Home > In the Heir (Westerly Billionaire #1)

In the Heir (Westerly Billionaire #1)
Author: Ruth Cardello

Prologue

Delinda Westerly steadied herself by gripping the back of an eighteenth-century Chippendale chair in her sunroom. Her pristine terraced gardens had become a playground for a herd of children currently racing about with the antique stone chess pieces her husband had added to the grassy area above the garden.

“There you are,” said Alessandro Andrade from the doorway behind her.

Delinda turned slowly to face him. “Yes, here I am.”

She hadn’t meant to reveal her disappointment in those few words.

With a concerned expression on his face, Alessandro walked toward her, but stopped when he saw the children lining up the chess pieces on the garden wall. He knocked on a glass pane, though none of the children seemed to hear.

“Let them be,” Delinda commanded softly. “Oliver had those pieces made for Dereck when he was ten. He would love to see them still being played with.” She smiled sadly. “Only one of them is broken, and I believe it was from the day you and your brothers were using the pawns as lawn darts.”

Alessandro chuckled. “I’ll confess my guilt now, since I’m reasonably certain the statute of limitations is less than fifty years.”

“Fifty years, it seems impossible for time to have flown by that quickly. It’s been over thirty since I lost Oliver, but somehow it still feels like yesterday.”

Alessandro placed his hand on hers. “He was a good man.”

With a simple nod, Delinda agreed and sighed.

Alessandro searched her face. “Are you tired, Dee? I shouldn’t have brought everyone today. It’s too much, isn’t it?”

Clasping her hands in front of her, Delinda said, “I’m not on death’s doorstep. Not yet, anyway. Although sometimes I wonder why I’m the one who is still here.”

“Don’t even think such a thing. Every moment we have is a gift. You are a gift—to all of us.”

Delinda pressed her lips together briefly before saying, “That’s kind of you to say. I know your mother asked you to watch over me and you have. I still miss her. She was a beautiful woman with a big heart. And her laugh—you couldn’t help but laugh along when you heard it. I always envied her ability to be so free, so openly loving. She taught you and your brothers to be the same. When I see her great-grandchildren running through my garden, I feel her smiling.”

Alessandro cleared his throat and, with emotion, said, “I’m here because you’re family.”

“You’ve always been generous with that term, but my family couldn’t be bothered with something as insignificant as my eightieth birthday.” She stopped and brought a shaking hand to her white curls. “I’m sorry, Alessandro. You don’t know what a comfort it’s been to have you and Victor come by today.”

“Where is Dereck?” Alessandro asked harshly.

Delinda waved a hand in the air dismissively. “He said he would be here. I’m sure he forgot. He’ll apologize tomorrow.”

“Did you invite your grandchildren?”

“Brett had an important meeting he couldn’t miss. He sent flowers. Or his secretary did. Eric is in Europe filming his next movie.” She blinked back a sudden wave of emotion. “I sent an invitation to the others, but Stephanie poisoned them against me long ago. I didn’t expect them to come.” She walked to the windows that overlooked the garden where the children were playing. “There was a time when my grandchildren were the ones making a mess of my gardens. How did I lose them? How did I lose all of them?”

Alessandro came to her side. He sounded as if he were about to say something, then stopped. He cleared his throat again. “Did you invite Stephanie?”

“No,” Delinda said curtly. “If I never see that woman again, it will be too soon.”

“Twenty years, Dee. They’ve been divorced for twenty years. It’s time for you to—”

“When she left my son, it nearly destroyed him. I knew from the moment I met her that she was trouble, but Dereck wouldn’t listen to me. If he had—”

“You wouldn’t have Brett, Eric, Rachelle, Spencer, or Nicolette.”

Spinning angrily toward Alessandro, Delinda said, “I don’t have them. Don’t you see? She took them away from me. Turned them against me.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“They’re not here, are they? Not one of them.”

Alessandro’s tone was gentle yet firm as he said, “I remember my mother saying if you want a rose garden, don’t plant weeds.”

Delinda had wanted confirmation that the state her life was in was not of her making. “I don’t know if I like what you’re suggesting.”

Alessandro led Delinda to sit in one of the chairs before taking a seat across from her. “You’ve never kept your feelings about your son’s wife a secret.”

“Ex-wife.”

With a sigh, Alessandro continued, “She’s the mother of your grandchildren. They love her. If you want them in your life, you need to let go of the past.”

“You don’t know what she did.”

“I don’t care, Dee. That’s the point. People make mistakes. Whatever happened between Dereck and Stephanie was their business, and it happened long enough ago that you can’t continue using that as an excuse for why you don’t have a relationship with your grandchildren.”

“So this is my fault?” Delinda asked with a gasp.

Alessandro raised and lowered a shoulder unapologetically. “You’re planting weeds, Dee. Nothing will change while you do.”

Delinda slumped a little. “Weeds? You make it sound easy. I wouldn’t know where to start.” She shook her head sadly for a moment before remembering something. “You reunited with your brother’s children. How did you do it?”

Slapping a hand on his knee, Alessandro smiled. “Maddy claims responsibility for that.” He shrugged again. “I didn’t approve of her meddling, but it worked, so who am I to argue with her methods?”

Despite how bleak Delinda felt, she chuckled at the thought of Alessandro’s precocious daughter, Maddy. The girl had a spirited and mischievous nature. With a smile, she asked, “What did your daughter do?”

“She and her friends played matchmaker with each of my brother’s children. Her theory was that love heals all wounds.”

“And it worked?” Delinda leaned forward. “Could it with my family?”

“I don’t know,” Alessandro said hesitantly.

With a shake of her head, Delinda sighed. “Of course it couldn’t. How ridiculous to even entertain the idea. Sorry. My eighty-year-old brain must be getting feeble.” She hugged her arms around herself. “My family is shattered, Alessandro. It’s not just their relationship with me that’s broken. Brett hides in his office. Eric hides overseas. Neither is close to his younger siblings anymore. When Stephanie turned her back on our money, she turned her back on half of her children and split the family. Even if they never come back to me, I pray they find each other.”

A knock on the already-open door announced the arrival of Alessandro’s brother, Victor. With an easy smile, he asked, “Is the birthday girl ready for cake? I’m asking because the children are planning a coup if they don’t get some soon.”

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