surprised him further when she leaned forward, her arms spread-eagled, and before he could protest, he was engulfed in a hug. A soothing sensation overtook him as he unconsciously hugged her back, the heartache magnified upon realization that he had missed out on a lot due to the rift within the Ellwood family.
As her voice reached his ears, he found himself easing a little at her kind, feminine tone. "It will be okay, you just need to stay strong." She said and pulled away with a brighter smile on her face.
Eyes darting from his older brother Alston to Ardin, Charles rubbed a hand over his tired eyes.
"Thank you for being here," he said softly, knowing very well the consequences his brother could potentially face at this Ellwood gathering.
As if on cue, the dark haired, grey eyed figure of Edward Ellwood entered the quiet living room, his stance practically demanded order. Shifting to gaze at his brother silently, Charles saw the jaw muscles of Alston's tense. Able to hear the thuds of his father's expensive shoes hitting the wooden floorboards as he approached them, Charles smiled apologetically at his brother. And in response, Alston could only grin a tight grin.
"Well if it isn't my long lost son," came the croakiness of Edward's voice as he stood before his children and granddaughter, an air of authority surrounding him.
Standing tall with steel grey eyes, Edward observed the way his eldest son stood. With his back muscles tensed, and his body half covering his daughter's in a protective manner, Edward felt his heart leap. It had been almost two decades since he'd last seen his eldest son, and perhaps the second time he'd seen his granddaughter since she had been born. It appeared the two of them were doing fine as he studied Ardin.
Staring at him with curious, forest green eyes, Edward noted that the child before him had inherited many of the Ellwood traits. With dark, chocolate brown hair, and a high, aristocratic nose, she stood with refined grace which Edward had only seen in his wife. Taking in her green eyes, it appeared she had inherited that unique color from her mother as he took a drink from his glass.
A sense of pride filled his veins as he stood with a blank expression on his face. Ardin was the first Ellwood girl to be produced within the past ten generations and a part of Edward was pleased that she did not turn out to be soft and weak like her mother. Eying her impassively, Edward lifted his gaze back to meet his son's. Grey clashed with grey, just like their personalities.
"We were here to pay our respects," Alston said in a rather monotonous tone.
Ardin studied the scene before her in silence. It was obvious that the three men were related; they all had the same refined features, the same nose and facial structure. The only difference was that her uncle Charlie was light and pale compared to her grandfather and father who were both dark and tanned.
She could sense the tension between her father and grandfather and noticed the way Uncle Charlie hesitated to get involved. She remembered her deep dislike for Grandpa Edward as she recalled the one time she had met him at her grandmother's funeral. The old man had scared her then, but now as she recalled the memory of him refusing to let both her and her father near the funeral service, she felt a flare of anger.
It had been dark and gloomy that day. The clouds were a murky shade of grey, the words exchanged between her father and Grandpa Edward were harsh and cold. She remembered crying, feeling deeply regretful that she was unable to attend her grandmother's funeral. Grandpa Edward had refused to let both her father and her in and so they had sat in their car and waited for everyone to leave before trekking through the cemetery to deliver their large bouquet of flowers.
Those were the only memories she had of her grandfather as Ardin gazed at him with a look of indifference. It appeared he hadn't changed much, hadn't aged much as he stood before her father in a daunting fashion. The way he moved reminded her of her father as a voice broke the silence.
"Alston was kind enough to come," Charles explained.
"I don't see why he should have bothered considering he's no longer a part of the Ellwood family." Edward stated more to Charles than to Alston. "After all James was my grandson, and he was barely around to be the uncle that he should have been."
Alston clenched his fists. His father seemed to know all the right buttons to push. It was always like this whenever he saw his father – it was always his say and nobody else's. After all these years since he had left the Ellwood household, nothing had changed.
"He was still my nephew," he grounded out.
Ardin placed a hand on her father's arm, and was relieved when he calmed slightly. She knew that this wasn't the time nor place to fight as she eyed her Uncle Charlie who had returned to a distressed state.
Audibly exhaling, Alston nodded his head at Ardin. He wasn't going to cause a scene before family and friends, not when it was a day to remember his nephew, James. He had already endured all the questioning glances and stares as well as a few rather offensive statements only snobby nobles made, he was sure he'd be able to ignore his father's comments too. Turning, he faced his brother and patted him on the back.
"My sincerest apologies Charles," he breathed and his brother patted his arm in response. Turning cool, grey eyes to his father, Alston nodded his head dismissively. "Father," he bid stiffly and walked away before another fight could brew.
Edward watched the way his granddaughter bid a quick farewell before leaving swiftly after her father. Two decades had been a long time as he watched through the window as a black Volkswagen reversed out of the driveway and left. Today may have marked the loss of one grandchild, but it also signified a gaining of another…
Five Months Later
Standing in his extensive, quiet office, furnished with dark oak tables, large comfy black leather chairs and an expensive surround sound system, Edward Ellwood gazed out of the expansive window. With a 180 degree view of the town he had grown up in, he swirled the contents of the aged scotch in his crystal glass, a pensive glaze to his eyes. Taking a sip of the honey colored liquor, his jaw flexed. It appeared his empire was falling and he didn't have much time to fix it.
His grandchild James was dead; his dream of having the young boy inheriting the family business was now buried with James. He had loved his grandson very much, had watched the once naïve, little boy grow up into a confident, cunning businessman. And then Edward had watched the prodigy child be taken away from him by a debilitating form of cancer.
Edward had tried so hard to make the boy stay. He had spent hours and days speaking to doctors, flying specialists down in hopes of saving his grandson. He donated bone marrow, pumped money and all that he could in hopes that James would be cured. But it appeared God had been adamant in taking his heir away from him. He was robbed of his hopes and dreams that had only been at the tender age of 24…
Although five months had passed since the funeral, the pain was still there and the battle was not over. Along with trying to accept the death of James, Edward was now facing the reality that he might lose his youngest son too. Charles' health was rapidly deteriorating. It appeared he had taken James' death harshly, turning into a skeleton and drowning himself in the Ellwood business for over 14 hours a day.
The constant work and lack of eating had caught up with him.
Now Charles was bedridden with an oxygen mask strapped to his face, unable to breathe properly on his own. The doctors said it was pneumonia and had been hopeful with using antibiotics as treatment, but Edward knew that things couldn't be that simple.
Days of antibiotic treatment turned into weeks, weeks had added up to a month. Soon Charles' pneumonia had turned into a violent and resistant strain and his health was gradually being drained away.
Edward's heart clenched. He lost his grandchild, was losing his own son and was also trying to help mend his other broken grandson, Preston. At this rate he knew the Ellwood name would not last long… His second grandchild had run away from home, somehow hooked to drugs. Charles' family was never going to be the same again.
Finishing the remainder of his scotch, Edward hissed at the familiar burning sensation in his throat. His only hope to save the Ellwood Empire was to make amends with his eldest son, but he knew that would not come easy. Like him, Alston Ellwood was a proud man, never going back on his word once he had his mind set. After leaving the Ellwood family business for well over two decades, Edward knew that Alston would not ever dream of returning.
His only hope lied in his granddaughter whom he had met for the very first time since her birth at James' funeral. She had grown up to be a beautiful woman, inheriting the strong Ellwood features and her mother's gorgeous green eyes. She may have appeared soft, but the passion in her eyes and the defiant tilt to her chin had told Edward that she was more than capable of holding up her end of a fight.
Over the years he had heard much about her, had been keeping an eye on her since she was born. Like James, Ardin was somebody he took great pride in. Although he acted like he didn't care, Edward had always wanted the best for his family. He had pulled strings and asked favors in order to give Ardin the best education available, trying to do it subtly so as to not make his son Alston suspicious.
For all her life, Edward had been her guardian from a distance, hiring a private detective to follow her throughout her childhood. He had taken many photos of her, able to see how Ardin had grown throughout the years. Alston may not have allowed him to be a part of her immediate life; however Edward had stuck around, trying to take part of her childhood from afar.
Edward had always been too proud and prideful to admit he was wrong. He had never done it in his entire life, and he wasn't willing to do it now. And now here he was, old, lonely and losing all of his family.
Breaking out of his reverie, he returned his focus to the issue at hand, turning to his desk and grabbing the telephone. Dialing a familiar number, a smile reached his lips at the voice that greeted him on the third ring.
Feeling his heart steady, he exhaled gently, the wrinkles on his once handsome face softening.
"Lyndon my old friend," he greeted.
The voice that replied was still the same happy, welcoming tone he had remembered from many years ago. They had kept close contact for the past few decades and Edward knew Lyndon was the only one he could turn to for help. Ian Jack Lyndon was a powerful name, and was also a resourceful and loyal old friend of Edward's.
Ian Lyndon had stayed by Edward's side through the past few months of hardship and Edward had been grateful for that.
Rubbing a hand over his exhausted eyes, Edward sighed through the phone.
"It's time," he breathed as his grey eyes took in the hundreds of photos scattered over his desk, the smiling face of a brunette with dark, forest green eyes gazing up at him.
He knew that this was the only way to keep the Ellwood Empire going. And there was no way he would let the family business and the Ellwood name die.
Seated before the large plasma television set with a Cuban cigar in his mouth, brown eyes studied the political debate occurring before him. Removing the cigar from his lips, he exhaled a cloud of smoke and laughed half-heartedly. Bernard Paisley was always interested in politics, but it was the arguing and burning passion in peoples' views that highly amused him. Having been a high-end lawyer for over thirty-five years, he had learned to never trust anyone's words until a name, signature and date was printed on paper.
It had been this view in life that had made him excel as a lawyer. His cynical personality and his ability to read between the lines was what helped him specialize as a lawyer in contract writing and reviewing. In his 35 years of working for large corporate companies, Bernard Paisley had made a name for himself and his descendants.
Throughout his working years, he had read and wrote many contracts until he perfected them himself. And like any rich lawyer, he had begun to long for something more. Luckily for Bernard, that thirst was quenched in the form of two families: the Lyndon and Ellwood name.
Lost in his own thoughts of youth and his many achievements, the ringing of the phone a few meters away caught his attention. Sitting in his seat comfortably for a few moments, he stared at the phone in speculation. From memory, only a handful of people had his home phone line and majority of them never called him using that line.
With a curious expression etched on his aged features, Bernard stood from his seat, placing his half-burned cigar on the black onyx ash tray atop the coffee table. Moving to the still ringing phone, he lifted the receiver from the hook and placed it to his ear.
"Bernard Paisley," he greeted in a smoky, croak.
There was silence for a few moments before a smile stretched across Bernard's lips. The next words that reached his ears was one that caused him to laugh, which triggered a coughing fit.
Recovering, a lively glint reached his brown eyes as he shook his head to nobody in particular. "You sure know what to say to make an old man like me come out of retirement," he explained. "I've been waiting for years to deliver that envelope."
Pulling his favorite Montblanc fountain pen from his suit breast pocket, Bernard scribbled down a few brief words on a piece of paper. As he hung up the phone, an excitement filled his veins as he went back to his chair to retrieve his still burning cigar. Inhaling the tobacco, he swirled the smoke in his mouth, the taste now sweeter than it was before.
It had been many years since he himself had worked with the Ellwood and Lyndon family. Both of them had become his favorite clients throughout the years, and they both held a special place in his heart.
White brows raised in question as a sigh escaped his lips. He couldn't recall the last time he had seen his two old friends, however he knew that their reunion would be one to remember. Folding the small piece of paper he had scribbled on, he placed it in his pant pocket and patted it affectionately. His family had been so adamant in him enjoying retirement life that he had forgotten what it felt like to be needed again.