12th of December, 1810
Bath, Somerset, England
Nine members of the Castellano family were placed variously about the study. Mr Castellano, whose study was currently being overrun by more people than he particularly enjoyed, hovered by the mahogany desk in the centre of the room. Behind the desk stood his wife, Mrs Castellano, whose pinched face seemed to grow more pointed with every passing minute.
To Mr Castellano’s right were the twins, two boys well into their twenties, one married and the other alone. Edward blew a curl of black hair from his eye. Abram nervously twisted his wedding ring around his finger. As well as looking nothing alike, they were also polar opposites in their demeanours. Which was something that Mr Castellano could never understand about his children. He could think of nothing more unionising than sharing everything, even the womb, with another. And yet Abram and Edward stood stubbornly on parallel lines, never displaying themselves as anything but a individuals, and certainly not as the unfortunate extension of another person.
Mr Castellano’s three siblings; Elenora, Hester, and Valentina, sat in chairs at the back of the room, considerably removed from everybody else. The only child between them all slouched against a bookshelf, inviting a familiar haze of chaos that hovered around Mr Castellano’s nephew. The man watched warily as his first edition of Emerson essays tipped precariously over the boy’s head. But he simply cleared his throat and turned away.
The boy was a tad bad-tempered, therefore if Mr Castellano said anything, he would likely not be heeded anyway. Best to let it play out as God wished.
The final Castellano, the youngest and most interesting of them all, leaned over the shoulder of the solicitor seated at the desk.
“But why can’t you-”
“Miss, please,” the poor man exclaimed, leaning away from the girl. “Be seated with your mother, I will begin when it is time.”
She pointed at the documents, her sharp eyes inquisitive. “Why should that-”
“Naomi,” her mother called. “Go to Mr Castellano, please.”
The girl pulled back, reluctantly, and went to stand with her father.
He leaned down to her ear, “One does not harass the solicitor reading aloud your grandmother’s will. He may leave you out.”
“He wouldn’t,” Naomi muttered, although she looked doubtful. Her shoulders straightened with anxiety, much like Mr Castellano’s did.
Every Castellano shared the same looks, the olive skin and dark hair. While eye colour would vary, as well as height and intelligence, all the nine in that room were without a doubt simply different angles of the others.
Naomi was no exception; the same brown eyes as her father, with a face that was both pretty and boyish. Hair that naturally curled to no one’s will but its own, she was either a painting of loveliness or a creature that crouched in the back of the wardrobe, waiting to be smacked with a broom.
Naomi rather fancied herself the latter. If only she could live long enough to terrorise all the horrible boys who would push her out of trees. Granted, it was her decision to climb those trees, but what person would like to be pushed from one.
Her knees still hurt.
“We will now begin the reading, if everyone is quite ready.”
Everyone seemed to snap to attention, sitting a little straighter, smoothing the wrinkles on their cuffs. It was, after all, the nineteenth century for goodness’ sake. If they can’t learn how to demonstrate propriety in the presence of their grandmother’s legacy, they may as well keel over and die now.
Naomi’s grandmother had died of very normal circumstances. A sudden spike in the heart, and she was lost to God within the hour. And although her death had been very typical and boring, her life had been anything but.
She’d been by far the most interesting out of them all. Appearing out of the mist in the shadow of a lighthouse, earning her fortune overseas. Her legacy wasn’t simply about who would get her silverware or her private painting collection, it was about who had impressed her the most. And naturally, foolishly, Naomi rather thought that was her. She’d spent her entire childhood in the presence of her wonderful grandmother. And so if she didn’t get the house, Naomi would kill everyone in the room. Truly, Naomi was so certain she would get it, that it didn’t occur to her she wouldn’t get to perform the speech she’d spent all of last night writing up.
’Mother, Father, sister and brothers- Be not angry with me, for she did love me the most . . .’
The youngest Castellano hung her hands behind her, clasping them at the small of her back. They were shaking. If her father saw her fussing, he didn’t make any mention. For that, Naomi was grateful. The passing of Imogen Castellano was a toll that brought her to tears most days. After the personal hell of being a week without her, Naomi almost hadn’t climbed any trees. Almost.
“I, Imogen Rosalind Culpepper Castellano, being of sound mind and body . . .”
The solicitor rattled off the clinical paragraphs, occasionally breaking the depressing formality for puffing his pipe or pushing his glasses further up his humped nose. Naomi wondered what he’d been like as a boy, if he’d dreamt of becoming a lawyer all his life or if perhaps he’d wanted something else, like piracy. Well, not quite a lawyer, Naomi simpered. Solicitors were not lawyers.
She could be a lawyer. A real one. She was rather good at arguing.
She lifted her head from her study of the purple carpet. “Mother?”
Her mother was looking at her with disapproval, her thin nose scrunched in that unhappy way, beady black eyes glaring at her. Even her breathing was sharp. Why her father married her was beyond Naomi. At least she shared her nice ears. The woman sniffed. “Apologies, Mr Baker, if you could repeat my daughter’s beneficiary.”
Naomi raised her eyebrows and stared at Mr Baker.
He merely cleared his throat and dropped his eyes to the documents again. “I leave to my only granddaughter, Naomi Imogen Castellano, my bank statements from 1772 to my death.”
Naomi’s mind was strangely blank. Bank Statements . . . ? She almost asked the solicitor to repeat the legacy, but her mother ushered him on to the real estate.
She glanced up at her father. “Bank statements? Like bits of paper with numbers on them?”
He hushed her, not taking his eyes off the spectacle at the study desk.
His caramel eyes flicked to her face. He sobered at her look of anxiety. “Naomi, it obviously meant a great deal to your grandmother that you have them.”
“And what about those vases on her mantle?” Naomi could hardly keep the whine out of her voice. “She knew how I liked them. Or what about an engagement ring, or a nice set of plates? Bank statements?”
“Is there a problem?”
Naomi had half a mind to throw a drink in Mr Baker’s dumb face.
Mr Castellano cleared his throat. “My daughter wishes for some clarification, if you could-”
She raised her voice, “Yes, there is a problem, solicitor. How dare you?”
Her father quickly began backtracking. “Naomi-”
“Miss Castellano, the will is quite final.” Mr Baker’s voice was bored. “Unless you believe your grandmother to be incompetent in her giving?”
Naomi managed one step toward Baker before her father gripped her by her shoulders. “You are the incompetent one, Mr Baker! My grandmother would never let this happen-” she clawed at her father’s fingers, envisioning the solicitor’s head on a pike. If she were a man, she would have received half her grandmother’s wealth. She would have been gifted the house, the money, the legacy. But as a girl, Naomi was left with a fat wad of her grandmother’s spending receipts.
Oh, how she could kill someone.
Edward, the more feeling twin, placed his hand on his father’s shoulder. “I will take her out.”
Six years older than his sister, Edward was partially (Completely) responsible for her unusual personality. With two older brothers, both equally as barbaric as the other, Naomi had acquired an iron will sharp enough to strike a strong man dead.
The two siblings exited the room, shutting the mahogany door behind them. Edward leaned against the banister along the landing,