Parting of the Ways Part 12- Distant Family

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I feel I need to nip this in the bud. This is as close to political as I get, since I mentioned the President is a Lame Duck I realized that I would have to say something about it being an election year involving candidates from both major parties. An election year makes the actual date for the story possible to be pinned down. I made two references to possible settings for the actual year, neither of which held up over time. It could be the year 2020 or it could be 2016...actually it's neither! Unless you remembered the two songs I mentioned it was hard to even gather a guess except to say that John was in middle school in the 90s and graduated high school in the early 2000s but other than that no actual set dates exist for any characters. Sorry.

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The news of Michael's knighthood took the nation by storm as there were many who saw his accolade as being an insult to all knights while many others held hope that even common folks could do something so grand as to be seen as worthy of a knighthood. Michael tried to keep it from getting to him, but it was tough as he was all but prisoner in the townhouse due to the media firestorm. He was just a regular person, he only did what he did because it was how he was raised but that was lost on the vultures and well-wishers who wanted a piece of him for their own personal gain.

Thankfully for him, Grace gave him time off and asked that he go north so the media kept away from the office. He got the gist of it, they couldn't follow him and end up harassing the Smiths without being put into legal jeopardy. It was also getting closer to his time to return so he could spend more time away from the office while giving his recommendations directly to Grace and the senior traders over the phone or computer, essentially doing what he had done the previous summer for the company.

He was a valued part of the staff, but he finally reached the point that they could predict exactly what he would recommend and how to implement it. The senior staff were actually glad that they had finally gotten to know his thinking and adapted it to their own way of doing things. Grace had exactly what she wanted from Michael, he had gotten the company into the 21st century and at a cost of less than 1/10th of what it would have cost to hire a consultant with actual results instead of lies and arrogance.

The Smiths orchestrated the escape for Michael and Courtney, the two simply went north with them in their Rolls Royce while the others went north in the Smith Land Rover and Karen's recently bought people carrier. It was tough to follow them as they were first stopping at the US Embassy where Walter and Lillian Gorman were giving special thanks from the US Government to Michael and Courtney, allowing the group a chance to evade the press while also allowing Walter a chance to fulfill his professional duties that Michael unfortunately had to now endure.

The staff took great pleasure in calling Michael "Sir Michael" and Courtney "Lady Bollinger", which she blushed at hearing especially after she was told that as his wife she would be entitled to be called that. She smiled and told Michael "you know I'm taking your name so it'll by 'Lady Finn' instead of 'Lady Bollinger' but it's the thought that matters." He just blushed as it sank in, he was marrying her in only four months and in another seven months he was going to be a father as well as a husband.

The group headed north after an hour in the embassy, with Michael taking the obligatory pictures with Walter and Lillian then enduring a phone call from the President with congratulations and thanks from the nation. Walter was coy about the phone call, knowing that Michael wouldn't accept being put on the spot but understanding the reason why he had to do it. Walter didn't ask for much and it was something he could gloat about by saying "I got to talk with the President."

The phone call turned very interesting. It wasn't just one call, but three consecutive calls at once. Walter was bipartisan and both major party Presidential candidates were vying for the press for talking with a hero while the President was doing a routine call that has been done hundreds of times before. Michael simply told both candidates that he wasn't supporting anyone publicly as per family tradition and the only politicians who had his support already was his great-uncles and his governor, all three of whom had a personal connection to him.

The press loved his reaction, both candidates were left without a response while also knowing the press were going to await their reaction. Neither said anything, just smiling at the 18-year-old giving them a call to remember and making them look foolish for trying to hone in on his brave act. Walter's connection was noted and with a little bit of research the media were shown just who Michael was and with their prior experience with the Finns especially over what happened five years before, let it go quickly as the Finns were not afraid to make the press look even worse than the candidates had looked.

The President was different. The man was a lame duck so he didn't care too much about fallout, he was ready for Michael's simple responses and after giving him the required praise allowed him to go. He added that he would give Michael a meeting that Thanksgiving which Michael took to heart and which meant that he had to make a trip down to Washington with his family.

The press didn't bother to follow Michael north, they were heading to private property and the Smiths were not afraid to prosecute them for trespassing. The estate was actually calming to Michael, as the three Smith kids demanded his attention with Nigel Smith Jr. getting it in full. Little Nigel loved to have Michael build with him and play with his beloved trains, toys that Michael couldn't help but feel young playing with.

Michael's drama was pale in comparison with the drama that the Smiths faced on their return. Their association with Michael had finally caused Bradford's distant cousins to come out of the woodwork to get at the family's titles for their own, hoping to use Michael's extended family as proof that Bradford and Ophelia Smith were unfit to retain the titles. Michael was just the tip of the iceberg as they hit Bradford with claims that Nigel was immoral and had violated their family's letters of patent by letting a legitimate heir destroy their lineage and had voided all claims with Ethan's adoption as he had no right to be put into the line of succession due to his father's criminal actions.

The biggest insult was the claim that as Karen Smith had been married before and had children Nigel Jr. was illegitimate and therefore could not inherit either title. This all hinged on the further claim that Nichole was not a legitimate claimant to the title because Nigel had been cast out by Bradford, which they knew to have never been formalized and had been reconciled already. It was pure ignorance as well, as Ethan was still the heir no matter what as the son of a legitimate claimant despite his father Harry being deceased without having been forced out as he had been murdered before Bradford could disown and disinherit him.

Michael and Courtney sat and listened as the solicitor brought up every accusation and claim but lacked any real proof that the Smiths had broken the letters of patent that the king had given to the Smiths' ancestor centuries before. All they had were accusations, and as the Smiths had taken precautions when they had Ethan put in line as the legitimate heir they also lacked the needed legal support. Bradford's cousin's solicitors went for them directly instead of the College of Arms, a mistake that was going to cost them dearly.

The College of Arms were aware of Nichole, Nigel, Ethan, Karen, and Nigel Jr. and spent hours discussing their situation. Karen had married Harold Morris Jr. and was widowed. Nigel Smith had married his girlfriend Gemma who too had died. Their marriages ended upon the death of their spouses.

Karen's son and daughter, Bryan and Hannah, were legitimate children and upon their adoption by Nigel were brought into the Smith Family as full members in good standing. The same was done for Nichole when Karen adopted her as her own daughter. Nigel Jr. was legitimate as while both had been married, their spouses had died allowing a legitimate marriage between them therefore Nigel Jr. was a legitimate heir to the titles in his own right. Further, Ethan was the legitimate heir of Nigel over Nigel Jr. as he was both the son of a legitimate heir but as he was also older than Nigel Jr. he was now the heir-apparent allowing him to be next in line making all claims false. And it was further false as Nichole herself could have claimed the title as her own but by her request had it given to Ethan in full.

Bradford showed the parchments and all relevant documents spelling out who was the heir and who was the heir to the heir, complete with royal warrant changing the lineage to accommodate Ethan and Nigel Jr.. The solicitors tried to act like it was no big deal but Ophelia grinned and pointed out "Her Majesty herself signed them, unless you are going to say that her word doesn't matter you are seeking what you can't obtain. You won't intimidate us, and if you try we will have you in court seeking damages as well as your client's share of the family's inheritance. Your client is not aware of that provision but trying to defraud family forfeits his rights to his family money. He doesn't speak for all of the Smiths, he may not like what the others have to say about his money grab."

She wasn't joking, she had done her homework on behalf of the children and wasn't going to let some distant relative steal what wasn't theirs especially due to greed and arrogance. Her son Harry had made her see that family was important and protecting it even more so. Besides, little Nigel Jr. could use his own money as he was the only one without any and as a member of the family in good standing he was going to get a tidy sum for himself.

The Smiths kept to themselves once the solicitors left. Bradford had his solicitor on the trail thanks to Ophelia's claim and was going to get his pound of flesh from his second cousin. He had known the man for decades and never suspected that he would try to harm him in this way, he had plenty of wealth but to go after someone he had grown up with and hosted countless times was unbelievable to him.

Courtney tried to make sense of what was going on. She had a long talk with Emma while Sophia slept, trying to understand the whole situation. For Courtney it was unbelievable to think that someone could do something so vicious as to defame children yet it was happening.

Emma sat her down and explained "there are some who harbor grudges against their family over many years and don't show their true feelings until they believe they can do the most damage. I suspect that what happened to you and Michael prompted this, he had years to make the claim and could have done it and won when dad and Nichole were living in London as grandfather didn't have the strength to fight him and Harry was in fear of being exposed. He didn't, he waited until it would cause a bigger impact. It didn't matter that he would lose, he thought he could get something out of it. But it sounds like he may have bitten off more than he could chew as Grandmother is angry and ready to fight back and she only gets like that when she is going to tear someone apart without mercy."

Nichole walked in and added an angry "he is flat broke and hemorrhaging money. He backed Uncle Harry before Jeffries took over. He was going to name Uncle Harry as his successor but kept putting it off knowing Uncle Harry was on thin ground all of the time. He gave Uncle Harry hundreds of thousands of pounds but he trusted Uncle Harry with a bit too much of the money. He lost a lot of money in the deal due to Jeffries making him sign it away or he said he'd go to the police. If he gets control of the title and the estate he will have his personal fortune renewed and we will have nothing."

Emma just smiled and added "he won't win anything and I know what Grandmother is going to do. I helped her put together some of the forms for our inheritances and in it included our legacy annuity. We are to receive roughly £15,000 a year when we come of age but it decreases based on the number of family members and their level within the family. He will be cut off, as will his children and their children. It remains with the rest of the family who would see their shares increased. His branch is large so it's a lot of money that he will lose out on as he controls all of their money directly."

The talk about money and inheritances troubled Courtney but Emma assured her "it's all going to sit in the bank. I don't want it, neither does David. It's the same for you and Michael." Nichole added "mom said it's going to be put aside for us and our kids. It's all extra anyway since we have our trust funds. Mom knows I can't have kids so she thought it best to keep it for when I adopt."

Courtney asked about Emma's, getting a blush and timid "David, Patrick, Daisy, Ella, and Logan were given $30 million each from the government once their Uncle Ted's estate was settled and the money cleared. The people who had him launder the money let Uncle John know that the criminals who owned the money didn't want it since it was the cause of Aunt Linda being killed. We don't want it but mom and mum want us to hold it in trust for future kids. Patrick gave his to Antonio while Ella and Logan gave theirs to JD, Cat, and their cousins. They don't want it either but Uncle John wouldn't let them give it all away and nobody else would take it except family. Now all of their cousins have several million dollars in their trust funds."

Courtney was kept out of the loop on purpose so Emma had to explain further that the $150 million inherited had been split up among the five heirs of Ted Blue, the uncle to Patrick, David, and Daisy Peterson as well as Ella and Logan Finn. It took months but it was finally agreed to and as they had no connections to the crimes and were legitimate heirs they got the whole amount. As the heirs to Linda Brown and as she died before their divorce was finalized, Ella and Logan had also been given the remaining $100 million their former stepmother had in her account giving them more money than they knew what to do with but none wanting to accept the amount.

Courtney just smiled at Emma who realized that her family was independently wealthy yet were not the snobs that she had been led to believe families with money needed to be. It felt great to think that she was able to do as she pleased without the need to be a fake and that her education was all for her and not a means of keeping herself out of poverty as it was to be just two years before. Courtney hugged her and offered a comforting "it's nice to have but you are a great person for working for yourself. Just think, some day you might be working alongside Uncle Nigel as a nurse. We both can!"

The staff were listening to them talking about the vast sums of money and couldn't believe that Emma and the Finns had such wealth let alone money they didn't want. Reardon, the Smiths' trusty butler, told the maids listening in that the family had endured a lot of suffering and the money came from people who had done them wrong and none wanted it but were accepting of it for what it could do for others. The family had few who weren't wealthy now, the core of the family had a lot of money and would use it to help others as was the norm for all of the Finns and that influence had set a new course for the elder Smiths.

Bradford grinned at hearing that. The man was a godsend to the family and Reardon protected them all. He cared about Ethan and Nichole and had grown to care for Emma, they were making the job fun.

Michael and Ethan ran around the estate while Courtney, Emma, and Nichole talked. The duo were quite fond of the solitude of the estate and knew that the ladies were going to talk about the news they had received from the distant Smith relatives. It was inevitable and they were more sensitive to it than the guys.

Ethan just shrugged it off while Michael thought there was a way of ensuring that the Smiths were protected from further attempts at the titles and their money. They had to end all attempts at getting the money ended. He had thought they might have a legal battle but there were other ways of doing things underhandedly, it was unavoidable with greedy people like Bradford's second cousin.

Ethan asked if they were on solid footing for when Bradford passed on, knowing that the crippling inheritance taxes would come in. Michael shrugged, only admitting "Aunt Karen has spoken with solicitors and tax people to ensure that the estate is solvent and the impact is minimal. She thinks she has found a lot of leeway thanks to a lot of the estate now being used for charity work. It'll take a while but there will be a lot of loopholes in what can be given to family and what will be donated. The Smith family will have money and the estate, it'll just take some finagling. We don't have to worry about it for a long time, your grandfather is healthy and not going anywhere anytime soon."

The family spent the next two days together and enjoying their time without distractions. Michael had a chance to swim and relax with Courtney but endured Ethan and Nichole giving them odd looks. Ethan blushed as Courtney got out of the pool while Nichole tried to see if there were any signs of her pregnancy when the two changed in the shower, both of which got blushes and quick apologies from the kids. She was far from showing but there were some subtle signs that only Courtney knew about and was not about to tell Nichole as it was very personal.

Reardon drove the couple south as he had to take care of some business in London on behalf of the Smiths. He was quiet during the drive, with the couple falling asleep from the solitude. Reardon had to grin at the two young lovebirds, the two were favorites of his for their lack of requests and treating the staff with respect. The whole of the Finn Family were great, but Michael and Courtney were simply two who stood above the others simply by being themselves and not trying to be too nice or careful around him or the members of the household staff.

The next day Reardon left to head north leaving the couple to cope with Michael's newfound status at work. Grace and Charles were easy on him while Arthur joked with him about his knighthood. His coworkers were impressed but treated Michael as they normally did, as the adviser with an eye for making money. His time away had shown that they were close to no longer needing him and now that he was close to leaving for home they were trying hard to get used to not having him around them.

Up North at Smith estate, Bradford's relatives gave their answer. There were new allegations of incest and infidelity, most of which were directed at Michael and Emma. To those who didn't know the story would say it was incest, but looks were deceiving.

Michael's connection was a joke. He never hid that he was related to both Emma and David through his parents but Emma and David weren't related at all. David's mother Lilly wasn't even his mother's biological son, and since Lilly was adopted herself, as an adult no less, she had no blood relationship to Michael making it even more ludicrous. Emma herself was adopted so that too gave yet another separation from Michael as well as David and even so there was no blood connection as the Petersons and Browns, David's paternal and maternal families, were actually Scottish, Swedish, and Welsh while the Walkers, Emma's family, were entirely English.

The Smiths simply countered with the facts including that Emma was adopted and even though she was related to Michael and he was related to David neither David nor Emma were related except through their marriage. The complex family tree was shown and the adoptions clearly marked and noted and with all legalities cleared on both sides of the Atlantic. Bradford added further insult to injury as he showed that his 2nd cousin was actually the result of third cousins marrying and conceiving making his own claims of incest all the more insulting as his parents were actually biologically linked, much more so than Emma or David ever could be.

But as is usually the case, rumors lead to more rumors and the Smiths had to snuff them out whenever they arose. Their staff was one of the biggest sources as they talked while off duty in town away from their bosses. Their friends and relatives were eager for the juicy gossip and it was tough to keep a lid on such news about their employers.

Their talk got back to the solicitor who used it to try to get at Bradford through the media but it backfired when they were proven false. The more the media inquired the more the claims were shown to be petty attempts at stealing a title from a relative. Bradford's second cousin was losing his battle for the title and the estate before he had ever set foot in a courtroom as the media and public turned against him, nobody could believe any of his claims as each time they were brought up they were proven false.

The staff were not fools, the ones talking were the most loyal maids and groundskeepers to Bradford and Ophelia and enjoyed the little game of cat and mouse. They had purposely planted the rumors to show just what kind of person Bradford's cousin was and reveled in his downfall. Bradford then went further and threatened to sue for libel on Emma's behalf which only caused his second cousin to back off briefly before he went after Bradford for allowing the family tun his estate for him.

Bradford finally had enough and went after his cousin directly. No more playing around, he went after the source of the family's wealth and had his cousin cut off for breaking the terms of their great-grandfather's will by disgracing the family and trying to defraud fellow family members out of their rightfully given legacy. As the patriarch of the family as the legal title holder through the eldest son and grandson, Bradford was also the one who could call in such violations and seek all removals. He had never done it before even with Nigel being cast out but it had to be done for the family's sake.

The last of the Smiths were called together. All members of the family were requested, with only those who were abroad being unable to attend. Karen was representing her husband Nigel while Bryan and Hannah were acting on their own behalf alongside their spouses. Emma would have to endure without David while Sophia was put on display as the youngest member of the family and next generation of Smith.

Truth be told, there weren't many Smiths. In fact, there were only four factions as Bradford's great-grandfather had only three children who themselves had only a few children. Most didn't care about the titles, they simply wanted to live their lives and let Bradford put up with the hubbub of being a noble.

His grandfather fathered only a son, his father, and daughter, who turned out to have had only one child herself and who was currently childless and in her mid-90s and was the eldest of all Smiths. She was a classic spinster who worked for years as a governess and teacher before retiring to solitude on one o the family's small properties. She rarely visited, but she made an exception for this meeting.

His grandfather's sibling were a different matter as his great-aunt tragically died young from a childhood disease and never married or had a chance to have a child. His elder great-uncle had a daughter but she married against the family and was disowned while his son died childless with only illegitimate children fathered. His younger great-uncle had only a son who himself had a son, his 2nd cousin.

His 2nd cousin's children were not of the same belief as him. They didn't want any titles as it would affect their own lives directly. One was a police detective while another was a headmistress at a prestigious public school, neither was of the belief that they were entitled to take the family honors because their father thought he was better than his distant relative because of rumors and falsehoods by jealous former employees that he hired simply to gain information about his 2nd cousin. They came at Bradford's request and were more than happy to stand against their father on behalf of their family even if they gave up their inheritance.

The group sat down to a meal that Bradford had graciously spread out for them. The family talked animatedly and for once Bradford felt like they were actually family and not people who happened to have had the same ancestors. They may have been Smiths but they were all different people. Without the influence of his 2nd cousin the Smiths actually came together as one instead of being played off one another for the benefit of one or two of them.

Emma and Karen got a lot of looks and after speaking to their 3rd cousins found out just how close they were without the family name. The two were unlike their father's normal friends and guests, Emma was "one of them" to Detective Smith while Emma and Karen having close relatives who were in the teaching profession got Headmaster Smith's interest. By the time the meal ended, Bradford had overwhelming support from them for their father being removed from the family trust for his antics while having their full support to remain as the Smith Family patriarch.

The branches of the Smiths were in agreement, with Bradford's Aunt being the one to tell his 2nd cousin the bad news directly. He took it hard, swearing revenge while angering the sweet elderly Smith. She wasn't afraid to raise her voice and scare him half to death, he would accept his punishment like a man or she would see to it that he never lived to see his next birthday. He capitulated quickly, she wasn't one to make those kind of threats lightly and had the means to ensure it was carried out.

Bryan and Hannah had kept quiet about the whole turn of events. The couple didn't want attention but they were looked over by the older Smiths and were seen as just the kind of Smiths that their ancestors had wanted in the family. They were also the first to carry on the family name to the next generation, which for Headmaster Smith and Detective Smith wasn't was likely to occur in the near future but hadn't happened yet.

The family bid each other goodbye and vowed to meet together again in the future as it had been far too long since the family had been together as one. Karen was all smiles as neither Ethan nor Nichole had been put under the spotlight by their relatives, they had escaped without scrutiny but were both happily acknowledged by the family as being there. It was the same for Nigel Jr. and Sophia, they simply slept through the whole gathering with Sophia not even needing a diaper change or feeding.

Bryan and Pete had to say goodbye to their loved ones as they had to head back to the US for their annual summer training. Their wives left them with big kisses that left them gasping for breath while Nichole and Ethan groaned at their antics. Karen just rolled her eyes and chastised the two ladies for doing that to their husbands, but added that it was worth seeing the looks on their faces as they tried to be shocked yet full of love and affection.

The duo had a bit of mischief in their eyes and decided to get back at Karen by asking about her lawsuit against the Walkers. Emma shook her head in disappointment but added a firm "they lost badly. Mum is now the owner of their properties. I take it you will want to see them yourselves as you two never wold have brought it up unless you had already figured out how to get there and back without needing to spend the night in a hotel?"

The duo just grinned and nodded, their sister had seen right through their plans. They were looking forward to a road trip and this was their chance to see Emma's hometown for the first time. Karen had no choice but to go so as to keep the trio out of trouble, with Ethan opting to stay put alongside the clingy Nigel Jr. while Nichole wanted to join her sisters in the fun.

Nigel Jr. was fine staying with his brother and wanted his mom to have a little bit of fun, plus having Ethan to himself meant that he could be spoiled and run around the estate with him. Ophelia and Bradford got to experience their grandsons as themselves with both being different people without Karen or Nigel Sr. around. Nigel Jr. wasn't a problem, in fact he kept by Ethan's side and did whatever he did including talking with his friends, albeit they did so for Ethan's sake rather than wanting to talk with him.

The ladies drove on to Manchester and its suburb, Chiselworks early the next morning. It was a three hour drive that was spent in heavy traffic much of the way on the motorway. Emma was nervous but her sisters were great comforts to her as they calmed her while also enjoying the sights of Manchester.

It was a bit of an inconvenience to travel all the way to Chiselworks to finalize the transfer of assets from the Walkers to Emma by way of Karen. Karen didn't fool around and had her solicitor ensure that they were paying Emma every pence that they owed her as well as paying dearly for assaulting and trying to extort her the year before. After talking with Emma and from the Walkers' own words she was owed for full time work for six years with dozens of hours of overtime penalties, an amount that was large and would pay for Emma .

Emma was looking at close to £100,000 for the unpaid wages as well as another £250,000 in damages for the assault on her. Once that was paid out the Walkers were flat broke due to fines they owed the government over Emma's taxes that they never paid to HMRC as well as fines for using a child to work and failure to pay taxes in a timely manner. Their bills were piling up to the point that Emma was offered a settlement in the form of their properties and the contents of their bank accounts, which covered the full amount and allowed them to claim they were bankrupt avoiding some of the fines.

The Walkers were ruined and that was before their prison sentences were confirmed by the courts. They were to get two years for the assault and another for attempted kidnapping and lying to the police. The town shunned the couple during their legal struggles and after agreeing to their sentences they were left to deal with being convicted felons who had nothing left except the clothes on their back.

Karen and the Walkers' solicitors signed the forms and turned everything over to Emma. Emma simply closed up the shop and offered to sell the whole place to her aunt, Dora Walker, for a few pounds as she had no use for the properties but her aunt could make good use of the spaces for her own businesses. Her aunt was interested, but wanted to speak with her niece first. She had to see her niece face to face.

Dora Walker was the polar opposite of her brother. She was older, wiser, and unafraid to stand up for the rights of others. She was also a loving, kind mother who doted on her daughter Poppy. Emma and her cousin had been close friends until Dora had to move down to London after the Walkers had a bad falling out after Poppy came out to the family as being in love with women, leaving Emma to the mercy of her parents but not realizing that she was in any kind of trouble let alone worked to the bone without any kind of compensation.

Jonas Bloomfield, the Smith and Finn Family's go-to solicitor in England, facilitated the meeting. Dora was unsure what to make of a request to meet with a countess let alone one who was acting on her niece's behalf but if it involved Emma she wanted to take part in it. She had to keep Poppy away from the meeting but close by to help her just in case it went south, unsure if Karen was like Dora's brother.

Poppy didn't have to do anything as she saw Emma coming and ran up to her with a big hug, crying into her shoulder as the two old friends embraced for the first time in years. Emma had to hide her tears as Poppy asked who the little one with her was. She mumbled as tender "my daughter Sophia" which caused Poppy to shed tears herself as the two cousins embraced again, with Sophia happily giggling at her mother crying alongside a stranger.

Hannah and Paige tried to keep quiet but Emma finally realized she had ignored them and offered a sincere apology as she introduced them "these two ladies are my adoptive sisters, Lady Hannah Smith and Lady Page Smith." Poppy was unsure what to think, Hannah rescued her by explaining "my mother, Lady Karen Smith the Countess of Boston, adopted Emma as her own after falling in love with her over the previous year. She is fully adopted, done so before her 19th birthday making her a full lady and part of our crazy family."

Emma added a somber "Hannah is the Baroness of Gosfield and Paige is the Viscountess of Braintree. They married two amazing men a year ago. They treat me much better than my own parents ever treated me."

Inside, Karen sat down with Dora and explained "I know this may be hard to believe but Emma is now my daughter through adoption. Your brother and sister-in-law mistreated her for years before and after you moved away, treating her like a slave in their shops while making her clean their home. She was able to get away from their clutches by taking a job as a junior maid with my mother and father-in-law Lord and Lady Smith. Two years ago we met her for the first time and my husband and I fell in love with the young lady who was working hard to help our children while cleaning the manor. She was deprived of love and guidance, we couldn't let her waste away so we adopted her as our own."

Dora nodded in agreement, it was understandable and something she herself would have done. Karen added "while visiting one week she fell in love with and was impregnated by a young man whose mother is one of my closest friends. He is my brother's nephew through his wife's family. He fell in love with Emma as she fell in love with him. As part of coming to be part of my son and daughter's wedding party Emma was forced by my children to herself marry. She is now the mother a beautiful baby girl and wife of a handsome state police detective."

Dora had a big smile on her face at hearing that, it was fitting that she found the love of her life and had started her own family. Dora asked about the whole Walker issue, getting down to the issue at hand. Karen looked down in shame and admitted "they tried to extort their daughter, claimed that she was being kidnapped by her husband and his family, then hurt her as their attempts failed. Emma refuses to have anything to do with them and my daughter and daughter-in-law demanded that Emma receive her rightful earnings from them while their husbands demanded they pay for hurting her. They agreed to hand over their properties in lieu of paying money to Emma for the lawsuit but couldn't escape paying for the wages they rightfully owed her."

Dora grinned as she realized just what happened and added "they are flat broke and their miserly ways led to them having to renovate their buildings to make them able to be sold. They paid Emma her wages, paid most of their fines, but were left with nothing. Emma is trying to sell the buildings to me so I can take care of them and ensure that they go to the right buyer but also put me in a prime location to both expand my business as well as give us a permanent home away from London. She was always caring but she did the greatest thing she could do for us- helping us without appearing to help.."

Karen nodded, adding "she doesn't need the money, it's actually going to charity. She just wanted them to give her what they should have given her all along. The buildings are her way of making up for years of not seeing you after what happened between you and your brother over your daughter. She loved Poppy, but couldn't leave until finishing school." Dora nodded. That was classic Emma to her.

Dora asked for Emma to come inside, with Karen leading her in while holding Sophia. Emma hugged her aunt and introduced the gurgling infant, who instantly smiled and flapped her arms as she saw her great-aunt in front of her. Dora looked at Emma then at Sophia and had trouble seeing the resemblance leading Emma to admit "she looks like David's birth mother, she takes after his side of the family in looks but thankfully not in personality."

Sophia put on her best "I'm a cute little baby" act forcing Emma to hand her off to Dora who could only smile at the little girl flopping around in her arms. Dora asked about her father, prompting Emma to blush and admit "we fell in love at first sight but couldn't be together until my year of service to grandmother and grandfather was complete. He waited for me, proposing when he saw me at the airport. He was looking for me but when he saw I was with child he chose to do the right thing and marry me. If he didn't marry me his own family would have ensured he was severely hurt for not being man enough to marry me. I never felt so loved than that time, it wasn't needed but it meant a lot to me."

Karen showed a picture of David to Dora then pictures of the wedding. She pointed out the two men in military uniform as being Pete and Bryan, then the rest of their immediate family. Emma loved adding that David's family had been what her mother hadn't been and loved her as a sister and daughter.

Poppy entertained Nichole, Hannah, and Paige before being noticed by others. Poppy recognized a couple of ladies who made their way over, hugging them and kissing their cheeks. When she introduced them there were stares of disbelief but Poppy added a firm "their family are nobility and they have titles of their own. I don't know the full story, but my cousin was going to tell me soon. She has done what we all wished we could do- become nobility."

Hannah observed their behavior and was sure she saw signs that they actually wanted to see Emma and not use her as others had wanted to do the year before. Paige asked how they knew Emma, getting blushes while one offered a strong "she was our classmate and friend. We didn't get to talk with her much after her aunt moved but we never stopped seeing her as our friend. We don't want anything from her, we just wanted to talk to her and catch up on her life."

Poppy went inside and told Emma about her visitors. The names caused a tear to fall, she asked that they come inside as she wanted to speak with them directly. Karen asked if she was sure, the friends she had told her about before weren't the best people but Emma was actually happy to hear about them.

Once inside, her three friends hugged Emma and asked about Sophia getting a happy "she's my nine-month-old daughter." Sophia did her usual "I'm a cute baby" act on them earning the expected affection and getting Emma to blush at Sophia's antics. Karen had to shake her head and tell Dora "that little girl is going to make my brother angry, she won't look at him without crying or soiling herself but she sees you and she starts begging for attention." Emma laughed at that, adding "Uncle John has that effect on babies, none of them like him for some reason."

Her friends asked about Emma's reason for coming back, getting a stern "my parents had to give up their businesses to me in exchange for what they did to me last summer. Aunt Dora is buying them and I hope she is going to renovate them for herself. Mum is facilitating the sale for us."

The "mum" was caught by her friends with Emma adding a happy "my employers' son and daughter-in-law fell in love with me and adopted me as their own daughter. They made me into a lady and through them I met my husband, with Sophia coming along last November. His family is amazing and have made me into their own daughter, sister, and niece. Mum and dad treat me as their own as well."

Karen added "she was too good to be a maid and my sons and daughters wouldn't let us keep her away. She is the perfect daughter and is the only person who keeps her sisters in line. She is an angel."

Hannah and Nichole let out terse "HEY!" responses while Paige snickered until she realized she was part of that grouping. Hannah countered with a happy "she is a great sister and mom loves being a grandmother to Sophia. Sadly she also has made David into a better man making the rest of guys in our generation have to act more mature."

Emma expected the next question with Karen adding "before you ask, yes we are nobles. I married my husband not knowing his background as a noble and heir to a marquessdom. My son and daughter were given the gifts of heirs to their great-uncle's titles but sadly they have since ascended to their titles after his unfortunate passing. We may be American but we have adopted this country as our home as well."

The rest was left unsaid as Sophia started stirring prompting them to finish their business and give her a quick meal before her nap. Emma being so motherly melted her friends' hearts as she was the one who they thought wouldn't find love let alone have a child yet she had done both in a span of two years. She was a natural and gave them hope for love and family of their own.

Karen led the whole group out, with Nichole, Paige, and Hannah bringing up the rear as Dora pushed the stroller for Emma allowing her to talk with her friends. Poppy saw the smile on Dora's face and had a smile as well, knowing that her mother was going to start in on her about starting a family soon. She was just happy to find a nice girl for herself, she didn't want to complicate things worse by having kids.

The sisters picked up on this look and asked about it. Poppy was put on the spot but Paige told her "she is a good person, she won't want to push it on you. She understands, it's tough but she understands. You may find the right girl soon but you don't have to rush into motherhood yet."

Poppy eased up while Dora smiled at the little interaction. She had no plans to try to make herself a grandmother, she enjoyed having a great-niece and looked forward to more. Poppy was young, and if she should find a special someone she would be proud to have a daughter-in-law and possibly a grandchild years down the road.

Lunch was at a quiet restaurant, which was happy to accommodate the 10 ladies once they heard that the group included a few titled nobles. The staff tried to overdo things as they intended to please them but it was clear that they were just normal customers leading to them easing up. The group were grateful, it was a bit troubling to be treated as VIPs when they were simply there for a quiet meal.

Listening in on their conversation the manager thought something was off about his so-called VIPs and suspected they were lying about being ladies and called the police for fraud and keeping away patrons due to keeping the two tables for them during their lunch rush. One of the waitresses noticed Emma among the group and claimed she was lying about being a lady and the people were fakes, prompting the manager to confront them. It was revenge against Emma, but her humiliation and snubbing of them after her parents' tirade she felt Emma deserved this even if she knew full well the truth about Emma.

The police arrived and tried their hardest not to laugh at the claims. One officer just smirked and added "so you chose to give them exemplary service, ignore customers to the point of them leaving, and act as if they are responsible because you thought you may get a noble to take notice of your restaurant but now are going to see them not only give it a bad review but tell others to avoid it? This isn't their fault, in fact the only crime here is your wasting of police resources."

The officers walked over to Emma and apologized for disturbing them then added "the management is unsure as to whether the truth of your nobility is valid or not." Karen simply offered her calling card, complete with coat of arms of the Countess of Boston, and her identification. She politely added "the Lady Braintree and the Lady Gosfield as well as Ladies Emma and Nichole haven't made up their own arms yet. We are who we claim to be but after this we won't bother with this restaurant again."

The officers just nodded and added "we recall Lady Emma and her family. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, My Lady." Turning to the manager, they offered a warning then added "Lady Emma's husband is a good man who has our respect, we will be sure to spread word among us to avoid here."

The group paid, with Hannah winning out over Karen, Paige, and Emma. She grinned as she added "I never get to pay." The group walked out, with Poppy offering the offending waitress a terse "you still have not changed. Grow up. She was always more mature than us, yet you are still a child inside."

Outside, the group walked off their meal. They ended up back at the Walker home and finalized the details of the sale with Poppy taking inventory of all contents. The Walkers signed over everything to Emma from the dust to the cobwebs and wiped their slates clean, when they would get out of prison they would start anew elsewhere and not look back at their previous lives.

Emma found a lot of antiques that she knew to be valuable and a benefit to Dora's business while Poppy found many of Emma's old baby clothes including her favorite dummy. Dora laughed as Emma's face went red while Sophia tried to get the dummy from her. She succeeded, putting it in her mouth and falling asleep with a smile on her face and her mother trying hard to get it out without much success.

Emma tried to hide her shame but it was so cute. Hannah took a picture and sent it right to David who sent back a quick "her fault for showing her it" causing the others to laugh. Emma texted him the picture of Sophia with Dora and Poppy adding "blame her cousin and great-aunt." That caused David to call for an answer, leading him to smile and add a happy "guess we share more than just love, it's great to have you and them on good terms."

Emma's old room held a lot of things that she was embarrassed at the others seeing. She had multiple boy band posters up which Nichole snickered at until Paige said she had more than Emma did. Hannah shook her head a the lack of pictures but understood why she didn't have many given her "friends."

Emma's clothes were mostly too small for her now that she had her post-baby body. She was happy to donate them to charity while adding a lot of other things that she found in her closet. Her school uniforms made her cringe as they were a bane of her existence in school, most knew they were secondhand and she always kept herself covered up there were nasty rumors of her being pregnant.

The house was packed up with much of it going directly to charity. Poppy was happy to take over the unused flat above the family's flaw as her own space while Dora kept the old Walker flat for herself. Mother and daughter had their own spaces but would work alongside one another in their new store.

Karen signed the last of the forms turning over ownership with Dora now owning both the accounting business and the clothing shop. All inventory in the shop that hadn't been returned to the wholesaler was donated to charity while Dora simply cleaned out the accounting office. Any records were retained should they be needed but it was now an empty space which she intended to lease out for additional revenue for herself and Poppy.

Karen had worked with local builders to fix up the buildings and allow Poppy and Dora to make the changes they wanted but it was now in their hands. Dora hugged her niece and asked that she not be a stranger, while adding that she understood if she didn't want to see her. Emma just shed a few tears while thanking her, adding that she hoped they would come west for Christmas as a family as her in-laws would not let the two go without during the holidays.

Karen just smirked as Nichole added a terse "there's no way Aunt Lilly doesn't make them come. It's important and she doesn't want you to forget your family. Just hope that she doesn't make you go see them over Spring Break, David has that week off too!"

The group left after Sophia got her final kisses from Dora and Poppy. She refused to give up her dummy making Emma feel like she was going to have a problem but Karen was quick to point out that she was doing what every baby did and it wasn't dangerous to her. She loved it more than her old one, and as it was her own it was a special bond between them that few had.

The drive back to the estate was faster than normal thanks to cooperating traffic. Nigel Jr. was quick to hug Karen while Ethan looked exhausted. He tiredly told her that Nigel Jr. had been running around outside for hours, making him show him anything and everything on the estate but was otherwise a good boy.

Nichole and he swam in the pool before their late dinner. She told him about the day and meeting the good Walkers. Ethan wished he had been there but understood he was excess to the situation.

He was happy that they had been able to get closer to her aunt and cousin, even if it was temporarily. It was a shame that it only happened because Emma's family had been horrible to her but it worked out for the best in the end. Poppy sounded like a great person, which led Nichole to add "she likes women, so don't go looking for a girlfriend. Besides, she's too old for you."

He blushed while Nichole added "first Logan, now you. If Junior or Neil start falling for girls we might have to hose you four down. Besides, there's a couple of girls in your school who like you already. They just have to see the real Ethan, Logan was told this already so I guess it's your turn."

Nichole spent the next hour talking about what girls liked in boys. She herself liked boys like Bryan and Pete: tall, muscular, but with hearts of gold who showed they cared about you. She hoped there were a few boys like that in their school but it was slim. There was always hope, though.



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